Dark Shadow: Pale Castle (First Draft)

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Chapter 6

“Kurai-rai,” Ana, Kurai’s mother said in sing-song. Kurai held the blanket tighter over his face. “Now come on, little-one. You’ve gotta get ready for school.”

“I’m not going,” Kurai pouted from beneath the sheets. “They’re all as-” he caught himself, “erm, jerks.” His mother chuckled at the near cuss. She never could hide her feelings, her emotions always just burst out of her, and he thought it was a wonderful facet of her charm.

“I know, but they are our jerks.”

“Yeah, well, well I don’t want them!”

“I know, my scrawny boy is scared to go in because of a few rotten eggs.”

“I’m not scared of them, Moooom,” he groaned and kicked around. He lightly clawed at the blankets with his small hands, “they are rotten jerks. Tripp and his gang are always going around, bullying the guys, teasing and messing with the girls, and the adults don’t do anything about it!”

“And that’s where my scrawny little boy comes in, to save the day?”

Kurai growled then sighed. “I just want to help,” he mumbled. “No one should be treated like that.”

“I know, I know,” Ana said. Kurai closed his eyes, feeling his mom’s fingers run through his hair. “Just...don’t beat him up so badly next time, alright?”

“I hardly touched him,” Kurai whispered.

“Just be more careful next time, my little monster.”

Kurai scrunched up his face under the sheets at the sound of “monster” leaving his mother’s lips. She’d never say that, never had, even when he’d protected her and half-turned into something inhuman in the process.

That’s the moment he realized he was dreaming of the past again. The daemon, which hadn’t been present at the time, writhed with something akin to joy in the back of his mind.

“Your dreams won’t even comfort you, your unconscious mind is filling up with the anger you’ve got welling up in yer belly.”

“There’s no comfort for monsters,” Ana said, her voice becoming more of a growl. “Not until every last filthy human us dead.”

“No, no-no,” Kurai shook his head, his voice deepening, changing from the memory of a child into the voice of who he had become, “mom never said any of that, and not all humans are filth.”

“Not all,” the deep growling voice just beyond the blanket said as Kurai felt the bed shift and part of the mattress sink, as if a lion we stepping into it, “but most of them are the rot of the Earth. They prey on each other like no other species, torture and miam others of their kind for simple natural differences. They are not worthy of this world.”

“The good in the group shouldn’t be sacrificed because of the bad.”

“Don’t you care about how they tore your mother apart, and made you watch? For sport!” The voice boomed in his ears while the daemon laughed in the background. Kurai threw off the covers and leapt out of bed, and out of the nightmare.


---


The bit of sunlight sneaking in through a gap in the heavy curtains warmed his skin. Kurai stood in the light for a few minutes, enjoying the bit of heat, before getting dressed.

“Not gonna say anything about that dream,” the daemon asked. Kurai slipped on his long coat without a word. “You’re a beast, even without pumpin’ iron, or borrowing from the strength of your demonic blood. You showed that much with that tank down there.”

“Does that scare you?” Kurai’s voice was soft and groggy with remnants of sleep. The eyes on his cost sleeves looked around as if trying to avoid eye contact, while the sketchy-style tentacles that came down from them wiggled slowly in the fabric.

“You can’t get rid of what you are, not entirely. You were enough of a monster downstairs on your own. And don’t forget, I’m a part of you, I am you. You might as well be talking to yourself in the mirror. I know how much you enjoyed taking that gun-armed bear down. Your mouth is watering just thinking about it.”

Kurai wiped at the corner of his mouth with his sleeve absently. “What you are, and what you will be, aren’t always the same.” With that, he strapped his gun and holster to his hip then headed out the door.

“Hey, wait a sec,” Selinda called out from behind the bar as Kurai passed by. He turned to her and leaned with both forearms on the counter.

“What’s up?”

“Did Justin really hire you, to go up into that place with him, to save his man?”

“That’s right,” Kurai nodded, “he said to meet him at sunrise so he could show me the way.”

“Did he tell you,” Selinda looked around, there were only a couple of patrons sitting about, before going on, “how no one ever comes back from the gap in the wall?”

“The gap…? In the wall…?” Kurai tilted his head.

Selinda shook her head, “I saw what you did last night, I think the town will be talking about it for months, if not years, but...Justin really should have said something about the path to the Pale-” she stopped herself and shivered. A shiver ran down Kurai’s spine as well, as if Selinda’ had begun chanting a spell and cut it short, sending out a quick wave of energy in the process, like a slight gust.

“What’s up with the gap, and the place that shall not be named?” Kurai leaned in with an arm on the bar countertop. “Tree monsters and ghosts?” He smiled. Selinda half smiled in return and shook her head.

“No one can say for sure what’s up there. The only people who have ever gone and come back alive are the boys in Peter’s family, and they never come back the same. Something comes in the middle of the night and ferries them away. When it returns them years later, it’s like someone flicked off a light switch in their eyes. Some part of them stays there, up on that hill.”

“That’s a good ghost story if I’ve ever heard one,” Kurai said.

“It’s true though. I mean, maybe there is some spirit pulling the strings, but it’s not just some story people tell to keep the kids in at sunset. I heard that it happens only to them because of some blood pact one of their relatives made. Their soul for the money that helped build their mansion and this town.”

“Hmm… that’s an interesting one,” Kurai rubbed at his beard. “Theoretically, if something was taking their souls, they wouldn’t be able to function at all afterwards. Can they communicate? Move around on their own? If so, they are still in there,” he tapped at his temple with a knuckle, “just drained of something.”

“Whatever it is, it leaves them a shell of who they used to be.”

“So there’s some kind of life sucker up there. Got it,” Kurai nodded. “and what about this path?”

“The gap in the wall’s what we all call it.” Kurai watched as Selinda shivered at the thought of the place. “You walked through one of the gates of Kirkwood’s wall to get in here. It wraps around the whole town, with guards at posts along the way. There’s one part of the wall that’s never been completed though…”

“The fuck’s the use of an unfinished wall,” the daemon thought, “that’s like walking around with half a shield, or armor with a big gap at the belly or chest,” it laughed in Kurai’s head.

“Town run out of funding or something?” Kurai raised a brow.

“No, nothing like that. Hell, the Cheltin’s funded it, and their wallets never run dry. It’s just that, whenever that part of the wall has been worked on, people start to go missing, and whatever new bricks are laid out are torn apart by the forest.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Kurai twirled one of his curls around his fingers while staring into the woodgrains of the countertop, picturing vines tearing a house apart.

Selinda nodded her agreement, “it’s like the forest is in league with whatever the Cheltin’s made their deal with up there. The hole in the wall would make a direct path to the castle, if it wasn’t for the forest and whatever else could be hiding in the trees. The gap is guarded twenty-four seven because of it. People are afraid of what might crawl out from the darkness, and of kids trying to impress their friends.”

“Human children and their dare games,” Kurai shook his head.

Selinda cocked a brow then shook her head, “anyway, I figured if Just was dragging you out there to save his man, you should at least know a little bit more of the story. I’m not sure how much a little footwork will help you out there, in those cursed woods. Or that paper-weight of yours,” she nodded at the revolver at his hip. Kurai smirked.

“Thanks for the worry,” he stroked the sandalwood handle of the gun, “I can see from the look in your eyes when you say his name who you’re really worried about though.” Selinda averted her eyes, looking down at the glasses and bottles under the bar. “I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best to get your friend to the castle and back in one piece.”

“I appreciate it,” she said in a low voice with a little nod then pulled out a brown paper back from behind the counter and set it down in front of Kurai. “I put together a couple of sandwiches for you and Just. There’s some water in there too. My pa always said you can’t take on the day on an empty stomach.”

“Thanks,” Kurai grabbed the back and got up. “Try not to worry too hard. I may not look like much, but fiend hunting is sorta my thing.” He nodded at Selinda then headed for the door.

“May the light be on your side, Cloud,” Selinda whispered.

As Midgar’s doors swung shut behind him, Kurai daemon said, “look at that, things could be worse. You could be in love, and with someone who doesn’t see you in the same way. All you have to worry about is how to kill the next monster in your way,” it chortled.

“I’m just a dark hunter in a sad, cruel, world.”


---


It was still storming outside. The puddles in-between the tents grew into each-other. Justin stood with his hands on his hips, looking out of his own temporary home at the rest of his band of merchants. Henkel stopped as he passed the tent and looked Justin over. The small personal canopy poking out from his backpack, something the others had mocked throughout the years as they traveled back and forth from town to town looked mighty inviting now.

“That look of determination,” Henkel began, “should I warn your parents that the last of their line is readying himself to run off and get himself killed? You know they wouldn’t be too happy about that. Not unless you sew a few seeds before running into the void, at least,” he chuckled.

“I take it they’ve been whining about me not taking on a wife again?”

“You know they want to keep the line going. Especially after losing your sisters. Cut them some slack.”

“You don’t think not shoving my preferences in their face is cutting them enough slack? They know I don’t go that way, but they still try to push me onto women, like I’m some kind of prized steed and they’re trying to get what they can out of me before it’s too late.”

Henkel burst out in laughter. The rain bounced off of his unbrella-pack with his jostling. “You know they just want some little ones running around at their feet, and to see that their work will continue on when they are gone.”

“I’m sure you guys would be fine without us. It’d be easy enough to convince someone else to take our place. A promise for some adventure, with the security of being in a group that knows their way around.”

“Aye, you know I have to tease you while you’re still one of us, Just. Before that lovely man of yours finally convinces you to part ways with us and join him in that big old mansion.”

Justin turned his face away. He should have given up his trade the last time Peter asked, or perhaps the time before that. Maybe he could have done something then, to stop whatever it was that took Peter, blood pact be damned. He shook his head and slid his hands into his pockets, balling them into fists, trying to keep down the tears that threatened to come out once again.

Henkel tilted his head slightly, worry touching his eyes. “So that’s what the look’s about, eh? I know the story about that castle up on the hill, but guess I never paid enough attention to the Cheltin’s to know if it was true. I see, I see.” Henkel nodded to himself and looked down at the puddle he stood in, with his Ippon Geta making it look like he stood on stilts in a puddle that was deeper than it appeared. “You’re going up there then?”

“Yes,” Justin nodded.

“Hmm. There’s no telling what’s up there. Could be a dragon hoarding gold for all you know. That’d explain the riches of that family.”

“I know,” Justin looked up over the tents, into the pouring rain, towards the direction of the fated hill, “I’ve hired a hunter to help out.”

“Is that so? A fiend hunter, eh? Didn’t think any passed through Kirkwood, at least not very often.”

“Yeah, I guess luck is on my side. I walked into Midgar last night and caught having at it with Barret. With the weird coat he’s got on, with these eye designs on the shoulders, you’d think he was some dark conjurer or something. But he took down Barret with his bare hands.”

Henkel’s eyes went wide. He shuffled back slightly, like he’d lost his balance in his odd footwear. “Either you’re pulling my leg right off, or you’ve stumbled on some kind of monster wearing the skin of a man! I saw Barret take down a fire-bull once! The thing charged at him, skin hard as stone, with seams billowing with fire, and he punched it square in the nose! I’d never seen anything so wild in my days! And you’re telling me this hunter gave that bear a run for his money?”

“That’s right,” Justin nodded. “Seems like the real deal.”

“Haha, well, come to think of it, I think I’ve heard a story a while back, about some hunter with eyes on his coat arms. Hmmm.” Henkel rubbed at his bulbous chin, looking off into the rainy distance, before nodding slowly to himself. “When do you set out?”

“He should be coming out of Midgar any moment now. We’ll head straight for The Gap and start off to that place.”

“Ah, it’s been a long while since the last time I set out on my own string of perilous journeys. Would you mind an old hunter like me tagging along with ya, kid?”

It was Justin’s turn to stumble, nearly falling back into his tent. He looked Henkel over and tried to imagine the short man without all the wrinkles of age on his face, or the slight hunch to his spine, riding around the frontier with a Solaris Rifle sling over his back. Justin shook his head. The image didn’t work for him. He couldn’t see the kind, carefree old man as any sort of fiend hunter.

Henkel laughed then smiled with a sparkle in his eye. “Where did you think I got all the stories I tell around the campfire from? A pop bottle?” With a shake of his head, Henkel turned towards the path he’d approached from. “I’ll meet you at the gap.”

“Wait, Henkel, are you sure? I mean, me going along with the hunter might already slow him down enough. No offense…”

“Don’t you worry about this old geezer,” Henkel turned his head to the side and stuck out his tongue, “I’m not as limber as I used to be, but I can promise you that I’ll be able to hold my own. Maybe some of my know-how and gadgets will make things a little easier. In any case, I’ve lived a long full life. If I find my perma-home out there on the battlefield, it’ll be fine by me.”

Before Justin could open his mouth to try and persuade Henkel to stay behind, the old man was swallowed up further by the pouring rain and the mist as it splashed off of puddles and tent roofs.


---


Kurai didn’t walk very far into the encampment before Justin emerged from behind the jungle of tents. Kurai nodded then opened his coat slightly, revealing the brown paper back he held there to keep it as safe from the rain as he could. “Your friend gave us a sending off gift.”

A slight smile bent Justin’s lips. “I guess we should get out of this rain and sit down for a second then.”

Kurai followed him back into the jungle of tents that filled the town square. They were like a small town within a city. Tents and large carriages with tarps draped over what were presumably cyborg horses. “Poor things are gonna rust in these puddles,” Kurai murmured to himself as they passed a few more covered horses. Kurai tried avoiding stepping into as much water as he could, but the ground was muddy and swollen. When Justin finally disappeared into a tent with dark green vertical stripes, Kurai followed him in and groaned at his boots while wiping some of the muck off onto the rug just within the entrance way.

“This is quite the temporary accommodation,” Kurai said as he walked up the steps within the tent. “Literally bigger on the inside than out.”

“We’ve got a few like this in our fleet.” Justin lead the way through a small hallway. They entered the second door on the left. It was a small dining room, with a table for six, and a few lamps along the walls. “Took a while before we could get a hold some that weren’t selling for an arm, leg, and kidney at the Capitol. They are the lowest of the low grade though.”

“I’m guessing it uses the same kind of technology as some item bags, and storage on the more expensive cyborg horses?”

“That’s right,” Justin replied as Kurai handed him one of the sandwiches and a small bottle of water. “It’s Dimensional-Pocket tech.”

“Ah, that’s the word,” Kurai nodded then took a bite and looked around at the redwood paneling and the clear cube and spheres dangling from the lampshades. “Pretty cool. But, what if someone closed it up from the outside? You’d be like a genie in a bottle, or any old item in a bag, trapped until someone decided to open it back up and let you out. That’s if they don’t decide to just leave you in here for a few weeks, until the air runs out.”

Justin’s face paled out and he stopped chewing.

“Damn boss, that was dark, even for me, and me, I know dark. I’m supposed to be the darkness in the back of your head, but fuck, that was beyond darkness. Your mama really nailed it when she named you,” the daemon cackled.

Kurai shrugged and took a swig of his water. “So, what do we know about the fiend that’s taken your lover?”

Justin seemed to pull himself out of his thoughts, chewed hurriedly and gulped before taking a smaller bite. “Well...let’s see…”

“He doesn’t know shit,” the daemon in Kurai head said just before Justin spoke again.

“Other than that whatever it is made a pact with Peter’s family and snatches away the males when they are around this age, I’m not sure.”

The daemon laughed wildly. Kurai ignored it.

“Does the weather get like this every time the fiend takes someone?” Kurai asked.

“As far as I know, yes. There’s been talk about the weather controller being busted, but that just doesn’t seem right. When the town was built up, the Cheltin’s brought in a brand new, top of the line, weather controller from the Capitol. The thing is supposed to only need maintenance every 80 years or so, and I think the last time someone came by to look it over was a couple of years before I was born.”

“Hmmm…”

“I know,” Justin scratched the back of head, “not much to go by. Is that going to be a problem?”

“It just means I won’t know what I’ll be up against until I get up there.”

Justin smiled. “The way you took on Barret last night, I knew you were really something. I guess I should have told you what I knew when I hired you though, and asked what’s your specialty either way. What kind of fiends do you typically go after?”

“If it’s a fiend, I’ll hunt it. That’s the type of fiend hunter I am.”

“What?” Justin raised an eyebrow. “I’ve heard of hunters with multiple specialties, but isn’t it said that the hunter who says he is a master of all beasts is master of none, or a fool? Not that you’re a fool or-”

“I haven’t met a fiend I couldn’t take down,” Kurai cut in. “Lycanthropic beasts, devil sprites, giant desert centipedes, and different kinds of blood suckers.”

Justin raised an eyebrow. “You mean Wolven Fiends, Horned-Fae, and Crimson Fiends?”

Kurai nodded.

“Hmm…” Justin took a swig of water, watching Kurai. Where hope dwelled on his eyes before, skepticism tinged them now. Kurai noticed it, but couldn’t care less. He’d show his worth when he confronted whatever was out there and brought the man’s love back.

“Do you have a Hunter’s Mark?” Justin inquired.

Kurai tilted his head, “what’s that?”

“You know, are you certified by the Capitol?”

“Oh, certified,” Kurai shook his head, “no, but I’m not asking for part of my fee up-front, so what does it matter?” He traced swirling shapes on the desk with a pointed nail, “I’ll get the job done. I’ll bring your man back, whether he’s still shakin’ or already parted this world. Just point me in the right direction and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’ll be going along with you.”

“The guy isn’t even one-hundred percent sure of what’s got his boy and he wants to...tag along? Is he brave, stupid, or a bit of both?” the daemon laughed.

“You’ll just be another liability,” Kurai said, rolling his eyes.

“I can fight,” Justin sat up on edge, like he was ready to jump out of his seat and throw fists.

“Whatever is up there isn’t going to go down from a few punches from you, and you know that, or else I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

“I’ve got a Solaris Rifle. I’m a traveling merchant, I’ve seen my fair share of beasts on the road.”

“Do you have any idea what we are going up against?”

Justin heaved a great sigh and sat back in his chair. “I’m not gonna send you up there to save my man without going along myself. What if he,” Justin turned away and took deep breaths. Kurai could see the tears welling up in his eyes. “If something he won’t be able to come back from happens up there, I want to at least be by his side.”

“Alrighty,” Kurai nodded. He looked at his wrist as if there were a watch there. There wasn’t. He’d never worn a watch a day in his life. He shook his head at himself then got up. “We should get going. I’m not sure if it’ll matter to whatever is out there if the sun is up or not, with the storm hanging over us either way, but it’s always better to travel by day.”

“Sounds good,” Justin jumped to his feet and headed for the door. “The sooner we get to him, the better.”


---


“What was that in there?” The daemon rattled at the back of Kurai’s mind, like an excited child. “Usually sleep seems to pull you out of your depressive spells, at least a little. You got the suds or something, dood?” The daemon laughed as Kurai tightened his hands into fists in his coat pockets while following Justin through the encampment. The rain was settling down, shifting from a flood inducing blanket to more of a mist.

“Is it the weather keepin’ ya down, darko?” The Daemon went on. “The way the rain comes down hard, is how you feel inside or some shit? Wanna break a few legs? Eh buddy ol pal?” Kurai felt the eyes marking on his shoulders move around, rolling against his skin, something only he would be able to see and feel. He continued to ignore his daemon, not giving the dark voice in his head the satisfaction.

They were out of the square, passing by stone houses with windows shuttered up, as if the darkness overhead would reach in and snuff out the lights if it was given the chance. Kurai avoided as many puddles as he could, while Justin stomped through without paying much of anything any-mind.

“Poor lovesick pup is gonna die of pneumonia by the time we get to this castle,” the daemon said. “Hmmm...think he’s got the dough on him right now? We could pick his corpse and head over to the next town, leave this cursed castle shit behind us. Sounds good, right? Ah wait, this guy’s a traveling merchant. His man is the one with the goods. If Justin drops on the path, we can turn around and scavenge his boyfriend’s estate. Yeah, haha, that would do.”

Rounding a corner, Justin walked I to Barret and nearly fell over from the collision. Kurai smirked while his daemon laughed.

“Ah, sorry about that,” Justin said, shrinking away from the giant of a man.

“Watch where you’re going, twirp! You blind, or you wantin’ to get your ass handed to you by the one and only Barret!”

“Justin,” Kurai cut in, coming up beside the two, “if you toss me 50 Galla right now I’ll knock him on his ass.” The daemon filled his head with laughter as Barret stepped back, wide-eyed.

“Sorry, sorry!” Barret bowed slightly at Kurai, then Justin. “You could say I’m still recovering from last night’s defeat,” he rubbed the back of his bald head and smiled.

“Aawww, look at that, the demon prince tamed the grizzly.”

Justin wore an expression of shock now. He leaned over to Kurai and whispered, “I’d never expect him to be this way with someone who kicked his ass so badly.”

“Hey, come on man, I’m right here,” Barret crossed his arms over his burly chest and puffed it out. “It was a good match. Say, what kind of martial art was that anyway?”

“Just something I picked up,” Kurai shrugged.

“Picked up, my ass,” Barret laughed and shook his head. “I’ll be wanting a rematch, you know. I can’t let some stranger come around and have one over me and let them slide, not in my city, not in my bar!” He smiled.

“Peculiar, this one, eh darky?” Kurai’s daemon remarked.

“Where are you two headin’ so bright and early anyway?” Barret raised a brow from behind his black shades. He looked up and down the street, then back at them. “Wait, you’re not going up to that place…”

“Peter’s been taken,” Justin said, his voice low, somber, hard to hear in the rain.

“Ah,” Barret ran a hand through his short crop of curls within his hood. “The Cheltin curse.” Justin and Barret turned at once, no doubt toward the direction of the hill that hunched out from the town and the wicked castle sitting at the top. Barret slipped his hands into his coat pockets and shook his head. “So, some hunter happens through town a few weeks after your man gets snatched up, knocks the great Barret down, and you decided to flash some Galla his way to get him to try and save Peter? That’s the story? What happens if you do make it through the woods and into that evil place, eh? What if you manage to get inside and find Pete, and he’s not even the Pete you knew and loved anymore? You know that’s what they say happens to the Cheltin’s. People usually stay away from them, and the people who do get close are always in it for the money. ’bout all that’s left.”

“Fuck you,” Justin growled.

“Woah, I didn’t mean-”

“Even if he’s just a shadow of what he was, I’ll be there for him. Not for the money, but for Peter, the man who opened his arms to me, a dumb traveling merchant. I love him with every ounce of my being, and when we bring him back down here I will dedicate myself to him.”

“Alright, alright,” Barret said, backing up. “I didn’t mean anything by the money stuff, I just meant, whatever goes on up there turns ’em into near vegetables. Takes them far away. And who knows what’s standing in the way between the walls of Kirkwood and your Peter.” Barret shrugged, then eyed up Kurai. “That piece all you got for beast hunting? I don’t care how badly you made a fool of me back at Midgar, I haven’t heard about many hunters going out on the prowl with just some fancy footwork and an old revolver.”

“I make do with what I’ve got,” Kurai said, then sniffled and rubbed at the side of his nose with his knuckles. He turned to Justin. “Mind if we get going? Or at least grab an umbrella? Sneezing and fighting don’t go well together, unless you can get ’em right in the eyes.”

“Did someone say umbrella?” The old man popped out from behind Justin as if he’d been there the whole time, twirling three umbrellas around his arm, while a large crimson and purple colored umbrella protruded from his backpack, keeping him dry. Kurai was instantly drawn to the man’s peculiar footwear.

“I guess that’s one way to keep yer feet out of a puddle, eh? He’s got the beak of a tengu too,” the daemon murmured, referencing the old man’s nose.

“Ah, eyes on his sleeves, just like you said,” he handed Justin an umbrella, then tossed one to Barret and Kurai. “The name’s Henkel,” he bowed, “and you are...Pepe Calixto was it?”

Kurai tilted his head slightly, wondering where he’d heard the name before, then it hit him. It was an alias he used before, in that one mining town, or perhaps the place afflicted with a plague of fiendish origins. He opened up his new umbrella to cover his own mental stumble, hoping the realization hadn’t touched his face. Kurai shook his head, “the name’s Strife, Cloud Strife.”

“Hmmm,” Henkel rubbed at one of the few wiry hairs on his chin and looked up at the clouds overhead, “I guess I could be wrong. Cloud seems like such a fake name though. Heh, no offense.”

“Is Henkel any better?” The rain filled what would have been silence for a few seconds as the pair watched each other, before Henkel laughed and Kurai smiled slightly.

“Are we ready to head out? Justin? Cloud?” Henkel elongated Kurai’s alias, then nodded to Barret. “Will the gorilla be joining us?”

“Wait a second,” Barret’s eyes went wide. “Are you trying to say you’re going on this death trip with these two, old man?”

“I’ll have you know, I was a pretty damn good hunter back in my day.”

“Back when dirt was new?” Barret laughed wildly. His bellows caused rain to dance off of his umbrella and at the others.

Henkel shot him a glare, before tugging at his sleeve then reaching his arm out at Barret with two fingers out like a gun. As he did so, a mechanical arm sprang out of one of the pouches on the side of his large backpack, bridging the six feet between himself and Barret in a flash, with the barrel of a short-nosed rifle just a few inches from the bear’s forehead.

“Bang,” Henkel smirked.

Barret shoved the gun out of his face, “alright, so the old man’s got some tricks up his sleeves.” Barret looked over his shoulder. Even in the grayed out sky the large stood out. “Fuck it,” he shrugged, “I’ve got a good feelin’ about you, hunter. You just might be able to lift this curse, especially if you’ve got the great beast Barret gunnin’ for ya!” He waved his gun arm around then laughed wildly.

“The more the merrier, I guess,” Justin said. “I’m sure we’ll be able to compensate you all well enough when we get back, with Pete.”

“Let’s get on with it,” Henkel said with some cheer in his voice as he followed Barret towards the hole in the wall.

Kurai nodded as Justin crossed him then followed behind the group.

“Quite the lot we’ve got here, eh Kurai? I wonder who’s gonna make it to the end, and who’ll be the first to die.” The daemon laughed on in Kurai’s head.

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