Lydia sighed as her fingers clicked on the keyboard of the desktop computer, her eyes dim with sadness as she scanned through the news story on the screen. Tiff and I were sitting on one of the couches, using a laptop, our brows furrowed with concentration as we too studied the recent news. Nathan, Hailey and Aidan were sitting on the second couch, also huddled around a laptop, the same expressions on their faces as those on ours.
The only one who was not searching was Soren, which was understandable. He was still grieving. Iris had been very close to him, almost like a younger sister, and her death definitely weighed most heavily upon his heart. It weighed heavily on all of our hearts, but we couldn’t really do anything about it. It had happened, and we couldn’t reverse time, not even using our Magic. So we just had to keep the memory of Iris close.
But that wasn’t the forethought on our minds, even if it was a constant. Instead, our investigations were what we had to direct our focus to. Recently, over the past week we had been searching for Ryval, we had uncovered an abhorrent truth. There had been sporadic mass murders in populous Human cities; Sydney, Tokyo, Las Vegas, and Vladivostok were only four notable locations on a rather extensive list.
The latest massacre had occurred in Melbourne, which was much too close to home for my liking. Tiff was also anxious about its proximity. Unlike everyone else in our little group, Tiff had family members in the immediate area and was extremely worried for them all. I was as well, having met her family more than once and being quite amicable towards them.
Lydia sighed suddenly, and we all looked over at her. “This recent massacre hits too close to home. It warrants investigation.” Her words were full of sadness as she stood, turning the computer off. “We best set out soon. We have no way of knowing when this will happen again, but we need to try and prevent it.” She crossed her arms as she looked at all of us. “Get ready.” Her voice was authoritarian, leaving no room for arguments.
We all nodded as we closed the laptop lids, although Hailey frowned as she did so. “What of Soren?” she asked, looking over at the hallway leading to his room. Lydia’s expression became sad as she pursed her lips and shook her head, failing to look in that direction. No more was said on the matter; she had made it clear that Soren was not joining our little expedition, and I was lying to myself if I said I didn’t understand why. He was in no condition to go anywhere, not while he was still grieving heavily.
“What of me?” His voice was a surprised to all of us as he lumbered out of his room and stopped at the doorway of the lounge. My heart clenched in my chest as I saw how desolate he looked. “What’s happening?”
Lydia may have been sympathetic for him, but she still delivered the explanation of what was happening in a businesslike manner. He just listened mutely, and once she was done, he sighed and looked down at the floor. My heart felt like it was lodged between a vice now, and I sighed sadly as I averted my eyes. Over the course of the weeks that we’d been searching for Ryval, I had been the primary one talking to and making sure he wasn’t hurting himself or beating himself up over Iris’ untimely demise. I felt obligated to; it was my mother who had killed the young girl who had been like Soren’s baby sister.
I sighed as I walked to the room that Tiff and I shared, grabbing what I needed before returning to the others.
Once the others had collected what they needed, those of us going out gathered in the lounge. Soren gave us a dreary, tired-sounding farewell before going to hide in his room again, and my mouth felt dry as I followed the rest out of the safehouse.
As we strode towards the car, we paused at a small makeshift grave. A bouquet of irises was resting against the roughly hewn headstone, and tears pricked at the corners of my eyes as I bowed my head. I could feel Tiff was in the same boat as me, and she hung her head, her brown hair acting as a blanket so I couldn’t see the pained expression on her face. It didn’t matter; I knew it was there; even if I couldn’t see it, I could feel her radiant sadness.
The others said quick words, mostly along the lines of ‘rest in peace’. After we had finished paying our respects we bustled in the car. Nathan, was driving; Lydia was in the passenger seat. Hailey and Aidan were sitting in the back seat, while Tiff and I were sitting in the very back. Silence was prominent in the car as Nathan reversed out of the driveway and headed to the main road; he didn’t turn the radio on. I almost begged him to, but I suppressed my thoughts, merely staring down at my clenched fists.
The drive was tense. Everyone was fidgety and unnerved about what we might find there, and more than once I had to comfort Tiff, telling her that everything would be alright. I could hardly convince myself of that, though, and thus completely failed to persuade her.
The drive took two hours, so by the time we got to Melbourne most of us had dozed off; Tiff, Aidan, Hailey and Lydia were sleeping. I was reading more murder reports on my phone, while Nathan was still driving, dead silent.
“Sai.” His voice was quiet as he finally pulled into a parking space and turned the car off. We were deep in the city, near one of the two major metropolitan stations, and I grimaced. That’s a little too close for my liking... I couldn’t help but think as I looked at the throngs of people entering and exiting the station. “Can you wake the others? The murders took place in an alley not far from here.” Nathan’s voice interrupted my thoughts, and I blinked before returning my focus to him. He gestured with his head at a small cordoned alley nearby, to show me exactly how close we were, and I nodded before leaning over and shaking Tiff awake.
“Snurgle?” She blinked sleepily at me, and I had to repress the urge to begin laughing at the utterly ridiculous noise she’d made. “Oh... hey there…”
“We’re here, and made it in one piece,” I said, gesturing to the tall buildings outside the car window. “Time to get up.”
She nodded and stretched as Nathan helped me to wake the others, and before long we were all standing outside the car, eyeballing the cordoned-off area nervously. “Okay,” Aidan said worriedly, “How are we going to get in there to investigate?”
“That officer there,” I said, motioning to a man standing near the police tape, “Is a Nephilim.” I strode over after explaining, Lydia and Nathan close behind me, the Humans and Halflings trailing behind them by about a metre and a half; they were reluctant to come too near. Once we were close enough, I cleared my throat, gaining the policeman’s attention. “Officer?”
He turned to me, and his eyes flashed as he recognised me for what I was. “Firstborn,” he said softly, respectfully. “Can I help you?”
“Are you able to permit us entry to the crime scene?” I asked, although I had doubts that he would be allowed to. From his epaulettes I could tell that he didn’t have the authority to give us entry, but it was worth a try…
Even if it failed.
“I’m sorry, I… I can’t,” he said, a frown adorning his face. “Please understand… I could lose my job if I permit you entry.”
I shook my head and waved my hand. “That’s fine. Can we ask something instead?”
He nodded a bit. “Sure.”
“You can tell us about the crime scene, can’t you?”
He bit his lip nervously, considering my question and looking back at his Human colleagues. After a bit more thought, he turned back to us and nodded. “Sure can. What do you need to know?”
“What it looked like.” It was a bit blunt of me, but then again we didn’t have a lot of time.
Realising this, the officer launched into the description. Morbidly, the scene he described looked extremely similar as the murder site at the derelict building we’d seen a few weeks ago, and bile rose to my throat as I recalled the horror. But I shook it off and forced those nauseous feelings into the recesses of my stomach, kindly thanking the officer for his aid before returning to the group; they’d stayed back.
“So?” Tiff asked nervously, her voice quiet. “What’s the deal?” She blanched as I told everyone what the details had been, making sure I left nothing out. “Oh,” was my best friend’s only reply after I had finished my explanation. She looked ill now, pale and shaky, and I frowned at her as she sat down on the curb.
“You okay?” I asked her, worried as I knelt beside her and set my hand on her shoulder.
She nodded. “Yeah.” Taking a few deep breaths, she attempted composure before looking up and asking, “So... what now...?”
I looked at Lydia for this one, and a moue tugged her lips. “We’ll need supplies for our next journey away from the safehouse,” she mused. “We better do some shopping while we’re here in the big city. There’ll be more for us.”
I nodded, standing, pulling my phone from my pocket and Googling a map of the city. Melbourne was a sprawling expanse of a place; shopping centres were littered everywhere. “Okay, so where to?”
“We need new clothes,” Nathan mused. “We haven’t been clothes shopping for some time – months, even – and due to our activity all of our clothes are wearing down.” He looked down at his feet, and I noticed a fairly large split in part of his shoe. In fact, most of our shoes were damaged; they weren’t built for fighting Demons and chasing people around the world.
“Okay,” I said after searching up some appropriate shops, “There’s a Target in Chinatown. We should go there. We don’t want anything too expensive or flashy, and in my experience, Target clothes and shoes last a long time.” I pulled at my shirt. “I mean, I’ve had this for almost fifteen years now, and it’s lasted longer than most of your clothing has.”
Tiff gave me a funny look before she came to a realisation. “Oh, right… I forgot you were billions of years old.” She laughed in embarrassment. “Okay, let’s go to Chinatown!”
And so, we walked. Aidan and Hailey stayed close to Lydia and Nathan, while I was dragged along by Tiff, who was good at what she described as ‘city-walking’. She knew how to fight her way through the masses of people, and did so with ease, elbowing her way through and pushing past people who stopped in the middle of the path. I gave her a relieved grin once we got to the elaborate archways marking the beginning of Chinatown; I was sincerely glad that she was city-smart.
“At least we made it without getting separated from the others,” Tiff hummed as the others joined us, having been only a small distance from us as we’d barrelled through the crowds. “Let’s go!”
“Alright,” I laughed as we began to walk down the thin street that made up Chinatown. Looking over my shoulder at the others, I couldn’t help but ask, “What are the criteria for clothing?” despite having ideas about what we could and couldn’t get.
“Decency,” Nathan replied, looking around as we found the Target. “No dresses, no skirts, no high heels or indecent shoes. We want practical, not pretty.” This drew a whine from Tiff, but she didn’t complain. “Just get shirts, jeans, tracksuits, sneakers, socks, underwear, and – for the ladies – brassieres. Belts if you need. Gloves if you can.”
“Gloves?” Aidan inquired.
Nathan nodded. “To protect your hands from cold; fighting is difficult when your hands are stiff and not fully limber.” He pulled out a credit card. “We can use this. It’s not in my name; it’s in my mentor’s, rest his soul. I repay it, though.”
We all nodded in acceptance of the terms, although his use of a dead person’s card was a little morbid. Grabbing baskets, us girls went to the women’s section, while Nathan and Aidan went to the men’s. We gathered what we needed rather quickly, although it saddened me that we had to leave behind a shirt that Tiff absolutely adored, and soon enough we had regrouped. Aidan had two baskets, and I assumed the second was for Soren, which was a nice gesture on his part.
Nathan nodded in approval at the lack of frivolity in our baskets before we headed to the register. I felt sorry for the poor cashier; she seemed swamped with the whopping amount of clothes we had, and was even more stunned when Nathan handed over the credit card as if he was buying only a few pairs of underwear rather than what appeared to be half the damned store.
After paying and sorting our bags out, we returned to the car to stash our gear, and it was here that Tiff said, “I could go for a milkshake.”
My thoughts turned to a delicious vanilla milk and ice cream concoction. “Mmm... same here.” I looked at the others. “I have about twenty dollars cash on hand... can Tiff and I go get a drink? We’ll also use the time to search for any leads on Ryval…”
Nathan looked at Lydia, who shrugged, before returning his attention to us and inclining his head. “Do you have our mobile numbers?”
I nodded, holding up my phone; on the screen, it was displaying Lydia’s contact details. “We’ll ring you when we finish our drinks.” Then I chuckled, a thought fluttering through my mind. “It feels funny asking, considering I’m technically the oldest in the group, but hey, just thought I should.”
A light smirk tugged on Nathan’s lip. “Don’t be any longer than two hours.”
I grinned and bobbed my head, taking Tiff’s hand and dragging her along as we went to find a café. We soon located a quiet little one tucked away on nearby Elizabeth Street, and I briskly ordered for both of us as Tiff sat down. I joined her after paying, sighing. “This is a right mess, huh?”
“It really is,” she sighed softly, tapping the table with a fingertip. “First Iris’ death, and now this investigation...” She ran a hand through her hair. “It’s getting big...”
“I know,” I mused, falling quiet as the waitress came over and set our glasses of frothy, milky deliciousness down in front of us. We thanked her as she returned to the service counter, then took sips before continuing our conversation. “But did you expect any less? Ryval’s set in her plan.” I took another sip; I had forgotten how good vanilla milkshakes were. “And I learned a long time ago that Demons are pretty hard to deter.”
Tiff went to reply, but was interrupted as piercing screaming rang out, and the clutter and hustle of the café screeched to a halt. My eyes widened as I looked out the window and watched a bloodied, bruised man stumble out from a nearby alleyway and fall to the ground, dead before his body landed. This was the cue for me to bolt out of the café, nearly spilling my milkshake everywhere. But I didn’t care; I’d already paid for the silly thing anyway. My focus was on the dead man.
Tiff was right behind me as I dashed over to the body, then into the alley. I skidded to a stop and gasped as I laid eyes on a familiar Demon woman, slitting the throat of an innocent university student and throwing her still twitching body on a pile of absolutely mutilated corpses, some of which still jerked and spasmed with ebbing life. Then, completely ignoring Tiff and I, she returned her attention to a small, shaken group of Humans, who were huddled and scared to death.
I stepped forward, drawing upon my abilities and preparing to use powerful Magic only to be thrown into a wall by a strong psychic force. I gasped as my back slammed into cold, hard brick, and I struggled against the energies pinning me, although I was unable to break free.
“Well, well, if it’s not the lovely Sai and her illustrious Human companion.”
The voice chilled me to my core; the blood in my veins froze, my heart stopped beating, and my brain stopped functioning. The only thing that moved was my eyes, and they settled on the form of the youngest remaining Firstborn. “Tyrus...?” I whispered, petrified and disbelieving.He had a vile smirk upon his face as he stepped out of the shadows. He hadn’t changed from when I’d last seen him, except this time, a strange symbol emblazoned the breast of his jacket. It resembled some sort of pinwheel-esque star resting inside two incomplete circles, and rage burned within me as I laid eyes on it. You don’t deserve to wear that symbol! I wanted to scream, yet I was wise enough to keep my mouth closed for now.
“It seems, from the gleam in your eyes, as if you haven’t forgotten me, fellow Firstborn,” he mused idly, not too chuffed that we were here. “And here I was thinking you had.”
“How could I forget you?” I retorted dryly. “You tried to kill me! And you know better than anyone that no Firstborn attempts to erase the life of another; there are only two of us left!”
“You said you would accept the Human’s fate as yours.” His tone had gone from languid and almost playful to dark and venomous. “You went back on your word.”
“She did nothing wrong!” I argued, looking over and watching helplessly as Ryval finished slaughtering the last of the group of Humans. “She didn’t deserve death! That was an unjust punishment!” I struggled against the psychic bonds as Ryval stalked over to Tyrus’ side, her lips pursed in amusement and a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth.
“Well, hello there, my darling daughter~! Oh, and look, you bought your friend along~!” she chimed, clapping her hands together joyously. The very act – and the sweet tone of her voice – disgusted me, and from the corner of my eye I saw Tiff flinch back in equal repulsion.
“Don’t be sweet with me!” my friend angrily spat, her disgust perspicuous in her voice. “You’re trying to kill my race! You have no right to act friendly towards me; I know your true intentions, bitch!”
“And you don’t deserve to call me your daughter,” I added hotly, squirming a bit more. “You’re a twisted bitch who doesn’t understand that this mass murder is wrong, even if it is some sort of screwed-up revenge scheme.” I then jerked my head at Tyrus, keeping my eyes in line with Ryval’s. “It’s even worse to know you’re working with him. Why’s he here?!”
Ryval’s smile fell, but it was not she who spoke. “Ryval here was kind enough to allow me to help her, in order to track down the Humans that have escaped their punishments in the past... including Tiff.” He seemed cheerful over something, given how he purred that out. “And to think one of them is already suitably… punished.”
Iris. He’s talking about Iris.
Anger pulsed into my body, but before I could say anything I felt the psychic hold on me vanish, just as Ryval sent those horrible Magic spears at both Tiff and I. A yelp escaped me just as I threw up a Magic shield, with Tiff cringing behind me and squealing in terror. Tyrus also summoned sharp blades, throwing them individually, attempting to break my shield. He knew that he had to be precise and consistent with his blows, keeping them to one place, so he could weaken me… and that was exactly what he was doing.
Of course, I wasn’t about to let that happen.
“Tiff!” I barked, backing up a bit and fortifying my shield. She looked at me, her eyes wide with terror, as I did so. “We need to run, now!”
“R-Right!” she whimpered, before turning tail and fleeing. I followed closely, keeping my shield up as we fled as the knives and spears continued to rain upon us. However, Tyrus and Ryval didn’t physically follow us, much to my surprise and confusion… and relief.
Once we got out of the alley, we paused on the footpath to catch our breaths, shaking and swallowing heavily. “Oh my God,” Tiff gasped out, “That was hairy!” She shook her head as she spoke, doubled over with her palms gripping her knees so hard her knuckles were going white.
“That was almost the end of our lives,” I corrected, huffing and puffing, in the same state she was… but only because using my Magic had sapped my energy. “We have to get back to the others. We have to tell them what happened!”
Tiff nodded shakily as she straightened up, trying to compose herself. She was clearly terrified of what had just happened, and I didn’t blame her. “Alright.” She exhaled heavily, just as I straightened and took her hand, leading her along Elizabeth Street.
We walked in silence, looking over our shoulders frequently as we hurried back to the car. We definitely looked like we’d just witnessed a murder; many a time people stopped us and asked us if we were okay. All who stopped us were Human though, except I did notice a few Nephilim here and there looking at us in worry... or, rather, looking at me in worry. They didn’t particularly care about Tiff; most Nephilim didn’t care about Humans so personally. But, at the same time, they did. They were the race we were most like, just physically weaker. Our ‘baby sibling’ race, if you would. They were powerless to defend themselves against Demons or Angels, and a massacre like the one the Nephilim been through wasn’t something we ever wanted to happen again. That was why I particularly wanted to save the Humans. They were young, and undeserving of the destruction Ryval was planning for them.
Finally, we laid eyes on the car, and the second we were safely in the presence of the others we were being smothered by questions.
“Where have you been?!” Lydia demanded, lines of worry etched deeply into her flesh. “We’ve been ringing you! Why weren’t you answering your phone?! Did you realise how worried we’ve all been?!”
At this I pulled out my phone and checked; indeed, I had about ten missed calls. “We got into a bit of a situation,” I hurriedly said, then gave a summarised report of what had unfolded. The others listened in silence. After my explanation, I huffed and said, “At least, they didn’t give chase.”
“A small blessing.” Nathan seemed angry. “Let’s get back to the safehouse.” He yanked the car’s driver side door open roughly, and both Tiff and I flinched as he did so. Nothing was said as we got into the car after the others had, with Hailey and Aidan looking quite bemused and worried, and Lydia just stone-faced. Tiff and I didn’t dare say a word as we pulled onto the road, swallowing the lumps that had formed in our throats.
On the way home, Nathan and Lydia ripped into us. They were clearly panicked, and I especially was utterly ashamed as they told us of the potential danger we could have put the entire city in. “As it is,” Nathan growled at one point, “You endangered your own lives!”
“I didn’t think we’d encounter her,” I murmured quietly and sadly. “I didn’t think she was still hanging around. And Tyrus’ presence was not something I’d ever thought I’d need to factor in.”
Nathan huffed, but fell silent, merely switching the radio on. The first thing I heard was a report on the murders Tiff and I had witnessed, and I hung my head in shame at being unable to prevent them, my fringe falling over my face. Tiff put a hand on my shoulder, her face set with worry, and gave a comforting squeeze before removing her hand and looking morosely out the window, folding her hands in her lap.
After the report was over, Nathan switched the radio off, muttering, “At least you two were not mentioned,” as he drove. We both flinched before slumping even more, and I heard Lydia say a harsh, quiet chastisement.
We finally returned to the safehouse, after what seemed like forever, and it was here that we saw something quite surprising.
Standing near Iris’ makeshift grave was Soren. That was surprising enough; he was outside near the grave he had refused to approach for some time. But that wasn’t the most astonishing sight. It wasseeing who Soren was with that was surprising. Diablo was leaning against a tree, involved in light conversation with the still sad-looking Nephilim, but they paused their confabulation as the car rolled to a stop.
As we all stepped out, the Demon smiled warmly and walked over to greet us. “Ah, just the Nephilim, Humans, and Halflings I desired to visualise!”
We all remained silent, baffled by how he’d worded that. Aidan managed to find his voice first. “Nice way of wording that,” he said slowly and carefully.
Diablo’s grin only stretched wider at this. “Demons are strange creatures,” he said delightedly. After he spoke, though, he became deadly serious. “But enough banter. I came here with a purpose.”
“And that would be?” Lydia’s tone was no-nonsense, and her lips were pursed into a tight, thin line. She was, indubitably, still irritated with Tiff and I.
Diablo noticed the edge to her voice and became a little uptight. “I need your help in finding my brother’s Nephilim children.” He crossed his arms over his muscled chest. “Supposedly, according to Mephisto, they’re in imminent danger.”
“From Ryval.” It was not a question from Hailey; it was more of a knowledgeable statement. “They’re in danger from Ryval.”
“Correct.” Diablo’s tail flicked. “Also… I am coming along with you to find them. It’s a necessity.”
Hailey blinked a bit at that. “But…why? Why is it necessary for you to come along with us?” I could see the same question dancing behind the eyes of Lydia and Nathan.
I prepared myself mentally for whatever bombshell Diablo was about to drop on us, but clearly I hadn’t prepared myself well enough, because I was admittedly quite shocked when Diablo said, “They’re liable to attack strangers – even Firstborn – on sight.” He grimaced. “So, as much as we all don’t like it... because believe me, I don’t… I am temporarily joining your group, not only to look for Mephisto’s kids, but also to aid in your hunt for the Demon rogue, Ryval.”