Chapter 1: Under the scarlet sky
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any events alluding to real-life people, dead or alive, are entirely coïncidental. That being said, please do not copy, distribute or otherwise profit from this work. Telling other about this work is fine.
The night sky was like it always was. Bloody red with a milky-white orb hovering in the middle. The streets were empty; not even a single light protruded from the dark homes. A thick blanket of silence smothered the entire town as shadows reached out for each other through the scarlet glow of the heavens. There were no cars, no drunkards nor businessmen trying to catch the last train. The only two people in the city talked underneath a broken streetlight, whispered to each other as if they were scared the shadows would hear them.
“2.000 cash,” A male voice cut through the silence. “Highest grade, of course.” Another voice, a high-pitched male one, bounced against the nearby brick wall of a house.
“That much?! I-I don’t even earn that much in a whole month!” The first man shrugged, fumbling with his pockets before procuring a small plastic bag with a couple of fluorescent-coloured pills inside it. The high-pitched man immediately slashed towards it with his left hand, nervously scratching his right cheek with the other.
“That’s just sad. That means I’ll sell this to somebody else. You know how it is in business.” The man put the bag in his pocket and turned around on the back of his immaculately polished heels. He walked a couple of feet, making sure the sound of his steps echoed clearly around him. As his feet lead him into the nearest alley, someone tugged on the back of his coat.
“Ple-Please! I-I’ll do anything! Ju-Just give me the bag!” The man’s bloodshot eyes threatened to bounce out of his sockets as he tried forcing his way into the other man’s pockets. A swift kick to the chin tumbled him backwards, however.
“Anything, huh…? Then sell your house,” came the reply of the man. His assailant’s eyes went wide as he jumped back unto his shaky knees. “B-But… My-My wife. My kids. I-I…” The man’s words stumbled over his tongue as he anxiously scratched his broken skin. Blood dripped down his cuts as he bit on the stumps that were supposed to be his nails.
“I don’t care. Sell your house to me, or you can look for a new supplier.” The man’s words froze before they left his mouth. He looked at the man in front of him with a cold gaze, jiggling the pills hidden inside his pockets. The shaking man wiped the drool off his crackled lips as he stumbled on his feet.
“F-Fine,” The man swallowed a knot of drool as he pointed at the pockets of his supplier. “Bu-But give me three days… I-I need to prepare the paperwork.” The supplier shook his head and stepped away.
“No contract, no pills. Now get out of my sight. I am a busy man.” The man swiftly turned around and disappeared into the nearest alley.
“Not so fast.” A deep masculine voice echoed from within the alleyway. A mere second later, the supplier got smacked by a streetlight. As he tumbled backwards, a loud crack echoed through the sky before he came to a stop in the middle of the street. While he tried untangling himself from his limbs, the newcomer glanced at the addict trembling on his knees.
A young man appeared from within the shadows. Balancing on the edges of his sneakers, he straightened his shorts. Coupled with his short-sleeved shirt, he looked like he had lost the way from the beach. A soft smirk tugged at his lips while his ice-cold blue eyes looked at the men in front of him. One groaning in pain while the other nervously scratched his skin to ribbons.
“Gi-Give me the stuff!” The man suddenly lashed out; His fingers barely reached the newcomer. The new man jumped back as his bright blue eyes looked around. With a sway of his black woollen coat, he slapped the nearest trashcan and reached into his right pocket. A deep eerie purple glow emanated from within as he pulled out a game controller. With a simple flick against the joystick, the trashcan broke free of the steel bands that kept it drilled into the floor and hovered beside the newcomer.
“You’ll never understand what that stuff is.” The newcomer spat. He flicked the joystick forwards, sending the trashcan straight at the addict. With a dull bonk, the lid connected with the man’s nose. Splatters of blood followed him as he skidded to a stop on the cobblestoned floor. Without giving his body a moment’s rest, the addict jumped back to his feet. The tip of his pointy nose pointed at 11 o’clock while the rest pointed at 3 o’clock. The pain didn’t seem to bother him.
“Gi-Give…” The rest of his sentence disappeared in a bloody bubble as he coughed up an impressive amount of blood. While trickles of slime and bloody foam bubbled up past his lips, the man charged once more. With a flick of his right thumb, the newcomer summoned the trashcan back to him. The contents spilt everywhere, leaving a penetrating smell behind.
���Remember, you wanted this.” The young man rotated the joystick twice, causing the trash bin to spin around. A second later, the newcomer sent the whizzing steel object straight at his assailant. After a straight hit in the stomach, the man pulled back on the joystick before having the trashcan smack the man straight against the knees. A sickening crack echoed between the two sides of the alley as the man sunk to his bloody knees. And yet, he didn’t give in.
“G-Give it…” Blood foamed at his lips as he clawed his way to his target. His feet uselessly dragged behind him, leaving behind a macabre trail of blood. It eerily worked well with the scarlet sky above.
“I see. Allow me to end your suffering.” The newcomer knew like no other how definite the man’s situation was. He had seen it way too many times. With a relentless flick on the game controller seemingly glued to the man’s palm, the trashcan rose high into the sky. While keeping track of the man’s position, the newcomer adjusted the trashcan’s trajectory.
“May your end be swift and painless.” With those words and a swift flick of the joystick, the trashcan charged down. Like a meteor, it crashed straight into its target. The addict didn’t even have time to scream. The life disappeared from his bloodshot eyes as his spine shattered under the unrelenting force of the trashcan. After that, only silence reigned in the street as the young man turned around and walked away.
Death by trashcan. I can imagine better ways to go.” A female voice cut through the darkness, causing the young man to jump to the nearest lamppost. He smacked it with his left hand, causing the controller in his right hand to glow in an eerie purple. With a loud screeching noise, the streetlight hovered right next to the man.
“Who’s there?” The man’s ice-cold blue eyes looked at every nearby shadow. Yet, he couldn’t find a single shadow that deviated from the rest. All of them looked as they were supposed to be until he heard a dry click from above. It sounded like metal sliding against smooth steel.
A gun, the young man realized.
“Don’t move.” Ignoring the warning, the newcomer jumped forwards and summoned the streetlight at his back. A second later, a bullet grazed his cheek and smashed into the cobblestone street with a shower of sparks. The young man swerved around on the back of his heels and aimed the streetlight upwards.
“Never thought I’d meet one of Cybersecurity’s aces here, of all places. Julian Gromel.” The female figure jumped down the roof. The man called Julian grimaced when he heard the voice. He knew she had a sharp mind but bypassing his firewall-program and decoding the entire thing he did on his office computer required some real grey cells.
“The same goes for you, boss. What would your colleagues say when they knew Carmilla Agravole loved nightly escapades like this?” When the woman finally landed on the floor and rolled another bullet into her gun’s chamber, Julian readied his streetlight. The woman brushed aside her cotton vest and reached for her left hip, where a smartphone rested inside a leather pocket.
“Why did you kill him?” Carmilla waved with her gun at something behind Julian. The young man instinctively knew what she was on about. As if the drifting stench of death didn’t tip him off. Julian sighed and scratched his black hair. Maybe he jumped the gun too soon. However, Julian knew that speed was key in situations like these. He shivered when he thought back at the one time he didn’t act swiftly.
“I ended his suffering. You’ve seen the news; Once they go into that state, they never come back. Or die trying.” The woman brushed her light-purple bangs back and put her gun into its sheath, which hung from her right leg. Julian was surprised by his boss’ new look. During a typical workday, she’d wear her hair free. Now, she had bound it into a tight braid that reached to her hips. With a couple of quick steps on her 3-inch heels, the woman closed the distance in a matter of seconds.
“Right. And I suppose you won’t be giving me an explanation for you being here on this side either?” She whispered into his right ear before taking a swift step backwards. The scent of her lavender-inspired perfume clung to the young man as he rapidly enlarged the distance between him and his boss.
“I could ask you the same thing. What the hell are you doing here?” Before Carmilla could answer, a loud bang echoed through the street. A piercing pain shocked through Julian’s left arm as he sunk to one knee. Hot blood rolled down his fingers and dripped on the ground. Carmilla quickly turned around and fired one round of her gun before grabbing Julian and pulling him behind the nearest lamppost.
“Argh… That went straight through.” Julian bit through the pain and stumbled back unto his feet. He threw a cold glance down the street. At the end, a fumbled figure slowly scrambled back unto his feet. His right arm had stopped bleeding, yet the milky-white bone protruding through his skin didn’t give him much chance to live an everyday life after this. He didn’t seem to care much about the pain, however.
“Let me handle this.” Carmilla brushed her cotton jacket to the side and fished her smartphone out of an easy-to-reach pocket strapped to her right leg. Her fingers dashed over the screen as she put the thing near her ear.
“Calling cobblestone,” went her voice. Her tone had shifted from her usual warmth to a calculating, cold one. “Raise temperature without limits.” She focused on the man’s feet, gazed over the rim of her glasses. A couple of seconds later, the ground underneath the man started warping. Or rather, melting would be a better description. The normally stone-cold rock morphed as it grew increasingly redder. A second later, a hole appeared with bubbling magma inside. Before the heat devoured the man whole, he jumped away.
“Tsk. Pesky little bastard.” Carmilla typed in the same number, with the same results. The man jumped up and reached into his pockets. In his hands, he held a golden-accentuated gun. He rapidly pulled the trigger, launching a volley of seven bullets.
The purple-haired woman ducked behind a steel bench while Julian ran towards a new lamppost and slapped it with his damaged left hand. He hid behind it as it slowly hovered out of the ground, bullets creating a lethal shower of sparks as they ricocheted in all directions. When Julian heard the gun’s hammer hitting only empty shells, the young man sent the streetlight flying at the man. To increase his range, he made it spin uncontrollably, reaching both sides of the wall. The man ducked, flattening himself as much as possible. The only thing the lamppost managed to hit was the man’s blonde hair.
“Stand still!” Julian immediately pulled back on the joystick, causing the lamppost to slowly come to a standstill. A swift circle of the joystick later and the steel pole was already on the way back to try to get in another hit. As the man jumped back on his feet, his right arm hanging uselessly from his side, he smirked and reached into his pocket. A dim silver glow erupted from his left hand, ending when a new gun materialized between his fingers.
“Artifactor!” Those were the only words Carmilla managed to bring out before she switched the bench she was hiding behind for a lamppost and threw a stealthy look at Julian. Hiding from the spark-shower the bullets created with whatever they bounced away from, the young man tried to get the right aim.
“You can’t keep hiding forever!” The man’s hoarse voice barely reached above the roaring of his guns. Whenever he was out of bullets, he materialized another gun which looked exactly like the one he used first. Julian took a look at the steel barely protecting him; A couple more shots and his hiding place would be shot to bits, followed by him getting perforated.
“Hold your attacks for a while, Carmilla.” Julian took a closer look at the man’s position. He was walking closer and closer to them, neglecting his surroundings in the process. The young man flicked the joystick in a circle as the lamppost reared back. Occupied with the people he was using as target practice and deafened by his own guns’ noise, the man didn’t hear the whoosh of wind behind him. Until it hit him straight in the chest.
With a sickening sound, he crashed into the brick wall. In a moment’s notice, Carmilla jumped from behind her hiding place. With her eyes trained on the man’s fumbled form, she rapidly tapped in a number on her smartphone.
“Calling to brick, raise temperature thousand degrees.” Her gaze was locked onto her target. The air around the blonde man rippled as the brick rapidly heated up. In a few seconds, the wall melted away. The man’s screams were drowned as the entire wall collapsed in on itself, quickly solidifying the human underneath it.
“Argh… That’s going to be a week off work, at least.” Julian rubbed his right shoulder. The bleeding had stopped, but the bullet had torn entirely through the muscles. Carmilla chuckled as she put her smartphone back into her thigh-pocket and returned her gun to its sheath. The woman brushed against her bangs while her green eyes inspected the man in front of her.
“No matter where you go, you remain the same, don’t you?” Julian shrugged. It had been 5 years since he started working as a cybersecurity officer. It was less exciting than he’d imagined it to be, but it was satisfying to see the looks on criminals’ faces when they realizer they’d been done in by a nerd; A nerd who was barely 25, no less.
“Whatever you say, boss. I’m going home. I’ve got my free day tomorrow, and I don’t want to spend it catching up on sleep.” Julian yawned and turned around, wanting to walk away from the small massacre. However, insistent pressure on his wrist refused to let him escape. The blue-eyed man sighed and glanced over his shoulder, straight into the green eyes of his boss.
“Not so fast. Since you are an artifactor, you’ll have to come with me. No if, and or but!” Carmilla’s voice sounded resolute. Julian wiggled his wrist back and forth, wanting to escape from the woman’s grip. No luck. Her fingers just dug deeper into his skin, followed by her nails. Ignoring the sharp pain racing through his veins, Julian reached for the controller hidden inside his pockets.
“I don’t think—” His voice cut off when he felt the cold press of steel against his temple. “That wasn’t a suggestion. You come with me, or I’ll shove this thing right up your—” Julian shivered when he felt her breath rolling against his skin. It had been a while since anyone –let alone a woman—had been so close to him.
“Okay, okay! I’ll follow along, but leave my ass out of this discussion!” Carmilla frowned. She put her pistol away as she loosened her grip slightly.
“Ass? Who said anything about your posterior? I planned to ram the gun down your nostrils. Get your mind out of the gutter, Julian!” She said before walking past him, leaving only a trail of lavender mingled with salty sweat behind. As the blue-eyed man looked at her figure strutting down the street with the scarlet sky looking down upon her, he felt something beside him. When he looked, he saw his shadow warping back and forth into a big question mark.
“I know, I know… keep everyone away from our goal. But you’ve got to admit; people make for the best pawns.” The shadow wiggled back and forth, waiting a couple of seconds before it changed into a big thumbs-up sign. Julian smirked as he turned his attention back to the purple-haired woman.
“What are you waiting for?” She tapped her 3-inch heels on the ground as she glared at the blue-eyed man. Julian shook his head, a soft smile tugging at his lips as he joined her. This threw a wrench in his plans and yet... This was the opportunity he needed.