//Caim’s Point of View//
I found you on a cold dead night…
A hauntingly familiar, and yet strange song echoed in my dreams. I saw her face again, golden eyes gleaming as a setting sun would. Her jet black hair flowed freely in the wind, minus the white-gold strand that she took extra care of while brushing her hair out. I heard a familiar soft chuckle while I admired her, the gems in her jewelry slowly changing color from turquoise to a soft pink.
Appearing in my life, like a falling star.
I was long lost and dead inside…
The song continued to echo softly, but she seemed not to hear it. A smile formed as she finished brushing her hair, putting the brush down to pick up the pearl and put it in her headdress. The grey pearl changed to pink as the other jewels she wore did. With a sigh, I got up from her lap with a groan of pain. The bandages on my body are tightening or shifting uncomfortably. The past few weeks with her had been a hell of a journey, and only William believed me when I said she was real and here.
You warmed my cold dead heart…
You showed me the light of life…
“You mentioned before that I… helped you somehow?” I asked her, reliving the memory in a dream again.
“Mmm? I mentioned that? Really?” She asked in a rhetorical manner but looked at me as though expecting an answer.
She enjoyed these little moments for reasons I could never fathom but I humored her nonetheless. “Yes! I… I am curious, and obviously I won’t try to change what will happen… but, maybe it will ease my mind a little?” I suggested it to her with nervous energy.
You made me feel alive
When I thought I was dead inside…
She laughed again, leaning back against the tree that was behind her. She gazed at the sky for a moment, the color dimming from blue to twilight hue mixed of orange blue and purple as the sun set. Her eyes closed briefly, before returning their gaze to me, her golden pupils gleaming in the dark. “It was a beautiful winter day, there wasn’t much snow that fell the night before and… I vaguely remember a popular song playing on the radio. It was about a young man who found the love of his life, someone that changed him forever, before losing her.”
The scars I had, didn’t make you run…
“I was with my best friend at the time. I was looking at some pants while she was in another shop to quickly grab something before coming back to me. Well, that was the original plan…” She recalled as her eyes slowly drifted to the ever changing sky once more.
Rather, you make me shiver under the night
Grasping the warmth of my embrace…
“I also remember you always worked yourself to the bone. You were always so lost in your work that you wouldn’t fight, letting others ill-suited to the tasks do the jobs.” Her smile faded a bit as she gave me a somewhat stern look. Some problems had yet to be fixed, though I don’t think I was as bad as I had been.
You disappeared like a wishing star
You vanish like an illusion
And left behind a bleeding scar…
“And honestly, you need to stop constantly working! This is, as far as I know, one of your worst habits. And worse than that, every time I wake up in bed, your side is always cold. Sometimes I wonder if you’re waiting for me to sleep before wandering off to do something!” I cringed a bit on the inside, guilt washing over me. I had done that a few times.
That will probably never heal
She smiled gently at me, her eyes filled with tenderness and longing. I felt my cheeks turn red as I looked elsewhere to avoid her gaze, and then I heard her laughing at my reaction. Next to her, I felt as though I was nothing, and yet she showed herself to me.
I’ve lost myself when you ran away
“Everything was going smoothly, kids crying here and there, the teenagers being loud and talking about how horrendous their lives are…”
And for so long I’ve looked for you…
“Then there was a massive blackout. The wards protecting the mall stopped working. The emergency generator isn’t turning on. The little ones are panicked, the teenagers laugh to hide their fear while the parents try to comfort their kids.
Without a trace you disappeared
After one last kiss you vanished
Just like if you never exi-i-i-i-st-eeee-hisssss
I jerked awake when the radio sputtered between the song and the static. Looking around, I noticed the store lights were out. I turned the key and removed it from the ignition, with the static of the radio gone, i found the stillness of the air to be unsettling. Everything was much too quiet, the tension in my neck was painful and made the hairs on the back of it stand up. Something was very… very wrong.
And then… there was an explosion…
Her words echoed in my mind softly, but they may as well have been a siren screeching its warning of impending disaster. I did not need to wait long as my heart pounded in my chest, staring at the mall with worry. My mouth went dry when I saw a burst of light. The shockwave from the explosion came moments later, making the car tremble and the people walking in the parking lot fell on the ground hard. The people I could see in my general area seemed to have no or minor injuries, as they got back up quickly and ran away screaming.
With gritted teeth, I hit the button to pop the trunk open and quickly got out of the car. While rummaging through my keyring, I kicked the trunk up with my foot and soon found the tiny silver key with bronze tarnishing on it. I used the key to unlock the miniature safe in my trunk, and pulled out a large bag with a padlock on it. The padlock was swiftly removed and the contents of the bag examined quickly: Syringe, various painkillers, sedatives, bandages, alcohol swabs, and some splints for arms and legs, and one for the neck.Checking the contents of the bag’s inventory had taken me only a few seconds before I took out a small box and zipped the bag closed. I opened the box and pulled out a small device that is akin to a bluetooth but with noticeable differences. After I hooked the device into my ear and turned it on, I put the monocle over my left eye and waited for the device to boot up. As it did, it made various weird noises which I ignored while taking out a jacket one might see on Police or FBI agents. However, unlike either of their logos, the letters PRIMAL were written on the back in big bold letters and smaller on the front right and left of the vest in the shoulder areas. A pair of black padded gloves with an oxygen sensor in either index finger.
While I pulled out other protective gear and started to put everything on, I moved the number dials on the suitcase and popped it open. Several weapons immediately became visible. I eyed the hunting rifle that was modified for darts loaded with sedatives, however, I wasn’t sensing any higher tier energies in the area and the hunting rifle was designed with destructive beings in mind. My eyes moved to the belt with the multiple quick access pockets and the case of vials beside it. I pulled the belt out, and started to quickly load the vials into the pockets or straps as necessary. While I hope not to use such things, experience has taught me it’s far better to have a little bit of everything. I put the belt on, closed and locked everything up that I wasn’t taking with me and double checked the locks. Once satisfied, I closed the trunk and started walking briskly toward the mall.
The device that I had put on earlier finally made a connection while I was walking. I took a moment to move my hand to adjust the volume. “Operation Center, this is White Nightmare. Confirm signal and ID please.”
“Acknowledging White Nightmare, this is S-O-O-C. Please Confirm Identity and explain your situation.” The voice in the ear piece responded in a cool and calm manner.
“Tango Alpha Romeo Delta India Sierra, the brakes are working. Walking towards Grand Sanctum Plaza in Yerith, buildings dark and no signs of power. There was a detonation moments ago. I am requesting permission to engage and I need Intel stat!” I said as quickly but clearly as possible.
“Roger that White Nightmare. The Headmaster will be notified of the situation, Teams in the area are now being assembled. ETA will be established shortly. Is there anything else you need?” The operator on the other end now sounded more alert and serious, as though a dull day had suddenly gotten more interesting.I responded with maybe a bit of a growl in my throat. “Just get me Authorized to engage. I’ll provide intel for anyone coming in hot if you’re in the dark.”“Understood. Request for Authorization was sent out less than a minute ago. You will be noti---” The operator paused for a moment. I was worried the connection had gone bad for about two seconds before I heard his voice again. “Update: You are Authorized to engage White Nightmare. I repeat: You are Authorized to engage. Orders are to Render Aid to Civilians, Provide Intel and avoid conflict until back-up arrives. Acknowledge please.” This operator was a bit green but he was doing a good job keeping things to the point. Either the training was getting better or this particular operator did not want to do field work.“Acknowledged Operator.” I said as I kept moving toward the building now with intent and determination.
“White Nightmare, you are being transferred to Headmaster’s on-duty Operator.” The voice said as the channel got switched as soon as he was done speaking.
Moments later, a new male voice filled my ear, which sounded like he had something in his mouth while talking. It also sounded bored, as though he didn’t care if there was a mission going on or not “Hello, White Nightmare, this is a Headmaster op now. We are using channel 19 and the Headmaster is awaiting a sitrep.”
I was walking into the mall as the new operations voice filled my ear. There was a mess of people all running from one general direction, screaming and fleeing from whatever had spooked them. Many of them rushed to get outside and I swiftly moved out of their way and got to the nearest area with cover so I could survey surroundings and hopefully spot the source of the disturbance. However, most of the mall, even in the dim daylight, looked relatively undamaged from my vantage point. My senses may have been a bit dull, I was more tired than usual, having not slept last night at all.
“White Nightmare, this is Headmaster talking, are you still with us?” Hunter’s voice came into my ear now.
Finally, someone who could give orders without the red tape. “This is White Nightmare.” I spoke softly now, despite the noise people were making, I did not want to get spotted by a potential enemy by being careless. “I am in the mall as we speak. Unwounded civilians are leaving the mall in large numbers. I see several wounded people but they’re moving just fine, some with assistance. However, the amount of blood I am smelling tells me there are plenty of corpses we’re going to need to deal with. Better bring the body bags.”“You are authorized to engage, do you have any intel on the enemy?” Headmaster asked me pointedly.
“I can smell two enemies not far from me. Lower tier. C rank. However, there may be some A ranks in the hot zone.” I said as I tried to sense the area around me with my eyes closed. I could hear the two close to me, faintly, but not enough to understand what, if anything was being said.
“This is Blue Jay of Team Slayer 31. ETA to the Hot Zone is twenty five minutes.” A captain spoke, indicating they were moving to the area now.“White Nightmare” Hunter’s voice again filled my earpiece, I mentally shook myself, Headmaster, we had to use codenames during operations. “You can confirm two enemies? How many potentials?”“At least ten, possibly twenty or more depending on the size of the enemy operation. The smell of acetone is heavy in the air.”
“Acetone?” The Headmaster responded in a cool manner, and after a brief pause, he started speaking quicker, realizing how serious our situation had become. “...Blue Jay, you are well versed in explosives, correct?”
“Yes sir! White Nightmare, can you describe the odor in more detail please!” Blue Jay barked out quickly at me.
“Acetone odor, weak, fruity-ish. A less aggressive nail polish. It’s close to the one from ten weeks ago in Erybert.” I said, focusing on getting out as many details as possible.
“Shit, that’s bad… sir!” my lip twitched a bit and curled into a smirk. The soldier briefly forgot he was soldiering. Then again, it was understandable… Explosives in a hot zone meant bullets were a last resort. The Blue Jays team was likely swapping to darts. But then he confirmed what I suspected. “TATp is what they used in Erybert, so that’s most likely what we’re dealing with, and a lot of it.”
“This is Headmaster, all soldiers enroute to the hot zone should prepare for heavy combat. This may or may not be the same group that was engaged in Erybert. Any explosives experts or specialists are to be considered VIP for this operation. Take a bullet for them if you have to! But make sure---”
I opened my eyes and started to scan the perimeter again. The people were fewer, so more details that I missed the first time were coming to me, broken store windows, scattered debris on the ground. There were forgotten personal items among the debris as well as a few people that were either dead or knocked out. Headmaster was in the middle of getting his teams to focus on their objectives before boots on the ground when I got slightly spooked and cut him off. “Ah shit!” I muttered through my teeth but still loud enough for the Headmaster to hear it.
“White Nightmare, Report!” He barked out in a way that told the rest of the soldiers to keep the channel clear.
I very carefully lowered the volume on the device, and slowly shifted my position to try and stay out of sight from the 5’9 dark skinned man with fully braided hair who had come into my visual range. His face was covered with several scars, with bright red eyes and long pointed ears covered in jewelry at the base of his earlobe and at the middle before the ear thinned out and looked more like an animals than human.The claws dripping with fresh blood were the biggest giveaway that he wasn’t entirely human. I heard him sigh, visibly irritated as he walked through the debris in the open area of the mall. He crossed his arms as he looked around the area, his claws almost seemed to be digging into his skin.
I felt his gaze being drawn toward my direction as I lowered my voice to a whisper that I hoped would be picked up by the transmitter and unheard by the enemy. “We have a problem. Patch me to all available Master Slayers and team leaders, stat!”“Roger White Nightmare, Patching you through!” Headmaster said quickly.
I heard the static as the channels were switched. “This is White Nightmare. Boots on hot zone in 13th ward. Explosion in the mall. Number of enemies, unknown. Two confirmed C ranks, multiple A ranks detected---”
I had to grit my teeth to keep from growling in frustration when I got interrupted. “White Nightmare, this is Black Dog. I know you didn’t relay your conversation to all of us just to tell us there’s some A ranks in the area.. Those are small fries, any squad here can handle almost any A rank problem. Hell, you can handle a squad of them by yourself!”
I let Black Dog rant, not daring to make any noise or sound to indicate my frustration. Once he finally shut up, I continued as though I had not been interrupted. “...And I’ve got eyes on an SS Rank. Simple support won’t be enough to engage the enemy.”“White Nightmare, this is Alpha Dragon, did you just say you have eyes on a double S Enemy? Please confirm!” he sounded surprised, and the fear was hard to miss in his voice as he asked for confirmation.
I carefully peaked around the corner, the enemy’s attention had been drawn elsewhere by something for the moment. I carefully moved my hand to the device in my ear. I heard a couple of slight clicks as the Monocle of the device briefly vanished and reappeared, setting itself in place in front of my left eye and began to transmit what I was seeing, or so I hoped. “Confirming visuals, I say again, Rank SS. Code name: Shadow Feather. Ka’alnire is in the Hot Zone.”Some visual data was starting to appear from the monocle that I could read, including the channel I was connected to, the number of people on it and who was speaking. My vitals were also being displayed, including my heart rate and oxygen level. All this would have been sent to HQ as soon as I put the gear on and transmitted constantly. This was so you could keep track of field agents… or find the bodies after the battle was over. There were several moments of dead silence on the coms, I knew they all had to be looking at the image in shock at seeing a live Rank SS Target in a hot zone. I also knew the silence wouldn’t last long.
“Sha-Shadow Feather? He shouldn’t be here! What is he doing in the city? How could he come in unnoticed!? We should have had intel on someone that strong in our backyard!” Black Dog snapped into the comms in panic.
Sure enough, soon the other leaders were swearing and screaming orders into the comms or at their squads. I had to take a deep breath while closing my eyes very briefly to shake my head at how quickly these leaders had gone from orderly to chaotic with the intel that a very dangerous enemy was in the hot zone. This wasn’t the kind of enemy you engaged expecting to win against. As I watched Ka’alnire in the hallway, he had his arms crossed and his claws still pressed into the skin of his arms, looking like they could pierce them with ease and yet they never did. My guess is, Ka’alnire had been planning to take as many hostages as possible to prevent us from being able to engage his group without risking civilian lives. I watched him kick a body on its stomach to its back, the empty stare of a corpse could be seen as he did. I heard him growl angrily without any trouble, which made me more sure of my hunch about hostages…
Primal is an organization of Demon Hunters, and we rank our “enemies” from F to X. Rank F is the weakest, followed by Rank E, D, C, B, A, S, SS, U, and X is the highest classification we give to the most dangerous. F is generally the rank we give to those who are crippled and imprisoned or not considered a threat. E is usually considered human or within the human range. D is akin to an Olympic level athlete. C is an Olympic Level athlete who wins all the golds every time. B and A is where you start to get to Supernatural stuff like werewolves, vampires, demons and the like. S is demi-god territory, these guys can level buildings or pick up a tree to swing at you. SS can destroy an entire city. U stands for Ultra, and typically Ultra’s are considered calamities that can damage an entire continent. And then there is Rank X, which started as a joke to classify planet destroyer beings, loosely linked to the X-Cases tv show some years ago. The list largely remained empty for decades until one was sighted for the first time...
Demon Hunters of Primal are rated from level 4 to level 1 with a level 1-S. Hunters can work in teams as small as three to six people. A level 4 team of hunters can deal with E-ranked enemies. A level 3 team can take on D-ranked enemies, and so on. Level 1-S hunters are typically rare, and not fully human. A team of 1-S hunters can deal with an A-ranked enemy. In Erybert, a S-ranked enemy required 5 teams of 1-S hunters to be taken down, and that particular battle had been long and hard fought. So when an SS-ranked enemy is both sighted and confirmed… Well, let’s just say that even the operators are going to be given a pair of boots and a gun where they can be spared. This is the kind of enemy you hear horror stories about and hope you never have to fight them yourself. And if you happen to be one of the lucky ones that survive it, you get to scare the rookies with how terrifying an experience it was.
There’s also one additional problem in dealing with Ka’alnire, maybe two… First, his strength is on par of that of comic book characters. And he’s not really the type to worry about killing a friend or foe. So the idea of being able to engage him with cover is laudable at best. You have to keep moving if you want to stay alive against this guy. Secondly, what makes spotting Ka’alnire such bad news that a group of seasoned demon hunters collectively shit their pants is the fact that he’s a package deal. Ka’alnire isn’t the type who thinks or plans, he’s just muscle. A guard, for something worse. Which means we’re not just dealing with one Rank-SS Supernatural entity. There’s probably at least two more of them either in the hot zone, or nearby. Complicated fails to sum up this situation. Imagine someone getting struck by lightning, hit by a car and having the winning lottery ticket burned to a crisp on the same day while telling you that their day can’t possibly get any worse.
I’m at the part where it just got worse. I am, quite literally, the only soldier in the hot zone for at least, if my display on the monocle is accurate, the next twenty minutes. I am alone, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the hunting rifle with the sedative darts is back in the parking lot. Locked in the safe, which is locked in the trunk of my car! And I’m not sure THAT even matters because I don’t know if the darts can even break this guy’s skin, not that I would want to try and find out even if I had the gun with me.
The Headmaster’s voice brought me out of my thoughts when his voice cut through everyone else’s. “White Nightmare, this is Headmaster. You are Authorized to engage, but the situation has changed. Combating an SS in a densely populated area would be catastrophic! Do not engage! I say again, do NOT engage!”“The only thing I want to engage in is the exit. But what do you want me to do? If I’m to render aid to the civilians I can’t sneak around them, there’s too many, I will be spotted.” I started muttering under my breath but didn’t care if they heard me or not. “Do not engage the enemy, dumbest fucking order you could give me, like i want to get in a scrap with a monster that can hit harder than a train…” I tend to go on at times…
“Headmaster, this is Alpha Dragon! White Nightmare will have to engage at some point. Once we get boots on the ground, we should allow White Nightmare to try and Ambush the SS target with support.” I had to mute my mic so they didn’t hear me muttering about how dumb they were being.
“This is Black Dog speaking! Giving him support and engaging against an SS enemy is far too dangerous! We will lose Slayers and Hunters in this engagement, and potentially expose PRIMAL to the public at large. This situation is too hot for us to handle!” Someone had some sense... Then again, Black Dog isn’t the bravest one of this bunch either. He’d much rather I engage alone and both of us take each other out, ‘Rat Bastard’ would be a much better code name for him.
I sighed again, exhausted for a number of reasons but the stress of this situation wasn’t helping any. My senses suddenly alerted me that my adversary was far closer than he had been a moment ago, and I had not heard him moving closer either, likely because of my muttering and listening to these idiots come up with one bad idea after another. I decided to change channels, and carefully moved my hand to do so, so I would only be connected with the Headmaster. I knew most of the team leaders didn’t like me and would be happy if this hot zone turned out to be my gravesite. At least the one in charge was able to understand the situation, even if it meant playing politics during a crisis like this.
I heard Ka’al click his tongue on his palate before leaning his back against the wall and slowly let himself slide down to a seat leaning against it, looking right at me. I had been kneeling to hide my presence behind one of the mall’s many advertising signs. However, it seemed like my adversary wasn’t interested in fighting either at the moment. I felt most of the tension leave my body, and double checked my comms to make sure I was only connected with the Headmaster before moving to sit myself and get comfortable. I moved the strap from my shoulder and placed the bag beside me, as it seemed like we would be here for a moment or two. If the leaders heard us talking, they’d likely assume I was joining the enemy. Hopefully, the pair of us could come to an agreement of sorts.
“Did you really think I wouldn’t be able to hear those idiots screaming, even if that thing is in your ear?” Ka’al asked me with a sarcastic fanged smirk.
“No, I knew something would give me away given enough time. Didn’t think those idiots would lose their collective shit all at once.” I said with a roll of my eyes and a sigh. “I keep forgetting about those ears.”
“Ah…” He gave me a genuine smile briefly and his right hand moved behind his right ear as he turned his head toward me with a gesture as though he was struggling to hear me, before leaning back against the wall smirking at his own joke. “These things don’t miss much. If I focus, I can hear hearts beating. But you know I could have killed you on the spot and gone on about my day, right?”
“Yeah, but I know you a bit better than that. You enjoy combat, not mindless killing, and you know I wouldn’t have engaged. I’m guessing you heard that much.” I said, opening one of the pockets in my jacket and pulling out an energy bar. “Fancy one?” I offered him, showing I had a second, I heard him growling and glanced up to see his teeth, most of which looked like fangs, likely an irritated response to the first thing I said.
“Nah, it’s got nuts.” he said with a slight shake of his head. “Got anything with oatmeal or cereal bars?”
“Sorry, standard MRE stuff.” I said with a shrug and tore mine open and took a bite. “We’ve got about fifteen minutes to talk, probably more since my guys need to change pants, among other things.”
Ka’al snorted with laughter, shaking his head at me. “That’s why I haven’t told the ‘Masters’ yet. Speaking of Masters, how are those grumpy old councilors you leashed yourself too?”
“Same as ever, bigoted, cowardly, short sighted morons.” I answered as I took another bite of my energy bar and gave him a shrug. “You know them as well as I do. Gotta say I’m surprised though, never took you for the mercenary type. I’ve seen you fight plenty of times, even in a Brawl, you only keep up appearances. Not sure it would be the same for those coming here though.”
Ka’al shifted uncomfortably, his gaze averted from me before he settled himself and returned his gaze to me. “Need money, can’t really ask my cousin or my father.”
“Too much pride?” I asked as I pulled out a bottle of water from the vest and opened it to drink from it.“Nah, can’t keep asking them for favors. I ask too much of them already, I can’t keep expecting them to pay for my life.” he said, shaking his head while his eyes moved to stare at the floor.
“You must really be scraping at the bottom of the barrel if you took a contract from someone like Sisilice. You’ve always been more of a free spirit.”
Ka’al took a breath and let out a long sigh. “Sadly, I can’t afford to be picky this time. But they ain’t paying me enough to fight you… or the Organization. I’m just here to keep the “Sheep” from escaping.”
“Hmm.” I replied thoughtfully, carefully considering my next topic choice. “But why do you need money? I’ve never known you to be the type to stay in one place, so I know you don’t have a house or an apartment, clothes have never been an issue for y---”
“I’m dying…” He said flatly, cutting me off mid sentence, which is what I was hoping for, getting down to why he was doing this. “I’ve lived for thousands of years, survived the plagues and the warlords, could’ve died in a hundred different battlefields. Hell I even fought against the Great Lords!” He said with a smile that didn’t match his eyes as he shook his head and looked back down at the ground.“And since you’re far from being human, I’m guessing your condition can’t be treated by human means.” I said, trying to get him to tell me more.
Ka’al used his hand to point to his temple. “Gonna die like a human unless I get this brain tumor cut out. There’s only a handful of doctors that can treat me, and they’re all asking for a lot of money up front. The kind I don’t have, and that’s just the basic package deal. It goes up if there are any additional problems.”
I took a deep, slow breath and slowly pushed myself to my feet. I saw Ka’al tense, and did the same. I knew the Headmaster could hear the conversation, and was likely listening to every word, so I needed to phrase everything as carefully as possible. “So, you can be bought then, if I offer you more money than what you’re being offered right now?”
“Can’t afford to be picky, so any job that pays well enough will be done.” Ka’al explained in an offhand manner, I watched him flex his fingers and as he seemed to prepare to fight.
“So then I have to make you an offer that you can’t refuse.” I said as I put my hands in my pockets, making sure he realized I wasn’t taking an aggressive stance.
I think my words confused him briefly as he considered them. “Huh? What, you’re gonna offer me your fortune?”
“No, a proposal, hear me out. You help me with the incident here, you take care of the small fry and let me aid the civilians. After we end the current crisis, you come with me to the Primal to be officially indexed. With regular tests to keep your records updated. After that, if the Headmaster needs your help, it can be to help the Hunters and Slayers training or to help take care of future incidents if they occur. We’d have to work out the arrangements at Primal, but I imagine that during your time there, you could get a regular salary, and perhaps bonus pay depending on when or if you help out during times of crisis.” I said, speaking somewhat slowly while trying to organize my thoughts before speaking them.
“I’m not sure a regular salary is going to cut it, even if it is from Primal…” Ka’al said with a look of disbelief across his features.
“Hang on, I’m not done yet. I will personally commit my time to taking care of you and your issue. I will assess your case and decide on the best course of action before I send you to an O.R. er, operating room.” I said, hoping the offer of having a personal doctor to tend to his needs would tempt him more than what I had offered previously.
“Is that why you work with William?” Ka’alnire asked more of himself than he directed at me. “I’d heard you got medical training, and you did disappear for a while. But I didn’t believe it… All this time, I could have just gone directly to you. I’m such an idiot.”
I watched Ka’al lift his head up and walk toward me. I felt my body tense, but tried to maintain a relaxed posture as he walked toward me. It didn’t take him long, maybe twelve steps to get within striking distance as he extended his arm toward me, his hand assuming the position one takes when one wants to make a handshake. “I’ll accept the conditions of the contract, with one condition of my own: If you find you can’t help me, you tell me.”I felt myself exhale a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I heard a sigh of relief in my ear from the Headmaster as I took Ka’al’s hand and shook it. “On my honor and my word, I agree to your terms.” With my other hand, I picked up my bag and put the strap over my shoulder once more. I released his hand a moment later, and started walking down the hall, no longer feeling the need to hide my presence.
Ka’al was a step behind me as I started moving, he said with a humorous tone. “So, you came in here quiet as a church mouse, hiding in the corridors and behind pillars and now you walk as if you don’t have a care in the world.”
“I prefer to avoid unnecessary fighting. And if I recall, bloody brawls never bothered you.” I said with a bit of cheek in tongue humor.
Ka’al laughed in response. “Nah, they never did. But even you have to admit, sometimes it can be satisfying to let it all out. So, now that you don’t have to fight, being noisy isn’t a problem anymore!”
I glanced over my shoulder to see Ka’al with a sly smile revealing many fangs and I quickened my pace, his words were not lost on me. I decided to mute my mic and swap over to the channel with the operators and Hunters of the Organization taking up positions around the mall, establishing a perimeter to keep the curious and innocent away. The point of doing this was to try and keep journalists out, and in the event they recorded anything sensitive that it could be screened before they got it out.
It didn’t take long before Ka’al’s former “coworkers” and I started to make a bit of a mess. The fight with the small fries was quick, effortless and without much blood spilled as Ka’al was quick and precise. It was a big advantage to allow him to dispatch the enemy while I tried to direct the hostages to the temporary infirmary that the Organization had set up. Almost everyone seemed unharmed minus some minor scrapes, cuts and bruising. The only major concern I reported was a child with a broken bone that should be moved to the front of the line when he made it to the infirmary, otherwise I stayed off the comms to listen.
While putting a splint on the child’s arm, he wailed in agony. I grumbled in frustration while trying to make sure the bone was set in place, which is hard to do with a small child trying to kick you to make you go away. At the same time I had to use both hands to keep the child’s arm in place. Tightening the splint required some extra coordination on my part, I didn’t want to have to do this more than once. A second time would be impossible as the child would know what to expect and would fight it even more than he was now. As expected, he screeched loud enough to make one’s ears ring, but the bone was set and the splint would hold. I let the arm go and the child immediately ran from me, but not in the direction I had hoped for.
Instead, the child was seeking comfort from a now dead parent or guardian, shaking the shoulder of a wide eyed corpse that was in an awkward sitting position against the hole in the sheetrock wall. With a growl, I picked the boy up and kept him at arm’s reach to prevent his legs from being able to reach me. Ka’al and I both heard a high pitched feminine scream and we exchanged a look with a nod, altering our direction slightly to help the next group of hostages. I put the boy in the hands of one of the other survivors and told them to take the boy and run and not to let him go as he would try to go back to his dead parents. Thankfully, they took the boy without question and seemed to keep a firm grip on him as they moved with the rest of the group.
Thanks to Ka’al, my hands and clothes remained clean of blood, for the most part. Though it was impossible to keep all of it from getting on me, thus far it was limited only to my boots and lower jeans, as the floor was riddled with it and corpses that one had to step over or into to continue moving along. I could almost swear Ka’al was having fun, though he had yet to encounter any real problems, as most of the henchmen he was dispatching were low ranked and deformed. Many were closer to beasts than humanoid, some having animal heads that make speaking any human tongue impossible.
Blood splashed and splattered as I ran to the direction of the scream. As Ka’al and I got closer, I could sense a stronger presence and knew this wasn’t going to be another one of the goons we would be dealing with, but the presence wasn’t nearly as threatening as Ka’al’s had been. We heard voices echo in the hallway as we got closer to the source.“You’ll be a good little piglet and stop fighting me now.” Said a sinister male voice.
“Nnngh.. No” wheezed a feminine voice sounding like she was struggling to breathe “Le… let me… g-ggha!” I’m certain the last word should have been ‘go’, but the woman couldn’t force the word out. There was a certain sauve and familiarity to the voice that made me worry and quicken my pace to match Ka’al’s.
“Ah! You see? I found the perfect leash for you! Now stop struggling piglet and behave so I can bring you back with the other piglets.” The voice commanded with an amused tone.
Both Ka’al and I saw a copper haired man holding up Camelia with a cable around her neck that he was effortlessly squeezing tighter around her neck. Her clothing was ripped and torn in some places. Bruises, cuts, scratches and scrapes could be seen all over her body, she was bleeding from many places but the worst was the head wound that had covered half her face with her blood. I could hear the desperate gasps for air. I saw her feet dangling inches above the floor. Her fingers clawing at the cable as she continued to writhe in vain seeking freedom.
Ka’al had barely taken a step, preparing to engage Daraku, when he saw me charge forward ahead of him. “Caim? What the hell are you doing?” It was hard to miss the surprise in his voice, but I didn’t care rushing forward.
The surprised exclamation from Ka’al caused Daraku to turn around and narrowly dodge my initial strike, causing him to release the cables holding Camelia. My second strike was dodged by a greater margin as I caught Camelia and dashed back toward Ka’al and away from Daraku, keeping her pressed tightly against me. I summoned my sword in my free hand and turned around swiftly, expecting Daraku’s counterattack but the surprise attack from me had briefly stunned him. I knew it wouldn’t take him long to collect himself as my knuckles turned white from my grip on the sword. I could hear Camellia squeal as her bloody arms wrapped around my back and her hands gripped what she could of my shirt not covered in the body armor. I could feel the wetness of her blood soak through it, and it only made me angrier.
My priority, however, wasn’t to fight but to get her to safety. I shifted my stance slightly, causing the blade tip to slide across the stone or tiled floor of the mall, creating a brief but horrible screech as I allowed my wings to unfurl and flex to get the blood circulating through them. “Can you run? You need to get away from here.” Camellia however, could only shake her head in response as she was shaking, coughing, and hiccuping. She would likely need a moment, one we didn’t have, to recover enough of her senses to run on her own.
“Oh? So Pretty Face has a weapon and white wings? Damn, the fuck are you? Man or Angel?” Daraku’s eyes then shifted to Ka’al. “And you Ka’al? The fuck are you doing here? I told you to stay at the entrance, and you let a pretty face get in? Tsh... Fucking useless, seems like I’ll have to do everything myself!”
I stared at my blade for a moment, and with a flick of my wrist and a brief flash of light, it vanished from sight. I quickly used the arm to scoop Camellia up from under the knees and pressed her firmly against me, intending to make a dash toward the medical team.
“Pft, Do you think I’ll let you run away, White Knight?” He asked with an excited grin as though his day had just gotten more interesting. “I’m not going to kill you until after you’ve watched me have my fun with my newest piglet. She has the most delightful squeals.”
My eyes shifted to Ka’al. “Keep him busy for a moment. I’ll be back as soon as I get this one to safety.” Ka’al only nodded in response, quickly moving between me and Daraku.
The area we were in made it difficult to get enough lift to use my wings, so I folded them as I started running as quickly as I could. My footsteps echoed in the hallway briefly as I started running, before the loud crashing boom of Daraku’s pursuit could be heard. I turned my head briefly to see him charging at me and Camellia as he summoned a war hammer that seemed far larger than one would expect a human to be able to wield, and his first attempt to hit me with it was far closer than I would care to admit as I felt the wind brush behind my wings. Less than a second later, I heard the thing slam through concrete and steel as though the materials had been made of paper and barely slowed the momentum of his next attack as he swung it around to try and hit me again with it.
It was surprising how effortlessly he seemed to handle his weapon, I severely underestimated the strength and speed of my enemy. I’m guessing Ka’al did as well as Daraku managed to slip past him so quickly. Had I not been running with Camellia in my arms I probably could have dodged most of his attacks with ease, however I did not dare use my full speed as it could cause more injuries. We had not gone far through the mall when the edge of his hammer barely nicked the back of my left leg. I heard the bones crack, and felt the pain which caused me to close my eyes for a brief moment as I winced from the pain. I felt myself falling, and twisted my body just enough to land without further injuring Camellia as I hit the ground.
She yelped and squeaked when she felt me hit the ground. I quickly found myself on one knee, but my broken leg wouldn’t cooperate to stand. I saw my adversary looking at us with a sadistic, murder happy smile as he lifted his war hammer with one hand, clearly intent on crushing both of us to death or breaking me enough to make good on his earlier threat. I was about to try and do something to get ready to counter the blow when the shadows around Daraku caught my attention and made me smirk.
This made Daraku pause. “What the fuck you be smirking at when you about to die!?”
Despite the pain, or perhaps because of it, I started laughing and looked down at Daraku’s feet. Like a slow, dimwitted giant his face went from insanely happy to confused as he looked down at his feet and saw the shadows bubbling up like one would expect water to in a cauldron. As he stared at them, they took on an ink like color and started to attack him directly. Behind Daraku, I saw Ka’al pulling on ink-black ropes emerging from his own shadow as he tried to force Daraku backwards into what can be best described as a sinister looking tar. Our opponent, however, as one leg got pulled into the tar, did not seem to falter and that uncomfortable smile spread upon his lips once more. Despite Ka’al’s best efforts, he wasn’t going back and leaned forward, trying to make sure he was still within striking distance of me. Or so I thought as the leg not trapped by the tar suddenly slammed down into the ground with enough force to cause the entire mall around us to rattle as though the beginnings of an earthquake were taking place.
As his foot stomped the ground, his legs swelled up to such a size as to cause his pants to rip and tear themselves apart as pure muscle covered in copper-colored fur was revealed. The change continued throughout his body, soon his shirt was showing signs of tearing. Even his eyes began to change, taking on the same appearance as one would see on the eyes of a goat. Horns could be seen growing out from his head as hooves appeared where a ruined shoe now decorated the floor. Camellia shrieked at the horrifying visage of Daraku and tried to pinch herself awake, but this nightmare wasn’t the type you could wake up from.
“Ah! For fuck’s sake, it’s a god damn Yergist? REALLY? Couldn’t it be a NORMAL demon? No, it’s just my fucking luck it would be a Yergist!” Ka’al complained as his magic struggled to hold the transformed beast. As the transformation finished however, the tug of war between magic and strength became clear as the beast stepped out of the tar with some effort.
The insane smile on his face looked even worse in this transformed state as the war hammer was poised high above once more with the intent of delivering either a fatal blow or a bone shattering one. As he pulled himself free of the shadowy ropes and tar, I saw Ka’al pulled into the shadows by the ropes he’d been pulling on. I could swear I heard the sound of water splashing, as though he’d jumped into a pool. I mentally shook myself, the pain was making me delirious, I think.
I felt Camellia begin to tremble as the beast steadily moved toward us and the magical bindings snapped and broke away from him. “Ah, the little angel is stuck on earth, unable to fly in such a tiny place. Poor little piglet is too afraid to run away from her white knight. This is going to be fun, I can’t remember the last time I got to kill a couple together.”
As the hammer began its descent, I quickly spread my wings out and flapped them as hard as I could. My ass hit the hard floor and thanks to its smoothness combined with the blood reducing the friction, I managed to slide us about ten feet away from the hammers intended location. My leg seared in agony as it had been forced to change position abruptly and likely I had made the break even worse in some way. However, my ruse would not work a second time, and I quickly positioned my wings into a defensive position as I created a barrier that I hoped would be strong enough to keep us alive until either help arrived or he got bored and decided to try and kill something else. Seconds mattered now, and every extra one I got before he started to strike the barrier would enable me to make it stronger.
He only laughed, and casually started walking toward me. “So the pitiful Knight raises his shield to defend my piglet. You will beg for death before I kill you.. I’m going to smash your bones one at a time, starting with those wings.” The hammer was raised once more, this time grabbing his weapon with both hands as he lifted it up. It only occurred to me now he had been swinging that thing with one hand, this next attack was probably going to be unlike any of the previous I’d dealt with thus far.
The ground suddenly shifted beneath both of us, since I had been sitting, it did not affect me and the barrier protected us from the flying debris, but Daraku had not been as lucky as he had to shift his footing to maintain his balance, the weapon hit the ground in front of him acting as a brace of sorts. Then the sound of rattling chains could be heard as they seemed to come out of the floor, the walls and even the ceiling. The chains all came from a similar looking black bubbly mixture I had seen moments ago that Ka’al had fallen into. I saw the chains wrap around Daraku’s weapon, making it difficult for him to lift once more, as more chains wrapped around his arms and his legs. Not only that, but other chains appeared, larger in size, sealing off the hallway and any potential exits.
The next thing I saw was an enormous stone obelisk steadily rising from the black mixture in front of either side of the corridor we were in, further blocking any escape or exit we might have been able to take. The one thing I had been expecting finally happened, but it made Camellia freak out as the black liquid formed beneath me. It was icy cold to the touch, but unlike Daraku, no chains came up to bind us as we slowly started to sink into the abyss.
“Caim, we’ve got to move, the slime’s got you!”
“We’re okay, don’t move.” I said, motioning toward Daraku, whose struggles only aided Ka’al in pulling the beast down into its icy depths. The shadowy waters slowly began to move from the ceiling and walls to the floor, pulling Daraku’s arms down by his sides as other chains were wrapped around his body before joining the giant puddle at Daraku’s sinking knees. The grunts, growls, threats and the swearing never seem to end no matter how far he sank into the abyss that awaited him.
I felt Camellia get more panic stricken as we slowly descended into our own puddle. Carefully I wrapped my wings around us and tried to smile at her in a reassuring way as they cocooned around us. “Caim? CAIM? What are you doing?!” her voice raised in volume and pitch as she became more anxious at the situation.
“Shhh, close your eyes, all is well. Everything will be over soon.” I said in a calm manner as the black liquid slowly filled up our enclosed space. I took a moment to take a deep breath, concentrating on my Yogur’jeryen. That’s the energy produced by my soul and it’s usually concentrated in my heart. Thanks to years of training I can choose when to allow it to flow into my body, which causes the markings on my body to emit a soft bluish glow amidst the white color of my skin, similar to some bioluminescent creatures in the wilds. The intensity of this glow steadily got brighter the more Yogur’jeryen flowed into my body.
It did not take the liquid slowly filling the ‘cocoon’ up long to reach my upper chest, but the cold was now gone. Neither I nor Camellia were shivering from the cold now. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Deep breath and hold it. Count to thirty.”
I hoped the counting would distract her long enough to get through this. As I opened my eyes, I watched her breathing quicken slightly as she waited until the last possible moment to draw her deep breath in. I felt the liquid coming up to my neck and steadily rising higher as I closed my eyes once more. It didn’t take long for the darkness to engulf us completely. Submerged within the liquid now, I felt as though I was floating in an endless abyss, suspended in an infinity of darkness that voided all senses. My mind drifted to the song I’d be listening to earlier on the radio…
A memory of better days
Will always haunt me knowing you’re gone
Wishing I could see you one more time
In something other than a memory
And remembering all the little things i forgot...
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