“I'm not a monster!” Étaín frustratingly shouts at Hector out of the blue.
The male and female from opposing Survival Camp groups cautiously walk toward the center of the City.
“Keep it down. Have you forgotten we are trying to be stealthy here?” Hector says in a stern whisper. “Besides, I haven't said anything to imply what you've just said, have I?”
They become silent as they continue their walk through the dirty streets.
Étaín steps over a large metal pole and says, “You made me admit that it was wrong of me to want to see the war zone.”
saying that you were dishonest when you said that, then you are a monster!”
Hector says in a normal voice.
“Ugh! I guess you're right.” Étaín moans.
“Alright well now that we've established that you're insecure, let's brainstorm some ideas on how to find Angelus.”
“I don't like your attitude Hector!” Étaín pouts, but reluctantly agrees shortly after.
Another pause fills the air between them, as they come upon the end of the road they are walking on. A complex of buildings stretch outward in either direction.
“Left or right?” Étaín asks. “I'd say left if you ask me.”
Hector analyzes the building in front of them. After a moment he says, “Left.”
In that instant, loud popping sounds fill the air once more, a shocking return after a long absence in virtual silence. Hector quickly takes Étaín's hand to pull her as he sprints toward the door to the building in front of them. He turns the doorknob but it doesn't move.
“Dammit!” He curses.
The two students swiftly moves to the ground with their backs to the door, and they sit side by side. They look at each other, and Hector sees the expression of horror in the small girl's matching small face. He impulsively puts an arm around her and buries her face into his chest. She pushes at his chest pathetically, but concedes to his warm embrace after the facade. Hector hears soft whimpering, but he decides not to comment on it. Instead he decides after some deliberation on covering her ears with one arm, and patting her head gently with the other. A drawn out sorrowful whimper hits Hector's ear drums, and he uncontrollably frowns and sighs.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
Hector immediately breathes out quickly through his nose, as if blowing out dust that got caught in it. An uneasy feeling churns within him, and he desperately and successfully replaces it with rising anger.
“Étaín,” Hector softly whispers in the whimpering girl's ear, “we have to move. Those pops are getting louder. That last set sounded like it came from a couple blocks away in the direction we were originally walking.” He pauses and Étaín manages to tilt her head, without removing it from the protection of his chest, to look into his eyes.
“Let's go,” Hector whispers once more with a warm smile.
Étaín sniffles to finalize the whimpering. “Okay,” she manages to whisper. She blindly puts her faith in Hector's exhortation and gently grasps at his shirt. Then suddenly she stands up. “Alright, let's go. I'm not becoming a burden on this mission,” she declares confidently.
Pop. Pop. Pop.
She shudders but manages to remain standing. “Come on Hector! You scared of popping sounds?” She playfully asks to successfully divert her attention toward Hector.
Hector grins and stands up to face her. He looks downward at her and they lock eye contact.
“No way!” Hector says, but at the same time thinks about the weapons used to create those sounds. “But from now on we have to stay under cover. Those popping sounds are made from weapons the ancients used. I think they are called guns if my memory serves me correctly. But you're right! We leave now. But before we go, do you have any ideas how to find Angelus?”
She considers his question for a moment. “I think if we head toward the sound of the popping noise, there is a better chance of finding this guy.”
Hector looks her over, “Are you suggesting that so you can see the fighting?”
“No I'm not. If you don't want my input, then I won't answer.”
“Alright I believe you, relax. I think your suggestion is the right choice too. I have a feeling that Angelus might be mixed up in this thing. It's only a hunch though.” Hector remembers the burning sphere that gave him this mission, but decides not to tell Étaín about it. He'd rather save himself the trouble of explaining that whole ordeal.
“Alright, let's get going then,” Étaín says with a smile.
Hector slowly pokes his head around the corner of the doorway to see down the street. The same abandoned vehicles litter the soot stained street. After Hector observes the lack of movement, he decides it's safe to venture onward.
They follow along the road staying below the vehicle height. They move in awkward shuffles, and sporadically run to get from cover to cover. After traveling down a couple of blocks in this slow manner, the sun light hits them from directly above. Heat waves rise from the ground further down the road and Hector curiously watches the transparent swirling visual anomaly. Each swirling hypnotic wave triggers a vision, and Hector loses himself.
The heat waves start to spread around him causing his vision to become so blurred that he can't distinguish even an arm’s length away. He runs his face with the back of his right forearm. When he reopens his eyes, he finds the heat waves are gone and his vision is clear, but he is on a beach. All around him is water, in fact he is knee deep in a large body of water. He looks to the horizon and there is no end in sight. He looks up, and the sun blinds his eyes—it's at its peak in the sky. In his peripheral vision, he can see a faint moon. He turns his attention back to the ground, but in the opposite direction of the never ending water, but instead toward land. A beach stretches in both directions similarly to the water prior—beyond the horizon. But on the shore there is a large parasol standing taut straight up. Under the parasol, Hector can see the figures of a male and a female both in beach attire, laying on separate towels. He starts walking toward them, when he desperately tried to call out to them, but to his surprise his voice is but a whisper. As he gets closer, he can make out more details, they are both wearing matching floral swimwear, they are both considerably tanned, and— He gazes upward toward their faces, and that's when he realizes that this is a fantasy because they both do not have faces. Their facial features are blurred, or more accurately are not to be found. They do not have eyes, a nose, a mouth nor ears. In that instance of realization, he snaps back to reality to find he is still crouching near the floor, staring at the heat waves in front of him.
“Hey Hector, you okay buddy?” Étaín soft voice calls out from behind.
“Yeah, I'm alright. I just spaced out for a moment.”
Pop. Pop. Pop.
“There!” Hector points toward an intersecting road, alerting Étaín by looking over his shoulder and to search for her eyes.
“I heard, and I agree. It seems that's the way. Let's get going.”
They shuffle slowly across the floor from cover to cover until they reach the intersection. They quickly get behind the wall of the large corner building and poke their heads around the edge. They find that the street is much the same with abandoned vehicles and blackened roads and buildings, but one oddity catches their eye. The scene is littered with tiny holes.
They shrink quickly back behind the cover of the wall, their hearts racing exponentially faster. Hector leans on the wall, falling to the ground and Étaín does the same. Hector’s hand touches Étaín’s after they hit the ground and he quickly draws it back. He looks to her in the corner of his eye when he says, “We wait for the pops to stop, and then we continue onward.”
“Why? What if it doesn’t stop? They are fighting a war Hector! When there are no more popping sounds, that means one side has already won.”
Hector considers what the small trembling girl says. “Angelus the Swift,” Hector says.
“What are you saying? Hector snap out of it!”
“I’m fine. Listen, what do you think ‘the Swift’ means in ‘Angelus the Swift’?”
“Are we really going to discuss that at a time like this?”
“Just answer!” Hector insists.
Étaín sighs. “Well I think it means this guy is fast. That’s what swift means right? Fast? Quick?”
“That’s interesting,” Hector mutters, “Then that means this Angelus is perfectly suited to get to the sphere in a timely manner…” Hector continues muttering.
Étaín looks at him unimpressed. “Hector! Geez, you have to get it together man! You’re supposed to be carrying me! Turns out you’re the one dragging this mission down.”
Hector looks at here with focused eyes. “You’re right. I’m overthinking this. Follow my lead.”
Hector pokes around the corner wall again.
A gunshot barely misses Hector’s face and it hits the ground not too far behind him. But this time Hector isn’t fazed by it. He looks down the street, but it seems just like any other street. Suddenly out of the corner of his eye, he sees a human figure position a long barrel against the roof of one of the vehicles pointing in his direction. He instinctively recoils behind the wall for cover, and another gunshot whizzes by, hitting the vehicle directly behind him. His heart races and he breathes in deep. In a quick burst, he runs toward the closest vehicle for cover, but before he gets behind the vehicle, he sees the figure move in his direction, getting behind a vehicle as well. Hector turns back quickly and motions for Étaín to follow quickly. He looks back to down the street, and he sees the figure positioning the long barreled gun once more on the roof of the vehicle it uses as cover. He turns to Étaín and shouts, “Faster!” Étaín sprints in response and slides into cover, meanwhile a gunshot hits the ground where she slid. Hector wraps one arm around her, and sighs in relief while rubbing her head playfully. He then looks back toward the figure, and it’s gone. He turns back toward Étaín and almost instantly a man coming from the direction of the front of the vehicle appears on Étaín’s side. Hector lunges toward the man almost immediately in hopes that he can tackle the man to the ground. But the man effortlessly shifts one foot back and away in a smooth motion, while his body follows the rhythmic motion. Hector misses the tackle horribly and falls face first into the ground. Hector gets to his knees, and as he turns around to face the man, he finds his nose touching the end of the barrel of the man’s gun.
“What’s the name of this weapon you have here? I’ve read all about this kind of tech. It’s what the ancients used. Did you know that?”
“A UTG boy?” The man mutters, stroking his bare chin.
“Hey! I’m talking to you!” Hector calls out. His heart feels like it’s going to explode. He can almost hear his own blood pumping through his head. But he keeps his laser focused attention on the man with a gun in his face. He dare not take his eyes away from the man, not even to check up on Étaín, which he can hear her wailing.
“Hey girl!” The man barks at Étaín. “Be silent! Or else your boyfriend’s brain matter will be on the ground… as in, not in his head.”
Étaín wipes her eyes, and looks at the man. Her eyes widen and her mouth begins to tremble, but she covers it to lessen the volume of her uncontrollable wailing.
“Argh. Hey boy! Is she always this loud?”
Hector’s eyebrows furl in anger, his nose scrunches up, and he shouts, “Don’t talk to Étaín like that!”
“What?” The man looks at Hector with a confused look. “Why so defensive? You just met this girl!”
Hector’s eyes widen, he is completely astonished by the man’s statement.
The man grins, as his towering figure seems to grow taller and bigger, due to the sun light shining on him from on high. “Oh yeah my boy. I’ve been watching you guys for a while now. The gunfire you’ve been hearing this whole time. That was me.”
Hector relaxes instantly and sighs. “What the heck do you want from us?”
“What I want?” The man emphasizes the word I. “What on Terra do you want?” The man emphasizes the word you.
Hector stares at the man, the barrel still touching his nose, “We want to find Angelus the Swift. I have a message for him.”
“Hahaha…” The man abruptly laughs hysterically when out of nowhere an explosion erupts down the street where the man came from. “We have to go kids. Follow me, and move quickly.”
Hector moves aside away from the man’s gun to take Étaín by the hand. They all run swiftly back toward where Hector and Étaín initially came from.