Blood of the Devil (Tinder and Yuuki_Tatsunohi)

Discussion in 'ONE ON ONES IN CHARACTER' started by Tinder, Sep 23, 2016.

  1. The rhythmic sounds of cicadas humming mixed with the distant rumble of diesel engines and the high-pitched whine of electric lines hung in the air, occasionally broken up by the urgent blare of a car horn. A hot breeze blew through the city and up into the sky, dragging with it the unpleasant odor of the town. The scent of rotting garage and sickly sweet gasoline clung to Nike’s wine red tank top and loose denim jeans. She lay on her back atop a crumbling office building ten stories high. She dozed off and on, her arm thrown over her eyes to block out the occasional light when sun managed to break through the heavy cloud cover. Her prized black hoodie lay beneath her head, haphazardly folded into a pillow. Just another lazy afternoon.

    She shifted positions, looking up at the aging sun in the sky. It would be dinner time soon. She glanced to her side where the remnants of her lunch lay, a grease-stained take-away box and half-empty juice pouch, her stomach turning when she considered a second course. Dinner at home sounded more appealing. She sat up, examining herself. Her arms had several patches of yellow skin, healing bruises from the previous night. Easy enough to hide so long as she wore her jacket in the house. She pulled out her ancient phone, turned on the camera function and looked within. Her split lip had healed, but that she’d expected. Her eyes went to the taped down bandage on her forehead, watching her fingers gingerly probed to find the edge and tore it off. Beneath she found stiches from the previous night, lacing together what now appeared to be a long scratched on her forehead. She frowned, remembering the wash of blood from last night when she’d been knocked into a post and cut on loose nail. The people from the emergency clinic had said she’d need a least a week to before the stitches could come out, perhaps even more than that. She removed the stitching, deciding the mostly healed cut looked better than walking in with a bandage on her forehead.

    She dropped the remains into the pile next to her, staring at her phone. Her body had been quick to recover these past few weeks, far too quick to normal. Common sense told her it shouldn’t be possible to heal from a head wound like that in a night, but she didn’t know what to do about it. Telling Xander would be too awkward, or get her a one way ticket to the nearest laboratory. “Then again, maybe he’d say it’s just another one of my quirks,” she mused, laughing dryly, “I have a lot quirks.”

    She glanced at her phone screen again before clicking it off and standing up. She swept her jacket up off the ground and zipped it up with a smile. “No use worrying about it now. We need to get back before dinner.”

    Retrieving her trash piled, she stuffed it into her pockets and approached the edge of the building. Without a moment’s hesitation, she gripped the ledge and swing down, stretching her leg to find a foothold. She began a precarious dance down the side of the ruined building, sliding from hand hold to hand hold with little more than a glance with each shift.

    She came to the sixth floor, her foot finding the window sill of a spider infested office. Just a few more minutes and she’d be on the ground. She shifted weight to her foot, preparing to move her hand down, when the bricks beneath her crumbled. Her hands slipped and she plummeted down. A shot of adrenaline ran through her veins, sharpening her senses. She made a swipe at the wall but found nothing to grip. Her feet tried as well, doing little more than damaging her worn tennis shoes. She tried again with her hands, grabbing the next ledge that jutted out beneath her, stopped just above the second floor window. She swung into the ruin. The beating of her heart began to slow, stabilizing her vision. She breathed deeply to calm her shaking limbs. Her violet eyes slipped closed, finding her center to bring her mind back to the present. She tested her arms, noting a few more scratches but no serious damage. She sat down with a thud, looking out the window and laughing. “I suppose I’m more durable than I realize.” Her long, dark braid had come undone, but she left ignored it. The loose hair helped to hide her cut.

    After calming herself, she stood and made jumped from the window to the street, biting back a groan when her feet slapped hard against the concrete of the sidewalk. Thankfully few people came to this end of town and the inhabitance rarely came out during the day. It had been the subject of an “incident” a few years back and after deemed unlivable. Some believed that the demons lived among the ruins, but most knew the government was just too cheap to fix it. The homeless lived among the decrepit buildings now along with those who chose a life away from polite society. Nike straightened up, stretching to relieve her aching muscles. She paused, feeling her pulse increasing again. She glanced over her shoulder, frowning when she found an empty window there. “Weird,” she whispered, taking a few steps away from the building. For just a second, she could have sworn something had been standing there. Watching her.

    She dug in her pockets and produced a pair of wireless ear buds. She slipped them in and tapped the outer button to resume her music. With sound of traditional piano accompanied by an operatic voice there to drown out the city, she started back toward the center of town, using her usual series of back streets to navigate around the heavy traffic areas. Her route took her through the back alleys, but most days they felt safer to her than the main roads. Fewer people to offend. A down a few alleys, she swore she could feel the eyes on her back again, but nothing ever appeared behind her when she looked. All the same, she picked up her pace. When she came to a crossing point at the main street that ran through the city, she walked over to a trash bin and cleaned out her pockets. Oddly enough, the bandage was nowhere to be seen. “Must have fallen out,” she muttered under her breath, turning to cross the street with the crowd that had begun to walk.

    Another fifteen minutes of walking brought her to the quiet neighborhood where she lived with her sister and Xander. While not the wealthiest area, few could complain about their lot in life. The homes, mostly recently painted, were packed together in an orderly fashion, each with a small yard hidden behind a tall wooden fence. Some even boasted a two car garage. Nike slowed her pace as she approached their street, peering round the corner cautiously to be sure Xander had no one watching for her return. She preferred to arrive when he was away, and then sneak up into her room before he could catch her to talk. While her staying away for extended periods had become common place, Xander always had some lecture prepared once she returned, usually on the dangers of a young person alone on the street. She crept to their front gate, noting the absence of Xander’s rusty blue car from the curb. A promising sign. She tested the front gate and found it open. A bad sign. She slipped inside, glancing around, but found it just as empty as the street. She made her way to the front door and walked inside the house. No one came rushing to meet her. She glanced toward the shoe stand by the door, noting that Xander’s weathered brown shoes were missing. Either he was desperate to catch her this time or he was actually out. Either way, she stopped her creeping and made a beeline for the kitchen, calling out for her twin, “Diana? You home?”
     
    • Love Love x 1
  2. The sun cast an orange glow on the horizon, the hustle and bustle of the day beginning to die down. A young girl by the name of Diana Lee walked home from school, texting her friend about one of them being asked out today. She laughed as her friend rapidly texted her back, still in shock about what happened but elated that it did.

    As she passed over a bridge, a kid around her age came in the opposite direction. He looked rough for wear, sporting a bruise on his cheek and a sullen look in his eye. He wore a hood as if trying to make it known he didn’t want to be bothered. Diana briefly looked up from her phone to see a swarm of black spores circling his head. They chirp, yip and tug at his clothing but he doesn’t take notice. Diana had learned from her guardian when demons gather around someone, it’s usually to cause harm. Sometimes to alter their personality, sometimes to drain their life energy, or sometimes to find a new host. Diana had never experienced those things on her own body and mind, but she had seen what possession could do to someone. Having been viciously attacked by possessed kids in her younger years, she had seen how possession can change a person and make them do things they would not normally do.

    Diana watched the kid walk. Perhaps one of those demons would be able to touch his soul, or maybe they all would. Another person passed, dressed in a long trench coat. The man had an ominous, almost predatory aura. They made eye contact and the man flashed a pocket watch with a G.U.A.R.D.S symbol on it. He nodded and continued walking, following the kid. Diana decided then she was done watching and kept moving.

    She continued the rest of the way, resuming her texting conversation while sneaking in little bits of her concern for her future. Diana, like most kids her age, carried numerous college applications in her backpack. She had grabbed so many they started to take up more space in her binder than her school subjects. It’s probably time to sort them; she could only imagine the look on Xander’s face when she lays them out on the table. She’d have no trouble getting into any of them; her grades have been remarkable ever since elementary school. Her main problem was deciding. Xander recommended a few great schools, but she thought of going to a local one where she could just stay at home instead of a dorm, thus saving them a lot of money. But she also thought of a few schools that were in safe zones, spaces clear and protected by G.U.A.R.D.S., places free of demons or angels.

    Diana arrived at their familiar neighborhood. She said hi to the neighbor’s cat who was hanging out on their fence again before shooing her away. Xander’s blue car wasn’t in the driveway, so he wasn’t home yet. By routine, she retrieved the mail, sorting through them and picking out those with her name. Just as she opened the door to the empty house, she heard a hollow bump. Diana turned around, looking for the source of the noise. She heard it again and looked up to see a flaming wheel with many eyes banging against an invisible barrier set over her home. The eyes on the wheel blinked, noticing Diana for the first time and continued to hit the barrier for another minute before seemingly deciding to give up and fly away.

    Diana sighed when the angel had passed, closing the door behind her. She was grateful to the charm from Xander that protects her and anyone within a ten-foot radius. She was also grateful for the strong barriers Xander set up long ago to protect their home from the monsters that scared her out of her wits as a child. It was all because of Xander she couldn’t be bothered by the supernatural and feel safest at home. Indeed it was just like what that movie said: “There is no place like home.”

    Feeling too lazy to take off her favorite Chuck Taylors, Diana set the mail on the table next to a note addressed to her:

    There’s still some cake in the fridge. You can have some to snack on, but don’t eat it all kiddo. You can give some to Nike if she shows up today. –Xander

    Diana smiled with glee and hopped to the fridge. Inside was a large portion of the strawberry shortcake Xander made the other day, her mouth watering at the sight of the fluffy frosting on top. Grabbing a plate and fork, Diana sliced a piece and popped a small bite in her mouth, moaning at the deliciousness that was Xander’s cake.

    Suddenly there was a voice behind her, making her jump and almost dropping her plate.

    “Nike!” Diana ran to her twin and pulled her into a tight hug. It wasn’t uncommon of her sister to disappear for days—weeks on end. Diana had gotten used to it to a degree; she still deeply worried whether or not her sister would show up alive through that door. “Where have you been? No, wait, let me guess: you went fighting again didn’t you?” she asked the obvious, her fingers ghosting over the scar running across her sister’s forehead.
     
    • Love Love x 1
  3. Nike stepped into the kitchen in time to be tackled by Diana. The force of impact nearly knocked the air from Nike’s lungs and the following vice grip of a hug pressed down on her healing bruises. Probably less healed now. Despite the surprise attack, she couldn’t keep the smile from her face. She coughed, patting her sister on the back as she returned the hug. “Nice to see you too,” she wheezed, overdramatizing her lack of oxygen, “Would you mind letting go now? I think you cracked a few ribs.” She took a deep breath when her twin pulled back, rolling her shoulders to crack her back. “Been working out again, I see.” Xander had always told Nike to keep an eye on her sister, but there were days Nike wondered who ought to be watching who. Nike could throw a decent punch, but Diana could probably strangle someone with her arms alone.

    She paused when Diana ran her fingers along the healing cut. It never took her long to notice Nike’s scrapes when she returned home. Luckily she’d opted to come in without the gaze still taped over the wound. She lightly swatted Diana’s fingers away with a smirk. “Nothing of the sort. I got into a fight with a cat. I thought it might be nice if we had a pet around here. The cat disagreed,” she shrugged, walking around Diana toward the fridge which remained open.

    She spotted the cake immediately. A grin spread across her face as she reached in and pulled out the entire plate, “Perfect timing I see.” She set it on the counter, kicking the door shut as she turned. Without missing a beat, she retrieved a fork and sat down on of the stools by the island in the middle of the kitchen, taking a massive bite from the cake. “Mmm, perfect,” she managed to say around her mouthful of cake, licking the frosting from her fork. Xander’s strawberry shortcake practically melted in your mouth, perfectly combining the flavors of fruit and cream into what Nike considered the perfect pastry. There was no better meal to return home to than this.

    She looked back at her twin, a mischievous twinkle in her eye. “How’s school been? Anyone I should know about?”
     
  4. “A cat?” Diana said in disbelief, raising an eyebrow at her sister. Definitely no cat would leave a scratch that large or leave little extra pink dots surrounding the healed wound. Diana knew those little pink dots were the result of stitches which meant the wound, however Nike got it, was bad enough it warranted a visit to the doctor.

    Although she wanted to ask what the real reason was, she already knew. Knowing what her sister has been doing these past few years it wasn’t something she had to really think about. Diana, however, decided not to press any further. Past conversations between Nike and Xander sometimes resulted in Nike leaving again. She was more than happy to have her sister back home.

    She watched as her sister pulled out the entire cake and sat at the island to eat. Diana hoisted herself onto the granite top, nodding in agreement at her compliment of Xander’s cooking.

    “Good, good. I’m hoping to go to another college tour next week. Aah, I can’t believe this year is going by so fast,” she said wistfully, leaning on her hands. She half wanted to tell her sister about the G.U.A.R.D.S member or the angel she saw earlier but decided not to. That kid has probably been cleansed, and there was nothing to worry about with the charms Xander set up. Plus, it’s not like Nike could understand since she had never been able to see these things like her. “Oh! You remember Art, right? He finally—finally—asked Ella out. And she said yes!” Diana pulled out her phone and showed Nike the conversation between her and Ella. “Those two have been dancing around each other since eighth grade and now they’re actually going out,” she laughed.

    She let Nike look through the conversation for a few more minutes, picking up the crumbs of the cake on the tines of her fork. “Hey, Nike, we’re eighteen now and well . . . I’ve been thinking—no actually I’ve been meaning to ask you something: Um, have you thought of maybe getting a GED?”
     
  5. “Another one?” Nike replied to move the conversation along, taking another bite of cake, “Careful. You’ll have every college in the country fighting to have you.” Her jokes aside, Nike felt a flash of pride for her sister. She’d always been the smart one, dedicated to school and learning everything that she could. Even as children, Diana had been the one to come home with a sticker on her daily assignments while Nike had returned with more scraps than they had band aids for. Any school would be lucky to have her. She’ll probably end up finding the next breakthrough in science, Nike mused, she always wanted to save the world. Nike had never found that level of passion, not for anything useful. She was athletic where her sister was intelligent, but seemingly lacked the social skills needed for team work. Xander had suggested she try taking up sports to learn how to socialize properly, no doubt hoping she would have an epiphany and become a well-behaved member of society. She’d done everything from football to volleyball to track and field, but her efforts ended in failure, each incident worse than the last. Some of us are born failures.

    Diana pushed her phone into Nike’s face, gushing about a pair of friends getting together. Nike took the phone, scrolling through the dramatic conversation, “Really?” The names were familiar, though her own memories of the pair were less fond. Ella had been fine, polite as all of Diana friends were. Art, however, had been a pain in the ass along with his friends. During her last attempt to attend school regularly, she had offered to help with basketball training when they were down a few players. Unfortunately her natural aggression had led to a clash on the court about the rules of play which led to a round of trash talking that ended with the coach ending practice early to break up the fight. In short, another disaster. For weeks after the team hounded her with as many pranks and personal attacks as they could manage in secret, culminating in a confrontation with the captains of the team, one being Art. They agreed to put an end to the attacks so long as she apologized. She left with a bleeding lip and wounded pride, but they agreed never to speak of it again. She’d never told Diana about it and few outside the basketball team had ever learned anything. She smiled anyhow, her usual act for Diana whenever she spoke about their mutual acquaintances, “Miracles can happen on rare occasions.”

    She set the phone down by Diana’s plate, shoveling another bite of cake into her mouth. Diana changed the topic, circling back to school. Damn it. She kept her eyes focused on her cake. She knew the answer that Diana wanted, the easy lie she could give her twin to silence her for a bit longer. She sighed, stabbing her fork into her cake. Lying was becoming tiresome. “Not really,” she admitted, rolling a stray strawberry around on her plate, “School’s just not for me, Dee. It’s boring.” Too aggressive, too loud, too active, too weird. The cut on her forehead itched. What kind of questions would Diana have tomorrow when the scratch was gone? What would Xander say? Probably another lecture about fighting and how lucky I’ve been. She had no interest in any of it.

    She scooped up a fork full of whipped cream and flicked it at Diana playfully. “You’re the one with the brains anyways,” she joked, licking the remaining cream from her fork, “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ll find a way to make myself useful.”
     
  6. “Hey!” Diana laughed, shielding her face with her hand as the glob of whip cream landed in her dark hair. She half glared at her sister, lips curling into a smile as she wiped the cream off.

    Diana knew of her sister’s inability to sit still and pay attention to teachers like her, knew how different they functioned. While she had perfect grades, perfect attendance, and all around being the shining example of a proper citizen, Nike was bolder, braver, and could make a statement for herself. To some, it could come off as confrontational, but Diana saw it as her sister not backing down and not letting herself be shoved around. Between the two of them, Nike was more memorable while Diana would disappear into a sea of obscurity.

    “You know I won’t stop worrying, Nike,” she said, her smile disappearing. She had tried to steer the conversation, but Diana just wasn’t done yet. “I want the best for you. I want to see you succeed.”

    When Nike announced she was quitting school, she was heartbroken. The effects of her decision took place immediately: Diana started eating breakfast alone, being home alone if Xander worked late, and going to and from school alone. It didn’t help that she had become more sensitive to supernatural. At one corner on the way was small, low tier demon. Every day, that demon would be there, sitting at that corner and doing nothing, not even paying attention to her. Diana had passed by that corner every day but she never noticed what might have been lurking on those familiar streets until it was just her and her thoughts.

    “There’s gotta be something for you out there. I know it.” Sometimes Diana liked picture her sister as an agent working for G.U.A.R.D.S. With Nike’s physical prowess and her drive, if she had been able to see what Diana could see, it would have been perfect.

    Diana glanced at a calendar on the refrigerator. It was the school’s calendar, marking all the important dates in the school year. She focused on one date, circled in red. Graduation Day

    “Wouldn’t you want to have a grad party? Or even . . . just do something together before we go our separate ways?” There was still plenty of time before then, but Diana didn’t want to think of the idea they would be going on their own soon. Maybe she was being dramatic or paranoid. There were just too many scary things in this world.

    There was the sound of the garage door opening and closing followed by the creak of the door leading into the house. A man’s voice could be heard, grumbling about the hinges being rusty. The twin’s adoptive father appeared in the kitchen, loosening the tie given to him by Diana for his fifty-fourth birthday.

    “Hello, Diana.” Xander greeted pleasantly at said twin before turning to the other. His demeanor changed to more stern tone. “Nike. I see you’ve been throwing your fists around again.” Xander pointed at his own temple, tracing a line similar to the one on Nike’s forehead. “Do you plan on staying for dinner tonight?”
     
  7. Nike focused on eating her food, unconsciously sliding to the edge of her seat. She appreciated Diana’s concern but she didn’t share her sister’s optimism. Too many odd occurrences kept her wary of the future: her nearly uncontrollable instincts, other people’s negative reactions upon meeting her, the natural rightness she felt when she step into a fighting ring, and this unnaturally fast way she’s been healing. The unexplainable violence she experienced scared her more than she could admit. Xander’s refusal to speak to her about it scared her. She set her fork down, having devoured a sizable portion of the cake. Diana’s leaving scared her.

    She forced a laugh, trying to turn the conversation around, “Don’t be so dramatic. Of course we’ll do something. You think I’d let you go off into the world without a party?” Though considering the last party she’d been at with her twin, perhaps hosting a party would be a poor choice. The boy’s parents had let the charges drop, but Xander had been furious with her for weeks. Perhaps having a separate party with her would be smarter. She pushed the thought out of her mind, “It’s not like you going to college will be the last time we see each.” She reached across the counter, squeezing her twin’s hand, “I’m not going anyway. If you ever need me, I’m just a phone call away. Maybe I can move somewhere by wherever you go to school. Work in a coffee shop…or a warehouse. They always need muscle in places like that.” Diana and Xander were the only family she had, the only people who seemed to have no problem with her. Though Xander seemed to be having more problems with her every day.

    The sound of the garage door closing ended their conversation. Nike cursed internally, pulling away from her sister and rising to her feet. She glanced at Diana, knowing she would only worry more if Nike ducked away. She forced herself back down. Xander would only chase her up into her room if she ran.

    Xander did not make her effort easy. After greeting Diana, he turned his attention to Nike, the increasingly familiar disapproval in his eyes. Had there ever been a day when they had managed to have a civil conversation. She frowned, telling herself to be civil for Diana’s sake. “Yeah,” she replied, her voice colder than before.

    He glanced at her, taking note of the cool response. “A nice change of pace,” he said, sorting through the letters from front table. He glanced down at the table, “I see you found the cake. I hope you let you sister have at least a bite of it.” The edge of his lip curled, indicating a joke rather than a severe chastisement.

    Nike glanced up, wary but returning his peace offering with a smirk, “I always share.”

    “We both know that’s a lie.” Xander turned his attention back to Diana, “How was your day?”

    Nike settled back into the chair, content to let her sister and Xander speak about their days. The chitchat beat her previous night of hiding at the top of a ruined skyscraper eating cold fast food while nursing her wounds.
     
  8. Diana watched as her sister stood. She wished she wouldn’t leave, but she knew of the uncomfortable atmosphere that would be present if Xander and Nike were in the same room together. Sometimes it got so unbearable Diana would feign wanting to go to sleep just to get out of there. To think at one point in their lives such a heavy air never existed.

    She blinked twice when Nike instead sat back down. Diana was certain Nike would make her escape, but it seems her sister had decided something else. She watched the short but curt conversation between Nike and Xander, squishing the little crumbs of cake with her fork. She smiled at the small joke they made, but it was gone as soon as it came. Don’t get too hopeful now, she told herself. Still, she was happy Nike had planned to stay for dinner; if all goes well, this would be the first time all three of them would sit down at the same table to eat together in a long time.

    Diana put her hands together when Xander turned to her. She retold him what happened to Ella and Art along with her plans to stop by another college tour next week. As Xander listened to the younger twin, he felt a slight pressure, indicating something had hit the barrier he put up around the house. He thought nothing of it as every now and then these things happen. Often, it was because of a strong demon or angel, though they were never strong enough to break through. Xander may have grown more humble over the years, but he certainly can still boast a talent in creating effective barriers.

    “You’ve been going to a lot of tours, Diana,” he replied. “It’s almost as if you want to leave home so soon. What, you don’t want to hang around us anymore?”

    “What? Of course I don’t want to leave now!” Diana shook her head frantically. “I told you I’m only taking a look at the colleges.” She still had the rest of the school year to go through, not to mention acquiring enough scholarships. While she did manage to snag a few good ones, if she could get more, it would be of much help.

    “I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” Xander chuckled, amused at how serious Diana took his joke. He started flipping through the mail. “You’re going to have to decide soon, though.”

    “Yeah, I know.” She paused. “It’s kinda scary, but at the same time, exciting too.”
     
  9. Nike listened to the exchange as she finished off the cake in a series of large bites. She snickered at her sister’s panicked response to Xander’s teasing, swallowing before joining in. “I was telling her the same thing,” she said as she smirked at Diana, “If she keeps this up, there’ll be college recruiters banging on the door day and night begging her to attend.” Xander nodded but said nothing. His smile left his face as he picked up one of the envelops and ripped it open. Nike’s smiled dimmed, “They’ll be fighting in the streets.”

    Xander ignored her quip. His attention was fixed on the paper in his hand. Nike began to slide off her chair. Her gut told her to run. “I think I’ll go take a nap before dinner,” she said as she stood, attempting to cover her escape, “Let me know when the food’s ready.”

    “Wait.” Xander’s frown deepened as he looked up. Anger flared in his eyes accompanied by what might have been…concern? He stepped back from the counter, “Excuse us, Diana. Nike, a word.” He walked to toward the door to their small living room. Nike made no attempt to follow. He stopped and turned, an edge in his voice, “Now.”

    She followed him begrudgingly, giving Diana a weak smile and shrug as she walked out. Ordinarily she knew exactly which of her recent actions might have annoyed him, but today nothing came to mind that might have reached him by mail. Wait. She felt her heart skip a beat. The clinic. The doctor had threatened to look up her information when she refused to give him her address. After her recent…healings, she’d decided to play it safe and keep her medical information a secret from Xander. She’d even gone so far as to pay the doctor extra in cash to keep him quiet. Obviously it hadn’t been enough. Just another stupid nosy quack bent on saving the damned souls of the kids on the street whether they liked it or not. Xander and Nike came to his small office situated across from the kitchen. He closed the door behind them. Shit.

    “What is this?” he demanded as he held the letter up in front of her face.

    Nike took it from him and pretended to examine the words. It had the clinic’s name print in bold print on the top of the page with several blocks of text beneath. Some spiel about keeping children safe no doubt. If she ever saw that doctor again, she would lay him out flat. For the time being, however, she shrugged, “I dunno. A bill of some kind?”

    Xander wasn’t impressed by her response. “Don’t give me that bull. That letter claims you landed in an emergency clinic at 2 in the morning for stitches. Twelve stitches.” He gestured to her forehead, “Where are they?”

    She started toward the door, “I’m going to go sleep.”

    “Nike,” Xander caught her wrist, “What happened?”

    She gritted her teeth, “I took them out.”

    “Why?”

    Nike spun back around and yanked her hand free. “Because I didn’t need them,” she hissed.

    Xander took a breath and released it slowly, “Then why did they give them to you?”

    She paced over to his desk to avoid his eyes, “Because a nail ripped my head open during a fight. Doctor wanted to keep me overnight but I refused.” A juice box had taken care of her major blood loss before she left the clinic. “The damned cut healed on its own overnight. Just like these bruises,” she shrugged off her jacket. Only a patch or two of yellow remained. She felt a shiver run through her as she dropped it on the ground. It was getting worse. She glared over her shoulder, “Happy?”

    Xander took a step closer, but said nothing. Silence filled the gulf between them broken only the sound of Xander’s antique clock ticking and cars in the distance. After an eternity, he sighed and rubbed his temples. “How long have you known about this?”

    “A week or two.”

    His hands dropped away from his face. “Why didn’t you come to me?” She could hear that special mixture of disappoint and concern Xander reserved for her seeping into his voice.

    It didn’t help. “So you could do what? Tell me it’s just another quirk of mine?” She rubbed her arms to banish the goosebumps that rose on her skin. For weeks, she’d wait for this conversation. She just wanted answers, something to explain whatever was happening to her. Answers he would never be able to give her. She reached down and scooped up her jacket. “It doesn’t matter. I’m fine.”

    Xander walked over to her and put a hand on her shoulder, “Wait, we need to--”

    “Save it,” she growled, frustration hiding the fear churning in the pit of her stomach. She bit her lip to regain some of her composure, “I don’t care what you think. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to bed.” She pulled away and walked out the door.

    She took the stairs from the living room up to her tiny bedroom. There she pulled the door closed and threw herself onto her bed. She hugged her pillow to her chest to dull the sound of her pounding heart. Sleep; she just needed to sleep. Things would make more sense…she would be able to tolerate the nonsense more after a nap. Her eyes slide closed as she began to doze.

    Xander, meanwhile, left his office and went looking for Diana with a briefcase in hand. When he found her, he greeted her with a tired smile, “Hey. Something’s come up that I need to take care of. Would you mind starting dinner tonight?”
     
  10. “No, I don’t want that!” she said, biting her nails at the thought of college recruiters screaming at each other in their front yard. She remained blissfully unaware of the growing tension until her sister announced her desire for sleep. She bit her lip when Xander requested to speak to Nike alone. Diana’s violet eyes met Nike’s own as she followed their adoptive father to his study.

    Now what happened? What went wrong? Until now, it seemed things were okay at least. Sure, Nike had appeared out of the blue after disappearing again for days, but Xander had seemed to dismiss it. Certainly he wasn’t pleased with her, but he didn’t appear upset enough to reprimand her. Diana believed Xander had, grudgingly, accepted yelling at Nike was useless and not going to get them anywhere.

    She watched them go down the hall and heard the soft click of his office door close. Diana stared at her empty plate, dragging her fork across the ceramic. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and jumped off the island. She tiptoed towards Xander’s study and pressed her ear against the door, hearing the muffled voices of her sister and father.

    “Because a nail ripped my head open during a fight. Doctor wanted to keep me overnight but I refused."

    So that explains the scar on Nike’s forehead. Diana couldn’t even begin to imagine the crude fighting ring her sister was in if a stray nail was casually poking out. Diana stayed in place, listening to the conversation taking place. Nike was unresponsive and uncooperative as expected, and Xander sounded upset, if not worried. More worried than usual. She heard footsteps from the other side and Diana bolted out of there.

    Not long after, the office door opened followed by the sound of someone running up the stairs and another door slamming shut. No doubt Nike had just decided to go up to her own room. At one time, both girls shared that room and Diana absolutely refused to sleep alone after seeing demonic eyes staring at her from the closet when she was three. Eventually, as the girls grew bigger, it was apparent the room would not fit both of them. Diana finally mustered enough courage to accept her own bedroom; the first few nights weren’t easy, but after learning a few charms from Xander and time, Diana had learned to enjoy having her own space.

    Diana stood at the foot of the stairs, staring at the white door with a sign that had Nike’s name on it.

    “Hey. Something’s come up that I need to take care of. Would you mind starting dinner tonight?”

    “Oh, uh, sure. Do you want spaghetti, or should I do something with the leftover chicken?”

    Xander thought it over for a moment. “I haven’t had your peanut chicken in a while, kiddo. So that—“he yelped, clutching the back of his head in pain; it felt like his skull had been hit with at least twenty hammers. Diana was at his side, asking what was wrong when something banged on the door. They turned to the door and something banged it again, strong enough to almost knock it off its hinges. Someone spoke, raspy and guttural, followed by another voice at a higher pitch and another and another. The voices spoke in complete gibberish, cackling and curious as to what lay on the other side.

    The door burst and four frightening creatures scrambled in. They swirled and crawled through the hall, breaking anything and everything in their path.

    “Demons!” cried Diana. “But the barrier—“she fell on her bottom as a brute demon charged for her only to crash against the transparent golden sheen of a barrier. The demon growled in frustration, gnawing at the little shield caused by the charm hanging around her neck until a silver blade sliced through his torso.

    “Diana! Get your sister and run!” Xander yelled. Another demon charged, stopped by the blade in Xander’s hand. He barely had enough time to react and throw a barrier at an incoming third one. “Diana, go!”

    Diana nodded, running up the stairs two at a time. She forced herself to keep going, even after hearing Xander’s agonized scream. She burst through Nike’s room, running to her sister’s side.

    “Nike, wake up! Wake up!” she cried, roughly shaking her sister. She furiously wiped her eyes as tears began running down her cheeks. “We have to get out of here. Wake up!”
     
  11. A fifth demon stalked into the house as Diana ran up the stairs. Ashen white skin stretched over its humanoid frame as its skeletal face examined the room. The sharp spikes rising from its arms, back, and head scrapped the doorframe as its dim eyes came to rest on Xander. The hunter continued to struggle against the smaller demons, having only managed to put up a small barrier to keep them back. It stalked forward with a sneer on its face “Hunter, are you the one who keeps my prize?” Xander turned and began muttering a chant as he drew a symbol in the air. The demon raised a hand that crackled with electricity. “Unfortunate.”

    Xander’s scream woke Nike first. She slowly opened her eyes, pillow still tucked against her chest. Can’t they keep it down, she grouched as she buried her head back in her pillow. She snapped out of her stupor when Diana burst into the room and began to violently shake her. Nike grabbed her sister’s arm as she sat upright. “Diana, calm down. What’s going on?”

    Nike saw movement in the doorway before her twin could answer. She squinted at the door where a fuzzy outline of some animal perhaps stood with a second shape joining it seconds later. She caught the faint sounds of snarling and gibberish. The shapes moved forward into the room, threatening to approach. Nike pulled Diana behind her and grabbed a nearby baseball bat leaned against her wall. “What are those things?” It couldn’t be real, but she could hear the sounds of a struggle downstairs. It had to be Xander. He needed help.

    Another outline appeared in the door. It towered over the other fuzzy shapes, whatever it was. Lizard-like eyes flashed and lit what looked to be a skull. The distant rumble of voice echoed in the room. Nike’s eyes widened but she bit back her fear. She had to protect Diana and get to Xander. “Diana, stay back,” she called to her twin over her shoulder before she sprinted forward. She rushed the creature with the bat gripped firmly. She swung up toward the face half-expecting to find nothing but air. Something caught her bat and ripped the weapon from her hands. A hand, or what she assumed was a hand, shot from the shadows and clamped down on her neck before she could move. It lifted her into the air and began to squeeze. She grabbed at the ghost hand and tried to pry it off. It tightened its grip. “Sprit. Very good,” a coarse voice wheezed from the shadow. She struggled but each movement tightened the noose. “Kill the other.”

    The small shapes advanced and moved back towards Diana. “Di-ack,” Nike tried to call out to her but could get the words from her throat. Her vision began to grow blurry.
     
  12. Diana half cried, half choked when Nike took hold of her arm. She tried to speak but could only gasp as sobs shook her body. Somehow, somehow, they were able to break through the barrier that had been protecting this house for as long as she could remember. Now demons were in the house. Xander was hurt or dead. She herself almost died. Demons were in the house.

    Her head shot up at the sound of a snarl and gibberish. Behind her two creatures comprised of nothing but bone appeared, taking a few steps into the room. They said something to each other, teeth clicking together and claws tapping against the floor.

    Suddenly, she was behind Nike. Diana could see her sister also looking at the same thing she saw. Was their presence strong enough for a person without supernatural sight be able to detect them? Diana trembled at the thought these demons were that powerful. The bones making up their eyes dilated as they looked at the girls and the bat in Nike’s hand. She clutched her sister’s arm.

    “D-dem—“

    The color drained from Diana’s face as a new figure appeared. Bipedal, unlike the first ones, spikes protruded all over its body. The skin on its face was pulled so tight that every angle, groove, and hole of its skull could be seen. Empty sockets turned to them; Diana’s grip on her sister’s arm tightened.

    “So there are two of you,” it said, voice deep like a pit. “But which of you is the one I am looking for?”

    Nike ran at the larger demon, bat high in the air. Diana called out one second too late and could only watch as bony fingers wrapped around her neck, the bat clunking uselessly against the ground. The demon seemed pleased that it was Nike who attacked him, lazily waving at the smaller ones to finish her off.

    As they approached, Diana backed up until her back hit the wall. Nike called out to her, but with each passing second, she was losing air. Legs shaking, Diana’s hand automatically went to the charm around her neck.

    “I-I seekth r-refuge from danger. Come forth Aegis!”

    The demons jumped and Diana screamed. She dropped to the floor, hands covering her face as a gold barrier materialized out of nowhere, stopping the demons. Diana stared at the shield, mouth wide open. One demon shook its head and started to crawl off the shield and towards her.

    “I b-banish thee!”

    The shield crackled with energy, the demons writhing in agonizing pain until they burst.

    “So you do have some skills,” said the larger demon.

    Diana stood, one hand against the wall to steady herself. She turned towards Nike and the demon, newfound determination burning her eyes.

    “Let my sister go,” she began, drawing a symbol in the air and running at the demon with the hope the spell would hurt him enough to release Nike. But before she had a chance to finish, the demon’s hand struck her across the face, the brief moment of contact sending electricity through her. Diana flew across the room, hitting the wall and falling to the floor with a dull thud.

    The demon turned back to Nike. He started chanting and suddenly it was like his entire form was breaking down.

    ‘No. Not her,” Diana pleaded weakly as the demon’s essence swirled around the room. She watched as the demon flowed into Nike. “Nike, no . . .” And then everything went dark.
     
  13. Nike watched the shining orb engulfed her sister. The smaller creatures slammed against it and fell to the floor, only to be vaporized seconds later. Nike worked furiously to bend or break her attacker’s fingers as it made some quip in Diana’s direction. Hold on, Diana, I’m coming, Nike silently called to her twin. She wouldn’t let her fight alone. Nike clenched her teeth and focused her strength on escaping the hold.

    But then Diana charged. She made some motions with her fingers, determination hardening her eyes. The creature raised a hand and brought it down against her cheek in a blow that sent her flying across the room like a child’s unwanted ragdoll. Diana! Rage surged through Nike’s veins. “Bastard,” she managed to croak as she delivered a swift kick to the creature’s exposed stomach.

    It hissed in pain; its empty eye sockets turning back to Nike. “That was a poor choice, mortal.” It crushed her neck with claws turned inward.

    Crunch. Her eyes widened as she felt something break. Blood flowed from the puncture wounds and coated her throat. She coughed weakly. Black dots appeared before her eyes. It spoke again, but her pounding heart drowned out the words. She groaned as her consciousness began to fade.

    Raaagh! The creature halted its chanting as an arrow embedded itself in its arm. It dropped Nike onto her side and turned to face its new opponent. Her body went limp, barely clinging to consciousness through the haze of pain enveloping her. The sound of lightening striking followed by the sharp clang of steel rang out from the blurry scene before her. She tried to track the combatants as they moved too fast.

    Hiiiiagh! The taller shape collapsed onto the ground.

    Nike closed her eyes she concentrated on breathing. Little more than a trickle of oxygen managed to slide through her damaged windpipe. Each attempt dragged more blood into her lungs where it pooled. She’d given up on coughing.

    Something pressed against her shoulder as she heard Xander’s voice calling from miles away. “Nike…hold on.” Fingers brushed against her wound, eliciting a soft groan from her. “Mercy,” he cursed, the sensation ending abruptly. “I…I’ve got to stop the bleeding. Just…”

    His voice faded away. Nike grew still with only the spasms of her heart and lungs remaining. She stopped feeling, stopped thinking.

    Then Xander spoke again. “I’m sorry.”

    A chant filled the air, words like “tremendae” and “salvandos” echoing in her ears. A pressure began to build within her chest. She tensed as a knot of energy was pulled forth.

    “Dimitte me, Fons Pietatis.”

    The last of her breath escaped her lungs.

    “Dimitte me.”

    Her body went limp as her heart gave one last beat.

    “Fons Pietatis.”

    Something within her broke open. Liquid fire and ice shot through her veins. Fresh pain burned away the old as she sucked in a lung full of air. Her eyes flew open only be squeezed closed as the same frozen flames seared her skin. She crumpled into a ball. Blood roared in her ears mixed with a breathless scream. It may have been hers.

    Xander’s voice came again, nearer to her, “Nike! Nike…you need to breathe evenly! The pain will subside.”

    New waves of pain came with each beat of her heart, but tried to do as he asked. She called on the reserves of her willpower and concentrated on the rhythm of her breathing. In the nose, out the mouth. In, hold, out, hold. The pain dulled bit by bit until she could sit up.

    She dragged her eyes open slowly, blinking the tears from her eyes. She saw the pile of ashes in a ring surrounding her where many of her belongings had been burned. The scent of burnt cloth and blood overwhelmed her nose, nearly causing her to gag. She looked down at the disintegrating skin of the creature lying a foot away, clearly visible with a black wound on its stomach. She forgot her breathing expercises. Her eyes flickered to the far wall where she saw Diana lying unconscious, seemingly undamaged. “Di—” Nike rose to go to her side when she noticed the long, black tail that moved with her. It ended in tuft of fur which twitched in time with her increasing heartrate. She could feel the tail move. She started breathing harder through her mouth. She felt it like some previously paralyzed limb. Black flames crept up from the carpet surrounding her. She started, “What the hell?” She tried to scramble back and away but they followed her.

    “Nike, stop. The fire is yours. It won’t harm you.”

    She followed the voice to where Xander leaned against the wall near the door. His hand covered a wound on his side while his flushed skin and sweat-drench hair told of his exhaustion. Her eyes widened, the fire and tail forgotten. “Xander, what’s—?”

    “There’s no time to explain—Ah!” He groaned and slide down the wall to the floor.

    “Xander!” Nike jogged to his side. She dropped down to one knee beside him “God you look terrible. I should get something to stop the bleeding.”

    Xander stopped her with a hand on her shoulder. “No time. You’ve got to get out of here.” He reached into his worn, cotton jacket and withdrew a large envelope.

    Nike watched his movements, concern and suspicion mixing in her eyes. “Why?” She slipped out of his grasp by shuffling back a step. “Xander, tell me what’s going on?”

    “Peace. Take this,” he whispered. He pushed the package into her hands. She yelped when something burned her fingers; a different kind of burn. He sighed, “I should have told you before. Prepared you—” He grunted as a wave of pain hit him. His eyes opened slowly. “Your father…was a demon.”

    Nike watched him in stunned silence. “What?”

    “Your mother brought you both here. Asked me to look after you. Damnit, there’s not enough time.” He caught his breath again. “You have to go to my friend. His name is Simon. The bus pass in that packet will get you to him. He’ll know what to do.”

    Nike could hardly comprehend his words. She wasn’t human: all those glares, those taunts, those tears. Why hadn’t he said…how could avoid telling her…? Something deep within her ached. But she didn’t move. “What about you and Diana? I can’t just leave you.”

    “Nike, the G.U.A.R.D.S. are on their way,” a hint of Xander’s familiar exasperation crept into his voice. “You need to run. I can’t…”—a muscle in his jaw twitched—“I can’t protect you from them.”

    Understanding came to Nike slowly, feeding the fire. It flared up around her. She jumped back to avoid injuring Xander further. “Damn it!” she hissed. “I can’t make it stop. How am I supposed to make it through the city with burning it to the ground?”

    Xander watched her struggles with a mixture of uncertainty and sadness in his eyes. His breathing had grown ragged as his body sagged beneath an invisible weight. He seemed to come to a decision when he leaned forward and pulled his jacket off. Beneath he wore his black suit and a white button-up now stained by grim and blood. He held the jacket out to her. “Take this,” he said, his arm shaking from the weight. “It has wards. Should contain the fire.”

    She inched forward and took the jacket from him. The fire disappear beneath the grey material when she slipped it on. “It works.”

    Sirens began to whine in the distance. “Nike, you have to go. Now,” Xander growled, prompting her to move.

    For a heartbeat she remained still with an unreadable expression on her face. Her eyes betrayed her inner conflict. Her sister needed help. Her…Xander needed help. She had so many questions to ask him. But he was right; she couldn’t stay. Not with G.U.A.R.D.S. on their way. She picked up the packet and crossed to the window. She tucked the envelope into an inner pocket of the jacket as she heaved the window open with one practiced motion. The front door would be too risky with the authorities on the way. She climbed out halfway but stopped. “Xander.” She looked back, “I…Take care of Diana until I get back.”

    He met her gaze and replied in a gentler tone, “I will. Go.”

    She nodded and leapt.

    Only to land on the roof of the house next door. Her body crashed into the shingles and rolled off the side of the roof onto a garbage can by the backdoor. She sat up hissing in pain as she rubbed her aching head, “Ow.” Nothing appeared to be broken, aside from the plastic trash can which lay in pieces beneath her. That wasn’t supposed to happen. She’d meant to get over the fence into their yard as she’d done before when sneaking out. It seemed whatever caused the flames currently melting the plastic had increased her strength as well. “Fantastic,” she muttered as she picked herself up.

    The lights came on in the kitchen followed by a muffled, “Who’s there?” Nike started and sprinted for the fence, nearly clearing it in single leap. She tumbled onto the street, running once her feet had found the tar. Take the bus station downtown, she told herself. She knew of one south of the ruined area of the city that few working-class people frequented and thus few authorities bothered patrolling. She mapped out a path in her mind, trying in vain to focus with the racket going on around her. Between the menagerie of TV programs and several personal conversations, one of which may have involved the murder of goldfish, it was a wonder she remembered which direction was forward. The chaos and running did help to keep her thoughts in line. It gave her a challenge to focus on and overcome.

    Around ten minutes later, she reached the inner city. She slowed to a power walk, dodging between dinner goers and tired workers heading home from their jobs. Few noticed her, even with the tail and black fire crawling up her arm. Maybe they can’t see it, she realized as she brushed close by a giggling couple. She prayed Xander jacket would be enough to keep the fire in check. The alley she needed was just at the end of the boulevard. One more minute and she’d be safely away from the crowds.

    Then a man jogged out of a store directly in front of her. She nearly bowled him over, jumping back after she’d collided with his arm. “Hey,” he hissed in pain as a part of his shirt smoked from the contact. He looked over and she knew right away that he could see everything. The nervous energy in the pit of her stomach began to boil. She took off running. “Halt!” he called after her, taking off after her. She pushed her way passed several groups. A few people tumbled to the ground while their companions sent curses her direction. Her pursuer kept pace. She ran as fast as her legs would carry her into the alleyway. Her enhanced strength sent her flying forward. She nearly collided with several walls but managed to push off them. She never broke her stride. The sounds of pursuit drifted away bit by bit until she found herself alone.

    She took the opportunity to climb up to the rooftops on the off chance the man decided to follow her farther. Her hands flew from handhold to handhold, taking her to the rooftops in record time. She stopped to catch her breath and drive away the lightheadedness that threatened to overwhelm her. Her newfound abilities continued to save her, but she couldn’t bring herself to celebrate. Instead she continued, her jumps becoming more and more precise with each new attempt. Only once did she overshoot her jump, but she managed to cling to the edge to avoid falling.

    She came to the bus station after twenty minutes. Her lungs and throat felt raw, and her limbs had turned to jelly, but she was alive. She slid down an old drainpipe behind a building and took a moment to adjust Xander’s coat to hide her shirt and the tail, grimacing as she willing the thing to wrap around her abdomen. She walked toward the terminal, a decrepit building with only one employee manning the ticket booth. She retrieved the packet and removed the pass which had a post-it note on it that read, “36 Bus Last Stop.” She glanced up at the two buses currently pulled into the station and saw a scratched 36 written on the farthest. She darting through the thinning crowd milling around the outer area. The doors had begun to close when she reached the bus. One quick pound on the glass got the driver to open back up with a sour frown on her face. “Sorry,” Nike tried to smile through her panting, holding out her pass as far from herself as possible. The driver took it without a word, ran it below the scanner, and returned it. Nike took that to mean their business had concluded and headed for the back of the bus away from the other five passengers sitting in the front.

    She sank down with a sigh and allowed her body to relax. Without the adrenaline to keep her moving, she realized how very sick she felt. Her skin was frozen to the touch, yet her cheeks burned with a fever while nearly every muscle she could name ached. She wanted to sleep for a hundred years, but didn’t dare lose her concentration for that long. Instead she busied herself with the packet Xander had given her. She found a debit chip along with bank information, a map, and a letter marked “Simon.” She unfolded the map and found a little note inside and a trail marked to a place labeled with the same name as the letter. The note simple read, “Near large rock, call ‘cano.’” A little note on pronunciation followed it along with a sketch of the rock. It seemed Xander had put this together some time ago, judging by the dates on the bank info. Nike stared blankly at the page. He knew and he never said anything. All those days when she’d come home from school bloody and asked him why the other children hated her. Those explainable quirks he’d told her to ignore. Why didn’t he said something? She settled back in the seat and refolded the map, putting everything back in the envelope.

    She dozed unintentionally for a part of the ride, waking up when the driver yelled back, “No smoking on the bus.”

    Nike realized the seat in front of her had begun to catch fire. “Sorry,” she called up as she resumed her breathing exercises. She maintained them until the last stop where she exited alone. The station appeared to be on the far edge of a small town. The driver gave her a cold glare before driving away. Nike ignored the woman and retrieved the map, sliding the note into her pocket. “More walking it is.”

    She trudged along a main road until she found a dirt path that led high up into the mountains. After half an hour more, every step brought a fresh wave of pain. Her eyes drooped even as she walked. She stumbled and fell to the ground on more than one occasion. Damn it. She blinked in an effort to keep herself awake. Just have to walk a little farther. A trail of burnt plant life marked her progress.

    In another ten or perhaps twenty minute, she arrived at the rock. Or more precisely nearly tripped over it. She glared down at the bolder, wondering who would leave something that large in the middle of a path. She looked around for signs of life, but found nothing more than the forest of evergreens that had surrounded her since she left the main road. She dug for the note in her pocket, finding it surprisingly easy to read in the dark. “Cano,” she muttered once to test out the sound before repeating it more, loudly, “Cano.”

    Nothing happened.

    She checked the pronunciation again. “Ah, cano?” Still nothing. She growled and crumpled the note. Was she supposed to go on? Wait? She just wanted to make the damned fire go away. “Hello?” Her voice betrayed her shortening patience. “Is anyone there?”

    She heard a pair of low hisses behind her. She spun and saw three cat-like demons running toward her from the trees. The scraggly black creatures moved in a pack formation, apparently drawn by the scent of wounded prey. Nike searched for a weapon, then, finding none, turned to run. Simon’s house had to be near. Xander said he would help.

    One caught up and dug its claws into her calf. She yelped and kicked to shake it off. Another jumped on her back, throwing her to the ground. “Get off,” she yelled, twisting in a vain attempt to grab the thing and throw it. Panic and fear leaked into the pit of her stomach. All three took turns jumping on her and biting whatever they could get to. She felt a sense of angry helplessness building with in her. “Get off!” She screamed as the fire erupted from within her. One of the demons disintegrated as Nike lay on the ground panting. She could hardly move after that, could hardly remember to breath to calm the flames that threatened to begin a forest fire. The other two stood at a distance and began to circle. She glared the creatures down, panting as though she’d run a marathon. I won’t go down so easily.

    Zien
    The call came as Zien finished another case. He’d eliminated a small nest demons in the back of a convenience store. The telltale alert tone sounded through his headset as he handed the owner his phone to sign a receipt for the job.

    “We’ve got an attack in progress. Neighbors reporting sounds of forced entry and electricity. High probability of supernatural activity.”

    He lowered the volume with a tap of the earbud in his left ear. He wanted dinner, a shower, and a full night’s rest. He’d been out working since eight o’clock that morning thanks to an angel spotting during the traffic rush hour. Not to mention blasted mongrels at the store who had wrecked one of his favorite black button-ups with their acid spit. He took his phone back from the store owner and turned to leave with his bag of donuts the owner had insisted he take as a personal reward. Zien had never turned down free food. That would be wasteful.

    “Address is 1406 Sunder Dr. in Pressville. Occupants…Xander Lee, former G.U.A.R.D.S member. Request all nearby hunters to report. Threat level assumed high.”

    Zien stopped mid-step when he heard the name. Someone bumped into him from the side and told him to watch where he was going. He ignored the disgruntled walker and immediately pulled out his phone to hail a cab. The car appeared within minutes. He slipped into the back seat and leaned forward, flashing the driver his badge. “Get me there in ten minutes.” He’d sent the address with his request.

    The driver’s eyes widened when he saw the crest of the G.U.A.R.D.S. “Right away, sir.” The taxi sped away as Zien set his credentials to the cab to keep the police from interfering. He leaned back in the seat after, munching on a donut while he listened to the radio chatter. At least four hunters had already arrived to coordinate with the authorities. No one had gone in. He took another bite and chewed thoughtfully. Xander had never told Zien where he moved to after retiring. They’d hardly spoken. Zien finished his donut as the cab pulled up by the other cars outside a home in one of the many residential zones of the city. It looked painfully ordinary; not the sort Zien would have pictured Xander going to, even in retirement. He’d never seemed the type to want to settle down.

    Zien noted the group discussing the situation by the cars as he exited the cab: three greenhorns and Hendricks. Gods help them if he’d decided to take charge. Zien waved off his cab and approached the group with his donuts in hand. Hendricks noticed him first, “Okuma. Just in time. We were talking about heading in. Kims wants to wait for more backup in the attacker’s still in there, but Weber says we ought to go now. I think—”

    “Status?” Zien pulled out a handgun after setting down his food on a nearby hood. He checked to be sure his Maglyx rounds were still loaded.

    Hendricks frowned at the interruption, but replied politely, “No movement or activity. We’re hoping Lee’s solved the problem on his own but no one can say for sure.”

    “It got through his barrier,” Zien noted as he gestured to the blackened marks on the fence where the barrier marks had been; a representation of the spent spiritual energy. “He won’t be able to handle something like that alone.” He started forward, gun pointed at the ground as he jogged toward the front door.

    “Okuma, hold up! Reckless bastard,” Henrick grumbled before taking out his own weapon. He gestured for the other hunters to follow with his lead. “Come on, he shouldn’t go in alone.” They caught up to the younger man, falling into a single line. Zien took point and entered first, examining the entryway as they walked passed. Signs pointed to forced entry and several entities. The air crackled with spent energy. Something strong with followers no doubt. He followed the main spikes that appeared to be the path of the attack while the others spread out through the house to investigate the rooms.

    Zien followed his trail up the stairs and to an open door. He smelled the smoke before he saw piles of ash. The residual energy in the room was stifling, like a thick, electrified fog. He walked through the door and immediately saw Xander leaning against the wall next to another crumpled form. He looked decades older than the last time Zien had seen him. The suit he wore had claw marks and burn marks, seemingly two different varieties of burn marks, while his face was a grey mask of exhaustion. His blood had leaked onto the floor from the wound in his side. Zien crossed over to him and felt for a pulse, confirming his suspicions. Xander was dead.

    Zien sat back on his heels, turning his attention to the other person. A young woman by the looks of her, perhaps high school age. He noted the steady rise and fall of her chest. What was a teenager doing in Xander’s home? Zien glanced back at his friend’s body. Whoever she was, she had some connection to Xander and didn’t need to wake up to his body lying mere feet away from her. He checked her briefly for serious injury before scooping her up and carrying her out of the room. He met Hendricks on the stairs. “What are you doing? Where’s Lee? And why are moving that girl? She could be seriously injured. Who is she even?” Hendricks could have an entire conversation alone given the time.

    Zien pushed his way passed. “Lee’s dead. Found this girl up there with him. Whatever it was is either dead or gone. And I have no idea who she is.” He took the girl to a couch in what appeared to be the living room. He laid her down and sat in a chair nearby, tapping his earbud. “Okuma here. We need medical services and a clean-up crew on the scene. ASAP.” A short burst of confirmation babble followed. He glanced over at the girl and decided to wait with her until someone came to see to her wounds. Hendricks could handle the scene alone for ten minutes. Probably.
     
    #13 Tinder, Mar 4, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
  14. Simon

    The lake was calm. A tall man stared out into the lake, watching the smooth surface of the water. Not a wave could be seen, the mirror-like surface reflecting the last orange rays of the sun as it disappeared behind the horizon. He closed his eyes, trying to feel the air; a slight breeze passed by, agitated, excited, and restless with energy, like it was ready for something.

    “Simon!” someone called. Automatically, he pulled on a pair of glasses and turned in the direction of the voice. An old man was waving at him in a boat just as old as him. Simon raised his own hand and waved back.

    “You’re going fishing again, Milton?” he asked.

    Milton nodded. “Not only is it nice and quiet, this is the time of day when the fish start to bite. It’s perfect!” He pulled the string of his motor repeatedly until it roared to life. Milton lowered the motor blades until it was gurgling in the water. Simon wasn’t fond of the motor because it was noisy and emitted a revolting smell of gasoline in the air. “I’ll be out for a few hours. If I get anything good I’ll make something for us to share. Don’t sit in front of the computer for too long or your eyesight will get worse.”

    Milton made a motion where it looked like he was placing something over his eyes. Simon blinked, assuming the older man was referring to his glasses. He wouldn’t be surprised if he was as Milton often commented on his glasses, saying he was way too young to need glasses to see but Simon wasn’t quite sure. In truth, the real reason for Simon’s spectacles was far from allowing him to see clearly.

    Milton laughed at Simon’s dumbfounded expression, steering his boat into the lake. Simon watched him go and then turned his attention back to the sky. After another minute, he retreated back to his cabin.

    Indeed the lake was calm, too calm. The few residents here never thought much of it; they considered the peace a perk of living here, and often it was. But that agitation, that crackle in the air, it was unsettling. No one else in this little space could feel it. Nobody knew the recluse man with glasses could pick up on the slight change of air as a remnant of the power he once held.

    Having lived here for years, one would think this cabin would have been decorated more; Xander, an old friend of his, always told him his place needed some atmosphere whenever he visited. There were the bare essentials: a table, chairs, pots and pans with one or two appliances, and a computer Simon kept to fool his neighbors into believing his source of income was a captioner for television. Milton never questioned it, grumbling about “society becoming too reliant on new-fangled beeping machines.” No one suspected just what exactly Simon was.

    Simon pulled out a mug and turned on the tap. As water flowed into the mug, he looked out the window as a few shadows sped by. He wondered if those shadows were the cause of unrest he sensed. Turning off the tap and setting the cup on the counter, he stepped outside. He looked around him, making sure no one was watching. Then he followed the demons, running so fast he was a blur to the human eye.

    The people of this area consider the lakeside to be safe. The population was tiny, hardly enough for an angel or demon to use as a source to regain their energy before ascending back into Assiah. And because one of their own was an angel, unbeknownst to them of course. Occasionally, a supernatural creature does cross into the area, but they are dealt with swiftly and silently.

    Simon kept running, riding along the wind with ease. He could hear the gibberish chatter of the demons ahead. They were talking about food. These sprites were certainly not the cause of his worry. No, they were far too weak. But it wouldn’t do to have them prowling around here.

    Someone screamed and something burst. Simon could hear the screech of a demon as it disintegrated. The others were still there, snarling at whatever had killed their companion. Simon skid to a halt once he reached the main road. He could see them now: two cat-like demons circling what appeared to be a human girl. He sucked in a lungful of air and blew in their direction, pulling the demons into a small cyclone. The demons swirled around and around, flailing helplessly as they collided with the surrounding trees. He took a few steps closer, raising one hand and making the cyclone spin faster and faster, the demons screeching as their forms began to break. He turned to the girl, noticing the fire surrounding her growing bigger as it ate away the vegetation. The fire was black, like ink, and the girl in the very center had pointed ears and a long tail that ended in a black tuft.

    Recognizing those demonic traits, Simon jumped back. “Et a Bestia Ligatis!” A barrier was erected around the girl, containing her and the black flames.

    “You are not welcome here, demon,” he said. He looked around to see if she had any backup or weapons on her. He noticed her jacket, how familiar it looked. It was old, gray and ratty, and on the back were three yellow commas circling each other. It was that same old symbol on that old jacket Xander wore when they first met. “Where did you get that jacket?” the barrier around her started closing in. “Tell me or I will make your death as painful as possible.”

    Diana
    Someone was talking. It was muffled and soon joined by another, equally undecipherable voice. Diana focused on the voices as they slowly grew clearer. She picked up on the words “dead,” “medical,” and “clean.” Something rubbed against her cheek, the familiar fabric telling her she was on the couch. She opened her eyes, immediately covering them with a hand to block the bright light of the room.

    “Nike.” And suddenly she was hit with an assault of memories: Xander fighting three demons, three news ones appearing in her sister’s bedroom and her sister hanging by the neck in the hands of a tall one as it swirled around her.

    “Nike!” she cried, abruptly sitting up. She barely registered the mess of the living room, a few piles of ash all over. Were those from the demons? Did that mean Xander won? She looked around her, searching for Xander and her sister until her eyes locked onto a man sitting on a nearby chair. “Wh-who are you? Where’s Xander and Nike? A-are they okay?”
     
    #14 Yuuki_Tatsunohi, Mar 7, 2017
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
  15. Nike
    A sudden violent wind shook the vegetation around Nike and pulled her long hair free of the loose braid she’d had it in. She lowered her head, gripping the grass as the two demons flew up into the air. This can’t be normal. She squinted to see if she could find a source of the mayhem. She spotted a man standing a little ways down the path arm outstretched. He appeared to be directing the wind. It died away once the demons had disintegrated, leaving only the man and Nike. Could he be one of the G.U.A.R.D.S? She’d never heard of them controlling the wind. He turned to look at her, blue eyes narrowing at her from behind a pair of glasses.

    Then he leapt back and shouted something unintelligible. A shining sphere surrounded her similar to the one that had appeared around her sister. Her arm brushed the far edge causing a mild burning sensation. She cursed, scrambling to her feet.

    His first taunt brought back memories from her childhood. She took a step toward him, fists clenching, “I’m not a—” The words died on her lips. She looked away, uncertain how to answer. The man, however, had other concerns as he demanded answers while shrinking the glowing sphere around her. “Wait!” She stumbled back from the nearest wall, the flames leaping around her as she began to panic. She tugged Xander’s jacket closer to her and glared at the man. “My…guardian gave it to me. He told me to come here and find someone who could help me.” She paused as she searched for a more compelling argument. Her eyes went back to the sphere getting far too close for comfort. Then an idea struck her. She gestured toward the boulder. “He told me to find that rock and say cano. I only started running when those weird cat-things showed up.” She shifted closer to the center of the sphere, unconsciously drawing the tail in near her legs.

    Zien
    Within minutes the girl began moving. She mumbled something before sitting up with a shout. Zien remained in his chair observing her every movement as one would a specimen beneath a microscope. Her movement looked smooth. She looked confused and seemed to be searching for something or someone. All good signs; it meant one less test for him to perform. When she turned her attention to him, he heard her mention the name had shouted again along with Lee. Looked like they were missing one or they hadn’t found the other body yet.

    He stood and went to sit on the edge of low table in front of her, putting a hand on her shoulder to keep her seated. “It’s alright. I’m Zien Okuma, G.U.A.R.D.S officer. You’re safe now.” He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his phone and a stylus. He clicked into his notes before turning his attention back to the girl. “I need to ask you a few questions about what happened. First could you tell me your name and relation to Xander Lee? And could also you tell me who Nike is?”
     
    #15 Tinder, Mar 19, 2017
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2017
  16. Simon

    The girl shrunk back after touching the barrier, proving to him this ‘girl’ was far from human. He half wondered if she was being possessed since she apparently had no control over those odd black flames; she even seemed frightened of them. If she was, then there was nothing he could do for her except end her life. Pity as she looked so young too. Disgusting how demons would choose the most vulnerable to take advantage of.

    The demon mentioned she was sent by her guardian. Simon wasn’t buying it as anybody could claim they were sent by a trusted individual and wreak havoc once his guard had been let down. The wind once again picked up, pulling dust in the air and threatening to form a cyclone over her head.

    The demon then pointed at the boulder on the road and said “Cano.” That was a password reserved only for him and Xander, put in place by both men after an incident in which Simon was almost caught. If she knows the password and the designated meeting place, then that means she got information about this place from Xander at least. He just wasn’t sure what exactly she meant by ‘guardian.’ As far as he knew, Xander was never guarding anything except the secret identity and whereabouts of Simon. He never mentioned anything about guarding somebody else, let alone a demon.

    I fear the worst for you if you keep trying to protect those of Gehenna, old friend, he thought.

    Still, she did know about this place and the password, then there is some sort of connection between her and Xander. At the very least he should listen to what she has to say. The wind died down, and he stopped shrinking the barrier around her, but he didn’t release it; Simon wasn’t willing to let her loose yet.

    “Guardian, huh?” he repeated. “Show me proof of your guardian and his message. I want to know why exactly he sent you here.”

    Diana
    The man sat at her side, putting a firm hand on her shoulder. He introduced himself as Zien Okuma, a G.U.A.R.D.S officer. He shifted in his spot and opened his coat. In that brief moment, she saw the flash of his G.U.A.R.D.S badge and Diana relaxed a little more. Zien pulled out a large phone and stylus. It was so large, Diana had almost mistaken it for a tablet were it not for the familiar home buttons on the screen. He started to questioning process, beginning with her identity, how she knew Xander, and who was Nike.

    She blinked and gulped.

    “D-Diana, my name is Diana Lee. Xander is our dad . . . uh, actually our adoptive father.” Her lip trembled. “And Nike is my twin sister. Please, sir, tell me where they—especially my sister—is. She—I saw—Nike—“

    As she remembered what happened before she was knocked down by that skull-faced demon, she started crying again, choking on her sobs as tears flowed down her cheeks.

    The man named Weber appeared in the kitchen hall, muttering a chant while holding a paper in between his fingers as he screened for any remaining supernatural presence. He peered at the two for a moment, giving Diana a sympathetic look before moving on to the next room. Another whole family ruined.
     
  17. Nike

    The edges of the barrier stopped moving less than a foot away from Nike. She breathed a sigh of relief but remained tense to avoid injury. The man appeared far from convinced by her arguments, but it seemed Xander’s password had intrigued him which likely meant she’d found that friend. You could have mentioned your friend had crazy magic, Zander. She returned to her glaring, recovering some of her frustration. “You want proof? You attacked me first! I should be the one asking for proof.”

    Her body ached but she didn’t dare move any closer to the shimmering wall. She needed to satisfy the crazy man before he decided to finish what he started. That’s assuming he can be satisfied. Perhaps her packet…that was it. “Hold on a second.” She reached into the jacket and dug inside the packet for the letter she’d seen earlier. Her fingers quickly closed around the envelope and pulled it out. She could hardly feel the stinging sensation that it had caused earlier when she picked it up. Or much of anything else upon reflection and next to the white paper, her skin appeared to have a blue tint. That can’t be a good thing.

    She had no time to mull over that particular development. Better not to keep the antsy wind man waiting. “I have a letter for someone named Simon. That’s the guy Xander told me to find. That proof enough?”

    She held it out as close to the edge of the barrier as she dared. The fire crept up her arm to feed on the paper, licking the edges greedily. Nike cursed beneath her breath and attempted her breathing exercises again, running through nearly five sets before the fire began to die down. It crept back off her arms, but otherwise remained. The effort left Nike breathing heavily and her legs beginning to shake. Really wish I could have finished that nap. She looked back at the paper and noticed it appeared to be intact with a circle glowing on the outside. A frown appeared on her lips. “What the…?”

    Zien

    Zien nearly stopped listening at the word ‘dad.’ Only a momentary pause in his writing betrayed his shock; his expression remained neutral. He scribbled down her words mechanically, his eyes returning back to the first line over and over. The girl, Diana, was Xander’s adopted daughter. Not only that, but she had a twin which meant Xander had two children. Zien began to tap his stylus on the edge of his phone as the information churned in his mind.

    And then the girl began to cry.

    He bit back a groan. He always managed to get the hysterical ones. No matter who he interviewed be they men, women, or children, they always broke down crying. It had become a running joke around the department with a multitude of punchlines from his warm spirit shining through his frigid expression to face scaring every person he came into contact with. Jackasses the lot or them.

    He waited at the girl’s side until a lull appeared in her tears. He offered her a tissue from the small pack in his pocket.

    Zien forced the conversation on before the girl could become distracted again. He looked directly into her eyes and let his phone drop into his lap. “I won’t lie to you, Diana, we don’t know where your sister is. We only found you and your father.” He gave the information a moment to sink in before continuing. “That could mean any number of things. She could be possessed or merely running scared. Don’t give up hope so easily, okay?” He settled back in the chair and returned to writing the details of his report.
    A minute passed before he looked up again. “Now, give me a rundown of what you remember about the attack.” With luck, they’d be able to reconstruct this attack and find the missing girl (or her corpse) before too long.
     
  18. Simon

    She held out a letter to him, mentioning his names as well as Xander’s. He narrowed his eyes at her; the connection between her and Xander was still so obscure to him.

    Slowly, he approached the barrier, watching the black fire creep up her arms. He expected the fire to begin eating away at the envelope, but the girl started taking deep breaths and the fire retreated. The envelope remained intact, a gold circle glowing in the center. Simon immediately recognized the color as Xander’s signature.

    “One of Xander’s spells,” he explained. “Seems like he was prepared for something like this.”

    He stood just outside the barrier, watching the demon trapped under the stormy blue dome. In one second the barrier was down and he snatched the letter out of her hand. He jumped back, putting distance between him and the demon at a speed no human could possibly accomplish.

    “Whatever your affiliation was with Xander, I still cannot trust you so easily, demon.” Once again the barrier was thrown up, but he gave her more space than before to move around.

    Simon looked at the letter. The gold circle glowed brighter than ever, and the envelope felt warm; it didn’t sting or burn him at all. In fact, it never grew any warmer than it currently was in his hands. It was warm like the handshakes Xander taught him when they first met and greeted him with at every visit. The letter was meant for him.

    “O Parcel, with the message you protect so deep, you have found your destination.” He waved one hand over the letter, the gold circle pulsing. “Release your seal and let me read your message.”

    The circle faded and the warmth was gone. Simon fidgeted with the envelope for a moment before tearing a large hole in the front and extracting the letter from there.

    Hello Simon,

    If you are reading this letter, then I need your help. The girl whom I have sent this letter with is my daughter, Nike. It’s hard to explain and would it would take me too long to write it all down. Perhaps one day, when we meet again, we can sit down for a cup of tea and I’ll explain everything. If you don’t know what tea is, it’s a hot beverage common here. I think you might like it.

    Nike is a demon. Regardless of that, she is my daughter and I love her as such. For 18 years I have sealed away that part of her in order to let her live the most normal, human life she could. But I can tell my seal is getting weaker. She’s had bouts, moments where I can see that part of her emerging. And they are happening more and more every day. When it breaks, that side of her will come out and I fear it will hurt her and everyone around her. I need you to seal her powers, help her bring it under control before it is too late.

    I also ask you to take care of her, Simon. I’m not stupid; I am very aware of the conflicts that arose on your home realm. But this isn’t Gehenna. This is Assiah and the only thing that matters is if you are a human. Nike won’t be able to live as a human anymore, but I trust you can keep her safe.

    If you are still hesitant about this, then consider this as your repayment to me for helping you. This will be my only request of you and it will suffice. In fact, it will be more than enough.

    Sincerely, your friend,

    Xander Lee.


    Simon looked between the letter and the girl. Daughter. Xander never mentioned anything about a daughter, nor did any hint of a family come up in their conversations. What have you been doing?

    Simon tucked the letter away. Xander’s request was bizarre, insane, and crazy. He spent thousands of years killing demon scum. If perhaps this was a request to kill her on the spot then that would have been fine. He would do it in a heartbeat. But the request was more complicated than that.

    He grit his teeth. Only for you, Xander.

    “Your fire is out of control. It needs to be sealed before you burn down the forest.” He held up two fingers, a faint blue light gathering at the tips. “The ceremony will proceed once the barrier is released. Are you ready?”
    Diana


    Diana froze.

    “P-possessed?” she gasped. Her heart skipped a beat. Is that what happened? Is her sister—no that demon—running around the city in her sister’s body?

    She thought back to the boy she saw on her way home. The demon spores surrounding his head, circling and biting him as if trying to find a way in. And she remembered old friends suddenly attacking her, overcome and lost by some force greater than their own.

    Mr. Okuma spoke once again, bring her back to reality.

    Diana placed her feet on the floor, staring at the wrecked coffee table.

    “My-my sister and Xander got into a fight. They often do. Nike went to her room and then Xander came out, dressed in his work clothes. I think he was going to help some client out to blow off steam after talking to my sister. And then he was in pain and that’s when the demons came.” She trembled, balling her fists on her knees. “Xander fought off as many as he could, sending me upstairs to get Nike and run. I got to her and we were about to go when three more appeared in her bedroom. Nike went after the biggest one and got caught. The other two then went after me but were stopped by the protective charm I have.” She pulled out the charm hanging around her neck and showed it to Mr. Okuma. “I-I tried to save my sister with a blasting charm Xander taught me but it was too fast. It hit me and it felt like I was being shocked with electricity. Then, something weird was going on. I saw the demon’s body break down, surrounding my sister and then I woke up here.”

    Fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. She abruptly stood up. “Please, where’s Xander? I need to find him, tell him what happened.” She moved around the couch. “We need to find Nike. We need to find Nike.”
     
  19. Nike

    Spell? Nike turned the envelope over as she examined the glowing symbol. It must have been something like the chant Xander had taught Diana when she started seeing demons. Nike couldn’t be certain. She’d only seen him in action once or twice.

    Suddenly the barrier dropped and the man rushed her. She stepped back into a defensive stance instinctively, her fire flaring up again. Her legs gave out after the sudden movement and she dropped to one knee. She groaned through clenched teeth while the ache in her muscles reminded her of how little energy she had left. When she looked up, the barrier had returned and the man had the letter. Her glaring intensified. “A little warning would have been nice. Ass,” she grumbled under her breath.

    He said something that made the circle disappear. Either she’d found the right Simon or that letter had just fallen into the wrong hands. Either way, Nike knew her life depended upon whatever Xander had written in that note. If he was being honest, it may not matter whether this guy is friendly or not. She didn’t want to imagine Xander sending her all the way out here just to die, but then again their last shouting match hadn’t ended well. Maybe he’d decided he’d had enough of dealing with her. She watched the man’s eyes dart back and forth along the paper. His face gave her few answers. When he glanced up, she met his gaze, prepared for whatever he would throw her way. If he wanted a fight, she’d give it to him. Or attempt to.

    After a pause, the man spoke again, spouting some nonsense about the fire and sealing. The glowing fingers didn’t clarify anything. Her face twisted to reveal her confusion. “Whoa, hold it. Ceremony? What the hell are you talking about?” Even as she spoke, she could feel the exhaustion weighing down her body like a wet sweater. She needed rest. She averted her gaze and sighed to release her frustration. “Ugh, whatever. Just do it.” Not like she’d understand any explanation he could give her.

    Zien

    Zien scribbled as she spoke, his gaze never leaving Diana’s face. Her story matched the scene. Something broke Lee’s shield and got in the house. While he was a legend in G.U.A.R.D.S, even he would have struggled after a major barrier loss. With enough demons around, they could have overwhelmed him. But Zien had a hard time believing only a handful had killed him, wounded perhaps but not killed. Unless something else had been drawing on his energy, but Zien could see no signs of any project that demanding.

    Both girls had seen the demons as well. Spiritually gifted twins had to be a one in a million chance, yet Lee had seemingly stumbled across a pair and quit his job to raise them. Had he adopted them for their abilities?

    The remainder of Diana’s testimony sounded like the first steps of possession. She didn’t see her sister turn, but considering where Zien had found Lee, it was safe to assume the demon had succeeded. Spectacular. They had a possessed teen out there with a demon class B or higher at the wheel. Finding the corpse would be the least of his worries.

    Diana stood and tried to walk off when she finished her story. Zien jumped to his feet and got between her the door. “You’re injured, Diana, sit back down. The paramedics will be here soon to check you out. You can see Xander after that.” Zien needed her to clarify a few things before she closed down.

    Then Hendricks walked up.

    Zien had no way to know what the other man would say, but he knew something unpleasant was about to happen. His colleague glanced at the girl before shifting his attention to Zien who had turned to see what he wanted. “Forensics’ is up with the body now. Should be through soon enough. Any leads…what?”

    If a glare could kill, Hendricks would have fallen to the floor in an assortment of little, bloody pieces. Pieces that were on fire.

    He glanced between Zien and Diana, confusion contorting his expression. “What? Didn’t you tell her about Lee?”

    “Not yet.” Zien murmured.

    Hendricks grew notable paler.

    Kims appeared behind him leading a pair of paramedics. She came to an abrupt stop when she saw the scene before her. “What happened?”

    “Hendricks was demonstrating how tactful he is,” Zien replied.

    Hendricks’ face turned scarlet as he returned Zien’s glare. “I thought you’d have done you job by now. What were you doing?”

    “Getting her testimony,” Zien shot back, turning his attention back to the girl. So much for asking his questions.
     
  20. Simon

    “The ceremony to seal your fire,” he said simply. “And maybe get rid of your unsightly ears as well.”

    The girl still seemed confused, but she relented with permission for him to proceed.

    Simon took one breath and the barrier was down. He felt a blast of warm air, the wind heavy with the stench of smoke.

    "O Diabolus atra nocte cum igne." He started by making a swirl, closing it within a circle and writing runes around the edges.

    "Quod sit perpetuum esset accensum flammas pura."

    Simon wasn’t sure how well this would succeed. The goal was to seal that fire and her demon traits as well. Honestly, it was a miracle Xander was able to keep this side of her suppressed for so long. Or that he kept her hidden in plain sight. The fact that a similar seal to the one he was about to place broke wasn’t giving Simon much reassurance either. Xander was strong. There were many things he could handle, battles he won. The tattoos on Simon’s back told him this man was capable of many feats.

    Then again, Xander was just a human. An old one by human standards.

    "Ego an venti et angelus fulgur, et claude ne auferat tibi amplius nocere tibi." He finished the circle with an arrow pointing to the heavens. The seal pressed forward, swirling around the girl in a vortex of blue light. The black fire retreated, falling back towards her and disappearing from sight.

    With the success of the black fire gone, he moved on to work on her physical looks. But then something happened. The vortex started to waver, the tip fading and growing shorter. He could see breaks as well, runes disappearing. He planted his feet, raising his hand as he focused on keeping the seal intact. It wasn’t enough as the next moment, the seal burst; the strong blast blew off his glasses revealing his gold eyes. He grit his teeth, reworking the seal and trying to salvage it.

    He managed to rearrange the seal, pulling back all the runes he could find to recreate the swirling vortex but at a much slower speed then before. He didn’t think her abilities were strong enough to break the seal mid process.

    "Sero," he said. The light spun faster and faster. Her ears were still visible, canine teeth sharper than any human he had ever encountered. "Sero." The seal kept spinning but nothing else was happening.

    "Sero!" he repeated for the third time.

    Something sparked at her feet, black like ink and falling into the grass. The grass turned black as well, burned to a crisp. Black fire started around her. Another spark burst through, flying a little too close to his head. It seemed in the process of trying to seal this girl’s demon traits, the fire managed to emerge once again.

    He’ll have to wrap this up before the fire gets out of control. Redirecting once again to seal the flames, he pushed the seal to finish. Once the fire was gone, the runes swirled around her arm. They fell onto her skin, retaining the blue glow as they molded and shaped themselves into what appeared to be a flame-like pattern. They glowed for another moment before turning black, looking like black flames being blown by the wind.

    He paused, letting the silence carry on. He looked to the side, spotting his glasses and picked it up. Examining them, there was a smudge of dirt on the lenses and nose-bridge. With a grunt, he took a section of his shirt and wiped them off before placing them back on.

    Diana

    Diana had almost reached the door when Mr. Okuma blocked her path, pointing out her injuries that should be tended to as soon as paramedics arrived.

    “I-I feel fine,” she said, but didn’t try to push him away. Diana did feel a little sore on her cheek but where else could she be hurt? There were no bruises that she could see anywhere on her body. Maybe it was something only Mr. Okuma, an experienced hunter, was aware of.

    Another man appeared. Diana assumed he had just come from upstairs. He then started talking to Mr. Okuma.

    “Forensics’ is up with the body now. Should be through soon enough. Any leads…what?”

    Suddenly, it was as if the entire room around her had gone silent. Body. Mr. Okuma was apparently displeased with the other man, a glare dark enough to make the man stop talking. A woman and two more people entered and started conversing with Mr. Okuma. Diana could not hear them, their mouths moving in silent flaps. Only one word repeated in her mind: Body. Body. Body.

    Without another minute, Diana pushed passed the other man and ran for the stairs. Injuries or whatever magic lingered on her from the attack were forgotten the moment she took the first step.

    Diana ran up the stairs two at a time. She could see the damage the attack had done to the house: scorch marks, dust remains, blood smearing the wall. She followed the trail all the way to Nike’s room where two people moved around, talking to each other in low murmurs. Occasionally, she heard a small click and a flash, like someone had a camera.

    She barged right in, taking the two investigators by surprise. The floor was covered in little numbered tents, marking areas of interest to the investigators. Police tape covered the windows and Nike’s closet. And against the wall, skin pale and splattered with blood, was Xander.

    No. No. NO!”

    She rushed towards Xander, only to be stopped by the bigger forensic specialist. “Let me go! Please let me go!” she cried.

    “I’m sorry, but you cannot be here.” The investigator pulled her away, ignoring her screams. She was immediately handed over to the woman from earlier, who somehow managed to wrestle Diana by herself till they were a few feet from the door.

    “I’m sorry, Calvin. We had . . . some miscommunication with Hendricks.”

    The older man sighted, not surprised at the lack of tact from said man. “While I sympathize, I do not want her near the scene until we are done. Understood?”

    Kim nodded and restrained Diana as Calvin disappeared back into the room. Diana fell to her knees; face buried in her hands as Xander’s lifeless body burned into her mind.
     
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