Author’s Note: Some foul language in this chapter, just to warn you!
Volume 3 – Chapter 5
As the man stepped toward me, burning holes in the grass, steam rising from his skin, the air around me shifted from mild to stifling in an instant. His eyes, even more than the surrounding area, blazed, seeming to bore a hole straight through me as they locked with mine, a dangerous smile playing on his lips.
I tried to move, desperately, but something in his demeanor, his appearance, his very presence, kept me from doing so, and I remained rooted to the spot as he approached. Before I knew it, he was no more than a step away, leaning forward and extending his face over my right shoulder, his skin emitting waves of heat towards my face as he took a deep breath.
“Ah, you can see me?” he said, his voice normal aside from a deep, dark undertone of clanging metal that rang below the basic tenor of his vocal chords. “Isn’t that a surprise? You humans don’t usually catch me, once the taking’s complete.”
Trying to ignore his use of the word “humans” as a group separate from him, I gulped and, after a moment of concentration, managed “Who are you?”
Rather than respond, the man (although I had already begun to suspect he was more than that) arched his eyebrows, before leaning a little closer and breathing in through his nose, no more than an inch from my neck.
A moment later, I recognized the distinctive sound of him licking his lips.
“Mmm.” He pulled back a little, levelling his eyes with mine, and I was forced to resist the urge to punch him square in the jaw. His smile grew wider, opening in short bursts like cracks in a falling tree. “You reek of the other world. What are you doing interfering with my catch?”
His catch? I wondered what he meant, but pushed the thought aside quickly, knowing I had more pressing matters to focus on. His face was still mere inches from mine and, though I wanted to back up, give him a few choice words, I kept still for fear of starting something I couldn’t finish.
The body opposite me continued to stare, broken irises the color of rusted iron never wavering from my own and, suddenly, I knew beyond a doubt that this wasn’t a normal deranged human I was dealing with. While what exactly the man was was still up for debate, human was not one of the options.
After some time of mute staring, our breathing levelling out as we stood in silent stasis, the man took an abrupt step backwards, drawing his fingers to the skin at the edge of his lip and pulling downwards, regarding me with a look of pure contempt. Letting his hand drop to his side, he clacked his teeth together unevenly, blinking.
“Human…” he spat, hunching his shoulders and curling his nose. “I don’t know why in Hell you decided to confront me like that, but it’s pissing me the fuck off.”
His smile returned and, paired with his–seemingly newly acquired–vulgar language, it seemed even more sinister than previously. I clenched my jaw, flexing the fingers of my right hand.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Hmph.” The man clenched his hand into a fist, before running it along his shoulder, down the length of his forearm, eventually uncurling his fingers and twirling his wrist, his former burst of anger seeming to recede, for a moment. “Sure, sure. Say, how’s about you tell me your name, girl? At least let me know your rank and order–we can’t very well have fun if we don’t know a little about each other, right?”
True to my word, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I decided not to try that excuse again. The steam rising from the surface of his skin had increased in amount and intensity, and the air felt even warmer than before, drying out my throat and working its way into my head. I tried to think of a way out of the situation, but nothing came to mind.
“I don’t have a rank or order,” I said, still thinking of possible courses of action, hoping to prolong the conversation. The man looked at me with a hint of amusement.
“A free-agent, huh?” He laughed. “I don’t believe that for a second, girl. Your scent is too strong–you’ve got to belong somewhere. Frankly, though, I don’t really care where you’re from, so long as you provide me some entertainment. I’ve been locked out of this world for far too long, and I’m ready to get some use out of this new body, for as long as it lasts.”
I hardly had time to process his words, let alone wrap my mind around his comments about being from “out of this world” and his “new body,” before he was moving again, staggering towards me on the pads of burning feet, eyes wide. In a second, he was in front of me again, reaching his hand out, inches away from making contact with my jaw.
“Now, let’s see if we can’t have some fun.”
That was when I snapped, all of the pent up anger, the agonizing minutes of standing there, not doing anything and waiting for a way out finally catching up to me. With a grunt and a surge of fury in my chest of the sort I’d almost never felt before, I lifted my knee into my chest, and let my foot fly forward, making contact with the man’s ribs with a satisfying crack.
He staggered back, his ankles turning at odd angles as he clenched at his chest with one arm, slamming his teeth together hard enough that the sound reached my ears. Maybe it was from the shock of my actions that I stayed back, or, more likely, simply because I wanted to see his reaction. No matter what the reason, I was still standing there, my foot raised slightly off of the ground, when he raised his head, his eyes burning red, and snarled at me.
“Fucking bitch!” he cried out, bending over once again. “Oh, fuck, am I going to get you back for that.”
Although I would have preferred a bit more variety in the language, his threat seemed serious, and I sunk back, ready to move at a moment’s notice. I wasn’t going to run–I was sure of that–but I wasn’t going to take whatever it was he threw at me, either.
Seemingly done with words, the man straightened out, curving his back and stretching out his arms. Then, as if deciding to throw his previous relishing attitude at the situation out the window, he charged at me, the red aura that surrounded him growing into a full blaze as he did so.
Fire curled from hands, flew forward with each footstep, turning the short grass of the surrounding yard into cinders–small, curling black afterimages of their former selves that seemed to shrink away from his menacing form. A wave of heat washed over me and, surprisingly, time froze at the same moment.
Now, froze might not be exactly the right word to describe what happened as he pounced at me, globules of fire dripping from his palms and splashing on the ground, molars grinding together, eyes blazing a vibrant shade of red. At the very least, however, it slowed, to the point that I saw him coming, my mind still working while his seemed to succumb to the force of his feral rage.
Then, at that moment, with a frenzied, fire-laden beast charging at me at full speed, I remembered. The familiar pressure rose in my chest, a tingling sensation running up the length of my arm and reverberating in my bones, and I knew that I could, that I should, summon the sword.
And I did.
It appeared out of nowhere, bursting through the fabric of space and materializing in my grip, weighing my hand down with the all-too-familiar pressure of the dark, spiked metal. Time snapped back to normal in an instant and, when the man reached me, lungs supplying the fuel for unintelligible curses, eyes melting, I was ready, both hands enclosed around the well-worn grip of the sword.
Holding the weapon fast, centered just below my belly button, I waited.
Unfortunately, his reflexes proved to be no joke and, in the split second that it took for me to bring the sword out and position it in front of me, he was dodging, throwing all of his weight to one side and escaping the twisted edge of my blade with barely a scratch to show for it.
Grabbing at the searing flesh at his side,, touching the fresh wound with a tentative finger before bringing it to his lips, he glared in my direction, his eyes full of the familiar malice.
But, deep below, I caught another emotion being expressed through his eyes, now trained on the blade of my sword: fear.
“Wh-wha….” he sputtered, eyes continuing to widen. “Where?”
He didn’t continue his questioning, which I was thankful for, and instead, stood tall once again. Flames leapt in his eyes, and the ground below him burned in a dark circle as he shook his head, squinting his eyes shut. Steam rose from his wound in thick, dark wisps, coiling into the air like snakes, and he placed one hand over the wound, while a flame the color of the sun leapt to life in the other.
As you probably know, I’m not afraid to stand up for myself, but at the same time, I know when to pick my battles. Seeing the rage flashing in his eyes, the continuing, ever-burning intensity of the flames which surrounded him, I made a choice, and decided to run.
I made it out of the wooden gate surrounding the yard, the ground underneath my feet transitioning from the crisp bed of burnt grass to the rough cement of the sidewalk, before he began following me. Although I didn’t turn around, not wanting to lose any speed or diminish my lead, I could feel the pulsing surge of heat emanating from behind me, washing over my back, and knew that he wasn’t far behind.
So, not knowing what else to do, I ran, back in the direction I came, thinking of what to do. With all of the thoughts flying through my head, hitting up against the raw emotions of fear and panic and attempting to work around them, the only clear idea I could form was that, somehow, I had to get it away from the houses.
Away from the houses, and go from there.
And, with that single, concrete idea in mind, I kept running, a wildfire keeping pace behind me, throwing, shouting, creating flames as we made our way out from the group of dark, silent houses, and into the empty park I had visited centuries ago. Nearly the second I set foot on the plush grass of the public park, my chest surged with warmth, my heart beating faster–although that may have been from the running–as the unfamiliar sensation I had experienced earlier in the day appeared, spreading through my arms and into my center.
Only, this time, it wasn’t unfamiliar. Unlike with the bird and the mysterious man chasing me, now, running through the park, I knew what the feeling was and, despite everything, I smiled.
Somewhere, somehow, Asher was nearby.