Authors: Julius St. Clair
“Not if I force your hand,” she smiled. “If I hurt you bad enough…he might have no choice.”
“You’d have to be incredibly strong.”
“Of course I am,” she said, removing her sunglasses and revealing her large, brown eyes. “And they were too. The only reason you’re even alive right now is because of that technique of his, and that’s the only thing that will save you now.”
“I’m stronger than before,” James growled. “All of their power is now mine.”
“All the more reason to kill you if you don’t do what I want.” Atianna sucked her teeth and then charged them with while screaming. In her left hand appeared an eidolon, looking as if the wind itself spiraled around her knuckle and then placed a blade there out of thin air. She raised the sword high above her head—its shape resembling that of a yuntoudao. The tip of the blade was shaped into the round tuff of a cloud.
“Stay back,” Catherine ordered James. “I’ve got this.”
Catherine shuffled one foot to the right and waited for the striking moment. As soon as she saw Atianna’s arms beginning to fall, she sprinted forward with all the speed she could muster. Because she summoned her multi-colored eidolon at the same time she moved, she was able to slice right through Atianna’s abdomen. The self-proclaimed Knight spiraled off balance and fell into the trunk of one of the nearby trees. James leapt out of the way and examined her from afar. She didn’t appear to be moving.
“See?” Catherine said, putting her eidolon away. “There’s more than one way to dispatch a foe. I took her down with one blow.”
Atianna was bleeding out, but suddenly the flow ceased. Catherine scowled at their foe as she groaned and climbed to her feet, holding the wound that was now rapidly closing.
“Heh, that hurt,” she half-chuckled and half-groaned. “But you’re done.”
“Bold words for someone that’s lost a fair amount of what keeps you alive.”
“My body has tasted your blade and now the counter measures have kicked in. You will never be able to harm me with that eidolon ever again. My immune system has built a resistance against the components of your very soul.”
“Right,” Catherine scoffed.
“You should have went for the head,” Atianna laughed. She was standing up straighter now. “And trust me, I won’t allow James to even get that close. I just wanted to show you that, you know…there’s more than one way to dispatch a foe. Heh…heh…” Atianna burst out laughing as Catherine ran at her.
Atianna didn’t even budge as Catherine brought her eidolon down upon the Knight’s head. It was as if her skull were a boulder. The eidolon bounced off.
“See, told you!” Atianna shouted, stepping forward while Catherine was caught off guard. With a few whips of her hand, three large, red streaks appeared across Catherine’s chest and stomach. She fell onto her back and whimpered as the multi-colored eidolon disappeared from her hand. Blood began to coat the ground as the Princess remained in a fetal position.
“Now James,” Atianna said, turning to the Quietus. “Are you ready to dance?”
James glared at her and then back down at the scythes protruding from his arms. One slice…that was all he could do before he would have to resort to darker, more troubling methods.
Catherine, he thought. I hope you can forgive me if it comes to that.
“Team one is ready, sir,” the Delilah said to him from behind a diving suit and large blue goggles. Kyran nodded and kept moving forward, inspecting the men and women that would be accompanying them on their journey. They wouldn’t be going the main route, but via boat, which few knew that the Delilah even had. Since Kyran had pledged his allegiance, Elian—one of the leaders—had given him a lot of information. Kyran appreciated the disclosure, but he was also suspicious by nature. What confidential information was being held back in the dump? That was the question lingering on his mind. Perhaps he would get some insight from those he was fighting with. Even if they had been selected by Elian himself, Kyran had his methods when it came to extraction.
“Be right back,” he said, his voice so low that it was on the borderline of being a whisper. Kyran took a few strides toward his small house and walked inside. Chloe was on the main couch, putting on her last rubber boot.
“These things are horrible,” she complained. “I’m taking them off once we get to shore.”
“Same,” Kyran said, walking over to the dining room table and whipping the unnecessary papers out of the way. He finally found what he was looking for. He picked up the plain white sheet and examined the contents—a detailed list of where James was last sighted. It seemed that Catherine had found her way back to his side as well. Kyran found that disappointing.
“Are you comfortable going by boat?” Chloe asked.
Kyran shrugged his shoulders. “It’s less conspicuous.”
“Do you even know how to swim?” Chloe smiled.
Kyran glared at her out of the corner of his eye with a bored expression. “What are you getting at?”
“I mean, because you’re a little kitty. Cats don’t know how to swim.”
Kyran shut his eyes and sighed surprisingly in relief. Though he hated the moniker Chloe had long come up with for him, he was happy to see that she was in a playful mood. As the days went by, it seemed like she thought about the massacre less and less. At least, that’s what he hoped. She could just be putting on a strong face.
“It’s not that cats don’t know how to swim,” he said, turning around. “They don’t like the water. There’s a difference.”
“Uh-huh,” Chloe giggled. “But can you swim?”
“That’s hilarious,” she chuckled under her breath. Kyran didn’t think so. He rustled the sheet in his hand and went back to reading. Chloe raised an eyebrow. “What’s that?”
“James’ last sightings,” he said casually.
“So we’re doing this then,” she said, tucking her thick pants past the lips of the boots.
“Is that okay with you?”
“Yeah,” Chloe nodded. “We’re Delilah now. It’s our job.”
“It didn’t have to be,” Kyran said. “They asked, and I accepted. I could have turned it down.”
“No,” she said, leaning onto her knees while she sat. “I understand completely. Although it sucks that we have history with them, we might be able to get them to come in quietly, or if we have to…put them down with the least amount of pain.”
“My love,” Kyran said, letting her know that what he was about to say was very important. “I am hoping that James will allow himself to be taken, but I don’t want you to count on that. In your mind, I want you to tell yourself that you can’t hold back. He might not be all there.”
“He’s really absorbing people?” Chloe winced. “That’s…with all the stories he knows about the siege on Allay, how can he do such a thing? It’s like spitting on the good names and memories of the past.”
“That’s why he might not be the James we remember,” Kyran replied. “And to ensure that we keep his victims at a minimum, we have to do this.”
“It’s so sad,” she sighed.
“One more thing,” he said, his eyes wavering for a moment. “I received word…that Catherine is with him.”
“What?!” Chloe glared at him. “When did you find out!?”
“Just now,” he said, raising the paper up slightly. “She’s not a target, but if she gets in the way…”
“She must be trying to help…”
“This can’t change the parameters of our mission.”
“I’m okay,” Chloe said, standing to her feet. “This is what I want—to go with you on one of your missions.”
“I wouldn’t look down on you if you backed out.”
“No,” she said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I’ve never felt so close to you, and I’m not going to let that go.”
“Right,” he said. She smiled at him and went out the door as he stayed where she left him, still holding the paper in his hand. He closed his eyes and sighed.
“Never felt so close,” he muttered. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
* * *
“HIT ME!” Atianna shouted at James, rushing at him with her chest stretched out toward him. James scowled and leapt to the side on all fours, trying to avoid her strange assault. He wanted to chop her head off, but he was afraid that she was anticipating it and she would dodge at the last second, forcing his scythe to hit another section of her adaptive body.
“What’s wrong?” she screamed as she appeared at his side in a flash. “Maybe I have to poke you a bit.” He leapt out the way but she leapt with him in unison, and while they were in mid-air, she stabbed him in the chest with her eidolon, causing him to howl in pain. She ripped it from him once they both landed and she began hacking at his left shoulder.
He tried to dodge her blows, but she matched his speed with alarming precision, and his shoulder continued to take the damage as a result. Eventually, she took off his left arm completely, scythe and all.
He began closing the wound up mentally but then to his horror, Atianna stopped her attack and looked down at the severed arm.
“Hmm,” she mused. “I never thought of this would work before.” She reached down and picked up the arm, with the scythe still sticking out. She smiled back at James. “I suppose a nick should do, right?”
James had no choice. He rushed her at full speed and raised his scythe high. Atianna parried his blow with his own severed arm—scythe to scythe—and then she slashed him across the chest with her eidolon. She kicked him away from her and then used the severed scythe to cut into her own arm. As soon as the damage was done, the line immediately closed back up. James ran at her again and she threw his arm to the side and met him head on.
She kneed him in the stomach and elbowed him in the back of his neck. As he recovered from the wind being knocked out of him, she grabbed his arm with the scythe still on it and used it to cut into her arm, but this time, it didn’t cut at all. It was as if his scythe were a child’s toy.
She chuckled and punched James in the face, and then she cupped his sticky, tar-like chin and lifted his head until their eyes met.
“Absorb me,” she whispered to him. “Or I will kill your Princess.”
James’ eyes went wide. He bared his fangs and head-butt Atianna, sending her reeling backwards. She laughed as she pivoted and started running toward Catherine’s still body with her eidolon held high. James didn’t hesitate.
He stretched his arm outward and a stream of tar splashed into her back and began to cover her like molasses. She fought against it, but she was being consumed so quickly that she could only stretch out a couple times. The substance—which was once as large as she was—slowly decreased in size until it was no bigger than James’ hand. He willed it back to him and it melted into his right leg, becoming one with him.
He looked down in contempt at the ground and then he walked over to Catherine’s side.
The wounds had closed up, but at some point, she had lost consciousness. He picked her up from off the ground and headed to the closest tree. Using his clawed feet, he ran up the tree while he kept Catherine’s body as steady as possible. Once he reached the canopy, he placed her on a bed of branches and leaves and then leapt back to the ground where he could be away from her.
He barely made it a few steps out when his knees buckled and he fell onto his face. Atianna’s will had been strong, and her memories were already beginning to overtake him. It was as if he were caught in river rapids without a raft and he was swept away by nature itself.
He clutched the sides of his head as his body fluctuated back and forth between Quietus and human. It was too much to bear.
But then he felt a hand rub his back.
It was a minor sensation, but it was enough to give him reprieve. It was the equivalent of being given a drop of water on the hottest of summer days. He looked behind him and up at his savior, and he saw a familiar, beautiful face.
“You okay?” Catherine asked, rubbing his back. She was tired, but she was more concerned about her husband than herself.
“I had no choice,” he said, biting the inside of his cheek for comfort. “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” she whispered. “I forgive you…we’ll work on this together.”
“I didn’t want to…but she would have killed us.”
“We really shouldn’t be fighting any Ancient Knights anytime soon.”
“Yes,” he said. He winced and rubbed the back of his neck. “I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
“Then focus on something specific. We might as well use this to our advantage. What was that information Atianna was talking about? Is it there, or was it a bluff?”
“I don’t know,” he groaned. “I think…wait…I think I might have it.”
“Let’s hear it.”
“The Ancient Knights…the real ones. They’ve been working on something for centuries. They’re like the Delilah, but they’ve been around for a lot longer. Their technology is very advanced and that’s how they’ve been able to stay hidden. It’s hard for even the exiled Knights to find their way back. They’re…it’s a machine of some sort.”
“Like the one the Delilah had for Bastion? Are they trying to rebuild the barriers between worlds?”
“No, far more advanced than that. The barriers obviously didn’t do their job so they had a contingency plan. Atianna was banished before she could learn all the specifics, but it involves time.”
“Time?” Catherine asked in confusion.
“I’m trying to sort through Atianna’s theories,” he said, shutting his eyes tight. “She thinks that they’re building a ‘time machine.’ It would basically transport someone to the past, to alter what has already happened.”
“That could only be used as a last resort,” Catherine said in concern. “To change the past? That would alter everything. Who we are, what we know…everything. Are they actually thinking of using such a thing? Did they successfully build it, or were they just looking into it?”
“They at least had sketches and parts,” James replied. “But she didn’t have confirmation of its existence.”
“They can’t use it,” Catherine said, shaking her head. “It’s too dangerous.”
“They might have no choice. They might think the end is upon us all.”
“The end is always upon us,” she said. “And yet, we find a way to delay or abolish it altogether. This time machine, if it exists? That will be the end. They are creating the end.”
“Yeah, well who’s going to stop them?”
“We are,” Catherine said boldly.
James said nothing. He didn’t want to think about what that kind of venture may entail.