Ash and Talon walks down the street. The road is silent. The birds and the insects have fallen strangely silent. The air is still and heavy. The two teens draw out long blades and holds them next to their legs. Ash raises her left hand and holds out a silver disc. She focuses on it. Her eyes glow slightly. The surface of the disc glows with equal light in a Celtic-like design.
“Do you think we should have talked to them?” Ash asks quietly.
“You are worried that they will do something foolish?”
Ash frowns, “You’re worried?”
He nods his head.
“Because if it is what I think it is, there is a terrible damage.”
A triangle brightens at the center. It points to the upper left corner.
The light fades from her and the disc.
“I don’t like this.”
“The idea that we are going to confront the reason behind everything that is going wrong at this passageway.”
They reach the edge of the city block. An office tower rises up in the dark. They move across the street. They open the door to the building.
No alarms sound.
No guard calls out.
“You want to take point?”
Talon nods his head.
In a moment, the boy moves through the building. He becomes more like a shadow than a person. His feet make no noise against the tiled floor. Ash can barely see Talon as he makes his way across the room. After a few moments, Ash moves equally through the building.
Together, Ash and Talon make their way up to the upper floor.
Ash notices Talon standing just outside the door of a custodian closet. She arrives next to him. He pushes the door open and nods his head. Ash peeks in and feels her gut collapse in on itself.
The body of a janitor lies on the floor. His face is a frozen mask of terror. His belly has been ripped open from side to side. The edges of the wound is blackened and scorched. There is no sign of blood.
Ash kneels next to the body and hovers her hand over the wound.
“I sense blood.” She looks up at him, “Black blood.”
She shakes her head.
“Then we must go.”
Talon leads the way back towards the center of the building. A wide and ornate stairs wind around and up towards the upper floor. Instead of walking up the stairs, the two teens leap from a lower rail to a higher one.
They reach the upper floor with ease.
They come to a stop at the top of the building. Both are perched on the railing. Talon looks around one more time before nodding his head. Ash taps gently to the floor. A low moan comes from an elegant office.
“That is the mayor’s office,” Talon says wordlessly.
“It could be her.”
“And it might not be.”
“I will be bait then.”
Talon takes up a position in the shadow.
Ash moves forward. A man lies on his back. His chest is ripped open. But like the janitor, his wound is blackened and no blood has been spilled. Ash feels her hearts begin to pound in her chest. The man tightens her grip on the sword. She finds the source of the moaning. A woman lies on her back and clutching her arm. Blood flows freely down the length of her arm.
The woman notices the girl.
“Help me.” She says in a hoarse voice.
Ash kneels next to the woman. “Talon. It is the mayor.” She looks at the middle-aged woman, “What happened?”
“He attacked.” She gasps out, “I didn’t even know it was able to change its shape.”
The girl glances over towards the door then back at the woman. Talon stares at her, his face pale in the weak light. Ash begins treating the wound while Talon keeps watching on the woods.
“I don’t know who.” She says as she cradles what is left of her arm, “It came years ago. My great grandfather made a deal with it. That it will have a safe harbor as long as it never killed any of the citizens.”
“I don’t know. But my whole family has been carrying on the agreement.”
“What changed?” Talon asks.
The woman starts at the sound of his voice.
“I don’t know. It only killed once a year. Always a stranger.”
“Then it started to kill multiple times. What. Three years ago?”
Her eyes flicker between the two teens, “How did you know.”
“Research. We know what… this is. But why did it attack you?”
“I don’t know.” She whispers, “I didn’t know it could change shape. I thought it was… someone working for me.”
“It is changing its skin.”
“Then that settles it.” Talon’s eyes harden, “Where does it nest?”
“Where does it nest?”
“By the lake.” She leans up against the wall, “But why? Why did it attack me.”
“Because it needed your blood. It always needs the blood of its host.”
“I don’t understand.”
Ash helps the mayor to a sitting position. Talon punches the number into the phone for the emergency services.
“Do you know what it is?”
Ash glances at Talon. He gives her a short nod as he speaks to the emergency dispatcher on the phone.
“What is it?”
“The creature has a mate and it has begun to spawn.”
The woman’s face pales. A second later, she slides over to her side and passes out. Talon joins Ash.
“Probably shouldn’t have told her that.”
“Maybe.” Ash stands up, “But she is partially at fault for what is happening.”
“Maybe.” Ash looks off into the distance thoughtfully.
“What is it?”
“Do you think Chloe tried to fix it herself?”
Talon nods his head, “She was the elite guard.”
“And she wouldn’t have known that it was mated.”
Emergency sirens begin to wail in the distance. The flashes of the red, blue, and white lights dancing off the walls of the office.
Talon moves along the edge of the lake. His breathing is heavy but his hands are steady. The lake looks almost peaceful. The full moon gives plenty of light to walk by. His blade is held steady. The young teen waits in the shadows of the trees.
He can see Ash standing near the edge of the lake. Her body’s markings are fully aglow. Her green markings are a strong contrast to the blue-white moonlight.
Her eyes scan the lake’s surface.
Out of the opposing treeline, another Ash appears.
The first Ash turns towards her. The second Ash flicks her wrist, allowing a blade to appear in her hand.
They leap forward and attack.
Both blades clash and ring through the night. As the swords sing through the air, they trace out green lines of light through the darkness. Asides from the sound of battle, Talon doesn’t hear any other sound.
Talon’s hearts twist in his stomach as he watches the battle unfold next to the lake. The second shadow rises from the water. The attack catches Ash off guard. The second attack slams into her back, pitching forward and slides across the ground several feet. His friend lies still, unmoving. The second Ash and the second attacker study Ash.
Together, they drag Ash into the nearby woods.
“Be safe my friend,” Talon whispers in the dark. He carefully stands up and moves across the field. His hearts pound away while his hands grip his sword.
Ash groans as she wakes up. Although her torso aches, her arms and legs are numb. Only the slight tingling sensation gives her the confidence that she hasn’t suffered permanent damage.
The young teen winces in the memory of the fight. It was disturbing to battle herself. It felt less like an opponent and more like her own subconscious. The fight had taxed her skill. Even if Talon had fought beside her, the ambush of the second attack would have negated the advantage of numbers.
In all likelihood, Talon would have been captured as well.
Ash shakes her head, “Focus girl. You gave a job to do.”
Her eyes adjust to the darkness. She barely sees the stone outcroppings. The air is damp and a foul odor hangs in the air. In the distance, she can hear something heavy work its way through the cavern.
Crude, metal bars block off the small crevice that she is trapped in.
Carefully, the fae leans towards the opening.
In the weak light are dozens of nests. Each one holding at least fifty glowing spheres. Moving among the nests are two figures. Each has four thick limbs, a muscular tails, and massive jaws.
At the moment they are more interested in the spheres than anything else.
The only other thing that Ash can make out is the presence of at least one other light source. However, the bulk of the creatures prevents Ash from determining what that source is.
Ash is startled by the noise. She turns her head and sees another girl peering through her own bars. Her brown skin is streaked with mud. A scar runs across her forehead to her chin.
“You are Fae?”
She nods her head, “Ellia of the Northern Frostlands.”
“Ash of the Southern Woods.”
“Did they capture you as well?”
She nods her head, “In a manner of speaking.”
“Has the council not noticed?”
“I was sent by them.”
Ellia breathes a sigh of relief.
“How long have you been here?”
“A year or so.”
Ash stares at her wide eyed, “How many have been taken?”
“Since I have been here? A dozen. They take whoever they can get their hands on.” She shudders, “There were others here longer but they took them.” Her voice cracks and the Fae covers her mouth.
A low growl from the opposite side of the chamber puts a stop to their conversation. One steps forward, careful not to hurt the eggs. After a few moments, it turns back towards tending the eggs. The teens relax slightly. They lean closer so they can whisper.
“I thought they were extinct.” Ellia whispers.
“They’re supposed to be. We weren’t sure what was happening until recently.” Ash replies, “Some did not believe, even with the evidence of cycles and manner of disappearances.”
“But then how did you get here?”
“One of the Fae who choose to remain in the human world. She was one of our more constant writers. Then she sent word that Fae passing through were not reaching the portal.”
The cave shakes slightly and the two creatures rise up. For a moment they chitter at each other. A moment later, they assume the shape of two humans. Without a noise, they disappear through the caves.
“Ah good. Time to go.”
The second Fae stares curiously at Ash.
“Came with a Guardian.”
Her eyes grow wide in surprise.
“I thought they were…”
“So did I but they called one back.”
“I knew… they were evil. But to call out a Guardian?”
Ash nods her head, sober by the thought.
“Come on. We need to leave.”
“What about the others?”
“Others?” Ash frowns.
“Yes. They are more.” The Fae’s face pales, “I think they feed on them.”
Talon waits, perched in the treetops.Two humans appear out of the cave. They walk slowly into the open field. Their eyes scan the field. One slowly moves across the field. The other remains close to the cave entrance.
Talon takes a deep breath and steadies himself.
Without warning the tree shifts.
He looks down and sees one of the humans. However, a large scythe has replaced its arm. He howls and slashes again. The tree tilts crazily to the side.
Talon leaps free with ease. As he spins in the air, he lets his power flow. Energy crackles around his forearms. The Fae hits the ground. The earth peels back from his landing point. The human’s flesh rolls and writhes across his flesh. In seconds, the creature’s true form appears. Thick limbs with an armored body. Its tail hammers the ground.
The creature leaps forward and with claws held out.
It howls, a chilling cold voice.
Talon sets his jaw and charges forward. Energy swords explode outward and forms a pair of long blades in his hands. In an instance, they clash. They exchange blows in rapid succession. The creature’s powerful tail swings, falling three trees in quick succession. However, Talon is able to block the attacks.
The creature flexes his limbs and tosses Talon fifty feet across the field. Talon lands easily. Symbols burn to life along his lower legs.
He suddenly accelerates, faster than any human. He sweeps underneath the other’s attack. The creatures howl. It spins back with an attack towards his head. Talon falls to one knee. He flexes and leaps to the sky.
Then the battle begins.
The creature spins and reels back on his hind legs. Its tail slams into the ground. The motion sends the creature upward.
Talon slashes down. The blow sends the creature back down, creating a crater.
A gout of fire explodes out of his mouth. The flames reach but encounter a transparent shield formed by Talon. The shield divides the flames and he drops towards the creature. The creature snarls and rolls away. Talon leaps towards him and slams the blades into the creature’s chest. The animal howls in pain.
The animal lets out one last ragged breath as it falls to the ground.
As the creature falls to the ground, the second creature howls in anger and grief. Talon spins and sees the creature charging across the open field. Halfway across, the creature has changed into its true form.
Chunks of earth toss up into the air.
Talon releases more power into his body. The energy crackles around his body as he begins his attack. They meet fifty feet shy of the woods.
The resulting the clash sends shockwaves rippling through the air. The resulting tears apart the earth. The earth is torn apart. The scythe and the swords clash. They move back and forth across the clearing. In moments, the once lush meadow becomes little more than a torn field. The attacks are brutal with no holds.
Talon struggles to block the clawed arms, barbed claw, and armored feet. As quickly as he can, he lashes out with his blades singing.
A sudden blow sends Talon skipping across the ground.
He rolls back onto his feet ready for an attack.
However, the creature rolls to its side. From numerous wounds black liquid pours. The creature’s body compresses as it breathes its last.
With a groan, Talon picks his way through the mauled ground. He eases way into the cave opening. As his eyes adjust to the darkness, the cave slowly becomes brighter. To a human, it would seem as if the light of a full moon filled the cavern.
He walks deeper into the cave system.
A hideous smell fills his nostrils. Talon feels his stomach lurch at the horrid stench. As he rounds a corner, he feels something crunch underneath his foot. He glances down and realizes that it is a piece of bone. It glitters in the dark.
He bends down and he realizes that it is a Fae bone.
Talon continues, passing bones of animals and humans. Occasionally, he finds a Fae bone mixed in with the rest.
Talon hears soft noises coming from the end of the hall.