The group takes refuge in a mysterious town. The search party for the Port City Eight grows.
Through a sand-soaked sea of dunes under a chasm of stars, a canyon etched its way across the landscape like a twisting snake. Walls breached by rocks and sand held the canyon's sheer cliffsides up, as round, metal drones scanned the desolate valley with their red eyes. At the apex of the canyon, between the stone walls, was a set of columns flanking an enormous door holding up a massive cyclopean structure. This behemoth of a building, a monolith carved straight from the desert stone, housed a set of figures sat around a room at its peak.
"On the topic of Euclid... You can't possibly deem it safe. Not if our suspicions are correct," spoke a man in black robes. The voice that came out was rough and scratchy.
"Euclid has undergone its own... problems, in the last generations. I'm confident they've abandoned it." This figure, hooded and isolated from the rest, sat staring away from the others on a throne, alien in design. They stared out a round window, the only view into the valley below and the void hovering above. "Sacrifices do not have to be made to bring progress." Murmuring came from the other seven in response.
"I am here to serve your ideals only, not to argue..." came the calm voice of a feminine individual. "...But we cannot be expected to escape from here without a fight. It could take weeks, even months to reach Euclid. That is time we don't have, Xanvi."
"I suppose not." The throne swiveled around, revealing the presumed leader's eyes. Calculating and mismatched, in the colors of blue and yellow. "From here on, time is our enemy."
Against his better judgement, Dexter Wellington decided to celebrate the destruction of Remnant Rock with a trip to Manta. It was a high-end restaurant in Silivia. Dexter considered the food well worth the price, although he still had to be wary even when he could afford it: Arsene had many connections in the city's wealthy elite. The only man he could trust here was a waiter named Aaron Fontaine.
On his last visit, an intoxicated Dexter had asked an Alchemilia Corporation operative about the progress of Project Lepton, a classified initiative to upgrade the combat effectiveness of the company's androids. The operative planned to have Dexter taken in for questioning. Aaron had to step in and inform the operative that Project Lepton was supposedly common knowledge for Alchemilia's shareholders. Dexter did not look the part of a wealthy businessman, but the operative let him go regardless. The Fontaine family had been part of Alchemilia almost as long as the Wellingtons. Paramilitary troops had immense respect for both Aaron and his brother John, who remained in their ranks until the moment Remnant Rock was obliterated. The incident nonetheless served as a reminder of how close he had been to being discovered.
From a barstool, Dexter took in his surroundings. It was midday, far from Manta's busiest hour. The few patrons it did have were mostly unrecognizable, with the lone exception of a tall, muscular man, sitting closer than Dexter would have liked. Baptiste Rousseau, former director of Alchemilia Robotics. He had a new tattoo on his right shoulder of a curved knife enveloped by vines and surrounded by playing cards. Dexter still recognized his outfit: light blue shirt with floral patterns. A man and a woman sat across from him, neither of which appeared to be the type who usually made up Baptiste's entourage. The man had long, unkempt black hair and wore a brown shirt with a faded image of a snake. The woman had a similar shirt, although her red hair was short and neatly combed. She also had a prominent tattoo of a winged lion on her arm. It was a common indication of Svatovid membership: she, and likely her partner, were gangsters.
Dexter turned away from them. He wanted to run out of the restaurant, but that would draw too much attention.
Three teenagers entered Manta. There was a tall girl with dark brown hair down to her shoulders and bangs that reached her eyebrows, another girl with black hair and a prominent blue highlight and a boy, a bit shorter than the first girl, with dark skin and short brown hair. Jordan saw his uncle pouring a drink. When he was finished, Jordan waved to him. His uncle, Aaron, waved back and pointed to an empty booth. Lisa took the lead, walking over to the booth and taking a seat. She pushed her hair out of her face quickly, before patting the table — telling the others to hurry up. Savannah followed Lisa's lead and sat down next. She picked up a menu and began to read from it. Savannah was not hungry: she just wanted to avoid Lisa's gaze.
Lisa grabbed Savannah's menu and pushed it down onto the table. "Food can wait. Tell me everything you know, and tell the truth this time."
"There's no need for this hostility. Calm down," Jordan requested as he sat down next to her.
"Maybe you should've listened when I told you the first time. I'm not repeating myself," Savannah narrowed her eyes at Lisa and answered stiffly. "Besides, I don't even know who you are."
For a second, Lisa was shocked at the tone in Savannah's voice, but it was quickly replaced by anger.
"If you must know, I'm friends with Jordan and Atticus' ex-girlfriend. He broke up with me when he decided to leave Silivia and join Cloverdale's group.
"With all due respect, your story is complete bullshit. I mean, you found Atticus and some girl in a barn, both with no memories? And a robot was hiding behind hay? Please," Lisa snickered. "I could probably come up with a better story on a whim. How do we know you're just not trying to get attention due to Atticus being on the news? Or even worse, a terrorist as well."
"You don't—" Before Savannah could finish, the scene was interrupted by a loud ringing.
Reaching into his coat pocket, Jordan pulled out a small gray cell phone and carefully flipped it open, placing it to his ear. "Hello, what is this about?"
"Hi! This is Park Chae Lynn, I'm the secretary for Governor Rosington," a female voice replied. "Can you come to the governor's mansion for a meeting soon? He wishes to speak with you, I believe it's about the news of his son."
"I'll be over in a few minutes," Jordan affirmed, before saying goodbye and hanging up. "I have to go now, Mister Rosington wants to meet me about Atticus. Please don't kill each other while I'm gone."
Following Jordan's departure, Savannah continued. "You don't have to believe me. It's not like I'd buy it if I was in your position. We didn't even come here to discuss this: Jordan and I wanted you to help us find the supposed 'terrorists' behind Remnant Rock." She paused. "That offer isn't off the table, by the way."
"Can I take y'all's orders?" Aaron interrupted before Lisa could respond.
Savannah was a bit startled, having not noticed his arrival. "Just water."
Aaron wrote down her order and turned to Lisa.
"I'll take some chicaro ribs," Lisa said, not looking towards the man and keeping her gaze on Savannah. Once Aaron walked away, she continued. "It should be clear that I don't trust you, but of course, I'm going to help out where I can. I trust Jordan and I still want to find Atticus, regardless of what he's done."
"Glad to hear it," Savannah said. "We'll pick up Jordan, pack some supplies and then get going."
The two sat quietly for a moment before a tall dark-skinned man walked over to the table and tapped his hands on it. "Excuse me," he said. "You're looking for the people behind the attack, right?"
Savannah froze. "Uh, no, we aren't. We were—"
"Sorry," the man laughed. "The name's Baptiste. I used to be part of the company, so I was a bit curious. I only hope you intend to bring them to justice."
How long has he been listening? Savannah chose her words carefully. "We'll do our best."
"That's nice," he responded dryly. Baptiste turned to Lisa, who was listening intently to the conversation. "By the way, you should tell your friend it's disrespectful to take a dead person's identity."
"What?" Lisa asked, her gaze darting back and forth between the two.
"I'm not impersonating anyone," Savannah said. "Your hitman didn't kill me."
"As if I needed to buy John Fontaine," Baptiste quickly responded. "You're not giving him enough credit if you think he was a sloppy amateur."
"Maybe you're giving him too much credit?" Savannah asked.
"You and I both know the truth," Baptiste snapped back.
A man got up from a barstool and approached Baptiste. He was visibly nervous, but he tried his best to look unfazed by the situation. "Did anyone ever tell you to mind your own business, Baptiste?"
Baptiste turned around, adjusting his rose-patterned tie. "I'm afraid it is my business, Wellington. As director—"
"—of a department that no longer exists," the man interjected.
Baptiste was visibly taken aback by the insolence. "Remnant Rock wasn't Alchemilia Corporation."
"It was a good start," the man said, smirking.
Baptiste grimaced. "Honestly, I'm a bit surprised," he began. "I was hoping that you still had a shred of decency, Dexter."
"Oh, I'm the indecent one?" The man — Dexter — dropped the smirk. "You're hassling some girl because she survived an attempt on her life."
"Decency is..." Baptiste almost raised his voice, but he quickly cut himself off. Before he spoke again, Baptiste looked to a woman at an adjacent table. She nodded and Baptiste turned back. "If you'd like, both you and your friend can come with me."
"We're not going anywhere," Dexter growled.
"I see," Baptiste swiftly removed a silver pistol from his pocket and aimed it at Dexter. "Does this change your mind?"
Savannah tightly shut her eyes as pain abruptly shot through her head. When she reopened her eyes, Baptiste's expression had changed to confusion. His gun had been wrenched from him. Savannah noticed a new weight in her hand: Baptiste's pistol.
"What the hell are you doing?" Baptiste shouted. "I'd tell you to put that down, but we all know you're not going to use it."
"I'll use it," Dexter offered.
The group heard two clicks. The two Baptiste had been sitting with had retrieved their own weapons. The woman aimed at shotgun directly at Dexter's head, while the man pointed his revolver at Savannah's. Chaos followed as the customers and staff fled the building. Aaron came out from the kitchen, processed the scene, made sure the evacuation was complete, then went over to the table.
"Rousseau, would you mind explaining what this—" he motioned to the armed duo. "— is all about?"
"We're dealing with something. Just keep walking, Fontaine."
"I ain't gonna keep walking if you keep threatening our customers. Get your goons out of Manta."
Baptiste cracked his knuckles. "Goons? We're the ones dealing with the criminals here."
"Oh, really?" Aaron pointed to the man with a revolver. "'Cause I seem to recall this fella bein' a suspect in the Salinger home arson. Ain't that right, Magnus?"
Magnus' eyes grew wide. He was not expecting to be recognized.
"Got quite the bounty on his head. Her's too," Aaron looked to the shotgunner. She barely noticed.
A shot rang out. Aaron rushed Magnus, pushing him out of his seat. He picked up the discarded revolver and shot its former owner in the arm. Dexter went down to the ground, Savannah and Lisa following. Savannah gave Dexter the pistol.
The shotgunner had already left the booth and went across the room. She peaked out from behind a table, setting her sights on Aaron. She focused her aim, put her hand on the trigger and—
A bullet went through her shoulder.
With the situation turned against them, Baptiste sat hidden behind a different booth near the entrance. He knew he could be discovered in a moment's notice, with Dexter and Aaron searching the rest of the area. He set his sights on an escape from the front. He got up and prepared for a quick exit when he heard the sounds of firearms clicking once again.
Baptiste sighed and turned around, slowly raising his hands. Dexter and Aaron were some feet away, pointing their guns directly at him. Both of them wore confident expressions.
Baptiste scowled. "Try me."
In an instant, the man turned and ran out of the store. The shotgunner followed.
Dexter was about to give chase, but Aaron held him back.
"It's not worth it," he explained. "We got a lot of explaining to do already. An Alchemilia official ends up dead and we'll never hear the end of this."
Dexter sighed. "Yeah, you're right."
The police were called and informed of an unprovoked attack on Manta by two wanted criminals. After Magnus was taken to the Masquerade Hospital, Aaron, Dexter, Lisa and Savannah sat at a table.
"Is there any reason you left John Fontaine out of your story?" Lisa asked, examining her new sitting area.
"I didn't think it was a good idea to mention an Alchemilia assassin tried to kill me," Savannah shrugged.
"And you," Lisa began, looking at Dexter. "What was your issue with that guy? Why did all of that happen?"
"I used to work for him," Dexter explained. "Let's just say I didn't leave the company on good terms. I couldn't stand to see what he was doing today, so I had to step in. Now, I have a question of my own, if you don't mind — you were talking about tracking down the instigators of the Remnant Rock attack, correct?
Lisa glanced at Savannah, before taking the lead. "Yes, we are. We have personal reasons for doing such."
Savannah nodded. She licked her lips, wishing that she still had her glass of water. It would help her lightheadedness: she was baffled about what had happened with Baptiste's gun.
"I knew one of the perpetrators, Chris Wellington," Dexter said. "He's an ancient android, made before the war started. He was created by my ancestor, Andrew Wellington. I asked about your search because I'd like to see Chris again. Do you have anyone accompanying you with basic firearms training?"
"No," Savannah glanced at Lisa. "We could use someone who does."
"He's not the only person here with that," Aaron added. "Before I settled down, I served in Alchemilia's military."
"And I suppose you also have some connection to the attackers?" Lisa asked.
"It's complicated. See, my brother John was assigned to Silivia not too long ago, he came to visit a few times. I called him a few months ago, and—" Aaron paused, tapping his fingers against the table idly. "—That wasn't my brother I was talking to. His tone of voice, his behavior, everything was off. Took a second before he recognized who was even calling him. I thought it was stress. I couldn't imagine what they had him doing.
"Then he stopped responding altogether. Complete radio silence. It's not a coincidence Remnant Rock happened soon after. No way that was coordinated by someone on the outside, soldiers were fighting their comrades through the facility. John could have snapped. He might've been forced to help them. I don't know, but I have a feeling the Port City Eight might."
As if I needed to buy John Fontaine. Baptiste's words echoed in Savannah's head. The man who had killed her was Aaron's brother. If Aaron was right, the man who had killed her had helped her friends deal a crushing blow to Alchemilia.
"Well, then, let's go find them."
After being greeted at the door by Park Chae Lynn, Jordan was escorted through the large mansion and finally arrived at a door. The words "Governor Rosington" were engraved on a black plaque plastered on it. He entered, seeing the office was decorated with huge bookshelves against the brown paneled walls, several large windows, and a blue carpet.
In the middle was a large black desk with a green table lamp and several papers stacked up, a dark-haired man with glasses sitting behind it and talking to someone on a landline phone. Jordan grabbed one of two black leather chairs from a corner and took a seat in front of the desk. "Greetings, Mister Rosington."
The governor motioned for Jordan to wait and eventually ended his call, turning his attention to the boy. "I assume Lynn told you what this is about already, yes? I take it that you also saw the news about Atticus."
"Yes. Don't mind me, but could you tell me why you've called me here?" he asked curiously, "I don't fully understand what you could want from me."
"Well, first, I wanted to know your thoughts on it. What do you think? And be honest about your feelings."
"It's been hard, for sure," Jordan confessed, "he may be a terrorist, but I.. miss him."
Rosington nodded and folded his arms. "Anyways, I wanted you to be the first to know. Per Global Union laws, a group will soon be assigned to track Atticus and the other suspects down, so that they may be brought into custody and face trial before the court."
The man paused in his speech and glanced down at Jordan. "If convicted, they'll most likely receive the death penalty. And they will most certainly be convicted, unless, of course — someone else finds them first."
"Are you suggesting someone else should find Atticus before the Global Union does?" Jordan inquired.
"Of course not," Rosington replied. "As a law-abiding citizen and the governor of this state, I would not intervene in this case. But if someone were to, say, leave on their own and search for him, a private investigator hired by myself could assist them on their own time."
A small tree stood in the middle of the valley, snow plummeting around it as wolves ran by, steadfast on their hunt.
Nearby stood a group of six. Pulling her arms around her in an attempt to feel warmness, Blossom Cane stared at the bleak area ahead of them. Atticus and Samuel stood next to each other, reading an old map together, with Atticus' hands pointing towards something she couldn't see. Marshall and Li were lost in conversation, with Chris and Melissa were talking to each other as well. Their words were inaudible to her due to the heavy sound of the wind encasing them.
Glancing to her right, a break in the falling snow allowed her to see a small city off in the distance. "Hey, guys!" With the group seemingly unable to hear her, she called out louder. "Hey! What's that city there? Is it safe?"
"City?" Samuel said as he looked up. The others perked up as well, equally as curious at Blossom's comment. Through the fogged landscape, everyone began to try and make out what could be seen in the distance. After focusing their eyes, they too could what appeared to be a city. The murky weather let the group see that some buildings were lit.
"I guess that's something," Samuel commented. "It looks populated, but I'm not sure. We've got nothing to lose, so maybe we should check it out?"
The weary travelers made their way towards glossy city gates that were connected to a wall made entirely of white bricks. Up close, the town seemed much bigger, enough that there was no place to see where the wall ended. Chris noted that the city highly contrasted with Silivia, in that its wall was not nearly as ornate and the tall buildings that were visible appeared to be of a much older style. An illuminated sign hung over the gates reading "Welcome to Headre!"
Chris pushed the wrought iron gate open with relative ease. "Well, who's ready to find somewhere to rest?"
Before Chris could finish walking into the city, Atticus grabbed his arm and stopped him. "Be careful, we don't know anything about this place or the residents." He retracted his grip once finished.
"I understand, Atticus," Chris replied. He quickly glanced around the corner, noticing a plant shop. "Excuse me, Mister Li, this isn't too different from home."
"Good to see much doesn't change," Li commented. "Let's find a nice little hotel to check into. How does that sound, Samuel?"
"Guys, there's someone over there," Melissa commented, pointing to the figure.
As the man came closer, Samuel held out one hand and called out to them. "Uh, excuse me?"
The young, brown-haired man turned his attention to Samuel and walked towards him. A large black dog was beside him, sitting down once the person was in front of Samuel.
"Yeah? Do you need anything?"
"Something like that," Samuel explained. "To put it lightly, I and these other people are a bit lost. We just got here, so I just wanted to know if you could give us any information. Most importantly, are we able to find a hotel here?"
"Oh, you're travelers?" the man said. "Well, there isn't much to know, honestly. Headre is pretty small, but very well-cultured. Most of the buildings here are just housing. If you're looking for a hotel," he turned and pointed ahead. "Continue until you reach the smoke shop. Make a right turn, then walk down, and you'll get there eventually. Can't miss it, has a pretty big sign."
Samuel nodded. "Alright, guess we'll be going now. Thanks."
After a final wave to Samuel and the others, the man turned and walked away, his dog following him.
Chris and Melissa walked towards a restaurant across from the hotel they were going to be staying at. "The closeness is quite convenient," Chris laughed until he noticed an interestingly-dressed man at the door.
"Ah, hello, sir and ma'am," The man smiled at both of them. "Would you two care to get a seat? I can detect something in you that says you want 'instant service'."
After the waiter showed Melissa and Chris to their table, they both sat down. "Well, this is a change of pace. It's been so hectic lately," Melissa stated.
"Yeah, it is a nice break," Chris said.
"I still don't understand why those guys attacked us at the manor. How did they know we were there?" Melissa asked.
"I'm not sure, I guess they could have attacked by chance, but I feel there's more to it."
"You don't think they were after us due to Remnant Rock, do you?"
"It's possible, but who knows?"
The waiter returned to the table, bringing food for Melissa and Chris.
"Thank you, sir," Chris replied. He hadn't told the waiter that he was unable to eat.
"Enjoy your meal," the waiter responded, walking off.
"We'll just have to keep an eye out for more trouble in the future," Melissa noted to Chris.
Staring into the mirror, Atticus examined the cut on his face closely. Extending from the bottom of one cheek, it ran across and over his nose and ended near the middle of his other cheek. Gently washing the bits of blood left on it with a damp rag, he winched slightly at the pain and continued until he finished his task.
"This place is boring, they don't even have a TV. Well, there's some papers over here," Blossom called out from the other room.
"I'd be more shocked if a town like this did have a TV," Atticus responded.
Turning the sink off, he flipped the light switch and walked out of the restroom, noticing Blossom had several newspapers in her lap. Their hotel room was slightly small, with beige walls and two beds situated next to each other in the middle and a desk placed in between them.
"What are you reading?" He asked as he sat on the edge of his bed and rubbed his palms together. It felt refreshing to have a warm place to sit and relax after the last few days.
"Just the news," she replied nonchalantly as she threw a section to him. Grabbing it, he scanned through it until a story caught his attention.
"...Death toll unknown..."
"...The whereabouts of Gabriel Arsene and the other Alchemilia chairmen are unknown..."
Atticus continued to read, tensing. Soon enough, the moment he dreaded was revealed and he saw the names and photographs of the suspected terrorists listed. They began with Steven Devlin and slowly descended. But how did the media know our identities?
"What's going on?" Blossom asked. "You look concerned."
"Just wait," Atticus motioned for her to pause, still reading. Eventually, he made it to his own picture.
This individual is Atticus Rosington, son of Governor Rosington, who was officially declared deceased months ago after disappearing in a demon attack upon leaving the city.
Atticus...Rosington? Son of the governor? What? I'm dead?
Blossom looked at him, confusion clear in her gaze. "Atticus...what is it?"
"Look here," he answered, handing her the newspaper and pointing at the section. "Read all of this, it's really bad. Once you're done, can you call the others' rooms? Tell them to meet us in the lobby."
Without letting her reply, he stood up and left the room, wanting to escape any questions, even if just for a little bit.
Samuel and Li sat together on a wrought iron bench, its bars cold from the air and wet with powdered snow. The metal's frigid touch made leaning back especially uncomfortable, so they both sat at the edge.
Samuel held his black fedora in his hand, rapidly hitting it against the iron to try and dry it.
Samuel chuckled. "That's all you've been thinking about?"
"No, no. I've been thinking about home. I've been thinking about the kids here and what we are going to do. Hell, I've even been thinking about my mother," Li laughed.
"Of course," Samuel answered. "It's hard, I know. As much as I've been trying to reassure everybody that we'll be fine, it's hard to think that this isn't the end."
After a silence between the two, Samuel got up. He dusted off his black leather coat and put his hat back on. "Listen, I'm going to see if I can pick up some important things for the road ahead. You can stay here."
"Make sure those important things include food, water, and first aid kits," Li told the man, staring at the trees, which were blanketed in snow.
Hearing the automated message yet again, Blossom sighed and placed the phone back on its stand. Not a single one of them had answered. I guess they're all off on some adventure and I'm stuck here in this damned wheelchair.
Going backward, she rolled out from between the beds and directed herself over towards the singular window in the room. It was a small window, but just wide enough to give her a decent view of the snow-capped city. Looking down, she watched as people walked in and out of towns and between buildings, doing mundane activities.
In the distance, she noticed two people on a bench and managed to recognize them as Samuel and Li. Watching them as they seemed content in their conversation with each other, Blossom couldn't help but feel a sudden and strong sense of anger.
She didn't belong in this town, on this continent, or with this group. She was not like them, she didn't have the strong sense of justly anger that they all seemed to share in their crusade against Alchemilia Corporation. She had agreed to join them a few months back because it seemed like the right thing to do with the information she had been given and the best way to finally get her out of Silivia.
Now all she wanted to do was go back home, but that seemed like a distant dream now that she was officially a terrorist reported. A wanted terrorist that could not even leave the confinements of her chair.
Feeling tears stream down her face, she clenched her fist and wiped at her eyes, trying to control her emotions before they controlled her. Making up her mind finally, she rolled back towards the phone and grabbed it, pressing it against her ear and hurriedly typing the number in, making sure to keep an eye on the door in case Atticus returned.
After a short while of ringing, it settled on the message she didn't want to hear. A recording of an older female voice began to play.
Hello! You've reached the residence of Faris and Hawa Cane. If you're hearing this message, it means we're not available to answer. Please leave a message if you'd like.
Slamming the phone down, Blossom turned around and sighed again. Grabbing the newspaper, she crumbled all of the pages and threw them against the wall.
I guess I'll just continue trying to call the others.
Li got up from the icy bench, gripping his cane.
He looked to the trees, hearing a faint squawk and saw a large, gray parrot with a silver underbelly, yellow eyes, and red tail feathers. The bird looked remarkably like one he had owned in his youth, Gulliver. It began flying away from the old man, sparking him to follow it. He was not sure why, but he felt like he had to. He had always been fascinated by animals.
Li followed the bird as it flew east. It flew slowly, but seemingly with purpose, over businesses and homes. A curious onlooker would notice the old man following a bird. They may have been momentarily amused, but promptly resumed their prior activity once Li was out of sight.
Eventually, the bird and the old man reached a wooden shack and the bird perched itself on the roof, where a flock of birds rested. Li took notice of a stench emanating from the shed. It was almost like rotting pork, but not quite. The door was unlocked and no one nearby was watching him. Curiosity got the better of Li.
He opened the door to a horrific sight. A collection of human entrails, haphazardly sorted by type. Skin, bones, and organs each had a pile. Blood coated the floor and walls. To Li's horror, not all of it was dry.
Seated at a table in the circular lobby of the hotel, Atticus and Blossom waited for the others to arrive. Blossom watched as Atticus stared ahead with a distant look on his face, his arm propped up on the table and holding his head up.
The only other person in the room was the worker at the front desk — a short woman with long black hair and dressed in a checkered black and white top and skirt.
"We'll have to make sure we get their attention as they come in," Blossom began, turning her attention back to Atticus. "None of them picked up."
Instead of responding, Atticus continued to stare into the distance, thinking heavily.
Of course. Blossom rolled her eyes and continued to keep watch for the others.
After what seemed like ages, Chris and Melissa arrived at the hotel and walked through the front door, entering into the lobby.
"Have you two left this place at all?" Chris asked.
"No, we haven't," Atticus snapped, waking up from his daze. "And there's a very good reason for it."
Chris and Melissa both took a seat at the table, seemingly concerned by Atticus' tone. Chris tried to ask Atticus if anything was wrong, but Atticus told him to wait until the others arrived.
Marshall and Samuel came shortly after, their arrivals only slightly apart. Samuel was holding a plastic bag with assorted fruits and nutrition bars, some of which he distributed to the others.
There was an awkward silence as everyone waited for Li. After there was no sign of him for several minutes, Atticus decided to reveal what he needed to discuss.
"So, we're being hunted, your last name is fake, your dad is a pig, we're still in jumpsuits and Alchem gear, and Mister Li wandered off like a small child," Marshall said as he slouched in his chair.
"Yes, my dad is a 'pig'. The one I don't even remember," Atticus said as he folded his arms. "Apparently I'm legally dead and I didn't even know my own name."
Samuel sighed as he crumpled a piece of packaging. "Adoptive son, Atticus," he dryly said. "You're his adoptive son, Rosington adopted you when you were a toddler. After members of a demon hunting group you joined were killed, you were presumed dead."
"What? How do you know this?"
"Well, it's public knowledge that Rosington and his wife adopted a child," Samuel began. "But due to a few laws, the gubernatorial family is almost always kept private, so while we didn't know your name or what you even looked like, the news of your 'death' was announced a while ago."
"I don't know anything about that topic," Melissa started, "but I can tell you about something else that I've just remembered recently. It's about how we met. Like Samuel mentioned, you were part of a small group of demon hunters. I used to be in a militia dedicated to fighting demons and you guys showed up when my squad had rushed into battle in a forest in Gladea.
"I remember running with you after your team was slaughtered, I don't know what happened to my squad after that, but we were both pretty banged up and ended up running into the barn for shelter. We probably lost our memories due to injuries from that day."
Before Atticus could speak, Li interrupted the meeting by bursting through the glass hotel lobby doors. Screaming and panting, he dropped his cane to the ground.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Blossom asked.
Li staggered over to a chair, panting further and trying to calm himself. Breathless, he grabbed at the air, motioning for someone to bring him his cane.
"What's wrong?" Marshall asked, his demeanor changing as he got up and gave the older man his cane.
After taking several deep breaths, Li started again. "Shed... Followed bird to shed. It had... remains... bite marks—I'm exhausted—many bones, nearly shoveled in... not the work of any animal. Awful smell..." Pausing to catch his breath, Li gripped his cane harder. "We need to get out of here."
"Just slow down," Samuel told Li, a bit uneasy. "Bite marks? What are you talking about?"
Li continued. "There's a monster terrorizing this town," Li responded. "If they find out I discovered their shed, we'll most likely be their next targets."
"He's right, we need to get out of here," Atticus said, deciding to let go of his feelings about the recent revelations and focusing on the issue. "Just remember to be careful, we could be recognized due to the news. And uh, maybe...we can get my father to help us?"
"No, he can't help us, he's the governor of Silivia. I know you want to talk to him now, but he won't help 'terrorists'. We'll just have to continue going on our own." Blossom replied, sighing a bit at the end.
"She's right," Marshall added. "Your rich dad isn't going to randomly want to help us. Just forget him."
As everyone began to think about their next move, Melissa stopped for a second. "I agree on leaving. But sorry... I.. uh... left something in my room. Blossom, can you come with me?" she asked. "Due to the situation, we shouldn't leave on our own."
Parked in the middle of Melissa's room, Blossom watched as the other girl closed the door behind them. "So, what did you leave in here that was so important?"
Melissa put a finger to her lips, signaling for Blossom to be quiet. "I just said that to get you alone," she admitted. "I need you to do something for me. Promise that you will, okay?"
"Uh, what is it?"
"Well, I am leaving the group. So... I want you to tell everyone else that I will be gone," she paused, in deep thought. "But there is something I would like to do first."
"What? You're leaving?" Blossom could barely think of what to say, she was certain Melissa had lost her mind. "Are you crazy? There's a mad man around here killing people, we're wanted, and you're just going to leave? What the hell do you even want to do?"
Down in the lobby, the remaining five were all located at the table now, seated and holding various conversations. Anxious and uninterested, Atticus drowned their words out, until he spotted something that caught his attention. Great, just what we needed. "Just so you all know, a group of men is approaching us from the entrance."
"You won't understand," Melissa said as she bent down on one knee. "And you don't have to. Just please tell the others."
Focusing, she raised her right hand and it slowly began to glow with a faint light. After a few seconds, her hand was lit up with tiny gold particles that were moving as tendrils going in a circular motion up and around her fingers and palm. Gently placing her hand on Blossom's leg, she held it there until the particles died down and were no longer visible.
"Can you try standing?"
"What the hell are you doing?! What is going on with your hand? That's not normal! And you know I can't stand, my legs are broken. Please, please just explain what is going on." Blossom started, backing her wheelchair up and wheeling away from Melissa.
"Never mind that, just try to stand out of your wheelchair," Melissa replied, looking out the window in her room.
Unsure of what to do, Blossom decided to trust in Melissa's words and slowly placed her hands around the arms of her wheelchair and lift upwards. To her surprise, she didn't feel any pain as she attempted to move her legs and managed to stand out of her wheelchair.
Propping herself against the wall as she regained her newfound balance, Blossom sputtered, shocked. "H-how? But how? They were just broken. Did you heal them with whatever you did?"
Melissa ignored her questions, hearing a loud bang coming from downstairs. "You should go check that out, the others may need your help."
The glass stand that was thrown at Samuel made contact with the wall behind him, narrowly missing him as its pieces shattered across the floor.
The two men across from him stood still, temporarily halting their attack. Like a vulture fixated on prey, they watched Samuel with an unnatural gaze as he was also still. Neither party made any move until Samuel moved to pick up a shard of glass and the two men rushed towards him.
The others were in a similar situation. As Atticus had foreseen, the men in the doorway quickly began an assault once they made it to the table. Everyone was forced to fight as the hotel lobby fell into a scene of chaos.
One of the men had lunged straight for Chris with a feral look of rage, and bit Chris in the arm, only to be met with metal. The surprise from the man gave Chris the perfect opportunity, and he ripped the man's arm off, blood gushing out and exploding over the two of them and the floor. With the arm ripped off, the skin got a pale hue, and Chris realized to his surprise that the man yelping in pain wasn't a man at all as his skin became bumpy, his eyes the color of fire.
Li began barricading himself behind a table and chair, stating to the others that he was in no position to fight.
Grabbing three plates off the shelf next to him, Atticus threw them directly at the backs of the men approaching Samuel, watching as they hit their targets and crashed to the floor, shattering.
Running across the room, he grabbed one of the shards and skidded, stopping before he collided with the men. "Get up, Samuel!" He shouted.
Samuel barely got a hold of himself as he started to sprint away. The men behind him recovered after a minor grunt, separating themselves to run for both Samuel and Atticus.
Had everyone not been focused on defending themselves, what Chris had been fighting would have been the center of attention. The creature's screeches rang through the room as its complexion continued to change. It was hard to tell if its shriveling skin was a symptom of blood loss or part of the creature's real form.
Glancing behind him, Samuel saw that there were three more now chasing him. Panicking, he started to run towards the barricade Li had created.
"Damn it — Li, move!" he yelled. He picked up a chair and desperately threw it behind him.
Running down the stairs, Blossom paid little attention to the last words Melissa had said before they parted their ways. Terrifying inhuman wails coming from below enveloped her with every step, but it only made her run faster. Turning a corner and landing at the bottom of the staircase, she was shocked at the scene before her in the lobby.
Groups of men fought with her friends, chairs being thrown through the air, tables turned over, blood on the walls and floor in various areas. But the sight in the middle of the room seemed to make her heart stop for a second or two.
A tall humanoid creature shrieking stood in front of Chris, at around 8 feet tall. It was missing an arm and blood rushed onto the floor as every second passed. It had green skin, stretched over its gaunt figure, its remaining arm was extremely long and managed to reach the floor. It had little hair on its elongated head and its face seemed to be a mixture of a human face and that of a feral animal, with eyes stretched out and the color of flames. The creature's teeth were so long that they did not fit in its mouth and hung out, pulling the mouth into a snout-like fixture.
Blossom's breath caught as she took more of the figure in and she paused her run, tightly gripping the railing of the staircase.
Li followed Samuel's lead and tossed the chair in his barricade at one of the pursuing men. Both attacks did little to hinder their progress, but it was enough for Samuel to reach the barricade.
Samuel saw an opening in the barrier, one large enough for him to fit through. He stepped on top of a chair and onto a metal desk, tumbling over as he dove into the floor below. The enclosure Samuel made it to was small and provided little opportunity for movement.
Samuel knew there was not much time to think. He hastily stood up and turned around, to be met by a man trying to reach inside, their body partially stuck by a chair. Taking the opportunity, Samuel drew his glass shard and slashed at the back of their neck. When Samuel examined the wound, he noticed the skin around it suddenly shifting into a light gray.
Marshall, during the fray, slipped out the backdoor of the building. His bruised, cut, and burned hands gripped the bars of a fire escape as he boosted himself up to it on a yellow dumpster below. Their third story hotel room interior was in view as he broke the window, cutting through his Alchemilia suit and into his elbow.
Wasting no time to dress his ever-growing wounds, he climbed in. He carelessly threw the drawer of the messy bronze nightstand onto the cheap polyester foldout bed. After grabbing the knife and his guns, he exited the room and into the dimly lit corridor.
Marshall groaned in pain as he continued down the hallway. His pace had slowed as it became harder to ignore his wounds, but he had not stopped.
He was almost at the elevator when he spotted it: the bishop he had met the day prior, standing in front of the elevator doors, his eyebrows furled. His face was filled with hunger.
Marshall looked relieved at the sight of the young priest. "Oh, father, you have to get out of here, ther—"
"This never gets old," he said. "Watching your kind desperately struggle against its inevitable fate."
He took a step forward, before clasping his hands together. One after another he threw fireballs at the boy. Marshall dodged, but not before one grazed his arm. He persisted. The fire was gone from his hands.
The bishop became even more enraged. Kneeling down, his skin became a charcoal color. Shrieking in pain as his skin ripped, becoming taller, and revealing his blood to molten, white and orange lava. Two arms sprouted grotesquely from his back. He screeched in pain as they burst through his rough skin.
Punch. Punch. He tried desperately to make contact with the boy, swiping at him.
Marshall was cornered. The monster threw him against the wall. He held the boy's throat chest, preparing his two right arms for a knockout blow. The boy wriggled free, and the being's fists drove through the musty drywall.
His adversary stuck, Marshall took his chance and sprinted to the elevator.
He pressed the down button several times. A few nerve-racking seconds passed as he stared at the creature. It freed itself, hobbled towards him.
"Come on, come on, damn it!"
A ding. The doors opened. Marshall nearly leapt into the elevator and hit the button. He looked back to see what once was a priest gaining speed, getting ever closer. It was almost upon him as the doors shut. He heard banging and saw, right as the carriage began to descend, a fist's impact on the steel barrier.
For a moment, he was alone. Marshall processed what had happened, what he had survived.
Chris looked at the creature in front of him and did the only logical thing he could think of. He drew forth the creature's torn-off arm, then used it to hit the creature repeatedly and causing it to yelp in more and more pain. As the creature howled and howled, Chris opened his gun hand and shot it so that is was incapacitated. He then quickly ran from the horrendous sight and was glad to see the others fighting.
One of the men charged forward, launching himself at Atticus as his hands formed into claws. The creature had shifted into a form similar to that of the one Chris was fighting, with patterned orange and black skin. Atticus prepared to stab the monster before a burning hole formed in the creature's forehead. The other men turned their heads to the doorway.
"Atticus Anoethite," A blonde-haired boy no older than Atticus stood at the door, holding a pair of sub-machine guns. He smiled. "You're shorter than I expected." He fired a few more shots, taking out two more men who morphed into demonic visages as well.
"Who the fuck are you?" Atticus asked, breathing heavily and glancing around the room, taking in the full scene of the chaos.
"My name is Blackmore Veers," the boy tightened his grip on the handles of his weapons. "I'm here to save your hide. Rosington sent me."
Having a load of new questions, Atticus decided to take the boy at his word for now. He had just saved his life after all. "Quickly — what's going on here? Are all these people demons?"
Blackmore stepped back, limping slightly. "We're outnumbered. Shouldn't there be eight of you?" As his smile faded, he fiddled with his machine guns. The demons, noting the fact that he was armed, began to swarm him as they all changed into their monstrous true forms.
With the beast that made Samuel and Li its targets now shot dead, Samuel took a knee and caught his breath. The gathering at the hotel's entrance gave him a needed moment of clarity.
Across the room, Samuel saw a tall creature staggering towards its companions. Its awkward, slow step indicated injury, either from Chris or a nonfatal bullet. Samuel stood up, hoping to take advantage of this.
He steadily walked behind the limping beast. When they did not appear to acknowledge him, Samuel took no time in elbowing the creature's back. They stumbled, and Samuel followed with a kick to the legs and slamming the being against a wall.
He took a moment to look behind him, making sure he was in the clear. For those near the back of the lobby, the scene had quieted down. Samuel was able to breathe a sigh of relief when he noticed that Blossom made it safely back to the lobby, running towards a counter for more cover.
A large demon came running in Samuel's direction before he could think about what happened to her.
Li knew he had to intervene. He swiftly grabbed his cane and approached the creature. Still focused on Samuel, it failed to take note of Li before he rammed his cane into its stomach. The beast bared its claws, preparing to attack. Instead, Li used his cane to impale the creature's right eye. It screamed in agony and fell to the ground.
The elevator doors opened. Marshall ran to the lobby and examined the situation within. Atticus and a stranger were shooting at a group of creatures trying to surround them. Chris was in a similar situation. Samuel and Li were picking off the weaker attackers, Li with his cane and Samuel with whatever he could get his hands on. Blossom hid behind a counter.
"Hey, take this!" Marshall tossed his other pistol to Blossom. He gave the knife to Samuel and began taking care of the attackers.
Looking over the counter, Blossom quickly grabbed the pistol and checked it for bullets. Satisfied with the amount, she looked around the room. Only nine members of the group that approached them remained, out of an original fifteen. Sixteen when counting the front desk worker, who had revealed herself to be a demon as well.
Locking her gaze on the two men approaching Samuel and Li, she pressed her finger against the trigger.
The only way we're getting out of this is if we all take care of each other.
Steven Devlin had told her these words months before and in this current moment, they gave her resolve to finish her plan. Controlling her shaky breaths, she aimed the gun on the two men. If they're like the others, then...
She quickly fired several shots, hitting her targets in the back of the head and watching as they fell to the ground, dying and reverting to their true forms.
Blackmore prepared to fire at an assailant, though his gun made a click sound. "No time to reload," he muttered, before whipping it at his target. Blackmore jumped forward as it clacked against the monster's skull, jamming his knife into its throat and tearing out the being's carotid artery.
As it fell to the ground, Blackmore turned around to throw the knife into another of the creatures, slicing through its forehead and into its eye, causing it to shriek and drop to the ground, where the boy promptly stepped on its tender skull. He wiped his foot on the ground, not taking time to recover his knife as he kicked the corpse towards another, tripping the monster so that he could approach quickly.
Blackmore took a second to make a decision, before using his knee to lift a nearby chair off the ground and then pushing the leg into the being's mouth, impaling its head entirely.
Chris managed to shoot an approaching creature, who toppled into another one. He turned to Atticus. "Get everyone and run!"
Samuel heard Chris' plea as he pounced onto an injured attacker's back, gripping its right shoulder for support. As it wailed and tried to shake him off, he took out his knife and seeped it into its neck. The being screeched louder as its movements became more erratic.
Samuel prepared himself to dismount, but there was no opportunity as the shrieking creature lunged into a shattered glass wall. The impact from the fall completely broke it, hurling both him and the creature outside.
He got up from the snow-covered concrete, kicking the now dead beast aside. His arms only partially protected his face, forcing him to remove pieces of glass embedded in his skin. Samuel quickly noted that he was in an alleyway, a good distance away from the entrance. Fearing an escape from the front, he ran back inside and called out to the others.
Chris finally caught sight of Samuel and followed after him, with the others close behind.
"Make a left turn as soon as you reach a wall, my car should be out here somewhere!" Blackmore informed the group.
"Wait!" Atticus called out before the two made their turn, with the rest of the group pausing to hear him speak. "Where's Melissa? She's not here. Last I saw, she went upstairs with... Blossom."
His gaze then rested on Blossom, who was standing near Chris and tightly held her gun.
"How the fuck are you standing?" Marshall yelled out to her, realization finally setting in.
"Melissa is gone," Blossom replied. "The rest — I'll explain everything later."
Blackmore led the group over to his car. It was completely black, aside from the drawing of a snake eating its tail that decorated the hood. The car resembled those of Silivia, but it had been subject to extreme modification. The first row had two seats, while the other two had three.
"Tame Impala," Blackmore spoke, clearly proud of the name. "Got it from a friend who — well, he won't be needing it anymore. Real convenient it has more than enough space."
Atticus took a seat next to Blackmore. Blossom, Chris, and Samuel sat behind them. Marshall and Li sat in the back.
As Tame Impala took the group out of Headre, demons would jump in front of the car to try and impede its progress. Every time, Blackmore would run it down with little issue. Most of them took human or near-human form, but a few dogs with multiple heads also tried to block the car's progress.
The car approached the gates, where it became clear that Blackmore had no intention of getting out and pushing it open. Memories of earlier crashes flooded the minds of his companions. Regardless, Tame Impala proceeded through unscratched.
With Headre far behind them, Blossom explained what had happened to Melissa. She was presumed the fourth to die since that fateful day in Gladea.
|Season One:||Catching Smoke • White Room • Bare Trees • One Night in Gladea • Ceasefire • Hide & Seek • The Hounds • Reunion • Saccharine • In Somnis Veritas • Carpe Diem • Primo Victoria • Don't Fear the Reaper|
|Season Two:||Crumbling Castle • Roaming King • Safe Haven • Marked Map • The Less I Know the Better • Riding the Wave • Centuries of Damnation • House of the Rising Sun • The Master • Everybody Plays the Fool • Loyalty|