Night Fox – Comic Post #129: Quit Complaining

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Comic-129A

Finally back to the regular updates for now. Based off of the slightl increase of traffic to the site the past month, I’m going to assume that the chapters were marginally more interesting than the comics (though the absolutely minimal increase in engagement could just be because I was posting stuff more than once a week…) As to when I’m going to be continuing with the novel chapters, I can’t 100% say for certain when I’ll post chapter 5. Though because I don’t want the chapter updates to interrupt certain story beats in the comic, it might be a while…

That being said, I’m not completely winging it with the other chapters. I do have a general outline for how the events are going to unfold, and based off of how long the first 4 chapters were, I’m planning on writing around 16 chapters in total. With how I think everything is going to be paced, I’m thinking future updates are going to be 2 chapters at a time. And I have a VERY detailed outline of what happens in chapter 5 and 6, so I know exactly what is going to go into those chapters, I just need to actually just buckle down and get to writing them. I’m not omnipotent as much as I like to pretend I am, so these plans could change in the future, but as of now, this is what I’ve got plotted out so far.

That’s pretty much everything for this week, so until then, I’ll see you next comic.

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Art Post – Summer Time 2018

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Summer 2018

And here comes the last picture for the art train as we drift back to our regular update schedule of a single comic every Wednesday. I decided to stop being lazy for a change and decided to do not only something with a background, but with an actual significant amount of characters in it. I actually started this picture at the very end of May, and I’m not going to lie: I actually didn’t think I’d finish this til the end of August as I have been getting pretty bad at finishing my digital pieces with in a reasonable frame of time. (Just a quick frame of reference, that picture of Astria I started in December of last year and didn’t get around to finishing it till MARCH..) So yeah, another bad behavior I want to hopefully nip in bud.

Anyways, why did I decide to do a group shot of most of the important casts members (plus Kaz’s sister Jeanie) at the beach? Just felt like it I guess… Though getting to draw the girls in swimsuits might’ve played a tiny factor in my decision making. That being said, the most prominent display of skin is coming from Kaz this time, so you can’t say this picture doesn’t have something for the ladies / gay dudes…

This is another one of those pictures where I tried changing up how I did the shading. Rather than just use a base color and one darker color for most of the shading with some highlights here and there, I tried using multiple colors of various light values to do the shading this time. And I just gotta say, I kind of regret it. It took so much longer to do than my usual method, which is what initially put me off to the idea of even finishing this off in a timely manner, so I wasn’t as motivated to get it done at first. I eventually buckled down and tried to get one “feature” (ie one character or piece of background) done a day, which just feels bad when you have to force yourself to do art. I eventually got into the groove and got the last third all finished in one day, but it’s debatable if it even turned out better than my usual shading. Not to mention, the way I kind of screwed up the sunlight (probably made it look a little too glary, though that could just be because I’m previewing the picture within the post on an all white background), kind of makes it hard to see in the first place.

Still, I challenged myself and it didn’t turn out as the absolute worst thing I’ve posted to this blog, (lord knows how awful the stuff I posted in my first couple of months look in comparison as I refuse to go back and check) so I guess I can’t be too disappointed in this picture. Anyways, the next piece of art I’m going to post is probably going to be of Ace, which I’m probably going to procrastinate on because I haven’t drawn him in years and as such, he was in need of a slight redesign… And I’m not going to lie, the drawing I did for his redesign was just a smidge more complicated than it probably needed to be, so shading it might take a bit…

I think that’s pretty much everything I wanted to say. Again, regular boring update schedule again for the foreseeable future, so until then, I’ll see you next post.

 

Night Fox – Novel Post: Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

As Alex had been initially running away from the fight between Ombrix Masserk and Kitsiyuna, he found himself finally remembering what that book he had read all those years ago told him about Somnights and their powers. The old book he inherited among many others went into great detail about a Somnight’s ability to utilize the thin layer of dust that is constantly growing on the surface of their skin as a way of messing with one’s senses. Depending on the Somnight, they could utilize their dust for any manner of trickery, including inducing hallucinations, rendering themselves invisible, numbing or amplifying ones sense of touch, or even forcing people to fall asleep, earning them the nicknames of Sandmen and Dust Devils.

Within in the margins of the old book, Alex remembered notes written in a green pen that had been left behind by the previous owner. While most of the notes were musings and ramblings of personal experience about the particular Spirit in question, some of the notes were helpful tips for things you could do should you ever find yourself getting attack by said Spirit. For Somnights in particular, the notes mentioned covering your face up to lessen the effectiveness of the dust, because after all, it can’t make you think you’re seeing something if it can’t actually get into your eyes. It also mentioned, that despite the nickname Dust Devil, Somnights were particularly susceptible to wind magic, as it could easily blow their dust away, rendering them largely helpless.

With these facts in mind, Alex tried to formulate a plan as he ran back in the direction of the fight, with Kitsiyuna screaming in pain spurring him to run back and assist her. While he didn’t have any kind of mask to cover up his face, Alex decided he would make do with squinted eyes, a held breath, and a focused mind. And, though he didn’t have any kind of wind magic to speak of in his tiny arsenal of spells that he actually could cast, he did have a plan to get rid of the dust so that his lack of any kind of facial protection wouldn’t be an issue.

“Try to keep your breathing to a minimal and stay focused… Don’t let him mess with you…” Alex thought to himself as Ombrix stared him down with a malicious grin.

“Well well well… It’s the innocent bystander in all of this, come to rescue his rescuer! It’s so touching; I can almost feel myself tearing up…” Ombrix said in a sarcastic tone. Another dust cloud was building around him as he held out his blades in a ‘come at me’ manner.

“Don’t get cocky you jackass! I know just how to deal with you!” Alex boastfully shouted, keeping himself pumped up to keep his mind focused.

“Do you now!?” Ombrix blurted out in a hysterical fit of laughter. “The toddler here knows how to deal with me does he!? You sound far cockier than me you dipshit! I already beat your little Spirit friend there into submission easily! What can a little shit human like you possibly do to beat me!?” Ombrix launched his dust cloud forward in a massive wave as he gloated. The dusty air began to whirl around Alex as his vision grew hazier, like he was trapped in the middle of a silent sandstorm. Despite the intensity of the dust storm, Alex remained stalwart as a grin began to form on his face.

“Well, for starters, I have just the thing to clear out your stupid gimmicky dust!” he shouted. Alex quickly focused his mind as he once again recalled the process to cast Dispersion Wave.

He ran the matrices and formulas in his head as fast as he could process them to lessen his exposure to the dust storm. Everything in his head began to coalesce together as he began to levitate his tome in the air once again, freeing his left hand. He then angled his left palm downward, letting the adrenaline build inside of him.

The adrenaline quickly converted itself into Spirit Energy, far more than Alex had ever used up to that point, as blue wisps began to radiate from his body, focusing around his palm. His body was telling him that the amount of effort he was trying to force into the spell was too much, but his mind knew if he wanted to win this, it needed to be the strongest Dispersion Wave he had ever cast. His battle high forced his body to ignore its natural limiters, as he finally cast the spell.

“DISPERSION WAVE: MAXIMUM!” Alex screamed from the top of his lungs as the raw energy began to rip loose from his left hand.

Rather than a shotgun blast like last time, the force Alex emitted felt like a bomb going off. The shockwave that Alex shot down was quickly redirected off of the grass and dirt beneath his feet, transforming into a colossal updraft. The nearby trees shook violently, with their leaves and branches tearing off and flying in every direction.

Gale force winds bellowed through the surrounding forest, forcing both Ombrix and Kitsiyuna to go prone and brace themselves to keep from getting swept off of their feet. Even Alex himself found it difficult to maintain his balance, as even though the spell was his, providing him with protection from most of its effects, the winds it generated were just a tad too strong. But, most importantly, all of the dust that Ombrix had been allowing to stagnate in the air was blown far up into the atmosphere as a result, completely clearing the nearby air of Ombrix’s advantage over them.

Despite the extreme winds Alex managed to create in that moment, they died down within seconds. Pain instantly shot through Alex’s entire left arm as a massive bruise formed all over the surface of his palm, a result of the recoil for forcing himself to cast such a powerful spell. He began to feel a numbing throb in his hand, like a 200 pound weight had been dropped directly onto it. Even though he barely had any feeling left, and it hurt like hell for him to do so, Alex clenched his hand tightly into a determined fist. Despite the tears running down his face from the pain, he still scrunched his face up into a confident smile like he was just getting started.

Kitsiyuna, who was still recovering from the dust and now Alex’s magic was left kneeling over the ground in sheer amazement. Though her senses were still on the fritz, her ability to sense Spirit Energy was able to pick up something from Alex’s soul. While his soul didn’t seem any stronger than when she first found him, something emanating from it definitely felt different. His soul seemed just as quaint and weak as before, and yet, Kitsiyuna felt a willpower behind it that was burning stronger than anything she had felt before, forcing it beyond its limits.

“His soul… It might be just as weak as any other human’s soul… But it feels like its burning brighter than any Spirit’s…” Kitsiyuna thought to herself as she tried to regain her composure. She wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but she suddenly felt a lot less worried about Alex holding his own against Ombrix.

“How do you like that you dusty bitch!?” Alex gloated, wincing in pain as he talked while pointing a bruised finger in Ombrix’s direction. Ombrix merely stood there, mouth agape with a dumbfounded look on his face.

“What the hell…? There’s no way when that spell was made it was supposed to come out with that much force when cast… How the hell did a weak little human like you luck into pulling something like that off in the first place…!?” he said in disbelief.

“Well wouldn’t you like to know chalk-top! Unlike you though, I’m not the kind of guy who just blabs about how my magic works to my enemies…!” Alex replied.

“I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter in the end. When compared to her, a little human like you is nothing more than a mere infant. I don’t need my dust to deal with the likes of you… ALL I HAVE TO DO IS CHOP THAT scrawny neck of yours WIDE open!” Ombrix shouted as he charged forward, drawing his blades as he prepared to take a slice at Alex’s head. Alex was undeterred by this however, as he too ran forward, ready to meet Ombrix’s advance. Just as he was about to reach Ombrix’s blades, Alex quickly dropped to his knees as his momentum carried him forward, allowing him to safely slide underneath the blades as he readied his dagger to counterattack.

“All right. Look for an opening. Don’t just give him a couple of stabs, REALLY tear into him!” Alex thought to himself mid-slide, preparing to stab at Ombrix’s right leg as it passed by. Within the brief moments Alex was sliding, he quickly saw a gap in between the chains and armor Ombrix had wrapped around his legs and took it as his opening. Alex held his dagger out as he plunged it into Ombrix’s dusty flesh, tearing a large gash into his leg as he slid by, blood spewed from the fresh wound. The second Alex’s dagger was no longer making contact; he quickly pulled his arm back in, jumping back to his feet as he rushed forward to safety. Ombrix responded to the new cut with an angered growl, finding it more annoying than painful.

This is how you’re going to beat this guy Alex… Dodge his attacks, then strike him around his joints when you see an opening! …He might shrug most of it of at first, but eventually he’ll HAVE to slow down.”  Alex strategized in his head.

“Come here you fucking little shit!” Ombrix yelled out as he tried to hack away at Alex in retaliation. Alex kept a sizeable distance from him as he dodged and sidestepped Ombrix’s onslaught, mimicking the motions he saw Kitsiyuna do to defend against the Cornossa earlier. Due to his lack of speed in comparison to her, Alex also kept his tome at the ready to intercept any slashes he was too slow to dodge. While the tome didn’t completely nullify all of the attacks, as some of Ombrix’s swings still left small cuts and nicks on Alex’s upper body even when blocked, the cuts were shallow enough that it was still preferable to getting hit by the real thing.

Ignore all of those little cuts, they shouldn’t mean anything to you! Just stick to his injured leg and keep circling around him! Even if the bastard is a Spirit, him having to constantly apply pressure to that leg in order to turn will get to him eventually!” Alex continued to think to himself as he proceeded to dodge in a circle around Ombrix, taking care to dodge in such a way that Ombrix would have to exert himself even more to keep on the offensive.

“Right there! He left himself open!” Alex exclaimed in his head, after ducking out of the way of a slower than usual attack. Ombrix’s slow swing in that moment left his arm exposed just long enough for Alex to jab his dagger into the inside fold of his elbow. Alex didn’t take any chances, barely digging into the surface of the skin before quickly backing out, giving him enough time to avoid Ombrix’s retaliation.

“GRAAAH! Die you damn brat!” Ombrix vented out in anger.

Alex continued to circle around him faster and faster, enabling him more and more openings to attack. While his stabs weren’t very deep, he meticulously aimed each hit of his dagger to make moving around as irritating as possible for Ombrix. He jabbed him in between his ribs, in his waist, wrists, elbows, knees and even his arm pits. If any part of the body he was aiming for was covered with armor or chains, he would take extra care to angle his thrusts in such a way that it would slide underneath the armor or through the links of the chains. Here, Alex was being absolutely meticulous, unlike with the Wightling earlier, where he merely stabbed as fast as he could.

“He’s doing okay so far, but the problem is none of his hits so far have been anywhere close to being life-threatening.” Kitsiyuna thought to herself as she watched kneeling from the sidelines, still trying to regain herself. “That spell he cast at the beginning sure was powerful, but the way it messed up his hand, I don’t really know if he can follow it up with more magic that’s just as effective. He might be able to outpace him for now, but if he can’t deliver some kind of serious blow to Ombrix soon, his human stamina is going to end up letting him down in the long run…” She began to slowly clench her fist as her breathing picked back up again.

“Damnit Kitsiyuna! Keep your head focused and clear the rest of that damn dust out of your system! You need to get in there and help him finish this fight! I mean, what kind of Spirit are you if you’re just going to force a 15 year old boy to solve all of your problems by himself!?” Kitsiyuna continued in frustration at herself. She took her clenched fist before slamming it into the ground, as she used it to slowly push herself to her feet, immolating the air around her with her fire magic.

“Enough of this!” Ombrix shouted in great annoyance, having just been stabbed by Alex for about the 30th time. He held his blades horizontally as he performed a series of continuous 360 degree spins as he advanced towards Alex, kicking up another ever growing dust cloud as he went.

Alex was prepared for this change of tactic however and quickly doubled the distance he had been keeping. Though it was hard to see through the cover of the dust cloud he was whipping up, Alex kept his eyes on Ombrix’s feet as he fell back further and further. After a few rotations, as Ombrix was about ready to radiate out his dust cloud once again, Alex finally made his move. He noticed how Ombrix was maintaining his footing through his spinning attack, and chose to capitalize when his injured right leg was the only one touching the ground.

“DISPERSION WAVE!” Alex shouted again as he fired off another shockwave, having already done the incantations for it in his head as soon as Ombrix started spinning. The spell was only about as powerful as when he used it on Angela, but it still caused searing pain in his already bruised left hand as he used it, Alex trying his best to power through. However just like with Angela, the spell was still effective enough to knock Ombrix off of his unstable footing, sending him flying a considerable distance backwards, while once again dispersing his accumulated dust cloud.

The spell had sent Ombrix on a collision course with another nearby tree. Rather than smash right into the tree however, Ombrix quickly dug his blades into it, using his momentum to swing around the tree’s circumference as his blades carved a ring into its bark. Just as he completed his orbit around the tree, it’s trunk snapped in half from the incision he had made, causing the whole thing to collapse. He then kicked off of the trunk with enough force to alter the direction it was falling, launching himself into the air on a direct course back to Alex. All of this occurred in the span of about 3 seconds.

“Fucking die already!” he shouted as he flew through the air, his blades ready to strike Alex from out of the air. Alex had been so caught off guard by Ombrix’s ‘rebound’ that he wasn’t able to move out of the way in time. Thankfully for him, Kitsiyuna’s reflexes were even faster as she propelled herself forward with a blast of fire, allowing her to intercept Ombrix, once again meeting his blades with her bracers. Much like the initial clash between the two Spirits, both of them tried to push the other back, with neither side being able to make any kind of head way.

Alex happily broke the stalemate however; as he quickly jammed his dagger into Ombrix’s left shoulder, wedging it in underneath his shoulder armor before quickly ripping it down the length of his upper arm. More blood oozed out of Ombrix’s arm as the pain caused him to lose his concentration, allowing Kitsiyuna to shove him back before decking him in the face with her burning fists.

Not allowing Ombrix any kind of reprieve, she quickly hurled a fireball at him like she was pitching a fastball, knocking him into yet another tree with enough force to uproot and topple the whole thing. Alex and Kitsiyuna weren’t allowed to celebrate however, as Ombrix slowly got himself back up from the newly fallen tree. Though he had clearly taken quite the beating, he wasn’t anywhere close to giving up.

“Is that it!? I was told your magic was way stronger than that Kitsiyuna! The damn tree hurt more than those flames!” Ombrix yelled as he slowly tried to get back to his feet.

“Are you kidding me…? If this guy was human, at the very least he should be freaking paralyzed at this point…” Alex said in annoyance.

“That’s a Spirit for you. Our bodies tend to be able to endure a lot of punishment. I also wouldn’t be surprised if all the dust that’s covering his body helps dampen the effects of our magic on him…” Kitsiyuna replied back.

“What we need is for you to completely incinerate this guy like you did for the other bounty hunters…”

“Well, like I said earlier, I’m not exactly fighting at top form, and the near asphyxiation from the dust certainly hasn’t been helping. It might take a bit of time and uninterrupted concentration for me to incant a spell strong enough to one shot him right now…”

“So what you’re saying is you need someone to keep this guy distracted…?” Alex replied back with a certain eagerness to his voice.

“Well, someone keeping him busy wouldn’t hurt but…” Kitsiyuna answered with a hint of hesitation, as she knew exactly what Alex was planning to do. Before she could even finish her sentence, Alex charged forward at Ombrix with his tome floating behind him.

“Then I’ll keep him distracted while you get ready to roast his ass into ashes!” Alex confidently yelled back to Kitsiyuna as he continued forward in attempt to get the jump on Ombrix before he could completely recover.

“Cocky little shit! You’ll regret ever getting involved in this!” Ombrix yelled as he swung his blades, whipping up more dust before Alex could reach him. Alex halted his movements just in time to block the attack with his tome. Ombrix continued attacking him as Alex continued to block, moving his tome almost in rhythm with Ombrix’s swings. After the fifth attack, Alex quickly pulled his tome back and redirected it straight into Ombrix’s face.

Ombrix proceeded to reel back from the hit, like he had just been sucker punched in the face, giving Alex an opportunity to lay into him. Alex continued to essentially slap Ombrix across the face with his tome, alternating sides with each swing to get the most speed he could into each hit. Just as Ombrix was about to wise up and use his blades to block the tome, Alex anticipated the move, quickly switching targets to Ombrix’s legs. Alex’s tome completely swept him off of his feet as it cleared his legs, causing him to fall over onto his side. Before he could hit the ground though, Alex slammed his tome directly into his stomach, dunking Ombrix directly into the ground as he was sent tumbling backwards in a clumsy heap.

“Holy shit, this is taking a lot out of me…” Alex thought to himself. Though he was putting on a brave front to show no weakness to his enemy, the constant dodging and use of his tome were causing him to run out of steam. “But you have to keep this up as long as you can! Don’t let him know you’re so tired you feel like you wanna die! Just keep up the pressure, even from a distance if you have to!”

To mask his growing fatigue, Alex cast another Dispersion Wave from quite a ways away from Ombrix, utilizing his non-bruised hand this time to avoid hurting himself further. The spell was considerably weaker than last time, and the fact that he wasn’t using it pointblank didn’t help with its power either. But fortunately for him, Ombrix was so uncoordinated from his injuries that Alex was still able to send him back a significant distance. Knowing his tired state, Alex purposefully aimed him into yet another tree, hoping that constantly knocking him into foliage would make up for the lack of power.

“That one was definitely weaker than the last one… You’re definitely slowing down, HUMAN!” Ombrix confidently remarked as he dislodged himself from the tree he was currently partially embedded in.

“Oh damn it, he’s already catching on!” Alex thought to himself in distress. “Come on Alex! Keep it together. As long as you can keep him at bay, Kitsiyuna should be able to bail you out so… JUST. DO. SOMETHING!”

In a mix of frustration and desperation, Alex pulled out his dagger again. He quickly hurled it at Ombrix, putting his entire body into the throw and almost falling flat on his face in the process. Despite the desperation behind Alex as he made the throw, if there was one thing he knew how to do with a knife; it was how to hurl it at somebody.

The dagger rapidly spun through the air as it flew directly towards Ombrix, who was too distracted pulling himself from the tree to see it coming. Alex could feel his heart stop as he watched the dagger fly through the air in slow motion. Every rotation it made felt like an eternity to him as it slowly dawned on him that he might miss the mark. Just when it seemed like Alex had misjudged the throw entirely, Ombrix turned his head at the last second, causing the dagger to fly straight into his left eye.

“AHHHHHHHRRRRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!! YOU FUCKING BASTARD!!!” Ombrix wailed out, dropping both of his blades as he clutched his bleeding face. That one throw had apparently inflicted more pain than anything else Alex and Kitsiyuna did the entire fight.

Ombrix stood there screaming in agony, writhing about in pain while grasping onto his face as Alex merely sat back and stared, too amazed that he actually managed to hit him square in the eye. Alex quickly came to his senses however, as he recalled the dagger with his magic, telepathically ripping it back out of Ombrix’s eye as he pulled it back to his hand, causing even more blood to spew out as he did. It seemed the dagger hurt just as much going into the eye as it did getting pulled out, as Ombrix’s pained screaming only got louder and angrier. Ombrix let go of his face as he pulled his blades back into his hands, staring at Alex with a murderous look on his face while blood continued to stream from his left eye socket.

“YOOOOU!!! I’m going to make good on my promise of skinning you alive you midget FUCK! I’ll flay off every single inch of skin from your scrawny body while i break each and every single one of your bones before i RIP them all out and grind them to dust! then, I’ll rip that damned soul of yours from whatever’s left of your rotting, FESTERING corpse, cram it into another body and do the EXACT same FUCKING thing all over again!!!” Ombrix shrieked at the top of his lungs in the most intimidating voice he could muster as a huge dust storm began to build up all around him, far faster than any had done before.

Just like when he was inside the barrier, Ombrix’s dust quickly started to glow bright orange, causing the air to distort and simmer. Sparks flew through the whirling dust storm as it grew larger and larger around Ombrix. He then thrust one of his blades forward, triggering the entire dust storm to funnel forward into a giant whirling beam, radiating off lightning in every direction.

“FLESH EATER STORM!” Ombrix screamed out as he finished the incantation to an exceedingly powerful spell in his head.

Alex merely stood there and tried to cover his face with his tome as the beam barreled its way towards him, knowing full well he wasn’t going to be able to move out of the way in time. He closed his eyes in anticipation and fear, realizing that the dust storm that was rapidly approaching him would probably strip the flesh from his bones. Just like Ombrix had threatened.

The storm quickly consumed the space around where Alex had been standing, hurling the glowing dust all over like they were burning embers as bolts of lightning crackled through the air. The air around the entire forest started to darken as the dust was churning so violently, it made it momentarily impossible to see. Eventually, the dust finally settled as the storm dissipated into nothingness, leaving only a few particles left that slowly dissolved into the air.

With the storm clear, Ombrix found himself looking on in shock as there was not a single trace of Alex in the area the cloud had consumed. He slowly glanced over some distance away, quickly realizing that Alex had managed to get out of the way. Kitsiyuna had apparently been able to rocket herself forward with her magic and pushed Alex and herself to safety at the very last second.

“Like I said: NO WAY IN HELL I’M GOING TO LET YOU DO THAT!” Kitsiyuna boasted as she held Alex in her arms.

She quickly set him back down directly behind herself, before turning around to face Ombrix. She held her hands open below her waist, with intense fire burning in either palm. More flames began to engulf Kitsiyuna’s entire body as she raised her two palms up, pointing both of them forward as she pressed her wrists together. Her fingers tensed back as she prepared to let the flames raging around loose onto Ombrix.

“INFERNO!” Kitsiyuna shouted, finishing the incantation for the spell she had been readying that whole time. A colossal flamethrower, around 20 times the size of Kitsiyuna spewed from her hands, incinerating every inch of forest in its path. Ombrix was quickly consumed by the flames as the inferno raged forward in a continuous stream of fire, charring the ground and vaporizing trees as it went.

As the fires roared, so too did Kitsiyuna as she yelled at the top of her lungs in unison with the inferno, pumping more and more Spirit Energy into it as she did so. Alex did not move an inch from his position behind her, as he stared at the fire in both fear and awe. The inferno that was raging in front of him was larger than anything he had ever seen before.

Eventually, Kitsiyuna finally allowed the flames to subside as she stopped casting the spell, revealing a massive patch of blackened earth where forest used to be that stretched back for several hundred feet. She turned her attention back to Alex as she let out a long exhale, clearly a bit winded from such an intense spell. She looked over Alex and saw his face was absolutely red as sweat ran down his face from all of the heat. He starting to hyperventilate as it seemed he was dangerous close to passing out from heat exhaustion.  She calmly pressed her palm onto his head as she wiped his forehead down. Alex could slowly feel himself starting to cool back down to a regular temperature, almost like Kitsiyuna was siphoning off his excess heat.

“Are you all right? I didn’t accidentally burn you or anything, did I? It’s been a long time since I’ve been forced to use that much of my power before, so I couldn’t exactly keep it controlled…” Kitsiyuna asked in a caring voice, moving her hand to caress Alex’s cheek.

“…Yeah. I’m fine… I just have to say, HOLY FUCK, that fire was even more impressive than what you pulled off on the roof…!” Alex replied back as he lowered Kitsiyuna’s hand from his face before stepping forward to look over just how much damage Kitsiyuna was able to cause.

It appeared as if acres of forest had been consumed by the flames as an entire field of charred earth lay barren in front of him. Just as with before, there was no trace of any kind of ashes from the burnt up foliage around them nor any kind of smoke from them burning. While there still remained some tiny smoldering embers here and there, they mostly remained on the bushes and trees lucky enough to be just outside of the flames. Alex reached down and patted the earth, quickly realizing the black was simply a very large scorch mark, as no trace of soot or charcoal got onto his hand, just a little bit of dirt.

Before the duo could celebrate their apparent victory, Alex saw something off in the distance that caused a pit in his stomach to form. Off in the distance, among all of the half burnt trees that Kitsiyuna’s flames just barely touched, Alex could make out Ombrix still standing among them. Though his body was still very charred up, covered in burns and almost smoldering in places, he was still very much alive.

“Are you kidding me!? He survived that!?” Alex shouted in complete disbelief.

“No freaking way…” Kitsiyuna said, almost at a loss for words as she quickly located Ombrix slowly approaching them across the scorched field.

“…Well… I’d be lying if I said that one didn’t hurt even worse than getting stabbed in the eye… That one was actually pretty damn impressive…” Ombrix replied in an unnaturally calm, even raspier voice than usual as he slowly dredged forward a single foot at a time.

“…When I agreed to hunt you down, the guy who hired me said there was no way I’d be able to take you down all by myself…  Said it might not even possible even with all of my men helping me fight you… So they gave me something that would make it easier for me to subdue and capture you…” he continued, lumbering forward with each step like he was in a trance. Unsure of what he was doing, Alex and Kitsiyuna continued to hold their ground, as Kitsiyuna once again put herself in front of Alex to keep him safe.

“…To be perfectly honest… I thought they were talking out of their damn ass… But clearly I was wrong… That little “toy” that they gave me to deal with you… I’ve used it a couple of times before… It’s pretty powerful too… It almost felt like cheating using it… So I wanted to keep thinks fair, and see just how well I would do without it…” At that point, Ombrix had cleared about half of the distance between him and the duo before he suddenly stopped in his tracks, staring dead-eyed at the ground.

“…But now…!? Now I don’t give a FUCk about keeping it fair! Now, I just want to capture your damn, infuriating ass and get this FUCKING hellish job over with you bitch!” Ombrix yelled as his composure finally broke. He reached into his torn up trench coat and pulled out a strange object.

The device, barely larger than Ombrix’s palm, was shaped like a four-sided diamond with a circular hole in the middle and appeared to be metallic in nature. Four prism-like buttons were on each tip of the diamond with glowing red lines running from each button to the hole in the middle, converging into a ring around it. Ombrix pressed his thumb and ring finger onto the left and right buttons as he pointed the device in the duo’s direction.

The red lines began to glow brighter as a rippling effect began to form in the device’s round hole. Red electricity and Spirit Energy began to emanate out from the device as the part surrounding the hole began to spin. The spinning grew faster and faster as more electricity came out. After a few moments of just spewing out randomly, the electricity began to focus on a spot right in front of Ombrix, causing a large egg shaped object to materialize like it was being printed out.

The egg floated in the air for a few seconds before seams began to form on it, releasing thick jets of steam that began to fill the surrounding air. Parts of the egg slowly began to bulge out and shift around as its surface began to fold out, revealing intricate looking mechanisms that lay inside. As the egg continued “hatching” its murky chrome surface began to change into a partially translucent white porcelain texture. Something that resembled a face began to emerge near the top of the egg, as an angular black display was carved out of the surface which began to project an eye-like red ring.

More steam fired out as the face rapidly extended out, forming a rounded head with three triangular points jutting from the bottom, reminiscent of the upper jaw of a beak. The head was still connected to the main body by a long, snake-like neck, with rows of spikes emerging on either side. The neck began undulating as the head started twitching and seizing as it began to emit a low, clicking mechanical drone as the rest of the odd machine’s body began to emerge from the “egg”.

The droning amplified as a pair of bulky arms jutted out. Three gigantic segmented blades were embedded into both forearms that were equal distance across around the arm’s entire surface. The blades had blood red edges and ran all the way down to the palms, acting as claws for the machine. A torso emerged as the central mass of the egg shifted around into something resembling a rib cage. Within the ribs, a large marble like core was nested, with azure flames burning inside. Three large plates hung underneath the core in place of any kind of legs that slowly spun around in a kind of orbit at the base of the body, floating well above the ground. Finally, two bulb like structures near the back of the machine’s shoulders split open, forming a set of eight large, razor sharp spines that hung menacingly behind the machine.

As the machine quickly finished unfolding into its intended shape, its head stopped fidgeting and quickly focused on the duo. It stretched out its neck in their direction as its eye began to dilate like it was zooming in on them. The droning noise it had been making was quickly augmented by a mechanical whirring and harsh electronic soundwaves that rose and fell intensity at regular intervals. The machine rose its arms up as its hands spun around rapidly in their sockets before eventually locking into place with a hefty chunk sound. It then lowered its arms back down, pointing its claws straight at Alex and Kitsiyuna.

“What the hell is that…?” Alex asked as he looked on at the machine in a mix of amazement and dread. Kitsiyuna stood there as her body started to lock up. Shudders of fear ran down her body as she looked on in abject horror at the machine. She knew exactly what it was.

“That’s a Specter. A kind of artificially constructed Spirit designed solely to hunt down other Spirits… There’s only one group out there who makes them, so I know exactly where it came from…” she replied with a grave tone, her voice getting more and more uneasy as she spoke. Alex quickly clued into the fear he was hearing in Kitsiyuna’s voice as he recalled the conversation she had with Angela. Whoever Angela initial suspected had hired Ombrix, Alex quickly figured out that she was probably right.

“…There’s no way we’ll be able to take that thing on! We have to run!” Kitsiyuna continued as she quickly scooped up Alex into her arms and began running.

“Oh no you don’t!” Ombrix shouted as he shifted his fingers to the up and down buttons on the device. Blue flames erupted from the open pods on the Specter’s back as it quickly shot forward, intercepting Kitsiyuna’s attempt to escape. In one instantaneous tackle, the machine rammed into Kitsiyuna with its bladed arm tearing into her body. Kitsiyuna kept her grip on Alex as best as she could as she was launched back, tumbling over the ground as blood trickled out of her newly opened stomach wound. Despite the attack, she was able to hold onto Alex and land on her feet, but the Specter gave her no time to recover.

It quickly rushed in again, almost like it was teleporting directly to her, and swung one of its massive arms down at her. With her hands full, Kitsiyuna quickly lifted her leg up into the air in an attempt to block the swing with her greaves, but with little success. The armor barely stopped the brunt of the attack, as the uncovered parts of Kitsiyuna’s leg were still torn right into and the impact from the hit was still strong enough to once again send her hurling backwards. The Specter’s assault on her didn’t let up as it once again zipped in and slammed into her.

More and more blood came out of Kitsiyuna as she got progressively carved up by each attack. Each attack followed the next one with no second of reprieve, and each one hit hard enough to send the duo careening across the canopy of the forest. Despite all of this though, Kitsiyuna held Alex close to her, trying to defend him from the attacks for as long as she could.

Eventually, the Specter drew its arms back before swinging both of them forward into a massive cross slash that shot across its surroundings, shattering any trees caught in the accompanying shockwave.  Despite their distance from the attack, the force emitted from it was so intense that Alex and Kitsiyuna were sent bouncing across the forest floor at high speeds like they were pebbles on a lake. Kitsiyuna finally lost her grip on Alex as he was sent tumbling across the ground away from her, inadvertently smashing his entire body along the floor as he went.

Cuts and bruises battered Alex’s body when he finally stopped, his body screaming out in pain as blood poured out from his many wounds. His face was half buried into the dirt as his fingers twitched with waning feeling, desperately trying to push himself up from the ground to pretty much no avail. Kitsiyuna, who had landed some distance away from him, didn’t fare much better as blood continued to flow out of her body at an increasing rate, soaking her once purple dress a dark red. Though, because she was a Spirit, she could still bring herself to move unlike Alex.

“GAHAHAHA! What did I tell you, yah bitch!? This Specter is incredible! I haven’t even told it to do anything special yet, just basically ram into your stupid asses and it’s already roughed you up something fierce!” Omrix gloated, laughing hysterically as Alex and Kitsiyuna lay thrashed on the ground. “Why don’t we up the ante a bit? Specter, do me a favor, and shoot that damn son of bitch’s eye out! Actually… scratch that… Blow both of his damn eyes straight outta his sockets!”

Ombrix once again shifted his fingers on the device, pressing in the top button with his thumb. The Specter responded by releasing a mechanical groaning noise as its neck shifted and contorted to better stare down Alex’s limp body. Shifting parts could be heard as the Specter raised its arms up, pointing its palms straight at Alex. More steam and blue fire erupted from the joints in its arms as its blades there began to shift around and separate, revealing a set of three cannons on each arm. The cannons began to rotate around as if they were revving up with an off putting droning sound. It then let off an incredibly loud roar that was garbled with mechanical whirring, static, and low-bit sound waves as its eye focused on Alex, indicating to him that it was ready to fire upon him.

“Fuck…” Alex weakly said out loud as he tried to cover his head with his barely responsive arms.

He was effectively a sitting duck as a hail of energy bullets was fired in his direction. Each bullet exploded into a destructive burst of blue vapors and charred earth, eating away at every single bit of terrain that got hit. The whole hail of gunfire was a cacophony of noise as the Specter’s cannons emitted an almost banshee-like wail with each shot fired and each bullet let out a chunky, throbbing static sound whenever one hit something. Despite the chaotic flurry going about all around him, none of the bullets actually ended up hitting Alex, as Kitsiyuna moved in just in the nick of time to shield his body from the gunfire.

“Keep your head down!” Kitsiyuna shouted over the gunfire as she laid down on top of his body, acting as a meat shield for him. She attempted to slice the bullets out of the air much like she did before with her “tail” but to far less success this time. Every shot Kitsiyuna managed to block sent a jolt of pain through her entire body as an ever increasing trickle of blood starting emerging from thin air right in front of her. Kitsiyuna’s defense was effective enough at keeping the two of them just barely alive, but she knew she wasn’t going to be able to keep it up for long.

Kitsiyuna kept her hands pressed against Alex’s back and head as she kept him covered. Alex could feel a warm sensation coming from her hands, like she was using her flame magic on him. The painful numbing sensation that had been feeling all throughout his body slowly began to ease in severity, like all of his pain was literally being burned away. Alex found himself once again able to collect his thoughts despite the chaotic hail of bullets going all around him. He quickly realized this warm and pleasant sensation he was feeling was a result of Kitsiyuna using healing magic on him as they took cover.

“She knows healing magic too?” Alex thought to himself as he could feel all of the cuts on his body quickly resealing. “It’s a shame healing magic doesn’t work anywhere near as well when you cast it on yourself, because  she probably needs it more than me right now…” he continued, feeling the steady flow of blood still dripping from Kitsiyuna’s torso onto his body. “…She’s not going to be able to hold like this for much longer… We have to do something… And fast…!”

“This stupid piece of crap… That asshole is using that dumb remote thing in his hand to control it, right…? Do you think if we can get it away from him, we can stop this damn thing!?” Alex shouted as he lifted his face from the dirt to allow Kitsiyuna to hear him.

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen anyone control a Specter directly… All of the other ones I’ve run into all operated autonomously… it’s possible that even if we do something about the controls, it could still act on its own…!” Kitsiyuna said directly into Alex’s ear so as to not be drowned out by the gunfire. “…That said… It wouldn’t hurt to try!”

Using the flashing gunfire all around her as a cover, Kitsiyuna stealthily formed a fireball in her hand while still maintaining her position on top of Alex. As she remained under fire for long and longer, Kitsiyuna was able to get a feel for the rhythm of the bullets firing, allowing her to partially deflect the Specter’s assault without having to keep her focus on doing so. This freed up just enough of her concentration to aim her fireball directly at Ombrix.

Without any hesitation, she quickly hurled the fireball at him as soon as she found an opening. Just when it seemed like the fireball was ready to hit him, the Specter released some kind of eerie pulse from the three plates rotating at its bottom, snuffing the fireball completely out of the air. Kitsiyuna’s attack did fail, but it also forced the Specter to stop firing upon them.

“Now now, we can’t have you fighting back any more, now can we…?” Ombrix once again gloated in response to Kitsiyuna’s failed counterattack. “You seem to be familiar with what these Specter’s can do Kitsiyuna, so why don’t we just move along to just what makes them so overpowered…!” Ombrix moved his fingers along the remote again, pressing down the top, left and, right buttons in completely.

The Specter began to lurch and shift with uneasy twitching as it emitted more uncomfortable mechanical noises. It moved its three plates forward, pointing their center at the duo, revealing eight round crystalline spheres embedded the underside of each plate. The mechanism controlling the plates’ rotation began spinning them faster and faster, like a massive centrifuge powering on, lightning sparking off with each ever faster rotation.

“Activate the jamming field!” Ombrix yelled, signaling the Specter to proceed.

The orbs began to rapidly vibrate, emitting a swiftly expanding field that distorted the air around it. The field the Specter was generating quickly manifested as a gigantic energy dome around Alex and Kitsiyuna that prompted the duo to their feet. An overbearing white noise quickly flooded the duo’s ears as their vision was warped and distorted. Colors on the visible spectrum rapidly shifted as everything grew dark.  The ground began to pulse and throb like a heart’s beating as everything began to violently vibrate. The sensation from the field quickly overwhelmed Alex and Kitsiyuna.

“What… what the hell is this…!?” Alex shouted, unable to control his voice over the discordant chaos that was enveloping them.

“It’s a special kind of field that Specter’s were designed to generate…” Kitsiyuna responded, cupping her ears as her body began to shake while also being unable to control her voice. “…It completely nullifies Spirit Energy…! So we can’t cast magic, and pretty soon, our bodies won’t be able to respond, period! This is why I said we needed to run! Once we’re caught in the field, we can’t do anything to stop it!” As Kitsiyuna kept talking, her stance lowered closer and closer to the ground until she eventually collapsed. She ended up falling to floor, writhing and screaming like she was in unbearable pain until she started coughing up small amounts of blood.

While the effects were much slower for him, Alex quickly realized just what Kitsiyuna was talking about. He suddenly felt like he was under a tremendous amount of pressure, like he was being slowly crushed underneath something. His ears began to ring as he lost control of his breathing. Slobber dripped from his mouth as he desperately tried to breathe. He soon dropped to his knees as he could feel his nose starting to bleed intensely. Every single unpleasant sensation he felt brought him closer and closer to collapsing just like Kitsiyuna.

The worst part to Alex however, was the sensation of all of the Spirit Energy he had stored up in his body slowly being eroded away. He could feel his senses dull as a result as a thin wispy vapor evaporated from his skin. The process of the Spirit Energy leaving his body left his skin feeling bone dry and irritated, while his body’s temperature dropped to unhealthy levels. It left him with an unnatural chill going down his spine as the sensation of his skin touching anything overloaded his senses. He was being slowly transformed into a cold, dry lifeless husk. It didn’t take long before he almost fell to the ground completely, holding himself up at the last second with his weary hands.

“This is exactly what I was talking about! Once a Spirit gets trapped in that field, they’re as good as dead!” Ombrix continued to boast over the roar of the jamming field. “…I never really found much joy in using it before today… But you two… You both were such a FUCKING pain in my ass, that watching you both slowly getting eaten away by that field is the most satisfying thing I’ve watched in a LONG TIME!” Ombrix started laughing hysterically. What Alex and Kitsiyuna did to him killed what little ounce of sanity he apparently had left.

“DAMN ALL THIS STUPID ANTI-MAGIC BULLSHIT!” Alex thought to himself in a rage as he struggled to climb back up his feet. “Of all the ways I could die… Going out at this guy’s hands like this… IS NOT AN OPTION!”  Through sheer willpower, Alex forced himself back to his feet as he slowly lumbered forward, his tome ready in his hand. The weight that the field was putting his body under slowed his movement to a crawl, but Ombrix was so busy laughing that he didn’t even notice.

“Kitsiyuna collapsed pretty much instantly even though she should be way tougher than you… It must be because she’s a Spirit, and her body is almost nothing but Spirit Energy in some form or another… Mine’s different though… It’s just made out of regular matter. It feels like because of that… I’m not losing my Spirit Energy as quickly. Maybe I can still pull something off here…!” Alex plotted in his head.

Alex could feel the adrenaline in his body starting to kick up again. He could feel his very soul starting to burn, defiantly pumping out more Spirit Energy to make up for the amount he was losing to the field. He grit his teeth as he tried to concentrate, desperately holding onto the Spirit Energy he had left to cast one final spell. He shut out all of the chaos swirling around him from the jamming field. He ignored all of the pain and wear his body had been going through. He didn’t allow anything to distract him as he once again forced the spell as hard as he could.

Alex was always used to struggling whenever he did anything. Learning some magic had been no exception to him. To most magic users, it was something that was supposed to be natural, like going with the flow of a river. That was something Alex could never do. The power to use magic never “flowed” naturally for him. It was always more like he was in caught in an ocean, being thrown about by its waves. Alex quickly learned that if you ever wanted to make headway against an ocean, you’d have to be able to overpower its waves. For as long as he was doing it, Alex always had to force his magic with as much might as he could muster  in order to get even the simplest spells to come out. It was always a strain on him, and always a struggle.

Remembering his past difficulties, Alex asked himself, “Why should trying to cast magic under an anti-magic field be any different?”

Wanting the best chances of success, Alex lifted up his right hand and aimed it at the Specter. In spite of Kitsiyuna’s efforts to heal him, it seemed she wasn’t able to do anything about his own self-inflicted bruises on his other hand. A familiar pain shot through his arm very similar to when he used the spell to clear all of Ombrix’s dust as he prepared the casting.

As he focused his mind on the incantation, he felt like his arm was being torn apart from the inside while his nose bleed worsened with each step of the spell completed. Despite all of this, he ignored the pain and the pressure for just long enough to let the spell loose in as powerful a form as he could muster.

“DISPERSION WAVE!” Alex shouted with unwavering resolve.

The shockwave violently swept out, the brunt of which nailed the Specter right in its core, sending it careening backwards straight out of the air and cutting off its jamming field. Whatever the force was that was keeping the Specter afloat off of the ground was temporarily interrupted as it rolled across the forest’s surface, tearing up chunks of earth and dirt as it went. Alex’s attacked quickly enough to catch Ombrix off guard, leaving him no time to respond to the large machine now barreling towards him. Within in an instance, the Specter collided with him, both of them slamming into the ground with a loud and resounding metal “THUNK”.

The Specter impacted the ground with enough power that it ended up getting itself partially entrenched, shaking the entire forest surrounding it. Though Alex wasn’t sure of the exact weight of the Specter, he could still tell based off of how hard it landed, it probably had some serious mass to it. So even if it didn’t crush him to death, Alex knew that at the very least, Ombrix was going to be in some serious hurt pinned underneath it.

“How did you… manage that…?” Kitsiyuna asked in disbelief as she finally got back to her feet while wiping off the blood she had been dribbling from her mouth off of her chin. She looked down at Alex’s right hand to see that it was just as battered as his other hand, but she could tell from the way he was acting that he didn’t seem to care.

“I’m not really sure… Maybe the fact that I’m still a human let me hold onto my Spirit Energy for longer… But maybe, it’s just because my whole life so far has been like one obstacle after another, that I’m not just going to let another one like that stand in my way…” Alex responded, trailing off towards the end. He looked at his bruised hands and began to wonder himself how he pulled it off.

“So, you’re one of those people who just never gives up, huh…? No matter how hard the struggle gets…” Kitsiyuna replied solemnly, quickly finding herself lost in thought.

“…The fact that his tiny soul burns as bright as it does… It has to be what drives him like that…” Kitsiyuna thought to herself. “If his soul is what let him overpower that Specter… I have no choice but to reconsider…”

“Um… Alex…” Kitsiyuna meekly started talking, but got cut off before she could finish her sentence. The seemingly inactive Specter suddenly sprung back to life as it proceeded to dig itself out of the ground, making mechanical grunting and shuttering noises as it went. It’s neck once again fidgeted about until it finally refocused its gaze back onto Alex and Kitsiyuna. With a quick thrust of its arms, it pulled itself out of the ground and resumed levitating ominously as it stared the two of them down.

Alex and Kitsiyuna were completely silent as they looked on in horror. Despite all of his best efforts, Alex’s spell had left the Specter undamaged. He only had succeeded in briefly stunning it, and he knew from the condition of both of his hands, eh wasn’t going to be able to do it again.

“You two… really are just the WORST…!” an incredibly bloodied and battered Ombrix groaned from within the Specter’s impact crater who was too injured to stand at this point. He clearly had been torn up and impaled by the spines on the Specter’s back after it had landed on him.

“And you… You damn fucking Specter piece of shit…! They told me that jamming field was unbeatable… How the hell does a damn human overpower it…!? What are you, just a useless steaming pile of fucking dog shit…!?” Ombrix used the last of his strength to hurl the remote he had been using to control the Specter at its head, causing the controls to break into pieces. The Specter, keeping its cannons aimed at Alex and Kitsiyuna, swiveled its neck around to look at Ombrix in response while letting out more garbled machine noises.

“Oh, did that annoy you…!? Well I’m even more annoyed that I have to rely on a defective piece of shit like you to finish my job…! What are you just sitting there for!? Go kill ‘em!” ombrix continued to chastise the machine in a very pained and tired voice, coughing up piles of blood as he yelled. The Specter once again responded with a low, almost dog like growl.

“JUST DO IT! I DON’T CARE HOW AT THIS POINT! JUST! GET IT! DONE!!!” Ombrix hysterically screamed his orders to the Specter as loud as his dying body would allow.

He was completely unconcerned with the amount of pain it caused, nor how much blood it was forcing him to cough up. In his fury and anger, he just wanted to scream as loud as he could. The ring that server as the Specter’s eye dilated as a small dot appeared in its middle that quickly stretched into a claw mark shaped pupil. Its low growl increased in pitch as steam started to spray from its long neck. Then, without any kind of hesitation, it quickly plunged its bladed arm all the way through Ombrix’s torso.

Ombrix let off one last bloodied scream as he was lifted from the crater by the Specter’s claws. The Specter than began to spin its claws around like it was a drill, completely obliterating Ombrix. The chunks of his flesh were quickly stirred into dust until all that remained of him was a pulsating light blue ball of flames that was radiating of a steady aura of wisps. Ombrix had been reduced to his very Soul.

After a brief pause, the Specter crushed the Soul in its claws. All of the Spirit Energy from the Soul could be seen visibly traveling up the Specter’s arm all the way to its flaming marble-like core. Once Ombrix’s energy reached the core, the whole thing ignited, engulfing the entire Specter in an almost blinding blue flame. It then finally turned its menacing gaze back to Alex and Kitsiyuna, who had intelligently started to run away as soon as they saw the Specter stab Ombrix.

“What the hell!? What did that thing just do!?” Alex yelled out in a panic as he clung onto Kitsiyuna’s back who was running away as fast as she could go.

“It ate his Soul to power itself up! This is what Specters are designed to do! They tend to not like it when people find a way to bypass their jamming fields, so when this one assumed autonomous control when its remote broke, it decided that the best course of action was to engage us at full power so that it wouldn’t happen again! They never let their prey escape! …Even if it means destroying themselves or their handlers!” Kitsiyuna shouted back to him as she rushed through the nearby foliage, keeping a lower profile so at to make them harder targets to hit.

“These things willingly eat Souls…? Just like that…!? That’s the one line I know most Spirits would never cross! What kind of a sadistic asshole would make something that does that…!?”

“…An inhumane creature that you should hope you never get to meet…”

“SHIT! Here it comes!” Alex shouted while he looked back to see the Specter propelling itself forward with massive jets of blue fire as it incinerated everything behind it. The plates beneath the Specter once again started to spin, generating another far more massive anti-magic field, putting everything within in it through a red filter with the contrast maxed out. Despite their best efforts to keep ahead of the machine, Alex and Kitsiyuna still ended up getting caught at the field’s edge.

“GAHHHHH!” Kitsiyuna screamed out in pain as the field formed around her. Though she stumbled a little bit after the initial activation, she quickly resumed a faster pace as she did her best to ignore the pain the field was causing her.

“Damn it! We’re not going to be able to outrun it like this!” Alex shouted as his hands began to tremble from the field’s effect.

“We don’t have to keep this up for long…! If we can stay ahead just long enough to make it back to the hideout… We could lose it…!” Kitsiyuna gasped out in exasperation as blood gushed from her mouth as her speed slowly started faltering.

“How will we be able to do that…? The damn thing is faster than us!”

“We’ll use the terrain… to our advantage…!” Kitsiyuna replied with desperation in her voice.

She quickly started to veer off course, darting the two of them around as many trees as possible. The Specter continued to mindlessly barrel forward, shattering ever tree the two of them ran past as it charged forward, with every tree it hit slowing its momentum down bit by bit. Were it not for the jamming field, their serpentine pattern through the forest might’ve been enough to keep the two of them ahead, but unfortunately for Kitsiyuna, it was forcing her to slow down even faster.

“GRGH! Damn it!” Kitsiyuna shouted out in frustration as she dropped to her knees in pain, blood still spewing from her mouth.

“No Kitsiyuna! Come on! You gotta keep moving!” Alex shouted as he patted her on the back to keep going, ignoring just how much it hurt his hands to do so.

Kitsiyuna looked on in fear as the Specter closed in, it’s bloodied claws ready to strike. Just when it seemed like the Specter was about to charge into them, at the very last moment, Kitsiyuna was able to force her body to roll the two of them out of the way. It took the Specter a few moments to register it had missed its mark as it continued moving forward, before it quickly turned back around and corrected its course. Determined not to let the Specter’s mistake to go to waste, Alex helped drag Kitsiyuna forward as he supported some of her weight by resting her arm on his back.

“At this point… I think we’ll move faster this way…!” Alex shouted as he encouraged the two of them to pick up the pace. Kitsiyuna’s weight felt exceedingly heavy on his back, but he refused to let it get to him as he willed the two of them ever closer to the hideout.

“Thank you…” Kitsiyuna answered back in a somber and tired voice. In the distance, the familiar sound of the Specter’s cannons revving up could be heard. Alex looked back in horror as he saw the massive machine once again flying at them, this time, with its guns literally blazing as it was firing wildly in their general direction.

“Oh come on…!” Alex yelled out in exasperation.

“Get in front of the trees! We’ll use them as cover!” Kitsiyuna shouted.

The Specter’s bullets felt more like missiles this time as they zipped through the air seemingly at random. All around Alex and Kitsiyuna was a storm of magic bullets rushing past them as they reduced everything to clouds of flaming debris. The duo did their best to always keep a tree directly behind them as they continued forward relentlessly. A single tree withstood the storm of bullets just long enough for them to get in front of another, allowing Alex and Kitsiyuna to continue their advance.

“I think we’ve almost made it!” Alex shouted out in celebration as he could make out the hideout through the clearing just ahead of them. Though their goal was seemingly within their grasp, a look of horror still shot through Kitsiyuna’s eyes as she checked the location of the Specter trailing behind them.

“Oh no…” was all she said in a defeated voice as the Specter finally converged upon them.

The ground all but evaporated underneath the duo as they found themselves launched into the air as the Specter’s barrage hit its mark. The shrapnel from the blast tore at their flesh as the shockwave battered their limp bodies even further. Despite having hit its target, the Specter did not slow down on its charge forward as it rammed into Alex and Kitsiyuna as they were falling helplessly. Both of them had been so worn down by the field that the initial blast that sent them into the air almost knocked them unconscious.

Alex could feel the entire world around him fall to black as his body began to shut down from the pain as the Specter ended up slamming into him with its immolated frame. From there, Alex was unable to make sense of anything that was going on around him, unable to tell if he was still even awake.

Faint images of the preceding chaos flickered in and out of his vision, but his brain was unable to put them together into anything coherent. He felt the sensation like he had just been thrown into something made of concrete. The sound of collapse rubble surrounded him before he felt the worst head pain he had ever experience. Alex quickly realizing he took a severe blow to the head and was losing a dangerous amount of blood. The pain was unbelievable, like he had taken a wrecking ball square to his temple. The contents of his stomach began to churn as he felt the need to throw up, but in his state, he had no idea where up even was.

He could tell his body was still moving somehow, but knew he wasn’t doing it on his own. Either something was dragging him, or he was still falling, he couldn’t tell which. Even time itself was incomprehensible to him at that point, as he had no idea whether seconds or hours were passing. The possibility that he was dead entered his mind, but quickly realized he was still barely alive when he felt a sharp pain burst straight through his abdomen.

“GRAAAAAAAGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” Alex screamed out in miserable agony. He had finally regained his senses only to realize he had a large metal spike, about an inch in diameter, shoved through the right side of his stomach.

Tears began to flow down his eyes as he instinctively tried to pull it out in desperation before he quickly noticed he had been impaled completely on the spike, and it was far too long to pull himself off of on his own. His screams of pain quickly turned into desperate wailing as he started to sob uncontrollably, crying his eyes out like he was six years once again. In his panic, he kept his hands pressed down around the spike in a feeble attempt to keep his blood inside of him despite how much pain it caused him.

“SOMEBODY… HELP!!!” he cried out uncontrollably into the darkness around him as a torrent of tears streamed down his eyes. The blood from his head injury began to mix with his tears as his nose became runny due to a mix of him crying and a combination of all the dust floating in the air around him. He was a pathetic, sniffly, weeping mess as he lay there slowly bleeding out. He never had felt more afraid or helpless in his life.

“IS THERE ANYONE THERE…!? PLEASE… HELP ME!!!” he continued shouting, having no idea if there actually was anyone else there to save him. His eyes began to adjust to the darkness as he finally realized, based off of the tiled floor and all of the dust around him, that he somehow got knocked into Kitsiyuna’s hideout. While at first, the idea that he made it back to the hideout brought him just the tiniest bit of relief, a very unpleasant sensation began to override the pain he was feeling from his impalement. He realized was still somehow within the Specter’s jamming field.

“ANYONE… PLEASE!!!” he cried out hysterically in an increasing panic as he trailed off into more sobbing.

“Grandpa, Mom, Selina… Please, someone save me…” Alex pleaded in an every weaker voice. He had gotten so hopeless, he was begging for people to save him that he knew never would be able to.

Just as Alex began to close his blood and tear filled eyes and resign himself to his fate, he felt something shift him up just ever so slightly. Suddenly, he heard the metallic clang of the spike being cut underneath him while he dropped to the ground. Utterly confused, Alex didn’t move at all as he lay on his side, still clutching his stomach while a good two feet of metal was still sticking out of it. He then felt someone drag him back a few inches, propping him up against a pile of destroyed concrete slabs.

“Don’t worry Alex… I’ve got you…” a worn and battered Kitsiyuna replied in the most soothing tone she could muster, kneeling down next to Alex as she finished sitting him upright.

“Kitsiyuna…?” Alex remarked in seeming disbelief. “You’re here…? What… happened…? Where’s the Specter…?”

“We got blown into the mall’s basement I think… And as for the Specter, I think the debris from the blast covered the hole we fell in through so it couldn’t follow in immediately after us… But listen…” Kitsiyuna quieted her voice as the two of them listened in to the faint sound of the Specter’s cannons firing from somewhere outside. “…It’s trying to shoot its way through the rubble to get at us…”

“If that’s the case… You need to get this thing out of me! WE NEED TO RUN!” Alex pleaded to her as his voice slowly cracked.

“In a minute, but… listen. Even if I pull that out of you and stop you from bleeding out, we’re not going to be able to outrun the Specter… it’s just going to hunt us down. And we’re still within its field so we can’t use magic to fight back…”

“Then, is this it…? Are we just dead here…!?”

“We still have one chance…” Kitsiyuna answered with a serious tone as she got a hold of the spike coming out of Alex. “I’m going to use what middling strength I still have left and pull this out of you… Once it’s out… we forge a Pact.”

“You serious…!?”

“Yes. You do know what happens when a human and a Spirit first form a Pact? It would create an intense and almost overwhelming burst of Spirit Energy for us to temporarily use in a process that’s called Spirit Ignition. Our wounds would heal in an instant and our bodies would be completely refreshed. And most importantly, it’s the one thing I know for a fact that can overcome a Specter’s jamming field… Sure. It’s possible that it could fail and rip your Soul apart… But we’re both definitely dead if we don’t try it, so might as well give it a shot right!?”

Alex swallowed a huge breath of air as he tried to clear his runny nose. Though it wasn’t how he expected it was going to happen, Kitsiyuna accepted his offer. It was a lot for him to take in, so he hesitated to reply at first. His hesitation was quickly cut short though, as the distance wall the two of them were facing blew open, revealing the Specter silhouetted by the setting sun outside as it slowly descended upon the duo. Alex quickly bared his teeth in a smile as he prepared himself for what was going to happen next.

“RIGHT! LET’S DO THIS!” he screamed out in determination.

“Get ready then, because this is definitely going to sting!” Kitsiyuna replied with resolve as she quickly got into position in front of Alex. Wasting no time, she began tugging on the spike as Alex tried to muffle his pain as best he could. After some small resistance, she quickly pulled the whole thing out in one go and quickly tossed it aside. Alex was obviously reeling as he clutched the bleeding hole, but quickly forced himself to power through the pain. The Specter’s cannons started to rev up as Kitsiyuna held out her hand to Alex.

“Now grab my hand!” Kitsiyuna shouted to him as her palm began to radiate Spirit Energy. Alex swiftly slammed his hand onto her out-stretched palm as he tightly gripped it. Kitsiyuna similarly wrapped her fingers around his as a glowing blue aura began to illuminate the two of them. The Specter was just about ready to start firing upon them when time came to a complete halt.

Suddenly, Alex found himself floating inside of a void tinted by light blue wisps swirling around in the distance. His entire body was gone, with only his small little flickering Soul remaining. Before him lay a colossal Soul, completely eclipsing his in size while it burned with Spirit Energy as if it were the sun itself. Alex could feel intense pressure pressing down on him from all directions, but he didn’t feel like he was being crushed. It merely felt like he was being embraced by someone.

“So why is it that you want to forge this Pact?” the giant Soul echoed in a commanding and godlike voice. While it did sound similar, the voice was different from Kitsiyuna’s.

“Well… obviously so that that damn Specter out there won’t freaking kill us!” Alex responded.

“That’s all? That sounds rather… shortsighted… unambitious… A Pact is not something you can just use for a single moment in time and simply forget it… A Pact is a promise… A goal to strive towards! A Pact will not work if you only think of it in the moment… Now, why do you REALLY want to forge this Pact?” the giant Soul once again echoed. Alex floated there for a moment as he considered his answer.

“…Because I’m pathetic and weak… People avoid me like I’m a plague to them, and deep down, I know they’re right to do so… I want this Pact… because I want to better myself and become a much stronger… and hopefully better person…” Alex replied meekly.

“…Is that so…?” the other Soul asked, pausing for a moment before she continued. “It’s selfish in some ways, but also selfless in others… It’s very human of you, and no Spirit should be demanding of any better… Very well then. Let this Pact… BE FORGED!” the Soul shouted out as the entire void lit up in a blinding light.

Rays of light shot out from the larger Soul as they bended and warped their way to Alex. The lights converged on his diminutive Soul as he could feel himself being overwhelmed, like the large Soul was slowly pulling him in. Alex resisted the pull with all of his might however as he held his ground, allowing the lights to dig into him, slowly stretching his Soul out in every direction. Rather than letting it tear his Soul to shreds, he allowed himself to bask in it as he could feel the comforting glow of the other Soul’s power flow into his. While there were moments were it felt like too much for him, Alex willed his way through it, and allowed the link between his and Kitsiyuna’s Souls be formed.

Alex broke from his trance as he once again returned back to the real world where the Specter was about to open fire upon them. Suddenly, a colossal vortex of Spirit Energy opened up underneath Alex and Kitsiyuna, completely engulfing the two of them as it dissolved any shots the Specter tried to fire at them. Within an instant, Alex could feel all of his pain go away as all of the wounds on his body, no matter how severe they were, quickly seared shut. He felt completely reinvigorated as he quickly stood back on his feet. It reminded him of the time he first successfully channeled Spirit Energy, like his body was temporarily succeeding its prime, only this time, it was being amplified by a factor of one million. As the vortex subsided, Alex and Kitsiyuna both emerged gleaming with new found powers. And they both never felt more alive.

The Specter momentarily halted its fire as it stared down the newly forged team, like the machine was in disbelief. It emitted mechanical grunts, like it was in anger at their Pact. The Specter then raised its cannons once again as it revved them up in preparation for another volley. Alex almost instinctively moved to take cover behind the rubble pile behind them, but Kitsiyuna signaled to him to not worry as she calmly walked towards the machine.

“You don’t need to take cover now. I’ve got this.” Kitsiyuna said in a confident stride. “…Now that I’m your Spiriter, I guess I don’t need to hide my true form from you anymore…” Wild flames suddenly swirled around Kitsiyuna as her entire aura became enflamed. The flames whipped around as a large fox tail suddenly emerged from her back while furry ears grew from the top of her head, revealing herself as a kind of fox Spirit known as a Kitsune.

“You’re a Kitsune?” Alex asked as he looked on at his partner in awe. Aside from the ears and tail, pretty much nothing else changed about Kitsiyuna’s body, and yet Alex couldn’t help but feel like her true form was magnificent. Of all the Spirits he had heard about when he was younger, he always liked Kitsune the best.

“Yep! I know my kind isn’t exactly a common kind of Spirit, so I’ve been conditioned to hide my true nature. But now, I don’t have to hold back!” she shouted while beaming with pride as more and more flames wrapped around her body. The bottom part of her dress flaps began to taper off in orange flames as a wreath of fire formed around the back of her neck, while draping around her arms similar to how one would wear a boa. Hot embers embedded themselves into the floor with every step she took as she confidently sauntered forward.

The Specter responded to her advance by unleashing another full powered barrage. Kitsiyuna wasn’t the least bit worried, holding her position as her tail wrapped around to the front of her body as it grew to a massive size. She then rapidly flailed it about in the air in front of her without having to move the rest of her body an inch. Her tail rapidly streaked through the air as brilliant flames trailed behind it, completely deflecting any and all projectiles the Specter fired in her direction back at it.

Alex watched Kitsiyuna’s tail intently as it twirled about in the air, absolutely shredding any projectiles it didn’t manage to reflect back at the Specter. Her fiery orange tail had a snowy white end with a tiny bit of black at the very tip making it look not all that dissimilar to a paint brush streaking across a canvas as it moved.

Alex was in absolute adoration of it as he finally got to see its magic properties in action, as all the previous times Kitsiyuna had been using it, she had kept it obscured. Despite being able to literally slice bullets out of the air, her tail still looked soft, fluffy, and inviting, no doubt due to its magic nature allowing Kitsiyuna to alter its characteristics. It shimmered beautifully in the air as every single bit of fur on it was coated in a tiny flame. It was a pretty good indication why Kitsune’s tails are considered their crowning feature.

“All right, that’s about enough of this!” Kitsiyuna boasted confidently as she started to get bored of the Specter’s projectile spam.

Her hands became completely engulfed in fire as she hurled her own barrage right back at the Specter. Every single fireball nailed the Specter, pushing it back inch by inch as she focused her efforts on its right arm. The marble-like substance making up the bulk of its arm began to glow red hot as it was becoming more and more malleable.

Kitsiyuna hurled one last fireball at its head, causing its neck to jerk back violently as it let out more garbled roaring. This hit provided an opening for Kitsiyuna as the Specter’s cannons momentarily stopped firing yet again. With great force, Kitsiyuna leapt high up into the air, rapidly extending her tail as she went. Just as she reached the height of her jump, she quickly flipped forward, sending her tail cleaving down as it sliced the Specter’s entire right arm off all in one clean cut.

Kitsiyuna’s jump landed her within range of the Specter as it extended out its claws in an attempt to swipe at her with its remaining arm. Though its arm was heavy and swings fast, Kitsiyuna expertly parried each blow as she danced around it. Every attack the Specter attempted, she countered. She swung molten hot punches and blazing kicks at the machine’s massive arm, peppering in blows with her tail as she used it punch holes into its armor, like her tail was a lance infused with magma.

After numerous blows, she stung her tail right into the joint holding the Specter’s elbow and punctured it all the way through. The Specter’s entire arm seized up as it screeched in static white noise. Kitsiyuna then dug her hands into the hole she just made, reached around all of the broken joints and connectors on the inside and quickly took hold. With one quick motion, she ripped the machine’s arm clean off before tossing it aside like it weighed absolutely nothing.

With its primary means of attack thoroughly “disarmed” the Specter resorted to firing up its rear jets in an attempt to ram into Kitsiyuna. She wasted no time as she burrowed her heels into the floor as she braced herself for its charge. Rather than completely bowling over like before, Kitsiyuna easily held fast as she held the Specter in place with her outstretched hands. The jets of fire that had been propelling it suddenly ramped up in intensity, creating a giant blue inferno behind the Specter as it tried to gain some head way against Kitsiyuna. It was very slight, but Kitsiyuna was actually being pushed back. Rather than surrender any further ground, Kitsiyuna pushed back the Specter with as much power as she could muster: by punching it straight in its core.

The first hit stalled the Specter’s jets, if only for a second, so Kitsiyuna followed suit with more and more, with each punch coming out faster than the last as her flurry sped up exponentially. At first, she delivered a single, powerful blow each second. Then two every second. Then four. Then eight. Faster and faster she got, with inhuman speed and power, she laid into the Specter. Eight became sixteen. Sixteen became thirty-two. It wasn’t before long that it was impossible to keep track of how fast she was going, as her fist became a blur. Fire spewed out in every direction as she used her flames to accelerate her fists like they were rockets. Soon, every punch resulted with a mini explosion going off as plumes of fire erupted from the Specter with every single blow. The explosions soon began to feed off of one another until eventually a massive one shot out, hurling the Specter all the way to the hole it had blasted into the building.

Alex looked on in utter amazement as he watched Kitsiyuna thoroughly dissect the machine that had almost been their undoing. While he wasn’t sure if he should cheer out loud or not as Kitsiyuna destroyed the machine, he watched the whole thing with a massive grin on his face. Though, when the explosion that sent the Specter flying happened, Alex found himself instinctively ducking for cover. Sensing the concern in her partner, Kitsiyuna temporarily halted her rampage against the Specter as she turned back to give him some reassurance.

“You don’t have to worry about my flames. Now that you’re my Spiriter, my magic can no longer hurt you.” Kitsiyuna said with a big smile on her face, while giving Alex a hearty thumbs up. Alex exhaled in a half chuckling manner like “Oh right, I should’ve known that…” as Kitsiyuna turned back around to finish off her target.

The Specter was on its last leg as its core now had a large hole blown into, causing Spirit Energy to leak out of it at an alarming rate. The remaining parts of its body were jerking and twitching as if it were short circuiting while the whole machine’s structure was slowly melting. The plates that were generating its jamming field were no longer spinning as it barely hovered above the ground.

As Kitsiyuna slowly marched towards the machine to finish it off, it jumbled and contorted its neck to stare her down as blue fire and steam bellowed out from every hole and remaining joint in its body. It then let out an ear piercing screech garbled through heavy layers of static that was constantly fluctuating in pitch. The scream was loud enough to give Kitsiyuna pause, forcing her to cover her ears while the Specter’s ocular display started flashing red.

“Oh no you don’t! The only one who’s going to be exploding here is you pal!” Kitsiyuna yelled out as she raised her fist in the air while angling it down at the floor.

She then punched the ground with meteoric force as she created a massive crater, shaking the very foundation of the entire mall as the entire place shook, knocking down loose bits of dust and debris from all over the ceiling. Streaks of orange light began to radiate from the ground as then began to make their way to right underneath the Specter’s position through the cracks that were forming. The light streams quickly congregated right underneath the machine as a few diffracted out in various directions, though most of them focused on the Specter as they slowly illuminated it from below. A growing burning sound could be heard greatly rising in intensity from beneath the ground until it finally reached a fever pitch as Kitsiyuna finished her incantation.

“FLARE PILLAR!” she shouted out as a maelstrom of swirling flames erupted from underneath the Specter. While Alex had witnessed Kitsiyuna’s Flare Pillar before, getting to see it without having to take cover from its sheer intensity made it a spectacle to behold. Everything looked bitch black in comparison to the swirling hurricane of fire that quickly filled the entire room. It roared more fiercely than a lion as the flames fanned out and spread. Though, just like with before, Kitsiyuna made sure that, despite the colossal stream of fire she just unleashed, the only thing that was getting damaged was the Specter.

Just as quickly as the flames emerged, they eventually subsided as the tower of flames snuffed itself out. In the middle of the massive scorch mark the spell had left on the floor, the Specter’s failing body remained, if only briefly. Not long after the fires vanished, the blue flames that still remained in the Specter’s core began to whisk around violently within their container. The melting and charred remains of the Specter’s body began to violently spasm and twitch like it was a having a seizure in the final throws of death.

It left off one final shriek, more garbled and distorted than any it had let out before that quickly repeated itself like an error sound. Then, the machine finally exploded into a gassy ball of ghostly blue fire. Unlike Kitsiyuna’s explosions, this one was far more ethereal as its shockwave shot out, darkening the very air as it went.

Just as the explosion was about to reach Alex, Kitsiyuna quickly got behind him and wrapped her tail around him like a shield. She then fearlessly stood between Alex and explosion with her arms outstretched, protecting her Spiriter from the destructive blast. The explosion shot by Alex, leaving him completely unscathed as Kitsiyuna pulled back her tail from around him. Though she had taken the entire brunt of the explosion for him, the only injury Kitsiyuna had to show for it was a couple of faint bruises on her back.

“Holy… crap…that was… amazing…!” Alex said in an almost complete lost for words and breath. Suddenly, he lost the feeling in his knees as he found himself falling into Kitsiyuna’s arms. As his partner tried to hold him steady, everything around him slowly started to fade as he eventually lost consciousness. It seemed that the Spirit Ignition had finally worn off as the fatigue from his hectic day finally set in. He then took a well-deserved nap as he quickly fell asleep in his partner’s arms.

About a half an hour later, Angela arrived at the scene as she was greeted by the massive hole in the wall the Specter made that had only gotten larger due to its destruction. Though it gave her brief pause, she quickly got back on track and stepped inside the destroyed basement.

“Sheesh… I’m only gone for 30 minutes hunting down those last two bounty hunters, and I come back to find a big gaping hole in out hideout. Just what the hell are you getting yourself into Kitsi…” Angela said in a jovial tone. She turned her attention to Kitsiyuna, who was sitting her weary body on the floor.

“Look Angela! I finally found my Spiriter!” Kitsiyuna replied with a heartfelt smile while tears streamed down her face as she cradled the sleeping Alex in her arms. Angela couldn’t help by smile as the sheer joy and relief in Kitsiyuna’s face warmed her heart. In all the time Angela had known Kitsiyuna, she never saw here as happy as she was in this moment. The duo’s adventures were about to begin.

 

Night Fox – Novel Post: Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

A thought occurred to Kitsiyuna as she sat in awkward silence next to Alex, who had his face once again glued to the window of the bus. The idea that him asking to form a Pact with her wasn’t all that much different from him asking her out on a date. Sure, a date would’ve been far shorter, as a Pact usually lasts until someone DIES, and probably would’ve been far less deadly for all involved, but she felt some of the similarities still stood. You do go on a date with people when you want to get more familiar with them. And when it comes to a Pact, you literally connect your Soul with someone else. It’s pretty hard to get more familiar than that. For that same reason, both are generally only things you would ask of someone you trust, and both were often preludes to a deeper relationship forming, whether it be romantic or platonic.

While there was probably no intention on Alex’s part of the Pact being anything romantic in nature at all, Kitsiyuna did know that it wasn’t all that uncommon for a Spirit and their Spiriter to develop feelings like that for one another. Having your Soul linked with someone else does tend to get you pretty friendly with them after all. Or it could get you at each other’s throats. But that’s a negative way of looking at things. Though, the most important similarity between a Pact and a date was that both often lead to free food. Kitsiyuna figuring if she did partner with Alex, he’d probably end buying her a lot of her meals. Which of course, is a pretty big priority for a big eater like her.

Of course, none of that changed the fact that the two of them were currently being hunted down by a Spirit named Ombrix Masserk or the fact that Alex was currently sulking next to her due to her rejecting him, but she still found herself mildly amused by the thought none the less. A part of her though did wish that a date was all he asked of her, as regardless to how she responded to that question, Alex probably wouldn’t be sitting next to her like all of his life’s goals crumbled before his very eyes. Lingering on that thought caused the guilt to build inside Kitsiyuna, so she decided to drop that train of thought until the two of them eventually arrived at their intended stop.

After numerous stops along the way, the duo eventually reached the stop Kitsiyuna intended them to get off at on the outskirts of the town. The skyline had grown considerably sparser in comparison to the rest of the city, with the hills and mountains that served as Lunaridge’s namesake became easier to make out as there were far less buildings to block the view of them miles off in the distance. While Alex did expect there to be far less people out in the boonies, he didn’t exactly expect it to just be him and Kitsiyuna, as after the bus left to continue on its route, they were the only two people on the entire street. Once they were completely by themselves, Kitsiyuna directed them in the direction of their intended destination, heading closer and closer to the very edge of town.

“Please tell me your hideout isn’t beyond the city limits and up into the foothills… Because I am not doing that much walking if that’s the case…” Alex said in a dry, almost lighthearted tone. Kitsiyuna had expected Alex to remain more or less quiet, so she was a little surprised to hear him talking so soon. His voice didn’t really show any signs of him still being depressed about his request for a Pact getting turned down, so she figured enough time had passed for him to have calmed down about the whole thing. Of course, he was merely putting up a front, as he wasn’t ready to just give up on the Pact.

“…Oh, don’t worry. We’re not going that far. It’s still within city limits.” Kitsiyuna answered in her most reassuring voice. Though she was confident Alex was in a better mood, she was still trying to avoid upsetting him just in case.

“What is your hideout exactly anyways…?”

“It’s at an abandoned construction site for a partially finished building. I think it was supposed to be a mall or, some kind of convention center, but for some reason or another, they just stopped building and left everything…”

“A construction site…? Isn’t that a little too… ‘out in the open’ for a hideout…?”

“Well, like I said, some of it was finished… you know, doors, walls, roof, the whole lot, so most of it IS enclosed and random people can’t just walk in… It’s just… there are a couple of chunks of the building that I think they just ran out of money to finish…”

“I don’t know. That sounds like the kind of place a bunch of teenagers would like to gather to drink and smoke away from their parents and the police…”

“Trust me, with what we’ve gotten set up… Random stoners and drunkards aren’t a security issue…”

“…What do you have set up…?” Alex quizzically asked.

“Oh… you’ll see…” Kitsiyuna replied playfully. “I think given your interest in magic, you might have more fun simply seeing in person without me spoiling it…” Alex’s curiosity was mildly piqued by this, which he figured was Kitsiyuna’s way of keeping him content for the time being. He decided it would probably be better to just play along and didn’t ask any further questions.

The two of them continued on down the street to this construction site, pretty much devoid of other people except for the occasional car or two driving past them. The rest of the trek was pretty uneventful as the two of them took a detour from the road to cut across a wide expanse of field that was dotted with fairly large trees. As they continued on through the field, they began to encroach onto a polygonal shaped white building off in the distance that was seemingly surrounded by even more trees. The oddly designed building’s glassy roof and the telltale landscaping of the surrounding foliage definitely made the building look like some kind of a mall, so it became obvious to Alex this was supposed to be the hideout.

“I think this is the door we want to be going through. It leads into the part that’s the most finished.” Kitsiyuna said as the duo approached a set of glass doorways on the side of the mall.

“You can just walk up to the door like that? I thought you said you had a security measure in place…?” Alex replied back as he looked around the surrounding area, unable to detect anything that would stop somebody from just going up to the door and breaking the glass to get in.

“Oh, you can’t just walk up to it.” Kitsiyuna answered him with a smile on her face. She picked up a nearby branch that had fallen to the ground and tossed it in the door’s general direction. A flash of purple sparks shot out as the stick stopped in midair before being sent flying backwards by some unknown force.

“Holy crap. You have a barrier surrounding this entire place? I… I didn’t even sense that…” Alex responded in disbelief as he watched the stick get sent back with enough force that it shattered on impact with a nearby tree.

“Yep. It’s something my friend setup. While it’s not the strongest we could’ve set up, as it’s only really supposed to force you backwards if you try to pass through, but it’s inconspicuous enough that someone with a finely honed magic sense wouldn’t be able to detect it until they’re maybe 20 feet away, making it less obvious that this place is supposed to be a hideout.”

“Why not go for a stronger barrier? If it was me, I’d want my hideout to be as secure as I could make it…”

“My friend said if we made it too strong, it would only attract the attention of other Spirits as a barrier of this size would be easily detectable even from outside of town. Besides, this barrier is mostly just for keeping humans out, as even with a stronger barrier, it could still be broken into with the right kind of magic as it stands right now…”

“Well, if that’s the case… couldn’t those bounty hunter guys just force their way in…!?”

“Probably… But again, they’d have to find the place first. And I think we’re safe on that front because I haven’t sensed anybody trying to follow us for a while now.” Kitsiyuna tried to reassure Alex. He wasn’t exactly enthused by the news, but decided it wasn’t worth getting too concerned over as he wasn’t the one the bounty hunters were specifically looking for. Though, whether or not they would stay true to the threat the Gremlin had made towards him had yet to be seen at that point.

“Just calm down Alex. Like she said, they probably don’t know where this place is… Just play along and meet up with this friend of hers. And who knows…? Maybe this friend of hers might even convince her to try to form a Pact with you…” Alex optimistically thought to himself as Kitsiyuna dug around into her jacket pocket and pulled out the Utility Crystal again. She held it up into the air as it began to change colors from green to purple. As it did, a small white ring began to form in the air in front of the door way that grew larger and larger.

“There. You should be able to get through ‘unmolested’ if you step through that ring.” Kitsiyuna said to Alex as she signaled him to move forward. A bit of hesitation built up inside of him before he eventually was able to build up the courage to walk on through. Sure enough, nothing bad happened to him as he stepped on through the barrier, with its purple shimmering hue becoming far more noticeable now that he was on the other side. Kitsiyuna followed after him, only she ignored the hole and simply walked straight on through. Alex merely looked at her with a raised eyebrow.

“What? This hideout was made to give me specifically a place to lay low. It’s only natural that I should be able to pass on through without any issues.” Kitsiyuna said as the ring closed behind them. She then opened one of the doors in front of them as she ushered Alex inside of the abandoned mall.

“I sure hope an exception gets made for me as well by the time we’re ready to leave…” Alex thought to himself as he silently stepped into the building, realizing he wasn’t going to be able to leave on his own.

The duo continued forward into the mall’s atrium. While there was some light shining in through some of the glass panes on the ceiling, the waning sunlight proved inefficient at properly illuminating the building’s interior in the absent of any kind of artificial lighting. That said, it was still bright enough for Alex to see what was around him. He could make out various sets of blue scaffolding set up against the dimly lit white walls that appeared to have been left there for months. Massive semi-opaque plastic sheets had been lain and draped about all over the place, blocking off a lot of the would be locations for stores in the mall and the support pillars for the upper levels.

Alex looked above him as he slowly followed behind Kitsiyuna, counting three intended stories to the structure, making a note that a lot of the third level walkway was unfinished, with wooden planks set up to help bridge some of the gaps. As they continued on down to what he assumed to be the center of the mall, Alex looked off in one direction to see a massive hole in the roof above a section of the mall which had barely been built. Though he was some distance away from the hole, he could still make out the purple shimmer of the barrier outside.

“Here should be a good spot to wait for my friend to finally get here.” Kitsiyuna replied as she dusted off an abandoned stack of pallets before sitting down on them.

Alex noticed how stagnant the air around him was despite the big hole to the outside in the construction. Noticeable dust particles floated around in small shafts of sunlight that were shining through, contrasting the dark blue shadows of the surrounding mall. Alex crouched down as he sifted through a thin film of uncleaned plaster dust that was covering pretty much every surface surrounding him. He then looked over to some scaffolding that had been set up near him. Not only was it covered with the same kind of plaster, but some cobwebs had also been made in between some of its metal poles. Whatever the reason for the halt in construction, Alex could tell the place had been abandoned for more than a year.

Unable to find a more suitable place, Alex joined Kitsiyuna on the stack of pallets, waiting alongside her as the eerie atmosphere slowly built up around him. The two sat in silence, Alex growing too tense to say anything, until eventually they were spurned to their feet by the sound of something flopping to the ground right behind them. Alex turned around only to be greeted by a dead body with its decapitated head lying beside it. He had been so absorbed by the surrounding atmosphere that he almost let out an instinctual scream upon seeing the headless corpse.

He quickly stopped himself however as he noticed the clothes that the body had been wearing: a black and tattered trench coat with padded black leather armor attached to it. The same kind of clothing the other bounty hunters were wearing.  He sensed another presence approaching them, keying into Kitsiyuna’s calm demeanor that whoever was coming to them was Kitsiyuna’s friend, and that the dead body that had just been tossed next to them was their handy work.

“What the hell are you doing just throwing a damn headless body in here!? You knew I was bringing a kid with me and you just want to show them that!?” Kitsiyuna blurted out in annoyance to her friend as they came into view from the shadows, carrying what appeared to be a large ornate scythe in their right hand.

“Sorry. I just dealt with him on my way here and I didn’t want any human to stumble on the body by accident before it could dissipate, so I decided to just lug it here…” a female voice replied back.

“Hehe… gross, he’s got no head…” Alex nervously chuckled out loud, trying to downplay the shock he had just experienced over seeing the decapitated body.

“So I take it this is him…?” Kitsiyuna’s friend pointed to Alex. “…Unless of course, you happened to get ANOTHER kid carelessly involved in your business…”

“I’m not that irresponsible!” Kitsiyuna replied defensively. “But yeah… this is him…”

Kitsiyuna’s friend finally entered into one of the pillars of sunlight as she approached Alex, allowing him to get a good look at her. She had a pair of large white feathery wings coming out of her back, indicating to Alex she was an Angel.

She was wearing a partial suit of silver colored armor, complete with arm length gauntlets and thigh length boots, with small dark blue crystals resembling fangs embedded into them. The chest plate she was wearing had a stylized skull emblazed upon it, with two interlocked scythes beneath it, forming a sort of skull and cross bone like design. Behind that design, a black cross pattern was etched into the armor, spanning the entirety of its height and width.

Around her waist, she had a long piece of dull tan fabric draped around her legs like a dress, with a cut on her left side, exposing her entire leg. A similar black cross to her chest plate’s had been embroidered on the right side of her skirt, with it also wrapping around the entire height and width. Her dress appeared to be fastened to her waist with a black metal belt, with what appeared to be two Utility Crystals fasted to small circular tassets on either hip. Finally, Alex noticed two silver and orange feathers secured to her right tasset whose unique color scheme stuck out in Alex’s head.

“Angela… This is Alex Haser…” Kitsiyuna continued. Alex looked over Angela’s face before he quickly recognized her face as the woman who had lunch with Kitsiyuna earlier that day, sans the glasses she had been wearing at that time. Alex had taken so little note of her initially, he almost didn’t recognize her without her glasses and had no idea she had been a Spirit in disguise as well.

“…I think I remember you. You were that pervert who was staring at her chest while we were in line weren’t you…?” Angela said to Alex with a dry, almost disappointed tone. Alex was reminded of the cold demeanor she had been giving off the entire time he was in the restaurant, of just how bitter she seemed. He was not enthused with the idea of having to explain himself to this woman.

“…For your information I was looking at her necklace at the time. That glowing blue orb certainly caught my attention more than her damn boobs did…” Alex answered dismissively.

“Uh huh…” Angela replied with a tone indicating she did not believe Alex in the slightest.

“…And uh… Alex…. This is Angela Moon.” Kitsiyuna nervously interjected. “…She’s a Reaper Officer.”

“Reaper Officer…?” Alex asked quizzically.

“…It means she’s part of the Reapers, a law keeping organization based in the Spirit World, kind of like how the police work here.” Kitsiyuna answered back. “…So, we’ve got the law on our side! You know… in case you had any worries that the reason bounty hunters were after me were because I was up to no good… Now you know that’s not the case!” she continued, rhythmical wagging her finger as she finished her sentence.

The thought hadn’t had actually occurred to Alex before this, that the reason people were after Kitsiyuna was because she was some kind of criminal herself. He just naturally assumed that because she had been nice to him, she was naturally, a completely innocent person. Which just goes to show just where exactly Alex’s morals and values lied, as he merely responded with a dull ‘oh’.

“So she’s a cop basically…?” Alex asked, in a bored tone. He could already feel Angela was not exactly keen on him.

“Pretty much. Instead of Angela, YOU may call me Officer Moon.” Angela replied. The way she responded to him solidified to Alex that she had little patience to deal with him.

“Yeah sure…” Alex quickly responded dismissively.”…It’s just… You are aware, you’re an Angel… named Angela, right…? Like… your name literally means Angel! Like… how on the nose can you get!? Hehehe…!” he continued snarkily as he snickered to himself.

“Of course he’s a smartass just like her…” Angel replied under her breath before continuing at a regular volume. “…For your information, I didn’t pick my damn name. Angela Moon is the name my parents gave me when I was born, and I can guarantee you they did not have the clairvoyance necessary to figure out I would become an Angel when I would eventually die. And when I DID become an Angel, it just didn’t seem like a big enough deal to go by something else… you got that you smartass?”

“…If that’s the case, then why do you want me to call you Officer Moon, ‘uh…?” Alex continued ribbing her. Kitsiyuna decided to intervene before Alex could push his luck with annoying Angela any further.

“…So uh… Do you need me to fill you in on anything in regards to this whole bounty hunter situation Angela…?” Kitsiyuna sheepishly asked.

“…Well I did manage to get a lot out of this one before I finished him off…” Angela replied, pointing to the dead bounty hunter she had dragged in with her. “…According to him, there were originally seven bounty hunters after you in total. Now, I’ve only gotten this one so far, but I’m assuming you’ve already dealt with a couple yourself at this point, right Kitsiyuna?”

“Yeah. I’ve killed three of them so far…” Kitsiyuna replied.

“Well that just leaves three left. If we find and finish off those last three, everything should be fine…”

“Any chance they might have back up coming?”

“For the time being? No.” Angel answered, removing one of the Utility Crystals from her waist with her free hand.  A small square shaped projection began to emit from the crystal, showing an overhead map of Lunaridge, complete with some symbols and diagrams Alex couldn’t quite understand. “I’ve had it set up so that all out going communications the bounty hunters might’ve used were rerouted to this. They haven’t tried to contact anyone outside of town for the time being, and the signal jammer I have in place will make it impossible for them to do so in the future… So them getting extra support is going to be highly unlikely…”

“So… once we deal with these guys, I shouldn’t have to worry about anyone else coming and attacking me, right…?”

“…That I can’t say for certain. I wasn’t able to determine who gave them the job in the first place, so I have no idea how attentive their employers might be. It’s entirely possible that they might send in more people at some point in the future to investigate Lunaridge if they don’t ever hear from these bounty hunters again… But at the very least, if that was the case, they’re probably not going to have any definitive information on where you currently reside… And Lunaridge is a very large Gateway town. If something like that did happen, it still might take them a while to zone in on you again…”

Gateway town…?” Alex thought to himself as he listened intently to the conversation Kitsiyuna and Angela were having as he patiently sat back down on the stack of pallets. “That means any kind of town that’s in close proximity to an entrance to the Spirit World right…?” Alex decided to not ask for clarification, as he wasn’t sure Angela would continue discussing this in front of him if she knew he could actually follow what they were talking about.

“…One of the guys we dealt with on the way here said that their leader was a Somnight named Ombrix Masserk… Would that help you figure out who these guys are affiliated with…?” Kitsiyuna asked.

“…Masserk…” Angela said to herself as she projected another hologram with her Utility Crystal. This time, it appeared to be a list of names that she began to cycle through using her thoughts. Alex couldn’t really make out anything from where he was sitting, but figured even if he was closer; those names would probably mean nothing to him. After a few seconds, Angela eventually brought up what Alex assumed to be a rap sheet for Ombrix Masserk.

“…It says here he’s mostly been wanted for trafficking Spirits for multiple groups… Which I guess makes sense if he says he’s a bounty hunter… But from the looks of the records we have on him, he doesn’t actually ‘belong’ to anyone, at least, nobody we also have a record for…” she continued.

“…I also remembered something about their employer giving him something in advance that would make hunting down other Spirits absolutely trivial…” Kitsiyuna added, the concern in her voice rising.

“If that is the case… We can’t rule out the possibility that HE hired Masserk… After all, it sounds perfectly plausible that the thing he gave in advance was one of his new ‘toys’ that he wanted to have field tested…” Angela replied back, her voice growing even more serious than it already was. Angela’s vagueness finally got the better of Alex’s curiosity as he finally decided to ask her for some clarification.

“…Who is ‘he’ exactly supposed to be…?” Alex asked, placing stress on the he.

“That doesn’t concern you.” Angela answered him sternly and bluntly. “…Come to think of it, this entire conversation is probably going to veer off in a direction that a random child like you shouldn’t be privy to…”

“…If none of this was supposed to concern me, why did you have Kitsiyuna drag me all the way here in the first place…?” Alex asked in slight anger and annoyance.

“It’s for your own safety. Though we Reapers mostly operate in the Spirit World, we’re also tasked with insuring that no human is harmed or falls victim to the affairs of Spirits, even outside the Spirit World.” Angela replied with authority.

“So… You guys are just going to try to keep me here until this whole thing blows over…?” Alex asked with unease. He recalled the talk he had with Kitsiyuna on the bus about why he needed to go to the hideout and remembered her giving less than an honest answer. He noticed the unease growing on Kitsiyuna’s face and became absolutely convinced he was brought here for a different reason, one that he probably wouldn’t be too happy about.

“…Well, you heard what that Gremlin said… Ombrix is after you too…Now… I know I don’t know you THAT well, but I’m gonna guess you’re the kind of guy who doesn’t enjoy getting skinned alive…“ Kitsiyuna replied, sensing Alex’s growing concern. She tried to sound as jovial as possible to put him at ease, but Alex could see right through her. Angela let out a sigh as she could tell Kitsiyuna was doing absolutely nothing to convince Alex this was all for his own good.

“…Well, there is also one other thing we needed to bring you here for…” Angela said in a tired voice. She put away the first Utility Crystal she had pulled out before she removed the other one from her waist. She tightened her grip around it as the crystal turned black, with a dark aura forming around it.

“Woah…! What the hell is that going to do…!?” Alex asked as he jumped to his feet in a panic. The black color was clearly not a good sign in his eyes.

“…Relax. This is just going to clean Kitsiyuna’s ‘scent’ off of you is all… Essentially, this will scrub all traces of contact you’ve had with Kitsiyuna from your body so that no other Spirits can track you down and go after you in the future as a means to find her. It’s just a precaution to keep you safe… Isn’t that right Kitsiyuna?” Angela replied back, gesturing to Kitsiyuna to try to reassure Alex that was the case.

“…She’s right Alex. It’s just for your own protection. Other Spirits could potentially sniff out traces of my energy on you, then decide to take you hostage or even worse if they suspect you might be friends with me…” Kitsiyuna added on. Alex could see the sadness building up on her face as she was unable to make eye contact with him, something he immediately keyed in on.

“Bullshit! I know you’re both lying out of your asses! I’m not that stupid! I can tell with the way how you two are being so secretive that a random punk kid like me is just a loose end for the two of you…! What is that crystal actually going to do!? Is it going to kill me!?” Alex shouted out in rage and panic as he started backing away from the two of them. Angela dropped her scythe to the ground before quickly rushing in and grabbing Alex by the arm before he could run away.

“You’re just being paranoid…! It’s not going to kill you! It’s just going to wipe Kitsiyuna’s Spirit Signature off of you… Now hold still!” Angela said in frustration as she tried to hold Alex’s squirming body in place.

“I don’t believe you for a second! If that was all it was going to do, why the hell does she look so upset!?” Alex continued shouting as he struggled, pointing out the depressed look on Kitsiyuna’s face.

“…It’s because it’s also going to wipe your memories of the past 12 hours as well…” Kitsiyuna replied in grief, burying her face in her hand.

“What!? Why!? Why the hell do you need to wipe my memories…!?”

“Because like you said, you’re a loose end…!” Angela shouted as she was struggling to hold Alex down. It was clear to Alex she was not nearly as strong as Kitsiyuna.

“…It’d be immoral of us to allow a dumb kid like you to get wrapped up in our affairs! Letting you walk around freely with knowledge of Kitsiyuna is only going to get you killed or WORSE! Even if these bounty hunters turn out to be no threat to you, if what we suspect about the people who hired them is true, they WILL come after you and do EVEN worse things to you than you can possibly imagine! Wiping your memories of Kitsiyuna is the only way to insure that will never happen to you…! Just be grateful that we ONLY have to wipe your memories to stop you from getting tangled up in all this you DAMN BRAT…!” Angela was visibly getting more and more frustrated as she tried to keep Alex restrained, but was having little luck as he continued to shift around in her grasp.

“NO! I won’t let you do this to me! They’re my memories…! It should be up to me whether or not I don’t want to be involved in all of this…!” Alex shouted in desperation as he continued to worm his way out of Angela’s hold on him, who had just managed to grab onto his other arm.

“Don’t be such an idiot! I don’t know what exactly you’re hoping to get out of being allowed to stick around her, but it’s not going to go the way you think! GAH! Kitsiyuna! Help me hold him down so that I don’t accidentally turn his brain into mush…!”  Angela shouted as she had both arms wrapped tightly around both of Alex’s while holding the black Utility Crystal by her teeth.

“Please just stop struggling Alex… Like we said, it’s to keep you safe. Your entire way of life would change if you don’t let her do this…” Kitsiyuna said sorrowfully as she slowly approached Alex to hold him still.

Alex could feel the world around him slowly turn dark as Kitsiyuna closed in on him. In those brief moments of her approaching him, Alex’s mind wondered just what would happen to him if the past 12 hours just didn’t occur, as if this day hadn’t had happened to him at all. He figured it would’ve been just like the last day. Which had been exactly like the day before. And that day was pretty much the same as the one before that. It wasn’t long before Alex’s mind began to drift further and further into the past.

He remembered the days where he would wake up to an empty house, leaving first thing in the morning despite sleeping terribly to head to school with nobody there to say goodbye to him. He recalled the looks of disgust from complete strangers he would get as he passed them by, the only reason he could think of was because he looked unsettling to them. He remembered being an outcast at school, where people would ostracize him for his love of the Occult.

The teasing, harassing, and bullying had been going on since he was six, and showed no signs of ending. He remembered the day he finally snapped his sophomore year as he pulled his dagger on someone, then got dragged off to the principal’s office. But he escaped, and ran from the building before they could punish him and he vowed to never come back. He remembered coming home that day, crying tears of anger, with nobody there to calm him down. Anybody who would’ve been there had left him all alone after all.

Phone calls were made to his house for disciplinary action to be taken against him, but nothing ever came of any of them. Nobody actually cared enough to punish him. His life continued to spiral downwards as he felt more and more isolated from other humans, growing worse each day. That was, until two months ago, when something happened. Something drove him closer to the brink then he had ever been before, and he finally wanted to claw his way out.

His life had been nothing but miserable for him. It was at that point that he wanted, no, NEEDED something to change. Determined to never go back to that path again, Alex could feel his survival instincts kicking in once again.

“…But I hate the life I have right now! Having you help me change it is the only hope for me…!” Alex shouted at the top of his lungs in anger as he could feel the Spirit Energy welling up inside of him.

Without even thinking about his movements, Alex pressed both of his feet onto Angela’s chest plate, with her hold on him stopping him from falling to the ground. He began to push his legs against her armor, as he lifted up one of his legs to kick the Utility Crystal out of her mouth, causing it to land and bounce off several feet behind her. It was at that point Angela let go of his arms, causing him to drop straight down as she backed up a couple of steps, unsure of what Alex was going to do.

“Damnit! Kitsiyuna, stop dawdling and grab him!” Angela shouted to Kitsiyuna who had all but stopped in her tracks.

Alex, realizing both Spirits were too stunned to immediately respond, took advantage of their moment of weakness and scrambled to his feet, pulling out his tome yet again. He quickly flipped through its pages until he found the one he was looking for in the middle of the book. He pressed one of his hands against the page as the Spirit Energy began to build and whirl around him in a twisting tempest of light blue wisps.

“Stay THE HELL away from me WITH YOUR DAMN CRYSTAL!” Alex screamed out at Angela who was clearly in shock at what she was witnessing.

Alex focused his raging mind on the images in his tome. His brain began to process all of the formulas and complex matrixes on the page as he began to incant a spell in his head. It wasn’t a very powerful spell, and was one of the only ones he actually knew. He remembered how he always struggled to get it to work properly until he was eventually able to master it through sheer force, narrowing his mind to focus on nothing but casting the spell. He echoed the motions he made the day he was able to pull it off successfully as he released his palm from the tome and pointed it at Angela. The whole process occurred in the span of two seconds, leaving her no time to recover.

“Dispersion Wave!”  Alex yelled out as he focused his hand on his target.

With the name of the spell shouted, all of the Spirit Energy that had been floating around Alex quickly dissipated as it got consumed to fuel his magic. The muscles in his fingers tensed as a large shockwave of force blasted from his palm like a shotgun gauge firing, darkening the air and whipping up clouds of dust as it flew past. Before Angela could even react, the shockwave reached her, sending her flying back all the way into a set of scaffolding far behind her. The metal beams began to collapse all around her as the scaffolding began to awkwardly pin her in place; her wings making it even harder to untangle herself from the mess of metal she had just been thrown into.

Alex wasted no time and began to run in the opposite direction, passing right by Kitsiyuna as he did, who didn’t even make an attempt to stop him. He then proceeded to run full sprint away from the two Spirits as he knocked over more scaffolding behind him to make it harder for them to follow him before he darted around a nearby corner and disappeared out of view.

“God damn it …! Why didn’t you tell me he knew magic…!?” Angela chastised Kitsiyuna as she attempted to free herself from the scaffolding she was trapped in.

“…Well, I knew he had a little bit of magic… But I didn’t think he knew any actual spells…” Kitsiyuna replied back timidly and defensively.

Angela reached out her hand and pulled her discarded scythe back to her. With one swift flick of her scythe, she sliced through all of the metal beams surrounding her, cleaving them into far more pieces than should’ve been humanly possible for just one swing and effortlessly freeing herself from her predicament.

“Ugh… whatever…” Angela groaned in annoyance as she climbed out of the pile of freshly sliced metal. “…With the barrier in place, he’s not going to be able to escape on his own… I want you to go track him down and bring him back here…”

“All right…” Kitsiyuna said meekly.

“While I wait for you to get him, I’m going to scan the surrounding area and see if I can’t pin point the locations of those last three bounty hunters… So don’t take too long catching him.”

Kitsiyuna merely let out a long sigh as she proceeded to follow the direction Alex ran off to. Angela could tell immediately she was half-assing it as she climbed over the fallen scaffolding Alex had knocked over rather than just jumping straight over it all. She decided not to say anything as she focused her attention on finding the remaining bounty hunters.

“…Calling it now: she’s going to let him go…” Angela said under her breath as Kitsiyuna disappeared around the same corner Alex did. “…Considering how much she doesn’t like to be alone, it only makes sense she would bond with a kid like that…”

“Damn it… What the hell am I even doing here…?” Alex thought to himself as he ran through the half constructed mall. “There’s no way I’m going to be able to get away from them… They’re both Spirits, so no doubt they’re going to be faster than me, not to mention this is THEIR hideout… They’re going to understand the layout of this place far better than I am…” Alex continued to rush his way through some of the construction, darting in through some of the plastic sheets that had been left hanging down from the upper levels so as to better hide himself as he figured out how to move forward.

“…And the only real advantage I have here is that I was able to get a head start… Which doesn’t even matter that much as I know I’m not going to be able to maintain that for long…” As he continued to move forward, he happened to notice a steel door buried behind some construction equipment.

“That door… it could lead to some access hallways that run behind the store fronts… It’s not much, but I could probably work a narrow hallway more to my advantage than staying out here in the open.”  Without breaking stride, Alex used his tome to telepathically slam the door open in front of him so as to not slow down opening it by hand.

“That’s how you’re going to get out of this Alex… little shortcuts like that…! That’s what’s gonna make all the difference here…!” Alex thought as he ran into the pitch black hallway. Without any kind of light source shining in from outside, Alex relied on channeling Spirit Energy to illuminate the white brick of the walls surrounding him. Carrying his tome to his left side, while holding out a glowing wisp in his right hand, Alex continued forward until the hallway branched off to either side.

“All right Alex… Remember the layout of the building when you came into the place… One of these hallways should lead to an emergency exit…” After some quick deliberating, Alex figured based off of what he knew of his current position, taking the left path would be the more likely way out. He then quickly took the left path, never once stopping his movements forward, as he continued on down the winding access hallways.

“Hopefully, even if I’m not heading in the right direction… All of these turns in these hallways will make it easier for me to lose them…” Alex thought to himself as he made another corner, having passed by multiple doorways that could help mask the potential route he was taking. He began to wonder if he might be heading in circles after he went around another corner, and began to worry he could be going the wrong way. But, those worries were almost immediately put to rest when he noticed he just ran past a stairwell that went down.

“This is supposed to be the first floor isn’t it…? Any stairs going down from here would be going into a basement… From my understanding, malls don’t usually have a basement; at least not ones open to the general public… Wait…! I’m such an idiot! What do you even think these access hallways are made for in the first place!? For bringing stuff they might have stored in the basement to the actual stores out of view of the regular customers! There’s gotta be some kind of exit built in down there to allow them to directly load stuff into the basement!”

Wasting no time, Alex booked it down the stairwell, hoping that his hunch was right about there being an exit and that he wasn’t just leading himself into a dead end. The white brick from the floor above changed to a darkened concrete, with metal pipes feeding throughout the ceilings of the basement hallways making them feel even more claustrophobic. The wisp provided even less light on this floor, but Alex none the less pressed on, carefully following the pipes on the ceiling to make out where the turns were going to be in advance.

His pace began to slow down significantly as the fatigue from running began to set in, though the harsher lighting conditions definitely weren’t helping either. He was beginning to move so slowly, that his only hope of them not catching up to him at this point was that they lost him looking elsewhere. Eventually, Alex was able to make out another light source as he turned the corner. It was sunlight shining in through the tiny window of an exit door right in front of him.

“YES! I was right!” he exclaimed to himself in excitement. He stopped channeling as he readied his book again, running towards the door as fast as his tired body would allow him. He quickly flung the book forward telepathically, once again slamming the exit open as he rushed outside. Once through the door, he found himself heading up an incline out into a small isolated parking lot, completely surrounded by dense trees that looked as if they stretched into the foothills of Lunaridge. He was about to start celebrating before he saw a faint purple shimmer that quickly reminded him that he hadn’t escaped yet.

“Crap. I forgot about the damn barrier…” Alex thought to himself as he slowly approached the translucent purple wall swirling and whirling around before him. He looked over the gaseous barrier before him as he quickly tried to formulate some kind of way to get past it.

“Maybe it’s only a one way kind of deal…? Like, now that I’m inside, I can freely leave if I so choose…?” he optimistically thought to himself. He readied his tome again, preparing to throw it at the barrier to test his theory. With one brief thought, he commanded the tome to fly forward where it was quickly halted with a series of flying sparks as it hit the wall. It then rebounded off and slammed directly into his face.

“OW. I guess I was being too hopeful on my part…” he thought to himself as he dragged the tome from his face, being rewarded with a bump on his forehead for his escape effort. “…Come on Alex… you have to think of something… If you sit around here for too long, they could catch up to you…” Alex kept thinking to himself as he continued along the inside of the barrier, realizing it was probably better that he didn’t wait around in just one spot.

“…Didn’t Kitsiyuna say it was possible to break through with the right kind of magic…?”  Alex recalled as he headed away from the parking lot and into an even denser patch of trees. “Maybe I could use my magic to get out…! It’s probably worth a shot considering I don’t really have too many other options…”

Alex prepared his mind again, as the various matrixes needed for his Dispersion Wave began to once again formulate in his head as he turned to the intended page in his tome.  He lifted his hand up towards the barrier as he held his tome open with the other, Spirit Energy once again coursing through his free hand. Just as he was about to cast the spell again, he found his source of concentration quickly get cut off as somebody came up from behind and grabbed him. Without even having to turn his head back, he could tell it was Kitsiyuna due to the familiar strength behind the hold.

“DAMN IT! LET ME GO KITSIYUNA!” Alex shouted as he tried to break free to no avail. It seemed like Kitsiyuna had learned her lesson from last time, as she had her arms wrapped around Alex in such a way that it was physically impossible for him to move his own arms. He found it difficult to even move his legs, as he could feel some kind of force also keeping them in place, probably as a result of some of Kitsiyuna’s own magic.

“Please, just stop struggling. All of this is for your own good…” Kitsiyuna replied solemnly.

“I don’t care! They’re MY memories and I don’t want anyone screwing with them…!” The anger in Alex’s voice continued to build as he could feel his eyes starting to water.

“I… I understand… but…” Kitsiyuna tried to continue, but couldn’t find the words to say and was quickly cut off by Alex.

“You knew she was going to do this to me the entire time… didn’t you? That as soon as that first bounty hunter saw me, that my memories were going to have to be purged…? That’s it isn’t it…? YOU WERE LEADING ME ON THIS ENTIRE TIME, WEREN’T YOU!?” Alex continued to shout as his emotional state began to deteriorate with each sentence. Kitsiyuna, however, did not immediately reply as she felt too ashamed to even look directly at Alex as he leveled his accusations at her.

“ANSWER ME!” Alex screeched in a mix of sadness, anger, and frustration after a moment of silence from Kitsiyuna.

“…Yes. That’s the operating procedure Angela has in place… Any human who tries to familiarize themselves with me has to have their memories wiped…” Kitsiyuna finally responded, talking as if there was a great weight bearing down on her.

“And you’re just okay with screwing with people like that…!?”

“I… I’m not happy about it either! The only friend I can really have is Angela… But I’d rather only have her as a friend then allow completely innocent people to get dragged into the more dangerous aspects of my life…!” Kitsiyuna yelled out in similar frustration before calming herself down. “…I have to constantly lay low, isolated from everyone else while also constantly staying on alert in the event somebody tries to attack me… It’s not a life I’d want to thrust on anyone else…”

“…And what if I said that kind of life wouldn’t bother me at all…?” Alex replied as he grew more desperate to get out of this with all of his memories intact, tears slowly building up in his eyes.

“That’s just because you’re still a kid… I’m sure you’re thinking that your life right now is so horribly boring and that my life with the magic and fighting bad guys is so much more interesting… You don’t have the perspective yet to realize that though your life might seem bad, it could always be worse… If you keep trying to hang around me, your life WILL become a living hell…”

“MY LIFE IS ALREADY A LIVING HELL! It shouldn’t matter if I’m just exchanging one hell for another… I don’t care if I’m only 15, it should still be my choice in the matter…!”

“Why do you have to be so adamant about this…? I’m sure right now; you’re seeing forgetting about all of this as missing an opportunity. But once your memories get wiped, you won’t even care anymore because it will be like it never happened to you in the first place…”

“I’m so adamant about this because all of your memories help make up who you are as a person…! To have your memories altered against your will, whether they be good or bad, is tantamount to having a part of you die in my eyes! I mean, how would you feel if someone tried to get rid of your memories!?” Alex yelled out, the tears that had been slowly forming began flowing like a torrent from his eyes.

Though he didn’t expect them to, his words had finally hit their mark as Kitsiyuna was left in a silent shock. Instantly, he could feel her grip on him loosen as he was able to effortlessly break free from her hold, stumbling to his feet as he dropped from her arms. He hurriedly took multiple steps forward before turning around to look back at her, wiping the tears from his face as he did so. She merely stood there with a haunted expression on her face as she stared at the ground while she clutched her arms, drawing her hands towards her chest.

“…Hey… what the hell are you doing…?” Alex uneasily asked as he tried to calm the discord in his voice. He didn’t know what to make of Kitsiyuna’s behavior as it almost seemed like she had intentionally let him go.

Kitsiyuna let go of her arms as she began to lower her hands to her waist, clenching them into visibly trembling fists. After a few seconds, she reached into the pocket of her jacket and once again pulled out her Utility Crystal. Still keeping the crystal held tightly in her fist, its color once again changed from green to purple as another hole in the barrier formed right behind Alex.

“…Go. Get out of her before Angela can find out that I caught up with you…” Kitsiyuna finally answered, her gaze still affixed to the ground.

“…You’re actually letting me go…?” Alex asked in amazement and confusion.

“Yes… We told you the consequences for wanting to keep your memories and you still chose to keep them regardless. It wouldn’t be right to take them against your will at that point… Now please…” she continued, gesturing to Alex to move on through. Hesitantly, Alex stepped toward the barrier, putting one foot on through the hole, but keeping the other solidly on the inside as he once again turned back to look at Kitsiyuna.

“…You’re going to let me do this, even though you said that I could potentially be at risk to the guys who want to capture you…?” he asked, trying to hone in on Kitsiyuna’s motives.

“Mm hmm…” Kitsiyuna nodded before finally raising her face to meet Alex in the eyes. “If that’s really how it is for you… I wouldn’t want you to feel like a part of you has died just for some semblance of safety from a threat that might not even come for you … Just please do me one thing… Once you leave here… Don’t ever come back to try to find me, okay…?” Alex could visibly see the heartbreak in Kitsiyuna’s eyes as she said that last sentence, with the loneliness in her voice having finally reached its peak. Alex quickly pulled his one foot back through to the inside of the barrier as he took a couple of steps toward Kitsiyuna in concern.

“…Why…? Why the hell do you not want me to come in contact with you again…!?”

“Wiping your memories I agree is a little bit too excessive… But letting you hang out around me is still going to be too dangerous for you in the long run…”

“I already told you I don’t care how dangerous it is! I’ve been looking for a Spirit who seemed like they would be willing to help me for a LONG time. I don’t want to just give that up!”

“…This is because you still want to try for that Pact, don’t you…? I already told you it would kill you! Please just give that a rest and get out of here, otherwise I’ll just force you out at this point…!” Kitsiyuna continued as she began to push Alex towards the hole in the barrier.

“NO! I need this! I need that Pact as much as you do! Why can’t you at least let me test it to see if I can survive it!?” Alex responded with ire as he tried to dig his feet in the ground to keep Kitsiyuna from pushing him out.

“I ALREADY TOLD YOU WHY!” Kitsiyuna shot back in an equally irritated voice as she continued to push Alex out. She began to meet considerably more resistance than she expected as Alex began to use his tome to telepathically shove her off of him. After a brief struggle, Kitsiyuna decided to take a few steps back and inhaled deeply to calm herself down.

“Look, if you’re willing to go right now… I promise I’ll go talk to Angela. She’s a Reaper, so she’s going to have a lot of connections in the Spirit World. I’m sure she’d be able to find you a Spirit that would be willing to form a Pact with you so that you can get stronger for whatever it is you’re trying to do…”

Alex stopped to ponder Kitsiyuna’s proposal. While it was true that he could probably get by forming a Pact with any old Spirit, something began to nag at the back of his head that that probably wouldn’t cut it. He didn’t just want someone to lend their powers to him, he needed more than that, he needed a teacher, a mentor, someone who would have his back.

He recalled his old teacher, the woman with white hair who stood by him patiently for hours on end while he tried to learn how to channel Spirit Energy all of those years ago. She took it upon herself to look after Alex on the many days he found himself with no one else to care for him. She was someone who had momentarily freed him from his isolation. In that moment, even though he had only known her for a couple of hours at that point, Alex realized he saw something in Kitsiyuna that he also saw in his old teacher. And even though he wasn’t willing to admit it out loud, he wasn’t prepared to just give up on someone like that again.

“…No… I refuse…” Alex said under his breath. “I… I don’t want that…”

“…You don’t want that…? What are you talking about…?” Kitsiyuna asked bewilderedly. Alex was hesitant to explain to Kitsiyuna why he seemed so attached to her. Getting so personal like that was not something that came easily to him. While he could’ve simply lied and said that he mostly wanted a Pact with her because of her potential raw power, he found himself unwilling to do so in the moment. It ultimately didn’t matter however; as the two of them were once again intercepted before Alex had the chance to elaborate. Kitsiyuna, who had been so focused on Alex, didn’t even sense the new threat sneaking up behind her.

“Crap, Kitsiyuna behind you…!” Alex shouted.

The trench coat clad figure that had been silently creeping in behind the duo proceeded to rush forward before Kitsiyuna had proper time to respond to Alex’s warning. The figure swung two large glowing azure scimitars made of an otherworldly glass in an arc as they leapt forward, cleaving Kitsiyuna in the back as she attempted to move out of the way. The blades did hit their mark, as a spray of blood burst from Kitsiyuna’s back, but she was too determined to let such a minor injury like that slow her down as she quickly lunged forward, grabbing Alex as the two of them dove through the opening in the barrier. Without a moment of hesitation, Kitsiyuna reactivated her Utility Crystal, closing the hole behind them before the attacker could follow after them.

“Are you okay!?” Alex asked as he let go of Kitsiyuna’s back, feeling her blood on his hands.

“I’m fine… This is nothing…” Kitsiyuna replied with a hearty smile. Alex could quickly tell from how unusual her breathing was starting to get that she was lying. Now that they were safely on the other side of the barrier, the duo looked over their attacker. Due to their clothing choice, it was pretty obvious it was yet another bounty hunter, though, in comparison to the other hunters they had faced so far, something about this one’s clothing felt far more intimidating.

The base of their coat was even more tattered than the others’ with the ends tapering off into a thick magical haze, with chains wrapped around various parts of their body in place of the rags the other bounty hunters had. The armor they wore over their coat appeared to be far more reinforced than the others’ as well, with metal spikes coming out of their shoulder plates and arm guards.

If the clothing hadn’t had already clued them in, the man’s face certainly showed the duo just how much more battle hardened he was than the previous hunters. He had several gashes and old scars all over his face, with a rather sizable wound on the side of his forehead that cut into his hair line, almost like he had an axe lodged in there at some point. All of the scars however, were not what signaled to the duo just how dangerous the man was, rather, it was the color of his facial features. He had faint purple skin, choppy and pale, almost white hair, and soulless, almost pitch black eyes.

“Holy shit… I think he’s that Ombrix Masserk guy who was after us…!” Alex exclaimed in fear as he realized the Spirit standing before them was a Somnight, still desperately trying to remember just what kind of powers a Somnight might possess.

“You mean the guy in charge of all of the damn bounty hunters today…?” Kitsiyuna remarked, stepping towards the barrier to get a closer look.

“So I take it one of my underlings filled you in on me…” Ombrix replied with a bored tone. His voice was deep, yet had a raspy echo to it, giving a haunting quality to his words. Rather than looking angry or annoyed that the two successfully managed to trap him within the barrier, Ombrix merely sat there looking rather amused.

“How the hell did you find me…? And how the hell did you even get inside the barrier?” Kitsiyuna asked.

“My men might have went into this job completely unprepared like a bunch of fucking jackasses, but I can assure you I actually know what I’m doing…” he answered back. He then proceeded to clench his fist tightly, causing what appeared to be large particles of dust to flake off his body, forming a dense and fairly volatile cloud around him. “I marked each and every single one of the idiots I brought with me for this mission with my special dust here. Anything that’s been in contact with it, I can sense and the stuff can linger around for days. So, for the past week or so, I’ve had my men patrol around this dump of a town until you finally came in contact with some of it. All I needed was for those idiots to come into direct contact with you enough times with my dust and I’ve been able to follow your movements ever since…”

Ombrix paused for a second to take in the look of grim horror setting in on Kitsiyuna’s face. When fighting the other bounty hunters, she did recall tiny particulates of dust coming off of them. The magic that came from the dust had apparently been so faint, she couldn’t recognize it on its own because it blended in with the bounty hunters’ own Spirit Signatures. Dust didn’t even seem out of place for the rooftop and alleyway where they ran into the other hunters. Both her and Alex were completely unaware something so small and innocuous could be used to track them. Ombrix then decided to continue after his brief pause to answer Kitsiyuna’s other question.

“…And as to how the hell I got through your little barrier here in the first place…?” Ombrix held both of his blades back behind him as he stretched his arms out.

The dust cloud around him began to turn more and more volatile as the individual particles began to speed up immensely. Rather than float around him haphazardly at random, the cloud began to follow a pattern and started twisting and turning around him in a uniform motion. The dust appeared to grow hotter and hotter, slowly changing into hot ash as tendrils of static electricity began to fire off of the growing twister. Eventually, every single individual particle of dust began to glow bright orange as the entire air around Ombrix began to shimmer in power.

“DUST DECAY!” he shouted out as he readied his magic. With a swift flick of his blades forward, the dust cloud collided into the barrier, causing it to warp and distort as more electricity began to shoot off from it with a static filled roar. Suddenly, part of the barrier gave way as the dust pushed its way through with the force of a cannon, essentially melting a hole in the barrier like it was some kind of glass.

“I just made a hole for myself like this.” Ombrix smugly replied as he stepped through the newly formed hole, as a new dust cloud slowly reformed around him.

Kitsiyuna was still in shock, but wasted no time placing herself in front of Alex, still doing her best to keep him safe. Anticipating a far more difficult fight than before, Kitsiyuna quickly tossed off her leather jacket and hat as they disappeared into magical flames. Without her jacket on, Alex could she how honed her muscles were, as her arms were pretty buff especially by female standards, though there was still a quaint gentleness to them. Kitsiyuna assumed a proper fighting stance with her legs firmly planted in the ground as she drew her fists in front of her, ready to intercept Ombrix’s attack.

Flames whirled around her arms and legs as large armored bracers and greaves formed around her fists and boots respectively. The armor Kitsiyuna spawned was reinforced with silver plates above her knuckles and toes which began to glow white hot with heat as more fire engulfed her. With the searing metal amplifying her punches, she swung her fists forward, intercepting Ombrix’s blades as the two Spirits collided with each other. Sparks and burning dust flew about as they tried to force the other back. After a few moments, Ombrix pulled back his blades as he changed up his plan of attack, opting instead to try to hack away some more at Kitsiyuna, who responded by guarding against his flurry using her bracers.

“Run, Alex… Get the hell out of here!” Kitsiyuna yelled as she strained against Ombrix’s assault, with more and more dust being whipped up with each swing. Alex simply stood there in concern, too anxious about Kitsiyuna’s predicament to move. He wanted to interject and tell her that he wasn’t going to run; that he wanted to intervene and somehow help her, but something in him was also telling him to listen to her.

“What the hell are you doing just standing there? I said RUN!” Kitsiyuna continued, pushing back Alex deeper into the surrounding forest with the same invisible force she had been using earlier. He eventually stopped moving after being dragged back a good 20 feet. Still unsure of what to do, Alex probably figured it was best for him to just listen to her at that point if she was going to use magic to keep him away. Through gritted teeth, he promptly turned away from Kitsiyuna’s fight and ran straight through the nearby foliage before he disappeared from both her and Ombrix’s view.

“You’re sending your Spiriter away to keep them safe…? You do know that means you’ll have to take me on all by yourself right? Pretty cocky of you if you ask me!” Ombrix taunted Kitsiyuna as he continued to rapidly thrust his blades at Kitsiyuna.

“…He’s not my Spiriter! He’s just an innocent kid who got swept up in this whole mess!” Kitsiyuna angrily responded, delivering a sweeping kick towards Ombrix’s stomach. He proceeded to dodge back, ducking as he did so to avoid the invisible force she was trying to nail him in the head with as a follow through. The fact that he had the presence of mind to duck out of the way certainly surprised Kitsiyuna as she was caught off guard by his retaliation.

“So he’s not your partner…? My idiot subordinates really had me believing that was the case…” Ombrix continued, following through with a sweep of his blades from down below that Kitsiyuna just barely blocked. He continued his assault, punctuating his sentences with sword swings. “…I guess I should consider it a good thing that he’s not a Spiriter then! …After all… I was informed you were a pretty tough Spirit! …I might’ve actually had a problem fighting both you and him at the same time if that was really the case!”

He then followed up with a double overhead slash, but Kitsiyuna was able to get him to back off by creating a small explosion of fire at the last second, causing Ombrix to stagger back for a brief moment. Using the opening, Kitsiyuna launched her magic force straight forward in an attempt to impale Ombrix, but he saw through her attack and protected himself by crossing his blades just in front of his face. Confident he stopped whatever he was about to be hit with, he performed a cross slash through the air, kicking up more and more dust, as more electricity shot through the air directly to Kitsiyuna. She reeled back in pain as whatever Ombrix managed to cut began to drip blood.

“It really is a shame though… That that kid was just some random jackass and not someone who could actually help you… Because I’m not going to lie, it looks like you could really use the help…” Ombrix continued, looking with a smug arrogance at his blades as they dripped blood. Unlike the other bounty hunter, he knew exactly what he had hit.

“…Not that it really matters either way in the long run, because regardless of who the kid is in relation to you, once I slice you into submission… I’m gonna gut him alive right in front of you as payment for finishing off most of my men!” Ombrix swept forward with his blades as he rushed yet again at Kitsiyuna. She hopped back out of the way of the initial swing, but Ombrix followed through by performing a complete 360 degree spin, causing the dust cloud he had been building up to launch forward in all directions. Enough force was behind his swing that Kitsiyuna ended up getting sent skidding back several feet, though she would’ve undoubtedly been sent flying if she hadn’t been bracing herself by keeping her heels dug into the ground.

“LIKE I HELL I’M GOING TO LET YOU DO THAT!” Kitsiyuna fumed as two giant fireballs began to form in her clenched fists. She leapt up into the air, hurling the first fireball at Ombrix, who once again blocked with his blades, nullifying the first hit.

Still mid jump, Kitsiyuna proceeded to crash straight down, aiming her still burning fist at Ombrix’s head as she attempted to deliver a dive-bombing punch to his face. Using more fire magic, she rocketed herself forward, slamming into the ground at intense speeds, kicking up large chunks of earth in the proceeding blast created by the impact of her fist. She hurriedly dislodged her fist from the ground as she looked back behind her. She was sure her trajectory was aimed right at him, and yet she had been nowhere close to hitting Ombrix.

“Well that one was waaaaaaaay off now wasn’t it? Looks like my dust is starting to get to you…” he replied with a menacing smirk on his face, baring ghostly white fanged teeth in the process.

“What are you talking about…?” Kitsiyuna responded back as she tried to clamber back into a proper fighting stance, the pain that she had been ignoring from the cut to her back was becoming too difficult for her to ignore. Her vision began to haze over as the dust began to swirl around her, generating an unpleasant white noise in the back of her head that made it impossible for her to focus. Even without an explanation from Ombrix, it was becoming extremely obvious to her that his dust was doing something to mess with her senses.

“Well, it’s like I said earlier… I’m not stupid like my men are. I actually went into this job prepared by doing some research on just who I was hunting. I might not know EVERYTHING… and you can try to mask your true form with your abilities, but I know exactly what ‘kind’ of Spirit you really are Kitsiyuna… Including all of the weaknesses that your ‘kind’ possess…!” Ombrix gloated as he commanded the dust cloud around Kitsiyuna to grow thicker and thicker. Kitsiyuna found herself starting to cough and wheeze as the dusty air around her got more and more difficult to breathe.

“I know your kind have an incredibly heightened level of senses, far beyond that of most other Spirits. My dust preys upon that fact. Every single sensory cue you would be getting normally is amplified to the point that it’s overwhelming. Slight vibrations in the air are intensified to the point that it’s nauseating, and anything you hear is going to be joined with the most uncomfortable static in your ears that’s only going to get worse overtime…” he continued as he began to slowly step towards Kitsiyuna, twirling around one of his blades in his hand. Kitsiyuna tried to back away, but was quickly losing her balance and her breath as her vision was beginning to cloud as well.

“All I really have to do is just sit back and allow my dust to make it so that you can no longer do anything… BUT WHERE’S THE FUN IN THAT!?” Ombrix yelled out as he delivered another overhead swing at Kitsiyuna. She crossed both of her arms in front of her face in an attempt to block, but her distorted senses caused her to misjudge the velocity of the blades, causing her to get nicked on the side of her face. Her poor balance caused her to get knocked back as the small cut on her face begin to sear in pain. Though it was far smaller and less deep than the cut to her back, the dust amplified the pain she felt from it so that it seemed a hundred times worse, causing her to wail out in agony.

Ombrix continued to slowball his approach with Kitsiyuna as he patiently stood in place, still twirling his blades as he waited for her to get back to her feet. Her breathing was getting heavier as beads of sweat started to form all over her body. Once she finally regained her footing, she did her best to focus her mind. She grit her teeth as she slowly inhaled air through them, clenching both of her fists tightly as she did so.

“Then all I have to do… Is burn up all of this damn dust then!” Kitsiyuna shouted as she pushed herself to keep going. She quickly pumped her fist, triggering a large blast of fire to burst up from underneath her. She let out a low yell, almost like a chant, as she focused on growing the fire around her. Her shout gradually got louder and louder as the flames spread out further and further. Ombrix quickly stepped back to a safe distance, as a smirk formed on his face.

“Bad idea.” he cockily shouted. In one brief moment, all of the fire Kitsiyuna had been slowly burning around her suddenly exploded right in her face as she got launched even further back by the sudden blast. She ended up skidding back on all fours as a result of the magic’s backfire, her hands and feet dragging across the ground as she tried to slow her momentum. When she finally stopped, the dust cloud still swirled around her, only now it had been turned into a twisting smog of burning ashes as a result of her flames. Kitsiyuna began to cough uncontrollably from the burning air as she slowly started gagging. She was too unfocused to even stand back up at that point.

“The only thing your piddly little flames are going to do is make the dust even worse.” Ombrix reveled as he once again advanced forward. “You can’t win against me, and I also doubt you have any kind of tricks up your sleeve that you could pull off in your current state that would allow you to escape…” He then proceeded to leap up in the air, as high as the canopy of the surrounding trees, with his blades ready to be plunged into Kitsiyuna’s downed body.

“I GUESS the only thing left to do now is to finish you off!” Ombrix shouted as he began to fall towards Kitsiyuna. Unable to stop coughing, Kitsiyuna found herself incapable of dodging out of the way, the only thing she could do was watch as Ombrix descended upon her, energy crackling from his blades as he fell. The brief few seconds he was in the air felt like an eternity as Kitsiyuna desperately tried to think of some way to mitigate the attack.

“…With the angle he’s going at… It looks like he’s aiming for my back… With the state that I’m in, if he manages to impale me from here… I don’t think I’d be able to move again without someone else’s healing magic… Which would pretty much be game over… Come on Kitsiyuna! Stop letting this damn ash get to you and focus…! I have to use my tail… He obviously  knows that I have it, but he’s so full of himself that he thinks I can’t move at all like this… If I can time it just right and catch him off guard, I can knock him out of the air and use it as a chance to recover… But it has to be at just the right moment…!” Kitsiyuna strategized to herself in the brief moments before Ombrix finally plunged his blades into her. She stared down Ombrix with determination in her eyes as she tried to put her desperate plan into motion.

Kitsiyuna tried not to think about what would happen next, even if she did manage to counter this attack. She would still be in no state to fight Ombrix by herself, nor would she really be able to run away from him either. There was even no guarantee that she would be able to keep him off of her for long enough for her to even back onto her feet. And that’s all predicated on her being able to aim her counter well enough to swat Ombrix out of the air while her senses were still being overloaded. All of these wrinkles did pop into Kitsiyuna’s head as well, but she kept them buried in the back of her head as she was determined to do whatever was necessary to keep Ombrix at bay. Thankfully, Alex intervened before she ever needed to pull her plan off.

“Take those damn glass scimitars of yours…” Alex blurted out as he rushed back onto the scene, stopping Ombrix’s blade’s midair using his tome. “…AND SHOVE THEM DOWN YOUR DAMN urethra you lint coATED bitch!” Alex screamed out as a war cry as he used his tome to push back against Ombrix.

Power surged through Alex’s tome as it collided with the blades, causing sparks of lightning to fly all over the place. Alex’s hand trembled as he held his tome steady with all of his strength as some of the sparks arched over to his arm. A large gash began to form on Alex’s right hand as the blades dug deeper into the cover of his tome, as if the blades cut through the book’s magic to directly to Alex. Despite the strain he was under, Alex managed to muster enough power to launch Ombrix back, with a huge shockwave ripping through the air as Alex repelled him back. Ombrix had been so completely caught off guard by Alex’s return that he ended up crashing into the ground as his body ended up rolling into a tree.

Alex closed his bloodied fist as he floated his tome back closer to him. He walked slowly towards Kitsiyuna as he offered her his blood covered hand and helped lift her back to her feet. Kitsiyuna was completely taken aback by Alex’s return. She figured if anyone was going to be bailing her out her, it would’ve been Angela.

“Why… why did you come back…?” Kitsiyuna asked as she tried to regain her breath.

“Because in terms of looks, personality, and power level… You’re the best Spirit I’m ever going to find… And if you don’t want a Pact with me because you’re afraid of it getting me killed…” Alex responded, pausing his sentence as he noticed Ombrix coming back to his senses.

Ombrix stared at Alex with a sadistic smile on his face as he got back to his feet. Alex was undeterred however, pulling out his dagger with his blood covered hand as he held his tome open with his other one. He placed the dagger in a reverse grip close to his face, leaving it parallel to his eyes as he met Ombrix’s gaze.

“…I’m just going to have to show you that I’m not afraid of dying like this…!” Alex shouted in declaration, steeling his nerves as he prepared to face Ombrix down to buy Kitsiyuna enough time to recover.

Night Fox – Novel Post: Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

When Alex had first gotten up that morning, he had anticipated his day going any number of possible directions. Having spent the past couple of weeks failing to track down a significant number of items he had been looking for on his checklist, he was prepared for some potential disappointment. He also anticipated the possibility that his bad luck up until that point could eventually turn around and he would actually make some head way on his list, so he was also prepared for something just a tad more optimistic. What he did not anticipate at all however, was a potentially violent individual pointing a gun in his general direction.

“How the hell did I get into this situation!? This is just insane!” Alex thought to himself, unsure of whether or not it was safe to move at all from his current position. While Alex had reflexively cowered behind Kitsiyuna, she herself remained steadfast, unflinching in the face of the gun pointed straight at her. The expression on her face only grew more serious and focused as she stood there, anticipating the bounty hunter’s next move.

“What, were you planning to just up and shoot me?” she asked defiantly without a single ounce of fear in her voice.

“Well, only if you tried to resist. We only get paid if we return you alive after all.” the hunter responded. Kitsiyuna’s calm demeanor and the hunter’s apparent desire to only capture her cued Alex in that the current situation wasn’t as dangerous as he was anticipating. While still too cautious to leave his position behind Kitsiyuna, he did once again peak out from behind her, finally giving the bounty hunter a proper look over.

His face was partially obscured by some rags he had wrapped around his neck like a scarf, leaving only the top half of his head visible. His face was even paler than Alex’s, with his skin and hair both being almost completely white, with dark red V-shaped markings on his forehead and underneath his scowling yellow eyes. He was wearing what appeared to be a black trench coat that had several large sections seemingly deliberately cut open, revealing more skin covered in the same dark red markings. The rest of his outfit was accentuated with more rags wrapped around parts of his arms and legs like bandages without any seeming rhyme or reason, as well as bits of what appeared to be armor covering his chest and joints. The armor was black in color, and looked to be made from leather, but Alex figured they were probably made from a much tougher and possibly magical substance.

Having given the bounty hunter a good look over, Alex then shifted his attention to the gun he was aiming at them. It was a revolver made from a very pale, almost white metal. It had a skull like design at its rear sight and around each individual chamber of its cylinder, appearing like each bullet was being eaten by said skull. Instead of having just one single barrel, it had five arranged into an X shape. Alex didn’t know too much about guns or how they worked, but figured due to the gun’s unorthodox barrel and chamber setup, it was probably actually a magic weapon and didn’t function like a normal gun at all.

“Now the question is: are you going to resist or not?” the bounty hunter asked Kitsiyuna smugly, ready his fingers onto the gun’s hammer and trigger.

“There’s no way in hell I’m going to let myself get captured without a fight.” Kitsiyuna responded, lowering her stance while cupping her right hand around her face, her fingers tensing back. As Kitsiyuna moved, Alex could feel something brush past him as he hunched down in anticipation at one of the two Spirits making a move.

“I was hoping you’d say that! It’s always so much more fun when they actually fight back!” the bounty hunter shouted in jubilation, a psychotic grin forming across his face that could be seen underneath the rags covering his face.

Within an instant, he quickly pulled the trigger and fired close to nine times within the span of three seconds, sending numerous orbs of burning black shadow in Alex and Kitsiyuna’s direction.  Before Alex could even react to the firing, he saw a faint streaking light rapidly slice up the air in front of Kitsiyuna, destroying every single magic bullet that had been fired in their general direction. Alex stumbled back a bit in shock at how quickly that had all transpired, while Kitsiyuna merely stood unflinchingly in place, a smirk forming on her face.

“What the hell kind of magic was that!? How could that go off so quickly!?” the bounty hunter shouted, also in shock.

“Why are you so surprised? I figured if you were a good bounty hunter, you’d know I can do stuff like that easily!” Without any hesitation, Kitsiyuna quickly wrapped her left arm around Alex while throwing back her right arm like she was winding up to throw something. “Get ready to move!” she shouted to him.

Within seconds, a bright orange flame began to form into Kitsiyuna’s right hand, coalescing into a burning sphere the size of a basketball. Once the fireball reached a size she was satisfied with, Kitsiyuna hurled it forward at the bounty hunter. The fireball hit him square in the chest with enough force to send him flying backwards into the wall 30 feet behind him. Upon impacting the wall, the fireball exploded into a giant cloud of smoke, filling the entire hallway with a thick veil of darkening smog. With how run down the apartment building had looked from the outside, Alex wasn’t surprised in the slightest that no smoke detectors went off in the process.

“Let’s get out of here while he’s distracted!” Kitsiyuna exclaimed to Alex. Before Alex could even start moving on his own, Kitsiyuna had quickly lifted him up off of the ground and began just straight up carrying him off to her side, his chest parallel to the ground. She then quickly started to sprint in the opposite direction of the smoke before Alex could even start complaining about the arrangement.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING CARRYING ME LIKE THIS!?” Alex barked in outrage at Kitsiyuna.

“Trust me. I can probably carry you faster than you can run on your own and this is much safer than me just dragging you by the hand!” she replied.

“DAMN IT! Get back here!” the bounty hunter cried out from the end of the hallway, fumbling to get back to his feet, as Alex and Kitsiyuna disappeared from view as they rounded the corner. Undeterred, he gave chase to the duo, continuing to fire upon them as he turned the corner after them. Most of his shoots were well off the mark, the spreading smoke hampering his aim while the ones that did come close to hitting the two were similarly cut up like they had been before. Realizing his current plan of attack wasn’t working, he halted his movements at the corner of the hallway.

“I found the target on the third floor! Key into my location here and you should be able to tell where she’s going and cut her off! She’s not alone though! She’s got a kid with her. Probably her Spiriter, so watch out!” he shouted out loud, clearly communicating with the other bounty hunters.

“Looks like I was right. They’re going to involve you in this after all kid…” Kitsiyuna said to Alex as she continued to carry him, losing absolutely no speed as she drifted around another corner. “You know, if I’m going to be carrying you like this, I feel like you should at least tell me your name, because calling you kid just sounds so impersonal at this point…”

“Well if you must know right this second, my name is Alex Haser…” he replied.

“Alex huh? I like it. I guess if you didn’t catch it from that guy earlier, my name is Kitsiyuna. It’s nice for us to finally formally introduce ourselves.” she happily responded, shaking his hand with her free one as she did so, still running, and still continuing to carry him.

“Is this REALLY the best time for that right now!?” Alex asked with a thick layer of annoyance.

“Why not? We’re doing fine so far. We just gotta hope that these guys don’t have any backup that’s much worse…” Kitsiyuna replied. She continued running, Alex in tow, until the two began to approach a door at the end of the hallway.

Without breaking her stride or losing any speed, she swiftly performed a jumping spin-kick on the door, slamming it open to another stairwell while still maintaining a comfortable grip on Alex. He was about to ask if such a maneuver was necessary before he found himself getting cut off by Kitsiyuna’s method of navigating the stairs. Rather than simply continuing to rush the stairs like she had been doing for the rest of the hallway, she opted to simply jump onto the stair’s metal railing, and began to quickly jump to the railing on the opposite side, directly above them. She proceeded to essentially parkour the two of them up the stairs, quickly jumping from railing to railing without missing a beat. She quickly ascending three floors within the span of about 10 seconds until there were no more railings left to jump up to, having reached her apparent destination of the door to the building’s rooftop.

“I was right. This girl has some REALLY FUCKINGSTRONG LEGS!” was the only thing that could pop into Alex’s head as he fought back the urge to scream the entire way up that very quick and unorthodox ascent. Despite having not exerted any effort himself, Alex was finding himself once again out of breath. Kitsiyuna on the other hand simply continued moving forward, once again spin kicking the door to the roof open, all of it for seemingly no other reason than because it looked cool. Only when the two of them were standing in the flowing summer breeze of the apartment’s flat roof did she finally slow down and give Alex a chance to recoup himself.

“Was… all of that… REALLY necessary…?” Alex found himself asking in an exacerbated manner, pausing in between words to tiredly gasp.

“Eh… Probably not. But you gotta admit it got us up here real quick!” Kitsiyuna replied in a playful tone, still carrying Alex in her left arm.

“Uh huh… And why the hell did you drag me all the way up to the roof? Shouldn’t we have been, ya know, HEADING DOWN so that we could escape these guys…!?”

“I’m trying to thin their numbers without potentially getting any other bystanders involved. This roof is perfect for that because it’s nice and open while also being isolated off, so no random person can just wander in and get hurt.”

“Wait… You mean you’re actually going to fight these guys!?”

“If they’re as tough as that first guy we ran into, they should be a piece of cake for me to deal with. The only reason I didn’t completely blast that guy on the spot is because I didn’t want to blow up the entire floor.”

“You can actually do that!? Blow up an entire floor of a building!?”

“Oh, if something pissed me off enough, I probably could destroy this entire building…” Kitsiyuna responded with a very pleasant smile on her face in intentional contrast of what she just said.

“I might not know the power level of Spirits too well, but I don’t think being able to pull off a feat like that is something a lot of them can do… That being said, if she’s telling the truth about that, she definitely would be a great asset if I can get her to team up with me once this mess gets sorted…” Alex thought to himself, a small hint of anticipation growing at getting a chance to witness Kitsiyuna’s apparent potential. Any hint of concern about her being dangerous to his safety were pushed to the back of his head, deciding that she seemed nice enough, so she was probably safe enough to still hang around.

“…But yeah…. We’re going to wait up here for a bit so that we can potentially bait out some more of these bounty hunters. That way, we have less goons potentially following us to the hideout…” Kitsiyuna continued.

“Oh. Well, if that’s what your plan is… CAN YOU PUT ME DOWN NOW!?” Alex snapped at her, flailing about as he remembered the fact that she was still very much carrying him like a ragdoll. Kitsiyuna sheepishly apologized to him before finally setting him back down.

“…Speaking of hideouts… That reminds me, I need to make a call…” she said, reaching into her jacket pocket to pull something out. Anticipating a cellphone, Alex got a very confused look on his face when Kitsiyuna ended up pulling out a cylindrically-shaped green crystal that was just a little bit bigger than the palm of her hand.

“Is that… a Utility Crystal…?” Alex asked, recalling one of the many items he had failed to collect on his checklist.

“You know what a Utility Crystal is…?” Kitsiyuna asked back, surprised at Alex’s ability to identify the item.

“…I’ve heard a thing or two here and there. While there’s a little bit more to them, aren’t they mostly just used by Spirits as glorified phones…?”

“Well, I can’t really speak for others, but that’s mostly what I use it for… Anyways, I’m going to try to contact a friend of mine. In the meantime, you should find a place to hide for when those bounty hunters finally catch up.” Kitsiyuna replied.

Alex’s curiosity wanted him to hang around and see the crystal in action up close, but the disapproving look on Kitsiyuna’s face eventually convinced him to find a spot on the roof to hide. He quickly settled on hiding behind a large AC unit that rested in a corner of the roof, directly behind the stairwell entrance they had just come out of, realizing it was probably the best spot on the mostly bare roof. He sat with his back towards the machine as its shadow provided him cover from the sun. He began to lean back directly against the machine, its mild vibrating and loud humming providing a kind of pleasant ASMR for his unfocused mind as the wind gently caressed his face. Rather than the wait building up an unpleasant anticipation, Alex found his anxiety about the current situation quickly melt away as he unintentionally mediated behind the machine.

“Feeling the wind like this… It kinda reminds me of the day she first taught me how to channel…” Alex mused to himself, recollecting a faint memory of his from a few years ago. He recalled his younger self standing in a quaint field, seemingly isolated from the outside world, reaching out into the wind around him as he tried to grasp the energy that surrounded him the same way Spirits did. He remembered failing many times, as a much older woman with snow white hair stood there watching over him with a patient smile on her face. As he recouped the memory, he found himself instinctively forming a light blue wispy flame like he had done within the restaurant earlier in his hand. Once the wisp reached a large enough size, he slowly closed his fist around it until it eventually got absorbed into his body.

“I can’t believe I used to think channeling Spirit Energy like that was hard…” he thought to himself. “Just imagine how much better you’ll get if you can actually convince her to make you her Spiriter…” he mused to himself as he briefly looking around the AC Unit in Kitsiyuna’s general direction.

Though she was a fair distance away, he could vaguely make out the utility crystal in her hand. It was emitting a green glow that radiated out around it, cueing in Alex that she was still using it. The humming coming from the AC Unit made it impossible for him to hear any of what she might’ve been talking about, but he could still make out a look of concern coming across her face. Whatever she had been talking about had caused her to shift to a worried mood.

Sensing Alex caught the dour expression on her face, she quickly tried to fake a smile as she looked over in his direction. Her faux smile obviously didn’t fool Alex, as he took the sudden change in her mood as a potential cause for alarm. Wanting to clear up just what the situation was, Alex started to move back to her to ask her what was going on before he found himself sitting right back down. He sensed another bounty hunter had caught up to them.

From the other side of the roof, opposite the end he was hiding on, Alex saw a figure had apparently climbed up the side of the building to reach the roof. Without a moment of hesitation, they rushed at Kitsiyuna, with a large blade ready to strike her. Thankfully, Kitsiyuna was equally as aware of the situation and quickly turned to intercept this new attacker.

“Well you certainly found your way to me faster than I expected!” she responded as the new bounty hunter jumped up and lunged at her with their blade. They were briefly stopped mid-jump, their blade apparently being blocked by the same force Kitsiyuna had been using earlier to slice up those bullets. After hanging there for a few seconds, the hunter was eventually sent backwards, flying a good distance across the roof. Alex, confident Kitsiyuna could handle the situation, decided to sneak up closer to get a better view of the fight, hiding behind the back of the stairwell out of the attacker’s view.

While the previous bounty hunter could’ve maybe passed off as a regular human under the right lighting, it was very obvious this particular bounty hunter was a Spirit. While they were draped in a tattered black cloak that obscured some of their body, it was still easy to notice the fact they were mostly just a skeleton underneath with horns growing from the top of their skull. Their body was mostly just pale bones that were partially covered by a dark red membrane that resembled exposed muscle. Their face, or rather, lack of a face was left uncovered by this membrane, with all of their facial bones exposed and glowing red dots instead of any kind of actual eye. Their torso was similarly uncovered, exposing a ribcage housing a giant singular red organ mass that had fused to the entire length of the spine. Finally, the blade Alex had thought the skeleton was holding, upon closer examination, turned out to be growing directly from their arm in place of their right hand.

“I think that freak’s a Cornossa…” Alex thought to himself as he watched the horned skeleton furiously try to slash away at Kitsiyuna who parried every single attack, recalling its appearance from a book he had skimmed through some years ago about the different races of Spirits.

“DAMN IT! STAND STILL!” the Cornossa screamed out in frustration, without any lips, lungs, or vocal chords as Kitsiyuna effortless knocked away a swing from its blade-arm with the back of her fist. The Cornossa’s voice was deep enough that Alex was confident that it was supposed to be male in absent of any other visual indicators outside of the width of the skeleton’s pelvis which Alex had no way, nor intention, of measuring.

“Do you guys just not know anything about what I’m capable of!?” Kitsiyuna shouted out in disbelief.

“There’s only two things that are important to our job: where our target is… AND HOW WE’RE GOING TO BEAT THEM INTO SUBMISSION!” the Cornossa shouted, punctuating his yelling with a surge of red sparks going up his blade-arm. Suddenly, the muscle like membrane began to spread, completely engulfing the blade, bringing it to a seemingly sharper edge. Red vapors began to undulate from this newly formed blade as Alex could feel the increased power coursing through it, as if the very air itself was being warped around it. The Cornossa flicked this blade back behind him as he winded up for another attack, with a faint ripple of energy being emitted as he did so.

“Try blocking this one you bitch! BLOOD MARROW STRIKE!” he shouted as he swung the blade forward, aiming to strike downward from overhead. That faint ripple from the wind up reemerged as a very visible pressure wave surging through and compressing the air around the blade as the Cornossa aimed it at Kitsiyuna. While the swing had been no slower than any of his previous ones, it felt as if time began to slow to a crawl to Alex as he looked on in slow motion, taking in every millisecond of the magic attack that was being performed in front of him. It was almost as if his slight familiarity with Spirits and magic gave his mind an extra sense to process the attack in time, as when the blade was about to strike Kitsiyuna, he could feel himself reflexively try to guard against the attack as if it had been aimed at him.

The compressed frame of time for Alex quickly passed when the blade seemed to make impact with Kitsiyuna. The burst of pressure exponentially expanded across the air until it was no longer perceivable, as Kitsiyuna slide back a few feet, seemingly the only result from the attack. Kitsiyuna had both of her arms braced in preparation to block the strike, but it appeared there was no visible cut on either of her jacket sleeves. It didn’t seem like there was a single cut anywhere on her body, and yet a wince of pain shot across her face as blood began dripping from the Cornossa’s sword arm. He had apparently hit something, but Alex had no idea what.

“Well how about that…?” the Cornossa replied with a small hint of surprise in his voice, staring at the small trickle of blood coming from his blade. He apparently had no idea what he actually hit either.

“Seems like you’re not so untouchable after all!” the bounty hunter shouted out in glee, continuing to try to hack away at Kitsiyuna. The smug look she had been wearing on her face got far more serious as rather than try to block or parry any more of the Cornossa’s attacks, she did her best to completely bob and weave out of the way of each swing.

“It looked like she just had some kind of a natural defense against his sword… Did whatever the hell he just did to his arm let him cut through her defense?”  Alex thought to himself in concern as he continued to look on, still trying to conceal his presence. “Why is she keeping to the defensive though? Why isn’t she using her own magic to fight back!?” It didn’t take long though for Alex to figure out why she was so seemingly hesitant to fight back as he continued to watch her movements.

“Wait… It looks like she’s… leading him away from my position… Is that why she hasn’t used her magic on him yet…? Because she’s trying to make sure I don’t accidentally get caught up in any of her attacks…?” he thought to himself as he analyzed the path backwards Kitsiyuna seemed to be taking as she continued to evade the bounty hunter. “…I mean, if that’s the case… shouldn’t she have more than enough room by now…? “ Alex lingered on this thought in his head for a bit, wondering if it might be possible that Kitsiyuna didn’t have complete control of her abilities.

“She did definitely kind of overdo it when she was ‘restraining’ me in that supply closet… She might not know her own strength… Now the question is… If I became her Spiriter, would I be willing to put up with that…? Because that kinda sounds like it could be a major pain in my ass…” Alex would’ve continued on with this train of thought were it not for the reminder he received as to just why he was in this situation currently. He heard footsteps rushing up the stairwell right next to him as the door to the roof swung open. Alex cautiously peered around the corner of the stairwell to see that the gunman from earlier had finally caught up to them.

“All right. Let’s see how well you can defend yourself with a gun trailing your back, you bitch…” the gunman murmured to himself as he took aim at Kitsiyuna, who seemed unaware of his presence.

Another hit of anxiety hung over Alex as he stood motionless a mere few feet behind the bounty hunter, who also seemed unaware of him. He was torn between running back to his hiding spot, or doing something to distract the bounty hunter, silently taking a few steps back as he deliberated. After taking about four steps, the crunching of a discarded water bottle underneath his feet ended up making the choice for him, as the gunman turned around to see the source of the noise.

“So I see she’s not the only one up here!” the gunman replied with a hint of glee as he begun aiming the gun at Alex.

“What the hell are you doing aiming that gun at me!? …I’m… just an innocent bystander in all of this!” Alex stammered out, continuing to slowly walk back. Every step he took backwards, the gunman matched with a step forward.

“Bullshit. You were just about to interfere in our little hunt! We can’t have that now can we!?”

“W-what if you’re wrong!? You’d be completely fine with killing a potentially innocent person!?”

“If that ends up being the case, as far as I’m concerned, that’s just a bonus!” the gunman shouted in excitement. His finger began to wrap around the trigger of his revolver as he clicked down the gun’s hammer, preparing to shoot Alex pointblank. Before he could pull the trigger however, Alex’s survival instincts kicked in once again.

Within a course of about half a second, Alex telepathically commanded his tome to once again fly out of his backpack and slam into the gunman’s face with enough impact to send him reeling back. It had hit him hard enough to get him to drop the gun without it firing. The gunman was left temporarily stunned by Alex’s counterattack, too stunned to even do something about the tome that was currently being telepathically jammed into his face. Without a hint of hesitation, Alex pulled out a small dagger made from an eerie white looking metal with a skull motif etched around its hilt, and an interlocking cross bone design going down the length of the small blade.

“All right Alex! It’s him or you!” Alex echoed out in his head as he ran forward with the dagger at the ready. Having had his life so callously disregarded by the bounty hunter, Alex wasted no time in mercilessly jamming the dagger in and out of his stomach. With each thrust of the dagger, Alex let out multiple grunts of anger as he was riding high on adrenaline, basking in the small splashes of blood that spurted out with each hit.

“Don’t let up Alex, even for a second…! Once you head out there, it’s kill or BE killed…! There’s no telling how many asshole Spirits like this one are going to be there…! You need to be willing to fight all of them…!”  Alex continued to think to himself as his relentless stabbing continued, his fight or flight instincts easily allowing him to justify potentially killing his attacker. He was so absorbed with trying to incapacitate the gunner, he didn’t even realize the gunner had recovered from his daze. After receiving close to 40 stab wounds in his stomach, the gunman merely responded with severe annoyance. He tossed Alex’s tome aside before quickly kicking him straight into the brick wall of the stairwell, pressing his boot directly into Alex’s stomach to keep him pinned against the wall.

“YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT!” the bounty hunter shouted at Alex as he began crushing his ribs under his boots. Alex could tell by the ease he was still moving that the amount of stabs he had received were ultimately only a mild inconvenience to him. It seemed Spirits were definitely made of stronger stuff than humans. The gunman gestured his hand to his discarded revolver, levitating it back into the palm of his hand. With the gun returned, he wasted no time jamming the gun’s barrel directly against Alex’s temple. Though the stabbing only seemed to mildly injure him, Alex could tell from the rage in the bounty hunter’s eyes that it really pissed him off.

“Damn it! That didn’t do anything to him! I really need magic to get out of this!” Alex thought to himself. Though he was definitely panicking, he still had a clear head to him despite literally staring down the barrel of a gun. Alex was not yet resigned to his fate, as he readied one last ditch attempt to get out of his predicament. Thankfully for him, Kitsiyuna quickly intervened before that was necessary.

“HEADS UP JACKASS!” she shouted. Before the gunman could even look over, his body was sent flying backwards across the roof as he was pelted by his fellow bounty hunter. Alex, now free, looked over to Kitsiyuna, wondering what had just happened before he quickly realized she had managed to grab onto the Cornossa and threw him as a projectile. Wasting no time at all, Alex picked his tome off of the ground before quickly stuffing it back into his backpack and running over to Kitsiyuna.

“I told you to find a hiding spot! Why didn’t you listen to me and stay hidden!?” she chastised Alex.

“I’ve never gotten to see two Spirits fight before. I just wanted to get a closer look! Is that sooooo wrong!?” Alex responded childishly, disregarding Kitsiyuna’s concern.

“It is when you staying out in the open almost gets you killed! And what the hell are you doing with a knife like that!?”

“Like you said, I’m small kid. It’s the only way I can protect myself from assholes like that…”

“That was with you the entire time, and you were just willing to use it on that guy just like that…?”

“I always have this dagger with me… And as far as I’m concerned, if you mess me, I respond in kind! That guy was an asshole, so he deserved it! …I mean… why the hell are you trying to make me feel guilty for defending myself in the first place!? You’re not my freaking mom…!” Alex replied to Kitsiyuna in anger. The concerned look on Kitsiyuna’s face quickly shifted to a different kind of concerned look. Rather than being concerned for his wellbeing, Kitsiyuna quickly grew concerned about the idea that Alex was completely okay with the fact that he could’ve just stabbed someone to death.

“What is up with this kid…?” Kitsiyuna thought to herself. She decided not to focus too much on that for the time being as her and Alex shifted their attention back to the two bounty hunters. While being thrown across the roof definitely messed them up, they were apparently still determined to keep going. The gunman got to his feet first while his Cornossa companion slowly scrambled to get up behind him. Being used as a skeleton cannonball seemed to have messed with him more than his partner getting hit by him did.

“YOU DAMN BITCH! BOTH OF YOU!” the gunman shouted across the rooftop, aiming his gun at the two of them. Alex wasted no time taking cover back behind Kitsiyuna again. As the bounty hunter aimed his gun, a small sphere of black energy began to form from the front of the revolver’s barrel, growing ever larger in size as bolts of black lightning emanated from it. Alex’s body instinctively tensed in anticipation of the new spell that was being aimed at them. He felt his body getting ready to move on its own to dodge out of the way, but he held his position when Kitsiyuna raised her hand up behind her to signal him to stay there. She clearly felt he was going to be safer remaining behind her as she braced for the attack.

“What the hell are you doing!? We’re supposed to be taking her back alive! That right there is a damn kill shot!” the Cornossa shouted to his companion as the sphere grew to a size larger than either of the two of them.

“I DON’T GIVE A DAMN! AT THIS POINT, I JUST WANT IT TO HURT!” the gunman replied, shouting over the loud pulsating sound his magic was giving off. “NOW, CHOKE ON THIS! OBLIVION CANNON!” he yelled, pressing the gun’s trigger, sending the sphere flying at Alex and Kitsiyuna with alarming speed for a projectile of that size.

As the sphere flew across the roof, it ate away at large chunks of the floor as its bottom scrapped by, absorbing the broken off bits of matter like it was a black hole. Without an ounce of fear, Kitsiyuna angled her arm behind her again, orange flames once again forming in her open palm. She kept her arm behind her, timing it for the exact moment of impact. Time slowed down again for Alex, as he observed ever single motion Kitsiyuna went through as she prepared to intercept the sphere of destruction hurling towards them.

Just as they were about to be engulfed, Kitsiyuna swung her arm forward, her palm striking the front of the sphere with great force. Rather than getting her hand consumed, the sphere began to warp around the point of impact as it quickly grew more and more distorted. The blackened mass began to radiate out shafts of light caused by the fires Kitsiyuna had just stuffed into it. It seemed like Kitsiyuna’s magic was too powerful for it, as it continued to expand and distort around Alex and Kitsiyuna before it eventually burst, releasing a visible pressure wave through the air in the complete opposite direction.

The sudden snap in pressure, though heading in the other direction, was intense enough to whip up a moderate updraft of wind around the two, as Alex had to brace himself to keep from getting knocked over, holding onto his stomach as a faint hint of nausea rolled over him from the force of everything. Kitsiyuna, on the other hand, held her stance, unaffected by the shockwave. The two bounty hunters found themselves once again being knocked to the ground as the shockwave finally reached them, easily knocking them off of their already unsteady feet.

“Impossible! How the hell did you stop that!?” the gunman yelled out in frustration and desperation, the realization setting in that he and his partner were woefully outmatched.

“I’m just that strong.” Kitsiyuna replied in a confident voice.

“We need to get out of here! There’s no way we can take her without the boss’s help!” the Cornossa yelled out in a panic, attempting to get to his bony feet again.

“No way in hell I’m just going to let you two creeps just walk away from this! FLARE PILLAR!” Kitsiyuna shouted, raising her elbow up above her head as she pointed her fist to the ground. With one fell swing, she plunged her entire fist directly into the floor as burning embers emitted from the point of impact. A series of glowing orange cracks emerged from the ground in a line, stopping just underneath the two downed bounty hunters. Even from his distance, Alex could see an intense column of hot air arise from underneath the two, with burning hot embers slowly rising up around them. Before Alex could see what was about to happen next, Kitsiyuna quickly turned around and wrapped herself around Alex.

“GET DOWN!” she shouts, as she lowered the two of them closer to the ground. Just as she did so, Alex could hear the sound of a colossal fire erupting behind him. The air in front of him darkened, while the air behind him began to glow white hot, Alex figuring the only reason he wasn’t burning up from the temperature was because Kitsiyuna was shielding him from her own magic. As she was keeping a tight grip on him, he couldn’t freely look at the effects of the spell she had just cast, but could still maneuver himself just well enough to get a peak.

A white hot inferno of fire towered from the ground where the bounty hunters were, sparks being whipped up in all directions, many flying right past Alex’s face, as the burning pillar incinerated the two Spirits. Alex could just barely make out the sound of them screaming in pain over the roaring fire, but those screams were swiftly muffled as their bodies were cremated by the flames, with them most likely burning up so quickly, the pain barely had time to set in. After huddling for about half a minute, the flames eventually receded back into the ground before they completely disappeared, the only real sign that they had been there was a faint ring scorched into the ground.

“Woah…” was the only word Alex could form out of his mouth as Kitsiyuna released him from her grip. He slowly approached the ring Kitsiyuna had burned onto the ground. While it was an impressive display, he found no signs that the fire had caused any kind of lasting structural damage to the building, chalking it up to being a side effect of how her magic behaves. He crouched down as he felt the ground around the scorch marks. Not even ashes of the two bounty hunters remained.

“Did you actually… watch that…?” Kitsiyuna asked him, glancing to the side as she did so, seemingly afraid of him making eye contact with her in that moment. The tone of her voice indicated she was a little upset with the idea Alex may have just watched her burn two people alive.

“Why wouldn’t I watch that? That was freaking awesome! You said you had the potential to level this building, and after watching that huge ass tower of fire, I gotta believe you…!” Alex replied in overeager excitement.

“But I just incinerated two people right in front of you… That doesn’t bother you at all…?”

“…Well, technically it was right behind me, but semantics… Anyways, why should it bother me…? From a moral standpoint, they were murderous assholes, so I shouldn’t feel bad about them dying… Plus, as Spirits, they’ve already died once, why should them dying a second time be any more tragic…?”

“…That… could’ve been the case for them… But, you do know that once you’re slain as a Spirit, you don’t get another chance, you just stay dead…” Kitsiyuna replied, with a noticeable tinge of guilt building in her voice.

“Well, the way I see it, becoming a Spirit is the second chance you get to potentially avoid any mistakes you made during your first ‘life’. Those two were definitely assholes when they were human, and continued to be assholes when they died and became Spirits. They clearly refused to learn anything from their first deaths, so I’m not going to feel bad that you killed them off permanently in self-defense…  And quite frankly, neither should you…!” Alex replied with a bit of a standoffish tone. “…Especially because… ya know… you were also trying to protect me too…” he hesitantly continued, almost whispering under his breath.

“…Is this his way of thanking me…?” Kitsiyuna thought to herself. She had been so wrapped up in her own actions, it had completely slipped her mind that Alex was more or less an unwilling bystander in all of that. “…Telling me that I shouldn’t feel bad because I wasn’t just protecting myself, but him too…?”

“…Burning people to death still isn’t something you should be doing right in front of a kid though…” she replied, still refusing to allow herself to be absolved of her actions.

“…Oh please…” Alex responded back dismissively. “Them burning to death was pretty damn tame in comparison to some of the gruesome death I’ve been privileged enough to witness first hand…” That last bit took Kitsiyuna by surprise.

“This isn’t your first time seeing someone die…?” she asked.

“Nope, though, by the way you’re acting, you could definitely fool me into thinking this was YOUR first time…” Alex replied with a joking tone.

“Just… How old are you anyways…?” she asked, that being the only thing that could pop into her head at that moment.

“15.” he replied bluntly.

“He’s only 15…!? And he’s completely un-phased by all of this…!? Seriously… what the hell is up with this kid…!?” Kitsiyuna thought to herself as she pressed her hand against her forehead. The concerned expression she had on her face made it extremely easy for Alex to figure out what she was thinking.

“…So are we done here…? Or are we waiting for more goons to show up that you can have another conniption fit about killing, even if it’s ultimately the right thing to do…?” Alex asked as Kitsiyuna was lost in her thoughts.

“Wha…?” Kitsiyuna replied in confusion.

“…You know, the whole reason we went up here to the roof…?” Alex clarified as he tried to get Kitsiyuna to focus.

“…Oh right!” she replied, snapping back to her senses. “You said you sensed those guys when you were outside of the apartment… How many of them were there…?”

“I think it was four total. Those two were definitely among them…”

“Well… Considering I was able to handle those first two pretty easily, I think we can safely move on to the hideout without those other two being too much of an issue… That friend of mine I contacted earlier is supposed to be meeting up with us there to help sort out this situation if it turns out there’s more than just those four bounty hunters, and I don’t want to keep her waiting…”

“I did hear that bastard gunman give orders to the other two to watch the exits of the building. They might try to follow us if you plan on just heading straight there…”

“Oh, don’t worry, I think we should be able to get a good enough head start that it shouldn’t be an issue…” Kitsiyuna replied with a mischievous hint to her voice. She then once again wrapped her arms around Alex’s body, who began to tense up as he anticipated just what Kitsiyuna was planning on doing next.

“OH HELL NO! YOU ARE NOT CARRYING ME AGAIN WOMAN!” Alex shouted as he tried to squirm out of Kitsiyuna’s hold.

“You’re not going to be able to follow me without me carrying you!” she replied as she tightened her hold on him.

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo…!” he replied, his no almost sounding like a cow mooing, with his overreaction causing Kitsiyuna to giggle.

“Here, why don’t I hold you like this this time…?” she said as she chuckled. She scooped her left arm underneath Alex’s shoulders as she lifted him up into the air, supporting his legs with her other arm. She ending up getting Alex into a position where she was carrying him in such a way one would carry another ‘over the threshold’, with Alex’s impotent flailing putting up no resistance during the entire process.

“ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME!? DO I LOOK LIKE A PRINCESS TO YOU!?” Alex shouted almost in disbelief, extremely annoyed with the way Kitsiyuna had decided to carry him.

“ Hey… It’s at least gotta be comfier than the way I carried you through the hallway. Besides, you’re going to be much safer through what I’m about to do…” Kitsiyuna replied in a tone indicating she was enjoying herself.

“What you’re about to do…?” Alex asked in a mix of confusion and irritation. Rather than give Alex a verbal response, Kitsiyuna began running full sprint to the edge of the rooftop. Alex in turn, responding by screaming his head off in fear as Kitsiyuna proceeded to barrel her way off of the roof. Upon reaching the edge of the building, Kitsiyuna leaned forward with one foot firmly planted in the ground as the other was stepping off of the side. For a brief moment, Alex could feel time once again slow down as Kitsiyuna slowly leaned the two of them off of the building into freefall. Alex fell silent for a moment as the two of them continued to lean forward until eventually they were falling straight toward the concrete below.

“GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH ARE YOU INSANE!?!?” Alex screamed as he held onto her for dear life. Kitsiyuna merely responded by muffling him as she shoved his head into her cleavage mid-fall while she braced him for her next move.

Once she began freefall, Kitsiyuna guided her feet to the side of the building that was rushing past, and with one swift motion, dug the heels of her boots into the wall, changing their freefall to a 90 degree slide straight down. Despite the verticality of it all, Kitsiyuna was able to keep her feet firmly planted as the two continued to skid down, her heels noticeably cutting into the brick as they went by. After quickly descending down to around the third floor, Kitsiyuna suddenly stopped all of their momentum by digging her heels deeper into the brick.

“Did… did we reach the ground yet…?” Alex hesitantly asked as he noticed they had stopped moving, too cautious to remove his face from Kitsiyuna’s chest to verify for himself.

“Not quite…” she replied as she looked over the wide stretch of neighboring buildings before her.

The drop to the third floor had put her more in line with the tops of most of the other nearby buildings, allowing her to more easily look over the interconnected alleyways and isolated courtyards before her. After a quick scan, she saw an empty enclosure sandwiched in between four buildings a straight shot from where they were ‘rooted’. A quick trace of the surrounding rooftops revealed an alley connected to the enclosure that fed back to the main street. Upon noticing this, she quickly set the enclosure as their next destination.

“Hey, do you think I could make it to that big abandoned gap between those buildings over there in one jump?” Kitsiyuna asked playfully.

“What…? One jump!?” Alex responded, his curiosity piqued enough to finally look for himself. He felt himself beginning to sweat once again as he quickly realized just what she was going to do. Before he could interject, he could feel Kitsiyuna beginning to crouch down on the wall, ready to do one hell of a leap.

Within seconds, Kitsiyuna launched the two of them off of the wall using her powerful legs, denting in the brick wall with an impact crater from the sheer force of the jump. Immediately after jumping, Alex could hear roaring flames trailing behind them as they were being rapidly propelled forward at a downward angle. A quick glance to Kitsiyuna’s boots revealed she was creating a concentrated stream of fire from both feet to literally rocket the two forward through the air. It took the two of them all of about six seconds to reach one of the walls right above the enclosure.

A split second before hitting the wall, Kitsiyuna cut off the flames coming from her feet and flipped forward, landing against the wall with her boots while still keeping Alex in his secured position buried in her bosom. She then proceeded to bounce back off of the wall while flipping backwards this time, landing in the middle of the grass covered enclosure. Once she had landed safely, she gently let Alex go back onto the ground. Alex, having been shaken from the whole ‘jump’, landed on his feet for all of one second before he promptly lost his balance and landed square on his ass.

“Well, aside from coming in just a little on the hot side, I thought that was pretty good! We cleared like, what…  200 feet in one jump!” Kitsiyuna said in an optimistic tone as she patted Alex on the shoulder. Alex replied by slowly turning his head to face her. His eye was twitching, his hairs were standing up on end, and he had a shudder going down his arms and back.

“If you… can move like that… why the hell… do you take… the damn bus…!?” Alex asked hyperventilating.

“Well… I might be pretty mobile by people standards… But the bus is way less conspicuous and is usually still going to be faster than that…” she replied, reaching her arm down to help pull Alex back to his feet. Though he was able to remain standing, he was still frazzled enough to have to lean his torso forward as he tried to calm down, clutching his stomach as he breathed in an out.

“Can all Spirits… do crap like that…?” he asked, still regaining his composure.

“Well, I can only really speak for myself, but from what I’ve been told, I’m considered above average in that regard…” Kitsiyuna answered, lightly chuckling as she did so. “…But anyways, if we follow that alleyway over there, we should be able to follow it to another bus stop. From there, we ride the bus until we get to the hideout. We should probably try to keep moving so that we don’t give those guys a chance to catch up…”

“Just give me like… 10 seconds alright…” Alex said in exacerbation as he meekly held his hand up.

“Am I going to have to carry you to the bus stop too…?” Kitsiyuna asked, placing her hands on her hips as she leaned in closer to Alex with a smirk on her face.

“NO. YOU ARE NOT CARRYING ME ANY FURTHER!” Alex replied bluntly.

“Well then come on! I might be pretty fast, but it’s still possible those guys are fast enough to catch up…!” Kitsiyuna said as she grabbed onto Alex’s hand, lightly pulling on it to get him to start moving.

“All right! All right! You don’t have to drag me there either!” he said in protest, following behind Kitsiyuna as she led the way forward.

The two made their way out of the grassy enclosure on foot, heading into a narrow alleyway. Though there was enough room for the two of them to walk together side by side, Alex decided to linger behind her as they made their way to the bus stop. As they continued on down the alleyway through its twists and turns, the angle of the surrounding buildings slowly blocked more and more sunlight from coming in. It wasn’t before too long that they reached a section of alleyway where the sky was covered by some overhanging structures that turned it almost completely pitch black. Alex had no trouble following behind Kitsiyuna however, as the orb on her necklace was once again letting out a faint light blue glow bright enough to illuminate the surrounding walls. The glow of the orb once again sparked curiosity in Alex.

“So what’s up with that necklace?” Alex asked inquisitively.

“My necklace…?” Kitsiyuna replied, looking down at the orb around her neck as she fiddled with it in her hand. “What about it…?”

“It is magic right…? That’s why it’s glowing right now…?”

“Oh… Yeah, I suppose it is a little magic. I’ve never really stopped to think about it…”

“You just wear that necklace without really thinking about it…?”

“Well yeah… I’ve had it longer than I can remember. I always liked how it looks on me, so I’ve never felt the need to take it off… It’s become like a part of me that I don’t really think about, and yet I’d feel completely naked if I wasn’t wearing it at all times…”

“Does it actually do anything aside from ‘looking pretty’?”

“Well, I have seen it change colors a couple of times… But other than that, I don’t think it’s actually supposed to do anything…”

“So you’re just wearing a glowing necklace because you’ve always thought it looked nice…? Even though it could EASILY out you as a Spirit if somebody saw you in the dark with it…?”’

“And what’s wrong with wanting to look nice, huh…?” Kitsiyuna replied in a semi defensive tone.

“Well the way you were parkouring up that building, hurling fireballs, and fighting that guy with your bare hands, it made you seem like one of those girls who would hate girly stuff like that… You know, like a tomboy or something…”

“Well I ain’t no tomboy, that’s for sure. I love to wear dresses, going shopping, doing my hair, and walking around in high heels among other things. It just doesn’t feel right to me trying to fake being a guy like tomboys do…”

“Really…? Your giantess Amazonian build had me thinking otherwise…” Alex replied with a joking tone to his voice.

“…Well okay. I do get a little bit of a kick out of being really tall and really strong, which I guess is more of a guy thing… But I still like to be seen as a proper lady.”

“…A proper lady who can pack away something like eight cheeseburgers in one sitting…?”

“That’s just because I’m a Spirit! When we get hungry, we tend to eat a lot is all…!” Kitsiyuna replied in a flustered tone with the light from her necklace revealing her reddening cheeks.

“I could’ve sworn I read somewhere that Spirits don’t actually get hungry…” Alex thought to himself. “She is a Spirit right…? I mean, sure… she looks like a normal, albeit slightly taller than average human, but she’s probably just using magic to disguise herself… But only a Spirit could do all of that stuff she did earlier…”

“…Just what kind of Spirit are you supposed to be Kitsiyuna…?” Alex asked out loud.

“What kind of Spirit…?” Kitsiyuna replied quizzically.

“I mean what kind of race of Spirit are you. You know, like how that guy with the sword hand was a Cornossa, and I think that guy with the gun was a Wightling… I mean it wouldn’t surprise me at all if you were some kind of fire Spirit with all of that fire magic you’ve been using…”

“Oh… I’d… rather not say…” she replied very meekly. With how open she had just been with him, Alex found himself a little blindsided by her hard walling his question.

“You’d rather not say…? Why the hell not…?”

“I just… Don’t think it’s that great of an idea… given my current circumstances…” Kitsiyuna trailed off. The tone of her voice indicated she was a little upset she had to blow off Alex’s question, but it was clear to him he wasn’t going to get anything more than that. He merely figured keeping what kind of Spirit she was secret was in some way tied to why she was hiding in Lunaridge. Alex decided to walk a little faster, matching Kitsiyuna’s pace so that they were side by side. As he walked, he kept his eyes on her face, noting again how different she seemed when she was in the dark.

“Yeah… Her true from definitely shows through more in the dark…” he thought to himself, continuing the observations he had made about her on the bus. He noticed how much more serious and dour the look on her face felt when in the darkness. Looking at her under illuminated face still put him on edge, but he felt a little less uneasy than last time now that he knew a little bit about what kind of person Kitsiyuna actually was.

“What’s putting me off about her right now…? It’s not like her face is any scarier or anything… Maybe it’s just the potential power of her true form that’s freaking me out…?” Alex didn’t linger on that thought for too long, as the two of them finally made their way out of the darkened part of the alleyway into more direct sunlight. It didn’t take long after that before they found their way barred by a chain link fence, the door to which was held tight by a small metal padlock on the other side.

“Stand back a bit… I’m going to try to melt this lock off…” Kitsiyuna said, putting her hand up to signal Alex to stop.

She reached her hand through the fence and placed her thumb, middle, and pointer finger around the loop of the lock. After a few seconds, Alex could making out a faint amount of steam coming from the lock as Kitsiyuna was attempting to heat it up. The steam quickly turned to smoke as Alex could see the metal of the lock turn a brighter and brighter orange. Even the safe distance he was standing back, he could still feel the air around him slowly increase a good 30 degrees into an uncomfortable swelter. Thankfully for Alex, the air quickly returned back to normal as Kitsiyuna successfully broke off the lock after a couple of seconds, with it bouncing to the floor with a metallic thunk. She then turned her attention back in Alex’s direction, forming another fireball in her hand as she did so.

“Uh… What’s with the fireball…?” Alex asked with a concerned look on his face.

“I knew us slowing down to talk was going to be a bad idea!” Kitsiyuna replied, running forward towards Alex ready to throw the fireball in his general direction. Alex panicked and dropped to the ground as Kitsiyuna hurled the fireball before he quickly realized she was aiming at something directly behind him.

As the fireball flew across its trajectory towards the wall behind the duo, it suddenly popped midair just shy of Alex. Just a second after the fireball exploded, Alex could hear something impacting the wall before the sound was then followed up by a goblin-like grunt. Kitsiyuna then rushed forward towards the sounds, as she seemed to just grab at the air, before slamming whatever she was apparently grabbing at against the wall. A crater formed on the wall as another Spirit began to magically materialize into Kitsiyuna’s hand.

“Sorry I didn’t tell you to duck first…” Kitsiyuna replied to Alex sheepishly, her attention focused on him as she began strangling the small Spirit she just grabbed by the neck. Alex felt a slight singe to his hair as he had realized just how close Kitsiyuna had been to hitting him.

“Thought you could sneak up on us, huh you little Gremlin!?” she said to the diminutive Spirit as she held him against the wall. At first, Alex thought Kitsiyuna was just trying to insult the Spirit before he realized that is actually was a Gremlin.

The Gremlin was obviously small in stature, probably a few inches shorter than Alex with a reddish tint to his skin and curly tufts of faintly purple hair coming from his head. He had large yellow, almost cat-like eyes with an even larger nose, taking up a good third of his face. His ears were similarly large, pointed, and drooping and were so disproportionately sized to his already tiny head, that they made his head look even smaller. He was wearing similar black clothing to the bounty hunters from earlier, though smaller and a little grimier, indicating he was probably with them.

“How the heck did you even notice me there!? I freaking made myself invisible!” the Gremlin yelled out in a raspy, almost oxymoronic high-pitched bass.

“What can I say, I have some REALLY fine-tuned senses, especially for a Spirit…” Kitsiyuna replied smugly. “What the hell were you even doing following us…? Did you think you were going to sneak up on me and take me out all by yourself…?”

“I uh… I have no idea what you’re talking about…! I was just… passing through!” the Gremlin said, in tone that made it painfully obvious he was lying. Kitsiyuna responded by flicking his large nose with enough force that it started to bleed a little, causing him to reel back in pain.

“Don’t try to play dumb with me you little idiot! I know you’re with those other bounty hunters who were chasing us! Now what the hell was your plan here, because there was no way a little Gremlin like you was going to take me on alone!” Kitsiyuna continued to grill him.

“You… you think I’m just going to tell you that…?” he stammered out.

“When push comes to shove… YES I DO.” Kitsiyuna said sternly, setting one of her fingers on fire before quickly jabbing it into the Gremlin’s eye. He quickly closed his eye shut as he let off a series of high-pitched winces.

“Now tell me what you were doing trying to sneak up on us! From the looks of it, it looked like you were trying to sneak up and grab that kid over there and take him as a hostage!” she said, pointing to Alex, who suddenly realized the Gremlin must have been right up behind him, potentially close enough to grab him, and he didn’t even notice.

“Is that the case!? Because trying to take a kid hostage like that is pretty damn low, even by your rotten bounty hunter standards!” she continued in anger, raising a burning fist to the Gremlin’s face, ready to punch it in.

“NO NO NO NO NO NO NO! I wasn’t trying to grab the kid, honest! I was just trying to follow you to your hideout in secret!” the Gremlin replied in a panic.

“You were trying to follow me to my hideout? Did you honestly think I wasn’t going to sense you at any point the entire way there!? Seriously, just how bad are you assholes at your job that you don’t even know what your target is capable of!? All you guys just seem to get constantly surprised by my abilities!” Kitsiyuna said to the Gremlin with a hint of disbelief.

“I don’t know what to tell ya! Our boss is the only one who bothers to learn that crap. It’s never been an issue for the rest of us!” the Gremlin replied.

“All right then. Who is this boss of yours?” Kitsiyuna asked.

“You think I’m going to tell you that!? You probably wouldn’t even have any idea who he is the first place!” the Gremlin said in defiance.

“Tell me who your damn boss is!” Kitsiyuna shouted, slamming the Gremlin into the wall again with both hands as she began to engulf them in flame.

“GAHH! COOL IT WITH THE DAMN FIRE! His name is Ombrix Masserk! He’s a Somnight who has been bounty hunting as a Spirit for years…!” the Gremlin yelled in mild agony. Alex’s mind once again flashed back to that book of Spirits he had read some time ago, trying to recall just what a Somnight was. He remembered they were among the more humanoid race of Spirits, possessing skin with a violet hue, pale hair, and soulless black eyes, but couldn’t remember much else about what kind of powers they tended to have.

“Who the hell is Ombrix Masserk…?” Alex asked.

“No clue.” Kitsiyuna replied back bluntly.

“I told you you wouldn’t have any idea who he was!” the Gremlin said.

“All right, fine, next question… WHO THE HELL DID YOU ACCEPT MY BOUNTY FROM!?” Kitsiyuna continued to interrogate the Gremlin, showing no signs of easing up with her fire.

“I don’t know! The boss is the one who accepted the bounty! We just went along with it!” he blurted out.

“You don’t know anything about them!?” Kitsiyuna continued to bash the back of his head into the wall.

“They… they did give the boss something in advance for accepting the job…! They gave it to him because they wanted him to test it out! Said it would help us capture you!” the Gremlin said in an increasing panic.

“What was it!?” Kitsiyuna asked in a very intimidating voice.

“I don’t know! Only the boss has gotten to see it in action himself! He just told us that the thing they gave him was super-efficient at hunting other Spirits and it would make all of our jobs in the future trivial because of it!” the Gremlin continued to confess. Kitsiyuna paused for a bit as the expression on her face grew more concerned.

“Why do I have a bad feeling about this…?” she said out loud to herself.

“Why? What’s the problem…? Do you have an idea of who might be after you…?” Alex asked.

“…I’d rather not say right now…” Kitsiyuna said. “After all… I could be wrong… Anyways, I doubt this idiot actually knows anything helpful, so we should just get moving to the hideout…” she continued, slamming the Gremlin one last time into the wall with enough force that it caused it to crack. She then let the Gremlin go, as he fell limp to the ground, out cold.

“That’s all you’re going to do to him?” Alex asked as he pointed to the beaten down Spirit.

“Trust me, if he somehow pops up again, he’s not going to be a problem… All of these guys are turning out to be more of a nuisance than an actual threat…” she replied dismissively.

“…Grghhh… You so sure about that…!?” the Gremlin said in pain as he lifted his bruised head from the ground. Apparently he wasn’t actually unconscious.

“Are you kidding me? That last slam was supposed to knock you out.” Kitsiyuna said in a tone half way in between disbelief and mild annoyance. “Hold still while I fix that…” she continued, raising up her boot in preparation to stomp his face in.

“…You’re going to regret screwing with us…!” he replied with a smug voice and a bleeding smile on his face.

“What the hell are you even on about…? You guys started all of this!” she said, her boot still ready to smash his face in further.

“…That kid… he’s your ‘partner’ isn’t he…?” the Gremlin said, pointing at Alex. “Well my boss already knows you killed two of our own. Once he captures you, which he WILL by the way… He’s gonna literally skin that kid alive, and force you to watch as punishment…!” he added, laughing with a sadistic grin to his face.

Kitsiyuna at that point wasted no time repeatedly kicking the Gremlin’s face in until it became an almost unrecognizable bloody pulp. Alex could visibly see the anger growing on her face despite standing directly behind her the entire time. Once she was done stomping his skull in, she readied another fireball in her hand and aimed it at his face.

Instead of shooting out a fireball however, she instead launched an incredibly concentrated stream of roaring fire, like a flamethrower. The flames spewed out so fiercely that the streams of fire began to shoot off the wall, rocketing past Kitsiyuna and causing Alex to have to take cover to avoid getting burned. Kitsiyuna eventually stopped, having essentially vaporized the entirety of the Gremlin’s body, with once again nothing being left behind except very faint scorch marks in spite of the power of the flames. She then turned around to face Alex, with look of extreme anger mixed with sadness on her face.

“Don’t… say anything okay…?” she said to him with a sorrowful tone, clearly guilty about what she had just done. “Let’s just get to bus stop before any more can catch up to us…”

Alex wanted to interject, but decided it was probably for the best that he at least waited until they were back on another bus. The two then preceded in silence the rest of the way to the bus stop, arriving just in time as the bus pulled up. They boarded the bus, with Kitsiyuna dropping in enough quarters to cover both her and Alex’s fare, and proceeded to sit down in an isolated seat in the back. Despite his discomfort from last time, Alex once again decided to take the inside seat, this time feeling more inclined to take up his share of the seat.

“So uh… why didn’t you lead off with straight up incinerating those guys on the roof…? Because it certainly felt like you were taking your time with them…” Alex asked Kitsiyuna after they had been on the bus for a couple of minutes.

“…Because… it’s kind of risky just going all out right at the start you know…” Kitsiyuna replied, unsure of her answer.

“Couldn’t you just control your magic to make it… not… risky…?” Alex asked. Kitsiyuna let out a long sigh before she answered again.

“…You would think… Let’s just say I’m not in my top form right now, and it kind of affects my abilities to do magic…”

“How so?”

“Well… How much do you know about magic? I can tell based off of that book of yours and the fact that you can channel Spirit Energy you must know a little bit…”

“…I know just enough to deal with other humans, but that’s about it…” Alex candidly replied.

“Well, the long and short of it is magic, whether from a human or a Spirit, requires Spirit Energy. How much you put into a spell determines how strong the magic comes out. I’ve just been having trouble lately with that finer control of my Spirit Energy, making my spells not as stable as I would like them to be…”

“I don’t know… It seems like you’ve had okay control so far, especially with those fireballs…”

“…Those fireballs you’ve been seeing from me were all supposed to be about half as big as I was making them. It was incredibly lucky I didn’t hit you with that last one. And that’s not even getting into the problems I’ve been having with my stronger spells…”

“You mean like that fire tower you made…?”

“Yeah. Stronger spells like that Flare Pillar require you to do any incantation in your head in order for them to cast properly. Incanting in your head is supposed to be a relatively simple skill to pick up, but I’ve been having issues with that too. I’ve been having to devote more of my focus to incanting for much longer than I used to for spells like that to come out… That’s why I didn’t lead off with that… Because I kind of can’t at this point…”

“Well you still did a lot better than I would have…” Alex replied with a tone indicating he was disappointed in his own abilities.

“Well, that’s just because the Spirits we’ve encounter so far have been complete and total jokes…” Kitsiyuna humbly shot back, continuing to downplay her abilities.

“…If that’s the case, why are you having to rush me out to this hideout of yours…?”

“At this point, it’s mostly just a precaution. I need to meet up with my friend so that we can figure out exactly how many of these bounty hunters are currently after me and what we can do to prevent them from calling in backup in the future… And, well… my friend specializes in doing both of those…” Kitsiyuna paused for a bit as she looked over directly at Alex. “…That and she kind of wants to meet you in person now that you’ve sort of gotten involved with me, among other things…”

“Is that so…?” Alex found himself pausing for a moment as he remembered the call Kitsiyuna made to her friend on the roof. “On the roof, when you were calling her on the phone… er… Utility Crystal… You looked pretty freaked out when you were talking to her… Why was that?”

“Oh that?” Kitsiyuna responded in an extremely nervous tone. “She was just… chewing me out for getting a bystander wrapped up in this whole thing, that’s all…”

She let out a light, insincere chuckle as she finished giving her explanation. Alex could clearly tell she was lying to him, but couldn’t pinpoint just why that was. An unpleasant thought began to well up in the back of his head that this hideout might not be so safe for him. Kitsiyuna, clearly realizing Alex wasn’t buying it, nervously tried to change the subject.

“You know what…? That reminds me! You said the entire reason you were following me was because you wanted to ask me a question. You never told me what that question was!” Kitsiyuna asked, mildly overplaying her eagerness. “Now you’re absolutely positive it’s not the fact that you wanted to ask me out or anything, right?”

“Ew. I already told you that wasn’t it! You already look like you’re at least eight years older than me, which is already a big age difference as is! But, considering you’re a Spirit, you could easily be a thousand years old hag for all I know!” Alex replied, also overplaying his disgust at the idea as he tried to hide the fact that he was blushing.

“…That’s just rude…” Kitsiyuna responded, the joking insincerity of her tone indicated she didn’t actually take it personally. “…Though… I’ll have you know I have heard of humans younger than you in the past hooking up with Spirits hundreds of times older than them and it usually worked out okay for them in the end, you know…  like, twenty percent of the time…” Kitsiyuna ended with a chuckle.

“I… I can’t tell whether or not she’s actually upset I didn’t want to ask her out…” Alex thought to himself in mild confusion. He then quickly snapped his mind back as he realized he was getting thrown off onto a tangent.

“…Do you want to actually hear my question, or are you going to just keep distracting me…?” Alex replied bluntly, his mind refocusing on his primary motivation for stalking Kitsiyuna in the first place.

“All right, all right. Go ahead, shoot.” Kitsiyuna answered back, eager to hear his question.

“I was going to ask you… would be willing to forge a Pact with me…?” Alex said, trailing of at the end of his question. Kitsiyuna looked over to him with wide eyes, almost like she was afraid of that question in particular. She hesitated for a good few seconds before finally figuring how to respond.

“You wanted to form a Pact with me…?” she asked back, with heavy hesitation in her voice.

“I heard you talking about looking for a human to form a Pact with in that restaurant. It’s why I decided to follow you back to your apartment in the first place, because I’ve been looking for a Spirit to form a Pact with myself.”

“Do… do you even know what a Pact is…?” Kitsiyuna stuttered as she asked in disbelief, clearly getting nervous about the subject.

“Of course I do. I wouldn’t be asking if I didn’t! A Pact is special kind of link that only a human and a Spirit can form that binds their two Souls together, creating a flow of Spirit Energy between the two of them, allowing them to share their power with one another. The human in a Pact becomes a Spiriter, exponentially enhancing their power while doing the same for their partner to a lesser extent. That’s why I’ve been desperately looking for any kind of Spirit I could form a Pact with, I feel so weak and powerless… and I just… want to get stronger!” Noticeable desperation began to well up in Alex’s voice as he explained just why he sought after a Pact with a Spirit. A sense of dread was building up within him that Kitsiyuna wasn’t going to give him the answer he wanted.

“…Well it is true I need a Spiriter… for multiple reasons, not just because I’ve been having trouble controlling my power… but…” Kitsiyuna didn’t even have to finish her sentence. That single but instantly drained all of the hope from Alex’s face.

“…I don’t think forming a Pact with you would be a good idea…” And just like that, Alex got the rejection he feared, the entire reason he was hesitant to ask her in the first place.

“Wh-why not…?” Alex stammered out as his voice began to crack. Alex had been apparently banking on this for some time. With Kitsiyuna’s denial, despair began to set in.

“…Now, don’t get me wrong Alex. You definitely have been the most interesting human I’ve ever really hung out with. Granted, with my current situation, I don’t really get to hang out with too many humans in the first place…” Kitsiyuna was trying her best to soften her rejection, but it was seemingly doing nothing to actually calm him down.

“Then why!? I actually thought we were getting along fine all things considered…! Which like, NEVER happens for me…! I mean, for fuck’s sake, I’ve already had my face in both your crotch and your damn boobs after only knowing you for like an hour and you were like completely fine with both of those things happening…! All of that seemed pretty buddy buddy to me…!”

“…It’s not you…! It’s… it’s me alright… I’m not a Spirit you can just form a Pact with…” Kitsiyuna replied with an anguished and exhausted tone.

“What are you talking about…? Any human is supposed to be able to form a Pact with any Spirit! Sure, some are more compatible with others… But at this point, I don’t care…! I’ve been looking for a Spirit for years! At this point… I just want to form a Pact with someone…” Alex’s words started to eat away at Kitsiyuna as she could feel the guilt pilling on, but she was set on trying to turn him down.

“While that is true under most circumstances… I know for a fact I’m an exception… I mean, I’ve been looking for a partner, same as you… There are millions of people in Lunaridge alone… If I really could just form a Pact with any one of them, I obviously still wouldn’t be looking for one right now… I would just pick the first person I saw…! Not just any human can be my Spiriter, Alex…”

“Well then, why…? Why is that the case?” Alex asked in sad desperation.

“I’ve tried to initiate Pacts with humans before, and the same thing would always happen whenever I did: my Soul would always try to rip theirs apart.” Kitsiyuna answered with a grim tone.

“…Are… are you serious…?” Alex replied, half in shock.

“You know how I said I was above average in terms of Spirits? Well it turns out my Soul is incredibly strong. So strong, that it can rip apart the soul of any human I try to form a Pact with the instance I do so. That’s why I don’t want to form a Pact with you, because you’d probably just die on the spot… And it wouldn’t just be a normal death either. If that happened to you, you wouldn’t get to pass on and become a Spirit. You would simply cease to exist, in the same way a Spirit dies…”

“Can you actually tell if that’s the case before hand…?”

“No, I can’t, and I’m not going to take that risk. I know it’s possible to cancel the Pact the second I can feel my Soul trying to rip apart the other one, but even still, that’s incredibly dangerous and isn’t even guaranteed to spare the other human. If I don’t react fast enough, they still get ripped to shreds, and even if I do, cancelling out of a Pact like that can cause irreversible damage to both the human and Spirit… That’s not something I just want to chance with random people…” Kitsiyuna’s voice grew sadder and sadder as she tried to convince Alex to back down, but to no avail.

“If that’s all true… Could anyone actually form a Pact with you at all…?”

“It would have to be a human with an incredibly powerful Soul, one stronger than most Spirit’s.  That way, they could withstand the intense pressure my Soul would exert onto theirs. I’ve heard the odds of a human being born with such a Soul are 1 in 2,000,000. So it would be incredibly rare, but not necessarily impossible… And before you ask, based off of what I can sense from your Soul right now… I sincerely doubt yours would be strong enough…”

“…But, there still could be a chance right….? You never know until you test it…! Like you said, you could always cancel out of it if you can tell it’s not going to work…!” Alex replied, the anxiety and anguish in his voice continuing to compound.

“I already told you I’m not going to try that! It’s for your own safety anyways! I mean, do you like the idea of just straight up ceasing to exist at 15, with absolutely no chance at an afterlife!?” Kitsiyuna replied with a stern voice. “…You just need to learn to hold out, all right…? I’m obviously not the only Spirit out there. I’m sure you’ll eventually find another one who’d be willing to help you with whatever it is you’re trying to do…”

Alex didn’t respond any further, as he just sat in mortification. His biggest fear, being rejected by someone he thought could finally accept him, had been laid right in front of him. He lifted his feet up off of the floor and onto his seat, wrapping his arms and legs tightly around his backpack which had resting in his lap, and began to cradle it in his melancholy. He just wanted to storm off of the bus, causing a big disruption if he had to just so that he could get thrown off then and there, not caring where he ended up. But he decided not to if only because Kitsiyuna was blocking his way off, figuring she would try to stop him he if tried anything.

Well Alex, you got the answer you knew you were going to get…” Alex began to think to himself as he began to uncomfortable hunch up against the window like he did the last time.

“You know she’s right… You could just wait for another Spirit to come along, or hell, maybe you could just convince her to help you without forming a Pact… But if I tried to get her help without forming a Pact, I’ll never be able to get stronger…Why… Why does it feel like a Pact with her is going to be my only chance…!?”  Alex’s fears began to build inside of him. Using all of the willpower he could muster, he tried to turn his anxiety into determination.

“…I… don’t care about the consequences… Even if it means me dying…  I need to convince her to form a Pact with me…! I don’t think I’ll ever find a Spirit better for my mission than her!”

 

 

Night Fox – Novel Post: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Are you fucking kidding me!? Screw all of this damn sunlight. Beautiful day my ass. I don’t get why everybody has to get so excited whenever the freaking sun comes out. I mean, do people not realize that the sun is going to engulf the Earth eventually and kill us all?” were some of the thoughts going through the head of a clearly disturbed individual as the early afternoon sun beamed down on them.

‘It’s going to be another bright, sunny, and absolutely beautiful day today’ were the words echoed by various weatherman in Lunaridge. The relatively remote metropolis, with its skyline dotted with buildings of various sizes, ranging from humble two-stories to moderately tall skyscrapers, was located in the temperate mountains of the eastern seaboard, and as such was no stranger to a typical summer day like this. The bright rays from the sun, unhindered by the absence of any clouds in the sky, warmed up the city to a pleasant temperature of 75 degrees that those dreading the oncoming cold that autumn would inevitably bring, would find solace in this last bastion of summer weather. No doubt most residents of the city would enjoy the weather to be like this pretty much all year round. Though, there is at least one resident, who would’ve preferred some overcast that day.

In the middle of the city’s Felnor Plaza, a scrawny looking teenager sat in the comfort of the shade of a small maple tree that had been growing from one of a few patches of dirt left open amongst the rows of bricks that paved the rest of the plaza. His hair was black and messy, covering most of his forehead and dipping into his eyes, but was not completely unkempt, as there was a rhythm to how his hair stuck up in various places on his head. He wore a faded dark red hoodie whose sleeves were cut just above his elbows, exposing a longer sleeved dark-gray shirt underneath. In addition, he wore faded blue track pants with sneakers tightened with Velcro straps instead of laces. He was clearly emphasizing comfort over style with his clothing choices, though nothing about his attire would make him stand out from anyone else under normal circumstances.

What was striking about him was his face, or more particularly his eyes. He had dark bags underneath them, which sharply contrasted the rest of his relatively pale skin and only sought to highlight his most unique feature: his eyes having an unmistakably crimson hue to them. He definitely looked like someone who preferred to avoid direct sunlight. Various passersby were clearly wary of him, with a few of them making active notes to themselves to not get too close. Their aversion to the boy though, wasn’t without some merit however. He was named Alex Haser, and he was not normal.

Alex had pulled out a small sketchpad from the backpack he had lying next to him and began scribbling out an address with a mechanical pencil in a fairly annoyed manner.

“Damn it. Another waste of my time.” Alex thought to himself as he crossed out the address. “I’m never going to get everything I need if all of these places I keep hearing about turn up as duds…” With pencil still in hand, Alex began cupping his chin with his right hand while his elbow rested on the corresponding knee.

“There’s still that place in the mall I haven’t checked out yet. But even still, with how every other place has been turning out at this point, I doubt they’ll have anything that I need either…” Alex assumed a more contemplative pose, shifting the position of his hand, so that his chin was now resting on his knuckles, freeing up his fingers to freely fidget about with his pencil.

“What should I do if I can’t get everything on my list before my deadline? Should I just go in anyways? Or should I just give myself a few more weeks of prep time? I mean, it’s already been almost two months at this point. Should I really be wasting any more time than that? It is also possible that I might not need as much stuff as I think I do…”

Alex stuffed his notepad into one of his pockets before reaching back into his backpack. He pulled out a thick, hard-covered book that had been bound in leather with small triangular copper plates faceted to each corner of the book’s front and back. Strange, yet ornate symbols and markings had been etched into the leather that almost glowed in the shadow of the tree Alex was sitting under. Perhaps tome would be a better description than book. He opened to the very back of the tome, and pulled out a sheet of loose-leaf paper he had stashed in between the last page and the back cover, and then promptly put the tome back into his bag, barely acknowledging how weird of an object it was to have in his backpack in the first place.

The paper contained a check list of various items, most of which being something completely unrecognizable to the general population at hand. The list had a few of the items checked off sprinkled throughout the list, but for the most part, more than two-thirds of the list was left unchecked.

“There’s gotta be something on this list of crap that I probably don’t actually need…” Alex contemplated to himself as he looked over the list. But before Alex could give any kind of serious evaluation however, he quickly got interrupted by the low moaning of his stomach growling.

“Stomach, are you kidding me? Ugh, what time is it…?” Alex thought in a mildly exacerbated manner. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. While not a flip phone, the phone was still clearly several years old in terms of model, but was still in a fairly pristine condition. No doubt due to the fact that Alex probably wasn’t the kind of person to call others very often.

“Oh, it’s 12 o’clock, which is TECHNICALLY lunch time. I suppose this is the price I gotta pay for choosing to skip breakfast so that I can start heading out sooner…” Alex put his phone back into his pocket and began to pack up the rest of his belongings, mildly irked by his hunger. He slung his backpack over his head before securing its single strap to his left shoulder and wrapping it around to the right side of his body, taking extra care to insure it has no chance of sliding off.

“I guess I can grab something to eat real quick, then head onto that place in the mall. I can give the list another look over while I have lunch so that way I’m not wasting time just eating.” While initially unsure where specifically to go for lunch, Alex quickly made up his mind as he walked towards the edge of Felnor Plaza. He quickly eyed a fast food burger joint among the many shops littering the sides of the plaza, and decides eating lunch there would be the most efficient use of his time.

Upon entering the restaurant, Alex quickly entered the small line of people who had already gathered up to order their food. While there were only five people ahead of him, Alex was still none the less displeased with the idea of having to wait in line.

“Damn it. Figured getting lunch out of the way early would mean I wouldn’t have to deal with any kind of line. Clearly these five other jackasses had the exact same idea as me!” he thought to himself. While very annoyed in his head, Alex kept a very bored and uninterested look on his face. “Bet these fatties couldn’t wait to line up at 12 on the dot so that they can start shoving crap down their damn nob holes as soon as possible” Alex continued to think to himself, purposefully ignoring the fact that everyone in line ahead of him was just as skinny, if not skinnier, than him. He continued to think very angry yet entirely impotent thoughts about everyone ahead of him until the line eventually moved forward.

“Can you give me a minute? I just need a little bit to think about what I want.” the new front of line said to the cashier, who happily obliged their request.

“Oh kill me now. Actually, no wait. Kill them instead. I’ve got shit I need to do today. I mean seriously, why even get in line in the first place if you don’t even know what you’re getting!? You. Fucking. Jackass!” Alex’s ultimately childish tirade continued on in his head as an inner monologue, completely un-phased by the relative speed the line was actually moving at. His thought process got quickly derailed, however, as he felt somebody behind him touch his hand that had been resting on the metal queue that had been dividing up the line.

“Oh, sorry about that!” the woman who accidentally ended up touching Alex’s hand said, sliding her hand back.

“Whatever.” Alex flatly replied to her, closing the gap ahead of him as the line got shorter. While on the surface, Alex seemingly paid no mind to her or the exchange, he quickly internalized her appearance as he felt something a tad… off about the woman who had just touched him.

She was a very tall woman, probably around 6’4” in height, a good head size and a half taller than him. She was wearing a black cabbie hat over her straightened blonde hair, which had been layered and reached all the way down to her waist in the back. Despite the length, she obviously took great care to maintain it, as it had a brilliant luster to it. Her eyes were green, with an inviting and gentle look to them, which complemented her youthful face. Based off of how young her face looked, Alex speculated her age, figuring she was probably 22 at the oldest. After getting a good look at her face, Alex’s eyes were, naturally, drawn downward to her rather ample cleavage. Alex didn’t know much about bra sizes, but figured she could easily be a DD in size. Their size did give him some pause, but not for the usual reasons.

“She could probably kill a man with a rack that big if she put them in a headlock. Probably easily snap their neck, or just smother them to death… Damn it Alex! Stop looking at her dumb boobs. Woman love to slap men for that…” he thought to himself. “Oh don’t stare at my boobs, you pervert! …Even though I’m purposefully wearing an outfit that draws attention to them, you’re still a pervert for looking!” he continued monologuing to himself, this time in an intentionally high-pitched girly voice. Once he finished his internal rant, he quickly turned his eyes away from her chest and got a look at the rest of her.

Her “nice rack” was being accentuated by her tunic-styled dress, whose length dipped just below her knees. Slits on either side of the dress exposed her fairly well-toned legs. Further accentuating her legs were the high-heeled boots she wore that went all the way up to her exposed thighs. All of these clothing choices were the same general shade of “royal” purple.

“Bet she wears something with heels on ‘em cause she likes to kick people…” Alex mused to himself. “She looks like she actually has some pretty strong legs too. It would probably really hurt if she kicked ya…”

Over her dress, she was wearing an unzipped black leather jacket with a fluffy fur trim around the neck. The jacket did go with her hat, but seemed a little warm for the weather. The jacket’s trim did highlight probably the most interesting item of clothing on her: a small black choker she was wearing that Alex couldn’t help but bring his eyes to.

It looked almost like a dog collar in no small part due to the small blue orb hanging from it resembling a tag. Alex couldn’t quite tell just what kind of substance the orb was made from, but he could make out what appeared to be a swirling mist inside of it. Not to mention, it almost looked like it was glowing. Before he could get a closer look at the orb, though, he noticed the woman starting to look at him, and quickly diverted his eyes elsewhere. The woman merely gave a quiet smirk in response, amused by his apparent fascination with her.

“I think that kid is staring at your chest.” Another woman who had been standing beside her said in a quiet and dry tone. “You should probably zip up that jacket of yours so he stops looking…”

“It’s fine Angela. There’s no harm in it.” the first woman responded back in a gleeful tone.

Alex looked at the woman apparently named Angela. She was a bit shorter than the first girl, but definitely seemed older than her, probably in her late 30s. Her hair was blonde as well, though had far less luster and was done up with a clip. She was wearing glasses over her faint blue eyes and an off-white secretary’s outfit, with a very stern expression on her face that seemed just a little worn out.

“She looks like a WASP with a major stick up her ass…” Alex thought to himself based off of her rather grumpy appearance. “Probably her older sister if I had to guess…” Alex spent the rest of his duration in line keeping his eyes forward, paranoid of the older woman watching over him with an icy glare. Though she didn’t stand out quite as much in his head as the first girl, Alex could still tell there was definitely something off about her as well. He eventually made it to the front of the line and placed his order.

“Okay, and this order is going to be under… Hazel?” the cashier asked with a hint of disdain, as they misheard Alex’s last name in the order.

“I might be a bit of a nut, but I’m not that kind of nut! It’s pronounced HEY-ZER. Get it right yah pleb!” Alex shot back in a joking tone that was masked in a veil of fake outrage. As Alex walked away from the counter to claim his table, he could hear the first girl lightly giggling to his response.

“Everyone else is way too weirded out by me to laugh at my jokes. There is definitely something up with that girl…” Alex thought to himself as he sat down in an empty booth in the corner of the restaurant. As he waited for his food, he looked over his checklist again, contemplating what items were on it that he could consider unessential and that he could remove without much issue. Unfortunately for him, he remained unable to concentrate on actually making any changes to his list and merely sat there constantly re-reading the entire thing until eventually his order was ready.

“Son of a bitch messed up my order. I said no mayo on my burger!” he thought to himself as he examined the food he just received. “Now I have to be careful to make sure nothing actually gets on my stuff!”

Alex ended up partitioning off the booth he was sitting it, devoting the entire right side of it to his food, and the left to his list so as to lessen the odds of him potentially spilling unwanted condiments on it. Trying to regain focus, Alex intently stared at the list he had set down onto the booth’s table, while absent mindedly eating his food with his right hand. He was so focused on his list that he wasn’t even looking to see where his food was, merely feeling around his tray until he grabbed either some french-fries or his burger.

“Why do I keep drawing up blanks when I’m looking at this damn list!?” Alex thought to himself after a good 5 minutes of uninterrupted staring. “Look, you just gotta think smarter here. Stop taking in the list as a whole. Just look at every item individually and think, do I really need this?” While Alex figured that idea would work in theory, Alex quickly realized a problem with this plan when he put it into practice.

“What if something happens and I end up injuring myself? I’d be screwed if I didn’t have some of these! I can’t cut this! And I can’t cut this one either, because if someone or something tried to attack me, I wouldn’t be able to properly defend myself! And this one if too important for navigating, I NEED to get one of these otherwise I’ll just get lost and probably die. And if I cut this one, then I definitely need to get at least one of these ones to make up for it…”

This continued for every single item on the list that Alex considered cutting. He eventually made it to the very bottom of the list, realizing that he had just talked himself into keeping the whole list for one reason or another.

“Now I know why I’m having such a hard time with this. I’m too damn paranoid to cut anything… GAH! What the hell is wrong with me!?” he thought to himself in anguish, slapping his face with both hands, absent-minded of the fact that he was still holding a burger in his right hand. “Way to go there dumbass…” he continued, removing the pieces of his burger he accidentally slapped onto his face while putting them back into their bun.

“All right, let’s try this from a different angle…” he thought to himself. “Let’s look at the stuff you actually did manage to get so far and see if you can use them in place of any of the things you haven’t gotten yet…” As Alex attempted to figure out some creative uses for the small portion of his list that he did complete, he found himself once again having difficulty concentrating. Though this time, it was being brought about by an external source.

The source of distraction was a conversation coming from a neighboring booth. Alex was about to get angrily incredulous at the fact that people were choosing to sit so close to him, while simultaneously being loud enough for him to actually be able to hear what they were talking about, before he noticed just who was talking. The two woman from earlier, whether knowingly or not, had decided to eat their lunch within earshot of Alex. Not wanting the two of them to notice him if they hadn’t already, Alex kept his eyes forward on his list while he continued eating, to avoid bringing attention to the fact that he was listening in on their conversation.

“So how’s the job hunt been going?” the woman with glasses asked.

“Ugh… not so good…” the other woman replied with a dejected tone.

“Have you actually been looking at places to apply to?”

“I.. I have! It’s… just hard you know? I don’t know this town too well, so I don’t really know too many places that I should even be applying to…” she replied again in a slightly defensive tone.

“I can buy you a newspaper with some job listings.” the bespectacled woman shot back bluntly, in a tone indicating that she didn’t want to have to listen to excuses.

“Well, it’s not just that I don’t know where to apply… There’s also the fact that I don’t really know a lot of what I should be putting down on the applications…”

“You put in what the form tells you to put in. It’s not hard.”

“I know that! I meant in regards to the whole… situation… with my identity…”

“I gave you an identity didn’t I? Just put down what I gave you and you should be fine.”

That last bit of the conversation mildly piqued Alex’s interest, as he began to wonder just what she meant by that. “Is she like… in witness protection, or something like that…? Or maybe she’s actually a criminal…” he thought to himself. As the two women kept talking, Alex took another glance at the woman who had accidentally touched his hand, sure that the two of them were too distracted to notice him watching them.

While Alex made no new observations about the woman’s appearance, he did notice something else that certainly caught his eye that he was surprised he didn’t notice when the two first sat down. The two of them had ordered an exceedingly large amount of food; far more than two men would normally eat, much less two women. Alex counted at least six burgers alone from where he was sitting, though there could easily have been more, not to mention various orders of French fries and chicken nuggets. All of the food had been unwrapped with the clear intent to be eaten there in the restaurant. What surprised Alex even more though, was the fact that all of the food was being eaten by the woman he was specifically watching. The woman with glasses that sat across from her had not taken a single bite of anything.

“Holy shit! Is she going to eat that all by herself!?” Alex exclaimed in his head. He was mesmerized by the speed of which she was eating the food while still being able to hold a conversation. The woman she was talking with seemed completely un-phased by her eating, like she had seen her do so before, and that amount of food was in some way normal. What was probably the most impressive thing for Alex was how seemingly gracefully she was eating her food. She was taking concise bites, not taking off any more than necessary so that she could chew through efficiently without making a mess of herself by spilling food bits everywhere like one would expect with that kind of volume of food. Her chewing was perhaps more impressive, as she was so quick and quiet about it, it almost seemed like the food was merely disappearing the second it went into her mouth, allowing her to hold her side of the conversation with minimal interruptions.

“Where the hell is she putting all of that?” he continued to wonder. “I can tell she has some meat to her, but I don’t see a single bit of real fat on her body… Well aside from her boobs that is… Heh, maybe that’s why they’re so big, because it’s the only place the fat will go…” His mind continued to wander on just what exactly the situation was with her. “Maybe she eats that much because she’s some kind of body builder…? Looking at her build and hair color, it wouldn’t surprise me if she was Slavic. Slavic girls can get pretty big can’t they? Maybe she’s in the country illegally, for one reason or another, and that’s why she has an issue with her identity…” Alex eventually settled on this idea, though figured it still wasn’t entirely correct, based off of the fact that the woman was speaking with no discernable accent, which seemed implausible for someone entering a country illegally. Once he settled on a backstory in his head, he realized he had completely tuned out of the conversation the two were having. Still entirely curious about the woman’s story, he resumed his eavesdropping.

“You can keep coming up with excuses all you want, but sooner or later I’m going to run out of rent money for your apartment, and you’ll have to be the one to help pick up the slack.” the woman with glasses continued. It seemed the only bits of the conversation Alex missed were them arguing over why the one woman’s current lack of employment.

“What about that guy you’re being a liaison for? Why can’t he give us some more money?” the other woman asked.

“Because he doesn’t exactly deal in any kind of money that people would accept for rent around here…” the woman with glasses answered back in an annoyed and exacerbated tone. She let out a tired sigh as she began resting the side of her head on her right hand. She then began to look listlessly off into the distance, like she was thinking about something. “…Though I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask him. He might be able to do SOMETHING to help us with our whole funding situation…” she continued on, in a far nicer tone than she had been using the entire conversation.

“…Though, I also know we would be able to get you at least an extra month’s worth of rent if we could do something about this appetite of yours…” she added on, with a small smirk on her face.

“No!” the other woman replied bluntly in a child-like cutesy tone. “If I want to get back in top form, I gotta eat as much food as I can!” she continued, shoveling an entire half of a burger into her mouth before effortlessly swallowing it like it was a cup of water.

“I know that… I just wish you weren’t so… insistent on eating being the only way to do so…” the other woman replied back, trailing off as she did, like she knew there was no way she could actually convince the other woman in a little something called moderation. A brief air of silence then fell over the two as the woman who was eating was clearly thinking something over in her head before she eventually decided to continue talking.

“You know what would really solve the money situation?” she asked, pausing as she swallowed a bite of french-fries. “…You guys finally getting around to finding someone for me to form a Pact with. I wouldn’t have to keep paying for my crappy apartment and I could just go live with them…”

“Did she just say a Pact?” Alex thought to himself in complete surprise, the phrase clearly sparking something in head as the gears in his brain began to turn.

“Uh… It’s probably best we don’t talk about something like that right now… It’s a bit too NORMAL here for that kind of talk after all…” the woman with glasses replied. Though she was using a calm tone, she was clearly not expecting the other woman to bring up something like that. “…But yeah, we’re still trying to find somebody who will work. It’s just, you know we’re working with a very small pool of potential people here… But please trust me when I say we will find you someone.”

“Are they talking about the same kind of a Pact I’m thinking of? Is she one of them…?” Alex’s mind continued to ponder the implication of her saying that word. “It would explain why she’s able to eat so much food like that. It would explain why she’s so tall. It would also explain all of those weird vibes I was getting from her! There’s just one way to be sure…” Alex reached down underneath the table of his booth with his left hand, his fist clenched tightly. He looked over to make sure the two women weren’t looking in his direction. Satisfied that they were too busy to pay him any mind, he proceeded with his little plan.

Underneath the table, away from the prying eyes of anybody in the restaurant, he began to slowly open up his clenched fist, his palm facing upward. Alex started to rest his head on his free hand and began concentrating his mind on something.

“All right. Let’s not release too much now. Send out just enough to get her attention.” he thought to himself. As he did, he slowly began to open the fist he had made underneath the table. As he opened his palm more and more, it began to give off a surreal light blue glow. And from the glow, a small wispy vapor emerged, simmering in the same ghostly blue hue.

Alex then began to swirl the vapor around in his still partially grasped hand, being careful not to open his hand completely. As he swirled it around, he used his fingers to help form and mold it as it were a piece of clay, compacting the vapor into a more dense fire-like form. In one quick motion, Alex jerked his down ever so briefly, creating a sort of spark from his hand which sent the tiny flame flying from it. He clenched his fist again, and gestured it in the direction of the women’s booth, with the flame following this direction. Using his thoughts in tandem with his subtle hand movements, he directed the flame underneath the table the two women were sitting at. Once the flame reached its destination, it quietly dispersed into the vapor it was made from, before that too disappeared into nothingness.

“Now let’s see if she was able to sense that…”  Alex thought to himself. He took a sidelong glance at the younger woman, trying to observe any changes in her behavior. For a few moments of observation, there was no deviation to how she was acting. She was merely talking and eating like she had been the entire time. But then suddenly, in a brief second, Alex was able to catch something off. A small shiver had run down her spine, and her ear twitched ever so slightly. It seemed like she noticed Alex’s little trick.

“Did you feel that?” she asked.

“Feel what?” the other woman replied.

“I got, well… THAT kind of sensation again… like something was being channeled somewhere pretty close by…”

“I didn’t feel anything like that. You are more sensitive to things like that… You could just be overreacting again…”

“I guess…” the young woman said, unsure of whether or not that was the case. She briefly scanned the entire restaurant, her eyes not focusing on any one place in particular. As she began to look over to the booth where Alex was sitting, he quickly buried his head into his list so as to not draw her attention. Her gaze fixated on him for a few moments. Alex was able to feel every single second her eyes were looking in his direction, with the slightest bit of anxiety building up inside him as she did. But eventually, she returned her focus back to her own table and continued eating the rest of her food that she had been diligently working on. Believing that she had found nothing suspicious about him, Alex let out a silent sigh of relief.

There’s no question about it. She’s definitely it.” he thought. “I need to follow her, and see if I can maybe get a chance with her when she’s by herself. I just gotta make sure she doesn’t notice me and scare her off in the process…”

And with that thought, Alex decided to make a diversion to his original plan for that day, deciding that potentially stalking the woman was a far better use of his time. He quietly sat in his booth despite having already finished his food, diligently waiting for the two women to finish theirsas well. Eventually all of the food at their table had been consumed, pretty much all by the same person, and the two began to leave the restaurant after tossing out their garbage. Alex continued to sit in his booth, merely counting down time in his head. After around 30 seconds had passed, Alex quickly gathered up his things and headed out the restaurant as well. After quickly determining which direction the two woman were heading, Alex set out and tried to match the speed the two of them were walking so as to not make it too obvious he was trying to follow them.

The two women made their way down the end of Felnor Plaza before turning onto the sidewalk of the main roads that ran parallel to it. Alex kept his cellphone in his hand so that in case anybody looked back at him, all they would see is a disinterested teenager too busy keeping his eyes glued to his phone to pay attention to the world around him. Whenever the two women would momentarily stop, he would as well, usually playing it off like he had to stop and tie his shoes, despite the fact that his shoes had no laces to speak of. Were it not for the fact that the crowds of people he tried to blend into were taking active steps to avoid being anywhere near him, he would’ve blended in perfectly. Still, regardless of that fact, Alex was able to follow the two to their destination without them being any the wiser. They ended up stopping at a bus stop a few blocks away, which eased some of the stress off of Alex having to continue following them.

They have to take the bus too? That’s perfect!” he thought. “I was worried that I’d either have to keep following them by foot half way across the freaking city, or that they’d just end up getting into a car and driving off without any way for me to follow… With this, I can keep tailing them just by getting on the bus and there wouldn’t be a single suspicious thing about it…” Satisfied with this revelation, Alex sat down at a nearby bench as he got ready for the bus’s arrival. He noticed the two women had decided to wait just a few feet behind him, still talking with one another. Confident that noticing him at this point wouldn’t raise any suspicious from them, he decided to remain on the bench and continued to listen to what they were talking about.

“I guess I’ll stop by in a day or two to check in on you again.” the woman with glasses said. “I want you to make some kind of progress into trying to get a job; otherwise I might just start dragging you off to random places you can apply to…”

“Ugh… Why do you have to be so pushy about the job thing Angela? Wasn’t me living here in Lunaridge supposed to be only a short term thing anyways…?” the other woman replied.

“I was only going to have you relocated to another city if we couldn’t get you to blend in to Lunaridge. And considering how convenient of a location Lunaridge is for us on our end, I’d prefer not to have to send you somewhere else. So please just make it easier for all of us and try to find yourself some work. It will really make it easier for you to blend in here…”

“Guuh…” the other woman let out an exacerbated breath of air as she tried to let out a long groan.  “I don’t know… I still think you guys finding someone for me to work with would be better…”

“Well, obviously we’re still looking into that as our Plan A. It’s just that you being able to support yourself here would still be a nice backup in case that takes a while…” the woman in glasses answered in an understanding, yet tired tone. It seemed like after talking about the subject with the other woman for so long, she was too drained to try to be assertive with her. She walked a couple of steps away before letting out a bit of a sigh.

“Anyways, I really should get going now. I’ve got a work thing I really should be getting on top of. Apply for some jobs, and call me when you get back to your apartment all right?” she said.

“All right, I’ll be sure to call you, and thanks for buying me lunch again.” the other woman replied. The younger woman gave a quick hug to the older one, who seemed a little bit uncomfortable at just how tightly she was being squeezed. The two then waved goodbye to each other, as the older woman continued down the sidewalk, turning the corner at the end of the block. Once she was out of view, the other woman resumed standing behind the bench Alex was sitting on, and proceeded to wait just like him.

“So she’s not even going to ride the bus with us?” Alex thought to himself. “Perfect. It’s going to make following this girl even easier, because that’s one less person I have to hide from.” Alex was rather pleased with how things had been turning out, quietly smiling to himself as he waited for the bus to arrive. “Provided her apartment isn’t too far away, it shouldn’t be much longer now before I can ‘see’ her in private…”

Aside from getting mildly irked when more people showed up and sat next to him on the bench, the rest of the wait was fairly uneventful for Alex. While he did occasionally check his phone ever few minutes to see just how long he had been waiting, for the most part Alex merely sat at the bench with a contemplative look on his face. The woman he had been following similarly did not much of anything during her wait. She mostly just paced around in a circle with her arms folding while occasionally stopping to whimsically rock back and forth on the heels of her feet, having no difficulty maintaining her balance despite wearing high heels. Alex for the most part was content with her pacing about behind him, if only because she was tall enough to shade him from the sun from her position. After about eight minutes of waiting, the bus eventually arrived, letting off a few passengers at the stop before everyone who had been waiting began to funnel into it. Alex was a little bit slow on his feet however when it came to getting on the bus, and ended up being one of the last people on.

He quickly climbed the small set of stairs onboard, with two quarters already prepared to pay for the bus fare. He quickly stashed the coins into the change receptacle before turning his attention to the main aisle of the bus. While the bus was fairly clean and well maintained, with no hint of any kind of unpleasant odor, Alex couldn’t help but let out a groan of disgust, if only because of the large concentration of other people on board with him. Though, the feeling was probably mutual, as he noticed a vast majority of the other passengers staring at him as he got on with worried looks on their faces before they diverted their gazes elsewhere. Ultimately un-phased, Alex began to make his way down the bus’s crowded aisle, stumbling over the legs of other various passengers who were sitting with their feet angled into said aisle.

“Move your damn legs you assholes! Seriously!” he thought to himself as he stumbled over a particularly unobservant man’s feet. “This is why I hate public transportation. Too many assholes who don’t give a shit about inconveniencing others…” He continued to make his way towards the back of the bus, doing his best to “accidentally” stomp onto any feet he deemed too far into the aisle. And whenever anybody would complain, he would merely respond with the most insincere sorry he could muster, having no sympathy for those who couldn’t slide just a little bit further into their seats to make it easier for the new passengers to get by.

He eventually made it to an empty seat on the right side of the bus and scooted himself in close to the window, sliding his backpack off as he did so to allow him to sit with it in his lap. As he waited for the bus to start moving, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Hey, do you want to sit on the outside seat so you don’t get as squished?” the woman he had been tailing asked him. In his apparent disgust at having to be stuck on a bus with so many other people, he had glossed over the fact that she had been following behind him the entire time. Alex looked at her and quickly remembered just how much bigger than him she was. There was no doubt in his mind she could easily sandwich him in if he remained seated by the window.

“Yeah. That’s probably a good idea” he thought. He began to shift his way out of the seat so as to allow her the window seat before he quickly realized why that might be a bad idea for his tailing plan. He then completely stopped in his tracks.

“Uh… Actually, no! I prefer sitting by the window!” he said in a half stammer, quickly shuffling back up as close to the window as he could.

“Are you sure?” she asked. “I don’t think a tiny little guy like you would be very comfortable sitting in between me and that window, especially considering you’ve also got a backpack with you…”

“I.. I said it was fine…!” he stuttered back. “… And don’t call me little…!”

“All right…” she said, as she sat down in the outside seat. She assumed a very prim and proper posture in her seat, with her legs pressed together directly in front of her, and her hands clasped together in her lap. Obviously, she was still trying to be courteous of Alex, taking up as little space as her large build would allow for. Despite this, Alex buried his head further into the window, his face pressing directly against the glass. His arms wrapped around his backpack as he began to hug it tighter and tighter, clearly getting nervous about this seating arrangement as he did his best to compress his already small frame even smaller. The woman quickly noticed the sizable gap that had formed between the two as Alex continued to uncomfortably scrunch himself up against the window.

“Are you… alright?” she asked him.

“I just don’t like other people touching me…” Alex replied. The woman gave Alex a concerned look but eventually decided it was probably better to just leave him to his own devices. Not soon after, the bus continued along its intended route. Alex kept his face in the window, trying to underplay any kind of interest he had in the woman sitting next to him, not realizing he was probably doing so to an overly suspicious degree.

“Man this sucks… But I gotta let her take the outside seat.” he began to justify to himself. “I can much more naturally just follow her off of the bus if I don’t have to let her out from the seat.” Alex used the faint reflection of the window to continue observing the woman’s behavior. For the most part, she merely sat in the same position she had assumed as when she first sat down, with her eyes diligently focused towards the front of the bus. She would occasionally make glances towards Alex, but they would rarely last more than a few seconds, and it was entirely possible she was more interested in looking out the window than similarly watching him. After a few minutes passed, Alex eased up a little bit, de-compressing from his position and filling in more of the space the woman was allowing him. He still refused to look directly at her however.

After traveling straight for a few blocks, the bus ended up making a fairly sharp turn to the left. The turn did cause some shifting around for most of the passengers, but for the most part, everyone who had been paying attention to the turn was able to brace themselves so as to stay put in their seats. Unfortunately for Alex, he had been too busy staring off in to the distance to have noticed beforehand.

As the bus turned, he was quickly jerked to his left, his scrunched up posture providing no resistance to the sudden change in direction. Before he had even realized what had just happened, Alex found his face buried into what he thought was the seat of the bus. Mildly confused, Alex turned his face upwards and ended up meeting the woman’s gaze eye to eye. Something clicked in his brain, and then he finally realized he had just landed face first into her lap. While her chest obscured most of his view of her, Alex could still make out a wide-eyed expression on her face. The two of them sat like that for almost 15 seconds before Alex, eyes quickly dilated, suddenly realizing the potential implications of what just happened.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH MOVE BACK! MOVE BACK YOU IDIOT!” he screamed internally to himself. He instantly snapped back to the position he had glued up against the window, doing his best to play it off like that bit of potential sexual harassment didn’t just happen. He once again used the window’s reflection to determine just how annoyed the woman had gotten from that unintended bit of face planting. Much to Alex’s surprise, the woman didn’t seem angry or annoyed. She merely responded with a light, yet hardy chuckle with a smile plastered on her face.

“Are you okay there?” she asked him, still partially laughing. “I guess I should’ve warned you we were about to make a sharp turn, huh?”

“IT’S FINE! I’M FINE! IT’S ALL FINE!” Alex rapidly yammered out. Feeling that his face was becoming as flush red as his eyes in embarrassment, Alex wedged his head down in between the corner of the window and the seat in front of him. “Ughhhhhhhhh… Why did I have to land face first into her lap!?” he thought to himself. “It’s so stupid! LIKE absolutely retarded! And it’s going to make me look even more suspicious if I try to follow her now! There’s no way she wouldn’t notice the guy who just had his face in her crotch!” Alex, very visibly mortified, continued the downward spiral in his head, cursing his rotten luck.

“Hey, this might sound like a dumb question, but… your eyes… is that natural, or do you just wear contacts?” the woman asked Alex.

“…What…? My eyes…?” Alex responded, looking at her in confusion while feeling around his right eye with his hand.

“Their color I mean. I’ve never seen someone who had red eyes before. I wanted to know if that was because you were wearing colored contacts or not.” she continued. Alex was used to people freaking out whenever they got a close look at his eyes, so when she asked him with such earnest fascination, he wasn’t quite sure how to responded.

“Um… Why does it matter!? And why are you asking a total stranger such personal questions anyways!?” Alex eventually responded defensively.

“Sorry… I just figured it was only fair considering where you just had your head!” she said in a jovial tone. Her laughter continued to embarrass Alex, putting him further on the defensive.

“Look, they’re naturally like that, okay!? Now can you just leave me alone!?” he replied in a frustrated tone.

“…Sorry. I was just really curious. I’ll… I’ll leave you alone…” she said in a dejectedly sad tone.

“Why the hell did she want to know whether or not my eyes are actually red!?” Alex thought. “I mean, most people take one look at my eyes and think I’m some kind of a vampire or something… Why is she so interested in them…?”  Alex’s mind continued to wander before he remembered the reason why he decided to follow the woman in the first place. “Oh yeah… That’s right. I probably don’t freak her out because she’s not like the rest of these people…”

The bus continued its route through a tunnel, darkening its interior. For the most part, the only real source of light was coming from the lights installed into the tunnel’s sides, though Alex could make out another source of light from the window’s reflection. The orb the woman had been wearing around her neck was glowing rather brightly in the dark. Realizing this, she quickly covered her neck with her hand so to not draw attention to it. Alex acted like he didn’t see anything, but seeing the necklace glow in the dark reignited his initial interest in it. He opened his mouth to ask her what the deal was with her necklace, but ultimately ended up stopping himself.

“…I mean, there’s probably no harm in asking…” he thought. “But I did just blow her off about my eyes…” He paused to himself as his mind began to drift to a different subject. “I know I was going to wait until I was alone with her… But maybe I should just go for it right now… I mean, what’s the worst that could happen…?”

Alex took a deep breath through his nose, slowly lifting his head up to face the woman. He looked over, expecting to see the same face he had familiarized himself with up to this point, but something caused him to hesitate. Due to the low lighting of the tunnel, he couldn’t make out the clear details of her face anymore, only a vague silhouette of it. Viewing her in the dark like that made her face look far more sinister. Nothing about her face had actually changed. But, without his ability to see the gentle look of her eyes, she appeared far more ominous to Alex for a reason he couldn’t put his finger on. A sense of dread began to well up in his stomach, as something about this woman being in the dark terrified him.

“What if she says no when I ask? Who’s to say she wouldn’t react in some kind of crazy way…? I… I don’t actually know what she’s capable of… If… if she did take it the wrong way, I would want a way out just in case… I should just… wait to talk to her at her apartment…”  Alex eventually decided that asking whatever he was planning on asking could wait until after they had both gotten off the bus. Though far more uneasy about the prospect of continuing to follow the woman to her apartment, Alex was still determined to go through with it.

“Even if I don’t go through with asking her, I should at least figure out where she lives. That way, if I ever build up the nerve to do so, I can still follow through later…” he thought to himself. Eventually, the bus cleared the tunnel, with daylight seeping back in through the windows. The woman uncovered her neck now that her necklace would stop glowing. Alex looked over to her on more time. Now that he could once again make out the welcoming look of her eyes again, he felt a lot calmer about her.

“The dark definitely changes her. Maybe the dark reveals her true nature…” he surmised in his head. He promptly returned to gazing out the window for the remainder of his ride on the bus. Eventually, the bus’s movements temporarily halted as it approached the next stop on its route. Alex felt the seat shift as the woman sitting with him prepared to stand up, indicating to him that this was her stop. He began to get ready to stand up as well before he realized it would be easier to follow her unnoticed if she didn’t know he was getting off at the same time as her. So when she finally stood up to make her way off of the bus, Alex pretended to stay behind and fiddle with his backpack. Only once he was sure every other person who was getting off at the stop had begun to head off the bus as well did he stand up to make his way off. Unfortunately for Alex, his precautions ultimately turned out to be completely pointless, as the woman immediately noticed him getting off the bus. Apparently she had also decided to linger around a bit herself.

“Oh, so you get off here too huh?” she asked him. While there was nothing confrontational about the way she talked to him, Alex couldn’t help but feel she might be onto him. A voice in the back of Alex’s head was telling him to bail and jump back onto the bus before it left again, but he decided to just stand his ground.

“…Y-yeah… You got a problem with that!?” Alex tried to sound as stand-offish as he could in hopes she would get uncomfortable and keep walking. The woman however, remained un-phased.

“Well it could just be that I’m paranoid… but I feel like I’ve been seeing you around a lot today…” she replied, stepping in extremely close to Alex. As she got closer, she began to hunch over a bit, so that her face was level with Alex’s. “Are you sure you haven’t been intentionally following me…?” she said, eyes closed, with a big grin on her face. The tone of her voice was just as friendly as ever, but her getting in Alex’s face directly like that only put him more on edge. She was definitely on to him. Alex did his best to keep all of his panicking internal, and replied in as calm and collected manner as he could.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about lady. It’s probably just one big coincidence that we’ve been going to the same places. If you think otherwise, then you probably are paranoid…” he answered in an even collected tone, trying to sound as disinterested as he possibly could.

“Oh really? Well, where are you going from here?” she asked inquisitively.

“Well… I don’t think it’s any of your business, but if you’re going to suspect me as some kind of STALKER, I’ll have you know that I’m going to meet someone at their apartment near here…” In an attempt to make his story sound more believable to her, he decided to inter-splice it with his true intentions, hoping she wouldn’t catch on.

“Which apartment building is it?” she continued to drill him.

“…It’s uh… one of the ones on this street… I think… I don’t know. I haven’t actually been there before…” he said, less confident with his response.

“Sounds like you don’t quite know where it is. You DO have an address for it right…? Maybe I can point you in the right direction… I mean, if it’s a real place that it…”

Alex wasn’t familiar enough with this part of Lunaridge to bluff an address. “FUCK. What do I say now…? I don’t know how well she knows this area! If I fake an address, she might be able to figure out I’m lying!” he panicked to himself. His mind quickly tried to brainstorm a way around having to give an answer.

“I uh… Have it written down somewhere…” he said, pretending to reach into his pockets. “Now… where is it…” He continued to root around in his pockets, acting like he was searching for an address that wasn’t there. “Oh no… please don’t tell me… I… I had it with me on the bus…” Alex said, quickly emulating an increasingly stressed out tone. “Don’t tell me I left it on the bus…!” Just as he said that, the bus they had just gotten off of began moving once again, and started speeding off down the street.

“NO! I’m such an idiot! I did! I did leave it on the bus! Now I don’t where I’m supposed to go! Wh-what am I supposed to do now!?” he said, mustering up as much fake anguish as he could. He then proceeded to fake shivering in fear. “They’re going to kill me if I’m late…! I KNOW I won’t be able to handle that…!” he blurted out. He could see the woman visibly start to get more concerned.

“Holy crap… Is she actually buying this…!?” he thought to himself. “Maybe if I get her to feel bad enough for me, she’ll no longer be suspicious of me…!” He then proceeded to really sell his act, mustering up all of the negative emotions he could to force himself into actually crying. Tears began to visibly drip down his face. He was ready to start bawling his eyes out before the woman came in and stopped him.

“Hey, hey! You don’t need to start crying! You didn’t actually lose anything on the bus!” she said, trying her best to talk to him in a soothing tone.

“Wh-what…?” Alex muttered, fighting back his fake tears. “What the hell is she talking about…?” he thought to himself. The woman reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a very familiar looking sketchpad. It was the very same sketchpad Alex had had with him in Felnor Plaza.

“When you were getting to your seat, I thought I saw something fall out of your pocket when you were stumbling over those people on the bus. I wasn’t 100% sure though, so I didn’t say anything at first. But then I saw it on the ground again as I was getting off and realized that was probably what you dropped… It has a bunch of addresses written in it, so I figured that’s what you were looking for right…?” As she handed back the sketchpad, she did so with a remorseful yet simultaneously understanding look on her face. Alex stared at the sketchpad, completely dumbfounded. He didn’t even realize it had been missing the entire time he was on the bus. After staring at it for a few seconds, all he could muster was a very confused thanks.

“That’s why I was waiting around here at the bus stop, so that I could give it to you.” she continued, reaching her arm out to pat him on the shoulder. She then used her free hand and used it to wipe the tears that were still on his face. “I’m also really sorry about accusing you of stalking me… I was just trying to tease you before I gave it back to you… Looking at you right now, I should’ve realized you’re probably one of those kids who gets teased enough as is…  I didn’t know how important to you that sketchpad was… I should’ve just given it back to you immediately…”

Alex stood there for a couple of seconds, holding onto the sketchpad firmly with both hands. While he did overplay its apparent importance, it was still something he would’ve been very upset about had he actually lost it. Alex found himself completely blindsided by the woman’s kindness and understanding. Even if it had been based around a false pretense, it was a sort of kindness he felt like he hadn’t experienced in a long time. The feeling felt so alien to him at that point that he had no idea how to respond to her. Entirely unsure of what to do, his brain defaulted to his typical grumpy attitude, something which was probably not the best fit for the current situation he was in.

“You think!? That’s a pretty dick move you pulled there! I have enough issues as is! I shouldn’t have to deal with some random ass hoe getting so full of them self that they think that just because I’m going in the same general direction as them that I’m stalking them!” Alex’s natural reflexes kicked in, as he began chewing the woman out while the voice in his head was doing the same to him. “What the hell are you doing you fucking idiot!? She just finished being nice too you! Now would’ve been the perfect time to ask her! You’re just completely ruining your chances here you fat fucking retard!” The woman merely sat there with a completely surprised expression on her face as Alex unloaded his tirade onto her.

“I don’t need this right now! I’ve still got to meet up with someone I don’t even know that well to talk about something I’ve been dreading for months, and you being ‘nice’ to me like that is only making my anxiety worse!” he continued, making air quotes as he said nice.

“I said I was sorry!” the woman replied, now finding herself on the defensive. “Look, if you tell me the address of the building, I can probably point you in the right direction so you won’t be late…”

“No thanks. I’ll find it on my own!” Alex said, walking off from the bus stop in a huff. Once he was a fair distance away, he pretended to look over his sketchpad to compare it to the nearby street addresses, while secretly using it as an opportunity to observe the woman. He glanced behind him to see her looking on, utterly confused, before she eventually just shrugged her shoulders and walked off in the other direction. Once he was sure she was out of view, he quickly turned back around and continued to follow her.

“Way to go moron. Because you had to be such a ‘tard, now it’s going to be EVEN harder playing it off if she notices you again!” he thought to himself as he continued tailing the woman. In comparison to when he first started following her from the restaurant, Alex decided to be far more overtly stealthy in his approach. He took care to duck into nearby alleyways, or remain hidden behind any trees he passed so as to stay completely out her view. While this behavior was incredibly suspicious, and he was frequently observed by various other pedestrians as he walked by, they thankfully payed little mind to his behavior. Though he was pretty clumsy overall at remaining hidden from her view, it ultimately seemed like the woman never noticed Alex had continued to follow her. Eventually, the woman turned into the lobby of a fairly ramshackle building, Alex surmising it was probably her apartment building.

“Ugh… This is where she lives? It’s only a few steps up from being a shithole…” he thought to himself as he stood outside, staring up at the entire building. The apartment was about five stories tall, with a small film of dirt forming over the entire front of the building. The various front facing windows of the complex appeared to be equally as grimy, as if the building’s tenants didn’t care at all about being able to view the world outside, though, given the state of most of the other buildings on the street, they probably weren’t missing much. Though, at least the building appeared completely intact, with no signs of any structural damage or vandalism. The place just seemed like its landlord was teetering on the cusp of no longer giving a crap about its state. Given the conversation he had eavesdropped on between the woman and her friend, Alex figured the building was the perfect place for someone like her to lay low.

After examining the outside of the building for a few moments, he decided it was probably more just dirty than dangerous, and figured it was safe for him to go inside. As he was about to head in however, he could see the woman still standing in the lobby through the entrance’s glass door. She was standing in front of a wall of small square lockers, most likely serving as mailboxes for the building’s tenants.  She had already opened hers and was in the process of disinterestedly looking over a stack of envelopes that was most likely junk mail. After she was done going through the entire stack, she quickly jammed the entire set of envelopes into the pocket of her jacket before shutting the locker door behind her and disappearing up a flight of nearby stairs. Once Alex was sure she was out of sight, he quickly stepped inside the building’s lobby and approached the wall of lockers. Taking out his sketchpad, he took a note of her locker number in addition to the building’s address before stepping back outside.

“After my confrontation with her, I think this is probably good enough for today…” he thought to himself as he stood just outside the building’s entrance. He unzipped the main compartment of his backpack and stashed his sketchpad in there, determined not to lose track of it again. “Now that I know where she lives, I can always come by at another time… Maybe I can play off visiting her apartment as if I was coming to apologize to her directly for going off on her…”  Alex continued to think about his future plans as he was about to make the trek back to the bus stop before he noticed something else that gave him pause.

The sound of metal and glass rattling could be heard from the alleyway to the side of the building. Curious about the source of the noise, Alex decided to take a detour back there and investigate. As he went down the entire length of the building, he rounded the corner to the back of the building before his path was blocked by a chain link fence. He could tell the source of the sound was on the other side of the fence, but due to his inability to climb over the fence, Alex was unable to proceed any further. Before he decided to turn around however, he heard a very gruff and raspy male voice talking to someone.

“Alright, we’re pretty sure the target is here. You two stay out here and watch the exits. The two of us will go inside and try to flush her out.” the voice said. Alex couldn’t see anyone, but as soon as the voice was done talking, he heard a series of metal clunking echoing up the side of the building. It sounded like two people climbing up the fire escape.

“Target…?” Alex thought to himself. “Don’t tell me…!”  Another pit formed in Alex’s stomach as he realized they were probably targeting the woman he had been following.  Alex began to breathe in deeply through his nose, like he was trying to sense something.  As he finished inhaling, he felt a dark chill running down his spine.  Whatever the source of the voice was, he could tell one thing: everyone who was hiding beyond the fence was not human.

“SHIT! When I thought she might’ve been in witness protection, it didn’t occur to me she was probably hiding from people like that!” Alex immediately turned around and began running out of the alleyway. “She could end up being my only chance at this! I just need to flat out tell her what my intentions are and warn her!”

He quickened his pace and headed for the building’s front door, swinging it open as fast he could. He then quickly booked it to the first set of stairs he could find. While his initial pace had been very quick, he began to seriously slow down as he attempted to rush up two flights of stairs. He quickly found himself winded as he reached his destination on the third floor. Though he felt the need to catch his breath, Alex powered on through the third floor hallway, determined to reach the woman before the people outside did. The hall formed an L-shape, with the first half of the hallway only having rooms on one side, with grimy windows taking up the opposite side. The hallway’s set up made it easy for Alex in his weary state to quickly verify that none of the rooms before the bend in the hallway was the one he was looking for.

As he was about to turn the corridor to the next part of the floor, he passed by a supply closet just at the corner. Were he not in such a hurry, he probably would’ve noticed the door to said closet had been hanging open ever so slightly. Alex didn’t notice this little detail however and as a result was quickly grabbed by whoever had been hiding inside as soon as he passed the door. Because he had been winded from his climb up the building, he was too out of breath to fight back as he found himself getting dragged inside by his backpack.

Having been pulled back with such force, Alex suddenly found himself getting flipped over backwards, crashing to the floor on his back, with his backpack unable to cushion the blow as it had been pulled off in the process. The sudden impact of hitting the floor knocked any breath he had remaining out. Coughing and wheezing, Alex tried to orientate himself as best he could but could barely make out any of what had just happened. The one source of light coming into the cramped room from the open doorway was suddenly extinguished as the closet door slammed shut, seemingly on its own. Alex couldn’t make out what had closed it as he desperately scrambled to get onto his feet. Still lacking proper air, he could only manage to make it onto his knees before he once again felt something come up and grab him.

Suddenly, two strong arms reached out and began to put Alex into a chokehold. The grip was tight, but not so tight as to stop him from being able to reclaim some of the air he just had knocked out of him. He then felt himself being leaned back slightly as whoever was holding him effortlessly lifted him off of his feet. Alex tried to struggle out of the chokehold, but was too weakened to lessen his attacker’s grip. He desperately grasped at his assailant’s arms, tugging at the sleeves of their clothing. As he continued to struggle, Alex found himself being pulled in closer toward his attacker, the hold of one of their arms shifting lower towards his chest to prevent his weak arms from moving. He suddenly felt an immense pressure on the back of his neck, as he felt like he was getting crushed against the assailant’s chest. In his panic, it took him a bit to realize just what was pressing against his neck, until he realized just how soft it actually felt. He then quickly deduced what had just happened: the woman he had been following since lunch had just put him into a chokehold.

“GAHHHH! I knew it! These damn knockers of hers can totally kill a man!” he thought to himself in anguish. While her chest did feel nice and soft on the back of his head, Alex could still feel the sheer muscular power behind them exerting more and more pressure on him, slowly smothering him into unconsciousness.

“So this is what you meant when you said you didn’t know where the apartment was!” she shouted at Alex in a deeper and far more aggressive voice than she had been using before, doing her best to angle Alex so as to stop him from being able to flail his legs as she did so.

“So I’m just being paranoid huh? That it was wrong to tease you just because it was just a coincidence you were going exactly where I was going? I just thought you were a harmless, if a little grumpy kid. I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt… But wouldn’t you know it? You actually are the stalker creep I accused you of! ” The woman continued to berate Alex, getting more and more irritated as she went on.

“You think it’s a good look? Spending your entire day just stalking a woman? I would’ve liked to think you were just too socially awkward or something to realize what you were doing was so messed up… But the way you so effortlessly played the victim when I called you out, makes me think you have a LOT of experience pulling crap like this!” Her hold on Alex got tighter and tighter. He tried to muster all of the energy he could to say something to get her to ease up on him, but he had so little air at that point that all that he could let out were a few wheezes.

“Damn it woman! Just give me a chance to explain myself!” he thought, wishing desperately that she would somehow be able to hear what he was thinking. “I wasn’t trying to do anything nefarious!”

“So why’d you do it!? Did someone put you up to this!? Did someone tell you to follow me all day because they figured I would’ve given a little kid like you a free pass!? Is that it, huh!?” she continued to grill Alex.

“No, you’ve got it all wrong! I followed you of my own accord because I just wanted to ask you something…!” Alex desperately screamed in his head.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself kid!? DO YOU!?” She squeezed her arm around Alex’s torso so tight; he could feel his stomach being churned as she flatten it with her raw strength. Alex tried desperately to say something, but whether intentionally or not, the woman had him in such a hold that he couldn’t get enough air to properly speak. All he could do was let out a long grunt of pain through his grit teeth.

“What? You’ve got nothing at all to say!? Should I take your silence as an admission of guilt?” She moved both of her arms across Alex’s neck and began apply pressure. Alex continued to grunt and groan in pain as he could feel his consciousness literally being squeezed out of him. “If that’s the case, say good night kid!”

“Damn it! Did she not realize she knocked all of the wind out of me when she first dragged me in here!? She hasn’t given me a single opportunity to catch my breath! How the hell does she expect me to say anything if she won’t even let up a little bit!?” Alex continued to feel light headed as more and more pressure was being applied to his throat. “She’s definitely trying to knock me unconscious…! But the question is, what does she intend to do after she knocks me out…!? I’ve got to get her to stop, and fast!”

Alex’s mind began to rush for any kind of solution he could think of, anything at all to get the woman to ease up her grip on him. He thought about the fact that his hands were no longer being pinned down. But try as he might, he was becoming too faint to move them. And the same could be said for his legs. He thought to maybe try biting her arms to loosen her grip, but that too was something he could not do, as his head was being squeezed too tightly for him to even get his mouth open. He could feel his cheeks begin to swell, his eyes begin to bug out, and sweat running all over his face. He was going to pass out at any second. As the world around him began to turn black, something awoke inside his head. An incredibly strong, almost primal force kicked in, and encouraged Alex to try one more desperate attempt to escape.

“Come on Alex… What have these past two months of preparation been for if not for an exact situation like this!? If you can’t do anything physically to escape… do something magical instead! Isn’t that how you learned how to deal with her kind!?” With his mind slipping from him, Alex pulled together all of the will power he could muster and focused his brain. Focused it on just one thing, and one thing only. He began to reach out with all of his senses into his surroundings, desperately trying to find something. After a few brief moments of searching, he found exactly what he was looking for: his backpack that had been tossed aside onto the floor. He focused his mind as best as he could muster, his sheer force of will screaming throughout his entire consciousness. With one focused, desperate thought, his backpack opened. The tome he had been carrying with him all day began to float out, following the inexact thoughts Alex could pull together in his last moments of consciousness. The woman seemed to notice something strange had been going on behind her, as for just a brief moment, Alex could feel her lessen her grip on him as she turned her head around. In that brief moment of weakness, Alex made his move.

A surge of energy churned through Alex’s entire body, as his mind prepared for his course of attack. Alex gathered all the power he could, rallying one decisive order to be delivered in that exact moment. With one last thought, he commanded the floating tome to fly forward, smashing into the side of the woman’s face before quickly dropping back down to the floor. As the heavy surface of the tome’s cover hit her in the face, a painful jolt went through her entire body. The shock of this surprise attack caught the woman completely off guard, loosening her grip on Alex even further. Alex wasted no time, pushing the woman’s arms off of him, completely freeing him of her grip. He then promptly fell on to the floor, face first, desperately gasping for air.

“What the heck was that…?” the woman asked in confusion, rubbing her face where the tome had hit her. Wasting no time, Alex got to his feet, though, because he was still exhausted and breathless, the best he could manage was to lumber into a standing slouch. Despite a bit of dizziness and disorientation, Alex did his best to turn around and face his attacker directly.

“What the hell… IS WRONG WITH YOU!?” Alex shouted, still short on breath. “You put me into a freaking chokehold and don’t even allow me enough air so that I can talk and explain myself! I mean, seriously… WHO DOES THAT!?”

“Fair enough…” the woman bluntly replied. She then quickly moved forward, before Alex had a chance to react. She immediately grabbed him with both hands by the base of his hood and lifted him up against the closet door. His brief moment of triumph quickly thwarted.

“There, you should be able to talk just fine like that. Now… Why the hell have you been following me since this morning!?” she asked, shaking Alex as she did so, causing the back of his head to repeatedly bump against the door.

“…This morning? What are you talking about!? I’ve only been following you since lunch, when we both happened to coincidentally eat at the same restaurant! And… I was only following you because I wanted to ask you a question I was too nervous to ask you around other people…” Alex replied, trailing off with his last statement.

“…A question you were too nervous to ask me around other people …?” The woman began to process Alex’s last statement. After a brief pause, Alex could just barely make out her turning red as her eyes also began to widen. She then quickly let go of Alex’s hood, dropping him suddenly to the ground, as she turned around and buried her face into her hands. “Ooooooh… Don’t tell me THAT’S the reason why you were following me…! Why didn’t I see that as a possibility!? Ugh…. I REALLY AM TOO PARANOID!” she began to shout in embarrassment.

“Um… I think you’re getting the wrong idea here… again…” Alex replied bluntly, staring at her as she started to flail about in shame.

“I can’t believe I just attacked you like that… I mean, it all makes sense too…! Of course you wouldn’t be confident enough to do it in front of other people! It must be hard enough as is for a nerdy geek like you to just go up and ask a girl out…!” she continued, her voice noticeably reverting back to the gentler tone she had been using up until that point.

“Excuse me…!? That’s not what I was going to ask you…!” Alex interjected, feeling a bit insulted by the woman’s assessment of him. She of course, was too focused on her own train of thought to acknowledge him.

“But wait… You said you’ve only been following me since lunch… That can’t be right. I know it felt like somebody has been stalking me since at least 9:00 this morning…” she pondered aloud to herself.

“I just said it wasn’t me! Are you even trying to listen to me lady…!?” Alex blurted out in increasing frustration.

“…You sure…? I mean, I can definitely still feel the presence I felt this morning right now. It kinda put me on edge. It’s why I grabbed you in the first place… You’re saying that wasn’t you at all?”

“Yes! It wasn’t… me…” Alex replied at first in extreme annoyance before he was quickly reminded just why he rushed to find her apartment in the first place. He immediately started to panic, grabbing his tome from off the floor and stuffing it in his backpack before securing it back onto his back.

“Why are you freaking out again?” she asked, curious about Alex’s sudden hurry to gather his things.

“Because I just remembered the reason why I was in such a hurry to track you down in the first place! I was trying to warn you!”

“Warn me about what…?”

“When you were talking with your friend at the bus stop, I overheard you two talking about Lunaridge as a place for you to lay low. Like people were after you… Well, I just heard about four people talking in the back alley of this building… I didn’t see what they looked like, but it sounded like they were hunting you down!”

“WHAT!? Are you serious!?” she replied, grabbing onto Alex’s hood again in concern.

“Yeah. I sensed their presence as well. It felt like they were Spirits, just like you…!” As Alex said that, the woman’s eyes widen greatly. She didn’t expect Alex to have figured out her true nature as something beyond a human.

“You… can tell that I’m actually a Spirit…?” the woman looked at Alex in disbelief. “I thought you were just a normal human but, thinking about it… it makes sense considering the kind of energy I’m sensing from you…” She was ready to continue on that train of thought before the concerned look in Alex’s eyes caused her to snap back to the more pertinent matter at hand.

“Wait…! Why am I thinking about that at a time like this!? If someone is trying to hunt me down, we need to get out of here for the time being…!”

“We… As in, the both of us…?” Alex asked in a concerned voice.

“Yes. If they are other Spirits, they might be able to detect that you’ve been in contact with me. If that’s the case, you can be in danger as well!”

“What!? I didn’t sign up for something like this…!” he exclaimed, as the woman grabbed his hand. She then opened the closet door as she begun to lead him along with her.

“Consider it a bit of recompense then for so shamelessly stalking me and then LYING about it. Now come on, I have a place worked out already where we can hide in this exact kind of situation…!” she replied, continuing to pull Alex along by the hand.

Just as she was about to round the corner with him however, the two of them are halted in their tracks by the sound of a nearby window being smashed into. The duo quickly turned around and focused their attention on the source of the sound at the other end of the hall. Somebody had just jumped through one of the windows and was staring down the two. Almost as soon as he had jumped into the building, the woman instinctively pushed Alex behind her to shield him from the intruder. As a result, Alex didn’t get too good of a look at them, but as soon as he started speaking, Alex could tell it was the same man he had heard outside.

“Well look what we’ve got here. There were a lot of rooms in this building… Didn’t think it’d be this quick to flush you out, Kitsiyuna…” he said, his harsh taunting voice sending chills down Alex’s spine.

“So her name’s Kitsiyuna…? Glad I finally know what to call her…” Alex thought to himself. “…That is a pretty weird name. Definitely sounds like a name a Spirit would have. So why does it sound like I’ve heard it somewhere else before…?”

“Who the hell are you? What do you even want with me…?” Kitsiyuna asked.

“…I’m just a simple bounty hunter.” the man replied. “Somebody with a lot of cash payed us a lot of money to get you, and like a good bounty hunter, I intend to collect!” Alex peered out from behind Kitsiyuna to get a better look at the bounty hunter. He noticed the bounty hunter reaching his right arm down for something by his waist. In a split second, Alex realized exactly what he was reaching for and quickly hid back behind Kitsiyuna.

The bounty hunter had pulled a revolver out from its holster, and started aiming it directly at the two of them.

 

Night Fox – Comic Post #128: Heart To Heart

Not caught up on the comic yet? You can go visit the comic’s archive through this link here.

Comic-128A

Just a reminder that the novel posts are going to start going up next week. The first four chapters are going to cover the events that force Alex and Kitsiyuna into forming a Pact in the first place. That chapters have been written in a way that assumes you have absolutely no knowledge of anything in the web comic because I wanted it to be an okay starting off point if web comics aren’t your thing. I’m going to try to have two different versions of each chapter: one you can read in blog, and a PDF version. I mostly decided this in part because I can kind of understand how tedious it would get reading close to 20 pages worth of text on a blog without any page breaks, so I wanted to provide a more reader friendly alternative while still allowing those who can’t open PDFs (for one reason or another) to still be able to read them.

In terms of the supplementary content that I said I would be posting alongside the chapters for those with absolutely no interest in them, I’ve got most of it sorted out already. I’ve got a couple of old pictures ready to post that I still think actually look decent enough to go up online in addition to some much shorter comics which are mostly going to be one off jokes. The short comics are kind of going to be a way for me to test the waters in term of different tones and slight changes to aesthetic, so even after I’m done posting the chapters, I might still make some more of them in future if I can come up with enough ideas for them.

Anyways, just like I said last week, I hope you guys can bear with these temporary changes as the novel thing is something I really want to see if I can actually go through with. And for the rest of you who don’t care about any of this in the slightest (which I feel is going to be most people who actually read this post) well… we’re already good! So until then, I’ll see you next post.