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Thread: Albino: Chapter 3 (Nov. 22)

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    Albino: Chapter 3 (Nov. 22)

    I read through my stories and decided that it might be good to put up some content warnings.

    Angel Hunters contains bloody violence, gore, and mild language.
    Naomi's story contains the same thing as Angel Hunters, but explores content such as assassination and murder.
    Albino contains bloody violence and gore, but only briefly.

    I try not to work on too many projects at a time, but occasionally I'll post something other than the three mentioned above. With said posts, I'll include content warnings if necessary.

    Angel Hunters 1
    SPOILER! :
    They were at the door, knocking. Akiria could hear them from her hiding place under her best friend's bed. They were after her. They wanted to kill her.

    "Who is it?" Elaine called casually.

    The voice from the other side of the thick door was rough and impatient. "I want the girl you have in there. The angel."

    Elaine wisely stayed away from the door when she answered, "I don't support angel hunters. Go away."

    "I have a license. We have a license. Let us in before we make use of the third rule."

    "The rules on an angel hunting license don't apply in the south. You'll have to leave, or I'll call the soldiers. You're poaching on southern territory—be thankful I haven't called them already."

    The door rattled hard as something smashed against it. The frame of the house shook, and Akiria whimpered. "Elaine . . ." she whispered.

    "Shush," Elaine said quietly. "They'll hear you."

    Once again, the door rattled. "If you let us in now, we won't kill you too. We only want the angel."

    "You're threatening a civilian on grounds of an illegal angel hunt. I'm gonna call for the soldiers."

    Elaine waited for the door to crash in before turning and sprinting down the hallway opposite Akiria's hiding spot. The three hunters pursued her, but couldn't stop her from grabbing her horn and blowing it as loudly as she could manage. The sound carried to the village and the soldiers' quarters. Cursing and shouting, the hunters tackled Elaine and smashed her horn against her head.

    Akiria heard it all. Sickening cracks repeatedly shook the air as Elaine's cries weakened. Akiria's only grew more despaired. She realized a little too late that her cries were audible. She closed her mouth. Footsteps approached the room.

    "She's under the bed."

    Akiria lifted the bed and smashed it against the doorway. It made a perfect, moveable barricade. Lifting her fingers, she raised the bed up to the ceiling as the hunters tried to climb over it. Hurriedly, she dropped it again as they went for the opening below it.

    "Stop playing! Blow that thing away!"

    Akiria's loose, almost playful hold on the bed was shattered by a greater force. The bed crashed into her, the posts pinning her wings against the wall. She heard the hunters rush in and knew it was too late to send it back. She did anyway, giving one of them a good concussion. Another grabbed her neck and shoved her against the wall. She raised her hand and aimed her fingers as a similar choke around his neck. Laughing, he pulled a knife. Without a word, Akiria released her magic. The hunter flew backward. His legs banged against the overturned bed as he fell out the door. With two restrained, Akiria looked for the third hunter.

    The soldiers arrived then. There were five of them, all young men fresh from the academy. Two took the restrained hunters away. Two went to Elaine. One came to Akiria's side.

    "Hey, Kiri," he said. "Another hunting party, huh?"

    "Hardly. They didn't even have magic resistances."

    "You're crying."

    "I am?"

    Boriol Pyke reached out and caught a teardrop on his finger. "Magic resistances or not, they scared you to tears."

    A soldier from the hall came into the room. "Boriol, Akiria. We can save Elaine."

    "Good," said Boriol. "Get her to the hospital. Akiria, from today on, don't go anywhere alone. If you do, make sure there are a lot of people around. A lot of non-hunter people."

    "Kay."

    --

    There was the one hunter left. Akiria hadn't overlooked him, and neither had Boriol or the rest of the soldiers. Elaine was promptly taken to the hospital, but after regaining consciousness, she claimed she was fine. Her top priority was Akiria, and Akiria's top priority was Elaine.

    "They're nice girls," a soldier said to Boriol. "Real nice. And Kiri's an angel."

    Boriol nodded. "Not unlike an angel should be. For that matter, not unlike anyone should be. If you're around other people, you're obliged to kindness."

    "Aye. It's just rare to see such qualities in girls of their age. Teenagers."

    Boriol shrugged. "They're not all as bad as people assume. Don't forget, I haven't surpassed that age group either."

    They were standing in front of the hospital, where Elaine and Akiria were talking inside. As the conversation quickly died, Boriol resorted to scanning the city—or at least what he could see of it. Modest houses, larger business buildings, and even huts were scattered around in a fashion that would suggest a child had arranged it. Although the placement was rough, it made sense, and the city of Dakonia was surprisingly easy to get around. The landmarks and popular buildings stood out among the mundane houses, making it easy to identify locations. When Boriol received directions, he was usually told to "look a few houses down from the marketplace," or "my house is the one with the garden to the left of the government offices."

    "Looking for the third hunter?" the soldier asked.

    "Yeah."

    "I didn't see him leave Elaine's house."

    "Elaine said that there were definitely three men. Akiria only saw two. So he didn't go into the room with the other two."

    The sun was beginning to set to the west. The sky and clouds were turning purple and orange.

    "Do you think he might have been leading them into a trap?"

    "The third hunter?"

    "Yeah. He and his fellow murderers claimed to be hunting Akiria, even in the middle of a region where angel hunts are illegal. They beat up an innocent girl—all three of them—and then the third disappeared while the other two, completely unprepared to fight against someone with magic, walked right in and were promptly defeated by a thirteen-year-old angel girl."

    "Nope," Boriol said. "Think about it. Why are angel hunters in business in the east and center regions?"

    "Angels are worth a manure load of coins. A thousand silvers per feather, was it? And their wings are worth a lot more."

    Boriol nodded and continued, "And the entire angel is worth more than any part combined, although most hunters assume it's impossible to capture an angel alive. So that third hunter is probably looking for an opportunity to take Akiria while his cronies take the blame. They may or may not rat him out. Let's hope they do so that we don't have to go looking for him."

    As it turned out, they didn't have to look far. They didn't have to.

    --

    The hunter was complacently seated on the roof of the hospital, waiting for the right moment to drop down and claim his million-silver prize. Or maybe he'd keep this one for himself if he could catch her alive. She was pretty, that was for sure. He thought about keeping her chained up and giving her just enough food to keep her producing feathers. A thousand silvers per hour was many times greater than any naive southerner's wages.

    He could assassinate the two soldiers standing guard. That would make his job easier until someone realized they were dead, and judging by how busy this city was in the evening, that would be many hours. He peered down at them. All he saw was a mess of blond hair on one and a gleaming silver helmet on the other. Both wore a versatile combination of leather and steel armor. The blond soldier's sword was big. Almost too big for a human to wield. That would be incredibly easy to dodge. That aside, he was a teenager. Seventeen or eighteen, by what the hunter could tell. His battle level should be pretty low. He didn't even wear a helmet.

    The other soldier was obviously more battle-ready, but he was just as careless as the blond boy. This was almost too easy. The hunter planned out his actions: first, take out the older one; the more dangerous one. Then, as any teenager would, the blond one would be slow to react. In that moment, he could get in two silent kills. Steadying his breath and readying his weapon, he prepared to jump.

    --

    Boriol felt the premonition long before he heard the horrifying shlat from beside him. Before his friend's body hit the ground, he was moving. He dove to the side and pulled his sword, coming up face to face with a man he knew was the third hunter.

    "So much for two silent kills," the hunter muttered, and charged in before Boriol could say a word. He parried the initial strike and spun around the second. He slashed at the hunter and missed, then brought his sword up to deflect two quick jabs.

    "Hunter!" he shouted. Furious, the hunter threw something. Boriol ducked on reflex and it brushed his cheek. A second throwing knife bounced off his shoulder plate, leaving a scratch.

    "Die now!" the hunter cried, lunging forward. Boriol parried his blade to the side and slammed his knee into his foe's rib cage. He drew it back to attack again, but stopped his knee just short of the edge of a sword.

    By now, people were starting to appear from their houses. Elaine and Akiria peeked out of the hospital, then stepped out after seeing the hunter occupied. Akiria knelt beside the fallen soldier and checked his wound. Then his pulse.

    Nothing.

    Boriol kicked the hunter back. "Give up, hunter. You can't beat all of us, or even me for that matter."

    The hunter looked around and weighed his options. Behind him was the angel, the reason he was in this situation. She was also a powerful magic user, and on top of that, she was outdoors now. She could fly. In front of him was a young swordsman who he had underestimated and paid the price for it. Surrounding him were multiple able-bodied citizens and soldiers of all ages, both men and women.

    He couldn't beat them all. He couldn't even defeat a careless, inexperienced boy.

    "All right, southerner. I'm overpowered here." The hunter held his arms out and dropped his weapons. "I'll leave peacefully. If you choose to arrest me, you'll regret it."

    "Give us a reason not to arrest you," Boriol demanded. "You assaulted a young girl, tried to kill another, and you just killed my friend."

    "He's right," another soldier said. "You've violated the law in three places. You have no right to walk about freely."

    The hunter smirked. "Then you'll take me to jail, I assume."

    "We will," Boriol confirmed. "Unless you can give us a suitable reason not to."

    The hunter was silent for a moment. He turned and pointed at Akiria. "Guard your angel well," he said. "I won't be the last."

    Boriol and two other guards led him to the city jail as the civilians looked on, some uneasy, some grateful, some triumphant, and some horrified. Akiria watched in silence. She was well aware that she was crying again, her tears dripping down onto the dead soldier's armor. She laid a hand on his neck, wishing more than anything right now that she could heal him, devastated that he had to die for her.

    ******

    Angel Hunters 2
    SPOILER! :
    The east was a very different place from the south. Angel hunting was not only accepted; it was encouraged.

    “Angels are animals,” was a popular line, along with “Get them before they get you,” and “Sell an angel—feed your family for years!”

    Only the last one held true, but most easterners didn’t know that. They didn’t have to. There was a thrill in the act of hunting an angel that was unattainable by any other means. Angels were intelligent creatures, skilled in magic and blessed with the ability to fly. It took an elaborate trap to catch one in good condition, and a genius-level plan to bring one down uninjured.

    Most people aimed high, both in standards and during the hunt. Angels tended to fly upward to avoid arrows. Shooting twice consecutively, with one arrow higher than the other, was a favored technique. Another was to hide in the trees and shoot a crossbow straight up as an angel flew by.

    Morin was an angel hunter, or at least he wanted to be. He had participated in hunts, but his roles were limited to “Bring me the net!” or “Give me the knife!”

    Today, that changed. Morin was going to bring down an angel, all on his own. No friends. No companions. No bossy leaders. No help.

    He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else. They would laugh at him. He was fifteen, much too young to be counted as an official hunter. He wouldn’t have a reliable source of information at that age. How could he possibly even find an angel?

    “There you go . . . keep going. Closer . . . closer . . .”

    The angel was female, small and light. Easy to damage. She was also nearsighted. Morin had figured her out after seeing her asleep on top of a temple in the forest just west of his village and watching her every day since. The moment he saw her, he knew this was his chance. A few days later, here he was with a loaded crossbow, a thoroughly-sharpened sword, two hunting knives, and more enthusiasm than he knew what to do with. He was donned completely in leather, to reduce the impact of the angel’s arcane magic. It wasn’t the best hunting garb, but it was the best he would get without paying hundreds of silvers for a specialized set.

    She was about two hundred yards up, with a wingspan twice her size and moving faster than Morin could ever run. He poked the crossbow out of the bush he was using for cover. Two hundred yards would test its range, especially straight up, but he was sure he could do it. He waited until the angel had turned around and headed away from the village before aligning his sights and putting his finger on the trigger.

    “Gotcha,” he said under his breath, and pulled the trigger.

    It was a direct hit. Morin couldn’t tell exactly where the arrow had penetrated, but he judged from her cry and the way she fell that it was somewhere in her midsection. She fell faster than he’d ever seen an angel fall, straight into an open lake. Good for her!

    Morin hurried over to the shore, where his angel was dragging herself up toward the brush. Tears streamed down her cheeks and blood stained her beige shirt. The arrow was still in her stomach, but half of it had broken off, probably when she tried to pull it out.

    “Surprised?” he asked. “See, no one thought I could do it. But I did it. I took down an angel without any help.”

    The angel looked up at him, then to his crossbow and the rest of his weapons.

    “You’re a hunter . . .” she said weakly.

    “A wannabe hunter,” Morin answered, surprised at how easily he had adopted his annoying title. “But after this—I’ll be a hero!”

    --

    Iris knew that the boy standing over her was the one who had shot her down. She had known that this area was full of hunters, but she couldn’t just leave. Not until she had found her brother. A lot of good that dedication did her now.

    “Now, let’s get those wings first. They’re worth a lot, y’know. I could be the richest person in the village—see, ‘cause I’m the only one who’s ever hunted an angel alone.”

    So he was completely alone? Iris doubted it. Only the elite were capable of working alone and being successful. This boy was not.

    “Heads up,” she said, and shot a good twenty-pound rock at him. It collided with his chest and sent him sprawling, screaming. Iris couldn’t help feeling a little bit bad for him, but he was planning on killing her for popularity and money. She couldn’t afford to do any less. She tried to stand, but the pain in her stomach pulled her back to the bloody sand. Forced to a crawl, she pulled herself along the beach and into the brush. The lake she had crashed into was surrounded by the stuff. In the direction she was headed, east, there was a doctor she knew. He lived below the temple and stayed there to help people just like her.

    A leather boot appeared in front of her. Iris looked up to see the toe of a quickly-incoming sole. The kick turned her over, onto her back. The hunter boy, bleeding and breathing hard, held a knife backhand. He raised it and went for a killing blow, but a fallen log sent him tumbling into the water like a hopeless ragdoll. It didn’t keep him down. He was up within seconds, but so was Iris.

    She went down again, unable to take the pain of the arrow slicing up her insides every time she moved.

    --

    Morin saw the angel’s pain. The arrow had almost done her in, and slowly, it was finishing what it had begun. He knelt beside her and grabbed her by the hair, intending to shove her face into the ground as revenge for what she had done to him. After seeing her face, he decided against it. She was in enough pain as it was. He was a hunter, not a sadist. She was also pretty, like all angels, with large, sad eyes and dark hair.

    His observations didn’t do him any good. The angel raised one shaking arm and brought down a tree. Morin sidestepped it, but was hit by a branch.

    “That the best you can do? Angels are adept in arcane magic, aren’t they?”

    The water in the lake began to churn. Morin didn’t notice it until the intensity of the noise was deafening. He looked over his shoulder and saw the twenty-foot waves crashing against each other, propelled by nothing but a dying angel’s magic.

    He was still transfixed when the water rose from the lakebed in a tidal wave over a thousand feet high. The angel must have sucked all the water from the lake—all into that single wave. Surely she would die after such an attack. If Morin could dodge this, he would have his angel.

    So he ran. In less than five seconds, the water caught up with him. He screamed to nobody as the wave crashed down on him, slamming his entire body into the ground and dragging him deeper. As if that moment didn’t last long enough, it started pulling him back. Unable to breathe, let alone move, he fell helplessly back to the bottom of the lake. The churning never ended. Even after he was sure the water on the surface had calmed down, wherever he was still raged like it had just begun.

    Somehow, he found air. He gulped in as much as he could, but then he was drowning again. He couldn’t tell up from down, but he knew his head had just been above water. He swam forward and found more air. This time, he also found light, but it wasn’t from the sun. In the time he had been underwater, the sky had clouded over with dark rainclouds. Lightning danced in an impossibly fast circle around the lake, imprisoning him in a deadly cage.

    The angel was doing this. Morin knew it. Fatally wounded, her magic was still at full power—or at least he thought it was. She was giving one final spurt of glorious power before she died. It was a shame. Morin had originally intended to bring her back alive.

    He waited for the lightning to stop striking around the lake. It didn’t. It was getting closer to the water with every bolt. Ten came down consecutively, followed in less than a second by ten or twenty more.

    “Just die already, you stupid angel!” Morin shouted. It was getting hard to stay afloat. His armor didn’t weigh him down too much. He was used to swimming with a burden. It was the fear of being electrocuted that kept him still.

    The lightning stopped suddenly, and the waves shrank to a much safer size. The dark clouds remained, and a stab of lightning would occasionally strike way off-target. Taking this as his victory, Morin climbed out of the lake and searched for the angel. He found her lying far away from the lake, face-up, her eyes half-open. Her breathing was shallow and labored. When he stepped into her field of view, he saw no reaction. Had she fallen into a coma? It didn’t matter. Morin had won.

    “These are mine now,” he said, turning her over with his foot and grabbing her wings near the base. He pulled, but didn’t even strain them. Of course not. He was the town weakling. Reluctantly accepting the fact, he drew his sword and began sawing at the base of the angel’s right wing. Her body went rigid, and she gasped once.

    “One down.”

    The left wing was easier to get off. Morin held them both up and shook them around a bit. They were light. Much lighter than Morin had expected for their size. Their span was about twelve feet on full extent.

    “You took my wings . . .” the angel girl said quietly. “My wings . . .”

    Morin turned his back to her and marched back toward the village before he could see her tears, leaving her to die by the lake.

    --

    Iris considered getting one final blast in at the hunter, but she knew it was useless. He might come back and take something else if she did. That aside, she pitied him a bit. She felt bad even thinking about attacking his back. She moved her wings, or what remained of them. Blood spurted out as it was sent to something that was no longer there.

    She couldn’t heal herself. She laid her hands on her stomach and tried to at least get the sharp half of the arrow out. She could feel its tip on her spine. Not good. She couldn’t see the tip, but she could feel it. She knew where it was, but didn’t know what would happen if she tried to take it out.

    She would die anyway if she didn’t at least try. Closing her eyes and gripping the loose end of her shirt in a ball, she reached in with magic and tore the arrow out. Something was cut. Something inside her was slit open by the arrowhead. It had probably already been cut when it went in, but it hurt even more coming out.

    The arrow was warm, and it smelled like metal and blood. Iris tried to throw it away, but what strength she had left only allowed her to get it two yards from her.

    “I’m not gonna die . . .” she told herself. “I’m not gonna die. I’m not gonna die.”

    She still had to find her brother. He was still in this place—he could very well be next. The hunters would find him.

    “I’m not gonna die. I can’t die . . .”

    Angel Hunters 3
    SPOILER! :
    Boriol had fallen into a strange daydream while standing—sitting—watch over the newly-imprisoned angel hunter. His nonsensical insults and verbal jabs at angels, soldiers, southerners, and various other things had gotten boring after two hours, though he did say some relatively interesting things from time to time.

    Presently, he was babbling about some kid called Morin, who he made out to be quite a loser.

    Elaine walked in then. She carried a tray of homemade and handpicked food: two honey and butter sandwiches, a few carrots, and two apples. She set them on the table in front of Boriol and pulled up a chair for herself. They hunter finally quieted down, probably to hear if his guard would say anything useful for his escape.

    “Honey and butter? Sure you shouldn’t be giving these to Kiri?”
    Elaine rolled her eyes. “Well, I originally had five of them. She’s a sneaky little angel.”

    “That or your observation could use some improvement,” Boriol teased.

    “True. It is pretty hard not to notice a girl with wings sneaking around.”

    Boriol took a sandwich and peeked inside. “Huh. She stole the honey off this one. How’d she do that?”
    Elaine inspected the other sandwich. “Same here. I guess we’re having butter sandwiches. I’ll chew her out for this when I get back.”

    “Naw, she’s fine. When I was her age, I stole all sorts of food from off my parents’ plates.”

    “Ha. You? Steal?”

    Boriol corrected himself. “Well, with permission, of course.”

    Elaine looked satisfied, so Boriol remained silent until they finished eating. On cue, three soldiers walked in the door. One carried a black angel feather. Boriol stood up. Elaine looked back at them in surprise.

    “Relax, kid,” the lead soldier said. “We found this near the edge of the forest.”

    Elaine stared, open-mouthed. Boriol looked closer at the feather.

    “Yeah, it’s from a dark angel. We’re gonna get a few men and check for it.”

    Elaine thought of Akiria picked up on the situation. “Oh! Angels losing their feathers is a really bad sign, isn’t it?”

    “Usually,” said Boriol. “But this is the first I’ve heard of a dark angel losing a feather.”

    “You sure it’s not from a bird?”

    Boriol took the feather and showed it to Elaine. It was the length and width of her forearm. “There are no birds in the southern region with feathers like this. Feel it. It’s as hard as a shield and light as . . . well, as a feather.”

    For a moment, all five of them stared at the feather. A soldier blew out a long breath and said, “We don’t have time to stare at this thing. Let’s go find the creature.”

    Elaine followed the soldiers out the door. Boriol turned to her. “Sorry to make you do this, Elaine. Could you go get Akiria for us? It’s gonna take an angel—at least—to kill a dark angel if we find it.”

    “Yeah. Can I come too?”

    Boriol shook his head, then reconsidered. “Yes. But you’ll have to stay back. If something goes wrong, we’ll need you to run back and get help. Follow us from about a hundred yards and stay covered if you can.”

    Elaine thanked him and ran off to find Akiria.

    “That was some good judgment,” a female soldier said, nudging Boriol. “I would have just refused her without considering our backup plan when I was your age.”

    “I’m not that much younger than you. And Elaine’s seventeen. She knows what she’s doing.” Remembering that she had failed to detect Akiria stealing the honey off their sandwiches, he added, “Maybe.”

    --

    Akiria’s initial reaction to the idea of fighting a dark angel was to feel Elaine’s forehead. “Are you sick?” she asked.

    “No!” Elaine went to remove Akiria’s hand, but then realized that it was warm, and felt comfortable. It was hard to imagine that a girl like this was the key to defeating a dark angel.

    Akiria sighed. “Elaine, do you remember when I told you about dark angels?”

    Elaine confessed that she didn’t.

    “They’re strong. Really strong. But the reason they’re dark angels is because they used their magic for evil. Not only that, but they used it for a purpose other than defense or healing. I’ve never done that—at least I hope I haven’t. I think I haven’t. My wings are still white.”

    “Can’t they change back?”

    “Yeah,” Akiria said. “That’s why dark angels are so scary. It’s because they keep on doing bad things without repenting that their wings stay black.”

    After a moment of silence, Akiria stood up.

    “I’m going. I might have to become a bit of a dark angel myself if I wanna survive this, though.”

    --

    Boriol drew his sword when he heard the steady beat of wings overhead, but let it drop to his side when Akiria landed softly beside him. It drew a nervous chuckle from the other three soldiers. Ironically, this golden-haired angel girl was their most powerful fighter, and they would be obeying her commands from here on out.

    “I’m gonna put barriers around you guys,” she said. “I doubt even a dark angel would go after you if I’m there. But still.”

    “That and your fight’s probably gonna blow out half the forest,” Boriol pointed out. “Unless you take it to the air.”

    “I’ll do my best.”

    They walked in silence. Precautious, Boriol kept his sword drawn. The forest was just ahead of them. A light wind had pushed at their backs all the way here, but now it pushed against them. The trees lining the forest were still. The sky was grey with clouds, but they weren’t moving. The wind, as natural as it seemed, was only a barrier.

    The moment they passed through it, Akiria jumped forward and took flight. A black-winged angel met her in midair. Two attacks of inhuman force collided, and Akiria was blasted backward. Unable to recover, she crashed into a soldier. They rolled a few yards before she managed to get to her feet. The dark angel was already on top of her, thrusting a pulsating blade down at her throat. She dodged to the side and sent the dark angel literally flying with a magic-infused kick to the stomach.

    “Akiria, take our barriers off!” Boriol shouted. “They’re sapping your magic!”

    Akiria removed the barriers without hesitation, but put up a different kind. She only hoped she wouldn’t have to see it used. Before she could do anything else, her opponent was in front of her again. He didn’t attack. Instead, he looked Akiria over. She took the opportunity to size him up. He was roughly ten years older than her and ten years more powerful. He was handsome, as all angels were, but the look in his eyes was anything but attractive.

    “Akiria Syara?” he said. “You’ve grown up. I didn’t recognize you when you first got in here.”

    “Who the heck are you?”

    “My name is Tempus. I became a dark angel a few days ago, and I don’t regret it!”

    The dark angel lashed out with his pulsating blade again. Akiria spun around the side of it and caught his wrists. His sword wasn’t made of steel, but with magic, as she had thought.

    “I’m a sword master,” he said. “But almost all angels have some kind of combat forte. What’s yours?”

    He was playing around with her. The nerve! Akiria elbowed him in the ribs and pushed off him with her feet. She felt a tiny prick at the bottom of her foot as his sword cut the sole of her shoe in half. Turning around, she twisted over a thin blade of magic. The tree behind her was cut in half and fell toward her. She flew around it and landed on top of it as it hit the ground. Tempus stood in front of it, inches from where the last branch had fallen.

    “You asked what my forte was,” Akiria said. She held out her hand. A white bow grew out of the air in front of her in less than a second. When she pulled back on the string, an arrow formed between her fingers. She let it fly. It split in two mid-flight and came at Tempus from two directions. He blocked them both and was assaulted with a second wave. Three came from above and two from the sides.

    “Ha! You call archery your best skill at that pathetic level?”

    Tempus threw out three more of the same magic blades that had cut down the tree. Akiria jumped over them and flew upward to avoid a fireball that set an entire tree on fire. Three more came down from the cutters.

    --

    The fight was getting more and more intense, but it was still relatively one-sided. Boriol wondered if Akiria had really taken the shields off them.

    “Let’s get out of the barrier,” the female soldier said. “We’re useless. Against that sort of monster, we can’t do anything.”

    The rest of them agreed, but before they could get out, the dark angel swooped down and blocked them off.

    “I see your angel’s got a shield on all of you. No wonder she’s so weak.”

    From the air, Akiria yelled, “Boriol, dodge it!”

    He couldn’t dodge it. He couldn’t even see the incoming blade. He opened his mouth to scream when he heard the hilt of the sword clink against his armor. It wasn’t him who screamed. He didn’t feel anything. The sword hadn’t actually cut him.

    Above him, a cry of agony pierced the air. Akiria fell from the air and landed hard on her side, but she clutched her neck instead.

    “Akiria!”

    “Run, Boriol!” a soldier shouted, dragging him through the wind barrier. Desperate, he threw his sword back at the evil angel. If nothing else, it would distract him long enough for Akiria to recover, at least a little bit.

    --

    Akiria had never felt so much pain in her life. Her right collarbone was sliced in half and the back of her shoulder blade was broken. Blood seeped from a wound caused by a sword that had never even touched her.

    “Your antics are amusing,” said Tempus, stepping on her wound. She screamed again, writhing around in pain and desperation. “Nothing more. Not useful, not smart. What if I had tried to cut that kid’s head off? It might use the least magic, but redirection is the worst kind of shield. If you were going to live beyond today, you might have been able to heed those words.”

    He slashed at Akiria’s neck just as two arrows sank into the base of his wings. Distracted, he let go of his sword. Akiria rolled onto her side. It still cut her, but missed anything vital. Her injury burned, and she fell back again. Tempus was howling in agony, trying to get the arrows out. It was impossible. He must have realized this, for he turned on Akiria and kicked her over and over again. She withstood them all, but let down all her defense when he stomped on her collarbone.

    “Stop it!!”

    Tempus stopped. Cringing in pain, he turned around. Akiria looked at the source of the voice.

    “Stop it . . . Tempus.”

    A little girl with long black hair stood ten yards away. Tears were streaming down her cheeks. She wore a plain, dirty white dress. A small dog stood at her side, all seven of its tails curled around her ankles.

    “Illyana. Don’t get in my way. I agreed to protect you, but I have my needs as well.”

    “Don’t kill her,” Illyana said. “Please.”

    Tempus turned around. Now on her knees, Akiria tried to move, but she was thrown against a tree. She sat up with her back against it. She couldn’t fly. Not with such a serious injury. She moved a hand to it and began the painfully slow healing process, but knew she wouldn’t make it in time. The blue light of healing under her hand wavered.

    “Tempus! If you kill her, I’ll never even look at you again!”

    To Akiria’s surprise, Tempus stopped. He turned on the little girl.

    “So,” he said, talking through gritted teeth. “I save your worthless hide and this is how you repay me?”

    Surprising Akiria again, the seemingly bold little girl broke down and started crying. “I’m so sorry!” she sobbed.

    “You’re pathetic!” Tempus shouted. But he didn’t hit her, or even touch her. Instead, he walked past her, past the burning result of their battle, and disappeared into the forest. The little girl kept crying, hugging the dog and trembling all over.

    Boriol and the other soldiers arrived a minute later. Elaine jogged up behind them. She went to Akiria immediately, while Boriol went to the dark-haired girl.

    “Kiri, that looks terrible!” she cried, kneeling beside her friend. She looked back to the soldiers. “We need medical supplies! Do you have any?”

    “It’s all right,” Akiria said, feigning strength. “I’ll have this healed in about an hour.”

    The little girl, Illyana, came to her next. She knelt beside her and rested her hand on top of Akiria’s. The blue light intensified. Akiria’s eyes widened.

    “You’re a magic user?”

    “I can heal people,” Illyana said. “I’m really sorry he did that . . . he’s not really bad . . . I don’t think. He saved my life.”

    “And in turn, you saved mine,” Akiria said. “Thanks so much.”

    --

    Boriol was worried about Akiria, but saw that she was in good hands. He looked down at the strange seven-tailed dog. Its fur was gold like Akiria’s hair; its sapphire eyes also the same as hers. He wondered how Illyana had come across such a beautiful animal. Now wasn’t the time to ask, though. There was just one thing he needed to know, and he had his suspicions as to the answer.

    “Illyana,” he said. “Do you have a home?”

    She shook her head. “It burned down. Tempus traveled with me, but he left . . .”

    “You can stay with us,” Elaine offered. “Akiria and I, that is.”

    “Thank you,” Illyana said quietly. “I promise I won’t cause much trouble.”

    “I’ll hold you to that one,” Elaine said, “and hope a certain little angel follows your example.”

    So she was still thinking about the honey incident, Boriol thought. Or did she do something else?

    --

    It looked like the whole village was waiting when the party returned. Apparently, they had seen and heard parts of the angels’ fight. Adventurous young boys and girls questioned Akiria about her “epic battle.” She told them, quite honestly, that she had lost miserably and that Illyana had saved her.

    “I feel useless,” Boriol said when he, Elaine, Akiria, and Illyana arrived at their house. Akiria went gave Illyana a tour while Boriol and Elaine sat down and talked.

    “At least you did something,” Elaine said sullenly.

    “What?”

    “Got me on that one.” Elaine looked over at Akiria and Illyana, who were going through every last book on their shelves. “Look. They are so cute.”

    Boriol laughed. “I think someone deserves a good meal. Wanna help me cook?”

    “Gladly. Whoever makes the best dish wins.”

    Angel Hunters 4 (this one sucks)
    SPOILER! :
    Morin loved his new life. Everywhere he went, people greeted him with a smile. Everyone recognized him. People who’d used to bully him now respected him—at least a little bit. His troubles were by no means over, but they sure had calmed down.

    Presently, he walked through the town of Chaldin with his head held high. The crisp, cool air felt good to breathe in. Leaves from various types of trees fell and littered the ground. The houses and shops around him were made of logs and hard clay. The road he walked on was a two-track meant for horses and carts.
    He thought about visiting his favorite shops now, as he had a lot of money to spare. He had given some feathers to his friends and kept some for himself, but sold most of them. The bones from the wings had made the most money, though.

    In truth, he felt bad for the angel he’d killed for this. She had looked so human. She was scared. That was why she had fought back. Of course she would hit him with all she had, a twenty-pound rock included. Morin’s ribs still hurt. What hurt him most wasn’t a physical wound, though. It was the angel’s final resignation as he cut her wings off. He knew very well now that she could have killed him when he turned his back. If he was in her place, he would have.

    “Morin!”

    A well-known hunter in Chaldin named Dave beckoned him to a shop that resembled a bar of sorts. It was mostly empty except for Dave, the shop owner, and two non-descript bums. Changing course, Morin headed over to it.

    “So, you got yourself an angel,” Dave said, slapping him on the back. “Good job, kid. Didn’t kill her, though.”

    “No,” Morin said, surprised that Dave knew. “How’d you know?”

    “It shows all over you, man. Angels are pretty. You’re going through puberty. There’s no way you could kill a cute girl, human, angel, demon, or even a pure bloodangel.”

    “Bloodangel?”

    “Ah, don’t worry,” Dave said, waving it off. “There’s angels, dark angels, archangels, and bloodangels—in that order of intensity. Angels are the only ones it’s possible to survive against in a fight.”

    “But you can kill angels without a problem,” Morin pointed out. He shivered at the idea that there could be a creature with more power than the angel he’d fought. “Do you just get used to it after awhile?”

    “There’s that. When I was fifteen, I couldn’t kill any girl angels either. But now, killing is my business. And business is good.”

    “Very good,” Morin agreed. “I could live for ten years off what I have now.”

    Dave laughed heartily. “That’s part of the beauty of angel hunting! Only bad part is, if everyone starts hunting, prices are gonna skyrocket. Then what happens when we run out of angels?”

    Morin had a sarcastic comment prepared to go along with the joke, but then he realized that it might not be a joking matter. What would happen when angels went extinct? He laughed along with Dave, but walked home lost in thought. He took a hundred silver note from his pocket and stared at it. This sheet—this piece of paper—could buy him a top-quality sword, maybe even a magically imbued weapon or piece of armor. And this was just one feather.

    One feather could set him off for a long time.

    He had taken all of them. He had cut a girl’s wings off and left her to die while he went and became rich. She was just an angel, though. It was perfectly acceptable to kill angels.

    Why?

    Angels were humans with wings. Beautiful humans with wings. Morin could accept taking their feathers, but was it totally necessary to kill them? Most hunters assumed it was naïve to believe you could capture one alive. And yet, Morin had done just that. He could have hauled her back to the village . . . and then what?

    He reached his house. His parents were out, as usual. They were the first people he’d forgotten on his list of people to brag to. He flopped down on his bed and pulled a feather from under his pillow. He held it up to the light. Beams shined around it, and brightened it. It was a pure, bright white that not a single other living thing had. Its radiance transfixed him. He didn’t know how long he stared at it, but when he snapped out of his trance, there was someone else in the house.

    “Mom? Dad?”

    Morin stood up. Nobody answered him, but he knew someone was there. He considered the possibility of it being a thief after the angel feathers. He held the feather out in front of him as he rounded the corner to check on his chest, as if it would protect him.

    “You bastard!”

    Morin had never seen something so fast, or felt something so powerful. His already-bruised ribs screamed as he crashed into the door. He shook it off as best he could and tried to stand up. He didn’t know who his opponent was, and he didn’t care. He just wanted to get out.

    A hand closed around his neck and threw him back into the house as he tried to escape. One more pound of force and it would have broken.

    “Morin was your name, right?”

    Morin looked up. His attacker was roughly two or three years older than him, about six inches taller, much more muscular, and to top it off, he was unarmed. Pure white wings grew from his back, but unlike the girl angel from before, this angel had another set of wings, plenty smaller, just behind and below the first.

    He was an archangel.

    The next thing he knew, he was pinned against the wall. One of the angel’s hands was around his neck. The other was by his side, completely relaxed. The strength in one of his arms could lift all of Morin’s hundred fifty pounds. He wasn’t even straining.

    “Give me that feather.”

    An angel, after an angel’s feather? Were angels nowadays also becoming angel hunters? Regardless of what the case was, Morin handed it over. The angel didn’t release him. Dragging Morin behind him, he threw open the door, got a firm hold around his captive’s waist, and took flight.

    “He—!”

    “Shut up, hunter. If you call for help I’ll drop you.”

    Morin shut up. They were about a hundred yards up. The angel was flying without any difficulty, unfortunately. Morin looked down, but only caught a glimpse of the passing scenery before they took a sharp dive. They were headed straight for a very familiar lake. Morin prepared to land in the water, but the angel pulled up at the last moment, dousing him with water, then dropped him on the shore.

    “Hunter. Stand up. Now.”

    Morin obeyed. He looked around nervously. This was definitely the spot where he’d taken out the first angel. Where was she?

    He noticed a small brown-haired bundle of blankets on the ground.

    “Arion?” the bundle said quietly. It turned to reveal a familiar face. When the angel girl saw Morin, she closed her eyes.

    “I didn’t kill him,” the angel said. “Although it was against my better judgment. Why would you want to spare this trash?”

    The girl answered with a question. “Why’d you bring him here?”

    The male angel, Arion, knelt beside the girl and gently turned her over. He pulled down the blanket to a point just below her shoulder blades. There was about an inch left of her wings. The blood had dried, but the area around them was swollen and looked painful.

    “When you cut off her wings, you left her to die,” Arion said. Morin hesitated, but nodded.

    “I didn’t really want to . . .”

    “Then why did you? That’s not the point, though. What happens to you humans when you leave a wound open and don’t treat it?”

    “It gets infected?”

    “Good. What happens when you get your arms cut off and don’t treat it?”

    “Well . . . you die.”

    Arion seemed to want to slap him, but didn’t. “If I hadn’t found her, she would have died. And then you would be responsible for my little sister’s death. I would have killed you. Instantly.”

    It was no joke. Arion was powerful. Morin could tell that much already. His ribs ached even more now. He looked at the wingless angel girl. She was extremely pretty. Morin now wondered what it was that had driven him to hurt someone like this. She couldn’t be more than a year older than him, but she had definitely seen more than he had. She had been on the other end of the angel hunts. Where he saw triumphant hunters returning to the village as heroes, this girl—and the young man—saw murder. Cruel, savage, heartless murder.

    He almost cried. He didn’t want to believe that he had condoned this sort of thing. Worse yet, he was responsible for part of it. This girl who lay dying on the ground in front of him was dying only because of him. She needed medical treatment, and she wasn’t getting it.

    “Can’t we heal her?” Morin asked, almost afraid to say a word. He was definitely not on Arion’s good side.

    Arion shook his head. “We need to get to a doctor. She lost too much blood—needs a transfusion. On top of that, only a few angels are blessed with healing abilities as their primaries. Iris is one. But she can only seal her wounds. She can’t replace what she lost. Wings. Blood. And she can’t get that arrow out.”

    Any other time, Morin would have been mad at Arion for calling him out on so many charges. But they were all true.

    “You can’t replace her wings,” he said. “Morin, you’ve stolen her flight forever. And sold it. But you can help me get her to a doctor.”

    “Where?”

    “Chaldin. Your village.”

    Morin gaped. “No! Do you know how many hunters there are in my village? If you walked in, you’d be shot on sight.”

    Arion smirked. “Worry about yourself. How are your hunter buddies gonna like you after you walk in with an angel and say he’s with you?”

    The dirty blackmailer!

    Arion collected his sister in his arms. She buried her face in his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his neck. She didn’t say a word. It was then that Morin realized he could easily hide Iris’s race in the village. Angels had wings. Iris didn’t. All he had to do was bribe a single doctor to say he never saw anything on her back, or never felt how inhumanly light she was.

    If the doctor saw Iris in the same light as Morin did, it would be no problem. The only flaw in his plan was Arion. As if on cue, the angel said:

    “I lied before. I’m staying out of sight, but I’ll be watching you. If anything happens to Iris, you know what happens. Once you get her set in the hospital for the night, tell me what’s going on. I’ll wait in your house.”

    “But my parents—”

    “Are never home,” Arion finished, cutting him off. Morin didn’t say one more word until they got to the border of the village. A few people on horseback or on foot passed, but every time one did, Morin would look around and not see Arion or Iris anywhere. When the people passed out of sight, he was there, carrying Iris, walking along as if nothing had happened.

    “I think I realize just what angel hunting is now,” said Morin, a little hesitant.

    “Continue.”

    “Paid murder. Paid child abuse. Paid rape. Paid genocide. I just can’t look at it the same way anymore.”

    “Good. Looks like at least one hunter can gain sense.”

    They approached the village. Arion gently handed Iris to Morin. “Protect her with your life,” he said, and flew away. Iris didn’t cling to him, as she had to her brother. Of course not. Who would feel safe around a paid murderer?

    He walked briskly into the village. People turned and looked. He passed marketplace stalls, shops, houses, popular hangouts, and even an angel shop that sold angel blood, bones, hair, and wings. Morin made sure Iris didn’t see it. The shopkeepers saw her, though. One of them left the store and fell in pace beside him.

    “Morin!” he said cheerfully. Too cheerfully. Morin suspected that he already knew what Iris was. “That’s a very pretty girl you’ve got there. Is she human?”

    “She got shot,” Morin said curtly. “I need to get her to a doctor.”

    “Shot where? By who?”

    “Stomach. By me.”

    The shopkeeper stalled for a moment, and Morin used the opportunity to rush over to the hospital. It wasn’t a big place. There were three stories, two reserved for patients. It smelled like medicine on this floor, and Morin knew it would only get worse on the different levels. Upon seeing Iris, a doctor came to them. Morin trusted this one—more or less.

    “She got shot. Needs blood, and needs the arrow outta her gut. Can you help her?”

    The doctor looked hastily around the floor. Two people sat in chairs on the other side of the room. They didn’t look sick.

    “Follow me,” the doctor said. He led Morin behind the desk and into the main office—the one that no one ever saw. He pushed a chair back from a desk piled with papers. He pulled a rug out of the way to reveal a trapdoor. He pulled on the old brass ring and descended a dark staircase.

    Morin followed, angling Iris to fit through the small opening. Her foot banged against the floor. Someone must have heard it, but no one came. The doctor took Iris and told Morin to close the trap door. He did as instructed and followed the doctor into a dark, dusty old basement. There was zero visibility until the doctor lit a torch on the wall, followed by a second and a third. Medical supplies of every type were down here, scattered around on tables, hooks, and on the floor. An operating table sat in the middle of the room. The doctor laid Iris down on it and removed her blankets.

    “You brought me an angel,” he said. “Morin, do you have any idea what’ll happen if anyone finds out about this? I mean, us helping an angel instead of killing her?”

    “Look at her, Kyle!” Morin exclaimed. “She’s beautiful. She could have killed me at any point while I was taking her here, and she didn’t! Besides . . .” he hesitated, then blurted it out, “I’m the one who did this to her.”

    Quietly, the doctor asked Iris, “Can you roll over for me?”

    Iris rolled onto her side without a sound. Her shirt was cut low enough to reveal her shoulder blades, and with them, full proof that she was an angel. Morin and the doctor stared at the bloody stumps that used to be her wings.

    “I can’t heal them,” she said. “I can’t replace anything I lose. I can only fix tissue.”

    “That makes my job easier,” the doctor said, sounding relieved. “I’ll have to get these stumps off. Sorry, it’ll hurt. But it’ll let you walk around without someone trying to murder you in the street.”

    Murder. Morin liked that the doctor used that word. He saw angel hunting for what it was. Or at least he pretended to. Morin didn’t know for sure at this point.

    “Wings aside,” the doctor continued, “you need blood. What type are you?”

    “Angels all the same type,” Iris stated. “I just need blood from another angel.” She went silent for a moment, then said, “You’ve killed enough here. You’re bound to have blood somewhere.”

    --

    Arion sat in Morin’s house, reading a book. Tales Of Angels was the title. It intrigued him that a hunter would own a book that uplifted the very race he hunted. Maybe he really wasn’t a bad person. He had all sorts of books, but they were all dusty and probably never used. At least not for a long time.

    Arion was a fast reader. He finished Tales Of Angels within the hour he picked it up and moved on to the next one. He ran his finger along the rows of books on the single shelf in the house, drawing a line in the dust. Eventually, he reached one that wasn’t dusty. This one had been read recently. He pulled it out and read the title:

    'Angel Hunters: A Starter’s Guide'

    Arion’s hate for Morin flared up again. He flipped the book open to see what kind of lies the human had been reading.

    'Many angel hunters do not enjoy the act of killing an angel. Many feel regret after every kill. Angels are beautiful animals, and deserve respect as everything else does.

    If you have reservations about beginning to hunt, see page 67.'

    Arion turned to page 67, which was bookmarked.

    'Hunting isn’t a necessity. Do not feel that you have to just because it is popular. Remember, though: angels are wild animals. They will do anything to kill you should you fail to do so first. If you happen to meet an angel, do not be deceived by its appearance. There are numerous reports of people, mostly teenagers and children, turning up dead when they were drawn in to the beautiful exterior of an angel.

    Hunting angels may seem cruel at first, but it is necessary to protect those you love.'

    “Bullshit!” Arion almost shouted. He covered his mouth. He didn’t usually swear, and yet, he had done so twice after finding that moron, Morin. Who was writing this crap?

    “Arion?”

    Arion looked behind him. He tossed the book to Morin. “This is a load of crap,” he said. “Why would you actually believe in such blatant lies?”

    “Nobody’s actually given the angels a chance to talk,” Morin said, tossing the book into a trash can. “Iris was the first angel I’ve ever seen survive a hunt. Of course, that’s because I suck at it. Forever will. I’m done.”

    “You’d better be. How’s Iris doing?”

    Morin recounted the story. “He made go out and buy angel blood from that one place. The shopkeeper’s an ass, you know that?”

    “How can you sell angel parts and not be some sort of deviant?”

    “It’s not so deviant in this society. Wherever you and Iris go after this, take me with you.”

    Arion pulled a book from the shelf and flopped down on a soft leather chair. Without looking at Morin, he said, “Do you think Iris would welcome such an idea? After what you did to her?”

    “What I did was minor compared to what most hunters do. I know what you mean, though. I’ll leave on my own if I have to. Meanwhile, I wanna make up to Iris somehow.”

    “Can you give her her wings back?”

    “No. I can’t.”

    “Leave Iris to me. I know you mean well, but after she gets out of the hospital, I’ll take care of her.”

    Arion knew that he was cutting deep. Morin wanted nothing more than to make amends. He considered apologizing, but decided against it. No matter how he behaved now, this kid had cut his little sister’s wings off not too long ago.

    “Morin, are your parents ever home?”

    “Nope. I think they’re both cross-border hunters. It might do them some good to meet you or Iris. Well, Iris anyway.”

    “There’s an idea,” Arion said, grinning. “You could introduce Iris to a hunter and not tell them she was an angel till a month or so later.”

    “Might work,” Morin said. “One flaw, though. There’s no human girl I’ve ever seen as pretty as Iris. Besides, don’t you have some other defining features?”

    Arion nodded. “Nothing you can see on the surface, though. Iris can sing and make a troll cry. I can lift ten times my body weight. I know an angel from the south who could manipulate fire magic without draining his energy. I think he’s a dark angel now, though.”

    “Iris used some pretty powerful magic when she fought against me,” Morin pointed out. “Is that another ability, or can all angels do that?”

    “I’ve only ever seen three angels able to use magic without losing themselves and falling to darkness. The sense of power that comes with it consumes most of them. Me included. Last time I used magic, I was ten. I never tried it again. I felt like I wanted to test it out on people I loved. It’s scary stuff. I’m not sure how Iris can handle it.”

    “She lifted the water out of the entire lake and made a lightning storm around it.”

    Arion looked up from his book, eyes narrowed. “She did?”

    “Yeah. What’s that mean?”

    Arion set the book down. “Man. And she stayed the same, too. Even without her wings and an arrow wound.”

    “So . . . that level is uncommon?”

    “Naw, it’s common,” Arion said. “Most angels turn to darkness if they do something like that, though.”

    “Iris seemed to have no desire for power,” Morin put in. “She could have killed me extremely easily. When I was in that lake, all she had to do was move a lightning bolt about an inch. It was more like she was trying not to kill me.”

    “Angels weren’t designed with murder in mind.”

    “Contrary to what the books say.”

    “Get rid of every book you have about angel hunting.”

    “Already done. I just had that one.”

    Arion motioned over to the dusty bookcase. “And it was the only one you’d read in . . . how long?”

    “Too long. I hunted so much with other people that I didn’t get the chance to do anything at home.”

    Arion wanted to ask about the other angels. Morin had been hunting for a long time, apparently, but Iris had been his first solo hunt. He must have remembered some of them.

    “Morin, how many hunts have you been on?”

    “Seventeen, not including Iris.”

    “Of those seventeen, was one of the angels a black-haired guy? Around thirty. My height.”

    “Not that I can recall. All but one of our hunts was on girl angels. Dave says they’re easier to bring down.”

    “Liar,” Arion scoffed. “He must enjoy killing girls or something.”

    “Their hair sells for a lot, and sometimes they take the wings, break the fingers, and sell the girl as a slave.”

    “Who does that?” Arion asked through clenched teeth. “Whoever they are, they deserve to be killed.”

    “I agree,” Morin said. “But I sat back and watched it happen. I’ve seen girls even younger than Iris sold like that. The youngest was about ten. She killed half the hunting party, but no one wanted to kill her. They cut her hands off, though. So she couldn’t use magic.”

    “Where was she sold to?”

    “Some rich guy from nobility over in Hanton, I think. He didn’t treat her very well, from what I saw. I think the lowest rate of hunting we’ve ever had was after she was sold. No one went out for about three weeks.”

    Arion stood up and stretched his wings out. They brushed the walls on either side of him. Pulling them back in, he walked toward the door.

    “Where are you going?”

    “You stay here and make sure nothing happens to Iris. I’m gonna go save that girl.”

    Angel Hunters 5
    SPOILER! :
    It wasn’t a rarity to see an angel flying around in Dakonia, and yet, Boriol never got tired of it. Akiria flew so easily it looked like she was built for it. She was. Even with the addition of light chain armor and a blunt sword, she bounced around the training grounds like a spring with wings.

    Illyana seemed unsuitably relaxed. She didn’t seem like the type to be content in a combat situation, but her expression wasn’t the least bit anxious as she watched Boriol and Akiria spar.

    “You play around a lot,” she called to Akiria. “Tempus taught me never to take any battle lightly.”

    “He would,” Akiria muttered, and landed in front of Boriol. He made a quick lunge with his blade, but as she ducked to dodge, he stopped his momentum and gently tapped her on the head.

    “If that was Tempus, you wouldn’t have a head,” he pointed out, lowering his sword. “Illy’s right. If you play around during a battle, you’ll end up dead.”

    “I was pretty serious against Tempus.”

    Boriol recounted the battle. “Yeah. But he’s a dark angel. Not much you can do. Not much any of us could do.”

    They resumed their sparring. They both pulled their blows, but didn’t hold anything else back. Illyana had offered to act as a healer in case there were any accidents. So far, she had pointed out flaws on both of their parts, given them combat advice, and not had to heal either of them.

    “Why don’t you use magic?” Boriol asked when the idea struck him. Akiria stopped in mid-strike. Unable to resist the opportunity, Boriol tapped her forehead with his fist. “Let your guard down.”

    “Ah, not fair! You asked a question.”

    “What’s the answer?”

    “I can’t use magic quite like some angels can. I can heal. That aside, I can’t do anything but put up shields and use a bow. Tempus could blow up trees and stuff. I can’t use anything destructive like that.”

    “Why not?”

    “I just can’t. Maybe I don’t have that type of magic. Maybe God doesn’t want me to. Maybe I actually can, but haven’t. Or won’t.”

    “Confusing,” Boriol said. “So you’ve got unlimited magic power, but only in certain areas.”

    “In healing, it’s unlimited.” Akiria lifted her arm and showed Boriol a small cut near her elbow. Had he done that? Within a second, it was gone. “But whenever I use shields or have my bow out, my energy gets sapped. It’s like being sucked on by a giant leech—one for each shield and one for the bow. I would have lost that battle against Tempus no matter what I did. I kept the shields and bow out to make him think I was stronger than I was.”

    Akiria was adorable. Boriol had realized this the moment her met her about ten years ago. Hearing—and seeing—her talk about things like this was just a little bit strange and somewhat scary, and didn’t suit her. He regretted bringing the topic up, but figured Akiria was the one who had brought up the fight. Her eyes right now suggested a soul much older than thirteen. Boriol wondered if fighting was doing this to her. Looking into her eyes once more, he sheathed his sword.

    “Akiria,” he said, kneeling down to her eye level. He wasn’t sure what it was he did, but Akiria’s face quickly turned red. “You and Illyana should go up to the woods and pick some apples for Elaine and me. We’ll cook up some honey applesauce for you in return.”

    Her face brightened. It didn’t stop there. As she turned to leave, Boriol could swear her entire body was glowing. Illyana got up to follow her, but turned to Boriol.

    “You noticed it too?” she asked.

    “Of course I did. I hate seeing her like that. Make her laugh as much as you can while you’re out.”

    Illyana’s return smile imprinted itself in Boriol’s mind. Pure, warm, beautiful happiness. She turned and followed Akiria toward the hilltop wood. Akiria didn’t fly. She walked beside Illyana until they disappeared from Boriol’s view.

    Elaine came from nowhere. From beside Boriol, she said, “Illyana’s beyond her years.”

    Boriol pretended not to be surprised. “Yeah. Just eleven and she’s giving emotional support to an angel. Though I suppose her age has nothing to do with that.”

    “It doesn’t,” Elaine confirmed. Turning to Boriol and looking sideways at him, she asked, “Now how do you propose we make honey applesauce?”

    --

    “How’s Boriol gonna make honey applesauce?” Illyana asked. She and Akiria were perched on a tree branch twenty yards from the leaf-covered ground. Akiria was happily munching on an apple, swinging her legs off the edge of the branch. Illyana held the trunk of the tree for support.

    “Dunno,” she answered, and took another bite. “But maybe we shoulda thought to bring a bucket?”

    “Use the armor.”

    Akiria ran a hand down her torso. “Ah, yeah. I forgot to give this back to Boriol. Wonder why the guardhouses had my size.”

    “They’ve got soldiers your size,” Illyana said. “Did you see that guy with the gray hair yesterday?”

    “That was Boriol’s uncle. Incredible how they’re so different. Boriol’s over six foot.” Akiria reached around and unclipped the bindings on the back of the armor. She lifted it off and held it out in front of her just in time to catch a ripe apple falling from the branch above.

    “Nice catch.”

    Another apple fell into the makeshift bag. And then another. Akiria glanced over at Illyana, grinning mischievously.

    “You have to channel magic through your hands, right?”

    Akiria nodded. Her feet kept swinging and apples kept falling. Her hands were both covered with chain armor and a layer of apples.

    “How are you making the apples fall?”

    Illyana looked from Akiria’s covered hands to her feet. She was manipulating magic with her toes!

    “Ah. Now I see why you always run around barefoot.”

    Akiria let her legs stop swinging. The apples quit falling. About ten or fifteen were piled in the armor, which she pulled around like a sack. She then slung it over her shoulder and flew Illyana down from the tree. They landed softly and started the hike back home. As they trod through the light brush and foliage, small animals scattered and ran east, away from Dakonia. It was insignificant, but somewhat ominous. Illyana noticed a change in Akiria’s walk. She was slowing down, contemplating something. She confirmed a detached state of mind when the angel walked straight into a tree.

    “Akiria, are you okay?”

    “Yeah. Thanks. Something doesn’t seem right. We should hurry back.”

    They started running. When they came to the crest of the hill overlooking Dakonia, Akiria spread her wings. “I’m gonna talk to Boriol. Can you take the apples to Elaine and have some food for us when I get back?”

    Illyana nodded and took the apples. She watched her friend fly down into the city. She didn’t know what was going on, and she hadn’t known Akiria long enough to make a clear judgment, but her intuition told her that the angel had already entered her “battle mode.”

    Boriol had told her to make Akiria laugh. So much for that. Neglecting her own safety, Illyana dropped off the apples at the doorstep of Elaine’s house and ran off after Akiria.

    --

    “So much for honey applesauce?” Akiria asked as she touched down beside Boriol, standing just outside the main city gate. He was the last in a line of soldiers, all tense and ready to act at the first sign of . . . of whatever they were looking out for. Akiria didn’t know yet.

    “About that,” Boriol replied with a smirk. “We figured out we needed apples first. Sorry to ask this of you, but can you fly down the road and tell the visitors that we won’t see them?”

    “Visitors? What’s going on?”

    A guard beside Boriol said, “Angels. Your kind. They’ve come to kill the hunters we arrested awhile back. Our scouts in Midlan reported them talking about it just a few minutes ago.”

    “Can you talk them out of it?” Boriol inquired.

    “Dunno. I’ve heard of these kinds of angels before. They’re the ones who burned Illy’s hometown. Extremists.”

    Without another word, Akiria pushed off the ground and took to the sky. She gained about a hundred yards before leveling out and flying straight up the road leading away from Dakonia toward Midlan. There was nothing flying in the area, herself excluded. Angels, at least the ones she’d known, didn’t travel on foot. She looked around. For such a short distance, she doubted they’d much higher than she was, and there was no sign of them below or on level with her. Maybe they hadn’t left Midlan yet. She set her course toward Midlan, hoping to intercept the angels—the angels who surely would become dark angels.

    Wouldn’t they?

    How come they weren’t already? Did they not use their magic to destroy Illyana’s city? Or were they, in fact, already turned dark? No. The scouts had reported angels. The soldier had said, “Your kind.”

    “Your kind” was slightly insulting. Akiria wondered if that soldier had something against her. She tried to be friends with as many people as possible. It sure didn’t look good, however, that she was the same race as a group of murderers who used that race to commit atrocities. She understood the soldier, at least a little.

    She nearly flew into a tree. Veering off to the side, she spotted her objective and landed just outside the gates of Midlan, and just in front of six armed angels about to take flight. The group seemed surprised except for their leader, a woman with shoulder-length red hair and white wings. They were tainted, though. This woman had used her magic improperly. If she was responsible for the destruction of Illyana’s hometown, she would have already turned dark.

    “Akiria Syara,” the woman said with a soft smile. “You’re Dakonia’s angel?”

    “Yes,” Akiria replied. “I need to talk with you.”

    “Is it about the hunters you have held prisoner?”

    “Yes. And also, about your earlier actions against a certain hunting village.”

    Akiria sensed the change in atmosphere between them. Five angels shifted their sheathed weapons, ready to defend themselves—or attack Akiria—if necessary. Their wings were still white. All of them. How?

    “A village of hunters ceased to exist. Is that not a good thing? Does that not also benefit you?”

    Akiria hated hunters as much as these people, but there were certain things she couldn’t condone, no matter how much pseudo-satisfaction it gave her to see their downfall. “It does,” she confirmed with a nod. “I hate hunters. But you killed everyone in that village, whether or not they supported hunting. A girl survived. A girl younger than me. A dark angel protected her from you.”

    The leading angel shook her head. “We didn’t kill any children. If a dark angel was present, I’d assume that was the cause of it. I don’t see why one would protect anyone, though.”

    Illyana had told her that everyone was dead. Tempus had told her that the angels did it. Akiria felt no annoyance toward Illyana, though. Only to Tempus. Tempus was a liar and a killer, but at the very least, he had spared Illyana.

    “You only killed the hunters?” Akiria asked. The angels nodded in unison. She had no reason to trust them, but she felt it would be best if she did. Angels wouldn’t kill children, no matter how close they were with hunters.

    “We’re not dark angels, Akiria.”

    “Good.” Akiria smiled for the first time in their encounter. “As long as it was only the hunters, it’s fine with me. But I came here to talk about our prisoners.”

    “You don’t want us to kill them, correct?”

    “Yeah. Dakonia’s not a hunting town, but we don’t kill any prisoners who haven’t killed any of us. One hunter was put to death, on charge of murder and assault. The other two are still being held, and we’d prefer them alive. We don’t need any more deaths than necessary.”

    The angels stood in place, contemplating. After a moment, the leader stepped up to Akiria and put a hand on her head. She sensed no hostility from the gesture, but she was being treated like a child. She felt comfortable and annoyed at the same time.

    “You’re a good girl, Akiria. Don’t ever change.”

    Three angels behind her took flight.

    “Wait!” the woman called. Akiria took a step back and jumped into the air. The remaining three angels didn’t move.

    “Stop!” Akiria called. She caught up with them a few hundred feet in the air. “What are you doing!?”

    “Only what we should be doing,” a man said. He and his companions surrounded her. She rolled off to the side and came in fast. Two of them saw her intentions and dropped back. As she swooped down in front of the remaining one, they shot forward again and knocked her aside. Their weapons were drawn, but they hadn’t used them. This was Akiria’s only advantage, and she made use of it. She flew upward, drew her bow from the air in front of her, and fired down at her opponents. One arrow made contact, sending one of the angels spiraling down with a glowing arrow in her back. One of the remaining two flew down to save his friend while the other turned and faced Akiria.

    “Are those hunters so important to you that you shoot down your own kind to protect them?”

    “Of course not! I hate them as much as you do. But they haven’t killed anyone whereas you’re going to kill them!”

    “How do you know they haven’t? They’re hunters. Their lives are led by murder!”

    “Not these! If they were guilty of any murder without repentance, I’d go with you to kill them! I was the first angel they tried to hunt, and they failed. Back home, they have families, just like us. Those families would be pained by their death, just as ours would.”

    Akiria tried to dodge the incoming slap, but she only made it hurt worse. “How can you say that when you just shot down a woman with a family—just like your hunter friends!”

    Akiria’s knuckles were white. If her bow was made of wood, it would have broken in her grip. “You three were about to kill two men who had no blood on their hands. What would that make you?”

    Akiria guessed from the next slap that this man was just as ticked off as she was. Her cheek stung from repeated hits, but she ignored it. She had built up adrenaline just from talking, and the longer the argument went on, the more she was tempted to turn it into another fight.

    “You’re taking this too far,” the man said, anger seething through a false calm. “We’re going to destroy evil men, and you’re obstructing us. If you keep it up, I’ll eliminate you as well.”

    “If you wanna eliminate evil, start with yourself!”

    The man raised his sword, feigned a slash, and kicked Akiria in the head. Thrown off balance, she fell a few yards before steadying herself. There were trees no more than a hundred yards below, but they wouldn’t do much to cushion a fall.

    “I’ll take these.”

    He was behind her! Akiria beat her wings harder, but she couldn’t shake him off. With a loud snap, he broke both her wings at the elbow joints. In that moment, she knew what was going to happen. Screaming, she fell from the sky as the angel above her turned and flew away toward Dakonia. She had no way of controlling her fall. She was in too much pain to control anything. She would hit the ground at terminal velocity and probably die on impact, if not before.

    She would never know. She blacked out long before she hit the ground.


    So that's it for Angel Hunters for now. I think I'm leaving Boriol and Elaine out a bit too much. Boriol's a really major character, so he should be getting more screen time.
    Last edited by Matt; 11-22-2011 at 05:26 PM.

  2. #2
    999 Knights Member jaidurn's Avatar
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    I really can't wait for Angel Hunters 6.

  3. #3
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Matt's Stuff: Naomi's Story 1-4

    AH 6 is SO close to being done. But I just finished chapter 4 of Naomi's story.

    Naomi's Story 1
    SPOILER! :
    Chapter 1: A Child Mercenary


    Jonathan Light was well along in his years when he was faced with the worst situation of his life. He had instantly, but secretly, sought help. But he had little to offer as a reward, and most passing mercenaries hadn't taken it. The risk, they'd said, wasn't worth the insultingly low reward. Twenty copper coins for killing a crime lord? Some of the mercenaries had laughed at the elderly novelist. Experienced and amateur alike, every present sellsword had declined the offer.

    "Grandpa!"

    Jonathan turned from his desk to face his young granddaughter. "Andria."

    "Grandpa, you look tired."

    "I'm . . . yes, tired."

    Jonathan had recently returned from the tavern where traveling mercenaries usually dropped in. Twenty had turned him down before he returned to his small two-story house near the edge of town.

    "Andria, when you grown up," he said, "please don't let anyone make you do anything you shouldn't do."

    "What?"

    The old man smiled. "Nothing. Nothing." Ruffling his granddaughter's hair, he continued, "I might have to go away soon. I don't want what's happening to me . . . to happen to you. When I leave, I'll take you to Miss Kenna's house."

    "Yay! Miss Kenna!" Andria grinned and sat down on her knees. She pressed her hands together and put them to her mouth in an imitation of the woman in question. Then, looking up, she asked, "When will you be back?"

    "I don't know."

    "Grandpa?"

    Jonathan took a sheet of paper from his desk. "Want to hear a story, Andria?"

    "Yeah! Which one?"

    "A new one—a true story about good people who dedicate their lives to helping people in need."

    "They're heroes then. Miss Kenna says anyone who is good and helps people who need help is a hero."

    "Yes, you could say that. These people are heroes. They live in Treviri and travel the world to fight bad people and scary monsters. These people are warriors, healers, monks—like Miss Kenna, archers, scouts . . . there are a lot of them. There has to be, in order to fight all the bad things in the world."

    "Is Miss Kenna one of them?"

    "No. But people like Miss Kenna are. They're called Seekers. They're said to have abilities beyond those known to us—stretching possibility's limits. Almost magic. But it's a special gift. There are people who are born with these abilities. Whether they actually become Seekers is, of course, their own choice."

    "What kind of abilities are they?"

    "I'm not entirely sure. I've heard tell that it's like reaching your full potential early in life and being able to add on to it—to make it better."

    "What's potential?"

    "What you're able to do. Your full potential would be what you're able to do based on your natural limits—like age, build, and other things. But you can make it better. It's strange, isn't it? Being able to do your very best, then do better?"

    Andria kept listening. But before her grandpa could continue, there was a knock on the front door. Jonathan knew the sound of the knock. "Stay here," he said to Andria. He descended the stairs, clutching the railing. When he opened the door, the man he didn't want to see stood in the doorway.

    "Hello, Mister Light. I assume you've started rewriting your manuscript in the way the incident really happened."

    "I haven't had the time to work on it, Opeil. But—"

    "Then should I remove your distractions?"

    Opeil pointed in the house past Jonathan, toward Andria, who was peering out from behind the staircase.

    "You won't touch her!"

    Opeil raised a fist and sank it into Jonathan's stomach. "I'll touch what I will, Light. Don't make me wait another day or that girl's going to be stuck on the end of my blade. So get working. Now!"

    The door shut. Still recovering from the punch, Jonathan looked around at Andria, who asked, "Is he one of the bad people the Seekers fight?"

    Jonathan waited a moment to catch his breath. "Yes," he said. "He's exactly what the Seekers fight. From now on, whenever he comes to the house, hide."


    --


    A day passed. Jonathan reluctantly rewrote his novel's manuscript. He kept the old one, because he had no intention of releasing this altered one if he could find a way to get rid of the crimelord Opeil. While he was working, Andria read his old stories—ones he had written especially for her. Neither of them heard the door open, but they both heard the footsteps on the stairs.

    "Hide!" Jonathan whispered to Andria, who crawled under Jonathan's bed. A moment later, Opeil arrived.

    "Light! Good to see you hard at work. And I see you're doing the right manuscript this time. But what's this?"

    Opeil picked up a stack of paper from under Jonathan's chair. "Is this the manuscript I told you to throw away?"

    "I needed it for reference to the events in the new one."

    "Hm . . . well, that's reasonable, but I need to make sure you're not thinking about releasing the old one. So I'll take that girl who's hiding under the bed. Oh, and don't even think about trying to stop me. I'm no Seeker, but I assure you, my fists are as deadly as any blade. If you do good on the story and get it out on time, I'll give the kid back, unharmed. If not, I'll sell her to the eastern slave merchants."

    Andria didn't scream or cry as she was kidnapped. "You're taking this well," Opeil commented as he walked down the stairs.

    "Because you're a bad person. And Seekers beat up bad people."

    If the girl's age had been in the double digits, she would have been beaten for such a comment. But Opeil simply laughed. "Seekers are nothing but a myth. And even if they do exist, they're not about to save you. And even if they did that, there's no way they'd ever get past me."

    A person in a dark cloak with white edges watched the muscular, unshaven man walk away with an unwilling child in tow. The same person watched an old man come out of the house from with the previous two had come. This one headed in the opposite direction, toward the tavern. Interested, the cloaked person followed.


    --


    He was reduced to begging. Jonathan pleaded with the mercenaries at the tavern to save his granddaughter. The cloaked person walked in as he was rejected by a tall mercenary with a long sword at his belt.

    "Can you help me, good sir? My granddaughter—"

    "Sorry, gramps. I heard your story. I'm not takin' Opeil on. I'd just do what he says if I was you. If it's any help, I can tell you that he likes to read about heroes failing against people like him."

    "What!?" Jonathan exclaimed. "Doesn't that ruin the entire story?"

    "He did the same thing to Canien Wend not too long ago. Surprised you didn't hear about it."

    "I don't want to."

    "I don't blame you. Good luck, old man."

    Jonathan looked around at the group of mercenaries. None of them had agreed to help him, at least not for the price he'd set. He looked around for anyone new to the tavern. He spotted a female figure in a black and white cloak, sitting at the bar. Although there was noise, the tavern was quiet enough for him to hear her and the bartender converse.

    "Hey there, lassie. What can I getcha?" the bartender asked.

    "Water, please."

    "Water? Aye, ye not be of drinkin' age?"

    The woman—or girl—didn't answer.

    "Well, ya look t'be 'bout . . . ya look like . . . nineteen, tops? Fifteen, mins?"

    "The water. Please."

    "Aye. Certainly. Sorry 'bout that."

    A girl at the tavern? Was she a mercenary? Jonathan was curious. Maybe she could help him. Then again, if seasoned, aged mercenaries were turning him down, he didn't think a teenager would be of much more use.

    "Here ya go. Water. That's two coppers."

    "Thank you."

    The girl gave her thanks and put five copper coins on the table.

    "Lassie, the water's two . . ."

    "You were concerned for me, if only a bit—about my age. It was unnecessary. But I appreciate it. Besides, you're low this week, aren't you?"

    This girl was rather strange. Her accent was northern, but she didn't cut her words off as most northerners did. She had identified a financial problem with the bartender, and she showed more consideration than most of the other customers. Just maybe, she could also save a child from a certain manipulative crimelord? Her insight was good—but he had only seen one example, and although his heart told him it was wrong, he was looking for someone who could kill. Jonathan considered approaching her. Before he did so, she came to him.

    "Mister Light," she said. "Where did Opeil take your granddaughter?"

    "You'll help me?"

    The bartender hadn't misjudged. This girl was certainly a teenager. Her body wasn't visible beneath the cloak, but her height and her face were those of a teenager of fifteen to nineteen. Her voice was also young, but much more level and controlled than most people her age.

    "I'll help you," the girl said. "Please tell me first, if you know, where the child is being held."

    "Opeil's house, I think. Factory, maybe? Whichever it is, he lives there."

    "I'll go at once. I only need to return your granddaughter unharmed and convince Opeil to leave you alone, correct?"

    "Yes. But will you be okay?"

    The girl smiled. It was something Jonathan hadn't expected from her, but it wasn't a bad thing. Her smile was rather pretty. "You're concerned for me too. Or are you just worried that I might fail to bring the child back safely?"

    "Well, admittedly . . . both. It's a bit odd to see a girl of your age taking on a task like this, so I'm concerned both for your wellbeing and for my granddaughter's."

    "You're a good man, Mister Light. I wish more people were like you. Please trust me for now. I promise you, you and your granddaughter won't be bothered by that man after today."

    "What is your name? I'd like to know so that I can tell my granddaughter who it was who saved her."

    "Naomi. Naomi Revertere."

    With that, she left. When Jonathan looked down, only five of the twenty copper coins he was offering were gone. He hadn't noticed Naomi take them, but he was thankful that she'd left him enough to live off.


    --


    Naomi arrived at the factory soon enough. It was, in fact, a factory, albeit inactive. As she put her hand on the door, it opened, and a young woman stepped out, looking quite depressed. Seeing Naomi, she said, "You're not another one of his whores, are you? No. You don't look it. You're just a kid."

    "I'm here for a girl child who was kidnapped. Have you seen her?"

    "Aye, the redhead kid? 'Bout six or seven. You gonna help her, by all means, go ahead."

    "You bear resentment for Opeil?"

    "Girlie, if I didn't, I'd be either an idiot or evil. See this?" The woman rolled up her sleeve to reveal a light engraving on the back of her hand. "It's sort of a magic bond. When it's like this, when Opeil calls me, I have to come. Otherwise . . . bad things happen."

    "I might be able to help."

    "If you could just kill that man, I'd be grateful. Watch out though, girlie. If he gets his hands on you, you're not gonna like what happens. You're a pretty thing. I don't think he could resist, even if he wanted to."

    Naomi heeded the warning and entered the factory. It was a relatively small place. All of the equipment for whatever purpose was packed in close. There was a single, long stairway in front of her that led to a second floor where, Naomi guessed, she'd find her objective. She started up the stairway and was met by a guard. Wielding a short spear, he stopped Naomi just before the stairs.

    "Stop. You a student? Doin' field research? If so, leave. This place is restricted."

    "I'm sure you can find it in your heart to let me pass. I want nothing more than to save the life of a little girl."

    "Ah, you a northern girl. Ya got the accent. Ya human? Elf? Pretty, that's f'sure. Say you gonna save a kid? That's good. Go on ahead. But . . . don't tell Opeil I let you in, else I get a beatin'."

    "You were just seeing to a possible intruder from the back and didn't see me come in," Naomi said. "I have nothing more to tell."

    The guard liked this girl. Her lie sounded like the honest truth, and in addition, it was a lie to help him. He hoped she wouldn't go and get herself killed by Opeil.

    "Be careful of Opeil. He's a powerful sorcerer, and a martial artist at that. One punch could be the equivalent of a guillotine, so watch yourself up there."

    "Thanks. But I'm not worried about a sorcerer."

    Naomi headed up the stairs. Protective spells in the center, she thought. Just skittle around them and . . . I'm at the top! There were three doors on this floor, one on each wall. She quietly opened the door to her left. Immediately, she slammed it shut and backed away. Every one of her senses had screamed, "DEATH" at the moment her toe entered the room. Heart racing, she took a deep breath and turned to the middle door. This one wasn't trapped, but Naomi's fear remained, and she was cautious as she stepped into the room.

    "Andria Light?" she said. "Are you in here?"

    Her answer came as a small tug on her cloak. She looked down. A little girl was gazing up at her. "Are you a Seeker?" she asked.

    Naomi put a finger to her lips. "Sh. There's someone else here."

    Naomi stepped swiftly behind a cabinet just as the door opened. Opeil walked in. "Hey. Kid. You didn't go and try to get into the other rooms, did you?"

    "No," Andria said. "I was here."

    "The ripper was unsettled. Maybe it was my fool of a guard. But to someone like him, I'm surprised he didn't just walk in. You can't feel the ripper's intent unless you've got exceptional power. Ah, what am I blabbing about? You don't understand me anyway. You're just a kid. All right, just stay here till I'm done with the old man. If it turns out well, I might feed you this month."

    "You're an evil man, Mister Opeil," Naomi said. She stepped out of hiding and faced the man. "You took a young girl hostage to force a man to write lies that uplift you. You enslaved an unwilling woman using an engraved bond. You keep a ripper to kill people who know the things that I do."

    "You a mercenary? You sound like a runt."

    "Step out of the room, Opeil. If you hurt the girl in our fight, both of our objectives are forfeit."

    Opeil walked out of the room. Naomi followed him. "Stay here," she told Andria. "I'll take you home soon."

    "So you're a scout, are you, girl? Either you are or you've got the talent of one. The way you read me is good. It'd be a shame to kill you and waste such abilities. Why don't you remove your cloak, so I can see if I want to keep you for pleasure or for hitman work?"

    "My cloak stays where it is. I'll ask you this once. Will you release the bond you have on the slave woman and free this child? I don't want to harm you, but if you don't comply, I will."

    "I don't think you understand your situation, girl. Scout or not, you're just a kid. I'm a sorcerer and a martial artist. Knowing that, do you still wish to challenge me? If you revoke your challenge now, I can promise I won't do anything to make you uncomfortable."

    "Your intentions for me are purely sexual and selfish. If you like my body, you'll rape me. If you don't, you'll use me as your personal assassin. Not make me uncomfortable? I thought you could surely tell a less blatant lie."

    Opeil took a fighting stance. "Then take me on girl, and be glad I have the mercy not to just release the ripper on you."

    "Again, your reason for that is sexual. You don't want my body destroyed before you see it. If you see it and don't like it, you're going to open that door behind me."

    "Your reading truly is amazing. Very well then. You can make the first move."

    "So that you can gauge my ability in battle. Still. Prepare yourself. I might not fight with a weapon that's fair against yours."

    With that, Naomi reached under her cloak and rushed in. Opeil dodged to the side as Naomi drew an empty hand from her cloak. She attacked him again, but slower. Confused, he didn't completely avoid her fist. His forearm was cut.

    "Ah, very good. I couldn't see your blades at first. You truly are a great fighter."

    They fought again. Naomi fought inconsistently. Her attacks were all of completely different speeds and her defense was never the same twice. Sometimes she was slower than others, but she never got hit. In a full minute of combat, neither side gave way, but Naomi was apparently winning.

    "You seem to have forgot. I'm a sorcerer."

    Opeil pointed a hand at Naomi, who ducked. The wall behind her cracked. At the same moment, her body caught fire. She yelped, but didn't scream, as Opeil had expected.

    "I really didn't want to destroy your body yet, but I could never make you submit otherwise. Comply now and I'll put it out.

    From a pillar of fire, Naomi's voice came out. "I'll put it out myself, thanks."

    Her cloak blew away, in flames. Naomi stood, untouched, in front of Opeil. Without her cloak, her weapons were plainly visible. At her hip was a small gun and a sheathed knife. She wore a copper breastplate over a light coat of chain armor. One of her arms was covered in a detachable sleeve of loose cotton. The other was covered only by a small shoulder plate. Long boots extended up to her thighs, where they met cloth wrapping and a short skirt. Her plain brown hair fell halfway down her back. Impressed, Opeil nodded.

    "Yes, that will do. If you wish to submit now, I'll certainly take you for pleasure, Miss Half-Nymph. I see you've donned yourself in gear resistant to fire, aside from your cloak."

    "You sound so impressed with yourself at identifying my race and my clothes." Naomi's tone hadn't changed.

    "I'm impressed only at your beauty. Please submit now. I would very much prefer you alive."

    "You only want to spare me for the way I look. It doesn't take a scout to figure that out. The fact that you're attracted to me doesn't change my objective."

    "If I may meet you in private, I will gladly release the girl and the woman and never come near them again."

    "No."

    With the flat refusal, Naomi took her gun from its holster. "Release the bond now. Hold up your hand. Let me see it."

    "Using a gun is hardly fair."

    "I warned you, didn't I?"

    "If I release the woman, I'll have no choice but to make you replace her."

    Naomi charged at the man. She swung the gun in a fast, deadly arc. Opeil caught the barrel, but in the next moment, Naomi's fist smashed into the side of his face.

    "If you don't release it now, I'll cut your hand off and release it by force."

    Opeil shook Naomi off and blasted another fire spell at her. She let it hit. It did nothing. She put her gun away.

    "I have every advantage over you now. Give up and I won't kill you."

    Naomi's expression changed suddenly. She rushed forward to stop Opeil, but there was nothing she could do. He had already released his spell at the door, and the moment it hit, the door swung open and the ripper appeared.

    "I've starved it for over a week!" Opeil said triumphantly. "There won't be a drop of your blood left when it's finished!"

    "You idiot!" Naomi yelled. She ran for Andria and pulled her gun at the same time. She picked up the girl and ran into the room, firing once at the fast-approaching monster. She swung her foot around and kicked the thick wooden door shut. It didn't stall the ripper for even an instant. Naomi heard the door shatter and the monster close in on her. She sprinted toward the window on the far side of the room. The monster swung its claws at her, skimming her clothes.

    "Haha!! Kill her! Slaughter the stupid girl!"

    Opeil shouted encouragements to the monster as it slashed again and again. Twice, it caught its fleeing target's form before she dove for the window. A trail of broken chains, blood, and a ripper's tooth followed Naomi as she fell. She turned a half flip in the air, protecting Andria and landing hard on her back. She heard three cracks and hoped that it was her armor and not anything important. People turned and looked. Some ran to help, but promptly fled when they heard the ripper's screech from the window. The creature was too big to fit through the opening. Naomi didn't have to look to know that it was slashing at the bricks around the window.

    Every bone in Naomi's body felt like glass, but as long as her back and neck were intact, she was fine—or so she told herself. Adrenaline kept the pain at a minimum as she stood up, collected Andria, and fled.

    "Doin' great, Andria," she breathed. "Don' lose it on me now! Prolly should heed that m'self."

    Making another decision, Naomi ran around to the front of the building. From here, the Light house was around a half mile away. There were people littered around the area, more off in the distance. The market place was only a few hundred yards away. Naomi disregarded it and reentered Opeil's factory. She gave Andria to the guard who was standing at the bottom of the stairs, his weapon pointed upward.

    "Keep her safe!" Naomi yelled back, already halfway up the stairs. She came to the top and stopped. Opeil was facing her with her own gun pointed at her. She looked down at her now-empty holster, then up again.

    "Damn girl . . . I'll kill—"

    Opeil cut himself off, firing at point blank range. Naomi's head jerked back, the rest of her body following. Her hands covered her forehead as she fell down the stairs to a small landing. There, she lay face down, unmoving. Opeil gave a shout of triumph and jumped down the stairs, aiming to crush his dead opponent's head.

    "Bas—!"

    Naomi rolled onto her side. Opeil's boot brushed against her unprotected left shoulder. The man himself tried to catch a railing, but missed. His aerial journey down the stairs was sped up by Naomi's round kick. Before he hit the ground, she followed him. She ran down the stairs, not caring that she tripped halfway down. Her landing point was the same. Raising her knees, she steadied her flight and landed on Opeil's chest. His ribs gave in, but it wasn't enough to break Naomi's fall. She leaned forward, and momentum carried her through a roll and to her feet. She lost no time in drawing her knife and holding up Opeil's arm. He was in too much agony to realize what she was doing.

    "This takes care of the bond. Your guard's taken Andria, and all that's left is the ripper."

    "BITCH! I'll kill you!! I'll—"

    "Shut up!"

    Naomi slammed the stump of Opeil's severed arm against his head. When he didn't shut up the first time, she hit him twice more before he fell unconscious. She looked up, trying to spot the ripper on the floor above. When she didn't even hear it, she slowly walked up the stairs. Halfway up, there was still no sign of it. Had it jumped out the window? Naomi didn't want to imagine the result if it had. It shouldn't have been able to tear apart a cement wall in . . . two? Three? Four minutes?

    On the second floor, Naomi looked into the room she had jumped from. It was empty. To her left, the door was wide open. The room the ripper had come from was a control room, untouched since whenever Opeil had put the ripper in there. To the right, a previously closed door was slightly open. On tiptoes, Naomi approached the room. Cautious, she stuck Opeil's arm in first.

    She waited. When nothing happened, she slowly pushed the door open. The room was empty except for a bed.

    Weird, Naomi thought. There's no way I could sleep knowing a ripper was across the hall. Did Opeil use this to torture that woman? Psychological torture . . . what a horrible man.

    It wasn't until Naomi looked down that she knew she shouldn't have come into the room. She dropped Opeil's arm into a puddle of blood that flowed from under the bed. She knew it would be in her best interest to turn and run, but she had to find the ripper.

    It wasn't in this room. She knew that much. There were no claw marks on the walls or bed. There were no bloody footprints leading out of the room. The creature was too big to be able to hide in any room this size.

    Preparing to run, she peeked around the corner of the bed. The first thing she saw was the ripper's wide-mouthed head, its vast rows of teeth pointing at her like spears and spikes in an execution pit. Its headless body lay against the wall at the head of the bed.

    "Are you a Seeker?"

    The man's voice came from the entire room, or seemed to. Naomi looked for its source, speechless.

    "Answer me or you'll take on the same pose as that dirty thing."

    "I . . . what . . ."

    He appeared in front of her, already in flight. He tackled Naomi against the wall and crossed two swords at her throat.

    "Answer me!"

    "I'm not!"

    "How do I know you're not just saying that?"

    "Go on with that mindset and you'll eventually accuse the entire continent of being Seekers."

    Naomi felt blood trickle down her neck.

    "Most Seekers are born with adept skill in some area. Your reflexes are beyond human. You dodged a bullet from point blank."

    "How can I prove I'm not one, then?" Naomi played it calm. One wrong word would kill her.

    "A Seeker is coming to this town tomorrow, to take out the bug of a man you defeated. Ambush her, kill her, and bring me her head."


    Naomi's Story 2
    SPOILER! :
    Chapter 2: The Seeker


    “Kill a Seeker?” Naomi repeated. “Bring you her head?”

    “Psh.” The man sheathed his swords and let Naomi stand. “Didn’t I say it clearly enough?”

    “You did. You killed the ripper. How? Why?”

    The man sighed. “You’re averting yourself from the obvious. If that thing got out the window, it’d kill the entire population of the city. You just had to be an idiot and lead it to an exit, didn’t you? That’s the kind of stupid things a Seeker would do.”

    “But . . . how?”

    “You don’t have to know. Come with me. Can’t have you running out on me now.”

    The man grabbed Naomi’s wrist and pulled her along. As they descended the stairs, Naomi failed to spot Opeil anywhere. His blood was still on the floor, but there was no trail.

    “Hey. Opeil’s gone.”

    “Let him go, then. The bond is dissolved. You don’t need to worry about him. You wanna walk by yourself now? I don’t wanna give any people the wrong impression.”

    Naomi followed him to an inn about a mile away from Opeil’s factory. The receptionist watched the pair as they came in the door, chatting happily about Naomi’s schooling and social life.

    “Uncle Sam, you know I’m not into that kinda stuff!”

    “Aha—of course you are! All you kids are these days. When was the last time any of you had a study group? What’s the deal with these party things?”

    “It’s for all the kids who wanna be known for sum’n or other. But I told you!—I’m not into it.”

    When they reached the second floor, both of them shut up.

    “This one,” the man said.

    He closed the door and sat in a chair on the far side of the room, where he took a half-finished wood sculpture and began to carve it.

    “Can I know your name if I’m going to be doing an assassination for you?”

    “Aaron. Now, Naomi, have you read me by now?”

    “Yes. Thanks for being honest with me.”

    In truth, Naomi couldn’t tell a single thing about this man aside from his appearance and the fact that he was not a liar. He was, as Naomi had played off earlier, in his late thirties, about the age an uncle would be to her. His face was rugged, but handsome. He had a short beard and curly brown hair that hadn’t begun to thin yet. He was a foot taller than Naomi at around six feet and five inches. His eyes were violet, like hers, but he squinted more. What bugged Naomi was the fact that he wore no weapons and his clothes were too light to conceal the swords he had used before.

    “Aaron. Where are your swords?”

    “Somewhere close. Hidden. You won’t find them if you look. I’ll give you your weapons back tomorrow.”

    Twice in a day, Naomi had lost her weapons to sneaky thieves. Slightly annoyed, she sat on the single bed in the room. That alone gave her a bad feeling.

    “Aaron, you’re not gonna do anything weird to me, are you?”

    “No.”

    His tone was truthful, but just as emotionless as everything else he said or did.

    “Hm . . . are you sure?”

    “You idiot. You make it sound like you want me to.”

    “No! I just wasn’t sure if you were honest.”

    Aaron sighed. “I see where you’re coming from. Listen. I have a daughter about your age. Doing ‘something weird’ to you would feel like doing the same to her. So don’t even think about it.”

    “Well, thanks. But . . . can you answer some questions about the job?”

    “Depends on the questions.”

    Naomi pulled her first question. “The Seeker I’m to kill is female. It’d help a lot to know her name. A description wouldn’t hurt either.”

    “Lanei. She’s never revealed her last name. She’s twenty-six years old, average height and build. Dark hair. Almost blue. Tanned skin—a native to Tivali.”

    “Tivali. She’s western, then.”

    “From that, you should be able to pick up a noticeable accent.”

    Naomi proceeded to her next question. “Why are you having me kill her? Just killing a ripper is a feat I haven’t even sought. You could easily do it yourself.”

    Aaron set down his carving knife. He hesitated a moment. Then, “You don’t need to know. Aside from proving yourself not a Seeker, there are other reasons.”

    “Then,” said Naomi, “are any of those other reasons things that could harm me if I don’t know about them?”

    “No.”

    “And . . . is there anything I should or shouldn’t do?”

    “Do not involve innocent people,” Aaron replied immediately, even before Naomi had stopped speaking. “Never involve anyone who doesn’t need to be involved.”

    “All right. I have one more question.”

    “Hm.”

    “Without a reason to kill her, all I’m doing is murdering an innocent woman. Please tell me your reasons.”

    “She is a Seeker. She is, whether she intends it or not, destroying the world. I want to prevent that, and I hope you would as well.”

    “Additionally, if I can’t kill her, you’ll determine me to be a Seeker and kill me.”

    “I would rather that didn’t happen.”

    For the first time, Naomi got a good reading on Aaron. One of his “other reasons” was simple: he didn’t want to take a human life with his own hands.


    --


    Lanei’s presence was hard not to notice. People crowded around her the moment she arrived, blocking any chance of assassination without involving innocents. Naomi watched from the window of the inn, Aaron beside her.

    “You’re going through with this just to save your own life,” Aaron said. “Don’t. You’re not killing her for no reason.”

    “Truthfully,” said Naomi, “I’m not keen on the Seeker and anti-Seeker disputes. I’m a mercenary.”

    “Anti-Seeker? Is that the name we’re labeled with?”

    “I haven’t heard an alternative.”

    At that point, Lanei was entering the tavern. “Info on Opeil,” Aaron stated.

    “I could offer her some intel.”

    “Too shady. You have the insight of a seasoned scout. Use it.”

    Naomi thought for a moment. “I’ll need to talk to her. Unless she’s impassive as you, I’ll figure out a way from there. Or I could lead her away somehow, maybe faking an injury. I have another question first, though.”

    “Ask it.”

    “Can you use materialization?”

    “You figured it out, finally.”

    “Yeah.” Naomi extended her hand. “I want my weapons. But with one catch.”

    “You’re making a catch by yourself?”

    “Of course. I can approach Lanei easier if I’m unarmed. Can you give me my stuff through materialization when I give the signal?”

    “That’s possible. What’s the signal?”

    Naomi thought on it. “That depends. I can probably guide her into a deserted place, and I’ll need you to be somewhere where you can hear me. When I give the signal, I want you to materialize my weapons. Into my hands, if possible.”

    “I can do that. But what’s the signal?”


    --


    Lanei exited the tavern. Having found out that her target was no longer a threat, she turned to leave the city.

    “Lanei!”

    The Seeker looked back. A brown-haired girl dressed in a casual sleeveless and slacks was standing behind her, sweating and breathing hard, clutching her left arm. Blood ran down it from whatever wound her hand covered. Lanei ran to her.

    “What happened? Are you all right?”

    The girl’s eyes reflected fear even before her quivering voice came out. “In an alley . . . I saw a guy . . . raping my friend.” She paused to breathe. “I . . . tried to help her.”

    “Where? Can you show me? No—if you don’t want to, you don’t—”

    “No, I can show you. It’s over here . . .”

    The girl started running, tripped over her own feet once, but kept going. She led Lanei to an alleyway near the middle of town. She stopped in front of it and looked in. She swallowed once, then began to cry. Lanei looked in after her.

    “She’s gone . . .”

    “Hey, don’t cry. We’ll find your friend. Maybe we can find something in the alley that’ll help us find her.”

    Lanei searched the alley, the girl following her from a short distance. After a few minutes, the girl said, “Hey . . . up there!”

    The girl was pointing in the air, at the sunny sky.

    “What do you see?”

    Lanei turned back to the girl, but before she could register the evil-eyed glare and the dark metal gun pointed at her chest, she realized that she had already been shot.


    Naomi lowered her gun and watched Lanei fall. She caught herself with her arms and looked up at Naomi. Her expression held no anger, but only disbelief. Naomi let the gun fall from her hands.

    “You didn’t . . . want to do this . . .” Lanei gasped out, her voice weakening. Naomi hesitated, but shook her head. She made no effort to hide her tears. They had been real from the time she looked into the alley, though not for the reason she had portrayed.

    Lanei reached out toward Naomi. Her lips parted as she tried to say something, but her voice was gone. She died a few seconds later.

    For a moment, Naomi stood in place. The thoughts sweeping through her mind were overpowering her. She struggled to keep a grip them, but there was no helping it. She had committed murder to save her own life. Falling to her knees, she barely noticed Aaron drop down in front of her.

    “You don’t have time to sit around,” he said, pulling her up. “Come on. If you get caught, you’ll be executed.”

    “No . . .”

    Aaron pulled Naomi out the back of the alley and led her into the building he had been in earlier. There, he left her alone and walked away. Naomi had no idea where he went, but she didn’t care. Alone in the dark room, she tried to think, but all she could concentrate on was the assassination. She tried not to think and looked around the room. There were stairs in one corner, but no footsteps from above. Two chairs sat on opposite ends of the room. The floor had no carpet and was dusty. Aaron’s footprints were absent, but Naomi could see hers well enough. An old chair lay on its back to her right, and beside it was an upright table. A single book was on it. Eager to get her mind off killing and murder, Naomi picked it up.


    The Seekers: Holy Warriors or Mad Killers?


    She could make a judgment for herself. Had she killed a crusader or a murderer? Thinking about it, she realized that Aaron must have put this book in here just for that reason. Still, she trusted her ability to decipher biased information. Flipping the book open, she began reading.


    --


    “Aaron.”

    Naomi heard footsteps behind her.

    “You’re a jerk.”

    “For making you kill the Seeker?”

    “Yeah. But I read that book you put here.”

    Aaron waited, taking a seat. Naomi did the same.

    “And . . . I believe that, as good as their intentions are, the Seekers are basing too much on unproven facts and theories. You were right. They’re not ‘destroying’ the world, but they’re harming innocent people with their work. I can’t let them do that. The incident in Rivan—three hundred innocents killed by one Seeker, and the original target escaped! And in Eagle’s Eye—half the city was destroyed. And . . . that last chapter . . .”

    “Yes,” Aaron said. “All of what they’re doing—their entire cause depends on the assumption that they’ll find Seion.”

    “Which is why they’re called Seekers. Seion Seekers. The book did its share of uplifting them, though. Did you read the part about the angel?”

    Aaron smiled for the first time since Naomi had met him. “You sound just like my daughter now—telling me about a book she liked.”

    Naomi still held the book in her hand. “Can we stop the Seekers somehow? Is there a way to do it without killing them?”

    “We can stop them. However, we can’t negotiate. We ‘anti-Seekers’ have tried time after time, and you’ve seen the avail. Taking prisoners would be useless, as we have no place to keep them—no base of operations.”

    “True. The Seekers have all of Treviri to use.”

    Aaron leaned over and took the book from Naomi. He opened it and flipped a few pages. When he looked up, Naomi was staring at it.

    “You really like this book?”

    Catching herself, Naomi sat back in her chair. “Actually, I do.”

    “Canien Wend is a great author.” Aaron paused, looking at Naomi. “You like reading?”

    Naomi nodded.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Wait. What for?”

    “I threatened you with death if you didn’t kill a person. I made myself as bad as a Seeker. Involving innocent people in my fights—and girls at that!”

    “There’s that. That and you waited till after I’d killed her to show me why I had to do it.”

    “It was unfair of me,” Aaron said. “You’re free to walk out of here right now. I killed Lanei—you’re just a bystander. You can still go back to a normal life.”

    “No. I didn’t live a normal life to begin with. It’s too late to turn back now. I’ve killed a Seeker and established my position against them.”

    Aaron smiled slightly, but it was forced. “I still feel like I’ve made a bad choice here.”

    “No! Aaron, I started working as a mercenary for two reasons—one was to enforce what’s right. And that’s what I’ll do.”

    Aaron gave the book back. “Then, Naomi Revertere, welcome to the ‘anti-Seekers.’”


    Naomi's Story 3
    SPOILER! :
    Chapter 3: Regret


    Naomi didn’t want to be around when Lanei’s body was found, but she realized a little too late that it had taken her a few hours to finish the book.

    “Yeah, they found her,” Aaron said as Naomi peeked out from the inn window. “Now I’d advise you to keep that gun hidden. You just had to use one of the most uncommon weapons on the continent, didn’t you?”

    “Excuse me, but it’s not every day I go planning how to kill someone the right way.”

    “No. Of course not.”

    Naomi kept staring out the window. Every word Aaron said sounded regretful. Every one of her own thoughts was conflicted. She’d chosen her path, and wouldn’t back away from it. What stung more than anything was the despair she’d brought upon the people in the village. Although she hadn’t spoken to anyone save Aaron since the assassination, she could easily see that no one was smiling anymore. People wouldn’t speak with each other. They’d give passing glances and scuffle away, minding their own business. Nobody went near the alley where Lanei’s body had been found. Occasionally, Naomi saw people crying as they walked, some trying to hide their tears, some not.

    Seekers were heroes to normal people. Naomi knew that much, accepted it, and respected it. She respected the Seekers herself. Wherever they went, they were followed by hope and happiness. If one was killed, of course fear would ensue.

    “Don’t regret it,” Aaron said.

    “I’m not regretting it. I’m reflecting upon it.”

    “They’ll give you another assignment now.”

    “Who?”

    “Us. The ‘Anti-Seekers.’ We’ll meet with an informant in a few hours, he’ll tell you who you need to take out, and where he is.”

    Informant? Naomi pondered it. If someone was collecting information on Seekers, why couldn’t he kill them himself? Assassination didn’t require much—if any—skill if done correctly. That aside, if Aaron didn’t want to kill anyone, why was he scheduled to meet an informant? Had he contacted someone after Naomi had agreed to work for him?

    “I talked to him—told him about you.”

    “You did that while I was reading, didn’t you?”

    “Yes.”

    “How much did you tell him?” Naomi didn’t know anything about this informant. For all she knew, he could be a double agent, or he could leak something better kept secret.

    “Nothing.”

    “What!?”

    “He knows, at least, that there’s a second anti-Seeker in town and that ‘he’ is the one who killed Lanei.”

    “Aaron. You should tell me these things. I need to know as much as I can. How did you kill the ripper, for one. If I come across one as I am now—no joke, I’ll die.”

    “Experience,” Aaron answered. When Naomi looked at him, she saw that he had finished the previous day’s sculpture and had moved on to a new one. “Practice a lot. It takes years—no, just months if you train right. You learn things. You’ll wish you hadn’t learned some of them. You’ll see things that’ll change you. Forever.”

    “More than I’ve already seen?”

    “You’re an ‘anti-Seeker.’ Your whole life now is a war.”

    Naomi let the statement sink in and watched Aaron’s woodworking. As the chips fell away, Naomi lost her sense of time in the rhythmic clunks of the chisel on wood. It was starting to resemble a bird that Naomi identified as a dove. Its mostly-finished wings were spread and raised, its head pointed into the air. It looked like it could take flight at any time, and for a moment, Naomi imagined it doing just that.

    “We need to go,” Aaron said, breaking into Naomi’s daydream. His bird disappeared and he left the room, Naomi in tow.

    “Who’s this ‘informant’ guy?” she asked. “Is he an anti-Seeker, too? Sounds like you don’t trust him much, though.”

    “He’s not an anti-Seeker,” said Aaron. “And I don’t trust him with any information about you, though he knows everything about me.” He and Naomi maneuvered around a few people in the lobby and left the inn. The streets were the same as they’d been since the assassination. Naomi noticed Aaron staring at one person—a man about his own age who was speaking with a few guards.

    “He’s an independent information guru—doesn’t favor either side. He doesn’t like the Seekers, but he doesn’t like us either. If there’s hype about a Seeker, he’ll tell an anti-Seeker. And vice versa.”

    Aaron approached the guy near the guards. All of them turned to face him.

    “Aaron,” said the man in a tone halfway between mindless fury and forced control. “You didn’t do this. Who did?”

    “I don’t know. Nathan was in town, though.”

    “Who’s Nathan?”

    “You didn’t hear? One more anti-Seeker came to town a few days ago. He could have done it. I haven’t contacted him, though. It’s entirely possible that it was a third-party job. Maybe it was Opeil?”

    “Nonsense. You know who did it! Lanei wouldn’t be killed by any low-rate mercenary or scum like Opeil.”

    “Opeil kept a ripper in a control room, Paul. He even had assets I didn’t foresee. As you and Lanei came here with the same purpose as I did, I decided not to interfere.”

    The man—Paul—looked away for a moment. “A third party could be dangerous to you as well, depending on the complications.”

    “Anything from a serial killer to just a kid who found a gun on the street.”

    “Right. And Aaron . . . about Opeil. Seems he escaped without his right arm. It was you who took him out initially, right?”

    “Nope. I’d have to assume that was Nathan.”

    Paul cast him a sour look. “Don’t say that so casually—that guy could have killed Lanei! I know you couldn’t have cared less what happened to her, but she was my friend! If I do find this Nathan guy, I’ll kill him.”

    Throughout this conversation, Naomi had kept her head down. She looked up at Paul when he finished speaking.

    “You brought Elina with you? Aaron, please—don’t get her involved in these sorts of things.”

    “She’s not involved. I brought her with me because I suspected you people to raid my house.”

    “I’d fight to the death to protect your daughter, Aaron. You know I wouldn’t let anyone touch her.”

    Aaron scoffed. “Protect my daughter but plan to kill me. You lead quite an ironic life, Paul.”

    “And you’re one to talk?”

    “Ha. I suppose so.”

    Paul cast a sad smile at Naomi and turned away. As he left the city, Naomi could hear his brisk, metallic footsteps on the cobblestone street. She held a hand to her chest. The footsteps matched her heartbeat.

    “Aaron,” said Naomi. “You three have the most awkward relationship I’ve ever seen.”

    “How so?” Aaron questioned as he began walking toward a three-story stone building. A sign beside the door read:


    Paek Residence


    “You and Paul both love your daughter—Elina.”

    “I’ll tell you that story sometime if you’re interested. In any case, you look almost exactly like her. Continue.”

    “That, and you plan to kill him. Paul, that is. I figure, if Elina loves both of you as much as you love her, either of your deaths will cause enormous pain to her . . .”

    “Go on.”

    “. . . which is why neither of you are dead yet. Even though he’s a Seeker and you’re an anti-Seeker.”

    Aaron opened the door to the Paek residence, but paused for a moment. “Stay here,” he told Naomi. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

    The door swung shut behind him. Naomi walked across the street and looked around the city. Only days ago, she had been wandering the place, donned in a cloak and looking for people who needed help. Now she was part of a war that involved almost all if the continent—if not all of it. There were multiple sides, the prominent ones being the Seekers, the anti-Seekers, and the independents. Those aside, there were people who couldn’t care less and people who hated both.

    “Just politics to the extreme,” Naomi muttered to herself.

    But in politics, both sides had equal platforms—the same funds and the same assets, whereas the Seekers had multiple strongholds, powerful magic users, and lots of money. The anti-Seekers had, at most, money for a few horses, some equipment, and some food.

    I just joined a war halfway through on the losing side, Naomi realized. This war probably isn’t about to be changed by one person—me, in this case. There isn’t any one Seeker whose death could end it all. That means I could give it my all, do everything right, exceed everyone’s expectations and standards, but my side could still lose. Of course I’m prepared for that. I’d prefer it not to happen, though.


    About five minutes passed before Aaron came out of the house. He met Naomi where she stood.

    “Let’s move,” he said. “We’ll have to get over to Mariim by tomorrow night.”


    Naomi's Story 4
    SPOILER! :
    Chapter 4: End of the Road


    The road to Mariim was long, but Naomi had traveled longer distances in less time on horseback. This time, though, they were on foot. The path was made of dirt, and in some areas, gravel. Occasionally, they passed a building or another traveler. For the most part, their surroundings were trees and plains. The gentle wash of a river came from somewhere out of sight. Birds of various kinds sang their respective melodies.

    “We’ll be passing through a forest in a few miles,” said Aaron. “Be on your guard when we do. It’s very common for highwaymen and bandits to camp out there and jump travelers.”

    “There’s another way around—to Mariim, at least. Why don’t we take that?”

    “Through the forest is faster. We can handle common thugs. It won’t be any trouble.”

    That was easy for him to say. He could disappear if he wanted to. He was probably more familiar with the area—Naomi had only been there once in her life.

    “Naomi. You asked me to tell you some things?”

    “Huh? Oh, yeah. I did. What is it?”

    Aaron pulled a folded sheet of paper from his pocket. “Ever hear of the ‘Syara’ family?”

    “No, I don’t recall. Syara being the last name?”

    “Quentin Syara . . .?”

    Naomi ran the name through her head. “Um . . . actually, I remember hearing it somewhere. He was an angel born without wings—that’s all I can remember.”

    “Look up,” Aaron said without looking up himself. Naomi did. She couldn’t see it all due to the sun, but she was sure she saw a human silhouette in the light. With wings.

    “An angel!?”

    “You’ve never seen an angel before?”

    “No,” Naomi said in awe, still staring upward. “It’s amazing.”

    “More than a bird, less than a human—according to some. According to others, an angel is more than human and less than God.”

    Naomi didn’t take her eyes off the angel. She couldn’t. “Which side do you believe?” she asked.

    “The latter. Those who believe angels less than man are those who have never given one the chance to speak.”

    The angel disappeared over the trees to the east. Naomi looked for it through the branches, but they were too thick. “Where’s it going?” she asked.

    “It?”

    “I can’t tell—male or female.”

    “That one was male. He was headed toward Yassul or Ilgue. Both hunting towns.”

    Naomi watched the trees as she walked, hoping to get another glimpse of the angel. She never did. Something else caught her eye just as she and Aaron walked into a tunnel of trees. A glint of sliver shined among the shadows cast from the leaf canopy above. Naomi stopped. Aaron followed suit.

    “Aaron. There are wires all over the place.”

    “I see them. There are three bandits to our left and three to our right. They’ve got wires set up no higher than neck level, probably aimed at horses. Ready your weapons, Naomi, and turn left.”

    Aaron was there one moment and gone the next. Naomi heard rustling in the trees, and knew what was coming. She drew her gun in one hand and her knife in the other. Something was off about this situation. Naomi knew where the bandits were, and where their wires were, but there was one thing she couldn’t place.

    “Aaron . . .?”

    “Focus, Naomi. It’s their weapons. Stay alert.”

    His voice was disembodied, but it seemed to come from behind her. Now facing the trees, Naomi identified two of the bandits. They were behind thick trees. Raising her gun, she fired once at one of them. Within a second, they had retaliated. Naomi felt a sharp sting in her leg. It was no more painful than a bee sting, but when she tried to move to dodge the next one, her body wouldn’t react. More needles came from the trees, targeting areas of exposed skin. Three made contact, and Naomi fell to her knees. She couldn’t move her legs—her muscles wouldn’t respond. Her right arm was useless as well. Her left hand had been grazed, and it was shaking uncontrollably.

    Aaron’s voice came again. “The wires are down, Naomi.”

    Did he want her to run? She couldn’t! The needles flew at her in uneven intervals, though always aiming for different place. She could dodge most of them by rolling, but when one slid into her forehead, it was all over. Her vision clouded over and she felt faint. She couldn’t see and she couldn’t move—couldn’t move anything—but she could hear. Lying face-up, she heard light whistles overhead. The natural air was still, but there was movement all around. Aaron was moving quickly, but so were two . . . no, three other people. The sound of blades being drawn was ominous at first, but three one-sided swings that cleaved nothing but air brought relief to Naomi. Aaron was invisible, she knew. She thought. Repeated, frustrated grunts and short battle cries became increasingly aggravated and desperate, accompanied by the choppy whooshes of inaccurate swings.

    The soft thumps came consecutively, directly after three hard cracks of bone against bone. Aaron had taken out three bandits with his bare hands—or at least Naomi assumed he had. She hadn’t heard anything hinting toward his use of weapons.

    “You three,” Aaron called. “Point those at me and I’ll crush this man’s throat. Throw them out here.”

    The bandits in the trees threw their weapons out. Naomi wanted to see them, but she was blind, and slowly, even her hearing was fading. The metallic, chain-like clunks they made on the dirt road suggested many pieces to the equipment.

    The last thing Naomi heard before sleep overtook her was the click of her own gun being cocked.


    --


    She woke to the sound of crackling fire, the feeling of warm grass beneath her back, and the smell of roasting meat.

    “How long has it been since you ate?” Aaron asked her. He was seated on a log beside a moderate campfire, slowly twirling two large pieces of meat on a spit over the flames. The sky was dark and the area around the campfire gradually blended into the pitch black of an eastern night.

    “Too long,” Naomi answered, getting on her knees. Her body was stiffer than she was used to, and her muscles ached. Her head was clear, though, and so was her stomach. “What are we eating?”

    “Rabbit. Can you walk?”

    Naomi slowly got to her feet and tested her legs. They were stable enough, despite a few stumbles as she approached the fire.

    “What happened to the bandits?”

    “They ran away.”

    Aaron handed Naomi her gun. She took it and looked inside the chamber. Two slots were empty.

    “Aaron, did you shoot one of them?”

    “Yes.”

    “But didn’t they run away?”

    “One tried to kill you.”

    “Oh.” Naomi could infer what had happened, and she didn’t want to know the details. “You talked about Quentin Syara before. What were you saying about him? Is he part of our mission?”

    “No. His daughter is.”

    Naomi couldn’t remember anything about Quentin Syara, but she was positive she had heard the name before. She let it go. She’d remember it eventually.

    “So, what are we supposed to do? And how?”

    Aaron handed Naomi a piece of meat on a spit and said, “She’s thirteen years old now. Of course, she’s a full angel. She can fly, and she has an excellent forte in archery. Our primary mission is to prevent her from becoming a Seeker. While we’re in Mariim, though, there are three people you need to kill.”

    Naomi choked on the meat. She wanted to protest, but her mouth was full.

    “I don’t want to drag you into the business of assassination. But there’s a war going on, and every man or woman counts in this battle.”

    Naomi swallowed her food, but said nothing.

    “After the war, you should find a good man and settle down in some neutral region where there’s as little conflict as possible. For now, kill. Repent later."

    “Kay.”

    Naomi lifted her knife. She could see her reflection in the side of the blade. She was different. She recognized herself, but she didn’t look like she had just a week ago. She looked tired, but didn’t feel tired at all. Without a word, she took a whetstone from her pocket and drew her knife across it. It was the first time she had ever sharpened her blade.

    “Naomi, may I see your gun?”

    She handed it over. Aaron looked it over for a moment. “How did you get this?” he asked.

    “It was my dad’s. He made it three years ago. Then he left.”

    Aaron opened the chamber and removed a bullet. “And the bullets?”

    “I took them from my dad’s workshop when I left.”

    “How many do you have?”

    “I started with thirty-six. I suppose I have thirty-one now.”

    Aaron handed the gun back. “When we get to Mariim, you should find a good craftsman and buy a steamgun.”

    Naomi set her knife and whetstone down and examined her gun again. “But this was free,” she said. “Steamguns are expensive. Plus, don’t I have to lug around a cart with a boiler?”

    “The reason guns are rare on this continent is because they’re impractical. Even with steamguns, you could only make practical use of one if you fire accurately. You need to be sure of your kill, or it’s a waste. Naomi, you’ve wasted one bullet out of three I know you’ve used.”

    “Wait. Which one?”

    “You fired at the concealed bandit.”

    Naomi didn’t argue. It was true. “I’ll be careful,” she assured him.

    “Resolve yourself to that, and take it to heart. Quickly. We’ll be in Mariim tomorrow afternoon.”

    Naomi was sure she wouldn’t be able to sleep in her present condition. She curled up in the spot she had woken up in. A moment later, she was asleep.


    EDIT: 1, 2, and 3 now uploaded. So this is all of Naomi's story and nearly all of Angel Hunters that I have written so far.
    Last edited by Matt; 02-18-2011 at 04:22 PM.

  4. #4
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Angel Hunters 6
    SPOILER! :
    Walking around Chaldin beside a real angel was the most uncomfortable thing Morin had ever done. Iris seemed to have forgiven him, at least a little bit. He knew she had some hate left for him, but apparently, she had specifically asked Arion to spare his life. And now, she was acting like nothing had ever happened.

    "Morin, where can we eat?" she asked in her usual sweet tone. She had started using that as soon as she was strong enough to speak properly.

    "Just ahead and to the right. Don't look left. That angel parts place is over there."

    Of course, she looked. "That's just wrong!"

    "I told you not to look. There's the food place. Marco's Stand."

    Marco's Stand was a bar-style food store. Because Chaldin was littered with food stores, it wasn't very busy, but it was Morin's favorite place to eat. Of course, he considered Iris's preferences: something with as little emphasis on hunting as possible. Dave came here often, but Morin wasn't worried about him. He was a frequent hunter, but he wasn't a maniac. He understood Morin better than his own parents did. But that wasn't saying much.

    "Grape drinks?" Iris asked. "Do you carry grape?"

    The shopkeeper stared at Iris. "Weren't you the girl Morin shot?"

    "Me? Ah, yeah. It wasn't really his fault, though."

    Oh, yes it was, Morin thought.

    "Naw, Morin wouldn't hurt a girl—not even an angel! Right? You didn't kill that angel you hunted?"

    Wrong question. Morin refrained from looking at Iris when he said, "No. I didn't like it. I'm not cut out to be a hunter, I guess."

    "S'not for everyone. My family's not into it either. My brother's one of the Seekers, even."

    The man turned around and opened a barrel of grape juice. "Morin, what was your order?" he called back.

    "I'll take the same."

    He returned with two glasses full of grape juice. Morin drank slowly. He didn't particularly like grape juice, but Iris loved it. Before Morin had finished half of his, she was already asking for another.

    "Mister shopkeeper?" Iris said. "Why do you guys hunt angels here?"

    "Hm . . . I don't, personally. I reckon it's 'cause people assume it's more a challenge than hunting anything else. They're worth lotsa money, too. They say angels think on level with animals or something. 'S all I know."

    "I did it half because everyone else did it," Morin said. "The other half was because I wanted to prove myself to everyone—that I wasn't completely useless. But awhile after I went on that hunt, I felt worse than before I'd started."

    Morin figured that talk against hunting wouldn't harm Iris, but he still felt like he had failed. His original intention was to bring her to a place where hunting wasn't emphasized at all.

    "I like the original definition of angels," the shopkeeper said. "God's messengers, was it?"

    Morin smiled. "I like that too."

    "It's probably true," Iris chimed in, slowing down on her third cup of grape juice. Shortly after she had spoken, Dave arrived. He walked in long strides and took a seat beside Morin.

    "Hey, Dave," the shopkeeper said with a discreet eye roll toward Morin and Iris.

    "'Ello. Can I get a water?"

    "Eh?"

    "Yeah. My wife's makin' me have a water every time I'd ask for whiskey."

    "Ah. Coming up, then."

    Morin had told Iris about Dave before. Now, he wondered if she made the connection between his description and the man himself.

    "Dave," Morin said, getting an idea. "Weren't angels assumed to be God's messengers at one point?"

    "Mm, yeah. At one point."

    "What do you think?"

    "I hope not. Otherwise, I'd be hellbound for sure. You gettin' that idea now?"

    "Actually, I kinda gave him the idea," Iris said with the cutest smile Morin had ever seen. Long brown hair, shiny green eyes, and a soft smile—this girl was embodied perfection.

    "Ah. You the girl Morin shot?"

    "Hey now . . ." Morin started.

    "Wasn't his fault," Iris insisted.

    Dave looked closer at her. Despite his earlier thoughts, Morin tensed up. What would Dave do if he found out Iris was an angel?

    "You're . . ."

    "Iris. Nice to meet you, Dave."

    "Well then, Iris. You've picked a decent guy. And Morin, I don't think you could find a better girl in the region. 'Course, you could always find onna them nymph girls, but they don't have the best reputation. Whimsical things."

    "Naw, that's just a stereotype," the shopkeeper said. "But about angels, right?"

    "They might be God's messengers or they might be human-shaped birds," Dave said with a shrug. "I hope it's the latter, but I could be wrong. Nothin' against your idea, Iris. I like it, but I hope it's not true."

    He was just going with the flow, then. Doing what everybody else was doing. Just like Morin. The boy rested his elbows on the table and finished his grape juice, looking from Dave to Iris. He knew that Dave's idea of angels was a wrong one, but he seemed like someone who could be changed. If Iris told him that she was an angel, would he think any differently? If every hunter in the town got to know Iris on good terms, and then they learned what she was, would they change their ways?

    "You done here, Iris?" Morin asked.

    "Yup."

    As they got up to leave, Dave turned and said, "Iris, don't expect everyone here to accept your idea of angels. They might hurt you."

    --

    In Morin's house, Iris said, "He's a lot gentler than I imagined. Is he really a hunter?"

    "The best," Morin answered, closing the door. "But he's really soft on girls."

    Iris looked around for a place to sit. Morin's bed and various chairs were covered with books and seemingly random tools that she had never seen before. Was Morin a craftsman? If so, why had he used a simple crossbow and dagger on his hunt? Maybe he was just untidy, but something about the way everything was scattered made him seem more professional than not. Three hand-drawn diagrams of a wing added to that professionalism.

    "Sorry about the mess. I'm trying to build some stuff. Here, I'll make some room."

    He picked up a few tools and books from a chair and neatly set them aside. Iris sat in it. It felt strange to have her entire back press against the cushion.

    "Humans do nothing but walk and run, right?" she asked, scanning the room once more. She couldn't identify most of the things, but she recognized a small boiler under the bed. "Can't you use all this to build some sort of transportation, like a flying machine?"

    "If I were to make artificial wings for you, Iris, could you fly again?"

    "Artificial wings?"

    "I took your flight from you, and I plan to give it back. So, could you?"

    Iris stared at Morin for a moment, then smiled and nodded. "I'd love that."

    "Good. I want to finish them before Arion gets back. Then all of us would be happy."

    Iris didn't know much about steam power and mechanics, but she did know that what Morin was attempting was either extremely difficult or impossible. Years ago, she had been told that angel wings were irreplaceable. But she couldn't let Morin know that. Part of her knew that it would be better to tell him it was impossible, but another part wanted to try anything possible to fly again.

    "I'm not smart at all," Morin said. "So I'm relying on models from books to make the designs."

    He pointed to the wing drawings. "Those are your wings, as close as I can figure. I've paid the doctor to get them on when I finish them. But I gotta get feathers, and I need a sub for bones. Is there anything else?"

    "I don't know for sure. I'm probably no smarter than you are, but there's blood in angel wings like any other limb, so . . ."

    "So I also need to make veins. Tendons too, maybe. Do you know?"

    "No."

    "That's no good. Would Arion know?"

    "Probably."

    "And he's not here right now. We'll just wait, then. Can't very well ask a hunter without him thinking I was up to something."

    Iris thought back to her meeting with the hunter Dave. If Morin asked someone like him, he might get a good result. "Couldn't you?" she asked.

    "I could," he replied. "But they'd say, 'Why do you ask? Why are you suddenly so interested? Is that girl beside you actually an angel?'"

    "Really?"

    "It'd be weird for whoever I asked, that's for sure. And you do look like an angel—the old depiction, anyway. Artists now just draw you guys with evil eyes and skimpy outfits and bloodstained hands."

    "And the old depiction . . . Morin!" Iris looked away, blushing furiously. "Seriously . . ."

    Iris wasn't sure how to handle this. The old pictures of angels depicted them almost always in the nude. She didn't want Morin to think of her like that. She didn't want anyone to think of her like that.

    "Iris?"

    "Morin. I'm not like that."

    Morin looked sideways at her. "Not like that? Not like what?" His expression suddenly changed, and he straightened up. "No. Not like that. Sorry. I meant the old, old drawings. Before the nude ones."

    Iris relaxed. "Thanks," she said. "But surely there's someone you can ask. How about Dave?"

    "Maybe, but I doubt he's the type to remember that stuff. I guess I could ask him in case he actually knows."

    "Should I stay here?"

    "If you want. It's safer that way."

    Iris nodded. "True, but what if someone visited while I was here and you weren't?"

    Morin opened the door. "Nobody's come here in a year except Arion. You'll be fine. If something bad happens, there's a sword under my pillow."

    He shut the door behind him. Iris stared at the door for a moment after, then turned to the bookshelf and scanned the four rows of dusty, tightly-packed books. There was a clean streak on the top row that ended near a thin slot void of a book and a dozen or more empty slots on the bottom. The bottom row contained books on modern mechanics and engineering while the top seemed to be centered on philosophy. It looked like Morin had only read the engineering books. Considering the boiler under his bed, he was probably trying to work with steam power.

    The books he had moved for her were all centered on engineering. Taking one and skimming through it, she noticed several references to steam power. But the bookmarked pages concerned flight. Iris read through one such page, sighed, and shut the book. Angels, it said, defied all logical flight mechanics, and therefore, either the mechanics must be wrong or the angels must be at fault for something. Of course these books would be written in such a way. This was a hunting town. Reading through two more sections on flight in the next two books, she found similar "answers" to the questions Morin had been seeking. These books did nothing for flight but lead the reader in circles.

    Iris set the books aside and took a look at Morin's wing diagrams. He was a good artist. A light sketch of a girl detailed to every muscle was drawn under two outstretched wings. Morin had circled the feet, the chest, and the arms and written side-notes.

    "Tail?" Iris read. Morin had sketched a bird's tail and put a question mark between it and the girl. "I don't have a tail, though."

    Weren't wings all one needed for flight? Why would Morin have thought of a tail? He surely saw her flying with just wings. Iris scanned all the drawings, but she couldn't understand some of the formulas and diagrams Morin had drawn. She put them down after a minute and stood up. She checked under the pillow and took Morin's sword. Checking the blade, she found it to be spotless. Morin had likely never used this sword in his life.

    The door swung open and slammed in its frame. Morin stood on the inside, wide-eyed and breathing hard. Iris stared at him for a moment, then offered him the sword.

    "Keep it," he breathed. "We're leaving town. Now."

    "Hunters?"

    "A lot of them. Come on. I don't have a back door, so we have to go fast."

    Morin grabbed his crossbow from a rack Iris hadn't noticed before, along with a leather sack full of bolts. "Last resort," he said. "Same for the sword."

    Iris nodded and followed him out the door. Immediately, he bolted left. Iris followed, though slowly. She wasn't very quick on her legs, as she nearly always used her wings for support. Morin dropped back and fell in step beside her. They passed out of the village within a minute.

    "Where are we going?" Iris asked. "South? The south's good, isn't it? The west bans hunting, too."

    "Later," Morin replied. "We need Arion first. We'll go east till we find him, then we can leave the region."

    Iris looked up. She stopped. A bolt buried itself in the ground a few feet in front of her. Morin whirled and raised his crossbow. Iris turned to see three hunters, armed from left to right with a sword, a crossbow—bigger than Morin's—and a steamgun.

    "A steamgun!?" Morin exclaimed. "Where did you get that?"

    "Morin," the gunman said in a low voice. "I'll ask once. What is that girl beside you?"

    "An angel," Morin answered. "Are you blind?"

    Why was he giving her away? Iris kept the sword sheathed, but now edged away from Morin as well as the hunters.

    "We thought so," the hunter with the sword said. He took a step forward. "But if you knew that, why were you sheltering her?"

    "Because she's my friend. Your turn. Why kill her?"

    "She's an angel," the gunman asserted. "You don't make friends with angels. You hunt them."

    With that, he fired. Iris was expecting him to have a quick trigger finger, but not this quick. She barely had time to close her eyes before the bullet smashed into flesh. Morin shouted something, and Iris cringed. She couldn't feel the wound at all.

    "Idiot. She's an angel."

    Iris opened her eyes. Morin was on his knees in front of her. He was silent, but Iris could hear her own frenzied breathing.

    "You want to protect your angel that much?" the gunman said.

    Morin said nothing. He raised his head and nodded slowly. The gunman raised his weapon and pointed it over Morin's head, at Iris.

    "You people don't think before you shoot, do you?"

    Iris looked over the hunter's shoulder. He whirled, keeping his gun level. "Dave?"

    Dave stepped out from the foliage, dressed in casual clothes and carrying a crossbow. He pointed it at the hunter. "That's Morin's angel. What gives you any say over what he does with her?"

    "Dave!" Iris cried. She had never been happier to see a hunter. Dave nodded in her direction.

    "That's Iris. She loves grape juice. She's beautiful. And she's Morin's angel. That's all I know about her."

    "That's it?" the gunman scoffed. His companions looked less sure of themselves, but stood their ground. "That's all you know?"

    "Nothing else matters," said Dave. "You don't kill your friend's dog because you don't like it, do you? You don't steal your friend's woman because she's pretty, do you?"

    "Dave, that's an angel. Morin is protecting her!"

    "And?"

    Dave fired his crossbow. The steamgun flew out of the hunter's hands and landed in front of Morin. Iris knelt beside him and took the gun, but didn't raise it. Taking any offensive action would end badly.

    "So, she's an angel," Dave said. "You got any other reasons to touch her? N'less you're a pedophile?"

    Two of the hunters began walking back toward the village.

    "Where are you going?" the gunless gunman demanded.

    "Home," they answered together.

    "You next," Dave said, motioning with his crossbow. The hunter glared at Iris. She stood up and handed his gun over by the barrel. Without a word, he yanked it away and stomped off toward Chaldin.

    "I'll heal you," Iris said to Morin. She rested her hands on his ribs and looked in for the bullet. It had broken through one rib and had lodged itself halfway in his left lung. Keeping her internal vision steady, she reached in with magic and slowly extracted the bullet, closing the hole in his lung as she did so.

    "How are you doing that?" he asked when the bullet floated out and dropped to the ground.

    "The bullet is blue. You're red and yellow and orange."

    "You can see inside me?"

    "Somewhat."

    Iris looked up after sealing the wound. It hadn't seemed like a long time, but it had taken her fifteen minutes to finish. Dave hadn't moved.

    "That's amazing," he said.

    Iris nodded. "You didn't want to believe that angels were messengers of God," she stated.

    "No."

    "You might be right. I don't know what I am. If I'm one of God's messengers, I forgot the message. But I'm not an animal. I can think. I feel pain. I feel love. All of us can."

    Dave closed his eyes and let out a long breath. "Before angel hunting was legalized," he said, "I was a deer hunter. I had no problem with it. I still don't. Deer don't speak. Deer aren't inhumanly beautiful."

    Iris waited.

    "I should quit hunting. Shouldn't I."

    It wasn't a question. Iris nodded. "I won't attack you if you continue. But it's sad to think that my friend's going to turn away from me and kill my family."

    Dave smiled. "Don't worry," he said, and left. Iris and Morin didn't move for a long time. They stared at the rows of trees and bushes leading back to Chaldin.

    "Should we go back?" Iris asked.

    "Yeah. I'll start working on your wings."

    --

    Flames danced around Morin's house as if mocking him. He couldn't get near it. A house of wood burnt quickly and with intense heat. He and Iris stood, dumbstruck, a safe distance away. When the roof collapsed, crushing all of Morin's work and possessions, they stepped further back. Dave stood with them. The world seemed empty aside from a boy, a girl, a man, and a burning home. Morin laid a hand on Iris's shoulder, turned around, and walked away from the village where he was born and raised. Iris followed close behind, and Dave didn't move.

    "Should we ask Dave to come with us?" Iris asked after a few minutes.

    "It's hard for me to leave," said Morin, "after fifteen years. Dave's lived here for thirty. It would be twice as hard for him."

    "I know . . . but leaving him seems cruel."

    Morin walked in silence. He didn't think. He just walked. He didn't know where he was going. He was vaguely aware that he was walking south. Arion crossed his mind briefly, but he didn't stop and reconsider his directions.

    "Morin."

    Morin stopped when he felt Iris's arms wrap around him from behind.

    "Sorry," she said. "I don't know anything better to comfort you."

    Morin smiled. "It's enough," he said. "Thanks."

    "You're amazing," she said. "You took my wings, but you've compensated for it. You offered them back. You accepted me, and protected me. You almost died for me. And you're still you. You didn't fall to violence, even after the hunters burned your house."

    "You hate fighting, don't you?"

    "Needless fighting, yes. When Arion gets back, I'd love for him to see of you what I did. He thinks humans are all trash. I think he'll change his opinion if you show him what you showed me."

    "Iris. Thanks."

    Iris released him and started walking. "We're going south, right? Let's stop at Valdire. We can send a letter to Arion from there."

    They had walked no more than three steps when Arion landed hard in front of them. Morin immediately recognized the look in his eyes. There was nothing but hate there.

    "They killed her," he said. "An hour before I got there, they killed her and dumped her in their trash piles. I killed everyone responsible."

    Iris dropped to her knees and cried.


    EDIT: While writing this, I listened to the following:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Em42X...&feature=feedf
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAsA0...eature=related
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RBYKSVM4NqM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fmS_MxfJiCw
    Last edited by Matt; 03-08-2011 at 09:25 AM.

  5. #5
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    A side story, following Boriol and Akiria:
    SPOILER! :
    Angel Hunters

    Side Story 1


    Boriol's boat rose and fell gently with the waves on the small lake. With fishing pole in hand and line cast, he didn't expect to catch anything. He hadn't seen more than two fish here in years. Surrounded by thin trees and grass, this lifeless lake was the only place in the woods where there was direct sunlight. For that matter, it was the only place with an opening in the endless sea of trees. It was beautiful, though, and Boriol appreciated it.
    Akiria often came here to pick apples. Somewhere northwest of the lake, she was up in a tree, probably eating half the apples she picked. He had promised to make her and Illyana a pie. He guessed that the angel wouldn't be very hungry, though. He didn't consider her a glutton, but she definitely ate her fill. She wasn't fat, either.

    "Angels don't get fat," she'd said at some point. Boriol believed it. Akiria never lied.

    Something tore the pole from Boriol's grip. He made a lunge for it, but the boat tipped dangerously, and he stopped. There were no fish in this lake. Was this Akiria playing a prank? He recalled her mentioning that she couldn't swim, so he dismissed the idea. He could see the bottom of the lake up until the middle became a hazy blue and green. He'd assumed that any fish in the lake must be here, but presently, one had taken his rod and he couldn't capture it.

    "Boriol!"

    Akiria touched down in the front of the boat. Her long blond hair danced around her face from the flight, and her sapphire eyes shined in the sun more than the water ever had. She had a child's face and a child's body, but despite her underdevelopment, she was a beautiful young girl. Her outstretched wings spanned more than twice her height. She wore a plain white dress cut out in the back to accommodate her wings. The boat didn't dip under her weight or the weight of the apples in her arms. She wasn't underweight, but couldn't be more than sixty pounds.

    "Where's your pole?" she asked, folding her wings and sitting in the front of the boat.

    "I lost it a few seconds ago. Didn't you see it?"

    Akiria grinned. "Yeah, I did. You can swing that huge sword around with no problem, and you can't even pull in a little fish."

    Boriol shrugged and looked into the water. He stirred it around with his hand. "I never said it was little."

    Akiria let the apples drop into the bottom of the boat and took the anchor in her hand. Boriol saw the strain in her face, though she was probably trying to make it look effortless by picking it up with one hand.

    "Tie an apple to here," she said. "See if your friend down there likes fruit."

    Boriol took the anchor, securely tied an apple to the chain, and tossed it overboard. He expected Akiria would wait, at most, thirty minutes before getting bored and flying home.

    "I'll wait thirty minutes," she said, confirming his expectations. She took and apple from the floor and started eating it.

    "How many did you eat before?" Boriol asked.

    "Three. But I brought more. Is it enough to make pie?"

    "Yeah."

    Boriol glanced over at the anchor. The chain was still unraveling. This part of the lake was deeper than he'd thought. Akiria watched it as well.

    "The chain's almost—yup. It's gone."

    As she said this, the boat tipped to the anchor side, but the passengers' weight was enough to keep it upright.

    "When you and Illyana play here," Boriol said, "don't come out of the shallow end. Especially not until you learn to swim."

    Akiria raised her wings. "Can't."

    Boriol nodded. "Oh."

    The anchor gave a strong pull from wherever it was. Akiria spread her wings and grabbed the side. Airborne, she tried to keep it upright. Boriol put a foot on the opposite side and leaned his weight into it. With another strong jerk, the boat capsized, taking Boriol and Akiria with it.
    Boriol didn't surface at first. He caught the chain and looked down. The water was murky, and he couldn't see through it. Something was pulling the chain through his hands, though. He let go of it and watched the rest of the chain, along with the boat, sink in front of him. When he surfaced, the boat broke through the surface in front of him with the chain still attached. He saw bubbles rising from the water where Akiria had gone under. He grabbed the side of the boat and reached under the waves. Akiria hadn't gone far. She caught his hand and he pulled her up, frantic and probably hypothermic. The water was cold, and he was shivering himself.

    "Shore," he said, and helped Akiria into the boat. He climbed in and took the oars in hand while Akiria pulled up the anchor. The boat had sprung a few leaks, but they could make it to shore before being completely submerged. Besides, they were already soaked.

    "Boriol!" Akiria cried. Boriol turned to her. She was holding the anchor chain. She didn't have the anchor itself. The chain was broken, and slowly, the end was disintegrating. Akiria threw it over the side again and sat, shivering, while Boriol rowed back to shore.

    Elaine and Illyana met them. When they reached the shore, the boat was completely submerged. Boriol pulled it in anyway.

    "What happened out there?" Elaine asked them. "Catch one too big to pull in?"

    "Understatement," Boriol said. "Akiria, Illyana—when you play here, stay out of the water."

  6. #6
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Incoming: Pokemon Fanfiction (Moemon mod)

    SPOILER! :
    An Explanation of Moemon

    Because I truly don’t think people are going to unquestioningly imprison young girls with Pokémon costumes in tiny balls and make them slaughter each other at will; especially with the use of such moves as explosion and self-destruct. So, after playing Moemon Leafgreen for awhile, I decided to come up with some sort of back story. Here goes:


    Moemon



    What I’d seen of Pokémon didn’t match what I was seeing now. Not in the slightest. Professor Evergreen’s lab was strange, but none of the weird machines or eccentric-looking scientists matched the oddness of the young girls staring up at Jaime and me.

    “Aiza,” he said, addressing me by my childhood nickname. “You’re seeing this too, right?”

    I nodded slowly. We were definitely on the other side of the planet. In Kanto, Pokémon were Pokémon. These . . . were girls. No older than ten. And they were tiny. Cute and tiny. I recognized their clothing, at least. A Bulbasaur was trying—and failing—to climb my leg at the moment. Except it wasn’t a Bulbasaur. It was a tiny girl in a Bulbasaur outfit. Her clothes were the pattern of a Bulbasaur’s skin and her hair was put up in a bun that exactly resembled a bulb. Two strands of long, teal-green hair flopped out of the top, covering one of the two lumps in her hair—ears. Her eyes were red and she was barefoot.

    “These are Pokémon,” Professor Evergreen said. “I assume you’ve got them in Kanto. You’re both experienced Trainers, from what I’ve heard.”

    “Yeah,” I started. “But aren’t these just little girls?”

    The Professor shrugged. He picked up the girl—the Bulbasaur—at my feet. She gave a tiny squeal as her feet left the ground. It was adorable. But did people battle these “Pokémon” here, in the Teinjo region? I distinctly remembered freaking out the first time someone had commanded their Voltorb to self-destruct. What happened here? Surely those types of moves didn’t exist on this part of the world.

    “I suppose they seem strange to you,” Evergreen said. He plopped the Bulbasaur girl on his shoulder. She slipped, but the two strands of hair dangling from her bulb shot out and wrapped around Evergreen’s neck. He didn’t react at all.

    “Yeah,” Jaime said. He slowly knelt down and touched the Charmander’s long orange hair. The girl—or Pokémon—stared up at him with large green eyes as he ran his hand through her hair, toward the burning flame at the tip. He jerked his hand away when it got close.

    “Real fire?” I said in disbelief. “Dude, the girl’s hair is on fire.”

    The Charmander, too, was nothing more than a two-foot tall girl in Pokémon clothes. But the tip of her hair was on fire. And she stood up. The Bulbasaur didn’t seem capable of standing right now. They didn’t look like babies or toddlers. Their faces were round and soft, but somewhat defined. If they were truly humans, they could pass as anywhere from five to ten.

    Evergreen seemed confused at our reactions to seeing these Poké-girls. “They behave and operate much like the animals you have in Kanto,” he said. “From what I’ve heard, that is. Did you, by any chance, bring your Kanto Pokémon with you?”

    Jaime and I took Pokéballs from our backpacks. For a brief moment I considered sending out a smaller Pokémon, but saw what Jaime was bringing out, and changed my mind. I pressed the button in the middle of the ball and released Tyranitar, right next to Jaime’s Kabutops. Tyranitar looked around at its surroundings and roared. The entire building shook. Tyranitar’s head nearly scraped the ceiling when it turned its head up. Scientists screamed and fled. Some were rooted to the floor, gaping.

    “Meet Kanto’s Tyranitar and Kabutops,” I said, grinning broadly.

    Bulbasaur shot off Evergreen’s shoulder and perched squarely on Tyranitar’s head. It looked up at the little girl on its noggin, grunted, and scanned the rest of the room. After taking it all in, it turned back to me, as if asking me what it was doing out here when there was nothing I wanted destroyed. Tyranitar knew what I wanted. It wouldn’t sense any hostile intentions now. This situation was too hilarious.

    “W-we-well,” Professor Evergreen stammered. “They’re certainly—definitely different.”

    Jaime laughed. He almost sounded evil, but I knew better. We called back our Pokémon. Bulbasaur nearly dropped to the floor, but I caught her. Almost immediately she wrapped her hair—vines—around my neck and swung around to my back, taking the place of the backpack I’d dropped.

    “If you’re wondering who I’ll take to start,” I said, “I choose Bulbs here.”

    “League rules say you have six at a time,” said Evergreen. “Be sure to drop off your Kanto Pokémon at home when you leave.”

    “Or,” Jaime put in, “you could keep your Tyranitar around and scare everyone crapless. Say, maybe a Teinjo version of Team Rocket. Heck, you could just scare your way through the Pokémon League.”

    “I might keep it with me,” I said. “But sending it out would be cheating. Same to you.”

    The Professor nodded. “The crime rate in Teinjo’s on a rise,” he said. “It might be smart to keep a Kanto Pokémon as backup. But, as Isaiah said, using them in any League-ruled match would be cheating if you already had six from Teinjo.”

    “All right,” said Jamie. He looked down at Charmander and Squirtle, both gazing up at him with those adorable eyes. Charmander was cuter, I thought, but Jaime was a pyrophobe. As I expected, he picked up the Squirtle.”

    “Squirt,” he said, and poked her nose. In reply, the Squirtle girl opened her mouth and squirted him in the face. Then she grinned.

    “Squirt!” she squeaked. Her vocal cords, I noted, were definitely human. Higher-pitched than any normal girl, yes, but human.

    “Water gun,” I said, chuckling as I watched water drip from Jaime’s shaggy blond hair. “Dude, she just barfed on you. So, barf gun?”

    Jaime wiped water and wet hair from his eyes, cast me a sarcastic glance, and tapped a Pokéball on Squirtle’s head. The familiar red beam of light engulfed her and drew her inside. I looked back at my Bulbs. She had scooted over a bit and had her head propped on my shoulder. Her hair—or vines—were still wrapped around my neck, but it didn’t bother me. I considered putting her in a Pokéball as well, but decided against it. She was easier on my eyes than any of my current Kanto Pokémon. She was also the first Pokémon I’d ever thought of as belonging to a specific gender. She. This Bulbasaur was definitely a girl. It was after that thought that the question crossed my mind:

    “Professor, are all the Pokémon in Teinjo girls?”

    “No,” he answered. “Of course not. But there are very, very few males. Almost none. But there’s at least one of every species.”

    “Why?”

    Evergreen shrugged and answered with another question. “Why are your Kanto Pokémon all monsters?”

    I couldn’t answer that. I had no idea. There were scientists in Kanto who pursued the origins of Pokémon. I had never understood why they bothered, but now I had an idea of why they devoted themselves to such a career.

    “Where’s Lia?” Jaime asked suddenly.

    “She said she was gonna get her parents to take care of her Kanto Pokémon,” I recalled. “Dunno why she’s taking so long, though.”

    Jaime walked toward the double doors. “Aiza, have Bulbs string a trip wire.”

    I saw where he was going with this. Ordinarily, I’d have flat out refused to lay a trap for an unsuspecting girl, but Lia was an exception to nearly every ethical rule I had. Apparently, she was an exception to Jaime’s rulebook as well, as he let his Squirtle out.

    “A girl’s gonna walk in,” he told her. “Our age. Fourteen. Red hair in two ponytails. She’s darn hot, but don’t let that fool you. As soon as you see her, squirt her in the face.”

    At this point, I doubted Squirtle understood all of what he said, but she probably understood the gist of it. Girl walks in; squirt face.

    “What are you two doing?” Evergreen demanded.

    “You’ll see,” I said. “C’mon, you know Lia, don’t you?”

    “Actually, no.”

    “If you did, you’d be doing this same thing,” Jaime said. My Bulbasaur shot her vine out across the door. Jaime caught it and pulled it tight. I grabbed Bulbs around the waist—a human waist, I noted—and held her in place when she started to slide.

    The door opened outward and Lia stepped in. “Professor Evergreen!” she called. “I’m he—”

    Her foot caught on Bulbasaur’s hair-vine. At once, Squirtle gave a long blast of water. It never hit her. As she fell from the trip wire/hair/vine, she twisted in midair, avoiding the water, and rolled through. I was about to admire her performance when she took a knee and fired a gun at me and Jaime at once. I let Bulbs go to shield myself from the pellet, and she slid all the way across the doorway, plowing into Jaime. He looked down at her and was hit in the ear with Lia’s airsoft pellet.

    “Oh,” Evergreen said. Promptly, he returned to his desk and began typing on his computer. “Lia, the other two are taken. Have Charmander.”

    Lia looked down at the Charmander at her feet. She looked at me. “Is this a joke?”

    “Lia, you’re seeing a girl two feet tall with the tip of her hair on fire. No, this is not a joke.”

    Lia knelt down and held her hands around the fire. She quickly pulled them away and pressed them onto her legs. “Charmander, huh?” she said. “Professor Evergreen, I came here to train Pokémon. Not Pedomon.”

    Evergreen glanced back at her. “They’re Pokémon, Lia. What should I call your Kanto region creatures, then? Monsters?”

    Lia nodded. “Ah. Then these kids are to you what our ‘monsters’ are to us?”

    “Cuter,” Jaime pointed out.

    “Yeah, I’ll give ‘em that,” Lia admitted, ruffling Charmander’s hair. “If I’d had a choice on who to choose, I’d have taken Charmander anyway.”

    ‘Who to choose,’ she’d said. ‘Who.’ Not ‘what.’ I wondered if the people in the Teinjo region were so used to these Pokémon that they addressed them as living objects, as we did in Kanto. My Tyranitar was male, but I never identified it with ‘he.’

    “You,” Lia said suddenly, sticking her finger in my face. “Isaiah. Battle me.”

    I looked to the professor. Surely they didn’t battle these girls.

    “Go ahead,” he said to my horror. “They’re low-level and in their first forms. They won’t break anything in here.”

    Professor, it’s not the stuff in your lab I’m worried about.

    “Charmander, attack the Bulbasaur,” Lia said. “If the dumb kid gets in your way—own him.”

    “Hey!” I said. But Lia’s Charmander was already running at me. “Bulbasaur, take her down!”

    Bulbs dropped off my shoulder, landed behind me, and leaped through my legs, crashing into Lia’s Charmander. The force of the crash was greater than I’d thought. Both Pokémon deflected off each other and landed on opposite sides. I stepped back to get out of the range of the battle.

    “Hit ‘er with your hair!” Lia commanded.

    “Dodge!” I cried. Charmander rushed forward and whipped her hair around like . . . well, like a whip. Bulbs shot her vines back and latched onto Lia’s neck.

    “Wha--!?” she started. Bulbs swung around to her back while she tried to make light of the situation. Pokémon using their enemy trainers to dodge was unheard of in Kanto, but it made perfect sense.

    “Catapult!” I said. “Aim low; Charmander’s fire’ll own you otherwise!”

    Bulbs used Lia’s neck as a base and launched herself at her opponent. Charmander took a step back, but wasn’t fast enough. Bulbasaur’s head smashed into her stomach. With a pitiful, high-pitched cry, Charmander fell to the ground. Freaking torpedo attack. I’d have to write that one down.

    “Dang,” Jaime breathed as Charmander trembled on the tile floor, drool leaking from the corner of her mouth, her eyes squeezed shut. It was painful to watch. Bulbs was fine, although I’d have to be careful of her neck from now on. Rubbing her own neck, Lia ran to her Charmander and picked her up. Her breathing was off. I’d never seen a Pokémon lose its wind before. But these definitely weren’t normal Pokémon.

    Evergreen applauded us. “Good battle,” he said. “Lia, I’ve got a healing machine back here. Charmander should be fine, but it helps to get her all healed up anyway.”

    Lia ran to the machine and set Charmander on it. Frantically, she probed around for the button to begin the healing process.

    “Green button on the front,” the Professor said. Lia pressed it. From the silver ring on top of the machine, transparent blue light beamed down and surrounded Charmander. It pulsated for a few seconds before shooting in and tracing the Pokémon’s shape. With a quick flash, it was all over. Charmander smiled and jumped off the machine. She stayed at Lia’s feet.

    “She’s really taken to you,” Jaime said. “You’re practically a sadist, but you’re soft on—”

    Lia jabbed him in the stomach with her finger. He shut up and gasped for breath.

    “Can it,” she said. “I’m goin’ home. I wanna show my mom.”

    I watched her leave, her new Charmander waddling along beside her. Bulbasaur attached to my neck again, and propped her head on my shoulder. I petted her head. “Nice,” I said. “Still kinda painful to watch, though.”

    “Teinjo’s gonna take some getting used to,” Jaime confirmed. “I’d ask for a battle, but now your Bulbs’s got fresh battle experience. So I’ll hold off on that.”

    “Kay,” I agreed. “Professor, I’m gonna go. You want me to fill a Pokédex or something?”

    He waved it off. “No. I’ve got all the data I need. You’ve got one already, right?”

    “Yup.”

    “That could help you out in some battles. I’m willing to bet there are some Pokémon here you’ve never seen before—though I take it you have my starters in Kanto?”

    “We do,” I said. “I’ve been to Kanto and Johto—two years in each. I’ll recognize Pokémon I’ve seen before, even if they all look like little girls over here.”

    The Professor rolled his eyes. “Go on, then,” he said, waving us off. “The Teinjo region’s got eight gyms, but the closest one’s in Gyrton. You’ve got this whole island to cross; Gyrton’s on the mainland.”

    Something told me I’d be keeping my Pidgeot from Kanto out.

    --


    So. My first fanfiction ever. I'll probably continue it at some point. It was fun to write--something I really didn't expect from a fanfiction.

    Oh. To see what other people were doing with moemon, I Googled "moemon fanfic." I came out with some kinda porn thing where the main trainer had to have sex with his Charmander girl and didn't have the balls to do it. I didn't read past that. True moe isn't sexual. That guy wasn't writing a Moemon fanfiction. That, people, was Pedomon.

  7. #7
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Angel Hunters 7
    SPOILER! :
    Akiria didn’t know what was worse: the renegade angels attacking her hometown, or herself; lying here on the ground, half the bones in her body broken, her eyes rapidly shifting in and out of focus, and the inability to think straight. She was lying on her face. On her cheek, actually. It hurt. Everything hurt. She couldn’t feel her right arm, and her left . . . she didn’t want to know. She couldn’t see it. She could feel it. Pain got in the way of magic. Akiria wasn’t usually able to use it even with something as harmless as a paper cut. She had to wait until the stinging subsided to heal herself.

    It was growing dark, but she smelled the smoke. Heard the screams. The blades. She wasn’t too far from Dakonia as it was being destroyed. She didn’t want to watch. Even if she did, she couldn’t. Whose side was God on, anyway? God saved the righteous, not the wrongdoers. She was in the right. Nobody had the right to kill innocent people. And these angels—dark angels now, surely—had beaten her, crippled her, and left her to die. She would. She knew it. The only reason she wasn’t dead lay beside her: a thick branch from a rather large tree beside her. She was covered in leaves and dust. She wondered if anyone would see her if they passed. Her wings were bright. Someone would see. Blood was bright. But she wasn’t bleeding, to her own amazement. Internally, yes. Plenty. More than any living being should. Outside, the only liquid was her saliva. That didn’t show.

    Her wings were snapped. She couldn’t move them. She couldn’t make any sign that she was even alive to anyone passing. She was still breathing, at least. She hoped the renegades weren’t. Boriol could have killed them. He was strong. Much stronger than he thought. His sword alone was testament to that. Akiria could barely drag it, and he could swing it around with one hand. Easily. Surely he could take out some dark angels. That was what they were now. It was inevitable. She felt their magic. They were using it remorselessly. Their wings would turn black. The moment they did, their power was no longer coming from God. In theory, angels were stronger than dark angels. Power from God was much more powerful than the only alternative. But dark angels had no remorse, no feelings. They killed without a second thought, while angels thought things through and tried not to harm their opponents.

    That wasn’t true. Akiria was arguing with herself. Tempus hadn’t killed Illyana. The angels, their wings still pure, had burnt her village and killed the people. The hunters. There weren’t supposed to be hunters in the south. It was against the law.

    Someone touched her. She tried to move. Nothing happened.

    “Akiria,” a familiar young voice said, wavering.

    Illyana. Akiria was crying now. She did that too often. She was weak. She wanted to reach out and hug her friend. She needed the comfort. It hurt to cry, but she couldn’t stop. Her voice barely came out, but it did. At least then, Illyana would see that she was alive.

    “Boriol’s fighting,” she said. Akiria felt the familiar touch of Illyana’s magic. She could use it. Hers came from God. The enemy had no power to heal. “Boriol and the soldiers. Elaine, too. She’s hurt. They’re all hurt. But they told me to find you.”

    “Thank you,” Akiria sobbed. Pain assaulted her like the angels earlier as she moved her arm, but she did it anyway. She couldn’t reach Illyana, but felt her take her hand. She didn’t squeeze. That would have broken it.

    “Where did you fall from?” Illyana asked. Akiria looked at the tree branch. Illyana looked too. It was thick, and wouldn’t have given way easily. But, Akiria thought, if she had fallen from anywhere lower than she had, the branch wouldn’t have broken, and she would likely have been snapped in half across it. As it was, her lower spine was shattered. She couldn’t feel her legs or hips, but Illyana was working on that.

    “There was a boy in town,” Illyana said through tears. She was crying now, too. “He told me he loved you. But he died. They shot him.”

    “I’m so useless,” Akiria moaned. She could speak now, but wasn’t sure she wanted to. She was messed up and she knew it. She still wasn’t thinking straight, but she could at least think. A boy had confessed his love for her and died. It was partially her fault and partially another angel’s. A dark angel’s. She wasn’t so depressed as to blame herself for everything, but she knew very well that she was a part of it.

    “You’re not useless,” Illyana said. She sounded like she believed it. Akiria knew she did. She loved Illyana. She was like a sister. Right now, like an older sister, despite the truth being the opposite. But, despite her words, Illyana didn’t come up with an example. She couldn’t. Akiria hadn’t shown her anything she had done right. What had she done for her? Make apples fall with her toes? That was stupid. She had showed off her magic and then flew into a fight and lost. It had cost lives.

    “I’ll heal too,” she said, trying to sit up. She couldn’t. Her right arm worked now, and she added her magic to Illyana’s. Somehow, she was numbing the pain. Akiria couldn’t do that. Illyana was definitely a great healer.

    “How are you helping? I thought your magic was dead when you got hurt.”

    “It doesn’t hurt. Aren’t you numbing it?”

    Illyana took her hands away for a moment. Akiria cringed, and she hurriedly started healing again. The pain subsided.

    “I’m not trying to numb you,” she said. “I didn’t even know I could do that.”

    Akiria knew she couldn’t do much to speed up the healing process further than it was. She couldn’t heal any injury she couldn’t see. Illyana could see everything.

    “Is my skull cracked?” she asked. Illyana looked up.

    “Yes. But it’s not fatal. Not for now. I’ll seal it when I get your ribs out of your lungs.”

    The two of them worked slowly. Healing was slow by definition, and Akiria knew she wouldn’t make it back to Dakonia in time to help Boriol and Elaine fight. Even if she did, she wasn’t sure if she’d be any help. She’d already failed.

    Dakonia was on fire. The smell of smoke was stronger now, and the only sounds were reduced to an inconstant clash of blades.

    “They’ll probably come back,” Akiria said. “They’ll want to see if I’m dead. As soon as you can’t hear them fighting anymore, you should hide. They can’t see through the canopy.”

    “I know. But I saw their wings. They’re dark. They won’t leave you alone if you play dead. So, if I hide, you’re hiding too.”

    Time passed. The girls healed as fast as they could manage without messing Akiria’s body up even more, but there were still bones to be healed when the dark angels returned. There were two of them, dark silhouettes against an orange twilight sky. Akiria remembered shooting one down.

    “Kiri, go!” Illyana urged. She kept healing as they scurried off into the forest. They sat behind a thick tree and listened.

    “She’s gone,” one said.

    “Could she have healed herself?”

    “No. Even if she survived, you can’t heal through pain. Not usually.”

    Illyana didn’t move, but she kept healing her friend.

    “We should go. That blond kid—Boriol. He’ll be coming.”

    “Let’s find the girl first.”

    Leaves rustled and branches snapped. Akiria didn’t breathe. Her broken wings were wrapped around Illyana, and wouldn’t show from where the dark angels were. But they would probably feel Illyana’s magic, powerful as it was.

    “She’s healing herself,” a dark angel said. “But she’s scattering it. I can’t tell where it’s coming from.”

    “We don’t have time to check the whole forest.”

    “Look for her wings.”

    Akiria looked down at Illyana. She was working on a few ribs at a time. Akiria didn’t dare to help her. She couldn’t scatter her magic.

    “He’s coming.”

    “He’s looking for the girl, too. Probably.”

    There was a pause.

    “Let him find her. Lira needs help.”

    They made their way out of the forest and flew away. Akiria turned and looked behind the tree. Illyana stood up and peered out the other side. Akiria checked her body. She was all healed. Seeing and sensing nothing hostile, she motioned for Illyana to follow her. They stepped out of the forest.

    “Where’s Boriol?” Akiria asked. Illyana looked too.

    “I don’t see him.”

    Akiria realized a moment too late that Boriol wasn’t coming. Before she could even warn Illyana, the dark angels were on top of them.

    --

    Boriol and Elaine stood together on the top of the valley containing what used to be their hometown, along with three soldiers. The fires were dying now. Dying like the rest of the people. Boriol had witnessed an angel turn to darkness. His wings had simply changed color. No shining light from heaven and demonic laugh from hell. His wings had been white one moment, and just as he fired the blast of magic that had killed a small group of men, women, and children, they were black.

    “Boriol,” Elaine said. He looked down at her. The simple motion hurt his head. Her brown hair stuck to her forehead with sweat and blood. Most of it wasn’t hers. None of it was the dark angels’. Her green eyes were dim and half-closed.

    “Mm?”

    “We should look for survivors.”

    They left the spot where the dark angels had taken flight. Elaine ran. Boriol didn’t have the energy to run. He dragged his sword in one hand, holding his forehead in the other. One soldier stayed behind to help him.

    “I’m fine,” he said. His wavering voice betrayed him. “Go help Elaine. Don’t let anyone else die.”

    “My son died in that battle, Boriol. I saw it. He was the same age as you. And if I let you die from post-battle wounds . . .”

    “I get it. Thanks.”

    They walked in silence until they reached the first burning house, where Elaine was hugging a young boy. He was crying, sobbing something about his mom and dad. Elaine said nothing. It was impossible to comfort someone who had just watched his parents die.

    Another soldier was there. “Boriol, your parents—”

    “I know. I saw.”

    Boriol took another step and fell to his knees. For a moment he regretted sending Illyana away, but knew that Akiria probably needed her more than he did. Still, a healer would be nice. He waited to black out; to fall asleep and wake up when his head didn’t feel like it had just sustained a blow from a war hammer. It didn’t happen. For whatever reason, he stayed conscious.

    “I thought you were dead when that blast got you,” a soldier said to him. His voice sounded distant. “Just rest for a bit. The clinic’s gone, but Connor survived. I’ll try to get him over here fast as I can.”

    Boriol struggled to keep his speech understandable. “No. Have him heal the rest of the survivors first. I’ll live longer than they will.”

    “Right. Don’t die.”

    Boriol’s sheath was destroyed, so he stuck his sword in the dirt. He laid on his back and stared up at the night sky. He could only see two stars. The rest were covered by clouds. Closing his eyes, he tried to sleep again. Then it occurred to him that he might not wake up if he slept now, and sat up. Slowly, he got to his feet. He knew he wasn’t strong enough to be of any help in saving the survivors. Despite his claims, he needed a healer, and as of now, the only ones he knew of were Illyana and Akiria. He had to find them. On an afterthought, he pulled his sword from the ground and carried it with him as he walked toward what remained of the town’s gate. He almost tripped over a dead soldier, but stepped over him.

    “Finding Illy and Kiri?” someone said from behind him. Elaine appeared by his side. “We all need them now. I’ll go with you.”

    They walked through the gates and started down the path to various other cities. To their right was one of the many forests near Dakonia. To the left, a wide plain.

    Elaine walked on ahead. “We don’t know where they are, do we?”

    “This general area.”

    “Ah. Right there!”

    Akiria’s wings glowed in the night. They sent bright God rays shining down from the sky. She was airborne, probably a mile in the sky, fighting one of the dark angels, illuminated by his foe’s wings.

    “She’s fighting!” Elaine observed.

    “The dark angels?”

    “One of them,” Elaine said, pointing down. Just behind her was one of the dark angels, dead. Boriol stepped past him, not looking down.

    “Illyana should be around her somewhere.”

    It started to rain. Or, at least, Boriol thought. When the rain stopped a second after it had started, he realized it was a shower of blood from one of the combatants. The glow from Akiria’s wings grew larger, and Boriol could begin to make out the shape of the remaining dark angel. They were still fighting on their way to the ground. They used their fists, feet, and blades. Boriol didn’t see Akiria’s bow or arrows anywhere.

    “Hide,” Boriol said. He and Elaine backed into the forest. From there, they could still see the fight—or at least Akiria’s end of it. The light from her wings danced around on the path. Occasionally, blinding flashes appeared like lightning when the light struck their blades at the right angle.

    “Boriol, Elaine!”

    Illyana peeked out from behind a tree. In Akiria’s light, Boriol could clearly see a bloodstained tear in the side of her dress. Beneath it, her pale skin was clear of injuries.

    “Illy!” Elaine cried, and ran—stumbled—to her. “Oh, you healed yourself. Wait, you can do that?”

    In response, Illyana put a hand on Elaine’s forehead. A moment later, her wound was gone. “I just learned I could heal in weird ways,” she said. “I can heal through pain.”

    She made her way to where Boriol stood and started healing him. “Akiria saved me,” she said. “The dark angels came back right after I finished healing her.”

    “You got hurt?” Boriol asked, motioning to the tear in her dress.

    “I healed it.”

    Boriol nodded and turned to watch Akiria’s battle. She was probably worn out after beating one. From the earlier blood shower, he guessed that, whoever was winning, the battle was almost over.

    Akiria landed first. She touched down and immediately ducked under a low swipe. Ten feet away, the dark angel let out a blast of magic at her. She dodged to the side and closed the gap between them, backing away quickly to avoid another magic attack. She held a short, bloody knife in her hand. Where she had obtained it, Boriol didn’t know. Now, she materialized her bow and threw the knife, quickly following up with three quick shots from her bow. Her foe couldn’t dodge them all. He avoided the knife, but was hit with all three arrows. They weren’t solid matter, and didn’t stick in, but they still inflicted injuries. The dark angel stumbled and fell back. Akiria drew her bowstring back and aimed at his heart.

    “You’re still an angel,” he said as blood leaked from the corners of his mouth. “You couldn’t—”

    Akiria closed her eyes and let the arrow fly. She alone didn’t see the result. Boriol, Elaine, and Illyana saw it.

    “I didn’t think you’d shoot,” Elaine said.

    Akiria shook her head slowly. “Neither did I.” After a moment, she added, “I’ve killed three people.”

    She stood on the spot. Nobody spoke. Nobody moved until Illyana stepped forward and hugged her.

    “I don’t want to kill anyone,” Akiria said. She dropped her bow, but it faded away before it hit the ground.

    “Let’s go home,” Elaine said. “Everyone needs you.”

    Akiria hadn’t been injured in the fight. But she was still scarred. Boriol walked behind her on the way back to Dakonia. As he watched her walk, he knew she would never be the same again.

    I just realized that I have no idea how I want this story to end. I'll probably figure it out just after I've got everything set up just perfectly so that the ending I want won't work.

    Also, I've started (re)writing Miri's story. That's not the official title. Miri's story, like Naomi's story, has yet to be named. If you were to look into my writing folder, you'd find the titles:

    Angel Hunters
    Naomi's Story
    Golden Summer
    The Lexus Program (My first sci-fi. Centers on a girl who's got a program installed in her that she can control with her mind.)
    Miri's Story (A reboot of Guardians, but with a lot less bioweapons and assassins and a lot more music and high school.)
    Hawaii (A romance/horror thing I've been poking around at for awhile.)

    I'm not very creative with titles, if you couldn't already tell.

  8. #8
    One Thousand Member butternut's Avatar
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    Angel Hunters ending already? But it just started!

  9. #9
    999 Knights Member Matt's Avatar
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    Ah, no! It's not ending yet. I'm not even halfway through Akiria's character arc.

  10. #10
    999 Knights Member Renzokuken's Avatar
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    Nov 2010
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    Nottingham, UK
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    Matt, I haven't forgotten you! I checked out up to Angel Hunters 5/ start of 6 (inc. Naomi's story) but haven't checked out the others yet. Sorry I haven't commented but nice way to finish Chapter 5, man! Every time I see your work, it gets better.

    ...

    Man, that sounded lame. Sorry.... >.>

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