((73 — Duran Shoukan))
July 2nd, 802 AT.
“What?” Spider said blandly.
“That.” Seth jerked his head forward, indicating the massive crystal that comprised the center of the nebula. “The city. Well, crystal thing.”
He sat, as usual, in a floating crystal, part of Noh. Each of the Talons was arrayed around and behind him, riding their respective demons. Chun was still asleep, as it was yet early. The light had only just brightened, and no one had bothered to wake her.
“Wonder why it looks like that,” Kiara said quietly from her perch atop Umbra.
“It’s the heart of the thing, probably where all these other crystals came from.” Spider shrugged. “Maybe.”
Up ahead, something sparkled in the air between them and the crystal. Seth squinted, trying to make out whatever it is. As he watched, the single point resolved into a pair, growing larger.
Scorpia sniffed, reaching out to sense for any demonic energy. Spider, straddling her demon, looked as well. “Huh…”
Reno gazed almost lazily towards the approaching points. They grew larger, or came closer. Metallic, and approaching fast.
“Not demons,” Spider said, frowning, feeling what her demon did. “Uh… we’re riding demons, so… this should be interesting?”
“Those… ships?” Kiara said, raising her eyebrows. “I think we should get out of their way.”
“Probably not a bad idea,” Seth agreed, watching the pair continuing to grow closer. They resolved into a pair of approaching ships. “Yeah, let’s not get hit by those.”
“Going down,” Spider said, as she and Scorpia dropped downwards. Umbra and Kiara followed, with Seth descending close behind.
The ships dropped to match them. They continued towards them, maybe half a kilometer out. The one on the left was sleek and bullet-like, with its companion shaped like a tilted cross. Both were clearly heavily armed, with visible gun emplacements on the front.
“Well then. I guess we say hello to these fuckers.” Seth twitched. “Maybe one of them will have a pack…”
“Yup, they’re chasing the demons!” Spider said, zooming to the right to avoid the ships. “Maybe we should split up!” she called, not bothering to stop.
Reno and Caf furrowed their brows. “Huh,” she said.
Kiara coaxed Umbra forward, and she shot liquid shadow forward, trying to cover the viewports of the ships. They broke off, rolling in opposite directions to get out of the shroud.
The ships flew past the Talons, opening up with their machine guns as they did. A hailstorm of bullets streaked towards the teens.
“FuckfuckfuckfuckFUCK!” Seth threw his arm up in front of his face, and a sheet rose up out of Noh, between Seth and the oncoming fire.
The others dodged in various directions, darting out of the line of bullets, separating further. Below them, Torrential Black dropped away, almost out of sight, the sleeping Chun still on his back.
“Dammit!” Spider shouted. “I knew that was gonna happen!”
As they maneuvered, Caf stretched his mouth open wide and let out his own stream of bullets, using his power to copy the attack against him. The ship rolled, Caf’s bullets tracing down its side, leaving heavy dents. “Excellent,” said Reno quietly.
“Alright. Get ‘em, Noh.” He kicked his demon into full gear towards the x-shaped ship.”
Spider came to a halt and hovered for a second. “What are you guys doing!?” As she reached her peak, she saw the ships’ guns stop let up for a moment, apparently to reload. She flipped, and began to fly back down towards the others, Scorpia close behind.
The cross-shaped ship spun towards Seth, accelerating. Reno, watching, shook her head in frustration. “Get your ass into gear, Seth.”
As if in response, Seth dropped out of sight into the core of Noh. The demon then formed itself into a bullet-like shape, with a groove spiraling along it. “Ramming speed. Go,” Seth said quietly. Noh went.
“Are we seriously going to fight…” Spider watched Noh morph, and never finished her sentence. “Oh.”
The demon accelerated, and crystal met metal with a rending tear. Noh won. The creature tore through the ship, through wood and metal and cogs and flesh. It emerged out the back in a flash of shattered steel.
“Yes, Spider,” said Reno flatly. “We ARE seriously going to fight. And it looks like we’re winning.” There was something lacking in Reno's voice that was ever-present three weeks ago.
“I guess so!” Kiara called down, and then swooped in atop her demon. Umbra, still in gryphon form, went for the ship Caf had hit earlier. It spun its gun to point up at them, firing a blast of flame. A shroud of shadow covered the two of them, taking the brunt of the flame, but halting their dive, forcing them back.
Seth’s head popped out of the top of Noh. “Bitchin’.” He looked to where the ship he had smashed was falling slowly back down towards Sector One, and dove, chasing the debris. He looked for anything still alive, but the ship was a mess of sparking electronics. Nothing and no one had survived.
Spider hovered upon Scorpia, uncertain and waiting.
After a few moments, Umbra dove again, this time wrapping herself and her rider with a dense cloud of shadow. The ship fired a second time, but the flames washed harmlessly around the demon. They dropped alongside the ship, and Umbra landed on the side of it. Shaping one leg to have massive talons, she clawed viciously at the hull. The metal rent back, making an opening.
The pilot inside swore violently, jumping back. She fumbled on the wall, pulling down something akin to a shotgun, and blasted at Umbra point-blank with it.
Umbra screeched as the buckshot went through her shadows, then flowed through the tear, liquid-like, enveloping the pilot. “Fuck, shit, fuck, shit!” The woman cursed louder, but managed to get her belt pouch open. The slammed a crystal into the shadowy stuff around her.
Umbra shrieked louder and flew back, through Kiara, who was stepping forward into the ship. A large amount of her essence stayed behind, though, trapped in the crystal.
A ways away, Reno made the most microscopic of nods, and Caf flew in towards the ship to help.
Overhead, Spider looked around nervously. “Oh, shut up,” she said to no one apparent, and dove back down to the others. From outside, the ship was listing hard to port, smoke rising from the engines. Below her, Caf accelerated towards the ship, closing fast.
Kiara leaned forward, putting her weight into a punch that took the pilot square in the jaw. She staggered back, falling against the wall of her ship. “What the fuck!? Who the fuck are you?”
Kiara didn’t answer, instead drawing the knife from inside her coat.
The motion gave the pilot enough time to regain her grip on her shotgun, though, and she leveled it squarely at Kiara’s face. “You’re one of those demon assassins, aren’t you! Well FUCK YOU!”
Time seemed to slow, as a number of things happened very quickly.
Kiara’s eyes widened, and she lunged forward, slicing at the woman’s stomach.
At that moment, Spider and Scorpia both slammed into the top of the ship, with as much momentum as they could muster.
The ship shook hard to port, knocking both girls inside off balance. The woman stumbled forward, her motion taking her onto Kiara’s knife. The blade cut into her chest, splashing red blood out into the air.
With a resounding BOOM that reverberated through the metal of the ship, her shotgun went off. The buck shredded into Kiara’s left leg at the thigh, turning it instantly to mincemeat.
Caf stopped short in the air, launching Reno forward off of her back, targeting the hole in the ship. The crystal dagger slid fluidly out of its holster, and she tightened her grip as she brought her hand back.
“Bitch.” Clutching at her stomach, the pilot shoulder-rammed Kiara out towards the hole in the side of her ship. Her eyes widened as she saw Reno flying straight towards her. “Aw, fuck.”
As Kiara fell backwards out of the ship, Reno flew straight over her, slamming into the pilot. With only the slightest bit of emotion, she muttered, “die, you bitch.” Her knife swung forward as they hit the back wall of the ship, thrusting into the woman’s neck.
Blood spouted from the wound as the woman's eyes froze over in a bitter glare. The pilot tried to choke out a final word, only succeeding in a miserable gasp.
Reno lowered her face level with the pilot’s. “Don’t,” she said quietly. “Ever. Hurt. Our demons.” With one deft jerk, she pulled the dagger out of the pilot’s throat, and she collapsed in a heap against the metal floor of the cabin.
((74 — Nemesis))
Outside, Spider had darted down and caught Kiara before she could fall very far. “What the fuck happened!?” she asked in a frantic voice, lifting the other girl away from the ship.
Kiara just let out a stream of loud, violent curses as what was left of Umbra flowed around her leg, trying to staunch the bleeding. “Fucking shotgun!” she finished.
“Shit… why the fuck did she shoot you?” Spider held onto Kiara, but her eyes narrowed in something close to anger, or at least surprise. “Why the fuck were you trying to kill her?”
“Because she tried to…shoot me…” Kiara’s voice came in short gasps, but she raised it to a yell for a moment. “Reno! Get her belt crystal!” She panted for a moment. “She damaged… Umbra…” Seeing Spider’s glare, Kiara winced and continued. “I was just going to knock… the bitch out…”
In the ship, Reno sighed at her bloody dagger. “Greeeat,” she groaned, leaning down to wipe the blood on its previous owner’s clothes. She picked up the crystal where it had fallen, then stepped outside onto Caf’s waiting back, floating up to join the others. As she left the ship, it continued to list to one side, beginning to fall back into the Void without power.
Blood gushed from Kiara’s hip. She couldn’t feel anything below it. She winced, going white with pain for a moment as Umbra spread out, enveloping her whole lower body.
“Hey,” said Reno, holding the crystal. “You wanted this?”
“Yeah,” Kiara said. “Break it for me? I’m not… in any shape to do it…”
“Sure thing,” Reno replied. She put the charged crystal on a metal part of her backpack, then touched her crystal dagger to it before violently swinging the blade up and then down again. The crystal shattered, taking a few chips of Reno's dagger with it.
Umbra's demon essence seeped out from the shards and floated back to its owner. She swelled and darkened, looking far more substantial than before.
"There," said Reno "That's one physically incomplete member of the team put back together again."
Seth rose back to meet the other Talons.“In retrospect, that was horribly unnecessary. But a fucking awesome test of might. We kick ass.”
Spider shot him a vicious glare, and whispered to Kiara, “Can Umbra hold you now?” The pilot nodded in response, and Spider gently leaned her back into the waiting shadow.
“Kiara,” Seth said, raising an eyebrow. “You look damaged.”
"My leg is... fucked." She said, looking down, Umbra shrouding it from view.
“Let’s land and get you somewhere we can fix that, yo. Or at least… make you not die. And such.” Seth looked away.
“Yeah, ‘cause they’ll really want to lend us med supplies!” Spider shouted.
“I’m sure… they have some on board…” Kiara said.
“Spider,” Seth said. “Can I talk to you for a moment?”
Spider jerked her head to the ship, motioning for Seth to follow. The two of them shot down to the drifting ship, and in through the hole in its side. Spider immediately began to scavenge for medical supplies.
“Look, Spider,” Seth said slowly. “I know what we did was completely fucked up. I realized it too late, though. Yes, those people were probably just trying to defend this city from what seemed like a demon invasion.”
“Don’t you dare say but.”
“But… well, those two are dead now. We’ve gotta keep Kiara from joining them, and keep the rest of these folk,” he gestured up towards the other Talons, “ from realizing what we just did.”
Pulling open a box on the wall, Spider started shoving painkillers into her pockets. “You’re an idiot. If you don’t want the rest of the people to realize the consequences of what just happened, you have to be ready to take the blame for it.” She glanced at the pilot’s body. “Shit. Shit, Seth.” She raised her eyes to him. “You have no idea what you’re doing.”
“… it is my fault. I’m the one who charged them first.” He looked down. “Kicked into oh-shit-they’re-trying-to-kill-me-mode before I could think. That’s no excuse, though.”
Spider bit her lip, and shook her head. “It’s not,” she said, sympathetically. “You’re right, though. We have to get Kiara fixed up, and somewhere safe. Can we get to the city without attracting more attention? Maybe I should just bring her in…” She was focused now on the job at hand, and purposefully didn’t look at the body again.
Having taken what she could, Spider let herself drop sideways out of the ship, and back up to where the others were. Chun had joined them, presumably woken by Reno. “I got some bandages,” Spider said, passing them to Chun. “Take these pills, they’ll help the pain.” She extended her hand, holding three little blue tablets.
Kiara took them and dry-swallowed them with a grimace. “Thanks.”
Chun, riding Torrential as ever, leaned forward and winced at the blood. "That is WAY beyond saving. Shit, shit, shit.” She swallowed. “Kiara, we might have to cut your leg off.”
“I…” Kiara closed her eyes. “Yes. I realized that.”
“Come on,” Spider said. “Unless we get you to the city…”
Kiara shook her head. “Can’t… not in the city.”
“There are other crystals nearby.” Spider didn’t waste any time, heading off towards the nearest crystal. It was a little ways below them—a small dodecahedron, maybe fifteen meters along each edge. The other Talons quickly followed down.
Black landed long enough for Chun to jump off, then retreated to the edge of the crystal and perched. Chun took off her backpack and pulled her goggles down over her eyes. She rummaged through it and eventually pulled out what looked like an oversized scalpel, or very thin knife. Spider came walking up the slanted plane to her, holding the bandages and a bit of disinfectant from the ship.
Chun shook her head. “Spider, we can’t just bandage this, it is shredded. It will get infected if we do that… I think we should cut it off first, and keep as much skin as we can to stitch over the wound and make a stump.
“Uh, okay, I’ve never really done this before…” Spider looked around uncomfortably. “I might have a needle and thread, actually… don’t know what else would work better.”
“Never done this either… just read about it in theory.” Chun kept her face blank, clearly trying to hide how little of an idea of what she was doing she had. “Needle and thread would help.”
As Spider frantically searched her bag, Umbra gently set Kiara down next to them on the crystal. Kiara winced, and her demon withdrew, revealing the mangled leg. The area from roughly the top of her left leg to just above her knee was a ravaged mess of shredded muscle and blood. Bits of shattered bone were splattered throughout as well. Kiara’s face had drained to pale white. “Just take it off… it’s… gone…” she croaked.
Spider came up holding a pair of needles and strong thread. She saw Kiara’s leg and gulped. “Uh… UH.”
Chun knelt down over Kiara. “Spider, do me a favor? Hold her down? You might want help, too…” Fortunately at this point Kiara’s eyes had started to lose their focus, as the pain pills kicked in. Spider gripped her by the shoulders, trying to hold her steady.
“Kiara!” Chun said, and Kiara managed to make eye contact with her. “I need you to concentrate on keeping Umbra from killing me and Spider.” Kiara nodded, clenching her teeth, and Umbra flowed up around her hip, forming a makeshift tourniquet. Chun’s face went pale, and Torrential began fluttering his wings nervously. She took the scalpel and began carving away bits of flesh.
Seth stood next to Noh, leaning on him. If one good thing came out of that fight, it was the pack of cigarettes he’d found on the wrecked ship. He lit up.
Spider held onto Kiara tightly, as if to quiet her own anxiousness. She winced, trying to keep her eyes off of Chun’s work.
Reno sighed, watching Chun take out bits and pieces. "Look," she said "If you want this to be quick and some resemblance of painless, don't you think we should use something bigger?" Reno produced her now-serrated crystal dagger.
Chun shook her head. “Listen, if we’re not careful about that, we might paralyze her other leg.”
“This I can do.” Seth walked towards them, Noh floating along behind him. “Noh can do a pretty clean cut. We might want to use him instead of a dagger.”
Kiara gritted her teeth, apparently more coherent than they’d thought. “Use fucking Noh to do it if that’s what it takes, just take the damn thing off. You won’t—nngh—paralyze me as long as you stay below the hip.”
Chun frowned, biting her lip. “It makes sense, but we’ll need spare skin. I’ll cut a bit loose and you cut off the rest as quick as you can.”
Seth tried to stifle a shudder, and only half succeeded. “Just… just tell me where to cut.” He raised his arm, miming a blade with his hand. Noh sprouted a rather swordlike crystal appendage, mimicking him. Seth looked to Chun, waiting for the cue.
Chun quickly made two cuts and ripped back some skin that was still clinging to the dead useless muscle. She pulled it out of the way and nodded to Seth.
He brought his arm down, into air. Noh brought his arm down, into flesh, tendon, bone. It went straight through, clicking against the crystal below Kiara. The blade then receded as quickly as it had come out.
Kiara cried out with pain, but quickly choked it back, eyes squeezed tightly shut. Umbra tightened around her hip, slowing the bleeding as much as possible. Spider now held one of Kiara’s hands tightly, keeping her shoulders down with the other arm.
“Nice cut, much better than I could have done.” Chun immediately pulled the skin back down and grabbed the needle and thread from on top of her pack. “Shit, Reno, grab some bandages and try to stop some bleeding.”
“Right,” said Reno, reaching for the bandages with a speed somehow slower than that with which she had killed the pilot. She cut the bandages with her dagger before redepositing it in her holster.
Chun wiped the needle on her backpack and started stitching, an awkward uneven line that just got the job done. “Where’s the disinfectant?”
Spider quickly grabbed it and tossed it to Chun, not letting go of Kiara’s hand. She tried not to watch what was going on, but couldn’t help wincing as Kiara tightened her grip.
Seth’s eyes grazed Spider’s hand, holding Kiara’s. Abruptly, he turned away and walked into Noh. The demon instantly faded into a dark fog.
Chun grabbed the disinfectant. “This is going to sting.” She frowned and poured it over the awkwardly stitched wound. She turned paler, but grabbed a section of bandage and helped Reno cover as much of the stump as they could. She tied the bandages as tight as she could, watching as they stained solid red in moments.
Kiara, gritting her teeth, managed to get out a strangled, “Are you done yet?”
Chun leaned back, shaking and looking at her hands. “I… I think I am…” Torrential ruffled his feathers as if he was hit by a cold blast of air.
“It looks loads better now,” Spider said, attempting a smile.
“Well, there’s not much left TO look loads better,” said Reno. Gazing at the blood on her fingers, she picked up the smallest shred of bandage and wiped them clean.
Kiara looked down at what was left of her leg, then lay her head back. “That’ll… hold for a bit,” she said, then quite unceremoniously passed out.
Spider gave Reno a look, frowning.
“Hey, don’t give me that,” she said back. “You know it’s true.”
Chun cleaned her knife and the needle on a piece of bandage, put her knife away and slid her backpack on, then handed Spider the needle, thread, and remaining disinfectant. She got up slowly and walked to Torrential. She sunk down, leaning against Black’s leg.
Umbra grew from the shadows under and around Kiara, returning to her gryphon form and standing over her master’s body protectively. In her unconsciousness, Kiara let out a quiet whimper.
Spider put the supplies in her bag, and carefully slipped her hand out of Kiara’s. She went over and slumped next to Scorpia, resting her head against her demon’s carapace. She looked up into the empty fog ahead, and let out a sigh. “Well, shit,” she said shakily.