July 3rd, 802 AT.
The long group bedroom was quiet, and felt very much like a part of the Library that it was—that peculiar silence that only comes of the absorptive ability of thousands of pages of thousands of books.
Kiara sat on her bed, reading an old journal, waiting for something interesting to happen. She’d been sitting for a day, now, and was starting to get antsy. Night had fallen, and brought with it… absolutely nothing interesting.
Chun was in a corner, sitting on a chair, next to a towering stack of books. She fidgeted for a while, then grabbed one at random and began leafing through it. After a moment she decided it was boring, slipped it back into the stack, and grabbed a different one. She’d been doing this since they arrived at Tanique Hall, in between checkups on Kiara’s leg.
Kiara glanced over to the door and sighed. Her shadow fidgeted slightly.
The door swung abruptly forwards, revealing Seth, Reno, and one Cyclops. “Miss us?” Seth said, grinning.
((92 — Wrong Platform))
Chun grinned and tossed the book aside. “Barely.”
“Hey kid, I make the snappy lines,” said the dashing Cyclops, giving Seth a swat on the back of the head as he entered.
Kiara grinned widely. “A bit, maybe. Anyone hurt?”
“None other than a few guards,” Seth laughed. Next to him, Reno shrugged and spun a knife between her fingers, trying and failing to look innocent.
“Funny thing for you to be saying, peggy.” Cyclops made his way over to his wounded Talon. “See, I called you peggy on account of the leg you lost. Want to tell me how you let something stupid like that happen?”
“Don’t know how, actually.” Kiara scowled. “Bitch shouldn’t have been to get me from that close.”
“Which bitch? Be specific, peggy, there are a lot of them.”
“Some pilot.” She grimaced, pressing the end of her stump gently.
“This have to do with that big demon fleet or whatever?” Cyc asked as he waved his hands in the air for effect and lounged into a seat of his own.
“Nah,” Kiara said, shaking her head. “Had to do with… a bit of a misunderstanding on our way in.”
“Suppose it always does. Still, I hate to say it kid, but I don’t know what use I’ll have for you in the next step of our plan here.” He sat forward in his chair, frowning at her. “How well can you get around?”
“With others watching? Not so well. I can move somewhat, though.” Slowly, she pushed herself to the edge of the bed, then stepped off it. Her shadow gathered where her leg should be, keeping her upright. It didn’t look anything like a leg—just a shifting pillar of darkness—but she didn’t fall.
Seth raised an approving eyebrow. “Creative.”
“No reason not to be. I suppose we could wrap some pants and boots around it, though, if really necessary, and we… had extras.”
“Kiara,” Cyclops said casually, his demon eye rapidly analyzing. “I can’t help but notice you seem to have some sort of horribly otherworldly darkness for a leg. Want to explain that?”
Kiara said again, dispersing it. “I’ll let Chun do it. She’ll say it better.”
“Me? Oh, yeah.” Chun looked devilishly excited. “Well. My mom and I were working on a project, see? Playing with crystals and demons. And, to make a long story short enough for you to listen… we found out how to control demons, with crystals.”
“Well hot damn!” Cyclops’ eyebrows shot up. “Any sort of crystal? Any sort of demon?”
“Yeah, any one, any where,” Chun said, eyes dancing.
“If you can catch it first,” Kiara added.
“Yeah, uh, that detail!” Chun admitted, laughing. “That IS the hard part.”
“Catch it how?” Cyc was sitting up now and seemed to be intently listening, like he always was when he smelled profit.
“Like they did in the old days,” Chun said. “Big nets and stun guns. And a LOT of crystal cages.”
Cyc nodded, thinking. “Does this new revelation have anything to do with the hordes of demons I’m hearing about?”
“Nah… we were only doing what all researchers do… and taking it a mile and a half further.” Chun was trying to hide her pride, but only barely. She grinned madly.
“How many demons do you guys got so far?”
“One each. I also have only minimal stuff with me to do any tweaking for any other demons we find.”
“So count off, what do each of you crazy kids have? I gotta say I’m proud of you rascals. Out there enslaving forces of nature and all. It does a man’s heart good.”
Chun Red grinned very widely. “I have a fifteen foot tall crow!”
“Well,” Kiara said. “I’ve got this shadow thing I’m calling Umbra.”
“How physical can it get? Both of them, I should say. The crow and um… er… Umbra?”
“Completely,” Kiara said.
“Mine is called Torrential Black, and he is great, seriously talented at flying, with two sets of wings! He is very physical, and looks like he could fight, though I never got the chance to try.”
Reno just sort of frowned. “Caf is… Caf. I can’t describe Caf. ‘S like… my other…” She trailed off, shrugging.
“Don’t go soft on me now, Reno. Can Caf do anything useful?”
“I… Caf… yes. All sorts of things. Caf can capture anything launched at him and spit it back. And fly. Very useful.”
Seth smiled. “We’ve got a nice little array of friends here, Cyc.”
“Aces. Thanks for that detailed explanation, we’ve all learned a lot. Seth, how about you?”
“Mine’s not here now, but he’s a crystalline—eh?” He cut off as a voice came over the loudspeakers.
The voice was male, and fairly quiet. "This is a reminder. Tanique Hall is under basic lockdown, due to the riots. All staff are requested to remain calm, and in the safety of their rooms." The message had been repeating every few hours all day.
“Oh. Right. That. Anyhow, it’s this crystal-thing. I can change its shape with my mind. The thing’s good at cutting and breaking other things. And probably shielding, though I haven’t tested it out much.”
“Wow wow wow,” Cyc said. “I dig it.”
“Now how are we getting out?” Kiara said, clearly eager to start moving again.
“Slow down, peggy. We’ve got some business to take care of first.” Cyc looked around the room, at each of them in turn. “There is an item, in this very building, that I think should have the luxury—no, the honor—of getting stolen by us.”
Seth’s eyes gleamed. “Do go on…”
Cyc started to get excited as he began to explain the plan to his co-conspirators. “So guys, it’s literally right downstairs. Main lobby. Like three guards max. We’re in, we’re out. Aces. Plus with our demon stuff, it’s pretty much a done deal.”
“What is it?” Kiara asked. “And the only demon here is mine, we had to leave the others outside the city…”
“We could… get them.” Chun grinned quite a bit, obviously wanting to see what Torrential could do.
“Wait, you guys don’t have your demons? Why not?”
“They couldn’t sneak into the city,” Kiara said.
Chun shrugged. “Difficult for a fifteen foot tall crow.”
“I thought you said they lived in little crystals!”
“No, no, they are controlled by crystals,” Chun corrected.
Seth smiled, trying not to laugh. “There’s a fine line.”
Cyclops scowled. “Well, this is nonsense. So we have one demon? Or two, I guess, if you count the mojo I’ve got floating around here.” He poked the scaly corner of his eye a few times for good measure. He turned again to Kiara. “Can you have a shadow leg and do some sort of shadow noose at the same time? Or a shadow club even?”
“She can be pretty much anything.”
“But at the same time, ‘cause you falling over everywhere isn’t going to help us out at all.”
“Well, why don’t you go ahead and try that out,” Cyclops said slowly, voice clearly bordering on the edge of frustration.
Kiara frowned, concentrating for a moment, then let out a quietly disappointed sigh. “I… no. One shape at a time. But I could… say, sit down around the corner.”
“Or someone could hold you, easy problem to overcome. It doesn’t come with any price, does it? You get tired? Hungry for people burgers?”
“Phew. I’d hate to have a bunch of cannibals to deal with.” Cyclops sat back in his chair. “So, kiddos… want to come steal the magic box with me?” He grinned, then added, “Oh, yeah. It’s a magic box.”
Chun laughed. “Love to!”
“Sure,” Kiara said.
Seth’s smile was his only answer.
“Good, good. This should be fun. Reno? You in or out?”
“You bet your ass I’m in!” Reno said loudly from her corner of the room.
Kiara let out a small dejected sound. “Actually, I may as well just sit here and control Umbra. Won’t get in the way.”
“Aw, that’d be mighty kind of you, but how would we stay in communication? You’re coming.”
“Point… okay, I’ll sit around the corner.”
“Aces. So, someone help Kiara here, and let’s start to head downstairs. I’ll explain my plan as we go.”
Chun leapt to the task, getting her arm under Kiara’s shoulder, and helping her to her feet.
Cyc made a sweep of the room twice—once with his regular sight, and another with his demon eye, to make sure nothing funny was going on. He let his second vision linger for a minute on Kiara’s demon leg, then turned to the door. “Let’s do this, kiddos.”
((93 — Versus))
They went down the back stairway, meant for staff and maintenance only. Cyclops stopped them for a moment on a flight as footsteps approached the door on the landing, but the sound continued past, leaving them alone. A few flights down, they came to the back door to the main hall. Cyclops gently pushed the staff door open, and motioned for the others to follow him into the museum proper.
Inside, it was set up like one would expect of a museum hall. Glass display cases filled most of it, filled with demon skeletons and preserved carcasses, ancient guns and machinery, and other assorted artifacts of leadership. Here was the first crystal sword--there a crystal imbued with demon energy that seemed carbon-dated closed to thirteen thousand years old--the vials containing the DNA of various Earth-based animals that the scientists had never had reason nor equipment to decant and clone. The lights were turned off, and the large hall echoed with darkness.
The Talons eagerly examined the nearby treasures. Reno’s pale gaze slid delicately over everything. Next to her, Chun and Kiara were staring in wonder at the artifacts.
Cyclops tapped his foot once, getting their attention, then hissed to them. “Okay cats, here’s what I’m thinking. I scope it out with the ol’ eye—” Here he tapped his eye for effect. “And we run in, grab the box, and get out. Easy as pie.”
“Put me down,” Kiara murmured. Chun did, resting her just inside the stairwell, then grinned at her friend.
From a ways off, the sound of footsteps carried through the hall--the sound of the night guard, almost certainly.
“Well, maybe not that easy,” Cyc muttered.
“Shit, not again,” moaned Reno under her breath.
“Just knock him out nice and easy.” He turned to Reno. “And to you, shhhh.”
Seth drew his crystal switchblade and began to sneak forward along the edge of the room. Chun came silently behind him, with Reno after her, dagger swishing out again.
The guard stood well ahead of most of the display cases in the room, looking out towards the front doors. He held a large taser baton in one hand. His posture made it clear that he wasn't expecting any particular excitement.
From her position in the stairwell, Kiara closed her eyes, sending Umbra creeping barely visibly along the floor.
Seth watched it creep past him, amused. He took up position behind a case and waited. If the demon didn’t finish the job, he would be ready.
More footsteps came, from off to the right, followed by a voice. “Hey, Max.”
The guard they were sneaking up on turned to look in that direction, and nodded back. "Andrew."
Another guard—Max—came out from behind a segment of wall, looking every bit as relaxed. The two guards began to talk casually.
"Weird, us both being on shift at once."
"It's those damn riots."
Cyclops, watching from afar with his demon eye, whispered to Kiara. “Second guard. Wait for these guys to jet.” Kiara nodded, and Umbra slipped back against the wall, blending into the ambient shadows.
"I know, man, I blame all the refugees,” Max agreed.
"Yeah? My little brother is a radio operator for the landing platforms."
Seth barely stifled a laugh at that, but fell silent as the guards continued talking, not showing any signs of going anywhere.
"And he says there were HUNDREDS of refugee ships. He didn't get to sleep for DAYS 'cause he was landing 'em all."
"Shit, man, way more than they said on the news."
"Hey. You hear something?"
"I dunno, sounded like voices."
Kiara froze. Umbra tensed.
Next to her, Cyc whispered as softly as he could. "Alright, Kiara, think you can make umbra like a big blanket, and catch them all?"
"You're hallucinating, man."
"I'm gonna go check it out."
Max started walking back towards them.
Seth held his position silently, switchblade closed but ready. Chun bit her lip, trying to hold perfectly still against the wall.
Kiara focused, and Umbra shaped herself into something like a large shadowy net, flat against the wall.
Cyclops waited until Max was nearly level with where Seth, Chun, and Reno were hiding, then tapped Kiara on the shoulder. “Go go go!”
Umbra detached from the wall, and in a blur of darkness wrapped around Max, knocking him to the floor. “What the—!?”
The other guard--Andrew--looked up. "Max? You okay?"
“Score one, us,” muttered Reno. Seth nodded, then began to sneak forward, trying to flank Andrew.
Max called back. "Something knocked me over! Couldn't see it, though..."
Cyc pulled out his pistol and began to advance, moving quickly from display to display, making sure to hide his reflective gun as he did so
Kiara grinned with satisfaction, and Umbra reached out a tendril, wrapping around the second guard’s ankle.
Andrew yelped in surprise. "Something's grabbing my ankle!" Umbra yanked, and Andrew's leg went out from under him, hard. He landed on his back. "Gah!"
Meanwhile, Max was getting back to his feet. "What the fuck is this thing? Did you see it?"
Seth reached Max. “Nah, and you didn’t either.” His grin gleamed in the darkness as the guard spun to face him. He brought the blunt end of his switchblade down on the guard’s head, and Max fell forward, unconscious.
Umbra, meanwhile, had bound Andrew’s weapon arm to his side. He yelled again. “Fuck! Thing’s… got my arm!” He struggled at the shadowy stuff, trying to free his arms to no avail. “Get—off—of—me!”
“Your turn, Andrew.” Seth didn’t bother to keep his voice quiet as he closed in on the second guard.
The guard pushed away on the ground, his eyes catching sight of Seth. "Ah, shit, man, you're one of the demon assassins, aren't you! Fuck!”
Reno and Chun stepped out from behind the case, flanking Seth as he advanced. Both were smiling.
“Forget my face.” Seth laughed. “Or don’t,” he finished, uncaring, hammering the blade casing onto Andrew’s temple. The man slumped, unconscious. Umbra quiet slipped away, fading again into the shadows.
“Okay, demon assassins,” Cyc called, still keeping his voice low. “Let’s get that box.”
Seth cracked his neck, then his knuckles. “Let’s.”
The box was in a particularly large glass display case in the center of the hall. Unlike every other item, it had no plaque to describe it. It was a simple gray box, a few inches an edge, with strange runes etched into each side. It was oddly off-center in its case, as if someone had somehow bumped into it.
Cyclops approached the box, his eye starting to scan for anything suspicious. He suppressed a grin. He had been after this box for far too long now—the only thing he hadn’t yet succeeded in stealing. “Somebody tie those gentlemen up, would you?” He said. “We’re going to need—”
Kiara's voice cut him off, out from the stairwell at the back of the room. "Trouble!" Her voice carried fear with it.
Seth flicked his wrist, opening the shiny blade. “I’ll check it out,” he said, as he began to run back towards the stairwell.
“Good man,” Cyc encouraged, eyes never leaving the box.
Kiara's crystal sword came skittering towards Seth, sliding along the floor. Her voice followed it, panicky. "Demon!"
From her position at the base of the staircase, Kiara could hear something coming down it. She frowned, calling Umbra back to her, to see if it could get a view.
It sounded like... skittering claws. Kiara's eyes widened, and she strained to see it, drawing her crystal sword awkwardly.
The sounds reached the edge of the stairwell, and the thing came around the corner--
... but there was nothing there. The sounds continued towards her unabated, accompanied now by an odd rasping breath. "Trouble!" Kiara tried to call, but her voice came out shakier than she had wanted.
Umbra flickered to Kiara’s side, forming a barrier.
The sound of movement stopped, right above her.
Umbra clawed at where the sound had come from. The claw met flesh and feathers. From her touch, an image rippled outwards. Hanging over her, braced between the sides of the stairwell, was a large creature, somewhat bat-like, with skeletal appendages that looked more like long, bony fingers than wings.
“Demon!” she called, voice shot through with panic. Her mind slowly processed what she was seeing. Embedded in the flesh of its chest was a… what had been human… Kiara’s eyes went wide with horror as she recognized the figure buried in the demon’s chest.
The creature looked down at her with both faces, all four eyes glowing red.
Desperately, Kiara thrust her sword at its center of mass. One of the skeletal wing-segments smacked down, knocking the sword out of her hand. The sword clattered off into the hall.
Umbra lunged upwards, slashing again with its claws, but the creature lashed out with its sharp-edged bones, shattering the shadow and dispersing it. The creature faded into invisibility once again.
Kiara pulled her demon towards her, wrapping herself in her living cloak of shadows. A strange calm settled over her. “Goodbye,” she whispered quietly to herself.
Then dozens of invisible claws tore into her flesh, shredding her skin to ribbons.
In one fluid motion, Seth flicked the switchblade shut and picked up the sword. Jaz had shown him how to use one once. He kept running.
He heard the sounds of a scuffle from the stairwell, and clenched his teeth, trying to run faster. He crossed the last few yards to the stairs, skidding to a stop at their base.
Blood covered the bottom few steps, and—
At the foot of the stairs lay the mangled corpse of Kiara.
Seth let out an almost-silent "fuck" as his breath caught in his throat.