the unexpected upgradeMature

Chapter Ten
Word Count: 828

They walked slowly through an old junk yard on the edge of the city.  Beyond the fence were the remnants of a small town.  All that remained were half-destroyed buildings and the potholes in the streets.  He was leading them North West, into the forest-coated mountains a few miles out of town.  The once-constant chatter behind him had died down as his companions grew tired of the constant pace.  He was rapidly growing tired of the girl’s friend.  The boy thought his stares went unnoticed, that the way he ceaselessly glared at the back of Judah’s head was a secret insult.

It was not.

As they went on, Judah heavily considered the ramifications of knocking Mikah unconscious.  He would have to carry the idiots’ body, and the load of supplies he carried with him.  In his minds’ eye, he sized up an eidetic image of Mikah - just less than 90 kilos, plus some change for the supply bag.

He could carry that, he thought; wouldn’t even slow him down, really.  In truth he could carry them both, and their supply bags, and only lose an extra hour in the trip to the next safehouse.  Just the thought of the trip brought a new wave of irritation through him.  He was losing so much time babysitting these two.  He was needed elsewhere – anywhere else more than where he was – and yet he did not simply leave them.  He’d honor-bound himself to them, and he could not even remember why.

Disgruntlement had become like a second skin – it would take much longer than he’d hoped to ditch his followers.  He’d promised them a safezone, and though he’d understood that the nearest one was quite a distance away, he hadn’t realized it would be overrun with demons by dawn.  He was forced to take them to the next nearest safezone, but he did not have high hopes for that one to last the length of the trip. 

The wind shifted and Judah froze.  Tara and Mikah came to a halt behind him.

It was hard for Judah to tell whether it was genuine cleverness or a particular attention to his body language that tipped her off, but Tara unexpectedly made herself useful.  As Mikah endeavored to further prove his presence a nuisance by speaking, she hissed and clamped her hand down around his mouth.

He could hear nothing, could see nothing; but he could smell them, sulfur and salt tainting the air.  His sense of them had been screaming at him for a while, but he couldn’t pinpoint their location and he hadn’t been able to catch sight of one.  They had blown their chance, the fools.  They only had one opportunity to sneak up on him with their new technology, one chance to surprise him, before he would catch on to their tricks.  There could be no room for error – once the knowledge was achieved there would be no second attempt.  There could be none.  One, that’s what they had – it was the one opportunity they would have to catch him off-guard, to catch him vulnerable.

They’d had one chance to kill him, and in the very last instant, they’d blown it.  

But because it was not just him - because as time slowed and he spun on his heel, he had to sweep one arm around her and shove her behind him - he was a fragment of a second slower than he should have been.  The knife sank in and stole his breath, but he was already in motion and his knuckles connected with teeth in a spray of blood.  Despite the foreign object embedded between his ribs, he twisted and slammed his left fist into an invisible chest.  He felt only mild pleasure when metal crunched under the pressure of his punch.

The invisibility cloak wavered, flickered briefly, and then clicked off.

He paused for a millisecond to observe the same ripple of illusion stretch for meters and meters in front of him.   There was a small army stalking them, each with an invisibility device.

Behind him, Tara screamed.

With a grunt, Judah yanked the knife out of his torso and shoved it into whoevers hand he could find without looking.  Un-holstering his .22, he began emptying the clip into the seemingly empty space ahead of him.  The first bullet went between the eyes of the bastard demon that had sunk the knife into his chest.  After that, indistinguishable blood sprays and the whooshing puncture of bullet holes were the only indicators that he’d hit any of his see-through targets.  He discharged the clip and let it clatter to the ground.  Instantly, he slammed a fresh clip in with his free hand and continued pumping bullets out wildly.  No matter how many targets he hit or how many invisibility devices crackled and sparked out, he did not feel any better about the situation until both .22s were in his palms.

Then, he was finally in control.

The End

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