We moved out, starting the journey to the outskirts of the city. If this All Teller necklace had been made by the Kraferrs, then their scent should still linger on it. I discreetly sniffed at Bart. Yep, there was a scent here that was definitely not human, and not like anything I had ever come across. Taking that as the scent of the Kraferrs, I kept my nose on alert for anything close to it. There were several living scents in the city, but this one shouldn't be moving. I stopped. There was something wrong here. Bart stopped as well, glancing back at me with a worried expression. I listened carefully, putting a hand on the hilt of one of the two swords strapped permanently to my side. There's one thing about walking down a deserted street with another person. There should only be two patterns of footsteps. Not three. Someone was following us.
"Shadow?" Bart asked.
"There's someone there," I replied quickly. I unsheathed one sword. He readied his claws, looking around for the unknown stalker. I took on my battle stance, breathing deeply, eyes searching the dark streets. Something whistled through the air. Ducking quickly, I watched as a lock of purple hair drifted to the ground and an arrow quivered in the wall behind me.
"That was too close for comfort," I muttered. I drew my other sword, taking comfort in the twin weights in my hands. I was good with these weapons. I could defend myself and Bart if necessary. I spotted the assailant. A black clothed man standing in an alleyway, bow in their hands. Another arrow only just missed Bart. The Kraferr darted towards the man, zigzagging to make a projectile attack more difficult. Obviously panicked, the attacker drew a sword, holding it at the ready. A scream caught in my throat as I watched Bart launch himself at the person, too fast to stop his attack. The man lunged at the Kraferr with the sword, piercing Bart's arm then his chest. Bart seemed to laugh, raking at the assailant's eyes with his claws. The attacker ripped his sword out of Bart as I ran to help the Kraferr, throwing it towards me before he fled. My eyes widened as the sword headed for my chest. It was too late to dodge. Too late to slow down. Too late to do anything. The metal buried itself in my chest, straight through my heart. Gasping, I fell to the ground. I lay there on my side, trying to think of what to do. Nothing came to mind, just the pain of the blade skewering me like a particularly morbid kebab. The smell of Bart's blood came closer to me, his breathing ragged and panicked.
"Shadow, can you hear me? I need to call Vrael, but how?"
"I can hear..." I managed to get out. Arias, breathing hurt. How was Bart holding up? I knew that demons had a secondary heart. I would be ok as long as I didn't bleed to death. But Kraferrs? I was fairly sure they weren't as resilient as the spawn of evil. "Don't call... Vrael. They... can't know." I had to get this sword out of my before it caused any more damage. Grasping the hilt, slippery with Bart's and my blood, I wrenched it out, letting it clatter onto the concrete. Given the amounts of blood pouring out of the wound, I was starting to doubt my survival. Gritting my teeth, I pushed those thoughts away. The consequences were too steep to contemplate. "I won't die," I muttered to myself. "I will NOT DIE!" I pushed myself up on my elbows, then my knees, then my feet, grabbing onto a nearby lamppost to keep myself upright. I felt Bart grab my arm, putting it over his shoulders before he picked me up with an ease that betrayed his injuries. I cringed at the pain he felt. Reaching up a hand to his temple, I let my magic flow into him, to lessen some of his wounds. I couldn't heal myself. No demon could. But I could help him. He pulled his head away from my touch.
"Keep your energy, Shad, you need it more than I do." He growled. We reached a doctor's surgery a few streets over. Carefully sitting me on the ground, he set about picking the locks with a claw. I put my hand against the wall, sending a magical pulse through the electric system to disable the alarms. I gasp as the energy left me, leaving me dizzy and barely conscious. He swore, picking me up again and bundling me into one of the treatment rooms. I vaguely heard him muttering to himself as he searched for the necessary materials. A syringe pierced the skin close to the wound, but I barely felt a pinprick. It was surpassed by the gash left by the sword. I was dimly aware of the needle passing back and forth, closing the wound. Slowly, I became more and more aware of the things around me, coming further and further away from unconsciousness.
"I'm sorry," he was saying quietly. "I'm so sorry. I couldn't protect you. This was the first time we were attacked and I still couldn't protect you."
"It's ok," I murmured, reaching out to squeeze his hand. "There wasn't much you could have done." I sat up slowly, grimacing as I pulled the sutures slightly. They were going to be a pain in the backside, especially since they would have to be renewed every day. With demonic blood being slightly more acidic than human, most stitches didn't last long. "We should get moving before they attack again." Hearing no answer, I glanced at Bart. His body was sprawled on the ground, his breathing shallow. All around the room were pools of red blood. His blood. Swearing in every language I knew, I knelt next to him, placing my hands over his wounds. Focusing my magic, I concentrated on repairing at least some of the damage. It wasn't enough. I grabbed the things I needed from the shelves, ignoring the pain in both my hearts. It didn't matter. I was going to live, but he wasn't if I didn't do something fast. I crouched next to him again, prepping a needle and thread. His hand reached out to grip mine.
"Don't let me die here."
"I won't. I promise I won't let you die." After disinfecting the wound, I snatched a compression pad from my pile of supplies, applying it to the wounds, trying to staunch the bleeding. He had lost so much blood. Too much blood. I narrowed my eyes, grabbing an empty syringe. I stuck it into my arm, drawing blood into it. I knew that there would be a few side effects over from of the demonic part to my blood, but it would help. I injected it straight into his heart, followed by two more. My head began to feel light, but I forced myself to concentrate. I continued to apply pressure to Bart's wounds, praying that my blood would help him. The bleeding was slowing, and I started to stitch the wounds after injecting some local anaesthetic around them. Once I had tied off the final stitch, I placed a finger on his forehead, murmuring a spell that would hopefully bring him back from unconsciousness. He awoke with a gasp of pain. He tried to speak, his eyes wide in panic. I bit my lip, bowing my head.
"I had to inject some of my blood into your system," I said quietly, "you had lost so much..."
"What'll happen to me?" He asked, his voice sounding stronger as the demonic blood running through his veins started to take hold.
"I'm only half demon, so my blood isn't as potent as full-bloods." I took a deep breath. "Actually, I have no idea... Uh, from what I know, it's kinda, uh probably that you'll convert into a part demon..."
For a moment he said nothing, processing the information. I mentally kicked myself for not looking for some human blood to give him. He reached up a hand, touching my neck. I almost flinched away, but he touched the pulse point next to my throat. "Your main heart isn't working yet..." I moved away slightly, dislodging his hand from my neck. I didn't want to answer that question.
"We should get moving before someone finds us here." I declared, holding out a hand to help him to his feet. I grabbed some of the medical supplies, slipping them into my pockets in case we needed them later.
As we walked down the street, I watched Bart carefully. He seemed to be holding up well given the onslaught the demonic blood must be wreaking on his body. We walked in silence, the furrow of concentration on the Kraferr's forehead deepening as he tried to keep walking in a straight line. I glanced away, guilt clouding my mind. He stopped, crouching and placing one fur-covered hand on the ground.
I sniffed the air, but couldn't identify the smell.
"We need to get out of here. Now!" Bart ordered. The edge of panic in his voice put me on edge. My already difficult concentration scattered completely.
"I can't teleport us," I said, not even willing to attempt it. There was no telling where we'd end up. Bart answered the problem at hand in his own way, seizing me around the stomach with one arm, scaling the side of the building next to us with an ease that I found hard to believe. We surfaced on the rooftop where Bart staggered, clutching at his wound. I felt his pain and grimaced.
"Come here, let me heal that," I said in a tone that implied that I wasn't going to take no for an answer. I didn't care that I was tired, or hurt, or that we were trying to hide from something I didn't know. He didn't put up a protest as I gently laid a hand on the wound on his chest, concentrating on helping the minuscule fibres reconnect and heal. Once I had done as much as I could, I sat back, discreetly raising a finger to the pulse point on my neck. Still twice as fast as it needed to be. Although I had a secondary heart, it was smaller than the primary. It had to work harder to keep my body functioning. I let my hand fall, looking out over the city once more.
"Who were they?" I asked.
"The Ku'Rutiek. They're Kraferric outlaws who believe that the necklace should remain undiscovered, that it isn't the answer to our survival." He turned to look at me through the red eyes of his were-monkey form. "They are the reason so many Kraferr Ones have failed." I nodded silently, pondering. "Shad?"
"You said you were trying to get away from your family, to keep them safe. You never said why."
I sighed, shifting into a more comfortable position, looking out over the city with its pinpricks of streetlights. Leaning on my hands, I thought carefully about my words. After all, he was one of us now. He might as well know how we work. "A part demon's life is ruled by prophecy. The more important the demon parent is, the more the prophecy impacts your life. I drew the red card in that my father is the ruler of all demons. I'm supposed to fight him to the death for control over the demons."
"In a month..."
"And you agreed to help me? Shouldn't you be training to fight?"
"We're both going to die. It was in the prophecy. We both have to die, so what's the point? We should start moving again before they catch our scent." I stepped over the edge of the building, to freefall to the ground. Normally it wouldn't be a problem. A storey or two won't do anything to a demon. Any more than that, however, and you're looking at scraping bits of demon off the pavement. As I landed, I staggered, grabbing onto a lamppost to regain my balance. The sword wound was throbbing again, my heartbeat almost a hum as it raced to keep up with everything I was putting my body through. I nodded once at Bart, signalling that everything was fine to continue the quest.
We walked in silence for another couple of streets before Bart started to have problems. The blood was starting to take effect. He stopped, collapsing onto a nearby bench, breathing ragged as his body tried to fight the onslaught of demonic transformation. I sat next to him, guilt consuming my mind again.
"I'm sorry, I need to take a break," he said, leaning his head back to ease his breathing.
"I shouldn't have given you my blood." I looked down at my hands folded in my lap. "You have no reason to be sorry."
"You did what you had to in order to save my life. I'm grateful for that."
"There's always an alternative..."
"Shadow, what's done is done, there's nothing you can do about it."
I said nothing, leaning my head back against the bench, closing my eyes. It was comforting to just stare at the inside of my eyelids. Nothing complicated, no prophecies, nothing to run from.
"Hey, Shad, with the blood transfer, what'll I be able to do?"
"Magic mainly. It should manifest soon, give or take a couple of hours," I said without looking up at him. "You'll be able to use it like mine. It requires concentration, and an ability to visualise what you want it to do. For example," I raised a hand to chest height, palm facing upwards. "Within my mind, I can see a small orb of magic above my hand." After a few moments of concentration, it slowly appeared. "You could imagine it attacking something or someone, or seeking something and bringing it to you."
"So, what's our next move?" I was starting to get restless. Staying in one place for too long when there were people looking for us was a recipe for disaster, especially since neither of us were in any state to fight, especially not if Bart was going to undergo a rather fast demonic transformation soon.
"We continue going North-West, towards the mountains. When we get there, we should be able to get up to the cave easily," Bart said, starting to walk along the street. I followed him like a kitten on a string. "By the way, did you recognise our mysterious assailant?"
I gritted my teeth. Yes, I knew who he was or rather, what group he belonged to. I wasn't sure Bart really wanted or needed to know though. "Yes, I did recognise him."
He suddenly became worried. "Who was it?"
"No one you want to know."
"Shad... Can you at least tell me why he was after us then?" He was starting to get a little irritated, that much I could tell. I started to chew on my lip, looking at the Kraferr out of the corner of my eye.
"He was a Demon Hunter." I conceded.
"Like a vampire hunter?"
"No," I had to take a deep breath. "The Demon Hunters are a cult of humans who worship my father and do his dirty work in this realm."
"So his coming after us had nothing to do with the fact that you were with me?"
"No. If it was, I would have to remove his head personally and spit down his neck. They're only supposed to be after me."
I couldn't help but notice the silence Bart was keeping up as we continued our trek in silence. I pulled the hood of my cloak over my face as I glared at the ground, cursing myself in every single language I knew. I placed a hand on the hilt of my sword, keeping an ear out for anything unusual. Bart stopped again, sniffing the air. I paused, watching him carefully for any telltale signs that meant we had to make a rapid exit.
"No, nothing. I can't see, smell or hear anything. That's not normal." I closed my eyes, reaching out with my mind to try and pick up any other forms of consciousness. I came up with a couple of lizards and a stray cat. Nothing of any note. But there was something else there. Something doing its damnest to hide from me, slipping out of my grasp every time I tried to get a hold on it.
A figure dropped down from the rooftop. I jumped, drawing my sword. Bart stood slightly in front of me, claws at the ready. The figure held up his hands in a peaceful, not quite surrendering gesture. A young man, perhaps only a couple of years older than me. He smelled a little strange, not unlike Bart, but a scent all his own.
"I'm not here to fight you," he said, "I am Sither. Sither Moonspike, last Kuijin standing of the Yul tribe. I was just passing by and I overheard that you were embarking on some sort of... journey."
Bart relaxed enough to put his claws away. "I'm Bart, this is Shadow." Sither inclined his head gracefully towards me. I returned the gesture, sheathing my sword again but keeping my hand on its hilt. I couldn't sense anything hostile coming from the newcomer, but that didn't mean that he couldn't turn evil.
"I have a few talents in warfare that may be useful to you both, if you will allow me to accompany you.'
"I can't sense anything bad coming off him. Chances are he'll be harmless enough towards us."
Bart nodded and started walking again, Sither and I following quietly.
Concrete pavements soon gave way to dense woodland as we approached the foot of the mountain. We continued onwards, a strange trio of a shapeshifter-turned-demon, a demon and an unknown. Bart stopped, listening carefully. I cast a glance at him, sensing worry cascading off him in waves.
"Shadow, Sither... I think we have company."
I drew both my swords, brow furrowed in concentration and concern. I knew I was in no state to fight. Nor was Bart. I couldn't even morph! Sither was the only chance they had at getting out of the fight alive. I closed my eyes, trying to sense our attackers. Al I heard was the blood pounding in my ears. All I smelled was earth, blood and shifter. All I could feel was Bart's agitation and worry. The wind ruffled the Kraferr's fur, bringing with it the sharp tang that promised rain. I tightened my grip on my sword, ignoring the pain that lanced through my damaged heart. Nature settled. Not a leaf rustled. I slashed at something not more than a shadow. Claws ripped at my arm. Shallow gashes leaked tiny droplets if blood. I strained my ears to hear more, hear better, hear past the unnatural silence.
I swung my sword at neck height. It met with a satisfying flesh-and-bone resistance. A body thudded to the ground. I threw my sword at another attacker, listening out for the crunch as it hit its target, drawing my other blade and preparing myself.
"Slay the One and his allies!"
My temper snapped . Anger boiled through my mind. Magic surged through my muscles, begging to be used. I shouted out in Demonic. Black energy poured from my hands. I didn't care about losing control now. Not while Bart was in mortal danger. Sither could handle himself. Bart was still injured. He had been injured while defending me.
A handful of heartbeats later, the Outlaw Kraferrs lay dead in pools of blood around us. I fell to one knee, my arms around my ribs. Goddess, it hurt to breathe. My secondary heart was beating so fast. Bart crouched next to me.
"Shadow, you shouldn't have done that. You need to rest!"
I gritted my teeth. Rest? Now? Forget it. The monkey boys might have back up. "I'm fine," I muttered, pushing myself to my feet. The sudden movement proved to be too much. I collapsed onto the ground again. I couldn't hear anything through the frantic beating of my secondary heart. The magical wave had taken more energy than I had realised. A secondary heart is just that. Secondary. It could run my body for a matter of about two weeks, as long as the demon doesn't do anything too strenuous, ample time for the primary heart to recover and take over full duty once more. After the exertion of the battle, I guessed I had a handful of days at most.
I expected to hit hard, unforgiving ground. Instead, someone caught me before I could, cradling me carefully in their arms.
"I told you, you need rest. So just relax," ordered Bart. I felt like arguing back, but didn't. He was trying to help. I felt his claw rest on the pulse point on my neck. His hand then moved close to my wounded heart. I hissed in pain, pushing his hand away. He wasn't trained! He didn't know what to do! But he maintained his hand close to the injury.
"Let me try, Shad."
Grudgingly, I let him.
When Vrael and I heal someone, we use magic to fuse together the fibres of the muscle and reconnect the cells. This gets harder and harder the deeper you go into an organism, and becomes more difficult the older the wound gets as the magic has to interfere with the natural healing process. Bart was finding this out the hard way. Slowly, the depths of the wound began to close enough to staunch the bleeding before he was forced to stop by the toll the magic was taking on his strength.
"Thank you," I murmured. He smiled slightly, standing up and holding out his hand. I took it, letting him help me to my feet. We looked out over the battlefield. Bart gagged, I guess disgusted by the sight of the remnants of the fight. I was used to the smells of battle. The sight of blood didn't turn my stomach. Don't get me wrong though. It's not that death and killing don't bother me, it's that this was an exception. The outlaws wouldn't have hesitated to kill us. We should not have had to hesitate to kill them. All that was left was for me to convince myself that it was self-defense.
"Why were they after us? You said that they believe the necklace should remain undiscovered, but why the violence?"
"The Outlaws used to be a group of Kraferrs who protected the Ones on their quest. But the Outlaws got scared that the Ones would ask a wrong question, which leads to the One's death and moves the Kraferrs one step closer to extinction. Well, the idea of 'protect by force' kinda turned into 'kill'.
"I see." My eyes wandered over the corpses. I spotted my second sword embedded in the chest of a dead Kraferr. I pulled it out, trying to ignore the sound of shattered bone against the metal. I wiped the blade on the grass in an attempt to clean as much of the gore from it as possible. "It looks like the Kraferrs are another few specimens short then." My mind, unbidden, turned to my own species. The part demons. How we had been everywhere, in almost every dimension. Now only the Roth-Mercian clan was left. My clan. And it looked like the Kraferrs were going to follow the same path.
"Yes," Bart spoke again, shaking me from my dark thoughts. "But it's done now. Not much we can do about it."
I listened to Bart gagging again as he looked out over the bloodstained, corpse-strewn ground. I rolled my eyes, trying to block out the sound. But there was something more behind it. There was something else coming off him. I whipped 'round to face him as he fell to his knees, his hands around his ribs. I knelt next to him, holding his shoulders straight to try and alleviate his breathing.
"The... Blood..." He managed to gasp. "It's interfering... with everything!" He tried to get up again, but his legs gave way beneath him. I gritted my teeth. All the signs pointed to an imminent demonic possession. Not a good things. I wracked my mind for a possible solution, for anything that could help him. The bracers! Digging into my pockets, I pulled out two long bracelets of metal. Shaeman had crafted them, working a length of thin, silver wire into the steel. I slid one over Bart's wrist, pulling at the lacing to keep them tight against his fur.
"I don't normally use these," I explained, slipping the other one into place, "but I think this qualifies as an emergency. They have silver in them. It'll help control the demon blood."
"Shadow," he started to say, lying back on the ground with a groan. "Thanks."
I sensed despair starting to well up inside him and swallowed hard. "It's one of the few things I can do. After all, it's my fault you've got this problem."
"Shad..." His voice held a hint of a warning. I tensed, throwing all my senses onto high alert. "There was nothing else you could have done." Realising we weren't going to be attacked, I relaxed slightly, keeping my head bowed. He started to try to get to his feet, but I pushed his back down again, one hand on his shoulder.
"Calm down and relax for a bit. The silver should take effect soon, but you need to let it work, not get yourself all worked up."
Bart fell back again, grimacing slightly. I rolled my eyes discreetly, shifting my limbs into a more comfortable position. He turned his head to look at me.
"Shad, does demonic magic cause any interference with other kinds? Like, will it change or block my Kraferric powers?"
I looked down at my hands, which were absentmindedly shredding blades of grass. "I don't know, really. I don't think there are any specific changes. I'm going on Vrael though. He still needs blood, but sunlight won't kill him, so I guess there are small changes that will happen. Shouldn't be too drastic though."
He didn't reply, seemingly lost in thought. I continued to shred the grass, trying to get my nose to focus on something other than the cloying smell of the Outlaw bodies starting to decompose. I could smell something, a scent that gradually grew stronger and stronger. The smell of vampire. And if my empathy wasn't deceiving me, which it rarely does, a very pissed off vampire. I chewed my lip nervously. Yes, the trick with the mouse had been a very low blow and incredibly dishonourable thing to do, taking advantage of his bloodlust. Not only that, but he was going to blow a fuse over the fact that I had jeopardised my safety by playing him. That and the heart injury. I don't know if vampires could have heart attacks, but he was certainly going to have kittens when he finds out that I was hurt by a demon hunter on his watch.