They had exited to the unfamiliar outside through the closed Royal Palace, where visitors would enter. They had grown accustomed to gentle nature scenes, and they could not tell if they had come to their senses in this city they had never seen before.
At one time, mankind conquered the night, and the nightscape would be transformed for a brief time, into a bustling scene more powerful and poignant that most days. Like dutiful sentries streetlights still held their mighty post, graceful allies of all good-intentioned knights, as golems of the age past.
Nick was visibly nervous, and Pierre walked behind the pack, ever vigilant. He had one a very similar expression to Tom’s when he used Blank. Ella was walking in front, and she was the only one that didn’t have a weapon by her side. The newcomers were not yet accustomed to her armored appearance, or for that manner her being in front of her employer. Luna’s equipment was different. She also walked strangely, in a closed manner she did not inside.
She had none of the plates of harder material, even if they were not oppressively heavy, unlike her peers. Tom noticed besides this only his had a holster, as requested. Sally has a small pouch, perhaps for first aid materials in small amounts, he thought.
Every business was closed as Nick led them away from the City center on foot. They did not have to see the vile things to feel the ground lurch and swivel against them. It was a few hours before sunrise, when, as Ella said the Darklings would wane away.
A silhouette appeared, this time a primate, not quite poised to attack yet. And it kept its distance. It grew in size, overtaking the largest of humans. Relieved with the more veteran member’s non-reaction, the others watched the ape shrink. Only fifteen feet away, they watched the terrors of others, perhaps a small child’s, as it was quite unlike the adult’s fear of alien canines or magnum arthropods. They did not feel it, or rather, the fear was well contained.
Like a fireplace, the fire posed no danger and it was comforting to see fire could be controlled by human hands. Nick had raised his hand and Luna charged forward as the terrible beast regained its fearfulness when it leaped without much sound, only that of the air being displaced.
From her diminutive palm came forth a headless snake-like figure. For the size of what had left her body, a disproportionate amount of red liquid followed it down, falling onto the street. The tendril she had was beyond her expectation, a midnight-colored swollen tendril of Scylla that had feasted upon whatever fed the darklings.
She flinched for a moment, and then wondered if her momentary fault would waste too much time. She looked behind and saw that Ella did not react either, whether she was preparing magic or was confident she did not know. The weaponized nonmatter moved on its own, more accurately guiding Luna’s body then she herself knew how.
The gorilla stumbled between choosing from the two and was pierced easily near where the sternum would be in a more real being. Without making a sound Sally and Stein watched in scared awe as the first darkling they saw was coming apart, while Luna’s mercurial form absorbed some of it, and while she did not go unconscious they waited as the fell to her knees and did not get up.
Tom had noticed his Blank had succeeded in keeping his mind straight. It was still something he felt. Nick thought fast, “Ella. Do you think you can walk her back? Maybe Stein should go too.”
Ella said she could do it alone as the helped Luna up but did not protest when Stein followed. In a few seconds their fighting strength was halved but Tom and Sally did not notice as dearly since Luna tonight was the bigger monster.
Luna tried to apologize and unlike before the darkness in her eyes pulsed instead of waning and waxing. She had to have confidence too after seeing Ella like that, and she would in Nick and Lawrence too. Stein, while not able to participate, was able to see Ella’s warming healing magic, whose fiery act seemed much too like cauterization, yet only relieved Luna’s bloodied hand without burning it. It was slight and took much too long, especially since the wound was small, yet Stein was strangely pleased by the real heat that radiated from the magician.
When they returned she was done. Luna said, as if nothing happened, “You and Ella should find them. I’m sure you two would be fine. I’ll promise I’ll see to you when you’re done.”
She however, did not tell them that it was because she couldn’t sleep anymore. Ella agreed and even urged on Stein: this time he was more prepared and they took an extra wheelchair to conserve her magic. He remembered this was like how Sally described how an EMT worked. There was sign of strain on Ella too, and besides all the appearance of the emotions that follow abandoning comrades, her eyes were bloodshot.
Praying not to encounter any darklings, they did so anyway, and Ella rose with such force that the wheelchair screeched and hurt Stein behind her. They were already afraid, but not for their own person, so it was easy to tell that more than one had gathered around them somewhere, since they had freshly experienced one of a similar grade. Stein by instinct followed Ella in scanning the vicinity, yet no inky blackness fell on to the street.
Ella doubted that they could not see them. If they moved on, they could run into more and it would overwhelm them, since Ella both wanted to conserve her strength and Stein had never fought before. However, the other party was at least double in manpower. They could take their time.
“We’re going to stay. Stand apart.” It would attract more of them if they reunited but it would be easier to deal with them. Since the ultimate goal doesn’t change for either side if they are split, the knight must hold her ground.
As they were being stalked Stein spoke quietly, “Is there a reason we can’t move on slowly?”
“We could but the others will follow a circular trail. I don’t know exactly where they are.”
She did not speak after that. In her expectations she would have to put a significant portion of magic aside for restoration. She struggled to keep her calm when the direction of the fear lurched forward from behind her.
It was above them, and the streetlights would not easily catch something if it was too high. “Above, Stein” She said hastily.
Only an obscuring blob hung above them, like an execution blade. It was now choosing its form, giving her time to think how to defeat it. It circled around them faster and faster, and it collapsed, not surprisingly, into an avian silhouette. Fierce talons and multiple beaks, it either a mythological beast, or an ornithophobia driven scourge. It would have to be reported on, the two-headed eagle.
They must take preemptive strike, or else it would swoop with more momentum then they could hope to avoid it with. She communicated that exact message when she took aim, but she did not know much offensive magic. She had exactly two spells for this purpose if she wanted to save absolutely any for later.
Stein sent away the wheelchair, and both were too transfixed to hear it stumble. The giant thing had not yet swooped, and Ella sent forward a bright missile, hoping and hoping again that they would escape easily with a direct hit, but it went passed the bird and like fireworks burst into illuminating shards. The monstrosity was visible as it flied far above them.
However she succeeded in that she actually hoped to at least damage it. She breathed heavily as she registered the immense magical heat she had channeled from her hand, even without burn or wound, her entire left side of the torso might as well be seared to the bone. Although slightly, the reactive force had also stressed her poise, and it took more concentration to keep upright.
The light she produced flickered and faded as Stein held out his spear, soldier-like. His could not shoot like Nick’s, and he saw now that if he were to throw it he only had one chance. Ella, however hurt, did not show this outward appearance and fired again nearly immediately. Not like the fireworks before, she shot a bona fide fireball, nearly a half meter in diameter.
Although they could not make more noise than from the air they might not even displace, the eagle was grazed and made an animal-like flinch, and in this time Stein threw his weapon like a javelin and split the creature along its symmetry. Watching it fall to the ground and writhe, they had disposed of it before it was a threat. They felt very lucky it was only one.
Ella, quite impressed, had no injuries to heal when she fell and sat on the floor. “We will move now. They should’ve arrived back here by now.”
While Ella and Stein moved cautiously along the usual circuit of patrol, Nick had ran into many more darklings.
He himself was not the best fighter at all, and if Ella regrouped it would be too late. In front of them lay three adversaries, all of the same type. The twenty-four foreign legs that waited in plain sight were sluggish and slow, but they already had their form when they were encountered. Luna had most accidentally been of help in weakening them, and Nick had elected to stay put until they met up with Stein and Ella.
These ones were less lucid in movement, against logic limiting themselves to the mechanical movement of actual spiders. Lawrence and Nick chose one and set Tom and Sally to the last. Lawrence quickly dispatched his without emotion or thought, and acted as lookout. He noticed his prince had set a handicap for himself by not firing his elaborate weapon, but he finished too soon after.
He did not enjoy the process, but the Blanc siblings had to learn how to fight. However terrifying, the situation did not pose much danger. For reasons that could only be attributed to the concentration of nonmatter elsewhere, that darklings had neither the speed nor venom of a spider. He doubted that any wound would be fatal, and even so they could take off towards where Ella was expected to arrive from.
Tom and Sally took turns parrying the arachnid’s fangs, and they discovered that mere contact warded it off. However persistent, the darkling should at least basic concern for its continued existence. For an expert fencer, Sally did much better, avoiding any hurt. She was even able to damage it periodically, but Tom could not use his trickster swordplay on a darkling, and found as gunshots rang his gun only made it move backward, the same as when Sally met her sword to the fangs.
It was not the easiest adversary for either to overpower. Every time they could finish it, for they raced against each other, it used its front legs. The thing was also covered in hairs. They did not want to know whether the larger ones would be more than irritating. Exhausted mentally and physically, they wanted to know if they could defeat one together, so Sally this time did not retreat when Tom joined her without saying a word. Tom could safely strike its legs when Sally parried the fangs, and then she attacked again and hit it on the hideous head. It did not vanish, until near her point of attack Nick’s lance’s head connected. They were done when Stein and Eleanor had arrived frantically. They did not meet more for the night.