None of the young men were magicians or umbrae, and hoped that numbers alone would compensate for attracting more darklings. For any reason, it would cause unneeded stress on the others if they were late, Nick said, remembering the last time.

Lawrence, on the other hand, was more believing of Ella’s nonsense despite his years, and talked, “Would you two like to go on vacation with us? We made arrangements already but there should be no reason you shouldn’t be able to come.”

It was to start only in three days, and he said it was okay if they had somewhere else to go if not to Elodia with them.
When they didn’t say yes right away out of consideration, Lawrence made himself and the prince feel guilty for not mentioning it earlier, when they were in the doldrums. It was actually a sense of disbelief that even they got to take a full vacation. It would be the first time out-of-country for some of them, he said.

Lawrence himself had stressed it to the others when the opportunity arisen. Besides himself, he thought they were only steps away from being child soldiers, despite the relative comfort of their quarters. The act of recreation was paramount and required, and above all else, it would hopefully elevate the condition of the entire city even if by tiny amounts.
For a few moments he recollected about his accomplishment. They could not take much time off, so he planned everything to a half of an hour. He researched local restaurants, customs, though he couldn’t handle all of it without the other three’s sporadic help, even though he’d been there many, many times. For a moment he considered travelling domestically, but once the others were excited, they didn’t want to give up Susanoo, whose name even sounded exotic.
The affair was to be a rite of passage for the young man and ladies, and he could not misstep, just like the meals he cooked. Truly, one wrong ingredient would hopefully not ruin the dish, but it would change the overall effectiveness. That was one aspect of life he preferred not to laze around at.

Tom looked up, disappointed by the urban sky, and grew content with the few stars, the constant stars that all denizens of the world shared. Stars that had been the same since magic returned to the world, that he admired also in part because they undermined the black sameness of the sky. They came to an intersection, where a short street ended.
Their first sighting of the lethal enemy was accompanied by the cantankerous wind. A few grown-up men walked towards them, stopping and bragging about their crystalline, faceless forms. Nick grew very nervous when their unique texture was illuminated. They were few in number, only two. They were also at the assigned meeting place for the other group, yet it was unwise to turn backs to enemies of unknown speed.

They did not have the swirling, melding, or fading constitution of darklings of the common grade, nor the immense size of ones they knew they had to avoid. At the intersection one pranced unconcernedly to the turn. A third of them was behind them, standing directly underneath a streetlamp, for all to see its most fearsome form, the human.
Their legs ended in shoed feet, and their heads had sculpted human nose ridges, and the whole body was comprised of sleek and sharp lines, most unlike the real thing.

They look hard. I must see if they are.

Tom felt for the first time in a long time that he was slipping into Blank and shot. Instead of flinching like the Tinker supposed, upon seeing the bullets ricochet off its shiny body, the one underneath the light cocked its head, and when it folded its arms, they saw the arms ended with sharp blades, just like real killers. And these could be real killers.
Nick had Stein and Tom focus on one together. These things were clearly not suitable for practice, yet even he and Lawrence had difficulty in dispatching them. Out of the three, none of the darklings fell when they came in contact with the sabers and spears. Tom scanned around in the midst of it and distinctly glanced at Lawrence; a clean hit of his was partially deflected. The horror of the situation was gradually increasing.

Stein was cut at his thigh as the enemy wildly protected itself, having humanlike form but not action. Instead, it created the first time Tom saw Stein flinch. His large polearm ripped across the very surface of the glassy exterior of the darkling’s leg, but only that limb dispersed. He opened his mouth to say it, but he had only not heard it from the others because they didn’t have the luxury to talk.

It didn’t fall, only kneel, and the missing appendage slowly recovered from their shared terror. The stump looked like a teacup and fresh teabag moving in reverse, and the inability to strike a fatal blow hindered the four of them. As they went on, the healing accelerated and accelerated to the point where the darklings didn’t have to stop to recover. After that point, they simply had enough material to get bigger and bigger.

Nick stepped back, and fired the tip of his weapon into his opponent, and with a stroke of luck it had the momentum to break the knife-like hands and shatter the core. He was also left unarmed, and struggled to get his weapon back.
Tom and Stein fared worse than Lawrence. Their enemy acknowledged the pack’s failure and went on the defensive. It was perfect in its motion onto the curb, having the high ground on Stein, and requiring Tom to circle around either a mailbox or a streetlight no matter what side.

Tom had difficulty in his unusual panicked moving, but luckily he didn’t have to worry about his back because Lawrence and his had drifted quite away. The darkling sacrificed both arms, slashing at Stein, until he finally flinched faintly, and Tom only heard his lance falling onto street, accompanied by a dollop of blood.

It briefly hardened, now absorbing fear from the defeated warrior, and it commenced brutalizing Stein, before he withdraw with serious injuries on his arms and torso.

Tom could not avoid seeing such a sight before, and his arms turned flimsy, and his saber could not keep up with his output of food for the darkling, and he knelt, but not without severely morphing the nature of his adversary. It had regrown strangely, and it too was unable to stand.

Tom was aware that he would be slashed at until Lawrence finally finished it, the darkling shattering like glass. But he was glad that it must’ve been over, and Stein, bruised and bleeding, was fine, in shock but in consciousness.
Nick too, in these few seconds had finally been ready to help, and in turn Lawrence trusted him to get the final darkling at his back.

When it was over, Nick was mortified when Lawrence had already been struck, and sported two deep stab wound in his back, one for each arm in the humanoid. The second wasn’t as severe, but since none of them had any supplies, and that they were coupled with the injuries from the hunt itself, it remained quiet clear that he would probably not die from shock or blood loss before helped arrive, and they tried feebly with their own injuries to stem the blood.

Nick and Tom were mostly unhurt, but Stein had also narrowly avoided a more severe result and couldn’t make use of torn hands at all. Tom was working diligently, but they knew when to stop, and found difficulty in using since they did not possess any cloth items or bandages.

The girls arrived too late to them retired and blood dyed. Ella walked forward, hoping for a miracle, focused a foolishly dedicated amount of magic through him, but it could not work on a corpse, and most of it was rejected, so the heat only cauterized his wounds.

Ashamed of her hopeless and emotional waste of resource, she became quiet as she worked to save Stein’s arms, and Luna felt powerless even with her newfound strength. Pierre Lawrence bled to death, suffering crushed vertebrae, and it was later found that the three others took the correct actions. Even if he had survived, as even getting him to safety was difficult due to their injuries, he would probably been unable to continue as a knight.

Luna sat down and curled up, and even in the streetlights it was hard to make out how far her mercurial from expanded over her eyes. One light broke a fuse. When everything had been taken care of she refused to rise immediately, and Ella had to extend a hand to her before she walked. The captain could not look at them, ashamed, and Sally was too preoccupied to spare anyone else much sympathy. What was left was only for Stein, but Tom received curious scorn instead. She felt a little guilt, reaching early conclusion, (although correctly) that the scene had something to do with Tom’s actions. After all, Special Forces wouldn’t fall so easily.


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