Consciousness returned, but Nyx kept his eyes closed, taking a moment to get his scattered thoughts together. He thought back, then remembered the demon and for a moment considered the notion he had died. But no, the last thing he remembered was the shadows of people and the demon fleeing. Nyx heard voices and remained still listening.

"To hold out against a demon, even a weak one, with no Element..." The deep, resonant voice trailed off. It belonged to Joshua, “…you said he saved you?"

"Yeah, I was trapped, couldn’t move. The demon, she… it was tearing me apart, I could feel it." Dan paused, and Nyx, even with his eyes closed, imagined he could hear the shiver. "Then out of nowhere, Nyx shows up. Stands there facing the demon and gave me a chance to escape. I ran and got you all, didn't know it was possible to be that scared." There was shame in his voice.

Nyx couldn’t be sure how long he had been unconscious. The soft fiber of bandages pressed lightly against his skin coverering him. He delved inside himself; the experience was as though his mind became submerged in luke-warm water, a comfortable snugness to the feeling. Nyx checked his core and was pleased to note it was filled with demonic Chi, pulsing with Smokey black energy. He began to feel angry. No! He was in control now. Nyx relaxed his mind returning to his senses and could perceive the Chi of three people in the room. One blazed like a sun next to the other two. Dan, Gabe, and the third must be Joshua.

It was apparent Dan and Gabe along with Joshua were more than they had pretended to be. This all begged a deeper question, what did they want with him? It had struck him as odd how Dan and Gabe had accepted him into their confidence, treating him as a long-time friend. Nyx decided there was no point pretending to be unconscious.

He squinted, eyes adjusting to the lights. Gauze and bandages covered, well, all of him. Two rows of ten twin size beds ran down the length of the room, a tray of food sat on a stand beside the cot on which he rested. The scratched surfaces of metal tables on wheels sat around the room’s center reflecting the white fluorescent lights above. The medical equipment arranged on the tables would be easy to move around. Gabe, Dan, and Joshua stood a short distance away, the only others in the room.

The gashes from the fight no longer throbbed. Investigating the changes in his body, Nyx noted his muscles were denser, organs improved, eyes clearer. His hearing was even better. He was stunned, after cultivating the demonic Chi, he was close to breaking through the first stage of the Basic level of cultivation. The significant difference was in his physique. It had transformed, the power of demons. Demon Chi chiefly developed their bodies. High-frequency Chi could never cause these changes so fast.

Nyx looked around the room but could not see anything to demystify his location. Gabe looked his way, and their eyes met, Gabe’s widening in surprise, he opened his mouth then closed it seeming lost for words before trying again. "You passed out before we arrived. We got to you right in time, before that demon was able to finish you off. Good thing Joshua was with us, or we couldn't have done anything."

"I should have stayed to help you." Dan's voice had an edge. Defensive. "But then we would both be dead, right? I made the right decision, saved your ass too. We are even."

"Hold on," Nyx tried to sit up.

"No, you don’t!" Joshua pushed him back down. "Stay still, the injuries you sustained was substantial."

Nyx let out his breath in a sigh. They didn’t know that his body had healed, although the scars would remain until he reached a higher cultivation. The silvery lines were a memento of his weakness and poor judgment. He was having a hard time repressing his anger, the unnatural energy inside him fed on a rage he kept carefully locked away inside.

"Where the hell are we? What's going on?" Nyx growled.

Joshua looked down at him with concern. "This place is underground St. Louis, you have been out for two days. This is an academy of sorts, an order who combat the demon threat." Nyx’s jaw flexed, and he opened his mouth to respond, but Joshua put up his hand. "Before you say anything, listen. Here we teach how to fight, how to cultivate inner strength to one day face the threat. Each one of us is limited by time, but I believe dedicating your life to something meaningful is what gives it purpose."

Nyx narrowed his eyes again wondering how any of this related to him, or more precisely his former self.

Joshua took it to mean he was skeptical. "I know this must seem bizarre, but you will see. We have been watching you for a long time, deciding if you have the potential to perceive and draw on the energies that make up the universe. I believe you do, and I would like to invite you to join us and learn. These energies have been known by many names, but we refer to them as Chi."

Nyx's eyes moved between Dan and Gabe. "Is Joshua the friend you mentioned that had a place for me to stay?"

Joshua nodded responding for the brothers. "It was my idea, for the past few months, I have had them watch you for signs. There is no pressure to decide what you want to do, for now, take your time. You have seen the threat we face. Once you make up your mind, you will face the council, of which I am only one member, for admittance." He gave Nyx a sympathetic look before turning away, and long strides took him from the room. There was a grace to his movement, an assuredness.

"Guess you told him more about me than just poker," said Nyx, eyes conveying his disgust. He could feel the demon Chi playing on his emotions but couldn’t stop it.

"Orders, we were placed near you to monitor and report changes. We had only good intentions, what could I have done? Refused?" Gabe shook his head, looking away unable to meet Nyx’s gaze.

Nyx knew he was being unfair, but he was still frustrated at how things had developed. The malevolent energy wasn’t helping either. He let his head fall back into his pillow, and his eyes closed momentarily.

Dan clenched his fists his teeth grinding. "Quit acting all high a mighty. We did come back for you didn’t we?"

Gabe’s hand closed on his brother's arm. "Let's go, give him time to process it all." He pulled Dan from the room shutting the door.

Nyx sensed their Chi move down the hall. Good, they were gone. He sat up, crossing his legs and closed his eyes in meditation. He probed the Demonic Chi in his core, delving into his sea of consciousness and was greeted by darkness. Not the darkness of a soft sleep, no this was the suffocating darkness that drove strong men to the bottle, the kind that haunted nightmares. As Nyx moved further into the black, it fell back revealing a man was on his knees, held up by his hair. Nyx was hiding. A horror, a memory came to life.

"P-p-please no..." the man stuttered, spitting out globs of blood. His mouth was a patchwork of missing teeth.

A demon, hulk of a thing, stood above bursting with muscles, its form was indistinct as smoke swirled around it. Its leathery skin sucked at the dim light while smoke billowed out from the demon. Entirely transformed it would grow wings and horns, although it could take on any shape. The house could barely contain its mass. Burning eyes lacking even a shred of humanity stared down at Nyx's birth father. He re-lived the emotions from his past, cloying helplessness comparable to being trapped deep underground in a small crevice. No amount of wriggling could bring freedom, and even as he clawed all around, there was a certainty of being lost to the world. Fear churned his insides making death seemed a tame alternative.

Nyx's mother's body lay on the ground near where his father kneeled. It was a grotesque sight, and he shivered unable to pick out any recognizable features from her face; the skin was peeled away revealing red strands of muscle and empty eye sockets. The body was separated into pieces, legs bent at unnatural angles. In places the opaque white of her bones was visible. His dad's core glowed, how had he missed that before?

The demon placed a claw the size of a large knife onto his father's stomach. Blood ran out of the myriad of deep cuts the monstrosity had inflicted. His father’s toes were missing along with half his fingers. Worst of all his eyelids were gone, leaving him unable to look away from the demon and sight of his wife. Finally, the last moment of his father's despair, his soul broke. Nyx could see the fight leave his father's eyes as they went dull. The demon drove his claw into Cruz’s core. Ropes of demonic energy tore the wound wide, red-gold energy was siphoned, illuminating the monstrosity's bared fangs in a display of savage ecstasy.

Nyx started to turn his head away but stopped, forcing himself to watch, to remember. This was why he wouldn't leave a person for a demon if the risk were reasonable. A demon did not just kill; it destroyed the soul. No afterlife, nothing, gone forever. The part of Nyx’s mind that knew this to be a phantom memory raged, recalling how this event had marred his early years. Fear, never being comfortable in groups. He had preferred his own company. He had needed an exit, and he found one. There were no demons in the higher realms. This fear was the first strike of the hammer from which he was forged.

The darkness began to close in once more, but Nyx was finished with the demon Chi's games. He smiled, beyond such weak tricks. With a flick of his fingers, the darkness vanished. A demon stood before him in his mind sea. The manifestation of the Chi he had absorbed. Nyx's soul was a Goliath, glowing with pure white light. Before him, the demon was but a weak shadow. His soul's real strength was unable to be manifested outside his mind as he needed to strengthen his cultivation first, but while in his sea of consciousness the demon was an insect. Earlier he had let the memory the dark Chi conjured play out, it was a helpful reminder. He had underestimated the Succubus from the alley, letting his emotions get the better of him, it wouldn't happen again.

“Now I see, it would have taken far more power then I possess to break you,” the demonic voice was muted, sounding weak next to his blinding presence. This demon was the essence of the one he had fought.

Nyx shrugged stepping forward, and the beasts fiery eyes widened in fright as It scurried away from him. This was his domain, he was all-powerful here. “Where are you going.” The words echoed, and his spirit materialized blocking the demon, power emanating out with blinding rays of light.

The demon cowered. Nyx smiled, his grin maniacal. They would all pay. His ethereal finger lowered, and a ball of light condensed, his arm tingled with the power rushing through it. On contact, the demon shrieked in agony. Light traveled through the demon's shadow, it disintegrated wherever touched, flaking away.

Nyx let out a deep breath. The demon Chi was now his to control. Another person would have had their soul devoured, the demon scourge spreading. He had feared that the demonic energy would shred his weak body and was surprised how well he had taken to it, almost as if thirsting for it.

Nyx pulled back the blanket. Once on his feet he began peeling off bandages, the ends clung to his skin before falling away, and he threw them in a bin near his bed. He moved to a mirror observing the changes. He was in his boxer briefs, and thin white scars covered his body, another memento. Light stubble adorned his face. He flexed muscles he had not had two days prior watching as they corded, lean and much denser than was visible. It was a remarkable improvement, but he had a long way to go.

Nyx dashed, touching both of the room's walls. He changed direction on a dime diving over one of the movable metal tables, finishing with a roll and back to his feet. The impurities remained, but he felt better although still slower than the demon, he needed Heavenly Chi.

Nyx called the demonic Chi to his hands, black smoke rose, and they started to transform, one single claw formed on a finger. He let out a burst of demonic energy, it was a weak display.

Smooth steps brought him to the tray of food - he was ravenous. He dunked a biscuit into a bowl of soup eating it in two bites. With intermittent gulps of water, he finished off the rest.


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