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Nyx watched the last of the grime swirl in a mess of murky water down the drain of the shower. He dried off then sat with his legs crossed in the corner of his stark room. From the cross-legged position, he placed his hands on the floor, lifting his lower body up into the air, ending in a handstand. He went through a series of exercises he had devised to test his new strength. His muscles corded as he strained in ever more challenging poses, he noticed they were not larger, but denser. Gracefully he flipped to back to his feet and flexed his fingers, feeling increased strength behind them.

The Chaotic element in his core swirled like a turbulent sea next to the remaining demonic. He tried to draw on the chaos, pulling at the writhing mass of energy. It reared as if to bite him. Nyx backed off, settling just to observe for the time being. The storm budged, exploding like a grenade in his core. Pulsing tendrils of energy burst through his body. His breath left him in a rush, body thrashing uncontrollably. He lay still once the pain retreated back into his core letting his heartbeat normalize. He knew he had to be patient, only time would help him gain an understanding of his element.

Earlier when he had utilized the Chaotic Chi, it was as if all his senses had been amplified. His reactions had increased beyond imaginable, the Chi moving through him had allowed his muscles to expand and contract at high speeds. The processing power of his mind increased, and with the Chi, he would be able to make split-second decisions as if with all the time in the world. The problem was the pain and lack of control.

He could hear the others moving around the living area, and only then realized it was already 6 am. He hadn’t slept a wink. Nyx got up, and threw his pillow onto his mattress, frustrated at the little progress he had made. He opened his door joining the others in their living room. The whole team was up except for Garry, who Nyx assumed was still sleeping off the late night.

Matt looked up as Nyx stepped into the kitchen. “Well look who decided to grace us with his presence.” He pointed at Dan and Gabe. “They insisted we wait for you or I would have left long ago.”

Dan smirked. “Its funny Nyx, since you arrived, Matt and I haven’t been fighting,”

Nyx ignored them, filling a glass with water. “I won’t be joining you all today. I have things to take care of above ground. Gabe would you be ok with me borrowing your car for the day?”

Matt stood from the couch where he had been sitting. "Guess I waited for nothing. C'mon babe." He took Marisa’s hand, helping her up. She gave Nyx a dirty look before following Matt out the door. Apparently, she also held him a grudge. Shaking his head, he decided that Matt was not worth his time, some people just didn’t learn.

Gabe rubbed his palms together under the table nervously. “What are you planning to do then? Joshua is going to be pissed, let alone Gregor.”

“I am getting ready to hunt demons. I need to prepare some things,” said Nyx so casualty that Dan and Gabe nodded along, only moments later realizing what he meant.

Dan looked up at him from the couch. There was deep burning anger in his narrowed eyes. “I’m coming.”

Nyx raised an eyebrow at him. “I hope this isn’t because you feel you need to prove something.”

Garry walked into the room, one hand holding his glasses as he scratched at the corner of his bloodshot eyes. He tried to detangle his thick red hair, utterly oblivious to the high tension in the room. “Morning,” He mumbled, quietly sitting in his usual spot at the corner of the couch.

Dan lit a cigarette and took a long pull, ignoring Garry as he eyed Nyx. “Demons murdered my parents, and my first encounter with one left me good as dead. I need to do this for myself."

Nyx met Dan’s challenging glare and nodded, with the trouble his new element was giving him having backup wasn’t a bad idea. “Two conditions. One, you follow my lead and directions. Two, you will need to learn a new cultivation technique that won’t limit your growth.”

Gabe considered Nyx and his brother as he scratched his neck. "We have a tournament coming up soon. We don't have time to go hunt demons, and I'm not sure what you can teach about cultivation…"

Nyx nodded his understanding. “Trust me. If we are successful hunting demons, this tournament will be child’s play. As for the new techniques, we will find you some from Tomes.”

Dan blew a puff of smoke across the room at his brother. “I’m going with him, I’m not going to sit around here if I can kill some of those monsters. Think of mom and Dad.”

“I don’t think they would have wanted us to risk our lives,” said Gabe, fanning away the smoke.

Dan crossed his arms, expression fixed with determination.

“Fine, I’ll hear you out.”

“If you all go I’m not staying behind,” said Garry in an undertone.

Nyx had forgotten he was there with how quiet he was. He tried not to show his surprise, he had thought it was a foregone conclusion Garry wouldn’t be interested.

“Then you will both also need to learn a new cultivation technique.” He had an idea, “and Garry, I have an idea for an array pattern to protect the brothers.” He had just the one in mind, the one he had used against the succubus. It was a simple one that he had no doubt Garry would learn within the week.

Gabe grudgingly gave his assent along with the other two.

“I'm sure I don’t need to say this, but don’t tell anyone we will be hunting demons.”

"Wasn’t ever planning on it," said Dan, his eyes glowing with suppressed excitement. The look made Nyx wonder if Dan’s encounter with the succubus was the reason he fought so ferociously during sparring sessions.

"Dan, I know you want revenge, but I need you to keep your head straight, especially if you want to face a demon, don't let emotions affect your judgment."

Dan’s eyebrows turned down as his excitement turned to glowing anger. “What do you know about it, just mind your own damn business.”

The door containing Nyx’s inner darkness cracked open, the chaos inside his core swirled faster. It was a strange feeling, almost like a separate entity affecting him subconsciously. He could tell it wanted a fight. Using minimal effort, Nyx managed to close the door, shutting back the darkness. That darkness was always with him, carefully locked away, and the chaos seemed to want it free.

He opened his eyes now that the chaos settled. “My parents were also killed by a demon when I was little. I was hiding. I think I know a thing or two.”

Dan didn't back down although his anger had lessened. "Bullshit,” he said then looked to his brother, "is it true?"

Gabe shook his head. “I don’t know.”

"You don't have to take my word for it, if you 'need' proof, ask Joshua when you see him."

“You guys are going to be late,” said Garry. He got up grabbing his bag and slipped out the apartment door.

“Shit, he is right,” said Gabe, checking his watch. The brothers rushed to grab their things, swinging their backpack straps around shoulders, and were out the door. Gabe called from in the passage informing Nyx that his car keys were in the kitchen.

Nyx swiped Gabe's the keys from a basket on the countertop, and soon he was also out the door. He followed the tunnels, finding himself lost multiple times. He seemed to have gained some notoriety after the incident with Joshua as several cadets eyed him whispering to each other when he walked by. When he asked one of the gawking cadets for directions, they told him the exit was in the edge of the central cavern across from the combat circles. As soon as he was further down the hall, they began muttering to each other yet again.

At the central cavern, Nyx tried to make himself small, drawing as little attention as possible. A part of him wished he had worn a hoody, even though he knew it would be hot outside. He passed cadets intent on their practice without incident. Just as he was about to enter the slopped exit tunnel, he noticed a girl, about his age, with hair the color of dry wheat watching him. She was standing on the edge of one of the obstacle courses near two young men who were kneeling over a boy on the ground. He thought she seemed familiar, but it wasn’t till he swiped his key card at the top of the passage that he remembered her shy dimpled smile from his first encounter with Benjamin.

Nyx pushed open the thick metal door and stepped into the sunlight. He closed his eyes, letting his skin drink in the summer heat. When he finally looked around, he decided the brick building he had stepped out of was unremarkable, dwarfed by several high rises, their polished windows glinting in the morning sun.

Nyx passed a man and woman holding hand on the sidewalk and felt relieved when they seemed more interested in each other than him. The order was beginning to play games with his mind. He waited for a bus to rumble past, then crossed the street entering a parking garage on the other side. Gabe’s Honda ended up being on the second floor next to a black sedan.

A half-hour later Nyx parked in front of a long single-story cinderblock building. He locked the car behind him and walked along a small strip of sidewalk that circled the freezer facilities whitewashed wall. The double paned glass door beeped when he pushed it open. The building’s Interior was plain with walls the same shade of white as the exterior. A middle-aged woman eyed him from where she sat behind a long counter. It looked as if she had had quite a bit of work done on her face.

She smiled at him, her expression barely changing. "What can I do for you today?"

Nyx repressed a shiver. She reminded him of an unpleasant fae creature. In the higher realm, he had once visited the far eastern desert where he had a run in with the Erza, creatures shaped like men but scaled with forked tongues. "I need to rent a freezer room.”

A couple of lines crinkled at the corner of her eyes, maybe she was trying to appear thoughtful?

"What do you need it for? So that I can determine the best one for your usage."

"Hunting, I need a place to store the meat." It technically wasn’t a lie.

She nodded and turned to the wall behind her where many keys hung from hooks. She looked through them finding the one she wanted. "This is to unit twenty-nine all the way to the back, take a look and let me know if it will work." She gave another one of those Botox smiles.

The air grew cool as Nyx passed by metal doors set into the walls. The floor was concrete, and a white tile ceiling with long fluorescent light bulbs stretched down the hallway. At the back, he found his unit and fit the key into the lock turning the L shaped handle. Along the inside of the walk-in freezer were lines of white frost. The space would work perfectly. It was just big enough for him to move around, with shelves off to one side leaving the rest of the area open.

"Do you need anything else, do you?" asked the woman once he had checked out, with a decidedly unpleasant look.

"No thanks," said Nyx, the alarm buzzing as he opened the door and stepped back into the heat.

Nyx slid back into Gabe’s car and turned on the air conditioning. Looking to make sure there were no other cars, he merged back onto the road.


 

A bell jingled as Nyx pushed open the heavy wood door to ‘John's Tactical Supplies.' A tattooed man with a big, well-groomed beard stood at a central table. Guns, knives and other weapons glinted under the glass cases in front of him. Rows of camouflage fatigues, as well as sturdy bags, flasks, gloves and various other tactical gear, sat on shelves. In the display windows, Kevlar body armor and riot gear dressed a set of manikins.

Nyx was not looking for guns. They would be useless against a demon. He needed blades that the others could strengthen with their Chi. Briefly, he had considered trying to find weapons they could use at the order, but all the serviceable ones were locked away. The thought of approaching Arms Master Gregor dissuaded him of the notion.

Nyx walked around the shop, carefully inspecting the items on display. He stopped at a rack rubbing the fabric of a dark green backpack between his fingers. It was well designed with two large pockets, made from thick waterproof fabric that should be able to hold the weapons he purchased. With the bag in hand, he continued to look through the display cases.

The gruff voice of the tattooed man interrupted his search. "Either you have been in quite the accident or one gnarly fight." He pointed to the white scars the demon's claws had left on Nyx's arm. The scars had shrunk since reaching the second level of Basic, but wouldn't disappear entirely until he entered the Shaping stage of his cultivation.

"Oh these," Nyx lifted his arm, his fingers trailed down the white bumps. "Yes, it was quite a brutal fight, speaking of which, I am looking for your best blades. Have anything better than these?" Nyx nodded to what was on display.

The tattooed man narrowed his eyes not entirely sure if Nyx was joking about the scars. "Come with me. I keep the higher end stuff in the back."

The man fumbled with a set of keys, then finding the right one opened a side door. Inside the room were more shelves and some long metal drawers built into a wall.

He pulled open a drawer at chest height revealing rows of different sized blades resting on mossy green felt. "These are all hand forged Damascus steel. The maker is a well know craftsman and used eight kinds of metal in their creation."

Nyx ran a finger along one, then with tested its balance, then absentmindedly went through a series of maneuvers feeling it slice through the air with a whirring sound.

The man next to him scratched his chin raising an eyebrow, “Maybe you weren’t joking.”

Nyx was impressed by the quality of the weapons, at least for what he expected on Earth. These would be able to handle small amounts of Chi run through them.

Nyx felt coiling in his gut. It took him a moment to realize it was the storm swelling in his core. Just as he dropped the blade back into the drawer, pain exploded from his center. He wasn’t sure how long it lasted but it felt like forever. When the energy flowing through him subsided, he realized he was laying on the ground curled into a ball.

The shop owner was kneeling over him; concern etched into his face. “Are you okay son? Need me to call an ambulance?”

Nyx pushed himself up, wobbly getting standing back on his feet. This episode just proved to him he needed backup. “No, it’s passed. Thanks for your concern.”

“You sure?”

Nyx nodded, pointing to a set of three of the blades he had tested. "How much for those?"

The man ran his thick fingers through his beard eyeing Nyx like he expected him to pass out at any moment. "Those are some fine works. All are a meter long, full tang. They haven't been treated, but you can still see the markings where the steel was folded." He indicated the patterns in the metal of the blades. "Least I can take for them is a thousand-five hundred a piece."

Nyx didn’t bat an eye, though soon he would be broke again. "Tell you what, since I am buying all three I am willing to spend four-thousand for the lot."

Nyx could tell the man hadn’t expected him to purchase anything as he was already closing the drawer.

He turned to Nyx and stuck out his hand, "John by the way."

Nyx accepted the firm handshake.

"Alright, four-thousand it is. Go wait by the counter, ill box these up and bring em up front."

The bell rang again as Nyx left the shop, it had cooled off outside. The setting sun cast a red and orange glow across clouds that were moving his way. The backpack straps hugged his shoulders, and he could feel the extra weight from the swords in the bag.


 

Cadet's bustled around Nyx as he angled his way up to the buffet, into an open spot next to Gabe who was helping himself to some mashed potatoes. "Where are Matt and Marisa?" asked Nyx, using a pair of tongs to grab a juicy looking steak, piling it onto his tray.

“Matt left to spend the night with his girlfriend,” answered Gabe, giving him a knowing look.

Nyx figured he was probably avoiding him, but it was for the best. “Let’s eat back in the apartment today. I have something to show you both in private," he said looking around suggestively at the bustle of people.

Once they were back in the room, they dug into their meals in comfortable silence.

Dan looked up from his plate. “I asked Joshua about your dad, he confirmed it. He also asked where you were. Wasn’t happy when we told him you were out for the day. In fact, Gregor decided it was the team’s fault and had us running the obstacles till Garry threw up."

Nyx tried to say sorry, but it came out a jumbled mess, his mouth stuffed.

Dan grunted, “Guess I can’t blame you for wanting to hunt the demons, but if we have to rerun those obstacles because of you.” He slid a finger across his throat.

Gabe scratched his chin, pulling out a chair and taking a seat at the small table. “About the new cultivation techniques, we tried looking ourselves earlier but couldn’t find any good ones. Maybe they are being kept in the restricted section.”

Nyx raised his eyebrow, smiling conspiratorially as he picked the dark green backpack off the ground and unzipped it. "We might have to give them a look. Anyways have another surprise for you."  He pulled out the three boxes that held the blades and pushed two across the table towards Dan and Gabe, keeping one for himself. 

Garry looked on with mild interest from the couch, shuffling his deck of cards absentmindedly.

Dan's eyes lit up when he pulled the lid off the box. "No way." He picked up the sword reverently, turning it around and examining it from different angles. The light caught the whirling pattern along the blades. Its handle was made from redwood with a glossy finish.

Nyx looked at Dan and Gabe, "How are both of you at weapon enhancements?”

Gabe looked down in embarrassment, pushing curls of his dirty brown hair from his eyes. “Well, they haven’t taught us how. Only the ranking teams learn the high-level techniques.”

Nyx scoffed. “High level?” when he saw Dan bristling, he revised the statement. “I don’t mean it as an insult, but I learned to do it when I was much younger. I can teach you both in under a week to become adequate.”

“I’m all ears,” said Dan.

“Alright, I need you to treat the sword as an extension of your body. Cycle your Chi through the sword in the pattern that lends strength to your limbs.”

Dan tested the sword's point of balance. It only wobbled slightly on his fingers. He Pulled Chi from his core, cycling it along his arm and then into the blade. Nyx's eyes followed the energy, more with his mind than his eyes. He could feel the bonds in the metal tightening under the energies influence.

Dissimilar materials needed slightly different rotations of energy, and the cycling Chi had to be tweaked for the difference. In metal, even a somewhat differing carbon count changed the needed technique. Dan's Chi moved erratically, though, more than likely on accident, occasionally he managed the correct patterns. Nyx spent the next hour instructing the brothers, Gabe having more natural talent than his brother when it came to cycling. Dan cursed as he lost focus and his blade returned to normal.

"You have the general idea. Remember, before you strike a demon you must strengthen the edge, or you might as well use a stick. We have one week to be prepared.” Nyx looked over to Garry. "Time to go over that array pattern."

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