The officers spent the remainder of the ride in silence, not so much as looking back at him. Buildings passed and gradually grew smaller till they were no longer in the city. Nyx allowed himself to relax, feeling secure in the knowledge there was only circumstantial evidence against him at best.
The cruiser pulled into the station, parking beside several other cop cars. The precinct was built from painted white cinderblocks. An American flag waved out front, highlighted against a sky quickly growing dark and overcast. A pair of concrete stairs with metal rails led to the door, rusting where they were fitted together. The place felt stale, in the way of an airport or office building. A place of work but little life.
The reception area had uncomfortable looking wooden chairs lining a side wall, with a desk facing the door. The agent at the counter looked up, a bushy brown beard peeking over the papers in his hands. He nodded at seeing the two other officers. “Found him did ya?” he asked with a southern drawl. Nyx decided he didn't like the way this man eyed him.
“Got a tip,” James motioned for Nyx to follow. “This way.” They passed several offices with stacks of paperwork resting beside outdated computers.
At the end of the hall, a plaque read ’Captain Jarvis. The door was open, a middle-aged man with spikey greying hair and a neat goatee sat in his high-backed chair. He was focused on paperwork and didn’t notice Nyx’s eyes on him.
There was a massive amount of demonic energy swirling around the chief -- an ominous red. Neither of the officers with Nyx showed any indication of perceiving the thick power. Nyx calculated his odds and frowned, even if this demon had little combat knowledge, he wouldn’t Stand a chance. His gut clenched, and the chaos churned. Nyx forced down his rising heart rate before the chaos acted up and got him killed.
The hall opened into a room filled with the clack of keyboard keys and raised voices. Officers of lower rank sat at desks answering phones, while others had their eyes glued to computer screens. The hall to the left took them past several cuffed individuals sitting on a bench with officers keeping a close watch. The men were a tough sort, many with tattoos crawling all the way up their necks. They glared at him, one or two making rude gestures.
The door to the interrogation room shut with a sense of finality. It was a simple room with two large rectangular black windows. Nyx couldn’t see through them but knew others watched him from behind the dark surfaces. He took a seat at the metal table in the room’s center, back to the wall. James chose the one opposite, straitening his uniform before taking sitting. The mean looking officer with the shaved head remained standing just inside the room shutting the door behind them.
“Would you like something to drink? We have coffee and water, not many options I know,” said James smiling in the way of a kind uncle. It did nothing to alleviate the pressure between them. Nyx felt his nerves rise, the presence of the demon changed things.
Nyx shook his head. “I’m fine, what is this all about?”
The smile disappeared, “well Nyx,” he paused and Nyx felt a crawling sensation as the officer inspected him. “We have you on tape at about the same time two brutal murders were committed.”
James pulled a paper from the folder sitting on the table and pushed it across to Nyx. It was a picture depicting two bodies, one with a knife in the eye, and the other with its throat slit. One of the bodies was skinny while the other was a big man. The piggish nose he couldn’t forget.
Nyx pushed the picture away and shook his head. “Never seen them before.”
James softened his voice. “I am not accusing you. This was clearly the work of a professional." He looked Nyx up and down. "We checked your background, and you do not seem to fit the profile. What I am asking is if you remember seeing anyone or anything while you were at that seven-eleven."
Again, Nyx shook his head. “Can’t say I do.”
James pleasant expression turned down into a scowl. His partner’s deeper voice rumbled from by the door. “I reckon you are guilty. According to your foster father’s testimony, you have a habit of violence.”
Nyx felt a twinge of uncertainty as something probed at his core, the feeling akin to a spider crawling across his skin. He checked his veil, relieved when it was still in place, hiding his core. Another probing touch pushed against it, now more like a shark nudging its prey. Nyx reached out with his senses, searching the area around him. Through the black double-sided glass window, he saw a sea of angry red. The demon Chief, a specter of dark red smoke to his mind's eye, was prodding at him.
Nyx reinforced his veil, adding new structure with his soul. He kept his breathing natural knowing they couldn’t keep him here without evidence. “I have no information on this incident. I assume I am not under arrest? Am I free to go?”
James turned in his chair, looking back at his partner, who handed him another sheet of paper. He slapped it in front of Nyx. “This is a witness testimony placing you in direct confrontation with these dead men.”
Worry knotted up Nyx's insides, who could have seen him? Then he remembered the elderly lady. Of course, they would bring her in once they saw her on the tape. He shoved the testimony back across the table. This was bad. The demon was strong enough it might be able to pierce his veil if he stayed much longer. He shouldn't have to come in, but he wanted information he could find here.
James took out a pair of cuffs and Nyx remained silent as he was read his rights. The heavy metal clasped around his wrists. With gentle strength, James kept a firm hand on his back leading him from the room. He contemplated fighting free, but it might force the demon to reveal itself.
“Unfortunately, you can’t see a judge until tomorrow to get your bail set. You are going to have to spend the night in one of our cells.”
Back in the hall, men in cuffs eyed him from the bench. Nyx maintained eye contact with the largest and ugliest man, sauntering over. He ignoring James' calls for him to follow and kicked the man's leg hard enough to bruise, just below a rip in his wornout jeans.
“What are you looking at? You ugly bald Q ball,” sneered Nyx, then sealed the insult with a glob of saliva.
The man responded by shoving him away peeling his lip back with a snarl. “I’ll find you later kid, looks like we will be sharing a jail cell.”
Nyx slapped him in the face. Hard. A handprint welled up, and Nyx almost wanted to back away from the anger he saw, but instead, he smiled derisively. For good measure, before the officers could intervene, he backhanded two of the other men in cuffs as well -- two-handed. People tended to be braver in groups. The felon stood, towering over Nyx, a bull of a man. A Black tattoo of an eagle climbed into what remained of his hairline.
The officer nearest ordered him to sit back down. The man ignored him, muscles bulging as he forced his cuffs apart. Seeing the man next to them stand they two others Nyx had hit joined him. There was a quiet moment of indrawn breath, then the chain snapped.
Nyx had never seen an ordinary man use only brute strength to break a pair of cuffs. He could remove his own with ease, but this man's feat fascinated him. He stared into dark eyes -- dark orbs of black surrounded by a small ring of brown iris. He must have been on drugs, maybe PCP would explain the strength.
Nyx smirked at him, riling him further. A meaty fist connected with an officer that got too close, opening space for him to swipe a hand at Nyx. Ducking under the thick arm, Nyx stepped forward at an angle, closer to a hallway he hoped had an exit. Five officers including James, piled into the bullish man forcing him back. With a cry of rage, he threw them off, eyes locking onto the officer nearest him.
The door beside the interrogation room opened and Nyx felt all his instincts telling him to run. The police chief stepped out, swirling with latent power. Nyx was certain the demon could crush him like a grape. He forced himself to remain calm, predators could smell fear.
The beast stood in the doorway, licking its lips, gaze filled with inhuman fascination. It smiled as a baton thudded against flesh, and the drugged man bellowed, tossing the offending officer. Nyx stepped to the side, and the officer collapsed against the wall in a heap.
Slowly, Nyx knelt grabbing the keys from the unconscious man’s belt loop. He waited. The brute was causing mayhem with the two others helps. Officers yelled curses and pulled out tasers. They had less than the desired effect as the man shrugged off the wires. Nyx slipped down the hall and around a corner expecting someone to yell after him, but nobody did.
It was a dead end, no exit there. He cursed silently, trying the handle to the nearest door. It was locked. He went through the keys he had stolen, getting it right on the second try and slipped inside. After his eyes adjusted, he realized he was in a filing room. Grey metal drawers sat in rows. He heard the patter of feet running by outside, then there was a loud cracking noise, and the scuffle with the convict quieted. They would notice he was missing now.
Nyx frowned down at the cuffs on his wrists. His fingers flexed as he gripped the metal. He was surprised how easily they peeled off, pieces grinding against each other until the bands snapped free. He waited without so much as twitching to see if anyone had heard, then dropped the warped pieces of metal into a filing drawer. Outside there was more commotion, voices raised. He could feel the Demon nearby in the building, could almost sense it sniffing the air. Someone tested the handle from outside, and it rattled softly. Shit, he thought having forgotten to lock it. Stupid.
Nyx leaned back against the wall by the door, making himself small. It opened and a curly-headed officer peeked inside, eyes going wide when he saw Nyx. Nyx watched his adam's apple bob as he sucked in a breath and his hand shot out like a cobra strike, gripping him by the throat. He felt the man's neck crumble like an empty water bottle as he crushed his trachea. The man gurgled hands clawing at his neck. Nyx pulled him into room whispering an empty apology, feeling his gut twist. What choice did he have? He couldn’t very well let the man expose him. He shut the door, locking it this time. The man's face was turning purple, Nyx leaned down and snapped his head back, ending his struggle.
Nyx turned down the volume on the dead officer’s radio, waiting, listening. Two others tried the door but moved on when they found it locked. Only a few slivers of light found their way into the room, but it was enough for him to see. He waited a bit longer then began growing impatient, starting to pace. Quietly he pulled open the closest of the metal drawers and fingered through the files inside.
He made quick work opening and scanning through the various tabs labeling the different sections. He was halfway down the wall, going through the G's, when he pulled out a dark blue folder. He smiled at its contents, an upcoming sting operation on a local mafia family. He could use this; the file even listed the undercover feds who were in play.
As Nyx continued waiting, he felt a cloying sense of death in the air, subtle enough he had missed it before. There must be more just one demon in the place. He waited for the sense to fade and the sounds outside to cease, then left the room. He moved silently through the empty halls, backtracking through the station to the front.
He was almost at the exit without seeing another soul, when two officers walked in the door shouting as Nyx rushed them. The taller, slimmer one, with dark burgundy hair, reached for his gun. He was much too slow. Nyx scythed through them, and with two well-placed shots left them in unconscious heaps on the floor as he barreled outside. He felt the Chaos swirl slowly, as though in disappointment when he left them alive.
Nyx sprinted, diving into a bush rolling back to his feet, out of sight. He raced along the roadside feeling the wind rushing through his hair and buffeting his clothes. He heard a cop car long before it was visible and hid behind a tree waiting for it to pass, then continued up the road. Just a little further up the way, he made for the credit union situated across the street. It was a well-kept if quint establishment, the kind often seen in small communities.
With the file still tucked under his arm, Nyx pulled open the banks front door. He could only use cold hard cash from now on. The teller at the booth was a chunky woman with mousy brown hair. She appeared bored as she twiddled with a strand gazing into space. Other than the two of them the bank was deserted.
Nyx got her attention as he walked up to the counter. "I am looking to withdraw some funds." He said, forcing a pleasant smile onto his face.
The teller perked up from her boredom. “Depending on the amount, I will need to see two forms of Id.”
Nyx nodded and pulled out his wallet. “I only have a driver’s license and my bank card on me.” he gave her a hopeful look. “Can we make that work? It would be a real hassle to have to go all the way back for another form of ID.” He gave another smile he hoped was charming.
The teller started twirling her hair again. “I’m Jessica... I guess that will work.”
Nyx followed the sidewalk jogging in the direction of the used car dealership he had seen earlier. He clutched a bag containing the rest of his money, amounting to six-thousand-five-hundred dollars. The breeze had stiffened, blowing in more clouds that darkened the sky. Nyx felt a light drizzle tickling the back of his hands and face. In the distance thunder rumbled, a storm was brewing.
Nyx ears picked up the sound of a police car, he quickly hid in the undergrowth by the road, waiting for it to pass him. More cop cars left the station, but Nyx’s senses picked up on them before they came into view.
Up ahead were rows of colored flags waving in front of a red building. A sign with sizeable red letting read, ‘Bob's Used Vehicles’. At the back of the lot, Nyx began inspecting the various cars keeping a careful eye on the road. They had the price and information painted on the windshield in white lettering.
Nyx eyes lit up when he saw a used black mustang, priced at six-thousand. It had deeply tinted windows that would suit him perfectly.
A salesman with a neatly trimmed beard and shiny slicked back hair came out on seeing Nyx inspecting the car. “I see you have good taste! That is the 2006 ford mustang GT, fully loaded with a v8 engine. We replaced the brake pads and gave it an all-around tune-up.” He pointed to the car's wheels, “Tires are fairly new, should still have another good forty-thousand miles on them.”
Nyx was skeptical. The price seemed low even for a 2006 used model. “How much?”
The salesman pointed to the listed amount. “Six-thousand is as low as we can go, and that is only possible because we are overstocked and need to clear out inventory.”
Nyx nodded, “I'll take it, I am paying in cash, but I need the title of ownership left blank.”
The salesman paused, but when Nyx tipped his bag showing the bills inside he quickly plastered on another smile. “Certainly, it won’t be a problem.”
Half an hour later Nyx placed the paperwork for the Mustang on the passenger seat along with the file from the police station and remaining cash. He now had less than five hundred dollars to his name. The rain outside was pouring down, leaving splotches on the folder he had snagged from the station. The paint had been cleared off the windshield and the cars black exterior glistened with the water droplets pooling on the surface.
The car’s interior had the smell of faded leather, a wintergreen air freshener hung from the rearview mirror. Nyx turned the key in the ignition, and a satisfying rumble greeted him.
A police cruiser passed on the road in front of him. It had grown dark outside, and with the extra protection of the tinted windows, Nyx didn't think he could be identified. The car's engine revved as he pulled out onto the road following in the same direction the cop car had gone. Shortly Nyx parked beside Gabe's Honda in the parking garage. Sheets of rain pelted the pavement as he ran out from cover. His clung to him, wet with rainwater by the time he entered the surface tunnel. He pulled the file and remaining cash from under his shirt. They had protected for the most part.
“Uhm what’s this about?” asked Garry when Nyx placed the paperwork for his new car by the keyboard, beside a fanned-out deck of cards.
“Can you do me a favor? I need the title of this car placed it under an alias. I am kind of in a spot of trouble.”
Garry's eyebrows drew close as he ran his hand through his hair. There was an excitement bubbling below the surface. "This isn't going to be easy." He looked up at Nyx, seeming to consider something. He looked like he was about to say something else but couldn’t get the words out.
Nyx waited, but when nothing was forthcoming, he patted Garry on the back. “Thank you. How are you feeling after the facing a demon for the first time? Dan was quite messed up afterward.”
Garry’s eyes glazed in memory, he shivered. “I made a mistake. Didn’t create an array around myself, I was also too weak to shield three people, I need more practice… The fear…” he paused as though considering how to phrase his next thought. “I tend to always be in my head thinking... about… stuff. The fear wasn’t logical. It didn’t make sense.” He couldn’t meet Nyx’s eyes when he next spoke. “Joshua wants to see you in his office.”
Nyx nodded, “I’ll leave you to it, thanks.”
Joshua was seated behind his desk, Nyx could sense a slow-burning frustration in him. Neither of them spoke for a while, just watching each other. When Joshua finally spoke his baritone held a particular flavor of regret. "Would you like to know what finally got your father killed? It was his arrogance in thinking he knew best. You can challenge the rules but in the end, all you are doing it endangering everyone. I fear you are running a similar course, and it is my duty to direct you onto a steadfast path. I am revoking your access to the surface."
Inside Nyx was seething. Who was Joshua to give him commands? How many lifetimes had he lived? He had not seen a fraction of what Nyx had lived through. Nyx kept all these feeling to himself only nodding, his voice still steady. "Technically, I am still not a student correct? Considering the loophole you used to get me early admission."
"Where are you going with this?"
"Well since I'm early, how about you let me continue to have access to the surface. In return, I will promise to compete in your little tournament."
Joshua scratched his smooth-shaven chin as he regarded Nyx, some light appeared deep in his eyes with a cold calculation of probabilities. "Alright, but you are still going to have to answer to Gregor and your other instructors for skipping though."
Nyx Returned to the living area and motioned for Dan and Gabe to follow him. They gave each other a look before shrugging and getting up to trail him from the apartment complex. He was sure they could sense the embers of frustration still gnawing at him, darkening his mood. Matt stayed behind, but something about the way he watched them leave made Nyx think he would ask if he could join. He didn’t.
Once in the central training area, Nyx had them both grab a pair of practice swords. It was late with few other cadets around the cavern. Only the dedicated remained to prepare for the tournament. He recognized many of them as cadets who had laughed when he passed them in the halls. They watched Nyx’s team passing by, nudging each other and whispering low. Nyx claimed a patch of turf between two large combat circles.
“Grab a practice weapon. I want to see you both move with them.”
The brothers demonstrated their footwork cuts and parries and went through several forums taught by the order. He decided they were incompetent, noting many mistakes in the way they moved, leaving far too many openings. He had seen them practice during the classes before, but now he focused on the intricacies of their movements. He had them make adjustments to accommodate their different builds and natural tendencies until he was satisfied.
“Now we will practice through combat. Every night we will come here to spar, during the day it is up to you both to practice, correcting weaknesses exposed during the sessions.”
Oddly enough it was Gabe who spoke up. Nyx thought Dan would be the one to question him. "What about your episodes? What can you teach us anyway?"
“I think the seizures have stopped for the most part.” He ignored the second question.
Gabe shrugged. Dan’s eyes were still red from a sleepless night, but not as bad as that morning, he didn’t say anything but seemed ready to go.
Nyx continued, “Let’s start this with the two of you against me, then end the session with one on one bouts.”
Gabe’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t think that’s fair.”
“You can decide that soon enough.”
The brothers moved in cautiously swords raised. Gabe was stiff as he stepped, and Nyx took advantage stepping forward and attacking with a high cut. Gabe hesitated, failing to raise his sword in defense. Nyx's slowed his strike at the last moment, to stop against Gabe’s neck, in the same manner, the demon's claws had done in the alley.
“Stop thinking so hard; you did the same thing against the Harpy, relax and let yourself flow.”
Nyx sensed Dan coming from behind, trying to use the opportunity to drive his sword at his exposed back.
Nyx flicked his weapon in a crescent motion behind himself, deflecting the half-assed strike. "You too, don't hesitate. I want you both to fight like I'm a demon."
Nyx whirled around the brothers like a bird of prey. He let them get close to hitting him, but never quite. He shouted advice while deflecting blows and leaving openings to ingrain in them which attacks to seek. He did his best to replicate their abilities and fight at their level, to give them the chance of experimenting and developing their styles.
“When you watch your opponent don't focus on his chest, eyes, arms or legs,” said Nyx when he noticed Dan’s eyes locked onto his. He looked down and attacked high landing a bruising strike. “Misdirection.” He explained, “Let your vision take in the entire threat. Relax into it.”
As the sparring progressed, Nyx began to feel an excitement, a euphoria that begged him to push the pace. It wanted him to injure, to raise panic. It took him a while to realize it was the Chaos. He rejected the temptations. They were just a fog in his mind, easily banished. It reminded him of the way fear invades the mind subtly confusing clear thinking. It is pervasive and hard to shake but just a figment of the mind.
Gabe attacked Nyx with a barrage of strikes failing to notice the openings he was leaving.
“Tighten up your guard,” said Nyx, “wide attacks and defense leave holes easy to exploit.” Gabe didn’t seem to understand, so Nyx paused to demonstrate. He made sure Gabe had the motions down before they continued. “Remember, always return to your centerline after any movement. Only once you learn all the rules can you begin to break them.”
The brother’s faces were focused as they continued trying to pressure Nyx. Slowly he could see them adjusting to his style of instruction. Let the order teach them through repetition.
Sweat glistened on Gabe and Dan when they called it quits. Nyx might as well have gone for a light jog as only a thin sheen of perspiration highlighted his muscles and brow.
Dan was still gloomy, but Nyx had seen a small smile or two during the training. “I think at least once or twice I almost had you,” he said, lips drawn into a thin line.
Nyx nodded his head, “sure you did.”
In truth, they hadn’t come close, only when he had let them on purpose. But maybe, just maybe, eventually he could mold them into generals. Leaders of men and pillars of strength for the battles to come.
Gabe regarded Nyx sadly. “It is too bad you are a mutt, or with skills like yours...” He wiped away beads of sweat from his temple using the back of his hand.
“It’s too late for me to worry about that now.”
Although feeling the Chaos messing with his thoughts was disconcerting, Nyx was pleased. Ever since he had started to work in tandem with the chaos, rather than force it, he hadn’t been shocked.
While they headed back across the field, Nyx heard voices follow them, just loud enough to hear.
“It’s almost cute. They think they have a chance.” Whispered a young man holding a staff for his weapon to the muscular girl beside him. He had scruff on his face that grew in patchy clumps. He recognized them as from the tenth ranked team.
Nyx ignored them, while Gabe whispered urgently, trying to stop Dan from going over and confronting him.
“Save it for the tourney. They would crush you right now,” said Nyx gripping Dans shoulder. He had to reach up to do it. Dan might be lean to the point of being skinny, but he was also tall. “Don’t worry, we will get you beaten into shape.”