After questioning the shop owner, they found themselves in front of an orphanage. The building itself was taller than the buildings beside it. Approximately about five-story height. Through the window, Jonathan saw this orphanage had it all, from playroom to classes to dorms to a dining area and even a garden on the roof.
Pretty fancy for an orphanage. However, Jonathan could guess where their funding came from judging by the name alone. Headmistress Victoria must have poured a lot of her wealth into this orphanage until her name was used to name it.
“Something bothering you?” asked Jonathan after he noticed Eri’s uneasiness.
Instead of answering Jonathan’s question, she walked ahead toward the door. Jonathan shrugged at that and followed her lead. They entered the orphanage and were greeted by a homey hallway. Traces of crayons in the shape of children’s drawings can be seen on the bottom wall suggesting the children here have a carefree and happy life.
“I’ll talk to the children while you go meet with the staff,” said Jonathan as he continued forward and turned around the corner.
Jonathan stopped in the doorway, observing the ongoing class. The teacher in front was none other than Lucy, and she seemed to be reading a children’s book aloud for the small children. They were cheering and gasping at every dramatic moment of the story. Lucy was happy to play along with their antics.
He took a seat at the back of the class. Lucy noticed the young man clad in black at the back of the class, she tilted her head for a quick second and continued the story. The reading ended with tons of praise and claps from the kids.
“Boys and girls, it seems we have a guest today. How about we give him a nice welcome?”
The children gave their warmest welcome to Jonathan. It caused the young man to fluster a bit, he scratched the back of his head.
“Can we ask for your name, sir?”
“Uhm…” Jonathan couldn’t possibly tell them his real name, not right in front of Lucy, but coming up with a name right now is more difficult than he imagined. “It’s Jay. Call me, Jay.”
Lucy raised her eyebrow at the suspicious young man. “Mr. Jay, what is the reason for your visit?”
Before Jonathan could give her an answer, a staff member interrupted our moment and gestured at the red-haired Nephilim. “Lucy, someone here wants to ask you a few questions. It’s important.”
“What about the kids?”
“They will be fine. It will only be for a quick second.”
“Uh, sure.” Lucy turned to the kids with a bright smile. “I will be back in a second, so don’t cause trouble for our guest, okay?”
The children answered with a resounding yes. Lucy followed her coworker into another room, leaving Jonathan alone with a room full of kids. They all stared at him with curiosity. One of them stepped forward. “Mr. Jay, are you a bad man?”
“What? No. What makes you think that?”
“Usually, when people with masks came, they always took us away.” said the kid with a frown. “Are you going to take us away?”
“Nope, not at all. I’m here… to find something. So, tell me why did the people with masks take you away?”
Jonathan’s question hit them hard enough to change the entire mood of the room into somewhat somber. A kid tugged the bottom of his shirt after stepping forward. “Our parents don’t want us because we’re different.”
“I see.” Any more questions about it were unadvisable. It might tip the mood of the room to a point beyond return, making Jonathan’s job even harder than it is. He’s not here to make them sad. He’s here looking for answers. Jonathan needed to lift the room spirit a bit before he started prying them for information. “Want to see something cool?”
Their eyes brightened in excitement. It’s far from their happy mood when Jonathan first got here, but it’s better. Jonathan left the seat and proceeded to dig into the school supplies for a marker and paper. He drew a target in the form of a circle, then stuck it on the wall. “I bet I can hit that target three times in a row with knives while my eyes are closed.”
Most of the kids don’t seem that excited by Jonathan’s challenge. Perhaps they will be more excited by the demonstration than the concept of it. Jonathan covered the mask eyeholes with his hand. He took a single long breath, then in quick succession, he threw three knives right on dead center. Each throwing knife landed close to the other, almost without a gap between them.
“Ta-dah!” Jonathan turned and extended his arms apart.
Jonathan expected them to look at least impressed at his display of skill, but none of them were that excited by it. To add more salt to his bleeding pride, they gave him a sympathetic cheer. It was so insincere, he almost fell to despair.
“Sorry, Mister. But Lucy showed us more amazing stuff than that.”
“Okay. I have to step it up.” Jonathan dug into his pockets, trying to think up a better act. A piece of paper scrunched up between his fingers. He took it out to find the small paper with Nicol’s drawing of a Sigil. “How about we do a bit of magic?”
That offer seemed to have a bigger effect on them than Jonathan expected. The children straightened their backs and glanced at each other with a confused look. One of them spoke up. “We can’t do magic… that’s why our parents don't want us.”
“Oh, I mean it doesn’t hurt to try. How about it?”
They nodded their heads with excitement.
“Okay, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. I’m no master. Everyone picks up a pencil and a piece of paper. We need to draw it small.” Jonathan showed them how to draw the Sigil according to Nicol’s drawing. After everyone was done with their Sigils, Jonathan made sure the drawings were correct. Then he hovered his hand above the Sigil.
“We need to focus and let your spiritual energy flow into the sigil. With enough magic, it should activate the Sigil.”
Most of the kids closed their eyes, sweat dripped down their tiny foreheads. They're really trying hard to get the Sigil to work. It made Jonathan feel bad for even suggesting the exercise in the first place. However, a miracle happened right before Jonathan. Well, sort of. Instead of one child for each Sigil, they partnered up into two and combined their effort.
Each Sigil activated by their combined efforts, slowly every one of those drawn paper crumpled up into a ball and turned into light. It floated upward like a balloon, filling the empty air above with a sea of bright orbs.
It was an incredible sight to behold and what’s more incredible were the gleams of hope in their eyes. The children were exhausted from activating the Sigil alone, but one could not deny the wonderment in their gaze. Jonathan noticed a kid having trouble with her Sigil. She had no partner because there were not enough children, but it didn't stop her from trying.
“Let me help you with that.”
Jonathan kneeled beside her and poured his own spiritual energy along with hers to activate the Sigil. The young man might have overdone it. The Sigil became a light orb alright, but it’s the biggest one yet. It was so big it grew bigger than the little girl herself. Jonathan pulled the kid aside and let it float among the rest. Still, she was still overawed by it.
A few children stood up, then tried to reach for the orbs. Unfortunately, they were too short to touch it, but it didn't stop them from trying. One by one, the light orb began to disappear. When it did, they gathered around Jonathan with wide eyes. “Teach us more, Mister.”
“Hmm, most Sigils I know are too dangerous for me to teach. Sorry, guys.” Jonathan shrugged.
“Aww,” every last one of them let out a disappointed sigh.
“If I learn more, I’ll make sure to teach you guys.” Though they were still disappointed, Jonathan’s promise managed to slightly lift their spirits up. “Anyway, have any of you rascals seen Ricky lately?”
“Are you a friend of Uncle Ricky?”
“Sort of, I’m looking for him.”
“He was here. He said he had a date.” A few started to giggle at the mere mention of a date. “Uncle Ricky is like us, you know,” said another kid.
“Hmm, did he leave anything behind?”
“Uhm, he did borrow a locker from us.”
A kid pointed at the short locker made for children. It’s entirely colorful and made from plastic without any sharp edges. Jonathan made his way to where the kid was pointing. “Is it this one?” They nodded their heads.
Unsurprisingly, it was locked, but not for long. The key he found in Anthony’s home, the teeth were too simple for any standard lock because it wasn’t meant to lock anything of importance. It was made for a children’s locker. When he slid the key in, it was a perfect fit. A single turn was enough to unlock the locker.
He opened it but instead of giving him an answer, the item inside raised more questions.
In the Nephilim embassy, a certain Nephilim grew in anger as his grip tightened around the red letter, leading it to be crumpled. He slammed his fist against the desk, surprising his attendants. The ambassador let out a long breath while resting his forehead against his hand. A lock from his slick black hair had come undone. He pushed it back and stiffened his shoulders.
“The top ranks are breathing down on my neck. I’ve got an unknown force demanding favor out of me. Damn them and their threats. Tell me, Captain, how did three highly trained Shadow Walkers die?”
“From the report, one highly trained man was able to see through our men’s veils. They engaged, both nearly wiped each other, but in the end, the unknown man managed to persevere. But, there is also something disturbing. The report stated that the bodies were decapitated after death.”
“Decapitated? Who would do such a thing?” He raised his sight to meet with the slightly overweight man, who is the captain of his guards.
“An Inquisitor. Possibly employed by the Academy.”
“An Inquisitor? But, it has been ages since the last one. Why now?”
“My team concluded it had to do with the death of our spy in front of the embassy.”
“I supposed this spy was the one tasked to investigate the origin of the blackmail?”
“Did he find anything substantial before his demise?”
“Half my leg is in a freaking grave. Even if I survive the investigation from the top ranks, either The Academy or the unknown force will be my demise.” He tapped his foot repeatedly while he glared at the glass of whiskey on his desk.
“I suggest slowing down the Inquisitor first while another group of Shadow Walker burns any evidence that may lead to you, Sir.”
“That would be a good idea if I can order the Shadow Walker without making a fuss with the top brass. However, we only need one to slow down the Inquisitor while we use the soldiers in our pockets to settle the rest.”
“Who should we call?”
“Send in The Florist.”
The captain’s eyes widened at the mere mention of the name. “Sir, isn’t that a bit excessive?”
“Is it excessive? Three Shadow Walkers are dead. They are not just regular soldiers, Captain. Whoever defeated them is someone we shouldn’t underestimate.”
“Understood, Sir. I’ll send the letter. He should be able to arrive here in two days while I brief the soldiers here on the new mission. That might solve our first predicament, but what about the blackmail?”
“We play along for now. Make sure those three from the Academy finish their task.”
“Will do, Sir.”
Outside the orphanage, Jonathan and Eri walked toward the carriage. The silver ring in his hand was the treasure he found from the locker. It had no inscription or any mark on it whatsoever, and it looks quite new to be a family heirloom. Jonathan clicked his tongue in frustration, he was anticipating some sort of answer or perhaps another lead, but it raised more questions with this ring.
“What did you find?”
“This ring.” Jonathan tossed the ring to Eri for her to take a closer look.
“There’s nothing abnormal about this ring. Is this the only thing you found?”
Jonathan’s gaze wandered to a food stand nearby, his stomach growled. The absence of lunch finally got to him. In fact, he hasn't had anything to eat since this morning. Today has been somewhat busy.
Eri handed the ring back to Jonathan.
“It’s the only thing inside. The kids told me that our victim borrowed the locker a week before his disappearance. What about you?”
Rather than overthink the cause of his hunger, Jonathan broke from Eri’s side and headed toward the food stand. Eri noticed Jonathan’s disappearance and followed him. They arrived at the food stand. The stand offered a particular set of food; a mix of mincemeat and vegetable wrapped with flatbread.
“Welcome. Welcome. New customers.” The owner was a Nephilim brute so large that the food stand was almost comically small to him. He had muscles bigger than Jonathan’s head. Yet, no matter how intimidating he looks, the Nephilim wore a warm smile that put his customer at ease.
“One of those, please. Fewer vegetables, more meat.”
“Spicy or regular?”
“I love me a good spicy meal.”
“Spicy it is.” The Nephilim started to assemble Jonathan’s meal.
The hair on the back of Jonathan’s neck suddenly stood, someone or something had its sight on him. Even though it was subtle, Jonathan’s behavior had slightly shifted. His eyes wandered to the reflecting ladle hung beside him.
A creature the size of a small child crouched in the dark alley. The creature reminded Jonathan of the Redcap he had encountered before. Except this creature didn’t wear a red hat, but it dressed better than them and behaved more intelligently. Whatever it was, Jonathan was not going to let it go.
Jonathan sneaked out a throwing knife with a Sigil etched on it. His action was so sudden, it didn’t give Eri any time to respond. The knife flew past the creature and with a snap of his fingers, a blast of air threw it out of the alley and into the street.
“What the?” said Eri as she turned around to the face-planted creature. “A goblin?”
“W-What’s going on?”
“A goblin… hmm.” Jonathan stored the wrapped food into his pocket, then left the food stand. He squatted down beside it. “Say Goblin, why are you watching me?”
“Issa did not mean harm. Forgive Issa,” plead the Goblin in a high-pitched raspy voice.
“Issa, is that your name?”
“Yes, Issa is this humble creature’s name. Issa wants help. Issa is afraid of the man in dark clothes.” The Goblin seemed to be speaking for himself in the third person.
“What kind of help?”
“Small children in danger,” said Issa.
“Jay!” called out Lucy as she rushed out from the orphanage with a troubled look.
Jonathan turned to face the panting young woman. “What’s wrong?”
“One of the children is missing. Can you help us find her?” asked Lucy
“Yes, children. Issa saw her in the sewer. Near Issa’s village. Danger. Very Dangerous.”
“Show us where the child went,” said Jonathan.
The goblin led them to a manhole in the alley. Issa took out a short metal rod with a small cross at the end, he slid it into the keyhole and turned clockwise before using a bit of leverage to lift it open. Inside it was a dark tunnel that probably stretched throughout the city.
“Is there any light down there?” asked Jonathan.
“Goblin good at seeing in the dark, we don’t need light, but Issa left a lantern down there for man to help.”
“What kind of danger is she in?” asked Eri.
“A bad creature roamed the tunnels. It stinks of death. Goblin does not go near. Issa finds help. Issa found you.”
“Jenny is just a child. We need to help her,” said Lucy.
Jonathan has no desire to go into the sewer. There are too many unknown variables as it is. He doesn’t know the layout. His sight will be limited even with the lantern. There’s also a creature that stinks of death as the goblin described it. The Goblin was terrified of it, so it shouldn’t be underestimated. So, it’s better to wait for more manpower than tackle it alone.
“No, we stay here and call for help. It’s better if we don’t take any unnecessary risk.”
“We can’t leave a child down there, in the dark and alone,” argued Lucy.
“You’re correct, but it won’t do anyone any good if we get hurt trying to get to her or worse.”
“The child might be in danger,” said Eri, but before Jonathan could reason with her, she jumped down.
“Eri!” shouted Jonathan, but she already made her way forward. “Damn it. Go get help, Lucy. I’m going down there.”
“Be careful down there. And thank you.” Lucy left his side and ran toward the closest Security Office.
Jonathan jumped down and landed on the hard concrete floor. He saw the lantern the goblin talked about and proceeded to turn it on. With its magical crystal, the lantern glowed brightly enough for Jonathan to see at least a few meters in front of him. The goblin jumped down to accompany Jonathan.
Eri can be seen walking away from Jonathan. He caught up to her with the Goblin behind him. “Going alone is an unnecessary risk, you know that right?”
“Saving a child is not an unnecessary risk. It shouldn’t be considered a risk at all. If a child is in danger, we help. Period. No argument.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” sighed Jonathan. “I admire your heart, but don’t tell me you suddenly cared for them. I can tell you felt uneasy with those children the moment you read that orphanage sign.”
Eri glared at Jonathan before keeping it forward again. “True I felt uncomfortable with them because I never met one of them. I only heard stories and rumors. Most people called them Cursed Child. As the name suggests they are cursed, their ability to use the spiritual energy is either too minuscule to do anything or nonexistent.”
“So, in a world governed by magic, a non-magic user is a disability. Is that why their parents threw them away?”
“Unfortunately, yes. The hogwash part about it was most of those children’s parents are well-off, some were probably an aristocrat. People with titles. It’s not like they can’t afford to raise them, they chose not to.” The anger on Eri’s face was clear even in the dim-lit sewer.
Jonathan sighed loudly. He needed to change the subject before the atmosphere worsened to the point of no return. “It’s a stupid question, but can you see in the dark?”
“Yes, I can.” Her eyes remained forward. “Undine lives in the deep ocean. Our eyes can adjust to the dark.”
“Cool, glad to know that.” There was another question that bothered Jonathan. “While you were questioning the staff, did you find anything about our victim?”
“Nothing substantial. He has a habit of coming to the orphanage and bringing freshly baked bread to give to the children. He didn’t mingle with the staff that much except for Lucy, but most time he came when she was in charge of the class.”
“Hmm, I guess the dock is where we need to go next. Perhaps the victim’s crush can shine a light on our investigation.”
They arrived at an intersection, Eri glanced around her but was stumped on which way to go next. However, Jonathan didn’t worry that much because they have a local guide with them. He turned to the Goblin. “Can you show us which way the child took?”
The Goblin enthusiastically nodded with a big smile. “Issa will show.” He took a left and gestured to his saviors to follow. “Issa’s home another way. Good village. Miss Victoria gave goblins jobs and homes. Goblins took care of the sewer. Goblins love sewers. Dark and clean. Good home.”
As they ventured further, Jonathan noticed a sense of stickiness underneath his soles. A lingering stink stabbed his nose, he knew this scent well. The stench of death. Eri noticed it too and so did Issa. They were getting close, and that caused Jonathan to be more cautious. He prepared a throwing knife in his hand.
A set of light footsteps was coming toward them. Eri took out her trident while Issa hid behind Jonathan. However, before Jonathan could use his throwing knives, the undine stopped him by moving the trident in front of Jonathan.
A young girl appeared from the shadows with puffed-out eyes. A small Nephilim child with black wings and blonde hair. Her eyes widened in her relief when she saw the undine. She immediately rushed to her and wrapped her arms around Eri’s leg. She sobbed furiously.
“It’s going to be alright.” Eri kneeled to pat the young girl on the back.
“I fell in a hole and got lost,” explained the child.
“Let’s go. I don’t like this place.” Jonathan was getting restless at his surroundings, even his tremble has been acting up.
Eri nodded before she carried the young girl in her arm while holding a trident in another. Issa showed the way back to where they came from. Nothing happened to them on their way out and that was a good thing.
Arriving underneath the open hole above, Eri lowered the child from her grasp and tousled her hair for trying to hold her tears in. The young girl reached into her pocket and took out a small gold coin. It looks ancient, Jonathan had never seen that kind of coin before even Eri was surprised as he was.
“I found this when I got lost. Uhm, I want you to have it,” said the child with grateful eyes.
Eri took it into her hand.
“Aww, what about my gift?” Jonathan pouted with crossed arms and dramatic flare.
“Uhm. Uhm. I’m going to make something for you,” said the child with a bright smile.
“A handmade gift?! Take that Eri,” laughed Jonathan as he turned to look at the undine, every instinct in him had gone haywire. He never felt so much fear, not for himself, but for the child.
Her trident fell to the floor and that was the first sign something had gone wrong. An undine will never let her trident fall to the floor on purpose. They valued those tridents like they value their soul.
Eri pulled back her fist and readied to send it through the child’s face. With her strength, there’s no doubt that her tiny head would explode if she was hit by that kind of force. Jonathan gritted his teeth and forced every muscle in his body to move. If he wanted to save the child he needed a miracle or… the next best thing, a sacrifice.
Jonathan grabbed the child’s shoulder with his left hand and pulled her away while using his right hand to push against the wall, so he had the momentum to send the kid away. Fortunately, the child was spared, but at the cost of Jonathan’s right arm. It was the same outcome Jonathan had expected to happen if someone like him tried to stop an undine straight with his body.
A cry of pain escaped Jonathan’s throat as Eri’s fist broke his arm in half. Despite that, Jonathan managed to reduce the damage by removing his arm from her fist before it burrows into the concrete wall. A doctor can still fix a bone broken in half, but a pulverized mash of bone and meat? No even the best medical practice in the world can do anything about it.
With his working arm, Jonathan grabbed the young girl by the collar and tossed her through the hole above him. Now that she was secured, he turned to the goblin and ordered. “Run.”
Both of them ran as fast as they could. A glance behind, Jonathan saw she pulled her fist out of the concrete wall and chased after him, leaving her trident behind. It was too dark to see where Jonathan was going, but he was pretty sure that he and the goblin had been separated along the way.
It was the third time Jonathan had run up against the wall, he didn’t know whether Eri was still chasing after him or she was chasing the goblin. He leaned back against the wall and in complete darkness, used a bit of blood to draw an orb of light Sigil on the wall. He activated it and finally, he gained enough sight to know where he was.
No sign of Eri, but Jonathan needs to keep moving. With help from the light Sigil he drew on paper, Jonathan carefully explored the sewers with a broken arm. The darkness. The silence. The obvious pain. He felt like shit and he hates dark.
1… 2… 3… 4…5…
“Focus. I got my knives. I can still do magic, but I can’t fight, not like this.” Jonathan whispered to himself. He gritted his teeth at the pain, then let out a surprised groan. “I can leave, can I? If I leave, she might hurt the next person who goes after her, or she might escape to the street and attack civilians, or she might get hurt herself. Damn it.”
“Why did she turn? The coin. It got something to do with the coin, but the kid was fine. What changed? Damn it. I can’t think straight with this pain. Okay. Okay... Okay. Deep breath.” He breathes in and breathes out. “I need to stop her first.”
He narrowed his eyes on his surroundings. The sewer was like a maze, but not every path led to a dead-end. He just needs to find the right path. Jonathan found it, immediately he began drawing an earth sigil. He activated it and formed a thick wall that blocked the path. However, by activating it, he caused the wall and floor to tremble.
Jonathan quickly turned and found a charging undine coming for him. He gritted his teeth and drew the last sigil. He jumped back, avoiding the incoming fist, but not before activating the Sigil. He proceeded to take out a throwing knife with a fire sigil and threw it into the shallow sewer water. Snapping his finger with his good hand, the sigil was activated and sent a cloud of steam around them.
With the undine distorted, he launched himself into a head start. After gaining a safe distance, Jonathan whistled for her attention and she came running toward him like a textbook predator.
He took a left and ran like hell. However, Jonathan felt himself getting slower due to his injury. He can’t make it like this. Jonathan shook the doubts out of his head and prepared to create another smokescreen. As he turned, Eri was too close to him, she grabbed his broken arm to the point of breaking the bone inside with a single grip. He can’t escape. No, that was an excuse, he is better than this.
An arm is just a tool, when a tool is broken, you either fix it or toss it away. The second was Jonathan’s choice, he made a large enough cut where his arm had been broken and with his strength, he tore it off with a pull. He then tossed the throwing knife into the shallow water and activated it. Another smokescreen filled the tunnels.
Jonathan ran, but this time, he didn’t bait the undine to come after him. He can’t use a light orb, or he will be giving his position away. There should be two paths before him, he needed to remember which one to take. However, the blood loss was affecting him more than he realized.
‘Trust your right.’ A faint familiar voice echoed inside his mind.
“Right…” Jonathan took the right and found himself where he needed to be.
Jonathan leaned against the wall and dropped till his buttock reached the floor. He unlatched his belt and slid it out from his waist. The blood loss needed to be stopped first, he tied the belt around his stump and stopped the blood with a tight tug.
He created an orb sigil on the floor. He could see the first knife he used in the shallow sewer water when he gained his sight. As clear as day, Eri crouched at the end of the tunnel in front of him. Her eyes were set on him. She charged toward him like a raging animal when her sight landed on him.
Jonathan grinned and took out the wrapped flatbread with meat and a few drops of blood and sewer water on it. He didn’t care whether his food was dirty or not, he was hungry, and he needed to eat. With a large bite, Jonathan enjoyed his food while Eri was charging toward him.
Suicidal? No, Jonathan isn’t the type to throw his life away that easily. Especially after he promised the golden woman. He will live and if life wants him dead, then screw life itself. His death is his choice.
Eri was getting closer, and there was no time to run, but Jonathan didn't even think of running. The wall and floor shook as Eri charged into what seems to be an invisible barrier. Her head almost split open, but an undine’s skin was tough, it did, however, create a massive cut on her forehead and knocked her out for good.
Jonathan had planned this from the very start. He knew he couldn’t fight her, that is why he created a trap. First, he erected a thick wall enough to stop an undine, and second, he drew a veil sigil on that wall and turned it invisible. For an undine, she couldn’t see, but for Jonathan, his eyes worked differently. It was as obvious as the sun. All that was left are bait and careful timing.
Storing his food back into his pocket, he dissolved the wall and walked toward the unconscious undine. He looked at the clenched right hand. It was weird she had attacked him with her left hand, but she was right-handed. He peeled her finger and opened her grip to reveal the coin. It was the coin all along, he took out his knife and flipped it away. A burnt mark in the shape of a coin had seared into her palm.
Jonathan flipped the coin into a piece of cloth he tore from his shirt and wrapped it carefully. He took a long breath, then tried to touch it with the fabric between his finger and the coin. Nothing happened. He let out a sigh of relief. He grabbed it, carefully wrapped it in the fabric, and stored it in his pocket.
After looking back the undine, Jonathan let another sigh before slipping himself under her and carried her toward the exit or at least to. He was frightened and focused until he met with the goblin, but Jonathan assured him that everything was fine and told him to lead them to exit.
“Issa help.” In his way, the goblin tried to reduce Eri’s weight by lifting her legs.
After arriving at the exit, Jonathan propped Eri against the wall while he waited for backup to arrive. However, his sense of safety was a false promise, the entire sewer was enveloped in total darkness.
A knife suddenly punctured his gut, but it only went halfway. Jonathan grabbed the attacker’s wrist, it was slender, the suspect was a woman. Jonathan took out a throwing knife with a fire sigil.
Her hands slid into his pocket.
He shoved the knife into her shoulder and activated it, causing a fire blast to separate them from each other. They both were flung across the sewer from the initial blast. Both the attacker and Jonathan suffered the full brunt of it. The total darkness disappeared and Jonathan regained his sight again but found his hand drowned in his blood.
“I’m totally having a bad day,” coughed out Jonathan. A small smile grew on his face.
Today was an uneventful day for a certain Changeling. After her morning talk with Jonathan, Ciara finally found hope that she wasn’t doomed to stay alone forever. The rest of the day was pale in comparison to the morning. After her class, she hurried to a store near her homestay for a time-limited sale. The store was selling half-price and high-quality fertilizer. She needed to get two bags for her garden.
When Ciara arrived, she was stunned to find the store jam-packed with tons of customers. Apparently, not just the fertilizer was half-price. The rest of the items in the store were half-price. The entrance was blocked from entry due to numerous people trying to get in. Those who can fly cheated their way in by using the second-floor window.
“Is that even allowed?” Ciara asked herself.
She slapped her cheeks together and toughened her resolve. There’s no way she’s going to give it up that easy. That half-price fertilizer shall be hers. She charged right into the crowd, though an unadvisable move as a sea of people swept her away from her intended path.
“Excuse me?” muttered Ciara as she tried to break free, but an accidental elbow to her face proved that her struggle was futile and painful.
After Ciara broke free from the crowd, the changeling found herself among the frozen food aisle which is ten aisles away from the gardening section. Her head dropped in defeat, and she let out a long sigh. Aching from someone who accidentally elbowed her in the face, she grabbed a pack of frozen peas from the refrigerator and pressed it against her cheek.
After she satisfied her bruise with the frozen pack, she neatly placed the pack back. Despite what happened, her resolve was still as strong as ever. She navigated through the tight gaps of the crowd, and never forgot to say sorry for pushing them.
However, she stopped when she heard crying coming from the cereal aisle. It was too high-pitched to be coming from an adult. Curiosity got the better of her, she wandered into the cereal aisle and was surprised to find a crying child. A small young girl whose age ranged from 6 to 8, her skin was red with a pair of small horns while on her back, a pair of cute bat wings fluttered nervously.
Ciara kneeled beside the crying child. “What happened, Little One?”
“My ankle hurts, and I can’t find my mom.” The child showed the changeling her slightly bruised ankle.
“That looks bad. Let me fix that first.” She placed her hand over the child’s bruise. A green light emanated from her hand, subsiding the swollen flesh.
“Woah, it doesn’t hurt anymore,” said the child with awe.
“Let’s go find your mom.” She offered her back to the child.
The small succubus climbed on Ciara’s, the changeling made sure she was secure before lifting her up. However, the child's weight appeared to be more than what Ciara could take, but that doesn’t stop her from trying, judging from her puffed-out cheek.
“Thank you, Lady.”
“N-No problem. Where did you last see your mom?”
“Somewhere with fishes.”
“Frozen aisle it is. Choo choo!” Imitating a train sound seems to put the kid in a high spirit.
When she leaves the cereal aisle, her eyes glanced at the gardening aisle. She caught a glimpse of the fertilizer. Unfortunately, there’s only a few left. She wonders if she's going to make it in time to buy one before they run out. A grumble of frustration escaped her but was immediately replaced by a train sound.
Arriving back to the frozen aisle, she twirled around to give the child a better look. “Can you see her?”
Suddenly, a crowd of people emerged from the corner and bumped into Ciara and her passenger. The shifting weight seems to be too much for Ciara. She stumbled forward until she accidentally face-planted against a hard pillar.
“Ouch,” muttered Ciara as she twitched her nose.
“Are you okay, Lady?” asked the kid while peering her head beside Ciara’s face.
“I’m okay. Thank god for this pillar. We almost fell down.” She patted the hardened surface, feeling a bit more bumps than what a pillar was supposed to have. After a closer look, it was no pillar after all. In fact, it was a person. To be more specific, a housemate of Ciara, Olivia The Banshee.
Ciara’s hand was placed against Olivia’s abs without her fully realizing what she was doing. Though there was a piece of fabric between her hand and Olivia’s abs, she still could feel the warm and defined muscle underneath. When she gained the full grasp of her action, her cheeks immediately grew hot and bright green. Even the top part of her ears was cursed by the same affliction.
Ciara immediately pulled her hand away and mumbled her words. “I’m - I’m - I’m sorry!”
Olivia doesn't seem concerned about the situation. Her sight traveled from the changeling and to the small succubus on the woman’s back. “You do know kidnapping is a crime?”
“This is not a kidnapping!” Ciara glared at the Banshee but found her gaze gravitated to the sword on her back. Olivia never seems to leave that sword behind, not even in class. “I’m helping this adorable girl find her parents.”
“This little succubus?” Olivia narrowed her eyes on the kid. Her gaze was so piercing that it intimated the child and caused her to hide her face behind Ciara. “Have you considered that the parent might purposely leave her behind?”
“What?” said Ciara with raised eyebrows. That same question caused the child on Ciara’s back to burst into tears. “Why did you say that?! Look at what you did to her,” scolded Ciara.
“I’m only telling her one of the possibilities, how is it my fault?” Olivia was dumbfounded at the angry changeling. In Olivia’s mind, she had done nothing wrong.
“She doesn’t mean it. Your mom didn’t leave you behind.” Even with Ciara’s words, she couldn’t calm the crying child.
Olivia crossed her arms, furrowed her eyebrows, and sucked in her lips. “You’re wasting your tears. The only person you can depend on is yourself.” It seemed her words have the habit of making the situation worse, the child cried even louder than before. After seeing Ciara struggle to calm the child, a certain feeling rose inside her. It was guilt. “Stop it, you brat. You’re causing trouble for Ciara.”
The child waved her arms in a fit of rage. The sudden weight shift was too much for Ciara, she puffed out her cheeks and tried to remain upright. However, her effort proved to be useless as she stumbled forward again. Before she could crash into her housemate again, Olivia grabbed Ciara’s shoulders and kept her steady.
“Oh, thank you.” Ciara leaned back. She found Olivia to be quite the odd person. Sometimes she was mean, but sometimes, she was gentle, demonstrated by her soft grip over Ciara’s shoulders.
The crying was still a problem, so it left Ciara with no choice but to use her species’ ability. Her eyes radiated a green light before she whistled strongly. It’s the type of whistle that not many people could hear because it was made for a certain creature. A green translucent canary appeared from her shadow. This creature, appropriately called Fairy, can choose many forms depending on the summoner’s spiritual energy.
Unlike many monsters, a Fairy is an intelligible creature. It cannot communicate through normal means, but it was proven that the summoner could understand it using a direct form of communication between mind to mind. Apparently, this fairy was pretty annoyed to be summoned as a children’s plaything.
However, Ciara’s apology managed to calm its anger and asked for its help. The translucent canary played around with the little succubus and stopped her from crying. Ciara can finally breathe out a long sigh of relief.
“Kerry!” A woman’s cry grabbed their attention.
An older succubus had her worried gaze on the little succubus latched on Ciara’s back. She immediately turned hostile toward the changeling. “I left her behind for a quick second and when I came back, she was gone. You’re the one who stole my girl. You and your kind can never be trusted.”
“Give back my child. You deceiver!” Her cuss drew the attention of the passerby.
The anger and attention had shrunk her inner self, she gently lowered the child down, but before the child could say anything, her mother pulled her into a tight embrace. The mother glared at the nervous changeling. “Security, there’s a kidnapper here!”
It was overwhelming Ciara, she didn’t know what to say, but when she made another accusation or event disrupts her train of thoughts. It seems everyone had deemed her a kidnapper just from the mother’s accusation. Till she was surrounded by security. Anything she said or explained was easily tossed aside.
The security stepped forward and reached for Ciara’s wrist. Suddenly, a long blade stood between the security’s hand and Ciara’s wrist. Tracing the blade to the handle, the wielder was none other than Olivia. She had no glare or a snide frown, only a neutral expression. “If you touch her without listening to what she has to say, I swear you won’t leave here without that arm of yours, and that goes to everyone here.”
The security took a step back while everyone near Ciara went quiet.
Ciara held her wrist and gulped her nervousness. “She was crying and lost when I found her. I was only helping her find her mom.”
“Like I believe you,” said the mother.
The child broke off her mother’s embrace, then stood between her mom and Ciara. “This lady was kind. She healed my ankle. Don’t hurt her!”
“But… you weren’t there where I left you.”
“I-I wanted to get my favorite cereal! I’m sorry, mommy.” The child’s confession had turned the crowd normal, they went about their way, giving no interest to the event earlier. Even the security shook their heads in disappointment and left, but not before they slightly bowed to Ciara, asking for forgiveness.
Ciara repeatedly waved their concern away with a guilty expression. She turned to Olivia with a bright expression. It was all thanks to Olivia that the crowd listened to her. If it weren’t for her, Ciara could be in jail by now.
The mother bowed deeply at Ciara, showing her regrets. “I was so worried that I didn’t think far ahead. I know what I did was horrible, but I’m asking you if you could forgive me.”
“It’s okay. It was my fault, I should have said something before everything went crazy.”
“You have a kind soul.” She bowed her head again before taking her daughter into her arms and left. The little succubus waved at her for the last time before they parted ways.
Ciara turned around to thank Olivia, but she was gone. She quickly glanced around, there were no traces of her. She had left without saying goodbye. It doesn’t matter, Ciara could still see her back home. However, she still has a mission to accomplish which is getting the half-price fertilizer.
She quickly launched herself into a run, but when she got there, the fertilizer had sold out. It was too late. There’s nothing she could do now. Perhaps luck could be on her side at the next sale.
She left the store with a disappointed hunch but quickly regained herself when the thoughts of knowing Olivia came to her mind. Ciara did notice something weird, Olivia was looking at scented candles before she bumped into her. She shrugged it away and kept on walking toward home.
However, her peaceful saunter was interrupted by a familiar group of Nephilims. The group pulled Ciara into a desolate alley away from prying eyes. They pushed the changeling against the wall, but despite the scary situation, Ciara strongly struggled against their grips. They finally let Ciara go, and the woman quickly raised an arm to protect herself.
“No one is going to save you now, little changeling,” said the vile Nephilim.
“What do you want from me?”
“Finally, you ask the right question. We have a job for you. It requires a skill only available to your kind, but we can’t tell you what it is yet. All you need to do is to be at this spot in two days from now.” He passed on a note to her.
“I don’t know what it is that you want, but I won’t do it. Not even if you hurt me.”
“You don’t know what we are capable of.” Despite the threat, Ciara’s resolve remained intact. “It’s not yourself, you should worry about.” The group turned their back on her and walked toward the street.
Ciara stopped them. “What do you mean by that?”
“Just do what we asked of you.” They disappeared around the corner.
The small paper crumpled under Ciara’s grip. She quickly rushed back home and headed straight to Jonathan’s room. She knocked repeatedly, but no one answered. With no choice left, she barged into his room and Jonathan was nowhere to be seen. She searched the house from top to bottom and still no sign of him.
Her housemate’s succubus, Melody, walked through the door and was surprised to see Ciara here. “Ciara, what are you doing here?”
Ciara rushed to Melody. “Where’s Jonathan?”
“Didn’t you hear? He got hurt badly. I thought you would be at the Academy’s infirmary by now.”
Overwhelming dread washed over Ciara, she immediately left the house without saying anything and headed straight to the academy.
Jonathan couldn’t see through the fuzziness, but he knew, he was laid on top of a hovering stretcher. The medical personnel brought him to the operating room. Bor was at his side along the way the moment he heard the call. Jonathan looked at him, he then pulled down the breathing mask to say something to the undine. “Eri needs you. Go to her.”
“But, Jonathan, you’re-”
“I will be fine. The doctors will fix me up. Just go,” said Jonathan with a tired smile before he was delivered into the operating room.
Bor was left behind in the hallway with blood-soaked hands. Ciara busted through the door and into the hallway with a sweat-covered face. She looked at Bor and saw the blood on his hands.
“Is Jonathan is going to be okay?”
“Jonathan in the operating room, but I think he will be fine.”
“What happened to him?”
Bor wasn't permitted to say anything due to Zey’s order, but truthfully, even he didn't know what happened to Jonathan. “I have no idea what happened.”
Ciara’s mind wandered to the worst possible answer, she slumped down on a bench and covered her face. “Was it my fault?” Ciara whispered to herself.
Bor wanted to say something to her, but his mind was occupied. Jonathan told him that he should be by her little sister’s side, and that’s what has been occupying his thoughts. From what he saw earlier, his sister may be hurt, but she wasn’t in a severe condition like Jonathan. Bor shook his head, then turned around and quickly rushed to Eri’s room.
Arriving at her sibling’s room, he gently opened the door and saw the nurses finishing up their care. He stopped the nurse with a question. “How’s her condition?”
The nurse smiled at him. “A minor head trauma, but the doctor already fixed her up. She will be out for quite some time. Are you a family member?”
“I’m her brother.”
"Perfect. If anything happens don't be afraid to call us. If you can excuse me, I need to tend to the other patients." The nurse left the room.
Bor was left alone with Eri, he turned his gaze to her. She let out a quiet but clearly painful moan. Bor turned to the door, wondering if he should call the nurse, but Eri seemed fine. He walked to her side and took a seat. His hand was hesitant to touch her younger sister's hand, but he tossed any inhibition away after hearing another painful moan from her.
Eri’s hand trembled upon touch, but it slowly calmed down after a while. It's odd, this whole thing reminded Bor of his time together with Eri back before he attended the academy. Eri would often have nightmares back when she was you, and Bor would always be there to calm her back to sleep.
In the operating room, Jonathan was in a loop of losing consciousness and waking up again. Everything was a blur as the doctors worked on his injuries, he felt the instrument touching his flesh and bone. The anesthetic helps with the pain, but it can only do so much. However, at times like this, an angel descended on him, a golden woman. When she rested her hand on Jonathan’s forehead, a soothing touch, unlike anything. Then all the pain inside his body was washed away in a river of warmth. She had always been there when he was in great pain.
Another hour passed, Jonathan slowly regained consciousness while he blinked away his slumber. He looked to his right, and it was what he had expected, his arm was missing even though he still could feel it there.
“You’re awake. We expected you to be asleep for a while before the herbs escape your body. Do you feel any slight discomfort or pain?”
“Nothing that I can’t handle. Thank you for asking.” Jonathan tried to sit up, but a striking pain attacked his belly and stopped him from moving.
“You shouldn’t move around like that.” The doctor came to Jonathan’s side and helped him lay back. “We may have closed your wounds, but your inside still needs time to heal. Please wait after a couple more treatments before you can move freely.”
“How bad is it?”
“You were lucky the blade didn’t hit any important organ, it also didn’t go deep enough to do enough damage. Your right arm, however, by the time we got your arm, it was in a bad condition. The risk of infection was high, so we couldn’t reattach it, but we are growing you a new arm and after a week, we will proceed with the surgery to reattach it”
“Growing my arm, is that possible?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand the question.”
“I’m new to the whole magic thing. I didn’t realize that growing a limb is possible.”
“Oh, I see. Yes, growing limbs from scratch have always been standard practice. We just took your old arm, then mapped its structure before putting it in the Organic Recreation Machine. The machine was expensive and required massive spiritual energies to run. Thankfully, the Academy spared no expense to get it for the department.”
“That’s actually great news.” Jonathan’s stomach growls loud enough for the doctor to hear. He got a bit flustered about it and tried to scratch the back of his head, but stopped when he realized he was about to use his missing right arm.
The doctor chuckled. “I’ll ask the nurse to get you something to eat, but you do have a strict diet, so I can’t guarantee anything amazing.”
“Anything’s good, Doctor. I’m starving right now.”
“Oh before I leave, you do have quite the visitors waiting for you outside. I’ll send them in after leave.” said the doctor before leaving the room.
Jonathan raised an eyebrow. “A visitor for me?”
Headmistress Victoria and Commander Zey walked into a room, one of them was bearing a gift. It was truly unexpected for Jonathan when he saw the smile on Victoria’s face, but was unsurprised to see a frown on Zey’s face. Despite the pain, Jonathan raised himself, so he could greet his guest.
“Miss. Victoria and Commander Zey, I think I understand why you both are here. I’ll accept any punishment for letting my target go. I should have prioritized the mission above any other.”
Victoria and Zey shared a glance. The Headmistress set aside the basket of snacks on the end table beside the bed, then gently wrapped Jonathan with her arms. Her skin was cold as ice, but somehow, Jonathan felt warmth coming from the gesture. She patted the back of Jonathan’s head.
“Is this some kind of punishment? If it is, then it might be the cruelest one yet,” said Jonathan with a tone of sadness.
“No, it's not. You did good, Jonathan.”
“I did? But, I lost the target.”
“You saved a child, a Cursed Child no less. Not many people would risk their lives for them.”
“But, I didn’t. It was Eri’s Idea. I only followed along.”
“You could have stayed behind, but you chose to help her. You even saved her despite her aggression toward you.”
“I… didn’t know why I did that.”
“Nevertheless, you did good. Am I correct, Commander Zey?” Victoria turned her gaze at the undine.
The undine crossed her arms. “You did well.”
“Zey, come now. Be truthful.” Victoria released and pouted at Zey.
The commander sighed. “It would have been great if you didn’t get hurt along the way. That’s my only complaint, but it was pretty admirable you were able to take down an undine. Can you tell me what really happened back there?”
“Even to me, it was odd. When we found the child, she had a coin with her. She gave the coin to Eri, and somehow it turned her aggressive like a wild animal. She tried to attack the kid, but I got in the way. I sent the kid out first and baited her further into the tunnel. However, if it was the coin, I have no idea why it didn’t affect the child.”
“Perhaps, it had to do with her condition as a cursed child?” Zey turned to Victoria with a raised eyebrow.
“But I lost the coin. The target took it from me.”
“After we brought you to the infirmary, I sent my men into the sewer to investigate. We found… a gruesome scene. A mountain of goblins’ corpses and judging by the devastation they left behind, the goblins were killing each other.” She tossed a worried glance at the headmistress.
Jonathan noticed that Victoria doesn’t seem surprised or disturbed by the news. “Miss Victoria, you know what’s going on, don’t you?”
“I’m afraid, I have a theory. Do you know about the crystal in the middle underneath us?”
“From what I know, this massive crystal you’re talking about supposedly powered the entire island.”
“Correct, it was through a decade of research that we were able to utilize it, but we haven’t been truthful about its origin.”
“Ms. Victoria, are you sure about telling him?” asked Zey.
“Now is a good time as ever. Listen, Jonathan. What I’m about to say to you is a secret only a few people in this world know.” Victoria took a seat at the edge of the bed and looked at Zey. “Put up a veil.”
Commander Zey didn’t hesitate to create a veil so powerful and thick even Jonathan could see the actual barrier in the room. The air around Victoria weighed down with intense somberness.
“Do you know about Demon?”
“Demon? You mean like Beelzebub and stuff?”
“Correct. What you generally know about them is somewhat true and false at the same time. Even me and several others have no idea what they truly are, but what we do know is they are dangerous.”
“But what do these demons have to do with the crystal?”
“One of them, a powerful one, is trapped inside it. The spiritual energy that ran this island didn’t come from normal means. It comes from the demon trapped inside the crystal. We’ve been siphoning and purifying its energy for our use.”
“Wait, hold on. I can’t keep up. Where did this demon come from? How did you manage to trap it? Does Demon come from hell? If they came from hell that means heaven exist, right? How about God?”
“I understand your confusion, but even I have a few of those answers you seek. Perhaps, I should start with the True War. Before you, before the separation, there was a time when humans and myths fought side by side for the fate of this world. This alliance was called The Order of Light was created and led by one person, Saint Jeanne d’Arc.”