B4 — 22. A Fallen Angel

PoV:

1. Rachel Park (Our Lunar Hare!)

2. Maria (Our Sunlit Unicorn)

3. Rachel Park

Recap:  We’ve really stepped in it now, boys … This place really is a nightmare turned reality.  How is our team going to stop this from breaking out across the globe?  My gut is turning just thinking about what is to come … prepare yourselves.  Rituals, demons, devils, and gore are light.

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Rachel’s ears twitched, Nia quietly listening to everything being processed through her brain; Maria and Relica were having some kind of argument about the usefulness of the disturbing pyres and the Unicorn’s plan.

Relica destroyed them simply by using a black flame that coated her dagger; all she had to do was tap it, and the fire consumed everything on it.  The Sorceress had some fascination with the connection it had to Blood Magic.

Gisele, Hayan, Coral, and Rose had taken up a defensive perimeter, looking for danger, with Benedict and the twins joining them to wait for further direction.  The Cubans were visibly shaken by their satanic environment.

“… I am not convinced by your little plan to expose us with a beacon in the sky,” Relica stated with a hand on her hip, “or whatever it is you are spouting.  If you are unaware, I have investments within this city I must obtain.  By the way, these pyres are for birthing those flying demonic fiends—fascinating process of using the womb to…”

“Not interested!”  Maria and Fiona shouted in unison.

Fiona created her own fireball to move between the altars and stakes; some crucifixions still showed half-decaying bodies she put to rest.  Everyone else tried to take in and cope with the demonic world they’d stepped into.

Rachel’s brow pulled together; not a single place of refuge could be found no matter where she focused her hearing.

“This … doesn’t sound good,” Nia whispered.  “How many evil bug imps are there, Rachel … How many are there?!”

A lot more than we thought, and they’re everywhere … On the plus side, we’ll gain a lot of experience on the plus side, but the body count is … way too high.  Relica knew precisely which place would be least guarded, and I don’t like that.

“Duh!  She’s the sinister villainous witch, Lunar Abyss … I’ll keep an eye on her for you, though … hmm, but she’s such a creepypasta!  I just shiver listening to her voice … eww, what’s she talking about?”

Honestly, it’s probably best you don’t listen.

“Yeah!  Gross … I don’t wanna know why those hearts are pumping!  Stop!”  She mumbled, folding down her imaginary ears and crouching into a ball.

Folding her arms, Rachel took a few steps to the left, scanning the blackened landscape.  The intense, unnatural fire had swept through this part of the city; the infrastructure was damaged beyond restoration.  They’d need to demolish the entire area.

Crimson bolts of lightning lit the sky with an ominous gale that pressed against her skin and pulled her hair back a little.  The electrified heavens gave the illusion that the entire metropolis had been drawn into hades itself, and a thousand weak, dying voices moaned along the streets a mile ahead of them within the suburbs, likely staked to pikes on the roads.

Live flames crackled everywhere, releasing some kind of reactive substance into the air that filtered to the sky, and not a blade of grass could be seen; she was forced to filter the noise.  The tapping, snapping of jaws, and guttural sounds the bug-like demons made were making Nia’s fabric crawl; Rachel’s tights were pressing against her thighs with a bit of pressure with her undergarments.

Relax a little, Nia.  You should be able to block out some of the stuff I hear, can’t you?

“I-I’m not a baby!  I can do this, too!  I’m strong!”

Just … don’t push yourself too hard.  Okay?

“Pfft … heh, yeah, like the great Black Abyss and Supreme Leader would be scared of … What’s that big booming we hear?”  Her voice trembled a little.  “I-Is it a mecha demon T-Rex with lasers?!  Please, no!”

Rachel couldn’t help but smile at the girl’s fears, even if they were real to her.  You’ve seen too many weird things from Scarlet … Where did you even get that thought?  It’s on four legs, not two.

“It could be a mutant T-Rex … that’s a demon and robot … yeah, that has lasers and fire breath, and missiles!  Oh, no, not missiles!  We’re doomed!”

She shook her head while listening to tremors passing through the ground.  Something massive patrolled the inner city, releasing powerful gusts of air from its lungs, and it wasn’t alone.

It’s fine, Nia.  We just need to scout everything out and not rush into things since we have the jump on them.  Identifying the major threats is just smart, and then we go into battle and adapt to the chaos.

“I can be smart … And brave!”  she mumbled while hugging Rachel.

Her smile softened.  I have no doubt, Supreme Leader.  You’re cute, strong, and no one can match your curves.  Right?

“Oh!  Heh, well, of course, have you seen me?  Stupid question,” she mumbled, “of course, you have!  Your curves aren’t bad, either, Lunar Abyss.  Oh, and my pretty eyes, and maybe I don’t have as long of ears as you—you know, because I’m a rabbit, but they’re cute, and I’m colorful!”

Rachel put a hand on her hip as she turned to study their environment with the others, still scanning through every sound she could identify to compile a complete picture.  Just wait until you can show everyone how you really look.  Even I don’t really know, but I’m looking forward to it.

“Wait!  If we kill a bunch of these bugs, then we get rid of them, AND I get more points to get closer to my Lunar Construct ability!”

Is that what it’s called?

“Mhm!  Oh, and remember Gisele’s trying to learn the mind … talking thing … What’s it called?”

Telepathy?

“Yeah, that!”

Well.  You know, I’m planning on making you Supreme Leader Nia over the pet army?  You’ll be taking control of them while I focus on the primary fight; with you guys supporting me.

“Oh.  My.  Goodness!  We can get more minions for me, too!  I’m so excited!”

We’ll be unstoppable.

Rachel’s identified Wolfgang and his clones; one wasn’t too far from them, close to the prison where tens of thousands of people were imprisoned.  He was performing experiments with several children at the moment.

Several large entities were with him; she couldn’t get a proper fix on the things with how silent they were.  Dozens more of the creatures were overseeing numberless flying demons, swarming various areas of the metropolis’ corners and hiding in its shadows.

To their northwest, just inside the central city, was another copy of the Legendkin; she couldn’t understand him since he was mumbling in German to a feminine-sounding demonic assistant, but he appeared to be going over research.

So many other things caught her attention, but two things immediately took priority.

“What are we going to do?”  Nia’s voice had turned serious, rebuilding her confidence after Rachel calmed her down.  “There are so many things we need to stop … people to help.”

We start with the largest concentration of people in danger and go from there … We have a lot of issues, though.  Relica was right … We should have come here sooner.  Even a few days sooner could have made this so much easier.

Fiona noticed her fidgeting ears and Scarlet’s absent look; she broke away from Maria and Relica’s argument to join her.  “Hey, Rachel, what’s going on?”

Rachel scratched the side of her head, drawing in her lips, but didn’t immediately respond.  Her mind was being pulled in dozens of directions while connecting the board they’d stepped onto.

Maria and Relica finished destroying the last pyre nearby and turned to see what she was doing.  The Unicorn had returned to the debate about using a big healing move to draw people in; Rachel was too distracted to pay it much attention while mapping out the current in their way.

Grace summoned Jim, jumping up to settle in the saddle; her serious eyes scanned the heavens, likely following small demons flying across the sky.  She rubbed Jim’s neck as he shook his head, and a grimace creased her face.  “Not likin’ what I’m seein’.”

Fiona cleared her throat again when Rachel didn’t respond.  “Hmm … still listening to stuff?”  She turned to Scarlet, spinning around the girl while rubbing her right arm.  “Umm … Are you okay?”

“Huh?”  Scarlet blinked.  “No, it’s just … I can feel something … there…”  She pointed to the northeast.

“The airport,” Rachel hummed, eyes narrowing as she walked to her side.  “Yeah, I’m still compiling everything, Fiona.  There’s a massive ritual taking place in the field to the south of it … From what I can tell, over twenty thousand people were forced into some kind of symbol and are waiting for something.  I can hear at least a hundred people repeating the same strange words in the center—some kind of demonic ritual because I couldn’t replicate those noises.”

Grace adjusted herself on her saddle and shifted her hat with a low grunt.  “Okay, so … Eh, I know I’m new to this stuff, and all but … Isn’t that like, movie one-o-one foreshadowing?  We take care of the big stuff first like smart people.  Right?”

“Yes!”  Fiona pointed at her.  “That—that’s totally some future death flags right there!”

Benedict slowly floated back to join Fiona.  “It can’t be that easy, though.  There’s a reason why you level up in games, though, right?   That’s how the few games I’ve played works—the small stuff before going to the final boss.”

Cracking her neck, Maria leveled a quick glare at Relica.  “I don’t know, I mean, do these guys think someone can break past their big bad barrier?  Heh, naa.  They’ll be just like every stupid chico and think they’re untouchable.  I’d say we’re good to surprise the whole ritual thing and ruin it all—I can totally just throw out Lighthouse and get everyone to us.  Easy!”

Rachel scratched the base of her left ear with a low sigh; Maria had been arguing with Relica about this topic for the last few minutes.  “What’s Lighthouse?”

Fiona’s bright green eyes lit up.  “Oh!  That’s the Achievement Skill you told me about!  It draws people to you and heals everyone, right?  Wait … Didn’t you say it kind of sucks because it would melt Scarlet and drain Rachel?”

Well, that’s lovely.

Nia scratched her imaginary head.  “Is she trying to kill you?”

“Brilliant,” Relica rolled her eyes.  “The body and brain of a horse—no, not even that,” she mumbled, critical stare appraising the Unicorn’s frame.  “What kind of failed Mythickin are you?  No tail.  No horse ears.  Not even a horn, unless you use your powers.”

Nia was quick to her defense.  “Hey!  You can’t talk to Maria like … Yeah, you tell her!

“Shut your witch-mouth up!”  Maria’s arms tightened around her core.  “What’s that crap even got to do with … whatever.  Look, Rachel and Scarlet can chill in a building or something; it will give a rallying point for the people to know there’s help.  What, we just gonna save a few here and there and waste a ton of time?  I ain’t got the life force to heal everyone, consíguelo?  Estúpida.  I gotta use this Skill for somethin’ this big.”

[Get it?  Buttface.]

A smirk tugged at the corners of Relica’s mouth.  “Heh, right, and while Rachel and Scarlet cower from the light, what are you going to do about the ‘literal army’ chewing all those people to pieces?  You’re powerless.”

Maria’s jaw tightened.  “I’m not powerless.”

“No?  Heh, keep telling yourself that.  So, which people?”

Her eyebrows pulled together, glancing to the side.  “What … do you mean?”

Relica gave Rachel a look.  “Mhm.  Do you know where these hurt and desperate people are?”  Shock suddenly crossed her face as she directed a light giggle at the Unicorn.  “Oh—not that I care about their lives—this is just suicide, and I’m not a fan—not to mention ‘horse brained.’

Grace gave her a dull smile from her elevated position.  “Never believed ya cared, to begin with, Ma’am.”

“Excellent!  I am quite serious, though,” Relica stated in a cross tone, putting her hands on her hips while facing Maria.  “Are you trying to get us killed?  Rachel, surely you understand just how many creatures roam these streets?  If I hadn’t hidden us, those sentry spells would have activated the moment Scarlet’s blade penetrated the barrier and sent the whole armada down on our heads.  You should be thanking me, but no, never grateful for the help I’ve provided.”

Rachel’s lips pulled in, still scouring through the thousands of people around the airfield to discover anything else of importance.  “Hmm … Maria, does your skill provide protection?  Would you purify the demons or have some way to defend the people while Scarlet and I are away?”

“Eh…”  Maira’s gaze shifted to the left, probably asking the question to the seed.  “It … can purify demonic energy!  Yeah!  Hah!  They’ll be powerless to even move.”

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Relica’s expression fell.  “Ah … well, if that is the case, then it would take care of the small demons—however, you are overhyping your skill.  You’d still need to deal with the stronger ones because I highly doubt your little light show will do more than annoy them.”

Maria grinned.  “Lighthouse Five, foo!  Purify Two, not Lesser Purify, or Minor Purify, but Purify.  Kiss my butt!  Two-Mile radius—lasts for thirty minutes—yeah, I’m just a super-bad healer!  Get your flat rear outta here!”

A testing smile shifted the Sorceress’s expression.  “Heh … sure, honey; keep feeling yourself.  Why would you want to save worthless people who are likely to die anyway with a single-use Skill while, mind you, alerting Asher and Armand to our presence?  On the other hand, those two you let scamper off could blow the whistle, in any case,” she grunted, glaring at the figures far ahead of them, barely visible between the cars.

“Pollas en vinagre.”  Maria brushed back her hair, ignoring the woman to turn and face Rachel.  “I’m cool with whatever, but we gotta save these people—would be sweet if I could punch this fool in the face, too.”

[i.e., Finger in vinegar]

Fiona and the twins nodded with dirty looks at the Sorceress; Relica dismissed them as not worth her time.

Grace pulled out her flask and drank a swig before speaking up.  “Mmh …from what you were sayin’ earlier and what I’ve been told about these abilities, these fellas have killed who knows how many people … Eh, are we even on the same level?”

“No,” Scarlet whispered, drawing everyone’s gaze.

Rachel’s fingers tightened at her response, Lunar Pride scratching at her psyche.  If Scarlet was saying that, of all people, then she had to take it into consideration.  “What are you feeling?”

Her fangs pressed down on her black lips as she looked toward the airstrip.  “What do I feel?  It’s … this entire place is just … it’s wrong, Rachel,” she mumbled, hugging herself.  “There are some really strong things here … like as strong as the things in the maze.”

Rachel’s ears rose a little, remembering their time inside the island turtle’s labyrinth, and her tail quivered with excitement.  They’d gotten stronger since entering those halls.

Keeping her voice even while a fire blazed inside her breast, Rachel cleared her throat.  “You think we’re dealing with something on that scale, huh … Which trial?”

“Maze?”  Relica’s head tilted as she played with her black bangs.  “What are we talking about?”

A quiver ran down Scarlet’s spine as her eyes pulled in, remembering something blood-chilling.  “Umm … from how I’m feeling—the one that I drank its blood.  I still feel the power of it coursing through me, and it resonates with this area … like a predator entering a new hunting ground.”

Everyone’s breath halted for a moment, shifting gazes looking to one another as Scarlet swallowed.  “I get this sense … a frantic lack of mental clarity that hollows out my heart—this force rolling around me, making me feel so small.  It’s like the chains holding my fragile reality together are pulling apart.”

Rachel’s bra pressed against her chest as Nia shivered.  “D-Does she mean…”

Twilight is restless.  No wonder she’s acting like this.  Something is drawing Twilight’s attention.  

Grace leaned to the side with a blank look.  “Translation?  You, heh, aren’t going to get all inner-demon on us … Are you?”

“Scary crap,” Maria frowned.  “What?  Eh, probably not Scarlet, no,” she forced a laugh.  “You took that thing out, though.  Right?  Just cut a bit off the top and drank it dry—can’t we do that again?”

Controlling the air going in and out of her lungs, Rachel reinforced the Skill her grandfather taught her as it began to slip; she wanted to fight the things ahead of them but didn’t want to kill her friends in the process.

If they’re as strong as that nightmare creature … We may have leveled since then, but we’re nowhere near that stage.  We need to get stronger, but I have to know how far we need to bridge the gap, and I have you now, Nia.

“You really going to do it, Lunar Abyss?  We could die … Wait!  You mean me?!  Oh, yeah!  Nia’s the Dark Abyss!  The Shadow Leader of Doom!  But umm … I don’t want you to die.  Okay?”

Sometimes you need to take risks, Nia, and there’s no way I can’t test these monsters myself when they’re right in front of me.

“Stupid Lunar Pride … I’m a bunny.  I don’t have that thing—no, thank you.”

Everyone waited for Rachel to speak.

“Alright, Relica, can you shield us from view if we scope out the airfield?  It’s definitely the place we need to tackle first—if it’s possible, but we may need to retreat and handle the small-scale stuff if this proves too much.”

“Of course.”  Relica hesitated, staring into the distance and releasing a hiss.  “However … I am burning a lot of energy—Doing this over an extended period of time is not ideal, considering the level of spells I must weave, and … there could be other issues, as well.  This is not my main body, after all.”

“Can you do it or not?”  Rachel bluntly asked.

Relica grunted.  “Have I not proven how powerful I am?”

Trusting the Sorceress less than she could throw her, Rachel kept an ear on the woman; she wasn’t 100% confident in something, and she wondered how much Relica’s ego was talking.  The fact they were relying on her put a bitter taste in Rachel’s mouth.

Rachel shifted to the side, facing Scarlet; the girl was practically petrified since coming into contact with the electrified barrier.  “Is it Asher?”

She slowly shook her head.  “I don’t think I’ve sensed him yet, but—something eerie is being gathered over here—it’s … beyond words,” Scarlet mumbled, pointing at the airfield again.  “It’s like … like death is circling lower and lower … every second, and Twilight senses something … I don’t know.”

Twilight is restless … Not a good sign; we have to get a better grasp of that area first.

“Umm … yeah, not a fan of Twilight, myself,” Nia slowly chuckled.  “I stayed away from her … far, far away when Scarlet put me on—she’s scary.”

Rachel nodded.  “All the more reason we should hurry.  Around twenty thousand people are being kept to our northwest—that’s the largest group in danger by leagues.”

“Wait!”  Isabel finally found her voice.  “N-No, that can’t be right!  There’s over three hundred thousand people in Camagüey … if—if that’s the biggest…”

Fiona, Maria, Benedict, and Edelira’s faces turned ashen at the implication as Rachel rubbed her burning left earring.  “Right now … I can’t hear more than fifty thousand people in the whole of Camagüey.”

Edelira’s legs began to tremble.  “Then … two hundred and fifty thousand … they’re dead?”

“Probably more,” Relica hummed, cupping her chin while thinking back.  “You have to consider the surrounding towns and western province, too.  We’re lucky most of them were used as fuel for rituals to get things started rather than killed for the experience; gaining personal strength was never Asher’s goal.  His demon god was the apple of his eye.”

Fiona waved her hands while going between them to get their attention.  “Okay!  Okay!  Let’s hurry!  Wait…”  Her vision closed as her fingers closed around her head.  “Not the blood portal…”

An apologetic smile moved Scarlet’s forced expression as the blood left her body to form the gateway.  “Sorry.”  She seemed to be regaining her confidence, but to say she was nervous would be an understatement.

Unsurprisingly, Relica was the first to go through, giving a short squeal.  “Oh!  I can’t wait for the second trip!  I’ll need to use a lot of my power here—it is the thing Asher was most focused on.  Just be warned!”

Everyone watched her go with a dull look before slowly following.

The twins rubbed their arms, giving one another a grimace, and rushed the gate to get it over, much to Rachel’s horror.  “We’ll see you on the other side,” Isabel mumbled.  Holding hands, the sisters ran inside and vanished.

“Wait!”  Rachel ended it in a low growl as they went inside; she’d been too focused on the various Wolfgang clones to explain they should stay behind and guard the entrance since they were prime targets.

“She’s such a creep,” Fiona shivered.  “Heh, right, Maria?  Wait, aren’t we all going, Rachel?”  She asked, turning to give her a confused look.  “Should we not go in?”

“They’re just targets,” Rachel sighed.

“Dang,” Maria rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes.  “The fool is twisted—eh, I’ll go after them,” she mumbled, tensing while running forward.  “For real … Relica should be the one we’re goin’ after, to begin with.  Just … hold your breath and … Eek…”  She tried to stifle a scream, jumping through.

Jim slowly moved forward without prompting, Grace lifting her hat to Fiona.  “I can go next, lil…”

The words died in her throat as a colossal pulse of fathomless energy erupted across the entire city, causing Scarlet to flinch; her blood portal fell in on itself.

Rachel’s ears went on high alert, head tilting toward the origin point.  Of course, it had to be the airfield!  Where…

“R-Rachel!”  Nia cried, hands flying to her mouth.

“Scarlet!  Open the portal!”

Scarlet had collapsed to her butt, looking at the enormous crimson void that exploded in the sky.  “What … is that p-presence,” Scarlet gasped.  “It’s so … dense—it’s not one person.”

Tingles cascaded through Rachel’s body as twenty thousand muffled cries died, and the chanting reached a new height before hundreds of cultists underneath it just cut their own throats, leaving the chant ringing in the air.

For the first time, she heard the sophisticated voice of who she assumed was Asher, speaking in Hebrew to Relica before swapping to English; he seemed pleased with his work.

Grace, Fiona, Benedict, and her pets were following Scarlet’s gaze in shock at the demonic vortex, but Nia was loud and clear.

“No way!  Relica … Go!  Go!  Go!  C’mon!”

He appeared out of nowhere!

“Scarlet!  Get us there!  Now!”

* * *

Maria shivered as the sensation of countless hands caressing her breasts, spine, down her legs, ears, and lips, causing her to trip while tightening her thighs in protest; she fell flat on her face.

Biting back a curse, she struggled to her hands and knees as a concussive force raddled through her bones with endless screams that caused either her arms or the ground to quake.  Her mind momentarily blanked, her gaze lifting to see Relica wearing a forced smile.  She stood beside a blue-skinned devil.

He was somewhat handsome, in an edgy, fallen angel sort of way.  One of his wings was missing, and the other tattered; reflectant black armor covered his long, powerful legs and right arm.  She had no doubt this was Asher, and he was beyond ripped.

Maria didn’t know what to think as she took in her surroundings; her lips fell open in an instant.  A sea of people lifted into the air and scarlet liquid pulled from their pours to feed the ominous sphere in the heavens; symbols were carved into their flesh, drawn into a demonic summoning circle more expansive than a football stadium that the blood was pulled through before rising to the vortex.

Asher chuckled as Isabel lifted her transformed sister and shot him in the face six times; the green bullets left a trail of energy that passed right through his head—it was as if he wasn’t there, to begin with.

“W-What?”  Isabel mumbled in disbelief.

Asher casually waved his hand; the twins faded in a pulse of azure light.

“Oof, what a shame,” Relica said with a short chuckle.  “You have advanced quite a bit, Asher … oh, dear…”

Finding her bearings, Maria stumbled to her feet, charging forward with her horn flaring to life, Lesser Dispel II activating.  “The freak, Reli…”  Asher’s smile fell as her radiance cut past the blue flames surrounding him.

Asher’s left hand lifted as Scarlet’s blood portal swirled into existence beside him; Maria blinked, and she was suddenly in a dark dungeon.  Strong hands grabbed her from behind, forcing her to the ground.

“Oof … The … Get off…”

Her words cut off as she saw the Gun Sisters beside dozens of other twins; there were kids, teens, the elderly, males, and females.  Five black demonic creatures with deer heads, large antlers, and a thick mane of fur around their necks held her down.  The demons were partially decomposed corpses, crimson gas and liquid dripping off their forms.

She bit her lip as their wet clawed fingers rubbed against her skin, injecting some kind of corrupting energy her natural abilities were having trouble countering.  No one had grabbed her with more force than these things; it felt like they’d snap her bones any moment.

“Oh—what do we have here … a Mythickin?”  a soft, male voice spoke from the corner of her vision with a German accent.

“W-Who—dang it!  I—I can’t breathe…”  Maria gasped, trying to struggle out of the creature’s death grip; her purification was still active, and from her Diagnose Skill, she knew many of the twins were suffering from various corruptions and wounds on a spiritual level.  “What … did you do to these people?!  Let me go—b…”  It was hard to get words out of her throat.

A boy in his late teens was sitting in a chair, dressed in a white dress shirt.  His blue eyes appraised her with a critical look in the dark room; he shifted the cream folder in his lap a little to get a better view of her.

“How fascinating—a U.S. citizen and Mythickin.  Asher doesn’t give me a moment’s break,” he chuckled, scratching his cheek and getting up.  “To the chair—I need to examine her spirit … Something’s … off.”

Maria grunted, drawing in a deep breath as the pressure was eased off her chest, and she winced as the demon forced her up with overwhelming strength.  “L-Like your … Get bent…”

Her throat numbed as he turned to point a finger at her, his other hand in his pocket.  “No need to speak, dear.  I will be gentle.  I can’t have you turning out like the last five Mythickin … Hmm…”

I … I can’t speak.  Please!  Rachel, where the heck are you guys!

Now on her feet, she saw all of the twins were lined up against a stone wall, hands above their heads while being restrained by some kind of black substance.  She tried to dispel the Disable Effect—her eyes widening when it failed.

I’m too weak?

Wolfgang turned to face her, displaying slight displeasure, but his eyes put a chill in Maria that she rarely felt.  Tranquil gears turned behind the boy’s blue globes that didn’t match the horror around her; he was somehow dissecting her in ways she couldn’t begin to comprehend.  “Fascinating—you’re the first specimen I’ve seen to actively fight their transformation … What are you hiding?”

What’s that about?  I’m fighting my … bull!  In the name of…   This freak just wants to cut me up!  C’mon!  Rachel!  Scarlet!  Get your butts over here!

She’d never felt so powerless as her muscles numbed with just a glance of Wolfgang’s calm, glowing eyes.  The demons latched leather restraints around her hands and feet.  “Can’t be too cautious; heh, I apologize for the discomfort.  It will be over soon; I just need a little look … This is just what I’ve been looking for to better understand the bonding process.”

The frightening part of the whole ordeal was how relaxed and genuinely concerned his voice sounded.  Maria tucked her lower lip under; she wasn’t supposed to be in this kind of situation … Her, never!  She could fight her way through anything, but at this moment, she felt naked and alone; her powers failed to help her.

Relica … Relica had to have betrayed us.  Stupid!  Why would we trust that witch, but … we didn’t really … Did we?  I don’t know.  Fiona … where are you?

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* * *

Rachel jumped through the portal to see a blue-skinned demon wave his hand; under the effects of Rapid Mental Acceleration, she saw a blue illumination surround Maria before she vanished.

The twins were nowhere in sight, and the horrific scene of tens of thousands of people floating in the air, feeding some demonic ritual played out in the backdrop.

Only Relica and who she assumed was Asher, stood before her, and unlike the maze monsters, he didn’t release an aura that proclaimed his strength, but her instincts told her all she needed to know.

I’m not strong enough to beat him right now … Son of a…

“Rachel!  Where’s Maria?  I … I can’t hear them anywhere!”

I’m listening—give me a moment.

His smug yellow irises shifted to Rachel as she exited, and he turned to face them with a smile, teleporting three meters away the moment Rachel decided to rush him.  Relica was standing idly by, looking somewhat annoyed and sheepish at the same time; if this had been her plan, she would be gloating—they’d all been played.

Dashing forward with Gisele, Coral, Rose, and Hayan, instantly sensing it was battle time, Rachel threw the first punch as he shimmered with sapphire flames.  Her fist connected with a completely different blue-skinned demon—Asher traded places with a minion.

Her full force sent the creature stumbling to the right a bit, repositioning the ax in his hand.  Just hitting it hurt her hand, but she continued the blitz, spinning to kick its hard, plated chest.

Grounding itself, the demon took the full force of her heel with a low chuckle, spitting out blue blood before swinging at her torso to cleave her in half—Nia wouldn’t be able to save her if it connected.

Hayan, Rose, and Coral slammed against the demon’s body, trying to push it away to no avail; he shrugged off the attacks like they were flies, and Gisele’s lunar beam didn’t so much as leave a mark.

This isn’t even Asher!

Shifting positions, Rachel flipped back, knowing it was a lost cause; she needed a new strategy.  The minion was could be handled, but it would be a tough fight, and the minimal damage to its chest proved it.

The black-energy-infused ax missed her by a foot, and Rachel landed beside the portal; her pets took up a triangle formation around the demon, yet it ignored them, realizing she’d backed away.  It grunted while tracing a sharp thumb across his neck with a devilish grin before pounding his chest.

Fiona, Grace, and Benedict soon came through the gateway, icicles forming around the Fairy.  The cowgirl had her revolver out, sharp eyes studying every inch of the new battlefield they’d entered.

“Rachel!  W-Where is everyone?!”  Fiona yelled, looking around in shock while trying to pick up the pieces.

Benedict’s eyes scanned for his friends in a panic.  “Izzy, Edel … Where are they?!”

Scarlet exited last, hugging herself, but she didn’t appear to even notice Asher as her focus moved up to the colossal gateway casting a shadow over them.

They stilled as Asher gave Rachel and their party a thoughtful chuckle, vision settling on the Sorceress.  The air in Rachel’s lungs froze; the overwhelming dark pressure flowed through her skin in a slow, rising crescendo, a shiver cascading down her spine from the crippling aura.

This was what Scarlet had been sensing—it wasn’t just Asher but the tens of thousands of lives he’d harnessed to channel into this ritual that was paralyzing her; it rivaled the beast guarding the control room of the labyrinth.

“I figured you’d return, Relica.  It did not take a genius to discover your aims—unfortunately for you, I have a genius; although, I am somewhat surprised you’d be so arrogant as to think you could hide from my vision with this … honestly sad excuse of a vessel.  Of course, that is just like you.  Perhaps if you chose to come in person, things would have been different, yet you aren’t that brave.”

She shrugged with a sad laugh.  “Can’t blame a girl for trying!  Heh … It is too bad, really.  We can go?”  she offered with a thoughtful hum.  “Oh … I see.  You wish to make a game out of this—it is just like you.  It isn’t as if you can really pay us much mind with … my God, that power is … intoxicating.”

Fiona was searching the field, frantically looking for her best friend.  “Maria … Where’s Maria?”  she whispered.

Asher’s wing stretched to the side with his head as a bullet hit his eye.

“Nice!”  Nia yelled.

Don’t be so sure, Rachel mumbled, activating Emotional Detachment to counter the aura.

The glowing red casing fell to the ground after hitting Asher’s flaming aura, not even denting it.  “Hmm … stronger than almost anything I’ve seen besides Armand.  That might have killed you past all your defenses, Relica?”

Grace clicked her tongue while waving her hand as if hurt.   “Shooot … Well, eh … tough son of a gun, huh—that was my best shot.”  Her gun barrel was glowing; considering her earlier statement, it would be unusable for most of the day.

Rachel was still scanned for Maria and the twins; if they could make it out of this, there could be a chance.  He was only invincible because of the power he was channeling; she could see the hundreds of Satanists that had cut their own throats to seal the ritual lying dead at the center of the floating throng.

Relica turned to give Grace a dull look.  “Did you honestly think that would punch through tens of thousands of lives worth of channeled power?  He’s practically invincible.  So, now that they understand, Asher,” she chimed, “what’s the game your devious mind is planning?”

Asher spread his arms.  “Honestly, I couldn’t care less for games at this point.  I’ve accomplished everything I wanted.  You could start killing all of these people, and perhaps you’d make a dent—Relica wouldn’t hesitate, but by what I gather from the rest of this group … there would be dissension.”

“Unfortunately,” Relica sighed at the comment.  “A miscalculation on my part with how quickly you were able to prepare your ritual—How did you carve that many symbols on tens of thousands of bodies?  You must tell!”

“Have you not already discovered the answer?”  he asked, lifting an amused eye.

“Wolfgang, of course,” she growled.  “He is very dedicated to his craft.”

Rachel found Maria in the city—she was with one of the Wolfgang clones, strapped to a table as he casually spoke to her; for some reason, he seemed to be trying to soothe the Unicorn.

“Hmm … fascinating.  Maria, is it?  I need time to properly identify this power you hold … How unusual … Yes, yes!  I can see such wonders emitting from its surface … It is truly the greatest gift that God could bestow … Perfection of the individual—yet, you reject part of it.  I am only going to look, my dear … You are far too precious to touch … There are others for such experiments.”

He snapped his fingers.  “Bring the five-year-old … Younger patients have proven to be more,” he paused, looking for the proper word, “amenable to the process.”

She couldn’t hear the twins from this distance because they weren’t talking, but she guessed they would be close by.  Everything was falling apart, and Scarlet was still trying to cope with the free-flowing spirits flying toward the sky.

If she took on her Reaper State, she could probably sever the link, but we need to save Maria first and prepare before facing Asher or it’s suicide.  It’s not even a fight at this point.

“I found Maria,” Rachel confirmed, drawing Fiona’s frantic gaze.

“Where?!”

Benedict was right beside her.  “Izzy, Edel?”

Asher assessed her, practically ignoring the rest.  “I see your ears are not just for…”  he trailed off, yellow irises narrowing upon fixating on Scarlet.  “You … are different.  Hmm.”  Asher seemed to be communicating with something that told him unsavory things about Scarlet by the expression on his face.

“What’s the matter, dear?”  Relica pushed, placing her hands behind her back and spinning in a circle to see the horrors of past rituals surrounding the place.  “I thought we were going to have a little fun.  So far, I haven’t been all that entertained by this … surprise.”

Is she trying to pull his attention away from Scarlet?

The Myth of Abezethibou released a low note in his throat before his gaze returned to the Sorceress.  “I leave you to roam freely… as an enemy of Beelzebub.  Survive as long as you can, and perhaps you can become food for the Great Heralds of the Lord of the Flies, Abraxas.”

He vanished in blue wisps, leaving behind his demonic minion.

The ax-wielding demon chuckled while swinging his weapon in a slow circle, and thousands upon thousands of lesser demons turned their attention to their position.

A smile lit Rachel full lips as the Legendkin left them to their own devices; he’d regret that decision.  Her ears shifted left and right, tracking the significant threats.  “We’re going to run to Maria—Scarlet … Scarlet!  We have a lot of work to do!”

“Y-Yes?”  she squeaked, choking a little while running forward; her vision was practically swimming from the forces rolling around the area.  Even Rachel felt warning signals blaring across her sixth sense.

“When we get close enough, I’ll show you where she is … It’s going to be a fight,” she mumbled, watching the blue demon advance as swarms of black insect-like entities filled the skies.  “We’re going through all of them.”


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