60: Jack

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He concentrated harder on the thing that bothered him about the girl– a different aura, flavor, taste, color, he didn’t know what to call it. Something about her had a very different character than Rogan’s or Nam’s energy sources. The glow within her skull seemed to be more a part of her than something she carried. But the thing in her chest, near her heart… he realized it looked similar to the something he could see in Rogan’s chest that he suspected related to the ‘Ijin’ named ‘Althem’.

“Jack…” Nam worried. She probably wished he was farther from the girl.

“Something strange about her,” he nodded. “I can tell.”

The girl gave out a quiet sob, head still hung down. He could barely hear her shaking voice, hardly more than a whisper. “Sorry. It’s too late for me. Too… goddamn… late… for me…”

He couldn’t possibly hear that whisper at the distance they were still separated, and yet he did. But he had no time to ponder it. In the same moment that the mystery occurred to him, three new sensations struck Jack.

The strange ‘specter’ presence from before reappeared, less than a hundred yards directly behind him. Mord bayed, perhaps a hundred yards further behing the specter and closing, apparently targeting the first entity. And two new sources of energy, bright burning spots in his new sense, flared into existence a short distance into the woods, to the left and right of the girl.

“Armor, Althem!” Rogan barked as missiles, trailing unnatural red fire, streaked inbound from the bright spots. Rogan and Nam both raised their flux barriers. The girl continued to stand still, staring at her feet.

He could not identify what it was that told him to wait rather than dive for cover, but he somehow knew with certainty that the missiles weren’t aimed at him. He understood their trajectories the moment they flew. He remained primed to dodge the next shot but continued to stand and face her. It seemed the best option while dealing with this strange situation. 

Two men as dark as Rogan and dressed in unfamiliar black uniforms emerged and fired large shoulder weapons at his companions from the edge of the woods. The weapons looked like crossbows, but threw fiery missiles for bolts. Transparent sheets of flux, similar to Rogan’s barriers, emanated from their weapons’ forestocks, screening the bearers from return fire.

The girl still faced Jack as well. She spoke to him while Rogan, now with his twin swords, and Nam holding her dagger high, charged at their respective opponents. Sheets and arcs of energy flew from their blades, delivering hard blows into the enemy barriers, driving the shocked warriors backward as they found themselves in sudden, unexpected close combat.

“I recognize you,” the girl declared, a bit louder, now. Her voice had changed. She sounded stronger, now. Somehow he still heard her over the din of fighting, and he decided that the fact that he could hear her wasn’t natural. She was projecting her voice to reach him somehow.

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She finally raised her head again. Her eyes burned with an odd, conflicted emotion. Hatred, frustration, regret, anger, and… sorrow? 

“You’re the missing cop they’re searching for on Earth,” she declared. Her expression hardened, and she shook her head slowly. “Why you’re here, I don’t understand. But I’m truly sorry. I cannot allow you to get away.”

A new glow appeared within the girl’s chest, then strengthened and concentrated. Her raised hands flared in his senses as well, just before they burst into visible red-violet flames. As he drew his weapon, she repeated, with deeply conflicted eyes, “I’m sorry.”

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