*********************** CHAPTER SIX Rescue ***********************
The full moon had just come up and its silvery light illuminated the back of house. I was a little surprised by how bright the moon was tonight and how easy it was to see the house from where I stood in a shadow cast by a large oak tree. This was the house where my mom and sister were being held and I felt a flush of anger as I looked at it. The bastards who’d killed my dad were in there, now it was payback time!
I was dressed in black leather pants with steel toed fighting boots that came up to my knees. I wore a black shirt and a long black leather duster. When I’d looked at my reflection in the mirror before we’d left the safe house I was struck by how much I resembled Kate Beckinsale from Underworld. I was nervous yet confident and even though I was angry it was now a cold anger.
After I’d shown Cordi the e-mail she’d been sympathetic and explained that we’d rescue my family tonight. She’d talked to her mentor who’d told her that she would contact another Knight assigned to our realm. She expected him to arrive at our safe house in a few hours. So in the meantime Cordi suggested another practice session in the Court of Shadows. This time when I stepped out from between the columns and faced Cordi I felt a determined focus fill me. It was the same determination I felt when I stepped onto the matt for a tournament. Cordi felt my mood and matched it with a grim determination of her own. I lost track of time as we practiced and nearly drove the shadow blade I’d been using into Cordi when she suddenly froze.
“Joel, I can feel another knight approaching. It’s time to return to your realm.”
I made the shadow armor and blade vanish and then with a slight effort of will returned to my body. I’d been sitting cross legged in the basement training area and was already dressed for the upcoming fight. I climbed to my feet and as I did I realized that I felt great! I was full of energy and felt like I could bench press a car. Before I opened the door to let the Knight in I felt Cordi stir.
“Hang on for a second, Joel.”
I then sensed Cordi do something and I realized I was looking at the front door from a shadow cast by the street light. I hadn’t physically moved in fact I was still in the house. Cordi had somehow used her power to see through a shadow behind the visitor.
“Caecus Cordi, didn’t anyone teach you that it’s impolite to leave a guest standing at your door while you spy on him?”
I felt Cordi smile and a spark of recognition. I knew it would be okay to open the door. Standing there facing me was a man somewhere between twenty five and thirty years old. I immediately thought he was Japanese but realized that my assumption was based on watching too many movies. He could be of Chinese or Korean descent, for all I knew, and I was a bit surprised that he was as tall as me. I felt Cordi surge forward and relaxed so she could take control.
“Ferrum Pugnus, it’s been a while” Cordi said motioning the man inside. “Please come in and be welcome.”
The man stepped past us and I noticed he was carrying a large soft leather case that sort of reminded me of a rifle case. Once inside Cordi shut the door and turned to face the man and I felt our heart speed up. In one smooth motion he stepped in close and wrapped his free arm around our waist and kissed us. I was too stunned to react and then I felt Cordi respond by kissing him back.
“Cordi, what the hell!” I thought at her.
Before I could take control of our body the knight stepped back and looked us up and down. Even though I was still sputtering from the kiss I could feel Cordi’s amusement.
“Settle down Joel, Pugnus and I have worked together many times over the years.”
“Settle down?! You just made me kiss a guy! Ugh, I need to wash my mouth out.”
“You didn’t kiss a guy, I did, Pugnus and I have, in other realms, and other times, been lovers. He is a handsome man, don’t you think?”
“What?! No! . . . I mean . . . I don’t know if he’s handsome . . . He’s a guy! And we are not going to do it with him! I’ve never even done it with a girl and you want me to do it with a guy?”
“Oh, settle down. No, we’re not going to do “IT” with him right now. We’ve got business. And I won’t rush you I know this transformation has been hard for you and I’ve been pushing you. Once your family is safe and we’ve recovered Tenebris’s Mark we can talk about this.
Our internal dialog happened in the space of a heartbeat although, as I looked at Pugnus, I could tell he knew Cordi and I’d been talking.
“The Grand Duchess DePotentia Et’Honestas, directed me to come here and assist you. She also said that your vessel had been killed in battle and your mark passed on to a new vessel.”
“Yes, I was ambushed by three daemons working together. Beth was slain but not before she passed on my mark.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve lost vessels and I know how hard it is. When did all of this happen and have you tracked the daemons responsible?”
“It was just three days ago, and yes, however, there’s more you need to know.”
“Three days?! It looks like you’ve almost fully joined with your new vessel! She must have been very similar to you in body and spirit for you to have done so much so quickly!”
When he said this I squirmed around a bit, “What does he mean come so far so quickly?”
“Sshh . . . we can talk about it later.” Cordi thought at me.
“Why don’t we sit down and I’ll explain what happened. However, the bottom line is that we’ve two mortals to rescue and Tenebris Lux’s mark to retrieve before it can be taken to the Wastes.”
For the next hour Cordi explained what had happened and she and Pugnus put together a plan. I asked why we weren’t involving the Guild and was told it was better for now to keep the Guild out of this since we didn’t know what their involvement might be. Besides, Cordi reminded me, we were still under orders to try to keep the war hidden from the natives of this realm.
“What about the Magic-User working with the daemon?” I asked.
“Joel, the plan we’ve made is sound, if the human interferes he will be dealt with.”
I would have grunted, if I’d been in control of our voice, so instead I gave Cordi a mental shrug. “If you say so.”
“Pugnus, I’m going to rest before we have to leave. Perhaps you could allow your partner and mine to talk? Joel is still very new at this and he probably has questions.”
The knight gave Cordi a startled look and then nodded.
“Certainly I could use a rest before tonight’s contest.”
Pugnus went still and then blinked. As this happened I felt Cordi relax and suddenly I was once again in control of our body.
“My name is Katsu, it is an honor to meet you.” His voice held a slight Japanese accent.
“Hi, I’m Joel.” I said and winced at the sound of my voice. I no longer sounded like myself. Instead, my voice was much higher pitched and had a different quality to it. It didn’t sound like Cordi’s, then I realized, I sounded just like Christina.
“Please excuse me, isn’t Joel a western name for a boy?”
“Well, yes, and up until three days ago, I was a normal American boy.” I said a little defensively.
At this Katsu looked a little surprised. “I didn’t know that a knight could claim someone of the opposite gender.” He paused, his eyes taking on a distant look and even though it was a brief pause, one that most people wouldn’t have even noticed, I realized he was conversing with his knight. “Ah, I must apologize. I knew that a vessel will change, physically, until it is as perfect a reflection of the knight. I just didn’t know that a knight could choose a new vessel of the opposite gender.”
I felt uncomfortable talking about this so to cover my discomfort I stood up. “Would you like something to eat? We’ve only got canned goods, but it’s better than nothing.”
Katsu nodded and stood up. “Yes, I’ve been traveling for the last couple of hours so something to eat would be welcome.”
The rumble of an approaching motorcycle brought me to the present. I used the technique Cordi had shown me and looked out of a shadow at the road running past the house. A single motorcycle raced by headed toward the farm house and I knew it was starting. Without waiting for Cordi I tried to reach into a shadow within the house and once again felt the ward that was protecting the house.
“Whoever put that ward up is very skilled with Spirit Magic.” Cordi whispered inside my head.
As she made this comment I saw Pugnus/Katsu come to a stop in front of the house. He got off the bike and pulled a pair of Katanas from the rifle case strapped to the side of his bike. The knight wasted no time drawing the weapons and moving forward. There was a flash of light as the protective ward flared and the knight slashed forward with his right hand blade. It struck the shield magically generated by the ward and cut through it like a knife through butter. Pugnus (I assumed he was in control at the moment) leapt from the ground to the porch and kicked in the front door.
As soon as the door shattered a body flew forward through the wreckage knocking Pugnus back. Both bodies hit the ground and rolled apart surging to their feet. For a second I got a good look at the same youth I’d seen earlier who Cordi had identified as X’lye’ous.
“Joel, it’s time to move. I need control.”
Cordi’s whispered thought reminded me of the plan and I relaxed so that she could take over. I felt her move a hand up rubbing my eyes and then I was seeing inside the house. There were shadows in almost every room and I saw an older man with a staff moving toward the shattered door. Then my vision shifted and in the hallway of the second floor a slightly overweight woman in her mid-thirties stood restlessly in front of a door.
“Hey, how is it we can now see into the house? It was warded,” I thought at Cordi.
“Pugnus’s attack took down the ward, now shush, I need to focus!”
Cordi reached for the room behind the woman and there was no response, “That’s odd,” I thought.
“Not if they’ve taken steps to remove all shadows. They have either left the room in total darkness or set up bright light from all directions to flood the room.”
As I watched, I saw the woman look up suddenly and then glance around. She could somehow feel us as we spied on her!
“She can feel me because she’s a daemon. I think that’s the daemon I didn’t recognize with the human-spider body. He’s the weakest of the three. Try to relax Joel and just move with me.”
The shadows leapt up and I was suddenly standing behind the daemon. I blurred forward and a sword made of shadow formed in my right hand as I moved. The blade struck perfectly punching through the woman’s back with the tip appearing between her breasts as Cordi completed the thrust.
The daemon’s cry shook the building and there was no way those fighting outside couldn’t have heard it. Cordi pulled the blade out and spun it in a horizontal cut aimed at the woman’s neck. Impossibly she managed to duck and kicked out blindly behind her. Cordi smoothly blocked the kick with her left hand and then chopped down viciously with her right cutting the daemon’s leg off at the knee. The woman fell forward, her second scream of pain was even louder than the first, and then she rolled over on to her back to look up at us.
“Bitch, you haven’t won yet!”
“Maybe not, but I’ve got you!”
The woman flung out a hand and from her wrist a rope of sticky webbing shot forward. Cordi was faster, the shadows moved, and suddenly we were standing behind the woman watching as the bolt of webbing shot through the space where we’d stood an instant earlier. Cordi abruptly focused on the gold stud earring in the woman’s right ear. We leaned forward and grabbed the earring with our free hand and with a quick twist jerked it from the woman’s ear. As soon as we tore the earing free the woman went into convulsions that lasted several seconds before she went still.
“What the hell just happened?” I silently thought at Cordi.
“I took the daemon’s token. Once the token is taken the daemon is forced to leave the body its’ stolen and it returns to its token.”
“What will happen to her?”
“Unfortunately, she’ll remember, everything. The Daemon used the same physical brain that belongs to this woman. So even though the memories will be vague and disjointed they’re still there. In some ways, it would be better to let her die.”
“Cordi, we can’t do that.” I said out loud
With that Cordi reached down and covered the stump of woman’s leg and I sensed the flow of her power. When she took her hand away the bleeding had stopped and new skin covered the stump. Next Cordi pressed our palm into the wound on the woman’s chest and again I felt a familiar surge of power. At this the woman seemed to relax passing out. When Cordi pulled her hand away the wound on her chest was nothing more than a scar.
“That’s as much as I can do for her.”
“Then let’s go rescue my mom and sister!”
Cordi stood up and we moved to the door. For a moment, I thought Cordi would try to pick the lock and then we moved, blurring forward with a front stomp kick that smashed in the door. As soon as the door gave way we dove over the threshold into a smooth front roll that took us several feet into the room. We came to our feet in the light of the doorway and everything around us was dark. Obviously, they’d gone with the no light option attempting to keep Cordi out. Now, however, there was plenty of light streaming in from the doorway. I noticed that there were two beds and a woman shackled to each bed. I spotted my mother to my right blinking furiously at me as I stood in the illumination provided by the hallway.
I realized that with the light behind us they wouldn’t be able to see our face and even if they could they wouldn’t have recognized me. Without thinking I pushed forward taking control of our voice.
“You don’t know who I am, but I’ve talked to Joel, and I’m here to rescue you. Can you walk?”
“You know Joel?” My mom asked.
“Yes, and please don’t be afraid. I’m a friend.”
I stepped forward and grabbed the chain connecting my mom’s ankle to the bed and with a flick of my right hand, the shadow-claws I’d been practicing with materialized and sheered through the chain like a knife through butter. I turned to my sister who looked frightened and had pushed back away from me putting her back to the wall.
“Don’t be afraid Christina I’m here to rescue you.” I quickly repeated the same process with Christina, severing her shackle with a quick cut from my claws.
“Alright, are you ready to get out of here?” I asked drawing on Cordi’s power and as I did I felt Cordi start to guide me in my first shadow-step. Suddenly, there was a ripple of energy and it felt like a blanket had been thrown over the house.
“Give me control!” Cordi silently, ordered.
I instantly relaxed and felt Cordi try a quick shadow-step focusing on the safe house and nothing happened. She then tried to see what was going on outside, but the ward that had been activated prevented this as well.
“Ladies, it’s time to go, give me your hands.”
My mother reached out instantly, but Christina was still hesitant. Cordi quickly took Christina’s arm and pulled both of them to their feet and then the shadows moved and we were standing in the front entry to the house. Through the shattered door we could see a battle going on as Pugnus fought both the mysterious human with the staff and a monster! I assumed that the monster was X’lye’ous in Chaos form. Both Pugnus and X’lye’ous had changed since last I’d seen them. Pugnus was now the image of a Samurai warrior standing twelve feet tall with a pair of Katanas that burned with an intense blue light in each hand. I saw, in that moment with a crystal clarity, the image of X’lye’ous burned forever into my mind. He was naked, his skin from the waist up was a bright red, while from the waist down he looked like a gorilla, with the exception of the large human looking penis. He was bald, and his nose and mouth had pushed out into a snout with a large set of fangs pushing up from his lower jaw. Out of his forehead a pair of horns grew curling like a rams. His fingers resembled snakes and in his hand he held a long spear.
Pugnus had his hands full every time he seemed to gain an advantage over X’lye’ous the human would send a blast of energy at him, distracting him, causing him to block it, and giving an opening for X’lye’ous. Sooner or later either an attack from the human or daemon would break through his defense.
“We should help him!”
“Stay here!” Cordi said, glancing back at my mom and sister.
With that we bound forward and when our feet hit the ground I felt a rush of energy from within us and the shadows around us responded leaping forward covering us at Cordi’s command. Then the world changed! It appeared much as it does in the Realm of Shadows, stark blacks contrasting with impossible whites and thousands of shades of gray filling the spectrum in between without a drop of color. Then everything started getting smaller.
X’lye’ous turned toward us in slow motion and spun his spear around so that it was pointing at us. Fire blasted from the spear in slow-motion and as I felt the shadows finish their work we crossed our arms. The fire hit a shadow-shield appeared just in front of us leaving us untouched. Cordi and I didn’t hesitate moving as one we brought our arms down pointing the matching shadow-pistols at X’lye’ous and started firing. I knew without looking that we were now dressed in black leather from head to toe and that a duster had grown around us taking on power and magical properties. The bullets seemed to fly slowly toward X’lye’ous and to me they looked like they were made of shadows.
X’lye’ous reacted by spinning his spear in a quick circle generating a shield of fire that the shadow-rounds impacted with a thunderous report. Even as this happened Pugnus jumped forward cutting down at X’lye’ous with one of his blades. Unable to spin around fast enough to block Pugnus, X’lye’ous screamed as Pugnus blade cut into his shoulder and sliced down at an angle toward his mid-section.
Just then I sensed an attack from my right and brought my arms up again to shield as the human attacked. His attack startled Cordi because it wasn’t physical instead it struck directly at our spiritual connection bypassing our shadow-shield.
I felt her mental shriek and then her voice went silent. I responded by bringing my shadow-guns around on target and unleashing a barrage of shadow-rounds at the human. As I did he made a gesture of warding and my shadow-rounds smashed into some type of mystical barrier. However, I sensed something strange and opened my mind fully to my human sensitivity to magic. I realized that his shield consisted of hundreds of spirits. Each spirit pushed itself in front of one of my rounds blocking it and as this happened the spirit vanished. At the rate I was firing it would only be a second or two until his spirit shield failed. In the back of my mind I wondered why I hadn’t run out of ammo, but I dismissed the thought as unimportant at the moment.
As focused as I was I still caught a flash of movement and trusting my instincts I pitched myself to one side turning the move into a classic Aikido side roll coming to my feet with my guns trained on the new threat. The monster standing where I’d been a moment before was the creation of some twisted imagination. Its legs at the mid-thigh had morphed into a pair of bird’s legs bending backward at the knee joint, its talons digging into the ground. Its body was that of a man with a black pair of large bird’s wings sprouting from its back. When it turned its head to look at me I saw the face of a handsome man with a strong jaw and high cheekbones and a third eye in the center of his forehead.
“And so we resume our battle Caecus Cordi, only this time I will be taking your mark!”
“Fuck you!” I shouted and was only slightly surprised that my voice sounded just like Cordi’s thundered as loudly as it had earlier.
I instantly started shooting him with my left hand gun while shooting at the human with my right hand gun. Since my attention and aim was primarily focused on the winged monster most of my rounds fired at the human went wide, but they seemed to keep him busy for the moment. The winged monster moved like a blur using a pair of Kama’s to block my shots and then crossing them to send a burst of green energy at me.
I wasn’t sure what would happen if I tried to block the energy so I twisted to one side narrowly avoiding it. I used my momentum to spin in a full circle intending to bring my guns on line again, and as I did I saw Pugnus move behind the monster preparing to attack. The human saw this as well and unleashed a new attack from his staff. A whirlwind of sparkling energy shot from the staff in a cone that lifted Pugnus from his feet and threw him back into the side of the house. For a moment my breath caught and then Pugnus climbed to his feet.
“So, Magic-User, you wish to play with a Knight of Order! Know that I am Sir Ferrum Pugnus, and you will die this day upon my blades!”
At this the human laughed and as he did he floated into the air. “Know you, O Knight of Order, that I am no Magic-User! I am the Master Sorcerer Silas O’Duibhir and I doubt very much that you will be the end of me.”
At this my attention was diverted by an arcing Kama, which I ducked, only to catch a backhand strike from the monster on my leather covered forearm. We spun apart and facing each other just beyond easy striking distance.
“You may have Caecus Cordi’s power but you don’t move like her! Silas must have been telling the truth when he said he could separate a Knight from her vessel! I’m going to enjoy killing you and taking Caecus Cordi’s mark!”
“I don’t think so!” I said, circling around to my left.
“Give it up, Joel, and I’ll make this as painless as I can.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I know your name because I’ve taken your sister! I’ve got her body and memories! Didn’t Caecus Cordi tell you what would happen if someone found my token and decided to try it on?”
“Christina?” I asked in shock.
“Yes, Christina is in here. Who do you think set your house on fire? Who do you think killed your dad?” As he talked he circled looking for an opening.
“I don’t believe it! You aren’t my sister! She’s in the house with my mother right now!”
“Oh, is that what you think? Go ahead and take a look I’ll give you a second.”
I couldn’t resist and looked over my shoulder at the entrance. Lying there, with her body draped over the threshold, was my mom. She looked almost peaceful except for the huge pool of blood below her slit throat. I turned back just in time to duck a swipe from the birdman’s Kama.
“You’ve failed Joel! Your mother and father are both dead and I’ve taken your sister as my vessel. We’ve separated you from your protector Sir Caecus Cordi. If you give up now I may let you live.”
As the birdman talked he continued to attack and for the next several seconds I focused on ducking, blocking, and dodging each strike. As I did I felt alone and helpless, who was I to battle this monster from beyond the human realm? There was no way I could defeat an immortal monster from beyond the human realm. I felt a tide of despair rising inside of me. What could one person do against a monster created from the raw energies of chaos?
Yet, I refused to give up. Everything I’d learned in the martial arts and from my dad told me that the surest way to defeat was to quit! I ground my teeth and blocked the next slashing attack from bird-monster’s kamas. I kept moving dodging more than blocking, not even trying to go on the offensive, just trying to survive the current attack. Then when I thought I was about to die it happened. I felt a warm comforting presence inside of me. In that instant I knew it was Cordi and even if I couldn’t talk to her, her presence provided me with an emotional boost. I also suddenly knew the creature’s name.
“FUCK YOU! I’ll never surrender to you, Dar-usk’kin!”
The daemon paused in its attack and I went on the offensive firing a salvo of rounds and then driving a spinning back kick into its chest. The force of my kick threw it back even if it didn’t really hurt it.
“How do you know my name?! Bah, that Sorcerer’s magic was over rated! I’ll still take your mark!”
Just as he started to move forward he paused. I sensed someone coming up beside me and spared a quick glance to my right. Pugnus was moving to stand next to me. His armor was battered but he looked more than ready to continue to fight.
“We will have to settle this another day Sir Caecus Cordi!”
With that a green mist poured out of his body quickly surrounding him. I started firing into the mist at once and kept at it until it dissipated. There was no sign of Dar-usk’kin, he was gone.
I glanced around the battle field quickly. X’lye’ous body was lying several feet away obviously dead and his hand had been removed.
“What just happened?” I asked Pugnus.
“I got the upper hand on the human and he parted the veil and stepped beyond this world. Once he fled I turned to help you and that’s when Dar-usk’kin retreated.”
“Shouldn’t we go after him?”
“I’m game if you are. Lead the way after all you’ve always been the better tracker.”
“I, ah . . . I don’t know how.”
At this Pugnus looked at me closely. Moving over to stand in front of me he looked directly into my eyes.
“You are wounded, not in body, but in spirit I think it best if you rest for now. There will be another chance to take Dar-usk’kin’s token and perhaps it would be best to anonymously notify the Guild that they have a Sorcerer on the loose here in St. Louis.”
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