Hollow/Dice 1: Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory (Chapter 1)
Loaded Dice Make a Hollow Victory
Prologue: Can you hear the rattle of rolling dice?
December 11th, 2015
Maryville, MO, United States
The “Acadabox” aka Missouri Academy of Science, Mathematics, and Technology
“Kho, get your ass in gear, we’re gonna be late for our final!” Khōkhalā Zinda’s roommate Kenzie yelled, trying to usher her out the door. Khōkhalā grumbled as she pulled herself away from the laptop she had been issued by the school and slammed the lid shut.
“I am trying to write here!” she complained to her roommate. Khōkhalā was 5’5” of very beautiful Indian girl. She was dressed like a typical American teenager. As far as she was concerned, she was a typical American teenager. Her parents were from India, but she born here in the US, and no amount of family visits to the “homeland” would change that.. This was also her first semester of college! She was in college at fifteen!
She was a physics major because there was good money in physics, but she had signed up for a minor in literature. It was the end of the semester, and she and Kenzie both got stuck with finals that ended Monday. She was stuck here for the weekend. It could be worse of course, she could be stuck alone. Thankfully Kenzie was also stuck, so at least she wouldn’t be alone.
“Ugh, physics,” Kenzie muttered once Khōkhalā joined her in the hallway. They vacated the place, heading north out the backdoor and past the library up to Garret-Strong, the science building. “Why did I agree to take physics as a freshman?” she muttered again as they walked up the front steps inside, past the shiny little faux-cafe, and to the left. Not that Kenzie was a normal freshman. She was a highschool junior, just like Khōkhalā. She was just also a college freshman.
“Because you thought there was money in physics?” Khōkhalā replied, making it sound as if she was alone in her motivations for her major. In reality, their shared major was part of the reason they were rooming together, despite the age difference. Of course, that would have been a problem no matter who Khōkhalā roomed with. She was two years younger, minimum, than every other student on campus. “It is not that bad my friend. You can handle a simple final like this. We studied plenty yesterday, there is nothing to fear,” she assured her roommate with a shoulder squeeze.
Kenzie flashed her a grateful smile. She shifted a little nervously when she saw some of the college boys looking their way. They were smiling at Khōkhalā, not her. Kenzie was overweight, and she didn’t know how to make that work for her. Khōkhalā had seen girls heavier than her who knew how to dress and walk with a confidence that made them of great interest to the boys, but Kenzie didn’t have that. She had wide hips and nice breasts, the kind a boy might like to play with, Khōkhalā would guess. Certainly larger than Khōkhalā’s A cups by a good bit. She just had no confidence to make herself seem more appealing or interesting.
The test was conducted by their physics teacher, a severe looking older woman who had no real sense of nonsense. She did not accept jokes in her class, she did not accept snarks or asides. There was no talking. Khōkhalā sat down in her seat, a little annoyed. Her muse had really been on track today when her roommate dragged her out for their 2:15pm class. Physics was only on Fridays and it was nearly three hours long. The test, however, would not be anywhere near that bad.
Khōkhalā expected at least a 95 out of a 100. She expected Kenzie, despite her fear, to do even better. Kenzie was one of the smartest girls she knew. If only she had the looks to boost her confidence. Still, she couldn’t worry about her roommates stellar academic performance yet, she had a Physics Final to complete.
“Alright. Once all of you have your copy of the test, I will tell you to flip it,” her teacher began, sounding annoyed. “Then you may begin. Remember, all answers go on the scantron, show your work on the scratch paper provided. You are expected to provide your own pencils and erasers. Do not talk, chat, or check your phones. If you brought a VI into my classroom and failed to place it on the desk, I will fail you,” she stated fiercely.
No one voiced a complaint, but one person scurried up to the desk and put their VI on the desk, switched off. She smiled smugly at him, then turned to the rest of them. She began setting test papers on the desks one at a time. When every student had their test, she sat down at her own desk at the front of the room. “Begin.”
Khōkhalā flipped her test her, licked her lips, and licked her pencil for luck, and began. She had of habit of licking her pencil when she studied. She’d read a blurb in a magazine article from her mother which explained that the taste you remember as you study helps you recall the same info while you take a test. Some teachers would not let you eat candy or chew gum, but no teacher objected to pens and pencils. It was not a pleasant taste, but she thought it worked.
The test really wasn’t all that difficult, she thought. At least, the beginning was not. This was all the things they had done in class or lab. It was in the books and notes they had used to study last night. However, as the test wore on, she started feeling a bit too warm. She had dressed for the weather, so maybe that was it. She pulled off her sweater, which seemed to help a little.
She was nearly done with the test before she was sure she was sweating, but she still managed to finish the test. She slumped into her seat with nearly twenty minutes to go, and slowly began rechecking her answers nervously, worried that her distraction might have thrown off her answers. She was only halfway through rechecking when her sweating stopped and she felt normal again. She finished rechecking everything and realized she still had ten minutes to go, which surprised her. She had expected she would be chased down to the wire rechecking her test.
As soon as they were free of the test, Kenzie grabbed her arm. “Kho, you alright?” she asked nervously.
“Sure, no problem,” Khōkhalā replied with a smile. “Just a little warm for some reason, but I am alright. Come on, let us go see if we can catch a few of the others before dinner,” she said, pulling Kenzie along. They walked off, talking about what they’d do to keep themselves entertained of the weekend wait for monday so they could be clear of all their finals and go home. For Khōkhalā, home was no longer good old St. Joe, but instead this new little town in Illinois. Her father had gotten a job there as an accountant with a local law firm. Her parents had decided that since she’d made it into college, it was time to move themselves out of a big city and into someplace with a nice proper Hindu community.
They chatted with their small circle of mutual friends at “The Circle,” which was the gathering place both for the nerds and nerdettes of the Anime Club, the barely alive Fellowship of the Tower, and the strongly represented Common Ground clubs. All three of which had a great deal of overlapping members. The real fun was missing however, since most of the regulars were already out of town for winter break. Still there were a few people around to have some fun with.
Eyes glowed in the darkness of the private study, recessed deep within the bowels of the ship. They reflected the light of a figured wrapped in barbed wire, writhing in pain. “What I seek will be here?” the voice attached to those eyes asked.
“Yes… there is where it will form, tonight, just before midnight. You must be swift. Linger too long, and my vision cannot see what occurs,” the figure replied in pain.
“I will have my prize,” the voice of the eyes muttered, as a massive tall body, long wings draped across its form like a cloak, stood to its full height and strode out of the chamber. “The Missouri Academy? Well, there are odder places, but it will do for a debut,” the figure mused as it exited its private study to prepare for its endeavor.
After hanging at The Circle and getting dinner, they headed back to their room inside the “Acadabox” as it was affectionately nicknamed. It had better security, harsher punishments, regular patrols, restricted internet, curfew, lights out rules, and a variety of other things to keep the underaged residents safe and out of mischief. Thus, the rest of the university students nicknamed it “The Acadabox” in reference to it being the box where the Academy students were kept. The pair of them were back ahead of lights out. While Kenzie sat down to compose an email to her parents about her tests and watch one of her favorite tv shows, Khōkhalā put together her plans to write her latest fanfiction idea. She had a brilliant idea for a story about an Arrancar that had the “releases” of a Shinigami. It was a little odd, but she was also planning for it to be a crossover with Mahou Sensei Negima, her other favorite manga.
Lost in another world, forced to manifest, eating souls of good and evil alike to sate his unsatiable hunger… She could feel her muse prickling, singing itself back to life as she started writing down her plan for the story. It was going to be a good weekend, she could feel it.
Chapter 1: That horrible sensation of a bad roll
December 12th, 2015
Maryville, MO, United States
A few miles outside town, near the lake
The silence dripped from the leaves like rainwater. So heavy he could feel the emotions of the tiny insects and animals around him, the squirrels in the tree across the way and even the spider above him. He had no fear of those, however. He had long since learned the trick to warding simple minds away from him.
That would keep him safe from the animals while he slept. Hopefully people too. Of course, there were other things than people out there. That was the real problem. Three days, it had been three days. It was time… dangerous to sleep until something came… too dangerous to stay up. If nothing happened now and he didn’t sleep... and fighting on two days of no sleep? Too dangerous.
With a careful sigh, he settled in the tree hammock to sleep. It was comfortable, and easy to escape for him. He could only hope the night would pass quickly, and maybe it would happen in daylight. Maybe. It wasn’t hard for sleep to find and take him, with the dim emotions of life around him to lull him to sleep. He was just so tired of fighting. What was even the point, he asked himself, as eyes drifted closed.
At first… at first his dreams were pleasant. Memories of learning to play games with his father…
A place of inverses and opposites where everything made perfect sense floated before his ears, and he smelled his hand as it heard those same gems. The blunt edges threatened to heal his wounded hands she had this done, but succeeded. It was there, it was then, as his beginning twisted and blew away and his arm melted, he… ‘a silver hand, tipped with claws carved with runes, reached out. Twenty feet away was a figure, one he did not know. Darkness, blackness, and a sword… shadows and steel and a glowing skull. He was going to kill the bastard, this time. It ended here, now. Just touch him with this arm, this gift of metal, and he couldn’t escape. Nothing to escape, no warp, no teleport, no portal, nothing. This time, he wouldn’t escape to some other dimension or time or… whereever. This time, he would not survive. His dice spun into position, as twenty feet away, the monster turned to face him. This time…’
He snapped awake, tumbling to his feet as something loud split the silence like the Red Sea. There was a glow out towards town. That couldn’t mean anything good. Not if it was loud enough to wake him up out here. It might not be for him. It hadn’t come after him directly, and there were no new emotional responses in range. He was still devoid of sentient companionship out here.
“Guess I should go look. Better than… having that dream again,” he let out a sigh. He set out for the town across the lake. It was something. Something to do, or so. A change.
Officer Jameson was new to the Maryville Police Department, but he was hardly new to town. It was a college town. A car fire was always well within the realm of possibility, and the University had been set aflame before for a variety of reasons. Accidents, arson, and even unexplained events. But this?
“Jameson! Jameson! Wake up and keep that crowd back!” his sergeant shouted, shaking him. He snapped awake and hurried to the line, where some of his fellows were trying to keep the crowd from bunching in and getting in the way of SWAT. There were more problems than just fire, a leveled building, and missing students. There was a monster.
Nobody could see it very well, but it seemed to be made of smoke, not fire. SWAT had fired bullet after bullet and were hitting air. They’d sent for huge fans, the kind of industrial equipment that could blow the smoke away. Professor Gerden, a Physics professor and the only mutant on the teaching staff, was brawling with the smoke. He had minor speed powers and could manifest a carapace shell that filtered the air. He wasn’t a retired superhero, but he was a judo instructor in his spare time.
SWAT was backing him up with everything they had, but all they’d managed so far was to keep the beast from getting out to the rest of campus. “Monica!” a student called out, trying to shove past one of the other officers. Jameson held back a young man only a few years his junior. “My sister is in there!” he shouted, and Jameson had to grit his teeth.
“Don’t! Stop shoving! We are doing all we can, but if you get in the way, it makes it harder to save your loved ones!” he shouted. That got a few of them to stop and listen. “We are doing all we can, but if we must protect you and save your friends, this will only become harder! Please! For the sake of the injured stay back!”
The crowd was calming. “Listen to the officer's directions!” a firefighter with a blow horn called. “WE are doing all we can. Several students have been pulled out of the rubble. We will do all we can, but we cannot be distracted with more civilians to protect!” Jameson suddenly heard an incredibly loud screeching howl from behind him.
“Something else is here!” the professor shouted. “Get back!” Jameson turned around and watched a piece of swirling smoke suddenly dissipate as if something had cut the smoke. A high pitched shriek that sounded completely different from smoke blasted through the night. Something slammed into the professor and threw him clear, slamming him into a fire engine. The impact left a crater and moved the engine a few feet, almost tipping it over in the process. The smoke creature screamed again as whatever else was in there seemed to attack it again. It collapsed backwards, falling against a wall, if a thing made of smoke could fall, and everyone saw it.
It, or rather she, seemed to be a small young girl with horns. It was difficult to make out much in the spotlights focused on her, but they could see bladed weapons in both hands, and make out a feminine figure. It, she, shrieked again, a high pitched sound, and hurled herself at the smoke.
“Out of the way, coming through, out of the way!” a voice started shouting from behind him as the creature and the girl started fighting in earnest. “MCO, clear a path!” a voice shouted. Agent Ryan from the local MCO officer had arrived with a squad of power armor, finally. “Clear a path, let them through!” Officer Michel called from down the line, and people started trying to get out of the way.
As soon as a path was cleared the power armor ran up while Agent Ryan stepped up to the Chief. “No, don’t worry, we aren’t gonna do anything to the professor. Simple case of extreme circumstances, defense of self and others,” he said instantly. “You know I’m not gonna do anything to him besides make sure he pays up for poker night last wednesday,” Ryan insisted. The local office kept a constant eye on the professor and the campus, which had a number of mutant students. It only made sense they’d have a large local office near such a high concentration of mutants. Still, these were college kids, not teenagers. They’d survived being a mutant for as many as 10 years in some cases, the MCO here wasn’t about handling new emergences, just “keeping an official presence for the protection of all students, faculty, staff, and townsfolk.” as the tagline went. That meant some of the friendliest agents they had were posted there in Maryville.
The Power Armor arrayed themselves around the front of the building. “Don’t fire!” the Chief told Agent Ryan sternly. “We’ve still got kids in there!” he added with fire in his voice. “I don’t give a damn if the mayor did ask you to help, this is still my jurisdiction!”
“Sir, we might have to open fire to save the kids from… whatever that is. The Kansas City Knights are still almost twenty minutes out, since they don’t have super sonic transport or a warper. With the professor down, we might be the only thing standing between that thing and the rest of the students,” Ryan countered bitterly.
“I know they’re twenty minutes out, I called them!”
“How many kids are in there, officer?” a young man, black, in a trench coat, asked Officer Jameson. Kid couldn’t be more than twenty, and he was on the higher end of five feet, almost six, but not quite. Jameson was six foot. “And who is that?” the young man asked, pointing at a man standing alongside the MCO power armor. He was holding a clipboard, wearing sunglasses at night, and Jameson didn’t recognize him.
“I.. don’t know. There’s always a few dozen kids in the academy, and we’ve only accounted for thirteen so far,” Jameson responded, then blinked. Why was he answering this guy’s questions?
“Don’t let the MCO fire, that monster isn’t bothered by bullets, and they don’t have any castershells,” the student said. Jameson realized with a start that the right arm of his coat hung slack, because he had no right arm of his own. “They’ll just hit students,” the kid added. “Better tell your boss,” the kid added, nodding towards the argument, “and bring Mr. Stranger to his attention,” he added.
Jameson blinked, shook his head, and felt a little groggy all of a sudden. But the kid was right. Better make a point of it. He turned and started towards the chief.
When he did, it left Lucas with a better view of what was going on. He pulled on his goggles and focused his eyes on the fight. There were… two creatures in the fight, and plenty of signs of life scattered through the rubble. This was a bad sign, very bad. Lots of innocent casualties. It had been a year since the last time he’d had innocent casualties…
The cops were arguing with the MCO agent and the anger was pouring off them in waves. Good. That meant they were trying to reign in their tempers. The local guy, at least, Lucas guessed he was local, didn’t seem especially eager towards violence. So not typical MCO “All mutants must die” thug. Then he felt something shift.
The fight itself was inside his range, but he felt nothing from it. And the emotions of most of the students were muffled by their unconscious state, but his goggles showed plenty of people alive. The combatants showed him no emotions at all except… hunger. They were at the extreme edge of his range, where his senses were weakest, and there were so many people between him and them… the crowd wasn’t helping either, it was a solid mass of fear and worry.
The shift, however, came from the other direction. Hostility. The man with the clipboard turned for a moment and looked at the crowd. It was Wilson. Special Investigator Stanely Wilson of the MCO… a grade A mutant hater who had tried to kill Lucas twice. Lucas took a step back into the crowd, despite the emotions buffeting him.
His dice drifted across the darkened ground, small and all but invisible as they maneuvered into place. He knew the MCO would open fire. Not because the man arguing with the police wanted to, but because Wilson would. Wilson didn’t care.
He turned to head around the edge of the building. This was going to get ugly. He needed better vantage. He could feel… more hunger as he ran, streaming off the battlefield. He started making miniature platforms to run up into the air as he started praying. Hail mary, full of grace…
He could feel it when the Power Armor Jockeys shifted their emotions. They went cool, more focused, as they prepared to fire. Lucas only forestalled a curse because he was still praying. This had just gone worse. The Power Armor squad opened fire at the same moment a series of large purple circles appeared, barriers blocking their shots. The shots were useless against the Possessor spirit, but they’d do wonders on the poor kids still trapped. Bad wonders.
“It’s him! The Dice Killer!” Wilson started shouting. Wilson would recognize his barriers anywhere. “There are shoot on sight orders for him!” Wilson added.
Dice, however, was ignoring the MCO now. They were insignificant. That… other thing, something he hadn’t seen before, was much clearer now. It was hungry. Just that. Nothing else. It also had the look of a young girl. A mutant? A rager, Dice decided. Well, something similar. Anger was lacking compared to a traditional rager.
“Now… I just have to kick the Possessor out of its borrowed form… or…” he realized after a moment that the Possessor wasn’t as strong as it should be, in fact… there wasn’t a noticeable change in the hunger of the… thing, but the Possessor was getting weaker. It was being… absorbed. He moved away from the spotlights, and back down, to avoid being spotted. A guy standing out in the sky was an easy target, even if he could-
The smoky form of the Possessor spirit suddenly vanished, and Dice watched it vanish from his goggle clad sight. It was… dead. That created a new problem. The monster is gone… so the Hunger needs a new target, and if it can eat a spirit entity, then… His line of thought was confirmed before he could finish it. It charged at the MCO power armor Agents, two of whom still had weapons trained. One of the purple barriers, his own work, swung into position between blinks of the eye, and the Hunger bounced off the barrier at high speed. As it flew off at a new angle, the lightning struck, followed by a spinning double headed hammer. A big one.
It whacked the Hunger into the bushes behind the rubble, across the little university roadway, past even the giant library. It also made it vanish from his empathy. Dice ran that way as fast as he could. He had to see it for himself. Was it unconscious? Was it dead? They were shouting behind him, but he was faster than even power armor when he had to be.
The creature… he found it quickly. It was a young girl, about five feet and a half or so, and she was… odd. Her head seemed to be covered by a weird bone mask with small horns, and her skin was white, but was not caucasian. Her skin color was impossible to make out in the black and white of his magic’s nightvision. She was slender and slight, young, way younger than the normal college age range. She was younger than him by a year or two. She was covered in burn scars. She lifted into the air and he started running again, her unconscious form flying along behind him. Leave her for Wilson and she’d vanish.
There were shouts and arguments and a power armor team heading their way, and he was surprised at how heavy the girl was, she put him near his, for a telekinetic, fairly weak weight limit. On the upside, he didn’t lose speed just because she was heavier than a 5’5” teenager should be. That still put the next building north of them a good run, and an obstacle he needed to go around. The college campus had lots of space to get lost in, but what he really needed to do was to run until they had no reasonable chances of finding him… which probably meant tipping his hand and fighting enough to stall them. A super team was on the way though…
He stepped across a sidewalk as a spray of bullets blew away a tree about twenty feet to his left and back, and then he suddenly felt a new set of emotions blossom into place above him. Reflexively he threw a shield above him and something exploded against it, actually cracking the purple barrier. The blast wave actually caused him to stumble. He was almost instantly surrounded by a spotlight.
“Ah, so this is our would be kidnapper,” a loud masculine voice said from high up. The spotlight on him meant even if he had switched to sun shades he would see nothing, making this a very bad position to fight from. The light was steady, which told Dice nothing in regards to what was creating it. “Well, hand me the girl, little mage, and I might let you live. I’ve no interest in the politics of those Mutant Commission Office fools. You’ve some skill. I could always use another minion,” the voice offered. It, he, sounded bored. The voice was male.
“Who are you? You’re apparently not the superheroes they were waiting for!” Dice called back, shading his eyes and trying to look around. The spotlight had him and the girl fully illuminated. His other barriers caught up and sprang into position around him, covering him from fire at ground level, but his cracked barrier might not be able to withstand another blast from this villain, it had been an extremely powerful one. As Dice’s blinded eyes adjusted to the light, he realized it did flicker a little, so maybe it was some sort of magical light. A lantern of some sort?
“I am Endeavor. You have one more chance to give in before I roast you both. Even with the damage you did to knock her out, she should survive, but you, I surmise, are flesh and blood ordinary, little mage. Give in,” the voice said snidely.
“Offer is appreciated,” Dice replied as his dice spun into position around him. Little hedron formations pointed their taller ends upwards towards the voice, while another set slipped into position, “But I’m good. Not the surrendering type.” He fingered a particular twenty sided die, or d20, in his right hand.
There was no verbal reply. Just fire. Thankfully Dice had a second barrier prepared under his first. It paid dividends to have backups, after all. Otherwise things like this would have killed him already. The barriers merged corners, creating a partial shield covering every direction but forward. Dice made a mad dash, trusting his hasted speed to see him away.
Special Investigator for the MCO Wilson Stanely waved the Power armor team forward when the second fireball exploded on their new target. “Engage the aggressor! We have a fifteen minute eta on the Knights!” Much as he preferred to take all the credit, and he might have if Dice had not first gotten in his way, this supervillain threw a wrench in the plan. A power armor team wasn’t likely to be able to handle this one. An airborne villain with some sort of airborne vehicle, a big one, throwing around fire powers while also summoning a wall of energy to block them off from him was not a good sign.
He’d need to try and keep them pinned down or distracted until the supers got here. Even if half the team were mutants, letting a super villain go free was a bigger concern, much less a super villain and a known murderer. Dice had set a monster on his own parents and killed four MCO agents and five local cops during that first incident, and had been involved in seventeen other cases that they knew of. He wasn’t going to waste this chance. The KC Knights would handle the villain when they arrived, letting him focus on finally capturing Dice.
However, things didn’t go as planned, to his utter lack of surprise. The boy threw a barrier up and avoided getting roasted by the blast. He had to catch that brat, to restore himself. He was doing inspections because of his failures to catch Dice, and he was sick of them. He HAD to get him. However, he also didn’t want to be directly responsible for any failure to capture Dice again.
“Agent Ryan!” he called out, turning towards the man. The Power armor jockeys were deployed ahead now, using the emptied buildings as cover as the police finally convinced the students and other civilians to run for cover. This was now a super villain fight, and they wanted to be out of the line of fire.
“Sir?” Ryan replied. “What do you need, Inspector?”
“Ask our friends the police to put together a pursuit team to track our escaping suspect while-” he was cut off by a massive explosion that impacted where fire crews were finally digging students out of the rubble despite the supervillain overhead. It wasn’t safe, but it sure as hell wasn’t safe for the kids, and those men and women cared.
“Holy shit!” Someone shouted behind Wilson as he ground his teeth in burning rage. That rat bastard of a villain had just blown up noncombatants. That couldn’t possibly have been a simple miss, there were no power armor or police fire teams at that location, just rescue.
“Have some entertainment while I deal with my prize,” The villain, who they still hadn’t been able to get a good look at, said with a chuckle. A glow suddenly appeared around the rubble and the visible corpses. They started getting up.
“You… no no no…” one of the cops moaned, falling to his knees as he saw the corpses start to pull themselves out of the rubble. Students and rescue alike. Wilson stopped grinding his teeth, pulled out his sidearm, and clicked off the safety as he aimed straight for a rescue worker corpse digging at something in the rubble.
“Fire at the zombies!” he shouted loudly as he opened fire. “There could still be children or Fire fighters in there alive! If we don’t kill the zombies, they’ll kill anybody else still alive. Come on!” he shouted, walking forward and firing several more shots center of mass on the zombie. It fell over and didn’t stand back up. Headshots were more effective, but he didn’t have night vision so the dark made it hard enough to see, much less headshot a moving target. “Riot shields to the front, or whatever’s handy! We need a defensive wall while a second line fires! Police! Move your asses and save the living!” he shouted as loudly as he could. This was officially a nightmare.
The Chief of Police took up the cry, imitating Wilson and starting to get everything organized. He had to let Dice go. No way could they spare manpower right now. His best hope was that Dice wouldn’t be dead when the heroes arrived, which might let them capture both.
Dice was running for everything he had. He’d cleared the main campus and reached the student apartments he’d spotted on his way in. They were very uniform, but they were useless as cover, since they’d just invite more innocents to be killed. He’d let enough people die for him when he was powerless. “Come on you cocky bastard!” he shouted, firing back towards whatever was tailing him. It didn’t seem to be the villain yet, but that would follow soon after. If the guy wanted this girl, he wasn’t going to simply let Dice run off with her. He needed to pause and get his bearings soon. He threw up the equivalent of a magical flashbang and ducked for cover.
He was crouched behind a building out of necessity, needing a moment of breathing room as he considered. He’d allotted himself about ten seconds to pause and catch his breath, when he heard a soft moan. Make that a couple minutes…
The girl was stirring, and started showing signs of distress as she realized she was floating. Dice released his hold over her and she dropped the few short inches to the ground… coming up an inch short. She must have her own ability to fly. “Hey, hey, calm down, I’m a friend. Stay quiet, there are people after you. You’re just off campus. I’m Dice,” he said, holding out his one good hand to show it was empty.
She opened her eyes, which actually glowed green as she looked about. “Who are you and why is my vision all funny? Why is my head ringing?” she asked. She put her hand to her forehead, then began to panic as she felt the strange partial mask covering her forehead. She said something in a language Dice didn’t recognize as she felt at the mask, her confusion growing. However, her accent, while not thick, was noticeable. He’d have pegged her by stereotype as Indian, as in the actual country.
She began to feel all over herself, touching all her burns and scars which Dice now saw weren’t too bad. She obviously had quite the resilience. “You manifested as a mutant, just now I’d guess. You were in a fight, do you remember it?” He asked her cautiously, glancing upwards. Something was now hovering above them, but it gave off no emotions for him to sense. Her panic was real, but muffled, like something was interfering in his ability to sense her emotions. He wasn’t having any trouble with the building full of college students, most of them asleep despite the crisis occurring so close, but a few felt panicked and one pair was projecting nothing but pure lust and pleasure.
“Stay in control,” he told her calmly. “Panic is natural, but it won’t help you. This is a crisis. You’re being hunted by a mage type supervillain. He wants you for something, I’m trying to help you. The MCO is on site, but I don’t trust them… do you?” he asked her.
She took several deep breaths and seemed to concentrate. Her panic was matched by determination and focus and she was relatively more in control. “I am from the US, but I have spent time in India, and my parents told me stories,” she explained. “The MCO is not to be trusted by mutants. I am a mutant. I will not trust the MCO. Dice, you may call me Zinda for now. It is my family name. What do we do?”
“We run if possible. If not, we pick our best chance for a fight and die,” he replied, “but I’m a lot tougher than I look,” he replied, glancing at his missing arm, forcing a smirk onto his face.
“Were you in a gang? I do not trust friggin gangster’s so called ‘toughness,’” she replied with a sneer that briefly overrode the other emotions rattling through her head.
He almost laughed, which was a severe surprise. He didn’t laugh much anymore. “No. Did you just stereotype me for being black? I’d probably be offended if I hadn’t assumed you were Indian from your accent. I’m a wanted criminal on false charges. I learned how to survive being hunted and how to hunt the hunter. I’m a mage,” he added. “Our hunter has eyes on us, and so far I haven’t managed to hit it, and I can’t seem to get a good look at it,” he added, pointing up.
She glanced up. “It is some kind of floating eyeball, though it looks mechanical, but there is a… glow to it. It… looks tasty,” she said, then stopped and looked at herself. “Why does it look tasty?”
“Wish I could answer, no time. Tell me if I hit it and if I damage it, and I’m sorry if this blinds you,” he added as he lined up three sequenced shots in his best guess, and let loose with three consecutive lightning bolts from his arrays.
“Last one hit, it is smoking but it is not falling,” she said. “That should have blinded me, should it not have?” she asked, cocking her head to the side without breaking eye contact with whatever was watching them.
“Yeah, but if it didn’t, right, time to kill the eye in the sky,” he said. To his surprise, humor arose in Miss Zinda, and he felt a chuckle escape him at the bad pun. “Then we run. Aim for open fields, we can’t be drawing innocents into this fight,” he commented. She nodded, and he fired, not waiting for his shots to connect.
At first, he slowed himself down a little, but was surprised again when Miss Zinda easily kept pace as they dashed out of cover. “Did I get it?” he asked.
“Yes, but it still did not die!” she shouted in reply. He wanted to curse, but he couldn’t afford to waste the essence. He’d burned through nine shots tonight and a quarter of his shield energy. Those fire blasts were insane. He checked Miss Zinda’s emotions as he ran. Fear and panic were present, but she was still in control of herself. He started funnelling essence into his dice again as he ran. Good thing the hammers were still almost full. He began cycling through his other options.
“I think I can take it out if I can get a sense for it with my TK, but I’d have to stop running,” he told her between breaths as they ran. Even with the temporary magical augmentations, which would also take a day’s work to replenish, he was actually slower and more out of breath than Miss Zinda was. She didn’t even seem to be winded yet.
“If I understood my new abilities better,” she muttered, eyes steady forward, but her emotions flinched for a moment.
“Don’t go down that road, focus on the next minute, not wishing for what you don’t have,” he warned her sternly, which surprised her, but she nodded.
“Are you working more magic? You seem to be covered in a strange glow, and there are lines moving around you, and... Are those dice? They glow also.”
“You can see essence in action? Damn, that’s powerful. Mage is one of my mutations and I still couldn’t make heads or tails of sensing it for weeks,” he replied. There was a massive line of trees near an apartment complex, that could provide good cover. “The trees,” he said, pointing. He felt her assent as they ran. “You’re handling this very well,” he added, sensing her storm of emotions despite the dampening effect she experienced. His words however, brought out a brief spike of panic that she wrestled down.
She was doing well? Khōkhalā sucked in a breath. He thought she was doing well! She fought down her panic as she considered what she was doing well against, but something else helped. The… pressure, she did not know what else to call it, in the back of her head was growing in size, but it did not seem to hurt. The pressure only grew when she started to lose control, but it receded as she regained it.
“I am just… this… um…” she wasn’t sure how to explain it. “I think my powers make it easier,” she finally said, not sure what, exactly, her powers were, but she had never felt that strange pressure before. Like another awareness, but one she couldn’t actually speak to. At least, it never seemed to speak back.
“They certainly make you hard to read,” the boy, Dice, replied as they ran. He was not handling running as well as she was, which excited her and worried her. “Though not impossible,” he noted with an amused tone, causing her to blush. “I’m an empath, did I mention that? I can read your emotions, but not as clearly as with most people. You’ve got something that seems to be trying and failing to block me,” he explained further. “I can’t project, and I can’t read minds, just emotions,” he added. “Promise.”
“Why do I find it so easy to trust you? I have not even-” she started to ask when there was a loud explosion behind and ahead of them and they both pulled to a stop, the forest a good dozen meters ahead of them. She looked up at the sky and this time easily picked out what caused the explosions. A man… thing? He was humanoid, but not human looking, and was surrounded by much more powerful energy than Dice, though Dice made up for it with all those little bits of concentrated energy floating around him. She supposed those were dice, given his name. Counting all of those, Dice had more than the thing above her. Way more.
The creature hovered some hundred meters above them, but her new eyes had no trouble picking him out. He gave off a strong glow independent of the power surrounding him. She did not like the look of it, it made her feel very weird inside, and somehow that new sense of “FOOD!” she had been picking up since she woke up to meet Dice seemed to find him very… inedible. More violently than she had Dice.
“You’re certainly trying to make me earn my victory, and I see my prize has woken up. Well, no matter, it really doesn’t make a difference. Come along quietly and I will keep this painless. If the testing tells me the right things, I might even keep you alive and make you one of my servants,” the creature, who had a rich voice, said. It made her shudder.
“Do you want to go?” Dice asked her kindly. She looked at him and found she shook her head. “Then I recommend you tell him so,” Dice replied with a smile. “I’ve got your back my lady,” he told her with a smile, and she felt her heart flutter for a moment. She turned back to the creature with a face her kathor had taught her to wear in sparring.
“I’m not going with you!” she shouted, then it occurred to her, how was she going to stop them? How were they going to stop them?
“Don’t let the fear control you. We can do this. There’s a super team on the way. He can’t fight them and hunt us,” Dice said quietly. He was doing something with his dice, they were moving around. “You… were fighting earlier, you had some kind of weapon, can you pull it out again?”
Fighting? Earlier? She did not remember that at all. Or… now she felt something familiar, but she could not focus on it, because the thing above them finally spoke up.
“Done chatting? Since you refused, I guess I’ll just do this the hard way. Here, have some of my pets to play with, they should occupy you. I’ll enjoy watching this,” he said from above. Around them on the ground, five circles appeared, glowing with a sinister light very similar to the creature above them. Reflexively, she held her hands up and took a readied stance as her teachers had taught her. To her shock, something appeared in her hand. It was a sheathed short sword of Japanese make… the wakizashi looked just like she had imagined it. She drew the blade as creatures, some fusion of beetles and dogs, appeared around them.
As the blade left its plain black sheath she could see the hidden truth, feel it with her hand. Two blades, set together to seem as one in a single sheath. It was beautiful. She pulled them both out, and the sheath turned to mist. She took a blade in each hand as the creatures charged. She felt a sudden burst of hunger from the pressure inside her head. She counter charged.
Next to her, Dice let loose his assault. A hammer came hurtling at one of the creatures as barriers appeared blocking the others from attacking herself or Dice. Though she was not as familiar with these blades as the traditional weapons her father had taught her, something about them felt… right in her hands.
She rolled under the nearest creature’s initial lunge and slashed with both blades as she did so, slashing across its softer underbelly. To her surprise, she came out of her roll to discover the creatures converging on her. Dice’s barriers got in the way and one of the creatures suddenly vanished, but the one she had cut yet lived. It was weakened, and she felt something strange. Like, a reservoir of new energy she did not recognize, filling up inside. It already had some in there, but more flowed in. Through the blades… from the creature. It felt… good. She wanted more.
She tackled the creature and sliced into it. It tried to clamp onto her arm and managed to inflict no harm at all as she stabbed it repeatedly, feeling power flowing from the creature into herself as she did so. The rush was incredible.
“Don’t just stab it, kill it!” Dice yelled, and another one vanished, but the other two were still trying to get past Dice’s barriers, one of which was beginning to crack. She drove a sword into its head as another slashed out its throat, and the body turned to mush, a massive influx of power flowing into her, but she was still hungry. As Dice assaulted the fourth creature, she leapt over his barrier and sunk a blade into the creature. They were surprisingly easy to handle, the wakizashi blades, but it meant she had to get close. Fortunately for her, nothing these creatures did seemed to be capable of harming her.
Her blades could easily pierce their hides, which seemed to surprise them and Dice both, so she just chopped off the creature’s head as Dice made the final one vanish. She felt more power fill the reservoir inside her, but while she could not see how much it could hold, she knew it was nowhere near full. She still felt a strange disassociated hunger inside her.
“What… did you do?” Dice asked. “It was like you absorbed them, almost like you ate them,” he said in awe, looking at where the bodies should be. She was not sure, but his description seemed fitting. The… pressure in her head was relaxed, if that was the right word. It was not a description of emotion, but rather of how it barely seemed there at all.
“WELL, that’s just lovely! You two surprised me by surviving that. That was well done. Creating a rebound to forcibly undo my summoning is very impressive, but it won’t work on something stronger I expect. Still, stealing essence from the rebound is quite clever.” Without warning fire blossomed around them and tried to swarm them, but Dice’s barriers blocked the direct heat. It still began to grow hot.
“Damn, I didn’t consider a sustained heat,” she heard Dice mutter next to her. She began to spin the blades in her hands idly. She had the swords… did she have anything else? As she spun the blades, she felt something on the cusp of happening, just just out of reach, like she wasn’t quite doing enough. Could it be “Kaze o Wakeru?”
“I saw those things fail to hurt you. If your skin is that tough, it should be fire resistant too. I’ll open a hole in the barrier and let you make a break for it. If we divide his attention, I think I can attack him,” Dice suggested. That was just suicidal. If he opened a hole, the fire would flood in and kill him!
“Why are you trying so hard to save me? You do not even know me!” she yelled at him. The anger, the fear, the panic, they were real and terrible. The pressure flared up, trying to squash them, but she resisted. This random boy showed up and was doing everything he could to save someone he’d never met. He was not even a hero, he was a wanted criminal!
“You needed help, and I won’t let them take you. Neither the MCO nor this monster. Fighting monsters, whether human or non, is just what life is for me. I will fight the monsters without becoming one. That is my creed.” He was not looking at her, but she could see the way the power flowed around him. Her strange new eyes could see. There was something there, something that reassured her, made her want to trust his words. Not a power. An honesty.
“Alright. Thank you, but I refuse to let you die for me,” she replied. “We will find another place,” she stated firmly.
“Die? I’m not dying today. I can shape the barrier to exclude you-” he cut off when the fire vanished. A boom echoed from above them and they both looked up. Someone had smashed into the creature above them and attacked it. They seemed to fade in and out of view in a different spot every time, throwing something at the beast. It had him distracted, and when she felt something wet fall on her face, she figured out what it was. Water, rain. It was a pity she did not have a jacket. In fact…
“It is December! Why am I not freezing?” she asked as if to distract herself from the spectacle above. She was practically in nothing compared to the usual winter clothes, yet she had not felt a hint of the chill even when she woke up. The water from the battle above just made it weirder.
The hero above them was Rainstep. The power to warp from any water he could see to any other, as well as to walk on water. He was a new hero, and she and her friends had enjoyed watching him on the news. He was VERY good looking. He was the one throwing around the water, though neither she nor anyone else seemed to know if the water was a power or just something he carried with him.
He was fighting the fire monster above them, but despite his ability to throw water around and counter the fire, he was not winning. Then a barrier that looked orange appeared around the super villain and Rainstep vanished elsewhere. That would be Scintillation, the Knight’s mage. A cascade of, obviously, scintillating colors washed over him, her signature attack. Khōkhalā could see the way the energies mixed together creating an attack of multiple types of energy different and much less clear than the energy of the fire, or what Dice had been using. She guessed it to be magic. Even though she felt like she should not be able to see it, she could make out Scintillation’s outfit, a set of flowing robes over a dangerously short skirt… with armored stockings and what was probably armored clothing layered with defensive magic, all in a carefully arranged variety of colors. White, Red, Blue, Green, and Gold decorated her outfit and she looked really good in it.
“Come on, they’re distracted, we’ve gotta run!” Dice urged, taking her hand. She let him as he pulled her away and made a break for it. They took off at a full run, she quickly turning the tables and dragging him behind as they ran. Abruptly, he slowed even further, prompting her to turn and see him panting just as they reached the edge of the woods. “Damnit, not, huff, now,” he panted. He looked worn ragged and part of the glow had vanished from around him.
“Cadrien, get out here and deal with these interlopers!” the villain’s voice echoed from the sky with more force than before. She glanced back to see him shatter the barrier Scintillation had tried to entrap him in. “Zelos… bring me the prize, alive. Kill the boy,” this time the voice took on a cast that sent a shiver down her spine.
“Break’s over,” Dice replied as he began trying to run again. On impulse, Khōkhalā reached out and scooped him up, slinging the tired older boy over her shoulder and taking off as a very fast space. “This is… new,” he breathed out, sounding uncertain. She was glad he could not see the red blush that had certainly blossomed across her face. “At least I’m not the only one embarrassed,” he suddenly added, almost causing her to stumble. By all the gods, did he have to be an empath? She bemoaned.
“There you go, that helped calm you down,” he muttered cheekily. “Just stay focused and keep running and… thank you,” he added. His voice sounded distant, a little unsure of himself, but he was not fighting back against being carried. It had to be very embarrassing, but apparently he was not lying about his skill in survival. That must have meant his pride could suffer being carried to safety.
“For carrying you or caring enough?” she responded, confused.
“For not wanting me to die for you,” he replied, “So both.” She blushed again, but this time it was not a distraction. She kept running. “Which way?” she asked.
“Keep going straight north,” he replied. At the same time, he replied, “Turn to the left here.”
“What does that mean?” she voiced confused again, and this time worried. Two voices?
“I said go straight/left!” he replied, once more his voice overlapping and saying two things at once. She looked at him over her shoulders, but nothing had changed. Suddenly a triangle of glowing dice appeared before her, pointing off to the left. “Follow those dice! Don’t follow those!” his voice said, but he was frantically pointing and the dice were being insistent about going left.
She blinked and stared at him, then the dice, then she saw it. The glow of magic was ahead of her, but no dice were there, while there was a glow around the dice as well, but it looked wrong. Why was there a glow like the dice, but no dice? Why was she hearing double? She ran straight. A few steps later and something popped, like her ears popping, only… more. The dice vanished from the left and appeared ahead. “Go straight!” she heard Dice shouted from over her shoulder.
“Oh good, it worked!”
“He had some kind of siren illusion, I had to block it off the cuff with a counter frequency, but I suck at most off the cuff, wasn’t sure that would work,” Dice’s voice explained as she ran. “Keep running please,” he said in a pleasant voice.
“No shoulder seat driving,” she chided with a grin, eliciting a chuckle.
“Ya know, I don’t normally laugh this much, but you really seem to have a good effect on me,” Dice commented. “Remind me to tell you my real name when we get out of this,” he asked. She didn’t respond for a moment, mulling over an answer.
“Thank you,” she finally said. He was being very nice, but how could he laugh in this situation? Why was he not as terrified as she wanted to be? That pressure was back, pressing down on her negative feelings, her fear, her panic, or worry, but it wasn’t having much success. Then she thought she heard something. “Um… is something following us?”
“I can’t see it. I was debating saying something before I was sure. I’m not used to working with someone, I didn’t want to scare you more than you already are..” She really wanted to fault him for that, but somehow she just could not do so. She really wanted to panic, so he was not wrong to worry about setting her off. “Damn, I’m sorry, I’m being an ass,” he suddenly stated in a sorrowful voice. He must have noticed her emotions again. Damn empaths.
They were deep into woods and farm fields now, having left the university, and her life, behind. She did not know if the leaving was temporary, but she feared the MCO making her disappear. Her kathor always told stories about how it was even scarier back home, in India. The MCO had almost total power to take away mutants, and families would be GLAD to see their mutant children swept off. That was why people like the Asura, despite being villains, were seen as heroes by many. The Asura was a legend for always targeting the MCO and gathering up mutant children and smuggling them out of the country. He was technically classified as a supervillain, but to most that was just a matter of politics. At least, that was how her kathor always told it.
“I am trying not to panic so…” she replied to the young man slung over her shoulder. He did seem older than her, at least. Maybe she shouldn’t call him young. “I think your caution is not wrong,” she added, trying to sound more lighthearted than she felt even though he could sense her emotions. It wasn’t him she was trying to fool.
“Right. I can’t tell exactly what it is or what it wants, but I’m guessing it’s that… Zelos he sent after us?” Dice mused.
“What do we do? I am running as fast as I can… I think. We have not managed to leave it behind.” She was not going to panic, she was not going to panic, she was in control! Really! She was!
“Fight,” Dice replied, and she almost tripped in surprise.
“Fight?” she asked in surprise and her worry increased. Sure, she had won against that beast, but could she win against this Zelos? It had to be way tougher than those monsters or the guy wouldn’t have sent it after them alone.
“I’m hardly a pushover and I’ve yet to see you seriously injured. I mean, I didn’t even try to wake you up, you woke up on your own after just a few minutes, and that was hitting you with two lightning bolts and a hammer in sync. Your scars are already mostly gone. You’re VERY tough, and those swords are sharp. We’ve got a shot, and running isn’t working,” he explained rationally, his voice falling slowly into a kind of cold edged thing. It sounded as though he was trying to be reassuring, but instead he sounded… eager. She skidded to a stop.
“Alright, so how do we fight?”
“You seem to have night vision and a sense for magic exceeding my enchanted equipment. And you move pretty quiet without shoes,” he added, pointing at her feet with his hand. She glanced down and realized she’ ha not been wearing shoes. And it was December in Missouri. She was in her sleepwear. She blushed but resisted trying to cover up. Her sleepwear was shorts over boxers and a tight t-shirt. She should be freezing, but she did not seem to even feel the cold. Her nipples were not even… do NOT think about that right now, she admonished herself. That was not a good distraction. She looked back up at him. He only had one arm. How long had he only had one arm? The entire time? She had not noticed?
“Zinda, Miss Zinda, you there? Don’t worry about the arm, that wasn’t tonight. Focus on the now,” he told her, snapping his fingers in her face and snapping her to attention.
“Right, right. So, how do we do this? Am I supposed to see him coming and warn you?” she asked him. He nodded, opening his mouth to explain.
“Or maybe you can stand around and let me catch up,” a voice sounded behind them. She whirled around, searching for it with eyes and ears, but seeing nothing. The air was suddenly thick with what she took to be the signs of magic. The pressure in her head started going nuts, and a scent played with her nose, causing that weird disassociated hunger to appear again, strong and focusing. She inhaled deeply, and the scent wafted into her nose, driving the hunger into a frenzy she could feel like it would swallow her, but it, somehow just could not.
Her eyes snapped into focus on something crouching in a tree. The form was dark and covered in the night breeze, which somehow concealed it from sight, but its scent… its scent made it perceptible to her, and that let her eyes pierce its veils enough to know it was there. She snarled. “He is in the branches of the tree I am looking at!” she said, and she heard a whooshing sound. A massive double headed hammer spun into the spot and smashed through the branch, but missed the creature.
She charged, springing forward with both swords drawn and held. She ran straight at it but it leapt over her head as she did so. She leapt off her footing and tried to swing at it, but its reflexes were better than hers and she missed. She landed in the tree, turning and scanning for it with a snarl.
“You have good instincts, the master will be pleased,” a voice whispered into the night. Dice had one of his purple barriers set against his back as he turned slowly, scanning for their foe. Whatever it was, she could not make out any details about it, just its location. Now she had to do it again. It sounded male though.
“I do not care if he is pleased or not,” she retorted, hoping if they kept him talking he would give himself away. It wasn’t much of a plan, but she couldn’t smell him as well this time, nor could she see him. “He is using magic, but I can not see it clearly,” she hissed at Dice. He nodded in reply, still scanning about.
“Don’t sit still, it’ll make you an easy target. Either put your back to me or keep moving,” he replied, sending a hammer to smash at nothing. She had no idea if it was a hunch or blind guess but he missed. She leapt, only as she did so did it occur to her she had never actually stood on the tree branch. She again landed on air like it was a solid platform, looking down in surprise. Coming to a stop as she did proved to be a mistake.
Something very heavy smashed into her back and she went flipping end over end, landing upside down… still resting on nothing but solid air. Behind her she caught a momentary glimpse of a vague form that vanished. Its scent did not linger about her.
“He’s a siren!” Dice called out, a bolt of lightning blasting several spots near where the creature had stood, and this time, there was a bleated call and a form wafted into view. In a moment Khōkhalā was on her feet again, running in a full blitz down a slope of air straight at the thing. Its form had the legs of a goat and horns and a furry face, but a man’s upper torso.
She slashed at it, but it tumbled out of the way, bleating at her, and she felt a slight pressure against her as it did so, before it vanished again. As the pressure vanished, so too did her prey. “Can you counter him?” She asked Dice, looking around for the creepy goatman.
Dice shook his head. He was still scanning around them. If only she could see it, or… or smell it or something, but how could his ability to manipulate sound mask him from sight and scent so well? His scent was fading, so he had to be hiding it somehow. She needed something else, another option. If he attacked again… she dropped down above Dice, turning as he turned, standing over his head on a platform of air that did not interfere with his barrier. Maybe the barrier existed precisely under her feet.
“You smell so delicious. I wish I could eat you up instead of bringing you back,” The voice whispered. She wanted to ignore it. Defeating it was the real priority, but that had not worked out well so far.
She had an idea though. Something she had considered earlier. The swords… if she had those, maybe she had that. Wilder things were happening, it could be. “Dice, I have an idea. But, uh, it is kind of crazy, so put your barriers up please?” she asked. Dice glanced up at her, and she saw he was trying to control his blushing. At least it was not a skirt. He nodded and barriers sprang up around him.
Hollow drew in a deep breath as she took the stance she had always imagined. She hoped this worked. Her swords rested in her hands, one with blade held flat to the ground. The arm that held it was wrapped across her stomach, to the point the sword was actually almost fully behind her back. She held the other high overhead, tip pointed straight on to the sky. “First, plant your feet solidly. Spread wide, well balanced, blade set for the slash,” she recited to herself from her own imaginations. “Breath in deep, and let your energy flow. Feel the blade as a part of yourself. There are not three separate entities, but one being. One weapon. Me. KAZE O WAKERU!” she shouted as one blade slashed across her body and then the other slashed downward. She felt it take hold as she slashed, the blade cutting into the wind itself. A blade of wind erupted from each of her twin swords and flew cutting across the space between her and what was in front of her. She slashed again and again and again, throwing blade after blade made of pure wind across the space of their battle. Trees and branches fell in rapid succession as blades of wind cut everything in their paths. They even sliced part way through one of Dice’s barriers when she accidentally hit it.
The sudden barrage of random strikes, however, bore fruit before she could accidentally cut the man himself. An arm flashed into being as one of her attacks managed to hit their assailant hiding in Dice’s blindspot. As soon as it did, Dice hit her with a hammer blow, knocking her off balance and halting her attacks. Lightning flashed twice, impacting on the target. She landed badly as Dice called out. “Sorry! Had to stop you as soon as we found him!” Dice offered by way of apology. However, he was not looking at her. He was focused on the goat man.
Suddenly chains erupted and wrapped around their target. She sprang at the creature on instinct, one blade stabbing the detached arm to the ground and another stabbing into the target on his left shoulder. “Got you!” she called… then she felt a jolt. Power flowed out of the creature and into her. It felt so good, so good. The pressure on her mind seemed to writhe in joy as food flowed into her. Food! It was food! So good! She needed more… more…
She woke up sitting with her back against a fallen tree, shaking stars from her eyes. Dice was kneeling over the form of the creature… the creature… she sprang to her feet. It did not look like a monster anymore, but instead a man. He was middle-aged, balding, and a little overweight. Dice was performing chest compressions as he tried to perform some strange green looking magic on the wound where her sword had stabbed into the man. “Come on, come on, please…” he whispered as he kept trying.
“What is going on?” She asked, running over. Dice looked at her with a brief look of horror before his face took a neutral cast.
“You… you didn’t mean to. You don’t understand your powers yet. He was possessed by something, it transformed him. You… you ate what transformed him, but you did it before it could heal his arm. Between a missing arm and the wound you gave him, he’s… I can’t stop the bleeding and even if I did, I think he lost too much.” Dice’s voice was follow, monotoned, far away as he continued his chest compressions. “I… you ate what was keeping him alive… he’s…” Dice said.
She felt her legs go out from under her. It was not… she did not… she… he was dead. “I… it felt so good, it felt so delicious. Food, I needed food, and he was food and I killed him! I… I ate him! No… why… I’m a murderer… I…” she clutched her head, staring down at her knees as she felt tears well up. She could feel the horns and the bits of… mask. The bits of mask, she realized. She was… “I am a H-”
An arm enveloped her while a pressure, almost like more arms, seemed to grip her from the other side.. Dice pulled her close and held her tight. “You aren’t a murderer. You killed him, yes,” he admitted. “You aren’t a murderer. He wanted to do horrible things, kidnap you. You don’t have to feel guilty for that. He… he was possessed. You killed him, but you did not know,” he whispered. “You did not know. How could you? You are possessed too. Do not blame yourself like that, do not believe you are a murderer. You killed and ate a spirit. It was the spirit who forced him into this situation.”
“I… but I wanted to! I chose to stab him, that was not the spirit!”
“You did not know, and that matters. How could you? He… we do not know if he was an evil man. If he was evil, then he had earned his punishment for more than tonight, and death would have come for him. You are not wrong to defend your life, and he was wrong to threaten it. Your spirit corrupted you, but you can fight that. It doesn’t control you. If he was innocent… Zinda, if he was innocent, I could not have saved him. I do not know how to release someone possessed, nor restrain him long enough to find someone who could. Death… if he is evil, then death has rendered him up for punishments he has earned. If he was good, then death has freed him from a great burden and a terrible curse, and he may receive a reward. We cannot know, but we cannot stop, either. Look upon this with regret, but repent of your lack of control, and do better,” he whispered to her, holding her tightly. “We must not stop moving forward.”
She nodded, but that did not stop the tears. It would take far more than that to stop the tears.
Her pain was his pain, her sorrow was his sorrow. She was frightened, out of her depth, experiencing urges alien to her, being thrust into danger and forced to fight for her life. Of course she cried. He was amazed she’d held up this long. Some piece of him tried to stay above the pain and sorrow welling out of the small young woman in his arm. The rest of him was flooded over with her powerful emotions. Even with the parasite blocking her, at least, what he guessed was a parasite, he could still feel them like the light of the sun.
Eventually, he whispered, “I’ve killed too.” She still had tears in her eyes, but he had her attention. “It was… almost a year ago. The MCO had been hunting me, but the real problem was the monsters. I’m a magnet. They find me, they hunt me, they try to kill me. Or I find them. It’s quite literally my luck. I’m an odds mangler,” he explained to her. “Heard of those?” she nodded.
“I basically always get the result I want with dice. However… I can’t avoid running into monsters. Everything that goes bump in the night. One of them found me. It was using the MCO to assault me by possessing a high ranking MCO officer. I was cornered, outgunned. I had to fight them off with minimal resources and lots of luck. I put a couple of them down hard, not dead, just hurt, and ran. It was an industrial construction site. He ran after me with a bunch of goons, but he sent them in ahead of himself. I cut back around. He was… I’m not sure, but I think he wasn’t really quite alive anymore. When we fought, I burned off part of his clothing and the flesh underneath was rotting. I’m not sure how much longer he could last, but I killed him by dropping a steel beam on him, and cutting him in half. The agent… he thanked me. Said he wished he hadn’t wasted his time hating mutants.”
She was… calmer now. Not quite as in a hurry to drive herself into despair. The pain and sorrow remained, but they no longer dominated and controlled her. “Than…” she took a deep breath as she choked down sobs and her breathing was a little steadier when she was done. “Thank you for telling me,” she managed with a shaky voice. “I… I can go on. I will not give up easily. I want to live. Um… I… I am Khōkhalā Zinda, my name.”
He blinked in surprise. He hadn’t expected her to volunteer her name so easily. “It, um, it has an English meaning. Kind of… The Living Hollow,” she explained.
“Who names their child Living Hollow?” Dice blurted out, then covered his mouth. “I’m sorry,” he said. Her irritation had spiked at his words, but it didn’t feel directed entirely at him.
“My parents. They will not say why,” she said in a more worried voice than any he’d heard before. Fear, but not for herself, welled up for a moment, but it vanished quickly, buried under everything else.
“Why… did you explain that?” he asked, a little confused.
“I… the name, my name it… I think I have a clue what my power is, maybe? I, um… do you know the manga Bleach?” she asked in a nervous voice.
“I… yeah? The anime had just finished airing a bit before I manifested. I wasn’t a big fan though, but I saw the first few seasons.” Bleach… Japanese ghosts with swords and weird powers fighting against monsters called hollows that ate souls. Ate… souls. “Are you comparing yourself to a Hollow because of your name?” he asked in surprise and concern.
She shook her head. “No, I mean, well, no, not exactly. And yes. I… I am a big fan. Were you around long enough to know what Arrancar are?” she asked him. Dice shook his head. “They are hollows that do not have masks because they took them off somehow. They worked for Aizen. They have these really cool powers. See, they are supposed to be super strong, and hard to hurt, and they can use Ceros, and they have zanpakuto!” She was getting excited as she explained her favorite anime. Dice said nothing as he watched the fear and panic momentarily recede in the face of the fervor of a fangirl in full geek out mode. “Their swords release their old monstrous hollow forms though, instead of shinigami powers like Shikai and Bankai. But there is also these Shinigami called Vizards. They are shinigami with Hollow Masks, and apparently even though they have the same shikai and Bankai, they can do a reverse release and become a full hollow. So I… figured why not have Arrancar do that? I was writing a fanfic tonight before bed, with this character I made and… I gave him a shikai and a bankai instead of a hollow form release. He had blades just like mine.” She slowed down as she spoke of the last part, coming back down off the high of excitement as the reality of her situation intruded again. She did not panic, but the manic joy receded and fear and worry surged back into place. She maintained her calm, however. “He could do that windblade trick too.”
“Are you… you’re literally turning into your own fanfic character?” Dice asked worriedly. He would hate to see a young girl go through the trauma of forcibly becoming a guy… unless, he supposed, maybe she wanted to?
“Just the powers. I, uh, the character was a male,” she explained, embarrassed.
Dice nodded. He’d been paying attention. Still, it hadn’t occurred to her that her mutation might change her gender, and he saw no use in suggesting it and giving her more cause for panic. “Well… if there are that many parallels, I guess maybe that’s the case. Um… would you like me to address you by your name or ?” he asked, unsure. He felt the impetus to ask and change the subject since she seemed embarrassed, and he needed her to focus again.
“Um… Mutants get code names and stuff, right? Just, call me Hollow. It’ll be easy to pronounce, and it is, technically, my name,” she said, managing a smile. It was mostly faked, but there was just a hint of something that might have been joy buried under everything else.
Dice nodded. “Right, Hollow it is. We need to find the cops, not the MCO or anybody else, except a hero. Either of those might be able to help you. If we can get you into the hands of somebody who doesn’t trust the MCO, and who has power, and get them to believe you’re you, fingerprints, anything like that, we can protect you and you can have a life again. There’s mutants on the Kansas City Knights, they won’t be quick to hand you over to the MCO. Does that sound ok?” She might not go for it, but she should. Still, he worried. This whole situation was… messed up in too many ways. It set him on edge how crazy everything had turned. He wasn’t used to dealing with other people. Or having a girl who ate spirits and monsters on the run from the MCO. He had a bad feeling about this.