Chapter 18- Intermission "Crossroads"

Chapter 18- Intermission "Crossroads"

A Chapter by Rocki-san
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This is a small...well... forget about the small, intermission that still ties in with the story giving you Hiero's background.

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-Hiero-

Peace and tranquility.

I liked peace and I liked tranquility. Sometimes you just need to sit back, go with the flow, and enjoy the ride. You needed to just let every ailment wash away through the river called life. To be refreshed like a spring rain, revitalized, harmonize with the world around you. Let that river carry you to places far off without a care as to where it may be taking you.

Kind of like the river we were on now.

“Hiero?” I opened a lazy eye to look up at my friend, blonde hair falling into my face and violet eyes slightly annoyed with my lazing about.

“What?” I asked and batted the long pony tail in my face.

“Why do you get to take a nap?” He wasn’t annoyed that I was lying about the makeshift raft, or that he was doing the work, it was the fact that he wasn’t the one lying about not doing work that upset him.

“Because, I thought of it first,” I muttered and turned to my side, feigning to go to sleep. A few seconds later and I was submerged in the chilled water of the river that now seemed to wash away my peace rather than my ailments. “Niall!”

He was too busy laughing to notice my glare. I swam over to the raft and held onto the side, reaching over to grab a fistful of his shirt and drag him in with me.

“Hey!” Niall surfaced and looked at me with offense.

“What’s funny is that you don’t ever consider my retaliations,” I said and pulled myself back up onto the dock. I knelt down to help him. I shook the water out of my bright red hair while Niall squeezed it out of his hair that reached the small of his back. The two of us looked at each other and laughed for what could be seen as no reason to someone just passing by, but wasn’t that the greatest thing about friendship? Laughing for no reason but for being happy with the comrade beside you?

I looked down at the water to see my reflection in the mirror of the surface just as the ripples calmed down. I wasn’t tall like Niall, my hair was red and not blonde, and my eyes bright green rather than violet. We looked so different, polar opposites you could say, but when he came over and rested his arm around my shoulder to look at our reflection with me, all I saw was my brother.

“What would I ever do without you?” He asked with a smile and I shuddered.

“I don’t even want to think about it,” I joked.

“Now that was uncalled for!” He said and watched as I moved over to check the fishing lines. I knew we wouldn’t have any bites, not after disturbing the flow of the river momentarily but it never hurt to check.

Neither Niall nor I knew our parents; we were both left at an orphanage long ago as infants. Completely alone in the world. The orphanage, though it never wanted to be, was a terrible place for a child growing up in this world. The children were hated rather than cherished, especially the troublemaker I now call friend and I was equally hated just by association. The orphanages were dark and dreary- yes, we’d been through a few- and always subject to attacks from monsters and demons alike. We were easy prey and no one really cared if we were eaten. It was less mouths to feed and more room for the incoming infants whose parents were killed in raids or just didn’t care anymore.

My parents belonged in the latter category; I was seven when I came to the orphanage so I knew the sting of not being wanted by your own parents. But Niall, Niall had never known his parents. He came to the orphanage just days after his birth, according to the nuns I mean. And these nuns you weren’t too sure of their meanings. They weren’t the sweet, innocent “Be one with God” type, they were the witches in disguise. The “I float down the corridor rather than walk” kind of nuns that enjoyed their rulers a little too much. So it could have been days after Niall’s birth, or it could have been months. No one really knew.

“Where are we now?” I asked as I dropped the line back into the water.

“How should I know?” he shrugged and shuffled through our grotesque tent on the raft. He pulled out a map beaten from its many travels. “Last I checked we were here.”

“Khedesh,” I confirmed. “With the imp thing wreaking havoc.”

“Precisely,” he nodded and followed the river downstream. “We’ve been going for a week at a constant rate so we should be getting closer to a town called Albino. We’ll see if there’s a job there.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said and lay back again. I opened one eye to watch as Niall did the same. We were kicked out of the orphanage system eventually, Niall being too unruly and the two of us becoming too old for anyone to actually want to consider adopting us. Once the dimples were gone and the awkward teenage mustache grew, we were no longer considered cute.  Afterwards, we decided to go around and see the world. The real world, not the grim and dull orphanage one. Everyone complained about this world, they said it was too dark or depressing but I saw it as a bright place if you just opened your eyes and saw things in a new way. I always was the optimist.

Soon we somehow got into the hunting business. We didn’t enlist in the CCOR or any of the underground organizations that required paperwork or payment; we just went around helping families, individuals, or villages in need. Only asking for a bed of hay or a bowl of soup as payment for our services and usually we got that-and more- without asking.

The CCOR and those other organizations didn’t like us very much but we didn’t really care. Sometimes those organizations charged too much or the CCOR took too long to help. Sure, we were no express service, but we definitely got the job done faster.

“It’ll be winter soon,” I said as we both looked up at the clogged up sky.

“Yup,” Niall sighed. “We’ll have to leave the river soon before it gets too cold.”

“Shame,” I muttered and closed my eyes to feel the warmth of the trickled rays of sunlight. “I like the river.”

 

Months had passed since we’d been on the river. We’d sold the raft to some guy in Albini and moved on foot as we usually did. Traveling on foot was nice too, sitting outside an open fire, sleeping under the stars and on nights where it was below freezing you had to resort to warmth that you never dared mention again. Ever.

 It was a nice change of pace, though, after floating slowly down the river. The sound of the frozen ground crunching under your boot added a sort of mysticism to the travels.

We didn’t have many jobs after leaving the river, but neither did the other organizations. The world seemed quiet, too quiet if you asked me. I was all for the annihilation of demons, everyone was, but the fact that they were all currently MIA only concerned me more. The fact that they were so quiet could mean they were planning something.

I was the only one to believe this, however, Niall only laughed when I voiced this thought. I did admit it was a little farfetched. Demons were very territorial, alphas always fought with alphas and betas always pretended to be alphas to get territory from other betas and deltas were just plain vicious. There was no way any demons would be working with another unless a beta worked (reluctantly) for an alpha.

“Hey, I think we have a job,” I looked over to Niall who was reading a newspaper. We’d stopped at some random town up north in Itarea for breakfast and the latest news.

“Really?” I asked and sat up to look on.

“Alddell,” Niall pointed to the town very close to the northern border.

“What about it?” I asked and took the paper to read.

“Supposedly a lot of people are getting sick and have been over the past several years. There’s a pattern.” Niall said and proceeded to explain it.

“Sounds demonic,” I said.

“Sounds demonic,” he confirmed.

“How many casualties?” I asked.

“Everyone who’s gotten sick has died,” Niall said. “Over the years it has reduced the population from 10,000 to 500.”

“I’m game,” I said and he nodded. “Alddell it is, then.”

“To Alddell!” He got up and left the table, it took me a few seconds to realize that he wasn’t coming back and I was left with the bill.

 

Alddell was a tundra with nothing but snow, snow, ice, and snow all year round. It was frigid and bleak, desolate. How anyone lived here at any point of the year, I wasn’t sure, it only made those awkward nights seem less so if you had to do it every night.

It looked to be an okay sized place to live but there weren’t as many people roaming the streets as there should have been. This disease had really taken its toll on the people of Alddell and because it was a disease the CCOR wanted nothing to do with it without knowing what was going on. They weren’t about to risk a few men but they were fine with allowing the whole town to disappear. It made me sick.

“Can we help you?” A young woman walked up to us, she was wearing a face mask as were many of the people here, desperately trying to reduce their risks. She was short and her hair pulled back in a dark braid that matched her eyes. Stunning was the only word that came to mind.

“I’m Niall Noir and this is my friend Hiero Ueno we’ve come to help with the disease problem?” Niall had come up with his own last name. Where he’d come up with it and why he chose it, he never said. I’d kept my own surname because one, I was familiar with it and two, it would probably piss off my parents if ever I say them again. That’s what I always said; I knew there was a third reason though, one that I denied myself from having.

Every child needs a family after all.

“And how do you plan to do that?” She asked skeptically. Her eyes grew darker at the mere mention of the disease.

“We’re hunters,” Niall said as though it were obvious from his sheer looks. I rolled my eyes.

“Just from reading the papers we could see a pattern, the disease seems demonic to us.” Hiero said. “It won’t hurt for us to take a look, no charge to the village whatsoever.”

“Really?” she asked, unsure if we could be trusted. She looked between the both of us before smiling. “I believe you, you’re already much different than the other people that were here. We turned them away, we had to! We didn’t have the money to pay them.”

“They over charge anyway,” Niall said. “All we ask is a barn to sleep in.”

“A barn?” She quirked an eyebrow. “You can just stay with Baba and I.”

“Sure, we’d love to stay with you and Baba,” Niall looked over at me with a grin and I rolled my eyes.

Apparently, the woman known as Baba is no better than any nun that had raised us. Though a short, round woman, she was quick and efficient in all aspects. Cooking, cleaning, both a house and someone else’s act and she was the head nurse for the hospital. She was a force to be reckoned with.

And I learned all this in the first five minutes of meeting her. She looked both Niall and I up and down as we still stood on the front porch of her large home. Me, she seemed to tolerate, Niall however she was a little less thrilled about.

“And which of these two boys do you take a fancy to, Amaya?” Baba asked. “I hope it’s the short one.”

“Hey!” Niall exclaimed with offense.

“Grandma,” Amaya sighed and shook her head.

“What’s wrong with me?” Niall asked.

“You really want to go there?” I asked only to be glared at.

“You ain’t wearin’ a jacket,” Baba said and Niall looked down.

“Yes I am,” he said and pointed to his torso.

“That’s a sweater,” Baba replied and pointed at my black jacket. “You see, this boy is wearing a nice, warm jacket.”

“She’s got you there, Niall,” I said and stepped away before he could retaliate.

“Amaya, why don’t you show them to their rooms, I’ll finish dinner,” Baba said and waved us off.

“Alright, grandma,” Amaya said and the bustling woman walked off to the kitchen. She led us upstairs and into rooms separated by a corridor. Niall barely looked at his own room but followed Amaya and I to mine.

“Baba has a pretty big place,” I said and Amaya smiled.

“Yeah, we have a pretty big family,” Amaya said.

“Where are they all then?” Niall asked and Amaya was silent. “Oh.”

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly.

“My mother was the most recent,” Amaya looked up at me with her brown eyes. “She passed away last week.”

“We’ll stop this before there are any more casualties,” I said and she gave me a small smile.

“This is your room, Hiero,” she said and opened the door. “There will be a town meeting tomorrow about this. We’ll introduce you to the town and hopefully you can persuade them to hire you.”

“Thank you,” I said and she nodded.

“Baba will call you when it’s time to eat,” Amaya said and left the room.

 

Later that night, I walked back into my room after a shower to see Niall sitting on my bed looking through some records.

“Um, hi?” I said and moved over to my bag to get some clothes.

“Hey,” he replied without looking up at me.

“What’re you doing?” I asked.

“Research,” he replied.

“In here?”

“Yeah,” he said and stretched. “I don’t like my room.”

“It’s the same as this one,” I pointed out and he sighed.

“But you’re not there,” he said. “Oh shut up!”

I tried to get rid of my grin and looked back at him. “I’m sorry, darling.”

“What I mean is,” he grumbled. “I’ve never slept in a room alone. I tried it and I can’t do it.”

“Okay, tomorrow I’ll ask if there’s a double room,” I said and he nodded.

“Do you think they’ll hire us?” Niall asked.

“Hire us insinuates that they’ll pay us,” I replied. “So whether or not they want our help, I’m helping.”

“You like her, don’t you?” he grinned.

“What? You don’t want to help regardless?” I asked and he shrugged.

“I didn’t say that,” he said. “I was already planning on that. I was just saying that you like her.”

I felt my face begin to flush and turned away quickly to hide it. I could hear Niall laughing behind me. “Shut up!”

“Don’t worry about it, we’re human!” he said. “Besides, I think she likes you too!”

“So what?” I said and grabbed one of his books to flip through it, pretending I was more interested in that when really I didn’t read a single word.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe it is time that we settled down somewhere. Had a family or something.”

“Yeah, cause we’re the poster children for family values,” I snorted and he rolled his eyes.

“That doesn’t matter,” he said. “I was just putting it out there; we don’t have to do this forever.”

“Yeah and you should probably find a girl so you can break your dependency on me to go to sleep.” I said. “I mean, I know I’m a sexy beast but-“

He stood up to remind me that he was double my height and I shirked back, laughing. He grabbed the book from me and sighed.

“Have you found anything?” I asked and he shook his head.

“This is something we’ve never dealt with before,” he said. “No one has ever heard of this thing, I even called old man Raul.”

“And he didn’t have a clue?”

“None whatsoever.”

“We’ll have to be extra meticulous in our observations then,” I said and he nodded.

“Already on that,” he said and handed me a leather bound journal. It was a new one; he’d always kept the things, stashing them here and there until he had a proper place to keep them. “Anyway, we should get some sleep.”

“Okay, are you okay with sleeping on the floor? Would you like me to hold your hand?” I asked and he punched my shoulder, unimpressed with the joke.

 

The town meeting was very boring, but also very successful. Niall spoke to the village but word had already spread throughout town and the vote was unanimous. So, the two of us got to work immediately.

We started at the hospital; it was a small facility but Baba was still running back and forth trying to get to every patient in a reasonable fashion. We were told to wear masks which we did but it was pretty certain that the disease wasn’t airborne.

“Every one of the victims gets this strange marking,” Baba said and moved the shirt of an unconscious man. It was on the man’s shoulder, the shape rounded on both sides, almost like a divided circle but any defining details were hidden. It had a bluish tinge to it and, for a split second, it almost seemed to glow.

“Definitely demonic,” Niall said and touched the mark and this time, for sure, it glowed.

“Not any demon I’ve ever seen,” I said uneasily. “If only one of them were conscious.”

“They didn’t see anything,” Baba shook her head and we both looked up at her. “One day they were fine and the next day they were here.”

“So, we need to find the demon,” Niall said.

“Or the next victim,” I said. “I’ll go to the library while you ask around town.”

“Roger dodger,” he said and we split up.

I should’ve left library duty to Niall. I’d never been a fan of reading, mostly because the nuns had shoved it down my throat to the point of sheer aversion. Niall was the one that was good at reading, researching, and he actually enjoyed it. But he was also social, more so than I, so why not let him exhaust himself with the people of the street?

“Taking a little break?” I picked my head up to see Amaya. I sat up, acting as though I hadn’t dozed off despite her knowing that I had.

“No, no, I’m still on it,” I said and watched as she sat down. “What are you doing here?”

“I work here,” she said and smiled. “Is there anything you need help with?”

“We’re just looking into the demon, any sightings? Any reason it should be here?” I said. She stood up and came back moments later with a box.

“This is all we have on demons in Alddell,” she handed me a single manila folder.

“This is it?” I asked.

“That’s why we’re a little wary of admitting that it’s a demon causing this.” She sat beside me again. “We had one demon a few years ago.”

“How do you know it was a demon?” I asked, pulling out a sheet of paper. “Did you see it?”

“My father was the one who spotted it,” she said. “He said he knew it was a demon because of its skin and eyes.”

“Skin and eyes?” I asked and she nodded.

“Its skin was blacker than the night sky and its eyes were silver,” she said. “And my father was the first casualty.”

“What happened?” I asked and she sighed.

“He says he saw the creature in that old community center,” she said. “He was the caretaker and was moving all the town records there. He went in one day and saw the demon, he said a mist surrounded him and he felt pain. The most excruciating pain he’d ever felt. That night, he came home, pale and sickly. He told us what happened and then fell unconscious. He never woke up.”

“I’m so sorry, Amaya,” I said quietly and she shrugged.

“It happens to us all eventually,” she said. “Do you think, you’ll be able to stop whatever’s going on?”

“If we find the demon we should be able to,” I said. “We’ll head over to the community center. If I can find Niall.”

“You’ll be careful, won’t you?” She asked, standing up with me.

“Of course,” I said. “We’ve done this many times.”

“I just want you to come back,” she said and leaned up to kiss my cheek. I blushed profusely as she walked away.

I found Niall busy at work; getting statements, meeting the townspeople and calming them down. I waited until he finished speaking with the latest Joe.

“Find anything?” I asked and he shrugged.

“No one has seen anything demonic,” Niall sighed. “What about you?”

“Black skin, silver eyes,” I said. “I think we should take a look at the community center.”

“Alright,” he said and we headed in that direction.

Out in the middle of nowhere we found the community center but it was completely abandoned. It looked as though as soon as Amaya’s father became ill, the moving all stopped. We stayed for a few hours to get a reading and we didn’t like what we were seeing.

“It’s not off the charts,” Niall said as he looked at his EMF detector. “But it’s very close.”

“So, where is it?” I asked and Niall shrugged.

“I don’t want to be here to find out when it’s dark,” he said. “We’ll come back tomorrow when we’re more prepared. “

“Good plan,” I said and we both turned our back on the building despite the ominous feeling it left us.

 

“What do you mean ‘she’s gone’?” I’d like to say that we came back to Baba’s after a long, hard day at work. I’d like to say that we’d been able to have a relaxing evening like the night before. Unfortunately, we were never that lucky.

We’d come back to find the home completely abandoned. Neither Baba nor Amaya had returned to the house as was planned. It was also still locked. We went back to the hospital to find Baba sitting down-for once- and Amaya still nowhere to be seen.

“They found her passed out on the library floor.” Baba said quietly with tears rolling down her ancient cheeks. “She was ill and she didn’t tell anyone, not even me.”

“And she-?” My hands were shaking from rage and trying to hide my tears.

“She passed a few hours ago,” Baba said and stood up to hug me. “I’m all alone now.”

“Baba, you should go home and get some rest,” Niall said soothingly. He then turned to me and touched my shoulder. “You okay, man?”

“I saw her at the library,” I said quietly. “If I’d stayed there-“

“You would only have tortured yourself more,” he finished for me. “There was nothing you could have done.”

“I could have found the thing,” I said through gritted teeth.

“And we will,” Niall squeezed my shoulder reassuringly. “I’m sorry, Hiero.”

“Let’s just get ready for tomorrow.” I let his hand fall away before walking.

We were at the community center all morning with nothing happening. Niall sat quietly, waiting while I paced back and forth impatiently.

“Where is it?”  I asked, my anger growing more and more.

“Hiero, calm down,” Niall said. “You won’t be able to fight if you’re fuming like that.”

“I know, I know,” I sighed and sat down, hugging my knees to my chest. “Can we leave as soon as this is over?”

“Don’t you like it here?” Niall asked quietly.

“No.” My words were quiet and withdrawn and he nodded understandingly.

“Okay, why don’t we head south for away, maybe steal some CCOR thunder near Headquarters?” Niall said but I didn’t reply. “Hiero-“

“Shh,” I stood up suddenly. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” he stood as well and walked over to me.

“There was movement,” I said.

“You have come to us,” both Niall and I jumped back, pulling out guns to aim at the demon that had appeared out of nowhere behind us. It was just a large, black mass of smoke that formed into an entity with long claws, sharp teeth, and metallic eyes that gleamed like a blade.

“Holy s**t,” I said, surprised that I was able to say anything at all. Niall simply nodded, speechless like I should have been.

“Saved us the trouble of finding you,” the claw reached out, hooking into Niall’s collar and pulling him closer. “Looks like preparations are complete.”

“Niall,” I said but it looked as though he didn’t hear me. “Niall!”

“I can’t move,” Niall said, his voice shaking. I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him away from the demon, his shirt ripping clean from the sharpness of the claws.

“Who are you?” I asked, pointing my gun at the demon.

“You shall call us, Master,” the demon’s silver eyes gleamed.

“Yeah right,” I scoffed.

“You are no matter to us,” Master lifted a claw and my feet left the ground immediately. He threw me back and I hit the wall hard. “Meat puppets should not go against their superiors.”

“Hiero, you okay?” Niall asked, his head back in the game. He’d shot the demon several times with no luck. Every bullet hit but it did no damage.

“Yeah,” I stood up. A cracked rib, bruised shoulder, all in a day’s work. The demon didn’t move for a few seconds but then started advancing towards us. Niall drew his short sword, it had belonged to his father and it was the only thing left from his former life. Niall swung with his sword but the demon dematerialized before the blade could strike.

“We will gather energy from all the meat puppets in the area, all with the virus,” the demon said. “We will use it on you.”

There was a small flash of light, hidden by the claws and blackness of the hand. Niall must’ve not seen it but from my position the green glow was clear.

“Niall, look out!”

Sometimes your body has a mind of its own. Call them reflexes or sheer mutiny; in the end it didn’t really matter your body still did the opposite of what your mind was saying. No thoughts had really gone through my head though, not this time. My body simply reacted without waiting for my mind to tell my legs what to do. One minute I was against the wall and the next…

I hit Niall hard just as the flare of grotesque light shot out from the demon’s hand. Time seemed to slow as I flew through the air, as the light hit me in the abdomen and I dropped like a rock to the ground, Niall landing feet away from the two of us.

Again my body took a mind of its own. Shivering, no, they were seizures. I had no control of my limbs which shook erratically as pain wracked my body to the point where I could no longer scream.

“No, no!” the demon hissed and charged at me, holding me by the throat to cut off my already limited supply of air. “You were not a part of this! You were not to get the virus! Do you know how much energy we needed for this? It’s now all spent!”

He threw me into the wall with much more force than before. The wall started to crumble down around me but the pain was nothing compared to what was going on inside.

“Your genes are rerouting themselves, it’s a painful process,” the demon said and looked to be thinking. He walked over and picked me up again, this time by the face. His silver eyes looked into mine, almost like he was looking into my soul. “We have not perfected the method yet, yes, it needs more work. You are but another guinea pig. Thank you for your services my child.”

I felt myself slipping out of consciousness but kept myself awake, looking for Niall. He was hurting from the fall but I could see he was now starting to get up. Okay, he was okay. A long claw stroked my cheek, sending chills down my already shivering spine.

“But we cannot use the boy over there now, by the time we have energy it will be too late for him,” the demon sighed. “Perhaps this is for the best; we will find a better candidate.”

A shock of pain ran throughout my body and this time I screamed. It started at the base of my spine before exploding to the rest of my body. My nails dug into the black, misty flesh but the demon didn’t seem to mind, just watched my pain.

“You will die soon,” Master said as spots began to form in my vision. Fuzzy, unclear, only shapes did I see. “It’s always fun to watch that.”

“Put him down.” Each word was slow, articulate, and down-right pissed. The demon turned with me still in hand. I could only see the shape of a person, the color of long blonde hair that was usually held at the crown of his head but now disheveled. He held his sword and his gun, both pointed and ready to fight the demon till his last breath.

The demon looked unimpressed at the threat and turned back to me. Niall shot at it, empting his entire clip into the black mass.

“Let him go!” Niall switched clips and tried again, as if it would change anything. Desperation; it made you blind. He ran over with his sword and managed to slash at the demon but still Master didn’t care. “Damn it!”

The claw reached up and touched my left cheek and an icy burn soon spread over. He dropped me suddenly; the wind knocked out of my already abused lungs and cracked ribs. I’d hit my head, causing an immediate headache and my vision to blur even further.

“Hiero!” I was lifted up halfway so that I could see Niall’s worried face. His violet eyes turning to a royal purple as it usually did when he was upset. These were different though, he wasn’t just mad, he was crying.

I’d never seen that before.

“Where’d… he… go?” My breathing was labored and painful, another wave of pain ran through me but I managed to hold back the scream for his sake. I tasted copper in my mouth and coughed out some of the blood.

“He disappeared,” Niall said he was scared, terrified even. “Just hang in there, okay? You’ll make it, I promise.”

“Niall-“

“You’re going to make it!” he said, his hand digging into my bruised shoulder. “Promise me you will? You’re the only family I’ve got.” 

“I know,” I said around a mouthful of crimson fluid. “But we’ve all got to go sometime.”

“No,” he hugged me and I felt everything start to become heavier, darker. I felt another seizure come on, my heart beating wildly in my chest. I reached out and grabbed his hand, holding it tight against the pain. His hand was cold and clammy but he held on tightly for support.

“It hurts.” I said through gritted teeth. 

“I’ll take you to Baba,” he said quietly.

“It won’t help, Niall, and you know it,” I said. Sinking and drifting, going with the flow of the river of life. I missed the river and its simple complexities. It really resembled life but, as with all good things, this river was soon coming to an end. “I remember the first day we met.”

“Yeah?” His words were withdrawn and quiet.

“My parents told me the orphanage was a daycare,” I smiled at my past naivety. “My mother kissed my forehead, told me she would come back for me later and they left. I was still waiting when I was twelve but they never came.”

“Every kid needs their parents,” Niall said quietly.

“Not every kid,” I said. “We had each other. You’re my brother, you know.”

“I’ll find it,” Niall’s words were dark and venomous. “I’ll find that demon and I’ll kill it. I promise you, brother.”

“No,” I shook my head; I was running out of time, my words becoming slurred. “Just live your life, okay? And don’t you ever blame yourself.”

“I don’t think I can keep that promise,” he said and I tried to laugh.

“I know, that’s why I’m not making you promise, it’s just a request.” I said.

“I’ll try,” he said and laid me back on the ground, still holding onto my hand as if my life was held inside our grip and if he moved the slightest inch, released any pressure, then I would simply fade away.

“I’m scared,” I would never had admitted that to anyone, but to him I could. No one knew what happened after death, it was still the great unknown. And, as usual for human nature, the unknown scared me.  I was fading regardless of his grip; my own hand was slipping, the seizures stopped and his own grasp tightened.

“It’ll be okay,” he said and even though I knew he was just saying it, I believed him and trusted him. “Hiero?”

I felt a tear hit my cheek, the one that had ceased to burn, ceased to have any feeling, just like the rest of me. I couldn’t answer him, couldn’t find my voice. I wasn’t even sure if I’d heard him or I was just dreaming. The world was nothing but a blur of cold darkness, the light fixture above me soon dulling out to black as did the rest of my life.

 

Sometimes breathing was painful.

After you had a nasty fall and the air has been pushed out of your lungs it’s hard to start breathing again. It was no different than what I faced now.

I’d woken up to be submerged in complete darkness, my lungs sudden begging for air seeming to jog me out of sleep only for me to find there was no air to complete my body’s desire. I gasped for what little air I had and went to sit up but knocked my head on something utterly solid.

Lungs burning and panic setting in. Where the hell was I and what the hell happened?

“Hey!” My voice was hoarse and sore from lack of use. I banged with my fist against the wood all around me. “Is anyone out there? Help!”

My bangs became more sluggish, I needed air and quickly. My heart raced against the cavity of my chest and I shut my eyes.

When I opened them again, it was bright.

I hit the ground and the crisp air filled my lungs rapidly until I coughed. I shielded my eyes against the light until they adjusted and then I just laid there.

Where I was, how I got there or why I was there? I didn’t know any of it but, for some reason, I just felt happy to be alive and yet pained at the same time. Something wasn’t right; an eerie feeling was left looming over me as I sat up.

“Niall?” I called out as the sudden realization hit me. Silence was my only reply.

I was in an icy desert, a tundra with no trees or any life whatsoever for that matter. The ground was frozen, the dirt stiff and only a little snow dusted over the plains. I stood up and wiped off the snow and dirt from my ripped-to-hell jeans.

“What the hell?” I looked around to see only one thing that changed the landscape. A river.  I sighed in defeat and looked down at the ground. My boots were tattered as well, my shirt lost one of its sleeves and I was wearing no jacket.

What the hell had happened?

There wasn’t much use sitting around and wondering, especially when my throat ached like it did. It felt as though it had been ripped from my body and stitched back with a dull needle. I moved over to the crystal clear river and stuck my hand in for a drink. It soothed my throat a little which was good enough for me. I started washing my face with the water before realizing one important question.

Why wasn’t I cold?

I’d lost my jacket, stuck my hands in a freezing river that I knew was frigid and I was now washing my face in icy water. I should have been a frozen Hierocicle by now and yet I was completely fine. My brain told me I was cold, just from the frosty air I was breathing but I didn’t feel it.

I looked down into the water to see my reflection only to find that I wasn’t there. The guy that looked back at me had a similar face, similar structure, but the eyes, the hair. It just wasn’t me.

I was born with red hair. I had green eyes. The reflection in the mirror-like surface of the flowing river? He was much different.

His hair seemed to be turning white, whiter than the snow with only a few blotches of the natural red left. Eyes that were once forest green were now a wolfish umber but it was the mark on the left cheek that let me know for sure that I truly was looking at myself.

It was a bright blue rather than a faded one like I’d seen before. It was the same symbol that I’d seen on the shoulder of that victim in Alddell.

Alddell.

The name of the town ran through my head, leading a stampede of memories that came back full force. Alddell. The demon. Niall.

S**t.

“You have arisen,” the gurgled voice made me jump and I grabbed a large, sharp rock, pivoting on a foot and turning to face the demon. It didn’t seem to be too threatened by the rock that I held. “We have waited for you.”

“What the hell do you want?” I snarled. “What happened to me?”

“You’ve been changed from human,” Master’s eyes gleamed wickedly as he watched me stand slowly, dropping the rock. “To a hybrid of our own creation. Neither demon nor human. We were unable to perfect the virus.”

“You b*****d,” my fists shook at my sides but I knew attacking the thing would do nothing. I turned away and pinched the bridge of my nose, just trying to sort through all of this.

“Would you like to see your friend?” the demon placed its clawed hands on my shoulders and leaning down to whisper in my ear. “We can find him for you.”

The black claw scratched my arm so that dark blood spilled into the river. “Hey!” I went to cover the wound before I bled out only to find that it was already healing. The blood was no long crimson like it had been before but neither was it black like a demon’s. Instead, it was just a mixture of the two.

The bloody claw reached down to the river, churning the blood and clear water until it swirled distortedly like a whirlpool. Soon an image appeared of a young man with bright blond hair reaching the back of his neck. Determined and whimsical violet eyes smiling at a joke that I couldn’t hear.

“Niall?” I wasn’t used to his hair so short. He must’ve cut it shortly after…

“He’s forgotten all about you,” Master hissed into my ear. I didn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it. But, then why did I feel the hatred building up inside me? “He has found a female, he no longer morns nor remembers who you were. Let the hatred and pain fester inside you, it will be your greatest power.”

“Go to hell,” I said but for some reason his words were working. My heart was torn between trying to just be happy that Niall was okay and happy while the other half was angry for that happiness.

“We’ll be giving the orders around here, slave,” the claw caressed the mark on my cheek. “You belong to us, now.”

“What do you want from me?” I asked, defeated.

“You got in the way of our plans but you also saved it for that we did not kill you, no we did not.” His voice whispering in my ears sent eerie chills down my spine. “We can no longer use Niall Noir for our plans but we can use his children. You are going to help me, Hiero.”

“Never,” I hissed. Suddenly something inside me twisted and I fell to my knees.

“You are our slave now, Hiero, it was not a request,” the demon lifted my up so I was eye level with it. “It was an order.”

He threw me to the ground, his eyes no longer gleaming but simmering like a molten rock. He looked down at me with contempt.

“He has settled down in Sodgrove Valley,” Master said. “We expect you will find him before the first child is born. You’ll know the child for which we seek when he has been born.”

“Yes, Master,” for some reason I could no longer fight it. Try as I might I was still on the ground bowing to the demon. A human bowing down to a demon. But, then again, I was no longer human. I was a demon and that’s the way it was going to be from then on.

 

Niall held the basket under his arm firmly to prevent the wind from blowing it out of his hands. The hood of his jacket obstructed his vision no more than the rain that blanketed the landscape. Thunder rumbled throughout the Valley as he walked down the beaten path towards the home behind the hills.

His boots became more soaked as he passed over the flooded bridge, his hands turning red from the icy water falling form the black clouds of night but he didn’t seem to mind. Just over the hill and past the willow tree, groaning in the wind, and he would be home.

He’d barely made it through the door and set the basket down when two blond boys with bright violet eyes charge at him with smiles on their lips.

“Dad, dad!” The younger of the two was the first to reach his father, nearly knocking the tall man over.

“Logan,” Niall smiled and ruffled his son’s hair. “Keno, how was your day?”

“Boring!” Logan sighed with a roll of his four-year-old eyes.

“It’s no fun playing inside,” Keno said and grabbed the basket to take into the kitchen.

“I bet,” Niall took Logan in his arms. “How could you possibly have fun with all of those toys you have?”

“That’s what I said!” Logan said with a serious expression that soon disappeared. “When are we going fishing?”

Niall looked into the gleaming eyes of his son and smiled. “Tomorrow.”

“Yes!” Logan exclaimed as he squirmed out of his father’s grip to tell his big brother. Niall chuckled silently to himself before looking up as an elderly woman and a young, pregnant woman came into the room.

“Ladies,” he bowed before kissing his wife. “How’s the baby? And how is Renee?”

“We’re both fine, Niall,” black hair, a gentle face and warm smile, hazel eyes. He’d fallen in love with her at first sight despite the blackness of his heart at the time.

“Thanks again for keeping fort, Nana,” Niall said. There was a sudden crash from the kitchen. “Boys?”

“Wasn’t me!” Both shouted simultaneously from the other room. Both Renee and Niall sighed.

“Perhaps I could stay for a few more minutes,” Nana smiled before bustling off to the kitchen.

“What will we do if we have another boy?” Renee asked with a smile, leaning into her husband.

“Find a new church?” Niall joked.

“We don’t even go to this one,” she said and he shrugged.

“But we pretend we do,” he said and moved over to the fireplace. His father’s sword placed over the mantle as a reminder of his failure to protect a friend. The same friend who’s photo was on that mantle. It was the only picture of either of them and they were together, taken just days after leaving the orphanage. “It was today.”

“What was today?” Renee moved over to Niall.

“Nine years ago today that Hiero died,” Niall said.

“You still haven’t told me what happened to him,” Renee said. “You’ve told me everything about him except what happened but I know that, whatever it was, it wasn’t your fault, Niall.”

“In these circumstances it’s hard for anyone to think that it’s not their fault, even if you know it’s not you can’t help but feel that it is.” Niall sighed and pulled his wife away from the mantle.

“Niall,” Renee paused and held her stomach. “I think it’s time.”

“For what?” he asked, oblivious but then her meaning struck him suddenly. “Oh, oh! Nana!”

The elderly woman ran into the room just as Niall was helping Renee to their room. “The baby? It’s a little early isn’t it?”

“Can’t you hold it?” Niall asked only to have Renee roll her eyes much like Logan had. “Oh, right. Nana, you stay here with her, I’m going to run into the village for the doctor.”

“No, you stay here with your wife and boys, I’ll go quickly.” Some would be skeptical to an ancient woman going quickly anywhere, but Niall knew better than that. He focused on getting his wife up the stairs and making her comfortable.

“What’s going on?” Niall looked over just as Renee screamed through another contraction. Keno and Logan were at the doorway, holding onto the frame with anxiety.

“Mommy’s feeling a little under the weather,” Niall knelt down to look at the boys. “I’m going to help her feel better but in the meantime I’m going to need both of your help.”

He took both boys out of the room and down the hall to his office. He brought out a couple pieces of paper and some crayons from his desk and handed it to the boys.

“Can you make mommy a picture?” Niall asked. “I bet it will make her smile.”

“Isn’t it bed time?” Keno asked and looked up at Niall with crossed arms.

“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Niall said and both boys smiled before getting to work.

“Keno,” Logan had long stopped coloring after hearing his mother’s discomfort. “Why is mommy crying?”

“I don’t know,” Keno said. “But dad will take care of it.”

“What if there’s a monster under mommy’s bed? Like mine?” Logan inched closer to Keno who smiled.

“I already told you,” Keno pushed Logan away. “It wasn’t a monster, remember? It was dad’s sweater!”

“What?”

“Oh, maybe I didn’t tell you,” Keno said and looked up as the office door opened, ignoring Logan’s glare.

“Boys, come here,” Niall was leaning against the doorframe and the two boys stood up to follow him.

They went into the bedroom where Renee lay in her bed, holding a bundle of blankets. Niall, grinning, helped Logan onto the bed as Keno climbed up. He then sat on the edge of the bed and moved aside the blanket to reveal the sleeping face of an infant.

“What’s that?” Logan asked in awe.

“This is your new little brother, Logan,” Renee said. “Oskar Hiero Noir.”

“Oz-car?” Logan said and Niall laughed.

“Oskar, Logan,” Niall said.

“Oh,” the four-year-old inched closer to the baby who finally opened his eyes, just as violet as his.

“He looks like you mama,” Keno said and touched the soft, black, baby hair.

“He’s still got the purple eyes, though,” she said and smiled, giving the baby a kiss on the head.

“Alright boys, I think it’s bed time now,” Niall stood up.

“Aw, dad,” both whined but slid off the bed.

“Come on,” Niall said. “You’ll have time to play with Ozzie tomorrow.”

The storm continued to rage outside as Niall finished tucking Logan and Keno in for the night. He was already looking around the room to figure out how the new bed would be placed in the future.

Silently he closed the door; he was still the master of silence. You could take the boy out of the hunt but you just couldn’t take the hunt out of the boy. He stood at the closed door for a moment with a smile still plastered on his face.

He felt guilty for this happiness, guilty that he had it and couldn’t share it with his best friend but he couldn’t help the feeling. It had become a part of him, the smile, the feelings of family by his side. He’d never thought he would be able to enjoy this happiness, not just because he wasn’t sure if he were father material, but because he’d never thought he’d live long enough for any of this.

“Niall?” He moved away from the door immediately, not liking the fearful tone in his wife’s voice. He moved quickly to his room and went in to find his wife, still holding her newly born child, standing in the corner.

“Renee, what’s wrong?” Her eyes weren’t on him but behind him, he pulled out his gun, the one he kept on him at all times and turned it to the figure behind the door. A weathered cloak hid the man’s face, water dripping to the floor. How he’d come up the stairs so silently without leaving a trail of water in his wake? Niall didn’t need to think twice about that.

“Who are you?”

The figure said nothing but appeared behind Niall and in front of Renee but the man bothered with neither of them. He touched the baby’s hand for a second before dropping his own.

“You need to leave,” the man said.

“Who are you?” Niall repeated but with more force. The figure paused momentarily before reaching up to remove his hood.

He wouldn’t have recognized me; I’d barely recognized myself when I first saw the changes. I turned to face my old friend and somehow, he knew. His gun slowly went limp in his hands, his jaw dropping minutely.

“Hi-Hiero?” The words were quiet. His wife probably hadn’t heard them but I had. I didn’t answer him but looked back at the child.

“Niall, you need to leave with this child,” I said. “You need to get rid of it.”

“What?” Renee held the child more protectively.

“Hiero-“

“Listen to me!” My voice was harsh, causing the baby to cry. “That demon wanted you but got me instead. Now he is after your son! He is using me to get to that child, Niall.”

“I’m not abandoning my child like we were abandoned, Hiero!” Niall exclaimed and I couldn’t help but smile ironically. It soon faded; smiling was too unnatural to me now.

“I don’t mean abandoning him,” I said quietly. Niall grabbed me by the shirt and shoved me into the wall. He stared into my now umber eyes for what seemed like ages. When he realized that it was truly me, he lightened his grip but his eyes were still fierce.

“I’m not,” his words were slow and articulate. “Killing my son.”

“This wasn’t the reunion you were hoping for, I know, Niall, but-“

“I wasn’t hoping for a reunion! You died, Hiero! I buried you!” Niall said. “The dead don’t come back to life!”

“Master has plans for him, Niall, plans that he had for you but couldn’t carry out.” I continued, almost as if I hadn’t heard him. “You’ll be putting the boy out of his misery.”

“No,” Niall said. “I can’t.”

“Then let me-“

“No!” Niall shouted and I sighed. I couldn’t have done it anyway but I could have found someone else that could. “I’m not going to let it happen, I won’t let anything happen to him.”

The baby had ceased crying but Renee still kept him close, away from me. “What does the demon want?”

I looked back at Niall, that time I almost hadn’t heard him. I sighed and stepped away from the wall to face the man I once knew as brother. A relationship that had to be left in the past now. Now, I was being forced to see him as the enemy. Even now I was quelling the rage that I’d found the day of my return, the unwanted rage that I couldn't seem to dismiss.

“He hasn’t told me,” I said quietly. “Because he doesn’t want me to tell you but it’s bad, Niall. The boy could be a monster for all we know.”

“Is he?” Niall asked; he’d picked up quickly that I was no longer human.

“No,” I said. “But he will be.”

“I’ll find a solution, Hiero,” Niall said and squeezed my shoulder. “For him. And for you.”

I took his hand and removed it from my person, looking down sadly. “It’s too late for me. You’ll have to leave quickly.”

“Niall,” we both turned to the woman in the corner. Tears were in her hazel eyes. I could see why Niall had fallen and fallen hard for her.

“Renee, I have to go,” Niall said quietly and embraced her and the son he probably would never get to know. “It’s his only chance.”

“You promised that you wouldn’t hunt anymore,” she said quietly but knew she couldn’t stop him. “Just, come back safely, please?”

“I will,” he said and turned to say something to me but I was already gone.

 

It was the calm after the storm the next day. The Noir house stood silent in the Valley that looked so cheerful.

“Dad, dad!” Keno ran over holding his fishing pole with a smile on his face. The childhood grin soon disappeared when he saw the single bag of luggage by the door as his father was putting on his long coat. “Dad? Where are you going? Shouldn’t we wait for Logan?”

“We’re not going fishing today, son,” Keno didn’t like the look on his father’s face. He’d only ever known his father to smile at him, sure he sometimes frowned off to the distance or when he looked at the mantelpiece but never at his family.

“But you promised Logan,” Keno said. His intuition was already that of someone much older than he was, a born genius.

“I know,” Niall said quietly. He bent down so that he was eye-level with his eldest son. “Keno, I want you to listen very closely.”

Niall reached into his pocket and pulled out the family photo that had been taken just that morning. Keno looked down at the photograph and then back at his father.

“I’m going on a little trip, okay?” Niall said, tears beginning to form in his eyes. “You’re going to stay here and hold the fort for me, alright? Now I want you to never forget what really matters.”

Niall indicated the picture and Keno nodded.

“Take care of your mother and your brothers, promise?”

“Yes, dad, but,” Keno paused. “When are you coming back?”

Niall said nothing but ruffled Keno’s hair and turned his back, taking his luggage and leaving the house and his dream house behind.

It was almost evening when Niall reached the road where I’d been waiting for him. His hat tilted over his eyes which were downcast as he walked. He stopped just as he reached me.

“Help me, Hiero,” Niall held out a hand which I simply looked at.

“I can’t,” I said quietly and pointed to the mark on my cheek. He looked at it, almost desperately before looking away.

“So this is goodbye then?” He said and I nodded.

“We’ve come to the crossroads,” I said quietly. “And it’s time we went separate ways my friend.”

“I named him after you, you know,” Niall said with a small, sad smile as he shook my hand.

“Yeah,” I said. “I don’t know why, now he sounds like a prick.”

“Hey, that’s my son you’re talking about,” Niall said and released my hand. There was a momentary silence, the first awkward silence the two of us had ever had. Suddenly he hugged me tightly, keeping me from hugging him back.

“I’ll try my best to fight, Niall,” I said quietly. “I don’t care what he does to me.”

“You do your thing and I’ll do mine, that’s what it means to separate,” he said before releasing me to look me in the eye. “I don’t expect you to take the fall for me, not again.”

I nodded and watched as he picked up his bag again before looking down the long road. He started walking but stopped before turning to look back at me.

“I expect you to watch over your nephews?” Niall said and I smiled.

“Like it were my job,” I said and he tried for a laugh.

“Okay,” Niall said. “Let’s hope we don’t have to meet again, then.”

“Not until Master is dead,” I agreed. “Goodbye Niall.”

“Goodbye, brother,” Niall said and we both turned our backs on each other. He was going on his own path, set in stone by the fates while I went down mine. Splitting at the crossroads possibly to never see each other again. While he went down the path of righteousness, I went down the path of darkness and hate despite being a born optimist; this was who I was now. My destiny was now one of a demon and his had stayed the same.

I was to hunt his son and he was to stop me, even if he had to kill me. We both knew it even if we hadn’t said it. It was the way of the hunter and we were both pretty good hunters. Life was going to be interesting to the very end of the river’s flow.




© 2010 Rocki-san



Author's Note

Rocki-san
Sorry it's so long :/ It was fun writing this though, mostly because you can see a little of Keno, Ozzie and Logan in their father and what Hiero was like before the whole demon thing... The title is still a little iffy, so if anyone can think of a better one it would be appreciated! Thank you and enjoy! :3

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Added on October 25, 2010
Last Updated on October 25, 2010
Tags: ANWA saga, sci-fi, supernatural and occult


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Rocki-san
Rocki-san

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Hey, I'm Rocki! I live on a 14-mile long island where there isn't really anything to do so I write. I'm an Anthropology major and willing to read your stories or books if requested as long as you give.. more..

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