The End of a Journey Is Sometimes Just the Beginning
“Do you think your spell is going to work?” Cal asked Mick, as they approached the rock from which the town of Heated Rock got its name. It was heated because of the sun, which was not as impressive as it could have been. It was very big, at least.
“I don’t see why not,” Mick said, glancing over his shoulder at Joey and Travis. “It’s got a powerful enough signature that I should be able to pick up on it.”
Cal nodded. Mick could use the Sceptre to find the other parts of the Regalia, which was good, since they didn’t have any other leads on finding any of them. Depending on how far away they were, they would decide whether it was more efficient to find them and deposit them with Theodore all at once, or return to Merket first. Cal didn’t think it was a good idea to let the Sceptre out of their sight until they had at least one other piece, since it was the only way they had of getting anywhere with this job.
“Okay. Once we’re in the inn, maybe get on it if you’re not tired? It can wait until tomorrow.” Theodore hadn’t given them a time limit. Cal smiled at Mick. “I know we’ve been working you harder than usual lately.”
Mick chuckled. “Happens. Magical shit sort of requires the magical person, yeah?”
“Probably better if you wait,” Sully said in front of them, hands behind his head as he walked. “Until we don’t have hangers-on.”
“Don’t be rude,” Wes suggested. They were coming up on the rock now. The road curved around it, leading to the town, which was hidden from view.
“You’re saying it rudely. I didn’t say you were wrong, just that you’re a jerk.”
Sully snorted. “Whatever. So are you.”
“What did I do?”
“You totally knew Cal was planning to throw water at me!” Sully accused. “And you didn’t stop him!”
“You should wake up earlier.”
“Waking up early is for old people!” Sully glared at Wes. “Nothing good happens before lunch.”
“Breakfast is pretty good,” Joey called from the back.
“You keep your wrong opinions to yourself back there.”
“You feeling okay, Sully?” Mick asked. “You haven’t said the word ‘fuck’ yet in this tirade.”
“Fuck off. Maybe I’d get up earlier if you all didn’t keep me up all fucking night.”
“It was also two days ago,” Cal added. “Get over it.”
Sully opted to sulk instead of engaging either of them further, or at least that was how Cal interpreted his silence.
Smiling, Cal looked over his shoulder at Joey and Travis. “Where are the two of you headed after this?”
“We…” Travis started to talk, but Joey grabbed his hand.
“It’s a secret.”
“Oh?” Cal quirked an eyebrow, amused. “Why is it a secret?”
“Well apparently in this group, we keep secrets from each other for no reason, so I’m just trying to fit in.”
“You’re surprisingly bitter about something you supposedly have no stake in,” Cal told him, as they made to turn with the road around the rock, to the entrance of the town.
There were two people standing there, on the road, who hadn’t been there a second ago. The first was a polished, thin man with pointed mustaches and a black cape. The second was Belle, the healer who Cal had been to see in Merket, dressed in her pink. Belle was holding a sword.
One Cal recognized.
Sully dropped his arms from behind his head, widening his stance a little, hands near his knives. Wes had his near his axe. Mick was preparing his magic. Cal went still, watching them. “Can we help the two of you?”
Belle smiled at him, gave a nod. But her attention soon left him. “Interesting company you’re keeping these days.”
She was talking to Sully.
He was tense, Cal saw, in a way that he hadn’t been before since they’d known each other. “What the fuck do you want?”
“You know what we want, Sullivan.”
“More creditors, Sully?” Cal asked, but that wasn’t it. Something about this whole thing was off. Aside from all the obvious things that were off like Belle having followed them down here with a sword that Wes had broken, which now wasn’t broken, something was just wrong.
“You guys should run,” Sully said, not breaking eye contact with Belle and her friend. “Now. Go.”
Cal looked at Wes and Mick, and all three of them moved into fighting stances. Wes’s axe came out, Mick’s hand raised, and Cal drew his short sword. Behind him, Travis pulled out his knives as well, and Joey moved behind him.
“Guys…” Sully pleaded.
“You’re about to make a serious mistake, Sully,” the polished man said.
“No,” Sully told him, shaking his head, drawing his own blades. “I’m going to fix the one I made a long time ago.”
“Sully, what’s going on?” Cal asked quietly. There was something more to this than what the three of them were saying.
“We’re all about to die.”
Well, that was helpful. Cal looked up, at Belle and her friend. “Whatever your issue is with Sully, get over it. There are more of us than there are of you and we’re not going to let you hurt him.”
Belle smiled at him. “Don’t misunderstand. We’re not here for Sullivan. We’re here for you, Nathen.”
Cal took an involuntary step back, chilled through, sword coming up in front of him.
“Get behind us, Cal,” Mick ordered, fire playing across his fingers, darting out towards Belle as Wes advanced.
Belle tilted her head and Mick’s fire disappeared. Her friend…twitched. “Fuck,” Sully said, as the man in black went blurry and was gone.
He reappeared before Sully got out that hard ‘K,’ in between Cal and Mick, who both shouted, stepping back. Cal brought his sword up, slashing at the man, who seemed unarmed. He disappeared again, this time appearing behind Cal, with a long dagger in his hand.
Cal spun, breath coming hard, and met that dagger with his sword, the smash of metal ringing through the air. The man raised his weapon to bring it down at Cal, who stepped back.
A blur, and Sully was there in between the two of them, catching the man’s weapon between his daggers. They weren’t the daggers Cal had bought for him, though. They were longer, curved, jagged on one side, and radiated something that Cal could just barely perceive. “Mick, get Cal out of here,” Sully ordered, pushing the tall man back and slashing at him to keep him away.
Mick’s hand was on Cal’s shoulder, pulling him back. Wes cried out and Cal span, to see that he’d been tossed to the ground by Belle, who was approaching them now, sword still in her hand, unused. There was no time to think about anything that was happening. Cal raised his blade. “Cal…” Mick hissed.
“She hurt Wes,” Cal said, and that was enough. Belle didn’t blur like the other man, she approached them at normal walking speed while Sully fought her friend behind them. “Magic, Mick.”
“Yeah.” Mick gestured, and flowers of fire started to bloom around Belle, but she just walked through them all, unhurt, unbothered. When the last one wilted, she flicked a finger, sent Mick flying backwards, where he landed between Joey and Travis.
Cal felt a liquid hatred course through his veins. “Leave them alone,” he snarled.
“You’re the one who involved them, Nathen.” Belle smiled.
“That’s not my name.” Cal ran at her, blade forward.
Lowering the sword, Belle held out a hand and simply caught Cal’s weapon, wrenching it from his hand and tossing it aside. “You can do better than that.” Belle glanced to the side as Mick sent a streak of lightning from beside Joey, and she waved a hand and made it vanish with the smell of burning air. “You probably can’t,” she said to him. “But you can’t help it if you were born human.”
With a sudden snarl, Joey lowered his head and ran at Belle as if to headbutt her, which since he was unarmed was probably exactly what he planned. Belle made a derisive little noise and stood there, and Cal took the opportunity to dive for his discarded sword. Wes was there to help him stand once he’d gotten his hands on it, “You okay?”
Joey tackled Belle, who started and made a surprised noise, stepping back really abruptly. Cal straightened. “She’s not invincible.” And was apparently susceptible to headbutts.
“Fuck,” Belle said, grabbing Joey by the top of his cloak, by the hair, and hoisting him into the air. Cal and Wes moved up from behind, weapons drawn. “Should have paid more attention to the entourage.” And she reached up with her other hand, undid the clasp on Joey’s cloak and let him fall, leaving the swath of fabric in her hand. Joey collapsed to the ground in a pile. A pile of limbs and tail.
Joey had a tail, a heavy, scaled tail that was between his legs as he stood, backing away from Belle, fear on his face. His hair was nearly white, broken by two long horns protruding from his frontal bone, curving up with his skull.
Cal stopped moving, brought short by that, staring at Joey. “What the hell…”
“He’s a demon,” Wes said, faint. Cal nodded, watching the way that Joey tried to hide in broad daylight, the way he moved back from Belle. He was afraid of her.
“Not a very powerful one,” Cal muttered, returning his attention to Belle. “Let’s worry about these two first.” He cast a glance over at Sully, who was fighting the other man at a speed that Cal almost couldn’t follow. Joey wasn’t the only one who wasn’t as normal as he’d seemed. Travis seemed to be over there with them trying to help, but mostly the other two were just moving around him to get to each other. Mick had never felt any sign of magic from Sully, but he couldn’t be moving that fast otherwise.
Mick had stood up when Cal returned his attention to Belle, and was behind Joey, looking to Cal for instructions. He nodded at Belle. That was who they were worried about at the moment, demon or no demon.
Cal and Wes ran at her, weapons ready, and Mick prepared some magic as well. Belle made another noise and ducked under Wes’s arm, and she pushed Cal sharply, sending him staggering back several steps as she caught Wes’s axe. She had blood on her front, Cal saw. Joey’s horn must have punctured her. She smiled at Cal and tossed the sword at him, a gentle lob that had it flying in a clean arc.
Behind Cal, Sully swore and Cal heard him fall to the ground. If Sully weren’t keeping the man at bay, Travis wouldn’t be able to do it on his own.
Cal reached out, tossing his sword to his left hand, and caught the flying blade by the hilt in his right. He span it, turned, brought it up to defend himself from the strike he could feel coming.
Steel crashed as his sword caught the man’s knife. Cal looked up at him, saw him straining. He gave a push. The man fell backwards, barely keeping his feet, his cape flying out behind him. His appearance rippled, and he had wings, black like a bat’s, obvious fangs in his mouth, and his hands were long claws. “Now there’s the power I’ve heard so much about,” the man hissed, face contorting into a smile that was too wide.
Sully stood, and he’d changed too. Lined tattoos ran down both sides of his face, behind pointed ears and down his neck. He had slitted eyes like a snake’s, a thin tail with a barb at the end, and two pointed horns in the centre of his head.
“Demons…” Cal whispered, looking over his shoulder at Belle. She had horns too, several of them curling up from her hairline, and what looked like a third eye in the centre of her forehead, closed. Her arms had an extra joint in them, and she stood a little hunched. “You’re all demons.”
“How very observant you are, Nathen,” the man drawled, dagger out.
Cal took a step back, one sword pointed at the man, the other at Sully.
“Cal, I’ll explain.”
“Don’t,” Cal shook his head at Sully. “Don’t explain. Trusted you.” He had trusted Sully and brought him onto the team. He had brought Sully near Mick and Wes. “Fuck…” He backed up, until he was with Wes and Mick. Travis had gotten up and joined Joey, arms around him. “All of you.” He, at least, looked human enough.
“That get rid of your little delusion, Sullivan?” Belle asked, moving away from Cal, Mick and Wes and flanking Sully with the other man. Travis was trying to pull Joey away. “He’s not your friend. He’d see you dead just as readily as the rest of us.”
Wes and Mick had hands on him, holding Cal in place. He couldn’t take his eyes off them, the three of them, except to occasionally glance at Joey to his other side. He felt surrounded, he felt besieged. He felt like everything in the world was wrong and he had to fix it.
He felt like he couldn’t fix it.
“He’s not who you think he is,” Sully insisted, watching Cal.
“Nathen ended the world once. Do you think he wouldn’t do it again?”
“Shut the fuck up!”
“I’ll handle Sullivan,” Belle told the man. “Asher, take them.”
“No!” Joey broke free from Travis as the man, Asher, raised a hand, something glowing between his claws.
“Don’t,” Sully warned Belle, trying to get around her.
“Run,” Cal ordered Wes and Mick.
Travis ran forward, grabbed Joey, managed to toss him aside just a widening spear of light shot from Asher’s claws. It enveloped Travis, moving too fast for him to do anything but shout, and surged towards them.
There wasn’t enough time to run.
Cal was tackled by something hard and sent flying, out of the beam, out of the path of Asher’s attack. He landed hard on the ground, and the world filled with noise.
He watched the light hit Wes and Mick, watched helplessly as it swallowed them, as it took them from his sight, as it took them, as it took them, as it…
All the noise in the world came to a halt as the light disappeared.
Sully rolled off Cal, panting. “Fuck…” he whispered, eyes closed.
“Travis?” Joey asked.
The wind blew over the three of them. They were the only ones here. Belle and Asher were gone. The light was gone, leaving a scorch mark on the ground as the only evidence that it had been. Travis was gone.
Wes and Mick were gone.