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(Chaining Nikodemos Part IV)

The appearance of the tiny hamlet distracted the bird as he sliced through the freezing air and hard jerks of wind. This first sign of humanity in vast wilderness suggested the possibility of food, and the animal dropped just a bit for a better look. A peppering of people littered the sand colored streets, calm and happy in the sunlight. The shadows from the clouds waved over them in a smooth, placid manner, a gentle sea of gray dampening the golden plains.

He was a lone bird, the others having raced away in the morning early light, all in a singular flutter, an explosion of black lifting from the tree in fright. They left him behind, sensing something before he even awoke. As a white speck in the blue sky, the bird’s feathers prickled and it braced. Another gust slapped him. With a chill ruffling through its wings, it suddenly realized the lobbing black below was not a shadow and, with an abrupt turn, he fled.

Down below a man watched the black coming without a sound. The silence of it told his mind he had more time to understand, and so, he merely gaped. The giant ooze rose several stories. It dropped.

It splattered across the streets, a muted clomp of goo. Heads turned. Screams shattered the silence.

In the depths of the temple’s holding cell, a man in a crimson hat perked up at the abrupt muffled sounds of chaos. He threw his hand up to stop the priest in the middle of his condemnations. His red coat flared as he whirled on his heel.

The dimming light of the setting sun landed at the backs of the three vampire hunters exiting the church, shadows digging at their gaunt faces, their hats tipped. The rushing ooze tumbled not 20 yards away. One man looked to his leader. His guide only flexed his fingers sternly, twitching for the pistol on his hip. Two more hunters spied their formation and swooped in beside them.

Then the black goo halted. A thick part of it rose up like a fat snake. It faced them. Suddenly, all two-hundred tons came charging at them.

It was the leader who realized this meant for the ooze to be living. “Pull your swords men!”

They drew in a symphony of sharp shings, their swords out in front of them, standing strong jawed and confident, prepared to end the fight where it started. Their leader shouted another order, and two immediately dropped down into the dirt, pulling out their flints. Low to the ground, they began to scan the dirt. One jerked up, marching to the temple. He raised his sword and without hesitation hacked into a wooden beam. The other removed his cape in a flourish. He attempted to light the edge of it on fire.

The black monster bolted at them, the speed of an angry dragon in flight. Still the men stood at their guard. The ooze reached them in a moment. The leader raised his sword.

A thousand slashes from the three ripped into the gel. It moved like congealed blood. Their cuts landed with success, the black splitting apart and not rejuvenating.

The creature didn’t like it.

It reeled back with a strange bat-like scream, but then smacked itself across the closest man. The hunter went flying.

He collided into the wall, which hardly dented, yet his abrupt halted cry seemed to shake the foundation in the minds that watched. The leader did not hesitate, and with a groan, he lunged into the goo and pierced the sword right throw the beast’s ooze.

It thumped him.

From his position on the ground, the leader swore, vision dotted with black splotches.

“Faster men!” he cried, as the black bulge rose up once more.
From a distance, a lone girl standing on a roof peered down at this battle. Her long blonde hair streaked behind her as she stared in horror as the black ooze repeatedly dropped down onto the fallen man.

Kaia bit her lip as she looked away from the temple, scanning the streets for any sign of her brother. The people were emptying them, and though she continued to look, she could not see Rasmus down below anywhere.

The ache of frustrated tears pushed on her throat. He had known something was going to happen. He said nothing. Why wouldn’t he have stayed with her? Why wouldn’t he have told her?

She continued to scan the roads and then the rooftops before flicking back to the ooze itself. If he had gotten himself killed, she’d have to strangle his corpse.

Worried eyes hurt. Her heart started to patter. She struggled to take in the battle, thinking, if anywhere, that’s where he would be. He should show up any minute. Unless he was helping others. Perhaps he had already escaped.

Except, he wouldn’t have left her there.

The wind blew hot across her face, the clouds so thick in the sky, she could hardly imagine the heat of the sun breaking through. In the middle of the day, it looked like dusk. The breeze drifted the chill of battle through the rooftops, and Kaia’s choices seemed to all be wrong. She looked to those getting slaughtered, and she found herself not concerned. She could only worry about her brother and that disturbed her immensely.

A sniffling came from behind her. She whirled around.

Four sets of eyes peered up at her with confusion and hope. The family had followed her has she had pushed through their home, waiting for her to tell them… something. What could she say?

Distinctly recalling her youth, imagining how they must view her, and feeling awkward at this sudden responsibility, she ordered, “Get some salt.”

The daughter was down the stairs first, but the elders were more hesitant. She pushed passed, striding down the mobile staircase into the attic. She’d hoped the flat roof had easy access, and found it with striking ease. The family was poor, their small storage space barely touched with bags of flour and barrels. They followed her inside like puppies before the mother moved swiftly ahead to help her daughter pull a small metal tin of salt.

“What are you going to do?” the father asked, his voice stiff.

Kaia didn’t explain, unable to find simple words. She snatched up the bucket, thoughts only on the exit. The girl made it downstairs easily, rushing to the entrance, sensitive to the eyes on her.

Pushing the door proved impossible. The shock only gave her a moment of considering defeat before it encouraged her to give an inconsiderate slam against it. Her arm smashed; it screamed at her, but this second bounce threw it open just enough that as the black ooze shoved it back, more began to crawl in through the cracks.

“Don’t let it in!” the mother cried.

Kaia glanced back to the huddled family and tried to ignore the prickle of hate towards them.

“I’m pretty sure I couldn’t,” she said as she reassuringly threw grunts at the door.

The ooze slid at her, the weight of its body forcing the exit closed on the inside and the entrance open on the outside. Kaia switched between pushing and pulling before suddenly realizing she was being jerked around by it.

Eyes wide, her shoulders attempted to make their escape from the rest of her body. Her ponytail flailed about her face as she struggled to shove it back.

Then it dawned on her. She stepped back and casually tossed the handful of salt at it.

An inhuman squeal echoed in the bare chamber, an ear-tearing volume shivering through Kaia right into the teeth. The piece of black pinched in the door threw itself away as it flailed from the pain.

Kaia’s face broadened into a largely self-satisfactory smile. She bent down and picked up the salt shaker she had set on the ground, then turned by the people staring at her from the corner, bowed, and shoved out once again.

The door moved easier this time, it had space given by the mysterious creature, twice shy at the burn given. The blonde haired girl stepped out into the sunlight, face brave, bucket ready. The door sat wide open as she stepped from it, moving closer and closer. It seemed not to notice her. At least not until she tossed salt on it again.

The thing lunged.

Kaia leapt back from the snarling ooze. She raised her hands and salted it once more. It screamed and then smacked. A sting slapped her hand. The bucket flew. She watched it rise up in the blue sky and suddenly disappear.

She ran back into the house and slammed the door.
The hunters had struck fire. Torches lit, the two from behind ran forward, flames out stretched in front of them. Those with their useless swords allowed their arms to droop, taking a pace back.

“Ready the explosives!” the leader shouted. “Where did the traitors get off to?”

The men with fire kept swinging. It avoided the blades, a dance of night’s darkness against the blaze of the sun, keeping the creature at bay.

“What does it want?!” a front man shouted, his hand as far from his body as it could stretch.

“The demon must have summoned it!” a leader said. “You,” he pointed. “Go secure the beast.”

Safely backing away, torch still in hand, the man gestured for a sword user after a moment. He handed it over. Immediately the other hunter was overwhelmed.

The black ooze tried to get at his back, swallowing him like a big dark cave. The new torch bearer lunged forward.

“Go!” the captain roared.

The red cape flew as the hunter ran inside and down the stairs.

The captain turned with a twirl. “Fetch the explosives! Keep him at bay!”
“Oh, my God,” Kaia groaned.

The large father pointed a burly finger at her. “You come into my house, threaten my roof, make that thing come after us, and then you dare to let it in?”

She skewed up her mouth, frowning at him as she slathered on the white butter along her arm. The girl took a deep, diplomatic breath. “I couldn’t have let it in, it’s too big to be let in. At most it would have filled the room and smothered you, but I don’t even think it’s that agile.”

“Get out!” the father roared.

He towered over her, a looming presence terrifying for a girl whom mostly got ignored by violent men.

She braced. “It’s not pollution, it’s a curse. It’s a creature. It must remain attached to itself. Even if it threw the door wide open, it can’t pool itself. When it fits a form the smallest part will always be at the tip, going thicker as it gets closer to the mass of the body. It can only go far enough that it can stretch, which will never fill up the room. At most, it’d destroy the furniture near the door.” She rubbed the lard into her face. “And maybe the door itself.”

The man stood back as she marched past, walking to the jar of salt sitting on the counter. She picked it up.

“Is this all you have left?”

No one answered. The girl poured it over her head.

In a shower of the yellow crystals, the heap went to the floor.

“Well, this doesn’t really do the trick, does it?”

“What are you doing?” the father asked.

“I have to go find my brother before he is killed. He’s out there in the town. Probably trying to attack it. I have to go convince him to run. I’m heading up to the roof. Don’t follow me.”
From the top of the building, Kaia could see the town left in the ooze’s wake. It struck the village bare, the streets bright in sunlight, the unearthly black isolated. Pulled up to its full height, the mass centered on the top of the leaning tower. It began to climb, like a clumsy, fat, black puppy attempting to crawl onto a chair. Those with torches, tiny and ineffective, were being overrun. As the ooze swallowed the temple bit by bit, they scrambled to set up wooden crates, the black moving around them, pawing at the sides exposed from the tiny flame.

From the side of the house, the blonde girl dangled, her legs flailing as she attempted to convince herself to drop down. She went the way she had climbed up, but apparently it was not a two way street. When she dropped, she really dropped, collapsing on the ground in a mound. Popping up, a pain in her ankle, she ran to the street that was growing barer by the disinterested blob.

She hid from its eyes. Not knowing where they were, or how it saw, she tucked in behind a wall and just watched it, suddenly mesmerized by its motions.

Her brother appeared completely absent from the streets. He may be in the thicket, he may be looking for her. He would have run for it or be lying unconscious somewhere. Her heart began to twitter in fear.

In the front steps of the church, the giant black shadow capped the fighters. They were gone from sight. A dome of goo covered them, as they worked hastily to tower the boxes. Just as the last of the light split from the ooze’s crack, a man lit the fuse. Then they were sealed within it.

A man flared his torch at the wall. It shrunk in space, but jerked at him from all other edges. Black touched him. He thrust, he plunged, he tried to set the black on fire. The black ooze fled in response, but it would not catch. His friend threw himself to the ground, a sudden dive for the last breath of sunlight.

Throwing a sword straight up in the air, a third under sliced into the surface of the ooze. A piercing scream screeched. Next thing he knew, he was sucked right up into the depth of ooze’s acidy flesh.

The string burned through the quick. Long and waxy, the fire shot down it riding up to the boxes to give them time to escape. Only now they couldn’t.

Kaia, too far to witness the plight or threat of explosives, stood her ground, shaking, a quick flash of looks attempting to understand the path of least resistance. The blob was flailing, and the bare of the road kept changing with each flick. She kept hesitating.

The man who was attempting to set the thing alight took one last lunge. He drove the flame into the black flesh, a sizzling pop causing it to screech. With the strength and speed of a beast, the hunter finally impaled the wooden stick right into the thick of it. He found himself stuck.

The second man attempted to flee, hitting the ground with a thud, aiming for the last opening. While his friend was lifting up, holding tight to his torch, another being swallowed whole, this hunter tried to make a break for it.

Kaia couldn’t make herself move.

The hulking black ooze rose into the sky. Squealing and screeching, it began to shake. The man holding tight to the torch flung about like a ragdoll, his legs flopping about.

The hunter who was now engulfed in black started to swim. He stopped slashing and dropped his sword, moving toward the top of the ooze like he was trapped in a tank of tar. Sizzling and smoke rose up from his body, his skin and clothing starting to dissolve.

The fleeing man started to cower. Kaia began to panic.

The swimming man struggled harder. His cloak grew plated with holes. Blood started to seep from the wounds. Layers of skin melted from him. He struggled and panted through the ooze. The thick weight him down, his breath caught in his throat. He began to flair and spurt.

The man holding the torch slipped. His hands couldn’t maintain the strength. He plummeted.

The first hunter popped out of the top.

The second slammed into the ground.

The third rolled out of the ooze’s path.

Kaia started to run.

The huge ooze slapped down.

The box exploded.

Black flipped into the air, soaring ten stories into the sky. Men fell like the mush, plummeting to the earth in plops. The ooze screamed. It tore backwards, flailing like its hand had been wrung right from its arm. It began to spasm.

The beast threw itself about, flapping and spinning. Bodies hit the dirt.

Dirt whipped across Kaia’s face. The earthquake had thrown her. Sound had broken her hearing. She managed to stay on her feet, but wind fled from her by the force. Face stinging, she stood, shock and confusion steadying her.

All she saw was the smoke and dust. The black ooze was gone from sight. Now was her chance.

Without a thought, she bull-rushed forward, throwing herself into running faster than she thought she could. She aimed for the temple, where she had just seen the fight take place. She did not look up to see the black emerge from the fog. The girl skidded right into it.

Black grabbed her. It burned her. She burned it. Both tore apart like polar magnets. Then the black lunged again.

Kaia screamed, diving out of the way. She tumbled and rolled and scrambled to her feet. It shot to grab. She avoided it, barely. Twisting and turning, stumbling over herself, she surged forward, thick black flooding after her. A look of terror on her face, she chased right past the bodies of the hunters, giving only a glance to see if they were dead, before shooting right up the stairs and into the church.

She drove through halls empty of monks, none to stop her as she ran, terrified, directly into the basement.

The girl pushed open the door with a lazy hand, and she stared at him.

The demon, silver eyes glistening, just smiled as she entered, saying absolutely nothing.

“You’re just standing there?!” she demanded.

He tilted his head.

“Come on, man! You’re about to receive the death penalty.”

“What would you like me to do?” he asked demurely.

The earth quaked, a rumbling from the outdoors threatening to throw the whole thing down on them. Kaia flinched, body tense.

“Do you know what is going on out there?”

“Some sort of attack.”

“The village is being destroyed!”


“Is it coming for you?” she began to frantically look around. “Where is the preacher? Was he here? Where is the key?”

The demon shifted to the bars. “What are you doing?”

“I’m here to make a deal with you,” she said, still searching. “Before the whole place comes tumbling down on us.”

The demon laughed at her. She threw the papers up into the air.

“You need to make that thing go away,” she said. “You have the power to defend us. I will let you out of here, allow you to escape, if you will just get rid of this thing first.”

He laughed again. “Well, that’s not going to happen.”

She stopped, mid-panic, staring at him.

“You’re not even going to pretend to make a deal?”

He shrugged.

The girl stormed at him, shouting, “I don’t know what you’re plan is, but if you want to get hung, that’s fine with me. If you got in here on purpose, if you’re trying to pull something over these people’s eyes, I don’t care. But my brother is in this village, there’s children in this village, and I’m in this village, and I don’t want to die!”

The man leaned forward. “Don’t go making deals with demons. It never ends well.”

Well, it’s a good thing you’re not then, isn’t it?” She whirled. “Now where the hell is that key?!”

The demon gestured. She looked at him pointing to the far wall. Turning, Kaia spied it just dangling from the wall. Her arms were thrown to the air.

“Why the hell would he put it there?”

“That’s only to the bars,” said a strange voice. “The chains are a very different matter.”

She turned to spy the vampire hunter watching her. Blue eyes and grim looks, she recognized him immediately from before. Her face turned red. Throwing out a finger, the girl said, “He’s our only hope.”

“You have little faith in our abilities,” the hunter said, stepping forward. “Move aside. I am not about to take force on a civilian.”

“He’s about to be wrongfully committed. He’s clearly what that thing wants. Release him.”

“Don’t order me about, bitch,” the hunter scoffed. “You need to leave immediately. The church is in danger of collapsing.”

“I’m not going to sit by and allow you to hang someone without due cause.”

“The demon has possessed you, woman. You are charmed. Please leave before I need to force you.”

“Why aren’t you outside defending the people? Your fellow brethren are dead. Or dying. Or just knocked unconscious.”

“I’ve been evacuating. Now it is my job to make certain the creature doesn’t escape.”

The sound of a thud shook the walls. All three looked up.

“Ma’am, go.”

Kaia eyed the key, her face red and her heart pounding. She glanced back to the demon who just watched in interest.

“Are you going to make the deal with me or not?” she asked.

The demon shrugged. “Sure.”

Pausing, the hunter flicked a glimpsed to the girl and back to the beast. He removed a stick from his belt. She watched him.

Leaping forward, the man went to grab her. She tumbled back, clumsy throwing herself away from his hands. Slamming against the bars with a loud bang, block spots ran along her gaze.

Slick and without fear, he grabbed her by the waist. She couldn’t deflect this time, nowhere to go, and with very little struggling she found herself spun around, arm twisted up behind her back, front smashed into the bars.

“You will release her from your enchantment,” the hunter demanded.

The demon didn’t bat an eye.

With a sigh, the man raised his stick. He smacked her with it, a clock on the top of the head. She went down.

Kaia sprawled on the ground. The demon’s silver eyes went with her, flicking back up as the hunter rose to his full height. The thudding sounds from above grew louder and louder with each pound like a gigantic hammer slamming down on a nail. The walls continued to shake.

“Release her from your clutches or I will slay you immediately,” the hunter ordered.

“If I die, she’d be removed anyway. Just take her away and allow me to be crushed,” he smiled.

The hunter smirked back. Lifting up his cloak, he fingered a small instrument hanging from his belt. Removing it delicately, he drew the hand scythe with a grim grin, dangling the shinning silver chain under the torchlight.

“How good do you think my aim is?” he asked. “Do you think I throw this right through the bars and hit you?”

The beast shrugged. “Try it.”

He did.

The silver blade cut into the man’s chest. It sizzled and snapped. The demon looked up. He still smiled. The hunter frowned.

The beast grabbed the chain. It burned through the tops of his fingers, but he seized it hard. The shackle, the arms, and the hunter came right along with it. The man slammed right into the bars.

The demon was up to him in a flash. Hands caught around his hair, he slammed him into the cage again.

“Hey, girl,” he said. “Get up.”

Kaia blinked up at him, vision blurry, her mouth open. The pounding in her head caused her body to stay limp. The moment she had gone down, the shock paralyzing her from trying to stand again.

The hunter squirmed. The demon dug in harder.

“Get up,” he ordered.

With a grunt, Kaia made it to her feet.

“Look in the hunter’s pouch,” he said.

She held herself up with a tender hand on the bar.

“Let him go,” she said to the beast. “Or I’m not doing anything.”

“I will after you look at the pouch.”

She hesitated. Nails cut right into the crimson man’s skin. He jerked again, but the strength was too solid for even the slightest movement.

Slowly, Kaia walked over. Pushing the cloak back away from his waist, she hesitated before opening the pouch that sat on his hip.

“This one?” she asked.

“I don’t have your key,” the hunter grunted.

“I’m not looking for a key. There are bottles in there.”

“Yes,” Kaia said.

“Which one is the acid?”

The hunter said nothing.

“Take them all out,” the demon said.

Three tiny vials, bulging with liquid clinked as she held them together in one hand.

“That one,” he said. “With the metal plug.”

She put the two corked bottles back into the pouch and handed it to him timidly.

He wouldn’t take it.

“Pour it onto my chain.”

“It won’t melt it,” the hunter spat.

She dripped it on the shackles around his wrist. Their eyes locked as she emptied the contents. The demon waited. It slowly started to sizzle.

“If it didn’t melt through metal or glass, it’s not going to ruin silver,” she said softly.

He dropped the hunter.

Leaping back, the chains began to crack. With a smile and one hand, he reached over and jerked. The manacle snapped right off.

The hunter spun around. His crossbow shot into the cage. The demon dodged. He leapt over to the bench where he slept, one foot on top of it, perched to go again. He snapped the other chain. With a grimace, the creature pulled the scythe from his skin. His opponent struggled to reload.

With a salute and a nod, the demon just smiled. He bulldozed right through the wall.

The room came down.

A shower of rock crashed around her. Kaia cowering by the wall on the ground. Arms wrapped around her wispy hair, she tucked into her neck, a painful grimace on her face.

The hunter gripped tightly to a bar, standing himself up. A beam had fallen around him, but the dust began to settle as quickly as it dropped. The man glared at the space now empty of the creature. His motions were slow, staring intently before whipping about. The lumber littered the floor. He attempted to climb over it, going for the key. He hesitated.

The ground shook again, a bang slamming overhead. He turned, ground rock and mortar following in dust. The man marched over to the woman. Snatching up her wrist, he heaved her to her feet.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” he demanded. “What did you just do?”

“We have to get out of here,” she said. “Lecture me later.”

“You’re going to be arrested later!”

“Then it’s agreed. Later!”

They clambered over the logs, aiming for the door. The banging above had stopped, followed by an eerie silence. The hunter ushered Kaia forward before him. She stumbled as she attempted to climb.

“Should we be going this way?” she asked. “What if it collapses?”

“You want to follow your master?”

Straddling a board, the girl eyed the exit. She hesitated. The room went dark.

The silence began to drip. Black ooze was coming over the edges of the room, in the corners of the ceiling through the cracks of the boards. Then, somehow, it saw them. It shoved.

Kaia hopped over the log, stumbling towards the door. The hunter leapt after, rushing to it. The girl gripped at the handle, and jerked. It didn’t move. He shoved her out of the way, trying it himself. She started to unload the debris.

The blob found the hole. It surged, the thick black rushing. The rest of the boards shattered under its weight. It reached.

She chucked the fallen lumber behind her, the man attempting to jerk the door right off its hinges. The house groaned. It began to twist under the pressure of the big black blob. The ooze touched the bars. It slowly seeped through. The metal started to smoke.

The hunter looked over his shoulder as he attempted to move a full sized beam. He stopped, whirling about. His foot bashed the exit. He kicked again. The wood splintered.

“It opens from the other side,” he remembered suddenly.

Kaia looked up at him, mouth dropped. She stood, fearful, and slammed her shoulder into it.

“It’s blocked from the other side.”

The ooze touched the first fallen board. Kaia kept hitting. The man turned to face the oncoming monster. He drew his sword.

“You’re going to cut your way out?” she said.

She tried one final umph, pain slicing into her shoulder.

He ignored her, bracing himself.

“Oh my God. Help me!” she demanded.

“It’s stopped.”

He spun around, raising up his sword and jamming it into the wedge between the door and the threshold. Kaia stumbled back and stared. She turned and glanced at the flailing goo, pushing on the bars as it stretched the furthest it could in between.

The blade groaned as the hunter tried to splinter open the lock. Kaia ignored him, walking over to the thing that attacked. She climbed over a board, jumped to the floor, then walked up to the edge of where the ooze flicked.

She kneeled down.

“What are you doing?” the hunter demanded.

“What are you doing?” she scoffed.

He took to kicking again.

She ran a finger along the surface. It jerked. Her skin immediately began to tingle. Like a smooth gel, the slick surface had a thin layer of skin, soft and cold.

The thing surged forward. She dove back. The house began to groan again.

Static globs of fingers flailed at her. It tried to grab. It pushed and shoved on the bars. They wailed with the effort.

It lunged. It caught her around the ankle. She screamed.

She began to stomp, mashing it down into the wood. It screeched and jumped again. The house moaned. The bars began to snap. Kaia broke free and ran back for the door.

“The metal here is horrible!” she shouted.

The hunter took to chopping at the wood, his tiny rapier doing absolutely nothing but twanging pitifully. Kaia kicked at the exit.

“You, woman, are going to be taken to the high council to see what can be done with you!”

“He didn’t charm me!” she said. “I know how your people work. I’ve seen your fabulous hangings a lot.”

“We never hang innocents!”

“That you know!”

“Don’t you dare insult our integrity.”

“Whenever you find a murderer or rapist, you’re too embarrassed to say that, hey, maybe we did waste our time tracking down the wrong thing,” she spat, grunting with each kick. “What’s going to happen when you came all the way out here to realize it’s nothing more than a drunk!”

The man slammed a final blow. The handle broke right through the wood. The door remained in place. The room settled.

“Something fell on the other side,” Kaia whispered.

“Be quiet.”

He kicked again. She looked back. The bars released a howl. The house shook. The door splintered.

“It can’t get in,” she muttered.

The bars whined more, they began to bend.

“Move,” he spat.

Kaia’s hands tingled in fear. The hunter looked to his pouch and studied the contents. The man searched around. He glanced back to the ooze. He hesitated, thoughts whirling. He tried the door again.

“There’s too much weight on the other side,” she insisted.

“Well, if someone hadn’t wasted acid—”

“Oh like that drip would have done anything.”

“It wouldn’t have freed a murderer to bring this place down on us!”

“And if you had thought to remove the people from the town before you decided to push your so-called demon to his limits, then I wouldn’t have to have come to him for help.”

He flared a wild eye at her. “What are you trying to say?”

“You knew this would happen and you didn’t care!”

He shoved a knife in her hands. “Start digging.”

She slammed the tip into door. He turned.

Underneath the goo, the silver chain sat, snaking deep into the black where it disappeared. The hunter jumped after it. Kaia only glanced, staring at the way the ooze kept pitifully tossing about, bars sizzling and groaning as it flailed against it. The sight lessened her fears, and her exertion slowed. She gave the wooden a weak gouge.

The vampire hunter landed, straddling the chain. He dodged a splattering of goo that shot at him. Neck turning, his hand dove for the scythe chain. The ooze surged over it. He pulled back, leaping to the side. A brisk swivel and it missed him. He caught the links and yanked.

The black squealed. It lurched. The hunter ran back to the beam, the ooze on his heels. The house groaned. The bars broke.

Kaia yelped. The hunter spun and twisted. Black flooded at him. He grabbed something from his belt. With a jerk, a metal sound clinked on the ground. A spin, a jump, he landed beside the girl. He knocked her to the ground. The bomb went off.

Splinters spewed. Sound flicked sharply on her ears. Her face stung. The door was gone. The blob screamed.

The hunter picked himself up, pulling Kaia to her feet by the wrist and started to run. The butter slipped her free, but she kept going.

She sped up the stairs, slipping as she threw herself around the corner. Far ahead of the man, she rushed right to the front door of the temple and out through it.

The hunters had reassembled. One down, others still digging, the blob was overrunning. He smothered the temple, avoiding the guild’s flames, a gaping hole where the black had been thrown.

Kaia ran into a man who clutched his bleeding leg. Face gushing, he struggled to stand. She gasped, staring at him.

They all turned.

The blob screamed, throwing itself up in the air. Shadows overwhelmed them. Kaia searched for her brother. The hunters raised their swords. It threw itself down to the ground. The earth cracked and shook. A loud cry covered the hammering.

It turned tail and left.

They all paused. The thing flooded out. It disappeared.

The dust settled. Wind blew.

Slowly they turned.

Kaia looked down the street to see her brother standing there, wondrous, a little girl holding tight to his hand.

The bleeding hunter collapsed.

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