CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: ANIMALS CAN KILL, BUT ENEMIES CAN MURDER
I woke up screaming. The emergency room came into focus, and I once again had to fend off the horde of doctors trying to tie me down. Piercing lights assaulted my eyes, and my head hurt more than ever. I could feel hands forcing me down, and I struggled to escape.
“We need some tranquilizers and sleep gas over here now!” I heard one of them say.
Harder and harder I tried to break free, but the blow to my head severely weakened me. A mask was put over my face, giving me the impression that I was being suffocated. I began to hyperventilate, sucking in the gas in large volumes. A calmness billowed through me, and I slowly fell back onto the table. My surroundings began to go out of focus as the medical team tried to put me to sleep completely.
“Is she asleep yet?” one of the doctors asked.
“There’s nothing we can do,” another one replied. “This is as close as we can get without risking permanent damage or death. Nothing we give her is knocking her out.”
“I guess we’ll just have to do the operation with her awake,” someone said. “Lord have mercy on this poor girl ….”
Their voices echoed around me as they began the surgical procedure on my injured head, burying me under a landslide of torment. I could feel everything they were doing, all the incisions and insertions. Throes of agony and the horror of my skull being invaded made me want to scream and cry, but I couldn’t; the tranquilizers were superior to my broken body. There was the dreadful sound of clinking metal and cutting of skin and bone. I was trapped between consciousness and sleep, unable to fully grasp the situation, but felt every meticulous detail of surgery.
Years seemed to pass as they continued with their procedure, and I prayed and begged that I would go into shock or die so I wouldn’t have to feel it anymore. Everything I heard was muffled and echoed, and everything I saw was blurred and obscured by the overhead lights.
Then came the stitching. I felt the needle being inserted every time. I felt the needle exiting every time. I felt every millimeter of thread pulled through.
I lied awake, drugged up the eyeballs in tranquilizers as people took me to a room. I heard their voices, saw their faces, and felt their touch, but didn’t make sense of anything. It was like a web of nightmares intertwined with each other, each trying to cancel each other out and fill my mind with only their own memories.
After some unknown amount of time, I was moved into another room. Perhaps I had been in the intensive care ward, and they were placing me in one of the regular rooms. If that was the case, it was good to know that I was making a recovery. How much time had passed? Hours? Days? There was no telling.
They were trying to speak to me. I wanted to listen, but there was a significant barrier in communication. A breakdown of my perception prevented me from understanding the events.
The people eventually left the room, leaving me by myself in misery. Physically, the pain had lessened, but the terror remained. At what point did I regain control of my bodily movements? Having lost track of time, it was impossible to discern the progress of my recovery.
The curtains by my bed were opened, and the moon was gone. Light from the city came into my room, casting long shadows on the walls and floor. Night Stallion had shown me my past. I could remember those six years of my childhood. Thomas had erased them, and Darknae restored them.
I sat up, grabbed my bandage head, and began to scream. I had to cover my mouth with my pillow to muffle the sound. Tears streamed down my face and soaked into my pillow. I wanted to bawl my eyes out, but couldn’t.
Facing the ceiling, I stared at it with a dead gaze. Certainly they were going to take me to the insane asylum now. That would mean that I would never see Gary and James again.
The shadows stretched around the room as silence pressed against my ears. I couldn’t sleep, but felt exhausted and washed out. The feeling of inevitable danger began to eat away at my insides. A fine layer of sweat covered my face as I trembled with fright. There was no other feeling like it. It was screaming at me that something purely apocalyptic was going to happen. But there was nothing I could do.
Time seemed to stand still. My heart was beating loudly and faster every minute. The sweat began to drip down my face. I tried to make the harrowing feeling go away, but it insisted that I had to do something. The room started to spin as the walls drew closer. A violent tempest of roaring emotions and controversy swirled inside my mind and soul as the room flipped upside down. Everything started to spin as my stomach contracted viciously ….
I leaned over the side of the bed and threw up. James turned on the lights as Gary rushed over to me.
“Hey.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and looked at me. “Oh, what happened?” He wrapped his arms around me, soaking up my sweat in his shirt. “It’s going to be fine now. I’m here, don’t worry.”
I trembled in his arms as he wiped the sweat off my face.
“We came to get you,” said James, standing next to the bed. “Some freaky stuff’s going on and we thought we’d better get you. I can feel something really bad, so I had to get Gary. Then we came here to get you.”
“What’d you do to your head?” Gary asked, looking at the bandaging.
Dizziness got the best of me as I failed to answer. Gary hugged me closer.
“What happened?” he asked, getting choked up. “Tell me, babe.”
“I broke out.” The words seemed to turn into mashed potatoes in my mouth. “The moon … you have to stop Night Stallion ….”
“Stop what?” Gary looked into my eyes as if he was trying to read me.
“Night Stallion,” I repeated painfully. My chest hurt with every word. “Go now. Don’t let it hurt anyone.”
“What’s she talking about?” James asked.
“She hit her head,” said Gary. “I don’t think she knows what she’s saying.”
“No,” I choked. “Please … listen to me. You have to stop Night Stallion.”
“Maybe we should keep her here.” Gary leaned me back on the bed.
“You’re kidding,” said James in disbelief. “After all the trouble we went through to get here and find her, you say to leave her here? It’s two in the morning! And why is she in a different room now?”
“She’s really messed up,” Gary told him. “Whatever’s going on outside, I think we’ll be able to handle it by ourselves.”
“You can’t!” I spit out, sitting up abruptly. After seeing the two of them, I realized that I had to go with them.
“Why not?” said Gary.
“Night Stallion’s too strong!” The strange power in my soul was beginning to take control from my concern for their safety. Any physical damage I had sustained was being cancelled out.
“Krystal,” said Gary firmly, “Night Stallion is probably something that doesn’t exist. We’ll be fine.”
“I’m going with you,” I said. “You’ll need me.”
“Let’s just take her,” said James. “It looks like her Soulpower is taking care of things. She looks … pretty energetic.”
“It’s not Soulpower,” I muttered.
Gary looked at James, then looked at me.
“Okay,” said Gary reluctantly. “I really don’t want to move you, but it looks like you’ve made your choice.”
“Thanks,” I said, forcing a smile as I ripped the IV from my arm. Blood trickled from the wound, but it was trivial compared to how much I’d already shed. “Let’s go.”
The three of us hurried out of the room and down the hall. I had no idea as to where I was in the building, so I followed the other two.
“Wait,” I told them. “I need my clothes.”
“Really?” James asked impatiently.
“I don’t want to be in this stupid hospital gown,” I said. “They keep the patients’ clothes in a locker area somewhere.”
“Where is that?” Gary asked.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t know. Then I remembered something.
“There was a piece of paper in my pants pocket,” I said. “It reminded me of Darknae. James, do you sense any Darknae nearby?”
“Uh, hold on.” James closed his eyes and concentrated. “I think … this way.” He pointed down the hall. “It’s faint, so I might be imagining it.”
“Good enough,” said Gary. “You lead the way, James.”
“You got it!”
James led us down the hallways, and I had no idea where we were. When we came to a closed door, it turned out to be locked.
“I think it’s in here,” said James, touching the door, “but it’s locked. Gary, you’ll need to melt this lock, too.”
Giving it no thought, I punched the doorknob, knocking it off and opening the door. Gary and James just looked at me, and I smiled.
“Scare-y,” James muttered.
To my relief, the room was filled with lockers, and each locker had a name on it with a number.
“These look like the numbers for the rooms,” said Gary, looking at the lockers, “and I think these are the patients’ names.”
“What room were you in, Krystal?” James asked. “It wasn’t 321 anymore.”
I looked at the hundreds of lockers in the room.
“I don’t know.”
“Over here,” said James, “I can feel Darknae … and … hey, it’s your name!”
Inside the locker with my name was the clothes I’d been wearing when I was first admitted. Not hesitating, I pulled my hospital gown off to get dressed. Gary and James quickly looked away, blushing, which I thought was cute. When I was fully clothed, I reached into my pants pocket and took out the paper with the doodled moon and two dead people.
“Is this what I was sensing?” James asked, taking the paper when I handed it to him. He unfolded it and looked at the drawing. “That’s really creepy. And yeah, I can feel Darknae all over this page. It kinda hurts.” Crumpling it up in his hands, he unleashed some Luminae and burned the paper instantly.
“Whoa, don’t set off the smoke detector,” Gary told him.
“Sorry, I didn’t think it’d catch on fire,” James replied, scratching his head with a goofy grin.
We took the elevator down to the basement level, since the first floor had the most locked doors. Once we were in the basement, we went through the door that Gary had melted the locks off of with his Soulpower flames when they entered the hospital. Then we rushed to the underground parking area, then out onto the street. Without thinking, I glanced up at the night sky. The moon wasn’t out.
“We pulled it off!” James cheered as we hurried through the city on foot. “How didn’t we get caught? Because we rock!”
I smiled at James. His upbeat attitude always helped me.
“We should stick to the alleyways,” said Gary. “That way we don’t draw attention to ourselves. Let’s avoid being conspicuous.”
There was a nearby alley that we sneaked into. Making sure no one was around, we got behind a dumpster to discuss our next move. James’s brilliant sword glowed a golden yellow in the dark alley. The stench of the dumpster was a little gross, but I dealt with it.
“First,” said Gary, “we have to find out what the threat is.”
“It can’t be worse than Darknae,” James joked. “But we defeated that, so I have no idea what we’re up against.” He glanced around. “But … it sure does feel like Darknae.”
“Darknae,” I told him. “Night Stallion is —”
“Whoa!” James interrupted. “I’ve locked onto a location, but it feels ….”
“Feels?” Gary asked.
James sighed and shook his head. “It’s this way.”
“Well,” said Gary, “let’s go!”
The two of them took off. I hesitated for a bit, then followed. We darted into the open and across the streets. Cars honked as they nearly hit us. James ran into another alley that was blocked off by a tall fence, which he nimbly leapt over. Gary followed him, and I did the same.
We ran back onto the streets and down the sidewalk. A few pedestrians scrambled to get out of our way as we charged past them.
“Doesn’t this city ever sleep?” James asked while we were running.
I ran with Gary and James for over a mile into the heart of the city. James stopped at a crosswalk and looked around. Gary and I stopped right next to him.
“You know,” said James, “don’t you think we’re conspicuous just by sneaking around like this?”
“Just be swift and silent,” said Gary. “How are you doing, Krystal?”
“Fine,” I said. Whatever power I had inside me was doing a good job of hiding my physical injuries. It had the same properties as Soulpower described by Tyler, but Zenox had said it wasn’t Soulpower. I was getting really sick of being confused.
We continued through the alleys some more. You never realize how dirty a city is until you hang around the alleys. The dumpsters were all overflowing with any garbage that wasn’t strewn all over.
“It’s around here somewhere,” James whispered, trying to pinpoint the reading he was following.
“Better be on your guard,” said Gary. I felt myself tensing up.
“I feel that it’s nearby,” said James quietly. People in cars were looking out their windows at us.
“Let’s hope so,” Gary replied quietly. “Some people are looking at us curiously.”
“That’s not cool,” said James, still looking around. “They might call the cops.”
“If they do,” Gary told him, “that’ll be the least of our worries.”
“But it’d still suck,” said James. “The last thing we need is the cops … hey, do you hear something?”
“Huh?” Gary tried to listen over the sound of traffic for what James was talking about. “It sounds like music ….” He stopped, and the two of them looked at me slowly with fear in their eyes.
“The moon,” I whispered shakily.
The three of us looked directly up at the bright full moon. The beautiful Darknae Sonata flowed down and engulfed us. Icy fear filled my heart, and I had to tear my eyes away from the hypnotic orb in the sky.
An old woman who was in her car got out. Without putting the car into park, it rolled away and bumped into a car waiting at the red light, and the driver got out to yell at the old woman, but she showed no response to him. She slowly straightened up, staring at the moon with a mildly bewildered look on her face. Other people in their cars watched in horror as the moon’s lullaby put her into a trance and pulled her into the open.
“Don’t listen to it!” I yelled at her. Gary and James also tried to yell at her, but to no avail. The moon had completely taken her over. James tried to hurry over to her, and Gary grabbed his arm to stop him.
To my deathly fright, the sound of wings could be heard over the lullaby. The three of us, along with several others around, watched a black figure no bigger than a pony swoop out of the sky and land on the road, tearing into the pavement with its sharp talons.
“Huh?” Gary gasped.
“Wh-what’s that?” James asked in terror.
“Night Stallion,” I whispered. The both of them looked at me, and I looked back at them.
Night Stallion approached the possessed woman. A smoky strand of silver light flickered down out of the sky and pierced her through the back, pushing out a ghost-like replica of herself. No doubt it was her soul.
Her soul struggled to break free from the strand of moonlight that entangled her. Night Stallion immediately pounced on it and messily devoured it with its sharp teeth. The lullaby stopped, and there was a vulgar ripping sound as the soul was torn to shreds and eaten by the demonic horse. James jumped away, Gary stumbled over his feet, and I took a few large steps back. People were screaming.
The moon turned crimson, then a redness oozed around its edges and slowly poured across the sky. It looked like a rotten raspberry flattened under a piece of glass. The old woman’s dead body crumpled to the hard pavement.
“No!” I shouted desperately, realizing that was exactly what had happened to my parents.
Night Stallion realized that there was an audience. To take care of that, it reared back onto its hind legs. The mane of blue fire on its back flared up as a white crystalline energy ball took shape inside its mouth.
“Everybody run!” James shouted to the dozens of people around us. “It’s going to let out an attack!”
Too late. The crystalline energy ball exploded in a massive icy eruption of blue flames, engulfing the entire intersection. Cars were frosted and crumpled by the shockwave, lifted into the air, and pushed back, along with everything and everyone else, including Gary, James, and myself. The pavement was shredded up as street lamps were ripped clean out of the ground. Windows exploded and froze over as a wave of wintry rage blasted everything, covering the intersection with a layer of ice. Everyone who was a normal individual was instantly killed, either by the concussive energy, deathly cold, or overdose of Darknae.
I hit the ground several yards back. Staggering to my feet, I turned to see a cloud of snow from the frozen humidity dispersing in the intersection. The blue fire spread quickly over everything, covering it with ice instead of burning it. I quickly brushed the ice off me, glancing nervously around for Gary and James.
“What was that?” I heard James yell. He was standing behind me, looking into the sky and clearly panicked. “Man, it killed all those people! All of ‘em! I-I’ve never …. They all died!”
“It’s gone,” said Gary breathlessly, looking everywhere anxiously, the ice from his hair being shaken out.
“No it’s not!” James shouted, whirling around.
Night Stallion flew down, landing about fifteen feet away, gripping into the asphalt with its talon-hooves. Its two glassy eyes with the swirling cloud of red glow stared down the double yellow line at us. My heart beat faster as I clenched my fists. Did this mean … I was going to have to fight?
“What is that thing?” James was almost frantic. “Come on, Krystal, you know this more than us! Why does that thing have the same energy reading Zenox had? But way, way, way stronger!”
“It’s Night Stallion,” I replied hastily. “It’s Darknae in a physical form.”
“What?” James looked over at me.
“We can talk later!” said Gary. “Here it comes!”
Night Stallion folded its wings back and charged us. It was so fast that we had little time to react. When it pounced at us, we all attacked at once, but it blocked us with its huge talons and knocked us back.
James fired a beam of Luminae out of Flare Blade, hitting Night Stallion and forcing it back violently against a building. Unfazed, Night Stallion quickly retaliated with lightning-quick speed, headbutting James in the chest and sending him flying through the air a few yards. Gary threw a quick fireball at it from behind, but Night Stallion spun around and reflected it. Gary barely dodged the reflected attack as it soared back and hit an SUV.
I was about to attack simultaneously with James, but Night Stallion used its mind to lift an oncoming city bus and hurl it at us. James ducked underneath it and I jumped over, just to find Night Stallion slam its front legs into the ground to create an eruption of fire that exploded out from the road under us.
I was sent high into the air from the blast, and Night Stallion flew up at me with its teeth bared. Putting my hands together, I created a strong pulse of invisible energy that hit it directly in the face. Night Stallion tumbled a little through the air and clumsily slashed me across the leg with its talons. I let out a gasp of pain as gravity pulled me back down to the ground. Gary ran to catch me, but Night Stallion quickly swatted James out of the air, turning him into a projectile and struck Gary at amazing speeds with a sickening crunch. I hit the street facedown after freefalling what appeared to be fifty feet.
Night Stallion dove after the two boys, and Gary managed to roll onto his back and emit a stream of fire that pushed against Night Stallion. James saw what was happening, and quickly aimed his sword and fired a ray of Luminae. The beam struck Night Stallion, rendering it immobile. It fell through the air, and James jumped up and roundhouse kicked it in the side, a beautiful move. Night Stallion soared straight across the street and through the window of a jewelry store. The alarm went off as soon as the glass was broken.
“This thing is tough!” James spat, wiping the blood from his mouth. Gary’s nose was bloodied, and my leg was covered in blood from the cut.
“We can’t give up now,” said Gary, holding his finger to his nose to see how badly it was bleeding.
There was a flash of light from the jewelry store, and no more than a second later, the entire store exploded. Night Stallion was in the center of the blast, creating a whirlwind of debris around it. A small tornado took form, then raged down the streets. Cars, signs, trees, and even people were lifted up and battered against the buildings. Gas tanks exploded, sending ash and smoke into the air. Power lines were torn up and transformers blew, sending sparks everywhere.
Shielding ourselves from the destruction, we didn’t see Night Stallion stampeding at us through the dust and smoke. It pounced on James, knocking him back while attempting to tear him to bits with its talons and fangs.
Gary leapt on its back, but was bucked off. As soon as he fell on the ground, the demonic horse flipped backward onto him. Gary let out a muffled shout as he was pressed under its weight, and I ran over, slamming into Night Stallion with my shoulder, sending it reeling through the air. It bounced off the pavement once and regained balance. Feeling pain, I noticed that my shoulder was bleeding from my attack.
James chased after the horse as Gary created another fireball. The horse leapt on top of a pickup truck that tried to drive away, picked it up with its talons, and lifted it into the air as the driver bailed out. The horse saw the driver try to escape, so it swooped down and bit him nearly in half with a single chomp that emitted a gush of blood, still holding onto the truck.
“No!” James yelled as he watched the innocent driver lose his life. “Leave other people alone!”
Night Stallion flew overhead and tried to drop the truck on James. He narrowly avoided it by jumping aside, and the truck’s wheels and axles were wrecked by the fall as the windows broke and bumpers hung loosely.
Gary threw his fireball, but Night Stallion used its icy fire breath to freeze the attack and turn it into a harmless snowball which puffed as it hit the horse in the face. The horse swooped after Gary, but James jumped up from behind and struck it in the back with his sword. A wave of warm light erupted from Flare Blade. Night Stallion was struck with surprise and rendered paralyzed by the attack.
James yanked his sword out of the horse’s back to stab it again, but Night Stallion regained its strength too soon. The flaming blue mane on its back flared up, blasting James back and onto the road.
I was about to run in and attack again, but I sensed a huge concentration of Darknae build up. Gary and James noticed it too, and all three of us watched in horror as a massive quake of dark energy exploded from Night Stallion. It was much more powerful than the icy attack used moments ago in the intersection. The road was completely ripped down to the sewage line running beneath it. Entire cars and sides of buildings evaporated from the sheer concussion of the shockwave. I became buried underneath a huge pile of rubble and debris.
Blasting my way free with my mysterious invisible energy, I saw Night Stallion look up at the moon. Before I could move, the horse took off down the street with James in hot pursuit. Was it preparing to take another soul?
Gary and I quickly ran after James as he leapt onto the busy overpass and into oncoming traffic, which was still heavy during the wee hours of the night. Night Stallion was weaving through the onslaught of oncoming vehicles and into a tunnel. I struggled to keep up with Gary, using his flaming energy as a torch to guide me.
On the other side of the tunnel, Night Stallion jumped off the overpass into the large city park. James caught up with it and engaged in close-range combat in midair as they fell to the ground. Gary and I caught up with them, and the three of us teamed up on the horse.
Night Stallion was extremely agile and quick. It mainly used its claws to fend us off, but occasionally would emit powerful dark energy attacks, icy fire, and electricity. Even with it being three against one, Night Stallion was far more powerful than us combined, and we were at a clear disadvantage. Despite Night Stallion’s horse-like anatomy and massive feathered wings, it was very adept with close-range fighting. Its every move was amazingly coordinated, along with its dodging and defending.
We were not up against an animal. We were up against a calculated and insightful enemy. Animals can kill, but enemies can murder.
A forceful strike to my chest from a lightning attack knocked me back. I slammed into a tree and was immediately hit with another dark energy attack. There was an explosion, and I thought my body was going to rip open as the tree turned to splinters from the deepest roots to the highest branches. I fell to the ground like a lifeless doll, limp and unable to move for a few moments. Struggling, I looked up to see Gary and James being beat up by Night Stallion. They left the park and took the brawl back to the crowded streets, a likely strategy executed by Night Stallion to rack up the number of casualties.
Then that surge of uncontrollable rage welled up inside me again. My head throbbed, my chest ached. Almost blind from the anger, I ran up to Night Stallion. My left hand seemed to vibrate and burn, and I pulled it back, focused my energy into my palm, and then thrust it forward. A violent gust of wind exploded out of my hand with the force of a dozen hurricanes. It blasted down the street, tearing up the pavement and ripping the sides off the buildings. Night Stallion was caught in the attack, but so were Gary and James.
“Whoa!” James yelled as he was pushed off his feet.
Night Stallion dug its talons deep into the pavement to avoid being blown away, but caught the gust of extreme wind in its wings and was pushed back, taking a chunk of the tightly-gripped asphalt with it in each of its feet. Gary tumbled across the ground, then lifted off into the air.
Everything happened in about ten seconds. After it had happened, I fell to my knees. I didn’t know where that attack came from, but it sure was handy, not to mention tiring. I looked at my left hand, and noticed that my scar on my palm had ripped open. That was when I thought about how I got that scar. Looking into the night sky, the moon was still there, bleeding across the stars.
The entire street was covered with rubble. Dust and dirt filled the air. After a long, silent pause, the only sign of movement was from Gary and James as they stood up and dusted themselves off.
“Why’d you go and do that?” James asked angrily as he walked over to me.
I started to shake. The reality of the destruction before me smacked me in the face; I had caused it.