Chapter 3:

We’re In It Now

The Blood Of Palken

  “Again!” Sensei Tainaka demanded. Bookmark here

  Alex groaned and forced himself up to his feet. “Ow, I guess I asked for this.” Bookmark here

  Terra grinned, spun her staff with more flair than he could bear at that moment, and laughed mockingly. “What happened Alex, I thought I was the one getting hit with a stick?” Bookmark here

  Alex shook it off. “I’m not done yet.”Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka observed his students and thought fondly of their time together and the progress they’ve made. They were as good as his own children, the pride he felt for them was matched only by his disappointment in Terra. He knew it wasn’t fair to her but he could never understand why she insisted on struggling with one dead end job after another. She should be an instructor at his school. He waved it away for the moment, that was a problem for another time. “Yes you are, it’s nearly opening time. The morning’s bout goes to Terra.”Bookmark here

  “That’s right it does!”Bookmark here

  “You know I really thought I was going to have a good day.”Bookmark here

  “Don’t be a sore loser dude.”Bookmark here

  “Alright the students will be here soon. You two wash yourselves up, I’ll unlock the door.”Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka stepped outside for some air with the expectation of seeing at least a student or two on their way into the dojo. Instead, he was greeted by a city filled with panic. He could hear some people choke out the word monster as they passed. “What’s happening?” He asked as they rushed by. “What’s happening?” No one stopped to answer him. He could hear explosions coming from different directions and the sky was thick with smoke. He went back inside as Alex and Terra were coming out. Bookmark here

  “Sensei,”Bookmark here

  “Go change your clothes. Something is happening in the city.”Bookmark here

  “It’s a happening town Sensei.”Bookmark here

  “I’m not kidding around Terra, go!”Bookmark here

  They quickly changed and the three went back outside. As always, Sensei Tainaka still wore his gi. Bookmark here

  “Look at all of the smoke in the distance. What could be going on?”Bookmark here

  “Is it an attack?”Bookmark here

  “Be calm students. Before we go though, maybe one of you should go back and grab your weapons again, just in case. Get one for me too.”Bookmark here

  They only made it a single block before they saw one. Terra was in the lead, she was pushing herself through the throng of frightened people and listening to the explosions getting closer, it was already bothering her. The fear of a natural disaster or terrorist attack was almost all consuming, but only momentarily. The fear that replaced it was much worse. “Hey that looks like...” She fell silent and stared.Bookmark here

  The salamander-like monster was over seven feet tall. If reached out for Terra. “You smell familiar, meat.”Bookmark here

  “Oh my god,” Alex looked at the monster over his friend, he couldn’t see through it. “Mom was right.”Bookmark here

  Before he could figure out what was happening, Sensei Tainaka pulled Terra out of the way and knocked the lizard in the head. It screeched long and loud.Bookmark here

  Terra stood breathlessly staring at the monster, feeling immense gratitude for her sensei.Bookmark here

  Alex was completely dumbfounded. He spent his entire life tortured by the specter of these things, the first half spent without sleep, laying there all night long with his eyes squeezed shut. Sometimes it was so bad that he was afraid to open them even when morning came. It took years of study before he gained the confidence to sleep through the night, years more before he could be left home alone. He did it, but here he was all of these years later staring his literal fears in the face.Bookmark here

  “Alex!”Bookmark here

  Alex snapped back to reality. “Right, I’m with you Sensei.”Bookmark here

  “Yeah, that bastard almost got me!” Terra gripped her staff until her knuckles were white.Bookmark here

  “Terra, you take the right, Alex, the left. Let’s get this lizard out of the city.”Bookmark here

  “Get it out of the city? Sensei, you’re too kind. We’re killing this thing.”Bookmark here

  The salamander screeched again then sniffed in Alex’s direction. “You smell familiar too.” It hissed. Bookmark here

  It seemed to size the group up as they surrounded it. Alex began with a quick strike to the left. As soon as he was in motion, so too, was Terra. The salamander was quicker though. It dove towards Sensei Tainaka and sunk its teeth into his calf. The force of the thing brought him to the ground.Bookmark here

  “My leg!”Bookmark here

  “Sensei!” Terra screamed. She then began beating it repeatedly as if the staff in her hands was a mere bat. As if it wasn’t a weapon she had spent years studying how to properly wield. Bookmark here

  She was taken by terror.Bookmark here

  The thing didn’t even seem to notice her. It just bit down harder, deeper into the sensei’s leg. Bookmark here

  Alex was at a loss as to what to do so he jabbed one end of his staff into the corner of the salamander’s mouth in an attempt to leverage it open. Terra saw what he was trying to do so she dropped her staff, jumped onto  its back and grabbed its jaws. The two’s combined might was enough to pry the lizard’s mouth open for Sensei Tainaka to get his arm out and crawl away. Bookmark here

  It screeched again, louder this time.Bookmark here

  They all stood up. Sensei Tainaka leaned heavily on his staff. Terra jumped up and down with excitement, adrenaline coursing through her body like she never could have imagined. Alex focused on his breathing and brought his heart rate down.Bookmark here

  He noticed that although the salamander was large and powerful he was still fleshy. It was a big scary monster, yes, but he was certain it could be killed.Bookmark here

  The Sensei and his students closed in again. This time Terra attacked first, she went to sweep its legs but it was still too fast for her. The salamander kicked down and snapped a full third of the staff off.Bookmark here

  “Oh man...”Bookmark here

  The salamander lunged at Terra.Bookmark here

  Alex hit it in the back of the head, causing it to flounder.Bookmark here

  Terra recognized an opening when she saw it. “You broke my staff!” She shouted before shoving the remaining two thirds into the lizard’s right eye. The broken end of the staff pierced the salamander’s brain and it fell lifeless to the ground.Bookmark here

  Sensei Tainaka’s groan of pain carried with it a slight sigh of relief. Bookmark here

  Alex maintained his composure.Bookmark here

  Terra was thrilled. “Yeah!!!” She yelled way too exuberantly. I’ve dreamed of doing that for years.”Bookmark here

  “What?” Alex needed to know more, both about Terra’s cryptic statement and his mother’s words. Then they can’t hurt you. His mother knew all along that these things existed. “Terra, what do you mean?”Bookmark here

   “Later,” Sensei Tainaka began limping away from the corpse “for now we need to get somewhere safe.”Bookmark here

  “My mother’s house, I need to make sure she didn’t leave this morning.” And ask her a few questions.Bookmark here

                                                                              ~~~Bookmark here

  Across townRox walked a path of destruction. He was keenly aware of the level of guilt he should feel at that moment but in truth he was in awe at the huge glass structures that surrounded him. He had grown up with his father’s tales of the human world and he’d always wanted to visit, certainly not under such dire circumstances though. Around him the humans that his father found so precious were being slaughtered for no reason and it made the fire inside him rage. A blood curdling scream came from a few blocks away and he took action. Bookmark here

  He rounded a corner and nearly collided with Traak, another of Ember’s generals.Bookmark here

  Traak's features were humanoid but his face was insect-like and his arms were barbed with bone. He stood amidst a pile of torn apart bodies holding a leg above him, drinking the blood as it poured down. His laugh was low, barely audible, and deeply unsettling. Kneeling on the ground before him were three human children, their pitiful wails nearly exhausted. Traak stopped laughing when he saw Rox.Bookmark here

  “Come to join the fun, Rox?” He began sucking at the leg, the blood had stopped dripping. Bookmark here

  “No Traak, we’re returning to Palken.”Bookmark here

  “Hahaha! You’re just as weak as your father.”Bookmark here

  Rox bared his razor fangs. “If you’d have thought him weak you would’ve killed him back home. No, you came here because you thought conquering Earth would be easy.”Bookmark here

  “Hahahaaa... stupid prince,” Traak threw the leg aside and stood at his full height. He stretched his ten foot tall frame then flexed. As Traak flexed, his muscles seemed to roll throughout his body and expand until he bulked up to twice his original size. “I’ll eat you!”Bookmark here

  Rox bristled with excitement. He considered Traak an equal foe and he anticipated a fight unlike any he’d ever experienced.Bookmark here

  Traak, fourth general to Ember, eldest daughter of the Lord Dragon. And Rox, second son of the Lord Dragon. Two mighty warriors of Palken who have been trained since birth to dominate their enemies. Had they not been destined to meet in battle this day, had they been left to grow in strength and size, they would have become Titans with the power to match the Lord Dragon himself. However they have met this day, and only one will walk away.Bookmark here

  Rox crouched to adopt his preferred stance. With his lower center of gravity he was perfectly positioned to defend against taller enemies that also rely on brute strength.Bookmark here

  Traak simply growled and charged.Bookmark here

  Rox growled in return and planted himself firmly, he stretched his hands out and like a great mountain brought Traak to an abrupt stop. “Who’s weak?” He quipped before heaving him up and over his shoulder. Bookmark here

  Traak seemed to float weightlessly for a heartbeat before crashing down on his back.Bookmark here

  “Who’s weak?” Rox asked again as he drove his clawed foot into Traak’s side.Bookmark here

  Traak grabbed it and pushed him away. “You’re weak!” He bellowed and without even standing went for Rox’s knees. Rox came crashing down, Traak twisted himself out of the way and on top of him just as he hit the ground. Bookmark here

  “You’re weak!” Traak bellowed again as he brought both of his fists hammering down on Rox’s chest. Bits of rock shattered off at the impact. Traak hammered down three more times in rapid succession.Bookmark here

  Heat began emanating from the crater that had formed in his chest. Rox began laughing. “It’s over now, Traak.”Bookmark here

  “A little heat doesn’t frighten me, Prince.”Bookmark here

  “It should.” With these words the deepest part of the crater began to glow red. Then the gray, granite-like skin closest to the glow changed color to resemble coal.Bookmark here

  Traak kneeled atop Rox  and looked down in confusion. He’d seen him crush or tear apart his enemies but Rox had never shown any of the magma manipulation abilities shared by his brethren. Traak slowly rose to feet and backed away. Bookmark here

  Rox also rose. Most of his body now appeared as though it was made of coal. The center of the crater pulsed then the glow began to spread towards his right arm. He flashed his teeth, rubbing them with his tongue.Bookmark here

  Traak felt a foreboding sense of calm come over him, in that instant he knew that he would die.Bookmark here

  Rox’s entire right arm had become a red hot coal. Without warning he threw a quick jab at Traak. Rox’s fist was so hot that it melted straight through his face.Bookmark here

  He let Traak fall and looked at him with dismay. Rox really thought he was in for the fight of his life but that was just a disappointment. He hoped the other generals were stronger than that.Bookmark here

  Rox turned to the children, they shied away. “Run! Find cover humans.”Bookmark here

  The kids didn’t move. They were transfixed by this evil looking rock monster. Bookmark here

  “Go!”Bookmark here

  They screamed and dropped lower.Bookmark here

  Filled with frustration at the stupidity of the weak, Rox walked away, leaving the children to fend for themselves.Bookmark here

                                                                              ~~~Bookmark here

  “Yah! Yah! Yah!” Erica was just about out of breath but she couldn’t stop hitting the thing. She didn’t want to stop hitting the thing.Bookmark here

  “Erica, that’s enough, you got it.”Bookmark here

  “Yahhh...” one final, worn out strike, she had won. Erica smiled weakly and reached out to Paul.Bookmark here

  Paul smiled in return then helped his girlfriend to her feet. “You saved us. You’re amazing, Erica.” Bookmark here

  Erica held onto him, she was out of breath. “I know, I’m your hero.”Bookmark here

  Paul laughed and attempted to half carry her. “You may be my hero but even so, I don’t think we’re making it all the way to your apartment.”Bookmark here

  “Well I am winded as hell and I only killed one of those things. Who knows how many more are out there. And you’re wounded, you shouldn’t be trying to carry me.”Bookmark here

  Paul agreed but refused to let her go. “What do you think we should do?”Bookmark here

  “I really don’t know, let’s sit for a few minutes and talk it over. I need to catch my breath anyway.”Bookmark here

  “Alright, I can do that.” Paul made a show of letting her go then dropped in place with a sigh.Bookmark here

  Erica found it in her to let loose a little giggle and sat beside him. “Paul, I was terrified.”Bookmark here

  “I know, that was really scary. Think about it, I would have actually died back there if you weren’t with me.”Bookmark here

  “That’s all I was thinking about. I couldn’t let that happen.”Bookmark here

  “Well I truly appreciate it. Ow!” Paul shifted too quickly, causing the scratches on his back to flare. The area of his arm that was missing flesh was completely numb. He winced when Erica touched his back.Bookmark here

  “I know, I’m sorry. Let me lift up your shirt, I need to know how bad it is.” Erica lifted up the back of his shirt to reveal his wounds. It was her turn to wince. “Paul, this is bad, we need to clean these immediately.”Bookmark here

  “Yeah, it feels pretty bad.” Bookmark here

  “No, like immediately, and you need to stop rolling around in the filthy street.”Bookmark here

  “Ah yes, infection.”Bookmark here

  “You really would die out here wouldn’t you?”Bookmark here

  “Oh yeah, I’m completely un-equipped to deal with this,” He indicated the whole city “by myself.”Bookmark here

  Erica groaned. “You better get on the ball buddy because we’re in it now. We are in one of your stories,” she stopped to wave her finger in a disbelieving manner “no matter how crazy it may sound, and we will survive. I’ll drag you through this by your hair if I have to.”Bookmark here

  Paul was impressed. He already knew he was with a strong and capable person but watching Erica like this, hearing her words, stirred something in him. The power of her will inspired him.Bookmark here

  “There’s a pharmacy not too far from here, let’s go there first to bandage me up.”Bookmark here

                                                                                  ~~~Bookmark here

  “Haha! Hahahaha!” Teer was truly enjoying his time on Earth. His favorite thing to do so far was ripping into the giant metal boxes on chewy wheels, sometimes they had tasty snacks in them. Bookmark here

  The last tractor trailer he smashed through carried many cases of Granny Annie’s Fruit Pies. Teer was heavily engrossed in binge eating the lot of them. He’d never tasted fruit before, or in this case fruit-like substance, and he wanted all of it. Teer smashed through the other side of the truck and went in search of more.Bookmark here

  Ember strode down the street in full confidence. The Palken were doing as they were meant to, they would happily follow her on her conquest. First, she thought they should find a nest here and then make their way outward from the city. Ember laughed to herself, she mustn’t get carried away, one domain at a time.Bookmark here

  Wheeooh, wheeooh... the sound of an approaching siren took her from her fantasy, for the briefest of seconds she could see flashing lights. Then the police cruiser slammed full force into her. It was like when a torrent of water runs around a large rock, the car split directly down the center. To Ember it felt as if she was scratching her back on the jagged mountainside. She began laughing. This world could never defeat her, she would make it a burned out and desolate place. Ember would remake the Earth in Palken’s image. Bookmark here

  No, she would remake it in her own image.Bookmark here

  Ember reached out and grabbed a screaming human as it was attempting to flee and bit off a finger. She might as well see what all the fuss was about. Next Ember would try a fruit pie that Teer had miraculously let fall by the wayside. She would consider the pie to be almost good but still bad and this confused her greatly. If she had been from here in the first place Ember would know that's just how Granny Annie's pies are, bad, and she would be fine with it. Just like the rest of us. She quite enjoyed the finger though.Bookmark here

  Ember liked Earth.Bookmark here

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Joe Gold
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