Chapter 4:

A Familiar Scent

The Blood Of Palken

  On the distant world of Palken the Lord Dragon sat on his mountain. It was the mountain that gave the Titan his strength, his very life, the magma that flowed through it flowed through him. The same is true for his progeny, the Lord Dragon knew the immense power and destruction they were capable of, and he was concerned. They were all on Earth. Bookmark here

  Ember took four spikes with her and Rox was sent alone, alone to find the family he never knew he had. The Lord Dragon hoped his human children had grown into able bodied warriors, if not, then humanity had no hope against the onslaught that his people would bring. Bookmark here

                                                                               ~~~Bookmark here

  Rox left the children and continued on his way. The disappointment he felt from their fear combined with his lackluster fight with Traak left a sour taste in his mouth. He went around a corner and was met with an intense blaze that reminded him of home. Bookmark here

  The entire street, cars and trucks, the buildings on both sides, everything was burning. Rox could hear only a few pitiful screams. Bookmark here

  The Palken had been thorough. Bookmark here

  Before he left, his father told him he was to find the human children he’d had the last time he was on Earth. Their inner fire wouldn’t be lit yet but they still had the blood of Palken, he would be able to smell them. The problem he now faced was that the city is full of his people. Finding his kin would be a difficult task. Bookmark here

  Rox heard shuffling, uncertain footsteps behind him. He turned in time to see the children he’d just saved duck behind a wall. Rox went back to walking. The footsteps followed. Bookmark here

  There was no other movement. Bookmark here

  The wind shifted. Rox got a big whiff of smoke but there was something else, one of his people was close. He stopped to scan the area. Bookmark here

  All he noticed were the three kids attempting to hide behind a flaming garbage can. Bookmark here

  Rox could smell it though, he was certain that one of Ember’s soldiers was close.Bookmark here

  Suddenly the fiery wall closest to the children burst outward. They screamed and fell back. Bookmark here

  An imposing figure stood in the rubble and let out a roar. It was the height of an average man with armored forearms that had spiked whips protruding from them. Without warning it lashed out and pulled one of the kids towards it. The kid screamed in terror, this only seemed to excite the Palken. It quickly whipped its victim down against the sidewalk, blood splattered the concrete and the thing laughed. Bookmark here

  Rox charged. Bookmark here

  The remaining children ran for their lives. One was quick, a little boy in a ripped, blue and gray striped shirt and a tattered baseball cap, he was able to make it a good distance away from the whips. The other though, only made it about six feet before a whip was around his ankle and he was brought down. Bookmark here

  The spikes dug in deep, the boy saw his blood flow and nearly passed out. Bookmark here

  “Timothy!” The boy in the baseball cap saw his brother fall and he began running back. “Timothy!”Bookmark here

  Rox was nearly there but so was Timothy’s brother. He wanted to save them. “I am Rox!” He shouted with all of the strength he could muster. He knew that some warriors had far better battle cries but that was alright with him, he’ll leave being clever to others, he’d do what he does. Bookmark here

  He got there just as one of the whips was lashing for the kid in the cap. Rox grabbed it with both hands. “No!” He roared. Bookmark here

  The Palken lashed out with its other whip, raking its spikes across the crater in Rox’s chest. Only a few pieces chipped off. Bookmark here

  Rox flashed his fangs and roughly pulled the Palken towards him. It used its momentum to crash into him but Rox didn’t budge.Bookmark here

  “Haha! I am the mountain!” Rox shouted as he butted his head full force into its face. Maybe that was a better battle cry?Bookmark here

  The Palken reeled back.Bookmark here

  Rox grabbed its shoulders and dug his claws in. The scent of fresh blood stirred him. With a grunt he pulled, tearing the Palken’s arms from its body.Bookmark here

  It stared at him, snarling with rage.Bookmark here

  Rox returned the stare and began slowly eating one of the arms.Bookmark here

  The Palken didn’t make a move. It stood silently watching as one of its arms was eaten all the way to the elbow. Bookmark here

  Rox threw them both down and spat. “You taste filthy!”Bookmark here

  The Palken snarled again then went for him with the only weapons left to it, its teeth.Bookmark here

  Rox laughed at the weak thing as it came at him and punched out with his claws, they went right through its throat. Another Palken body fell to the ground. Rox licked his claws clean of blood then spat once again. “Filthy,”Bookmark here

  “Timothy are you okay?” The boy in the baseball cap was on the ground next to the other. He had already removed his shoe and was in the process of delicately rolling down the sock.Bookmark here

  “It hurts Nick.”Bookmark here

  Nick got the sock off, Timothy’s ankle looked like a cheese grater's been at it. There’s no way he was going to be able to walk on his own. “Eesh, sorry little brother. Try and handle the pain, ok?”Bookmark here

  Timothy wiped his nose with the bottom of his shirt and stifled his tears.Bookmark here

  The brothers turned to Rox.Bookmark here

  He had been watching the exchange with interest. No Palken cared about another’s well being and Rox had no true understanding of compassion.Bookmark here

  Nick mustered his courage and stepped bravely between Rox and his brother. He looked at the body of their other brother then back. “You’re not going to kill us right?”Bookmark here

  A few minutes earlier this human couldn’t even look him in the eye but now he stood bravely before him. He earned Rox’s respect. “No human child, I won’t. I don’t know if I’ll be able to protect you though, there are many Palken here.”Bookmark here

  Timothy looked confused. “What’s a Palken?”Bookmark here

  “Me,” Rox said. “It’s what our people are called, it’s our world.”Bookmark here

  Both Nick and Timothy‘s jaws dropped simultaneously.Bookmark here

  “Your world?” Timothy asked in amazement.Bookmark here

  “I knew it.” Nick gasped.Bookmark here

  “What did you know?”Bookmark here

  I knew there were other worlds!”Bookmark here

  Timothy looked at his brother and frowned. “He reads a lot. Nick, help me up.”Bookmark here

  Nick helped his brother to his feet. “You gonna make it Tim?”Bookmark here

  Timothy put on a brave face. “I guess so, where are we going though? And what about Anthony?” He pointed at the corpse of the third brother.Bookmark here

  Nick steeled himself. “We’re going to have to leave him Tim.”Bookmark here

  Timothy sniffled and nodded his head. “Can we go with you big rock guy?”Bookmark here

  “No, I can’t protect you.”Bookmark here

  Nick was defiant. “Look, we have nowhere to go and you’re a monster that kills other monsters, we’re sticking to you like glue.”Bookmark here

  “I need to find my family.”Bookmark here

  “We’ll just follow you then.”Bookmark here

  “Do what you will.” Rox began walking again, he didn’t understand humans.Bookmark here

                                                                                 ~~~Bookmark here

  Erica and Paul arrived at the pharmacy without incident. There was no one inside but the aisles were in disarray, everyone probably ran out in a panic. They found a chair in the back of the store for Paul to sit in and Erica slowly pulled off his shirt.Bookmark here

  Paul gritted his teeth. “Owww, Erica I’ve never been in this much pain.”Bookmark here

  Erica threw the tattered and bloodied rag on the floor. “Give me a second to grab some things.”Bookmark here

  Paul groaned in a dramatic fashion.Bookmark here

  “You’ll be fine on your own for a second.”Bookmark here

  “Alright if you’re positive.”Bookmark here

  “You know that you can see me from anywhere in here right?”Bookmark here

  “I do. I’m just trying to keep things light so I don’t totally lose it.”Bookmark here

  Erica sighed. “Me too.”Bookmark here

  After collecting water, antiseptic, and bandages she set to work cleaning Paul’s wounds.Bookmark here

  “Thanks for this.”Bookmark here

  “Would you stop it. Of course I’d take care of you, you’d do it for me wouldn’t you?”Bookmark here

  “Of course I would, that isn’t what I mean. I mean for all of it. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for you.”Bookmark here

  “Come on now you big softie, you gotta stop this. You remember what I said back in that alley?”Bookmark here

  “About surviving?”Bookmark here

  “Yeah, we have to be tough Paul, we’re going to have to fight with everything we’ve got.”Bookmark here

  “But will I be able to? I’ve never been a fighter, Erica.”Bookmark here

  “You don’t have a choice.”Bookmark here

  Paul began crying softly. “There are so many dead people out there, why do we get to survive?”Bookmark here

  “Because I fought, that’s the only reason. Paul, pull yourself together, don’t waste the chance we have, the chance I earned us.”Bookmark here

   “What do we do next?”Bookmark here

  “I don’t know, try to get out of the city maybe?”Bookmark here

  “So we just wander?”Bookmark here

  “Paul, what do you want me to say here? I don’t have any bright ideas to save us or words of comfort. We’re just going to have to be smart.”Bookmark here

  “You’re right, I’m sorry to put this on you Erica. I’ll try to stop being a Debbie Downer.”Bookmark here

  “You better. There’s a good chance that you’re all I have left and who the hell knows what’s gonna happen next. Suck it up and tough it out through this nightmare with me.”Bookmark here

  “Alright but you’re definitely our leader.”Bookmark here

  “That’s a no brainer, I’m certainly not following you. This is the best I can do for now. You’ll need stitches though, I hope we can find someone that can sew.”Bookmark here

  Paul stretched and rolled his arms with a groan, he chose to ignore the more hurtful words. “Finding anyone’s going to be hard in this mess.”Bookmark here

  “Yeah well, one thing at a time. Let’s get you a shirt first. Erica went over to the clearance section. “What size are you, medium?”Bookmark here

  “Yup,”Bookmark here

  “Let’s see here... aha!” She picked a shirt and handed it to Paul.Bookmark here

  “Thanks, can you help me put it on?”Bookmark here

  She did. Then she began laughing.Bookmark here

  Paul looked down, the shirt read Grandpa Best. “Grandpa Best??? What does that even mean?”Bookmark here

  Erica was still laughing. “It’s probably a misprint, that’s why it was in clearance.”Bookmark here

  “You’re hilarious, do you know that?”Bookmark here

  “I do.”Bookmark here

  If Paul wasn’t careful he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep up with Erica at all.Bookmark here

                                                                        ~~~Bookmark here

  Terra and Sensei Tainaka were already on their way. Alex watched the dead salamander for a moment more than followed behind. He could hear the sensei’s labored breathing with every limp he took. They needed to get him to his mother’s house soon.Bookmark here

  It had been roughly twenty minutes since the invasion and the city was in complete chaos, Alex couldn’t begin to imagine how many were dead. At the moment there didn’t seem to be any monsters around, transparent or otherwise.Bookmark here

  “Do you think this is happening all over the world?” Terra asked.Bookmark here

  Alex shrugged. “Who knows? Maybe.”Bookmark here

  “No point in questioning it now, it’s not like we’ll be getting any answers.”Bookmark here

  “Sorry Sensei, this is just crazy you know?”Bookmark here

  “It’s unbelievable Terra. Now just stay sharp and lead the way.”Bookmark here

  “Right, we gotta check on Mrs. S.”Bookmark here

  “Thanks guys. Sensei lean on me too.”Bookmark here

  “Thank you Alex.”Bookmark here

  A low rumbling sound came from a short  distance away.Bookmark here

  “Anyone else hear that?” Alex asked.Bookmark here

  “It’s getting closer.” Sensei Tainaka needlessly declared.Bookmark here

  “What is it?”Bookmark here

  The rumbling got louder and it became clear that it was a truck.Bookmark here

  “Let’s get off the street.”Bookmark here

  The rumbling was accompanied by a horn honking and a series of crashes. It was still getting closer. The truck turned onto the street a few blocks down, it was driving in their direction.Bookmark here

  “This isn’t going to be good. Alex, get Sensei into that alley, maybe we’ll get lucky and it’ll drive right by us.”Bookmark here

  They all went into the alley then peeked their heads back out. Bookmark here

  The cement truck speeding down the road was half on fire and driving erratically, it crashed into every obstacle in its path. There was a monster clinging to the passenger side, it was reaching through the window trying to grab the driver’s face.Bookmark here

  Terra gulped. “Yikes, the poor guy.”Bookmark here

  “We have to help him.”Bookmark here

  “What are you nuts?”Bookmark here

  “No, Alex is right. We have to at least try.”Bookmark here

  “We? Sensei, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but you can hardly walk right now, you’re not going to be doing much fighting. And these things are strong, I don’t want to die yet. We’re not heroes, we don’t need to save everyone we see.”Bookmark here

  “Prudent words Terra but not entirely true. I think you’ll put your life on the line anytime.”Bookmark here

  It was always the same with these two, Alex could finally smile again. “Shut up Terra, we’ll be heroes if we have to.”Bookmark here

  Terra rolled her eyes. “This is gross guys, I’m just saying. Let’s go then.” She picked up a glass bottle and ran back into the road.Bookmark here

  Alex gently set Sensei Tainaka against the wall, the older man noticed a smile on his student’s face. Bookmark here

  “Are you enjoying this?”Bookmark here

  “God no Sensei, it’s just... I’ll have to explain it to you later.” Alex went after Terra.Bookmark here

  The cement truck was close, almost too close, Terra made it across the road right before she was hit. She reacted quickly and threw the bottle at the monster’s side.Bookmark here

  The monster in question was Strup, and until that very moment he had been having a great time. He’d been playing with this human for awhile and was thoroughly enjoying the faces it made and the feeling in his stomach as the truck weaved about. Strup’s pride could never accept being struck by an unseen enemy though, he considered it a challenge. He pushed himself off of the truck and fell to the road. Bookmark here

  Alex and Terra took one look at Strup and immediately regretted their decision.Bookmark here

  The truck driver whooped in relief and stepped on the gas.Bookmark here

  Strup stared curiously. No human had yet stood up to him, they all ran in terror. Could they be warriors?  Then the smell of their blood reached him. “You smell familiar.”Bookmark here

  “Why do they keep saying that?”Bookmark here

  “Why don’t you ask it Terra?”Bookmark here

  “Hey monster! Why do we smell familiar?”Bookmark here

  Strup took a moment to consider his next move. His instinct, his desire was to rip these humans apart and eat them bit by bit, but his brain knew that Ember would want them. “I don’t know, why don’t you come with me and we’ll find out together?” Strup was pleased with himself, Teer could never have been so subtle.Bookmark here

  He thought he was being subtle, and perhaps on Palken he would be, but to the humans he just looked like a monster with a grin on its face.Bookmark here

  They considered it deeply unsettling.Bookmark here

  Terra took a few steps back. “I don’t think we should be heroes.”Bookmark here

  Alex was starting to agree with her.Bookmark here

  “Alex, it’s way worse that they can speak!”Bookmark here

  This he fully agreed with. “Go away! Leave us alone!”Bookmark here

  “Good,” Strup would get to play before he had to turn them in. “You’re coming with me humans. If you don’t want to walk, well, I don’t think she’ll mind if I just take a leg or two.”Bookmark here

  “Who won’t mind?”Bookmark here

  “Your new master. Don’t worry, you’ll get to meet her soon.”Bookmark here

  “We have no master.”Bookmark here

  Strup’s smile was even wider now. He knew that Ember will be so pleased with his gift that she’ll reward him greatly, she might even give him the city. “We all have a master.”Bookmark here

  “Screw this!” Terra ran at Strup, jumped and landed a spin kick to the side of his head.Bookmark here

  He quickly grabbed her ankle and held her up before him. “Weak,” he muttered.Bookmark here

  Alex rushed forward but Strup swung Terra at him and let go, they hit the ground with a dull thud.Bookmark here

  “Terra!” She was unconscious.Bookmark here

  Alex gingerly slid her off of him.Bookmark here

  Strup slowly walked towards Alex.Bookmark here

                                                                                 ~~~Bookmark here

  “So everyone’s a monster on your world?” Nick asked.Bookmark here

  The two brothers had been talking incessantly since Rox saved them and it was severely irritating him. “What’s a monster?”Bookmark here

  Timothy giggled.Bookmark here

  Nick gasped. “It’s a big scary thing that eats people.”Bookmark here

  Rox paused for a moment. “We are Palken. Wait, what is that?” A low rumbling was headed their way.Bookmark here

  The cement truck came speeding into view.Bookmark here

   Its driver felt mildly guilty over what had just transpired but not enough to give it any serious consideration. He also thought nothing of the children he drove passed that were accompanied by a walking rock. The driver just wanted to survive, he had led a worthless life of cowardice and he wasn’t ready to give it up yet. Bookmark here

  He would only make it another twelve blocks though before he met Teer. Teer, full of disgust at the complete lack of fruit paste in the cement truck will instead eat the driver.Bookmark here

  A little further down the road Strup came into view, he was standing over two humans. Bookmark here

  Then a familiar scent wafted over Rox and he jumped into action. “Stay here and hide yourselves.” He told the kids.Bookmark here

  “Struuuuppp!!!” Rox bellowed as he charged down the street.Bookmark here

  Strup looked up to see Rox coming for him, his pleasure only grew. “It’s the prince.”Bookmark here

Joe Gold
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