Chapter 6:

The Crypt and the Crow

The Life of Death

Arcaya Square, the one place in the city that never stopped moving regardless of the time. We walked with the bike, it being easier with the massive crowding. I still struggled with the noise, the roar of car engines, the hum of voices. All of it was a bit too much to absorb. I longed for silence, but in the city that never stops talking this wish was in vain.Bookmark here

“Mind telling me who we are looking for?” Ava asked, coming in closer to ensure I heard. Bookmark here

“Another death. I only met him once, but he’s...different.” I sniffed at the air, hoping to catch on to his scent. Bookmark here

Nothing.Bookmark here

“Shouldn’t we be hiding from deaths or are we overlooking the fact that one tried to kill me?” Ava raised an eyebrow, her eyes holding me in silent inquisition. Bookmark here

I did my best to avoid them. She was right after all. It was a risk, but a necessary one. We were in the dark and needed help. Only one death had shown me an ounce of kindness in twenty years and his territory was here, in the heart of Arcaya. Bookmark here

The rays of the midday sun beat down on my neck, seriously making me consider changing my all-black style. So hot that I could feel my boxers sticking to the insides of my butt-cheeks, an unbearable sensation. Bookmark here

Next time she looks away I’m yanking it out.Bookmark here

The square was filled with all types of people. Workers hustled by on their lunch breaks, their briefcase in one hand and a clumsily assembled burger in the other. Parents barked orders at their children, failing to keep them from darting in and out of the crowds. Even students skipping school meandered about, eager to reach the shopping district. Two children cut in front of us, distracting Ava for just the briefest of moments. I tugged at the back of my pants. Bookmark here

Sweet relief. Bookmark here

Every block I took a big whiff, hoping his scent would be floating in the breeze. It was to no avail. I did pick up on something else though, a soul, and a fresh one at that. I could feel the rumble in my gut longing for it, desperate to replenish my energy after the battle with Chad. I honed in on it, a few streets down it waited for me. There was a wail from a siren, the flashing lights of an ambulance slowly pushing its way through traffic behind us. Bookmark here

“Crap! Get on, we’re going to have to beat them to it.”Bookmark here

“Beat them to what?” Ava asked, already getting on the bike. At least she was a 'move first, ask questions later’ type of girl. Bookmark here

“A fresh soul. I don’t have much energy left and I need that soul, or I am going to be in serious trouble.” I wasn’t ready to fade away just yet, but every passing second, I could feel my own soul dimming. Bookmark here

I pressed my feet to the pedals, every push draining me little by little. The sidewalk was too crowded, so I cut into the street. Car horns blared, brakes squealed, people yelled, but I didn’t care. Even Ava’s shrieks didn’t distract me. All that mattered was that soul. Bookmark here

This hunger. I’ve never felt this intense need for one before.Bookmark here

The smell intensified with every stride, the distance between us and the ambulance on our trail increasing as I pedaled faster. My legs sped into overtime, pushing past their limits in my race to survive. Bookmark here

“We’re here!” I halted the bike, bringing it to the side of the road. The abrupt stop nearly flung Ava off the handlebars. She shouted some remarks, even attempted to take a swing at me, but neither really registered in my head. I darted off the bike, my feet heavy against the sidewalk. Each step it felt as though concrete clung to my shoes, restraining me, preventing me from feeding. Bookmark here

I need it!Bookmark here

Voices roared in my head. Angry, confused voices shouted commands I couldn’t quite comprehend. I blocked it out, my disregard only furthering their anger. A crowd separated me from my target, encircling it like vultures. I pushed through, grunts and insults flying my way. I had no clue if Ava was by my side or still with the bike, her safety falling in my lists of priorities. Bookmark here

Finally, I reached it. Another bicyclist laid on the edge of the sidewalk, his legs dangling into the road. His body was mangled, his arms awkwardly wrapped like a bow with the bike’s handlebars. His eyes were unblinking, glossed over as they stared at nothing. Without hesitation I lunged, pressing the palm of my hand to the corpse’s chest. The faint glow of his soul shone a hue only I could see. Bookmark here

Bystanders screamed, footsteps rapidly approaching. As soon as the soul left the cyclist’s mouth, I clenched it tightly in my hands and ran, pushing through the crowd. I felt their fingers reach for my clothes, but none were quick enough as I weaved through their arms. I broke free and spotted Ava still with the bike. She paced back and forth, flapping her arms around in a heated discussion with herself. I stuffed the squirming soul into my mouth. It burned the entire way down, but left my stomach feeling settled. Images of a car slamming into the cyclist played in my mind like a movie reel. It took all my concentration not to fall onto the sidewalk as his memories pounded into my head.Bookmark here

“Ava! Get ready, it's time to move!” Bookmark here

She ceased her pacing and shot me a dejected look before perching herself on the handlebars. She remained in silence as I mounted the bike. My energy was returning, and I could pedal with ease as we flew down the street. I dodged angry drivers, increasing our speed with every car we passed. It wasn’t until we were well away from the accident site that I slowed down, easing us back to the sidewalk for a dismount. Bookmark here

“Are you back to normal now?” Ava huffed; her annoyance etched into her face. Bookmark here

“I was never not normal.”Bookmark here

“Wish you could’ve seen yourself. Your eyes. They were black like Chad’s when you went darting into the crowd.” Her irritated expression faded away, replaced with concern. Bookmark here

“Death’s Frenzy. That’s what it’s called. A death’s eyes go black for two reasons, anger, and hunger. The true nature of the frenzy is like that of a shark. We become blind to everything, but our one target.” I said, trying to reassure her. She wouldn’t meet my eyes, instead shuffling uneasily. “I’m...I’m sorry. I don’t remember ever being in that state before, it was difficult to control to say the least.” Bookmark here

I truly don’t remember ever feeling that way, but why? Why did it feel so...familiar?Bookmark here

I felt her tug at the back of my arm. It was gentle, I barely even noticed at first. She held onto my sleeve waiting for me to face her. Bookmark here

“Be careful Milo. You exposed me to a world I don’t know anything about. Don’t leave me alone again...please.” Her voice was soft, like the squeal of a mouse too scared to make noise. I’d never seen Ava so frail before, she looked to be on the verge of breaking at any moment. Her shoulders shook and her eyes held back tears, not letting a single droplet escape. Even at her weakest she refused to look vulnerable. Bookmark here

“Next time it’ll be different, I’ll be different.” I grabbed her by the shoulders, bringing my face close to hers. I brought Ava into my world, and I would damn myself before I abandoned her in it. Bookmark here

We stayed locked. I stared deep into her blue eyes, her irises gleaming in the sun. The eyes truly were the gateway to the soul, and Ava’s soul was beautiful. The moment of bliss was short lived, Ava sensing the presence even before I did. Bookmark here

“It’s that same smell as before,” she whispered. Her eyes broke away from mine and began shifting in every direction. Bookmark here

“Another death. I’m surprised you can smell it so easily. This one could be trouble though.”Bookmark here

“How can you tell?”Bookmark here

“Their soul is rotting, just like with Chad. Though based on how rancid it is this one has been a death for far longer. It’s become a crypt, the fragments of the souls within it bleeding out.” The stench was unbearable, my nose recoiling in discomfort. It was sickening and enough to deter my desire to stay in Arcaya Square. Bookmark here

“Let’s go. I’m not sure I recovered enough for an all-out fight just yet. We’ll have to come back when the crypt is gone.” Luckily, I had biked us nearly to the edge of the square. A few blocks and we’d be out of the area. Bookmark here

Crossing into the residential district right outside the square, a feeling of dread washed over me. Ava’s expression told me she felt it too. Bookmark here

“It’s following us, isn’t it?” Ava asked, her voice shaking. Bookmark here

“It seems so.” I held my breath. We were being tracked by an enemy we couldn’t hide from. Before I could think of a possible solution, Ava bolted.Bookmark here

“Where are you going?” I shouted after her, following close behind. My chest tightened, slowing my pace. Bookmark here

God, I need to do more cardio. All this damn running lately.Bookmark here

She didn’t answer, choosing to press on instead. It wasn’t until we reached the Lerna River that she slowed. She avoided the bridge, rushing down to the bank of the river. Frantically she started lathering herself in the mud and dirt along the water. Bookmark here

“You going to join or not?” She asked, smearing mud across her forehead.Bookmark here

“You can’t be serious.”Bookmark here

“It’s tracking us by scent, right? Then our only chance is to mask our smell.”Bookmark here

“The smell of your soul and body are not the same.”Bookmark here

“What else am I supposed to do? It’s after me isn’t it!” She desperately coated herself in more mud, her face filled with despair and for the first time I saw Ava begin to cry. It was slow at first, only one tear dripping into the mud on her cheek, but soon it turned into a cascade. I patted her on the head, hoping to ease some of her fear.Bookmark here

“Stay here.” Her crying stopped for a moment, turning into short gasps for air. Bookmark here

I climbed back up the hill. It was here, the smell unbearable. The crypt didn’t even look human, his features warped by madness. Every death has a shell to blend in with humans, but another death can see right through that façade. I could see him for what he truly was underneath. Bookmark here

His skin was ghostly white, his black soul running through it like veins. Three pairs of arms extended from his sides, each hand with fingernails the length of lethal talons. His head was the most terrifying. He was completely bald, his scalp misshapen by his deformed three faces. Two of them protruded from the side of his head, the veins popping out where the face transitioned to the next. Each one bore a wide, demonic smile, and eyes darker than a raven’s feathers. He spoke in an incoherent tongue, each mouth uttering a gurgling reply to itself. The pressure he emitted was enough to crush my soul. I was frozen, my joints locked in place. This was a demon, a death warped by the conflicting memories of the souls he’d consumed through the years, and an enemy I had no hope of beating. Bookmark here

I can buy her time at least.Bookmark here

“Need a hand, Milo?” Cold breath coated my ear, causing a shiver to run down my spine. Bookmark here

I recognized the voice, the way his breath chilled my skin, and most of all I recognized the power. All day I searched for him and here he was by my side. I didn’t even sense his presence until now.Bookmark here

“What’s the catch Logan?” I masked my fear with a firm tone.Bookmark here

“No catch! He just smells so bad I can’t let him roam around my neighborhood. That brunette you have down there though, now she smells heavenly. Don’t think I’ve smelled a soul so sweet before. Introduce me and we’ll call it even. Deal?” Bookmark here

Logan ran a hand through his curls, patiently awaiting my response. The crypt, however, did not stand by. He charged, his body lurching inhumanely as he shrieked his battle cry. Unconcerned, Logan fiddled with his tie as he hummed to himself. Bookmark here

Was that ‘You Are My Sunshine'?Bookmark here

“Fine.” I was cornered, as if the world were encasing me in a tomb. Logan, however, was the sledge hammer to break through and free me of my fate. Bookmark here

“Good choice. Watch and learn, kid.”Bookmark here

Logan moved in front of me, his strides calm, his eyes calculating. The crypt was only a few feet away and closing the gap quickly, his arms reading a triple punch. Logan vaulted in the air, grabbing the demon by the face. He roared in anger, punching Logan viciously. Every punch landed, but none removed Logan from his perch. Bookmark here

“Crow’s Volley.” It was barely above a whisper, but I heard Logan’s hex.Bookmark here

Black crows materialized, darkness seeping out of them. They surrounded the crypt, squawking angrily, their eyes glowing a hellish red. One last roar escaped his lips before the crows struck, each one landing a devastating blow. Silence. The howl of the crypt turning into a grugle as black blood seeped from his mouth. Bookmark here

“Too easy. Give me a challenge next time.” Logan said, a proud sneer plastered on his face. He dismounted from the crypt, returning to my side. Dark wisps of the foe’s soul drifted away on the wind, slowly dissolving into nothing. Bookmark here

“Milo...who’s he?” I whipped around, Ava’s voice pulling me free from my trance. Her eyes were wide with horror and shock. Before I could respond, Logan was already holding her mud-covered hand like that of a queen. Bookmark here

“Logan. It’s a pleasure, Miss.” He kissed her hand gently, bowing his head slightly in faux admiration. His grin spread from ear to ear, his eyes sparkling with excitement. “And you are as beautiful as you smell!”Bookmark here

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