The Blood Of Palken
Those who survived this day would say that the city fell in an under an hour. That the ruthless warriors of Palken spread like wildfire, consuming everything in their path.
Ember had been searching for potential nesting grounds and was so far unimpressed with the city’s offerings.
Teer, having finally eaten his fill, was now dutifully following his master.
Eventually they came upon a large park with an outdoor amphitheater.
“Teer, gather our brethren and any humans you find hiding about the city.”
“Yes, my lady.”
Ember was alone at last. “You may show yourself now.”
There was a fit of coughing and a raspy wheeze. “If you insist.”
The air shimmered and flashed like a prism as another Palken slowly came into view. He was only three feet tall and looked ancient. His left hand made a sign in the air then a twisted cane appeared in his right.
“How does it feel to be back on Earth, Engo?”
Engo gave a broken toothed smile and spun his cane. “Dear Ember, but of course I feel nothing but joy.”
“I’m glad sorcerer, you should. After three hundred years of waiting, you’re finally going to get your wish.”
“So it’s true then, you’ll really do it?”
“Yes Engo, I’m going to permanently open one of your gates.”
“Our worlds will finally be one...” He began to cackle.
“Cease that at once.”
“Yes, my lady.”
He visibly shrank but inwardly he cringed in shame. It hadn’t always been like this for Engo, until three centuries ago he commanded power and respect. Engo’s ability was feared by all and recognized even by the Lord Dragon himself. He was adopted as a brother then taken into the clan. It was Engo who created the gates, his magic that made it possible to cross dimensions.
Back then his gates were commonly used throughout the realm by Palken replenishing their livestock and generally wreaking havoc on human society. Until the day that the Lord Dragon went soft for his first human woman.
After that the gates were outlawed and Engo’s connection to the mountain was severed, his inner fire doused. He’s spent the intervening years seething with hatred, driven only by the thought of regaining his power. He has become this tiny, shriveled thing but if one of his gates were to remain open then it would do much more than Ember counted on. It would be his life’s ambition realized yes, but it would also set into motion a contingency to reignite his inner fire.
For now he would wait and continue to play the role of sycophant. For now, he would be weak.
“Engo,” Ember’s voice was like a pebble underfoot, annoying.
“Ow... what the hell?” Light filled Chief’s eyes but everything was blurry and his head was pounding.
“Hey! Wills he’s awake.” Nora’s face slowly became clear, he also noticed they were in the bed of his truck.
They’d escaped the parking garage.
“How’s the head Chief? You took it pretty hard man.” Wills was grinning.
“Ow,” was all he felt like saying.
Wills knocked on the rear window, Whitaker slid it open.
Whitaker was relieved. “Alright, tell him to hold on, we’ll be at my place in a few minutes.”
Chief sat himself up and rubbed his head. “Wow, shit, what happened?”
Wills was still grinning. “You should’ve seen it Chief, Whit was fantastic!”
“Oh yeah, Whit was?”
“That’s right,” Nora chimed in “that big thing went for you but he jumped in between and shoved his gun in its mouth and just kept shooting.”
“Yeah?” Chief was impressed.
“It was gross.”
“Eh, it wasn’t that bad Nora. At least that time it didn’t get on you.”
“Still though...” She crinkled her face.
“Whit, pull us over for a sec will ya?”
They were driving through a devastated and desolate city, Whitaker didn’t see the need to pull over, he simply brought the truck to a stop.
“What’s up?” Wills asked as Chief jumped to the pavement.
“We’re vulnerable out here, hop out Whit, I gotta pop the seat.”
Chief opened the seat to reveal a small armory. “Wills, give the .44 to Nora.”
She took the gun with trepidation. “I can’t shoot this thing.”
“Use two hands, and only if something is close enough that you think you’ll hit it. And this thing kicks like a son of a bitch so only use it as a last resort okay?”
Nora couldn’t believe it. “Thanks Chief.”
“Just keep your head up. Here, you take this.”
Wills chuckled. “You really did have a third.”
“Told you, load up on ammo too. Whit, you good?”
“You bet Chief.”
“Alright, back on the road. Stay sharp everyone.”
Chief, Wills, and Nora sat in the truck bed with their guns at the ready, the silence bothered everyone more than they cared to admit. It was only a few minutes before Nora began to crack.
She started to speak but Chief cut her off. “Hold on, does that look like people over there? Whit, stop again.”
“Oh god,” Nora was on edge.
Wills noticed her body language and put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, if they’re a threat you know we’ll take care of them.”
Nora managed a smile then turned her attention to the couple that walked towards them.
It was a man and a woman, she carried a sledgehammer and he, an axe. Both weapons were covered in blood and their wielders looked entirely drained of energy.
“Hey!” The woman called.
“Hey!” Wills called back.
Chief kept a watchful eye as they approached.
Erica and Paul had the unfortunate luck of running into the very same pair of Palken that they had been trying so very hard to avoid. It was a long and messy, very difficult battle.
Paul had fought like a champ but Erica feared that his wounds were getting the better of him and that he would collapse at any moment.
“Do you hear an engine?” He asked hopefully.
Not a moment later a pickup truck rolled through the intersection right in front of them.
Paul whooped when it stopped.
“Hey!” Erica called.
“Hey!” One of the people in the truck called back.
As they got closer she could see that like them, this group had clearly had a tough time of it. They were being eyed with distrust.
Erica figured she should break the tension, she began waving. “Hi, my name is Erica, and this is Paul. We won’t attack you or anything.”
“Unless you attack us!” Paul added unnecessarily, they would be desiccated in seconds if the party in the truck so desired.
Chief looked each of the new arrivals in the eye for an uncomfortable amount of time then arbitrarily decided they were harmless. “Alright, get on in.”
“That was it?” Nora asked.
Wills nodded. “Yup,”
“Alright I guess... I’m Nora.”
Erica and Paul joined them in the truck and Whitaker once again started driving. Introductions were made and the security squad went back to vigilantly scanning the area.
Paul was relieved that they wound up with a group that had both large guns and transportation, be just hoped they turned out to be decent enough people.
Erica was pleased to have a seat, after the morning they’d had she was confident that she could deal with pretty much any situation but just wanted a break. She fully expected everything to get worse from here on out and that she would probably have to fight the whole world. If that included the people she now sat beside then so be it, it will be dealt with at the appropriate time. Until then...
“Thanks for picking us up.”
“No problem, we gotta take care of our own now, right?” Wills gave Nora a comforting squeeze.
“Where are you going?”
“Well, for now we’re going to Whit’s place because it’s close. Beyond that, we have no idea.”
Erica nodded in understanding. “Yeah, we were pretty much doing the same thing.”
“You guys can come with us if you’d like, if not, we can take you that far.”
She turned to Paul. “What do you want to do?”
He frowned for a moment then shrugged. “Safety in numbers I guess. At least until we can think of something better, or if they’re dicks.”
Erica and Chief chuckled.
Alex stared at Rox as they walked, he was trying to figure out if he was grateful for the escort or simply suspicious of him. He had called him brother, that isn’t an easy pill to swallow.
Terra was angrier than she’d ever been before. She walked with the determined step of a soldier who was ready to get back into the shit.
Sensei Tainaka leaned heavily on his staff, he was quietly considering the morning’s events and the fact that they were suddenly responsible for two children. He frowned deeply at the thought.
Timothy sat on Rox’s shoulder with a mildly satisfied look on his face. His leg pained him greatly but he couldn’t help but think how cool it was that he got to ride on a real live monster.
Nick didn’t much care about any of these things. He was quickly learning that life was going to continue to be difficult and scary and that he needed to grow up a little. “Alex, are we almost at your mom’s yet?”
“Yeah little man we are, we’ll be there soon.”
Nick looked at the mass destruction that surrounded him. “How do you know she’s alive?”
The group collectively held their breath, he said exactly what everyone had been thinking, including Alex.
“Obviously I can’t know for sure, I just have to hope right? She lives in a basement apartment so maybe it’s still standing...”
“Listen kid, we’re figuring it out as we go okay?” This was perhaps the main reason that Terra never became an instructor, she didn’t have any patience for children. “Look on the bright side though, at least you brought a big rock thing with you.”
“Yeah, I know bud.”
They turned onto the road that Alex’s mother lived on, the Palken had clearly been through but the structures were mostly intact.
Alex got a spring in his step. “It’s still standing!”
Inside the apartment building, in one of two basement units, sat Alex’s mother, nervously waiting and chewing her fingernails off.