The Last Light
After questioning the shop owner, they found themselves in front of an orphanage. The building itself was taller than the buildings beside it. Approximately about five-story height. Through the window, Jonathan saw this orphanage had it all, from playroom to classes to dorms to a dining area and even a garden on the roof.
Pretty fancy for an orphanage. However, Jonathan could guess where their funding came from judging by the name alone. Headmistress Victoria must have poured a lot of her wealth into this orphanage until her name was used to name it.
“Something bothering you?” asked Jonathan after he noticed Eri’s uneasiness.
Instead of answering Jonathan’s question, she walked ahead toward the door. Jonathan shrugged at that and followed her lead. They entered the orphanage and were greeted by a homey hallway. Traces of crayons in the shape of children’s drawings can be seen on the bottom wall suggesting the children here have a carefree and happy life.
“I’ll talk to the children while you go meet with the staff,” said Jonathan as he continued forward and turned around the corner.
Jonathan stopped in the doorway, observing the ongoing class. The teacher in front was none other than Lucy, and she seemed to be reading a children’s book aloud for the small children. They were cheering and gasping at every dramatic moment of the story. Lucy was happy to play along with their antics.
He took a seat at the back of the class. Lucy noticed the young man clad in black at the back of the class, she tilted her head for a quick second and continued the story. The reading ended with tons of praise and claps from the kids.
“Boys and girls, it seems we have a guest today. How about we give him a nice welcome?”
The children gave their warmest welcome to Jonathan. It caused the young man to fluster a bit, he scratched the back of his head.
“Can we ask for your name, sir?”
“Uhm…” Jonathan couldn’t possibly tell them his real name, not right in front of Lucy, but coming up with a name right now is more difficult than he imagined. “It’s Jay. Call me, Jay.”
Lucy raised her eyebrow at the suspicious young man. “Mr. Jay, what is the reason for your visit?”
Before Jonathan could give her an answer, a staff member interrupted our moment and gestured at the red-haired Nephilim. “Lucy, someone here wants to ask you a few questions. It’s important.”
“What about the kids?”
“They will be fine. It will only be for a quick second.”
“Uh, sure.” Lucy turned to the kids with a bright smile. “I will be back in a second, so don’t cause trouble for our guest, okay?”
The children answered with a resounding yes. Lucy followed her coworker into another room, leaving Jonathan alone with a room full of kids. They all stared at him with curiosity. One of them stepped forward. “Mr. Jay, are you a bad man?”
“What? No. What makes you think that?”
“Usually, when people with masks came, they always took us away.” said the kid with a frown. “Are you going to take us away?”
“Nope, not at all. I’m here… to find something. So, tell me why did the people with masks take you away?”
Jonathan’s question hit them hard enough to change the entire mood of the room into somewhat somber. A kid tugged the bottom of his shirt after stepping forward. “Our parents don’t want us because we’re different.”
“I see.” Any more questions about it were unadvisable. It might tip the mood of the room to a point beyond return, making Jonathan’s job even harder than it is. He’s not here to make them sad. He’s here looking for answers. Jonathan needed to lift the room spirit a bit before he started prying them for information. “Want to see something cool?”
Their eyes brightened in excitement. It’s far from their happy mood when Jonathan first got here, but it’s better. Jonathan left the seat and proceeded to dig into the school supplies for a marker and paper. He drew a target in the form of a circle, then stuck it on the wall. “I bet I can hit that target three times in a row with knives while my eyes are closed.”
Most of the kids don’t seem that excited by Jonathan’s challenge. Perhaps they will be more excited by the demonstration than the concept of it. Jonathan covered the mask eyeholes with his hand. He took a single long breath, then in quick succession, he threw three knives right on dead center. Each throwing knife landed close to the other, almost without a gap between them.
“Ta-dah!” Jonathan turned and extended his arms apart.
Jonathan expected them to look at least impressed at his display of skill, but none of them were that excited by it. To add more salt to his bleeding pride, they gave him a sympathetic cheer. It was so insincere, he almost fell to despair.
“Sorry, Mister. But Lucy showed us more amazing stuff than that.”
“Okay. I have to step it up.” Jonathan dug into his pockets, trying to think up a better act. A piece of paper scrunched up between his fingers. He took it out to find the small paper with Nicol’s drawing of a Sigil. “How about we do a bit of magic?”
That offer seemed to have a bigger effect on them than Jonathan expected. The children straightened their backs and glanced at each other with a confused look. One of them spoke up. “We can’t do magic… that’s why our parents don't want us.”
“Oh, I mean it doesn’t hurt to try. How about it?”
They nodded their heads with excitement.
“Okay, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work. I’m no master. Everyone picks up a pencil and a piece of paper. We need to draw it small.” Jonathan showed them how to draw the Sigil according to Nicol’s drawing. After everyone was done with their Sigils, Jonathan made sure the drawings were correct. Then he hovered his hand above the Sigil.
“We need to focus and let your spiritual energy flow into the sigil. With enough magic, it should activate the Sigil.”
Most of the kids closed their eyes, sweat dripped down their tiny foreheads. They're really trying hard to get the Sigil to work. It made Jonathan feel bad for even suggesting the exercise in the first place. However, a miracle happened right before Jonathan. Well, sort of. Instead of one child for each Sigil, they partnered up into two and combined their effort.
Each Sigil activated by their combined efforts, slowly every one of those drawn paper crumpled up into a ball and turned into light. It floated upward like a balloon, filling the empty air above with a sea of bright orbs.
It was an incredible sight to behold and what’s more incredible were the gleams of hope in their eyes. The children were exhausted from activating the Sigil alone, but one could not deny the wonderment in their gaze. Jonathan noticed a kid having trouble with her Sigil. She had no partner because there were not enough children, but it didn't stop her from trying.
“Let me help you with that.”
Jonathan kneeled beside her and poured his own spiritual energy along with hers to activate the Sigil. The young man might have overdone it. The Sigil became a light orb alright, but it’s the biggest one yet. It was so big it grew bigger than the little girl herself. Jonathan pulled the kid aside and let it float among the rest. Still, she was still overawed by it.
A few children stood up, then tried to reach for the orbs. Unfortunately, they were too short to touch it, but it didn't stop them from trying. One by one, the light orb began to disappear. When it did, they gathered around Jonathan with wide eyes. “Teach us more, Mister.”
“Hmm, most Sigils I know are too dangerous for me to teach. Sorry, guys.” Jonathan shrugged.
“Aww,” every last one of them let out a disappointed sigh.
“If I learn more, I’ll make sure to teach you guys.” Though they were still disappointed, Jonathan’s promise managed to slightly lift their spirits up. “Anyway, have any of you rascals seen Ricky lately?”
“Are you a friend of Uncle Ricky?”
“Sort of, I’m looking for him.”
“He was here. He said he had a date.” A few started to giggle at the mere mention of a date. “Uncle Ricky is like us, you know,” said another kid.
“Hmm, did he leave anything behind?”
“Uhm, he did borrow a locker from us.”
A kid pointed at the short locker made for children. It’s entirely colorful and made from plastic without any sharp edges. Jonathan made his way to where the kid was pointing. “Is it this one?” They nodded their heads.
Unsurprisingly, it was locked, but not for long. The key he found in Anthony’s home, the teeth were too simple for any standard lock because it wasn’t meant to lock anything of importance. It was made for a children’s locker. When he slid the key in, it was a perfect fit. A single turn was enough to unlock the locker.
He opened it but instead of giving him an answer, the item inside raised more questions.***
In the Nephilim embassy, a certain Nephilim grew in anger as his grip tightened around the red letter, leading it to be crumpled. He slammed his fist against the desk, surprising his attendants. The ambassador let out a long breath while resting his forehead against his hand. A lock from his slick black hair had come undone. He pushed it back and stiffened his shoulders.
“The top ranks are breathing down on my neck. I’ve got an unknown force demanding favor out of me. Damn them and their threats. Tell me, Captain, how did three highly trained Shadow Walkers die?”
“From the report, one highly trained man was able to see through our men’s veils. They engaged, both nearly wiped each other, but in the end, the unknown man managed to persevere. But, there is also something disturbing. The report stated that the bodies were decapitated after death.”
“Decapitated? Who would do such a thing?” He raised his sight to meet with the slightly overweight man, who is the captain of his guards.
“An Inquisitor. Possibly employed by the Academy.”
“An Inquisitor? But, it has been ages since the last one. Why now?”
“My team concluded it had to do with the death of our spy in front of the embassy.”
“I supposed this spy was the one tasked to investigate the origin of the blackmail?”
“Did he find anything substantial before his demise?”
“Half my leg is in a freaking grave. Even if I survive the investigation from the top ranks, either The Academy or the unknown force will be my demise.” He tapped his foot repeatedly while he glared at the glass of whiskey on his desk.
“I suggest slowing down the Inquisitor first while another group of Shadow Walker burns any evidence that may lead to you, Sir.”
“That would be a good idea if I can order the Shadow Walker without making a fuss with the top brass. However, we only need one to slow down the Inquisitor while we use the soldiers in our pockets to settle the rest.”
“Who should we call?”
“Send in The Florist.”
The captain’s eyes widened at the mere mention of the name. “Sir, isn’t that a bit excessive?”
“Is it excessive? Three Shadow Walkers are dead. They are not just regular soldiers, Captain. Whoever defeated them is someone we shouldn’t underestimate.”
“Understood, Sir. I’ll send the letter. He should be able to arrive here in two days while I brief the soldiers here on the new mission. That might solve our first predicament, but what about the blackmail?”
“We play along for now. Make sure those three from the Academy finish their task.”
“Will do, Sir.”***
Outside the orphanage, Jonathan and Eri walked toward the carriage. The silver ring in his hand was the treasure he found from the locker. It had no inscription or any mark on it whatsoever, and it looks quite new to be a family heirloom. Jonathan clicked his tongue in frustration, he was anticipating some sort of answer or perhaps another lead, but it raised more questions with this ring.
“What did you find?”
“This ring.” Jonathan tossed the ring to Eri for her to take a closer look.
“There’s nothing abnormal about this ring. Is this the only thing you found?”
Jonathan’s gaze wandered to a food stand nearby, his stomach growled. The absence of lunch finally got to him. In fact, he hasn't had anything to eat since this morning. Today has been somewhat busy.
Eri handed the ring back to Jonathan.
“It’s the only thing inside. The kids told me that our victim borrowed the locker a week before his disappearance. What about you?”
Rather than overthink the cause of his hunger, Jonathan broke from Eri’s side and headed toward the food stand. Eri noticed Jonathan’s disappearance and followed him. They arrived at the food stand. The stand offered a particular set of food; a mix of mincemeat and vegetable wrapped with flatbread.
“Welcome. Welcome. New customers.” The owner was a Nephilim brute so large that the food stand was almost comically small to him. He had muscles bigger than Jonathan’s head. Yet, no matter how intimidating he looks, the Nephilim wore a warm smile that put his customer at ease.
“One of those, please. Fewer vegetables, more meat.”
“Spicy or regular?”
“I love me a good spicy meal.”
“Spicy it is.” The Nephilim started to assemble Jonathan’s meal.
The hair on the back of Jonathan’s neck suddenly stood, someone or something had its sight on him. Even though it was subtle, Jonathan’s behavior had slightly shifted. His eyes wandered to the reflecting ladle hung beside him.
A creature the size of a small child crouched in the dark alley. The creature reminded Jonathan of the Redcap he had encountered before. Except this creature didn’t wear a red hat, but it dressed better than them and behaved more intelligently. Whatever it was, Jonathan was not going to let it go.
Jonathan sneaked out a throwing knife with a Sigil etched on it. His action was so sudden, it didn’t give Eri any time to respond. The knife flew past the creature and with a snap of his fingers, a blast of air threw it out of the alley and into the street.
“What the?” said Eri as she turned around to the face-planted creature. “A goblin?”
“W-What’s going on?”
“A goblin… hmm.” Jonathan stored the wrapped food into his pocket, then left the food stand. He squatted down beside it. “Say Goblin, why are you watching me?”
“Issa did not mean harm. Forgive Issa,” plead the Goblin in a high-pitched raspy voice.
“Issa, is that your name?”
“Yes, Issa is this humble creature’s name. Issa wants help. Issa is afraid of the man in dark clothes.” The Goblin seemed to be speaking for himself in the third person.
“What kind of help?”
“Small children in danger,” said Issa.
“Jay!” called out Lucy as she rushed out from the orphanage with a troubled look.
Jonathan turned to face the panting young woman. “What’s wrong?”
“One of the children is missing. Can you help us find her?” asked Lucy
“Yes, children. Issa saw her in the sewer. Near Issa’s village. Danger. Very Dangerous.”
“Show us where the child went,” said Jonathan.
The goblin led them to a manhole in the alley. Issa took out a short metal rod with a small cross at the end, he slid it into the keyhole and turned clockwise before using a bit of leverage to lift it open. Inside it was a dark tunnel that probably stretched throughout the city.
“Is there any light down there?” asked Jonathan.
“Goblin good at seeing in the dark, we don’t need light, but Issa left a lantern down there for man to help.”
“What kind of danger is she in?” asked Eri.
“A bad creature roamed the tunnels. It stinks of death. Goblin does not go near. Issa finds help. Issa found you.”
“Jenny is just a child. We need to help her,” said Lucy.
Jonathan has no desire to go into the sewer. There are too many unknown variables as it is. He doesn’t know the layout. His sight will be limited even with the lantern. There’s also a creature that stinks of death as the goblin described it. The Goblin was terrified of it, so it shouldn’t be underestimated. So, it’s better to wait for more manpower than tackle it alone.
“No, we stay here and call for help. It’s better if we don’t take any unnecessary risk.”
“We can’t leave a child down there, in the dark and alone,” argued Lucy.
“You’re correct, but it won’t do anyone any good if we get hurt trying to get to her or worse.”
“The child might be in danger,” said Eri, but before Jonathan could reason with her, she jumped down.
“Eri!” shouted Jonathan, but she already made her way forward. “Damn it. Go get help, Lucy. I’m going down there.”
“Be careful down there. And thank you.” Lucy left his side and ran toward the closest Security Office.
Jonathan jumped down and landed on the hard concrete floor. He saw the lantern the goblin talked about and proceeded to turn it on. With its magical crystal, the lantern glowed brightly enough for Jonathan to see at least a few meters in front of him. The goblin jumped down to accompany Jonathan.
Eri can be seen walking away from Jonathan. He caught up to her with the Goblin behind him. “Going alone is an unnecessary risk, you know that right?”
“Saving a child is not an unnecessary risk. It shouldn’t be considered a risk at all. If a child is in danger, we help. Period. No argument.”
“You’re going to get yourself killed,” sighed Jonathan. “I admire your heart, but don’t tell me you suddenly cared for them. I can tell you felt uneasy with those children the moment you read that orphanage sign.”
Eri glared at Jonathan before keeping it forward again. “True I felt uncomfortable with them because I never met one of them. I only heard stories and rumors. Most people called them Cursed Child. As the name suggests they are cursed, their ability to use the spiritual energy is either too minuscule to do anything or nonexistent.”
“So, in a world governed by magic, a non-magic user is a disability. Is that why their parents threw them away?”
“Unfortunately, yes. The hogwash part about it was most of those children’s parents are well-off, some were probably an aristocrat. People with titles. It’s not like they can’t afford to raise them, they chose not to.” The anger on Eri’s face was clear even in the dim-lit sewer.
Jonathan sighed loudly. He needed to change the subject before the atmosphere worsened to the point of no return. “It’s a stupid question, but can you see in the dark?”
“Yes, I can.” Her eyes remained forward. “Undine lives in the deep ocean. Our eyes can adjust to the dark.”
“Cool, glad to know that.” There was another question that bothered Jonathan. “While you were questioning the staff, did you find anything about our victim?”
“Nothing substantial. He has a habit of coming to the orphanage and bringing freshly baked bread to give to the children. He didn’t mingle with the staff that much except for Lucy, but most time he came when she was in charge of the class.”
“Hmm, I guess the dock is where we need to go next. Perhaps the victim’s crush can shine a light on our investigation.”
They arrived at an intersection, Eri glanced around her but was stumped on which way to go next. However, Jonathan didn’t worry that much because they have a local guide with them. He turned to the Goblin. “Can you show us which way the child took?”
The Goblin enthusiastically nodded with a big smile. “Issa will show.” He took a left and gestured to his saviors to follow. “Issa’s home another way. Good village. Miss Victoria gave goblins jobs and homes. Goblins took care of the sewer. Goblins love sewers. Dark and clean. Good home.”
As they ventured further, Jonathan noticed a sense of stickiness underneath his soles. A lingering stink stabbed his nose, he knew this scent well. The stench of death. Eri noticed it too and so did Issa. They were getting close, and that caused Jonathan to be more cautious. He prepared a throwing knife in his hand.
A set of light footsteps was coming toward them. Eri took out her trident while Issa hid behind Jonathan. However, before Jonathan could use his throwing knives, the undine stopped him by moving the trident in front of Jonathan.
A young girl appeared from the shadows with puffed-out eyes. A small Nephilim child with black wings and blonde hair. Her eyes widened in her relief when she saw the undine. She immediately rushed to her and wrapped her arms around Eri’s leg. She sobbed furiously.