This chapter had a few mistakes in it. I threw characters at readers, which is something that I never do. I also gave Rayne and Sol a pre-established relationship, when I prefer to draw out relationships. Still, I was able to experiment with Sol’s powers and Rayne’s kindness. Now, I know that I want to strengthen her dark side.
4 – FIRST FIRE
The burning bins of Ordinance continue to light the streets and alleyways. However, the orphans that plague the darkness cannot be found in their normal hideouts. Crouching behind burning trashcans is a technique that many homeless children learn to protect themselves from weaker ramanga. Yet, in dire situations, like today, they often abandon their street corners.
Over the years, these children have learned to flee without hollering. Verbally expressing their fears is a privilege that they were born without. Instead, they scatter from corner to corner, fighting to keep minimize the sound of their steps and avoiding puddles at all costs.
Just seconds ago, these children were happy enough. They were just victims of hunger. Now, they are victims of ramanga. An army of ramanga have been released upon Ordinance. The creatures were trapped underground since the province was established. These ramanga are nearly as old as the original disease. However, they aren’t weak. In fact, they are some of the strongest and fastest creatures that many of the orphans have ever seen.
The ramanga do not waste time stalking their prey. They have starved for long enough and expect to eat swiftly.
The orphans only release their cries when they have been bitten. Shouting during the first bite is both a natural reaction and a preservation technique. The children know that if they scream with all of their might, other creatures will attack. Often, this means that the nearby beasts will stop chasing friends or family. They will direct their attention to the loudest target. It also means that the children will not come back to life. If the body is destroyed in an assault, it will not resurrect as a ramanga.
Most people know these strategies, but few can execute them as flawlessly as orphans. Dozens of children are able to escape because they all work together, even in death.
Sol watches the terror unfold as he rushes into the city. Not much about Sol has changed over the past six months. His Afro is still neat and his clothes are always color coordinated. And he continues to hide his right hard beneath his jacket, which causes his left sleeve to dangle. If there is one change, it lives in his eyes. They reflect some hidden pain that he buries deep within.
The hunter may not have changed much, but that’s a good thing because right now, he’s running to rescue the residents who are in danger.
Like the orphans, he runs silently. For the first few years of his life in Ordinance, Sol lived on the streets with the other children. He met his closest friends, Morrigan and Circe, on these streets. They learned to become invisible in chaos and transferred that knowledge to treasure hunting, helping them move off of the streets.
A few of the orphans recognize Sol’s face as he passes them and pursuing ramanga. One of children crash into Sol and roughly whispers, “You’re running the wrong way.”
The hunter pushes the child to the side and punches a ramanga that nearly snags the orphan. Sol turns to the child and points towards the city limits while shouting, “Go!”
The child looks at Sol in awe before running away. When she is at a safe distance, the hunter returns towards the center of the city. He stops occasionally and draws various symbols on the cement. The symbols are a range of crosses, circles, daggers, and animals.
As he scribbles a messy Phoenix, Rayne speaks into her radio. Sol has to press a finger to his ear in order to hear her, but he still struggles to listen.
“Repeat,” he pleads.
“Shorty. I’m in a lot of trouble. You’re going to have to finish it.” Rayne’s voice is smothered by static.
Sol mishears her cry for help and replies, “Just lay the last lines. I’ll light it myself.”
Rayne says, “I’m just missing a circle under the cross.”
“A circle and a cross? It’s fine. Trey got most of the people out of the city already. I need you to alter that spell a little.”
“It’s not that simple. I’m bleeding. A lot.”
Sol snickers, “You’re always bleeding. Hold on for two minutes.”
Rayne looks down at her palm, which is covered in a dark gunmetal colored fluid. She presses her back against a stone wall as nine ramanga continue to stalk her. Thirty bodies have already been laid to rest by the butcher, but these creatures are nearly as strong as the Asasabonsam. They aren’t as advanced physically, but they are mentally aware.
These ramanga work together to attack. They’ve survived underground for so long through some sort of diplomacy. The stronger have eaten the weaker creatures to maintain their strength, but not all at once. These creatures thought through their decisions and shared all parts of a body to make sure that each creature was well fed.
The hundreds that plague Ordinance today were once thousands. They have survived for long enough to overwhelm the Impundulu, who clearly underestimated their strength.
Rayne knows that challenging the creatures all at once was a mistake. Now. Her poor decisions have costs her a lot recently. In fact, the decision she made six months ago was the most detrimental.
While holding her hand against her waist to slow the flow of blood, Rayne speaks softly, “I was just trying to make up for what I did. I’m sorry, Sol. I’m really sorry.”
Rolling his eyes and advancing further into the city, Sol asks, “Are you crying? You never cry.”
“Your sister, Shorty. You’ll never find her because of me. Not now.”
“I can’t believe this. You’re really crying. I’m lighting the damn symbol right—”
A bone chilling cry stretches through the city, stopping the creatures dead in their tracks. The shout is powerful enough to redirect the attention of most ramanga.
“Rayne.” Sol presses his hand to his ear. “Rayne!”
Though his spell is incomplete, Sol runs back to the last sketch that he made. He stops at the Phoenix and lights it with a match. The bird lights on fire and leaps from the ground. It soars through the sky and explodes. The flames ignite more drawings, which were created by Sol and his team.
Ordinance swiftly becomes one large spell. From the ground, the fires seem random. From above, the flames create one large clock with boths hands touching their respective elevens.
Sol calls for Rayne several more times before switching the frequency on his radio. “Marcus. Sherry you there?” He waits for a response, but only receives static. “Who’s there?”
A young man with a gentle but edgy voice responds, “You’re not supposed to be on our frequency.”
“Trey. Where is everyone?”
Trey clears his throat as though he were trying to fight his own tears. “I’m at the southwest corner. The others are…uh. They’re dead.” He waits for a response, but Sol, but receives none. Trey uses a very powerful, unique magic that explodes into the sky. He falls from the clouds and lands directly before Sol. Extending one hand, he boldly asks, “What are you doing, Sol?”
Sol looks towards the area where many ramanga are running. He knows that they are still searching for the origins of the scream. “I’m going back for Rayne.”
Trey says, “She’s literally in the fire and surrounded by dozens of ramanga.”
Sol nervously jokes, “Gives me an excuse to kiss her anyway.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“No,” Sol blares. His voice rattles with pain, which is visible to Trey. The young mage knows very little about Sol’s past, but it doesn’t take a telepath to read the hunter. Sol hasn’t been much of himself since his sister resurrected and ran away. It is her disappearance that has led Sol to this place. And it’s because of Sol’s obsession with her that he has made irresponsible decisions. Therefore, he shakes his head and commands, “Stay back.”
Trey wants to resist Sol’s wishes, but the young mage has always been the runt of their team. He follows orders obediently, like always, and takes to the sky once more.
“How do I look?” Rayne asks while Sol lifts her head into his lap. It’s clear that the hunter has been crying.
Parts of Sol’s skin glows with swirling pink lines. But the bulk of his flesh is darker than usual and is warm to the touch. Rayne can hear Sol’s flesh crackling as he tightens his fist and stares at the field before him. The hunter fights to repress the fire that rages through the pit of his stomach. He regularly works to avoid using his magic because of this sensation. He once described it as a ball of flames bouncing against his organs. The fire fights to escape, but Sol fears what it will do once it is set free.
Sol manages to repress the dark energy that courses through his body. He directs all of that negativity into the arm that Kode restored. Then, he covers it with a jacket once again.
Rayne visually inspects her friend. Then, she scans the street. There are far more bodies than there were before.
“I asked, how do I look? Now, say something sweet,” she teases while slapping Sol’s cheek, smearing blood on his face.
“You look like several ramanga took huge chunks from your skin.”
Flaunting her pearly whites, which are stained in blood, she says, “That’s the most romantic thing that you’ve ever said to me. I still want to keep us platonic, though. Besides the occasional kiss.”
Sol forces a smile while looking at the damages suffered in Ordinance. The fires highlight the unmoving ramanga.
Noticing Sol’s grief, Rayne says, “We should’ve been out searching for your sister, instead of looking through underground archives for me.”
Shaking his head, Sol utters, “I heard there was an ancient burial site beneath the stone monument. I’ve always wanted to go under there anyway.”
“Did you find anything?” Rayne asks.
“Yeah. Ramanga. I didn’t think they’d flood out so quickly.”
Rayne’s gaze twinkles with curiosity. She hopes that something in the monument could reveal her past. “Anything else?”
Sol remembers walking into the monument and discovering ancient symbols. He avoids sharing this information with Rayne because the symbols simply reveal that the creatures presently roaming through Ordinance were originally used to summon the Impundulu. They are failed experiments.
Shaking his head, Sol says, “Give me your hand.”
“Seriously? No information and no kiss? This day can’t get any worse.” Rayne locks her fingers with Sol’s and cringes as he ignites a flame in his palm. The fire travels into Rayne’s wounds and heals most of her surface scars. The chunks of flesh return, though Rayne is still fairly damaged. When the fire dies, the butcher coughs smoke from her lungs and complains, “I hate when you do that. It burns.”
“To be the Impundulu, you really do complain a lot.” Sol helps Rayne to her feet. He stares at her before teasing, “Seriously, though. Were you crying?”
“I didn’t want to die before finding Celeste,” she replies.
“Technically, you’re already dead. And we’re already half a year into this search without a single clue of her whereabouts.”
Rayne sighs, “I should’ve listened to Sherry.”
Sol tries to avoid thinking about Sherry. She was a feisty, restored ramanga. Most of all, Sherry was a thief and cursed like a sailor, but she had a good heart.
While biting into his cheek, the hunter confesses, “Rayne. Sherry and Marcus. They didn’t make it.”
Rayne slams her hand on Sol’s shoulder and smiles. “Like you said, we’re ramanga. We’re already dead anyway.”
Sol presses one finger to his ear. Trey is speaking loudly and quickly, “Sol. Sol are you there?”
“Yeah,” the hunter replies. “What’s going on?”
Trey says, “There’s a problem. I couldn’t get everyone out of the city. Someone’s blocking my spell.
“No one in this province can use magic. I’m sure of it.”
“It could be a latent skill. I’ve seen it before.” Trey recalls being hunted by a group of humans that were resistant to spells. “Magic doesn’t work on everyone.”
“What’s wrong?” Rayne asks.
Sol explains, “There are humans trapped in our spell, and we only have a few minutes before it activates.” Sol stands and tries to see signs of any life, but the flames are climbing too high. Pressing his finger to his ear again, he asks, “Where are they, Trey?”
“A skyscraper just north of the monument,” Trey responds.
Speaking to himself, Sol mutters, “Morrigan’s place?”
Without giving any warning to Rayne, Sol sprints down the street. He travels eastward to avoid many of the rising flames. Sol was always quick on his feet, but with his magic returned, his speed is nearly inhuman.
Within minutes, Sol is facing the skyscraper and the many ramanga that are wandering outside. The hunter tries determining a way to bypass the creatures without causing too much attention to himself. Yet, before he can formulate a plan, he is hit by a car. The vehicle, which was thrown by one of the ramanga, sends Sol crashing through a convenience store.
The several ramanga that were standing outside of the building scream and shout jubilantly. Then, they surround the store, banging on the glass window.
Sol pushes the car away and struggles to stand. He breaks through the backdoor and staggers into an alleyway where he is met by more of the creatures. Before he can defend himself, Trey swoops in and carries Sol into the sky. The young mage has leathery black wings attached to his back. They emit a radiating sound, which is both peaceful and threatening.
The hunter complains, “I hate when you do this.”
With a menacing grin, Trey says, “You’ll hate this even more.” The young mage throws Sol through a window on the seventeenth floor.
Sol wastes no time. He searches the apartment, calling for anyone that may hear. Then, he blows through the front door and runs into the hallway. After making his way to the stairwell, the hunter sees two ramanga on the twentieth level.
Swiftly, the hunter climbs the stairs, surprising the unexpecting ramanga. He throws both creatures over the railing and makes his way back into the hallway.
Though he doesn’t want to admit it, Sol knows exactly where he needs to go. He begins running to Morrigan’s apartment when Trey announces, “Your spell is going to ignite soon.”
The hunter snaps, “I can make it.”
“Really? You’re pulling it pretty close from what I can tell.”
Sol bursts through Morrigan’s door, only to hear the sound of screams and a gun firing three times. Casting a quick spell, Sol causes the bullets to bursts into flames. Then, he shouts, “It’s me! It’s me! Stop shooting.”
Morrigan continues shouting, while Circe cries, “Ghost?”
Angrily, Sol snatches the gun from Circe’s hand and asks, “What are you doing with a gun? Don’t you know how dangerous it is to have these around a kid?”
Morrigan finally calms down after hearing Sol’s voice, but she isn’t too happy to be lectured by him. “We’re in Ruby, Ghost? You’re lucky that we only have one gun.”
Sol slams the gun on the coffee table and searches the room until he finds Selena’s sobs leaking from a closet. He opens the door and lifts her into his arms.
The young girl sobs uncontrollably. He can barely make out her words, but she cries, “Uncle Ghost. I’m scared. I’m scared.”
Selena quickly cries herself to sleep. Morrigan is concerned that she may have fainted, but Sol has little time to find out. He kneels and draws an incantation on the floor with chalk from his back pocket.
“What are you doing here?” Morrigan asks while approaching her friend. She notices something different in his demeanor. “Ghost. Say something. We thought you were–”
“Lala kanye,” Sol declares once his alchemic equation is complete. Morrigan and Circe collapse instantly. The hunter presses one finger against his ear and says, “I found them, Trey. They’re friends.”
Trey replies, “One of your friends is able to block magic. That’s a scary skill.”
“Yeah. I’m countering her ability with an equation, but it won’t last long.” Sol peeks out of the window and notices that the flames outside have turned pink. “Hey. Get us out of–.”
A loud roar rumbles the sky. The walls of the skyscraper vibrate mildly just as a wind tears the windows from Morrigan and Circe’s apartment. Everyone inside of the room vanishes seconds before the city explodes in pink flames.