Chicago’s Chinatown. Alexus hadn’t been to the south of Chicago for a long time, so he was expecting a lot of significant changes to the city itself in the past one hundred and forty-nine years. But, instead, he stopped and stared, realizing not much had changed. The same old arched gateway common in eastern architecture was still welcoming them with its chip peeling red.
Hanging underneath it in bold letters was a sign saying, Welcome to Chinatown. The same old nostalgic smell of Chinese food with a strange concoction of herbal medicine still drifted through the air, along with numerous signs of Chinese advertising their shops. Beneath them were scores of Asians congregating outside, minding their own business.
If Alexus had to guess, the major change to the shopping district is the buildings. If he remembers correctly, they were just two to three-story buildings, but now skyscrapers buildings took most of the spaces. However, even with all that had changed, the busy streets, the flashing neon lights, the yelling and shouting of people talking, and the drug dealers that still shadily sold drugs in the corner of the streets as if they were exchanging food packages.
Not much had changed. The only apparent thing Alexus could say that changed quite a bit was the cars; they were floating a few inches off the ground without any wheels. The majority of the people were sitting in the back while the car drove itself. Luckily, their hairstyles and clothes weren’t too wacky and strange; thinking about going around with crazy hairdos wasn’t something he wanted to do. But, on the other hand, he was glad that it wasn’t too crazy.
There were only four of them today; Simon didn’t come because he had a side mission with a different team somewhere else, while Crystal stayed behind to do field testing on the suit that she was creating. Luckily, none of them wore that ugly, gray clothing so common for them inside the Seventh Sanctum. It made them look more like they belonged in some kind of mental institution that had crazies in every corner. So instead, they were given simple, everyday clothes, and all of them had Crystal’s prototype Dragon Scale underneath.
Their ability to survive jumped up fifty percent from just wearing the suit. She did make the suit a bit more futuristic and less spandex looking, all while keeping the snuggly fit. Crystal had added extra thickness around the chest and shoulder and all along our necks, groin, knee caps, wrist, elbows, and especially the spine area, culminating the entire thing into a very plated look.
Somehow the only thing they didn’t get was the helmet he asked for, which made Alexus slightly upset that his head wasn’t protected. Supposedly, they didn’t get one yet because of all the upgrades she had done on the suit and didn’t have much time.
“This damn thing is riding up my ass,” Timothy grumbled. He was wobbling as he tried his best to pull down whatever was bothering him. “Does this even work?”
Except for Marcus, most of them were wearing simple black or blue jeans, printed t-shirts, and a hoodie. Nothing too flashy, but more earthy colors to keep them from being noticed. Only Marcus had a flashy biker jacket and pants that he was wearing, making him wonder why he had to wear that in the world.
People scattered out of Marcus’ way and peeked at the corner of their eyes as they gazed up at him. Now that Alexus thought about it, they were being stared at a lot more than usual; maybe having Crystal here with them would make it more eye-catching. He didn’t know, but their stares made him feel a bit uncomfortable. Also, maybe it was the sword he had on his hip that made them look even more out of place. It was as if they were like wild animals that were parading down the streets on chains, and Marcus was the tamer.
Another downside of all of this was that they had a bangle on their wrist that told them their location. They couldn’t just snap it off and run away; these bangles were their lifeline and death warrants. If they forcefully removed it, the chips in the back of the head would freeze their body, leaving them unable to do anything but lie still on the floor until someone picked them up. Their chance of getting back out would also be revoked for god knows how long, and right now, he was enjoying their freedom. Plus, having a communication device directly to the Crystal was reassuring, especially because they could get back up if we were in deep trouble.
“Quit walking like that,” Jones grunted, not liking how Timothy was doing a weird dance that tightened his walk and made him walk on his tiptoes. “You look like you’re picking your ass.”
“I am!” Timothy hissed. “Having this thing riding up your ass is something that you’d want to get rid of.” He grumbled until finally, he relaxed with a relieved expression at whatever he just did.
Jones looked at him funny and shook his head, rolling his eyes. Marcus was ahead of them, weaving through the building until they stopped in front of a five-story building. It was a dingy building, and the moment they walked in, they all could smell the harsh smell of piss and trash.
The walls were dirty and graffitied, the stairs were half-broken, and with one slip up, anyone would probably get impaled through the chest from the sharp metals that twisted outwards into the air. Every step they took up the stairs, it annoyingly squeaked. It wasn’t just a slight squeak; it cracked and busted a bit more, giving a loud sound that told them of their presence. By now, he bet the demon knew they were coming.
“Marcus, you sure it’s this building?” Jones asked, his hand sliding up the side of the broken rail. He twisted his neck and glanced up towards the partially lit stairway.
“Yea got some new intel that cut our search by a lot. No use in wasting unwanted time, searching all over the city for a damn cat-”
All of them snapped towards the sound; Marcus had his handgun raised at him, pointing at the poor little kitty sitting on top of the stairs. Jones and Timothy followed in pursuit, their hands on their gun as if their life depended on them.
Even though Alexus had his sword halfway drawn, ready to use if necessary, when he saw the little white tabby kitten with its head cocked to its side, he couldn’t help but stare at it. It was just so cute!
“Meow~” It let out a small chirpy meow that was saying to them that it was harmless. Timothy and Jones relaxed and stared at the cute kitten with a frown.
“I don’t think it would possess a kitten, right?” Timothy half chuckled but wearily looked at the kitten, hoping it wouldn’t just come pouncing at them.
“You don’t know that.” Marcus still didn’t put down his gun; he waited for the little kitten to move; eventually, the kitten hopped down onto the lower stairs, continually making towards them as if it was unafraid.
It awkwardly plopped off its way down the stairs, struggling for a bit before it rolled, and stared upwards with an adorable sound. Holy cow, this kitten is too adorable. This was like an academic award performance if this was a demon. Perfect, priceless, and heart-wrenching movable. Alexus’s hand was slowly inching over, unconsciously, towards the little kitten that meows for attention.
“Don’t,” Marcus grunted towards Alexus with his hand raised.
“Meow?” The kitten’s head tilted to the side, telling them it didn’t quite understand Marcus’ word.
Jones squatted down and reached over, picking up the little kitten in its hand. It purred as its head rubbed against Jones’ finger. “I think this one is normal.”
Marcus frowned at Jones, who didn’t listen to him and gave out a disgruntled sigh. “Next time, when I say don’t touch. Don’t touch.” He growled towards Jones.
“Sorry, I had a feeling that it was fine,” Jones stated with a sloppy smile; he was having a blast with the little kitten in his hand. “Hey, buddy.”
“Meoooowww~” The kitten rolled in his hand so he could touch its belly.
“It’s a girl.”
“How do you know?” Timothy looked over his shoulder, glaring at the furball as if it was an actual demon itself. Then, he suddenly sneezed towards Jones, which made Jones lurch back with a scowl.
“Ah, gross. Man, really?” Jones had the kitten halfway up into the air while glaring at Timothy. Then, he shook himself as he caught some deadly disease and stepped away from him.
“Sorry, I have a slight allergy to cats.”
“You should’ve said something,” said Marcus, not liking the thought he might go into shock.
“You have an EpiPen on you just in case?”
“Yea, I do. Always carry one on me.” Timothy patted the side of his pants.
“Good, we don’t want you to go into shock.”
“Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as seafood. But, man, that shit can kill me.”
Jones was thinking over what Timothy had said; Alexus felt that he was mauling over Timothy’s weakness for a moment and even felt a slight bloodlust-like intent from him. Then, finally, he snatched the kitten out of Marcus’ hands, diverting Jones’ diabolical thoughts. The cute furball was like a small gift from heaven from this dark, dingy building.
So soft. So cute! Damn it, look at its large eyes! Alexus smiled sloppily.
“Hey!” Jones called out in an outburst, annoyed that Alexus had stolen the cuteness out of his hands.
“So, cute.” Alexus tickled the little bastard as it cutely swatted at his hands. Kittens, they were his favorite animals to keep around more than dogs. He loved dogs just as much, but kittens were hands down his favorite animals to take care of and play with.
Jones reached over, trying to get the kitten out of Alexus’s hand, squishing his head against his armpit.
Alexus Swatted him away, annoyed that he took his alone time with the kitten in hand.
“Quit horsing around you two,” Marcus commanded, annoyed at our stupid theatrics, “we will break up into two teams.” He started to climb back up until we got to the second floor.
“How are we going to split ourselves?” Timothy was the one who asked first before Jones could.
“You’re coming with me.” Marcus grabbed the back of Timothy’s clothes, dragging him towards the left.
“Okay. Okay. Quit pulling me, jeez!” Timothy stumbled backward as he was roughly pulled.
Alexus was stuck with Jones, who was still bent on taking the kitten out of his hand. He stuffed the little furball into his front pocket, where the kitten stuck out its white head from the side.
“Yes. Yes. Stay in there, Daisy. You’ll be safe and sound.”
“Daisy? You gave her a name that quickly?” Jones asked, surprised. He stopped, bothering him, and followed behind.
“Yea, what about it?”
“No, I just thought you would name her Tyger or something.”
“Absolutely not.” Tyger. Why in the world would I give it my last name? I’m not that arrogant, and this furball doesn’t look like a Tyger.
“It would match her perfectly.” Jones chuckled. “You’re a cat person, aren’t you.”
“What?!” Alexus felt embarrassed at how he acted. Only when it comes to cats does he goes a bit crazy. But, honestly, maybe coming to this demon hunting right now wasn’t a great idea; he didn’t even know what he was hoping for the minute he got here. “Well…..you know….”
“Doesn’t matter. At least we got another animal lover here. Coming here to wipe out the cat demon doesn’t sit too well with me. If possible, I would like it if we can save them.” Jones grunted. “Well, let’s check this area for any possible demon cats.”
Alexus nodded, making sure Daisy was tucked in. His finger reached in and pushed in her head, so she wouldn’t fall tumbling out. Still, she wouldn’t listen and stuck her head out as if she was some whack-a-mole, popping out every time he pushed her head back in. Finally, it got old fast, and he gave up entirely. She just wouldn’t listen.
“If you get gobbled up by a demon cat, it’s your loss,” Alexus grumbled towards Daisy.
“Yea, yea. Just because you’re cute doesn’t mean you get away with everything.”
“Pft. You don’t say?” Alexus placed his hand on his hips, raising his eye brow at her.
“Meowww~~.” The cat flicked her tail, swaying her little butt side to side.
For a moment, Alexus tilted his head. He thought he saw her blinked.
Alexus felt a bit stupid, talking to Daisy as if she could understand. But, even still, she replied to his question as if she knew the answer to life itself. Then she suddenly bites him, completely through the suit, causing him to yelp in pain.
“What the hell? How the hell was she-? Did she-?” Alexus was just completely appalled. “No, wait. I’m bleeding. Is this even possible?”
“Meow?” Daisy tilted her head.
“Bad kitty.” Alexus hissed, shaking his finger in pain. He needs to talk to Crystal about making it animal-proof next time. Crap that hurts. With the pain subsiding, He searched around.
The walls were plastered with thick layers of white goo and dust. Even the paint was peeling off in large blotches, bringing out the wooden textures of the building itself. Debris was littered on the floor, with broken chairs, cabinets, and some half-bent sofas. Creeping through the broken door to Alexus’s left, he carefully picked up his leg and hopped over a half-broken sofa that blocked his path.
Upon entering, an old grand piano was still standing in the middle of the room. Bright sunny light entered from the side as it cast downwards towards the piano, giving it an eerie feel. There was no other furniture but the grand piano and the broken sofa, but there was an old Chinese painting of an elderly woman, half peeled, crooked, on the wall.
Alexus couldn’t help but stare at the half-torn picture, taking a good look at the elderly woman that used to live there. He could tell that she was a well-off lady from the white pearls decorating her neck and how she held herself. Even though she looked a bit elderly, he guessed that she probably didn’t even hit the fifties from the way she looked. Trying to figure out the age of the Asian race wasn’t simple; he has seen older Asian ladies who look to be in their late twenties and who are late forty years old. When he heard that they were forty-seven, he was completely shocked.
Their age-defying looks were a grand mystery.
“Ting!” The sound of the piano going off snapped Alexus back to reality as he twirled around. His hand grabbed the sword’s edge, and with one fluid motion, he brought it out. These past few weeks, He has been working on his swordsmanship more than guns. He had gotten used to using this particular sword mainly because it had saved his ass numerous times in that fight, and training had improved it to the point where it felt a bit more like an extension of my arm.
Alexus’ eyes squinted, searching for the one that made the sound. There was nobody present but himself and Daisy. He choked it up as nothing, and just when he was about to turn around again, the piano key went off.
“Ting. Ting. Ting.” The piano key went on an upwards scale into a higher pitch.
“Hello?” Alexus said, not liking how the piano key was spontaneously playing by itself. Was there possibly a ghost here? He hoped to god there wasn’t one.
Alexus bit his lower lip, not liking where this was going. The only sunlight coming through the half-darken window suddenly flickered as if something ran across it. But, when he turned, there was nobody there.
“Ting. Ting. Ting. Ding. Ting.” The piano magically played by itself again. He froze; his sword was brought up in front of him. His heart was beating quickly; his mind was alert and wary at the thought of what was possibly going to come.
The simple staccato-like sound of the piano changed into a full-out song with nobody there. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. How was this possible? This is technically impossible.
He didn’t want to find out, so he quickly started shuffling backward towards the door. A piece of mellow, haunting music continued to play, giving him goosebumps all over his body. Then, suddenly, he bumped into something. Twirling around in a vicious whirl, his sword flashed forward in a sideway cutting motion.
“Woah!” Jones cried out. He stumbled backward, trying not to get cut in half.
Alexus’s sword dangerously stopped a few inches away from his neck area, stopping short a couple centimeters away from decapitation.
“It’s me! For christ’s sake! Don’t kill me!” Jones fell backward into the wall with a thud, breathing heavily. His eyes were wide, showing the whites of his eyes.
“Jones! Shit!” Alexus cursed angrily. The thought of possibly killing him wasn’t something he wanted on his conscience. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Sorry. Sorry. Was that you play-” Jones was on the ground. Then, slowly got up but stopped halfway when he saw Alexus in front of him.
Alexus hurriedly left the room. He hopped over the sofa, not even looking back. The whole piano playing by itself kept him on edge, making him feel like there was something evil in the room.
Jones quickly followed. He was a lot faster than Alexus in getting out of the room.
“Who’s there?” Jones asked, his finger pointed towards the door where they came from.
“Nobody.” Alexus hissed.
Jones quickly pushed himself against the wall; his hand was on his gun, with fear plastered on his face. He was staring intently in the direction of the door.
All of a sudden, the music abruptly stopped. Followed after, a crashing sound of piano keys being jammed angrily together could be heard. They both froze; they knew that wasn’t part of the music.
“Meow.” Daisy squeaked, followed by an angry hiss.
The light in the room flickered, and suddenly it went dark.
An animalist purring sound close to a tiger’s voice could be heard, followed by another key jamming.
Alexus rushed towards the side of the door and pushed himself as flat as possible. Jones gave him a bugged-out eye look. He then motioned his head towards the side, telling him to take a look. He shook his head, saying no.
Marcus bobbed his head a couple more times while they went into a full-blown bobbing head war. They looked stupid; neither one wanted to look at what was in there. However, their’ imagination was already going wild at the possibility of what could be in there.
Alexus lost the head bobbing war, and he took a peek. “Oh, my go.….” A lion-sized black demonic cat with large sabertooth-like teeth curling out of its mouth. Powerful muscles decorated every inch of the cat’s body, and black mist shimmered into existence, pooling around its body like a scarf. Its tail wagged back and forth slowly as it sniffed the air.
When Alexus turned back towards Jones, he mouthed a couple of incoherent words because he was shocked. Jones stared at him dumbly, shrugging his shoulder, telling him he didn’t understand. Then, his hand did a funny motioning movement, explaining to Marcus how giant this monster was.
Marcus finally gave up trying to decipher what he was saying and finally peeked out from the side before he let out a startled gasp. His body tightened, and he whirled around towards Alexus with jaws partially opened. Even his face paled to a lighter shade of brown.
Alexus knew that being overly worried wouldn’t get him out of here alive. His best bet was to pull himself together, calm himself down, and clear his thoughts. This was what they came here to do and use the device that Timothy had created.
Breathe. Alexus took his advice.
He glanced down and brought up his hand with the wristwatch. The wristwatch had changed quite a bit after Timothy had tinkered with it, changing into a more sleek form. His finger quickly dialed through the different options until he arrived at what he was looking for.
Here I go.
The watch stopped at a word that states in big, black, bold letters: Mind Linker. Next to the word was a brain design with electricity coming out from the side. Alexus had to wonder what this function was, but the way Timothy explained it was slightly confusing. So far, it was supposedly a device that would allow Normal to see what they saw by projecting the image into their minds. It will break the illusion that the demon cast onto the Normal’s mind, which causes the demons to materialize into the physical realm.
It was a complicated mumbo jumbo that Alexus didn’t quite get, but the radius of this device was supposedly half a mile. Timothy was still working out the kinks of extending the radius, but right now, he said it might fry our brains or something like that. So the second function of the watch was to train their mental powers and control over their magic, just like the Dragon Scale Armor.
Pressing the button, he felt a slight discomfort of a throbbing migraine, which made him uncomfortable.
Alexus wasn’t sure if it was supposed to do that, but it was something he needed to tell Timothy to fix.
The screen changed to “Synchronizing,” counting up to one hundred percent. When it finally hit one hundred, the brain logo popped back up, showing the number of mental powers.
Twenty-five. Not too bad or the best, in which case it’s the third-highest out of the whole group of Ouroboros.
He remembers that Zheng had a mental power of over thirty. Supposedly, Normal’s usually have around 5-10, just awakened have around 10-20, and the advanced ones go past 20-30. Any higher than 30 is considered stronger. Timothy hypothesizes that this was where the mundane worlds seriously became magical. Past fifty to seventy is considered Myth Demon type in their true form, while 90-100 was considered God realm, whatever that means.
The brain logo even had a battery logo that told Alexus how much mental power he had left before hitting rock bottom. It could lead to a horrible migraine, blackout, or death from overusing it.
When the brain logo flashed one hundred percent in red, Alexus heard a startled yelp followed by an angry growl by the demon. He doesn’t know what Timothy’s device just did, but it certainly pissed it off.
An ear-piercing roar blasted through the room, shattering the glasses in one howl. Alexus’ ears rang in pain as his hand raised to cover it. Eventually, when the howling stopped, another howl echoed off in the distance, answering the first.
This was bad. Really, bad.