"Hey, you there?"
Xaeraz snapped to attention. He'd been staring off into the distance for a while.
"Why are you so tense, my friend? Relax! Enjoy the evening for what it's worth."
Xaeraz scanned the room for what felt like the hundredth time that night. He never did care for classy restaurants. The atmosphere was too stuffy for him and the band was playing a piece that only served to make him more drowsy.
"I don't like it," Xaeraz finally said. "We should have kept moving like I suggested."
The man from across the table gave Xaeraz a playful jab in the arm. "You're overreacting! Why do you take this job so serious? It's not like anything is actually going to happen!"
Xaeraz picked a butter pat out of a dish on the table and began to turn it over and over in his hand anxiously. "Every minute we waste sitting here is a minute closer to the rendezvous point we could have been."
The man took a sip from his glass before relaxing back into the booth. "Everybody has to eat. Do you intend to starve me? I don't think my colleagues would appreciate that."
"It's called grab-a-burger-and-go," Xaeraz retorted. "Look, 'Mr. Smith'. I've got one last shot at this job and you're my ticket. Only one thing matters to me and that's getting you and whatever is in that briefcase from point A to point B without any trouble."
Mr. Smith scoffed. "The briefcase?" he asked. He reached over to where the briefcase was sitting in the booth and gave it a pat. "This thing is little more than a decoy! Nothing in there but a tracking device. The information you're escorting is right up here." Mr. Smith tapped the side of his head with his finger a couple times.
"The less I know the better," Xaeraz said sharply. He glanced about the restaurant once more. "I've just got a bad feeling about this place. As soon as that waitress brings your food, we're getting a doggy bag for it and leaving."
"Oh come on! You're even more uptight than my old man ever was! What you need is--"
Mr. Smith paused mid-sentence as three men in suits approached the booth. One of them produced a revolver from his suit coat. "Hands where I can see them. Not a word, gentlemen."
Xaeraz and Mr. Smith held their hands up above the table and glanced at each other. Mr. Smith was clearly shaken, but Xaeraz seemed little more than annoyed.
"So I worry too much do I?" Xaeraz sneered.
Mr. Smith just continued to stare silently at the barrel of the gun being pointed towards him.
"What? Talking all night and now you have nothing to say?"
"I don't think this is the best time for this," Mr. Smith hissed.
"All right, both of you, can it," the gun-toting man said. "Unless you want to be seeing Saint Peter tonight."
"Would you please try not to tick them off?" Mr. Smith said, exasperated.
"You've been ticking me off all day; you're one to talk," Xaeraz said.
"I said shut up! Both of you, on your feet and mov--"
It was exactly the opening Xaeraz had been waiting for. Distracted by the argument, the would-be kidnappers were unprepared for Xaeraz's first move. A quick flick at the ankle and a small spike protruded from Xaeraz's boot. He jabbed it into the gun-wielder's leg, creating an opening for him to stand up and knock the gun into the air. As the other two men moved in to grab their aggressor, Xaeraz took hold of the flower vase that had served as the table's centerpiece and cast it into their faces. Momentarily subdued, Xaeraz had enough time to pull his own handgun out of its holster and bring it to bear. By this point, most of the other patrons in the dining room had taken notice of the brawl going on. When they saw Xaeraz pull out his gun, the restaurant erupted into a sea of screams and panicked people running over and into each other.
What happened next would haunt Xaeraz for the rest of his life. In the middle of the restaurant, an enormous, gaping void appeared. It was black as could be and dark tendrils of crackling energy shot out and danced about the room.
Mr. Smith slowly stood up from his seat. "What in heaven's name is that?"
Xaeraz's gun was still trained on the suited men, but his attention and theirs was completely absorbed by the alien appearance.
A tendril of energy found its way to one of the kidnappers and there was a momentary scream of anguish before the man fell to the floor, reduced to a pile of ash.
"We've gotta get out of here!" Mr. Smith said.
Unfortunately, Mr. Smith's suggestion was too little and far too late. The void erupted without warning, casting everyone against the wall. Xaeraz slipped into unconsciousness.
Xaeraz sat up abruptly, gasping for air. His head was throbbing so hard he could barely see, not that he would have seen much. How long he was out was anyone's guess, but the air was still thick with ash and other bits of floating debris. He looked down and found his legs pinned under a support beam. He gave it a push and it gave way with surprising ease.
"Mr. Smith?!" Xaeraz called out.
The dining room was in ruins. Everywhere he looked were the limp bodies of unfortunates who didn't make it out in time. Whether they were dead, dying, or just unconscious, Xaeraz didn't know. He'd have to call for an ambulance as soon as he got to a phone. First though, he had to find Smith, assuming he was still alive, and get out before anything else bad happened.
Xaeraz heard a distinct cough. He climbed over broken pieces of furniture and slowly made his way over to the source of the sound. As luck would have it, there lay Mr. Smith. His tuxedo was torn, he had a large lump on his forehead, and he was covered in ash and wooden shards. Thankfully though, he was relatively unharmed.
"Come on, we have to get out of here." Xaeraz offered his hand.
Mister Smith cleared his eyes, but as soon as he could see, he let out a shout of shock. "Get back! Don't touch me!"
"What's the matter with you, Smith?" Xaeraz asked. "It's me! Just grab my--" Xaeraz stopped, stunned by what he saw. "--hand?"
Xaeraz turned his hand over and back. It was scorched black and shadowy wisps trailed behind its every movement. He looked around and found a broken piece of mirror. What he saw in his reflection would have been enough to drive a weak mind to the breaking point. He was a scorched black all over, the only real color being the deep red glow coming from his eyes. His teeth had become fanged and where his hair should be there were only tendrils of shadow.
Mr. Smith tried to back away, but Xaeraz pulled him from the rubble.
"What happened to you?"
"Come on," Xaeraz said. "We need to get out of sight before somebody shows up."
"For your sake or mine?"
Mr. Smith limped his way from alley to alley. He didn't care if that monster was really Xaeraz as it had claimed, he wanted nothing to do with it. The two of them had had a little spat before Smith took off. Xaeraz insisted on completing his mission and bringing Mr. Smith to the rendezvous point, but Mr. Smith wanted nothing more to do with the hired guard.
"I don't give a flying rat's rear-end about his precious job," Mr. Smith muttered to himself. "More likely he wants to kill me. Either way, I'm not showing up with that thing in tow."
Truthfully, Mr. Smith wasn't sure he even believed what he had seen. An dark void? His bodyguard turned into a creature that look like it had come from The Pits themselves?
"A bump to the head will do just about anything to a man's mind," he tried to convince himself. It was best, he decided, to not mention anything to his superiors about what had really happened, lest they think him insane.
"There was a gas leak," Mr. Smith told himself. "My escort simply died in the explosion."
"Well then, I guess this will be easy."
Mr. Smith looked up to see himself surrounded by about ten street thugs.
"Well, looks like the pretty boys tried to get to you before we did and paid the price for it," one thug said. "I thought this would be too easy as it is with your city-slicker bodyguard, but now... well, it's just not even funny."
"Leave me alone!" Mr. Smith sobbed. "I don't know anything! The briefcase was destroyed! I'm just a courier!"
"Now, you see, we know that ain't true," the thug replied as he and his gang began to close in on the terrified man. "And even if it is, we know somebody will be willing to pay big money to get you back. I intend to collect on that."
Just as the thugs reached in to grab Smith, they were sent reeling as a mass of black tentacles shot from the remains of Mr. Smith's coat.
The thugs picked themselves up. One of them spit at the ground. "What kind of freak are you!?"
Mr. Smith screamed in horror as the tentacles shot out from his coat and accumulated in the center of the alley. They shifted about rapidly, shaping themselves into the form of Xaeraz.
A couple of the thugs were scared enough by what they had just witnessed and ran off. The ones that stayed began to grab old pipes, pieces of wood, anything they could use as a weapon against the creature that stood before them. What they never realized is how incredibly outmatched they were. Xaeraz stomped a foot, sending a cloud of black smoke forth and effectively blinding the thugs. Unable to see their opponent, they were quickly dispatched as shadowy fists and dark tendrils pierced the fog and rendered them unconscious. When there was only one left, Xaeraz rushed forth and lifted the thug by the throat. The poor thug found himself staring into Xaeraz's gaping maw. As bright waves of energy were pulled from the thug's eyes and into Xaeraz's mouth, a final, terrified shriek filled the dark alley before the thug finally fell limp to the ground.
Xaeraz's eyes glowed brighter for a moment as he finished absorbing the energy. After a brief pause, he pointed down the road. "They've got people waiting in ambush all along the path we were going to take," Xaeraz said. "But the Seventeenth Avenue bridge is clear. If we take that path, we may make it to the rendezvous point in time, but we'll have to hurry."
"I thought I told you to stay away from me!"
Xaeraz turned and regarded Mr. Smith with a cold expression. "I'm not letting you out of my sight." He grabbed Mr. Smith by the neck of his shirt and lifted him to his feet.
Mr. Smith was shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. He looked around him at the alley full of unconscious bodies. "What did you do to them? How did you do that?"
"Don't know. Don't care. We're getting you out of here."
"'We'? 'We' nothing! I'm going alone!"
"You don't have a say in the matter," Xaeraz said coldly. Before Mr. Smith could react, Xaeraz had melded back into the man's suit, unseen by all who would look upon it.
Xaeraz stood in the dark street and watched as the coward scrambled into the hotel lobby that served as a rendezvous point. In a couple minutes, an armored truck would arrive to collect Mr. Smith and take him to his final destination. Xaeraz didn't intend to be around when that happened. He'd finished the assignment and now he was leaving, pay or not.
Just as Xaeraz was about to go, a strange feeling came over him. He felt.... stronger somehow. It was as if the dark energy that now coursed through his body had been excited by something.
"You saved his life."
Xaeraz spun around, ready to incapacitate his sudden visitor with a shadowy claw if they tried anything. However, what was supposed to be a claw had instead become a large blade. Regardless, he found his makeshift weapon caught in the grasp of a huge metal gauntlet.
"Who are you?" Xaeraz asked.
The being that stood before Xaeraz was about a head taller and unbelievably heavily armored. A black hood hid all of the figure's facial features, save for the dim purple glow of his eyes. Eyes which continued to stare past Xaeraz toward the hotel.
"Not even so much as a thanks," the dark being continued. "Apparently his life isn't worth that much to him." His head turned to regard Xaeraz.
Xaeraz dissipated the shadowy blade, freeing himself from the gauntlet's hold. "Doesn't matter. My job was to deliver him alive, not teach manners." He shoved his way past the armored figure. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get help. I'm not exactly feeling right if you haven't figured it out."
"Help? From who? Do you really believe you can just walk into a hospital somewhere and they'll know how to cure you? You don't even have the slightest clue what just happened! The most anyone will do for you is lock you away as their lab rat. They'll want to run tests and experiments, try to find out what you've become for no other reason than to satisfy their own greedy curiosity."
Xaeraz hated to admit it, but it was probably true. He was now capable of doing things unheard of before. There was no chance he'd be allowed to just walk away, even if he could be cured. He'd be lucky if anyone even wanted to cure him before dissecting to study the pieces. "And just what do you propose?"
"I could use a man of your rather unique... capabilities."
"What's the job?"
"The 'job', as you so crudely put it, would be a permanent position serving as my personal guard."
Xaeraz was, at the very least, interested. "What kind of pay are we talking here?"
The tall, shadowed figure took a step closer. "I now know more about you than you probably know yourself. I offer you knowledge, control, a place of sanctuary where there will be no need to be ashamed of what you've become. But most importantly, a chance to change the world. A chance to make people like Mr. Smith appreciate the things that matter most. Make them realize just how precious their lives are to them."
Xaeraz took a last glance toward the hotel where Mr. Smith sat. He didn't have a lot of choices left anymore. Nobody was going to hire some shadowy demon as a protection service and answers were something he craved right now. "Tell me more."
The dark being held out an armored hand. "Come with me and we shall talk."
Xaeraz placed his hand in that of his new employer's and, in an eruption of blood-red flames, the two of them disappeared.
Well, there you have it. The first of several short stories leading up to the epic itself. I was going to wait until I had more done, but I wanted to show that I'm actually serious about doing this. There've been times in the past where it was all dreamin', schemin', and no actual doin'. Not this time.
Criticism is much appreciated, especially the kind that will help improve my writing skills.
You can find out more about this series here.
Edited by Takuma Nuva, Jun 07 2012 - 10:19 PM.