Chapter Twenty-Three – Twisted
Renatta no longer reflected the image of a deadly assassin. Instead, she wore fine red clothes, and not unlike in the way of a belly dancer. Her footwear slipped on, like flats, and in the end, Eldrian thought she resembled moreso a genie, but he also assumed if genies were real, they wouldn’t be armed with blades.
“I barely remember,” she whispered. “But I do have fleeting memories of a building. A small house, at the border of the city. It was old, worn, and next thing I knew, everything was spinning and twisting. I heard a voice in my head, and snickering, and here I am. I am sorry I do not remember more. I can take you to the place, though, at the very least. And then we can burn him up!”
She flexed her arm, and upon the edge of her knuckles sprouted a roaring fire. Eldrian winced back a step or two after feeling the wave of warmth come over his skin.
“Careful with that,” he muttered.
“Oops. Sorry,” she said in response, snuffing out the flame.
Eldrian looked between the two ladies and crossed his arms. His visage, usually more cheerful, seemed distance and one could see the gears turning behind his eyes. Finally he spoke up.
“We should go soon. Very soon. And it’ll just be us three. Dav and Kev are great, but we can’t bring an army around wherever we go, for multiple reasons. It’s still dark outside. I admit I don’t really know what to expect from this mystery man, but his shtick seems to be controlling people’s minds, and that makes me angry. But maybe that’s all he can do.”
Eldrian reached for the knob of a door that was certainly never there before. It was less impressive now, with only other wizards in the room, but Renatta had a strange, child-like wonder on her face. It wasn’t to the portal door appearing, however, as hardly a wizard is without such a spell, but something else. She had seen such a thing, but it was only ever her own.
“I have only ever met one other wizard before,” she said softly. “Thank you, Eldrian, for being so quick to give me a second chance. I do not know what I would have done otherwise. Maybe, go back to the man alone, and end up in the same place again.”
“Don’t worry about it. And when we go back, it’ll be together, and we’ll make sure he doesn’t mind whammy you a second time,” replied Eldrian as he creaked the door ajar.
It was only the ladies together now—both Deena and Renatta—and their plans had begun. The two of them proceeded towards the old, run-down house she mentioned previously, and both of them hoped her memory served them well. The windows were boarded and the yard was nothing more than dirt and rocks, so certainly something shady was occurring within.
The sun would rise in a few hours. But at that moment, it was a dead, silent night of naught but a frigid breeze to keep them focused. A thin layer of snow crunched beneath their shoes, but thus far, it was hardly more than a layer of frost, and they were glad for that.
“How are you not cold wearing that?” asked Deena quietly as they scoped out the structure from afar.
“What do you mean?” responded Renatta with a perplexed expression.
“Don’t you want a coat?”
“I am fine. Thank you very much, though. I thought you did not like me.”
“I just don’t want you getting frostbite on your everything.”
“Do not worry about me, Deena. I am heated and ready for battle!”
The witch let out a sigh of defeat.
A middle-aged woman made her way down the street. Deena bumped Renatta’s side, and a moment after giggling, she realised the witch wasn’t trying to tickle her but instead to warn her of a passing stranger. They stood and acted normally to wait for them to pass by before making their move on the house.
The two of them believed their ruse to successful. However, the woman suddenly lashed out to snap a grip around Deena’s wrist like a boa constrictor. The witch yelled out, growled, and stared daggers up to the woman’s eyes before her heart sank. Not eyes, no. Just twisted spirals. Before they could react, a young man emerged from the bushes nearby and grabbed Deena’s other arm.
“We can not attack them. Remember, these are just ordinary, innocent civilians!” shouted Renatta.
Before they knew it, a few other were making their way down the sidewalk, across, the street, and out of seemingly nowhere, like an emerging horde of zombies. Deena nodded, and she gestured her head to the building.
“I know,” she said. “Let’s get moving then. There’s too many to fix right now, so if we can’t blow them away, we’ll have to run.”
Deena flashed forward with a quick teleport, and Renatta followed along beside her. They sprinted together, and dodged grabbing hands, trying to make it to the front door fast before they were overrun by the man’s mind-controlled army.
“I have this!” announced Renatta as they came near.
She pulled free one of her two chakrams that she kept at her sides, and whipped it through the air and into the side of the door. It carved past the wood, and with a flick of her wrist, it returned to her grip. She then thrust her side into the weakened infrastructure to bring the entire door to a slamming crash against the house’s interior. Finally, her and Deena made it inside.
They lifted up the busted door and wedged it into place. A moment later, they started to feel thuds against it, and they worried it wouldn’t be long before the horde would break right through their struggling defense.
It was then that they heard a voice call out, and it simply said, “Stop”. Then, those outside ceased, just as it said.
Everything went eerily quiet after that, but it didn’t last long. A crescendo of laughter came from what sounded like every direction. It started as snickering, but grew into the maniacal laughter of a psychopath.
The farthest door from them slowly pulled itself open with a drawn-out creak, and then a figure emerged. He had hair past his shoulders, but it was spindly and greasy, like his head was covered in dirty straw. His body was also incredibly slim and it bent in a way no body should, as if he was a living noodle, and much like his slaves, his eyes were swirls. Beneath those eyes was blackness, like he was wearing eye shadow, but considering the rest of his appearance, nobody was certain what to believe.
The most noticeable feature was his stretched, twisted grin that never seemed to fade, and in between most sentences, he let out an airy snicker. There was no doubt about it. Although Deena and Renatta hadn’t met him before, he was surely the final of the criminals Eldrian and Kevin met that one night.
“You two stop as well. Hehe,” spoke the man—Xeno.
“That is him!” stated Renatta. “He is the one that took control of me.”
“Interesting. I didn’t think someone would free themselves and lead people back here. That really pisses me off. Hehe,” he replied. “I heard Ron and Dylan got their butts kicked. That’s a shame. But that’s also why I’m doing my own thing now. Who cares about revenge? Hehe. With these powers, I can have anything I want!”
“You can not just use powers to steal and control!” snapped Renatta.
“Hehe. Let me give you a bigger incentive to let me be, so I can continue to do just that.”
He waved to somebody behind them, and as he stepped farther into the room, he was joined by six others, all of varying ages and genders. Each of them held different kitchen knives. They surrounded Xeno to form a human shield, and between them, they saw his putrid grin.
“So you are going to use your captives to attack us instead, you coward?” said Renatta.
“Oh, no,” muttered Xeno as he pushed his way between the two in front of him as if they were a pair of curtains. “You’re going to just leave.”
Each of the controlled innocents raised their knives up to their own throats, pushing hard against the skin. They did so in unison. Xeno, between them, crossed his arms and maintained a confident stance in his winning state.
“She told me about wizards,” he continued. “I’m not going to fight you, no, but if you try anything, they’ll all cut themselves open right in front of you. I bet you can’t save them all. Nobody’s that fast. If you leave and never come back, none of them have to die. Hehe. I wonder if you can tell which ones are married. Have families. Children. Hehe. The blood would be on your hands.”
“Damn it,” said Deena under her breath.
“You’ve lost!” shouted Xeno triumphantly. “Leave, now. I’ll give you ten seconds.”
“Oh. Am I doing good, Deena? Is this right?” Renatta suddenly asked as she turned to the witch.
Xeno snarled. “Hehe. I said ten seconds. Hello? Don’t you care about their lives?”
“Renatta. You’re not supposed to ask that until after,” Deena mumbled. “But yes. You did fine.”
“Seven seconds!” the twisted man shouted.
“It shouldn’t take him that long to draw and set up a magic circle around the entire building. We’ve stalled enough. He’s probably just being dramatic now,” said Deena in response to her friend.
Renatta smiled. “Really? Thank goodness. I am not used to having to stall.”
Beneath all of their feet came crawling symbols and lines that branched out to a glowing circle drawn around the entire area, unknown to Xeno. He looked down in surprise and confusion. Before he knew it, the room burst into a cloud of thick green smoke. He saw Deena and Renatta cover their mouths, so he did the same. Unfortunately, to do that, he had to ignore his slaves. There was no time to command them to cover up! His swirly eyes twitched in frustration.
The smoke itself was only visible to ones with magic eyes, which at that moment, was only Deena, Renatta, and apparently Xeno. The rest, including the ones outside, dropped to the ground after only a second of breathing it in. The smoke disappeared as quickly as it came.
Eldrian pushed the front door down. He made his way over to stand beside his companions, and then it was finally just the three wizards and the thug alone in a room of sleeping strangers.
“Wh—No. No!” screamed Xeno. “Hehe. This is awful. Terrible. Hehe. What did you do?”
“All this time, I was setting up a magic circle with a special sleeping spell. We knew you’d rely on cowardly techniques like getting your mind slaves to do things for you,” Eldrian explained with a dusting of his hands. They were covered in chalk and dirt.
Renatta didn’t hesitate to advance on Xeno. She thrust a palm into his chest, kneed him in the stomach, smacked him across the face, and slammed him against the wall. It was a flurry of blows. The last blow to his chest caused a burst of fire to scorch through his shirt, and he slid down to the wall onto the ground.
“Now, tell us what the heck you three are doing? Why did people come after us?” Eldrian demanded.
“Hehe. Dylan, Ron, and I were pretty pissed when you humiliated us that night. That’s when we found her. She gave us a second chance. I didn’t care about you anymore. Hehe. No, not at all. The others though stayed with her to take you and your friends out for good.”
“No idea. Why don’t you ask her? She didn’t really share that part of the plan.”
“I’d ask her if I knew where she was.”
“Hehe. She might want to speak with you as well.”
“He isn’t going to tell us anything,” said Deena from behind—arms crossed. “Might as well call Lucy and see if she can lock this one up too.”
“Stalling,” whispered Xeno.
“What?” she asked.
“Stalling,” he said, louder this time. “That’s what you did. Hehe. But guess what? I’m not stupid. I always have a second plan, and maybe a third. Maybe you should have realised that other people can stall too.”
Renatta, still frustrated with everything he’s done, slammed her knee into his face and knocked him out cold. But then they heard something.
The door behind him creaked open.
Alike always, she had a warrior’s beauty, like a Nordic shieldmaiden. Her brown hair came past her shoulders, laying over a thick black coat above pants of the same colour. Already in her hand was her decorated white and gold mace—a weapon that made her look like a dressed up D&D player. There was no look of play in her piercing, serious eyes, however. She wasn’t there to mess around. The Swedish woman was standing before them, in the flesh, and her mere presence was enough to grab everyone’s attention.
“My name is Asta Ahlgren,” she bluntly stated. “And it was I that gave them a dose of the Elixir of Strength. It was I that sent them after you all. And here I am, right now, before three of you. But not to fight. I’m here to recover my mutt, and drag him home before he ends up in a prison cell, probably in Hell.”
She moved forward. Eldrian did as well. The two of them stood face-to-face in the middle of the room while each other’s companions stood back and merely watched. Eldrian, garbed in a blue robe, stood strong as a wizard, even in the face of danger. Asta’s expression never faltered, standing as a warrior ready to battle if need be. Even the breeze outside halted movement just for them.
“Why do you hate me?” asked Eldrian.
She stared at him for a long moment. “I don’t hate you. Don’t flatter yourself. Magic, as a whole, is a plague upon the universe. You’re all guilty, and need to be captured before you hurt somebody.”
“What about your lackeys? They’ve already hurt people.”
“That was never my intention.”
“And neither is it ours!”
She furled her brows. “Don’t raise your voice with me. Try to strike. Just try. But I said I wasn’t here for that.”
Eldrian sparked energy to his fist, but her reaction was almost instantaneous. He brought up his hands for a spell, and her palm thrusted out and dispersed his ability to cast spells in a crushing wave. She then returned to a stoic, proper stance, though her grip around the mace tightened.
“You’d be dead,” she muttered, ”If I struck you down right then. Or at least incredibly wounded.”
“So why didn’t you?” Eldrian asked as he took a step backwards.
“Not only do I not know what other tricks you wizards have up your sleeves, but if we do battle here, somebody is going to hear. And then they will come.”
“I thought you were they.”
“Spellbreaker? Yes. With the government? No. Neither of us want to have to deal with them, so let’s be rational adults about our feud. I want you stopped, but for certain reasons I don’t care to share, I can’t work with the government’s spellbreakers to do so. It’s I that wants to stop you and your companions. I’m out of thugs. I will never work with a demon again. Nothing has gone to plan. Therefore, I propose we finally meet for battle, but elsewhere. So what say you, Eldrian?”
“If it means stopping all of this, of course we’ll meet you somewhere. Name the place and the time. You’re right about the spellbreakers, so I don’t have much of a choice. We’ve already pushed it too far.”
“Yes. You have. Give me your phone.”
“I said give me your phone. I’m not so petty as to start breaking your things. I wish to place on your maps app the location of where we’ll meet.”
Eldrian reluctantly handed over his phone, and she began to tap her finger against the screen. A strange amount of time passed before the wizard grew worried.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Silence. I told you what I’m doing,” she said with visible frustration on her face.
“Do you… not know how to do it?”
“I said silence!”
“I can do it for you. Just, hand it over and point me to it.”
“I said I have it handled. Leave me be.”
An awkward silence rolled over as she continued to tap occasionally on the screen, as well as stare at it with a growing heat in her face. Her teeth started grinding together.
“Uh,” whispered Xeno as he rubbed his face and stretched over her shoulder. “You just have to press that. Hehe.”
“I knew that!” shouted Asta as she turned crimson with rage.
After tapping frantically a few more times, she shoved the phone into Eldrian’s chest, grabbed Xeno’s arm, and practically started dragging him back through the door. The sounds of their footsteps and her grumbling eventually stopped. One by one, the sleeping people started rising up from the floor, and no longer were their eyes filled with magic spirals.
Asta and Xeno were on their way elsewhere. The noodle-like man freed himself from her grip at last, and now he was lumbering behind her.
“Hehe. I get Ron’s want for revenge, but getting us to fight in a war with you against these wizards… You’re going to have to give us a better reason than you’ve given us, boss.”
Asta turned a glare to him. “Like what?”
“You could at least tell us why you want to beat them so badly.”
She sighed. “Maybe. If you’re good.”
Stay tuned for Chapter Twenty-Four – The Lonely Bull!