While some teenage girls her age spent their summers on vacation, hanging out with their friends, or even worrying about whether or not their new bikini fit well enough, Celica had no time for such petty, mundane activities. Being on her home world reminded her just how boring her life had been before she had begun her life as a Jumper. How could all these people sleep with such important business going on?
Normally a quiet, warm summer evening such as the one she was cutting through so briskly would have been a comfort to her, even a luxury. The nice weather outside was an irregularity in her home in New Mexico. On this night, however, she had more important things to do than relish the temperature, or even to acknowledge the tall, dark figures that emerged from the shadows as she walked.
They peeled themselves from their dismal hiding places, slinking lazily after Celica. She didn’t even turn around at their appearances, which were now growing quite numerous, even though she obviously knew they were occurring. She did, however, speed up a little as they emerged, allowing her long, dark coat to trail behind her, revealing a sleeveless white shirt and jeans underneath.
They passed under a street light, causing Celica’s long black hair to sheen silkily, but the seemingly shapeless black figures were not illuminated by the stale yellow light, but only seemed to be more and more common as their own shadows extended in all directions. The continued to ooze greedily after her, making no noise as they propelled themselves through the narrow alleyways.
As the continuously growing traveling party grew even larger, Celica turned and entered a small house, the door of which she slammed closed behind her. The streaming tendrils seemed hindered by their sudden obstacle, but immediately slid across the brick walls, searching for a crevice.
Now feeling a bit panicked, Celica ran up a faded green wooden staircase, totally discarding her fear that it would break out from under her. “Anders!” She whispered, turning a corner at the top of the stairs. “Are you here?”
There was no answer. She crept as silently as she could across the hallway, silvery with moonlight pouring through the large window at the far end. “Anders, come on, they’re here!” She took another few creeping step forward, being as cautious as possible, trying to be completely silent.
Suddenly the hallway was thrust into immediate darkness as the window was blocked by a large curtain. With an earth-shattering crash, the window exploded inward and the long, slithering shadows rushed inside, wrapping around every surface and approaching Celica fast.
She turned and dashed back the way she came, rounding the corner sloppily and skidding into the wall. Rushing forward again, she sprinted down the staircase, skipping several stairs with each adrenal bound. Jumping the last six steps, she landed in a crouch on the thinly carpeted floor.
Four months previously, a jump like that would have floored Celica, but her POCC training was paying off fast. She leapt towards a narrow hallway leading to the kitchen in the same second that the black wave crashed onto the floor. No longer silent, the torrent of tiny, depthless hands was roaring behind her, tearing floorboards up off of the ground and dislodging support beams from the walls and ceiling.
Panting loudly, Celica fell into a sliding position and slid across the linoleum kitchen flooring with a loud squeak. As she approached the small set of stairs that led to the living room she flung herself up into a standing position again and jumped the three stairs and onto the hardwood floor of the next room.
Clumsily, the fatal storm raging just behind her shoulder continued past the narrow entry to the stairs and collided with the wall of the kitchen, breaking plates and sending shards of ceramic dishware flying in all directions, including Celica’s. She fell to the floor to avoid the projectiles, but not before half a dozen of them pierced her left arm.
She clutched the place where her arm now stung bitterly, and army crawled over to the back door, large and sliding-glass. A table zoomed over her head, thrown by the monstrous army of black shadows, exploding into a million splintery pieces as it crashed into the wall above her. When she was at least 15 feet away from the door, she decided to make a run for it.
She stood up hastily, scrambling for a few terrifyingly unbalanced steps as she regained her upright position, and sprinted pell-mell towards the thick glass. The shadow also made a move, jabbing with deadly speed towards the point where she was bound to collide with the door. Having no time to open it, Celica turned her shoulder and checked the heavy sheet, and a thunderous clamor swept her off of her feet. She landed flat on her back in a pile of broken glass, feeling the tiny needles piercing her shoulders and neck.
Before she could register where she was or what had happened, the shadow tore through the now empty doorway and wrapped itself around Celica. Before she knew what was going on, she was being lifted off of the ground, a good ten feet, and was tossed aside, flipping terribly through the night air.
The world was a whirlwind before her rapidly rushing vision, and she eventually saw the dark, grassy ground come up to meet her as she landed with a painful thud on the ground. The beast reared, and made to jab at her torso with a now pointy tip. It was one giant entity, like a snake, leaning it’s head back, prepared to strike.
Celica shut her eyes, prepared for what was about to happen. She knew that she had made a mistake by going there in the first place, and now she was paying for it. When nothing happened, for several seconds, she opened her eyes just a crack.
The creature was writhing, twisting in agony. Swirling around it was a crackling, raging whip of fire, entangling itself around the sinuous shadow like a constrictor around a mouse. Finally, the inferno erupted into a blinding explosion, and the entire shadow-monster was engulfed in the flames. When the white-hot tornado had lifted, the torn shreds of shadow blew away with the wind, dissolving into the night in silence.
Celica looked around, searching for the source of her salvation, for someone to thank for her life. She saw nothing except a large shadow hop over the fence into the backyard in which she lay. It ran over to her, and crouched.
“Are you okay, miss?” It asked, nearly invisible in the pitch-black night. “We thought you were going to get devoured for sure.”
“Did you do that?” Celica asked the beast, totally clad in black, waving her hands around to imply the blazing pyre which she had just witnessed.
“The fire? No, ma’am. We thought maybe it was you.” ‘We’ was clarified as several more shapes cleared the small wooden fence and joined the crowd. They helped Celica back onto her feet.
“Someone had to do it.” Celica said, encouraging an answer. “Bodachs don’t just light on fire by themselves. So who was it? Come on, don’t be shy.” She glanced between the three Ery in front of her, and they passed each other sideways glances.
“We have no idea, ma’am. We’re just as surprised as you,” Said one of them, shrugging in his full-body suit. “It looked like the work of an Unknown to me, though.”
“Nonsense. Bodachs work for the Unknown. Besides, I would have heard them.” She plucked a square device from her belt and waved it in front of them. It was the detector used to track down large concentrations of the Unknown in one spot, but even one would cause it to quiver and beep faintly.
As she turned it to her own face, though, she realized that the whole front was smashed. “Oh. Well that would explain a lot.” She said, sounding casual.
It was almost humorous how the Ery seemed to fear her, even though they were at least a foot taller and much more muscular. The three brutish hulking masses surrounding the small, thin girl, taking orders from her strong authority could be laughed at, but it never was. “Well then, let’s go. The Captain will want to hear about this.”
Obediently, the three Ery wrapped their hands around her forearms and she Jumped them back to Terra, where their superiors waited eagerly for their report.
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