“Haunted, my ass!” I said after nearly an hour. The hospital was creepy, sure. There was no natural light aside from the occasional beam coming through a boarded-up window, leaving only Angela’s golden glow to cast eerie shadows through corridors and common rooms.
But there hadn’t been a single sign of Shadows from the moment we walked in, more than two hours ago. “Thought this place was ‘inundated’ with negative emotion!”
Hiro glared at me, his green eyes flashing. “Normally, you can’t piss in this place without hitting a Wraith. I’m not sure what’s going on. There aren’t even any black gems on the floor.” He scowled, spinning his glaive again. “Even the air is different. Normally it’s a miasma.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I scowled. “So, where would my brother be, if he were here?” This asshole was testing my patience. So long in this shitty place and no sign of Goose.
Hiro sighed. “We’ll check one last place, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.” He shook his head. “With it being so clear here, I’d feel him.” He turned and started towards the nearby stairwell.
Angela and I followed as we descended deeper into the bowels of the hospital. Hiro paused on the landing of the ground floor. He looked at Angela, then both of them looked down the stairs. “What is it?” I asked.
“You can’t feel it?” Hiro looked at me, frowning. “I don’t know how we didn’t feel it until just now.”
“We’re literally right on top of it,” Angela supplied. “But an aura like this . . .”
“We should have sensed them the moment we walked in the door.” Hiro slammed the butt of his glaive on the ground, and green light shot down its blade. Great, as if Angela’s light wasn’t bad enough. Hiro’s seemed to twist the shadows into monsters around us.
“Sensed who?” I demanded.
“Shut up,” Hiro said, not actually seeming to pay attention to me. “Angela, do you want point on this one?”
Angela frowned. “I think so. There is something . . . nostalgic, I suppose, about this aura.” She brushed a lock of hair from her face before forming her helmet around her. “Linette, stay behind us, please.” She started descending.
I frowned as Hiro followed. Whatever was downstairs had these two experienced Senshi spooked. I shuddered and brought up the rear. Three steps down and a chill passed down my spine. If this sensation was even a fraction of what they felt . . .
Angela paused outside of a metal door at the bottom. A sign above declared this an entryway into the morgue. I saw Angela square her shoulders. She brought her shield up and bashed, slamming the door open. Dark purple light flared out, shining brighter than Hiro’s and Angela’s combined. The magical shield around the older girl wavered, the purple engulfing it.
Angela cried out and rushed forward, her shield held high before her. Hiro followed her, ducking through the doorway and to the left. I saw his weapon slash out a tendril of violet, and his green light blazed for a moment.
“Hiro!” I shouted. He turned, just in time to block the slash of a Shadow. He staggered backwards, hacking at the monster. Angela was blocking bursts of purple energy and slashing at tendrils of purple light and shadow. Spinning, she brought her light back and, with a shout, launched it towards the center of the room.
A girl deflected the light, knocking it into a corner where it continued to shine.
Time seemed to pause as Angela and the other girl locked eyes. The purple light receded to surround the Soul Gem on the girl’s wrist. Hiro had killed the Shadow attacking him, and he now leveled the point of his weapon towards her. Angela brought her sword up in the guard position.
The mystery girl stepped back, flicking a shadowy katana into being in her hand. She moved her right foot back, and I saw her tensing to leap. Roaring, I charged into the room.
She was caught off-guard. Purple eyes widened as she realized there was another person here. She started to bring her katana up and I slid, kicking out at her ankles and knees as I went past her on the slick tile. She stumbled, the weapon seeming to slip from her grip.
Angela rushed her in the next instant, and the dark-haired girl landed hard on her back with a golden sword pressed to her throat.
“I knew I recognized your aura!” Angela shouted. “How did you get here?!” She sounded upset — distraught. What the hell?
The girl smirked. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” Her voice was flat, calm despite everything. It chilled me to the bone. “You’ve grown stronger since that time.” She chuckled. “But so have I.”
Purple light flashed, blinding us all momentarily. I blinked spots from my eyes. “Fuck! She’s gone.” I stood, dusting my legs off. “What the hell? Who the hell?” I turned to Angela.
The Golden Senshi shook her head. “Now is neither the time nor the place.” She gestured to the far end of the room. “Let’s finish our search for Goose. His safety is priority here.”
I scowled. “Fine, but you owe us an explanation.”
Hiro nodded. “Big time.” He scowled, heading towards the door at the other end of the room. “This is the storage room for tools. Through here is the autopsy room, and on the other end is the room where they keep the bodies frozen.”
“You knowing that is probably creepier than this entire place,” I quipped. He chuckled.
“I’ve explored this place a hundred times over. Nothing left in any of these rooms. The Shadows cleaned up the scraps.”
I made a face. “Didn’t need to know they ate dead bodies.” I shook my head as we passed through the autopsy room.
The morgue was empty, at least of Goose. After the dark-haired girl had vanished, Shadows began appearing again, but they were pretty weak. Angela and Hiro fought their way out easily. The blonde girl was oddly quiet as we emerged into the daylight again.
Hiro sighed, his robe and glaive vanishing for the first time since I’d met him. Without the hood, his green hair fell in his eyes. He wore a hunter green hoodie and jeans. He was definitely younger than me, probably younger than twelve. He looked at Angela, frowning.
“Well?” he prodded.
Angela shook her head. “I won’t tell you until we’ve found Goose. I want to ensure he’s safe and that she had nothing to do with it.”
Hiro sighed. “Fine. Then the only other place where I wouldn’t feel his presence is the cemetery that marks the border between my territory and Crow’s. If he’s not there, we can make a short trip over and see if that bastard knows.”
As we started walking again, I sighed. I did a fair amount of walking daily, going to and from school, to the store for snacks, to the movies, but I had been on my feet from the moment I woke up this morning with only that short break at the cafe. I looked up at the sky and paused.
“Wait, it’s only midday?” I asked, stunned. No way we’d been on the move for so long and the sun was only now at its highest point in the sky.
Hiro chuckled. “She really doesn’t know anything, does she? I have complete control over my territory, red. That includes things like the weather, the temperature, and what the sky looks like. Outside of my bubble, the sun is probably starting to go down. Here, it still has another eight hours before it gets dark.”
I frowned. “The fuck would you do that for?”
“Most crime is committed after dark. With more daylight, there’s less time for thugs and thieves to work, and less time for them to prey on the weak and innocent.”
“That seems a bit kind of you,” I commented as I watched him walk. “What’s in it for you?”
“Well, if there’s no crime, that takes away one of the biggest sources of negativity around. No crime, my people are happier, and there are fewer Shadows for me to contend with.” He shrugged, pulling the hood of his sweatshirt up. “Not much else to it.”
I nodded. “Makes sense, I guess. So, Angela, why don’t you do that?”
The blonde girl chuckled. “Simply put, I use my control much more directly against the Shadows. My magic infuses people with positive emotion, giving the Shadows nothing off of which to feed.” She hummed, tapping her lip. “Though, that’s not to say I banish sadness and anger completely. That would be cruel, wouldn’t it? Emotions like joy are sweeter for being able to feel emotions like sorrow.”
“Yeah, I guess so.” I shrugged. We had drifted off-topic, though. “I didn’t know you guys had that much power.”
Hiro chuckled. “That’s barely scratching the surface. Our power comes from beings who make universes by snapping. Even a fraction of their ability lets us tap into amazing things. You just have to learn your way around it.”
I sighed, tapping my Soul Gem. “Yeah. Would be nice to learn the basics at this point. If I’d had a weapon and magic, we would have taken that chick in the morgue.”
Angela put a hand on my shoulder. “You’ve had your magic less than a day. You’ll figure it out, and I’m sure that you’ll get it exactly when you need to access it, not a moment sooner.”
I shrugged out of her grip. “Whatever . . .” I muttered. “Let’s just find Goose, alright? I’ll worry about the rest later.”
We walked in silence for another thirty minutes or so before coming to an iron fence at the base of a tall hill. Hiro stepped forward to push open the gate, and goosebumps prickled over my skin despite the warmth of the day. This place was what I had expected the hospital to be.
Hiro stepped through the gate, with Angela and I close behind. I glanced around, aware of the creatures lurking in the shade of trees and behind gravestones. The Shadows here were subtle things, feeding off the sorrow that people gave off when mourning. They were nothing like the creatures in the city who helped create misery to further consume it.
Hiro ignored them, heading a ways up the hill. As I started to follow, Angela grabbed my arm. “Give him a few minutes,” she told me. I glared at her until she explained. “We all have our rituals. He won’t be long.”
I sighed and crossed my arms as I watched Hiro kneel before a tombstone. He spoke, though I couldn’t make out what he was saying, and he bowed his head when he finished. After what seemed like forever, he stood and dusted off his pants before coming back over to Angela and me.
There was a burst of green light, and he was wearing his senshi clothing. His glaive materialized in his hand, and he gestured towards the top of the hill. “This graveyard is bigger than it looks from down here,” he explained. “To the east it borders Crow’s land, but he doesn’t cross the fence. To the north it hits the wall, but I’ve altered the dimensions in space to give more room to bury.”
I raised an eyebrow. “So . . . how big is it?” If this was going to be another useless long-ass search, I would be pissed.
“It’s about five miles.” When I opened my mouth to start shouting, he held up his hand. “Most of it is just plots like this one. Aside from a few smaller ones, the only crypts and mausoleums are in a mile-wide area on the eastern border; Crow’s people tend to be wealthier, and this is their resting place, too.”
“That’s still a square mile to search, you ass! How many tombs and crypts is that, huh?” I was angry enough to spit, but Hiro just stared at me, face calm.
“There’s no more than three-hundred there. If your brother is in one, I’ll be able to sense him once we–”
“Sense him like you sensed that bitch at the hospital?! Fuck you. We’re gonna have to search it by hand if we wanna be sure, and who knows what we’ll run into in the meantime!” I was shouting, I knew, but I didn’t care. “If my brother dies while we’re fucking about–”
A heavy hand landed on my shoulder. Angela squeezed hard enough to bruise, and said, “He won’t. I promise you, anyone who would keep him for a week wouldn’t kill him now. It wouldn’t make sense.”
“She’s right, you know.”
I opened my mouth to respond, before realizing that hadn’t been Hiro’s voice. Angela released me as I turned to see who had just spoken. Hiro’s face was twisted in rage, his eyes glowing and his fangs flashing. Standing across from him was our guest.
The man had grey hair and eyes, and his skin was paler than any I’d ever seen before. He stood a few inches taller than me, though not as tall as Angela or even Goose. A grey suit over a black vest and white shirt tailored to his body told me he had money. Despite the color of his eyes and the niceness of his suit, I guessed he was in his mid-twenties, though his autobiography said he was past forty. A silver gemstone sat on a ring on his right hand.
I’d heard of Edwin Crow, seen pictures, but had never seen him in person or heard him speak. He leaned on a silver cane, a wide grin on his clean-shaven face. “Hiro,” he said, making a motion like he was tipping a hat — hell, the bastard probably wore a bowler or some shit normally. “Angela,” he said, repeating the motion. “So lovely to see you both.”
“Crow,” the younger boy growled. “What have I told you about coming here uninvited?” Light pulsed in the blade of his glaive.
Crow chuckled. “Why, I was just coming to see what the disturbance was, good sir. I felt two magical presences, which is twice the usual number, and then I felt such anger.” He flashed a grin at me. “I knew I had to investigate, lest my fellow senshi wind up consumed by creatures of darkness.”
HIro started to retort, but Angela raised her hand. Annoying bitch. “We are fine, Crow. You were actually going to be our next stop if this didn’t turn up anything. This way, you found us.” She smiled. “Have you seen Goose?”
“Goose, Goose, Goose . . .’ The man tapped his chin, seeming to give it much thought. “Oh, of course, Goose! Blue hair, blue eyes, exceptionally polite even when fighting?”
Angela crossed her arms and glared. “You know very well who Goose is.”
“Haven’t seen him.” Crow smirked. “Though, maybe a few hundred creds would freshen my memory.”
Angela shook her head. “This is important, Edwin. Goose has been missing–”
“Four days, yes? With no word to his lovely little sister or his beautiful girlfriend, such a shame.” He traced a finger down his cheek like a tear. “Spare me, Angela. You know nothing goes on in this city I don’t know about. I will say that Goose interfered in a matter that he’d no business interfering with.”
“And what business would that be?” I asked, stepping forward. “You know where my brother is. Tell me. Now.” I could feel heat on my chest, and I reached up to feel my soul gem. Red light poured from it.
Crow’s grin vanished, replaced for the first time with a small frown. “My dear, I have been well-compensated to keep such information quiet. However, my highest-bidder policy dictates that I will betray that silence for no less than two-and-a-half times the original payment.”
“Yeah, and how highly do you value your life?” The red light was spreading, working its way up my neck and down my body. “You’re outnumbered two to one, at the very least, and it looks like HIro won’t mind spilling your blood.”
Crow’s frown deepened, and I saw now that his face, when he wasn’t smiling, was well-lined. “My dear, don’t think to threaten me. For one thing, Angela wouldn’t fight me without a more solid reason than her missing bedmate. For another thing, I have decades of experience on you.”
I heard something move behind me and sidestepped just in time to dodge a knife slicing past me. I stepped back and stared. Another Crow stood there, dressed in a darker grey than the original. Two long daggers sat casually in his hands.
“And, finally, it takes a lot to outnumber me, my dear.” Crow tapped his cane, and grey light poured around us.
Angela sighed. “I told you to let me do the talking,” she murmured as golden lights engulfed her.