“What the hell are you doing?” I asked as golden light surrounded Angela. When it cleared, she was no longer wearing a blouse and jeans. Instead, she was decked out in golden plate armor that glowed in the sunlight.
The headband she wore had turned into a visored golden helmet with a silver plume. Her right hand gripped a kite shield with silver wings painted on it. Her left hand held the hilt of the three-foot arming sword I had referenced earlier. She gave me a grin before flipping down her visor.
“I think we’re going to use this as a learning opportunity for you!” Her voice was muffled by the helmet, seeming to echo as she spoke. More light poured off of her, surrounding me, the Shadow, and herself. The world outside the light seemed to slow and distort, taking on a golden tinge.
“What the hell?!” Shit, this was creepy. “What did you just do?”
“Before you go picking fights, you should set up a stasis field. This keeps bystanders from getting injured by the Shadow or by your own missed attacks.” She raised her sword into a guarding position. The Shadow — it looked more menacing against the background of her magical light — swiped at her with a large claw.
Angela blocked the strike on her shield and lunged in to stab up under its arm. Light erupted from her sword, and the Shadow lurched backwards, hissing in pain. Angela followed up with a sweeping slash that bisected the shadow horizontally.
“Not bad,” I said. Angela turned to me, raising her sword in some sort of salute. I tried not to grin.
“Most of your fights won’t be this easy,” she said. “I can only assume that this Shadow was a new one, or he would have given me more trouble.” She turned back towards where the monster had fallen. “Afterwards, be sure that you collect the black soul gem it drops, or you’ll find yourself low on magic and no way to restore it.”
She paused. “That’s odd. It didn’t leave one behind.” I saw something move beneath her.
“Angela!” I shouted as claws shot up from her own shadow and dug into the backs of her knees where the armor didn’t cover. The knight cried out and collapsed to her knees. The Shadow formed over her, growling.
Without thinking about it, I threw my mug. The styrofoam exploded on impact, dousing the monster in hot chocolate. It turned its head to view me and I took a step back. Distraction complete, I turned to run. No way could I fight as I was, and I wasn’t sure how to transform. The only thing I could do was try to escape it and get back to Angela.
I burst from the stasis bubble and was sideswept by a pedestrian. Staggering a bit from the impact, I started booking it towards the closest alley. I could hear claws scraping on concrete as the Shadow chased me. I glanced back and cursed. The thing was goddamn fast, and it didn’t slow down for the mundane humans between us. I could see the color draining from them as it passed through them.
I made it into the alley and looked for something to use as a weapon. A short length of steel pipe that ended in a T was the first thing I latched onto. Turning towards the oncoming Shadow, I hefted the pipe in both hands. It paused in the mouth of the alley, seeming to consider me for a moment. It took a step forward; I took a step backwards.
It lunged at me with its claws extended. On instinct, I swung my makeshift weapon. Sparks flew as the monster’s claws glanced off of the length of pipe. I sidestepped and swung as hard as I could at its head. The pipe connected solidly, knocking the Shadow back towards one of the walls of the alley. I roared, jumping forward and swinging the pipe again. It lashed out to defend itself. I felt pain blossom on my left side, and I was sent sprawling from the alleyway, back into daylight and traffic.
I staggered to my feet, hissing at the pain in my knees and shins. I’d skinned them good on the pavement. The Shadow lumbered from the mouth of the alley, roaring. I weakly brought my weapon up to defend as it struck again. I staggered backwards, just parrying any attacks I saw coming. I missed more than I blocked, and ended up with a ripped hoodie and clawed-up shoulders.
I shuddered. Fuck, why wasn’t I transforming?! This had to be the most desperate moment of my life. The creature struck again, claws finally shearing through my pipe. As it clattered to the ground, I turned to try and run again. I staggered, fell . . .
There was a blaze of golden light, and Angela stabbed the creature through the head with her sword. Golden fire blazed down the length of steel into the monster. The Shadow finally dissolved, and Angela casually reached out to catch the black stone that dropped from it.
Her armor vanished, leaving her back in her jeans. “I apologize, Linette.” She turned to me, sighing. “I shouldn’t have grown so overconfident.”
“Damn fucking right you shouldn’t have!” I shouted, ignoring the stares the passers-by were giving us. “I almost fucking died because of you!”
She offered me a hand, and I was lifted to my feet. “I made a mistake. Honestly, I’m lucky you were there, or that might have been the end of me.” She smiled. “So, thank you. Here, I’ll use this stone to heal you.”
“What–” I started to ask as she pressed the stone to my soul gem. For a moment, my body seemed to glow red, and I felt extremely light. When the light cleared, I felt . . . amazing. Not just uninjured, like before the fight, but better than I could ever remember feeling.
“Woah,” I remarked intelligently.
“Yes, ‘woah.’” She grinned. “You use the black soul gems to restore your magic, mostly, but you can also use them to touch yourself up. We don’t get tired from physical exertion, and injuries we have are rarely permanent — our magic heals us naturally — but the Shadows’ stones can help. You can also use them to boost your weapons or increase your energy reserves, but that’s a lesson for another time.”
She inspected the stone. “It probably has another use or two before it needs to be shattered.” She pocketed it, giving me a small smile. “Now then, where were we?”
The tram’s green line took us as far as we needed into Hiro’s territory. Of all the districts in the City, his was second only to Angela’s, which took up a full third of the City on its own. The tram put us right in the heart of the green district, and Angela and I sat in a park near the station.
Hiro arrived about half an hour after we did. A green hooded robe billowed behind him, and he used a glaive like a walking stick. My jaw dropped as he approached. He couldn’t have been any older than my age; in fact, he was probably younger than me. He scowled, his vibrant green eyes locking with mine for a moment.
Seeming to read my thoughts, he curled his upper lip back, showing sharp fangs instead of normal teeth. He turned his intense stare on Angela, then. “What do you want, Angela? Who’s this brat?”
“Brat?!” I shot to my feet. “Excuse the fuck outta you, you–”
Angela grabbed my upper arm, pulling me back down beside her. “Hush, Linette. Hiro, this is Goose’s younger sister. You remember Goose?”
“Yeah, I remember Goose.” He snorted, spinning the glaive in his hand. “Why’d you drag her here? If you’re trying to take over my part of the city . . .”
“No, no, nothing like that,” she assured him. “I brought her here because her brother’s gone missing. I don’t suppose you’ve seen him?”
“Not since you two herded that other girl here. What’s it been, a month? Two?”
“It’s only been about a week. You’re getting worse, aren’t you?”
He glared. “Shut up! I try to give my people as much daylight as possible, makes it really hard to keep track of time.”
Angela sighed, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I won’t bring it up again. But you haven’t seen Goose at all, since then?”
“No. If I had, I wouldn’t lie about it. I’d have driven him back out or killed him, you know that.” He tapped the butt of his weapon against the ground, bouncing it into the air and catching it. “Maybe he got done in by a Shadow. It happens to newbies, y’know.”
“Goose isn’t a newbie, anymore, and he’s an excellent fighter.” Angela’s eyes were cold and hard as she stared Hiro down. “Would you be so kind as to help us find him, then?”
“Why should I? He’s a pain in my ass. If he’s gone, his sister can take over his district until she bites it, right?”
“It would mean a lot to both of us if you helped.” She sighed and crossed her arms. “I’ll give you some of my territory to expand into, if you want.”
“Three miles,” he said immediately. Wait, what?
“You guys trade territory?” I asked.
“One mile,” Angela counter-offered. “We do, yes. Sometimes we don’t have enough range to hunt the necessary Shadows for our magic. On occasion, we have too much. Territory is one of our currencies, along with the black soul gems dropped by the creatures of darkness.”
“Two miles,” Hiro said, twirling his glaive again.
Angela chewed her lip. “A mile and a half, and I’ll give you five unused black gems.”
He grinned for the first time and I shuddered. Too many teeth in his mouth, and all of them sharp as knives. “You must not want to find your boyfriend too badly. Two miles.”
“A mile and a half, and ten unused black gems. If you won’t help us, I can make that same offer to Crow and he’ll accept it.”
That wiped the grin off of the fucker’s face. His eyes glowed an acidic green. “Fine. One-and-a-half and ten.”
Angela stood, offering her hand. Hiro shook, and yellow magic mingled with green. “The contract is sealed,” Angela intoned. “You have everything south of the library.”
Hiro nodded and turned to look at me again. “So you’re blue’s baby sister.” He snorted and turned away, his cloak billowing. “Follow me. If he’s here, there’s only a couple spots I wouldn’t sense his magic.” He started walking, a lot quicker than someone with such short legs had any right to.
Angela and I followed at a distance, and I glanced at her. “Hey, so . . . What’s with this guy?” I asked in a whisper.
“What do you mean? He’s a Senshi, just like us.” She turned her head to face me, one eyebrow arched delicately.
“Yeah fucking right. Dude’s got fangs. And his eyes are . . . fucked up. Like some sort of animal or something.” Fuck, was I the only one who’d noticed? Or was I just overreacting?
“Oh, yes, that.” Angela sighed, shrugging. “Senshi walk a delicate balance. There are Shadows, there are Angels, and in-between there are Humans. Senshi are Humans given power by Angels, but they also draw on the same source of power — that is, human emotion — as Shadows do. In this way, we embody all three in a Trinity you won’t find anywhere else.”
I was silent for a second as I tried to process that. “Okay, but that doesn’t fucking explain anything. Why’re his eyes and teeth fucked up?”
She sighed again and shook her head. “Some Senshi take in more of the Shadows in order to become more powerful. They let go of some of their humanity, and allow the pure light and pure darkness of the others take its place. Doing this on occasion gives you extra benefits such as night vision, a keen sense of smell–”
“Good hearing,” Hiro called over his shoulder. I swallowed nervously. Bastard had been eavesdropping!
“Among other things,” Angela continued. “However, it does leave its mark on you, and there’s little you can do about it. Giving up humanity is easy. Regaining it is hard. If you give up too much . . .” She fell silent.
I was about to prod her into continuing when Hiro raised a hand. “First stop,” he said as we caught up. I looked up at the building whose shadow we were standing in.
“A hospital?” I asked. “What’s so special about this.”
“Shadows feed off of the negative emotions of humans,” he explained. “This hospital is abandoned; two decades ago, something major happened here, leaving the place inundated in anger and misery that breeds strong creatures of darkness.”
“Wait, so it’s like a haunted hospital?” I raised an eyebrow. That was actually pretty cool.
“Yes, it’s ‘like a haunted hospital,’” he replied, his voice oozing with contempt. “What do you think makes haunted places haunted? The negative areas are a breeding ground for Shadows and other nasties, and they affect the area around them.”
He sighed. “You should probably transform now. If your brother’s in there, we’ll have to fight our way to him.”
Angela and I looked at each other in silence for a moment. Hiro looked between us scowling. “Well, why aren’t you–” Realization dawned on his face. He groaned and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Oh, you have got to be kidding me . . .”
“Hey, it’s not my fault! I’m new to this, haven’t really gotten a chance to learn the ropes, alright?!” I crossed my arms. “It’s not like I asked to be magically uneducated! Mikael gave me the very basics of how it works, and said it would just happen!”
Hiro glared. “Well, in that case you can wait outside. Angela and I can’t get distracted keeping you from getting eaten.”
“Fuck that!” I shouted. “I’ve already been in a fight without transforming, and it’s my brother that we’re looking for!”
“Too fucking bad!” he yelled back. “I’m already doing you a huge favor by agreeing to help look for him! I shouldn’t have to guard some weak–”
“Enough, both of you.” Angela’s voice was steady, quiet. It was also dangerous-sounding enough to shut down both Hiro and myself. We looked at her blankly.
Golden light surrounded her and she wore her golden armor, minus helmet. “We all go in. Linette will stick behind me, and I’ll set up a shield spell. Hiro, you can take the point, since you no doubt no the layout.”
Hiro scowled. “Fine!” he snapped, turning and pushing through the entry doors. Angela followed, a golden hemisphere appearing in front of her. I followed close behind her on her left-hand side.
The doors closed behind us, and Angela’s magic became our main light source as we waded into the haunted building.