Rhys had seconds before he would face either the mysterious woman or the ravenous force of creatures hurtling up the fire stairs. With odds like that, it was a simple choice.
He turned and didn’t need his sense to see her. She stopped in the dark hallway, watched him like he was prey, cornered. She maintained her human form, but her fingernails grew into claws, her teeth began to extend.
‘Why don’t you show your true face?’ He asked, stepping towards her.
‘We are more human than you know.’
‘I can see that. Organised crime, taking advantage of the poor, we’ve taught you well.’
‘Spare me. We deserve our place.’
‘Your place is at the end of my blade.’
‘We have plans for you. You’ll know soon enough,’ she snarled. The morning sun began to splinter through the windows, she flinched. Rhys didn’t. He raised his pistol and fired until the clip was emptied. The shapeshifter moved with superhuman speed, the shots going wide, but she stumbled with a grunt. The last bullet struck home, then Rhys’s blade followed suit. She cried out in pain. Rhys withdrew as the claws flashed at him, ripping his jacket. The light body armour underneath was ruined but had saved him from taking damage. She pounced, her strength hadn’t left her yet. Her face began to deform as she pinned Rhys to the ground. His blade clattered to the floor, he ignored it. Her forehead began to protrude, her eyes grew black and wider, then her bony skull made contact and he saw stars. He tasted blood as he struggled for his life. She was a blur even at this distance. His vision cleared just enough that he could see her fangs bearing down on his jugular, her breath stank of death. His thoughts went to his right hand. In a split second his mind caught up with his actions. Yes, he had retrieved the second short blade from his jacket. He thrust it home deep into the creature’s rib cage. She cried in pain but relented enough for Rhys to drive the blade further and push her aside. He staggered to one side, still dizzy, collected his weapons before looking back at the sorry creature.
‘We just wanted a home,’ she coughed. ‘Taxia is coming,’ before her light faded.
‘Home? Who or what is Taxia?’ He pondered for a moment as the body began to fade, its structure collapsed quickly and in minutes there would be nothing left but her clothing. An anomaly of evolution he was familiar with but was beyond his comprehension.
With a crash the fire door tore open and a dozen creatures, claws and fangs, reaching sinewy arms, came tearing towards him. He’d overstayed his welcome, but the lift would be too slow.
He ran to the closest window and struck it with his blade. It cracked but not enough. He turned and backed up against the glass, one hand on his weapon, the other palm against the glass. The creatures had halved the distance already and would be on him in just a few more long strides. He panicked and screwed his eyes shut and drew on his powers. He didn’t know why but it was the only thing he knew. His sense kicked into overdrive, and he could detect hundreds, no, thousands of creatures throughout the city, and Descartes, there he was, not far after all. They would detect him also, but it mattered little. What good would this knowledge do him as he gets torn to shreds?
Only a second had passed, he opened his eyes, and the creatures were almost on him, but they faltered for a moment. He couldn’t understand why until he felt incredible power, similar to heat, but not as ferocious, more focused. It was emanating from his left hand. His palm was still on the window, and with a thought, the energy transferred to the glass, and it shattered into a rain of shards. Acting on instinct alone, Rhys fell backward, allowing his body to head stories below towards the concrete and pavement. As the view of the top floor faded, he noticed the creatures flinch backward away from the light. They no longer concerned him. The fall was less than three seconds, he estimated, yet seemed to occur in slow motion. He managed to turn his body slightly so that his left hand, still radiating energy, faced the ground. As he was at the point of collision, he unleashed it. The force halted his descent but then spun him around a dozen times before he hit the ground with a crash, and everything went black.
‘Rhys, Rhys,’ he heard a distant voice. ‘It’s Yun, come on, get up I can’t carry you, you heavy Húndàn. We have to go, now!’
‘So,’ said the silent man, ‘he killed his woman, but the snake got away.’
‘Yes,’ the stranger said, drinking his liquor, his breath stained the air, ‘but they would meet again very soon.’