The blur stopped moving, and I could finally make out what it was… sort of.
With luscious blue fur, and a wolf-like head and body, it was a beast that could almost have been cute and cuddly, or at least majestic. However, the three reptilian stingers on its back, and the purple forked tongue that flicked from its snout, removed any admiration a dog-lover such as myself could have held for it.
The Raxxer became a blur again as it shot back into the fray, knocking a guard onto the ground as it followed most of the other blurs to surround the dual-wielding armored figure who appeared to be the leader of the guards. The figure kept the blurs at bay with glowing swords, while rolling out of the way of the explosions that seemed to spring out of nowhere.
Ben and I continued to hobble towards the gate. Even if the guards saw us, they were too preoccupied to give chase, with the few who attempted to do so getting knocked out by the Raxxers.
We were almost at the gate when we heard a grunt, a shout, and the clanking of armor. The tall lady had appeared out of the smoke, Elenor still clinging tightly to her back. Some of the blurs shot towards her, but she avoided them and their explosions with relative ease. The dual-wielding guard had also escaped his encirclement, and was dodging explosions while rushing towards us.
Seeing that they were about to catch up to us, Ben planted his feet, brought his other hand back again, and propelled me forward in what had now become a familiar movement. Lurching forward, I managed to keep my wits about me. I was almost out of the gate, and anticipated Ben grabbing ahold of me somewhere right outside the city. A Raxxer sped by my side. Elenor shouted my name again, and the sound of the guard leader’s swords slicing through the air pierced through the whistling winds whipping across my body.
Ben’s fingers wrapped around my arm as he pulled me to the side. A shadow flew over my shoulder, inches from my head, and crashed into the ground several feet in front of me. A familiar blade stood lodged into the earth just outside the gate. The air above the blade shimmered, and blue veins shot out of the blade’s handle, stretching over and around us to form a forcefield that went all the way to the blade on the lead guard’s back.
Elenor and the tall lady were outside the field, and despite the tall lady’s frightening use of her pickaxe, the forcefield remained intact. Even the Raxxers couldn’t break through the field, the ones on the outside bombarding it with explosions while the ones inside clawed the walls while wailing like injured puppies.
Ben didn’t stop running, not even when the guard leader bounded within arm’s reach. As we reached the wall of the forcefield, Ben kicked the blade on the ground, dislodging it, and shattered the forcefield. The tall lady had circled around the field, anticipating that we would escape, and so the guard leader, the tall lady with Elenor on her back, and Ben with his fingers digging into my arm, were converging just outside the city of Sett. The Raxxers howled, and their blurs began following us, leaving a trail of explosions in their wake.
“You know what? This is getting a little tiring,” said Ben, jumping sharply to the side, and dragging me along. “We’re outside the city, so it should be fine now.”
The tall lady stopped, and stared at Ben, but the guard continued to charge towards us. The Raxxers circled us, kept at bay by Ben’s humming, but the shockwaves from their explosions made my teeth jitter.
We were in an open area with a few large rocks lining the paved road that led away from the city. There was nobody on the road, and no wildlife nor plants for miles. Torches were affixed to the rocks, creating fluctuating bubbles of light that stood out against the darkness of the night. The moon that had been lighting up our escape thus far, hid behind a veil of clouds as the red gleam of the guard’s swords – compounded manifold by its reflection in the guard’s armor – pierced the darkness like the eyes of a raging beast.
The guard leapt, armor clanking, swords poised to fall like a burning guillotine. Ben and I stood stock still, me because I was scared out of my wits, and Ben because he had a penchant for theatricality. The tall lady threw her pickaxe. Elenor jumped off with her stick pointed right beneath her. But both were eclipsed in my vision by the blades slicing through the air as easily as they would probably slice through my skin. I couldn’t close my eyes. There is something about imminent death that makes you stop like a deer in the headlights.
Blades inches from my face, the guard jerked to a halt. The swords faded like the last traces of sunlight before merging into the darkness, a light clank the last sign of their existence. In the dim torchlight, I could barely make out the outlines of two figures standing beside the guard’s silhouette, all of whom promptly disappeared into the shadows.
My heart was racing. I couldn’t digest anything that had just happened. Turning to Ben, the only person who could possibly explain what was going on, I began to speak but was interrupted by a now familiar cry.
Elenor and the tall lady were closer to the torch, so I could see the concern on Elenor’s face, and the anger on the lady’s. Elenor’s reaction surprised me. We had only known each other for less than a day, yet here she was, lines of worry crisscrossing her face with her bottom lip pulled back a little.
“Let my client go,” said the tall lady, addressing Ben. “I won’t ask twice.”
“It’s okay,” said Ben, letting go of my arm. “She’s out of the city, that’s all I wanted.”
“Come over here, Val,” said Elenor, beckoning with her hand.
I didn’t move. “Why do you want me to leave Sett?”
“Like I said, bad things will happen if you stay in the city. I don’t want you getting hurt, that’s all,” he answered.
“Bad things like what?”
“Like what happened just now.”
“You’re saying that’s because of me?”
“No, but you could’ve gotten hurt.”
“Why are you so concerned about me? I don’t even know you!”
“It’s… complicated. Look, I’ve gotten what I wanted, so I’ll just go away now.” He took a step back.
“But what if I go back into the city?” I asked, taking a step closer despite Elenor’s indignant tapping.
“It’s okay, you can go back now.”
Elenor stopped tapping. I was speechless. After kidnapping me from the streets, dragging me across the city, and fighting dozens of guards, all to get me to leave Sett, he said it was okay for me to go back?
“If you think she can’t go back because of the guards, you don’t have to worry about that,” said the tall lady, raising her pickaxe.
“No, I mean, if she wants to go back to Sett now, it should be fine. I just didn’t want her to be in Sett back then. Twilight. I didn’t want her to be in Sett during Twilight.”
“Why?” I finally managed to ask.
“Because it was dangerous.”
“Why was it dangerous then, but not now?” asked Elenor.
“Don’t go digging too deep into this, Elenor. There isn’t always an explanation for everything. Relax a little, would you?”
“How did you know my name?”
“What did I just say?” I could almost hear the smile on his face. Oddly enough, it made me feel happy too.
“Answer her question,” said the tall lady.
“I did, Sally.”
The tall lady’s eyes widened. “How did you –”
“Know your name? Okay, you know what, I’ll tell you all about it over a cup of Golpen juice.” He took a step forward.
Sally raised her pickaxe. “You’re not going anywhere until we get some answers.”
“Look, I already agreed to tell you everything. It’s a bit of a long story, alright? Let me have some juice, it’s been a long day.”
“Fine,” I said.
“You sure we can trust him, Val?” asked Elenor.
“Yeah, I mean, he did just rescue me.”
“See?” said Ben, stepping forward and clapping a hand on my shoulder. “Now let’s go get that sweet, sweet Golpen juice!”
Sally lowered her pickaxe, but kept a strong grip on it. “Fine, follow me. They’ll be looking for us in all the usual places, so we’ll have to sneak in a little carefully.”
“I’m not worried, everything should be fine now!” said Ben, cheerfully, as we walked off the road.
“At least tell me this,” asked Elenor.
“Wait for the juice!” said Ben.
“Just one question.”
“Fine, but only one, okay?”
“How did you get rid of the Raxxers?”
“That’s easy, I…” Ben stopped.
I turned to look at him. “Ben?”
“Crap, I forgot about the Raxxers.”
As if on cue, a loud explosion rang through the air. It was too dark to see their bodies, so all we saw was a host of piercing yellow eyes surrounding us. They blurred as the beasts moved, leaving trails of light in my vision like afterimages from when you stare at the sun too long. Sally readied her pickaxe, and Elenor tapped her stick, which seemed to make the eyes closest to her halt momentarily. Ben wasn’t humming.
“I still have no idea what’s got these Raxxers so riled up,” said Ben.
“Agreed, they shouldn’t be this aggressive, even in heat,” said Elenor.
“They shouldn’t be targeting us so specifically, either,” said Sally.
“Well, since I’ve already agreed to tell you everything, I might as well show off a little,” said Ben, stepping forward, and provoking angry growls from the stream of eyes. “And…” He paused for dramatic effect, and I waited for the eyes to fade the way the guard’s glowing swords had.
An explosion rocked the ground, sending a shockwave that sent Ben reeling backward. He steadied himself, but I saw the disbelief in his eyes under the moonlight that had broken through the clouds.
“This isn’t right…” he trailed.
The Raxxers growled again, and numerous explosions rang out. Sally raised her pickaxe, and Elenor tapped her stick repeatedly. The eyes began to close in, slowly restricting the circle until the four of us were standing back to back.
“Ben!” I said, shaking his shoulder.
“I don’t know what happened. Why didn’t it work?” he mumbled in reply. Or at least I thought he was replying to me.
“Hum, hum that tune you were humming before!”
“The only reason it wouldn’t work is if…”
The eyes stopped. Their slit pupils, the blue veins in their eyes, they stood out against the barely lit earth. The eyes blinked, and slowly receded into the darkness.
“Why did they leave?” asked Elenor, tapping her stick. “There’s no one else around.”
“We should go,” said Sally, eyeing the surroundings while keeping a tight grip on her pickaxe.
I heard a mumble. “What did you say, Ben?”
“My magic…” he whispered. “It isn’t working.”
“Was it burnt or shelved?” asked Elenor.
“That is odd,” she agreed.
“We can talk about this later. Right now, we need to get into the city,” said Sally.
“No, you don’t understand. If my magic isn’t working, it can only mean…” he looked at me, and his eyes widened. “Look out!”
I had the wind knocked out of me again as he shoved me back. I hit the ground, and my teeth rattled inside my head, and my stomach lurched and threatened to jump out of my throat. My swimming vision settled, painting an ethereal scene before my eyes.
The silvery moonlight highlighted the contours of Ben’s body. It deepened the depths of his eyes, the creases on his forehead, the crookedness of his nose, and made the scar on his chin seem like the serrated teeth of a great white. His hair was set aflame in a silvery blaze, the edges threatening to drip over like molten silver.
His lips, perhaps the most unblemished part of his face, were stuck in place with, what I would retroactively imagine to be, my name frozen on it. The full moon made a crescent in his eyes, but the crescent didn’t move, wax, or wane.
A black cat rubbed against his legs, purring affectionately. It glanced at me, the moonlight painting its eyes white, and giving the pincers at the end of its whiskers an even more ethereal air. The cat jumped onto Ben’s shoulders, and sat down as if to take a nap.
“Ben!” I shouted, moving towards him. A firm hand clapped my shoulder, fixing me in place.
“Don’t, or you’ll get stuck too,” said Sally.
“What is it?” I asked.
“A Limbog…” said Sally, her voice barely a whisper.
“I couldn’t sense it at all,” said Elenor.
“It doesn’t make or reflect sound,” said Sally. “You can’t see them coming either. Nobody knows where they come from, nor where they go after they’ve gotten their target.”
“Don’t just stand there, help me save Ben!” I said.
“It’s impossible,” said Sally. “Limbogs never let go.”
At a loss for words, I looked back at Ben. His feet were illusory, fading into the darkness of the earth. Clouds obscured the moonlight, dousing the silvery fire on his hair, and erasing the crescents in his eyes. As the clouds shifted over the moon, he descended further into the void.
The moon peeked out, but Ben was gone.
Author’s Note: Hi again! Hope you’re enjoying the story as much as I am. You know, I wasn’t sure if writing these author’s notes in advance was a good idea, but I’ll keep them for now! Also, here’s a protip: there’s always a sneak peek on the patreon page!