I turned to look at the man sitting next to me like he just had four heads. “Excuse me?” I asked.
“Something is following you,” he repeated and stared straight at me, his pure white eyes boring into mine.
“What a way to introduce yourself to a stranger. My name is Ash. Nice to meet you, asshole,” I said, glaring at him.
“You sat down next to me,” he said. “Usually that means you want something.”
“What could I want from you?” I asked.
“Well for starters I can tell you the name of your little fire starter.”
My eyes widened and the glass of scotch shattered in my hand. Fair thee well friend, I knew you well. “How did you—“
“She told me,” he deadpanned.
“She?” I gulped.
“Yeah. She. Says her name is Daeva.”
My heart stopped and I felt fear and confusion ooze over my body as I stared at the Flareon man next to me. His ears twitched around as new sounds entered the bar and his fluffy tail swished from side to side in irritation.
“What’s your name?” I asked slowly.
“Exomnis,” he said and looked me again, taking a swig out of the third bottle that I saw in front of him.
“What is… how did you know about Daeva?”
“She told me her name,” he replied and shrugged.
“What’s that supposed to mean? That she’s here or something? That’s impossible. She’s dead,” I frowned and glared at this man.
Exomnis tilted his head like he was trying to listen to something. “She told me to ask you if you noticed that your fires,” he motioned to my tail as I lashed it from one side to the other, “turn blue.”
I frowned. “And if I had?”
His ears twitched. “She told me to tell you it’s because of her.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Believe me or not. I’m just the messenger.”
I frowned and looked at Exomnis before I waved the barkeep over to pour me another third drink. I looked the man over again. He looked to be about a year or so younger than me, but I’ve never seen him before so there was no way that he should be able to know about the fires and Daeva. So how did he? I brought the glass up to my lips when he spoke again.
“If you’re still having trouble believing me, she told me about Darcia,” he said.
I froze and for the second time that night. I never told anyone that. Not even my so call adoptive families knew what happened to me. So how did this joker? Was he actually telling me the truth? I guess I had to believe that he was. I sighed and put the glass down.
“What are you?”
I smirked slightly and shrugged. “I’m not exactly roses and dandelions myself. I guess since you already know so much about me, I might as well tell you the rest. Daeva was my twin sister. We were six years old when she died because of Darcia.”
“Daeva! Let’s go out and play. I’m bored.”
The girl sitting across from me with a coloring book and some chalks sighed. “I have a bad feeling about going outside today. Just color with me.”
I pouted and rolled onto my back, looking at my sister upside down. “But I’m sure Ambustio is itching to play with us.”
Daeva sighed again and put the chalks down. “Fine, fine,” she giggled a bit. “Only for a little while though. Mommy is making stew for dinner.”
“Yay! I love stew,” I said as I laughed. But most important of all, my sister was going to play with me.
“We both do, dummy,” Daeva said and stood up.
I stood as well, my eyes shifting to look at Daeva’s drawing. It was a black figure with eyes that almost seemed to glow. It looked female to me but I couldn’t be 100 percent sure. My sister was always good at drawing, better than me. I was always jealous of that, even though she told me time and time again that she was jealous of how upbeat and healthy I was.
Ever since we were born, Daeva was sickly. She was rarely well enough to leave her bed, let alone go outside and play with me and our pet. Ever since we were able to walk and Daeva felt healthy enough I always made it a point to ask her to come out and play with us, even though it wasn’t very often. It was especially bad during the winter months, when the temperatures would drop below freezing, so during the spring and summer I always tried to pack in as much time outside to fill an entire year.
I looked up at Daeva. Her hand was stretched out to me and her brown eyes were smiling. I made a mental note to ask mom to cut our hair, Daeva’s brown locks fell into her face and I was almost sure my hair looked just as ratty.
I smiled at my twin. “Let’s go outside,” I said and took her hand, leading her to the back door of our cottage home.
We almost made it outside when our mother stopped us in the kitchen.
“Where do you think you two are going?” she asked.
“We want to play with Ambustio,” I said. “We’ll be back inside for dinner, promise.”
“You had better be careful. I got a letter from your father that said a small faction of half-breeds broke past our borders,” she told us. “Not to mention one of those sub-humans just broke out of prison a few nights ago. The soldiers sent out a memo saying that the escaped half-breed was Gengar. So stay where I can see you, understand?”
“We will, we will,” we said together.
We rushed out of the door before she could give us another lecture about safety. Once we were finally outside on the grass, the wind blowing our hair wild and the fresh smell of the forest passed us, I called out to our pet. I cupped my hands around my mouth and shouted as loud as I could into the air.
Daeva stood behind me and we waited until we saw an orange and teal blip in the sky. We watched until we saw that blip get bigger and bigger and finally land in front of us, flapping her wings once. The blast of air from her caused me and Daeva to fall back on our asses, wide grins on our faces.
Our dragon stood before us in all of her eight foot ten glory. She was a Charizard. Her scales were orange and she had teal eyes. Her ears were horns that pointed out from the back of her head. Her wings looked like bat wings folded behind their back, minus the fact that they were orange and teal, instead of filmy, papery black. Her arms were rather short and each hand had only three claws, kind of like a Tyrannosaurus Rex. There were lighter, smaller, and smoother scales on her stomach that reached all the way to the end of her tail. On the very end of her tail there was a brilliant fire, strong and healthy, much better then how it looked when we rescued her.
Ambustio let out a roar and we giggled, standing up. We ran and jumped to hug our pet dragon’s stomach. Ambustio let out a sigh that almost sounded like a laugh and put her claws on our backs to keep us from falling back down.
“Can you take us flying today?” I asked, looking up at Ambustio.
“Yeah, yeah! Flying!” Daeva giggled. I was glad she looked so excited.
Ambustio was about to raise us up to sit on her back when a shrill laugh caught our attention. Ambustio turned toward the sound and leered. Daeva and I tried to crane our necks to see what was going on.
“This is so adorable!” came the voice that was laughing just before.
The source was hidden in the shadows of the trees. All I could make out were a pair of glowing red eyes and an ambiguous figure that could be female, judging by the voice.
“W-Who are you?” I tried to sound intimidating, but as a six year old who was scared shitless, the effect was lost.
The voice continued as if not even hearing a word that I said. “Who would have thought that I would find the perfect candidates here, in Kreiter of all places!”
“Candidates for what?” Daeva asked, her voice cracked and shaky.
“You’ll see, little one,” she said.
Finally the figure stepped out of the shadows and I got a good look at her. She looked rather young, maybe in her early twenties. Her hair was long and purple, curling around her like some sort of aura. Her eyes glowed red and her grin looked like it belonged on the Cheshire Cat. The only thing that came to mind was that she was the mix breed that escaped. Mom had told us that it was a Gengar and my blood ran cold.
I sneered. How dare a Gengar half-breed come to our home?! I was just about to call for mom when she Shadow snapped her fingers, smirking at us.
Black smoke started curling around Ambustio’s feet, making its way around us, engulfing us. Daeva screamed, a shrill blood curdling noise. Ambustio roared and tried flapping her wings to dissipate the smoke, but it failed. I saw mom run out of the house, a look of terror on her face, with a knife in her hand. Seeing Daeva scream and mom looking so terrified meant to me that I didn’t have the luxury of acting my own fear. Instead I tried to put on my best glare towards the Shadow until the smoke engulfed us completely. It was completely dark inside the column of smoke. I could feel Ambustio still holding us close to her stomach, trying to protect us. A strange scent filled my nose then I knew nothing for a time.
I awoke several times before falling back into nothingness and each time I heard shouting, screams, and a dragon’s roar. I thought the screams were Daeva’s but for some reason I just couldn’t be bothered to do anything.
The last and final time I woke up was to unbelievably excruciating pain, the likes of which I have never experienced again in my twenty-two years. My eyes flew open and a pure white light seared my retinas. I closed them again and opened once more, slowly this time. I tried to focus on something other than the pain, but I couldn’t. Everything I saw that day was stained red.
Everything hurt. My back, just under my shoulder blades felt like they were being stretched and pulled. I could feel a few of my molars elongate and sharpen, cutting into the flesh of my cheek. My ears felt like they were being pulled elsewhere and stretched. Below my shoulder blades, closer to the small of my back, if not slightly lower, it felt like I had taken some sort of potion to give me an extra limb. It felt like knives were poking out of my skin, but not cutting or slicing. It was almost like it was simply pulling it around after them. Distantly I could hear my screams of pain die down and roars take their place. I faintly wondered if the pain became too much for my voice and my screams turned silent.
My physical pain was nothing compared to the pain inside of my head. New, different emotions and feelings filled any and all empty space, and even more. A fierce protectiveness I’ve never experienced as a six-year-old. A Dragon’s Rage that burned through my very core. Bloodlust that scared me more than anything. New fear was mixed in with mine. Fear that I was going to die. Fear that I would never see my family again. Just as I thought my head and body were going to explode at any second and that death would take me, everything just…
The pain was gone as quickly as it came. I slumped forward onto the grass, the damp feeling of dew cooling my fevered skin. The new feelings were still there, but they weren’t as scary or overbearing. My breath came out ragged and my throat burned from screaming. I heard feet crunch on fallen leaves and dead grass as they approached me.
I had no energy to struggle when a hand reached down and sat me up on what felt like a soft long. It wasn’t the most comfortable and it weirdly hurt.
“Drink,” a wooden bowl was pushed into my hand, filled to the brim.
I took a drink automatically, letting the cold spring water coat and soothe my raw aching throat. When I lowered the bowl I stared at the clear liquid. I could see the reflection of the moon on the water and the visage of a strange girl. Her hair was the same style as mine, shoulder length with messy bangs, except it was orange. Her eyes were teal, too, and instead of ears she had dragon horns. She looked my age. Why was a random girl reflected in the water in my hands?
I blinked, the dragon mix the water blinked. Realization like thick gooey acid spread over my skin, burning me. I reached up my hand to touch where my ears should be and they were gone. I reached up and in the reflection of the water I saw my hands reach up and touch the dragon horns. They felt scaly and smooth, unnatural. I opened my mouth and looked at my teeth. My front ones looked normal, human, but the ones in the back were pointed and sharp. My eyes widened and the bowl of water fell through my hands and clanked on a rock. I craned my head to look behind me and I saw a pair of dragon wings folded neatly behind me. I looked down and saw that I was sitting not on a log but a tail with a fire at the end of it.
I looked around trying to see if Daeva or my mom were here. I couldn’t see them and I looked at the woman scared. “Where is my mom? Where’s Daeva?”
“Don’t worry about your mother, girl, she’s probably at home, calling the Kreiterian guard to try to find you,” the woman said. “As for your sister… well… let’s just say she’s not here. So why don’t you tell me what your name is?”
I looked at her confused. That question was absurd. The answer should have been obvious. I mean my name was clearly Ash. But… it didn’t come out that way.
“My name?” I asked incredulous.
“Yes. I want to know who I’m dealing with,” she said.
“They call me Darcia,” she replied easily. “Your turn.”
“I’m Am-As…” I paused, trying to gather my scattered thoughts. “Ash Ambustio,” I finally got out, one name directly followed by the second, like one was trying to come out before the other.
Darcia chuckled. “So both then, interesting,” She said. “After the first failed, I guess it’s a miracle I’m talking with anyone at all right now…” she muttered, thinking I couldn’t hear her.
“What do you mean the first failed?” I asked, my voice changing and the fierce protectiveness overcoming my emotions. I just barely noticed the faint red glow from the jewel in my chest turn to an opaque black.
Darcia’s eyes widened a fraction of an inch. “Check that. It seems like three. Regardless, Ash Ambustio, it’s time for you to sleep again,” She smiled like a Cheshire Cat again.
As her smile widened the same smoke from before curled around my body once again. I tried to scramble away from it, but it came too quickly for me to get away.
I started to panic and the smoke filled my nose and the sickly sweet scent started making it hard for me to grasp on the remaining threads of consciousness. The last thing I thought before the last string slipped through my fingers was that when I woke up, I was going to find and kill this Darcia for what she had done to me.
“After that I woke up with a tribe of Charizards who told me that they agreed to take care of me. But they later kicked me out when a bunch of unexplainable fires started and I had no recollection of them,” I explained and shrugged. “I spent years jumping from family to family until I could take care of myself. Every time I started to feel comfortable in a home, fires would start and I would be kicked out. So the second I was ready to start out on my own, I did. I just finished a job when I ended up here. So what sorrows are you trying to drown?”
“Stick around and maybe I’ll tell you some day,” Exomnis said, slurring his words worse than he was before.
“Why should I? I just met you,” I asked.
“I can stop the fires from happening. Besides, you look lonely,” he said and wiggled his eyebrows, taking a sip of his whiskey.
Exomnis and I both stared at each other for a long moment before snorting and started to laugh, spitting out our drinks in the process.
“I think I like you. Maybe I will,” I said. “As long as you promise you can stop the random fires.”
“You have my word.”
“Are you serious, Ash?” Exomnis shouted. “You had one job! One freaking job! This is why we can’t have nice things.”
“Oh come on! It’s not my fault!” I growled. “It just happened! You know this happens sometimes.”
“Well I thought holding a map would be perfectly ok, but I guess not.”
“What are we supposed to do now, then?” I crossed my arms.
“How the hell should I know? We have to find this artifact somehow or we won’t get paid,” Exomnis sighed, using his bow staff to test the ground as we made our way through a particularly swampy area of the forest.
I sighed and tried to think. There had to be some way… that’s it!
“I know what we can do!”
Exomnis looked at me, waiting to hear what sort of crazy idea I could have come up with. “What?”
“Well, we’re both fire types, yeah? Well, how about we burn the forest down completely! That way we can find what we’re looking for and not have to get lost on the way back,” I said, grinning at Exomnis. Getting on his nerves was my favorite pastime.
He smiled at me. “That is probably the absolute,” he started frowning now, “worst idea I have ever heard. We can’t go around burning down forests, Ash!”
I growled at him. “Well I don’t see you coming up with any ideas,” I said as my foot caught on something and I fell to the ground. “The hell?” I rolled to a sitting position and rubbed my head as I looked at what I tripped over.
“Ash? Are you ok?” Exomnis said and stood beside me, holding his hand out. I gratefully took it and stood up.
“Yeah, I’m fine. But…” I looked down and saw the rope. “I don’t think that trap was meant for me.”
“You’re right. It wasn’t.”
Exomnis and I turned toward the new voice and saw a man, about the same age as Exomnis. He was an Eevee mix.
“Who are you?” I asked and held out my hands, fire erupting in my palms. Next to me, Exomnis pointed his bow staff at the newcomer.
“I should be asking you that. You are in my campsite, but since I guess you asked first, I’ll tell you,” the kitsune man said. “My name is Dyrick Beal. And you are?”
“Ash,” I said. “Ash Ambustio. You may have heard of me. I’m a pretty big deal around these parts,” I said and motioned to Exomnis. “And this is my partner, Exomnis Ignis.”
“S’up,” Exomnis said.
“Put your weapons down. I’m not going to hurt you,” Dyrick said.
“Why should we believe you?” I snarled.
“I’m unarmed,” he replied simply.
I looked him up and down, frowning. He was right. He didn’t have any weapons, just a bunch of logs in his arms. I closed my hand, extinguishing the fire and put a hand on Exomnis’s bow staff as he lowered it. Seeing that we weren’t going to attack him, Dyrick walked over to a make shift fire pit and dropped the logs. He looked up at me.
“Mind helping me light these? Using flint is such a pain.” he asked.
I shrugged, seeing no reason to not help him. I took in a breath and then turned my head to the logs, and blew fire at them, lighting them instantly.
“Thanks,” he replied and sat down. Exomnis and I stayed standing.
“So what are you doing all the way out here?” I asked.
“I could be asking you the same thing.”
“We were looking for an artifact, but someone,” Exomnis glared at me, “burned our map.”
“Ah, so that was you I heard shouting,” he looked at us. “You can sit, you know.”
Exomnis and I exchanged a glance and shrugged. He sat down on the log and I, well, I was cold, so… I sat down in the fire. Dyrick looked at me like I was crazy and Exomnis just shrugged it off. He knew I slept in the fires when we went camping because of missions.
“You’re turn,” I said and looked at him.
“Are you… are you ok in there?” Dyrick asked.
“She does this all the time,” Exomnis answered for me. “Just answer the question.”
“I’m looking for a woman named Darcia,” Dyrick said.
My eyes widened. “What do you know about Darcia?”
“Not much except that she’s a Shadow half-breed and she murdered my entire village. Slaughtered my brother right in front of me.”
“What about you?” Exomnis asked. “I never heard of Darcia being the merciful type.”
“I don’t know. Maybe she thought I wasn’t worth it or something like that,” Dyrick said. “How do you know her?”
I frowned. “Long story. But I think we might be able to help each other out.”
I glared down at the woman I straddled, the dagger in my hand pressed firm against her throat. She didn’t look much different than she did twenty-two years ago. Maybe slightly older, but not much difference other than that she simply looked tired.
Her hair splayed out under her wasn’t controlled by her aura anymore; her skin was an ashen pallor. Her eyes, instead of the bright vibrant red, looked dull and almost brown, like the blood behind them had dried out.
I looked next to me out of the corner of my eye Dyrick, stood glaring down at Darcia. I turned my head and saw Exomnis. His expression was mixed, rage and concern combined, but he wasn’t about to stop me from what I had to do.
I looked back at Darcia and old memories rose from the graveyard that is my mind; all the colors of the rainbow and then some flowing passed my eyes. Red rage, green jealousy, orange fear, blue sadness, violet disgust, yellow happiness, white purity, and black despair. All the memories of the past twenty two years of my life flowed through me and filled me with a new determination.
I wasn’t going to kill her, not yet anyway. Not that I wasn’t afraid of her or incapable of killing, quite the opposite. I made my living as a mercenary, killing for hire. My wake was stained with the blood of my victims. This was no different. I just needed something from her first. Something only she might be able to do.
I took a deep breath. “Change me back,” I growled.
Darcia looked up at me and laughed. It wasn’t like a “Ha-ha you’re funny laugh.” It was more along the lines of hysterical laughing, the kind of laugh that someone knew they were going to die regardless of what they were about to say. I pressed the knife hard against her neck. She stopped.
“Even if I wanted to, I can’t,” she said finally.
“I can’t,” Darcia said. “Your soul mixed so completely with that of your Charizard that if I tried to separate the two of you now, you would die. Do you want that?”
I hesitated. Part of me did want to die. I was a monster. I was sub-human scum that would never be able to return to my family. My sister died because of me.
This woman killed my sister and I wasn’t going to die until I got my revenge. Not to mention that even if I said that I wanted to die, there are a few people who wouldn’t let me, who would pull me back even if I told them to stop and leave me alone.
My answer to her was a laugh and I pressed even harder on the blade. Darcia looked at me, puzzled.
“What’s so funny?”
“You just admitted to not being able to do the one thing that I was keeping you alive for,” I said and gave her a manic smile. “I just have one last question for you,” I asked darkly.
Darcia snorted and looked at me. “What?”
“That simple. You were convenient. You were right there in front of me with your little sister and your dragon practically asking me to change you.”
I glared down at her. “I never asked for this.”
I stood up off of her, taking the knife off of her neck and looked at Dyrick, dropping the knife into his open hand. A wordless conversation passed between us, him asking if this was ok with just a look and me nodding and stepping back to let him have his fun. He had more he wanted to avenge then I did. I stepped to the side and watched as Dyrick took the spot where I was. I heard Exomnis walk up and place a hand on my back, a simple gesture, but one I knew as his way of trying to comfort me. Spending time and fighting next to someone for six years was a good way of getting to know them and build trust.
Darcia didn’t scream when Dyrick took the knife to her skin. She didn’t scream when he sliced up her skin or took his time draining her of blood. It felt like days before he finally delivered the last slice to her neck, cutting the jugular and letting her bleed out faster, when in reality, it was only a few minutes. Everything just felt slower to me in that moment.
Dyrick finally stood up and looked at me, covered in blood and dropped the dagger into its sheath at his side. He regarded me and Exomnis solemnly. He opened his mouth to speak, but I shook my head and walked off.
I left the ruins where Darcia’s bloodless body laid on the ground, and walked to the shore of the island we had followed her to. I sat down on the sand and looked out at the sea. I was still a monster, living in a hell that I never asked for. I could never go home. I was stuck in exile from my home nation. My sister was still dead, but somehow I almost felt lighter.
I was stuck being a sell sword with the one person who stayed by my side no matter what. A companion that knew me better than anyone on this planet. I made so many new friends that accepted me even though I still couldn’t. I had a chance to start over and be happy, but there was always going to be this… feeling, that would make it hard and hold me back.
I stood up and walked a few yards away from the water before getting a running start and took off into the air, my wings working hard to keep me aloft. The wind blew through my hair and clothes as I flew circles around the island where my friends were still earth bound. I saw Exomnis and Dyrick walk out of the ruins and make their way to the shore. Dyrick looked around for me but Exomnis looked up and waved when he saw me circling in the air.
I was still a monster.
But at least it was finally over.