The five-tiered substructure was cast in a different umbra than whence his quartet first arrived. Were he afforded the leeway to simply look up, he’d witness the interesting, wispy lines of the dark grey and white cloud slightly obscuring the bright halo illuminating the vast atrium. The air was thick with the sharp smell of black smoke. The warm and bitter scent pricked his olfactory everywhere he traveled throughout the chamber.
And, in the last ten minutes, Rudo had done plenty of traveling.
Dodging. Ducking. Dipping. Diving for his life.
She was faster than he first thought. She was so agile, in fact, that he was forced to remove his distinct, pitch-tinted sunglasses and place them in the pocket of his leather jacket. Rudo only wished they were as significant a handicap as he pretended; both eyes were locked in a motionless beam that wouldn’t veer from her slim figure for moment.
Despite the vigilance of the rest of his expression, he knew they were both aware that him losing sight of her for even a second meant certain doom.
A battle raged in the back of his mind, as one-sided as it ever was, between his overflowing hubris and the modicum of doubt lingering there. Every so often, where he could afford to in the heat of battle, he found himself perusing through thirty-three years’ worth of conflict – street brawls, shootouts, and other close calls – attempting to find a moment where death seemed so close at hand.
Shifting one foot slowly behind him, Rudo began backpedaling along a curved path toward the large doorway. His opponent remained where she was, her unoccupied hand hovering over her activated Seele Schneider. Moving his bright amber irises up and down her form, he analyzed the current of spiritual particles circling the ethereal blade at impossible speeds.
She was waiting for him to make the move.
Rudo stopped his careful trot angled on her weak side, closer to her open hand, yet still a safe distance away. His new perspective placed the right side of the chamber beyond the pillar in the background now, where Julia was knelt in front of her cousin.
Her fierce gaze made a continuous series of beelines between the hostiles dotting the chamber floor and those on high. Volker’s forehead was beaded with perspiration. Sitting up against the cold silver wall there, his pronounced canines quietly gurgled saliva each time his labored breaths hissed through his teeth.
One bloody hand held a tight pressure on the seared hole in his right side. The other was rested on the ground, surrounded by flickering motes of light as he strained to gather spiritual energy once more to it.
His ocean blue eyes struggled to stay open. Both were trained on the perforated corpse off to his right. He wasn’t sure if they had tried him because of his critical state or if they misjudged his impetuousness for impotence. Neither was his cousin nor Rudo.
Regardless, that was their lone attempt.
They had by then shifted their focus on Remy, the long-legged vixen cornered on the far side of the chamber. Rudo didn’t bother to look over his opponent’s shoulder to her. He knew she could handle them.
“They’ll all be dead in a moment,” she declared, breaking the deaf silence filling the battlefield.
Rudo stood taller, leering at the woman now.
“Them I mean,” she clarified, nodding toward the men garbed in white surrounding his partner. “They don’t stand a chance against her.”
The slight change in his expression echoed confusion. Slipping a pinky into the square pommel of the flat sword, she began spinning it with an infuriating ease about her, taking one step forward. “Then again, eliminating her was never their purpose.”
As his anger boiled, his focus waned ever so slightly. Then she pounced.
In the blink of an eye, the mercenary was at his right flank, her blade sweeping toward his throat. Rudo had by then trained himself to react solely to his sense of fight-or-flight, not bothering to move his head to her as he retreated with a graceless dive away. Stumbling sideways, his head snapped up to find her with haste.
Her steel-toed boot swung down in the corner of his eye. Bringing Gedicht Grimm up to shield, he managed to absorb and shed the force of the kick, the black energy of the bow face recoiling.
Rebounding, Rudo threw his arm out and up as she somersaulted away from the thrust. Not wasting a moment, his opposite hand slammed into his bow, heaving the drawstring back as the bow window bloomed with dark energy. A volley of arrows flickering like bolts of lightning screamed toward the merc.
As soon as her boot contacted the sleek silver wall, they detonated. The trio of explosions was deafening inside the chamber. Three harsh thuds shot through the laces of his boots up to his knees. Fire and silence followed as the building plumes of black smoke crawled toward him.
Squinting through the arid smog, Rudo contracted every muscle in his body, standing absolutely still. That wasn’t it.
He was beyond doubting her speed at this point. Only a smoldering carcass would suffice to calm his nerves. Retracing his steps, he realized she was pushing him closer to her allies. Beams of energy cutting through the air could be heard where Remy was.
His offhand slipped smoothly into his breast pocket as he perused his spiritual sense.
“You done with this hide-and-seek bullshit?” Rudo spoke aloud, casting his lure.
He could see her cheeky smirk in his head, but silence reigned for a few moments longer.
“Why not humor me for a little longer, Charles…?”
To his left, a cloudy streak of blue twisted into view. He turned just as it bolted toward him seemingly with a life of its own, its wielder still cast in black fog.
Rudo withdrew from the ash cloud, leaping backward. In one smooth motion, he removed his hand from his coat, tossing two silver tubes into the smoke.
The merc burst through the cloud, slipping past the thrown Gintou.
“You’ve only got–”
There was a muffled boom to her right. Both eardrums popped as an invisible wave of energy enveloped her in midair, sending the merc flying. Whirling uncontrolled for several meters, she tightened her abdomen and threw both arms to one side before collapsing her limbs inward and rolling midair.
As she emerged from her graceful rebound, shock overcame her and both eyes widened to their extents. Cocked back on one foot, there Rudo was, his fist balled so tightly that the fingernails curled in his palm. And there would be no avoiding it.
All four knuckles smashed right into her nose and mouth. The combined sound of bones violently colliding and the cartilage in her nose snapping shot across the silvery battleground.
All eyes were drawn to the vicious blow. Julia looked on with wide eyes as the merc barreled backwards. Volker gave a tired but wide smile. The four remaining assailants circling Remy winced at the strike, seeing their ringleader tumble into the pillar. The vixen didn’t hesitate to take advantage.
Raising her bow and drawing back all at once, Remy fired an arrow directly into one of her challengers’ center mass. Spearing through his gut and vertebrae, he collapsed to the floor like a rag doll. Spinning back toward Remy, the remaining three trained their own bows directly on her bulbous afro. Poised to let loose, the trio simultaneously twitched awkwardly to the side.
“Rudo!” Remy shouted before bounding high into the air.
Their resistance lasted for a matter of seconds before they were swept away by a force akin to a violent rip current sweeping them into the deep. Grown men hurled like fastballs all toward one finite locality was a gruesome sight, not helped at all by the horrific sound of it.
Rudo arced overhead the pile of bodies, his bow imbued with brutal energy and intent. Those cold, amber orbs were the last thing they saw before Gedicht Grimm was unleashed. A single, pitch-black projectile launched from the pitch-black string, replacing Remy’s charged arrow as it disintegrated. One of the men’s agonizing screams was eclipsed by the thunderous boom that followed.
Just as quickly as both feet touched down, he caught the quiet friction of numerous bolts spearing through the air toward him from on high. His head snapped up, eyes dancing through the shower of arrows closing in. Rudo threw his hands up haphazardly to shield himself. Outside his peripheral, an overwhelming barrage of bolts cancelled out a portion of the massive ambush attack.
Despite Remy and Julia’s efforts, a few slipped through; across the shoulder, near his jacket’s hem, and one grazing the outer thigh. Rudo gritted his teeth through the slicing pain.
A second wave of hostiles descended from the lower mezzanine, four bows charged.
“Move!” Rudo hollered.
Motes of blue light bloomed on the dark grey grade just inside of her line of sight. Instinctually diving away from the glow, Remy leveled Mystik upward and simultaneously drew back. Sliding on her back against the silvery floor, she locked on all four targets.
Seemingly a misfire, the single scarlet missile flew in between all four marks. Stopping in midair, the arrow bloomed with light before splitting into dozens of smaller segments. Each assailant was peppered with several precise shots which disintegrated into flecks behind them like scattering pedals, adding dark beauty to the lifeless corpses falling in the air.
The last of the merc’s associates hit the ground with nasty thuds and cracks. Silence followed as Rudo smirked at his adjutant’s lethal efficiency. Turning, the rarely witnessed mirth in the executive’s expression was replaced with disbelief. And, soon after, anger.
“’The fuck’d she go?” Rudo hollered.
The snap was directed at Julia, who shrugged in confusion. Then, suddenly.
“We’ll meet again, junior.”
The voice echoed throughout the chamber with no discernment origin. The three of them still on their feet tensed up, eyes shifting and ears fully opened. Every muscle fiber contracted all the way down to his toes. He’d lost sight of her, anticipating the death blow despite her farewell.
“Maybe we’ll get a real one-on-one next time around.”
Rudo gritted his teeth.
Volker chuckled to himself before losing consciousness, muttering something indecipherable yet undoubtedly smug.
The main entryway was still closed shut. Rudo looked up into the atrium and glowered. Just as he was ready to give chase, his better half waved him off.
“Don’t bother,” Remy advised, shaking her head and sighing. “We don’t know who or what the fuck is up there, and she’s not gonna give us the answers we want. You know her type.” She held up her gloved finger, smirking and adding, "But the fact that she was here buying him time means we're not far off. We're getting close."
“Fuck her, where is he now?” Julia retorted, beginning to dress her cousin’s wound. “We didn’t come here for that little dyke bitch anyways.” She examined the bodies strewn across the battlefield. “Who are these assholes?”
“Bums,” Remy answered, swiping her hand to the side, releasing Mystik. “A bunch of bums. Whether they’re with her or Charles is the real question.” Setting her hands on her broad hips, she looked to her boss. “Could make this more of a bitch than we anticipated, Charlie.”
Rudo looked down on Gedichte Grimm, oscillating with ample energy still waiting to be unleashed and nothing to sate it. Opening his palm, the bow burst into specks transitioning from black to blue before fading away. His muscles relaxed, and his mortality seemed to close in around his skin once more.
He looked over to Volker, that infuriating grin still there on his face.
“Get his bitch ass in the van. We’re done here.”