I stare into my closet.
My armor rests on its stand, gleaming in whatever light touches it. The symbol of my order rests on my chest, alone for my own lack of commendations or awards to accompany it.
My hoodie hangs from a hanger, and is as unassuming as a thing could be.
The former will mean I won't have as much work to do.
The latter would, admittedly, be warmer on my head. Autumn's hitting Min pretty hard these days.
It's not really a decision at all, is it? My duty is to keep people safe, not make people feel safe. I wrap the thick cloth around myself. I hadn't even really meant the question at all. I think I just wanted an excuse – any excuse to wear the armor again so that I wouldn't have to make this the same miserable slog as the last full moon.
And still the seal of the Reclaimers shines on my armor. Unused, it's remained as shiny and polished as it ever was. Proud as it wastes away in my closet. I close the door and I make my way from my apartment. The setting sun shines down on what will, in a month's time, by a snow-covered city. On other days I can see at least something pleasant about it. The buildings, or layout, or even simply the view of the ocean that one can glimpse at times, in the right places.
Tonight, though, I hate it here.
The alleys are probably the best place to work. The location both makes me look like I'm trying to avoid monsters, as well as keeps my reflexes sharp from how uncomfortable it makes me. Pieces of trash and scattered debris move in the sharp, cold winds that pass through those places, and more often than not I reach for my sword just to see the shimmer of light coming off of plastic, or the angular edges of boxes or bricks. I chastise myself in these cases, but the instinct to reach for a blade when something feels off was so thoroughly ingrained into my body during training that the relatively foreign concept of reaching for tracker darts never even crosses my mind until afterward. Reflex wins over thought whenever it has any desire to do so.
The first monster of the night was a werecat. It got close enough with the disguise of an alley cat to pounce, but not close enough to realize that it would be a bafflingly bad idea to do so. I can't really blame the thing. Patience is a virtue, and monsters are woefully lacking in virtues.
The second was a succubus. It was as boring and routine an encounter as any textbook could list. I'm forced to assume that at this part of autumn that their inappropriate dress has to be, if not physically painful, then at least terribly uncomfortable. It tried to seduce me, and when that failed it tried to override my will with magic. Free will – our free will – is just an annoyance to these things.
The third was something I forget. I think it was a tainted elf. I just remember it cracking a whip and then I fired the gun, said my spiel, and kept walking.
The twelfth one, not ten minutes ago, was somewhat similar. It bolted toward me, and I shot it, spoke, and left. I've stopped having to think about them to say the words. Muscle memory repeats them for me.
There's a slowness to my movements, in spite of the tension. Nerves will keep you sharp for a long while, but eventually all you're left with is fatigue. My muscles ache. Not the ones in my legs – they're fine – it's my ribs that are sore.
Movement catches my eye again, but it's only a cat. A hint of what might be a song reaches my ear, and I wonder if James is still advertising his presence in his section of town a block over. Occasionally I catch him singing along with one of the songs on the radio – the same ones that I despise. Apparently he finds them funny. Lucky bastard.
I turn down an alley for the umpteenth time during the night. It's not just any alley, either. I realize quickly that this is the one that I typically avoid, but failed to this time because my legs were taking me through my assigned area without my thinking about it. My feet slow as I consider turning around, but I think back on the five-or-so steps that I've already taken into it, and I decide against retracing them. I'm another five steps in as it strikes me that that sort of thinking doesn't actually make any sense. Exhaustion, it seems is starting to wear on my mind as well as my body.
I make it another three steps before I come to a complete stop. A shadow passes over the alley, and once again every muscle in my body is tensed.
I hear the sound of wind as something moves, and I draw my sword, turn, and swing downward in one motion.
And then I'm forced to the ground as a massive weight topples into me.
My right eye is blinded immediately.
My left eye sees why. The diagonal cut left only one eye on the thing, looking into my own. Blood runs freely down on me from the body lying on top. Long, white hair covers the remainder of my vision.
But right in front of me, I can see its face. It's still smiling.
Half of its head is missing, blood is pouring onto my face, and it's still smiling.
I push up, half-crawling and half-kicking away from the body, and then I see it. The massive, fur-covered hump beginning at the waist. One of the long, segmented lengths next to a pile of hair where the other half of its head fell.
It was a fucking arachne.
The blood pours out of the- head wound doesn't really say it. It pools, slowly following along the trail leading to me. I open my mouth to breathe – something that seems so much harder to do know – and I can taste the blood.
I want to vomit, but I don't.
I want to stand up, but I don't.
I should call the branch hall to notify them, but I don't.
I push back, getting further away from the body until my back hits something, and there in the corner of a garbage bin and the wall I pull my legs in and hold my knees to my chest. My sword is laying on the ground; I don't remember letting go of it. I take deep breaths, and I stare at it.
I'm not sure how long it took my to realize that my breaths weren't slowing down. They were just slowly becoming irregular. Catching. There'd be one long, shuddering one, and then they'd all come in brief, painful bursts. I reach up to the side of my face that wasn't drenched in blood, and, wiping my cheek, there I see it. A drop of water.
I cry until my mouth is parched, and then try again to call someone, or to stand up, or to reach for me sword. I don't manage any of them. Instead I just sit there, alone with that arachne, until the first hint of color begins to taint the sky.
The pale blue is followed by red, which seems to slowly pool upward, filling the distant sky.