The desolate streets led way to light steps so fervently rushing forward, complemented by panting of equal intensity. Far behind however, following the exact same path arrived another series of steps, heavier and ever numerous contrary to the first; an earthquake, almost, contrasting against the human’s sprint by the sheer weight and force of the Ushi-Oni relentlessly giving chase.
Turn of the street, sliding as he so abruptly changed directions, and still the Ushi followed at an ever closing distance. He panted with ever greater vigour, throat drying as he covered more and more distance, turning corner after corner just to find the Ushi never losing track of him. His heart would soon give in, beating with intensity enough to almost break out of his chest. His lungs felt on fire, his legs numb, skin damp of sweat building up, knowing all too well that his stamina would soon fail him.
The lone voice afar caught his attention just as he turned yet another corner, seeing from a window up high a woman extending her hand. A face sparking a sense of familiarity, as little as it was, but all his thoughts remained on escape. Almost by instinct alone he took one last effort, gathering speed and jumping up as high as he could, extending his own hand to just barely catch hers. Climbing onto the wall while pulled up, he crossed the window for both to fall sitting. Without bothering to stand up, the two planted their backs against the wall, silent and immobile waiting for the beast to pass.
The walls vibrated as it approached, heavy footsteps unmistakable. It got closer and closer, slowing down from a sprint to a mere walk, till just by the window it stopped. The man and the woman left their eyes wide open in fear, hiding behind the window’s wall with the absolute paranoia of their hearts perhaps beating loud enough for the spider to hear, but soon enough the vibrations began anew, their chaser slowly marching away before resuming its run. Once neither could hear its reckless advance, the man let out a sigh in relief, leaving his muscles to rest as he lay his head against the wall.
“Have we met before?” He asked.
“Once, though for hardly more than chit-chat.” She answered, bringing herself just high enough to peek over the window’s frame. “I don’t think I even presented myself back then. Name’s Shanon.”
“Kevin. Why are you helping me? Everyone’s running away from that thing.”
“I’m wondering the same thing. That thing’s gonna want my head for this.”
At that moment she rose up, standing straight to look out the window fully with her head out, just to see nothing before marching further in. A strangely calm demeanor, he noticed, despite what had been chasing after them.
“Thinking of something?” He asked, bringing himself up only for his legs to shake partly, too exhausted to do much.
“No plan? Nothing?”
“That thing will probably chase you to the end of time.” She answered, back turned to him as she stepped out the window and marched down the stair connecting to the walkway they had been sitting on. “You’re the type of guy an Ushi picks from a crowd, after all.”
A jeer escaped him, unsure whether to take it as compliment or insult. Looking aside as he followed behind her, however, he came to see the interior of the building he found himself in. A warehouse, sizable yet desolate, spacious yet empty. Other than the gigantic empty space at the middle of the four walls, just a pair of walkways led to any semblance of second floor high up through ugly, mundane stairs on each end.
“Maybe The Order had a point.” He muttered. However, at that moment the girl in front halted, soon to turn around and gaze upon him with an expressionless look. “What?”
“You don’t sound like you were confident about it before now.”
“They almost try to make it as unbelievable as they can.”
“Thought monsters might’ve been good? A few of them, at least?”
Rather than an answer, he paused in thought momentarily before his eyes turned aside, almost in melancholy.
“No.” He said. “Hardly anything good ever happens around here. Figured that monsters being good would be asking for a little too much, at least till that thing showed up.”
“You look sorrowful about it.”
Yet another pause ensued, still with eyes aimlessly wandering about with thought after thought entering his mind. Then, a minuscule exhalation through his nose followed, to then give a quick glimpse to his surroundings.
“What are we gonna do, then? It’ll find us here, eventually.”
“That, it will.” She answered. “Must be looking after your scent. It’ll take an army to get rid of that spider, unless…”
Though she raised her hand to her mouth, she said not a word thereafter.
“Unless…?” He asked.
Though she opened her mouth to speak, words did not come out. Rather, her eyes shot wide open as did his, both picking up a noise all too familiar. Vibrations afar, a series of impacts against the ground in quick succession drawing closer.
“…Back door!” She exclaimed as quick as her mouth allowed, running past him towards the back of the warehouse, just to halt a few steps afterwards and see the hangar-like doors locked shut. Little they could do at the sight, both staring heartbroken and hopeless as the stampede of pounding steps approached, already close enough to feel the vibrations with eerie clarity.
Almost by instinct alone, as if taken over by an overwhelming sense of morbid curiosity, the two turned around to face the front of the warehouse. True to its proximity, whatever had not been bolted down to the ground shook with greater intensity. The door suffered a piercing blow, sending afar great part of its wooden structure as the arm of the Ushi punched through. Her other arm followed suit elsewhere, till both arms gripped tighter and tore the door open in its entirety.
Without delay the Ushi-Oni charged forward, relentless and uncaring, locking eyes with the boy as he and the girl stepped back near-catatonic. Too big to escape from, or even dodge by throwing oneself aside.
Gritting her teeth and seeing unavoidable doom approaching, she saw no options available to her. No luxuries of escape much like the one she aided the boy with. At least, as she currently was.
No other choice.
With a mutter under her breath, she clenched her fist and let a spectral flame take hold from within, flames visible from between her fingers in under a second. There she threw it forward against the Ushi, catching her by surprising and hitting her square in the face with the icy-colored flaming projectile, leaving her to shout in pain as she halted and attempted to put out the flame. Blink of an eye later Shanon sprung her wings from her waist, taking speed in a dash and tackling the now petrified man and taking him with her, maneuvering around the spider at breakneck-speed and escaping the warehouse through the ruined front.
Outside she put him down, to then quickly scan the scenery around her.
“I know what you’re thinking, but this is neither the time nor the place.” She said, to then lock her eyes onto a building in particular. “Catch up, before that thing starts following again.”
A pained sigh escaped him, finding himself needing to run again as the abhuman set off. The Ushi’s noises served enough as motivation, getting him to run once more behind Shanon despite his almost numb legs.
Didn’t take long before he found where she headed to. A library, abandoned in its entirety as were the surroundings, door left wide open by its former visitors.
“Paper! Quill!” She cried, immediately reaching for whatever desk or bookcase she found and throwing all aside in her search, courtesy be damned. “Doesn’t even have to be a quill! Paper needs to be blank!”
Little reason not to aid, and big enough reason out there to do so. Another desk remained on the other side, and upon reaching it he saw ink and quill. Not in its best conditions, however, with the bottle on the ground shattered, ink forming into a small pool, and the quill drenched in its entirety into a fine mess.
“Shanon! Qu-” He shouted, only for the rumbling to interrupt him. Obvious who it was. “Quill!”
“Yes!” She exclaimed, tearing apart a page from a book and then running towards him, to then throw herself against the floor and grab the quill. Too little time to carefuly crouch and not smear her hand; uncaring of her hygienic condition, she swung her quill-holding hand, whipping away most of what dripped and almost splattering him with the black filth, before she wrote a word on the paper. “Stay here, hide!” She then shouted, standing up and rushing towards the front door, leaving no clue as to her plan to the one left behind.
But as she arrived past the door, the sight of the spider shocked her in her entirety. Its raging expression, frown in anger towards her rather than lust towards the one she once chased, sent a shiver down her spine overwhelming enough to make her stop with panic enough to leave her tripping and sitting on the ground. Gasping in absolute fear she crawled back, with the Ushi-Oni’s slow yet titanically long steps following in kind back towards the library’s interior. Once the spider arrived to the door, she broke the sides to leave space for her monstruous size to enter, tearing apart splinter and brick alike with painful ease.
The voice seemed to pierce right into her soul, a ghastly tone emphasizing its potential threat against her life. The terror in her eyes turned undeniable, as wide open as they could be and with silent gasps escaping her mouth through such erratic, uncontrollable breathing bordering on hyperventilation. But words did not come out of her. Whether it was her last drop of courage keeping her from answering, or the absolute fear leaving her speechless, she’d never know. Swallowing her fear and regaining what little focus she could, she threw another projectile of spectral flame towards her, only for the spider to swat it away with no ill effect, dissipating it into nothingness.
However, she came to realize that she still held her last resort at combating the beast: the paper. Whether it’d work or not was beyond her, but she’d need to drag her outside. Still crawling back, she snapped her head left and right looking for an escape route, to find one far behind her. A window. Closed, leaving a painful thought in her mind.
Taking one deep breath, she mustered all willpower remaining and stood up dashing back. The Ushi-Oni noticed, beginning chase with a deafening cacophony of her steps against the library’s tiled floors, a noise turning her courageous run into a mad frightened sprint, escaping as quick as her legs allowed with the aid of her wings. Close enough, she jumped, throwing herself against the window and shattering the glass and miniature wooden frames, a painful endeavor yet successful nonetheless. Landing on the ground lucky enough not to embed herself with the numerous glass shards now lying about, she stood up and turned to the window, stepping back as she saw the spider approaching.
Much like the door of the library, she easily tore through the wall itself to give way for her massive body. Fragments of wood and brick flew about, making her cover herself with her arms, till all subsided and the spider slowly approached once more.
A tear had snuck out of Shanon’s eyes, dread infinite past her earlier expectations. Perhaps she had believed a minuscule chance to exist, but now it turned clear how impossible it’d be to get close to an Ushi-Oni. Through the front, no less. A mastodon in strength and size, towering over her with gargantuan arms the thickness of the beholder’s torso, muscular form showing in her bare abdominals.
She fucked up.
Her earlier attack in the warehouse had burnt the Ushi’s seal over her eyes. No wonder she now remained as furious as she was against she who stood between her and her target. At least, maybe Kevin had found the opportunity to run away. A little victory for him, even if temporary.
But as the spider took another step forward, a projectile flew against her and struck her head from behind. Turning furious, the Ushi then saw the culprit, as did Shanon.
Kevin, who though once courageous, succumbed to the gaze of the monster and stood petrified in place, dropping the next book he had attempted to throw. Same eyes as Shanon had once before, like those of a deer caught in headlights.
A distraction, Shanon realized. Couldn’t let it go to waste. Gulping down the idea of it resembling suicide, she grit her teeth and jumped forward with the aid of her wings, letting out a primal cry resulting a mixture of suicidal courage and undeniable terror. The spider couldn’t turn her head quick enough to check for the noise, before the succubus struck against her head and grabbed to her hair in a wrestling attempt to get in position, paper in hand. Furious shouts from both ensued, Ushi erratically moving herself about to throw her off as Shanon held on to dear life. Shanon then licked the paper’s back and slapped it onto where the seal once was. Then, the Ushi’s fist found an opportunity as Shanon swung to the side, hitting her in the belly.
Too great a blow. All went numb in her mind, and her body. Her once so terrified and courageous expression died, reduced instead to wide open eyes with her spit escaping her mouth, just as the strike sent her flying aside. If her mind could think properly, her first thought would’ve been to count how many ribs it must’ve broken. Soon she struck the wall of a building, to then fall down to the ground sitting, unable to move a muscle no more.
The fury in the spider’s singular word served enough to keep Shanon conscious, using the last of her strength to raise her head. Though fading vision, she saw her: The Ushi-Oni, ignoring Kevin to march towards her instead. What anger must’ve flowed through her, to ignore that which she had chased now. But, over the spider’s eye where the seal once was, the paper rested firmly in place. A smirk escaped Shanon, knowing her attempt to be successful at least. No elegant sigils and runes lied upon it, no paragraphs upon paragraphs of incantations or ritual, but instead a single word.
Noises. Rumbling. Afar, growing closer. The spider turned silent and immobile, eyes turning from anger to wonder.
In the blink of an eye, it arrived. A trebuchet, drifting to a halt in the very street they found themselves in.
“Deus in regnium!”
A man in great armor dropped on the Ushi-Oni, longsword in hand. At the same time numerous other men in armor dropped from the trebuchet to surround the spider as it swatted the one on top away. Yet none knew fear nor doubt, almost suicidally jumping on her through strength of numbers without success, yet without respite. Those punched away with strength similar to what Shanon had received merely stood up once more to jump back into the fray, giving out shouts in a language alien to both Shanon and Kevin.
Two more trebuchets drifted in, engine noises and warcries forming a cacophony deafening, knights gaining numbers each passing second. A swarm upon the spider, unable to cope with the onslaught, soon forcing her to withdraw. Through the masses of knights she carved a path, swatting all away as she made way to anywhere but here, throwing off those that still clinged to her back and finally making a mad run for liberty. Relentless and merciless, the knights climbed back onto their trebuchets, engine noises revving up once more as they took full speed ahead in chase for the monster, leaving as quick as they arrived.
Little by little Kevin stepped out of the library, hardly believing the threat to be gone, yet soon enough his eyes found Shanon once more. Stepping up to her and standing in front, Kevin could only stare at her on the ground; holding her belly smeared with her hand’s ink, a little trail of blood coming out of her mouth and temple, staring with half-closed eyes to the boy in front of him. As weak as she was, she could not hide the inhuman traits from him any longer through any magical deceit: horns, wings, and tail ending in a spade.
“Succubus…” He could only say.
A melancholic chuckle escaped her. “Would’ve wished it didn’t happen like this.”
“Why were you hiding it?” He asked, but received no response in return. “Why would you lie to me?”
“Would you really believe me if I told you?”
He took a deep breath in silence, and soon he looked aside, as if searching for his own thoughts. “…No.” He answered, returning his eyes to her. “You wanted me to believe you were a human. Can I really trust what you’ll say?”
“Then perhaps you can trust what I’ve done.”
“You saved me from that Ushi. I’m thankful, but for all I know… it might as well have been you just making sure that monster didn’t get me before you did. You’re a monster too, after all.”
“My heart has space alone for one man, and it’s not you.”
“This wasn’t even for your sake? For whose, then?”
He found no words to reply with, leaving the breeze to reign as ambient noise. Blinking blankly in place, unknowing what to think, he gazed down before deciding to walk forward and sit down next to her, both now looking at the library’s destruction.
“Claire is a succubus, too?” He asked.
“That, she is. Can’t hide it from you. You’d have put it together after remembering how I told you I was her friend.”
Sighing in exasperation, he let his head rest against the wall as his eyes closed.
“It’s been months. Why has she been lying to me for so long? Pretending to be human, trying to get close to me, why?”
“She wanted it to be gradual.” She answered, pained voice through not just her physical state, but so too her difficulty in letting it out. “She knew being upfront about it with a guy like you would’ve only invited disaster. She needed to be slow and methodical and reveal it eventually. Just… not like this. She wanted it to be perfect, with no lies at the end. She had been seeing you for months after all, taking her time not to commit any mistake no matter how long it took. Girl had a lot of discipline to last this long.”
A pause. Thoughts left in too much disarray, condemning him to take his time in processing it all.
“Why would you risk your life for something like this?” He then asked.
But she did not answer. Rather, she brought her head to scan the scenery, and soon enough she pointed to a building. A bar, he found out, left wide open and abandoned after the beast’s havoc.
“You’ll need to find me a drink if you want to get that out of me.”
“Will drinking as you are make things worse?”
“Hey,” she snickered, “either I’m fine or you’ll have to respect my last wish.”
She followed with her eyes as he stood up and walked off, all till he disappeared from sight as he entered the building. Alone with her thoughts now, she couldn’t help but remember so long ago. She raised her gaze to the sky, narrowing her eyes over the blinding sun up high, seeing it a cloudless day just like back then. Though silence reigned, she could almost hear the violent flapping of wings again. A memory she’d wish gone.
Snapping out of her daydreaming, she found Kevin extending a bottle to her. Uncaring to smear its exterior in ink, she grabbed it with her blackened hand and took a sip, soon to chug down without rest till it remained half empty, gasping in relief.
“I saw something in you.” She said, just as he sat next to her once more. “Reminded me of awful things.”
“What is it?”
“I used to be the same as my friend. Chased after a boy. Took it slow and methodical. Was getting closer to the point I’d finally reveal myself to be a succubus and ask to stay with him forevermore.”
“The last I saw of him was getting snatched by a dragon.”
No reply from him, leaving her to chug down further on her bottle.
“Claire would’ve not even had the awful luxury of seeing you getting snatched by that Ushi-Oni… or maybe life was taunting me by making me witness the same situation again. I guess I should be thankful that I stopped it.”
“It nearly costed your life.”
“Sometimes, we have something in our hearts we value more than our lives. To live with the alternative… wouldn’t really be called living, at least for me.”
Then, another chug. Much to her misfortune, she found the last drop falling to her mouth, signalling the bottle empty before she lowered it to the ground.
“What do you think of Claire?” She asked. “Now that you know she’s a monster like me. Like that Ushi-Oni. Out to get you.”
A deep breath followed, giving away his lack of answer. “I don’t know what to think anymore.” He said, only to get a chuckle out of Shanon.
“Say, can you do me a favor?”
“Least I can do.”
“Next time you see Claire, pretend this never happened. Pretend you didn’t find out I’m a succubus, and pretend I never told you she was one. You still believe her to be human. A flaw this big in her plans would break the poor thing’s heart.”
“Fine.” He sighed. “Why does she go through that much effort and risk what could’ve happened today? It’s not like I’d be able to do anything if she just jumped on me.”
“Because she wants the two of you to have the happiest time of your lives, should it come to fruition. She’s not the only one wanting a smile from ear to ear.”
No response, but rather a certain warmth had taken hold within him.
“Kevin!” Called a girl’s voice, making him stop his stroll and turned to see. Claire, he found, walking up to him with a smile on his face. “You’re alright, thank goodness.”
“I heard about an Ushi-Oni going around close to where you live. I got worried.”
“Ah. Yes, I guess I’m lucky it didn’t see me. Can’t help but wonder if that’s the type of monster The Order talked about, though.”
“They’re one of the most dangerous ones, are they not? I wonder if there are good ones out there, more peaceful…”
“Who knows. Dwelling on it won’t do any good anyways. But… it made me think a little, what happened.”
“Oh? What is it?”
Much to her absolute surprise, he grew a smile and extended his hand to ruffle her hair. Petrified shock then grew to a flustered blush.
“Knowing those things lurk out there, it made me realize that you’ve been better company than I could ask for.”
“E-Eh?” She asked, tripping on her own thoughts with no idea on how to react.
“Are you free? We should go out sometime.”
Little could she do to hide her nervousness and surprise, though still she gave it her all to keep composure.
Though unreactive upon his answer and his hand outstretched, her blushing never ceased. Emotions flooded her, threatening to explode in giggling and squealing with a smile from ear to ear, though with all her strength she only contained herself to a great grinning smile, almost jumping to hold his hand. Without a word to add from both, they set off together.
Their steps grew distant to the one listening from an alley, hearing the pair walking next to each other till all fell silent to her. With a bottle on the ground next to her, Shanon sat against the wall. No longer hearing them, she brought her hand to her clothes and took out a rolled paper. A picture of a boy from long ago, staring at it intently before growing a smile and tucking it back into her outfit. With a minuscule sigh she stood up, picking the bottle and chugging down before leaving it empty where it once was.
Knowing Claire to be happy, Shanon marched away.