Thirteen black-clad figures rushed through the night, a regular occurrence for them and their organization. But more strangely for them was the number. There hadn’t been this many on the same mission in many years. There were only fifteen members at any one time, and that was the way it had been for as long as any of them could remember, and longer besides. But even so, it had been this collection of warriors that had been largely responsible for the continuation of life. They had been hunting demons and other creatures for as long as even the oldest being could remember. This particular generation was made up of several species, a mixture of humans, vampires, lycans, and phantoms. This particular mission was one of the most important ever, hence the number of participants. They were being led by one of the most powerful warriors to ever be sworn into the organization, one Xadian Night-Shade.
They had been chasing the thing for thirty miles. It was a particularly powerful Ancient, by the name of Malek. A strange creature, it had been silent for several millennia, almost since it was created. But that did nothing to diminish its abilities, such as being able to speed across the land at the speed of thought. This was one reason they were having such trouble catching it. The creature had suddenly gone on a rampage a few nights ago, which was why they were after it in the first place. It had killed mercilessly, causing the deaths of thousands in a few short hours. Then it had gone silent again. But they were after it none the less, to make sure it never happened again. They had been approaching it when it caught their scent, then it turned tail and ran. They had chased, moving with a speed and coordination that few could even hope to attain, scouts moving ahead of the rest, clearing obstacles and reporting the beast’s whereabouts. They finally picked up a good trail, one of the lycans catching the scent. They sent back a messenger and at about the same time came to a clearing in the forest they were traveling in. They melted into the shadows among the trees. They watched as the beast paced around the center. It was an ugly creature, four legs supporting a thick torso, sprouting from which were two arms. On top of it all was a head, shaped like a wolf’s, with an elongated snout. It had four eyes clustered above the snout which looked unsettlingly like those of a spider’s, nothing but black orbs, shining with intelligence. And sitting on it all, a set of humongous horns, with tips sharp as blades.
“Have you ever noticed they all have horns?” One of the scouts remarked. As he said this the rest of the soldiers arrived. The leader, Xadian, silenced the scout with a glance that would have sent Malek running. He gave a hand signal and they all drew their weapons, which differed as much as the owners did. No guns, for their greatest weapon was not a blade, but silence. They walked into the clearing, silent as the dead. Not that it made much difference. Malek was upon them in an instant.
They were best warriors in the world, and they showed it. Malek charged at them like a bull. Two of the warriors he was after rolled out of the way, a third vanished, and the fourth simply jumped as Malek ran underneath him. The warrior that had vanished reappeared with his sword already plunging towards Malek’s stomach. The blow connected, his sword stabbing deep, and Malek roared and the warrior vanished again as Malek’s fist slammed into the ground where he was standing. The rest were watching this with a detachedness that comes from surviving countless battles, wondering why so many of them had been sent. But Malek soon showed why, as with a complicated hand gesture the air in the clearing shimmered and burst into flame. Smoke was sent into the air as the grass caught fire and the leaves on the trees shriveled. The only areas unaffected by the heat were where the warriors were standing, where the air was crisp and cool, and the grass wasn’t even smoldering. The fire shrank and went out as Malek realized that it wouldn’t be that easy with this band of warriors. As the flame dropped so did the shields protecting them. In all this none of them had made a sound, silent as the grave. Xadian stepped forward, swinging his sword playfully. It was an amazing blade, with shadows dancing up and down the length so that it was more darkness than blade. But it gleamed none the less, the shadows surrounding the clearing leaping to and fro as it did so. With every step he took, the rest of the warriors moved as well, so synchronized that it was as though they were of one mind. Suddenly, with a particularly large flourish of his sword, Xadian leaped to the attack, the rest of them following.
They moved so quickly that all could be seen was their shadows, seeming to fly through the air. In an instant Malek seemed to be covered in shadows and gleaming blades flew through the air around him. This lasted barely a second before, as though from a signal, they all leapt away from the beast. Their blades had struck home, but Malek seemed unhurt, only madder. The only blow that seemed to have done anything was one of Xadian’s, but even this seemed barely a pin prick. Malek made another gesture and the clearing burst into flame again. Again, nothing happened to the warriors, whose shields protected them. But Malek held his hands high and a ten foot sword appeared in them. This he spun through the air in a display even Xadian had to admire. He ran through the clearing, despite it being in flames. He wielded the sword two handed, swinging in his hopes to hit something. But the smaller warriors ducked or, for the more powerful of them, parried before jumping away, their shields moving with them. But Xadian decided to end this, and called his team to his side with a hand gesture. A concerted effort and the flames that still surrounded them shivered and flew through the air to land on Malek, who started writhing before forcing the flames away from him. He swayed, unsteady, and tried to cast a spell. But his magic failed for a second. Which was all it took for the team of warriors to swarm him. They covered him as the air was churned by their blades. They spun and stabbed, their movements quick as the moonlight. This time they seemed to do more damage, and blood streamed from a dozen of Malek’s wounds. Again they spent barely a second before leaping away. Malek seemed stunned and they took advantage and surged forward in a wave of shadow. But as they were doing this, Xadian and his second-in-command, Xeras, noticed something the rest missed: Malek’s hand moving a complex gesture. The two barely had time to raise their shields before Malek completed the movement and the air around him exploded just as the shadows reached him. The explosion blew through the clearing and into the forest beyond, carrying the two and slamming them into the trees. Xadian fell to the ground and watched, while the world darkened, as his comrade’s bodies fell to the ground and Malek, with a glance towards them, disappeared into the forest. Xadian looked around for Xeras as the shadows crept closer, only allowing himself to black out as his eyes found his friend.
He woke several hours later, the first rays of sunlight falling on his eyelids. He immediately rolled into the shade, lest he become injured by the light. He glanced around for Xeras, finding him immediately. He was getting up, undisturbed the light falling on him. He was a strange creature, part phantom and part vampire. This allowed him to walk in sunlight but restricted him from most of the abilities that phantoms possess, such as heat manipulation and phase shifting. His form was sometimes blurry and he was fond of vanishing and hiding in dark rooms as a prank. Their eyes met and a connection was made. They looked away and Xadian sighed, this was the closest The Organization had come to complete annihilation in many generations. He had lost several friends and more than a few rivals tonight. Xadian spoke, his voice loud in the silence of the forest.
“Let’s perform the ceremonies and then get back home.” Xeras said nothing, just nodded. Xadian wove a shroud of shadow above his head and walked into the clearing. Together they performed the Final Rights. As the sun’s light strengthened the bodies would combust, leaving no remains. Even now, with just the first rays lying on the bodies, they were beginning to smolder. They took nothing from the bodies but the weapons; these would be kept for the next generations members, given according to skill and power. They stood in the shadows of the trees and watched as the first body started to glow and catch fire. They left as the rest began to follow suit. As they disappeared into the shadows the sound of burning bodies followed them.
Several hours later they were back at their home. It was a large building, made of a black metal that absorbed sunlight. A ring of stone statues made sure that not a single ray of sunlight touched the ground around the building. The statues were of a black stone, and were covered in red symbols, weaving a spell of ancient power. Hardly any still knew what the symbols meant, but just by looking at them you felt the power, and the intent. Only those who were of The Organization could enter, or else the symbols called powers that even the being who made them hardly dared to use. They also had the advantage of scaring away unsuspecting intruders.
As they entered the building they stopped and bowed to a disc of gold, an artifact that brought luck and peace, in return for respect. It was also another safeguard, protecting the building if the ring of statues was breached. They had learnt not to disrespect it when a foolish trainee had walked past it without so much as a glance. His screams of agony had remained in their minds long after his life had been extinguished. But nonetheless it was considered almost friendly and was treated by some of the members as a part of the organization. A few more childish members had actually taken to leaving trays of food in front of it. This had quickly been discouraged as it drew rats.
Past the disc was a hallway, lined with doors and ending in a large space which was used as a courtyard and training room. Through the doors were rooms where members and trainees slept. These varied according to the occupant’s tastes. All the rooms were well lit and windowless. These they bypassed, heading onto the courtyard. Here they stopped and looked over the training dummies and punching bags that lined one wall. On the far wall was another door. Arranged around the door were racks and hooks holding training swords and other weapons, although fully trained members would generally use their own weapons. Through the door was another hallway, also lined with doors, that ended with another large space, used for meetings and the occasional movie night.
They headed towards this space, knocking on two of the doors as they went, drawing the final two members out. They followed silently, already acknowledging the absence of the majority of the team. When they got there, they both started to speak, but Xadian silenced them.
“There has been a catastrophe.” He said.
“I knew it!” One of them, Kale, burst out. He was considered the baby of this generation, and for good reason, being just a pup in terms of time. He was only sixteen, having completed his training only a few months ago. As such he was prone to outbursts and fits of temper. But he was useful nonetheless, having a natural knack for swordsmanship and archery. He hadn’t been sent on the mission due to a bout of sickness.
“Kale.” The other, Zane, said quietly, silencing him with just that single word. He was a sort of enigma, being the most soft spoken and unsocial of the group. But he was one of the most useful members of the team, due to his unique species. He had been created in a lab, stitched together from vampire, lycan, and phantom DNA. As such no one knew what to call him, although one of the few reports found in the lab where he was created gave a brief mention of the reasons behind the experiment. The scientist had been trying to recreate an extinct species, and called him a specter. Also in the report was a brief walkthrough of the expected abilities. Zane would have all the powers of the species involved in his creation, none of the limitations, but unfortunately none of longevities involved. To fix this, when he became a full member of The Organization, he was given a choice of accepting the curse of the vampire or the lycan. Surprisingly, he chose to be bitten by a lycan, even though this meant that he wasn’t granted immortality, only longevity. His unique creation also made him the smartest of the group, so when he talked, they all listened. He had been unable to go on the mission as he was recovering from his last one, where he had been injured in a large explosion. They all decided to ignore the ironic similarities in the missions.
“Kale.” He repeated. He motioned for Xadian to continue. He nodded his thanks before speaking.
“Malek proved far more powerful than expected, and we are woefully weakened.” He said. “I fear we are the last members of this generation. Now, we have a choice, we can start the training process immediately, or we can go after the demon that did this, even though we are weak at the moment.”
Naturally, Kale was the first to speak, doing so with anger. “I say, we go after this fool ourselves.”
“I hate to say it, but that’s what I would say too.” Xadian admitted. Xeras simply nodded his assent. The three of them looked at Zane, even though they had the majority. He was silent a long minute, but he spoke wisely.
“I’m not sure.” He said, sounding as if he was still debating it. “We are a bit undermanned, but a large group didn’t work against this thing. So it’s entirely possible that a smaller team might. But, the sooner we start training new recruits, the sooner we’re back at full strength. And we’re the last of this generation, so if we die the world’s screwed.” Here he stopped, closing his eyes in thought. He did this often, sometimes even stopping in the middle of battle to think. It thoroughly creeped out everyone else, wondering what was going through his head. He stayed like this for a few minutes and the others were starting to wonder if he’d fallen asleep when he opened his eyes.
“We go.” Was all he said. Which would have decided it even if the others hadn’t already agreed.
They didn’t leave right away, as they always had training before a mission, unless it was of the utmost importance. They began in the usual manner, with a few minutes of meditation. This loosened their muscles and allowed them to concentrate more easily. This meditation was the first thing trainees learned, the members teaching them how to enter a relaxed state before they even talked to trainees about fighting. Xadian, despite his sorrow, entered his mind easily. As he did so, it was as though he were dead. His eyes were closed, and every muscle in his body was relaxed. His breathing lessened until he was almost not breathing at all. As all of this happened, he entered his mind and a state of complete calm fell over him. The others followed suit a little more slowly, the two younger members most of all, still being slightly unwilling to lose their ties to reality. Xadian, on the other hand, couldn’t wait.
Inside his head, Xadian was in a room. Pictures lined the walls, detailing his life from earliest memories to battles still fresh in his mind. As the pictures went back further and further, they faded into nothing. The room was sparsely decorated, with only a replica of his sword hanging above a door that led nowhere. It was similar with the furniture. Only a simple wood table surrounded by wooden chairs. The table served no purpose other than to support a vase of flowers and a picture in a frame, this time of his family, before time had taken their lives. He could barely stand to look at this, as it always brought memories of how he had had to watch as they grew old and died, forbidden from turning them into vampires by the Vampire Council, as punishment for standing against them during the Great War. He had given up trying to change the picture, it had never worked. Now he simply stared at it without seeing it, thinking, instead of the family he had lost today.
In his mind, Xeras was in a field of flowers. Talking with his sister, dead many years now. He had more control over his surroundings than Xadian, allowing him to view almost whatever he wanted. He watched his sister, even though he couldn’t hear her. This was one of the few things that he couldn’t change. And just like Xadian and his picture, this always saddened him. Just like Xadian, he had been punished by the Vampire Council for standing against them in the war. His punishment had been more immediate though. All they had done to him was kill his family.
In Kale’s mind, there was little to be sad about. In keeping with his age, he was in a playground, although he was slightly younger, only a small boy. He was playing with his friends, all of which he would never see again. They were not dead, those that he knew of at least. He was merely forbidden to see them. He had been turned in the last part of the Great War, and stood against the Council with the rest of them. However, due to his age and the minor role he had played, his punishment was extremely light. Even so, he was slightly saddened by the sight of his friends, and the knowledge that they no longer even remembered him. The Council had wiped their minds, ensuring that none could remember him and his deeds. Now, the only time he could see them was during meditation, and even then no one was able to speak to him.
Inside Zane’s mind, dark images flashed like lightning, appearing and vanishing at such a speed that only Zane would have been able to make sense of them. Spectators could, however, at least see a brief image. In one, there was part of a lab visible, lined with rows of fiendish devices, designed to inflict pain. In another, there was a computer, with lines of print visible, but before one could begin to read, it was gone. In others, there were views of cages, some occupied but most empty. In another there was a view of a room, covered in blood and in the center, a guillotine. This was where the “failed” experiments were executed. It was also where Zane had made his great escape, using his newly found powers to kill the scientist who had created him, and in the process killing all of the other experiments. Then there was a view of the Organization’s headquarters, Zane’s first sight of it in fact. There followed a montage of his training, and then of his missions, leading up to that moment.
As they returned to reality, gasps could be heard as their breathing returned to normal. This didn’t distract them though, and they continued their training as usual. Xadian sparred with Xeras, as always. This left Zane and Kale on their own. It was strange training without the others, and they stopped early. They each went to their room, preparing for what could be their last mission.