CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Two: The Thief
Boston shined in its usual alacrity. Valeriana brushed the hair out of her eyes and pulled her arms close to her chest, breathing in the polluted air that hinted of the crisp and salty scent of the nearby sea. Bumping shoulders was nearly impossible to avoid as the streets were crowded. This part of the city was always littered with people.
The traffic didn’t look so bad, however. If she was lucky, she would arrive around five minutes or so before the decided time. Valeriana brought out her Note II and dialed Xandra’s number. She stopped at the taxi stand with the phone against her ear, waving her hand out to hail a cab.
Xandra picked up in three rings. “Val!”
“Hey, I’m so sorry,” she said, looking down at her wrist watch to see the long hand at eight. Twenty minutes until ten. “I’m on my way.”
“It’s great! Just get your butt over quickly. I still have a lot of things to tell you.”
Valeriana bit back a laugh. “Alright—”
She was interrupted by a rapid yank on her shoulder. The suddenness of it made her lose balance, causing her to fall on her rear with a gasp and her phone to fly off. Valeriana tried to pull it back but lost in strength. The tug-of-war was eventually won by the other party and she was left behind to eat dust.
She found her phone on the ground. She lunged for it and dashed after the thief.
“Give that back!” she yelled, tripping a little.
Valeriana wormed her way through the sea of bodies and kept her eyes trained strictly on the man with a gray sweater and red cap. He constantly looked over his shoulder as he ran, her duffel bag in his arms. Seeing Valeriana hot on his tail, he hastened his pace and ran down the less crowded street.
“Thief!” she screamed at the top of her lungs.
No one bothered to help. All she got were curious eyes and a couple of mocking smiles. If not, nothing. She cursed at their feigned indifference. No one would bother to trouble themselves to help out someone they didn’t know. Every man for himself, they said.
“Val? Val! Are you there?” a voice blared from the phone. “Shiznits, Val! What the hell is happening?”
“Xan?” She held up the phone against her ear without looking. She feared she would lose sight of the thief if she looked away for a moment. There were a few valuables in that bag, but that wasn’t all she was after. “I can’t talk right now but I swear I’ll come! I just need to catch this stupid thief and I’ll—”
“Later.” She tucked her phone into her pocket and threw her knees higher. There was no time to dawdle seeing as she was falling behind. The sudden turn to the corner made her clash shoulders with a man in corporate attire.
“Watch where you’re going!” he exclaimed. Papers flew all over the place. Starbucks coffee spilled over his suit and onto the floor. By the looks of it, he just stepped out of the shop.
“You watch where you’re going!” she yelled back at the man who threw his hands in the air in disbelief.
Trying to keep up her pace, she focused on her breathing. It hadn’t lasted longer than two minutes, but the physical exertion had Valeriana slowing down. Her legs began feeling heavy, her knees sore.
Seeing as she was relentless in her pursuit, the man turned sharply into an alley and took out a bunch of marbles from his pocket. He threw it on the floor and flashed a victorious smile from under his cap. Valeriana turned just in time to see him stop for a moment and give her a mocking salute.
It was only when she stepped on the marbles and fell flat on her face did she realize why he had done so. The fall had her cradling her nose as she hopelessly tried to regain her footing once more.
“Damn it,” she said under her breath, her lips tight.
Valeriana wasn’t contented on giving up too soon. She pulled herself to her feet and tried to run forward. This alley did not cut straight to the next street like any other. The path forward led to two directions; right and left.
She saw the thief turn for the right, a look of short-lived victory on his face. The moment he turned, however, a strange blur leaped forward and caught him in its powerful jaws. Its aim was perfect—the teeth sinking square on his shoulder.
Her heart lurched to her throat as his screams reached her ears. The sounds bounced off the walls. His voice was layered with hints of guttural growls and snaps.
“Ghost . . . ghost . . . help!”
Confusion and panic flooded in like tall waves.
“Help!” he yelled. “Help!”
A new feeling washed in, setting aside the adrenaline of the chase. It felt ominous and strange. Chill bumps trailed Valeriana’s skin and a knot formed in her stomach. His screams were deafening and would probably haunt her at night. She couldn’t live with that.
It was probably a stray, rabid dog. Hopefully a stray, rabid dog.
She saw a rusting pipe at the corner of the building. Wasting no time, she ran and pulled at it. The metal creaked and protested. It was hard to get, but the screws eventually gave in and came off. The urgency pumped adrenaline into her veins. She quickly dove for the left path of the alley and saw a large, black dog gnawing at the arm of the thief. Her duffel bag was thrown to the side.
“Hey! That right there is my prey!”
Running forward, she struck the dog at the head. It gave out a pained whine before turning its large frame to face Valeriana. She backed off and eyed it for a moment as the thief trembled beneath its body. His blood soaked his clothes and his face looked beyond frightened.
The creature gave Valeriana a hostile glare, revealing a set of eyes the color of blood. Its snout resembled those of a pig although it had the head of a wolf. Its legs were short and stout, but it had paws ridden with sharp nails.
It bared its teeth at her and snarled.
“Shucks,” she whispered.
That’s not a dog, she realized. That’s a motherfudging pig cross-bred with a dog. Her knees nearly gave in as her heart trembled at the sight of its unearthly gaze. Blood dripped from its teeth as it advanced—slowly, tauntingly.
It leaped for her.
“Holy mother of—”
It opened its mouth and its long, sharp claws extended forward. This alone was enough to make her scream. Luckily, she managed to dodge it, colliding with the rough pavement as a result. The pipe slid off her sweaty palms, echoing roughly as it skidded on the rough floor.
The beast dove fast and she moved as well. She dared hope she was going to make it for a split second when it got her and trapped her with its furry body. She felt its teeth graze the skin of her left leg and tear through her pants. Valeriana hissed, pulling back her feet and kicking the creature—as many times as it took until it backed down. It released a pained, dog-like whimper mixed with snorts as it was thrown off.
“Get away from me, you savage beast!” she hollered.
The thief stood cradling his arm and started running.
“Hey!” Valeriana yelled after him. “Bastard.”
“I’m out of here!” he screamed.
“Damn you! At least get me the damn pipe! Ungrateful jerk!”
Her cries fell on deaf ears. The coward ran as though his rear was on fire. The wolf paid no heed to their exchange and snapped its jaws around her foot, its narrow-edged fangs punching holes through her shoes. It tightened its hold around her and pulled her back.
“I said—aaagh!” Sharp teeth penetrated her skin, causing pain to shoot up her leg.
She desperately reached out for the pipe, but her fingertips wouldn’t come in contact with it. Feeling hopeless, she grabbed a small rock she managed to grope and hurled it towards the pog. It hit the beast on the nose, causing it to momentarily be stunned.
Wasting no time, she laid hands on the weapon. She preyed on the beast’s current state and pulled herself to her feet. It took a few moments to realize that the foot it got was bleeding, soaking her socks with a sticky wetness that made her cringe.
“My favorite shoes! Dumb dog—pog!” she muttered.
She limped, holding the pipe in front of her defensively. The pog shook its big head and turned to her, baring its teeth.
“Oh yeah, come at me now, you mangy mutt. Let’s see who’s boss.” Her hair came loose from the ponytail, her bangs falling free and covering her line of vision. She absentmindedly blew at them, keeping her eyes trained on her assailant.
The beast leaped for her without hesitation. Valeriana blocked its teeth with the pipe, letting it gnaw on the piece of metal as they both fell. The girl landed on her back, the pog’s heavy body on top of her.
She could see the inside of its mouth as it salivated. She huffed, her face twisting in disgust.
It swiped its paws—whatever they are. Valeriana tried to push it away but its weight and strength proved hard to fight against.
Its sharp nails scratched her chin and tore the sleeves of her clothes, grasping at her flesh and burying themselves until about an inch deep.
She blinked and looked at the wolf with wide eyes. “What in the—help! Help! Someb—”
A flash of blue landed from above as though a God-sent blessing, just in the nick of time. Valeriana caught sight of the woman as she drew on the blade sheathed around her waist. She sent up a prayer of thanks to the heavens and breathed out a sigh of relief—which turned into a squeak when the beast yapped.
“So this is where you’ve been.” The woman brandished the sword she held and pointed it at the beast.
Valeriana readdressed her gaze to the newcomer and the demon did as well. It jumped and got off her to face the woman, seeming to regard her with more importance.
“Come,” the woman said.
The pog pounced and Valeriana clamored to stand. Its teeth grazed at the woman’s royal blue coat while its claws tore at the shoulder pads. Grunting, the stranger threw the demon off her and tugged briefly on the high lapel, frowning at the loose buttons and the stained cravat.
Valeriana took notice of the weird uniform, feeling her brows pucker at the strange sight.
The lady’s movements were a dangerous flurry of attacks that appeared as a blur. She brought her sword down fast, letting it slice through the air with a whistle. The demon showed resistance and managed to fully evade her first attempt, but she was able to land a strike the second time she struck. It backed away, wounded.
She swung towards it again with finality and the weapon cut the beast in half. Valeriana struggled to breathe as the creature released a tormented roar. It slowly vanished; golden embers carried away by the wind.
As it burned and was reduced to nothingness, the lady turned to Valeriana. Her eyes were sharp and cautious as she gave her a once over, her chest heaving. The tension and ominous feeling dissipated as soon as the beast was gone.
“Oh my god,” she said. “Oh my god. That wasn’t normal. Did that thing just burn off?”
A flash of suspicion crossed the woman’s eyes but was replaced with concern as soon as she saw the blood on Valeriana’s clothes.
“Are you alright?” she asked, approaching Valeriana. Her breathing was labored and beads of sweat dotted her forehead.
Valeriana gazed at the sharp tip of the sword she held, down to the graceful curve of its blade. The well-polished metal reflected the light in such a manner that it was blinding. It was definitely a real sword. There was no denying it. She then moved her gaze to the hilt. The lady’s hold on it was firm and confident.
“No. No, I’m not fine. Do I look fine?” she snapped, gawking at her and resting against the wall. “What was that thing? What’s this? Are you filming a viral video? What? A prank? A social experiment? Where’s the camera?” She threw her gaze around.
“I do not know what you’re talking about.”
“You gotta be kidding.”
“I do not kid.”
“Then what was that?”
“It’s a demon,” she replied, sheathing her sword. “And you can see it,” she said the last few words in mild disbelief. It was more of a statement rather than a question.
“I’m not blind,” she spat. “What demon? That’s a freaking science experiment! You spliced a pig with a dog, and that’s inhumane!”
The stranger looked confused.
“Never mind, I don’t want to know. Leave me out of it. Oh god.” She rubbed her face. Inwardly, she was freaking out. If this lady had not come, she could’ve died. “This seems too real to be a joke.”
The woman approached.
Seeing her move, Valeriana backed away warily.
“Calm down, I will not hurt you. You have to let me see your wounds,” she said. “So, calm down.”
The woman pulled off her gloves and lowered herself to take Valeriana’s foot out of her shoe. She flinched as the lady’s fingers came in contact with the edges of the open flesh.
Valeriana took the chance to examine her unusual appearance.
“It’s nothing major. Mild injury. It should heal easily.” The lady hastily searched one of her pockets and opened a vial of a green liquid. “Drink this.”
“Drink it.” She opened the thing and practically shoved it down the girl’s throat.
Valeriana almost choked as she swallowed, gagging as the taste exploded in her mouth. “That tastes awful. Are you trying to kill me?”
“It is needed to neutralize the poison inside your body. I’m actually saving your life,” she answered. “I can stop the bleeding, but that’s all I can do. You must heal on your own.”
She took out a bottle from her pocket before massaging the wound with the concoction she had with her. Valeriana was nervous seeing her do what she did. She did not trust oil soaked leaves being rubbed on her flesh.
“Okay, that is so weird. What is that?”
The lady opened her mouth to speak when a howl echoed from the distance. She gritted her teeth before turning to look at Valeriana in the eye. “My hunt is not over,” she said, turning to Valeriana. “Do you have a name?”
The girl was frozen. She couldn’t bring herself to answer.
“What is your name?” she repeated.
She hesitated. “It’s Valeriana.”
“Valeriana . . .” The lady turned her back on her, as though she was contemplating about something deep she wouldn’t understand. “You did not see anything.”
“You just knocked your head a little, tripped on your own foot or fell down the stairs. Any reason will do. Stay quiet. Speak of this to no one. Do you hear me? If I hear that you’ve been yapping about this, I’ll have to take certain measures which both of us will not like.”
“Do you hear me?” she repeated.
“Now that we are clear, I’ll be taking my leave. We’ll see each other again,” the lady stated. “When that time comes, prepare yourself. This matter is far from over.”
Without further ado, the woman left. She scaled the nearby wall in record time and shot to the roof, leaving nothing but a gust of air. Valeriana blinked a few times and scanned the ground where she saw the beast vanish. There were scorch marks on the pavement but nothing else.
She stood from the ground and closed her eyes, trying to regain what little was left of her sanity. Her duffel bag was leaning on the opposite wall, dusted with blood that was not her own. She picked it up. When she saw her things intact, she limped to the main street to hail a cab. A vacant taxi rode up to her and she sighed in relief. Maybe her luck was turning for the better after all.
“Do you need to go to the hospital, miss?” The driver’s brows creased as he gazed at her through his rearview mirror once she finally got inside.
“No. Quite the opposite, actually,” she said. “Please take me to the airport.”