It couldn't be. That couldn't be Johan, could it?
But there was too much evidence; this was the place I had heard Alexis mention on the phone to Johan, and the height and build of the blond figure I'd just glimpsed matched Johan perfectly. But I couldn't even begin to imagine what Johan would be doing in a place like this – especially if it involved being covered in blood. Johan's temper flared up dangerously from time to time, but he'd never channelled his anger into violence. He was probably one of the gentlest human beings I'd ever encountered.
The mere sight of so much blood had been sickening enough for me to abandon the thought of looking again to confirm it really was him; instead, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on listening to the snatches of conversation I heard between the members of this strange group of people.
"He'll be fine," a young male voice assured someone.
I frowned a little; it wasn't Johan, but I thought I recognised that voice from somewhere.
"You must be joking, Chanson," muttered another male voice. "A wound like that would take years to heal fully, if at all."
I froze as my heart skipped a beat. Did he say Chanson? If I recalled correctly, that was Christopher's family name. It was too much of a coincidence; if Christopher Chanson was here at Noctis Locus, then that someone who looked like Johan probably was Johan.
Despite being shielded from the cold winter night, I felt a chill creep down my spine.
Another voice spoke as if to confirm my suspicions, but unlike the hushed, urgent whispers of the others, he spoke at a normal volume, clearly enunciating each word at a leisurely but fluid pace.
"It seems, Sir Träumerei, that you have learnt nothing from your many failed attempts to subdue me."
Although it was completely unfamiliar to me, something about his voice made listening almost pleasurable; it had a smooth, dreamy, almost mesmerising quality. He pronounced every syllable in a clear, pure Anglian accent, but the Alemanyan surname seemed to roll off his tongue with perfect native pronunciation.
Then I blinked, only realising now what the stranger had actually said.
Träumerei was Johan's surname.
My heart began to drum rapidly against my ribs. It really was him. But why was he here?
As if in reply to my question, Johan spoke. "There's no need to worry, Lord Nox." He almost spat the name as if it were bitter on his tongue. "I'll ensure there will be no need for further attempts after tonight."
While I still didn't have the slightest clue as to what was happening here, I couldn't help but admire Johan's voice. It was calm and controlled, but the subtle undertones of anger made him seem so intimidating and… cool.
On the other hand, the unfamiliar male didn't seem at all perturbed by Johan's words and chuckled instead. "You are as obstinate as ever, Sir Träumerei, but if I am to be honest, your ever fruitless attempts have become more tiresome than amusing. You are constantly entering my property without invitation. Do you not regard yourself as being rather discourteous and intrusive? Perhaps we could arrange another occasion in which we may meet properly."
Johan nearly snorted. "Since I'm already on your land, I might as well finish my business here, Your Highness."
I hesitated for a moment, debating whether or not I should try to sneak another look at the situation. Johan seemed to be acting very calmly, so maybe he wasn't too badly injured, or maybe it wasn't even his blood. If he could act so coolly while drenched in blood, then it shouldn't have been so difficult for me to simply take a look. I peered around the corner of my hiding place. The other people who had been obscuring my vision seemed to have moved aside a little. Johan's back was in plain sight, but I still couldn't quite see that dreamy-voiced stranger. I glimpsed a figure that looked a little shorter and less sturdy than Johan, but couldn't see much more than that.
The other male laughed again. "I do hope for your sake that you end things quickly. You may leave with much more than bruises, or perhaps not leave at all."
Two realisations struck me. The first was that whoever he was, this man was responsible for the heavy bruising on Johan's face; the second was that he was actually threatening to kill Johan. Just who did he think he was? His voice and manner of speaking might have been charming and spellbinding, but the words flowing freely from his mouth were sickeningly unpleasant.
Surprisingly, it was Johan's turn to laugh. "You really are something, Lord Nox. You think much too highly of yourself. Let's see if we can't put an end to that."
I could imagine the malevolent smirk on the stranger's lips as he replied. "You are most welcome to try."
Then in the blink of an eye, Johan disappeared.
It took me a moment to realise he was the blur of speed swiftly crossing the length of the room, headed straight for that Lord Nox person.
However, Lord Nox barely even blinked as he casually raised a hand in front of him; the rapidly darting Johan abruptly came to a stop, his fist caught in his opponent's grasp. He immediately wrenched his fist free from Lord Nox's gloved hands and swung again, aiming for his stomach this time. But yet again, Lord Nox blocked the attack with his arm and a slight twist of the body.
Again and again Johan kept trying to land hits on the conceited man in front of him – his attacks would either miss or be blocked – but all I could do was crouch behind this corner, hardly believing what I saw. Johan was actually attacking another human being? It seemed so unlike his usual self, I couldn't bring myself to accept the scene before me as reality. But I reasoned Johan wouldn't suddenly turn to violence purely on a whim; surely there was some valid reason he was doing this.
A choked noise escaped Johan's lips; my stomach churned as I heard a cough tear through his chest. He was strong and sturdy, but I knew nothing of his experience in fighting. What if he had his reached his limit? That Lord Nox sounded like he really meant it when he threatened kill Johan. But why did he even want to kill Johan? What did they even have to do with each other?
Lord Nox had moved from his initial position at the other end of the room; he now stood about ten metres in front of me, and I had a clear view of the back of his deep red waistcoat and black trousers. A mess of dark honey-coloured hair, a few shades darker than Johan's, trailed down to just above his shoulder blades. His stance was as relaxed as ever; as if he didn't think it was worth lifting a finger, he folded his arms.
Johan retreated a few steps back with one hand pressed against his chest, his breathing now audibly laboured. He stole a glance to his side. Following his gaze, I understood right away why only Johan had been fighting. Around the edges of the room, his twenty or so companions lay on the floor or leant against the wall, each nursing his own injuries of varying severity. I backed further into my corner, still keeping my gaze fixed on Johan. He seemed to be sending signals to each of them with subtle expressions on his face and slight nods of his head.
"It is progressing into the late hours," commented Lord Nox in an infuriatingly carefree tone. "Perhaps you should return another day, Sir Träumerei."
A bitter smirk formed on Johan's lips. "You brat. Christopher!" he called to one of his companions.
At the edge of the room opposite to Johan, a dark-haired boy with glasses slowly raised himself from the floor, maintaining steady eye contact with Johan and occasionally stealing split-second glances at Lord Nox. He lifted the hem of his jacket to reveal some sort of holster attached to his belt. It resembled the gun holsters I'd seen on the odd occasion I had actually watched television, but why would Christopher have a gun? I was fairly certain not just anyone was permitted to own a weapon, and until tonight I'd always thought of him as a very ordinary person. As if to prove my assumption wrong, Christopher revealed a small, dark-coloured pistol and aimed it at Lord Nox.
I felt a slight throb in my head and closed my eyes for a moment. Perhaps this was all a dream and I was actually asleep in Christopher's house. What other logical reason could there be for both Johan and his friend suddenly displaying sides that were polar opposites of their usual selves? It just couldn't be possible that any of this was real.
The sound of Johan's voice jerked me back to the scene.
An ear-splitting bang rang through the air as Christopher fired a shot at Lord Nox. Silence descended on the room for a few moments as the blond man continued to stand as if nothing had happened. Then he slowly uncurled his gloved fingers, dropping something tiny on the ground, right beside his feet.
It was a pale silver bullet.
I considered my dream theory again; except for perhaps some novels I had read, I was sure that under no circumstances was it humanly possible to catch a bullet. There was no way he could have caught the bullet Christopher had fired at him; he hadn't even moved. Maybe he'd moved faster than the human eye could see and caught the bullet that way, but that extreme level of speed had to be far beyond human capacity. Whoever he was, I had to admit, albeit grudgingly, that Lord Nox was an impressive human being.
As soon as he'd realised the bullet had failed, Johan had rushed forward and began to attempt to restrict Lord Nox's movements from behind. He'd managed to curl one arm around the shorter man's neck and now tried to lock his arms against his body, but Lord Nox seemed to be putting up a nearly effortless resistance; the blond man rammed his elbow backwards into Johan's abdomen. While Johan was temporarily distracted by a strangled cough, Lord Nox gripped Johan's wrists tightly and flung him bodily about twenty metres away, a look of boredom still etched into his features. My blood momentarily felt as if it had frozen in my veins as I saw Johan land on his back and cry out in pain. He still hadn't had his back examined by the doctor yet, but I was certain there was a serious problem if he'd had the injury for years. He shook his head as if it would lessen the pain, and then resumed his attempt to attack.
I stole a glance at the other people around the edges of the room. Some of them had risen from the floor, almost as if waiting for an opportunity to attack. Like Christopher had before he had attempted to shoot, they kept constant eye contact with Johan and occasionally glanced away to observe Lord Nox. That was when I finally realised they all seemed to be following Johan's lead. Even as he winced with pain from his injury, he occasionally gave a subtle nod as a signal for them to attack.
Lord Nox remained some distance away and so I was still unable to see his face clearly. In one instance, however, I thought I saw a flash of bright red light from his eyes. Immediately after the flash, several of Johan's companions yelped in pain as several large, fresh gashes suddenly formed on their bodies. Johan, too, staggered back as an invisible knife slashed open a wound across his chest. Dark crimson fluid gushed from the injury.
I wasn't sure if I couldn't bring myself to call out to him because I didn't want him to be angry I had disobeyed his instructions, or if it was just the shock of seeing Johan injured so severely that had robbed me of my voice. Noticing myself trembling furiously, I gripped my arms tightly. I was sure Johan had thought logically about whatever he was doing, but I never would have expected him to involve himself in something as messy and as violent as this. Whatever his reasoning was, it couldn't have been worth all these injuries.
Suddenly, Johan and Christopher both leapt at Lord Nox in a synchronised movement, Johan approaching unarmed from the right and Christopher, now wielding a sword, from the left. My breath caught in my throat as I continued to watch. Remaining as calm as ever, Lord Nox seized Johan's bare fist in one hand and knocked Christopher's sword away with the other. Then once again, he gripped Johan's wrist tightly and flung him through the air, simultaneously slamming his foot hard into Christopher's ribs.
Despite the danger of the situation, I couldn't help but admire Johan. Instead of hitting the floor as he had earlier, he somehow used the momentum from his opponent's throw to execute an impossible back flip in mid-air. As if that alone hadn't been unbelievable enough, his flip allowed him to reach the wall behind him, off which he sprang to counterattack. He landed on the floor just a few feet short of Lord Nox but quickly swung his leg to make up for the distance. Unfortunately, the blond man seemed to have expected it; he easily caught Johan's foot and threw him again, a shorter distance this time. Barely a moment later, he vanished in a blur of speed, reappearing only when his foot had rammed directly into Johan's lower back. Johan hit the floor with an audible thud and tumbled a few feet before lying face-down, completely motionless. Beneath Johan's body, a pool of red rippled across the light fawn carpet.
I couldn't hold back a gasp. Johan wasn't… No, he couldn't be. I waited for some sort of response from Johan – a breath, a twitch, a shudder, anything – but he didn't move. My insides began to twist into knots. No matter how hard I tried to look away, I couldn't; I froze at the sight of Johan lying unconscious while his blood seeped into the carpet.
Moving as quickly as he was able to, Christopher staggered to Johan's side and turned him onto his back, shaking him lightly in an attempt to revive him. He retrieved a small bottle of some sort of liquid from his pocket and tipped a small measure into Johan's mouth. After a few moments, Johan coughed and spluttered violently and opened his eyes. I heaved a sigh of relief. He was quite badly injured, but he was alive for now. I just hoped he would make a full recovery.
He groaned quietly as he sat up and began to talk to Christopher in a low voice. "No one's managed to get a shot into him?" His voice was a little strained, and his breathing somewhat ragged, but he seemed to be coping.
Christopher shook his head. "Not yet. He moves too quickly, and since it ejects a cartridge after every shot, we can't afford to risk missing or he'll know what's going on right away."
Johan cursed under his breath. "Looks like we'll have to slow him down then. You take the left again."
His friend's eyes widened with concern. "Johan, are you sure you can still move well enough—"
"Take the left," repeated Johan, a dangerous glint in his lilac eyes. Christopher flinched, but he nodded obediently.
The two fixed their gazes back onto Lord Nox, carefully watching his every move. All of Johan's colleagues, apart from Christopher, had gathered in a ring surrounding the blond figure. Despite easily being able to see the dozen or so guns trained on him, he relaxed his position further and let his arms hang loosely by his sides.
Then I noticed something about some of the guns; most of them were small, dark-coloured pistols like Christopher's, but four or five of them were rather unusual designs. They resembled clear glass tubes, each of which contained a small amount dark purple fluid, fitted into some sort of launcher. If anything, they looked more like syringes than guns.
Some of the men with ordinary guns fired a few synchronised shots at their target, but to no avail; without the slightest hesitation, Lord Nox twirled rapidly but gracefully and somehow deflected each of the bullets. I shook my head to myself. He was untouchable. Whatever Johan was doing, he had to stop and leave now before this vicious monster could hurt him anymore.
As Lord Nox began to slow from his spin, Johan nodded at Christopher and reached into his coat, drawing his own sword from its sheath. Even Johan had weapons? I didn't know if I should be surprised anymore.
Johan's stare was fixed on Lord Nox's feet, probably waiting for a moment of unbalance to launch his attack with Christopher. I couldn't find any possible way of catching that man off-guard, and while I was sure Johan might be able to, I just wanted him to stop now. He was in no condition to continue whatever he was trying to do; he'd already been injured badly enough after his last few attempts to attack that elusive Lord Nox figure.
All of a sudden, after exchanging the slightest of nods, Johan and Christopher sprang at Lord Nox yet again, both raising their swords poised to attack. For a fraction of a second, it looked like they would succeed; the points of both their swords were just inches from their target's body, and Lord Nox wasn't facing either of them at that moment.
A blur of rapid movement made me blink. In that short time, an ominous splattering sound, the clanging of metal and the sickening metallic stench of blood filled the air. I heard a thud as Christopher hit the floor, but he immediately scrambled around to stand again. I glanced at Johan, who stood barely an inch away from Lord Nox with his back toward me. Something didn't seem right. It looked like there was something on his back.
Then Johan collapsed onto the floor with a groan, and I realised what was wrong.
The bloodstained blade of a sword protruded from his back. The same carmine liquid that streaked his plait red continued to gush from the wound and dripped onto the carpet. Shakily, he lifted his upper body from the floor only to vehemently cough up blood and collapse again.
I chewed on my lip to prevent myself from shrieking, but I could feel my entire body shaking as tears streamed down my face. Johan couldn't be… But now he was injured more severely than he had been moments ago.
A slight movement from Johan caught my attention; his arm was moving. His fingers weakly closed around the hilt of the sword, and he slowly began to pull the blade out of his chest, wincing and choking as he gasped for air. After what felt like an eternity, he managed to remove the sword from his body and dropped it on the carpet with a muffled clang, but his blood continued to flow onto the floor. Then his eyes glazed over for a moment before they closed and he fell entirely still.
I felt the taste of acid slowly creep into the back of my mouth.
After a moment of silence, Lord Nox stepped away from Johan and turned to Johan's colleagues, raising one hand in a leisurely motion. A ball of fiery orange light suddenly appeared floating above his palm, steadily increasing in size. He spoke in his calm, velvety voice. "You have one minute to remove yourselves from my property before I remove you myself."
That was warning enough for many of them. To my horror, about half of the members of Johan's group hurriedly retreated without so much as a second glance at Johan, running as quickly as they could straight past my hiding place in the foyer. I stared in disbelief; Johan had been directing them just minutes earlier, and though whatever he'd planned had been unsuccessful, they didn't even think of trying to help him and just escaped.
Only then did I finally emerge from my hiding place and take wobbly steps into the building. I noticed most of them were glancing at Johan's unconscious body, then at Lord Nox and then at the exit. Lord Nox's gaze suddenly shifted to me, but his expression didn't change and he said nothing. One or two more people ran for the exit before any of them noticed me. One of them spoke, his voice trembling with anxiety.
"Who are you, kid? You shouldn't be here. Get yourself out of here if you have any idea what's good for you."
I ignored him and continued to walk forward at my slow, shaky pace until I stopped just feet from Johan and knelt beside him. I felt the curious stares of the others on my back. Lord Nox was just a little further from me than Johan was, but he still didn't move. My sudden appearance didn't seem to interest him in the slightest.
Then Christopher recognised me. "Hey, you're… Cerise?" His eyes widened with shock. "What are you doing—?"
I'd intended for my voice to sound a little bolder and clearer, but as a result of my disbelief at everything I had witnessed tonight and the continuous trembling of my body, it came out as a quavering mess of sounds. "Johan's your friend."
"Of course he is, but what are you— Why are you—"
"Aren't you going to help him?" I almost shrieked, feeling more tears roll down my cheeks.
Without warning, Lord Nox spoke again, sounding rather bored. "You have fourteen seconds remaining before I will forcibly remove you from this estate."
At the warning, the remainder of Johan's group, apart from Christopher and one other man, fled from the building. Again, I could only stare at their retreating backs in horror. Why couldn't they even think of helping Johan? Unless they assumed he was already… No, he couldn't be.
I turned to Christopher. "Is Johan… Is he… alive?" I choked on the question.
He nodded, but he looked troubled. "For now, but if we don't get him proper treatment really soon—"
"Get him out of here now. Please," I begged, my voice shaking uncontrollably.
With a quick nod, Christopher dropped to his knees beside Johan and began to lift Johan's body from the floor.
"You now have four seconds."
Acting purely on impulse, without the slightest thought as to what I was doing, I leapt at the blond man, throwing my arms around his slender frame in a feeble attempt to restrict his movements and maybe knock him down. His defence was iron – I barely threw his balance – but I managed to divert his attention for a second or two, during which Christopher had managed to hoist Johan onto his back and start running, with Johan's only other remaining colleague sprinting close behind. The last I saw of Christopher's face was his look of worry before he turned and faced forward to continue running.
Lord Nox simply prised my arms away from his body and lightly pushed me away as if swatting a fly before turning his attention back to his escaping targets. But I had to make sure Johan made a safe escape, so once again I seized Lord Nox's arms and tried to hold them somehow, like Johan had tried to do earlier. His lean arms didn't look like they could contain the strength he used to push me back, but I clung tightly to the sleeves of his white shirt, determined to distract him until Christopher and Johan were completely out of sight. I even tried to push him again, and managed to shift his balance a little, but he recovered quickly and instead sent me tumbling across the floor with a swift flick of his arm.
I wasn't quite sure what the exact cause was, but I suspected that it was the impact of colliding with the floor that triggered a shock throughout my body. An intense pain throbbed in my chest and in my head, and I choked as the taste of blood crept onto my tongue. Dizzily, I spat a mouthful of red-stained fluid onto the carpet. Black spots began to blossom in my vision until they obscured everything.
A/N: It's been a while since I've written an action scene like this, so any feedback on that would be good. I'd also like any feedback on whether Cerise's narration while observing the fight works; is it realistic or does it sound like she's into it or...?
Any other minor nitpicks are also welcomed, since I don't tend to proofread too well (not sure why but I don't like reading what I've written). Thanks =)