Chapter 23
Right in front of Angela was a large park filled with overgrown shrubs and leafless trees; it's ground covered with brown, dried up dead leaves. Each tree, bench and stone path was covered with them, along with a thin layer of grey ash over it all. Just as Wilkins had said, there was no mistake she was staring at the park where the last battle of Qiang Cun started. The only difference was that there was absolutely nothing beyond that: in the space where there was supposed to be an open roof mall, Angela had a clear view of the hills on the other end.

Nicole, Kurtis and Samuel climbed out of the manhole soon after, equally awed and at the same time uneasy as they stood in the middle of the ghost town.

"You said there was a mall...?" asked Samuel.

"Yeah...but it's gone."

The four quickly jogged through the park, leaves crunching noisily beneath them, and carried on down the road on the other side. They had to stop a few blocks on as there was a ginormous crater ahead of them, several meters deep and spanning until the end of the town. It was almost as if an aircraft carrier was dropped on the location, leaving a huge basin of fine rubble that could almost pass as a canyon.

"I...I did all this..." said Kurtis in disbelief, stepping to the front. He felt surges of memory in his mind and cringed as the sounds explosions, screams and the roar of guns filled his head. He suddenly darted off to the left, with Nicole chasing after him.

"Kurt! Nicole! Wait!" Angela turned to see them disappear down an alley. She and Samuel took off in pursuit only to have a burst if rifle rounds slam into the ground in front of them.

Angela looked up to see a state-of-the-art Stealth Raven RQ-11 in cloaking itself several feet above them. A set of ropes dangled down from its sides and four figures in black descended upon them.

"Riggs, Walters, go after the girl and whatever the fuck we just saw," said Akers, pulling off his visor and training a gun on Angela, "you have a lot of explaining to do."

In the interest of time, Kurtis had scampered off into depths of Qiang Cun's alleyways, or what was left of it: the maze of brick walls felt alive as they seemed to be closing in on Kurtis, with jagged, unclean edges and corners that were like fangs out to sink into his flesh.

The sudden surge of memories frightened him and the ruined town of Qiang Cun became all too familiar. Rebels popped out of windows and opened fire at him, the roar of aerial support deafened his ears and the artillery batteries shook the ground. Kurtis found himself in the middle of the warzone once again...

The dragon stopped running and collapsed on his knees; his eyes darting from building to building and his ears pricked towards the skies. He growled as more rounds smacked into the ground around him and bared his fangs and claws. It was then he sensed movement and swung around.

Nicole ran up and embraced Kurtis in the middle of the alley; she managed a smile as she saw his eyes soften and his jaw unclench.

"It's ok Kurt... It's ok..."

He whimpered, now that he got a second, proper look at his surroundings, there was no hostiles attacking him.

"See? It's alright. We're safe. Now let's go back to Angie and Sam, ok?"

Kurtis took in a deep breath and steadied himself, giving Nicole a reassuring pat as he stood up.

"Now I wonder which way we came from..." she muttered.

Kurtis heard a soft hum and he quickly pushed Nicole away; the wall to his left blew apart and the blast knocked him aside. He flipped back onto his feet and saw a young man step through the smoke, armed with what looked like a simple metal rod. Another larger, bulkier man came up behind him wielding a menacing machine gun.

"Well that is one ugly sod..." said the latter, "you go after the girl, Walters."

"Yes, sir..."

Kurtis watched the young man take off after Nicole and immediately sprang forward. A huge fist of a punch flew into his snout and he was forced back onto the ground.

"You aren't going anywhere mate," said the big man, leveling his machine gun to Kurtis' skull.

Kurtis brought up his hands and summoned a portal: a bottle of hair dye shot straight out and there was a liquid explosion as it impacted on the man's face.

He recoiled in surprise and Kurtis took off, only to have the man grab him by the tail and yank him backwards. Kurtis flipped and launched a knee at his face. The man blocked it with both hands and in turn, lashed out with a right round house kick, proving to be more agile than he looked. The dragon ducked under his leg and weaved as another straight kick came for him. He angled his elbow and extended a blade, piercing the man's right thigh.

"Bollocks!" he yelled. Kurtis sent an uppercut into his jaw and sent him soaring through the air and into a dumpster.

Kurtis sped off, his snout in the air air as he tried to pinpoint Nicole's location. As he rounded a corner into another alley, he saw a telescopic metal rod fly towards him. Kurtis slid below it and flipped back on his feet to face his assailant: it was the young man from before.

Kurtis growled and got on to his hands. He pounced and lashed out with a swipe of the claw; the man ducked and Kurtis rolled over his back, striking again with an elbow blade. His attacks was parried and the man struck with his metal rod. Kurtis stumbled as he got hit in the chest, suddenly feeling the breath knocked out of him.

"I thought you'd learn, Delta," said the young man, twirling the rod, "being in a Dyndium cage for all those years..."

Kurtis looked up at him and snarled.

"...cus this was not how you were trained!" yelled the man, jumping and launching a spinning kick. Kurtis ducked and lashed out with both blades. The man simply extended the rod and thrust it into his neck before the blades could reach him, sending Kurtis into a wall. Before he could react, the man launched a dropkick and smashed him through the bricks. Kurtis tumbled into an empty living room. He swung his tail and launched a set of hair darts but they were deflected by the young man's weapon with surprising speed. He lunged forward and landed a straight kick into Kurtis' gut, forcing him into the floor.

The young man laid a knee on the dragon's chest and jabbed at his neck with the telescopic rod. It began to crackle and yellow sparks shot about its shiny surface.

"You are coming home, with me, now..." he said.

Back on the main road where the rest was, Akers was pacing about the cracked tarmac shaking his head in disbelief.

"What the hell has gone into you Angela..." he muttered.

"Reed, you have to understand. He was once a weapon..."

"Which means at any point of time he may just kill you, damn it!" yelled Akers, "you took this monster, this beast that tore part Qiang Cun, under your wing, in the presence if your niece!"

"He saved my life several times!"

"Your life wouldn't need saving if you turned him over back in Sepia Falls! You got a bounty on your head, and from what you tell me, almost got killed by two freakish abominations. All to help this thing you know nothing about!"

"So you want me turn him over to this scheming bitch Reinback? After he released god-knows-whats after me? After he had Lee killed, Marlowe mutated..."

"Anything to stay out if trouble, Angela!" Akers cried out, "you could have...never crossed with Reinback, get Lee and Marlowe killed... I don't give a shit about what Gedan is conspiring against this world!"

"Then why don't you just let me go off with Kurtis? I knew from the start I couldn't turn back. I made my choice and you can make yours, Reed! Are you with me or not? Are you going to turn me in?"

Akers gave Angela a pained look. The Stealth Raven silently hovered them as the two came to a verbal standstill.

"Mr Akers, was it?" Samuel suddenly spoke.

"What do you want?"

"What's the name of the younger guy you sent after Nicole and Kurt?"

"...Damian. Damian Walters. He's the new addition to the team. Why?"

"Because he was the one holding us hostage with Roland in 3S. His name was Switchblade..."

Damian was aware of another set of movements behind him; he turned to see Riggs stagger into the room.

"What happened to your face?" he asked, taking note of a massive brown patch on his forehead.

"My leg has bigger problems," he groaned, clutching his thigh. There was blood oozing out of a small wound, seeping into the black fabric of his pants.

"Hmph," noted Damian. He took a swipe at Kurtis' head, aiming right for the spot between his eye and ear and wrecking his sense awry.

Damian suddenly swiveled around and launched a knee into Riggs' stomach, followed by an elbow to the face.

Riggs cried out in pain and stumbled backwards. His nose was bright red and bleeding; he heard the cocking of a gun and looked up to stare down Damian's Sig P228 pistol.

"What are you..."

"Shut your face, you fat son of a bitch," grinned Damian, "you of all people were the easiest to fool. Reed was the tough nut, treating me like I didn't belong, looking at me as if I had some hidden agenda; sad to say he was right."

Damian cocked the hammer of his P228 back just as an empty glass bottle flew at his face. He dodged it and saw Nicole sliding away behind a dustbin.

"You little fuck...!" Damian furiously fired a succession of shots at the cover; the gun deafening in the confined space. He suddenly felt a kick at the back of his knee and went down, turning around to be whipped sharply across his face with Kurtis' tail. He spun and landed with a loud thud, he raised his P228 but it was kicked away into a corner. Damian now had the long barrel and slide of the Basilisk right at his face.

"You can't do this to me...!" spat Damian, slowly getting up.

Angela and the rest came into the room to see Riggs on the floor and Damian being held at gunpoint. The two of them looked at the newly arrived bunch; Akers and Michelle were gawking at Kurtis.

"Bloody hell..." muttered Michelle, glancing at Akers. His eyes were wide with shock seeing such a being just a few feet away.

"Switchblade!" called out Samuel, stepping to the front, "just who the hell do you work for?"

"That's just one of the many people I used to be," he smirked. Kurtis whipped him across the legs and he squealed, going onto his knees.

As Michelle and Angela helped Riggs up, Akers went past Samuel. He gave Kurtis a good stare before looking down at Damian.

"Who are you exactly?" he asked.

"Corporal Damian Walters, sir," came the reply. Damian was met with a punch to the face and he was thrown to the side. Akers pushed Kurtis away and grabbed Damian by the scruff of his neck.

"Who the fuck do you work for, huh?"

"I won't answer to you!"

Akers landed another punch.

"Is it Major Reinback? GSO Uppers? The Rimuel Government? Who the hell are you under? What the hell were you doing at 3S? What's your objective here?"

"Answer your own questions you piece of shit!"

Akers raised his fist but was stopped by Kurtis. He seethed and shrug his hand off.

"And you...! You get out of my way, you ugly ass fuck!"

"Reed!"

Akers turned to face Angela.

"That's enough of your lip!" she said, walking right up to him, "you leave the both of them alone. I need this Damian fella to give me whatever he's got on Kurt."

"You're assuming that I've let you go, Angela," snapped Akers, "I came here for you and I am bringing you back, along with Walters because I have a shitload of questions to ask...!"

There was a clanking sound and everyone turned to see a single cylinder rolling across the floor. It sparked and let loose a stream of gas.

"What the...?"

"You called in reinforcements?" Akers gagged, glancing at Damian. Strangely, the young man too had a look of surprise on his face as the gas engulfed him.

One by one the men and women dropped to the floor like flies, coughing softly. Kurtis panicked, seeing all his allies knocked out as sprawled across the place. He turned for the door and saw it bust open and a short man wearing a gas mask charged at him with a stun baton. Kurtis sidestepped his attack and kicked him into the wall but another one came through the door and launched a powerful swing at his head. There was a sharp crack as the rod made contact and Kurtis was similarly knocked out cold.
And that was when he remembered it all.