"Step into the garden of gray. Paint the world with your vibrant light. In a place where magic and mystery exists, what mark will you leave behind? Will you become a King in this Monochrome Garden? Or you will simply remain one of the thousand? Take the cards of fate into your hand and decide. Only you can find your lost color…
Or will you forever remain in the gray?"
Chiliarch: The Thousand in the Monochrome Garden
A story by BlickWinkel
Cards of Power
Brook Ashfield sat quietly alone as he waited patiently for someone to show up. He was currently seated on an overturned steel barrel in the middle of a construction yard. It was night time so no one else was around, but even had it been daylight it was likely the place would still be devoid of life. The materials and tools, including several pieces of heavy machinery, hadn't been touched for many months. The city was constantly expanding and starting new building projects, but it wasn't uncommon for a lot of them to stop halfway through construction and sit for months or years before being continued. It was like children playing with building blocks but losing interest before finishing. Where they were getting the money to keep starting projects like this he didn't know, but no doubt they had enough to throw around considering how many places like this were around the city. It didn't really matter anyway. The bigger question was why was he here?
He reached into the pocket of the faded jacket he was wearing to take out his cellphone and look at the time. 10:31 PM. He had gotten off of work a half hour ago and had headed over here as soon as possible. Why? His thumb tapped the screen to bring up a text he had gotten earlier that day.
"Let's meet up. I have something cool to show you. Come as soon as you can."
The only other thing included with the simple message was directions to the place where the meeting was supposed to take place. Normally he wouldn't have thought much of it, but why such an isolated area? There were plenty of other, less suspicious places to choose from. Meeting at an abandoned construction this late at night was shady no matter how you looked at it. Had the text not been from a friend he wouldn't have even given it a second thought. The days when he did stupid things without thinking had ended already. Right now he was just trying to focus on making it in the real world. The thought depressed him. Since when had he become such a boring person? Maybe it was just part of growing up. With a sigh he returned his phone to his pocket as he continued to wait for the person who called him here.
Still, despite the strangeness of the meeting and the secrecy he didn't understand, Brook couldn't help but be a little bit excited. The person who had texted him was someone he unfortunately hadn't heard from in a while. In his mind he had flashbacks to his days in school with his group of friends. In particular, one face stood out even in his memories. It wasn't that he didn't remember everyone else, but there was always the person that was responsible for bringing them together in the first place that he remembered the most. After high school they had all started to slowly drift apart. There was no specific reason for it but as they grew up and started on their own paths keeping in touch with each other became less and less frequent. It would be a stretch to say they were strangers but compared to how much they used to hang out…it was a little depressing.
A sound off to the side caused him to look over quickly. The area was dark aside from the moonlight shining down so it was hard to see. The city wasn't exactly known for violence or criminals, but you never knew who was lurking around after dark. In an isolated place like this he once again couldn't help but think why the person who had called him here had chosen it. If something were to happen there would be no way for help to arrive quickly. For that reason his body remained tense as he made out a tall figure carefully walking through the darkness towards him.
"Holy shit! Dude, is that you?"
Brook blinked at the familiar voice, but as the figure got closer a look of recognition entered his eyes. The person standing in front of him was a tall young man with a friendly smile and thin eyes that implied some kind of Asian heritage. Though he was tall his limbs weren't lanky or gangly. Instead he was built more like a basketball player or athlete. His clothing was that of a trendy student; a pair of ripped jeans that only barely reached down to his calves, stopping before a pair of high-top black and white sneakers. A colorful thin hoodie of blue, green, and pink was partially zipped up over a white t-shirt, various pins and buttons attached to it and adding to the color. Hanging from his waist was a red neckerchief which matched with the red bandanna that covered his hand, though a couple of black bangs still slipped out to frame his narrow face. Brook hadn't seen him in a while, but there was no mistaking who it was.
The smile on the tall man's face widened as his name was spoken. He quickly crossed the remaining distance between the two to throw an arm around Brook's shoulder and stoop down a bit so they were a little more level.
"I haven't seen you in months, dog! What's been going on?"
Devlin's friendly greeting instantly blew away any sense of tenseness he had been feeling. Devlin Han. In his memories the face came to surface amongst the others he had been thinking about. He was a friendly and popular boy who had been a part of his circle of friends back in school. His cheerfulness and optimism had made him well-liked amongst his peers, and his position on the basketball team only helped further his popularity. Normally they wouldn't have started hanging out with each other, but like with his other friends there had been one person responsible for bringing them all together. He hadn't seen Devlin that much since they had graduated, but as the tall man continued to hug him he was seeing that he was just the same as he remembered.
Devlin finally stepped back to give Brook another appraisal. His head cocked as he smiled in amusement as he looked over his friend.
"Man, you haven't thrown that ratty old thing away yet?"
Brook knew instantly what he was referring to; the faded blue jacket that he was wearing. He had had it since they were in school, of course back then it wasn't as faded or worn out. It had somewhat become his signature even though he had no real attachment to it. It was just a jacket that he really liked. Since then he had bought and worn others, but every time he would end up putting this one on out of habit. Hearing it referred to as "ratty" caused him to frown a bit. It wasn't in THAT bad condition. But maybe it did look a little worn on him.
Compared to Devlin, Brook certainly didn't stand out as much. He was a good head shorter and didn't dress nearly as boldly. A simple pair of jeans, black sneakers, and a white dress shirt gave him a plain appearance. Though to be fair he had just left work, as evident by his untucked shirt and loosened black tie. Still, he didn't dress much differently on his days off either, only really losing the tie. Physically there wasn't much to say either. A young face framed by dark brown hair that only slightly reached past his ears. Along with hazel eyes that seemed somewhat dull and uninterested. If a girl had a choice between the two they would go for Devlin every time no doubt. In that past that may have been different, but with how he was now…
"Anyway, what's been up bro? I didn't expect to see you out here."
Devlin grinned as he took a seat on the steel barrel Brook had been sitting on earlier. It looked like he was much less confused or concerned about meeting in such a shady place. Before Brook could answer, Devlin spoke again as he pulled out his phone.
"Oh, no way! Don't tell me you got a text from her too?"
Brook's brow rose with a bit of surprise. "Her"? Considering the circumstances he could only mean one person. So, he hadn't been the only one to get called out.
"Yeah. This place wasn't too far from work so I figured I may as well come."
He tried to sound uninterested as he gave an answer. The truth was that the moment work had ended he had jumped on his moped and sped over there, but he didn't want to say that out loud. What was he getting so eager for anyway? It wasn't like he had been called out specifically, as Devlin's appearance confirmed. Though it made him wonder…would anyone else be showing up? Again several faces popped into his mind. He was so deep in through that he almost missed his friend's next words.
"Still, it's been a while since I've heard from her. So when I got the text I couldn't just ignore it."
It appeared that Devlin had felt the same way he did. After all, who would really pass upon meeting with a friend they haven't heard from in a while? Even if the place was a little shady and weird, the person who called them out would never do something to put them in danger. Not intentionally anyway. Actually, scratch that; "she" always had been a bit on the strange side. But then again it was that strangeness that allowed them all to meet in the first place.
Brook spent the next few minutes catching up with his friend. They talked mostly about pointless stuff like friends normally would. What movies have you seen? What music are you listening to? Have you tried that new fast food place yet? Things they liked. Things that annoyed them. It was a perfectly normal and mundane conversation that one would expect. It wasn't until Brook asked a certain question that the tone of the conversation seemed to change.
"What have you been doing lately?"
At his question, Devlin's smile faltered slightly. He covered it up by giving a short laugh as he rubbed his head.
"Nothing much. You know me…Just kind of messing around."
Brook looked on as his friend gave an evasive answer. That wasn't like Devlin. He was usually the type of guy to brag or boast about what he was up to. Not because he was arrogant, but because he had no shame in admitting the things he did. Right now, however, it was like he was embarrassed to answer the question. Before Brook could pry further, the tall man stood up quickly and suddenly changed the subject.
"Anyway! Do you think anyone else is coming? If both you and me got a text then maybe the others…"
As if on cue the sound of someone else approaching caused the two to quickly look over. A figure was making their way towards them but suddenly stumbled as they almost tripped over a piece of wood lying on the ground.
"Whoa! Damn these heels!"
The voice of a female cut across the darkness as a young woman came into view. She fussed with the black heels she was wearing for a moment before looking back up. Upon seeing Brook and Devlin her body tensed and she looked like she might turn and run. With a bit of closer inspection, however, her eyes widened with recognition. A wide smile crossed Devlin's face as he called out.
"Tilde? God damn!"
Brook recognized her at the same time his friend did. A young woman dressed in business attire and a pair of heels, though her suit jacket had been removed to reveal a white blouse. Her auburn hair reached down to her shoulders with a hairclip in place to keep her bangs from falling in front of her eyes. A pair of black-rimmed glasses balanced on her nose, adding a stylish yet professional look to her blue eyes. Though she was dressed like a professional, her pretty, young face almost gave the impression of a child playing dress-up rather than the real deal. But again, this was just how Brook remembered her from back in school. Tilde Young. Back in school she had been an active and serious person who had been involved in many clubs and student activities. Despite her almost nerdy and shy looks she was known for her fierce stubbornness and refusal to accept anything less than the best from herself and those around her. This caused some people to see her as an overbearing overachiever, but the girl also had a soft and caring side that she showed to those close to her, like an older sister. She was another person that had been pulled into the group thanks to their connection to "her".
"Brook? And…Devlin? What are you two doing out here?"
Tilde asked with a bit of confusion as she adjusted her glasses. It was always something she did when she was confused or unsure about something. It looked like she hadn't expected to see anyone else here either. Brook was starting to get an idea about what was going on, but before he could vocalize it, Devlin spoke first. The tall man gave a low whistle as he looked Tilde over.
"Damn, you look pretty good in heels. Hey, what are you doing later tonight?"
His flirtatious words earned him a pointed stare from Tilde. Both she and Brook knew about their friend's tendency to hit on pretty much any girl. Ignoring him, she turned her attention to Brook instead.
"Well, I certainly wasn't expecting to see the two of you here. How have things been going?"
She asked Brook with a bit more warmth in her voice now that she had gotten over the slight shock of seeing them. Devlin looked a little disappointed about being ignored but he was soon back to his cheerful self as the three began to talk. Once the brief catching up was done with, Brook was able to get back to his original point.
"I'm guessing you got a text from her too?"
Tilde looked surprised for a second before nodding and pulling out her phone, speaking as she looked down at it.
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to make it because of work, but I managed to finish everything early. And I couldn't help but think that something might be wrong. Otherwise why would she contact me out of the blue like this?"
She had a point. From what Brook had heard so far it sounded like all of them had been contacted out of nowhere with no explanation. Devlin placed his hands behind his head as he balanced absent-mindedly on one foot.
"Come on, I'm sure she's just messing around. You remember how she could be."
He was the only one that didn't seem too worried. It was comforting in a way but Brook couldn't help but think on what Tilde had said. An uncomfortable feeling started to bubble up in his stomach…
"Or maybe she whisked away by monsters and this was a desperate cry for help?"
Devlin gave a short yelp as a voice suddenly whispered from behind him. It threw him off balance and he fell on his butt heavily. Once he recovered and looked up he found himself staring up at a grinning young woman with emerald green eyes.
"S-Sawyer? What the hell! How long have you been here?!"
The girl named Sawyer jumped over Devlin's body and landed deftly on the other side before turning and sitting down on a steel barrel.
"Right after you, actually. But I decided to stay hidden in case this was some kind of trap or set-up. A cat never willingly walks into something so obvious."
"You're not a friggin' cat!"
Devlin grumbled as he stood up, but Sawyer merely gave him a very cat like grin in return. She quickly focused her attention on Brook and Tilde instead.
"Brook and Dev I can understand, but you too Tilde? You're usually the first one to say how stupid and dangerous something like this would be!"
She spoke comfortably and casually even though they hadn't seen each other in a while. Sawyer Finn. Just like the other two she was exactly how Brook remembered her. Almost eerily so actually. The black cabbie hat she wore was pulled low on her head, almost obscuring her emerald green eyes which glinted playfully. Her straw blonde hair could barely be seen poking out, only just coming down to her eyes and drawing more attention to them. She wore a dark red shirt with the words "FREE" written on the front of it over the picture of a broken heart. It was made to intentionally hang loosely off of one shoulder, revealing that she was wearing a black tank top underneath. The shirt stopped right before her bellybutton, showing off her midriff, while her lower half was covered by a pair of white shorts that didn't even reach down to her knees, leaving a gap between the shorts and the white and black stockings she wore on each leg ending in a pair of somewhat boyish black boots.
Playful and mysterious, Sawyer had always been a bit of an enigma back in school. She had a habit of popping up and vanishing like a ghost even in the middle of class and always seemed to have a hand in some kind of strange business. Mostly it was just gossip and rumors, and she herself openly joked about being things such as an alien or secret agent. This of course made others think she was weird and unapproachable, but those that actually made friends with her found that for all her strangeness she really was quite friendly. Though she may have not fit in with other groups easily, she adapted to Brook and the others surprisingly well. Then again that was most likely because of "her".
There were four of them now. When Brook first arrived he had only been expecting to meet up with one person he hadn't seen in a long time, but it looked like the whole group was gathering again. When was the last time they had gotten together like this? It had to have been more than a year ago. They had not cut ties with each other completely, but at most they would just text each other maybe once a week or so. But even that had started to die down in the last few months. Why, none of them could say. Especially seeing how well they were hitting it off despite not seeing each other for so long. Perhaps that was just how life was, as depressing as that sounded.
"I actually had other plans but…I decided to put them on hold to see what the S.O.S was about. It was too irresistible to ignore. Like the set up for a horror story!"
Despite her morbid words Sawyer didn't seem worried in the slightest. If zombies and monsters actually did start crawling out of the shadows she would probably take out her phone and start taking pictures. Even if the moon fell it wouldn't faze the girl. She pulled her legs into a crossed position as she looked around curiously.
"Ty isn't here? Or is he being so quiet I just missed him?"
She asked about a person but the others responded with shrugs. That's right, they were still missing someone. Two people, actually: The one who had called them here in the first place and someone else.
"You know him. He always just kind of showed up when he felt like it, even back then. Though if she's the one who called us you would think even he would come running."
If it really were "her", then even someone like him would make the time to come. That was because she connected them. Without her they may have not ever even spoke to each other, but she had acted like a chain drawing them together. That's why none of them could ignore it when she called. Even if they had drifted apart they couldn't abandon the person responsible for linking them as friends. But as for where that person was now…
Brook pulled out his phone again as the others chatted with each other. It was almost 11. They had been there for an hour yet the person that had called them had yet to show herself. In hindsight he realized it would have been simple to just call her at let her know they were there, but maybe she was waiting for all of them to show up first. Whatever she was planning he didn't know, but once more his heart started to race with anticipation and eagerness. It was the feeling one got when welcoming home a family member or long lost friend. As he watched the others continue to converse with each other, memories of days in the past came flooding back once more. Before he knew it a small smile had started to creep onto his face. How long had it been since he had felt like this?
"Wahahahaha! I see my loyal minions have finally arrived!"
Shattering his thoughts was the sudden sound of high pitched laughter coming from above. He turned with the others to the source of the noise; a figure perched precariously on top of a heap of building materials. They were standing with their back to the moon which cast an eerie glow around their body. But as their eyes adjusted to the light it was impossible to mistake who it was. With a petite body that could have been mistaken for a grade-schooler, raven hair tied into two girlish pigtails, mischievous violet eyes that sparkled even in the night, and her arms folded in a way clearly not suited for one of her stature. It couldn't be anyone else.
"She" had finally arrived.
The others reacted with in their various ways.
"So, the criminal mastermind has finally decided to show herself." Sawyer said in an intentionally dark voice, though the smile on her face contrasted her tone.
"Lucille! Get down from there before you fall and get hurt!" Tilde reacted with worry like a mother, telling the small girl to come down with a fretful look on her face.
"Heeeey! We can see your panties!"
At the last comment from Devlin, the girl stumbled as she reached her hands down quickly to try and cover her lower body. She realized too late that the tall man was just messing with her, as the blue dress she wore went well past her knees. But the sudden movement caused her to lose her footing and before she could stop herself she found herself sliding down the side of the heap she had been standing on. The others looked on with worry as she continued her descent with a childish yelp, hoping she didn't snag herself on a sharp piece of metal or anything. Surprisingly she was managing to remain upright instead of tumbling over and the image of a rookie skier going down a slope came to mind. She was quickly approaching the bottom, however, and it didn't look like it was going to be a gentle landing. As her feet hit the ground she tried to remain upright but began to dip forward as her arms flailed.
She babbled incoherently as she finally started to tip over. But her body would never hit the ground. Before she could fall over completely a pair of hands grabbed each of her arms and stabilized her. She looked to each side quickly to see Brook and Devlin who had hurried over to catch her, with Tilde and Sawyer close behind. She looked up as the two men finally let her go and backed up a bit to give her space. Her eyes looked across the various expressions of her friends before finally stopping on Brook. The two looked at each other for a moment before she smiled widely.
"Long time no see!"
They spent the next half hour catching up. They talked about pointless things. What movies they had watched recently. What music they were listening to. If they tried that new fast food place that opened up recently. The things that they liked. The stuff that annoyed them. It was in every way a normal and boring conversation between friends. It wasn't until it was almost midnight that Lucille made a grand show of standing up, causing the others to stop talking and look at her.
"Now then…I have something to show you guys!"
They listened intently to her words, finally getting to the reason why they had been called out in the first place. Lucille looked slightly regretful for a moment as she looked around.
"I was hoping Tyson would show up too, but it is getting late."
They were still missing one person but it couldn't be helped at this point. It was almost midnight and both Brook and Tilde expressed that they had work tomorrow. Devlin and Sawyer didn't seem to share the same responsibilities but they both mentioned they didn't want to be tied down for too long. Even if they had reunited for the first time in a while it looked like their own lives were still pulling them in different ways. That's why Lucille was sure what she had to show them next would get their attention.
"So what was so important that you had to call us out here in the middle of the night, Lu?"
Devlin asked casually as he crossed his arms and tilted his head. Sawyer smiled from her seat as she pulled her cap lower over her eyes, completely obscuring her eyes as she nearly whispered.
"Did you find a dead body you wanted to show us? Or perhaps….something worst?"
Her words caused a shudder to run up Tilde's spine as she gave a disapproving look.
"Cut that out." She chastised Sawyer sternly before turning to Lucille.
"Lucille, you aren't in any trouble are you?"
Tilde asked with a worried tone. Brook almost chuckled. Lucille and trouble went hand in hand. Back in school the girl had always been getting into something. But somehow, things always worked out for her. Maybe it was for the same reason that she seemed to have the power to draw others together in the first place? He hid his amusement as he watched the girl take several paces away from them before turning around. She was smiling smugly with her chest puffed out like a child proudly hiding a secret. Holding up one finger her eyes glinted with a mysterious light as she spoke.
"Watch and be amazed!"
They looked at her with varying degrees of interest. Brook watched as she reached a hand to a small pouch that was hanging around her waist. He had assumed it was a purse or wallet at first, but getting a closer look at it it appeared to be a carrying case of some sort. Unbuttoning the flap at the top Lucille pulled out what looked to be a stack of cards and held them up for the others to see. Of course this caused confusion. Had she really called them out here to show them cards?
"Lu, you didn't really call us here to play cards did you? I'd rather do karaoke or bowling or something instead!"
Devlin was the first to respond. There was a slight tinge of annoyance in his voice but he didn't seem really angry. Their friend was known for coming up with weird and strange ideas so something like this wasn't too surprising. But that didn't seem to be all to it. Lucille was still smiling smugly as if she anticipated their disappointment.
She repeated before shuffling through the deck of cards she was holding. After several moments of scanning the deck her eyes lit up as she apparently found the card she was looking for. With unnecessary flair she pulled it from the rest of the deck and held it between two fingers. Turning around to face a pile of scrap, the small girl took a pose comically similar to a character in a cartoon or comic book before speaking as her eyes flashed with a serious light.
"Dragon's rage and Drake's fury! Give me the power of heat! Fireball!"
Brook's eyes widened as the card I Lucille's hand flashed brightly. Before he could comprehend what was going on a warm heat filled the area, the source of which being the ball of flames that had inexplicably formed in front of Lucille. Like a missile the fireball shot towards the pile of scrap before exploding in a bright burst and sending bits of debris scattering across the ground. As the flames dissipated, Lucille lowered her hand holding the card and turned back to look at her friends, smiling at their looks of confusion and disbelief.
She asked as she puffed out her chest again. The others were speechless. There was no mistaking what they had seen but…could something like that really be possible?
"Hey, Lu…what was that?"
Again, Devlin was the first to recover and speak. Though a small smile was on his face the uneasy look in his eyes made his confusion clear.
"I had no idea our dear little Lulu was a witch. I guess that means I'm not special anymore."
Though Sawyer sounded unfazed by the demonstration her face was hidden by the darkness of her cap, making her actual expression unreadable.
"Lucille, was that some kind of trick? It looked dangerous."
Tilde said quietly as she fiddled with her glasses. Normally she would have been the first to demand an explanation but it looked like she was still processing what she had seen. Only Brook remained quiet, yet on the inside his heart was racing again. It was not from confusion or doubt like the others. No, instead he felt that eagerness from before bubbling up in his stomach again. What had she just done? What had their friend, who they had not seen in nearly a year, gotten herself into this time? The memories of the past came back as he started to recall those days from school. Unconsciously he found himself clenching a fist and suppressing a grin.
The ringmaster herself was reveling in their reactions. It appeared to be exactly what she had been hoping for.
"That's not all!"
Unable to tear their eyes away now they watched as Lucille shuffled through the deck before pulling out another card. Holding it up her eyes flashed as she bellowed out another incantation.
"The arm of warriors and the fangs of soldiers! Bring us the power of steel! Mercenary Blade!"
The card flashed just like last time, but this time instead of summoning forth fire the light took a solid shape before dispersing as something heavy fell to the ground. When the light cleared they found themselves looking upon a curved sword with its blade halfway embedded into the ground at Lucille's feet. The moonlight glinted off the steel making it clear it wasn't an illusion. First fire had appeared and now a weapon that looked like it was right out of a fantasy novel. What was next? The others were silent for several beats. Finally, Devlin stepped forth.
"I'm not sure how you're doing this, but nice tricks! Did you star studying special effects or something after school?"
Devlin asked as he strolled forward casually. Lucille watched as he reached a hand out and placed it on the handle of the blade. She didn't answer his question but merely watched in amusement as he gave the sword several tugs. At first it didn't budge, but after planting his feet squarely and giving it a mighty pull he was able to free it and hold it up fully.
"Oof! Damn, this thing is pretty heavy! How the hell were you able to carry it?"
Devlin didn't have much bulk but he wasn't scrawny by any means and had done weight training while on the basketball team. So for someone like him to not be able to lift the sword easily it must have weighed quite a bit. It would certainly be too heavy for a small girl like Lucille to lift. Even if she could have managed to drag it there, where had she hidden it until now? Devlin gave the blade a couple of experimental swings as he continued to talk, seemingly in denial.
"This is pretty well made, but there's no way it's real, right? Like those fireworks from earlier?"
Looking around he set his eyes on a steel drum that was nearby.
"Don't do anything stupid." Tilde tried to warn him as he lifted the sword above his head.
"It wouldn't really be Dev if he didn't." Sawyer said with a bemused smirk as they watched their friend.
"Come on, guys! You know how Lu is! There's no way any of this is re-al!"
Devlin sounded confident as he brought the sword down, maybe expecting it to bend or shatter, but to his surprise and the others surprise the blade cut through the steel drum as if it were butter. The lack of friction caused him to stumble forward but he released the sword in his shock and it embedded itself in the ground again. His jaw dropped in disbelief as he looked at the remains of the drum that had been cleanly cleaved in two.
The words leaked out of his mouth slowly. Behind him, Lucille continued to grin as she crossed her arms smugly once more. This time Devlin wasn't the first to question her. Brook, who had been mostly quiet that night, was the one to speak instead. It was the question that had been on everyone's mind since Lucille had summoned the fireball.
"Lucille…what are those cards?"
The lights of the city twinkled below like stars and glitter. Though it was past midnight there was certain parts of the city that never slept. Late night clubs and bars mostly, but some afterhours businesses mixed in as well. As to what those after hours businesses actually did it was something that was known only to their clients. Don't ask don't tell was one of the common rules of the city's streets at night. Though most people were either inside or in bed at this time, the ceaseless sound of footsteps against pavement echoed out as a figure ran through the night.
A young woman's breath came out in careful gasps as she tried to refill her lungs with air without stopping. Her long purple hair, tied loosely at the end with a blue bow to keep it from flying everywhere, trailed behind her like a scarf as she ran. To an onlooker, aside from her odd hair color, she wouldn't look out of the ordinary. An average build covered be a white track jacket with bright blue stripes running up the sides, as well as a pair of black hotpants and worn out looking sneakers. Going from the youthfulness of her face alone she could probably have passed for a late high school student or perhaps just graduated. So why was a girl like that seemingly running for her life?
She ducked quickly into the shade of an empty building. Upon finding that the side door was locked she frowned before whispering something under her breath. There was a bright flash that trailed down her leg before briefly coating her foot, and then with much more strength than should have been possible for a girl her size, her foot flashed up and slammed into the door. It dented inward before swinging open on its hinge, allowing her to run inside.
Up. Up. Up. Upon entering the building and finding the stairs she began to ascend them rapidly. Despite her heavy breathing she was clearing the flights with a speed that would have made an Olympic runner jealous until finally she reached the roof. Same as before a quick kick dented the locked door and allowed her to exit onto the roof. For a brief moment she paused to collect her breath as the night air cooled her. Once her breathing had somewhat calmed down she took several steps forward. For a brief moment it seemed like she could relax but a tense look soon entered her eyes as she turned around slowly with a clenched fist. No, not yet. Climbing a building wasn't going to be enough to escape from the thing that was pursuing her. Of course she had known that from the beginning.
A low roar, almost like the grating of metal, shook the roof of the building. The girl stepped back as a bright light appeared in front of her taking the form of a ring-shaped portal. She watched impassively as a large object began to pull itself out of the otherworldly light. First came a hand, cold and wicked like a machine with fingers as sharp as swords. The tree trunk arm came next, followed by the thick, stooped shape of the creature's legs. The body was hunched over like a gorilla and covered in a toxic green fur that was matted and filthy. Green drool fell from a maw of twisted teeth landing on the ground in droplets that quickly evaporated into noxious steam. Its beady eyes blazed with a fire of hunger and destruction as it looked at the prey in front of it.
A monster. There was no other way to put it.
The girl stared down the impossible thing calmly, though her eyes were narrowed slightly. There was no way a human could stand up to such a being. With one swipe of its claws it could annihilate a tank. No doubt if someone were to be hit by it they would be reduced to less than a bloody smear. Yes, there was no way a human could survive. But then again she wasn't really planning to fight it. The two grossly contrasting figures stared at each slightly as if waiting for the other to make the first move. A moment passed. Then another. The girl glanced over her shoulder at the edge of the roof behind her. A fall from here would be fatal and the building of the next roof was a distance away. But for a human would that gap be possible to cross?
There was no time to ponder it anymore. The impatient beast bellowed as it raised its massive arms. Those wicked claws flashed out as they headed towards the girl aiming to wipe her off the face of the planet. She moved quickly. Any slower and that would have been it. Raising her left hand she held her palm out flat in the direction of the giant's incoming claws. There was a flash followed by the sound of two heavy forces colliding with each other. The giant's claws never reached their mark. Instead they seemed to have been stopped by some invisible force. Though it didn't seem like anything was there, a faint shimmer gave outline to what appeared to be a translucent shell that had formed between the girl and the beast's claws. With a roar of rage, the giant swung its other arm at the girl's unprotected side, but again she raised her palm quickly and the attack was blocked. She appeared to be holding it at bay but from the look of concentration on her face it was clear she couldn't hold the invisible barrier for long. The moment she took it down the beast would come at her relentlessly so she had no room to hesitate.
As the green giant pulled its arms back to prepare to attack again, the girl dropped her own arms suddenly and turned around, taking off in a sprint towards the edge of the building. There was another flash of light which trailed down her legs before wrapping around her ankles and taking on the shapes of miniature wings. With a mighty leap she propelled herself off the edge of the building. Normally a human wouldn't be able to make a jump like that, but the wings on her ankles allowed her to cross it with ease. The monster on the roof behind her howled with fury at its prey escaping. Of course it could simply vanish into the portal it had come from and be resummoned on the next roof, but that would take some time. By then she would be long gone…Or so she thought.
Her eyes widened as another portal appeared on the roof of the building she was about to land on. Another large shape quickly pulled itself out, this one resembling a large bear with leathery skin and sharp spikes on its back and forearms. It was too late to change her direction as she headed straight for the second monster. The moment her feet touched the roof she quickly dove to the side to avoid a massive paw that would have no doubt flattened her. Rolling to the side she barely had time to pull herself up to see the ursine monster charging at her once more. Bringing both hands up there was a flash of light as another barrier was formed but this didn't time it didn't seem like she had enough time to form it properly. The bear slammed into it with extreme force, and even though it wasn't able to advance, the impact threw the girl off balance and sent her sliding across the roof.
She gave small grunt as she came to a stop right at the roof's edge. This was bad. In this state she didn't have enough power to hold one of the monsters off for long, and soon the other one would be joining the spiked bear. Then she really would have no chance. Below her the lights of the city continued to twinkle. She had intentionally run to an area that didn't seem to be too densely populated, but it looked like there were still some people around here. What now? Should she use a more powerful spell and risk injuring anyone below? There was little time to think.
With a roar the spiked bear launched itself at her intending to crush her under its sheer weight. There was no time to think. Raising a hand quickly her eyes narrowed as a bright light formed in her palm. Only this time instead of projecting a barrier the light gathered into a dense ball which then flew towards the falling danger. Upon impact it exploded with the force of a bomb sending a loud noise over the roof and to the streets down below. The wind from the explosion pushed her over the edge. As she fell the wings of light returned to her ankles and she kicked off the wall closest to her. Doing this several times she managed to slow her ascent but still hit the ground heavily, the impact winding her for a brief moment. Fighting against the pain she shakily stood to her feet before looking upwards. A large chunk of the building she had been on had been destroyed and she saw no sign of either monster, but that didn't mean they were gone.
Wasting no time she began to limp off into the night as fast as she could…
The hum of his moped's engine was the only noise that filled the streets as Brook made his way through them. Though his eyes were set on the road in front of him like he was paying attention he wasn't really focused on his driving. How could he be after what had happened earlier? He thought back to when he had split up with the others about a half hour ago.
"I started finding them about a month ago. Before I knew it I had enough to make a whole deck! I thought they were just random cards at first but then I found out what they could do one night. There was no way I couldn't show you guys!"
Now that the demonstrations were over, they listened as Lucille began to explain things. Even the normally flippant Devlin was listening intently as she spoke, no longer playing things off like a prank.
According to Lucille she had started finding the cards scattered around the streets. Finding one led to another and eventually she started to pick them up out of habit. At first she didn't think much of it, but after messing around with them one night she managed to accidentally "activate" one. It wasn't long after that that she realized the mysterious power of the cards and started actively looking for them. But not wanting to keep such a thing to herself she had decided to call her friends and show them. And that led to where they were now.
"Where did they come from? Actually, never mind that. How can they do those things?"
Tilde had asked as she looked over a card in her hands. They didn't seem to be made of paper or cardboard. Rather they were cool to the touch and didn't bend easily, like thin metal, yet they weighed almost nothing. One side was a smooth, blank, chrome surface, while the other side had an image depicted on it like a normal card. Some of the images were creatures that looked like they came from fairytales. Others were things like objects or weapons like the sword from earlier, or fire and other abstract things. They didn't seem to follow a particular pattern.
"Maybe they're the product of a secret organization planning to take over the world under the guise of a children's card game?"
Sawyer chuckled as she balanced a card of her own on the tips of her fingers. Despite everything she had just seen she was treating this like it was one big joke.
"Dude, these are seriously cool! Imagine what kind of shit we could get into with these!"
Devlin had recovered from his shock as he eagerly looked between several cards with a childlike glee. Brook was the only one who was remaining silent, looking down at a card in his hand. Unlike the others it was blank on both sides, reflecting his face on the chromelike surface. Just what were these things?
"There's more I want to show you guys…but it is getting late."
Lucille said with a regretful smile before holding her hands out.
"What? We gotta' give em' back?"
Devlin was dismayed but the small girl merely puffed out her cheeks as she gathered the cards back from them.
"Of course! You guys don't know how to use them yet!"
Once she had gotten all the cards back she returned them to the case on her side before smiling at the others again.
"We can meet again another night and I'll show you more! Let's make sure Tyson comes next time too. It will be just like old times!"
And with that they had agreed to meet a week from now in the same place and then went their separate ways for the night.
A week. Brook didn't know if he would be able to wait that long. He had seemed the most uninterested the whole time but that feeling in his stomach had never gone away. Eagerness? Anticipation? Excitement? He couldn't tell, but it was a feeling he hadn't felt in almost a year. Before he knew it a smile had crossed his face and he was pulling the throttle and increasing his speed. Was this what he had been waiting for all this time? Something to fill that blank ever since he had graduated?
Not focusing on the road turned out to be a bad move. He zoned back in just in time to see a figure crossing his path.
He released the throttle and pulled the brakes while turning sharply to avoid hitting the person that had stepped out of the alley in front of him. He managed to stop himself from toppling over on his moped, stopping at the side of the road. Quickly he turned to see who he had almost hit to make sure they were alright.
He was greeted by a pair of red eyes looking back at him calmly. A girl with purple hair stared at him blankly like he was a foreign object. Her clothes were somewhat dirty and be the way she stood it looked like she was having some pain in one of her legs, but her expression gave no such feelings away. She didn't say anything leaving him to wonder if something was wrong.
"Are you okay?"
He began to ask. Instead of responding the girl walked over to him with the same blank expression. Before he could ask what was going on the wheels of his moped sank under added weight as the girl climbed onto the seat behind him. He blinked in confusion. What the hell? Turning to look at her he met her red eyes that stared at him stoically. Her slightly pink lips opened slowly to utter a single word.
It was less of a command and more of a request. Brook was stunned for a moment. Normally if a crazy person got on the back of his moped and told him to drive he would consider calling for help. But as he stared back at her, expression not changing, there was something that was making him hesitate. Maybe it had been the simple sincerity of the request despite the strange and sudden action. Her dirty clothes and hurt leg, and now that he was looking more closely he saw that her skin was scraped and bruised as well. Had she been running from someone?
As if in response there was a noise further down the street from an alley off to the side. The girl looked back quickly before looking back to Brook.
She repeated again. Her expression was the same but this time there was a certain urgency in her voice. Not forceful, but pleading. Brook looked at her for a moment more before nodding slowly and turning to face the front again. As he revved up the engine he felt a pair of slender arms wrap around his waist as the girl behind him held on gently. Soon they were heading down the night streets together as the small hum of the moped's engine filled the silent streets.
"She got away! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!"
A man kicked the rail in front of him multiple times, bending the rusting metal as he cursed to himself. His bright, green hair was stylized into a flowing Mohawk that trailed down his back and ended in a wild ponytail. The spiked bangles, tight pants, and furred vest he wore gave him the appearance of some kind of punk rocker. With a final kick the railing in front of him finally gave way and clattered to the dirty ground with a loud noise. He was in an abandoned building, though several crates and a large couch had been set in the middle of the room. Most likely a gang's hideout. Taking a deep breath he ran a hand through his green hair as he calmed down.
"Doesn't matter. Wasn't really my job to be doin' this shit anyway. Still leaves a bad taste in my mouth though."
He spat on the ground before giving a disappointed growl. He had only come across her by chance and decided to try and take her out there. Would have saved him and the others a lot of trouble later down the line, but oh well. It did piss him off that his 'prey' had gotten away though.
He looked up as there was the clatter of a door opening. Rambunctious voices filled the previously silent place as a group of young man talked and joked with each other, carrying bottles of beer and other drinks. They stopped when they saw they man standing in the middle of the room with his hands in his pockets, looking at them as if they were something disgusting.
"Hey! Who the hell are you?! This is our turf!"
One of the men shouted as he stepped forward. Apparently they were the gang who hung out in this place. There were about 7 me and from the way they were reaching into their pockets it was clear they probably had at least knives on them. The green-haired man didn't seem intimidated, however. Instead a wicked smile crossed his face.
"Oh, just in time. I needed something to sharpen my claws on."
The men looked on in confusion as the green-haired man raised a hand and snapped his fingers.
"Wendigo…It's feeding time!"
There was a flash of bright light as a blue portal suddenly formed near the top of the room. Before the men realized what was going on, a large figure dropped out of the portal and landed behind the green-haired man. Limbs as massive as tree trunks. A squat body like a gorilla. Green fur that was matted and filthy. And drool that melted anything it touched like acid. It was the same monster that had chased the girl from before. Before the men could react, the monster's master raised his hand and pointed at them.
"Leave nothing behind."
With that simple command the beast jumped forward and began to feed as the pained cries of the men filled the empty building.
A/N: First chapter done! This is a story I've actually had planned for a while but never had the time to actually sit down and write it. But when you really want to do something you make that time, right? I actually wasn't sure where to post this at first. I didn't know if the Manga section was right seeing as how this doesn't really take place in Japan, but reading other stories in the section it seems to be a general place for almost any genre. I guess it goes by the style of storytelling and themes? In any case I'll just plop it here for now.
I hope things didn't drag on too much in the beginning and I was worried about introducing characters that already knew each other as it might confuse the reader. Because of that I'll give a little write up of each character below to give a better look into things. Of course all that stuff is going to be explained later as I start diving into the character arcs but I figured it wouldn't hurt to give a quick heads-up!
Brook Ashfield: The main character of the story, even if he may have not seemed like it at first. Most of the story will be told from his perspective and experiences, though the others will get plenty of exposure as well. A plain sort of guy that's kind of boring for the moment, but there's a reason for this. Back in school he was a lot more outgoing and wild, but that changed after he graduated for reasons that will be revealed later. Now he works part-time at a coffee shop and seems to find life incredibly depressing. Was the one looking forward to seeing Lucille again the most. He'll get better soon, I promise!
Devlin Han: A half-Korean young man who used to play basketball back in school. He doesn't seem to have changed much since then, but it appears he's hiding something and becomes evasive when asked about what he's up to these days. Generally the comic relief of the group and is known for his ability to break the tension. He's also known to chase girls a lot, which will come up later.
Tilde Young: The daughter of the director of a major hospital in the city, so she grew up pretty wealthy. Back in school she was the student council president and served a "mother" type role to the others, but was known for being caring if a bit strict. She works as a clinical advocate in the hospital now, handling files for patients. When asked to do things she usually claims to be working, but that may not actually be the case.
Sawyer Finn: A tomboyish girl with Irish roots. Considered a bit of an enigma by most people around her. She has a habit of quoting movies and video games and treating the world like it's one big game. She's smarter and cleverer than she looks though and knows a lot about what happens on the streets. Like Devlin she becomes evasive when asked what she's up to these days.
Lucille Harper: The youngest of the group and the catalyst to the entire story. It was because of her being a mutual friend to the others that they started hanging out in the first place. She was the one bothered the most when they started to drift apart, but after discovering the Chrome Cards she hopes to bring them back together again.
Tyson Graves: The final member of the group who has yet to make an appearance. He'll show up next chapter maybe?
And that's a basic run down. Another thing I wanted to point out is the setting. I didn't really want to restrict the location to a specific place, so it will probably never actually come up in the story where on Earth they are. For the most part the city will just be referred to as "the city" but there will be people of many different backgrounds and races that will show up.
I hope you look forward to the next chapter!