As soon as I confirmed that Zeta was following behind me, I quickened my pace. The two of us stepped into the elevator that lowered us down to the lobby of the entire building. I glanced over at Kiya, the desk receptionist, and smiled before heading out the front door. Not bothering to let Zeta catch up, I hustled down the street and waved a cab down to come and take me to the outskirts of the city.
“Afternoon, ma’am,” the cabbie spoke with a thick southern accent. I smirked, rather amused with it. Humans were so interesting.
“I’d like to head to the outskirts near Jester Village,” I requested as Zeta slipped into the backseat next to me.
“Sure thing, miss,” the cabbie replied. He pressed on his meter and started his way down the road. I glanced over the scenery outside the window, numb to its bleak appearance. Car rides weren’t interesting to me. If I could, I would have shifted freely and swept through the city streets on my four adventurous fox paws. But instead, I had to be cooped up and treated like a lazy human, and be shown the same streets every cab driver took.
The cab driver took a sharp left at the first light, which put an unsettling feeling in my stomach. From a first impression, he sure seemed like an aggressive driver. I sat up in my seat to get over my uneasiness.
“So what’re ya headin’ to Jester for?” the cabbie asked, attempting to strike up conversation. My eyebrows scrunched together, not knowing how to respond to that. I glanced over at Zeta, wondering if he had any ideas, but he simply returned my gaze with a dumbfounded look. I rolled my eyes.
“Oh, uh… we’re just visiting a friend that lives in the neighborhood,” I managed to spit out. Zeta seemed relieved at my believable response.
“Well that’s nice. Do ya visit of’en?” he asked.
“Um, no… not really. You know, everyone is always so busy with work and things. It’s hard to find the time to hang,” I cringed, trying to sound personable.
“True… So what’s the occasion for visitin’ today?” he persisted.
“Down time, I suppose…” I muttered, continuously growing more irritated with this strange man.
“You doin’ anythin’ fun?”
“Just… relaxing. Girl talk, you know? The latest gossip, catching up on each other’s lives and whatnot.”
“Speakin’ of gossip, have ya heard about the nonsense goin’ on in town? Mysterious murders and other crap? Police sayin’ there’s serial killers out there, huntin’ us down,” the man grew more serious than before, as if he were actually concerned.
“Yeah, a little bit… I try to not pay attention to the news,” I replied, hoping my less interested tone would signal him to shut up.
“You serious? There’s murderers on the loose! We’re livin’ in danger!” the cabbie exclaimed. I rolled my eyes. If only he knew.
“I guess that’s just the way the world works,” I said blandly. I looked over at Zeta, who seemed to be rather amused by this terribly painful conversation I was having.
Thankfully, however, it seemed to have ended. The man went back to focusing on the road, which didn’t seem to help his driving skills anyways. He swerved around a car in his blind spot to change lanes, and then proceeded to crank a harsh right to turn down the road. My pupils dilated as I clawed onto my seat, hoping I wouldn’t fly through the window. Was this guy a dumbass? How was he allowed to drive like this in the city? We steadied our pace after the turn, but were abruptly stopped by a red light. The cab screeched to a halt, as did my beating heart for a short moment. I exhaled, releasing the anxiety from within me.
I looked over at Zeta once more, seeing that he was just as frightened as I was. I figured it would be best to escape this taxi cage before the traffic got any worse.
“Um, you can just let us off here. Our friend actually wants us to pick her up some coffee before we head over there,” I spoke up.
“Oh? I can take ya to the coffee shop near Jester. It’s fine,” the man insisted. I blinked a few times, rather slowly. This man was officially a pain in my ass.
“Really. Let us out here. We’re good,” I stated, more aggressively than I usually spoke.
“I don’t think I can let’cha do that, there’s just so much traffic ‘round here. Just lemme take ya to the coffee shop near Jester.”
“Sir, I’m not going to let you do that,” I growled. “Here. Take your $4.55. We’re leaving,” I said, while pulling out money from my pocket. I irritably shoved it his way. Expecting him to grab it, I pulled away in a hurry. But suddenly, my hand was stuck by the grasp of his hand. Confused, I yanked my arm, but his grip was too tight to allow any release.
“Sorry sweetheart, but I’m not letting you out of this cab,” the man said. My eyes widened at this response. As he turned his head around to face me, a sinister grin swept across his face. I scowled at him before pulling away again. This attempt only made him clamp down harder and pull me closer.
Behind me, Zeta tried to open the back door, but it had been locked down. He leaned back to give himself room to punch the window, but the cab immediately combated this through an abrupt transformation. The walls shifted into a metallic material, blocking any entry or exit. The seats beneath us suddenly dropped, leaving Zeta with nothing to sit on but the cold, steel floor. It was almost as if this cab was molding into a cubic metal jail cell.
Thinking logically, there was a very slim possibility that whoever was holding my arm hostage was a human. But I didn’t want to risk anything just yet. With my left hand free, I used it to grab a small dagger hidden within my inner jacket pocket. My arm crept up stealthily before I slashed at the man. Jet black liquid extruded from his forearm and glossed over the cab’s interior, as well as my face. The sight of this stopped my breath for a moment. I had found one. A real Aejin. A pure, black blooded evil creature that all the upper ranks were desperately trying to get their paws on.
Before I wasted too much time in utter shock, I escalated my body temperature, preparing to fight. Most of my heat converged into my hand as an attempt to get the Aejin to release me. The leftover heat sparked into a blue flame which danced in my palm. I gave a glance to Zeta, signaling him to get his ass up and help. But before he could do so, the traffic light up ahead changed to green. The Aejin thrusted the cab forward and swerved around everyone like a jackass. I flung to the side and slammed my restrained arm against the window that separated the front of the cab from the back. Despite me burning his own arm, he wouldn’t let go of me. He took a sharp right at the light, which directed the car down a path that probably wasn’t meant for vehicles.
Zeta tumbled to one side of the cab, but quickly got himself together. He pressed his finger pads to the floor in an effort to release electric currents from his hands. The flame from my palm dissolved as I placed my left hand against the wall and prepared for the worst to come. However, before Zeta unleashed his electricity, the cab rode over a large bump which flung us both upwards. We crashed down harshly on the steel flooring. My arm felt like it should have snapped in half from the beating it was taking.
The both of us repositioned ourselves to attempt this terrible plan once more. My eyes squeezed shut as Zeta released his currents onto the floor. They squiggled and zipped past his fingers, rippling around him. The bolts crawled up the wall of the cab and pierced through me like a dagger. I yelped in an instinctive cry out for help, but I knew this pain was necessary. It passed on from me to the Aejin, electrocuting his bleeding arm that was so tightly clamped onto mine. However, the cabbie appeared unaffected by this. His arm didn’t even flinch.
“What the hell?” I yelled in anger, mostly from being in agonizing pain. I gave a harsh glance to Zeta, signaling him to strengthen the bolts’ power. He returned a worried look before hesitantly pushing out stronger currents throughout the floor. A large scream erupted from my throat, but I managed to muffle it slightly by clenching my teeth down. I threw my head back, trying to think of happy thoughts. Looking over at the Aejin, I realized this increase of power was doing nothing. He remained unaffected and continued driving like an ass hat down this creepy allyway path.
Zeta cringed, probably feeling awkward for only agonizing me in this situation. I shot a glare one last time, communicating to him that he should let loose his full potential. He closed his eyes as I did mine and allowed electricity to burst from within him. My cries were silent, and I could barely feel anything anymore. Electric currents pulsed through my body, causing me to shake violently in involuntary ways. It burned and pulsed, then continued burning through me. My exterior, my interior, my core. I gouged my long claws into the Aejin’s arm as an attempt to lessen my pain and bring it upon it instead, but to no avail.
Zeta was losing his strength and energy very rapidly. I was burning all over, and everything seemed blurry, but I managed to see Zeta’s trembling. I kicked at him as a sign to give in. He brought his hands up from the floor and cupped them to his chest, ceasing his currents. The burning intensity died down, but I was still shaking uncontrollably. There wasn’t much time to calm down, but I could barely move. I hadn’t been electrocuted by Zeta since we first encountered each other on Earth. It was eerie being the burn victim. Normally, it was the other way around.
I looked over at the Aejin’s arm. It was darker than before, and black blood was still dripping from it into a small puddle. His palm had baked into a dark, crimson burn stain. I stared at it, befuddled by his emotionlessness. Did he have no nerves there? Or was he conditioned to take electric attacks? Either way, I yanked my arm from his grasp once more. His pull combatted mine as if we’d done nothing to him. I grumbled irritably. I was in pain, I couldn’t move, and I was completely useless.
The three of us staggered down this path that seemed to get more narrow the further we drove. The clouds above us began to fade as the cab passed into an underground passageway. Zeta, who still seemed winded from releasing so much energy in such a short amount of time, began punching at the walls of the cab. He couldn’t stand up due to his height, so kneeling was his best bet. I attempted to kick the left wall, but I was too short to reach it. The Aejin’s grip held me back from doing anything. I tried to look out his front windshield to see where we were going, but everything remained blurry. I was still vibrating unwillingly and began to cling onto the cool metal interior of the car to try and cease the pulses zipping through my body. This calming technique was minimally helpful, but it was all I had at the moment.
The cab suddenly gained speed as we left the natural light of Earth’s atmosphere. Zeta fumbled forward and crashed into me. I pushed him off of me with my free hand, uncomfortable with his body heat near mine. My body temperature was already severely high, and I didn’t want him anywhere near me. We swerved left and right a few times before the car abruptly halted in the midst of nowhere.
The Aejin released my arm and got out of the cab. I dropped onto the floor and held my arm gently. I scanned over it, seeing his black hand mark etched into my skin. Now that he had released me, my arm throbbed more than before. I bit my cheek, trying to get over it. Zeta looked over at me with a huge look of concern on his face. He wasn’t used to this sort of intensity, being that we were barely past rookies in an organization that combatted these sorts of creatures. But this was certainly some intense exposure for him.
“Jinx, are you okay? I didn’t mean to-”
“Shh!” I cut him off. I didn’t want him to say anything. If anything, I wanted to listen to our surroundings to try and pinpoint where that Aejin had hurried off to. If we were in danger, we had to at least try to escape this metallic cube. My ears perked up and flicked in several different directions, trying to pick up on the sounds around us. The noises of any footsteps were far beyond my distance of hearing. We were alone, although I couldn’t necessarily confirm it. “Help me shimmy through this window opening,” I whispered as I turned back to Zeta.
“Wait,” he replied as he took a hold of my trembling hands. I blinked, confused as to what he wanted from me. One of his hands reached up and brushed against my cheek. He gently rubbed away the Aejin blood from my face with his thumb pad before giving me a faint smile. My eyebrows dropped downwards in suspicion. Out of any time to be caring towards me, he decided that now seemed appropriate?
“C’mon, Zeta! We don’t have time to lose!” I reiterated. I stood up to the best of my ability and climbed towards the bloodstained window. Zeta knelt by the window and shoved me into the front seat. I tumbled into the driver’s position in a curled up ball-like form. I scanned the areas I could see from inside the car’s front window to the best of my ability. Nobody was currently in my line of vision, but that didn’t mean there weren’t Aejins surrounding the car from the back. I pushed open the front door, trying to avoid making too much noise. My head popped out before anything else so I could look around the area. I checked the back of the car, sensing nobody’s presence nearby. With a bit of hesitancy, I stepped out of the vehicle and motioned Zeta to come out behind me.
Being that Zeta was much taller than me, it was more awkward for him to slip through the window divider and get into the front seat of the car. But after a few minutes of struggling, I finally managed to pull him forward and out. The two of us observed our surroundings, a bit confused as to where the Aejin had taken us. My line of vision was still shaky, but I could at least see the big picture. We began walking down this elongated path that seemed to lead straight into darkness.
Zeta stretched his arms out and flicked his ears. I could tell he was itching to shift so he could explore more thoroughly, but the both of us knew that would be a stupid idea. If an Aejin learned that we weren’t human, we would basically be painting a red ringed target right smack in the middle of our foreheads. I strayed away from him, still feeling a substantial excess of heat. My body was still trembling, but my adrenaline allowed me to ignore my burns. As we continued on, I began to feel the ground beneath me change from solid to mush. I couldn’t see much, but from what I could tell, we were definitely stepping in a strange, jelly-like substance.
After long moments of simply walking in silence, I heard a faint cry up ahead. The two of us looked to each other, wondering if it were sincere. After all, it seemed strange that an Aejin would drive us into the underground of the city and just leave us stuck in a cab. This was obviously a trap. I contemplated turning around, but I was unsure as to what would be a good idea.
After a while of contemplation, I grabbed Zeta by the sleeve and brought his head close to mine.
“You head the other way and I will go after that scream,” I whispered. Zeta pulled his sleeve from my grasp and gave me a concerning glance.
“What? What if you get captured?” Zeta whispered in a defensive tone.
“I’m not going to. You know where I was trained,” I explained. He rolled his eyes at me before unwillingly accepting my plan with a regretful nod. He turned around and walked in the opposite direction, hesitant with his steps so he wouldn’t make much noise. I glanced back at him before heading further down the path. It would have been easier to shift my eyes into their vulpes form so I could see clearly in the darkness, but I couldn’t expose anything at the moment.
I lurked for a good five minutes before I saw a dim, saffron light up ahead of me. I slunk over towards the left wall and crept alongside it as best as I could, being that I was still unstable and burning. After taking a few more steps, the same voice screeched once more, only this time it was much louder. My ears twitched under my head of hair. I couldn’t control my sensitivity since I wasn’t yet adapted to human vocal capacities. Or maybe it wasn’t human. I didn’t really know.
As my body was engulfed in the light, I froze. I scanned each way gradually, trying to prevent any sudden movements. I curved around the edge very cautiously and rounded the corner to the other side. My movements ceased as I gawked at the sights in front of me. Stretching for what seemed like miles were cages upon cages of defenseless creatures - some meek, some ferocious. They clawed, scraped and gnashed their teeth against the metal bars that imprisoned them. A scrawny, runt-like hellhound pup tilted its head at the sight of me. I cringed as it stared into me, sending daggers of sorrow through my motionless body. It whimpered and cried, yowling to be let out. Its specie felt related to mine, but I didn’t know how to help it.
I inched forward towards the cages, horrified by the sight. I wanted to release them all, but there were just so many creatures. I couldn’t wrap my head around where they all came from or why there were so many of them. If they had been lurking around Earth, wouldn’t the LYS know? I offered my injured hand out towards the hellhound’s cage, seeing how it would react. At the sight of this movement, it shuttered in fear. I took a step back, trying to signal that I wasn’t an authority figure, nor did I want to harm it. But before I could see its response to this, a sharp pinch nipped the back of my thigh.
Looking down, I witnessed the sight of a dart sticking out of my upper leg. Witnessing stab wounds normally didn’t faze me, but for some reason, I began to grow woozy after looking at it. I felt my weigh push downwards, and standing soon became difficult. Glancing over, I tried to look at the hellhound pup, but everything began to blur together and become colors. This was worse than being electrocuted. As my strength left my body, I finally collapsed onto the damp ground, confused and anxious. Looming above me was a very tall figure, but I wasn’t intimidated by it due to the fact that it only appeared to be a blob of black distortions.
“There’s -- a… in….” was all I could make out of the deep voice that spoke from above. I slashed at the air a few times before my limbs turned to lead and paralyzation took over. My muscles stopped responding as everything swirled into a confusing state of weary unconsciousness.