Some forty minutes had passed since Nemesis, Tar’el and the exhausted and pained Felicia fled from what remained of the above ground façade of Facility Fourteen.
A thick cloud of smoke hung heavily in the air as the forest some way behind them burned.
“I-I think I need to stop,” Felicia called to Tar’el and Nemesis, who were a little way ahead.
Felicia slowed and stopped, walking over to a tree and almost collapsing to the floor.
“We can rest for a little, but we have to be on the move again soon,” Tar’el advised, walking over to a stone near the tree Felicia was slumped over by and sitting down on it.
Nemesis stood a greater distance away than the angel but as she looked over Felicia she could still see the marks running down the outsides of her arms glowing a warm, but fading pink.
“You did well back there,” Nemesis said to Felicia, hoping to lift her beleaguered spirits.
“I didn’t do much, you two did most of the work,” Felicia shrugged modestly, she looked over to Nemesis with a slightly sorrowful expression, “sorry we couldn’t get your brother back.”
“He was already gone by the time you two arrived, a man calling himself Commander Cyrus Solomon Blade-” Nemesis explained before Felicia suddenly interrupted.
“You fought Commander Blade!?” Felicia said with wide, surprised eyes.
“Yes, that is why you found me in the state I was in, it was mostly his handiwork,” Nemesis replied, “who is he?”
“He’s the strongest super-human the Institute has. He’s the Institute’s director and commander, honestly Nemi, I’m surprised you survived, when I was a member of the Institute, before they locked me away in Facility Fourteen I heard stories and read archived reports of Blade’s exploits, he’s well, he’s certainly on another level to the Captain of Beta-Squad we all struggled with,” Felicia explained, “anyway, did he say where your brother was taken to?”
“No, he didn’t say where,” Nemesis said, thinking back to her brief conversation with the Institute Commander.
“The most likely place I can think of is Facility Twelve, it’s a pretty big compound, it was where I was-” Felicia paused momentarily as dozens of painful memories linked to that place began to surface, “when I was trained, it’s the main Institute facility for all of the east coast and is, or was home to the Arcane Division.”
“Then that is where I’m headed next,” Nemesis stated emphatically.
Tar’el rose from the rock he had sat upon, “to what end? If Felicia is right then that place could be teeming with powerful Institute agents, perhaps including the squad captain none of us could defeat.”
“I don’t have the luxury of choice, if that’s where they’ve taken my brother then that is where I’ll go,” Nemesis retorted.
“They know that, you will never get close to him, not like this and don’t for a moment think that he will give you the power you need,” Tar’el snapped, his knowing eyes looking deeply into the endless blackness of Nemesis’, “all he wants is to be free, the more you accept from him the closer you come to true demonhood, until finally he can gain his freedom and nothing of you will be left.”
“Stop fighting!” Felicia shouted, causing both Tar’el and Nemesis to look to the young redhead.
“If Facility Twelve is where they took Nemi’s brother, then that’s where we’ll head, but maybe, in light of the Institute’s strength we’ll have to come up with some kind of plan, instead of just barging in,” Felicia said hopefully.
Tar’el sat back down upon the nearby stone, he was impressed with Felicia’s determination, he wanted to dissuade her, but he remembered how adamant she was about paying Nemesis back for saving her from the scorn demon.
“What do you suggest?” Tar’el asked calmly.
Felicia opened her mouth as if to talk but said nothing.
“I’m not sure,” Felicia admitted with a shrug.
Nemesis continued to watch the marks on Felicia’s arms, they had all but completed faded back to her normal skin tone by now.
“Those marks on your arms,” Nemesis began to say, “what are they?”
Felicia looked down at her uncovered arms shamefully, “the Institute, or rather Master Magnus gave them to me. They burn whenever I use my magic too much.”
“They seem to cause you a great deal of pain,” Nemesis said, remembering Felicia’s screams after using the stream of fire and ash to blind Björn, then again when she conjured and maintained the Helios Star which gave the trio their chance to escape.
“Sometimes, the greater the amount of power I use in a spell the more they hurt,” Felicia explained.
“Is that all they do? Burn when you overuse your magic?” Nemesis asked.
“I… I don’t really know, I spent nearly eight years in the Institute but I only remember bits and pieces, I remember my induction and my imprisonment in Facility Fourteen, but everything else is, for the most part kind of hazy,” Felicia exposited.
“I believe someone within the Institute used a spell to erase, or rather obfuscate some of her memories,” Tar’el interjected, “I saw evidence of such tampering when rescuing Felicia from the depths of Facility Fourteen and first looked in to her.”
“This hidden knowledge must be quite valuable, is there any way to undo this suspected magic?” Nemesis asked Tar’el.
“Yes, I believe there is, though it quickly became a secondary concern, what with the Institute’s pursuit of us. I always intended to take Felicia, if she wanted, to someone I believe still resides in New Brook, or rather, someone who we can reach in New Brook,” Tar’el explained to the listening Nemesis and Felicia, “they may be able to unlock the secrets of your memories.”
Felicia looked at her angelic companion with a slight, hopeful smile, “yes, I want to know everything that happened to me while I was part of the Institute.”
“Well, we need to get moving again anyway, though the combination of my spell and the thick, acrid smoke will prevent Björn from tracking us by scent we’re still not safe here,” Tar’el explained.
Nemesis gritted her teeth angrily thinking about the delay this detour would cause her, yet she understood the necessity. The Institute was a more formidable organisation than Nemesis initially believed, overconfident as she was from her scores of victories over demons in hell. She has had to fight tooth and nail against every member of the Institute she had encountered and as soon as Nemesis reached a new level of strength it seemed there was another, stronger member to challenge her.
“Then we best make our way to New Brook,” Felicia remarked relatively cheerfully.
The trio got under way again, moving slowly through the forest towards the city of New Brook.
Beneath the shadow of the thick, heavy cloud of smoke that billowed up from the forest blaze the immense figure of a blue demon and his constantly agitated hound had finally arrived at the ruin of the Facility Fourteen above-ground complex.
Locar stood atop the tallest structurally sound tower of the facility and surveyed his surroundings. He and his tracking beast constantly searching for a hint of where Nemesis had gone, but all they could smell was burnt wood and choking smoke.
After some minutes Locar’s face contorted in anger, “curse that mortal filth!”
Locar, in his rage destroyed the tower he had perched himself upon, throwing down his cruel golden spear like a bolt of lightning from above.
The golden, barbed chain wrapped around Locar’s arm snapped tautly as his demonic spear pierced the foundations of the collapsing tower.
“She has hidden herself from me. That witless worm couldn’t have known I was closing in on her, she must have done it to conceal herself from whatever she fought here,” Locar reasoned as he descended, crashing powerfully into the heaped wreckage of the tower.
Locar growled angrily as he considered his next move. There was more than one way to track Nemesis, more than just her scent to give her away.
Tar’el, Nemesis and Felicia neared the edge of the forest that spilled out into New Brook’s ‘Green Park’. As the trio zipped and leaped between through the cover of the trees Tar’el morphed back into his more plane, human appearance, the feathers of his bright wings fading before vanishing completely. The righteous glow in his eyes dimming he looked to Nemesis.
“Can you take a less… suspicious form?” The angel asked.
Nemesis turned her hooded head until her jet black eyes met with Tar’el’s.
“No,” She replied coldly, “in hell I could take the forms of certain lesser demons, but here I cannot assume any other form.”
“That may be a problem,” Tar’el admitted as he looked up to the amber sky.
Just then a helicopter flew by above the canopy of the trees.
As soon as the sky-borne vehicle had gotten far enough away that the trio could once again talk Tar’el looked back to Nemesis.
“The park and west side of town will be crawling with humans, the chance you will be spotted like that… is high,” Tar’el explained.
“Any authority spotting us would likely get back to the Institute,” Felicia also announced.
“What other choice do I have? You’re still in your armour, wings or no and I have no ability to alter my appearance,” Nemesis responded.
“You could always tell anyone that stops you that you’re going to a fancy dress party,” Felicia replied with a smirk but was quickly met by an unimpressed, intense stare from Nemesis that made her regret her jest.
“I don’t have time to teach you how to shift forms… when we reach the park you’ll have to stay hidden for a few moments while I and Felicia create a distraction to allow you to get by,” Tar’el expounded as the trio came closer and closer to the edge of the forest.
Nemesis said nothing in reply, she merely shot an angered glance back at the angel.
Quickly the trees began to thin until finally the park beyond could be seen, it was littered with police and fire-fighters as well as a dozen others in a multitude of coloured jackets.
“Wait here,” Tar’el cautioned as he and Felicia walked away from Nemesis who stood behind a particularly dense tree for cover.
As Tar’el and Felicia walked out into the open Tar’el’s embossed, golden armour changed back to the ragged, old clothes he had worn earlier when he first changed into his true angelic form.
The pair were quickly spotted by a female police officer, who approached them swiftly with a look of concern on her face.
“What were you two doing in there? Didn’t you hear about the massive fire spreading through the forest?” The officer asked.
“Huh?” Tar’el said as lackadaisically as he could, “no, we haven’t heard about no fire.”
The officer continued to inspect the young man and woman in front of her, their clothes were dirty and torn up, with the young red headed woman’s shirt missing both arms.
“You two got anywhere you can go?” The officer asked as sympathetically as she could.
“I’m sure we’ll find somewhere,” Felicia replied.
“Okay, well, get somewhere safe and stay out of the forest,” the officer said sternly, yet also compassionately.
“Will do ma’am,” Tar’el said in reply, his tone a warm and thankful one.
Tar’el and Felicia continued to walk on, leaving the park and crossing a nearby street. As they crossed Tar’el noticed a nearby fire-hydrant.
“Do you think you could burst that hydrant?” Tar’el asked Felicia under his breath.
“Yeah, I can do,” Felicia replied, looking back at the assorted officers and fire-fighters standing around in the park next to their vehicles and equipment.
When Felicia was sure no one was watching she conjured a small flame betwixt her fingers and flicked it at the hydrant before continuing to walk, the runes and marks on her left arm dimly glowing a warm pink.
As the flame struck the light red metal of the hydrant it burst instantly, sending a high pressure jet of water up into the air.
Nemesis watched from the edge of the forest as attention of the officers and other workers was suddenly drawn to the exploding hydrant and the pillar of water spewing from its rent metal.
Nemesis dashed through the park and up onto the roof of a boarded up store front as quickly as she could in the commotion.
The immense, armoured woman strode across the establishment’s roof and dropped down into the backstreet behind to rejoin Tar’el and Felicia who waited for her.
“What now?” Nemesis asked in her usual, serious and unamused fashion.
“If we want to avoid detection we’ll have to go down there,” Tar’el said, point down to a large metal covering beneath Nemesis’ heavily armoured feet.
“The sewers?” Felicia said with a disappointed sigh.
Nemesis reached down and opened the iron manhole covering, tossing it aside and allowing first Tar’el and then Felicia down before attempting to descend herself.
The soul-hunter found the way down cramped and clearly not constructed for someone wearing the kind of armour she was, but after a matter of minutes of careful manoeuvring the trio found themselves in New Brook’s sewer system.
“Oh my god,” Felicia said repulsed by the stench that greeted her, but Tar’el and Nemesis seemed to barely notice it, or rather, they were barely affected by it, in truth they had both been stuck in places that smelt a thousand times worse than this.
“Where now?” Nemesis asked the angel.
“This way,” Tar’el replied, beginning to walk gingerly along the walkways of New Brook’s sewers.
The trio walked for what seemed like an hour, taking numerous turnings through the sprawling and labyrinthine tunnels beneath New Brook.
Felicia was growing increasingly uncomfortable, not only the rank odour of the sewers, but also the silence of her guardians.
“So where are we going to get my memory fixed?” Felicia asked.
“We’re going to a small herbal remedy store, I know the proprietor, mostly by reputation,” Tar’el explained.
“So we’re going to get a potion to fix me up? Well that sounds simple,” Felicia replied with a sigh of relief.
“Something like that, and, from what I’ve heard if he can’t help he always knows someone that can,” Tar’el revealed.
Suddenly, as Tar’el neared a ladder that led back up onto the surface he stopped.
“We’re here,” the angel announced before turning to face Felicia and Nemesis who walked behind him, “this exit leads into another back alley adjacent to the store I mentioned, let me do the talking. This man won’t help us willingly, at least not at first.”
Tar’el ascended up the ladder to the surface first, lifting and sliding away the iron cover above him, he was quickly followed by Felicia and a few, arduous minutes later by Nemesis, who still struggled with the narrow opening.
The day was swiftly drawing to a close and the once orange sky was now beginning to turn to night.
“Let’s go,” Tar’el announced to his two cohorts as he strode forward, out of the back alley and quickly turned about, grasping the brass handle of the door to ‘Cheng’s Herbal Emporium’ and opening it forcefully, effortlessly tearing the locks and latches that held it closed from the door frame.
A small, Asian man came through from another room, loudly protesting Tar’el unauthorised entry
“We are closed!” The man shouted, but as the he drew nearer and he saw Tar’el and the newly entering Felicia properly he rolled his eyes and quickly calmed with a load, frustrated sigh.
“Is this the guy?” Asked Felicia, “because he just looks like a normal guy to me.”
“Yes,” Tar’el answered, “this is him.”
“What do you want here angel?” The small Asian man asked tiredly, his voice having changed drastically from when he was shouting before.
“We need something from you,” Tar’el replied.
“My talents don’t come cheap,” the small man replied in his devious and weaselly sounding voice.
“Oh, I think we can come to some arrangement ‘Cheng’,” Tar’el said forcefully.
A few moments on uncomfortable silence followed, broken only when the large, demonic steel boots of Nemesis stomped through the entrance to the store, the door swinging closed behind her.
Cheng’s eyes immediately met with Nemesis as she entered, he gulped loudly and looked back at the angel nervously.
“I’m surprised an upstanding warrior of the light like yourself is travelling around with a human that for the last few years has dwelt in the dark abyss of hell,” Cheng said somewhat quietly to Tar’el, though thanks to the keen sense of hearing both Nemesis and, to a lesser extent Felicia possessed had both heard, not that Cheng didn’t think they wouldn’t.
“It’s complicated,” Tar’el replied.
“I would imagine so. You said you needed my services, yes? Why?” Cheng asked with a weary expression.
“This woman,” Tar’el replied, gesturing to Felicia who stood between Tar’el and Nemesis, “I believe she has had her memory tampered with, likely some kind of spell, we need it lifted and her memories restored.”
Cheng raised an eyebrow in interest, “A person’s memory is a tricky thing, I think I would be able to help, but my help doesn’t come cheap.”
Tar’el looked back at Felicia’s slightly confused, but hopeful face, he knew what he had to do.
With a powerful flash of light Tar’el’s wide, resplendent wings burst into reality.
“Tar’el!” Felicia exclaimed, turning around and looking out of the shop window out onto the street of New Brook, watching a thin, but steady stream of people walk by the shop, some even glancing in but not stopping or even hesitating, even for a moment.
“People will see you?” Felicia said with increasingly confused as more and more people passed by, somehow failing to notice the wide, shining wingspan of the angel that stood near her.
“There’s an enchantment on the store, several actually. This herbal store is not really one at all, as soon as we entered the shop we stepped into a pocket dimension maintained by magic, one that is connected to several little herbal remedy shops found in New Brook, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and probably dozens more,” Tar’el explained to his bemused companions, “we are only here because of my knowledge of the proprietor and our powers, if we were mere clueless humans we’d have entered into a quaint little shop run by the real Cheng.”
“Very good, you know your enchantments,” ‘Cheng’ replied, rubbing his hands together in curiosity, “well? What do you have to compensate me for my expertise?”
“This,” Tar’el answered, pulling a single, golden feather from his magnificent right wing.
‘Cheng’s’ eyes widened as he greedily snatched the feather from Tar’el’s loose grip.
“Oh yes, yes, this will do nicely,” he chattered as he quickly stuffed the feather into one of his pockets.
“A feather?” Nemesis asked in her cold, demonic voice.
“Not just any feather Nemesis, a feather from the wing of an Angel, they have tremendous value on the black markets of the fallen worlds,” Tar’el explained.
“So you’re a walking fortune?” Felicia queried, having only just gotten over the idea that she was no longer on earth, but instead in a fake store in a small magical dimension.
“An Angel’s feathers don’t grow back,” ‘Cheng’ replied in answer just before Tar’el could do so, “they also have a number of interesting properties which gives them their value, apart from their obvious rarity, as no Angel would willingly part with their own feathers.”
“A price I am willing to pay to restore Felicia’s memory,” Tar’el interrupted, “now if we could get down to it, we don’t have an age.”
“But of course, I warn the human though, to preform the operation I will need to revert to my true form, it may be a bit of a shock,” ‘Cheng’ revealed.
“There’s no need to worry about her Satyr, she’s seen far worse than you,” Tar’el announced confidently.
“Very well, follow me,” said the small, Asian man, leading the trio into another back room with shelves and cabinets containing columns of draws filled with bizarre and arcane herbs, curios and other assorted items.
‘Cheng’ and those following him did not stop, instead they headed straight for the back of the room where the small man pulled open a large, dark wood trap door to reveal a set of sullen, grey stone stairs that continued down into a dark and dingy cellar.
“Just down here,” ‘Cheng’ explained, beginning to walk down into the gloom.
Tar’el allowed Nemesis to go down first and then Felicia, his wings folding tightly before he followed after them.
‘Cheng’ flicked his right arm as he reached the bottom of the stairway, a sudden flash of purple magic bursting from his palm as he did.
Suddenly, all about the room small lanterns began to light, beginning at the ones closest to the stairs and then further away until the chamber was fully lit. Stood up against the walls were more rows of shelves littered with potions and strange items Nemesis could not identify. In the midst of the dull, grey stone room was a rather ominous looking angled table, complete with tough looking leather straps and chains that would easily be enough to bind a normal person.
“W-what’s that?” Felicia asked upon seeing the strange examination table, it was not the first one she had seen, there was something very similar she was strapped into when she was first inducted into the Institute.
“This is exactly what it looks like. You, young girl are going to lay down on this slab of Malris wood, then I will strap you in, for your own safety of course. Then I’ll put you into a trance of sorts where you will recount memories from around the… missing time. Sometimes patients struggle, depending on the kind of magic used to block or erase the memories, but these bonds will keep you still,” ‘Cheng’ explained, his voice sounding unnaturally sinister as he did.
Felicia turned to Nemesis and Tar’el briefly, looking to them for the strength to climb onto that table. All it took was the sight of the slightest gap in Tar’el’s golden plumage, the reminder of the sacrifice he made to restore her mind.
“Okay,” Felicia said, her courage redoubled as she marched towards the waiting, devious grin of the small man and the waiting clutches of the cold, wooden slab before her.
Felicia quickly got into position and ‘Cheng’ worked hastily to secure her. All the young redhead could see was a small man darting about the table accompanied by the sound of creaking, old leather and the jangling of chains.
“There,” the small man remarked, “we’re almost ready to begin.”
‘Cheng’ snapped his fingers, causing another spark of dark purple magic to fly from his fingertips, then, suddenly ‘Cheng’ began to change.
The changes began at his fingers, turning them pale with browny-grey fur covering the backside of the lower finger and knuckles. His nails changed to small, arched claws, similar to Captain Varg’s but nowhere near as vicious.
‘Cheng’s’ arms changed, his clothes melting away to reveal pale, but well defined flesh with yet more light brown and grey fur covering his shoulder and upper chest. The man’s legs turned to those of humanoid goat, covered in a dense layer of the same fur as the other parts of his body with dark, bony hooves that clopped against the floor as he walked.
His facial features were altered too, his eyes tapered to a point, dark bone-like horns grew from his temple and shoulder length black hair tumbled down from his head. The creature’s new teeth were almost all discoloured, yellow fangs and his eyes were a eerie, striking green.
The creature stretched widely, as if being in the form of the diminutive, Asian man was somehow uncomfortable and restricting.
“Nemi? Tar’el? Are you okay?” Asked a nervous Felicia after she heard a series of loud, blood chilling bony cracks.
“We’re fine Felicia,” Tar’el said reassuringly.
“Now, I have a few preparations to make before I can perform the ritual,” spoke the sinister voice of the horned creature.
“Who’s that!?” A startled Felicia was quick to ask, her heart racing as she anxiously waited for whatever ‘Cheng’ was going to do to begin.
“That’s ‘Cheng’, or rather that’s Sepheous, he’s a Satyr,” Tar’el explained.
“Like from Greek mythology?” Felicia asked, trying to take her mind off of the fact that she was tied down and unable to move.
“Something like that,” Tar’el replied as he watched the Satyr walk about the room, collecting books, jars of different coloured powder and tied bundles of bones.
Sepheous gestured towards the table Felicia was tied to and as he did it lowered until Felicia and the wooden slab were completely horizontal. Sepheous laid out the things he had gotten around Felicia’s head, with two dusty old tomes lying open on a small stool beside him.
Sepheous touched his right index and middle finger to Felicia’s forehead that was now damp with cold anxious sweat. As his fingers gently pressed into the young woman’s forehead Felicia instantly seemed to relax.
“Good,” the Satyr said to himself as both Tar’el and Nemesis saw a string of purple magic course down Sepheous’ outstretched digits and disappear as it reached Felicia’s brow.
“Girl, I need you to begin to think back. Describe the first memories that come to you, describe them so that I might uncover the magic that seals off parts of your mind,” Sepheous explained, another ribbon of purple energy flowing down from the satyr’s fingers onto Felicia’s forehead.
“I am eight years old and I am taken from my home by a man and a woman dressed all in black. My mother is shot dead and my father is beaten into unconsciousness trying to protect me…” Felicia recounted, her eyelids twitching as she spoke, “I was taken into a white room and strapped down onto a cold, white metal table. The straps were black and fibrous, but not rope. I screamed for my parents, but they didn’t come for me. A man in a white suit, wearing a white hood and face mask came and injected me in the lower right arm with a syringe filled with green fluid, I passed out and the next thing I know I wake up and I am being welcomed… into the Institute.”