I gripped the rock above my head. My hand was almost skeletal, the skin scorched off, my regeneration barely able to keep it in one piece. But I pulled myself up anyway, farther up the rock wall. It was easier than it should have been, since my legs were burned away. They would regenerate in time, but for now the lack of them halved my body weight.
Nothing hurt. Not yet. But that would come soon. Right now I didn’t have any nerves to hurt with, but I could already feel them itching. Regenerating.
I reached up with my other hand. Half the tendons were gone and the bones were visible and scorched black, but I found a place to grip. I waited a second, long enough to regain some strength, and pulled myself up farther.
The temperature went down a degree. Maybe not even that. But step by step, I was pulling myself out of the volcano. With every move, the heat abated, just a tiny bit, and I healed that much faster.
I didn’t look back, at the lava lake far below. Instead I reached up and pulled myself higher again.
This was all Derek Huntsman’s fault.
I had blamed Adam Anders at first. He was the one who knocked me into the liquid nitrogen, after all. And I would have my revenge on him, yes I would. I simply hadn’t decided whether to drown him in lava or nitrogen.
But Huntsman was the ultimate cause. Huntsman was the one my sister was so taken with, the one who her every plan revolved around. Every plan in Domina City, anyway. Her little hero. Pah.
Hate for him was what drove me forward. Every time I reached up to grab a new handhold, I imagined it was his neck. As I pulled myself up, I imagined pulling him down. I imagined him burning forever in the lava lake, like I had. A jumbled mess of pain and numbness, as nerves burned off and tried to regenerate at the same time.
Of course, he didn’t have regeneration. Would my sister give it to him, if it was the only way to save him? Or would she let him die and pick a new pawn, someone I held no grudge against?
I had no idea. I wasn’t sure I cared.
Just keep moving. One hand, then the other.
Just… keep… moving.
Standing on the lip of the volcano’s edge, the chill breeze blowing against me like the beautiful blood splatter of an innocent, I finally gave in. I collapsed to my knees, breathing deep the cold, clean air. Not that it was actually clean. But at least there was more air than ash out here.
I wasn’t sure how long it took me to climb out of the volcano. Hours? Days? I had been trapped in the lava for a length where time had no meaning, so it was impossible to say. Hard to keep an eye on the clock when your brain keeps turning to ash.
Now that I had a chance to rest, my AR interface had a chance to repair itself. Information overlayed my vision, simple things like temperature and current body state, not to mention time and date.
January 7th. A Monday. I had been stuck in that volcano for a little over two months.
I breathed deep. It could have been worse. It could have been much, much worse.
Once I was fully healed, I struggled to my feet. I looked around, but couldn’t see much. The volcano was in the middle of a short mountain range, and I didn’t see any signs of civilization. I didn’t much care to speculate why. Maybe my sister had intentionally dropped me as far from people as possible. Maybe the weak little mortals were just naturally scared of volcanoes. It didn’t matter.
I checked my internal GPS to get my bearings. Besceriul’s software was so much more intuitive than anything the mortals had ever come up with, so I was able to find a nearby town easily. I pointed myself in that direction and started running. Once I was sure I wasn’t going to stumble and fall, I crouched down, jumped, and activated my speed at the exact right moment.
I wasn’t like Akiyama. My mind was not sped with my body when I used my power. While it had its disadvantages, it did make me so much stronger than I should have been. When I combined a full-force jump with as much speed as I could muster, I ended up leaping hundreds of feet into the air, covering almost half a mile of horizontal distance.
And then I splashed.
I was too high up, and I came down too fast. Blood and gore and bits of bone splattered across the rocky mountainside like a spilled casserole. There was little left but a long red streak on the stone. It would take an expert to even confirm that it had once been human.
The regeneration was always the worst. My brain had been smashed on landing, so I had only felt a brief instant of pain before everything went black. But my brain was one of the first things to regenerate, since it was high priority, so in moments I could feel muscles and bones recovering from impossible wounds.
I screamed, not caring who heard. The few animals that hadn’t been driven away by my landing fled at that. Good. I had enough trouble with mindless mortals, I didn’t need to add mindless animals to the list.
In a few minutes, I was fully healed. I grimaced and rose to my feet, then took off running again. Then I jumped again.
And I splashed again.
I don’t know how many times the cycle repeated. A dozen times? Fifty? More than ten, certainly, and less than a hundred. It was just a constant blur of pain and regeneration. There was nothing else in the world except for that.
That and my hate.
I would punish Huntsman for everything he had done to me. This, the lava, every indignity. Every scream was a cry of rage, every growl a warning from one predator to another. Everything would be paid back in full.
It took hours, but I finally reached the town. I walked the last half mile, since landing in the middle of town would have caused problems. It was a small fishing village. It wasn’t the largest one on the island, but it had been the closest.
People looked up when I walked into town. Some of them ran off to find the mayor or village elders or shaman or whatever. I doubted they had a single visitor a week, so they didn’t have anything prepared for guests or enemies.
A middle-aged man with olive-colored skin ran up. I was in the Philippines, so I assumed he was a native. I didn’t pay enough attention to race and skin color and other stupid things like that to be sure. That was one thing Domina City got right. Skin color was easy to change, even without the toy maker. Who cared? Everyone still bled the same.
“Hello,” the man said. From that one word, I could tell his English was absolutely terrible. “I—”
“I speak Filipino,” I said in Filipino. It was as easy as blinking. “Or Bikol or Sambal or Tagalog. Whatever you prefer.” I scanned the village. Some kids were looking at me with wide eyes, but their mothers were pulling them inside.
The man relaxed visibly. “Thank you,” he said graciously in Filipino. He still had a slight accent, but it was barely noticeable. “My son is going to get you some clothes. We can discuss what you need after that.”
I looked down at myself. I was naked. I hadn’t even noticed. The lava, of course, must have burned it all off. Or was it burned off when my sister melted me out of that stupid ice cube? Eh, it didn’t matter.
The man smiled at me. He seemed anxious to please. Perhaps he was always like this with strangers. Or maybe he was used to warlords wandering in like they owned the place, shooting everyone who resisted. This was one of those perpetual warzones, right? Like Hawaii and Antarctica? Or was it the other way around, and these were the peaceful ones? Ugh, for once I was actually wishing that I had paid attention during Lakerine’s lectures.
In a few moments, a young man ran back to us, carrying a bundle of brown cloth. He handed it to me, smiling. I took it and unfolded it. It was just a robe. Eh. Wouldn’t be fun in this heat, but I guess they couldn’t be sure anything else they had would fit me.
“Did she say who she was?” the man said to his father in the Albayanon language. It was clearly his native tongue. “What she’s doing here?”
“No and no,” I said in the same language. I slipped on the robe as they stared at me in surprise. Hm, good quality. Not itchy at all. “My business is my own, and I will leave as soon as I am able. You have nothing I want.”
The men glanced at each other, but the father was the one who spoke. “Can we offer you some lunch before you go? The closest city is some distance.”
“You can offer,” I said. “I will not take it.” I cocked my head and peered at the water. “Those fishing boats of yours—do any of them have motors?”
“Several,” he said. “A few are undergoing repairs at the moment, however. Would you like to borrow one of the functional ones? The city is only a few hours away. In fact, my son would be happy to take you.”
“That will not be necessary,” I said. “I will drive it myself.”
He frowned, but managed to get a smile back on his face quickly. “Perhaps we could come to some kind of arrangement—” He stopped. Gurgled. Then he stared at the glowing orange sword that I had just shoved through his chest.
“This arrangement will suit me just fine,” I said.
I dismissed the blade, and the man collapsed in a heap. Blood started pooling, and I smiled. I took a deep breath. Oh yes, I had missed this.
His son was standing stock still. “You… what have you done?”
I grinned wolfishly, then slashed his throat with claw-blades. They were like long fingernails, but made of energy blades. They weren’t useful most of the time, but that closeness… that feeling of the blood gushing out from under my fingers. Mm. There was nothing like it in the world.
The son clutched at his throat and stumbled back, eyes wide with horror. He tried to shout something but more blood just spurted from under his fingers. He collapsed to the ground, then fell over.
Someone screamed. I saw a young girl by the wall of the nearest building. I tossed a knife at her and her head snapped back, cutting off her scream. I didn’t spare her a second glance. I just marched forward, claws out, heading for the boats.
A bullet hit my shoulder. I hissed in pain, but didn’t drop or take cover. Instead I cast my eyes around, looking for the culprit. There—a young man with a rifle. Probably for hunting game. I doubted he had ever shot a human before. He looked hesitant to fire again.
I dropped my claws and activated my speed, covering a hundred feet in half a second. The man yelped in surprise and tried to bring the gun around, but I grabbed it and tossed it aside. He tried to punch me, but I blocked that as well, then stabbed my energy claws deep into his eyes. He screamed in pain, and I twisted. His screams cut off, and I tossed him aside.
There were more screams, more gunshots. But nothing close. I had a free path to the boats. I wouldn’t even need my speed.
I glanced back. People were running, screaming. I saw people with guns looking around the village entrance, confused. They didn’t know where I had gone. They might not even know what the problem was. Maybe they were expecting a wild animal attack.
There had to be at least a few hundred people in this village. I could leave, and they would never find me. Likely wouldn’t even give chase.
I grinned and turned back.
I had time to kill.
Behind the Scenes (scene 315)
This one got moved around a few times as I tried to find the perfect place for it.