“You're making this too easy,” I laughed and spun away from the Shongtal fighter.
The Shongtal lurched forward, clumsily thrusting a sword at me. I knocked the blade to the side and danced away, laughing and playfully smacking him on the backside with the flat of my sword. Glancing to my right, I watched as my “partner” was engaged with three Shongtal fighters of her own.
I had to admit that she was skilled. Very skilled. She was almost as good as a Dragonborn Ranger. Almost.
“How are things going over there, Alex?” I called. “We having fun yet?”
She shot me a look, an expression of irritation on her face. She spun to her right and brought her curved blade across in a murderous arc. The silver steel sliced through the neck of the human husk the Shongtal was inhabiting, separating it from its body completely. I watched with a morbid fascination as the head spun through the air, landing on the ground with a meaty thump.
Alex cast a look over at me, almost as if daring me to do better. Like I couldn't. She was human. I was Dragonborn. And although she was very well trained, I'd been trained by the best. I'd been the best in my Ranger class and I was determined to be the best Ranger – and eventually Warden – to ever come out of Chondelai.
I felt the Shongtal approaching from behind, so I knew it was time to make my move. I crouched down and quickly jumped, executing a perfect backflip over the three creatures who were lumbering at me. Landing upon the concrete floor of the old warehouse, I was up, sword at the ready in a heartbeat.
A small smile touched my lips as I swung my blade in a wide arc. The silver bit into the flesh of the Shongtal's neck, drawing a pained hiss from its mouth. My sword passed through the flesh like the proverbial hot knife through butter and the head of the creature – of what used to be a human being – fell to the ground, rolling to a stop at the feet of the other two.
The Shongtal were dark spirits born in Chondelai – spirits who inhabited the body of a human host. Once a human was infected with one of the dark spirits, that person was as good as dead. The Shongtal drained their life force – literally hollowing them out from the inside, leaving little more than a dried up, withered husk of flesh. And when the host body was of no more use to the Shongtal, they discarded it and moved on to the next.
They came to the world of man long ago – a result of the madness of one power hungry King who'd unleashed them upon humanity. It was that sin – the sin of infecting the world of man with the plagues of our world – that prompted the formation of the Wardens and Rangers. Our mission clear – protect humanity from the dark creatures of our world and theirs.
It was a duty I took seriously. My vows meant the world to me. But I also really enjoyed what I was doing. Ridding the world of one more evil creature – what's not to like about that? And it just so happened that I was good at it. Really, really good.
“You're going to die, Dragonborn,” one of the creatures – a pudgy, middle-aged man – hissed at me.
I laughed. “Seriously,” I replied. “You couldn't kill me if I let you tie my hands behind my back. You lot are pathetic.”
The creatures let out a strangled scream and rushed me at once. Idiots. I sighed and spun to the side, allowing their momentum to carry them past me.
“This is getting boring, guys,” I said. “Got any new tricks up your sleeves or anything?”
With an outraged shriek, the pudgy middle-aged man sprinted straight at me. I didn't even have to do anything other than lift my sword hand. The stupid creature ran its face straight into the tip of my blade, the silver biting deep and passing straight through the former human's skull. The Shongtal hung there, halfway down my sword, its body limp and lifeless.
I waited a moment and watched as red light flared from the eyes of the husk and then fell dark – the spirit inside of the human was dead. As was the human, of course. Unfortunate, but unavoidable. Even if there were a way to evict the spirit, the body would be ravaged by its presence. Killing the human who'd been infected was a mercy.
“Die, Dragonborn scum!”
The hissing voice of the Shongtal drew my attention. It was rushing at me, a long dagger in its hand. There was no way I was going to be able to get my sword un-stuck from the human's head and up to defend myself in time, so I let the body – and my sword along with it – fall to the floor of the warehouse.
I dropped down quickly and lashed out with my leg. My booted foot made solid contact with the knee of the Shongtal-infected man. The knee buckled, collapsing backward in an unnatural position, and spilled the man to the ground. It roared in outrage, unable to get back to its feet – its knee completely shattered.
I stood and walked over to the creature as it managed to climb back to its one good knee. Delivering a vicious kick to its face, it fell over on its back.
“Like I said, you lot are pathetic,” I said. “And you're making my job too easy.”
I shrugged and wrenched my sword free of the other creature's skull. The Shongtal looked at me with wide eyes, its breathing ragged and labored, knowing its time was coming to an end. He gave me a predatory looking grin though and I knew what was coming.
“Oh, no you don't,” I said.
As the creature opened its mouth to allow the dark spirit to flow out, I jumped forward, driving the point of my silver blade straight down through the chest of the man the dark spirit had been inhabiting. The Shongtal's eyes grew wide and the familiar red light flared briefly before the man's head fell back and the light faded. The creature was dead.
“You almost lost one,” she said.
I turned around to find Alex squatting down next to one of the bodies of the Shongtal fighters she'd killed. She was wiping her blade off on the shirt of a young man who looked like your stereotypical pothead. She was looking at me, an expression of combined amusement and irritation on her face – a look that one would assume was impossible to pull off, given the contradictory natures of the emotions, but one that looked entirely natural on Alexis Vargas.
“But I didn't,” I said, grinning at her.
She shook her head and finished wiping down her blade, sliding it back into its sheath as she stood. Alex was all business when it came to hunting and fighting. When we engaged a creature – or group of creatures like these half dozen Shongtal fighters – Alex immediately went into warrior mode, hacking, slashing, slicing and dicing, until the last body hit the ground. She took no joy in the job. No particular pleasure. She was simply, a killing machine.
“You're not going to be so lucky one of these days,” Alex snapped. “Keep showboating like you do and one of these things is either going to escape, or they're going to get the drop on you and cut your damn head off.”
I laughed. “Please, these idiots couldn't get the drop on me if I were in a coma,” I said and ran a hand through my long, dark hair theatrically. “And besides, I'm just too pretty to die.”
Alex shook her head, the look of irritation on her face deepening. She looked at her watch and walked away.
“We need to get back to the training house,” she called over her shoulder.
I looked around at the bodies scattered about the warehouse. Not bad for a night's work. Still, there were a lot of them. The activity of creatures like the Shongtal – and others – was increasing. Things were getting a little hairy in the streets of LA and I wasn't sure why. Then again, I was still relatively new to life as a Ranger, so maybe this was just part of some natural cycle. I'd have to ask Warden Quint about that.
I hurried to catch up with Alex, who wasn't waiting for me. Together, we made our way back through the streets of Los Angeles, back to the training house.