Chapter 14.7: Warden

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William's shrill scream wasn't helping anyone. The boy grabbed onto Seth with the kind of force the captain expected of a desperate man who knew his life hung in the balance. Seth stopped pounding his fists against the digital cement slab and grab onto the boy's arm before William's grip slipped from Seth's taring coat. The strength of the hungry undead was overwhelming as they pulled on the boy while climbing over one another, taring at each other to get at the fresh morsel.

He dropped the flashlight, freeing his other hand to pull William back to him. The extra grip slipped inch by inch. If he tried to get a better hold on the boy, William would slip away into their rotting maws.

William screamed in terror, his eyes wide and confused. "Please don't let go! HELP ME!"

He felt the hot digital static rush down behind him and the metal bar stabbed into his back as it reformed in the digital reality. It refused to give way. The glass exploded, pushing tiny shrapnel into the hoard and cutting into his torn clothing with tiny lacerations a million times over. The metal of the digital door warped into a hot stinging liquid.

He felt her arm wrap around his throat as she used his weight to throw him backward, toward her, and to the ground. His grip slipped on William who was consumed by the darkness of the trophy room.

Astral was on top of Seth, pulling at his coat, forcing it away from his flesh. In seconds, she glanced up, crouched over him like an animal protecting it's young, scythe in hand and leaped toward the prey she couldn't afford to ignore.

The captain scrambled to his feet. She wanted him to remove his coat. His eye darted to the burns that ate at the fabric, dissembling his uniform as though it was part of the program algorithm. He felt the burn at his back and pulled off his shirt, throwing it down to join the rest of his uniform.

The door he had come through was gone; left in it's place was a open empty space where a wall rebuilt itself, then disintegrated in pile of code. Everything in the room was caught in a state of creation and destruction. Astral bound off newly created platforms, only to have it fall to dust after impact. He couldn't help but feel that something was helping her. Was it the program? Did it want to destroy itself?

The edge of the arena was crumbling. Was she winning? Seth's heart skipped a beat. Beyond the edge of their small digital world lay nothing but emptiness, a void so deep, that it called to him to see that her fight was futile.

He fell backwards, crawling away from the thing in the void. This thing. This demon was the beast begging for release.

'Don't you see,' the void seemed to say, 'I'm trying to help. I'm trying to make you strong.'

The ground, he realized, was a digital representation of the seal and it was failing. The harder Astral pushed, the more desperate she became, and the faster the seal crumbled.

"It's got William!" He shouted at Astral, who was moving in a way he had never seen before. The soles of her boots glowed in interchanging patterns that laced their way up her boots. She defied gravity, each bound an inhuman feat, as she ricocheted off of broken walls, bounding onto anything that would serve as a platform.

Her eyes glowed a brilliant blue as she leaped, pulling her scythe over her head. The blade stretched, itself around her, to serve as both a shield and to maximize her range of her damage. Glyphs traced their way up the sleeves of her arms as she sliced through waves of black tendrils. The pattern on her boots changed when she hit the ground, shaking the arena with a vengeful intensity. There was no doubt in his mind anymore, she was definitely a Hunter and he was useless. All of the lies he was desperate to hold onto had no place in his newly formed reality.

I can't fight. Not like her!

He pulled himself to his feet. He wasn't in any danger. Even the demon she fought thought he was insignificant. It made no sense. Until now, everything had tried to kill him. What changed?

'Stop her,' the void seemed to say.

Stop her from breaking the seal? That made sense only if the demon wanted to remain contained, but why would that be the case when it was fighting so hard for release. No, there had to be two forces at play. But which was which?

"Kill her?" Seth said keeping his voice low knowing the program would pick up on it. The mass of black swirled around the Hunter, lashing out and dodging with the intense ferocity that matched the Hunter's. The similarities were astounding. It swirled close to ground as she leap to the sky. It rushed up walls like a living body of vapour as she ran across crumbling walls, jumping to pillars, and using her scythe as an extra limb. They used their environment, their tools, their talents as an extension of themselves. Everything was a part of them, yet everything was separate. How did she know when to leap? How did she know that a platform would manifest where seconds before, nothing had existed.

Together, beast and Hunter lunged upward taking their fight to the sky far out of his reach. Was protecting her? It would go up, and she would follow. Something would have to force her back down if the program wanted her destroyed.

In a bright flash, a tool appeared at his feet. In ancient times, it was known as a Celtic cross, not unlike the one he had smuggled into the school, terrified that the weapon that he had come to rely on all these years, would be flagged by the Academy's sensors.

He had no intention of using it at the school, but he had no reason to go back to the Capitol once his school year was complete. The weapon's presence brought him comfort in a way that promised survival in a way that training alone wouldn't accomplish. If he couldn't get into the E.M.I....

If he couldn't find a Hunter to train him...

If he couldn't convince a Red Order Master to advise him...

If the Games were a waste of time...

If the training programs were design for failure...

... At least he'd have his weapon.

His left hand wrapped around the lower shaft of the cross. It felt unnatural to use his left hand, but it was the only way the weapon would activate. He gave it a gentle squeeze and the shaft extended allowing room for his right hand to grip. The halo lit up and spun, drawing out a long white blade.

He had secrets too. 

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Hit that vote button if you liked this chapter. Every vote helps get this story just a little bit more exposure.  Good news this week! Awakening has finally hit a state where it's back to ranking everytime I post a new segment. With any luck I should be back to it's 50-100 ranking I'm hoping in the next few weeks, which is where we were at ummm, before i took that contract with entity i will only refer to as The Company. So not bad overall :)  Also reactions, comment, and general feedback below.

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