An ominous silence echoed throughout the dungeon. Kaito’s ears were ringing and his whole body ached as the tight chains continuously pulled his muscles in all sorts of awkward directions. His hip was still throbbing with pain from the violent way it had snapped out and back into place the previous evening.
He wondered how long he’d been there. The guards had attempted to get him to speak after ripping the clothes off his back, but he’d managed to drown out their voices. No amount of beatings or torture was going to elicit a reaction from him, and he knew that trying to fight back in his current condition would only land him into deeper trouble. Patience was key here. He would conserve his energy and allow his body to repair itself while he waited for an opening.
He was becoming more and more aware of the lingering silence that surrounded him. The voices he had blocked out now appeared to have vanished entirely. I wonder what’s going on out there.
Meanwhile, the main floor of the courthouse was buzzing with chaos by the time Loca and the others ascended the stairs back up to the main lobby. Officers with the Military Police had arrived on the scene and were busy directing people into a safer part of the building while soldiers from the Vanguard hurried out into the courtyard to deal with the threat of the escaped zaro.
“Listen up!” Sarge called back over his shoulder at the trio. “You are to refrain from coming within a hundred yards of that thing! Usage of long distance weapons is approved under my authority! Keep your distance, and aim to kill! We need to bring this monster down before it escapes outside of base perimeters!”
“Understood!” Cobalt and Numen said in unison before darting off toward the armory to retrieve their weapons. Sarge, already equipped with a long distance rifle, took off towards the large commotion coming from the other direction. Loca’s gaze trailed after him before her eyes landed on the monstrous red and white animal rampaging throughout the courtyard in the distance.
At the sound of her name being called, Loca turned around to see two familiar figures running towards her.
“Jonah! Reima! What’s going on?” She ran over to meet them and came to a stop when she noticed the blood all over Jonah. “Oh no! Are you okay? What happened? Did your wounds reopen?” she asked worriedly.
“He’ll be fine,” Reima reassured her. “Did you find the Flaming Arrow?”
“Oh yeah!” Loca babbled. “He’s down in the bottom of the courthouse, just like you said, Jonah!” She was obviously proud of herself, but Jonah looked less than impressed.
“And you didn’t bust him out!?” he snarled.
Loca’s face fell at his irritated response. “He’s all locked up!” she told him. “What was I supposed to do?” Before Jonah could respond, the sound of gunshots rang through the air.
“What the hell? Why are they shooting?” Reima asked.
“Sarge gave the order to kill the zaro,” Loca informed her.
“He did what?” Reima looked out toward where the commotion was coming from in shock. “Does he even have that kind of authority?”
“Well, people sure are taking him seriously,” said Jonah. “Don’t know why you’re so surprised though. Not like you can just clip a leash on that monstrosity and call it a day. Still, I was hoping he’d buy us some more time before they brought him down.”
This wasn’t what Reima had wanted. She had only wanted to repay a stranger for his kindness and help her comrade find peace. Not only had she failed them both with such thoughtless actions, but also now the lives of everyone in the base were in jeopardy. Even Bloodclot had become a victim in this situation.
“Never stop asking questions or thinking for yourself.”
Those words ran through Reima’s mind again and at once she felt something click inside her head. “I get it now,” she said out loud to nobody in particular. Her eyes scanned the surrounding area before landing on the gallows about a hundred yards from where they were standing. That’s it!
“What is it?”
“Think you can do something about those locks Loca was talking about?”
“Then I’m leaving the Flaming Arrow to you two,” Reima said, eyes glowing with determination. “Get him to the gallows, then wait for me up on the platform.”
Jonah glared at her and took a step forward. “This was my plan,” he said angrily. “I have no intention of taking orders from you.”
“If we continue on with your way of doing things, someone is going to die. Besides…” She looked back over her shoulder to meet his eyes with a slight smirk. “You said it yourself; I’m more than qualified to handle a zaro.”
“What are you-? Hey!” Jonah yelled after her as she took off running toward the direction of the gunshots.
“Just get to the gallows!” Reima said again, leaving her two confused comrades in the dust. As she was racing across the courtyard, she failed to notice Commander Bardo charging in on horseback from the left with Numen and Cobalt in his wake. When Reima realized she’d jumped right into their path, she stumbled backwards just in time to avoid being trampled by Bardo as he and Numen galloped past her.
Cobalt noticed Reima stumble in front of her and quickly yanked back on the reins in surprise. Her horse was caught off guard and stumbled to his knees in an attempt to stop, sending Cobalt flying. Reima watched as she tumbled across the ground before rolling to a stop and sitting up with a wince. She was dazed and a bit scratched up, but otherwise appeared to be uninjured.
Her horse danced around in confusion, his knees scraped slightly from sliding across the dirt. Reima reached for the animal’s reins, but instead of bringing him over to Cobalt, she mounted him herself and took off at a gallop after the two other riders. “Sorry, but I’m gonna need to borrow your ride for a sec!” she shouted.
She quickly caught up with them to find the north side of the courtyard in a state of utter chaos. Bloodclot was rampaging around in a fury, snapping, swinging and roaring at anyone or anything that was unfortunate enough to cross his path. His body streamed blood from the various bullet wounds that littered his muscular form, and there were multiple soldiers that were down on the ground who were also covered with blood. Reima couldn’t tell whether some of them were even still alive or not.
“Don’t hesitate!” Sarge was shouting. “We need to kill this thing before it causes any more damage!”
“Who do you think you’re killing?” Bardo demanded. “That animal belongs to me! If one more bullet touches his hide, I’ll snap your fucking necks!”
“To hell with this,” Reima heard Numen snarl from a few feet away. She watched as he took aim at Bloodclot’s head with his gun. “I’m going to die, anyway!”
Reima urged her horse forward and slammed into Numen’s mount with enough force to make him drop his gun. The rifle went off as it hit the ground and the bullet grazed the top of Bloodclot’s neck. He yelped in pain then turned to scout out his attacker. His mismatched eyes landed on Reima and she watched in horror as he dislocated his own jaw to let out a furious roar, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth behind the two sword-like fangs that were currently covered in blood.
Bloodclot immediately forgot about everything around him and lunged straight for Reima.
She whipped her horse around and he was more than happy to comply with galloping as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Reima could hear the horse’s panicked grunts and the sound of his hooves thundering across the earth, and she was painfully aware of Bloodclot gaining on them in a fit of rage.
As they approached the gallows, her eyes landed on three familiar figures waiting for her on the platform. Loca and Jonah had succeeded, and were aiding a heavily wounded Kaito in staying on his feet.
Reima knew she only had one shot at what she was about to do. If she messed this up, literally everyone around her would die, yet it was the only thing she could think of that would get everyone out of this situation alive.
Swiftly but carefully, she slid one foot out of her stirrup and placed it on the seat of the saddle, gripping onto the front for dear life. As her horse dashed by the gallows, she took a flying leap onto the platform, sliding along her back then using her legs to propel herself off one of the support beams with all her strength. She barreled into Kaito with such force that it sent the both of them flying off the platform.
Bloodclot ignored Reima and continued chasing after the horse. Still clutching onto Kaito, she reached out with her free hand and grabbed a handful of Bloodclot’s mane as he ran by.
Kaito, now at full attention and in a state of pure confusion, had no choice but to roll with it. He whipped his head around in complete and utter panic, his eyes wide with shock as he tried desperately to comprehend his current situation while flying through the air.
They landed awkwardly across Bloodclot’s back, Reima clinging onto his mane and Kaito slumped over her back, wincing in pain and doing his absolute best to not get yeeted into oblivion while the zaro thrashed about wildly.
“You… need to… calm the fuck… DOWN!!!” Reima snarled as she used her entire hand to pinch a spot on Bloodclot’s withers. Almost instantly, he froze as if caught in a trance.
It was also in that moment that Elias rounded the corner of a nearby building. He took one look at the scene and felt his blood boil. That bastard! He’s taken her hostage! He reached over and pulled out a small handgun from the belt of a nearby soldier and started firing at Kaito in a blind rage. The bullet missed its mark and struck into Bloodclot’s haunch, somewhat bringing him out of his trance and causing him to dart forward again.
Reima struggled to keep a strong grip on the pressure point on his withers in a desperate attempt to maintain some level of control as she guided him right towards the wall that separated humanity from the outside world. When they were about twenty feet from a head on collision into the hard white barrier, Bloodclot took a flying leap into the air and dug his claws into the crystal-like material, causing it to crack and crumble under his weight. Reima loosened the grip on his withers and gave him full control of his actions, allowing him to climb like a lizard straight up the wall.
“Shoot them down!” Sarge shouted.
“Like hell you’re doing that!” Bardo responded.
As the soldiers on the ground bustled about and fought in their confusion, Bloodclot finally reached the top of the wall. Kaito peeked over Reima’s shoulder and at the three hundred foot drop down the other side.
“You can’t be serious right now,” he muttered.
“Hang on tight,” Reima said shakily. “This is gonna suck major ass.” She squeezed her eyes shut and Bloodclot took another flying leap off the edge of the wall and into the wilderness.
Back inside of Gederah, the entire Vanguard stood in a shocked silence as they stared up at the spot where Bloodclot had plunged over the side of the wall. Splotches of red blood from the zaro’s wounds could be seen trickling down the side.
Bardo was fuming. He shook as he turned to face the gaping soldiers around him. “You goddamn fools!” he snarled. “Which one of you is behind this treachery?!” He reached around and grabbed hold of Numen first, dragging him off his horse by the throat and holding him right up to his face. “You were on guard duty, right?! Why the hell are you even out here?! Where’s your companion?!” Bardo didn’t even give him a chance to respond before violently flinging him into a cluster of nearby soldiers, sending every one of them to the ground.
“That’s enough, Commander!” Sarge barked.
“You too, you damn rat!” Bardo roared, whirling around to strike him in the jaw with a sickening crack. “Who the hell do you think you are, barking orders at my subordinates?! It’s twenty years too soon for you to even think about standing shoulder to shoulder with me! I’ll kill every single one of your pathetic followers!”
He began swinging without an ounce of mercy, landing blows on every person within his reach. After taking out over a dozen Vanguard soldiers, his eyes fell on the gun still in Elias’ hand and he charged furiously at the brutish young soldier.
“I’ll break you in half, kid!”
“One step closer and you’re fucking dead!” Elias didn’t care that Bardo was well above him in rank. He was seeing red just as much as the commander and met his challenge head on, but not even the fearsome Elias was a match for Bardo’s fury. The commander effortlessly picked him up off the ground and slammed him into the dirt like a ragdoll.
From the gallows, Jonah stood watching the scene before him unfold with a satisfied smirk on his face. “He’s completely lost it,” he said. “That stunt just shattered whatever speck of sanity he had left.”
“Should we do something?” Loca asked. “He’s awful mad, and he just threw Elias down like it was nothing! That’s some wicked strength!”
“You shouldn’t speak so highly of him,” Jonah growled. “He’s not worth a rat’s ass,” He turned around to head back to the barracks. “Just let the idiot humiliate himself. Someone will get him under control eventually. Anyway, our work here is done. We should scram before anyone notices we’re here.”
“Um, sure… Wait for me!” Loca called out as she followed him down from the gallows. Unbeknownst to either of them, a small statured figure stood just on the other side of the beams, listening in to every word they said.
Hawkes stepped out from under the gallows and watched them leave with a thoughtful expression, then turned back to look at Bardo, who continued to scream and run around in a state of frenzy.
I don’t like what I just heard from those recruits, he thought. But there are more important issues to address. He held out his arm and a large grey falcon swooped down and landed on it. The bird was harnessed with two small tubes, and Hawkes unscrewed the lid off of one of them before placing a rolled up parchment inside. He screwed the lid back on looked the bird in the eye. “Get this to General Morgana as fast as you can,” he said. “If she’s already reached Central, the Night Beast isn’t going to be happy when he finds out what’s happened… and neither will the Patriarch…”