I got into a little routine over the next couple weeks. The mornings were spent making breakfast. I know that sounds like a small deal but twenty two kids, three adults, and very little variety, made for interestingly improvised meal times. Once that was done Jim, Stacy, and I would spend a few hours teaching the kids. I left things like math and grammar to the old-timers; my fields were more labour-oriented. Foremost I taught them gardening, since we were lucky enough to have running water. The pipes were pretty much the only thing that still worked around here. Then I’d teach them a little about household chores, followed by a little carpentry. The latter wasn't exactly my strong suit, but I learned alongside them with some how-to books we salvaged during the war. Finally some arts and crafts, or some other activity, with the kids before putting them to bed; I was their favourite after all.
Once my day with the kids was done I’d change into my happy stabbing time attire and patrol the streets. A couple dozen demons into my rampage and I had already gained a little notoriety. Not as Orchid of course, but that strangely garbed fallen with a penchant for decapitating demons. My shiny 'new' weapons were oh so apt for the job, and I was strong enough to easily pull it off… pun intended.
I would usually get back home pretty bruised and battered. The most delicious cigarette of the day was when you were so worn down that your mind could barely form coherent thoughts. That’s when the head rushes and dizziness usually kick in. Consequently blankets are at least fifteen percent more comforting.
Sometimes I’d bring someone home with me. I felt that sharing bodily warmth at night helped me retain a part of my humanity, despite all the bloodshed. The kids were great, don’t get me wrong… but nothing could replace a beating heart, the taste of another person’s lips, and a little slavery to passion. It made sleeping easier too.
I had been avoiding the resistance just like they suggested, but I eventually got into a nasty fight and desperately needed medical attention...
“Do you want to hear about it Clarisse?” Orchid asked.
The young girl clapped her hands excitedly. “I’d like that very much, Miss Orchid! Was it scary? What happened? I have to know!”
…Meanwhile, the doctors took notes, satisfied with the prospect of more information about the resistance. Orchid was starting to get sick from the constant injections; she wouldn’t be able to hold on forever.
It all started when I found an anonymous note left at the orphanage. It was about a processing plant where the demons would turn sick and elderly humans into a kind of edible paste. Part of me was delighted at the prospect of a bigger challenge. Though this wasn’t a fortress by any stretch of the imagination, the note did warn of at least fifteen guards present. Well, fifteen guards and the human slaves that worked there, but I didn’t think the slaves would get involved.
I spent a couple hours observing the plant's courtyard before making my move. I figured it was better to wait and get this right. Even if a few people were lost it was better than everyone. Like most of the buildings that were reconstructed for demonic uses, it was found downtown.
From the outside I could see humans hauling in heavy equipment on carts with a couple of Suvardi supervising. They were still bringing in equipment? Maybe the plant hadn’t been set up yet… even Trojigar didn’t get information that fast. I wondered who my mysterious informant was.
Through the windows I was able to pinpoint the locations of at least five of the guards, accounting for seven of their numbers. Think Orchid. Where do I start? I asked myself as I formulated a plan. Since I couldn’t see the interior of the plant, I figured my only option was to start outside and free the slaves who were barely supervised.
They were working under the light of long tiki- torches placed all around the site. A sinister idea came to me. Though hellfire wouldn’t ignite the oily skin of the Suvardi, mundane flame might.
I charged towards the pair with a rapid pattering of feet. A surge of energy washed over me as I let loose the two chains in a prehensile manner, snatching up a torch in each. Using my momentum, I kept the torches in motion so the chains wouldn’t let the torches slip. I could have easily been mistaken for someone doing poi, if my intent wasn't obvious that is.
The Suvardi snapped into a defensive stance, though off-balance in surprise. One of them was about to shout a warning towards the plant, and in an act of desperation I whirled the torch on my right side chain to splash flames against his chest. The demon burned to cinders in a brief flash-fire but with a distinct lack of foresight, his screams of pain were uproariously loud. They definitely knew I was here…
The second Suvardi drew a wicked looking halberd from across his back and cautiously circled. Time was on his side after all… in the meantime, the human slaves were running for their lives into the alleys.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied lights in two rooms go dark and heard the sounds of bows being strung. With a sudden spin in place the now empty right hand chain again latched on to the Suvardi’s halberd. Regardless of my small frame I retained a lot of my physical strength from my time as a Sentinel; pulling the halberd aside to create an opening wasn’t too much of a challenge. Following through with the spin I brought the left chain, still with a lit torch, to bear across the skin of the Suvardi.
The two outside were silenced, but a disconcerting whizzing noise in the air gave me too little notice to effectively dodge the hail of arrows now flying toward me. Reflexively, I coiled the two chains together then pried them apart, creating a small shield of flowing metal and managed to deflect a couple of the arrows. It probably wasn't the most effective manoeuvre but damn was it flashy.
One pointy shaft of doom caught me squarely in the left thigh; the rest flew wide. Falling to one knee, I did the only thing I could think of on a whim and hoisted up the charred body of one of the Suvardi for cover. With an unflattering grunt I pulled the arrow free and tossed it aside. Slowly... cautiously... I stalked towards the door, the spiked exoskeleton of the demon I held protecting me. The hailstorm of bow shots kept coming, in a suppressing fire that kept me moving at a crawl.
Halfway to the door I stopped behind a mine cart full of equipment; just to take a breather and examine my wound. I thought it had already stopped bleeding but it might've only appeared that way because of the pestilent black ooze forming around the wound. That was never a good sign. Those archers were starting to piss me off… royally. After taking a quick look at the mining cart for anything I could use, I got an idea. I tore off both wheels from the cart on one side, and pressed my back against it so it wouldn’t topple over onto me. Taking my time, I curled my two chains around the wheels until they were wrapped up into balls of metal and rubber.
In an act of sheer stupidity, I took an acrobatic roll out from my cover behind the cart. With a quick jerk forward and an even quicker motion back on the chains, I flung out the two wheels into the darkened windows at alarming speeds. Both of the figures inside the windows were caught off guard. One was struck on its bow hand, the weapon falling two stories to the ground; the other was stunned long enough that I had almost made it to the door before he fired again. Thankfully, the last arrow I would have to see barely nicked my shoulder, getting caught in the fabric of my clothes.
No more than two feet into the door something made me stop, without time to reflect on my planning abilities. Six demons of a few common varieties all lined up and ready for war. A couple of them shouted warnings in some hellish language that I’d never bothered to learn; another spoke in plain English, “You tread to your demise fallen. What is your quarrel with us?” This one was cool and collected in his stance. Though much shorter than the other demons, and kind of impish looking with his wings, slightly hunched back, and violet coloured skin. His long beard spoke of refinement, get it?
“Alright so maybe I’m in a little over my head here… but really? Using people for food? Once upon a time hell’s minions had standards…” What was I wasting my breath on them for? Screw this. With a flick of my wrists I shot out the twin chains, both serrated knives finding a home in the throats of an assembled demon each. In a massive feat of strength I pulled those two hulking creatures in front of me by their throats. Though they were clearly dying, they weren’t useless and would serve as an excellent buffer while I figured out my next move.
The demons tried to pile past to get at me but I had picked the largest ones out of the bunch. The initiative was still mine and that was all I needed. I dove in between the legs of the pair of limp demons and slid under the rest. I rolled and took a jump, the force pulling the two dead on top of the four remaining demons, by my forward momentum. My blades came free now that there was something to leverage the bodies against, more bodies. The impish creature was completely incapacitated underneath along with one of the others but the remaining two managed to squeeze free. I drew back my chains to hold the blades in hand for close quarters combat.
The first was an unarmed brawler who lunged with an intensity that made me backpedal just to defend myself. The second had a pair of nasty looking metal claws, and was no less swift in his attacks. A fist swung at me with a ferocity that could have ended the fight right then and there. Instinctively I sidestepped and impaled the fist into the wall with one of my knives. In the meantime, the second demon dug his claws deep into my lower back. I howled in pain and sank a few inches as my senses were overwhelmed. Gritting my teeth I twisted my body to the side. Though the motion caused terrible harm to my innards, it put him in the right place before he could withdraw his claws. One loop of chain around his neck, a good pull upward, a hearty snapping sound, and vengeance was mine.
The unarmed demon wrenched his hand free, cutting violently through a large portion of his palm and fled out the door. This left two demons who were helplessly trapped, and me in a state of pseudo frenzy. The impish demon begged for his life while the other one yammered unintelligibly. There was no mercy or pity here, not after what I had been through. I ever so lovingly tore their heads off and made my way deeper into the complex. I was going to finish what I had started even if it meant more of my blood would be spilled. I spoke the affirmation inside my head limping along; my back was in agony and my leg was getting tenser by the moment. This wasn’t going to have one of those pretty fairy tale finishes.
Expecting the worst, I opened the double doors to the main manufacturing area and discovered it had already been abandoned. Where the hell was everyone? It was completely devoid of life; demon, human, or otherwise.
Scouring the plant with my injuries took a good while longer than I’d have hoped. Whoever was waiting for me certainly had time to prepare. Finally when I found some signs of life it was in the form of a guarded hallway. The demons picked this spot for a reason; I figured it was either their slaves, or something equally valuable, and well worth my time to investigate.
I had only peeked around the corner for a split second but saw what I needed to. There were three of them; two were a magic-wielding demon variety with a very narrow specialization for ice magic and the last was another Suvardi. That was a fairly common, yet rudimentary, tactic among the demon folk. Pair up anything with magical prowess and a Suvardi to handle the front line.
In one rapid motion I turned the corner and shot out my chains to where I’d spotted both of the ice demons. One of them was gutted violently by the blade on the end before the fight even started. The other froze my weapon in mid flight and it careened to the ground heavily. The Suvardi charged at me with a shoulder spike lowered, and intended to plunge it deep into my soft flesh. I caught the lance shaped bone with my hand and managed to push him to a stop before getting stuck like a fancy hors d’oeuvre. The momentum coupled with the sudden halt made him stumble right into me, and both of us collapsed into one messy pile; me with more than a few punctures from his bone protrusions.
Mostly stuck together and under him all I could think to do was draw back my still serviceable blade by pulling on the chain. Once the knife was firmly in my grasp I dug it deep into the Suvardi’s neck and wrenched it around until the demon stopped moving. I hardly noticed the numbing pain as both of us were getting pelted with sheets of ice; there was just too much adrenaline and rage… or maybe it was the blood loss.
I threw the Suvardi off, with a twinge of pain where the spikes left open wounds. Standing up felt like the hardest thing to do in the world at the time, but I had at least a few more demons to fight before this place was clear... and at least one before I figured out what my prize behind this hallway was.
I stalked forward slowly, which was pretty much all I could do in my current state. Each step of the way I was getting slammed with waves of ice. Conviction… Determination… these words were meaningless compared to my desire to go on. It wasn’t even an act of heroism; it was an act of pride. When I finally came up alongside the very scared looking ice demon I was covered in frost from head to toe, my skin glittering like an ice statue. I think this demon got torn apart worse than all the others. You see what I did was…
Clarisse yawned and rubbed her eyes. “Miss Orchid! Please skip this part! It’s boring and I’m falling asleep,” the demons already had reports of this fight and the loss of their human captives.
“Aww but sweetie the bloody bits are the best parts! Fine, fine we can move along,” Orchid complied, playing right into their game.
“You’re the best Miss Orchid!” the shape-shifting demonic girl replied.
It wasn’t long after that I blacked out actually. My memory is a little foggy, but it wound up being the slaves that I rescued from confinement who carried me to the resistance medic. They had been locked away in a storage room after the initial fray took place. My wounds had become so severe by the time we left that I was running on pure adrenaline. At least I had the wherewithal to tell them where to take me before I lost consciousness. They dragged me through half the city to get there in the middle of the night.
The armed guards took in the humans as refugees while I was brought directly to the medic. After hours of surgery, tons of painkillers, stitches, and even a blood transfusion I was in near tip top shape. All that remained was the arrow wound on my leg which was getting progressively worse. The one thing they didn’t have was antibiotics and the medic was sceptical it would have helped. Gradually, the blackening of my skin was spreading and the pain was growing sharp. This was all relayed to me after the fact; I actually only regained my senses in the morning.
My first reaction to waking up was rather violent. My clawed hand grabbed the medic looming over me by the throat. I dug in slightly and drew blood, thankfully the painkillers having sapped my strength or I might have killed him.
After a cough and wheeze or two, the medic was fine again, though it took a few moments before he could speak, “You’re lucky to be alive you know. The damage to your inner workings is extensive and your leg might never heal.”
I was a little taken aback and settled down onto my cot. “Thanks doc’. Look I know how this world works and while I appreciate your concern, what exactly do I owe you?”
The man stared back at me in wild disbelief. “Owe me? You saved a large group of people from captivity and worse. How could I possibly ask for anything else?” He gave me a disarming smile before continuing, “You should get some more rest. Do you live around here Miss…?” The way he posed the last part was obviously asking for my name.
I was rather torn by this, since each side of the question prompted a different answer. Orchid lived at the orphanage and my alter ego is the one who had saved these people. It was in that moment I had to decide whether I truly trusted this person. Intuition guided me to the safer answer, “I live where I please, and call me Gwendolyn… or Gwen.”
My eyes finally focused, giving the room more shape. The doctor was a tall, well dressed man, with gray hair, who at a glance appeared to be in his forties. His posture was noticeably correct and his teeth were clean. “Well lady Gwendolyn you can stay here as long as you need to and we can try to get some answers about the wound on your leg but I suspect you’re the kind of girl that is mixed up with this kind of trouble a lot.” Had he heard of me? I wondered.
I smiled weakly and waved a hand dismissively as I tried to stand. “I can think of a few people who can help, but I can’t really stay. Duty, responsibility, you know how it goes.”
I didn’t even intend to take a look around before leaving but my eye caught the same kind of ritual knife Wendall was holding among the surgical tools on the table. What kind of kooky medical practice was this? If the world were still whole I could have looked it up on the Internet or something right? One more thing on the growing list of stuff I had to talk to Trojigar about.
The walk back to the orphanage might as well have been a crawl. My leg was really starting to seize up and I couldn’t help but shudder with each passing step. When I finally arrived, I was greeted the same as always… lots of sticky kids hugging me at the knees and a newfound pain that went with the experience. I was dizzy, tired, sore and a little bit angry but the kids had this way about them that would just melt my heart. I stayed up late that night explaining to Jim and Stacy what was going on... everything. It just didn’t feel right keeping them in the dark when they put so much stock into me. They treated me like I was their daughter at times and as much as I hated to admit it, I needed them to care for me.
“Do you see, Clarisse? Sometimes things get hard and people get hurt, but when you come home and remember that there are people who love you it's okay again, right?” Orchid was casual and wistful about the memory and the relived feelings.
“What was the knife for Miss Orchid? Were they making magic with it?” Clarisse replied with curious wide eyes.
“It sure was! That comes later though. They say silly girls who interrupt stories have to eat only slop for supper, for a whole week,” there was a playful grin on Orchid’s lips as she spoke.
Meanwhile the doctor in charge of the project with Orchid was filing his hourly report to update the brass in the demonic army with their progress. He was sure to include all noteworthy locations of the resistance that had been uncovered, their use of magic paraphernalia, and of course the growing list of damage caused by Orchid under the guise of a superhero named Gwendolyn.
The technicians had noted that she was starting to get feverish. It was nothing critical so far but a few degrees above the norm.
It didn’t feel right skipping the next day of work with the kids worried sick and me being gone all night. I was going to pay Trojigar another visit, but it would have to be during opening hours. There would be no stabbery for me tomorrow, just some good old-fashioned bartering.