I was this close to getting Penny down for the count when Ava came bursting out of the clock shop. Sensing that I was in for a fight, I gave Penny one last slam against the wall for good measure before tossing her off to the side.
“Walk away, Avalonia. I wasn’t bluffing.”
“I… I know you weren’t.”
“So what kind of game are you trying to play?”
“I’m not quite so sure about that, myself.”
“Do you really think that you can beat me?”
“No, not really…”
“Then what the hell are you doing?”
“I just want to know… If you really are Travis… Is this my fault?”
I contemplated her question for a moment, considering what response I wanted to shoot out. Eventually, I just spat the truth.
“No. I don’t blame you in the slightest. I don’t hate you. I don’t even harbor any ill will toward you. But that is subject to change, should you take another step forward.”
“I… I’m not going to fight you, Travis.”
“Then why are you still here?”
“…That one… Um… I don’t have an answer for you.”
As my back was still turned, I felt a piercing pain swipe across the back of my leg. When I turned around to confront my source, Penny stabbed at me again, this time slicing open my cheek.
I let out an exclamation of anger, flying up to get out of Penny’s reach. I closed my eyes and fought through the pain to heal my cuts. When I opened my eyes once more, Ava had flown to my level, now wielding a sword in each of her hands, her distraction attempt successful.
Ava didn’t give me a chance to think before rushing toward me, swords drawn. She swung them both forward, one in each hand, and each one directed toward one of my sides. I kept my arms low, and the swords clanged together onto each of my shields. In response, Ava changed her approach, instead focusing her attack toward my face.
With an open shot, I launched forward, catching Ava off guard and effectively tackling her. I wrapped my arms around the girl and snapped the wings in my hands. Though it couldn’t hurt Ava, my attack did render her unable to fly, and soon she was careening toward the hard ground.
I dove after my falling victim, but it seems like I underestimated Ava’s dedication, as she was able to fix her wings and catch herself before she splattered onto the pavement. Ava flew out of the way of my downward advance, and I was so close to the ground that it became less of an attack and more of a kamikaze fall.
I struggled to catch myself, and my solution was to land on my hands and knees. It wasn’t as bad of an impact as it could’ve been, but I still skinned up my palms a fair amount. I didn’t have time to fix them with Ava’s continued attacks from above.
With her circling above my head, I was at a clear disadvantage, and couldn’t strike her if I tried. Ava, however, kept coming in again and again, and I found it harder and harder to block them with my swords every time she dove for me. While I was distracted with her, Penny rushed for me with her sabre.
It was overwhelming, and I had to give up my defense of Ava’s dive bombing, instead breaking into a sprint toward the opposite direction. The girls were hot on my tail, but I was able to build up enough momentum that a good jump sent me into the sky. Now hovering, I turned around and held one of my blades outward.
If Ava continued to rush me, she would certainly be impaled, and she knew that as well as I did. Noticing what I was trying to do, I watched Ava’s face turn to one of terror as she struggled to break out of the current she had put herself in. She missed my sword, but in her panic, Ava left herself open to a backhand from me.
The strike broke her concentration, and I turned around to watch as she got off balance and fell down to the ground. She wasn’t down for long, soon getting to her feet, but I took full advantage of the opportunity. Shrinking down my sword’s blade, I fashioned it back into a reasonably sized dagger, and spiraled it downward toward Ava.
I wasn’t the best aim, but Ava clearly wasn’t expecting the projectile, and the knife stuck in her shoulder. She let out a painful yelp, before grabbing the handle and tearing it out of her skin with a small blood splatter. Ava was breathing heavily, and as she struggled to figure out to heal her cut with her powers, I brought myself down to the even ground.
“It takes practice.”
Ava couldn’t stand letting me have the slightest advantage, so she ran toward me again in an attempt to get the jump on me. I didn’t have the time to focus on making a second sword, so I had to make good with the one I still had. Ava’s constant stabs at me kept finding homes in my shields, or clashed against my own blade. She knew how to handle a sword, but like her previous attempt to best me, she struggled in keeping herself composed throughout the course of our duel.
I wore out her patience and her energy, and as our fight went on, Ava’s attacks became less and less effective. It got to the point where I was able to swing my leg downward and trip her to the ground. The hard kick snapped something within her leg. While she was down. I kicked her closed fist, opening it up and releasing the sword contained inside. I repeated the process with her other hand, and soon, she was bladeless, entirely defenseless against me.
The other girl ran up like she was going to attack me, but I shut her down with, “If you stay right there, I will consider keeping little miss pumpkin here alive.”
With Penny at bay, and the tip of my sword rested on Ava’s throat, I smiled.
“Now… Penny, Penny, Penny… What am I going to do with you?”
“…How do you know my name…?”
“I know a lot of things, Penny, and I know that you wouldn’t dare try to attack me now. You’re a gifted swordfighter, but would you really let her die just to get another shot at me?”
“I’ll take that as a no. Now, let’s start over, shall we? I’ll give you one chance to answer this honestly before I start cutting.”
I lightly pressed my blade against Ava’s skin.
“D-Don’t tell him, Penny…” I weakly choked out, trying in vain to take back control of the situation. “I’m not worth it.”
The demon quickly shot out a response, “I know you’re not, but I’m sure that’s not going to stop her.”
Penny was more scared than I had ever seen her. She never spoke of being scared of the Auburn Demon. In fact, whenever she talked about him, it was always in dismissive tones. Penny firmly believed that there was nothing that the demon could do that would get under her skin.
But he had her on a string like she was a marionette. Either she could save her boyfriend’s life and watch Travis torture me to death… Or she could save me and live with knowing that she caused Zinovi to die. Penny was close to breaking down, I could feel it, but she somehow managed to keep herself standing and composed.
She had been right all along… Powers or not, I was no one special. I was such an idiot to think that I could stand up to the demon… He wiped the floor with both of us, and now we didn’t have any hope of standing up against him.
Throughout the entire fight, the demon never once flinched. He never once broke a sweat. He never once hesitated. He didn’t lose his concentration. There was nothing Penny or I could do to slow him down. Even on the rare occasion that we could land a hit, the demon would just heal himself and pretend like nothing happened.
I tried to heal myself, but… The fear of the fight, and the immense pressure that came with being under the heel of the Auburn Demon… I could barely summon my own blade, let alone fix a wound. But he didn’t even have to try…
“T-Travis… Please… This isn’t like you…”
If he was in there somewhere… Anywhere…
“You’re in no position to try and distract me again.”
“That’s not… No, I know it’s hopeless. I just can’t believe that this thing is you…”
“This ‘thing’? Avalonia, I’ve evolved far too much to be regarded as a ‘thing’. If you know what’s best for you, you better treat me with the respect that I deserve.”
“Right, right, I’m sorry…”
“Do you think you can ‘save’ me?”
“I… Travis, I… I do. Whenever we would go to the movies I would always fall asleep on your shoulder… You once took the entire day off work to celebrate my birthday… That’s the Travis I knew. Was… Was it all a lie…?”
The blade on my neck lifted a bit, and I saw the demon turn his attention away from me, refusing to look me in the eye. With a sigh, he actually gave me an answer.
“I wasn’t lying, Ava. I really did love you, and it was great! You were the best girlfriend that a guy like me could ever ask for… Y’know, had I not died, I would’ve proposed to you. We would’ve lived out the life that both of us had always dreamed of. But… I got this second chance, and I couldn’t waste it.”
“You could’ve come back to me…”
“No, Ava, I couldn’t have. Not at all. I would’ve been happy with you, but that doesn’t matter anymore. I wasn’t brought back to be happy. I wasn’t brought back because of anything that I wanted. You haven’t a clue the changes that death inflicted upon me… I’m the only one who was allowed to see what the world has become, and no matter the circumstances, I have to carry out that will.”
“No, you don’t! This isn’t your will, Travis! You don’t have to follow whatever insane thoughts keep whispering into your ear!”
He lifted his blade, and in one motion, sliced it across my forehead.
“You’re trying to lead me astray! I won’t fall for it again! I won’t let you hold my fate hostage anymore!”
His voice kept breaking, but… Even despite that, I could tell that Travis wasn’t lying. He truly believed every word that came out of his mouth, and I realized that there was nothing I could do to change that…
But even if I were powerless to reason with Travis, it didn’t mean that all hope was entirely lost. While he was getting angry at me, Penny made a run for the demon. Travis didn’t even see her coming until she had already gotten him off of my chest with a strong push.
It didn't do that much damage to the demon, but it was enough to allow me to get back to my feet, or, at least, allow me to try. I couldn’t hold myself up without leaning on a car.
Travis could shake off Penny without too much effort, but seeing me back in a place where I could defend myself agonized him…
“You all still stand to fight?! In my years and years on this planet, I haven’t ever met more putrid human beings! Do you fight because you’re too stupid to realize that I’m right? Or do you fight because you want an excuse to lie to yourselves?”
Completely ignoring his tirade, Penny charged at Travis, smashing her sabre against the purple sword that the demon was still wielding. I took the time to get my heart rate back down, and was even able to get calm enough to utilize my powerset again.
Closing my eyes to focus, phasing out the resonating sounds of Travis and Penny dueling, I felt the blood gushing down my face phase away as my forehead wound closed itself up. I summoned a dagger and extended it into a sword, but I couldn’t fight anymore, not for another second… I just didn’t have it in me, not after all that had happened… I was broken, and it would take more than some mental stitching to fix me.
Penny was still handling herself quite well, but Travis had a clear upper hand, and she began to lose her touch under the stress of the situation. But… Then Travis abandoned his sword for a moment to go for a different approach. He swung his fist toward Penny, and it hit her square in the middle of the cheek. He swung once more, this time punching her right in her eye.
Penny tried to counter him with her sabre, but Travis was having none of it. He lifted his leg, but instead of kicking, he stomped right on her foot. Penny let out an instinctive yell of pain, letting her guard down enough for Travis to slice down her forearm with his blade.
She dropped her sword, and Travis picked it up before Penny could, tossing it off to the side where she had no hope of recovering it. She attempted to best him in hand-to-hand combat, but Travis, still armed with his blade and shields, could stop every single punch she threw with ease.
I had used up all my energy and then some, but I was still about to step in… When a loud booming noise drowned out the environment around it, and rendered that train of thought completely mute…
The cold steel felt fresh in my hand. Bought several years ago, for self-defense only. It was the last gift my father gave me before I left home to make my own path. Aside from my watch, that is. It's always been there in the shop, just under the main desk, hidden just in case of some trouble. It had never once been fired. Who would bother to rob a clock shop of all things?
It found use that day.
Holding it in my hands… It felt alien. The will to kill another man. Yet I did it, without hesitation. Either him or my assistant. I… I wasn’t about to lose Penny. Not after this much. But it still felt… Strange. The bloodlust, the adrenaline, the fury. Completely unrecognizable from the normal Tockman…
I lowered the gun quickly, still holding onto it. "Your phone. Dial the police, immediately. We can't have-"
Before I could finish my thought, the demon slowly straightened up. I can clearly see the hole directly through his shoulder, where the bullet went clean through. That was a clean shot, point-blank… And it was healing like a papercut!
"…I didn't think you'd be the one to do it," he hissed.
His sharp eyes turned towards me, the purple one grabbing my focus compared to the normal green of the other. His focus was off Penny. Good for me, right...? The gun was up once again, pointed directly towards his forehead.
…My hands were shaking.
I was afraid… Afraid of this monster.
Before I could work up the courage to fire once more, something materialized in the demon’s palms… It was some kind of ball, tinted purple. Faster than I could react, he launched it toward my face, striking in the center of my forehead.
While I was dazed from the hit, the demon charged forward, and tore the revolver out of my hand, using his other fist to shove me backward. I stumbled, tripping over my feet and ending up kneeling at the feet of the demon.
He took a step away from me, before throwing my prized silver gun onto the hard concrete of the parking lot. A part of the barrel chipped off and flew off in a different direction. The demon created something else in his hands… A hammer. I watched in complete desperation as he rose it above his head, and brought it down onto my gun.
The device completely shattered into several different pieces. Travis brought his hammer upon it again. And again. And again. Once the gun was completely unrecognisable, the hammer vanished into thin air, as the demon turned to face me again, right as I was getting to my feet.
“You don’t even know who I am, do you?” he asked.
“…I know more than you think.” I spoke. “Your name is Travis Montgomery… You used to date Avalonia Miliken… And you’re the Auburn Demon.”
The demon flashed a smirk, “Impressive. I assume Avalonia confided in you?”
“…Are you going to kill me?”
“Depends on what you do next.”
I stayed silent. There was no way I could stand to carry a conversation with this creature. He didn’t deserve to know anything about me.
With my trusty gun now null-and-void, I was far away from any sort of weapons I could use against the demon. Luckily, he didn’t seem interested in attacking me. I wasn’t a threat to him, as far as he knew. With as vulnerable as I was at that moment, I was determined to keep him in the dark.
“What have you done?” the demon hissed.
“Now, what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t play dumb with me. Ava’s powers. You’re responsible, aren’t you? You three follow me around like I’ve got a string attached to me, and given that Penny and Ava are as dumb as a bag of rocks, that leaves you.”
“…You don’t know anything about me.”
“You’re right, I don’t, but there’s not much that I need to know.”
“But there is something, isn’t there? You would’ve killed me already if there wasn’t.”
“Correct. Are you in love?”
“I don’t think it does.”
“Love is vague.”
“You’re tiptoeing around an answer, just spit it out.”
“I mean it. The Greeks had eight words for love. In Sanskrit, there’s ninety-six. Do you believe the love of a romantic partner to be the same as the love of a best friend? Or to the love of a family member? Or to the love of a pet? The love of a hobby? How far are you willing to take this, Montgomery? How many people are you willing to kill?”
“I think you know what I mean.”
“Now you’re the one tiptoeing around an answer. What is the ideal life you wish a human to live?”
“I want them to live without throwing their life away on something that doesn’t matter!”
“If you’re going to act based on vague terms such as that, you might as well kill every single creature on this entire planet.”
“I have a plan. It’s all worked so far, and I’m not going to let you stand in my way.”
“Has it worked?”
“It truly has.”
“…As far as you know.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Demon or not, Montgomery, you can’t possibly be checking in on every single widow that you leave behind.”
“My job is not to babysit, my job is to drill a message into every human being that I possibly can.”
“But if you truly cared about the bettering of the human race, wouldn’t you stick around to help out?”
“If not, then you don’t truly care about the bettering of the human race, now do you?”
“That’s just it, isn’t it? You don’t give a damn about love. You’re just looking for an excuse to kill.”
My swordsmanship… Ava’s magic… Even a bullet from Doc’s gun couldn’t put the demon down. The cut on my arm wasn’t getting any better, and I was almost positive that I was going to have a black eye when I woke up the next morning. But even with all of that, I owed to everyone… I had to kill him.
If I didn’t do something and quick, Travis would overpower Doc in the blink of an eye. In Ava’s weakened state, he would kill her without much effort. Then… He’d try and wrestle the location of Zinovi’s bunker out of me. The demon would claim so many more lives… When would it stop? 200 dead? 1000? 10,000? Would it ever stop?!
I picked myself up, sabre in hand, and rushed at Travis while he was still preoccupied with Doc. He wasn’t even prepared for a fight, and didn’t notice me as I came from behind. Travis glanced around just quickly enough to barely dodge an incoming stab, and the shock incited a gasp from the demon.
He tried to turn around to face me, but I stabbed forward again, and this time I got a clean shot into his side. Travis tried to take off so he could heal his wounds, but I wouldn’t give him the chance to, never once stopping my advance. Doc ducked out of sight, retreating back into the safety of the clock shop.
Outmatched, unable to block or strike back, Travis did what he did best: He started talking.
“Nielson means a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
That yell was punctuated with a slice across Travis’ chest. Even as blood began to drip out of his mouth, he wouldn’t stop.
“I’m going to find him, you know… Whether I have your help or not. I’m going to make you watch, and I guarantee, his death will not be quick. Maybe I’ll flip him upside down and saw him in half… Maybe I’ll tie his limbs to horses and make them run… I could put rats in a box and force them to burrow through his skin… Oh, so many possibilities!”
I stabbed at him again, but Travis sidestepped my attack, taking a few steps back so he could get room to draw his own sword. I came at him again, but the demon blocked my sabre’s blade with one of his shields, grabbing my shoulder with his free hand.
He eyed me up and down, clearly noticing that I was wearing one of Zinovi’s scarves…
“You reek of him!”
I felt like I lost all control, swinging wildly at Travis, just hoping that one of them would hit. All proper fight etiquette I had learned just flew out of my brain, replaced with an unquellable rage. I wanted so badly to watch him bleed out on the ground that I was trying anything and everything to put him in that state.
More composed than I was, Travis could block almost every single one of my swings. After my failed attempt to get the upper hand on him, a particularly strong slice from his sword sent the sabre out of my grip and into the wind once more…
Travis wasn’t just content in separating me from my weapon. No, instead, he picked up my prized sabre, the one that I had always fought with… And in one swing, completely shattered the blade with his sword.
As he dropped the shattered pieces of it onto the concrete, Travis took the time to get another quip in on me.
“Some day, Penny, you’ll thank me for this.”
“…I will never thank you for anything.”
“Oh, of course you say that now. But by the time the scars have healed, you’ll be left with only memories, only lessons.”
“Shut the hell up…”
Without my sword, there was absolutely no chance I could beat him, but I took my shot anyway. I jumped at Travis, and he threw me off, down onto the concrete. I stood back up to keep fighting, and he slapped me across the face.
Travis dropped his cocky and philosophical demeanor, yelling out to me, “I’m going to kill everyone that you hold dear. Do you hear me?! Everyone! And I’m going to enjoy it!”
I coughed and sputtered, taking in a shaky breath and slowly standing up straight, holding up two jittering fists in front of my face. My fight or flight response had always been fight. If I was going down, I was going down and taking someone with me, even if that meant that I would get most of the damage and my opponent would only get a scratch or two.
Travis was distracted with me. Ava and Doc were taking cover—Ava with a probably broken leg and Doc hiding in the clock shop, unable to do any real damage to Travis for the time being since his gun was gone. Zinovi was safe in an undisclosed location far away, and I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again.
It was just me and the demon. I had to distract him long enough for Ava and Doc to get away. If that meant that I would have to take a beating, then so be it. I may have been pissed at them, but I didn’t want them dead.
“Do you still stand and fight, foolish girl?!”
Another slap sent me flying, rolling on the ground until I hit a parked car. I cried out in pain, collapsed on the ground, and laid there a moment as the stars left my eyes… Then I stood back up and raised my fists again, staring down the demon.
Travis only laughed as he flung me around like a ragdoll. I was just a puny human compared to him, and after beating down on me for a while, the novelty had been lost. No matter how many times I was thrown around, kicked, punched, hair pulled, cut… I stood back up every time. I wasn’t going to let this demon get the satisfaction of beating me!
He scowled, “You are pathetic… Do you seriously think you can win?!”
Travis appeared in front of me and pinned me down by the throat, almost exactly the same as he had Zinovi the day he was attacked… Slowly, but surely, an arm popped out of place of its own accord. I screamed, and he punched me square in the face until my nose broke and my forehead bled more profusely than before.
Battered… Beaten… Broken… In so much pain. And yet…
“…Y-…You’re a coward…” I managed to choke out.
Travis scowled down at me, “And you are a senseless child! Who are you to damn my name?!”
“…Someone… …Who does… ...What she does… …Out of love…”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!”
“...If… ...You don’t know now… ...You never will…”
Travis squeezed my throat tighter, bruising it and cutting off what little air I had left…
I choked and gagged and gasped for air, until finally…
I blacked out.