The silence between the two was almost palpable as they walked the dark, empty streets. Selina hovered alongside Gregg's long strides, her long black hair flowing behind her as if she were walking against a breeze. Gregg kept his head low and the collar of his dark peacoat up. He appeared to be counting his steps as they walked, but Selina knew better. He was thinking.
As they approached the park several blocks later, they noticed a trio of figures standing in the center of the park. Together, Gregg and Selina stepped up onto the wooden platform among the ocean of woodchips and soon came close enough to identify the figures.
"Took you long enough," Alex sighed, his breath fuming out from his mouth in wispy spirals. He had his hands in his pockets. Gregg studied him for a moment before responding.
"Sorry," he said plainly, glancing at Alex's eyes, which had turned, for an instant, away from Gregg and onto Clarissa, who was still looking down at her phone. The luminescence revealed her round face, and the worry etched into it as she clacked away on the keypad.
"Luckily, I just got out of work," Stephen said, breaking the awkward silence. Indeed, he still had his apron slung over his shoulder, stained with the grease from the back room of the local pizzeria. "Or else I might've had to catch the highlights of this meeting from one of you later."
"Yes, that would have been unfortunate," replied Gregg in monotone, his accentuated sarcasm burning in the darkness. Next to him, Selina let herself drop down onto her feet, which were still shaky from atrophy. Things had taken an odd turn with Gregg. In her eyes, he simply wasn't himself anymore. And what hurt the most was knowing her suggestion had led to his emotions' demise.
In a moment's notice, a dark green Jeep pulled up to the park. Its lights shone across the length of the area, illuminating the gang's circle. A moment later, Cooper emerged, slamming the door shut behind him and locking the doors. He quickly jogged over to the gathering.
"What'd I miss?" he asked, breathless from his relatively short jog. He was completely in shape, but was a fan of dramatics.
"Not much," answered Clarissa, finally looking away from her phone. She quickly locked the keypad and tossed it in her jeans pocket. Her pale face seemed to be half-joyful, half-grim. She had the look of a sick guppy, her usually full lips appearing quite pale. "I was just about to start."
"What about Bobby?" asked Stephen lazily.
"He said he'd catch up later," reported Clarissa with a weak grin. "May as well get to it, then. There's been a bit of an update to my uh, orders"
"I already know," said Gregg calmly, crossing his arms. "Well, may as well tell the others," Clarissa chortled, turning to the remaining four. "There's no more orders to take out Gregg. His deal broke."
"Wait, what?" asked Cooper, leaning in incredulously. "How?!"
"I broke Rebekkah's heart," announced Gregg, turning his back to his friends. "There's no chance of her ever loving me again. Nothing's bringing her back. So I broke the contract. The end."
"That's so harsh," noted Stephen aloud, mouth agape.
"But necessary," added Selina as she patted Gregg comfortingly on the shoulder. For a moment, it seemed as though Gregg gave a backward glance at her, but it was most likely just her imagination combined with the low light setting.
"What about the rest of us?" asked Cooper, thankfully breaking the awkward silence. Clarissa straightened, placing her hand upon her chin in thought.
"You guys are still fair game to everyone," she somberly murmured, her head dropping from its lofty, high-hoped locale. "And Buddy's getting angry."
"He can wait as long as he wants in my book," began Stephen, but a word into his following sentence he froze, staring over Gregg's shoulder at the road behind him. "I"
"What?" asked Gregg, turning to see what it was Stephen had spotted that left him so speechless. There about a football field's length down the street, standing in the weak circle of light from the nearby streetlamp, was the silhouette of a familiar friend.
"Bobby?" questioned Alex aloud.
As the words left his mouth, he realized something was very wrong. The shadow being cast beneath Bobby's meek, injured form was not as it should have been. Rather than conforming to Bobby's shape, the shadow was wriggling; writhing in the light. A number of odd appendages seemed to leak forth from the form of darkness, accenting the anguished twisting of the shadow.
There came a sudden cry from all around them, as though they were surrounded by a flock of injured birds. It was a chorus of hellish screams, dancing around their ears, but coming from all directions at once. A thousand yelps crescendoed.
Looking around incredulously, Cooper finally spotted a horrifying sight: a figure in the trees. As his eyes adjusted to the night sky, much to his terror, Cooper began making out more and more figures sitting in the branches above. Suddenly, the figures moved, swooping downward out of the sky and descending upon the group.
"Sh*t!" yelled one of the boys as they dove for cover in separate directions. The figures took to different corners of the playground, darting about in a desperate bid to find the boys.
Cowering beneath the purple plastic slide nearby, Gregg could barely make out the actual appearance of one of the creatures hunting them as it sniffed around a nearby garbage can. It was about three feet tall, walking on all fours, with the hind legs ending in gnarled hooves. The creature was covered in a thick layer of dark brown fur, with little variation throughout the coat. Its face, horrifying to behold, reminded Gregg of a German Shepherd's maw minus the lips. Its yellowed, razor-sharp teeth gleamed in the dim street light. Adorning its tiny head was a single horn, which proved to be rather sharp when the creature suddenly charged into the plastic garbage can, impaling the trash receptacle on its horn. It flapped its batlike wings in panic, but to no avail.
As the creature struggled, Gregg could still hear the cries of the other monsters all around him. Desperate for a means of protecting himself, Gregg fumbled around in the darkness. He gave a small gasp as he felt something slice into the side of his index finger. Tracing the object that had cut him more carefully, Gregg finally wrapped his hand around the handle of it and brought it closer to his face to inspect it. A broken Snapple bottle.
"Perfect," he whispered to himself, taking a more secure grip on the glass neck, "come at me, you freaks."
But as he said so, one of the creatures attacked from behind, leaping onto Gregg's back and holding onto his shirt with its impish claws. With a yelp, Gregg used his free hand to reach around his own shoulder, grab the imp, and toss it on the ground in front of him. The imp hit the woodchip ground harshly, and Gregg heard something snap in the darkness.
"Fragile," he noted to himself. However, upon turning around, Gregg found himself in a staring contest with at least five pairs of gleaming red eyes. The gang of imps snarled, slowly moving toward him on all fours. Gregg began backing away, suddenly completely unimpressed by the broken glass weapon in his right hand. He froze in place as he felt the cold press of the wooden fence behind him, and knew this was probably his last moment.
"Trudo!" cried Cooper, quickly moving toward Gregg's attackers. The imps were suddenly blown off their feet, as though the pure force of Cooper's voice had lifted them from the earth. They scattered after hitting the ground a few feet away, taking off towards the woods like disciplined puppies.
"You alright?" asked Cooper breathlessly, still looking around for more of the hellish creatures. Gregg nodded, not realizing Cooper was still on the alert, and dropped the shattered bottle neck, still visibly shaken.
Across the playground, Alex was busy with trouble of his own. Rounding the rear of the swingset, he narrowly avoided one imp's desperate lunge for his ankles. He stomped the creature away and continued running back towards the woods. He figured to himself that he might be able to lose them in the woods.
It soon became apparent that Alex was not the runner the track coach had once told him he was, as the hot breath he felt on the back of his neck grew ever closer. For their size, the imps were quite strong, as Alex soon learned when one of the pursuing creatures grabbed him by the flesh on the back of his neck and threw him to the ground. Rolling in the dirt, Alex soon felt the pressing weight of at least two imps pressing down on his chest as the creatures tore at his chest, ripping his shirt in several places. Alex could feel their claws scratching at his skin, cuts forming, blood oozing from the wounds. Alex's view of the night sky steadily began to fade with his panic as he realized the imps were about to dig deeper into him.
In a flash, the weight of the imps disappeared from his chest, and a black figure flew over Alex's head, snatching the two imps off of him. Staggering to his feet, he witnessed a massive, furry figure tear the imps apart at the seams. Black blood rained down on Alex's savior, who stood up on two shaky, doglike feet. Alex gasped and fell back onto his back, eyes still glued on his lycanthropic hero as it approached, taking long, meaningful steps. Blood and foam flowed from its teeth and it smiled vilely at Alex.
"TRUDO!" screamed Cooper, running up from the playground toward the swings. The wolfman was immediately swept from its feet and tumbled a few yards before skidding to a halt in the moist dirt. Cooper rushed to Alex's side, just as the crowd of imps took to the skies, retreating from the lycanthrope. A cloud of black blocked out the sun as the creatures flew south, leaving Loveless with a bigger problem on their hands.
There emerged a groan from the lycanthrope as it began to push itself up with both arms. Cooper, seeing this, quickly took in a deep breath to prepare a different summoning.
"I was going to play nice," growled the lycanthrope in a deep, booming voice, "but now you went and pissed me off!"
"Ignis!" cried Cooper, and immediately, a wall of flame erupted between himself and the wolf, illuminating the night. The lycanthrope yelped aloud, and from behind the curtain of fire, Cooper and Alex could see the creature revert back to human form. The lycanthrope, now appearing as a rather greasy young man, sighed.
"This is way too much for me to deal with right now!" he roared, his voice now more humanlike.
"Just what we needed," yelled Gregg over the roar of the fire as he and a visibly injured Selina approached from behind Cooper. "A lycanthrope come to feast on our bones!"
Selina winced, clutching her wrist to her chest. From his angle of vision, Alex could see a large bloodstain on the front of her shirt. She gave one last wince, and held out her wrist. Before Cooper's eyes, the ragged bite wound's flow of blood clotted, and the skin healed over in a matter of seconds. Cooper had heard about nightwalker healing abilities, but had never seen it occur in person before.
"As if," the boy scoffed, crossing his arms defiantly. "I WAS told to look after you little bastards, but honestly"
He smirked and raised one dirty hand up to the boys' field of vision. In an instant, the boy flicked his wrist, and his three inch razor-sharp claws had replaced his natural nails. He snickered.
"You're too much trouble."
"Stop it, Will," ordered an unseen voice. A second later, a single silhouette ebbed into view behind the lycanthrope, as if a billion atoms had suddenly converged on one spot. The suddenly visible girl sighed and pulled Will's claw back. The lyncathrope gave one last snicker and looked back at the dimly lit girl.
"I was just kidding," Will chuckled, letting his claws retract. "You never let me have fun."
The girl shook her head silently and stepped out of the shadows, revealing her pale, thin figure to Loveless. Her bright, blonde hair reflected all the light revealing her form, and immediately causing Stephen to choke on his own surprised gasp.
"Victoria?!" he sputtered, bent over coughing.
"Stephen," she replied simply, nodding to him. She looked back at Will, who smiled back.
"Looks like we have explaining to do," said Will, enjoying Stephen's surprise.
Gregg, suddenly remembering, looked back past the swings at the road, which was now completely empty. Bobby was nowhere to be seen. He had completely vanished, leaving nothing, not even his shadow, behind. Alex, seeing Gregg searching, took his lead and scanned the dark playground for any sign of Clarissa. She too, had disappeared in the chaos.