Zero’s ears perked up.
As he waded through the crowd of pedestrians, making his way to the Terminus building for the second time that day, he heard a faint cry from somewhere. He stopped for a moment, as Hunter bumped into him.
“Did you brain stop working?” Hunter asked, “Get a move on!”
The sound of the heavy footfalls of people, the honking of vehicles at the intersections and the general hysteria of Ravenhall during the morning made it hard for Zero to hear the cry, but it was there. A shriek of agony, if not of complete horror.
He focused, closing his eyes, as passerby’s abruptly bumped into him and muttered curses under their breaths.
The sound…his right.
He opened his eyes, and resumed walking, with Hunter following him closely. After a couple of meters, directly under the entrance to the Terminus, a small alley led into some unknown path.
Zero was surprised. It never crossed his mind that such a path ever existed. Of all the several hundreds of times he had visited this place, it was the first time he ever noticed.
“Come on,” He said quietly, as he slowly approached the narrow entrance to the alley. The close walls were lined with marble, same as most of the city’s building were. Under the gigantic shadow of the skyscrapers above, the visibility was pathetic. Not a single ray of the sun found its way to the narrow alleyway.
“What’s wrong? Smell a dead cat or something?” Hunter asked, waving his hand in front of his nose. “I think I smell it too. Ah, shit, that’s disgusting!” The foul stench caught up, infiltrating Zero’s nostrils, but Zero had smelt much worse, namely, the stench of rotten corpses, piled up on another after having decomposed for days on end.
This wasn’t far off though. The horrible stench reminded him of a garbage can left to ferment in high heat for an extended period of time, if the garbage can contained a decomposing body.
A shriek, much louder this time, cut through the air, as Zero and Hunter looked at each other with eyebrows raised.
“Maybe a mugging?”
Zero hastened his pace. The person shrieking sounded like a small child. As much of a monster he was, Zero hated it when someone hurt children. Hunter, too, followed behind. As they made their way under the cover of darkness, the shrieks grew louder and more frequent.
The two bounty hunters reached a corner, around which the shrieks were the loudest. If there was anyway Zero could describe it, the area that they were in were was as close to a slum as the city could get.
In the thick shroud of sickly green illuminance, the pair could make out a couple of tall figures standing around what seemed like a broken form, and a much smaller body sitting huddled far away.
Zero deepened his glare. All of a sudden, his vision cleared multifold, as if it was through the eyes of an eagle. He could see them more clearly, and he focused. Four men, tall and well-built, wearing a mask on their faces and had energy daggers clutched midst their fingers. At their feet, lay the horribly mutilated body of a woman. The child-like figure a couple of feet away was that of a young girl, not more than five years id Zero had to guess.
“Now,” A bold, heavy voice cut through the silence like a knife, “The mother is dead, and we aren’t necrophiles. But it is safe to say that we can…enjoy ourselves with a little young girl like you, right?”
Zero’s fingers curled into a fist. He was about to leap and chop off the man’s head off, but Hunter stopped him.
“Let me deal with this,” He whispered cockily. “You had your fun yesterday. I need to play, too.”
He sighed, before giving a ‘go ahead gesture’. Even in the darkness, Zero could make out the smirk that flashed across his best friend’s face.
Hunter took a couple of steps into the darkness, before calling out, “Now, what do we have here?”
The men turned. The glow of their daggers increased, and the light illuminated their features in hues of blood red and cerulean. They looked at ease, as if two people appearing out of nowhere didn’t bother them. The man closest to the body appeared to be the leader. He wore a trench coat, corduroy pants and a gentleman’s hat. The rest of them wore a similar attire. “Nothing of your concern per say, young man. It is best you leave, or else…”
The voice trailed off, and the undertone of the tone didn’t go unnoticed.
Hunter wasn’t fazed at all, though. Simply chuckling, he extended his hands towards them. “I don’t mind. I’m all in for the little one.”
The man looked at Hunter’s hand, and grasped it. “You aim to join us, then?” Zero could barely suppress his grin. He knew what was going to happen.
Hunter gave the leader’s hand a much more firm shake. “No, I just wanted to do this.” His hands burst into crimson flames, and the entire surroundings lit up, the Hunter’s glare bore right into the man’s terrified eyes. The poor fellow fell backwards, screaming in pain, as his clothes burned away, and slowly, his flesh, too charred off, peeling away, and revealing the glint of his endoskeleton.
“So, I guess that leaves the three of-”
No sooner had the words left Hunter’s mouth that the men were sliced up, their raw flesh falling into piles of meat scattered on the ground.
Hunter shot a dirty look at Zero, who stood behind him, pretending to look the other way. “You asshole.”
Zero turned towards Hunter with a fake expression of hurt. “What? Me? No, I was, uh…busy admiring the street?”
Hunter raised his middle finger, and beckoned Zero towards him.
Behind them, the little girl, who was witness to not one, but five murders, was squirming on the floor, tears flooding her eyes as she kept mumbling.
Hunter scratched his head sheepishly. “Ah, shit, we forgot the kid was here…What do we do with it?”
Zero laughed. “The kid is not an ‘it’. She’s a girl.”
“Well, no shit, genius, but what do we do?” Turning to approach the child, Hunter knelt down, as the kid pushed away, breathing heavily. “G-get away!” She yelled, her dusty brown hair in tangles around her pale, sweaty skin.
“Who, us?” Hunter raised an eyebrow. “We saved your ass, kiddo. Anyways, who’s the dead chick?” He pointed at the corpse of the woman.
Looking at where Hunter was pointing, the kid took a quick glance before hysterically bursting into tears, while Hunter looked sheepishly at Zero, who only shrugged.
“Ah, shit…my bad. Must be your mother.”
The girl, in her state of shock, nodded meekly.
“Do you remember where you live?” Zero asked, coming from behind Hunter. He knelt down, and calmly placed his hand on her head. The child initially jerked away, but after a while settled down, her sobs gradually reducing.
“Dar Street,” She said, “I live in Dar Street. My father…he wouldn’t be home right now.”
Zero shot a quick glance at Hunter. “We should drop her off…”
Hunter rolled his eyes. “Here comes the justice warrior slash organ harvester.”
“Just because I’m a bounty hunter doesn’t mean I’m a complete asshole.” Zero retorted. Checking the girl to see if there were any visible injuries, he asked, “Are you hurt anywhere?”
“No,” she whimpered, tears still streaking down her cheek, “But my leg…for some reason I can’t move it.”
She broke into tears again, as Zero gently picked her up.
“Dude, what about the money?”
Zero shot an annoyed look at Hunter. “Those assholes aren’t leaving town tonight, or any other night for now. We have a lot of time. Chill.”
As the girl buried her head into the nook of Zero’s neck, he sighed. “Let’s get you home.”