Inhuman chpt. 1: Monster Hunter | [vers. 5]

Human Shed Skin: Inhuman | Vers. 5 (Jan 2021)

Chapter 1: Monster Hunter
Word Count: 5,664
Content Warnings: Violence, mental trauma

Jean-Luc was ready for anything. He could handle anything, even the possibility of death. But he was not ready for this, not when it came to his lover. Anything but this.

Roars of flames, screams, and inhuman screeches rang in Jean's ears above the drone of the helicopter. The fires reflected in his eyes behind the window, visible for miles. Without prompt, he opened the helicopter's side door, causing his locks to whisk about, and stared while inhaling the smell of burning life below. To anyone else, the sight and sounds were harrowing, the things from nightmares. To him, they only served as reminders for why he existed as an inhuman hunter.

Aided by the light of the fires, the origin of the incessant noise was visible from the helicopter: Six-legged, vaguely anthropoid creatures with reddish flesh ran after human survivors. They were roughly the size of a human but were far deadlier than any natural earthly predator.

They were Infernals, creatures of the Dark. Demons, by the looks of them.

A voice crackled in his ear, "Boss, want me to get closer?"

"Move us to land, Gulliver," he ordered. As the helicopter lowered to unsoiled ground, he held onto the threshold of its door.

He glanced back at his men, seven in all. They nodded or saluted at him, ready to fight. He returned the acknowledgment, then looked forward.

Moments before the helicopter touched down, he jumped out and dashed forward. Swiping his pistol-revolver Ringe from its holster at his hip, he shot the nearest demon giving chase to a man nearly twice his age.

Just as it jumped, the blessed bullet landed, causing it to burst. Its tainted remains would have splattered over the man had Jean not manifested a blue shield over him to prevent it. Before he finished lifting his finger off Ringe's trigger, another demon swiftly lunged at him.

As he looked at it, readying to raise another shield, two slender swords sliced it into three parts. He glanced to his left at his lover, Celezar. The redheaded man lowered his bloodied swords and spared a wink at him. Jean's lips twitched but he didn't say anything in response to the gesture.

Both he and Celezar dodged out the way as a green projectile shot at them from another demon. Instead of shooting it at its close range, Jean drew his sword Hilde into his left hand, swiftly slicing the creature in half. Its shrieks were piercing, the lower body walking on four wobbly legs before keeling over. Celezar used one of his swords to stab its head, rendering it silent.

Jean raised Ringe. "Friedrich," he called to his uncle, "take two men to the east!"

"Sent."

He watched as two men led by one with blond hair broke off from his group, eliminating demons as they ran. Gunshots, the sounds of sizzling and animalistic screeches sounded out as the helicopter took to the air.

He took a moment to look after it, watching it turn towards the island's southeastern region. "Gulliver, get Ulrich on the line," he said to the pilot.

The glint of orange-red light shone off Gulliver's headset. "Sent, Boss."

Jean looked around. Celezar was no longer near him, and he caught sight of the man passing the roaring flames. He frowned. The number of demons had already lessened severely in the immediate area, leaving human victims behind. The demons likely heard their brethren's dying cries and scampered.

That wasn't good for whatever survivors there were. Some distance away stood the man he helped save who looked upon him with shaken awe.

Jean approached, reaching into an inner breast pocket of his coat. He handed the man an oval-shaped amber amulet. "Take this," he said, tossing it to him. It was caught, but confusion was added to the shaken demeanor. He nodded towards the creatures in the distance. "It will protect you from the demons. Gather whatever other survivors you can and take them to the port."

The man was too disturbed to respond, only nodding like a bobblehead doll, and then ran towards the south. He called towards some people who were already running in the same direction.

Jean watched after him for a moment before speeding into the opposite direction, the northeast. He, Celezar and two of his other men were occupying the tip of the island's western region. Just as he began to call for his second uncle, a voice spoke through his earpiece.

"Jean, you there?"

Hearing his younger brother over the radio gave him some relief, as it always did. "Yeah," he responded as he came to a stop. "What's the situation on your end?"

There was a huff. "Not good. Half the whole island is in flames. Firefighting helicopters are on standby, but they're getting rightfully antsy. Not much I'll be able to do before they might go ahead to put the fires out."

Considering this, Jean looked at the inferno nearby. Even from such a distance, he could feel licks of the tremendous heat and see the remaining animals scampering for dear life. He could only figure the green projectiles weren't all the demons could spew. "That's fine. If they can wait for another fifteen minutes or so, we'll have this taken care of soon. Trevor?"

Another voice spoke into his ear. "The Dragonflies are out and about. We've some badly injured survivors here who informed us where the nest might be, so I'm on that."

"Good." Jean beckoned his men closer but realized Celezar was now missing entirely. He glanced around while turning on the flashlight attached to his coat. "Where should we head out to?"

"The demons have scattered from your location and are going inland, to the southeast." Briefly, there was silence. "Some of the Infernals seem to be heading towards the nest. Celezar is trailing them and leaving markers."

Jean could have rolled his eyes. Celezar did things like that, going ahead, away from the action, only to end up doing something remarkably useful. "Sent." He nodded at his two remaining men and they ran towards the southeast.

They took notice of the white markings on the ground almost immediately. They were simple lines, some straight, some in slight directional changes. The lines seemed to bring the group past the outskirts of the nearest town. In the distance, they spotted several of the demons standing in their way, needle-thin teeth gnashing and slanted red orbs flashing in the light. This was nothing intimidating, but Jean briefly wondered how Celezar managed to avoid them.

Several red throats bulged before orange-red and green projectiles, one inflamed and the other slimy, were spewed at them. With a mere thought, Jean raised a large violet shield that rebound the projectiles back to the demons. The turnaround seemed to surprise them, their sounds changing from angry growls into confused and enraged screeches as they were thrown back by the force of their own attacks. Jean and his men didn't hesitate to take advantage of the situation, swooping in and slicing the demons into shrieking pieces. Without breaking their strides, they continued on.

"They're nestlings," Nicholae, his uncle, observed as his one eye glanced back at the fallen creatures.

Jean nodded as he led the way. "Newborn, too. And hungry." He eyed some half-eaten bodies of humans and animals with a scowl.

"The progenitor must be near."

As they jumped over an overturned carriage and fallen horse, Jean's thoughts went to Celezar. Over the radio, he called, "Celezar, where are you?"

"Did you find my trail?" came the almost humored response.

Jean softly huffed. "Yes. Where are you?"

They waited a moment for a reply, during which time they switched to their guns to keep their momentum and take the demons out at a distance.

A sound of uncertainty was made in their ears. "A field of some sort, I suppose. I think this is where it all started; there's blood everywhere. The demons I'm following are...taking me deeper into the field."

This made Jean uneasy. He manifested round blue platforms for him and his men to jump onto to scale over a fence. "Don't go any further. Wait until we catch up to you."

There wasn't a response, prompting him to exhale with irritation. Not a moment after this, a sudden tremor shook the ground, as if from an earthquake further ahead. Instinctively, he knew it was anything but.

"Uh, Boss...I think the parent just woke up."

Bristling, he manifested the platforms again to carry them swiftly over the land. If the tremor meant anything, it signified a large Infernal making movement. "Don't engage! Celezar? Do not engage!"

Celezar didn't respond, worrying him considerably.

Almost a second later, Trevor shouted, "Boss, Celezar is combating the Infernal! She's large—definitely B-Class!"

All three men made a sound of alarm. They continued in the air, coming closer to where the dust was picking up.

"Ulrich," Jean called urgently.

"Here."

"Get the firefighters on the fires. It'll make taking care of these damned nestlings easier later."

"On it."

It wasn't long before the large open road lined with trees on opposite sides became visible, as did the giant form of the mother demon. Its dark red, slickened hide shone from the light of their flashlights. Large horns curled on its head, fully developed claws on all six of its hands pulled its body out of the ground, and a long spiked tail swayed behind it. It was nearly a hundred feet long, dwarfing its children, and its mass was tremendous, rippling with muscle.

"Friedrich, come in." Jean moved his men high into the air, watching the creature and surveying the area for any sign of Celezar.

"We're on our way," his uncle responded. "We can see it."

Dirt and heavy clouds of dust arose, ruining the field. The demon's nostrils flared, and its humanoid head turned into their direction, giving a roar that warbled through the air.

Celezar was nowhere in sight.

Out the corner of Jean's eye, he spotted Friedrich and his two other men nearing from the north. They were also atop blue platforms. Looking at them all, Jean considered. Taking on B-Class Infernals came with a higher possibility of death. He briefly closed his eyes, teeth clenching as he considered what may have happened to Celezar.

But they all knew the risks.

Sudden looks of alarm formed on his men's faces. Without hesitation, without even looking, he held up his hand, erecting a massive violet-colored shield that protected them from a large, flaming projectile. Friedrich moved to stand beside him and together they held off the attack, allowing the other men to spread out.

After a moment of struggling, Jean and Friedrich deflected the attack, hitting the demon directly. It didn't cause much damage by the looks of it, but the creature did loudly screech at them through the smoke and flames that began to diffuse. Lowering his hand, Jean descended to the ground and willed the platform to disperse below him. Going into a run, he spotted the rest of his men using holy water bombs to successfully keep the demon distracted.

"This thing might be weak against ice, Jean," said Friedrich.

Jean looked over to see his uncle summoning an arch of ice to his palms. Several slices were thrown at the demon's limbs, successfully causing it to collapse along with aid from the frozen water. Jean slid his hand over the blade of his sword, coating it with magic-imbued ice. The demon's enraged screech suddenly cut off from the sound of a resounding strike. While he readied his magic, letting it swell within him, Jean spotted one of his men, wielding a massive battle axe, land back on his platform after executing his attack.

This made the demon fall over, momentarily dazed from the blow to its head. Quickly, Jean gathered magic to his feet before jumping high into the air. Swinging down his blade, a hail of thick ice pieced the creature's body.

"Jean, watch out!"

He suddenly startled at the sound of Celezar's voice but caught sight of the tail a moment too late. Despite this, he managed to erect a shield around his body. The demon's tail was far more prehensile than he thought, and it smacked him away.

The shield shattered but took the hit. His expression twisted as he collided with the ground, taking his breath away. The momentum drove him through the field, skidding along like a stone on water. He barely felt the bumps and scrapes along the way, too focused on trying to grasp for purchase on something, anything, but was moving too fast. It was difficult to clearly make out where he was going.

He suddenly and far too distinctly spotted Celezar, his hand outstretched for him as he dove forward. Jean's vision began to blur, but he managed to make out something reaching towards him from the man's hand. He reached for it, just as the world and his body fell back, momentarily drifting to haze.

Then came the tug, followed by numbness in his arm as he was caught, causing him to grimace from the pain. What met his vision next was the expanse of air between his dangling feet and jagged rocks below. Ocean water crashed harshly against the rocks, splashing water high against the cliff side. Exhaling shakily, he closed his eyes with relief. Then the sensation of what kept him aloft registered to his senses.

He looked up, only to inhale sharply in shock.

A black tentacle-like appendage coiled around his wrist, its slick surface uncanny and unnatural. Horrified and confused, he looked past the tendril to see what it was coming from.

No—who it was coming from.

Celezar's eyes were wide, so scared, staring at him as he reached from the cliff edge. The black thingcame from out of Celezar's palm and reached a good two feet from his hand.

Their gaze met, electric blues to olive-greens. Celezar was grimacing, bleeding from a nasty gash on his forehead that trickled a stream of red down his face. He was almost wheezing, looking incredibly pale from blood loss.

"I got you, Jean," he breathed.

The tentacle retracted into his palm until he was holding Jean's gloved hand. Without any sign of effort, he raised Jean up and back on the grass. Slightly prone, Jean took a moment to recover, breathing hard from the close call. He couldn't focus on the fact that he was almost killed by the demon or that there was even a demon to kill. The world seemed to fade around him with only Celezar in focus and the distant crashing of the waves echoing faintly in his ears.

Lifting onto his arms, he shivered at the sensation of a hand on his back and moved away to face the other man.

Or what looked like a man.

Celezar didn't seem to notice, and he repositioned onto his knees. "Are you alright?" he asked, breathing heavily.

No.

No, Jean was not alright. He wasn't sure if it was from the attack, but his vision was hazing over, his mind felt shot. Adrenaline coursed through him, his heartbeat throbbed in his ears.

This couldn't be happening.

A call over the radio brought him back to the present. The flush of dread and horror overcame him at the realization this was reality. He felt physically sick but swallowed it down. Shutting his eyes, he shuddered with a soft groan.

"Jean—"

"Shut up." The venom in his own voice shook him. He never spoke to Celezar like that before, not in all the years he knew him. Slowly, he went to his feet, swaying unsteadily. This prompted a hand to reach for him, but he swatted it away. "Don't touch me," he warned, reaching for his gun, only to instead feel air at his side. He stiffened, the heat of fear and sadness running through him at the realization it must have fallen.

His eyes widened when Celezar tentatively handed the heirloom to him from behind his back. Looking up into the green eyes that were once so assuring, so beloved, he felt his jaw lock from emotion that threatened to swallow him.

He snatched Ringe away, immediately pointing it forward. But Celezar only stood there, his head lowered, though his eyes remained fixated on the gun. Jean could see the sorrow mixed in with several other emotions that flitted across his face.

"You can't kill me, Jean," Celezar said softly. "I'm—"

"You're not human," Jean snapped. Despite his knee-jerk words, the sadness in the other's voice inadvertently shook him. He stumbled a bit but kept the gun pointed forward. "Show me your true form."

"Jean—"

"Show me your true form!" He dared to take a step closer.

He had to see it. He could not—did not want to fight Celezar like this, in the form of the man he loved. He had to fight him, now. Celezar was a monster.

He was one of them.

Instead of changing, Celezar's expression only turned to one of concern as the gun shook in Jean's hand from his trembling.

Jean was faltering.

He couldn't remember the last time he hesitated against an inhuman. It was probably when he was still a fledgling hunter. In the life of an inhuman hunter, doubt and hesitance was the difference between living and dying.

His teeth audibly ground together to the point that it hurt. He began to take several steps back. "All this time—"

"Jean! Answer me!"

Blinking, he was brought out of his stupor by the voice of his uncle.

He was a Lowell, the leader of the Lowell Hunters. He could not falter, could not fall to his desires.

No matter how much it hurt.

He pointed his gun forward with a steady hand. "Om chia a zol de olapireta," he murmured between his teeth. It was his family's motto, crafted in a language lost to the passage of time.

We are the Hands of Light, it meant.

Damn him if he didn't try to live by it.

Celezar's eyes widened. A look of pain overcame his features just before Jean fired.

Celezar was gone in a flash, reappearing further away. His hands were up in surrender. "Please, Jean, let me explain!"

Jean shook his head. Instead of speaking, he held Ringe with both hands, running towards him.

Celezar flashed away again, reappearing at Jean's far left side. He had teleportation. That, or he was moving too fast for Jean's eyes to catch.

In a moment, Celezar disappeared once more. Taking a swift look around, still pointing Ringe, Jean didn't see him. He was gone.

As if the bubble containing the moment burst, the sounds of fighting and enraged demon roars reached his ears. Exhaling a breath he didn't know he was holding, he lowered Ringe, panting and distraught. Leaning forward, he shut his eyes as his mind spun before he sunk to his knees.

"Jean!"

His shaking hand reached up to adjust the crooked earpiece over his helix. "Y-yeah. I'm…I'm here."

There was a combined exhale of relief, followed by an echo of the demon's roars. "Are you alright?" Nicholae asked.

Jean's mouth opened, flapping as he tried to find words. No. He was not alright.

"Jean?"

"No," he finally managed. A sudden boom that shook the ground snapped him from his stupor. "I'll be right there."

He slowly rose to his feet. Fighting through his body's pains, though they were more emotional than physical, he shook his arm a bit, then holstered Ringe. His breathing wasn't as hard anymore, and he briefly shut his eyes.

Now was not the time for this.

He ran forward from where he came, and the glint of light from his flashlight on his sword was easy enough to find on the leveled ground. Relieved smiles and expressions were turned on him when he arrived, and his eyes focused on the scene. The demon was still alive, its body sizzling morbidly on the verge of dying. It laid helplessly on frozen ground, its broken tail the only appendage left on its body.

The men weren't in the best shape, either. Jean's axe-wielding comrade was suffering from a slash across his chest. All the men looked winded, injured somehow, and a few sported bleeding cuts that were wrapped. Some distance away, their medic was tending to one of his men who was entirely unconscious and bleeding from a bad wound in his chest.

Jean scowled, then looked above. The Dragonfly drones dropped bombs onto the demon's body, which exploded on contact and released holy water. The demon was clearly somewhat resistant to the water, but not anymore in its condition. It began to cry out as its body slowly corroded.

Watching, Jean flicked his hand while sheathing his sword. A large orange barrier erected around them, and he turned to gaze at Friedrich, who was incanting something with two fingers raised from one hand. The several dissolving or crumbled body parts of the Infernal began to dissipate into nothingness, rising upward instead of contaminating more of the grass.

He glanced back at his other men. The medic was no longer worried, by the look of it, and checked on the others. Calming, as none of his men were going to die, Jean stared past the dissolving demon remains.

Celezar.

They had to take care of Celezar. No inhuman could live after what he had done.

Swallowing at the thought, Jean once again gazed back at his men.

No human either, for what he had done.

He pushed the thought into the deep recesses of his mind and turned around. In the distance, the helitankers were at work putting out the remains of the fires that were no longer the burning infernos they once were. If it wasn't for that, this mission would be an overall success, even with the remaining nestling demons scurrying about.

"A job well done, men." He looked at his comrades as their eyes focused on him. "But we're not in the clear, yet. There's one more inhuman escaping the area."

Nicholae was cleaning his sword, his eye on the blade. "Did Celezar go after it?"

Jean's expression couldn't get any darker. "Celezar is the inhuman," he said between his teeth.

A deafening silence overcame them. Eyes wide, mouths agape, the men stared at him with horror and, eventually, confusion.

"How the fuckis that possible?" asked the axe-wielder on the ground.

Nicholae slowly sheathed his sword. "He was able to get through the isle's barrier," he argued, referencing the protective barrier that surrounded their home. "No inhuman can do that."

"I'm just telling you what I saw," Jean answered. Before questions could form, he tersely explained, "Some sort of…tentacle thing emerged from his hand when he saved me from the cliff side back there."

The medic blinked. "He saved your life?"

The question sounded more like a statement. Not too long ago, the idea wouldn't be strange. But now, if Celezar was inhuman...?

Jean almost glared at him. "Don't you think I'm wondering why, too?" He shut his eyes, realizing he was snapping.

Exhaling deeply, he pinched his nose bridge. Recalling his family motto, he pursed his lips. The overwhelming majority of inhumans—particularly Infernals—were beings of Darkness. They had to be extinguished and exterminated, even if they were once considered dear friends...

He stared into the direction where Celezar was last seen. He glanced at his comatose comrade. "How is he?"

"He's just unconscious. He'll live," the medic assured.

To the other man, Jean asked, "Think you can make it?"

The burly hunter nodded, raising his axe over his shoulder. "Nothing I haven't felt before," he said with a shrug.

"We can at least recover ourselves," Nicholae said to Friedrich.

After the prompt, the older magic-user raised his hand, causing a green barrier to surround them. While it could only heal minor wounds, it was most useful at recovering stamina. Within moments, they were feeling as they did before encountering the mother demon: fit and ready to fight. They would need the stamina; from the look of it, Celezar was no inhuman they had encountered before.

After a moment, the hunters, sans the medic and their unconscious companion, stood at the ready. Jean turned around and ran forward, leading the way deeper into the field.

Thick fog began to overtake the island, swallowing it menacingly. Blue was creeping into the sky as early morning steadily neared sunrise, though it went nearly unseen as they ran. Jean softly cursed their misfortune. The fog could make the fight difficult.

It wasn't long before they neared what appeared to be a partially destroyed farm. The barn was in shambles, the house splattered with blood and, likewise, blood soiled the ground. It was the barn, however, that caught their attention.

Standing in clear view atop the broken roof, Celezar looked down at them with glowing green eyes.

He raised his hands non-threateningly. "Please let me expla—"

A shot went off, lodging a bullet in the dead-center of his forehead from Jean's gun. Jean then watched with some horror as Celezar merely staggered, his eyes wide with shock and gasps emitting from his open mouth.

Jean's eyes narrowed. All of them knew what a being should do when shot by a bullet, let alone one from Ringe. Stagger yet remain standing was not one of them.

From out of the ground came several large black tentacles the width of an average-sized human. As they rose from the earth, they ensnared each of the men in their grasps, and glowing eyes stared up at them.

Spitting the bullet to the ground, Celezar began, "If you gave me a moment, I can explain why I—"

Again, he was interrupted as Jean managed to touch the smooth, black surface of the tentacle holding him up, and a shock of bluish-white magic ran through it. Celezar let out a shriek from the electricity before letting him go with an irritated hiss. Before he even touched the ground, Jean quickly unsheathed his sword to slice horizontally at the tentacle, sending a wave of blue magic that cut it and several more in half, freeing his men.

As Celezar merely stood there, Jean ran forward and swung at him. The silver of his blade met the black of inhumanly long claws as his attack was caught. Despite this, he bounded off Celezar's body with a kick that sent him back a few feet. It gave the men further away an opening to shoot Celezar in the head.

Irritated hisses came from Celezar when he took the hits this time, and instead of returning to fight, he began to run back. Not about to let him escape, Jean manifested a bluish-white rope into his hands and swung it around Celezar's neck, jolting his body back.

Likewise, Friedrich did the same to one of Celezar's hands, and the inhuman glared at them with a growl. Just as it looked as if the ropes were about to be pulled, both Jean and Friedrich magically tethered the ropes to the ground with a simple gesture. Another growl. A sudden ripping sound was heard before several black tendrils sprouted from Celezar's back and he bared his teeth, showing they were large, inhumanly sharp canines, not a molar in sight. He was revealing more of his inhumanity.

Friedrich touched the ropes, and they suddenly sparked with electricity. It sizzled through Celezar's body, and he let out a loud, drawn-out shriek of pain. Blood pooled around him from his back, turning black from the shockwave, and he lowered to his knees.

"Don't let off!" Jean ordered, taking notice how the remaining large tentacles were beginning to smoke and twitch from the shock to their host. He sliced another in half, then turned to watch as the being he once called his lover was electrocuted.

Celezar's eyes opened as he looked towards him. Only then did Jean's lips part, his expression wane, upon seeing the sorrow and pain that reflected in the olive gaze. The blood running down Celezar's face from the gunshots did nothing but cause the look to pierce Jean's heart, burning the scene into his memory.

He hesitated and took a step forward.

Green overwhelmed Celezar's eyes—sclera, irises and all—and in that same abrupt moment, the ground violently sunk, throwing everyone off balance. The tethers broke, and with nothing to hold him back, Celezar jumped from the sinking ground and the large tentacles retracted into the earth.

Shouting arose as the ground swallowed the hunters while Jean and Friedrich stood aboveground. Bewildered, as he had never seen an inhuman do that before, Jean watched his men struggle to escape their earthly prisons. He then glared back up to catch Celezar slowly rising to his feet on even ground before running again.

Jean gathered magical energy beneath him, then bound into the air and swung downward. His attack was easily dodged with a side-step, and Celezar continued into the fog. He was taken by surprise at first, but this only further irritated Jean and he quickly sheathed his sword before taking out Valk, his consecrated whip. He swung it once before lashing out into the fog where Celezar disappeared to, and immediately, the line tightened.

He held it with both hands and readied his body before giving a powerful, sharp yank. The line slackened by a bit. He smirked, only to feel a pull on the line that moved him forward by a few inches. In the next second, he was pulled off the ground, swung overhead. He cried out in surprise, and then collected himself, managing a safe land on the ground closer to Celezar, who held the whip's line with his clawed hands.

"Jean-Luc!" Nicholae called from afar.

Ignoring the shout, Jean gave his full attention to the inhuman before him, letting go of his whip. His next swings with Hilde were swift, unyielding, angry. With all his might, he used his blade to press against the immoveable claws once more. "Why?" he growled, anger and hurt reflecting in his eyes despite his tone of voice. "Why did you do this to me?"

Celezar only glared at him, then swiftly kicked him away.

Spinning around, Jean sheathed Hilde. He manifested blue magic to two fingers on one hand. Quickly, he made a semi-x-shape in the air with his fingers, then crossed a line in the center. He brought his fingers down at the center before letting the magic disperse, like a magical gunshot.

Several lines of white magic emerged from his fingertips, surrounding Celezar and recreating a circle symbol around him on the ground. He teleported further away, but it followed him. In the next second, pure white energy erupted from beneath him.

Celezar's head snapped back and he let out an inhuman roar of pain, blasting Jean away from the intensity of the cry. The energy practically hid Celezar from view, but Jean saw skin peeling back, auburn hair flying up, green eyes rolled into his head. A lump grew in Jean's throat, and he looked away.

After a moment, he turned to watch when the energy disappeared.

His eyes widened in horror.

Celezar stood, his body burned beyond recognition. His clothes—or what remained of them—were stuck to his skin, charred like the rest of him. It was a terrible sight to behold.

But why was he still standing?

As if to answer Jean's mental question, Celezar's head snapped down, looking him dead in the eye. Jean flinched back as glowing green orbs bore into him from a horrifically burned face.

"That..." Celezar growled, his voice hoarse and demonic, "fucking..."

Before Jean's eyes, Celezar's body regenerated, as did his clothes, as if they were a part of his body. From his hands at his sides, long, curled claws grew again as he began to approach.

"HURT!" he roared, charging forward.

Aghast and shaken, Jean raised a shield. Green flashed, and the shield shattered.

Eyes wide with fear, he looked up into the infuriated gaze, just as half the world went black.

A single claw tore through him from a lightning-fast cut from his navel to his hairline. It was broad and smooth, cutting through his body as if he was mere paper. His body fell back with a heavy thud on the ground, blood splattering beneath him.

"NO!"

Focusing was impossible. The pain in Jean's body was indescribable. Burning. Emptying. Vast. Blearily, he made out a form above him, but his vision was rapidly dimming, even with his right eye open.

All went silent.

Darkness overtook him as he faded.

But all too abruptly, life returned to his body in the form of a heartbeat. The searing pain that registered to his senses again began to ease to a numbing, sickening agony. His vision, while still dim, returned, though sight was still cut off on his left side.

He could breathe again, though his breath came out in wheezing rasps.

He could feel his body slowly stitch back together through unnatural means.

He could sense the sorrow and fear emitting from a warm form beside him.

They were such jarring, foreign sensations. He was utterly confused. The form beside him steadily came into focus. It was Celezar.

Celezar. His dear friend. His dearest friend.

Why was he crying...?

Slowly, Jean reached up to touch him, only for his hand to be lowered gently, in an almost chastising way, back to his side. The calloused hand he only then realized was there moved from his forehead as he heard his name called in the distance.

"I didn't—I'm...so sorry..." Celezar whispered, his voice choked with emotion. Jean visibly spotted tears rolling down his face.

The warm body then tore away, leaving him cold and alone. It was too difficult to think.

So, he didn't. Darkness took him once more.

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