Chapter Five-Cally's POV

I left the meeting first, but didn't go directly back to my room. I checked out the training room, first. I was glad to see the room was stocked with all manner of weaponry, as well as stationary dummies and boxing bags. I suspect that I'll be down here more often than I'd expect. I slipped up the stairs undisturbed. The rest of the gamers were still being talked to by their shinigami. I pushed open the door to my bedroom and was welcomed by a blast of heat from the fireplace. I turned the temperature down and changed into a camisole and shorts to sleep in. It'd been a long day, and I had no wish to remain with the awake and undead. I snuggled into my blanket and drifted into a restless sleep. My dreams were drenched in coagulated blood and confusion. This dream state was something that was only partly solid, and yet never solid enough to really see anything real. It was more of a feeling than a dream. Faces slipped in and out of my mind like an old movie reel. A person walked towards me and waved, smiling like we were good friends. I smiled back at him and prepared to wave back at them, but then I noticed something odd about his eyes. There were wells of blackness where his eyes should have been. They were endless voids, like wells of shadows. He reached out for me, and I was unsure of what to do, so I took a step back. The floor wasn't solid, so I began to fall. I was certain that I would fall forever, never being a part of reality again.

"Hey, bozo! Wake up?"

I forced my eyes open to stare into Serenity's severely pissed off face.

"What's wrong?" I propped myself up on one arm.

"Would you kindly explain why you can't go five minutes without talking in your sleep?"

"Eh?"

"Either shut up, or go away. I want my beauty sleep," she flounced away.

"Goodness knows you need that," I snarkily replied to her back. I pulled on a pair of black skinny jeans over my boy shorts and didn't bother pulling on something on top of my camisole. I slipped out of the room, trying not to disturb Serenity further. I remembered dreaming about something, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. I just remember not liking the dream too much. I closed the door softly and trotted silently down the stairs the training room. I figured now is as good of a time as any to begin working out protective strategies. I flicked on the lights as I entered the spacious training room after placing my hand on the touch pad to the left of the door. If the laws of mass, logic, space, and physics applied in this world, there would be no way for this room to exist, I realized as I opened the door. This room couldn't possibly fit inside the house. It currently looked like a martial artist's dream, complete with all sorts of munitions, bags, and swords. I grabbed a swordstaff off of its rack on the wall and felt its edge, wincing as it pricked my thumb. I licked the dot of blood from my thumb and continued feeling along the staff portion of the weapon. I tested its weight and balance by going through some simple formations. I practiced with the swordstaff for almost an hour, working up a decent sweat. I focused on the swings and jabs of the weapon instead of the situation I was in, lest I go mad in this world because of the knowledge that such a place exists. When I tired of the reputations, I moved on to hand-to-hand combat training, specifically Tae Kwon Do. I beat on the training dummies and bags until the stuffing was filling the air with dust.

"Wouldn't it do you more good to fight something that could fight back? At your current level, tenderizing stuffed vinyl bags won't help you," Alex's cocky voice came from the door as he entered the room.

I growled under my breath. "What're you doing here?" I asked impatiently.

"Hey, I'm not the one who's been here since three am."

"I couldn't sleep," I supplied an answer for his unasked question.

"Oh, I figured you just liked to sleep-fight. Why would I care if you couldn't sleep, dumbass?"

I shot a glare in his direction. "Was that an offer to be my punching bag I heard, angry-boy? I think it was."

"No," he shook his head, grabbing a staff off of the wall and testing its weight before setting it down and reaching for another one. "I'm offering to let you learn stuff instead of being stuck in the same pattern of immobile targets."

I whacked his hand with the butt of the swordstaff I'd discarded earlier, forcing him to drop his staff. "I'm game. Don't run off crying if you lose." I was thrilled at the concept of a spar, especially when I have a chance to beat the tar out of Alex. "No holds barred?" I asked, a cunning grin slipping past my calculated emotionless gaze.

"None. But for this purpose, we should leave our powers out of it. We're training for protection, which means no cheating," Alex suggested.

I grabbed hold of a decimated punching bag and sprang towards Alex, stabbing at his neck with my swordstaff. "No sense in waiting to get started, then," I smirked as he dodged the blow. I jabbed at his neck, wincing as it was deflected by an invisible force. In the second that I wasted by going for a killshot, Alex reached toward the wall and snatched a double edged broadsword from it. I don't know why he would choose a sword, since my swordstaff has a much longer range than his sword. I didn't have any more time to waste pondering it, because Alex thrust his sword at the wooden part of the swordstaff, hacking a hunk of wood out from just behind where the metal connects to the staff. I cursed and wheeled away, circling him. I waited until my back was to the weapons wall, which would be both a curse and a blessing. I could grab the weapons I needed and prevent Alex from grabbing any more weapons, but a well-timed thrust from Alex could send me to be impaled on the very weapons I wanted to use. I defended against an onslaught of quick jabs and parries, only managing to go on the offensive towards the end, as he slowed down. I groaned inwardly as the staff snapped in two where Alex had taken a chunk out a few minutes earlier. I held the staff out in front of me with one hand, reaching behind me with the other to grasp a set of throwing knives. He eyed my move and reacted swiftly, jabbing towards my throat. The blow deflected itself and I used to opening to throw the broken end of the staff like a spear at his knee. The sharp, broken point of the staff didn't stab through flesh as I'd hoped, but merely made him stumble backwards. On his way backwards, he rapped my wrists with the flat side of his sword. I muttered profanities as I dropped the knives and dropped into a roll as he slashed at me, already recovered. I kicked out at his bad knee, felling him again. He tossed his sword to the side to avoid impaling himself. I took the opportunity to jump onto his back. I clung like a monkey as he spun around, trying to dislodge me. I wrapped my arms around his neck, choking him. He slammed me into a wall repeatedly, trying to remove me. I tightened my grip and grit my teeth, not releasing him as he'd wished. He growled and gripped the back of my head, tearing at my hair until he got a grip on my neck. I saw stars as my head smashed into the floor as he flipped me off of his back by pushing on some pressure points in my neck to cause momentary paralysis. He held down my legs with his knees and my wrists with my hands.

"Girls are weaker than boys," he stated, gloating. "It's a fact of life. Now, ready to give up?" He was breathing heavily.

I glared at him and spat on his cheek.

"Never," I hissed. I smashed my head into his forehead. He recoiled swiftly, giving me just enough time to get to my feet and get into a defensive position. "Just so you know," I bit out my words, "That's a generalization. And it doesn't apply to me."

"What the hell are you two doing at four AM?" Derek's voice interrupted our battle and I felt my battle lust subside. Now that I had an audience, I had no wish to fight.

"They're very interesting to watch, I must admit." I whirled around to see Shanaia sitting in the corner of the room.

"How-" I paused and tried again. "When did you get here?" I wasn't used to her uncanny ability to be unseen and unheard when she wished.

"About the same time Alex took a chunk out of your swordstaff."

"So, pretty much since the beginning."

"Yup."

"Lovely." I closed my eyes.

"Um, Cally?"

"What?"

"Behind you."

I turned my head in time to take a direct blow to the side of my head. I swore as I felt myself begin to lose consciousness. As I fell, Alex bent down next to me and whispered his parting words in my ear.

"Never turn your back on your enemy, idiot."

"Cally…" Brenda's voice, dangerously low, cut through my unconscious stupor. She shook me and my eyes flew open as she called my name again.

"What? What? I'm up-" I winced as my head throbbed. "Oh, yeah."

"Don't you 'oh, yeah,' me, missy! What the hell are you doing, fighting with Alex before dawn? How stupid are you?" She reprimanded me.

"Could you not yell, please?" I asked meekly, rubbing my temples.

"Oh, does your head hurt? Well, it's your own damn fault. You'll get no sympathy from me! I'll yell if I want. It serves you right, anyways!"

"How do I deserve you yelling at me? I learned my lesson," I protested. "I got decked in the head. Isn't that enough punishment?"

"Obviously not, if I'm yelling at you. What lesson did you learn, exactly?"

"Don't turn your back on your enemy until they're dead."

She thwacked me over the head with her hand. "That's not what you were supposed to say. You were supposed to have learned not to go around fighting everybody. You know that if you get knocked around too much it'll set off your condition when you need it to be gone the most."

"Would you stop treating me like an child? It's none of your concern what I do and what affects me." I hopped to my feet and helped Brenda up from her squatted position before turning on my heel and stalking out of the training room and slamming the door on the way out. She tried to call my name, but I ignored her and stormed through the front hall, heading for the porch. I climbed onto the railing and leaned against a support pillar. I know Brenda cares for me, but I don't want her treating me like a child. I'm not an idiot. I'm not going to do something that would purposely harm or kill me. I sighed and cleared my mind of any thoughts aside from the feeling of the demon world's cool dawn. The moon was always out, so I could only judge the time by the feel of the day. I began to doze off, managing to stay upright and balanced. The hum of wings was surprisingly comforting, although they might be attached to whatever was going to someday tear me apart. I slipped further asleep, succumbing to the calling of the comfortable sleep that I'd given up earlier to the nightmares. My eyes snapped open moments before something placed their cool hand onto my head. I'd been given warning by the crack of a small broken branch on the ground. I instinctively smashed into their jaw with a swift left uppercut. They staggered backwards and I leapt into the ready position, prepared to destroy anything that moves.

"Owwww," Tai winced and rubbed his jaw, snapping it back into place. He spat out a tooth and a good deal of blood. "What was that for?" He ground his teeth and a new tooth popped up where the old one had broken off.

"Well," I sheepishly replied, still miffed, "you shouldn't have snuck up on me. Especially when I'm sleeping."

"Maybe you shouldn't be sleeping where everything can sneak up on you. Also, what'd you do to yourself?" He reached towards my head, where I imagine more than a few bruises are forming. I took a step back to avoid his touch and he lowered his hand. "I imagine that there are more bruises than the three I can see," he commented, motioning towards my head and wrists.

"They're fine."

"Liar. I'll ask again. What'd you do?"

I hesitated, not intending to tell Tai anything. He gave me a disapproving look, knowing that I'd probably lie. I decided to tell him the truth, this time. "I was training against one of the gamers. He knocked me out. I was stupid, I know. Don't say anything." I assumed that he'd look down on me for being another weak girl.

"What makes you think that I would say anything? It looks like it was a long, evenly matched fight. Plus, a knockout blow from behind doesn't count. Nice goose egg, by the way."

"How could you possibly tell that it was a long fight, let alone a fair one?"

"From the bruises and from your hands. I didn't say that it was a fair fight. It looks like the only way he knocked you out was from a blow from behind, which is the coward's way of fighting. I said that it was an even fight. You have the grain of your weapon ingrained in your hand, and they're still red, white, and raw from fighting. You put up a good fight. Also, your knuckles are bruised from more than a few blows I'd assume. You have offensive wounds as well as defensive wounds. You did well. I'm sure you could have gone on longer if you hadn't gotten surprised. You seem like a stubborn person. In the meantime, I intend to take you somewhere to show you more of this realm."
"Oh, is that right?" I was still mistrustful of him, regardless of the flattery he'd just bestowed upon me. "Or are you going to take me somewhere where you could take advantage of me?"

"I guess you'll have to go with me to find out! Besides, would it really be taking advantage of you if you liked it?" He grinned cockily.

"You're disgusting." I turned around to go back into the house. My feet froze to the ground, and I began to fall face first. Tai grabbed my waist and hoisted me up a split second before I hit the ground.

"You know, I could just take you with me. You have no idea what I'm capable of. But I'm being nice, see?" His breath tickled my ear.

I jabbed my elbow into his solar plexus. He winced, but didn't release me. "Maybe I'd be more willing to go with you if you weren't always acting like a lecher.

"But it's fun to make you all bothered."

"Maybe for you, but I on the other hand, don't like it."

"That's the point. Don't make me control your whole body. I can, and might even want to; depending on the conditions, but now isn't the place for those sorts of things. Not yet. Although, if you want me to, I'm always up for a new experience."

I slapped him. He released me, frowned, and then smirked.

I hate it when he smirks.

Apparently, I had a reason to hate it.

He whistled sharply and the gentle morning breeze turned into a full-scale gale. I gripped the porch's wooden posts, only to lose my grip and stumble towards him. He picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, and hopped into the air. The wind died down once we were a few hundred feet into the air.

"Payback for slapping, punching, and elbowing me," he jeered, drifting higher and higher into the air. I glanced at the ground and shuddered. He grabbed my hands and pulled me off of his shoulder to dangle me in the air in front of him. I gasped and dug my nails into his arm so he couldn't let me go. He rolled his eyes. "Stand up."

"What?" I looked at him frantically. He released my arms and I almost screamed, but I kept my grip.

"Stand up, damn it! We're ridding you of your irrational fear of heights. You won't fall, so stand up!" He held me out at arm's length, using the wind to force me to release my grip on his arm. I struggled against the wind until I had no choice but to let him go. "Calm down. You're safe. I'm not going to let you fall."

I peeked downward and gulped. Everything was so far below me. I was surprised to find that the ground was solid under my feet. "I'm not scared of heights," I shivered.

"No?" He looked at me dubiously.

"I'm scared of hitting the ground. If I know I won't fall, I'm not scared."

"What about sky diving?"

"As long as I have a parachute, I'm good," I informed him, treading around in the sky.

He shook his head and laughed at me. "Okay, you're fine when we're still. What if we're flying?"

"Um, I don't know if…" We took off through the sky, heedless of speed limits or gravity. I did my best to balance like a surfer and I managed to stay upright.

"Woo!" I cried excitedly.

"Kind of exhilarating, isn't it?" He grinned as I tumbled through the air, wheeling in midair flips and cartwheels.

"Yeah, now that you mention it," I smiled. This was better than any motorcycle ride back on Earth.

"All right, I'll take over for now. You did well for your first flight, but this area tends to be turbulent. Come here." He pulled the wind towards him, pulling me with it. I sighed in disappointment as he gripped my wrist and folded my body close to his. We were off, the wind snatching at my skin and clothes, tangling my hair with branches and leaving small bruises where pebbles nicked my face. I watched the landscape shift and change over time, like Earth's climate zones in fast forward. We began a slow descent, brushing the tips of branches with our feet. He set me down gently so as not to slam me into the boulders.

"We'll walk from here. Flying into the big city isn't a smart idea, unless your goal is to be as conspicuous as possible."

I nodded, still slightly wary of his presence. At least he hasn't tried to eat me, yet. I stared at his back as he headed towards a beaten path. I started to follow him once he was a good hundred feet ahead of me. He glanced behind him and rolled his eyes, motioning for me to catch up to him. I shook my head and he shrugged, continuing on his way with a lackadaisical flick of his fingers. I relaxed, glancing around my surroundings. The trees looked like oak trees from Earth, except the bark oozed sap like a perforated lump of scar tissue oozes blood. I would have touched it to see if it was sticky or runny, but I stopped dead as a winged earthworm flew in front of me to light upon the tree. As it touched down, my hands flew to cover my ears as a horrible scream came from the worm and I smelt burnt flesh as I watched the worm sizzle and squirm in the trap of the tree's sap. My eyes widened and I hurried forward as Tai was even further ahead of me, now that I'd paused. Screw being wary of Tai. I might as well stick with him and have someone who understands this weird world on my side. Choosing the lesser of two evils, I guess. I could see a gate up ahead with twisted barbed wire, iron wrought vines, and brass buds twining around the steel bars of the gates. Tai lounged against the brick walls connected to the gate, waiting for me with the catlike gleam of a predator in his gaze. He held out his hand, beckoning me to join him as he stepped through the gate with a nod to their guards. I hesitated, but he took me by my elbow and guided me through the gate.

"The guards kill the city's visitors once in a while, depending on what side the coin lands on, heads or tails." He motioned to a large coin perpetually being flipped midair in a glass case on the city side of the brick wall. "It's good to have luck on your side," Tai grinned. "Or, in this case, a demon who can control air, and thus control what side the coin lands on." He stuck his tongue out at the guard-demon's backs. I giggled nervously, wondering if it might be best to keep to the relative safety within Tai's arms. I made my decision when a giant troll demon leered down at me from a storefront. Placing myself so that Tai's arm would rest around my shoulders, I tried to get comfortable despite being stared at. Tai wrapped an arm around my waist instead. "Don't be worried," he breathed in my ear, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. "I'll protect you. But your instincts were right. That storekeeper is known for keeping any female demon he takes a liking to. Making it clear you're already taken will help you, for now."

"Taken?" I asked, not liking how that sounded.

"Well, you look like a succubus and you're in the big city. It appears to everyone that I've taken you for my own personal use, whether that's true or not doesn't have to be any of their concern." He lifted my chin with his strong hand and kissed me lightly on my lips to emphasize the façade to anyone looking.

"If that's what they're looking for, baby, then, let's give it our all, shall we?" I was feeling decidedly giddy and slightly punch drunk because of the strange, dangerous situations I'd continuously been in the last day. I nibbled a line of sweetly delicate love bites along the edge of his jaw. I smirked up at him through my eyelashes and automatically dodged a watermelon sized bug flying past my head. I was shocked out of my reverie, and jumped away from Tai in my effort to avoid being decapitated. I looked behind me and shrieked. A horde of the same type of bugs was covering the city wall behind us and roiling over the edge. Tai merely grinned and handed me a razor sharp root he'd taken out of the ground as soon as he'd heard the drumming of wings and hefted the dagger he'd pulled out of his belt. He ran his fingers along both edges of the sharpened blade, slitting open his skin and coating the blade in his blood and laughing maniacally.

"Time to earn your stripes, girlie!"