Icy cold raindrops hit his cheeks with vicious determination. He startled awake, swearing before breathing in the fresh air. Slowly, he raised himself from the debris of a destroyed building in the center of Nighttime Skyscraper. His hands wouldn't stop shaking as they habitually tucked his hair behind his ears and straightened his clothes. He looked up at the sky that was so gray that even the light from the golden star couldn't pierce through it. For a while, he just stood there, breathing and letting the rain wash away the blood and dirt on his face. His mouth tasted bitter. This feeling couldn't be washed away by rain.
He was aware of the weight that the names carried. They were the otherworldly beings of power who landed on this planet a long time ago. They were the chosen superior beings who could recognize the special power in each other. But their names also had become a subject of mockery. Many of them had fallen off the grid all of a sudden, and news got around that some of them were murdered in cold blood by some random enemies. The people of Harlem were more terrified of Kashipa than the Apostles. Even those who were powerful in their own way kept a low profile when they were in Kashipa's territory. Even so...
It was arrogant of him to underestimate this Apostle. The monsters from Tayberrs were overwhelmingly powerful. The Adventurer who jumped into the midst of these monsters without hesitation was more impressive. But even he was incomparable to this highest being, who stood over everything else. The king of skies. He who had absorbed the darkness that everyone coveted, putting an end to the series of events that shook Harlem.
It was humiliating, but Sniff had to admit it. The Apostles are strong. He was the leader of Dog Leash, but he was also on a leash like everyone else in his group. It was his master's order that sent him all the way here. Sniff was just Kashipa's pawn, who couldn't handle the monsters that followed the Apostle, let alone the Apostle himself.
"Haaah... I hate getting wet."
Sniff picked up his staff covered in mud. His shoulder that had lost chunks of flesh to the deadly claws throbbed with pain. It was time he went back and report his failure. It was possible he'd die before he could finish his report. His masters weren't generous enough to leave failed men alive, no matter how valuable the information they brought to them. Suddenly, the faces of his enemies that he killed with his staff flashed before his eyes, the extras who disappeared from the stage as soon as they entered.
He was about to scoff at his own weakness when...
Sniff turned around and started walking the other way. Soon, his walk turned into a run. It was Ricardo's mana. It had shown up again as suddenly as it disappeared, right before his eyes. But when? Why? Numerous questions filled his mind, but the only thing that moved him right now was his determination.
I must find Ricardo.
Even as he hastened, he made sure he made no noise as he moved. He was going back to the nest of the red monster that knocked him senseless. He had to. If he couldn't bring the head of the monster that cost him so many men, then he had to bring Ricardo's, or at least chunks of his flesh, to save himself. The closer he got to his mana, the more nervous he felt in the stomach. Whether it was fear or expectation, he didn't know.
He stopped to gather his breath and look around. He didn't see the monster that breathed fire or the Apostle's egg that illuminated the darkness of Nighttime Skyscraper. The only thing he could hear was the raindrops hitting the ground. Slowly exhaling, Sniff blinked his eyes.
Ah, there! The Apostle's egg was still here. It hadn't disappeared; it'd only lost its light. Sitting in the midst of the building debris, it didn't radiate the overwhelming amount of mana or heat like it used to. Did the shell break during the mayhem? I don't think bringing it with me would do me any good.
It's completely empty inside—
Ricardo's mana hadn't disappeared. Sniff's instincts never betrayed him. Once again, he glared into the darkness. He didn't have to check to feel it. Something was in the broken shell, crouching.
Sniff was laughing. He knew that most members of Kashipa were stupid, but he didn't know the leader of the Fiends was one of them. But thanks to him, Sniff was saved. He got banged up a little bit, but it was a good thing. Perhaps he could take a break from his busy work when he went back. He sauntered through the rain to the broken eggshell. Standing in front of it, Sniff wondered if he should show some mercy to this fool.
No response. Well, it figured. Rubbing the snake-headed tip of his staff, Sniff remembered his motto: patience was the greatest virtue of a tracker.
"Why are you so sloppy? I can't even pretend not to see you—kkhhkk!"
Something shot out of the eggshell, tightening around Sniff's throat like a vice. Writhing frantically, Sniff grabbed the thing around his neck. It was a hand. Slowly, it lifted Sniff off the ground with its incredible strength. Sniff couldn't breathe, and yet his lungs felt as if they were being filled up with something. He felt as if his heart was being squeezed by his own innards, and yet he couldn't close his eyes. His bulging eyes looked down at the dark inside of the eggshell. He was in there. When? Why? How? His mind shouted questions even as he lost his consciousness, but its silent screams were buried under the sound of heavy rain.
Icy cold raindrops hit his neck with vicious determination. Suddenly, his eyes opened and his mouth stretched into a wide grin. Sniff slowly raised his body that was lying on the ground like a rag doll before the broken Apostle's egg in the middle of Nighttime Skyscraper. He wiped the rain off his face and tapped his temples, getting rid of the water in his ears. He grabbed the bothersome choker around his neck, tearing it off, shrugged his shoulders, and then placed a dry hand on the broken shell. The eggshell responded to the mana that he released without even using his staff, lifting itself. Then, he looked back.
It was time he went back.