“Brecken!?” she cried, looking to Kaellax. “What has that thing done to him?”
“It’s claimed him as its host,” Kaellax replied, her voice calm, but her stance rigid.
Brecken stepped toward Willa, but then Kaellax raised her hand, and a dark tendril glowing with an amethyst hue lashed out from the darkness around her, striking at Brecken. He turned from Willa and formed a shield of dark energy that blocked the attack, and suddenly Brecken didn’t care about Willa any longer.
He lunged at Kaellax. She was quick to dodge, but not quick enough. Brecken’s physical strength and speed had been empowered by this creature, and he tackled her before she could slip away. She swiped at him with her fingernails, cutting lines across his face. He recoiled, releasing her long enough for her to scramble away. His wounds healed with incredible speed and he attacked again. This time she shielded herself with darkness, but Brecken gripped the nothingness like it was as real as the chair he’d held earlier, twisting and pulling it away from her as fast as she could form the protection.
Brecken sneered, his face finally showing a twisted sign of emotion. “The last group that came here thought they too could stop me,” he spoke, his voice mangled by a dark whisper that was forcing its way through his vocal cords. “They delayed me, but they have failed. You aren’t like them. You are like me.”
“That’s only half right,” Kaellax said, pushing back with her own darkness, forcing him to back off for a moment. “I was like you. Not anymore.”
Brecken surged forward again, knocking away her magic and grabbing her around the throat. Kaellax tried to force him off, but she couldn’t break the grip. She felt his hands tightening around her throat and she looked at Willa, who was still standing in shock.
“Willa,” she forced the words out. “The item I gave you! Now is the time!”
Brecken didn’t even flinch. He was too focused on ending Kaellax.
He drew his face in close to Kaellax and smiled wickedly. “Your time is at an end.”
“Funny,” she wheezed. “I was about to say the same… to you.”
His face went from one of evil pleasure to shock. His grip loosened instantly, and he stumbled to his knees. Lines of darkness pulled across Brecken’s skin, and the glowing purple faded from his eyes. He turned around, and Kaellax saw Willa had plunged the dagger through Brecken’s back. The blade was glowing brightly, pulling the darkness into it. Brecken reached back helplessly, trying to free the blade, but his color was starting to return and he seemed more panicked until he finally collapsed to the ground, unmoving.
The dagger slowly slid out, as though it was being forced from the wound. It emitted an amethyst glow, similar to Kaellax’s strange magic, and it rattled to the floor next to Brecken’s body. The stab wound closed up almost instantly.
“What did I do?” Willa asked, her voice desperate. “Is he—”
“No,” Kaellax said, smiling at her. She leaned down and placed a hand on Brecken’s shoulder. After a short pause, she shook the man vigorously. He jumped with a start, then rolled over onto his back and looked at the two of them with trepidation.
“Welcome back, friend,” Kaellax said, extending a hand to help him up.
“That thing,” he stammered. “I saw its thoughts… it’s like I could feel it taking over my mind and body.”
“That’s how the Yunai work, at least on organic beings,” she explained. “You become a prisoner in your own body. His presence, if allowed, will destroy you like an illness.”
“Good to know,” he said, feeling his back. “How did you get it out of me?”
“I stabbed you,” Willa said flatly. “I can’t believe I stabbed you.”
“You did?” he asked, feeling around still. “Where? It hurts back here, but I can’t find a wound or anything.”
Kaellax reached to the floor and retrieved the crystal-blade dagger. It pulsed with amethyst light around the solid black core, and she inspected it for a moment before holding it out to show Brecken and Willa.
“The Yunai’s power allows them to alter your reality, in small ways. One of those is increased strength and healing. It’s a short-term gain as the energy to accomplish that is drawn from your own life. It was for the best in your case, as that wound looked quite fatal.”
“If the Yunai can survive the stabbing, how did that stop it?”
“This dagger is a special one. The blade is made of an attuned power crystal. It’s designed to react with a Yunai’s energy, drawing it in. Basically, it pulled the creature out of your physical body and into the blade.”
“You knew this whole time,” Willa said, suddenly sounding angry. “You knew the Yunai was trapped in here. Before we even met you!”
“I did,” Kaellax admitted.
“You gave me the dagger. You lured us here!”
“If I came in here by myself with the dagger, the Yunai would have simply hidden from me. I needed people that it could target. Bracken made the most sense. The Yunai assumed it could overpower me with him as a host, a correct assumption.”
“That’s why you gave me the dagger,” Willa concluded. “You knew Brecken, once claimed by the Yunai, would focus on you.”
“Leaving you to land the final blow,” Kaellax said, smiling again.
“You could have mentioned it,” Brecken said, touching his forehead. “Man, that experience really brings on a headache.”
“Sorry about that,” Kaellax added. “Your mind was open to the Yunai once it claimed you. If you’d known about the dagger’s true power or my plan, then it would have known too.”
Willa was looking at Kaellax with a furrowed brow. “So you’re a Yunai then?”
“What makes you say that?”
“His eyes were purple,” she replied. “Your eyes have that glow too.”
“Unfortunately, it is a rather long story,” Kaellax said, placing the dagger in its protective sheath and tying it around her waist once again. “A complicated and long story that I don’t have the time to share. Fortunately, that doesn’t matter. The day is saved and this Yunai is contained. I’ll be on my way, and you can tell your people there’s nothing to fear out here.”
“Wait. You’re just going to leave?”
“I am, yes.”
With that, the woman turned and started to walk down the stairwell.
Brecken and Willa followed, not feeling very comfortable staying alone in the house that had only minutes ago been haunted by the Yunai. They carefully stepped over the body at the bottom of the stairs and followed Kaellax out front and past the lights that surrounded the building. She looked back at them one more time and offered a small wave, then stepped forward and seemingly vanished into the shadows.
“You saw that, right? Like, she just vanished?” Brecken asked.
“Yeah,” Willa said. “I saw.”
“So, you’re going to have to tell me what happened in there. One minute I was fixing the wire and then I was locked in my mind fighting that creature. I’d love to know how that played out before you stabbed me.”
Willa chuckled. It was the first moment she felt like laughing since this horrible experience had started. “Alright. Yeah, I’ll fill you in.”
As the artificial sun was rising on the horizon, a convoy of vehicles came plowing through the forest. The vehicles were covered in various spotlights and lamps, clearly prepared to keep the Yunai at bay if they could. Willa thought it rather impressive, though she doubted it would have kept them safe.
The house’s perimeter lighting had, in fact, stayed on through the night. Willa and Brecken weren’t sure if Kaellax had known it would hold just fine, or if she’d had any real concerns about it beforehand.
The lead vehicle pulled up to the gate at the front of the house, and Elsie Lamarr jumped out with her large sunglasses on and a concerned look on her face. Willa and Brecken had taken shelter on the front porch, inside the light perimeter, but they came down to meet Elsie as she approached.
“We’re okay,” Willa assured her. “Sleepy, but unharmed.”
“What about the Yunai? Where is the woman Timothy told us about?”
“Gone. Both of them.”
“No no, nothing like that,” Brecken spoke up. “Listen, the stuff we saw tonight… the stuff that happened… it’s all a bit unbelievable.”
“No offense to your assessment, but I think I’ll believe just about anything now,” Elsie replied. “We’ve got monsters in the walls and a city-wide evacuation going on. This is just another day of the week for me.”
“Okay,” Willa said, taking a breath. “A shadow woman that might have also been a Yunai approached us with a magical crystal dagger, which she gave to me. She then tricked us into coming to this house so that Brecken would get possessed by the Yunai and fight her, and then I, with her magical dagger, would stab him, pulling the Yunai out of his body and into said dagger where it is now trapped.”
“You stabbed Brecken with a dagger?” Elsie questioned, looking him over.
“I got better,” he replied, sheepishly.
“And the dagger with the captured Yunai is now…”
“Also gone,” Willa answered.
Elsie groaned. “Fine. Alright. Whatever. What a mess. Okay, I can live with this. Did this mysterious woman you met tell us how this relates to the creature in the Upper Level?”
“The what?” Willa asked.
“The Yunai in the wall?”
Willa and Brecken looked confused. “Elsie, we’ve been on deployment in the Garden for months now. If there’s another one of these Yunai on our World Ship we don’t know anything about it.”
Elsie frowned. “Right. I forgot you’ve been out here so long.”
“I haven’t showered in days,” Willa added as she started to walk out toward the other vehicles. “So, if we can head back—”
“Unfortunately,“ Elsie said, raising a hand to stop Willa, “from what we understand about this creature, if one of you is possessed by the Yunai we can’t risk it getting back to Town.”
“Okay?” Willa said. “We aren’t possessed.”
“I’m confident you’re telling the truth, but protocols must be followed.”
“You two will remain here for a few days, staying inside the house’s lighting perimeter. If you are possessed, the Yunai can’t stay in control for long without risking your health. It’ll have to leave at some point. So, if neither of you is possessed, you’ll both be healthy and happy in a few days and we can let you go.”
“So we’re under quarantine,” Brecken summarised. “Makes sense.”
“Makes sense?!” Willa growled. “This is ridiculous. Where is Kaellax? She could just explain this to them.”
“Ah, don’t fret,” Brecken said. “There’s plenty to do here, Elsie. Flynn was right about the campers. They met their fate here, it would seem. The least we can do is help put them to rest.”
Willa was silent for a moment, then nodded solemnly. “Fine.”
“We do need some supplies, though,” he said, looking at Elsie. “A camping shower, food, and so forth.”
“You’ll have it,” Elsie said. “We’d like you to document the home too if you have time. We’d love to know how it got out here, and how the Yunai ended up trapped inside.”
“We’ll do our best,” Brecken said.
“I am sorry about the inconvenience,” Elsie added. “We’ll try to make you both as comfortable as we can.”
Willa scoffed, but Brecken thanked her.
As Elsie walked away, Willa looked at Brecken and then rolled her eyes. “You just wanted to spend more time in this awful place, didn’t you?”
“I can’t say I’m disappointed,” he admitted. “We were part of something supernatural, Willa. This is way beyond anything we could have hoped to study out here. This is science in its most raw form. We saw things that looked like magic to us. I want to try understanding it.”
“Yeah, alright. I can see the appeal.”
“Good. So come on. The first thing we need to do is bury what’s left of those poor campers. Then we can get some food and flashlights and figure out what other secrets this awful place is hiding.”
Willa looked up at the house, still intimidated by its strange existence, then pursed her lips and nodded. She wasn’t sure she really wanted to learn the secrets of this place, but there were secrets to uncover, and if someone had to do it, it might as well be them.