Dae pulls himself up. His trenchcoat is turned grey with ashes.
Everything is surreal to him as he walks through the clouds of dust. He feels no pain, but his body is all but proof of the opposite.
Around him are charred corpses, troll and man alike. The moon is still high, sitting on a throne of dark clouds that resemble billowing smoke. The silence that consumes the air leaves a deep aching in his stomach.
He looks down.
It isn't the silence.
His abdomen is deeply cut, slashed rigidly from side to side and gushing blood. He can't make out what the pulverized flesh underneath used to be and his intestines are clearly visible.
In the blink of time that he manages to wonder how he forced himself to his feet in the first place, he finds himself tumbling back to the ground. He tries to muster a word, but only produces a sputtering cough, followed by a teaspoon of blood.
Dae can't feel a thing, can't hear a sound, can't taste the blood that floods his mouth.
Soon, his vision leaves him too.
All he can do is smell. What he smells isn't the putrid stench of the dead trolls surrounding him, or the choking sting of the enveloping smoke. It is lavender and vanilla. Elegant and strong.
He opens his eyes. He is in a new plane of existence now. A place where the only reality is a beautiful blue sky, and the ground is a great, unending mirror to reflect it.
He is alone in this place.
He is glad to be.
Dae feels better than he ever has before. Not sick, or weak, or hurt, or guilty. He feels as though his whole life has been a trial of will to lead him to this utopia.
He takes a step and hears his boot release an echo to swallow eternity. The sound comes to him as if played by an orchestra. It is the most beautiful music he has ever heard.
Then another echo takes over. It hurts him. It is a voice from a different dimension. It is yelling.
Dae's eyes rip open with the intensity of a lightning bolt. He is sitting up, back in the clouds of dust. The pain is all there and the music is gone.
Ayrus wastes no time getting back in his armored truck. Ran is paralyzed with shock at the events that just transpired. The cloud of orange and red fire is just now receding into the atmosphere.
Ayrus speeds the vehicle towards it.
The trees in his way explode into splinters as he speeds into them. Frantic trolls scatter in every direction. Some are burnt over large portions of their bodies, some are drenched with their own black blood.
It makes no difference to Ayrus as he mows through them. They all splash like water.
Finally, he comes upon the scene with a trail of destruction behind him.
All is either black as coal or still burning. However, one figure still lays flat on the ground, not charred by the previous hellfire.
It is none other than the man he had been hunting minutes before.
It would be a win by most accounts, but as he turns the stranger on his back and gazes at his devastated form, he quickly realizes that he can't imprison a dead man.
His heart is not beating, but a smile is drawn across his face in the dirt and blood. A smile that claims true happiness, a kind not available in this world.
"Oh, you bastard, think you can get away from me now." Ayrus has the look of a rabid dog on his face as he presses his fist into Dae's ribcage. He presses down and releases at the pace of his own breathing. "One, two, three..." He mutters.
Ran stares on in fear and awe.
"Damn it. It isn't working." Ayrus presses his mouth to Dae's and heaves oxygen into it until he is red in the face.
Dae still lies unmoving.
"Ran! Get the defibrillator from the truck!" Ayrus' voice is steeled with authority and determination.
His petrified assistant snaps out of it just in time and sprints towards the battered and bloody vehicle.
A moment later, Ayrus rips open the man's shirt and presses the twin shock paddles to his bare skin.
"Clear!" He booms. A jolt of electricity tosses the body into the air but with no success does it reanimate him.
"Come on! Clear!" The same results.
"You son of a- Clear!" Once again, Dae writhes on the ground but doesn't wake up.
Ayrus slaps his face. "Get the hell up!" One more time. "CLEAR!"
Dae shoots up and his euphoric grin turns to a look of utter pain.
Ayrus smiles like he was born to do it. "Don't worry, troll-hunter. We're going get you to a hospital."
To be continued...