The Divorcee is a Wicked Black Belly Chapter 123: The Search for Pollux
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An Ning reached the other side of the island in less than a minute. The cliff where she found the hostages looked desolate, the dried blood on the ground the only proof of the brutality that took place in that serene spot.
Then she commanded the strips of bandages to take her high in the air as she watched them search the island and the waters surrounding it. She can feel the strips straining with the effort, and the power to control their movements was slowly draining her energy.
As soon as she found out that the belt allowed her to control her physical environment, she had chosen the strips to do her bidding most of the time. They served as her eyes, her arms and her legs, and they moved as one body with her thoughts. But they were exhausting to control, especially when she was under a lot of stress and her emotions were unstable. Hippolyta had told her that control of the belt and the wonders it can do will come with age, but she had no time to savor that pleasure. Her daughter was missing and she had to concentrate all her energies and effort to finding her safe and sound again.
Thunder suddenly sounded in the distance, like hooves of running horses invading the sky. Then the rain started to pour, first as a drizzle then as big droplets falling from the skies. The strips took An Ning higher to the clouds until she stood in the rainstorm of hissing thunderbolts that stung her skin like tiny pinpricks.
Someone stood in the middle of this maelstrom watching her approach without expression, without even a hint of surprise.
"Amazon," the man said, his eyeless sockets glowing with red flames.
"You know my name," An Ning said without a greeting.
"The new queen of the female warrior tribe. Of course the heavens know who you are."
"You belong to the skies, didn't your grandmother tell you?" the man smiled.
An Ning frowned as she looked at him.
"Who are you?" she finally asked when she finally couldn't contain her curiosity.
"I am known by many names," the man said.
"Death?" An Ning asked, feeling a cold hand touching her back.
The man laughed.
"No, I am not death but I bring death."
"There's a difference?"
"A vast difference."
"Are you responsible for this?" An Ning asked grimly. "My daughter's disappearance? Is that your doing?"
"No, but I know who took her," the man smiled a gentle smile.
"Tell me," An Ning commanded.
"The one who took her is the god of the Underworld."
An Ning stared at him, completely dumbfounded.
"You don't believe me?" the man asked, still with that offhanded gentle smile that was beginning to annoy An Ning.
"You're telling me that my daughter was taken by the god of the Underworld. The only problem is that I don't know of any such god and what motive could he have to take my daughter. Do you take me for a fool?"
The man didn't answer, merely gestured with his hand. Just like that, the rainstorm and thunder that covered the skies just a few minutes ago stopped. The sun rose from the east and the waves gentled on the sea. A fair lady with very long hair suddenly appeared out of nowhere carrying a tray, the three handmaidens on each side of her genuflecting merrily as they greeted the man. A couch appeared out of nowhere, white as snow, which seated the man comfortably. Then a table and a tea set and the fair lady laid down her tray and invited An Ning to take her place at another snow white seat that appeared as if by magic.
And just like that, An Ning took her place at the god seat, partaking of food and wine made for the gods. The tea tasted heavenly, the cakes sweeter than even Moira's, the ambrosial flavor that went with it seemed to enliven her spirit, as if infusing her body with the energy and drive it had been drained of before.
"Feeling better?" the man asked, his hand sipping delicately on the cup that looked so out of place in his fair yet large hand.
An Ning nodded, feeling content and drowsy at the same time.
"Why did the Underworld king took my daughter?" she asked, her voice husky with sleep.
"Shhh. You need your sleep. We will talk again after you've taken your rest," he said, watching as An Ning slowly slumped on her chair with her eyes closed and her breathing in quiet repose.
The handmaidens tenderly carried her to a room that opened behind the man. Then after stripping her bare of the strips of bandages, they washed her skin until it appeared pink and plump, dried her hair with a gossamer cloth and laid her gently on the bed under a blanket of white fur.
An Ning was aware of all that was happening but it seemed so distant, so far away and so remotely unconnected with her that she turned over on the bed and went to sleep, unaware of the eyes that followed her every movement.
The sky seemed to stand still while she slept, as if unwilling to make any noise that would force her to wake up, any sound dis-amplified according to her needs, even the sound of heavy fighting taking place down below on a tiny island ruled by pirates.
Nian Zhen draw his sword out of the stomach of a man he had been fighting with in the last thirty seconds. He didn't even turn his head when the man gave a grunt and fell on his knees on the ground, his attention suddenly sharpening on Castor, who had taken a sword beside him, and was in grim combat with a young man twice his age. Castor didn't even blink when his sword stabbed at the man's shoulder, almost ripping half of his body off with a vicious slice of his weapon. Castor was calm, focused, no longer the young and carefree youth who had played with his phone as his sister went missing god knows where.
"Are you alright?" Nian Zhen shouted, breathing heavily as he assessed the damage on the ground.
Castor didn't answer, his hand instinctively locking on the gun on his hip and firing at the man rushing at him with a saber knife. He emptied the last bullet on the chest of a young boy about his age who aimed at him with a cudgel. The boy died on the spot, his eyes widening in surprise as he stared in disbelief at Castor, who watched without pity or remorse as the boy fell on the ground at his feet.
The fighting which had been going on for the last hour finally turn on their side when Nian Zhen threw a couple of grenades at the throng hiding behind a house and gun downed several more with the rapid fire of a machine gun An Ning had specifically told him to carry when he went hunting on the island.
Nian Zhen emptied the full clip on another attacker, this time a group of women and kids who angrily and viciously rushed at them with sabers and knives at the ready. The bodies went down like flies, watched by Nian Zhen and Castor with pitiless eyes as they both remembered Tsai Po being hacked to death by the same crowd before they could get to him.
Tsai Po's death could have been prevented if he had not gone unarmed in this den of murderers and thieves. Tsai Po at the last moment of his life had lived up to the honor he imposed on himself when he first founded Paradise City: give protection to anyone who called Paradise City home. That was his promise to Whitebeard and he kept it, until his own people turned on him because it turned out he couldn't protect them from a twin-headed snake that savaged the island rapaciously for its own ends.
They would have hacked and feasted on Nian Zhen's and Castor's dead carcass, too, if Nian Zhen had not anticipated such a reaction and opened fire on the men, women, children and even animals which had been used to attack them. Even Fancy's crew had turned on them once Tsai Po died but they, too, had not been spared by Nian Zhen's fire. He was intent on incinerating the entire island to find his daughter. Tsai Po's death merely precipitated what had already been his intention, destroy Pirate City to find Pollux by all means possible.
The dead bodies of the young and old, men and women and children followed behind them as they hacked and gunned their way around the tiny island in search of Pollux. They came across a group of fishermen just turning from the sea who, when they saw the blood on their clothes, ran back to the boats they left tethered on the docks and paddled away as if their lives were at stake, which of course they were.
Pollux was not on the island. Nian Zhen and Castor found this out after searching high and low for another hour. No house was left unsearched, no hideout left unturned. Pollux was not on the island. Whoever it was that took her left with her on a boat to a far away place somewhere. Nian Zhen silenced the raging fury and dread in his heart as he and Castor continued their search.
In the end, the two of them ended up the way they started, at Tsai Po's house, with Tsai Po's corpse hidden inside a room by the stairs, with Nian Zhen angrier and more worried than ever, the promise he told An Ning reverberating in his ears. Castor called the Whimsy long distance, asking the captain to come and pick them up. Everybody was dead. Tsai Po included. The search for Pollux which had started in a gloom of expectation looked even gloomier than ever before.
They were in the courtyard that overlooked the docks when the man appeared literally out of thin air. With him were the fine ladies of his harem, each one lovelier than the last and An Ning sleeping soundly on a white couch and covered with white fur.
Nian Zhen was dumbstruck by the sight but then fright and worry warred inside him and he shouted in alarm, running to An Ning's side in a flurry of panic and haste. Nian Zhen touched her face and gave an audible sigh as she awakened, her eyes drowsy then focusing on him sharply as she finally remembered. She sat up and looked at the man, who was staring at them, still with that annoying gleam of a smile on his face.
"Ning Ning," Nian Zhen said before she could speak. "I couldn't find Pollux. She's not here. We've looked everywhere. I failed you. I failed our daughter."
The man chuckled, coming forward to stand in front of them.
"Your words are true and accurate," he said, smiling down at Nian Zhen, at his haggard face that showed the despair and exhaustion of the last six hours. "You wouldn't find her here or anywhere you search, soul eater."
"Who are you?" Nian Zhen demanded shooting to his feet, his gun aimed and ready. "Who the fuck are you and what have you done with my daughter?"
"A bit with the temper which can't be helped, I guess," the man murmured, as if to himself.
Before anyone can guess what he was up to, Castor's sword moved and slashed upwards but before it can even scratch the man's clothes, the sword was stopped in mid-air, the powerful blade bent and Castor flung away to the ground.
An Ning was faster. Even before Castor readied his sword, the bandages moved as one and the strips coiled around the man's body and limbs like invigorated snakes. An Ning moved to deal the final blow but before she could strike with her sword, the man turned his uncovered head and smiled, then his empty eyes flashed crimson while purple rays shoot out as he looked down at his body. The strips melted as if made in butter, the ash mingling with the wind, disappearing into nothing.
With a yell of anger, Nian Zhen fired a couple of rounds but the man merely lifted his palm, and the bullets halted before reaching him, falling to the ground, useless.
An Ning gripped the small sword strapped to her thigh and attacked. The man leisurely dodged her efforts, his feet turning this way and that in a parody of a dance, his burning eyes never once leaving An Ning's face which looked grim and determined.
As if tiring of her ineffectual blows, the man's right hand closed in a tight fist and rammed against An Ning's middle. An Ning who was expecting the blow tried to dodge it but she was too slow. The fist, when it hit her body, felt like a mountain had just ran into her on purpose. An Ning staggered backwards, her mouth coughing blood.
Nian Zhen ran to her side and tried to brace her fall but the force of the fist was too powerful for ordinary human strength. An Ning and Nian Zhen went flying some feet away, their bodies like tinder sticks crashing against the walls.
Castor rapidly flicked his hands and the man winced as lightning thundered above. A glowing sliver of thunder suddenly pierced the man's side, the force of it enough to incinerate the white couch behind him. An Ning screamed and the belt around her waist activated and formed a shield around Castor, who, in the intense glow of avid lightning, looked particularly inhuman, his face pale, the eyes looking at the man before him, manic and furious.
Before the man could retaliate, the strips were already winding themselves around Castor, restraining his hands and his body then coiling around his face and covering his mouth as he continued to mutter under his breath, the magic words strangled behind his teeth.
An Ning went to her son and with cold calculation gave his neck a tap, which froze his body to the spot.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, embracing him in her arms. "But you have to keep calm. We won't know what happened to your sister if you keep fighting like this. Baby, you have to keep calm."
Castor's eyes rolled in her direction, the fiery redness replaced by fright and uncertainty. Even as An Ning watched, tears ran down Castor's cheeks. She could feel his body tremble in her arms, she could hear the strangled whimpers behind the bandages sealing his mouth. The strips loosened and Castor was exposed, a thirteen year old boy shivering with fright, crying for his sister as his mother tightly enfolded him in her protective arms.
An Ning and Nian Zhen's eyes met. Nian Zhen turned to the man still smiling gently, still looking at them unscathed after all the fighting.
"Talk," he commanded crisply, standing close to An Ning and Castor.
The fine ladies of the harem who had waited by the sidelines as the fighting commenced was suddenly invigorated. They took out chairs and a long table and food and wine and waited as An Ning and her family sat down, finally facing the smiling man who welcomed them at the head of the table.
"It wasn't me who took your daughter," he said, looking squarely at Nian Zhen.
"The god of the Underworld."
"Hades?" Castor asked, surprising everyone.
They all looked at him, stupefied.
"You know him?" asked An Ning.
"All netizens know who the god of the Underworld is, mom," Castor said, the ring of millennial pride in his voice. "He's practically in every game or online books you can find in the internet that talks about death and...," Castor suddenly stopped, his eyes widening with shock. "Are you talking about that same god? He's real? And he has my twin sister?"
"The one and only," the man agreed, leisurely sipping wine. "You're a very clever boy. I didn't expect that."
"Hades doesn't kidnap just about anyone," Castor scoffed. "He takes the soul of someone about to die and my sister wasn't dying. You said he took her, which means he kidnapped her so he doesn't want her soul. Why take her then?"
"Very clever," the man approved. "But you are right. Hades doesn't want your sister's soul. He wants another soul. She's merely the insurance until he gets it."
"Another soul?" An Ning asked, bewildered. "Who?"
The man didn't answer, merely twirling his wine cup leisurely.
"He means me," Nian Zhen's voice was a flat monotone in the silence that followed. "Am I right, messenger?"
"Messenger?" An Ning frowned. "Nian Zhen, what are you talking about?"
"Him, the messenger of Hades. Hypnos, right?" Nian Zhen was so pale his face totally looked bloodless.
"You've heard of me," the man smiled gently. "Master would be very surprised."
"Wait...wait a minute," An Ning said, dread pooling rapidly in the pit of her stomach. "You said Hades doesn't want Pollux's soul but he wants Nian Zhen's instead? What does that even mean? Why would Hades want Nian Zhen's soul? And you," she said, suddenly glaring at Nian Zhen, "how...how do you know this man? Is this a joke between the two of you?"
An Ning's voice was rising with panic and hysteria. Castor stretched out a hand and gripped his mother's fingers in his. The contact seemed to calm An Ning who gazed at Nian Zhen with troubled and frightened eyes.
"Dad?" Castor asked, looking at his father like a child lost and asking for directions.
Nian Zhen, however, didn't seem to to hear him. His handsome face seemed to flutter and disappear in the afternoon mist, his eyes dark pools of despair and sorrow. They sat on a long table under the sky of thunderous gray but Nian Zhen seemed separate, disconnected from them all. An Ning stood up and tried to grab at his hand but he waved it away, standing up and walking away, not even heeding her voice as she screamed his name or Castor's sobbing as he tried to restrain his mother.
The sky opened up and the downpour of rain fell on their heads and washed away the mournful tears on Castor's face. The rain though seemed to sober up Nian Zhen who stopped and turned his head. All he could see of An Ning and Castor were their dim figures as they stood clasping each other in the pouring rain. Nian Zhen's heart burst with uncontrollable pain and he staggered to his feet in a dead faint. He didn't hear the sound of thunder, the footsteps that reached him in seconds, An Ning's bewildered cry or Castor's weeping. All he could remember was the darkness, the darkness that began for him as he died.
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