A Bat Out Of Hell




Hokkaido, 19931

The southwest-off Hokkaidō earthquake occurred at 13:17:12 UTC on 12 July 1993 in the Sea of Japan near the island of Hokkaidō. It had a magnitude of 7.7 on the moment magnitude scale, triggering a major tsunami that caused deaths on Hokkaidō and in southeastern Russia…


There had been a time, when he felt the sting
Of cold iron on cursed skin.
Throbbing flesh
That cut him deep; Violated
The beating of a heavy hand
Begging God…

There had been a time, the demon screamed;
The hot iron pierced his skin.
Pulsing flesh
That acrid sweat; Cried to hear it:
The lumber of heavy steps

There had been a cage, each night; It seemed
The nightmare wouldn't end
Grasping limbs
That fucked deep. Haunted by it;
The never-ending sleep of Hell

"-GOD!" he shrieked. Back from Hell. Buzzing fluorescent light. Ishmael's eyes shot open, fixated blearily on the stenciled image in white paint on a bare, concrete wall; Vitruvian Man, he thought. A hooded figure in a full mask pulled away, withdrawing the needle from the boy's stomach. "Pray?" the boy sneered, "What do you plan to extract from me? I know I do not belong in this world. But you know that too, already; don't you?"

"They said you liked to talk," came the male voice. Soft, a bit nasally; probably not a fighter, but he couldn't be sure of that.

The cambion chuckled. "Yes, well I was sleeping; I have friends?" he quickly added, the implication being they might go searching for him. "They will find me. I am…" Ishmael smirked; whispered: "Precious!"

"Oh, you are precious," his captor muttered sarcastically. "Who are you?"

"Call me Ishmael?"

"Cute. Who are you working for, Authority?"

"Ah-heh?! I? Nonsense. They would not allow such a thing as myself to wriggle about their inner workings; even on a leash. I am Vatican, sir." Those little bat wings protruding from his head fluttered softly, prompting the man to pinch one between his thumb and finger, and gently pull on it. "Ah-? Ahh! Stop it!" Ishmael growled. "That hurts, stupide!"

"You look like some loose merchandise from the Japs."

"Ah? You think I'm ugly, sir? The devil has a second face, you know." Ishmael's voice dropped to a whisper. "On his ass!" he hissed.

He ran a hand across a small brand on the cambion's thigh, protected by a thin, medical glove: SLUT it said, burned into boy's flesh. A plain, silver cross dangled from a piercing on his right nipple. "Kabushiki2 thugs did a number on you." The man looked up. He couldn't tell, with the mask, but Ishmael felt eyes on him. "Why's the Church meddling in the slave trade? They're some of their biggest customers."

"More than you would know, boy…"

"Boy," he remarked, seemingly taken aback. "How old are you, exactly?"

"Ah. Time. Time is roue du miserie, fool- But? If I must wager a guess? Four? Five hundred years?"

"I doubt that. Things like you don't live very long. Especially when they go out of their way to get in trouble. You seem like a bad idea someone came up with in their basement. You expect me to believe you're hundreds of years old?"

"I was lucky. And rescued on one occasion. Perhaps we make two, yes?"

"Don't count on it," he said. "Still didn't answer my question: Why were you sent here?"

"Here? Then we are still in Japan. Interesting. I've not been out long."

"You've still got flesh and blood. Bone. But no balls; I'm guessing you pissed someone off." The man leaned close, issuing a low, growling threat. "I'd watch my mouth if I were you."

Hm. Maybe more dangerous than first surmised. "Ahhh, so serious. I am helpless, sir! If I were planning to escape, I would certainly keep what I've learned to myself. Is better to play fool than be found wise; certainly, in situations like this!" A skeptical gaze lingered, before the man capped the syringe and set it on the plastic cart next to him. Ishmael squirmed in his bonds. Naked. Cold. Stainless steel against his back. Leather at his wrists and ankles; limbs outstretched like the image before him. Felt like something leftover from the Kawaii sex dungeons; probably was. That's right, he thought. "Did they make it?" The cambion tried not to sound too concerned, but simply asking was enough to betray his intent.

"No." The man didn't turn from his work, picking up a cotton swab next. "Last I heard, they were pumped full of lead. Authority probably fished their bodies out of the river and incinerated them."

Ishmael cast his gaze aside, head secured in a strap. "I see." A cruel answer his captor had given, and quite intentionally, but it told Ishmael they'd not found any bodies. His mind worked, rapidly exploring what options he had. Wait for an opportunity? Always had time to wait, but any avenue of escape had to be assessed here and now, considering the very real possibility of being drugged again; His next cell might be a grave.

"Why were they so important?"

Ishmael's answer could have been seen as deflecting if he weren't so visibly crushed upon replying: "They weren't…"

"Open your mouth?"

"…you are going to put your hand near my fangs? You really should have obtained that sample while I was still asleep."

"Are you going to bite me?"

Ishmael sighed. "No. No, I suppose not."

The man took a swab from the cambion's mouth and carefully stored it next to the stomach sample. "That's everything," he said, pausing once more to ask: "Vatican?"


"Why tell me that? Assuming it's true."

The cambion could only chuckle at that; an amused little scoff, as he told the man, "I'm proud. Perhaps a bit too proud, but… if you knew me, you would know… why I so readily proclaim this? There is… no reason; to trust a demon. I will never argue to the contrary. My entire life is the result of a demon. And to have such an esteemed clergy accept my contribution? Is an honor. Is why I tell you this."

"…interesting," was all the man said, wheeling the cart toward the exit.

The cambion turned his eyes to the symbol on the wall, once more: Vitruvian Man…

"From here to Jerusalem, no girl had a prettier neck4," Ishmael said, sliding the long sleeves over his arms. A dingy, white thing with a faded logo; SAVE LIVES; GIVE BLOOD. "Was never a girl more elegant. You have to understand, I had been denied a touch my entire life, spare the occasional, mm- accident? I would touch her a thousand times over."

"You don't seem like someone interested in girls, if you don't mind me saying."

"Is not the most unusual thing I have been told. I am curious as to why you let me dress."

"Same reason you're asking."



"Hm! I- mm…" Ishmael examined his bare hands; held them up. "I need-?"

"Here you go," said the man, plucking a pair of latex surgical gloves from a box.

"Hardly fashionable," the cambion remarked, each glove snapped into place, before he tugged his shirtsleeves down over the back of his hands. By the time he'd finished, Ishmael was dressed head-to-toe. A bit warm, but he'd have to make due with a hooded sweatshirt, the old University of Tokyo logo crumpled as he allowed the hem of the bulky article to rest on his shoulders, much like that old mantle from bygone years, the hood pulled over his head, short hair tucked neatly behind his ears. "But, is necessary," he sighed. "Do you have to point that gun at me??"

"I dunno, do I?"

"I should think not, sir! I do have friends; they will find me. And I am more than willing to argue in your defense. You saved me from the Yakuza. I do not believe you are affiliated with them?" The man shook his head; the cambion continued. "And you have been a gracious host. It would be rude of me to take advantage of such kindness. Especially since you spared me worse rape. I think I prefer a few needles to what they'd planned for me." Ishmael tossed the bulkier set of sleeves over his shoulders. "What do you hope to learn?"

"Ideally?" The masked technician holstered the gun. "Everything."

"And that?" Ishmael nodded to the chessboard on the table.

"Helps to make the conversation a bit more interesting."

"Ohh," The cambion grinned. "I like how you think…"

"Guess we'll see if the feeling's mutual." He watched the boy gently pull the chair out and sit across from him. "Axa?"

"Ai? If you like, I suppose."

"Isn't that your name?"

"My name is lost in time, sir. Gone for sake of upholding the truth. I am black?"

"If you want- What do you mean lost?"

"Lost," he sighed, his head briefly eye-level with the board. "Certainly you would know the history of, ah- many undesirables. That they are not wanted, even in remembrance. Their presence is a stain on what a people wish to believe is true." Axa examined a pawn in his gloved hand and smiled. "Red!" he commented. "My father's estate produced a dye; is called kermes. Same as the oak, you know?"

The man softly shook his head. "Afraid I don't."

"Named for the little bug that eats the sap, of the tree which also sometimes takes its name. It makes a beautiful sanguine dye, worn by royalty; knights. Is why the color was so common to La Garde."

"I'm guessing Montaign wasn't lost in time, then."

"I'm far too proud," Axa sighed, looking up from the board with a smile. "You already know me so well. I am sure we will get along famously." He set the pawn back. "En garde!"

White opened with the king's pawn.

Black opened with the queen's knight…

So far each side had worked to carefully avoid the other. Avoid trading, as their pieces developed. The cambion was remarkably passive, reacting to every move with a clever, nigh-unbreakable defense, but nothing resembling an offensive had taken shape in his ranks. This wasn't defensive by any merit of strategy, the man concluded; it was all short-sighted. Easy to break down. If every move was reactionary, it stood to reason that he would be the master manipulator in this instance. "What is a demon, exactly?"

"I devour the souls of men."

"That's it? Five hundred years must've given you some kind of insight besides that."

"No." The boy shook his head. "I have seen too many confusing things to believe there is any cosmological consistency in something that should not exist in the first place. God may have a plan for everything, but I'm afraid that Divine Providence only works if we do not have free will. Many, they say: Ah! The Lord allows us free will as part of His plan! As if there is some definite chain of events; prophecy! But there are two worlds, I think. The Lord's, in which none of this could transpire, sir. And the world of the free. A truly infinite God would know the bounds of each and every world, surely. We are free in this world; you are as I. It makes my choices that much more painful to consider. That I am a demon by choice, despite my many protests. Many will delude themselves into believing they have control, to dull the sting of Fortuna's whip. Then, there are those who delude themselves into believing they had no other choice, so they might live justified in their sin. I wish I had no choice in the matter; I would at least be innocent. But I am a demon. Sin is in my very nature."

"So you don't know what you are?"

"Depends. Do you know what is a man?"

"You have no proof that's what I am, but I can see your point. Curious: why did you protect your knights?"


"You valued them a bit too much. It would have been better to sacrifice them early to control the center. Instead they retreated all over the board and allowed me to develop."

"And then I lost them," he sighed. "And you sacrificed your bishops early, yes? Strange; should be the reverse, I think."

"Why's that?"

"Well- check -the Church was largely ignored in my home country. Is strange to think we had quite a secular government, but most men were Christian anyway, so it hardly mattered. Make no mistake! We had our saints and canon. Began to differ somewhat from the Church at the time. After all, we had seen gods with our own eyes. Killed them even! Such a thing surely has a tendency to build hubris and doubt, no?"

"And yet you're Catholic."

"Is a church, not a god," Axa dryly retorted. "I am in many churches. I liken them more to an exclusive club than any house of God. Is why I am so proud; do you know how long I yearned for that acceptance? To be welcome, if only in secret, is more than I could ever hope for any other day."

"And what does your club make you do?"

"Mostly? Hunt other things like me. Is the deal. I will burn my brethren if I am last to the fire." Axa shrugged. "Everything burns in the end; is a war of attrition. What club do you belong to, if I may ask?"

"You don't know?" the man asked incredulously. "Frankly I'm shocked you asked that before my name."

"Pah, what's in a name?"

"Church of Malthus5," the man replied.

"Interesting- I am not aware of this one??"

"You're lucky you're not affiliated with RPC. Wouldn't be sitting here right now playing chess if you were working for those bastards."

The cambion chuckled. "I cannot find myself in disagreement, there. They're barbarians, the lot of them. Quite stupide if I am to be honest. Short-sighted; they do not understand the implications of their own goals. I am curious though, what are your goals?"

"I'm more interested in learning yours."

"I suppose… I could learn of your church through such a reversal. At least tell me: do you believe in God?"

"Irrelevant, but I have my theories."

"So, in short: no, you do not. You believe in yourself. If you can confirm God exists, then it is by your own hand, not God's, that you acknowledge His presence. Is rather Cartesian, but is there anything truly beyond that?"

"I guess. Why did you risk your life for those girls? Not exactly human. They're engineered with specific mental barriers that make them unable to progress past a certain point."

"Is not everything with some inherent limitation?"

"Absolute limits are chosen," the Malthusian argued.

Axa raised a finger in protest. "Mm! When I was born, I was a mindless, flesh-eating thing. I devoured body, mind, and soul. That is my base form; without potential. That human soul that I craved was potential. The potential to be more than what I was doomed to be. If you look at the spirit as- instead of some residual self-image, not what one already is, but rather what they have the potential to become, you begin to understand how something fully conscious can be considered soulless, ai?"


"Ai! Thus the more soul one has, the more potential to be. Fate is… a state of soullessness. Is no different from a story. A memory carved in stone."

"Even stone becomes dust, but you didn't answer my question."

Axa fell silent, eyes drifting from the board, to his lap. He sat there in a dejected silence for some time before finally answering: "Because she reminded me of her. I cannot undo what has been done; by my own hand no less…" He gazed into his palm, as though cradling that soul. "That potential is gone forever." The cambion lifted his red eyes to the man once more. "At least let me have the story, I would think."

"Why all the deflecting when you could have just said that?"

"Thus, I became a madman6," Axa recited, "And I have found both the freedom of loneliness, and safety from being understood; for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a thief in jail is safe from another thief…"

For a brief moment, the Malthusian was silent. "What happened to Elise. Better yet, why throw your life away for a glorified sex doll?"


Axa half-chuckled, a sad, little scoff that pass his lips like a cry of surrender. "Sir, isn't it obvious?"

The Malthusian's knight captured the demon's pawn; control the center.

Axa was visibly shaken, now; trembling, as the memory came rushing back to him. "Could not bring himself to finish the act…"

The masked man awaited the cambion's next move. "That's not what happened to Elise, though."

"God… Oh God, if I knew he would do that!" Axa slumped forward in his chair, elbows hit the table, as he buried his face in his hands, sobbing furiously. "Elise would still be alive!"

"Oh- Okay, I think you need a break," he stammered. But Axa was inconsolable. The Malthusian got up from his seat and slipped around the table to usher the cambion to his feet. "Come on…"

A cigarette outside…

He had his mask off. He wasn't very handsome. A wiry fellow with thick glasses that rested on a big, Roman nose, and an unflattering crew cut that made his head rather box-shaped, Axa thought. But as he leaned back against the wall of the alley and took a drag off his cigarette, the cambion could not help but to admire something in his posture; the way he carried himself.

"You're… a true knight, sir."

He half-chuckled at that. "What??"

Axa puffed on the cigarette and gazed up at the night sky, the distant wail of emergency sirens carried on the warm breeze. "You are chivalrous. And… honorable. And I am I compelled to recognize this in you." He wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

"You're not so bad yourself." He planted his foot back against the wall. "I'm guessing they don't always do what you want. When you touch them?"

Axa shook his head. "No. I can invoke lust; does not mean I control it…"

"There's some real scum in the world. Real Jack the Ripper types; probably known a few in your time?"

"Ai, sir. Many…"

"That where your uh…" He nodded, gestured toward Axa's nether regions with his cigarette-hand. "Business went?"

The cambion blushed. "It… it… was customary, in that time, for the Church to… sterilize half-breeds like me. To prevent anymore, ah- children of ruin, they called us." Drawing from his cigarette again, Axa exhaled a thick cloud of smoke with a sigh. "Achille was right. It was only a matter of time before they discovered me."

"Raped her," the Malthusian repeated, his knight retreating.

"And killed her," Axa replied. "I drank her soul. Like that of my own mother, when I was born. I suppose that is the price I paid. Sir Montaign loved that woman, and I- killed her. I am that woman. And I am Elise, perhaps. Perhaps I am none of these." He shook his head. "I don't know who I am. I barely know what I am." The memory still burned in the forefront of his mind. The taste of her blood. Her smooth flesh on his lips. Axa recited: "From here to Jerusalem, no girl had a prettier neck…"

"And you feel regret?"

"Every day."

"You say you- what, go to hell, when you sleep?"

"Is so for all my kind, though I have long since escaped that cage. I dwell in a pretty court of marble and gold. Velvet and silk. Is a gilded cage, but a cage I am much happier to occupy. If Achille had not run me through… I would not have been so weak. So easily coaxed into that feral state by that brute…" Axa sighed. "Please, no more, I have told you what happened to Elise. Is this not enough?"

"Okay." The Malthusian leaned back in his chair. He'd long since removed his mask, exposing an ever present, rather critical gaze. "What if… I could help you."

Axa looked up from his pieces. "With what, sir?"

"Make you… whole, maybe?" the man said with a suggestive shrug. "Wouldn't be able to uh… procreate, but I mean, hey, it works; it's something," he said with an awkward chuckle.

"I'm afraid those scars are mine, sir. They make me. I would not lose what I have suffered so much to obtain."

"I see…"

A tilt of the head, his bangs gently fell to one side. A smirk, revealing his little fangs. "You knew I would say that, didn't you?"

"I had a hunch. I can also release the girl." Axa fell silent; the Malthusian nodded. "Yes. I have her. We fished her out with her friend. The big one; she didn't make it, but-"

The cambion's expression sobered instantly. He leaned forward. "What do you want."

"Who says I want anything?"

"Not to offend? But I've had half a millennia of conversations to know, sir."

The Malthusian sat forward now and laced his fingers under his chin. "Humanity is a… biological time bomb, of sorts. Have you ever heard of a behavioral sink?"

"Calhoun," Axa replied. "Is a response to overcrowding. The demon realms suffer from something similar, I'm to think. I am not sure if our behavior and… aeh- biology? You could say? Is the same, but much of the inferno is… debaucherous, for reasons I sometimes wonder can be explained by science. Why; what does this have to do with anything?"

"Everything. Both you and- I think her name is Inke? Some kind of joke one of the handlers came up with- Both of you detract from human reproduction. It's one of the reasons Kabushiki Kawaii exists. Good for outsourcing research; it's a… mutually beneficial relationship," he said offering a faint gesture of the hand. "It makes sense the most deviant individuals would contribute the least to the human genome for… a number of reasons."


"Inke isn't a threat to the bigger picture. She has a limited lifespan, and her existence has served to prevent the spread of aberrant genes. You, on the other hand; you seem… a bit too dangerous, unfortunately."

"You saw fit to remove your mask before me. I could have spit in your face. It only takes a touch, sir."

"My name is Mark," he said; Axa's brow perked at that. "What?"

"Nothing. Is just… a name that reminds me of someone. Much about you reminds me of him."

"I'm sure you have a lot of things to be reminded of by now."


"Point is, you're a valuable subject. You're also radical element. RPC won't have you throwing a wrench in the system, and I'm not sure the Church of Malthus would, either. I can release the girl. Somewhere safe. To someone who won't hurt her. She'll probably need to lose the ears, the tail; easy enough to fix, and she can… live something of a normal life. Maybe. She won't last long. Ten, maybe fifteen years tops before the cancer sets in."

The cambion winced, a visible pang of emotion as he told him this. He sighed. "And you tell me this, why?"

Mark moved: Queen takes Queen.

Axa eyed the board. A queen trade, plain and simple. "I see. You want me."

"I want you to return to where you came from, or, where you belong, more precisely. Or you can leave. It's your choice."

"You would have me… die?"

"Sleep forever. Return to hell," he stated again. "And the Church of Malthus gets your body."

Axa considered his proposal:

I am already caught; why offer me freedom?

If she is alive, why let her escape?

If I have some choice, this is a test of my reaction.

Is the outcome even affected by my decision?

If I choose to preserve myself, I may die anyway.

If I choose to save her; she may not be alive.

If I choose to die, they may release me.

The current outcome cannot be verified, however:

This man values something; of that I can be sure.

Am I among those valuable things?

"…very well."

"You thought about that for a minute," Mark noted.

"Yes. I did. It was a very calculated decision on my part."

"Do you have some idea why I'm offering this?"

"I'm afraid all the goodness in me is a mere wager. A gamble, for certain, but a carefully measured one. I do indeed love, but among all things, life for the sake of life itself; I will not die if I can prevent it. But clinging to it in this moment would only draw your ire, no?"

"But why tell me this?"

"Because I feel you value right. Am I wrong, to be so honest? Was it really such a base question to see if I were a selfless being? I am certain a torture great enough would convince a mother to separate with her child; kill it even! And what righteousness is this, I must wonder, that you would place some moral wrong upon those too weak to resist. Aberrant genes," he sneered. "Fuck you. Am I to believe you, faced with the same question from your superior, would cull yourself from the equation? What delusion. I do not care if you are telling the truth, or what this test yields. You are a fool. Bastard. And you will be slain by your own sword for your arrogance. A truth we all face; but at least I know it…"

Axa ignored the queen; Bishop takes pawn. "Check."

"Alright, choirboy; winner takes all."

"Cute, but I am not clergy," Axa growled.

Mark captured. "What are you, then? Said it yourself: you don't know."

Axa captured. "A goliard!"

"Clergy, kid. Clergy without a job."

"Oh?! You know your history! But tell me, is a priest defrocked truly a priest?"

"Can a boy without balls be a man? Check."

Axa fell still, eyeing the pieces. "I want the God that hates my flesh. I pray the words that singe my tongue, and bear the cross that burns me; Mockery is my prayer."

"You're insane."

"A holy fool," Axa growled. The cambion's rook slid across the board, knocking out Mark's and putting his king in check. "Check!"

Mark captured his rook in turn. "Gunning for a Pyrrhic victory, demon."

"Nonetheless a victory!"

A slaughter erupted. Trade upon trade, material lost, until they pieces grew sparse. Isolated kings, and a handful of pawns. A knight here. A bishop there. Axa's mind likened it to the silent aftermath of a battle. The mangled corpses pecked by crows, disemboweled or dragged away by scavenging beasts. Until finally the clamor was no more, and the surviving soldiers limped away.


"I tried to burn it all down," Axa murmured. "A draw would have sufficed." He bowed his head, burdened by despair. "I never stood a chance, did I…"

"You could've given yourself up; I did give you that option."

"I would sooner fight for all than die for one." The cambion lifted his eyes. "What would you die for, I must wonder."

"I wouldn't."

"You wouldn't gamble, you mean…" Axa's gaze hardened; the Malthusian's hand drifted toward the pistol. "I've taken nothing but chances, sir. My entire life has been a gamble. I am… still here. Those dice may be loaded in my favor, don't you think? Given all the times I could have died. Tell me, do you enjoy taking chances?"

"I don't take chances."

"No. You've read me quite well. You have this entire situation to your liking, but you do not control my past; too many threads of fate extend beyond this room. I wonder, are you content to risk a spider cornering you, for sake of nursing your pride, sir?"

"This is my lair, kid."

"Ai? That may be so. And I am sure you know all the goings on outside your little web. But you do not know… who I know. You do not know what the consequences of keeping me truly are. You don't even know if we are serving the same master," Axa finished with a chuckle. The cambion leaned forward, planting his elbows on the table and cradling his chin in his hand. "Do you really think the world ends at your chessboard?"

I am the spirit that negates.
And rightly so, for all that comes to be
Deserves to perish wretchedly;
'Twere better nothing would begin.
Thus everything that that your terms, sin,
Destruction, evil represent-
That is my proper element.

"Move it," the mask said, shoving the girl toward the black car. A 1980 four-door sedan with a long, menacing hood. The engine rumbled ominously, like a beast ready to devour. She saw it much like the big cars the masters drove, how it cast the shadow of a prison. An instinctive fear took over, forcing the mask to drag her to the back seat and practically throw her in, ignoring her whimpering protests. Slamming the door shut behind her, the locks fell like a stone in her gut. Inke gasped as the driver's side window rolled down a crack. She curled up against the door fearfully, flattening her ears and wrapping her arms around her knees. Past the seat, she saw the driver pass a card to the mask.

"Please, think of it as a favor," the boy said.

"I seriously doubt you have the stomach to return that favor," the mask replied.

"Sir, I will do some terrible things to justify my actions. Anything you want."

"Anything," the Malthusian remarked.

"Anything," said the cambion with a coy grin. As he walked away, Axa rolled the window up. "I hope you've had your fill of this place, because I am never coming back here again."

She couldn't think of anything to say. There must have been something. Something a master would want to hear, but it felt wrong. Instead, the girl slumped over on the seat with a look of numb disbelief. "Okay…"

The cambion smirked and shook his head. "Is going to be, yes."


Axa was quiet for a moment; nothing but the gentle thrum of the engine. "I'm sorry about your friend. Is a cruel world to be sure, but…" He adjusted the mirror. His red eyes appeared in the rear-view, looking back at her. "I don't think I need to tell you that, do I?" Inke was quiet. Despite the tears, she made no sound. "What do you think Mami would want for you?"

Inke sniffled, wiping her eyes. "I don't know…"

"She'd want you to be free. And safe. And happy. You cry. And you get all those tears out, Inke. You have too many wonderful days ahead of you to spend them crying. We're both very lucky to escape." Inke was silent; Axa looked ahead. "For now? Two out of three is not bad, I think." He popped a tape in, a wild, foreign soundscape filled her ears, and they took off down the street into the night.

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