Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 27

Royce’s head throbbed horribly in pain so fierce it blurred his vision. He couldn’t remember what caused the headache, or where he was. The last thing he remembered was a boy. And the woman, he remembered, she was there too.

In fact, she was in front of him, walking towards him with a pistol in hand. She wasn’t getting closer, though. Royce looked down and could see his feet laid out before him, and he made the connection. He was being dragged somewhere.

“Whur am er?” His words came slowly to him, more so than he would have liked. In fact, it felt difficult to speak at all. He tried to move his limbs, but they proved sluggishly slow, and unresponsive. Something had gone horribly wrong, and he couldn’t remember what. “Wha h… h… pned to muh.”

Skie glanced down at him. “Rick, drop him. I think he’s waking up.”

Suddenly he fell again, but he braced himself with his left arm, the hard metal taking the brunt of the shock. He vision shook, he could hear the blood in his ears, and it became very difficult to breathe. “Wha pned to muh… me…”

Rick walked into his view. a sneer of disgust on his face. “I don’t think he remembers. Must have hit his head pretty hard, Skie.”

Her name was Skie. Royce hadn’t thought of a name so pretty, so wonderful to him. “I… luhk… yur name. Ish prettuh.” He smiled despite himself, happy to finally know her name. Skie. “Whuh um uhh?” Where am I. How hard could it be to say those simple words?

Skie’s face was nothing like he remembered. Before she was confused, lost. But now she seemed unrecognizably confident, or cocky. Maybe… angry? Royce couldn’t tell. He was much better with robots-

The robots. He remembered screaming, crying, and pain. He remembered a lot of anger and confusion. He choked someone, but… that wasn’t him. Something had come over him, taken his mind and made him a monster. Royce’s eyes watered at the thought.

Rick stepped forward. “Royce, you’ve hurt way too many people today. Almost killed a girl with your bare hands, and murdered another eight with your droids.” Suddenly Rick’s repeater was pointed at Royce’s chest. “Any last words?”

Royce cried a little to himself. “It wasn’t muh. I don know whuh that huppened. Pluz… help me.” This can’t be happening, he thought. I thought I knew these people. Rick was a solid, dependable hunter with a reputation for consistency and predictability. He never would be the type to become vindictive, or get personal about a job. As for Skie… no. She was angry, but she was understanding. Careful. She never sneered.

“Yur not yourshelves.” He said slowly, despite every part of his brain yelling at him to pick up the pace. “It washnt me. Please help.”

“A flicker of hesitation glazed over Rick’s face. “Help you? Why should we? You murdered eight people. Psychotic rage or not, that’s not something you do by accident, not the way you did.”

“It wasn’t me, hunter.” His brain was recovering very quickly, he noticed. A very good thing too, he was running out of time. “I’m careful. I plan things. The last thing I clearly remember was Skie, out here, with a boy. She was about to kill him.”

“We know, you were shouting that before. That’s the reason you went fucking nuts back there.” Royce could tell that both Skie and Rick were losing patience with him, but he couldn’t figure out what went wrong. He wasn’t even making sense to himself; if it wasn’t him, how could it be anyone else? What could have caused him to become a… self-righteous murdering psychopath. Something clicked in Royce’s mind, and all he needed were a couple of pieces of information. Information stored in Skie’s arm.

His eyes glowed and Skie’s arm screen powered on. He flipped through the loads of data he had sent her before about the genetic experiments taking place down in the old city, about the effects it had. The many, many failures and then several successes. Disturbing successes that he, in his hubris, had completely ignored in his hurry to understand why Skie was going to shoot a boy.

“I’ve turned on your monitor, Skie. I’ve already brought up the relevant data about the experiments that the CBI undertook down here. Tell me, did the boy have extraordinary abilities?”

Skie nodded. “Yeah, but how would you know? You’ve been down here all of five minutes.”

“Which ones?” Royce asked. His heart beat faster, and his headache got worse, but the pain was nothing compared to the adrenaline he felt keeping him sharp.

“He could do weird stuff to the brain, force you to do things. He’d been terrorizing the community here for some time, taking in the footsteps of his father who we met at the church. Apparently he had the same powers.” Rick was a sponge being wrung for information. Royce could see he’d rather focus on a problem he could solve than an execution. Dependable to the last, Royce thought.

“Genetically passed down from the father, I expect? Yes, makes sense. So who’s the girl inside?”

“Her name’s Cat.” Skie’s sweet, metallic voice gave Royce hope. “We met her at the church where we… I… murdered her father. She’s been with us ever since.”

Royce grinned. “So the real question is, who was her father? The same once as the boy? If so, I’d like you to take a look at the data on your screen, Skie. There’s something else you have to know about the person with whom you’ve been journeying with thus far.”

Skie stared inquiringly. Royce could see the cogs in her bright head turning as she began to read the screen. Come now, he pleaded inwardly, make the connections. Water the seeds of doubt I’ve planted. It’s not my fault those people died, and it’s not yours either. Her eyes widened, her mouth opened in shock, and she mouthed denial.

“No, she’s… she’s better than this. She’s a girl!” Skie backed away as she checked the screen again, and began to throw off the mind manipulation that Royce knew she was under.

Rick stepped towards her. “Skie, what? Don’t let Royce fool you. He’s a killer, remember?” Don’t worry Rick, Royce thought. I’ll save you next. He propped himself up to a sitting position and took in his surroundings. He didn’t remember the group of buildings in the distance, but the large building at the end of the sprawls must have been the temple of which the two spoke. His droids were probably still in there.

He looked to Rick now. “Rick, do you understand what’s happening here? You were sent down here to look for the horrors from before. Wipe them out, or take one alive for testing, either way the CBI would be pleased. They would be contributing to the safety of the new city. Picture the news: the CBI finds new threat, helps local guild wipe them out. The good publicity would have been astounding, especially considering that the CBI was behind every one of those failures.

“In fact, the CBI must have been; we wiped out every single Adam Son soldier back when the new city was made, or so we were told. Any survivors must have been protected by the CBI.”

Rick stared at the dirt as he tried to process the information. “Okay, so the CBI is rotten. What does that have to do with what you did?” He raised his repeater. “Why am I even still talking to you?”

Royce held his hands up to protect himself. He hadn’t counted on Rick becoming suddenly hostile. Dependability is compromised. Just as he thought he was done, Skie grabbed his arm and pointed the gun down.

She shivered. “Rick, think about it. The CBI has monsters, but they don’t want to waste them. I’ll be the first one to say they’re fucking good at killing people. They’re quiet, can hunt you down for miles, and are fucking fast. You don’t throw that out, you make a way to keep them on a leash. You make someone who can control them.”

Rick shook his head. “Why does that matter? Get to the point. We don’t have all day, every second we spend out here is a second closer to dealing with the freaks.”

Royce could finally see the end in sight. “The controllers are genetic nodes of control, much like myself to my drones. They can influence and heavily suggest normal people as well, but over the ‘freaks’ as you call them, controllers do just that. The horrors do as they are bid, naturally. As you can attest, Cat has many of the genetic trademarks of the controllers that the CBI was working on. In fact, she has all of them.

“The only reason you aren’t dead is because she allowed you to live.”

Rick thought about all the times the monsters attacked. In the church, he stopped Skie by shouting. They survived in the church by hiding in the crypts. He and Skie were lucky when they hid out in the buildings of the village as the monsters passed by.

Monsters were everywhere, but they survived every time. Every time, and there was a village when he no one should be living in the area. How could they? It was infested with monsters. So how did a village actually grow in an area overrun by genetic rejects?

Rejects that could easily have sniffed them out in the crypts. Easily have killed them while they were recovering in the huts. Slaughtered them at any time, really, like so many others. Every time one shuffled near, it left the building alone when other people were found out and killed.

Every time the monsters were near, so was Cat. Not that correlation meant causation, but every time a monster got close, they turned away. They didn’t find them. Was it because Cat was there?

Rick’s mind raced, thinking through what Royce said. It was possible that could control the monsters, but how on earth was that a bad thing? “Royce, even if that’s true, that she can make the monsters do what she wants, how does her keeping us alive make her a problem?”

“You’ve only worked through half the equation, Rick.” Royce, despite being hunched over and barely able to really stand, still oozed confidence, his voice unwavering. Methodical. Planned. “That she saved your life is one thing. Why save your life is another.”

“Because that’s what normal people do, Royce. Look out for one another.” Rick’s mind clung to a stranded thought in a sea of turbulent emotions and conflicting ideas as he tried to work out what Royce and Skie had seemingly already figured out.

Royce shook his head. “Not down here, Rick. Down here, everyone looks out for themselves. You don’t do yourself enough credit. No, you’re much too hard on yourself. What use could a fledgling controller have for a skilled hunter and a motivated, angry killing machine?”

“What are you talking about?” Rick’s head hammered from the internal conflict. “We saved her, we spared her life! Not the other way around.”

“No, Rick. She had us by the balls since we met her.” Skie whispered. “I didn’t hear you shout to stop when I had her by the throat. I just suddenly stopped wanting to kill her, which was weird because I was killing literally everyone else. Cat’s been playing us since the beginning.”

Rick mind was about to split, with one part f him screaming that Royce and Skie were wrong while the other forced him to keep asking questions. He fell to his knees, gripping his aching head. “Why? Why even bother?”

Skie knelt down next to him. “Because when I killed Cat and Damien’s father, only one of the two kids could take his spot as chief asshole of the group. Cat saw us as valuable, got us close, and took us for a ride. We murdered the next highest priest, took out her half brother, and acted as decoys and soldiers for her. We were played, Rick, and she used her powers to do it.”

Rick curled up in a ball, the headache practically causing him to black out. One small shard, one nagging issue, kept bothering him. “Royce, why did you kill those people?”

“I didn’t. Remember that the boy had similar powers; when he was killed, the last thoughts going through his mind would have been of anger, and of revenge. Combined with the shock of seeing Skie kill him in cold blood, I was infused with his need for revenge and violence. Even I didn’t understand what I was doing, let along why. The woman, Cat, did not know I was down here, and when i walked in she tried to solve the new situation by controlling me as she had done with you and Skie. It didn’t work though, since the boy’s leftover suggestions, the shock, and my rebelling against the effects of her powers all came together to make the worst of me.”

Royce hung his head and spoke softly. “If I could change what happened, I would. As it stands though, it seems clear to me that no matter my actions, Cat has been using you as bodyguards and assassins for several days now. Thanks to you, she has overthrown not only her father, but her brother as well. She’s now in charge of the entire commune. She’s no angel, Rick. Cat’s as power hungry as the old CBI, and will stop at nothing to control everyone around her to do what she thinks is right.”

Rick crumpled in a heap and wept as the last of his inner conflict died.

End of Part 27

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 26

Fear and panic coursed through the whole room. Some people fell on the ground crying, clutching their throats, others ran around screaming. Cat’s trauma emanated out into the room in thick, palpable waves, each one washing over Skie like a crashing surf. It was almost too much: all the practice Cat had with her abilities over the past couple of days had made it far easier for her to use them, even if she meant not to.

Skie had never felt like she really liked Cat, but the past couple of days had given Skie a healthy dose of respect for the woman. A woman who, had it not been for a last minute save, would be dead by Skie’s hand. Despite the fact that Cat believed Skie and she had already saved each other, Skie’s guilt over almost killing Cat weighed heavily on her conscious. If there was any time to save Cat, now would be that time.

Straining to maintain her own mind, Skie forced herself to get angry. Angry at Royce, who of all people had given her a new life. Who was currently choking the life out of someone who didn’t deserve to die. Who didn’t understand why he was killing someone, but that something had snapped. Royce wasn’t himself anymore. He was broken, and someone needed to stop him.

“Stop!” She cried over the screams and strangled cries. Before she knew it, her pistol was in hand, aimed directly at Royce and his cruel grey eyes. “Stop it! Let her go, Royce. This isn’t you, you know that!”

Royce turned his cool gaze towards her. Cat’s eyes bulged as her hands lost their grip and lost the strength to keep fighting. Instants later, the waves of panic subsided, and the room became much quieter. Cat had stopped moving.

Skie stood, breathing heavily, with her gun pointed at Royce. He dropped Cat on the floor, who crumpled in an inglorious heap. “You dare point that at me. Me!” Royce spat every word like a poison. “I gave you life, which you waste on murder, on pointless murder. I gave you a voice! I have you a fighting chance in a word that would have you die and this is how I am repaid?!”

He walked over Cat’s body, moving closer towards Skie with heavy tread. Skie gripped her pistol tighter. “You have no idea what you are doing, Royce. That woman saved all these people. That boy wanted to kill them, and he could have done it! He had the same powers, he was too dangerous to keep alive.”

Royce chortled. “Maybe you are too, woman. Maybe you are too dangerous to keep alive. I see it now. I need to shut you down.” Skie panicked, and tried to pull the trigger. Before she could, Royce’s eyes glowed a deep blue green, and by the time she pulled the trigger her gun simply wouldn’t fire. She lifted her arm to hold him at bay, but just as the power field shimmered to life her whole arm, and her shoulder, suddenly felt unbelievably heavy. Skie fell hard on her side.

“What the fuck!” She tried to move but the now useless hunk of metal attached to her body on a nearly molecular level weighed her down. Royce’s burning eyes bored into her, and Skie could see the confused hatred that flamed within him.

“No more, woman. No more fighting. No more murder. My inventions will not be used by crooks!” He screamed, his voice echoing horribly in the ceiling of the building.

“I am on your side, Royce! Whatever you’re doing is-” Skie suddenly couldn’t speak. Her voice vanished, and her throat suddenly felt incredibly cold. She mouthed wordless protest and Royce came up next to her, kneeled down, and looked her in the eyes.

“I don’t even know your name. I don’t care anymore, you see. I thought you were someone else, and I gave you your life back. All I wanted to do was help this old city, but I can see that it turns even the best of us into cold criminals, capable of murdering children. Children!” He slammed the ground next to him, and the stones broke underneath his metal fist. “My hopes for you died when that child did. My hopes for the old city died when the woman tried to assault my mind with her abilities. That this area would break so much of me in so little time is truly remarkable, but now I will break it.”

The three drones glowed with bright blue-green light, and began advancing on the people inside. Screams of fear reverberated in the hall as many ran as far back as possible. With the droids all in front of the only exit now, everyone in the temple was now stuck.

One man stoked his courage and leapt at the nearest drone, which turned instantly and shot a blast of energy at him. The sound of air tearing ripped through the air, and a bolt hit the man on the right side of his chest, vaporizing the right side of his body and leaving the now horribly burnt left side to topple uselessly to the ground. The shouting got worse as people began to truly panic.

Skie’s eyes locked on Royce as he grinned. “I will burn this cesspit into ash, and completely destroy the genetic abominations down here. I will remake this world into a clean one, where I cannot be betrayed.”

Skie could see Rick grabbing his rifle and taking a shot at one of the droids, but the shot exploded before it hit the robot. The robot then turned and murdered several people near Rick, who had just managed to duck out of the way. Another droid stepped over Cat, blasting a few more people.

The guilt she felt now weighed too much. Something had to be done. I am going to punch you so hard you won’t understand what hit you, she thought. She must have mouthed it, because Royce’s look became slightly puzzled.

“I’m sorry? I can’t quite hear you. Oh, that’s right, beca-”

Skie threw her left arm as hard as possible into Royce’s jaw. The contact sent a shock through her whole arm and she felt her fingers scream in pain as one of the bones broke on his jaw. It must have been a good hit though, since Royce flew backwards and slammed his head on the stones.

Feeling came back into her throat and her arm felt normal again. The droids staggered and stopped as their cores dimmed to nothing.

“And fuck you, asshole.” Her shitty voicebox had never sounded so good, and and her anger had never really felt so keen. She stalked over to his prone body. Blood pooled around his head in a small puddle, and his look was glazed and distant. She got close to his ear, so close she could smell his sweat. “You have no idea how much I want to kill you now. How easy it would be. For all the shit you just caused; but I know it’s not you, so I won’t. I’ll even bring you upstairs, get you fixed up, because hey, you saved my life. Now we’re square.” She got up, and just before going to help everyone she whispered to him.

“Oh, and my name is Skie. Not just some woman.”

Rick could hardly believe his luck. Royce’s freakout had cost the lives of at least eight people in the span of only a couple of seconds, and it was undone because Skie got a lucky punch in. He would have been screwed if the assault had gone on any longer.

The people who were hit by the droid blasters were completely gone. Huge chunks of their bodies had vanished, the rest had been charred to a horrible crisp. The stench of burn saturated the air in a miasma that Rick could barely work through. After checking the corpses of a couple of the victims, he gave up on the rest. There was no way to survive a hit like that.

He heard a shout from the front, and remembered in a flash: Cat. He jumped over some of the toppled benches and sped to where she had fallen. He crested an overturned bench and saw Skie holding Cat in her arms.

Skie glanced his way and her eyes shot open. “Rick, what do I do?! I’m not sure she’s breathing or anything either and I need help!”

He came close to Cat, took her body from Skie, and placed her on the ground flat. Moment of truth, he thought, and whether or not these folks survive the wilderness down here. His stomach turned at the possibility of having failed all these people because of a random psychotic breakdown.

His glove came off easily enough, and he touched his two fingers to Cat’s jugular. For a brief second, he felt nothing except a deep pit in his stomach but to his surprise a faint and very light pulse beat still. He checked for breathing, his ear close to Cat’s mouth and looking at her chest. A light wheeze escaped her throat every couple of seconds, but it was so little that Rick was barely sure it existed.

“She has a pulse but it sounds like she’s having a hard time breathing. I’m going to help her out, you be ready to do as I say. Clear?” Skie nodded, and Rick got to work. If he was lucky he remembered how CPR worked, and if he was luckier still, Cat would recover.

Placing the heel of his palm on her chest, Rick pumped her lungs as best he could. The noise of people surrounding him dimmed in the background as he concentrated on helping Cat breathe. One compression after the other, his beleaguered grunting marking the passage of each one. He finally did enough, and breathed deep before doing mouth to mouth. One big breath after another, and her chest did rise and fall. It was going according to plan, except she wasn’t moving.

He placed the palm of his hand back on her chest, and pushed down hard. A sick crack came from Cat’s throat, and she gasped in air, choking on and coughing on it immediately afterwards. Cat would live.

“Holy shit.” Skie smiled with relief. “I wouldn’t have lived it down if she had… you know.”

Rick nodded. “You figure this makes the two of you even?” He remembered the church, what felt like forever ago, when she had nearly killed Cat in exactly the same way.

Cat coughed for a long time, gasping for air in between fits. Eventually she regained her breath and sat still. Once her breathing calmed down, Cat looked up at Rick and Skie.

“I would prefer if the next time I meet people from the overcity that we do not make this a habit.” She wheezed, her brighter nature and relief at having survived flooding the room with much needed positive thoughts. Rick felt happy all the same, but the added emotions Cat poured out made him almost downright giddy. She turned her attention to Royce’s prone body, and her smile disappeared.

“What happened, Rick? Who was this man?”

“Is. He’s still breathing. He was a scientist who hired me to come down here with Skie and figure out the situation down here. Guess he got spooked by something and then… well, I don’t know what the hell happened in his head but yeah, he fucked shit up.”

Cat pondered a moment. “How many are dead?”

Rick counted again in his head. “Eight in total. Completely unable to be saved. Several others were injured as the panic broke out, and I’m not sure what happened in the back with the Lamb prisoners.”

Cat’s head hung heavily. “Those were unnecessary deaths. Rick, Skie, what I am about to ask of you is horrible, but I need you to remove this man from the building. There is no way I can allow him to live under this roof after what he has done.”

Before he could think, Rick nodded. “Yeah. Makes sense. Skie, wanna help me bring him to where you brought the kid?” When Skie nodded, Rick got up and moved over to Royce.

His head had stopped bleeding, though a small puddle stuck his hair to the scalp. His eyes searched for something but never rested on any one thing for too long, dazed and confused. He mumbled incoherently, too softly for Rick to hear.

Rick didn’t care. He grabbed Royce by the arms and dragged him towards the door, with the express intent of leaving him out there.

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 25

Royce did the best he could with the robots and rushed back up the hill, only to see that nothing was happening. The building itself was silent. Long minutes passed as Royce began to think of the possible outcomes of the combat he’d seen. When he saw a robotic glow walk out of the building, he breathed a sigh of relief. When he turned off his computer sight, however, he saw that the woman was escorting a young boy at gun point.

Royce absorbed the information as calmly as he could. He could only think of a couple of reasons why she would be threatening to kill a young boy. Chief among these was maybe the boy was a criminal of some kind, but the small physique of the boy left that hypothesis tattered. He didn’t have enough information. Sliding back down the hill towards his machines, he decided to track her and see what she would do.

The machines had finished building themselves, and positioned themselves around Royce. All three of them were about four feet tall, with three legs and a solitary blue-green core glowing at the top, encased in plating. The plates were oddly misshaped and brown, having been built from using nearby rubble and metals. The plates were relatively unimportant, however, since the cores formed the thinking part of the machine. Each one scanned the terrain, maintaining a near perfect circle of observation around him.By lightly tapping into his arm’s systems he could see what they saw, give commands, anything. The perfect bodyguards.

They clicked up to Royce and stood by, waiting for more commands. Royce moved to follow the woman along the ridge of the hill, just out of sight, and see what she would do.

After walking for about thirty minutes, the two stopped by an old, dead tree. The surrounding area was deserted, a flatland of dust and larger ruined buildings. The wind blew about, chilling Royce. Down where the sun didn’t shine, the cold was an actually significant problem.

The woman knelt, and then pulled out a weapon. A pistol, which she aimed directly at the child. Royce’s brain rattled with the question of why. He couldn’t think of a single reason why this woman would shoot a child. She was going to make a terrible mistake. He ran down the hill, commanding his robots to follow him. His feet felt like they were flailing down in front of him, windmilling as they tried to keep up with where he wanted to be. His guards made their way as quickly as possible, but their spidery legs couldn’t move very quickly. That was a design flaw to fix later, he thought, but right now I have to get her attention.

He grabbed his pistol, aimed to the sky, and fired. One problem he’d never managed to fix with this type of weapon was the sudden expansion of the air where the pistol fired, which caused a very loud, obnoxious, and explosive noise.

A crack echoed over the landscape, and he got the result he wanted; both the woman and the boy turned to look at him. What he didn’t expect was to face down the barrel of her pistol. His heart caught in his chest, and his legs jerked to a sudden stop. This caused him to trip face first into the dirt, the taste of deadened ash and old soil filling his mouth.

“What the fuck? Royce?!” The woman’s voice carried over the distance, which wasn’t so large now. She lowered her weapon and ran over. The boy, bewildered, simply started to sob to himself. Royce got up on his knees and spat the taste out of his mouth, while his drones formed a protective group around him.

“Royce, what the fuck are you doing down here?!” The woman seemed angry, or shocked. Honestly, Royce couldn’t tell. “And what the fuck are those?”

“Didn’t receive a message in some time. I…” He couldn’t think of a good reason why. “I was coming to see what had happened. I needed a report, you see. Nothing out of the ordinary. As for these, they are my guard. I made them myself.”

“That’s nice. So long as they don’t shoot me, I don’t care. Do you have any idea what it’s like down here?” She helped him up. Royce could see her looking him over, making sure he was alright. “I almost shot you, idiot.”

“I realize that was a bit abrupt, but I saw you from a distance with that boy.” He pointed to the sobbing form on the ground not too far away. “I didn’t understand why he needed to be escorted away, much less killed. I need more information.”

The woman’s face stayed cold, indifferent. “There’s too much backstory. Too much ‘information,’ Royce. I was going to do the boy a favour.” The deadness of her voice hit like a splash of cold water, chilling Royce to the core.

“He is a child. I still don’t understand why…”

“That’s my point! You don’t. You won’t, not now. Fuck!” She paced back and forth, looking at the boy, then back to Royce. “Now we’re short on time. You could have heard that sound for kilometers.”

“That was my intention.”

“Great job. You really have no fucking clue what it’s like down here.” She turned and started walking the way she had initially come by. “You better follow me, we won’t last long out here if you don’t.”

What choice did he have? He commanded his droid to follow, and started to chase after her when she stopped abruptly and walked to the boy. Royce stayed where he was, and watched as she spoke, too softly for him to hear. The boy nodded, and she put her hand on his head.

Suddenly, he sensed a buildup in energy from her hand. Before he could stop her, the prosthesis flared with powerfield energy, the blue glow crawling all along her arm until it arrived at her hand. Helpless and unable to stop what was happening, Royce stared as his baby, the arm he spent so long working on, squeezed the boy’s head. In an instant that seemed to take forever, the boy’s head was crushed and scorched before blowing outwards, and if the woman had squeezed an egg. Blood evaporated off the machinery, and the lifeless corpse teetered over, falling into the dirt.

“How… Why….” Royce couldn’t understand.

The woman got up slowly, bowing her head. “You don’t get it. This was mercy, compared to what would have happened if I’d left him.” Her eyes glistened with tears, the first time that Royce had seen her cry. “We have to go now. Bye, kid.” She wiped her tears away and strode up to Royce. “Royce, trust me, we have to go now.”

“I don’t have enough data to make sense of this.” His mind, for the first time in a very, very long time, had gone completely blank. He was at a complete loss of words and things to say.

“We really don’t have time for this right now, Royce. Let’s go-” She grabbed his arm, only to discover that it was hard, and metal. She backed away. “Royce, what happened to your arm?”

Still his mind reeled, but some part of him took hold. His conscious mind took hold, and put the thoughts and feelings of the moment in another compartment to deal with later. For now, the data suggested that this area was not at all safe and he needed to find shelter. Shelter the woman knew to where to find.

He turned to the woman, his indifferent gaze and dispassionate features conquering his whole face. “You wouldn’t understand. Now, we need shelter. I hardly trust you right now, which makes a lot of sense if you think about it. So, please lead the way. I’ll be right behind you.” His drones followed the queues of his unconscious mind and turned directly towards the woman, their cores glowing from the inside.

“What the-”

“Please,” he interrupted, “we don’t have all day and as you said before, ‘we won’t last long.’ so for both our sakes, I suggest you lead the way.” The cores on the droids glowed brightly.

Rick waited in the temple for Skie to come back, his anxiety for her growing minute by minute. The longer she stayed out there, the lower her chances of getting back alive. She knew that, and yet it was taking her far longer than he had anticipated.

The temple itself bustled with commotion. Community members had worked on patching up the holes the Lamb had made in the walls, others still organized the space they had into living spaces. Cat had said there was enough space for everyone to live relatively comfortably, although some things like sanitization and hygiene would be an issue in such a closed area. Not to mention housing the old Lamb members.

Some of them talked as if the entire experience had been a bad dream, and expressed deep regret. Others cried silently refusing to speak. Some few continued to spew their dogma, however, and these were the troublesome ones. Cat had no idea where to put them, or even how to detain them. When Rick asked her why she didn’t just influence them, she said that she’d ‘be no better than the horrible people who did this in the first place.’ Fair enough, he thought, but don’t get comfortable around them anyway.

Just as he was starting to think of different ways to deal with them, the front door pushed open. Rick jumped to his feet: silhouetted in the doorway was Skie, which meant that everything had gone according to plan so far. What he didn’t expect was Royce walking in behind her with three robots in tow.

“Hello, hunter. I decided to check on the work you’ve done.” He stared at the people who had stopped to look at him and his robots. Many of them nervously clutched at nearby weapons they had taken from the Lamb. “Tell me,” he continued, “what you are doing, exactly.”

Rick sensed a cold hardness in Royce’s voice he hadn’t heard before. Although Royce loved to talk, it was a soft hum usually, an almost deliberately controlled tone that was metronomic, pedantic. It was still constant, but a cool defensive undertone made the voice a threatening one.

“Royce, you mind telling me what you’re doing here, exactly? You’re supposed to be in the new city.”

“I hadn’t received a message in quite some time, hunter. I was worried that my faith had been misplaced in you and the woman.” He looked around the room. “So far, I’m quite unsure as to what is happening, and I’d like some answers. Especially after the debacle I saw outside.” He locked his glare on Skie’s back, who had been standing entirely still the whole time she had walked in.

“Debacle?” Rick wasn’t sure he wanted the answer, but he made his way to Skie. “Skie, what happened out there?”

Skie looked at him, her eyes watering. “I… I didn’t think the kid should die all by himself.” Her voice was a whisper, barely loud enough for Rick to hear. “I killed him. I made it quick, so he wouldn’t feel a thing.”

Cat moved forward. “Skie, you showed mercy when we would not. I cannot say I’m pleased with this, personally, but I think you made a correct choice out there. May He pass fair judgement unto Damien.” Cat then looked at Royce.

“I believe you are here because of these two?” She gestured towards Rick and Skie, who had visibly relaxed after Cat spoke to her and turned towards Royce. “These two saved us. Do not be angry with them.”

Royce had never experienced Cat’s powers before, and Rick could see him completely change. He had no idea that his thoughts had been tampered with, infected with the positive energy Cat worked into him.

“Well, alright then, That makes-” suddenly he gripped his head and fell on his knees. “What is happening?!”

Cat continued to move forward slowly, her hands outstretched. “Be calm, friend. There is no need to panic. You are safe here.” She was so close he could touch her.

“No, this… this wasn’t what I was thinking! It doesn’t make sense!” He was shouting, angrily trying to throw off the powerful suggestions Cat was trying to make. Unfortunately, this caused Cat to falter, and a wave of fear and panic pulsed outward. In that moment, Royce broke off the wisps of suggestion, and grabbed Cat by the neck with what appeared to be a robotic arm. The three droids suddenly flared to life and glowed menacingly at Cat as she was picked up off the floor.

Royce brought her close to his face. “What are you doing to me!?” He spat through clenched teeth.

End of Part 25

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 24

Rick came in once the cultists stopped firing on his position, covering the entrance with his rifle carefully. The reek of burnt flesh assaulted his nostrils, the dark inside the temple stopped his vision. He ducked behind what he assumed was a bench, keeping his eye out for anyone coming his way. A shout rang out from the deep of the building, but it was strange.

The shout was Skie’s. There’s no way it could have been anyone else.

Rick carefully got up while scanning for anyone threatening him, but it was for nothing. All the defenders had dropped their weapons and held their hands open to the front of the building. He looked to the front and saw Skie holding the kid, Damien, in one hand and a gun to his head with the other. A grim grin crossed her face as the defenders surrendered.

“Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like you all of you assholes to open the doors. You have some people to answer to.” Skie’s voice shone like a brilliant ray, a welcome sound over the guns cracking and sounds of death from before.

Rick navigated his way to the altar where Skie stood. “Skie, how..?”

“Found the little weed in the corner over there.” She made a vague gesture to an alcove not far from where they were standing. “And I’m really fucking glad that my gamble worked out.”

Rick stared in disbelief as the kid stood there, too panicked to talk. “How’d you know they wouldn’t shoot you?”

Skie shrugged. “I didn’t. I guessed.”

Before Rick could ask what she guessed on, the doors at the front of the building opened up to the rest of the villagers, who barged in. Cat led the front, and the group clubbed the first couple of cultists that were too close to the door before they stopped abruptly.

“Rick?” Cat stepped forward. “Is the fighting done?”

“For now. We still need to figure out what to do with the Lamb who surrendered. Several of them are injured and many are dead, but thanks to Skie, there’s a lot of people to work with.”

Nodding, Cat spoke some orders to the figures closest to her, who started gathering the remaining Lamb together. A couple more words and several members of the community started exploring the temple itself. Rick admired Cat’s seemingly newfound ability to take charge of a situation. Her abilities lent themselves well to leadership.

“Cat, could you come here?” Rick asked.

She nodded, and met Rick, Skie, and Damien on the stage. Although her eyes were kind to Rick, her glare turned icy cold and venomous towards Damien. He didn’t balk at her, but that might have been because of the gun against his head being a bigger threat more than anything.

“Damien.” Cat’s voice was ice, cold and cruel.

“Hello Cat.” Despite his outward appearance, Damien’s voice sounded cool and collected. “It seems I’ve been caught. What will you do with me?”

“Damien, there are many things I would wish upon you.” She wasn’t lying; Rick immediately thought of the same things himself, her ability projecting her desires to everyone around her. Rick had to concentrate to keep himself in check. “There is but one thing that is right, in the eyes of God. It was your father who sacrificed so many to save you. He died in the church to the hands of the one who holds you hostage now, and his pain, though it was great, was brief. I would wish that pain on you, who has betrayed me, cursed the community, and caused the needless deaths of so many.”

“Wait, this shit’s dad was the fuck in the church?” Rick was incredulous. How could he have not made the connection from before? The same nose, the same cruel smile. He should have known they were related.

“Yeah, he was.” Skie’s grin grew. “I noticed about halfway when we were walking with him, and that’s why I gambled on him. I figured if anybody had the ability to rally the remaining Lamb, it’d be the son of one of the leaders.”

Damien stood silently, staring at Cat. The two would not let go of each other’s gaze. “So,” Damien said, “what happens with me after all? Do I wander in exile? Am I forgiven? Or do you just kill me?”

The last couple of words struck a chord in Rick’s mind. Without thinking he drew his repeater on Damien, and almost pulled the trigger before he realized what was happening.

“So close, hunter.” Damien smiled. “It seems you wish me dead, why not just do it?”

Again, Rick’s hand almost pulled the trigger, but he was prepared this time. “You too, huh kid? Cat, you’re not the only one with… gifts.”

Damien’s eyes locked on Cat’s gaze again. Rick could feel the tension between the two as Cat wondered how to deal with the kid, while the kid tried to force someone else to help him take the easy way out.

“How?” Asked Cat, her steely gaze faltering for all of a second.

“Because we’re related. That man, my father, was yours too. He didn’t believe a girl was fit to lead in this wasteland.”

“But my mother-”

“Wasn’t mine, correct. But it was our glorious father’s blessing we received, not your weak mother’s. Your strength comes from him, he who was a soldier all those years ago.” Damien paused, and licked his lips. “He told me the stories. He told me so many amazing stories about the hardships he suffered to live down here. The pain he endured. The life he lived, before you ended it.”

“If what you say is true, Damien, then I am glad to have helped in ending a life of such cruelty. It took someone shocking me out of his grasp to understand what we were doing wrong.” Cat’s calm nature began to come back, he voice padded now with the confidence she lacked before. “That man was as demonic as the monsters he claimed to fight against.”

Rick was absorbed. All of this information helped make so much more sense of Cat, and of why so many people followed the Lamb. It was nothing short of sheer manipulation; it’s not like anyone had much of a choice. If their father had the same abilities as Cat and Damien, it’s not incomprehensible that he would have passed it on in his genes.

“Are you any different, Cat? You just helped slaughter many members of the Lamb that were once friends. For what?” Damien spat angrily., “a barely defendable shelter? Your life is just as meaningless as mine.”

“No. Because I will not make the same mistakes you and your father did. I will not sacrifice innocent lives on the altar of selfishness. I will use the power granted to me by God to better their lives. I have that responsibility. As for you, Damien, death would be far too simple for such a hateful mind.” Cat’s eyes practically glowed blue, he body quaking with rage. “But you are too dangerous to keep here.”

She turned to Skie. “Could you escort him outside the building please? I mean to let him wander. Maybe God will spare him.”

Skie nodded. “Gladly. Let’s go.” She shoved Damien forward, and they walked to the front of the building. The doors shut behind them with a thud. Rick Rubbed his eyes, wondering how on earth this had all worked out. Under most circumstances, he’d consider this a modern miracle. Still, he had been awake far too long with far too little to eat. It was time for some rest.

Skie walked with Damien a good while, the temple growing smaller behind them. They made their way through the buildings, past broken shelters and the grisly remains of those unlucky enough not to have made it to the temple. Onwards the walked, minutes of silence between her and the boy. She had to remember not to go too far, since every moment she spent walking the little shit was another moment she’d have to go backwards.

After a while, they stopped next to an old post, its pointy summit stabbing at the dark sky above. Surrounding the two of them was more or less open expanse, the ruins of larger building dotting the landscape. “This is the end of the road.” Her voice didn’t come across as grim as she would have liked.

Damien stared ahead, silent. He didn’t even try to move.

“Alright, well, see you never. Have fun with the monsters.” The image of long sharp teeth penetrated her mind, only briefly, but it made her think.

“Kid, before I go, I’ve got a question.” Damien turned, and stared at her. His green, awful gaze fixated on her.

“What is it? It’s not like I’m in any rush.”

Skie knelt down in front of him. “Are you scared?”

He laughed. “Scared? Of death? No. Of the demons?” He paused, his bottom lip quivering. “I would rather have liked you shooting me in the temple. I was quite sure I could get the hunter or Cat to do it but…” he trailed off, staring into the distance.

She felt badly for him. Yes, he nearly killed her and yes, he was a horrible monster in sheep’s clothing. Everything up until this point was completely deserved. But the thought of one of those horrors, with blades for hands, too many heads and not enough eyes, was too much. It was too much for a child, even this one.

She raised her pistol to his head. “I can change that. It won’t be the first time I’ve killed a kid in the last little while.”

Damien stared down the barrel, his eyes flicking between Skie’s blue eyes and the gun’s black barrel. Long, awful moments passed as Skie listened to the dead wind throw itself at stones long since defeated. She could feel her arm starting to shake from having to hold the position for so long, and her hair fell annoyingly on her face. Still, she didn’t move.

Slowly, Damien’s head moved, nodding. The tension that was hiding beneath the veneer of cool Skie had build up rose to the surface, causing her stomach to twist and her breath to catch before an all encompassing calm took her. Serene, complete control.

“Bye.” She couldn’t think of anything else to say.

A singular crack echoed over the landscape.

End of Part 24

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 23

The plan was simple. Rick ran through it in his head one more time as he and Skie marched down the middle of the buildings towards the temple. This first part was the most nerve-wracking, since the reaction of the cultists was so important. Did they have long range weaponry? Would they run out to fight the heathens? A lot depended on their overconfidence and sense of self-importance.

“Y’know, Rick? I never would have agreed to a shitty plan like this.” Skie’s usually calm voice oozed smooth confidence. “If it wasn’t for the fact that we were stuck in a small house for the past two days, I probably wouldn’t have.”

“Yeah, we didn’t have much choice, did we?” They really didn’t. They had run out of rations, water was impossible to find, and honestly he was just tired as hell. Almost no sleep meant that everyone was at their wit’s end.

“Hey, listen.” Skie turned her head, fixing her gaze on Rick. “Before we do this, I wanted to say thanks.”

“For what?”

“For taking the job. You could have said no, and you’d be back upstairs, doing whatever you do.”

Rick chuckled. “For the amount of money the guy was offering, I was happy to take the job. Hey, and if we get through this, I’m asking for a raise.”

“Ha! I’m not even paying, so whatever Rick.” They were almost in their position to start, and nothing had gone wrong yet.

“If you’re looking for something to do once we get back up, I was thinking we make a good team.”

Skie stopped, staring at the temple ahead. “You’ve said that before.” A smile broke out on her face. “I’ll think about it.”

Rick brought up his rifle at the ready. “You got your arm workin’, Skie?”

“You bet. Been practicing this whole time. It wasn’t hard once I got the hang of it.” She flicked her mechanical wrist and a glow of blue green formed around her arm, before solidifying into a pointy end. “Time to make some noise.”

A sudden crack of gunfire was the signal for Cat and her teams to move in. They had settled inside the rubble that made the Lamb symbol about an hour before, which would normally have cause most people to panic; Cat concentrated, exuding confidence as hard as she could. She used her gift to keep the people around her calm and happy, and it had worked. Now that the signal had gone off, it was time to see what was going on.

Rick rushed towards the temple, his rifle cracking gunfire that lit the rocks and people he hit. Skie was right behind him, taking potshots at gun wielding Lamb members, causing massive damage to anyone she landed a shot on. When the Lamb started to muster a defense, they melted back behind some rubble on the far corner, and started to make their way around the side of the temple.

Just as planned, the Lamb wrapped around to defend against them.

Cat crouched back down. She stared at the community in front of her. It wasn’t large to begin with, and the recent troubles had seen it grow smaller and smaller. The past couple of days had been the worst; prisoners in their own homes, the unlucky ones dying in unholy ways as demons and Lamb alike did what they pleased with those inside. Some were dragged back to the temple. Anyone the demons got hold of, died horribly. These people were the survivors, and Cat was sad to think at how few there were.

“My friends, now is the time. If we are to survive, we must take the temple and make it our haven. Within it, we can be safe from the demons. Without, we are all damned to the suffering that the Lamb in their ungodly manner, or the hellspawn, would inflict on us. Are we in agreement?”

They all nodded as one. A feeling of power, of unity, and of responsibility filled her completely.

“Then God bless us, as we do what we must to survive.” With that, she and the entire group stood up, and quietly made their way to the temple. Cat had no time to fear what might happen should Skie and Rick fail: it was on them to create enough of a diversion that the community could come to grips with their foe.

Royce got out of his drop pod, and was pleased to see that it had been accurate. He had made sure that he landed close to the last known co-ordinates of the woman, and this filled him with confidence. He took a crate out from the storage compartment in the pod, and opened it.

Several small, round robots clambered from the lip of the crate before jumping down and setting to work gathering materials. Scrap, plastics, and metals were put in a large pile. In a couple of minutes, there’d be enough for the drones to reuse the materials to create new, useful shells and machinery. Royce double checked their programing, and was happy to see that they would be battle ready in about thirty minutes. Record time, as far as he was concerned. This might be an excellent field test.

After checking his maps, Royce determined that the best place to go was up the hill in front of him. After making sure that his robots were working correctly, he decided to scout out the area. As far as he’d read, hills were a great place to do this as they offered superior vision of the area.

As he progressed up the hill, odd sounds were coming from the other side. Cracking, shouting, and other muted noises filled the oddly coloured air around him.

Once he crested the hill, he could see what was causing the noise. Down in the valley below, there was a small settlement, with a stone building at the end. This building was currently under attack by a large force from the front, and two others off the side.

It wasn’t until he used his tech sight that he saw that one of those people had a completely mechanical arm. It glowed.

Royce scampered back down the hill to help speed up his droids. He had work to do.

Skie ducked under another barrage of bullets, before sprinting behind yet another piece of cover. She popped back up and took some shots at an open hole, satisfied when she heard another small explosions and angry shouting.

She saw Rick spraying slugfire into another opening while moving closer to the building. His calm, resourceful mood was in full swing, and every move he made was a calculated one. He ducked back down and waited a second. When nothing fired back at him, he signaled Skie to move in.

Hoisting her pistol, she vaulted over her cover and sprinted low to the ground, using their surprise to move right up against the wall. A couple of the faster Lamb had taken a potshot at her, but she moved too quickly for them and made it safely against the outer wall. Rick sprayed another salvo into the building, which she took as an opportunity to move closer to one of the holes.

She was close enough now to hear them. They shouted angrily, relaying ideas and rough orders, but to Skie it sounded like chaos in there. She turned on the light in her arm, their signal for her next move. Rick blasted the opening closest to her with his Rifle a couple of times, which hit only stone from what she heard. Still, she hoped that pinned her opponents enough for what she was about to do.

Breathe in, breathe out. Focus.

She sprung through the hole, fist first, catching one cultist by surprise on the end of the powerfield that flickered into a blade. It sank into his skull before it exploded into charred chunks. With that, she landed on her feet in the temple.

She spun around to see three other members of the Lamb scrambling to determine what just happened. She leveled her pistol at one on the left, fired, and burst forward to punch another one’s head, spraying skull fragments. The last one of the three tried to shoot, only to have her hand grab him by the throat violently. He choked as she hoisted him into the air, and dragged him into the open area of the church.

The room she stepped into was lit with lanterns of the chemical, an eerie glow bouncing off the walls. Light shone on a number of the Lamb, who were mostly facing the side of the building she had just entered. The choking, dying man in her grasp started going purple before she whipped him at the back of several of the Lamb firing out at Rick. His bones crunched as he slammed into the backs of three other cultists.

Her blood had been pumping before, but now her vision focussed to a point, turning red. The feeling of serene power she had back in the church so long ago came flooding her mind, and now nothing mattered except the extinction of the bastards in front of her.

She closed quickly with one cultist that heard the commotion, a using her sword arm to impale him. His blood hissed as it burned. A smattering of fire pinged just past her head from the left, and she darted behind a pillar, dropping the corpse where it fell.

Terse, panicked shouting echoed throughout the room, mixing with the sounds of gunfire and unsheathed weapons. She couldn’t stay behind the pillar forever as she’d be flanked in no time. She had to move.

Rolling out from behind the stone, she took a couple of shots at some of the silhouettes she saw standing in the candlelight. One found its mark, and the cultist fell with a yell, his shoulder having vanished in a burnt powdered spray. She fell behind a bench, which took several bullets intended for her. She heard angry cursing.

In a low crouch, she moved quickly among the shadows. When the cultists checked where she was, they lined up perfectly. She raised her arm as an orb formed from the palm of her hand and fired directly at them. She managed to hit the hand of the one in front, which erupted in flames before exploding from the sudden heat. The one behind him caught the blaster in the chest, and died before he hit the ground in a cloud of smoke.

She lept forward, her fist now enclosed in a power field, and punched the one with the missing hand in the chest. He flew backwards, knocking over the other two Lamb who had come before hitting his head hard enough to crack stone. The man’s skull squelched against the pillar, painting the wall in crimson paint.

She ducked into an alcove as people shot the dark from where the attacks had come from, but bumped into something. She turned her pistol expecting to see another cultist.

At the end of the levelled barrel sat Damien, crouched in a corner.

End of Part 23

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 21, 22

The two overcity dwellers slept as the townsfolk hid in their buildings, the roaming Lamb and monsters making venturing out a difficult process since the battle. One group roamed to bully and cow the people living in their homes, killing anyone they deemed was unworthy of the Lamb. The other group massacred anyone out at the wrong time. The area reeked of fear and stress; it didn’t help that the threat was realized every couple of hours in a chorus of screams and shouts, suddenly drowned out in a sickening crunch or percussive blasts.

Cat poked her head out the doorway to check if the coast was clear. Once she was satisfied with her safety, she made a quick sprint across several clearings, ducked around a low wall, and slid into the doorway of another house where several of her friends waited. Cat noticed the bodies of Rick and the demon woman, their chests slowly rising and lowering as they slept.

A young man caught her in an embrace, which she returned warmly. “Cat! We prayed for your return. How good it is to see you once more.” His full, brilliant smile cut through the somber light filtering into the shack they stood in. A young girl with rich brown hair and an old man, late in the eve of his life, both stood up to join the embrace.

“Thank you friends. I am thankful you all live.” Cat meant it. Of all times in the Undercity, where living day to day was questionable to begin with, it was particularly questionable now. She broke from the embrace and looked over at Rick and the woman. How are our two guests? They seem to be resting.”

The old man nodded. “Yep. The man’s sleepin’ like the dead, the woman though been havin’ a frightful time o’ it. She keeps tossin’ and turnin’ all restless like.” He paused, and scratched his chin. “She’s better right now though. Hasn’t moved in a bit.”

Cat nodded. “That is good, Elm. Thank you.”

The others began to speak to her, but she could barely hear them as the sound of a groan escaping Rick’s lips overpowered her attention. She dropped down close to Rick as his eyes cracked open.

“Wha… Ow…” As Rick tried to get up, Cat pushed him back down.

“Rick, you are in no position to move. You have suffered a severe injury to your head and need rest.” Rick gently fell back onto the dirt floor

“How… alive..?”

“Not now. Rest. You will have your answers later.” Cat saw Rick nod and fall back asleep almost instantly. She breathed a sigh of relief: the worst had passed. Rick was likely going to be okay. Suddenly, something grabbed her sleeve and tugged on it, insistently trying to get her attention.

“Hey Cat. Mind telling me what happened?” The sweet, alien voice of the demon woman sang lightly through the dull, dirty air. “All I remember was getting shot and… I think I punched something so hard it exploded.”

Cat laughed. “You fought bravely. You’re also the first person to face one of those monsters and live, as far as we know, and are lucky to be alive.” Checking the woman’s face, Cat saw nothing out of the ordinary. She gently touched the woman’s forehead, which felt slightly warm to the touch. Nothing to worry about. “Could you turn over please? I need to check your bullet wound.”

The woman nodded and did her best to roll over, groaning in pain as she did so. Cat peeled off the suit she wore to reveal the wound on the woman’s shoulder. “How does it feel?” Cat asked.

“It hurts. It’s better than before though. What’d you do to it?”

The answer was not forthcoming. Cat searched through her clothes for the tool she sought: a sharp blade. “I will explain later. Stay still, please” With that, she slashed her palm, blood running from the wound. She raised her palm above the woman’s wound and squeezed tightly, causing blood to drip directly below onto the woman’s shoulder.

The woman sucked in a hiss of air, letting out slowly through her teeth. “That really fucking stings! What was that?” The woman tried to roll over, but Cat held her down fast.

“It is simply to heal. You need some more rest, and should go to sleep.”

“I feel fine, achey at worst.” Suddenly she got up, and stared at the wound on Cat’s hand. “What are you using to treat our wounds, Cat? Please tell me-”

“I can explain, truly. Please, calm down…”

“Calm down?!” The woman at least had the good sense to whisper, but Cat could tell she was disturbed. This needed to stop. “You just dripped…”

Cat concentrated as hard as she could, praying that the woman would simply get tired. Would feel the need to rest. With every passing moment, the woman’s eyes drooped, her posture slacked, and eventually she fell back on the floor in a deep sleep.

“Thank you, Lord. Please watch over us, and deliver us from our hardship.” Cat desperately hoped that the two of them would be well soon; with all the rest and care they were getting, that should be the case. She glanced at her hand, and the wound had already sealed and scabbed. Her gift, she called it, was a diving blessing. God would answer her prayers, God would heal her wounds, and God had blessed her blood to heal others. She hoped her two newer friends would understand.

Royce gulped down the rest of his coffee, concentrating even harder on the screen in front of him. Lists of movements, maps, and potential strategies flew through his mind as he tried to assimilate it all. He knew he was smart and a quick learner, but military strategy was not something he had ever studied before. This was all new territory to him, and he did his best to compute everything he was downloading.

His new arm modifications had some surprising effects; for one, because it was linked to his neural pathways, he knew that his brain could access and use the functions inherently in the machine, which were varied. What Royce didn’t count on, however, was the ability to access knowledge in his brain, compute and process the information in the megacomputer on his arm, and send it back to him. He had hoped that the mind-machine relationship would be useful, but hadn’t expected it to be quite to effective. As a result, his progress with learning his newfound abilities was quickly expanding.

He had anticipated being able to control machines and networks near him. He had planned on using it to shut down the director’s heart, overwhelm the security forces of the building, and cement his position in the CBI before anything could be done to stop him. Now, as everything had gone to plan thusfar, Royce had the somewhat more daunting task of actually doing what he had set out to do; clean up the mess of the last generation. Remake Toronto into the amazing city it could be.

“Why stop at Toronto…” His mind reeled at the possibilities for Canada. The world. He could rebuild the whole world with this kind of technology at his disposal. A central intelligence controlling a whole nation affecting unit of technology, capable of realizing a singular vision. “First things first, though.” Fix the problem here, at home. The rest can wait.

He was calm about almost everything right now. The justified repossession of the CBI, the wild success of his pet project, the creation of his potentially world altering technologies, none of these had really affected him emotionally. Excited, to be sure, but not disturbed or worried.

No, the only thing that caused worry right now was the distinct lack of communication from the woman. He hadn’t heard anything in a couple of days now, which was far longer than any gap in communication previous to now. Although he didn’t want to assume the worst, this lack of communication disturbed him more than anything else at the moment.

Why this woman occupied so much of his thought now with her task more or less done was becoming something of a mystery. He had no idea why this one person, despite the fact she had a beautiful machine for an arm, still made him worry so much. He should be accustomed to losing a small investment, taking a slight loss in time or resources. Testing and science was a business founded on calculated risks and loss management. She was a calculated risk, a gamble on resources that paid off in dividends. In the short span of time she was down there, her arm had sent loads of interesting data confirming the accuracy of the maps he had access to, the strength and capabilities of the technology on her, and she was the first person to field test, successfully, he added with satisfaction, the power field technologies now embedded in his arm. She had also helped to piece together and solve the riddle of what CBI was initially doing down in the old city, providing useful eye witness confirmation of the monstrosities down there.

Still he thought about her. Data be damned, he couldn’t stop. Royce worried, incessantly; where was she? Was she safe? He shook his head. Surely, he considered, there must be a reasonable explanation for all this. Yet nothing logical came to mind.

Her hair. He piercing blue eyes. Her perfect voice. He didn’t even know her name, and yet she cropped back up any minute his mind wandered.

“The only logical thing to do is check for myself. Yes. Yes that’s right.” He looked at his maps, charting a course and making a new set of preparations.

He was going to find the woman himself. To stop worrying, he concluded, it’s best to just solve the problem yourself.

Rick woke with the mother of all headaches, to the point where he could barely open his eyes. Even the pitiful amount of light in the old city was enough to hurt his eyes, but he needed to know where he was.He sat up, only to have someone push him down. Dirty, long blonde hair and cloudy eyes hovered over him.

“Cat, where are we?” His throat hurt, dry and caked in dust, and every word he choked out sounded like a dying man.

“Not now, Rick. Quiet.” Rick felt a deep seated fear in him, and stayed deathly still.

He concentrated and tried to absorb his surroundings. He lay on a dirt floor, and was surrounded by walls. Skie lay beside him, breathing softly, as Cat and three other members of the village sat and waited. Just as he was about to ask why, he heard a shuffling outside, the soft padding of leathery callouses on rough dirt. Whatever it was outside, it moved with a severe limp, each uneven step accompanied by another one. It sounded like whatever it was moved very awkwardly, the shuffle step punctuated only by low growls and the sound of dripping fluids on dry soil.

It passed by the left of him, breathing heavily. Rick could make out an unmistakable stench of gut rotted meat, sweat, and dried blood. It was almost enough to cause him to gag, but he kept it in control for fear of it giving them all away.

The sound of shuffling continued to veer away from them. Rick breathed lightly, trying his best not to make any sound.

Rick started in surprised when the far off wail of a baby cried a way off behind where he was. The shuffling stopped, and suddenly an uneven thudding bolted past the place where they were hiding. A roar of broken metal assaulted his ears as it mingled with the cries of more than just the baby, and the sounds of butchery started. In seconds, all the screaming and shouting had died out.

Rick swore under his breath. He looked to his right and made sure Skie was still asleep, which she was. Looking at her shoulder, he saw a wound on her back, but it was mostly healed. He didn’t remember how she had gotten it… or how he had wound up here, for that matter. The last thing he remembered was Cat getting slapped, hard, and then he was here, hiding from the horrors again.

In all his years as a hunter, this mission took the cake for most fucked up shit in an outing. He was used to recovering samples, doing reconnaissance, and taking out problematic gangs. Whatever this was, was something entirely different. He had never had to deal with this much crap before, even when fighting was inevitable. The risk of death was something he had accepted in his line of work, and had worked through the fears associated with that risk. He knew how to use that fear, give him an edge and a focus that most people didn’t. What he felt now was panic, pure and simple, the keen point of fear being replaced by the mind consuming alarm he felt now.

Breathe in, breathe out. Maybe Skie had the right idea after all.

Royce checked his gear once over. He was positive he had what was necessary: some basic plating, a weapon, some rations. Staying in the old city for a long time was not a part of the plan, so anything more would have been a waste. He also decided to field test some newer technologies that had only been prototypes until now; force field shields and blaster among them. He tested the systems in his arm, everything running properly and according to plan. It was time.

He hoisted a small crate under his arm, and strode out of the lab. There was work to be done, and a drop pod to catch.

Cat watched over the woman carefully, making sure she was comfortable and relaxed while sleeping. There was nothing worse than having her wake up and get angry at a time like this. The monsters still stalked the street, and way too many people had lost their lives to the demons outside.

Her skin crawled with anxiety, though she did her best to not think about her fears. Bravery, she thought, I must show bravery. Remaining calm as the interim leader of her little group was very important because it set the tone for how everyone would act. If she was calm, so would everyone else.

That was always the case with her, even as she was growing up. She had no parents growing up; her father had never come to claim responsibility, and her mother had died in childbirth. Cat was raised by the group, and quickly became friends with them. When she cried, they cried with her. When she laughed, the mood brightened. Cat was a born leader, always setting the tone of a situation. Everyone around her reflected how she felt. It was a marvelous thing when everything was going well, since as long as she was happy people around her were happy as well. She learned early on, however, that if she was ever afraid or unhappy, everyone around her would be the same.

She also had God on her side, and could command others if need be. If she prayed hard enough, God would answer her prayers and people would do what she asked. It was an awful thing to ask God to do, since she didn’t feel worthy of his boon to her. For one person to have the power of divinity on her side, and force others to obey? She tried her best not to use it save when it was necessary. Sometimes, she didn’t even need to pray: God would listen to her thoughts and force someone to things she didn’t like.

Cat listened carefully, and couldn’t hear any demons outside. Once she was convinced that nothing was listening, she sat down next to Rick, who was lying on the ground. She laid a hand on him, and his eyes flicked open.

“Rick, I need to ask your forgiveness.” she said softly.

“For what? As far as I know, you’ve saved my life.” His voice was still rough, dirty, but it sounded better than before, less strained. “I don’t know what from, but I’m going to guess the motherfuckers outside had something to do with it.”

Cat shook her head. “No, I didn’t do much to save you. It was the woman who did that.”

“Her name’s Skie. She… I don’t remember when she told me, but she did.” He paused, his face frowning in consternation. “Cat, what happened?”

Cat told him what happened when she brought them in front of the temple, to meet with Ora, Damien’s betrayal, the subsequent fight. How the woman… Skie, had saved him and killed one of the demons on her own to protect him. “Skie did enough that we could get to you both, and we’ve been in hiding since.”

“That’s… okay, let’s deal with one thing at a time. Why are you sorry? It sounds like you did your part in saving my ass, which I’m thankful for.”

Cat rung her hands. “Because I feel like I made you attack Ora. I was so angry and spiteful after his words, and Damien’s betrayal, that I just… I wanted him dead.”


“Since I was a little girl, God gave me the ability to influence people around me. Whenever I am happy, angry, or sad, people around me are the same. And sometimes… sometimes, I can make people do things if I pray to God hard enough.” She paused, feeling of guilt overriding everything else. She wished to disappear, become invisible.

“Cat, I’ve seen a lot of weird shit since I’ve been down here, but mind control or forced emotions like that aren’t possible.”

“But Rick, it has been like this my whole life! What else could it be, but God granting me his favour?”

Rick shook his head. “Cat, I don’t know. What I do know is that you heal ridiculously fast, you seem to have heightened physical abilities… these are usually symptoms of something called genetic modification. Do you know what that means?”


Rick sat up next to her. “Okay. Back during the War that created this mess, the Sons of Adam, a radical group in the States that took power and started the war, were obsessed with creating a perfect world. A world where, honestly, they had all the control. They dabbled in a lot of science and started messing with DNA. Follow me so far?”

Cat understood most of it. “DNA?”

Rick nodded. “DNA is what determines a lot of how we look like, our height, our eyes… but the Sons of Adam wanted a perfect super human leading their armies. Way before the war started, they gained access to scientists and researched how to make a new breed of human. Quicker healing, super strength, the list was a long one but they figured out a way to customize their soldiers like that.

“Thing is, even when the Sons of Adam had burned their way through most of southern Canada, they didn’t know what would happen to their pet projects if they ever tried to… well, make more little people. Reproduce. The stories go that it wasn’t possible but we never found out for sure because we never let the leftover soldiers into our cities. If any of them survived, they probably died out years ago due to the harsh conditions here.

“The things is, Cat, you seem to have a lot of those powers. With whatever’s been down here, between all the weird chemicals and shit, you should look a lot more like the old guy in the corner there.” Rick waved at the old man, who smiled a toothless smile back.

“Ever since you and I had our chat in the church, I’ve had ideas floating around in my head about it. When you narrowly didn’t get choked to death, your neck should have had massive, ugly bruises. Instead, your neck was perfectly fine. You didn’t flinch at the cold when we passed underneath the freeze exhaust of the new city. If you could do weird brain shit, it wouldn’t be the weirdest thing I’ve seen since I started this crazy journey.”

Cat’s mind reeled at the possibilities. “But… I grew up alone. I did not know my mother, she died giving birth to me and… Rick, I do not know.” She turned away as tears welled up in her eyes. “Even if what you are saying is true, it is my fault that the fight broke out and you almost died. That is what I am sorry for.”

Rick’s hand squeezed her shoulder gently. “Don’t worry about it. As far as I’m concerned I’m alive, so whatever. Focussing on the problem at hand is a better use of my time. Right now, it seems that we’re stuck in here and, if I’m not mistaken, we need to get into the temple before we can mount anything worth talking about. Cat, how’s Skie doing?”

Cat didn’t know how to feel about the woman. She was… turbulent. Violent. But evil? Wrong? She couldn’t say. The woman had almost killed her, but that violence had been a revelation, reminding her of the horrible actions she had done in the name of saving her community. In a sense, she owed her new path to the woman.

“She… she is fine. She was hit by a bullet in the left shoulder, which we had to take out. I’ve been healing her since.”

Concern crept into Rick’s voice. “How. It’s important to tell me how.”

“I… I used God’s boon. My blood has healing properties…” Cat drifted off, feeling unsure about everything. Was it God who gave her these gifts? Or was she just another monster? She tried to stay positive, but she felt despair creep into her heart, its heavy claws digging in.

Rick crept over to Skie and checked her shoulder for himself. After a brief period, he turned to the group in the corner. “Do any of you have my pack? I’ve got a med kit in there I need.” The group looked around, found a pack, and gave it to Rick. Nodding thanks, he opened it and set to work on Skie’s shoulder.

With the flashlight in his pack, he took a good look at the wound. It had almost completely closed now, and most of the scabbing had completely fallen off. He grabbed a blood sampler, and took some blood to test. Skie groaned, but stayed fast asleep as a small trickle of blood leaked from where he had taken the sample. Rick padded it dry with a disinfecting cloth, and began to analyze the sample with his visor computer.

Miraculously, the visor hadn’t broken from the head injury. He linked it with the blood sampler and checked the data. Almost everything checked out as normal, with no signs of infection. He also learned her blood type, A+, and that she had an iron deficiency. Rick relaxed as he discarded the needle from the sampler, and applied a bandage to her shoulder.

“Whatever you did Cat, it worked. Skie is as healthy as she can be.” He paused, thinking. “Cat, do you mind if I take a sample of your blood? I need to know something.”

Rick waited for a response, but Cat didn’t so much as move. The room’s mood had significantly darkened alongside her own, and Rick could feel a gray hopelessness trying to settle on his mind.

“Cat, Now’s not the time. I can…” He stopped, trying to think of a way to phrase the ridiculousness of it all. “I can feel your shitty mood and it needs to stop. Focus on me.”

She turned to face him, her eyes red and shot. “Rick, I do not know what to think right now. I cannot help it; I feel as if my life has been turned upside down.” She sniffled, and causing a wave of sadness to permeate Rick’s mind and body. “Am I just the byproduct of a monster? Am I unnatural?”

Rick felt sadness from her, but his own frustration grounded him. “Cat, I need you to focus. Whatever this is isn’t important right now. It’s one thing if you don’t want me to take a blood sample, but all this other shit won’t help fix the problem that we’re outside of the only fortifiable building within a hundred kilometers, and we need to get in. We aren’t doing that unless you’re in the right mindset, because everyone else in this town relies on you. Look at your friends in the corner!

“They’re huddled in a corner, worried for their lives. You need to grow a spine, and be strong for them. Because if you don’t, we’re all doomed.”

Cat stared at the wall, unblinking.

Skie roused from her sleep just as she heard Cat crying softly. “Wass happened?”

Rick flashed a really bright light in her eyes, which hurt. The world hurt a lot less than the last time she remembered it, but that light needed to shut the fuck off.

“Rick, my eyes are fine. Leave me alone.” When her eyes readjusted to the darkness, she saw Cat not to far to her left and three other people in a far corner of the room silently weeping. Skie didn’t know why, but she felt upset too. As if she really badly wanted to cry. Why, though, was an excellent question, she thought. I’m alive, I should be thrilled as hell.

“Why are we all crying?”

“Not a good time to ask,” Rick replied, “she’s having an existential crisis of sorts, and I’m too frustrated to deal with it.”

Skie pondered the information and thought better than to dig any more than that. “Okay, so where are we? What’s going on?”

Rick scratched his head. “Well, we’re outside the temple, and there are monsters everywhere that are roaming the place. The temple is the only defendable place for miles, and we’re not in it.” He started drawing shapes in the sand as he spoke, shapes that turned into a layout of the area. “I’d like to be in there before any more of the monsters show up and cause issues.”

Skie nodded. “So, where are we right now?”

Rick jabbed a small square in the middle of the map. “We’re right here, from what I can gather. I peeked outside once or twice. Between the monsters and the occasional Lamb, it’s not risk free, so I’m not completely sure. Still, it’s the best guess we have.”

“Okay, that’s fine. So what’s the plan?”

Rick glanced at Cat. “What I want is to rally together in a big group and assault the place, but Cat’s in no mood for it. Which is actually a big deal, turns out.”

“Why? Can’t we just get everyone to go?”

He shook his head. “Not quite. Cat’s… well, we had a chat. Turns out that she’s special. She can mess with heads, to a degree. If she’s feeling up for something, we’re guaranteed to get everyone in the community in on it. If she isn’t a part of it, then we’re not guaranteed to have everyone.”

“And if we don’t have everyone, then we’re fucked is what you’re saying.”

“Yep. Pretty much.” Rick slumped, his mood darkening considerably.

Skie got up in a crouch and shuffled over to Cat, who still seemed dazed and out of it. She placed her still human hand on Cat’s. “Hey. What’s wrong?”

Cat turned her head, her face half hidden behind a curtain of hair. “I do not understand what I am anymore. Rick told me about DNA, and genetics, and he thinks I might be the byproduct of evil and war. I thought I was God’s child, and now I do not know. I… I cannot…” She buried her face in her hands, shuddering.

Skie remembered her mother, giving advice to all those people years ago. “Look, I’m not the God type. My mom was though, and she was a… a help giver. No matter what, she believed that God was a force for good, and would be there for everyone who did their best to better the lives of others. It was like trading; if you did something right by someone else, they’d look out for you and so would God.

“When I was younger I got into fights a lot. People started doing wrong, and I made sure they got even. When my mom found out, she didn’t call me a horrible person or anything. She was disappointed, like really fucking pissed that I was beating people up, but when she found out why I was doing it she laughed. She then told me something really nice.

“She said that God looks at what you do, not where you came from. So, I always try to do right by that. Even if I don’t believe in a god, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t care why you are the way you are, so long as you try to do what’s right.”

Cat sat quietly, listening to everything. When Skie had finished, Cat wiped her nose on her sleeve, and stood up.

“Rick,” Cat started, “what do you need me to do?”

Rick turned around, and smiled. He motioned everyone to look down at the dirt, and started making his plans.

See Mom, Skie thought, I can help without punching shit too.

End of Parts 21, 22

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | Parts 19, 20

Rick had seconds to make a plan. They were in the middle of what they had for a town square: not a spec of cover in sight. To his left he saw a row of upturned tables and rocks that made a great place to advance. Not too far behind him, he remembered there being the stones that made the symbol of the Lamb, which would do in a pinch for picking stuff off from afar. With the citizenry safely inside the buildings, he thought that made the best plan; let the woman, Skie, do her thing on the front lines while he supported her from behind.

He pointed to the rocks next to the door. “You go there. Wait ‘til you’ve got their asses!” She nodded, and bolted for the cover and the hiding spot. Rick spotted Cat on the ground, still nursing her face where she was slapped. Rick ran forward and grabbed her by the arm, shaking Cat out of whatever place her mind was in.

“Rick, we have to go!” She cried, suddenly getting to her feet and running towards the town buildings. “They’re all in there in preparation for our arrival!”

Rick ran after her. “I can fucking hear that Cat, get to safety! Skie and I have this covered, you make sure everyone else is alright.” He broke off from her path to slide behind cover. He brought up his rifle and covered the door, waiting patiently for the first idiot to walk through.

It seemed like they were taking ages, which caused his mind to wander. Why on earth had he shot the man? Ora maybe? he thought. Still, he couldn’t remember why he suddenly lit him up, the sharp memory of the slugs hitting home replaying constantly. It wasn’t regret he felt, Ora was fucking bastard who didn’t really deserve to live. He could tell that much from the little bit that he had met the man. No, what he felt was confusion as to his own state of mind. Rick was used to knowing what he was thinking at almost all times, a job like his necessitated it really. But at the time he felt an overwhelming anger, like nothing else he’d ever felt.

Still, that didn’t matter right now. He had a situation that needed solving, with preferably less dead people this time. Granted, if it wasn’t for that kid…

A swell of heat rose in him and coloured his vision just as the first member of the Lamb ran out of the temple. His head completely overtook all Rick’s vision. Rick could hear his pulse slowly thump in his ear as he squeezed the trigger and saw the head in his sights explode in charred crimson, and topple out of his scope. Another two members took the place of the first, their weapons searching for the hunter.

The look of surprise on his target’s face when they realized where he was lasted a moment before it caved inwards in a plume of blood. The second ducked behind the pillars of the temple. Five more members spilled from the temple, their weapons firing. Rick ducked behind cover, and moved along to the right to get a better angle on his attackers. Bullets sang above where he was moments before, smashing into the dirt behind or the rubble in front. Rick heard several shouts, and the telltale sound of people running closer to him. Rick pulled out his repeater and vaulted over the wall, taking aim at the first two bodies he could see. Their robes caught fire as slug after slug tore into their unprotected chests. They fell over as Rick rolled from his landing and shot another one in the back as they tried to turn, sending the body toppling face first into the dirt.

Rick got up and leapt backwards over the stones, but not before taking a shot to the shoulder. The shot screwed up Rick’s momentum, and he landed hard on his now wounded shoulder. So much for that arm, he thought as he put his back to the rocks and waiting for the hail of fire to subside. Dull aches permeated his shoulder, but he could barely feel his arm at all. The bullet punched into his armor but didn’t make it through, which was a good sign.

He peeked to see the enemy, and was rewarded with another smattering of gunfire; still, he saw what he needed to. There were about ten of them outside the temple, and still more inside waiting to see what would happen out in the square. It was up to the woman, Skie, to do some work and divert their attention.

Skie listened carefully to the fight going on just beyond her meagre cover. A rattling of slugs, smashing stone, the thump of bodies hitting the floor. Rick was pissing them off, that much was for sure. He definitely knew how to fight when he needed to, she reckoned. Granted, that was his job, so she sure hoped he knew how to handle himself.

Still, it had been a couple of seconds since she’d heard slug fire. He was pinned, and that was her cue. She could try to take them by surprise from the side.

She booted up her wrist module and looked to the power field settings, her eyes skimming. None of the options looked super prevalent right now, she thought. Just as she was about to leave it well enough alone, she spied the ‘auto’ setting. “Royce said I would need practice with it, but what a better time than in an actual fight?” She hit the button, and starting moving behind her cover towards the temple.

Peeking out from the rocks, she saw a group of five of the bastards moving towards where Rick was. The remaining five close to where she was stood by the door, their backs to her, covering their comrades.

It was now or never.

Pulling out her hand cannon, she barreled forward, blasting the furthest enemy in their back, blowing a burnt crater in their lower spine. Before the nearest one could react, she reached out with her prosthesis to grab them by the neck. Her hand clenched, a sickening crunch ending their life. Skie threw the corpse at the nearest one, their reaction time being just too slow to doge the morbid missile. As they slammed to the ground, Skie brought her cannon to bear on another member.

A bullet tore into her left shoulder, lancing her mind with pain. Her vision went red with blazing agony, as she dropped her cannon, leaving her disarmed. Except… she brought her hand to bear on the attacker. She imagined her arm turning into a blaster, and tried to fire on her attacker.

Nothing happened. In that moment, that long agonizing moment, Skie was certain her life was over.

The front of the cultists face blew out in a gory mess, and the smell of burnt flesh filled the air in front of her. She didn’t hesitate, grabbed her cannon, and broke for her cover just as another bullet found its mark in her mechanical shoulder. The projectile flattened harmlessly and fell into the dirt. She dove and found safety just as several more bullets chipped stone and tore up the soil where she was.

She took a moment to look at her wound. Despite the pain, she was happy that her shoulder plating had taken the brunt of the attack, The bullet wasn’t too far in, and would come out easily later, when there was time to deal with the blood. For the moment, it was a better plug anything she had on hand. Still, it was a great deal of pain to raise her arm, making it impractical to rely on her left hand.

The blaster didn’t work as intended, so she decided that ‘auto’ needed more practice than maybe a couple of seconds of wishful thinking. She changed the settings, and her arm glowed a light blue with a point on the end. ‘Sword’ mode.

Her speed was her greatest asset. She could move faster than anyone, and so long as Rick kept up the pressure, she could cut through them like so much paper. The memory of the red hot stone fueled her morbid curiosity to see what would happen to someone struck with the blade.

Rick just managed to make out that Skie had made it safely behind cover again. The bodies of several more cultists littered the ground, and the rich blood had mixed into the soil in the square. It was a bloodbath.

He had never been in large fights like this before. Between all of his missions, he’s had to subdue maybe a couple bandits at a time, but this was something new. There was an adrenaline here that he had never experienced before. His veins hummed to the tune of the battle, and his mind was murky with fear, yet resolute knowing his ultimate goal. Every time he stood up and blasted another cultist he risked being shot, but every dead body was one step closer to intimidating them into stopping altogether. Or maybe just another dead body in another long line of them. He had no way of knowing for sure.

Rick knew that in the short term, though, he had to keep pressure off of Skie to give her the time she needed to recuperate and get back in the action. He brought up the repeater with a click, and burst out of cover.

He powered into a sprint, making for the archway of the temple. A spray of slug fire caught one cultist across the chest, and he slid underneath a volley of fire. Sliding to one knee, he took aim and blasted another cultist, sending them flailing back into the stones. Just when he was going to get to his feet, something heavy hit him in the back of the head.

The last thing Rick remembered was the feel and taste of sand in his mouth as he hit the ground hard.

Skie got up just in time to see one of the cultists slam a large rock across the back of Rick’s head. The shock of seeing him get taken out paled in comparison to the bloodlust that immediately flowed through her tired limbs.

“No.” She could no longer feel the pain in her shoulder as it was dulled by the serene anger she felt. Suddenly, all that was in her sight was the attacker, the rock in his hand. The tens of other cultists in the temple. Damien’s shitty little face. That was too much, she raged, to get to this point and have it be ended by that little fuckwit.

She broke into a run, leaping over a body, sliding underneath the clumsily thrown rock. Leaping out of the slide, she punched her hand into the man’s gut.

A sudden mess came out of him as his gut blew apart from the change in temperature and pressure caused by the power field blade. Skie spun around and swung again at his head. It split, sending vitae and skull fragments across the area. She was drenched, but had no mind to heed it. Sounds and cries came from the temple as more targets took positions around the area. One voice in particular, a high pitched boyish wail, caught her attention.

“You!” she shouted, bolting towards the temple. Shots flew by her, another one caught her prosthesis as she readied it, and none of it mattered. She plunged the sword into one exploding ribcage, leaping towards another fucker and shoving her fist directly into his mouth before the top of their head popped. Someone tried to bring a candlestick down on her, but it was caught by her arm, causing it to split into two slagged metal sticks.

Still, there were too many. Another one came from behind and threw a rock which slammed into her back. She fell forward, and caught the ground with her hands just as something else hit her in the side. She flipped over to see a ground of three of the bastards surrounding her, with more coming.

Just as they raised their weapons to finish her off, something blurred past them. In an instant of confusion, a large claw tore through one of their midsections, and split the fucker in half. Behind the toppling torso was a face, grotesque, with blaring pustules for eyes and bleeding gums for teeth. The other two cultists brought their weapons on the monster, but it leapt at them with a claw for an arm. She heard screams just above her head, and felt a warm spray of blood.

Shaking off the daze of her injuries, she got onto her knees. The battlefield was a butchery, and now the monsters were here to make the most of the carnage. She turned around to see gums-for-teeth trying to stuff half a person in its mouth, its slobbering gums drenching the robes of its meal in caustic blood. Screaming and shouting came from the temple.

She crawled away slowly, keeping the currently meal-happy monster in her sight. Just as she was about to run away, the temple door slammed to her right. She stopped, her heart skipped, and she couldn’t breathe. The monster turned around slowly, it’s large, round bulk rotating to see what caused the noise. It was staring directly at her.

Seconds passed, with her not breathing and the monster still staring. Sweat tickled down her brow, and her lungs screamed in pain as they begged for air. Still she wouldn’t dare take a breath. She was as good as dead should that happen.

A screech from in front of her pierced the air as a wiry creature with three long arms leapt up on the stone, and tried to grab one of the body parts near the rotund abomination, who turned around and neatly knocked it into the wall. The abomination then raised his sword arm up, and brought it down in a sickening crunch amidst the wails of the monster, who was still screaming. It went up and down over, and over, and the monster on the receiving end eventually stopped screaming after one sickening crunch.

Skie was so enthralled, and so scared, she hardly realized the opportunity she had. She got up, and took stock of her surroundings. There was the temple, which was full of murderers and assholes, or the open square and Rick… if he was even still alive.

Still, she couldn’t leave him out here. That would guarantee his death.

She broke into a dead run towards Rick’s body as if a horde of the monsters were behind her; for all she knew, that was the case. Once she got to Rick, she got down and grabbed him underneath the shoulder. A groan escaped his lips, and hope flared in Skie’s mind. A shout, like metal on metal mixed with thunder, came from the temple, and there was no doubt in Skie’s mind as to what was doing the shouting.

Dragging Rick like a heavy sack, she made for the nearest building as the monster lumbered towards her, the sound of its heavy club feet coming closer and closer. The distance between her and the building she was aiming for was seemingly getting longer and longer as the monster came closer and closer. She was running out of time. In her frantic get away, she suddenly came to a sobering conclusion; she wasn’t going to make it.

She dropped Rick, only a few feet from the door of the nearest building, and turned around to see the monster right in front of her. Its rank breath defied all sense of smell, a turbulent gut rotten smell of cadavers and corpses. Blood flew out of it’s diseased mouth as it jumped at her, mouth wide open, its pus filled eyes popping out in anticipation. Its dark abyss of a mouth promised a horrible death.

She brought her fist back, and let loose a haymaker towards the monster’s face. Just as her punch was about to land, it suddenly covered itself in the blue green glow of a power field.

The monster’s eyes popped as her fist literally blew apart its face. The combined power of her mechanical punch, the power field, and the momentum of the beast forced her punch through the back of the monster, causing an explosion of gore to completely surround her. Body parts simply flew away from the quickly expanding explosion, a blossom of bone and gristle, of blood and pus.

The sound of flesh ripping itself apart and of all the bones in its body breaking filled the air, and the world turned red. Just like that, the monster was no more.

Skie fell to her hands and knees as she blinked away the blood. Her fist hummed pleasantly in the silence afterwards, and was the only thing completely spotless in the carnage. Her heart pounded, her breathing was heavy, and she was incredibly aware that she was still very much alive.

A scrape of metal on stone came from her right as a doorway opened. She heard a voice call out to her, but she was numb to the sound. She collapsed and almost hit the ground before several hands stopped her from hitting the dirt. All at once, the pain in her left shoulder, the burn in every muscle in her body, and the recoil in the bone and tissue surrounding her prosthesis overcame her.

She passed out just as she felt someone dragging her through the doorway, and into darkness.

“Dr. Camrata, we will not negotiate with you. You have conducted a hostile takeover of a notional corporation! That is an act of treason, do you understand?” The vid screen showed a woman, purple in the face with fury and indignation.

“Minister, I did no such thing.” Royce slipped into his computer, dragged the necessary files to the front of his mind, and sent the found data over. “What you see here are all the illegal actions of my predecessor. In these files are detailed reports of hundreds of missions condoning illegal experimentation. Horrible, horrible things really. There’s an awful amount of genetic… rewiring, yes.”

Fury turned to disgust in the moments that followed. She spent several minutes looking over the reports, and her visage turned more dour with every passing moment.

“This is horrible, and had we been made aware of this… monstrous activity, we would have intervened.” The woman looked up from her other display with the reports. “That does not excuse your actions, doctor. You still are charged with treason, at the very least!”

Royce shook his head. “No, no. This… this is all wrong. I expected something of a different reaction. All I want to do is run this organization the way it is meant to be run, minister. The more I read about the imperfections and dirty nature of this place, the more I needed to fix and clean that. You do realize that’s true? That there was a need to clean the CBI of corruption?”

“Corruption is one thing. Terrorism is another, doctor.”

“Is it?” Royce sat forward in his chair and knit his fingers together. “Had I been acting under your instructions, we would not be having this conversation. Not at all. I would be praised right now, and the CBI would be moving forwards, upwards, to a better future without the empty threats and potential loss of life.”

“You have already killed several people, including the director!” The woman on the vid screen shook, from rage or fear Royce could not guess.

“Necessary. You would have done the same thing, I expect. Yes. You would need to. Unless…” His vision slipped into his computer world once more as he sifted through data. Eventually he found was he was looking for. “Oh, it seems you knew the director quite well. Too well.” He copied the data and sent a copy to the woman. As she opened the files, her face fell.

“How did you find these?”

“It’s no matter. What does matter is that you are implicated in all this. In fact…” Taking another look, he found a few more files, copied them, and sent a copy to her again. “You could be directly tied to all of the previous director’s wrongdoings. Turning a blind eye to his tests, his ugly and brutal tests. That’s no good, no good at all.”

She looked down, her shoulders slumped in defeat. “No one can no about this, doctor. It was supposed to help usher in our golden age, our rebirth.”

Royce did not smile. It was unfortunate he had to resort to this base form of convincing people to work with you, but it seemed easiest. “We can still do that. Let me continue to run the CBI, and we can build something better, safer, and cleaner for everyone. We can make the old city a new place for everyone to live.”

The minister sat in silence as the clock in Royce’s new office ticked on. After a long time, she nodded her head. Royce was disgusted with how low he had to strike a blow to make this work, but work it did.

“Alright. Thank you minister. This’ll turn out for the better, you’ll see. I’ll be sending hourly reports, as per our agreement.” Royce turned off the screen. Although the methods used were not to his liking, Royce had effectively kept the government off his back. Instead, they’d be working with him. This will make things much easier, he thought as he marched his way out of the office. As he stepped through the door, two tripodal robots flanked his sides an guarded him on his way down to his labs. Their porcelain white plates clicked along the floor, and their big, scanning eyes glowed blue from within as they searched the environs for dangers of any kind. Royce was quite pleased with how they turned out, to be honest.

Once in his lab, he sat down at his chair and let out a big sigh. It had been a long number of hours, and things had already changed for the better. Security detail was now completely controlled by him, a legion of machines. The scientists in the building were back to work, and now the government was off his back. He grabbed his cup of coffee and drank some before spitting it out.

It was glacially cold.

Unimpressed with his old coffee, he made himself a new cup and checked his messages for anything from the woman.

In the many, many hours he’d been away, no report. Worry crept into Royce’s mind, and he immediately began composing a message.

End of Parts 20, 21