I apologize in advance, this entry it’s a long one. I hadn’t been able to write as regularly as I would have liked, so all these parts are stuffed into one.
It was a night that wouldn’t end. The sounds from above continued unabated for many hours. The stress and the tension was too much for Cat, who passed out shortly after she curled up on the floor. Rick had decided to stay up with the woman, to take over the bracing duties. Like switching the guard, he said; but the woman would have none of it. She stopped the door, unmoving, for hours on end. Even when the noises from upstairs had stopped, she stood against the door.
So she stood now, alone against the door. She had told Rick to catch up on the sleep he was missing. He reluctantly agreed, and was now sleeping. It’s a good thing he didn’t snore, she remarked. That could have disastrous consequences for something so small.
She turned and sat with her back against the door, her gaze drifting over the two sleepers. Rick contentedly slept while the cultist – the girl, she corrected – tossed fitfully. Little wonder, after what she’d just been through and in whose company she slept. Considering what the woman had pulled off, it’s a miracle she fell asleep at all. The thought of being killed while sleeping would have kept the woman up all night, and it had.
She was surprised when her right arm made a slight thrum, and the monitor on the forearm lit up. The display had a message from Royce, asking for an update on the mission. What was interesting was what Royce had written afterwards.
“Arm has now been updated with new features. Play around with settings. Software should activate power fields and a short range map database. Sorry for not getting it all installed before you left, not enough time to create the software. WARNING: do not activate power field while pointing at people. Can cause serious harm. -Royce.”
She grinned. a mapping database would prove invaluable while traversing the broken landscape. She opened up the software and began exploring the map, which were framework three dimensional schematics of the infrastructure that used to be there. She could even update the map, and edit it, with any significant differences she found. With surprise, she found that there was a rudimentary navigation system as well. No more relying on Rick’s ‘mental maps. Short lived as they were, it was a happy thought that they’d have something more reliable to work with.
The second aspect, the power field, was far more curious. There were two sections: a settings tab and an activate button. She had no idea what the activation would do, so she looked at the setting first. A virtual reconstruction of her arm floated in the middle of the display, with various things floating around. She read them, trying to grasp their meaning: sword, fist, blast, and light. A couple of other settings, auto and safety, were discreetly put in the bottom corner of the screen.
“We’ve been busy.” she purred, deciding which one to try first. Pointing her arm away from her, she tapped the ‘sword’ setting expecting a sword to pop out of her fist. She shook her head and chuckled when tapping the button did absolutely nothing at all. Looking back at the screen, she noticed the activate button. “How do you forget to push the power button?” A quick tap on the screen and a blue-green light erupted from the end of the prosthetic, terminating at a point about two feet from the end of her hand. It let out a soft, almost imperceptible hum. Making to touch it with her left hand, she brought the sword close to test it immediately shut off when it was brought close to her hand. She moved her hand away, and the light returned.
“Okay, let’s try you on something else.” She stabbed towards the ground, and the light bounced off the stone as if it were a real sword. The point where the beam touch the rocks had gone briefly red, and turned black, as if the stone had briefly become molten for all of an instant. The woman turned off the sword mode, and briefly experimented with the other settings.
The blaster mode enveloped her forearm in the same glowing light, making a cannon shape. The same soft hum emanated from her now outstretched arm as before. “Okay, maybe don’t test the cannon inside a stone grave room with who knows what out there.” Fist mode did something similar, but only enveloped her hand. What was interesting was how the light flowed specifically around her hand like a glove, surrounding each finger.
“Okay, easy enough to understand.” Fist mode was deactivated, and all that remained was ‘light’ to test. Once it was selected, she tapped the activate button. The whole room was flooded now with a softer, lighter shade of the blue green light from before, enveloping the whole room in a comfortable and soothing brightness.
After a couple of seconds being completely absorbed in the light, she realized she might wake the other two and disabled the light. Happy with her find and Royce’s work, she made a message out to him.
“Super cool. Real maps are awesome. Thanks for the super light stuff. What is auto and safety?” She didn’t want to let him know what had happened yet, since they weren’t quite out of the woods as far as the monsters upstairs were concerned. After waiting for a while, she got an answer:
“Great. Be careful, that’s very dangerous tech. Really. ‘Auto’ will let you ‘think’ the modes and activations, rather than having to tap it in. It’ll take some practice controlling it. Safety ensures you can’t hurt yourself. I’ve included the option to turn it off only if a situation calls for it. You can only do it manually, it requires a voice command from you or Rick. -Royce.”
Something in her stirred, a feeling of power. A wish to use it. Her mind turned towards the monsters upstairs, and for once, she didn’t feel paralyzed. Still, it was foolish: there were too many. She could test it outside later, once they were free from the church. The arm fell by her side, the horrible sounds from upstairs faded, and she continued to count the seconds as she finally fell to sleep.
Rick woke from a deep, untroubled sleep. This was surprising because he wasn’t normally in the habit of sleeping well while hiding in a crypt, surrounded by man eating monsters. Still, he felt a lot better and stretched. Glancing around the room, he could see that the cultist was still asleep, though not shaking and crying. Which was a nice change, he thought, and suited him just fine. He saw that the woman had passed out against the door, and was snoring softly. Chuckling, he packed up his things and ate some of his rations by the light of his flashlight.
The cultist woke up not too long after with a start and, with a panicked look in her eye, patted herself on her arms, her face, and looked down at her legs.
“You are, unbelievably, alive. Lucky you.” Rick took a moment to gauge her reaction, which was satisfyingly one of great relief. She began to laugh, only to catch herself and laugh inwardly. When she stopped, she clasped her hands together, and looked to the ceiling.
She spoke very softly, and Rick had to strain to hear. “Thank you God for sparing me. Thank you for your test.” She paused a moment to think, and then continued, “And although I am confused as to the forms your salvation takes, thank you for the overlanders.” She bowed her head, and then moved over to Rick.
“I am sorry for how I was last night. I was so scared.” Her voice was slightly raspy, airy. Light. She moved next to Rick and hugged him, which he, in turn, thought was incredibly weird and uncomfortable.
“Yeah, um, could you not do that?” He pushed her away. “You being in a sacrificial cult still weirds me the fuck out.”
Her head sank, and it seemed to Rick that she physically had shrunk. “I… I understand.” The cultist got up and started walking away so pathetically that Rick felt a pang of regret.
“You name is Cat, right?” She turned around and nodded, her hair hiding half her face in a cascade of dirty, muddy blonde. Rick patted the stones next to him. “C’mere. Why don’t you tell me what was between you and that cult, yeah? I’d like to know.”
Cat moved slowly to the stones, and sat down. Rick scrutinized her now: her posture was nearly perfect, her hands delicate, and her face unscarred. This made little sense in contrast to her cloak which was definitely made out of broken and torn clothing. Her boots, thin and crappy, matched her pants which were full of holes, showing pale skin beneath. Nothing about this girl made sense, he realized. It’s as if a princess was shoved into a shit hole.
“Last night was… I can’t thank you enough.” She smiled, and Rick couldn’t help notice that her teeth were perfect, her smile was perfect, and nothing was even slightly abnormal for this girl. There was too much perfect.
“That’s fine. I’d be lying if I said it was purely from the bottom of my heart.” Rick did his best to seem serious, disinterested, but Cat was just… amazing. He couldn’t help feeling that, despite how easy it would be just to look at her non-stop, that something was awfully fishy about her looks. “Cat, I need to know; why the cult? You…” He hesitated as he tried to get the wording right. “You don’t seem like the type of girl who lives down here, let alone joins a cult with a habit of sacrificing people.”
Cat looked away, her face hidden by shadows. “I was with those people because I thought it was the right thing to do.” She spoke in whispers, which RIck strained to hear. “I now see differently. Last night has changed me.”
RIck leaned in a little bit. “How so,” he asked, “have a sudden career change in mind?”
She turned back to him, her eyes watering slightly. “It’s not that simple. Things down here are different than from where you must come from. Surely you know this?”
Rick nodded. “Yeah. I work down here sometimes, so I’ve seen some shit. Why this, though? Why even bother with these clowns?”
Cat turned inward for a moment, as if collecting her thoughts. Rick could hear the wind blowing outside the church, violently whipping across an already flagellated city. A groan escaped from the heavy doors upstairs, before they slammed shut. Cat didn’t flinch, concentrating instead on what had happened to this point.
Her voice wavered slightly as she began. “It’s desperate down here; you know this. Food is scarce, support from the overcity is almost non-existent, and violence claims far too much. Our lives are lived every day as a blessing to the only one who hears us and gives: God.” Cat’s voice strengthened, and grew more confident. “Not everyone worships God here, but some do. We find our comfort in Him and our work for Him. Communities are built for Him, and we are thankful. We work hard for ourselves, and our lives are richer for it. Faith in God keeps us together, and alive.
“But, times have gotten harder” Darkness and sadness stained her voice like blood on a white cloth. “Some people, myself included, began to despair when the demons came. We, the community, live not too far from here. When people began to disappear, we became worried. When the corpses were found, mutilated almost beyond recognition, we wailed. We prayed for forgiveness, for what else could cause such pain than an angry god? Our supposed answer came from a group called The Lamb.”
“The Lamb, eh? What answers did they give?” Rick listened keenly, trying to absorb all the necessary information.
“Many, and none at all. The Lamb did give us reasons for why things happened, and in our darkest hour we grasped at the hand they offered. They claimed that God, in his fury, had damned us. Condemned us to death, at the hands of His demons. To prove our faith in Him, they said, we must sacrifice our own in a holy place far from the community; and so, our group volunteered a sacrifice. Eeric. He was old, but a good man. He gave his life to the Lamb to see the community safe. The Lamb took him away from us, and for the first time in weeks we slept with no incident. It seemed God was appeased.
“The Lamb were heralded as saviours. They had spoken the truth, and we were hopeful once more. It was not meant to last, however, and the demons returned. The Lamb gained influence again, and almost immediately another sacrifice volunteered their life. Once more, it worked. In this way, the Lamb grew in influence, and to disagree with them was to disagree with those who were saving the town many times over.
“Things turned dark, then. The Lamb recruited and gained followers, and effectively took over the community. Either you were with them, or against them. For the sake of my family, and because I was blinded by fear, I chose to side with the Lamb rather than spend life damned.
“That was why I joined the ‘clowns,’ Rick. I felt that i was damned if I did not. But,” her eyes looked up directly into RIck’s, her flawless hand falling gently on to his, “I can see clearly now. Last night, my life was spared thanks to you and your friend!”
Rick scoffed. “You do realize she almost choked you to death, right? Tends to leave an impression.”
She shook her head. “She was in a life or death situation. She did not mean to, and does not require forgiveness.” Cat smiled again, and Rick swore he could feel his heart beating faster.
Cat looked down again, and took back her hand. “I don’t like that everyone had to die. God frowns on violence, He loves the life he gives to us. Still, He who is good battles against evil every day.”
Rick could see Cat’s internal struggle with the woman. She was partially the reason why everyone in the crypt was alive, but she almost murdered Cat in cold blood as well. Not to mention she successfully killed at least four other cultists in front of her eyes.
“You’re not the only ones being attacked by the monsters, Cat.” Rick gestured towards the sleeping form in front of the door. “The woman there was attacked, and barely lived. She lost her arm, and her throat, in the attack. Whatever it was that attacked her shouldn’t exist down here from what we know in the New City.
“I’m not sure about demons, but these monsters are the reason we’re here. My job was to come down here, and see if the monsters exist. After what I saw last night though, it seems we have no choice but to accept that something’s fucked up. We were attacked by trees, surprised by the cultists, and trapped by the monsters we thought couldn’t exist.”
“What now? Is your job done?” Cat looked as if the world had fallen out from under her.
“No. The job’s messed. At first we thought there was one monster, so we could capture it or kill it. Problem solved; but we know there’s a lot more than that now. A scary amount more.” He got into a crouch and started packing his equipment up, getting ready to move. “We can’t solve the whole problem here, but we can at least help your group out. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Cat threw her arms around him, and that’s when Rick noticed something off. Her neck was unbruised, unblemished. Which, he realized, shouldn’t be the case if a raging, blood-lust powered person had choked you half to death with a robotic arm capable of shattering bones.
Royce sipped at his coffee, contemplating the information he had begun to unearth over the course of his investigation. First, he had to consider the information he had accrued from the Woman and her travels with the hunter, which admittedly wasn’t much. That she had been attacked by trees defied the imagination. Past that, he’d heard very little save the questions that she asked about her new updates.
He was glad they were still alive, but he had no idea in what condition they were in. This left him perturbed more than anything. He sipped from his coffee again, and spun to his other monitor, where he had been researching what the CBI had their databanks. In here, he found markedly more information of interest.
For starters, the CBI had been sending in teams of scientists in covert operations to the old city since the end of the war, chemists and biologists specifically. This told Royce two things: first, there was something that needed to be done as soon as possible, and it involved the weaponry that was used against the old city.
When the Sons of Adam attacked, they softened up their targets by seeping the area in a specialized chemical that could burn for an excessive period of time. This allowed them to bomb targets with an unquenchable fire, leaving many areas almost permanently unusable for the immediate future. In time, this chemical would dissipate and the fire would burn out.
Royce had initially guessed that the biologists were present to ascertain the nature of the damage to the ecosystem and what the chemical could do to biological matter in the long term. Over the course of his research, however, he found something far more curious. The chemists, and indeed some biologists, were sent out to do exactly as he’d hypothesized. The mission logs of several hundred smaller missions were proof of this, but many other mission reports were studying something completely different. What puzzled Royce, and intrigued him, was that he had no idea what they were looking for.
He let out a tired sigh, and pushed off from his desk to spin neatly into another one. His lab was large, and equipped with a great deal of useful robotics and chambers. Still, Royce’s time was mostly concentrated around the computers scattered about the lab, where he ran simulations, conducted remote experiments in other labs in the complex, and did his own research using the CBI networks.
The computer whirred back to life as his fingers glided over the keys, bringing him to deeper and darker corners of the network. His mind continued to process data: biological tests, subjects. The subjects were brought back to the facility, where they were put through a ringer of data collection techniques. Results poured in from the examinations of the subjects, confirmations were made, hypotheses proved. Hours passed as he continued to absorb information, taking breaks only to stretch and maintain hygiene.
After hours of analysis and research, he had a clearer picture of what the CBI was doing down in the depths of the old city. The data painted a picture of a desperate pursuit for forbidden knowledge, a tempting fruit that had been hanging on the tree for science to grab and guzzle with abandon.
At one time, the knowledge wasn’t unknown. The Sons of Adam, the army that started the third and greatest war the Americas had seen, had gained control of the United States. How, it seems, is more vague: unfair votes, terrorism, and fear all played a huge part in their rise to power. In their hunger for more of the same, they trod a path towards a specific kind of science; genetic manipulation and enhancement. To their credit, Royce thought, they succeeded where no one the world over had. During their war, they used this knowledge to create super soldiers, exceptional versions of the human race. Between their propensity for chemical warfare and the genetic super soldiers that made up their armies, they burned the Americas in the fury of their ideology and the power of their science. The Sons of Adam had burned their science into the very ground they tried to conquer. That is what the CBI was trying to uncover.
Royce sat back in his chair, cradling yet another warm coffee in his hands. Knowing the history of this branch of science, he felt a distinct unease come over him. The CBI’s records show that the knowledge is being used to undo a lot of the damage the manipulated genetics had on species affected, everything from wildlife to crops; but records aren’t everything, Royce reminded himself, and this kind of knowledge had led to a cataclysm for the Canadian people.
He pushed himself back to the terminal he used to work on his pet project. He typed a message to the woman, asking her for more information about her situation. Although Royce had a great idea as to what the CBI might be after, he couldn’t make a solid conclusion based on circumstance and assumptions. He needed proof of involvement with genetic tampering; if that could indeed be proved, then he’d have the perfect excuse for his own plans to be set in motion.
The woman awoke to someone shaking her shoulder. Her eyes blearily cracked open. “I’m sorry I passed out,” she said, the voice box betraying none of the exhaustion she felt. She pushed herself up, and checked to see who had woken her.
The girl, Cat, knelt by her. “Hello. I am glad that you are awake! Rick says that it is time to go.”
“Is that so?” She saw Rick shouldering his bag over his coat. Everything else he had used must have been packed. Seeing as she hadn’t even opened her sack, she was practically ready to roll out as well. “Where are we headed?”
“To the community I live in. It’s about an hour’s walk from here.”
The woman shook off the last of her sleep, and turned on her map. The screen showed her where she was and the area around her. Cat’s eyes turned into saucers, taking in everything that she saw. After a second or two of studying what the surroundings of the area were like, the woman turned the map off and grabbed her stuff.
Remembering why they were in the crypt in the first place, she listened at the door. The sounds from the previous night were gone, replaced instead by a slow howl of wind and dusty echoes. She turned back to Rick, who was ready to go.
“Mornin’ miss. Hope you slept well.” Rick’s voice wasn’t full of it’s usual chipper self, instead sounding slightly worried.
“Yeah, weirdly.” She wasn’t really in the mood for conversation with RIck right now, but the fact that he sounded off bothered her. “We ready to go?”
Cat and Rick both nodded. The woman slowly opened the door, and crept out to scout ahead, her gun at the ready. As she turned the stairs and looked out across the deep, dark room, she realized she couldn’t see a thing. She raised her arm, and turned out light mode.
Blood stains covered the floor of the church in gobs, marbling the stone with the life fluid of the corpses that had been there. In the center of the circle where the candles had burned down to nothing, the corpse of the sacrificial man lay in tatters. His ribcage was exposed, and his chest had been emptied. Gore and fleshy chunks covered his face, which was half missing, and his neck, and his legs had been broken in two to get at his bone marrow. He only had one hand left, and even then it was partially consumed.
She recoiled on instinct, only to bump into the cadaver of the bald man who had fared a similar fate. She passed her hand over the room and saw the remains of the other bodies, each in a state of devastation like the man in the middle. The cultist whom the woman had slammed into the ground was the worst off: nothing of the head, save the skull, remained. The skull itself was shattered, broken like a dropped vase, the base barely hanging on to the base of the neck by a string of chewed muscle and nerves.
“Turn it off, lady.” Rick came from behind her and turned her around. “Just turn it off. Let’s get out of here.”
The woman nodded, turned off light mode, and crossed the room. The sound of her boots sticking to the floor made her feel ill as she did her best to forget that their blood was what was causing the sound. The blood she had helped spill.
She shoved open the door, and walked into the eerie, every present twilight of the Undercity, and out of the dark of the murderous crypts.
End of Parts 12, 13, 14, and 15