Story Time

Slow Show: for Julian

julian 2

My brother.

Julian is, without a doubt, impossible to read. To use a tired quote, he is a riddle wrapped in  an enigma. When you hang out with him in person, he treats you exactly like he treats everyone else around him. His easygoing attitude seems at odds with his seeming indifference, an unlikely juxtaposition between feeling at peace and friendly while also giving everyone the cold shoulder.

There are very few people with whom this is not the case, and who get to know Julian fully and well. I feel I am not one of these people, but I’d like to try to share what I know.

Even though it’s noon, the basement is dark and somber. Shafts of light from the small windows nearby break through the gloom, floating dust statically staying still as if the beams of day had frozen them in place. A futon lies in the middle of the floor. Someone is curled up in a ball, their head buried in the covers. Julian.

Soft music plays from his computer nearby. I don’t know the band, but I like the sound; it takes a minute for me to register it’s indie rock. Honest, earnest music, like a good friend in a bad time.

I ask him if he’s alright.

He grunts.

I leave. Not much else to do; trying to talk to him right now would be like talking to a stone.

It’s fact that Julian feels quite deeply. Despite this, and I have no idea where he learned how, the man has a poker face that’s hard to beat. Talking to someone he likes and to a person he hates, you would barely be able to tell the difference. Most people would be passive aggressive, sarcastic, something. Julian? Nothing.

Even when you’re alone with him, the most he has to say about anyone in private is that they’re some expletive or another, and that’s that. Thing is, Julian is incredibly good at walls. He’s all the tougher and tenacious for it, sure; but sometimes I wonder what else is going on in that head of his.

My nails are chewed down to a stub, two of them are bleeding. It stings a little, but I don’t care. I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack, but I’ll have no idea that’s what it is until 4 years later.

“Yo.” Julian walks in through the doorway, carrying his laptop. He sets up across the table from me, plugs in Jimmers (his computer), and boots up Heroes of Newerth.

“Hey. You playing HoN?”

He grabs a handful of jelly beans from a Costco sized bag of Jelly Bellies.


He knows something is up, but as per usual, he doesn’t talk. The voices of strangers blare from his speakers; apparently, someone else had called a character and is calling them a little bitch. Charming.

“Hey man, chill,” Julian says through a mouthful of candy, “it’s just a game. Let’s settle down, take it easy.”

The jerk on the other end calls Julian a couple of colourful words not fit for print, and leaves the game.

“How does this not piss you off?” I ask.

Shaking his head, he tells me that it does piss him off.

“But what the hell am I gonna do about it,” he adds, “It’s not like bitching about it will change much.” He grabs another jelly bean, and tells the rest of his team to get their shit together.

An hour later, he ends up winning.

Julian joined the Navy a couple of years ago now. His practical nature and quick wit made him some easy friends and were instrumental in successfully  passing his officer training; either through study, or through convincing the people training him that their test was hot trash.

I know my own brother half as well as I’d like, but I know the important stuff. He’s kind, brave, and practical. He’ll do anything for someone he cares about, and is quick to defend those he deems worthy. Rolling with the punches comes naturally to the man, and he’s just as quick to dish it out when it does something useful.

More importantly than all that, Julian is a good man. I suppose that’s all that I need to know, and knowing more wouldn’t change a thing.

A chill wind blows past me, a bitter English February evening in London, as I walk down the street towards home.

I’d just lost my teaching position at the primary school I’d been working at for six weeks. I wasn’t even allowed to say goodbye to my class; just a quick meeting with the head teacher and bam. Out on my ass, looking for more supply work.

A gust whips at my face, but through the comfortable numbness of oncoming depression and my very scruffy beard, I barely feel a thing. My iPhone plays away, the music turning from the game remix I’d been listening to for the past few minutes into something I’d forgotten about.

It takes me a minute to realize it’s indie rock. I instantly think of Julian, and I recognize the tune from the basement. It had been at least half a decade since then. Since then, Julian had recovered from a terrible memory. Since then, Julian had become an officer in the Navy. Since then, Julian had started seeing a wonderful girl, and was now happier than I’d ever seen him.

I whisper under my breath, “Slow Show.” It’s a song by the National, a group I know Julian liked a lot. I’ve no idea if he still likes them, or anything, but I know he listened to this song once, when he needed a good friend in a bad time.

Thinking about Julian fills me with a sigh, and I start walking with renewed energy. I smile, and think: it’s not like bitching will change much, right?


dark hallwayThis is the story of one brave (?) boy and his need to go to the bathroom.

The boy lay in the bed, sleeping soundly. His chest rose. It fell. It rose again. The rhythm of a slow pulse, in and out, the coming and going of waves on the shore. Unexpectedly, a sharp intake of air and his eyes, blurry from sleep, cracked open. He was awake, and dimly aware of  one of the most basic needs; the need to go pee.

The nightlight at the far end of his room shone a comforting light, a sunlike glow across the warm peach painted walls and the soft carpet floor.

First things first, under the bed. The boy carefully got to the side of the bed, and like Spiderman hung his head carefully over the edge of the bed. Unlike Spiderman, he realized he did not have sticky hands and began to slip, causing him to scramble for a handhold anywhere on the loose duvet, which of course he didn’t find. A short tumble later, the boy was secure of two things:

  1. No monster under the bed.
  2. He was very awake.

Carefully picking himself back up to avoid the creaky parts of the floor, the boy snuck across the floor of his room to the door bordering his land, and the land of his brother. He guided the door open slowly. The door made all the noise in the world, much his chagrin, but his little brother slept soundly… for now.

Still, the boy knew what to do. He had a lot of practice with these floorboards, the hardwood a path of solid and creaky places to walk. Imagining himself a dashing adventurer, like Indiana Jones, the boy tip toed across the floor avoiding the noisy spaces like his heroes avoided the trapped squares.

*creaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaak* went the floor.

The boy stood stock still. Halfway to the door on the opposite side of the room, and he made the loudest noise he possibly could have, practically thunderous. His brother would surely wake up.

As luck would have it, the brother slept along, and the boy stood still for a whole minute listening to his brother breathe. Just to make sure. Couldn’t be too careful around sleeping people, he thought. When the coast was clear, the boy made sure to be more careful while stepping around.

After carefully navigating the rest of the room with all the agility of a heavy set sumo wrestler on tip toe, the boy finally made it to the door. This part, however, was tricky. Very tricky.

This part had the Dark.darkness-7

On the other side of this door was a long hallway, where the brother’s room was on one end and the parents on the other, both on the long wall. Next to the bedroom the boy stood in was the washroom, not more than 3 feet distance. One small step for man, but several small steps for the boy. During the day, this wasn’t a problem, but at night… the risk was great.

Down the hall, at the very end, lived the Dark. Again, no issues during the day; the Dark had to hide in the closet hidden in the wall next to the parent’s bedroom. This was fine, the boy thought, except it didn’t stay there. At night, the Dark left the closet and swallowed the end of the hall whole, creating nothing but pitch black emptiness there. The boy gently peeked around the door frame, just his eyes, to see if the coast was clear. It was not.

Even in the briefest second, the boy could tell the Dark saw him, and turned its unknowable being his way. It was aware; not only that, the boy could tell the Dark was famished, too.

The boy hadn’t seen the Dark eat anyone. He didn’t need to, because it was obvious to him what the Dark would do to you. The boy broke into a slight panic. He felt very uncomfortably hot all of a sudden, and his palms began to sweat. Unseen eyes stared at him through the walls, making his skin crawl. It was waiting for him.

With all the care he could muster, the boy pulled the door open again, edging towards the boundaries between where it was safe and where he knew it wasn’t. The moonlight from the window across him lazily illuminated the area in front of him, showing the short-but-altogether-too-long distance between him and the washroom door. Sneaking a peek leftwards again, the boy could see the Dark preparing to move. It already lapped greedily at the moonlight, like a cat licking a bowl of milk. Still, its eyes were set on the boy. and the boy knew that once he’d made his move, he’d have to be fast.

Breathing deeply, skin crawling, the boy counted to three in his head. On one, he locked eyes with the bathroom door. On two, he checked the end of the hall to make sure the Dark was staying still. On three, he made a break for it.

He dared not look back as he practically lept to the washroom, and slammed the door behind him. He wasn’t sure, but the boy thought he heard the silent whisper of shadows slashing at the door. After a few moments, the sounds stopped and the house was deathly quiet again.
With that done, it was a normal routine. A wisp of moonlight peeped into the bathroom through a tiny window high up the far wall. The light bounced around the mirrors that covered almost every surface, allowing him to see many versions of himself in a row. Behind him was another version of him, his face unchanging, and another one behind that until infinite. The boy dared not say a word; in every reflection, the dark of another world hung behind the boy like a shadowy pall. He stared down, away from the disturbing mirrors of other worlds. A quick trip to the sink to wash his hands, and then it was time to go back to bed. scary mirror

He crept to the door and opened it a crack to see the end of the hall. The Dark was still there, waiting for the boy to dare to cross its territory. Little by little, the boy could see the darkness move towards him, and the hallway got darker by the second as the light was swallowed by the nightmarish monster.

Although no one else would hear it, the boy heard the Dark make a hollow growl, a tenebrous noise that chilled his heart. The boy had to move. Now.

He threw the door open and dashed for the bedroom. The Dark pounced, its deep murky threat instantly replaced with sharp, pointed malice as the shadow devoured the moonlight in the hall. Sprinting, the boy ran as fast as he could over the creaky floor of his brother’s room. He felt the cold touch of the Dark on his ankle, a near miss. It chased him still, snarling, swallowing any light in its way.

The boy practically dove into his bed head-first, using his duvet to create a protective dome around him, drawing all the little holes closed and securing any possible weakness. Just in time too; the Dark slammed into duvet, repeatedly. In the dark of the dome, the boy was alone, surrounded, and faintly crying to himself as the assault continued for what felt like hours.

Eventually, the beating at the walls stopped. The boy lay curled in a ball, breathing in his own fear and stress. The lack of oxygen was causing him to feel dizzy, but he dared not lift the duvet. He could still feel where the Dark had touched him, his ankle numb, empty and cold from the experience. The boy would stay like this for a while before finally being forced to surface for air, and eventually start the process of falling asleep again in the glow of his nightlight.

The following morning, the boy’s father would get up and walk to the bathroom. He would look at the door, and with an exasperated sigh make a mental note to grab a can of white paint for the three gashes in the door.5jr64


28626934_a3d3b6647c_oMonsters exist. They’re incredibly real, and if you don’t believe me just ask a child. Children are smarter than they look, and most will tell you first thing: of course there are monsters! Just look in the closet, or under the bed. Only the ‘brave’ ones don’t see us anymore, and the older humans, like you… you forget.

Sometimes though, you remember. Or you figure out you can see monsters. I’m a good example; I drift from shadow to shadow. Unlike other monsters, all I do is observe. Watch. Listen, and wait. I take my time and look at things as they pass by, taking it all in. Sometimes though, you humans see me, and look right at me.

Like, right at me.

And it’s really uncomfortable. So I drift a little bit and find someplace else; the thing is, once you start seeing without your eyes, you keep finding me. And I get really uncomfortable.

I’m not vanishing. I’m drifting from place to place, shadow to shadow, another dark corner to collect my thoughts in peace.

But sometimes, you get too close, or I get way too uncomfortable; so I hide in your shadow. It’s really squished here, and there’s not much room. I’m pretty big. I also fidget a lot, and don’t luck being stuck. Still, you don’t look at me, and you’re moving fast enough that I can go somewhere else and not get bothered.

My favourite place to hang out, and watch the world, is down dark alleyways, or halls. Long places where I can stretch and I don’t have to be so cramped. I get to look at everyone, at you, walk by and… you’re staring.

Stop staring at me please. It’s rude. And I’m really uncomfortable. Would you please..?



monster bedIt’s a shit job, to be sure. You lie down, wait, and wait some more. You sleep sometimes, and that’s a help ’cause the time goes by faster. Still, you can wait a long time before anything interesting happens; in fact, the last time I had anything to do, clocks still made a ticking noise. Now, they just murmur with a small, almost impossible hum as their circuits flare at almost impossible speeds.

When the job’s good though, it’s real good. Nothing better than a job well done. You’re lying there when, for the first time in years, something lands on top of your bed. Then you go through the steps.

First step, wait until night. Has to be nice and dark, otherwise they’ll not see you coming.

Second step, slowly check to see who’s in the bed. This time, it’s a child; 5 years old, no older. This doesn’t happen all the time. If you get someone that’s older than 11, usually it’s no good and you go back and wait some more. I mean, you could try to go to the next step but most times you’ll be wasting your energy. Still, the boy’s 5, and we’ve got a catch.

Step 3, and watch carefully now, you gently grab the kid. If they’re too old, they won’t see you; which means you can’t do anything. Monsters can only be felt if they’re seen, and can only be heard if they’re thought of. Didn’t your parents teach you anything?

So once you’ve grabbed the little thing, you just gotta… there we go, yank them underneath the bed. Our job was easy this time; the bed didn’t have bars at the foot of the bed. We didn’t have to pull the bastard through the bars; I had to do that once, was cleaning the stains off the underside of the bed for a week!

Once you got the kid here, it’s easy pickings, easy to prepare. We’ve got claws after all, and they should be sharp.

You can always sharpen them some more while you’re waiting for the next one.

Story idea: Windeye

I was sitting down and had an idea of story. I thought I’d write down what ran in my head.

There’s a saying that goes “eyes are the window to the soul,” as if one could see every facet of someone’s life through something the size of an iris.

Henry never understood why, but he was different. To describe Henry in one word, most would use ‘observant,’ as he was always looking. Gazing. Searching and staring his way through the world. As a baby, people Henry spoke with would come away feeling a little uncomfortable, a sense of unease seeping into them as if someone had laid them out on a table and dissected them, which wasn’t fully far from the truth.

People tend to wear clothes, put on perfume, smile or scowl to give off an impression, but most of all people try to fit in. For all the oddities in the world (and there are a great many), it seems a main preoccupation is to hide in the crowd. Henry had the strange and altogether unique ability to see past that; to him, quite literally, the eye was a way for him to see people as they truly were. To him it was like seeing a different colour.

Henry, a small boy, gets lost in the city on his own. He’ll experience different adventures relying on people, a collection of short ideas and stories.

Nothing past that; just an idea.

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