Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Part 27

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 25

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That was my intention.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Part 25

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skie shrugged. “I didn’t. I guessed.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But my mother-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A singular crack echoed over the landscape.

End of Part 24

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 23

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

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

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

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

“For what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe in, breathe out. Focus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Part 23

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | Parts 19, 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was now or never.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How did you find these?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was glacially cold.

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

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

End of Parts 20, 21

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 18

Rick crested the hill, and gazed down on the tiny hamlet of roughshod housing, tatters of metal held up little more than hope and luck. Even at this distance, he figured that there couldn’t be more than eighty people who lived there total. He looked to the north side of the village, and found something of an oddity; a stone building, recently rebuilt from discarded bricks and mortar. It was by far the largest building in sight, a tribute to the hard work of the people currently working on it. A symbol made of scattered stones littered the ground. It was in the shape of a ram’s head, the horns curving around.

“Nice digs.” Rick was trying to sound positive, but sympathy crept in. Cat turned around with a sad smile.

“It is something, though I am sure it is nowhere near as amazing as the overcity. It is not much, but it is home.” Cat then started making her way down the hill, carefully traversing the rubble strewn landscape on the hillside.

The woman stepped beside him, a far off look in her eye. “Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Cause I’m seeing some serious bullshit, Rick.” She pointed to the stone building. “I can’t believe the bastards forced the people here to build them a temple.”

“The sad part is I’m not sure it’s so forced. Do you see anybody holding a whip to them?”

“Doesn’t make it right. You know that as well as I do.” The woman’s odd voice once again masked what was barely repressed rage. Rick had begun to grow accustomed to how she emoted now: instead of using her voice, the woman used her face and stance to show what she felt. It made things a lot better, since he could understand her better now.

“Right and wrong aren’t for me to decide, Lady. I’m paid to solve problems, not find them.” He started making his way down the hill, and the woman followed closely.

“What kind of shit answer is that, Rick? You heard the stories that Cat told you. I only got a section of it, and it sounded like crap from start to finish.” A small tumble of rocks rolled down as she made a slight misstep and recovery.

“I’m not saying it’s fair. I agree with you, but our job here isn’t to deal with every piece of crap we see along the way. We just don’t have the time.” Rick dropped to one knee and did a careful slide down a stretch of hill. The woman slid down after him, and they walked side by side on the well trod path ahead of them. Rick looked in the distance, and saw several people stopping to look at the party that had come down the hill.

The woman grabbed Rick’s shoulder in an unexpectedly harsh metallic grip, and spun him around. Her crystal eyes blazed with an inner light. “You don’t get it, do you? There’s no one to help. Your overcity is trying so hard to look like Canada isn’t hurt, that it literally covered up its biggest bruise. Tough fucking luck though, ‘cause this shit gets worse.” She pointed to the temple; at this distance, it seemed much bigger, imposing even. “My mother broke trying to stop shit like this. These people are being used by huge assholes, and I won’t stand for it.”

“What do you want us to do about it? We’re two people, Lady. Two! There’s just not enough of us to do what you want right now.” He was close to losing his temper, his frustration steaming the edge of his mind. “What you’re asking to do is literally the shittiest thing you could do right now. We’ll probably die, these folks will probably still be stuck like this, and we won’t have helped with the monster problem. So which will it be, princess? ‘Cause you have to understand that you can’t just punch the fucking problem away. If we get rid of the monsters, we can get rid of the Lamb; but we can’t just march in there, guns blazing.”

Her shoulders heaved, her temper visibly beneath the surface. Her frizzy red hair fell over one of her eyes, and the other one glowed violently. Several deep breaths and long moments later, she stood back a little. “Point. Fine.” She made to leave, but snapped back at Rick after a couple paces. “But I’m not going to like playing this game, Rick. This is horse shit.” Dust filled her wake as she strode forward.

“Never said it was anything but lady,” he whispered under his breath, “I’m still with you on that one.”

The people living there came in all kinds: some were visibly worse for wear, with teeth missing and sores from one too many close calls with the violent chemicals down in the old city. Others looked like Cat: pristine. It made no sense to Rick, and his head kept spinning trying to come up with answers. He had to remind himself that the perfection of people down here wasn’t his primary concern: he was hired for a job. That was all he could hope to accomplish down here, and even doing that seemed like a much bigger job than he initially signed on for. He made a mental note to ask for a bonus.

The people started ushering them towards the temple when he asked to meet their leader. This, Rick felt, was a bad sign overall. It didn’t help that the closer they got to the temple, the more intimidated he felt by it. It was much more than just a lot of stone ruins brought together: it was a proper place of worship. A large stone archway led to a somber interior, a dark purple glow cast from within. The rocks used to build the temple were visibly the bones of other buildings before, scavenged together to create this cold recreation of a church. A large bell sat out front, cracked and rusting apart. This rang loudly as their guides brought them before the front step, and the crowd parted to reveal Rick, Cat, and the woman.

A man in a dark robe stepped out of the archway, his balding head still fighting for its hairline. His hooked nose poked out from underneath a heavy forehead. Rick was surprised the man could look down.

“Welcome, wanderers.” The man opened his arms in welcome, but his voice was a slime slicked stone. “I am Father Ora. We are not graced by newcomers, but He protects us. Who speaks for you?”

Cat stepped forward lightly. “I do, your grace.” Her voice was strong, confident. Rick was surprised that the girl from the crypts could sound so mature.

“Why do you bring them? What have they done to deserve our hospitality?” Ora’s voice darkened like a burned stick, rough and ashen.

“These two saved my life. I owe them much.” Cat bowed her head for a moment, and then continued. “They can help, so they say. They can drive the demons from our home.”

A chorus of murmurs came from the assembled audience. Whispers of incredulity, of surprise, and of lies muddled together into a low, thunderous rumble. “I speak the truth!” Cat implored them, her hands palm upwards. “I have seen them fight the demons before, and they won. They can save us!”

“Silence!” Ora slammed his hand on the bell, a cheap resonance echoing out. “Child, you speak of the good of these outsiders, and yet you keep from us important knowledge. Where are our brothers and sisters of the Lamb with whom you travelled? Why are they not here, touting their success and sacrifice?”

Still fresh images of the other cultists flooded Rick’s mind. Shaking off the bloody memories, he looked over at the woman to see how she was faring. Her outward appearance was stone, locked in place. Anyone else seeing her would see complete calm, but Rick knew she was concentrating intensely on maintaining her facade. Underneath ran currents of rage, bringing fresh wave after wave of dark thoughts.

“They succumbed to the demons.” A flat response, thought Rick, and a complete fabrication. Still, if anyone bothered to look at their corpses, no one would be the wiser. The remains are beyond recognition now.

“Is that so?” The man cooly looked at them, and smiled wickedly. “Because someone has told me otherwise, and your heathen ways are known to me. Come, Damien, tell them what you heard.”

Damien, the little boy from before, stepped forward from behind Ora. “They killed my father, the priest sent with the group, in cold blood. The woman is a demon and murdered them all, and they would have murdered Cat too if the monsters had not arrived.”

Rick couldn’t help himself. “You’re just a little shit, aren’t you?”

Panic flooded the woman’s mind as their tense but controlled situation completely dissolved. Suddenly, everyone was a potential threat, every pair of eyes a target. She grasped her handgun, but just as she was about to level it, a hand grabbed her wrist. Looking to her right, RIck held her fast.

“Rick, what are you doing.”

He shook his head curtly and whispered. “I’m stopping you from making a big mistake. Take a look around you.”

Scanning the crowd, she saw palpable fear. Ever pair of eyes was on her, hoping against hope that they were not the target of her ire. In every face, she saw the blood she had on her hands in the church. She let go of the gun’s handle, and raised her hands.

Ora’s slick voice carried through her mind. “A wise decision.” He moved down the steps and stopped in front of Cat. “I am so, so very disappointed in you.”

Cat began to cry lightly, her tears welling in the corners of her eyes. “I am more disappointed in you, father. You call me a liar when you preach horror. You are a monster, worse than any we’ve sacrificed for.”

The slimy bastard stood motionless. After several long, silent moments, his hand came in a fast arc and slapped Cat across the face with enough force to knock her down. “You will pay for your treachery girl. Death is far too simple for you.” He walked over her prone body, and made his way in front of the woman and Rick.

“Rick…” The woman hoped beyond hope that Rick had an answer to this problem. Her rage quickened her blood, and it was all she could do to stay still. Ora stopped in front of her, and the temptation to grab his head and end him was overpoweringly strong.

“You are of no real concern to me. You will die, and He will bless us for having murdered deceivers and tricksters. You have murdered our kin, and so shall we murder you.” He turned and started walking when a fiery bouquet of flares exploded from his back. The woman turned towards Rick, who has his repeater in hand.

“Sorry Lady. I don’t like being called a liar.” His voice was thick with anger, and suddenly, the woman felt more in common with Rick than she would have guessed.

A shocked silence fell over the crowd, and for what felt like an eternity, no one moved. Death had stilled the moment, and the pall had fallen on the crowd. Damien stared with his mouth agape. Cat had stopped crying, and stared at Rick with fearful eyes. The world had gone still.

Damien recovered first, and ran into the church screaming. “Kill them! Kill the demons!” He disappeared inside the church and the echoes of his cries burred together into a shrill shrieking.

The crowd then realized what was going on, and ran for their homes. Dust marked where the hamlet had been, and it was just Cat, Rick, and the woman standing in front of the church.

“Hey, Rick.” She turned to him as the sound of footsteps came from the church. Many, many footsteps.

“Yeah?” He clipped a new slug into his repeater, and unslung his rifle, aiming at the doorway. The footsteps thundered louder, and closer.

“In case we don’t make it out of this, my name is Skie.”

“Sounds great, Skie; but I don’t plan on dying.”

“You’re so fucking cliched it’s hilarious.”

End of Part 18

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 16

The biting cold of the cruel air stung her face with invisible barbs. The woman plodded forward on leaden feet, numb from the sudden brutality. Rick suffered similarly, his coat bundled about him like a second skin. Cat, however, stood like a bulwark against the onslaught, her rags billowing around her, a flag of conquest over the elements that assaulted the trio.

The cold had swept in without warning, taking them by surprise. The ghost-green glow of the undercity made the situation all the stranger, it’s unchanging, uncaring facade giving no indication of a change in the weather, which up until recently had been had been a swampy warmth, a cloying humid grip.

“Cat,” she chattered through clashing teeth, “why is it so cold? I’ve lived down here my whole life and never felt this before.”

“We know not why, my lady.” Her eyes sparkled, crackles of watery fire as tears fell down her cheeks. “All we know is that this passage is cold. We use it to keep us safer from the dangers down here.”

Rick gripped his coat tighter, the opening stubbornly refusing to keep out the implacable cold despite his best efforts. “This is from the energy cores from new Toronto. We’re directly underneath the cooling stations for the fusion bays that keep the city running.” He grit his teeth, breaking the icy pain upon his stony mind. “In short, we should be out of it s-soon.”

Now more than ever the woman wished she were back in familiar terrain, what could have been a warm feeling of familiarity in more ways than one. Looking ahead, just through the dull tears that welled in her eyes and threatened to freeze there, she saw a silhouette standing in the distance.

“Rick, do you see that?” She pointed, letting Rick’s eyes follow her finger to the shape in the distance.

“Yeah, I do,” He puffed into misty clouds, “who the hell would be out here?”

Cat squinted slightly, to see the shadow in the distance. In an instant, the woman noticed a change: Cat’s usually resolute way of carrying herself disappeared as she began to wave her hands above her head.

“Damien!” She shouted, jumped, a little girl in rags. “Damien is my little friend. I take care of him sometimes.” Cat then ran forward, as if the cold had no effect on her whatsoever.

The woman turned towards Rick. “For the record, seriously? Fuck your city for this alone.” Her voice contained very little of the anger she genuinely felt.

Rick chuckled, his new stubble catching the mist, coating itself in ice. “The feeling’s mutual. Trust me, this coat aint thick enough for this shit.” The woman laughed with him, and for the first time since they got out of the forest, she felt good around him. Rick might be a judgmental and naive, a bastard sometimes, but he forgave easily. He wasn’t so bad to have around after all.

All at once, the bitter cold vanished, as if the two wanderers had passed through a curtain and entered another world. The feeling returned back into the woman’s limbs, painfully reminding her that she was, in fact, not made of ice. Worse, the seam where her robotic limbs, and the area surrounding her throat, burning the nearby skin with the latent cold int he metal.

She hissed, or at least she meant to. Instead, her voice box hummed a beautiful note, pleasant to the ear. “Fucking damn this voice modulator. The things I would give to have my voice back…” She bitterly remembered what it was like to have a voice that could growl and menace, gasp and laugh, without it having to pass through… a politeness filter. She couldn’t describe how constricting it was otherwise, being bound by what was programmed to be acceptable.

“How did you sound like?” She turned to Rick, who’s icy facial hair was now slick with wet residue. “Like, did you sound like you drank acid or?”

A light smack on Rick’s shoulder shut him up, but his moronic grin stayed in place. “No. I sounded like a proper person. I could get angry at people, laugh with people, be careful, tender…” The woman frowned in introspection. She felt a small pit form in her stomach, a sense of emptiness that she had felt before, when she had found out her voice was gone. “This new voice, it’s not me Rick. It sounds so different. It’s so fake.”

Rick placed his hand on her shoulder. “I get that. I also get the… rage, you feel, towards the shit that took it away from you.” His green eyes warmed with empathy. “We’ll get them back. Once we deal with the problem here, we’ll deal with everything else.”

The pit in her stomach started to shrink. “We better. I’m not leaving here without ‘dealing’ with them properly.”

“We won’t.”

Rick smiled to himself. All things told, the cold hadn’t bothered him too much, but having at least a little look into what was going on in the woman’s head was reassuring. She was human, and that much he could count on at least. She lost it in the church, but at least he could count on her to have emotions other than fear and anger. In hindsight, she did spare Cat as well, despite almost killing her.

Thinking of Cat brought back feelings of unease. He couldn’t figure the girl out, which seemed to be something of a habit these days with the women around him, but Cat was genuinely confusing. She seemed unperturbed by the cold, had no scaring or bruising from the woman’s attack in the church, and just… she was too perfect. She can’t have been older than her late teens, at most, but her physical body and her keen mind were way too mature. There was something off about how she shrugged off the worst in little to no time at all.

Still, as she bounded back to the two of them with a little boy in tow, he couldn’t help but feel better for being in her presence. Cat was comforting, and since the incident in the church she radiated calm. It was unbelievable what just being around her did to his mind.

“My friends, this is Damien. Damien, meet my two new friends!” She pointed the boy towards Rick, who took a good look at him. Damien, he concluded, can’t be older than twelve. His brown hair fell to the side in rough, jagged edges, a sharp curtain that covered his eye. Damien smiled thinly, a smile that was altogether too familiar, but that Rick couldn’t quite place a source on.

“These two saved my life and showed me the truth.” Cat continued, completely oblivious to the charged air tensing between the boy and the man. “The man here is called Rick. The woman…” Cat paused, uncertain as to how to continue.

“Don’t worry about it. I like seeing what people come up with.” The woman rubbed her shoulder where the metal met flesh, the cold from the prosthetic still causing what must be a decent amount of pain. She extended her right hand to shake, but Damien made no such move. He shied away, hiding behind Cat’s rags like a toddler.

“They’re from the Overcity.” Damien didn’t ask; it was simply a statement of the things that were. “They can’t be trusted.”

Cat’s laugh tinkled, lingering in the air like a small bell, as the woman’s hand fell to her side and a glimpse of annoyance crossed the woman’s face. “Don’t be foolish Damien. These people saved me, and my soul. They have much to can do to help our community.”

Rick was keenly aware of something not being entirely correct with Damien. His smile from earlier was in complete contrast to the shy and frightened child he saw before. Still, maybe it was something in the woman that frightened him. She was intimidating, he thought, and it’s not every day a boy like him meets two people equipped with high tech weapons poking out from underneath their coats.

He bent down in a crouch, meeting Damien at eye level. “Hey bud. Cat tells me you have some trouble back home.”

Damien nodded. “Yeah.” He remained hidden behind his caretaker, as if the distance made it less like that Rick would stare at him. Rick, however, was not one to care about staring if he had a hunch.

Rick extended his hand. “I don’t bite kid. I’m here to help.” The boy looked at Rick’s hand before shaking it gingerly. “Good to meet ya. Now,” Rick stood up, bringing himself eye to eye with Cat once more, “shall we get going? We still have ground to cover. You two should talk a bit, Cat. See if anything’s changed since you left.”

Cat nodded, and walked off with Damien, hand in hand. Rick looked back at the woman, who had regained her calm composure. “Cute kid, huh?”

“Yeah,” she replied, “adorable. Remind me, Rick, when did we come down here to help out a bunch of kids? Seriously: Cat is practically angelic ever since I almost… well, since we met her, and this brat seems to be a fucking peach.”

“You’re not the only one who thinks something’s up with those kids.” Rick pondered how much he should tell the woman, but when he really thought about it, he didn’t see why she shouldn’t know his suspicions. “Listen, lady, I’ve been thinking about Cat lately. Something’s not right with this story of hers.”

The woman snorted. “What gave it away? The sudden change of heart?”

“Not really. Look at her neck.”

The woman looked at the back of Cat’s neck as they walked ahead. After a couple of moments, she shook her head. “I don’t get it Rick. What am I looking for?”

“That’s what I’m asking myself.” He hesitated a slight second before continuing. “Remember when you.. well, when you introduced yourself to Cat? Your robotic arm should have left something: I saw what it can do.”

“So did I, Rick. I’m past that, I hoped you were too.” Her face flashed annoyance.

“I am, but the problem is so has her neck. There’s nothing there.” He waiting a moment to let the information sink in. “There should be a bruise, markings, something to show that she was nearly strangled to death.”

The woman’s face began to blanch. “Holy shit, how didn’t I notice?”

“Don’t sweat it. Look, if shit hits the fan? Be ready for it.” Rick patted her on the shoulder and started following the two kids.

He heard the woman start walking, the sound of boots hitting the broken pavement reassuring him she was right behind him. Rick smiled inwardly. He honestly hoped he was wrong about the kids and his feeling of unease, but in case his gut was right?

The woman was a trump card no one was going to be ready to deal with, and by the sounds of who these Lamb people were, that was going to be a good thing if push came to shove.

End of Part 16

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | Part 12, 13, 14, and 15

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

Cloak | #NaNoWriMo2015 | 10

Rick relaxed a little bit once the woman had clipped her weapon. “What the actual hell was that?” He didn’t mean to shout, but shout he did. The woman didn’t answer him though. Weirder still, she seemed distant, glassy eyed, non-responsive. She looked around, lost in her own mind.

He moved next to the first cultist he had shot. The boy was curled up, gripping his shoulder and hissing softly through clenched teeth. “Alright kid,” Rick said, “up we get.” He bent over to check the boy’s wound, but was surprised to see the end of a gun barrel.

“Stay away! You and that demon bitch!” He started trying to get up, pointing his gun at Rick, who raised his hands palms outward.

“Alright kid, nothing quick. How about you put the gun down.” RIck hadn’t been held at gunpoint for a while, and every time was as unnerving as the last. He knew one twitch from the boy would be a sure kill.

“Stay away! Don’t move!” The kid moved back towards the door, his face getting increasingly covered in shadows until darkness was the only thing Rick could see. “Stay away!” his voice cried over the groan of metal hinges. When Rick heard the big doors shut, he finally put his hands down and breathed a sigh of relief.

He heard the woman’s eerie, calm voice from behind. “Rick?” He turned around, having briefly forgotten the slaughter she had wrought. The blood, splashed on her face and drenching her boots, reminded him of what he witnessed earlier. The image of one of the cultist’s heads exploding from her gunshot was still fresh in his mind, and the carcass on the floor in the candlelight only made it worse.

“I need answers from you later. Stay put.” He stomped past her, towards the last kid, the one the woman almost choked the life out of. The kid was still sobbing into her hands, her once blonde hair dyed red from the blood all over the floor. Between the savage killings and the sacrifice, the whole center of the church was slick, almost slippery. The smell of blood was all pervasive.

“Alright kid, get up.” He grabbed her by the shoulder and hoisted her onto a nearby pew. “I need some answers, or my friend finishes the job. Understand?” This made the cultist wail, her crying filling up the chamber. Rick grabbed the girl by the shoulders, and forced her to face him.

The girl’s eyes were swollen red from sobbing, stress, and near death. Her blonde hair cascaded in front of her eyes. Rick looked at her and gave what he hoped was a reassuring squeeze. “Look, I’m sorry I said that. Been a shitty day today. Let’s talk, okay?” “Rick waited a moment to see if she’d respond, but when her crying resumed, he dropped his hands and let her resume her defensive curl.

“Fuck. Okay, there’s one more of these bastards left. You,” he pointed at the woman, “don’t kill this one. Do I make myself clear?” She nodded, but it was obvious that she was in a world of her own still. Well shit, he thought, the two of them were fucking made for each other. Hoping that the two women wouldn’t end up killing one another, he went off to find the bald man.

Rick found the bald man right where he had fallen. He was on his back, a slight trickle of blood trailing from the corner of his mouth. Rick swore under his breath; baldy had internal bleeding, and there was little to no hope of survival. He had meant to capture someone alive to question about the area. He shook his head. What he wanted, he realized, was to have left the idiots well enough alone; the less noise the hunter made while down here, the easier the mission would be. Now he had four, soon to be five corpses, a runaway, and a crying girl on his hands. Not so good for stealth, he thought.

He tried to make due by at least incapacitating everyone and getting some answers from them. Lay of the land, reasons for cruelly murdering someone ritualistically in a church, and just generally being creepy assholes in general. You know, he thought, nothing big. The usual. Instead, the woman goes on a psycho killing spree and straight up murders the majority of the cultists with barely a second thought.

Kneeling down to the bald man. “Hey baldy, I got some questions for ya.” The man turned his head to see Rick. Despite the darkness, Rick could see the man’s mouth twist into a cold smile.

“You fool,” he coughed, spluttering blood, “do you not realize what you have done?” His voice was still strong, resonant, despite the fact he was at death’s door.

“What do you mean, old man? What have we done?” Rick wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but knowing the reason for why they were here could be helpful.

“You’re from the Overcity, are you not?” the bald man barely waited for a response. “You know not what plagues the Undercity now. God has forsaken us, sent his demons to consume us. You are doomed.” Rick scoffed.

“Doomed? Demons? Whatever you’ve been drinking, I want some.”

The man’s eyes blazed. “You think this a joke? We are already dead: too long, we’ve stayed. Too much noise.” His eyes began to flutter shut. “Too much blood. Thank you, God, for taking me before-” The man grimaced, and suddenly went limp.

“Mother fucking fucker.”

The woman’s eyes barely registered what she saw. Her sense of smell was clogged with the stench of gore. But her hearing… she heard the cries of the agony she had wrought on loop. The head cracking open, the man’s rib cage shattering, the crunch of the other one’s skull, and the last one. Please. Please, she had said. The woman gripped her head in both hands; she was a second away from actually choking the life out of a girl.

And she felt perfect while doing it. There was no other way to describe it. The pain she had caused, the visceral feeling of destruction on such an exquisite level. She had felt fulfilled, and though she wished to admit otherwise, she felt at peace for the first time since she had woken up from her accident.

“What the fuck. What the actual fuck.” She fell to her knees in a light splash of blood. She looked past her hands to the man on the floor next to her. The sacrifice. His eyes were frozen in terror, staring up at the ceiling with a haunted expression of sudden pain and surprise, as if he were asking why someone would do this. She felt her blood rise again, as if in answer to the cruelty of his death, but she quelled it immediately. She had just massacred four people. Had she the right to question their motives?

She looked up at the girl on the bench, who had cried herself dry of tears. Salt stains lined her hollowing cheeks, her long face. The girl glanced at the woman for an instant; she immediately hid behind her hands.

“Please,” the girl begged, “please no. Please…” The woman felt a wave of remorse. She hadn’t killed anyone before: hurt, maybe. But murdered? Slaughtered? That’s what it was you know, she told herself, a slaughter. Nothing less.

“I won’t kill you.” Her robotic voice hid her regret and inner turmoil so well she swore someone had said the words. “Please stop crying. I won’t kill you.” The girl trembled, but ultimately stopped crying.

Just then, Rick marched back to the inner circle. “Baldy’s dead. The other boy left. Please tell me you didn’t murder the girl while I was gone?”

The woman didn’t rise to the bait. “Asshole. She’s alive. You deal with her.” She stood up, and walked to a pew on the far side of the circle. She sat down, and saw Rick talking to the girl. The girl was quite obviously in no state to be questioned, but Rick persisted. Eventually, the girl murmured something. RIck laughed out loud.

“Hey, lady, get this, even she’s got a name; Kay! Lady, meet Kay. Kay, meet the murderer of the night.” Bastard, thought the woman as RIck turned back to a visibly distressed Kay and continued conversing. As time passed, the woman scrutinized the two of them; as Kay spoke more and more, Rick became more and more agitated. Finally, she grabbed the girl by the shoulder, bringing her to where the woman was sitting.

“Okay, you need to hear this.” Rick turned to the girl again. “Kay, could you explain why you were here?” The girl, Kay, looked at the woman. Terror crossed her features, but she swallowed her fear.

“I joined three days ago,” she began, “they said they were stopping the demons attacking the village. I wanted to help, so I joined them.” Her lip was trembling.

Rick put his hand on her shoulder. “You told me about the demons. Could you tell the Lady here what you told me?” She looked up at Rick. Rick’s face did its best to show warmth; somehow it worked, and Kay nodded.

“They’re big.” She began to shiver. “At least as big as the guys back home. But they’re…” Choking back her tears, she took a moment to cool off. “They’re big, and some have claws. Others have really big teeth. Some don’t have heads where they’re supposed to be.”

The woman began to feel a deep sense of dread as Kay continued describing the demons. Memories of long, sharp teeth and stabbing pain clouded her mind, until all she could see was a gaping maw set with long teeth on an impossible head.

“Stop.” The woman’s voice failed to translate the tension in her body, the fear she felt at the core of her being. Her head swam with painful images she couldn’t shake off. “Please stop.”

Kay’s fear was temporarily replaced with confusion. The woman could tell that Kay was having a hard time processing the voice coming from her voice box, the fact that her lips didn’t move while she spoke. That her voice was steady, calm, and paced, while her face showed an increasing level of panic.

“I get the feeling that this sounds familiar. Wouldn’t you say?” The woman looked the hunter in the eye. Within an instant, she was on her feet glowering at the bastard.

“Fuck you, Rick. Yes it ‘sounds familiar.’” Just as Rick was about to speak again, the woman interrupted. “And if I hear one more fucking stupid thing come out of your fucking stupid face, I will punch it. I’m sorry I lost control, now you,” she said, stabbing at his chest for emphasis with enough force to cause him to step back, “need to stop being suck a prick about it. I get it; you’re not impressed. I’m just as fucking surprised as your are, ass, and I could use a little less of your Overcity holier-than-thou attitude. You’re treating this moron like a baby, despite the fact she’s an accessory to a fucking sacrifice. Whatever!” She stomped off towards the door, opened it, and slammed it behind her. She could hear the hinges pull out of the stonework from the force she used, a showering of rock and dust hitting the floor inside.

She sat on the steps, and looked out towards the perpetual night. All she heard was silence now, and that suited her fine. She could use a minute from the fuckers inside the church anyway.

End of Part 10