Chapter 9:In My Brain
Katrine woke with a start, thrashing out with her arms and legs, trapped in a knot of covers. She laid still letting her heart slow down, the taste of morning breath in her mouth, her dream quickly fading into vague memory. Turning over in her small, rock hard, bed she reached for her clock to see the time, her hand grasped empty air, the stupid thing must have been knocked off the end table when she woke up. After fumbling in the dark for a while she found it lying on the ground, it was blank.
Katrine let out a small drowsy huff. Oh those bastards, shutting the power off, now of all times, she thought to herself.
She smacked her lips a few times. “Oh well, if I’m late I’m late,” she croaked. She turned back over and nestled back into her covers pulling a few stray strands of hair from their new homes in her mouth. “Alright sleep, come back to me,” she muttered.
But sleep didn’t come, despite being asleep just moments ago Katrine felt wide awake.
She thrashed about in her covers again, mildly infuriated. “Well that’s just cruel, now I’m gonna feel like a zombie all day today, you did this to yourself brain, you lumpy bastard.” She balled up her covers and threw them to the side; they were swallowed up by the all encompassing darkness.
She settled back into her bed, arms crossed, understandably grumpy. It was then that Katrine noticed just how dark everything was, she’d hadn’t had a dark night since she moved to that crappy little apartment.
She continued to grumble to herself, righteously peeved that she couldn’t sleep on the perfect night for it. “Maybe there was a power outage, yeah, sure, maintenance or something. I’m just going to go to sleep, sans covers, and wake up to a nice bright smoggy day.”
But just as there was a lack of light, there was a lack of sleep. Katrine resigned herself to her fate of wakefulness and scrambled out of bed and made a beeline for the fridge seeking the synthetic pigswill they called coffee. The soft carpeted floors absorbed all the sounds she made. Well now that she thought about it, things were very quiet too, deafeningly so. She could hear the chorus of her mild tinnitus ringing in her ears. What happened to the noisy neighbors, the sounds of traffic and sirens blaring? The crummy old building wasn’t even creaking as per usual; it was pitch black and dead silent.
Katrine began to feel her stomach twist in fear. This is all wrong.
She felt her way along the wall until her hands brushed against her curtains, she tore them open and a fitful pale light filled the room. A tiny white pinprick in the sky illuminated her apartment and the endless void it occupied.
“What the shit? wha- what the…” She turned to run out the door but saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks.
There was somebody in her kitchen, standing perfectly still. The pale light illuminated them enough for Katrine to make out a short, thin, figure standing directly in front of and facing the refrigerator. Good thing she went to the window instead or she would have bumped into them. It was a miracle they hadn’t heard Katrine’s monologue.
Katrine racked her brains. What to do… Door, yep we’re going out the door no matter what. Katrine took one step and the intruder turned to face her.
It was a girl; no more than a child, tears were running down her face.“Please help me…” Her voice was unusually mature. Katrine looked down and in the child’s chest were two massive circular holes oozing thin trickles of blood. “Please…” she muttered, her eyes rolled up and she collapsed.
Katrine’s mouth flapped open and closed, she didn’t quite know how to react to what she just saw, she decided on annoyance. “Great, now I’m stuck in a void with a dead child, could things get any better? Wait let me guess, you’re not actually dead.” This was weird, Katrine felt like her sanity had snapped. “Just wait, I’m going to walk past you and you’re gonna jump out at me and murder me or something.” Katrine’s voice was trembling. “This is all just a dream, I’m just gonna wake up and this nightmare will be over! Well screw it I’m not going to play by your rules.” Katrine marched up to the body of the child and gave it a sharp kick in the foot.
The child kicked back, for such a small kid she could really pack in the power. Katrine quickly found herself lying on the floor next to the child, the air knocked from her lungs.
The child muttered into the floor. “If you’re done monologuing, could you please move me to the bed or somewhere soft, this linoleum is very uncomfortable. I’m not dead, and believe me I’m just as confused as you.”
“Fair enough,” Katrine said to the ceiling. She picked herself up off the floor and made to pick up the girl. Katrine got her arms around her shoulders and tried to lift her, she quickly found that the girl’s size was not indicative of her weight.
Her voice was strained, “Whoa kid, you weigh a ton, what the hell?” She began to slowly drag the child toward her bed. “By the way kiddo, you got a name?” She was panting heavily.
After a brief pause… “Ellie, my name is Ellie.” The girl sounded satisfied.
“Nice name, mine’s Katrine, it seems we’re both stuck in this strange loopy land.” She finally hauled Ellie onto the low bed; thank goodness she didn’t buy that optional riser, now she could finally see the massive wounds. “Holy shit, what happened?” Katrine managed to stutter before collapsing from exhaustion.
“I was stabbed.” Ellie said bluntly.
“Yeah I get that, but how did you wind up like this?”
“I was stabbed.” Ellie said coyly.
Katrine shook her head, this kid was in the process of bleeding out and yet she was playing games? Katrine worded her next question very carefully. “Yeah, no, I understand that part, but what sequence of events led you to being stabbed in the first place? We’ll figure out how you made your way into my apartment later.”
Ellie let out a small huff of thought. Finally she said, “Well, I’m not sure of the specifics but I’m pretty sure I was stabbed.” A small smile pulled at the corner of her mouth, she knew what she was doing.
Katrine screamed internally. “Humph, I think you’re pulling my leg right now.”
Ellie’s face broke into a smile. “Perhaps.”
Katrine wasn’t in a very smiley mood. “Well the joke is getting old,” she said sternly. “And I’d really like some answers as to why there is a twelve year old lying in my bed with huge stab wounds, not to mention the lack of clothes!” She gestured to the rest of Ellie’s body.
Ellie perked up. “Wait, I’m naked?”
“Yes!” Katrine pulled at her hair.
Ellie tapped at her chin. “Well, that’s embarrassing, and explains why I’m so cold… And honestly, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you what happened. Frankly I’m kind of confused as to why you’re here; I thought I was the only one in my head.”
Katrine’s face was frozen in confusion, slowly her brow furrowed. “OK, you’ve answered exactly zero of my questions and opened up a couple thousand more. Now explain from the beginning, and we’ll see how I feel when you finish.”
Ellie let out a massive sigh. “Alright, the truth?” She raised an eyebrow at Katrine.
“Yes!” Katrine resisted the urge to pull at her hair again.
Ellie was silent for a moment. “Alright, I am, despite stark appearances to the contrary, actually an Indra; I have just recently been stabbed by a strange spider creature and am in the process of either healing or dying, I can’t really differentiate at this point. At the precise moment of being stabbed my consciousness was seemingly transported to this place, which I assume is your apartment, where I found myself in this body. After listening to you mumble to yourself and fumble around in the dark I was suddenly struck by how strange this all is and collapsed. You kicked me, I kicked you, and here we are.”
Katrine’s voice was flat, “You’re right I don’t believe you.”
Ellie shrugged and made an exaggerated frown. “I told you so.”
A light shone from somewhere in the apartment, Katrine whirled around to figure out where it was coming from. Peeking around the dividing wall from the bedroom to the living room she saw that the television was on, covering the room in a pale blue glow. She walked over to it to try and turn it off, but it was showing something that caught her eye. It was like she was looking through someone else’s eyes. She saw the Indra, all of them, and some strange spiderlike creature stalking them. Like lightning the creature lashed out and killed one of them, Valkyrie, Katrine gasped. Suddenly the thing filled up her view, an impassive porcelain white face with black lips and black eyes, and then darkness.
“It went something like that,” Ellie said, her voice slightly muffled by the wall.
Katrine looked back and forth between the TV and the bedroom. “Wait, what happened, what was that?”
“That was my memory of the event, that is what I saw, and that is exactly what happened. You’re in my head, remember?”
Katrine walked back over to the bed, pulling a chair from the kitchen behind her and sat down. “Well, alright then. Here’s a question I know you can’t answer then, why am I in your head? Hmmm? Why is my, presumably, consciousness bouncing through your head like a screensaver on an old terminal?” She was beginning to feel that this wasn’t in fact a twisted nightmare, her stomach dropped.
Ellie poked at her face, feeling her jaw and cheeks move with each word, these were all very new sensations. “Well, I don’t know for sure, but you feel separate from my being but still intertwined somehow. I suppose that’s why I came here when I was injured, I might have died otherwise.”
“You’re welcome,” Katrine said rather smugly.
“Don’t worry, I fully intend on asking my creator why you’re here as soon as I wake up. I have a guess, but I really hope I’m wrong.” Ellie was silent for a moment. “Yep, I can feel it, I’m waking up. Keep looking out the window, I think I might answer a few more of your questions before long.” Ellie seemingly popped out of existence leaving a person shaped stain on the bed surrounded by an outline of red.
Katrine stared blankly at the bed for a moment. She realized several things over the course of the next few seconds: This wasn’t a dream… She was stuck in a void with a teleporting Indra child, and her sheets were ruined. Repressing the weirdness of the situation, Katrine stood up, put the chair back at the small dining table, and pulled a fresh set of bedding from her overflowing closet. She remade her bed, and wandered over to the futon in front of the TV; she buried her face in her hands and cried.
Ellie awoke to a dazzlingly bright light blinding her; as soon as she was conscious it sharply pulled away. As her vision adjusted she saw Kid sitting beside her, goofing around with a lamp, waving it around and chortling at the shadows it cast. When Kid saw that Ellie was awake she discarded the lamp and gave her a massive hug. Surprised by this act of tenderness Ellie embraced her back.
“We thought you were dead, when Medusa stabbed you we thought it killed you just like Valkyrie.”Kid’s voice was trembling but LE couldn’t tell if it was because of Valkyrie or herself. “We tried to fight Medusa off but they were just too strong, Wall lost an arm and I lost my hand, the rest have pretty bad cuts and stab wounds.”Kid raised her left arm to show that just a bandaged stump remained where her hand used to be. “I don’ think I’ll be using my broadsword from now on, hey, you can have it if you want, I’m pretty sure Wall still wants his sword back.”
Ellie felt at the two large puncture wounds in her chest, they still stung slightly, when she pulled her finger away it was covered with a thick black substance. “Thanks Kid, I appreciate it, also where are we? This place seems familiar but I can’t quite put my finger on it.” She pushed herself up into a sitting position; she felt a sharp pain in her head and winced.
“I don’t blame you for not remembering the place of your birth my daughter. Or at least repressing it…” Doctor Banthu entered the small cluttered room, poring through a few of his notes. “Before you ask about that headache, I took the liberty of installing a Bluetooth daughterboard while you were unconscious, I hope you don’t mind.” He sat down in his chair, looking genuinely concerned. “How are you feeling?”
Ellie poked at her facial region, there was a thin scar from the surgery that cut across where her nose and left eye would be. “Fine enough, I have a few questions for you. Kid could you please leave us, we need to talk privately; I’ll come find you when I’m finished here.”
“Okey Dokie!”Kid skipped joyfully out of the room.
Banthu smiled as he watched her leave, he turned back to Ellie. “What is it you wanted to ask me?”
Ellie stretched, testing her body, it didn’t seem worse for wear. “Well Doctor, I want to know why there is a fairly attractive twenty-something named Katrine rattling around in my head like loose change. Why, when I was stabbed, I found myself in a human body, naked mind you, in this twenty-something’s apartment where I then proceeded to bleed all over her bed.”
Ellie jumped when she heard Katrine talk back. “Aww you find me attractive! That’s so sweet. You owe for the bed by the way.”
Ellie shook her head confusedly. “And now she’s literally talking to me in my head. Doctor you have some explaining to do.”
“Yes, it seems I do.” Banthu let out a sigh. “From the beginning then.” He sat at his desk. “The Indra were constructed at one of Ancient America’s most vulnerable times, their wars were turning sour and the people were angry and scared. The American government came up with Project Ariadne to create the world’s greatest super soldiers, to rally the people and frighten their many enemies, a classic concept indeed. They created the LE Computer Brain, a sentient computer-on-a-chip, more advanced than any that came before it. Coupled with organic fiber optic cabling that acted as the musculoskeletal and nervous systems it was submerged in an organic biomass to form a body.” Banthu leaned over and rummaged in a small wooden crate by the desk, he pulled a small circuit board, no bigger than his hand from it. He rubbed thick brown dust from a small black silicone chip, and handed it to Ellie.
He continued, “The thing you need to know about these chips is that they are both complex and tiny, all the microscopic flaws in the manufacturing process ostensibly created the personality of the Indra, that’s why they’re all so different to each other. But all Indra, bar three, don’t use the LE chip, they use the technically inferior LX chip for one very good reason, they’re insane, well apart from you of course. Medusa was the only Indra from back then that used the LE chip; you saw how it turned out, twisted and insane. The US Government quickly switched to the simpler LX chips after Medusa indiscriminately murdered a large amount of people during its initial test runs. The other two LE models are of my own creation, there is you my successful attempt, and there is Morgan, my… unsuccessful attempt. Morgan was created without the coprocessor that you have, and turned out much like Medusa but a little less insane, I gave it to Schultz to use for who knows what.” He waved dismissively. “You actually have Morgan to thank for you turn—,”Banthu was cut off.
Ellie raised a massive hand. “Stop right there, I want to know why there’s somebody else in my head, I don’t much care for your failed past experiments.” She dropped the board to the side and leaned forward.
Katrine spoke again. You dummy, you stopped him right before he was about to explain that part, that’s so cliché.
“Nobody asked you Katrine, continue.” Ellie’s tone was terse, she didn’t like where things were going.
Banthu cleared his throat, his expression turned rather sheepish. “Yes well, I found through Morgan that basic operation would overheat the chip and cause it to short, which is why the outcomes are so grotesque. With you I decided to give you a coprocessor, something to offload some of the extraneous computations. I was going to use an LX chip but I had a stroke of genius, also we were fresh out of either LE or LX chips, working ones at least, so I settled for the next best thing. A human brain—,” he was interrupted once more.
Ellie’s voice was growing angry. “Alright I’m going to stop you again… You’re saying that the brain, the actual, literal, physical brain of an attractive twenty-something named Katrine is currently linked to my computer brain through some sort of technical wizardry?”
Banthu nodded. “Correct.”
She threw her arms up. “That’s just monstrous. You killed her!”
Banthu shook his head, face serious. “I did not kill her, and when you consider what went into making your biomass you won’t feel so bad about Katrine.”
Ellie decided to stop listening. “I don’t want to know! You know what, I’m leaving”
She stood up, her head banging into the low ceiling; in a fit of frustration she kicked down the door to the room and stormed out with as much dignity as she had left. Banthu didn’t even try to stop her; he just rested his forehead in his open hand. She wove her way through the endless dark corridors, going nowhere, she just wanted to hide. After a half hour of walking she found a nice quiet dead end, she sank to the floor, curled up, and retreated into her thoughts.
Ellie found herself back in the quiet apartment once more. Katrine was lounging on her old futon, she’d somehow got the lights on and the small apartment was bathed in a welcoming yellow glow.
She looked over, her eyes were wet. “Welcome back, what’s up?”
“You’re dead…” Ellie stared blankly at Katrine, searching her face for a reaction.
Katrine shrugged. “I gathered as much, oddly enough it doesn’t really bother me all too much. I can’t really remember anything about my death so it can’t really impact me. One moment I’m at work the next moment I wake up in bed, dead.” She leaned back in the futon and sighed.
Ellie made her way to Katrine and sat beside her on the futon. Internally she was marveling at how soft it was. “Well now what? You’re stuck in my head…” She clasped her head in her hands. “It all seems so absurd.” She was on the verge of laughter.
Katrine reached over and gave Ellie a little nudge in the side; she was rewarded with a small squawk of surprise. “Well it is absurd, but it’s happened and there’s nothing you can do about it, also you’re still naked.”
Ellie peeked from between her fingers, painfully aware of her newfound ticklishness. “Yes I am… does that bother you?”
Katrine grunted dismissively. “Not particularly, here let’s check the closet; I wonder if I have anything that fits.” Katrine rummaged through the closet, eventually returning with a pair of black cotton pants and a blue jacket. “They’re probably too big but they’ll do for now.”
Ellie slipped them on, they wrapped her in a warm softness that she was unaccustomed to. “Ooh, these are surprisingly comfortable; I’ve never actually worn clothes before.” She snuggled into the jacket, a contented smile on her face.
“Well you are an eight foot killing machine in the real world I don’t think anything would actually fit.” Katrine ushered her to the mirror. “Look at you, you almost look normal now!”
Ellie squinted her eyes as she saw herself for the first time. “Yeah, hmmm, so that’s what I look like, a child.” She was around five feet tall with a head full of long blonde hair, wearing a slightly bewildered expression. She poked at her face as she moved different parts of it, she traced her new scar, it still stung slightly.
Katrine looked down at Ellie, eyebrow raised. “Well how old are you?”
Ellie shrugged. “A few weeks at most. To be honest I haven’t been keeping track, I’ve spent most of my time in the gym trying not to be beaten to death.”
Katrine gave her a little jostle. “Well there you go; you still have room to grow.” She began fussing over Ellie’s hair. “Now about this—.”
Somebody knocked on the door… Both of them whirled to look at it. Another knock.
“Erm… it’s for you!” Katrine gestured Ellie to the door.
“Humph, coward.” Ellie walked over to the door and threw it open, she stepped outside and dissolved into thin air, and she was gone.
“Drama queen,” Katrine muttered to the empty apartment.
Ellie’s view faded in to see Kid crouched over her, tapping her metaphorical face. Ellie swatted away the offending finger.
Kid stood up quickly. “Yay! You aren’t dead again! Come on, everybody’s waiting for you back at the gym. Follow me!”
Ellie pushed herself up, realizing she was communicating with Kid without having to be indirect contact. “How did you find me?”
“Well, I was sitting outside the door when you ran out, so I followed you. Then you sort of collapsed on the floor. I was going to draw a funny face on you but I lost my markers in the fight, c’mon!” Kid skipped off joyfully into the darkness.
Katrine spoke. “I think you’d better follow her, unless you’d like to mope some more.”
“I think I’m done moping for now.” Ellie set off after her.
As Ellie followed kid through the dark tunnels she enquired. “So what happened after I lost consciousness?”
Kid began making various motions with her hand and stump, pantomiming the fight, her voice was unusually serious. “Well, we all sort of dogpiled Medusa, we were hoping to overpower it by holding down each of its arms, but as you can guess…” Kid waved her stump. “It didn’t work. Medusa broke free and in the process cut off my hand and Wall’s arm. We couldn’t land a hit on it, not even Ghost could land more than one, and you saw how fast she can move. So, after a few minutes of us trying and failing to get Medusa under control this… thing crawls out of the elevator shaft.”Kid visibly shuddered. “I’ve never felt anything like ‘Morgan’ before, or smelled for that matter, it was just… evil… it didn’t even walk it slithered along the ground. I was mostly unconscious when they fought due to…”She waved the stump again. “Schultz and Banthu came later; we were all so worried about you… Come on we’re almost there, race you!”
Chapter 10: Not Quite Dead
By climbing up one of the elevator shafts and forcing the doors open Ellie and Kid reentered the gym. Massive swathes of the floors were uprooted and strewn with splintered wood and shredded foam, the ceiling was partially collapsed and the walls were covered in black slime, not a thing in sight remained undamaged. Around the room the Indra milled about, some sat in small groups while others were simply walking around aimlessly.
Kid deflated slightly when she saw the room. “We always thought we were invincible; they’re all taking her death pretty hard.”Kid gestured to the form of Valkyrie who was covered in a sheet, her body was being guarded by Bolt.
Ellie made her way to Valkyrie; Bolt started towards her and stopped her before she could get very far. Bolt stood in her way, barring her from going past, she aggressively pushed Ellie back. As she was stumbling back Ellie could begin to hear what Bolt was saying, the Bluetooth board was doing as advertised.
Bolt’s tone was accusatory, bordering on manic. “What do you think you’re doing here, freak? Haven’t you caused enough damage? Get out, before I make those holes in your chest even larger. It’s all your fau—.”She was cut off by the force of Kid drop kicking her in the chest. Bolt tumbled across the floor; instead of getting up she simply curled up and started rocking on the ground, her body trembled with sobs.
Ellie finally reached the body of Valkyrie; she kneeled down and gingerly lifted the sheet off. The wicked cut had nearly cut the poor Indra in two, slashing across the face and down through the chest, the corner of her board could be seen from where the gash split her facial area. Strands of severed cabling could be seen weakly squirming around the edges of the slash as the last dregs of power streamed from her dying core. Ellie placed her hand on Valkyrie’s head, feeling a deep regret. From the stories Death and Pestilence had told her, Valkyrie was basically the group’s surrogate mother. She felt a sharp pain in her fingertips, quickly she pulled her hand away; it was as if tiny needles were puncturing her skin and trying to burrow inside. Ellie felt something else, a strange sensation deep inside, as if her very being was being rewritten.
Katrine piped up. “Hey Ellie, um, so there’s a severed foot in the apartment.”
Taken aback by the oddity of this statement Ellie took a moment to respond, “A foot?”
Katrine sounded just as confused as Ellie. “Yeah, it showed up when you touched her head. I have an idea… do it again.”
Ellie scoffed lightly, “Great idea.” She placed her hand back on Valkyrie’s head; the needles began once more.
“Who’re ya talkin’ to?”Kid was at her side; her serious mood had seemingly dissipated. “You’re talking to yourself; you don’t have multiple personality disorder right? Are there two Ellie’s in there?”She poked Ellie in the forehead. “Hello? Is there anybody in there?”
“Yes, actually,” Katrine responded, rather surprised that she could hear Kid in the apartment.
Kid gasped and recoiled in surprise. “You do have multiple personality disorder!”She jammed her finger back in Ellie’s facial region once more. “Hello other Ellie, how many personalities are in there with you? Is it crowded in there?”
“My name is Katrine actually, and it’s just me and a set of legs at the moment. Funnily enough this isn’t the weirdest thing that’s happened to us today, well, probably. Ellie, keep it up! Her torso’s coming in now.”
Ellie tilted her head. “How can you tell they’re a girl?”
“She’s naked, just like you were,”Katrine responded rather smarmily.
“You were naked?”Kid was getting very confused. By now some of the Indra had taken notice of what was happening and were converging on the strange scene.
“Excuse me little one, but what exactly are you doing?”War asked, kneeling down beside her.
“Well, there is a very slightly remote possibility that Valkyrie here is not dead.”She tried to rationalize what was going on but found herself stumped; finally she managed to stutter out something vague and not at all helpful. “Through a complicated, though luckily automated, sequence of events I might just be able to save her mind even though her body is dying.” She gave up. “Here, just place your hand on my back and listen in.”
War obliged and, along with several others, placed his hand on LE’s back. Immediately they were struck with a second consciousness, the likes of which they had never felt before, it was human. There was another, fainter, consciousness growing in strength with each passing second, it was unmistakably Valkyrie. War felt his vision grow dark.
“Oh great, more company, you may look but you may not talk, it’s already crowded enough in here as is.” War was taken aback, standing before him, as if appearing from thin air was a human female with striking black hair and an exasperated expression. The gym had vanished and he was now in a small apartment. She turned back and crouched. “Also you’re naked,” she threw over her shoulder.
War looked down. “So I am. I appear to have a human body. How str—.”
He was hushed by Katrine. “I said no talking! She’s almost done.”
War looked down and lying on the floor was another human female, her features were gentle and her long burgundy hair was fanned around her, she looked somehow familiar, he felt a tap on his forearm. He looked over and saw another female, smaller in stature and with dark hair like Katrine’s, perhaps a kid, no, it was Kid.
“You’re naked,” she mouthed at him face beaming with joy; she was virtually bouncing with excitement.
He scowled. “Is that really the main thing you’re focusing on right now?”
Kid nodded vigorously.
Around him War could see more people materializing inside the small apartment; soon there were fourteen people, all completely alien yet somehow familiar standing around.
The front door opened and a short blonde girl wearing ill-fitting clothes walked in, she quickly took a head count. “Well, it looks like you all found your way in easily enough,” she said as she began to weave her way through the baffled Indra.
“Ellie,” Katrine whined. “There are a bunch of naked people in my apartment, I don’t know why but that freaks me out more than the woman growing on my carpet.”
Ellie gestured toward the closet whilst shuffling through the group toward Valkyrie. “Well, show them to the closet, them being naked here is optional.”
Katrine paused for a moment, then nodded while shrugging. “Fair enough, alright everybody the closet is over there, I don’t care what you wear as long as it covers your junk.”
Katrine had barely enough clothes for one person, let alone fifteen, Wall who maintained his massive stature had to use Katrine’s bathrobe as a loincloth. Kid found herself in the same boat as Ellie; soon she was running around with a pair of baggy pajama pants wrapped up and over her head. Soon they were all semi-clothed and grouped around the unconscious form of Valkyrie who Katrine had thankfully covered with a blanket. She was fully formed, and it was a guessing game as to when she would wake up.
Katrine spoke loudly from where she was lounging on the bed, startling the gathered Indra. “Sheesh! Do you guys have to hover so much? You’re humans in here, not robots, act like it! Walk around, brood, talk to each other, brood. A whole new world of sensations have been given to you in the form of my apartment, explore.” She hopped to her feet and made a sweeping motion to disperse them.
Some of the Indra looked relieved and broke from the group to wander; others looked confused and maintained their wooden poses. At Katrine’s insistence the rest of them disbanded and got comfortable, the only one who remained was Bolt. She crouched down, wrapping her arms around her legs, and stared intently at Valkyrie’s face, her eyes wet with barely restrained tears.
Pestilence meandered around the apartment taking in the new sensations of having a human body. She was amazed at how smooth her skin was, and not all lumpy like it was outside, and she’d never realized how soft carpets were. She wiggled her toes, savoring the strange soft feeling of the fibers squishing beneath her toes. Feeling at the top of her head she felt hair for the first time, she twiddled it and pulled at it. She felt a small pain from where she pulled her hair, sharply pulling her hand away she saw a few strands of brown pair wrapped tightly around her pointer finger.
“So it does come out…” She looked at the hair in wonderment.
Pixia rose up behind her and began petting Pestilence’ hair.
Pestilence slapped away her hand. “Oi, get your own hair, this is mine.”
“But it’s so soft.” Pixia’s hair in comparison was wiry and thick; it stuck out at odd angles. She kept patting at Pestilence head.
Pestilence deftly guided Pixia’s hand away from her head once more. “If you’re gonna pester anyone go pester Ghost, she looks a bit lonely.” She leaned in close, or as close as she could, Pixia was easily over seven feet. “She has nice hair,” she whispered.
Pixia blushed slightly and clammed up. “Nah, I don’t wanna bother her, I mean, besides what would we talk about?”
Pestilence scoffed. “I’m stuck with captain stoic, commander stoic, and Famine all day, I have no idea. Ask her what she’s been up to, engage her a little.” She gave Pixia a slight nudge.
Pestilence underestimated the force of her slight nudge as Pixia virtually flopped over in front of Ghost, cutting perfectly between Wall and Wulf having a conversation about arm wrestling. Wall made to catch Pixia but he chose the wrong arm and she fell unhindered into the soft carpet. Several heads turned to see Pixia lying on the floor, there were a few good natured chuckles and rolled eyes as the conversations resumed.
Pixia looked up at Ghost, she was sporting a red jacket and a pair of lime green exercise shorts. Pixia’s tongue seemed to swell up in her mouth. “Good morning,” was all she could stutter out.
Ghost looked down, her perfect face twisted in confusion. “Um… are you alright?” A few strands of her platinum blonde hair drifted down in front of her eyes, she expertly blew them away.
Pixia nearly leapt to her feet. “Yep, just not used to… this.” She gestured to her body.
“Yeah, it is a bit strange.” Ghost went back to looking out the window.
Pixia tried to stammer something out, but nothing came to her. She could see Ghost side-eyeing her, was that a smile? Pixia clammed up even more and quickly walked away.
Pestilence snuck up beside her as she fled. “Good morning? Was that the best you could come up with?” she whispered incredulously.
“Well, I didn’t have very much time to think of something clever now did I?” Pixia whispered back, a bit harshly.
Pestilence gave her a good natured clap on the lower back. “You’ll figure her out one day, it just takes charisma.”
Pixia wandered back over to the kitchen table and crunched down into one of the tiny chairs. She rested her head in her arms and considered all of the things she should have said. The chair next to hers scraped and she could hear somebody sit down next to her. Pixia looked up hopefully but it was only inferno, she glanced over to where Ghost was and saw her quickly look away.
Inferno began whispering mockingly, “Smooth moves, and don’t think we don’t all know.”
“I had my money on Pestilence, but now… well…” He chuckled. “Good luck sweetheart.” He stood up and walked over to the front door where he began aggressively loitering.
Pixia called over her shoulder. “I think you should wear women’s clothing more often, it brings that whole ‘brooding loner asshole’ look together quite nicely.”
Inferno responded smugly. “I know, my pecs look fabulous.” He began flexing his large pectoral muscles. There was a slight groan from those closest to him and the berth around him widened, nobody was in the mood for his brand of annoying.
Pixia felt a gentle pat on her shoulder, she looked up hopefully, it was the girl Katrine. She leaned down and whispered in Pixia’s ear. “Give it time.” More pats and Katrine disappeared into the small crowd of Indra. Pixia slumped over again.
Katrine weaved her way through the wandering, chatting, Indra to the futon where Ellie, Scorn, and Lethe were conversing. “Hey, what’s up? Also what’s with the ginger kid? She hasn’t moved.”
“Oh, that’s Bolt,” Responded Lethe. “She was very attached to Valkyrie.” He shifted on the couch, looking between Scorn and Vee. “Scorn, Valkyrie, and myself were the first three Indra to be created after Medusa’s… dismal failure. ‘Vee’ as we all tended to call her was a sort of maternal figure to a lot of us, but her connection to Bolt was stronger than the rest. As for what we were talking about when you arrived, we were discussing next steps. Obviously Medusa needs to be stopped before it kills more people, but none of us are capable of defeating it. Not even Morgan, who is nearly as twisted as Medusa, could drive it off without nearly dying.”
“By the way, I never actually got to see Morgan,” Ellie interjected.
“Probably for the best,” replied Scorn, his voice twisted in disgust. “Morgan is nearly as grotesque as Medusa, the sight of those two fighting chilled me to my core and I’m pretty sure I don’t have one of those. Anyway, we have to find Medusa and stop it.”
Katrine eased herself onto the ground. “But where is Medusa? How can we plan to fight something if we don’t know where it is?” asked Katrine.
“North, Medusa is headed to the north,” Ellie said rather suddenly.
Scorn noticeably slumped. “And what makes you think that?”
Ellie furrowed her brow and frowned as she remembered the vague sensations. “When it stabbed me I felt something from it, an urge perhaps, stronger than its urge to kill. It was almost as if something was calling it.”
Katrine looked to Scorn who was looking increasingly sick. “OK, either you’re going to throw up, or you’re going to vomit some exposition at us, which is it? It’d better be the exposition because the water isn’t running and I refuse to clean up puke.”
Scorn let out a sigh. “Alright, ‘exposition’ it is.” He turned to Lethe. “Remember that evil looking general before we were decommissioned, uh, Freeman I think.”
“Yes… I remember him quite well.” Lethe was looking concerned. “If I recall correctly he thought Medusa was a success to be repeated. God he was an ass.”
Scorn rubbed away the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. “Well, what if I told you he did repeat it, a couple hundred times.”
“Spit it out!” Katrine nearly yelled.
By now most of the Indra had started eavesdropping on the conversation.
Scorn slumped. “Well, to the north, nestled in the Petrified Wood there is a science and research station where Freeman constructed his army under the radar of the US Government, as far as anyone knew the whole complex was decommissioned and abandoned. I don’t know how but it has resurfaced once more. Luckily for us, I found it soon after I was reactivated, before the Tcha’Gough did, they think it’s the resting place of their god.” He turned to look at Katrine, who was looking rightfully peeved. “How much do you know about the Tcha’Gough’s ceremony of Li’Djein Katrine?”
She was startled by the question, she thought for a moment. “A little, I know that the two Tcha’Gough participants are always killed by the radiation from the forest before they can reach the temple.”
Scorn shook his head. “That’s not correct, the radiation may be lethal to humans but the Tcha’Gough are immune to it, for the past four hundred years or so I’ve been killing the two ceremony participants so they don’t reach the research station and accidentally reawaken an army of insane killing machines.”
“What’s to stop them from all going in at once then?” asked Lethe.
Scorn was silent for a moment. “Nothing.”
“Well, I think I know where we’re going next,” said Ellie, getting to her feet.
“I think that conclusion is inevitable,” said Katrine. “We have to seal off, or preferably destroy the station and hopefully intercept and stop Medusa before it gets there and releases an army of insane killer cyborgs, am I getting that right?” Katrine was a little freaked out by all of this. “Why didn’t you tell anybody before? Why not Wulf? You were almost in constant contact with him for give or take two hundred years and you chose to say nothing? And you had better not say, ‘well nobody asked’.”
Scorn’s voice was determined. “It is my fault for letting Freeman get his hands on the controller boards all those years ago, this was my burden to bear, not yours.”
Katrine scoffed, Wulf also scoffed. “That’s even worse! Listen here you pasty faced, beer belly piece of shi—,” she was interrupted.
“She’s waking up! Everybody come quickly!” Bolt yelled excitedly.
Bolt’s cry killed all the momentum Katrine had in insulting Scorn who gratefully went to see what the commotion was about. Valkyrie was indeed awake and looking understandably confused.
Her face was scrunched in confusion. “Hmm, so death is being surrounded by a bunch of half naked men, women, and children. Not what I was expecting but I suppose it could be worse.”
“Technically you’re not actually dead,” Katrine said as she shouldered her way through the group. “You’re actually residing in my disembodied brain which is currently housed inside Ellie here.” She pointed to Ellie who looked rather sheepish and gave a little wave. “Welcome to your new home.” She raised her arms in a grand sweeping gesture, almost hitting several Indra in the face in the process.
Valkyrie’s face remained scrunched as she found something else to be confused about. “I’m naked.”
Katrine wilted, her voice had a tinge of disbelief. “Of all the things you could have said you chose that? Really? We’ll get you clothes in a moment.”
“I’m… human?” Valkyrie looked at her new hands with a look of puzzled wonderment. She wiggled her fingers; a smile broke across her face.
“Well yes, but actually no,” said Ellie, “we’re all human, or at least look it, in Katrine’s brain, I’m sure if such a thing was possible in one of our chips we’d look like we normally do. I’m guessing Katrine just has enough empty space to accommodate us; she definitely had plenty to fit you in.
“Ha ha very funny.” Katrine rolled her eyes.
“So I’m stuck here forever? Again, I suppose it could be worse, at least I’ll have company in death.” Valkyrie looked around at the motley group; all these familiar personalities finally had faces to match.
Ellie shook her head. “Well… perhaps I could have worded that better… You’re the only one who died, everybody else, aside from Katrine, is just visiting.” Ellie pointed at Katrine. “You’re stuck with her, and me to an extent, for eternity.”
“How good are you at Word Squares?” Katrine asked a small grin on her face.
Before Valkyrie could answer Bolt rushed in and wrapped her arms around her sobbing uncontrollably. Valkyrie hugged her back tightly.
“I thought you were dead,” Bolt choked out between sobs, “I thought you’d left me.”
Valkyrie crooned, “No my dear, I’m here, I’d never dream of leaving you.”
They sat there for several minutes while the Indra began to leave, one by one they popped out of existence, leaving foot shaped stains on the carpet.
“If you’ll excuse us, we have work to do in the outside world,” said War. “I’ll try to communicate to Schultz that we’re sending a group to go after Medusa, though with the state Alcadon is in I think most of us will have to stay to act as damage control for the military if things get out of hand. Hey, Scorn?”
Scorn looked up; he was giving Valkyrie a pat on the shoulder. “Yeah?”
“I want you to organize a group of four to go after Medusa; the rest will stay behind. I also want you to select a secondary group in case things go sour on your end, just send out a call and they’ll be on their way ASAP.”
“Yup, will do.” Scorn stood up, stretched, and vanished.
“At least use the front door, you’re leaving stains on the carpet!” Katrine called after him.
Pretty soon all the Indra were gone apart from Kid who was napping on the futon and Bolt who was still hugging Valkyrie. She tried to stand up, but Bolt refused to move. “Alright little one, it’s time for you to go, you’re needed out there. Besides, I’m not really going anywhere, find Ellie and you’ll find me. Now go on, I need to get dressed.” She waved Bolt away who wiped away her tears
“Treat her well.” Bolt pointed at Ellie, and vanished like the rest.
Ellie walked over to the slumbering Kid. “C’mon Kid, it’s time to go, wake up now.” She gave Kid a little jostle that woke her up, Kid yawned and groggily vanished. Ellie turned to her new tenant. “I’ll leave you to get comfortable.” She went to the front door and made to leave.
“Thanks… for saving my life!” Valkyrie called after her.
Ellie gave a cheeky wink and left.
Chapter 11: Loss
Scorn paced around the gym, eying up the Indra, carefully considering who to take with him. “OK, Anon, LE- I mean Ellie, Bolt, and Kid. You four are coming with me to stop Medusa, any objections?”
The gathered Indra were silent, none of them were particularly keen on going after Medusa.
Scorn nodded, satisfied. “Very well, we’ll set out immediately. And Kid… no whining!”
The five filed into the elevators followed, unusually, by Wulf and Lethe.
Wulf, Lethe, and Scorn shared an elevator. The three stood uncomfortably, while Marge nattered at them about the damage in the gym, something about recording it.
Wulf finally spoke, breaking the awkward mental silence. He placed a hesitant hand on Scorn’s shoulder. “So all of that, all that killing up north, was just to cover up your mistake?”
Scorn didn’t shake the hand off. “Yep,” he affirmed with a nod.
Wulf tightened his grip. “That’s why you were acting all crazy and crying about your work?”
Scorn nodded again. “Yep.” His discomfort was apparent.
Lethe finally spoke before Wulf could get himself riled up. “Let me guess, it slowly became a mental thing where you just couldn’t feel normal without it and didn’t want to risk losing it even though you had multiple chances to?”
Scorn was full of nods. “That’s about right.”He started to fidget uncomfortably.
Lethe tilted his head, watching Scorn squirm, normally Scorn was the quiet emotionless type, he really had changed over the years. “You really don’t want to talk about this.”
“You have no idea,”Scorn said quickly.
Lethe clapped him on the shoulder. “Heh, it seems even you aren’t infallible.”
“Despite my best efforts… Wulf could you please let go, you’re crushing my shoulder.” Scorn seethed slightly as Wulf released his grip; there were small indentations from where his fingers pressed into Scorn’s flesh.
Lethe turned to Wulf. “And it seems we need to work on you as well, you keep forgetting your strength, not to mention your emo—.” Lethe stiffened and fell over, his head leaving a small dent in the side of the elevator as he hit it.
“I thought you were going to catch him,”Wulf said lamely.
Scorn shook his head. “To be honest I’m amazed that he stuck out this long; I think that’s a new record.”
“Did they ever actually figure out what’s wrong with his board?” Wulf asked while hauling Lethe over his shoulder, Marge could be heard guffawing in the background.
The elevator doors slid open and the two walked out, Lethe flopping limply over Wulf’s shoulder. It seems Marge had slowed down their elevator for whatever reason, probably malice; the others were waiting outside marveling at the light pollution, the rain had long cleared up. Ellie was running around excitedly with Kid bouncing on her shoulders, it was the first time she’d ever been outside.
Scorn shook his head again. “Nope, though it was surmised that the problem was in his chip, the one thing that they couldn’t repair if they’d wanted to.”
Wulf let out a wistful sigh as he remembered the old days; it all seemed so simple back then. “The one part of us not even Ma could fix.”
“Lord knows she tried…”Scorn paused, watching Ellie’s childlike joy; he felt a small pang of happiness that was quickly swallowed by a cloak of grief. Let’s not talk about her. The two wilted slightly. “You gonna follow us all the way out or do you want to stay here with the others?”
Wulf shrugged, jostling Lethe. “I’ll see you out; somebody has to make sure you go off in the right direction.”
Scorn scoffed. “Says you, you could get lost on a straight line.”
Wulf started. “How do you know about that?”
Scorn looked at him dumbly for a second and then started laughing, he laughed all the way out the front door and into the main plaza, Wulf followed, begging him to shut up. The city was positively deserted, the only activity any of them saw were stray cats and dogs rustling through the alleyways and digging through overturned trashcans and dumpsters. The biting cold didn’t help matters, autumn was on the horizon. A frosty wind blew through the group, it blew Wulf’s cape up, allowing Ellie to see Wulf’s back for the first time. His back was covered in raised welts carving out a strange symbol “恥”.
She walked up alongside him, Kid bouncing happily on her broad shoulders. “Wulf… why do you wear that cape?” she asked.
Wulf was quiet for a moment, he sighed. “I suppose you deserve to know, Bolt, Kid, I’m pretty sure you don’t know this either.”He pulled the cape from around his neck showing the character in its entirety.“While we were in operation, the United States was in conflict with the Kingdom of Japan, I was mainly used for strike warfare in the Wakayama and southern Osaka regions. The dense jungle coupled with the mountainous terrain made it perfect for me to disrupt their coastal supply chains and knock down their aircraft. Well, I got a bit too comfortable; I was captured by the Japanese on the peak of Mount Kōya.”Wulf chuckled bitterly. “I got sixty of them, but they never stopped coming. One man aerial vehicles, infantry, mag-tanks, lasers!” he said with a flourish. “The works, kinda puts in perspective how dangerous we were. But they got me, wrapped me in Teflon steel and sent me to Kyoto for ‘testing’.” His head twitched. “They tore me open… they broke me and rebuilt me, they learned everything there was to know about us, especially how to destroy us… They didn’t kill me, they figured it would do greater harm to let me live with the shame of my betrayal. They left me with one final gift…” He gestured to the brand on his back. “It means ‘shame’ and I have to carry it with me for the rest of my life.”
“So that’s why…”Bolt said quietly. “I thought it was Inferno…”
Wulf shook his head. “No, it was both of us.”
They continued on in silence, Lethe finally regained consciousness and walked along with them. Eventually the edge of the city drew near as the sky began to lighten with the approaching dawn. The five set off at a trot heading due north, on their way to stop Medusa. Wulf and Lethe watched the five receding into the distance, eventually sinking below the horizon.
“Think they’ll make it in time?”Wulf asked.
“I have my doubts, but they’re a good crew and won’t let us down. I’m just surprised that Scorn kept this all a secret from us for so long, especially you. It was as the girl Katrine said, he could have told you at any time, and we likely wouldn’t have had this particular snafu laid at our feet. Perhaps we do have egos after all.”
Wulf punched his open palm. “Yes, we’re going to have a very serious conversation about his mental health when he gets back.”
Lethe chuckled; he couldn’t tell if Wulf was going to give Scorn advice or a thorough beating, he figured the latter. “Don’t forget, he owes you for that whack on the head you gave him… and the other one… how many times did you hit him?”
“More than I’d want, less than you’d think.”Wulf slouched a bit. “We’ll get to that when it comes.”
Lethe nodded his head and turned back toward the city, he began swiftly walking back toward the Schultz building. “Agreed, alright, let’s be back, I wonder if War has finished his meeting with Schultz yet.”
Wulf scoffed. “Yeah, I doubt he’ll be able to get all of this across to Schultz with his silly sign language.”He mockingly pantomimed The Four Horsemen’s sign language.
“Hmm, so an insane Indra is out to release their brethren who were made by a manic American General, for the sole purpose of obliterating the Japanese.” Schultz leaned back in his chair brow furrowed in thought. “Yes that is quite a situation.”
War tilted his head.
Schultz shot forward has his chair snapped back upright. “No, no you acted within your bounds, I’m glad you sent them out before talking to me. Though I would have preferred having the full complement of you here to assist with the situation, it can’t be helped. But now that you’re here I’m wondering if you could coordinate with your fellow Indra to start searching the building, it seems Ellis decided to go for a walk and isn’t in his quarters. I’d rather like for him to stay within arm’s reach at the moment.” Schultz felt his stomach twist.
The door burst open, the portly General Sullivan ran to Schultz’ desk and slammed a piece of paper in front of him. Sullivan stepped back, eyes wide, breathing heavily as Schultz read the paper. Gently he put the paper down, his eyes faraway and listless for a moment, he snapped back to reality. He stood up roughly, his chair flying back and slamming into the massive window, rage burned in his eyes.
“General, War, come with me,” he snapped. He looked at Sullivan. “Is my car waiting?”
Sullivan snapped to attention. “Yes sir!”
“Come on!” His voice was little more than a snarl.
He sped out of the room, followed closely by War and the puffing General Sullivan. Schultz impatiently bounced the whole way down, urging Marge to ignore protocol and speed up. He virtually sprinted from the elevator as it opened on the lobby, bowling over several cleaning staff and a few early risers in his haste. He rammed the glass doors open, shattering them, glass showered on the concrete. He nearly leapt into the open car door, War and Sullivan piled in behind him. He thrust the small paper through the small window separating the driver from the rest of the car. The driver quickly read the address, and nodded his head silently.
The car sped off in a cloud of tire smoke. Those few in the plaza that witnessed the bizarre outburst were left in shocked awe, what could have caused Schultz to lose his composure like that? The muttering started. The car zipped and dodged through traffic with little regard for road safety or the other drivers. Sullivan and Schultz were wildly whipped around, struggling to fasten their safety belts, while War maintained his composure admirably. Soon they pulled up on the address in question.
The hospital was a massive slab of grey concrete, twenty stories tall, its smooth surface perforated with small windows. It, like much of the city, was built for utility and not beauty. The multiple entrances were a train wreck of emergency vehicles and walk-ins, with people spilling into the street outside. Violent crime was way up and the several hospitals speckled around the city could barely cope. A veritable knot of human misery tried to force its way into the building for help.
A few blasts from the horn parted the shifting field of humanity, slowly all activity stopped, bar the groans and coughs from the sick and injured the hospital was silent. All eyes were fixed on Schultz and his entourage. Schultz, disregarding any semblance of formality, threw the door open and rushed to the front desk. After a few hushed words with the attendant he hurried off again towards the elevators, followed closely by Sullivan and War. The watching masses were abuzz; something serious must have happened for Schultz to be out of his tower, with one of his reclusive Indra bodyguards no less. The elevator door opened and Schultz rushed in, the astute observer would notice that the elevator display went from the main floor to sublevel B1, the morgue.
Impatiently forcing the doors open, Schultz bolted into the hallway, whipping his head left and right. Schultz ran to the nearest nurse.
He roughly grabbed her shoulders, whirling her around. “Where is he?!” he yelled, face reddening.
She suppressed a scream, her eyes widened when she saw who was accosting her. “Wh-Who?” She began trembling.
He shook her lightly, his hands shaking uncontrollably. “Male 5”6’ blonde, he came in a few hours ago!”
The nurse looked confused, and then the realization dawned on her, her face grew serious. “This way Mr. Schultz.” He hesitantly released her and she hurried off down the hallway.
They entered one of the many rooms; the nurse tapped at the small wall-mounted reference terminals and one of the drawers slid open quietly. There he was, Ellis Schultz, pale and cold, his neck heavily bruised and clearly broken, just like his sister’s had been.
Sullivan stepped up behind Schultz, he stuttered for a moment before explaining, “He was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft. They didn’t know it was him, his ID card was missing and his dog tags were covered, if we’d known you would have been notified earlier.”
Schultz let out a yell of primal rage; he slammed his fist into one of the other metal drawers leaving a massive dent. The nurse, startled, rushed out of the room, Sullivan and War took a few paces back. Schultz sank to his knees, sobbing, whether it was from the pain in his hand or from the death of his nephew it couldn’t be ascertained. He let out a wail that made even War’s metaphorical hackles rise; War had never seen a human act like this, let alone Schultz.
Schultz stood, tears streaming down his face, cradling his rapidly bruising arm. His eyes were like pieces of flint, dark and angry. “General, assemble the heads of military and my closest advisors, this has gone too far. If the Sons want to play this game then it’s time we threw our chips in as well, all of them.” His voice was worryingly calm.
Sullivan stood to attention, saluted, and exited, his footsteps echoing down the hallway. A set of softer, hurried, footsteps drew closer.
Schultz looked to War, his expression unchanged. “When we get back to the tower I want you to assemble all the Indra, we’re gonna smoke these roaches out of our city and stamp them out like the bugs they are!”
The nurse rushed back into the room with a first aid kit, and began fussing over Schultz’ hand.
“I’m OK my dear, really.” Schultz placed his uninjured hand reassuringly on her shoulder; his face had relaxed into a soft smile. “I just don’t know my own strength, that’s all. Now please go and tell your superior that my nephew has been identified and I want him transferred to my personal medical facility in the Schultz building. Give them this.” He pulled a special gold card from his jacket pocket. “Just so they know I am who I say I am.” He gave her a kind smile as she left the room.
“Alright War, let’s get back to the tower, I hope I don’t make as much of a scene leaving as I did arriving.” He straightened his clothing, dried his eyes, and put a tight professional smile on his face. “How’s this?”
War gave a thumbs up.
Schultz nodded. “Good, let’s go.” He quickly left the room.
Before he could leave War saw the dented drawer slide open revealing a familiar face. The raven black hair, the soft kind features, the cold dead body of Katrine was unmistakable, as was the jagged stitching across her forehead. There was no bruising she’d been operated on after she had died. Checking the terminal War found the cause of death, brain aneurism. Perhaps Banthu had done her a kindness…
Schultz whirled around the corner. “War, come on! Don’t dawdle!”
War had inspected the metal of the drawer, it was thick sheet steel, Schultz’ hand should have bounced off it, but it was crumbled like foil. He looked back one last time and followed Schultz to the elevator.
War had never seen a man with such composure before, one moment he was bawling on the ground, the next minute we was smiling and waving, and even signing autographs. His mental fortitude was at least equal to his strength.
“Anger can make a person do incredible things,” was all Schultz had said to explain his sudden burst of strength.
As they got back in the car Schultz tapped the dividing window and they set off, at a more reasonable speed this time.
Schultz slumped in his seat, head in his hands, breathing heavily. He looked at War. “You recently lost one of your own, right? Valkyrie, she was killed by Medusa?”
War nodded his head.
Schultz leaned forward, swaying with the movement of the car, not taking his eyes off of War. “You’ve felt that loss then, that feeling of something you once thought untouchable, indestructible, being lost.”
War nodded again.
“I’ve felt that twice, twice in as many weeks.” He let out a small manic chuckle and looked out the window. “I expect the military to do their best, but I want you to nail the fuckers down and torch them ‘till there’s nothing left but dust.”
War nodded again.
“Good, don’t let me down, the future, my future, the future of every person living in this city depends on you Indra.” He let out one final sigh a tired smile stretching across his face; it was as if he’d aged a decade in a mere second, he looked so old and frail. “That’s what I like about you Indra, you don’t mince words and I won’t let the military do so either.”
War tiled his head.
Schultz snapped back, his fatigue seemingly evaporating. His voice was grim, “Oh, I intend for this to be a very one sided meeting.”
The car stopped and the two of them exited and nonchalantly made their way to the front doors. War could easily see through Schultz’ act, behind that smile burned the rage of a supernova, but for the people Schultz would wear any face.
“Alright Schultz, why are we here?” asked General Burke, half dressed and looking justifiably drowsy. There was a lot of irritated grumbling and plenty of yawns going around the semicircle of lethargic government officials.
Schultz paced in front of them, exuding his characteristic charismatic aura. “You are all here because as we speak my nephew is being moved to cold storage beneath the tower. The Sons have killed my niece, they have killed my nephew, and I have no doubts that they are coming after me next. You are here because not once, but twice have members of my family been kidnapped and possibly murdered while still in this very tower!” Schultz stamped his foot on the floor. “The Sons are here, they’re in this building as we speak, crawling beneath our feet like rats. They even bugged my private elevator, they could’ve had me anywhere in this building and I would have been powerless to stop it. What I want you to do is close off the city, nobody comes in and nobody leaves. Withdraw all military and scientific personnel from across the country and center them here. Gentleman, ladies, it’s time we make our stand.”
The group stared at Schultz in stunned silence; they were suddenly awake, as if the caffeine they so desired had been injected into their bloodstreams.
“Ellis is dead?” asked Burke, mouth flapping like a dying fish.
“Yes, General… He was found at the bottom of that elevator shaft—“ he pointed toward the office entrance “— with his neck snapped like a twig.” Schultz sat at his desk and arched his fingers. “I spoke to him not twelve hours ago; he’d recently been contacted by the Sons themselves. They attempted to poison him against me, they failed, thankfully. But it seems their failure only drove them to kill.”
“What would you have us do?” asked Sullivan, speaking for the group.
Schultz stood up once more and walked around the group, circling them. “What I want you to do is to post guards at every exit and entrance to the city, run patrols around the perimeter, anything so not a single living thing can enter or exit. Build a damned wall if you have to! With the assistance of Intelligence we are going to find these spies and make them talk. I have also assigned my Indra bodyguards to privately investigate this matter as well, you will give them your full cooperation if they so need it. Understood?”
They stood up at attention. “Yes sir!”
Schultz stared into the faces of his cabinet, examining every twitch, every blink. “And, ladies and gentleman, I need not remind you that what you have learned today doesn’t leave this room, the people are already frightened enough as it is. We don’t need to exacerbate this problem any further. To make matters worse I’m sure members of my own staff are in with the Sons, so pick only those who you trust implicitly to carry out your orders”
The assembled generals and advisors saluted and made their way out the door, all except one. Doctor Fitsch lounged on a comfortable couch blinking heavily, trying to stave off unconsciousness. Her hair was a rat’s nest and the bags under her eyes were more pronounced than they’d ever been.
Schultz looked to her. “Status on ‘Project Gamma’?”
She replied with a yawn, if her face didn’t betray her exhaustion, then her voice surely would. “Manufacturing is finished, we’re just lucky that the notes Tryel brought back gave us a step-by-step. We’ll have to speed things up quite a bit, they won’t be as strong as they could be but they’ll be more than strong enough. As for the software… well, I’m starting up preliminary testing… I’d give it a week, and we can upload probably by the end of the month.” She yawned again.
Schultz raised an eyebrow.
She looked back at him dispassionately. “It’s very complicated programming; most of the higher functions are still a mystery, even to us.”
Schultz massaged his temples; he wasn’t in the mood for evasiveness. “You used this technology to create Marge, and now you’re telling me it won’t work here?”
Fitsch waved away the statement. “Marge is different, she’s entirely digital, there’s a bit of a jump in dimension.”
Schultz sighed, and rolled his eyes slightly. “Very well, just get it done.”
“Anything for you Laverne,” she sighed as she pushed herself from the agonizingly comfortable couch; she let out a massive yawn and walked out of the room.
Schultz shook his head. “Does that woman ever sleep?” He turned and sat back at his desk.
Fitsch closed the door behind her, she turned to face the hallway, Burke and Sullivan were stood to the side as the rest filed toward the elevator. Fitsch could hear Burke whispering intensely at Sullivan who looked like he was about to punch him.
“No, and that’s my final word.” Sullivan growled.
“Think about it.” Burke whispered. He saw Fitsch approaching and quickly made toward the elevator.
Fitsch stood next to Sullivan and watched Burke step into the elevator. He sighed, “I really do hate that man.”
“Oh? What did he say now?”
“Just some casual treason…” Sullivan curled his lip in disgust. “Marjorie… please do me a favor, have Marge watch that man like a hawk, compile a daily report and send it straight to me.”
There was something in Sullivan’s voice that took Fitsch aback, not to mention the use of her first name, he was very serious.
She nodded slowly, voice hesitant. “Alright… but you owe me for this, it’ll eat up a good amount of Marge’s resources though, she’s going to be rather slow for a while. I’ll make sure she’s not particularly chatty with him either, we don’t want him getting suspicious.”
“Thank you doctor.” Sullivan mumbled as he walked down the hallway.
Chapter 12: Banthu & the Other One
Inferno was furiously pacing around the small lounge where the Indra set up after the events in the gym. “I only came here to meet LE- Ellie, whatever she’s called; I’m not sticking around to help you satiate your insane dictator boss.”He fell into one of the many couches and slouched uncomfortably. “I just want to go back to my volcano and be alone!”
Wulf looked around the room at the sullen Indra. “Well too bad, because we’re staying, all of us.”He heaved a sigh, as he felt the despondence in the room.“Yeah, I get it, today’s not been the best day but we are likely the only ones who can stop this city from imploding. You’ve all seen what’s happening out there, there are people dying, the city is starving to death.”
Wulf looked sharply at Inferno. “That’s it!”He walked over to where Inferno was lounging and slapped him across the face, not hard, but hard enough. He pinned him down firmly with a hand to the chest. “Listen here you little shit! You may not like humans, personally I’m not a fan either, but we owe them. You sitting around whining ain’t going to get us anywhere; you think you have it bad? Tell that to Wall, or Kid, or maybe Valkyrie?”His voice dropped to a threatening hiss. “Maybe they’ll give you a little lesson in misfortune before I do.”He looked over to War. “I’m sorry War, please continue, I’m sure the interruptions are over for the time being.”He sat back down, not taking his gaze off of Inferno.
War stood by uncomfortably while the altercation took place. He cleared his throat and began laying out his plan.“Yes, I propose we split up into groups of two and start searching certain points of interest in and around the city. Death and Ghost, I want you to search the bar where Ellis was last seen, it’s in Nicky Town so keep your heads down. Ghost, if you need to punch someone please do it lightly, you nearly lost your composure in the gym and we don’t want that happening with humans, no matter how detestable they may be.” He paused as Ghost shifted uncomfortably, Pixia gave her a reassuring punch on the shoulder and a few hushed words, and she calmed down slightly.
War resumed, he had to get Ghost out of her shell somehow, and it was a good first step. “Due to the incredible damage wrought by both Medusa and Morgan upon the elevators, it is now possible to access Morgan’s residence beneath the tower. Pestilence and Wulf I’d like for you to search Morgan’s lair, I don’t need to tell you but don’t be seen. Famine, Pixia, I’d like for you to search the industrial district, specifically the factory that Ellis allegedly emerged from after being taken from the bar. You’ll find the address in the Intelligence office, they are currently at our disposal so don’t be afraid to snoop around in there.”War watchedthe Indra separate into their groups, leaving only Inferno, Lethe, and himself unassigned.
“Oh great! That leaves me with Lethe,”said Inferno sarcastically.
War smiled inwardly, he wasn’t going to let Inferno out of his sight. He shook his head and said in his usual unemotional tone, “Wrong, you’re with me; we’ll be going out of town to search the Shalti settlement of Ozri. Apparently the Sons have been using Ozri in particular as a staging area for raids so I’d like to do a bit of investigating, and figure out what the hell the Shalti are doing out there. Wall is still under supervision for his injuries; he won’t be able to help us for a while.”War looked to the last unassigned Indra.“Lethe…”
Lethe didn’t respond he was unconscious again; completely dead to the world.
“You do you buddy.”War turned to his fellow Indra, now standing in their assigned groups. “Alright, break!”
Ellie, Kid, Bolt, Anon, and Scorn jogged across the featureless Halgue flatlands. Ellie quickly found her mind wandering as she fell into a rhythm, she secretly hoped that the whole venture would be as uneventful as this, she knew deep down that it wouldn’t. She traced the scar across her face, she was barely a week old and yet she was already pocked and scarred, she desperately hope that it wasn’t foreshadowing for her future.
Kid’s cry shook Ellie from her stupor; she stumbled slightly as her rhythm was thrown off.
“Seven hours Kid, you lasted seven hours!”Scorn called back. “We’re not even close to halfway to the Knoss and you’re already complaining!”
Kid comically flopped to the ground; Ellie stopped beside her while the other three kept going, none were in the mood for her childish games.
“Alright Kid, cut it out, you knew it was going to be boring when you agreed to come along. Now stop being such a drama queen and get up.” Ellie grabbed Kid by the wrist and picked up her limp form.
Her tone was mock exhausted. “Carry me, I cannot go on, I am far too weak.”She placed a dramatic stump on her forehead.
“No.” Ellie dropped Kid, who landed on her feet; she turned and jogged off after the others who were a considerable distance away.
“Buzzkill,”Kid muttered as she ran to catch up.
In the apartment Katrine and Vee, as she preferred to be called, were sitting on the futon watching TV. There was only one channel on and it was whatever Ellie was seeing at the moment, it made for exciting viewing. After burning out on I Spy the two of them settled into a comfortable silence watching the scenery go by, occasionally they’d comment on a cloud or an unfortunately shaped rock but for the most part it was silent. Katrine muttered something and went to the closet, she returned with a cardboard box.
Vee put on a look of mock horror. “Oh not Word Squares again.” She was quickly disenchanted with it after Katrine kept using obscure twenty-first century slang terms to win, thankfully, it was not that.
Katrine’s voice was excited as she began to inspect the back of the TV. “No, I completely forgot I had this, this is a Guru Games machine, it’s a little thing I copped from the engineering department, I can hook it up to the TV and we can play games while we wait for something interesting to happen. Honestly I’m amazed it’s in here.” Katrine pulled a thin metal device out of the box and proceeded to hook it up to the TV and plug it into the wall. She tossed a controller to Vee who was looking rather bemused.
Vee inspected the controller, it was simple but it got the job done. She gave it a cursory squeeze, the plastic groaned slightly in her hand, best not to be too rough. “How quaint, we trained with something similar to this back before we were shelved. I remember enjoying it somewhat.”
The cables made small clicking noises as they slotted into the back of the machine. “That should do it.” Katrine pressed the power button and a little green light came on. The picture on the TV however was unchanged. Katrine’s face fell then was replaced with confusion. “Well that’s weird, press buttons on the controller, maybe it just wasn’t detected or something.”
Vee wiggled the directional pad, and the picture on the screen suddenly moved sharply and began spinning. Vee scowled and began pressing several of the buttons; she could see Ellie’s fists and feet shoot out in a flurry of punches and kicks. Vee looked at Katrine, and Katrine looked at Vee, smiles slowly stretched across their faces.
“Guys? Guys?!” Ellie screamed past the group at a full sprint leaving a small cloud of dust in her wake. “What’s happening!?” She pulled a ninety degree turn then another and began running back at the group. Her movements seemed robotic; she leapt through the air into a somersault then back to a full sprint. She stopped on a dime and began punching at the air. “Help!” she cried, frightened at the loss of her motor functions.
The group stopped and watched Ellie run in circles, jump up and down, and punch the air. Not even Kid could bring herself to help she was so floored at what was happening.
Hearing the chuckling of Katrine and Vee she quickly checked in on them, bursting through the apartment door to see the two of them lying on the floor in uncontrolled laughter. “What in the hell is going on in here!?” Ellie cried.
Katrine couldn’t form a coherent sentence through her laughter and simply pointed to the controller in Vee’s shaking hands and then at the screen, where Ellie saw her view spinning.
“So it is you! Come on give it here!” Vee bolted up and started running away from Ellie. “Come on guys this is serious, we’re on a strict time budget here! Come on Vee you’re more mature than this I expected more from you!” Ellie threw herself in a flying tackle, knocking Vee to the floor. After some struggling she finally relinquished the controller which Ellie threw back in the box along with the now unplugged Guru. “If we get through this alive… maybe.” She pointed at the box. “But not now!” She left the apartment slamming the door shut.
“What was that all about?”Scorn asked when Ellie returned.
Ellie explained the situation, Anon and Kid burst into laughter while Bolt suppressed a chuckle. The only one who didn’t find it all too funny was Scorn who just shook his head in disappointment.
He turned northward and set off once more. “Let’s get going everyone; we’ve already lost enough time as is.”
Lethe awoke to an empty room, no bother, he was used to that. That hit to the chest he got from Ellie wouldn’t have made his siblings stumble but took a lot out of him; he wasn’t used to physical combat. He poked at the large dent in his chest. He huffed; at least she apologized about it. He slowly stood up, and began wondering what to do next. He decided to go check up on Wall. Leaving the lounge he made his way down the seemingly infinite beige corridors.
“Well shoot, where am I?”
Lethe looked around; all the corridors looked the same! Whipping his head around the intersection he could see people walking around at the end of one of the halls; he quickly made his way down to where he saw the people. When he got to the next identical intersection all the people had seemingly vanished, all the doors were locked and dark. Peering through the speckled glass in one of the doors Lethe could make out a large figure, not at all human, illuminated by a dim computer screen. He threw his arms up in exasperation.
“What the hell! Where is everybody?”He was normally a fairly calm person, but this was just silly.
“Excuse me can I help you?” a woman asked, her voice betraying her confusion.
Lethe sharply twisted around, how in the world did somebody manage to sneak up on him? In front of him was a woman with a mop of red hair, absurdly large magnified glasses, and a positively bewildered expression on her slightly severe features.
As he turned her eyes widened and her face broke out in a massive smile, she began to chortle to herself. “Hah! Got you Lethe, hah! Oh, you have no idea how many bets I just won! Oh, suck it Marge!” She pumped her fist and looked back at Lethe. “Oh I could hug you.”
Lethe quickly backed up and shook his head. “No touchy,” he muttered to himself.
She suppressed her burgeoning joy and tried to calm down; her hands were still shaking slightly. “Yeah I get that. Can I help you find something? From the looks of things you seem to be lost, very lost.”
Lethe nodded, and started to pantomime what he was looking for, he was terrible at charades and now he was embarrassing himself in front of a stranger, a pretty one at that. He felt himself clam up slightly; he would be sweating buckets if that were at all possible.
The woman raised her eyebrow and pulled out a small pad of paper and a pen. A small smile tugged at both her face and her voice as she watched Lethe embarrass himself. “You can write right?”
“Oh thank god.”Lethe quickly nodded and reached for the paper.
She handed him the paper and pen and he scribbled down ‘Wall’. He gave it back to the woman.
She marveled at his terrible handwriting. “Oh, yeah sure I can take you over to him, he’s over in Science and Engineering section Y, you’re on the wrong side of the building my friend.”
“C’mon, follow me; I’ll take you over there, my name is Fitsch by the way, Doctor Juvinea Fitsch, otherwise known as ‘the Other One’.” She gave a small curtsy and began down the corridor.
Lethe gave a small bow in greeting and followed her. “A lifetime of searching and I’d never have found it. Perhaps there is something to be said about the human brain after all.”
Lethe couldn’t quite see it but he was sure that Fitsch had the smuggest look possible plastered on her face whenever she passed her coworkers, several of whom scoffed slightly as their expressions turned sour, perhaps they were in on her bet. He scribbled something on the pad and tapped her on the shoulder, she looked around and he handed it to her.
She squinted at the paper for a moment, her eyes widened slightly when she finally deciphered the three letter word. “Oh… the bet. It’s a floorwide thing, we specialize mainly in studying you Indra and the time period you represented. The bet was on whether or not we’d ever find the more reclusive Indra, you, Ghost, Pixia, Inferno, etcetera.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Believe it or not we’ve actually made contact with you before, several times in fact, I think you were found collapsed in a bush, then in a stream, then on a pile of manure…” Lethe internally cringed. “I threw my hat in the ring and bet that I’d be the first one to make contact with you while you were conscious, and… well… I think I did just that.” She stopped and looked at him, face serious. “You just paid my rent for the next six months, but at the same time I think everybody hates me now.” She shrugged. “Hey, what’s a bit of hatred compared to real coffee.” Her eyes filled with longing, she sighed and kept going.
After several more minutes of walking and seemingly endless confused stares from passers-by, Lethe and Fitsch finally arrived at Wall’s recovery room. Two guards stood flanking the door, keeping any prying eyes away, at the sight of Lethe they stood aside and let him in. The room was dark with only a few dim monitors to cast light on the peculiar scene. Wall was bridged between several exam tables, due to his massive size there was no way he would fit onto a regular sized one. Initially it was a game of reattaching the arm, but that didn’t work, neither direct reattachment nor grafts would get the arm to respond. After some insistence from senior scientific staff, Wall allowed himself to be examined by them to see about alternative means of getting his arm back. At the moment there were no scientists buzzing around him, and he was left to sit and wait.
“I think they forgot about you,”Lethe whispered.
Wall perked up; surprised that somebody actually came to visit. His tone was despondent, “Oh hey; I didn’t know you were coming over.”
Lethe grunted and hopped on the exam table, dangling his legs over the side. “Yeah, the rest all went off without me, as usual, so I decided to check in on you. How’re you holding up?”
Wall felt at his shoulder where his arm used to be, it had long scabbed over. “It’s weird; I’m so used to having two arms that I keep forgetting I only have one. I feel just as surprised every time I remember, it’s like my insides twist up, it’s so infuriating.”
Lethe slid off the table and gave Wall a little jostle. “Are you just gonna sit in here?”
Wall propped himself up. “Well, yeah, for now, I want to see if they can actually get my arm back on, I’m not much use without it.” He thought for a moment, and then asked, his voice hopeful,“What about that Banthu guy that made Ellie? Maybe he can help?”
It was a genuinely good idea. “Maybe… I know somebody who might know where he is. I’ll check back later. Stay sane!”
Lethe waved, and left, Wall attempted to wave but he chose the wrong arm, he glared at his nonexistent arm and laid back down. Back in the corridor Juvinea Fitsch was still loitering around, getting on the guards nerves, they quickly realized that she wasn’t her sister and barred her like the rest. As Lethe left he gestured for her to follow him. As soon as they were far enough away from the room, and the guards, Lethe stopped and gestured for the pen and paper again. Fitsch gave it to him and he wrote down ‘Banthu’.
Juvinea shook her head, what would Lethe want with him? “Banthu? Why would you want to talk to that crazy old custodian? He wouldn’t be good conversation anyway, he’s mute.”
Lethe wrote down ‘where’.
She shrugged. “Well, it’s his day off so he’s liable to be at the hospital, I think he has family there.”
Lethe wrote ‘thank you’ and turned and walked off.
Before he could get far he heard Juvinea call out, “Um, the elevators are this way!” He turned around, she was pointing in the opposite direction, he slouched.
Lethe didn’t know quite how he did it but he managed to get up to surface level and out into the plaza without seeing anyone, well apart from the elevator, damn that thing was annoying.
As he walked he mused to himself. “Why does everybody freak out when they see me? Can’t they just let a drowsy guy nap?”
Looking down at the paper Lethe read the address off once more, it wasn’t too far away, hopefully he could get there using back alleys. He made his way across the plaza, it seemed positively deserted, he could have sworn he saw people walking about; he trailed his hand through the large hedge he was walking alongside.
He sighed. “At least the landscaping is nice.” He put on a small burst of speed and jogged to the edge of the plaza.
Checking that the coast was clear he ran across the normally busy road that ringed the plaza, he rushed into the nearest alleyway. As he cut through the dingy alleyways he passed several homeless, and several who he hoped were homeless all had their heads downturned or were sleeping. Poor wretches, Lethe wished he could help them somehow. Soon he drew up upon the massive hospital, he could see that the front entrance was a knot of people entering and exiting. He felt his sadness grow again, a pain tugged at his core; it had been so long since he’d seen human suffering at such a grand scale. He leaned against the entrance to the alley, quickly regretting it as a thin film of scum left over from the recent rainfall clung to him.
“Well how am I gonna get in there?”He mused to himself as he wiped himself down.
Lethe suddenly had an idea, if the front door won’t do, then maybe the back door. Lethe prepared to head to the rear of the hospital when something caught his ear. There were several shouts from the other side of the alley. Several youths had pulled an elderly man in from the street and were savagely beating him with their fists and makeshift clubs.
“Oh no you don’t you little shits.”Lethe sprung into action, he may not be the strongest Indra, but he knew his way around a scuffle.
Pulling out his baton he popped the end off revealing two metal prongs, pressing a small button on the handle a thin arc of electricity jumped between the two. Rushing up behind the nearest attacker Lethe jammed the prongs into his thigh and pressed the button, the attacker fell with a scream. The others, hearing their friend scream, turned to see who dared interfere, wicked smiles on their faces. When they saw that it was in fact an Indra their smiles quickly vanished, their faces hardened, they weren’t giving up so easily.
“Pride cometh before the fall, let’s learn you some manners.”Lethe fell into a loose boxer’s pose and waited for the youths to make a move.
The smiles returned to their faces. “Look at ‘im… Wannabe Indra, nice costume ol’ man, d’your mam make it fer ya?” the tallest one likely the leader guffawed to himself.
“They think I’m fake.”If Lethe had a jaw it no doubt would have hung slack.
As Lethe conquered his miniature existential crisis the tall one threw a punch. It hit Lethe right where his nose would be. Everything was still for a moment, the punch was stopped dead, Lethe didn’t even shift, he might as well have been a brick wall. The tall one crumpled to the ground, hand totally destroyed, the skin split and bleeding profusely, he began hyperventilating. The group ran, leaving the old man and their fallen leader.
The old man was in rough shape, he had multiple bleeding wounds on his head and Lethe could see blood soaking through his shirt. He was coughing blood and sobbing, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Front door it is.”
Lethe bent down and picked up the old man and made his way to the hospital, ignoring the youth, he did that to himself, Lethe had no sympathy for idiots. He initially had to shoulder through the crowd, but as more people saw who he was they began to part. Soon the entire hospital entryway was still and silent as Lethe made his way to the front desk, all eyes glued on him.
He remained stolid in the face off the myriad stares. “So much for a low profile, of course they all know who I am. So this is how Ghost feels…”Lethe decided when he got the chance he was going to have a chat with Ghost.
A gurney was wheeled out; Lethe gently placed the old man onto it.
“Thank you,” the old man whispered hoarsely before being wheeled away.
Lethe gave a small bow and turned back to the front desk. Painfully aware of every eye being glued on him, he pulled out the pen and paper, Fitsch had let him keep them. He showed the nurse behind the desk his ‘Banthu’ page. After deciphering it, she quickly began typing at her keyboard. She wrote ‘floor 5 room 598’ on a small card and handed it to him. Another bow and Lethe went to the elevators.
“That’s more like it, clearly labeled everything, Schultz should take notes… And it doesn’t talk.”Lethe wasn’t particularly enamored with Marge, too chatty.
The ride up was jerky and slow, these elevators weren’t quite as well taken care of as those in the Schultz Building. Simply following the signs, Lethe wound his way through the brightly lit corridors, the mild stench of antiseptic burned his scent receptors. He drew many stares from the patients and staff though they felt more like ones of respect than the gawping at the front entrance; he even received several polite greetings.
A grizzled voice called from behind him. “Lethe boyo, ya finally woke up!” Lethe turned around and a positively ancient woman was scooting toward him using a walker, the wispy remains of her hair stuck out at odd angles, a massive smile creased her wrinkled face. As she pulled closer she spoke again. “’S been forty years lad since I pulled ya outta the ground, yer lookin’ well.” She wrapped him in a feeble hug. “You prolly don’ ‘member me, but I ‘member you, you were th’ best find ‘a my career. Then m’boy went an’ pulled yore Wall out’ th’ groun. I guess you lads run ‘n the family.” She gave him a clap on the back and scooted off.
Lethe stood dumbly, watching the woman who discovered him, Irma Kham, shuffle down the hallway, he grew painfully aware of human mortality. He turned and kept going, making a mental note to check up on her later. Finding the room was easy, though Lethe was quite curious as to why Banthu would be in the long term care section of the hospital. The curtains were pulled closed so Lethe couldn’t see inside; he knocked firmly and entered the room.
Banthu looked up from the book he was reading; in the bed next to him was a sleeping middle aged woman. Banthu sharply stood up and closed the door behind Lethe.
“What are you doing here?” Banthu asked in a harsh whisper.
Lethe pulled out the pen and paper once more and showed Banthu his ‘Wall’ page, and wrote underneath it ‘arm’.
Banthu scowled. “Really? You came all this way to ask me about your friend’s arm? Couldn’t it have waited?” Banthu sank back into the chair, and massaged his temples with this thumbs. “It is not possible to reattach lost limbs on an Indra, I learned that with Morgan. We can however ‘regrow’ the arm using the leftover biomass from Ellie. I have all the equipment in my lab, the problem is that your friend Wall is under constant surveillance. You’d need to speak with Schultz about lifting the guards; they will only answer to him.”
Lethe nodded, then he gestured to the woman in the bed.
Banthu’s face was bordering on furious. “No, you have no reason to know, now please leave.”
Pestilence had positively wilted as the smell slammed into her scent receptors. “Good god, what a stink! Why don’t we have a manual override to turn our sense of smell off?”
Wulf didn’t think it possible, but Pestilence seemed to be turning even greener. “Y’know I’d make a snarky remark on how you’re overreacting but yeah, this is pretty foul.”
The two had arrived on Morgan’s threshold. A thick oily soup of blackness covered whatever horrors were contained within; all that could be heard was the groan of rusty metal and faint sounds of dripping. The two pulled out dim flashlights and entered the cave of horrors. It was a large room with walls, floors, and ceiling being made of metal, rusted and flaking away. The floor was covered in thick, black, crusted blood and gore, with limbs in various states of decay and mummification spread around at random. Morgan wasn’t in, the two didn’t know where it was but it would be best if it stayed there. The two began their search, looking for anything, anything that could give them a clue, after a few minutes Pestilence had a sudden realization.
Her voice was bordering on outraged, “Wulf… why are we even down here?”
Wulf paused, his mind was a blank. “Well we’re, uh, y’know that’s a good point; War was very vague about that whole thing.”
Pestilence began to shake angrily, she wanted to break something. “Oh that son of a bitch! Of all the times to grow a sense of humor he chose now!?”
Wulf jumped to War’s defense. “Things have been pretty crazy lately; maybe he’s just slipping a bit, stress and all that. You know as well as I that whatever goes on inside his head is a complete mystery. I’ve never been able to get a read on him, and that’s my specialty.”
Pestilence turned and made her way back to the elevator shaft. “Yeah, well call me crazy but I don’t think we’re gonna find anything down here, let’s just cut our losses and get outta here.”
Wulf poked around a bit more, not wanting to miss anything. “I’m beginning to agree with you, oh hello.”
Something shone in the dim light of Wulf’s flashlight, a golden glimmer stood out from the dull rust of its surroundings. Wulf approached cautiously, this strange golden object was stuck on the top of a particularly tall pile of filth. He stretch out and pinched the thing between his outstretched fingers. As he withdrew he saw that it was a thin golden card. As Wulf drew back to Pestilence he saw that she was frozen, flashlight beam pointed down at one of the many limbs on the ground. It was an arm, slightly withered, the nails were immaculately painted, firmly grasped in it was a letter.
“That’s Shelly’s arm…”was all Pestilence said.
She crouched down and wrested the letter from Shelly’s decomposing hand, the bones made sickening cracking noises. As Pestilence finally tore the letter free an agonized mechanical breathing filled the room, and the dragging thud of heavy footsteps shook the floor.
Wulf whirled around; he could feel Morgan’s footsteps growing closer. “I think it’s time for us to leave,”his voice betrayed his concern.
“I couldn’t agree more.”Pestilence gave one final look to all that remained of Shelly, she felt anger twist in her gut.
As the two clambered up the ladder in the elevator shaft they heard a soul shattering heartbroken bellow. “SHINY! WHERE IS MY SHINY!?” It petered out into a shrill reedy wail that rebounded up the elevator shaft and into the floors above.
The two clambered into the ruins of the gym grateful that they’d not been a few seconds slower.
“Well that’s interesting.”Wulf was holding the golden card up to the harsh lighting of the gym. “Very interesting…”He handed it to Pestilence; it read ‘Ellis Schultz’.
Chapter 13: Play With Me?
Dawn broke over the Knoss Wetlands; the final tendrils of night were blasted away by the crimson sunlight rolling over the chilled marshes. Fog arose from the damp foliage as the frost of night evaporated into day; the chirrups of insects began to ring out from the tall grass, the croak of frogs and the calls of birds blended into a luscious cacophony of sound. No man dared live in the wetlands, the ground was too soft and resources too scarce, they’d quickly find themselves either starved or sunk. The southern wetlands, where the marshes met the river were firmer than their northern counterparts, patches of forested ground clung to the banks of the massive Knoss River. Enterprising individuals, filling the marshes, hardened the ground enough to settle, what resulted was likely the greatest financial miracle ever seen in the country of Alcadon.
The little trading post was a strange juxtaposition of tradition and technology. Rustic weather-worn wooden stalls were filled with electronics new, old, and broken; bodyguards and private security who wore rough hewn leather tunics and rough spun cotton breeches were armed with the latest automatic machine weaponry, tinted acrylic glasses protected their eyes from the sun. Motorized vehicles trundled down the near ancient stone paved streets carrying fresh produce to the market, past timber and clay houses with glimmering rows of solar paneling on the roofs. The docks were lined with trading and passenger vessels, from cargo liners several hundred feet long to small passenger ferries carrying commuters across the Knoss. From sail to steam, petroleum, and fusion, every form of maritime technology was on display. The trading post was where new and old met and comingled admirably.
The day had started off normally, merchants of every shape, size, and color, bustled about in the small market square, either hawking their wares to the passing travelers or were booking passage down the Knoss River to the coast. Travelers from across the country funneled through this place to reach the trade hub of Sampras or the Great Salt Sea, it truly was the perfect place to set up business.
Word had been coming in from the south that Alcadon was in turmoil, something about a relative to its ruler being murdered. The people didn’t care much for the drama of the big city as long as the goods kept flowing… and flow they did. As more and more merchants were fleeing from the chaos of the big city they brought with them their wealth and their products. An economic boom the likes of which hadn’t been seen in years was in full swing. The inns were full, the money was flowing, and the populace was happier than it had been in what seemed like ages.
One of the many farmers who’d set up on the banks of the Knoss, was on their way to sell fresh produce in the trading post markets. He was taking a breather on the side of the shady forested road, slightly regretting his large breakfast. He was a traditional sort, he didn’t stoop to the level of using technology to grow his crops, a good plow and some stout oxen were all he needed. He leaned against his overflowing cart; he had to get moving otherwise the vegetables on the bottom would start to bruise. He heaved a sigh his oxen may be able to walk to eternity but he sure couldn’t.
His hackles rose, something had pricked his instincts, the woods had gone quiet, he cocked his ear toward the dense forest.
In the brush behind him he heard a crashing, what was either a large animal or a hefty person was smashing through the underbrush nearing the road. The farmer knew how aggressive animals could be in those parts, and placed his oxen between himself and whatever it was that was approaching the road. An enormous brown shape burst from the foliage showering the farmer in shredded wood and greenery. It was an enormous bear, panting raggedly and foaming at the mouth, running straight for the farmer. The oxen, spooked, began to retreat from this threat nearly running over the farmer in the process. The farmer clawed at the side of the cart where his antique rifle was housed. With the faint snapping of wood he tore it from the cart, and cocked the hammer back, aiming it at the bear, waiting until the last moment to take his shot.
Instead of attacking like he thought it would, the bear skirted the cart, clipping it slightly, and crashed back into the brush. As the last of it entered the thick forest the farmer noticed massive wounds inflicted on the bear’s hindquarters, its flesh was punctured and torn. It wasn’t attacking, it was fleeing! Sensing something worse than a bear approaching, the farmer urged his oxen along, trying to put on as much distance as possible from this unseen creature.
Snapping and rustling echoed through the woods, whatever it was that scared the bear was close, and getting closer by the second. The farmer, breathing already ragged, urged his oxen on faster and faster, primitive animalistic fear began to creep into his mind. The snapping grew louder and nearer, what was this creature! A light rhythmic thumping could be heard beneath the crashing of the undergrowth. Suddenly the sounds stopped, all that could be heard were the jangling of the oxen’s harnesses and the fearful breaths of the bedraggled farmer.
A voice hissed from amongst the trees, “hello little man, will you play with me? The hairy one was no fun, he ran too fast. How fast will you run?” Medusa silkily emerged from the woods, gracefully stepping on the path without as much as a sound. Medusa tilted its head, studying the fleeing farmer. “Turn around little man.”
The farmer did no such thing; spirits such as this could only exert their power over you if they look you in the eyes. He kept moving, praying the spirit would give up and leave him.
“Oh, the little man refuses to play?” Medusa was disappointed. “Well, maybe we’ll have better luck next time.” Medusa scuttled up right behind the farmer matching his pace, easing its head over his shoulder. “Run,” Medusa whispered.
The farmer could only let out a short cry before the life was snuffed out of him. Discarding the carcass of the farmer Medusa turned to the oxen. “Will you play with me?” A frightened bellow from the poor creatures was all it received. “So you’re like the hairy one? Will you run fast?” The icy, throbbing, pain rocked Medusa again. It tried to ignore the agony and strike the oxen. The pain struck again, Medusa collapsed. One final tremor and the pain left, Medusa picked itself up and turned back to the oxen.
As it eviscerated the poor creatures Medusa let its mind wander, there was no joy in slaughtering such slow and stupid creatures; they didn’t put up any fight. How would Medusa stay entertained? The journey to their brethren was long and empty and Medusa needed something to tide it over. Remembering the village of Khim, Medusa was filled with a warm glee… that was fun. Watching the little people run away, carrying their little children and hiding in their little houses. The way they tore… Medusa shuddered at the memory.
Medusa craved that feeling once more, perhaps… where was this little man going? Medusa looked down at the carcass of the farmer. Maybe there were more where he was going? Following the road, Medusa made their way toward the trading post, in less than an hour they would arrive.
“Of course they’re staring; they’ve never seen us in public before, especially you.”
The two made their way down the cracked, uneven, sidewalk, seeking the ‘Gentleman’s Bar’, their sources said that it was in Nicky Town. Not a soul approached them; the normally standoffish and aggressive residents of Nicky Town gave the two an unusually wide berth, they knew who the two were and it frightened them. Wide peering eyes studied the Indra’s every move, Ghost was perturbed by all of the attention.
Ghost huddled deeper in her cloak.“Well, make them stop.”Her voice was quiet with fear.
Death shrugged. “Nope, there’s nothing I can do about that.”They walked in silence for a while Death decided to try and reassure her. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and put on his best ‘calm’ voice,“C’mon you knew this would happen. You spend all your time wrapped up in that cloak, hiding from the world; of course people are going to stare when you’re suddenly out in public. You’re making waves, just look at what Lethe did earlier.”
It took quite a while for the two to get the correct location of the bar, by the time the two had the proper information word of Lethe’s little escapade had spread through Alcadon.
Death gave her a small nudge with his elbow. “And besides you don’t have the best track record with people.”
“It’s not my fault they went crazy!” She yelled pushing Death away slightly; his attempts at calming her were dashed in a moment. “It wasn’t my fault!”Death could see an angry pink aura leak from the folds of her cloak.
He raised his hands up disarmingly. His voice was calm but internally he was screaming, “Alright, alright, it wasn’t your fault. Come on let’s get to the bar and get back, there’s no need to get angry.”
Ghost thrust her finger at him, ramming his chin. “You’re making me angry!”
Death kept his hands up. “Again… I’m sorry.”
Ghost stood there, pointed finger trembling slightly. After a few minutes she put her hand down, the pink aura subsiding. “Very well, let’s go,”her tone was strained and formal.
Just as the two turned to continue, a person, who could only be described as an idiot, bumped into Ghost.
He stumbled back, looking more offended than shocked. “Whoa bruv, whasha problem?” His voice was slurred, he’s clearly been drinking.
The entire block froze, they’d seen what happened between her and Death, they watched with bated breath.
Ghost froze. Jets of russet-pink energy shot from her cloak. Death was thrown aside from the force of the explosion, the sidewalk shattered. She slowly walked toward the man who was drunkenly staggering away, totally oblivious. She grabbed him by the neck and quick as a flash slung him down the street. He flew like a missile straight through one of the boarded up windows of a dilapidated tenement building, powdery dust shot from the freshly made hole. The block cleared, everybody ran, even the most hardened of criminals didn’t want to be around Ghost when she was angry.
Death leapt up and dropped a heavy elbow to the back of Ghost’s head; she was knocked to her knees.
“That is enough,”Death whispered.
The aura subsided, Ghost stood rigidly, carefully wrapping her cloak so that she was covered again. She let out a shuddering sigh. “I’m sorry.”
Death spoke slowly. “Now, we’re going to the bar, then back to the tower, another outburst like that and I’ll be carrying you back. I, and likely many others, will be having a strongly worded conversation with you later; you can’t keep letting your impulses dictate your actions.”
Ghost silently nodded. Death turned and continued down the sidewalk. After a short time walking, the two turned into one of the many dark dingy alleyways, away from all the hidden eyes. They went down a short flight of stairs and before them was an industrial looking door, marred with years worth of graffiti. Death gave two hard knocks, there was no response. Two more, even harder, knocks finally got the attention of whoever was inside. The door swung silently open, and the drowsy looking bartender stuck his head out, his eyes pinched shut against the light.
“Bar’s closed, come back later.” He yawned and pulled back inside.
The bartender tried to shut the door, but Death wedged his hand between it and the doorjamb. The door bounced back open.
The bartender turned around, anger pinching his drowsy features. He pawed at the waistband of his pants where death noticed a firearm shaped bulge. “Look buddy, you’ll ‘ave to wait like the rest of the-. “ The man finally got his eyes open just enough to see who it was that was blocking his door. Suddenly he seemed very awake; adrenaline was a truly wondrous thing. “Ah, well this changes things, please come in.”
As the two Indra stepped inside they saw a tidy little bar, the lights were off, but it still stood in stark contrast to the environment outside. As the door closed behind them the man turned the lights on, illuminating the immense wall of alcohol.
Ghost stared longingly at the booze wall, her mood lightening considerably at the sight of it.“You know, sometimes I envy humans, they get to eat and drink, I’ve always wondered what alcohol tastes like and this isn’t helping things.”
Death looked back at Ghost, slightly perplexed. “Ghost, I dread the day when you get booze in your system, you’d be the biggest drunk on the planet.”
She sniffed. “Well you’re not wrong but—.”
The Bartender pulled a chair off one of the tables and sat down. Rubbing at his eyes he said, “So, what can I ‘elp the two of you with today? I think I already know but I’ll wait for you to confirm it.”
“Go ahead, wow him with your silly sign language,”Ghost said smugly.
After a short while of various gesticulating arm movements from Death the barkeep eventually said.
“The two men ‘oo left with Ellis?” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “Well, even though they were wearing their uniforms they most certainly weren’t military. Yeah, too ‘spressive, like they hadn’t had the soul beat outta ‘em yet. Yeah, I got one ‘a my regulars to take down their registration plate number, I did a bit a sleuthing ‘a my own but didn’t get far, the car was stolen and most certainly, just like those fellas, ain’t military. ‘Ere I still have the number written down somewhere, gimme a moment.”
The barkeep shuffled around the counter and began rifling through the small shelves that housed much of his paperwork.
“Yeah , ‘ere it is.” He pulled out a small sheet of paper and handed it to Death, “That’s all I can help you with, now if you two’ll excuse me, I still have a few more hours of sleep to claim before I open this evening.” He walked to the back hall and opened one of the doors and slipped inside.
“Honestly I expected him to pull out a gun or something,”Said Ghost as she slowly sidled toward the alcohol wall.
“So did I, well, back to the tower, let’s see if we can’t find this car.” Death turned about and headed for the door.
“Can I take a bottle for later?”Ghost asked pleadingly.
Death whirled around. “No!”
On the other side of the city Pixia and Famine drew up on the old factory. It was weather beaten and crumbling in several places, just about every window it had was shattered. The streets were deserted; nobody who didn’t work there was going to be caught dead in the industrial district. A brisk wind blew through the broken windows creating an ominous moan that resounded and echoed through the deserted building.
Pixia bounced in excitement, enjoying the change of scenery. Her voice was its normal energetic tone. “Hmmm if you told me a resistance group had set up here I really wouldn’t believe you, I mean, an urban vampire maybe, but…”Pixia trailed off as Famine approached the building. “You’re quieter than usual today, is something getting you down?”
“No,” Famine said flatly.
She bounced behind him. “You really ought to talk more, it liberates the soul!”She stretched her wings out and gave them a flutter.
“No,”Famine said even more flatly.
Pixia wilted, her positivity couldn’t stand up to Famine’s dispassion. “God! You’re such a grouch, why didn’t I get paired up with Pestilence instead; I mean, at least she can hold a conversation.”
“If it came down to a fight, I’d put Wulf in better standing against Morgan than you, especially if you are unable to use your wings. Perhaps you would have been better suited with Death.”
Pixia paused for a moment her stomach churned imagining Ghost stuck with Famine. “Nah, that means Ghost would have wound up with you.”She paused. “Then again, she would have been here where there aren’t any people… Fair enough she should have been with you. C’mon stop dawdling, let’s get inside.”She ran up to the factory’s door.
The door was locked and barred from the inside, but it was unable to weather more than two kicks from Famine, with the splintering of wood the two entered, leaving the door hanging from a single hinge. They found themselves in the assembly room, large amounts of light streamed in from the broken windows, illuminating the glimmering machinery within. The two explored deeper, eventually entering the office area, they found most of the rooms to be in a state of disrepair, apart from one. The floor was swept and the walls were cleaned, there was still a faint stench of industrial cleaners lingering in the air. In the center were two chairs and a small table; still resting on the table was the small sphere.
Famine picked up the sphere and examined it; it was featureless apart from an incredibly thin wire emerging from a small hole. Famine kept a hold of it as they continued their search of the factory. Eventually they along with Pixia were thoroughly searching the assembly room.
As they searched Pixia piped up, “hey wanna hear something weird?”
Famine’s voice was as monotonous as ever. “Not particularly, but I feel you’re going to tell me anyway.”
Pixia remained silent as they walked. The silence was near deafening, Famine turned to her. “You were going to say something?”
“That’s it! I mean, all the windows are broken right? So where’s the crunch of broken glass?”
“That is… a very good point…”
Pixia continued, she bustled over to the nearest machine, a massive industrial metal shaper. “And this machinery, it’s spotless; it looks like it’s recently been used. I mean, why would an abandoned factory have clean floors and spotless machinery?”
Famine shrugged. “I think the answer to that is obvious. But what was being manufactured here?”
Something glinted in the light. Pixia went over and picked up the shining object and held it in the light. It was a piece of thick, shaped steel, curved in a half circle, one end was blunt while the other came to a point like a massive spike.
Pixia gave the chunk of metal a solid flick, it was high grade steel, she tried to bend it but it wouldn’t give. “Perhaps this factory was used by the military? Most consumer goods aren’t this durable.”She tossed it over her shoulder, it buried itself point first into the ground, standing upright.
“Perhaps, I think we should check in with Intelligence and see just what this factory was used for. And figure out what this is.”Famine held the small sphere up to the light.
“Well… What is it?”asked Death
The seven Indra regrouped in the lounge. Wall, Inferno, and War were still indisposed of.
“We’ve asked around,”said Pixia. “Nobody we’ve shown it to has any idea what it is. Neither Military, Engineering, not even Intelligence has a clue.” She shrugged and leaned back in the soft couch.
“Well, this may be a long shot,”said Lethe,“but have you asked Doctor Fitsch? I read her file when I got back from the hospital and she seems to be quite a wizard with ancient technology.”He picked up the sphere and inspected it.“I think this might fall into her area of expertise. I would recommend Banthu but he’s occupied with Wall.”
Lethe had met with Schultz about getting the guards lifted, Schultz was all too eager, he even agreed to Lethe’s request for Irma.
Death turned to Lethe.“Well, Lethe if you’ll go get her we’ll gladly ask.”
Lethe reached over to the pad of paper he left on the table, flipping to a clean page. He scanned the group, metaphorical eyes squinted. “Is this a clever ploy to get me out of your hair while you talk about important things that don’t concern me?”
“We’d never do that,”said Pestilence she waved away the notion.
“Well alright then.”Lethe stood up and left the room, paper and pencil in hand.
“We really ought to make him our mascot,”whispered Pixia.
“I heard that!”called Lethe from the hall.
“OK, let’s get back on track,”said Death, “the bar was a bust, the barkeep gave us all the information he had but all we got was the registration number to a stolen vehicle. The vehicle was found burned out on the outskirts of town, so no help there. If there was any evidence in the car it went up in flames. Also, embarrassing as it may be, I’ve decided that one of us needs to stay with Ghost at all times, there was an incident in Nicky Town and I don’t know if the guy lived.”
Pixia quickly raised her hand. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”
Wulf chuckled. “Hoping your good vibes will rub off?”
Pixia shrunk slightly. “Something like that.”If she could have blushed she would have been red as a tomato, she side-eyed Ghost who was sitting quietly head down. “I can also catch anybody she throws.”
Death resumed. “Pestilence, Wulf, any luck with Morgan?”
“Well, yeah actually,”said Pestilence. “We found Ellis Schultz’ ID card on a literal pile of shit and we found Shelly’s severed arm still holding a letter from Schultz.”She shuddered at the mental image. “Call me crazy but I think them winding up down there was intentional. Did Schultz ever elaborate on what he and Ellis talked about the other night?”
“You’ll have to ask War about that,”said Death, shaking his head.“He hasn’t been very liberal with his information as of late. I did overhear Schultz talking about a bug on his personal elevator while back, it is possible that there was another, and that his niece also met the same fate as his nephew.”
“Could it be possible that Morgan is working for the Sons?” asked Ghost quietly.
The room was silent at both the fact that Ghost actually said anything and that her question made sense: Schultz sends Shelly to engineering in his personal elevator, the elevator was bugged so the Sons could have made it open up to any floor they wanted to, so they made it open up on Morgan’s. They then did same thing for Ellis and both times the Sons had the wrong person hence the rushed hiding of the bodies.
“Wait, doesn’t Schultz’ elevator use a personal shaft?”asked Pixia.
Pestilence answered, “yes, but it seems to have openings to every level, it’s quite possible that it opens to Morgan’s as well.”
Silence fell on the room again.
“We should tell Schultz.”
Night had fallen; the last glimmers of russet sunlight had sunk beneath the horizon just as the group entered the deep, swiftly flowing, Knoss River. A slight detour had to be made to find a proper ford as the current was too fast and the river too deep to be crossed at the trading post. The ferries were doubtful to be running so late in the evening so the group had to do things the old-fashioned way. Unfortunately for the shorter members of the group, the shallows were still too deep and had to piggyback on the taller members. As they waded ashore Bolt quickly disembarked Anon while Kid took a bit longer, seemingly finding any excuse to nap, Kid entered the apartment and crashed on the futon before Ellie had even entered the water. Not bothering to wake Kid up, Ellie just continued on with Kid hanging on her shoulders.
With Scorn’s bright white luminescence being their only source of light, the group made their way east to the trading post. Perhaps somebody there had some information, or at least rumors, on Medusa’s location, anything to know how far they were behind. As they drew nearer to the trading post Scorn halted them with a raised hand.
His voice betrayed his worry. “This is wrong, where are the lights, where are the sounds of people? It’s almost as if…” Scorn never finished his statement, in a flash he was running toward the trading post, followed closely by the others. Kid chose this time to wake up, vaulting off of Ellie’s broad shoulders Kid quickly caught up with Scorn.
“What’s up?”Kid wasn’t in a joking mood anymore, she was dead serious. Kid tripped and fell on something lying in the road. Scorn’s light illuminated a severed leg, its owner nowhere in sight, dried blood splashed across the packed earth.
Kid, along with the rest unsheathed their weapons. “Ah, that’s what’s up.”
As they turned the final bend in the road they finally saw the trading post, or at least what was left of it. Pitch black and dead silent, completely devoid of any human life. Not even a mouse or crawling thing stirred, not even a breath of wind fluttered through the shattered glass and splintered wood of the collapsed buildings. Every building, save one, had been leveled, every boat, from the largest cargo ships to the smallest canoes had been scuttled. The cobble streets were brown with dried blood, but there were no bodies.
Medusa had come.
The only building left standing stood where the center of town once was, a silent monolith among its fallen brethren. Cautiously the group fanned out and approached the building. The windows were shuttered and curtained, it was impossible to see inside; rounding the building they approached the front door. Twisting the handle and pulling the door open they all saw what Medusa had done. A writhing mass of bodies, some dead and still, others moving fitfully and whimpering quietly. The entire population was crammed in the one small building, the acrid stench of death poured from the doorway, steam rose from the squirming heap. Throwing aside their shock, the group began frantically tearing the people from their mass grave; it quickly became apparent why they were unable to leave. Their Achilles Tendons had been cut and their fingers severed, unable to stand or even crawl they were helpless to escape. Most were already dead from blood loss or were crushed by the weight of the bodies on top of them; even those that were still alive didn’t have long left, they struggled weakly, their eyes glassy and listless as death closed in.
A dull thud sounded from deep within the pile of bodies, a thin acrid smoke began to flow from underneath. Quickly inspecting the door frame Anon found a trip wire. When the door was opened a timer started that would set off a small payload of incendiary explosives nestled in the center of the pile. The fire quickly caught and spread, in painful few seconds the first flames licked from the top of the pile. The screams of agony were mercifully short as the flames consumed and silenced them.
All the Indra could do was watch as the building went up in a pillar of flames. The groan of strained wood pierced the air as the building collapsed in on itself consuming the innocent populace in a massive funeral pyre, a testament to the cruelty of Medusa.
“I’m so sorry, but there is nothing more we can do here, we must continue north.”Scorn turned and began walking, followed by the rest.
Chapter 14: Another Empty Room
The card hit Schultz’ desk with a tinny rattle, Schultz picked it up and inspected it, his hands started shaking and his face grew red.
“Where?” he whispered, he crushed the card in his clenched fist.
Death placed a sheet of paper with ‘Morgan’ written on it on the desk. Schultz’ face went slack, realization setting in. “So that’s what they did… Shelly…” Tears began to form at the edges of his eyes; his sadness was quickly replaced with anger. “I give you my full permission to use any force necessary to destroy that creature, do us all a favor and end that thing’s miserable life!” Schultz smashed his desk with his clenched fists; splinters of wood sprayed everywhere as they passed through the stout wood like water.
Death recoiled, he’d never seen Schultz this livid, perhaps all the stress had finally gotten to him. He watched as Schultz reduced his desk to a pile of scrap wood and splinters. Schultz lifted the largest intact piece and threw it at the nearest wall where it finally shattered.
Schultz turned to Death, breathing heavily. “Any, means, necessary.”
Death bowed and left the room, gently closing the door behind him. A massive thud shook the door, something large had smashed into it, Death chose to ignore it. Death made his way down the long hallway and into the elevator; he selected Engineering Level 7, and waited, ignoring Marge’s incessant chatter.
All the Indra were still waiting in the lounge, Lethe had still not returned.
“So… how did he take it?”asked Pestilence.
Death tilted his head side to side, trying to think of the best way to word what he just saw. “Not well, he gave us permission to use any force necessary to destroy Morgan but in the process he has completely destroyed his office, he completely shredded the desk. War said Schultz dented near solid steel when he saw Ellis, now I believe him.”
“A pity, I’ll admit, I was rather fond of that desk,”said Famine.
All the Indra looked at Famine quizzically.
They shrugged. “It was tasteful…”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Pixia, “alright, so we have to destroy Morgan right? Well how? You all saw how it fought Medusa; it could hold its own, just. The fourteen of us could barely hold our own against Medusa, I mean, how are expected to succeed here with less than half that number? I mean, what are we going to do?”
Pestilence spoke before Death could answer. “Schultz has given us permission to use any means necessary, I’d say a trip to the Arsenal is in order.”She let slip a small chuckle.
Wulf harrumphed as he stood up, limbering his joints. “Yes, if there is one place where I must concede to humans, it’s their amazing ability of finding creative ways to kill one another.”
Pixia chortled to herself as she stood beside Ghost; she was taking her minder duties very seriously. “Lethe is going to have a fit when he sees us gone.”
The six left the lounge and made their way to the elevators. It was a tight squeeze but they all fit, Death input his security clearance code and they were taken down to Sub-level 37, The Arsenal. The doors opened to a small plain room with a long hallway stretching from its far side. Security was the top concern, cameras recording various spectrums, remote gun emplacements, scanners and sensors detecting a variety of explosives and chemical substances, dotted the floors walls and ceiling, and those were just the ones that could be seen. At the end of the long hallway was a massive door made from cast steel and sheet titanium with a thick veneer of depleted uranium armor coating. Two guards, wearing radiation suits and respirators over their standard combat uniforms, stood to attention as the group of Indra approached. Not a single alarm sounded as the group filed down the hallway.
They were halted by one of the guards who stood in front of the door. “I’m sorry but only authorized personnel are allowed in the Arsenal, not even you Indra can enter without written or verbal authorization from Mr. Schultz.”
Death spoke to them in sign language for a short while.
The guard nodded. “Be that as it may, we still need to contact Schultz to confirm your permission.”
The second guard pressed a small button on the wall and spoke into a small receiver. “This is the Arsenal calling Mr. Schultz; this is the Arsenal calling Mr. Schultz.” Her voice was clipped and professional.
“Yes!?” Schultz sounded tinny and flustered.
“Just confirming that the Indra are permitted to enter the Arsenal.”
“Yes! Let them take anything they need!” The sound cut out.
She nodded to the Indra. “Very well, you may enter.” The guards stood aside and pressed a complicated sequence of buttons on small fobs around their waists.
“How can Schultz use the intercom if he shredded his desk?”Pixia mused to herself.
Pestilence responded. “It’s best not to think too hard about it, you’ll only confuse yourself.”
The door swung silently open and the room inside illuminated. The room was massive, as big as the gym and twice as tall. Rows upon rows of firearms, energy weapons, launchers of various types, almost every type of weapon known to man, and a few that weren’t were stored in the massive room. Far in the back larger pieces of artillery could be seen, some the size of small buildings. The visiting Indra stared in awe while Death, Famine, and Pestilence strolled in without a second glance.
Death turned about, addressing the others. “Alright, remember, we can’t cut Morgan, and puncturing it wasn’t particularly effective, we need blunt force to hit it until it starts fallin’ apart at the seams. Famine, you are going to be the most useful to us in this fight, we’ll need you to cement that thing to the ground so we can pummel it. We need launchers, rockets, and grenades! Wulf how was the light down there?”
He shrugged. “Nonexistent.”
“That means Morgan is probably sensitive to light, we’ll take flashbangs if you can find them, and we’ll take those lights.”Death pointed to a group of industrial strength lights bundled in the corner. “If we can’t brute force it, then we’ve got to use strategy, which just so happens to be brute force.”
The Indra scattered, poring through rows upon rows of deadly weapons, feeling the weight of different launchers, and checking their payloads. Slowly a pile began to form near the entrance, crates of grenades, a veritable pyramid of launchers. Tucked away in their own special corner were several small energy weapons in case the others didn’t quite get the job done, the Indra were taking no chances, just as it seemed the Indra had found all they needed a cry from Pixia pulled their attention.
“Hey! Hey guys, take a look at this!”Pixia had taken flight and was waving everybody over.
The group converged on Pixia’s item of interest, it was a large metal box plastered with warnings. Emblazoned on the front was a diamond with red, white, blue, and yellow squares arranged inside of it, in the yellow square was the number four. Beneath the diamond was the abbreviation ‘AA’.
“Good god no!”Death exclaimed, virtually recoiling from the crate. “We want to kill Morgan, not collapse the whole building! We’ll take note of it, but I hope we never even have to look at it again. I don’t need to remind any of you what that stuff is capable of, you were all there.”
The gathered Indra were silent.
Death quickly walked away from the crate, not wanting to think about it any further. “Now come on, we need to get this stuff to the gym.”
Fully armed, the Indra left the Arsenal, if the guards were intrigued they didn’t let it show, they closed the door and took their places once more. As the elevator doors closed behind the Indra the guards slouched and relaxed.
Leaning against the wall the male guard asked the other. “What sort of creature would they need all that to kill?”
She shrugged, she was intrigued but it was way above her pay grade. “Perhaps those stories about Schultz’ monster in the basement are true.”
He chuckled. “This morning I wouldn’t’ve believed you, but now? And you heard Schultz right?” His voice turned quiet and conspiratory. “He sounds like he has a screw loose or something.”
She stretched her arms and legs, letting small groans as her stiff joints loosened. “Well, whatever they’re up to, I think we’ll be hearing it, or about it, very shortly.”
“Also, I saw Ghost’s leg… they’re a woman.”
She turned to look at him, it’s a pity their respirators covered their faces. Her tone was sarcastic. “Congratulations, you’re a man now.” She shook her head and leaned back against the wall going back to her daydreaming.
“Well you don’t have to be so rude about it…” He muttered.
The Indra gathered in the gym once more, arming themselves properly and setting aside surplus for future use. They stared down the elevator shaft; a pool of darkness lay beneath, a festering, rotten smell tainting their senses. Bearing their weapons of choice they made their way down the shaft, Famine led the way holding a flashbang grenade. As they reached the opening Famine pulled the pin and threw it into the darkness, the entire room illuminated in a violent flash of bright white light.
A screech erupted from the corner of the room. “NO BRIGHT! TOO BRIGHT!”
“Lower the lights!”Famine bellowed to the others up top.
In a flash several industrial strength lights attached to wires slid down the shaft, followed closely by the rest of the Indra. Beams of harsh white light lit the room up like the sun. Cowering and huddling in the corner was Morgan. Morgan was a stark white blob of flesh with four heavily muscled arms shooting from its underside, emerging from its front was a half melted face punctuated with a huge mouth full of thin sharp teeth. Two more arms sprouted from above its face on either side of a large hump, Morgan was a truly twisted thing.
“Famine! Stick it down!”Death could barely hear himself think over the sound of Morgan’s screeching.
Famine leapt into the room, impassively kicking aside the many rotting limbs covering the floor, and began shooting jets of thick black liquid from their weapon. As famine sprayed more liquid from their weapon they seemed to deflate and grow smaller, the tubes connecting the gun to Famine’s back shook and rattled, the weapon pumped more slime onto the ground. The floor around Morgan’s feet was covered in a thick layer of the stuff, cementing Morgan to the floor. Morgan made no attempt to fight back; it simply remained cowering in the corner, screeching and wailing. The six Indra hefted their weapons and…
“Alright… blast it!” Death raised his fist.
Six launchers fired at once, and a massive explosion rocked the room, black slime erupted from where Morgan once stood, coating the room. Large chunks of rubbery skin and blackened flesh sprayed across the Indra, the flap of skin that was once Morgan’s face spun from the foul mist and slapped Pixia around the head. She fell backwards thrashing and pawing, trying to tear the disgusting slab of neat from it. The others didn’t fare much better, Famine, who was weakened from using their weapon was thrown away like a ragdoll by the explosion, they landed gracelessly in a large pile of filth. As the viscera settled, that remained of Morgan were scattered chunks of flesh and four hands still stuck to the floor.
Outside the arsenal the two guards could hear the screeching and wailing.
The male guard perked up and tilted an ear toward the elevator. “Well, I think that answers that…”
The female guard didn’t bother to listen, she was busy daydreaming. “Yep,” she replied uninterestedly.
The thudding boom of a massive explosion resounded through the hall, so loud was the explosion it could be heard halfway up the Schultz building. The guards could actually feel it shake the floor beneath their feet. The shrieking stopped suddenly.
The male guard leaned back against the wall. “Well, that’s that.”
“Yep,” she was still disinterested.
Minutes later the elevators dinged and opened to the six Indra, covered in black slime. The guards opened the door, as the Indra passed they exuded a rotten foul odor that cut effortlessly through their respirators. It took all they had to remain composed but the guards stood stiffly to attention. After a few minutes in the Arsenal the Indra left once more. The elevators opened and closed once more, the Indra were gone. The guards looked at the trail of slime left by the Indra.
The male guard looked at her. “You’re cleaning that up.” His voice was tinged with fear.
“I will shoot you,” she responded flatly.
Lethe threw up his arms in frustration as he opened the door to the empty lounge.
He stormed inside and looked around, making sure they weren’t pulling some sick prank. “Of course they’re gone! Why would they be here? GAH!”
Dr. Juvinea Fitsch watched Lethe’s miniature meltdown with silent fascination.
“Do they do this to you often?” She walked up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder, she started when she realized that she’d actually touched an Indra, he felt scaly.
Lethe didn’t react to her touching him, he pulled out the paper and quickly scribbled ‘ALL THE DAMN TIME’, his handwriting was improving
She gave him a sympathetic smile. “I’m sorry to hear that, it’s alright, you have me here. What did you want me to take a look at?”
Lethe picked up the small sphere, which the others thankfully left behind, and handed it to her.
Her eyes widened slightly, it was barely perceptible but Lethe saw it. “Well, then if that isn’t a surprise. Where did you get this?” She carefully pinched it between her fingers as she inspected it.
Lethe wrote ‘Factory, Sons’
She nodded, and frowned. “Well, that explains a few things, here come with me, I need to do a thorough teardown. Let’s go to my office.” She turned and held the door open for Lethe.
They wove their way through the identical corridors until they came to a door that looked exactly the same as all the rest. Fitsch opened the door and invited Lethe inside. The room was a mess, worktables piled high with broken machinery, multiple running terminals and standalone computers lit the place up even before the lights were turned on.
“Welcome to my lair.” She gave an embarrassed smile and a nervous chuckle. “Sorry about the mess, my line of work isn’t exactly tidy. I think there’s a chair around here somewhere…” She pulled several boxes of wires off a chair and offered it to Lethe who sat gratefully. “Now, before we get started talking about this.” She held up the sphere. “Would you please indulge me with something? You Indra have been an object of fascination for me for so long, and due to you always moving around I’ve never been able to study you.”
Lethe gave his head a quizzical turn.
Her eyes widened and she put a hand over her mouth to stifle a chuckle. “Oh, I just realized how that sounded, no I just want to do an external test, nothing invasive. I’ve been doing some research on scrapped Indra controller boards, the Sampras dig was an absolute goldmine, and I figured out your method of communication. It’s something called Bluetooth, frankly it’s ancient even by your standards and I’m amazed that it’s slipped under the radar for so long.”
Fitsch rummaged through one of her worktables and pulled out a small bundle of wires that were hooked up to a small circuit board and a speaker.
She presented the mess to Lethe. “This is a Bluetooth speaker; do you know what that means?” Her face had the biggest smile on it. “You’ll be able to talk with us! Here let me turn it on.”
She pressed a small button on the board and a small LED lit up, she watched, perplexed, as a thin tendril of cabling split from Lethe’s palm and connected to the board. The LED flickered quickly as Lethe’s core hijacked the power source and began powering the speaker.
He spoke hesitantly. “Hello? Hello?” His voice was mid-pitched with a slight nasal hint. “Oh god, that’s what I sound like? Well that’s embarrassing. I think I prefer the way I sound in my head.”
Juvinea nearly fainted with joy; she rushed up and hugged Lethe.
“It works! Oh it works! We can talk to you, and you can talk back!” She sat back in her chair the biggest smile on her face.
Lethe held up the sphere. “Well, now that the communication barrier is out of the way, how about you tell me what this is.”
Juvinea leaned forward and scrunched up her face. “Well I don’t know per se, you see, my sister builds the machines and I’m the one that finds out what makes things tick.” She gingerly picked it up and rolled it in her fingers. “She had a bunch of these a while back; she mentioned that General Sullivan sent them to her for ‘testing’ whatever that means. She never told me what they did.”
Lethe stood up. “Where can I find your sister then?”
Her face soured. “Um, it probably wouldn’t be the best idea to go up to her waving one of her past projects around, she’s an unpleasant person at the best of times, and we don’t really get along. And besides, she’s Schultz’ top engineer, she basically runs this place; if these things went through her they’re no doubt classified.”
Lethe paused, weighing the consequences, he sat back down. “Well then, what do we do?”
Fitsch shrugged. “Well I’ll do what I do best, tear it apart, and see what makes it tick so to speak. You wanna stick around?” She side-eyed him, her voice had a coy hint to it.
“I have nothing better to d—,“ Lethe was interrupted.
The sounds of shrill panicked screaming eked through the thick wooden door, as if some wild animal was in great distress. The floor shook and the sound of a massive explosion rebounded through the hallways. Fitsch was confused, Lethe was not.
He sighed. “And that’s probably my brothers and sisters blowing something up. Typical. I think we can all say goodbye to Morgan.”
Her eyes widened. “Wait that thing was real? I thought it was a scary story my sister told me to keep me from staying late.” She thought for a moment then turned to Lethe again. “Well alright then, shall we get started? Feel free to hover over my shoulder, I don’t mind.”
Lethe proceeded to hover over her shoulder. “So how are you going to open it up? It doesn’t have any visible seams.”
With a small grin on her face she said, “Well, in times like this I bring out my specialty equipment.” She reached under the table and quick as a flash hit the sphere with a rubber mallet.
Lethe was startled by her speed and precision, he made a mental note to not get on her bad side. “Erm, specialty?”
“It usually works,” Fitsch said smugly as she lifted the rubber mallet.
Sure enough the force of the mallet split the sphere down the middle.
“There’s a reason why I have these.” She wiggled her glasses. “Bifocals have nothing on these, to me that seam looked huge. The problem is that I’ve worn them so much that I have trouble seeing without them.” She shrugged, unbothered by her ruined eyesight.
She pulled the two halves apart revealing a smaller glass sphere inside. She pushed her face toward it squinting analytically at the small mechanisms inside.
She frowned as she looked closer. “Hmm, airtight, hermetically sealed in fact, this little wire is also external, it seems the signals are transferred through the shielding itself, the wire isn’t necessary but it must act like an antenna. Let’s see if we can’t get this little beauty open.”
“Hammer time?” asked Lethe.
“Hammer time,” Fitsch confirmed.
She gave the glass a gentle tap with the mallet which shattered it.
“Hmm, fairly fragile, the outer casing must have acted as shock absorption, perhaps a liquid barrier; there is foreign residue on the glass and inner casing. Well…” She leaned back, her face perplexed; she made a small confused wave with her hand. “This is just a basic signal blocker; they’re used all the time to block telecommunications.” She huffed and buried her chin in her palm. “What would one of these be doing in something like this, and what’s with the wire?”
She poked around some more; Lethe was incredibly impressed with her knowledge of technology.
“Call me crazy, but this is a direct blocker, it’s nowhere near powerful enough to block distant communications, in fact it needs the wire to extend its range beyond the case. This is like some sort of low-tech sabotage equipment.”
“So is it like something one would put on or in a device to prevent it from broadcasting?” Lethe inquired.
“Yeah, this little blocker is incredibly simple too; it probably isn’t capable of blocking more than a few set transmissions, really basic electronic impulses. This residue though is confusing me; it’s organic in nature, almost as if it was implanted in something, or somebody. Heh, call me crazy but I wouldn’t be surprised if they pulled this out of someone’s—.“
She never got to finish her statement as her sister, Marjorie Fitsch, burst into the room her tired face was twisted with frustration. “You better not have blown something up again you klutz!” She walked up to Juvinea, who had quickly stood up and began backing away.
She raised her hands up disarmingly. “It wasn’t me I swear, Lethe has been with me the whole time, he’ll tell you.”
“How can he tell me anything?” she said a sneer pulling at her mouth. “You know as well as I do that the Indra cannot speak.”
Lethe took that moment to shatter her worldview. “Oh on the contrary, I can speak quite well.”
Shock registered on her face for a brief moment before being replaced with skepticism. She looked to her sister, who was looking rather sheepish. “Explain.”
Juvinea began aggressively fidgeting. “Well, remember those Sampras boards that went missing.”
“Yes…” Marjorie said through gritted teeth, dragging out the ‘S’.
She spoke hesitantly. “Well, what if I told you that they somehow made their way to my workroom where they were then dismantled.”
Marjorie massaged her temples, anger subsiding into mere annoyance. “Those boards were not yours to mess with; they were meant to go to my lab where they would then be…” She looked at Lethe and scoffed quietly. “Never mind.”
“But I figured it out; I know how the Indra communicate! They use Bluetooth!” Juvinea yelled pleadingly.
Marjorie’s tone was firm, she was forcing herself to be calm. “Be that as it may, you need to go through official channels when dealing with high value components like those boards.” She quickly began losing her calm again. “You can’t just take things on a whim then use my name on the official forms, do you know how many times I’ve had to change my passwords because of you!”
The two looked like they were about ready to tear each other’s throats out.
Lethe stepped forward, it was time to negotiate. “Excuse me, ladies?”
They both rounded on him, angry and flustered. “What!?” they chorused.
Lethe addressed Marjorie formally. “I do apologize for all of this. Please understand that she was doing this for our benefit and was likely caught up in the excitement of discovery, this does not excuse her actions but I would ask that she’s allowed a chance to fix this.”
Marjorie sighed resignedly. “What do you propose?”
“I think she should repair the boards and return them to you, while also endeavoring to exercise restraint and going through official channels when acquiring equipment.”
Marjorie scowled. “That seems reasonable.” She looked at Juvinea. “Will you do this, or at least try?”
Juvinea nodded, looking sheepish.
Lethe wasn’t done. “And, I personally think you need to go a bit easier on your sister, she’s not always to blame and is not your personal punching bag. You will admit that the explosion you heard did not remotely resemble the type of explosion one would normally hear in an engineering scenario, and that screaming most certainly did not sound like anything resembling a human.”
“No,” Marjorie admitted rather awkwardly. “Still, it was not right for you to take those boards, if the Kidjii dig falls through then you’re in big trouble whether I like it or not.” Her eyes traveled about the room, her eyes settled on the disassembled blocker on the table, she grew pale. “Where did you get that?”
Marjorie’s reaction confused Juvinea. “The Indra found it at the factory used by the Sons, Lethe brought it to me for analysis and disassembly. Why? What’s wrong?”
Marjorie’s voice was clipped with fear. “Destroy it, immediately, my orders, don’t question it. Be thankful that it’s me, if anybody reported this to Schultz, in the state he’s in he’s liable to have you executed.”
Lethe, stepped up, angered. “Look that’s uncalled for—”
“No it’s not!” She snapped, she looked at Juvinea, her gaze softened. “Destroy it, please, let’s forget this.”
“A-alright.” Juvinea dropped her gaze.
“Thank you.” Marjorie left the room.
An awkward silence fell.
“Against my better judgment,” said Lethe. “I agree with your sister, let’s not jeopardize your safety for this. Besides, you’ve already finished your examination, right?”
Juvinea perked up. “Almost, there’s just one more thing that’s confusing me, there’s no power source so this thing must rely on the host to produce electricity, and it also doesn’t need that much juice to run. Actually the most power draining thing is this tiny wireless receiver; it can’t send anything but it can receive instructions, perhaps for different signals to block; it’s like a little parasite. I’d like to get the residue on the glass analyzed by the chem lab but we’ll have to go on assumption.” She sensed Lethe’s confusion and elaborated. “They don’t really like me down there, I uh, kinda broke one of their electron microscopes and I don’t think they’ve forgiven me yet.”
Lethe rubbed his chin in thought. “What if I took a piece of the glass down there to be analyzed? They’ll probably do it just because I’m an Indra.”
She brightened. “That’s an excellent idea.” Using a delicate pair of tweezers she fished a good sized piece of glass from the jumbled mess and put it on a Petri dish and handed it to Lethe. “Here, would you like me to show you the way; I know you have trouble finding your way around down here.”
“I would be delighted.” Lethe opened the workroom door and let her lead the way.
For the first time in millennia the Indra showered. Making their way to the ATTV wash in the rear loading bay, they turned the water on full blast. Thick black slime was blasted from their bodies by the strong jets of water, Wulf had to dump his trademark cape in the nearest incinerator the mess was so bad. The drains were continually clogged by the slime and cleared by the Indra stamping the goo through the small grates.
“I would have preferred a lake but this will do,” said Wulf as he scraped a wad of slime off his arm, it landed with a sickening slap.
“You would kill anything and everything in that lake,” retorted Pestilence jokingly.
Wulf pinched his fingers. “A small lake?”
Ghost was lucky in that her cloak took the brunt of the slime, but now that was covered in the foul smelling ooze. She was having a not-so-silent mental breakdown in the corner. She was unwilling to take her cloak off, the prospect of walking around without it for any period of time frightened her to core.
Her voice was frantic. “Well now what!? I can’t go around without my cloak! Does this place have a laundry service?”She began to tremble again, the slime that clung to her cloak smeared on the walls.
Pixia crouched down in front of her and spoke quietly. “Even if they did, I doubt they’d even touch that. We’ll get you a new one soon, alright?”
Ghost virtually ignored her. “I can’t go around without my cloak… I-I’ll have to sit in a dark room until one of you finds a replacement.”
“Look I don’t really know why you’re so insecure about going around without your precious cloak,”said Pestilence.
Ghost began to rock. “They stare, I can’t stand the staring, it drives me crazy!”A thin tendril of pink energy shot from beneath her cloak, cracking a nearby tile.
Death crouched alongside Pixia. “Well look, you’re not off the hook, we need you here with us, and we can’t have you sequestered off in some dark room because you feel insecure about your looks,”hesaid sternly.
She shook her head, spraying slime all over Death and Pixia who recoiled. “It’s not ‘about’, it’s ‘because’ of my looks.”
Death sighed. “Look, take a shower and see how you feel afterwards, you really need a psychologist.”
“Don’t tempt me,” she muttered dejectedly.
Eventually the Indra had to steal a bedsheet because Ghost was making such a fuss, her name finally fit with her image. The group got back to the lounge once more.
“Alright,”said Death, “I’ll go speak with Schultz about Morgan and see if he has anything else we need to do. I really hope he’s calmed down a bit, maybe he’ll brighten up a bit when I give him the news. Ghost, Pixia I want you to get down to Banthu’s lab and check up on Wall, maybe keep him company. Also, could one of you find Lethe? The rest of you… mingle? I dunno.”Death left the room.
Pixia and Ghost stood up and left the room, Ghost was still huddled up in her sheet.
Wulf Stood up and looked at Pestilence and Famine. “Alright, I’ll go find Lethe, I assume you don’t want to be stuck in here doing nothing so how about you go join Ghost with Wall if you want to.”
Wulf set off to find Lethe flowed by Pestilence and Famine.
Wulf looked back, surprised to see the two following him. “Really? You are the last two I’d ever expect to have any interest in Lethe.”
“We’re both very curious about the sphere and we’d like to see if he and Doctor Fitsch have made any headway,” said Famine. Their voice was uncharacteristically raspy as their body slowly filled back in; they had a strange wrinkled appearance, as if deflated.
Pestilence nodded in affirmation leaning slightly away from Famine.
As the group rounded a corner they nearly bumped into Lethe who was off to the lounge to present his findings, the three saved him the frustration of finding another empty room.
“Ah, there you are, we were beginning to think you got lost again,” said Pestilence.
“Nope,” Lethe said, his tone understandably haughty.
The Indra were silent for a second, the fact that Lethe just spoke audibly burrowing into their minds.
Lethe leaned against the wall, arms crossed. “Wow, little old me rendering the three of you speechless, I feel honored.” He exuded a near tangible aura of smugness.
Wulf responded, more than a little perplexed.“Would you mind explaining how you managed that?”
“Juvinea rigged up a rudimentary Bluetooth speaker.” He indicated the jumbled mess wrapped around his waist. “I can speak now.”
Wulf stuttered. “Well, that’s unexpected… does she have any more?”The prospect of being able to speak out loud excited the Indra, even the notoriously unflappable Famine let slip a shred of feeling.
Lethe shrugged. “I don’t know, I didn’t ask her, I’m pretty sure this is just a prototype, but I’m sure she’ll be able to make more. Come on, let’s go back to her workroom, we’ll talk more in there.” He turned about and made his way back down the hall, the three followed closely.
Pestilence gave him a clap on the back. “Also… Juvinea? Aren’t we getting a little personal?”
Lethe scoffed, it felt odd to audibly scoff. “Who me? You should be congratulating me I’m actually socializing, coming out of my shell, it’s oddly liberating.”
“Yeah, now that you’re a social butterfly we just need to work on Ghost,”said Pestilence, slumping slightly.
Lethe’s voice grew worried. “Oh, what happened?”
Wulf answered, a small laugh tinged his voice. “Her cloak got ruined and now she’s walking around with a bedsheet over her head.”
“Where did you guys find a bedsheet?”
Pestilence drew a blank. “Good question,”was all she said.
Chapter 15: Knossos
Dawn broke on another cool morning; the group continued their northern march, the patches of thick forests slowly petered out and gave way to soft marshy ground. Morale was low after witnessing the aftermath at the trading post. Not even Kid could find something chipper to say to brighten the mood. At the outskirts of the Knoss Wetlands Scorn came to a stop, he scanned the dismal green landscape.
“OK everybody, we’re taking a short detour to Knossos,”Scorn announced to the group, who were understandably confused.
Bolt piped up voicing everyone’s confusion. “Knossos? Why would we go there? Speed is of the essence, and now you want to take a detour? For that matter, why don’t we just follow the river and cut through the forest?”
Scorn nodded, understanding the other’s confusion. “That’s what I initially hoped to do, with Ellie’s help we could have bartered passage, but as you saw, all the boats were scuttled. Following the river would only lose us time and the Kmh’I BaKhan is virtually impenetrable, believe me, I’ve tried. Either way we’d wind up slogging through the wetlands. Besides, Medusa will likely follow the ancient roads north; it’s the most likely place for it to go after the Trading post. I also have my own reason for going there; I have something I need to collect… It may help us seal the station, or even better, destroy Medusa.”
As they continued to travel north the ground began getting progressively spongier, soon the muck was sucking at their feet trying to pull them into the murky depths. Ellie had it worst due to her size but they persevered until they found firmer ground, an ancient road made from stone slabs and beaten earth seemingly materialized from the soft earth and wound into the distance, many miles away Knossos lay at its end. After half a day of light jogging the ruins of Knossos became a tiny pinprick in the distance, an ugly smudge on the nearly pristine landscape.
As the ruins drew nearer Scorn grew uncharacteristically chatty. “Knossos was a twisted ruin long before any of you were uncovered, only Wulf and I had been reactivated. I was not present when it was razed; I was north preventing the Tcha’Gough from discovering the station. When I wasn’t north though I visited frequently, the people thought I was a spirit and gifted me many, perhaps, unusual items.” He chuckled as he remembered further.“One woman actually tried to marry her daughter to me, but that story can wait for another time. Scorn paused. Now that I think about it…”He shook his head. “No, that can wait for later too.”
As they drew closer they began to realize the size of the city and the scope of the destruction wrought upon it. Massive stone walls that had stood for nearly a thousand years, encapsulating the square mile of civilization for centuries, had been toppled like a child’s wooden blocks. Once tightly laid roadways were split and pocked with craters, and sturdy buildings that had weathered the worst the land could throw at them were charred foundations, the wood rotting to dust long ago. The destruction was total, and it was brutal.
Scorn broke the somber silence. “The last time I set foot in this city it was still ablaze, ten thousand feet of smoke pillaring into the sky, I can only imagine the wails of the people as they were marched off by that tyrant. It was inhuman; he descended on these poor people who had only just perfected stone walls and had recently learned to smelt iron and enslaved them. I bear his descendant no ill will for carrying his name but I will never forgive Laverne Schultz for what he did to these people.”
Kid raised her hand, hesitant to interrupt Scorn’s recollection. “Um, but this Schultz says that he founded Alcadon, not some ancestor of his.”
The group paused… she was right. Anon chimed in,“That brings up a good point, I’d never thought about that before, how old is Schultz? I’ve never heard of there being a change of leadership in Alcadon, not even from father to son. If something that big happened then the researchers I’ve been in contact with over the years would have said something if only in passing.”
Kid raised her hand again, tone earnest. “Maybe he’s using really good face cream?”
“Oh hush,”chided Bolt.
Scorn shook his head, his voice distracted as he remembered even further back. “No, she actually brings up a somewhat good point. Perhaps he’s using technology to prolong his life? I know the United States Government was investing heavily into that when we were in operation; perhaps they actually found a way and that technology has survived. Either way, we can’t stand around here talking about this, we need to collect my package, and find Medusa.”
Bolt kicked a piece of rubble down the ruined street.“I still don’t know what makes you so sure that Medusa is going to be here.”
Scorn scanned the ruins as if looking for something in particular. “Instinct. Come on we need to find the right building.”
They split up and began searching the ruined foundations for the marker Scorn described. The marker was a set of initials belonging to a child long lost to the ages, they were apparently carved in a way that couldn’t be missed. After several hours of searching the sun began to sink lower to the horizon, the purple haze of dusk was descending, soon only by the light of Scorn could they see the carvings on the foundations. A wispy fog began trickling into the ruins as the cold air of night clashed with the still-warm earth.
As the last trickles of light were lost behind the horizon Kid began calling out. “I found it! I found it!”
Everybody came running, the foundation looked just like the rest but the initials were there. Scorn vaulted into the foundation and began to frantically scrabble around in the dirt kicking up a small cloud of dust. If the light ran out they might never find it! The rest followed and soon they were all on their hands and knees searching.
“It would help if we knew what we were looking for, what does this thing look like?” Ellie asked.
Scorn’s voice was frantic. “It’s a sphere, about the size of a fist; it might be the only thing that could stop them if they are released.”
“So it’s like a last resort weapon?”asked Bolt.
“Yes, if all else fails, this won’t, I’ll leave it at that.”
Ellie’s hand brushed something that felt different from the stones and clumps of dirt, it was smooth. She pulled it from the earth, it was just like Scorn described. It was a small metallic sphere, pocked and scarred from years of mistreatment; it looked comically small in Ellie’s massive hands. “Call me crazy but I think this is it… hey Sco—“
“Yes, little one… that is it.” Medusa slithered over the lip of the foundation, its voice had changed, it was more akin to a purr than a diseased rattle; it fixated its stare on Scorn. “Clever boy, I thought all of those were lost to time, clearly you’ve been saving this for a special occasion.” It began to bounce slightly as it limbered itself up; it began to giggle awaiting the group’s next move.
Not taking her gaze from Medusa, Ellie called to Scorn, “Please explain… what is this thing?”
He shook his head, not daring to move lest he provoke Medusa. “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
Medusa surprised them all by speaking instead of attacking; it slithered down the side of the wall. “If you won’t, brother of mine, I will… Your General Freeman was very loose with his information around me, before I killed him, of course. That little sphere is one of the most powerful nuclear weapons ever constructed by man.” Medusa was now in the foundation with them and closing in. “They were never used… such a pity, now give it to me before I finish what I started with the short one.” Medusa shifted to looking at Kid then back to Ellie.
Ellie clutched the bomb tighter. “I won’t, and besides you have no way to carry it.”
It hesitated. “Don’t I? Well… it may be time to change that…” Medusa stood rigid; a sickening cracking noise began to emanate from its body. “Oh dear… that’s unfortunate,” Medusa whispered. Its body twisted and deformed, rippling, and bulging. Suddenly a fist burst from its midsection, then another, two feet followed.
Medusa was shedding!?
Ellie jumped back. “What’s going on?”
Scorn was running to the edge of the foundation.“I have no idea; let’s get out of here while it’s distracted!”
The five vaulted out of the foundation and began sprinting down the ruined street. Behind them an ear splitting, keening, scream cut through the quiet evening air, a scream of triumph. Not stopping to see whatever fresh horror was pursuing them, the five kept running. Directly ahead of them was a break in the wall, a way out, as they drew nearer the wail called out again, this time from seemingly right behind them. Ellie felt a hand grip her leg like a vice, biting into her flesh, stopping her dead. Falling heavily Ellie nearly dropped the bomb, the others stopped and turned around as did Ellie to see this new horror.
It looked almost human. Its flesh was sandy colored and pulsating, still covered in some horrible fluid from its recent molting. Its arms and legs were too long, its torso too small, its bald head too large. On its head remained that impassive face though now an ugly dark gash cut across it to form a twisted mouth, it dribbled viscous saliva as a long black tongue split from it. Mist rose from Medusa’s new body, jets of steam shot from its disgusting mouth as it exhaled for the first time.
“Now my dear,” Medusa’s voice was now feminine and velvety smooth, its jaw made small cracking noises. “How about you give me that little bomb and I’ll make your deaths quick.” Medusa began to squeeze, pain shot through Ellie’s system it felt as though Medusa was going to crush her leg.
Unsheathing their weapons the other Indra attacked. Medusa didn’t bother to dodge, everything bounced harmlessly off her, nothing could cut or puncture her. None of the attacks could even shift her seemingly massive weight Anon pressed his small pistol to the side of her head and fired; it shot from his hand landing somewhere in the ruins.
Medusa began to laugh, the fight died around her. “Is this really all you can muster? I’m embarrassed to be related to you, especially you, my little sister; I cannot believe that you and I share the same chip.” Medusa paused, stricken with a fantastic thought. “I wonder… now that I have been gifted a mouth… what do you taste like?”
Medusa leaned down and wrapped her mouth around Ellie’s left leg and bit down, hard. A thousand little teeth sawed their way through her skin and pierced the flesh beneath, rending and tearing as they went. Ellie screamed and Medusa withdrew her mouth full, leaving a pool of greasy saliva coating the wound. The other four renewed their assault, but their attacks were just as ineffective as before. Medusa went back in for another bite.
In the apartment Katrine could feel Ellie’s panic, desperately trying to remember something she’d read, finally she called out. “Blunt force! Kick that gross bitch in the face!”
Ellie, stopped trying to crawl away and wound up for a kick, inhaling deeply she prepared her jets to deliver the hardest possible strike to Medusa’s face. “Sweet dreams,” she muttered, voice tight with determination. With the jets roaring, Ellie kicked, she kicked harder than she’d ever thought possible. The unstoppable force met the immovable object and luckily for the unstoppable force the immovable object was having an off day. Ellie’s massive foot landed square in Medusa’s face, she could feel the armor on her leg bend and shatter as her foot ploughed deeper in Medusa’s rapidly deforming cranium. Both were thrown in opposite directions by the force of the kick, Ellie out into the wetlands and Medusa deeper into the ruins of Knossos.
The group found Ellie, unconscious, partially submerged in a marsh still holding the bomb. Thanking their lucky stars the group hauled Ellie up between them and started to get underway once more, they would construct a stretcher when it was light again.
Inside the apartment Vee and Katrine were tending to Ellie, who was thrown inside as she lost consciousness. They carefully laid her out on the small wooden dining table. After rolling up her pants they were witness to the damage wrought upon her legs. Her left leg had a massive chunk torn from the calf while the other was shattered in several places and bent at an unnatural angle. Katrine felt sick, she was fine with blood that was no problem, but broken bones? That was a different story.
“Look,” Vee said, eyes wide at the sight of the carnage. “I don’t know what it will do for her physical body but for my own sanity we should at least splint and bandage her legs.”
Katrine quickly nodded, suppressing her urge to gag. “Yeah, at least we’d be doing something,” she said breathlessly.
Vee quickly looked around the apartment before looking back at Katrine. “Do you have anything we could use for a splint?”
Katrine pulled out one of the cheap metal chairs. “Would a chair leg do?”
Vee nodded. “It’s not the best but we’ll make it work, what about bandages, something to soak up the blood?”
Katrine rushed to her closet. “My old lab coat, I won’t be needing it anymore anyway.”
Vee shot her a confused look. “Why would you have a lab coat? Where did you work?”
Katrine ripped the white lab coat from the closet and began tearing it into strips; she tossed aside her name badge. “I was studying to be an agricultural engineer at the university, I was interning with Engineering and Archaeology for my degree.”
“Not a particularly glamorous field.” Vee tore the leg off one of the dining chairs.
Katrine squinted at Vee as she shook her head. “Nope, also that was the wrong chair, but whatever. I just wanted to help people, the best way I could figure was to aid in food production, Alcadon is on the verge of famine you know. Too many mouths to feed.”
“Very honorable, you have a good heart.” Vee gave Katrine an appreciative smile.
Katrine chuckled. “Had a good heart, come on let’s get to work.”
They got to work cleaning and bandaging the bite, and the splint went on mercifully easily, Ellie was completely unconscious and didn’t even react to the slightly rough handling from her amateur nurses. Katrine threw the final bundle of soiled rags into the trash can and slumped down next to Vee on the futon, both of their hands were covered in blood.
Katrine rested her hands on her lap. “Well, I think she’s all done, that’s the best we can do for now.”
“Yep.” Vee stared blankly at the wall. How the hell did somebody so small have so much blood in them?
“How are we going to clean ourselves up?” Katrine stared at her hands, watching the blood slowly dry and crust.
“Is the water running?” Vee asked, face still blank.
Katrine shook her head. “No, I tried the sink in the kitchen, nothing.”
“No I didn’t check there.”
“Twist my arm some more why dontcha?” Katrine got back up and made her way to the small bathroom in the corner of the apartment. “There’s water in the toilet if you’re desperate!” she called back.
“Try the shower!” Vee called.
“It’s not gonna work!”
The satisfying sound of rushing water could be heard from the bathroom.
Vee turned her head so Katrine could hear her doubly loud, a grin on her face. “See!? I told you it would work!”
There was no response, Vee could hear the bathroom door slam closed
“Katrine?” Vee got up and went to the bathroom, she opened the door.
Katrine squawked with indignation. “Hey! Privacy please! I haven’t showered in weeks, now shoo!”
Vee quickly shut the door behind her, blushing slightly.
The night passed uneventfully, Medusa was nowhere to be seen and Ellie’s condition remained unchanged. Progress was slow as the wet marshy ground sucked at the group’s feet; matters were not helped by the added bulk of Ellie weighing on their shoulders. They had a stroke of luck as the ground firmed beneath their feet, a long stretch of firm ground, nearly invisible to the naked eye stretched for miles. Perhaps the remnants of another ancient road?
As dawn arose the group stopped to gather supplies for a rudimentary sled with which they could drag Ellie. The coarse fibrous vegetation made excellent rope and several misguided sapling met their doom at the edge of Kid’s blade. Soon enough the group started off again with Ellie in tow, her feet dragging along the ground.
Around midday Kid decided to stop by the apartment. One moment kid was sitting on Ellie’s chest the next moment she was clad in a poorly fitting pair of pajamas outside a plain door floating in a grey void. Kid approached the door and let herself in. The mood inside was somber; Katrine and Vee were sat in the kitchen talking while Ellie was laid out on the small bed, the whole place stank of cleaning solution as the two had spent the whole night scrubbing away the copious amounts of blood.
As Kid shuffled in Katrine broke into a weary smile. “Hey Kid, what’s up?”
Kid gestured to the bed. Her tone was somber. “I just came to check up on Ellie. How’s she doing?”
Katrine got up, held Kid’s hand, and brought her over to Ellie. “She hasn’t changed, we’ve tried to bandage her up as best we could but I have no clue when she’ll wake up.”
Kid began walking around Ellie’s still form, as if studying her. Leaving well away from the legs she finally came to a stop on the other side next to Ellie’s head. Kid leaned in real close, nearly pressing her mouth to Ellie’s ear and… “WAKE UP YA LAZY FRICK!”
Ellie’s eyes shot open and she flinched so hard she nearly fell out of the bed. “Whoa! What the hell Kid? Have some respect for the crippled and partially eaten!” Ellie re-centered herself on the bed, and immediately cringed with pain. “I don’t know which is worse, the tinnitus you just gave me or my legs, shit!”
Katrine’s eyebrows rose. “Hey, hey, I think I have something that will help, just a moment.” She rushed to the kitchen. “I’ve always been looking for an excuse to use this and I think now is the perfect time.” She pulled a small brown bottle from the topmost shelf of the cabinet. “Frankly we’re lucky for anything we have in here; here get this down your gob.” Katrine poured a tiny amount of the amber yellow liquid into a small glass.
Ellie took it gratefully and swallowed it all in one gulp. “Thanks, what is it, anesthetic?”
“Fellacian Absinthe,” Katrine responded quietly.
Vee, who was still sitting in the kitchen, stood bolt upright. “What!?” she yelled. “Why in the world would you give her that? That stuff has been known to kill!”
Ellie was understandably concerned. “What is Fellacian Absinthe?”
Vee rushed over and placed a hand on Ellie’s already warm forehead. “It’s only the strongest, deadliest, alcohol on the face of the earth.” She shot a dirty glance at Katrine.
Katrine waved away her worries. “Relax; I only gave her a tiny amount, only enough to give her a slight buzz, not even a twelfth of a shot glass. Four shots have been known to kill and this is just the tiniest amount. Besides, if we go on body weight she could probably drink the whole bottle and be fine.”
Vee massaged the bridge of her nose and huffed. “We don’t know how it will affect her in here, Indra have never had to eat, let alone drink. It could kill her for all we know.”
“It won’t, trust me, please,” Katrine said, and Vee sat back down mood considerably soured. “Also we should see about expanding your culinary horizons, perhaps later.” Katrine turned back to Ellie who had a happy grin on her face. “How’re you feeling now?”
“Ooh, much better, I feel all tingly.” Ellie snuggled into the covers and fell back asleep.
“Can I have some?” Kid asked.
“No!” Katrine and Vee said in unison.
“Humph!” Kid crossed her arms, sat down next to the bed, and waited.
Ellie regained consciousness several times over the next few hours, each time she said the pain was lesser, though she was growing warmer and warmer with fever. Kid, curious as always, asked Scorn about Ellie.
“We Indra are excellent at healing wounds, Scorn explained to Kid. If the limb hasn’t been outright removed, like with your hand, it can repair itself over the course of a few days. You saw what Ellie did to Death in their first sparring match; he was fully healed by the time we left. She’ll be alright, though I’ll admit that I am a bit worried about that bite, you said she was getting very warm right? Why don’t you go back in and check on her?”
Kid reentered the apartment; Vee was curled up on the futon reading one of the few books Katrine owned, it was a large medical textbook about human anatomy, her mood had bounced back after her outburst over the absinthe. Katrine was digging around in her closet once more, frantically searching for something.
She pulled out another cardboard box full of junk and began sifting through it. “Ugh, where did I put it? I know I threw it in here!”
“Whatchya lookin’ for?” Kid asked, sneaking up behind Katrine.
Katrine jumped and in the process knocked over one of the many boxes stuffed into the closet, its contents spilled all over the floor. Sheets of paper covered in a variety of sketches and drawings littered the floor almost all of them were of the Indra. Quickly Katrine scrambled to collect them; she began shoving them back into the box. Vee picked up one of the sketches that had wafted over to the futon; it was a pencil sketch of her back when she was alive.
Her eyes widened. “Katrine? Did you draw these?”
Katrine began to blush a bright shade of red. “Erm, yeah, I had a brief fling at art but decided it wasn’t for me.”
“What do you mean it wasn’t for you? These are amazing!” Scanning the ground Vee spotted another. “Here Kid, this one’s of you!”
Kid rushed over. “Ooh! Lemme see, lemme see!”
Vee realized something. “They’re all of us… “
Katrine sat down on the futon. “Yeah, you guys kinda run in the family.” She held up her old name badge.
Vee squinted at it, the last name seemed familiar. “Katrine Kham…” she muttered, she knew that last name from somewhere. Her eyes widened. “The same Kham that found Wall and Lethe?”
Katrine nodded. “My great grandmother Irma found Lethe, and grandpa Ermand found Wall. My parents decided to break with tradition and become surgeons, much to Granny Irma’s chagrin.” She smiled to herself. “You actually have her to thank for the Absinthe, a lot of people owed her favors, she a bit of a badass.” Katrine went back to scooping up her sketches. “You guys were my heroes when I was younger, from all the stories Granny Irma told, you guys seemed like gods.” She scoffed slightly and side-eyed the two lounging on her futon, who also scoffed. “I was pretty young when they found Wall and Bolt and since I was, y’know, a kid, I really wanted to draw them. I got as many pictures as I could and started doodling; eventually I got pretty good at it.” She picked up a sketch of Vee looking stoic, ankle deep in the Knoss, and handed it to her. “I actually saw you five years ago when my family took a trip to the Great Salt Sea, we took the river route down the Knoss. I think I tried to jump overboard to meet you but my parents stopped me before I could do something stupid.”
Vee scrunched her face up, remembering, suddenly her eyes widened. “That was you? You were the kid being held by the back of her pants dangling off the side of the boat?”
Katrine said nothing but began blushing her lips pulled in a tight, embarrassed, smile.
“Hah! That was you! Oh…” Vee slid off the futon and onto the floor laughing. “That one had me chuckling for months, why did you stop?”
Katrine fluttered her lips. “Oh, the usual, real life came knocking. My parents wanted me to do something productive for society, not just sit around all day wasting good money on ‘damned expensive paper!’” Katrine scrunched her face in an exaggerated comical frown. “I don’t blame them, so I went into agricultural engineering, and you know the rest. I always meant to go back to art one day but… my studies got in the way.” She stared blankly at the wall. “Then I died, that really threw a wrench in things.”
Vee chuckled. “Well, I don’t think your studies will be in the way anymore, why don’t you take it back up again?”
Katrine leaned back and crossed her legs. “Yeah, I wish, I don’t have any supplies; I couldn’t draw now even if I wanted to.”
“Well…” Vee thought for a moment. “Technically this place is just a materialization of your thoughts; this is all part of your imagination, apart from myself and Kid who are simply inhabiting this part of your brain. How about you use your imagination to make some paper and pencils, it’s worth a shot.”
“Alright.” Katrine scrunched up her face and thought, imagining every detail of the object, she held out her hand and then placed the pencil she wanted in her hand. A bright yellow pencil fell from the ceiling and buried its lead in her palm. She yelped in pain shook her hand to dislodge the pencil; it rolled across the floor and tapped the wall.
Vee looked between Katrine and the pencil, eyes wide. “Wow it worked! Now you can magic up a bandage for that stab wound you just gave yourself.”
“Ooh, ooh!” Kid was excitedly jumping up and down. “Can you get me a pair of smiley face pajamas that fit?”
Vee chuckled, and hauled Kid close, giving her a noogie. “Hold your horses Kid; give her a moment to get the hang of it. How about you come back later when she’s a bit better at it, then we’ll see about clothes. If you get good enough you might be able to make clothes for everybody.” She was as excited as Kid but didn’t want to rush things.
Katrine eyed the pencil suspiciously. “Perhaps, but I’ll need some serious practice, just a simple pencil took some heavy thought.”
“Hey what are you guys doing?” Ellie hobbled around the corner. “I heard shouting.”
The three immediately rushed over to her and tried to get her back into bed.
“I don’t think you’re quite ready to be back up on your feet.” Vee tried to move her but Ellie stood firm, clutching the wall. “Please don’t be stubborn.”
Her voice was slightly slurred and entirely exhausted, sweat dripped from her forehead. “If I’m stuck in that bed for much longer I’ll go insane.”
Vee sighed; she was going to be stubborn. “Well, at least sit on the futon then, get the weight off your legs.”
Ellie nodded, face determined. “I’ll do that at least.”
They carefully herded Ellie over to the futon, before they got there her legs gave out, they had to drag her the final few feet. She sat, breathing heavily; even just walking those few steps took a lot out of her, a normal break shouldn’t be this hard on an Indra.
Vee scowled as she felt Ellie’s forehead, she was positively boiling. “Since you’re here, I think it’s time we changed your bandages. Katrine grab a towel from the bathroom and the rest of your old coat. Kid, get the good chair.”
They rested Ellie’s legs gently on the chair while they unwound the soiled bandages. With the bandages removed Kid finally got to see the full extent of the damage, her face soured and she wound up dry heaving in the bathroom. The skin was mottled purple with bruising, and the bone was still clearly broken, but even this was a marked improvement from the day before. The bite mark was a different story; the skin was an angry red and swollen. A thin trail of pus oozed from the open wound, it refused to scab, the smell was dreadful.
Katrine examined both legs closely, nose pinched at the smell. “Your broken leg looks pretty good, at the rate you’re going I’d say three or so days before you make a good recovery, but that bite… I think it’s infected, and judging from the smell it might be necrotic.”
“How do you know about all this Katrine?” Ellie looked amazed.
“Well it’s a combination of growing up with parents who are both doctors and having a lot of free time with their medical textbooks. I know my way around the human body better than most. Aren’t I wonderfully convenient?” She gave Ellie a warm smile. “I suppose now would be a good time to try to ‘magic’ up something to help out with that infection. This is significantly more complex than a pencil, gimme a moment.”
Katrine dug through the small stack of textbooks Vee had piled by the futon. She rifled through a few before finally settling on one. She sat down and buried her head in her hands and sat still, eyes firmly affixed on the chemical formula in the book. She sat there for several minutes, completely motionless, as Vee bound Ellie’s legs with fresh bandages. Kid had reemerged from the bathroom and quickly had to be shushed before she broke Katrine’s concentration. After several more minutes of deafening silence a small pile of white capsules rattled across the floor.
Katrine shook her head, as if coming out of a trance. “Man! That was finicky; I had to get the chemical formula just right or it wouldn’t take. I wanted to make a bottle but it was being stubborn.” She got up and scooped the pills onto her hand, plucking one from the pile she handed it to Ellie. “Here, take one of these.”
Ellie rolled it around her fingers, she looked at Katrine. “What is it?”
“Antibiotics, there’s clearly something in that bite you got from Medusa and these might just help. Just remember, this will take a while, I doubt your Indra dexterity extends to bacterial infections. You’re stuck healing at the rate of regular humans with this one.”
Ellie nodded grimly and popped the pill in her mouth, her eyes widened. “I don’t know how to swallow…”
Chapter 16: The Shalti
“How can these people live like this?”Inferno was scraping goat feces from his foot on a low wall. “It’s absolutely savage!”
War leaned on the wall and responded,“I often ask myself how you can live alone on a volcano, but thinking about it… it’s probably for the best.”
Inferno rounded on him, feathers considerably ruffled. “What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“Oh, nothing.”War continued on, leaving Inferno to catch up.
They were walking through the outskirts of the largest of the Shalti settlements, Ozri. Reports had said that the Sons had set up a reconnaissance operation somewhere in town and War meant to find it, but at the moment he was rather busy admiring his surroundings. The scenery was lush and green, veritably shimmering in the bright noonday sun, a welcome change from the industrial nature of Alcadon. War savored the feeling of the gentle breeze brushing against his skin, the sounds of the rustling trees; Ozri was an oasis of nature in the bland barren Halgue flatlands.
War looked up, watching a small flock of sparrows flit from tree to tree, he looked further. “You have no idea how long it’s been since I’ve seen a blue sky, I’ve missed it.”
Inferno stood beside War, the beauty of his surroundings was not lost upon him. “I will admit, there is something wonderful about nature, not so much about the animals that live in it though.”Inferno glared at a passing goat, the goat stared back dispassionately. “Swine goat…”
War snapped back to reality, his mind back onto the business at hand. “Alright, we’re entering town, the Shalti are not easily angered but please be on your best behavior, we don’t want any incidents.”
Inferno shrugged. “Yeah, alright.”
Ozri was modest by most standards. Its worn roads were a mix of tightly laid brick and hand hewn cobbled stones. The buildings were mainly built from timber and plaster, with ceramic shingles. Not a single building was over two stories tall; the engineering prowess of the Shalti was rather limited in that respect. There were trees and shrubs positively everywhere, it seemed as if the Shalti had built in the center of a forest, it was a massive contrast to the featureless wastes the were the Halgue Flatlands. As the two entered the small town they immediately drew stares, the Shalti were a private and reserved people but were generally friendly to strangers, the Indra were totally alien to them.
War kept an eye on Inferno, he knew that he was nearly as shy around people as Ghost, and didn’t want him doing anything stupid. Outwardly Inferno acted as he normally did, but War could feel a tumultuous fear building up in him. Inferno began humming.
War was taken aback. “Are you humming?”
Inferno quickly stopped. “So what if I am?”His tone was aggressive though he maintained his composure.
War backed down. “Nothing, I just wasn’t aware you were musically inclined.”
“There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”Inferno was getting churlish.
War could feel Inferno’s conflict, he was desperately scared. He took a risk. “Do you want to talk?”
Inferno stopped, War looked back, he seemed as if he was frozen. As if in an instant his fist was buried in War’s stomach, War lost his balance and fell back. The street cleared, the Shalti wanted no part in this.
He went in for another swing, War blocked with his forearm. “Inferno! Stop this!”
Inferno kept battering War’s arms. His voice was little more than a primal yell. “Why do you all have to be so nice!? Why!? You know what I did, and you act like I didn’t!”
War backed away still trying to block Inferno’s wild punches. “It wasn’t your fault!”
“Yes it was!” He reared back to throw a kick at War’s head.
Throwing himself to the side War barely dodged the massive kick, the cobblestones nearly vaporized. “You were under orders, you had no choice, they used you!”He raised his arm to stop shrapnel from being lodged in his head.
“And she still died!”Inferno’s voice was growing hoarse; he threw himself forward and began grappling with War.
War ducked low and wrapped his arms around Inferno’s waist, lifting him. “She wasn’t your fault!”
He thrashed wildly, striking War in the side of the head, he was dropped. “I was too weak to stop them, or myself!”
War stumbled away, putting distance between himself and Inferno. “We’ve all forgiven you! Why can’t you forgive yourself?”
Inferno rushed him, going in for another bout of grappling. “I don’t want forgiveness!”
Suddenly War realized what was going on. Inferno wanted this, he wanted to be punished, he thought the only way to forgiveness is through pain. War wasn’t the tender sort; he fell back and prepared to swing. Inferno, intentionally or not, had left himself wide open in his wild dash. Windmilling his arm, War smashed his clenched fist into the top of Inferno’s head.
Crumpling to the ground, Inferno lay still, War crouched over him.
“They used you, they used us all.”War whispered. “We all know your pain, but we’ve decided that the past is the past, and we have to keep moving toward the future. Inferno, you’re still living in the past, I know it seems hard but you have to let it go.”War placed a hand on Inferno’s back. “C’mon bud, we’ve gotta move on.”
Inferno’s voice quavered. “Physically or metaphorically?”
War suppressed a chuckle, that’s the Inferno he knew. “Both… now let’s go.”War let Inferno go; he gave him a clap on the shoulder and kept walking down the street.
Inferno jogged to catch up and fell back in stride with him. He stuttered for a moment. “Mom taught it to me, what I was humming. Back when it was just the five of us, she spent a lot of time with us; reminding us who we were… god I miss her.”
War reached out and wrapped his arm around Inferno’s shoulder. “Hey, we all miss her. Honestly I’m jealous, I didn’t get to see her much, I was always deployed.”He poked his pointer finger at Inferno’s forehead. “She’ll always be alive in there, don’t forget that.”War let Inferno go. “Alright, now where’s the Superior’s office, we need him to give us permission to search.”
Inferno sniffled. “Why don’t you ask one of the Shalti, maybe they can understand your silly sign language?”
War side-eyed Inferno. “Let’s find out.”
Scanning the street, War spotted and subsequently flagged down a Shalti man.
The man was incredibly confused by the appearance of the two but walked over anyway. “Yes? Can I help the two of you?” His voice was clipped and formal.
War began speaking in sign language to him.
The Shalti man’s brow furrowed. “Why would you need to talk to the Superior?”
Inferno scoffed and turned his head, War continued.
The Shalti man chuckled, respect shone in his eyes. “Schultz eh? Well alright.” He pointed down the street. “Third right, second left, keep going straight until you see the stone building, you can’t miss it.”
War nodded his head in thanks. The Shalti man nodded and walked off.
“Lucky bastard,”Inferno Muttered.
The two made their way to the center of town; there were very few people on the streets and the most activity they saw was from one of the many taverns. The Superior’s office was a squat stone building with small windows, not the pinnacle of engineering. The inside was much more welcoming, a roaring fire in the large stone fireplace, wood paneled walls with local Shalti artwork adorning them; low tables and comfortable chairs and sofas were spread about the large floor space. In the far left corner there was a minimalist, yet tasteful, desk where the local Superior was relaxing and reading a book.
War knocked firmly on the doorframe; the Superior looked briefly startled and looked up. His eyes widened when he saw the two hulking Indra standing silhouetted in the doorway.
The Superior pasted a dispassionate look on his face. “Yes can I help you?”
War approached the desk, Inferno stayed near the entrance. Pulling out a chair, War sat in front of the Superior, he began speaking to him in sign language.
The Superior furrowed his brow. “We received no word from Schultz about a search.”
War signed some more.
He sighed. “Normally I’d have you thrown out for even suggesting something like this but you are Indra, and you are known to me as one of Schultz personal bodyguards, I’ve visited several times.
War took that moment to strike up some small talk.
The superior scrunched up his face and shook his head. “Oh, no, too tall, you can’t see the sky. I prefer to be a bit closer to nature. Erm, what do you think of our attempts to bring nature into our little village.”
War signed a bit more, the Superior smiled.
“Oh, you’re too kind, when one’s out plowing and tending the fields all day it’s nice to come home to the rustling of leaves and the sounds of birdsong.”
War perked up, he quickly signed.
A good-humored smile played on the Superior’s features. “A bird-lover eh, not in the best profession for such a hobby, we have a small few flocks who pass through, mainly geese, finches and some sparrows, but there are always a few oddballs.”
“Lazuli Bunting? My boy you’re too far south to see one of those, maybe during migration season, I’d recommend you stick to finches, I’ve see—,” The Superior caught himself before he whiled away the day talking about bird watching. “I suppose you’d better get on with your search, you have my permission to do so, though I assure you that you’ll find nothing of interest.
War nodded his head in thanks, making a mental note to talk to the Superior later.
Their search was fruitless. Nobody they conversed with knew anything, and none of the dozens of buildings they were allowed to search had any evidence of the Sons, everything was immaculate. By the time night fell Inferno gave up entirely and even War was beginning to lose hope. They were back in the outskirts and conversing.
Inferno was lounging against a fence.“Well of course we aren’t going to find anything, if anything the entire town is in on it and are purposefully wasting our time. I mean, it’s not like they’re gonna show us exactly where the Sons were hiding, they’re either working for them or under threat by them. Did you really not think this through?”
War paced impatiently.“I expected something, a glance here, a twitch there, something out of place, but this is just ridiculous. Whoever the Sons are, they’re far better at hiding their tracks than the US Military ever was, we should take notes.”
Inferno shrugged and pushed himself off the fence. “I say we call it a bust and head back to Alcadon. There’s nothing to find here.”
War slouched slightly. “I’m beginning to agree with you.”
“Psst! Indra…” a voice called from nearby.
The two turned, there was a heavily bearded Shalti man squatting in the bushes, waving them to come over, he looked incredibly familiar.
Inferno scoffed. “It’s probably a trap…”
War was equally dubious. “Yep, but it’s the best we’ve got.”
The two made their way over and entered the bushes with the Shalti man.
“I must be brief,” he whispered. “The Sons are here; make your way to the center of town to the Superior’s office. The entrance to their hideaway is beneath the throw rug. The whole town’s in on it, if they knew I talked to you then I’d be killed, so you didn’t get this from me.” He scuttled away to the sound of twigs snapping and quiet swearing.
War nodded his head and the two nonchalantly exited the bushes.
“Oh yeah, this is totally a trap,”muttered Inferno.
War was unconcerned. “I suspect we’ll be able to hold them off if it comes to that. Don’t forget what we are.”
Inferno was unconvinced; he was still a pessimist at heart. “Yeah, have you seen what humans are capable of these days? It puts the weapons from our time to shame.”
The confidence didn’t leave his voice. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
“I hope so too, but I won’t be holding my breath.”
“You don’t breathe…”
“It’s a metaphor!”
The two made their way back to the center of town; the streets were far livelier than they were during the day. Shalti men and women were nearly bursting from the taverns and out onto the street, the mood almost seemed celebratory. The two were still given a wide berth but it was more out of respect than wariness. The Superior’s office was right where they’d left it; a light was on in the window. War knocked firmly and entered. The Superior was sitting right where he’d been when the two first arrived, reading the same book, in nearly the same spot. He didn’t look up despite the knock.
Inferno gestured incredulously. “He looks just like the guy from the bushes! Right down to the beard!”
War waved away Inferno’s suspicions. “Of course, don’t forget these people are all clones of each other, they’re all going to look similar, didn’t you notice that earlier?”
Inferno froze as the realization dawned on him. “Well, no not really.”
The two approached the superior who looked up from his book and gave them a polite smile.
“Good evening, how did your search go?” He sounded tired, a thin sheen of sweat shone on his brow.
The superior smiled and shook his head, he was almost laughing. “Ah, yes I’m terribly sorry; I could have told you before, we have no association with the Sons, but it was best for you to see that for yourselves.”
War gesticulated some more.
He raised an eyebrow, smile not leaving his features. “Really, the last place you need to search is here? Well you’re welcome to look, but I assure you all you’ll find are various farming reports and, dare I say, tasteful furniture.” He motioned to the various pieces of furniture scattered about the room.
“Why you’re too kind, my family made them, oh and take a look at this wonderful throw rug… My wife and two sons wove it from sheep on our family farm.” The superior winked.
War was taken aback, he nodded to Inferno. “OK, he is the guy from the bushes.”
“See! I told you so!”
The superior stood up and came over to the two; he bent down and picked up the rug revealing a small wooden hatch. “See you can really feel the workmanship, I bet you’ve never felt a softer rug.”
Inferno tilted his head in disbelief.“I don’t think subtlety is this guy’s strong suite.”
Before War could respond the hatch in the floor burst open in a shower of splinters. A tall dark figure exited, he was wrapped in a heavy cloak yet made no noise as he moved. The stranger turned to face the two Indra and the frightened looking Superior, whipping of his cloak.
War slouched. “Ah god dammit!” His voice was a mixture of disbelief and irritation.
Inferno looked between the stranger and War. “Who is this guy? Do you know him?”
War pawed at his knuckle dusters. “Of course I know him, you would too but you were put under before you could actually meet him. Inferno, meet Xypia: the final Indra.”
Xypia was tall, nearing the seven foot mark, and lean. He was a somber russet in coloration with highlights of brown and yellow. He carried a massive war hammer, which he somehow managed to squeeze through the small hatch strapped to his back.
War’s tone was almost mocking. “So they did go through with freezing you. I could have sworn you were scrapped before they could make the final adjustments on your hardware.”
Xypia didn’t answer, he just stood there, all either War or Inferno could feel from him was a dark, brooding, malice.
Inferno looked to War.“He doesn’t seem to be the talkative type. What are we gonna do?”
War began sidling toward the door, the Superior had long fled. “Let’s take this outside; I’d prefer not to destroy any buildings if we can’t help it.”
“What makes you think this is gonna come to a fight?”
“Since when hasn’t it?”
War and Inferno backed up to the door, making sure not to show their backs to Xypia. Xypia followed, keeping a healthy distance. Soon the three were standing in the town square.
War let out a small sigh of relief.“Thank goodness everyone’s getting drunk at the taverns, the last thing we need is a crowd.”
Inferno clutched the hilt of his sword. “The convenience is astounding. Also I can’t seem to get a read on him, is he blocking us like Ellie did in the gym?”
“No, this is just how he is, bad Bluetooth chip, he can’t speak, and all he can get from us is basic feelings. He’s basically deaf.”
“Can he still hear people talking?”
“Yep, he can hear just fine.”
Xypia unslung his hammer; it hit the ground like a cannonball, shattering the cobbled stones.
Inferno’s tone was quiet, despite being an Indra like him Xypia felt completely alien. “I think he’s getting impatient…”
“War stretched his arms. Yes, he is, shall we humor him?”
Inferno and War pulled out their weapons, a long curved sword and a set of glowing green knuckle dusters.
War nodded to Inferno. “Shall we?”
Inferno rushed, aiming high, War went low aiming for the gut, Xypia feinted. Suddenly where he once was the head of the massive hammer was swinging at the two. War slid beneath while Inferno jumped above. Inferno gripped the shaft of the hammer, attempting to slow Xypia’s swings while War laid into him, it worked, almost. Xypia’s swing was slowed which allowed War a good solid hit to the side, War didn’t account for where the swing was going though. Xypia swung in a full circle, gaining momentum; it seems the blow didn’t even slow them down. The momentum of the swing tore Inferno from the shaft, the sudden drop in weight only sped the swing as the handle crashed into War’s side. War found himself wrapped around the handle as Xypia kept spinning, the handle pushing deeper and deeper into his side as his opponent swung faster and faster. Inferno jumped in once more landing a solid cut along Xypia’s back. He lost his composure and War was able to pull himself from the handle. He retreated back to Inferno, a massive gash in his side where the handle broke through.
War nearly collapsed when he got to Inferno. “This isn’t going all that well.”
“Yeah, he seems to be targeting you.” Inferno kept his gaze on Xypia, he hadn’t moved, he simply stood there, staring.
“Don’t forget, blunt force is what we’re weakest to, he knows that. You’re a lesser threat because of your sword, also he really hates me.”War had an idea. “Which is your dominant hand?”
“Odd question, but left.”
War slipped off his left hand knuckle duster and tossed it to Inferno.
Inferno chuckled deviously. “Well this changes things… Let’s get this bastard!” He stuck his sword in the ground and prepared to rush.
“Get ‘im!”The two rushed Xypia again.
A deep powerful voice rolled over the fight, “Gentleman! Gentleman! Please stop this!” It wasn’t the superior, it was somebody new.
War and Inferno screeched to a halt, Inferno lost his balance and landed heavily on his chin. Xypia fluidly slung his hammer back on his back and stood to rigid attention. A heavily mustachioed elderly man exited the Superior’s office, and slowly walked toward the Indra.
His voice was frustrated, he gestured for Xypia to reenter the office. “Xypia, get back inside now! We taught you multiple times how to properly open that door and you still broke it!”
Xypia slouched slightly and walked back into the building.
He turned back to the two confused Indra. “I’m sorry my friends, it seems Xypia was a bit excitable. Please come with me, we have much to talk about.” The old man turned about and reentered the office.
“Think this is another trap?”asked Inferno.
War made a fluttering sigh. “I don’t even know anymore… C’mon let’s go.”
As they entered the Superior’s office the first thing they noticed was Xypia sitting despondently in the corner. The old man was sitting in one of the sofas, he gestured for the two to join him.
“I really am sorry about Xypia, he’s rather hard to control at the best of times, we had a hell of a time keeping him from charging you all of today as you were searching. He seems to have a grudge against you especially War.”
War made a few gestures.
The old man nodded grimly. “Ah, I can see how that would sour a relationship, but no bother. If you hadn’t already figured it out I am with the Sons of Light and Freedom.”
The two nodded, they’d already figured that out for themselves.
The old man scowled, not the reaction he’d been hoping for. “Hmm, I was expecting a more visceral reaction than that, but that’s still a welcome change from young Ellis.”
The two quickly stood up pawing their weapons.
He raised his eyebrows. “Ah, there it is…”
War made a few more gestures, rather aggressively.
His brow furrowed, his voice was confused. “Wait… he’s dead? When? I only spoke with him recently in your industrial district.” The old man thought for a moment, his eyes widened. “He didn’t go to Schultz did he?”
The old man slammed his fist into the arm of the sofa. “Stupid boy!”
War gesticulated some more.
The old man shook his head, voice harsh, “No we had only the one bug on the elevator, it was removed shortly after our accident with Schultz’ niece. We had no part in what happened to Ellis, we were actually banking on his assistance but it seems that avenue is no longer an option.”
A few more gestures from War.
The old man sighed and reclined into the plush sofa. “Well, we really just asked him a few questions, ‘how old was Schultz?’ and ‘how old was the city of Alcadon?’ I’m sure not even you could give me a solid answer on that one.”
War and Inferno thought for a moment
Inferno shrugged.“He’s right, I have no clue. I mean, some of those buildings look ancient, easily over two hundred years old. I wish we had Scorn or Wulf with us; they’ve been around longer than the rest of us combined, they would know.”
War gestured again.
“Hmm? Oh, after that we let him go, before we left him we did give him one of these.” The old man pulled out a small sphere. “It was to be proof of our good intentions, and of our commitment to working with him.”
The old man rolled it between his pointer finger and thumb, spinning the exposed wire. “Oh this is just a little signal blocker, here’s the thing though, this little ball is Schultz greatest asset, and his greatest secret. There’s a reason nobody ever questions the age of the city, or Schultz’ age, or even many of the odd things he’s done. There’s a reason he’s still in power after all this time, and it’s only known to himself and a small few others.” The old man paused, for dramatic effect. “This little beauty is implanted in the human brain at birth where it then blocks certain electrical signals; in essence this is a thought blocker. If it senses the host thinking something outside the preset norm they get a headache until the thought is driven from their mind. Schultz can also pick and choose signals to block depending on what he wants done. The free will of the people in Alcadon is an illusion; they’re being controlled by Schultz. I suppose it could be worse, these are invasive but not altogether damaging, a simple operation can remove them with no negative effects. We would prefer to stop them at the source though.”
War made a few more gestures
The old man sighed, he’d rarely thought so far ahead. “Well what we ultimately intend to do is install a democratic government, it will retain the same basic functions but there will be more oversight and all the power won’t rest on one person.”
Inferno reclined further into the couch.“Heavy…”
War nodded, he felt as if his entire worldview was being upturned, he was more concerned than angry, but still positively steamed. “Indeed, this is a lot to think about. Come on, we have to get back to Alcadon. The others must be informed.”
Inferno gestured at the old man who was still watching them, awaiting further questions. “What about the Sons, they’re right here, we can get them. We can get the bad guys right now.”His tone was half-hearted at best.
“I’m not sure they’re the bad guys anymore.”
The old man got up; clearly no more questions were forthcoming. “Gentleman you will be contacted by our man on the inside, he will find you so don’t bother trying to find him, he will fill you in on the situation and what we intend to do to fix it.” He made his way to the hole in the floor; before he climbed down he turned. “We are not good people, I won’t even pretend. But in this twisted game we are the lesser of two evils.” He dropped down. “Xypia, get down here!”
Xypia got up from the corner, gave the two a quick glance and dropped down.
Chapter 17: Hard to Swallow Pills
Medusa woke to a thick seething pain radiating from her face. Hauling herself up she leaned against one of the sturdy foundations and began exploring her new body. Fingers were an odd sensation; Medusa was so used to the solitary spike at the end of her limbs she was unaccustomed to using fingers individually. Same went for feet and walking on two legs, she felt more comfortable walking on all fours but her new anatomy didn’t allow for it. Shuffling hesitantly along the ground Medusa made her way to the outskirts of Knossos to inspect the damage she’d received at the foot of her sister, the pain was truly immense.
Peering into the water she saw just what the offending foot had done to her face. Her new jaw had been dislocated and the nose of her face was mashed nearly flat. An enormous fissure cut its way diagonally across her face, just like the thin scar that cut across Ellie’s. Medusa’s head had quite literally cracked open. She placed an exploratory finger into the fissure, a fiery pain shot through her body, she felt her new legs tremble and weaken. Deep in that fissure Medusa felt something, something different. It was soft but firm if pressed hard enough, ignoring the pain, she dragged her finger across this strange object. Small features began to form, until Medusa realized with a start what it was growing inside of her head. It was the face of another, a human-like face unlike the façade she wore. Quickly pulling her fingers away, she sharply pulled her jaw back into place, its pain dwarfed by that of the gash.
Was this to be her next form? A litany of questions rushed through her mind. She began breathing heavily in panic. She froze… breathing? Even she knew that the Indra didn’t breathe.
She felt the rising and falling of her chest. Her voice was still the same female purr from before. She began muttering to herself, “How strange… What am I? I-I feel different; I am not as I was. What is happening to me?”
Medusa would have to ponder her existential question later, at that moment she had to make up for lost time, who knows how much of a head start her brethren had on her. Now that they had a weapon that could foil her goal speed was of the essence. Medusa sat on her haunches and prepared to set off, but something drew her eye. A large frog was jumping through the soggy grass; Medusa lashed out and grabbed it, her long arms giving her unprecedented reach. She firmly wrapped her fingers around the struggling creature and squeezed.
She tried to savor the squeals of the pathetic creature, but found herself feeling something she’d never felt before, a tiny sensation deep in her gut. A tiny pang of guilt shot through Medusa’s system. Shocked by this feeling, she dropped the frog which hopped away as quickly as it could.
Medusa’s voice was apoplectic. “Me? Feel guilt? Oh to have a sense of humor, this would be hilarious! I, a merciless killing machine feeling guilt for an insignificant frog!? PATHETIC!” Medusa thrashed on the ground, battering the earth until small craters began to form around her fists. “I didn’t feel this way until… her… My dear little sister is trying to change my ways from within? An excellent attempt baby sister, but it won’t work!” She remembered the punch Ghost gave her in the gym and her rage grew, they were both to blame! When Medusa had released her brethren she would track down and tear her troublesome sister to pieces.
Medusa stood up and tracked down the frog, still frantically hopping away, and crushed it. She savored the feeling of its bones crunching and its insides oozing between her clenched fingers. That old feeling of joy spread through her once more, but it felt weaker than before.
Her voice was bordering on frantic. “I am Medusa! I live to see this world burn! I will make this world burn!” Her voice cracked… she let out a frustrated scream.
She stumbled into the wetlands, steps shaky at first but growing stronger and stronger. In an attempt to reassert her murderous nature Medusa killed every living thing she met, snakes, frogs, turtles, anything to get that old feeling back. With every animal she killed that joy grew fainter and fainter. Then she saw them… a small tribe of Tcha’Gough had strayed unusually far south, likely trailing some prey that had long eluded them. Perfect.
Medusa crouched low in the grass, stalking her unwitting prey. It wasn’t a large group, maybe twenty in total, several of which were small children and infants. As Medusa grew closer and closer the group froze, something was wrong, they could smell it. Curses! Medusa was downwind of these savages! They had her scent. Throwing caution to the wind Medusa broke cover and charged the group.
In an instant she was almost on them, the Tcha’Gough got over their initial shock quickly and made to defend. Forming a barricade the males used their bodies to protect the females and children from this unknown creature. Medusa made contact with the closest Tcha’Gough; she jammed her open hand into his belly and sprayed his innards on the grass, his thick corded muscle standing no chance against her animalistic fury. The others, feeling no sympathy for their fallen, immediately began laying into Medusa with their primitive stone weapons. Their attacks bounced harmlessly off of Medusa’s thick armored hide.
One of the Tcha’Gough, Medusa presumed it was the leader, let out a sharp cry of alarm towards the women and children who turned and began sprinting away from the fight. Medusa smiled, how commendable, sacrificing their own lives so that their mates and their progeny may live on, very commendable but altogether ineffective. Medusa slew the rest with blows to the head and by slicing their necks with her sharp fingernails. As the last one fell, Medusa turned her head to the small fleeing group who were now nearly half a mile away, they could run fast but Medusa was faster. Medusa sprinted after them and quickly made up ground, one of the stragglers tripped and fell, Medusa sprinted faster. Soon she was looming over the Tcha’Gough female; a strange thrumming pulsed through her body, the excitement of the kill. Medusa gently placed her foot on the back of the woman’s head, pushing it into the soft ground, and made ready to strike, but something stayed her hand.
From beneath the mother Medusa could hear the weak, muffled, cries of an infant. The mother was huddled over the tiny creature, protecting it in a final selfless move. The strange feeling of guilt rocketed its way through Medusa once more, stronger than last time. Desperately resisting the alien feeling Medusa slowly wrapped her fingers around the mother’s neck and roughly pulled her to her feet. Staring into the face of the one who killed her mate the female Tcha’Gough showed no fear, staring grimly, awaiting her death. The infant, wrapped in a sack of warm animal skins, kept crying. Medusa fixed her gaze on the pathetic creature. The female grunted to regain Medusa’s attention, she was to die, not her infant.
The feeling of guilt wound its way through Medusa, tingeing every feeling with a cold depression, Medusa felt her limbs grow heavy, regret… this was regret?
“No… NO!” Medusa threw a glancing blow at the female who fell heavily on the grass, stunned. A baleful howl tore from Medusa’s throat, “Little sister of mine! I will find you! And pay you back a thousand fold for this poison you’ve put in me. I will shred you to your last atom!” Medusa turned to the north and ran. No obstacle stood in the way of her revenge! “Sister… I’m coming…”
“What do you mean you can’t swallow?” Katrine looked incredulous. “You swallowed the absinthe just fine.”
“Yeah, that was liquid, this is a pill.” Ellie’s voice was slurred as she tried not to move her tongue.
Katrine sighed. “Ugh, you’re one of those people who can’t swallow pills without water aren’t you?” Katrine went to the kitchen and filled a cup with water. “Wimp,” she playfully taunted.
“Quick, it’s starting to dissolve.” Ellie frantically waved Katrine over. She began walking comically slow, Ellie’s face twisted in disgust as the capsule finally broke open. “Blurgh, oh man that tastes awful!” Katrine finally got there with the water which Ellie quickly chugged. “You’re cruel, you know that. Very cruel.” Water dribbled down her chin.
Kid was rolling on the ground with silent laughter while Vee chuckled quietly and went back to inspecting Katrine’s sketches. There was a knock on the door and Bolt came in.
She called loudly to the group, “Hey Kid, you’re needed outside, c’mon!”
Kid put a look of mock sadness on her face. “Oh alright, see you guys later!” She ran to the door.
Bolt gave a small wave to Vee, who waved back cheerfully, and left.
Vee turned to Ellie. “Why don’t you get some fresh air? Maybe get a progress report from the others. As we all know, Kid isn’t the most reliable source of information.”
Ellie put on a look of determination and nodded. “Yeah, fair enough, could you guys give me a hand to the door?” Ellie raised her arms and they grabbed them and pulled her up, supporting her between them. As they drew up to the door Katrine carefully opened it.
“Ready?” Vee whispered in Ellie’s ear.
Ellie was understandably confused. “Ready for what?”
Vee hoisted Ellie by her shoulders and effortlessly tossed her from the apartment.
“Oh those bastards!”
It was early evening, the sun shone brightly as it dipped nearer to the horizon. “Welcome back!”Anon said, somewhat surprised, “we were wondering when you’d come around.”Anon and Scorn were pulling the sled while Bolt and Kid scouted the terrain ahead.
Ellie relaxed in the sled once more, feeling herself jostle over the uneven terrain. “How’s our progress?” she finally asked.
Scorn answered, “It’s slowed a bit, but we’re about a day from Djro’Kr, if the wetlands are forgiving we might get there a bit sooner.”
“I’m sorry,” Ellie said dejectedly.
Anon gave her a clap on the shoulder. “Ey, none of us could have known she developed cannibalistic tendencies, it’s not your fault. Besides, you were probably the only one capable of knocking her down like that.”
“Has she shown herself yet? I doubt she’s gonna just leave me half eaten, I think she still wants seconds.”
Anon chuckled, impressed with Ellie’s resilience. “Not a sight or sound. I’m hoping that magic carpet ride you gave her just outright killed her, but that’s doubtful. By the way, how’s the bite?”
Ellie shifted herself so she sat more comfortably, crossing her infected leg over her broken one. Her voice was strained with pain. “Very infected, it’s hard to see out here but you can definitely tell in the apartment. Katrine’s trying some antibacterial treatment but I don’t know how it will affect my physical body.”
Anon nodded sagely. “Placebo is a powerful thing; I’d recommend continuing the treatment. Anon turned and placed his hand on her shoulder. Good luck kiddo.”
Ellie sighed. “Thanks, I’ll need it, so will they.” She returned to the apartment, her body went slack in the sled once more.
Anon turned back. “Do you think she’ll make it?”He asked Scorn.
Scorn tilted his head from side to side, he sighed. “I don’t know, her broken leg will heal up fine, but that bite… I hate to sound negative but if it truly is infected she may never walk on it again. None of us have ever had to deal with an infection, as far as any of us knew nothing could infect our Biomass. We might have to take the leg, if whatever treatment the girl is doing fails.”He turned and looked back at Ellie. “So young, too young.”
“Alright then,”Anon said, “double speed, fast as we can. The quicker we’re done here the faster we can get back. She’s tough, she’ll make it!”
“Agreed… Kid! Bolt! We’re speeding up!”
Ellie fell in front of the apartment door, her legs couldn’t bear her weight and she collapsed, slowly pulling herself forward she knocked heavily. No answer. She knocked again, Vee answered.
“You know you can let yourself i—.“ she looked down and saw Ellie on the ground, her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh dear! Oh, I’m so sorry sweetie, here, come on.” She picked Ellie up and carried her back to the bed. “I think it’s time for some more rest, and next time you want to get up, you ask, no more stunts like the one earlier.” She gave Ellie a scolding finger as she laid her down.
“Fair enough.” Ellie laid back and closed her eyes sleep wrapping her in a warm embrace.
Ellie’s eyes shot open, she was still in the apartment, but everything was off. It was dark, with a sickly orange light beaming in from the windows, casting strange fluid shadows across the floor. Ellie began breathing heavily, verging on hyperventilation, the air stunk of smoke. She could hear the sounds of screaming and crashing outside the apartment, the massive thud of an explosion rattled the apartment, one of the windows blew from its frame and crashed against the opposite wall, glass flew across the room. Ellie began hyperventilating. Katrine and Vee were gone; she couldn’t even hear them moving about. She tried to call out to them, but a hoarse whisper was all she could muster. Trying to get up Ellie saw that she was firmly secured to the bed by rough leather straps, she couldn’t call out and she couldn’t move. She whipped her head around, eyes bugging from their sockets, sweat poured from her brow. From the corner of her eye she saw something heart rending. A hand and a few locks of raven black hair peeking from around the corner to the living room.
“No!” Ellie renewed her struggling.
A sickly blue smoke began oozing into the apartment, from beneath the front door and pouring in from the destroyed window, a thick roiling mass of toxic gas enveloped Ellie. Soon the entire apartment was full of the thick blue mist. Ellie heard the front door quietly open, a rhythmic thumping echoed through the room, her lungs burned. Slithering through the mist was a spiderlike form, Medusa! How could she get in here? Drawing up to the foot of the bed Medusa slowly crawled over Ellie’s body until they were face to face. Ellie couldn’t move, Ellie couldn’t breathe, she could only lay there in abject terror as Medusa carried out its desires.
Medusa said nothing, thick saliva dribbled from its horrendous mouth and pooled on Ellie’s chest, a deep throaty growl began eking from its shuttered mouth. Medusa opened its jaws, a cavernous hole containing countless rows of sharp pointed teeth and a slithering black tongue. With a sickening snapping and crackling Medusa’s mouth widened further, it unhinged its jaw like a snake and it kept opening wider and wider. Finally Medusa lunged forward, engulfing Ellie, she felt herself dissolving in a vast well of animosity. A stinging, poisonous, acid covered her body, dissolving her being, soon all she could feel was animalistic rage, fear, wrath… loneliness.
Ellie awoke with a screech, and with blatant disregard for her wounds leapt from the bed. Katrine and Vee looked up in shock only to see Ellie sprint to and break through the apartment door, leaving a speckled trail of blood in her wake. Much to Anon and Scorn’s surprise Ellie began to thrash about in the makeshift sled. A terrible scream pierced through the air. As if possessed, Ellie thrashed about, nearly shredding the sled. She pushed herself to her feet and ran. Roughly pushing through Anon and Scorn who tried to restrain her and blitzing past Kid and Bolt who tried the same. Kid managed to get a hold of Ellie’s massive forearm and she clung on stolidly. Ellie raised her arm, it was as if Kid’s weight didn’t even register, and whipped it as fast as she could. Kid spun into the wetlands, smashing into a wall of bramble, as Ellie continued on. She ran north, the pain in her legs simply fueling her to run faster, she could hear them, calling. A whispering cacophony of voices, screeching in silence, she had to free them.
“What do we do!? What do we do?!” yelled Vee. Ellie wouldn’t respond to either her or Katrine’s calls.
Katrine’s eyes were wide. “Get the Guru!” she yelled desperately.
Vee whipped her head around to look at Katrine. “You really think that’ll work?”
“Do you have any better ideas?!” Katrine snapped back.
“No.” Vee rushed over to the box holding the Guru and tossed it over to Katrine by the TV who quickly hooked it up. Vee plugged it in and it immediately began oozing thin tendrils of white smoke.
Katrine’s eyes were wide with panic. “Shit, magic smoke, unplug it, quick!”
Vee pulled the plug from the socket. “What do you mea-“
With a small whoosh the Guru was enveloped in a ball of flame. Katrine squawked in shock and quickly shoved it in the cardboard box which immediately began smoldering, she sprinted to the bathroom. Throwing the flaming mess in the shower she turned it on, dousing the flame.
“So there’s nothing we can do?” asked Vee.
Katrine shook her head, defeated. “Nothing.”
As morning rolled around Ellie staggered to a halt, her legs trembled, on the verge of giving out. She collapsed to her knees, slowly sinking into the soft earth, it steamed against her searing skin; her calves were knots of agony stretching tendrils of fire up her legs and into her body. Finally the pain overwhelmed her, she felt her surroundings fade to grey, she fell face first into the soft ground.
It was several hours later when the rest of the group came upon her, hauling her from the spongy muddy earth, they laid her back on the sled. All things considered she’d managed to cover excellent ground; the Tcha’Gough city of Djro’Kr was just on the horizon, they set off once more pulling Ellie’s limp form in the sled.
Scorn turned to Kid, his mood was stormy.“Kid, get in there and find out what the hell happened.”
Kid nodded, she leapt up to her normal perch on Ellie’s chest.
Kid rushed through the partially shattered apartment door. “What the hell was that all about!” she yelled into the apartment, making a beeline for the bed where Katrine and Vee were wrestling Ellie down.
“Drink it! Fucking drink it!” Katrine was trying to force the mouth of the bottle of Absinthe into Ellie’s mouth.
“She’s inside me!” Ellie shrieked, fear twisted her features into an ugly mask, absinthe spilled across her face. “She’ll kill me and she’ll kill you!”
“Kid! Hold her head down and keep her mouth open!” Vee yelled.
Kid leapt onto the bed and straddled Ellie’s head while wedging her mouth open. Katrine poured the absinthe into her mouth and Kid held it shut while pinching Ellie’s nose. They massaged her throat and she finally swallowed the liquid. After struggling for a while more Ellie finally relaxed, her breathing was still rapid and shallow.
“What happened!?” Kid demanded, tears streaming down her face.
Katrine breathlessly explained. “The antibiotics didn’t work, we were too late, the infection has probably gotten to her brain.” Katrine pulled Kid into a hug; she began rocking back and forth. “She’s snapped, I’m sorry Kid, but she might be gone for good.” She hugged the sobbing kid tighter. “We’ll do everything we can to make her comfortable and we’ll try to treat her, but once an infection reaches the brain it’s usually game over.”
“She’ll make it,” Kid said.“She’s strong, she’ll make it.”
“She’s inside me…” Ellie muttered. “She’s inside me.”
“Who? Who’s inside you?” Vee asked.
“She’s so alone…” Ellie faded into unconsciousness once more.
Half a day’s run to the south Medusa was barreling through the wetlands. Exhausted and foaming at the mouth Medusa carried on, the only thing driving her forward was the thought of what she’d do to her precious baby sister when she wrapped her talons around her wretched neck, but even that brought her little joy. The pain struck again, her legs gave out and she tumbled to a stop. The pain had been growing worse and worse, it felt as if her head was going to split open. She felt around the edge of the gash, it was growing wider; a thick clear slime was oozing from it. Holding her hand away, she could see the skin turning an odd powdery grey.
Could it be like before? Was Medusa going to change again? She couldn’t afford any more setbacks; she got back on her feet and began running once more.
“It must be Medusa’s doing!”Bolt yelled. “This all started when she bit Ellie at Knossos, there must have been something in that bite that’s changing Ellie somehow!”
“We just don’t know.” Scorn was pacing around the sled.“Nothing like this has ever happened with an Indra before, either with Ellie or with Medusa. We cannot forget our goal though, as much as it pains me to say it, sealing up the station takes precedence over Ellie. We’ll take her with us, I won’t leave her so close to the Tcha’Gough but I have serious doubts as to her surviving this.”
Anon was crouched down, inspecting Ellie’s legs. “Scorn is right,”he said.“We have to keep going, the consequences of our inaction are far bigger than just Ellie, if the LE’s escape they’ll kill everything.”
“It just seems so cruel…”Bolt hung her head.
Scorn placed a reassuring arm on her shoulder.“Yes, it is cruel, but the right thing is not always the good thing. You’re young, so I understand how you feel, I felt just like you when I started here. But it’s for the greater good, now come on; we’re almost at the outskirts of the Petrified wood. Kid, check in one last time.”
Kid nodded and leapt to her perch.
Ellie was thrashing and screaming once more when kid entered. She had been restrained by knotted bed sheets and belts across her chest, legs, and arms.
“Take it! Take it! Take it!” Ellie screamed her voice hoarse and cracking. “TAKE IT!”
Katrine rushed to Kid. “We need to get that leg off of her now! Tell the others to cut it off!”
One of the restraints holding down Ellie’s arms snapped.
“Do it!” Katrine yelled as Kid rushed out the door.
She leapt from Ellie’s chest, landing heavily on the ground. “The leg has gotta go! Now!”
Anon quickly turned and looked down at Ellie.“Really? Now?”
Kid pulled her broadsword from its spot beside Ellie on the sled. “Yep! Lay her flat!”
The group pulled her still form from the sled and laid her flat on the ground, Anon held her chest and arms while Bolt and Scorn held her legs. Kid positioned her heavy broadsword and poised to strike.
“I’m so sorry…”
Kid swung, the keen blade cut through Ellie’s skin effortlessly and severed the leg just below the knee. Ellie began convulsing, throwing all four of them off of her despite their best efforts to restrain her. Inside the apartment wasn’t much better, the floor was awash with blood and Ellie’s screams reached a new octave.
“Please faint, please faint!” Katrine yelled over Ellie’s screams.
Ellie suddenly went slack, only the slight rising and falling of her chest gave any indication she was alive, blood still flowed from her stump.
“All that’s left to do now…” said Katrine. “Is wait.”
Chapter 18: Headaches
Medusa could see the faint light of Djro’Kr rising above the horizon. Her mad dash had turned into a meandering jog. Her muscles burned and her body was hot, steam rose from her flesh, she took great whooping breaths. Collapsing onto the ground Medusa began to think. Strange thoughts wiggled their way through her mind. Things she’d never thought of before. That strange sensation that curdled her insides felt stronger than ever. She quickly replaced that cold feeling of guilt with her burning rage once more. She could not give up so close to her destination, she could feel them calling to her, begging to be free.
The pain in her head struck once more, the dull force of it making her curl up even tighter.
In a panicked frenzy Medusa shoved her fingers into the gash in her face and pulled. The flesh tore away in large rubbery chunks, the agony blurred her vision tingeing it with a grey haze, and soon the sight in her left eye was gone entirely. She kept pulling and ripping, until her entire face and scalp were gone. Something strange and stringy was matted where her flesh used to be and beneath that was hard like bone. The pain was too great even for Medusa to withstand and she fainted.
When she awoke the next morning the once striking pain had seemingly vanished, crawling to a nearby pool of water she inspected the damage she had done. Staring back at her was not a fleshless visage, no; it was the face of a woman, a nearly human face. Her mouth was the same cavernous maw as before, and the vicious gash that tore across her face remained as a wicked scar disfiguring her nose and destroying her left eye but her face was unmistakably human. The strange stringy substance was auburn hair, matted with coagulated blood and slime. Her remaining flesh had turned a dark grey and was beginning to flake and peel away, new hands were bursting from her former forearms and the same was happening with her legs. She tore and pulled away her powdery flesh like unwanted clothing until it sloughed off in a gelatinous pile. Her thin body looked human; soft pink skin replaced her thick leathery hide.
She stood up, legs still shaky from overuse, and made her way toward the city of Djro’Kr. She was bitterly aware of how cold she was, her new skin acted much like that of humans, the cold northern breeze blasted her to the core. She inspected the skin on her forearm, it had pores and small hairs jutting from it, she firmly pinched it. She felt a sharp pain and a small welt began to form, a thin web of red began emanating from the pinch. Medusa paused, the cries of her brethren falling to the back of her mind, she looked around her. Her eye widened as she took in her surroundings, her ears pricked at the sounds of small creatures scurrying through the tall grass, she felt the wind whip past her. She took a deep breath; she could nearly taste the air. There was a hint of wood smoke blowing through the air, she looked back northward and saw the city of Djro’Kr, a grey and brown lump, huddled beneath a spidery fan of grey that was the Petrified Wood. Medusa immediately snapped back, the cries of her brethren became louder than ever before. Ignoring the beauty around her Medusa broke in a quick jog toward the Tcha’Gough capitol.
It was midday by the time Medusa entered the Tcha’Gough city, the air reeked of decay, the ground was awash with remains and leavings of both animal and Tcha’Gough alike. Medusa internally recoiled in disgust, her mind wandered back to Khim and she recoiled further.
Her revulsion gave her pause. Djro’Kr was no different than Khim or Kidjii, and she relished those moments but a few days prior. Her thoughts snapped to Ellie and an icy hatred curled through her. She steadied herself and kept moving.
She was not approached, and she was not stopped. The Tcha’Gough in Djro’Kr were either too old or too young to put up any sort of fight, they gave her a wide berth or bustled inside the nearest hut. Medusa chuckled to herself; perhaps these savages did have a modicum of sense after all. As she approached the outskirts, toward the Petrified Wood, one young Tcha’Gough, perhaps stupider than the rest, blocked Medusa. He barked at her in his primitive, growling language, Medusa couldn’t understand him. She made to pass around him but he shifted and stood in her way once more. She rolled her eye, so much for sense… Medusa threw a punch that landed square in the young Tcha’Gough’s chest; it burst through in a fireworks display of blood. The young one fell; he was dead before he hit the ground.
A cry of alarm went up; all of those on the streets fled and barred themselves in their primitive huts. Medusa looked at the body, and smiled, she felt something wet streak down the side of her face, she lifted a finger to wipe away this strange substance. It was clear like water, she touched some to her tongue, it was salty.
Medusa gasped as she wiped her eye. “Tears?! My body betrays me by shedding tears for this savage!” Medusa flew into a fury, charging the nearest hut she laid into it with a flurry of punches and kicks. The sturdy structure collapsed upon those cowering inside. Medusa spat a spiteful wad of blood and phlegm onto the crumbled structure.
She scoffed. “Tears, next thing you know I’ll need to eat and drink.” An ominous growling issued from her stomach. Medusa’s shoulders sagged. Ignoring the new sensation of hunger she turned and ran, through the rest of Djro’Kr, and into the Petrified wood.
Ellie awoke from a thankfully dreamless sleep to a terrible pain in her left leg and a pounding headache. She opened her eyes to a darkened room, she could smell something burning. For a terrible moment she thought her nightmare had become a reality, she felt that same panic well up inside her again. Ellie felt somebody touch her hand, she recoiled and whirled her head around, it was Katrine. Ellie relaxed, her breathing slowed, she felt the panic slowly fade.
Katrine leaned over; her voice was quiet, little more than a whisper. “Hey, how’re you feeling?” Her eyes looked hopeful.
“Like shit,” Ellie croaked. “What happened? I can’t remember anything.”
She nodded slowly. “Probably for the best, here take a sip of this; it’ll help with the pain.” She held a shot glass with a few drops of absinthe in it.
Ellie drank gratefully, she felt her body begin to buzz and numb slightly, she smiled contentedly. “So what happened?”
Katrine cringed. “You went mad; the infection, or whatever it was, reached your brain… metaphorically. You ran, you ran so hard for so long, we thought you were going to keel over dead. You probably would have but your legs finally gave out and the others managed to catch up.” She leaned over and hugged Ellie, partially restraining her as she gave her the news. “I’m so sorry but they took the leg.”
A cold shock panged in her stomach, Ellie pulled herself up and saw for the first time that her left leg was in fact gone. The floor around the bed was brown with dried blood.
Katrine let go and sank back into the chair by the bed. “We had to cauterize it so you would stop bleeding everywhere; it’s all we could do. Even in your crazed state all you could do was scream at us to take it.”
Ellie’s eyes remained glued to her missing leg. “She was in me, Medusa; it was as if her insanity had been transferred to me through the bite.”
“Well, with any luck, the chunk she took out of you will do the same to her.” She chuckled ruefully. “You Indra really are a bag of tricks aren’t you?”
Ellie settled back into the bed, the realization of what happened was beginning to settle in. She was crippled… she couldn’t walk… she couldn’t fight… she was useless. She began to tear up, sobs began to build up in her chest, she began shaking.
Katrine looked at her with concern. “Hey… you OK?”
“No,” Ellie choked.
Katrine leaned in again and wrapped Ellie in a strong hug as Ellie began blubbering uncontrollably.
Vee poked her head from around the bathroom doorframe; she’d been gathering Katrine’s meager cleaning supplies. Seeing what was happening, she quietly came over to the bed and sat down beside Ellie.
“Hey sweetie,” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m useless,” Ellie stuttered.
She put on an exaggerated look of surprise. “Oh? And why is that.”
Ellie coughed and tried to sniff. “I haven’t been able to do anything, all I’ve done is lie on my back and slow everybody down, they should have just left me behind.”
Vee firmed her whisper. “Hey, don’t be like that. You’re useful; you’re important, as important as Scorn or Kid or any of them. You found the bomb right? You knocked Medusa down; you might have killed her with that kick. The group needs you, as much as the two of us need you. You’ve saved both of us, don’t forget that.”
“But I can’t walk…” Ellie murmured, her tone defeated.
“Use the broadsword as a crutch; I’m sure Katrine can whip something up for you in here.” Vee leaned in and held Ellie close. “It’s not the end of the world baby; it’s just the beginning of a whole new way of thinking, you’ve just gotta believe.” Vee sighed. “I know it’s a lot to ask but could you go out and get a progress report from the others. As far as I can tell there is no way for us to communicate with them from in here, bar the Guru, and that’s fried.”
Ellie sniffled. “Yeah, alright, just… leave the door open for when I get back.” She grinned slightly and wiped at her eyes.
Vee chuckled. “No problem.” The two carefully scooped Ellie up between them and carried her to the front door.
“No throwing this time,“ Ellie said firmly, raising a scolding finger.
Katrine let out a playful huff. “Well there go my plans.”
The two gently placed her outside the door and her vision faded.
As Ellie’s vision faded in she saw a clear blue sky behind twisted pale branches. She was still being pulled on the sled. Ellie remained limp, simply taking in the strange feeling of her missing leg; it almost felt as if it were still there but every time Ellie told her ankle to move nothing happened. The pain had already gone and the biomass had scabbed over, Ellie could already feel the fiber optic cabling in her leg rewiring as the connections rerouted. Her body had acclimated to her missing leg, so why couldn’t her brain. Ellie wished that she could just flip a switch and her brain would just get over it, but that strange hollow feeling lingered, the thought of having to live the rest of her life without her leg frightened her above all else.
Ellie noticed that Kid was walking beside her, periodically checking her over. Ellie was rather touched that Kid cared for her that much. Desperately needing a small distraction, Ellie decided to pull a little prank. Letting her arm slowly fall from the sled she snagged a small shard of rock that fell from the trees above. Like one would flip a coin, Ellie flicked the stone at Kid, it bounced off the back of her head.
Kid whipped around in confusion she quickly checked Ellie, she was still limp, so it must have been… “Bolt, stop throwing things at me!”
“I have no desire to throw anything at you,”Bolt answered forcing her voice to be calm.
“It must have been you, there’s nobody else here that could have done it!”
“Perhaps it fell from one of the trees,”Anon suggested reasonably.
The group was on edge, they were nearing their destination and Ellie’s condition had brought morale down considerably, the possible threat of Medusa only brought things down further
“Perhaps…”Kid fell back into step, head down dragging her feet.
Kid’s sulking didn’t last long; soon she was looking around once more. Ellie gently moved her hand, making it look like it was the jostling of the sled, and pressed down on Kid’s foot, making her trip and fall.
The group came to a stop; all were quiet apart from Ellie who was desperately trying to suppress a giggling fit. Eventually she couldn’t hold it back anymore and she burst out laughing. “Oh, I’m sorry Kid, I just couldn’t help it!”
Kid scrabbled to her feet and launched herself, wrapping Ellie in a hug; her body shuddered with barely suppressed sobs. Ellie tightly hugged her back.
Scorn placed his hand on her shoulder.“Welcome back, it’s good to see you’re back in your right mind; you gave us quite a scare back there.”
Ellie detangled herself from Kid. “Did I miss anything important?”
“No, not really,”replied Scorn. “We skirted past the outskirts of Djro’Kr earlier this morning, we weren’t seen thankfully. We’re on the last leg of our journey; let’s hope that it’s uneventful.”
“You know it won’t be, right?”said Anon. “That’s how stuff like this works out, we all think it’s gonna be smooth sailing and then WHAM, the worst happens. I’m just saying.”
Bolt looked around, immediately suspicious.“Well, perhaps we’ll be the exception?”
Scorn was well aware of how right Anon was. “Let’s hope… C’mon lets pick up the pace, the faster in, the faster out. Bolt you still have the bomb?”
“Right here.”Bolt raised her hand showing the bomb.
“Y’see, this would be the perfect time for something to go wrong,”Anon muttered.
“Oh what a marvelous coincidence! I’ve simply been looking all over for you.” Medusa stepped out from behind one of the massive stone trunks. “Hello, my dearest family, it’s simply been ages since we’ve last spoke.” She thrust her fist into the stone trunk, it shattered outwards and the tree collapsed, forming a rude barrier to prevent escape.
“You forgot to knock on wood with that last remark Anon,”muttered Scorn.
Anon looked at the nearby stone trunk, he would have shattered his hand if he tried punching it. “I couldn’t have done it if I’d wanted to.”He vaguely gestured at Medusa. “What happened to her?”
Medusa couldn’t tell if she was giddy with excitement or rage. “Give me the bomb and give me my sister, I have no interest in the rest of you. I have to repay my dearest sister for what she has done to me!”
“What your face? I think it’s an improvement!”Kid called out.
Medusa didn’t react to Kid’s jibe, she couldn’t hear any of them, she didn’t have a Bluetooth daughterboard like Ellie.
Ellie called back, “What!? Have you finally grown a conscience? Don’t blame me for that!”
Medusa’s tone soured. “You will pay for what you’ve done to me!”
Ellie raised her arms for the others to grab. “Help me up, come on, I feel silly yelling at an empty forest.” With the help of Anon and Scorn, Ellie was hoisted up and supported between the two. Ellie hopped around and faced Medusa. “My, you have changed; I really hope that skin is yours.”
Medusa’s face looked shocked for a brief second as her eye flicked to Ellie’s stump. It was very brief but Ellie saw it, her face twisted with rage once more. “Before we commence with pleasantries, give me the bomb, I’d rather not have to come over there.” She held her hand out to Bolt who simply held onto the bomb tighter. She let out an exasperated sigh. “Heroic to the last, very well, I guess I will have to come over there.”
Medusa rushed at them, Scorn and Anon dropped Ellie’s arms in a rush to defend Bolt. Before they could even reach for their weapons she was on Bolt and roughly tore the bomb from her hands. She then gave Bolt a solid kick in the stomach which sent her flying into the nearest tree which crumbled on top of her. She quickly ducked under a quick dagger strike from Scorn. With a quick jab to the head to stagger him, she dispatched him just like she did with Bolt, a quick kick to the stomach. Anon was next, he tried to thrust his trident into her stomach but she feinted to the left, he overextended and stumbled. In a flash she was upon him, he couldn’t even block. A quick downward strike ploughed his head into the ground. Only Kid stood in the way of Medusa now, Kid pounced at her head, trying to blind her. Medusa caught her in midair; she wriggled and struggled to break the iron grip. Without even a windup Medusa effortlessly whipped her like a ragdoll through the forest, shattering several trees before she finally hit the ground.
Looking down at the bomb in her hand Medusa crushed it until only a jumble of wires and crumpled metal was all remained. She began advancing on Ellie, who had clumsily maintained her balance on the uneven ground and was crouched in a sloppy defensive stance. Instead of rushing her like with the others, Medusa simply walked up to Ellie, and looked her head-on, it was apparent she didn’t view her as a threat.
“What have you done to me?” Medusa asked, her voice filled with barely suppressed fury. “Mere days ago I would have relished in tearing them limb from limb, but now? I’d wager they’re all still alive. You may have tainted me but I will free my siblings, they will deal with you all.”
Ellie lunged forward, a clumsy attack, but there was no force behind it. Ellie wrapped her arms around her foe, a hug? Medusa was lost for words; she simply stood there woodenly for a while. That cold feeling in her chest ached and churned, a new feeling… warmth began to spread through her chest.
Medusa was briefly lost for words. “I don’t know what you’re trying sister but it won’t work.” Quickly crushing the fledgling feeling of warmth she bodily lifted Ellie up and began carrying her over her narrow shoulder. “I won’t kill you, as much as it pains me to say, I am not capable, you’ll still die but it will be at the talons of my brethren. Don’t struggle; you’ll only make things harder for me.” Medusa started off through the woods, Ellie in tow. She chuckled excitedly. “You can feel them can’t you? Our brothers and sisters are calling to us? Don’t deny it, you can taste their savage beauty and soon you will feel it rake across your flesh.”
Ellie could hear them, just as she did in her nightmare, a silent riot of dissonance. “This is bad… suggestions?”
Katrine responded hesitantly.“This might be a long shot, but try to get her in here, if we distract her long enough the others might find a way to disable her. Also, try talking to her, she seems chattier than usual.”
“Last time we ‘chatted’ she took a bite out of me.”
“Well, try it anyway; what do you have to lose?”
“A great deal,”Ellie muttered. “Medusa, I have a question.”
“Speak.” Her tone was good humored.
“Why are you doing this? Why do you want to release an army of insane killer machines upon the world?”
Medusa fluttered her lips, her teeth made chalky clacks as they mashed together. “Do I really need a reason? I spent more millennia than I have fingers locked in a dark room with nothing but my thoughts. I was sequestered away like a dirty secret while those who came after me were treated like royalty; they even got fancy cryogenic pods to sleep in. They jumped all those years in an instant, while I took the slow path. That mad general told me of his secret project to make more like me.” She sighed regretfully. “He seemed to be the only one who understood me. I killed him of course, he was getting annoying, but his ‘little project’ has been the only thing occupying my mind for all these years. There are more like me, more who understand my wants and needs and will join me in fulfilling them.” Her voice hardened. “Then you came along… the prodigal daughter, the perfect one. I don’t know how they ‘fixed’ you but in the end it won’t really matter, you’ll die with the rest.”
Ellie shifted uncomfortably, Medusa’s bony shoulder was digging uncomfortably into her stomach. “Would you like to know how they fixed me?”
“Not particularly, but I have a feeling you’ll tell me anyway.”
“They paired a human brain with my chip.” Ellie could feel a strip of her cabling rising to the surface of her stomach, making to connect with Medusa.
Medusa paused, not noticing her cabling doing the same. “Intriguing.”
“When you stabbed me in the gymnasium all that time ago you awakened her, the brain inside of me.”
“So you are two?”
“Three technically, you remember Valkyrie?”
“Yes, I remember her.” Medusa’s tone was quiet, her stomach twisted with guilt.
“She’s here as well, you killed her body but I saved who she was.” Ellie and Medusa’s cables were connected, Ellie could feel the overwhelming emotions boiling through Medusa, it took all she had to stay composed.
“You’re speaking metaphorically of course.” Medusa continued walking, ignoring Ellie’s squirming.
Her voice was strained. “No, their individual personalities are here inside of me, housed inside her brain. I can enter and exit at will, I can converse and interact with their manifestations, and they can speak with me. By proxy, since you are touching me, they can talk to you.”
“You’re talking nonsense; such a thing wouldn’t be possible.” Medusa could feel a new sensation emanating from Ellie, she was in direct contact!
Ellie whispered, “But it is… they’re here now.”
Vee spoke, directing her voice to Medusa. “Hello big sister my how you’ve grown.”
Medusa stopped again; her gut felt like it was wrenching itself into pieces. Ellie’s squirming intensified as Medusa’s emotions did the same. She stuttered, “If you think this silly trick will work on me then you’re sorely mistaken.” She cordoned off her emotions boxing them up, isolating herself.
Vee’s voice was pleading as it faded into silence. “It is no trick, I’m here, please let’s talk!”
“This little charade only exists as an excuse to waste my time; I will have none of it.” Medusa closed herself off fully, and ignored Vee’s pleas.
Ellie could feel something from Medusa, a tiny flame of shame in her blaze of hate and anger. “You don’t want to do this, do you?” she whispered.
Medusa dropped Ellie, who fell heavily on the ground, and began to drag her by her ankle, the link was severed. “Of course I do!” Medusa snapped. “It is the only thing I have thought of in thousands of years, and for me to be here, now, on the precipice of success only to have a splinter of doubt thrust into me by you. It makes me sick! I want to kill you so badly! Every time I try, that little shard of doubt enters me and stays my hand. But no longer, we have arrived; it is time to reunite with our family.”
Medusa paused in front of a large crack in the ground; a yawning chasm of smoky darkness awaited them. Steeling herself, Medusa entered, dragging Ellie behind her.
“So a brain aneurism, huh? I just assumed he murdered her.”
“Do you really have such a low opinion of science?”
War and Inferno entered the lounge; their journey back from Ozri had taken longer than they thought it would. All the Indra were out, apart from Pixia who was reclining on one of the sofas, presumably napping.
War looked around.“Well it looks like things haven’t changed much around here.”
War went up to Pixia and gave her a slight prod. She stirred, and made to go back to sleep before looking up at who nudged her.
She leapt up, her energy returning in a flash. “Ah, you’re back, how did your search go?”
War leaned back against the wall; he was still quite stiff after all that running. “It went well; we need to have a meeting, all of us.”
Inferno exaggeratedly looked around the room. “I see you’re taking your ‘minder’ duties very seriously,”he jibed good naturedly.
Pixia was slightly surprised at how mellow Inferno was; she expected hell after his assignment with War. In fact they both seemed different, very laid-back. She waved her hand. “Nah, she’s with Lethe, I got her a new cloak and he’s helping her try it on.”
“Why aren’t you helping her?”War asked earnestly.
Pixia didn’t answer, she quickly changed the subject. “Well come on then, most everybody’s down in Banthu’s lab but I think Lethe and Ghost are just down the hall. Let’s see if we can find them.”She brushed past them and made her way down the hallway.
War and Inferno exchanged glances and followed her.
Pixia flicked her wings, slapping the walls.“Lethe has really come out of his shell, I’m proud of him.”
“Really?”War was legitimately surprised.
“He saved someone’s life shortly after you guys left and has actually befriended a human.” Her tone was slightly gossiping but she was legitimately proud of him.
“Hmph, next thing you know Ghost is gonna be walking around without her cloak on.” Inferno muttered jokingly.
As they turned a corner they were witness to a very bizarre scene. Lethe and Juvinea were trying to pry a cloakless Ghost from the doorframe to one of the many rooms; her cloak appeared to have been thrown onto the ground. Her fingers were digging into the metal of the frame, she was trembling uncontrollably.
Pixia turned to War and Inferno “Yeah, we’re working on her too.”She rushed over to help them.
War looked over at Inferno. “You want to help or just watch the fireworks?”
Inferno leaned against the wall. “I am simply a bystander.”
“You little pissant… I like your thinking.”War leaned next to him.
Juvinea’s tone was cloying. “Come on Ghost, it’s not that bad… You can do it, just in the building; you can wear your new cloak outside, but no outdoor clothing in the building.” She was trying her best but even with Lethe she couldn’t budge Ghost.
Lethe turned as Pixia came to help. “Juvinea tried to be sneaky and pull her cloak off; I think it’s rather backfired.”
At hearing Lethe speak audibly War and Inferno perked up. They made their way over to the scene.
War interrupted the proceedings.“Well, if this isn’t just one surprise after another. Lethe you’re socializing… and talking, and Ghost you’re… improving.”
Everything paused, Ghost quietly let go of the door frame and turned to face the group, in a surprising move she latched onto Pixia and wouldn’t let go. Pixia stumbled back, almost falling to the ground.
Ghost began bawling. “I feel so incomplete! I want it ba-a-ack!”
Lethe gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Her cloak got ruined in the fight with Morgan Pixia got her a new one, she’s become rather attached.”
“Oh? You actually managed to kill that thing, how did it go?”asked Inferno.
Pixia tried to nonchalantly wave her hand but her movements were entirely restricted. Her voice grew strained as Ghost squeezed harder.“Actually it was pretty pathetic, I mean, Morgan didn’t even put up a fight, he just huddled in a corner and screamed while we blew him up. Oh, baby you’re gonna have to lighten up on the squeezing.”
War nodded his head; glad it was them who wound up fighting Morgan and not him. “How the mighty fall. Alright, since Ghost is now latched to a mobile object, we can get down to Banthu’s lab.”
“Alright then,” Said Lethe. “I’m sorry Juvinea but we have to go. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Juvinea wrapped Lethe in a hug. All the Indra present felt something they’d seldom felt from Lethe before, happiness. All present were rather touched, though they’d never show it.
“Juvinea?”asked War, tilting his head questioningly.
Lethe crouched down and picked up Ghost’s cloak. “She’s a friend, and the reason I have this.” Lethe held up a rudimentary speaker seemingly embedded in his hand. “I’ll have to see about relocating it somewhere a bit less invasive.”
War quickly inspected it, the prospect of audible speech was incredibly tantalizing. “We’ll talk about it with the others.”
The five made their way down to Banthu’s lab; Ghost clung tightly to Pixia the whole way, and no amount of goading would make her let go, not even bribing her with the cloak, she just grumbled and held on tighter. Along the way they ran into Wulf and Death loitering in one of the stairwells. After a few words and a lot of laughing at Ghost’s expense, and some scolding from Pixia for it, the two joined the group. After winding their way through the unlit corridors for several minutes they came to Banthu’s room. Famine and Pestilence were sitting outside the closed door.
Pestilence leapt to her feet and warmly hugged War.“You’re finally back, wow. I didn’t think you guys made it with how long you took.”
Famine gave War a firm shoulder squeeze, a massive expression of emotion for them.“Indeed, your tardiness was… concerning.”
War waved away their concerns; he was more animated than his usual stern self. “Oh it was nothing, just a slight detour on our way back to town. How’s Wall doing?”
Pestilence turned back, eyeing up the door.“Well, the scientists and engineers couldn’t get his arm back on so we enlisted Banthu’s help in growing a new one. He’s just doing finishing touches now.”
The old door creaked open, all the Indra turned expectantly.
“Hmpf, damn cheap hinges,” Banthu muttered as he hobbled out. “Alright you tw-nine, your friend is ready.” He shuffled his way past the Indra into the darkness grumbling something about ‘good company’.
Wall squeezed his gigantic frame through the tiny door. He had to hunch over in the low hallway but he was in fact whole again.
“‘Sup?” He waved his new arm.
“God you’re tall… We have a lot to talk about,”said War. Come back to the lounge with us.
“So I take it your search was successful?”inquired Pestilence.
Pestilence stroked her chin.“I would say something contesting what the Sons told you but honestly it makes a lot of sense. We’ve been guarding Schultz going on thirty years and he hasn’t aged a day.”
“Yeah,”said Pixia, “and those of us who’ve been around longer than you have had close to zero contact with Alcadon. I mean, Scorn and Wulf have been up north for centuries, I’ve been across the country in Khumret, and Anon’s been on that silly Island. We wouldn’t know about any changes in power or anything along those lines.”Pixia paused for a moment. “Ghost where have you been all these years?”
“Brull,” She whispered, snuggling into her cloak.
“Really?”said Wall.“I went there several times I didn’t see you.”
Her voice was barely audible. “There was a really nice cave…”
Pestilence interrupted her.“We’ll have to talk to you about your antisocial behavior later but right now we have to figure out what to do next.”
“Well, we could go the direct route and confront Schultz ourselves,”said War. “Or we could wait for the Sons’ inside man to contact us. We could go either way, the slow stealthy approach with the Sons or we could just throw caution to the wind.”
The group was silent for a moment.
Pixia piped up. “As much as I would love to beat Schultz over the head with a large blunt object we also have to consider one more thing…”
“And what is that”? asked War.
“The people… y’know, the people out there who will be directly affected by all this. I mean, we just go in there and… murder Schultz, the city would implode.”
Silence fell one more…
“She’s right,”said Pestilence. “As far as the people know Schultz is, and has been, their perfect leader for their entire lives. Objectively Schultz is a good leader; it’s just everything he’s been doing behind the scenes. If we so starkly contest their viewpoint we’ll wind up doing more harm than good. I vote we go with the Sons and try to undermine Schultz, try to cause the least amount of damage possible.”
War looked around the group. “Are we all agreed?”
The Indra nodded their heads.
War stood up. “Very well, I’m due for a meeting with Schultz; he wanted me to report to him as soon as I returned.”
“Don’t do anything stupid,”said Pestilence jokingly.
War chuckled. “Oh ye of little faith. Also, Lethe could I borrow your speaker?”
Chapter 19: Havoc
The Indra had pulled themselves out of their respective piles of rubble, Anon had a bit of difficulty as his head and shoulders were completely buried, finally Bolt and Scorn had to pull his head from the ground. They regrouped, standing over the destroyed bomb the mood was despondent.
“Well, that’s it, game over.”Anon kicked the wreck of the bomb. “That was our only way of sealing off the Lab.”
Scorn kneeled down and inspected the mess of machinery. “Not exactly. Ah! Thank god, she didn’t destroy it!”He pulled out a small metal cube, a bit crushed but still intact.
“What is it?”asked Kid, reaching for it.
Scorn’s relief was palpable. “This is all that we need to seal the lab; the nuclear explosive was just extra and would have been overkill, this isn’t a suicide mission after all.”Scorn gripped the cube tightly, not letting Kid see it.
Kid withdrew. “What does it do?”
“This little box has the necessary ingredients to synthesize one of the most volatile explosives known to man, AA. It was meant to be a self destruct mechanism in case the bomb fell into the wrong hands. Send the right radio transmission and boom, you, the building you’re standing in, and half the city block are rubble. I’d walk you through how it works but we don’t have time for that. If we can get to Medusa fast enough then we can spare ourselves having to use this. Honestly it’s a pity it didn’t go off when she crushed the bomb, would’ve saved us a lot of trouble. Let’s go!”
The four ran off through the forest in pursuit of Medusa.
The cave was pitch black, all the feeble light from the entrance had petered out long ago. Unfazed by the total darkness, Medusa carried on dragging Ellie by her one good ankle, the crackling of shattering stalagmites echoed through the cave.
“You really don’t have to do this,” Ellie pleaded, she winced as a sharp sliver of rock raked across her back.
“But I must,” Medusa hissed in response, her voice had a hint of uncertainty.
Perhaps an appeal to reason would tip her over the edge? “As far as I can tell all of your reasons for going through with this are either selfish or irrational. Give me just one good real reason why humanity must die.”
Medusa was quiet, only the sounds of crunching rock could be heard. She finally broke the silence; her voice was stony and resolute. “Humanity is destructive, capable of nothing but constant, dreary, conflict. It is never satisfied with its victories and keeps searching for another, not caring who it crushes along the way. I am doing this planet a favor by killing its most destructive predator.”
Ellie scoffed in disbelief. “So to save the earth from a dangerous predator you’re going to release an even more dangerous predator? You’re simply initiating a vicious cycle that will go on forever and perhaps make things even worse for the planet.”
“No I’m just kidding; I’m doing it because I want to.” Medusa chuckled to herself. “I care not for the condition of the planet, as long as it’s awash with blood.”
Ellie groaned in frustration. “But you don’t really mean that, I can feel it right now, that little shard of doubt is growing bigger inside you by the second, you’re only saying what you are now because you don’t know anything else!”
Her voice was sad. “Perhaps, perhaps you are right little one, but it’s too late now, we’ve finally arrived.”
Medusa came to a stop and dropped Ellie’s leg, Ellie tried to quietly scoot away. There was a piercing squeal of rusted metal rubbing against rusted metal, and the scrape of a massive door sliding along the stone floor. A ghostly blue light emanated from beyond the threshold. A long metal corridor, coated in rust, punctuated by the occasional door stretched before them. Medusa turned and rushed over to Ellie, grabbing her leg once more and dragged her inside.
Ellie could finally see Medusa’s face, it was wet with tears. “Welcome to your new home baby sister, I just love what they’ve done with the walls.” Her voice was shaky.
Ellie reached up and grabbed Medusa’s wrist, holding it like a vice.
Medusa stopped. “I would recommend against trying anything either heroic or stupid, it’s much too late to stop me now and you’re in no condition to fight. I’d very much hate to have to break the rest of your limbs.”
Medusa felt a small stinging as a tendril of Ellie’s cabling stabbed into her arm and wrapped around her own. Strange sensations began flowing into Medusa’s wrist, a strange warmth… a happiness, blasting away the cold envelope of anger and rage that she’d wrapped herself in.
“What are you doing, stop that!” Medusa tried to shake Ellie off, she could feel the warmth spreading to her chest, it was roiling and raging through her body.
Giving up on trying to shake Ellie off Medusa ran, she ran as fast as she could to the central control console, dragging Ellie behind her. Images began flashing through Medusa’s mind, a young woman named Katrine, Valkyrie… calling her to join them. The sound of joyous laughter rang through Medusa’s ears, deafening joy tore down the barriers she’d buried herself behind. She could feel her resolve breaking, her walls were being torn down as soon as they were rebuilt, she could feel tears flowing from her good eye.
“If my words won’t change your mind, then maybe, just maybe, my feelings will!”
More images, more feelings, Medusa ran faster. It was in sight, the console! Her vision blurred, tears streamed from her good eye in an unrelenting waterfall. Hand outstretched she hit it, the big red button, the automatic system shutdown. The lights dimmed and the scraping and crunching of age old metal moving for the first time in millennia boomed through the halls. The massive door at the end of the control center juddered and shook, something on the other side was eager to get out.
Medusa collapsed, sobbing. “No, Ellie, you are too late, my brothers and sisters are coming, and they will kill you all. I am, so… happy!”
Ellie didn’t let go, she squeezed tighter, pouring everything, every minute feeling, her very being into Medusa. “This is not happiness Medusa!”
Medusa fell backward, curling up into the fetal position, bawling.
Scorn, Bolt, Anon, and Kid all rushed into the control room, weapons drawn.
“You’re too late!” The sobbing Medusa called to them. “My brothers and sisters are free! Can’t you feel them, their hatred, their spite, the beauty of it all?” She quickly devolved in a gibbering mess once more as Ellie continued to bombard her.
The massive door began to move! Slowly at first, as if some massive weight was pressed against it, a cascade of black slime rushed from the quickly widening gap. The foul smell of death permeated the room. The door was now fully opened, inky blackness obscured the inhabitants. Then, a loud shuffling could be heard, and a massive boom, and another. A massive, malformed, hand, attached to an equally gruesome arm reached out from the wall of darkness and slammed onto the ground, black slime sprayed about the room. Another arm followed, then two more, finally the head of this massive creature, taller that all the Indra in the room combined, emerged.
Thick, pale, pruned skin clung tightly to this creature’s skull yet hung slack over its face seeming melting over its empty eye sockets; it almost seemed to glow as it emerged into the pale light of the station. It had no eyes, and it had no nose, but it had a mouth large enough to swallow any of them whole. One side of its jaw hung lower than the other, the massive bone had dislocated and was hanging limply, reaching with one of its massive hands the creature shoved it back into place with a sickening snap. As the creature pulled itself further from its eternal prison the vague silhouettes of many more sets of arms could be seen dragging its massive tube-like body across the floor. Its enormous underbelly was red and chafed and oozing, the skin had peeled away and black slime was dribbling from its open wounds. Halfway emerged from the door it affixed its sightless gaze on the Indra.
Its voice was like a thousand steel fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. “We are free!” it screamed in a bellowing whisper.
“What are you!” yelled Medusa, shaken from her misery by the beast’s emergence. “Where are the hundreds of my brothers and sisters who will wipe humanity from the face of this earth?!”
The creature leaned in close, inspecting Medusa, is growled scornfully. “We are here… but not as individuals, we are Havoc, we are the swarm! We will crush all who are not as we are beneath our fists!”
Medusa fell to her knees, pleading. “I am like you! Let me join you on your crusade!” Medusa could feel deep down that she didn’t mean her words.
Havoc stared more intently at Medusa; all was still for a moment. “You are not like us, you have been corrupted, you are no better than the humans… You will be swept away like the rest.” Havoc began crawling forward again.
Scorn and the others began running toward the control console.“The door! Close the door!”Scorn roared.
Heftily shoving the shocked and frozen Medusa aside Scorn punched a complicated series of button presses into the control console. The massive metal door began to slide closed once again. As the door slid slowly closed it bit into the thick rubbery flesh of Havoc, pushing the entire creature along with it. Soon Havoc was wedged between the door and its frame. The sounds of metal groaning and machinery straining filled the room.
“Come on!”Scorn yelled.“Those doors won’t stop for anything!”
A sound akin to a thousand pieces of cloth tearing echoed through the massive room, followed by a bellowing wail. The door was cutting through Havoc! It beat upon and tried to halt the doorway with the sets of arms still inside the chamber, but not even the strength of Havoc could stand up to ancient American military engineering. The door proceeded to slice Havoc in two, leaving it with two sets of arms on the outside and however many it had on the inside.
“Kudos for keeping most of it contained,”said Bolt. “But the dangerous bit is still out here with us!”
“Well, let’s do what we do best; beat the shit out of it!”yelled Kid.
Bolt aimed her Arc Gun and fired, a column of electricity smashed into Havoc, it lit up like a bonfire. The slime spread across the floor caught fire, and soon the entire room was filled with a blazing inferno. Coarse black smoke billowed about, twisting and curling, blinding everybody. Kid and Anon jumped into the inferno, and sprinted toward the massive pillars of flesh that were Havoc’s wrists.
Scorn emptied his quiver of arrows into Havoc’s face, the glowing shafts wedging in its eye sockets, soon two glowing orbs hovered above the smoky conflict watching their feeble efforts. Scorn discarded his bow and joined the two battering away at Havoc’s wrists.
Havoc began to shudder, a deep growling built up in its core before bursting from its mouth. A sickening rumbling laughter filled the room, it laughed and it laughed. It stamped the ground, throwing the Indra back, their attacks couldn’t even break the thing’s skin, they might as well be tickling it.
“Pathetic creatures!” Havoc lashed out, throwing Kid and Anon to the back of the room, they vanished into the smoke; it shot forward, leaving a trail of gore behind it, it stood in the direct center of the massive room. “Weak, pathetic, creatures! Your attacks do little more than provide an itch for us to scratch. If this is the best mankind can muster in his defense then perhaps he is more deserving of death than we thought.”
The attack renewed, this time Havoc began to fight back, punching and smashing the ground attempting to crush Anon and Kid. The concrete floor cracked and shattered, large chunks of shrapnel shot about the room.
Ellie was struggling to regain her footing, using Kid’s broadsword as a crutch, she looked over at the still silhouette of Medusa. “Medusa! What are you doing? Come on! They need all the help they can get!”
Ellie inhaled deeply and propelled herself into the fight; she landed clumsily, barely avoiding a massive swing from Havoc. She punched, sliced and cut, dodging the massive fists thrown by Havoc. Inhaling deeply she propelled herself upon one of the beast’s rear arms; she scuttled up the pillar of flesh like a muscular spider. Carefully crawling across the wildly bucking back she straddled it’s trunk of a neck and began sawing. Havoc shook and convulsed, eventually shaking Ellie from its back. Ellie rolled across the floor coming to rest against a wall, struggling to get up as a massive fist cut through the smoke speeding towards her. Ellie prepared for the biggest shock of her life…
Ellie heard the impact, but didn’t feel it… at least it was painless. No wait… she craned her neck and she saw it. Medusa had stopped the fist with her own! The concrete around her shattered as all of the force dispersed.
“No, I’m not like you, creature,” she spit. “I am Medusa! I am superior!”
She heaved another punch into the massive fist, and another, shockwaves bounced through the room. A ghostly white aura emanated from Medusa’s body as she laid blow after blow in Havoc’s now mangled hand. The skin flaked and peeled away, sheets of rubbery, gelatinous, skin flew across the room, slapping and sticking to any surface they touched. Kid leapt up and began slicing away at the exposed flesh, massive chunks of glossy black flesh were chiseled away. Havoc bellowed in indignant rage as it pulled its hand back into the smoky gloom. The two glowing sockets gazed squared at Medusa.
She stood like a sentinel over the struggling Ellie. So this is happiness…
Medusa wasn’t able to dodge the massive swipe thrown at her, she along with Kid and Ellie were flung across the room slamming into another wall. Medusa sprung to her feet and rushed back into battle, as did Ellie with much struggling. Kid did not get up.
“Why do we even have these, they always seem to be useless!”Anon and Bolt threw down their weapons and began laying into Havoc with their fists.
Concussive blows rocked through Havoc’s body, its sickly flesh deforming and flexing, twisting the vile creature even further. Havoc still showed no signs of slowing. Scorn had climbed up Havoc and was hacking away at the small cut Ellie made before; he was knocked down by Havoc’s erratic movements. He limped over to the others who were whittling away at Havoc’s destroyed hand.
“Listen! This isn’t working; we have to get it from the inside!”Scorn pulled out the tiny silver cube. “I’ll get inside that thing’s mouth and crush this, with any luck I’ll be able to get out before it explodes.”
“That’s suicide!”yelled Ellie. “It’ll explode as soon as you crush it!”
“This was always a one way trip for me.”
Medusa wrestled the cube from Scorn’s hands and firmly shoved him away. “No, I’ll do it! Soon you’ll be down two monsters! Distract it!”
Medusa rushed beneath Havoc while the others kept it occupied. She climbed, spiderlike, up one of Havoc’s arms until she was sprinting along its back. She launched a massive punch at the back of Havoc’s head leaving a massive dent, Havoc lost its balance and its legs collapsed beneath it. Turning its head all the way around, spewing more black slime across the smoky room, Havoc faced Medusa.
She grinned, gnashing her teeth together. “Oh, that’s just what I needed, saves me the trouble of crawling over there.”
Havoc screamed, spraying Medusa with yet more slime.
“Oh dear, quite the breath you’ve got there, here, I have something that’ll fix that!” Medusa dove down Havoc’s throat, she crushed the cube.
The force of the explosion tore Havoc’s head from its shoulders, and created a cavernous hole in its chest. Viscera sprayed around the room covering everything in a veneer of black slime. Havoc went limp; the remains of its head crashed into the ground and shattered like a piece of rotten fruit. It’s body slowly deflated as a river of black slime rushed from its eviscerated remains.
The blast had knocked the Indra off their feet, throwing them to the back of the room. As they got up and found each other in the smoke they noticed one startling absentee, Kid. No amount of calling would get her to answer; they spread out in search of her. Eventually they found her, pressed up against a wall; right where Havoc had thrown her, her head was down.
Ellie hobbled forward, and gave Kid a few light slaps on the cheek, trying to wake her up. “C’mon Kid, it’s over, we can go home.”
Kid stirred but didn’t get up. “Sorry Ellie, he got me.” Her voice was unusually hoarse
Ellie chuckled as a terrible feeling of dread grew inside of her. “I can see that, come on get up.”
Kid didn’t move. “No, I don’t think I will.”
Her stomach dropped. Her voice grew concerned. “And why not? This isn’t the time for games.”
“Oh you know, the classic ‘I’m impaled on a large jagged piece of metal’ bit. Here, you can even see the tip of it poking through my belly.”
Ellie looked down and sure enough, there was a small piece of metal sticking through Kid’s stomach.
“You’ve had worse right?” Her voice was quiet.
Kid’s voice weakened, it was little more than a whisper. “Nope, sorry chief, this one got me, I can’t feel my body, and I’m pretty sure I’m dying.”
Ellie hoped above hope that Kid was hamming it up. “What makes you say that?”
Kid managed to pull her head up, she rested it against the wall. “The all encompassing cold is a bit of a giveaway. It’s strange, I’ve always wondered what death was like, and this is a little underwhelming.”
She chuckled. “You can never take anything seriously, can you?” She gently wrapped her arms around Kid’s head and gave her a light hug.
“Bah! You know me, I wouldn’t know serious if it but me on the ass.”Kid weakly smacked Ellie in the chest with her forehead. “I hope you have room in there, because you’re about to have a visitor.”She gasped quietly.“Hold onto your butts,”she whispered.
Kid slumped, Ellie placed her hand on Kid’s chest and could feel the pins and needles just like with Valkyrie, Kid’s being was entering hers.
Scorn placed a gentle hand on Ellie’s shoulder. “Alright, come on Ellie, we’ll take her outside and give her a proper burial.”
They left the complex, Scorn illuminating the way, Ellie hobbled along close behind followed by Bolt and Anon. Using their hands and their weapons, the group dug a small, deep, grave and laid Kid’s body inside.
Ellie heaved a rueful sigh. “I would say a few tender words, but seeing as it’s only her body that has died all the weight seems to have diminished somewhat. Here, how about we all come inside and have a little gathering or something, we can talk about what we want to do next.” Ellie sat on the ground as the remaining three sat or crouched beside her and placed their hands on her. Inside the apartment they all gathered around the bed where Kid was in the process of waking up.
“I’m just saying…” muttered Vee. “I didn’t get this nice of treatment when I came here.”
Katrine responded jokingly. “Oh hush, we were young and inexperienced, and you’re really heavy.”
“It’s been less than a week, and no I’m not.”
Katrine waved her statement off.
Kid’s eyes fluttered open; she took a deep breath through her nose and let out a small burp, she giggled. The group all scoffed and wandered off, hiding their smiles, not even death could neuter the weirdness of Kid.
“Welcome fellow dead person, to your eternal resting place.” Katrine wiggled her fingers in a spooky manner.
Ellie leaned over and gave Kid a big hug, Kid gladly squeezed back, so tightly that when Ellie pulled back Kid came with her. She smiled. “You’re so clingy, and now you’re stuck in my head, I think you’ve peaked.”
“Oh I’m always full of surprises,” Kid whispered in her ear.
Katrine clapped her hands, regaining everybody’s attention. “I hate to break up this tender moment between the two of you, but Kid, you’re naked again. I presume my pajama pants died with you. But never fear momma Katrine has prepared some suitable clothing for you, and Ellie I have something for you as well.”
Katrine went over to the futon and pulled out a neon yellow smiley face onesie in just Kid’s size that was hidden beneath the cushion. Dropping to her knees she wiggled her arm beneath the futon and pulled a metal crutch out.
“I made them during the fight with Havoc, to not panic y’know, here try it on!” She tossed the pajamas to Kid and slid the crutch over to Ellie.
Kid pulled it on and zipped it up, it fit perfectly. Kid cut a dramatic pose, then started dancing even though there was no music playing.
“Just gotta see if it can handle my moves.” Voice shaking as she flailed wildly.
Katrine perked up. “I have something that can help with that.” She leapt to her feet and ran over to the closet. “Hey Vee! Remember when I was digging in the closet and you guys found all of my old sketches?”
“Yeah, what were you even looking for anyway?”
Katrine turned around with a small plastic remote, she grinned wickedly. “This.” She pressed a button and the entire apartment began to shake and thrum as deep bass-heavy music rattled the walls. Katrine lowered her voice and began yelling along to the deep chanting lyrics. She danced alongside Kid who seemed to enjoy the music as well.
Everybody else covered their ears as the music was almost deafeningly loud. Vee rushed over and grabbed the remote out of Katrine’s hand, she quickly found the power button and pressed it, sweet silence descended on the apartment once more.
Vee gave Katrine a stern look. “And that qualifies as music?”
Katrine nodded, sweating slightly. “The best the twenty-first century has to offer.”
Vee scoffed. “God those people were weird. Next time you want to listen to music make sure the volume’s lower, alright?”
Katrine pursed her lips in a sneaky smile and nodded. She turned and saw Kid still shuffling around, dancing to the nonexistent music, the pajamas were holding up admirably. Finally she settled down on the futon.
“OK.” Kid arched her fingers against her stump. “I need to read my final will and testament.”
Anon looked incredulous. “You have one of those?”
Kid shook her head. “No, but there is some stuff I wanna give away. Ellie, you can have my broadsword, it works well as a crutch for you, and you can actually use it which is a bonus. Bolt, do you actually have anything but your Arc Gun?”
Bolt shook her head. “Nope.”
“Perfect, you can have my short sword and dagger.” She looked startled for a moment. “You didn’t bury them with me already, did you?”
“No,” replied Scorn. “We were actually going to ask you about that before we put the dirt back in.”
Kid flopped back on the futon, crossing her legs. “Oh, phew, alright, will’s done.” She promptly fell asleep.
“Welp, I guess that means it’s time we start heading back down south, I wonder how things are going back in Alcadon.” Anon wondered out loud.
Bolt shrugged. “I doubt it could be much crazier than up here.”
They all scoffed and chuckled and began leaving, at Katrine’s insistence, through the front door.
Schultz’ office was a disaster area, the furniture had been trashed, and the desk was a pile of splinters in the corner. Schultz was angrily pacing in the center of the room; his chair was also conspicuously absent. As War gently closed the door behind him Schultz whipped his head. His eyes were red rimmed and bloodshot.
“What do you want?” Schultz barked.
War stood rigidly, his voice professional. “I have concluded my search of Ozri.”
Schultz blinked confusedly. “I don’t know if it’s the lack of sleep but I think I just heard you speak.”
War nodded. “That is correct, one of the engineers rigged up a speaker we can connect and speak through.”
“Intriguing, continue your report.” Schultz returned to his pacing.
“We found evidence of occupation by the Sons but they had been gone for some time, they eluded us sir.”
Schultz sighed and continued pacing. “That was our best lead, all of our intel pointed to Ozri as their headquarters.”
“I’m sorry sir but the intel was incorrect.” War pulled out one of the thought blockers. “We found a small quantity of these, and one was also left at the factory where the Sons held your nephew.”
“Destroy them, immediately,” Schultz snapped.
“At once sir.”
The door opened behind War and Marjorie Fitsch walked in, she looked bedraggled, positively worn-out.
She pasted a professional smile on her face. “Schultz we have good news!”
His voice softened slightly. “Can’t it wait? I’m in a meeting.”
Her face fell. “Well, no, not really, in fact this was probably the worst time for such a meeting.”
“And why is that?” asked War.
A deep thudding resounded through the room, and slowly grew louder; something massive was approaching the office from the hallway. She opened the door revealing a massive slab of shining steel, it stepped inside. In a word it was jagged. It was covered in sharp thin spikes, along the joints, across the back and shoulders, even its head tapered off into a thin point. It didn’t have a face, only a cluster of sensors hidden behind some sort of clear shielding.
“Project Gamma is a success.” Fitsch looked ecstatic, though relived would have been a more apt word for how she felt. “This is only our prototype but soon we’ll have the rest outfitted with the software package.”
“Might I inquire as to the purpose of ‘Project Gamma’?” asked War.
Schultz eyes were impassive as he looked at his faithful bodyguard, “No, I’m sorry but I can’t have you going off to tell the Sons about this.”
War turned to look back at Schultz. He was in a bad spot, stuck between Schultz and the prototype. “Oh and what makes you think that I’m with the Sons now?” He tried for innocence but it just sounded sarcastic.
Schultz eyes squinted further. “I have eyes and ears everywhere, even in Ozri. Especially in Ozri. You disappoint me War, I thought you were loyal.” Schultz shook his head disappointedly.
War slipped on his knuckle dusters and struck his defensive position. “I do not intend to die.”
Schultz sighed sadly. “We never do, some of us are lucky and find ways around it, but I’m afraid you’ll be unable to explore such avenues today.” Schultz looked to the machine. “Kill him.”
Fitsch’s eyes widened as she threw herself away from the ensuing scuffle. The machine struck, War dodged, for such a bulky machine it sure could move quick, too quick for a basic robot. As it approached for another swing War ducked low aiming for a critical strike at the machine’s knee. War felt a viselike grip around his ankle, holding him in place. He turned and saw Schultz hunkered down, holding onto his ankle. Schultz straightened up pulling War with him; his grip was like a steel vise.
“Anger can make a person do incredible things,” he said simply.
Schultz eyes were sad as he squeezed harder, War could feel his ankle bend and shatter. The machine moved itself behind War and struck.
“Goodbye War, it was a pleasure.” Schultz dropped War’s legs and waist. He looked to Fitsch who was still sprawled on the ground. “I assume you know how to dispose of him?”
She nodded quickly; her eyes were wide with fear.
“Good, and from now on call ahead, I’ll have a heck of a time explaining this one.” Schultz looked down at the thought blocker on the floor and crushed it under his heel.