Reawakening

REAWAKENING

BY ADRIAN

A sharp cracking sound split the sky. The bullets found their mark and the hellhound fell to the ground in a heap of gore. More shots were fired. They had to make sure it was absolutely dead; hellhounds were notorious for pulling miracle comebacks.

 

Will approached the hound, his uncle Chris and Nicole in tow. As they approached the motionless creature it suddenly jumped back to life. Its red pupil pierced the orange-tinged fog, its body twitched as it got to its feet. They shot at it again, but the creature kept regenerating all the damage as soon as it had been inflicted. It began to stand upright on its hind legs, towering over the three of them. As it reached its full height its form shifted from that of a beast to a more humanoid form. A suit materialized around its form and flowed down its body like liquid. In one quick motion it puts its fist through his uncle’s face. His entire head caved inward. Will heard his uncle’s skull shattering into fragments as he fell backwards, hitting the ground with a dull thud. Nicole opened fire but the creature grabbed her by the shoulders and tore her body in half. She screamed as her insides poured out of her.

Will suddenly found himself cornered, his back pressed against the side of a rock formation. His silver pistol was gone, lost in some unknown place. The creature closed in on him, its pupils shined like headlights. A smile stretched across the creature’s face as it came into view: a blonde-haired fair-skinned human with veins twisted in every which direction. Shadowy humanoid figures emerged behind the man in the fog. Their eyes were black with glowing red pupils. Will tried to make out their faces but couldn’t before he felt the blonde haired man’s hands in his chest cavity. Pain shot through his body as he witnessed his heart being ripped from the shattered remains of his rib cage.

 

The shock of his imagined death awoke Will in a cold sweat. He sat up quickly, his head darted from side to side. The small room he had been staying in was unchanged from when he went to sleep. That was a relief; the first night he had been here he had awoken to find the dresser on the opposite wall of the room afloat in the air. Ever since, he had hidden the strange medallion beneath his bed, away from his body. It had seemed to do the trick, but it didn’t stop the dreams from reaching him.

It was those men, those “rebels”, who took his family from him. But it was that monster that he saw on a nightly basis. Its eyes were what stuck with him the most. They reminded him of any beast’s eyes, only they burned with far greater intensity. Will didn’t want to think about it. He tried and he failed to return back to his slumber. He pulled the medallion from its resting place and examined it in the moonlight. Every time he gazed upon it he noted that he had seen the symbols somewhere before in his father’s archeological findings. He found that he didn’t have the determination to read further into it, his father’s books were out of sight and out of mind. The real reason he had the medallion in his hands was because it made him feel a little more secure. The power that it gave him had bailed him out of two fatal situations. Yet it did not give him the ability to save his loved ones. Could he have saved them, if he had just tried harder? The answer continued to elude him.

 

Will awoke hours later covered in sweat. His muscles ached as he climbed out of his bed. He didn’t remember having any more dreams, he counted his blessings. Will left the plain guest room and entered the adjoining hallway. A vibrant purple and orange rug greeted him as he made his way past the closed doors to the end of the hall. There he descended the stained wooden stairs to the floor below. It was a commonly held misconception in the seeds that outland colonies consisted of small hamlets or mud huts. It was true that outlanders had smaller accommodations than those of their urban counterparts but that hardly meant their houses were miniscule. The prefabricated houses were also certainly far more functional than a hamlet or mud hut. This particular house’s upstairs had been converted into an inn to accommodate the influx of travelers to the edges of society in recent years.

As Will came down the stairs into the living area he noticed two soldiers from the Reclamation Force in the lobby talking to the manager by the counter. One of them had short blonde hair with glasses and the other had slicked back black hair. Both of them looked like human tanks with chiseled features and humongous bodies. The two wore black coats over their RF uniform and they were most certainly carrying ether-tech weaponry within arm’s reach. Will noticed that, while the black haired man was talking to the manager, the blonde haired man seemed very interested in Will. The man’s eyes were following Will as he rounded the corner and entered the kitchen.

Will sat down at the kitchen table where he was met with a smile by the woman of the house. She looked young, maybe in her mid thirties. She had inviting green eyes, tan skin, and far too much makeup. She handed him some sort of meat with a glass of orange juice. Another misconception held by people in the seed was that they subsisted on a diet of fruit, grains, and vegetables. This was due to the difficulty of raising livestock in an ether poisoned world. Regardless of the adversity the new world provided it did not stop the peoples’ desire to devour other animals. Will was certain that the meat that lay in front of him was probably from an animal suffering from ether poisoning on some level, whether it turned out to be livestock or it was hunted. Still, ether poisoning never affected human beings. He bit into it and had his answer: hellhound. The meat wasn’t terrible if prepared right and organ meats weren’t consumed. Will always wondered why hellhounds, chimeras, and several other beasts were okay to eat under some circumstances but others were entirely poisonous.

Will finished his meal, the whole time aware that the men from the lobby were still nearby. He thought they would attempt to approach him now, but they kept their distance. He made a mental note to keep watch for them and stay on his guard. Will wasn’t sure if they were after him or not, but he was told to never trust members of the Reclamation Force by his father before his passing. He reached into his pocket, secure in the knowledge that the artifact was on his person. Will had never killed a man before; he hoped it wouldn’t ever come to that.

 

Will spent the day doing almost nothing noteworthy. He was living off of the money he and his father had accumulated throughout the years. He had no family left to speak of, except a cousin he had lost touch with twelve years ago. A few scattered acquaintances were the closest things he had to friends. He had no job or old world ruins lined up. He was just coasting, and he was painfully aware of it.

Will lay his head back into the overgrown moist grass. He preferred the west to the east by far. The west had more color, and life was all around him. A cool wind blew across his face. Autumn was quickly turning into winter, Will’s favorite season. He stared up at the vast never-ending sky and let his mind wander. It was times like these that his brain would fixate on the loss of Nicole and his uncle. He tried his best to distract himself.

“Oh look, it’s this slacker kid again.” He heard a familiar female voice mockingly proclaim. Will smiled on the inside. He was happy to see her and take his mind off of his troubles.

He made a point of sighing very loudly and acting like he was in utter agony before responding with “what do you want now Lily?” Over him stood a woman of five feet and five inches in height who was rail thin and garbed in a hoodie and jeans. She blew a strand of curly light-brown hair out of her face. Another common misconception was that those who dwelled outside of the seed wore animal skins or loin clothes, depending on who you asked. Clearly not the case with this young woman.

“Just thought I’d come ruin your day again Mr. Sunshine.” She had called Will a similar name before when they first met. “Mr. Fucking Sunshine” was the name. Will had stumbled into town two weeks prior and they met on the streets. Will was a lot glummer at that point and he was less than pleasant with her. It was a less than stellar first impression that ended with the two telling one another to “fuck off”.

“Mind if I sit here? Cool.” She sat down next to him without waiting or caring for what his response was. From here Will could smell whatever odd fragrance she chose to wear on a regular basis. Some sort of flower that he swore he must have been allergic to. He voiced this complaint to her previously and she responded by wearing more of it.

“So…” she said matching his blue eyes with her browns. “You ever gonna get a job and, you know, do something?”

“You’re hardly one to talk.” He responded. He had noted in the past that she was ghostly white compared to most of the other field workers. Her excuses for this were flimsy at best and ranged from “I don’t tan well” to “shut up Will”. “I’m at least paying to stay here. You really don’t have an excuse.”

“I live here.” She gave him a look that was meant to convey the phrase “no shit”.

“I’ve lived in a town in the outlands before. I had to contribute to the community by working my ass off. My dad told me it built character. Maybe you should try it. Sure as hell couldn’t hurt with a personality as charming as yours.”

“And turn out like you? No thanks. And besides.” She retrieved a small portion of bread and meat from her person and took a bite from it. “I’m on break anyway.”

“Yeah, sure you are. Although I think after you’ve been on break for over 100 days it technically counts as a vacation.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She bit off another piece of the meat. Will was once again curious as to what kind of meat it was. Perhaps something that wasn’t hunted and killed? “I’m serious though.” She interrupted his meat-based train of thought. “When are you going to get a job and do something? Maybe stop living in an inn? Become a productive member of society and all that other crap you just told me.”

“I’m not a member of this society though.” He stated matter-of-factly. Although he was considering staying here in the long-term, he hadn’t informed Lily or anyone else of that idea. It made sense to him: he could still explore ruins if he ever felt like being adventurous again and when he didn’t, he would have a home to come back and occupy his time with. His dad’s place was the only alternative and that didn’t feel like a home to him anymore.

“You could be.” She responded. Will also got along with the townsfolk well enough; they were much more accepting of outsiders than some of the other outland towns he had visited. Of course, then there was Lily. “Or not. I don’t really give a shit about what you do. Just trying to help stop you from consuming all your time being a fucking Debbie downer.” Will and Lily had, through some miracle, managed to get over their awful first encounter and found that they both had lost loved ones.

“You were ruminating about their deaths again weren’t you? Just before I got here? Right?” Will nodded. “Well cut it the fuck out.” She told him sternly. “Well, I take that back.” She inhaled. “That’s easier said than done. But it won’t make anything better to just keep thinking about it. Trust me, I know.” She gave him a look and continued. “Actually I know what might help take your mind off of it.” She pulled out some small black rounded stones from her pocket.

“You planned this didn’t you?” Will asked, staring at the stones. “Well I’m not going to do it.”

“Oh come on! You know it’ll help and you also know you enjoy it. Don’t be such a pansy ass. The closest I’ve ever gotten to a real witch was the witch of the deep forest. And I only saw her and her demon dog at a glance before booking it out of there. Come on!”

Will sighed. “I’m not a witch, Lily.”

“Warlock then. Whatever.”

“No, that’s not…” Will took a deep breath in. “What I’m trying to say is…” He had showed Lily his ability to move things with his mind two days ago and she wouldn’t stop bugging him about it since then. He couldn’t recall why he showed her, boredom perhaps? He was also amazed he was able to lift anything. He still wasn’t sure what he was doing differently that allowed him to use the medallion. He wasn’t able to get it to work like this two weeks ago.

“Just… give me the stupid rocks.” She gleefully handed him the stones. They had faces drawn on them in silver paint. “So this is what passes as work with you?” Lily didn’t respond. Instead she did her best to look as disinterested as possible until he started slowly levitating the stones in the air. When they rose, her eyes lit up and a smile stretched across her face.

Will levitated the rocks very slowly about. He was having difficulty controlling objects still, especially multiple ones at once. Even so, his control was getting better; he now had seven of the little stones in the air whereas two days ago he only managed four at the most. He spent the next ten minutes messing around with the pebbles before he abruptly stopped; the pebbles rained from the sky and disappeared into the tall grass.

“Well that was anti-climactic.” Lily said, retrieving the stones.

“Shit.” Lily turned to see what Will was looking at: two men standing 150 yards away in large black coats. One of them was standing facing the other one, and the other one was quite clearly looking at the two of them. It appeared as though they had binoculars as well.

“I assume they’re not friends of yours?” Lily rose from the ground at the same time as Will.

“This is not good at all. Shit. Lily, we need to leave now.” Will turned back toward the town.

“Right behind ya.” The two hastily jogged back toward the town’s walls. The two men remained still as posts and did not pursue the two. It was now even more blatantly obvious that the RF soldiers were here for him. They ran through the city gates, down the paved streets, and all the way to the prefabricated building that was the town’s inn. He darted back to his room as quickly as he could in order to pack his meager affects. Lily was right behind him the whole way.

“So what did you do to piss off the Reclamation Force?” Lily broke the silence that the two had shared for the twenty minutes it took to get back to the inn. “Was it murder? I bet it was murder. Why didn’t you tell me you were a cold blooded murderer Will?” She threw one of his shirts, which had been discarded to the floor, at his face.

“You’ve got it all wrong.” Will said grabbing the shirt and stuffing it in his rucksack before throwing it over his shoulder. “They were clearly interested in you. I don’t think they’re my type.” He finished packing what little he had left and made for the stairway. The two exited the inn in a quick manner.

“So seriously, why are RF soldiers spying on you? They couldn’t have known about the rock levitation thing earlier. Right?”

“They weren’t after me.” He retorted. “But on a completely unrelated note I’m going to be leaving this town right now. I’ll never be coming back. So… enjoy the rest of your life.” Lily grabbed him as he turned to leave.

“Okay don’t be like that. Prick. Look, let’s head back to my place for the night. We should be safe there and then we can figure out what we should do about this situation in the morning.”

“Why bother? It’ll be safer and easier to leave now. I already know I need to get out now.”

“Well I don’t want you to leave yet.” She paused for a moment, they stared at each other, the only thing Will could think to say was a long “okaaaay” but he held that in, instead deciding that shrugging would somehow be an appropriate response. “Look, your dad told you some useful shit right? Well my dad told me that its bad luck to start out into the outlands after nightfall. It’ll be dark in a matter of hours, your transportation is completely shot, and you’ll probably end up as a Will sandwich for some ether-poisoned animal. Don’t be an idiot; stay the night and we can figure out what your next plan is tomorrow morning.”

Will couldn’t argue with that logic and he really wasn’t sure he wanted to. She grabbed his arm and jerked him in the direction of her house and off they went.

“You were attacked by a monster in a business suit?” The two had sat down to discuss why RF soldiers might possibly be after Will. During this time they had also decided to make the evening meal. Will had been reluctant to share his latest adventure at first, but eventually conceded and found the whole experience quite cathartic. The two talked into the later hours of the night and before they knew it the outside world had grown black.

“Yes, but I hit him with the car using my mind.”

 “Oh yeah, of course.” She nodded rapidly. “I don’t know how I could have forgotten that detail. So business suit man is... an RF sympathizer? One of their better paid soldiers maybe? Did he eat a lot of ether-poisoned animals until he also became a beast-man?”

“You don’t believe me? You think I’d make up the death of my uncle and childhood friend?”

“Oh, no. It’s not the most ridiculous story I’ve ever heard. I believe you, only because the alternative is you’re crazy. I do like giving you shit though.” She rose from the dining table and retrieved the plates and silverware the two had been eating with. “Still doesn’t explain why the RF is after you. You said there were rebels there but no RF soldiers.”

“Yeah I don’t know either. But with my recent string of shitty luck I figure it’s probably better not to tempt fate.” Will got up from the table and retired to the front room of the house. The house was fairly small: consisting of two tiny bedrooms, a bathroom, the kitchen, and this room. The whole house was only about 725 square feet in total.

“So you’re leaving then?” Lily sat down on the couch next to where Will had anchored himself.

“I think that’s for the best. I feel like I’ve already spent a lifetime here already.” He starred up at the ceiling and the two of them remained silent for what felt like ages. Will thought about restarting his life in a town like this. If the RF really was after him he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to take root anywhere. The idea brought his mood crashing down and his sadness filled him like an empty void.

“Will we don’t even know that they’re after you.” Will gazed at her in disbelief. “Okay, so they’re probably after you.” She conceded. “You’re just going to let them run you out of town?”

“I don’t see any alternative, do you? I’m not a skilled marksman or a man made entirely out of muscles.”

“Well…” she thought. “You could…” she leaned back in the couch and zoned out, losing herself in her thoughts. “Why not just rip them in half with your mind? It’s not like they could stop you right?”

“I’m not going to do that.” Will said adamantly.

“And why not? You have to kill them before they kill you. I’m pretty sure that’s a quote directly from Confucius. The RF do preemptive strikes all the time. It’s payback time. I’ll even help you, we could make an afternoon of it.” She pointed to a hunting rifle adorning her wall and gave Will a knowing nod.

“I don’t even think I can ‘rip them in half’. Even if I could I wouldn’t. I don’t want to kill another human being.”

“What about the guy you pulverized with a car? The dude in the suit? You liquefied him on impact, I’m pretty sure that makes you a killer.”

“That’s different. He was a monster.”

“And they’re not? The only difference I can see is they’re not wearing suits. They’re the worst thing about seed-outland relations. They come in and strong-arm everyone into doing what they want. But now you can stop them. Throw a car, hell, throw a building at them. Who’s going to stop you? Not a bunch of jackasses with rifles, that’s for sure.”

“And then what? When another squad comes after me do I just kill them too?”

“If you have to.” She was quick to reply.

“I’m sorry…” Will paused a moment and thought of the leader of the rebel band. The barrel of his weapon aimed to kill. He had the opportunity to end this man and avenge his loved ones with the pull of a trigger. A part of him wished he had but he quickly buried that thought. “Lily my friend and my uncle didn’t die because of the man in the suit.” His voice was quieter, softer. “The rebels fired the bullets that killed them. If I do as you suggest and kill everyone that stands in my way, a lot of people could die. People you might even know.” He averted his eyes. Lily didn’t respond and for a moment there was complete silence.

“I wish I could…” he muttered, he stopped himself before he said the rest of what he was thinking and his thoughts trailed off again. Lily sat and watched him, unsure of what to say or do. “The thing is my mother…” he paused, changing subjects. Lily leaned in; anticipating something important was about to surface. The two remained frozen in time as Will’s thoughts began to race having gone from one subject to another, before finally reaching a conclusion.

“Never mind what I was saying. You said something about a witch earlier right? What was that about?”

“I don’t see what this has…” Will cut her off before she could continue.

“Is she real? You said you saw her right?” He didn’t want to go back to what they had just been talking about.

“Yeah? I did, from a distance. Only for a brief moment. It could have just been my eyes playing tricks on me. The woods were pretty dark and it was late out.”

“Well, tell me what happened.”

Lily sighed. She got up and walked into the kitchen, her voice emanated from within. “Well, back when my sister lived here she always told me spooky stories about witches and magic. It was a bunch of crap. I never believed any of it. But… damn, a week before you arrived maybe? I was out pretty late. I don’t even remember why now. I was out pretty far, south or south-east of town.”

She came back out to the living quarters with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. “I thought I heard something out there. I ducked behind some trees, grabbed a gun, and… that’s when I swore I saw her. A hellhound fought alongside her against a chimera. She pointed something at it, a staff maybe? Well, the chimera exploded into flame. Of course I bravely got the hell out of there. But, I could have been imagining the whole thing. Sometimes the outlands do that to you. The whole thing is just a stupid story that gets passed around town by parents who want their children to behave. They say that there are witches who commune with hell beasts and eat children who stay outside town after sundown. I mean, I still courageously got the fuck out of there, but I was probably just seeing shit. Why does is this even important anyway?”

“Where does she live? Like a hut in the forest or something?” Will sipped gingerly on his whiskey glass.

“Well, no in most stories about witches say they live in towns full of zombies or in dark caves. Another reason to steer well clear of any ruined towns that’s for sure. Will, why does any of this matter? The witch isn’t real.” She knocked back a shot and encouraged Will to do the same.

Will dug into his shirt and produced the amulet which he had hung around his neck. “This is why it matters. If this witch exists then maybe she can help me figure out what this is and how to use it properly. If I’ve made enemies with the RF I’ll want to defend myself.” He paused. “Not by killing them.” The thought of running off into the wilderness to chase another legend gave him some comfort. His father would have been proud.

“Oh my God don’t be such a woman.” She grabbed his glass and knocked it back. “Like that. It’s not that hard.”

“What? That stuff tastes like ass.”

“You don’t drink it for the taste.” She poured another glass for each of them.

“My dad and uncle were always into the hard stuff.” He choked it down while Lily effortlessly knocked hers back. “I was always more into…”

“I swear to God if you say ‘juice’ I’m going to throw you out of my house.” She interrupted.

“… I was going to say beer.”

“Well that’s a start. Will, how old are you now?”

“Lily, you know how old I am.”

“I know, I was being intentionally condescending.” Lily poured him another drink. “You’re going to be twenty in a few days. It’s time to nut up. Live your life a little. I’ve been into this since I was fourteen. It’s pretty much a rite of passage around here.” She went to imbibe the drink only to have it spill all over her. Will chuckled, psychic powers had a practical everyday use after all.

“Sorry, my fault.” He forced down his own drink. It was the second of twelve that he would consume over the next two and a half hours.

 

The two continued to stay up into the wee hours of the morning and talk. On occasion Will would bring the mood down by mentioning the deaths of those close to him or by mentioning his past failings. “I shouldn’t have shown off my gift earlier.” He would tell her. “Bad things happen when people learn you’re not ‘entirely human.’” Lily would always find a way to bring the mood back up. Usually followed by the words “take another drink.”

“I have an idea that I think might help your depression problem.” Lily finally said. The two had gotten very close to one another at this point. The two converged. First they locked lips and before long clothing was flying all around the room in a maelstrom of desire. Next thing they knew the lights had turned out and the two retired to the bedroom together.

 

Will’s eyes flew open, his heart pounded like crazy. He had the strange feeling that he had to be somewhere. Will examined his surroundings and it all came back to him. Next to him was a beautiful woman, Lily. “So that’s what she looks like naked.” He stopped himself from saying aloud. She was fast asleep and barely covered by her bed sheets. In the faint moonlight she looked even more incredible than Will could have ever imagined. He gazed upon her a while before laying back down. His head was filled with the faint sound of humming.

Will’s mood sank when he realized that, no matter how he looked at it, he would be alone once again. He would have to leave Lily behind if the RF were after him. Plus with his supernatural tendencies he could draw attention to himself that would further put them in jeopardy. Outlanders killed the only “witch” that he had known and there was a general paranoia about the subject commonly shared by the populace of the outlands. Will couldn’t let Lily die because of him. After replaying the deaths of his loved ones in his mind over and over again he finally, with great reluctance and heavy heart, dragged himself silently out of bed. He put his clothes on, hoisted his few possessions over his shoulder, holstered his dad’s pistol, and left the house and his only friend behind. It was a wonderful night, but a mistake to stay. It made it so much harder to leave.

 

Will walked briskly through town, eyes darting from side-to-side, turning often to look behind him. He was looking for the RF soldiers in case they were watching and waiting. He knew they would be. He darted between houses, down alleyways, and stuck close to buildings to avoid the full moon’s light. As he moved he heard the humming in the back of his mind. He had an urge to move in the opposite direction, toward the west gate. He ignored these thoughts but one thing did strike him as odd: it was unusually dark out. None of the streetlights were on.

A total power outage this far out would mean trouble for the town. He wanted to go warn somebody, but he was sure someone was already on it and he couldn’t risk taking the time to do it. He reached the eastern wall without any difficulties. He signaled the guard, he hoped to convince him to open the gate this late at night by bringing up the RF soldiers. That was when he heard the sirens.

Before even realized it, the supposed guard leapt and hit Will with great force. His body tumbled backward end-over-end until he landed flat on his back. A humanoid silhouette was on him, pinning him to the ground. The creature twisted its body back and let out a bloodletting scream. Its breath smelled like rotting garbage had a love affair with sewage water. Will came to the obvious conclusion that this was not a human being, not anymore anyway. It moved to strike him but its hand was held back by an unseen force. Will, taking advantage of the situation, retrieved his father’s pistol. He squeezed the trigger and emptied a round into its stomach. Black ooze poured out of the freshly made wound. The creature shrieked and Will threw the creature backward off of him. Will quickly got to his feet and lodged another round between the creature’s eyes.

Will examined the body. It was dead, for now anyway. The human corpses liked to get back up after taking supposedly lethal damage. It would need to be cremated later to ensure total destruction. Will wouldn’t have time for that though. He would have to activate the gate himself if he wanted to leave. The sirens, alerting the town to the threat, blared overhead as Will approached the gatehouse.

Inside Will found a control panel. A town this far west would need a nice, thick, heavy gate to bar entry from outside forces. He just needed to find the release. None of the gadgets or mechanisms made any sense to Will. Luckily for him it was neatly labeled.

Poisonous quills were starting to rain from the sky. The attack involved chimeras too? That was odd to Will, different beasts tended to avoid or kill one another. Also the creature who just attacked him didn’t do so until Will approached it. Was it standing guard? No, it was doing something else. Fumbling with something in the gatehouse. The controls? Was it trying to open the gates? The very thought of such a thing seemed impossible. He had never seen or heard of the corpses displaying intelligence on any of the expeditions he had been on. Humming permeated his thoughts and more of the poison quills descended upon the populace. Will was starting to get the inkling that something far worse than a standard ether beast attack was going on. Will’s thoughts turned to his medallion and Lily. He wanted to make a difference this time. He had to.

Will abandoned the gatehouse and headed west with great speed. He dodged in and out of buildings in an attempt to shelter himself from the venomous lances bombarding the city. Flashes of bright light burned through the sky. The residents had started to retaliate. Gunshots from conventional weaponry were also heard in the distance as the townspeople began taking the fight to the fiends. Most settlements needed a large, strong militia to protect themselves. This city and many others this far west actually required all over the age of 14 to have a weapon and train with it. Will hoped that training was paying off but he could still hear the screams of townspeople being cut down or impaled.

Will traveled further into town, his first goal was to find Lily and after that… he wasn’t so sure. He felt the same feeling now that he did when entering a ruin. People on this side of town got into cars or ran out on foot to the west, where most of the commotion was coming from. The scene would be a lot different had the eastern gate been opened. Will kept to the shadows, running at top speed. He kept going right until he hit a large mass with enough force to knock him flat on his ass.

Collecting himself, Will gazed up at what he had hit. He didn’t see anything. Then a shimmer in the moonlight caught his eye. The creature was invisible. Will panicked while attempting to reach his pistol. The creature’s silhouette moved quickly toward his downed position before exploding in several places and becoming heaps of gore. The once-living creature slumped over and its camouflage dissipated. The creature was reptilian in nature, with large horns protruding down the ridge of its nose. That was all Will bothered to examine before searching for the source of his rescue.

“He’s down.” A male voice addressed him. Approaching him now were the two Reclamation Force soldiers from before, brandishing their ether rifles. This time the two of them were in full body armor. The shorter black-haired man was speaking. “Sorry about our late arrival, I’m Warrant Officer Gessler, your great savior. We would have been here sooner if we hadn’t been held up.” The two were sporting some fresh wounds, although not from the chimeras. Gessler looked like he took more damage than his counterpart, who looked nearly unscathed aside from a nasty cut below his right eye. “Now you’ll come with us back to Tidal Pool. We didn’t save you because of our overwhelming love of humanity. We have a job to do.”

“Look.” Will got to his feet. “I know you guys are a bunch of assholes, I get it. But wasn’t the RF founded on protecting the people and advancing humanity? Shouldn’t you be helping these people?”

“Hmmm nope.” He responded. “Sounds more like Defense Force to me.” He grinned. “Besides, we’re protecting you by getting you out of here.” Explosions were heard in the distance, they were getting closer now. “You hear that? That’s the sound of this city choking out its last gasps of life. Do you see what’s happening around you? This city has no shield, so it’s going to die slowly and painfully. I know you care about some of the people in this town and I can respect that.” He motioned for the taller man to move on Will. “But this city is screwed and we have to leave before we go down with it.”

The large man, a sergeant, was a very fast man for his size. He tackled Will and had him in a bear hug before he even knew what hit him. “We have a private who is preparing a vehicle for our departure.” He told Will who was struggling to free himself from the man’s massive frame.

“You will be taken care of in Tidal Pool. I promise.” Gessler said, he fired a flare skyward, illuminating the city. “You’re just going to have a little chat with our boss.”

Will’s face turned blue and he felt like he was going to pass out. He felt light headed and dizzy. He needed to get free from the large man’s grasp or he was done for. He heard a car drive up to them. Their ride had arrived.

“I have a plan…” Will choked out.

“Oh yeah? And what’s that?” Gessler asked sarcastically. Will retorted by flinging the private from the car and into Gessler’s face. Gessler groaned and, when he attempted to stand, was immediately hit once more. This time the sergeant’s body collided with his own, knocking him and the private back to the ground. Will clutched the medallion, still unsure as to why it hadn’t worked earlier when he tried to use it. Still, he was thankful that it saved him now, he hoped it would let him save someone important when the time came. He noted the artifact’s dim glow before glancing over at the RF soldiers’ ride. The soldiers might have helped him out again.

The humming was louder now, he heard it even over the sounds of combat. The western gate wasn’t too far off and Lily’s house was around there. The quills weren’t coming down as thick now. Although he still saw silhouettes of the chimera every time ether was discharged into the sky. He hoped the battle was going well in the peoples’ favor. He clutched his medallion closer.

Will dodged cars, both moving and deserted as he traveled along the dirt road. He thought he hit a few of the camouflaged creatures along the way but didn’t have time to get out and investigate. Not that he would, even if he did have the time.

Will slammed on the brakes as hard as he could. Before him the car’s headlights were catching nothing. It as if the light had been swallowed up. The humming was loud now, painful too. He also noted the pile of human parts around the blob of inky darkness so Will decided to, for once this night, not run directly into the danger. He got out of the car a solid 30 feet away and aimed his pistol. He backed up, hoping not draw the ire of… whatever he was looking at. His plan was to get the hell out of there and head around the creature to Lily’s house. That was actually the entirety of his strategy. His uncle had always been the planner. Everything fell apart moments later when ether split through the creature’s body.

“What the hell?” He cried out. Dodging more bolts of searing energy. Two men had gathered on the other side of the shadow and had started firing at the creature. Their shots were ineffective and led to Will hitting the dirt for cover. Orange brightly-lit globes appeared where the creature’s eyes would have been. One of the men got a lucky death: several quills found their mark in his head. They stabbed down through the skull and into his brain, killing him instantly. The other man was not so fortunate. The shadow started shrieking violently. The noise pierced through Will’s skull, it was the worst thing he had ever heard in his entire life. Despite the commotion erupting around him that sound was the only thing he could hear at that moment. This was a blessing in disguise, because he didn’t have to hear the man getting ripped literally into ribbons. The shadow’s edges looked living, like a flock of birds only much sharper. A large tendril pierced the man’s body and when it came into contact with the shadow his body was no more.

Will got to his feet and ran in the opposite direction as fast as he could. The noise had reverted back to a loud hum but the creature was now pursuing him. It wasn’t moving very quickly but it didn’t matter. Will was stopped in his tracks when chimera landed right in front of him.

“I have the shittiest fucking luck…” he muttered, hating his life at that moment. Will fell backward, his pistol drawn at the two headed beast. Another one landed behind it. They took their time, closing their distance on him. It was almost like they were taunting him. He opened fire to little effect. The beasts were in pain, but the damage was superficial. Nicole was always a better shot.

Just as Will was ready to accept death and see his loved ones again, the chimeras exploded. Bloody chunks of meat rained down upon Will, covering him in a stench that almost made him wish he had died after all.

“That one’s down! That one’s down! Move up! Move up! We have to drive them back through the west gate!” Will heard a woman shout. Four figures appeared before him.

“We have a live one!” A man shouted. “Do you have a weapon?” Will nodded his head.

“Oh false alarm guys.” He knew that voice. “I’m actually about to kill this one.”

“Lily!” Will got to his feet. He wasn’t alone anymore. Or surrounded by dead people. This was a plus.

“Where did you run off to asshole?” She scowled. The other three marched forward. She mouthed more words of anger but they were all drowned out by the shrieking. Will turned around just in time to watch three people get pureed right in front of him.

“What the fuck?!” Lily shouted, blasting the creature to no effect. “Got any plans Will?” Her pleas were answered when a car flew straight through the creature, again to no damage.

“I think I’m out of ideas now.” He panicked.

“You suck, Will.” She retorted. The creature was almost within murdering distance. The two turned and ran. They didn’t get far. Three hellhounds from the adjoining street had moved in to cut off their escape.

Lily blew them away with several blasts to each of their faces. This was followed up with her collapsing to the ground, blood trickling out of her abdomen.

Will saw a shimmer and knew another one of the concealed creatures had been the culprit. He shot it several times but the creature remained. Lily finished the job with her own weapon, although the creature collapsed onto her. The humming became shrieking as Will’s attention was once again drawn to the burning orange eyes of the shadow.

Will was unsure what to do. Could he move the creature off of Lily and they could flee to safety? Could he drag her out from under it? The beasts would most certainly destroy the town but at least Lily would still be alive. Dammit why couldn’t he do anything to stop this? He fired a bullet at the creature, hoping that somehow it would work. It didn’t.

More cars and bits of building collided with the creature who was now shrieking loud enough to give Will a migraine. Nothing worked. Will dropped to his knees, tears began to roll down his face as his frustrations came to a head. There was only one solution he could think of: abandon Lily and save himself. He couldn’t accept that. He would rather die.

He cursed under his breath. He ripped the medallion from around his neck and squeezed it as tight as he could. He said a short prayer in his mind, hoping that somehow the medallion would give him a way out of this. Still the shadow advanced and a long tendril extended from it. Will was a dead man, or he should have been anyway. The tendril paused mere inches from Will’s face.

To his surprise the creature had stopped in its tracks. Its eyes glowed brighter and were stretched wide. The high pitched shrieks were even louder and more painful now. Will watched as the creature became larger and larger, its eyes wider and wider. Soon the creature was as large as the whole city block. It was a great, dark wall in front of him which he could not see past. Then the darkness in front of him slowly began to dissipate. The creature continued to get larger and larger, but the darkness was thinner and thinner. Finally when it looked like the entire sky was blotted out, the shadow evaporated. The noise stopped. Will fell to the ground.

The ether beasts were retreating, but he paid them no mind. He had something more important to take care of. He hunched over Lily’s fallen form. With great strain he pushed the beast off of her. She was pale and unmoving. Blood gushed out of her stomach at an alarming rate. He pressed his hands into the wound in a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. Crimson leaked through his fingers. His mind raced. This couldn’t happen again. He begged for the medallion to lend him its power, for any kind of help. It granted his request.

He put forceful compression in and around the wound with the medallion’s power until the bleeding stopped. Lily’s eyes shot wide for just a moment and she gasped painfully before lulling back into her semi-conscious state. She was far from okay, but the worst was over. Will inhaled a sigh of relief.

Will heard villagers approaching. Cautiously surveying the situation. He signaled them for help. They came to his side and he explained the situation. They would take care of Lily for now. Will would be at her side soon but for this moment he was being drawn west.

He felt like he had just ran a fifty mile marathon and celebrated by staying awake for a week straight. He had never felt this exhausted before, but he felt compelled to follow the ether beasts’ westward retreat. It was with great strain and effort that he dragged himself to the western gate. The gate had been blown inward along with a large section of wall. It was a far different scene than what he saw at the east gate. He forced his tired, worn-out body to keep marching as fast as he could.

Chimeras flew overhead, ignoring his presence. Their westward voyage curved south. The sun was rising now, an orange hue began to creep across the skyline illuminating the rest of the world. Hellhounds were fleeing in packs that were easily large enough to continue the fight. Why were they running? He retrieved some binoculars from his rucksack and scanned the horizon. At the very edge of his sight something that made his jaw drop.

A thick line of darkness crept slowly over the world: more of the shadow creatures. A lot more, in fact. Will dropped the binoculars and fell to his knees. He had to warn everyone in town. Hell he had to warn everyone in the region, not even Tidal Pool would be safe. But he was so exhausted, so weary. The last thing Will saw were the creatures coalescing together and blotting out the western sky. He wasn’t sure if it was real or if he had dreamt it because he could no longer keep his eyes open or his mind alert.

 

Will awoke handcuffed in the back of an armored personnel carrier. Warrant Officer Gessler, the sergeant, and the private were in the front seat. He saw thin strip of reinforced glass that counted as the vehicle’s windshield. They were at Tidal Pool. The proto-seed’s gates had opened, and they were going underground into the seed. Will’s first thoughts were of Lily. Her village was about to be decimated. He wasn’t sure any place was safe. He had to do something but he felt so groggy and weak. He tried to throw the men with his mind to escape, but ended up shutting his eyes once more.

 

On the other side of the seed Clarence Townsend had returned to see the completion of the seed’s shields. Unaware of catch his soldiers had made and of the dangers looming over the horizon.