Copyright © 2016
by Nathan M. Hurst
Blood. He had always been weak in the sight of blood, but things change. It was the silence which he had not expected, the peace he felt within. Elevated above the throng the breeze through his outstretched arms and fingers was chill enough to tingle and excite his bare skin, the setting sun warm enough to light the inside of his closed eyes with an orange-yellow glow. It was almost blissful. Lingering in the sensation he let the worries of the last few hours pass him by.
As the anticipation grew the tension in his body increased. Sinew and muscle rigid under tension, knuckles white as he gripped tightly to the liberated weapons at his disposal. The katana he had won in a duel with an exotic looking daemon, crystal blue eyes and athletics which almost ended him. He had been lucky, toppling his opponent from the top of an apartment block, the sword dropped as the beast grabbed for the ledge and a last desperate chance of life. His second weapon was more makeshift, a 4.5lb lump hammer picked up from a garage brawl, a weapon of opportunity which to him had become a talisman to his continued survival, his success.
They called him Red. It was a joke which had transposed itself from some comedy zombie movie onto him through the word of his peers. Starkiller101 and Alien8 had both spread the word and posted his exploits around the world. In some way he believed the hype, he was good at what he did, it was the way he earnt his way and brought in the crowds.
It had taken time. Surviving in this dystopian world of daemons, dust and the haunted was part of him, something he was born to. He had an affinity to the pace of the world and to life and death, the rhythm of things was simply something he was tuned into. It was what kept him alive, what kept people interested, how he perpetuated his addiction.
Opening his eyes and looking down into the massed beasts below, his heart rate peaked and the exhilaration rushed as he fell. His graceful rotation ended in a full and solid landing, knee and foot planted, hammer forced forward for the first killing, crushing blow. The daemon ceased howling and lay still as life evaporated from its body.
Leaping in confusion the others wailed and fell back from the force of the first assault. He had the initiative, it would be used to full effect. The katana moved almost imperceptibly through the air, sucking life from all those it passed by, screams and anguish driven from its victims. The beat of his heart raced and was accompanied by the grating thrum of bass and guitar sounds, another and another terror fell to the roar of triumph in his own voice.
Others fell from the skies to join him, his friends among them, but they were sorely outnumbered. What they lacked in numbers they would have to make up for in skill, endurance and tenacity. The goal they were all striving for was ahead, a beacon above all in the arena. The Warp Tower stood before them emanating pure evil and hate. It was written that only the purest warrior, the keenest intellect, the purest spirit could reach and destroy the Warp Tower and bring the age of evil to an end. Horror could be stopped if only the bravest could endure the trials. He and those with him had endured, they had survived, and now the final story would be told.
The group were well disciplined. Taking a short slicing motion with his katana another monster took its last breath, a flash of light to his right and one of Alien8’s phosphor grenades blossomed brilliant white and engulfed five more as howling rage was heard above the melee from the dying. Marching forward they aimed for the tower but the throng around them grew more dense and before too long they were enclosed and fighting back to back, the momentum of their attack lost.
They had been here before, they had discussed their strategy and planned for this point in the endeavour. They put it into action.
At the designated moment Starkiller101 lashed out and hollered at the top of her voice, a high pitched yet forceful jab to his heightened awareness that it was his time. Looking to the left he had been keeping a note of the position of one of the derelict buildings. They had worked out that if they could sneak someone into the structure there was a route up the embankment to the base of the tower which was almost completely under cover and out of the sight of the massing hoard. While the others battled on, the sneak could potentially obtain access to the Warp Tower and complete the quest.
It was tantalising. It was time.
Slaying the creature immediately in front of him, two others fell to his left as rapid gunfire from Alien8 dropped them where they stood. His exit was clear, he took his chance and sprinted for the shadowy doorway ahead. Before he reached the door an explosion from behind lifted him from his feet, knocked the air from his lungs and launched him tumbling at speed to the wall inside the doorway. He was swallowed by darkness.
It was disorienting. He didn’t know how much time had passed while he slowly pulled himself together. He shook his head to clear his vision. There were lights and movement to his side framed by the broken rectangle which was the doorway, however, there was a dark creeping silence which ran counter to the world he was seeing. Using the wall for support he pushed his way to a shaky standing position making sure to stay within the shadow of the dim light outside. Then he slunk off into the depths of the ruin to track his way to his prize.
Stumbling through the darkness he bumped into items, furniture strewn across the broken building abandoned by its owners, splintered and shattered in the dust of desolation. Falling to his knees he suddenly realised how concussed and confused he had become, on all fours in the darkness he tried to identify his hands on the floor amongst the jumble of junk he had fallen on. They looked almost skeletal and empty. Empty? He must have dropped his weapons in the doorway. He silently cursed himself and began to look around for alternates while at the same time working his way through the building. Distance between him and his pursuers would give him time to think.
Time plays games with you in the dark. It extends and stretches out making every second seem like a minute, every minute and hour. Sounds returned to him. Men shouting and calling out, words that made no sense but barked in urgent conviction. Heart pounding in his ears and breath heavy his hands searched out before him in a vain hope for tools, for something, anything which would double as a weapon he could apply to his defence. Finding a work surface in the darkness he began to move his hands across horizontally, just off the surface using what senses were available to him in the moment.
Voices again. Closer this time, a flash of light across a window miraculously intact after all this area had undergone. The bombardment, the infantry action, the airstrikes, the drone strikes, the only thing they appear to have not yet done was to drop a nuke on the place. But then, that might not just kill the defenders, it might eradicate the prize, and that would not do. How would they learn the origins of the tower or understand and learn it’s dark technologies if they simply obliterated it. He was expendable but a precision tool, and once done, the prize would be greater power and knowledge. The drive was primal, the urge was human. He would do this task over and over until the goal was achieved.
Only things were off kilter.
He found what he wanted, in fact he had got lucky, he had found a block of knives. He must be in an old dwelling trawling through the kitchen, it would account for the work surface and knives. Without his sight he pulled the two largest, one wide and long, the other serrated.
The light flashed across the window again and he dropped to the floor below the sight of the lower sill. His back to the window, curled into a sprung loaded squat he was tense and on edge. Now aware that the search for him might be pushing up behind him through the ruins of the building his only hope of getting to the Warp Tower was to move. The far door was open and he could see a way back out into the night. At least out there he would have options, in this kitchen he was pinned. If he was discovered here, the fight would be quick and deadly. Ultimately, he was in a tactically poor position. He needed to be outside, he needed higher ground.
Staying low and making his way round the kitchen space to the cover just before the exit he stopped, heart pounding hard making all sounds obscure and difficult to identify, he began to judge his escape.
Blue lights strobed from somewhere, bouncing off walled surfaces and sporadically illuminating the scene making eerie shadows of jagged human motion as his pursuers closed in. A great mass suddenly blocked all light from the doorway, silhouetted by the strobe the bulk of a legion soldier appeared larger than life, menacing and deadly. He took the initiative from his place of hiding and uncoiled like a viper to strike at the enemy. If he was fast and accurate it wouldn’t matter how big his opponent, the fight would be over before it started. The blades catching the light glinted and whirled crimson lines across the ceiling and wall. A shot barked out from the soldiers sidearm as it fired wildly in reaction.
Crying out in startled surprise the soldier fell backwards into the courtyard, trying to obtain some distance and draw aim at his attacker. But staying close to his prey, was the key. Knocking the stricken man to the floor he dispatched him with a few more wicked puncturing actions. He was always surprised at the amount of damage the human body could receive and yet continue to function. Knives were a slow, the wounds horrific, but ultimately bags of water would bleed out, death was inevitable. As the life slipped from the grounded man the mix of blood with the dirt creating an oil slick of blackness.
Breathing ragged with the exertion, the adrenaline pumping round him caused an almost constant exhaustion, it had spiked his physical capability but the flip side was that it left you drained. He looked down at the dead man, eyes glazed and distant, snakes of black blood working their way to the pools on the ground. It would have been quicker but the armour had been everywhere, it had meant many of his blows were deflected or blunted. His eyes were drawn to the letters jumping out in the darkness, white and bold. ‘POLICE.’
“I said drop the knives! Now!” A voice to the side yelled in strained alarm.
His world collapsed about him. Now standing the garden about him was familiar, his garden, the shrubs, the car parked in the driveway. But where had the Legion gone, the Warp Tower? He searched the skyline, the apartment block opposite dark and blocky in the moonlight against the background of the local church, the tower, the spire high and pointing an accusing finger.
“What have you done!” the voice to the side continued. “Oh, Gees! Al! Al?”
Other voices reported back, the Police radio chatter was now obvious, the urgent tones of instructions and commands, trying to calm the tension in the situation from afar. The radio on the shoulder of the prone officer chattering to seemingly reanimate a lifeless corpse.
“Gees Bob, he killed Al!” More chatter from the radio.
Stepping back the cloud of confusion permeated his mind, the Full Immersion Alternate Reality QL system was top of the line. It had cost him six month’s salary. The game ‘The Warp Tower’ was the best on the market, networked to others the experience was without measure, it was totally real. It was real. He had lost himself. There had been warnings, those with a propensity to delusional or psychotropic states were warned against its use, but the experience when he had trialled the system was so vivid, so real he had been sold on it. It was an escape, from his job, his world and his life. It was an escape to a place where he was elevated, superior, a hero. Others raised him up and showered him in adulation. Fighting the massed hordes of the Legion was something he seemed a natural at, born to do. He had been awarded medals, gifted every more advanced weapons, but he still came to rely on his favoured katana and hammer. It was effective, it was certain.
Unlike now. Now that was all over, the real world had intruded. His anger began to rise. Why had the real world broken the spell, taken his world away. His reality was where he wanted to be. He turned to the officer speaking with a croocked neck into the radio on his shoulder, he was taking the world away, cut the power or something. Whatever it was he would pay for taking away what now defined him, his world and his friends.
The officer was young, his gun hand shaking while his other hand worked the radio, calling for backup, calling for a medical team. The tension and wobble in his voice giving away his nervousness and weakness.
Like a wildcat stalking its prey, he started to circle the officer, crabbing to the side while taking a firm grip on the knives in his hands. His focus was complete, there was nothing else, and down the scope of his vision the Legion soldier prepared to defend himself. He had not yet lost a fight one-on-one with any soldier of the Warp Tower and it wasn’t going to happen now.
He roared in his attack.
Two quick barks from the soldier’s sidearm spat fire in the dark.