The group's car runs out of gas and they meet a strange man. The search party takes a visit to an abandoned factory.
Dexter surveyed the wreckage of the Wellington Robotics plant. All of the windows were shattered. The west wall had crumbled. Holes had started to form throughout the roof. Broken glass and other debris littered the area.
He had spoken to the employees of the Laboratory of the Mind and Plant Empire. None of them had much to offer, all saying the attack was a complete surprise to them. They exchanged phone numbers and he left as clueless as he arrived. Florence had nothing of use until a contact informed him that a "Hummingbird" plane had departed Remnant Rock shortly before the entire facility was reduced to rubble. It was not a planned evacuation: those had already occurred by sea. The plane was headed in the direction of Aiola when last observed.
This was priceless information, but Dexter thought he could do Florence one better. He noted that security software at a Wellington Robotics plant near Skipton could give them Chris' last known coordinates. It was not guaranteed to still be active, but its location deep within the facility's central core meant scavengers were unlikely to come across it.
"So this is it?" Lisa asked.
The group stood in front of the Wellington factory, Lisa at the helm of them, wearing a black beanie and dressed in a dark blue top and worn black jeans. She held a silver canteen in her hand.
Among the decaying ruins of the factory, the band of travelers heard nothing but an eerie silence. The middle part of the building had completely collapsed, and the walls that remained standing were very charred. Surrounding the large door the group was looking for were many boarded-up windows. The smokestacks on top were long defunct, and much debris was surrounding it as a whole.
"Yep," Dexter said. "This is it."
"This scene depresses me," Savannah said. She stood behind Lisa and surveyed the ruined factory in front of them. She wore a dark coat and had her hands in the front pockets.
"Are you sure what we're looking for is still here?" Lisa asked, looking back at the group.
"Yeah," the roboticist responded. "It looks pretty bad from the outside, but I doubt the central core has been ransacked. It was built to last."
Jordan tugged at his red jacket, adjusting it tighter around his small shoulders. His right foot was firmly placed on a small piece of the broken wall that was no larger than a dinner plate. "Well, let's not get our hopes too high up. But.. whatever you say."
"Well, let's go in already," Savannah said. She marched up to the door, or the remains of the door, and turned the doorknob. It wasn't easy, as the door was old and the hinges were rusty. After struggling for several seconds, Savannah managed to open it. She looked back at the group and smiled. She then turned and walked in, the others following.
The lights flickered back to life. A ruined lobby could be seen. The insignia of Wellington Robotics remained above the reception desk, albeit faded from age.
Dexter pointed to a hallway on the left. "I'm pretty sure that's the way to the core."
He began down the path, the others following close behind. Despite Dexter's assurance that the core was likely still intact, the interior initially appeared just as battered and ruined as the outside.
Florence, a scruffy blonde gentleman in a blue overcoat and fedora, surveyed the factory. A beaten-down reception area with beams from the roof above impaling the desk and jutting out of the floor. The private investigator mumbled to himself, "Nice place you got here, Andy..."
Jordan slightly strayed away from the group, looking into a room titled "Employee Living Quarters." Inside were several tables and beds knocked over, along with empty bookcases. "Hm, looks like this place has been looted. Be careful, who knows what we could run into here," he stated, hurrying back to the group.
"I thought that was obvious," Lisa commented.
The group continued through the ruins, finding much of the same for some time. Eventually, they began to come across a strange assortment of items: clothing, unopened cans of food, bedsheets, a notebook. Dexter retrieved Baptiste's pistol from his pocket, in case the potential inhabitants of the abandoned factory proved hostile.
Aaron stepped past Dexter, holding his weapon in his two hands. A long, strange metal rifle with a glass shell behind the barrel, identifiable as an Alchemilia coilgun. "Looks like a catwalk through that door. It'll be a long fall down. We should go one at a time."
"I think that's a good idea," Savannah said. "I'll go ahead and open the door."
She walked up to it and opened it. The group went through the door and onto the platform before the catwalk. The room was big and empty, debris everywhere, the floor was littered with broken parts, most of them charred and black. The catwalk was long and looked unstable. The group exchanged uncomfortable looks. One by one, they stepped onto the catwalk and walked across. It creaked at the weight of their steps. Savannah made the mistake of looking down. Aaron was right, she thought, it is a long way down. They managed to get to the other side, unharmed.
A man in the corner quivered. He appeared to be of Halan descent, he wore a green hoodie and ripped denim jeans. His hair was black with red tips, and he stood up slowly. "Are you guys here to evict me...?" he stammered. "I'll grab my st—"
Florence turned on his heel, his posture stiffening as he heard the man. "Ah!" He smiled, shooting a worried glance at his compatriots. "You wouldn't happen to, uh, know your way to the central control station of this place, sir...?"
"Oh, uh, right this way." The man led them down the catwalk and down a ladder to the ground.
"I'm deeply sorry for my appearance. Who are you guys? I'm Hiroshi Ueno, by the way. I, uh, live here."
"Nice to meet you, I'm Savannah," Savannah said to Hiroshi and smiled. "And they are Lisa, Jordan, Carnation, Wellington, and Fontaine." She pointed at them and the group, except Lisa, muttered hellos.
"Cool? So what are you all doing here?" Hiroshi asked.
"Just looking around," Savannah replied. "We heard about this place and wanted to see what the big deal was about. Have you been here long?"
"Well, a few months. You see, I'm a Nephilim, a half-angel, and people in Skipton don't take nicely to my kind... so. I grew up there, too. Yeah. I'm here now, I guess. I've been trying to get a job but no one wants to take me," he sighed, running his fingers through his spiky red and black hair. "Once these started showing," he turned around, revealing a small pair of wings sprouting from his hoodie, "I started getting all kinds of hate."
"So... you're one of them," Lisa said. She turned away from the man and whispered slowly to the others. "It would be wise to keep your guard up now, who knows what he'll do."
"Don't say things like that, we know nothing about him," Jordan replied.
Aaron's calm demeanor shifted, as his hands tensed on his rifle, "You know... My wife almost died to y'all in the raid three months ago. My son died in the womb because of y'all."
"I'm sorry for your loss, man," Hiroshi said, "but that wasn't us. Nephilim aren't angels. We aren't the bad guys. We are constantly hated upon for being what we are."
"You haven't faced the suffering that we have for three fuckin' centuries." He spoke, his voice becoming colder.
"What are you talking about?" Hiroshi asked the man, backing up a step.
Florence put his hand on Aaron's shoulder, shooting him a sharp glance. "Come on, let's just finish what we, uh, came here for."
"Alright, man," Aaron responded, stepping back to let Florence take the lead.
"Wait, what did you all come here for?" Hiroshi asked again.
"We believe there's something in the central core that could help us locate a missing android," Dexter explained.
"If you want help, I can take you to the building's caretaker," Hiroshi replied. "You'll find them at the core. They help with repairs and whatnot."
Hiroshi took the party through the long hallways of the facility. Concurrent with their progress towards the central core, they noticed the walls and rooms were becoming less ruined and untidy. Repairs had been made, and a particular section of the wall appeared to have been entirely repainted.
When they finally reached the core, the fully-intact doors slid open to reveal a man with a broom casually sweeping. Likely the caretaker Hiroshi had spoken of, he had neatly combed red hair and light brown eyes. He wore a dark blue jumpsuit with the Wellington Robotics insignia on its top left.
The man turned towards the group and began to speak in a monotone voice. "Greetings, humans. I am Wellington Robotics Android #1, also known as Charles. How can I be of assistance? Please offer your names."
Dexter regarded Charles for a moment. He turned back to the other party members, grinned smugly, then turned back. "I'm Dexter Wellington. I and my friends want to use this facility's systems to locate Android #9, who's currently missing.
"Wellington Robotics Android #9, otherwise known as Chris," Charles replied, processing Dexter's words. Going to the tracker, he input "Wellington Robotics Android #9." After waiting a few minutes, the result popped up on the tracker. "Android #9's last known coordinates were on the old Wellington farm in 19 TP."
"19 TP?" Savannah said, "that was centuries ago. Do you have any recent coordinates of Android #9?"
"I am not programmed to give that information," Charles replied.
"Alright. Can you get me a spudger?" Dexter sighed. "You all might want to look away while I do this. I'm gonna be opening up Charles' head."
A half-hour passed. Dexter had connected a wire from the back of the android's exposed metal head to a computer terminal. From there, he could break through the multiple layers of security for direct access to the internal files.
He searched for anything on Chris: there was no tracking information past 1 TP, but there were a few videos. Each was titled "MEM: Training" followed by a date. Out of curiosity, Dexter opened one.
In the video, a dejected man, clearly Andrew Wellington, was entering his lab, where his androids were laying motionless against the wall. Andrew appeared strange-looking for a man in his 30s, his red hair already turning gray in some patches and he had a lined face. There were 9 androids against the wall, with some resembling humans exactly and others being more generic. 4 of the androids appeared to resemble women and 5 resembled men. Andrew turned his attention to the shiniest android, somewhat short with brown hair, blue eyes, a red jacket, and dark jeans.
"Android #9," Andrew said. "Your name is Chris. I am your father. Your goal is to hunt down this man-" Andrew whipped out a picture of Gabriel Alchemilia. "With your brothers and sisters, including Charles. Charles, awaken."
"Yes, Father," Charles replied in his monotonous voice, sitting up at the sound of his name.
"Do I have any upcoming activities?" Andrew asked.
"Yes, Father," Charles replied, ripping a calendar off of the laboratory wall and reading it. "You have to get some more food."
"Good, good," Andrew replied. "Charles, I will leave you in charge of waking up your brothers and sisters."
"Yes, Father," Charles said. "Caroline, Cheryl, Chris, Hannah, Hayden, Helena, Liam, awaken."
"Yes, brother," The other androids replied in unison.
Charles took out Andrew's punching bag. "Punch!" The other androids took turn punching the bag. Charles then took out a ball and said "Kick!"
However, things began to get out of hand with the androids from that point. Caroline kicked the ball out of the lab, with the other androids scrambling after her. Chris ended up taking the ball, but would not give it back to Caroline and instead ran outside, only to fall into a ditch. Suddenly, Chris' watch began to beep. The other androids began to beep as well, and some of them turned their limbs into weapons.
"Trap for Alchemilia activated. Time to annihilate." The other androids all said together, walking single file out of the lab.
"Error...error...no human DNA detected in impact site," Charles said. "Must search whole area." The androids walked back into Andrew's lab and began destroying walls, except Charles.
Charles stood at the ditch and used his strength to try to fling Chris away, unable to recognize him due to the trigger mechanism. Chris, however, was also affected by the trigger mechanism, and the two android brothers began fighting. This fighting continued until Charles threw Chris into the lake near the lab. "Threat annihilated," Charles went back into the lab but was interrupted by Andrew's return. "The store was all out of my materials, but..." He then noticed the lab in disarray and Chris not among the other androids.
"What the hell did you damn droids do?" Andrew asked angrily. "I made you to destroy Alchemilia, not ruin everything I have ever done!" Andrew then noticed Chris in the water and fished his body out. Walking over to Charles, Andrew said. "Charles, I disqualify you from my service. Your final mission is to go to the factory where you were made, and never come back here again."
That's all they were for? Dexter thought. All these sapient machines were meant to do was track and kill one man.
He closed the window and went back to the parent directory. Dexter looked around a bit longer for anything related to Chris only to again come up empty-handed. He turned his attention to the control interface, which was unsurprisingly protected by a dedicated firewall.
Another hour passed as he switched between watching the memory files and attempting to break into the control interface. When the firewall was finally put out of its misery, he found the settings were much more primitive than those used by Alchemilia. Dexter thought of how long he had spent designing the Lepton series' ownership failsafes as he swapped out the name and identification photo of Andrew with his own.
Instead of Chris' location, the search party departed with a new member.
The Library of Silivia was quiet and almost empty, a refreshing scene after the clutter of the busy streets. Da and Jocasta were looking for books on the mysterious "Resediennes." So far, they had found very little of interest.
Da set down the book he was reading and turned to Jocasta, who was climbing a rolling book ladder. "So, what happened with the Raiders after I left?"
"Look, Da," Jocasta responded. "You need to let the past die. It's not important what happened."
After a pause, she called out, "I found one."
She came down with a rust-colored manuscript that appeared to be bound by twine and falling apart, and carefully laid it down on the table in front of Da.
Da surveyed the book with interest, running his finger down the spine of it. "It seems to be hundreds of years old. Let's read," he stated, opening it up and flipping through it, the crackle of the pages surprisingly loud.
Flipping through the index, he located the page.
The Resediennes was formed in 5,281 AT by an unknown figure. Some years later, the group was shunned from society and left Silivia. Little else is known about the group.
"More information that was already known," Da commented.
"Why don't we ask her?" Jocasta pointed to a red-haired woman who appeared to be in her mid-forties. She wore a standard library polo and was stocking books onto a nearby shelving unit. "She looks like she could assist us."
They returned the books to their places and walked over to the librarian. Da tapped her on the shoulder. "Miss?"
"Yes? I'm Miss McNamara. How can I help you today?" she replied, placing a book down.
"We are looking for information about the Resediennes. For a report, of course," Jocasta said.
"Well, I wouldn't know much about that subject, but I do know someone who might." She walked over to a desk and grabbed a pen and card and wrote down a name and address. "Go to him if you need further assistance. Have a nice day."
A look of distress and panic fell upon Shen's wrinkled face. He ran down the creaky boards of the worn dock. The sky darkened, gray clouds filled the atmosphere. Bubbles exuded from the murky green swamp around him. He reached the near end of the dock, before hearing a crack.
Beside him, a maroon egg broke, and from it emerged Sunshine dressed in the livery of a Resedienne member. She swam through the algae-filled swamp water. She crawled up onto the rough, mossy wooden boards, wailing. She reeled towards Shen, mumbling.
Then, another egg hatched, followed by two more. Yu, Da, and Tengfei, his son, emerged and followed, dressed similarly to Yu. They lurched towards him on the dock, surrounding him.
"Shen…" they all moaned.
A final egg broke, this one containing his second son, Wen, dressed in an intricate Alchemilia Corporation suit. As they neared closer, they gained volume.
"Shen…" they repeated. "Why did you fail us?"
"Why didn't you tell me, Shen?" Da bellowed.
"Why didn't you save him, Shen?" Yu shrieked.
"Why did you take our son away from me, Shen?" Sunshine howled.
"Why did you leave me, father?" Tengfei cried.
"Why did you fail me, father?" Wen sobbed.
A dark night, Shen sat across from his son, Wen, at a campfire. The two were on moldy logs. Smoke rose in front of them and mosquitoes buzzed around. Wen chuckled and smiled.
Then, from behind, a large beast, a demon-looking figure appeared and grabbed at Wen. It shredded his legs with its sharp talons and ripped his torso as he picked him up. Wen yelled in pain, before the demon shoved him into his mouth, eating him whole.
"Shen... Shen…" a voice sang out. "Are you there, Shen?"
The voice revealed itself to be Sunshine.
Suddenly, Shen rose in his hospital bed, Esperanza, at his bedside checking his monitor.
"Are you okay, Mr. Li?" she asked, clutching a clipboard.
"My family! The-the-the demon and my son, the-the cult…" he babbled.
"It's okay, Mr. Li, calm down. You need your rest."
"Thank you for shopping at Plant Empire and here's a little something extra for coming back," Yu grinned at the customer as she dropped a packet of tea in the bag. She turned back and headed into the laboratory area of the shop, and grabbed an eyedropper. She sucked up some water and dropped it into a potted orchid plant.
Back in the shop, an old woman dressed in an elegant white dress with light sand blue and gold accents walked through the entrance. She had short, white hair styled into a bob and a huge smile on her face. She walked to the counter and rang the bell. Yu came out and, looking up, let out a gasp.
Port City Eight
Only the sound of waves crashing upon each other could be heard. The sky rested in a locked pattern of endless gray. Televisions, solar panels, radios, and other pieces of torn up technology bopped along. Atticus stood on a small, circular metal platform that rocked slightly in the rough waters. Heavy rain beat against his shoulders with the rhythm of a drum as he pulled the hood he wore tighter over his head.
"I'm glad you were able to meet me here." came a strangely familiar voice. Atticus looked around, blinking the droplets of cold rain out of his eyes as he saw a figure staring away at the ocean. "To the heart seeking freedom, this is nothing but a prison surrounded by water." Atticus pulled his hood down with gloved hands, relaxing as he listened to the voice. He felt eager to hear more.
"I'd like to see what lies beyond," he responded.
"Then open your eyes," Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, the rain continued. "Come in from the cold, Atticus — arise, mighty apostle."
Feeling wet drops of snowfall on his face, Atticus opened his eyes to find himself seated in the back of Blackmore's car, alone. Rubbing his eyes, he noticed a somewhat large clearing in the trees around him, with a small fire in the middle of it and the rest of the group sitting around it. Opening the car door, he walked over to them.
"What's going on? Why did we stop here?"
"You're finally awake," Samuel spoke, flipping a large map over. "Car's out of fuel, so you better get ready to start walking again."
Chris, wary around the fire, looked at Atticus. "I'm glad we got out of that mad town. But what now? Are we still going to the ferry?"
"We are," Samuel began. "The situation looks worse than it is. If we are diligent, we'll make it."
Samuel closely examined the map he held in front of him. "Going anywhere but directly north is suicide. We need to go up the continent until we get to the coast. That's when we make it to the ferry and get to Aiola."
"Once we're there, I can get us a car and I know a perfect place for us to go. It's one of the safest places in Aiola, perhaps even Euclid," Li added. He now had his harmonica hanging around his neck with some thread he found in the back of the car. He held his cane in his right hand.
"That's a good idea, Mr. Li," Chris said. "But it's still weird that Melissa's disappeared, I want to find her somehow."
"She doesn't want us to find her," Blossom interjected. "As I said earlier, she wanted us to keep going forward. She is probably dead now anyway."
"Way to be positive," Li commented.
"How can we be positive when it's so fucking cold out?" Marshall whined.
"This world is shaped by those who take action," Samuel explained. "We can't look back on the past. Let's focus on ourselves, and try our best to survive."
Elsewhere in the distance, a figure dressed in tattered clothing appeared, slowly walking out from behind the trees. The figure appeared to be wearing dark goggles and had a scarf wrapped around his mouth and most of his face. The man moved in an awkward and stilted way but was making his path forward. He used a hiking stick to help guide him. The only sounds coming from him were the noise of his boots making an impact on the ground.
Chris noticed the figure standing in the distance, but did not want to call attention to it right away. "Are you sure you guys know the way to the ferry?"
Samuel looked up from the map. "No. It's going to be hard to tell where we're going, especially in this weather. Nobody knows the detours we'll need to take, or we what we might come across. We'll find some help along the way if we're lucky."
The figure kept moving forwards, getting a little closer. As he got closer, he was now a little more audible. He began muttering to himself "Left, right, left, left, right...."
Blackmore, standing against a tree with snow piling on his head and shoulders, broke his silence by throwing a small phone across the clearing and into a rock. "We're fucked. This is the end."
"What?" Blossom asked. "What's wrong?"
Blackmore craned his neck around to look at her. "Are you fucking joking? What's wrong? What's wrong is that we're heading towards the worst blizzard in the last century and we're up shit creek without a paddle. If the cold doesn't get us the Coalition will, and they lead the fucking continent in grisly executions."
"No, Blackmore. I have faith in us as a team. All that training Marshall and Atticus and Chris and Blossom went through for three months certainly were not for nothing. We'll get through this. Sticking together, we can make it to the closest town and get some gas there," Li stated firmly.
"Blackmore, come on," Samuel interrupted. "I think everyone knows the odds are against us right now. We won't get a single thing done by panicking. If you lose faith — then indeed, all is lost."
"We need to get a move on. Blossom, get in the car and set it in neutral. Chris, Blackmore, and I can pull, Samuel, Atticus, and Marshall can push. That way, we can get to wherever we are going with everything we need," Li ordered.
Then from seemingly out of nowhere, the figure from earlier finally approached them, walking around with his big hiking stick. He stood there for a few seconds, picking up his senses. While he couldn't see anyone, he could sense other people's presence. The blind figure then asked and called out: "Is there anybody out there?"
"No, obviously," Marshall replied sarcastically to the man. "What were you saying, Mr. Li?"
"I wish I could, but I cannot see." The figure revealed that he was blind to the group, taking off his goggles and showing that his cataracts were white. "I'm also not that old."
"My name is Chris Wellington and I'm an android," Chris said, holding out his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr-..."
"Chris!" Blossom called out. "Don't be so opening, remember what happened in Headre."
The figure walked up closer to the group, putting his hood down and now directly addressing them. While he could not see what they were doing or what they looked like still, he knew there was more than one person there. "Are you a band of travelers?" He asked. "I am also a traveler myself, however, I have lost my ways..."
"Well, that's something," Samuel told the man. "I guess you're looking for help?"
"Yes...especially after what I've been through." The man replied. He took a step further and nodded, putting his goggles back on. "My name is Zade Santello."
Blackmore looked at Zade and scowled. "We're full."
"Is that so?" Zade replied.
"Guys, now is not the time to be starting arguments," Chris said, feeling both Blackmore and Zade had aggressive tones. "With the car broken, would you know anything we can do to get along faster?"
Zade then backed away a bit. "I'm sorry if I came off as aggressive there, it's just that I don't know where else I can go." He said as he poked his hiking stick onto the ground. "Despite my blindness, I assure you though I am not useless, however. What I lack with eyes, I rely on my senses."
"What do you want us to do?" Samuel asked.
"If you do not wish for me to come along, so be it then. While I would like to assist your group, I readily accept this fate," Zade replied.
"The least you can do is tell me where I can go so that I will be safe. Or at least, as safe it can get around here. However, I must tell you something before I am to wander...beware of the Beast of the Shadowlands." Zade warned.
"What beast?" Atticus asked, stepping towards the front of the group.
"The Beast of the Shadowlands, Atticus," Li repeated.
"Allow me to explain. Beyond from here and further over, there is a place called "The Shadowlands." What roams in The Shadowlands is a small, but vicious demon that few have lived to tell the tale of. And the few that do - never come back the same." The man explained. Zade then coughed, before resuming.
"Details of the creature are often scarce, but from what I recall it has pale, snow-colored skin, dark purple glowing eyes, two long pointed bat-like ears, a large head, very long, rake-like claws and a lanky-looking body. It's not very large, being slightly smaller than a man...but while it may appear weak, it makes up for its sheer stealth, cunning, and speed. It's why I can no longer see..."
Blackmore sat down on a rock, listening. "...So a demon?"
"Yes," Zade answered.
"We're directly in demon territory. As Samuel said, we must head north. If I'm correct, demons aren't the only thing to be wary of around here. All sorts of creatures and plants. My knowledge of Muné is limited, but I hope Mr. Santello can provide us some assistance navigating," Li said.
"That I can manage, despite my apparent condition," Zade said.
The group made it further, eventually coming to a clearing where various pockets of woods and hills filled with snow could be seen. As they approached there, Zade began to speak. "Here is where the beast lurks — The Shadowlands. Beyond here is where an exit lies. I've been told there's a rainbow at the end of this dark tunnel... but I was unable to find it on my own. Here's hoping together, we shall have more luck."
"How large is this area?" Blossom asked, stepping out from the covers of the trees and into the clearing.
"That I am not sure. Even when I had eyes, the Shadowlands always seemed so vast to me, so it is hard for me to measure." Zade replied.
Blackmore shivered in the cold, rubbing his hands together. "Are we going to be able to find our way back? I don't want to leave my car back there..."
"Saving the car is impossible. We must push forward," Li said, fiddling with the harmonica hanging from his neck.
"I may be able to manage that if we end up gone too long," Chris offered.
"Just be careful out here," Zade warned, walking into the Shadowlands with his hiking stick.
The group warily continued into the forest. In addition to the density of the trees, a fog surrounding the area made it hard to see. Some started to feel small pieces of ice hitting their necks as they walked.
Zade walked them past an icy pond surrounded by logs coated in rime. After a brief cough, Samuel spoke. "You think we're getting closer to the beast, Zade?"
"We're getting colder... which in this case, means we are getting closer. The Beast is capable of emitting thick, cold white mist from its mouth to make it hard for others to see so that it can hide within the mist and attack its prey," Zade said.
"It's a blizzard, it's supposed to be cold. Why should we even trust you? You're probably some senile man who wandered away from his forest tribe," Marshall said.
"However, since I can no longer see, this technique does little to me now, other than make it colder." Zade then clutched his hiking stick, grasping it firmly. "Brace yourselves."
Zade replied to Marshall, as he kept walking through the Shadowlands woods. "By 'colder', I wasn't referring to the weather — I'm aware that there's a blizzard out. It's that as we trek further, the atmosphere feels more and more unnaturally chilling and bleak down here. I'm feeling the same sense of uneasiness I had when I first came down here."
Zade took a few more steps, being careful with his steps as he made his way down. As he headed down, however, a quiet cackling could be heard. Zade then stopped moving to hear better.
"...No," Zade then picked up the noise again, hearing it. This time the cackling was a little more audible than before. Zade then staggered back towards the group.
"Guns out. Now," Samuel announced.
"Don't have to tell me twice," Blackmore responded, pulling one of his sub-machine guns from his coat. "You still have the gun I gave you, Atticus?"
"Yeah, I do," Atticus replied, lifting it upwards and into Blackmore's line of view. He placed his hand on the trigger and prepared for Samuel's direction.
Li lifted his cane in a defensive position. "Come on, let's kept going."
Chris got his gun hand into position. "Back up, guys."
Zade then held tight on his hiking stick, raising it like a club. "Now I may be blind, but that doesn't mean I can't recognize danger when I hear it."
The man then staggered back a few feet, getting into a defensive pose. "I helped lead you here, I also have to make sure you all make it out of here, even if it risks my own life."
The cackling grew louder and more booming, before turning into laughter that echoed through the trees. While no creature could be seen yet, something could be heard climbing down from high above the branches.
"Guys, do you think we ought to run?" Chris asked as the noises became even louder.
Then out of the tree branches, a creature leapt down to the ground and landed perfectly on the ground like a cat. While it was still a few feet away from the group, its appearance could be seen clearly. Its eyes glowed dark purple, its arms were as long as its body, with very long sharp claws and pale-white colored skin. It was the Beast of the Shadowlands.
The beast stood there for a bit observing the group, baring its fangs before moving towards them slowly in an unnatural hovering stance.
Blackmore slipped his finger onto the trigger of his gun and began firing directly at the beast's head.
With the beast now in sight, Li lunged at the monster. His cane made sharp contact with the beast's ankles. It yelped before knocking the older man aside in rage.
Blossom, breaking from the group, ran to help the elderly man. "Mr. Li! Are you okay?"
The beast then very swiftly ducked from most of the bullets before getting shot in the leg. Letting out a roar, it leaped onto a tree.
Aiming at the trees, Atticus unloaded a barrage of bullets from his gun and covering the area in a flurry.
The beast then leaped out from the trees, unharmed from his bullets, and threw itself down at the group, swinging its arms and slashing its claws at Atticus' legs. Zade ran up and swung his hiking stick at the beast, causing the creature to sprint away from on all fours. Turning to face the group again, the beast cackled mockingly.
In response, Chris positioned his gun hand and tried to shoot at it as many times as he could.
The beast then danced around a bit, dodging the bullet rounds, before one managed to hit its left arm. The beast yelled in pain, before snarling at Chris. In retaliation, it opened its mouth and released a stream of thick white mist around the area, making it difficult for everyone to see. The beast then ran into the mist, blending in.
"It has summoned its mist — there's no telling what can happen now," Zade warned. While he couldn't see the mist, he could tell it was there due to the sensations around him.
"Guys!" Blossom called out, standing above Li, who was still on the ground. "He's hurt pretty bad! He doesn't think he can stand up. I need help over here."
Samuel ran in Blossom's direction as the white mist slowly thickened. "Come on, let's help him up. We don't have much time."
Hearing Blossom's cry, Marshall ran, dropping the suitcases he was holding. He grabbed Li's cane and took it over to him, hooked it over his arm, and lifted Li's right side.
"You can't do much without a gun," Samuel told the two. "The other three should be able to finish the job. You know what'll happen if it rushes at us though, right?"
"We die," Marshall replied.
Bursting out of the mist, the beast returned, bellowing as it ran towards the trio gathered around Li. Ramming itself against Marshall, it caused him to trip and fall over. With him down, it turned and slashed its claws at Samuel and Blossom. The creature cackled sadistically as it then stepped on Li with one of its feet, baring its fangs as it gave off a wicked smile. Stepping off him, it raised both of its arms in the air, its claws shining.
Zade charged it, swinging his hiking stick around and blindly hitting the monster.
With her gun out of ammo, Blossom used slammed the weapon against the beast's side, throwing it slightly off its course. Taking the chance she had created, she threw herself against it, colliding her shoulder with its body and calling out to the others.
"It's attacking over here now!"
The beast then staggered back hissing and reeling, before Zade came in, batting his hiking stick at the beast's head three times. The beast grabbed Zade, slashing its claws at his legs and, in a feat of strength, hurled him at Chris. The beast then let out a roar and charged up again, ready for the next attack.
Taken aback by Zade landing on him, Chris lifted him off. "Are you alright?" He then turned to the beast and attempted to nail it between the eyes.
"I am hurt...but I'm certain I'll be fine as long as we can make it out of this," Zade rose slowly, the slashes marks on his legs bleeding.
The beast disappeared into the white mist. A few moments passed with nothing happening...before the beast leaped out from its white mist and jumped up high, screeching loudly and preparing to pounce at Chris, coming in very fast and aiming to deliver a killing blow.
As the beast came in for a landing, Chris slapped it hard with all his strength, then shot towards its chest.
The shot blasted straight through its chest, shooting it through the heart and killing the Beast almost instantly. The Beast of the Shadowland's lifeless body then fell onto Chris.
Chris threw off the Beast and looked over at Li, lying unconscious. "Is he alright? I don't know if we should continue without him."
Samuel got up from the ground and walked over to Li. His hands shook slightly as he moved to place two fingers on Li's neck. The others had followed Samuel, watching him intently.
Though it was faint, there was a pulse.
Samuel lifted Li's arms and wrist, looking at them briefly. Li did not respond.
"We have to get medical attention. He has a lot of cuts and possibly a fractured wrist. He's alive, though," Samuel eventually said.
"Where are we going to get help for him though?" Atticus asked. "We're lost out here."
"Nobody can answer that, Atticus," Samuel responded. "Gauzes and bandages are all we can do right now. Fate decides what happens next."
Atticus swallowed a lump in his throat and looked up at the sky for some respite, and his eyes met with a burst of red light that he remembered well. Silhouetted by the blinding crimson in the night sky was a creature. Not a demon, but a limber, winged humanoid. Visions of the angels back in Silivia flashed through his head. Atticus looked down, feeling a headache, to see his comrades all entranced by the same sight.
"There's something I've been keeping from all of you. I put off telling it, always thinking I'd get around to it eventually… that beast made me realize that I don't have forever to keep putting it off."
Magnus was alone in a hospital bed. He could hear nothing beyond the monitor's constant beeps. They were getting slower now, closer to normal. He had accepted his fate. He would stand trial for the confrontation at Manta and Salinger arson. The conviction was inevitable. Magnus could snitch if he wanted a lighter sentence, but no matter how much he gave them he would be locked up.
"I met Gabriel after one of his rallies. He was impressed, asked me if I wanted a job. Back then, I didn't know any better. My father was sick and I was unemployed."
Years ago, Magnus had gotten involved with a girl named Penny Yearling. Neither of them said much about their relationship to their friends or family. Penny was well-off, making good money from Alchemilia Corporation, while Magnus made just over the bare minimum from extra-legal means.
They married during an especially cold month of Plutonis, 300 TP. It was a short, private affair attended only by the bride, groom, and a local minister. Penny did not take Magnus' surname.
In Elos 302, the couple's first and only child was born. He was given the same name as his great-grandfather, Marshall Rooke. The boy was to receive his education from Alchemilia's education androids at Penny's request. For seven years, all was well.
"The job was exactly what I needed. I rose through the ranks, all the way up to executive. That was when I discovered the truth. The unspeakable horror beneath the surface."
A man with a wicked smile and mad glint in his eyes stood over Salinger. The man's companions all had their weapons pointed directly at the police chief, but he appeared to be unarmed. As Salinger desperately begged for his lives of himself and his family, Magnus pulled a bottle and cigarette lighter from his coat pockets. He lit the Molotov and threw it onto the ground.
The next day, the Silivian branch of the Svatovid congratulated themselves on a job well done. Magnus tried to keep his attention on the television while avoiding the noisy revelry of his fellows. The news was about to report on the arson. He needed to see it. If asked, he would say it was because he wanted to know how much the public and police knew. This was not untrue, but seeing his actions reported on as a major story was more important to him.
Before the report even began, there was a breaking news interruption. It was not the Salinger arson, but instead an attack on Remnant Rock. Magnus heard the name of his son as one of the perpetrators.
"I begged Gabriel to put a stop to it. He refused, said the greater good justified some minor evil. Resigning right there and then was the only option."
Penny had been arrested by Alchemilia, who claimed she had organized an assassination attempt on one of their chairmen. There was no trial. She was sentenced to life imprisonment in a company-owned holding facility. Her husband and son were forbidden from visiting. Marshall would be Magnus' sole responsibility to take care of. He would also need to go through public schooling rather than a full android-provided education.
Marshall had vanished in — Socielus? Had it been that long? — with no trace left behind. His father had never expected he would next hear from him after he and his associates (which included the mayor's son, of all people) destroyed Alchemilia's base of operations. He broke down in tears.
He wanted to find his son, wanted to help him and his friends however he could. The boss had only one stipulation before he was out. "A favor for a new friend of ours," he called it. "A simple security job."
"When Fontaine told us we could deal a crushing blow to Alchemilia, I was reminded of something I tried not to think about. The things I saw in my tenure as executive never stopped. This was my chance, I had to take action."
Not for the first time, Magnus wondered whether he would ever see his wife or son again. He went through several possible reunion scenarios before quickly dismissing all of them. It was useless. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
|Season One:||Awakening • White Room • Bare Trees • One Night in Gladea • Divided we Fall • Hide & Seek • Exit Music • Reunion • In Somnis Veritas • Carpe Diem • Ticking Clock • Primo Victoria (Part I • Part II)|
|Season Two:||Until Dawn • Roaming King • Safe Haven • Silver Lights • Marked Map • The Less I Know the Better • Riding the Wave|