267_tid_ruin_still-1-00-27-08.jpg (1200×648) | Post apocalyptic, Fantasy  concept art, Ruins

“It is a strange quality humans possess.  So few of your kind ever seem to wish to accept the inevitable.  Many feel they can stave off what must come naturally.  Yet in the end, they fall just as so many before them have.”  A dark chuckle escaped the thin, emaciated lips of the dark creature that sat upon one of the many stones that had been lain upon the shore of this sacred land.  He could remember vividly the final battle he’d fought upon this shore, the utter betrayal that had been dealt to him.  The wispy form of the shade that had once called himself Raymond Kervin remained silent, the knowledge that his master could simply erase his existence for his failure far too prevalent in his mind at that moment.  A dark chuckle came from the decrepit being that he now bowed to, as though Sivis could read Raymond’s thoughts as they escaped upon the ether.

            “Do not fear my servant.  Know that your failure displeases me, though you still have uses.  Mariah, attend me.”  A feral yowl split the air as the sound of claws clicking upon asphalt came closer.  The dark-furred form of the hellcat loped over to her master as she knelt upon the rocky ground with her head bowed.  Sivis grinned maliciously, knowing full well that the female hellcat would never dare to look him in the eyes.  She was subservient, she was deadly, and she was his to command.  What was better than any of that however was that she didn’t speak, she simply obeyed.

            “You will travel to the city of Shadow’s End, where you will inform my servants there that you are to watch over them in my stead.  In your former people’s tongue this city was known as Longview, such a droll name.  The Chosen will travel there as well, and they already have a day’s march on you.  They however will rest for long periods of time, you my servant will rest far less than this.  You will reach Shadow’s End well ahead of the Chosen.”  Sivis gripped her chin in one hand, pinching her hard enough to make her wince as he grinned even wider. 

            “You know the price of failure servant.  Now go.”  Mariah bounded away as she was released, sprinting hard along the road as she didn’t even pause at the ruined bridge, running straight along the road that wound around the mountainside.  Sivis knew that his scent upon her would warn away the dark predators he knew to lurk within and around the waters.  Turning his eyes back to the lapping waters he closed his eyes, trying hard to banish the memory of his defeat upon this place.  Behind him Raymond quivered slightly as he felt his master’s discomfort. 

            “Find Benjamin, bring him to me.  We will settle upon the other side of the river for now.”  Raymond’s form shimmered slightly as he quickly disappeared, folding himself into the shadows as he left to do his master’s bidding.

                                                *                      *                      *

            “You..do not know…who you are fucking with!”  The word’s boomed from Tyler’s lips as he faced down the lone creature that remained out of the group of ten that had somehow ambushed him and his companions.  They had all fought valiantly but at the end of this fight only Tyler and the final beast, the most powerful of the lot it seemed, remained.  The monstrosity he now faced was well past seven feet tall and bigger than

either Matt or Bear in girth.  Long, heavily muscled arms ended in three fingers, each which sported obviously sharp talons.  It’s legs were thick and heavily muscled as well, sporting three impossibly large claws that Tyler had no doubt could carve him up like a Thanksgiving turkey.  Its head was more like a badly molded lump on top of its neck, the grayish cast of its skin not helping its appearance any.  Two beady eyes that appeared glazed over by cataracts rolled madly in their sockets as the fleshy pieces of skin that lay over its oversized nostrils quivered.  Its mouth spread over the lower half of its head, the teeth that sprouted from its wart-covered gums jagged and far too large for its mouth.

            Its fellows were either dead upon the surrounding grounds or trying to flee on broken limbs, making little headway as they hobbled along.  The beast hunched forward as it roared in Tyler’s direction, spittle and some foul black substance flying from its mouth as Tyler remained impassive.  He focused upon his own body as he could suddenly feel the web of energies that surrounded him and the creature, pulling them closer together by force of will.  The air between the creature and himself shimmered as though a heat wave had suddenly sprung to life despite the cool spring weather.  Tyler’s eyes flashed darkly as he continued to gather the hidden forces towards the spot in front of him, barely paying attention the creature as it snuffled in confusion.

            “Come and play you ugly bastard.”  His taunt went unheeded by the beast as it turned about, the odd prickling upon its body no doubt vexing it as its limited intelligence insisted there was someone else about.  Rolling his eyes even as he grimaced from the strain Tyler growled low in his throat, gaining the creature’s attention as he waved it forward furiously.  He was just barely holding onto the force, his will slipping with each passing second as the tremendous pressure continued to build, threatening to blow back upon him if he didn’t release it soon.  As his eyes narrowed down to slits Tyler saw as the beast strode forward, gaining speed with each step as it spread its arms out wide, its claws flexing with a series of cracks and pops.  He managed to offer the creature a pained smile as he let go, his body bending forward slightly as the tremendous amount of energy he’d gathered went rushing forward. 

            A wave of absolute force slammed into the beast, halting it effectively at first as it then revealed a second and far more brutal effect.  The creature’s flesh began to peel back from its body, flaying away in strips as it then crisped into ash.  Tyler watched with little more than fury in his eyes as the creature was stripped away to nothing, its massive bones peeking through its rapidly dwindling flesh as they blackened as well.  Uttering a savage roar that shook every bone in his body Tyler added his own force to the attack, not stopping until he was forced to his knees by exhaustion.  The creature had by this time been reduced to nothing more than a few remaining claws and a few random, blackened bones. 

            Tyler’s eyes felt heavy as he sagged forward, looking all about him for his staff.  He’d dropped the strange weapon after being viciously attacked by the same creature he’d just slain, though he hadn’t seen where it had landed.  He jumped slightly as a weight suddenly fell upon his left shoulder, gaining his full attention as he placed his hand upon his own staff.  The reassuring weight of his weapon was a comfort as he looked up slowly to see who’d returned the staff to him.  Closing his eyes he twisted his lips as within his head he cursed to himself.

            “Maybe it would be a good idea to make camp here.  And by the way, I’d say we’re getting close to even wouldn’t you?”  Tyler slumped forward as Matt walked slowly away, shaking his head before struggling to his feet. 

            Even as he gained his footing however Tyler was forced back to the ground as a wave of absolute darkness suddenly took hold of him, sending him crashing face first into the ravaged asphalt.  He didn’t even hear the commotion from behind him as his friends collapsed to the road as well.

                                                *                      *                      *

            Far to the north of where the Chosen and their friends lay senseless upon the road, twenty-four individuals lay within the interior of the Space Needle similarly affected.  Among the twenty-four only twenty remained alive, four of them having unfortunately been in the process of cooking a meal for the rest of the group when the darkness had struck.  The smell of sizzling flesh and the strong coppery tang of blood hung heavily upon the air, though none of those who lay sprawled within the dining area noticed.  A few of them twitched slightly as they were plagued by nightmares so horrible that it was a marvel that they didn’t awake from the shock. 

            Three of them in particular dreamt of horrors far too great for them to believe.  The three females that tossed and turned in their imposed slumber were not far from one another, though in their minds each of them experienced horrors that were far removed from the existence they now shared. 

            The dark forest flew by her as in so many of her dreams.  Her breath came in ragged gasps as her lungs burned from constant exertion.  The wind generated by her passage through the wood blew her hair behind her as Analyn ran for no particular reason and in no set direction.  The rich earth beneath her feet felt cool though she felt flush, her blood rushing through her veins like liquid fire as she wished for nothing more than to remain still.

            Calm child.  You may stop.  The raspy voice goosed Analyn, prompting her to increase her speed even as her muscles began to cramp.  She didn’t want to stop as the voice reached her ears, though she knew too well that her body would not obey her for much longer.  Exhaustion had already set in as her muscles began to slowly betray her, growing leaden with each additional stride.  Fear gripped Analyn’s heart as she ground her teeth together in frustration.  This caused a new shock to run through her as she felt needle-like fangs pierce both her lower and upper gums, laying the delicate flesh open like overripe fruit. 

            Analyn stopped then, skidding to a halt upon the slippery forest floor she found herself upon.  A dark chuckle echoed through her surroundings as she brought both hands to her face, feeling the blood that flowed from her ravaged gums as it spilled over her lips.  Fear and disgust replaced her shock as she felt her clawed hands reach her face, further rocking her back as she felt tears begin to build at the corner of her eyes.

            You are mine now child, body and soul. 

            Analyn turned all about quickly, searching desperately for the owner of the voice but finding no one.  Her tears flowed freely as she gasped several times, wanting nothing more than to wake, knowing in her heart that this was only a dream. 

            Her brother had become an animal.  Sareena stood absolutely still upon the dark dreamscape she’d found herself in, unable to move or even blink as she watched the horror of what her younger brother had become.  She’d not seen Tyler in many months, though she’d no doubt of who this crazed young man was that strode about her dream, a bloodied sword in each hand.  Many phantoms had arisen in her dream, ghostly images of many she did not know as well as a few she recognized easily. 

            Sareena tried desperately to cry out as Tyler rampaged about, his darkly handsome features set into an almost emotionless mask as he cut down all that stood in his path.  This was not her brother, it could not possibly be the young man she’d known.  Tyler had always been a bit of a goof, seemingly unable to take anything seriously, but he’d never been this brutal, this ruthless.  He’d always cared for others no matter how flippant he had seemed, his heart far larger than he let on at times.  This creature that cast about, laying waste to the dream figures that rose unbidden upon this gray, swirling landscape that was without feature or form. 

            She wanted nothing more than to fade away, to leave this bleak and barren place where the rampaging form of her brother held complete sway.  Two more dream figures rose from the mists, their faces recognizable as Sareena felt her eyes widen in horror.  Tyler stalked towards them, his blades dripping gore as his eyes blazed with a darkness that chilled Sareena to the bone.  She could do nothing as two of her former classmates fell to Tyler’s blades, their bodies blowing apart upon the impact as they rejoined the bleak, mist-covered landscape. 

            There were no more forms to be seen other than Tyler now, the dreamscape devoid of anything save him, and her.  As he turned to regard her Sareena could see in her brother’s eyes mists that reminded her of the strange fog that had covered the length and width of her home.  She could feel the absolute fury that flowed from him, her breath catching in her throat as the waves of intense anger permeated her every cell.  Her brother was a storm, a fierce elemental that had been allowed to roam free to wreak whatever destruction he desired.  Tears trickled down her cheeks as she watched him stalk closer, his blades held at waist level with their points up.  Tyler was a wellspring of darkness, a deep cavity within the fabric of this reality that seemed to absorb all and give only a contemptuous rage that was somehow contagious.

            Even as the anger continued to wash upon her like a foul wave Sareena could feel her ire rising, her teeth grinding together slightly as she felt her hands close into fists.  There was no reason for her to be angry, though it was beyond her power to quell the sudden emotion.  Narrowing her eyes at her brother she felt little more than sorrow in her heart, though the anger remained, growing in its intensity with every breath.  Tyler was almost directly in front of her when he stopped, staring hard at her as she glared back at him.

            I am coming Sareena.  My friends and I will come on the heels of the storm.  Sareena didn’t fully understand the words, though as he stood in front of her without

attacking she felt a piece of the man her brother had become, a part of the whole that was Tyler.  The rage that had seemed to have become a part of her body slowly subsided, replaced by a warmth that was far more soothing as she visibly relaxed.  As she felt herself begin to calm Sareena’s eyes widened just a bit as behind Tyler she saw several more shapes slowly materialize from the ether.  Each form became recognizable though she knew very well that there were at least a few that should not have been familiar. 

            Keep a weather eye on the horizon sis.  We are coming.

            Brandi saw herself die, over and over as she was killed then brought back to life only to be slain once more.  She couldn’t avoid her fate any more than she could stop the rain from falling, though she tried each time to delay or even stop the inevitable.  In this crazed dream she wielded a weapon unlike anything she’d ever handled before.  If nothing else this proved that the horrid visions she now experienced were a dream.  Brandi had never held anything more dangerous than a carving knife in her hand, so the appearance of a four foot long blade in her two-handed grip was a sure sign that she was not grounded in reality at the moment.

            Thankfully she felt that even though she was not in control of this chaotic and terrifying dream she was in control of herself.  It was very much like an out of body experience as she watched herself do battle with a being that was nothing more than a walking shadow.  Its body was that of a humanoid, though there were no features to tell if it had perhaps once been human or not.  In the last year Brandi had seen just as much as anyone, witnessing the horrors that had been birthed by the Darkfall, the catastrophic, planet-wide sickness that had claimed everything that had once been.  Newscasts reporting upon the spread of the gigantic swarm of rubbery tentacles that had destroyed nearly everything in their path had ended abruptly after only two weeks as the few survivors within the Space Needle had been forced to guess at what had happened.  Then the nightmare had truly begun.

            The shadow danced to Brandi’s left as she watched her arms move, trying to bring the edge of the heavy blade in her hands down upon its head.  It proved to be too swift however as she felt a burning line of pain suddenly erupt along her midsection.  Her knees buckled then as she fell roughly to the ground beneath her, its rough surface biting past her jeans to gouge cruelly at her flesh.  She was still grimacing when she felt a stinging sensation upon the right side of her neck, the feeling spreading in a circle around her entire neck as the view she’d been afforded suddenly fell away as her sight shifted to the left.  A warm and very wet fluid trickled down her front as her head hit the ground with a harsh thud.  Brandi closed her eyes as a sudden realization washed over her; she’d been decapitated.  Even as the true horror began to set in she closed her eyes, prepared to scream in denial. 

            Upon opening her eyes however Brandi found that she was no longer lying upon the ground, but was standing erect and facing the onrushing shadow once more.  The heavy blade in her two hands felt even heavier as she realized that she was about to die yet again.  The thought of how she would meet her end this time sent small icy shivers through her veins as she quickly tried to remember every action movie she’d ever

watched.  Maybe, just maybe if she could remember something it might help, though she highly doubted it.

                                                *                      *                      *

            In the darkness, something stirred.  The shadows seemed to cringe away from the large form that dominated the interior of the vast subterranean dwelling.  A low rumble shook the walls of the cavern as the great beast came awake, its deep amber eyes opening slowly before closing once more.  The passage of time had done nothing to wither away the creature’s body or mind, though it had been countless millennia since it had been interred in this place, a captive held in place by those that had created it. 

            A terrible intelligence lurked behind the amber gaze of the beast, though it was the intelligence of thousands of years before, not the present day and time.  Still, it was enough for the creature to realize that something had changed.  It had been a rather long passage of time since it had last felt something akin to what it experienced now, though back then the bonds lain upon it had been far too strong to break.  Even now it would take a concentrated effort to batter down the eons-old barriers that had been set upon its form. 

            It could sense the presence of other sentient beings, little more than simple savages, that inhabited the maze of tunnels and natural caverns beyond this one.  They were natural parts of this world, as it was, though they carried none of the power its creators had once so casually wielded.  Hatred burned deeply within its large, tainted heart as it thought of its former masters, setting a fire within its being as a low and menacing snarl erupted from its elongated snout.  Scales the size of boulders covered its entire body from snout to tail, while wings that could have stretched easily over the largest creatures that had ever walked the face of this world flexed slowly, painfully even.  From the tip of its tail to its snout it was close to three hundred feet, which meant within the cavern it now lay in it was forced to coil its body around the smooth rock walls. 

            Something had changed yet again above; the shift of power had sent shockwaves rippling through the miles of rock that separated the creature from the surface, awakening it quite abruptly.  The disorientation it felt was such that its mind was not fully prepared to deal with the confusing scents, sights and other sensations that came to it upon waking.  Opening its eyes once more it tried opening its cavernous maw, finding that even though it took a bit of effort it was possible.  Jaws wide enough to swallow several creatures the size of its creators at once yawned wide as creaks and groans came from the joints of the long unused orifice.  Teeth sharp enough to tear through solid stone still retained their deadly points, while the creature’s tongue moved about sluggishly like some great, sickly gray worm. 

            A sudden familiar touch gained the creatures attention as its eyes widened in recognition, its nostrils flaring a deep, grating chuckle escaped its jaws.  It had been too long since it had felt such a reassuring darkness.  The soul that elicited such a reaction within its being could only be one of those that had created and then imprisoned it, and if not that then at least one of their descendants.  A grin split its monstrous muzzle as the creature flexed its body, testing the bonds that it had chafed under for so long.  The restraints still held, though the passage of time had weakened them enough that the creature could feel them beginning to give way.  It would take only a short amount of

time to break its bonds, and then, there would be darkness, glorious, everlasting darkness.  The world would tremble at its touch once more.

                                                *                      *                      * 

            Tyler woke slowly, his head pounding as he slowly pushed himself from the ground with his hands, the broken asphalt grating slightly into his palms.  Groaning loudly he rose to his knees, holding his aching head in his left hand while in his right he still held his staff.  The headache that throbbed against his temples was worse than any hangover or migraine he could possibly imagine, making him feel as though someone were slamming the inside of his skull with a sledgehammer.  Opening his eyes fully he saw what remained of the final beast lying in front of him, the pile of ashes blowing about slightly as the winds coming off the nearby river

            The groans of those behind him reached his ears as he blinked rapidly several times, rising slowly to his feet as he cracked his neck back and forth.  Nearly every one of his friends were back on their feet, their moans and groans far louder than his.  Walking over to them he stopped first near Kylie and Roland, watching for a moment as they checked on their young daughter.  Tyler felt slightly guilty that he’d allowed such a young child along on this trip, though he’d not wished to be apart from his own son for any longer.  This had been the argument that had finally prompted him to bow to Kylie and Roland’s wishes to bring along their own child.  The two of them had proven themselves in the last few years, and Tyler was confident that they would be just as effective even with Corrin around. 

            Making his way around the group he finally came to his wife and son, who by this time had been seeking him out.  Hugs were exchanged as words failed to express their relief over having found each other still alive and relatively well. 

            “So what in the hell was that?”  Matt’s rough voice carried over the hushed mumblings of the group, catching their attention briefly as the rest of them began to wonder the same.  The strange wave of darkness that had struck them all had passed seemingly, though its residual effects were being felt by them all. 

            “Let’s keep moving.  We can talk about it on the way.”  The words had the desired effect as Tyler spoke, mustering the group together as they began to slowly shuffle forward.  Shaking his head before moving on Tyler felt a sudden prickling sensation at the nape of his neck as a shiver ran down his spine.  Looking behind them he saw nothing but the empty road and the corpses of the creatures that had been slain.  Leaning down on impulse he took one of the finger-length claws that remained from his latest opponent, not really understanding why he did this but pocketing the talon anyway.  As he did this the irritating sensation lessened a bit, though he could not understand why.  Shaking his head once more Tyler joined his friends, taking one more look at the road behind as the feeling of being watched nagged at his every step.

                                                *                      *                      *

            “I think he’s an idiot.”  Tiffany rolled her eyes at her husband as she continued to sharpen the blade of her weapon, pointedly keeping her eyes upon her work.  She’d already given herself a nasty abrasion with the whetstone once and didn’t care to do it

again.  It was rather useful to have accelerated healing as a result of having accepted the Lady’s offer of power.  If only they hadn’t been forced to give up so much.  Right at this moment she would be willing to trade every last ounce of power within her body to bring her parents back, and the parents and other elders that had been slain.  All the children, the outsiders both young and old, and the friends they had lost, she would give anything to have them back. But they were gone.

            “How does he know that Tyler won’t just up and leave him because of what happened years ago?”  Right now Tiffany was tempted to use her ability to negate all sound to silence her babbling husband.  She knew very well why he worried and groused so much, but he’d been at this since Matt had left days before.  He was concerned for their friend, and though this was very heartening it was fast becoming rather annoying. 

            As soon as they’d been taken to Ocean Park their talents had began to blossom, developing into what they now were.  Her own ability to negate sound had become the ability to negate most anything she wished, even life itself.  She had come very close to proving this against one of her fellow Chosen, Kerian Turmish.  Tiffany found herself thankful that on that day Kera had proven far stronger than she.  That day still lay burned into her memory, the day she’d almost killed her little girl.  Tiffany ground the whetstone harder against the edge of her blade, pressing her lips together as she remembered that day.

            “Brady, stop pacing around.  It’s not helping anything.”  She uttered the words through clenched teeth, her irritation more than evident as Brady finally stopped his incessant pacing about.  Running one hand through his fiery red hair Brady closed his eyes as he pressed his lips into a thin line, silently harboring his continued reservations over the fact that Matt had placed his life in the hands of those they’d once considered their friends, then enemies.  He’d thought his mind was made up over whether or not to fully trust Tyler and the other Chosen.  The man had after all followed Matt down to the converted locker room where he and Tiffany had been held prisoner.  He’d been forced to knock her cold as she’d rambled insanely that he was there to kill them 

            Brady knew very well that Matt wouldn’t have allowed such a thing, though as powerful as Tyler was in relation to the rest of them he wasn’t so sure that his friend could have been stopped.  Thankfully Tyler was not as savage as he’d been while in the arena.  Brady had watched along with his friends and the rest of the children that had followed them as Tyler had slaughtered each individual that had been tossed into the refitted football field with him.  His savagery had chilled Brady to the bone, mostly because he’d realized at that moment that it might well have taken the massed forces at his command to take Tyler down if he’d proven to be a problem.  The man had very few exploitable weaknesses aside from the fact that he genuinely cared for those who warranted his concern.

            “I’m concerned Tiff.  I don’t like not knowing what’s going on.”  Tiffany stopped sharpening her weapon for a moment, turning away from the vise that held it in place as she slowly walked over to her husband.  Wrapping one arm around his waist she laid her head against his shoulder as he leaned his head towards hers.  Heaving a silent sigh she turned so that their bodies met, wrapping her other arm around him as she laid her head against his collarbone.  The two of them held each other like that for several moments

before they each felt a strange sensation not unlike a cold chill as it coiled deep in their bodies. 

            Death is irrelevant, Life is pointless.  Each serve their own ends, though each serve the other.  Brady and Tiffany parted suddenly as they cast their gazes about the former woodshop, the large space harboring many shadows but revealing very little.  Neither of them saw anything or anyone in the large space, though as they each reached for their weapons they continued to look, not trusting that there was nothing there.  The strange phantom voices had been heard by both of them, Andrew and Caitlin now as well in the past few days, though none of them had ever seen even a glimpse of anything out of what had become the ordinary.

            “I think it’s time we went and found Andrew and Caitlin.”  Brady nodded as Tiffany spoke, still casting his eyes over the darkened room as he remembered too well what had gone on in this place.  For almost five years this room had been used as a foundry from which the mongrel-like weapons that their followers had used had been forged.  Those unfortunates that had been captured and forced to work here had been put through hell each and every day.  The forging of the many weapons had taken a great toll on the men that had been kept here, though if the dark lord Sivis hadn’t come along many of them might have lived to see their freedom. 

            Of course, playing the game of ‘what ifs’ was not a practice that Brady cared for.  ‘What ifs’ didn’t get anything done, they were dreams and regrets that he could do without.  Only one man had managed to escape this place, though how he’d done this was hardly amazing.  George Owens had been sent to the same dungeon that he and Tiffany had later been relegated to, a prisoner along with their friend Matt.  The two had escaped shortly after George had been sent to the dungeon, battering their way past a number of guards before making their way towards Ocean Park where Matt had enlisted the aid of the other Chosen.

            Though Brady had chafed at being rescued in part by Tyler and other Chosen he had gone with Tyler and Matt willingly, not wishing to remain another second in Ilwaco.  They’d come back in order to reclaim what was theirs only to find that their tormentor had already left.  Though the whispers they’d heard lately made him question that notion. 

            This was one of the many classrooms he’d been a student in during his time on the peninsula.  Only a few of the desks still remained fully intact, and it was in one of these that Andrew now sat.  Leaning back in the uncomfortable plastic and metal seat he rested his forearms on the thin veneer of the short wooden table that served as the writing surface for the desk.  Slouched in the seat he kept his eyes on the green piece of slate that still remained upon the wall opposite from him, as though waiting for words to magically appear there of their own volition.  That was what this room had been used for after all, the lessons of words and their meaning as well as their applications. 

            The English lessons he’d endured in this room still remained with him, the ghostly voices of his teachers echoing in his mind as he tried to feign disinterest.  Light spilled into the room from the windows that dominated two thirds of the wall to his left.  Outside he could still see the narrow courtyard that contained a swath of grass and three small trees that had been planted only three years before.  Until that point the small area

had been little more than unused space, a flaw in the school’s design that had never been corrected.  It had found use during the last five years however.  While the main area for holding their prisoners had been the weight room under the now ruined stadium, the area that lay between this hall and the next had been used as well for the same purpose.  It had housed the large number of marines that had been sent early on to discover what had happened, as well as the few police from Astoria that had wandered into their domain. 

            Andrew still stood in amazement at how Tyler had dealt with the hardened adults; he’d flattened them all with one single attack.  After that he and Jamie had slain the survivors, putting them out of their misery or simply insuring that they wouldn’t be around long enough to cause them any more problems.  It was then that Andrew had known just how far beyond them all that Tyler was.  Of all the Chosen, Tyler was the only one that had exhibited such raw power, though the toll it took on him was more than evident. 

They’d all felt their talents develop further once away from their confinement, though Andrew’s had taken far longer than the others.  This had much to do with the cruel punishment that had been inflicted upon him shortly after Tyler’s escape.  While Matt had been imprisoned below in the locker rooms and Brady and Tiffany had been subjected to the cruel attentions of the thing that had wrested control from the four of them, Andrew had been flung back into the farthest recesses of his own mind.  At the time he’d believed himself to be trapped in a cell out near the lake behind the school, though the sounds and sensations he’d experienced had been only in his mind.  Memories of what he’d known for many years had fueled the thoughts of such simple imprisonment, while the truth had been far more tragic. 

Trapped within his own body Andrew had been placed unguarded within the chemistry lab, where he had sat unmoving and unthinking for a time.  Though he’d had no knowledge of this he’d been told how Matt and Tyler found him.  None of them had understood fully what had been done to him, but through their careful ministrations and Matt’s uncharacteristic patience Andrew had been eventually freed from his mental prison.  The sounds and sights of the world around him had crashed in upon his senses once he’d found himself free once more, forcing him to relapse three times before Matt and Tiffany managed to realize that he needed to be brought back slowly so as to avoid overloading his mind.  Andrew never wished to go back inside his own head again if he could avoid it, he’d already had quite enough of his own personal demons.

Along with his freedom had come the new manifestations of his already impressive abilities he’d so thoroughly enjoyed.  Aside from the highly prized talent of rapid acceleration that caused him to move so lightning-quick he’d discovered a talent that was as amazing as it was disconcerting, since he had yet to truly master it.  Andrew reveled in the bursts of intense speed he was capable of, in his mind it made him one of the most invaluable among his friends, though what he had discovered by accident one day had set possibilities blooming in his mind in directions he had yet to explore. 

The speeds of which he was capable had yet to be calculated, though as he’d found out he could do more than escape the normal pace of the world around him, he could also escape the natural order of matter as well.  He could vaguely remember lessons in either physics or chemistry, he couldn’t really recall which, that told of the

spaces between atoms.  Each atom was tightly packed together to form solid matter, with their electrons moving about at extremely high speeds or whatever.  He did remember enough of the lessons that the explanation made sense, though as for the fine details he didn’t care.  This was important enough to him however since one day, he’d actually fallen through a wall. 

.  It wasn’t an expression and it wasn’t an exaggeration, Andrew had literally fallen through a wall.  Thankfully no one else had been there to witness it, since he would have found it impossible to explain just then.  Since that time the lesson that had come to his mind had been responsible for his hasty explanation of why he could suddenly walk through solid objects such as doors, walls and other such surfaces.  One day while testing out this ability he’d actually managed to fall through the floor of the gym to find himself in the girl’s locker room.  His landing had been anything but graceful as he’d hit hard upon the concrete floor.  Andrew’s pride had suffered more than his body however.

As he thought upon this Andrew barely noticed as his body began to accelerate, the effect being that he actually started sliding through the seat he currently occupied.  As the table portion of the desk came even with his face he finally realized what was happening, as he rolled away from the desk.  The thought of what might happen if he were to become solid once more while stuck inside a wall, a door or any other surface was too gruesome to entertain.  Rolling from the chair he stood quickly to his feet, grateful as his body solidified once more.  His breathing came in ragged gasps as he realized just how close he’d come to being a permanent fixture of the room.  He needed to find a way to master this ability, and soon.

She was not a normal little girl, she understood this even though it was rarely discussed.  That she was allowed to be on her own was just another reminder that she was more capable than a child her age had any right to be.  She was troubled, more so than her parents or her uncle Andrew.  Not many people could remember the time they’d spent in their mother’s womb, nor could they remember being forced to watch from the depths of their own mind as they’d been made into little more than an unwitting tool.  From before her birth Caitlin had been aware of herself and the world around her, far too aware in fact. 

The memory of the watery world within her mother’s womb was not pleasant, nor was the servitude she had been born into.  Still, she had been bound to the dark thing that had told her what to do and granted her the strange abilities she’d developed so easily.  She could remember one instance during her training, she’d been only three years old and far too mentally developed for her liking.  Her dark mentor had instructed her in the manipulation of the energies that he told her lay all about, just waiting to be used.  His lessons had been rather simple at first, though up until the end when Tyler had so abruptly freed her from Sivis’s control her lessons had been increasingly difficult.  The day she’d first learned how to disassemble an object had been one of her easier lessons, though its later implications had brought nightmares that still plagued her to this day.

Her master had started small, encouraging her to use her talents to separate such things as mixed foods, liquids and even clothing.  Bit by bit she’d learned, though the first examples of her lack of control had resulted in a series of messes that had been

tended to by the many slaves her master had kept near his presence at all times.  A part of her had felt bad as others had been forced to clean up her messes, though her master had admonished her for such feelings, claiming them to be weaknesses she could not afford.  After so many harsh words and more than a few physical punishments Caitlin had learned to be hard, to be ruthless to others and uncaring for the plight of those who were beneath her.  Even her parents had been beneath her notice, their imprisonment shortly after her birth being a mere footnote in her life.

            The coming of the Chosen known as Tyler Ferris however had changed all that.  When he had come with Matt her master had spirited her away into the library of the school, waiting in the shadows until it was prudent for them to strike.  She had attacked at the dark being’s command, effectively halting the most powerful of the Chosen as though he were no more than one of the many slaves that were so far beneath her.  Caitlin realized now however that she had managed to catch the man by surprise, that he not expected such a young girl to have such an enormous effect.  If Tyler had truly wished her harm she had no doubt that she would be long dead. 

            Her mother had told her not long ago that it was a cruel thing that had been done to her.  Caitlin had listened silently as her mother had wept, claiming that no child should have to bear such memories as she did.  Her father had told her that once an individual realize their mortality, their childhood was over.  Caitlin’s childhood had never had the chance to begin, she’d gone from the womb to what she was now: a child who knew far too much of death than was comfortable.  Sadly enough there were days when she found herself wishing that Tyler had struck her down.  Such an end would have saved her the wonder of what her childhood might have been like if she’d born normal. 

            Seated upon a rotting stump near the edge of the embankment that sloped down towards the inky black water of the lake behind her home Caitlin felt more lost now than she had when she’d been born.  According to her parents it wasn’t common at all for a girl of her age to feel this way, in fact it wasn’t common for her to feel this way even now.  They of course hadn’t seen what she had seen, nor had they experienced what she had.  She’d asked them as much and had received answers that had failed to satisfy.  Both of her parents and her two uncles had been born naturally, they’d been allowed to grow as children and live their lives as young people should.  They’d not know this waking horror until they’d been grown enough to deal with such a calamity.  Caitlin had been thrust into this hell without her consent. 

            The gentle winds that blew across the lake ruffled her short bangs as she tilted her head slightly upward so that she could enjoy the cool, refreshing touch of the wind.  Crossing her slender legs Caitlin closed her eyes, feeling the strong energy currents that flowed to and fro across the surface of the water.  The vast amount of power that was contained in the body of water astounded her, its destructive potential calling to her even as she felt the strange harmony that lay beneath the chaos.  It was no longer difficult to ignore the need to destroy, though it was still a challenge to see the balance that allowed such powers to coexist. 

            The forest that lay off to her right bent and swayed to the power of the winds that combed through their green-leafed limbs, a few of them groaning as they were bent to and fro.  To her left lay the black ribbon of the trail that continued on until it disappeared from sight, hidden by the bend of trees and scrub that had began to crawl across its rough surface.  There was simply too much to take in at once, the inherent power that lay within each part of the world she now witnessed threatening to overload her senses as she gasped at its enormity.  No child should be able to understand what she did, though given a choice, Caitlin imagined that she wouldn’t exchange these experiences for anything. 

            Opening her eyes she gasped once more as she gazed upon the far shore of the lake, the two figures she saw capturing her attention immediately.  Though they were far enough away so as to be indistinct, Caitlin had no trouble in sensing the shadows for what they were, blots of darkness on an otherwise lively landscape.  She imagined they were staring at her, their empty white eyes blazing as though sizing her up as a possible victim.  Caitlin couldn’t help but feel a mixture of both fear and rage as she stared back, glaring at the two creatures even as she felt a shiver course down her spine. 

                                                *                      *                      *

            Sometimes sins were revisited, and other times they were simply continued.  A red sky painted her pale face with its crimson hue as she gazed dolefully at the descending orb of fire.  Long ago she had bound herself to this place.  She had been born here, and it was here that she had vowed to herself that she would meet her end.  This had come true in one sense, though she had yet to move on towards the fabled haven that her people had spoken of so often.  There were reasons of course, many reasons in fact.  Still, Aliyana would have much rather moved on than remain upon this world in any form. 

            Her Chosen still needed her.  Strangely enough she found that she cared greatly for the nine individuals to whom she had entrusted the secrets of her people.  Never before in her many thousands of years had she deigned to care about any of her Chosen in this manner.  From the weakest to the greatest of them she found that it was a terrible ache within her heart that afflicted her when she thought of them.  They had been no older than she had when she had been given the trust of her people, children really. 

            The last few times she’d selected a band of Chosen Aliyana had felt nowhere near the emotion that tore her apart even now.  She had invested far too much of herself into these younglings, finding that her heart was split in twain by what she knew must come to pass.  Never before had so much been at stake, not even during the dark times that had come eons before. 

                                                *                      *                      *

            Knappa lay between the towns of Clatskanie and Astoria, nestled in a shallow valley that had been settled long ago for its abundance of wild game, hospitable land and bounty of lumber.  Until only a year before it had been a quiet little town, more of a stopping point between the larger, far more populated metropolises that lay far to the east and west of its borders.  Featuring a gas station, a restaurant aptly named The Logger, and a handful of other businesses including a small clothing store and an auto body shop, Knappa was the definition of a small country town.  Right now however the noise coming from the small area was quite unnatural.

            Jamie and Sarah had made Tyler and Kera aware of the noises shortly before the group had caught up to the women, reporting the whoops and hollers of a large number of

men and women coming from the confines of The Logger.  Neither one of them had ventured close enough to better divine the reason for such noises, having decided to wait for Tyler to come closer so that he might find a way to approach the oddity.  The group had traveled barely a quarter of the day, keeping their pace slow so as to keep themselves rested enough should they be ambushed once more. 

            Prudence would have demanded that they make all haste towards their destination, though when only Tyler and a few select others knew where they were headed this was rather difficult.  No one had yet questioned him as to where they were bound, though he knew eventually they would figure it out.  All but a few of them had taken far too many trips northward, either as athletes representing their high school or for vacations.  He knew very well that the direction he took would not go unnoticed for long. 

            As they descended the gradual incline that led into and out of Knappa Tyler had the youngest members of the group positioned to the rear under Bear and Brooke’s care while he kept Jamie, Sarah, Josh and himself out front.  The four of them were the stealthiest of the bunch and could easily slip in and out of an area undetected.  The rest of the group he instructed to keep a respectful distance, well enough away that they could rush to help if needed as well to keep the group from making enough noise to alert those inside of their presence.  With this command he joined the three he’d sent ahead as the four of them made their way closer to the restaurant, the raucous noise growing louder as they closed the distance.  The catcalls and excited yells seemed rather familiar to Tyler, as though he’d heard their like before, though he couldn’t readily place them.

            The black road passed through Knappa before continuing on into the mountains, splitting the town in two halves, one that contained the businesses and the other that led to a campground and former logging sites.  Where the rest of the group remained the shoulders of the road sloped off towards large, grass-covered glens, the overgrown lawns easy enough to hide in, though they also hid many large puddles and other surprises.  The main group stayed close the road, huddling along the embankments to either side as they crept along slowly behind the four in front. 

            The main gas station of the town lay on the corner where the main highway intersected with the town’s main road, which wound for miles past the two simple bends that went by the few businesses Knappa had to offer.  Huddling behind the swiftly rusting gas pumps the four of them could see across the street towards The Logger, and they could see as well what Jamie and Sarah had apparently missed.  There were two guards, each of them human thankfully, but each of them also well over six feet tall and heavily muscled.  Both of them were armed with firearms, weapons the likes of which none of them had seen in the past year save for in a junk heap.  The last within their group to use firearms was currently back in the main part of the group, her favored weapons strapped and fully loaded. 

            No one begrudged Kylie this small boon, in the time she’d spent with them she had more than proven herself to be loyal to the group.  In fact she was now one of the integral parts of the community, a fierce warrior and a good friend.  Fortunately she was open-minded enough to at least train with an edged weapon, though she had yet to take one as her own.  The weapons that the two bear-like men held in their hands were much larger than Kylie’s twin pistols and no doubt had a much larger kick when discharged.

            “Guns.  Why do people always think guns are so great?”  Jamie whispered the words in contempt, scowling towards the men as both Josh and Tyler looked sideways at her.  Tyler couldn’t help but grin while Josh arched his eyebrows, clearly wondering what could be going on in Jamie’s head right then.  Sarah kept her gaze upon the front of the building, her frown telling Tyler that she was thinking of what might be the best approach.  The loud ruckus continued to come from within the restaurant, remaining at much the same level as it had for the past several minutes.

            The two guards looked rather bored as they stood in front of the main entrance, their lackadaisical attitude leading Tyler to believe that it would be child’s play to sneak around them.  Of course, he’d been wrong before. 

            “Well?  What’s the plan then?”  All three of them turned to regard Tyler as he met their gazes, casting his gaze back to the restaurant briefly before lowering his eyes to the ground.  There were many ways they could go about this, though he could think of only a few that might actually work with minimal bloodshed.  Slipping in under the cover of darkness was not an option right now since the sun had yet to fully set, casting reddish-gold rays upon the land as it slipped far too slowly into shadow.  That they hadn’t been seen yet was a testament to their training, though slipping by those who weren’t as skilled wasn’t exactly a challenge. 

            Tyler quickly laid out the simple yet well thought plan he’d began to roll around in his mind as soon as Jamie and Sarah had brought word of activity in the town.  It would no doubt seem foolhardy to those who remained behind them, but in the interest of remaining silent so as not to bring however many were in the building down upon them Tyler felt that this was their best option. 

            Taking a deep breath Tyler rose to his feet, not surprised at all as he heard the soft click of safeties being switched off.  The men uttered nothing more than silent curses as he turned towards them, straightening the collar of his windbreaker before striding forward, Josh at his left and Sarah and Jamie at his right.  That the men didn’t cry out in surprise or yell at them to stop was strange, though as they continued forward each man cocked his weapon, aiming them directly at the quartet. 

            “Tell me again why we’re being so bold?”  Sarah’s voice was quiet as she cocked her eyebrows, her dark green orbs narrowing as she started straight ahead. 

            “No guts, no glory.”  Tyler suppressed a grin as Josh spoke, knowing very well that Sarah wished to respond right back.  To her credit however she remained silent, her hands curling and uncurling at her sides as her fingers seemed to itch to draw her weapons.  Jamie was as calm as could be, her rough iron blade bouncing at her hip as she walked.  The thin snowboarding vest she wore was left open as her white t-shirt seemed to glow in the waning light. 

            They were only a few yards away when the men began to walk forward, each of them pointing their guns straight towards Tyler as his dark eyes flashed with a brilliant explosion of silver.  The two men managed only three steps before they began to feel the effect that Tyler had wrapped about them.  He’d attempted and succeeded at this form of attack a little over five years before on two of his fellow Chosen, effectively robbing them of all energy, even that which they required to breathe.  The men gasped aloud, their open mouths revealing just why they hadn’t yelled out upon seeing Tyler stand to

his feet.  The men had no tongues, only the roots of the muscular organs.  It took only moments for the two large men to fall to their knees, their chests heaving mightily as they tried to draw a single breath, failing miserably as Tyler kept his concentration easily even as he tried to peer into the grimed over window that should have offered a perfect view into the building.  As the men fell to their faces Tyler released his hold over them, allowing the stolen energy to disperse in a large rush that was felt in all directions.  The resulting winds flowed outward from his person, ruffling the clothing and hair of his friends.

            Josh was about to say something when a heavy thump came from inside, followed closely by a shriek of terror and then another heavy thump.  The cheering and jeering continued even as the heavy thumps came every few seconds, confusing them all as they wondered what might be going on. 

            “Sounds like a party in there.”  Josh moved around the left corner of the front, trying to see in through the other window carefully without drawing attention.  The large glass panes were grimed over with filth however, defeating any and all attempts to peer in.  Another shriek came from inside between the hammering thumps, a woman by the sound and pitch of it. 

            “Maybe we should go in and crash it.”  Weapons were drawn as quietly as possible as Tyler nodded once, his mind already devising a way to enter the building.  He had no doubt that it was unlocked, though if it was it would prove to be true barrier. 

            “Josh, Sarah, you two go to the back entrance, come in through the office door.  If you encounter anyone take care of them, but quietly if possible.  We’ve got no idea of how many are in there.” 

            “From the sound there’s got to be more than a few.  You want us to take care of them permanently or for short term?”  Josh carefully unwound his chain from his waist, his caution with the blade-like links that lay at either end of his weapon honed into his body after years of practice.  Still he wore his black fingerless gloves for further caution, not wishing for an accident to slice his palms open. 

            “Knock them cold if you can, if that’s not possible then lay them down.  Jamie, you and I will storm the front.  Josh, you and Sarah get up to the front quickly as possible.”  The words were barely out of his mouth before Josh and Sarah were moving, each of them creeping around opposite sides of the building.  Tyler knew The Logger had a rear entrance that opened onto a small office laden with a single desk and two walls full of filing cabinets.  Several dried goods were stored back there as well, leaving very little walking room.  From there a single opening led into the short hallway that would lead to the kitchen, dining room, freezer and dishwashing areas. 

            He and Jamie would be going in directly to the dining area, straight into the noisiest and no doubt most dangerous portion.  As the two of them neared the front of the diner they split off to go to either side of the entrance, their weapons held behind them.  Several loud crashes sounded against the walls and floors of the dining room as Tyler and Jamie gently pushed the glass doors open, standing in the antechamber that would lead them into the main dining room.  The glass double doors that stood in their way now had been painted over, the black color revealing nothing beyond the glass portal. 

            “Remind me again why we’re bothering to do this?” Jamie whispered as she kept close to his side, keeping her blade close to her body.  Tyler pondered for just a moment on how to enter the dining room, knowing that if they just burst in they would be at as much of a disadvantage as those inside.  If they strolled in calmly however they might have the few precious seconds it would take to assess the situation.  The heavy thumps, womanly shrieks and cheers and shouts had not abated in the last few minutes, leaving him to believe that those inside were far too preoccupied to be watching the doors.

            “It takes the monotony out of life.”  Jamie shot him a look with raised eyebrows as she managed to grin in the next moment, unable to contain a smile as she shook her head lightly.  Despite all that had happened and all that changed, Tyler still retained his sense of humor.  As always however he chose the strangest times to display it.

            Crouching low so as to be unseen from the side windows both Josh and Sarah crept skillfully and as silently as possible around the sides of the building, meeting around the back as they encountered nothing more dangerous than a few small animals that went running in fear.  The exterior of the building had seen better days, its painted yellow boards covered with filth and mildew in several areas.  Each of them had stopped by this small town many times in their time as athletes, it was one of the many points along the road home from away games that had been utilized as rest stops.  The Logger had always been here as far as they knew, a permanent feature of the small logging town as far as they were concerned. 

            There were two partitions that bracketed the back door, the lattice that filled the wooden frames nearly rotted and looking ready to simply fall out.  The landscape around the back was little more than scrub and long grass that encroached upon the small half circle of asphalt that had at one time served as the employee’s smoking area.  Scores of crumpled and dried out filters lay scattered all about, laying about within piles of pine needles and leaves that had been carried by the winds to this spot.  The two of them stood in front of the door as they walked between the partitions, weapons held at the ready as Josh tried the knob gently, not wishing to draw any undue attention. Finding it unlocked he stepped back for a second, looking to the woman he had come to love with all his heart.  The two of them shared a smile, the small gesture soothing their nerves slightly.

            “You want me to go in first, or do you want the honor?”  Sarah shook her head as she grinned at him, her green eyes flashing briefly as she reversed her grip upon both of her blades.  With the points facing her elbows she knew it would be far easier to resist the urge to simply swing to kill.  It was strange, but in the last six years she had found that along with the development of her abilities had also come the utter disregard for the lives of those that would harm others.  This righteous bloodlust had frightened her greatly at first, though as time had gone by she had made her peace with it, fighting the urge when she could and embracing it at other times.  She was not a savage, but neither was she a saint. 

            “Such a gentleman.  I suppose rock, paper, scissors is out of the question?”  Josh grimaced as he quickly and carefully slung his weapon over the back of his neck, readying his left hand as a striking surface while he fisted his right.  Sarah merely took both blades in one hand, fisting her right hand as they nodded to one another.  After

shaking their fists three times in unison as a countdown they opened them, the results making Josh frown even deeper.  Sarah merely grinned as she saw that he’d kept his fist closed, signifying rock, while she’d opened her fingers to hold her hand flat. 

            “Paper covers rock honey.  Guess I’m going in first.”  She stifled a giggle as he muttered a silent curse.  She knew very well that he’d wanted to go in first, chain swinging towards the first target he saw.  It wouldn’t have mattered in any case who went first, but Sarah was a little more worried for his sake than hers.  As a Chosen she could take an extraordinary amount of punishment and keep going.  Tough as he’d become, Josh was still fully human and without the ability to heal his own injuries as quickly as she could.  He was proud though, and she knew this. 

            “Watch my back, I’m sure you’ll enjoy that.”  The small barb caused Josh to narrow his eyes even as he patted her lightly on the rump, goosing her just a bit as she grinned.  Readying their weapons once more Sarah approached the door, turning the knob gently before very slowly opening the battered and chipped portal. 

            Tyler had expected there to be guards stationed at the doors, though as they pushed their way in he and Jamie found their eyes drawn immediately to the spectacle that dominated the center of the dining area.  The large partition that had for so long divided the room into two separate areas lay only ten feet from the door, stretching another twenty feet in length and six feet high.  It was only a foot wide and along the upper quarter of its frame featured glass panes that had been expertly set into the holes that had been cut for them.  The ceiling was easily twelve feet or more from the top of the partition, far too much for the single person that even now struggled to keep her balance upon the foot wide beam beneath her feet. 

            Large wooden beams lay at six foot intervals upon the ceiling, their knotted surfaces a part of the restaurant’s unique charm.  Around the nearest beam a heavy chain had been pushed through the ceiling panels so as to wrap it around the large log.  The rusted chain led down the slender neck of a young woman that both Jamie and Tyler instantly recognized.  Reddish-blonde hair lay draped about her head in sweaty tangles and matted clumps, still highlighting her pale features quite well.  Her eyes were reddened from the tears that flowed so freely down her cheeks, making tracks in the dirt and grime that covered her delicate features. The chain was wrapped double around her graceful neck, leaving long, chafing marks that looked several days old.  Her wounds were not restricted to her throat however. 

            The girl was barely clothed, much of her shirt and jeans having been ripped away either by the fine slivers of glass that lay embedded in her flesh or perhaps grasping hands.  Her bare feet had been lacerated in several areas, her blood painting the beam beneath her feet.  Even more horrible than this were the two bodies that swung by their necks along each side of the partition, their appearance enough to tell Tyler and Jamie that they’d been dead for only a few days.  Never in his life would he have expected to become so used to death as to recognize its effects upon the human body.  By his judgment however the two dark-haired women, neither of which he recognized, had been dead for a short time.  Their glassy-eyed stares threatened to ignite a rage within him however that was just short from boiling at that moment. 

            The source of the thumps was revealed in the next second as Tyler watched the unruly men on either side of the partition tap the side of the flimsy structure with small sledgehammers, making it hard for the woman to balance as she strutted about the top of the beam, shaking her body slightly as the men jeered at her.  Tyler felt his grip upon his staff tighten as he realized how the two unfortunate women had met their untimely end.  The sickening display caused him to lose control, effectively spoiling the essence of surprise as his staff lit immediately with blue fire, not harming him or Jamie in the least bit as it lit the entire room with its brilliance.  Five of the men within the room hissed not unlike enraged cats as their dark skin seemed to steam from the touch of the light.  The rest of the lot, Jamie quickly counted at least twenty or more heads, turned towards the two of them, raising weapons or whatever as at hand at the sudden intrusion.  The woman atop the beam almost lost her balance as she reached up to grasp the chain above her with both hands, crying out in fright as she looked down.

            Tyler was quick to act, striding forward as six men immediately rushed him, wielding everything from a beer mug to sledgehammers.  Tyler was hit three times, though he shrugged off the weak blows as he laid about, hitting three of the men as the other three backed away in time to avoid being struck.  The three he did take down did not rise again, their skulls crushed by his powerful swings as he stopped for just a moment, the murder that was evident in the silver flash of his eyes stopping many of those within the restaurant.

            “You’re all going to die.”  His words came out calm and menacing as Tyler spoke, the threat making more than a few of the men pause.  He glared out upon the remaining men as Jamie came quickly to his side, her eyes blazing just as fiercely as his own as she raised her bloodied sword for all to see.  Out of the corner of his eye Tyler could see three more men lying upon the floor in pools of their own blood, courtesy of the fierce woman at his side.  Tyler had no use for these men, nor did Jamie apparently.  It was bolstering to have her at his side, completely in tune with him at that moment.  They would not be stopped.

            The two of them were set upon instantly upon opening the door, forced back into the small entryway for several moments as Sarah had quickly dropped, yelling out to Josh to attack as she cleared his line of sight.  No sooner had the words left her mouth than Josh had let his chain fly, striking the leading figure that came barreling through the door.  Few if any could handle his weapon without harming themselves, though of the entire group Josh was the only one who had began to master the dangerous and extremely unforgiving weapon. 

            The razor-sharp links tore into the face of the man he struck before laying across the side of his neck, biting deeply as Josh then pulled back as quickly as he could.  The man barely had a chance to cry out as the finely sharpened links laid him open down to his collarbone, nearly sawing through every vein and artery within his neck as he fell to the ground.  Blood flowed freely down his front as his face went pale white, his mouth working open and closed not unlike a fish out of water.  Sarah was quick to scuttle away from the falling man as she then rose to meet the man that was directly on his fallen comrade’s heels. 

            Punching straight forward she caught the man in his left eye with the pommel of one blade, blinding him for just a moment as she attacked again, laying the edge of the same blade against his stomach as she pushed forward, dragging the lethal edge of her weapon across his abdomen.  Blood spilled forth sluggishly as the wall of his gut began to weaken under the push of his escaping entrails.  Sarah continued to push, not willing to become tripped up upon this man’s guts if he were to pitch forward.  With Josh helping the two of them pushed the man onto his back where he continued to bleed his life out upon the floor, his mammoth belly heaving as he desperately tried to hold in his escaping innards.  The two of them stopped over his body for a moment, disgust writ plain on each of their faces. 

            “So much for trying to just knock them out.”  Sarah felt the rush of battle coursing through her limbs as she looked down upon the dying man, knowing that more horror was about to come.

            “We can always say we tried.”  Josh shrugged slightly as he tried to lighten the mood just a bit, knowing very well the surge of energy that gripped Sarah at that moment.  He felt it as well, though he hid it far better.

            “Hey!  We got intruders!  Get ‘em!”  Both of them turned towards the shout, their weapons rising even as they were forced to turn away from the sudden blinding flash that seemed to erase the world for several moments, burning with an intensity that scoured away every shadow within the place.  The startled cries of many men reached their ears as Josh and Sarah could easily divine the source of the sudden flash.  It ended just as suddenly as it had come, leaving them in darkness once more as they blinked away the resulting spots in their vision, reorienting themselves quickly before they headed into the kitchen, where several figures were still struggling to see. 

            Tyler and Jamie were unstoppable, becoming not unlike a force of nature as they struck down any who dared to step into their paths.  They each took their share of hits but these were negligible as the two made their way to the partition, each of them taking a side as they left a pile of bodies in their midst.  By the time they’d reached the partition only twelve men remained, five of those being the strangely dark-skinned individuals that had focused on Tyler, their ashen-gray features set into fierce scowls of rage as they wisely kept their distance while the rest of the men, human and Tainted alike, tried to mob both him and Jamie. 

            The woman atop the partition looked on with tears in her eyes, though as she held tightly to the chain she set her teeth in defiance of the foul men that still tried to reach her, the realization that she now had a chance of survival showing in her hopeful gaze.  Tyler had just dispatched another man when one of the gray-skinned creatures in human guise slammed into him with enough force to knock him back into the partition, causing it to shake violently as the woman atop its surface cried out in terror.  Tyler just barely managed to hold onto his staff, forcing the creature away from him with a right hook that sent it reeling.  Shaking out his hand he hissed in pain as he found that the creature’s jaw was surprisingly hard.  The flames of his staff continued to burn as the creature rose, once more maintaining a careful distance.  With a single gesture to one of its fellows it hissed something in a language that Tyler could not understand.  It sounded like some form of

Arabic, though he couldn’t be certain since he lacked the appropriate basis for such a guess.  He could do little but watch as one of the gray-skinned creatures bolted for the front door, escaping into the coming night.  Tyler was struck across the left cheek by a beer mug as he responded with even greater force, slamming the left end of his staff hard enough into the face of his attacker to crush the entire left side of his face.  Hair and clothing caught fire instantly as the staff connected, consuming the man’s flesh before he even had the chance to scream out a denial.

            The chain encircling the woman’s neck was suddenly yanked tight as she uttered a garbled yell, her throat becoming constricted as her eyes bugged wide in her skull.  Tyler could only offer her a glance as he was set upon again, the four dusky-skinned creatures finally growing bold enough to attack en masse.  Fending away three of them Tyler growled in pain as he was raked down his right side by the claws of the fourth, responding in kind as he thrust the end of his weapon towards the creature, connecting hard with its throat.  As it choked its skin began to dissolve where he’d hit it, fading away to a fine gray dust as its eyes went wide with horror.  Tyler didn’t bother to watch as he turned to deal with the other three, finding that they were easily put down as though the fight had suddenly been drained from them completely.

            He felt a sudden burning in his side where the strange creature had hit him, though as his staff flared brightly once again he felt wound close, a strange, oily feeling coating his skin as the fires seemed to dry it up in an instant, baking it away as he turned to regard the other attackers. 

            A loud hammering crash came from the ceiling as the chain around the woman’s neck suddenly went slack, the sundered links falling from the beam to Jamie’s side of the partition.  The woman fell towards Tyler, her body going limp as he caught her easily within his arms, amazed at how light she felt.  Jamie was at his side in the next moment, though the sounds of fighting still reached their ears from somewhere in the back.  Though bruised and bloodied in several areas all over her body Jamie looked well enough to go several more rounds, though as the last, dying scream came from the back the two of them turned all their attention towards the woman in his arms.  Tyler felt for a pulse, gently pressing two fingers to the woman’s throat as he prayed that they hadn’t been too late. 

            “Looks like we missed the party, what, oh my God.”  Tyler and Jamie walked around the partition, Tyler carrying the woman gently in his arms with her head against his shoulder.  She was alive, though her pulse was still rather weak.  He saw Josh and Sarah staring at the two women that hung there, both of them wide-eyed in horror as they cast their eyes back to him. 

            “Let’s get out of here.”  None of them disagreed with Tyler, making instantly for the exit as he followed them, casting a disdainful glare at the corpses that littered the room.  He did not like killing, but at times, it was necessary.  Far too necessary.

                                                *                      *                      *

            They took down the bodies of the two unfortunate women, building a single bier to lay them both upon for their funeral.  The Logger they simple set fire to, not bothering to even take the gray-skinned creature that Matt had crushed from the roof.  The group had moved up after seeing the intense flash of light from within the restaurant and had easily seen the lone creature as it had rushed from the front, scaling the side of the building as though it were the easiest thing in the world.

            Matt had called upon his abilities then, making himself large enough so that he’d been able to smash the creature flat upon the roof, breaking every bone within its body and breaking the chain upon the top of the beam it had been wrapped around.  The rest of the group had been just about to move in when the commotion had stopped abruptly.  They’d waited with baited breath until Josh, Sarah and Jamie had exited, bruised and torn but still capable of walking on their own.  Kera had almost rushed into the building before Tyler had followed the other three out, carrying in his arms a woman that was known to most of the group. 

            Heather Cale had been a fellow senior six years before, though she had not been upon the peninsula when their lives had changed.  The strawberry blonde had always been rather reclusive, keeping mostly to herself, but she had been a good friend still.  Standing at six feet and one inch she was a rather tall woman, though she was also very slender, her limbs no bigger around than a stout branch.  She’d been quite healthy when they’d last seen her, though now she was little more than skin and bones, malnutrition and the abuse she’d suffered within the restaurant having much to do with this. 

            Her face was just as angelic as it had always been, a delicate nose, lips that were not too full nor too painfully thin, and high cheekbones that managed to bring out the strange golden green of her eyes.  Brooke had tended to her immediately, instructing Bear to take her from Tyler so that she might use her talent of song to heal the woman’s many cuts, bruises and abrasions.  Her golden eyes had brimmed with tears as she’d tended the woman’s wounds, the fury that lay in their depths hidden away by the caring demeanor she so often displayed. 

            During the night Tyler and Kera took watch over the bodies of the two unfortunate women that had been laid upon their bier.  Though they didn’t know the females it was out of respect that they stayed by them to keep scavengers away.  Tyler instructed Roland, Matt, Rebecca and Brianna to watch over the restaurant.  Josh, Sarah and Jamie were told to rest, for they would be better off gathering their strength than exerting themselves any farther.  The three of them had argued that Tyler would better served to rest as well, though he refused, quelling the arguments quickly as he claimed that he would be just fine.  Kera had still admonished him lightly as they had watched over the two women, knowing very well that her words would fall on deaf ears.  She knew her husband was tired and sore, though she also knew that he was incredibly stubborn. 

            At dawn they torched the restaurant, finding enough gasoline within the pumps at the station and enough propane within the tanks of the restaurant to set a roaring blaze.  They let it burn, not even casting a second glance upon it as the entire group gathered around the bier that held the two women.  No words were spoken as the small structure was put to the torch, none were needed since none of them had known these women.  If Heather had known them at all she was in no condition to say anything, as she was still recovering under Brooke’s tender ministrations.  With the intensity that Kera added to the blaze with her abilities it was only a matter of hours until nothing remained of the pyre save for ash.  She released her influence from the small site as she stepped back into her husband’s waiting arms, holding their son close to her body as Corbin hid his face in her side. 

            “Let’s get moving.”  The group moved as one, Tyler’s words more than enough to spur them on.  There was no question in any of their minds, what they’d witnessed here was just the beginning.  There would no doubt be more to come.

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