The Hammers had fallen out of grace with many of the clans within the Jungle, their continued presence placed in jeopardy with each day they’d tried to remain. Their leader, the large Russian woman known only as Illyana, had vied more than once for their place within the city limits, but each time had met with failure. Their clan had not been accepted nor even taken seriously in the first and most furious days during which the city had been divvied up. Illyana had fought hard for her clan’s inclusion, but in the end she’d been denied. The Hammers had not been welcome in the Jungle, therefore they had been cast out, forced to walk further south where they might lay claim to the ravaged lands that remained.
Only one clan had expressed even a hint of interest in her people, though in secret, never in public. The redheaded women known as Jenna and Chazzi had come to Illyana shortly before the Hammers had left the city, expressing their concerns and their desire for a secret alliance. Illyana, her temper already roused, had been sorely tempted to bash in both of the women’s’ skulls, but had refrained. Chazzi had been perhaps her most staunch supporter, while Jenna had expressed only a passing interest in the Hammers. It had been Cross, the leader of the Stone Hawks, that had denied her outright and then been backed by many of the others. Illyana had no love or respect for the arrogant man, nor would she ever squat over his burning body if he needed extinguishing.
Jenna and Chazzi however had formed a secretive pact with her, claiming that no matter what, they would remain united. It was no secret to anyone that Jenna and Cross had a connection somehow, but no one had ever dared to guess what it might be. Illyana knew now however that Jenna had held Cross in nothing save contempt and continued to do so. She’d not received a message from the city in some time, but she could easily imagine that little had changed. Cross was a bastard and would not doubt remain so, which would mean that Jenna would always keep her distance from him aside from political matters.
The Hammers had taken over the remains of what had once been Hillsboro, but they had stuck mainly to the eastern side for good reason. The western front of Hillsboro was still quite open, but it was also far too dangerous to attempt to tame or even cleanse. The monsters that dwelled within the darkness of this land were thickest it seemed near one of the larger buildings that lay out near Evergreen Highway, a large manufacturing plant that had at one time served a purpose she did not know.
Having come to this country only fifteen years before Illyana knew very little of her new home and had not been given the chance to explore it in great depth thanks to the Darkfall. She had survived the horrendous calamity that had fallen over the city and surrounding suburbs, but it had become a daily struggle just as it was for everyone. By some dint of either tremendous luck or perhaps fate of a sort Illyana had come to gather those who now called her leader, forming a clan of such hard-bitten and jaded individuals that it was just a bit astounding that she and her people had been seen as one of the weakest clans within the area.
Her own weapon, a hefty piece of metal attached to a stout wooden handle, was the product of more than a few years of careful tampering and testing of the metals that had gone into the making of the intricately carved head. Illyana felt assured that there was no weapon upon the earth like it and prided herself on being the only one that could wield it properly. The weight of the head alone was enough to cause many others to balk at the prospect of wielding it, but she twirled and swung the hammer just as effectively with one hand as she did with two.
Born a farm girl within the greater province of the Russian Federation, Illyana had lived with an alcoholic father and three abusive brothers. Her life had been anything but pleasant until at the age of sixteen she had run away, seeking a life somewhere that she could call her own. Her brothers and father had never once attempted to find her, or if they had she had not cared to notice. Eventually after a year’s time and far too many nights spent in less than pleasant company she’d scraped enough together to make her way to America, where she had worked steadily to make her own place in life’s design. Eventually Illyana had come out to the west coast, finding it a bit less hectic and far more welcoming than the east. At least here, unlike places such as New York where she’d first lived, life didn’t demand that one be on constant alert. At least, that had been what it was like well over a decade ago.
She’d still been a young woman when the Darkfall had hit, fully in the prime of her life and ready to enjoy every last day. There had been a young man she’d been interested in, she’d had a nice little one-bedroom apartment in Sherwood and to top it all off, she’d found a high-paying and very promising career in the nursing field. At six feet and five inches she had been one of the most intimidating nurses within Providence Hospital despite her delicate nature, but Illyana had been well-respected as well. The Darkfall had of course changed all that.
At this moment she wasn’t sure if she would trade the life she’d had for the present day though. Strangely enough she felt more empowered now than she had as a registered nurse, as though the mere thought of being in charge of so many had nestled into her spine a measure of iron she’d not had before. For better or worse she was their leader, and thus far none had dared to contest her right to assume such a mantle. Her rule was not a democracy, such as had ravaged this country in the past, but an ironclad dictatorship where everyone knew their place and abided by such. She would not be disobeyed and those who did so willfully were soon enough cast out of the clan until such times as they made amends. To date only a few had never come back.
There was security within the Hammers, a bond of such magnitude that each person knew that the others and their leader would surely die for them if such was required. Illyana knew that she would gladly lay her life down for those who followed her, but she wasn’t always sure of others within the group. This thought did not stop her however from doing as she’d done for so many years now, and it did not stop her now.
She could see the bobbing light not far ahead of them, the flickering quality it presented confusing her until the source became clearer. Behind and to the sides of her, the rest of the Hammers continued to move forward, the sound of their footfalls quiet in the dark hours of the morning. She knew that eventually the invading force that she’d been told of would reach them, or would hear them coming, but by then it would be too late. The runner that had come from the Killers’ encampment had told her much of the strange group that now advanced in their direction but little else. Illyana did not therefore know how the group had made it past the city, especially with the Gargoyles posted along the same trek of road that they would have to travel. This left her to think that perhaps they had come by another route, maybe by the Terwilliger curves or even by I-205. The curves made no sense because the Longfists would have taken them, but the route from I-205 was well known to be far too dangerous for any of the clans to even think of claiming. Dark things lived in droves along the I-205 corridors, creatures that were far too dangerous for any two clans, let alone one. To think that the invaders had come by that route was almost laughable.
This single individual vexed her just a bit as Illyana considered calling a halt. She didn’t want to give the intruders any time to prepare, but thus far she could see only the one person, no one else. The landscape around them was shrouded in darkness and could easily hide many others, but not nearly the number of people and creatures that the scout had told her of. There were supposedly horses, a hellcat and even three of the wolfish hounds that plagued the southern parts of their domain. Illyana could only wonder at how the intruders had come to tame the beasts, if in fact such was the case. It was well known that any creature would show loyalty to those that fed them. At least that was her theory.
She would not call a halt, but as she continued forward, several of her clan members to either side, Illyana felt a twinge of what could only be fear as it attempted to worm its way into her heart. The tall, burly woman brushed the sudden emotion away, not wishing to seem weak to those around her. A deep, fearsome scowl crossed her features as the figure continued to close with them, the light still just barely illuminating his features. It was a man, she could tell this much at least, but as to what he looked like, she could see that he was muscular but not freakishly so. He carried his weapon, she could see now that the implement in his right hand was a blade wreathed in bluish flames, easily as though he’d practiced for many hours with it. Illyana felt her heart speed up just a bit as the man came closer, not stopping until he was only several yards away.
The dancing blue flames that licked hungrily up and down the man’s long, curved sword did not seem to harm him at all as he rested it upon his right shoulder, his dark gaze boring into them as the Hammers approached. This was a new sight to Illyana, but after everything she’d seen to date she was not awed by such a strange occurrence. Day to day life was little more than a continuing parade of oddities anymore, this would not faze her where everything else had failed. As she and those around her, numbering forty strong, came closer she could see that the man was several inches shorter than her and very well-toned, almost rock hard as she could see the muscles through his shirt and where his legs met the inside of his pants.
His gaze was one of absolute darkness tinged slightly with red, as though a fire raged within him that he could not quench. Illyana felt her lips go dry as she stopped, raising her muscular left arm to signal the others to halt as well. The man did not move, nor did he even seem to swivel his gaze from left to right, keeping his eyes straight ahead, on her. Illyana would not be cowed or bullied, but something about the way this man stared at her almost gave her pause, as though she were staring down the vision of the grim reaper itself. She knew that all humans, large and small, knew well enough to fear such a grim figure, though she also knew that this man was not that legendary and universally-feared specter. He was just a man, and she would prove it.
“Out of our way stranger, we have business this night with the intruders to our domain.” The man did not reply to Illyana’s words, nor did he move. Except for the winds that tousled his blonde hair lightly and tugged at his clothing, the man might have been a statue carved out of solid rock. The blue flames flickered but did not diminish as the warm breezes passed them, highlighting the hard features of the man. Showing the handsome lines of his face as well as the thick facial hair he wore. Looking into his eyes Illyana did her absolute best not to look away, though the darkness that gazed out at her from those eyes seemed not to care. In fact, it almost seemed as though the man was mocking her, perhaps daring Illyana to step forward. It was a dare she could not refuse.
Taking one striding step forward she spoke again, “Move aside stranger, or be swept aside.” The man still did not respond, his face set in mask of what might have been feigned amusement as Illyana took another stride forward, coming to within only a few feet of the stranger. She had no doubt that this man was a part of the group that had been spotted near the city, but she wouldn’t let on until he either moved or attacked. If he was foolish enough to believe that he’d survive such a foolish, one-man assault on her clan then he would fall very quickly and very painfully. If he moved however he would still fall, though she would make it quick at least.
This man was a warrior, she could sense that from the way he stood, the way he stared at her without a sound and by the words he spoke next. Illyana had been raised as a farm girl, but she had learned how to fight at an early age. She knew the look of a truly tough individual when she saw them, and this man could no doubt put her brothers and father to shame rather easily. Looking deeper into the man’s eyes Illyana could easily believe that he was far tougher than even Chazzi, even her.
“Go on and move me then.” Illyana couldn’t quite believe what she’d heard as the man spoke, looking up as he met her eyes squarely. Within those dark pools Illyana saw no compromise, no mercy, and no fear. She almost raised her hammer there and then, but even as her fist began to tighten the man’s lips turned up into a light smile, a gesture that somehow transformed his face in that moment from the agent of death she’d thought him to be at first to just another man, another attractive face that looked as though he could be anyone’s best friend. Illyana hesitated for just a moment, but it was enough for those to her left and right to assume that something was wrong as they hefted their weapons, no doubt thinking that their leader had sensed the danger coming from this individual. Illyana wouldn’t have disabused them of this notion, but neither would she send them rushing forth any longer.
There was something about this stranger, some dangerous quality that she could not define and did not care for. He would no doubt see them all dead, just as she would see each one of his people in time. The difference was that she would actually live to see such a sight, while in moments he would be lying broken and bleeding on the road, left for the crows and other scavengers to pick at, a memory that would soon fade.
“This is your last chance stranger,” Illyana said, almost growling, “Move aside or be trampled beneath our boots. It’s your choice.” Illyana squared her shoulders as she hefted her heavy mallet, arching her eyebrows to make her point. She reasoned quickly that the man might not see the gesture, but as he shifted one foot back Illyana tensed, ready for anything. Well, almost anything.
The smile returned to the man’s face as he spoke, taking the blade from his shoulder as he held behind him, the tip facing up as he raised his left hand towards the Hammers. Illyana could not quite believe what she was seeing as the man rotated his hand so that it looked as though he was beckoning them forward, the smile disappearing as he spoke.
“I’ve made my choice.”
* * *
There were too many of them, Tyler knew this as surely as he knew that he didn’t care. Whether there were four, forty or four hundred he would not be moved aside. He knew that this was a foolish gesture at best, that he’d be pummeled into the ground eventually, but he didn’t care. His rage was guiding him now, simmering coolly just beneath the surface as he stared hard at the tall, muscular Russian woman that had just given her ultimatum. He didn’t care if she was Russian, Ukrainian, or Czechnian, it was all the same to him. Tyler grinned slightly as he remembered how crazed some members of each country had once become when they were confused with those who lived behind different borders. It had always seemed rather silly to him, but to any who lived in what had once been known as the USSR, mistaking their nationalities had been akin to spitting in their faces. In this day and age he could only wonder if such attitudes still persisted.
The woman’s accent was heavy but he could easily understand her, just as he knew she could understand him. Tyler would not be moving, nor would he be backing down. He’d gleaned the intent of the large group he now stood in front of and he knew in his heart that these people would see his group driven into the ground before the sun crested the horizon. That could not be allowed, but he had not been content to gather his own clan and wait for them. He could only wonder if this group was those known as the Hammers, given that the woman who’d spoken carried a mallet that looked just as big as Matt’s. It made no difference one way or another.
“You’re mad.” The woman said, her eyes widening just a bit before she narrowed them once more. Tyler did not grin again, he did not speak and he would not move. The time for talking was done, just as the woman would realize far too late. As he moved, those around the woman tensed, reacting just a hair too slow as Tyler waded into them, his fiery blade trailing streamers and wisps of bluish light behind him. He was too quick as those nearest the woman sought to fend him away, their weapons rising to strike or defend. Each one of them carried some form of blunt weapon, furthering the sense of their clan name as it were. Tyler didn’t care, they could have been wielding polearms the length of a lance and he would have waded into them, his blade held behind him as he snarled, revealing the inch-long fangs that jutted from his jaws.
The shock of such a sight made at least one of those in front stumble, his sledgehammer dipping just a little as he cried out in surprise. Tyler attacked this man first, his blade leaving a scorch mark that barely registered in the man’s mind until Tyler was moving onto the next person. The man screamed as he fell away, his guts sliced open and charred as they began to slip from his stomach cavity with a horrid and very wet squelching sound. Tyler didn’t stop to watch the man crumple, he was far too busy moving forward, either dodging or blocking the many strikes that were thrust or swung at him.
He was pure motion given form, a wisp of wind fanned quickly into a devastating hurricane of steel and flame. Tyler could feel his skin harden as he made his way into the midst of the large group, the knowledge that he was far outnumbered not registering a bit as his blade danced to and fro, becoming an extension of his being as he hewed into the flesh of those who had sought to harm his clan. He was devastation, he was ruination and he was damnation for those who sought to avenge those who had been sent falling to the black ground beneath already, either sobbing away their last moments of life or screaming from the searing pain of his blade, the flames devouring flesh and bone hungrily as they dug far deeper with each passing stroke.
Tyler barely saw the faces of those that surrounded him as he continued to move, never allowing a single one of them to pin him down or corner him. He was flanked time and again, but he would not be stopped. The few glancing blows that found his flesh did no real harm as the rage that burned so deeply within his mind did not allow for even the slightest of pain to register. Tyler would not be halted for even a moment as he fell easily into the rhythm of the dance, the swinging motions and wide, sweeping arcs of his blade coming far too fast for any of the club or hammer-wielding foes to penetrate his guard.
From all directions they came, thrusting, swinging and clubbing, trying their hardest to bring down this seemingly invincible foe that would not stop, would not fight as they were used and would not cease his wanton destruction. Many fell within the first minute of the battle, dead already or well on their way to such a final destination. Tyler did not hear their screams, he was deaf to their agonized howls and a part of him actually seemed to enjoy their wails and keening as the would be warriors fell to the ground, flesh smoldering and even smoking as the flames of his blade tore away from them every last vestige of defiance.
Tyler was deathly silent as he went about his grisly dance, never once making any more noise than was necessary as the dark pools of his eyes took in every last nuance, every last detail of the battle. A large part of him knew that he should have fallen by now, that any force this large, even if it wasn’t fully organized, should have been his end. The mob always won, without exception, but he would not accept that. He hadn’t accepted it for the past fifteen years and he wasn’t about to now, but still part of his mind screamed at him to recognize this, to pay attention, to realize that sooner or later-
He got hit. Tyler felt this blow as a crushing pressure against his left side as even through the hardened flesh his ribs shook. Thankfully nothing seemed to break, but the pain was enough for him to register as he spun away, only to take another clubbing blow on the back of his left shoulder, a pain that ignited another, deeper spark of rage within him as he began to growl, his eyes taking on a deeper hue of red as he spun around, seeking to take his vengeance on the maul-wielding young man that had struck him. Just as he was about to however his left hand was struck, spinning him around to the left where he came almost nose to nose with the tall Russian woman, who thrust the flat of her weapon hard into his gut, nearly doubling him over.
Tyler knew this had been inevitable, a moment that had just been waiting to develop. As he felt the air leave his lungs he knew he was nearly done, but still a part of him would not accept this, would not simply lie down and take the punishment that was being doled out so readily. This part of him, the animal part, would not accept that the mob always won, it would not accept that anything was inevitable. It was the side of Tyler that did not quit, that did not allow him to give up. It was the part that would never, ever, stop.
He knew that eventually he would be made to pay for the expenditure of energy he was about to partake of, but at that moment Tyler embraced the darkness within, taking hold of it firmly as it surged to the forefront of his mind. He did not shy away from it, but neither did he allow it to dominate his every thought. Harnessing it quickly Tyler spun, lowering himself to one knee as he swung his blade in a horizontal motion, allowing the blade to travel from just in front of him all the way to the right, ending with its tip facing due east.
The Russian woman was one of the only ones to escape the first devastating blow that was the heralding strike of Tyler’s continuing devastation, but this only saved her for so long. Even as the others that had surrounded him realized what had happened Tyler was rising, forgetting them in that second as he turned his attention to the many others that were even now rushing forward. He didn’t even care how many the Hammers numbered, nor did he care that he had already decimated more than half of those he’d already seen. All that mattered was that they still stood, and that those remaining would surely make him and his clan pay dearly if they were left to draw another breath.
That could not be allowed.
* * *
Andrew made it to the battle before any of the other Chosen, his hands already dropping to his blades as he came closer to the melee. What he saw nearly stopped him in his tracks though, leaving his mouth agape at the terrible speed and power that Tyler was currently displaying. He’d seen his friend perform such acts of savagery before, but as Andrew saw one body fall and then another and then another he knew in that moment that Tyler was either out of control or was hanging on by the thinnest of threads, ready to succumb to the shadows with only the slightest of nudges.
For many years now Andrew had fought against his own private darkness, striving to find his way back to the light despite his role as a Dark Chosen. He’d done terrible things before the Darkfall had come, as had all of the Dark Chosen. Each of them knew that among the other Chosen, Tyler had done much of the same if only for different and much more noble reasons. His friend had killed though, that was indisputable.
Andrew knew that Tyler had never taken joy in the act of killing, in fact he found it absolutely repellent at times. He had come to understand this point of view, though at times during battle Andrew had found himself slipping more and more into the role of the killer that he’d so enjoyed in the early years of their new lives. He knew Marijka had seen this, but to her credit the young woman had never said anything, accepting Andrew for the man he was at least trying to be, not the man he could possibly become. He did not wish to kill anymore, but it was so horribly easy that at times it seemed more like habit than necessity.
Watching the blue flame’s of his friend’s blade trailing out behind him and then passing into human flesh almost sickened Andrew. He knew Tyler, knew that the man would not have gone looking for a fight unless he’d known something that the others did not. It pained him just a little to think that Tyler might not have trusted anyone else enough to bring them into this fight, but then that was just how Tyler was. Andrew had thought at times that the man would take on the world if only to keep the rest of them safe.
It had been a point of many discussions and much argument between Tyler and the rest of the group over his seemingly reckless attitude towards life. Andrew knew that Tyler cared about his own life, he knew the man was not suicidal or even the least bit crazy, he was simply dedicated and honor bound to protect those that looked up to him. But he was also stubborn, headstrong and infuriatingly defiant at times such as now. As he drew his blades Andrew felt their tingling touch deep within his mind, seeking to take hold of his actions and become the berserker as so many times before. He knew very well that such an act would be dangerous without Brooke, Rebecca and Matt or Bear nearby, but at the moment he could think of nothing else but helping his friend.
Tyler was struck three times in rapid succession as Andrew came closer, almost doubling over as a large woman with a mallet not unlike Matt’s thrust her weapon hard into his stomach. Doubling his speed Andrew was upon the fringe of the surviving mob that had gathered around Tyler and was thus close enough to see as his friend spun in a circle, dropping to a knee as his blade traced a fiery half-circle around him, its keen edge slicing through clothing, the wooden handles of a few weapons and flesh with an ease that was absolutely, breathtakingly terrible. Andrew came up short as he was noticed finally, one of those on the edge of the group seeking to include him by raising his wooden club up high, perhaps thinking to drop it onto the head of this new intruder.
Andrew disabused the man of this notion quickly by reversing the grip on his left blade before slamming the pommel hard into the man’s sternum. A large whoosh was followed quickly by a startled oath as Andrew was not finished, hooking his right foot between the man’s ankles and pulling hard against his left leg. Dropping his left hand hard like a hammer onto the same spot Andrew continued to pull with his leg. The result was that the man lost his balance almost instantly, his club flying from his grip as he then spilled hard onto his back, the sound of chipping teeth and breaking bone loud even among the wails and fading moans of those who lay all around, grasping ghastly wounds that Andrew looked away from quickly.
He could not fall into the role of the berserker, not now when Tyler needed him. Andrew considered that his friend wouldn’t see things this way, that he would not welcome his presence, but in the same breath he didn’t care. Tyler took too much on himself at times, endangering his own life needlessly when he should have relied on his friends and family. Now wasn’t the time for a lecture however since Andrew was fighting as hard as he could not to fall into the maddening trap that his blades represented.
They wanted to rip and tear, they wanted to skate along flesh, grind deeper into bone and take their fill of blood. He would not let them, but the temptation was horrible, pulling at him with each breath he took, each move he made as he turned to confront the next in line that sought to take him down. The large hammer swung by the woman that attacked him next managed to slip by Andrew’s guard just slightly as he leaned back, taking the hit on his right bicep instead of his left cheekbone. The thudding sound of the metal tool hitting his flesh was not pleasant, neither was the sharp pain that came from the impact, but Andrew would not let this stop him.
Moving quickly past the pain he brought his left arm up while bringing his right over and down, trapping the woman’s arm before using his blades to lay her open from elbow to wrist by dragging the edges of his weapons downward. The woman screamed with rage and pain as Andrew stepped back, dragging her with him easily before he stepped forward again, lifting his right foot hard into her stomach. Kicking out straight he ripped the hammer from her blood-spattered hand, sending her reeling backward where she tripped over a broken chunk of road, falling hard on her ass. He didn’t pay a single bit of attention as he was forced to move again, dodging a blow that might have brained him had he not seen it coming. Andrew was fighting more than one battle at the moment as his possessed blades screamed within the depths of his mind, demanding to be given their due as he kept his grip on each one reversed. It was so much easier to punch and kick without inflicting mortal damage with his blades pointed downward, though the voices in his head were growing stronger by the second. He could only hope to hold out so long, and then the need to spill the blood of his enemies would take over.
Andrew prayed the fight would be over long before that happened. If it didn’t, he could only hope Tyler would forgive him.
* * *
More than half of her clan were already dead or well on the way as Illyana backed quickly away from the destructive arc that the stranger made with his blade. As four more of her clansmen and women fell away with missing limbs or torn bodies she gaped at the utter destruction, the callousness with which the man dispatched them. He didn’t seem to care as he rose slowly to his feet, fending away attacks as though the Hammers were nothing more than children. Illyana had never seen a display of such expert swordsmanship outside of the movies, and even then she was doubtful that any one of the many Hollywood choreographers would have been able to replicate what she was seeing.
The man was beyond skilled, he was a hurricane given human form, moving through her people as though they weren’t there, leaving nothing more than a path of devastation in his wake. Yet he moved so gracefully, so fluidly that it was beautiful, a scene of such elegant poetry in motion that it was hard to believe this was truly happening. Only the screams of the wounded and the dying allowed her to come back, otherwise Illyana might not have raised her weapon to avenge them.
She strode forward as the man focused his attention on a knot of her clansmen that came at him from several different angles at once, an attack she and many of the others had worked on for the last several years a method of attack against larger and much more dangerous creatures. It had proven effective against much simpler and stronger opponents, but as the man continued to move, the ribbons of fire that danced in his wake losing none of their potency, Illyana had to wonder if there was any way at all to stop him. Stepping forward she swung her mallet, determined to find a way.
* * *
As had happened more than once now Tyler saw the faces of those who had fallen since their lives had changed, those who had either been victims of the madness or willing participants that had stood at his side. As he saw Evelyn and Gary Ferris, his mother and father, Tyler snarled as he remembered the callous way in which they’d been killed. His parents had never known why they had died, expending their last breath within the living room of their own home in pain and in confusion.
Blocking another blow Tyler spun quickly, ramming his left elbow hard into the face of the same woman he’d just defended against. Bone and cartilage crunched audibly as the woman’s head snapped back, her dark hair flying as streamers of blood and bits of teeth went flying from her mouth. Tyler didn’t care, she was in his way and that was that.
One of the first victims of his nemesis, Sarah’s mother had become little more than death on claws, bent on destroying whatever lay in her path. It had been a mercy killing that he had performed at that time. Beth had been dying, the black gunk that had oozed from beneath her nails and from her pores indication enough of that. Sivis had gotten to the woman somehow and attempted to change her further, but had failed. The woman’s face came to mind in that moment as Tyler swept his blade across the chest of the same woman he’d just struck, laying her open easily as the flames of his blade left a small portion of themselves upon her clothing, the radiant tongues of fire grasping hungrily at her clothing and hair.
This name was one of those that hurt him the most. Jennifer and Jamie had been ready to join the cause of those that had called Ocean Park home during those furious times. Jamie had admitted as much to him once she had come around, which had made Tyler’s lapse all that more terrible. He’d warned Jennifer and the few others that had tried to detain him to step away, to save themselves and leave him alone. But they hadn’t.
This single name almost crippled Tyler as he allowed his rage to blossom even further, staving away the despair that threatened to grip him as he cut and slashed, defended and parried. His blade trailed streamers of what looked like liquid flame as he hunkered down to a knee once more, defending away an attack before springing forward at another opponent, using his weight and momentum to drive the man off of his feet. Tyler fell hard with the man, landing with his back on top of the man’s chest. The air was driven from the man’s lungs in a large whoosh as Tyler kept moving, not trusting that the other Hammers would not seek to put him down at the expense of one of their own.
The small boy that Tyler had sacrificed for the pleasure of the crowd in the arena still haunted him, no matter that he hadn’t known the kid’s name. He could still see the terrified eyes, the round face and the look of utter dread on the boy’s features. Hell he could even smell the urine that had stained the boy’s pants in his final moments as the crowd had cheered him on, waiting for Tyler to drop his blades hard onto the child. He hadn’t thought of the boy in some time though.
Two of the men that had come from the woods where he and Kera had found them, Cross and Stiles had been good friends. It was sad that he hadn’t gotten to know the two as well as he did Roland and Bear, but fate had not been kind enough to allow for such time. Like each one of those that had fallen in the past decade and a half Cross and Stiles had died protecting others, they had died on their feet, fighting until the end.
Tyler’s blade traced a fiery path through his foes, never ceasing to move as he fended away one attack after another, his energy flagging only for a moment as he continued to draw upon the energies around him. If anyone noticed their sudden sluggishness they did nothing to indicate it, merely shrugging it off as they made their way forward, fully intent on making him join those on the ground.
Tyler just barely blocked three rapid strikes that came in from two different directions, feeling the force behind each one as he could feel himself slipping just a bit. The shadows were beginning to press in closer with each of his rapid heartbeats, demanding more and more of his being as he continued to call upon the power that was his birthright. The faces that came to mind now were there and gone within moments, leaving him feeling the acute loss that each life spent had caused him and his clan.
His blade continued to dance, weaving a swath of such ruin that after several minutes Tyler found himself alone save for one, panting and barely able to stand as his blade finally dipped, his eyes growing heavy as the influx of power began to wane.
A hard blow fell upon Tyler’s left shoulder, buckling him just slightly as he twisted away, keeping hold of his blade in his right hand. Gaining enough distance to turn he did so, seeing the large blonde woman that had spoken to him first. Her face was pulled back into a mask of such rage and sorrow that Tyler felt at that moment the need to tell her “I know how you feel”. Such words might not have been appreciated however and would likely have only fueled her rage even further. Looking into her eyes Tyler figured that he didn’t need words for such a thing.
His body was aching but he would not feel it, refusing in the same mule-headed way that he had done for so long. Tyler would go until the last opponent was down, fueling himself from pure rage if he had to. As the woman attacked he waited, drawing her in until she was fully committed to her every motion. It was at the height of the swing she performed that he moved, though his blade did not leap up to carve into her flesh. Instead he moved aside, using her momentum to knock her weapon down towards the ground where it slammed hard enough to jar her hands from the handle for just a split second.
Moving in quickly Tyler tried to end the fight, his blade seeking to take the woman’s head from her neck with one clean swipe. She surprised him however as she moved, her medium length hair just barely whisking against the edge of his weapon as she dragged her weapon along the asphalt, refusing to relinquish it despite the terrible pain within both of her forearms. Illyana was just as stubborn, she would not allow the man to claim such a easy victory as he advanced, his blade weaving a pattern of fire in front of him as he came.
Illyana had attended only a few martial arts classed in her life, enough to know that the flourishing styles held in such high regard and regaled within Hollywood movies was little more than foolishness. It was designed more for looks than function, more glitz than grace. It was this thought that allowed her to see past the man’s trickery, to the more subtle movements of his feet and body as he moved to her left, then to her right, trying to disorient her before sweeping his blade upward. The blow might have split her from crotch to chin had she not moved, swinging hard towards his now-exposed knees.
Illyana felt a surge of relief as well as animalistic joy as Tyler’s left knee buckled under the blow. There was no telltale pop, no sickening twist of the limb. In fact Illyana felt the handle of her weapon shift dangerously in her grip as the metal head struck the man’s knee. It was like hitting a solid rock.
Even as he went down to a knee she was attacking again, rising up high to come down for the coup de grace, wanting to end this battle badly. What she would do after she didn’t know, but seeing this man crumpled before her into a lifeless ball would be a start.
The man tried to block as she came down and managed to just barely deflect her weapon enough so that it was not a killing blow. Her weapon still thudded hard into the man’s left shoulder again, driving him even further to the ground. It was just then that Illyana heard a sound from behind, as though someone was trying to sneak up behind her. Turning quickly she beheld another stranger, this one far more lanky and dark of hair than the man on his knee. Illyana lashed out quickly, catching the man by surprise as she rammed the end of her weapon into his face, dropping him instantly. As the man fell away Illyana looked back to the first stranger, noting that he hadn’t risen as of yet. Smiling grimly to herself she spat at him before turning to the other man as she raised her weapon high. She would have two kills this night, two chances to avenge her fallen clan, and she would not waste them.
Even as the weapon came up however Illyana felt a sudden wash of heat at her back, a warming sensation that caught her by surprise as she paused. This time however, the pause was followed by a blinding sheet of pain as something hard and very hot was rammed into her upper back, something that pushed forward relentlessly, breaking bone and superheating flesh and muscle with each inch it clawed forward. Illyana tried to scream but was unable as her lungs were cooked almost instantly, the fiery object frying her insides with the sound of sizzling meat even as her spine cracked and creaked, the fluid-filled discs that were between her vertebrae popping under the extreme temperature, causing the bones to slam together, causing her even more intense agony.
She’d heard it said before that pain was counter-productive, that it would eventually become a moot point if too much was inflicted at one time. The human body would release endorphins that would cause the body to go numb, eliminating the need for feeling due to too much sensory input. Illyana couldn’t quite believe that at that moment as she felt every last pain acutely, right down to the ironclad grip that was suddenly laid upon her heart, the powerful organ still pulsing as it was gripped harder, harder and even harder as it was then ripped from its moorings.
She could even feel as it was pressed forward through her body, the force with which it hit her sternum almost pulping it as the organ continued to pump, its rhythm becoming louder and louder in her ears as Illyana could feel as though every cell within her body was pumping in the same maddened, desperate pulse. She was going to die, Illyana knew this with a certainty. No one could possibly live after such a thing, no matter who they were. There wasn’t a doctor or medical assistant in the world that would have been capable of repairing such damage unless there was a hospital nestled around them in this moment, and even then the odds were slim to none. Seeing as how the last hospital she’d seen had been infested with creatures of all sorts Illyana highly doubted that such a thing would be in her near future.
The pain only intensified as she could feel her ribs shatter, furthering the damage as shards of bone punctured her rapidly burning flesh, shredding muscles, tendons, sizzling organs and all. How she could still feel any of this was unknown, she should have already passed out from the immense shock that such a horrid death would have brought. Yet she was still awake, still horribly lucid as she could hear her flesh ripping, feel it stretching further and further until finally her chest exploded in a shower of gore, a blood-slicked hand emerging from the upper part of her torso, just slightly to the left. Illyana could see with horrible clarity the mashed organ within the tight grip of the man that stood behind her.
It was him, she knew it was him, it couldn’t possibly be anyone else. As he came close to her back she could hear the bastard breathing, his voice sounding as though he’d perhaps become just a bit winded, not exhausted as he’d seemed. She wanted to turn, to at least spit in his face, or even glare at him one last time in defiance, but her body would not obey her commands. As she looked down at the hand that emerged from her chest however Illyana figured that even being able to wouldn’t have helped. The man was simply too strong, too powerful, and he’d managed to defeat her, no matter how underhanded the victory had been.
She’d lived much of her life simply trying to escape the brutality of men that hadn’t known any better. Illyana had made no apologies in her life, she had done what she’d had to in order to get away. She had come to this country to begin a new life, to do what she wanted, not anyone else. Born a farm girl, she would die a warrior. As she leaned back to scream her last breath into the sky however she was denied even this as Tyler thrust his arm even further into her, the fires that danced along his body taking hold of Illyana’s form immediately. Before the fires became too loud however she managed to hear him whisper in her ear. Illyana could only hope that the flames would consume them both.
“This was your choice, and you took it.”
* * *
Tyler let the woman drop to the ground, extracting his hand as she fell. The heart fell to the ground with a dull splat of blood-slicked flesh. He felt only mild disgust at what he’d done, telling himself just once that it had been necessary. As he looked around at the carnage he’d created however he could scarcely believe that, finding that in his heart he didn’t really know what might have happened had he allowed the Hammers to reach his clan. Perhaps something else might have been possible. He would never know now, but for some reason that didn’t bother him quite as much as he felt it should.
His energy was gone, the only reason he was standing was out of sheer stubbornness, nothing more. Tyler felt as though he’d been awake for days, walking for weeks or perhaps fighting for nearly a month. This had not been the greatest amount of energy he’d ever drawn upon, but for some reason he felt far more tired than any other time before, as though he’d asked far too much of his body than ever before. It was a strange feeling, especially considering that he’d not felt this way since the first few years of the change. As he stumbled forward several steps he saw a form moving among the dead, a form that was familiar.
“Andrew?” Tyler croaked, frowning in confusion. He didn’t know why the Tempest was here, nor did he understand. As he heard his name cried out however Tyler found that this was irrelevant, seeing as the other Chosen and many of the others in the group were rushing forward, weapons drawn and concerned looks upon their faces. Had they heard the fighting? That was the only explanation that he could think of that would make sense, but then of course there were always other explanations. There were always-
Tyler felt himself falling, knew he was falling, but for a reason he couldn’t determine it didn’t seem to matter. As he hit the ground hard he heard his name called again and again, though whether it was out of concern or anger he couldn’t tell.
He winced as the face of his friend came to mind, hanging within the darkness almost like an accusation.
He didn’t want to think any more, he wanted to rest, but he knew he couldn’t. Their goal was growing closer, he knew that with a certainty that gnawed at him incessantly and without pause. They were so close, so close that he could feel it, but he still didn’t know where the damned place was.
Tyler wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t, not with the faces of his friends flashing before him.
Closing his eyes Tyler tried to fade away, to just drift away on the darkness for a while, but it would not come.
No, he didn’t want to remember, he wanted to wake up in his bed and find that this had all been a horrible, horrible nightmare. That was all he wanted.
He wanted to, wait, what?