They weren’t far behind now, but still couldn’t be seen. She was running as fast as she could, darting around parked cars and bins left in the street. Her feet were numb, likely bloody, and still she ran. The things that chased her were relentless, unforgiving, and fast. She could keep them at bay, for at least a little while, but she was growing weak. Rounding a corner she came upon a couple laughing and joking as they walked towards her. They must have had a good night out. She springs to the left without breaking her stride, and has passed them practically before they see her. Her pursuers, fortunately for her, are fickle and quickly distracted, and pause for a few moments inspecting the couple. They barely notice, and her pursuers are quick to return to the chase.
She uses the time acquired well, gaining a significant lead over them. Her goal still seems far off, but is much closer now and she will reach it in a matter of minutes. A howl of anger shatters the night around her as they realise this, and double their pace. They feel no fatigue; burning through the muscles of their vessels without pause. They will catch her at this rate, when she is so close to her goal, and to safety. A decision must be made, the risk is great but she must not fail.
Turning on one foot, she brings herself to a stop. Her clothes are tattered and flow lazily in the wind around her, but she stands tall. The wraiths sense their prey and are wary of this new tactic, so spread out to surround her as they approach. She waits for them to encircle her, needing them closer for this to work. They begin to form visible bodies from the shadows, roughly human in shape but of little substance. What they come for is her body and her mind, only by possessing both can they bend her to their will, creating another agent in our world.
They move much more slowly now, the closeness of the prey weighing on their minds, putting them into a trance even as they try to work out her next move. Her hands have been at her sides, and her eyes are half closed. She starts to raise her hands, startling them as tiny lights start to accumulate around her fingertips. A necklace hangs about her neck, an oval of light lying against her chest and spearing the night as it glows brighter. They are mesmerised, their ideal prey standing before them, unwary of the true nature of the woman, only fixated on the power they wish to possess.
Her eyes have closed, and they are coming closer. Her hands have stopped, are level in front of her. The energy gathering at her fingertips dances in the night, beginning to interact with the light from her necklace. She tilts her head back, and tears run from her eyes.
They rush towards her, eager to consume their prey in its time of weakness, passing an invisible barrier. The energy and light interacting above her hands explodes into a sphere and there is a huge flash that engulfs them all.
They are gone, for now. She collapses to her knees, sobbing into the night. She regains her composure quickly, gets back to her feet and starts running. They will be back soon, and they will be much faster this time. The building she is heading for was once a school, but is now a haven and headquarters for people like her. They cannot follow her inside, and as she rounds one final corner she sees her destination.
They are back and moving faster than she can. She desperately sprints the last few metres to the school, crying out for help as she does. The doors open, revealing an aura of light surrounding two men as they step outside. Her allies begin hurling bursts of energy at her pursuers, slowing them down enough to let her reach the school.
A human form appears in the darkness behind her, and the wraiths swarm around it. She and her allies rush into the building and start to close the doors, just as this new threat raises a gun. A single shot is loosed as the doors close, cutting right through and tearing a ragged hole in her stomach.
Her allies catch her as she falls, but she is desperately searching herself for that which she came to deliver. She finds it and forces the slip of paper into the hands of one of her friends, before slipping into unconsciousness.
“Lost track of time… could have been years ago now. I have been confined to this place, wherever it may be, by people I don’t know. They haven’t been cruel, not exactly, but the mind numbingly static nature of this place does grate after a while. Their experiments, so far as I can tell, don’t need me to be awake, and I have only very rarely woken up, in here as usual, with any discomfort.
Keep trying to think of what it might have been, what I did that made me so important to them. Barely had much of a life before this anyway, as far as I know I was just like everybody else. Apparently not.
Either that or they’re actually aliens who are studying our species to evaluate our level of evolution. Maybe. I doubt it to be honest.
Must have been that woman. She was too friendly, too willing to listen.
I used to scream, shout, bloody my hands on the walls. It would take a while of course; they’d coated them in something that absorbs impacts. I stopped when I woke up once, I had gone to sleep the night before having practically smashed my hands to bits on the wall, in the morning there was no blood, and no pain in my hands. Lying in the bunk, I took a look around the room, and noticed at the time the bunk had been moved.
Seemed like their way of telling me to stop. I stopped trying to break my fists on the walls, but I have never stopped the shouts and screams to let me go, as ineffective as they seem.
There isn’t even a goddamned window in this room, just the bunk, toilet and that fucking light in the ceiling. The ceiling happens to be about three times my height, so I’ve never tried to get to it. I get up in the mornings, if that’s when I do, I’ve got no idea in here, and they’ve put food on a tray on the floor.
I suppose it would seem odd to anyone else, and maybe even to those freaks who happen to be holding me for no reason, for someone to be narrating their current existence to an empty room”
I smile a little; start to think I might be losing my mind. It’s not that I’m talking to an empty room that’s the problem, more that it’s the fifth time that I have. Looking around the room again, probably for the fifty thousandth time, I see nothing new. So I decide to stare at another spot on the wall, and sink slowly into the sea of my own thoughts, hoping in vain that it will help the time pass.
Something is different. The blank grey walls of my cell, my home, have changed. They’re reacting to me, flexing inward and out in time to my breathing. Who, or whatever has put me here must be doing something new. Toying with my perception of reality; that’s a trick they haven’t tried before.
They must be moving on to the next stage, the limits of what they can learn from my physiology reached. Possible explanations flitter through my mind, twisting forever out of reach. Is there something more to me? Something they have found, or think they’ve found, that makes me worth the effort?
Where those particular ideas came from I may never know.
The walls are flexing more violently now, and I realise as I watch them that they still react to my breathing, which is now hard and fast. But there is something else. I start to feel a presence, something beyond the confines of my personal prison, that makes my heart skip a beat. It’s dark, wrong, but it’s influence wavers as though struck, and I feel the presence of others, along with a deep sensation of dread and desperation.
I have to get out. It’s my only option, and though I am not restrained the task seems impossible. They are winning, forcing the presence away from my cell, but they are weakening fast. I get to my feet and face the door, expecting it to open to a hail of gunfire.
It remains closed, and they are moving away, slowly beating back their enemy. None of that matters to me as I begin to concentrate on my main problem; the door. The walls have slowed their pace, reflecting my breathing but the movement itself is weaker, there’s less power in it.
The door, however, has come under my influence. Whatever they have done to me starts to surface, and as my desperation begins to build the door reacts. The surface goes wavy, and as I stare at it the waves spread out like ripples on a pond. Transfixed, I start to think about a hole appearing at the centre of the ripples, the material flowing away from the point I’m staring at. As I watch, the magic happens, and the door is rapidly reduced to a pair of large pieces of slag either side a hole large enough to step through.
“Keep it back! Hold! We have worked too long and too hard to lose them now!” someone shouts.
The voice came from somewhere along the corridor I’m now standing in, and from that same direction started a series of explosions. The metal walls of the corridor are warped and buckled, and there are large gouges along the ceiling.
I decide to head away from the screams that now echo along the corridor, setting off at a run. More shouts come, but they are getting fewer and more desperate, and I’m in too much of a hurry to understand what’s being said. I round a corner, coming across a body slumped against the wall as I go. My captors were human, it would seem. Judging by the huge, ragged slashes on the body’s torso, whatever they were fighting was not.
Looking down at my legs, I can barely believe I’m still running. Either I’ve been in here for a lot less than I thought, or they’d done a considerable amount more to me than I realised. I round another corner, finding myself in a much larger room. There are more bodies, but there are also living people tending them, and more helping wounded. They barely notice my arrival, must believe that I’m one of their own, maybe wounded coming from the fight.
There is something odd about them, I can feel it but can’t discern what it is. I stand and stare, watching them for longer than I should, their motions a practised ballet that is fascinating to watch. Whatever form of first aid they use, it is entirely alien to anything I’ve seen, but looks effective. They are using what looks like modelling clay, only much more organic. Pieces are broken off, which they then raise to their mouths, seeming to breathe on or speak to it before putting it on the wound. I still can’t believe they haven’t noticed me, and my jaw drops as I watch what happens next. Once it is placed on the wound, they start to run their hands back and forth, and they seem to be chanting.
The clay moves. At first it seems to be melting, spreading as it does so to fill the gaps in the person’s flesh. I continue to watch, and it seems to come alive, writhing and growing, as though it’s trying to force itself further into the wound. Blood ceases to flow, is even retrieved by the living goo they have put into the wounds, and the skin begins to be pulled back together. Finally the stuff settles, adopting the exact colour of the surrounding skin as it seals the wound entirely.
Only minutes have gone by and those who were unconscious and in serious trouble are awake again, and starting to sit up. One of the wounded shakes his head and looks around, he sees me. I stare blankly at him, waiting for him to sound an alarm, scream, shout, anything. I notice for the first time that he and most of the others appear to be wearing dark robes over simple trousers and shirt. The remainder are wearing the same light clothes that I am. That prisoners wear. He does a double take, and clearly can’t quite believe his eyes. Others start to follow his eye line, end up looking at me. I stare back at them.
The men in robes start making a move for me, anger on some of their faces, concern on others, but the wounded man beckons them to stop. He gets to his feet, slowly, wincing once at what must be an old injury as he does.
“You should not be alive, my friend” he says, starting to walk towards me, favouring his right leg.
“There’s at least one guy who isn’t, but whatever is tearing your people apart, your friends managed to keep away from my cell” I say, dazed and confused.
“I shall commend them, should they survive. It is an evil you would barely comprehend. But they should not have let you out of there yet” he says, coming to a stop and shaking his head.
It seems better not to tell him the truth, not right now. So I decide on something else. “What’s your name?” I ask.
The surprise is plain on his face. The gathered others look warily at him, some of them closing their hands into fists. My seemingly increased ability to empathise lets me see that they are now all angry, and most are very, very nervous. I see it even though they don’t show it.
“My name is not important; you must come with us now. That demon came for you and the other subjects. I am afraid you will have to be confined once more, for you own safety, though I know you won’t believe me” he says, gesturing now for the others to come for me.
“I’m not going to let you do that. Please make them stay back” I say, surprised at the ease with which I formulated the response. I take one step back. “I’ll take a chance on that monster, if they do not stop”
They stop, all of them angry, most of them wishing they could beat me into submission. Disbelief plays across his face, if only for an instant, before he decides to speak once more.
“You would willingly go to your death, rather than be subject to confinement? You must have seen the demon of which you speak; no one would face that knowing they had no defence”
“I would be inclined to agree with you, but there are two problems with your statement. The first, you assume that I have seen the monster, I have not. Second, you assume I have no defence, and whilst any other day I would agree wholeheartedly, today I am not so sure” I say, pouring my heart and soul into my sarcasm.
His eyes narrow and confusion masks his face. The others start looking at each other, none of them quite believing what I’m saying.
“So, one man remained behind as the other chased it off, letting you escape to join up with us. As far as your defensive ability is concerned, you might be getting ahead of yourself” he responds slowly.
I smile at him, doing my best to infuriate. “I know you have been experimenting on me. I know that you have added, subtracted and done other things to me. I don’t know why, or to what extent I’ve been changed. I would suggest, as a test, that you send one of your men here to look at my cell, I’m sure you can gauge it better than I can”
He considers, then signals the man nearest me to investigate. The man jogs past me, glaring as he goes; I give him a nice smile in return. I am high on their frustration, and having too much fun to slow down now. His men, previously holding themselves ready to leap forward for me, relax a little; perhaps sure they can detain me now that another of their number has gotten behind me. Their leader still looks tense, and takes a few tentative, less awkward steps closer to me.
“What do you hope to accomplish with this? You are surrounded, and at the moment we are still your best hope of coming out of this alive. The demon that has attacked us is not dead yet”
“I hate to seem like a petty child, but I won’t carry on talking to you unless you give me your name” I say, crossing my arms.
He seems to consider for a moment, then relents. “My name is Rethall”
“Hmph. You already know mine, I’m sure. To answer your question, I don’t hope for anything. Do you think I have any idea how long I was locked in there? Hope was something I lost in the process. All I want to do with this really is annoy the crap out of you for as long as possible”
A smile breaks across his face, strangely enough. He motions for his colleagues to back away, and they do so, reluctantly. Rethall then closes the distance between us to an arms length, still smiling.
“We forget sometimes that perception of time is the first thing to go for the subjects. To tell you the truth, you have been in there a little over a month, and there was still every reason to hope”
“So you say, but how exactly can I trust you, my captors for what, were I to take you on your word, was a very long month”
I was starting to get a little dizzy. The modifications were going to take some getting used to, as the feelings of those around me kept creeping in on my mind when they really weren’t wanted. The man that Rethall had sent to check on my cell was returning, at a fair pace, but that was just adding to the mess of information in my head, which had been making things so much clearer but was now reaching a tipping point.
“Your friend is coming back” I manage, putting my hand to my head in an attempt to steady myself.
“Is he now?” Rethall asks, just before his man can turn the last corner.
I turn to look at the man, wishing as I do that I really hadn’t; the room carries on spinning. He has an interesting look on his face; a cross between fear and confusion, but his presence seems to stabilise my mind. Smiling, I turn back to Rethall, whose face is a picture of concern.
“Go on then, ask him” I say, stepping back and leaning on the wall of the corridor.
Rethall is still looking at me, beckons for the man to speak as he now walks forward, closing the distance between us again.
“It was driven from the cell, there are scratches along the walls, and I could hear our brethren still fighting it further down. It did not get a chance to break through” the man says, his voice quiet.
“So they opened the cell for her to escape to us?” Rethall asked, eyes still on me and voice urgent. I smile back at him crookedly; it seemed like the right thing to do.
“No sir. They did not. The door controls were destroyed in the fighting, and the power running to it cut by the gouges in the walls. The subject must have escaped”
“Preposterous! And just how exactly was she supposed to do that? That door is ten centimetre thick steel” Rethall shouted at him, breaking the little staring competition he had decided to start.
The man visibly squirmed before coming to a small conclusion. “I can say for a fact that the door was not broken open sir”
“Then how the hell did she get out?”
“The door… sir it’s slag, split into two pieces either side of the room”
Rethall stared at the man, disbelief slowly giving way to the begrudging realisation that he was telling the truth, and with that came anger. He turned to the rest of the men, beckoned for them to come forward and spoke with them in hushed tones, throwing the occasional glance my way. I didn’t care, opting instead to concentrate on making the room stop spinning and keeping myself upright. The man that had gone to check my cell was looking at me, glancing occasionally at the others as they huddled around their leader.
“Feel free to join them, I don’t need you to keep an eye on me” I say to him, knowing it to be pointless.
The man raises an eyebrow, looks at the others for a minute before turning back to me. “You look like you’re in worse shape than you think; I might as well stick around for now. Besides, Rethall wouldn’t like me abandoning a prisoner”
I manage to cough out something vaguely resembling a laugh, and regret it as the room rocks violently. My head, whilst no longer hurting so much, is still spinning. “You think you could stop me now? After you’ve seen what I did to that door, do you really think it’s even safe to be this close to me?”
He considers for a moment before shrugging. “This place isn’t exactly safe anywhere at the moment, the thing we’re fighting is still here somewhere, I can’t imagine you’d be much worse”
“I wouldn’t know” I reply, looking up to see Rethall striding back towards us with a very serious look on his face.
The spinning slows as he looks at me. “We were attacked by a creature from a world we call the Recess. The easiest way to define it is as a demon, and it damn well fights like one. You are more important to us than you can imagine, and your escape from your cell is proof of that. We have to get you and the others away from here as even if we kill the demon, this facility is compromised. But I’m sorry to say that you must be bound for the trip, we can’t know what you might do, even accidentally”
The room has come to a stop, my mind focusing as he speaks. Surrounding me are men with clarity of purpose, and it is this, I realise, that has brought me back from the brink of unconsciousness. I notice that my door inspecting friend is looking nervous, sending odd looks at the others. They don’t notice, all focused on me. No longer do I care what the consequences of my decisions might be, and I am not going to be confined, ever again.
“I’d prefer it if I wasn’t imprisoned again” I say slowly, gauging Rethall’s reaction.
“Not an option, and if you are thinking of taking us all on, don’t even try, you have no idea what you’re capable of, or how to use it; you’d just be wasting your energy” Rethall replies sternly.
He believes he is right. His men believe he is right, that my inexperience will be my undoing. They may very well be, but I don’t care. I just don’t care anymore.
Something scrabbles for attention at the edge of my mind, but I am too distracted to care.
“Then bind me, if you can” I say, stepping away from the wall and putting my hands together.
Rethall nods to two of his men, who promptly step forwards and raise their hands. Their eyes close and energy starts to build, I can feel it around me. It feels like the pressure is rising, trying to compress me and it starts to get harder to move. I don’t like it. My attention gets diverted to the rest of the room; there are two other exits and my eyes affix to one of them. I have no idea why, but the pressure is still building, and with it I feel myself getting hotter.
Rage is building in me, and I know the only way to stop it is to counter the building heat. I can’t move, the men surrounding me have arrogant looks on their faces and the rage builds.
But I see clearly. The rage is like a torrent but is trapped, confined to a specific course whose end is something I know I need to reach.
In an instant it unlocks, and the flow of rage pours through to power something I know will help. My neck aches, and by force of habit I turn my head to correct it, and the pressure is gone.
“What the fuck!” Rethall shouts as both of his men are thrown backwards, surprise manifesting on their faces even as they become airborne. The air around me is distorted, and the rest of Rethall’s men look ready to attack.
“I wouldn’t” I say, still strangely calm and now acutely aware that there is something I’ve missed.
“Leave her be, for the moment,” Rethall says, a strange look on his face, “we’re about to have company”
With that, both of the men that I threw across the room scream, and I see something come out of the corridor, my eyes transfixed to that spot. Rethall and his men are already moving, shouting, attacking. The beast keeps coming, shrugging off numerous bolts of energy. The two men are dead, their bodies mangled, their very life stolen away. This thing, this demon, defies imagination, existing within a veil of darkness that hides its appearance. Lashing out with fleshy claws dripping in blood is the least concerning thing about it.
Rethall has been concentrating for some time, considering the rapid nature of the attacks. He lets loose now with a visible beam of light spearing forth from his hands, held close to his chest. It cuts into the creature, cleaving away some of the darkness momentarily. The demon adjusts, undamaged and still hidden, throwing back bursts of energy of its own, only they are more violent, more chaotic. Three more of the remaining seven men are injured, the attacks of the creature rending flesh from bone.
Up until now it hasn’t noticed me. It has concentrated on the others in the room, and I realise as it continues forward that there are several guards behind it, still desperately trying to stop it. The demon stops as it notices my presence, the darkness surrounding it intensifying. It intrudes on my mind, rasping and tearing at me in its fury. The depth of its hatred for me is intense, and I fall to one knee under the onslaught from its mind.
Rethall and the others see what is happening, insanely they try to gather in front of me, to block its path to me, but there is no space between us. They can no better block its mind than hold back a typhoon. I am breathing hard, my head is hanging, and I can barely think.
This thing must die. The thought cycles through my mind, gathering momentum, picking up the pieces and carrying them with it. It forms a storm of its own, growing in power in my mind to rival that of the demon.
Fear. I feel it, introduced into the storm. Fear is the demon’s most effective tool, now that has been turned against this beast. Raising my head I look at my enemy, managing to force the alien mind from mine. It is pulsating, lashing out at its surroundings in an effort to stop me. Before I realise what I am doing I have entered its mind, and feel myself being lost to a chaos I barely understand. My storm grows. I feed on the chaos, bringing it under my control, making it my own.
I stand now, completely free of the pain that had gripped me, free to do now as I wish against this thing. I remember Rethall’s attack, and as I bring my hands up I introduce some of the chaos of the storm into it, forming something entirely new in my mind. I have no idea how I am doing this, or even what I am doing, all I know is that this will work. Electricity dances around my hands as energy builds within them, and with a scream I unleash my attack.
A raging torrent of white light, quite a sight really, tears forth and strikes the demon. The darkness that surrounded it’s body scatters, revealing a huge twisted mass of flesh, bone and teeth that at one time must have been human. Patches of the beast’s body are visibly melting under the attack, but it snarls and sweeps a twisted arm around in front of itself. I can’t hold the attack any longer, my scream choked off in my throat and sending me into a coughing fit.
Whatever I did must have helped, as the cheers of the men, even the other subjects, around me demonstrate. I manage to look up to see them all attacking the demon at once, bits and pieces of the twisted body being incinerated or blown off as successive attacks strike.
One of the other subjects charges forward with a chair in his hands, brings it down on what I assume is the demon’s head with a wet thunk. He is torn in two as it continues to fend off the guards attacks, the demon not even appearing to have noticed him.
“Do that again! Our attacks can only damage this demon, you must destroy it!” Rethall screams at me as a claw lashes out, getting another of his men.
There are a few subjects left, standing terrified somewhere behind me, protected by the ‘medics’ that occupied the room. Chanting starts to build from them, buoying my mind into something close to calm.
The demon knows. Ragged and bloody, it still manages to turn towards me and hurl more chaotic energy, boney projectiles, even part of the dead subject at me. My body is protected from the physical projectiles and the worst of the energy, a shield of power forming. But what does get through tears into me viciously, making me clench my teeth as my hands go up.
My supporters increase their chanting and energy starts to gather in my hands again. The storm is all that’s needed now, and the memory of the demon’s mind is enough to bring it back almost full force. A scream is not forthcoming this time, my throat feeling like its full of knives, but I want to so badly. My eyes are on fire, the chanting feeding me more energy than I had before and building the storm to a point where my body is barely holding together.
I just barely manage to raise my hands in the demon’s direction as it lumbers towards me, and the power bursts forth. Pain fills the world, but I can still see the demon’s body boiling away under the force of the attack. The last vestiges of its defences are stripped away by Rethall’s guards, allowing the body to wither away.
There is still something there. Tears are streaming from my eyes, but my body feels disconnected, elsewhere. Darkness fills the void left by the demon, quickly coalescing into a shape that refuses to be defined. I feel myself fall. The demon’s body was destroyed, I know that. But the malevolence contained in that body remains, hovers over me for a moment before floating straight up through the dull grey ceiling.
“Is she alive?” Rethall asks of someone I can’t see.
“Yes, but her recovery will likely take time” Someone answers as hands block my view of the ceiling for a moment.
“Thank fuck for that. You two, make that corridor safe. You, go and tell the council that we sur-” My eyes flutter as his words grow distant, indistinct.
“Do not worry. You should sleep now”
I’m pretty sure a face has come into view, but my eyes won’t focus. I had felt so strong when that storm was flowing, now my body feels a hundred times heavier and I know that the new voice is right. The memory of the demon’s mind comes back, chaotic and terrifying, only to be shunted out and allowed to fall away. A soothing murmuring takes over, the last thing I know as the world fades.