Book One

Deep and shrouded in the Carpathian Mountains in Sigma's Retreat - an infamous prison camp now located in Russian territory - a mystery unravels leaving but a few lucky prisoners on an unveiling adventure. Dip your hands in blood, wipe your tears with death, slash your toes on the razor's edge and go onward to perform the Sacrament of Fortune. Surely what we know is not always what is present. Just as the snow on the ground hides the paths of fate, so too does the fog within one's own mind. Apart from that... This is a story dedicated to Keturah as she went through one of her most life changing events. She's perhaps the strongest person I know for that as well.

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1. Part One

Part One

November 10th - You can't move on without a past to learn from, but you can't go back with a new future destined for you. (Keturah Coderman) I remember the day we dipped our hands in blood, wiped our tears away with the death of another, and slashed our toes on the razor’s edge; it was the Sacrament of Fortune. In ritual or action neither life nor redemption was offered. It was only treading the trail of blood from forerunners since the beginning. It was only finding your grave before death, for we all must face that which we have done. The mourning of my soul, the endless mourning of my burning soul, it haunts me evermore.

In this world we reap the living souls we touch and toss them into the fiery abyss. In this world we are bound by chains and can only be liberated by the boundless…

*

     “Sigma’s Retreat, cell block twenty-seven, cell number two and six years to this day: it feels like home to me now,” James sighed finishing his entry etched carefully into the walls of his prison. The walls were well acquainted with his various writings creating a constellation which mocked the stars. The rendering rigid edges jutting out from worn down cinder blocks and concrete covering bore images of broken memories which surrounded the cell. Creeping down the concrete prison was a slimy layer of mold with a small trickle of water. The light was dim, and only through the electrically charged bars which hindered freedom were shreds of light allowed to pass.

     The cells nearby seemed to make a draining silence where nothing existed. Not even light seemed to escape upon its entrance through the bars. The only noise heard was the white vibration of the lights outside the cell and the swelling surge of electricity passing through the bars at second intervals. Even the water seeping down the walls seemed to dread making noise. Though, every once in a while the ruffling and grunting of another inmate could be heard. The sudden crack of silence in the void always created a trembling fear.

     Every two days food was supplied from a man wearing a black cloak with a golden badge that gleamed in the light. It bobbed around elegantly like a firefly in the shape of a crescent moon signifying the emblem of Sigma’s Retreat. The guard wore a black cowl which covered his eyes and left the emotionless expressions of his lips permeate through the darkness. In reaching a cell, the food was tossed in letting the tray patter in a revolving motion to which he gave a menacing grin. It was as if he casted a wish for their demise to come sooner.

     On rare incidences he raced down the halls like a shade and later emanating from him was the sound of a rusty cell’s door screech. Afterwards, a quick slash and a loud crack as if breaking sticks crept its way into the surrounding cells. The sloshing of internal organs spilled over with a deadened suction. It was like stuffing a pillow with slop in a vigorous attempt at packing it full. On his way out, he heaved his way slyly tugging a rope over his shoulder. The black bag behind him scraped across the rough stony floor; as it snagged it left nothing but red ooze and bloody flesh with an acrid smell of dying flesh.

     Lying down on the coarse concrete below him, James groveled over to a corner and grabbed a stone the size of his fist. He looked at his thick, callused hands then out of the darkness with his legs tucked under his elbows. Suddenly, in a rhythmic pattern he tapped the rock onto the concrete creating a resonance which slithered down the lengthened hallway of cells. Tap Tap. Tap Tick… The sounds went through the halls with a level of small differentiation. When James finished, he sat in the silence to see if the mockingbird still listened. Quietly in the halls, Tap Tap. Tap Tick… it was Morse Code: “I’m alive and ready to die. The song of the mockingbird lives.”

     Relief for a brief moment filled James’s mind. He could finally escape the deafening silence of the prison, but quickly the silent guilt filled the air and consumed his mind. The weight of his crime seemed all the worse in silence; it was all he could think about. All the writings on his prison wall seemed to dance and snicker at his inevitable demise. All of it was coming to an end within a matter of hours. Quietly he whispered to himself, “We all must face that which we have done. Are… are you ready to die?” His eyes stared off into the distance and glazed with guilt as his life flashed in front of him.

     Gradually, his heart began to thump faster and faster as he writhed in the corner of his greatest regrets: the assassination, the bloody war, and the brutal, torturous coming to Sigma’s Retreat. James covered his ears with his hands flustered by the restless contemplation.

     A creak shattered the silence and quickly overlapping footsteps wandered down the hall. Three shadows appeared in front of cell number two and unlatched the jail door. In an instant they scored a scornful frown and viciously brought James to his feet to be handcuffed. Dragging him by his now scuffed knees they wandered deeper down the hallway until they reached the thirteenth cell. Exchanging a series of words in a thick foreign language, two of them approached the cell while the other held James in custody.

     James drearily watched the two rush into the chamber before hearing a short scream break through the darkness. Out of the cell was then thrown a woman of dirty, blonde hair bound in shackles. Her forearm grazed against the protruding pebbles and marked her with streaks of blood. Ensuing her custody, one of the guards took a hold of her shackles and kicked her to her knees. The three black-coated wardens of Sigma’s Retreat then modeled a single file formation with the prisoners being dragged behind.

     Breathing heavily the girl asked, “So did you mean it?”

     “Did I mean what?” James returned.

     “Are you ready to die, James?”

     Consciously, James coughed and confessed, “I am; that is granted that memories don’t haunt you when you’re in a crypt.”

     “Well I best pray that they don’t then.”

     It was silent for a while but then James replied, “I… I never thought I’d see you again Samantha; but this is it then isn’t it?”

     “Hey,” Samantha continued strongly, “I’ll just see you on the other side.”

     Abruptly the prison vibrated as a rumble crept through the walls, and the hanging lights rattled and flickered for a brief second. Accompanying the shifting rumbles boomed a sound that resembled a jet flying over at supersonic speeds quickly fading into a more distinguishable turbine engine - close to that of a Mark III B-2 Spirit. The jailors stopped simultaneously and began rambling in disjointed speech and uproars. They argued in a concocted manner of clear authority over the situation, but in tense thought they jerked the shackles and prisoners faster toward the door.

     Turning through the chain of keys nervously, the leading guard inserted one after another into the door out of the cell block. With a haunting creak bursting through the halls, the light on the other side blinded James and Samantha as if a flood of water drowned them. The guards continued onto the other side dragging the prisoners to a smoother, slick surface where their knees almost slid elegantly across the floor. Drearily their eyes grew accustomed to the antagonizing pain of the light and eventually waned into nothingness. The room was pale white with a small chair and a desk in which the guards sat during their posts.

     The third warden who bore the insignia of a Russian general then spoke to the others. As the third warden continued walking down the hallway, James and Samantha were then locked to a rusted chain that surrounded the small office. With their heads hanging down, a few eerie and silent minutes passed by. The two jailors who kept watch walked around in a ghostly way as they had always done, but they seemed different. They had almost seemed disturbed. Once their eyes met, they began to shout at each other once again tossing their hands up in the air.

     The shouting persisted unrelentingly then oddly became hushed. Samantha turned her head around and saw the two guards saluting as a new guard walked down the hallway. His robes and cowl were trimmed with a golden perimeter and his face was covered by the same cowl and a silvery narrowly slit mask. His pitch black rift which shrouded his eyes glared toward Samantha’s curious countenance. It was intimidating and almost forcefully laid her eyes back to the floor. Then, the jailor continued smoothly in his dark, rasping voice. The other two instantly paid attention and then unlatched the prisoners and continued down the hall. Increasingly the light got brighter as they went on to the next door.

     Once again Sigma’s Retreat shook violently and the vibrations slinked down the halls. At a moment’s brief pause, it abruptly pulsated more intensely penetrating through the body and giving a loud roar through the tunnels. The leading gold-trimmed shadow was thrown across shifting side to side between the walls of the hall, and the others fell to their knees. The pale lights then went out and the seconds that followed were all a blur. Loud sirens alarmed and the halls were all painted in red with the emergency power supply. The guards inexorably drew James and Samantha back to the cell block and crudely threw them down the steps. When the blare of the pinging sirens filled the air in spasmodic strains had stopped, the hallways filled with the general’s voice over the megaphone… then silence.

     The chills of fear ran down James’s and Samantha’s spines as they tried heavily to free themselves of their steel handcuffs. At failure, a deep voice laughed and a series of coughs came from a nearby cell. The voice then slurred, “Ahm not supp’zing ye’d like the kee.” A bearded man with bushy eyebrows and a scar sliding down the left side of his face then came to the bars. His skeleton-like fingertips slid out between the bars down to the lock and with a few ticks the cell opened up.

     James and Samantha watched in awe. The man then spoke with his phlegm gurgling in his throat, “I’z bin waitin’ fur sum-thin like zis. Pickin’ at electronic lockz iz givz a man a zip.” The man then grinned with three rusted pins projecting from his mouth. “Bezt way to keep gards frum yer propty, ey?” He spit a pin down in front of Samantha and turned around looking down the hall of cells incarcerating fellow prisoners.

     Samantha grabbed the pin and unlocked the handcuffs then moved onto James’s with trailing eyes. She noticed that the man had been flogged many times on the back, and the scars protruded deep into his skin. Quickly, she eyed him more carefully and his left lower back had been obviously gashed and split by bullet. In a whisper, she thanked him and then asked, “So what may we know you by?”

     “Me name?” he returned in a low tone.

     “As we may call you if you prefer otherwise.”

     “I’z think they has called me… Serjent Marcus durin’ the Third War with, eh theh call’d hem, Steelfists.” Interestingly, his slurred speech seemed to fade at that moment, and he started to breathe with a stronger congestion than before. The Third War and his friend all must have held a large sentimental value to him. He then walked back into his cell and clenched a piece of paper tucking it into his torn jacket meanwhile mumbling dazedly and blankly to himself, “I promise I’ll make you proud Marcus… I promise.”

     Suddenly, the silence broke with a continuous cycle of firearms roaring and bellowing through the prison. Following or dispersing the cry of fire was a gradual and fluctuating low pitch until it detonated into a thunderous rumble that quaked the grounds below it.

     James turned toward Samantha, “Someone here to liberate us?”

     “Yeah… Right,” she replied in a conspicuous manner of sarcasm and jumped on to another thought, “Just how do we plan to escape?”

     James looked around with a small grin on his face and answered quietly, “I don’t suppose you’d trust the other prisoners? Once we get out we could all part ways, but it’s our only shot in the long run if we come into any…”

     “Free the prizonerz?” Marcus said moseying out of his cell. “I’z bin hear long ‘nough fur the good unz tah be made known.”

     James and Samantha simultaneously looked at each other from the corner of their eyes then gave a nod of agreement toward Marcus’s direction. Looking into Marcus’s eyes, they noticed he had a lazy eye which straggled the other. They watched Marcus go from cell to cell glancing inward and then strolling past with a crook in his back which they had not noticed before. It was as if he had looked right into their eyes and knew they had been trustworthy. As Marcus freed one, he quickly grabbed them by the chest and whispered into their ear often gagging in the process. Afterwards, the prisoner just stood before James and Samantha without a word and would be accompanied by others. When he had finished, fifteen had all been freed from their cells.

     Marcus slowly parted through the new patriots of freedom and tugged with him a woman which stood out very perceptibly in new clothing. Quite obviously she was like a welcomed guest here. She had a scarlet, slender sweater elegantly entwining down her feminine physique and a hood which shrouded all but her crimson, lustrous eyes. The lower portion of her face was small and white bearing charming, cherry lips coming down to her rounded smooth chin. Downward she wore a blood-red skirt outlined and striped with obsidian black which fell just below her knees.

     Marcus went on to explain James’s puzzled face, “Thiz iz be Crimson…”

     “I don’t need an introduction,” she hissed in a Slavic accent as Marcus opened his mouth to speak again. “I was imprisoned here for supposed treason against Russia for the Moscow assassination which later came to start the Third War.”

     James and Samantha glimpsed at each other discreetly. It must have been fate that they would meet one of many who paid for their mistakes and work together to overcome a greater problem. “And so what did you do?” James asked while the pain of knowing they had placed her here appeared slightly in his question.

Crimson gave a forced smile and answered, “At first, I tried to tell them I had nothing to do with it, but the ears of raging men don’t listen until their demands are met. So, I ran. I ran for many years during the war until my brother had come to the conclusion that he had to clear the family name. He hired mercenaries to capture me alive, and eventually he succeeded. As soon as I came to meet my new home, this wretched prison…” Crimson stopped for a moment, “I was presumed dead to the world. Though quickly after my pronounced death, I was told that they had found the true murderers of the scene and imprisoned them here with me. At hearing the news pass through rumors of the prison I asked if I could go. ‘It would bring shame to the Russian Empire for the people to hear they lied to their own nation,’ my brother told me; that was the last time I talked to him.”

     Samantha jumped in almost insincerely, “And do you know where we are?”

     “The Carpathian Mountains, deep in the underground cells of Sigma’s Retreat.”

     “And would you happen to know the easiest way out?” Samantha questioned enthusiastically with hope.

     “Only the common codes and the structure of prison,” Crimson answered. “But, Sigma’s Retreat stores no vehicles or aircraft; each set of prisoners is brought by a helicopter, and afterwards the helicopter leaves. However,” Crimson paused, “It may be possible that in the event of an emergency that the military would provide a means of rescue on the small Northern pad.”

     “What of the armory?” James asked instantly.

     “We’d be better off with forks and spoons. By now it would be empty and far out of the way. Come. Follow.”

     The company of the sixteen freed prisoners dashed quickly following Crimson out of the cell block and down the labyrinth of Sigma’s Retreat. The sounds of war increasingly grew louder. The abundant smoke was now hazing the bright halls which were distributed evenly with arches just large enough for one to hide behind. Additionally, the automated defense’s barriers of steel marked with white and red stripes were elevated in the center pathway.

     Crimson suddenly stopped as the hall met a crossing, perpendicular intersection. Down the hall echoed hydraulics releasing air with clanks of metal crushing the floor beneath them in a slow pattern. Grinding gears grated louder and louder as the approaching figures approached. At the crossing intersection a deep snap bellowed. Dim yellow lights ensued from the snap which broke through the gloomy smoke and darted up and down scanning the intersection.

     Crimson quickly signaled for the company to hide behind the barriers and arches in the hall. They darted for the nearest archway and barriers trusting her with their lives. The lights resumed bouncing around the hall until they all became focused ahead. The sounds of the hydraulics and gears continued to approach until it stopped leaving terror in the calm air. Small beams of light then traced the area with red beads reaching the end of the halls the company found themselves in. The gears quietly shifted again and then pressurized air was released at once followed by the clanking of metal.

     Samantha quickly peeked around the archway and in the smoke three robotic warriors advanced down the intersection. They resembled a bulky man with two large drum magazines on each of its shoulders and two lights impacted into its chest, and their forearms were rectangular in shape with two barrels extending out from which their red lasers originated from. Their upper arms were like an elongated spheres marked with a cross and a Greek Omega – they were the Savior Series automated machines. Their armor was of flat black complex composite armor with obvious slits where the armor connected and fused. The three robotic warriors then left sight and slowly their sounds faded down the hallway.

     “Damn!” Crimson exerted forcefully, “We’ll have to take the other way, but three of them… it seems they are planning a rescue. Quickly, we need to go now!” Crimson led the others down a small, curved hall with slits of windows peeking to the outside. James, Samantha and the others looked out the small bunker windows, but the haze of the smoke was too thick in the air and poured into the prison. With the smoke and pattering from the soles of the prisoner’s feet an eerie atmosphere emerged among them. The guns repetitively boomed off on the outside in the smoke, but still the threatening priority remained unknown.

     Suddenly, a spray of stray bullets clattered against the bunker. Out of reaction, the prisoners all flinched with their backs against the wall and slowly tiptoed watching the windows more cautiously. Eventually, calmness fell down in the beating hearts of the prisoners, and they casually began walking smoothly throughout the circular bunker. Their breaths became stimulated naturally, and their muscles relaxed. As they continued walking, an oscillating sound fluxed from low and high tones until it immediately stopped once the two tones became one. The area simultaneously reached silence. It was as if you could hear the smoke drift into the bunker and unfurl from into small streaks of wisps.

     At the release of a sigh, a thundering boom cracked through the air blaring the prisoners’ ears. The thick bunker’s wall crumbled into the halls splitting the delirious party into two halves, and the rubble quickly clouded the destruction. Light broke through in small rays. Emerging from the thick dust, a large, silhouetted brute wandered in with its head almost touching the ceiling. It grunted in a dark chitter and then hissed various sounds forming pauses and breaks like that of language. As the haze began to settle, it glimpsed over to the right toward Crimson. Its beady, black eyes beamed through the thick plated mask it had worn which resembled a medieval golden great helm with two enclosing horns on top while its mouth hung down with viscous blood dripping down in a thick puddle of ooze at its feet. It wore thick plates of tarnished golden armor while white crystalline spikes poked through the seamless breastplate. In a slightly slouched position, spines protruded from its back and it carried with its three white claws a shaft that emitted spiraling amber light. Of what little complexion was seen, it was of navy blue overlaid with roughened black spots.

     Its head crept forward in a slow, blood lusting manner toward Crimson but quickly was revoked by a knife stabbed into a crevasse in which one spine escaped its armor. The beast withdrew, looked back and threw its arms tossing the others back. It glared malevolently at the prisoner holding the fresh bloody knife. Before any response could be made, it tackled the prisoner with its claws sinking deep into the prisoner’s upper abdomen. Giving deep, rancorous snarls, it sunk its claws deeper and deeper until the sternum finally sounded like a thick branch from a tree that snapped. Slowly opening the ribcage, the snapping of tendons and tissue let loose while the prisoner flailed his legs repeatedly. Blood squirted everywhere in the rhythm of the dying victim’s heart that went faster and faster and faster until there was nothing left to pump. The beast continued tearing away at the prisoner piece by piece. It was as if the beast smiled at every last action.

     Crimson, James, Samantha, Marcus and two others shook in fear at the sight of the gory horror. The beast finished by clenching its hands firmly around the dangling head and then threw it across to the opposite wall. The force from the body’s inertia completely decapitated the head from its former body. The six inmates jumped up and ran panting down the halls as the screams of agonizing death haunted them. When silence had fallen upon Sigma’s Retreat again, a loud chitter echoed throughout the entire prison.

     Running down the hall, Crimson reached a direct right and there were piles of bodies stacked along the sides of the hall. The majority of the corpses had large holes that were burnt black to a crisp on the outsides. The firearms the guards carried were partially melted and their slick black shrouds at the sites of these holes singed into their skin as interwoven. But at the end were two doors which had been collapsed opening up to the outside helicopter pad. As six prisoners reached the outside, they saw a great haze of smoke from below. They approached slowly. From the smoke was a crashed helicopter. Crimson looked closer into the cockpit… it was her brother, the head warden, trapped inside! Reaching her hand out in plea for her brother, she quickly pulled it back as more beasts emerged from the snowy woods slowly approaching the site. She slipped out a small tear seeing the fire of the helicopter slowly grow more fervently and the animals approach.

     The scrawny animals walked on and off four legs stumbling closer and closer to the crash. Their head resembled that of a serpent and glimmering scales cast off their slick black skin all the way down to their three tails. On the underside, they were pale white with ribs bloating the skin from malnourishment. As they approached closer their tongue hissed and two black fangs slowly grew out of their sockets. Finally as they drew but five yards away, red spines grew erect from their serpent’s head and sat quietly watching the warden struggle. They hissed and hissed while tilting their heads to and fro.  With the accompaniment of a final shout, a shot rang out from the helicopter spattering its windows in blood; and violently the legged serpents found themselves battering the helicopter to find an entrance to the bloody suicide.

     With their hearts racing the six dashed back into the hanger filled with bodies to collect ammunition and rifles. They wrestled quickly among the piles of bodies in search for ample supply. The lifeless eyes of the bodies seemed to lie on one’s shoulder as they ripped the gun out of their grip. They had faced death in fear and horror. After resting the barrel of the rifle over his shoulder, Marcus then questioned, “Ahm supp’zin we be outta her soon?”

     Frantically one of the others spoke out, “And where to? We’ll just get torn to shreds if we go into the woods… even if we do run. What the hell were those things?!”

     It grew silent among the confederacy at the last question. They were intelligent creatures obviously capable of making their own decisions, but they were not of the world. Samantha hesitantly muttered out of the quietness, “We could at least try; if anything, we’ve at least gotten this far.”

     James nodded in agreement. “It would be a long shot, but I’d rather die trying than camp out here where they’re the thickest and in search for… something. There ought to be a town somewhere in any direction we take.” James glanced toward Crimson and said, “How do we get down from here?”

     “Outside on the landing-pad there is a small ladder to climb down, but it would be near the… bony devils. If you’re willing to take the risk that there aren’t more of them lurking in the woods nearby, we could post at least two to come down last and provide some fire power,” Crimson looked through the eyes of the other five who all looked in distrust then added, “The two most trustworthy among us would be there, and I will even volunteer to go down first.”

     “So do we just take a vote?” one of the six who stood the smallest and the technician spoke quickly afterwards.

     He was then interrupted by accusations of the other, “Aye, but you don’t deserve the safest post among us. You’d rather watch us die to ensure your own safety and odds of survival. I can see it in your eyes; you’re still out for blood!”

     “I am not!” The technician shouted in denial.

     Grabbing the jacket of the small prisoner and pinning him against the wall the other spoke, “Chris does not whimper in the face of fear, but you cower among us greedily trying to clench that for your own gain.”

     “Look!” the technician wheezed looking at the others, “He’s already got his hand ready for his knife need he silence me!” He then spit in the eyes of Chris.

     “Enough!” Crimson shouted with a shot in the air quickly dispersing the two. “Marcus will be one, and he shall choose the other.”

     “The slow sluggard?!” roared the small one. “He doesn’t even know how to speak and you’ll place his aim in our hands?”

     Crimson grimaced and sneered, “Had it been in mine, you would have died already. Let him choose.”

     Marcus then came slowly around to each one and then spoke, “In me day durin’ the Third War, broder an’ eneny fought togeder if it waz nesezery. Now, we’z fought an’ ofen came to termz on the war too even though we iz sharin’ our differenzez. It funnee, death iz sumthin’ everee men fers. Bet I’z bin to see it too.” Marcus gave a slight grin, “Steelfists helped me againzt zis, but me will have itz that the runt be’z posted with me.”

     The noise of the company slumped in disbelief, but Marcus nonchalantly headed toward the direction to the corner of the landing pad where he would be posted with his rifle. Everyone else scowled at the small disdainer who had so fervently mocked Marcus seconds before his decision. Heading out to the scenery of rolling forests of pine the four crouched down right before the ladder in a disunited line. First and closest to the ladder was Crimson followed by James, Chris then Samantha. “This is it,” Crimson went on, “When we all climb down, if we can, we’ll do so unnoticed. We’ll meet just around the corner and slowly make our way against the wall until we get a good angle.” The three nodded in agreement.

     With mixed feelings, the smallest of them found his way next to Marcus. While placing his bipod firmly on the level he asked, “Why’d you do it?”

     Marcus looked into his eyes and said, “Becuze I’z believe in men just az Steelfists once believed in me’z.”

     Without making a sound, Crimson slid down the ladder hearing only but her red skirt slowly tap each rung and her feet making contact to the ground. She then advanced a step against the wall and placed her rifle in between her shoulders and took a knee waiting for the three to join her. James and Samantha slid down secondly after giving a last glance to Marcus who was attentively watching the black serpents continually scavenge the helicopter of its human flesh. Lastly, Chris, the largest among them with burly muscles slid down the ladder with his knife clenched between his teeth. Chris then led the three against the side of the metallic and concrete walls of Sigma’s Retreat until he could just see the tips of the tail rotor.

     Hearts racing and rifles in hand, the four prisoners stopped in a line against the wall where a lookout dome was secured in by metal panels above them. Looking back up to the square landing pad at the two posted men, Crimson raised three fingers signaling they were ready. Marcus took an eye off of the site for a moment then took a deep breath after Crimson’s signal was flagged. Marcus then flicked two fingers from the forestock to give the notion of controlled pair firing to the technician. Taking another deep breath, he looked down the barrel through his peep sight. Releasing his breath slowly, two loud bangs from the rifles then rang out penetrating through the glass of the helicopter.

     Quickly, the demon-esque serpents hysterically climbed about the helicopter in any direction even running into the glass that had not been broken and tried to claw their way out. In seconds they let out a frenzy of shrills piercing through the air. Once one escaped, it stumbled heavily trying to get on its feet. Its arms flailed around as it consistently tried to gain its balance. Under the suppression of fire it fell lifeless to the ground and only became a trampled over by the masses which now poured out of the cockpit and cabin. The demons scattered about trying to surround the four against the wall and scuttled toward them often tripping and tangled in their own limbs. Their limber spines allowed them to almost summersault their way in a sphere of jutting limbs toward their foe.

     Standing firm and with nowhere to run, the four prisoners stood shoulder width apart against the base while Marcus’s station continued to supply sufficient support from the platform nearly knocking them down one by one. Suddenly, the extended magazines from the platform discharged. The computer processor for targeting succor became overheated and flashed on and off with a red screen. The steam from the red blazing barrel and control box for the rifle’s intricacies screeched like a boiling tea kettle when small vents from the gun flipped open to release the heat. Marcus jerked and dropped the gun from the platform as his hands quickly felt the essence of heat burning his hands.

     The demons all shrieked and quickly seized the opportunity to dart ever closer to the four victims. First they slowly tilted their heads with a slithering grin across their mouths and their red spines lifted from their heads as they did before. Then they began to scurry more unified and viciously toward the four on the ground. As one fell by the remaining fire, it seemed that two or even three took its place squashing the one that died. They began to chitter louder and louder as they came closer to the now surrounded four prisoners.

     Bodies surrounded the four allies as they increasingly reached a point where no more ammunition could be supplied. Samantha was the first to run out then James leaving Chris and Crimson with the responsibility of protection while they stood behind them. Eight devils remained on the advance chasing after the dwindling strength of their prey. Seven, Six, then three remained.

     Crimson desperately fired two rounds into one and then dropped to her knees as the other leaped over her. It bashed its skull into the concrete wall. Taking the opportunity, Crimson pulled out from her thigh a diamond tipped dagger and leaped onto the demon placing the dagger in between its eyes. The demon viciously slashed in retaliation tearing nothing but Crimson’s skirt before it fell to its knees. Its mouth involuntarily hissed and opened and closed as its eyes glazed over with the motionless conjecture of death.

     The last bony devil darted toward Chris in a twisting manner. Chris pulled the trigger of his pistol, but the small devil pounced back and forth until Chris pulled the trigger one last time… it was empty. His last bullet had already been spared and now the two stared each other in the eyes. Chris slowly bulked his muscles and spread his knees in a defensive stance. In a heartbeat, Chris blinked for an instant and instantaneously the demon darted on all four limbs until it pounced with its claws headed for Chris’s neck.

     Chris pulled his thoughts together and then squatted slightly. He then raised his arms and caught the devil by its scaly legs. Its momentum caused Chris to slide against the ground beneath him, but instinctively Chris pulled the demon over his shoulders then threw it down to the ground. The underbelly of the demon met a protruding rock and a sound of breaking bones split through the air.

     With a fading screech, the demon lied on the ground crying and crawling toward the other dead carcasses. It looked over toward Chris with a shy glance. Once Chris approached it, it whipped its tail around his leg and brought him down to the ground. In a struggle for advantage, the two then tussled across the ground rolling side to side and shoving each other against the ground.

     The demon clenched Chris’s shoulders with its claws and glared deeply into his eyes. Shaking him violently and bashing Chris’s body against the ground, the bony devil opened its mouth and its tongue hissed inches in front of his face. Its fangs seeped through its mouth bulging forward. Chris placed his hands around the neck of the demon, and he turned his head sideways as the dripping venom fell upon his cheek.

     The demon gave a guttural bellow as it inched ever closer to Chris until it collapsed. Chris glared hopelessly up at the white sky with his ears totally impassive to the sounds around him. The demon then shook again lifelessly after a loud boom pierced through the air. Chris looked over from the corner of his eyes and there was the wretched, annoying, runty technician. With a crooked smile, Chris waved his hand expressionlessly with his thumb up in the air.

     “Gud! Gud!” Marcus shouted down below almost about to break out in laughter. Samantha and James just looked over toward each other with raised eyebrows of disbelief. If anything, Marcus was full of indifference to the possible, horrifying conclusions that could have just taken place. Marcus climbed down the ladder. After retrieving his fallen rifle and extra magazines, he joined the other four on the ground. “There’z be mer better weaponz in the chopper, and then we’z move out.” Looking around Marcus then shouted up at the platform, “Eh tech-ee, hurree up, we’z be off soon!”

     Crimson, James, Samantha and Chris all walked over to the crashed helicopter and quickly retrieved their needed weapons. They were state of the art and just released a year ago already holding an exceptional field record. In a small hustle they managed to clear the helicopter of its supplies taking all they could manage decently. It was burdensome but required.

     All of the sudden, blasts of fire rang out in the air. Tracer bullets from a machine gun darted over the heads of the five below making a frenzy of yellow blurs against the white sky. They were fired from the height of the platform, and speedily the air became filled with nothing but the drumming sound of gunfire. Out of the alarm the technician’s voice carried out of the bunker, “I’m afraid this was it; you’ll have to go on without me, or they…” A detonation from a fragmented grenade cut the voice off and followed with a hushing quiet.

     “Or they what?” Chris shouted back up in high hopes.

     “It’s no use,” James said downheartedly, “We need to go. Crimson, lead on.”

     Crimson nodded and quickly walked by Chris who stood looking up at the platform in shock. Samantha and James trailed hurriedly behind. They looked back to see Marcus with one of his hands firmly on Chris’s shoulder. “Chriz,” Marcus said sympathetically turning Chris around, “He will be’z mizzed but he ended it well.” The familiar mechanical movement of hinges and hydraulics with the clanking of gears approached nearer to the platform’s end. “We muzt go,” Marcus tried.

     Chris replied slowly walking past Marcus, “Right… right.”

     Once the company of five escaped prisoners from Sigma’s Retreat entered deep into the woods, a large uproar resounded down the valleys of the Carpathian Mountains. It was a large chant from the victory of the beasts. Their noises swept swiftly through the forest and dangled the treetops as the birds flew in fear from the sound. They chirped their songs of sorrow as they flitted away. Increasingly, a loud ping from the megaphones of the prison sliced the air rigidly until in a deep, wicked voice shattered through the air in jagged English speech, “You… You cannot escape; we speak to your world. Humanity will be eradicated. Loner’s End: Terminated. The Grindstone: Terminated. Area 51: Terminated. Sigma’s Retreat: Terminated. Last Defense: Terminated. Can you not see? You humans stand defenseless against the power of Sempiterna, our world eternal. As for the Black Followers among you I promise them this: you will die among the very ones you sought to protect; the preservation of this species cannot remain when the extinction of every last one lies within humanity. All hail our Most High King Barracutus.”

 

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