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Throne of the Beast

Chapter One

By Matthew FrommPublished 4 months ago 16 min read
2

“Lock and load.”

Knight One’s command echoed through his helmet, drowning out the helo’s thumping engines. Knight Two sat across from him, his mechanical gloves thumbing the safety on his oversized auto shotgun clad in etched black metal. Knight Four scoffed silently, his face obscured by the jet-black helmet. An uncivilized weapon for an uncivilized man. There are already enough of those in this godless world. Two always seemed unsettling, like a big frothing dog in a constant internal struggle of, “Should I bite or hump my master?” It was no wonder Callsign General loved Two, even if Callsign Archbishop barely tolerated him. One was the Archbishop's girl.

Kayo suffered a chuckle.

“Care to inform us of what you find so funny, Four?” One’s voice crackled in her sharp, cut-the-bullshit command voice.

“Nothing, ma’am. Just hoping Two got a treat before takeoff.” Kayo said.

“I got plenty of ‘em, kid,” Two said gruffly.

“Thank God, would hate to catch a bite from behind,” Kayo said and checked his holster straps for the two pistols on his hips, the plated metal of both as pristinely maintained as when he had boarded the helo. That dogma was something Kayo and Two would never share. This squad was all that mattered–damned the rest of the cursed and broken world outside, especially the General and his self-righteous pomp. In his estimation, their loyalty to each other kept them alive long after luck and reality dictated they should, and really that was enough for him. Kayo had long since decided that he preferred being alive to being dead. Outside of that, he cared about little. Knight Three sat, arms crossed in deferential boredom, as One watched the display on the helo’s bulkhead.

“Three minutes.”

Outside his narrow window slit, the crumbling Chicago Arcology sat doused in soft blue lights in the middle of Lake Michigan, its ever-more hungry denizens ignorant to the cloaked helo’s presence. They rounded the contours of the triangular building toward the old coastline and the forest of ruined skyscrapers that barely survived the Rapture. Fifty million people lived here before the first nukes fell; now, there were maybe one hundred thousand. The tell-tale pin lights of burning barrels full of refuse lined the streets below. There would be men and women huddled around those, trying to stave away the brutal winds of nuclear winter. Kayo sighed. They would be better off risking the fire hazards inside in this cold. They had all survived the Rapture and the Plagues only to crumble to dust, cell by cell, as the massive Arcology now crumbled proverbial brick by proverbial brick. Kayo pitied their meager existence. We were supposed to be saved in the rapture. Instead, it came with all of heaven’s fire and fury, and only the apocalypse remains. Kayo was surprised that so many buildings and people had survived those blasts. Of all the truths Kayo could deny, humanity’s endurance was not one of them.

“Two minutes.”

It was a simple mission. Kayo and Knight Two would provide fire support while Knights One and Three cleared the upper and lower bedrooms for the target, respectively. Details of their target were slim, but command estimated there could be as many as thirty guards on the skyscraper's upper floors. Easy. Kayo had questioned how they mustered that many guns, but their handlers at the Order were mum on it. Annoying lot, them. Just because they have an empire of ash, they think they’re so far above us drones. They rose and stood near the helo’s magnetic door at prearranged points, Kayo behind burly Knight One with tiny Knight Three on his right. She had her sword loose in the scabbard on her back.

“Don’t hit me with that thing,” he said, thumbing the nob on his wrist computer. Kayo had served with her for more missions than he could count, and in their own weird way, there was no one he trusted more. Her helmeted head snapped around, and she flashed him a hand signal to open to comms three. Kayo did, but no response came. Tough crowd tonight.

“One minute.”

The red lights of the cabin went out, and they stood swaying in blackness. The helo swung gently, then settled as the magnetic door snapped open. Only a lone spire, its twin long since ripped away, greeted them on the skyscraper’s roof. Knight One already stood by the stairwell door twenty meters beyond the helo when Kayo hit the roof, harsh winds ripping through the vents in his helmet.

“Move.”

They took the stairs down two at a time. The mission brief had the target five stories down, but clearly, these were amateurs. No guards met them, yet One moved with rigid caution Kayo had not seen for many missions, not since they had real, organized threats around them. Worn concrete gave way to carpet worn gray by decades of use without care. Even still, it was more of a luxury than those on the streets could scavenge.

“Tangos.”

Knight One’s compressors dulled the quick bursts of her pistols. They continued down the corridor, lined on either side with rows upon rows of unmarked doors. Two hulking figures in tattered, mismatched suits lay face down. Their blood slowly dyed the carpet around them, and neither of them had drawn their weapons. Knight One pointed at the door between them and the four operatives stacked up beside it.

“Check your fire. If he makes a move, pull it.”

Confused, Kayo moved to respond, but an armored hand rested on his arm. Knight Two made no visible acknowledgment of the order; his shotgun shouldered and ready to kill.

“Breaching.”

The world stilled.

The door exploded inwards as the semtex wire detonated. The squad of Knights filtered into the room and fanned out in a rigid, lethal dance. The world before Kayo played out in slow motion. Two more patched-suit guards died before their calorie-deficient brains could comprehend the explosion. Another two took cover behind a leather couch that Knight Two’s shotgun swiftly turned into a pile of bloody matchsticks. A man sprinted toward the ramshackle kitchen and the bedroom beyond. Kayo held his breath, and the man never made it beyond the threshold.

Knight Two sprinted toward the bedroom, and Kayo watched Knight One break her engagement with another squad descending from a once ornate stairwell and motion to Knight Three. He paused. That was odd. Kayo’s attention returned to the firefight as concrete chipped past him from his wall cover. He dispatched the gunman pinning him down with brutal efficiency.

“Pulling the plug.”

Wait, that was Knight Three’s—

The world turned static white, then cut to black. Kayo choked, the oxygen supply in his suit inexplicably dead; vents seized closed. The instant shock subsided, and, holding his breath, he fumbled at the manual release. He ripped his helmet off and…stared down the unforgiving barrel of a pistol. Kayo dropped his pistols and razed his hands, sucking down calm and freezing breaths of suspect oxygen.

She stood before him, brunette hair tucked in a tight bun, cheekbones high, and eyes so normally green turned to a fiery red. There was no panic in those familiar flames, but no pleasure either. No more bullets flew. Everything was silent except Kayo’s slowly subsiding gasping.

“Place needs new scrubbers, it seems,” Kayo said, arms raised.

“Quiet,” Knight One said, her eyes not leaving his. It was not a suggestion. She held the pistol without the slightest trace of wobble. If she pulled the trigger, his brain stem would be severed before the rest of him realized the weapon discharged, and he was certain she would not miss. She never did.

“You bitch!’ The voice was hot, and Kayo could feel the spittle flying at the insult.

“Shut it, Two. I would like to keep my head with the proper number of holes in it,” Kayo said, not taking his eyes off their squad leader.

Two flopped down next to him, and Three dried her blade before slipping it back into the scabbard. Knight One retrieved Kayo’s pistol and trained it on Two’s head.

“Secure the package, Three,” she said, looking at both of their captives while simultaneously looking at neither.

Three blew Two a kiss before disappearing into the bedroom.

“Traitorous bitch. They’ll kill you for this! She cannot live!” Two growled, chest to the carpet. Kayo spared him a sideways glance and saw his face growing ever pale. None of this made sense. One said nothing. After all this time, after all the times they had saved each other, the barrel at his head should have seemed like the darkest of betrayals. And yet, curiosity held him at bay: curiosity and loyalty. No, One had led him true for too long. He still trusted her to do so. There was more; there had to be.

“Package secured,” Three yelled from the bedroom before returning to the destroyed living space. She appeared, carrying something entirely unexpected. Kayo stifled a gasp.

“That was not our target,” Kayo said, unable to contain himself as she joined One’s side.

“Shut up,” One said, pushing the barrel closer to Kayo’s head.

The child in Three’s arms shrieked tears–Kayo guessed it was no more than six months old. Even Two went silent.

“If you do not kill that thing, the world will burn again. You do not know the hell you will unleash,” Two said, gathering himself, his always gruff voice now gasping and desperate. Each word brought fresh pain across his stern and gaunt face.

Kayo ignored him and watched the child. Three tried her best to comfort it, but the assassin’s cold, playful fury apparently did not translate to motherly instinct.

“What the fuck is going on here?’ Kayo said, keeping his hands raised.

Two laughed.

“These two tricked us, boy. Traitors all along.”

One said nothing.

“Impossible…” It made no sense. There were no more loyal operators in the entire Order; for her to keep treachery from both the General and the Archbishop was impossible.

One shifted her grip on the pistols.

“Who’s the child…?” Kayo asked as he turned his attention to Three. There was pain in her black eyes, and her round, tan cheeks were flushed as she met his gaze. She wanted to tell me. She told me to change my comms. Three opened her mouth to form the words she had long withheld from her friend.

Before she could, Kayo felt the stirring beside him, and he launched himself at Two, knocking him away before he could reach One. Kayo’s trained hands went for Two’s massive neck. It did not take much, the wounds on his legs already draining most of his life away. All Kayo needed was to provide the push. The big man’s lifeless eyes stared up at him, and Kayo swore he saw a smile on his dead squadmate’s lips. You may have been a friend, but you were still a bastard. No wonder Callsign General assigned them this job; only the frothing dog could bite a child.

Only the cold, harsh feeling of metal on the back of his skull made Kayo release his hands.

“Put the gun down One. He’s in this now,” it was Three. She held her own pistol out before her.

“Too many loose ends already. Extract time is ticking.”

“If you wanted to shoot him, you’d have done it already.”

Kayo felt the gun lower.

“Thanks, Three,” he said, standing with arms still raised.

“Shut up, find something here that fits,” One said, already halfway out of her armor. Beneath, she wore a simple but tattered jumpsuit and jeans. Three passed the still shrieking baby to One and revealed a similar disguise.

Kayo took the cue and scoured the bedroom and the bodies, finding a mismatched suit that barely fit but would offer some protection against the cold. One and Three stood with the child in the main room, One checking the sights on one of Kayo’s pistols.

“So if you’re not going to kill me, you going to tell me what the fuck is going on?”

“No, and I’m taking this. Mine’s dry,” One said calmly.

“Elevator is two floors down–hope the ropes are intact,” Three said, holding the child.

“It better. Otherwise, this is a short rescue,” One had begun stringing wire across the room.

Rescue?

“Wait…how much of that did you bring?” Kayo said, One's movement chasing any other thoughts away from his mind.

“Let’s move. Four, I swear to this child, if I need to put a bullet in your head, I will not hesitate again.”

“I’m on it, boss lady.”

One scouled, but Three smirked. Kayo took it as a win as he fell into the rear. One still checked her six at every corner.

The rest of the building was long since abandoned, and they came across no others. They bypassed two stairwells before coming to a dingy service door. One kicked it in, and they flew down three more flights of stairs.

“Two minutes,” Three said, checking an old-style analog watch, the EMP rendering all else useless.

A set of heavy silver doors greeted them on the landing. They paused. One gestured to Kayo. A first test of loyalty, but the command structure held. With a straining effort, they pried the doors open, revealing an endless black expanse.

“You sure this is the move?” Three said, eyeing One as she attached a carabiner to the long, decrepit elevator cable.

“Give me the package if you want to stick around. This is my exit.” One held the cable for Three, and she attached it to the mechanical winch on her belt. They jumped into the shaft, Three holding onto the child with all her might. They didn’t wait for Kayo.

“If you’re coming, you have fifteen seconds,” Three’s voice reverberated up the shaft. Kayo paused. What am I doing? This is madness. This is treason. But if I go back, I’m dead or worse. It seems the only path to living is to follow that child.

He jumped.

Kayo slid for a floor, the cable tearing the skin off his hands until he managed to slow himself and attach the winch. The first explosion ripped through seconds later, shaking the elevator shaft. No loose ends. Classic. One was nothing if not thorough.

No one accosted them on the ground floor, anything resembling an emergency response long since degraded to dust and useless, crumbling hardware.

“Take cover Three. Four with me,” One said, flanking the door. The glass ceiling above the squad had long cracked, and the harsh winter winds bit at the exposed and bleeding flesh of Kayo’s hands. Outside the atrium, groups of survivors mingled about, casting nothing more than curious glances at the top of the tower above them. They would not bother them.

Two sets of mismatched headlights flooded the avenue as two cars pulled up. Kayo nodded toward One, but she shook her head and held up a palm. Doors opened, then closed, and the cars pulled away in haste. They waited, and waited, and waited for what seemed like an eternity until the vehicles passed over a nearby bridge. Squealing wheels filled the air as the column turned north. At this, One sprinted across the street. No sooner had they crossed into a once vibrant office atrium across from the tower than another explosion ripped through the night. Kayo watched as a plume of fiery smoke floated above the buildings, and the beating of the Helo tore overhead. One gave a silent salute, and Kayo couldn’t help but marvel at the bravery of this seemingly useless sacrifice. Brave fools, but still fools. He laughed. But aren’t we all, ehh?

One lit a lamp and led them down a leaking stairwell into the black abyss of the old megalopolis’s underworld. Kayo jumped as a rat swelled with mutations ran across his foot. He shivered. Even a hardened killer had his discomforts. Once, this place would have smelled like piss and sewage, Kayo imagined–the gritty intestines of a thriving city. Now, it was little more than dust and ash, and he shivered, not wanting to think about what had degraded down, what had tried to survive down here, while humanity died above. Dante would have found it funny.

They seemed to circle endlessly in the dark until… One kicked out in the darkness, ripping a rusted door off its hinges. They stumbled into a tunnel light intermittently with microreactor-powered disaster lights.

“Alright, hold it,” Kayo said. They paused. His hand throbbed in pain, and his legs shook from the cold that the tunnels did little to lessen.

One whirled and pointed the barrel square between his eyes.

“That’s not going to be enough. I killed a friend today–”

“Two was radioactive scum,” One said, cutting Kayo off.

Kayo laughed, “but still as much a friend as any in this god-forsaken world. I’m glad it didn’t have to be one of you; that would have been a struggle. If you didn’t want me in this, you should have shot me at the top of the tower. I’m in a bit of a spot now,” Kayo raised his hands slowly, balancing the invisible weights of bad decisions.

“He’s right,” Three said. The child snatched at her chest but thankfully stayed quiet. There was no telling how far its cries would stretch in these tunnels.

One sighed, “No time. Four, all you need to know now is that there are, at this moment, four Order Helos with assault teams on their way to kill every remaining cursed soul in this city until they find us. Let’s go.”

Kayo looked longingly toward Three, “And the child…?”

Before Three could answer, One spoke in a cold, calm voice, as if reciting something she’d said a thousand times, “To us, a son is given, and the government will be on her shoulders,”

“Well…the apocalypse comes again, it seems,” he said and followed her further into the tunnels.

“Apocalypse? I intend to bring deliverance. Let’s move.”

They descended deeper into the tunnels, and Kayo was certain he no longer needed to worry about another hole in his head.

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A/N

If you've enjoyed this, please leave a like and an insight below. If you really enjoyed this, tips to fuel my coffee addiction are always appreciated. All formatting is designed for desktops. All my works can be found below:

Part 1Science FictionSagaFictionDystopian
2

About the Creator

Matthew Fromm

Full-time nerd, history enthusiast, and proprietor of random knowledge. The best way to find your perfect story is to make it yourself.

Here there be dragons, and knights, and castles, and quests for entities not wished to be found.

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