Three pinecones sat in Hollow’s palm, covered in rainwater. The tall man stood under three entwined trees, just off the main roads, but close enough to stay on track. On track to Zoltan, and in that dead city, revenge on Eden.
‘It’s their world you’re living in now. You already fought, and lost…’
Thunder shot down from dark clouds like God’s assassin. It would grow dark soon.
Hollow ignored it all and kept staring at the pinecones. A sharp buzzing at the base of his skull told him to hold onto them. They weren’t anything special on the surface, but gut feeling, intuition, whatever, made Hollow’s decision for him.
He carried on.
Once again, Hollow questioned how long he had been kept in the coffin for, why he was free, and how he’d reach Zoltan from here. A simple answer arrived in the veteran’s mind.
‘Walk a lot, try not to get killed. Or worse.’
Before long, stomping further and further along in his dark boots became a pattern, a cold one. His feet felt like they were trapped in stone shells.
The general direction to reach Zoltan and its three districts, was to Hollow’s east. Only after less than a mile, did that familiar, surreal feeling strike Hollow’s pineal gland.
If he went that way East he would die.
There were a large number of Murmur demons patrolling.
And not die in the way he’d been experiencing death for the last two hours, dragging his tired wet body through fields and crumbled ruins after escaping a death cult’s coffin.
No. This would be a death without a get-out clause.
“Murmurs.” Hollow chuckled into the misty rain.
Hollow traced the bullets in his bandolier, gutted that the original owner was gone. Where was she?…
From a distance, he watched Murmurs skirt around at the bottom of a huge metal hill. They were demons birthed by science, let loose to pick off the living. Hollow suspected however, they served a deeper purpose…the genocide could just be a bonus to those who ran the world. But it seemed that even those shadow rulers were nothing but puppets to something else.
But the Murmurs…
Strangled limbs wrapped in pale wet flesh. Red eyes, teeth like a sad bitch’s razor collection. Every single one of them.
Any closer and they would sense him…
‘Sense me….better to go prepare more, then make my way over there.’
Hollow began over the next few hours to scavenge, scrape along anything he could find.
The three pinecones felt heavier, and his bandolier had to be shouldered again, impatient. Waiting to be used and reunited with a gun.
Hollow chose a place to find supplies and it turned out to be the best and worst place to choose. An Eden recruitment centre, or what the elite had marketed it as anyway.
The opening of those places proved to the start of a very long, calculated domino line. One that was still in effect.
Painted on the building, Adam and Eve watched him, cold judgement crept from their painted faces. The snake was hidden in a flaking tree.
Inside, dust smothered the corners of every room.
Anything is appealing if dressed up well enough and covered in sweetness. But now the quiet emptiness showed how evil it all was. There was no hiding that fact, now everyone was six feet under.
Hollow walked with weary feet and a heavy mind.
He ended up in the recruitment center’s main room. Test coffins lined up against one of the large walls. To Hollow’s eyes they were clear prototypes. The one he’d climbed out seemed much more advanced by comparison.
“Not dead yet.”
He spoke to the empty room. Grace came to Hollow’s mind, a missed friend. She would have agreed…probably.
In the far corner of the room a water dispenser stood out like an albino’s thumb. Hollow drank some from one of those small paper cups that come packaged with the dispensers. Hollow had to be careful not to crush it out of eagerness.
After a few of those drinks, he wandered around and eventually came back to the water machine with a rucksack. In that rucksack were dried bars of protein, a water canteen, even a knife. With strange gentleness, Hollow moved the three pinecones into the musty bag.
Hollow drank more water, taking note of the wall and its faded posters. Some were event posters, calling out for attention from underneath layers of graffiti tags.
LIVE MUSIC THIS SAT! :)
Over that, some unknown legend had hastily sprayed the red word: DEVIL
Night arrived outside, spreading into the cult’s recruitment centre by way of a skylight. A broken one.
From the roof. A noise. Dark and hungry. Impatient. Inhuman.
The building’s foundation shook. Like something was climbing upwards. Something ready to salt more of the earth. Humans were on the salt agenda.
A Murmur glared down with its eyes but smiled with a razor sharp mouth. It was so quiet now, that you could hear the thing breathing. Hot and heavy like a starved animal. It drowned out the wind.
The Murmur dropped through the skylight.
Every second that demon got closer, the night sky and its moon spread out behind it. A stormy breeze rushed in.
Hollow stepped back and raised his fists stupidly before remembering the knife he had found.
It landed on the floor, stood up to its full height of eight feet, then crunched itself down to a more even six and a half feet. Bones crunched, flesh squirmed. The razored smile did not die, the red eyes did not dim.
Small silent rivers of blood ran down Hollow’s torso, cuts from the falling glass.
The Murmur smiled. A wild grin.
Hollow smiled back.
Cyan and Osiris made it down the metal hill slowly, as they did so the mist and clouds eased up like a cosmic carrot dangled on a string. Night had taken over the sky.
After his odd muttering from earlier, Cyan had started to trail behind Osiris out of wariness.
Down at the hill’s end, the Murmurs continued to graze, sniffing the air. Tasting the air. Being with the air.
The two of them were getting closer and Cyan realized no strategy had been discussed. Osiris’ weirdness had knocked her off balance. Somehow a greasy teen in a pirate hat had sent her head spinning. ‘Don’t forget, he’s wearing Grace’s hat…’
No that could not be overlooked and sooner or later she would get an explanation from this Osiris fellow. But first things first, survival.
We need to sneak around and be extra careful. Cyan got ready to whisper that thought to Osiris, when-
Sure enough, a big car door was sent flying down the hill, sending dust and powdered rust sailing through the air in an intense rush. This kicked Cyan herself into an equally intense rush. She ran down the hill, leaning all her bodyweight backward so she did not trip and break her neck.
Osiris seemed to be flooded with adrenaline too. He ran…at the demons.
That’s when things began to get very strange.
With his back still to her, Osiris said strange gibberish words in the same odd muttering way she’d heard when the both of them had been climbing the metal hill.
A great white shard of light filled her vision. So pure it was that the young woman felt like blindness had decided to take her vision right there and then. But the light cleared, with the ruined world soon smudging back into focus.
The Murmurs were gone.
Osiris turned to face Cyan as she caught up to him. The car door lay still and forgotten.
“What just happened?!” Cyan asked. Surprised by the panic in her own voice.
Osiris’ face got that faraway look again. After a too long for comfort pause, Osiris spoke again in a simple, flatline burst.
“There are things I need to tell you. I don’t understand all of them, but there’s something we need to do first.” He scratched the base of his skull, causing the hat to be raised up. Cyan eyed in what she hoped was a low-key way.
“What do we need to do?”
This time Osiris’ voice took on an edge of seriousness.
“There’s a survivor near us. I have a feeling I know he is. He needs our help.”
The Murmur’s claws scraped on the ground, almost as if they’d grown. Red eyes matched red veins. Hollow called it Red Murmur, in his mind. Simple names are the best.
Red Murmur swept him up like a rake going at autumn leaves.
Its strike landed square at his ribs, but the claws did not manage to cut Hollow. Pure luck.
Then Hollow saw something, and somehow time slowed even more. The way it does in the most real life and death situations,
Hollow could see a mean looking shard of glass.
Can I reach it?
Hollow made a mad scramble for it, legs sliding out from under him.
As he went to the floor, arm stretched out, smaller pieces of glass from the roof dug into his arms through the jacket. The glass rested on the floor, just in front of him.
But not close enough.
The Murmur gripped Hollow by the hair, scalp and skull. Desperate and even madder, Hollow latched onto the monster’s wrists. Hollow’s clenched teeth strained his gumline.
Red Murmur spoke. “I knoowww youu…”
It brought up memories. A creepy trance deep to every square inch of his neural network. His mind had a virus being planted.
Hollow closed his eyes and when he opened them…
Vision stirred, faint and blurred. With sight came that awful feeling where your mind is slow. Where it’s pretty much just like a computer server getting properly booted up while the monitor stays blank.
Oh. Hollow thought. Ceiling lights. Broken ones.
A crazed stern-looking young man walked over. He stood not too tall, with a pirate hat balanced atop messed scarecrow hair. Hollow recognized the hat. But his brain was running on low power mode, so the recognition barely registered.
They swapped names. Osiris stepped back a few paces into the empty room that lay crowded with debris.
Hollow rubbed his scalp to make sure it wasn’t ripped off. It wasn’t. Then a high ringing pitch whistled straight to Hollow’s brain. His hearing was back to full effect now.
Cyan, the mad bitch, as Osiris called her, almost made the mistake of slowing down as the Murmur swiped at her.
“They’ve been in tango for a while.” Osiris mumbled. Arms crossed. To any outside observer the teen would look ill or stoned. But Hollow was a meter away and saw that the boy’s fear gave itself away in nervous shakes.
Not normal fear, no. Something different about this one. Hollow thought
The Murmur’s claw almost tore out Cyan’s throat. The thing seemed to be getting quite pissed off.
Cyan kept dodging but was quickly running out of space. A cult’s dingy ruined recruitment hall ain’t exactly forgiving when it came to a survival situation. The space grew smaller and smaller.
But on the floor… Hollow remembered.
Hollow picked it up with no second thoughts, letting it cut deep.
The murmur stopped trying to reach Cyan and turned its head at an impossible angle. Eye to eye. That awful voice rang out to only Hollow’s ears. A connection had been formed.
Hollow squeezed both eyes shut to block out all the noise, only flicking them open to check the glass was still in his hand. His only weapon. Hollow saw a faint reflection in the shard.
Red Murmur snarled again, and all surroundings were forgotten like grains in a sandstorm. Cyan, Osiris, even the floor. Nothing left. A void.
“You know what to do. Don’t you…”
Hollow breathed in and out. Kept those eyes shut tight. So tight it hurt.
“Kill them both.”
The glass got squeezed harder.
Using slow precision he stood up taller, making sure to make his hand hurt more.
Now at his full height, Hollow shifted his grip on the glass. The fine point held between index, thumb and middle finger.
Hollow threw the glass. It raced through the air. Everything seemed to be frozen like a photograph. Only when it hit the spot did anything kick back into gear.
The glass reached its target and carried on through. Red Murmur’s eye.
Not only did hit the eye, but by the time that big ugly thing dropped to the floor, it was poking out the rear of its skull. A mostly neat kill. Some blood yes, but less than being riddled with bullets. When it dropped to the floor it revealed Cyan standing strong and ready to attack. She hadn’t quite clicked that this demon was dead.
Above her head held with both arms was a throwing axe. A light layer of sweat clung to her. The air smelled of blood and adrenaline. All three locked eyes. Hollow, Osiris and Cyan.
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