Wyrm hid in the deep shadow of the rubble that had once been a building. He held his breath as the patrol drove slowly through the dark section of the city’s remains. The black vehicle, an ugly cross breed of salvaged parts, rolled noisily along the broken streets, searching for survivors. It’s mounted searchlight stabbed brightly through the recesses of the night, pointing like a finger of accusation.
His heart held still in his chest, as the truck paused in front of his hiding spot. Wyrm closed his eyes, in a childish gesture of hope, as the shadow surrounding him dissolved away. The light swept the ground directly in front of him. It held motionless for a long period of time. Then, without warning, the vehicle continued on.
Wyrm’s breath exploded from his lungs in a quick blast. His heart began beating in a quick triphammer, as if trying to make up for the time he had willed it to stop.
From across the street, two young men appeared from similar hiding spots. They crossed the open ground quickly, melding into the shadows with their friend.
“That was close,” Wyrm whispered.
“Hehehe…no worries,” replied the shorter of the two men. He pulled a sawed off twelve gauge from under his leather motorcycle jacket. “I was ready to back your play.”
“That might inspire me with more confidence, Splat, if I had had a play.”
Splatter Punk shrugged. “Push came to shove, I think you might have come up with something.”
Wyrm removed the short barreled revolver from the pocket of his tattered jean jacket. “Yeah, I might have at that.”
“Not to break up all this evil plotting,” interjected the dark skinned man watching the street, “but, I think we should be moving along. Those Storm Troopers hung around for awhile, they may decide to head back.”
“Yes mother.” Wyrm and Splat replied in unison. They looked at each other with mock surprise and burst into hushed laughter.
“Sigh…the evil twins live on,” Blackfoot grumbled.
The three young men headed out from under the ruins of the collapsed building, dodging and weaving their way through the ruins of the city. They stuck to the shadows, wearing the darkness like a cloak, as they tried to avoid the eyes of the roaming patrols. There was no sense in trying to hide from the other things that roamed the streets…
The night was chill, the air leaden with smoke from the fires that constantly burned. A hollow banging echoed through the wasteland of the city, perhaps an old garbage can rolling aimlessly in the confines of an alley. Collapsed buildings created a skyline reminiscent of jagged teeth. The streets were broken and filled with deep holes, barricades of fallen rubble created an unnatural maze of the city.
They passed under the rusted remains of a streetlight, long dark in this powerless world. A corpse hung from the pole by a molded rope that threatened to break with each gust of the unceasing wind. A single hole, gaping like a misplaced eye, appeared in the corpse’s forehead.
Blackfoot paused and gazed longingly at the swinging corpse.
Wyrm laid his hand upon his friend’s shoulder. “We can not.”
“But…it would only take a moment,” he pleaded.
“They will know who did it.”
Blackfoot shifted his gaze to Splatter Punk, looking for support from his other friend.
“Wyrm is right. Burying the corpse would only draw unwanted attention.”
The other seemed dejected and Splat smiled wickedly. “Of course, on the way back…it won’t matter will it?”
Blackfoot smiled in return.
“You are both assuming we shall make it back,” Wyrm reminded them.
He moved onward into the heart of the darkened city, not looking to see if his friends were following.
After a moment, Splat hollered into his wake: “Well…if we don’t, I expect a proper burial. And I don’t care how many lampposts you have to scale!” He slapped Blackfoot on the back. “Always the optimist, that one.”
“Oh, aye,” the other agreed.
They followed after Wyrm, walking into the heart of darkness.
The center of the city was still fairly intact. The buildings, while mostly windowless and empty, still stood whole. The citizens under the thumb of the New Reich had been forcibly dedicated to the restoration of the streets and architecture. Most of the work was haphazardly accomplished, not the true handiwork of craftsmen, but efficient in it’s nature.
Soon, the roads became barricaded with piled wrecks of old cars and buses. They were stacked and crushed between the narrow openings of the buildings, forming a deliberate wall. Along the skyline, the bridge that was the only entry point to the heart of the city, stood in bias relief.
Blackfoot led the trio along the western roadways, away from the bridge. He came to a short, squat building with high arched windows set along the base.
They crouched in the dark, listening for the sounds of any patrols.
“This is it?,” Splat asked.
“If the information we bought from the stripper in Gaza holds true,” Blackfoot acknowledged, “we will soon be in the lion’s den.”
“Guess if anyone wants out, this is the time…”
Wyrm stood silent, facing the building. His eyes were closed and his head was thrown back. He seemed to have fallen into himself, unaware of the world around him. Suddenly, his eyes shot open, a quiver ran through his body, coursing his entire frame. “It is here.”
“Sigh…guess not,” Splat mumbled to himself. He readied the shotgun that never left his side. “Let’s do it.”
Blackfoot entered the structure through a broken window, leading them into the dark. Once inside, he fumbled with lighting a torch, the task was harder in the dark, but they had dared not alert anyone watching the outside to their presence. Splat and Wyrm stood silent watch, guns drawn and at the ready.
As the torch flared to life, Splat motioned to Blackfoot. “You want my back up piece? Could get rough from here.”
A look of disgust passed over the Indian’s face. He shook his head.
“We gotta work on getting you past that.”
The troupe headed along the hallway that would lead them to the back of the building. The smell of the thing hit them long before it entered their small circle of light. It was the smell of a rotting meat, left to spoil in the summer sun. It’s footfalls were slow and erratic, a hushed whisper shuffle like an old man in slippers.
The zombie broke the grip of the dark, becoming visible in the flickering light of the torch. It’s skin was pallid and greenish, pulled tight across it’s face. It’s eyes were white and filmy, sunken deep into it’s wasted face. Mold grew on the exposed flesh of it’s chest.
Splat brought the 12 gauge to the ready position, sighting the thing’s head along the shortened barrel. Blackfoot stepped in front of him, blocking the shot.
“No. We can not afford the noise.” He pulled a small handaxe from his belt and stepped towards the undead thing. Waving the torch in it’s face to keep it at bay, he slowly circled behind it. He raised the axe high, his lips moving silently in prayer as he struck.
The blade buried itself to the hilt in the zombie’s skull, splitting it clean like a melon. The thing stiffened instantly, a small string of drool running from it’s lips and tracing down it’s chin. Then, it fell.
Splat stepped over the thing unceremoniously, smiling at his friend. “Thought you didn’t kill?”
“Only the living. For the undead, it is an act of mercy.”
“Oh. Well, mercy killer…good look getting your tomahawk back.”
They made their way to the back door of the building without further confrontation. Through the small window set in the door, they could make out the area that constituted the Riechland proper. The fence of stacked vehicles was visible, clearly defining the eight or nine blocks that formed the inner city. Small fires burned in pits where buildings had been removed, opening the area and creating a natural defense against invasion. In the wavering shadows of the firelight, they could see movement, ill defined and staying just beyond sight.
A single massive building stood at the center of this clearing.
“Well, it sure is charming,” Splat ventured, “in that post apocalyptic sort of way.”
“Yeah. I’m thinking of making it my summer home, just as soon as we evict the current occupants,” Blackfoot said.
“I’ll be sure to bring my swimming trunks, when I visit.”
“We must hurry,” Wyrm interjected.
“You know, when Blackie gets all serious, I shrug it off as his nature. When you do it, it reaaaaaally creeps me out. Okay?”
Blackfoot knelt in the dark, passing the torch to Wyrm. He pulled a collapsible bow, along with a quiver of arrows, from his small rucksack. The arrows had blunt heads and were wrapped in linen. The smell of kerosene filled the air.
“As we planned, then?” Splat asked.
“Okay. We’ll see you inside.”
Blackfoot raised a single eyebrow in a sarcastic leer. “I hope.”
“If not, we’ll probably meet again in the spirit world, or some such shit…”
Blackfoot took the torch back from Wyrm. He placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and smiled warmly. “Be careful.” He turned to Splat, “Both of you.”
“Yes mother,” they replied in unison.
Blackfoot opened the door and headed for the fuel storage area of the compound. He ran swiftly across the plaza, staying close to the border of buildings and cars. The torch stood out in the black of the night, but he doubted it would draw much attention from the guards. There were other things that patrolled here.
SplatterPunk and Wyrm watched their friend slip away into the darkness, following his progress by the bobbing of the torchlight.
“No,” Wyrm replied, “but let’s do it anyway.”
“That’s the spirit!”
The two crossed the open area of the plaza quickly. They ran straight for the building standing at the heart of it, making no pretense at hiding. They needed to reach the building before the fireworks began.
They crossed the plaza with no confrontation. Soon, they were crouching beside an obscure door along the side of the building. A brass plaque reading: Service Entrance, Hotel Ambassador, gleamed dully in the night. Splat removed a collection of small wire instruments from his back pocket and went to work on the lock.
“Won’t that trip the alarm?”
“If it does,” Splat replied, “it won’t matter. I have a feeling the guards are going to be a might busy.” He stood up from working on the lock and winked at Wyrm. “Done. Hehe, oh the skills one acquires during a misspent youth…”
The pair crouched in the darkness, waiting. Suddenly, three small balls of fire appeared in the nighttime sky. They arched up towards the place were the moon had hung, in better times, and quickly fell towards earth.
Splat grabbed Wyrm by the arm. “Time to go.”
But the other man didn’t need to answer. The fire arrows hit the barrels of diesel that were stored near the front of the building. There was a tremendous explosion that rocked the still of the night. It was quickly followed by a series of smaller explosions. The smell of burning fuel wafted across the air. Instantly, the sound of an alarm filled the ensuing silence. The blat of an air horn that peeled relentlessly.
Splat hit the door running, dragging Wyrm behind him. The guards would all be headed in the opposite direction that they were going…it was time to hustle.
Outside in the plaza, Blackfoot dropped the torch and headed for the shadows of the surrounding buildings. He intended to circle behind the hotel, and meet up with his friends inside.
He turned the corner of the plaza, the sound of the alarm ringing constantly, almost burying the buzz of the guards swarming into the area like ants at a picnic. He skirted the rubble of the dilapidated buildings, rushing away from the scene. If he had paid more heed, he might have noticed the zombie before he was on top of it.
Splat and Wyrm had made their way to the stairwell with no resistance. They had not seen a soul. They climbed the stairs in silence, neither seemed willing to speak about the things to come. Both, worrying over the fate of their friend.
The building was lit with electric light that flickered in tune to the massive generators that powered it. It gave the two a surreal feeling, as if they were heavily drugged.
To add to the tension, Wyrm was sinking further and further into himself. Splat became aware that the thing they were after was calling Wyrm…pulling him (and his friends) into something they might not ever escape from.
The two reached the top of the stairs, standing before a door that led to the penthouse. Splat looked at Wyrm for confirmation. The other man nodded. They were here.
Shouldering the shotgun, Splat kicked open the door and stepped into the hallway.
Blackfoot backed away from the zombie. It’s face was swarmed with maggots, it’s stench gut wrenching. It lurched forward, reaching for him as a deep moan escaped it’s lips.
He turned to run away, not having time for the conflict, when he saw another of the things crawling out of a window from one of the buildings behind him. Yet another appeared from the deep pools of shadow, then another, and another…
Soon, Blackfoot was surrounded. He pulled the tomahawk from his belt and swung it in a wide arc.
“Come on, then…mercy for all.”
They stood at a T in the hallway. Short corridors on either side ended at doorways. Behind them, the door leading to the stairs was tied shut with an old fire hose Splat had removed from the wall.
“Which way?,” he whispered.
Wyrm put his head back and appeared to listen for a voice that the other man could not hear. “It does not matter. Both doors lead to the same room.”
“Good. You go right and I’ll go left. We’ll take anyone inside by surprise.”
“They know we are coming.”
SplatterPunk loaded the shotgun with a smirk. “Even better.”
They burst through the doors simultaneously, entering a lavishly decorated room where three men stood in the center. SplatterPunk pointed the shotgun at the center of the group, hoping to give the illusion that he had all three targeted. He glanced quickly at Wyrm, and saw that he was still unarmed, his small revolver tucked away in the pocket of his jean jacket. Without having to be told, Splat knew things were not going to go well.
Blood flew in a rising arc, as the tomahawk landed yet another blow. Blackfoot had positioned himself with his back to a large pile of rubble, keeping the horde in front of him. From the folds of his deerskin vest, he produced a large bone handled knife that he used to slice off the groping fingers of the undead.
He had done well so far, but he knew that time was running out…
The man in the center of the threesome smiled warmly. He was flanked by a hulking beast of a man that breathed heavily and sweated profusely, and a very thin, young man in a long leather trench coat. An AK-47 dangled loosely from the thinner man’s hands.
“Your friends have arrived at long last, 057,” taunted the man.
The thin boy narrowed his eyes at Wyrm. “They are not my friends, anymore.”
“Indeed?” The man smiled even wider. His oriental eyes gleamed with light. “Then, who are your friends, 057?”
“Only you, Herr Grimoire.”
The AK came up faster than the eye could follow. The young man turned and opened fire on Splat, his eyes never leaving Wyrm’s face.
The room became utter confusion in mere seconds. Splat dropped to the ground, blood spurting from the wound that had appeared in his leg. He returned fire as he fell, and a large chunk of plaster fell out of the ceiling over the men. Thunder echoed in the confines of the walls, and the rich smell of cordite filled the air.
Splat rolled on his back, into the hallway. He slammed the door shut behind him.
Grimoire was shouting at the hulk, barely heard over the endless roar of 057’s gun. “What are standing there for, 2501? Go and kill him!”
2501 moved slowly, the thoughts seeming to register slowly in his eyes. Then, he was off, charging like a bull for the door that SplatterPunk had closed.
Through it all, Wyrm stood transfixed, his eyes never leaving the book that stood open on a pedestal in the far corner of the room.
Splat drug himself down the hallway. The linoleum was blessedly cold against his skin. He was flushed, his face covered in a sweaty film. A trail of blood followed behind him as tried to reach the corner of the hallway.
2501 burst through the door in time to catch sight of Splat’s boots disappearing around the corner. He snorted loudly and charged along the blood trail.
He rounded the corner and came face to face with the barrel of Splat’s 12 gauge. It was like staring down the mouth of a cannon.
He entered the backdoor of the hotel, stumbling into the artificial light. He was soaked in blood and offal, his dark skin paled by the shock of what he had done.
The bite on his neck was the perfect impression of a smile.
Wyrm stepped into the room, ignoring the machine gun pointed in his direction.
“You should not have come,” Grimoire offered casually.
Wyrm shook his head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “I had no choice…it called for me.”
“Then it has lead you to your demise.” He motioned to the young man, a boy really, with the gun. “Kill him, 057.”
057 raised the AK to his shoulder and stared at Wyrm over the barrel.
“Yes,” Wyrm replied, “kill me, Gamer.”
The boy lowered the gun slightly. “What did you say?”
“Gamer. That is your name, or at least it was when you were our friend.”
“Gamer, not 057. I am surprised you are so willing to become a number. When I knew you Gamer, I never thought you could be so submissive.”
“057! You know who you are! Kill him and be done with it!”
Wyrm spread his empty hands out before him. “I am no threat to you, Gamer.”
The boy lowered the gun further, confusion stamped on his features as readable as a book.
2501 was surprisingly quick for a fat man. He grasped the shotgun from Splat’s weakened grip by the barrel and wrenched it away. He turned the gun on it’s owner and smiled wickedly through heavy breaths. “Any last words?”
2501 lowered the gun. “By all means…”
SplatterPunk grinned around the small line of blood that formed at the corner of his mouth. “Have you seen my backup piece?”
As 2501’s eyes lit with the sudden meaning of the man’s words, he tried vainly to raise the gun back into position. The small gun slipped from the cuff of Punk’s leather jacket and appeared in his hand like magic. He pointed it in the fat man’s face and pulled the trigger.
The gunshot sounded in the room, breaking the tension of the men. Grimoire ran for the hallway and screamed loudly., “Finish this 057!”
The boy nodded after his master and brought the gun to bear on Wyrm. But, Wyrm was already moving to the book. He seemed to have once again cast out the rest of the world, his focus solely on the book.
“Halt! Halt…or I will do as he asks,” 057 called. He tried to bring a note of authority to his voice, but failed as he realized he was speaking to himself.
Wyrm turned slowly back, almost as an after thought. He produced the revolver from his jacket and shot 057 without any ceremony.
“My apologies, old friend, but all will be well shortly…”
Grimoire stood over the prone body of his chief assassin. He took the shotgun from the dead man’s grasp and pointed it at the wounded man on the floor.
“You are going to pay for this…you are all going to pay dearly…,” he raged.
Splat looked up at the man. His gun was empty and he had no chance of escape. He did the only thing he could do. “Hey Grimmy…go fuck yourself.”
“Rarrrrrrrrrgh!” Grimoire pushed the hot barrel of the gun into Punk’s face. “No, you go fuck yourse…..”
Then he was falling to the floor, the handle of a tomahawk sticking from the back of his head.
“You’re late,” Splat said weakly.
“Looks to me like I am right on time,” Blackfoot replied.
Blackfoot slid down the wall and sat next to his friend. “Get yourself shot, huh?”
Splat nodded. “Gamer was there…”
“Hey,” he motioned at the fallen Grimoire, “I thought you didn’t kill?”
“He was dead the moment he prepared to take your life. I simply put him out of his misery.”
Splat laughed. “That’s a fuckin’ stretch if I ever heard one.”
“Whatever works.” Blackfoot looked his friend in the eyes. “I’ve been bitten.”
“Yes. When the time comes…”
SplatterPunk reached for the shotgun. “Don’t ask. I can do it, but I don’t want to hear you say it.” Blackfoot nodded. He was surprised to find the other man holding his hand.
“If it’s any consolation, I think we’ll be going together.” He gestured at the wound in his leg, “It’s pretty bad.”
“Swell. I can’t even ditch you in the afterlife…” The two smiled at each other thinking of their missing friends, and waiting for the inevitable.
Wyrm sat on the floor holding the book in his lap. Grimoire had used this book to raise the dead and conquer the world. Like so many before him, he had dared to use the magic of the artifact for evil. But what he had not known, what none of them had known, was that while the Book of Anubis had been inked in blood and bound in flesh, it was not a work of evil. It was a gateway to the magic of one’s true self. Wyrm began to read aloud from the ancient pages.
The mist cleared suddenly and the four men found themselves standing in a field awash with sunlight and the smell of rebirth. Flowers danced in time to the light wind, birds sung loudly from the trees. Wyrm smiled broadly. “Welcome, SplatterPunk, Blackfoot and Gamer. Welcome to my brave new world."