The cruelty of the situation was not lost on Will. Underground in a labyrinth of corridors, crawling around on his stomach, the soft moist, fragrant soil completely encompassing him, his night vision goggles destroyed, and a torch that would act as a beacon to the creatures that lived in this underground hovel that would sooner tear his heart out than stop and wonder as to what he was doing there in the first place.
Feeling his way forward, his heart sunk quickly realising that the path ahead dipped away and took him down to yet another lower level. He couldn’t tell how deep it was and if it was likely he could get back up again, but nevertheless he had made his choice, and as he moved on was more confident than ever that there was an opening at the other end that led to fresh air and freedom. He only hoped it wasn’t too far away.
He slid down the steep ramp, it seemed to go on for quite a way before he came to a halt on the level ground below. He couldn’t tell how far he’d fallen but it seemed to be further than the last; maybe going back was no longer an option.
Will crawled on, the narrow passageway was nudging his shoulders, he couldn’t even get up on all fours. He felt around and realised that the path ahead split off in three directions, each was about the size he was in now. This was a major dismay, and he figured that his luck couldn’t get any worse at this point.
Ok, don’t panic, you got yourself into this you idiot, now think this through.
He reached out with his inner sense, his sixth sense as he called it, severing the connection quickly as he picked up multiple targets ahead, and some behind him as well. He hoped that they were the young ones he’d left behind, because if he was caught in this position, he was defenceless. The creatures ahead of him seemed to be concentrated slightly to the right, which suggested to him that there was another nursery down the right tunnel. He wanted very much to leave a nice explosive in that room before returning to the surface, but in his current state, he was like a new born baby himself, senses abandoning him and completely helpless. Although it was only his sight that had left him, there was more to him than just his sight.
The smell of the soil and cramped air evoked a memory, his mind traced back to about six months ago moving through the streets of Lviv, the second city of Ukraine. The old soviet brick buildings were abound, but the place was falling apart. Ukraine was the country both the west and Russia had forgotten. Except for occasional flare ups in negotiations of resources and energy bills, not many thought about it and fewer travelled to it.
Will was of course there because he had a mission to complete, he didn’t travel for leisure anymore. He had tracked a rather nasty band of the nameless through Romania, Moldova and finally onto Ukraine. He had come across them in his never ending search for Derrick. This group, although linked to Derrick’s organisation would give him no clues as to their ultimate boss’s whereabouts, Will knew that, but he decided that a quick aside to deal with a sick lot of animals was time well spent.
He first encountered them when he was following up a leed in Romania, he passed through Bratislava, the capital and was just about to grab a train out of the old gothic centre before he sensed something. He was only casually embracing his power as he’d found himself in a pocket of the city where there were very few nameless around. He’d felt something rather powerful though, so strong was its impact on him that he didn’t need to maintain his power to follow where it had emanated from. He quickly moved out of the train station, walked two blocks through the damp streets and steady traffic. A line of bakeries was selling cheap coffee and pretzels so low was the price that it was hardly worth exchanging any money. But Will had arrived, he was standing at the entrance to an apartment complex, the main gate was busted wide open and he walked inside without a pause for thought. Inside he saw death. Bodies were strewn about from the apartment doors which were hanging open, on the ground in the centre of the building, in the elevator which connected the upper floors to the ground, there was blood, there were bodies and there were body parts.
What the hell happened here, Will couldn’t guess, he had never seen such a brazen attack on humans before, the creatures were normally very careful. He reached out with his senses and felt five creatures moving away quickly, there was one that remained however, it was close, very close. He looked around and saw some movement on the second floor. He dropped his backpack and ran for the balcony, jumping up onto a concrete step and launching himself, Will dragged his weight up to the second floor and ran into the closest apartment. He had to step over a body, he tried to ignore the carnage as he chased down the creature, it was running from him, It sensed him, probably suspected who he was and decided it wanted to live for one more day. No chance.
Running through door after door Will was getting closer and closer to the creature until he could see it. It was in human form, hence why it was slower than him, their triple jointed legs usually gave them incredible speed, but this one didn’t have the time to change. He could see it looking back at him, fear in its eyes. He knew who he was alright. Running outside, the man shaped thing paused for one critical moment, deciding whether to jump to the ground below or keep running to the stairs and go higher. This allowed Will to close the distance, and it turned at the last moment to see Will’s face, contorted in a ferocious grin, for he liked to hunt the creatures as much as they like to hunt humans. He crashed into the creature, knocking it over the railings and it fell to the ground with a sickening crack. It cried out in pain, Will landed next to him and jammed his steel capped boot into its throat.
‘What happened here?’ He growled at it, the man-creature quivered in fear. Will pulled out a small blade that was concealed in his jacket sleeve, he crouched down and let the tip dig gently into the stomach area. He released the grip on the throat. ‘What happened here?’ He growled again.
‘It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me,’ he squeaked. ‘They did it, I told them not to.’
‘Make sense, or you’ll look like another feature in this place.’
‘They came in to evict everyone, it was a development project. They were told to force the people out if they refused, but the people fought back, they went mad, they showed their true form, we’re not supposed to do that!’ He squeaked again, the terror in his eyes only fueled Will’s anger.
‘So they slaughtered all of them?’
The creature nodded.
‘There were families here.’
‘I tried to stop them but they went mad. They ran away after it was finished, I was too shocked to leave, I didn’t want to go with them.’
‘They were your group though weren’t they, you’re from the same gang right?’ Will was only too aware of the local branch that belonged to Derrick’s organisation, they were ruthless, but this was something else.
‘I’m new, I didn’t sign up for this,’ he pleaded.
‘I believe you.’ Will said, less fierce this time, ‘your moral compass is more sound than your friends, therefore you will die quickly.’ He lashed out with the power he had stored in his left hand and cut the creature’s head off before it could squeak another protest.
This group was bad, not the usual bad, they were an extraordinary kind. Will knew that they were only linked to the local gangs and couldn’t help him climb the ladder to Derrick, but that didn’t mean he could let this go.
So he tracked them, the group of five, he found one in Brasov in the Transylvanian alps. The Carpathian mountains hung overhead, the medieval town sat at the foot, lush green landscape filled the horizon, but was broken up by a flash of light as a body was sliced in two and slid into the bushes. It would dissolve into powdery ash within minutes as they always did, but the information he received was enough to keep moving and the fact that the creature had suffered made Will feel a little better about the scene in Bratislava. The next creature he stalked and found in the foothills outside Chisinau in Moldova. A canyon with a few townships and a river flung around its vast expanse, which seemed a world away from any other, and no doubt the next victim thought so to. It didn’t even see Will coming, and was still in human form as it fell to the ground, slowly and painfully.
The third had fallen in Kiev, which had taken them by surprise as the last three had tried to stick together. No doubt they had heard of the death of their friends and thought it the best strategy, but two had turned their backs just long enough for Will to strike. This had caused one of the others to panic and flee, chasing him through the streets had been a thrill. He ran as if Will were a phantasm, a nightmare come to life. Despite their power, despite their strengths, they had their fears, and it was he they feared. He cut the creature down where it stood to catch its breath, there was nothing to it really.
The result of this was allowing the last man to escape to Lviv where the last one, and the only one with a sensible disposition had chosen an area of its own to use to its advantage. It knew that Will wouldn’t give up, and the best thing it could do was stand and fight.
Will tracked it to an old abandoned building in a residential area out of the city. Like much of the city, it was falling into disrepair, but it was worse than most, not much more than a shell and probably should have been demolished months ago.
Will walked down the street with debris scattered around, it looked like a war zone but no shots had been fired here in a generation. A half built structure from a failed development project stood out in the horizon; it looked little worse than the houses people lived in here. He found the creature at the centre of the building, waiting for him, the place was otherwise deserted. It wasted no time, it turned into its natural form, human features giving way to wiry muscular gray hide, claws and round, dark eyes. Will embraced enough power to fill his body, pulsing with energy. To any observer they would see no change in him, but any creature with the ‘sight’ would see him glowing like a beacon. From Will’s perspective, the creature was glowing as well as it charged up its strength, Will ran at it with full force, claws and hands clashing, flashes of light where their energy cancelled out. But it didn’t last long, the creature leapt away and launched a ball of pure energy that smashed the wall behind Will. It took him a moment to realise what had happened when the entire side of the building came crashing down upon him.
For hours he lay there, unable to move, how he had survived was pure chance, he had landed in such a way that he had a small pocket of air to breath, the energy in his body had been spent, but the shield had stopped the force from crushing him. He was sure that the creature had moved on, content that it had won, but he wasn’t dead yet.
Will had tested the brick works and debris around him, he estimated that the pile of debris on him wasn’t that big, although certainly far too much for him to move. He could hope for rescuers, but the local authorities would no doubt assume that no one was around when the building collapsed and simply take their time sifting through it. They would find his body in a month’s time and realise their mistake. He couldn’t simply use his power to blast the rubble, for if he cut one section, it could shift everything else and it would crush him.
Stuck there as he was, the smell of the soil and pitch blackness his only company, he ran through meditations that helped him focus his mind. This stopped panic setting in at first but then slowly, over time he was able to tap back into his power and build up his strength little by little. It was a slow process back then, he was better at it now, but at this stage, Will was still learning his limits. The power slowly coursed through his body until it was in every part of him, it rushed through him, gave him strength, until finally, he pushed up against the debris atop him, and it gave way, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until he could push up and eventually stand. Finally with a cry of exertion he jumped and soared out of the rubble, parts of debris flying in all directions. He landed on the ground and crumpled to the floor, he was exhausted, all but spent. Looking around and seeing it was now dark, he went to rest and found that he needed a full twenty four hours to recover from the exertion, but after that, he began his enquiries again, and the creature who had bested him had become rather over confident, bragging to those in his circle about his victory, most seemed not to believe him, but spread the word nevertheless. It made tracking him down easy. He found the creature, in human form sitting in his chair, in his apartment, watching his television, snoring gently, a very human picture Will had thought as he flicked off the television plunging the room into darkness. But he knew that when it stirred, the creature would see him easily. Indeed it did, it convulsed in shock.
‘No!’ It called, ‘You’re dead!’
‘Took the words right out of my mouth,’ Will growled back at him as he plunged his favoured weapon of the crescent blade into the creature’s bowels. He sliced aside allowing it to suffer in agony as it tried to hold in its innards.
‘You, I- Why?’ Was all it could manage.
‘You went too far, I’m here to bring things back in line.’ He then gave a gentle slice across the creature’s neck, enough to let blood begin to ooze out, It now had to choose between stopping the blood leak from its neck or losing its bowels, either way the result was assured. Will turned and left by the window he had come in, the gurgling cry of despair faded away as he left the body behind.
All of this flashed through Will’s mind in a few moments, in a moment of despair, feeling crushed by his circumstances he had fallen back on his powers, and they hadn’t let him down.
Can I do that again?
He closed his eyes, he found his centre once more and tapped into his power, this time with such little effect that he couldn’t even detect the creatures around him, so they would likely not be able to detect him. He reached out as if he were sensing the creatures around him, but could not due to the lack of power, he then focused on his own body, on his mind, his eyes, he was going blind so to speak, but every action seemed to bring on the next, he couldn’t explain it exactly. He focused the energy to his eyes, and there it stayed. Even though it wasn’t enough to do anything of value within his whole body, when he concentrated it so, it seemed to bring on a change, but what was it?
He opened his eyes and actually gasped, I can see. He closed his eyes and it made no difference, he wasn’t actually seeing with his eyes, he was seeing with his sixth sense. The tunnel lay out in front of him, it had a slightly blue tinge, similar to the green tinge from his now defunct night vision goggles. He couldn’t quite understand how this worked, but he wasn’t about to argue.
With his new found ability and renewed confidence he chose the right path and crawled along it until he found another nursery. Inside the room which was not big enough to stand up in, there were dozens of even smaller creatures, this had to be them at their youngest form. But there was nothing to guard them and so Will dug around behind him, retrieving his second last explosive, burying it with a timer for 18 minutes to match the others, then managed to turn around in the small room and head back the way he had come. He then lay in front of the three tunnels for a moment concentrating on the middle and left one, he sniffed the air, was the middle one fresher? He played the hunch and crawled slowly along it and was relieved to find a steep but not insurmountable ramp up to the second level. Following it along he went past two more nurseries which were both guarded, but the minders seemed to be rather sleepy and he went past without any trouble. He wasn’t concerned about them, the last explosive he had was the biggest and it would bring down the second entrance in such a way that they would never make it out, of that he was sure.
Finding another ramp he crawled back up to the top floor and with great relief he could now stand, albeit not to full height. His blue tinged vision showed him one room to the right and the sense of fresh air told him that he was very close to the entrance. Peaking into the room he saw a sight he didn’t expect. Two men sat on the ground playing cards. They both turned to him and stared, they didn’t quite know what to make of him, they couldn’t detect him apparently, in fact it seemed to Will that whilst drawing on so little power, whilst he powered his vision he couldn’t detect anything either, but he had to assume they were both shapeshifters, why else would they be here. Standing there in the dark able to see, he was himself not entirely human either, but the creatures were adept at detecting their own and thus looked at him with suspicion.
‘Who are you?’ One asked in broad Croatian which was close enough to Will’s knowledge of Serbian that he could understand and reply.
Thinking on his feet was something Will had never been good at, but he had improved remarkably in the past two years. ‘Meat,’ he said in English.
‘Oh, I expected someone smaller,’ the first man said.
‘You are my contact?’ Will asked.
‘Yes, Derrick sends his regards, did you succeed in your mission?’
‘I killed the helper, and I injured the man, but he escaped.’
‘You what? You weren’t supposed to attack him, the Asian man was disposable, but you were supposed to leave him unharmed. Derrick wont be happy.’
‘No,’ Will replied in English, ‘I suppose he wont.’ He lunged forward withdrawing the crescent blade from his jacket and cut the throat of the second man. He fell onto the second man but he responded with incredible strength, got his legs between them and launched Will against the back wall. He fell to the soil which was harder than he’d realised, but got up, glad that he’d not lost his weapon. Happily, his vision stayed with him, but it was time for another test. He reached into his core and sucked up more power into his body. This took him only a moment but it was long enough to give the creature time to return to its grotesque natural form. It ran at him on its haunches, Will with his eyes still closed but seeing as if it were broad daylight, ducked to the right as the creature’s flailing body bumped against him, sending him to the ground. It was only a glancing blow however and he managed to recover quickly, but he sensed something else however, something was behind him. He risked a glance behind, which triggered both the creature in front and the smaller creep from behind to jump at Will, claws extended. Will had only a moment to react and so leapt to his left, spun and threw a whip of energy at the creep, slicing it in two. The larger creature had to change course which gave Will just enough time to block the creature’s attacks. The claws carved at his defences, his clothes were torn to shreds, his shields were dropping and his armour wouldn’t last long, but in the small room there wasn’t far to move and so he did the only thing he could. He took a step back against the wall, dropped to his knee and drove an energy charged fist into the creatures stomach. The blow knocked it back, it landed on the ground and coughed up blood, whimpering. Will walked up to it, stomped on its head with his boot, but withdrew the power from his leg, he didn’t want to kill it after all, not yet.
He then found the final explosive, checked his watch and set the time for seven minutes, it would go off slightly quicker than the others, but not by much. He buried it, and then dragged the body outside. The creature was unmoving and would likely be unconscious for an hour or more, but Will made sure to drag it well away from the opening of the hive. With great relief he sucked in fresh air, happy to be away from the cramped confines of that hellish place. He had only raided a couple of hives like this, but this had been the most dangerous, the closest he had come to death. But from adversity he had produced a new ability, one that would put him on equal terms with the nameless. Not only could he see in the dark as well as them, he could draw on enough power to do so without setting off their own senses, this would be an incredible advantage, and it was with this pleasant thought in his mind that he smiled as the first explosive rumbled underneath the earth. The trees and foliage near the entrance actually moved upwards slightly, before collapsing into the ground beneath in a heap. The entrance was blocked and within two minutes the rest of the bombs had gone off, the place was destroyed completely, dozens, maybe even hundreds of potential future problems were wiped out, and now he had a creature that could lead him to Derrick, overall it had been a very productive night.
(C) T.W. Norrich ‘The Nameless Saga’ 2016