Call me lucky or call me unlucky, but I never had to handle an A-class incident before. When I saw Sandra’s reaction though, the raw terror in her eyes, I could tell we were in a lot of trouble.
“So, what do we do? You think we can fight that thing?”
Sandra’s head jerked to me, her face distorted by anger and frustration.
“Fight it? What do you think this is? Can’t you see this signature? This, this is not something we can handle on our own. There’s no way-“
Theodor’s laughter cut her outburst short.
“A moment ago you’d no problem crushing a little kid, but now you’re that afraid?”
When I looked at him though, I saw how uncertain he was, and I’d heard how hollow his laugh was. I knew he’d been afraid of Sandra, or at least respected her for the powers she commanded. Seeing her like this must’ve made him as uneasy as I was.
“I’ve got to notify headquarters about this! They need to know about this right now.”
With that, she tinkered with her scanner and her phone to transfer the data to headquarters.
“Let’s return for now and await further instructions. We need support. This is beyond anything I expected!”
When I looked over to her scanner, I saw her zooming out until she could finally see the full size of the signature.
“Jesus Christ,” I brought out when I saw it.
Here’s the thing. The size of a signature is proportional to its power. Sure there are some, like humanoid types, who can blend in and sometimes hide their true abilities, but those are exceptions.
A D-class signature is nothing but a small dot, C-class is roughly the size of a building while B-class can encompass an entire block. The signature on Sandra’s scanner was far bigger, bigger than anything I’d ever seen. And all the while it was still spreading, still growing in size.
The moment we were back, Sandra hit up headquarters about the situation and to get an update on her request for backup. It wasn’t long before she broke up.
“Help would be too late? What do you mean? We’ve got nowhere near enough personnel here to handle an incident such as-“ but she broke up once more, her face distorted by disbelief.
After half a minute, another outburst followed.
“Then what are we supposed to do!?”
Once more she listened.
“Yes, all right, of course,” she ended the conversation in a low voice before she slumped down next to me.
“So? What did they say?”
“What do you think they said, Dylan? No help’s going to come, not any time soon! They told me, us, that we’re supposed to do what we can! An incident such as this can’t be ignored, but what can we even do? What can the three of us do against anything, like, like,” she broke up, panting.
“All right, Sandra, calm down, maybe there’s a way we can-“
Her shrill laugh cut me off right away.
“You think we can do anything? Against something like that? Dylan, this thing is on an entirely different level to anything we’ve handled! I can feel its influence from here!”
She started shaking and for a moment her powers flared up. Her eyes were staring ahead at nothing, her face distorted before she turned to me again.
“I, I know this feeling,” she pressed out. “It’s that manipulator, it’s the thing what was probing her mind, the thing that’s controlling all those puppets!”
“You mean… shit,” I brought out.
I thought back to when I was in that coma, to the visions I’d seen. That wasteland, the terrible twisted world behind it and the destruction that was prophesized.
“So, are you saying this is going to be a suicide mission?” Theodor joked, but neither Sandra nor I said a word.
After a few moments of painful silence, Sandra returned to her computer and rerouted a few more of her surveillance drones. Before she could even get close to the signature’s origin, their live feeds vanished.
“Shit!” she cursed, as drone after drone was destroyed.
“So, we’ve got to go in blind?”
Sandra nodded in frustration.
“Let’s get ready,” she called out and made her way to the storage room.
It was the first time I ever saw Sandra put on protective armor, and I didn’t like it one bit.
While I put on mine and stocked up on weapons and equipment, I watched her rummage through the shelf of alchemic contraptions. I saw her pick up mind blockers, wound treatments and a variety of others. It was like watching a kid in a candy store.
“Get going and put this on!” she screamed at Theodor and threw him a suite of protective armor.
“Nah, I’m good,” he laughed, but a moment later I saw him grimace.
“This is no joke,” Sandra screamed, stepping up to him, pushing him to the ground with her powers. “This might very well be a suicide mission, like you said. If we want to have a chance, any chance, we’ve got to do what we can. And I won’t let it be ruined by you.”
I heard Theodor curse in pain before his eyes focused on Sandra.
“Do you understand? Put. It. On. Otherwise I can get rid of you right here, right now!”
“Freaking hell, all right,” he brought out shakingly.
A few minutes later we were on our way. The sun was already setting when we reached the commercial area. It was as normal as it could be. No sign of an apocalypse and no towering abomination tearing down buildings. No, it was just empty office building after empty office building. A few people were still around, making their way towards tram and bus station, but the parking lots in the area were deserted.
Sandra’s scanner, though, proved how wrong impressions could be. The thing was going haywire. By now the signature encompassed the entire area. The numbers were still rising before they reached the scanner’s threshold.
Cursing, Sandra put it back, but then she staggered for a moment.
“Hey, you okay?” Theodor called out and walked up to her, but Sandra motioned for him to stop.
“Yes, I’m all right, there’s just so much power here, so much energy, I can feel it and it s influencing my mind.”
My eyes rested on her, but after a few deep breaths, she seemed to be all right again. She gave me and Theodor a brief nod before we continued on.
It wasn’t long before we made contact. Not with the A-class, of course, but with another creature.
“Beast type!” Sandra called out. “No idea what class, but it doesn’t seem to be above C-class.”
Theodor grinned and stepped into the charging creature’s path. I took position right next to him, gun in hand. He gave me a puzzled look before he nodded.
“No wasting strength today, all right?” I said.
“Guess I’m not allowed to have any fun today,” he said with a shrug.
As the multi-legged, twisted monstrosity charged at us, I fired almost an entire magazine at it.
The thing was twice our size, but the bullets still hurt it. It screeched up in pain, staggered for a moment, but didn’t slow down.
It got closer and closer, and finally Theodor charged forward, barely avoiding a collision. He ripped out his combat knife and plunged it deep into the creature’s flank. Another pained screech followed, but this time the thing didn’t merely stagger. Organs and intestines spilled from the gashing wound and a moment later it crashed to the floor.
“Why’s there a fucking beast type here, Sandra? What’s going on?” I asked, turning to her.
“It’s rallying forces. It might try to slow us down.”
“Slow us down? Why?”
“I might not have fully emerged in our reality yet,” she brought out, thinking.
“So you’re saying if we’re quick we might-“
“No, that’s not it. Even as it’s now, it has more than enough power already. It could destroy this entire area. But maybe,” she broke up, shaking her head.
“It doesn’t matter.”
I stared at her for a moment, opened my mouth before I closed it again.
While I scanned the area, Sandra brought out a handful of smaller survey drones. She activated them and the things scurried away in multiple directions.
Sandra took out her phone, checking their feeds, but it took only a minute before they were all gone again.
“Guess it’s no use after all,” I brought out, but Sandra shook her head.
“No, I got something. See this?”
I stared at the screen, and just before one feed was cut off, I noticed one of the puppets. It was down in the dark, in some sort of underpass.
“You got a location?”
She nodded. “Nearby, that’s most likely were the rest of them are. Let’s go!”
We reached the underpass after only a few minutes. It was old and derelict, a remnant of times past and a perfect location.
I was no mentalist, not receptive to the things powers, but now I even I could feel what was waiting for us.
“Shit,” I cursed as I rubbed my temples and wiped sweat off my forehead.
Sandra reached into her pocket and brought out a small vial, popped it open and swallowed the contents. Then she handed me another one of them.
“A mind blocker, it’s probably not doing a lot, but it should diminish some of the pressure you’re under.”
I nodded and swallowed it, and in an instant my head became clearer.
She turned to Theodor, who shook his head.
“No, all good, can’t feel a thing.”
Sandra stared at him for a moment, probing him before she nodded.
As we entered the old underpass, we noticed the puppets instantly. The entire area was teeming with them. The moment we entered, they all rushed away, vanishing in the darkness further ahead. Like I’d seen in Sandra’s live feed, there were hundreds of them down here, hundreds or maybe thousands.
Each step echoed through the darkness ahead, reverberating from the surrounding walls. I couldn’t help but shiver. This was no mere underpass. It was too long, too dark, almost as if it had been extended, changed, even warped.
The place felt all sorts of wrong.
My skin crawled as a strange feeling washed over me. I threw a beacon ahead of us.
In that moment we saw the writings and symbols. The walls had been caked in them, layers upon layers of them. I heard Sandra gasp next to me and for a second she cringed.
The beacon continued on, hovering further into the darkness. Two monstrous humanoid types became visible in the darkness before one of them tore the beacon apart.
“Shit, why’s there two of them?” I cursed at Sandra as I threw another beacon.
“No, it’s not them, they are just more guards. There’s no pressure coming from them, they are here to slow us down,” she brought out before she lifted her hands.
The creatures staggered back for a second before they roared and threw themselves against Sandra’s force field.
“Quick! I can only stop them for so long, there’s too much interference,” she called out, clenching her teeth.
I lit the left fucker up in an instant. The creature screamed up, but more in anger than in pain. Shit, those fuckers were tough.
No time for games, I thought as I ripped out a grenade, activated it and threw it right at the fucker. The grenade exploded right in front of the creature. There was a pained shriek as bits and pieces were torn off his body.
By now the second creature had focused on me, plunged through Sandra’s force field, but Theodor was already upon it. His combat knife flashed through the air, but the creature had noticed him. It dodge his assault and I could hear Theodor curse as the creature retaliated. Clawed appendages shot forward, about to tear into him, but Sandra next to me screamed up.
Power exploded from her body, rose past Theodor, batted the creature’s attack aside and restrained it.
As Theodor threw himself aside, I reloaded my gun and went forward to support him. The bullets didn’t do a damn thing, but they were enough to divert the creature’s attention momentarily. Theodor attacked again and this time, he rammed his knife deep into the creature’s skull. For a moment it lashed out blindly before it fell to the floor.
One down, I thought, but there was no room to breathe. The left creature was back, enraged by the death of its companion. It threw itself at Theodor in a suicidal charge, but its attack was sloppy.
With its body tethered as it was, it could barely do anything. It wasn’t long before it went down as well.
Sandra next to me was panting. I saw her pop another vial. For a moment her body was shaking uncontrollably, her hands cramping up before she seemed calm again.
“Jesus, Sandra, what the fuck are you doing?”
She gave me an angry stare.
“What’s necessary,” she spat at me.
We continued on, past the two monstrosities, and soon found a dark tunnel looming ahead of us. It led down further, into the depth of the earth below.
The walls were crusted in engravings and writings. The power coming from them was so intense, the entire area glowed in a low, unnatural light that made your head hurt.
“What now? You want me to throw down a few of those?” I asked, turning to Sandra holding a grenade in my hand.
“And you think that’s going to do a damn thing?” she brought out in a laugh.
I mumbled a curse to myself.
“Come on,” she snapped at me and Theodor as she started down the tunnel.
It wasn’t long before it opened up, extending into a sort of cavern or cave.
The entire thing seemed to have been dug out by those puppets who were still busy, still extending it.
Bones and the remains of animals littered the cave’s floor. Here and there I thought I could even see parts of people amongst the carnage.
In the center of the cave, a ghastly, giant altar had been created.
Yet, my eyes didn’t rest on the carnage of the floor, not on the altar, but on the creature that was hovering above it.
It had a small, almost emaciated, skeletal body. Its head was disproportionately large, a skull comprising nothing but raw, twisted bone. Two deep lying eye holes, glowing in a strange, yellowish light, stared at us.
The moment they came to rest on me, fear washed over me. I started sweating, my heart rate went up, and I had to fight to keep the rising panic at bay.
“Jesus Christ,” I brought out in a shaken voice.
For a moment these eye holes flared up and my mind was flooded with images. I saw a torn city, tentacles, an upside down sky before my head reverberated by a cacophony of screams. In an instant I was on the floor, heaving, panting, cringing. Sandra next to me was on her knees, screaming in terror under the thing’s assault.
Only Theodor was still on his feet, but I saw him grimace. Even he wasn’t able to withstand the thing’s assault unscathed, it seemed.
With a shaking hand, Sandra got a hold of another one of her vials. Once she’d downed it, she fought herself to her feet and threw me one of them too.
“Shit, what are we even-?” I started, but wasn’t unable to bring out another thing.
In front of us, the creature descended from its ghastly altar.
Power exploded from it. The bones and the flesh on the surrounding ground were torn apart, shredded before they gathered around the creature.
Bones were expanded, added to its body, then flesh and muscles before it landed on a newly formed pair of legs.
Words appeared in my mind, threats, feelings.
Doom. Futility. End. No hope.
I clenched my teeth and with the help of whatever Sandra had given me, I could push the thing’s influence to the farthest back of my mind.
“Fuck you,” I brought out grinning.
In an instant, power crashed into my body and I was thrown backward. The air was pushed from my lungs and I crashed to the floor half a dozen meters in the back. As I pushed myself back to my feet, I could feel the iron taste of blood in my mouth.
I fought myself to my feet again, staggered forward. After a moment I picked up my gun, pointed it and shot, but it didn’t do a damn thing.
The bullets were stopped a meter in front of the thing and fell to the ground. The air was filled with quiet clangs before laughter reverberated inside my head.
Theodor seemed to feel it too. He could still ward off most of the creature’s powers, but I saw him step back too, saw him cringe.
Then I saw Sandra hovering in the air. I saw her push her hands down and power exploded from her, power like nothing I’d seen before. The wave of energy crashed against the creature, but it merely brought it to a halt.
Then the skull turned and focused on her. Another bone pushed from its body, forming into an arm, a hand. A single wave of it brought Sandra to her feet, to her knees before she started screaming.
With its attention focused on Sandra, I handed Theodor one of my grenades. For a moment he was puzzled, but then he nodded.
All the while Sandra tried to push back against the assault she was under. For a moment she appeared to do it before she crashed to the floor.
The flamer flew high through the air, flames exploded and descended to the ground, but the creature was entirely unharmed. Once more the laughter was back, louder this time, stabbing at my brain.
Then I was the one under assault by its powers and was thrown to the floor. I felt bones crack, felt one snap, and then I felt it tear into my mind. I closed my eyes, tried to fight back, but I felt my thoughts assaulted, felt my very being torn apart. For an instant, all sense of self was gone before the attack dissipated.
I opened my eyes, saw Sandra, saw a bunch of empty vials on the floor next to her, saw the blood streaming from her nose as she pushed against the creature’s assault.
I ripped out another flamer and started unloading on the thing. Of course it didn’t do a thing, but under the assault from both me and Sandra, Theodor did exactly what I hoped he’d do. He rushed forward, pushed himself against the creature’s powers, pushed through, was about to rush the thing’s body, when its hand snapped forward.
Flesh and bone were added to it. Long, spidery fingers were formed that closed around Theodor’s body.
Theodor screamed as the creature began closing its hand to crush him. Then Sandra, staggering, her face white and bloody, used the last of her powers to protect him.
I stepped forward, continued shooting, but in an instant my hand was batted aside. I screamed in pain as my wrist broke and the gun clattered away.
Yet all of this had given Theodor enough time, the few seconds he needed.
He’d activated the grenade I’d given him and with all the force he could muster, he’d thrown it. The small piece of metal crashed against the creature’s skull and exploded.
Theodor crashed to the floor as the hand let go of him. Sandra’s powers ebbed away, and I heard her scream before she crashed to the floor.
When the dust and the fire of the explosion had settled, all that remained of the creature were pieces of flesh and bone.
I saw Theodor move. His hair was almost gone and his arms were red and burned, but he was alive.
I crawled over to Sandra, shook her, and after a while her eyes fluttered open. Her nose was still bleeding, her mouth, too, was covered in blood. She gave me a cold, bloodied grin before she pushed herself to her knees.
Then she started convulsing, her body shaking. I saw her fingers dig into the hard ground of the cavern before she vomited.
I pushed myself to my knees and after two failed attempts, I’d made it to my feet. Sandra was still on all fours, panting, breathing heavily, but the shaking had stopped.
One stare showed me that Theodor was back on his feet as well, walking over towards us.
“Did we get it?” he asked.
Sandra laughed. “You think THAT finished it off?”
“It’s gone, isn’t it?” I asked.
Sandra shook her head. “Not gone, it left. It hadn’t fully emerged yet like I thought, it was gathering its powers, forming a body. All we did was stop it, for the moment.”
“Then where did it go? Is it back to its, well, world?”
“No, I don’t think so. It just displaced itself to a different location, most like somewhere else in this city. I can still feel it. It’s still here. All of this, this cavern, this altar, what it did here, it seemed to have been nothing but preparation.”
“Preparation? For what?”
“I don’t know, I don’t fucking,” she broke up, gagging and shaking again before she could continue.
“Maybe more distortions, changes to the natural energy flow. It might want to create a portal, a permanent one, but I can’t be, ugh.”
She broke up again, and I finally helped her to her feet. As my eyes wandered around, I saw the puppets had either vanished or had ceased functioning.
“Dylan,” Sandra pressed out as we made our way back up the tunnel. “Burn it all to the ground.”
I gave her a questioning look.
“This place, this altar, it’s got power of its own. It’s dangerous. If we don’t destroy it, god knows what will happen. It might distort the entire area and-“
“Sure thing, I got it,” I cut her off.
I tried to smile, but standing on my feet and supporting her was tough enough. My entire body was hurting.
I took out the handful of grenades I’d still left and one after another I threw them down into the cave. We stumbled back as the entire area behind us came crashing down.
Once we’d made it outside, Sandra took out her scanner again. While it had gone haywire before, it was now completely quiet.
“Nothing,” she brought out.
“So we finished it after all?” I asked.
“No, like I said, there’s no way this would be over that quickly. But maybe,” she brought out thinking. “Maybe it’s able to hide its presence.”
“Didn’t you say this was impossible?”
“Normally, yes, but this thing, its power is beyond measure. With a creature like this, we’ve got no idea what it’s capable off. All bets are off, Dylan, all bets are off.”
I cursed to myself. How the hell were we ever going to stop something like this?
You know, fuck monsters and fuck A-class.