Ah, Cyrus. From what I recall of him, he was quite the knowledgeable man, but had a most horrid sense of humor.
Much to your dissatisfaction, I’m certain, I was not given the honor of partaking in a Hunt. Instead, I will tell you of the time we encountered a most ferocious beast of the night. A Shapeshifter!
You see, the story I am about to tell you is rather… confidential. Amongst the Mire we are known as Regiment 9. Throughout Regiment 9 we are known as the ‘BlackGuards’. But in the small circle of men and women who actually make up the organization, we call ourselves ‘the exterminators’. Led by the aforementioned Commander, Cyrus Fiendel, we were essentially tasked with getting rid of all the pests that Emperor Dravis didn’t want to deal with.
“Vampires and Werewolves are but fiction!” You cry in disbelief. Oh, but they are not, my friends! For we, the BlackGuard, are the ones who keep them from your eyes! Throughout all of training I was told it was a most important task, keeping these beasts and terrible creatures contained to Ares and not to touch the enigmatic planet known as ‘Earth’. But throughout the years, they got through.
Those times were especially difficult, considering a team had to be sent to the planet itself in order to get rid of them. It was but two short months after I had joined the Guard, and situated in the capital of Nation 9, it was a rather high class of living compared to the peasants below that Emperor Dravis had created. Not to speak of politics, because I tend to ramble, but our new Emperor was hardly an apt ruler. Many were dissatisfied with the state the Mire was in, and I have the distinct feeling Cyrus was one of them, as the first words he spoke to us that day were…
“Gentlemen, and women, the Emperor once again requires us to take out his trash!”
We all stood in a line in the hotel lobby, which had been cleared of all others not too long ago. Our obsidian uniforms certainly must have looked quite intimidating, covering our bodies from head to toe and lined with all manner of different pockets, many of which contained a vast assortment of weaponry. These uniforms were primarily created from hardened leather, strong enough to block shrapnel and perhaps a glancing blow from a blade while still allowing us the mobility that was so desperately needed. A little uncomfortable to be worn at first, but you grew used to them with time.
Cyrus wore much different attire. He had a particular fondness for dark clothing, bearing a inky black cloak with odd brownish crimson stripes up and down the torn up thing. Many of us theorized they were from the blood of his enemies, victory marks if you will. Indeed, it sounded a most sound assumption based on his reputation and appearance.
Our commander was immortal, you see. Not unkillable, no, but if he was left be for long enough, age could never claim him. For years and years he had the same dark red eyes and needly black hair that covered his head. The eyes tended to bore into you even with a passing glance. There was most definitely a difference between standard red eyes and those Cyrus had, but none of us could really explain it. Besides this, the man had a flair for the formal. Black dress pants, black dress shoes, and pale white skin to conflict it all. Quite an eccentric looking person, and to top it all off he was just shy of five foot ten, by the looks of it. Perhaps twenty five years of age was visible on him.
His tone was a harsh and authoritative one, quite fitting for someone in his position. None of us dared to disobey him.
“Right here in our capital lurks what is known as a ‘shapeshifter.’ We assume that it intends to reach the Scrye, and your duty and mine is to find and stop it!”
The Scrye, if you were unaware, was the entrance to Earth. An odd rift in time and space that had created a link between our worlds. There were many Scrye on Ares, and perhaps more on Earth, but cities tended to be built around them in order to make the implementation of Earthly technology a smoother process.
Typically, our missions tended to send us into the plains of Nation 3, or the tropics of Nation 5. But tonight, it was happening in my own home Nation! It made me feel a little patriotic, I admit. I was not about to let any nefarious beast tarnish the honor of my homelands!
“The creature was last seen at the Ferego hotel just across from here. Your mission will be to observe the scene, and track down the creature. I advise you all keep on your toes, as intel suggests it is very capable of taking different forms.” Cyrus continued, pacing up and down the polished marble below. “I will also warn you that the scene in question is quite disturbing. I trust you are prepared to see such a thing, however. With that in mind, you are now free to operate within proper protocol limits. If you wish to speak with me, I will be having a chat with the owner of the Ferego. Dismissed.”
We all raised an obedient salute and scattered after this. My hand immediately fell to my flintlock. Not just an ordinary Anti-Cambria flintlock, I will say, but an exquisite work of Imperial craftsmanship. It was furnished a dull grey from polished Golenwood, and bore golden steel at the muzzle, trigger and hammer areas. The weapon fired silver ammunition, as opposed to the standard ice, fire, acid and regular shot of Regimental flintlocks. Quite effective against monsters, I must say. We were also issued brilliant sabres, also bearing a thin coating of silver above the steel. The handle contained a spiraling golden grip and rounded handguard. Both of these weapons were designed more to fell creatures as opposed to a fellow man, but we were also issued a selection of grenades and knives just in case we ran into some pesky humans on the way.
In our missions, we most often utilized our knowledge of the Cambrian language to win the day. Enlisting in the BlackGuard meant going through extensive courses to learn the essential words, but they ended up being about as helpful as advertised. A burst of speed, a blast of fire, or a protective barrier were often far more useful than the pistol or sabre.
But even with all this in our arsenal, what we faced that night was far more terrifying and dangerous than we could ever have imagined. While most monsters were primal and animalistic, shapeshifters were by far the most intelligent… and deadly.
People soon began making their way out the automatic doors at the entrance. This also included me, of course, reassured by the flintlock my left hand grasped. It was quite muggy that evening, hardly hot in any sense, but certainly a most humid climate. Nation 9 is a semi-tropical one, you see, and this kind of weather I had come to expect from the outdoors. Palmettos and palm trees had been planted outside to provide a greater sense of that tropical atmosphere to those who vacationed here in their spare time, planted in rich brown soil. I always thought that many places on Earth looked quite the same, but we have our differences, of course.
For one, I could hardly imagine a night sky without two glowing moons! Something would just feel rather empty about that, wouldn’t you agree? Anyways, moving on with my story. I had gotten to know a few people on the BlackGuard quite well, and one of these included a rather chubby fellow with a bald head named ‘Sledge’. Or at least nicknamed that, since nobody actually knew his real name. Sledge was a blunt person in a conversation, but had a sort of charisma about him that made his rashness quite bearable. I had originally met the man during training, and we became fast friends after this, me and him, and I soon discerned that he was from a family of bakers in the countryside who had sent him to the BlackGuard in order to rake in the extra money needed to survive out there.
He never really complained about it, and from what I saw he enjoyed killing monsters. It may sound quite sadistic indeed, but I assure you that there is a sort of primitive joy to destroying the things you had nightmares of. The BlackGuard tended to thrive on this joy as a means of morale. And it worked, for the most part. Sledge began walking in sync with me on the pavement, keeping his face in front of him as he spoke.
“I’d say it’s best to stay together,” the man began in his deep voice, “shapeshifters are not to be trifled with one by one.” I nodded in agreement, eyes gazing past the small street and taking in a most marvelous looking establishment.
A warm glow came from within the multitude of windows, and the building itself had been made from a mixture of golden decorations and marble. A most lavish hotel, especially compared to the one we had stayed in! The Regimental army lurked on the outside, and had set up a sort of blockade around all corners of the building. They held muskets, flintlocks and sabres and all seemed to be on edge for whatever reason. I suppose their bright blue uniforms would make them easier targets to prey upon, though. Cyrus was lingering back from now, but he was known to get wherever he wanted to go quite quickly, so I did not fret.
“It’s a real mess in there, folks.” A man in a black cap told us, scratching behind his neck uncomfortably. He was the unit leader, so both me and Sledge thought it appropriate to begin our investigation with him. “Who was the one who was murdered?”
I asked, trying to sound as official as possible.
“A politician named Lauren Welsche. She had been traveling about the Nation for some time now, campaigning for a tax reduction for the lower class.”
I had pulled out a small notebook and clicked my pen open. Once the information had been recorded, I moved on.
“Cause of death?”
“Probably either from being torn apart or impalement through the left eye. Take your pick.”
A little fear arose in me as I jotted this down, I must say. I thanked the man and walked past the barricade of soldiers who were present, along with Sledge, who had remained silent during the previous conversation.
From my previous briefing, I knew that everyone staying in the inn was forced to stay there for the investigation. A smart move in most cases, but with a shapeshifter on the loose? A little dangerous. I drew my sword with a metallic ring, and kept it at my side close at hand, just in case. And not because I was scared, I might add! The doors were rotating this time, and not the electric ones in the other hotel. They were coated in golden metal that I’m quite certain was not actual gold, and had a window-like portion on them as well. As the two of us passed through them, we both stopped to take in the beauty of the lobby before us. The carpet was a crimson red, and the walls made from the finest lavender materials I had seen in a long time. A miniature waterfall was mounted a little further in, and poured an endless supply of the liquid while being attached to what I now refer to as the ‘east wall’. There was plenty of black leather furniture, such as couches and seats, that sat towards the west hall, opposite a small fireplace.
Directly in front of us was the booking section, complete with a dark marble bar table and wooden key slots. A paranoid looking man with sweat running down his face stood behind this, and seemed to be infinitely more comfortable when he saw us walking towards him. Other members of the Guard were also questioning people outside, or spreading out through the lobby, but Sledge and I were the first ones to reach the man at the counter.
“Thank the Lord and Lady!” He exclaimed in what a resident of Earth may call a ‘French’ accent.
“You’re safe now, my good man. I will need you to answer a few questions, however.”
I responded casually, to be met by vigorous nods.
“Yes, sir. Whatever it is you want to ask me?”
“First off, where did the killing take place?”
“Room 135,” he responded in a suddenly subdued manner, “I saw the thing…”
“What did it look like?”
The worker looked from left to right quickly, as if he was afraid of being watched, but soon spoke.
“It is a horrible creature… white skin! Very white! But paler than normal white. Its eyes were massive, and completely black.”
He nodded again.
“More than six feet tall. Thin. It had a backbone that acted as a tail, and three taloned claws! The teeth were needles, sirs, but covered in blood. You must kill it!”
He plead desperately. Sledge and I looked to each other briefly, and I’m quite sure we both had the same look of slight worry on our faces. Regardless, we had both fought other creatures and for all we knew, this one was just another target.
“Trust me,” Sledge started, “we’ll kill it dead.”
The trip to room 135 was an uneventful one. The hallways had the same red velvet carpet and lavender walls, with lamps lighting the way through them. Oddly enough, the air had quite a musty smell to it that made me cringe in displeasure.
“How could such a well kept place smell so vile?”
I thought out loud.
“I’d say because someone was murdered, but yeah. It has a pretty ‘oldish’ scent to it.”
Sledge agreed in a monotone. Thankfully, the death had occurred upon the first floor, so we were able to steer clear of the elevator. When dealing with a shapeshifter, they would probably be quite dangerous locations.
The room was appropriately marked by a dark red splatter of crimson that had bled into the similar colored carpet… no pun intended there. Mahogany door was ajar, and the trail of blood led into the room in question. The two of us only hesitated long enough to ready our weapons, and entered the room using our training methods.
One of us stayed towards the back with a drawn flintlock while one either bashed down the door or simply entered, a sabre in hand. This all was done smoothly, and with two people was easy to execute. The blood continued aways, and led to a sprawled out corpse of a middle aged woman. A look of terror was across her face, and blood took up a good portion of it now… leaking from her left eye. The room around her looked pretty standard, and as lavish as one could imagine a lavish room to appear. Blood had been thrown everywhere, so clearly this beast didn’t like making messy kills.
“Multiple chest punctures. She probably was still alive when the eye was hit, though.”
Sledge observed, coming from behind me and stooping over the lifeless body. I quickly prepared my Cambrian knowledge and uttered a spell to aid the investigation.
Two words was strong enough a combination to get the job done. ‘Spei’ meaning ‘see’ and ‘Luk’ meaning ‘all’. I put my palm out before me, and a yellow tinted, dusty wave fell across the body like fog from a fog machine rolling over terrain. As the dust cleared, a few choice bits glowed a bright red. I felt a little chill as some of my life energy left me in exchange for the spell, but two words was a trifling matter.
The first thing I noticed was a silver locket that was being clutched in the woman’s right hand. I quickly removed it and opened it up, knowing fingerprints of a shapeshifter were hardly useful.
“Seems like she was a married woman,” I sighed with a frown upon my face, “why would a shapeshifter be after her?”
“Its goal is to reach the Scrye,” replied Sledge, “at least that was what we were told. This woman must have been preventing it from getting there.”
The picture of her husband was a little blurry, and in black and white. I put the locket in my pocket and moved to the next glowing object, which was a piece of paper a few feet away. I began reading it, and quickly found the ink was faded, and paper even more so. Astonishingly, it appeared about a hundred years old.
“By sight the curse is given. By blindness removed.”
Cryptic to say the least, and neither Sledge nor I knew quite what to think of it.
“Keep searching for clues, I’ll take those two to the investigator in the meantime and see if we can get some more info,” he said.
“That would be a most terrible idea,” I started, shaking my head, “We need to be together at all times when dealing with something like this.”
“Before I enter, the first thing I’ll say will be ‘Mayflower’. That way you’ll know it’s me.”
Looking back, I should have stopped him. But at the time, I felt that his plan was simple and effective. But there were things you just couldn’t account for, I suppose. I handed over the two artifacts and resumed my search. My eyes fell upon a purse, also glowing red, and upon opening it up I found there was only one item inside. A flintlock pistol of poor design, with wood that was rough to the touch and partially rusted metal components. I turned the weapon over in my hands, and looked through the purse again only to find nothing. Was the gun loaded? I pulled back the metal slider on the side and found an odd bullet lodged within the chamber. Most flintlock bullets were color coded, red being incendiary, whitish blue being ice, green being acid, and black a regular bullet. This one was a transparent yellow color in everywhere but the rear, which was still yellow but not see through. Upon closer inspection, an orange tinted liquid bubbled within the upper end incessantly. What could that possibly be?
Needless to say, I also pocketed this and just as I was about to do likewise with the pistol I heard the familiar voice of Sledge just outside.
I opened the door, half expecting to see some kind of beast, but to my relief all I saw was the face of my comrade. “Found anything else?”
“Yeah. This crappy pistol and a-”
“-Say no more, I’ll take this back to the investigator and you can tell me the rest when I get back.”
He snatched the weapon from my hands quite quickly, and I couldn’t help but think it rude that he would do such a thing. I made my displeasure known with a sour face, but Sledge tended to do these kinds of things regularly so it was hardly an unnatural occurrence.
As Sledge left, the door slammed shut behind him rather violently. Was he angry at me or something? I sure hoped not, and tried thinking of what I could have possibly done in order to upset him like this. But no sooner had these thoughts entered my head, when I heard his voice once again just thirty seconds later.
I opened the door, and allowed him in again. Sledge sighed, and leaned against the wall beside the door frame.
“They’re analyzing the locket and note. It’ll be about a half hour. People are splitting into groups now, and we’re in charge of collecting clues I guess.”
He didn’t sound put off at all, and I raised a suspicious eyebrow. “You forgot to take this bullet with you.” I spoke, holding it out to him between my thumb and pointer finger.
“Where did you find that?”
My look of bewilderment only increased.
“... The gun.”
A chill ran down my spine.
Needless to say, we both were quite rattled by what had happened. My blood ran cold, and I fished for any excuse possible to get out of the room.
“Let’s uh… Let’s talk to the man in the lobby again.”
Sledge readily agreed, and we departed within the minute. We both had weapons drawn as we made our way through the hallway, and only relaxed when we re-entered it and found Cyrus speaking with a thin man in a suit and tie towards the center area. We were unsure of whether or not to interrupt their conversation, but eventually decided to do so upon finding an opportunity.
“-And they expect me to give them money for a murder?! It is preposterous!”
The hotel manager exclaimed, voice tinged with annoyance.
“Shouldn’t be necessary. If our investigation doesn’t turn anything else up, no payment will be required.”
Cyrus replied formally. I chose the brief pause after this to speak.
“We have investigated the murder, sir.”
The commander turned his whole body to look at us, face looking quite unamused.
Those two ruby orbs were like lasers. I quickly evaded making eye contact and replied.
“Well… I believe we found the shapeshifter, sir.”
“He took something. A flintlock sir.”
“Well, Sledge here was bringing some evidence in and…”
“-Very well, resume your investigation, Mr. Cedric.”
He interrupted, face briefly lightening up and turning back to the manager to resume his talk. Both Sledge and I slowly turned to look at each other, and we both appeared petrified to be going back in so soon.
Cyrus clearly knew what was going on, and since this was a training mission he wouldn’t provide assistance unless absolutely necessary… even if it meant our lives. A few other members of the Guard were skulking about the lobby, and I began wondering if I should just try and do as they were without attempting to find the shapeshifter that had so recently paid me a visit.
“So what now?”
Asked Sledge, face returning to its normally firm and tough looking one. I rightly didn’t know, but decided talking with the worker from before would be a decent idea.
I stated my plan to my companion, and we were off. But when we approached the counter, we found nobody there. Leaving where you were told to be during a BlackGuard investigation is a most terrible offence, and it also raised the question of how the good commander had not noticed his departure.
“Our options appear to be quite limited,” I began with concern written upon my countenance, “from now on we mustn’t leave each other!”
Perhaps I was stating the obvious, but I didn’t want to risk having another encounter with the creature again while it posed as my friend. That was for certain. At least we knew the general area the thing was in, and that was closeby. “How’s about we search for that worker. I think he knows more than he told us.”
Sledge suggested with a shrug. Not having any other ideas in mind, I obliged and soon we were skulking through the hallways once again. I found it a little odd that out of the twenty Guardsmen who had been on this mission, I hadn’t been seeing too many of them around. But I assumed that was because they were searching the other floors, which was quite a logical conclusion. In about a half hour I was also thinking of seeing the results of the testing on the items I had found previously, hoping they would give us some more valuable hints later down the road.
As Sledge and I approached a staircase that led to the second floor, both of us stopped upon hearing an odd noise… A hollow noise that seemed to be coming from the very walls themselves. It was a rough scratching sound that paused every couple of seconds and then resumed in an almost methodical way. It only took place for about twenty seconds before ceasing permanently. “What the devil…”
I muttered. The two of us quickly turned our attention to this new development, and began looking into finding a way to where the sound was coming from. From what I had gathered, it was a little ways into the wall and perhaps occurring from below… The basement, of course!
Our short trip took us down a hallway opposite the staircase, and soon we came upon a thin wooden door with a plaque reading ‘basement’ next to it. The door was locked, but I soon fixed this with a quick uttering. “Linkil-Brik.”
I spoke, hand upon the doorknob. There was a click, and the knob turned without protest afterwards. Out of the two of us, Sledge was stronger in a physical sense, but I was more able to use Cambria. Another chill ran down me upon the use of the spell, but I ignored it and began walking down a flight of stairs. Our weapons were drawn similarly to how they were before as we descended into a murky abyss, and I couldn’t spy a light nearby. This forced me to utter yet another two words. “Illi-Obsid.”
There was a brief flash, and the room was lit as it would be if proper lights had been installed apart from the solitary bulb that hung towards the center. I stumbled a little, the chill growing greater. My palms were beginning to get that feeling one experiences when awaking after sleeping on their arm.
I answered, adjusting myself and hoping I wouldn’t have to utilize any more Words tonight.
Our surroundings were all comprised of thick concrete. A dull grey, including the debris laden ground beneath me. It was far colder down here as well, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t because I had used three spells tonight. To our surprise, we weren't alone here either.
The voice of an old woman rang out. Sledge and I traced the source to a figure standing stiffly just below the lightbulb at the room’s center.
“Hello. We are looking for the source of a scratching noise, madam.”
I replied before Sledge had his opportunity to make an insult in the form of a question. She looked us over, an unsettling grin on her wrinkly, warty face.
“Scratching? Back room. Is in back room hehe.”
Her hand pointed to her right and another door located there. We were both quite suspicious of this seemingly random old lady as we approached the door she told us of.
“Maintenance room… Do not touch!”
We nodded, keeping our eyes on her as Sledge opened the door. The old woman grunted and walked towards one on the opposite wall as if nothing happened.
The first thing I remember from entering this room was the unholy smell. It was vile, rank and frankly disgusting. In fact, it had a similar odor to the musty smell from before. Except stronger...
Mused Sledge, staring at something on the floor blankly. I hesitated to gaze at whatever it was, but curiosity got the better of me. My eyes widened as the corpse of the accented man from before appeared on the ground. A similar look of fear was on his face, left eye once again being punctured and bearing nearly identical wounds when compared to the previous victim. So that explained where he had gone off to, at least, but the small amount of fear inside me was beginning to build upon itself.
The kill looked fresh, probably occurring just ten minutes prior to our arrival, and it was likely that the scratching noise was his body being dragged there by someone… Or something. I was about to begin searching the room for further clues, when a deafening crack sounded from above. It was followed by muffled screams and the shuffling of feet.
More shots rang out, and before we knew it Sledge and I were sprinting towards the staircase and past the oblivious old woman who was still fumbling at the door. We both flew out the door and down the hallway, turning left to find a most terrible sight before us. Bodies had been thrown across the ground haphazardly. All impaled in the chest multiple times, and all bearing a puncture through their left eyes. Blood stained the floor and walls, and it appeared nobody was alive within the area. We both cringed upon looking at the scene, and we quickly came to the conclusion that a patrol had encountered the beast… And ended up being dispatched. Their flintlocks were either scattered around or still in their crimson stained hands. More fear on their faces.
But I suppose the most frightening detail there was amongst this carnage was the fact both of our names had been scrawled messily upon the floor, in a dark red.
We knew too much, despite knowing hardly anything at all.
Both Sledge and I knew that we had a lot to deduce if we were to make it through this alive.
First, and perhaps most obvious, was that we had to watch our backs to stop from being ambushed by this creature… Which was probably keeping us alive either for its amusement or some other reason that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. A few other members of the Guard arrived about a minute later, and looked upon the scene with the same fear we had upon our faces when we discovered it. Cyrus was called in, and he showed no signs of realizing that three people had just been brutally killed, walking past them and standing before me with crossed arms.
“Your names are on the ground…”
He stated plainly. Everyone around us was watching in anticipation for what would happen next. I nodded at the commander.
“We don’t know why, sir. We were in the basement when we heard this terrible ruckus, and ran upstairs to investigate!”
“Yes, and I was in the lobby having a lovely conversation about fine wine when I heard the terrible ruckus. I want to know why you think your names are on the ground right now in blood.”
“Like I said, sir,” I started with a lost shake of my head, “We do not know.”
Cyrus scoffed and turned around, hands upon his hips and face awash with frustration.
“Someone get the bodies outside, we’ll have to make the arrangements concerning the burial after this mission concludes. And you two wait for the evidence you found to be analyzed outside. Hopefully this thing will stop killing my men if you aren’t near it.”
A bit too much to expect, but we didn’t complain. As we walked back towards the lobby, faces ghostly white, I pondered that this shapeshifter was moving and attacking with frightening speed. As if it had something planned out ahead of time. Adding to our apprehension was the fact it could take the form of anyone and impersonate them with ease. That woman in the basement was suspicious, but must not have been the monster if she was trying to open a door as we went to investigate. We could never know for sure where it was.
Outside, more and more soldiers were beginning to show up. As if an army was inside that building we had just been in. The man with the black cap from before was the one Sledge had gone too, according to what he told me on the way out, and we approached him without hesitation.
“Have you found out anything else about the items?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. There was a note inside the locket, and that old piece of paper actually originated from Nation 4.”
I asked to see the note they had found, and was led to a small plastic table that a young looking woman sat behind, staring through a microscope and observing the ancient paper with the cryptic message. Beside the scope was a thin bit of parchment beside the locket, and I promptly picked it up. The writing was messy, but I was able to tell what the words said.
“Bullet to break the curse. If I fail, shoot it with bullet. It watches from the dark. Good luck.”
With this new information, I removed the yellow projectile from my pocket and looked it over again. I knew what had to be done, and also took out my flintlock.
“What are you doing?!”
Asked Sledge. I could tell he knew what I was doing, but was just surprised that I was willing to believe what was on the note.
“We’re killing this thing. And this bullet must be the reason we’re not dead yet.”
It had been afraid of the bullet it had forgotten to take with the gun. This was why it had not killed us. Why it had not killed me in the room of the crime scene was still unknown to me, but I now knew that I had a huge advantage.
My hand removed the whitish blue ice bullet from the chamber and replaced it with the yellow one, closing the chamber and cocking the hammer.
“Let’s go, before someone else dies.”
We walked into that hotel again feeling much more confident, and I had to refrain from leaking a smile as my boots took root on the scarlet carpet within the revolving doors again. I had deduced something else from the note we had found, and I think it answered the question regarding how it could get around so fast. It was the vents. The scratching noise we had heard from within the walls was from the vents, and not the basement all along. It lurked in the shadows, watching and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Just thinking about it made me feel uncomfortable, as it was probably watching our every move from within the vents ever since we had arrived.
The manager was standing towards the center of the room, back to us. We approached him and spoke out without any delay.
He jerked, and turned to face us with a sour expression. “What do you want?”
“I would greatly appreciate it if you could turn up the heat in the ventilation system… By a lot.”
We quickly explained our reasoning and watched as he moved to a panel on the western lobby wall. He quickly input a combination, and tapped a small screen a few times and soon the whole building rumbled for a moment as the heating systems came to life. My nerves returned to me upon realizing that the shapeshifter would be forced to leave its home and wander the hallways in just minutes. When that happened one of two things would take place.
Either it took on the form of someone else and kept to the shadows, or it went in guns ablazing… At us.
We spent the time making sure all are weapons and gear were ready, and I removed a test tube filled with blue liquid from a coat pocket and downed it. The substance tasted foul, but I felt an invigorating surge of strength just a minute later. This state-of-the-art liquid could restore one’s Cambria in seconds, and I wanted to be ready if push came to shove. Which I knew it would. “If we don’t leave here alive, I want you to know that your potato salad sucks ass.”
Sledge grumbled. I chuckled a little at the comment.
“Never was much of a cook, but you never were much of a thinking man.”
The manager began walking towards the doorway after a while, stating that he wasn’t about to die in his own establishment. I couldn’t blame him for doing so, and I just hoped my plan would be enough to kill the monster.
The five minutes after that were excruciatingly long, but soon there was an unearthly roar from the distance and a fearsome thumping taking place from inside the walls. We readied our weapons, but that was when the worst possible thing happened.
Every light in the entire building went out, and we became engulfed in pitch black.
We knew we had reached a big turning point when the lights went out. There was no going back from here.
Cyrus would probably be quite angry at us for causing this to happen so suddenly, but it was a gambit we were willing to take to make sure this nightmare was ended before it began. Little did we know, we were in the epicenter of it already.
There was a faint shuffling in the west hall, and I knew it would be best to start our hunt there.
An orb of orange light shined above our heads when I cast the spell. It may have made us a more noticeable target, but we would need visibility to be good if we were to stand a chance of killing the creature. We pressed on, beginning to sweat both from nerves and the heat beginning to spill into the area from the ventilation. My eyes darted all around me as we walked, and every shadow no matter how big or small, looked like a figure at first glance. Nothing really happened until we reached the staircase and heard heavy footfalls from just above us on the second floor… Thump… Thump… Thump… And they stopped. The stairs went up aways and then turned so that they continued facing the opposite direction. For all we knew, the shapeshifter would be awaiting us as soon as we turned to reach the second floor.
“We should have brought some Regimentals in,” whispered Sledge, “they’d make good distractions.”
“I don’t want any more people to die. And if we wait any longer, it will adjust.”
Sledge sighed, shaking his head.
“Let’s go. Put a bullet in that thing, and I’ll distract it.”
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and clearing my mind of fear. To kill the beast now would leave a lot of unanswered questions, but I didn’t care. It was time to press what little advantage we had.
“You go first. I’ll be right behind you.”
Sledge nodded, and with little hesitation dashed up the stairs, sabre drawn. As promised, I followed behind him with my flintlock and as soon as we crested the second flight of stairs we saw someone standing there. Completely motionless. It was the woman from the basement, dressed in tattered rags and bearing a look of surprise on her face.
Demanded Sledge, but I did no such thing.
My ally came to a halt, blade just about to dig into the woman’s flesh. To his surprise, she seemed more frightened than anything.
“How did you get here? Why are you here?”
I asked, keeping my gun aimed at her all the while. My blood was pumping fiercely now as I stared her down, watching for the slightest movement.
“I am the janitor,” she replied nervously, “what is it you want?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“What do you mean?”
I didn’t know what to do. Judging by the ruse the shapeshifter pulled before, it was safe to assume it could emulate natural activity very well. But if I killed this woman and she wasn’t the creature I’d have innocent blood on my hands. It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.
“We’re looking for a shapeshifter,” I started, voice calming a little, “have you seen anything, or anyone suspicious lately?”
“The nice man who works the front desk just came by and said hello. But apart from that, nothing.”
“Where did he go?!”
She appeared flustered but pointed to a room just a little ways ahead. My heart rate increased as we approached the door, hoping against hope she wasn’t the Shapeshifter. If she was, there would be no surviving this…
I suppose the fact I’m writing this account is proof enough she was not the creature. But when we kicked the door in, what we saw in the room confirmed what the old woman said.
“Sirs, what are you doing here?”
Spoke the accented man we had met within the very same hour. He was standing there as if it was completely normal, not a scratch on him. Both Sledge and I were terrified at how… Human it looked. Every single detail, from the trim suit to his olive green eyes were the exact same.
Whispered Sledge, who stood in front of me with a drawn sabre. Hands shaking, I slowly raised my pistol and took aim. The thing must have known we had discovered the body, because its face contorted into a look of unspeakable malice and evil. A frown stretched across its face, mouth stretched to impossible proportions. The eyes faded to ones that were completely black, reflecting the light of the orb above us within them. It was hellish, and horrible to look at, but before I pulled the trigger I noticed what it was standing in front of.
Behind it was an open suitcase. Within it was the flintlock it had taken from earlier, and what appeared to be some kind of official paper.
I couldn’t get a good look at it, because the creature suddenly threw itself towards Sledge at impossible speeds. Incredibly, my friend managed to bring his blade to bear upon its torso sideways on. An odd sort of steam flew out from the cut and the thing let out a terrible screech as the area was enveloped by the gas. I couldn’t see anything, and I was hardly prepared to waste my shot now.
We needed to get to a better position. Fighting this monster here would be suicide. I bolted out of the room, and was thankfully followed by my comrade. Both of us began sprinting down the hallway and past the now quite horrified old woman. There was a roar from the room we fled from, and when I looked behind me I could see it flying towards us. It looked much more different than the thing we had seen in the last room. It was just like the man at the front desk said it looked like, standing far taller than either Sledge or I. Its body was thin, with the ribs sticking out of its completely pale flesh and its eyes were huge voids that invoked some sort of primitive fear within my very being.
It was more a mess of bones and skin than anything, with a head that reminded me of an oversized lizard’s, and needles protruding from both the top and bottom portions of its mouth. Not even its hands or feet were normal, and took the form of claws and talons. Savage things that looked to be capable of shredding humans like paper.
It was pursuing us, and being sure to make itself a much more difficult target to hit, leaping from wall to ceiling and back to the floor again, hardly ever stopping to maneuver like a human would. It hit the floor with a resounding thump, the walls with a hollow crash and the ceiling with a thump, all the while deftly maneuvering to each with sporadic leaps and bounds. I kept my pistol facing in its direction, and I’m quite sure it knew I had the special round loaded. Even so, it didn’t show the slightest sign of relenting in its pursuit. Sledge reached an elevator and started hitting the down button as hard as he could over and over again, occasionally glancing back to see the thing almost upon us. I stopped along with him, and drew my sabre, an idea coming to me.
As soon as I brought up my weapon, the thing attacked with a pounce, swatting my sword aside with just one of its claws and forcing me to use all the strength I could muster to keep its teeth from tearing into my face. I dodged back and regained a defensive stance, while Sledge took note of this and came at it from the side with his own blade. This probably saved my life, as the Shapeshifter was forced to divert its attention in order to shift its whole body in an instant to knock the weapon away with its claw. And as soon as my comrade was unable to guard his midsection, it lunged in and delivered a slash with its exposed talons that was enough to tear clean through the hardened leather of his uniform and open three jagged cuts across his torso.
Thankfully they weren’t too deep, as the armor at least padded him from the blow. Even so, Sledge was thrown against a nearby wall, bleeding profusely. All of this had taken place as I raised my pistol to bear and took aim. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a clean shot, however, as the beast was sure to see me coming. It leapt into the air before I could fire and used the ceiling itself as a bounce pad to propel itself towards me at a seemingly impossible angle. Both its claws flashed in what light was present, and I did the only thing I could think of doing and threw my palm in its direction.
I shouted, calling upon a condensed bolt of lightning that instantaneously struck the shapeshifter in its mouth with a sound of thunder appropriate to its small size. This bolt shone with a brilliant blue, with miniature threads of energy coursing around it. My opponent was thrown off guard by the flash and I was able to jump back as it hit the ground, steam filling the air once again. Its scream was even louder this time, ringing throughout my very being in an unearthly and hellish manner. I resisted the urge to cover my ears, and slowly backed away down the hall with my pistol drawn. But knowing my plan would fail if I fled, my decision quickly shifted to a more aggressive one as I threw out my palm once again.
A gigantic blast of focused air dispersed all the steam and threw the shapeshifter a good ways down the hall before it could even recover. Wisps of grey still hung about, but were also starting to fade. The sound of the spell was similar to what could be heard if a hundred whips were cracked at once and the area was shaken with the its raw power.
But there was no time to waste, and I hastily grabbed Sledge and threw both myself and he into the elevator, which had opened a few seconds prior. I am happy to say that the face of the monster didn’t appear before us as the doors closed. I found it a little ironic that the thing Sledge said would be dangerous to enter ended up saving our lives that night, as we heard footsteps running towards us as we descended.
I removed another tube containing the Cambria revitalization substance and poured it down my throat, nearly gagging on it in my struggle to breathe after my brief fight. I also removed a tube containing red liquid and poured it over my friend’s wound. The substance hissed when it made contact with his blood, but the torn sinews and flesh began mending themselves at an alarming rate. This was a regenerator, which could repair damaged tissue with incredible speed.
The elevator halted, and sweaty and tired, we both stumbled into the hallway on the first floor. The heat from the ventilation was beginning to become more curse than blessing, and slowed our pace to a walk. A fellow member of the Blackguard saw us as we entered the lobby and looked as if he was looking upon ghosts.
“I didn’t think anyone survived!”
He exclaimed. I raised an eyebrow and halted.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, from what I heard the Shapeshifter killed just about everybody when we first spread out. Cyrus is pretty upset.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
The boy looked to be more afraid than we were.
“I’m lookin’ for survivors.”
I nodded and turned my attention to a weary Sledge, whose face was covered in his own blood. He was in no condition to fight, and I told him to go with the young soldier. The man reluctantly agreed, but I wasn’t about to let the shapeshifter off so easily.
“What are you doing?!”
The boy called out to me as I walked back into the hallway I had just emerged from.
I replied nonchalantly.
Everything around me sounded like the creature, from the sounds of the air conditioning system to the creaking of the floor underneath my feet. I turned down another shadowy corner and towards the staircase I had ascended just a few minutes ago. I hadn’t felt so afraid in a long time, being completely alone and knowing that thing could pounce on me at any second. I knew my two spells from earlier hadn’t killed it, that was for sure. The only reassuring thing to make me feel even a little bit safe was my flintlock loaded with the enigmatic bullet, which I pointed around in sporadic motions as to be ready for an attack.
I began walking up the stairs to get to where I had last seen the thing, and began thinking of a spell powerful enough to make it hold still. Most likely a combination of four words, and a four word spell was often enough to knock people out cold from their usage. I had trained heavily with the Language, however, and was confident in my ability to hang on long enough to squeeze off a shot.
My footsteps sounded louder than ever, making a clunking noise as my boots hit the ground. Upon reaching the second floor once again, the heating was worse than ever. Even so, I had an orb of orange illumination still overhead. I could see into the darkness well enough.
In the distant recesses of the hall, where this light didn’t reach, I heard a screech that was followed by thumping. It was coming right towards me, but at a pace that was horrifyingly quick. Thump thump thump thump thump, all in rapid succession until, at the very edge of my light, I saw it again. It was clawing itself towards me on all fours with a savage look on what I suppose could be called its face. The thing was running so fast that I barely had time to even say my spell.
It was similar to what I had used before, but with ‘zah’ which meant ‘amplified’, the pure power was enough to engulf the entire area in an incredible surge of electricity that coursed through the entire building from a huge stream of energy that struck my target in the torso area, and continued coursing through its body in a brilliant blue. The blast was so powerful that the hall lights began flickering overhead at random intervals, and all the while the Shapeshifter slowly continued stomping forward with lightning flowing through it. Its abnormal skeleton flashed when the lights were out as it continued its gradual pace towards me with bared teeth. I was still directing lightning in its direction with my palm, knowing it was the only thing preventing it from closing the last few feet and tearing me apart.
My body began growing numb as I continued the spell for longer and longer, the deafening crackle of it making my ears ring. The lights overhead shattered, throwing shards of glass all over the area from being overloaded, and even so the shapeshifter stomped forwards with pure rage in its eyes. At last, I poured almost all of my life energy into one final burst of electricity that flew down the entire length of the corridor and scorched the walls and floor a pitch black. The building shuddered in protest, but with the last of my strength I raised my pistol to face the creature and fired.
By now all the lights, including the one from my spell, had been cut. And the little spark from the hammer igniting the flintlock charge was the only thing that allowed me to see the momentary look of defeat in the monster’s eyes as a streak of orange plunged directly into its head. The bullet hit with a ‘thwip’ and was followed by a hiss as the wound glowed a cherry red within my opponent’s skull. At first I recoiled in horror as it clutched its face, alive but in agony. But then it let out a cry of pain as something within the bullet ignited and embers began spreading around its face in odd, diagonal patterns. They appeared a dark orange and bits of burned flesh were gently floating to the ground from its face as the fire spread more and more, until the entire head of the creature was burning.
It began speaking in a number of tongues, all different voices. All shouting screams of agony and pain in a horrible mixture. Some sounded accented, and I even recognized one as the voice of the worker who greeted us at the desk. The creature was clutching its whole face with both talons and stumbled into a wall with a thud, still screaming louder and louder. Numb all over, I used the opposite wall as a support and removed a ice bullet from my coat, and loaded my flintlock again. I let loose another shot, which was tinted a light blue, and struck the torso. Since its Cambrian energy had been diminished so much, it couldn’t stop the spread of icy crystals that began to form around its body as it retched. They began forming in chunks, and within a period of five seconds, they had spread across the entire body like a contagious disease, freezing the thing solid.
The mystery bullet had drained its Cambrian energy, making it open to attack. The edges of my vision were blurring, but I managed to load a standard high impact round and raise my gun once again, closing my right eye and aiming the little sights at the neck. I squeezed the trigger and what followed was what one would hear if a window had shattered, as the bullet hit the ice and caused the entire neck area to fracture. What remained of the beast now were hundreds of chunks of partially frozen flesh upon the ground.
Not feeling too keen on blacking out, I drank my last Cambria restorative and nearly vomited from the buildup of the liquid. The reason we were limited to three was to prevent an overdose, which could be deadly. The numbness subsided and, marveling at the completely obliterated hallway in front of me for a moment, I turned around and made my way downstairs.
I slept well that night, waking the following morning to a slew of different information that changed my perspective on my escapade greatly.
From what investigators had deduced, the creature had indeed been using the vents to pick of members of the Guard one by one. Its talons apparently could extend long enough to the length of blades, which allowed it to cut apart people with ease and explained the gouged out eyes. The woman who claimed to be the manager had been innocent after all, and I breathed a sigh of relief upon being told this. But what began making the whole situation make sense was that the woman who had been murdered that night was carrying access papers to the Scrye. Clearly, the creature had been stalking her for some time and just as she was about to escape she was killed.
Oddly enough, the suitcase we claimed to have seen on the second floor was never recovered, leading to an investigation that essentially turned up nothing. Out of the many who had entered the building that night, just five emerged. Including me, Cyrus, Sledge and the boy who we met in the lobby after our brief fight. I am happy to inform you that Sledge and I were given promotions for our work, and that we continue to serve in the Guard to this day.
But as I walk through the Imperial courts amongst the lavish surroundings of a party, I can’t help but feel disturbed at how, according to a Scrye guard, a Mrs. Lauren Welsche was seen entering the rift the same night, only after stating Sledge and my own name with a sly smile on her face.
Ah, so you are back to hear another story, I see? Very well. The BlackGuard is an organization that takes you to many places, and creates many heroes. And even legends, at times.
This next tale had taken place a few years after my promotion, and to my dismay my great friend, Sledge, had retired from the organization with enough money to live a fulfilled life with his baker family in the countryside. I couldn’t really blame him for doing so, and wished him well on one sunny day with a look of sorrow in my eyes as he left.
With him gone, I had lost the last of my friends in the Guard, with the rest being slain by the monstrosity I spoke of last time. The only man I really knew was my Commander, Cyrus. But he was surely too busy to trifle with the likes of me, much less get along with me in the first place. It was during this time I fell into a bout of depression, and moved through the days without much of a care. Amongst my unit I was known as the killer of the Shapeshifter, and despite being decently respected, it didn’t change the fact that nobody wanted to associate with me.
In the North there were rumors of the return of the Iceblood and a doom to befall our planet, and despite them never being confirmed I occasionally overheard some of the higher ups speaking of losing entire garrisons of men who were stationed in Nation 1 during parties in the capital. It made for a foreboding sense of dread at what that could possibly entail.
But that is beside the point of my story, of course. We had been travelling all about the Mire in search of a place to make ourselves useful, and when the good Commander heard word from Dravis himself of a disturbance within the wilderness of Nation 3, we were sent there immediately. From what I heard, an outpost within the wilds had been stripped all but bare of its inhabitants, with corpses strewn about the streets in droves. But the most interesting thing was that nobody knew who or what had caused it to happen.
For this mission Cyrus was taking his elite unit of men, which included me. It was top priority, and had been hyped up for about three days before we finally boarded the train in the monorail station of the capital of Nation 9. I sat alone in a seat towards the rear of the thing, and with a palm on my chin watched the surroundings begin to fly by. The monorail was a bit of technology taken from Earth, if you were unaware. Here on Ares we do not have gasoline, and are forced to use electricity to operate our technology. And since the residents of Earth haven’t quite perfected electric car technology, they are quite scarce here. Trains and feet are the main ways of getting around, and they serve us quite well.
The monorail we travelled on was elevated off the ground about five meters up, and we could soon see the green tufts of bushy trees on our left and right as we moved. The ground was rich and brown, and with no human interaction had caused the semi-tropical forests of our nation to thrive along with all manner of different, and sometimes dangerous wildlife. The Mire itself is just a small portion of Ares, you see, and travel across it by train would take three days at most. Of course, the monorail travels at a blisteringly fast three hundred miles an hour, a machination of Commander Beckett’s scientific prowess.
Cyrus, still wearing his dress attire and black coat, was sitting in one of the front rows with his arms crossed over themselves. Typically, Commanders got to use the first class portion of the train, but Cyrus was an oddity who preferred to always be keeping his eye on his men, for better or worse. Some speculated it was out of suspicion of us, and more thought it was because he just wanted to spend time with his troops. I sometimes worried about him, considering how he never really associated himself personally with anyone and looked on death like it was just another everyday occurrence.
He stayed that way for the entire day, and we got off at Nation 2, home of the infamous Commander, Zane ‘Insane’ Morgan, who I am about a hundred percent sure is only being kept as a Commander because Dravis is afraid of what he would do if demoted. We were at a portion bordering the tropics of Nation 5, and the humidity hit us like a slap in the face. Soon we had adjusted, though, and were lucky enough to make lodging in an old shack at the edge of the ocean. The whole thing had been built upon the stark white sands of the beach, and the sun was beginning to fade into the distance, painting the darkening sky a brilliant orange as it lowered itself below the line of waves.
There was a small village nearby, comprised primarily of thatch houses that were built just a little ways from the shore. The locals were darker skinned and looked on us as if we were men from space. I distinctly remember a child who was hanging the laundry staring at me from behind the clothesline with her two blue eyes in curiosity as I walked through the muddy streets on my way to the shore. Many other soldiers were just lurking about on the beach, three sitting around a thrown together firepit and sharing drinks and some swimming in the water without a care.
I didn’t really do much, other than watch the sun set over the horizon and admire the crystal clear waters from a distance. We were just on the edge of a rainforest, and palm trees stuck out a little while away mixed in with the other plant life of a tropical region. Broken seashells of all shapes and sizes littered the ground as well, carried in by the tide on some unknown day, but the smell of it all was invigoratingly fresh, coupled with the rhythmic crashing of the water upon the shore that would lull me to sleep that night within the rather large shack. I saw Cyrus that night standing apart from even me, staring into the ocean like I had with a distant look upon his countenance. Just a figure in the distance from where I stood.
It had been all but confirmed that he was a mixture of a human and one of the odd immortal men from overseas known as ‘Vampires’. The stereotypical version of a Vampire is far different from what they are in reality, I assure you. In real life they looked just the same as you or I, but with red eyes. From what I had heard of their homeland, Raymere, they were actually a seafaring group who colonized all sorts of different lands across the waters. Cyrus was born in Raymere, and judging by the longing in his eyes he missed that land in some way. I told you they were not fiction once, did I not?
The next morning was rather standard. I awoke from my straw-filled bedding and set out for the nearby train station. The train we had been on previously was heading for the deserts of Nation 4, and we were forced to wait for one heading to Nation 3. We all filed aboard one by one, but before I left I saw the girl from last night staring at me from the edge of the village while I walked. My hand was briefly raised to her, and that was all.
This new train had the memorable scent of freshness to it that filled every corner of the thing. Every seat within was a red velvet, and all metal furnishings made of a dull gold. It quite reminded me of the old Ferego back in Nation 9, to make a comparison. I’m sure the train would ordinarily costed a month’s wages to have the pleasure of riding, but some businessman begrudgingly allowed our use of it on account of Imperial matters.
We soon departed the shores, and after about six hours of travel the tropics had shifted to a forest of pines and spruces that towered above our train. It was said that 75% of the Nation was completely unexplored, and contained ruins of ancient wars, dark magic and untold riches. But Nation 3 was also known for being a very dangerous place. The kind of location where men wandered into the depths of the woods never to be seen again by those that once knew them.
The ground below was composed primarily of pine needles and dense brush. It was great for growing crops, from what I had heard, and this made the place a very desired location for farmers. Some of the men had gotten drunk and were singing some song about the young Emperor in the meantime. “-When ol’ Atlas Blacke got stabbed in the back, the bastard was given the throne! And from that day forth, for who knows how long more, we all will be his drones!” Nearly everyone broke into a fit of raucous laughter. I didn’t hear the entire song, but it appeared as if Cyrus did, and while the Commander didn’t join in with his troops, he certainly wasn’t trying to make them stop.
I ended up getting drunk as well as the day continued, and spent most of it in a haze until we reached our destination, at which point I casted a quick spell to clear my mind and rose from my seat to find the whole car a mess, with scraps of food and shattered bottles of wine and ale lying everywhere. Some of the men were still lying about on their seats in stupors and Cyrus gave a brief sigh of disdain as we stepped out into the brisk air of Nation 3.
“Gentlemen! Welcome to frontier country!”
We almost all were at a loss for words as we stepped onto the cracked marble platform. In the distance were trees that stood higher than the tallest buildings, magnificent things which formed a treeline that allowed shining golden light to flow across the air.
From the train platform, much of the surroundings were hidden by the various buildings, but I could already tell they would be as magnificent as I was told in my younger years. The platform in question looked old to the degree of having been constructed thirty years ago, and all of us were a little offput by the lack of people in the area. It appeared almost as if we were the only ones here, and judging by what we had heard it seemed a most accurate assumption. “Why they callin’ the monster hunters in, eh?” A scrawny man asked another with a skeptical look on his face. “For all we know they coulda just dunnit themselves.” The other soldier shrugged with a legitimate look of uncertainty on his face, but I had a definite feeling that whatever caused the sudden massacre that had taken place in this sleepy forest town was most certainly a monster of some sort. The reports were unlike anything I had ever heard of, and I had heard many an odd thing in my years of service.
I walked past some of the empty customs buildings and down a set of ancient looking stone stairs that led to the ground beneath. They were few in number, but when my boots hit the ground I knew that we were getting into something very serious.
A thin mist was covering the streets between the old wooden buildings and log cabins, but amongst it were bodies. Hundreds of them just lying there motionless in the entrances of sewers, and hanging off the sidewalk. Some were even sprawled out on the roofs of buildings. Everyone in my unit seemed to stop at around the same spot and looked the scene over with expressions of disgust or surprise, but all of us remained motionless and silent as we watched over the carnage that lay before us. The city itself looked all but untouched, apart from the liberal amounts of garbage and shattered glass littering the streets, which faded into a dull cobblestone towards the buildings themselves.
The sunlight from above seemed to be diminished by the veil of fog to an extent, making the whole place suitably eerie, and the wind rustling in the trees sounded like the most appropriate backdrop possible at the time.
“Bloody hell…” Someone mused, face awash with disbelief.
I myself had seen a great many things, but a massacre of this size was still completely unexpected. Sure there was the occasional person shambling through the fog, but for the most part the entire place was completely devoid of life, aside from us.
Cyrus came down the stairs, and walked right past us as if he had seen nothing.
“I will be able to provide assistance, if you deem it worthy of my time. This is no longer a training mission, my friends.”
The majority of us were standing in a big line, and Cyrus turned to face us all with a wry smile on his face. He clapped his hands a couple times, and the high pitched sound was the only real noise in the entire area. We just looked on blankly as he continued for a little while before abruptly stopping. “Now THIS is a mission worthy of the BlackGuard!” He announced with a chuckle that was tinged with noticeable… Excitement.
Indeed, throughout all the missions we had been on, none could really compare to this kind of scale. Even so, we were trained to be able to handle even these kinds of things, and before I knew it we were spreading out through the nearby village in search of people to question and answers to find. I was among them, of course, and set out to find somebody to talk to in the lonely looking place.
There was dried blood everywhere. On the stone streets, on the walls of buildings, and even on the glass windows. But from reluctantly observing the bodies, I deduced something more confusing than I originally assumed. Every one of the wounds looked to have been cause by human means, such as stabbing shooting and bludgeoning. There were no marks where talons had entered the body, or strange marks of any sort. It looked more like what one could expect to see after a giant battle had taken place. I stooped over the sprawled out corpse of an old man on the curb of the road. His face didn’t look to be at peace, afraid, or even surprised… It looked like it had been contorted in a look of rage and anger as the man died, having his skull bashed against the metal lamp post nearby and creating a grievous wound in the back of his skull.
Some of the faces of those I had encountered were destroyed beyond recognition, but the ones I could get a decent look at all had the same expression of pure anger. For some reason they struck me as even more frightening than the standard fear filled faces of the dead I had seen previously, and a feeling of paranoia crept over me as I traversed the murky streets of the town. The houses looked to be made rather recently, and were quite well designed for where they had been built. There were even a few mansions made from expensive looking marble, standing abandoned at the edges of the town through the mist.
I was unsure of how we were to go about solving a mystery such as this, but the way the BlackGuard worked was that if the case wasn’t closed by day one there would be a meeting in the morning where we shared all of our findings with each other. I had a feeling that was what was going to happen now. Oddly enough, the street lamps were still in working order, casting warm orbs of light in the distance and illuminating the corpses all the more. But why were they on in the day? Did the mist set in before everything went to hell? I was accumulating many questions with little answers to go with them, and so I made the decision to focus my efforts on finding somebody who had survived the strange massacre that had taken place.
My efforts paid off after about an hour of travel through desolate streets in the form of an old man in rags sitting against the side of a metal dumpster in an alleyway. He had started a small fire within a can, and sat beside it in a thick coat, hands glowing as they were set near the flames. There was even more trash in the streets at the moment, and the weather had grown quite chilling. He looked on me at first in a state of shock and fear, but after a few seconds calmed down. “So you haven’t gone crazy yet, eh?” He said with dull eyes, watching the fire in the can blankly. I stooped over beside the little source of warmth with a raised brow. “And why would I be crazy?” I asked, to be met with no physical reaction from the man apart from his dull reply. “Everyone else lost their minds. Thinkin’ I’ve lost mine as well.” “Whatever do you mean?” The fire dimmed a little, and the man casually picked up a metal rod that had been scorched black at the end and stoked the flames, which grew back to their form once again. It made a rustling noise, and I observed with impatience in my eyes. “Saw em’ run past. Holdin’ clubs’n torches. Beatin’ old women over the head and fightin’ with the other crazies. I had to kill me one.” He shifted his head to the dim area beside the dumpster where the crumpled body of a teenager lay, small stab wounds where his heart once was. “Came at me with a mallet, so I put him down with the fire stoker.” I didn’t know whether to be impressed or disgusted, so I settled on neither. “Do you know what caused this to happen?” The man shrugged. “Mayor kept talkin’ bout his damn mine all day. Said he found a new source of money that’d put our town on the map. Same week this happened.” “Where could I find this mine?” “Up north a ways, but don’t go there alone. The crazies have gathered there in a big horde doin’ nothing. They want that mine safe for whatever reason.”
I thanked the man for the information, and jotted what he said down in my notebook. This would likely prove vital to our efforts, but the day was still young. Some other members of the Guard walked by around three in the afternoon, and one approached me with a look of fear in his eyes. “Stay away from the warehouse in the northwest,” he said urgently, “there’s these red stones inside that turned Mikey into a killer!” “What happened to him?” I asked. “We… We had to put the poor bastard down. Our immobilization spells did nothing.” His tone sounded sincere and saddened, and I decided to leave them be for the time being and to take their advice about the warehouse. Clearly that would be a task for the good Commander, who was far more powerful than any of us, to take care of. The lower district contained the highest body count from what I had seen, while most of the deaths in the more wealthy upper district had occurred from peasants killing more of the wealthy folk. Was there some kind of uprising? I doubted it, because of what my comrade had just described to me about the red stone. There was something else going on in this town. Something darker.
Before I knew it night had fell and I had discovered a few more things about the city. For one, the mayor’s house was nothing short of a mansion, and made all houses nearby look like rubbish. About thirty bodies were strewn across the well-tended lawn, each bearing wounds from musket shot. Furthermore, I was unable to find any other survivors that day, and from what I overheard from the other men, they had no such luck either. It was likely that the Regimental army would be called in soon, judging by how the situation looked.
I may also add, that while I was exploring the mayor’s lawn I was given quite the fright upon spying two red orbs staring at me atop the roof. The body was a shadow through the mist, and all I could really see of the figure was those two crimson eyes boring into me. You could imagine my embarrassment when they blinked a couple times, and I realized they belonged to Cyrus. That man blended in with the environment as if he was in his element. Hell, he probably was.
That night we made lodging in an old inn at the edge of town which overlooked the forest. Thankfully, it seemed completely abandoned, and the amount of bodies was lessened around its perimeter. Even the beds had been made quite well, and if it weren’t for our miserable surroundings I’m sure I would have been able to spend a good enough night in this place. Unfortunately, I remained awake until 2 A.M. listening to what sounded like hissing coming from the foliage outside the window I lay next to. And I could have sworn I briefly saw a figure staring at me from behind the bough of tree with deathly pale skin and eyes as wide as saucers. My eyes only caught a glimpse of it, though, before it silently ducked back into cover in a fluid motion. The thing I found most frightening about it was how distinctly human in appeared to be, while still remaining unnatural and horrifying.
Cyrus, as a Vampire, didn’t require sleep and must have spent the night scouring the town in search of more information. A Regimental Commander was the strongest user of Cambria in his or her Nation. They didn’t have to fear hardly anything with their kind of capabilities, and Cyrus was rumored to be one of the strongest out of the nine Commanders. Every year an optional tournament was held in the capital that pitted them against each other in friendly duels. Cyrus turned up one time in all the years I had been alive, and defeated every last one of his opponents before vanishing from the competition without a trace. Never to return since.
Many people hated the man because of him being a Vampire. The Mire had a history of war against the seafaring people, and Cyrus was a half breed. This meant that neither side could call him theirs. Even I, who had served under him for a good deal of my life, could really claim to know much about him or what his motivations were.
But moving on with my tale, the next morning was cold. Many people had scavenged coats from around town and were wearing them as if they had owned them their whole lives. Even breakfast was pretty much stolen, consisting of ale, bread and cheeses. This was still superior to what we typically ate in the BlackGuard, so none of us could complain. While eating alone at a wooden table I overheard a group of others talking about a survivor they had found and how he used to work in the mines. According to them, the mine uncovered a red colored material about a week back, which somehow led to the contamination of the water supply. I was beginning to make the conclusion that this odd stone had something to do with what had happened here.
We all gathered in a line outside the inn, and Cyrus paced as he usually did and explained that he would be individually talking with each person about what they had found out, before sharing his own findings with everyone. Many people had nothing to report, but I heard the same thing about the mines and water contamination, as well as a bit about how the mayor had lost it a day or two before the massacre took place. The death of the soldier in the warehouse was brought up, and Cyrus stated that he would investigate the place in person. A couple others had gone off to explore the northern forest and never returned, according to a pair of bleak faced men to my right. I explained my own findings, and aside from that only one other bit of knowledge was revealed to us.
Somebody had interviewed a scientist, who stated that the red stone contained an extremely strong mutagenic property that affected behavior, strength, and in late cases, appearance. It took longer exposure to ‘infect’ somebody from simply holding the stone to one’s skin than it did consuming it, where the effect was almost instantaneous. We were advised to steer very clear of the mineral in the future and not to drink local water. Many of us were afraid about the alcohol and food but since we weren’t trying to kill each other yet, our fear was unfounded.
This was a vital bit of intelligence, and everyone seemed to know it. Cyrus addressed us on the subject in a prompt manner. “I must admit that you have all done your work quite well. The picture is becoming clearer to me now, and the objective of the mission has now changed,” he began with a firm look in his eyes as he paced back in forth like he usually did when speaking with a group of people, “we will now focus on the curing or elimination of the infected as well as destruction of any and all of this stone. I will be calling in the Regimental army, and initiating a quarantine immediately. Until a potential cure is found, you are authorized to eliminate any infected persons that you encounter. At a later time, I will be gathering volunteers to demolish the mines. Until then, I wish you all best of luck.” We raised our salutes and scattered. Some of us formed into groups to go out and engage the infected, but I remained alone. There were still unanswered questions about the situation, including why the infected weren’t killing each other and how we would go about finding a cure. But as a morally sound gentlemen, I decided to make finding the scientist and a cure my top priority.
After speaking with a few people, I was directed to the train station. Survivors were being gathered here for questioning in addition to evacuation, but only about seven people stood at the trainstation. The scientist was at least easy to spot as he wore a white labcoat and goggles and stood well over six feet tall. The poor man from before was there too, staring up at the trees in an almost malignant way. “Hello, sir!” I called out to the scientist, putting my hand in the air in greeting as I did so. The man in question turned a depressing looking face to me in a delayed manner. “What is it?” “Do you believe there could be a cure?” I pressed, stopping in front of him and awaiting a reply. The scientist sighed deeply and looked off into space, clearly pondering something in his head. I was quite surprised at just how long he did this before actually giving me an answer. “I assume not. It seems to be more of a mutation than an actual virus, so it would need to be reversed, if anything,” the man rubbed his chin and stared off into space, “I doubt the effects will be reversible.” With this sobering news I nodded a few times. “So would it be possible to make an antidote? At all?” “Sure it’s possible, but it would probably take months or years.” We certainly didn’t have that kind of time on our hands, that was for sure. “Could you perhaps tell me the location of your laboratory?” He nodded briefly and pointed into the distance in a vague and confusing manner. “A little ways past the warehouse. But do not enter the warehouse or you may become afflicted!”
I thanked the man and began walking away, only to halt my pace upon realizing that these people could still provide a lot of useful information to me. Even so, questioning them all took about an hour, and yielded few results that were of much use to me. Defeated, I finally snuck away from the small group and began making my way back towards the village, unsure of what to do next.
There were certainly some options before me, but none really seemed too appealing. Firstly, I could join the others, who were preparing to kill all those who were affected by the insidious disease. Second, I could take the day off and sign up for the destruction of the mine, or I could investigate these stones that had both I and many others afraid and perplexed.
My eventual decision was to look into the origin of the stones, as I was hardly one to enjoy killing things. Especially things that bore a resemblance to fellow humans. My destination was the laboratory, and the trip to this location took me near the warehouse that I had been warned of now multiple times. The road nearby shifted to a light brown gravel that crunched beneath my feet. A surprisingly dry landscape considering the misty and mildly humid environment nearby. There were actually a multitude of different metal warehouses to the left and right, which smelled faintly of manure. I managed to catch a glimpse through an open doorway to see some hay and various farming equipment within. It caused me to jump slightly upon seeing the blood-stained head peeking out below the doorway, eyes glazed over and soulless. More of the crimson liquid had pooled nearby. I picked up my pace a bit after this, and from then on began seeing dead bodies more and more often.
Eventually, the different farmhouses at my flanks terminated to reveal a giant area of gravel sprawling out before me. The west portion led into the misty forest, while the east creeped back into the town. To the north was a giant warehouse that was colored white and cream and made of rigid metal that stood in the center, more bodies than ever lying about its perimeter. I had not seen another Guardsman in a while now, and was beginning to grow a tad worried about being here alone. But as I gazed through the mist I could see the dark outline of a figure standing motionless in front of the metal building ahead. “Hello!” I called out, stopping for a moment with a hand on my flintlock. “Are you a member of the Guard?!” I received no reply, but I knew exactly who it was as the figure turned to face me, with two distorted ruby lights cutting through the veil that separated us. “Oh… I apologize, sir.” “No need.”
There was a brief crack of wind and before I knew it the figure of Cyrus stood directly in front of me. Wind batted at my face, and the dust that had been kicked up managed to catch my eye. I must have looked like quite the fool while trying to rub it out, but I knew that Cyrus had just utilized a wind spell known as the ‘Vault’. A very popular technique capable of propelling one forward in a straight line almost instantly, while at the same time killing many by having them strike a brick wall or tree at supersonic speeds during training.
I dared not attempt to utilize it unless it was required, considering it took a large amount of mastery in order to dictate how far and how fast you travelled at once. Cyrus looked at me in a bland manner as I cleared my eyes of dust and saluted him. “Reporting, sir.” “Please explain to me why you are here, Mr. Cedric.” He stated in a monotone. “I heard from a scientist that his laboratory is a ways past the warehouse, sir. My goal is to find a way to stop the mutation.” “And why is no one else with you?” I didn’t quite know how to answer that question, looking back, but devised the most suitable reply possible at the time. “I am not sure, sir.” Cyrus sighed and shook his head. “First of all, you have permission to speak freely. Secondly, since you are here, you may as well be of some use to me.” My expression changed to one of confusion. “How could I be of any use to you?” “… Well, I was just about to answer that,” he started, very slight annoyance lacing his words, “I wish for someone to describe what the infection is like. As a Vampire I am immune to such things, so I need somebody to be my guinea pig, so to speak.”
You may imagine my surprise to hear this, but I did not straight up say ‘no’. “So you want me to commit suicide?!” Cyrus raised a finger and opened his mouth, but looked to be unable to find the reply he had been looking for. Eventually, he let his arm drop, and with a dull look gave me the most brutally honest response possible. “Pretty much.” “With all due respect, I must refuse!” With a sly grin he threw one of his ice cold arms around my shoulder and began walking towards the nearby building with me in an extremely awkward imitation of what a normal person would do with one of his friends. “But you did not let me explain! Before you reach the point of no return, I will end the infection. How else would I garner any results?” A little relieved, but still indecisive, I nodded in an ever so slight fashion. “But how do you know the infection won’t be irreversible?” “Heh. You ask too many questions, but for someone who enjoys giving too many answers…” He paused here and let his voice trail off for a bit. “I don’t.” “Wonderful.”
Honestly, I was in no position to refuse my Commander. And if he really wanted to, he could have simply hexed me and forced me to comply, which I had heard rumors of him doing in the past rather frequently. Perhaps his forced attempt at socialization was him trying to gain obedience using other means, and I most certainly didn’t want to stop him from trying this. The warehouse already reeked of the dead upon reaching the entrance. It was bigger than all the rest, and more bodies were scattered around it than in its surroundings. There were certainly a good number of people that once lived here if there were this many bodies.
Cyrus took his arm off my shoulder and briefly peered inside one of the gaping metal doors. “A few were lingering inside. Had to put them down,” he explained casually, “not quite sure when they got there. Heard one of my squads went in, but got out.” With that he entered, motioning for me to follow. I had my palm clutching the hilt of my sabre all the while as I did so. At first, the inside was completely devoid of all life and only the shadows that swept the edges and parts of the unknown were visible. Cyrus then uttered a few brief words and a pale light shone over the interior like a beacon, making clear to me what was in the distance.
There were more bodies, but disfigured almost beyond the point of being human. But it didn’t look to be caused by the bullet or blade, but… Naturally. There were grotesque mutations all across the body of one man, including bulging eyes and swollen muscles as if he had been on heavy amounts of steroids. Another was all but a skeleton, lying motionless on the ground with drooping skin all around him that looked to have melted off some way.
In the rear were huge piles of a glowing red. And I made these glowing objects out to be stones of some sort, that were being handled like drugs from the looks of it in this musty and decrepit smelling place. “If Beckett was here, he’d call it a ‘Class A Mutagenic Substance’,” Cyrus said in a mocking tone of a snobbish person, “it appears that small amounts are capable of producing a feeling of intense euphoria. Addiction is immediate and powerful… As is evident by the amount of bodies.” The Commander stood over the body of the swollen man I described from earlier, rubbing his chin in thought. “So I wouldn’t immediately turn into one of these… Things?” I asked, trying to hide my cringe at the ghastly sight. “No. Likely you will become very addicted, but I can assist with that.”
The good commander walked over to one of the piles of the stuff and removed a shard of the glowing stone from just ahead of a cream colored tarp that had been partially moved. He held it upwards and inspected it thoroughly. “I assume that this was never intended for human consumption. For a Mutagenic it could be rather useful, though.” In case you are unaware, a Mutagenic is a very rare breed of human that has abilities that evolve depending on different variables. Many have theorized they originated from experimentation and not naturally, as they incorporate many artificial substances and enhancements into them without a hitch.
Society has all but shunned Mutagenics, though. Often times they may have different body features, like incredibly large muscles or lack of different body parts and this can make them appear rather frightening. Different objects can alter their appearance and abilities, and judging by what Cyrus had said, this was one of them. “So you want me to-” “Hold it firmly in your hand, yes.” Cyrus interrupted, walking briskly over to me and shoving the stone he was holding into my palm. Almost instantly the world changed into a haze of rainbow and psychedelic wonder. It built up a little at first, until the feel of the environment faded, following by all senses and ending in me being all but removed from my body.
I wasn’t just a human anymore, I was an entity. A mixture of different emotions wandering the aether as opposed to a bag of flesh maneuvering throughout the world. When I attempted to laugh, there was a distorted echo and colors filled my entire reality in oceans of brilliant colors. The world had faded and I was one with whatever fanciful world I had been brought into. And I didn’t want to leave. On the contrary, I wanted to stay like this forever. My body was nowhere to be found now, and all I could feel was intense satisfaction and peace.
And then everything turned a crimson red. Suddenly I despised everything and everyone. Everyone had to die by my hand, no matter what the cost. It is really hard to describe this feeling, but by the time I was suddenly yanked from my paradise I was about ready to stab something. Anything. The world returned to me, in addition to my lowly body, and I collapsed to the floor with the color still fading from vision. A painful headache had set in and all sound that reached my ears reverberated about five times before finally reaching my ears. I heard somebody shouting at me for awhile, but just ignored it and clutched my forehead in pain.
After about a minute I received an incredibly strong kick to the ribs that was powerful enough to knock me on my back, facing the blurred ceiling. My uniform was fashioned from durable hardened leather, but even so I already knew I had been severely bruised where the kick had landed. My mouth opened and I let out a cry of agony, but reality had set in once more, and I was back in Nation 3 again, with two crimson orbs staring right at me from above. “Welcome back.” Cyrus said, grabbing my palm despite it facing downwards and pulling me to my feet with inhuman strength. I stumbled around a little, and my hand felt as if it had been dipped in ice water from just touching the Commander’s flesh. I took a moment to get a grasp on my surroundings, all the while having my left hand pressed to my forehead, which still throbbed in pain. “Why… Why did you kick me, sir?” I uttered, turning to face my Vampiric comrade while trying my hardest not to come across as upset. “We don’t have time for recovery, Mr. Cedric!” Came the reply, as he folded his arms. “Now tell me how you felt.” My explanation was a lot like it was in this recounting, and the Commander didn’t appear surprised in the least. Then again, he never did appear to be surprised in all my time serving him.
Eventually Cyrus appeared satisfied and nodded briefly. “So it is also psychological, then,” he mused, pacing back and forth while rubbing his chin, “the Regimental army shall be arriving in a couple days, along with Beckett. With this information, things should go much smoother.” “Couldn’t you have just waited and used somebody else?” The Commander chuckled as if I was intending to tell a joke. “These kind of methods are far too unorthodox for Dravis. Would have never heard the end of it. But on another note, I believe you should investigate the suitcase over there. You may find it most… Intriguing.” One crack of wind later, the Commander vanished, leaving me completely alone within the warehouse. My eyes scanned the place for awhile despite my headache, and when they caught sight of something in the very corner of the room they widened in disbelief. The white light Cyrus had created had vanished, but even so I knew what I was looking at.
It was the exact same suitcase that had gone missing that fateful night when I encountered the Shapeshifter. Every last detail about it looked the same, from the mahogany brown finish to the shiny handle at the top portion that hung out limpy. The case itself was closed, but was covered by a small coat of dust as if it had been there for a large amount of time. Cyrus must have noticed it before I did, but considering he was a Commander, it wasn’t very surprising. My boots thumped along the concrete floor as I approached the thing, past another limp corpse.
My palm slid over the dry dust, and the upper part of the case was now shining where I touched it. I scanned it over one last time, before unbuckling the two metal flaps at the top and opening it. They had been opened recently, judging by the lack of dust near them. This was certainly Cyrus’ doing. And then I remembered what the contents were.
Eyes fell to the floor from within. Some bloody, some rotted and some looking almost fresh. They hit the ground like oversized marbles but with a fleshy impact that made me grimace. Even so, I didn’t drop the case, I just looked at it in disgust along with its horrid contents as a foul stench filled the air… One more foul than it already smelled in this place. Oddly enough, my next thought was to find the Scrye authorization papers, but I came out empty handed in the end. This confirmed my prior thoughts that somehow, some way either the Shapeshifter from that night survived, or there was a second one. A second Shapeshifter. But why would it come here, of all places? Especially since it must have departed the night it acquired the papers? I felt uneasy after this, having almost put my memories of my first encounter into the back of my mind.
But for now, this was a secondary objective. I needed to figure out how to stop this mutation, if at all possible, and so I hastily left the building only to find something infinitely more terrifying outside.
About fifty feet out from the entrance was a thing that resembled a human being, wearing typical rags of a peasant. But it was almost exactly like the thing I had seen the earlier night, with massive eyes and pale skin. After a minute, it just stopped and turned its gaze in my direction, staring at me completely motionless.
My blood ran cold and I dared not take my eyes off it for even a second. My hand fumbled at my hip for the flintlock I carried, and when it finally grasped it the creature charged me at terrifying speeds on all fours, reminiscent of how the Shapeshifter from before moved. It hissed through a toothless mouth as it approached in an astonishingly loud manner.
Without needing much thought, I raised my gun and took aim through my left eye. Its movements were easy to trace, and a crack ran through the air as a high impact bullet struck it in the torso, causing a thump and a brief spray of blood where it hit. Even so, the monster only jerked back for a second before continuing its assault. Not having time to load another bullet, I put my weapon back in its holster and drew my silver plated sabre, readying it before me in a defensive stance as the abomination closed the distance.
It pounced into the air and raised what I assumed to be its hands They looked human, but bony, and the nails had taken on the form of pure bone and had sharpened enough to each be as sharp as razors. Five of them stretched a full foot long. I was able to swat aside both appendages with my blade and force the thing to jump to the side on all fours once again, hissing for a moment before making another move at me.
This time it made a slashing strike with its right arm, which I was able to parry with a single hand on my blade, while using the other to hopefully cast a few spells to even the fight. “Pir!” The most simple Word at our disposal, Pir created a weak spray of flames for a second. But a second was all it needed to engulf the monster in a gout of fire, which it did not seem to enjoy judging by its frantic motions as it tried to claw away from the inferno. I gave it no time to recover and lunged in with my sword, catching the side of the neck and decapitating it in one mighty strike. Blood was thrown all across my face and the nearby area, and the charred and bloody corpse fell silent as the last embers of fire died from around it.
I took a few deep breaths and used a cloth from one of my pockets to wipe away the red that occupied my blade. It was a brief but decisive victory, and was to be expected from a member of the Guard. Clearly this was not the only one of these monsters that lurked around the village, and I decided that it would be most advantageous to not postpone my trip to the laboratory any longer.
After loading an incendiary round in my flintlock, I began making my way towards where the scientist directed, leaving the warehouse and strange body behind for the time being. There were less bodies as the gravel continued, but also more ramshackle houses. Some even consisted of tin and cloth furnishings that added to the impoverished look of the area.
I found the building rather easily, a proper white one sticking out like a sore thumb next to the pitiful looking surroundings. The place looked to be in nearly perfect condition, and even the door was unlocked. Inside it was a different story, as papers and various equipment were thrown everywhere. I looked the scene over in search of something that could be of use, and after spending over two hours reading through all the different papers, I managed to find a sheet of paper that cleared a great many things up.
“After years of study, I have deduced that the red stone, ‘Chakarae’, that has been destroying my town and my people has not been only just discovered. Legends of a lost race of people in Nation 3 have detailed the use of the mineral in various rituals to pagan gods. Those that are exposed to it are called ‘demons’ due to their behavior. The behavioral pattern of these creatures suggests something terrifying, in that their only real purpose is to eliminate sentient life of any kind. I have seen them butcher animals, children, and the elderly without cause. The initial stages make humans into crazed killers, while later stages involve mutation to the degree of becoming a completely different species.”
To my knowledge, the effects are irreversible once they have reached stage one. If this mutagenic is allowed to spread, we may be facing a crisis that puts the entire human species at great risk, as the mineral can be spread through simple physical contact, water or a number of other ways.”
I also found a journal entry dating to before the apparent incident took place.
“The mayor’s behavior has become increasingly erratic as of late, as he has focused the entire town on his damnable mine. This week he seemed different from the usual upbeat man he tended to be. More… Unnatural in an inexplicable way. I have seen him visiting the old warehouse by my residence during my midnight strolls, and speaking with men in black suits. I suppose I write this entry because I have had little to do as of late. This lovely town is completely devoid of sickness and disease, and my studies are few but generally successful. I just hope this mine is worth the effort of renovating.”
This led me to believe that he had written all the rest of the papers in a very short timespan. Most likely searching for a way to find a cure, like I was. This mayor character seemed rather suspicious, to say the least, and the occurrences taking place were beginning to make me believe that the Shapeshifter incident was somehow connected to this one. But one thing was for certain: the mine would have to be destroyed.
My next priority, however, was to find Cyrus again. This was a matter that would best be discussed with him before anything else. I felt an odd sense of relief after leaving the laboratory and heading back towards the hotel with suitcase in hand. When I came back, I found a good deal of other Guardsman there. Some sat out at the wooden outdoor tables, while others were lying on the ground with gauze covering bloody wounds on their bodies side to side. It appeared these creatures were already beginning to inflict a few casualties, but compared to the number who weren’t wounded, it didn’t seem like they had inflicted too many.
Cyrus was sitting alone at one of these tables, furiously writing something upon a sheet of paper by the looks of it. As I approached, I saw him occasionally stop as if to ponder something before resuming once again. A scratching sound filled the air from the pencil he held. “I believe I have found some more items of interest, sir.” I announced, straightening myself before him and providing a salute. “Very well, Mr. Cedric…” He spoke, not taking his eyes off the paper he was writing on. “And what are these items?” “The scientist’s notes, sir.” “Ah, very well. I shall pass them onto Beckett as soon as possible.” “But I thought we were to be looking into this matter on our own, sir?” Cyrus grunted and set his pencil down in an almost frustrated manner, before turning his dull gaze to me. “Well, I have good news,” he started, obviously not meaning a word he said, “Beckett and his scientists will be handling this case as soon as the mine is destroyed. He apparently thinks these things are ‘fascinating’.” “More like horrifying, if I may say.” I replied in almost a mumble. “You may. But it appears that we are needed for more urgent matters, currently.” “And those are?”
Cyrus looked as if he was contemplating whether to actually give an answer or not for a moment, but eventually sat back and took a deep breath. “You have the suitcase, correct? It appears that this whole Shapeshifter debacle isn’t over yet, since the mayor left the town two days before the major outbreak.” “And what is so important about that?” I asked with a raised brow. “We found the corpse of the mayor in the living room of his mansion, Mr. Cedric. His left eye was missing.” Deep down I knew something like this was afoot, but it still managed to come as a surprise to me somehow. It appeared that the very thing I thought had ended was only just beginning, and for some reason I was at the very center of it all.
The mine was destroyed that night with Cyrus leading the away party. A third of those who had gone to destroy it did not return, and yet more came back wounded grievously. Even so, the operation was a success. I had not been in the raiding party, and instead sat on the upper floor of the hotel, looking out into the forest to see that same creature from last night staring back at me. Except this time, it was just standing there with what I swore to be a thin and malicious grin across its face. Normally I would have looked away, either in fear or spitefulness but instead I glared right back at it with what must have been a strong determination in my eyes. If I was to fight monsters, I would no longer be apprehensive to doing so. If nobody would be there to watch my back, I would watch it myself. And if a Shapeshifter wanted to play games with me, I would let him go ahead and try.
My depression ended that night, as I thought back on why I joined the Guard in the first place. It was not to make money, and not simply to serve my Nation or Emperor. It was something far more simple than either one of those reasons. Even so, the look of odd confidence in the creatures’ massive eyes was a little disconcerting as it snuck back behind the same tree from before.
The following morning we left on the next train, and I had packed all my belongings in the suitcase I had found. The mystery of what really took place in that town would still remain a mystery for the time being, but I was ready for whatever the future could throw my way… At least that was what I believed.
As we began to climb aboard the train that was leaving, I shot the scientist who was also leaving with us a look that said everything I needed to say. He nodded, and disappeared into the rear portion with the rest of the survivors.
And as the vehicle’s dull horn resounded through the area as we began to pick up speed, and I found myself staring out the window once again as we departed. A town completely devoid of all life, wiped from the face of the planet by an ancient material of unknown origin. It was frightening to think just how much of the Mire was shrouded in mystery to this day.
As Cyrus walked by, one of the men on the row opposite me spoke out. “May I ask where we will be going next, sir?” The Commander stopped for a moment and turned to face him. “You may,” he replied almost exactly how he had done with me, “I just hope you all like the ocean.”