Friday, October 2, 2009

Chapter 19: A Hellish Guest

Time slowed down in my mind as the nightmare continued. The creature charged toward us across the plane, its every footfall shook the ground as though the earth itself shared our dread. I tried with every fiber of my being to think of something, some way in which to escape or defeat the animal, but my mind was just kept playing the image of my head being crushed under those gargantuan talons. I could actually hear the sickening crunch of my skull, the pressure that made my ears pop and eyes tear up.
There were suddenly several faint puffs of air to my left, that came so fast it sounded like the propellers of a distant helicopter. I snapped back to reality and realized it was Gohn already firing away at our ever approaching enemy. I closed my eyes and bowed my head. As a long slender blade slide slowly from the sheath of my symbiot, I prayed a short prayer, “God help us” I pleaded under my breath.
My eyes snapped open and I felt myself fill with rage. I raised my now long blade high over my head pointed at the creatures barreled thick hide chest, and charged with everything I had left.
My fear was gone, my pain was numbed, and I… I was unstoppable. At least at that moment that’s how I felt. In my heart at that moment I knew that I would kill that monster.. Even if it brought me down with it.
As I closed the gap between us, Gohn’s darts whizzing past only inches from my head, I felt a final rush of adrenaline flow through me. When I met the behemoth, it roared its awful roar, and swung hard from above, its razor sharp claws aimed for my head. I rolled my shoulder hard forwards, hitting the dirt in a mid sprint somersault, the demonic claw raking down my back missing my head by a needles width. As I completed my acrobatic endeavor, I continued my momentum forward thrusting upward with everything I had determined to pierce its heart and end the fight with this single attack.
The force of my attack was strong in spite of my various injuries. I felt a twinge of excitement as my weapon hit home. A perfect unhindered hit right into the creatures exposed chest.
There was a satisfying crunch, but my arm suddenly felt light. In puzzlement, I looked up to symbiot. A feeling of complete despair and shock rocked my mind, as I watched in seeming slow motion my blade shatter into a hundred shards, destroyed on impact with the creatures still uninjured body.
I only stared on in disbelief making no attempt to cover myself from the blow of the monster kick to my stomach. Lucky for me the claws of its talons only impaled my obliques as my body fit easily between the creature “toes”. I flew back several feet landing on my back.
In the past several months I had come to know despair. It is a truly maddening emotion. Most people from my time don’t truly appreciate the totality of this particular feeling. I guess I would describe it like this, imagine working for years to finish some life goal, putting everything you have into that one project and then waking up one day to find it has all been destroyed. Take that feeling and multiply it by a thousand, and then you will still have no idea what it’s like to experience true despair.
I didn’t have anything left. I didn’t even have the energy to look away as the vile being stood over me. I felt a sudden gust of wind brush over the tall grass all around us. It washed over me like a final blessing. The soothing kiss of sorrowful angel.
I’m sure my friends were doing everything in their power to save me, but I knew it was over…….. Thank God I am not always right.
There was a unexpected shout from my left, an unfamiliar cry. Instinctively, I rolled my head over to see what it was. Suddenly there was a flash of movement from the tall grass that surrounded our battleground, as a tall figure leapt from the hidden area. It moved like the wind itself a blur of white headed straight for me and my current opponent.
To my surprise, the figure was a man. Though towering above me, there in front of that monster he looked more like some mythic being, sent from God to protect us. Long mangled black gray hair fell around his shoulders framing his worn face that was so stern and emotionless it could have been hewn from stone. A long lab coat hung loosely from his broad shoulders twisting and flailing in the now growing wind. It was worn tattered and stained. It’s once white fibers were now a dingy faded mix of black brown and gray, and at the shoulder blades of the coat were two large tears with dark red blood stains that made it look like two demonic eyes were staring at you.
Without a word or even a look the strangle man engaged the creature. The beast roared infuriated at this intrusion and lifted its right arm into the air to skewer this new morsel, but the man made no indication of fear. He only continued to stare at the beast with his stone face. As the claw of the monster sped down toward the mans head, he quickly lunged forward dropping to one knee directly under the creatures belly.
Without warning a third arm tore up from one of the bloodied tears in his coat. The arm was inhuman, it was black and bony. It seemed to be attached to man in a way that allowed it to fold down through the holes and cling tight to his back, with a sort of reverse joint, so it would be able to come easily over his shoulders. At the end of the arm was no hand, but a pincer like claw. While shut it came to a sharp point and when open had only two sharp flexible digits….and it was fast very fast.
With one single fluid movement the arm tore into the belly of the creature and the retracted. The whole movement took no longer than a blink of an eye, and there in the pincer of the mans symbiot was the creatures heart. The stunned monster only stared on. It made no sounds of anger. No roar bellow or even grunt. It lurched hard to the left and fell in a thunderous heap. The mans symbiot dropped the heart in the dirt and he turned to face me for the first time.
His small brown eyes were barely visible under his disheveled hair, but as I looked into them, they seemed hollow to me. As though he looked through you. Wisdom showed in the many creased lines of his face though they were hidden as well by a thick beard. Furthermore, he hung his head downward so a constant shadow was cast over what little could be seen of his features.
“This one was a female.” The strange man explained unsolicited. “you can tell by the extra claw on its left hand.” We all continued to stare at the man in disbelief still too shocked for words. “The females have a very thick breast bone that protects the baby while they are pregnant. That’s why David’s attack failed. If you want to strike at the heart you have to reach under the breast plate from the abdomen. It is an easy mistake to make.” when none of us responded to the gruff mans lecture he turned to me. "Are you alright David?" he ask not even the slightest hint of real concern or any other emotion for that matter showed in his stoic visage.
"I ...I am fine" I stammered finally. Millions of questions flew through my mind, who was he, how did he know my name, what in the hell was he doing out here..... The list went on and on.
But it was Terry that asked the first question "How old are you?" she whispered an air of desperation laced in her voice. I arched an eyebrow at her question as I slowly picked myself off the ground. I looked at our savior once more and the light finally clicked in my head .
My eyes widened as I realized what all my friends had seen immediately. Scyll had told me that nothing in this world lives past 30 yet this man standing here now looked to be at least 40.
The man smile, the first human expression he had shown thus far. He lifted his head peering directly into Terry's eyes from under his matted hair. " That was sooner than I expected. I must be looking worse than usual today. I know what you are really asking though... And sadly the answer is no. I suffer from the same affliction that plagues each and everyone of you. " he said in his deep gruff voice. " I have just been fighting it longer than most. Though, I am not quite as old as you probably think I am."
"How have you managed to stay so healthy if the disease has been active in you for that long?" Gohn pried suspiciously.
The man grunted out a coarse laugh. "I am far from 'healthy' but I would have to say that life outside the dome is hard ....hard enough to keep you going through it. Regardless of the pain.”
My mind was reeling, a moment ago I was sure I was dead. Now I stood facing a man that had done in a single blow, what had taken, all of us, everything we had, to accomplish. "Who are you?" I said finally.
The man looked at me his face returning to its statuesque appearance as he once again lowered his head. His eye pierced mine as he peered at me from the shadows of his face. When he finally spoke the words were slow and deliberate. “My name is Virgil. I am here to show you the way.”
“The way.. To what?” Scyll asked softly still kneeling next to Caulin. She looked exhausted tear stains still covered her face. The events of the day had clearly taxed her more than she would ever admit. Though looking around I guess the same could be said about any of us at that point.
Once again the stranger spoke, “ I know that you have been searching for a mutant, and that that mutant is believed to live near the impact crater. I have traveled that far before, though not without difficulty. We call it hell’s basin, because the things I saw there would bring fear to the devil himself. Nevertheless, if you are willing to follow I will be your guide through hell.”
We stood in stunned silence. None of us could have ever expected to find someone who had made it that far out alone and survived, but after what he had just accomplished I was inclined to believe him.
I looked to each of my friends trying to get a feel for what everyone was thinking. Caulin still lying on the ground looked confused his brow knitted in thought still trying to get a handle on the situation. Next to him Scyll was biting her lip a pained expression of fear and uncertainty showed in her soft eyes.
As my eyes drifted to Gohn I instantly knew what he was thinking. His demeanor was unmistakable. His body was stiff, tensed to the point of breaking. His jaw was clenched so hard that his face had gone blood red, and his fists were trembling. Finally he could hold it in no longer. “WHY WOULD WE EVER TRUST YOU!!!” he screamed. “YOU BETRAY US AND SEND YOUR MEN TO ATTACK US. YOU TRICK MY BROTHER INTO LEAVING THE DOME! TELL ME PLEASE WHY SHOULD WE TRUST YOU?!”
“because we have no other choice…” Terry said slowly. “This is our only real hope.”
Gohn spun around to face her, his eyes bulging from his sockets as the normally aloof young man struggled to control himself. “WHAT!!! HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT!! WE CAN MAKE IT THERE ON OUR OWN! WE DON’T NEED HELP FROM TRAITORS!”
“No……we can’t Gohn.” Caulin said with uncharacteristic wisdom. He stood slowly clutching his broken body as he did. Scyll cringed attempting to pull him back off his feet, but Caulin shook her off as gently as he could. “I above all hate to admit weakness, but we were dead a minute ago man. He just did something that no man in the dome could have done. If we seriously want to do this we will need his help.”
Gohn’s shoulders sunk defeated. He walked toward the edge of the clearing, as he passed me our eyes met and he muttered under his breath “we just can’t trust him”.
I looked back to Virgil, our mysterious savior. His rugged face looked back at me always singling me out of the group. I chill ran down my spine. “Why do you want to help us,” I asked. “ I thought the outlanders hated the dome.”
“Hate is a strong word, David.” he said once again calling only me by name. “ We chose not to live in the dome, and there are as many reasons for that as there are outlanders. I personally chose this path because I want the freedom to choose…my way of life and where I go. I think that mankind can survive in this new wild and someday thrive once again. I fear that staying confined in the dome will only weaken us as a people. As to my reasons for wanting to help you that is simple enough. I am a human. I wish for nothing more than for mankind to survive. I know that only the dome has the ability to cure this disease. So I will do everything in my power to help you reach that goal.”
I looked to Terry. Her face was solemn, the playful smile I loved was gone from her face as she considered the help from this total stranger. More than any of us I knew that Terry was driven to complete this task. This mission that she seemed to have taken on as her sole responsibility. I still didn’t understand why she was so committed, what secrets from her past made her feel so much more connected to this than most others in the dome, but at that moment one thing I did know was what her response would be. “We will do it.” She said finally. “We will have to return tonight to get supplies from the dome. When and where do you want to meet us?”
Virgil nodded in approval, “Leave when you are ready, and I will find you.” and that was all he said. We watched the enigma as he slid silently into the tall grass all traces of him seeming to vanish the second he left our immediate sight, and once again we were alone in the treacherous wild.
The hike back to our mounts was a silent one. Each person reacting to this sudden unexpected change of events in their own way. I lead the way back using my symbiot to blaze a trail through the tall grass. Terry and Scyll both helped Caulin walk behind me, and Gohn sulked in the back still fuming about our new “ally”.
When we made it back Terry and Scyll tended to Caulin with a few extra medical supplies we had left near our camp. As I worked on loading the basilisks up Gohn approached me. I eyed him over seeing he was still in a foul mood. “Are you going to be ok with this Gohn?” I asked him.
“no.” he said flatly, “but seeing as how I have little choice in the matter now, I am willing, if for no other reason than to tell you I told you so when he screws us.” He grabbed up a pack and shoved it roughly onto his mount, and then sighed, “He stole my brother from me David. We used to be close. After our mother died, he had a hard time dealing with things. Back then he was a lead soldier in a special combat squad, he used that to take out his anger. One day his team was attacked by a group of mutants and apparently Virgil saved him after the rest of his squad was dead. It was a month before he returned, and it was like he was a different person. He came in ranting about how the dome was evil and everyone in it were just mindless drones. I tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. When I refused to leave the dome with him. He never spoke to me again. That was five years ago. The first time I saw him again was on that excursion with you. Virgil brain washed him somehow. I am warning you…I won’t let him do the same thing to us!” he took a deep breath trying to calm himself down. “You are like a brother to me now David. I need you to tell me you won’t let him do anything that will jeopardize this mission. We are the only hope for the dome, and I think it is obvious why he would want to interfere with that. I go along with this, but only till we get the source and our only mission is to get the source. Nothing else he says will affect you or me.”
“ok, Gohn.” I swore, surprised at his seriousness. “We won’t let him do to us what he did to your brother.” I said the words, and I wanted to believe them, but how could we do this if we don’t trust him. We can’t do it without him so we will just have to take what we can get. My mind flashed back to the picture of Virgil’s face. His deep piercing eyes. Can we trust him…….