Solenne grabs the back of the electronic cuffs pressing the microswitch. They buzz with a mechanical hiss releasing Apricot from the pole onto the plated floor. Tossing the cuffs aside Solenne moves over to Hunter. “You’re all right, baby. We will get you down.”
Apricot glances toward Shiori who gives her a coy glance wiggling his hands. “Care to help me down.” Solene takes Hunter by the hand as she releases him. He slides down with a thump onto the floor. Apricot inspects the metal contraption spotting the little switch by his wrist. She releases the cuffs dropping Shiori immediately. He pats himself off giving a stretch looking back over to Solenne. “Boy, am I glad to see you again.”
“How did you know?” Apricot asks Solenne.
Solenne’s eyes are filled with tears, her expression flat while she gathers her words. Her Apricot notices her hands shaking like a leaf. “I did not feel right. The way they took you. I followed the car to a really sketchy run down building.” Hunter glances over to Shiori who nods his head. The pair leaves the two alone walking towards the entrance to the room. “I scoped out the building until they took you out blindfolded, I followed the truck to the subway station, then they took you underground. I kept my distance from the guards but I knew something was wrong about all this. Then that guy over there…” Solenne points to Urias’s dead body his mask laying several feet from his head. “He made people explode by looking at them.” Solenne shivers. “I never seen anything like that. I kept following him down after. He was mumbling about black gods and rites.” Solenne shakes her head. “I don’t know, Apricot, what is going on?”
She wraps both of her arms around Solenne. “You did a good thing. We can’t talk about it right now Solenne. There are still things we have to do. So can you help us back to the surface? We need to get to the shrine to end all this.”
Shiori steps away from Hunter. “You two, go without me.” he says looking at the machine. Even still, it made that horrible droning groan. “Someone still has to stop the machine. Might as well be me.”
Apricot gives Shiori a confident nod. Hunter turns to the exit. “We have to hurry. That machine is active and who knows what the surface looks like now.”
“What do you mean?” Apricot inquires.
“He means the ability for phantoms to cross over effortlessly.” Shiori turns his head to the gate. “The city is probably swarming with manifestations as long as this machine has been running. I am sure there are plenty enough of them to cause some real damage.”
“Phantoms?” Solenne voice shakes as her body tremors. “What are those?”
“Monsters.” Apricot states plainly. “Come, we have to go now.”
“It’s just up ahead.” Solenne says as the group runs up a ramp. At the time they enter into the shaft of a subway rail system. “They hid it pretty deep in here.” She says leading the pair in the right direction. The lights at the edge of the tunnel flicker and flash as though the power is about to go out. Apricot looks over at Hunter who glances back over at her. Solenne freezes in the threshold her body stiff like a statue as she stairs toward the metro platform.
Apricot stops in front of Solenne, to see a sight that made her blood chill. A giant monster with a body like a snake stood on all fours. Its scales overlapped each other like plates of armor. Six eyes adorn on the sides of the monster’s head, open wide displaying their brassy color. The thing moves with jerky motions as it cocks its head back and forth snapping its tail that reaches to the other side of the platform. Hunter grabs Solenne’s hand. “You should stay back.” he whispers to her.
The creature let’s out a bone rattling roar sending tremors through the group. Solenne let’s out a scream of her own backing away. Apricot raises her hand allowing it to glow ablaze. Seeing the sudden fire from Apricot’s arm, Solenne stumbles falling onto the ground. Running alongside the wall Hunter jumps onto the platform diving to a bench. The creature turns its head to face Hunter. “Raaa!” he yells. The creature responds with a roar of its own. From the razor jaws a bundle of long tongues expand out reaching at Hunter. He jumps off the bench as the tongues collide with the seat snapping the wood in half.
“Apricot, I just got to touch it.” Hunter yells to her.
Apricot nods her head running alongside the rail. “Hey!” she screams. The creature turns its head to face Apricot snapping the massive tail along the wall cutting deep into the concrete. The creature lets out another scream similar to a jaguar. Slamming its claw down in front of Apricot the massive beast blocks her path. Apricot turns tail letting out a shrill shriek as she did not expect the thing to move so quick. She can feel the heat from its open maw as the creature snaps at her. The stench from its breath quickly creeping upon her.
“BANG! BANG! BANG!” Solenne’s gun roars. She stands on the other side of the metro arm out stretched pointing her pistol at the monster. She huffs seeing the gargantuan thing gaze at her releasing a huff. Diving forward, Apricot tumbles into the wall just missing the massive scales threatening to grind her into past. In a moment the beast is upon Solenne.
Hunter let’s out a scream as the tail whips in his direction. He falls to the floor having it swish over him. The tail comes back around as the creature raises its head over Solenne. Her legs fail her going weak. She huddles against the wall covering her body from the dripping open row of teeth promising death. The mouth opens and with a snap Solenne is left screaming. She dives forward as the creature’s jaw collides into the wall. She looks behind her to see the three orange eyes gazing back at her, the blacks of the eye filling to cover entirely. Solenne kicks her legs against the massive head.
“Not today!” Hunter yells as he places both his hands onto the side of the creature. His arms light up as the creature turns to regard him. In an instant the creature bursts into orbs of blue light dissipating about the room. Solenne huddles up still kicking her legs in the open air. She lets out a scream getting back to her feet. Her body shakes and shivers as her hands wildly spasms. “You asked what a phantom was. That was one.” Hunter chuckles.
Solenne slowly turns her head to see Apricot crawling up onto the platform. She walks over to Solenne placing her arm on her back. “It’s ok. We will get you out of this.” She then turns to Hunter. “How did you do that without silver?”
Hunter lifts the sleeves of his coat to show his arms covered in markings. “They are all the sigils needed for exhortation. I can break the bonds of a phantom’s energy and force them to lose their physical form for a time. I suggest we get moving before that thing can reassemble itself.”
Up the subway metro stairs the group is greeted to a red glowing sky for as far as the eye could see. Every light in the city flashes with furious intensity as if a universal surge has infested the city. The sounds of gunshots rung all around alongside the screams of people and beasts alike. Blue Ash had become a war zone. The heavy smells of smoke and iron filled the air. Sirens blare trumpeting death.
“What is happening!?” Solenne questions looking at the hellscape the city turned into.
Apricot takes a deep breath and releases it slowly. “Solenne what part of town are we in?”
Solenne furrows her brow. “I am not sure, some part of south side.”
“We need to get to the outer eastern side of town.” Hunter tells her. “We have work to finish.”
“What do you mean!?” Solenne questions her voice laden in a panic.
“Solenne, your bullets won’t kill them. They need to be hit with silver.” Apricot tells Solenne. She bends down taking off her shoe removing the inner sole. “Here.” She says standing back up holding a silver knife in her hand. “Go protect yourself with this and inform the others. Anything silver will work. It harms them to even touch them with it.”
Solenne accepts the knife in her hand. “What about you? How will you protect yourself?”
Apricot smirks. “I got my own ways of dealing with them.”
“Well, I am coming with you.” Solenne retorts.
Apricot and Hunter nod at each other. “All right, lets go.” The group run down the street in the eastern direction. Apricot keeps seeing a glittering in the sky as airships drop in soldiers to fight in overrun locations. As they run, they pass many monsters rummaging through buildings. Down many of the roadways blockades of soldiers wall off portions of the city. “I am still wanted. Most likely by now Hunter is too.“ Apricot remembers, that knowledge lays heavy on her mind.
Solenne can’t come. Hunter and her both know this. However, there was no way she would let the pair of them go off by themselves. Solenne had always been loyal to a fault. Seeing one of the large blockades ahead Apricot stops. “Solenne, I need your help.”
The skies are full of the supernatural glow of strange flying monsters. Their bodies long and sharp, with many appendages dangling from their sides. A large tail flows from their rear whipping in the air. Their heads are like that of massive cicadas with a hundred eyes. The skies flash alight as fighter jets shoot rockets from their wings. They scream loudly as the collide in massive fiery bursts leaving smokey ghosts in their wake.
The flying creatures wave their arms knocking planes out of the sky falling in a death spiral a heavy tail of burning smoke follows. From the mouth of a creature a burst of light lances scorching the earth below. A barrage of laser light from the ground strikes one of the flying creatures blowing bloody holes through their body. Tumbling out of the sky it impacts into the towers below smashing pieces of the buildings off with its corpse.
Out of the burning ash marches several mechanical Valkners who fire upon the terrors. All the while blue orbs fly up out of the ground manifesting as creatures. Their forms are diverse and horrible to behold, beasts and twisted figures born from nightmares.
A group of people inside a storefront with furniture stacked against the doors and windows huddle together watching as the monsters walk through the street. A pair of men hide behind a dumpster in an alley, both smalling together hoping they avoid the sight of two insect like centipede creatures slithering towards them. Their many segmented legs scratching against the pavement while they pass within inches.
A group of armored SDP soldiers are firing their rifles at a monster that stood about twice the height of a normal person. It’s head a bulbous thing without a face. Two long tentacles with claw like hooks at their ends dangle from its side like arms. Its legs a thick and slow as the horror lumbers toward the officers; civilians running past as they hold the line. A short burst of fire proves ineffective as the slow-moving creature approaches seemingly unphased by their bullets. They back away as the monster advances, still firing at it hoping that a shot will stop it.
From the alleyway the two insects things rise out. One dives on top of the closest soldier. He lets out a scream as its mandibles bite through his armor ripping into his chest. The event remains unnoticed by the other two soldiers while they firing on the approaching nightmare. One of the soldiers turns his head after hearing the blood squelch. He freezes seeing the centipede like creatures both eating the dead body of the officer. “Holy shit!” he screams in a panic. His air hose hissing as his rate of breathing increases.
The other soldier stops firing looking over towards his partner who is facing the wrong direction. “What the hell are you doing!” he yells unloading his clip on the creature. “Raaaa!” He screams. The creature does not seem phased at all regardless of how many bullets impact its carapace. “Damn it!” he roars as the big hulking monster slashes him with its tentacle. The claw pierces his face mask cutting through the solid visor. Raising the claw away the monster removes the man’s head and a portion of his spinal column from his body.
The last soldier watches as the monster opens a hole in its chest stuffing the head inside. He looks down at the armor of the soldier still upright without a head. Backing against the side of a building he turns his head to see both the insects already half eaten the other soldier’s body. He points his gun toward the insects letting loose on them. Their carapaces shine as the bullets spark off of them. “Come, kill me!” he says getting to his feet. “Want some?! Eat this!” the man roars pulling a rod from his chest. The explosion shatters the glass of the cafe leaving everyone inside screaming. As the dust settles the monsters outside are no more, along with the soldiers. A smoldering pile of char and ash is all that remains.
The SDP wall the entire portion of the uneffected city off with troops to contain the advancing hoard. The first layer of the barricade is made up of five Valkner mechanical soldiers. They tower over the next line of ground troops who are huddled together.
“Solenne, we stick to the plan.“ Solenne nods giving Apricot grunt of agreement before she turns away heading towards the row of soldiers.
Apricot looks to Hunter whose face is covered by an unease. “We can’t go through this way.” Hunter tells her.
She nods her head looking back towards Solenne who is now about half a block away. “I know, I just told her that so she would not come with us.”
As Solenne approaches the barricade one soldier stops her. “Officer Solenne! What in the world are you doing out here!” the soldier yelps.
“Sorry, I can’t explain right now. We need to let these two through.” Solenne looks back toward Apricot, however she is gone.
The man lets out a small chuckle. “Everyone is allowed through. Solenne, are you ok?” Her face downturns as she furrows her brow. “Come on, it’s better on the other side. We will hold the line, you get yourself somewhere safe.”
Solenne turns to face the rear of the barricade to see a translucent form crawling out of the wall. She points screaming “Look out!” The large Valkner does not even have a chance to respond before the form becomes a huge beast with a wolf like face and ram like horns. It grabs hold of the Valkner sundering its cockpit open with razor jaws. The other side is attacked by a giant tangle of black thorny tendrils with scythe like arms and the head of a bird. It rips into the machine slicing it clear open. The electric components from the machine burst into flames. The other three Valkners turn to fire as more of the creatures come out of the walls. The large rounds blow holes in the creatures forcing the attackers back.
The soldiers on foot flee away from the other side of the barriers. Solenne freezes in a state of panic. The soldier talking with her grabs her arm dragging her away from the mayhem. “This is a nightmare.” Solenne murmurs to herself.
The ground troops open fire, their bullets spark against the strange monsters’ as numbers of the rounds impact causing minor wounds others doing little to nothing. “Damn you!” yells the leader of the Valkner squad steps forward blowing the beast to pieces. “We hold the line!”
Solenne turns just in time to see a scythe slashing towards her. She side steps the blow as it narrowly misses her chest. In the next moment a pair of mandibles from the creature are coming right for her. She stabs the knife Apricot gave her directly into its large bulb of an eye. The creature backs up sparking as it lets out a gasp. The officers shoot the monster blowing holes in it until it falls onto the ground. Its body turns into blue light seeping back into the ground.
“Are you ok?” an officer asks Solenne. She replies with a simple nod. Turning towards the Valkners she observes the group still fighting off an oncoming group of creatures. Solenne draws her gun popping out her old clip and exchanging it for a new one. The other ground officers move with her as they join the fight together. A creature latches onto one Valkner knocking it to the ground. It bites into the cockpit ripping out the pilot. It shakes its head back and forth chewing into their body. “Fall back!” screams the leader of the group.
Solenne turns to see a pair of monsters ripping the officer next to her to shreds. His blood spraying from his body. Solenne can feel her heart pumping hard but they trained her for moments like this. They trained her for moments like this. She, she, she never knew there were moments like this. Nightmares, horrors, war is mercy compared to this, Solenne thought to herself. She runs with the other soldiers breaking the line leaving the gunfire and screaming behind her. “Is this the end of the world?” She whimpers to herself.
Sweat pours from Apricot’s brow as she sprints along the torn streets. She travels as fast as she can. Without the rails running the only way to the shrine is on foot. Something she woefully mourns. As they continue on their way, it seems like at every major intersection of the city there is a barricade and most them were under attack from the creatures.
“We are going to have to run through a barricade.” Hunter tells Apricot much to her dismay.
Apricot shakes her head. “No, we keep running until we find a clear area to cross.” Not wanting to admit the truth of the matter.
Hunter grabs Apricot’s arm stopping her. “It will not happen. We need to run through, it’s the only way to get to the shrine.”
There had to be another way. They could not risk being captured. The longer it takes the less likely it is that they will end this horrible turn of events. Apricot clears her throat yelling over the chaotic ambience. “What if they stop us?”
“They will be more worried about the monsters ripping them to pieces. That is what I am going to wager” Hunter tells her. “Look you can keep running but I am going to cross here, now. We have wasted too much time trying to find an opening.” Apricot looks over to see the group is firing on a southern street, they need to go east. Maybe, just maybe there is a chance. “They won’t be looking if we cross from behind.”
“I don’t know Hunter.” she retorts.
Hunter shakes his head running. Apricot takes a deep breath, the ache in her ankles growing as she picks up her pace after him. As they approach the line, the sound of their gunfire stabs into Apricot’s ears. It’s a sound so loud it pounds with every bullet released. She raises both of her hands to her ears but even still the booms seep through. With her head down she runs through the squad attempting to avoid getting noticed.
“Die you bastards!” yells a man who is holding down on the trigger. The reverberation rings through her bones. Apricot glances over to see the line of bodies these creatures had killed. Some soldiers are torn up and bloody yet still they fought. Large chunks of the Volkner’s armor has been scraped off. As Hunter predicted they paid them no mind at all. Their focus is entirely on the phantoms leaving the two well on their way.