Previous installments in the series:
Chapter 1 –
Darkness had overtaken the horizon outside as Damone continued to investigate the eerie calm. And although he couldn’t verify this through the boarded-up windows, he was sure of it based on the temperature drop inside the building. His breath came in small plumes of airy fog as he tossed the drawers and debris in front of what used to be the bank teller stations.
His uneasiness had not subsided, even when he was able to find some kindling to light the cold torches and cisterns, bringing about a warm glow to nibble at the musty darkness that engulfed everything around him.
The weight of the forged and flared steel torch he used to light the cisterns ushered in no relief. This place looked overrun and abandoned. And with this entry being one of the hunter’s most trafficked and guarded throughways into the inner sanctum of the Council, the dread was rumbling within him in droves.
After inspecting the vault and having his access card denied a few times, Damone decided to look through the bank for clues as to the whereabouts of the guards and a definition as to the overall state of the throughway. He dreaded having to backtrack to the tunnels and reroute to another tunnel system. His familiarity with the city consisted of outdated books and, at best, scourged maps from the infantile times preceding the perdition of mankind. The pyres did have much help from mankind’s ruination of itself.
Much of the debris Damone rummaged through contained nothing useful. This place was foraged years ago. The remnants of the past life lay forever decomposing in heaping piles and with it, his hope of solving the mystery of this tomb. The stairs leading up to the surrounding balcony overhead were destroyed years ago so there was no ascension to the upper levels without his grappling hook in his bag. But doing so would be futile. He was not interested in going up. His destination lay below.
Damone’s shoulders squared and he tensed to a stop as a pile of desks and chairs near the boarded up entrance of the lobby shifted and tumbled to the ground from its heap. Malformed shadows flickered and danced about the newly lit torches where the unpromising dark obliterated the front of the building.
Seconds passed in what felt like eons as Damone held his breath to unburden his hearing. Unfortunately, the tick of his blood was compromising and relentless, making his attempt obsolete. The crackling of the torches coupled with the continuing patter of the outside rain remained the only living sounds in the building as his vision engulfed the shadows surrounding the disturbed pile of debris.
Damone slowly lowered his torch to the ground and unclasped the snap guard on his sidearm from his right holster, leaving the weapon in place. A rumbling of thunder from outside earmarked this moment in time to a point of no return. He took a few steps back and met the bank teller counter where he had previously placed his canvas bag while searching amid the ruins.
Keeping his eyes focused forward, Damone blindly unzipped his bag and removed the AA12 shotgun from within. The heaviness of the cold, gunmetal armament did little to liberate his uneasiness. But this was nothing new. He was a brutish hunter and word of his murderous conniptions flooded the underground lair of the pyres like a legendary boogeyman to the beasts. Damone had never lost a duel—man or pyre. And he was never not afraid during one either.
Aiming the AA12 in front of him, Damone slowly maneuvered his way to his right towards the wall with lit torches in order to have some form of ambience between him and the dark.
A sudden flash of a presence to his left peripheral vision turned his attention behind him. Damone quickly spun around but it was too late. The hasty movement of the unforeseen entity knocked him to his back and then quickly retreated back to the shadows in an aphotic blur, his shotgun flying against the wall. A banshee-like wail filled the building with a tremoring clamor; it was a Revenant.
Carrying the normal form of a nude human, with skin as black as midnight, its face was a consistent dark fog, writhing about its head in a Medusa-like quality. Revenants could always change their facial appearance into the beast within. They were speedy and agile, harboring incredible strength and levitation.
Many soft whispers echoed throughout the lobby and from the desolate streets, bringing a rising cadence over the now raging torrent of rain falling outside and slowly leaking into the building through cracks and crevices.
Damone quickly rolled toward the wall and retrieved his weapon. The gun was intimidating and boldly silent in the dim light of the torches as he awaited an impending attack. The whispers continued to be carried in a rising breeze forced through the boarded up windows.
Damone was on one knee aiming at the entrance of the vault with his back against the wall. He aimed in a sweeping motion from the vault on his far right to the main entrance to his left, trying to force his eyes to adjust to the pitch black of the cavernous darkness that the torches could not kiss.
This shouldn’t be happening. This was one of the most secure outposts The Council had created and it was being commandeered by a Revenant. But the Revenant wasn’t here alone. They very rarely attacked on their own and were more of a machine—a cyborg-like hunter that was driven by its desire to kill or capture. And they were very adept at both.
The dread that assumed his innards was naturally nostalgic. There had been many times before where he found himself at the onset of a disadvantageous end to his life and every time he had found his way out of the ruins. Despite his victories, the feeling was always the same… the feeling of mortality succumbing to demise.
Damone crept slowly towards his bag that lay on the service counter directly ahead of him, continuing to do massive sweeps with his weapon across the lobby. The air became biting cold and uninviting the further away he moved from the torches. As he neared one of the debris piles haphazardly centered in the middle of the room, the whispering abruptly stopped and the air went still.
He kneeled behind the broken desks and chairs, peering over the top to gain a view of his bag. The pulsing of his blood was loud and obnoxious in the deathly silent building. Sweat began to bead from his brow despite the chilling cold surrounding him. His nervous, shallow breathing cut through the dense quiet in a reverberating intonation. The rain began to drum out the crackling of the torches… then, fear caught Damone by the throat.
Hovering above, the Revenant was suspended upside down. Its face was an aphotic cloud, weaving in and out of its long, straight, black hair in the dull light of the torches. It hissed at Damone with an unbearable shriek akin to a wild, demonic hyena. Its hair hung around Damone in a morbid black veil as the Revenant’s face changed from black fog to bestial: protruding and unified brow, skeletal nose, and anglerfish-like teeth housed inside of a razor-sharp Cheshire cat grin.
It gripped Damone’s throat harder, causing him to dispose of the weapon in order to try and pry himself from the mammoth grip of this unusual pyre. The AA-12 clattered to the ground and out of reach. It lifted them both slowly into the air, Damone’s feet beginning to rise from the ground, his breath in short supply. The creature hissed with vehemence at the sight of Damone struggling. And then it spoke, a warbled, heavily reverbed dialogue, alien in endeavor and robotic in delivery, but with the consonants of man.
"Your death is not permitted by my hands, hunter. We do not want you—only the crux.”
Damone began to struggle at the last of these words, kicking his feet with fervor and failing at trying to pry the creature’s grip free. The Revenant hissed once again and then effortlessly threw Damone over the pile of debris and into the teller counter. Damone struck the counter with a reverberating whack and crumpled to the floor. His bag fell over the counter and into the darkness beyond, out of reach.
Damone remained in complete disarray, only focusing on trying to regain all of the breath he lost while in the grip of this cyborg pyre. A piercing ring floated back and forth between his ears as he slowly began to crawl towards a pile of debris, hoping to find something to defend himself with. It jumped over the pile, grabbing Damone by the lapels of his pea coat and pitching him back into the counter, splintering the decaying wood with dust plumes spiraling about him.
The Revenant soared into the air, landed, and crouched on Damone's chest with the grace and nimbleness of a small bird.
"No more struggling, hunter."
Blood trickled from Damone’s ear and nose, and once again he was gasping for breath due to the forceful weight of the creature on his chest. His vision was blurring, and he sensed unconsciousness as his eyes were slowly dimming. He never felt so alone, with demise more than evident. And Damien was nowhere to be found.
The darkness began to overtake him. This was not the way he envisioned his end. There was so much more to know. So much more to uncover. So much… more.
Suddenly, the hunter opened his eyes. They were no longer the mahogany colored pupils carried since birth. A crimson light gave way to watering eyes. The Revenant, sensing a shift in order of prey and predator, disembarked from the hunter's chest, watching and waiting for a strike. Its face reverted back to the black fog of before.
The hunter clenched his teeth and began writhing, a rhythmic pulsing of his body slowly succumbing to something inhuman. His red irises filled in with the blackness of ire. The Revenant moved fast, hoisting the hunter up and smashing him against the counter multiple times, and then hurling him into the massive debris pile of before in order to staunch the transformation that was unveiling before him. A cloud of dust seized the open air, creating a dense blanket over the pile where the hunter now lay.
A low, guttural rumble escaped the Revenant’s throat as it sauntered over to the wall of settling dust. Fear was not something that these creatures suffered from. And this Revenant was no different. Its job was clear and concise. Obtain the Crux. The time was now.
As the dust began to slowly dissipate, the Revenant could see the hunter lying quietly on top of the debris heap. Clambering atop the pile, it hovered over him and examined the damage it had delivered. No breath escaped from his body and his face was covered in a crimson hue. The beast leaned closer and hovered its hand over the fallen huntsman’s chest, looking for the reverberation of the heart as the hunter’s chest did not rise and fall to a rhythm.
The Revenant’s arm was suddenly seized in the hunter’s grip and his eyes opened to reveal the inflamed pupils once again. The Revenant snapped back its arm and jumped backwards into the air, levitating some feet away as it watched the fallen hunter stand up. The hunter looked up towards the creature and spoke, his accent of Italian decent and his words not his own, and the oblivion in his eyes ready to cascade out into the darkness.
"I’ve yet to add the head of a Revenant to my mantle. This should be fun!" The hunter smiled wryly, bloody and disheveled but in complete control.
The levitating Revenant was cautioned into action at the sudden transformation that took place before it. In the hunter's eyes, there was something slightly less than a pyre, but still swathed in human skin. Something that permeated the human with a precarious aura.
The hunter jumped from the mound of garbage and pursued the Revenant with a nonchalant saunter. He raised his head and sniffed the air in long wisps, closing his eyes as he gasped in pleasure, his red eyes unblinking and his smile ever curvaceous.
“Is this true what I’m smelling? Is that what that is, beast?”
The Revenant ascended ever higher, reaching the balcony overhead. The hunter stopped and raised his head to pierce his eyes directly at the Revenant above.
“I smell your fear… and all of the death that follows with it.”
The beast changed its face once more to the razor toothed demon and let out a raging screech, the force of its breath upsetting the dust particles into a frenzy and showering the hunter from above with a green, viscous spittle. A low rumble shook the foundation of the building into a slight tremor. The hunter looked around him and then swiped away the specks of green gruel from his coat, widening his stance into a defensive posture.
The boarded-up windows that surrounded the lobby began to creak and moan from the pressure building up behind them, dust and nails cascading down as the wood and steel workings began weakening. The vault door inexplicably unlocked itself and began to bathe the darkness of the lobby with a dim light emanating from behind.
The Revenant began its levitation again, screeching once more as the tremor continued to upset the lobby and it’s boarded up windows. An explosion of steel and wood upset the main entryway as numerous black, scaly arms punched through the barriers. Long talons clawed at the air and barrier trying to force their way in. The windows soon followed with dozens of appendages breaking through. Demented snarls and bestial moans emitted by the pyres breaking in intertwined with the elongated screech of the Revenant.
From the vault door, malformed shadows blotted out the dim light that leaked into the lobby. The first pyre appeared from the vault, its mottled skin taupe and deformed, covered in cabalistic scales, bounding into the lobby on all four of its long, skeletal appendages, followed by more pyres. The first of the windows gave way as a dozen pyres scrapped across the walls and flooded into the building like a parade of spiders, entrenching their dense talons into the walls to slither across its surface.
The hunter tightened his fists in his readied stance and unfurled a thunderous bellow that ignited the electricity in the air. They were here. Driven by the insatiable and painful hunger that ate at their immortality—directed by the Revenant to unleash Armageddon on the huntsmen known as Damone.
To slay Damone Mascarelli was of little effort, a lackluster exertion that would cause a small ripple in the hope of humanity. To slay Damien Massacessi was an enigmatic endeavor; as impossible as surviving the coldness of outer space with an enclosed breath and a prayer. And Damien had just entered the arena—furious as the eternal flames of hell.
This Manuscript: © 2018 Legion Media LLC