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Chapter 1: Epitome

Posted by LoneWolf , 27 October 2006 · 1,149 views

So I've been gone from CBUB for a couple months now due to the fact that I moved recently and I am still getting settled in and adjusting to my new job.

Anyway, I've been writing this story I came up with out of nowhere one day while I was bored at work.

It's kind of a sci-fi/fantasy cross over (you know set so far in the future it seems like the past), with kind of a super-hero vibe in my opinion.

The basic theme is this girl is ressurected Jurassic Park style, but her consciousness is transfered into an android body with the specific purpose of killing this virus which has sort of taken over the world. From there it sort of dissolves into your standard fantasy fare... I appreciate any feedback I get!


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Chapter 1: Epitome



The mortal terror of seeing parked cars on the street as a blur as your pass by at over a hundred miles per hour, mixed with the fear of spending the rest of your life in a small cement room. Except, imagine you weren’t driving, you were running, and it wasn’t cops chasing you through a neighborhood…

A girl was experiencing that exact feeling, having come-to standing in an unfamiliar room, somewhat reminiscent of a hospital. A sense of relief like a fading adrenaline rush was washing through her body as she took in this strange place. She could feel her muscles still tense and her heart was pounding violently like she had just finished a desperate sprint.

She looked down at her hands as she struggled to recall this forgotten feeling. A wave of half-realization crossed her young, freckled face.

“How….? I’m… I’m alive?!” She whispered to herself.

She shook her head absent mindedly as she scanned her surroundings with puzzled interest. A large clean, white paneled room, flooded with a soft blue light emanating from various monitor arrays positioned economically about the room. She looked over at a far wall which held an oval shaped reflective surface. She was wearing a knee length medical gown as her only vestment. A high pitched whine of activating electrodes caught her ear and she saw a large monitor, close to where she had been standing when she assumed consciousness, come to life. Data began filling the blue screen, assorted figures and diagrams. She saw a cutaway model of her own body rotating in the center of the screen with various highlighted areas, connected by red lines to text boxes.

‘Enhancement subject’ read one of the prominent paragraphs. It detailed the process of which a subject had been selected. Memory cells retrieved from DNA sequences, genetically bound thoughts and images, tied to the subject, irremovable, always passed through blood to the next of kin.

She realized this was far beyond the capabilities of standard 21st century science. Where was she…?

With a slow building dread, memories began to return to her. Down near the bottom of a small hill a trail led through the tall grass to the edge of a forest. Something waited for her there at the trail’s end. She rounded a tree and saw first a hand outstretched, shaking as if it belonged to a puppet and someone were yanking its strings. Her fear deepened as the scene came into sight. A trio of large black wolves, their muzzles smeared with red blood, a gutted corpse lay between them as they ravenously tore out and swallowed fresh, steaming entrails from the mutilated torso. She looked down at the blank, black eyes of the body as they stared up at her, with a cold shock in her blood and a feeling like a kick in the gut she realized she was looking at her own face…

She shuddered and put her arms across her chest. Somehow she was still alive and in this strange place. A robotic voice made her jump with a start.

“I realize you are unaware of what your current situation and status is… Would you like clarification?”

She spun around, her eyes wide and mouth open to face a newcomer to the chamber. It was a large, somewhat lanky, bipedal, metallic-skinned humanoid. ‘A robot’ is what immediately came to her mind. It was elegantly crafted and smooth limbed, agile and fluid in its movement, far from the stuttering awkward mechanicals of her recollection. A single-edged, lance-like weapon was resting on the being’s back, and its eyes glowed with the same soft blue light as the screens in the chamber.

She answered the machine with a nod and a wary look in her eye.

The machine continued. “You are a unique and experimental weapon system. Combining great offensive capabilities with an unassuming exterior design; your primary function is as an infiltrator, doing maximum damage at the enemy’s most vital point.”

The machine paused and gestured towards the screen behind the young girl, then continued speaking.

“Your memories, look and personality were derived from fossilized DNA sequences.”

The screen changed and showed a familiar blue-green orb floating in a starry field. It zoomed in to show a mostly red shaded continental breakdown, familiar to what she remembered learning in high school. No country borders were visible however.

She shook her head and offered a query.

“I suppose there are no more countries in this –future- world huh? Tell me where am I and what -year- is it?”

The machine paused then spoke.

“It has been thirty-nine thousand, three hundred and twenty-five years since your death…”

She stared blankly and he continued to speak.

“The world you knew is gone and the one that replaced it, gone as well. The entire history of mankind as you knew it lasted only just over five thousand years. Fast adapting, hyper-evolved viruses destroyed most of your race initially. The ones who survived were warped and altered into what were called ‘The Abhorrent’. They multiplied in number and soon dominated all other forms of life on this planet. They embodied the worst traits of a callous, sadistic humanity; bringing centuries of torturous existence to other sentient life out of sheer malicious joy. Then, The Judge arose and out of necessity for balance brought about a race of peacekeepers, tasked with undoing the immense harm the Abhorrent had wrought. They warred for many centuries but their foes were cunning and devised horrendous weapons to afflict the peacekeepers with all manner of blight, pain, plague and other curses. The Judge took the survivors into hiding and stripped them of their weakness-their flesh. Their consciousnesses were fused with nanotech CPUs capable of storing and accessing every facet and idiosyncrasy that made each one unique and individual.”

The creature before her gazed at her as a teacher might after giving a student a plainly obvious trick question.

“Yes, you and I have much in common. However you represent the pinnacle of our current capabilities. Your creation sapped our resources greatly. You are composed of sub-nanotech, radiological-aligned carbon molecules. It took enough electrical energy to power an empire for a thousand years to properly fuse and align your power core. Its function is to draw slight amounts of kinetic energy from the constant gravitational pull that your 2.3 metric ton chassis creates. This kinetic energy is effectively unlimited as long as the core does not decay; a lifespan of 1.2 million years. The draw is balanced and can be consciously altered at your will, changing your effective weight if need be. The more rapidly gravitational energy is absorbed, the lighter you will become; likewise, ceasing this absorption effectively increases your weight to its natural maximum. This stored energy can be used to increase speed or kinetically thrust yourself with extreme force in a given direction. Other than your disproportionate density and thus weight, you are nearly identical biological facsimile of a teenage human female. Built up kinetic charge can be released through an emitter built into the palm of your left hand. An electronic charge ionizes the air, guiding the kinetic energy to target with enough force to shatter a meter-thick cement wall. After releasing such a charge it will take approximately 300 seconds to build power levels up to maximum force. Your synaptic pathways have been organized and enhanced for maximum efficiency. You will find that you can now learn, analyze and reason logically at a vastly increased rate. Your eyes have 9 various vision modes allowing you to pick up radio traffic, all light spectrums, X-ray, telescopic sight and can analyze sound patterns, translating them into an effective 360 degree vision not limited by physical obstacles. Your strength is proportionate to your new density level, you will find it far in excess of what your previous limitations were. Your reflexes have been kinetically enhanced...”

In mid word the robot’s bladed lance appeared in his hand and was suddenly screaming toward her face. She knew that he had drawn it with the intent of attacking her and her vision had become red-tinted the instant he had reached for it. She knew that it had taken 0.28 seconds for the deadly blade to reach its current position; 6 centimeters from her neck. Her body flew back with blurred speed, propelled by internal kinetic energy and she realized she was crouching on a wall perpendicular to the floor. A gentle flow of kinesis was pressing her snugly to the wall and she realized she felt no disorientation at this sudden change in perspective. The red glow had changed to a yellow and translucent subtext slowly scrolled across the bottom of her vision, indication weapon present and drawn, however not a current threat. She instinctively pointed her left hand at the menacing figure and a crackle of blue electricity jumped out into the spot where he had been standing. He had moved with equally incredible speed and the blue tinged bolt struck a sliding door with a crack, tearing to shreds and leaving a smoking, ragged hole.

“You need to control the intensity of your offensive output. A charge one 10th of that size would have been sufficient to disable an opponent, now you have expended your current charge for the time being, allowing me to do this…”

She felt cold, metallic fingers grab her neck and she went flying toward the shattered door, too low on kinesis to slow the powerful momentum. She crashed through the ruined door and rolled out sprawled on the ground. She realized she was unharmed and instantly snapped to her feet. She was aware that her power was now slowly refilling and that she could once again move at a vastly enhanced rate.

The mechanical figure emerged from the tattered door frame, weapon slung across his back once more and the yellow edges to her vision faded. His hands were held open in a non-threatening manner as if to call for an end to his brief demonstration.

“The Judge sought to repair the damage done in the past. He has brought anew your lost race from oblivion. There are quite few at this present time, they were given minimal knowledge, horticulture, basic carpentry and minor medical instruction. This was done without revealing our existence. Their colony is under our safekeeping, yes… Yours and mine… As you have guessed I am alone, like you. The Judge has been lost for centuries in extremely elaborate evolutionary and technological scenario construction. His last action was the execution of the program that caused your existence. As you might have guessed, there is a great task at hand that requires your attention!”

She shook her head back and forth absent mindedly as she took this knowledge in.

“Task? Well… Let’s hear it I guess…” She raised her eyebrows.

“The dominant species on this planet is now currently what it was long ago predicted to be; A highly evolved virus. Imagine a microscopic hive mind with a malicious, predatory sentience… one that seeks to corrupt, harm and destroy all over life for amusement and to feed off of. It was long ago dubbed ‘The Epitome’, as in… ‘The Epitome of Evil’. Its first stages of infection cause madness in the host, decay of the flesh, feverish strength and uncontrollable aggression and desire to spread the sickness. After a few days, the skin breaks open and sickly excretions cover the flesh, hardening into a chitinous dermal layer. The host’s mass then swells as they consume dead flesh of victims and the brain atrophies to the point where its sole purpose is to receive neural impulses from the virus. Typically they are sent out on a sort of ‘autopilot’ if you will, seeking other humans or animals to infect further. The destruction of the tissue is irreversible after 2 days; this is currently the greatest threat to life on this planet. Your highly evolved, non-biological make-up is impervious to infection. However the virus can adapt with amazing speed, often causing clouds of corrosive gas, liquids and extreme temperatures or even altering weather patterns in sufficient concentration. The Epitome is the final evolution of evil. The most extreme malevolent, corrupting and destructive force to ever exist; a being of pure sickness and corruption, the incarnation of pain and darkness… The purpose of your existence, mandated by The Judge to restore this world once again to its nature balance, is to eradicate this Epitome from all existence!”

Her brown eyes sparkled as she contemplated the weight of her situation.

“That’s what you’re telling me right? Wow… uh… Okay so… where do I start?”

The robotic being spoke slowly.

“Tell me your name.”

“My name…” She thought for a moment. “Elizabeth. Elizabeth Lancaster”

“Good, now Elizabeth, as you have reasoned by now, I am here to guide you for the time being. My name is Kron and I will instruct you for a short time period on threats you will face and how to properly respond to each...”

She followed the robotic being as he led her through a series of passageways, finally ending with a massive metallic wall. It slid open and a harsh red glare blazed through from the sky outside. The feeling she got was as if it were a film of a sunrise that had been paused. Kron led her along a rough path across the rocky, arid ground as she examined the surrounding area. A mountainous valley encircling a low forest in the midst, a few lines could be seen cut in the jagged cliff faces and she realized these were passes leading out of this strange refuge. She could effortlessly take in every detail from a distance, her eyes just focused and the far distant became clearly visible.

Kron lead her into a rugged clearing down a small hill into what looked like the ramshackle ruins of a cluster of small huts by a barren field.

“Prepare yourself to receive great knowledge, I warn you though, this will not be easy at first…” He reached across his back for his blade once again…

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3 days later:

“I see that I can still sweat... I wouldn’t mind if you had removed that…”

“The sweat you are expelling through your pores serves to renew your dermal layer, restoring any minor damage or cosmetic flaws.”

Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “I actually already knew that…” She sighed.

The past few days had been filled with grueling and intense mock combat and stealth training exercises. She had been instructed on the capabilities of prospective opponents. Her brow was beaded with droplets of non-organic sweat, repairing invisible fractures in the skin before being reabsorbed. Her light chestnut hair was tied back in a ponytail and she wore a loose fitting white tunic.

She was receiving a lecture interspersed with sudden demonstrative attacks.

“And you can see that once mass is sufficient, it is actually easier to remove what is not needed from the whole to create the desired object, rather than to attempt to create anew. Much as a sculptor would remove unwanted sections of marble to achieve a shape of a human body, sub-atomic engineering removes unneeded particles to achieve a working, functional mass.”

Elizabeth’s attention suddenly shifted from the lecture; the seemingly meaningless arbitrary topic droned on as is to divert her attention from her surrounding… She realized that this was actually an exercise in awareness. Thirty yards behind her something moved and her acute senses made out a bipedal shape moving at high speed towards her. A lumbering, behemoth, humanoid form towered over her from suddenly from behind. A 10-foot tall, grotesque, yellow-skinned living atrocity; it held a jagged obsidian cutting wedge some 3 feet wide and 8 feet long. She reasoned that the beast had most likely been allowed to enter the training area, from which she knew they normally were kept at bay, guided along by automated barriers.

“Be wary... their immensity belies their cunning and their lethal agility… Now you face your first Abhorrent!”

The sneering, drooling mouth held jagged rows of teeth and its bloodshot eyes and flattened face revolted her sensibilities. It chuckled slowly as it surveyed the scene. A smaller and weaker armored human and the helpless female he was no doubt trying to shelter. He would kill the man for food, but merely break the female’s spine, paralyzing her.

“Conserve your energy… Learn the patterns of his attack!”

The loathsome ogre reached out to grab her head in his left hand but she vanished as his hand was closing around his prize. He looked around bewildered, humans normally cowered and accepted their fate, this young mouse was proving to be troublesome. She stood palms open in front of her, just out of his reach. The slow-witted beasts didn’t have particularly good reasoning abilities, or impulse control. He hefted his enormous black sword and spun in backwards in a 360 degree arc, attempting to cleave the young girl in half at her midsection. Her vision showed a diagram of the predictable attack and highlighted several vulnerable areas open to counter attack. Instead, she ducked diagonally downward, evading the razor edge and struck the flat of the brittle obsidian blade soundly and sharply with the palm of her hand, increasing the brisance of the blow with a measure of kinesis.

Predictably, the glass-like sword snapped cleanly and the majority portion spun off to slice through a tree trunk before burying itself in the moist earth. Her right hand lashed out with invisible speed, fingers pressed together into a knife hand, and stuck the beast’s inner right knee with tremendous, focused force. The creature roared in pain and toppled to his knees, furious and shocked at the bewildering turn if the tables. She nimbly leapt aside and her hands came together on its lumpy, bloated neck. Her right bursting its esophagus and her left rupturing a high disc in its spine. She felt no reason to show mercy to this horrible thing. She knew exactly what it had planned to do with her once it had her helpless and paralyzed. Now it gasped and convulsed, suffocating and itself paralyzed and helpless.

Her mentor spoke in a low tone.

“Do the right thing… end its suffering!”

She nodded, she didn’t enjoy inflicting pain and this suffering was merely to show the beast the wrongness of the harm it sought to inflict, that its mind couldn’t otherwise comprehend. She raised her left hand and a blue crackle jumped from her fingertips. Intense kinetic force stuck the skull like a massive sledgehammer, exploding the beasts head with a thud and a scarlet spray.

“Killing these creatures is necessary to avenge their countless past atrocities, it is justified and will bring about the balance that this world needs. This was a lesser Abhorrent and in a form that you would not find overwhelming to gaze upon. There are some who’s hideous appearance would still likely affect you…”

Kron let this sink in before continuing.

“Sometimes the opposite is true.. Sometimes they appear as merely a sick human in need of aid. You judgment and commitment will be greatly tested and sometimes you will need to make tough choices. This brings me to a pressing matter which has waited for far too long. We have lost contact with a small stronghold of survivors a few hundred miles from this location. They are a modest monarchy, calling their kingdom the Bastion of Faith. Our remote sensory have confirmed detection of contagion among the populace. You must travel there with the greatest expediency and salvage what is left of our precious seed, the people themselves. Slay the corrupted ones, bring the uncontaminated survivors to another stronghold, the capital city Paragorn, this one vastly more secure, located a day’s travel to the East. I will keep in contact with you, however I may not accompany you... my purpose is as an instructor… and my survival is imperative should you fail or be destroyed…”

Kron lead her to a nearby building where several horses were kept stabled. He gave her the reins of a stout beast and a bundle of brown cloth. She unrolled it to find that it was a large cloak and contained a short bladed weapon and half a dozen small devices she recognized as grenades.

“Be cautious in their usage, they ignite the air in a 5 meter radius, at a temperature around 15,000 degrees. Remember the importance of saving as many lives as you can. Subtlety and awareness are more important than brute strength or destruction…”

Elizabeth nodded and donned the cloak, placing the items in a large pouch at her hip.

“Even with these weapons, don’t forget… you ability to learn will be you most dangerous tool to our foes, many things have changed since your era… What was though impossible is now reality, many ancient arts and forgotten knowledge have emerged... Some of which would aid us greatly…”

Elizabeth smiled and waved to the robotic teacher as she left the clearing and the mountain and its passes loomed before her.

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They have not been infected by it… However their evil thoughts and desires draw its touch to them, they use it to warp and alter their surroundings in very unusual ways.

Elizabeth had stopped along the dusty winding road which climbed the thickly wooded hill she found herself now ascending. The grey, sinewy trees and clumps of brush obscured her sight beyond around 50 meters where she could use sound waves to see through the solid obstructions. She had stopped due to a strange feeling, which after a moment’s analysis indicated a high concentration of airborne biological matter.

“The virus…”

Audible motion became apparent and she realized that it was coming from both in front and behind her along side of the road, from the dense, dry vegetation. She had learned some basic communication patterns that would be found in populated areas of the world and a familiar tone caught her, as she began translating it.

“Just… a girl… <conveyed amusement> some fun shall we? Lost from a village? You worry too much… She is ALONE I tell you!”

Four men emerged on either side of her from their camouflaged nests in the brush. Elizabeth’s hand moved to the blade at her hip, a short cutlass, it would be the most efficient means of defense considering how little she knew of these men, other than their obvious ill intentions.

One stepped out in front of the others, his hair was long and grey and his face twisted by an ugly scowl. The lead man held his left hand out in a warding gesture in front of him, while his right unsheathed a gleaming blade. She noticed a massive displacement in the air between them and faster than even her highly advanced sensed could take in, the man was standing a mere 3 feet from her, his sword embedded deeply in the throat of her horse.

‘How did that just happen? There was no way a human could move like that… it was as if he had literally teleported’ She thought to herself.

She reasoned that blindly attacking a powerful and unknown opponent might not be the best idea; feigning helplessness would perhaps give her more of an advantage and possibly some insight into these strange assailants.

The sneering man pulled the blade from the shocked horse’s neck and a scarlet stream shot out. The horse faltered then collapsed to the dusty earth as Elizabeth nimbly leapt aside and came to rest in a feigned sprawl.

She mimicked their verbal patterns as best she could with her limited experience. “Please stop! You killed my horse!!! What do you want? Why are you doing this?”

The lead man chuckled to himself in a low rough tone. “We do what we please… You are nothing more than a fresh piece of meat for me and my men, now shut your mewling mouth!”

His boot lashed out towards her face, this time at a speed that was very much human, thus very much within her ability to dodge. Her flesh was more than 40 times as dense as human tissue, yet it reacted the same to blows, with the exception of being immensely more durable. She calculated a perfect reaction, appropriate to one that was expected by the ruthless and brutal man. The blood couldn’t be faked; however, they didn’t seem all that observant. She merely sprawled out with a groan and lay motionless.

They roughly tore away her pouch containing the grenades, then after rummaging through it and not finding any items to their liking, discarded it onto the roadside. The subordinates drew hacking blades and began carving up the horse carcass, gutting it and removing the head. They picked up the bloodied chunks gleefully and tied them to their backs with strands of tough twine. Elizabeth’s absorption countered the normal gravitational pull with a steady upward kinetic lift, effectively simulating the weight appropriate to her appearance. As one of the brutes roughly grabbed her, she slumped slightly to the side and her arms flailed out, swiftly palming one of the small explosives, and discretely sliding it into her waistband. She was thrown over the back of one of the scavengers and they began loping along a twisting, hidden trail.

Along the way she could clearly make out back and forth chatter between her captors.

“Can you believe Tholgor? I tell ya, if he didn’t have that… thing on his side, making him so high and mighty, I wouldn’t be carrying this mess on my back… he’d be at my feet beggin’ ta to do his fair share!”

“And did you hear, he says he’s keeping the girl for himself… The first fresh face I’ve seen in months... something about this one, I’d damn slit his throat in a second if he wasn’t our tribe’s favored one…”

Fear of the leader’s power was what kept these savage men in line, that and that alone. If she could only discover the roots of his power… then a passage of text from the annals of recent history came suddenly to her. The detectable virus was present in the air, yet none of the men showed signs of infection, however it influenced their thoughts and gave –some- a reward for their obedience.

One of the larger men growled angrily, covered in blood and sweat and lagging behind the group... the other’s words had brought him to a boiling point and his repressed anger and desires had got the better of his limited judgment.

“I’ll be damned if that greasy rat gets to rut with that fresh meat before I do… I should have been first chosen... I’ve always been stronger than him!”

He had whispered to himself, below the ability of his companion’s ears to make out, however Elizabeth could clearly understand each word. She knew a struggle was about to take place.

The larger man threw his meat from his back with a hiss and drew a crude dagger in his bearish left hand. He sprinted toward the leader who’s attention was still focused on Elizabeth, deep in twisted thought. It was as if someone had physically tapped him on the shoulder as a warning, because he spun about with ample time to see the beastly brute’s charge.

“What?! You dare test my power? Me? Tholgor, the Favored One? Excellent, this will be a fine demonstration… to keep the rest of you mongrels in line!”

He raised his hand and the larger man’s sprint changed to a labored walk as he clutched his chest in pain. Corrosive molecules had formed in the air inside his lungs and robbed him of his breath. He choked and sputtered and began convulsing where he stood. His skin gushed sweat, then blood and a copious shower of partially dissolved internal organs, blood and bilious liquid sprayed from his wide open mouth in a revolting fountain. His features swelled and distorted and he began to shake and thrash about. The leader smiled a wide, extremely pleased grin and took in the shocked expressions of the other lackeys. He held his hand open palm towards his own face… then suddenly clenched it into a fist. The grotesque victim’s skin ruptured with powerful force and his remaining internal organs spewed out onto the soiled ground. The leader was suddenly standing next to the afflicted man and with a hard kick, tore the torso from the hips sending it flying into the underbrush with a loud and joyful laugh.

‘So they DID have reason to be afraid… But did she?’ Elizabeth wondered to herself about the limits of these terrifying powers.

The gloating leader barked out a harsh command in his guttural tongue and the remaining men fell over themselves to get back in line and began their march with much renewed vigor.

After another 20 minutes, the covered pathway opened into a clearing spotted with various wooden poles, and across it to the far side lay a large cave mouth set in a cliff face. By the plentiful ambient noise reflecting from the landscape, Elizabeth quickly gained her bearing and realized the cave was in fact the tribe’s dwelling.

The party leader entered the cave ahead of the rest of the party and loudly proclaimed his success. Elizabeth was thrown in a heap with the rest of the foul spoils and she could hear loud cries and squabbling among the filthy denizens. The leader gave a harsh bark for silence and a gesture with his hand. Elizabeth was roughly lifted from the meat pile and brought deeper into the cave. A trailing procession of elders followed the 2 large men carrying her with the raiding party leader at the forefront.

Without her deep level of computerized memory Elizabeth would have been disoriented and lost within minutes. The procession silently marched deeper and deeper though dripping, blackened rock tunnels; the sides of which were sticky with congealed residue of an unknown source.

After another 10 minutes of steady travel they entered a subterranean cavern housing a deep black pool. Her senses couldn’t lock onto exactly what was contained in the pool as its form kept shifting and moving, like a mass of tiny insects. She realized that it was actually a mass of pure, seething virulence; a loathsome pool of devouring, bacterial rot. Apparently their connection with the Epitome drove them to feed this liquid plague with captured innocents… condemning them to an unspeakable death, yet sparing the tribe the ravages of infection.

Tholgor gave a command and many of the procession retreated back up the tunnel from which they had come, not worthy of the privilege of witnessing the foul ritual. Only five of the elders remained along with the two large workers carrying her limp body. The leader grinned widely and opened his arms, to which the elders seemed to show great happiness.

Elizabeth had seen and learned enough. Who knows what effect the concentrated virus would have on her, it would at the very least be nearly impossible to clean off; potentially infecting anyone she came in close contact with, even if she herself was immune. Those who had been forcibly carried to this miserable hell-hole and eaten alive would be redeemed today. She released a portion of the upward kinetic thrust affecting her body, bringing her weight to a much less portable 800 kilograms. The 2 men carrying her grunted in surprise and released with girl who now felt as if she were molded from solid lead. Elizabeth landed nimbly and thrust outwards with the fingertips of both hands, flawlessly striking vital points, and the two men who had been carrying her were already dead on their feet before her captors had seen her touch the ground.

Elizabeth grabbed a dagger from the belt of one of the standing corpses before he toppled to the ground with a thud. She whipped across the room like a dart, hovering a few inches above the floor, propelled by a strong kinetic push. The gathering of leering old men had been awaiting their chance to defile this young sacrifice and they were no doubt surprised to see her in their midst, hands blurred as the dagger flashed back and forth across sections of their withered, elderly bodies. Red streaks appeared across vital nerve bundles or main arteries and a criss-cross of red mist and spurting blood spattered their shocked faces as they gargled and died, choking on their own heart-blood. In another 10th of a second she had spun and taken deadly accurate aim at the grey-haired leader, who apparently was fully aware of what was now occurring. His body seemed to have swollen slightly and his eyes bulged from his face, he twitched erratically like a flickering flame and beckoned towards the young woman as her arm whipped back, then forward - releasing the dagger hurling towards his heart…

The ‘teleportation’ she had seen earlier was being enacted again before her eyes, yet on a much smaller scale. He seemed to rapidly shift positions a few feet apart every split second. She realized that this was space itself being warped, in order to give this illusion. The dagger screamed towards him with enough force to slam him back across the rest of the room, however, she was aware with her hyper senses that it had began to decay materially the instant it had left her fingertips. Halfway between the two figures, the dagger was no more than a collection of rusty flakes. The speed at which the decay had occurred indicated some sort of temporal influence being exerted by the graying leader. A cloud of ferrous dust washed across his scowling face and he blinked once or twice and then assumed the familiar confident sneer she had seen during the previous confrontation.

Elizabeth knew that to face a foe that could warp time meant that she would need to act with near instantaneous speed, planning and reacting while in motion. She anticipated his attack as she saw him grin and emitted a short range electro-kinetic pulse from her left hand, forming a bright, sphere-shaped blue flash in a 5 foot radius around her body. It came at a costly expenditure of energy, yet she was relieved as the man appeared next to her in the midst of the instantaneous flash, sword raised to deal her a crippling strike. The impact of the transferred energy would have splattered a human like a ripe tomato thrown hard against a wall. However he merely gasped out, as if punched in the solar plexus, the mix of surprise and impact disconnecting his accelerated though process momentarily.

The emitter on her left palm was used to transfer her energy to distant targets via electrically ionized air trails, however it wasn’t necessary within arm’s reach. The first 2 fingers on her right hand lashed out and struck him squarely in the Adam’s Apple, intending this to be a piercing and fatal blow directly through the lower skull into the brain stem. However the flesh she struck was like solid oak wood, hard and knotted and unyielding; still he felt the blow and his eyes bugged out from his face as his oxygen passage collapsed.

She took advantage of his shocked state and leapt back, just out of reach of his blade’s swing. She expended all but a fraction of her remaining energy in a desperate bid to damage this horribly resilient creature. A thick, blue bolt snapped out and struck his face with the impact of a locomotive engine condensed into the area no larger than a tea saucer.

The graying man’s head jerked back, doubling his body over at the waist as several teeth and a thin strand of blood flew from his open mouth. He staggered back shakily, obviously shocked and disoriented by the concussive blows. His ankle caught the low edge of the shallow basin and he tumbled backward into the seething pool. His body was immediately cocooned in thick black strands of acidic gel and he thrashed for a few seconds before sinking fully into the depths, leaving only a patch of bubbles as a trace.

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief and turned back towards the exit. Perhaps she could locate other survivors being held for…

A mild chuckle interrupted her thoughts. “I just wanted to say ‘Thank You’. Whatever you did to me, that actually -Hurt-, but I am feeling a lot better now after my little… bubble bath…”

The horrible, dripping figure stood bolt up-right from the pool and unleashed an unholy, glass-shattering shriek from its malformed maw. Viscous threads of the oily sinew writhed like jittery spider-webs, formed from the sickly, glistening pool.

Moving faster than this creature, now that he was fully aware of her potential, seemed an unlikely course of action. She stood there shaking and horrified at the undying, malevolent force before her. Surely she should just give up and die, it seemed like the only thing she could do. In actuality she activated the 5 second timer on the grenade at her belt with a tap of her finger.

“Come... To… Me!” The loathsome being raised its right arm, fingers outstretched and threads of black ichor shot out sinking into her cloak and yanking her towards him. She ripped away from her cloak and cut out her core’s gravitational draw momentarily; causing her to drop like a rock flat against the stone floor. The humanoid smiled and discarded the cloak to the side with a low chuckle, “We still want to play games do we? Hmm hmm hmm…”

A searing burst of blue light and high pitched whine filled the small chamber. Elizabeth flung herself up and backward as hard as she could, propelled by the blast of superheated, compressed air and minimizing the damaging resistance to the shockwave. All oxygen in the room had been consumed by the intense ignition, this having the fortunate side-effect of also sterilizing any biological matter. As she flew back Elizabeth was aware of the figure still standing there, his entire outer hide seared and turned to a hard, white ash by the combustion. No more than 6/10ths of a second after the grenade had exploded, the entrance to the chamber collapsed, sealing the passage between Elizabeth and her still-staring assailant.

In the instant before visual contact ceased she could still detect the steady heartbeat of the creature. ‘Could -anything- kill this awful being?’ She wondered as she sprinted back up the tunnel, guided unerringly by stored coordinates. Her body had sustained minor damage, yet nothing that would impair her as of yet. Her velocity and momentum allowed her to run up on the roughly hewn walls as she negotiated the twisting tunnel at a speed of 30 meters per second. A hundred meters further and she leapt without warning out into a small crowd of the savage tribe, descending the passage, curious about the disruption they had heard. Low on energy, Elizabeth merely stuck the two armed guards unconscious with a high spinning kick and continued at her breakneck pace.

She used the echoing cries that followed in her wake to audibly map out the area ahead. Apparently, after a fork in the tunnel, a storage area of a fashion could be found off to her right. She rolled to a crouched halt and cautiously entered into the dimly lit chamber.

Various scavenged valuables, weapons and worthless junk lay heaped in a chaotic arrangement around the room. Across a small decline was a pit walled by a thick layer of sharpened poles. She could detect movement, along with copious amounts of biological decay, from within the pit. She came closer and peered over the edge. A teenage boy clothed in tattered rags sat hunched among a carpet of bones and rotting cadavers. He was gaunt, yet muscular and his scalp was clean shaven except a long bleached-white lock of hair hanging over his right eye. His left eye was surrounded by an ornate and unnatural looking, circle-shaped tattoo composed of many jagged lines. He had a blank, glazed expression in his eyes and she noticed that the deceased victims had fallen in a circle around the youth, yet none near him.

“You aren’t one of them! I am so hungry... have you come to bring me food?”

Elizabeth pondered this strange situation. Was this youth some sort of demonic plague carrier? How was he the only surviving human in the cave and not killed by the tribe?

“What... Are you?” The boy looked up at her and slowly, weakly rose to his feet. “Please... I need to go escape this… place!”

The boy’s teeth clenched with great effort and his pupils turned from black to a searing white. He slowly straightened out and his feet rose from the ground, inch by inch. He shook from exertion as his emaciated body rose up out of the pit and collapsed in front of Elizabeth, exhausted to the core. He whispered something to her. “They can’t see me, take me… out, they won’t see you... either!” The boy was suffering from malnutrition and dehydration, yet the display she had witnessed convinced her that he was likely telling the truth; it would explain how he had survived after all this time.

Elizabeth made a hasty search of the room for any items that she might find useful in the near future. She looked down at her ripped tunic and noticed a gash in the skin on her abdomen, exposing the synthetic muscle beneath the tissue. Translucent blue fluid filled the wound, bonding and repairing the damage at a visible rate. A nasty cut like this might take an hour to seal.

Elizabeth assembled a hasty harness from some of the sharp poles and some luxurious cloth, no doubt plundered from an unfortunate and wealthy victim. She glanced over at the boy, who at last seemed to have faded into unconsciousness.

Next, she rummaged through a few sets of serviceable outfits, until settling on a hooded fine mesh coif and baldric, sheathed in a white tabard and emblazoned with an unfamiliar green star emblem. Lifting a massive oaken strongbox, she came across a large 2 handed cleaving sword, the tip flared out and rounded, designed to be a hacking weapon. She drew it out of the heap it had been thrust into and gave it a quick whirl about her head. The light-weight, dull-grey blade showed fine craftsmanship and was composed of an advanced material, which she guessed to be some sort of carbon fiber. The upper blade near the elaborate crossbar was strongly magnetized, allowing the flat of the blade to simply be slapped across the back of a metallic chest piece, its low weight sticking it firmly in place. Now she had a worthy blade to match against that of the abomination she had recently fought, if their paths ever crossed again.

A sudden thought then flashed through her head. This boy needed food! She couldn’t even remember the last time she had eaten, as seeking nourishment was no longer part of her non-biological existence. She needed to hurry and find something edible, or rescuing this boy might be in vain. Also the tribe was sure to be looking for her and might burst in at any minute. This was a store-room after all; there must be some kind of salted meat kept stocked for the harsh winters. She cracked open a barrel and found it filled with a salty gel packed with small fish. She scooped a large portion of the fish into a smaller, more portable watertight leather bag and heaved the harness up over her shoulders.

The boy was perhaps 17 or 18, near the age she had been when she had perished among those dimly lit fir trees… She shook off the haunting, faded ancestral memories. The boy’s gaunt frame weighed no more than 60 kilos, nothing to make her break her stride in the slightest; however, the harness provided protection against additional injuries that could be incurred due to his weakened state.

Elizabeth crept through the passage ways leading back to the mouth of the cave. Although she was encumbered by her bulky cargo, she still managed to move in near silence.

As daylight became visible, streaming in from the field outside, the boy in the harness moaned and appeared to shake slightly as if yearning to wake up and flee into the open air. A pair of muscular and raggedly dressed guards armed with crude spears turned at the noise and immediately spotted the crouching young girl. Apparently they COULD, in fact, see her; contrary to the delirious boy’s ramblings... Although she could simply flee to safety at speeds far faster than any pursuer could hope to catch, she calculated the odds of her passenger’s survival and they seemed to be rather slim…

Elizabeth quickly un-slung the harness carrying the unconscious youth and she leapt forward in an astonishing burst of speed, drawing the blade from her back in a fluid movement and with one continuous cleaving swipe, brought the razor-edge cleanly through the shocked guard’s torsos at chest level. Another guard, perhaps 50 feet away to her left, gave a shout as the severed halves of the men in front of her began to peel apart and topple to the floor in a thick crimson fountain. The third guard raised a javelin in his hand and drew it back behind his shoulder, preparing to launch it with a trained eye. Before the projectile could leave his clenched fist, a bolt struck him squarely in the chest with the crushing force of a battering ram, sending him hurling bodily through the air to land twitching on the dusty ground.

She grabbed up the harness once again and rapidly made her way along the cliff face, aware of a few staring onlookers. They wouldn’t matter, as none of them seemed to be warriors eager for a chase. Once she reached the first few trees at the edge of the clearing and the onlookers faded from view, she relaxed her pace to a steady lope.

Elizabeth pressed on through the forest in the direction she had originally been travelling. The loss of her horse wasn’t a great setback, but now that she had another in her care, she reflected that it would have been very useful in her present situation. She halted near a small stream and gathered up some water, slowly pouring it into the mouth of the parched boy, careful not to accidently suffocate him. He moaned again and slowly opened his eyes and gave a ragged cough.

“Wha… Am I? …Home?”

Elizabeth shook her head and he looked around at his new, green surroundings with a disbelieving expression. Elizabeth produced some of the salted fish and held it out for the boy.

“Here, you should eat… We are still a few days from any village and if you don’t eat something you might not make it…”

His eyes opened wider and he grabbed a fistful of the small fish and devoured them greedily.

“Take some more… it looks like it has been a while since you last ate... Why don’t you tell me your name?”

The boy mumbled through a stuffed mouth. “Mmmm… name’s Bastian... and...” He looked up at her fully in the face for what seemed to be the first time.

Elizabeth read his expression to be one of bashful shock. He wiped his oil smeared face on his sleeve and shakily rose to his feet.

His face turned red as he looked over his tattered remains of clothing before staring once again at Elizabeth and giving an awkward bow.

“Um… eh… a pleasure to meet you… uh… my lady!”

Elizabeth smiled almost imperceptibly at the young man’s bashfulness. “You can call me Elizabeth... and likewise!”

Bastian continued to eat, reciting his tale of how he and his party had been ambushed on the highway by the murderous tribe, ending with their deaths and his harrowing survival through strength of will.

“I come from a long bloodline of sacred warriors, we are known as the Knights of Mercy! Only certain noble families are allowed to enter our ranks… You see, well my father is… um well… he is the King…”

Bastian’s voice dropped slightly and he explained this in a matter-of-fact manner with a slightly desperate air.

“I must return to tell him of the grave news, his senior marshal is numbered among the dead and he must know of the now grave threat these marauders pose to our kingdom itself!”

“The king is your father…?” Elizabeth paused seeing the young knight’s carefully concealed desperation and continued “We have quite a journey ahead if you wish to see your home and family and, let us not forget that we are very likely being pursued as well...”

Bastian straightened up suddenly and thrust his chin out. “Yes, that may be so... however a true Knight of Mercy will always prevail, no matter what task lies before him!” He dusted himself off and surveyed his new surroundings, then looked back at Elizabeth with a hopeful look.

“You wouldn’t have happened to have come across any of my armor or my sword when you… ehhhh... found me?” She shook her head much to his disappointment.

”As tragic as the loss of my blade is… I am still far from unarmed.” Bastian explained, “You see, my family has passed down great secrets to me, you might have seen a small measure of what I can do… ANY-ways… I believe we shall reach our destination with little to fear along the way!”

He glanced down at his bruised flesh covered with welt and scratches. He closed his eyes tightly and brought his hands together, fingers interlocked as if praying. A slight sound like distant, faintly chiming music could be heard. Color returned to the young prince’s face and many of the larger wounds spontaneously faded to mere reddish marks on his skin. The healing powers of this young knight were indeed impressive to Elizabeth, who, despite her vast catalogue of scientific knowledge, was completely unaware of any similar phenomena.

Bastian spoke in a much more relaxed tone. “I feel… greatly renewed!”

He opened his eyes and looked at Elizabeth’s face, then down and to the side before carefully speaking again, “I would hope that you plan on accompanying me, I think our odds will be much better if we do not travel alone…”

“What good would you do me….hmmm? I think you might just slow me down!” Elizabeth replied with a flat and uncaring shrug. Then smiled and shook her head. The shocked, bleakly disappointed expression of the young knight caused her roll her eyes and laugh.

“Come on now… You think I’d carry you all that way and just leave you like that? After all that work, my back is _Killing_ me!” She joked; of course, this wasn’t true.

The prince’s destination was less than an hour’s ride from Elizabeth’s own and she rationalized the detour, “I can give warning about the plague to this kingdom once I finish this escort, the small added time will save many more lives…”

With her mind made up she pushed through the forest leading the lean young knight as he wearily marched, still convalescing from his long ordeal in the caves.




December 2017

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