This is a piece of work I did ageas ago I should look to fix at some point maybe, copying it from word seems to have made it go very wonky. Also was done for nanowrimo so ultra wonky.
A dark street - lit by a sole, flickering, overhanging halogen street lamp - a half-dozen other loom broken bulbs long since dead. A clash in the dark: metal on something dull-sounding. A low, rumbling growl followed by a quick, sharp shout - a word barely pronounceable - as a figure leapt out of an alleyway. Eye could barely make out the human form in the gloom, as another, larger, globular form slithered after it.
Flashing sliver of a blade flashed from the first figure, towards the hulking lump. A strike, a squelching sound, as the blade drew back, covered in gore. A growl and a flurry of projectiles as the first figure leapt and tumbled towards the solitary lamp, high-rises confining the movement. A straight street, alleys, buildings, a solitary source of light, a girl. The large lump lumbered towards her. Gore-covered teeth, yellow orbs mounted within wretched muscular tissue, covered in shimmering ooze.
A shimmering tattoo of some sort on her left hand, the girl adjusted her grip, refocusing her eyes under the new-found light - barely dodging another flurry of darts from the beast’s body. She winced and glanced down: blood - her own; staining her high-socks a dark black, the street light draining their natural colours. Fixing her eyes back on her opponent, she leapt forward again. Another unpronounceable utterance, then a circle: luminous blue appears as though from nowhere in mid-air, her foot effortlessly lands upon it at she bounds forth again, this time landing her blade point-first in the beast’s “head”. A grunt as she twists the blade and a gurgle from the thing, then she sighs - tension evaporating.
“Move in”. A voice. Armoured figures pour in. A man positioned on a roof stares through a sniper’s sight: the young white-haired girl clear in the reticule. Serene eyes. Squeezing the trigger, the girl is knocked back; she stumbles and then falls to the ground. A concussive round. The armoured figures pick her up as a man in a long white jacket that resembles a lab coat walks up to them and grabs the girl’s chin and raises her face.
“Pretty. Inform command we have located the package and that we’ll be returning to the Spire.” Soft-spoken and direct, the man turns to a group stood around the beast. “Clean that shit up.” “Yes Sir.” The group responded in unison. “This is pacification team zero four one, we have the package and are returning to the Spire.” The man grinned. Perfect white teeth. He observes the scene with grey eyes and short spiky blond hair, three pips on an overly-large collar.
“So. What have we learnt about Asylum so far?”
The teacher stood at the front of a reasonable-sized class room, her students a mixture of too pale for their ethnicity or soaked with fake tan, the odd one evidently affording a proper solar rejuvenator. Behind her was three-dimensional representation of Asylum: a large cityscape surrounded by vast wall. Disinterested teens stared emptily at their own computer displays, evidently attempting to ignore her attention.
“Alex, could you say something?” She selected a student, hazel eyes resting on a boy with dyed blond spiky hair. “The city is two hundred and eleven kilometres in diameter, Miss.” He answered, shuffling in his chair. “Good. Yes, the city is indeed two hundred and eleven kilometres in diameter, anything else? Anybody?” She looked around for another victim. “Inori?” A girl doing her nails looked up, doe-eyes blinking a moment. “Errrm, at the very centre is the Spire?”
“That’s right; at the centre of the city is the Spire, a vast tower that reaches into space.” “Is it true Miss, that if you do well you can get the space elevator out to the orbitals?” “Yes Islam, that’s true. If you earn enough credits you can leave - or if you become an important and respected member of the Consortium.” “Where did the Consortium come from, Miss?” A boy with glasses and cropped, black hair asked. “We’ve already covered that. Alice, could you answer?” She directed her gaze towards a young-looking girl whose eyes were transfixed somewhere outside of the window. “Alice?” The teacher paused again.
“Alice?!” The girl slowly turned to observe the woman, her shoulder-length brown hair framing a pale, elegant face and deep, inhuman, purple eyes.
“Yes Miss?” “Have you been listening?” “No Miss.” An instant passed, giggles and laughter erupted from the class, along with whispered comments of “Alice.” The teacher’s face dropped, as if drained by the girl’s disinterested posture - so disinterested she couldn’t even be bothered to lie.
“We were talking about where the Consortium came from!” The teacher’s stress echoing through her slightly fractured tone. “Oh. The Consortium were created by the orbital states to manage the Asylum. This management includes the distribution of resources, the enforcement of law, maintenance of supply lines and regulation of immigration.” She recited clearly and concisely, before returning her gaze to the window. The teacher sighed as the girl stared out at the gloom.
“Oh Miss, the city has a diameter of approximately two hundred and eleven point nine nine four kilometres and a circumference of exactly six hundred and sixty six kilometres.” She nonchalantly mentioned. “Yes, yes it does. Harold, why does Asylum exist?” The teacher tried to not miss a beat, not giving in to Alice’s entropic influence. “It’s where the refugees from the Great War fled to?” Alice’s eyes narrowed at the statement.
“Exactly.” The teacher’s eyes glanced around again, skipping the two empty seats. “Katie, can you tell us anything?” A black haired girl of African origin looked up. “Yes Miss. The city is patrolled by the Urban Control force. Special situations are dealt with by Urban Pacification, Department 7. District Four is currently suppressed by such an operation.” “Fantastic.” The teacher pronounced with glee. Alice’s eyes had closed and the lesson drifted on to its meaningless conclusion.
Alice was sat on a bench. She looked to the left and the right, but nothing was there except a long path lined with trees. She grimaced and looked ahead at a large, pretty, blue pond before her. She tilted her head as if to query the scene; long lashes interlaced as she blinked: a new scene. Fire, chaos - things drop from the sky, smashing into an already war-torn ground. A cacophony of screams echoed in her ears. Alice stared at the half-destroyed bodies, as they dragged themselves along before her. A ringing. An annoying ringing. Air raid? She envisioned another wing of American stealth bombers, or perhaps Chinese strike bombers, from some carrier. The ringing continued. Then shaking.
“Hey Alice, let’s go.” Alice’s eyes slowly opened and focused on the girl with dyed black hair. It had gone that funny orangey colour that girls with real black hair go when they try and go blonde.
“Mmmmm class over, Kammy?” Alice rubbed the sleep from her eyes and peered at her friend, who laughed.
“Did you fall asleep the minute the teacher gave up on you?” “I guess.” Alice looked down at her books. Illegible scribbling adorning her notebook her computer screen in standby mode. She started packing her bag.
“Wanna go down the game centre?” “Sure, why not?” Alice peered past Kammy. Ren was stood a short distance behind her, rambling to one of the boys in the class, hands on her hips and bag slung over her shoulder. “I’m guessing Ren’s coming?” Alice asked, smiling. “When don’t I?” Ren bounded over, bracing herself on Kammy’s shoulders. Alice stood up, her stepped boots making her almost as tall as Kammy. They had silver buckles and two straps up the foot, another four followed her shin up to the midpoint. Black thigh-high socks contrasted the subtle brown of the boots. Her black skirt was slightly too short for uniform regulation, with a white underskirt that had a lacy finish. Her white blouse was regulation, along with the black ribbon and hourglass fitted blazer. She pulled on her felt coat and did up the wooden toggles.
“So, go down the Konami, down district seven?” Kammy asked, picking up her bag. “Sure.” Both Alice and Ren answered. The three girls strolled out of their classroom. Kammy was Queen Bee. She had flat black shoes with a white rose, socks rolled down, a flared blazer. The top button of her blouse was undone to show the top of a faux cross necklace and the slightest hint of her bra. She had her phone in her breast pocket, a dangling black and white fluffy toy with a patch over its right eye. Her short skirt far racier than Alice’s, her makeup was pristine: her eyes and lips cried out to every unfortunate male within glancing distance.
Ren was sharp. Her angular features and grey eyes gave her a sophisticated look Kammy lacked. She had her hair held back with a rose styled hair pin, her skirt was short and she was wearing black tights instead of socks. She had nicely-decorated nails and a small collection of badges on her jacket.
The three girls stood at a space-hopper machine outside the Konami gamestation, pouring credits into the machine like they were going out of fashion. Alice had a natural talent. The girls had already caught a half dozen toys they’d sell off later at a store and the three laughed and giggled as each near-miss came by. Ren was useless and Kammy, little better. After a while, they went inside and then up a floor to the fighting games. Ren was a dab hand at Guilty Ray.
The lights flashed and the hardcore electric beats blasted out over the in-store stereo. Kammy pointed at the screen as another hapless soul fell to a faultless victory, her long gaudy nails tapping away.
“Anyway, Alice, why’ve you been sleeping so much during class, too much late night activity?” Kammy asked as Ren tapped away.
“Of course not, just been sat online, you know” Alice laughed off the accusation. “It was just hilarious how you completely blanked Miss Colmen when she was talking to you, seriously, I thought she’d explode!!”
Alice smiled: “Well, I already know all this crap anyway so what’s the point in paying attention? Anyway, I’m gonna go upstairs and play some Fire Star okay?” She nudged her head towards the escalator. Kammy grinned and nodded.
“Gonna go show those boys how to play?” “’Course” “Pick one up for me.” Kammy winked and turned back down to Ren’s game just as her character high-kicked a guy through a collapsible wall.
Alice strolled towards the escalator - throwing another gum into her mouth - then leant back against the railing as she reached the machine. She leant back and stared at the mirrored ceiling, hand in her pockets, chewing and occasionally blowing pink bubbles. She pulled a pair of glasses from her pocket and put them on. The lights annoyed her in the open alcoves. Getting up to the next floor, she headed for a games capsule; her eyes swiftly observed the public over-map of locations.
Fire Star was a space fighter-pilot game fought in teams, via a full-immersion pod and she loved it. She wasn’t quite sure why, but the freedom it provided was a stark contrast to the linear life of Asylum. She slipped into the capsule and slipped her datacard into the machine. Her previous stats loaded up and the 3-dimensional simulation appeared around her head. A sly grin appearing on her face, as her star fighter darted into the melee. She swooped to asses s her situation: something already on her tail.
“Bad Dog four, bogey on your tail!” A voice echoed over her intercom,
“Bad Dog four, don’t worry… I have him” Her predatory voice carried across to her team mates.
Before they knew it, her violent ducking and weaving brought her opponent to heel and she followed through to lead her team to victory, commanding them aptly and precisely. When she exited, Kammy and Ren were stood there, ice creams in hand. Kammy passed her one with a gleeful look on her face.
“And how much did you make?” Alice asked flipping her dishevelled hair back, then tied it. “Only about seventy credits… plus these ice creams.” Kammy shrugged and smiled, handing Alice the untouched - but slightly melted - icecream cone. “Let’s cruise.” Ren said, walking towards the next aisle of games, flinging her bag over her shoulder; Alice and Kammy in tow. “Man, these guys suck.” Kammy glanced between the other two girls - a look of mild disgust in her eye. “How about we check out what’s going on outside?” Ren replied, looking at the display on her phone. “We could go to the court? Let’s face it, the boys here are nothing other than boys.” Alice pointed her chin towards the escalator, with her hand planted firmly in her jacket pockets. “May as well. Maybe we can find someone to pay for Kara for us?” “You mean a business man?” Alice asked with a wink. Kammy just grinned. The three left the game centre, into the neon-washed streets. People bustling between shops, arcades, and bars. A man already half-drunk sways slightly, flanked by a gaggle of elegant seaming ladies in qipaos. Alice looked up at the sky - mostly obscured by buildings - the shattered moon, as clear as it ever got, stretched out like one of those slow-motion impacts.
They walked along the high street and turned off to the square. A small patch of artificial trees around an ornamental fountain, benches set in a circle around the perimeter. Groups of people were dotted about; someone had brought a sound system and was blazing out music.
“Hey Kam!” A bunch of guys walked towards the three girls, the one at the lead had short dreads held up with a bandana and a trimmed beard, a bomber jacket and three-quarter-length combats.
“Hi there, Justice.” Kammy swooned and wrapped an arm over his shoulders. Alice hopped on the back of a bench and surveyed the Square: some guys were smoking skunk whilst sat on the floor. She glanced at Justice, one of his boys had just sparked up a spliff and Justice had one stuck behind his ear that Kammy was pawing. “Hey baby. Ahh, you only love me for my product.” “That’s not all I love you for and besides you only love me for one thing.” She retorted, eyes shining. “Well it ain’t your cookin’.” They laughed; one of the other guys in jeans peeled off and started talking to Ren, Alice remembered that the two of them had had some kind of relationship before. “So, what you girls doin?” Justice had his arm around Kammy’s waist, holding her like some kind of trophy. “We were thinking about some Kara.” Kammy said, curling her hair. “Well I know a place, we can have a party.” Justice pulled the spliff from behind his ear and sparked it up, taking a long drag and blowing out a cloud of off-coloured smoke. “That bookshop place?” One of Justice’s boys asked from over his shoulder. “Yeah, that one.” Justice nodded. “Sounds cool to me.” Alice bounded off of the bench. If it hadn’t been for the step of her boots, she’d be a good bit shorter than the other two girls, but as it was she only looked a couple of inches shorter. “Girl knows it!” Justice passed the spliff to Kammy. Alice looked over at Ren; she was already taking a toke on another spliff, laughing with the guy she was talking to.
“Ren, we’re moving.” Alice pulled back her sleeve and glanced at her watch, only nine, plenty of time to kill. She looked at the fragments of the moon in the sky, one-third drifts ahead with two smaller chunks slowly being left behind, with a trail of smaller and smaller chunks trailing off into the starless sky. Ren and the other guy came into the group, Alice knew him: Mark. The other two boys with Justice were Maya and Will. All good enough guys, they weren’t the sort to force the matter or get rough, one of the reasons they ended up spending so many fruitless nights like this with them. They started down Brewers street. A column of Urban Pacification troops jogged down the other side of the street; Alice instinctively ignored them. Justice checked his pocket. A man in a long brown jacket stood in front of an alleyway. This time, Alice instinctively observed him: he was smoking a cigarette, a grizzled look, square chin, five o’clock shadow, brown eyes - deep and pitiful, broad shoulders. A smaller man with blond hair, holding a notepad, was talking at him. An Investigator for the Enforcers. She looked ahead as they passed him, he turned and they narrowly avoided eye contact.
The bookshop was a funny place; it was full of books in foreign languages, many of which were only known by a handful of people. Prices were high. She’d often glance at the colourful covers and strange symbols while the boys looked at porn and Justice arranged the room. Kammy and Ren looked at an old fashion magazine from some place called Japan. As her fingers drifted over the old books, they stopped at one: a pretty-looking hardback book. She pulled it out and looked at the plain cover, an eye set against a pyramid and a collection of weird symbols in a circle around the pyramid. As she opened the book, she felt a slight tingle in her fingers and for a moment: a void of thought. One of those moments where your brain is completely blank - no thought, no inner voice, no images - complete emptiness and silence.
“Alice, we’ve got a room girl.” Kammy’s voice snapped her back to reality.
“Okay, coming.” She slipped the book back into its place on the shelf.
“Come back.” She heard clearly but from no particular direction. Looking over her shoulder, she checked for the source of the voice, then shrugged her shoulders and followed the rest of the group through the closing door.
She was a little bit drunk and more than a little bit stoned. Alice wasn’t quite as hardcore as the other two and so she felt the impact of a night out a little too hard. She let out a loud, exhausted sigh. They’d split up at the gantry, entering District twelve’s residential sector. She lifted the hood of her jacket and put her earphones in and set her music player, then stuffed her hands into her pockets. Her breath formed a mist in front of her.
“Gloves. I’ll need gloves from here on out.” She thought to herself.
There was nobody out on the streets at this time; only the odd car passed by, late-night workers coming off shift, the odd taxi carrying drunken revellers home. She looked up, the sky was obscured by a crisscrossing lattice of gantries: platforms housing small residential and commercial blocks. She turned into a side street and walked alongside a small park. Deserted. She could hear the whining and creaking of the platforms above and below, as they twisted in the gentle breeze. The stress of holding the Asylum in place sounded like so many little screams.
Her eye caught someone sat in the park; steam rising up from something held in their hands rested on their lap. She took in their side-profile: a girl, short hair (the colour impossible to fathom given the poor lighting), pale skin, a cute hat with a patchwork pattern and fur. The girl lifted a cup to her lips and took a sip. Alice grimaced. The girl’s name was Yuu. Technically, they were in the same class, but Yuu almost never came in. Alice didn’t like being around her and was quite pleased when she stopped showing up a few months ago. Of course, she felt a bit bad for having thought that at the time. Suddenly, Yuu turned to face the motionless Alice: pale eyes dug into her. Alice turned and quickly walked home.
“That girl.” She grumbled to herself, feeling off-balance. It was only a few more minutes before she was home. She pressed her palm to the reader and the words “Access Denied” flared up on the screen. “Fucker.” She spat, then turned to face away from the door and leant her back against it, defeated. The cold was working its way through her coat. She didn’t want to ring the doorbell. “Damn it. What’s he doing home already?” She cursed her luck and looked at her watch. Her music blanked out the world, so when someone shook her shoulder lightly, she jumped, and then looked. A guy in pyjamas and slippers stood there, one arm wrapped around himself. A dishevelled look. He was dishevelled even when he went off to work.
She pulled her head phones and hood off. He lived next door.
“I was wondering who that was, cursing outside.” He shivered. “Heh. Your hearing is too sharp.” She looked up at him, shivering. “Your old man locked you out again? Wanna crash on the sofa?” She nodded and he offered her a hand to help her up.
“Why are you still up?” “I was just finishing up some work, you know how it is. You?” “I was out with friends.” “Heh. I bet. You stink of booze and skunk.” “Going to report me to your boss?” She asked, eyebrow raised. “We’ve got bigger problems than teenage misbehaviour.” He closed the door behind. The front room was very tidy and well-organised papers were piled neatly on a desk in the corner. A can of beer was on the table, alongside an ashtray.
“I bet.” She sat down on the sofa and stretched. He dropped a blanket and pillows on the seat next to her, along with a night dress. She fingered it reminiscently; she was so used to this sofa. She was always surprised it didn’t have a perfect indent of her in it. “Sometimes, I do think I should just add your access to my room code.” He laughed.
“Wouldn’t that raise some eyebrows at head office?”
“They’d just be happy I wasn’t paying for my teenage girls!” They both laughed. “You can use the shower. Throw the clothes in the machine. I’ll go talk to your old man in the morning.” “Thanks.”
He stood before his dresser mirror, then looked down at the photo of his wife and son. He’d taken the photo: broad smiles on their faces. He couldn’t remember where he’d taken the picture, only that he had. Every once in a while, he felt like he was about to remember. A picture of him wearing a military uniform, bold and proud. He opened the side-drawer and glanced down at the revolver. He picked it up and lifted it; looked at the cylinder and emptied all but one bullet, then locked it back in and spun the cylinder.
He stood and looked at himself in the mirror again, gun pressed against his temple. Broad shoulders, dark brown eyes, stubbled face. Pulled the trigger.
Again. Click. Nothing.
Again. Click. Nothing.
His eyes narrowed.
Click. Again nothing.
Click. Nothing. He stared. Bitter and hateful at his reflection.
Six times, nothing. He pointed the gun at the window and pulled the trigger. A loud clack and the gun jolted.
“Damn you.” He put the gun down and got dressed. Then he checked his long brown coat for his badge and smokes. Refilled his gun and placed it in its holster.
“Damn you.” He walked out of the room and down to his car. Just another day; like all the rest.
She woke up to the sound of shuffling and cluttering. In front of her were her clothes, piled neatly on the table. She sniffed the air and pulled the blanket tighter around her neck; the faint smell of cigarettes and the sound of an extractor fan.
“You up?” “Mm.” She nodded, although he couldn’t see her. “I’ve spoken to your dad. He was proper pissed. I thought he was even going to hit me!” She grimaced again.
“He said if I wanted you, I should keep you. Man, what a dick.” She heard him stubbing out his cigarette. He was about four years older than her and they’d lived next to each other for her whole life and he’d always watched out for her. Now he worked at the investigative bureau.
“It’s probably best you stay here a while.” She nodded again.
“I’ll go with you to get some clothes okay?” She nodded and then sat up. Her hair was messy, as she fell asleep whilst it was still damp. The white night dress hung off of slender shoulders. She reached over and picked up her freshly-ironed clothes.
“I’m going to have a shower.” She said, looking at him hunched over his desk. The clock read 06:13. No wonder her head still hurt. “Don’t look at me like that, we’ve got a lot to do this morning and dealing with your old man was far more effort than I’m used to at this time.” He said and leant around to look at her. She cocked her head and then shrugged and went into the shower. Her spare toothbrush sat on the side. “I do this far too often.” She thought to herself as she ran the shower. When she emerged from the bathroom, she once again looked a picture of style. Though normally she’d curse wearing the exact same thing twice in a row, she didn’t mind, as it all smelt fresh and homely; the scent enveloped her and warmed her to the core.
“Shall we go?” She asked. “As good a time as any.” He answered, closing one of his notebooks. They left the apartment and stood in front of the door. She pressed the buzzer. A moment passed and a chubby, balding man opened the door, rage in his eyes. She just stared at him, shaking; she walked past him as Jacob stood there with her dad: a knight in a bad-fitting business suit and square spectacles. Jacob pulled out a pack of cigarettes and put one in his mouth, offering the other man the pack, he took one. She went into her room and picked up her bag. She scanned the room and quickly started putting skirts and shirts into it. She remembered her gloves and grabbed a pretty dress as well. Then she grabbed her makeup gear and hair products.
“A girl can’t do without.” She mumbled. She grabbed another armful-worth of stuff and a stuffed toy. Then she walked out. Her dad and Jacob stood staring at each other. She walked past them. “See you around, Dad.” “Get stuffed, you little whore.” A stab, deep in her heart. She went into Jacobs apartment. “You know…fuck it.” Jacob started to say something, then walked back to his place. “Hope you enjoy her!” The man shouted after him, Jacob turned and shot him a glance that made the old man wither and crawl back into his pit. When Jacob got back into his front room, Alice was sat on the sofa crying. “Ignore him, he’s just twisted up.” She looked at him through red eyes and wiped them. There’s little else he could say - she thought - what else can you say? She nodded, then grabbed her bag and went to the bathroom again.
“Shit, I’m going to have to make sure I make good use of my bathroom time.” He muttered. After she came out, they added her scan code to the door lock system. On her way to school, she passed the park she’d seen Yuu in. An enforcer squad stood guarding the area.
After school, Alice found herself stood in the bookshop again. She pulled the strange book down from the shelf and glanced through the pages: a collection of bizarre scriptures and erratic equations confronted her. Drawings of beasts lurking over alien landscapes, bizarre rituals and words that seemed to dance across the page, worming their way into her consciousness.
She closed the book and thought for a moment, then took it to the shop clerk and placed it on the counter. He looked at the book and put a figure into his till.
“One thousand credits please.” She touched her phone to the pad on the counter and 1000C appeared on her phone. She pressed the confirm button and the man wrapped the book in craft paper and handed it to her. She slipped it into her bag and left. She looked at the time: quarter past seven. Still early, but she didn’t have the energy to go out after last night. She headed back to the residential complex; Jacob would likely be out, either working or drinking with his work mates.
She cut a different course, as it was still early. Slipping through back streets and alleyways, she passed a rubbish skip where a man lay asleep, hunched between it and the wall. She moved quickly and quietly to avoid any attention. On a walkway between Marathon Road and Portland Street, she stopped. Looking down, she could see a warehouse. Above there was a platform and a mass of utility pipes. A chill went down her spine. She could hear something like scratching behind her. Looking back there was nothing there.
“Run.” A voice from nowhere, and one she didn’t intend to countermand. She started running. She turned right, down Portland Street and kept running. Nobody was about. She stopped and looked behind her, nothing. Not a single person. The city was silent. Even the cables and gantries didn’t make a sound. She looked up again. Between a set of gantries, she could see a fragment of the moon, which should have set her mind at peace, except it was blue. That and there was something wrapped around her foot.
She looked down and tilted her head at the twisted appendage that had wrapped itself around her ankle. A thing covered in a bloody, slick and oozing puss. It stretched its way out from the edge of the gantry - whatever it was connected to was out of sight. She had no interest whatsoever in seeing it and despite the sense of panic, she brought her other boot down on the thing, hard. There was a gurgling sound from below - a scream, she assumed - and the mass released her. Only then did something become clear: at the end of the tentacle was a circular set of razor-like teeth and blood seeped from her foot. Then she fell hard to the ground, her foot completely numb and with neither the thing, nor her other foot to keep her upright, her punctured foot gave way.
“Shit!” She started trying to lift herself back onto her feet as the appendage wrapped itself around the handrail of the gantry and two spindly talons hooked onto the grating. It took her another moment to get onto her good foot, her other all but useless. She tried to get away, but could do little better than hop, using her numb foot as an unstable crutch. She had managed to hobble to the other side of the gantry. A sound behind her - an indecipherable gurgling and chattering.
“Urthu dragurl mrklik trf zhkarl” She turned. A thing some five foot high, with eight long, smooth black legs - a number of inhuman, bulging, black spheres, attached to a head about a foot wide, with a pair of sharp incisors. The appendage it used to grasp had retracted and was rubbing one of the spheres. The legs seemed to come together in a black carapace body. Behind it was a bulk that was lifted a foot off of the ground. She could see through the near-translucent underside: figures, slowly moving as if suspended in liquid. She couldn’t make them out clearly and had a strong suspicion she didn’t want to. She tumbled backwards and held the rail behind her. The thing scuttled towards her with a great speed; all she could do was fling herself - with the help of the rail - to the side. She didn’t try to land on her feet. She tumbled, then used the momentum to throw herself back onto her good foot. Pain started to leak into her other foot.
The creature turned its head to face her retreating form as she ran, using the banister for added support, her heart pounding in her ears as the creature started after her again. This time, she couldn’t get out of the way. She felt herself forced to the floor, the metal grid pressing against her chest, as the thing pressed down on her. “So heavy”, she thought. She could hear the gurgling thing above her. The pressure on her chest dropped, as she was lifted up and spun around to face it, before being slammed back down into the gantry. From below, you could make out contorted faces on the creatures under-torso. Her eyes glanced down to the translucent sack: half-digested bodies, floating. Flesh disintegrating from faces in wretched agony.
A chattering. Was it laughing? She looked up, straight at it. Her own face reflected in the black orbs. She felt blank, empty; her mind sealed away from the terrifying fate that was about to descend on her. Suddenly angry, she let out a yell with all her remaining energy.
“Get the fuck off of me!” A dim blue light from her hand.
A sudden clack - like thunder - rang out in the distance and part of the creature’s head exploded.
“God Killer.” She heard, whispered in the distance. The thing stumbled back, the weight on her body gone. Then another loud noise: this time a roar, like a buzz-saw. Luminous orange bolts ripped through the air above her and a black circle appeared in front of the spider-like creature as it attempts to retreat. Now, Alice can see a vast web-like pattern on the ground, expanding up the sides of the buildings and overhead. Orange flare after orange flare slammed into the circle. She could read the words written on it, though she didn’t know where the symbols came from. Alice held out her hand and traced where the symbols were and began to rearrange them. The beast looked at her. If such a face were able to express anything, it expressed hate towards her. After an instant, instead of being absorbed, the orange flares were accelerated by the circle. Parts of the monster exploded: legs collapsed and blood and gore spread across the gantry. It collapsed to the ground and she stared at it. The web pattern began to slowly crumble and her vision dimmed, then went black.
-=5=- Alice was sat on the bench again. The dark orange sun, covered in black spots, slowly pulsed in the sky. Black stumps stuck out from the ground and things that were once human, crawled on stumps in the mud and blood. Something in the distance caught her attention, something moving across the land. A huge hulking thing in the distance; a mass of spikes and talons ripping its way through crowds of people trying to run, maddened by the scene of carnage. Slowly, the figures in the mud melted down into the ooze. She could see it begin to move: a sea of tortured faces writhing in agony. Screams and cries, the only sounds.
She was shaken awake. Jacob stood over her. Her mind quickly retraced her steps. How was she here?
“Hey, I’ve gotta get a move on. Help yourself to breakfast, okay?” “Mm hmmm”, she mumbled, a confused look on her face. “You were asleep when I got back. Guess all the partying has taken it out of you, eh?” He opened the door and left. She sat up. Aware of a dull throbbing pain in her foot and bruises on her shoulders, she pulled the blanket up. Her foot was bandaged. Things weren’t making any sense. She vaguely remembered being attacked in the park, but beyond that little else. How did she get back here? If Jacob had found her, he’d have been sure to have mentioned it. She pushed it to the back of her mind and instead had a shower, avoiding getting her bandage wet or resting on the foot.
Her foot hurt like hell now. She didn’t want to take off the bandage, partly because she didn’t want to see what had happened to it and partly because she wouldn’t be able to put it back on anywhere near as well. She put on her uniform and opted for flat shoes, thinking it wise. When she looked at the mirror: “God you’re so short…” She grabbed a different coat, it was warmer and the hood had cute animal ears on it. She realised she couldn’t find the clothes she’d been wearing the day before. “Hmmm.” She glanced at the washer dryer and opened it. Indeed her clothes were in there but he hadn’t used the fabric conditioner on them. “Odd.” She peered at them, then took them out, ironed them and put them into a drawer Jacob had let her use.
Once everything was done, she poked around Jacob’s fridge. It was connected to the front room, along with a small cooking unit and a microwave. She found some synthetic meat, cheese, and what appeared to be bread, amongst the assorted ready-meals. She sighed and pulled them out. Looking around the kitchen, she found a knife and began to slice the meat wafer thin and toasted the bread with some cheese. She kept redistributing her weight, as her foot throbbed. Eventually, she had a toasted sandwich and added a sensible dollop of barbeque sauce.
She looked at the time, frowned and headed off, sandwich pinned between her teeth as she pulled on her jacket. She could see the sun when she reached the intersection of Baker and Parker Street: red, orange with black spots, hideous and throbbing. She hated it. Few, she thought, would like it. Barely enough to light the sky a dark grey, you could still make out the shattered moon descending beyond the great wall.
“Shit.” She was cursing her foot. She felt exhausted and her eyes were puffy and full of sleep. She reached into her pocket and put on a pair of sun glasses, then put her hands into the coat’s mittens. As she hobbled up to the school gates, she could see Kammy and Ren waiting for her through the throng of students. Kammy waved. Alice returned with an under-pronounced wave.
“Hey, how you doing? The hell…You’re looking tiny today!” Kammy exclaimed. “Don’t remind me.” “Awww, so cute!” Kammy hugged her; the scent of perfume was very thick. “Erck, I’m tired, Kammy” Kammy stood back, hands resting on Alice’s shoulders. A sharp pain went shooting through Alice, which she ignored. “Up all night with your neighbour?” Kammy raised a painted eyebrow. “God, no!” Kammy laughed. “Anyway. We were worried about you. You seemed even more spaced-out yesterday than normal.” “What did you two get up to anyway?” Alice asked, diverting attention from her vague memories of the night before. “Well, we ended up meeting up with some guys that took us to a club. You missed out, girl.” Kammy winked. Alice felt she hadn’t missed out on much she wanted to be involved in. “We best make a move.” Ren said, looking at her watch. The school was in a clear area. There were no gantries above and most of the surrounding buildings were low, so you pretty much had the best view you could get from anywhere other than the Spire. Alice stole a glance at the vast black glistening tower, alien to its surroundings. The large ring, thousands of feet in the sky then slowly rotated around it. Smooth, dull, black curves and pipes interlinking to breach the sky. A faint red pulse throbbed upwards along what she assumed was the space elevator. It was hard to look at, the scale and dimensions confused the eye and the mind; nothing should reach through atmosphere. The only lights in the sky were immediately above it: the orbitals. Red and blue pulses in the blackness. She shuddered and looked back ahead at the school’s main entrance.
She hadn’t noticed until today, but above the door was a symbol. The same one that adorned the front of the book she bought last night. She thought a moment and then looked in her bag. The book was still there. She blinked a moment, but couldn’t bring her mind to replay the sequence of events.
When she got into class, she went to her desk and sat down. She was getting out her console when the doors opened. Everyone looked, expecting the teacher, but instead a girl with a large bunny rabbit for a rucksack walked in: short pleated tartan skirt and a school blazer that was only elbow-length (by design). Embroided frills decorated the bottom of the skirt and white ankle-socks. Shockingly white short hair poked out from under a red baker-boy hat with a small fluffy bunny mascot safety-pinned to it. Crystal blue eyes, tall and slender, with fur-lined boots. Even Kammy seemed a bit plain next to her. Yuu.
She went and took her seat; dropping her bag on the hook and took her own console out. Alice noted the brown synthetic leather gloves with a nice fur trim. She was jealous about almost everything to do with the way Yuu looked, but it didn’t offset the uneasy air she gave out. Alice thought back to the park and the Enforcer patrol the day before, while flipping between pages on her console. She could feel someone staring at her, eyes boring into the back of her skull. The only person it could be was Yuu.
The teacher walked in and turned to face the class. She looked drained somewhat, her eyes sunken and skin paler than normal.
“I have some unfortunate news: Rina - who has been absent these past few days - was found last night, dead. The exact circumstances aren’t clear, but the police aren’t ruling out suicide. I know this must be hard for you as she was a much-loved class mate, but if you have any information that the Enforcers may find of use, please report the information to the head master, who will get in contact with them. If you need to talk to the counsellor, please feel free.” The classroom erupted into chatter; a troupe of girls headed by Kammy had formed a ring in order to discuss the day’s plans: which club to go to tonight, which shops to shop at and queries as to whether Rina had been dumped. Kammy was a centre for gossip and innuendo. The boys had clustered along friendship groups; Alice couldn’t be bothered with any of it and rested her head on the table.
She was just drifting off when she saw something creeping along the desk: black, eight legs. She leapt from her seat, landing on her bad foot, tumbling from the ground.
“Shit!” She sat on the floor, knees together to prevent inadvertent perks to the boys and save some semblance of shame. Everyone was looking at her as someone strolled over to the table and slammed their hand down where the spider had been. White socks and slender legs: Yuu. Yuu looked down at Alice, then looked at her bad ankle.
“You should be careful.” The monotone voice made Alice recoil a bit. Yuu then turned on her heel and walked to her desk, picked up her bag and headed for the door.
Alice sat back down in her seat, a faint memory lingered like a dark cloud. What was she forgetting? She leant back, then forward and then turned to face the window. The gloom was oppressive and now another class mate had killed themselves. Well, in a way, she couldn’t find it a surprise. Asylum had that air to it. She tried to remember Rina, but for some reason the memory was shrouded in uncertainty.
“So, you wanna go to the mall?” Kammy asked. “Sounds like a plan.” Alice answered, after a moment’s thought. Kammy cheered Ren. Sara, Sae and Jen were also stood waiting. If Alice was honest, she honestly couldn’t be bothered. A melancholy had descended on her, plus she was tired. However, there are times when these things must be put to one side.
“Teacher looked rather ropey today. Any idea what she’s been up to at night?” “Probably obsessing over her lack of boyfriend!” Ren said, playing with her phone and blowing bubbles with her bubble gum. “You’re a bad girl!” Kammy smiled. Sae was of Asian descent, but still taller than Alice - particularly without her steps or heels, though her foot hurt so much she couldn’t give a damn. Sara was very pretty, with flowing blonde hair. She’d done a number of model shoots and people expected her to join one of Asylum’s premium modelling agencies. However, Alice didn’t find her very intimidating. She lacked the personality of someone like Kammy and the raw aura of Yuu. Jen was average, smart, and funny. Alice quite liked spending time around her.
“So, clothes shopping?” Sara asked. A group of the guys from the class walked up to the group of girls,
“So, wanna go do something, free day and all?” Lee asked, spikey black hair and glasses. He was a bit of a troublemaker. His shirt was untucked and his top button undone. When it came to guys in their class, the group of girls didn’t see him as a total loser. His friends weren’t awful, though they were still the same age. Kammy and Sara stared at them a moment. “Sure, if you’re paying. Wanna go to that bubble tea place?” Kammy answered, an opportunity to gouge some money out of them and get some deserts at least. Alice knew her all too well. “Yeah, sounds good!” Jen said, swinging her bag up over her shoulder. Lee and the other guys feigned disinterest. “Sure, sounds like a plan.” “You hear there’s some kind of rave happening tonight down in D3?” Sae asked, whilst sat on the desk; long black socks and a slightly longer skirt than the other girls. “Know anybody going?” Kammy asked again, Alice was leant back against a desk, observing the situation, trying to keep the weight off her foot. “I heard that guy from sixth, Maya, was gonna be DJing along with some other folk. Could be cool.” Sae shrugged. “Could be good. What do you think, Ren?” Kammy glanced. “Better than nothing, I guess.” She looked over at the group of boys with mild disinterest. “Anyway, let’s get to the café - this place is a drag.” Lee put his terminal into his sports bag and flung it over his shoulder. “So, how’s your family, Lee?” Alice asked, as the group made their way out of the class. “Not too bad: Dad’s got a job working for Reece Interchangers building engines for something or another, I don’t pay much note. Mum’s working at the Rosewater Institute. How’s your old man?” “Don’t ask. I think he’s got some late night job as a janitor or something.” “Still a piss-head?” “That and then some.” “Sucks to be you.” “Don’t believe the half of it!” Alice smiled. “How come you’re limping?” He looked down at her foot. “Oh yeah, I’d been thinking that!” Ren turned around. “Eavesdropping? I just twisted it or something, can’t really remember.” “Going senile in your old age?” “Hah.” Alice stuck her tongue out at Ren. “Oh did you hear about that girl in 9c? Someone says they found her screaming about rats and she got carted off to the Institute.” Sae said. “Rats?” Alice asked, diverting her attention from Lee. “Yeah. They say she was home alone. Her mother vanished apparently.” “As in: vanished at the time, or has been gone for a while?” “They say she hadn’t turned up to work for at least a month.” “Damn. Still, rats? I didn’t think there was any free-running protein left!” Alice and the others laughed. They walked past other classrooms, students still in lessons. Alice noticed here and there, empty seats.
“How many people do you think have gone missing or ended up at the institution?” Alice asked suddenly. “More than have ended up going to the orbitals, I bet!” Alex - one of Lee’s friends - said, hazel eyes resting on a boy with dyed blond spiky hair. “Now that’s a cheery thought! Well, let’s face it, we’re hardly elite material, so all we can do is have a damn good time, right?” Lee half-yelled as he lifted his arms up. “You said that right.” Kammy slapped him on the back in congratulations. When they got outside, the sickly sun was a third of the way in the sky. Dark orange clouds were forming. “Looks like it’s going to rain” Alice said whilst looking at it. She turned again to see the Spire piercing the sky. The more she looked at it, the more she hated it. It was supposed to be the way out: a way to a better life; but it just looked wrong. She knew better than to mention that line of thought though. She’d asked once in class and had found herself in front of a Consortium psychiatrist who probed her for details on whatever it was had led her to such a bizarre line of thought. She’d asked Jacob once and he’d just shrugged and told her it was best to pretend not to notice things and never talk about them and try not to think about them, as sometimes thinking was more dangerous than speaking. She’d never quite understood that. Her mind was bundled up in thought and attempted to suppress those thoughts with other less odd images and ideas.
They stood around at the bus stop outside the school, while James and Shirow attempted to climb the pole with the bus logo on it. Kammy, Ren, Sae and Lee were talking. Sara fiddled with her phone and Alex read some page on his tablet. Alice held back a yawn and strolled towards Kammy, who from the sounds of it, was going over the plot of the latest drama she was watching. It wasn’t that Alice was completely disinterested by the whole idea, but she did have a nagging feeling that they should at least be trying to be effected by Rina’s suicide.
“Anyway, the latest plot developments between Alberto and Sunny are great; I can’t wait till the next episode. Apparently though, there’s gonna be some weird time travel thing that’ll force a conclusion on it all.” Kammy sighed. Alice turned to see if the bus was anywhere nearby. The conversation continued on without her input and she opened her bag. The book she bought the other day was resting next to her console, pencil case and note pad. She hummed a moment, then went to sit on the bench and took the book out. Flipping the cover open, she looked at the front page. There was something written in the top right-hand corner. Sadly, she didn’t understand it and went on to flip to the next page. There was a wall of weird symbols, then noted that in the margin was something written in English.
“It would appear that this section refers to the beginning of the Earth: a deep dark time when the sun was young.” Was it some kind of early print of some kind of religious book? She felt slightly down-hearted. “Hey, bus is here.” Shirow - a reasonably tall guy with long hair, brown eyes and an earring - said. Alice stood up gingerly and joined the others, scanning her pass on the reader as she went. The bus was almost empty, as most of the students were still at school and adults at work. The bus was flooded with light, to counteract the gloomy orange dimness of the daytime in Asylum. Everything was clean, with nice smooth lines. There was no driver - the city’s auto-drive system managed all the traffic, with the exception of Consortium enforcement vehicles and the like. Slowly clouds began to roll in, but vanished from eye as they went into a transit tunnel.
-=6=- The morning and afternoon had gone by rather quickly. Alice had managed to avoid buying anything expensive, bar a few ingredients for the house. Kammy had bought herself a new hat, while Sae and Ren had bought some new shoes. The guys had spent most of their time screwing around in the courtyard outside the shop; on more than one occasion attracting the attention of the shopping centre’s security guards. The mall was covered and brightly lit. A bright yellow sun was painted on one of the walls, with birds and clouds over a green landscape. It was the kind of thing you’d imagine a child drawing, if they’d ever seen such a scene. Well maybe a scene they’d encountered in some historical vid, or old-fashioned movie.
Alice meandered over to Dayton Audio - a music and soft media emporium. There were dozens of smooth, pastel-coloured racks with headphones, neural stims and multi-taps. She picked up a pair of headphones and adjusted her glasses, pulling a lead out from the side and plugging it into the multi-tap. She quickly manoeuvred the selection screen using her eyes. She’d been using the optical feedback interface since she was a child, so she could get around with almost as much ease as she could with a traditional touch interface. She’d been introduced to the technology by her mother, who had worked for one of the companies that released devices using it: Eyeris Technologies. She selected a song and leant her head back, foot tapping in time to the up-tempo beat and deep-nodding her head to the deep bass thumps. She’d always liked her music to crawl down inside her body and force her to react. She’d heard of the DJ collective, “Spine Welder”, a few months earlier from Ren. She started queuing additional tracks to listen to, forming a playlist - knowing full well the others would be busy doing their stuff for quite some time.
She flipped the menu’s option panels to drinks and ordered a bubble chocolate milkshake. She felt like she should spoil herself. After a few minutes, a guy in a store uniform came over holding her drink. The broad straw looked silly if you didn’t know its purpose was to allow the large balls of toffee-filled chocolate to pass through it. She hit the download tab in the view area and a few credits were deducted from her account. She walked over to a collection of tables under an artificial sky and set the plastic cup down on the table. She sat down and pulled her Bozz headphones out of her bag and plugged them into the base of her glasses and started playing her music. Then she grabbed the book and placed it in front of her. She stroked the cover. Her hand felt warm and comfortable as she did - the feeling of a good book? She wondered.
She opened it again and slowly went through the pages. It was arguably thicker than any other book she’d seen: the pages were thick, unlike the mass-produced books from before the Great War and nothing like the well-conditioned smart-paper used more recently. She noticed various scribbles and numbers in the margins of pages as she went on. Some symbols had words written above them - all kinds of languages. She could read some of them: German, French, Spanish, Italian. Another language she suspected may have been Latin and something that she guessed was Russian. If it was a religious book - though it must have been a rather dark one - the recent pen and pencil-written texts often referred to a great terror, sacrifices, chaos and fear. She was used to religions preaching punishment for misdeeds, but the tone of many of the comments left her believing often that these terrible occurrences were to be performed, or to occur, or had occurred for their own sake .
Several pages went by and then something caught her eye: a drawing of an eye on one page, lids pulled back and what she could swear was an image terminal of some sort. A crosshair transfixed on the screen and a dot-pointer placed on the top of the screen aimed back at the eye. It looked as though the eye was bloodshot: veins clearly visible. A notation in the corner. “A device - perchance to control an automaton?” She felt a shiver. The picture had incredible details and it seemed that if she focused, the picture moved ever so slightly. Something crept in the background of some kind of laboratory, fear ebbing through her body as fear seemed to ebb through the man before her. A man? She blinked, just a picture of an eye and a screen. It didn’t make sense that this was a technical guide; perhaps some kind of novelty book? But if so, why the sense of dread? She’d flipped the page over and was studying another wall of weird symbols. Like the rest they were seemingly written by hand. She took a long sip of her chocolate milk. The sweet chocolate balls melted in her mouth and delicious caramel mingled with the chocolate milkshake.
She continued to absentmindedly drink her drink, while going through similar pages covered in similar symbols and bizarre algebra, until she paused on a page. There was a circle and a number of symbols written around the outside. She felt slightly dizzy for a moment - her mind reeled. She’d seen these symbols - this circle - before. Where? She wondered as the spell dissipated. She glanced down at her hand and thought for a moment. She’d only got a few dozen pages into the book before her playlist ended. Conveniently, as she saw Kammy, Lee and the others come towards her. Closing the book and putting it in her bag, she stood up.
“What were you reading?” Asked Jen. She had a pair of big headphones around her neck and an ushanka hat with the ears down and a long grey coat. “Just a book I came across in that weird bookshop and ‘reading’ would be going a bit far; I can only understand the comments.” Alice smiled. “Well we’re gonna head over to a pre rave party at the Illysium.” Kammy said. “Cool, let’s roll.” Alice said with a nod. They caught another bus, then got a monorail to the Illysium. It was on a different platform, so there were no road-based gantries or legal walkways. As they travelled between the platforms, dark rain could be heard pounding into the train. The setting sun burnt the top of the wall with a deep crimson red. The heat from the city causing a strange rippling effect as the black starless sky took hold and the shattered moon crept into view, as orange and unpleasant as ever. Alice had read a description before, that the moon had been a beautiful silver disk. Now it was more like blood sprayed across a black painting. Alice drifted off as she swayed gently with the motion of the carriage and that blood-stained sheet vanished from view.
-=Interlude 0.2=- She was panting. Blood mixed with saliva in her mouth. She was somewhere in the lower levels of District 4. Her side was agony, her vision fuzzy. Sweat stung her eyes and she pressed her hand against her the blood-soaked wound, knees trembling from fear and exhaustion. She looked back down the alley she’d just run down, but nothing was there except a thick smog. She turned and started running again.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, why?” She cursed quietly and started to sob. She heard something behind her. Someone – something. The smog slowly crept along the ground, metal scraping. She was panting. Something touched her leg. She screamed and started to run again. “Stop laughing! Fuck you!” She screamed into the darkness. “I’ll make it. I know I’ll make it. I’m somebody!” Memories, so many memories. She couldn’t die, she thought. “Not now, not here!” She felt something touch her neck. Like a tongue, wet and slippery. She spun round, then tripped over, landing hard on her behind. There was nothing, nothing at all. The smog had evaporated. “Nothing?” She stared. She felt ecstatic there was nothing there. Was it all some bad dream? It had to be!
She heard footsteps behind her. She swung her head around and tried to get up.
“Who’s there?!” Her heart pounded. Again she slipped. Lying flat in a puddle, she saw a person come around the corner.
“Is there something wrong? Anybody here?” A voice. A woman’s voice. “Yes! Yes! I’m here. Help!” She pleaded. “Okay, I’m just coming.” The figure ran towards her. The woman looked at her, shock clear across her face. “Thank you.” She felt safe and closed her eyes and breathed a soft sigh. Something warm and comforting stroked her cheek. She opened her eyes. A maggot-covered face, shredded rotten flesh hanging from it and dead yellow puss-filled eyes stared back at her and the girl let out a shriek - so very loud - as the thing before her exploded into a thousand sharp tentacles that enveloped her in excruciating agony.
-=7=- Once they reached the large venue, they had to queue for some time. Kammy and Lee managed to score some pills and they’d brought several boxes of beer and a bottle of vodka. Alice already started having her doubts about the evening: her ankle still hurt and she still had her bag with her; she could have left it at Ren’s house earlier, but for some reason didn’t want to be parted from it. So, instead she stood there, the loud music reverberated through her and - despite the others’ enthusiasm - she couldn’t build up her own interest. Before long, she found herself alone, sat on a table with a bottle of beer in her hand, slowly drinking whilst watching the drug and alcohol-fuelled revelry. She ran her hand through her hair and looked at the ground; it had been a while since so many of them had gone out together.
“Hey, is that Alice?” She heard shouted over the music above her. She could see a pair of trainers and looked up. “Justice. How’s it going?” She brushed her hair out of her eyes and cupped her mouth so he could hear. “Pretty cool. What you doin’ sat here, babe?” “Just chilling. I think I may head off soon.” “Shit, party’s only just started.” Waved his arm towards the mass of people. Bottle of cheap whisky in his hand and a spliff in his mouth. “I know, I know.” She smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “So, anyone else out?” “Everyone. Kammy too. Go get her cowboy.” She laughed and lent back. “Well, keep safe girl. Not good to wear yourself all the way out!” He winked and left with a big grin, his teeth luminous in the UV lighting. She looked at her bag that was sat next to her and hopped to her feet, forgetting the pain in her damaged foot. She grimaced and straightened herself out, then headed out of a side exit, pushing the heavy fire doors. The air outside was even more humid than normal, the architecture of Asylum seemed to just hold it all in and with the moon the way it was, the oceans had died and become an unpleasant source of never-ending humidity. She wasn’t sure where on Earth Asylum was, but she guessed it had to be close to a large body of water, or else it wouldn’t be able to keep its power supplies running and the water treatment plants would have run dry.
Sometimes she thought about how little she knew about the city, the wall, the spire, the world. When she thought about it, all they were told was that there was a Great War, that mankind retreated behind the great walls of a great citadel and it became known as Asylum. There had been orbital stations supplied by the spire at the centre of the citadel and these orbitals sent the Consortium down to manage the city and ensure the orbitals remained supplied. That was about it. She headed towards a gantry that led the monorail station. The rave was on a low section, so it was impossible to see the sky and when she looked down, all she could see was darkness with small spheres of light provided by street lights. The structure of the city was always hard to comprehend; she imagined what would happen if a resident of the kind of cities she saw in old films visited Asylum. How hopelessly lost they would become. She kept her mind occupied, to put aside the endless oppressive air the decaying streets confronted her with. Things seemed to move in the alleyways and a feeling of being watched from lightless windows.
The monorail station was a stark contrast to the dark, dirty, dilapidated district; it was brightly lit. As she went through the entrance, a man in a crisp long-coat walked past her. Handsome, chiselled features, beautiful grey eyes and spiky blond hair. A sneer on his face.
“Best not to think about it.” He said as he passed her, in a soft musical voice. She turned as he vanished through the door. “What the…” She muttered to herself. As the train pulled out of the station, she saw an orange and blue blast coming from where the rave had been. Her heart stopped, but the train didn’t. She quickly tried to use her phone but there was no signal, just a holding screen.
“We’re sorry for the inconvenience but the Urban Pacification Department is suppressing communications in the district. Thank you for your patience.” -=8=- She hadn’t slept for two days, well, not properly; the news had said that there had been some kind of gas explosion in the area and that a large number of people had died, including everyone at a party. The district had been locked down for some reason; apparently a safety precaution, but she didn’t believe it. She still had the image of that man in his white dress-jacket and she hadn’t recognised the insignia on it and her search on the network had been fruitless. Jacob had been fussing over her. He had a certain degree of reservation about it though, he knew full well she couldn’t just spring out of bed one day and have forgotten it all. She just lay about, half-dressed, hoping that she’d wake up and everything would be fine again. She knew it wouldn’t be, though.
Eventually she got dressed. Nothing fancy, a black knee length dress with tights, flat shoes, a warm hat and gloves. She pulled on her jacket and walked out with her bag. All the time she’d been lying about, she’d occasionally look through the book and when she did, she heard things and saw things that made no sense. Her nightmares had become more intense and she’d developed an irrational fear of spiders. She was starting to suspect all the partying and stress had taken it out of her, but she needed to do something and the book seemed to be the only thing she had to take her mind off of the disaster.
She reached the bookshop. Except instead of the bookshop, there was a restaurant, selling some kind of Asian food. Confusion gripped her. She went in. A half-dozen people sat at tables and a waiter walked up to her.
“Seat for one?” “What? No. Wait. What?” “Would you like to eat? A seat for one?” He looked at her as if she was some kind of alien. “No. What happened to the bookshop?” She was flustered and tried to control the sense of frustration, mixed with panic. “Bookshop?” “Yes. There was a bookshop here a few days ago. It’s been here for ages.” “I’m sorry Miss, but you must be confused. I’ve been working at this restaurant for several months now.” She couldn’t remember much about what happened next, but found herself sat at a table in a café, a chocolate milk and a cake in front of her.
“What the fuck is going on?” She asked herself rhetorically. She didn’t have a clue. Her book in her bag, she started eating the chocolate cake. She let out a sniffle and realised she was crying and then sobbing. Before, she was just sad and miserable and alone. Now, she was lost. Where had the bookshop gone? What happened to her foot? Why had her friends gone? “Here, use this.” An oddly warm tone. Alice turned to see Yuu leaning down, so their faces were level, a sorry look on her face. Alice’s state of confusion didn’t let her understand and she just stared, tears streaming down her face. Yuu lent forward and dabbed her cheeks and eyes. A kind warmth that Alice had never associated with Yuu flowed from her delicate touch. “Hush now.” Yuu said, but Alice kept crying. So Yuu leant forward and held her, stroking her hair gently. Time passed and eventually Alice had calmed down, Yuu sat with her and poured an energy drink into a plastic glass. Then looked at her. A probing, thoughtful gaze, Alice didn’t have the energy to try and figure out why Yuu was there and she didn’t care. It was the first time she’d ever been with Yuu and not felt like running away and for the first time in days, she hadn’t felt like she was completely lost.
They sat quietly and finished their drinks.
“Thank you.” Alice hadn’t known what to say and settled with that. “You shouldn’t.” Yuu said, standing up and staring down at her. “Why?” “You just shouldn’t, but…” She pulled a face, a sad look in her eyes. Then handed her a piece of paper. “What’s this?” “My number. Call me if anything happens. Anything at all.” Yuu walked off, skirt swaying, her small shoulders . Alice looked at the number and entered into her phone. -=9=- She’d asked Jacob if he knew anybody that knew about ancient books and weird languages. He’d thought about it whilst at work and came back to the apartment with a number and a name. Mitchell Lovechilde: a man who specialised in bizarre scripts and books. He worked for the Asylum Society of Artefacts, until a few years ago and now, apparently, he was working freelance. Alice decided to go and visit in the morning.
Mitchell had apparently had a small office in a rundown block in the lower part of Chang Town. It had taken her a while to find it and she had to ask several people how to get there before stumbling on the building. She walked up three flights of stairs and found herself outside a door with “Lovechilde, Artifactor and Investigator”. She wondered if Artifactor was a real word, but decided it didn’t really matter. She looked for an intercom but couldn’t see one, so knocked on the door instead. She stood for a few minutes, then looked through the spy hole. An eye glaring back at her. The door opened and she was confronted by a man in a pair of old suit trousers, brown socks and an un-ironed white shirt. He was probably in his late thirties or early forties and wore spectacles.
“Mr Lovechilde?” “Yes.” He paused awkwardly. For a moment, a look of confusion on his face, as he scanned her from head to toe. She felt slightly awkward as his gaze seemed to linger slightly too long on certain parts. “And how may I be of assistance, young lady?” He finally said, looking her in the eye and pushing his glasses awkwardly, a slight blush appearing on his cheeks. “I have a book I want you to look at for me.” “I’m sorry, but I only look at rare artifacts. The latest fashion magazine or a reworked copy of Shakespeare don’t particularly interest me.” He went to close the door, but she slammed the side of her foot against it to wedge it open. “This, I think at least, is a rare artefact . At least, it appears to be. I’m sure it might interest you.” She tried to be confident and powerful and she thought, to be honest, she was moreso than this guy. He looked lost for a moment and kept the force on the door, before he opened it again. “Well, you may as well come in.”
“Thank you.” She walked into the office. The walls were lined with bookshelves, an odd musky smell in the air she didn’t quite recognise. There was a desk piled with old-looking books and modern textbooks on languages, as well as an old-looking computer, a plate and, a computer . There were two comfortable-looking seats: one behind the desk and one in front. She sat down in the one in front of the desk and he awkwardly shuffled around a pile of books. “Excuse the mess, my secretary has been off for the past few days. Could I get you some tea?” She questioned whether he had another cup and by the look of a book-covered desk in the corner and a chair she hadn’t noticed before, the secretary hadn’t been here for a rather long time.
“Yes please.” She was polite. He came back ten minutes later and placed a cup of tea on her side of the table and one on his, then sat down and looked at her.
“So, this book.” He asked, disinterested. She pulled her bag onto her lap and took out the book and placed it on the table. He stared at it a moment. Then lent over it and looked down at the plain cover. Then carefully opened the cover and stared.
“Excuse me a minute.” He opened his drawer and put on a pair of gloves and pulled the book over to his side of the table. Carefully, he began to thumb through the pages. “Oh my…” He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose again.
“Oh my, oh my.” He paused on a page and then went back to his drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass.
“Where. Where did you find this?” He looked up at her.
“A bookshop, but the shop’s gone now.” “Gone?!” “Yeah. I went back to find out where the book had come from. It was also a karaoke place we went to a lot, but when I got there, nobody seemed to know about it.” “Oh… oh dear” He flicked through another few pages, then he scratched his head and looked back up at her, a slightly concerned expression on his face.
“How long have you had this?” “About a fortnight, why?” “It’s just… very curious. I can do a few tests…” “Have you seen anything like it before?” “I, well, hmm, maybe. Excuse me a moment.” The man stood up and rushed towards a bookshelf, forgetting about the pile of books in the middle of the walkway, sending books across the room. He steadied himself and tiptoed over the chaos and reached for a group of rough-looking note books. He plonked them on the table and started to look through them, as if looking for something specific. Time drifted by and before she knew it, she’d fallen asleep.
She was stood before a black obelisk. A sense of fear slowly took over her, but she forced it back and walked forward. What had seemed like a smooth surface was covered in symbols. Words. She noticed in the distance she could hear chanting - strange words - alien to her ears. The symbols looked like the ones in her book, ancient and cold. Her fingers brushed across the face of the rock, perfectly smooth except for the grooves of symbols: black ebbing black. There was a meaning to the words. She looked up: stars, a sky full of brilliant bright stars against an equally brilliant blackness.
“From beyond the stars, beyond the infinite depths of space, beyond reason and thought…” She found that now both her palms were pressed against the stone. Her face touched the cold stone.
“Beyond reason and thought, our lords slumbered. Shadows of shadows.” She heard a scream and stood up straight. Stairs led down, lit by burning torches. High walls lined the stairs, the sky perfectly clear above her. She’d never seen stars before and these were bight. Her mind made pictures as she walked down into the darkness. Eventually, she looked down from a balcony on a ring of 13 stones with a central altar. A woman laid on that altar, her stomach sliced open, her mouth still moving. A large contraption that looked like the kind of machine that they used for kidney dialysis attached to her, but instead of clean blood being pumped back into her, the tubes seemed to run into the gloom. Figures around the outside chanted. Again, the noises they made barely sounded like words: hisses, slurs, and dribbling, indecipherable utterances. She found herself recoiling from the scene.
She opened her eyes and looked around again. She was sat in a comfortable chair. She was warm, likely thanks to the blanket that covered her. A man - the book detective - was still hunched over books. Piles of paper covered the desk; most of the earlier books seemed to have simply been pushed onto the floor to make room for new ones. He was muttering, presumably to himself. The lights were dim, but he had a bright desk lamp for working. She watched him carefully, completely absorbed in the books scattered around him. He reminded her of Jacob with that deep focus on book-work.
She stretched and he jumped.
“Oh, oh you’re awake. I hadn’t noticed.” She nodded and wrinkled her nose then yawned.
“Have you found anything?” “Hmm, yes, yes, lots.” “Like?” “Well it’s ancient, truly ancient. The cover has been replaced several times and the pages reset. There are notes from at least two dozen languages. It seems that it’s a book related is legitimate, I date the pages and they’re over three thousand years old. Maybe older.” He had a wide smile. She stared at him. Most of this she’d surmised on her own, however, at least now she knew it was original.
“They didn’t have paper three thousand years ago.” She stated plainly. He looked shocked. “No…, no. They didn’t.” He rubbed his chin. “I find that odd too. The ink, however, is likely blood of some sort. It’s far too old to tell, of course.” He strummed his fingers. “I need to make some enquiries. It’s reminiscent of something I’ve encountered before. I can’t be sure however. Could I keep a hold of…” “No.” She cut him off forcefully.
“Oh… May I take some copies?” He appeared shocked. “You may.” She nodded. “Well, it will take me a little while. You should get some rest. Also, my rate is ten thousand credits a day for this scale of work.” She winced. She had a large saving fund from her mother, but she’d prefer not to spend it all before she hit twenty one. She nodded in acceptance.
“Very good. Here are some contracts for you to sign.” She signed the contracts and had another nap before he’d finished copying and handed the book back to her.
“Hey, have you ever seen the stars?” “Of course.” “No I mean in person.” “Oh, no, no I don’t think I have.” “Oh.” She left.
-=10=- It was morning when she’d left Mitchell’s house and even though she’d slept for most of the night, she was still groggy, so she was sat at a small café in the centre of Chang Town drinking a hot latte and eating a toasted cheese sandwich, whilst looking forward to getting back to the apartment. A group of enforcers were walking down the pavement. She turned back to her food and nibbled at her toasted sandwich as they walked past, slowly. There’d been more of them about of late and she’d heard that they’d been at the school a lot recently too. She knew eventually a counsellor would appear at her house, only to be told she was living next door. She could see the problems piling up on top of each other.
She sighed and looked back at the road, head in her hand and shoulder rested on the table. Then someone half-ran, half-staggered out of one of the alleyways and towards the other side of the road. Shirow? She was about to chase after him when she saw a pair of enforcers running out of the alleyway Shirow had just come from. They chased him across the road, a bald man with some kind of tattoo on the back of his head followed them. He was carrying a box that looked like the kind of thing she’d seen in films where people carried cats around.
“What the hell.” She said to herself and followed them, trying desperately not to be seen. Was it really Shirow? She caught up to them in a small alcove. She squatted behind some bins. “Shirow Yaguchi, you have been secured by Enforcer unit 712. You have been found to have escaped treatment facility seven, putting the public in great risk. The Consortium cannot tolerate such action and as such, you are to be put to a more useful function. The bald man with the tattoo said. She could see it clearly now and it was evidently one of the symbols she’d seen in the book she had in her bag. “No. No. NO! I’m not going back! You… you…YOU FUCKING MONSTERS!” He screamed. She couldn’t see the man’s face, but she could see the terror on Shirow’s. Frozen, she watched. The faceless masks of the enforcers gave no impression - eyeless visors glaring emotionlessly at the scene.
“Send you back? No, no, you have forsaken that honour. You will serve in a far more elegant fashion. Supress.” The man waved his hand and suddenly the area was surrounded in a strange bubble. Something on her hand began to glow a faint blue colour. Panic.
“K’tlk akraa murak, sarit, makar, larit.” The bald man began to chant. He turned to his box and pressed a button on it and in her mind she could hear a silent scream: something inside the box. That small box.
The man continued to chant. Shirow didn’t move, eyes fixed on the man, who started to move his arms as if directing a slow piece of music. Shirow started to make a gurgling sound. His eyes were becoming bloodshot and started to roll back up into his skull. His body twitched and arms began to flail, as his chest heaved. Blood starting to pour from his mouth. She watched as his skin went pale and his body stopped moving, a vacant expression on his face. The bald man stopped chanting and walked forward, a small knife dropped into his hand from his pocket and he pressed it to Shirow’s forehead. Blood began to trickle down and over Shirow’s eyes and cheeks.
The man began to speak again, but instead of the words from before, he reeled off a sequence of numbers.
“Now take this gift, oh most holy of angels. Walk once more amongst the unworthy.” She could see the symbol on Shirow’s forehead - another from the book she had. She wanted to run. She also wanted to check the symbol in the book and she wanted to watch to see if maybe she could help Shirow, whose body had once again started to convulse.
“We should leave now.” The bald man said to the two troopers. They turned and headed down the alleyway, away from where she was hiding. The blue aura vanished and Shirow’s body kept convulsing, legs and arms bending and twisting to a point where it looked as though they’d snap. She ran over to him and knelt down. “Shirow! Shirow!” She said in an aggravated whisper, trying to hold him in place by his shoulders. A high-pitched squeal and his tongue - now blue - stuck out of his mouth. He was wearing some kind of hospital gown, a number stitched onto a small breast pocket. His body fell limp again. She knelt over him, mind blank, her hand reached for his. “Shirow?” She couldn’t hear him breathing and his pupils had rolled up. “Shirow?” She tried to shake him awake. Then, she felt a strong impact against the side of her head and she crashed onto her side, Shirow on top of her, fingers digging into her shoulder with immense force.
“That hurts! Shirow, get off!” His eyes were bloodshot. The pupils dilated, with a golden ring around them. She tried to push him off, but something had pinned her arms to the ground and his body pressed down on her hips. He tilted his head - a horrible grin on his face. It was then she noticed that a pair of translucent wings had sprouted from his back, tearing the gown. His bare chest had metal in it. Two things near his heart, that looked as though they screwed into a machine. A grotesque pair of limbs accompanied the wings - they were what had her hands pinned to the ground.
“A host so soon, I am lucky!” The thing that had Shirow’s face said. “Ugly thing, I hope you feel honoured, I’m going to fill you with larvae. My wonderful children will slowly feast on your insides whilst you hang motionless, but with full sense of the wonderful birthing that’s occurring within you.” Shirow’s face smiled and laughed. Alice wanted to scream, but couldn’t. The whole scene felt detached, as she lay their pinned to the ground, Shirow’s long carapace tail tearing out of where his tail bone was.
“What are you?! Get off me!” She found her voice, trembling and terrified, desperate to escape. “Me? I am your master. I am giving you a world where you can experience the purity of existence. You can worship me by sacrificing this hideous shell of yours. Yes, yes! That would please me.” Alice kicked her legs, trying to gain some leverage to break free. She could feel the thing was playing with her, extending this moment for its own enjoyment. The tail stroked her calf, the sensation of a hundred little tendrils wriggling sent a shock up her spine.
“Get off! Get off! Get off!” Alice screamed, as the sensation brushed her thigh. “Kel rith ter” A voice, small and weak. The thing with Shirow’s face stopped playing with her and turned.
“Who are you to talk to me?!” It sounded agitated, furious. Its grip loosened. “No time, be quick.” A little voice inside her head. With that, Alice threw all her force into slamming the thing with her forehead, while trying to pull free of its claws. The thing stumbled off of her, stunned by the sudden turn of events. She rolled away, grabbing a brick, that she threw with all of her strength. It slammed the monster in the side of the head. A chunk of flesh tore away and it turned to face her.
“You have weapons, Alice, use them and bring forth your blade. Quickly.” A voice, this time not inside her head. A small girl in a lilac dress stood, hand outstretched, eyes closed. A shimmering circle emanated from her palm, symbols twirling.
“Who are you, little bitch?! I’ll consume you! Slowly!” The monster screamed, leaping forward and slamming into the circle. “Ward, protect me from chaos.” The small girl uttered, large lilac eyes gazing at the thing in front of her. The creature couldn’t pass, but the circle was losing some of its shine and began to flicker in and out, as the thing’s tail and claws rushed towards the girl. New, smaller, circles appeared to deflect the incoming blows. Droplets of sweat began forming on the girl’s brow. A weapon? She stared at the scene. Bring it forth?
“That little human cow will carry my larvae and you will sate my hunger, you little witch.” Another blow, this one smashing through the girl’s defences and hitting her in the stomach, throwing her back against the wall.
Alice let out a gasp. “Shit, shit, shit!” Blood trickled from the small girl’s mouth, she whipped it and looked.
“It’s been a little while since that last happened.” An offhand remark, as she looked up at the monster. “Get away from her!” Alice screamed. Her mind was mush. Nothing made sense, but that didn’t matter. She reached her hand backwards as she started to run towards the creature intending to bring her fist down it with all her strength; instead her hand tingled. The monster turned to face her as she roared. Her fist came down and in it, a hilt. A large, long, wide blade covered in lightning. The monster leapt out of the way just in time to save itself, but not one of its limbs, which lay twitching on the floor. Alice looked at the huge sword for a moment and then turned her attention and rage towards the thing. “Tsh.” It stared at Alice. Alice started towards it, the sword held in two hands. The creature’s wing began to buzz, pulling it up off of the ground, as Alice swung. Both of Shirow’s feet dropped to the ground, globules of blood dripped unnaturally from the stumps, as the thing lifted away. The bottom of his legs tore, as thin insect-like legs unfolded from somewhere inside his body.
Alice fell to her knees, the long sword still in her hands. It felt as though it had no weight to it at all, unlike her body, which felt like it was full of lead weights. She heard light footsteps and a hand on the back of her head.
“You did well.” The girl’s voice said, but Alice was numb. The words reverberated around the void that was her conscious mind, as she stared at the feet in front of her.
“Thank you.” -=11=- When Alice looked around, she was still in the alcove in the alleyway she’d seen the enforcers with Shirow. Her jacket and shirt had patches of blood on them. She saw Yuu leaning against a wall.
“What are you doing here?” Alice asked. “I had a call from someone who told me you’d be here.” “From who?” Alice stared at her. “No idea. What happened here?” “Nothing.” “You’ve got blood on you, somebody’s feet are on the floor in front of you, and there’s a limb from an oversized cockroach over there. Also, you’ve been almost catatonic for the past fifteen minutes.” “I, I don’t really know.” Alice answered truthfully and looked at the ground. Yuu walked over to her and handed her a shopping bag. “These should fit you. Get changed and then we should go somewhere quiet and safe.” Yuu looked up into the sky as Alice opened the bag: a t-shirt and a school blazer. She looked at Yuu, then turned and got changed. The side of her head hurt. She touched it and found a small scab. After getting changed, she and Yuu headed out of the alleyway. Eventually, they ended up in a small apartment. The room was rather bare; a futon was still on the floor, night clothes dropped carelessly next to it. That seemed out of place, as the rest of the place looked organised. There was a chair next to a desk and a television in the corner of the room. A door led to the bathroom and another to a small compact kitchen. It was smaller than Jacob’s house. Yuu opened a cupboard and pulled out two pot ramen and a jar of coffee.
Eventually , Yuu came back in. Alice was sat on the floor, legs tucked underneath her.
“Do you want the spicy one, or the other one?” Yuu asked, plainly. “The other one.” Yuu put the other one down in front of her and sat down with her legs crossed. She was wearing shorts, a jumper and a baseball cap.
After they finished eating, Yuu looked at her cautiously.
“We’re similar now. You’ve seen them – lived - and now you are able to fight.” She poked the pot with her chopsticks. “What do you mean?” “Those things. They lurk and they take people.” “What are they?” “No idea.” Yuu shrugged. “Why are the enforcers making them?” Alice asked forcefully. Yuu tilted her head. “Making them?” “Yes, there was some guy and he did something to Shirow. He had two enforcers with him!” “That doesn’t make any sense.” Yuu said looking back down. “But if you say so, then I’ll believe it. I have no reason not to, after everything I’ve seen and done. I know that the enforcers hunt people like us down. What they do to us, I’m not sure. Rina was like us; I saw her fight the day they took her away.” Yuu played with a strand of hair. “Wait… The enforcers took her?” “I guess, they were enforcer troopers led by some guy in a long white jacket with a massive collar. “Was he blond, with greyish blue eyes, kind of tall?” “Yeah, that’s about right. Do you know him?” “I saw him the night of the accident at Illysium!” They sat for a moment, in silence. “He didn’t look like he came from the enforcers, or urban pacification though. He had a different branch identifier.” Yuu said, tilting her head, she stretched and laid down on her side. “I guess they had something to do with that then…” “And that thing - that thing today - it was Shirow!” “Shirow?” Yuu had a blank expression. “From class.” “I don’t often go and I haven’t really been taking much interest in the people there.” Alice felt angry and stared at Yuu.
“Have you ever noticed how many people go missing? Did you remember Rina after she vanished?” Alice thought for a moment, remembering the apathy.
“Every day on the news, there are more unexplained disappearances, or serial killers, or accidents. We’re all so accustomed to it, we block the sense of it from our minds. We’re good at forgetting the things that scare us in this city… I wonder sometimes what Asylum is. Where did the stars go? Why is the moon shattered? Why is the sun orange and dead? Why don’t people see the eyes staring at them from the shadows?” She looked at Alice and smiled, a bittersweet smile. Alice shuffled and looked at her knees the anger evaporated. “Have you ever wondered about it?” Yuu asked, after a moment’s pause. Alice just nodded in silence. “You look exhausted, do you want to sleep?” She jestured to the futon. Alice was a mess. Her head was spinning and her body was heavy. Alice nodded and Yuu smiled, nodding back. She turned the TV on and moved aside, whilst Yuu got into the bed and pulled the covers up. She didn’t want to be on her own. Early afternoon cartoons on the television. She quickly fell asleep.
-=Interlude 0.3=- They were stood looking at some cargo containers, Enforcers blocking the way. A man in a brown long-coat, cigarette in his mouth. A second man – Jacob - stood next to him, notepad in hand.
“So, what’s in these containers.” The enforcer’s visor stared through him. “We’re on official business and I want to know what’s inside those containers.” The enforcer continued to stand, motionlessly. The detective rubbed his face in irritation. “Look, we’ve got a job to do. Can you get us a supervisor?”
The enforcer turned to another enforcer and after a moment, the second enforcer went off. Men in blue coveralls were loading up the container ships.
“What do you think?” The detective turned to Jacob. “Enforcers are never very talkative, so we can’t read much into it.” “Indeed, but we’ve traced those vans to here. There has to be something going on. The Rose Institute is up to something and I want to know what. I’m bloody tired of being stonewalled.” The detective was obviously annoyed. Jacob shrugged. “What can we do? Investigative division is the lowest rung on the ladder.” “When did that happen? I remember we used to investigate serious crimes and the grunts with the guns just turned up when some drug dealer had an automatic weapon.” “I can’t say I remember those times.” “No, you wouldn’t.” The detective crossed his arms, as a man in a long white coat and blond hair walked up to them, escorted by a pair of troopers. “How may I be of assistance today, detective?” The man asked, calm and collected. “We want to know what’s in these containers.” “I’m afraid I can’t disclose that information, but to put your mind at rest, they are curiosities being delivered to us from the Rose Institution; items discovered outside of Asylum that the Consortium and orbital officials hope will aid us in restoring the world to its former glory.” The man’s voice had no trace of deceit in it. “I can, of course, provide you a copy of the paperwork.” “We had information that they were linked to a large disappearance recently.” The detective was annoyed at the situation. “Really? I’m afraid I’m unaware of a mass disappearance, but who am I to question a detective? Sadly, I can’t let you near the samples, you may contaminate them. Normally I’d be more than happy to help. I’m very sorry.” “No, it’s fine. I’ll update our records.” The two detectives left the warehouse. “You go ahead Jacob, I’ve gotta go get some more smokes.” “No problem, sir.” Jacob walked off. The detective sighed and looked back at the warehouse. He managed to sneak past the enforcers. Years of service made him good at this kind of thing, he snuck into the container capsule that would be loaded onto the elevator and found one of the crates from the Institute. A small window on the front he peered down into it.
He heard a metallic sound right behind his head. He spun around.
“Strange. That’s never happened before.” The man with blue-grey eyes said, looking at his pistol. “What are-” the detective started to say, before the blond man grabbed his face. “How interesting.” He quickly pulled the detective’s face toward him and then slammed it back against the metal container. “Did you think you could interfere?” He pulled the detective’s face forward again and again slammed his head back into the metal container. “Could you possibly think that you could interfere in the works of gods?” He pulled the man forward again and slammed his head back again. A crunching sound and thick dark blood sprayed over the shining interior of the capsule. “At any other time, I’d likely have found great interest in studying you. Today though, I happen to be busy, but I’m sure they can find a use for you.” Men in blue coveralls worked around him ignoring the scene with drone-like obedience. He walked out. A bald man in a similar uniform, but only two pips on his collar, stood with a box sat on the floor next to him.
“Did you deal with our little runaway, Alfonzo?” The blond man asked. “It’s been dealt with. Another angel has descended from the heavens to bless the people of Asylum” “Very good. Now get some of the workers to tidy up the mess in there. It seems to have some enchantment, find out about it. Maybe we can do something with it.” “Yes sir.” The blond man rubbed his chin, thinking for a moment.
“Also, send a reward to the young detective that brought it here. Maybe we can find a job for him.” The bald man nodded as he disappeared into the capsule.
-=12=- The two of them were stood on the roof of a building in an abandoned district. Alice had drawn her sword and Yuu nodded approvingly.
“You need to form a protective barrier. Concentrate on creating a ward spell.” Yuu said. Alice scowled and thrust her sword forward, a large white circle appearing. A barrier against physical attacks.
“Good. Now, hold it.” Yuu lifted her hand up and a long rifle started to appear - dark red body and a long, black barrel. “This is God Eater. You’ve seen its power once before.” Yuu pointed the rifle at Alice and pulled the trigger. A fiery round slammed into Alice’s barrier. She squeezed again and another impact on the barrier. She squeezed again. This time the round shot off to the side. Alice turned, as the shell from God Eater sliced a strand of hair from her head. “What the?!” “Attacks can come from anywhere, you have to be prepared.” Another voice said. Both Yuu and Alice turned. The girl in lilac was sat next to Alice’s bag. “Who are you?” Alice asked, taken aback at the girl’s sudden reappearance. “I am Duna.” “What are you doing here?” Yuu took her turn to ask. “I am the property of Alice.” Duna said looking to Alice. “The property? What?” Alice was confused. “Yes. You possess my earthly form, so I am yours.” “Something you haven’t told me?” Yuu asked, eyebrow raised. “Wait, what? No!” Alice blushed. “Hey, I don’t mind.” Yuu shrugged. “No!” Alice stomped a foot. “You are the holder of the book that is my physical presence. Written long ago by those who had seen the present. I am yours and willingly so. If it weren’t so, you would be dead.” The girl in lilac – Duna - was small and tanned in a way not possible in Asylum. She stared at Alice, eyes full of knowing and patience. It felt like yet another level of confusion had been added to her already overladen brain. Alice just fell to her knees and started crying. Yuu rushed over to her, a look of concern, but not knowing how to deal with the situation, she wrapped her arms around Alice and held her.
“I’m sorry to have caused distress. However, things seem to be somewhat troublesome at the moment. I am only a shadow of my former self: a materialisation of something that existed in a dream.” Duna stood up and walked up to the two girls. Yuu gave her an intense, distrusting look. “I can’t be sure of what or who you are. However, I’ve learnt not to immediately question the irrational and strange.” Duna knelt down. “None of this is irrational; your understanding of the universe is but a pinprick of the truth. You see just a tiny part, the littlest possible scope of what is real. You are like amoeba: blind and without knowing.”
“And you?” “I am the most you have ever known. So much that I drive you mad. Knowing drives you mad. It gnaws away at you to see the truth, to understand the reality. That is why you are all so one-dimensional and why I am nothing but a shadow.” “Then what’s going on here? What is Asylum?” “I must not say.” “What?!” “To say would to be undo you.” “Then why are you here?” “She acquired me and I feel compelled to see she does not shatter in this storm. It is essential.” Duna ran her fingers through Alice’s hair. “Essential?” “Yes. It is essential. Those that stalk your streets… they are nothing. The blackening of the skies, the destruction of that moon, the dying sun: that is where the terror lies.” She turned and looked at the Spire. “That is the ladder to hell.” Duna seemed to go out of focus and then vanished as suddenly as she appeared. Yuu rubbed her eyes and sighed. “Hey Alice, want to go and sing some Karaoke?” -=13=- They had gone to a small Karaoke bar near where they’d been practicing and Alice started to feel like normal. Old classics and new ballads. It turned out Yuu was a good singer, along with everything else. Now, however, Alice was thankful for her presence. The array of weird and horrible things that happened over the past week had threatened to overwhelm her, but now it seemed manageable. She was lying on Jacob’s sofa, reading a magazine, when the door opened.
“Welcome home.” She sung out. “Thanks. I’ve got something nice for us to eat.” “Really?” Alice sprung up, the shoulder strap of her night shirt slipped down, eyes searching for the food. “Well, we’re going to have to go out to get it.” “Huh?” She tilted her head. Her hair was somewhat more messy than normal. “I got some reservations from someone for that nice restaurant on District 1. You may want to get changed.” He said, smiling. “Cool!” She selected some clothes and went into the bathroom. She looked at herself in the mirror. “Jeez, I’ve really been slacking.” She pawed her hair a bit and sighed, then got undressed and had a shower. When she left the bathroom, Jacob was waiting and watching some television.
“Good day?” She asked, whilst putting some earrings in. She couldn’t wear a hat with the dress she was wearing, but a scarf and a coat would do. Simple shoes, white tights, a black dress with white trim affair. She’d straightened her hair and was looking a picture; one final check in the mirror and she was ready. “It was okay. Wrapped up a case. My senior detective went missing. You ready?” “Yep.” She nodded. The restaurant was called the Ritz. The name was a holdover from before the Great War, apparently and run by a corporation that had also survived. Luxurious cars parked up and diners got out. Women in beautiful clothes, adorned with jewellery. Men in smart shirts. Her mind reeled through the designer brands on display without effort: big corporate and Consortium money. Alice and Jacob had arrived in a chauffeur-driven rental, provided by the Consortium, she supposed. It didn’t do to have people turning up in anything other than the best. She adjusted her gloves and the ribbon around her neck. She thought it amusing that she’d gone from an emotional wreck, to being sat in an expensive car, playing with her accessories outside one of the most exclusive clubs in the City. Nothing seemed real anymore and so she was going to flow with it all.
Jacob dealt with the concierge and reservations. The man was very polite and after finding the entry, had a butler lead them to a table near a window. The Spire was clear to see and she stared at the smooth, dark, shell. Jacob excused himself for a moment and she sat gazing out at the world, sat straight with her hands on her lap, as her mother had told her to do when she was little and they’d come to places like this before. She could see her elegantly dressed, a rose sown on her gown, a heart broach, long wavy brown hair.
“Odd, isn’t it? No matter how much you stare at it, it never makes sense.” A soft eloquent and distinct voice. She turned. The man she’d seen on the day of the accident was stood before her, wearing a smart suit, arms behind his back. He was likely in his early twenties, with perfect skin and broad shoulders. “Is that so? I’m sorry, have we met?” She feigned ignorance. “Why no, we haven’t. My name is Leo Sato-Klein.” He brought his hand forward. She went to shake it, but he took her fingers in his hand and lent down and kissed the back of her hand lightly. “Alice. Alice Verkaufer.” A surname she’d sooner forget.
He brought his hand to his chin, as if thinking.
“Daughter of Jessica Verkaufer, Former senior researcher at the Rose Institute?” “Yes, how do you know her?” “Oh, I take an interest in the institute’s operation, though I only joined the Consortium recently.” “What were you doing before then?” “Curious as well as beautiful. Before then, I had other duties.” “Oh, do you work in Urban pacification?” “God, no. I work in Research and Development.” He turned and saw Jacob returning. “Ah, your young man is back; I shall be taking my leave.” “He’s not mine.” “Really? Well, perhaps another time then, young lady?” Jacob sat down opposite her.
“Who was that?” He looked at the menu. “I’m not really sure.” She thought for certain she’d meet him again though. -=14=- Alice left to see Yuu early in the morning. When she arrived at the game centre, she found Yuu stood in front of a crane game, with an intense look of concentration on her face. Alice looked at the contents of the machine: there was a collection of stuffed toys that looked like a cross between a kitten and a rabbit. Alice waited until Yuu had finished her latest attempt before announcing herself. They’d gone in to play some more games. Alice told Yuu about meeting the man at the restaurant. Eventually, they headed to a burger place and sat down in a small park. People were getting on with their business. Young and old, families and couples. Alice watched Yuu carefully unwrap her burger and take a bite.
“So, what do you think we should do?” Alice asked, looking for some kind of lead. “Honestly? I don’t have a clue. I’ve just been wandering the streets and killing these things as I come across them.” Yuu answered, then took another bite and a sip of her drink. “Doesn’t sound very productive. Duna, have you got any ideas?” Alice had become used to talking to the book even when it didn’t have a form. “This is your world, not mine. You mentioned that creepy guy said something about the Rose Institute? What is that?” “The Institute was set up to take care of people suffering illnesses, whose cures are unknown or have been lost. Also, it takes in orphans and the like.” Alice answered. “Your mother used to work there, right?” Yuu asked, finishing off her burger and carefully folding the wrapper it came in. “Yeah, she died in an accident years ago, though.” Alice took a bite of her burger. Yuu stretched her arms out across the back of the bench and looked up at the lattice-work of gantries above them. “Then there’s also what happened to Shirow.” Yuu said. Alice nodded and then made a small noise and grabbed the book. “Hey, what are you doing?” Duna protested, as Alice flipped through the pages at speed before she found a symbol on a page. “Duna, what’s this?” Alice pointed at something in a book. The small girl’ss head dropped level with hers, evidently feeling the need to materialize. “Why did you come out just now?” Yuu asked, looking at the pair with a raised eyebrow. “Books don’t have eyes, idiot.” Duna answered with a condescending tone. Alice had noticed that she seemed somewhat ratty, but had decided some things were probably best left unknown. “Hmmm. It’s a symbol of power. Warlocks have them adorned on their clothes, or on their body. Different ones are related to different gods.” Duna’s lilac eyes glanced at Alice’s side-profile. “Gods?” Yuu looked over Alice’s shoulder, to look at the book. “That’s as good a title as any, especially from your perspective. Mad space aliens would also do.” Duna nodded. “Which god is this a symbol for?” Alice asked. “Hmm, Entomon would do.” Duna answered, after a moment’s thought. Fingers twirling her hair. “’Do’?” Yuu interjected. “Yes, ‘do’, as in ‘good enough’. It’s a name and it’s a hassle to say anyway.” Duna answered, irritation evident. Yuu scowled at the girl. “And this symbol? It’s the one the man engraved on Shirow’s forehead.” Alice pointed to another symbol, after flicking through the book some more. “It’s a marker. You use it, along with an arcane mechanism, to perform a…‘Spell’, I suppose would be simplest. This marker in particular is used by followers of Entomon. I assume that’s why the host became Kel rith.” “Kel rith?” Alice asked, this time before Yuu had the opportunity to invoke Duna’s annoyance any more. Duna nodded.
“A servant to Entomon, she lays her larvae in living, sentient creatures; the larvae release a paralysing toxin that stops the host from moving, but not feeling. She’ll tend to make a nest, so all her children can be close to her.” Alice noticed Duna’s fingers twitch. “What do the larvae become?” Alice was worried now; the creature was loose in the city. “They become Rith Hornets.” Duna stood back from the book. “Could you expand upon that?” Yuu asked, eyes fixed on Duna. Duna nodded weakly.
“When stung by a Rith hornet, a person will usually suffer terrifying paranoid hallucinations, leading them to commit terrible acts of brutality. They retain the memories of what they did perfectly, even after the effect of the sting has worn off and this tends to drive them mad, or makes them susceptible to manipulation from Kel Rith and her chosen few. Another small proportion of those stung will not suffer from the hallucinations, but instead will become enthralled by Kel Rith and will begin to create a cult, worshiping her. They in turn will gather those weakened manipulating their grief and guilt, rebuilding their personalities. Also they will find new hosts for Kel Rith to infest.” “How long does it take before the hornets come out?” Yuu asked, standing up with a sense of urgency. “A couple of days from infestation to their final form.” “That means if this Kel Rith found hosts shortly after fighting with you, then the hornets should already be out?” Duna nodded.
“How do we find it?” Alice asked. “Check for reports of irrational murders and a jump in people being institutionalised.” Duna said with a shrug, her face and eyes downcast. “Okay, sounds like the only choice.” Yuu threw her wrapper and empty drinks carton into a bin. -=15=- Yuu was scanning the network for any information that could be of use, when she received a mail from Lovechilde asking her to come to a bar in Chang Town. When she got there, he was sat at a desk in a scruffy coat and a fedora hat. She sat opposite him, with her arms crossed.
“So, what is it?” She asked. “I thought I’d seen some of those symbols before and I was right, there were two artefacts taken by Special Investigations that had a number of those symbols on them.” He pulled out a file and handed it to her. “A stone obelisk of some sort and a book. They were reported the instant they came in and SI came along that evening and took them. There’s more, though.” He tapped the file. “A number of buildings in the city have symbols from that book, as do organisations; for example, SI uses one of the symbols in its official logo.” “What about the Research and Development Division?” She asked. He put a finger to his lips. “Careful. They apparently have a hand in running SI. I wouldn’t be surprised if both items ended up in their hands and to be honest, I didn’t know they existed until I got myself buried neck-deep in your book.” He seemed very much on edge. “What do you mean by that?” “I mean I may have rattled one or two too many cages. There were some very basic translations left and all I can tell you for sure is that the things talked about in that book are very much real. The gods and the angels it refers to - at least those are the translations that seem to have been decided in the Consortiums material - they’re real and I don’t think they have much time for us. More importantly though, this entire idea is tied up in Asylum’s very foundations. I can’t dig any further. I’m going to find somewhere and see if I can hide there until everyone forgets I was ever born. I’d suggest you get rid of the book, or hand it in.” “I can’t do that.” Alice didn’t know why she couldn’t, but it seemed anything other than heading forward was impossible. Too much of her life had already been lost and it seemed all she could do was deal with this thing now. “Well, good luck, Alice.” He stood up and went to extend his hand before he had a second though, “Good bye.” “Bye.” He walked out. She looked at the table and then the file, which she picked up and put into her bag and then she left as well.
On her way back to Yuu’s apartment, she got another message, this time from Yuu.
“Hey, get back quick, I think I’ve found something that’ll let us find this Kel Rith.” Alice hurried back. When she got in, Yuu was stood in a smart-looking skirt-suit and a pair of square-rimmed glasses. She looked at Alice over the glasses.
“What do you think?” “Sophisticated.” “Good. Get changed, we’re going to have to do some poking around.” “Where abouts?” Alice looked about the room, there was a neat pile of clothes. Yuu had become apt at getting clothes that fitted her over the past few days. She started to get undressed. “A large apartment complex in Rhine. Apparently, there’s been a sudden rash of violent attacks and murders there. You find anything useful?” “Just that the guy I had look into the book is going into hiding and that there’s something very wrong with pretty much everything.” She explained in more detail as they made their way to Rhine. The apartment block was rundown and made from brick. Alice found that odd; the more she thought about the structure of Asylum, the odder she found it.
“Why on earth would you make something out of brick in this city?” A rhetorical question. “I hadn’t thought about it before, but now that you mention it, it does seem odd.” Yuu walked up the stairs to the large doorway and turned back to Alice, who hurried behind her. “How many apartments are there in here?” “Erm, about a hundred, across five floors.” Yuu recalled. “Great and how many incidents?” “Four that were mentioned on the network.” Yuu opened the door. The smell of damp wafted out on a wave of warm, moist air. They knocked on a few doors; there were no answers until they reached the sixth apartment on the first floor, where a bald, fat man answered, dirty stains on a grey t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He had black bags under his eyes and his skin was unpleasant.
“What is it?” When he spoke, they could see his teeth were rotten. “Good afternoon, sir. We’re doing a follow-up on the recent incidents. Have you been feeling faint or suffering any kind of adverse effects?” Yuu asked, in a professional manner. “Why would I be feeling faint? They just went mental and hacked a few people up.” His forehead was covered in a faint sheen of sweat. “This is just a routine follow-up. I’m with the Consortium’s medical investigation division. It’s just we find it best to investigate clustered events of this sort.” She looked down at her console and tapped it with her fingers. “Though, if you don’t intend on being helpful, I can always note that down?” “Wait, no, I haven’t been feeling faint, or had any other problems,.” “Thank you, sir. Have you noticed anything about any of your fellow residents? Could it be possible any of them are involved in the distribution of some kind of illicit substance?” “Well, that guy in apartment seventy three has been going out late at night and coming back in the early hours recently.” The fat man looked around uncomfortably. “How long has he been doing this?” “About three days.” Yuu nodded and tapped on her console some more. “Very well. Thank you very much for your assistance. Your cooperation will be noted.” “Thank you.” The man disappeared behind his door. The two girls continued down the corridor. “What do you think?” Alice asked. “No idea yet. He didn’t seem too healthy.” She looked back over her shoulder at the door. “I don’t know anyone that doesn’t work in a half-decent job that looks healthy.” “I guess.” They continued to knock on doors and ask questions. The stories often seemed mixed up and a lot of people didn’t seem to know much about the other people in the complex. Not that that was surprising. Alice couldn’t name any of her neighbours except Jacob and her complex was far nicer than this one. On the second floor, a man in a padded long-coat and mirrored shades was stood against a wall, a pipe in his mouth and a lighter. A sweet smell filling the corridor. He didn’t seem to notice them, as he lit the rock in the pipe again and inhaled.
Yuu looked him up and down, “Hey you, seen anyone acting weird around here lately?” The man just stared into space, for what seemed like minutes.
“Just you two.” He finally answered. They walked towards the door with the yellow and black tape, after asking questions at a few more rooms. Alice started to think that if any of these people were now members of a cult, they’d sure be aware of the two of them by now. Yuu turned the handle of the door, pushed it open, then ducked under the tape. Alice followed her in. Yuu flipped the light switch. There was a large red patch on the carpet and another on the couch. Splatters across the wall.
“Apparently, the wife went mad and killed her husband and daughter with a cleaver, then jumped off the roof of the building.” Yuu said, a frown on her face and hands in her pockets. “We don’t seem to be finding much of any use.” Alice knelt down.
“No, I suppose not.” Yuu walked into a bedroom. Pictures drawn in thick crayon on the walls, a half full cup of chocolate milk on the bedside table starting to curdle. Blood spattered up the wall and the mattress had a big, dark red patch. Yuu touched it, sticky red blood coming off on her fingers.
“Is the heating broken in this building? It’s too warm.” Alice fanned herself. Yuu looked back at her a moment. “Duna, can you tell anything?” Yuu asked and the small girl appeared. “I’m not sure I don’t have much power anymore.” She frowned. “It would be easier if we had access to the grimoire translation those guys are using, then you two would be more useful.” “Well I doubt that’s going to happen.” Yuu said. “Well no, as I said.” “Behave.” Alice interjected. Duna turned to her and looked dejected. “Sorry.” She kicked the ground. “Have either of you got a pen, or some chalk, or anything like that?” “I’ve got some charcoal in my bag.” Alice said, opening it up. “Why do you have charcoal?” Yuu queried her. “Drawing. I don’t do it much anymore.” Alice handed Duna the charcoal pencil. Duna sat on the kitchen floor and drew a circle, then a second circle inside it, then added thirteen lines between the two circles to form thirteen boxes. In each, she drew a symbol and in the centre she drew an eye and underneath, a final symbol. She stood up and turned to Alice. “Now, come here and put your hand out like this.” Duna told Alice and put her palm outstretched above the drawing. Alice complied. Duna took a knife from the cupboard and looked at Alice. “Sorry, this might hurt.” Duna mumbled, then ran the knife along the palm of Alice’s hand, lightly. Alice squeaked in pain. Blood started to pool. She then sliced her own finger deeply and squeezed it over the circle. As the two girls’ blood mingled on the drawing, it began to glow. “Now concentrate. Yuu how long ago did this event occur?” “About two days ago, around 6pm.” “What’s the exact time now?” “Thirteen minutes past two in the afternoon.” “Forty three, forty seven, two thousand, three hundred and eighty with forty seven remaining, one hundred and fifty seven thousand eight hundred and twenty. Translocate and scan.” The circle glowed and Alice’s pupils expanded. Yuu rushed forward, catching her as she fell. Alice was stood in the kitchen. A woman was cutting vegetables; the TV – everything - seemed surreal. A strange emerald-green light emanated from the woman. Alice turned and looked at the couch. A man was sat in front of the television. It dawned on her that this was the room she’d been stood in. The clock on the conventional oven said it was just past six. She heard something new: a very high-pitched buzz that stopped just short of her. A wasp was sat on the fridge. Alice looked at it closely: it was smaller than she imagined, but with a longer tail; brilliant yellow stripes. Unlike the light from the woman, this gave off a peculiar black shadow. She assumed it had to be a Rith Hornet. The stinger was long and she imagined that even if it weren’t for the horrible effects the creature created, it would likely have hurt like hell.
The hornet seemed to look around the room as if considering who to attack. Eventually, it set off towards the woman, jabbing her with its long tail several times. She screamed as it buzzed away. Her husband sat up looking concerned.
“What is it?” “Something stung me. God, it hurts.” “Do you need anything?” The woman stood with her hand over her neck. “No… no, nothing… it’s okay now.” She moved her hand away. A large blister. Alice could hear the buzzing. The woman nervously looked at her husband.
“Are you sure?” He asked, looking over at her. “Y-yes.” She stammered, a fearful look in her eye. Alice turned away and focused on the hornet. She didn’t want to see what was about to happen. She saw the black shadow go into the corridor. She followed, as it vanished up into a vent. She heard a scream from the living room.
“You, you can’t have me! Keep away!” “W-what are you arghh~~” Alice covered her ears and closed her eyes.
“I don’t know what you are! Why are you here? Where am I?!” She could hear the mad ramblings. She could feel somebody shaking her. When she opened her eyes, Yuu was holding her shoulder and Duna was looking over her shoulder; they both had a frantic look about them. “It was definitely Kel Rith. The hornet entered and left through a vent in the hallway ceiling.” Alice stared at Yuu. Duna looked away. “Don’t worry, Duna, Yuu, it was fine. But why haven’t there been more incidents?” Alice asked. “If this happened that long ago, then shouldn’t there be more?” “I suppose that there are three main possibilities, Kel Rith is being very cautious: this Consortium is covering it up, or that the incidents aren’t being discovered, or that Kel Rith can be more specific about the kinds of people she has her hornets attack.” Duna replied. “Or maybe what the effects will be.” Yuu leant back against a kitchen surface. “I don’t like that idea.” Duna frowned, whilst chewing her lip. “Can we get schematics on this building’s ventilation system?” Alice asked. “Maybe, but what good will it do? Every room will be connected to it and there will be vents on the roof and probably a boiler on the ground floor.” Yuu looked at her. “I guess. That would mean if she’s even in this building, she could be in any of the rooms?” “Or the roof, or the boiler room, yeah.” “I suppose the only choice is to follow the guy that goes out in the middle of the night?” Yuu nodded.
-=16=- It was raining dark globules from the gantries and platforms above. Wind made the metalwork whine and screech, as it twisted and flexed in the strong winds. Asylum could be particularly dangerous on nights like this, with sudden vortexes of wind forming, capable of blowing you off the edge of a platform or gantry, down to a rather unpleasant and sudden death. People tended to stay inside or keep to the larger, more secure streets, lined with shops and bars. Tonight, though, Yuu and Alice were stood in the dark, waiting for somebody to leave the old apartment building and lead them to their target.
“So, do you think this guy will go out tonight?” Alice asked, she was holding an umbrella and had a warm coat and hat on. “I hope so. I’d hate to be in this rain for nothing.” Yuu had a coat with a large hood that made it impossible to see her face, unless you were looking at her straight on. After an hour of waiting, someone came out of the building. He seemed to match the description they’d built up of him whilst they were asking around the apartment building: he had short, black hair, a scruffy-looking jacket zipped up, and jeans with a pair of black boots. The two girls started after him, walking at a pace to just about keep up with his. He walked for about half an hour, before going down some stairs to a basement bar.
Yuu and Alice looked at each other a moment. Yuu shrugged and the two walked down the stairs. The bar was a dark dive of a place, music playing over a sound system with obviously-blown speakers. The bar was little more than a couple of high tables put in a corner of a room, casks of beer resting on them and a collection of spirits on the shelf behind the young man serving. The man turned as they walked in and smiled, a white tea towel covered his left hand. A heavy scent of incense in the air from joss sticks and scented candles.
“Welcome. What do you want to drink?” “Two bottles of beer, please.” Alice said, unbuttoning her coat. She hadn’t been expecting she’d end up in a bar. The man handed them the beers and Alice paid. There were a number of small tables; a variety of people sat at a number of them. Most looked like they were shift-workers unwinding. “Odd place.” Yuu said, as she took a swig from her bottle. Alice looked around. “I’ve been to odder.” She couldn’t see the guy they were following. “Did you often come out to places like this?” Yuu focused “Yeah, every now and again.” Alice thought back to the times she’d spent with Kammy and Ren, drinking the night away with a bunch of random guys. They’d done that a lot. “Must have been a blast.” Yuu lent back and slouched. Alice looked at a door at the back of the room. “It had its moments, for sure. What about you?” “Nope. I had somewhat overprotective parents and I never got into the flow of things when they weren’t around anymore.” Alice turned her attention fully back to Yuu. “What happened to them?”
“They just didn’t come back one day. Some guy from the investigative department said they must have run off or something.” She shrugged and had another swig. “You believe that?” “Nope.” Yuu smiled. “They weren’t amazing parents, but they were dedicated. Something happened, but who knows what. People vanish into the depths of this city every day.” Alice sighed. After half an hour of idle conversation, the guy walked past carrying a sports bag that looked rather heavy. He looked over at the young man, who nodded with a smile as the man left.
The young man walked to the exit and flipped the latch with his right hand, a threatening grin on his face. The tea towel was on the bar. Alice’s eyes quickly flicked to his left hand, except instead of a hand, it was a rotting stump with the blade of a clever embedded in it.
“Oh shit! Yuu!” The two leapt up, some of the other drinkers turned to look at them in shock, whilst other drinkers revealed equally mutilated limbs and weapons. Looks of horror on the faces of some and glee on the faces of those wielding their gore-covered devices. “It’s harvesting time.” The young man said, leaping forwards at Alice, but cat-like reflexes saw her leap back with ease. Yuu had grabbed the seat she’d been sat on and swung it at the man. The sound of chopping behind them and a man screaming whilst another cackled. The impact of the chair broke two of the legs and knocked the young man to the side. Alice had drawn her sword. Yuu threw a bottle over Alice’s shoulder, hitting a frenzied man in the face, stunning him. Alice used the time to lunge forward without hesitation. The young man looked up at her in shock, as she brought the sword down slicing his mutilated arm off. She continued the motion, allowing her to dance around him, putting him between her and the rest of the room. Yuu, meanwhile, had drawn God’s Bane , its stylised long cannon, blood red casing and sinewy-like lining making it look as though it were covered in muscle.
Within a moment, the room had turned from a quiet resting place, to a blood-spattered hell. A woman with hypodermics instead of fingertips, gouged at a man’s stomach, his eyes bulged and tongue outstretched. Another woman stared at her mangled arm, as a pair of men forced her – screaming - to the ground.
Yuu pointed her cannon and pulled a stream loud roar forced Alice to cover her ears, as Yuu focused fire on the frenzied and mutilated people. A cold, dispassionate look on her face as the heavy shells from the cannon shredded them, adding their mangled corpses to the room of death. When she lowered her gun, nothing much moved. Well, a few things twitched, or dripped. Alice covered her mouth and gagged, then dropped to her knees and vomited. Yuu scrunched up her face in disgust at the scene she’d caused and the smell - she covered her mouth and nose and looked down at Alice.
“What the hell was that?” Yuu asked. “Cultists, I guess. Though I’m not sure whose.” Duna answered. She didn’t take her physical form. Alice retched again. Yuu turned towards the internal door, reached out and turned the door handle and swung the door open. Whilst stepping back, she almost turned green and turned away, grabbing Alice by the shoulder and dragging her - still gagging - out of the basement. When the air hit her, she couldn’t hold back and used the wall as support, as she too threw up.
Alice sat on a step and wiped her mouth, breathing heavily. Yuu stood up straight and looked at the sky.
“I guess we know why there were so many scented candles and joss sticks now.” Yuu said and looked down at Alice. The both of them were pale. “I guess so. What was in the other room?” Alice asked looking up at Yuu. “Just more hell.” She said, whilst pointing God’s Bane through the door. “Purifying Flame.” She said quietly. A yellow magic circle appeared and white-hot fire spat from the barrel into the building. “So… I guess he was here picking up lunch for it, then?” Alice asked. “That would make sense. So where is he now?” “Wide area scrying.” Duna said. She was stood next to Alice, her hand resting gently on Alice’s shoulder, eyes looking more kindly at Yuu than normal. “What’s that?” Alice asked, looking now at Duna. “Now you’ve been close to him and we know he’s in this area, all we need is some item of his and we can perform a ritual that will let us find him.” Duna answered. The two girls nodded. “Back to his room, then.” “Yeah.” The two of them walked back up the stairs. Both looked shaken and pale. However, they didn’t look defeated. If anything, Alice felt as though a new fire had been stoked inside her. She’d killed a man - even if he was mad and frenzied, with the full intention of eating her alive. She looked across at Yuu and realised it was probably one of the reasons she’d always been so scared and intimidated by her, Yuu had been doing this kind of thing for a long time.
“Yuu?” “Yeah?” “Have you ever done anything like this before?” “No.” Yuu shook her head. “Only monsters until today. Though they were monsters too…” Alice put her arm through Yuu’s and they walked down the pavement with their arms linked. Duna walked behind them, a slightly confused look on her face.
On the walk there, Duna explained a new incantation, which she assumed they’d need to get into the man’s room. She’d been correct; the door had been protected with a number of incantations and if they’d just kicked it in, they’d likely have been very unfortunate.
Duna knelt by the door and studied the symbols, while Alice and Yuu looked around the room.
“So what are we looking for, Duna?” Alice asked, wandering around the kitchen. “Anything personal: a picture, nail clippings, a pet. Anything.” Alice opened the fridge. The vegetable tray didn’t have vegetables in it. Instead, it was dark red, with a whitish yellow intestinal tract resting on the top of it and an eye staring at her. She frowned and felt her stomach coming back up, as she slammed it closed. “I think I’ve got something.” Yuu said, from next to the man’s bed. Alice and Duna walked up beside her. “What is it?” Yuu showed them the hairbrush. “Will this do?” Duna nodded in response to Yuu’s question. “Now what?” Alice asked. “Hand me the book.” Duna stretched out her hand and Alice placed it. Duna then flicked through the pages. “Pass me some paper too, please.” There was a notepad on the bedside table, as well as a pen. Duna wrote down a few dozen words and passed it to Alice. “Read these out, with an image of the man in your mind and focus on those glasses you have.” Alice followed Duna’s instructions and an overlay appeared on her interface glasses. She loaded up a map application and a small symbol moved and came to rest over a building.
“I guess that’s where he is.” Alice said. “Yeah.” Yuu’s eyes darted to the door. “Someone’s coming.” As she said that, the door burst inwards and the formerly defunct magical circle flared. The man’s face twisting in confusion, as he seemed to fall through the floor, stopping midway through. The floor though was still firmly in place. He looked down and began to scream as another man turned the corner, a gun in his hand.
“Who the hell are these people?” Alice said, leaping down to the floor, pushing Duna down with her, as Yuu grabbed the lamp from the table. A bang rang out from the panicked gun-toting man. Yuu threw the lamp - a heavy glass thing. It smashed against the wall just above the gunman’s head, scattering tiny shards of glass shrapnel. The man turned and covered his face. Alice took the moment to leap forward, grabbing the door with one hand and the man’s outstretched arm with the other and slammed the door with the full force of her momentum. A loud, agonising crunch as the door crushed his arm. He screamed as Alice pulled the door back open and pulled him into the room by his broken arm and flung him over his comrade, who simply flopped over his lower half, nowhere to be seen.
“Who the hell are you?” Yuu growled at him. Alice stared. The man’s face - drenched in sweat - had gone pale, likely shock from the massive injury Alice had just inflicted. He didn’t speaking, just moaned and cried about the pain. Alice started going through his pockets, finding his ID card. “Research Division.” She slipped the ID into her pocket and then found the dead man’s ID. “What do you think we should do?” Asked Yuu. “I suppose the only thing we can do is bring him with us.” She glared at him a moment, neither of the other options seemed wise, though she didn’t like this one at all. Yuu went out of the room for a moment. Alice gagged the man, as much to stop his moaning and screeching as anything else. She was feeling quite bad about breaking his arm and the man on the floor… Though that was Duna’s doing, she’d repaired the enchantment while she and Yuu had been searching the room. When Yuu came back in a few minutes later, she had a spike in her hand. Spikes were used to deploy various drugs, both legal and illegal.
“What’s that?” “Spike from that crack head on the floor below.” She said as she pressed it against the man’s neck. He was young, probably in his early twenties; sandy-coloured hair. His eyes were glazed over from tears. “What are we going to do about finding Kel Rith?” Alice asked, as they dragged the man down the flights of stairs and outside into the night. “We have to find her tonight.” “Good. I can’t stand the thought of it being out here any longer. So what about him? He’s too much of a burden to carry around with us.” “Heh. I guess I know somewhere we can send him.” She picked up her phone and made a call. Alice looked at the guy, who seemed very much worse for wear. “I sure hope you aren’t another cultist or warlock.” “I can’t tell if he is or not, so he’s either really powerful or a mere novice. Also he doesn’t seem to have a mark, so if he is, he’s probably not a follower of anyone.” Duna said, walking next to her. “Duna, aren’t you ever cold?” The elegant dress Duna wore didn’t look like it was very warm, especially as its sleeves were only elbow-length.
“Not really.” She answered with a shrug. “Though I could do with some new clothes I suppose.” She looked herself over. “Do you just magic them up?” “No, I just rematerialize with the last clothes I was wearing.” “I guess people have always dressed little girls like dolls, then.” Alice said, tilting her head, imagining all the cute things she could dress Duna in. Duna’s eyes grew wide. “I’m not a little girl!” She protested, waving her arms. “Really?” Alice taunted her with a smile. Duna huffed and looked as though she wanted to stamp her feet, as Yuu walked back towards them. “A car should be here in a bit to take him off our hands. What are you two up to?”
“Alice called me a little girl!” Duna turned to Yuu for support. Unfortunately Yuu started to laugh and kept on laughing. Alice joined in. “Garghh. It’s not funny!” Once they’d all calmed down, Duna settled into a sulk and a car came to collect the man. They bundled him into the back of the car and it drove off.
“So, who was that?” “Just a guy that does collections for a street doc I know. He’ll get him fixed up and in place until we’re finished.” “A street doctor?” “Yeah, you know, for when you get injured or OD and don’t want to end up in a Consortium re-education session? Suffice it to say, of late I’ve needed one.” Yuu smiled. Duna eyed her carefully.
“So, how do we get into there?” Yuu asked, in a whisper
“I suppose the best way is through a hole in the fence, some way away from that post.”
“More breaking and entering, whatever would our parents think?”
“Mine’s probably too drunk to care” Alice said, bitterly.
They found somewhere that looked good and Alice pulled out her sword and cleaved a hole in the security fence. They slipped in and followed the map, it indicated that they had to go down a vent of some sort. A quiet humming rung out.
“I hope that’s not what I think it is.” Yuu said, looking around, an apprehensive look on her face. “With our luck today, it almost certainly is.” “I guess you’ll have to engage it in hand-to-hand and I’ll pummel it from range.” “Sounds like the way to play it. She was pretty lame last time.” “Maybe but remember she’d only just transformed then. It’s pretty likely she’s got a lot more tricks up her sleeve now.” “Heh.” Alice broke the lock on the grate that sealed the vent and looked at Yuu. Have we gone completely crazy? She thought to herself, as she looked down. The bottom was visible; it was lit up by a faint orange light. She jumped down, slowed by a collection of magic circles she used as a stairway.
“You seem to be getting the hang of this.” Yuu said, landing behind her. “Yeah, well, we don’t exactly have a huge amount of time on our hands now do we?” “True.” The two were in a maze of long, narrow passageways. The building’s schematics indicated it was an unused processing facility that had been shut down several months ago. Alice had clipped a light onto her jacket and Yuu followed her, both carefully looked and listened, trying to discern dangerous things from the less dangerous.
It didn’t take too long for them to find the dangerous things, they could hear the man they’d been following, talking up ahead.
“My Queen, I’ve brought you some more offerings and the children amongst the mortals are feasting well and laying seeds of madness wherever they settle.” “Good, I’m pleased. Have you made contact with the putrid refuge from the Shambler?” A strange, warbling voice: high and inhuman. “Yes, they have been providing us with flesh to keep you well fed.” “Pah. I despise these leftovers. I long to feed once again. I only have these few to torment and I am becoming bored.” “You’ve had to gather your strength, my mistress, but soon you will be able to spread your wings and once again take your rightful position amongst the other gods and play to your heart’s content.” “I have no interest in waiting.” Alice turned to Yuu: “Cover me, right?” She whispered.
Yuu nodded as Alice snuck around the corner and Yuu moved up so she could peer around. Kel Rith was larger than it had been when they had first met it. Alice didn’t let her eyes waver from it, as she stepped carefully between a mixture of pipes and what she suspected were remains of hosts. Large wasp-like creatures scuttled over surfaces. They’d been far larger than in the vision she’d seen.
“I’ll endeavour to bring you some more toys before the week is out. The Enforcers have been less active in our area of late, leaving me more opportunities, but people seem to be hiding in their houses more during the day.” The black eyes of Kel Rith showed no emotion. Strong bone-like legs supported its slim armour-covered frame, razor-like claws and a long, grotesque tongue. Alice focused - so very nearly in striking-distance. Then she heard the noise of one of the large hornet-like creatures lifting off and then more. Kel Rith turned its head. Alice had only gotten so close due to Duna’s enchantment she’d activated. But now she sprang forward. The man looked shocked as a green bolt of plasma shot from Yuu’s God’s Bane. The bolt impacted harmlessly on a magical barrier and Alice’s sword came down against an armoured forelimb. She leapt back, instinctively getting out of the way of the creature’s furious assault.
“You again.” “Die, bitch.” “Not this time.” Yuu was now occupied, keeping large hornets at bay with God’s Bane’s flame thrower. Kel Rith and Alice exchanged another short flurry of blows and the creature sniggered. Alice dug her heel in and threw up a protective field, as Kel Rith smashed into it, swinging with all her strength at its wings. Kel Rith effortlessly raised a barrier to repel her, but as the large blade smashed into its other side, its black eyes looked at her.
Alice was grinning. Another of Duna’s tricks: a few whispered words and she’d created a very precise illusion. Black blood poured out of the insectoid creature’s torso. She pulled back before it could launch a counterattack.
A long, spidery limb shot out from behind the Kel Rith. Alice threw up another barrier just in time. The second limb came for her and she deflected it with her swords. Then Kel Rith lunged forwards, alien words ringing in her ears. The first limb came thrashing back at her, going to the side of the barrier and glancing her arm. Foul, sticking hairs came off in her skin and instantly a blood-curdling pain ebbed through her body.
“Does it hurt, hideous thing?” Kel Rith didn’t showboat this time. It stabbed at her, barely able to form the thoughts necessary to create the ring of protection. The impact blew her backwards, landing in a puddle of thick, sticky gore. “Still alive? I’ll melt your nerves in acid, bitch.” Kel Rith gestured and suddenly Alice found herself suspended from the overhead pipe work. She felt like her arm was melting, covered in sweat from the pain and shaking. This time, she could think straight - enough to be afraid, just pain. White, searing agony tearing her nerve endings apart. “I’ll see to it that you die in most exquisite agony. So much so, you’ll no longer be able to distinguish it from pleasure.” Kel Rith’s head turned to face the fire that had charred her brood and turned back to Alice.
“Where are the others? I’ll feast on them too. I think I may at last have some fun.”