Finally! Gods From the Machine 2: Chapter 1

 Nicke Emberson Concept Art

Nicke Emberson Concept Art


SPOILER ALERT:

If you haven't read the original Gods From the Machine, I highly suggest you do so now! Otherwise, plot elements will be spoiled for you and besides the first novel is an awesome experience! Without further ado:


Gods From the Machine 2

Chapter 1. The Exodus Crusades

            The sun shone high in the sky above, beating down upon the four of them with a type of merciless heat that only a force of nature could inflict. Today was as clear as it had been for months, with not even a single cloud to lend a moment’s reprieve. The area surrounding them and the stretches of land beyond that were all composed of sand and rock, in a perpetual sea of tan as far as they observe. But then nothing could survive in this scorching desert, at least not anymore.

            It didn’t used to be this way, however, ever since the Hyperion Incident two years ago everything changed. With no more protection from demonic predators, the world was once again thrown onto the brink of annihilation. War broke out once more and the dream of peace faded into despair.

            This third war was dubbed the Exodus Crusades by the media, a last ditch effort by President Evans to bring back law and order from the clutches of chaos. The purpose? All over the world, people were being evacuated into safe zones—holy lands that were still strong enough to remain untouched by the evil influence of demon spawn. Every major Garrison was doing their part to keep humanity from falling into extinction, but all they were doing was running and hiding. Cowardice and weakness could never make a difference. It would inevitably result in their self-destruction.

            These four people knew that to make a true impact, they knowingly put themselves in extreme danger by trekking in No Man’s Land—this desert that had been claimed and designated by Elzodeus the Lord of Greed. Like his namesake suggested, he was a terrible demon tyrant with an insatiable avarice and he absolutely hated humans—especially human knights who set foot on his territory.. Even worse was that this particular group stood out like no other, dressed down in completely black from head to toe. They were completely vulnerable to an attack, but anyone foolish enough to do so would meet their untimely doom. However, they were on a quest to save the world and this was the only way they knew how.

           Almost out of nowhere the sand ended abruptly in a vertical slope downward, with a gargantuan bunker at the bottom crevice of this area called Sandusta Canyon.

          “We’re finally here,” Gadkiel said. He had been walking ahead of them the entire time. After days of walking without the use of mobile transports, they finally reached the end.

           He and two of his followers who were similarly dressed in black slid down into the canyon, their all-terrain boots allowed them to glide smoothly until they reached the base. The fourth member remained above to get into a good sniping location. They had to be wary when approaching this bunker, as it was rumored to be a demon hive.

          Each of their visages was protected by unique helms, designed to provide complete anonymity.  Their true identities were negligible, as they had all come together through ill-gotten fate. Because they did not follow a particular Garrison they were not considered knights. They were outcasts, nomads who did the dirty missions no average knight could handle. They were the God Hand.

Gadkiel, codenamed the Godsfist was the de facto leader of their group, walked up to to the giant stone double doors that blocked their path. It took several days to get to reach this point, and their goal was not going to be deterred by a mere rock barricade.

            He turned to face the other two, their expressions indecipherable under their guises. They were down from five to four members now, Gadkiel lamented silently to himself. Bah! A pity really, considering all the time and effort it took to procure and train a single member. However, it wouldn’t be long before that person had paid the price for breaking an ironclad rule.

            The rules of the God Hand were really quite simple:

1. The God Hand is first and foremost, dedicated to upholding the law, the tradition, and the tenets of the Herald’s Four Pillars: Bravery, Justice, Wisdom, and Peace. They will conduct themselves with absolute honor and dignity.

2. The God Hand must never reveal their true identity to anyone, excluding fellow members.

3. The God Hand must complete a mission at all costs.

4. The God Hand internal conflicts must be solved through nonlethal combat (this also applies to ranks).

5. The God Hand must be noble-blooded. Demons are forbidden to join.

6. The God Hand must answer their summons at once, no matter the time or place.

7. The God Hand must not share any of their knowledge or practices in any manner to outsiders.

8. The God Hand must have at least five members at all times. Members cannot quit unless allowed by the leader. Breaking this is a punishable offense.

9. The God Hand must protect and serve to preserve the innocent and pure.

10. The God Hand must destroy all that is evil.  

 

            Adamshel Aurelian, the leader of the Archangels created these ten commandments for them to follow and handpicked Gadkiel to be the leader. The honor of being selected by a man of Adamshel’s stature meant everything to him and he would not allow this unit to be mocked in any capacity. When the original fifth member broke rule number eight, he sealed his own fate.

            “Godseye, give us a visual,” Gadkiel said into the radio built into their helmets.

            As Gadkiel waited for a response, he briefly contemplated what suitable punishment he would administer to their deserting member once they found him, when Sentence the Godseye chimed back on their restricted radio frequency from a remote sniping position somewhere high and out of sight.

            “Godseye in place. I see nothing; I can’t spot any skellies, hellbeasts, or golems. No demons. There’s no sign of human activity either.”

            “We could have been too late,” Dhouma the Godsong said.

            “Boss, what do you think?” Kyros the Godspeed asked. His ornate helm had the horns of a gazelle, a suitable totem to represent his incredible swiftness. He was lightly hopping on his feet, rearing to move into action.

            Gadkiel nodded. “Godsong, clear a path for us.”

            Dhouma the Godsong, was his right hand man and also the burliest one of the bunch, readied his weapon by twisting the knobs and pressing the switches on his suit, which ran from up his arm to his face. He motioned for the others to back away from the debris that would surely follow after activating his special powers.

            He aptly earned the codename Godsong due to his uncanny ability to generate a sonic boom using just the sounds of his voice, a peculiar skill due to his ancestry as a Mystizian—a small group of humans born during the Second Coming who possessed different magical gifts. Dhouma’s unique helmet, which had tusks shaped to resemble an upside tuning fork, allowed him to focus and amplify his sonic blasts to an astronomical degree. Taking a huge breath, Dhouma let out a sudden cry, manipulating the attached prongs to a certain frequency and blew a hole into the doors.

            Neither Gadkiel nor Kyros had to worry about the piercing screech deafening them thanks to their helmets, as they stood idly by.

            After a few moments when the air was still and the ground stopped vibrating, they saw that the sound created a gigantic cylindrical shaped hole with enough room to fit a small army. They waited a few moments, just in case a horde of demons came forth to ambush them. When a few seconds went by and nothing evil appeared, Kyros and Dhouma turned to their leader for their next order.

            Gadkiel motioned for them to enter the summit after him, and when they did they found it just like Sentence said, empty with no sign of hostiles or friendly faces.

            “Do a full sweep and be thorough. Let us know what you find,” Gadkiel said.

            “Be right back,” Kyros said. He pumped his legs, and moved so fast it was as if he teleported through the humongous hole. Within moments he returned and judging by his tone, he was disappointed by what he found. “There’s nothing left here, boss. Just like Sen said, no survivors from either side.” He sheathed his twin short swords and kicked up some dirt in frustration.

            “Godseye, meet us inside. We’re going to need you take a closer look,” Gadkiel said.

            “Roger that.”

            Once they were all inside, they made their way to the scene where it appeared the majority of the battle took place, tearing the apart every inch in an attempt to find any shred of useful information. Among the wreckage were the usual items: broken weapons, scattered limbs, and copious amounts of human and demon blood. Gadkiel stood by, watching as they searched. Everyone besides him had removed their helmets, as anybody who could have identified them had long since passed on.

            “Judging by this scene, what can you tell me?” Gadkiel said.

            “I’d say the skirmish ended about a week ago, two weeks maximum. No leftover bodies mean that it was a victory for the humans, since they would bring the dead back to bury. They covered their tracks thoroughly, leaving no clue as to where they went to next,” Sentence said.

            “Exactly what I’d expect from Pailo’s legendary shieldmaidens,” Dhouma said. He pointed at the streaks of black and charred pikes lying nearby. “From the burn marks, it appears as if Agrian was heavily involved in this particular exodus. Strange, but judging by the state of their equipment, the demons apparently set up a makeshift laboratory when they tried to either operate or experiment with something before destroying all of it in the wake of Pailo’s siege.”

            Underneath his two-pronged helm, Dhouma was completely bald with a mechanical contraption permanently fixed over his mouth that acted as a prosthetic replacement and which also prevented him from accidentally puncturing a hole into a person’s head. It also gave his voice an unnatural robotic quality. Other than that, he had the traditional male Mystizian face type: hard, sharp angular features and dark purple eyes.

            “Right, but who cares? We’re not looking for what these demon scum are up to, we’re trying to find the Inferno Bearer,” Kyros said. “And if you take a look around Dhouma, the bastard’s already burnt his trail and us. We lost them, so this is was a colossal waste of time.”

Kyros was the newest member and the fastest knight Gadkiel had ever seen. Like himself, he was pureblood and had a penchant for slaying demons. The Godspeed was built with great lower body strength, and a thin frame on top. He had messy black hair, and a round boyish face. Though he and Dhouma were roughly the same age, if one saw him they would swear he was still in his early teens.

            “Shut up and let him think,” Sentence snapped.

            Kyros threw an obscene gesture and shook his head.

            Sentence was Gadkiel’s pride and joy, an orphan and the one with the fiercest loyalty to him. Without a face covering, she kept her long blonde hair pulled back and tied up in a high ponytail. She was undeniably lovely to behold, with a curvaceous figure and large, round purple hued doe eyes. Like Dhouma, her mixed-Mystizian blood bestowed her with ultra enhanced vision. To distinguish herself from others, she had a crosshairs symbol tattooed over her right eye, signifying her status as the ultimate sniper.

            Gadkiel spoke steadily, remaining composed. “As of now, if we stay here we’re going to die. Either from the heat or by exhaustion, so we cannot keep rummaging around after the scraps of Pailo’s knights. We won’t catch up to them if we’re always a step behind. We need to find out their next plan of attack and be there before they expect it.”

            “We search everywhere, and even the girl couldn’t find anything. I’m afraid it may all be gone,” Dhouma said.

            Sentence, who had continually sifted through the war torn bunker while the others had all but given up, lifted a nearby round shield. “Almost gone.” Underneath was a gold ring attached to a decaying hand, presumably lost when the shieldmaiden who was using this particular shield had her arm ripped off in horrific fashion.

            “That’s my girl. Let me see that.” Gadkiel said. Sentence obliged at once, pried the ring off and gave it to her commanding officer. As he appraised it, a thin smile crossed his face. The engraving had the initials: J & E Forever etched on it in beautiful handwritten cursive. The inside of the band had another engraving which had the initials of the original maker. After several failures to find any information, the glimmer of hope he had been searching for had finally come to fruition.

            “’J & E Forever.’”Gadkiel repeated the love declaration aloud, much to the confusion of his subordinates. “Pailo is famed for being one of the richest regions in the world. Do any of you have an idea as to why?”

            The others shared blank looks.

            “Because of their valuable natural resources, and the very reason why Elzodeus chose to Pailo as the foundation of his new kingdom. Gold is an especially rare and precious commodity, and there’s only one place in this region that manufactures custom jewelry from gold.”

            “Gilda’s Love Crafts,” Sentence said. It finally dawned upon her and then soon her fellow God Hand members caught on as well.

            “I see, so some punk miner kid probably saved everything to give this to her,” Kyros scoffed. “Too bad she’s dust.”

            “But he isn’t. We track this guy down and when we do he’ll know exactly where they’re at, or at very least give us a decent idea,” Sentence said.

            “I don’t think it’ll be that easy. Pailo’s second Garrison has been a secret for over two hundred years, there’s no way some random civilian would have even an inkling to the knowledge on the subject,” Dhouma said.

            “Haven’t you ever been in love, Dhouma? Trust me, he’ll know,” Gadkiel said.

            “When do we leave?” Sentence asked.

            “Now that we know where to look, we can bide our time and prepare for war,” Gadkiel said. He tossed the ring in the air, snatching it as it fell. “Soon, Nicholas Emberson. When we meet we can finally put an end to you, just as the Heralds have willed it. Once the legend of the Inferno Bearer dies, the world will come that much closer to salvation.”

---------------------

              Nicholas Emberson kept his eyes closed at the hiss of the purgator, which always shook him out of his meditation. A large puff of smoke shot out the backside of the egg-shaped pod and filled the quiet room with the familiar fragrance of wildflowers. These little quirks were supposed to make it easier for him to relax, but they had the opposite effect. Nevertheless, he would try his best to calm down. He took a deep breath and spoke to himself.

             Breathe. I. Breathe. Am. Breathe. In. Breath. Serenity.

             Breathe. I. Breathe. Am. Breathe. In. Breath. Tranquility.

             Breathe. I. Breathe. Am. Breathe. In. Breath. Control.

             The rituals he took to hold back his anger were tedious, but necessary to the overall state of his health. He continued to recite the words of peace in order to create the illusion that he wasn’t actually just in his underwear floating in a sensory deprivation tank while endorphins shot into his body. He could feel the fury from earlier subside, as gentle elation washed over him like a warm embrace.

            After about fifteen more minutes a quick, sharp beep sounded overhead signaling the end of the session and he could feel the water drain from the purgator. The needles pulled out swiftly and painlessly and then two female Garrison doctors walked in to unstrap him from the machine.

           “How do you feel, Nick?” the doctor carrying a clipboard asked. Her bespectacled face beamed with optimism and pride.

           “The voice inside my head isn’t screaming anymore so it looks like your little gadget still does the trick,” Nick said. He wiped himself down with the towel from the rack next to them and quickly dressed back in his clothes.

            Nick Emberson, now age 19 had remained relatively the same appearance wise, with the only physical changes the multiple scars scattered all over his body and the length of his hair. No longer neatly combed over, his dark brown hair was swept back and tied into a short, shoulder-length ponytail. Living in an all-female Garrison meant there were no barbers on staff and any grooming frills he had access to in the past we no longer available to him now.

            He glanced around. “W-where is my jacket and necklace?” He was suddenly in full panic mode.

           “Oh gosh I’m so sorry! There was no more space on the rack so we had it placed outside the room,” the doctor’s assistant said. She rushed outside and back in with his missing items in hand, looking down sheepishly.

           “It’s no problem. Thank you,” Nick said breathlessly. With a sigh of relief he took them and slipped them back on. There, he felt complete again. As always, he had to wear his signature custom jacket as well as the necklace Alyssa gave him. He clasped the feather pendant in his hand; these were two of his most prized possessions, and the only reminders of his life before the Exodus Crusades.  

           “Now that everything seems to be in order, our reports indicate your emotional levels are back to normal. Though your corruption has spiked, but stopped at 32 percent. It rose two percent higher than your last exodus, but you’re still far away from anything dangerous. You are clear for community interaction,” the doctor said.

          “Great job out there today, Nick! Everyone’s heard about what you did and we’re all very impressed. How many is that now? 24? 25?” the assistant asked.

          Nick thought for a split second. “Today makes 27 missions.”

          “Truly, impressive.”

          “Well, we still have a long way to go.” Nick said. “Where’s Matt and Joni? Did they stop by?”

           Matthew Cunningham was his best friend and fellow knight who hailed from Justice Unit and Joni Bliss was his girlfriend from the Peace Unit. They all originally hailed from Glenhaven before volunteering to follow Nick in his travels to the east, to Pailo in order for him to get a better handle on his latent powers. Despite the circumstances of his birth he was very grateful that at the very least, to still have them in his life. They were like the brother and sister he never had, the truest friends a person could ever know.

           “Yes, they came in earlier looking for you, but you had just started your meditation therapy,” the doctor said.

         “If you see them, tell them I’ll be training with Lady Tao.”

         “Of course.” They saluted each other and the doctor and her assistant went back to their office to go over more paperwork and data crunching, while Nick strode off to the training dojo.

         The journey from the medical station to the dojo was far, as they were on exact opposite ends of each other and were separated by almost a mile apart. The bottom of his boot soles clicked and clanged along the metal pathways that hung in the dense, dingy caverns. The paths were small strips, a little over five feet wide, that allowed only enough room for two single filed lines.  Extending all over, several of these identical singular pathways grouped together seemed to resemble the large lines that composed a metallic spider’s web. At the center of this ‘web,’ a considerable circular platform joined them all. This area was known as the Mecca, similar to Glenhaven’s Grand Hall, was the community meeting grounds where knights could come to congregate and enjoy what little spare time they had in between missions. It was important to spend time together because no one knew if their next exodus could be their last.

         Before Nick took the walkway that led to the dojo and the promise of more combat training, he stopped shortly at midpoint and loomed over the side of a railing. Aside from the guiding lights strung across the floors, the cavern itself was mass of darkness. He gazed intently into the abyss, just to find it staring back at him. Two years had flown by and nothing seemed to change. How much longer? No matter how many people he saved, how many demons he killed, nothing seemed to bring the world any closer to peace. Perhaps their goals would always be just out of reach.

         Alyssa, Daniel, Garreth, Peter, and the rest; they were all waiting for him to complete his training and return home as this destined hero. But what more could he do, what other trials did he have to overcome before he was finally good enough? Maybe he had to give up his humanity, let Agrian take control for a while. No, he remembered what happened last time and he refused to become that again. However, what was the alternative?

         Suddenly his train of thought fell as Cruciel stopped right beside him. Cruciel was a thinly muscular man, an inch or two short than Nick and had a head of wild spikey hair dyed red. He was dressed in traditional Pailean clothing, with all the white and gold Garrison trimmings. “Careful, you stare down there too long, you’re likely to fall right in.”

         “Sorry, it’s been a long day. I just needed a break to think,” Nick said.

          “I hear you loud and clear. To be honest, I’m not even sure how you do it. The Exodus Crusades have been taxing on us all, except you seem to make it seem so easy. You walk into each mission with the least members in the unit and you have the least casualties out of us all. My last mission, we lost another 30 knights.”

          “I can’t take all the credit, without Matt and Joni I’m sure I would never have even cracked double digits.”

           Cruciel chuckled and took out a hidden throwing knife from inside his shirt pocket, twirling it rhythmically as he spoke. He had the habit of constantly moving his hands, which Nick figured was due in part to his jumpy and nervous personality. “You’re too modest. Say, I know you got to special training with Lady Tao, but what do you think about doing some blade work after? I mean, you’ll never get to be quite as a good as me, but you’ll be better than most of these other guys.”

         Nick smiled. Cruciel was one of his newest friends at Pailo, and a wizard with knives. They had met for the first time during a free-for-all combat session and he was one of the last combatants standing before Nick eventually knocked him out. After he came to, he offered to teach Nick how to wield knives and deliver silent takedowns in exchange for some hand-to-hand fighting tips.  Once they got to talk they hit it off almost immediately, as they were both outcasts from their respective Garrisons and for completely unreasonable reasons. Like how Nick was despised for being a half-human, half-demon hybrid; Cruciel was hated for being the only male in a female-only Garrison.

         “Maybe. I’m not sure my body will be enough to handle it after this.”

          “That’s true, best to save your strength so I don’t have to go easy on you.” Cruciel spun his blade back into its original spot and patted Nick on the back. “Hopefully, I’ll get to work with you on the next assignment.” With that, slipped both hands in his pant pockets and sauntered off, presumably to his resting quarters.

          Nick sighed and with heavy shoulders, lugged himself off towards his original destination, mentally preparing himself get beaten into a pulp for about the fiftieth time this week. As soon as he made his way through the door a cloaked figure lunged at him, striking at his chest, legs, and neck in quick succession. Nick blocked all three attempts, leaving his arm an ample target as a handle to be thrown. He landed on the wooden mats with a crashing thud. He turned his head just in time to see a leg sweep coming straight towards his face, just before jumping back on his feet.  A flurry of blows came at him like a shotgun blast, but he parried them back with some effort.

         The cloaked figure leapt back, before springing forward in a full-blown charge. A tackle? It was easily telegraphed, a rookie mistake for any experienced unarmed combatant.

         Nick readied himself to counter, just as the cloak flew off her body and wrapped around him like a coil. Dammit, a feint!

         With his arms tied down to his waist, Lady Tao delivered a nerve strike that sent him dropping to the floor.

        “What did I tell you about letting your guard down?” she said.

         His eyes focused firmly on her feet, as the left side of his body no longer had any feeling in it. “Never let your guard down, no matter what.”

         “Exactly. You thought I would aim for a takedown, yet you didn’t pay attention to the fact that I could use my cloak as a weapon. If this had been an assassination attempt, you would have been killed and if that were the case, then I’d have to tell your Supreme Commander that I failed as your teacher.” She leaned down and struck him in the exact same spot, the feeling returned back almost instantly.

          Nick sat up, rubbing the left side of his face. “That was a mistake. I won’t repeat it again, master.”

          “Of course not.” Lady Tao pulled him up and motioned at her cloak. Nick went over and swept the finely made Pailean garment and hung it on the rack on the wall. Their eyes met and she tilted her chin to him, curiously waiting for him to speak. Though Nick had been under her tutelage for two years now, he was still awestruck by the sight of her. She was around during Peter Master’ time, which meant she had to be in her seventies at the very least, but she didn’t look a day over thirty. It must have been her dalliance with demonic arts in her colorful past that kept her so youthful and pretty. With long, silky black hair tied into a neat bun and a slender frame, one could mistake her for one of the students here.

         “It’s just one of those days. I got to thinking about Alyssa and the others and I couldn’t stop. My mind kept jumping back and forth until I—”

         “Until you couldn’t keep your focus. I understand. Two years is quite a long time to be away from the ones you love, my apprentice. But two years in mastery of your emotional state is still in its infant stages. That is why you were sent to me in the first place, do you not remember?”

          He never forgot. He remembered everything from the day he first discovered his demonic heritage to the infamous Hyperion Incident to present day. The battle against Doctor Numerous in Hyperion, such a long time ago yet it left the greatest impression on him because that was the last time he held Alyssa in his arms. Not a day went by without traces of their time together crossing his mind. After that finding out that Agrian was slowly eating away at his humanity, Peter sent him to train with Lady Tao, Supreme Commander of the Pailo Garrison and former demon sorceress. If there was one person in the entire world who could help him stop the corruption, it was she.

          “Yes, but the meditations and purgator can only do so much. He’s…he’s getting tired of it—I can feel it. The rage inside of me is seeping out and being sent back inwards by all is causing him to stir in there.”

           Lady Tao looked on at him seriously. “Has Agrian been speaking to you?”

           Nick nodded.

          “What does he say?”

          “He wants to be free. Whenever we go on a mission, in those little moments when we’re fighting side by side he feels happy. Then once it’s complete and I go through emotional balancing, I can sense him resisting and he tries to get me to pull away. He screams at me, he screams at the pain from being denied blood. But then I recite the words of peace liked we discussed and the doctor’s do their thing and his voice fades away until the next time.” Hearing himself speak aloud about Agrian that, like they weren’t one in the same made him laugh, laughing was the one thing he could do at the insanity of it all.

            “Perhaps, we should end our training session early today. I will to speak to the doctors and review their diagnostic notes. For now, I want you to go to garden and spend time finding inner peace.”

            Nick bowed. “Yes, Lady Tao.”

            Just as Nick turned to leave, Matt and Joni stopped breathlessly at the door. “Lady Tao, come quick! One of the survivors is behaving strangely,” Joni said.

            “What do you mean?”

            “She’s talking!” Matt said.

             They all met at the survivor rehabilitation rooms, which were located directly below the resting quarters.  As soon as they approached at the front door another female doctor with short brown hair and stocky build came from behind the receptionist to greet them, already knowing exactly why they came. They walked passed several rooms, each closed off with a doctor inside engaging in one-on-one therapy sessions. Big glass windows showed that they were all being treated in various levels with distress as one girl was seen playing with toy blocks, another was cowering and crying in a corner—it was a terrible sight to behold; all these women had their lives destroyed by Elzodeus. Once they got to their destination, they saw that she was already in private room with the same bespectacled doctor that administered Nick’s purgator treatment.

            “Status updates, please,” Lady Tao said.

            “As you know, most of the women used in those farms came back mostly incoherent,” the brown haired doctor explained. “We suspect it to be a combination of sedation and heavy experimentation. For the longest time we weren’t sure why. Now we think we’re on to something bigger than we ever imagined.”

          “Depravity. The degradation of humankind by a maniacal demon, what else can you tell us? She’s speaking again right?”

          “Yes, Lady Tao. At first, it was just nods and gestures and then a few days ago she started saying yes’ and no’s in response to things we offered her. But now she’s saying full words.”

           As they stood silently watching behind the two-way glass window, the young woman sat facing them on the floor rocking back and forth. She had taken off the new clothes she was given, as they were strewn across the room in all directions, choosing to only hold tightly onto the generously large shirt, which luckily was able to appropriately cover her. Her hair was wildly disheveled, eyes sunken with dark bags, and her body so malnourished that the whiteness of her bone could be seen from under her skin. She was in a daze, staring into space.

         “She was the last one we found that day. The one strapped to the bed,” Matt said solemnly.

          Instantly the memory flooded back to Nick like a bad dream. About a week ago they had liberated a demon settlement at Sandusta Canyon and almost finished clearing survivors when he picked up sounds of screams. Because of his acute hearing in his demon form, they were able to pinpoint a secret stairwell behind a false-wall that led below the surface. They followed the cries until they got to the end where room where they found the last prisoner. What he stumbled upon then would be forever ingrained into his memory. The same woman sitting before them now was found bound by all limbs with chains to a bed. Her voice was hoarse; it was evident that she had been screaming for hours. There was a single light fixture dangling over her and by her bedside there was an assortment of medical tools: needles, scalpels, scissors, saws, and strange fluids in glass containers. Blood was everywhere from her waist down, stained on the sheets and covering the floor; it looked like a scene from a murder site. Even when they unchained her and took her back to safer lands, she continued to scream she passed out.

         “How is she doctor?” Joni asked.

         “From our tests it looks like she’ll make a recovery in no time. She seems to have opened up again and is willing to cooperate. Time on medication and efforts on socializing will be key factors in her return to a normal life.”

         “What about the others?” Lady Tao asked.

          The doctor’s face dropped. “Unfortunately the rehabilitation has little to no effect, much in part due to the extreme stress those monsters inflict. Most of the time their minds are so far gone, they regress back to children or sometimes worse. It’s a good thing you got to her when you did.”

          Nick could feel the heat rising in his face. His hands clenched into fists.

          Matt placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. “It’s going to be alright, bud. We got her back before it was too late. You heard the doctor, she’s going to be just fine.”

          Joni tapped hard on the glass. “Wait, I think she’s trying to say something,” she said.

           They looked and saw that the young woman had become eerily still. Her unwavering blank gaze seemingly turned passed the focus of the room to beyond and through the glass window. Despite knowing that this civilian woman could not see out to them, it seemed that she had her eyes trained on Nick’s. Slowly her mouth opened, and in her trance she quivered to speak.

           “N-n-nephilim.”