≫ TIES THAT BIND: CITY OF ANGELS & TIES THAT BIND: WHAT LIES BENEATH ≪

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Nothing Left

Anonymous

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From where she stood, Wanda Taylor had a perfect view.

It had been Denzel’s only request. He’d pulled her broken body from the wreckage of the fallen tram only hours before. The two of them were more Red Eye than living these days. Neither of them breathed. They shrugged off injuries others would have found mortal. Even pain was but a distant memory; their nerves were as dead as the rest of them.

It made them an excellent choice for this, the final battle. A desperate push into an enemy facility where powers fought for the fate of the world itself. Every single meter gained was at the cost of blood. Every soldier was pushed to the brink of death. Many had already succumbed. Neither Wanda nor Denzel had any fear of such a thing. Their Patron, the creature of pestilence that haunted the woods, had a vested interest in the outcome of this battle. And so his children would fight.

But they were not invincible, even with the Rothorse’s dread gift. Just like any Red Eye could be brought down with persistence and a steady hand, so could they. It had almost happened to her, when an explosion sent the tram car hurtling into the abyss. He’d almost lost her. He’d almost had to be alone. She was all he had left, and if she were gone… That was a pain that burned beyond nerves, beyond deadened flesh.

It was why he begged her, wordlessly, to stay back. Out of harm’s way. She agreed. After all, it wasn’t like she wouldn’t be helping. The shells she’d raised, bodies of laboratory workers and research assistants that had been summarily executed, now given a pale mimicry of life, had flanked the worn and weary fighters of Monroe and Fort Harris as they descended from an underground laboratory into an alien environment. The sky was an unbroken sheet of flying monstrosities in a swarm so large that it defied comprehension. The ground beneath their feet was closer to flesh than earth, living tissue that pulsated and squirmed with each footfall. The flora adorning it was a dull shade of reddish brown, not unlike drying blood. The coloration was only further strengthened with each passing battle, soaking the landscape with showers of gore.

One such battle was taking place before her eyes. The Millers were here in force and only death would deter them. Wanda’s undead thralls had fallen only minutes before, torn limb from limb to ensure the safety of the living. With no more minions to control, she hurried to push forward, to catch up with the rest of their assault team and with Denzel who was leading the charge. She’d just crested a hill to witness him in the middle of doing just that.

He gunned down one of the Miller cultists that were climbing towards them up a harrowing ridge, but even that only slowed them down. The corpse swelled like a balloon and burst into the sickening form of a Maw, a flesh abomination of talons and tentacles. It leaped into the air, landing in the midst of scattered soldiers. Several had fallen already in various states of injured, near to incapacitated. With a single swipe, the Maw rent Denzel practically in two, gouging through his chest with an oversized claw. Were there any uncertainties about Denzel’s status as living or dead, having his organs shredded in open air laid those to rest. Undeterred, Denzel answered with another roar from a shotgun, his ever present companion during this march of death. The slug tore into the beast, sending it rearing, off balance. Spying his chance, the young man leapt onto the Maw, ripping out one of his own fractured ribs to stab into its pustulent eyes. With one last shriek of pain, the Maw teetered and fell, tumbling off of the edge of the ridge.

Her love fell along with it, and Wanda was reminded what it was like to feel pain once more.

***

Denzel Williams’ eyes shot open. Well, one of them, at least. He wasn’t sure if the other was still there. He lifted a hand to his face, but his palm came away crusted with coagulated blood and splinters of skull bone. He would have sucked in a breath, but it’d been a long time since that was necessary. He could see one of his lungs lying nearby, anyway. It took all he had to shove the Maw off of him from where it had landed. The ridge wasn’t that high, but the monster’s bulk had still crushed one of his legs into powder and ribbons of flesh. The rest of him was hardly better. An inventory of himself was sobering. There wasn’t much of him remaining. Huge chunks of his body were simply torn away, meat stripped down to the bone. Staring at his own blackened, shrunken heart, Denzel was left with a single thought.

What do I have left?

He couldn’t be called human anymore. Those days were technically long behind him, but he still had the general form of one. He could still walk amongst a crowd and wouldn’t turn any heads. He could still convince himself in quiet moments that accepting the Rothorse’s gift hadn’t changed him. His silent heart said otherwise. He was mangled beyond belief, barely recognizable as parts of a former person. What even was he now? There was so little left of the man he once was. So little left… of his body, at least.

He was more than a body. He still had a soul. They couldn’t tear that from him. The soul wouldn’t rot away. When he saw someone who needed help, he would help. When he saw someone suffering, he suffered. He wasn’t dead. Not where it counted.

Denzel dragged himself back up the ridge, one handful of fleshy earth at a time. When he finally crested the top, quiet gasps greeted him as the others saw his mangled body. Their unnerved stares cut off their spoken concerns, but only for a moment. The desperation of their situation didn’t allow for more than that.

They were trying to figure out what to do. Nearby, a score of kidnapped people were entombed in pods. Helpless. Hopeless. Above, the swarm of human-sized bat-like monsters drew closer, tempted by the smell of blood and death. In minutes, they would be under attack, swept away into pods of their own. They had to flee, but doing so meant leaving the kidnapped to their fates. Attempting to rescue them meant a fight they could not win. Some called for flight. Others refused. One of the injured wept, apologizing for her wounds that brought death upon them. As if she had done something that needed forgiveness. There was even talk of sacrificing the injured, as grim a plan as could be.

Denzel had already made up his mind. And through their link, minds intertwined, so had Wanda.

***

“We’ll do it,” Wanda spoke softly as she approached the frantically arguing team. Denzel couldn’t escape. He’d never outrun the swarm. Not as he was. But even if his body was hale and whole, he still couldn’t leave those people to die. That just wasn’t who he was.

She’d always loved that about him.

“We’ll stay behind. We’ll draw them off. Buy you the time you need for the rescue.”

There were no refusals. Some reluctance, perhaps, as their comrades moved on and left the young couple alone on the ridge. Some attempts at comforting whispers in farewell of how they were doing the right thing or how brave they were. Everyone knew a price had to be paid. Everyone was relieved it wouldn’t be themselves.

Wanda didn’t pay them much heed, other than to ask that they finish what they had started. The Rothorse would be disappointed that his children hadn’t succeeded in their task of settling this vendetta between monsters, but someone would put an end to the fighting. Someone would make things right. Maybe it was a naive hope, but Wanda was hardly more than a child so optimism could be forgiven. The world ended when she was still too young to properly understand what she had lost. Her youth was evacuations and refugee camps, orphaned by the fall of civilization like so many others. The only constant in her life was Denzel, the both of them whisked away from school as their home city had been overrun. They’d grown up together. Survived together. Lived together. There was no other way to live. There was no tearing them apart; this they swore, again and again. They would have gone into hell itself so long as they were together.

This nightmare landscape was certainly close enough. The swarm approached the two, a cloud of bodies moving as one singular being. Wanda and Denzel knelt together, foreheads gently touching, hands clasped for the last time. Denzel didn’t beg for her to flee. They were too tightly bound. He knew her pain just as she knew his. They would never be alone. Not even in death.

Wanda’s eyes flared red as she channeled every ounce of the Rothorse’s gift within her. The swarm above them was drawn to the call of the virus, and so she would provide. She reached out to the corpse of the Maw, forced her will into its bones and tendons, lifted it up and onto its feet as if an invisible hand had reached out and picked it up by the scruff of its neck. The boundless power she was calling was already drawing all eyes to them. A bat swooped down at her with an inhuman shriek that was cut off by the blast of the shotgun in Denzel’s hands. She felt a moment of regret from him through their link; he’d borrowed that gun from a friend and now he’d never be able to return it. The Maw-puppet thundered its way up the ridgeline to smash at the ever-increasing numbers of bats. The Maw flailed about, tearing into the swarm even as the bats ripped it limb from limb. Like the constant beating of a drum, Denzel’s shotgun cut flying forms from the sky. Wanda was alight in an ethereal glow, fallen bats rising at her touch to fight their brethren as fast as they hit the ground. They held the swarm at bay for as long as they could, hand-in-hand the same as they had faced every waking morning of the new world. When the end came, it would simply be one more thing they would do together.

On a lonely ridge in a nameless cavern, two of the undead made one final act of defiance. A last sacrifice that proved they were still human, whatever the word might mean. The air was so thick with monsters that it was like a blanket slowly enveloping them, wrapping tighter and tighter. A funeral shroud.

Minutes passed and the swarm dispersed. Of the fight, of their defiance, of the couple… there was nothing left.
 
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