In Your Nature

By: Matthew Simmons (Scifiteki)

Part Three

They reached the edge of the Watchers just before dusk, as the sky was painted the brilliant pastel hues of sunset, sun shining through the few wispy clouds. It occurred to Greg that, were it not for the dreadful task he had set upon himself, he might have enjoyed the sunset; he hadn’t seen one quite like it in a long time. Perhaps he never would again. Despite that, he just noted it and kept going. He had a task to complete, a destiny to face. There was no time for sunsets.

The knife-wielder had been stone silent after their conversation on the empty streets, almost refusing to acknowledge his presence. Greg had respectfully left that silence intact, for his sake as much as the knife-wielder’s, but he wasn’t sure that it was altogether good to let the knife-wielder simmer in his own black thoughts. Nevertheless, the intense young man had shut him out. There was little he could do about it.

The knife-wielder raised his hand just before they entered the main courtyard, motioning him to stop. Sure enough, just beyond the courtyard he could hear the sounds of the aliens, squawking away. Sliently, the knife-wielder pointed at a nearby fire escape that led up onto the flat roof of a squat building overlooking the courtyard, several stories above. Greg nodded, and they swiftly paced over to the stairwell, and then up the roof.

Greg absently noted as they paced up the metal-grille stairs that he’d never known he could be this quiet before. Indeed, the pair of him and the knife-wielder made hardly a noise, despite the shaky construction of the railing. He just filed it in his mental folder of strange things he could do without thinking about it, along with the fighting and the memories and everything else. The knife-wielder seemed no more surprised by it than he, so he stayed quiet.

Up on the roof of the building, the wind whipped harder than ever, pulling against his worn, bloodstained shirt. The knife-wielder quickly dropped to the ground, and Greg followed suit, pressing himself against the cold, white concrete. Without so much as even conceding his presence, the knife-wielder pressed onwards to the edge of the roof, and Greg had to scrabble across the hard, rough roof just to catch up to him.

He finally managed to reach him just as he reached the edge of the roof, and looked down. Greg looked into the knife-wielder’s face for some emotion, but saw none. So, instead, he looked down at the courtyard itself, and the entrance to the first of the Watchers. As he had expected, the creatures had set up a guard in front of the buildings. However, there were far less there than he would have expected. Only five of the thin, armoured aliens and one of the huge, muscular ones he’d seen back at his house, a lifetime ago. It occurred to Greg that the number of guards seemed inadequate. If he’d been in charge, he would have... What was he saying? If he was in charge? He brushed the worrying thought from his mind, but its spectre still haunted him.

An inarticulate scream cut across his thoughts, and he looked across at the knife-wielder just in time to see him jump off the building, his face twisted in rage, long knifes flashing in his hands. Greg watched in dismay as the knife-wielder flew through the air, knives held high. What was the fool trying to do? The fall would break both of his legs, at least, and all he would have achieved would be alerting the aliens to their presence. If the fall didn’t kill him first.

Then Greg’s eyes widened in disbelief. The knife-wielder flew through the air, his business jacket flapping in the wind, and for a moment he looked like an unstoppable angel of death. The aliens on the ground were equally stunned at his sudden appearance and method of entrance, wheeling around and not even bothering to raise their staves. The gargantuan beast behind them merely stared, its head bowed. Then he hit the ground, and stood.

Greg gaped in amazement. The knife-wielder had just jumped off a three-storey building, landed on his feet, and then just stood like it was nothing. Like he’d just hopped down a step, no effort at all. What was he, the knife-wielder? Not human, almost certainly... And then Greg thought of himself. If the knife-wielder was not human, what did that make him? Possibilities loomed large in his mind, terrifying and overwhelming. And then the knife-wielder charged.

A scream of pure, undiluted hatred and rage echoed off the walls around, filling the air with the sound of the knife-wielder’s bloodlust. He charged mindlessly towards the aliens, his knives held high, and his jacket flapping in the wind. The aliens, on the other hand, were far more controlled, and slowly but surely brought themselves into attack stances. Except for the creature standing at the back, which seemed oblivious to their presence, its head still bowed. Briefly, Greg wondered what it was doing. Surely it was going to help? But then, he realised it didn’t matter. The others were going to take the knife-wielder apart, even without its help.

Greg looked down at the dusty ground, uncomfortably solid and hard. Could he do it as well? He looked up again to see the knife-wielder sprinting mindlessly towards the aliens, and the aliens themselves merely staring with their disturbing impassivity. Well, it was time to find out, wasn’t it? With one last gulp, he stepped back and then ran forwards off the roof, screaming hoarsely.

The air brushed past him with vicious speed, and Greg squeezed his eyes tightly shut. He could feel himself rushing towards the ground with nightmarish swiftness, and could almost already feel the painful jolt of his legs hitting the hard ground. As almost an afterthought in his wretched plummet, he realised he was still holding onto his staff, the metal cold around his sweating fingers. Then he hit the ground.

He felt a slight jolt, and then he was no longer moving. In a kind of distant amazement, he opened his eyes and looked down at his feet. He felt nothing, not even a little bit sore. It was as if he had just lightly hopped down a small step, nothing more. A curious sensation drifted over him, a kind of invincibility. He felt good. If he could jump off a three-storey building and not even flinch, what other marvels could he perform? Then another scream, and a thump, brought him out of his daze and back into the real world.

Looking up, he saw the knife-wielder rushing at an alien, screaming, another alien lying dazed on the ground. His intended victim seemed shocked into immobility, but its friend running up behind the knife-wielder was certainly not. A roaring noise filled his mind, and he felt the same curious detachment, the same flight of possibilities through his mind. He surrendered to the feelings, letting himself float away into the emptiness. And then he rushed forward, his purpose clear.

"Red!" he screamed, as he strained to get within striking range of the aliens, his ill-gotten staff clutched tightly in his hands. He didn’t know why he said ‘Red’, instead of ‘Steve’. It didn’t matter. The knife-wielder seemed to notice, though, and swung around just in time to bury his knives in his would-be surprise assailant, its eyes widening in surprise as the knives stabbed deep into its stomach. Greg reach the knife-wielder’s side just as he hit the ground, the shocked corpse of the stabbed alien falling on top of him.

Without thinking, Greg lashed out with the staff, swinging it down and smashing the heavy crystal end into the stomach of the knife-wielder’s original opponent, before it could get enough time to collect it’s thoughts. It doubled over in pain, and then he pulled the staff back up with a grunt, causing the alien to flip up and backwards. The thing landed with a satisfying crack on the firm ground, yellow blood already seeping out of the back of its head.

The remaining two aliens charged heedlessly towards the, staves held in the same old high position, screaming their familiar rattling war cry. They’re not very original, are they, he thought detachedly, serene in his battle-induced calm, watching the two skinny stave-wielders bear down on them. The knife wielder nimbly flipped upright to a half-crouch, and then looked briefly up at Greg, wild bloodlust dancing in his eyes. And then they moved as one.

The knife-wielder pulled up from his crouch, swinging the deadly, serrated edges of his knives upwards. Greg stepped forward, and with an even motion, looped the thin end of his staff behind his opponent’s, between its arms, in a lock. The knife-wielder followed his knife swing upwards, and his enemy was briefly surprised as it felt the edge of his knives touching its abdomen. Greg lifted his foot up and pushed forward with his foot, forcing the creature and its staff apart, and sending the alien flying onto the ground. The knife wielder’s knives sliced messily up through the centre of the alien, cutting apart its stomach and ribcage in an explosion of gore and bone. Greg dropped his newly-acquired second staff, and then jumped on top of his opponent and brought the thin end of the staff hard down into it’s top eye. The knife-wielder watched grimly as his rival fell to the ground lifelessly, two great lines of blood and gore running parallel up it’s body and through it’s face. Greg’s staff pierced almost all the way through the alien’s skull, and it spasmed once, then was still. And then they stood.

The last of the guards, the muscular giant, had not moved during the entire confrontation. It just stood there, immobile, watching. There was something about the creature that made Greg strangely wary, and he took a moment to size up the beast before he even though about attacking it.

The creature was humanoid, but only in the sense that it had two arms and two legs. After that, the differences were clear and almost staggering. The thing was muscular, almost to the point of excluding anything else. Its legs and arms were short, muscular, stubby, and ended in dangerous looking-claws that were nearly the size of his hand. The thing’s head was almost equine, triangular and bulging, and set a fair way down its head, giving it a sort of hunchback impression. Its face was blank save for a single, huge aqua-green eye that dominated its face, pupilless and blank. All in all, it gave the impression of an elephant that had stood up on its hind legs, lost its ears and trunk, and put of a purple robe, and become a very efficient killer.

The creature was puzzling. Most of the aliens that he’d were similar, physiologically speaking, but this one was totally different from anything else he’d seen before. Its subservient manner and sparse armouring put him in mind of some sort of servant, a very strange one at that. Its purpose, however, was clear. Those muscles, those claws, could only be for one use.

Still, the creature just stood in front of the doorway, apparently contented to merely block their passage. He regarded the thing’s huge fists with a trace of fear, the first he’d felt in a long time. It was almost an exotic sensation to him now, fear. He’d gone so long now without feeling anything but confidence or guilt, ever since he’d started that run across the plain, that he’d almost forgotten what it felt like, the soft churning in the bottom of one’s stomach.

Greg squeezed his staff tightly, trying to reassure himself. The staff itself was a testament to his ability, strange and unnatural as it was, wasn’t it? It’s length, patterned with dried and still wet ichor, proclaimed to all the world his competence. He had not come all this way just to be stopped here, so very close to his goal.

To his right, the knife-wielder merely stared at the creature, his eyes flickering all over its body as he could find just one place of weakness, his body perfectly still. Greg would have to make the first move here. It wouldn’t be that hard, would it? Just surrender to the emptiness, like before... And a movement came to him. It wasn’t complicated, but it would be effective enough. Of course, a small part of his mind reminded him, such words were arbitrary. What did he know of complication and effectiveness? It didn’t matter.

Greg sprang forth, his ever-present staff facing the sharp end outwards. All he really had to do was pull the sharp end up through its chest and into what were presumably its lungs. Nothing to it at all. Unfortunately, he never got there.

Halfway into his lunge, the beast lashed out, faster than he would have thought possible. Its large, flat hand shot forward and caught him square in the chest, smashing into him with all the force of an out-of-control truck. He felt a sharp, stabbing pain as the creature’s claws dug into his chest, breaking solidly through the skin. Then the impact of the blow sent him flying, all the way across the courtyard.

Only surprise flashed through his mind as he soared through the air, and collided with the wall of a building on the other side with painful force. Then he slid to the ground, into the dust. The pain was close to unbearable, and he struggled to get breath into his winded lungs. It felt like someone had shot a rocket at his chest, and probably had done about as much damage.

Cautiously, he reached down and touched his battered chest, and as he suspected, his hand came back covered into blood. Cautiously, he probed his chest, searching for what damage the creature had done to him. Luckily, most of the blood was from the superficial wounds its claws had in inflicted, but as he probed his chest, a sharp pain told him quite clearly that he had broken a rib, perhaps two. In that, he was lucky as well. He would have expected a blow like that to force his ribs all the way back into his lungs. And then he would have been in trouble.

Looking up through a haze of agony, he saw the knife-wielder circling the creature warily, his knives held firmly in front of him. He didn’t to seem to preoccupied with his friend’s incapacitation, but Greg didn’t blame him. He wouldn’t turn his back on that thing either.

Awkwardly, he pulled himself to his feet, hefting his staff. His chest cried out, but he ignored the aches. He was useless just lying down, and all he’d done was break some ribs. It could have been, should have been, much worse. His shuddering breath drew more angry wails of anguish from his chest, but there wasn’t much he could do about it except just keep on going. He looked down at his shirt, and sighed at the bloody, sweaty, ripped mess it had become. It had been one of his favourite shirts, before.

He was starting towards the creature again when, all of a sudden, the air was filled with an old, familiar sound. A hissing, crackling noise, which stopped and started in an odd, stuttering pace. He hadn’t been able to place the sound before, be now he remembered exactly where it was from. He hadn’t used them much, since he visited First Landing infrequently, but that was the old, telltale sound of teleporters. With a sinking feeling in his chest, he turned around, knowing exactly what it was he was going to see.

Where there had once been empty space, there now stood a host of aliens, arrayed around the courtyard. On top of the buildings on either side of the courtyard, two of the armed, helmeted creatures stood ready, their weapons at ready. At the far side of the courtyard, aliens streamed out of alleyways on either side of the building at the end, led by great, armoured humanoids that stood easily a couple meters taller than their comrades.

Behind him, he heard the knife-wielder swear, loudly, and then dash forward. It was a sensible enough idea, after all... The creatures were less deadly in close combat than from a distance, and he had no real long-range weapons to even the score significantly. However, looking behind at the giant beast in the doorway, up at the two gun-carrying aliens on the rooftops, then down at his bloodstained staff, he realised he had a better idea.

Swiftly turning, he ran back directly towards the doorkeeper. Pushing his legs to their limit, and ignoring the vicious pain in his chest, he leapt up and onto the creature’s face. As he’d expected, the sound of bullets spraying the ground came from close behind him. Still pushing himself, he kept running and jumped off the creature and onto the wall behind it. With a great heave, he threw his staff backwards, sharp end first, towards one of the gun-wielders. He couldn’t actually see it, but he knew with absolute certainty that it was there. Below him, bullets and explosives peppered the doorkeeper, causing it to bellow in agony.

Lightly, he flipped himself all the way over, pushing off the wall with all the force he could muster. He fell back to the ground feet-first, feeling the bullets slice narrowly past him as the remaining gun wielder tried to track him. Landing back in front of the doorkeeper, he regarded its tattered frame for as long as he could get away with. Bullets had impacted into its massive frame in more than two dozen places, and thick purple blood ran freely from the wounds. Something had exploded on its arm, leaving a great bloody chunk missing from its flesh.

Despite all this damage, the creature didn’t look terribly hurt. It did look, however, extremely angry. Where it had once stood silent and still, it was shuffling from left to right, grunting in an odd, rough language that he could not quite pick up, and looking up at the last gun-wielder. The beast seemed completely oblivious to his presence, its focus completely on the gun-wielder.

Another spray of bullets came from behind him, and he dived quickly to the side as soon as he heard the first bullet hit the sandy soil. However, the gunner did not seem terribly accurate, or worried about hitting its allies, and more bullets thudded into the doorkeeper. With a terrible roar, the creature reached down to its waist and pulled a small, round ball of glinting electronics from the folds of its robes.

The ball seemed almost ridiculously puny in the beast’s large, flat hands, so much so that it seemed like the creature would crush it, but the beast clutched it with delicacy worthy of an artist. Then, with another massive roar, the doorkeeper flung the ball straight over Greg’s head, towards what he presumed was the gunner alien on the rooftop. He craned his head around just in time to see the gunner explode in a shower of blood and smoke. Well, that was the gunners dealt with.

He turned back to the doorkeeper, who seemed oddly preoccupied, its head bowed, still shuffling from side to side, and making odd wheezing noises. The purple blood still ran like a river from its many wounds, peppered all over its body like the bites of some overgrown, vicious mosquito. Whatever it was doing, it was paying no attention to him.

He decided he would have no better opportunity than this. Pushing himself off the ground and throwing his whole weight towards the creature, he pulled back his hand for one direct strike. Punching it randomly would achieve nothing, he noted. Even bullets were just an annoyance to this creature. But it did have one central weak point that he could exploit.

The doorkeeper looked up just in time to see him lash his hand, flattened in a knife shape, directly into its eye. His hand punctured the large sphere with little resistance, driving straight through all the way to back of its eye cavity. Purple blood flew everywhere, but he ignored it and kept hammering his hand through until his arm was nearly all the way up to the elbow in its head. Then, just as swiftly as he’d struck in, he pulled out. The creature sank to the ground on its knees with a sigh, it’s great eye a shattered mess of gore and blood.

He was about to wipe off his blood-soaked arm, and turn around to see what was happening behind him, when something sharp hit him in the back, hard, driving him to his knees. Before he could even start to think about what it was, his mysterious instincts launched him into action, propelling him far faster than he had ever thought he could move.

He swept his leg around along the ground, around to catch the leg of his assailant. Sure enough, he felt his leg collide with something solid and fleshy. Not relinquishing his momentum, he reached out to grab whatever it was that had hit him in the back, and found his fingers closing around the reassuring metal of a staff. Still sweeping his leg around, he pulled his assailant completely off its legs and pulled the staff the other way. He turned just in time to see a surprised staff wielder smash into the ground sideways with a crack.

He thought little about his next moves, only let himself be guided along by the instinct, the feeling which drove his killing. Two more staff wielders rose into his vision. He swung his newly acquired staff into the side of the head of the left one, and it crunched into its skull, caving it in with a spatter of ichor. The other moved to strike, but he jammed the heavy end of the staff into its face, breaking through facial bone with a snap. Then he kicked out, and it fell backwards onto the ground.

Three more came behind, three more foes to fell. Never thinking, he struck out at the far left one with an uppercut, sending its head flying back, then quickly brought the staff across and smacked its head to the right, so that it collided with the skull of its middle companion. His leg moved nearly of its own accord, swinging up so that the flat side of his shoe smashed across the face of the hapless middle alien. His leg never touched the ground, and he kicked the third staff bearer on the right in the side, sending it flying into its two compatriots.

He glanced at the three aliens, clumped together, then drove the sharp end of the staff through the right alien’s side, with so much force that it went straight through, and on through the sides of its comrades. They all stiffened up at the same time, their eyes widening, and then they collapsed in a one bloody heap.

Not even looking at his kills, or where he was going, he stepped over the pile and swung forward with his staff at a presence that he’d noted on the edge of his peripheral vision. To his surprise, the blow did not impact with the soft thud of flesh, but with the hard clang of metal. With a small amount of trepidation, he looked up and into the face of what was by far the most fearsome of all the aliens he’d come across.

Clad from head to toe in dark green burnished plate armour, with a large helmet that had only a three-way slit across it, and two large, almost spearlike shields held over either hand, the creature stood an intimidating eight feet. It almost seemed like something out of medieval times, were it not for its massive girth, strange armour colouration and what could only be a canon of some sort placed over its shoulder, pulsating an eerie green.

His brain registered it before his eyes ever saw the blow coming. His senses screamed, and he stepped back just in time to feel one of the spearlike shields scythe straight through where he had just been standing, the air buffeting his face. His mind was numb with shock, but his body responded, swinging the staff above his head and burying it, sharp end first, in between the interlocking plates of armour.

The armoured fiend drew up sharply and let out a howl of pain and rage, a strange sound that seemed as if it was echoing around inside its helmet. Something caught his eye, and he looked to the side just in time to see a staff wielder charging at him, staff raised, warbling madly. He looked to the other side, and his suspicions were confirmed when he saw another charging at him from the other side.

He looked back at the armoured beast, and something caught his eye. The beast was perfectly still, but its shoulder canon was growing brighter, almost as if... Without so much as considering it, he reached out to the side and grabbed one of the charging aliens, and threw it across his body.

A low crackling noise issued forth from the canon, and the alien that he was throwing shuddered several times, the light going out of its eyes. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air, potent and nauseating. Wincing in disgust, he threw the staff bearer all the way across and into its opposite number, and they went down in an untidy heap.

The armoured monster seemed momentarily stunned by his unorthodox method of blocking his fire, and Greg pressed the advantage. He punched the creature, putting all the might he could gather into the blow. It rebounded off the thing’s armour, his knuckles stinging. Then he punched again. And again, and again.

His blows rained down the creature’s solid armour, like the constant impact of water from a storm. He punched over and over, hammering his fists into the thing so hand and fast they made a rhythmic tattoo of pain, ringing on the forest-green metal. The monster stepped back, trying to keep stable under the constant deluge of blows. Yellow blood seeped through the cracks of the armour, thick and viscous.

Then, finally, he halted his barrage of strikes and reached up to the staff, still half-buried in the creature’s stomach. Yanking roughly, he hauled the staff out of its body and then buried deep again straight in, between the chest plates above his head. The fiend looked down at him slowly, then let out a final, soft groan and fell backwards, crashing on the dusty ground.

Greg looked up from his last conquest just in time to see the knife wielder, standing at the other end of the courtyard, swing his knife wide in a bloody arc and separate the head of the last standing staff bearer from its body. The headless creature collapsed, and joined the bloody and savaged corpses all around it.

Greg surveyed the entire of the courtyard with horror, sweeping all the way around. The entire area was littered with corpses, seeping yellow ichor onto the already-stained ground. He and the knife-wielder had not merely fought off a small group. They’d massacred an entire company, torn them into shreds with nothing but the barest of tools. A potent feeling of satisfaction arose within him, but he quashed it quickly. He had nothing to be proud of. He had swept through their ranks like a deverish, him and the knife-wielder, and not because they were defending themselves, but for the simple purpose of the kill. No, there was nothing to be proud of in that.

He looked down at his arms. They were covered in blood, yellow and purple all mixed together and slowly drying on his skin. It was almost as if he’d dipped his hands in a vat of blood, so thick was it on his arms. The rest of him was no better. He was covered, head to toe, in his own blood and the blood of his foes. Seeing the blood everywhere, all over him, all over the ground and the walls, bile rose in his throat faster than he could choke it down, and he threw up violently, his own yellow bile mixing with the yellow ichor on the ground.

"You alright, man?"

He choked down the last of his vomit and looked up to see the knife-wielder standing above him looking down, his eyes strangely distant.

"Yeah, yeah, I’m fine," Greg replied as he wiped vomit from the corners of his mouth. "It’s just that, all the killing, and... I couldn’t deal with it, I..."

The knife wielder’s face was oddly peaceful, his expression still. "They got what they deserved, buddy." He said. "Now, we need to..."

The knife-wielder’s face froze in a rictus of fear, his eyes wide, looking over Greg’s shoulder. "Oh, shit, man... Turn around, turn around!"

Greg turned, and saw his worst nightmare made real. More staff bearers were pouring out of the door way, so many of them he couldn’t count their number, all focused on him and the knife-wielder. He looked back at the knife-wielder, who just nodded, and raised his still-dripping knives. Then they both turned, and ran straight into the fray.

Vision blurred for Greg. Alien apon aliens threw themselves against him, and he smashed through them. A punch through the chest killed one. A throw over the shoulder killed two. A roundhouse kick killed three. He ducked, and weaved, and punched, trying to keep out of reach of those deadly staves. Bodies flew all around him, diving and reaching, falling and dying. Subconsciously he realised, as he flew through the hordes, he was not quite fast enough. Not yet. But how could he be faster than he was, a tornado of death incarnate?

A staff brushed his shoulder, sending shockwaves of pain through his body, his vision faded with white. He needed to be faster, quicker, swifter, or one of them would catch him, and then he would be dead as a doornail. But how? The roaring flowed through his mind, providing him with moves, with strength, with speed. The answer came to him. All he needed to was just surrender further to the roaring emptiness. Let it take him over completely.

Could he risk such a thing? It didn’t matter. More staff strikes flashed past him, too close to forgive. If he didn’t let go, float away into the emptiness, he was going to die. That was all there was too it. He could worry about the consequences of his actions later. All need needed to do was...

Let...

Go...

He dropped into the roaring until it covered everything, and his sight was covered in red, thick and impenetrable.