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The Brutal Reality
Nox's ears were ringing from smacking his head and the gun shot fired. By the time Nox focused on what was happening the kid was having a fucking panic attack and Ivan had used the wall of air to his advantage. Nox shook off both their concerns. Nova was standing by growling, but hadn't moved. He couldn't see the wall but he'd been around enough of the power to know not to go near it. It was strange how the dog had picked it up but he had. Nova would protect Nox's back even if the human's wouldn't. That borthered Nox. Lih had worried about him instead of the monster. And now the kid was panicking. Fucking just his luck!

The kid goes all cop and searches the corpse. Nox rolled his eyes. Even as Lih was saying he didn't know who the man was. Nox knew. "This is Jens Abt, internal affairs. But more importantly he's Atharim." Nox pulled the ruined coat of his suit above his left elbow and showed Lih the mark of the oroborous. "All Atharim have one." Nox pushed up the sleeve of his hoodie and revealed his red and black dragon circling biting it's own tail. "He was threatening Dorian's family. So Dorian brought him down here and let the monsters take care of him."

Nox wrapped the corpse in fire and air and contained the body in another weave and burnt the body. The stench of human flesh and hair permeated the small tunnel. "We wait till it's gone." Nox sat down against the wall and threw up two walls of air, trapping them inside with the body. The tops didn't quite reach the ceiling and Nox made a gentle breeze to keep the smoke from being trapped in their space.

He looked over at Lih beating his hand against the wall. 'You need to get a fucking grip on yourself kid. You are going to get yourself killed and me along with you. You never fucking turn your back on a monster. You fought monsters. Dorian thinks you are up for this. I'm beginning to doubt that."

Nox looked up at Ivan from the ground where he sat and smiled. "That was good thinking. Though seeing the head like that leaves something to be desired. Invisible walls do let you see the gruesome side."

With Jens Abt dead sounds started to creep through the darkness. The gun shot probably echoed for miles down the tunnels and now who knew what was coming their way. Nox tied off the walls covering their position as well as the fire burning in the box of air. "We'll want to be ready. We might get some company while we burn this body." Nox pulled out the pebbles from his sling and poured a few into his hand and used earth to make tiny projectiles, sharp and thin and ready to pierce anything in front of him.
Ivan turned his head to study Lih, curious. He kept going back and forth- methodical and dispassionate one moment, shook up and ready to puke the next. He understood, of course. And yet at the moment, he felt nothing. The iron scent of blood and rotting from the corpse- how was it rotting already?- filled his nostrils. The power did that. And yet, in the place he was mentally, it seemed as if a wall or bubble surrounded him. Inside that bubble, emotion didn't seem to penetrate.

The IA badge was unexpected. He furrowed a brow at Nox's explanation. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised at Vega's actions. IA. But also Atharim. Threatening his family. Atharim. The Syndicate. It seemed someone was always threatening someone. What would you have done? Danya and Zara's face floated across the void and his resolved hardened even further. A thought occurred to him. Could he get Yun down here in the tunnels? A flash of laughter skittered across the bubble. He filed it away for another time. They had work to do.

Nox was right about the Rookie. Still, he was trying. Ivan went over- his 6'4" frame towering over him- put his hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye, face calm. "Just breath, Lih. Take it one moment at a time." He looked at Nox, nodding at his complement. "Seemed the best course. I couldn't get my darts through your shield. And I didn't want you to drop it, as close as the thing was."

He watched Nox wrap air and tie it off. Ivan saw how he did it. Good trick. He formed a dart and tied it off. Nice. Much easier than holding the threads. He could make many of them, now, and launch them with air, instead of one at a time, as before. The box and fire were a good idea. If they- he- found Pavlo, dead anyway, that would be a way to dispose of it. He eyed Nox. Maybe he should tell him. He would see.

Ivan looked around. "Nothing really here but Abt's body. Or what's left of it. Looks like someone cleaned up." He looked at Nox, a question on his face. "That sound like the creatures you fought? Cuz I have a hard time imagining it."
Of course. An atharim. Gigantic sense.

He struggled to find the right words. His hand hurts.

“So, what is this shit?” asked Lih, crossing the room to the man Ivan’d just killed. “Legit CCD experiment gone wrong, or something on the side? Can it be both atharim and CCD?” he shrugged in a “let’s see” manner “Is it a coincidence he was left in the same place where Dorian shot Alistair?”

And already, Lih felt certain Nox knew all that, a gut instinct. He absorbed all the details instantly: the look of the man, his behavior, his name, the fact he was atharim, the IA man Dorian brought down with him; the moment of confusion sparked by finding this monster in a place had had expected to be empty.

He didn’t want to see Nox’s atharim tattoo; Lih didn’t want to know. They could see his reluctance, like the tattoo was radioactive. And he was growing increasingly less interested in whatever it was Dorian Vega was looking for.

But this was Nox, and he sounded upset with Lih, and he had some fucked up notion he owed him. It was immediately clear to Lih that there was going to be no mileage in trying to explain his behavior. The atharim wasn’t in the mood to play games. Nox hadn’t even bothered to hide the way he looked at Lih’s scrawny white ass when he’d shown the atharim tattoo. Or the tone of his voice when Nox had listed his deficiencies to Ivan and Lih: a cop had to know these things. He had to know them so he didn’t do something so stupid it ends their lives.

“Sorry,” Lih said.

This is a moment, he thought as he studied Nox’s colorful tattoo, this is one of those moments of self realization that you get, that changes your view, and shows you that you’re not the person you used to be, and proves that you never can be again, and leaves you broken in a ditch by an abandoned road. He was a long way past the calm guy who could take it in stride, and find his way around any seriously charged situation. The idea that he was still running and using excuses, making himself look like a total asshole, made him feel nauseous.

He was on his feet, looking ill, looking like he was holding it in and working extra hard. There was a sallow cast of pain in his face.

Lih suddenly became aware that Ivan was standing over him. Ivan had the face of an angel and the physique of a bodybuilder. As he faced Lih, the cop seemed to become alarmingly, extravagantly big.

He realized this calming gesture was souring his mood the most. What would abide with him would not be a memory of the other’s steadying touch, but rather the look in his eyes. Contempt he could have handled. Distain too. It had been pity.

“Sorry,” he repeated, secretly hoping Ivan’d let him go soon but not waiting to pull away. “That was stupid. I don’t mean to run. I’ve had a few setbacks. A few punches to my confidence—failing to protect somebody really messed me up.”

He swallowed hard.

“But life sucks; it’s just a matter of adjustment. I’ll be fine, you’ll see.”

Ivan released him and smiled down at him before turning back to Nox. It took Lih a second to notice and understand Ivan’s question.

Lih froze, waiting. The pulse in Lih’s temple ticked out the drag of time. After eternity and some additional time, the smell became worse. Overpoweringly worse.

Nox and Ivan’s power was being used in some insane effort to counteract the smell of the burning, like mutually annihilating collision of shit and anti-shit. They were doing quite a good job burning the corpse.

Despite their efforts, the smell was appalling. Cremated bone, melted meat, the body stench that no one who smelt it ever forgot.

There was a pervasive stink of innards that made him gag, a smell of burst meat and fat and organs exposed to the flames, of cooked flesh. He was fairly sure he was going to hurl.

Lih wondered how well Costa would have done it. Would he have seen those things, made those calls? How much were they missing Dorian Vega right now? How much better off, or more alive, would any of them be if Dorian had been running things, and not some rookie who couldn’t keep with it? Dorian chose Lih. He chose wrong.

All he knew for sure was where they were, in deepest shit. For sure, the gunshot had not gone unnoticed.

And if he panicked again, that fan would spray that shit a long way.

With shuddering, superhuman effort, Lih managed not to throw up his jelly donuts after all.  Big Grin
Ivan was the good man. The comfort, the light in all this darkness. Nox tried not to roll his eyes. There was no place for soft in the fight against monsters. But it wasn't until Lih's explanation that Nox stared at him. It was like a blow to his head. 'failure to protect'. Everything in his life was that one fucking failure. And it happened time and time again. First with his mother and then with his father, and again with lucas, bas, and his sister, and culminating in a promise he vowed to keep - killing Aria.

The whole situation reeked of his father and Nox growled to himself. That he hated most of all. He would not become his father. He. Would. Not!

Ivan's question pulled him out of his thoughts. Nox took a deep breathe of the air filled with the pungent smell of burning flesh and hair and innards. It wasn't pleasant and he felt like retching. But that was also why he hadn't eaten any of the donuts Lih had brought.

Nox shook his head. "Not cleaned up. My gut says they licked the stones clean of all blood and gore left behind. Either Pavlo is exrement or he's still walking around. No spots in a place like this means it was scoured clean by the scavengers." And that was a scary thought. To die with nothing left but the memory of you. He didn't want to die that way. He looked at Lih struggling with the whole situation and felt bad for griping at him.

"I get that you have had it rough. But you can't let it get in the way of it. If it's your first fine, you'll be fine. But right now, I need you here, not wherever it happened. I remember watching my mother get mauled by an invisible thing. I froze. I couldn't do anything. I have nightmares about it still. Push it aside. Focus on what's in front of you, what the job entails. And after this is all over we'll go get a drink and you can cry your head off for all I care. But right now. You are hunting monsters that if they bite you, you are fucking dead, or worse yet, you turn into one of them." Nox points to the remains still burning in the box of air. "He didn't start out like that. He was perfectly human a few days ago. Dorian led him down here. He chased him into a pack and Dorian barely got away. Pavlo seemed to have control of the monsters as they flowed around Dorian so he could deal with him. At least that's the story I got. So please, trust me. Get your head on straight. Or I'll have to take us all back the way we came and this won't happen. I'll come without any of you if I have to. I don't want to die down here."

And that was the real fear... dying here, dying alone without anyone. There was an internal sigh as Nox felt the depressed self try to take hold. Why bother? There is no one left to love you. Just go out with a bang!

Nova started growling in the direction they had come. Nox stood up and looked at Lih. "Now's the time. There is no more waiting." Nox tied off the box and the fire, it would expire in a few hours if it wasn't fully ash but that didn't matter anymore. They had to move. "That way is back towards Dorian's estate. We don't want to go that way." Nox didn't want those things coming anywhere near that place right now. Or ever, but still he felt the urge to protect it.

So it was the direction they'd been going when they found the intersection. "We need to move." Nox sliced through the walls of air with a simple spirit weave learned from Bas so many months ago. He missed his friend, but that was life. It went on, and it was time to focus.

Nox stepped past where the barrier had been, "This way. Pavlo or bust." Nox formed a fire whip. He didn't want to split his focus. Now danger was coming, the fire whip tied off at his waist and his handful of pepples he fondled in his left hand waiting on the wings of air that he was prepared to throw. This was the dangerous part. Monsters were coming. Nova followed on Nox's heels growling, but he never took off. Never left. Good dog! Nox thought as he moved the small caravan forward in the darkness, the landwarriors lighting their way.
He wiped his parched mouth, but the back of his hand was as rough as sandpaper from the ash. He unhooked his water bottle and sucked at the cool moisture. Screwing the cap back on his bottle, Lih braced himself for Nox’s next utterance. It was as wholly inevitable as it was insane.

“Not cleaned up. My gut says they licked the stones clean,” the atharim explained what happened. His word was proof, and good enough for Lih.

Nox surprised him by speaking to his new recruits on a private matter. It made Lih see the atharim differently. He seemed to have a soft spot for Ivan. Ivan was one of the channelers and enjoyed a far more cordial relationship with the atharim that Lih did. Ivan’s steadfast manner was a true virtue. Lih became panicked, in the heat of things. Perhaps Nox and Ivan could help him overcome it. Maybe he could learn from them.

And maybe Nox liked underdogs. And never had a dog been so much under, thought Lih. Ivan’s brand of courage defied reality, and Nox had been plain about their grim situation. Three men, two channelers even, against an unknown world of numberless hostiles. This was not a battle to win for the domovoi; this was just a last stand, where, by the light’s grace, they might take as many of the monsters with them as they could before they finally fell.

“I understand that,” he admitted, “we don’t hide our mistakes. I made a mistake. I acknowledge my failure. I used my gun,. it was a waste. You were right, Nox, I’m sorry. I hope you’ll still let me come with you guys.”

Lih found himself truly warming to Nox for the first time. He had not imagined they were ever be close, but what had at first seemed to be tight-lipped, reserved and stern in Nox was proving to be plain spoken, empathic and wise.

Nox was a reclusive man, and it appeared, lonely. Nox had cut off his roots to the atharim, but it left him stranded, and disillusioned, adrift between worlds. The only place left for him was the place his atharim upbringing had given him: wherever monsters go.

He knew a secret society like the atharim did exist within the CCD, occult and private. According to rumors, they had been active here for a long, long time. Lih wasn’t sure what something that operated perpendicular to the normal chain of command might look like, but it sounded wrong to him. Wrong, if nothing else, in that it was deliberately secret and thus deceptive. Wrong, in that Dorian and Nox disapproved of the atharim. Wrong or not, Nox made it plain that any domovoi intending to serve under his leadership should have nothing to do with the past. There had never been any sign that anyone in the atharim was involved in this case. Now the dead atharim had turned up.

Lih frowned. He was greatly troubled by the discovery that Dorian and Ivan were being threatened. He remembered Dorian talking to him about protecting people on his return from Boda’s, but he had been too distracted then. He cared little then about the fate of a man who’d angered his own kind, but it was another distraction, and he needed as many as he could get. Dorian was a lousy man. Stubborn. Annoying. But he spoke the truth, no matter how unpalatable that was. He told the truth, and said things others dared not. He wondered if, more than field experience, Dorian meant them to look after Nox, as a favor for him. Make sure Nox was not alone too often.

Following their strange and disconcerting conversation with Nox in the tunnels, Lih felt better. He smiled respectfully at the other two and began to walk around. Crossbow in hand, Lih swung back to face the entrance they had emerged from.

A sudden noise from Nova made him start.

Lih knew what that meant.

From a distance away, through the tunnels, the dog had their scent. Their position was being attacked.

“We need to move,” Nox said to Ivan and Lih. “This way.”

He hastened over to the direction that the atharim had indicated. The area they now slipped through was forward from where they came. Nox ranged them out in a line. Lih carried the crossbow. Nova was running at Nox’s side, helping his owner to sweep and locate.

It had become very still and dark. Amping their land warrior acoustics, they could hear sounds Nova detected. From far away, the splash and spatter of movement in the wet ground. In the enclosed passageway made by sediments, the fierce sounds suddenly travelled much further than before.

Scrambling down, Lih peered at the darkness nervously. The tunnels, admittedly sheered with smoke and dust, seemed especially murky around them, as if the air had been stained brown like the fingers of an old smoker. There was a slight flicker in his lens-filtered vision too, so in the poor light everything looked like an old time-y visual recording, running slightly fast, with jerks and jumps on the film.

He felt a touch, like light fingertips on his skin, and he jumped, and then reassured himself that it was his own imagination.

His skin crawled, and he had no wish to get any closer for a clearer look. But he ran onwards, and trained his weapon at the oncoming forms.
Viktor Lih
Officer of CCDPD
A feeling of disgust splattered against the bubble surrounding Ivan, dissipating into nothing. Another time, he knew the very idea of human like creatures eating- licking up the blood- would have made him nauseated.

A part of him felt like speaking up for Lih- and the rook manned up and accepted his weakness- but Nox was right. This was no place to lose it. Fear skittered across the void, scattering. But Ivan knew it was there. This was real.

They continued, Nox seeming more determined and yet.. more brittle. Strong wasn't unbreakable. Something was going on with him. Lih wasn't the only liability here. Nox gave off a vibe Ivan had seen once before. An older beat cop. He'd been a detective and then got busted down. Barely holding his pension. Ivan wondered if he'd gotten stuck with the Syndicate. It explained a lot.

Anyway, Rico seemed like a man on a mission. And his mission was to die. Rico had been one of the officers when Ivan, a rookie, had been with the crew that raided that house. The first time Ivan touched the power.

With it flowing through his veins, he'd seen Rico's eyes as he took those shots. Wide and shocked. And yet relieved and at peace. Ivan hadn't really known him. Only to see him at the station and wonder why an old guy was there with them.

But the look was welcoming. Embracing.

Nox had that. Ivan's eyes narrowed. Not this time. Nox might want to suicide by monster. But not while Ivan was there.

The whip formed again and this time Ivan wasnt impressed. It seemed like he had two people to look out for. One about to lose it. One wanting to lose it.

Fuck. Would that be him if he had nothing to live for?

An image of Zara and Danya floated across the void and...somehow they merged with it, instead of bouncing off. It shimmered and seemed to solidify. Stronger. He clenched his teeth and drew more of the power, readying himself.

They were coming out of this alive.
Nova's growling was persistent now. He stayed at Nox's heels, but the growling never stopped. "Good boy." Nox said to the pup as he behaved and did his job. His ears were better than Nox's even with the power. It was why Nova came.

The growling turned to a rouge bark as the shadows in front of them shifted. Nox held up a fist and their slow moving train stopped . Here was as good a place as any to stand their ground. Nox wove a briight ball of light and flung it down the tunnel much like you'd drop a light stick down into a dark hole to test for distance. The cavern walls were dry as a bone, the dripping sound were close, but these walls were dry. Nox didn't want to think about what else could be dripping like that.

The light revealed more than the dry cave walls. 50 feet away was a black form, it's eyes had been open when the ball of light passed by it. It clung to the wall. It was a dog or a very large rat from the distance you couldn't tell. But it was as dark as the darkness that had once concealed it. Nox through a single pebble at it with the help of the air and the creature fell to the ground in a thud. They walked and Nox pushed the orb ahead of them. Far enough away to kill their line of site but enough that those monsters wouldn't surprise them.

Another slow 50 feet. And then another. They picked off the creatures one by one. In another 100 feet was a sharp bend. They couldn't see around it. But they didn't need to. One beast lopped around the corner, then another, and quickly there were more coming around and in the center of the mass rounding the corner was Alistair Pavlo. He walked with the grace of a drunkard. His eyes were lifeless. Three bullet holes marred his once mildly handsome face. He was essentially dead - only the creature keeping him alive. A zombie for truly fucks sake.

Pavlo stopped and so did the rest of the pack. Nox swore he saw the dead man smile, but it had to be a trick of the imagination as he lifted his hand and a small handful of creatures came at them. It was time for everyone to do their job. Ivan to pick off the horde as it advanced, Lih to catch those that Ivan missed and Nox for anything up close and personal. Nox prayed no one got in the others way.

His heart was racing. His body filled with adrenaline as the battle was about to start. It had been a while, and i felt good, but still Nox was skeptical - this was a bad idea.

[[ Alistair is dead, he cannot channel. His channeling is the only reason he walks. The channeling ability allowed the parasite that is the make up of these creatures to survive in the dead host, but it's dying without the human body. None of the other human hosts have survived and only channelers would still walk for a short period of time. One of you can kill Alistair, if you like, just don't kill the entire mass yet, I need it still. ]]
Lih was about to speak when he saw that Nox had raised his fist signaling a stop. The atharim hunter summoned a ball of light and tossed it into the darkness ahead of them. He dropped down, fast and obedient, crouching behind Nox, his crossbow pulled up to his cheek and aimed back into the light.

He couldn’t see anything of the situation ahead, apart from the bright, flickering wash from Nox’s light. How the hell did a man do that, unless he was a—


He could hear Nova growling, and more. Drip-drip-drip the noise went, drifting through the tunnels. There were footsteps too. A lot of them, crunching and squishing on stone and mud. Nox waved the team to get ready.

Lih tensed, muscles pulsing, his breathing short and sharp. In his terror he had almost spoilt the hunt with his inexperience and haste. Later, back in the office, once they had gone back up, Lih would have most definitely accepted any punishment for his spinelessness. He’d run, and left the other two to face the music.

And up ahead, there was something there all right. Something stalking them as surely as they were stalking it.

He’d heard horror stories of the monsters that stalked the tunnels in the dark. Beasts that refused to drop, even when you were hosing them with full fire and saying please nicely. Everyone knew you didn’t go looking for monsters, even when you were part of a hunting team. Lih should have turned back from the intersection, not come down here, not down here where—

With a lung bursting howl, figures tore out of the lit, passage bend and roared towards them. Into view, into the realm of their land warrior night vision, more figures appeared, dark, grotesque shapes, advancing towards where they took cover. The human shaped one came after Nox. Saliva oozed from the long, dagger-toothed line of his gleaming smile.

Lih started firing at once, loosing bolts as his weapon discharged. His furious shots had chewed at it, ripped and torn the flesh. But still the humanoid came on, fumbling, clumsily, trailing flecks of black fluid and saliva into the air. You never see them, he heard himself saying, not until it’s too late. It was too late now. The thing was a freakin’ nightmare…

Then Lih realized something else. This was the scientist they were looking for. Alistair Pavlo. Somebody had made a real mess of his face and throat. Dorian, probably. Alistair had vanished. Somewhere between the thing bursting out at them and Lih opening up, his lenses flagged the thing as a dead man. He gasped up at the stupendous vitality of the new Alistair monster.

It didn’t act even slightly dead.

Backing away, he fired as long as he dared, hammering heavy bolts at the charging monster. He was unloading bolts at a full rate, as fast as he could sustain, but the shots weren’t even slowing it down.

It wasn’t anything like enough.

Viktor Lih threw aside his spent weapon and drew his knife.

“Let’s go then, you ugly bastard,” he growled.

Nox told him automatic weapons wouldn’t stop a monster. So Lih took his word on that. This was insane. And Alistair was a hell of a monster, but he was still an animal, still a man. It had anatomy. Anatomy that obeyed the simple laws of hunting.

It had hamstrings, for example. Lih cut them with his knife, glimpsing the scorched punctures his shots made in the bolt ridden corpse. It fell down. Hard on its face, so suddenly that its lower jaw smashed into the ground and slammed its gaping mouth shut. Its cries became shrill and wretched. Like it was in pain. The thing that was Alistair was now half prone on its belly, dragging its legs.

Then,--impossible!--it heaved itself forward again in a mighty surge, rising up despite the cut hamstrings, muscles bulging, veins like cables, foam glistened around its lips.

Lih disappeared from their formation.

He suddenly re-appeared in mid-air behind Alistair, propelled by a leap that needed a run up. He was no longer holding his crossbow. In one out-flung hand, he clutched his weapon, the long steel knife. The blade of Lih’s knife was black and wet with blood.

He landed on the dead man’s hunched back with a grunt of effort, and grabbed hold of the man’s shoulder for purchase with his free hand. The man shook and bucked, trying to shake Lih off its broad back. Lih clung on, and thumped his knife down into the base of the man’s skull.

Thirty centimeters of Moscow steel punched into Alistair’s brain. Thick, dark blood squirted out, hitting Lih like a pressure hose. He wrenched the knife out and stabbed again.

Alistair faltered, lifting his big hands to the sides of his head. He roared. Blood wept out around the hilt of Lih's embedded knife.

Lih was thrown off. He rolled aside hard, lacerating his face and arms on sharp rocks.

"Die, you shithead!"

Lih yelled, getting to his feet and slicking the thing’s blood off his face with the palm of his hand. He was too pumped up, too enflamed by then for him to be troubled by such a curiosity as to why even headshots didn't kill Alistair. He turned and ran toward Nox and Ivan. He got a few steps and fell. Alistair came after him.

Lih looked up, screamed, and tried to get up. The thing was right on him, right on him, mouth now agape, those teeth, those teeth, those—

It abruptly flailed, and fell, as if Alistair had tripped too. It had come down less than two feet away from Lih's outstretched feet. The monster was reaching with its arms, its jaw snapping and slicing at air in pain.

Lih screamed again, and scrambled backwards, out of reach.

Why had it fallen down? Why the hell had it fallen down?

And why in the name of the light was this creature on fire?

Another flaming corpse was suddenly in his face.

"Nox?" Lih said, gazing in astonishment at the fireball'd body. The atharim had suddenly appeared beside them, his hand raised. "Was that you?"

Saved before it chomped on him  Blush
Time slowed to a crawl. Everything happened so fast, but it felt like every millisecond was an hour. The rush of adrenaline flooded Nox's system. The power enhanced the feeling, the euphoria of it all. The hunt was the reason for doing this. The danger was forgotten. Now it was only about killing the bad things.

Alistair Pavlo walked. Lih shot useless cross bolts at it while Nox threw his small stones at the horde surrounding him. There were so many. You couldn't even count them. His heart raced. The stench of the burning body still lingered in his nostrils. It would be there for days even after a long stretch through the smog ridden Moscow.

Nova stayed at Nox's heel. He was the last line before it was on top of Nox. The last line. Nox knew where Ivan was. Knew just by the menacing presense, but Lih, he glanced to where he was supposed to be, but the pale officer was gone. Fucking idiot! Nox scanned the horde for the boy. Fuck!

He let the software do the work, more than his eyes as he kept throwing fireballs.

Nox watched in slow motion as the boy was flung from the flailing body of Pavlo's ghost. He was no longer a man. Nox split his flow and threw a fireball. And another while he lashed out with the fire and air razor whip pulling with all his force as it would slice through whatever it had wrapped itself around. The distinct snap of the weapon sang in Nox's heart. Nova growled and had moved towards the fallen officer. Nox threw a fireball that flung the attacking creature backwards. It howled in pain as the fire engulfed it, joining the existing putrid smells from their deaths and buring. It was a horrid stench.

Nox moved quickly. More of the horde was coming. But they had a man down. Fuck!

Nova crept closer. Nox followed in the dogs wake taking down anything close with a well aimed fireball. His heart was pumping fast. Each breath was becoming harder to take. There were so many of them. One. Another. Another.


One slipped past the last fireball and rushed at them. Nova lungned for its neck and they catapolted across the tunnel. Nox's eyes followed Nova, and another came from the darkness straight at the fallen officer. There was no time. Nox threw a gust of air at Lih and hurled him backwards as he held his arm in front of the creature. It's teeth sank into the flesh of his forearm. Irony would have it on the Atharim tattoo. Panic flaired through Nox. Fuck!

The creature clamped on to his arm and ravaged his flesh. Nox howled in pain but the same pain fueled the power as he dug deep down inside and pushed earth up in front of them. The ground shook as pillars of earth shot upwards creating a wall.

Only one chance. Nox grabbed for the power again but it slipped through his exhausted fingers. The pain, the taint the ichor whatever he could feel flowing up his arm. He yelled. "Cut it off!" Nox drew his gun and shot the creature in the head and they both fell to the ground. The creature hanging limp from his arm. His voice was queit. "Cut it off at the elbow... hurry." Nox started to feel weak. His stomach churned. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
The flood came. And yet Ivan felt nothing. He saw the horde, their disgusting slobbering maws and claws, spittle flying, a swarm from the bowels of hell, and he smiled coldly.

Almost as if by thought, fire darts flew from his hands, as fast as it took to think, one after another, small fiery blasts knocking them down, stumbling. And yet still they came. But he held up the rear.

Nox had his own strategy and Ivan noted it. Nox would take the head. Ivan would give him the room to do so. The inhuman face of a man- gunshot wounds in his head naming him Pavlo- seemed to move as if not by his own will. Ivan could see decay in his skin, torn muscle underneath. He wondered how the man moved.

Even as he wondered, Lih- ahh, the poor rookie somehow how found a pair- had seemed to throw himself in the open corridor Nox had made. Ivan was too busy with the horde but it had seemed as if Lih had disappeared and then, somehow, landed on the thing's shoulders.

A shadow of fear hit against the void, and Ivan felt the echo. Not just Lih. This...thing had to die. Burned beyond recognition. Danya and Zara's safety demanded it. His arrows flew true, decimating and yet not stemming the flow. Lih's blade stabbed into the man's head again and again.

No effect.

It was Nox who finally found the perfect solution. Even as he fought against the onslaught, his whip flung out to rip Pavlo's head from his body. It fell against another burning beast.

Ivan felt a spark of joy that hardened the walls of his bubble. Instinctively he fed the flames himself, an inferno, even as he flung out his burning darts. Strange. He'd never been able to do that before.

For a wonder, it seemed the swarm had broken against them.

It was the scream that tore at him, the panic in Nox's voice. The man had shaken off the creature that had attached itself to his arm. Ivan knew what it meant, black liquid dripping from torn skin.

But he would not lose anyone.

Without hesitation, a blade of flame formed as it swung down, sharpening to razor edge centimeters before it cut through Nox's arm just below the elbow. The fire cauterized any open veins. He wouldn't bleed out. He could die of shock though.

Unimportant if these things weren't stopped.

He continued to kill the things as they ran. He disliked the idea of them escaping. But it couldn't be helped. The bodies lay everywhere.

He made sure to tie off a weave of flame on Pavlo's form, as Nox had done. He grimaced. Fucking Yun.

And he went to Nox first. Lih had somehow made it. ""You did good, man," he said, unaware how robotic his voice sounded. He looked at Nox's arm. A cold smile formed, though he'd meant it to be encouraging and filled with camradie. "You asked. I answered, Nox."

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