I've decided that I'm going to start cross posting my work from Spacebattles onto this site to gain a wider audience.
The mission had gone to hell.
That was the one thought that dominated the forefront of Lieutenant Emily Piggot's mind.
When the local PRT office of Ellisburg had sent a memo that a new Master class Parahuman had revealed himself the main branches took notice but didn't really do anything. Ellisburg was a relatively small town with a one or two minor villains and heroes. It didn't boast anything of real importance and had no signs of any major problems in the past, not like the cities of Detroit or Brockton Bay. It was assumed that the local heroes and PRT would be able to sort through the problem without outside interference.
It had only been when all communication with the town had been cut out that the greater PRT realized something was seriously wrong.
She had been part of one of the two squads consisting of nearly forty non-powered individuals assigned to investigate the town and if possible subdue the new cape. They were all trained in tactics to take down a variate of capes, from Brutes that could hurdle cars like toys or Blasters that could level buildings. With the twenty capes, they got as support going in it should have been a simple, easy mission.
It had been anything but.
The self-proclaimed Nilbog proved to be far, far deadlier and more powerful than they could have ever had imagined. With an army of monsters at his command, he had torn through most of the two squads and sent the cowardly heroes running. What few survivors remained were left to fend for themselves in a city that was something straight out of a Hollywood horror film.
Piggot tried to focus on keeping her legs working as she ran down the abandoned streets. While she had her service pistol in one hand, her other hand was occupied with keeping the pressure on her injured side. She could feel warm crimson fluids slip through her fingers with each passing second, her physical exertion only worsening her already bad wound. She knew that the best thing to do would be to stop moving and keep the wound from being aggravated, but her situation didn't allow for such actions.
A quick glance back only confirmed her fears, her pursuers were still chasing her and worse, they were gaining.
They were unholy amalgamations of cats and dogs. The front of the creatures was obviously canine in origin, but they had been horrifically disfigured. Their mouths had been permanently set into what might charitably be called a smile if one was drunk enough. Their eyes were enlarged to the point of ridiculousness, but it did little to take away from the sheer revulsion of the creatures' greasy furless skin. The back half the creatures were no less terrifying or disgusting.
It looked like someone had taken the front end of a cat and stitched it into the spot of the dog's rear. Its own features had been horribly disfigured like their front side. Eyes, ears, teeth, everything that had once been natural had been taken away and put through a madman's imagination. The creatures' hide legs hadn't even been switched so they were facing the right way. Instead, the front of the creatures seemed to drag their lower body parts everywhere, which was the only reason she hadn't been overwhelmed by the pack of nightmarish composite animals yet.
But even with their apparent sluggishness, they were still gaining on her. With her huge wound taking its toll it would only be a matter of time before they caught up to her and she would be torn to shreds by their vicious fangs or worse, she would be dragged off to join Nilbog's ranks as one of his demented goblins.
Her brief lapse in focus was all it took for her to miss a chunk of loose rubble from one of the nearby buildings. She stumbled forward as she tried to regain her balance, but her wound flared in protest at the sudden movement and she was forced to the ground by the pain. She turned around to see the pack of monsters had finally caught up to her, their fangs jutting out of their maws like rusty nails as they stalked forward with the deliberateness of a hungry predator.
She aimed her pistol and fired. The first beast flinched, apparently recognizing the sight of a gun, but that was all it did. Piggot felt whatever hope of getting out alive leave her body as the gun simply clicked, the ammo spent from fending off other monsters. The apparent leader of the pack snarled angrily as it approached the fallen PRT agent, its glassy eyes glinting in the noonday sun.
Piggot tried to pull herself back from the creature's waiting mouth, but it was a futile effort at best. The monstrous canine-cat hybrid opened its jaws while Piggot steeled herself for the pain to come.
Then the creature exploded into chunks of viscera and blood. Piggot gagged as the off green fluid covered her face. As she wiped the foul liquid from her eyes she got her first good look at her savior, and whatever burgeoning hope she felt for a rescue died.
The creature towered over her and the pack of goblins. Even standing up she would have barely reached the monster's lower jaws. Fur darker than the darkest nights covered the creature's form. The creature's pitch black fur was only interrupted by plates of bone like armor whiter than chalk. Spines of bone the size of her forearm trailed down the creature's back and arms, only fueling its inhuman appearance. Claws the size of her fingers erupted from far too human hands as the creature growled. It was a low rumble that reminded Piggot of wolves that she had seen in zoos or particularly large dog breeds.
Dangerous. Predator. Her hindbrain seemed to whisper to her.
The pack of goblins seemed to be taken back by the new monster's appearance. The took a step back in obvious surprise, but they recuperated quickly. One of the hybrids leaped forward, jaws wide and ready to tear out the interloper's throat.
The creature moved faster.
The creature became a near blur of black and white to Piggot's stinging eyes as she struggled to remain awake. She could feel her blood loss was starting to catch up with her, but she wasn't going to let herself fall unconscious. If these beasts wanted her they were going to have to fight her.
The sound of flesh tearing from flesh brought Piggot's full focus back to the events before her. The goblin that had attacked was now dead, the new monster having ripped its head off. It had been joined by two more of its kind, smaller, but no less deadly if the dead goblins beneath them were any indication.
Piggot felt her breath catch in her throat as the creature turned around to face her. The upper portion of its long skull was covered by a single bone plate. Red lines that looked like fresh blood ran up and down the plate. Teeth the size of daggers filled the creature's maw, each one caked in a layer of greenish fluid. But it was its eyes that caught her attention the most.
The creature's yellow eyes glowed like a pair of twin stars. They seemed to strip away her layers and gaze into her very soul. Despite herself, Piggot let out a small whimper at the sight of the creature's burning gaze.
Her hindbrain was screaming at her now, her flight and fight instincts going into overdrive as the creature started to approach her. She tried to drag herself along the concrete to escape the reach of the creature, but she only made it a few feet before the creature caught up to her. Piggot screamed in panic as the creature's hand-like paw wrapped around her ankle and pulled.
"Let me go!" She shouted desperately as she kicked her feet against the creature's hands in an attempt to extract herself from its grip. Her kicking proved to be futile, however, as the creature's only reaction was to tighten its grip and pull harder.
Piggot could feel the effects of the blood loss start to catch up to her as she was dragged across the broken street. She could feel her chest tighten in pain as black spots started to appear in the corner of her eyes.
"No," she tried to shout, but all that came out was a hacking cough. As the last of her vision started to fade her heart raced at the thought of becoming one of those…those things.
Her free leg twitched again in another attempt to free herself and then the embrace of Morpheus took her.
Piggot moaned as the pain hit her. She felt as if she had just gone a couple rounds with Behemoth. But that was okay, pain meant that she wasn't dead.
She could hear voices at the edge of her awareness. Her hearing strained as she tried to listen, but they sounded so far away.
"…she's lucky she survived."
"When will she wake up?"
Piggot felt a jolt of recognition pass through her. She knew that voice, that was her commander's voice!
Piggot tried to open her eyes, but it was as if they were made of solid rock. It took her far longer than she would have liked to get them open. Her vision was still blurry, but she was still able to make out her immediate surroundings.
The fact that she wasn't surrounded by monstrous nightmares or a giggling madman as he turned innocent people into piles of flesh was a good start, but it didn't put her completely at ease. For all she knew this was some sort of illusion or trap for Nilbog to bring in new meat from the outside world. The PRT wouldn't abandon their agents to a madman if they thought there was a snowball's chance in hell of getting them out alive.
The Protectorate on the other hand…
Piggot pushed aside her feelings of betrayal and focused on the situation at hand. She could get angry at the so called "heroes" for abandoning her later, right now she needed to figure out if she was safe.
A flash of movement caught her eye and Piggot twisted her head around to get a good look at it. She immediately regretted it as her vision spun and her head felt like it was a lead weight. Still, once the feeling of nausea passed she got a good look at one of her fellow agents talking with a man she wasn't familiar with.
"Tony," she croaked, her voice sounding far weaker than she would have liked it to sound. It wasn't the voice of the well trained PRT officer who had once gone toe to toe with monsters that could level city blocks, it was the voice of a weak woman who couldn't even move her own body without feeling sick.
Agent Tony Jones' head snapped over to her, his green eyes flashing in concern and relief. Now that she had a good look at him she could see that his arm was in a sling and a rather large bandage was wrapped around his waist.
"Emily," he responded as he walked over, his relief at her awareness obvious in his voice. He stood over her prone form on what Piggot now recognized as a hospital bed but kept enough distance so that it didn't feel as if he was looming. His presence was a welcome shock to an otherwise alien environment. She could feel her muscles relax a little bit, not entirely, but enough to take some of the strain off her shoulders. "You're alright."
It was obvious that she wasn't, but she knew what he meant. She tried to pull herself up but found herself being gently but firmly held down by the stranger. She glared at the man in an attempt to get him to back off, but the man's blue eyes met her own without flinching. He had a broken and haunted look in his eye that Piggot knew she was going to have in her own for quite some time. It was the look of someone who had seen hell and survived by the skin of their teeth and had lost something on the way. A glare from an injured woman wouldn't frighten this man after what horrors he had borne witness to.
"You've had a bad injury, you need to stay off your feet," he said, not unkindly. He was clean shaven, unlike the wild mess of a beard Jones' had. His hair was mostly brown but had a few gray hairs creeping their way in. He was vaguely toned, but Piggot felt that if she was in good health she would be able to take him without any issue.
Unfortunately, she wasn't in good health and she knew it. She acquiesced to the man's demand with a grunt of displeasure she let herself settle back onto the padded seat. "Alpha-six-tango-gamma-three," she rattled off from memory. The stranger gave her a perplexed look, but her commanding officer understood.
"Beta-one-gamma-eight-delta-nine," he said as he gave her the relevant Master/Stranger protocol response. Piggot let her guard relax a little bit as she looked at the stranger with a little less suspicion than before. At the very least she knew that if this was all some sort of trap then whoever had set it up had subverted Jones or her own memory so completely that she wouldn't be able to tell the difference between it and reality.
"Sorry doc, protocol," Jones said with an apologetic tone.
The man grunted, apparently understanding that whatever they were talking about was above his pay grade. Instead of commenting on it the man turned to her with a severe expression on his face. Piggot could feel her muscles tense up, but her fears of being attack were swept aside once he started to speak.
"You were very lucky ma'am," the man said in a soft but firm tone. Piggot twitched at being referred to as ma'am but decided not to ream the man out- this time at least. "Had you not been brought to medical attention sooner you could have very well bled out."
Images of monstrous maws dripping with blood and gore flashed through her mind. Jones gave her a concerned look as she flinched, but she waved him off. She could deal with a few nightmares.
"I was able to replenish most of your blood and close the wound, but I'm afraid your kidneys are beyond repair. Even if had had access to better medical equipment it would still require a full transplant," the man said apologetically.
"What's that mean in English, Doc?" Jones asked as he tried to hid his concern. He did an admiral job at keeping a neutral mask, but his fidgeting gave away his true emotions. The man gave Jones an irritated look at the use of "doc" but cleared his throat as he explained.
"Without your kidneys, your body won't be able to process the toxins that build up in your body. Eventually, the toxins will become too much and kill you," the man explained in a controlled but not unkind way. Piggot appreciated the matter of fact way that he told her how she was going to die, it was a relief compared to the bone-chilling terror of waiting for one of Nilbog's monsters to chow down and finish the job.
"How long do I have?" she asked.
The man shrugged, "If you manage to stay off your feet and avoid exertion you probably would probably last a few days without treatment. We managed to gather some medicine on the last supply run, but without a dialysis machine that would be a stalling action at best."
Piggot felt her hand clench up in anger at the knowledge that that bastard was likely to get the last laugh. Even after she managed to escape his monsters she was still going to die by his hand.
"…thanks Doc," Jones said, his voice subdued.
The doctor sighed regretfully. "I'm afraid that there is nothing more that I can do. If you excuse me I have other patients to check on." Without another word the man stepped out of the room and shut the door behind him with a soft click, leaving the two PRT agents alone.
"Where are we?" Piggot asked. Now that she actually had a chance to take in the surroundings it was painfully obvious that this wasn't a hospital. The irritatingly bright shades of pink and yellow plastered across the walls didn't match with the dull sterile white that she had come to associate with hospitals.
There was a desk that had been moved to the side in order to make room for the hospital bed that she was lying on, and it appeared that the windows had been boarded shut. Piggot doubted that a few pieces of wood would stop Nilbog's monsters, but she supposed that it was better than nothing.
"Elementary school on the outskirts of Ellisburg," Jones said as he shifted himself into a more comfortable position to talk as he leaned against the wall. Piggot's eyes were temporally drawn towards a cartoonish rendition of the human body that had cheesy little phrases plastered across it. The childish image looked alien and odd in an area that had been debased with so much death. "Some of the folks managed to get down here and barricade themselves in before Nilbog got them. Though without Cadmus' help I doubt they would have survived."
"Cadmus?" Piggot asked sharply, not recognizing the name. It sounded like a cape name, but it wasn't one that she recognized. She knew the names of every single one of the capes that the Protectorate had paired the PRT up with for this mission, a fact that she was going to exploit without mercy if she ever got out of this hellhole. If she had her way those people would never wear a mask again, they were a complete and utter disgrace to law enforcement. Jones' expression soured, clearly recognizing where her mind had gone. Piggot knew that Jones was usually a fairly relaxed man, but there was a dark look in his eyes at the mere thought of this Protectorate capes. His jaw moved back and forth before he relaxed a little, some of his tension easing from his shoulders.
"She's the reason that we survived. She triggered during Nilbog's first attack on the town and summoned creatures of her own," Jones explained. Piggot winced, while she wasn't a parahuman herself, she understood the implications of triggering and knew all too well how traumatic some people might have found this massacre. What she had seen had scarred her, she couldn't begin to imagine how an untrained civilian would fare in such a situation.
"She's been using her creatures to hold of Nilbog's army and to try to contact the outside world," Jones said as he slumped against the wall, his form looking utterly drained. "But until they come get us were stuck here, even with her help we wouldn't be able to evacuate all the survivors safely."
"How many?" Piggot asked. She had a fair amount of experience in logistical matters, maybe she could help figure out a way to help, bedridden as she was.
"About three hundred civilians," Jones said with a grimace. Piggot couldn't help but mirror his expression, three hundred out of five thousand was barely a six percent survival rate. It also added the nightmarish fact that for every organic body Nilbog got his hands on, the more monsters he could make. Piggot couldn't even begin to imagine what over forty-five hundred monsters were capable of.
"What about agents," Piggot asked, thought she could tell that she was already going to hate the answer. Jones' haunted and faraway look did nothing but spurn her fear and dread even more.
"Three, including us," Jones whispered, his voice barely audible. Piggot felt her heart stop for a moment. She knew that the answer would be bad, but to actually know that only two of her teammates had survived was gut wrenching.
"Who?" Piggot asked, her throat dry.
"Thomson," Jones replied, his face mirroring her own pain. There was a small spark of relief at Jones' answer. Thomson had been one of the squad commanders and was good at his job, at the very least they had a competent leader at the helm. But it also meant she would have to deal with Jenny's irritatingly perky attitude, Ralph's exaggerated tales of his combat prowess or Carlos' pranks even again. She couldn't say she would miss that slime ball, Calvert, that much, but he had died fighting for his country which was something that she could respect.
"…how long until reinforcements arrive?" Piggot asked after a long moment of silence to digest what her comrade had just told her.
Jones snorted scornfully as he shifted his position against the wall. "Unless Cadmus' runners manage to get out there they aren't any coming."
Piggot's head shot up. "What?" she asked, not quite believing what he was saying.
"You heard me," Jones growled with an uncharacteristic anger. "Our radios are busted and the cell towers in the area are down, we have no contact with the outside world. As far as they rest of the world is aware we're all dead."
Piggot could feel a soft chill travel up her spine at the implications. A parahuman this powerful would get carpet bombed if they thought that the threat was great enough, just like they had with Kid Rot in 1999. A little over three hundred people would die in fire and flames in order to stop a single madman.
Piggot found she couldn't blame her superiors if they decided to strip bomb the city if allowed to expand Nilbog could very well prove to be one of the greatest threats the world had ever seen since the Endbringers. But she still couldn't help but feel a growing dread as she considered her burnt and broken form as one of the causalities. Her life had been saved only to be doomed again.
"I want to meet her," Piggot said. Jones gave her a confused look, his brain not clicking the details together. "Cadmus," Piggot explained, a spark of understanding and recognition entering the man's eyes.
"The doc told you not to exert yourself," Jones said, a hesitant expression on his face. He knew that once Piggot had set her mind to do something there was very little that could stand in her way.
"My health doesn't matter if we're going to get bombed into oblivion," Piggot said, eliciting a flinch from the man at the reminder of their possible fate. Piggot rolled her eyes at her teammate's uncertain gaze. "If it bothers you that much then find me a wheelchair."
Jones, apparently realizing the futility of trying to reason with her, grunted as he rose from his seat and walked out the door. As the door clicked shut behind him Piggot allowed her head to rest against the rather uncomfortable pillow that had been placed beneath her neck. The tiled ceiling stared back down at her.
With nothing better to do, she started counting.
Piggot was almost finished when Jones returned. As the door swung open Piggot pulled herself up a little, wincing as her side lit up on fire at the sudden movement. She managed to hide her pain from Jones' eyes, but it still did little to dull the agony.
"…that's the best you could do?" Piggot asked with a raised eyebrow.
Jones scowled. "It's not like this is the Ritz, we don't have a lot of options here."
The seat in question wasn't a wheelchair, but rather a rolling desk chair that had clearly been stolen from one of the teachers. It was short and had a busted wheel, but like Jones said, they didn't have a lot of options to choose from.
Jones pulled the chair closer to her bed and then Piggot began the laborious task of pulling herself onto the seat. She could feel her side flare up in sheer agony as she swung her way onto the floor, her footsteps mere hobbles as she tried to keep herself from collapsing. She grunted in relief as she took her seat. It was hardly the most comfortable seat that she had been it, but it was better than trying to walk all the way there.
Jones grunted as he started to push the chair, going slowly as to avoid losing course. The chair's design and the busted wheel didn't make steering easy, especially with Piggot dead weight and Jones' broken arm.
As they wheel through the building Piggot was able to get a much better idea of the situation. The entire atmosphere was one of hopelessness and suffering. Men, women, and children with long faces and faraway looks as they stared into nothing. People huddled in groups in an effort to shield themselves from the monsters outside. Everything looked straight out of a disaster movie, which was exactly what this was- a disaster created by a madman.
But what got her the most were the monsters.
She nearly had a heart attack as one of the towering beasts circled a hallway corner. It was so large that the tips of its back spines scrapped the surface of the ceiling, gouging a mark along its path. It's glowing red eyes glared out at the world as a miasma of dark surrounded its form like a blanket.
"Emily calm down," Jones said as the beast passed by, not giving them even giving them a passing glance. Piggot heard Jones' command but wasn't able to comply as the beast slid past her form, its fur brushing up against the armrests of her chair. She flinched at the foul smelling odor of the beast, the metallic smell of blood latching onto the beast's form.
"Emily it's one of Cadmus' creatures, it isn't going to hurt you," Jones said in a calming and placating tone as he pushed the chair around the corner and out of the creature's sight. Not that it had cared about them, but not having to stare at the creature had a clear effect on Piggot. Her near panicked breathing even out as she regained control over her nerves.
"You okay," Jones asked.
Piggot nodded shakily. "Y-yes, I'll be fine," she said with a confidence she hoped that she would be able to feign.
The feeling of flesh being torn by teeth as sharp as knives.
Blood splattering across the ground.
Pain Pain Pain Pain Pain Pain Pain Pain
Piggot flinched at the fresh and recent memory of her experience with monsters, one that she couldn't hide from Jones.
"We can do this later if you want," he said.
Piggot shook her head. "There might not be a later. I can handle this, it…it just caught me by surprise."
It was a lie, but one that Jones had the decency not to call her out on.
Piggot swallowed as Jones resumed pushing her towards their final destination. "Are there more?" she asked.
Jones paused as the reached a pair of doors, the screeching of the broken wheel on the floor stopping as he considered the question.
As the doors opened to what Piggot could now recognize as the school's gymnasium, she could see that yes, there were more monsters.
A lot more.
What had once been a spotless wooden floor where children could play basketball or indoor soccer during the winter was covered in pits of black tar. They were dark murky things that made the hairs on her arms stand up as she looked into their reflectionless surface. She held back a flinch as the pit bubbled and moved as something pulled its way out of the dark mass.
Tusks that looked like they could tear a person in two oozed their way out of the pit. A mockery of a boar followed shortly after, its head and shoulders covered in white armour as hooves clicked against the wooden floor. Fangs that looked straight out of a prehistoric documentary jutted down from the monster's upper mouth with dagger-like teeth following behind. Piggot swallowed as four red eyes glared at her as the monster waddled its way past the two PRT agents.
All around them more monsters were crawling their way out of the black masses that dotted the room and each one was different and horrifying in their own way. Birds of prey whose wings looked like they could be used as buzz saws, serpents that looked like they could swallow a man whole.
While they didn't possess the same disgusting and misshapen appearance of Nilbog's mockery of life, they were still no less terrifying.
Piggot managed to pull her gaze away from the creature long enough to catch sight of her commanding officer. Thomson was standing over a cheap fold out table that had once likely been used for school events. Now, it was being used to try and save hundreds of lives. As they drew closer Piggot could see that they had a few maps detailing the city laid out before them with marks to indicate locations of Nilbog's forces or supplies.
Thomson's gaze drew up from the maps, apparently alerted to their presence by the squeaking wheel of the chair as it scraped against the surface. The man's brown eyes glinted with intelligence and vigor despite the bandages around his torso. Even with his slightly graying hair, he still cut an imposing figure at almost six feet tall with broad shoulders and a well-muscled physique.
"Piggot, Jones," the near mountain of a man rumbled, his voice tinted with relief. Despite the gruff personality, he portrayed himself as it was well known that he cared a lot about his team. The loss of nearly the entire team had to be hitting him hard, though if it was he wasn't showing much of it.
"Sir," Piggot and Jones replied in unison. Piggot's gaze traveled away from her superior and to the other person standing around the table.
She was a bit shorter than Thomson, but she was still quite tall, and probably would have towered over Piggot by a good head even if she had been standing. But that wasn't the most defining feature of the woman.
Her skin was whiter than bone and chalk. Red veins crisscrossed along her arms and around her eyes like a twisted jigsaw. The sclerae of the woman's eyes were pitch black, even darker than the pits that the monster had been born from. Irises as red as blood burned into Piggot's very souls while pupils emptier than a black hole glared at her.
Hair as deathly white as her skin messily spilled across her shoulders without care, but Piggot supposed in a war zone that beauty became the least of a person's worries.
"Piggot," Thomson rumbled as his gaze tracked her own. "This is Cadmus."
"That's what the people call me," the woman interrupted, speaking for the first time. Her voice was angry, but there was a hidden agony underneath as if merely existing pained her. The speaking produced a notable effect on the monsters, their movements became more energized, more hurried.
"I prefer my real name," the woman said. "Annette Hebert."
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