The streets of Manhattan were eerily quiet. There was no time to chat with a friend on the phone, or to proffer dubiously beef hot dogs to passer-bys, or even to offer a brief greeting -or smile, or frown, or rude finger gesture- to anyone. People walked with heads low and backs slumped and so, never noticed the dark figure jumping from skyscraper to skyscraper above.

That was fine by him. Attention always made things harder for him, and a couple less screaming civilians made his life so much easier.

He knew that Manhattan hadn't always been like this. The memories he had gained told him that it had once been a bustling metropolis, the smallest and most populated of the five boroughs of New York City. The small stretch of land was home to one and a half million people and, crowded with looming skyscapers and bustling with humanity, it certainly earned its reputation as the quintessential city. Without the immediate threat of gruesome and painful death, the people actually talked, and mingled, and lived.

Sergeant Coates had known this, and now, so did he. He had never seen the true Manhattan with his own eyes. But again, there were plenty of things that he hadn't seen with his own eyes, so maybe he shouldn't quibble.

He knew more about the situation of the city than most of those on the island, but he didn't know much. Not really. Even his name had been lost to him when he had woken up, frightened and disoriented, under a doctor's scalpel. He knew now that his name was Alex, he had a little sister named Dana, and that whatever had landed him in the morgue also gave him inhuman abilities.

Humanity milled around hundreds of feet under him, completely oblivious to his presence. He observed for a moment, quiet.

Alex knew what they had been told, knew the bullshit they were fed to stop them from asking questions they couldn't answer.

Ronald McKinney had disappeared off the streets on the first day and didn't know anything concrete, other than, "something horrible has happened and I need to get home now."

Aubrey Hopkins remembered the black suited bureaucrat on the telly who had reassured them that the situation was under control, that the culprit behind the whole mess was already dealt with.

John Sanchez had heard the stories of him, the man in the hoodie who jumped off the roofs of skyscrapers and made people disappear and crept the streets in disguise, waiting for his next victim. Unfortunately for him, he had been just a block away from a military shootout between said man and a squad of Blackwatch, and Alex had been almost mindless with pain and rage and the need to consume.

The American government made good attempts to stop the truth from leaking out, to keep up the facade that what had happened was nothing more than a sudden outbreak of a deadly disease. But everyone and their mother owned a smartphone these days, and with smart phones came cameras and with cameras came evidence. Scenes of devastation and violence surfaced on various corners of the Internet and though they disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared, the word spread.

Finally, the black suited bureaucrat - a different one from the last, surely, but they all look so similar that it was hard to tell - had made the announcement that the man with the hoodie was extremely dangerous and should not be approached at any cost. The population was to phone in if they saw him anywhere, but of course, nobody did.

And that was that. A simple virus, whose cure is being developed at the very moment by the nation's foremost scientists, had been set loose on Manhattan Island. Nothing that out of the ordinary. And those sightings of the suspect doing impossible things - running up buildings for one - or of hulking, organic looking creatures that had appeared in the most affected areas of the island... well, that was just silly. Such reports went missing before they got to anyone important in the command.

By that time, it was a bit too late. Manhattan knew that there was something much worse happening behind the scenes. Unfortunately for them, there was nothing they could do about it. The military enforced lockdown on the island was merciless in its application.

Some conspiracy theorists - the same ones who claimed that the members of the government who wore rather gaudy red crosses were members of a secret society not unlike the Masons - declared that the incident had stemmed from a secret weapon that got out of control.

Unsurprisingly to the average person, they weren't right. But they weren't wrong either.

In the area of Manhattan he was in now, only Infected and heavily armed Blackwatch walked the streets. Here, he didn't have to worry about blurry flip phone videos or frightened civilians. And if anyone had been watching from the window of an apartment in one of the deserted areas of Manhattan Island, they would have seen an interesting sight. A leather clad figure moved through the landscape at frankly impossible speeds, outpacing even the fastest Olympic runner with ease.

His name was Alex Mercer. The only thing he was sure about was that he had powers connected with the ongoing infection. What he wanted to know was why.

But that was far easier said than done, especially with Blackwatch coming after him day and night.

"Damn," he muttered to himself, after catching sight of those iconic black uniforms and gas masks rounding the corner. Why couldn't those assholes just give up for once? It would save him the trouble- and them their lives. But no - it was as if they were blind to his slaughter of their colleagues.

Ordinary people haven't been much of a threat since Alex had found himself lying in the morgue with a rare strain of the current infection and superhuman strength, just a couple of days ago. For the most part, Blackwatch, despite being the so called 'elite of the elite' of the deployed military forces, hadn't been much of an exception. Their armor and protective masks didn't do much against his razor sharp claws and blade, much less his own special method for dealing with enemies.

Well, until about two days ago. Before, all they were capable of doing against the bioweapon was to shoot wildly, sending mildly irritating but ultimately harmless bullets in his direction. Blackwatch was annoying, but that was it.

Now? They were dangerous.

Someone- or something- with possession of some very detailed intel on the male Runner must have given that information over to Blackwatch. There was no way that the military organization could wise up so quickly without outside help.

Now, all soldiers were equipped with special weapons specifically made to exploit his weaknesses, with bullets coated with a special form of what the grunts called 'Bloodtox'. Even more frustrating, the high-ranking members of both Gentek and Blackwatch- the very people from whom Alex sought information- were injected with some substance that made it impossible for them to be consumed.

He had learned of the latter the hard way. Mercer had tried to consume one of the military commanders to get the codes for the base, only to spend the next fifteen minutes retching and vomiting up all remainders of the substance, losing previous biomass in the process and gaining nothing more than a stomachache.

Turned out, Blackwatch's mystery benefactors were none too keen on having a homicidal, bloodthirsty bioweapon discover their secrets. They had designed something to counter Alex's most used method of obtaining them. Now, most of Mercer's targets- the ones most likely to have information- could not be consumed, putting a huge dent in his sole plan for information gathering - find and consume.

If he could only get his hands on those bastards- not only have they greatly interfered with his goals, they knew things about him that he didn't. There was a very high possibility that they played a great part in whatever had happened to him that made him the way he was now, meaning that they were the ones the virus needed to go after. Problem is, he had no idea who- and what- they were.

At least, the people giving out the injections didn't give a shit about the common Blackwatch grunts who didn't know their secrets, so Alex could still get a meal without eating civilians. Not that he cared much about that- biomass was biomass, whether it was a heavily armed soldier or a single mother.

But Dana cared, and say what you will about Alex Mercer, superpowered tentacled killer, but he did love his sister. It hurt, in a way he had never felt before, when she looked at him with horrified eyes after he let it slip just what he ate.

They talked – he wasn't 'forgiven', because though he wasn't sure how normal people dealt with their brother eating people, but completely ignoring the fact probably wasn't one of them- but Dana had made him promise to only go after people who went after him first. How could he say no to his sister?

It also helped that he really didn't want what made up his 'conscience'- a mix of screams and cries of the dozens of people he had consumed in the days after the outbreak- to affect him more than it has already. Hearing the death gurgles of his victims all day wasn't nearly as enjoyable as he would have thought.

All this thought about consuming, it reminded him that he hadn't eaten for a day. He didn't have a stomach- or at least, he doesn't think he does- but he feels like having some Blackwatch soldiers right now. And luckily for him, there was a narrow alley a few dozen feet in front of him where he could get a meal.

Blackwatch's guns weren't as effective in close combat, making his fight against the grunts like shooting fish in a barrel. He ducked inside and smirked as the Blackwatch grunts followed him in witlessly. They might have gotten an upgrade in equipment, but intellectually, they were exactly the same.

Not that he was complaining. He wasn't one to turn away free food, after all.

There was nothing but shadows in the alley when the soldiers entered. They pointed their guns threatenly at suspicious spots in the alley, but when nothing jumped out of them after a few minutes, the commander sighed and pulled out a black communicator.

"Squad 2460, reporting in. We saw ZEUS run into an alley, but it got a- grk-"

The rest of his words were caught off with a gurgle of blood as the distinct shape of the three 'fingers' of ZEUS's claws protruded from his abdomen. His eyes rolled back into his head and he would have fallen onto the concrete of the alley if not for the deadly claws holding him up.

"Boo." He deadpanned, flicking the body away with a swift movement of his appendage. The man was dead already, and why settle for that when he could have something much fresher? A psychotic smirk appeared on his face. He missed this.

The Blackwatch grunts shot at him wildly, much of the shots going wild and pinging off of alley walls. Alex dodged the remaining bullets with ease and jumped, landing in the midst of the Blackwatch, impaling a soldier near him without a second thought.

Several of the men had been struck by friendly fire and were rendered helpless, clutching frantically at the blossoming dark stains on their uniforms. The black did hide the blood quite a bit, Alex noted dispassionately.

But his good mood evaporated when he felt a few sudden bursts of red hot pain in his lower torso and left leg.

"Shit!" That's what he got for thinking during a fucking battle.

The new bullets Blackwatch was using really were a huge pain in the ass. According to a low ranking Gentek scientist he had consumed, Bloodtox was originally a gas of some sort before the benefactors redesigned them for up-close usage. The stuff hurt like hell, and the wounds caused by them took longer to heal than those caused by regular bullets.

Enraged, the bioweapon stabbed the gunman with sharp biomass claws, only to be shot by the surrounding soldier.

Hmph. Maybe the claws weren't the best choice against Bloodtox bullets. Alex straightened his back, morphing his left claw into a thick bulletproof shield, while the other reformed into a huge jagged blade, easily the size of his whole body.

"Now," he grinned, "It's my turn."

Alex tore into a cowering soldier, reveling in the hot spray of blood before letting loose his tendrils, consuming the man and repairing the damage he had taken from the previous hail of bullets. Without stopping, he smashed another of his prey into the brick wall with his massive shield, glorifying in the gruesome crunch of bones being crushed.

There were still half a dozen Blackwatch peons standing near the entrance of the alleyway, pointing their guns at him with shaking hands. Alex's enhanced sense of smell told him that at least one of the men had pissed themselves out of fear.

Pitiful. He might as well put them out of their misery.

Ignoring the hail of Bloodtox bullets that slammed into his body - and strangely, they didn't seem to hurt as much as that first time, maybe he was gaining immunity? – the hooded man leapt at his attackers, an inhumanly wide smile on his face.

It was over in a matter of minutes.

Glancing at the blood and viscera that covered the alley, the bioweapon felt a sense of deep satisfaction. The killing and consuming felt second nature to him, and who was he to deny something that came natural to him?

But just as quickly, a wave of horror and self-disgust washed over him.

Was he even human, doing shit like this on a daily basis? Sure, the bastards probably were the ones who made him the way he was now, but how many of them had wives, children, and families waiting for them at home? What would Dana say if she knew what he did? Sure, he needed to eat, but he didn't need to butcher them like this.

The bioweapon had just changed his shield and blade back into bloodstained human hands when a glimmer caught his attention. Alex strode over briskly and saw that it came from a piece of jewelry on the neck of one of the bodies. Nothing out of the normal.

Though this design... he knew that he had seen it before somewhere. Alex snapped it off and regarded it closely.

It was a red cross. According to the memories of a historian he had consumed a couple of days earlier; the cross was a symbol of the Templars, an old West Christian faction dating back from the Crusades. Alex remembered seeing the symbol on the clothing of various high-ranking Gentek and Blackwatch employees, but had thought nothing of it.

Maybe he should have.

Was there a connection between all those people? Perhaps there was some strange history fad going around…?

Wait.

The body of the deceased cross wearer was already cold, but Alex let loose his biomass tendrils and forced himself to take an experimental 'taste'. He immediately recoiled in disgust. He now recognized the man- he was the commander he had killed at first. It was a good thing he hadn't tried to consume him. If he had, he could have been left weakened for the rest of the battle.

The man had been injected with the anti-Blacklight liquid… just like all the others he had seen who also wore the strange cross.

Alex stood up.

The Templar cross must be denoting membership in some kind of… cult, or something like it, he thought. But whatever that cult is, its members knew enough of the secrets of Blackwatch's mystery benefactor that they (it?) could not afford to have their knowledge known to Alex. Perhaps, some of them may even be one of said benefactors. But seeing how he couldn't consume them and get the intel that way, he was going to have to gather information from them- the normal way.

He just had to make sure he wouldn't accidentally kill his captives in the process.

Someone had probably reported the screams coming from the alley by now, and Alex really wasn't in the mood to get in another fight. He needed Dana to find information on these 'Templars' for him, but he could never bring himself to wake her up after she fell asleep at the computer. That meant he had to get back before it got too late.

As Mercer bounded up the fire escapes and leapt from roof to roof on his way to Dana's apartment, he realized a nagging feeling that he had felt ever since he saw the cross. It was as if… the cross was related to his life, before the lockdown, before the outbreak. And… he remembered something else. It wasn't much, just a word, though Mercer didn't have any context for it; it just felt familiar and somehow related to these 'Templars', like the two were in the same metaphorical folder in the sorting cabinet of his mind.

Assassins.

Assassins and Templars went together in his brain like bread and butter, but he had no idea about the actual connection between the two. Were they opponents? Allies? Was one some subdivision of the other? He pushed the thoughts out of his mind. Alex didn't know much of them, but the latter was definitely involved with whatever had happened to him. But if both of them were involved… well, there wasn't a difficult decision to make. He'd just have to deal with them the same way he had with all the others.


7.30.13 - Another rewrite. Notes about the story: the Prototype timeline is now changed to 2012 and some minor bits have been altered, which will come up later. For example, Dana knowing about Alex eating people and Alex already having the blade power. Call it creative license, call it covering up for having fucked up.