Two lone scavengers carefully made their way into the dark, dry cave. The Cave was small, and had a smell that was so dry it hurt your nostrils to breathe, and it stunk of the creatures that had wandered in and never came out.
There were two scavengers. One was large, well built and bristly, while the other was much younger, skinnier, and considerably less hairy. They both carried lights and carried a rope. One end was at the mouth of the cave. They both hung unto the rop, lest they lose each other. Their bags were lightly packed with only food and tools, and their attire was rugged. They wore Soldier-like armor, and they lacked the cloaks of the colonies, instead they wore a heavy, bullet proof vest, of course in a world run by Matrix Drones, bulletproof didn't matter much.
They were unimportant, in both life and profession. They were poor to colony standards, and had few weapons. But their intents and ideals were poorer and more empty than anything they had, and their very presence was an insult to the righteous, and therefore their names are unimportant.
"S-sir... this cave could be crawling with them..." the smaller one whispered. In a cave that reverberated sound so clearly, talking normally would be a mistake.
"Cram it! Why do you think this place was so tough to find? There's something special in here, and we're gonna find it!" the bulky one said with a smile that was short a few teeth.
"But this is already our third trip, what if they find us?"
"Don't worry about it, trust me. It's not like they can hide in this dark place!"
The two continued. To a person from the cities, they wouldn't have noticed a difference in a cave, if it's dark and quiet, then it's all the same. But to people who have been living in the dry wastelands for so long, they noticed something. The air was getting moist. Their footsteps became softer. The sides of the cave were getting slippery. Their hearts beat faster. And then they saw it.
"Light!" the smaller one cried, and the echoes made his partner nearly lose his hearing.
"Kuh-wiet!" The bulky one growled. "...C'mon!"
The room they found was huge. It was lit up by a strange light. Strange wondrous markings flickered across the walls.
"Sir, I've only seen this when I hold something above a cup of water, then that means...?" His partner cackled. He pointed to a small hole in one corner where the light was coming from. He took out his gun and started hitting the hole with the end of his rifle. The sound was very loud in the cave, and if anyone else was down there, they would've heard it. Finally the wall crumbled away, and a whole beam of light shot out. The two shielded their eyes, but the bulky one crawled through the larger hole, and his partner reluctantly followed, albeit bumping his head since he couldn't see in the process.
When his eyes finally adjusted, he found himself look at a crystal clear pool. He lost feeling in his legs.
"A spring...!" he gasped. "Water!" The bulky one laughed and dropped all his equipment and ran to the side of the pool. He ran his fingers through the liquid and wiped his face.
"I never thought I'd see this much water for as long as I lived!" the small one said. "Now nobody will be thirsty!" His partner let out a nervous chuckle.
"Now then, about that," he said slowly. "Why don't we keep this to ourselves?" The small one was confused, but before he could ask, his partner started taking out containers and filling them up with water.
"What are you doing...?" he asked.
"Think about it! All the water we could ever ask for! We wouldn't need to listen to anyone ever again to get our fill! We could get our food elsewhere and stay here for the rest!" The small one was overwhelmed. "We could sell it! We could be rich! We could scrape all the money they have left, and we'll be like kings!"
"But... what about our village?" the small one asked. "What about our boss? What will he think?"
"He doesn't have to know! We don't need to say anything!"
"But what about the others at camp? The kids could really use this..." the bulky one hit the water with his fists.
"Don't you get all Noble on me! You think I wanna worry about those whiners and their brats for the rest of my life?!" he shouted. "Of course not! Now come on! Help me fill these up before we won't even get any!" The small one reluctantly obeyed. They stuffed their containers to the brim with water. They tried to fill their bags with water. The bulky one got bored after a bit, so he shoved his partner into the pool. The small one burst to the surface kicking and choking.
"I don't like this man! Let me out!" he cried. The bulky one pulled him out and lay him beside himself. The small one curled up and shivered. He didn't like it. He was only used to heat and slow uncomfort. With this cold water, he was cold all at once and it almost hurt. Something shimmered in the water. The small one watched as the shimmer moved back to the depths of the crystal clear pond. He carefully reached into the water and groped for it, and what he found was a small piece of metal with words scratched in it...
Dining consistorio exsulem
The small one dropped the shard.
"Why don't we get out of here, this place is creepy..." the smaller one said.
"Don't go superstitious on me, too!" the brute said. "Or you won't get any. Speaking of which..." The brute cupped his hands, scooped some water and drank. He let out a satisfied sigh. "Best I've ever tasted!" he said with a clap. "This will sell before we even..." A small crackling sound broke out. The light in the room disappeared. The room was completely dark. A small light appeared in the center of the pond.
"You..." a voice hissed. "Have drunk from the forbidden fountain..." The brute fearfully rose to his feet. "I can feel your souls through my water... your souls are filthy and reek of lies, tricks, and unfaithfulness. I like that. Those are all very... Tasty...!"
The water started to bubble and churn. The two fearfully backed away, and the brute grabbed his gun. A wicked shape rose from the water. His head was framed with fins and sharp fangs. His small needle-like teeth drooled the water as it rose. Its small beady eyes were pure green and glowed. His body was metallic and streamlined.
"I'm not taking this!" the brute said as he opened fire. The creature held out his hand and grabbed the bullets from the air. The small one fell on his back and tried to struggle away.
A tentacle rose from the water and wrapped around the brute's leg and started to pull him into the water. He screamed and kicked as he was dragged from the bed and into the depths. His partner was too scared to save him. The creature hissed.
"Time... to eat!" it squealed as it returned to the depths. The smaller one tried to run, but he was caught too, and was dragged under the water.
Laughter filled the air. In celebration of the safe return of the Pack, as they were called, the camp was preparing a welcoming feast. A large tent was set up in the middle of camp, and everyone got together. The men did all the building and setting everything up, while the women did all the cooking. They talked, they laughed, and it was all very confusing, for one without memories.
Storm sat in the shade of a tree next to his bike the whole time. He decided not to get involved. He was carefully thinking over to himself how or when he was going to leave the camp and continue on his way. But where would he go? This camp seemed to be the only source of information about the world around him, but with so much happening, he felt like a bother to ask. As the sun started its course into evening, Teru found Storm under the tree.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"Nothing, just..." Storm had a hard time answering. "Trying to stay out of the way."
"Out of the way of what?" Teru asked. "The guys want to meet you."
"Me? What would they want with me?"
"They heard about the scorpion, and they have questions to ask!" Questions. Of all things, Storm wasn't in the mood for questions. He wanted answers.
"Sorry," Storm said as he rose to his feet. "I need some time alone. I'll be back." He took his sword from his bike and started away from the camp. "Keep that guy away from my bike," Storm said as he left. Teru sighed and kicked at the dust. He has plans too, I guess, he decided. Teru turned and walked over to the bike, but just then, he walked into a member of the Pack who was also passing by and fell to the ground.
"Watch it!" the person said as he passed by. Teru stood up and dusted himself off, muttering something to himself about angry jerks who can't forget stuff, like the Pack member.
Storm made a respectable distance from the establishment and started to pace. He was really only used to talking to one person at a time, but talking to a whole group of them made him uncertain. He had only a day's worth of understanding, and the idea of messing up in front of people was rather embarrassing. He somewhat liked his first day when he didn't have to worry about other meeting other people, but then he remembered the loneliness he felt when he was alone in the ruins. Guess I can't pick these situations, he thought to himself. Can't exactly run from them, either. I'll just have to take it as it comes.
Storm flinched at the sound of a gunshot. He looked around him, searching for any source of the noise, when it went off again. He noticed a trail of smoke, not easy to see through his shades, and followed it. He found a small formation of rocks with several smaller rocks placed around it. A lone gunman was aiming at one of the small rocks. Storm recognized him from the jeep that arrived earlier as one of the Pack members. Storm arrived at the person's west, and that apparently threw him off. The member turned around and aimed the gun, but froze.
"...Jeez, you could get shot when you do that," the member said as he lowered his gun. He wore gray clothing with a large vest with several pockets on it, Storm assumed these were for ammunition, and his belt had a holster in it. "Get behind me before you nearly get hit again!" the member snapped. Storm quietly obeyed. The member resumed his position and fired at the rocks. The bullets struck right where he aimed, and the rocks had the holes to show it. The man cocked the gun and took out the bullet pack.
"First clip..." he muttered to himself as he replaced the ammo.
"Target practice?" Storm asked. The member chuckled.
"No, I'm killing rocks for no reason." he said. Storm frowned, he didn't think he liked this person's sense of humor. The member took aim and fired again, and one by one he hit his targets. "Can't get rusty out here. Lose your touch just once and they'll be on top of you. Doubt you'd know that though."
"Try me," Storm said rather irritated. The man looked back at Storm.
"You a scavenger?" he asked. Storm nodded. "Haven't seen you, exploring from home or somethin'?"
"I don't have one, I only stay when I have to." Storm said. The member looked unimpressed.
"Don't see your gun."
"I don't need one." Storm said.
"Is that so?" the man asked. He took his gun and shot the row of rocks once more, and reloaded his gun.
"If you can't do that, you're not gonna make it out here." he said. He tossed the gun to Storm. "Let's see what you got." Storm took the man's place and aimed at the rocks. He fired, and he struck the rock, but the bullet bounced. The member smiled. "Don't need one?" he asked. "Try again. I imagine them as Drone heads, that helps me focus." Storm frowned. He didn't think he liked this person's ideals, either. He aimed at the rocks once more, and concentrated, not on drones, but on simple accuracy. He shot the rocks one by one, much quicker than the member. He reset his stance and did it again, even quicker. The member frowned and tsked.
He walked over and snatched the gun.
"Not bad," he admitted. "...for a vagabond." Storm never heard the word before, but he knew what it meant and was quite irritated. "Guess that draws the line," the member said as he put his gun up. "If I were you, I'd stay away from the camp. They don't like vagabonds that much."
The man left, and Storm stayed at the site, quietly sorting through his frustration. That person was either really proud or really miserable to put other people down like that, or he simply didn't like people of Storm's kind. He hoped that was the last he'd see of people like that.
Teru's mother walked around the entrance to the camp, looking for Storm, but couldn't find him. She saw little Teru with Storm's bike, tying it to the withered tree with a rope. She walked over.
"What are you doing?" she asked. Teru just finished tying the stubborn knot and sat down.
"Storm asked me to look after this, so I roped it up in case uncle came by again," Teru explained. His mother smiled and covered her face to hide a laugh.
"Where is Storm, anyway?" she asked. Teru shrugged.
"He went out for a walk or something, but he said he'd come back." His mother nodded and looked around. She saw one of the members walk back to the camp. Teru frowned and held his ground while his mother ran to meet him.
"Cord, have you seen a visitor around while you were out?" she asked. Cord shrugged and stretched his arms.
"You mean he's welcome here? Yeah, I saw him," he said rather absentmindedly. The lady didn't like the answer that much. "Weird looking guy, that one," Cord added. "What's a guy gotta do to come out like that?"
"You weren't much different when you came, did that change anything when we took you in?" She said. Cord looked offended.
"You say that as if he's staying," he said angrily. "Is he really?" She nodded.
"Yes, I've talked with Abir and the leaders, he's welcome to the feast." Cord dropped his arms and groaned.
"Great, just great. Sooner or later we're gonna welcome every little rat that walks in here...!" he mumbled as he continued on his way.
"Like we did for you?" Teru's mother called after him. Cord just waved his hand. She angrily turned away from him and walked back to Teru.
"Didn't listen, did he?" Teru asked. His mother shook her head.
"He never does. Do you want to go see Caden?" she asked. Teru thought a bit, and decided that the rope would hold the bike, and went with his mother.
"Quite a find, you got there," the old man said as he looked at the list the Pack leader had given him. "Lots of food, preserved I hope?" he asked. The other two men in the tent laughed. The leader nodded.
"All preserved, all packaged, and all uncompromised. Should last us a good while if the crops don't do well."
The tent door flapped open as one of the members walked in. One of the men sat on a stool with his bandaged arm.
"Get enough practice, Cord?" he asked. Cord sighed.
"Yeah, I guess," he said as he sat down in a chair and took off his holster. The older man noticed the gun.
"Oh and er... kinda iffy question here," he said as he looked over the list. "Did you find any extra ammo?"
"That place must've been a factory, we couldn't bring enough!" another member said.
"But we decided to take less to make more room for the food," the leader added.
"Right...Right..." the old man said as he started checking of the list and doing some quick calculations.
"Let's see... ten pounds... that's a five... every extra's one and a half... let's see..." The old man bit his pencil as he thought for a moment. "Er... Caden, how much clothestuff did you find?" he asked. Caden, the dark haired one, was trying to flex his hurt arm but a sudden jolt of pain made him quit.
"Lost count..." he forced out.
"About four box's worth, sir." Cord answered.
"Thank you..." the man said as he went back to the list. "And that'll be... how much did you want to keep for yourself, Abir?"
The tall brown-haired man shrugged.
"Probably only a box of each, we don't need that much really," he said. The man nodded.
"Alright... that'll be... two dollars... and ninety five cents," he said as he tore out the sheet and set it down. Cord tsked.
"Kinda low..." he grumbled. "Doesn't staring at a Drone right in the eye and living give us a bonus?" he asked.
"Yes," Abir said. "But we don't need one." Cord angrily slumped into his seat. The old man took out a large container from his desk, unlocked it, took out the coins and handed them to Abir.
"Keep the change," he said. Abir closed his fist and nodded. "Thank you, Abiram." he said. The old man smiled and went to his desk.
"Who's the money-holder now?" Abir asked. Everyone raised their hands, except Caden, whose hand couldn't move. "That's what I thought," Abir said. "Caden takes care of it." The others sighed and sank into their seats.
The tent flapped open again, and Teru and his mother walked in.
"Good afternoon Ma'am, Teru," Abir said with a smile. "Where's our new friend? Expected to see him with you." Teru's mother shook her head.
"He's not ready yet. We have to give him a bit," she said. Teru ran over to Caden.
"Are you feeling better?" he asked. Caden sighed.
"I'll use it again, that's for sure. I'll be fine," he said.
"Not without proper treatment you won't," the lady said. "I'm going to have to look at that arm later." Caden lowered his head.
"Oh Joy..." he said as enthusiastically as he could. The other members laughed. "Say... What's your new friend up to?" Caden asked.
"Well... he's feeling uncomfortable, I guess. He's still not used to so many people," Teru said.
"What kinda guy can't stand so much people?" Cord asked. "A sociophobic?"
"Yes, that kind of guy would, but he's not a phobic," Teru's mom said.
"He can't remember stuff, that's why," Teru said. His mother cleared her throat and put her hand firmly on her son's shoulder.
"Not so hastily, Teru..." she mumbled. Cord laughed.
"An Amnesiac who can talk and handle a weapon? Likely story! Sounds like a scavenger's trick to find a nest!" he said as he left the tent. Teru sighed. It did sound a little strange, but after what he saw, he was sure of it. Abiram cleared his throat.
"If it's all the same to you," he said. "Why don't you get going and help with preparations? I have work to do."
Storm walked back to the camp after nearly an hour of staring at those rocks and thinking about the characters he may meet. Maybe they'll get suspicious... he thought. I'll keep things simple. They don't have to know too much about my sword, or the Scorpion. I'll keep other things simple too, no need to waste everyone's time. He looked at his bike and saw that Teru was gone. He was a bit confused, but then he saw the rope Teru had tied to it. Storm realized the purpose of the rope and found himself a bit amused. That's probably the only thing that'll keep that other man away... he thought to himself.
He looked around and decided to go find Teru, or his mother for that matter. Perhaps he could help with something. So he started into the camp for real, and there were people everywhere, working, and every so often sneaking a glance at him as he passed. Storm decided to think nothing of it.
Somebody passed by and hit him with his shoulder.
"Watch it," the person snapped as he turned around, and Storm recognized him.
"You're..." Storm began, but was interrupted.
"You two!" a man called. "Help us set this post up!" Storm and the member from earlier were called to help set up a post for the tent. The two looked at each other, but went to do the work. The post was long and heavy, and was very rough and solid. Probably a piece of petrified wood since all the living wood is out of the region. The member offered to hold one end while Storm helped push the post upwards, but their instructor seemed to feel safer with Storm at the center. So Storm held unto one end and waited as the member and another man pushed the pole upwards. Storm slowly straightened the pole as it got higher, but after a moment found that the task was nothing at all, and all strain on his arms was nonexistent. He drove the end into a hole in the ground and some other men fastened it down.
"Much obliged!" the man said as he continued his work. Storm looked back at the member from earlier, and decided to get formal rather than harbor any animosity.
"What's your name?" he asked.
"You don't know?" the member asked. "You're definitely not from around here!" Storm frowned. Any animosity he discarded returned. "Cord, of the Pack? Best Sniper not dead, sure you haven't heard of me?" he asked.
"Quite sure," Storm answered. Cord smiled.
"Oh wait... that's right. You can't remember anything, at least so you say." Cord said as he went on his way. Storm frowned, but remembered what Teru's mother had said the other day; 'A little too good to be true,' that he was such a good fighter but couldn't remember anything? It did sound like a potentially deceptive story, and this man wasn't going to show any sign of compassion, it seemed. Time alone he decided was all he needed.
By evening, the whole camp was bustling. The Tent was finally complete, and people were already walking inside, and the warm aroma of food was in the air.
Storm observed that a great welcome feast of sorts was being prepared for the returning travellers. For some reason, the setup seemed old-fashioned, but Storm couldn't find the words to describe it.
But the isolation Storm felt took away some of his fascination. He felt like an invisible onlooker to the life around him. That one man, Cord, still bothered him. He was just readily either so boastful or hateful, it confused him.
"Hey!" Storm turned back to one of the jeeps, one of the men was there. "Could you help me with this?" the man called. Storm hesitated. "Red guy! Come on!" Convinced the calling was for him, Storm awkwardly walked to the jeep. The man was unloading the last bit of crates, and apparently needed help. "Here, I'll grab one, then you take it and set it down," the man said. Storm obeyed and took each crate that was passed to him and set them down next to the jeep. In only a minute the task was done, much to the man's surprise. "That was fast, you could carry those things without thinking about it!" he said as he sat down on one of the crates. "Haven't seen you around, you new here?" he asked.
"I was invited here." Storm answered.
"Just passing through?" the man asked. Storm took the meaning of the term and nodded. The man held out his hand to shake. "Name's Abir, what's yours?" Storm cautiously shook the hand.
"Storm," he answered quietly. The man smiled. "You're the one Teru's ma talked about!" he said. "You were able to take down a Matrix mech on your own?" he asked. Storm nodded.
"That's great! We could use a guy like you! Things are getting rougher around here, and an extra hand couldn't hurt." Storm didn't know what to say. Conversation was still new to him. Abir noticed his uncomfortableness. "That's okay! We can talk at the meal, plenty of time to talk there!"
"The meal?" Storm asked.
"Yeah, a welcoming party, so to speak!" Abir said. "You've seen the tent right? That's the mess hall we'll go to!"
"Hall...?" Storm asked. "It's a tent." That made Abir laugh, but his laughter slowed down as he realized something.
"Oh... right. Chea said you can't remember stuff, so no wonder. Sorry, shouldn't have laughed like that," Abir said.
"No, it's fine." Storm said. Abir sighed.
"Well I'm glad you're not half-like what Cord makes you sound like! You've met him already haven't you?" he asked.
"Yes, I have." Storm said rather angrily.
"Yeah... sorry about that. He's a nice guy, really. He's just..."
"Proud," Storm finished. Abir paused, but nodded his head.
"Yep, that's the word for it." he said. "So... whaddya say about joining?" he asked.
"Join the pack?" Storm asked. "Why... I mean... when?" Abir just smiled.
"Whenever you're ready, I mean, no need to get confused." Abir said. Storm started to like conversation, and was able to continue a few more with Abir, developing his skills and learning more about the pack.
A small bell tolled in the distance. Abir clapped his hands. "Din time! C'mon, I'll get you a spot!" Before Storm could say anything, he was led away towards the large tent that was set up. "They got the mess hall going even bigger this time!" Abir said happily.
"...It's a tent," Storm thought to himself. Abir suddenly stopped.
"Woah..." he said. "You may wanna take that sword off." Storm nodded and ran back to his bike. He took off his sword and tied it as tightly as he could around the bike and then returned the Abir. On their way in, Storm noticed Cord at the entrance.
"You again?" he asked. "Sorry, outsiders aren't welcome..."
"Cool it, Cord, he's with me!" Abir said.
Storm followed his host into the large tent that was set up in the middle of camp. All of the camp members were present, and Storm estimated at least twenty or so were there, coupled with the small group that just returned. Abir pointed to an empty spot in the mat and motioned for Storm to sit down. As he made his way through, Storm heard whispers like 'Is that him?' 'Can he really not remember anything?' 'What if he's faking it?' Storm decided to ignore and sit down. He saw Teru and his mother, who smiled at him, and he Smiled back. After a bit the food was passed around, and when everyone had a plate, everyone bowed their heads, and Storm followed. A minute later, all heads were raised and the eating began. Storm awkwardly followed along, and as he had lived off of expired rations from an old settlement for the last day, he felt that this was the most wonderful meal he had in his life. Fresh bread, rice, soup, and some stir-fried meat was the least of the feast. Storm noticed the injured man from earlier was sitting in a stretcher next to Teru. His left arm had a bandage wrapped around it, and Teru's mother was at his side, vigorously working at any other injuries. But the man was surprisingly talkative, to Storm, anyway.
"Caden, what exactly happened?" Teru asked. The man, Caden let out a bit of a laugh.
"We were trying to see if we could scrape any more resources out of some ruins we found, but we ran into some drones." Teru's eyes lit up as he leaned closer to listen, along with the other kids in the room. "They came from all over the place! Out of buildings, out from under buildings, and some crawled right out of the ground! I swear, they're just left there to wake up and jump on people. More and more kept showing up. There were like ten of 'em at once! Cord of course had his fill of shooting them to pieces!" Storm noticed one member let out a huff and turn away.
"Caden!" one of the members called. "No need to exaggerate!" Caden shrugged.
"Yeah, you're right. It was a dozen!" Caden added. This garnered a laugh from the crowd. Caden laughed for a bit too, but it was cut off by a grunt of pain. He held the arm that was being bandaged. "Hey... easy Ma, it's not that bad!" he said. "No need to (ooh!) squeeze it!" Teru's mother didn't listen. "You can convince yourself you're fine, but that won't help a bullet wound!" she said as she started applying some medicine to get soaked in. "What were you hit with?" she asked. Caden shrugged. "Typical drone energy shot. Medium intensity. Nothing serious! I've had worse!"
"And nearly lost your arm!" the mother replied. The conversation died away, and another one started up.
"So, Abir?" one of the older men asked. "Why'd you stay out so long? You were gone almost a week." A wry smile crossed Abir's face. "Would you believe me," he said. "If we met a Neo-Soldier?"
The tent's liveliness died down in an instant, and Storm was immediately engrossed when he heard the word. Some image tried to make its way into his mind, but he shook it off to listen. "A real Neo-Soldier?!" another man asked. "What happened? What did he look like?"
"Why don't I tell things from the beginning? After we got all that stuff, we were going to see if we could get some more supplies, when somebody messed with a drone and got shot!" Caden rolled his eyes and looked away.
"So we had to stay out a little longer until the guy was well enough to move, but the moment we got ready, he showed up." The audience hushed and leaned forward. "He was wearing a robe, so we couldn't see who it was, at first. We thought he might've been a scavenger, so we got his attention..." Abir chuckled. "And we got it alright. The guy jumped at us and nearly shot us to pieces. His armor looked like a bright-blue bird, kinda. He didn't get any of us, but he shot a vehicle we found. That's why Ammar and his crew got a reasonable grab of scrap this trip. But the moment the dust cleared, he just left."
"What kinda Matrix guy would hit and run?" a man asked. Abir shook his head. "Either he wasn't in the mood, or he wanted us to keep away from something."
"What was it?" Teru asked eagerly. Caden laughed and patted the boy's shoulder with his good arm. "Why don't you go and ask him?" he asked. "I'm sure he's more than willing to listen." Teru shrank back a little.
Abir laughed, and so did the others. "Say, let's not steal all the fun! Hey, new guy, what's your..." Abir looked to his side. "...Story..." Storm was gone.
"Storm?" Teru asked. No answer.
"He probably slipped out when we weren't looking, he was pretty nervous," Abir said.
"About what?" Cord asked.
"Nothing that should concern you, hopefully," Caden replied.
"Why don't you handle it, Ma? You'll probably find the problem," Caden offered. Teru's mother nodded and carefully stepped her way out of the tent. When the door flapped shut, Caden let out a sigh of relief. "I was afraid she wouldn't stop working at my arm..." he mumbled, but made no act to conceal it. The people laughed at the joke.
Storm sat outside the tent, leaning against a withered tree. He took of his sunglasses to get a better look of the world around him. He stared at the horizon in the distance, thinking carefully about what the Pack had mentioned. Neo-Soldier... why do I hate that name...? he asked himself. It sounds so... scornful, and when I think of it... I feel... He flinched at the sounds of footsteps. He quickly put his glasses back on and looked behind. Teru's mother walked over. "Feeling left out?" she asked.
"Not... exactly." Storm muttered. "I just... this is only my second day, from what I can remember. I need some time to process everything." The lady nodded. "I've worked with one Amnesiac before, and he acted the same way." she said. Storm took this as a comfort, apparently he wasn't being too abnormal. "Have those guys been leaving a lot?" he asked. The lady nodded. "Yes, they grouped together to try and retrieve the stuff that was left behind after what the Matrix did, incase we aren't able to sustain ourselves."
"Teru really seems to like one of them," Storm commented. The lady smiled. "That's because he's his brother. He likes hearing about the adventures his brother has outside of camp."
"He wasn't inside the camp when he found me," Storm said.
"He... likes to wander off. He's always looking for excitement."
"Living in fear of those machines isn't exciting enough?" Storm asked. The lady laughed. "Apparently not for Teru." Storm was inclined to chuckle, and was a bit confused at the reaction. He didn't really understand humor yet, it seemed. The feeling died away, and Storm looked to the distance.
"T-Thank you," Storm forced out.
"Thank you for letting me in, and helping with my problem. I... really don't know what's going on, and I appreciate the help." The Lady smiled.
"You don't need to thank me," she said. "It's what we do." Storm nodded, and then a question was brought to his mind.
"What is... your name?" he asked.
"Chea," she answered as she held out her hand. Storm awkwardly held out his hand, and she shook it.
"Do you have to stay out here?" Storm asked. Chea was confused. "Do you have to stay out here? Can't you find a new home, away from the Matrix?" Storm asked. Chea thought a bit.
"The Matrix has made it impossible for us to move. They want to keep us away from restarting a community. But... when you were talking about moving, You said that as if... you know something better than this." she said. "I know the Haven project was set up, and there are a few cities living normally, like Jericho, but they don't want to deal with people as far out as us..." Storm wasn't listening. At those two words, Haven and Jericho, his mind was taken away. Another memory was unlocked. Towering buildings, bright lights, happy people, but then it turned night... and strange creatures appeared. Humanoid, they look like animals, and glowing lines cover their bodies. They attack people, but another one fights them off. A blue one... His name... I remember his name... Neowu...
"Hey!" The call snapped Storm out of his vision. Abir walked over to the two. "There you are!" he said as he approached Storm. " 'Been looking for you! Everyone wants to hear how you got here!" Storm shook himself out of his daze. "T-talk? to all those...?"
"You aren't shy, are you?" Abir asked teasingly. Storm was hesitant. Why talk? What if I tell them everything, and they get suspicious? What if I have to leave? Abir reached down and pulled Storm up. "C'mon! I'm sure Teru would love to hear it!"
"...I don't want to talk, really..." Storm mumbled. Chea smiled.
"Actually, I think this may be an opportunity. If you give yourself a little review, you may remember something!" She said. Storm felt cornered.
"A-Alright, I guess." he said as he shook himself out of Abir's grip. He started for the tent with the two, but as they neared the entrance he moved back behind Abir.
Of course Storm was nervous. He had only just mastered the trade of conversation, and to tell a one sided story to a whole crowd of people... He didn't feel so good, and the sight of all the food set before him didn't help.
"It's probably no use, don't force him," Cord said with a mocking tone.
"Storm?" Teru asked. "Where do you first remember things?"
He finally gave in, and told things from the beginning, as vaguely as he could help it. If he was too precise, the older people might get suspicious, he decided. He told of his battle with the swarm of drones and the Drone that exploded. He told of his escape from the city and the scorpion, and nearly everyone was awed. Storm couldn't help but feel a little proud, but he kept his thoughts and his opinions hidden. Then people started asking questions.
"Did that Larger Drone have a gatling-gun arm?" a mechanic asked. "It had a multi-barreled gun that rotated as it fired," Storm answered. "Berserkers! They're using those again?!" the mechanic cried. "Probably not again, they just must've thought whatever was going on was of high priority," An older man replied. "Speaking of which, why do you think the Matrix would go through so much trouble just to chase a single man?"
"I was hoping someone could tell me that," Storm admitted.
"They probably wanted something you had," one of the pack suggested. "That sword you have sure sounds fancy, why wouldn't they be interested?"
"But why would they want a weapon back?" a tinkerer asked. "I found that old Neo-Soldier shield and nobody came after it."
"It's not like you could actually use it. They probably figured it wouldn't be worth the trouble." Another man reasoned.
"But that guy sure could use it!" Caden called. "Plus, the only other reason would be if..." His voice died down. Everyone strained to hear what he had to say, but it sounded to Storm like the word was taboo. An older man nodded to Caden as if to permit the idea.
"The only other reason would be if they were after a Renegade." Dead silence fell. Abir tried to laugh. "How could this guy be a Renegade? If he really was, he would've done something when he was fighting those drones!"
"He didn't exactly tell us everything." The older man reasoned. "For all we know, he may not have told us anything that was the truth."
"Right," Cord said as he crossed his arms. "How do we know he didn't make all that up just to find a nest? You really can't trust lone scavengers like this!"
"Wait!" Teru's mom called. "He's an amnesiac! It would be unfair to treat him like that! Plus we're not even sure! We can't jump to conclusions! If we acted on suspicion then..."
"We'd be no better than the Matrix." Caden finished. This seemingly wrapped up the conversation. Besides a few random conversations, the rest of the dinner was quiet.
After dinner, all the food was put away, the mats and cushions were picked up and returned, and the tent was taken down. It was dark, and everyone returned to their homes, returning to their own business. Storm offered to help Teru and his mother to carry their share back to her tent, and he walked with the two back to their home.
"...Did you enjoy yourself?" Teru asked, who was carrying some pillows. Storm sighed.
"They went... fine I guess." he said. He decided against expressing how he felt with the accusation earlier. "But... what's wrong with that guy, Cord?" Storm managed to say.
"He's... seen the worst of things and hasn't taken it the right way, I guess," Chea said. "He's slow to trust people, I know, and we're sorry he gave you a hard time." Storm shook his head.
"That's fine, it's fine."
Storm placed down his load at the opening of their tent.
"Thank you for your help," Chea said with a smile. "Is there anything we could do for you?"
"I don't think so, what you've already told me has really helped, I don't think you owe me any more," Storm said, with a bit of exaggeration. He still didn't know a whole lot, and he still didn't know what was exactly going on, but he really didn't want to trouble them.
"Where will you sleep?" Teru asked. Storm paused, He never really thought of it.
"With my Bike, like last time," Storm said. Chea winced.
"You... sure?" she asked. "That sounds pretty... uncomfortable. We could put up a Tent for you, or something."
"No, that's alright, I'll be fine," he said. Chea wasn't convinced.
"Teru, run inside and get a spare blanket," she said. Teru nodded and ran inside. Storm sighed. Granted, the bike probably wasn't as warm as it was the night before, and the night would probably be a bit colder.
Teru ran back with a large and thick blanket and handed it to Storm.
"Y-You don't have to do this..." Storm said as he awkwardly took the blanket.
"No, but we want to," Chea said. Storm saw there was no way to avoid this.
"Ah... thank you," he said.
His vision finally returned. The ground around him was shattered and broken. He slowly pulled himself to his feet. He started cursing himself for getting knocked unconscious. Foolish as Icarus. Of course my move got intercepted. And now it's nearly daytime!Ramses pulled himself up and gathered his ripped robe. He scanned the terrain. There were energy marks and slices cut out of rocks as far as the eye could see. He snarled and reached for his staff. A moment passed, and Ramses was worried that he used more energy than he should have, but just a second later, the staff came hurtling towards his hand, and the figure swiped it out of the air. He still was concerned, and he checked his energy reserves. 75%... How am I going to last like this?!Ramses tried to fashion his torn robe back into a hood, but the robe was ruined. He angrily threw it to his side and started following the trail of destruction. If only I wasn't so careless...Thoth, your mission isn't completed, don't leave us yet!
Ramses' partner didn't disappoint him. He was alive and well, for the time being. He was beaten to a pulp, his armor was torn off, and his weapon was broken. Thoth didn't mind the pain, in fact his body was the least of his concern. What was agonizing was having to listen to a crazed Neo-Soldier hours on end. First comes the monologuing on how inferior you are for defecting, and how staying with the Matrix makes you a God and that you don't deserve it anymore, and then came the questions. Thoth didn't want to lie, so he had no choice but to play ignorant, or as he would put it; Stupid.
"I'll try one more time!" Duskur hissed. "Where are the rest of your lab rats?!"
"We don't keep lab rats."
"Don't act like an idiot! Where are the poor souls you chose for your project?"
"They're not poor, some of them may consider it an honor to have their lives back!"
"Enough!" Duskur raised his scythe and brought it down to Thoth's throat. The beaten warrior didn't flinch, in fact he didn't seem very scared at all, bored even.
"Yep, you'll probably get promoted after this. You may get raised to a Judge, your friend too. But then you'll never catch wind of the Ether." Thoth said with a yawn. Duskur cringed. If his human face was showing, his forehead veins would be pumping. He slowly lowered his scythe.
"Where is the Ether..." he whispered.
"Sorry, only Ramses knows."
"That is it! Die, wretch!" Ramses raised his scythe into the air. "Heh... Just wait till Ramses sees your bloody mess on the ground! He won't be able to resist coming into our claws!" Thoth just shrugged and closed his eyes. Duskur hissed and nearly brought down the blade, when he felt a presence. He looked to the distance and saw the figure of Ramses against the rising Sun, coming towards him. "Speak of the devil...!" Duskur growled. He shut off his energy and dashed away. Thoth looked up and watched the demon tear away. Thoth chuckled to himself and carefully laid himself back down.
In just a moment, Ramses was at his comrade's side. "Sorry, sir, I should've held out longer," Thoth said quietly. Ramses snarled. "We took the situation for granted. Two of us were brought down by a simple Devilkin, this may prove more dangerous than I perceived."
"The only mistake we made was to think he'd play fair." Thoth said. Ramses nodded. "You sent Veron for the sisters, righ? Let me help him!" Thoth said as he tried to get up, but Ramses forced him back down. "But they already know me, and if they see someone they don't know..." Ramses' hand started to glow a gentle blue color. Ramses slowly moved his bulky hand over Thoth's wounds, and they began to fade away. When the healing was done, Ramses picked Thoth up and started to carry him away.
"But Veron..." Thoth mumbled, exhausted.
"Will be fine." Ramses said. "I'm not one to believe in luck, but fortune seems to smile on that man. I believe he will be alright. Now quickly, we need to find a plant for you to recharge."
"Sir, what will we do when our mission here is done?" Thoth asked. Ramses frowned.
"The next step to preventing the beast, Lycaon from coming into being... That is all you need to know."
You don't belong here...Storm awoke. He was leaning against his bike like he did the night before. He paused and shook his head. He thought he heard a voice. You endanger these people with your presence!Storm couldn't ignore it. Someone was speaking. He looked around, but no one seemed to be present. He sighed and tried to go back to sleep. Flee... there will be evil... you will be accused... You will have no hope...!Storm tried not to listen, but the words bit at him. He caught himself nearly rising to his feet. He stopped himself and tried to go to sleep. Do you wish for harm? Do you wish for turmoil?! Evil heads your way, will you face it and be prosecuted, or flee? Storm held his head and tried to ignore it. Very well... be attacked! A large tremor hit the camp as something hit the ground. Storm rose to his feet. People rushed out of their tents and looked around.
"Over there!" Someone called. Storm ran over and saw Chea, Teru, and nearly everyone he recognized at the dinner standing outside, watching a purple glow rush towards the camp.
"It's a drone!" somebody shouted. People started rushing back into their tents, though they knew it would do them no good if the Drone would spot them.
"Everyone back inside! Quickly! Before it sees us!" Abiram shouted. Everyone scrambled back into their dwellings.
"What about Storm?" Teru asked.
"He'll come inside with us!" Chea said. As they ran by, Chea pulled Storm and took him back to their dwelling. The doors were shut and any lamps were put out. Everything was quiet.
"What's going on?" Storm whispered.
"We have to stay inside..." Chea whispered back. "If a Drone sees any of us, it'll attack."
Heavy footsteps thundered in the distance, getting closer to the camp. The footsteps eventually slowed down and went into a slow trot. An eerie lavender light shone into the tents. The glow passed Chea's dwelling. Slow, mechanical breathing huffed as the unknown figure passed. Teru backed into his mother who took him in her arms. The creature outside seemed to lose interest and walked away, but then it let out a sniff. A moment later everyone cringed at a crashing sound.
"My bike...!" Storm whispered. "It found my sword!" Storm had left it behind, fearing that keeping it at such a time would provoke people. The creature started scraping at something, and then let out a triumphant howl. It started sniffing, very loudly, like some kind of animal. It went in one direction, and then returned. It started sniffing in another direction, but returned. It walked towards the tent and started to sniff. Storm held his breath and clenched his fists. The creature walked away again. It started sniffing around the other tents. It found nothing. It started moving down deeper into the camp.
Storm carefully peeked outside, and saw his bike on its side, thankfully undamaged, with his sword scabbard lying a good deal away, scraped at and ripped. Storm looked back at Chea.
"It probably wants me," he whispered.
"No...!" Teru said. "It can't!" Chea hushed her child and looked at Storm with dire eyes.
"What will you do...?" she asked. Storm hesitated.
"I'm going to try and go lead it away." Teru's eyes widened. Chea looked down at her son and let out a sigh.
"Go on," she whispered. Storm carefully stepped out of the tent. The creature still didn't hear him. He stepped towards his sword and picked it up. The creature didn't notice. He took his bike and carefully straightened it. The creature let out a sniff and started in Storm's direction. Storm pulled his bike into a clear spot. He got on and started it up. The creature dashed at full speed when it heard the engine. It jumped into the air and landed right in front of Storm.
The drone was sleek and spiked, it had long forearms with long claws sticking out the front, and spikes sticking out of its back. It's head looked something like a wolf, with a mane that glowed like the lavender energy lines that covered its body. The Wolf snarled.
"C'mon!" Storm shouted as he drove off. The Wolf pursued at full speed. Everyone carefully walked out of their tents. The pack assembled at the front of camp where Storm's bike used to rest.
"A Wolf... he's leading it away...!" Abir said.
"...Should we help?" a member asked. Cord snorted.
"Why should we? He's an outsider, and we're better off letting him lead it away." he said as he crossed his arms.
"Fair enough," Abir said as he started for a jeep. "Cord's not coming." he said. Cord froze.
"Tollak, Randel, Mark, come with me! The rest stay and take care of the camp!" Abir said. The other members quickly grabbed their weapons and jumped into the jeep.
"B-but what about me?" Caden called.
"Go take care of your ma, or somethin'!" Abir said as he started up the jeep and drove away. Caden sighed and sat down. Cord let out a huff.
"They'll regret leaving me!" he mumbled.
Storm slashed at the Wolf with his sword whenever it got close, and that happened a lot. It always would charge, make an attack, and then let itself fall behind, and then charge and do the same thing. Storm managed to land a blow in its head which sent it toppling over, thankfully making it lose some reach. Storm circled around and came back with his sword ready. The Wolf jumped up and landed behind Storm. Storm had no time to react before the Wolf charged and swiped at his bike. It struck the engine and made it shoot sparks. Storm lost control of the Bike. He tried to turn it in a direction, but he couldn't make it move. He jumped off the bike and rolled to the ground. The bike fell on its side and skidded to a stop and crashed into a rock.
Storm quickly jumped to his feet and turned to face the wolf. The wolf let out a snarl and started to close in. As it got close, it lifted its hindlegs. Its chest started to shift backwards and hunch over. Its shoulders were pulled to the top of its back. Its spikes grew longer. Its mane split into two different pieces and its fangs grew longer. It let out a howl and ran at Storm.
Storm readied his sword and took a defensive position. The Wolf's claws grew longer and it started taking slashes at Storm, who was able to deflect them with his sword. Storm jumped to the side and sliced the Wolf's side. The Wolf yelped and leapt back. Its back started to bleed. The wolf bared its fangs and jumped into the air. Storm held out his sword and prepared to deflect the impact, just as it anticipated.
The Wolf hit Storm's hands, making him lose his grip, and smacked him away with its other arm. Storm flew and hit the ground. His sword was too far for him to retrieve. He got to his feet and looked around for anything that may be able to protect him. The Wolf took the sword into its mouth and flung it farther away. Storm frowned. The sword was the only source of protection he had. He didn't know of anything else he could do. The Wolf wouldn't let him think any longer and ran at him.
Storm tried to evade its attacks, but was hit with its bulky paws more times than he could handle. The Wolf struck him to the ground. It readied its claw and struck Storm's back. Storm shouted in pain and tried to get up and run, but the Wolf hit him down again. Storm frowned and tried to think of a way to attack before the Wolf made a critical attack.
The Wolf raised its claws, and Storm braced himself, but then something happened. Without even thinking, he rolled around, and regardless of the pain in his back, punched the Wolf in the chest.
Any other blow and the Wolf wouldn't have even noticed, but when Storm struck, strange red energy appeared as he struck its armor. The Wolf was surprised and jumped back. Storm carefully rose to his feet. He was just as confused as the Wolf was. Suddenly everything became bright. The Wolf covered its eyes and looked behind it. They had been caught in the light of the headlights of one of the Jeeps.
"Storm!" Abir shouted. The Wolf snarled and tried to slash at the vehicle, but then remembered Storm. It turned around to face him, but Storm was right behind it and punched it in the face. The Wolf struck the ground.
"Storm, get back!" Storm obeyed and the Pack opened fire on the wolf. Energy circuits were ruptured and its armor was penetrated. The Wolf struggled under the fire and shuffled to its feet. But then one of its energy lines ruptured. Energy spurted from its wound as it fell to the ground, lifeless. Storm stumbled over to the jeep.
"Why did you follow me?" Storm asked.
"You think you could handle that thing on your own?" Abir asked as he stepped outside.
"I never thought I would handle it," Storm said. Abir looked at Storm's back.
"We better get you back to camp, that looks pretty bad." Storm felt his back and drew back a bloody hand.
"...Yeah, sure," he said. Abir got back into the driver seat and Storm was going to climb in, when he heard the Wolf snarl. He turned around just in time as the Wolf mustered its strength and jumped at him. Storm had no time to run, and was struck in the head by the Wolf. And then everything went dark.
A small robed figure followed the long trail of rope. It lead into a large cave with a large crystal pool. There were some emptied bags lying around, and the sandy bed was scraped and kicked at, implying a struggle, though the gentle waves from the pool were slowly reshaping the sand and making it as if the marks from before were never there. The small figure carefully stalked back and forth around the border of the pool. After a bit, it kicked a rock in, and nothing happened. It kicked in another in, and still nothing happened. So the figure reached out and touched the water, and the room went dark.
...So... filthy... Deceitful, power hungry, but just a trace of compassion... Only slightly intricate... but rare... almost too good to be true!
The figure waited and nothing happened, until the water started to churn. A tentacle snaked around its wrist and pulled it under. The pool was very deep, several times deeper than the figure was tall. In the blurred underwater vision, it saw the demonic figure of who it was looking for.
"What a find..." the creature hissed. "Yes... what a find! Hold still, pretty one. This will only take a moment...!"
But then something strange happened. The green glow in the water was overwhelmed by a red light, the creature's hold with the tentacle was undone, and it found itself getting flung away in one direction. It finally struck the side of the pool and tried to focus its eyes on its opponent. Even for its eyes, trained to handle underwater conditions, could barely make out the opposing figure, but his opponent was obviously some kind of Neo-Soldier, a terribly long one at that.
"You touched my sacred basin... you must pay the price...!" the creature made its body rigid and jetted for its opponent. It readied its claws and started swiping at it, but the opponent was long enough to evade nearly every attack with general ease. The creature was grabbed and thrown into another wall, and then found itself being pulled towards the current that lead out of the pool. It reached out with its tentacles and snaked around its opponent, and heaved it into the current. It tried to jet away, deciding the prey wasn't worth it, but it found that it had made a terrible mistake with using its tentacles, now its opponent could pull him along with it. Actually it just discovered this when it felt itself getting pulled away. It dug its claws into the bed of the pool, but the tough rock was too hard to carve, and it was dragged into the current and down a shaft.
In the total darkness of the water-tunnel, the only guide the creature had to its prey was its red energy lines. The creature shut off its power and disappeared into the current. The opposer looked everywhere, visibly distraught over losing track of its enemy. The creature swam ahead of the opposer and stationed itself, waiting for the prey to come closer. Finally the creature reactivated its energy and clutched the opponent. It bared its fangs and dug into the opponent's neck.
The opponent went limp as its energy and very life was sapped away. The creature savored its meal and went as slowly as it could. But then something began to press against it. Two large blades erected on the opponent's back and dug into the creature's chest. The creature released all of its hold and went tumbling down the shaft.
Light finally shone again, and it blinded the creature for a moment. It managed to look ahead and notice that the shaft lead to the waterfall, and started to push itself upstream, but then it saw its opponent rushing towards him, leaving a trail of red behind it as it came. It held out its claws to brace itself as the opponent crashed into it, shoving them both down the current, and into the torrential downpour. For a few brief seconds all they felt beneath them was the air.
The two figures struck the solid ground, which the creature hated. It pulled itself away and took back its tentacle, and gasped at the sight of his victim. A dirty chrome-colored Neo-Solder, with many black pieces of armor complementing its skeletal appearance, and two energized wings on its back returned to their resting places.
"Why... Why it's Duskur!" the creature gasped. "Of course, only your soul could be so bittersweet... nothing like my last two. They were all the same... cowards!" Duskur pulled himself to his feet.
"I have no intention to hear any of that. I come to speak with my old Comrade and I am treated like his prey. Care to speak of why?" Duskur said as he wrung out his robe.
"I wouldn't care if you were the programmers! Plus I have no intention of giving any of my comrades a break, especially not you!"
"Yes... whatever. I need to speak with you on pressing matters."
"Renegades and Interlopers, and the potential fate of our friend, Ramses."
"What do you want me to do? Put them on my list? I already pull in anyone who finds my cave."
"No, I need you to come with us and pursue him."
"You mean working with you?" he asked. "I'd rather not."
"You wouldn't, would you? Not unless your life depended on it!" Duskur said harshly.
"Does it? My life is nowhere near its end, I have had quite a healthy harvest in case you didn't notice. I'm afraid we have nothing to speak of. G'day, Duskur." The creature started to walk back into its pond, but Duskur reached out and clutched its finned face.
"Listen to me...!" He hissed. "Ramses is on the move! He has more of his followers with him! We need more soldiers!"
"We as in... you and your pet?" the creature asked. But the moment he said those words, the cave started to shake. "What is this?" it asked. Duskur shrugged and let go.
"My friend is... trained to hear that word, I guess." Duskur said as he stepped away from the creature. The wall burst open as Belphes ran into the room. The creature let out a squeal and tried to retreat, but was grabbed by the legs. Belphes held up the creature by its feet and glared into its slit eyes.
"May I kill...?" Belphes rumbled. The creature started to struggle. Duskur shook his head.
"No no, my friend. You're looking malnourished, why don't you help yourself to a snack?" The creature yelped and started struggling harder. Duskur walked over and the creature to the ground. The creature gasped and tried to crawl back into the water, but Duskur stepped unto its chest before it could move.
"Why must we make things difficult, Dagon?" Duskur asked. "Why don't we work together and solve our problems together like we used to...? Instead you choose to lie before a hungry Second-Phaser!"
"I want nothing to do with you!" Dagon snapped. "Not after what got us out here in the first place! No, I'd rather stay here, in fact I am quite content with my lifestyle in here, rather than working amongst a rabble of backstabbers!" Belphes snarled.
"Listen to Duskur...!" he growled, his breath showing in the cool cavern. "Save you trouble...!" Dagon tried to look away, but Duskur clutched his face once more.
"I'd rather not work along such a hunger-crazed leech either!" Duskur said. "But the situation demands we put aside our little problems and focus on the matter at hand! Besides... Unless I'm mistaken, I hear the Sisters are at work, and I hear the Matrix is offering a fine reward for their demise... More so for Ramses' troops." Dagon started to consider. An encounter with the Sisters may be well worth it, but he hated treading the gritty dry ground above, even more so working with traitors and schemers like these two. What would he want with a reward? Then again... He could make himself a fine frenzy with all the people above!
"What must I do...?" Dagon asked cautiously.