Estimated reading time — 32 minutes
Ah, Cyrus. From what I recall of him, he was quite the knowledgeable man, but had a most horrid sense of humor.
You see, the story I am about to tell you is rather… Confidential. Amongst the Mire we are known as Regiment 9. Throughout Regiment 9 we are known as the ‘BlackGuards’. But in the small circle of men and women who actually make up the organization, we call ourselves ‘the exterminators’. Led by the aforementioned Commander, Cyrus Fiendel, we were essentially tasked with getting rid of all the pests that Emperor Dravis didn’t want to deal with.
“Vampires and Werewolves are but fiction!” You cry in disbelief. Oh, but they are not, my friends! For we, the BlackGuard, are the ones who keep them from your eyes! Throughout all of training I was told it was a most important task, keeping these beasts and terrible creatures contained to Ares and not to touch the enigmatic planet known as ‘Earth’. But throughout the years, they got through. Those times were especially difficult, considering a team had to be sent to the planet itself in order to get rid of them.
Much to your dissatisfaction, I’m certain, I was not given the honor of partaking in a Hunt. Instead, I will tell you of the time we encountered a most ferocious beast of the night. A Shapeshifter!
It was but two short months after I had joined the Guard, and situated in the capital of Nation 9, it was a rather high class of living compared to the peasants below that Emperor Dravis had created. Not to speak of politics, because I tend to ramble, but our new Emperor was hardly an apt ruler. Many were dissatisfied with the state the Mire was in, and I have the distinct feeling Cyrus was one of them, as the first words he spoke to us that day were…
“Gentlemen, and women, the Emperor once again requires us to take out his trash!”
We all stood in a line in the hotel lobby, which had been cleared of all others not too long ago. Our obsidian uniforms certainly must have looked quite intimidating, covering our bodies from head to toe and lined with all manner of different pockets, many of which contained a vast assortment of weaponry. These uniforms were primarily created from hardened leather, strong enough to block shrapnel and perhaps a glancing blow from a blade while still allowing us the mobility that was so desperately needed. A little uncomfortable to be worn at first, but you grew used to them with time.
Cyrus wore much different attire. He had a particular fondness for dark clothing, bearing a inky black cloak with odd brownish crimson stripes up and down the torn up thing. Many of us theorized they were from the blood of his enemies, victory marks if you will. Indeed, it sounded a most sound assumption based on his reputation and appearance.
Our commander was immortal, you see. Not unkillable, no, but if he was left be for long enough, age could never claim him. For years and years he had the same dark red eyes and needly black hair that covered his head. The eyes tended to bore into you even with a passing glance. There was most definitely a difference between standard red eyes and those Cyrus had, but none of us could really explain it. Besides this, the man had a flair for the formal. Black dress pants, black dress shoes, and pale white skin to conflict it all. Quite an eccentric looking person, and to top it all off he was just shy of five foot ten, by the looks of it. Perhaps twenty five years of age was visible on him.
His tone was a harsh and authoritative one, quite fitting for someone in his position. None of us dared to disobey him.
“Right here in our capital lurks what is known as a ‘shapeshifter.’ We assume that it intends to reach the Scrye, and your duty and mine is to find and stop it!”
The Scrye, if you were unaware, was the entrance to Earth. An odd rift in time and space that had created a link between our worlds. There were many Scrye on Ares, and perhaps more on Earth, but cities tended to be built around them in order to make the implementation of Earthly technology a smoother process.
Typically, our missions tended to send us into the plains of Nation 3, or the tropics of Nation 5. But tonight, it was happening in my own home Nation! It made me feel a little patriotic, I admit. I was not about to let any nefarious beast tarnish the honor of my homelands!
“The creature was last seen at the Ferego hotel just across from here. Your mission will be to observe the scene, and track down the creature. I advise you all keep on your toes, as intel suggests it is very capable of taking different forms.” Cyrus continued, pacing up and down the polished marble below. “I will also warn you that the scene in question is quite disturbing. I trust you are prepared to see such a thing, however. With that in mind, you are now free to operate within proper protocol limits. If you wish to speak with me, I will be having a chat with the owner of the Ferego. Dismissed.”
We all raised an obedient salute and scattered after this. My hand immediately fell to my flintlock. Not just an ordinary Anti-Cambria flintlock, I will say, but an exquisite work of Imperial craftsmanship. It was furnished a dull grey from polished Golenwood, and bore golden steel at the muzzle, trigger and hammer areas. The weapon fired silver ammunition, as opposed to the standard ice, fire, acid and regular shot of Regimental flintlocks. Quite effective against monsters, I must say. We were also issued brilliant sabres, also bearing a thin coating of silver above the steel. The handle contained a spiraling golden grip and rounded handguard. Both of these weapons were designed more to fell creatures as opposed to a fellow man, but we were also issued a selection of grenades and knives just in case we ran into some pesky humans on the way.
In our missions, we most often utilized our knowledge of the Cambrian language to win the day. Enlisting in the BlackGuard meant going through extensive courses to learn the essential words, but they ended up being about as helpful as advertised. A burst of speed, a blast of fire, or a protective barrier were often far more useful than the pistol or sabre.
But even with all this in our arsenal, what we faced that night was far more terrifying and dangerous than we could ever have imagined. While most monsters were primal and animalistic, shapeshifters were by far the most intelligent… And deadly.
People soon began making their way out the automatic doors at the entrance. This also included me, of course, reassured by the flintlock my left hand grasped. It was quite muggy that evening, hardly hot in any sense, but certainly a most humid climate. Nation 9 is a semi-tropical one, you see, and this kind of weather I had come to expect from the outdoors. Palmettos and palm trees had been planted outside to provide a greater sense of that tropical atmosphere to those who vacationed here in their spare time, planted in rich brown soil. I always thought that many places on Earth looked quite the same, but we have our differences, of course.
For one, I could hardly imagine a night sky without two glowing moons! Something would just feel rather empty about that, wouldn’t you agree? Anyways, moving on with my story. I had gotten to know a few people on the BlackGuard quite well, and one of these included a rather chubby fellow with a bald head named ‘Sledge’. Or at least nicknamed that, since nobody actually knew his real name. Sledge was a blunt person in a conversation, but had a sort of charisma about him that made his rashness quite bearable. I had originally met the man during training, and we became fast friends after this, me and him, and I soon discerned that he was from a family of bakers in the countryside who had sent him to the BlackGuard in order to rake in the extra money needed to survive out there.
He never really complained about it, and from what I saw he enjoyed killing monsters. It may sound quite sadistic indeed, but I assure you that there is a sort of primitive joy to destroying the things you had nightmares of. The BlackGuard tended to thrive on this joy as a means of morale. And it worked, for the most part. Sledge began walking in sync with me on the pavement, keeping his face in front of him as he spoke.
“I’d say it’s best to stay together,” the man began in his deep voice, “shapeshifters are not to be trifled with one by one.”
I nodded in agreement, eyes gazing past the small street and taking in a most marvelous looking establishment.
A warm glow came from within the multitude of windows, and the building itself had been made from a mixture of golden decorations and marble. A most lavish hotel, especially compared to the one we had stayed in! The Regimental army lurked on the outside, and had set up a sort of blockade around all corners of the building. They held muskets, flintlocks and sabres and all seemed to be on edge for whatever reason. I suppose their bright blue uniforms would make them easier targets to prey upon, though. Cyrus was lingering back from now, but he was known to get wherever he wanted to go quite quickly, so I did not fret.
“It’s a real mess in there, folks.” A man in a black cap told us, scratching behind his neck uncomfortably. He was the unit leader, so both me and Sledge thought it appropriate to begin our investigation with him.
“Who was the one who was murdered?”
I asked, trying to sound as official as possible.
“A politician named Lauren Welsche. She had been travelling about the Nation for some time now, campaigning for a tax reduction for the lower class.”
I had pulled out a small notebook and clicked my pen open. Once the information had been recorded, I moved on.
“Cause of death?”
“Probably either from being torn apart or impalement through the left eye. Take your pick.”
A little fear arose in me as I jotted this down, I must say. I thanked the man and walked past the barricade of soldiers who were present, along with Sledge, who had remained silent during the previous conversation.
From my previous briefing, I knew that everyone staying in the inn was forced to stay there for the investigation. A smart move in most cases, but with a shapeshifter on the loose? A little dangerous. I drew my sword with a metallic ring, and kept it at my side close at hand, just in case. And not because I was scared, I might add! The doors were rotating this time, and not the electric ones in the other hotel. They were coated in golden metal that I’m quite certain was not actual gold, and had a window-like portion on them as well. As the two of us passed through them, we both stopped to take in the beauty of the lobby before us. The carpet was a crimson red, and the walls made from the finest lavender materials I had seen in a long time. A miniature waterfall was mounted a little further in, and poured an endless supply of the liquid while being attached to what I now refer to as the ‘east wall’. There was plenty of black leather furniture, such as couches and seats, that sat towards the west hall, opposite a small fireplace.
Directly in front of us was the booking section, complete with a dark marble bar table and wooden key slots. A paranoid looking man with sweat running down his face stood behind this, and seemed to be infinitely more comfortable when he saw us walking towards him. Other members of the Guard were also questioning people outside, or spreading out through the lobby, but Sledge and I were the first ones to reach the man at the counter.
“Thank the Lord and Lady!” He exclaimed in what a resident of Earth may call a ‘French’ accent.
“You’re safe now, my good man. I will need you to answer a few questions, however.”
I responded casually, to be met by vigorous nods.
“Yes, sir. Whatever it is you want to ask me?”
“First off, where did the killing take place?”
“Room 135,” he responded in a suddenly subdued manner, “I saw the thing…”
“What did it look like?”
The worker looked from left to right quickly, as if he was afraid of being watched, but soon spoke.
“It is a horrible creature… White skin! Very white! But paler than normal white. Its eyes were massive, and completely black.”
He nodded again.
“More than six feet tall. Thin. It had a backbone that acted as a tail, and three taloned claws! The teeth were needles, sirs, but covered in blood. You must kill it!”
He plead desperately. Sledge and I looked to each other briefly, and I’m quite sure we both had the same look of slight worry on our faces. Regardless, we had both fought other creatures and for all we knew, this one was just another target.
“Trust me,” Sledge started, “we’ll kill it dead.”
The trip to room 135 was an uneventful one. The hallways had the same red velvet carpet and lavender walls, with lamps lighting the way through them. Oddly enough, the air had quite a musty smell to it that made me cringe in displeasure.
“How could such a well kept place smell so vile?”
I thought out loud.
“I’d say because someone was murdered, but yeah. It has a pretty ‘oldish’ scent to it.”
Sledge agreed in a monotone. Thankfully, the death had occurred upon the first floor, so we were able to steer clear of the elevator. When dealing with a shapeshifter, they would probably be quite dangerous locations.
The room was appropriately marked by a dark red splatter of crimson that had bled into the similar colored carpet… No pun intended there. Mahogany door was ajar, and the trail of blood led into the room in question. The two of us only hesitated long enough to ready our weapons, and entered the room using our training methods.
One of us stayed towards the back with a drawn flintlock while one either bashed down the door or simply entered, a sabre in hand. This all was done smoothly, and with two people was easy to execute. The blood continued aways, and led to a sprawled out corpse of a middle aged woman. A look of terror was across her face, and blood took up a good portion of it now… Leaking from her left eye. The room around her looked pretty standard, and as lavish as one could imagine a lavish room to appear. Blood had been thrown everywhere, so clearly this beast didn’t like making messy kills.
“Multiple chest punctures. She probably was still alive when the eye was hit, though.”
Sledge observed, coming from behind me and stooping over the lifeless body. I quickly prepared my Cambrian knowledge and uttered a spell to aid the investigation.
Two words was strong enough a combination to get the job done. ‘Spei’ meaning ‘see’ and ‘Luk’ meaning ‘all’. I put my palm out before me, and a yellow tinted, dusty wave fell across the body like fog from a fog machine rolling over terrain. As the dust cleared, a few choice bits glowed a bright red. I felt a little chill as some of my life energy left me in exchange for the spell, but two words was a trifling matter.
The first thing I noticed was a silver locket that was being clutched in the woman’s right hand. I quickly removed it and opened it up, knowing fingerprints of a shapeshifter were hardly useful.
“Seems like she was a married woman,” I sighed with a frown upon my face, “why would a shapeshifter be after her?”
“Its goal is to reach the Scrye,” replied Sledge, “at least that was what we were told. This woman must have been preventing it from getting there.”
The picture of her husband was a little blurry, and in black and white. I put the locket in my pocket and moved to the next glowing object, which was a piece of paper a few feet away. I began reading it, and quickly found the ink was faded, and paper even more so. Astonishingly, it appeared about a hundred years old.
“By sight the curse is given. By blindness removed.”
Cryptic to say the least, and neither Sledge nor I knew quite what to think of it.
“Keep searching for clues, I’ll take those two to the investigator in the meantime and see if we can get some more info.”
“That would be a most terrible idea,” I started, shaking my head, “We need to be together at all times when dealing with something like this.”
“Before I enter, the first thing I’ll say will be ‘Mayflower’. That way you’ll know it’s me.”
Looking back, I should have stopped him. But at the time, I felt that his plan was simple and effective. But there were things you just couldn’t account for, I suppose. I handed over the two artifacts and resumed my search. My eyes fell upon a purse, also glowing red, and upon opening it up I found there was only one item inside. A flintlock pistol of poor design, with wood that was rough to the touch and partially rusted metal components. I turned the weapon over in my hands, and looked through the purse again only to find nothing. Was the gun loaded? I pulled back the metal slider on the side and found an odd bullet lodged within the chamber. Most flintlock bullets were color coded, red being incendiary, whitish blue being ice, green being acid, and black a regular bullet. This one was a transparent yellow color in everywhere but the rear, which was still yellow but not see through. Upon closer inspection, an orange tinted liquid bubbled within the upper end incessantly. What could that possibly be?
Needless to say, I also pocketed this and just as I was about to do likewise with the pistol I heard the familiar voice of Sledge just outside.
I opened the door, half expecting to see some kind of beast, but to my relief all I saw was the face of my comrade. “Found anything else?”
“Yeah. This crappy pistol and a-.”
“-Say no more, I’ll take this back to the investigator and you can tell me the rest when I get back.”
He snatched the weapon from my hands quite quickly, and I couldn’t help but think it rude that he would do such a thing. I made my displeasure known with a sour face, but Sledge tended to do these kinds of things regularly so it was hardly an unnatural occurrence.
As Sledge left, the door slammed shut behind him rather violently. Was he angry at me or something? I sure hoped not, and tried thinking of what I could have possibly done in order to upset him like this. But no sooner had these thoughts entered my head, when I heard his voice once again just thirty seconds later.
I opened the door, and allowed him in again. Sledge sighed, and leaned against the wall beside the door frame.
“They’re analyzing the locket and note. It’ll be about a half hour. People are splitting into groups now, and we’re in charge of collecting clues I guess.”
He didn’t sound put off at all, and I raised a suspicious eyebrow.
“You forgot to take this bullet with you.”
I spoke, holding it out to him between my thumb and pointer finger.
“Where did you find that?”
My look of bewilderment only increased.
“… The gun.”
A chill ran down my spine.
Needless to say, we both were quite rattled by what had happened. My blood ran cold, and I fished for any excuse possible to get out of the room.
“Let’s uh… Let’s talk to the man in the lobby again.”
Sledge readily agreed, and we departed within the minute. We both had weapons drawn as we made our way through the hallway, and only relaxed when we re-entered it and found Cyrus speaking with a thin man in a suit and tie towards the center area. We were unsure of whether or not to interrupt their conversation, but eventually decided to do so upon finding an opportunity.
“-And they expect me to give them money for a murder?! It is preposterous!”
The hotel manager exclaimed, voice tinged with annoyance.
“Shouldn’t be necessary. If our investigation doesn’t turn anything else up, no payment will be required.”
Cyrus replied formally. I chose the brief pause after this to speak.
“We have investigated the murder, sir.”
The commander turned his whole body to look at us, face looking quite unamused.
Those two ruby orbs were like lasers. I quickly evaded making eye contact and replied.
“Well… I believe we found the shapeshifter, sir.”
“He took something. A flintlock sir.”
“Well, Sledge here was bringing some evidence in and…”
“-Very well, resume your investigation, Mr. Cedric.”
He interrupted, face briefly lightening up and turning back to the manager to resume his talk. Both Sledge and I slowly turned to look at each other, and we both appeared petrified to be going back in so soon.
Cyrus clearly knew what was going on, and since this was a training mission he wouldn’t provide assistance unless absolutely necessary… Even if it meant our lives. A few other members of the Guard were skulking about the lobby, and I began wondering if I should just try and do as they were without attempting to find the shapeshifter that had so recently paid me a visit.
“So what now?”
Asked Sledge, face returning to its normally firm and tough looking one. I rightly didn’t know, but decided talking with the worker from before would be a decent idea.
I stated my plan to my companion, and we were off. But when we approached the counter, we found nobody there. Leaving where you were told to be during a BlackGuard investigation is a most terrible offence, and it also raised the question of how the good commander had not noticed his departure.
“Our options appear to be quite limited,” I began with concern written upon my countenance, “from now on we mustn’t leave each other!”
Perhaps I was stating the obvious, but I didn’t want to risk having another encounter with the creature again while it posed as my friend. That was for certain. At least we knew the general area the thing was in, and that was closeby.
“How’s about we search for that worker. I think he knows more than he told us.”
Sledge suggested with a shrug. Not having any other ideas in mind, I obliged and soon we were skulking through the hallways once again. I found it a little odd that out of the twenty Guardsmen who had been on this mission, I hadn’t been seeing too many of them around. But I assumed that was because they were searching the other floors, which was quite a logical conclusion. In about a half hour I was also thinking of seeing the results of the testing on the items I had found previously, hoping they would give us some more valuable hints later down the road.
As Sledge and I approached a staircase that led to the second floor, both of us stopped upon hearing an odd noise… A hollow noise that seemed to be coming from the very walls themselves. It was a rough scratching sound that paused every couple of seconds and then resumed in an almost methodical way. It only took place for about twenty seconds before ceasing permanently.
“What the devil…”
I muttered. The two of us quickly turned our attention to this new development, and began looking into finding a way to where the sound was coming from. From what I had gathered, it was a little ways into the wall and perhaps occurring from below… The basement, of course!
Our short trip took us down a hallway opposite the staircase, and soon we came upon a thin wooden door with a plaque reading ‘basement’ next to it. The door was locked, but I soon fixed this with a quick uttering.
I spoke, hand upon the doorknob. There was a click, and the knob turned without protest afterwards. Out of the two of us, Sledge was stronger in a physical sense, but I was more able to use Cambria. Another chill ran down me upon the use of the spell, but I ignored it and began walking down a flight of stairs. Our weapons were drawn similarly to how they were before as we descended into a murky abyss, and I couldn’t spy a light nearby. This forced me to utter yet another two words.
There was a brief flash, and the room was lit as it would be if proper lights had been installed apart from the solitary bulb that hung towards the center. I stumbled a little, the chill growing greater. My palms were beginning to get that feeling one experiences when awaking after sleeping on their arm.
I answered, adjusting myself and hoping I wouldn’t have to utilize any more Words tonight.
Our surroundings were all comprised of thick concrete. A dull grey, including the debris laden ground beneath me. It was far colder down here as well, and I’m quite sure it wasn’t because I had used three spells tonight. To our surprise, we weren’t alone here either.
The voice of an old woman rang out. Sledge and I traced the source to a figure standing stiffly just below the lightbulb at the room’s center.
“Hello. We are looking for the source of a scratching noise, madam.”
I replied before Sledge had his opportunity to make an insult in the form of a question. She looked us over, an unsettling grin on her wrinkly, warty face.
“Scratching? Back room. Is in back room hehe.”
Her hand pointed to her right and another door located there. We were both quite suspicious of this seemingly random old lady as we approached the door she told us of.
“Maintenance room… Do not touch!”
We nodded, keeping our eyes on her as Sledge opened the door. The old woman grunted and walked towards one on the opposite wall as if nothing happened.
The first thing I remember from entering this room was the unholy smell. It was vile, rank and frankly disgusting. In fact, it had a similar odor to the musty smell from before. Except stronger…
Mused Sledge, staring at something on the floor blankly. I hesitated to gaze at whatever it was, but curiosity got the better of me. My eyes widened as the corpse of the accented man from before appeared on the ground. A similar look of fear was on his face, left eye once again being punctured and bearing nearly identical wounds when compared to the previous victim. So that explained where he had gone off to, at least, but the small amount of fear inside me was beginning to build upon itself.
The kill looked fresh, probably occurring just ten minutes prior to our arrival, and it was likely that the scratching noise was his body being dragged there by someone… Or something. I was about to begin searching the room for further clues, when a deafening crack sounded from above. It was followed by muffled screams and the shuffling of feet.
More shots rang out, and before we knew it Sledge and I were sprinting towards the staircase and past the oblivious old woman who was still fumbling at the door. We both flew out the door and down the hallway, turning left to find a most terrible sight before us. Bodies had been thrown across the ground haphazardly. All impaled in the chest multiple times, and all bearing a puncture through their left eyes. Blood stained the floor and walls, and it appeared nobody was alive within the area. We both cringed upon looking at the scene, and we quickly came to the conclusion that a patrol had encountered the beast… And ended up being dispatched. Their flintlocks were either scattered around or still in their crimson stained hands. More fear on their faces.
But I suppose the most frightening detail there was amongst this carnage was the fact both of our names had been scrawled messily upon the floor, in a dark red.
We knew too much, despite knowing hardly anything at all.
Both Sledge and I knew that we had a lot to deduce if we were to make it through this alive.
First, and perhaps most obvious, was that we had to watch our backs to stop from being ambushed by this creature… Which was probably keeping us alive either for its amusement or some other reason that I couldn’t quite put a finger on. A few other members of the Guard arrived about a minute later, and looked upon the scene with the same fear we had upon our faces when we discovered it. Cyrus was called in, and he showed no signs of realizing that three people had just been brutally killed, walking past them and standing before me with crossed arms.
“Your names are on the ground…”
He stated plainly. Everyone around us was watching in anticipation for what would happen next. I nodded at the commander.
“We don’t know why, sir. We were in the basement when we heard this terrible ruckus, and ran upstairs to investigate!”
“Yes, and I was in the lobby having a lovely conversation about fine wine when I heard the terrible ruckus. I want to know why you think your names are on the ground right now in blood.”
“Like I said, sir,” I started with a lost shake of my head, “We do not know.”
Cyrus scoffed and turned around, hands upon his hips and face awash with frustration.
“Someone get the bodies outside, we’ll have to make the arrangements concerning the burial after this mission concludes. And you two wait for the evidence you found to be analyzed outside. Hopefully this thing will stop killing my men if you aren’t near it.”
A bit too much to expect, but we didn’t complain. As we walked back towards the lobby, faces ghostly white, I pondered that this shapeshifter was moving and attacking with frightening speed. As if it had something planned out ahead of time. Adding to our apprehension was the fact it could take the form of anyone and impersonate them with ease. That woman in the basement was suspicious, but must not have been the monster if she was trying to open a door as we went to investigate. We could never know for sure where it was.
Outside, more and more soldiers were beginning to show up. As if an army was inside that building we had just been in. The man with the black cap from before was the one Sledge had gone too, according to what he told me on the way out, and we approached him without hesitation.
“Have you found out anything else about the items?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. There was a note inside the locket, and that old piece of paper actually originated from Nation 4.”
I asked to see the note they had found, and was led to a small plastic table that a young looking woman sat behind, staring through a microscope and observing the ancient paper with the cryptic message. Beside the scope was a thin bit of parchment beside the locket, and I promptly picked it up. The writing was messy, but I was able to tell what the words said.
“Bullet to break the curse. If I fail, shoot it with bullet. It watches from the dark. Good luck.”
With this new information, I removed the yellow projectile from my pocket and looked it over again. I knew what had to be done, and also took out my flintlock.
“What are you doing?!”
Asked Sledge. I could tell he knew what I was doing, but was just surprised that I was willing to believe what was on the note.
“We’re killing this thing. And this bullet must be the reason we’re not dead yet.”
It had been afraid of the bullet it had forgotten to take with the gun. This was why it had not killed us. Why it had not killed me in the room of the crime scene was still unknown to me, but I now knew that I had a huge advantage.
My hand removed the whitish blue ice bullet from the chamber and replaced it with the yellow one, closing the chamber and cocking the hammer.
“Let’s go, before someone else dies.”
We walked into that hotel again feeling much more confident, and I had to refrain from leaking a smile as my boots took root on the scarlet carpet within the revolving doors again. I had deduced something else from the note we had found, and I think it answered the question regarding how it could get around so fast. It was the vents. The scratching noise we had heard from within the walls was from the vents, and not the basement all along. It lurked in the shadows, watching and waiting for an opportunity to strike. Just thinking about it made me feel uncomfortable, as it was probably watching our every move from within the vents ever since we had arrived.
The manager was standing towards the center of the room, back to us. We approached him and spoke out without any delay.
He jerked, and turned to face us with a sour expression.
“What do you want?”
“I would greatly appreciate it if you could turn up the heat in the ventilation system… By a lot.”
We quickly explained our reasoning and watched as he moved to a panel on the western lobby wall. He quickly input a combination, and tapped a small screen a few times and soon the whole building rumbled for a moment as the heating systems came to life. My nerves returned to me upon realizing that the shapeshifter would be forced to leave its home and wander the hallways in just minutes. When that happened one of two things would take place.
Either it took on the form of someone else and kept to the shadows, or it went in guns ablazing… At us.
We spent the time making sure all are weapons and gear were ready, and I removed a test tube filled with blue liquid from a coat pocket and downed it. The substance tasted foul, but I felt an invigorating surge of strength just a minute later. This state-of-the-art liquid could restore one’s Cambria in seconds, and I wanted to be ready if push came to shove. Which I knew it would.
“If we don’t leave here alive, I want you to know that your potato salad sucks ass.”
Sledge grumbled. I chuckled a little at the comment.
“Never was much of a cook, but you never were much of a thinking man.”
The manager began walking towards the doorway after a while, stating that he wasn’t about to die in his own establishment. I couldn’t blame him for doing so, and I just hoped my plan would be enough to kill the monster.
The five minutes after that were excruciatingly long, but soon there was an unearthly roar from the distance and a fearsome thumping taking place from inside the walls. We readied our weapons, but that was when the worst possible thing happened.
Every light in the entire building went out, and we became engulfed in pitch black.
We knew we had reached a big turning point when the lights went out. There was no going back from here.
Cyrus would probably be quite angry at us for causing this to happen so suddenly, but it was a gambit we were willing to take to make sure this nightmare was ended before it began. Little did we know, we were in the epicenter of it already.
There was a faint shuffling in the west hall, and I knew it would be best to start our hunt there.
An orb of orange light shined above our heads when I cast the spell. It may have made us a more noticeable target, but we would need visibility to be good if we were to stand a chance of killing the creature. We pressed on, beginning to sweat both from nerves and the heat beginning to spill into the area from the ventilation. My eyes darted all around me as we walked, and every shadow no matter how big or small, looked like a figure at first glance. Nothing really happened until we reached the staircase and heard heavy footfalls from just above us on the second floor… Thump… Thump… Thump… And they stopped. The stairs went up aways and then turned so that they continued facing the opposite direction. For all we knew, the shapeshifter would be awaiting us as soon as we turned to reach the second floor.
“We should have brought some Regimentals in,” whispered Sledge, “they’d make good distractions.”
“I don’t want any more people to die. And if we wait any longer, it will adjust.”
Sledge sighed, shaking his head.
“Let’s go. Put a bullet in that thing, and I’ll distract it.”
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and clearing my mind of fear. To kill the beast now would leave a lot of unanswered questions, but I didn’t care. It was time to press what little advantage we had.
“You go first. I’ll be right behind you.”
Sledge nodded, and with little hesitation dashed up the stairs, sabre drawn. As promised, I followed behind him with my flintlock and as soon as we crested the second flight of stairs we saw someone standing there. Completely motionless. It was the woman from the basement, dressed in tattered rags and bearing a look of surprise on her face.
Demanded Sledge, but I did no such thing.
My ally came to a halt, blade just about to dig into the woman’s flesh. To his surprise, she seemed more frightened than anything.
“How did you get here? Why are you here?”
I asked, keeping my gun aimed at her all the while. My blood was pumping fiercely now as I stared her down, watching for the slightest movement.
“I am the janitor,” she replied nervously, “what is it you want?”
“Why should I believe you?”
“What do you mean?”
I didn’t know what to do. Judging by the ruse the shapeshifter pulled before, it was safe to assume it could emulate natural activity very well. But if I killed this woman and she wasn’t the creature I’d have innocent blood on my hands. It wasn’t a risk I was willing to take.
“We’re looking for a shapeshifter,” I started, voice calming a little, “have you seen anything, or anyone suspicious lately?”
“The nice man who works the front desk just came by and said hello. But apart from that, nothing.”
“Where did he go?!”
She appeared flustered but pointed to a room just a little ways ahead. My heart rate increased as we approached the door, hoping against hope she wasn’t the Shapeshifter. If she was, there would be no surviving this…
I suppose the fact I’m writing this account is proof enough she was not the creature. But when we kicked the door in, what we saw in the room confirmed what the old woman said.
“Sirs, what are you doing here?”
Spoke the accented man we had met within the very same hour. He was standing there as if it was completely normal, not a scratch on him. Both Sledge and I were terrified at how… Human it looked. Every single detail, from the trim suit to his olive green eyes were the exact same.
Whispered Sledge, who stood in front of me with a drawn sabre. Hands shaking, I slowly raised my pistol and took aim. The thing must have known we had discovered the body, because its face contorted into a look of unspeakable malice and evil. A frown stretched across its face, mouth stretched to impossible proportions. The eyes faded to ones that were completely black, reflecting the light of the orb above us within them. It was hellish, and horrible to look at, but before I pulled the trigger I noticed what it was standing in front of.
Behind it was an open suitcase. Within it was the flintlock it had taken from earlier, and what appeared to be some kind of official paper.
I couldn’t get a good look at it, because the creature suddenly threw itself towards Sledge at impossible speeds. Incredibly, my friend managed to bring his blade to bear upon its torso sideways on. An odd sort of steam flew out from the cut and the thing let out a terrible screech as the area was enveloped by the gas. I couldn’t see anything, and I was hardly prepared to waste my shot now.
We needed to get to a better position. Fighting this monster here would be suicide. I bolted out of the room, and was thankfully followed by my comrade. Both of us began sprinting down the hallway and past the now quite horrified old woman. There was a roar from the room we fled from, and when I looked behind me I could see it flying towards us. It looked much more different than the thing we had seen in the last room. It was just like the man at the front desk said it looked like, standing far taller than either Sledge or I. Its body was thin, with the ribs sticking out of its completely pale flesh and its eyes were huge voids that invoked some sort of primitive fear within my very being.
It was more a mess of bones and skin than anything, with a head that reminded me of an oversized lizard’s, and needles protruding from both the top and bottom portions of its mouth. Not even its hands or feet were normal, and took the form of claws and talons. Savage things that looked to be capable of shredding humans like paper.
It was pursuing us, and being sure to make itself a much more difficult target to hit, leaping from wall to ceiling and back to the floor again, hardly ever stopping to maneuver like a human would. It hit the floor with a resounding thump, the walls with a hollow crash and the ceiling with a thump, all the while deftly maneuvering to each with sporadic leaps and bounds. I kept my pistol facing in its direction, and I’m quite sure it knew I had the special round loaded. Even so, it didn’t show the slightest sign of relenting in its pursuit. Sledge reached an elevator and started hitting the down button as hard as he could over and over again, occasionally glancing back to see the thing almost upon us. I stopped along with him, and drew my sabre, an idea coming to me.
As soon as I brought up my weapon, the thing attacked with a pounce, swatting my sword aside with just one of its claws and forcing me to use all the strength I could muster to keep its teeth from tearing into my face. I dodged back and regained a defensive stance, while Sledge took note of this and came at it from the side with his own blade. This probably saved my life, as the Shapeshifter was forced to divert its attention in order to shift its whole body in an instant to knock the weapon away with its claw. And as soon as my comrade was unable to guard his midsection, it lunged in and delivered a slash with its exposed talons that was enough to tear clean through the hardened leather of his uniform and open three jagged cuts across his torso.
Thankfully they weren’t too deep, as the armor at least padded him from the blow. Even so, Sledge was thrown against a nearby wall, bleeding profusely. All of this had taken place as I raised my pistol to bear and took aim. I wasn’t lucky enough to have a clean shot, however, as the beast was sure to see me coming. It leapt into the air before I could fire and used the ceiling itself as a bounce pad to propel itself towards me at a seemingly impossible angle. Both its claws flashed in what light was present, and I did the only thing I could think of doing and threw my palm in its direction.
I shouted, calling upon a condensed bolt of lightning that instantaneously struck the shapeshifter in its mouth with a sound of thunder appropriate to its small size. This bolt shone with a brilliant blue, with miniature threads of energy coursing around it. My opponent was thrown off guard by the flash and I was able to jump back as it hit the ground, steam filling the air once again. Its scream was even louder this time, ringing throughout my very being in an unearthly and hellish manner. I resisted the urge to cover my ears, and slowly backed away down the hall with my pistol drawn. But knowing my plan would fail if I fled, my decision quickly shifted to a more aggressive one as I threw out my palm once again.
A gigantic blast of focused air dispersed all the steam and threw the shapeshifter a good ways down the hall before it could even recover. Wisps of grey still hung about, but were also starting to fade. The sound of the spell was similar to what could be heard if a hundred whips were cracked at once and the area was shaken with the its raw power.
But there was no time to waste, and I hastily grabbed Sledge and threw both myself and he into the elevator, which had opened a few seconds prior. I am happy to say that the face of the monster didn’t appear before us as the doors closed. I found it a little ironic that the thing Sledge said would be dangerous to enter ended up saving our lives that night, as we heard footsteps running towards us as we descended.
I removed another tube containing the Cambria revitalization substance and poured it down my throat, nearly gagging on it in my struggle to breathe after my brief fight. I also removed a tube containing red liquid and poured it over my friend’s wound. The substance hissed when it made contact with his blood, but the torn sinews and flesh began mending themselves at an alarming rate. This was a regenerator, which could repair damaged tissue with incredible speed.
The elevator halted, and sweaty and tired, we both stumbled into the hallway on the first floor. The heat from the ventilation was beginning to become more curse than blessing, and slowed our pace to a walk. A fellow member of the Blackguard saw us as we entered the lobby and looked as if he was looking upon ghosts.
“I didn’t think anyone survived!”
He exclaimed. I raised an eyebrow and halted.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, from what I heard the Shapeshifter killed just about everybody when we first spread out. Cyrus is pretty upset.”
“Then what are you doing here?”
The boy looked to be more afraid than we were.
“I’m lookin’ for survivors.”
I nodded and turned my attention to a weary Sledge, whose face was covered in his own blood. He was in no condition to fight, and I told him to go with the young soldier. The man reluctantly agreed, but I wasn’t about to let the shapeshifter off so easily.
“What are you doing?!”
The boy called out to me as I walked back into the hallway I had just emerged from.
I replied nonchalantly.
Everything around me sounded like the creature, from the sounds of the air conditioning system to the creaking of the floor underneath my feet. I turned down another shadowy corner and towards the staircase I had ascended just a few minutes ago. I hadn’t felt so afraid in a long time, being completely alone and knowing that thing could pounce on me at any second. I knew my two spells from earlier hadn’t killed it, that was for sure. The only reassuring thing to make me feel even a little bit safe was my flintlock loaded with the enigmatic bullet, which I pointed around in sporadic motions as to be ready for an attack.
I began walking up the stairs to get to where I had last seen the thing, and began thinking of a spell powerful enough to make it hold still. Most likely a combination of four words, and a four word spell was often enough to knock people out cold from their usage. I had trained heavily with the Language, however, and was confident in my ability to hang on long enough to squeeze off a shot.
My footsteps sounded louder than ever, making a clunking noise as my boots hit the ground. Upon reaching the second floor once again, the heating was worse than ever. Even so, I had an orb of orange illumination still overhead. I could see into the darkness well enough.
In the distant recesses of the hall, where this light didn’t reach, I heard a screech that was followed by thumping. It was coming right towards me, but at a pace that was horrifyingly quick. Thump thump thump thump thump, all in rapid succession until, at the very edge of my light, I saw it again. It was clawing itself towards me on all fours with a savage look on what I suppose could be called its face. The thing was running so fast that I barely had time to even say my spell.
It was similar to what I had used before, but with ‘zah’ which meant ‘amplified’, the pure power was enough to engulf the entire area in an incredible surge of electricity that coursed through the entire building from a huge stream of energy that struck my target in the torso area, and continued coursing through its body in a brilliant blue. The blast was so powerful that the hall lights began flickering overhead at random intervals, and all the while the Shapeshifter slowly continued stomping forward with lightning flowing through it. Its abnormal skeleton flashed when the lights were out as it continued its gradual pace towards me with bared teeth. I was still directing lightning in its direction with my palm, knowing it was the only thing preventing it from closing the last few feet and tearing me apart.
My body began growing numb as I continued the spell for longer and longer, the deafening crackle of it making my ears ring. The lights overhead shattered, throwing shards of glass all over the area from being overloaded, and even so the shapeshifter stomped forwards with pure rage in its eyes. At last, I poured almost all of my life energy into one final burst of electricity that flew down the entire length of the corridor and scorched the walls and floor a pitch black. The building shuddered in protest, but with the last of my strength I raised my pistol to face the creature and fired.
By now all the lights, including the one from my spell, had been cut. And the little spark from the hammer igniting the flintlock charge was the only thing that allowed me to see the momentary look of defeat in the monster’s eyes as a streak of orange plunged directly into its head. The bullet hit with a ‘thwip’ and was followed by a hiss as the wound glowed a cherry red within my opponent’s skull. At first I recoiled in horror as it clutched its face, alive but in agony. But then it let out a cry of pain as something within the bullet ignited and embers began spreading around its face in odd, diagonal patterns. They appeared a dark orange and bits of burned flesh were gently floating to the ground from its face as the fire spread more and more, until the entire head of the creature was burning.
It began speaking in a number of tongues, all different voices. All shouting screams of agony and pain in a horrible mixture. Some sounded accented, and I even recognized one as the voice of the worker who greeted us at the desk. The creature was clutching its whole face with both talons and stumbled into a wall with a thud, still screaming louder and louder. Numb all over, I used the opposite wall as a support and removed a ice bullet from my coat, and loaded my flintlock again. I let loose another shot, which was tinted a light blue, and struck the torso. Since its Cambrian energy had been diminished so much, it couldn’t stop the spread of icy crystals that began to form around its body as it retched. They began forming in chunks, and within a period of five seconds, they had spread across the entire body like a contagious disease, freezing the thing solid.
The mystery bullet had drained its Cambrian energy, making it open to attack. The edges of my vision were blurring, but I managed to load a standard high impact round and raise my gun once again, closing my right eye and aiming the little sights at the neck. I squeezed the trigger and what followed was what one would hear if a window had shattered, as the bullet hit the ice and caused the entire neck area to fracture. What remained of the beast now were hundreds of chunks of partially frozen flesh upon the ground.
Not feeling too keen on blacking out, I drank my last Cambria restorative and nearly vomited from the buildup of the liquid. The reason we were limited to three was to prevent an overdose, which could be deadly. The numbness subsided and, marveling at the completely obliterated hallway in front of me for a moment, I turned around and made my way downstairs.
I slept well that night, waking the following morning to a slew of different information that changed my perspective on my escapade greatly.
From what investigators had deduced, the creature had indeed been using the vents to pick of members of the Guard one by one. Its talons apparently could extend long enough to the length of blades, which allowed it to cut apart people with ease and explained the gouged out eyes. The woman who claimed to be the manager had been innocent after all, and I breathed a sigh of relief upon being told this. But what began making the whole situation make sense was that the woman who had been murdered that night was carrying access papers to the Scrye. Clearly, the creature had been stalking her for some time and just as she was about to escape she was killed.
Oddly enough, the suitcase we claimed to have seen on the second floor was never recovered, leading to an investigation that essentially turned up nothing. Out of the many who had entered the building that night, just five emerged. Including me, Cyrus, Sledge and the boy who we met in the lobby after our brief fight. I am happy to inform you that Sledge and I were given promotions for our work, and that we continue to serve in the Guard to this day.
But as I walk through the Imperial courts amongst a lavish surroundings of a party, I can’t help but feel disturbed at how, according to a Scrye guard, a Mrs. Lauren Welsche was seen entering the rift the same night, only after stating both of our names with a sly smile on her face.
Credit To – hexo67