“What the fuck happened here?” Chief Inspector Micheal Donnovan stuck a piece of nicotine gum into his mouth as he walked into the building, ducking under the police tape that one of his deputies held up for him.
“You still trying to quit Mike?”
“Shut up Dan. Whadda we got?”
“It’s … it’s bad Mike.” Dan’s face twisted as though he’d bitten into spoiled meat. “It’s real bad. We gotta real sick motherfucker here Chief.”
They moved into the tent that was set up over the ruined front door of the building and Micheal fought down bile. The two bodies of the guards had been mutilated horribly. Although he knew it was utterly impossible, it almost looked like someone or … something had punched through their chests and torn their hearts out.
One of them had many broken bones and the other had a pair of gunshot wounds that, according to the initial report he scanned had been inflicted after the body had been dead. He swallowed hard and held out a hand. Dan wordlessly put a pack of cigarettes into it.
“It gets worse Mike.” He held the lighter out. “It gets a lot goddamn worse. Charity’s waiting down there with the circus act that’s the coroner’s report.”
“Yeah, OK. Keep the press out would ya?” He lit the cigarette and walked down into Hell’s charnel house.
“Now what the hell are we supposed to do?” The Fifth demanded, “The First are all dead, our secrets exposed to the cattle and we have no idea what or who is responsible!”
“It is the revolution.” Said the Fourth, “It can be naught else.”
“Those worms do not have the fortitude, the knowledge or the raw power to accomplish something like this.” The Third retorted, “It could not have been them.”
“Who else? The Hunters have been all but eliminated with the death of The Architect and it is not as though the cattle know anything.” The Fifth said.
“It matters not.” Said the Third speaking in a formal meeting for the first time in a decade. “Now we must focus on guarding against the threat that stands before us. We must accept that there is a new enemy. Perhaps a new predator.”
The others quieted, allowing this to sink in. “We all know now that Burnham was designing a disease to kill the cattle.” The Fifth began.
“I have felt it.” The Third said, raising the mask. The others gasped in shock. The face beneath was a mass of half healed wounds, some of which weeped blood. Now that the Third’s voice was no longer reverberating behind the mask, it sounded weak and strained.
“Third!” The Fifth exclaimed, “What are you doing?”
“I… will… show… you…” There were gasps of effort and pain between the words. Or were those gasps of pleasure? The wounds broke open and blood oozed from them, the coppery smell rich, thick and inviting to the other immortals in the room.
All they saw was a brief image. The last moments seen by dying eyes. A mass of ropy muscle and tendon extending like some grotesque serpent following the music of an insane snake charmer. It paused for a moment in front of their collective vision and they could all see an eyelid open from one part of it.
A piercing green eye peered at them, sparkling with hunger and malice. The eyelid blinked and the eye had been replaced by a maw of serrated fangs. It struck, faster than even Immortal eyes could follow and the vision was gone. Something still gripped the seer, although it had released the others in the room.
The Third drew shuddering, hesitant breaths, tears of pure vitae flowing down its cheeks to mix with the blood already there. “It ate his eyes. I could feel it looking at me. It sees me.” Its voice trembled with abject terror and rose in pitch and volume, “IT SEES ME!”
I floated in a wonderful sea of ecstasy, feeling warm and contented. The hunger that had nearly torn me asunder was sated and I was in a state of dreamy bliss. A vague feeling of something being wrong nagged at the corner of my consciousness, but I paid it little mind.
Something intruded upon my relaxed state, a bright light and the sound of human voices. They came and went, and I paid them little heed. There was nothing to fear from them. The voices went away, but the lights stayed opressively bright through my closed lids.
When the sound of footsteps and more human voices came to me again I was forced to take notice. Where was I? Memories filtered to the forefront of my mind. I was in the Tribunal’s formal audience hall. Something had happened… I had…
I tried to open my eyes, tried to sit up, tried to move at all, but nothing happened. I didn’t seem to have arms, legs, or anything that resembled a normal body. Centering myself, I forced calm.
“Jesus H fucking christmas, what the hell is this?” The voice was grating and gravely. I sensed the sharp, acrid scent of burning tobacco and I wanted it.
“Well sir, from what we can tell there are at least five bodies here. The confusing part is that they all seem to be… mixed somehow.” This voice was crisp and professional, but I could hear an undertone of tightly controlled terror. I liked this girl.
“No shit, they look like they’ve been put through a fucking wood chipper!”
“Yes, well… “ She took a breath and exhaled it sharply, “There’s no blood. There’s no viscera. With this many bodies there should be entrails, human waste, and a lot, I mean a lot of blood. But there isn’t any. Forensics collected over a thousand spent shell casings and they’ll have one hell of a time pulling everything out of the walls, but all this flesh looks like it’s been dead for days!”
“Who’s to say it hasn’t been?” He asked, the tobacco smell coming strongly again.
“Well, that’s the thing. The necrosis I’m seeing here indicates varying degrees of decay but it’s not like rotting meat at all. It’s more like frozen or very well refrigerated meat, and even then that doesn’t explain the lack of blood.” She paused as if steeling herself for what she was about to do, “But there’s more, take a look at this.”
“Sweet mother of… What the fuck is that?”
“I have no idea. It’s some kind of organic compund. At first I thought it was gelatin, but it’s nothing I can identify. I really don’t know what it is.”
“Goddamn it Charity, you gotta give me something.”
“Sir. This is way above my paygrade.” The click of her heels was getting closer. “I need some air, mind if I…”
“No, it’s fine, go ahead.” He said, “Is Ramirez here?”
“Not yet sir.” I felt her foot touch me. She had stepped on me. What the hell? I reacted instinctively, reaching up and felt a shock when we met skin on skin. My flesh melded with her flesh.
I could see the room now, the beauty of the destruction my hunger had wrought. This body was new to me, but it seemed fit and until recently it had been full of life and vigor. It wouldn’t last long, but I didn’t need it to. I took a step and faltered slightly, not having full nerve control yet.
“Hey Charity… you holding up all right?” I looked at his face, the rough stubble of beard and the deep shadows under his eyes. A cigarette was burning in his hand and even though he had spoken to me, is eyes were on my chest. It seemed to be as much a habit as the smoking.
I reached into the breast pocket of his shirt and took out his pack of cigarettes. “I think I need one of these.” I said, taking one out and waiting expectantly for him to proffer a lighter.
“I didn’t know you smoked.” He said, looking warily at me.
“I don’t.” I said, feeling the first nicotine buzz I had experienced in a century. With a feeling of giddy excitement, I turned and walked from the room and out the front door of the building.
I wept real, actual tears as the warmth of the sun touched my skin with a benevolent caress. Turning my face up toward the sky I let the sun wash away the despair that I’d felt ever since Svenka died. The sun was shining, I was free, and I knew where my lover’s killers were hiding. Perhaps there was something to live for after all.