It was late in the night, but the sky was as red as fire.
From a room on the third floor of St. Paul's Hospital, Alex watched as thousands of people stampeded through the streets of Manhattan in unbridled terror. It reminded him of a herd of frenzied animals, and he pursed his lips tightly at the sight. Beside him, a darkly skinned doctor gave him a sidelong glance, observing him as though he was one of his patients.
"Not quite what you were hoping for, I presume?" Bradley Ragland said hesitantly.
Alex glanced back at him, turning away from the window. "Greene is dead. Blackwatch has been stopped. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the infected are killed. This is the best result anyone could have possibly asked for."
Ragland nodded silently, not daring to point out the bitterness and contempt that oozed out of Alex's voice. They both knew that his were empty words, and that calling this the "best result" was a bad idea of a joke. One only needed to look outside the window again for proof of that. Even now, the people were fleeing for the bridges and the ports, bringing with them only what they could carry as they tried to escape the island. Moreover, the fallout of the nuclear bomb that had gone off further off the coast of the island would continue to affect Manhattan and its people for months, if not years.
With a frustrated growl, Alex went over to the young woman who was lying comatose on the bed behind them. He stared down at her silently, and his expression changed, becoming softer and more anguished.
"How is she?" he said.
"Same as before," Ragland sighed, running a hand through his short, stubby, graying hair. "She's stable, but there's been no real changes. At the very least, she hasn't taken a turn for the worse."
Alex nodded. Gently, he reached down and brushed aside a lock of Dana's dark brown hair from her sleeping eyes. When he looked back up, he found Ragland watching him silently.
"I need you to keep taking care of her for me," Alex said. "Can you do that?"
"Of course," Ragland said. "But why? Where do you plan on going?"
"Don't know. Anywhere. Everywhere, I guess," Alex said. "Blackwatch is leaderless right now. Randall, Taggart, Cross, they're all dead. But that won't last forever. They'll reorganize, and once they do they're going to keep a close eye on both you and Dana. So I have to leave Manhattan while I still can; while they still think I'm dead." He glanced back down at his sister and clenched his teeth. "It's the best way to keep her safe."
"I understand," Ragland nodded. "What will you do once you're on your own?"
Alex went back over to the window and leaned against it. "There are some questions I want answered, Ragland. I want to find the answers to them."
"What questions?" Ragland asked. "Does it have to do with Blackwatch? Or Gentek?"
"No," Alex shook his head. "I've been doing some thinking. Am I human, Ragland? After everything I've done, knowing what I have become and what I can do, am I still human? If I am, how am I supposed to rejoin the human race? What do I do if I'm not?"
"So it's a journey of self-discovery?"
"Guess you could put it like that," Alex snorted. "If I see more of the world for myself, it might give me a fresh look on life. It might not. Won't know until I try."
Ragland fell silent and chose his next words carefully, and spoke with great hesitance. "Alex, I think what you're trying to do is a good idea. I know that what you've seen these past few weeks wasn't... well, it wasn't good. What happened here in Manhattan is some of the worst that humanity has to offer. I think now you should go looking for the best. We're not all monsters, you know. There are heroes out there, too."
Alex gave the doctor a brief glance, before giving him a short, curt nod. "I'll keep that in mind."
Ragland nodded back, even though Alex had already turned away from him again. He sighed in relief. "Would you like some time alone with Dana? To say your goodbyes?"
Ragland nodded again, and then left the room. Once he was gone, Alex turned around and brought a chair to sit at Dana's bedside. Though his body appeared tall and slender, the metal frame still complained loudly under the weight which belied his appearance. But it held.
For nearly five minutes, Alex did not move nor speak. He watched over Dana as the heart monitor beeped softly in the background. Then, slowly, almost tentatively, he reached out to her and slipped his hand underneath his sister's, taking care not to disturb the IV drip that was inserted in her hand.
"Dana," he said. "I need to go. Don't know where yet, but I figure I should let you know. Ragland already knows, and he's going to keep you safe, so you don't need to worry about that. And as long as I'm not here, Blackwatch shouldn't bother you, so you won't need to worry about them either. Keep your head down, though. They'll still be watching you for a while. I know that's not fair to you, since I'm the one who got you into this fucking mess in the first place, but... sorry. I hope you wake up soon."
With a sigh, Alex let go of Dana's hand. He stood up and moved his chair back to where he found it. After throwing one last look at his sister's comatose form, he turned to leave the room.
When he next awoke, he was lying in the middle of a forest.
When Alex opened his eyes, he found himself staring up at a blue sky through a canopy of trees, and was lying on a bed of soft moss and dirt. In the distance, he could hear birds chirping and the buzz of insects. Groaning, he sat up and rubbed his throbbing head.
"What the hell happened to me?" he murmured as his headache began to fade. He looked around to try to gain his bearings, but such thoughts vanished when he spotted another person lying supine in the dirt a short distance away. "Dana!"
Alex scrambled to his feet and rushed over to his sister's side. She was still in her hospital gown, but was without any of the vital life support machines that had been keeping her alive.
"Ragland!" Alex shouted, whipping his head around. "Ragland, are you here!?" When no answer came, Alex ground his teeth together and swore. "Shit."
He had no idea how long the two of them had been unconscious or how long they had been here. To him, it felt like mere seconds had passed since they were in the hospital, but he had no way of knowing for sure. He needed to get Dana back to a hospital, and fast. Otherwise, she would surely die.
Alex took a step away from Dana and crouched low, building up energy before jumping high into the air, easily clearing over the crown of the surrounding trees. As he hung in the air at the apex of his climb, he found that he was on an island about thirty or forty miles wide. There were no cities or towns on the island, but to the north and slightly east he could see a thin trail of white smoke rising into the sky. Desperate relief filled Alex as he fell back to the earth. Someone lived on this island. He could find help for Dana there.
As soon as he landed, Alex scooped up Dana in his arms and began walking towards the source of the smoke. A great impatience urged Alex to quicken his steps, but he dared not to risk Dana's health by jostling her any more than was strictly necessary. Instead, he took his frustration out on the insects that tried to land on her, swatting them away with a tendril grown from his shoulder with a snarl.
A mere ten minutes into the hike, however, Alex heard a wolf howl. Its voice was deep and bass-like, and far too close for comfort. Alex tried to ignore it at first, but then another wolf howled mere minutes later, even closer than before. This time, Alex could feel fear take root inside his heart – not for himself, but for Dana. She was completely defenseless right now, and would be easy prey for any pack of wild animals. Even with him there to protect her, if he was too greatly outnumbered, there was still a strong possibility that she could be wounded or even killed. It was with that in mind that Alex at last abandoned his earlier reluctance and broke out into a run.
The beasts realized then that their prey had sensed them, and they abandoned all pretense of stealth. Now there was only the chase. They came bursting out from the undergrowth, but it wasn't wolves that chased after Alex. They were wolf-like, in a way, but they were too large and lanky, with long, almost humanoid limbs, tipped with claws far too massive to be anything natural. Their inky black bodies seemed to melt into the shadows, making the white bone-like masks on their heads and the protrusions elsewhere on their bodies stand out all the more.
What the fuck are those things? Alex thought as he threw a brief glance over his shoulder. They resembled the werewolf of myth, but it was hard to believe that a fairy tale was what was chasing after them now, even as he was seeing them with his own eyes. But if not that, then what else? It certainly wasn't figments of his imagination that was pursuing them.
Despite his best efforts, Alex could not shake off these creatures. There was only so fast he could go in such a thick forest while burdened by Dana. The creatures, on the other hand, had no such burdens. They loped after him with an easy grace, their long limbs chewing up the ground between them as they expertly wove through the trees and ripped through the undergrowth like thunder. I need to get some space!
Alex adjusted his grip on Dana without ever breaking his stride. He held her body against him, while with his spare hand he dug his fingers deep into the trunk of a large tree. With a vicious snarl, Alex ripped it clean from the earth, root and all, and hurled it sideways at the werewolves behind him.
Splinters and leaves went flying in every direction. The beasts scattered in order to prevent being crushed by the unorthodox projectile. There were still more on Alex's flanks, however, but now they were warier. They knew now that he was no mere prey for them to hunt down and consume, and so they kept their distance even as they maintained their pursuit.
Strangely, even while accounting for their heightened caution, they made no other attempts to attack or even harry him. Were they trying to wear him out now, Alex wondered. He grimaced. So long as he didn't take severe damage, he could run almost endlessly; but Dana was another issue entirely. How much longer could she survive out here, like this? Days? Hours? Minutes? It was not something he could afford to find the answer for. What Alex did not realize, however, was that they weren't being merely cautious; they had been waiting for an opportunity.
Half an hour into the chase, the forest broke ahead of them. Alex clenched his teeth as he found himself in a large, clear meadow – a perfect place to maximize the advantage of superior numbers.
In an instant, the werewolves came flooding out of the trees and surrounded Alex. He growled and ground his teeth so hard he could almost feel the layers being shaved away. Although he had no other choice, he had been pushed here and outsmarted by a bunch of monsters.
It made him angry.
Alex set Dana on the ground and transformed his arms, one into an enormous blade that was nearly as long as he was tall and just as wide as he was at its center; the other into a long bladed tentacle, which Alex whipped out to partial length as he snapped it loudly against the ground, kicking up grass and dirt.
"Come on, then," Alex spat. "I'll kill you all, if I have to."
They came all at once.
Alex lashed out with his whipfist first, swinging it fast in a horizontal arc. The bladed tentacle sheared through the bodies and limbs of three of the werewolves and stopped when it wrapped around a fourth. Alex reeled it in ahead of its packmates and bisected it with his blade. It was a good start to the battle, but not enough. His small victory quickly became meaningless. More surged forward, endlessly flowing towards him like a seething flood of oil. Four against that was like drawing out but a single drop from that flood.
Alex's blade flashed in the air, spilling blood as he killed the werewolves left and right, front and back, but he could never create any sort of opening to take advantage of. He was trapped at Dana's side, for if he dared to take even a single step away from her, the werewolves pressed in towards her from behind and from the flanks. It was a desperate battle just to keep her safe.
"Get away from her!" Alex roared when one werewolf came far too close for comfort. He fired his whipfist into its throat and the spiked ends pierced deep into its flesh. The barbed hooks on the end allowed Alex to maintain his grip as he pulled hard and dragged the werewolf face first into the dirt, where Alex stomped its head and crushed it completely.
Tendrils began growing from Alex's leg, connecting into the rest of the werewolf's corpse. He was taking too much damage fighting like this, and he needed new biomass to recover quickly. More, if he could just consume enough of these things, then he could build up enough store of biomass to unleash a large scale attack and wipe them all out in a single move.
But to his shock, nothing happened.
For a moment, Alex faltered, and in that moment he was struck heavily by a massive black paw. That pulled him out of his daze, but he was still surprised. He could not consume these things. Though their bodies were there, and though they bled, he could not absorb their flesh. They might as well have been made out of solid slabs of rock for all that he could do with them. And as Alex continued to fight, he was given another surprise: the werewolf he had just killed was beginning to dissipate into thin air, until eventually it vanished without even a single drop of blood remaining.
Alex looked around. He had not noticed it before due to the flurry of combat, but now he noticed that this was not an isolated incident. Every single wolf that he killed disappeared shortly after their death. Once more Alex wondered just what the hell these things were supposed to be.
Whatever they were, their numbers were truly endless, or so it felt. Alex was slowly starting to be overwhelmed. He simply could not keep pace with their onslaught by himself, and eventually the unthinkable happened. Alex felt his heart leap to his throat when one of the werewolves managed to wrap its enormous hand around Dana's leg and begin to drag her away.
Alex lunged at the creature – but it wasn't he who saved Dana. From somewhere outside the ring of monsters, there was a crack like thunder, and the creature holding his sister dropped sideways to the ground with a hole the size of its fist in its slowly vanishing skull.
Instinctively, Alex whipped his head to the side as he tried to track where the shot had come from – just in time to see a red blur rush past him and for rose petals to flutter in front of his eyes.
Alex turned around and found a girl in a red cloak standing there in the circle with him and Dana. She wielded an enormous scythe, easily larger than she was, and for the briefest of moments her silver eyes met his icy blue. Then she turned to slaughter the monsters.
She was like lightning. A crimson lightning that bolted from one monster to the next, cutting them down faster than Alex could even blink. Interspersed throughout the slaughter, he could hear the sound of gunshots accompany the blade. Alex still had no idea who this little girl was or how she could be so powerful, but he found that he did not care. She was an ally, and that was enough.
With a vengeful snarl, Alex turned his attention back to his own work. He began pressing forward, moving into the crowd of werewolves while swinging his blade in large, circular motions. With each pass, he would cleave apart another of the beasts. Soon, the two of them had inflicted such heavy damage that the remaining werewolves at last turned and fled back into the woods. Alex watched them go, then reverted his arms back to normal and went and crouched down at Dana's side. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw that she was unhurt.
The grass rustled as the girl approached him. Alex looked up at her. Her eyes went from his face to his arms then back to his face, and they widened in shock and... was that wonder?
"You can turn your arms into weapons?" she said in a hushed, awestruck tone. "That is sooo cool!"