A/N: Happy holidays everyone. Treat this as an early Christmas gift.
Haunted Reader & Barone: the Arbitrator's dialogue was explained in the previous chapters and pointed out throughout the Arc as exhaustion. The Arbitrator hasnt patched himself up yet to 100% given the events of his less than ideal arrival on esrth. My apologies however if my writing did not make this clear. This is a lesson learned for me.
TheOnlyKing, OBSERVER01 davidomega59, humandragon : i am glad and happy that you are loving it. Expect to love the others too.
ManwkthaPlan113: Always. The Emperor Protects.
Rogue-eL: hope the wait was worth it ;)
Chapter 10: Dread
The elevator and its shuddering shook Leslie awake. Blinking awake to find herself in its rickety confines. The seconds she spent there alone felt like eternity. Enough time for her dark thoughts to drown her. But it was the cold, not fear, that made her shudder. Despite her extreme dislike for the boy, Mateus, she couldnt help but miss his company. More out of the sense of security than reassurance or anything else. Terrible as he is and was to her, Leslie's only solace was that he was least on her side unlike whatever waiting for her outside those doors.
The few seconds Leslie spent in solitude offered her the respite she needed to think for the first time that evening. That moment unlocked her mind and struck her with a barrage of memories that made her heave foul hot chunks of vomit on the floor. One such thought brought her back to the basement and where she made her decision. A decision she was beginning to regret.
It was right there. Freedom at the palm of his hand. An opportunity to escape this hellish nightmare. His relinquishment of her guilt. Leslie wondered why she chose otherwise. To walk with him down this perilous path in the lion's den. A narrow path leading to either salvation or assured damnation.
"The shit you find yourself in, Leslie." Leslie said to herself amidst her ramblings. She paced around the small space. A means to help rattle her scattered thoughts straight. Make sense of every decision she made. Especially the most foolish ones. "Why do you keep doing this to yourself? Havent you had enough already? What are you hoping to get? What are you trying to prove? Is it guilt? You did try to kill that boy earlier. But almost. Almost! The fact is you didn't. But damn it, why do I still feel like shit. Is this another ego trip? Your pride? Will doing this help you feel any better? Or are you just afraid to lose another one?"
The good doctor could only sigh. She was where she was because of her own doing. A foolish choice that left her in a worse situation than before. Her way out of the nightmare became longer and more perilous. Armed with nothing more than a pistol she did not want to use and golden icon she did not know how to use for a task Mateus instructed for her to fulfill alone.
Leslie lingered the the golden icon. This Inquisitorial Rosette that glittered warmly on her palm. A finely crafted treasure untouched by time and forged by artistic hands. It took the shape of a large letter "I" with a myriad of runes engraved down the line. A bald skull with a radiant halo and flanked by feathered wings bore it center.
Leslie admits that it was a beautiful trinket. Something most likely found in a cathedral or a museum than in the hands of someone like Mateus. Thinking about it however made her see him in a much different light. A contrasting one at best. Even refined and noble than the shattered bleeding husk that he was.
"Wonder what makes you so special?" Leslie asked the Inquisitorial Rosette.
Given Mateus's implication of its magical nature, Leslie expected it to speak back. It thankfully didnt much to her relief. She had enough surprises to digest from today. A miracle maker, she recalled Mateus call it. She also remembered herself scoffing to it. Miracles fell in the same shelf as fairytales and Christmas carols. In the minds of children and in the trash.
Nevertheless, the boy's instructions were simple and easy to follow. His exhaustion and their short trip to the upper floors were reason enough for his frank speech. Which was all well and good for Leslie but her irritation mostly stems from what Mateus didnt say. The boy didnt entertain any of her questions. Nor did he give any hint on how to use this Rosette when she needed.
Mateus noticed her concern thankfully. His answer however as as simple as it was annoyingly cryptic.
"Have Faith." Was all he said and nothing more. Words that tasted like poison in her mouth.
The elevator suddenly rumbled to a stop but not where Lelsie needed and it made her press her back on the wall. The shadows between door's slits confirmed the good doctor's suspicions further. Slowly it creaked open to a pair of foul mutated Infected who took to Leslie's appearance with surprise. Their conversation was cut short and together wordlessly pondered to each other about what to do next.
"The fuck?" The first one asked aloud. "What we 'ave 'ere?"
"Thought we cleared d'place already?" The second one snorted. "Guess not. Guess we got work cut out for us."
"Lets make this a quick one." The first one said. The red in his one eye glinted with the kitchen knife on his hand. "The boss wants us bad fer another job downstairs."
The Cultist's exchange gave Leslie the window she needed to point her gun at the two. Her panic went off before her gun did however. Whether it was sweat, her muscles, or her nerves, Leslie fumbled her gun and dropped it. The dull thud it made on the floor also left an awkward silence between the three. While Lelsie looked at it in horror, the two Cultists began sniggering at each other.
"Granny's got some fight left in her looks like it, hahaha!" The second Infected cackled.
"Cant even hold'er gun right!" The first one mocked. "Yer too old fer dis game, mama gray!"
"And Papa doc, d'Reaper is 'ere." The second infected howled with his club at the ready. "An' he comes a knockin'!"
Instinct screamed louder than Leslie's own cries and forced her to act as the club bore down at her. She reached for anything within reach to defend herself but to her dismay, she only had Mateus's Rosarius. Foolish as it was, Leslie raised it against the threat. She had no desire to die. Her heart shouted her will to live. By some miracle, something heard her and answered.
The golden sigil hummed wildly on Leslie's hand before erupting in a startling blaze. Piercing light filled the elevator and the hallway that brought tears and fire to every onlooker's eyes. Leslie barely saw the translucent shield of golden light appear and protected her from her assailnt's blow. The club struck the barrier and shattered on impact with a blinding flash of blinding light.
Colorful balls flickered on Leslie's eyes and found herself on the ground the second it all ended. The Rosarius lay still at her feet as Leslie remembered dropping it on the floor after it performed its miracle. The blast threw her to the ground. But compared to the two Cultists, it was a kind and generous compensation.
Both Cultists were violently thrown to the ground. The one with the club fell dead. Burnt black along with its weapon that was singed down to the stump. The rest of it shattered into a dozen smouldering red pieces. Half of which embedded itself deep inside his skull.
The second infected survived but earned himself a worse fate than his companion. The Rosarius's flash peeled his skin into loose singed sinews. Smoke billowed from every crevice of his face. Crackling embers bursted from his mouth after every cough. His eyes melted from its sockets. His injuries still left him in agonizing pain despite its attempts to heal him. Resorting to rolling wildly on the ground amidst wailing cries.
"BITCH! CUNT!" The man cursed with every word his swollen tongue could muster. "I'M GONNA FIND YOU! I'M GONNA KILL YOU! I'M GONNA SHOVE THAT GOLDEN BAR! UP YOUR SAGGY CUNT! FUCK!"
Leslie was spared of her life and the brunt of the man's curses as the elevator closed. Continuing its journey to the roof. Adrenaline raced in the good doctor's body. Her breath heaved gallons of air as she slowly collected herself and her pistol from the floor. Relieved to have managed to escape death.
Her eyes fell on the golden Rosarius. Her fingers grasped it delicately to her palms. A sharp contrast to her harsh grip on it from earlier. Treating it with the same reverence and respect Mateus gave it when he gave it to her.
"You are full of surprises." Leslie said to the Rosarius with a wry smile before a heavy sigh. "Always something more beneath the eye. I hope you'd be alright." She whispered as she thought about the boy.
Deacon Blackfyre simmered red from under his robes. His ironwood staff groaned under the weight of his tightened grip. The Arbitrator's speech was over. The speakers had fallen silent save for a long endless drone. But still, he could hear its defiance clamoring in his ears and it infuriated him. He considered it as not just a setback to his plans but a personal offense aimed directly at him. An insult that Blackfyre could allow to continue.
"NO!" Blackfyre shouted. The marble floor shattered beneath him. Struck through under the weight of his staff. "Who the fuck does this bastard think he is? Sister Dahlia!"
"Yes. mY liEGe?" The Acolyte croaked as she bowed low before the Deacon.
Compared to the rest, Sister Dahlia stood as the smallest of the Deacon's most trusted elites. No taller than a child, kneeling shrunk her even further that she could melt down into the floor. Her size however sharply contrasts to her reliance and importance as the Deacon's Voice. His herald over the sweltering crowds. At least, so did the Deacon had thought when he saw an inkling of doubt in Sister Dahlia's eyes when it refused to meet him.
Weakness from one of his Acolytes is a reflection of the same to all. To think that even his most loyal and trusted disciples, blessed by the same powers of their god, be planted the seeds of doubt. Doubt that was sown in their minds by the actions of a man beneath his notice. A man capable of doing what Blackfyre and his cult deemed impossible.
Blackfyre's cloak could only hide so much. Deny it as he could, the creeping hand of dread was taking hold of his heart. Panic's poison coursed through his veins and struck at his nerves. His chest would not stop pounding. Beads of sweat began pouring down from his brow. Every crackling note hummed by the abandoned intercom sent faint chills afflicting his spine. Fearing has taken hold of him. Fear that his plans. All of his efforts. Everything was all falling apart.
Despair clutched at the invincibility Deacon Blackfyre once thought he had. His very belief and being was shattered by the appearance of this unexpected interloper. This Arbitrator. This one obstacle getting in the way of his plan's fruition. But one he was dedicated of snuff out before everything he had built came crashing down. There was only way that he knew to do just that.
"Bring in...everyone." Blackfyre hissed. "I want you. To kill that son of a bitch. And I want his head. ON! A! FuCkInG! PiKE! Now!"
"EvErYONe, mY LiEGe?" Sister Dahlia asked. Unsure.
"EVERYONE!" Blackfyre bellowed. "I WANT THAT SON OF A BITCH TORN APART! I WANT HIS HEAD ON! A! FUCKING! PIKE!"
The Deacon plagued the air with his fury at every bellowing breath. Unleashing a force at cracked glass and marble in the cafeteria with labrynthine marks. Sending Sister Dahlia, the other Acolytes, and everyone else back or thrown aside from the deafening might of his voice. His shadow lengthened over their cowering heads.
A display that acted as a reminder to all of who was in charge. The one who is taking control. The one with the power over their life and death that he could take arbitrarily. The one who was chosen to lead them to paradise. If kind words and promises over these simpletons would bear him no fruit, then Blackfyre would sow terror into their hearts. Become the benevolent monster they would fear more over the monster baring for their throats.
"OBEY!" Blackfyre commanded. Grabbing hold lf Sister Dahlia's dishevelled hair, he threw her through the doors with a booming crash. "SPREAD THE WORD!"
Sister Dahlia struggled to get back up her feet. Shattered ribs and a broken leg sent Sister Dahlia crawling backwards. Bowing profusely until the doors stopped swinging. The seconds spent grovelling to her master patched up her wounds. Snapping her joints in place before running off to obey the Deacon's irresistible whims.
"PREPARE THE RITUAL!" Blackfyre announced with a wave of his hands. "LOCK THIS PLACE DOWN!" Blackfyre commanded at the clap of his staff. "OBEY! FOR OUR TIME HAS COME! HIS HOUR COMETH!"
Every soul in the cafeteria obeyed the Deacon's words like gospel. Awakened and rife with activity. The Cultists scattered and did what they could. Barring every openning with debris. Gathering weapons. Entrenching themselves behind makeshift barricades. The Acolytes gathered in the center of the room where their ritual circle was set and began chanting their spell. All save for one.
"BuT my DEaCoN!" Brother Peter objected. "FoRgIVe mE, bUt oUR nUmBeRSss aRe dEPleTEd aSss iT Isss. ThE rITuAl WiLL cOSssst uSsss MoRe tHAn iT sSshoULd. BoTh iN tIMe aNd pOsSiBLy oUr liVESssss."
"You speak the obvious." Blackfyre asked. "Speak your question."
"WhY sENd SssIstER DaHLiA aWAy wHEn oUr fOe iSsss rIGhT aT oUr dOOrSteP?"
"Its just as you said, brother Peter. Why else but for time? This city's corpses are more than ample in number now. And would be more than a match for any soul. This nuisance of an Arbitrator defiling my halls as well as the Bat who we are sure is snooping nearby."
"AnD tHe aRBiTraTOR? WhAt oF iT? It HaS kiLLEd mANy oF Us aLReAdy."
"And it will kill more. But I have more than enough bodies here to spare" Blackfyre motioned to all the Infected in the cafeteria. "More than enough to delay him. More than enough to exhaust him before it comes through those doors."
"You are done here." Blackfyre commanded the rest of the Infected Cultists. "The one who brings me that son of a bitch's head shall be lifted to become my Acolyte. Now go!"
Every infected in the room lit up at the Decon's reward. The promise. The opportunity. Starved of such desires, it did not take much for them to rise to claim it. They feverishly clamored to their feet to the door. Clamoring to arm themselves with the tools or debris piled uon the corner out the door.
"You see, brother Peter." Blackfyre snarled. "You arent the only one here who thinks ahead. I am the Deacon of this Cult. And my eyes goes beyond anyone's comprehension. Even yours."
Acolyte Peter didn't say anything because he had nothing to say. The madness in the Deacons eyes was a sure sign already. Mercy were mere dust in the wind even for the likes of Peter and his fellow Acolytes. All that matters now was their Lord's great work. All that matters now was their silent loyalty and obedience. A fact that Peter began to regret.
Hot air welcomed Leslie with open arms when the elevator finally opened its doors. Gotham's stench as an old city had never changed a whiff in the decades yet it all felt new to the good doctor. The long hours spent with the intoxicating aroma of sanitized alcohol in the hospital's halls can do that to a person. But with its startling addition of bile and blood, the city's stale and filthy stench was a more preferrable alternative.
"It smells like shit but its is still smells like home." Leslie admitted.
But that very home was burning around her. The scent of ash quickly wiped these off her smile. The clamor of riots from the streets below stomped these celebrations to death. The fires raging in the city set the skies alight in crimson. Casting a grim omen to all that fell under its shadow. That includes Leslie herself. For all she knew, that omen's smaller shadows could be stalking her as she speak.
Time was of the essence, but Lelsie was in no rush out. Cultists could still be prowling about. Carefully, she peered her head out. Wary of any shape or shadow that could appear around every corner. Satisfied and with no one in sight, Leslie gingerly made her way out of the elevator and into the gravel laden path of the hospital's roof deck.
"Get to the roof. Check." Lelsie recounted Mateus's instructions. A task she mistakenly thought was easy until she barely escaped the clutches of two Cultists. Ironically enough, she unknowingly held the Rosarius close to her chest after that.
"Now where's the...yes!" Leslie cried out when she found Mateus's destined instruction. The Hospital's water tank.
It stood like a gleaming silver monolith of iron bolted steel on the other side of the hospital. Two stories high of iron bolted steel and filled to the brim of water. Suffice to say despite Leslie's vast knowledge in medicine, the good doctor did not know a scent about structural engineering. What she did see and all that she needed was a massive silver structure filled to the brim with water that was tricling out from the top.
"I guess that boy has these in his planet too." Leslie humored herself. "Maybe he's closer to home than I thought."
The path to the towering water tank was a long walk but it was anything but safe or comforting. A maze of exposed tubing, pillars of old vents, and rockety turbines stood between Leslie and her goal. A wary path of many unpredictable turns with lurking shadows hiding behind it. Between hissing bursts steam and rustlings of loose rusty metal, it all made for an eerie and foreboding journey.
Lelsie treaded the uncertain ground at a slow yet careful pace. Pausing in between steps to turn her head or to peak her ears for anything that could be haunting her steps before moving on. A stressful endeavor for sure but one she knew she had to endure if she wants to last the night.
"But for how long?" Leslie asked herself the same question time and time again.
These thoughts were quickly thrown aside like the door that bursted open behind her. A thunderous blow bent it in two like plastic and broke it from its locks. Hinges screetched loudly as it snapped off. Shooting it over Lelsie's head before violently rolling off the roof.
The good doctor dodged the projectile in time and threw herself behind some debris her gun at the ready. Adrenaline coursed through her body again. Instincts debated between fleeing or fighting, but Leslie had enough sense in her to choose neither as both would lead to her demise. Her instincts proved correct once she found out who the cause of the ruckus was.
"What the hell's going on?" Leslie hissed.
Risking her head over the paraphets, Leslie peeked and saw another cultist. A twice damned Acolyte. Given away by its splattered black symbols and long filthy green cloak. But this one was different to the others. This one was short. Tiny like a child. Not that Leslie took this as something to underestimate. She knew enough that appearances hid the devil underneath. Although she never knew how fitting those words were till now. For all she knew,
Leslie ducked her head in time before the Acolyte's head turned her way. Hiding behind one of the tall vents. The gun was at the ready but she prayed that she never had to use it. Not against anyone. Hippocratic oath or otherwise. It did not give her any comfort or sense of safety. But she could not say the same for the Rosarius. She found a kinship to the item despite it being strange and alien to her.
Magic or not, simply looking at it gave Leslie an inkling of hope to hold on to as she did holding it close to her chest. She knew that it would protect her as it knew it needed her help like how a hound knows when to get in front of its master. Leslie however knew better than to use it now. Prompting to instead hide. Hugging her legs and cupping her mouth whilst she intently listened to whatever was happening outside her cover.
Lelsie surely heard the Acolyte's faint croaking amidst the noisey racket. Its footsteps dug deep on the loose gravel. Its breaths were heavy and rasping. Leslie's heart dropped when she heard it sniffing the air. Scouring it from her scent. Its feet shifted on the gravel. Scattering it as it began to walk. Faster. Louder. Closer. Coming her way. Leslie gasped when she realized that all of it was coming towards her.
"Shit..." Leslie hissed as the Rosarius began to glow. Quickly she hid it under in her pocket before it got too bright and attracting unwanted eyes.
But it was too late now. It must have seen her since its footsteps broke to a run. Its crooked hand struck above the vent Leslie hid behind. Its bony fingers dug deep into the metal as it held it tight. She was inches from screaming when the Acolyte appeared on top of her but held her breath when she caught a whiff of its rancid stench that almost made her vomit.
Leslie expected the Acolyte to look down and finish her then and there but by luck or miracle, it did not see her. It didnt care for her at all. Instead the tiny Acolyte used the vent to bound over like a gymnist. leaping and swinging over the every obstacle like it's its playground. Its delight was clear given the gutturish cackle it left behind in echoes. Whatever enjoyment it had in its freedom allowed it to ignore Leslie completely. A good enough reason for the good doctor to breath again moments before moving on.
Leslie gingerly crawled out of her hiding place and tiptoed towards the water tank. Her head was kept low with the rest out of sight. Haste and fear added to her steps. Namely because she didnt want to be in the same place as an Acolyte. Let alone one that could sniff her out. That in mind, she dashed past in between hiding spots yet careful with her pace. Once or twice, she paused to raise her head. A risk she dared just to keep tabs on the Acolyte or whatever else that might be there. Thus giving her more breathing room to get where she needs to be fast.
She paid it one last look before making one last turn around one last bend and finally out of sight. Curiosity from what she saw made her risk a second look and spent another secont moment to wonder just what it was that tiny Acolyte was doing. Namely standing over the edge of the roof.
"Is it a lookout? Going for a smoke?" Leslie asked herself. There was too little for her to work with. Its back was facing the good doctor and its billowing robe barred any attempts for her to know.
Unsatisfying as it was, Leslie was satisfied enough and left. Out of sight and keeping herself out of the Cultist´s mind, Leslie sighed in relief. Relishing the chance to breathe easily again. He joints popped as she stretched them. The strain from keeping a literal low profile for far too long.
Her heart lept further when she came face to face with the water tank she risked her life to get to. The massive structure glistened silver with the moonlight. Drooplets from its overflowing contents twinkled like stars as they trickled down to a growing dark pool.
"Now..." Leslie said while she held on the Rosette tightly. "All I need now is to—"
A piercing howl suddenly struck the air like a mighty gale that bore enough force to throw Leslie to a wall. The Rosarius slipped from her hands as she was forced to cover her ears against the onslaught that cracked her glasses.
Leslie shouted in pain but to no avail. Her voice was drowned out by the noise. Almost as if it was struck dumb and mute. All it did for her was burning her throat course and emptying the air out of her lungs. She felt light headed. Barely understand what was going on or where she was. All she could think of was that noise besieging her mind. The bones rattling and rubbing off each other. The blood on her lips from the teeth she was grimding to dust. All that from a noice blaring like a thousand nails scratching on a million brittle boards.
The water leapt around her in frustration from the same noise that sent Leslie to her knees. Enough of it splashed some sense back to Leslie's face. Waking her up to find a small crawl space under the water tank. She quickly threw herself inside but not before grabbing the Rosarius on the ground. It didnt kill off the sound completley, but it blocked enough of the sound to get her mind back in order.
The first thought that came in was the cause of all this. The culprit of all this pain. All of the roads she scavenged from the crevices of her ravaged mind pointed towards one thing.
"The Acolyte!" Leslie spat. "What in the hell are you doing?" Leslie whinced when the Acolyte blared a second time. Bracing herself tight from that onslaught that pinned her in place. "How long do you plan on keeping this up?"
The city bore witness to Sister Dahlia's performance. A symphony of terror opened by her banshee wails. All of gotham heard her some but not from the might of her voice. Nature permits that it could be heard for no more than a few blocks. Not enough to be heard by the generous part of the city. Lesser still with the cacophany of chaos laying waste to it below. Her power did not come from her voice but from the magic amplified by it. As shown by her glowing green eyes.
By her blaring wails, her invisible hand reached far. It coursed the breadth of the entire city. Entering the minds of the weak minded. Sowing terror in its citizen's minds and made their blood trembled in their veins. Beckoning them to come to her with an inhuman voice that forced obedience.
None heard this louder. None obeyed it more than the swarms of zombies laying waste to the city at large. Hearing the Acolyte's voice turned every head to the center of the city. Their siege of the beleagured barricades halted. The massacre of civilians ceased. The madness they wrought to the populous was paused. Their relentless march to spread their plague further out of the city stopped and turned around. Obeying the Acolyte's summons and returned further into the city. Every single zombie amongst the thousands answered the call.
"AlL tHiS fOr One MaN?" Sister Dahlia asked herself. "OvERkiLL, iF yOu aSK Me. BuT oVeRKiLL, iF YoU Ask mE. BuT wHaT tHe DEAcOn wAnTs, tHe DeACoN what the Deacon wants. The Deacon surely gets." She spat.
These thoughts were quickly tossed aside as she gleefully watched the hordes of zombies filling the streets. Thousands of mindless shambling zombies rampaged down every road and alley. Bands grew to mobs. Mobs grew to hordes as they merged into one as they met at every intersection like a raging tide. Crashing onto each other as a clamoring swarm that set its course to the hospital with great force.
"ComE my prEtTiES! My raVeNOuS audIeNcE! My aDoRiNG faNs. FeAsT oN my sErEnADe." Sister Dahlia cackled. Waving her hands dramatically like a maestro to its orchestra. "PeAk yoUr eARs To mE. SaVOr tHe deLIgHt of mY vOIcE. Your misTrESs calls fOr yOu. OuR mAStEr iS In nEEd oF You. Our crESceNdO iS NigH. ThE dArK gOd cOMeTh!" She cheered. Heaving another greedy breath for another ear piercing wail and thus all of Gotham trembled at their feet.
Moments before all that, the Hospital's halls clamored from the Cultists' feet. Groups grew in number as teams merged with others until they arrived before the Lobby's doors. A pair of cultists, Gustav and Triss, gathered among them. Meeting with their fellow brethren in the blasted hallway.
A rush of relief brightened the other's faces when they heard the pair's footsteps. Every head quickly turned towards Gustav and Triss only to sour just as quick when they found that it was only them. Their heads turned back sulking with a few leaving momentary glares before falling silent. A hallway that remained still and silent with a heavy air burdening everyone's shoulders. No one else was coming in but them. The last two down the line.
"This it?" Gustav asked. "This all of us?"
"Yer telling me. I dont like it." Triss spat. "Oy! Dagget!" She called out to one in the crowd. "The boss man said all of us, didn't he? What the fuck?"
"Yer looking at 'em, bitch." Dagget groaned.
"The fuck are they?" Triss asked but her eyes knew what to expect. Hearing the truth from her brethren however did not help ease her fears.
"The fuck do you think?" Dagget ran a thumb across his throat. "The fuck could you miss them? Theyre all over the place fucking place."
"Hard TO miss them." Gustav sighed. "But this can't be all of us, right? I count more fingers than people here! The fuck happened?"
"The Red-Eyed Wraith's whats happened!" Dagget barked. The mention of the creature's name sent shivers in every Cultist's spine. "And he's been busy. And these are all we fucking got left!"
Morale was low. The Infected Cultists, dishevelled and rotting as they already were with their Dark god Nurgle's blessing, were made more pathetic with the loss of spirit. They were a far cry from the spirit and numbers when they first barged into the Hospital.
Fresh from the memory of wanton chaos and salivating murder, the handful of them left there were a pale shadow facing the room where it all began for them. These were the Lucky ones who never came across the Demon haunting their halls or the cowards who ran before it could bare its claws at them. None of the Cultists were willing to step forth. None were eager to face the dread that had already laid waste to many of their brethren. None dared to step forth to see what lay waiting for them behind those large iron doors.
All save for one.
"Lets get to it then." Gustav said with his chainsaw in tow. Popping his neck as he weaved to the front of the line. "And what the Deacon says, the Deacon gets."
"Never thought of you chasing after anything, Gus." Triss chuckled. "Next to tail, that is." She followed to the desired effect.
"It aint about getting a desk job as an Acolyte, cunt." Gustav said. "Our lot in life doesnt leave us with many options. Down here in our totem pole, we dont got a choice. We can either obey the deacon or get killed by the Deacon, capiche?"
"And whats stopping this Arbi-douche from killing us?" Dagget asked amidst the various nods of agreement by the mob.
"He's goddamn tired, that's what." Gustav replied. Confident of his truth. "I'm here and breathing cuz the sunovabitch thought i was dead after having a crack at my head." Gustav showed a long healing gash at the side of his jaw. "His whip knocked the wind outta me, yeah. But it left enough sense fer me t'hear him panting. T'see him drop by his knees. T'smell blood dripping from his mouth!"
This revelation struck the Cultist like a bolt of lightning. It reinvigorated them with untapped zeal. Their eyes glistened at the discovery of a weakness. Their hearts pounded at the thought of defeating the Demon there and then. A chance to see the sun rise over their heads pushed the Infected denizens of the Underworld further than any reward or terror the Deacon could bring upon them.
"Someone was watching me up there and I'm ready for round two!" Gustav fed the flames blazing in his brethren's hearts. "What about you? Nurgle is with us! Lets bring this bastard's head to him!"
"YEEEEEAAAAHHHHHH!" The Infected cheered, hollered, and howled.
Gustav's boot sent the heavy doors flying. Slamming it in place onto the wall as it opened wide for his cohorts with him at its lead. Their cheers died to silence the moment they were welcomed by a different world past the Lobby's portal. The fire raged in ever Infected Cultist's black heart were snuffed out the moment they found themselves standing before a room shrouded in pitch darkness.
The chandelier swung lazily from the ceilings. Squeeking and creeking with the breeze. Shattered glass glistened on the floor like stars. Some blinked red from the blood lathered on its pieces. Elements that added dread to the already creepy cracklings and chilling hums coming from the still active intercom. All in all adding to the terror that stopped every damned soul present in their tracks.
"Eyes open, people." Gustav beckoned his brethren onwards. "He's in here somewhere. I can feel it. Ears peaked if you cant. See or hear anything funny, dont hesitate to hit it. And hit it hard. Lets move."
The Cultists entered the room warily. Filling the large Lobby with wide eyes and rattling arms pointed out. Sweeping every corner and searching every spot in the room. Their hunt was only impeded by their fear of what may lie in wait for them in the shadows and what appeared to be large mounds littering around the floor.
Light from the hallway behind them peered through their ranks as more Cultists entered the room. Growing in size until it generously revealed some of the macabre horror hiding beneath the cover of shadow. The light showed what the Cultists were stepping on and what lay strewn on the floor. A gruesome scene of dozens of bodies lying dead in droves and into piles around them. A sight that visible scared the life out of the Cultists. Freezing them in fear as their eyes darted at every side as if expecting the Arbitrator to appear. But nothing came.
"Keep your heads alive. You might just keep it, people." Gustav warned. Barking orders left and right. "Check round the corners first."
He stood a few paces from the door. Holding the rear so he could see a better eye over the situation and onto any suspicious shadows that could sneak up behind his brethren. Curiosity however made him approach one of the corpses and knelt right next to it. His partner, Triss, kept watch over him with her gun at the ready.
"What is it?" Triss asked.
"They're ours. Ones from the morgue." Gustav observed and held up the zombie's arm to show the hospital tag tied to its wrist. "They're supposed to be our 'guard dogs' for outside."
"The fuck are they doing piled up in here stead of out there?"
"Dunno." Gustav shrugged. "But the bigger question is, what killed them?"
"What'd you mean?" Triss asked and knelt next to him.
"Look at em." Gustav pointed at the corpses. "None of them got any killer gashes on them. Not a head cracked. Not a gunshot or fresh bruise or nothing. These bodies are clean."
"They look asleep." Triss whispered before recoiling. "Fuckin' creepy."
Gustav agreed. They did look peaceful as they laid. Dead as a doornail. Not a heave or rise to be seen. But something still didnt feel right to him. Turning the corpse over to him proved his guts true. A sight that almost made him spill his own all over the floor.
Triss saw it too and jumped back in shock. But not before setting off Six-shooter that blasted a sizeablehole in the ground. The gunshot scattered the other Cultists in a frenzy. It didnt take long before they realized the girl's folly that made many groan from annoyance while others sighed in relief
"Yer gonna give me a heart attack, you bitch." Dagget cursed from across the room.
"Who the fuck gave that girl a gun anyway?" Another voice complained.
Despite the other's grumblings, Gustav and Triss's startled reaction were well placed. They recoiled from the corpse that stared back at them with wide terrified eyes and a wide unsettling grimace. A gaping mouth and bulging eyes frozen in place with thick blood trickling in the floor.
"What the fuck happened here?" Gustav asked. He motioned to stand but instead froze in place when he felt a cold breeze blew right past him.
In a blink, he found himself in an empty Lobby. Alone and blind. Surrounded by a thick shroud of black curling shadows that reached out to him like a crone's fingers. Tortured faces glaring with white eyes began surfacing from beneath the murky depths around him. Each bore a face of the people he once knew.
Gustav recognized these for the people he knew. Faces of Men, Women, and Children that he had killed. Faces that sifted and shifted like smoke to the billowing wind. Morphing into grotesque and contorted shapes with large beady eyes and wide manic grins. Faces that bobbed up and down the pitch black pool as they slowly encroached to his feet.
"Get away!" Gustav yelled and jerked himself backwards with newfound strength. Throwing himself away from the shadows but fell on something cold behind him.
The hairs on Gustav's back bristled upright when he touched its cold cloven hooves. His heart struck with heavy pulsing beats. Blood ran cold as he turned pale. His muscles were nailed in place by fear. Petrified. This miasma of terror wrecked havoc in his mind as the familiar feeling of dread reemerged again.
"Throne. So noisy." The Arbitrator grunted. Pausing for a long gutteral yawn.
Gustav trembled underneath the towering horror looming over him. He felt its blazing eye scourging his soul. Imagining it as a salivating beast revelling in its hunt. Bloodlust scoured the air amidst its heavy heaving breaths that sucked all the air from the room. His quivering hands dropped his rumbling chainsaw. Losing it in the darkness surrounding him.
This monstrocity was all Gustav could remember before what felt like a thunderbolt struck him aside. His ears rang bells as he was reintroduced to the sensation of pain coursing in his body like electricity. An alien feeling as the Deacon's unholy pool promised him immunity from all of it. From pain. From feeling. From grevous wounds. All of it was shattered alongside his head when the Arbitrator kicked him hard towards the wall and onto unconscious.
Triss succumbed to the same torture under the Arbitrator's spell. The effect it had on her was unlike Gustav's however and instead led her to mad panic. Her manic shouting matched her gun's discharge as she wildly fired at the assailant. Two shots rang the room before the Arbitrator silenced it with a quick hand to the gun's frame. Triss's hollering madness turned to screams of pain as her hands were crushed along with her gun beneath the Arbitrator's iron grip. Her splattering tears became blood when the Arbitrator punched her teeth and jaw into a fine red mist before leaving the rest crumpling on the floor.
The rest of the Cultists stood aghast by sight of the Arbitrator's murderous act of brutality. Their mouth's were left agape. Their bodies left stunned. Their eyes stared wide in alarm. All of which pointed towards the nightmare between the Lobby's doorways. The hallway behind it was the only source of light that was blocked by the dreaded Wraith where it casted a terrible shadow that swallowed everyone under its gaze. Leaving every Cultist there with a cold chill that froze the very blood in their veins. Bearing witness to something else and more than any man or creature so fearsome but to an unknown force that was pulling them to a great terrifyingnvoid.
"No collateral. No citizens. No doctor." The Arbitrator spoke blankly. Its red eye met each and every one of the Infected's own. A chilling sight for each of them. "Just you. And just me. Alas. I breath again."
The tense silence that followed before an ear splitting howl bursted from the outside. Loud enough to send cracks on glass and even marble. Loud enough to startle the Cultists. Darting their eyes around feverishly. Searching for the source that appear to come from the outside or the ceiling above them.
Amidst that howl, they did not hear alarm or cause of distress. Instead they expressed relief. As if undersding its message spoken in a tongue none could understand except for them. Slowly, but surely, every eye turned to the Arbitrator. Each carved a malicious smile served especially for him.
"Cavalry's on its way, you fuck!" One of the Cultists said.
"Pity." The Arbitrator replied soullessly. "You wont live. To meet them."
A long whip glittered by dozens of wicked razors rolled from the Arbitrator's hand. A flick of its wrist set it aflame. A blaze that matched the furious passion of its red eye. The burning whip swirled brightly in the dark. Crackling and whooshing as it fed on the breeze. Growing larger at every pass with a long fiery tongue trailing close behind.
"Their fates! Are shared by you!" It roared as its burning whip struck.
It flew above the Cultist's heads and struck the glass bottles perched on the chandelier above their heads. A massive fireball erupted with its ear splitting crack. Torrents of glistening red shards and burning alcohol cristened the Cultists as they were poured on their heads.
Without prejudice or mercy, the fires moved fast and wide. Tearing through the Cultist's ranks like a tempest. Leaving them panic stricken and mad as they writhed and flailed. Painting the Lobby's once black canvas with the crimson pigment of flames. A fiendish masterpiece akin to any depicting hell with the Arbitrator standing as their devil.
"You preech of Hell! Rejoice! Now hell! Is here for you!" The Arbitrator bellowed with a fearsome voice.
There were no shortage of Cultists for the Arbitrator to slay. He stood before the only exit from the fiery inferno and many dared to face him. From routing cowards desperate to escape to glory whores eager to test his mettle. All fell before his strength. All succumbed to the flames.
The Intercom now fed from the chorus of terror. Every loudspeaker in the building and of those outside blared the terror taking place in the Hospital's Lobby. The tortured screams of burning Cultists added to the blaze's monstrous roars that pierced very ear in Gotham. Its listeners were all left stunned by its sheer horror and meyham..
Barricaded inside the hospital's cafeteria, Deacon Blackfyre and his Acolytes chanted their spell. The blaring sounds of their brethren's suffering was painstakingly endured. Not out of pity but out of annoyance as it prevented the Acolytes from concentrating. Attempts to drown the disturbance out with their hymns fell askde as the broadcast proved too distracting. Mispronunciations and misplacements in their litanies costed them dearly. The spell did not take kindly to mistakes and sapped more of their power. Strength the Cultists could barely afford to strain.
Only Deacon Blackfyre refrained from any of it. Standing tall as an inspiration to all. Untouched by the noise. His face was a blank mask with no show of frustration or distinction. He powered through the noise. His every word was spoken clearly. His every action was on par. No strength was sapped from him as everything flowed smoothly into the spell.
This visage quickly shattered when the Deacon roared aloud without warning amidst their ritual. Impatience or failure, the Deacon's cause was blighted by his rage. One he expressed on the culprit of his suffering. His hands glowed and crackled with raw energies. Power he siphoned from the warp before casting to every loudspeaker in the cafeteria. Destroying every one behind a puff of smoke and a shower of sparks.
Apart from the Deacon's simmering breaths, silence returned to the careteria at last. Billowing smoke and the crackling embers dripped from his hands. Both quickly hidden away inside the folds of his cloak. All of it were lazily waved off. A literal excuse to let off steam from everything that was going wrong. From everything derailing his grand design.
"As YoU aLl wErE," Blackfyre grumbled. "ThErE iS StiLL faR mUcH tO Do."
Outside the Hospital steps, Robin dropped swooped in to find all of it set ablaze.
"Hello! Is anybody in there!" He called out.
A hellish chorus answered back. Its fury matched the fire's monstrous roars. The boy wonder barely got up a few steps before the fire sent him jumping back. Its tongues whipped at him ravenously to spread its touch. Ember laced smoke billowed to the sky opposite to a water fall.
"Lets try this again." Robin said as he bit into his rebreather.
Covering himself with his cape, Robin attempted to climb the steps again only to be stopped by something else behind the flames. A dozen black palms frantically pressed themselves behind the glass windows. Beconing him for help as they shattered a few under the weight of their torturous cries along with ember smoke spilled onto the streets. Singing to the world their cruel ends as they burned and died.
"Wait! One at a time! One at a time!" Robin cried out as he did his best to help.
Robin successfuly grabbed hold of one but the struggle did not linger for that one act alone. Other hands grabbed hold of his clothes and cape. A desperate bid to escape at the cost of pulling the boy in with them. A bar in the window gave way and freed one from the inferno. Robin was quick to pat out the flames only for the man to lie still. Dead. A mangled sight of red charred skin and black bone.
A glimpse of one of their own outside and free sent the rest inside to a frenzy. Madly they climbed atop of each other in the window like crabs. Pushing and kicking each other on a mad bid to delay their doom. Shared panic and faint hope barred them of their salvation as well as their only means of escape. Attempts that squeezed themselves tight on the small opening. Trapping themselves to a more laborious and slow death.
Panic and hope barred the others of their salvation. They climbed atop each other like crabs on a beach. Pushing and kicking each other in a mad bid to escape only to trap themselves on the narrow window. Robin acted as their witness to their fiery deaths. The horrorifying sight froze him in place. Petrifying him out of terror.
The worst above all was the helplessness Robin felt as he watched all of this. Ashamed by his failure to save anyone here. A thought that he would revisit in many nightmares to come. Worsened only by the hideous screams blaring from unknown in the dark.
Above the Hospital's rooftop, Sister Dahlia was caught off guard when the loudspeaker behind her blared its hellish screams. Enough to cut her howling wails short. Enough to almost throw herself off the roof when she jumped out of fright and surprise.
The Acolyte had witnessed the horrors of man. The terrifying awe of communing with the dark god. But her youth left her vulnerable to the curse of imagination. Hearing the nightmarish screams and the blood curdling noise set her mind wild. Petrifying her in place with trembling hands when she saw herself amongst those dying voices. Burning alongside them in their eternal agony.
"StOp iT! sTOp It!" She yelled at the loudspeaker before plunging her hand through it.
Screeching metal and sparks erupted from the crevice torn by her fist. The machine though damaged did not die. It continued its broadcast but left the screams jumbled and distorted. Deep voices and spine chilling rumblings swirled over Sister Dahlia's fragile mind. Gripping her tight. Pulling her down closer to pits of dreaded madness.
"NOOOOO!" She howled as she tore it out of its post with one pull.
Wires and cords whipped as they snapped. The rest was crushed under the Acolyte's bony fingertips. The noise persisted however as the other loudspeakers on the roof singing the same chilling song, much to Sister Dahlia's chagrin. She decided to remedy that by destroying the others starting with the one behind her. Namely the one near the water tank.
Her eyes glistened as her projectile hit its mark. Pleasuring and relishing the sound of it striking the other loudspeaker. Both tumbled to the ground with a momentus crash that turning its broadcast into a garbled tongue before stopping dead. But amidst this racket, Sister Dahlia heard something else. Something she would have missed if she hadn't spent her attention on that particular spot where the crash rang. Around the bend near the water tank where she heard the splashing of water and a stifled cry. The sound of someone else on the rooftop with her. focus her gaze at the area.
One whiff from her sharp nose confirmed all suspisions. Blood gave away most of it. The person was soaked head to toe of it. She could tell it was old. Dried up. Nor was it the person's own. Yes. She smelled a woman. It smelled like one. A scared one. A panicking one. Sister Dahlia couldnt help but laugh. Delighted enough to follow the breadcrumbs with a playful skip on her step. All the while bearing a wide wicked grin.
"Naughty naughty. Little mousy." Sister Dahlia sang playfully as she approached. "Think she's so Lucky. Till the kitty gets so hungry! Kakakakaka!"
From inside the burning lobby, an infected man woke up in a daze.
"Wh-what the fuck?" The Infected, Gustav, sputtered. The wound on his head continued to bleed and his head ached from a massive gash on his face.
He had dreamt of darkness and awakened to the sight of seering light. A world before him set entirely aflame. He thought of himself waking up in the depths of hell. He though of himself dead. The sight of one man shattered that fantasy and made him wish that he was. The devil would have been a fairer host because it was the Arbitrator, the Red Eyed Wraith, who stood in front of him.
"You." It spoke at him with a deep guttural voice. Like a starving wolf eager for a meal.
The Wraith hobbled towards the petrified Cultist. Its every step made Gustav slip further and deeper into madness. The Nightmarish faces began appearing once more before the Red Eyed Wraith's great shadow. Emerging from the blackest shade, they danced with the flickering flames as every eye turned towards Gustav. Shapes that merged into fiendish monsters that dragged themselves to the ground. Gnawing and slopbering with every crawling step.
"Stay away!" Gustav cried. Dragging himself back to a literal corner beneath the looming shadow of the Red-Eyed Wraith.
"I remember you." The Wraith spoke to him with a low guttural voice. "You. Hid beneath rubble. Thought you. Could escape me?"
"Y-y-you knew?" Gustav sputtered.
"Everything." The Wraith pointed at his red eye. "Stone. Steel. Flesh. Mind. I see through. All. Clear as day." He looked at the ceiling. "I see the. Doctor. Cowering." He motioned to the hall behind him and growled. "I see. Your masters. Praying. But not for Long. You Assured that. You. Bought me time."
"How? Ho-AAAAAAAARRGHHH!" Gustav yelled when the flames finally reached him. Biting down his legs and slowly crawled up to his knees..
"I am tired. Hunting. That takes time. And risk. So instead. I trapped you. And you sprang it. Perfectly."
"No! I didnt! I couldnt have!" Gustav gritted his teeth as he tried to deny it. To mo avail. The truth lay before his very eyes in the form of his dying comrades collapsing to ash.
Guilt and the realization of his folly wounded him more than the flames. Despair held him as tightly as the blaze that he did nothing to hold back the fire crawling up to his chest. His arms felt heavy. He lost any will to protect himself. His faith, along with his body, went up in smoke.
"I thought. I-I-I thought." Gustav muttered amidst his scourging pain.
"You thought wrong." The Wraith mocked. Pausing to cough blood on his sleeve. "Predictable. As all of you. Before. Your Heathen. God is deaf. Powerless. When. I am around. You brought your ilk. Damnation. Not Salvation. You breathe. Because. I allow it. Now. You breath your last."
Gustav struggled to speak. He struggled to move. He struggled to see. Helplessly watching the Red-Eyed Wraith walk away while the flames held him back from reaching out to him. His tears sizzled on nis cheeks. His words fell to deaf ears as the fire held tight on his throat. Its fiery tongues savored every part of him. Merging him into one amidst its sensual dances amidst their searing whips of pain.
"In the name! Of the Golden! Throne!" The Wraith cried. His arms gripped tight on the Lobby's double doors. Leaning heavily on them as he heaved for every word. "I judge! 16 counts of. Heresy! Treason! Crimes against. The Imperium! I sentence your. Guilt. With your death! Excommunicato traitoris! Burn. In Flames. Be scourged from this world. And may the Emperor. Grant thee mercy."
That said, the Lobby doors were slammed shut and barred behind him. His heavy footsteps fainted as he walked away. Abandoning all to their fiery demise without a second thought.
Freed from the Red-Eyed Wraith's gaze, the handful few remaining ran for the door. Ramming themselves to a stop before its iron frame. Every single on clamoured to break it open only to fail as it was barred shut from the other side. Hands bled in desperation as they tried and failed to pry it open. Others braved the flames to make for the windows but all died the same. Screaming and begging to deaf gods before succumbing to the flames before dropping limp and silent.
Gustav would soon join them. The flames had eaten their fill of him and turned the once devoted Cultist into a visage of to black ash with crackling embers in his veins. His mind did not break despite of this and neither did his faith. Aspects that kept him alive but left him in a state of perpetual torment.
Nurgle's Gift granted eternal life. But it falls to one's faith on how long or far that life could go. Many of the corpses surrounding Gustav were once his brethren. Brothers and sisters who once cheered for Nurgle's name and celebrated his glory. Hollow words by the looks of their states now. Easily falling to despair once faced against a true obstacle like the Red-Eyed Wraith.
Gustav lasted longer than most because he truly did believe in Nurgle's wisdom and of the Deacon's scriptures. He was among the few who actually believed in the paradise promised to people like him. The outcasts. The dredges of society. Was it so villainous for the likes of him to ask for more in life after being given so little upon their birth?
In the end, Gustav was still human. The sight of his dream burning to cinder along with his friemds was too much for his simple mind to comprehend. Despair took hold of him with her hooks and pulled him from Nurgle's light to the arms of darkness. Gustav closed his eyes at last and only wished to have seen the sun rise again for the last time before falling in the arms of death.
But death did not give him solace. Death was not there when he opened his eyes. What did was something else entirely. In a hell unlike his wildest nightmares could hope to imagine. In a realm Gustav could never imagine existing. There Gustav was given the Nurgle's final gift.
Death could never claim him because his soul does not belong to her anymore. His eternal soul was under the care of the dark god Nurgle himself. Gustav was forever freed from Death's touch, but he will never be freed from Nurgle's grasp. The young Cultist's soul, along with the others just like him, will spend perpetual servitude to the dark god's will as his lowly tortured pawn in the Great Game that will last for all eternity.
Leslie and Sister Dahlia met eyes. The good doctor was crouched underneath the water tank. Shivering from being soaked by ankle deep of cold water. The Acolyte knelt in front of her a mere foot away. Its arms rested on its knees while its head shifted towards her with curiosity. An uneven pair of shimmering eyes peaked under the shadows of its hood with a wide yellow smile that grew larger and more malicious the longer it stared at the good doctor. Like a cat playing with its prey.
"Hi tHeRe!" The Acolyte said in between cackles.
Its hand darted at Leslie. Grabbing her before she could react. There was no sibtlety nor care when the Acolyte pulled her out to the moonlight before pulling Leslie out from her hiding place with its hand around her neck.
"DoN't fIGht. I dON't bITe!" The Acolyte said as she laughed at the doctor's dance. Relishing every moment between the old woman's kicking and her desperate gasps for air.
Sister Dahlia ended up gasping herself once she found herself staring down the barrel of Leslie's gun. The bullet tore into her face but it was its blinding flash that made her stumble. Reeling. Dazzled eyes and ringing ears was not enough to let go of the good doctor. It took another two shots to convince the Acolyte to release her.
"Damn you!" Leslie yelled amidst her onslaught
Losing herself in a haze of adrenaline and was deafened by her thunderous barrage. Her bruised throat did little to lose her stride. The haze of adrenaline persisted her to keep pulling the trigger. Losing herself amidst the deafening barrage and screamed alongside it. Tears broke out as she felt sick in her stomach. Hating herself for committing the terrible act and felt every bullet as though it struck her herself.
There was little need to aim. Her assailant was a mere foot from her. Every shot found its mark as the good doctor heard the bullets striking soft splattering flesh. Her gun stopped firing once it went dry. The only noise came from its clicking hammer and Lelsie's panicked breaths. She dropped the empty pistol before opening her glassy eyes. Devastated and horrified by her act that impaled the Acolyte on the blood stained wall behind it.
"You're empty." Sister Dahlia spoke. "While I am so full!" The Acolyte's stomach rumbled until it vomited green slime and the spent bullets on the floor between them. "NoW I aM eMpTy. And abSoluTeLY sTaRVeD!"
The Acolyte pulled herself upright in a gruesome fashion. Stuck to the wall by dried blood, she allowed herself to peel her skin with shocking indifference. Freed at last it began marching towards Leslie. Unhindered by her many wounds even as they sizzled to a close.
"No mORe tHaN a PiNPriCK." Sister Dahlia said. Cruelly demonstrating by playfully inserting her finger into one of the holes in her chest. Blood and puss was expelled from the wound the further the digit went in. "No MoRe oF aNythiNG. MuCh liKE wHAt yOu'LL bE oNCe i'M dOnE wITh YoU!"
Leslie found herself slammed to the ground. Her senses and breath were expelled by the fall. She barely managed to collect herself when she found the Acolyte towering over her with its claws bared out. Its beady yellow eyes glistened wide with her crooked teeth.
"Rosarius!" Leslie gasped and dug into her breastpocket without a second thought.
A second was not enough to escape the Acolyte's grasp however. Sister Dahlia did so in kind by stepping on the doctor with her gangrenous foot. Whether it was that or its putrid stench, both did its job with pinning the doctor in place. Leslie however was convinced that it was the foot and had no intention of having it anywhere near her.
"Get! Off! Me!" Leslie yelled in between breaths.
The Rosarius heard the good doctor's cries. Light peaked from her under her folds of her cloak. Glowing brighter with her every word until it flared up from Leslie's chest. A powerful force shattered the nearby lanterns to a shower of embers that blinded both women by both the flash of light and utter darkness.
Sister Dahlia was repelled by that same force and was sent flying off of Leslie's reach. Disappearing into the shadows with only the loitering scent of smoke affirming its injuries.
"Oh thank god." Leslie gasped. "Can't believe it. Still alive!"
The moonlight remained to shed light to her surroundings though it provided a dim resolution. It gave enough clarity for Leslie to find herself laying on a cold puddle on the ground. Soaked head to toe in water.
"Wonderful." Leslie quipped. "If these maniacs don't kill me. Pnumonia just might."
Slowly, Leslie unsheathed the Rosarius from her robes whilst still laying on the gravel soaked floor. The golden icon shined as it did. Bright and untouched. Leslie regretfully could not say the same for her hand however. It was blistered bright and was swollen pink by the Rosarius. Still red hot from its fresh spell.
It alarmed her that she could barely feel anything from her fingertips. Going so far as to spot slivere of smoke rising from her fingertips. The nerves must have been severed by the burns. What she did feel however was the pain stinging her chest. More so from a gentle touch that sent her reeling. Leslie was shocked to discover deep gashes on her chest that was bleeding her dry.
Leslie acted fast before her wounds punched her ticket. Beginning with her shirt that was ripped open and wothout hesitation, pressed the burning hot Rosarius on her wounds marring her chest. Cauterizing, though wise, was by no means a painless endeavor. It only increased Leslie's suffering and the octave of her cries that were joined by her squeeling skin. The Rosarius had finally cooled just as the last wound on Leslie's chest finally closed up.
"I...still got it." Leslie praised herself amidst heavy breaths.
"HoW deLEcTaBle!" A voice rang out in the dark. "I liKE mY mEAt wELL dOne!"
Sister Dahlia leapt at Leslie from behind the veil of shadows and smoke. Tackling the good doctor in the ground before she could blink. The Acolyte's foul stench forced Leslie to bite her tongue, but its monstrous reappearance forced her to shout back as well.
The Rosarius injured Sister Dahlia severely. Burning her to near cinder and made ashes of her robes that exposed her true form to her hapless victim. Sister Dahlia was nothing short of monstrous. She was horribly charred by thick heavy burns. A patchwork of black scales and red melted flesh made up her skin. Gray smoke followed from her every move. Embers trickled from her pores like sweat. Her face melted with her hood. Scars pocked her flesh like a plague. Each worse and crueller than the last the further down one dared to look. Whether she was like this before the blast or otherwise, Leslie couldnt tell and had little interest to know.
Both women fought and rolled on the wet gravel floor. Heavy blows and vicious insults were exchanged at every bout. But while Leslie was fighting for her life, Sister Dahlia was fighting for the enjoyment of it. A game that she knew she was winning but wanted it to last so she could relish every moment of it. Pride that gave the good doctor a miniscule advantage,
Leslie hammered Sister Dahlia with a blow from the Rosarius. Teeth cluttered to the floor with a spittle of black blood. Her second attempt fell short when the Acolyte caught her arm and the Rosarius it held it. The pair's struggle came to a standstill as both wrestled for the golden icon.
"WhAt a PreTTy tHiNg. I wAnT IT!" Sister Dahlia said. Her eyes glistened to and with the golden icon.
"You can have it!" Leslie yelled and pressed the Rosarius's sharpened points into the Acolyte's eye.
The wound was shallow as Leslie could allow yet the pain it induced was severe. Sister Dahlia burned as her eye socket sizzled amidst whipping wisps of smoke despite the Rosarius being cold at its touch. Leslie could only assume that her injuries prevented her from feeling any of the heat. Instead persisting on drilling the Rosarius deeper into the Acolyte's head. Its effect was exemplified by her wicked screech that shuddered every bone in Leslie's body.
Leslie's strength could only go so far however against Sister Dahlia who had regained hers. The Rosarius was pried from the Acolyte's eye and from the doctor's hands. The act only furthered the Rosarius's defiance as it bursted to flame from Sister Dahlia's touch. Her hand acted as its kindling that turned its fingers to ash. The Rosarius fell to the puddle and turned the last of its hate into steam before cooling.
"I haVE hAd It!" Sister Dahlia bellowed at the sight of her spurting mangled hand.
The Acolyte tore her mouth open into a japing maw. Parting its jaw from down the middle as it spread itself wide like a dripping mucus flower. Exposing its black gums filled to the brim by many rows of jagged yellow teeth. Each shook in excitement for its promised meal.
A billowing sheet and whistling wind reached Leslie's ears just as the Acolyte bared itself for her throat. An iron bar struck from the shadows. Repelling the Acolyte with a well aimed blow. Sending it reeling back and off of Leslie. A cape fluttered before Leslie's eyes before she could see anything else. Shrouding her with its embrace. Tugged her by the arm as she was pulled away.
Leslie opened her eyes before a caped figure standing between her and the Acolyte. A hero that stood with her in her defence. A familiar face that made her heart leap.
"Robin!" Leslie cried in relief.
"That's enough excitement for one night, doc." The boy wonder said with a confident smile. "Now let me have a crack at it."
Robin turned to face the Acolyte with his bo staff at the ready. Spinning elegantly between his hands. A showcase of his prowess with his weapon and a warning to his enemy that it wouldnt be an easy fight.
This was his fight now. And Leslie could only hope that the boy prevails.
"CONTINUE THE RITUAL!" Deacon Blackfyre barked no sooner after destroying the speakers around the room. "Nothing must interrupt it. We are close, my children. Our absolution. Our prize. All that falls by our hands."
The Acolytes obeyed. They could only obey. Even as it costed them. Even as they began chanting with hushed and ragged voices. The best that they could spare because the spell was. It asks for too much and did its best to siphon them to the barest bone. Their numbers were a cause of that.
The spell required 7. Nurgle's Holy Number. Yet there were only 5. 2 were found dead and rotting in the lowermost basement. Another was given a task to the rooftop. The only thing stopping their souls from being consumed by the channelling spell was the inclusion of Deacon Blackfyre himself.
Originally an overseer for the spell, he has now taken part of it to push the spell forward. Anchoring the spell from the ever changing tides of the Immaterium. Acting as the vanguard and taking the brunt of costs required to accomplish the spell. An action that inspired the Acolytes to persevere. To doggedly poured every ounce of their Will and Strength onto the spell. Obeying the Deacon in fanatical fervor at the cost of their damnation.
The Cultists of the Blackfyre were the exiles of civilization. Beggars and vagabonds. Societies' gutter rats and parasites. They knew well of a life having nothing. They were born to nothing. Lived on nothing. Fated to die with nothing. A life beset by suffering. So what is pain compared to all that. With nothing to lose, they cling feverishly to their faith.
"Veir fo'ho'ahm grand fath'ahr ! giv'ahr ohv life! Arkosh ohv vo'hollom! by our bodies ai bile! we give our flesh thok izh! we tear our souls thok izh! we kommun lash'ov izh! we tak t'ee thok sa wrothalm!"
Their suffering bore fruit before their very eyes starting with mist pooling from beneath their feet. Wisps of smoke danced around them with the breeze. There it gathered above the ritual circle where it swirled like a tempest. Growing and thickening in size until it became as clear as a pale white mirror that glowed an eerie pale green.
"Eb izh'domosh voraz we ob'yaath izh'domosh ichai!"
Foul green mist spilled itself in the cafeteria. Crawling like eldritch tendrils, and with its filth, darkened everything in its path. Bringing the gift of death and rot to all its touched.
"Eb izh'domosh br'eatte, izh gurant us novo vista!"
The foul hellish fumes were consumed greedily with the Acolyte's every breath. Their minds became warped into intoxication as they communed with their Dark God Nurgle. A malevolent voice that whispered in their ears. They wept after bearing a glimpse of his right hand and squeeled with joy as it lit their souls alight with his blessing.
"Eb izh'domosh m'anho, izh mold us thok izh'domosh doqage."
A gruesome metamorphosis casted itself on the Acolytes. A less than process change as their limbs bent and snapped creatively. A myriad of mutations erupted at their every breath as they all transformed to monstrocities. Transformations that were as brutally painful yet openly welcomed. Their wailing screams slowly turned to cackling laughter and cheers. The same putrid plagues ravaging their bodies also poisoned their minds.
"Eb izh'domosh pla'gherr, we felell ur dokemies lash'ov izh'domosh namon"
Their corruption became their truth. One that their god Nurgle revealed onto them. Their newfound monstrocity was their beauty akin to Nurgle's pure image. A myriad of ailments laid waste to their bodies as one. Every ailment. Every ounce of feverish dismemberment. Every inkling of disease freed them from throes of mortality.
Untouched by death. Bound to a mirrored parody of life. Their humanity, both within and without, was abandoned in favour of their new grotesque forms. No one Acolyte was alike to their mutation.
Brother Julius, the Deacon's Executioner, grew in mighty size amidst equally horrendous large tumors. Akin to his name, he bore another wicked limb to add to his own. A wretched arm of exposed muscles and claws of bone that tore itself from his left shoulder amist a mess of tentacles.
Sister Alayna, the Deacon's Eyes, was given many. Eyes of many gruesome colors and grotesque sizes blinked in every part of her body while her skin sagged around them. Dozens of green bloodshot eyes blinked sporadically while it bled and spat slime from its crevices.
Sister Ina, the Deacon's Bearer, bloated large. Her limbs inflated along with her limbs until she gave birth to a cycloptic monstrocity that tore itself out from her belly. Scales and dripping mucus made up its skin. Cackling loudly with a forest of sharp teeth while it flailed its slimy hands about in jubilation. Celebrating with its mother for their first breath of new life.
Brother Peter, the Deacon's Right Hand, had his skin rot away into hard leather. Pus and slime dripping horns tore out from his skin. Maggots emerged from their dying gray skin at ate away his flesh. Poison oozed down his black veins from many sharp stingers and fangs. Peter's innards melted his innards to thick soup. Crawling rot and hungry insects consumed his eyes yet granted him with new. Eyes that saw beauty beyond the visage his mortal form could comprehend yet blinded him from the true face of his world.
By flesh and soul, the Acolytes of Blackfyre had become creatures beyond the grasp of Man. A notion that intoxicated them to madness. One that they welcomed with open arms despite their metamorphosis that left them panting and out of breath from their now faint memory of pain.
"MY CHILDREN! REJOICE!" Blackfyre cried. "REJOICE! OUR LORD HAS HEARD US! ALMIGHTY NURGLE IS WITH US! AND HE HAS CHOSEN US FOR HIS GREAT WORK!"
"HAIL NURGLE! GLORY BE HIS NAME!" The Cultists cried out. Their monstrous hands and limbs raised high.
"Lord Nurgle witnessed your worthiness!" Blackfyre spoke. "He has welcomed you to the fold! Granting you. Granting us. Eternal life and almighhty strength. But no. This is not yet the end. His grand design. Though the fruit has been bared, it is still yet to be reaped. He has yet one task for us to accomplish. One final task that shall bring about the dawn of our rule!"
"BY HIS WILL BE DONE!" The Acolytes cheered. All knew what that final tasked entailed.
With new found power at hand, the Acolytes poured their Will upon the ritual circle. With renewed vigour, the magics they casted more fuelled the spell without much effort or pause unlike before.
"Eb izh'domosh sev'ahm signs. We groth voh dohor. Eb izh'domosh sev'ahm irush we off'ahr izh homazgh. Doqt'ahr our wrothalm! Gratazh us lash'ov izh'domosh uchasence."
The corpses in the ritual circle shook to life. Jumping and writhing as numerous crawleys coursed under its skin. Swarms of grotesque insects tore their way out to freedom. No two creature was the same but all bore a bastardized face of man. Deformed features with tortured faces that laughed and wept while feasting on the untouched flesh lathered around them. No prejudice to the living or the dead as every bloody morsel helped grow them in size.
"Arise! vassal ohv ulathocay. Doqt'ahr our wrothalm. Tak lash lash'ov izh'domosh great ulathosign. Izh'domosh vo'ho'ahm crux'adas!"
Slowly but surely, a tear was made in the fabric of reality. The line between the Material World and the Realm of Chaos was slowly being erased as it grew in size. A putrid stench heralded the dark powers lying in wait under the portal. A stench so foul that it burned hair down to its roots, tear wallpaper from the walls, and make nearby weak willed mortals vomit without warning.
"i'let roots, rot ai bow'ahr blight. Feast voh irush ohv fortuna. Glory acha lash'ov izh'domosh dark sol! s'ach for us voh koralle ohv vo'hollo—"
Their unholy chanting was rudely silenced when another interruption stopped their ritual on its tracks. Costing the Acolytes considerable strain to their already outstretched abilities despite their new found strength. This one came as a booming roar that rang deep in their ears. Its violence was felt coursing throughout the room and made it tremble. The Cultists felt the same sinister aura shake their bones before abruptly ending without warning. Just as it randomly and suddenly appeared, so did it disappear as well the same way too.
The Deacon and his Acolytes shared the same look of alarm. Exchanging wordless glances to each other. They first thought it came from the swirling portal. Leaning closer, they expected another of Nurgle's children to rise and alongside them. But the portal however as it was. Calmly bubbling and churning its filth beneath their feet. No shadow beneath the muck appeared. No sign of anything rising from its depths.
"Its nothing." Deacon Blackfyre shook his head.
His attempts to gathered himself was interrupted for one last time when a booming roar entered their midst. Its source pulled every eye towards their barricade at the cafeteria's main doors.
Sparks spewed out of it like a fountain. Metal screamed as it was being torn asunder. A deafening song of bestial buzzing roars spilled into the room until a chainsaw's wretched arm finally broke through. But even then its hunger wasnt smell of heated metal and noxious gasoline tickled the Cultist's noses as the chainsaw relentlessly cut its way through the door with great speed.
The chainsaw did not waste time breaking through the door's thick steel. Time was too valuable for such a task. Instead it meticulously struck at its joints. Between the gaps of its lock and the corners of its hinges until the doors began groaning and its steel was slowly screeching under the weight. The Cultist's ramshackle barricade did the rest. The sloppy assembly of tables and chairs meant to bar the cafeteria doors felled it instead with a thunderous crash.
The clouds of dust parted for the tall gangling creature emerging from the door. Wordlessly marching into the room with heavy steps. Crushing tables and kicking chairs aside with its iron hooves. Breaths were held in the room until the very moment it stopped..
The Arbitrator, the Red Eyed Wraith, had appeared before them at last.
A/N: it is always a pleasure to write again. Moreso to find time to do so. It has been an action packed chapter thus far and i hoped you've all enjoyed it. Now expect the same on the next one and multiply it by three because three fights will be our focus for Chapter 11
Love to hear from you, my dearly beloved readers. Keep away from Nurgle by wearing your masks and staying healthy ;)
And as always, the Emperor Protects.