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Setting the Board
John Collins, a popular, young (compared to his predecessors), and robust president, had lost much of his vitality after six years of service. The reconstruction movement was fifty years old, yet the country was still so fragile. The public had no clue how easy it would be for things to fall apart and return to the chaos following the war. But it was this situation in Maine, specifically, Augusta, that truly haunted him, graying his hair day by day. He and several members of his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff were gathered in the Situation Room of the White House. They were sitting at a long table, exchanging files and information. On the wall facing the president were several monitors, each linked to a helmet-mounted camera. They showed military vehicles, the faces of worried soldiers, and passing scenery
“This is our most recent satellite images taken from the site,” the Secretary of Defense said, sliding a file across the table to President Collins.
Collins opened the file and examined the pictures, but immediately shut them. The satellite had taken pictures of the city during perfect weather, yet all the images came back as a giant blur, and in that blur was a huge face, demonic and staring back at the satellite like it was sending a message. The president turned away, afraid to look into its eyes. Photos from high-altitude aircraft had been equally useless.
“What could cause something like this? Some kind of hologram?”
“As far as we know, no such technology exists to produce something like that,” said the Director of the CIA, sweating through his suit.
It had all started several days ago, all contact from Augusta was simply cut off. As a state capital, that was a serious problem. No matter what phone was called, no one would answer, most were even disconnected. Then there were reports of missing people from the surrounding towns, families reporting that members had left to travel to or through Augusta and never returned. It was like a black hole had swallowed up the city. Teams from the NPEB, FBI, and CDC hadn’t been able to identify the cause of the mass disappearances in the northern towns, but when they passed through Augusta on their way back, nothing was amiss.
With the arrival of this news, military drones were dispatched to scout the area, but they were all taken out before they could get any decent pictures of the city. There were a few images that were transferred, taken right as the drones were attacked. All they saw were shadows and wings. This was different from the northern towns. Now a small National Guard contingent was being sent to get a closer look. The convoy consisted of three Humvees with machinegun turrets, and two Stryker combat vehicles, each with roof-mounted grenade launchers. They were copies of the original vehicles from before the war.
“Mr. President, we’re nearing the endpoint.” The voice belonged to Sergeant Barns, leading the convoy. The endpoint he referred to was the distance from Augusta where every drone had been demolished.
“Slow down and give us a full view,” said Collins.
The trucks slowed and all the soldiers manning the turrets panned around with their cameras, showing the scenery. They were on a highway leading into Augusta, but it was completely empty. For the sergeant, it was an eerily familiar sight. Having led the protective details of the investigations of the northern towns, every road they seemed to drive on was silent. He hoped this would end the exact same way as those investigations, without answers but all his men getting home alive.
“Pull to a stop and launch a drone. Let’s see if anything will take the bait,” said General Mathis, the Chief of the National Guard.
The convoy came to a halt with everyone on edge. A hatch opened up on one of the Strykers and a soldier stood up with a FULMAR drone in his hands. To a layman, it might just look like an expensive toy plane. With the propeller spinning, he gave it a toss and it took the air. Inside the Stryker, another soldier was controlling it with the feed going to monitors both in the vehicle and the Situation Room. Everyone watched with their stomachs in knots, wondering what was going to happen.
Erupting from the forest of trees alongside the highway, one of Dominion’s hulks leaped into the air and snatched the drone.
“What the fuck is that?!”
Those who weren’t shocked into silence were screaming those questions, no matter where they sat. Landing on the ground, the beast turned to the convoy and released a furious roar.
“Sergeant Barns, open fire! I want that thing dead!” Collins yelled.
The soldiers manning the machinegun turrets, as well as the two men controlling the grenade launchers on the Strykers, unleashed everything they had. The .50 caliber bullets pocked the monster’s hide, managing to crack the bone but unable to pierce it. As for the grenades, they simply splashed against it like water balloons, and in terms of damage, they might as well have been.
The beast gave a roar of annoyance and charged, completely ignoring the attacks and shattering the pavement with its dismount. It attacked the first Stryker and sent its first drilling through the engine, then grabbed the grenade launcher on the roof and crushed it, leaving the soldier manning it screaming like a little girl. It then shot behind the Stryker and attacked the Humvee behind it, destroying both the engine and the machine gun on top.
“Fall back! Stay out of its range and keep firing!” Mathis yelled.
Yet before the drivers could even shift gears, their vehicles were crippled. Dominion’s hounds had snuck up from behind and punched through the tires with their giant pincers. They were too close to be taken out by the turrets, but those manning them were drawn to different targets. More of the hulks were approaching, but these ones were flying, with wings several times their own size. They each landed with enough force to open up craters in the pavement and surrounded the convoy. The soldiers had considered getting out and engaging the enemy, but there was no way their M16s would do any damage.
The hulks gathered, one for each vehicle. With loud grunts, they dug their clawed hands into the steel and took flight, using a combination of wing strength and telekinesis to carry the Humvees and Strykers. Everyone in the Situation Room felt their stomachs drop as they watched the soldiers screaming in terror as they were lifted into the air. They had sent the men to their doom, and all they could do was watch. Wait, they could watch! This might be their one and only chance to gather information as to what was happening in the city, maybe identify what these monsters were!
The soldiers were completely hysterical, being tossed around the cabins of their vehicles with every movement. If they had been captured by humans, they could maintain their composure. If it were helicopters carrying their vehicles, they could have handled that, but through the windows, they could see the goliaths, violence incarnate. They had witnessed it, the bullets barely breaking the first one’s skin, the grenades being shrugged off. Nothing they had in their artillery could defeat these things, nothing in the world could protect them. It was terrifying, because they hadn’t just been knocked a couple places down the food chain, the difference between them was so great that their enemy didn’t seem bound by human rules, by human reasoning.
The president and his subordinates tried to calm the soldiers, managing to at least keep their cameras panned outside the windows. They flew over Augusta, letting everyone get a glimpse as to what was happening. They saw the buildings being emptied and remodeled, fused together with skybridges connecting them. There were people, they could tell that much, meaning that these monsters hadn’t wiped out the population. Then, the hulks began to descend, and the soldiers looked to the river, seeing the concentration camp in all of its horror.
The beasts dropped the vehicles into the main entryway where new prisoners were brought in, facing the processing building. The height of the fall wasn’t enough to break bone, but the soldiers groaned in pain, several suffering sprains and minor concussions. The doors were then ripped off their hinges and the hulks stepped back.
“Get out,” one of them growled. It shocked them to learn that it could speak, and its voice was inhumanly deep.
The soldiers slowly climbed out of their vehicles while clutching their rifles, though they looked more like children holding onto stuffed animals. There were people in the yard, human collaborators directing the workers, and the workers directing the laborers. Their uniforms and the fact that the Laborers were in chain gangs told everyone that the people had been enslaved. Most of the soldiers kept their gaze focused on the man staring him down, dressed in a black SS officer uniform, but without any swastikas. He appeared to be wearing some kind of horrific mask, making it look like his face had been sliced off, and he was flanked on either side by sentinels.
“Who among you is in charge?” Blight asked.
The men looked like they were going to throw up. They saw it, the quivering remains of his facial muscles when he spoke. That wasn’t a mask, he really was missing the entire front of his skull. The fact that he was still alive meant he wasn’t a normal human.
The leader of the group stepped forward. “I-I am Sergeant Lewis Barns of the National Guard of the United States of America. Are you—”
A crack of gunfire cut him off, Blight drawing his luger and shooting the camera off Barn’s helmet. Instinct took over, all the soldiers raised their weapons to counter, but the beasts around them were faster, snatching the rifles out of their hands and then knocking the men to their knees.
“I asked for your name. I didn’t give you permission to ask a question in turn, but to indulge your curiosity, I am Blight, loyal servant of Lord Dominion. I have already alerted him as to the situation and he has decided he will deal with you later. Until such a time, you are to go through processing. Strip off your clothes and remove all weapons and items on your person. You have five seconds to comply. Five…”
All the hulks took a step towards them, a threat that they’d either have their clothes forcefully removed, or that they’d simply be killed.
“Sir,” one of the soldiers murmured, hoping Barns would tell them not to obey, a sign that he had a trick up his sleeve.
“Do it,” the sergeant hissed.
The men reluctantly took off their clothes and piled them up, then stood naked before both the enemy and their enslaved countrymen. The fact that they had been stripped of all weapons, and even the protection of some fabric was hard enough on their self-esteem, but the effect of the frigid January air on their privates was humiliating in a league all of its own.
“You will now be processed. Any resistance will be severely punished.” Blight then turned around and walked off to return to his other duties, while the sentinels advanced on the soldiers and herded them inside. There, they were shaved, deloused, hosed down, branded, and put in solitary confinement until their fates were decided. For those in the Situation Room, the last thing they saw after the soldier’s disappearance was one of the sentinels gathering their possessions and putting it into storage.
The room was silent, no one knowing what to say. Not only had a whole city been taken hostage by inhuman beasts, but now a National Guard contingent had been captured. What were those monsters? Where did they come from? What was happening to the people of Augusta? And most important, who was this Dominion that that faceless ghoul mentioned?
‘Don’t look at me, fucking chink skanks!’
Mary wanted to scream it, but couldn’t, due to the ball gag in her mouth. It was natural to lash out, considering her situation, natural to want to put herself above someone else to alleviate some of her despair, and with Cho and Hijiri staring at her, her prejudices made it easy. The three women were in the basement, the twins tied to chairs and facing Mary, who was hanging by her shackled wrists from the ceiling. Her legs were forcibly spread by a steel bar with ankle restraints. They were all gagged, and while Hijiri was already crying in anticipation of the horror to come, Cho tried to put on a brave face, to appear sympathetic. They’d most likely all suffer Dominion’s abuse, but the fact that Mary had been separated and put on display like this meant she would receive the worst of it. They had been left like this for several minutes, nothing they could do but stare at each other.
“Cho, you naughty girl!” Dominion said with a laugh as he kicked open the basement door.
The three women started to whimper and tremble in fear. Mary doubled her attempts to free herself, while Hijiri pulled against her binds. Dominion came down the stairs with a plastic bin in his hand.
“I found these in your room. Good thing too, because otherwise, I’d have to make them with my powers, and unfortunately, I’m still not great at conjuring mechanical devices.” In the bin were a number of sex toys, most of them for her own personal use, others being props for her to humiliate her boy toys. He picked one up, a large black butt plug. “Something tells me this wasn’t used on you or any other women.” He tossed it aside in disgust and then incinerated it for good measure. “It occurred to me last night that I might have gone a little too fast with the three of you. I was so focused on breaking your spirits, on enslaving you, on getting my own physical enjoyment out of the game, that I skipped right past the fundamentals. It is to my great shame that I realize I spend all my energy on the main event, that I fail in my manly duties of providing you pleasure with the small tricks.
And you know me, I’m happy when you’re happy.” He put the bin down in between the three women and then began massaging one of Mary’s melon breasts. “Look at these juicy treats. All I do is whip and strangle them. I need to learn to go easy, to take things slow. After all, I have all of eternity to know your flesh. So, why don’t I put on a little demonstration? I’ll perform my magic with you as my lovely assistant, while your fellow slaves can bask in their envy as their inner thighs glisten with womanly honey.”
He then moved behind Mary, his steps so light that it was like he was floating. She screamed through her gag as he slipped into her blind spot, and swung her legs to try and strike him with the bar spreading her legs, but there was nothing she could do to stop him. She blew on the back of her ear, sending shivers up her spine. He saw them, the muscles in her back contracting and expanding, the goosebumps appearing antalya escort bayan on her skin. His breath shifted her hair, every follicle feeling like spiders crawling up her neck. Then he touched her. It was light, him resting his fingertips on the front of her thighs so that Cho and Hijiri could see.
He then moved his hands up, dragging his fingers across her smooth skin so lightly, it felt no different than his breath on her ear. He moved them up her sides, the only pressure coming when he found her kidneys. It was just a slight pressure, a tickle, but that was the point. Ticklish spots were evolution’s way of teaching life forms to guard vital areas, like the neck and the stomach, soft areas with major arteries and organs that lacked solid protection like the ribcage. When he pressed on her kidneys, it sent alarms through her body, she was vulnerable. Her instincts were telling her that she was in danger, that if he wanted to, Dominion could rip her open. That feeling of helplessness rushed through her like a flood, a feeling she was used to.
She experienced it every time he raped her, every time he took her and used her. There was nothing she could do, her body had become his property, that lesson was burned into her soul every time, but never before had it felt like this. That tickle, it chilled her like peppermint, making his hands feel so warm in comparison. The desire to laugh when touched in such a way, it was stirred in with her despair, becoming something that she couldn’t describe, couldn’t. Even when he made her orgasm, she didn’t feel like this.
His hands moved beyond, counting each rib, completely bypassing her breasts to reach her neck. He caressed her soft throat, his fingertips running along her veins to feel her pulse. It disgusted her, to feel him touch her there. As he touched her veins, she almost expected him to inject something into her, some kind of venom or drug that would enhance her suffering or poison her soul, something that would find whatever she might still hold dear or take for granted and tarnish it. It never came, and she wallowed in fear and anticipation as his fingertips tickled her under her chin.
Then, they receded like the tide. They moved down, this time between her breasts, purposefully avoiding them. He used his nails to trace her sternum, then they reached her belly, flat from her former lifestyle at Reich. His fingers continued, briefly moving down her thighs, then returned to her belly. He moved back and forth, as if raking a zen garden, but gentle, each time sending that cold charge through her nerves.
Then he cupped her stomach, pressing down like he was searching for something, something specific, a special mass. It twisted her insides into knots, the realization of what he was aiming for. She and her husband use to rub her stomach like that when she was pregnant. It all came flashing back, the memories she tried to keep locked up, her children’s smiling faces. Oh, how badly she wanted to see them again, but they were gone, HE had taken them from her. Tears slid down her cheeks, tears of despair and hatred. She hated him so much, hated him for what he did to her, and what he was doing to her now. This was just another one of his games, another way to torment her. He was drawing out those memories and emotions so that she could suffer.
Then, those memories were swept aside, her attention focused on Dominion’s wandering touch. His hands were moving north again, finding her firm breasts. At first, he simply skated across them with his fingertips, teasing and tickling the sensitive nerves. To Mary, that light touch was enough to remove all other thoughts and replace them with a cruel reminder of her situation.
That’s right, she was his sex toy, that’s what she had been reduced to. The fact that he could touch her like this without any consequences, without any consent, it was like branding her all over again. Her breasts, these strange quasi-genitalia that dominated human sexuality, it was like they had become her identity, for her existence now was nothing more than sex. She was no longer a wife or mother. Her beliefs were meaningless. Money, desire, feelings, they had all been taken away. She wasn’t even being used as breeding stock like the women at the prison, she lived simply to be Dominion’s plaything. She wanted to die, but he wouldn’t let her. He cursed her with existence because he needed a masturbatory aid.
Then, his touching became a little rougher, his light caresses replaced with a thorough massage. He gripped her breasts, rubbing deep into the tissue, moving in circles as if trying to wiggle them free of her chest. Her body convulsed from the sensation, the sensation she hated more than anything: pleasure. No matter how cruel Dominion was, how much he tortured her, he never failed to bring her to climax. She’d resist him with all of her might, but her body would always betray her, always give in to his strength. To orgasm from his abuse, to be delivered to ecstasy by the man who had ruined her life, it was agony. Her mind flushed with pain while her body flushed with euphoria, a contradicting double helix that she felt shake her to her very core. Each climax threatened to erase a little more of her sense of self, her lewd nectar washing away her identity like crashing waves wearing down stone.
His skill was impeccable, the way he massaged her mammary glands, the way he teased her nipples, the way he rubbed deep into the tissue, it was like nothing she had ever felt before, not with her husband, and especially not since being enslaved. From the day Dominion had taken her, the absolute fact of life was that no pleasure came without pain. Every time he made her cum, the bliss would be countered with the bruising and tearing of her flesh, the pulling of her hair, bite marks made in her skin. Her arms hurt from being suspended, and her ankles weren’t very comfortable shackled to the bar, but it was like she was only aware of those issues. The euphoria in her breasts kept her from actually feeling them, leaving nothing but bliss.
She came, just as she had time and time again, she came in response to her master’s touch, as if his fingers were the keys to her body. It slipped free without her realizing, a moan, escaping the gag in her mouth and heard by Cho and Hijiri. She was stunned, feeling something completely foreign to her. As her nectar flowed, so too did her vitality. In the throes of ecstasy, she felt youth was returning to her, like her body was being rejuvenated. Years of her life were rewound, her skin tightening, her body forgetting the trials and strains of motherhood. For those brief few moments, she felt like she was nineteen again. Then, it faded, the euphoria that had blinded her like a light to her mind’s eye dimming. She returned to her old self, remembering where she was.
Then it struck her, the humiliation she felt from being brought to climax by this man, the anger she felt from the memories of what he had done to her, and now, fear. She had feared him from the day she met him, but that was always his bloodlust and powers of destruction. Now it was his ability to invoke pleasure, not pain, that she feared. She had never had an orgasm like that, not by her own or her husband’s hand, and certainly not with just a message of her breasts. For a handful of seconds, she forgot everything, forgot her hatred, her despair, who she even was. No matter how much she despised him, how much her soul ached for the deaths of her children, her body didn’t seem to care, it only wanted him to keep touching her.
If this continued, her body might become addicted to this pleasure. No matter how intense her feelings, she’d crave his brutality like a drug. Her desires might wear away her emotions, erase the past, and fully enslave her to him, for her existence to be that of a filthy whore in both body and soul. She feared this possibility, feared it so much that it made her sick, feared the cruelty of fate, that this monster, along with having the power to ruin her life and torture her, could so easily poison her soul with such evil pleasure. Ecstasy and agony, was there even a difference between them anymore?
Dominion then reached into the bin from Cho’s room and took out two small peanut vibrators. He taped them to Mary’s nipples and turned them to their highest setting. Her breasts, so sensitive after climax, made her moan in euphoria as they were further stimulated.
As the toys drove her wild, he moved his hands south. No! Not there! Time and time again, he had violated her pink lotus, defiling it with his seed and his stench, and made her orgasm, but now, more than anything, she wanted him to stop, to not discover how wet he had made her, how her body awaited her caresses. His fingers found her labia, shaved smooth, and stirred circles in her honey like a brush mixing paint. He was so gentle, it put her on edge. Where was the pain? The brutal violation that would continue until she bled and even after? She couldn’t let him continue, she couldn’t trust her body around him, now so entranced that it almost desired the pain if it meant the continuation of the pleasure.
His fingers entered her, like an octopus slipping into its den. She began to pant, nauseous from the sensation of being penetrated, of feeling his flesh inside her body. He probed her interior, massaging her insides just as he had done to her breasts. The gentleness made her nerves crackle, like cold water poured on a burn. He explored every spot, searching for areas he had missed so that he might colonize them with his touch. His fingerprints on her insides were like flags planted atop mountains.
She whimpered as he managed to fit his whole hand inside her, now so loose from arousal that it accepted him greedily. She could feel it, the manipulation of his body, she had seen him do it before. His fingers were transforming, becoming longer and more flexible, so that they might go further beyond. He deep inside her did he plan on going? He had already turned her body into a toy, would he now turn it into a garment for him to wear like a fancy ring? Would his hand come out of her mouth, turning her, a human being, into a sleeve of meat on his arm? Maybe that would be his new power trip, to wear a suit made of living women.
His other hand drifted down her back, and despite knowing his plan, she still shuddered as she felt him slip it, one finger at a time, into her anus. She had lost track of how many times he had sodomized her, but she still felt so tight, wincing as he worked more fingers in, and soon, his whole fist. He stirred his fingers around inside her, and she could feel them, Dominion pressing his hands together inside her, divided by her flesh like the wall between two prisoners. That alien sensation, not just of being double-fisted, but of his hands squeezing her inside, it made her sick. To think that he had warped and abused her body to such an extent that he could do this to her.
He kept going until she finally climaxed, drenching his right hand in her juices. He pulled them both free and stepped around in front of her. Mary was exhausted, mentally and physically. “I think we’ll call it a day. I’ve taught you pleasure, so later, I’ll teach you pain.” Dominion turned to Cho and Hijiri and removed their gags with a twitch of his eye. He held his hands up to their mouths and they obediently licked them clean, every last droplet of Mary’s lewd flavor. He then started sliding his fingers between their legs, gauging the level of their arousal, making them both look away in shame.
“My, my, look at how wet you both are. It seems you enjoyed this little show. Did your bodies desire your master’s touch that badly? After all that, I’ve come to a decision. Since you pets have been so well-behaved, I’m going to grant you free use the house. You can leave your rooms whenever you want and go anywhere inside, as long as you follow all the rules. I’ll even lift the ban on talking.” A flick of his wrist removed all their binds, dropping Mary to the floor. “Be good,” he said before walking into a nearby shadow and disappearing into thin air.
Cho, her inner thighs wet with arousal, got off her chair and crouched down to help Mary. “Are you ok?” she asked, something she never would have asked anyone before all this happened.
Mary smacked her hand away. “Don’t fucking touch me.” Clutching herself, she got to her feet and rushed out of the basement.
Cho then turned to Hijiri and embraced her. She had spent so long wishing to talk to her, to comfort her, but now, neither twin knew what to say to the other.
Snow was falling at a persistent rate, comparable to a blizzard, but without the harsh wind. Rather, it was more like a downpour, hindering all vision. It was perfect conditions for a sneak attack. The target was the powerlines leading from Harris Dam, north of Augusta. It was almost a hundred miles of line between them, but they were not unguarded. Perched atop the massive steel towers alongside eagle nests, Dominion’s hounds scanned the landscape 24/7.
Between the four pincers on their head, their melon-sized eyes could see in most light spectrums, while along their necks, gills swept the air in search for any scents that didn’t belong, and eardrums on their shoulders, resembling giant cysts, analyzed every sound. Their pale, hairless bodies didn’t shiver in the cold, they didn’t even register it. They were built to thrive in the harshest environments, even the vacuum of space.
The dam itself was guarded by spawn of all varieties, so going for the power lines was the only reasonable bet. Two F-15s shot across the sky, cutting through the storm effortlessly. These jets were built with air superiority in mind, so a little snow couldn’t stop them, and this was the best cover they would ever have. They closed in on the powerlines, and with confirmation granted, both pilots launched their missiles at one of the towers.
The hound manning it heard them immediately and swiveled its head in the direction of the incoming projectiles. Its four pincers stretched out like an opening hand and the air around the tower shimmered. A telekinetic wave, it intercepted the missiles and took control of their trajectory and their targeting computers. Their fins bent and shifted and they flew past the powerlines without hitting anything, then turned around and rocketed back on new paths. Baffled by what they had seen, one of the pilots, still approaching the powerlines, didn’t react in time and he was knocked out of the air by his own missile, sending his jet falling into the river as a ball of fire and twisted steel.
The second pilot managed to swerve out of the way and dodge the other flying bombs, but drifted too close to the powerlines. Using a mix of telekinesis and muscle strength, the hound lunged into the air at the jet and buried its pincers into one of its escort antalya wings. Thrown off balance and with smoke billowing from the damaged area, the jet spun out of control, with the pilot having just enough time to eject. Cast out into the storm with nothing but his seat and a parachute, he was utterly helpless. His descent was stopped, and he looked up in horror to see one of the flying hulks had caught him. Dominion had another prisoner.
Standing in his office at the prison, Dominion twitched his eye as he received a telepathic report on the attack. The US was getting bolder. Their first attempt on the powerlines had been with ground troops, then tanks, and now jets, but his monsters were all but immune to the puny weapons of the mortals, and after months of clearing out towns and hunting wild folk, he was only using about 18% of stockpiled souls on foot soldiers. The problem was that he had a shortage of information. He had already siphoned all of the useful knowledge out of those National Guard troops, but it wasn’t enough to get a sense as to what kind of force he was dealing with. He had kept things close to the vest, but now that his presence had been exposed, it was time to branch out and set up an information network.
Dominion walked out from behind his desk and slit his finger. A single drop of blood clung to the wound, black as obsidian. It fell to the floor and his office darkened as it began to take shape. Outside, dark clouds swarmed into existence and blocked out the sun. All of the humans, both prisoner and collaborator looked up, as day turned into night. They felt a chill, one that the winter cold could not give them. It was a malicious chill, their body telling them that they were in the presence of evil. From the day Dominion arrived to this city, that chill had eaten away at everyone around him, everyone who knew of him, but never before had it been so potent. He normally kept his insidiousness contained, only unleashing it to paralyze his prey, but this was completely unhindered.
In Dominion’s office, the darkness faded. Rather, it receded, being drawn towards the center of the room like ink. The solidified shape appeared before him, making him smile. It was a figure shrouded in a black cloak, the Grim Reaper, if such a thing existed. Its face was hidden by its low-hanging hood and countless leathery tentacles hung out of the cloak where its limbs would be. A black fluid trickled continuously down these tentacles, but it evaporated as soon as it touched the floor. Every breath it made was a wheeze, guttural, wet, like it was drowning in its own blood.
Blight was made entirely of wraiths, but this new abomination was born from over a hundred demons fused together. This decision was made due to curiosity, Dominion’s desire to see what the ultimate avatar of evil would look like, if he were to take the word “nightmare” and forge it into a solid form. He had certainly succeeded in that endeavor. It had an organic body like the rest of his minions, a real brain capable of supporting higher levels of thought, but it manifested in a matter not known to the physical universe, like some kind of unholy aether straight from Hell. It was like it existed in a half-corporeal state at any given moment, partially in this universe and partially in another.
The bloodlust it radiated, while not as powerful as Dominion’s, was more potent, completely lacking any human characteristics. Rather than a projection of one’s will, it felt like a force of nature, as present as gravity. Dominion’s killing intent depended on his mood, on his goal at the moment of release, but this creature’s wickedness was a constant fact, like it really was the Grim Reaper, Death itself now hovering before him. If Dominion were to disappear, Blight would wait silently for eternity until he returned, but this creature, without orders to follow, would simply go on a rampage and follow its instincts to drown the universe in horror. It was like a robot programmed to be evil.
“Your name… is Scourge.”
The beast dropped down to the floor and prostrated before him, its head lowered as far as it could go. However, it said nothing in response. Dominion hadn’t given it the ability to speak. Its silence rendered it impossible for mortals to communicate with, making it even more terrifying, but for Dominion and his minions, it could communicate just fine with telepathy. Just like all of its brethren, it had been created with an absolutely unbreakable and all-consuming loyalty and subservience to Dominion. It could no more disobey him than a human could rip out their own brain and eat it.
“You are to spy on my enemies, be my eyes and ears and discover what they are planning. I will assign other creatures to aid you in this task. Understood? Good. Dismissed.” Scourge then began to sink into the floor, with a puddle of liquid shadow pooling underneath it like a tar pit. It disappeared into the darkness and so too did the puddle. “And now for aerial recon…” Dominion said as he held out his finger and released more blood onto the floor.
The headquarters of the NPEB were situated outside of Washington DC, a facility guarded as tightly as the White House. It had been formed to investigate paranormal events and secure anomalous objects. During WWII, a similar operation had been started to counter and follow Hitler’s research into the occult, but was decommissioned due to lack of results. The war against the zombies provided the need for such a department, and the reconstruction movement saw its rebirth, to make sure the undead never again rose. It was to zombies what Area 51 was to aliens. The reason why it was so tightly guarded was not just to keep anyone from getting in, but to prevent anything from getting out. Like any lab dealing with biological weapons or infectious diseases, every measure had to be taken to maintain constant quarantine and isolation for every variable and danger.
It was in this facility that objects and artifacts deemed cursed were researched, analyzed, and stored away. On the surface, there was a government building like any other, but most of the facility was underground, housing vaults full of relics. Few people outside of the NPEB knew what was actually inside this place, but there were plenty of conspiracy theories. The spear that killed Christ, the Ark of the Covenant, grimoires full of black magic, the Sword of Mars, the skin of the snake that tempted Eve, even zombies. One of them was correct.
On this frosty morning, President Collins, surrounded by the Secret Service, and his Secretary of Defense were arriving to meet with the director of the NPEB. The president’s motorcade passed by multiple fences and barriers, each one manned and requiring clearance. The presidential seal on the side of his limo wasn’t enough to just zip through. They arrived at the building in the center of the property, a large concrete office, where the bureaucratic work was handled.
President Collins and Secretary Hauser stepped out of the limo and entered with the Secret Service opening every door and keeping eyes on every angle. Inside, it looked like any other dull government office building. Stepping into the lobby, they met a man, black complexion, but with hair as white as his lab coat. Despite getting on in years, he wasn’t old enough for his hair to be that bleached, but as the NPEB Director, he didn’t get to his position without seeing some crazy shit, shit that most people wouldn’t be able to sleep after experiencing. Just the way he looked at his guests, it was with a cautious skepticism that had become second nature. He spent so much time following safety protocols and examining dangerous objects, that tense attitude couldn’t just be turned off, even when meeting the president.
“Mr. President, Mr. Secretary, welcome,” he said, shaking both men’s hands.
“Director Samson,” they replied.
He looked at the Secret Service. “Your men can keep secrets, right?”
“They wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t,” Collins replied.
“Good, then I’ll show you what I have. Though they won’t all be able to fit into the elevator.”
He led them deeper into the building, and the three men, plus two Secret Service agents, stepped into an elevator that was only opened by a scan of Director Samson’s keycard, handprint, and retina. Only once the door closed and the elevator started moving did he resume speaking.
“We’ve closely examined the videos and pictures you’ve sent us. I have no doubt that we’re dealing with paranormal entities.”
“Like the undead?” the secretary asked.
“No, something far more advanced and powerful. The undead could be considered a natural disaster, like a viral outbreak or a hurricane, a manifestation of chaos. From what I’ve seen, these creatures are the result of either eons of evolution or some kind of intelligent design.”
“Excuse me, sir, if I may speak,” one of the Secret Service agents asked.
“Go ahead, son.”
“I thought the undead were the result of a disease?”
“A disease in name only,” said Samson. “No pathogen has ever been seen in zombie tissue. We still have the notes of the CDC at the time of the war, and no matter how hard they searched, they couldn’t find a single germ to explain the epidemic, no infected cells, nothing transmutable. We can only conclude that the movement of the zombies was due to the same force that these creatures are using to redirect our missiles.”
The doors opened and the men stepped out into a corridor with vast glass windows in place of walls, showing the labs and the experiments taking place inside. Every lab was a clean room, every scientist wearing decontamination suits and HAZMAT protection. Ancient artifacts, jewelry, sculptures, paintings, objects of all kinds were undergoing tests from chemical and light exposures to reactions to physical damage. Down the hall, at an intersection, several scientists were moving some kind of steel and glass coffin on a trolley, like the casing of a nuclear bomb. Inside, suspended with electromagnets, was a nail. No head, just four flat sides, like something used in crucifixions.
“What’s that?” Hauser asked.
“We call those Black Stigmata. One shows up every now and then, but pay no mind. It’s not important. There is something else I wanted to show you.”
Samson led them through a labyrinth of sterile corridors, finishing with a set of double doors, with a sign reading “UNDEAD” up above. This was a new series of labs, but rather than artifacts, the scientists here were studying the remains of zombies. Hauser became tense, seeing the severed limbs and heads twitching and moving atop examination tables.
“I thought the last zombie died out around eighty years ago?”
“The last active zombie did. Everyone knows that the only way to actually destroy a zombie is by incineration, but whether you could call it a weakness or a strength, they are immune to ice. They can freeze solid and then resume movement once they thaw. Take a look.” They stopped at a window showing them a holding cell. A zombie paced back and forth, its flesh blackened by rot. “This is Wilson, one of our most intact specimens. He had been buried in a crevasse up in northern Canada, kept frozen for decades, which prevented him from rotting. As soon as we warmed him up, he showed the same amount of activity we’d expect from before he went into the deep freeze. He’s provided a great amount of information as to their actions and thought processes. Watch, it’s a two-way mirror, and yet…”
The zombie turned to them, let loose a snarl, and threw itself at the window and began clawing at the glass. The two Secret Service agents immediately drew their weapons and prepared to fire if they saw even the smallest crack.
“Don’t worry, that glass if bulletproof. The two of you couldn’t get out of there, let alone him. But look, despite being completely cut off from us, no visual signs, scent, or noise, he knows we’re out here. They seem to have a sixth sense for detecting living prey.”
“You mean to tell me you’re keeping living zombies here, so close to the capital?!” the secretary hissed.
“Mr. President?” Samson said, looking over his glasses.
“Relax, Pete. This place is made with every failsafe in mind. This entire place is rigged to blow should something go wrong. If one of these things escapes, this facility will cave in, burying all this evil forever. Even if we’re in here, the threat will be neutralized, and immediately after the destruction, this place is to be paved over so no one can ever get to it. The holy grail could be down here, but even I don’t have the authority to order an excavation if this place is destroyed.”
“Very good, sir. Now, I do have some important information that you—” The president looked away, his eyes darting to a corner. “You saw a shadow, didn’t you? Like something moving?”
Collins paused. “Yeah.”
“Happens all the time here. We’re surrounded by haunted knickknacks, it’s weirder not to see shit like that.”
Collins just hummed in reply. Samson’s explanation hadn’t calmed him down, since this wasn’t the first time he had experienced such a phenomenon. For the past few days, he’d swear to seeing shadows darting out of the corner of his eye. He felt something watching him, but no matter how many times his men checked, they never found anything.
“Anyway, as I was saying, I have some important information that you’ll want to hear. The undead have a weakness, and if our enemy is of a paranormal nature, they’ll have that same weakness. During the war, there was a rumor from South America that the undead are damaged by silver, and we’ve managed to confirm it. Cut off a zombie’s arm with a silver blade, and it’ll stop twitching. They also react negatively to silver mirrors, becoming sluggish, like when you stick a magnet to a computer. We’ve also seen that mercury affects them the same way.”
“Mercury and silver, it weakens them?” Collins asked.
Collins turned to Hauser. “We have a shot.”
For the next month, preparations were made for an attack on Augusta. The president was gathering every soldier and asset east of the Rockies and seizing all of the precious metals that the government could afford to modify the army’s ammunition. Bullets would be cast with silver full metal jackets, or made from a stronger metal than lead and hollowed out to hold a reservoir of mercury. Not since the Civil War had so many armed troops been present within the nation’s borders. All leaders know that to have active armies close by is was to invite coups and takeovers, but this was a threat that had to be exterminated before it spread any further. Unfortunately, the current military was just a fraction of what it was before the war. Hopefully, it would be enough.
If only the president antalya escort and his Joint Chiefs paid more attention to the darting shadows, believed their instincts when they felt eyes on them, they would have been more cautious in their planning. Scourge fulfilled its job perfectly, acting as a bug in every room with every sight and sound transmitted to Dominion. No one knew he was there, hiding close enough to kill them all, but a regular assassination at this stage wouldn’t be any fun. Dominion desired to see his pets on the battlefield, to watch them crush the feeble humans resisting his supremacy.
He spied on them both in the White House and the field. As the government tried and failed to get recon imagery of the city and Dominion’s forces, they themselves were being watched. They circled Augusta in a growing circle, giant vultures that he had created. Their faces were occupied by three sets of long narrow beaks, like some grotesque flower, while their eyes, even larger and keener than those of the hounds, were in the underside of their wings. Despite being as large as private jets, they were completely undetectable. They emitted a psychic wave that rendered them invisible to the naked eye and radar alike. As paranormal entities, their abilities far surpassed any flesh and blood animal. The power of the dead, so ancient, yet even in the 22nd century, modern technology couldn’t compete.
The beasts also surveyed the city of Portland, south of Augusta and on the coast. It was a larger and more urban city, and its airport was currently serving as the base for this attack. The government had seized the buildings to shelter troops and store equipment, while every runway and hangar was occupied with planes, jets, and helicopters. For a military force this large, infrastructure was a necessity, and they didn’t have the time to build a city of tents on rugged land.
With endless military vehicles rolling onto the facility, the press did everything they could to gather information. News vans were parked on the grass surrounding the airport, with cameras always looking through the chain-link fence. Crews worked in shifts to keep eyes always on the airport, but many unlucky souls had to camp out, members of smaller press groups or inquisitive citizens. One of them, a young field reporter for the Central Portland Broadcasting Company, was nauseous with unease.
Nayara Runihura, Channel 8’s diversity mascot. Her father was Tutsi from Rwanda, her mother was Spanish. Africa, Spain, and the Middle East were currently dominated by an Islamic Caliphate that came to power during the fifty years of chaos following the rise of the undead. The Caliphate was currently under Sharia Law, but when her mother became pregnant, it took a violent and draconian tone, especially against women, prompting her parents to flee to the states. Her dark complexion and European hair and bone structure made her a unique beauty, with a nice bust to show off. She originally intended to become a writer, but she had great luck with the camera.
But now, her bewitching visage was dimmed from the conflict in her heart. Her journalistic instincts told her to do whatever it took to get the scoop, but part of her didn’t want to know what was going on. There wasn’t just intensity in the air, there was fear. There had been no White House press briefings, barely any statements to the public. The government was acknowledging that a hostile force was occupying the city of Augusta and that anyone who approached the city was killed or captured, and they had declared that they would be attacking that hostile force, but they hadn’t identified who it was. An enemy country? Terrorists? Marauders coming out of hiding? If it was the undead returning, they would have let the world know immediately.
There were plenty of rumors that the Misato syndicate was involved, not that she could do anything with that. Lee Misato was nicknamed the Capone of the North because he had his hands in everything, including the media. Any Maine newsgroup that tried to write about him or bring his operations to light ended up torched, and investigators from out of state never found anyone willing to speak up and fill in the blanks. Countless newbie journalists had met their end because they had more courage than brains.
Like them, while she didn’t have any answers, but she had a chance to find some. General Burns, he was in charge of the whole operation. Meticulous, dedicated, and professional, he was everything one would expect of someone in his position, and his pepper hair and mustache were like a billboard describing his position in the military. But through a lot of digging and investigating his home life, Nayara had discovered that he had a secret love for the sauce. It was his evening medicine.
There was alcohol in the airport bars, but 24/7 sobriety was required of everyone, so the only way Burns could get his nightcap was to head into the city. She had been watching him with binoculars every time he went outside, and after dark, he would always leave the airport in uniform and drive off in a black SUV. After that, it was simply a matter of searching the bars for anyone who had seen a man matching his de***********ion, and she learned his “hunting ground”.
Tonight was the night she’d confront him. She waited until night fell, keeping the binoculars pressed to her eyes until they wore lines into her skin, but she eventually saw him. Military vehicles were always leaving and entering the airport, so no one paid him any attention. She was the only member of the media even aware that he’d drive into the city.
“Josh, wake up.”
She went to her pudgy cameraman, asleep in the passenger seat of the van, and shook him awake.
“Huh, what?” he snorted.
“It’s time. We have to move.”
She had only a small amount of time between Burns getting into the SUV and actually managing to get out of the airport. She got behind the wheel of the van and hurriedly drove to a gas station down the road, where her own car was waiting. She had gotten a ticket from leaving it parked there all day, but if this worked out, it would be well worth the cost. She got in her car just as the SUV passed by, and before it was gone, she managed to get on the road. She couldn’t follow him in the van, it would be way too inconspicuous.
She followed Burns while Josh followed her, but she was careful about maintaining her distance. He seemed to frequent three bars, but never the same one two nights in a row, and not in any real pattern. He also drove around the city for at least an hour before going anywhere, just to make sure no one was following him. Nayara eventually had Josh give up while she changed her plan, instead driving to each bar over and over until she found the SUV, then she called him to her location.
“What makes you think he’ll talk?” her cameraman asked as he attached the mic to her blouse.
“Hope, desperation, call it whatever you want.”
She left the van parked two blocks away from Lenny’s Pub, a hole in the wall that no one would think to look. It was a dive bar, and the moment she stepped inside, she felt out of place. She was a little too well dressed to be a regular drinker, too underdressed to be a hooker. Through the cigarette smoke, she saw Burns sitting at the counter. He had changed out of his uniform and into civilian clothes, even wearing a baseball cap.
She sat at the stool next to him. “Buy you a drink?” she offered.
He looked up from his scotch at her. His male instincts immediately began computing the chances of getting laid, but his military instincts drew his eye to the microphone on her blouse.
“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” he muttered.
“You were good at covering your tracks, but not good enough. The sooner you answer my questions, the sooner I’m gone.”
“I don’t talk to the press.”
“Either you can give me a story, or I can use the one I have right here. A four-star general sneaking off base each night to get liquored up in some dingy tavern while a major military operation is about to be initiated? My editor will worship the ground I walk on. True, I doubt it would be enough for you to lose your job, but the more everyone digs into it, the more it’ll screw up your life. Now, I don’t want to write that kind of story, it’s not why I became a journalist, but if it gets the ball rolling, I’ll do whatever I have to.”
“I have nothing to say to you.”
“Plenty of people have told me that, often with curses involved. I’ve found that it either means they have something to say to someone else, or they don’t know what to say. So which is it?” Burns didn’t reply. “Look, if you won’t tell me what you know, tell me what you don’t know, because I have a feeling that’s where the real story is.”
Finally, he turned to her. “Turn off that mic. None of this is on the record. And let’s take a booth.” They changed seats, finding a quiet corner to talk. “Whatever I tell you, it can’t be quoted. Just pin it on some other source.”
“So what are you guys up against?” Nayara asked.
“I don’t know.”
“‘I don’t know’, as in you don’t have the slightest idea what you’ll be facing in Augusta and it could be a giant marshmallow man for all you know, or you know what you’ll be facing and you have no idea how to explain it being there?”
“The second one.”
“The undead? Have they returned?”
“We aren’t fighting zombies, but it may be related to them. This is something different. These things, these monsters, they’re smart, and they appear to follow orders. They’ve taken over the city.”
“And the people? Are they dead?”
“Enslaved, being used as labor to alter the city, turn it into some kind of giant prison. That’s all we know about them.”
Nayara paused, surprised. She was expecting more vague answers, him dodging every question, having the answers pried out, but he was more talkative then he let on. He could get in serious trouble for this, prison time even.
“Does this have anything to do with those towns upstate, where all the people went missing or were killed?”
“We believe so, but we don’t know in what way they’re connected.”
“Why won’t the government say anything? Why are we being kept in the dark?”
“Because we have no idea what’s going on. This came out of nowhere. We have what appears to be some kind of nuclear blast going off upstate, entire towns are wiped out one by one, and now a state capital has been taken over by grotesque monsters, and we don’t have any answers. We don’t know what’s going on, what those things are, who’s behind this, or what’s going to happen. Do you think we want the public knowing that we’re completely in the dark on this? The only we do know is that we have to erase this threat, no matter what the cost.”
“What else can you tell me?”
Burns rubbed his eyes. “You didn’t hear this from me. Whoever or whatever is in charge of those beasts, they go by the name Dominion.”
Women and children alike screamed in the town of Waterville, north of Augusta. It was an attack in broad daylight, Dominion’s minions swarming in without warning. First, the vehicles were all disabled, the hulks simply crushing their engines or the hounds ripping open their tires. Dominion’s human collaborators fanned out from the center of town, while the sentinels raced ahead, cutting off anyone who tried to get away. They were a new breed, with enhanced legs that let them move faster than the normal sentinels. None of the humans were prisoners from Augusta, they were all members of the Misato syndicate. Dominion and Blight were still training new human soldiers, and they couldn’t yet be trusted to follow orders if outside of the city.
Pandemonium filled the town as the attack went on, with armed civilians putting up a desperate but ultimately pathetic attempt at fending off the invaders. No matter if they were handguns, shotguns, or assault rifles, their bullets were little more than an annoyance to Dominion’s minions, and the human soldiers always kept hidden behind the hulks acting as shields.
Dominion’s men weren’t allowed to use lethal ammo, only rubber bullets and beanbag rounds, as well as tranquilizer darts, net launchers, and stun guns. Once in close range, anyone who put up a fight was beaten into submission, while those who obeyed were bound with zip ties and led away. After all, the point was to capture as many people as possible and bring them back alive.
While wearing gas masks, they’d hurl teargas canisters and use them to herd the fleeing civilians toward the half-dead minions. For most of the men, their pride and their morals had been long-since swallowed. Not only had they already engaged in wiping out other towns, but they were undergoing Dominion’s new training regimen to break down their wills, which meant executing sick prisoners and impregnating the women. They had blood and tears on their hands, so at this point, rounding up civilians like this didn’t even phase them. They had already sold their souls, all that mattered was their own survival.
As per routine, captured civilians were forced onto buses and into trucks, but most were herded to the train station and pushed onboard. Innocent people forced on trains and shipped to a concentration camp, it was a travesty that the world had tried to prevent repeating, but this was a horror far beyond the Holocaust.
Everything was running smoothly, then, a peculiar crack echoed across the sky. Dominion’s minions all looked up, spotting two planes flying overhead, A10 Thunderbolts. At that same time, one of the hulks was knocked off its feet by a shell. It came from a tank down the road from where it was standing. The damage was negligent, just a normal round cracking its bone armor, but the tank pulled away as the beast stumbled. The planes circled back, having spotted a group of sentinels. The massive rotary guns under the noses of the crafts began to spin and a hellish storm of lead was unleashed, raining down upon the spawn. They took cover behind smashed cars, but not without a few receiving shallow wounds. Then, the planes unleashed their missiles and pulled away, escaping before they could be taken down and ripping open the street in the process.
While this was happening, soldiers came out of alleys and opened fire on the human collaborators, managing to wound a few before the hulks stepped in and shielded them from the assault. The hounds and sentinels then advanced, running the soldiers down and slaughtering them.
These hit and run tactics were an attempt by the government to stall the expansion of Dominion’s empire, but it accomplished little. The unholy beasts were largely undamaged by all but the largest weapons, and getting in close for any kind of sustained attack just ended in soldiers getting killed. No soldier or bomb was able to reach the busses or train, and once all the nuisances were dealt with, it was time to return to base. Leaving nothing but burning buildings and butchered soldiers, they departed, to bring Dominion his new batch of slaves.
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