Gerry watched in awe at the aerial battle overhead. The things coming through the Rift in the sky were so high up they looked like birds, but people didn’t shoot missiles at birds. Contrails of fire shot upward to meet the aviary threat. He got a better look at the creatures hurtling through the Rift as they charged toward the missiles.
<They look like people with wings.> Something tugged at his memory, but rolling explosions sufficiently distracted him.
“Holy shit,” Vicky mumbled as they watched the fireworks display in the sky.
Some of the men with wings had gathered together. <Flying phalanx.> He gave the formation a name, and felt the tug of memory again.
Multiple missiles hit them and broke the formation. Other’s scattered before the missiles could target them, and his eyes automatically followed the largest one. The man was dipping and diving with something gleaming on his back. Gerry’s eyes focus on the gleam.
He felt his stomach drop as gravity seemed to shift. His eyes were drawn to the gleam. They focus and zoomed until it was like he was standing right next to it. The winged man had a big golden chair strapped to his back. Gerry’s mind didn’t even process the ridiculousness of it. The chair held all of his attention.
At first, it just looked like a large chair. It was clearly made of gold, which made it the most expensive chair he could think of, but that wasn’t what captured his attention. When he really focused, it seemed like something was moving across the surface of the chair. The chair continued to draw closer until the only thing in his vision was the chair. On the surface were tiny symbols. Some moved in neat lines across the shiny surface. Others formed grid patterns and small pulses of something could be seen running along them. Other areas had lines and pulsed orbiting around certain symbols, like their own little solar systems, but dozens, maybe hundred, spread across the surface.
The man shifted and a new portion of the chair became visible. It was the part where a person would sit. Lines and grids dominated this section and all the pulses lead in one direction. At the top of the section, where the head of the sitter would be, a single symbol radiated. Gerry’s eyes watered as he took in that single rune. It seemed to transcend everything around it. It outshone reality, bathed everything in its shadow, and seemed like it was anchored to the core of the universe.
Without a doubt, it was the most beautiful thing Gerry had ever seen. He would be completely content sitting there for the rest of his life, as his flesh wasted away, looking at the intricate, living patterns and central rune that were the true essence of the chair.
<Throne.> Realization sparked inside his head.
The realization wasn’t pleasant. It started as a slight burning sensation behind his eyes that quickly sparked off an inferno inside his head. He wanted to scratch his own eyes out, but he couldn’t stop staring at the throne. The central rune still held his full attention as it tried to drown him in pain. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore. He blinked, and when he opened his eyes the symbols were gone.
<No!> He wanted the pain back and the clarity it brought with it. He tried to focus and bring them back, but nothing happened. All he could see was the golden gleam of the throne and the man carrying it. <Gaius…?>
Fire engulfed his vision and he instinctually looked away.
“Look out!” Something strong hit Gerry in the side, knocked all the breath from his body, and him off his feet.
Vicky’s arms circled him as they went flying across the parking lot seconds before something big, black, and burning crashed where they’d been standing a moment before. Chunks of asphalt went flying as people screamed and dove for cover.
“Everyone back!” The leader of the soldiers guarding the generator darted forward with his weapon trained on the crater. “Clear the area! We need to…” the man never got to finish.
Something long and black jutted from the crater. It hit the soldier in the chest. His camouflaged body armor might as well have been tissue paper as a black spear impaled him in and explosion of gore. What was left of the soldier’s center, hanging together by a few strands of half-pulverized meat, was picked up and nailed to the wall of one of the cargo containers stored in the parking lot.
The tips of black wings and helmeted head rose from the crater as a man emerged. He reached up and pulled himself out of the crater. The sword in one of his hands scraped against the cracked parking lot. The people that weren’t already running were shocked into stillness as the man drew himself up to his full height.
He was easily seven feet tall with dark, foreboding armor covering him from head to foot. A ripple passed over that armor as the man surveyed his surroundings and small spikes began to emerge at strategic places. His eyes lingered a moment on Vicky before focusing on the small group of petrified soldiers.
They stood there for a tense second just staring at each other, until a soldier finally pulled the trigger. The sharp CRACK of the rifle shocked everyone into motion. The other soldiers opened fire and the civilians ran for it while Gerry and Vicky held their ground.
The bullets pinged harmlessly against the man’s armor, but that didn’t stop the soldiers. It was the only sense of power they had at the moment, and even though they saw it doing nothing they still held down the triggers until the magazines ran dry.
It was a slaughter after that. The man moved in a blur and cut down the soldiers before they could reload. Blood splattered as high as the second story of the nearby hospital from the powerful blows that cleaved the soldiers in two.
Gerry just stood there unsure of what to do. He could feel the power in the other man. He understood it. It was familiar, but foreign at the same time. Memories tricked in as the man planted his boot on a body to help remove the impaled corpse from his sword.
A memory seized ahold of Gerry’s mind. There was a hot room filled with the smell of sulfur, large black and white squares, and an old woman that wasn’t a woman. He shook his head as the itchiness returned behind his eyes, but by then the man was standing in front of them.
“Bravo.” Vicky clapped her hands dramatically. “I’m Vicky and this is Gerry. Who do you serve?”
“I am a soldier of the personal guard of General Gaius Icilius, Commander of the forces of Seere.” The man’s back instinctually straightened with pride.
“Awesome,” Vicky let out a breath that she’d been holding. “I’m Victoria, the queen of the Soulless in this area, and also a servant of Prince Seere. We’ve been waiting for reinforcements since the big guy went down here. So, what’s the plan?”
The man looked at Vicky like she was something brown and squishy that had stuck to the bottom of his boot, but that wasn’t what had Gerry’s temper steadily climbing. It was that the man completely ignored him. Gerry knew this man should be bowing in front of him. He knew the man was beneath him despite the awesome display of power he’d just shown.
Gerry’s hands clenched and his white knuckles popped from the pressure. The man caught the soft pops and turned to look at Gerry. Gerry saw the man’s grip tighten on his sword a second before a loud rumbling announced another arrival. At the entrance to the parking lot a mechanical beast roared its defiance.
The armored man leapt into the air with two powerful flaps of his wings and shot toward the new comer. Vicky looked glad the man was gone. However she thought the interaction was going to go, it clearly hadn’t been headed in that direction.
Gerry covered his ears as pain shot through them. He peeked between squinted eyelids and saw the armored man rocketing backward, covered in fire, and headed straight for the hospital. If this happened an hour earlier Gerry would have been inside when the man crashed into it with enough force to cave in a small section. Fresh screams filled the air as the ground shook and the tank rumbled into the parking lot with two dozen soldiers in its wake to press the attack.
“We really need to fucking move!” Vicky yelled, grabbing Gerry’s wrist and pulling him behind the container the first soldier had been nailed to.
They were out of sight when they heard a furious roar that was quickly followed by the sound of a second 125mm shell firing from the tank’s main gun, three-to-five round bursts from a .50 caliber heavy machine gun, and the single shots of the individual soldiers’ M4 assault rifles. Gerry was more concerned with how he knew the specifics of the weapons than with the battle raging behind them.
Memories started to form, but the burning returned. He shook his head to ease the pain and the budding images slipped between his fingertips.
“Well that was a colossal clusterfuck.” Vicky led the way across a second parking lot that was already empty of people and onto a street leading away from the medical campus. “I don’t know who the royal guard of General What’s-His-Face is up to, but they’ve gone rogue. We’re already up to our dicks in chaos here, anything else and the Divine is going to come down on then like the hammer of…well…God.” She was shaking her head back and forth while she walked.
Another loud boom echoed behind them along with the sound of tearing metal. It didn’t sound like things were going well for the humans.
“So, what now?” They were far enough from the fight that Vicky felt comfortable stopping. “My people are going to make their way back to the camp. We can head there now, or fart around here some more. I don’t know what your plan is, or if there is even a plan, but we could really use something. All hell is breaking loose…literally. Infernals from Hell are showing up and wrecking shit. So not cool.” She plopped down on the curb and ran her hands through her hair.
Gerry ignored her bitching and looked to his left. With the danger of the armored man gone, and the sounds of battle far away, he could feel what they needed to do next. There was a small pull tugging at his heart, and it was pulling him to the left. He took a step to the right and it pulled tighter, and he was sure if he started walking away to the right the tension would grow painful.
The pull was magnetic. He was being drawn toward something, and it didn’t take much to figure out what it was.
“This way.” He didn’t wait for Vicky to reply. He just started walking with the pulling sensation as a guide.
“What…where are we going?” She hopped up and followed a few steps behind him. When he didn’t stop she planted her feet and crossed her arms. “Tell me what the fuck is going on or I’m gone.”
Gerry didn’t even break stride. “I’m going to find something.” He could tell Vicky wouldn’t follow through with the ultimatum, and the hurried approach of her steps confirmed it.
“What are we looking for?” Her eyes kept scanning everything around them. The sounds of gunfire were picking up everywhere, and the occasional BOOM shattered the night.
“You’ll know it when you see it.” Gerry felt the tug shift and he took a right down an empty street. The people who’d survived the first disaster were taking cover as another fell right on top of them.
“That’s not cryptic or anything,” Vicky’s remark dripped with sarcasm, but she kept her eyes peeled.
They had to dart down an alley when another tank rumbled down the street, and a heavy machine gun swept over their position, but didn’t see them hiding behind a dumpster. The soldiers walking in the tank’s wake covered the alley but didn’t check it.
Gerry could taste the fear on them. The radio calls for help were hectic, coming more frequently, and often cut off abruptly.
“This whole thing is bullshit,” one soldier muttered as they passed. “LT is going to get us all killed.”
The tank and its infantry escort disappeared around the corner, and looked like they were heading toward the hospital. Gerry poked his head out and made sure the coast was clear before heading out in the direction of the tug. They had to hide three more times from passing patrols, each of which had a tank at the center.
One spotted them, but Vicky was able to play the damsel in distress well enough to convince the young officer to give them directions to the nearest shelter. Once they were gone, Gerry led them in the opposite direction. The destruction began to fade the farther they got from the center of the city, but was replaced by normal dilapidation. Wherever the throne had landed, it had been a shitty place before the whole city got stomped on.
The street was full of overgrown yards full of random bits of junk. The garbage hadn’t been picked up since the incident and was piled several feet high on the curbs. The rotting stench of spoiled food due to lack of refrigeration was everywhere. Gerry didn’t gag like Vicky. He knew he’d been through worse even if he didn’t know when. He kicked a stray can out of his way and the racket caused several heads to poke out of boarded up doors.
“Ever heard of sneaking up on the bad guys.” Vicky hissed as a group of young men approached them.
To Gerry, they looked like nothing more than boys.
“I know,” she sighed when Gerry shot her a look. “I am the bad guy…or bad girl…but that doesn’t mean I want to draw more attention to myself.”
“Yo,” the leader of the ragtag group of young men planted himself in the middle of their path. His friends spread out to either side of them and created a human wall. “You’ve got to pay the toll.”
“Toll, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Vicky rolled her eyes.
“You come over here, baby, and I’ll consider it paid in full.” One of the friends licked his lips and winked.
“Ewww, you’re like a perverted, retarded Little John.” Vicky dismissed him with a wave.
“Who you calling little?” The boy puffed up and pulled a knife from his pocket.
“Little John…from Robin Hood.” Vicky’s eyes widened when she only saw confusion. “Will Scarlett…the Merry Men…what the hell are they teaching you kids these days.”
“We don’t have time for this,” Gerry could feel the pull. It was close, and these boys were in his way. Something told him dealing with them directly was below him. “There is something close to here. It fell from the sky and is very valuable to me.”
Pupils widened as recognition spread through the group of men, and the rest of them pulled weapons. Only one had a gun.
“Looks like we came to the right place,” Vicky smiled.
“Fuck off and we’ll let you live.” Gerry noticed that the leaders hand was shaking as he said it.
“Tell me where the throne is and I’ll let you walk away from here with all your limbs.” Gerry replied.
“I told you it was a throne. That’s the type of shit the King of England sits on.” One boy whispered as he held his knife out in front of him.
“It’s a queen right now you idiot,” the boy next to him said.
Gerry could tell these boys weren’t killers. All he sensed was fear over a thin layer of determination, but one thing gave him pause. The original boy who said he would kill if they didn’t leave was telling the truth. He didn’t know what he had, but he wasn’t going to give it up.
“Victoria, if you’d please…” Gerry waved for her to get on with it.
All of the teenage boy’s weapons adjusted to cover her as she sauntered forward.
“Now, boys.” She placed her hands behind her back, thrust out her chest, tilted her head, and gave them a million dollar smile. “Be good, drop your weapons, and go home. If you don’t you’ll regret it.”
The boys didn’t seem to get that she wasn’t afraid of their weapons. If they knew anything about what they were about to get themselves into, that would have been the first red flag.
“Last chance!” The hand of the boy holding the gun shook harder, but Gerry felt his determination harden.
Vicky turned her full attention on the boy and smiled. “No.”
Gerry watched the boy pull the trigger, but Vicky was already moving. It didn’t help that the gun didn’t even fire. Gerry could spot the poor maintenance from thirty feet away.
“Shit, I…” the boy didn’t get to finish.
Vicky appeared in front of him and punched him in the chest. Her vampiric strength made the kid fold inward on himself as he was thrown back several feet. He was spasming before he’d hit the ground. Vicky’s punch not only broke his ribs, had one stabbing him in the lung, but it had also fucked up the rhythm of his heart. The gun clattered to the ground next to him, and his friends eyes darted from him to Vicky.
“Run.” She added a hint of compulsion and the rest of the boys tripped over themselves as they fled.
Gerry walked over to the boy on the ground. It was clear he was dying, but Gerry could feel a sensation creeping up his spine as the final seconds of the boy’s life ticked by. Gerry grabbed the boy by the scruff of his shirt and pulled his upper body off the ground. The boy’s eyes were rolled into the back of his head, and blood was leaking from his nose and mouth, but Gerry could glimpse something in there. A small flicker of something deep down that was working its way to the surface with each of the boy’s labored breaths. Finally, the boy gave a final shudder, the smell of fresh shit filled the air, and a bright object pulsing with power leapt from his body.
Gerry reached out and caught it. He didn’t catch it with his hand. He didn’t even move. He wasn’t sure if anyone else could even see it, but when his metaphysical net snagged the object, raw electricity coursed through his veins. His back arched as power and energy flooded into him. It hurt, like someone ripped a big ass Band-Aid off a fresh wound, but the pain was coupled with pleasure. The world expanded, and memories flashed through his mind.
<Power…respect…Dux…the right to rule…> He was certain of all these things, but the by then the light was spent, and without context, the world dimmed back to dull reality around him.
The one difference was that he felt a hundred times better then when they’d released him from the hospital.
“Shit, Boss.” Vicky just stared at him. Whatever had happened, she’d seen it.
“Let’s move. It’s close.” He dropped the boy and his skull impacted the concrete with a small thud.
He stood up, took a few steps, and pain lanced through his mind. Visions flashed in front of his eyes and blocked out the rest of the world.
…He was young and his mother was whooping his ass for taking a toy he wanted from the department store. He took the pain but didn’t regret what he’d done. He really wanted that toy…
…He was older, sitting in school, and the only thing he could think about was getting the hell out of there. Some older guys were waiting on the corner. They’d give him some stuff, he’d run a few errands, and then he’d get paid a hundred bucks. No other kids in school were making a hundred bucks a day…
Gerry staggered as the visions assaulted him.
…He was even older now, he was one of the guys on the corner that handed little kids product. He knew how stupid it was to think that a hundred bucks was a lot. He had at least two grand rolled up in the pocket of his pants that were currently on the floor of his mother’s mini-van. Krystal Johnson was the hottest girl on the block, and she riding his dick like a pro. He reached up and grabbed a handful of those Double –D’s. She slapped his hands away.
“That costs extra,” she smiled as she bent down to kiss his lips. It ended with a nibble that nearly made him finish…
Gerry bent over and retched, but there was nothing in his stomach. He gripped his knees and tried to take a deep breath.
…Now, he was cowering in a building while two rampaging giants tore up Charlotte. He was sitting in the darkness without power. There was no electricity to work the fridge, so he ended up tossing out all the food. Then, in the middle of a run to the curb with two Hefty bags, something shiny dropped out of the sky and plowed right into his living room. Krystal and their baby were screaming in the other room.
“Shut the hell up!” he yelled and slammed the door in her face.
He looked at the big ass golden chair that had taken out his recliner and plasma, and all he saw was dollar signs…
Gerry was on his knees and he felt like he couldn’t breathe.
…Suddenly he heard voices in the street. He peeked out of his door just as a guy, followed by a fine as girl, kicked a can down the street. He looked across the street at his friend’s house and nodded. All his friends poured out of their houses. They were going to protect their payday. It was their way out of this shit-hole city. He didn’t want to threaten the chick with a gun, but he did. He told them to fuck off, and didn’t understand why they didn’t.
<Fucking crazy people.> He gave the stranger a final warning, they didn’t take it, so he pulled the trigger. <Shit.> The gun didn’t fire, and the next thing he knew the girl was punching him in the chest.
His world exploded into pain, and pain was all he knew until he closed his eyes forever…
Gerry gasped as he threw his head up and a diminished ball of light shot out of his mouth and into the sky. It zipped around for a few seconds, doing figure eights in the air, before plummeting down into the asphalt where it vanished with a soft puff. Instantly, the visions stopped and the crippling pain vanished. He felt weaker, still stronger than when he’d left the hospital, but nothing like that moment between taking the ball and the visions beginning.
Vicky just stood there looking at him with her jaw dropped. “What the fuck was that?”
“I…I don’t know.” It hurt Gerry to admit it, but he had no idea what the hell had come over him. “Let’s go.” He quickly changed the subject and headed toward the dead boy’s house.
The bright side of this whole thing was that he knew exactly where the throne was.