February 4th, 2201, 3:46 am
Through the sound and fury of the storm, Death ran to the light in the distance. The speed felt casual to him, but the miles of the blackened grass fell behind him quicker than he could see. The light in the distance grew slowly and surely, and Death smiled at his progress.
Then he became aware of strange crunching sounds beneath his feet, and he looked down as he sped along the black plain. He could see dark shapes moving beneath his flashing feet, small and wriggling every time he stepped. He stopped, and bent down to examine one.
It was a small human being, crushed and dying.
Death cocked his head and examined the pitiful thing, holding it gently between his fingers and turning it this way and that. The little man was not dying because of his run; there were many round burns and puncture wounds.
"A casualty of war." murmured Death, snapping the little man's neck and setting him down gently on the loamy earth.
Death stood up, and another thing became apparent; the cries of thousands in pain, of thousands in grief, of thousands lost.
Death frowned, and turned his head to the light in the distance. No shouts of grief came from there, there were no sounds of mourning from the distance.
He took a step. The moaning and wailing grew a fraction louder.
If I continue, more of them will die.
But was he not Death? Is it not what he is to cause destruction?
Am I Death? Is Death's sole purpose destruction?
Is that not what death is?
No. That isn't true. Death and destruction clears the way for life. Without me, there couldn't have been any of them.
He turned, seeing something out of the corner of his eye. Another light approached him, floating over the grass, shining as bright as a sun.
And without Life, Death has no purpose.
He reached out and touched the light, and felt himself raise into the air. He could see all of Asphodel arrayed around him, the teeming masses of the tiny humans shaking the grasses.
A grey rain was falling from Death and the light, falling gently in contrast to the storm's rage. Wherever the rain touched the ground, a few died. But many were born, and many more were resurrected.
Dante's eyes flew open, and he drew a sharp gasp of air. The rain that fell around him was warm and soothing, but the cold sweat that covered him made for a miserable time.
"Dante? Are you alright?" whispered Ariel from the other mat, her eyes wide with concern.
"I… yeah. Sorry, Ariel." he said, shaking his head and trying not to vomit.
"Want a couple painkillers, Cap'n?" Sarai asked, raising her head slightly and smiling.
"No thanks, Sarai. It's just this rain." he replied, feeling himself adjust to the temperatures.
All three turned their heads back to the target not half a mile away now; a small convoy of lights. Dante adjusted the zoom on the scope.
"Not even thirty of them. This feels like a trap." he muttered, firing off the first shot. The convoy leader's head exploded into a red mist.
"Probably. But it has to be the kind of trap for morons who rush in to fight." said Sarai, loosing a shot towards the convoy APC's arc fusion tanks. The whole thing exploded, sending a vivid powder-blue cloud racing out in all directions.
"Score; fifteen to none, little woman."
"Ahhh! I was gonna get that one!" complained Ariel, squeezing out rounds on the few remaining soldiers.
"This is not a fucking shooting gallery!" Dante snarled at them both.
"I disagree," said Ariel, a spike of orange ochre light lancing from her hand into one man's brain, "They're even lining up nicely."
"The girl's got a point. If I didn't know better, I'd think they'd want to die." said Sarai, cursing as one of her shots went wide.
"Hell, the military actually calls this kind of thing a shooting gallery, so why shouldn't-"
"Say another goddamn word." growled Dante, looking at Sarai. "Say another word about it, I dare you."
There was absolute silence for the rest of the shooting.
All three stood up at the same time, swinging their rifles over their shoulders. They began to climb down the ledge, seemingly silent. But between Sarai and Ariel,
What do you think is on his mind?
No idea. Your brother's a very temperamental person sometimes.
He's not my brother. Do you think it was whatever dream he woke up from?
Maybe. Now, would you mind getting out of my head? Sorry, I just like privacy.
They reached the bottom, and ran towards their target. They arrived quickly, and Dante flipped over the corpse of one of the soldiers.
"What's wrong?" Ariel said, coalescing the dangerous cloud into a small sphere, "Where's Orion?"
"You lived? Son of a bitch…" Dante muttered under his breath.
"Hey! What the hell's going on?" shouted Sarai from the supply carts.
"We need to get back to base. Teleport now." said Dante, keying coordinates in to the device on his wrist.
"Dante, we're just gonna leave all this food and ammo here? What's the rush?" said Ariel.
A flare rose into the night in front of them, burning white in their eyes. The girls froze, and Dante cursed loudly.
"They've blocked teleportation out of here. Get ready!" he said, whipping out his pistols.
They acted out of habit, dropping to the floor and reloading their guns.
"Dante, who the hell is it? Did the Corporation set up an ambush?" said Sarai, scanning the area with her keen eyes.
"Worse. There's nothing worse than an old friend."
They stared at him.
"What the hell-"
A shot went whistling over Sarai's shoulder, and she returned fire with a yell. She heard someone go down, silent in death.
Another shot came dangerously close to her ear, and she knew she needed to get a helmet on. She scrambled to her feet, ducking behind the APC and grabbing at one of the dead soldiers.
She was completely unprepared for what was under the helmet.
The man's lips had been sewn together with thin black thread, and his smile went through his cheeks to his temple, red and scabbed.
She felt the bile rise to the tip of her throat, but forced it down and began to return fire blindly.
It was over more quickly than it should have been. Sarai peeked out from behind the burned-out hulk, and saw why. The powder-blue energy had reappeared out over the black field, and she could see men frozen inside its killing glow.
Jesus. That's a cruel death.
She walked back over to Dante, who was helping a dizzy-looking Ariel to her feet.
"You were saying?" she said to him.
"I'll explain when we get back to base. Help me with her, will you?" he replied, hoisting the girl to her feet.
"Dante, one of them had a Glasgow Smile and sewn-up lips. What the fuck is going on here?!"
"I'll explain when we get back to base! Right now we need to get out of here before more show up." he said, tension creeping into his voice. Sarai knew not to contradict him when he got that tone.
She tapped in the coordinates and threw one of Ariel's armored arms over her shoulder. All three vanished in a olive burst.
They rematerialized back in Gamma City, and Dante set Ariel down on the cracked leather couch.
"Alright, we're back at base. Now what's up with the smiles?" said Sarai, removing the fried module from her wrist.
Dante wasn't paying attention to her, but had started to run scans over Ariel, whose face had become pale and shiny.
Sarai waited, her irritation growing.
There's more important things going on than your little sister's epilepsy! she said silently, trying to take deep, calming breaths.
Ariel's color eventually returned, and Dante sat in the chair opposite the couch.
"They were mercenaries, under employ by someone I thought I had killed." he said shortly.
Sarai raised an eyebrow. "You thought you had killed?"
"It's a long story."
"Time's cheap at the moment. Regale us."
Dante shook his head, resting his hand on his forehead. After a short while, he spoke again.
"Fine. I'll tell you the story. The mercenary leader was Talon Rex, a mean, ugly, sadistic bastard. But he loved his goddamn ballroom parties. It was late January, 2195."
To be continued…