On an eerie night in the city of Nirvana, Takezo observed the ruin below his outpost. Using his battered binoculars, he could see various Brutes milling about the streets scavenging for whatever food they could find. Some were large, others crawled. Each of their original structure contorted into grotesque shapes and sizes with wild black eyes, darting hungrily at one another. Glancing upward, Takezo could see only a few miles into the smog. He could nearly make out the outlines of abandoned tall buildings of the Financial District looming in the distance. The large towers of the Power Station stood out amongst the rest, a promising business like many others at a time when efficient, non-nuclear power had been discovered just twenty years before. Now, the buildings menacing, unfinished structure had evolved from a symbol of supremacy and longevity to the mysterious wasteland that Takezo’s world had become.
He sat in his room, twenty stories high in what was once Hotel Heights. Placing the binoculars to one side, he fumbled through his rucksack wearily and produced a pack of cigarettes he had found a week earlier. Took one out of the crumpled box and lit it with a match. In a world as messed up as this,
one of these little devils couldn’t hurt he smirked cynically. After a long drag, he exhaled slowly, his facial expression screaming exhaustion. Eyes so heavy it seemed as though he was carrying weights under the pale skin that could hardly be seen underneath his head of hair. These inconveniencies were not going stop him from continuing as planned as time for the midnight patrol edged closer. Besides, the night sky was clear for the first time than it had been in weeks. One of the god-like skyscrapers caught fire and collapsed. Huge dust clouds prevented Takezo from leaving his outpost all week. He then rummaged through his backpack and withdrew a map of the city. On it were dotted lines in red marking where he had searched on earlier patrols. Most ofc the Suburban District had been marked while Purgatory and the Financial District was mostly vacant as Takezo continued in his relentless search. She had to be alive and it was his mission to find her and get her back.
That night, the full moon shone, giving him the strength to continue his mission. “Preparation is key.” His fathers words came to him in his thoughts and as if he was there himself. Takezo picked himself up, flicked the cigarette butt out of the window and began to prepare for the shift. He suited himself in dusty protective gear, full body mountain bike padding allowing optimum movement for Parkour and a paintball helmet, protecting his face and neck from possible bites. Feeling ready he walked across the room to the door of his hotel room where, on a polished wooden rack he picked out his two most prized possessions. First, a Katana sword. Traditionally built for a samurai and constructed within an inch of perfection by his father. He released it from it’s sheath revealing a malicious glint in its eye. The blade was 28inches long, perfect for keeping the undead away more than arm’s length while sharp enough to discombobulate any who’s limbs might dare come close. Second, the natural next of kin to the Katana, the Wakizashi. A slightly shorter blade that grants the owner who wields them both, a devastating combination. Something is father called “a match made in heaven.” He would need the cutting edge against his slumberous army of opponents.
Takezo’s life until now had readied him for this unexpected struggle. His father was a blacksmith, originally from a small town named Harima in Japan but commuted to the city many years ago, just like millions of others. Takezo thought of him as he stepped out of the hotel into the cool breeze, recalling snippets of his past. Once called upon to carve a sword for The Royals but refusing, he was fond of his father even when he was strict and respected him deeply. He descended the stone steps quickly and headed towards his bike, unlocked it from it’s heavy chain on a lamppost and after a quick check on his route, began to pedal towards his first checkpoint. Takezo felt geared for action and picked up the pace, thriving on the adrenaline coursing through his veins. The focus on the practicality of everyday life was enjoyable and he was in luck to discover that Nirvana City’s nature as a corporate funded, man-made city was perfect for his ambitions at the age of 14, five years earlier to where he was now. Parkour – the street performance art otherwise known as free running - attracted Takezo into becoming a city messenger. His job involved running across rooftops coupled with his fixed gear bike and delivered roughly 230 packages per week, a number practically uncontested in Nirvana. He prouded himself on that and it was then he realised that even in a place so glum, elements of joy tended to sneak into his everyday life. This however, never lasted long.
Around 500metres down the road he spotted a company of Brute’s loitering in the middle of the road, blocking his path in the process. Counting, as he drew silently nearer, he identified four or five at least. Cautiously, Takezo dismounted his bike and withdrew his Katana which was strapped to his back. Creeping forward, he noticed that the Brutes were not loitering at all. One had very recently been turned because of the noticeable outcry of pain that can only be described as deep grunts of despair as its bones changed shape. This would be the final stage in transition, numbing the pain into the demand for blood. The vertebrae stuck out from its spine like a row of pyramids. Takezo considered going back and finding another route, but dismissed the thought quickly as the noises it was generating was sure to draw more to the scene. After all, this was his day job.
With full focus, Takezo crept towards the mob who were beginning to create a serious ruckus, inevitably drawing more to scene. He would have to take care of this quickly. Gripping the sword firmly in two hands beside his hips so that the blade pointed behind him, Takezo began a light jog towards his target. Picking up speed, he began to run swiftly, his feet so light he almost hovered above the ground. Fully focused in a moment of serenity, Takezo came within 5 metres of the largest Brute who, incidentally, turned its clobbered jaw in time to hint the expression of confusion mixed with surprise and bloodthirst before the blade tore through its neck. Still holding the look, the Brute’s apex fell with a death-certifying thud on the tarmac.
Once the noise of the head tumbling away from its body, Takezo felt the full weight of three hungry eyes upon him. And in a blink of an eye, the undeads were raucously flailing in attempt to rip through Takezo’s appetizing jugular. Still crouched, he found his next target just beyond his right shoulder. Takezo swivelled on his heel while thrusting his might into an arcing swipe intending to cut across the brute’s neck. But his blade did not connect as he would have liked, for somehow he had miscalculated and the sword pierced through its bicep. The limb fell and Brute wailed into the night air but continued its mission to return the favour. Acting quickly, Takezo saw an opportunity and ruthlessly hacked at its knees to prevent any further threat. Gazing at the snarling, appendage before him, Takezo felt the hairs raise on his back like porcupines on a quivering hedgehog. There was still two more undeads that had not been taken care of and – like a 6th sense – he could feel one triumphantly drooling behind him mid-pounce. Thinking his fight was over, he only had time to ponder about his miserable failures. After more than a year of hell he was ready to take his place as one of them. However his new form had to wait, because before Takezo could possibly react...BANG!
The ear splitting sound was so unexpected it disorientated him and caused Takezo to drop on his knees. Ears still ringing, a thousand questions sprung into his mind. And immediately one was answered:
“You like the sound of my gun, huh?” said the voice coming from behind Takezo.
“A bit of warning would have been nice” He replied, head still spinning.
“Alright then.” The voice seemed to snigger. “Cover your ears.” And a split-second later, another shattering BANG! Filled Takezo’s ear drums with an echoing ring.
“What the fuck!?” he screamed in the general direction of the voice’s whereabouts attempting to scramble to his feet and meet his liberator.
“Hey I’m pretty sure I just saved your skinny arse, so stop complaining.” After a few seconds, Takezo opened his eyes to see the earth spinning in a disorientating slow-motion. Stumbling, he managed to stand and turned to face the ominous voice. Even after regaining his composure, he was shocked to find himself face to face with a human. The first time in three months after losing her. Standing in full view, he recognised a women’s face and to his disappointment, not the one he wanted to see. Nonetheless, he was grateful and wanted to show his appreciation.
“Thank you” he muttered grudgingly, disliking to admit the fact he was bettered by a woman. As he took a scrutinizing look at her face, he recognized her at once. The obvious malnutrition obscured her features but the defined cheekbones along with shoulder length dirty blonde hair, cut frantically into untidy tufts made it obvious who she was. Mina. She was a messenger in Nirvana City at the same time he was and was one of the few who could match him for pace. Three years his senior she was already established as one of the best before he entered the picture. Naturally, competition got the better of them and soon became a fierce rivalry. Fellow messengers would often place bets on who would deliver the most packages. Her wild eyes saw right through his mask. “Takezo?” she enquired, more cautiously than her authoritive voice he heard before.
“Yes. I should of known you’d be alive” he replied, glad to find a familiar face, but concealed his relief in his voice in the wake of his rival.
“Take that thing off” pointing to the mask “It makes you look stupid.” Takezo did so after looking about the premises to reassure himself that there weren’t any Brutes lurking in the shadows. Revealing his long, jet black hair and narrow brown eyes he didn’t smile, for that would reveal himself as a careless liability, like his actions just proved. Staying silent, he looked Mina in the eyes for a few seconds and somehow they telepathically agreed that they could trust one another for the time being. This meant no dropping off guard either.
“We need to get away from this area” he said, still studying her eyes. “The gunshot will attract more, this place will be swarming within minutes. Let’s stick together and lay low for a while.”
Mina didn’t want to take orders from anyone, but conceded he was right.“I know a place not far from here”
“Is it safe?”
Nowhere is safe, but it will keep you alive.” She retorted, “You’ll have to leave your bike though.” And with that, she turned slowly so her back faced him in the moonlight and began to head down the street, slipping into an alley where they found a ladder leading to the roof of a large clothing store. After climbing to the top they continued whike Takezo noticed the Brutes numbers multiplying below as they crossed the roof silently. He was careful to follow her every move, but maintained a decent distance. Feeling increasingly uneasy about leaving his bike for Mina Takezo began to wonder how this could have happened, not only his rescue but he questioned, not for the first time, how this world had come about. He remembered scientists from the Power Station being hailed in the news as if nature had finally reached the ultimate goal. The truth about the omnious energy source was never revealed and in reality, nature had run its course.
Takezo watched Mina in front of him and his mind interrogated itself, asking why she helped him, he guessed it was because in many ways, she was similar to Takezo. Especially now that the both of them were alone in Nirvana City. The obvious difference in what he previously remembered of her was that she now appeared to be a walking arsenal. He spotted two handguns on either side of her waist, and the glaringly apparent rifle equipped with a scope strapped to her back. Curious about how she managed to obtain these weapons, he thought twice about trusting her.
As if reading his thoughts she said “I see you’ve noticed the gun, and before you ask, you can’t have one. I fought for these myself and I’m not givin’ them up.”
“I have my own weapons” He replied curtly.
Mina stopped dead and turned sharply to face Takezo. “Those kitchen knives wont protect you enough to survive. Now, you see that building few miles from the tower blocks in Purgatory? The Power Station.”
“Yeah, what about it?” recollecting that nobody delivered to the power station because it was routinely blocked off by guards around the clock, the only thing that came in or out were the workers and suspiciously large white trucks. It had been like that for years and nobody questioned it.
“My base is about mile from there but you can’t see it from here. We have a stronghold, me and my clan.”
“What’s that go to do with me?” He said, intent on keeping himself individual but the sudden talk of a clan interested him greatly. Were there more of these clans? Where could he find them? And more importantly, would this give him a lead on his mission?
“It doesn’t.” She snapped. “ But there is someone you might want to see.” She said with a wry smile on her lips.
This immediately caught Takezo’s attention. “What do you know?” He inquired aggressively.
“Enough to make you follow me.”
“Tell me what you know!” He cried in a hoarse whisper.
Mina just smiled again as the moonlight caught her expression and with that, she turned and ran across the rooftop. Takezo stood still for a moment, watching her as he contemplated his next move. He had to find out what – who – she was speaking of and she held all the cards. Cursing himself for being played like a fool he had no choice. In a flash, Takezo raised his chin and sprinted after Mina.
Takezo had been chasing Mina for a good fifteen minutes yet she still held a healthy lead ahead of him. Her exquisite technique was too good as she flung herself from each rooftop. Tweaking her body to perfection and landing gracefully on her feet until her shape transformed into a petit ball as she rolled, cushioning the landing. She was a tigress, elegant with tools of destruction at her side. Takezo was determined to catch up and quickened his pace, almost moving level with her. Mina must have caught sight of him because before long they started competing with one another. Just like the old days he thought. Their rivalry had continued in the mass of the apocalypse and after two miles of heated physical battle, it was soon apparent they had lost their way.
They had come to a dead end, nowhere to go but down or back. This however did not bother either of them as they stood, perplexed, staring at the masses just fifty feet below. Unaware, Takezo and Mina had strayed to the huge complex of Purgatory – a name given by The Royals who decided residents were not permitted to enter the “perfection” of Nirvana Central. Takezo had never agreed with this labelling of class but Purgatory had turned from bad to catastrophic within weeks of the apocalypse. With a surface area as large as Manhattan, the area was now riddled with Brutes.
Takezo felt a pang of anxiety run through his veins as he looked down into the swarm of Brutes below the pair of survivors. Mina swiveld on her heel only to discover here was no way back. The last jump was from a building situated two storeys higher than their current position.
Leaping down would be suicide and even if they managed without breaking any bones, the idea of taking on the Brutes dominating the area was absurd. He looked across at Mina to see a grave expression staring back as though she blamed him for their misfortune.
“What do we do know?” she asked.
Takezo just stood there, racking his brain for an answer. Every second seemed to cement their fate.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not just going to stand here and starve to death.”
“We’re not going to starve,” he replied.
“Well I don’t wanna get eaten by one of those either,” Mina snapped. Another pause went by until her patience began to wear thin. “Are you listening to me?! We are going to die here if we don’t do something.” She cried, and immediately regretted it because some of the Brutes turned their heads upward, sniffing at the air for the scent of human blood.
Takezo however, did not notice as he was still scouring the skyline for a way out. When he finally looked down, still oblivious of the Brutes who were beginnning to attract a scene, he suddenly found what they needed.
“The wires -” he said aloud.
Not understanding his train of thought, Mina’s panic rose. “What are you talking about? I can’t see any wires...” Her voice trailed off into nothing when she realised what Takezo had meant. From the corner of the building there was a bunch of wires held together that led over the snarling pit of Brutes to a battered estate across the road. The gap was around thirty metres and if they were to try and fall then death would be a certainty.
“You can’t be serious.” Mina hissed.
“If you have a better idea, please enlighten me,” He retorted. “I’ve surveyed the area and it’s the only way off this roof. The wires look pretty tough, I think it will hold our weight.” Takezo added optimistically.
“Yes. I think. There is no way to be sure but we have to try. I’ll go first if it pleases you.”
“Shit. Ok. Let’s get this over with.”
And with that, Takezo lowered himself and grabbed the wires, testing its durability first. When he felt sure it wouldn’t give way, he turned once more to face Mina.
“We get to the other side and climb onto the roof. From there we can plan how we’re getting out of this mess. And to be on the safe side, get on the wire when I’m half way across to balance the weight.” Mina simply nodded in reply.
Checking his bagback was safely secured along with his swords, Takezo embarked on the journey across. His audience looked on from below. He turned upside down so that his arms and legs crossed over the wires and began to shimmy his way slowly to the other side. His training had prepared him well for endurance but just five metres in, he could feel the full weight of his entire body drag him down. How was he going to survive? Blocking the haunted thoughts of his barely functioning brain he continued as much as he could.
“Are you alright over there? Mina called out, sensing his weakened body. She was not the only one as the Brues began to make noise, urging their prey downward.
“I’m fine.” He called back, in reassurance for himself more than Mina.
Five long minutes dragged by as his muscles began to ache more than ever before, they trembled under the pressure but he continued, constantly reminding himself of his mission. It was at this point he realised he had passed half way. Mina must have seen as he felt the wires lower closer to the Brutes underneath. That did not stop them. Another five minutes passed and they drew closer to the other side.
All of a sudden, a million things happened at once. The wire on the building they were stranded on earlier, gave way under the increasing pressure and the wires were wrenched out of the concrete block. Hanging on for his life, Takezo felt momentum swing and heard Mina’s scream pierce the night air as they hurtled towards the estate. Before he could react, Takezo crashed through a window, let go of the wire and thudded on the ground.
Dazed, it took a while to come to his senses. He opened an eye to reveal his surroundings and at once, a Brute pounded towards him with full velocity. Takezo had only enough time to roll out of the way before hit snapped it’s tainted teeth. But this one was quick. It flung a heavy hand towards him and the tough nails dug into his cheeck and across his nose. Takezo ignored the searing pain, wiped the blood out of his eyes and scrambled to his feet. His bagback had fallen to the ground along with his two swords. He pulled out a small hunting knife strapped to his ankle and watched as the Brute readied another attack. The smell reeked from it’s mouth as it roared while the moonlight glistened against the rubbery, patchy grey skin. Takezo could feel his heard pounding reverberating off the walls but he stayed firm and waited for his opportunity to strike. If an innocent bystander had watched what was to happen next, there would be no other way to describe what happened next.
In a moment of tranquility, almost slow-motion, the seven foot Brute surged towards Takezo for a third time. Bent knees, eyes on his target. Takezo thrusted the hunting knife across the room. The Brute didn’t reach Takezo. Instead the knife was lodged between it’s eyes as it crumbled to a heap before his feet. Standing there for a split second, he realised how close he had come to death in the past hour.
Then he heard it. Another ear-splitting cry from Mina. Reacting as fast as he could, Takezo dashed for the window, expecting the worst. Luckily, it had not come to that as she was hanging from the wire, just above the shreiking mass below.
“Mina!” He shouted. “Climb up so I can give you a hand.”
She looked up with terror in her eyes, but she managed to lift herself, one arm’s length at a time closer to the smashed window. Her defeated face stared at Takezo as he realised she was not going to make it. “Drop your bag, you need to lose weight!” He said, trying to keep the anxiety out of his voice. He couldn’t lose her now. Mina shrugged the bag of her shoulders and let it drop, crushing a Brute’s head in the process. With that, she gained extra momentum and battled her way up to reach Takezo’s hand who hauled her through and onto the landing.
After what seemed like hours catching their breath, Mina look over to Takezo.
Next time, we’re not taking the wire route. Ever.” They shared a knowing look and laughed. Takezo’s mission was not over yet.
To Be Continued...
© Copyright 2017 Aiden Costello. All rights reserved.
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