One, two, one, two, one, two…!

“How long have I been here?” My thoughts wander for a moment. No. Don’t break the flow. I need to keep moving: if I stand still, they will surround me.

Footsteps closing in behind me now. One pair is near, the others lag behind by more than a few seconds – that’s long enough. Adrenaline seems to bind the hands of time as I drop my shoulder and tuck into a low roll. My pursuer can’t slam the brakes on in time. He tries to skip a step and to hop over me. When he does, my knife lashes out like a whip and I can feel its razor edge tear through his groin from below. A startled yelp preludes a crash followed by horrible wailing.

I’m already up and running again before I can check my handiwork. Barely lost a step against my other pursuers, from the sound of it. They’re still after me though. The Covetous. Fortunately for me, this museum is massive and full of dark corners, catwalks, and balconies. If not for that, I might be dead already.

 “One less rat!” I look over my shoulder as I shout back to my pursuers. When I do, I see one of them plant his feet and raise his pipe shotgun. Shit. I swerve suddenly and not a second later I hear the crack of a lead slug rip the air where my head had just been. Time to disappear again.

“Get out of the fuckin’ way!” I can hear him berating his comrades so that he can get a clear shot. No, I don’t think so. I round a corner suddenly to break his line of sight. There are walkways above that are still adorned with ancient, rotting cloth tapestries. Excellent interior decoration idea. I jump, kick my way up the wall to the tapestry and grab it. It barely supports my weight as I use it to quickly scale the wall and ascend to the second level.

Crack! Just as I clear the railing and disappear from sight, another slug flies by me and ricochets off of the stone wall.

“Who taught you rats how to shoot?” My voice drifts down towards them, accompanied by my mocking laughter. I need that one dead. His shotgun is dangerous, even if it is just a steel pipe rigged up to a piece of wood and a few scrap bits. Crouched low and out of sight now, I quickly make my way across the walkway and create some more distance between myself and my pursuers.

“Split up and find that fucker!” I recognize the man with the shotgun’s voice again. He’s the leader. That means he’s probably the only one with a gun, too. Well, you know what they say… strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. I force myself to take deep, full breaths and slow down my heart’s thunderous percussion.

“How long until you slip up, Trent?” I feel the hair on my forearms quiver with goosebumps as the voice inside my head takes this break in the action as an opportunity to taunt me. The shadows dance across the ground in front of me again. I look up and see a ceiling above me. Great. I vigorously shake my head to dispel the specter. Focus! You need to survive this. You have to see Seles again.

“It’s not time for me to die yet.” I murmur. Just like that, the doubt and hesitation fade away like a morning mist melting in a midday sun. My vision sharpens. My knuckles crack as I try to crush the steel handle of my hunting knife in my palm. I can feel the electricity starting to crackle and course through me now. That’s right. It’s not time for me to die just yet, not without speaking to her one more time.

Back to business. The man with the shotgun is, predictably, surrounding himself with cannon fodder now. I don’t need to peek over the balcony to know what they’re doing because I can hear the pairs of cautious footsteps beneath me.

“That’s right. Two at a time so your buddy can watch your back for the boogeyman…” I think to myself as I smirk. Predictable behavior. I continue to crouch in a dark corner on the second floor, listening, waiting for them to spread out more. After all, I’ll take the odds when it’s only two against one. Looking up, something interesting catches my eye; all along the second floor, between the balconies, there are steel cables. Some of them still suspend strange, foreign objects and structures in the air above my pursuers on the first floor. That could be helpful.

I continue to work my way along the walkway, staying low and out of sight. My pursuers have spread out now, but I’ve lost track of where the leader is. Another quick scan of my surroundings reveals a nearby staircase. More cautious footsteps now, echoing up the corridor. My lips part slightly and I force myself to keep breathing deep even as the adrenaline continues to flood my system.

The first pursuer steps up onto the landing. Silence. He doesn’t see me crouching behind the pillar adjacent to the landing. The trudge of quiet footsteps continues as he begins moving in the opposite direction from my hiding place. I hear the second set of footsteps clear the landing and continue off in the same direction.

One, two, three, one, two, three…

Heel to toe, heel to toe, gradually rolling my weight across my foot with each step to remain quiet as I creep up behind the two. They’re close now. Crack. I inadvertently step on a piece of broken glass.The man in back snaps around and turns to face me. Too slow: I’ve already blasted my knife through his oily, black beard and into his throat. His eyes bulge in shock and horror as I raise my knee and snap my leg into a front kick. The weight behind my boot is enough to send him staggering backwards into his confused partner. I’m already following up, charging at the tangled duo.

The survivor stumbles forward as his partner slides off of him and tumbles to the ground, clutching at the hole in his windpipe. The one still standing turns towards me and swings with a steel pipe as he does so; I lean back just far enough to avoid it and I can feel his swing push the air past my nose. As he recovers, I rip one of my knives across the back of his arm, tearing through the muscles. He howls and tries to swing with his free hand. I raise my left hand to block the haymaker, step inside to reduce its power, and drive my knife through his solar plexus with my full weight behind it. He gasps as I wrench the knife free and then he doubles over. I grab him by his mop of unruly blonde hair to hold his head down with one hand. A quick flourish to re-grip and now I’ve slammed my knife down into the back of his neck, through his spine.

“Two more dead rats…” I call out in a mocking, sing-song voice as I skip over to the one that I stabbed in the throat and finish him with a brutal round kick that connects squarely with the tip of his chin. Crack. Silence again. Knowing damn well not to stick around in the same spot, I duck around another corner and distance myself from the scene. How many have I killed already? I can’t remember. I had more important things to think about anyways, like how to kill the rest of them. How many are left? I steal a glance at my wristwatch next – and then I realize I do not have much longer to play around here. Shit. Focus. Don’t break the flow.

“He’s over there!” I hear a distant voice call out. I turn my head and see the man with the shotgun clear the landing of the second set of stairs. He levels the shotgun in my direction and I don’t think, I just react, planting one foot on the railing and launching myself off of it towards one of the artifacts suspended by steel cables: an ancient airplane, something Moria had often spoke of. Crack. Another slug rips the air where I’d just been standing a second ago. Thud. I land squarely on the center of the plane’s wings and throw my hands out into the air to steady myself as it sways under the impact. The steel cables supporting the sculpture groan but I ignore it as I make my way across it with quick, careful steps.

“Don’t let that fucker get away!” I can hear the leader’s voice getting louder now. He’s trying to get a better shot. I look down below me for a second. Three have gathered below me, looking up at my perch like hungry sharks eyeing a fresh slaughter. I’m already two steps ahead of them though. I take a deep breath and harness the lightning coursing through my veins. My right eye begins to crackle and itch as I drop into a crouch, my legs coiling like powerful springs ready to explode. A burning blue silhouette encapsulates the man with the shotgun as he raises it towards me in slow motion.

Nothing escapes my eye now. I can see the electrical impulse travel from his brain down to his trigger finger. Right before it reaches its destination, I explode up and off of the suspended airplane and into a soaring backflip. He fires and his slug ends up blasting off the tip of the airplane’s wing, where one of the steel cables had been attached. A deafening groan fills the museum hall as the old airplane, no longer balanced, careens sideways, straining the remaining connections. Pop. Another connection point comes loose, followed by another, and then the entire plane ends up slamming to the ground with a deafening crash. I hear a pair of startled screams as at least one of the men are crushed beneath the massive artifact. The impact of the plane slamming against the ground kicks up all of the dust and soot that had gathered in the museum over time and fills the hall with a cloud of dirt and deafening reverberations.

My poncho flutters around me as I complete my flip and begin to fall towards the ground. I twist my torso, reaching back with my hand to grab onto another one of the rotting cloth tapestries hanging from the balcony. My fingers close around the fabric and I squeeze, trying to break my fall. The cloth begins to tear almost immediately, but it’s still enough to slow my fall to a manageable pace. As I approach the ground, I stomp my feet to absorb the impact and allow the momentum to carry me forward into another roll. Now I find myself on the first floor once more, concealed within the cloud of dust that the impromptu plane crash had kicked up.

No time to spare. I start to make my way towards the stairs, before I can do so, a hand grabs my shoulder and spins me around. Thud. A fist slams into my jaw, but I turn my chin with it to break the impact. My head snaps back and I can feel the fury in my eyes. He goes to swing again, but I grab the inside of his bicep to stop the swing, gripping his jacket sleeve like my dirt bike’s clutch. Taking his trapped arm with me, I pivot to the side and drop to my knees, pulling him over the top of me and throwing him through the air head over heels. His back slaps against the tiled floor and as soon as it does, my other hand is ready to plunge my knife into his eye socket. Another dead rat. I slink away into the shadows once more before his comrades can spot me.

The dust from the crash settles, the reverberations echo away, and silence returns to the museum. My right eye is still itching, crackling with electricity, and a quick scan reveals two fading silhouettes beneath the crashed plane. Two more dead rats. There can’t be that many left. I had counted maybe a dozen at the start. I look down at my wristwatch again and see that the timer I set continuing to tick down, unabated.  Two of the electric blue silhouettes peer cautiously over the railing and down at the crashed plane. I don’t see any others remaining. Time to finish this.

One, two, three… one, two, three…

I slip through the first floor of the museum without making a sound and then I swiftly ascend the staircase. The hair on the back of my neck is standing at attention now – that means the storm is going to be here soon. I have to finish this and get out of here. My remaining pursuers are scared now; I can tell because they are sticking to each other like glue, moving very slowly, constantly glancing around. Pressing my back to the wall still, I pause to think how I can separate them, or at least close the distance and kill the leader before he can blast me with his shotgun.

Then it dawns on me. I clear my throat.

“He’s over here!” I call from the stairwell, cupping my hands over my mouth to try and disguise my voice. It seems to work. I can hear the footsteps coming towards me now. Closer still. Three seconds, two seconds…

“I don’t see—” The first man who rounds the corner starts to respond, but he’s suddenly interrupted as my bayonet pierces the soft flesh beneath his jaw and drives upwards into the roof of his mouth. He looks at me with big, bulging eyes, like a minnow on a fishhook. I’m not done with him though. Using my knife to control his head, I turn him and put him between me and the leader. BOOM! The crude, improvised shotgun’s rapport is deafening as it is fired at point blank range. The slug thuds into a scrap armor backplate, pierces it, and burrows through the man’s chest before it is stopped by his chest plate. I’m already pumping my legs to drive him forward, towards the man with the shotgun. One step, two steps, and then on the third, I shove my human shield into the leader.

“Motherfucker!” He screams at me in rage, realizing he’s just killed one of his own men. He bodies the wounded man away to get a clear shot on me. Click goes the breach of the shotgun as it opens and he hastily stuffs another shell inside the barrel. As he snaps the breach shut and raises the shotgun to fire, the tip of my boot finds the bottom of the barrel as I bend backwards and kick it out of his grip. The shotgun sails high overhead, spinning circles in the air. In one practiced movement, I draw one of my other knives with my left hand and tear it across his throat before he can react. Hot blood sprays my face and I squint to see. The shotgun gradually descends and lands in my waiting right hand.

“You lose, pig.” I smirk before I pull the trigger on the shotgun. The slug takes the man’s head clean off of his shoulders from this range and a geyser of crimson erupts from his torn neck. Strangely, he manages to stand on his feet for a few more seconds before he drops to his knees, then slumps over backwards. An awkward looking corpse, to be sure. I wipe the blood off of my face with my poncho and collect my knife. Deep breaths, Trent. Deep breaths. You did it. My shoulders slump as the collective exhaustion from this encounter hits me all at once.

I begin to make my way towards the exit now. As I do, something interesting catches my eye. A porcelain figurine of sorts, life-sized, illuminated by a single ray of sunlight beaming through the window above. The statue is wearing a long coat of sorts, very heavy and made out of thick leather. I can tell that this coat is much older than I am, but it seems to be in good condition. More interesting than that is the short blade belted to the statue’s side. I grasp the handle and draw the blade. My ears are quick to appreciate the bell-like chime the blade makes as it is removed from its sheath. I look it over for a minute – the blade looks to be about twenty inches long, much longer than any of my knives, but still manageable. I swipe the blade through the air a few times to test it. I like this.

A few minutes later, I am back on my dirt bike and speeding through the city streets, careful to swerve around the many breaks and obstructions littering the old roads. My leather duster flaps behind me as my new blade rests in its sheath by my side. I glance over my shoulder and see the telltale indigo hue of my lonesome only friend gradually growing more and more distant. I’ll need to take a bit of a roundabout route to get to my next stop, and so I rip the accelerator and speed off towards the setting sun.

Written by Jungle.
© 2021, all rights reserved.

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