This story was inspired by a series of events, though by no means exactly catalogues those events.
She dragged herself across the wooden floorboards, the sound of her boots deafening in the silence. Did she do the right thing? The thought echoed in her mind as she pulled off the metal plates of her armor, as she placed her sword on the table. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted the rust-brown flecks still on the metal; she’d have to clean it later.
She slowly made her way into the bathroom, scrubbing her hands as she tried to remove the rest of the blood. She must have done the right thing. After all, everyone else did it, too.
The woods are never silent. There’s always the chirping of crickets, the rustle of an animal, the rattle of branches in the wind. She could hear the quiet breathing of the others around her as they stared out onto the open field.
Tents were pitched in neat rows as men and women covered in blood hurried between them. Some carried soiled bandages in their arms. Others carried water or other medical supplies. A woman limped as she ducked inside one of the tents, her thin, frightened face disappearing into the shadows.
That’s when they saw the signal. Their forces rushed across the field, yelling. The injured and wounded screamed out in fear, dropping supplies as they scrambled to grab their weapons. Alexa tightened her grip on her blade, watching as their group systematically killed each of the sick and the dying.
She darted out of the woods with the others in the second group, plunging into the chaos. She almost slipped on the grass, slick with blood. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone shoot a man with a broken arm in the head, his brains splattering the ground as his body crumpled. Someone else had grabbed a woman by her hair. Her screams turned into a gurgle as her throat was slit.
She was so distracted that she almost didn’t see the gleam of metal arcing toward her. Alexa leapt to the side at the last instant as the knife whistled through the air. She turned around, blade ready. A woman with wild eyes snarled at her, holding what appeared to be a kitchen knife, “There are sick and wounded here! What are you doing?!”
Alexa didn’t respond. Instead, she circled around her enemy. The woman lashed out again; this time, Alexa was ready. She lunged forward, plunging the sword into the woman’s stomach. The woman gaped at her, coughing once as dark blood dripped from her lips. The knife fell from her lifeless fingers as she coughed again and collapsed. Alexa wrenched her blade from the woman’s stomach, turning to watch the rest of the slaughter continue. This was war.
The monster was huge, a mountain of muscle and flesh. Its distended face was stretched back slightly, skin barely covering its massive jaws. It dragged its feet across the ground, a growling noise sounding in the back of its throat as it snorted. Bloody drool hung down in long, ropey strands from its yellowed teeth.
Alexa kept to the woods, her heart pounding in her chest as she stared at the creature. It had to have been at least ten feet tall, though possibly more. She swallowed hard, glancing at the others nearby. Already, the monster had slaughtered dozens.
That was the plan.
A shout sounded behind the creature and it turned with a roar, the boom of its cry reverberating through the trees and causing birds to take flight. Alexa was still for a moment, her breath catching in her throat. For a brief moment, she was back in Beacon Hill—back in the marshes.
Then the moment passed and she quietly backed away. The creature charged the man that had shouted. She could see his surprised face for a moment, his fists held up defensively as if that would stop the tide of flesh barreling toward him. Then the monster was on him. It grasped him by the throat, picking him up into the air as his legs flailed helplessly. Its claws dug into him; thin streamers of blood streaked down his shirt. There was the sound of cracking bone and tearing sinew. Blood gushed to the ground, spraying the surrounding forest as it ripped the man in half. Its teeth crunched through the man’s skull.
As Alexa backed away and as she blocked out the screams from the other terrified people, she only had one thought: I did this.
It was the perfect spring day, the type of day that only comes around once every year. Pure, undiluted blue flashed between the branches of trees that were just beginning to unfurl their leaves. The sun shone against the dead vegetation that had been hidden beneath the snows all winter, warming the earth and promising new life.
It was a pity that there was only death.
Alexa stood with the others, one hand on her blade, the other on a small vial; it glowed faintly in her hand, a bluish light that made her feel queasy just to look at it. She quickly stuffed it away in her bag, swallowing back her nausea. After all, they had work to do.
She crouched down, following the group along the path, walled in by rocks and trees. It always made her feel nervous to be closed in, yet she could see why they needed to take the route. After all, being seen would make the mission near impossible.
Fortunately, the path soon opened up, revealing more trees and rocks. Through the branches, she could see the flash of light from the murky water of the lake down the hillside. One of her group slid through the leaves and underbrush; there were a few tense minutes, and then he returned with a wide grin. They moved on.
It moved like clockwork after that. One of their number would do the deed while the others waited in terse silence. They found crates and barrels, neatly lined up for the taking. Alexa saw flashes of cloth, the bright red of apples; she smelled the salty stench of pickled fish and eggs, the fermented odor of hooch, the musty smell of water that’s been kept in a barrel for too long.
It was her turn next. She stepped forward toward the stack of supplies, uncorking the vial in her hand. Her stomach turned and she swallowed back bile as she pried open the lid to a cask of water, dumping the contents of the vial inside. It swirled for a moment in the liquid, the blue glow bright before slowly fading away into nothing.
No one ever talks about the smell. You’d think that it would be repellent, disgusting—the odor of death and decay, or perhaps the stench of charred wood. But it doesn’t smell horrific; it smells delicious. It’s the smell of sizzling meat and crackling bacon over a well-tended fire, the smell of fat dripping into the embers with a hiss. Perhaps that’s what made it all the more nauseating.
The screams, in contrast, were expected.
The man stood in front of Alexa, shield and weapon in front of him as they watched the people burn. She chanced a glance at the one beside her, noting the light in his eyes, greener than they had any right to be; then she went back to watching.
Their hair went first, lit up like the wick of a candle as they wailed. Their skin bubbled as their eyes expanded and burst, leaving trails of fluid down their reddened cheeks. Even after they fell, they continued to burn. The flames licked away at their clothing, leaving nothing but ashes and bones in their wake.
They all watched him do it—she wasn’t alone in that. They stared he grabbed the man by the throat, knocking his hat from his head. The victim gurgled, clawing at his captor’s hand as he tried to say something. He never got the chance; the other screamed at him, spittle flying in his face as he shouted over anything he may have said.
“This is God’s vengeance!”
They watched as he slammed the man’s head against the tree, leaving a smear of blood against the bark. The victim looked dazed for a moment, his eyes widening slightly as his head was slammed against the tree again. This time, Alexa could hear the sickening crunch of bone; the man fell limp.
They continued to watch.
The rest of the act didn’t take long. He nailed the victim’s hands to the tree. Blood poured from what remained of his skull as he choked out a whimper, apparently still alive. His fingers twitched feebly as red streaks trailed down his wrists. He mouthed the words “Help me” once or twice.
They continued to watch.
She heard them before she saw them. The sound was the steady thud of marching feet, the heavy breathing of men, the clatter and clank of armor and the swish of cloth flapping in the breeze; it was the whistling sound of mortars through the air, the distant rumble of explosions and the screams of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the way. It was the sound of war.
Alexa remained crouched in the trees, watching as the forces marched by her. There were scores of them, each eager to kill and maim and conquer. She shifted her position slightly, easing her leg beneath her in case she needed to run; after all, that’s what she was best at doing.
From her vantage point, she could see the flickering shadows within the bar, could almost hear the panicked voices of citizens. There was nothing she could do now—at least, nothing by herself.
She stood as the army passed. Smoke rose into the air as the earth shuddered with another impact of an explosive. Then there was a roar, the sound of thudding feet rose to a crescendo as the army descended on the building. There were crashes, and she could hear the high, frightened pitch of people crying.
Alexa turned, her eyes tracing the path of light in the sky from another of the explosives. She couldn’t do anything here, no; but there were other things that she could do.
The first thing she noticed was the woman’s back. Her purple coat swept the ground, jerked by turns as her shoulders shook with barely concealed sobs. Her hands gripped the edges of the sink, knuckles white as her tear-stained face stared into the mirror. Her makeup was smeared, green eyeshadow trailing into streaks down cheeks that were framed by dark hair.
Alexa paused, continuing to stare at the woman. Her mind flashed through possibilities. Was Marcus dead? She supposed she should comfort her, for all the good that it did. She took a step forward just as the woman turned.
Alexa found herself staring at the woman’s flat stomach, the stomach that was so lately swollen. Drops of blood spattered the hem of the woman’s gown, visible in the dim light of the wooden hallway. Someone rushed past Alexa, collapsing into the woman’s arms as she continued to sob.
She found herself staring into a mirror. Blonde hair framed her face, streaked with dirt and grime. Alexa quickly ran a hand over her eyes, trying not to notice the dried blood still caked beneath her nails. It was necessary; the horror, the pain, the suffering. It was all necessary to save the town…wasn’t it?
And yet there was the thought in the back of her mind, the suggestion of the possibility that something wasn’t quite right. There was the idea that as the town burned and poisoned and killed and maimed and crucified and destroyed, that as it brought men and women to the slaughter, there wasn’t anything left to save.
Alexa let her hand fall from her face, leaning forward as she stared at the reflection. Green eyes peered back at her as she whispered, “We are all monsters in Hayven.”