*Edge of Understanding: To Hunt Monsters...

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Dumastin
Posts: 374
Joined: 13 May 2010, 14:28

*Edge of Understanding: To Hunt Monsters...

Post by Dumastin » 17 May 2017, 15:54

A man sighed as he wiped sweat from his face with a towel. He leaned back in the small room’s single chair as he took a drink from a water bottle, and a trickle of water escaped his mouth and dribbled onto the outside of the envirosuit he wore.

A few minutes of this, and a chime sounded from a datapad sitting on the small table next to him. He pushed himself up to his feet with a slight grunt and picked up the envirosuit’s helmet, then settled it in place and hit the sealing system. Air hissed past his face as the suit’s seal reestablished itself, and he stepped into a small chamber. The door sealed behind him, and he was surrounded by another hissing as the air evacuated from the chamber and the rear wall fell away, letting him stride down a ramp onto the bare surface of a dead world.

He didn’t know why he’d returned to Vegeta of all places, but it seemed to call to him. He’d brought nothing but a spacepod, as much in the way of supplies as he could manage (much of which was made up of a somewhat unappetizing nutrient paste), and a capsulized hostile-environment-model shelter. That, and the cloudy skies, chemical winds, and floating ash of Vegeta, had been his only home for the past… oh… three months?

He leaned forward, legs straining against the powerful gravity of this dense world as he eased into a jog, then a run as he came off the slope leading up to his base camp and leveled off. He’d grown used to the gravity over time, and that familiarity let him settle into a familiar pace. His mind drifted off once more…

Running made him remember what he was running toward. Or from? He never could really tell. Even in a desolate place like this, it brought him back to the drizzling rain and bright lights of his home, the megalopolis of New Haven. The rhythm of his feet on the streets was as familiar to him as any part of his body. He’d probably covered every inch of those streets in his years on the Polaris Squad force, night and day, week after week.

Being a Northstar, as the Polaris cops were known, meant being fast. The non-Ascended flew high-speed response stingers equipped for rescue and medevac, but when people thought of the Northstars, they thought of the Ascended, for Polaris was one of the three primarily-Ascended organizations in the city’s peacekeeping forces. They were the fastest of the fast. The Northstars patrolled the city at all hours; the sight of a man on foot tearing down the street, weaving through what ground traffic still remained on the planet’s streets, was a common and well-accepted one. It was like seeing a police patrol in a sleepy Earth neighborhood, after all; a living reminder that if something happened, help would be near to hand. It was a point of pride: when a call went up, a Northstar runner was almost always the first face on the scene, whether they could handle it themselves or prepare the way for another.

Even he hadn’t been able to escape from them. He remembered chasing a tricky Namek through the darkness, and even though his power then had been only a fraction of what he’d achieved since, the Northstars had run him down in the end.

Always first…

He picked up speed, gritting his teeth, as a slow growl formed in his throat. An aura formed around him as he powered up, glowing brighter as he accelerated.

Silas had been the first on the scene that night, too. The call had gone out: an unidentified Ascended had appeared and torched a number of buildings. He’d diverted down a side street, taken a turn down an alley so sharp that he’d had to run up the side of the building a good hundred feet before he could get turned around, launched into a flying leap, and landed… in front of him.

He’d tried to land, anyway. Muscle memory and the experience of countless such landings were little safeguard against the kind of paralyzing mental shock that struck him. There among the smoke and the flames, people fleeing in all directions, standing with his arms crossed… A Namek with black skin and a cold, dead implant in place of an eye, but Silas remembered the days he’d sailed on the Carrier, and remembered a Namekian with skin of deep green, with two living eyes and a ready, easy smile.

The shock of it made him hit the ground wrong. He rolled, recovering as quickly as possible, but he slammed into the side of a dumpster before he could come to a full stop. Paper debris fountained into the air as he caved in the side.

He didn’t waste any time coming to his feet and standing before this… invader. People were fleeing; he could hear the dull whines of air vehicles lifting off from the buildings around him. All orderly. The GCP system had the authority to force air traffic into system control during emergency situations, so what would normally have been panic was instead calm and collected. He could hear people at street level still running, though they were blocks away by now… and out of the corner of his eye, he could see people who weren’t running. A couple seemed injured. But there were some not moving at all, and he gritted his teeth.


His hand came up and slid the mask section of his uniform helmet into place. The blacked-out visor obscured his face and, as he felt the pressure collar lock into place, also ensured a steady air supply at high speed and protected him from smoke and fumes. “Captain Henries on site. Multiple civilians in need of emergency evacuation. Recommend activation of combat teams and dispatch of SAR air support.” That call would be enough to get things rolling; combat-oriented members of the New Haven defense forces would start to mobilize, while Polaris response stingers would start to move into place to rescue the street-level civilians. Doctrine response called for a full evacuation of the surrounding area, to create a cordon within which the Ascended could battle without endangering civilian life, and since this guy seemed willing to target civilians, he saw no reason to challenge that. As the first responder, duty fell to him to keep the enemy busy until the defenders could prepare…

He nudged the switch concealed in his glove that commanded his helmet to broadcast his voice rather than hiding it. “Halt and identify yourself, by order of the New Haven Defense Force!”

The black-skinned Namek frowned at him, his head tilting to the side. “I go where I please, and have no name to give. You may call me the Thorned, if you wish. And if you want to stop me, I suggest you get started.”

Silas wasted no time. As the Namek’s hand came up, Silas charged, ducking low underneath a burst of flame. A spear of light formed in his hands, and he brought the tip up, jabbing it at the demon’s chest. It was a killing blow, a savage attack that few people were trained to expect, at least not at the speed with which Silas was capable of launching it. But this time, the spear slammed into a bubble of force that formed between the demon’s hands, and the construct of energy shattered. He barely saw the creature’s head shake, almost in disappointment, before a black hand slammed into his gut…

-------------

Back to the lifeless world. His hand touched the spot where he’d taken that first blow. It hadn’t knocked him out, but it had slowed him down enough that while he’d recovered, others had arrived.

They hadn’t been so lucky as he. They attacked, and they died.

He ran on. His aura flared as his course took him through a ruined canyon. He leaped as he entered the canyon at an angle, and he arced through the air before slamming into one of the walls of the canyon so hard that the ground shuddered all around. He leaped off of that wall, leaving behind a comet’s-tail of flame, and slammed into the opposite wall. In this way he ricocheted his way through the canyon without losing any appreciable speed; the walls were cracked and shattered where he’d begun pulverizing the stone with these daily impacts. He hit the ground and continued to accelerate. A sick feeling washed across him, like he’d swallowed something foul, his stomach churning…

-----

By the time he’d gotten to his feet, three of the city’s defenders were dead or dying. New Haven prided itself on its treatment of Ascended, and the city’s public services had a proud history of Ascended volunteers, so there should have been no shortage of challengers… but against an opponent of this power, the coordinated attacks that normally sufficed to down even an extremely mighty foe were falling flat. Silas gritted his teeth. No, it wasn’t just power. The monster didn’t fight with Dumastin’s flair, but he did fight with his *precision.* It would almost have been easier if he’d simply crushed his opponents, because this business of casually defeating their attacks and laying them out without so much as breaking a sweat was even more insulting to the defeated. The creature’s hands blurred as he wove flame and cold, lightning and wind…

His spear formed in his hand again, and he launched himself forward once more…


--------

Back on the blasted plains of Vegeta, Silas finished his run by slamming a spear of ki into a stone cliff wall. The stone split, cracks running upward for dozens of feet, but the enormous rock face stayed intact.

He sighed.

Why was he doing this to himself? He’d turned in his badge and used his savings to come here in search of something after he’d recovered from the Thorned’s attack on New Haven. And sure, the higher gravity and the tough regimen he was putting himself through had increased his strength, but… He turned the spear of ki end over end in his hands. He was missing something.

He gripped the spear more tightly.

He was… hungry.

He looked up at the stone cliff face. It rose up and up, forming part of what had been a rather picturesque mountain range once upon a time. The erosion of Vegeta’s now-caustic atmosphere (and thank goodness for New Haven envirofield projectors) had turned it into a series of pockmarked crags over the passage of the years.

Similar vertical cracks marked dozens of places where he’d slammed into the crags. The cracks grew over time, marking the progression of his power, but it didn’t fill him with any special sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t even a means of keeping score, he wasn’t trying to measure himself…

He looked at the sky, as the light of the setting sun peaked over the craggy mountains. Again he looked down at the spear in his hands. His shoulder throbbed, and he put a hand over where the twisted, blackened scar was hidden by his clothes.

His face screwed up into a grimace. His grip tightened around the spear and he started running again, his aura flashing yellow, then red as he shifted upward.

-------
The streets were shattered, blackened in places where fire had gouged at the ceramacrete. Some of the nearby buildings were on fire, and the normally-bright street was dim now that stray lightnings had blown out the local power grid. Dozens of Ascended were down, wounded or worse, and Silas was wobbly on his feet, watching as three Northstars danced around the Thorned. Normally their quick, erratic movements would allow them to wear a foe down, but this creature seemed to have no limit to his stamina or his powers. He barely even sweated.

Silas’s aura sputtered and he faltered, nearly going to one knee. He dragged himself back to his feet, gritting his teeth against the pain.

“This is Captain Henries.” He thumbed his comms over to an all-unit address. “On my authority, initiate Formation G.” He closed his eyes slightly, the words paining him to speak, and then he turned his back on the Thorned and ran. He could feel it as others fell into step beside him; the trio who had been baiting the Thorned disengaged, and others, their search-and-rescue roles now complete, diverted to join his course. Silas’s aura left a trail of yellow sparks, and around him, the other Northstars began to emit a building aura that sparked and glowed as well.

He shifted upward in speed as the growing group of his allies and friends rounded the corner, and they followed suit. The power they emitted fluctuated slowly, but glowed brighter and brighter as they fought to harmonize it. This technique was one they had only practiced, and rarely at that; the Northstar combat techniques generally relied on using momentum to fuel and focus their natural auras into a powerful weapon, but this one… This one unified that power into something greater…

But…

Flame erupted all around them, and several of their weaker members stumbled and fell out of formation. Lightning, force, and wind lashed them, and then finally a treetrunk-like mass of thorned tendrils burst from the ground, smashing even more Northstars down. Silas tried to keep going, but a slug of raw force impacted his gut, forcing him to the ground.

He fought to keep from vomiting from the blow, and slowly staggered to his feet. None others rose; the thorned vines crawled over them, cocooning them and sealing them away.

He wrenched his way free of a vine that wrapped around his hand, and started running. Alone.

Faster.

And faster.

His aura wobbled as power poured into it; as kinetic force mixed with his own ki. Yellow, then yellow edged with white, then blue sparks started to form around him.

This technique was meant to focus the combined power of as many users as possible to amplify their shared force into a tremendous strike. He… didn’t know what using it on his own would do. Or, he supposed he did, because it was hard to imagine it as anything other than a pure kamikaze attack.

He formed the spear in his hand, raised it as the black shape came into view….

“GODSPEAR GUNGNIR!”

He felt the moment of impact…

Felt his feet leave the ground...

He looked down, where the spear pierced right through the Thorned. Where one of the Thorned’s vines pierced, in turn, right through his shoulder. He could feel the stinging, the burning, as whatever poison coated those needles seeped into his body. Could feel the monster’s breath as it lifted him off the ground, black blood splattering where it had been impaled. It ripped the spear out with its free hand, and calcified demonflesh started to immediately grow over the wound.

“You are one of the first people I’ve met with the potential I seek…”

Weakly, Silas spat in the thing’s face. It didn’t flinch, just wiped it off with an evil sneer.

“But you aren’t strong enough… Let me tell you a secret. Do you want to know why I came here tonight? Why so many of your friends might never fight again? I suppose some might even die, having pushed themselves too hard to recover.” The demons lips drew back in a predatory grin that bore no resemblance to the warm, playful one Dumastin so frequently sported.

“Because there was nobody to stop me. Because the people of this universe have forgotten what it is to struggle, to strive, to truly *hate.* I came here to see if there was anyone among you who might be able to learn those things. So rejoice, human. These people live, because of you. I spare them.”

He dropped Silas to the ground, turned… “Most of them.” Vines erupted from the ground. Muffled screams as a few of the wounded were engulfed in the demon’s tendrils. Then the sickening sound of snapping bone as their screams were silenced. The demon turned, its expression wild and full of madness in the smoke-choked darkness of the city streets.

“You couldn’t protect them. Engrave that on your very soul. You are a mere *human.* If you want to fight back, want to make sure this never happens again, you have to be something more than human.” The demon crossed his arms. “You have to become a real monster... “ Smoke swirled, and the demon was gone, and Silas’s eyes fluttered as he collapsed to the ground…

-------

Six people died that day for no better reason than to prove a point. Good men, men he’d known and in some cases trained. Several more had been so badly injured as to take months to recover, and for some of them the only reason they weren’t crippled for life was the fantastic vitality of the Ascended.

It brought him back to another day, another time, when he’d been somewhat young on the force. A quiet, unassuming man who sold handmade fineries and kept to himself. How it had felt when they’d realized that his apartment’s matter reclamation unit, a garbage-disposal capable of disintegrating all manner of waste into stable and sterile forms ready to be reused, had been modified to disable the alarms and lockouts that would normally prevent it from working when human DNA over a certain threshold was detected. Or when the labs had run DNA analysis on the hairs used to make the gorgeous little dolls decorating a dollhouse in a place of honor in the apartment, and started linking them to missing-persons cold cases…

The man had fled in a street car, and a young Silas Henries had been the one to pursue him and to drive a stake of pure ki into the engine of his car. And by all that was holy, he *wanted* the man to resist arrest. Wanted to rip him apart, or just to skewer him and say he’d missed. But he hadn’t. He’d hauled the man in alive, and the nightmares had kept him awake at night until he’d finally been there to watch the man’s execution…

He knew that urge. He suspected most people who grew to know the shady side of humanity knew that urge. He kept it under tight guard lest it slip out, because while eviscerating that piece of scum might well have been Justice that still wouldn’t have made it Law.

It was one thing to know what was right. What was just. But Silas had always fought for the Law, for the idea that there was not just a Right Thing To Do but a *Right Way To Do It*,

A monster, the Thorned had said. Well, he could do that. He could, all so very easily. It just meant… choosing Justice over the Law.

His time with Dumastin had shown him much, and he knew how the Namek would have chosen.

His feet pounded the ground. He felt light as a feather, despite Vegeta’s oppressive gravity. His skin prickled at the feeling of power, as he exhaled slowly, as he’d seen Dumastin do, and simply let his power build to its absolute peak. This time, as he passed, the ground fissured in his wake. A spear of light formed in his hands as he launched himself at the bare-stone mountains…

“GODSPEAR GUNGNIR!”

He closed his eyes…

Opening them again, he drifted slowly to the ground, landing gently as the aura around him quieted. Behind him, the enormous stones lay split, the edges where they’d been sundered melted and still glowing.

“I’ll prove that demon wrong. I’ll prove that you don’t have to become a monster to hunt one.”

The decision crystalized within him, and even as he felt it, something… shifted. Something awoke.

Where before there had been nothing, a blade was now standing upright, impaled point-first in the ground. It had the look of a broadsword, with a long, silvery blade sharpened on both edges. His hand tingled as he reached out for it, then he closed his fist around the hilt...

Luke
Posts: 664
Joined: 23 Jan 2009, 00:21

Re: Edge of Understanding: To Hunt Monsters...

Post by Luke » 03 Aug 2017, 11:25

Really good solo. You've always had a way of moving between perspectives and weaving threads of a story into a tapestry that can't be seen until the end.

RPP rewarded

Dumastin
Posts: 374
Joined: 13 May 2010, 14:28

Re: *Edge of Understanding: To Hunt Monsters...

Post by Dumastin » 04 Aug 2017, 01:09

I appreciate that. I was hoping that the flashback/present-day perspective swapping worked, because at times while I was editing this it came off as either forced or incoherent.

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