Archive for the ‘Three Years of Hell’ Category

Samantha was unmoving, resting in a fetal position inside the sac, protected from the world.

“Please wake up,”  I cried, banging my hand off bone.  “I’m here for you!  It’s gone!”

No reaction.  The cocoon moved slightly, organs above shifting, providing nutrients.  I cut away at the side with the knife, forcing my way around the door and flesh.  Blood spilled everywhere as I fell into the room, on my knees before the mass of flesh.

I did what worked last time, and burst the sac with a stab.  Fluids poured out as I ripped away, reaching in fo-

A single eye the size of her face opened, moving to make eye contact with me as I reached for her.  Then one over her left breast, then her right forearm, her right shoulder and her left knee.  It was a decoy, meant to delay intruders.  A hand grabbed me, the eye on the back of it staring into my eyes.  Angry eyes.  I stabbed the eye with my knife, gouging it.

The many eyed child let go, beginning to climb out the sack as I backed up, giving her space.  Her hair, Samantha’s hair fell off and away as she climbed out. An eye opened at the calf of her right leg as I adjusted my grip on the knife.  Three more opened at the navel, looking up and down at me, blinking.

“One of Samantha’s protectors, I assume?”

It charged, reckless and violent.  I ducked under an overhead swing with the left arm and went for a stab at the ribs.

A mouth opened, nearly biting my hand off as I pulled away in surprise.

“That’s new,”  I said to the many eyed child.  It struggled a smirk, or what could be called one.

I charged in again, stabbing the three eye formation at the navel and ramming the right shoulder with my own, pushing her back into the ligament cage.  The many eyed child looked at my hand as I stabbed it in the face.  The eye exploded in vitreous, pouring down the neck as the many eyed child spasmed, dying.

“I’m the one who protects Samantha,”  I said.  “Not you.”

I walked out the room and began checking the birthing rooms more carefully, learning from my mistake.  Each room I checked had another monster of Samantha’s imagination, ready to challenge anyone who opened the door.  Another Many eyed child, staring through the door.  A belching screamer, creating a mess and laughing away.  A fingerface, unable to sit still.  A faceless mother and peekaboo child, trying to cooperate as they pulled at hair on the wall.

I wonder what those poor soldiers that were eaten will become?

The last room had Samantha.  It had to be.

It was normal. The only room that looked like a room and not a bouncy castle or some padded cell.  No skin floors with body hair rugs.  No eyes on the walls like security cameras, no traps.

A carpet, some walls and a ceiling were the confines of the room.  Even the door was normal, from when I approached it.  Inside contained nothing but a desk and two tables, with Samantha in the corner.

She had a coat over her cloak.  Another layer of armour.

I knocked, three times.

“Samantha?”  I asked, politely.

No response.  “I’m coming in, okay?”

I opened the door slowly.  Closing it, I looked at Samantha.

She hadn’t moved.

“S-shut up,”  she murmured, quietly enough that I could only catch it now.  “Not talking about it.  Shut up.”

“Samantha?  It’s me, Ryan.  You remember me, right?”

“I’m not like that.  Not like him.”

I took slow steps, trying to avoid her lashing out.  Eventually I got close enough and crouched down beside her.

“Samantha,”  I said, placing a hand on her shoulder.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t follow my promise to you.  I didn’t know they’d separate us so quickly, okay?”

Samantha was silent in response.

“I’ll take you out, and you’ll let it all be normal, right?  I assure you they won’t harm you.  I won’t let them.”

Samantha nodded. I barely picked her up and carried her in my arms back through the hallways as the rooms turned to normal, slowly.

Skin dried, shrivelled and gave way to carpet.  The bone doors slowly changed back to the painted blue wood,  Eye lens returning to glass.  Eyes fell away from the walls, rotting like umbilical cords.  One door opened.  A fingerface, his fingers wriggling in excitement.

“No,”  I said, ordering him.  “I’ve got her, she’s safe.”

He cocked his head, all but six fingers where his mouth should be laying flat against his skin.  An array of fingernails overlapped like scales.

“She’s safe,”  I repeated.  He backed away, waving dismissively behind me.

The peekaboo child was breaking inches away from my neck.  Blue eyes, scanning me from behind.

“She’s fine,”  I said, to reassure her, her protective beings and myself.

I had reason to.

***

One Year Ago: Kingdom of  New Austin

It hurts. It hurts.  Make it stop.

“Ryan,”  taker teased, sitting before me.  “You should give up.”

Make it stop.

“No,”  I strained.

Taker waved to his men, and another tink of metal sounded as a winch was pulled, the mechanism suspending me moving a little more in response.  Pain shot through my body.  My knees broke hours ago, it’s the only way to explain how I felt my legs bent against the drum.  My arms were next.  One more click, then-

Tink. It hurt so much.  I could almost faint.

“Just say it.  Beg me to let you down.  I’ll be nice, I’ll treat you like an important part of the family,”  he smiled, sipping some glass of alcoholic drink.

“I’ve always wanted a family pet.  I’ll adopt you from Sacrifi-”

“No,”  I interrupted, in pain from the act of moving when I shouted.  “I won’t.  She isn’t like that, she isn’t like y-”

Tink.

I woke up god knows how many hours later, all healed and healthy.  Sacrifice was right there, the cell across from me, still chained up.  She’d all but given up.

“Ryan, I’m sorry,”  she muttered, in the throes of a nightmare.  “Ryan, I’m sorry.”

I shifted, chains clinking.  I could move my knees and elbows, thankfully.  The one mercy we were given was that New Austin had some very good doctors.  Unfortunately, we had some very good doctors.

“Ryan, I’m sorry.”

I’m getting tired of the repetition.

“Hey, Sacrifice!”  I called out.

No response.

“Hey, Samantha!”

She roused awake, looked around, and sighed.

“I’m still here,”  she said to herself, audible only in the pure silence that had been our home for the last two years.  It was dark, but not too dark.  Stone were the walls and ceiling.  A thin layer of dirt covering the stone below was the flooring.  Metal bars separated each cell, and an array of shackles and chains as decoration.  “Fuck.”

Sacrifice looked miserable.

“Hey,”  I said, trying to create a conversation.

“What is it?”  she asked, looking at the floor.

“You were having that dream again, right?”

She hesitated.

“Don’t apologize.  He’d have done it anyway,”  I added.

She looked away.

I tried to get her to respond.  “Sacrifi-”

“Shut up,”  she finally spoke.  “Just shut up.  I want to sleep.  I want to lie down.”

“Sleeping all the time won’t work,”  I said, my voice louder.  “We have to keep sane minds!  We ha-”

“Sane minds!?  Sane minds!?”  She was shaking, crying in rage.  “He’s been fucking with ours!  Have you wondered how many times you wanted to give up but nearly didn’t?”

Too many to count.

“You did give up!  You did fucking cave in!  Every time, we let him win and he puts us back to square one and grinds us down again!”  She was shouting at the top of her voice now.

I sighed.  I feared this too.  He just wanted to play with us, and is holding up his agreement just because it was Trauma.

“I-I thought that too.  I wouldn’t dwe-”

“I saw you!”  she screamed, furious.  “I saw him fucking break your legs and make you beg him to stop!  And then he broke your fucking arms anyway!”

Wait, what just happened to me?

“He’s been making me watch, every time I was free he made me watch and now he’s just fucking letting me remember because it’s the last year!”

“Look, Samantha, Lis-”

It didn’t work.  She thrashed, angry and terrified at the world, her chains rattling like mad.

She glowed in the magnificence of powers being born and reborn, and chains turned to intestines, tied like knots.  The ground and the room slowly changed to human flesh.  She’d re-awoken her powers again; she’d reached the twelfth stage.

***

“I’ll protect her,”  I said to the many eyed child, heading for the outside.  Only Samantha’s beasts were left.  The parodies of the friends she had to kill.  The family she was tricked into murdering.  “I’ll protect her, Druggie.”

The many eyed child is surprisingly receptive to the name Druggie, just like how the peekaboo child responds to Bloodwitch.  Homunculi; perverted and insane representations of others.

I walked out, Unperson, Maxwell, the new cape and Margaret standing in a circle, talking.

Maxwell turned to me.  They knew.  Margaret must have told them.

“There are a few things in there that you should kill,”  I said.  “They aren’t that hard to fight, but they are human-ish.”

Unperson looked sick.  I stunk of various fluids.  I needed a wash.

“Ryan,”  started Maxwell, softer now.  “You must talk.  We can take care o-”

“You can’t,”  I said.  “You know who she is, and you know what happened.  What should be done, and what will be done are complete and utter opposites, and she’s already…”

I choked.

“I’m going to take her away.  Not to the City, the city is a hell hole.  I’ll make my own place, I can do it.”

Unperson looked confused, but stopped Maxwell from interrupting me.

“The city isn’t good enough.  Too many people get thrown in, regardless of how good they are.”

Unperson spoke up.  “She’s not go-”

“That doesn’t matter!”  I shot back.  “She paid for that more than anyone else ever will!  I don’t think a single criminal or fugitive or whatever out there paid for what they did in their entire lives as much as she did in a year!”

“Ryan, she’ll just do thi-”

“I can make spaces, and you know they don’t go away until I wish so.  There is only the City, that’s all there is to stop powers from activating,”  I explained.

Guards finished off the last monster in the now normal building.

“I can make whole villages to aid others who can’t, just let me take care of her myself.”

Maxwell looked at Unperson.  She was partially convinced, but not enough.  He looked at Margaret.

“He can do it,”  she said.  “And Maxwell;  I didn’t get it as bad as she did.  Nobody did.”

Maxwell growled under his breath, cooling the air.

“Fine,”  he relented after too long.  “It’ll be under contract with the NHN Ryan.  That is if the higher ups agree with it.”

He turned to the unnamed cape.  “Aim, go report this to Alliance and crew.”

Aim smiled, and set off in the air.  His green spandex didn’t suit him at all.  Sacrifice rested, not stirring as I barely held her up in my arms.

I need to put her down somewhere.

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This panic was unreal.  I’m just a normal guy.  My powers make super powered people normal when I think of them.

It took several seconds before I realized they were running towards something.  Something that I assumed was called Samantha.

I followed, running as fast as I could to the building they all surrounded.  She’d used her powers.  I knew it.  There was no way there would be such a panic if she hadn’t.

I’m easily beaten, I know that.  When I fight, I bring people down to my level and try and fight them one on one, or overpower them with whatever advantages I have.

Margaret is rather easy to handle.  She makes prisons to hold people as long as she likes, but she needs a line of sight.

Samantha is a different beast.  While I have had no extra powers due to my unusual origins and Margaret has had hers tailor into the best protection from an attacker, Samantha’s power became warped.

I saw the building.  Samantha was definitely in there.

“What the fu-”

A stray comment from a guard as I walked up the the building that held Samantha.  It was clear that the building has been influenced by powers.  The glass bent, wet.  The doors and windows lost their corners.  The ground around it faded into a new colour, pinkish.  The building stunk, even from where I stood, behind a crowd of soldiers.

The guards were backed up.  Maxwell stood outside, closer.  Next to him, Margaret and a third cape I didn’t recognize.

They made Samantha upset.  I knew it.

I barged past the guards as they barely noticed me, engrossed in the sight.

Maxwell saw me first.

“Unperson, why is Ryan here?”  he asked, looking behind me as I turned around.  Unperson smiled.

“I followed him when he freaked out over a question.  I was going to subdue him but there were bigger issues, boss.”

Maxwell looked cross.  “…We’ll talk about this later.”

I walked up to the doors, ignoring the commotion.  They let me.  Did they trust me, or…

I turned around to face Margaret.  She must have told them.

I turned back at the building and nearly placed my hand on the door handle before it moved, snapping teeth going for my fingers.

“Nice try, Samantha,”  I muttered, kicking the door with a boot.  The inside hit me with a wave of stench as the hallway dripped with all forms of liquids.  Bone and cartilage held the new interior up, as mucus, pus and other wonderful liquids dripped from above.  I took a step inside, the soft warm dampness soaking my sandal and touching my bare foot.  Reddish brown.  Gross.

“Samantha?”  I called out, taking more steps inside an stroking the walls gently, like last time.  “It’s me, Ryan.”

No response.  Only the sounds of dripping piss and vaginal juices from somewhere above as it splashed into a puddle on the hallway floor responded.  I smiled at the use of body hair for a rug as I looked at the sight inside.  Clever.

An eye failed to close in time as I turned, looking at the first door in the former hallway.  Two soldiers floating in amniotic fluid, given freedom to breathe with airway umbilical cords.  One saw my and beat on the window a few times trying to scream for help.  At least she’s playing nice, I thought.

The next door wasn’t as nice.  It was stomach acid instead.  They were still fighting, pulling away at the bone door, banging at the windows for dear life.  I moved on, quietly.

“Samantha, I’m here to help,”  I said, moving slowly down the hallway.

A scream from behind.  I turned around, quickly.  “You promised to make it okay!”

The mouth, lungs and and throat belched out a nasty smell that nearly floored me.  I took a step back into something that grabbed my foot.

“Samantha, I won’t hurt you!”  I yelled, pulling my leg out.  Teeth and bone shot out, filling the hole with shit stained spikes.  I sped up after regaining my balance.  She was hiding.  More doors, more soldiers.  I’d help them by helping Samantha, I thought.

A mass of muscle blocked my path as it contracted.  Blood seeped from it, slowly.  She was in the room behind it.  I turned to a Bone door and kicked with all my might, piss pouring out and nearly washing me away.  One soldier scrambled to his feet, panicked.  I grabbed him, trying to calm him down as he tore off the amniotic breathing mask covering his have.  He stunk of fecal matter and dried blood.

“Wha- wha- what,”  he repeated, shocked.

“Calm down.  Just stay here and don’t move,”  I said, petting him.

He lashed out, knocking me on my back and ran down the hallway.  He never even reached the door before a large bone swung out, ripping wall and slicing his feet off at the ankles.  I turned to the wall, ignoring his screams.  I warned him.

The wall in the office was soft, soft enough to could cut open easily if I had a knife.  I saw that the other soldier was dead, drowned in urine.  It didn’t take long before I had a knife in my hand from looting the man’s corpse, and I began tearing my way through the walls, like it was a jungle bush and I had a machete.

I broke through, covered in various liquids as I cut a tube pumping a mixture of liquids and it sprayed me.  The bone was easy to get past.  Kick it down, hard.

“I’m sorry, Samantha,”  I said.  No liquids filling this office.  It was a pit trap into more stomach acid, smooth, oily skin serving to lead victims in.  I opted to just cut my way into the hallway, slicing flesh and organs away.  A bone spike shot at me from inside the wall, but I dodged it, having it only clip my hood.  I grabbed it and cut the hood off, unhindered by Samantha.

She was there, in a room surrounded by a cage of bone, an amniotic sack suspended by a mass of tendons and ligaments.

“Samantha!”  I shouted from behind the door.  “Wake up!”

 

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“I admit it,”  I said.  “I fucked up.”

Maxwell had no sympathy for me.  I didn’t expect him to.

“You are telling me you had your powers readjust six times?”  Maxwell asked Margaret.

“Yeah, and?”

Maxwell had no response.  It was a mix of emotions, hearing this and seeing her treat it so casually.

“This,”  he began, sighing.  “This is serious.  I can’t really let you all go.  Not before, and not now.”

I relented.  I didn’t want a scene to be the first thing, and it already was.  Even the soldiers in the distance were tense.

Unperson restarted the conversation after a few seconds.  “So, Ryan Anderson, Margaret Upton and Samantha…”

Samantha didn’t take the bait.  She just stared at her, cautious.

“She’ll prefer to go by Samantha for now,”  I said.

Unperson gave a curious look.  “Let’s get you inside,”  she said, leading the way.  I followed, with Samantha tightly holding onto my hood still.  Margaret walked alongside Maxwell, trying her best to get acquainted with an old friend.

 

***

Three Years Ago: Kingdom of New Austin.

“Ryan, you aren’t eating,”  said Fractal.  He was dull, everything wiped from his mind by Taker.  Taker began to enjoy the boosts his power got, mainly the ability to use his powers without the touch requirement.  I hated it.  I couldn’t trust anyone.

I hated his sick joke of a reward.

“I don’t want to,”  I said weakly.  It still moved on the plate.  unnerving.

“Ryan, if you don’t eat you’ll lose your strength,”  said Fractal with no inflection at all.  “You want to get out, right?”

There it was.  The goading.  I didn’t want to die here, neither did Event Horizon or Sacrifice.  Taker abused this, used it to turn us against ourselves.  I almost wanted to die, and every time that feeling reached its peak, Taker jumped on it.  A cycle of torment.

Fractal put the plate down, just out of reach enough that I’d have to crawl over to get it.

“It’s only fair, it’s a treat,”  he said.  “She took yours, you take hers.”

It wasn’t like that, I thought.  It wasn’t.

I hesitated, reaching out for the plate, shackles and chains clinging along the floor.  I finally crawled over once it stopped beating.

“Good,”  smiled Fractal, uncanny in his appearance.  “Every last bit.”

I slowly took a bite down, blood spilling from Sacrifice’s heart into my mouth, down my hands.  She probably grew a new one by the time I was given this.  A new one for Event Horizon.

 

***

“Hey, what’s with the staring?”  asked Unperson, waving a hand in my face.

“Sorry,”  I said, my attention finally grabbed.  “Daydreaming.”

She shrugged and sat down at the other side of the table, papers in hand.

“Shall we begin?”  she asked.

“Can we hurry?”  I asked back.  I didn’t have time for this red tape.  I had to check up on Samantha, too.

“We could just get somebody to read your mind out your range,”  she said, stern.

“Fine.  Here’s what I know; four members are left from the Hunting Party, one of them is effectively harmless.  The kingdom is ruled by Taker, who has mind control powers,”  I said, counting my fingers.  I put my hand away under the desk.  They were all back, but how they grew wasn’t a good memory.

“Sorry!”  I said when I noticed her confused look at my actions.

“That’s all good,”  she said, writing down some notes.  “I’m more interested in you.  You mentioned mind control.  I don’t want to ass-“

“Assume I am under Taker’s thrall?”  I finished for her.

“Yeah.”

I sighed.  I didn’t know if I was, really.  Three years for him to prod and poke at me, with my glaring weakness every time I was asleep or distracted combined with the things he did everyday to throw me off, to throw us off our balance…

I didn’t know.  Maybe I broke down at some point and he patched me up, or he gave me a subliminal order for Trauma later on?

“Ryan?”  I looked up.  Unperson looked worried again.

“Your cloak fell down a little,”  she pointed.  I smiled and pulled it back up, covering my left shoulder.

“It’s not broken, right?”  she asked.

“No,”  I replied, brushing her concern off.  “It’s healed.  I don’t want to talk about this.  So-“

Unperson interrupted my excuses.  “You need help, Ryan.”

“I don’t,”  I said, quieter.  “I’m fine.  This is irrelevant to the reason I’m in here anyway.”

They can’t prove I am or am not a sleeper agent, truth be told.

“I’ve told you what I know, or all the rele-“

“You didn’t tell us exactly what happened,”  Unperson sighed.  “We need that.  Everything that happened, from the day you and Event Ho-  The day you and Margaret had gone missing until the moment you le-“

I stood up and left the interrogation room, annoyed that I was asked to narrate what happened.  I had to find Samantha, anyway.  If she was being asked the same questions…

No.  I ducked into a utility closet as several guards walked by, just avoiding their attention.  Maybe she’s in the same hallway?  That would be stupid.  They’d separate us.  Myself and Margaret have powers.  Samantha would be assumed to have them.  I took a glance into one of the rooms, my pace quickening when I didn’t see Samantha or Margaret.

No guards as I turned the corner, only a breeze knocking paper away behind me.  Damn portable buildings.

Almost every room at least glanced at, and none of these portable offices have more than one floor.  I went for the exit, nearly breaking out into a run.  I reached my hand out for the do-

Unperson grabb-

I tripped over and fell into a trash can in haste.  A guard came out to look at where the noise came from, spotting me instantly.

“Hey,”  He shouted, reaching for a gun or taser.  “Stop!”

I didn’t have time for this.

The door was feet away from me, I charged at it, tossing the trash can at his direction with one arm making trash flying through the air and block his sight.  I barged through the door and ran to the next building, the base kicking up in activity.

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Samantha stood next to me and Margaret.  She shivered, looking at the great red forcefield that separated us from the world.  The wall that held New Austin back.

“I’m scared,”  she murmured, rubbing her arms.  The single piece cloaks and sandals were not suited for such cool weather.  “I mean, what if he lied about the Exile?”

I looked at her, and smiled.  “He promised her.  Even if he lied, would you want to go back?”

Samantha flinched at the thought, before turning back to the forcefield, her blue eyes scanning the wall.

The Exile.  A gift that allows us to pass through the borders of New Austin once.  A chance to leave.  We all took it without hesitation.  Margaret made a run for the borders, laughing.  She phased through with ease collapsing to her knees at the other side still happy.  Samantha followed, nearly tripping over in the dirt.  Her cloak hood blew down and her long black hair flew behind her as she regained her balance and made a beeline for it.

I walked to the border, placing my hand against it.  It was soft, kinder than whom it contained.

“Hurry, let’s go!”  yelled Samantha, bringing me out of my distracted daze.

I pressed my hand through first, and began my trek to the greater world as I slowly felt the softness crash through me in a single step, like a wave.

***

Less Than Three Years Ago: Kingdom of New Austin.

Taker sat there, telling me the tale of why he did this.  I wasn’t listening to him.  I didn’t want to.

“So I just altered her mind and made her think she was a maid!”  he laughed, sitting in his chair.  He pointed at a jar of water and a glass on the table in the middle.

“Help yourself.”

I shifted in my chair uncomfortably, the chains giving little leeway and rattling.  Taker smiled to himself, his own little joke amusing him.

“So it has only been a single week so far, you know,”  Taker said, leaning over to drink from his own glass as my eyes followed his movements.  “I’m glad we could chat.  See your progress so far.”

“You bastard,”  I countered.

“Well, that’s enough speaking from you.  Quiet.”

I shut up, unable to defy the King.

“So how are things anyway?  Are the cracks already showing?  Are you still angry at Sacrifice?”

I was, but…

“I should check up on her progress.  She should be further along, after all.”

…I couldn’t help but feel a pang of sympathy.  I’m glad I don’t have any super-healing or super-durability at all.  If I did; if Event Horizon did, I’m positive Taker would go all out on us, too.

“I must admit, the medical technology in here is pretty good anyway.  I was actually surprised when they said that you wouldn’t die from shock!”

He laughed, wiping a tear from his eye.

“You know, that’s a pretty fun face you made there.  You are still so angry at the world.”

***

I didn’t need to walk far before my first encounter with the world I was taken from happened.  New Austin was small enough that a perimeter was easily built around it, thanks to the efforts of my companion and I, over three years ago.  Chain-link fences formed a wall in the distance, and there was an occasional station with guards and turrets of all shapes and sizes lingering about.  A gate with sand bag fortifications stood before me, Samantha and Margaret.

Samantha hesitated, seeing so many people.  I caught up with her and Margaret as they stopped at the gates.

“Halt,”  boomed a soldier holding a megaphone from the other side.  I figured we’d have to deal with this sort of problem at some point.

I raised a hand, a gesture.  Seconds passed.

“Somebody will be sent to see you,”  said the soldier.

Somebody did.

Maxwell.  He was still blue, cold and frigid as the air around me began to chill.  I huffed out a visible breath as he approached, towering over me, still.

“Greetings,”  he said.  “I am Maxwell.  I’ll be the emba-“

“I know that,”  I said, impatient.  I had too few clothes to deal with the cold, and any more reminders for Samantha that she was separated from people by only two layers of cloth hiding away her body would do no good for having her help me at all.

Maxwell raised an eyebrow, looking at me as I stood there, my hood still covering my head.

“We’ll start by asking you to remove your hood,”  Maxwell said.  “It’s suspicious when three hooded figures show up by leaving the border of a country run by a known…  Well, I’ll let you imagine.”

Those pronoun changes were enough to convince me.

I took off the hood slowly.  “Hello, Unperson.  Can you stop?”

Unperson walked into my view, surprised.  She’d changed.  Her hair was longer, her costume was different.  She was wearing body armour, evidently enhanced by something, as the glow lines indicated.  Her eyes were still covered, but the goggles were newer.

“Ryan?  I thought you died!?”  she exclaimed, a little too unprofessional for my liking.

I smiled back at her an Maxwell.  “Not exactly wrong.”

Samantha moved behind me, peering over my left shoulder, staring at Maxwell and Unperson with suspicious eyes.  I turned to look at her as she tugged on my hood.

“D-Do I know them?”  She asked, figiting in perceived safety.

I smiled and patted Samantha gently on the head in response.  “Yes, but not like how I did.”

Maxwell looked at me, her and Margaret.

“So, Ryan and…”  he prompted me to finish.

“Margaret is your old leader.  Sorry,”  I said, looking and pointing at Margaret as she smiled and waved, finally taking her hood off.

Maxwell looked at Margaret, surprised.  Three years change people.  Three terrible years change people even more.

“And the big softie behind you?”  asked Unperson, looking at Samantha.

Samantha whimpered slightly.

Dammit.

“I don’t want to say,”  I replied.  “It’s a long story.”

“I’m okay with stories, Ryan,”  said Unperson, crossing her arms.  “You’ll need to tell us one anyway.  It’s not often that you see peo-“

“I told you I don’t want to say,”  I emphasised, harsher.  Unperson didn’t react.  She took a step closer, making Samantha pull me by the hood as she took a step backwards, still clinging tightly to me.

“Ryan, things have changed,”  she said.  “I don’t know how you enjoyed the last three years but out here it’s been hell.  We’ve had worse things than a fucking wa-“

Margaret cut Unperson’s ranting off with a wave of her hand.  A cage of energy, holding her down with a mask covering her eyes, binding her to the spot with chains.

“Hey,”  Unperson exclaimed, surprised.  I was shocked too.

I gave Margaret a look.  “Stop.”

She let Unperson go, allowing her to feel her face for the mask that disappeared and the bindings that left.  Maxwell looked shocked most of all.

“What the hell happened for her to get to the second stage, Ryan?”  He asked, the air becoming deathly chill.  Samantha rubbed herself, her clothes too thin to help with the cold.

Margaret answered first.  “I’m not at the second stage, dumbass.”

“I’m at the seventh.”

That statement did nothing to calm Maxwell down.  He looked at me, blamed me.  I did too.

“Ryan, what the fuck happened?”  asked Unperson, serious.

“I fucked up,”  I replied.  “I fucked up and got everyone hurt.”

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