Chapter 15:

Ash & Blood

By the Shores of Time

A ferocious growl echoed throughout the hall with hurried steps rushing toward Gabriel. The crazed man clenched his ax, swinging it when he got close. The door next to Gabriel opened, catching the serrated edge in the thick wooden door. Traces of wood crawled onto the ground near him, surprised by Celeste’s quick thinking. She swung around the door, slamming a chair leg into their attacker’s face. A single thud came with his quick collapse, he was knocked out. She glimpsed the depth the axe went, remembering how close she was before she opened the door.

“Phew, good job,” he sighed with a thumb up.

“Were you really just standing there?” she asked before forcing the axe out.

“I was trying to see if he’d really do it.”

“Do you know how stupid that sounds?” her expression fell flat.

“Besides, I trust you anyway.”

“That’s—Just a horrible way to implement a trust test.”

She stopped nudging at the axe handle, processing his response. He walked over to pull the axe out, assessing its weight as he moved around with it. She looked upon the bloodied face of their attacker. Pale and emaciated, he appeared like so many who were thrown into the cells below. Although he nearly took their lives, she pitied him.

“Let’s tie him up,” he suggested as he dragged the body into their room.

“What?” she winced.

“He wakes up, he’ll be a problem again.”

Gunfire echoed from the other side, marked with the guards’ panic before slamming the door shut. The guard, for all their firepower, retreated into nearby rooms, allowing the delirious denizens to prowl the halls with an assortment of weapons. Celeste wondered where Elizabeth was while glimpsing the sporadic blood splatters along the dull marble floors. Having tied their attacker, Gabriel walked next to her with his axe. His smile unnerved her upon glimpsing his hefty weapon.

“Remember,” she spoke. “They’re still people.”

“Huh?” he uttered. “Yeah, sure. C’mon, let’s go for a walk.”

“Gabriel, I’m serious. You’re not acting like yourself.”

“Someone just tried to come at me with an axe. If you didn’t knock him out, I would’ve killed him no questions. It’s kill or be killed.”

He turned away, not seeing her concern. Their footsteps echoed throughout the main hall beneath the eerie fog light cast from above. It provided the only light source with the electricity all focused on the precinct’s perimeter. Maniacal laughter filled the eastern halls with the occasional screams upon doors being broken down. Celeste shivered, keeping close to Gabriel as they entered the open hallway.

The candlelight along the hall revealed a trail of blood and broken wood. The hole toward the amplified its depressive atmosphere with settled ash laid upon the dull floor. Gabriel looked over his shoulder, observing Celeste’s reluctance to follow. Life and death, or being its arbiter for the moment was far from what she wanted. Knowing Victoria’s soldiers wouldn’t do anything felt unusual.

Someone charged at them from the door nearest to her, growling like a rabid animal. Celeste reacted reflexively, driving the chair leg into his waist before lifting him off his feet to swing him onto the ground. He flailed before dropping the bloodied syringe onto the ground. Gabriel glimpsed the lilac tinge when she looked over, expressing the same surprise as he.

“Sometimes you don’t know your own strength, huh?” he noted while she took it out of his waist.

The deranged man’s brown eyes glared toward the young woman as he clenched his stomach. She wanted to understand why this was happening, why people had to die when people should’ve come together? Violence remained a constant in the old world and the world she found herself in now. She kneeled down, seeing he was too entrenched in pain to speak. Gabriel was halted by her subtle gesture as her eyes remained upon the dying man.

“Why?” she asked. “Why are you doing this?”

His bloodied hands gripped her arm, tightening it as his eyes intensified. She gestured Gabriel, reminding him not to proceed as he readied to swing his axe. He couldn’t speak through the blood blocking his airways, but his eyes spoke for him. As empty as his gaze was, she received her answer with a dying gasp. His hand weakened as it fell onto the cold floor. Celeste looked toward her partner, who seemed utterly confused by her intent.

“Celeste?” he called.

“It’s nothing,” she nodded, glancing away.

“C’mon, on our feet—”

Movement sprung from a room across her, but she couldn’t react in time as a crazed woman lunged at her with a fork. Her panic replaced her gasps as the haggard woman’s shouts overwhelmed her senses. She closed her eyes before hearing a squishy thump. She met the eyes of the dying woman who coughed blood on her. Gabriel’s axe impaled into the middle of her chest, cutting off her breathing. He nudged the woman over, tearing flesh away as blood squirt near Celeste. After wiping away the blood from his axe, he glimpsed Celeste’s bloodied face. She looked examined their dreary surroundings in shock.

“C’mon we gotta go,” he offered his hand as she stared blankly upon it.

“Is this really the only way?” her voice trembled.

“What—The hell are you talking about? Ain’t nobody got time for a discussion on ethics.”

“Then how are we being any different from them? We’re just killing each other.”

A disturbance from several rooms down startled them. Celeste reluctantly complied as she kept close, watching behind them. The open rooms along the way were broken-in, bloodied with the macabre presentation of mangled bodies. Images of the tragedy engraved in her mind as they continued cautiously. The power shut off in the hall, stopping them from continuing. Celeste saw the main hall was still well-lit.

Her shallow breathing eased upon feeling Gabriel’s hands interlock with hers. But this brevity in respite ended after hearing the notorious clicks from the room next to the gaping hole. She looked over his shoulder upon feeling his body rattle, glimpsing what he saw. With his breathing controlled they quietly took a few steps back. The lanky figure of a clicker emerged from the shadows, emitting its familiar unsettling sounds.. Somehow its talons weren’t bloodied as the dull light cast against its ghoulish emaciated body.

“Wait,” he whispered. “Why is it bigger than the ones we’ve seen before?”

“What?” she replied, glimpsing its visible iris. “It—Has eyes?”

It let out a strange hollow call, drawing the attention of one of the deranged people who hid in wait. Its vocal chord emitted a low gurgling cry, striking fear into the duo. Several tried to attack it once, stabbing it from different angles. It let out shrieks over its aggressor’s ill-conceived chants. Its talons shredded one of their chests, disemboweling them as they were tossed by Gabriel’s feet.

Another bludgeoning swipe cut one in half before decapitating the person next to them. Gabriel took Celeste by her hand as they ran toward the main hall. Another body flew at them, splattering in half before it reached their feet. Blood splattered against the clean walls while blood gushed along the floor. Celeste didn’t dare look back as they reached the end. The clicker charged at them, unafraid of the light at the other end.

“Not good, not good,” he panicked.

“What now?” she tried to remain calm.

More of the deranged emerged from below in a strange show of force. They hid away as the creature blindly leaped over onto the small crowd, continuing its grotesque massacre. Chunks of flesh flung throughout with its effortless swipes. It let out another horrific cry, marking its triumph as it continued to rampage through the dwindling mob. Celeste knew it wouldn’t stop until it killed everyone. She took Gabriel’s axe and ran down the stairs while the creature was still fixated on the brazen deranged who saw it like any other person.

“Celeste!” Gabriel called, trying to grab her arm. “Don’t—You can’t!”

She skipped stairs on her way down, balancing herself as she gripped the axe. After seeing the last person meet their grizzly end with flesh-churning haymaker, she ran toward the entrance of the lower corridor.

“H—Hey!” she raised her voice, drawing its otherworldly bellow. “Aw, shit—Gotta go, gotta go!”

Celeste ran through, evading the remaining deranged who tried to intercept her. She dodged and weaved, hearing the clicker tear through its victims. Glimpsing it drew near, she slid through the medical bay while it took a large swipe against the wall. Tearing through the thick wall, its sharp tip nearly slashed her face when she fell over. It tried to move as its talon was lodged, breaking down the wall in the process.

She scrambled to the other end, running toward the cafeteria across from her. Celeste shut the door, hearing it breaking down the wall in a fit of rage. The poorly-lit room had bodies scattered throughout, riddled with bullet holes. She jumped at the sudden click of a rifle’s hammer. Elizabeth lowered her weapon, seeing her colleague fared well.

“Get behind cover,” the nurse insisted. “What the hell is out there?”

“You don’t wanna know!” she responded.

The doors burst after one power slam, flying through the upturned tables. The leggy creature was on the hunt as it crept along the sea of bodies. Celeste hid in time, seeing the nurse hug along cover. Elizabeth’s hands racked upon seeing the blood-smeared, ghastly creature before her. She controlled her breathing, steadying her aim while reaching for the trigger. It noticed her immediately as the bullet left the barrel. It struck its right eye when it tried to weave away.

It let out a blood-curdling squeal, clenching its bloodied face. Celeste didn’t hesitate to spring to action, seeing its back exposed while it thrashed forward. She hung on, knowing once she let go it would cause her death. It tried to reach over its shoulder to grab her as it dragged her.

“W—Why the hell did I do that?” she thought aloud.

Gabriel arrived, aghast from the strange sight. He saw a dead soldier by the door, holding a rifle in his clenched hands. After trying to pull out the gun, he looked down its scope. The creature made it hard for him to pull the trigger; his hands trembled, knowing he could accidentally hit her.

“Celeste, let go!” a familiar voice spoke calmly through the pandemonium.

Celeste’s grip loosened, sending her sliding through the blood-soaked floors. Gabriel and the creature turned to none other than Ricardo Smith, who was battered and tired from his time outside. He drew his double-barrel shotgun as it charged at him. With a single thunderous shot, its head tore off its shoulder, sending chunks of his flesh away. He took a step to the side as its body tumbled past him. Everyone turned to Ricardo, standing tall as he slung his shotgun over his shoulder. He smirked, looking upon Gabriel’s puzzled face.

“Easy,” he said proudly.

“Jackass,” his friend muttered. “I haven’t seen you in days and that’s the first thing you tell me?”

“What you thought I was dead?”

His baffled silence spoke on Gabriel’s behalf.

Let's up the ante a little, shall we?
It's all ups and downs from here! xD
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