The Death of Life
Walking home takes a lot more time than traveling by train. It wasn’t a fact I needed to prove, but as I lazily dragged my foot in the sand along the railway, I received my proof. Walking to Animus instead of riding in a train was, in fact, far longer.
“We really had to flee the train entirely? Why couldn’t we just hop onto another car? Anything but this...” I trailed off, to avoid giving Logan a few choice words. In my head, I continued my rant. It brought me a useless amount of satisfaction, but enjoyable nonetheless.
“When they pull into the station and see a massive hole in the ceiling of one of the cars, I don’t want to be anywhere near it. Besides, this works as your punishment for being careless.” Logan said, his face twitching to hold back a snicker. He was clearly enjoying how much I hated this.
“It’s not like they would know what happened. You told me yourself that their brains would concoct a more believable memory than what really happened.”
I tried to use Logan’s own lectures to strengthen my argument on why his decision to walk to Animus was flawed. He waved a taunting finger in front of my nose, forcing me cross-eyed when I tried to follow it.
“It’s best not to rely on the Underworld’s deception. It’s effective but limited. Even that amount of damage will be difficult to cover up.” Logan picked up the pace, swinging his hand around for me to follow his lead.
He was always impatient, but the stress in his expression made him appear more urgent. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes were strained. It was a tension in his body I wasn’t accustomed to seeing. Logan was a death of immense strength. If he was on edge, then there was a reason to be worried.
The air grew colder, my body instinctively shivering to keep warm. There was a tightening in my chest as I drew in a deep breath. It felt dense, like the air was weighed down by an unseen force. This was what it meant to be scared.
As the sun dipped further below the trees, the orange glow dimmed. It was autumn and the nights had begun to lengthen. It was an especially early sunset this evening, and Logan’s speed continued to increase.
“I just fought for my life a moment ago. Care to ease up a little? I’m struggling here.” My request was met with a steely glare and a hardened response.
“You won’t have a life to fight for if we aren’t back before dark.”
Logan was mute on a further explanation, instead, returning to his scurried pace. I could live without a reason. If Logan was this concerned with reaching Animus before dark, then it was indeed a life-or-death situation. I followed in silence, staying with the beat of his footsteps.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
It was as steady as a metronome, Logan’s right foot always the first beat, followed by my right and then uninterruptedly continued by our left foot. I was exhausted from my fight with Honzo, forced to step in the prints Logan left behind in the sand to stay steady on my legs. I was wobbly, my shoulders sluggishly swinging to the right and then left in time with my feet.
Thump. Thump-Thump. Thump. Thump-Thump.
That wasn’t the correct rhythm. There was an extra footfall shortly after mine, but before Logan’s. It stood out to me as plainly as an orange would among a bushel of apples. I glanced at Logan’s back, but his body language made no inclination that he noticed. For someone so on edge just a moment before he seemed rather lax now.
My attempt to call out his name failed. I mouthed his name, but no words left my lips. Only the chill of my breath escaped as my body let out an involuntary tremor. I instinctively grabbed my arms in a weak attempt to hold my warmth. My movements slowed, my mind fogging over. I felt a haze cloud my thoughts, my overly attentive brain growing numb to my surroundings. I didn’t even hear our footprints anymore, just a howling that sounded like I was trapped in a cave during a storm.
A different voice from my own invaded my head.
I didn’t receive a response. My vision darkened, the sun fully below the trees now. I could barely see Logan’s silhouette in front of me. It was a moonless night with clouds limiting the visible stars. I struggled to focus on my bearings, my thoughts dragging me back in for more.
A new figure fizzed to life behind Logan. I couldn’t make out any distinguishing features, but their presence was familiar - almost comforting. The few stars in the sky combined their light to illuminate his body, but his hood kept his face concealed.
Is that all you can say?
His voice was calm, his mouth barely moving as his soft words floated adrift in my mind. He looked at peace in the faint white glow. He belonged there, under the night sky.
Wait - I recognize you…
I was jolted to attention, the veil of darkness receding from my brain. Everything started to come back into focus, and that’s when I heard it - the stampede.
“Logan!” A combination of a scream and shriek erupted from my mouth in a bone rattling call. Logan’s body shuttered, his hair swaying vigorously back and forth as my yell freed him from his trance.
“Why do you have to be so loud? I was having a pleasant dre-”
He turned a ghostly pale when he twisted his neck to glare at me. Whoever did this to us was dangerous. I followed his gaze and stared at the wave of darkness surging towards us.
A mist cloaked their movements, but the rumble of feet against the sand gave them away. They had no need to conceal themselves, their numbers enough to stomp over any adversary.
The first wave broke out from the mist, their bodies a blur. I couldn’t make out much, but one thing was easy to notice - each of them were skeletons stained black. A few drew swords from the sheaths they carried and one drew an antique pistol. Amidst the thunder of their advance, the sharp crack from the pistol was the signal that began a night of terror.
Logan was the first to react, a wall of darkness erupting in front of me, brushing the tip of my nose as it towered above me like a skyscraper. It was filled with black spirals, each of them swirling like smoke tangled in a whirlpool.
Logan’s command shocked my body into motion, my hips already turning when I saw the first crack appear on the wall. It sounded like ice slowly shattering under a heavy foot.
I’d only made it halfway to Logan when I heard the second break in the wall. From there it went downhill. Every few steps I took, the sound of more cracks stretching across Logan’s defense shook the ground I ran on.
Crack! Crack! Crack!
It was one for every heartbeat now. There was the hum of bodies slamming into the wall to accompany the spider web of scars it now bore. Time slowed when I passed Logan. I glanced back over my shoulder and witnessed the barrier fall. The darkness shattered; the pieces left behind dissolving like leaves burning to ash. It painted a dreary scene as soot rained down on the horde of advancing bodies.
“Get to Animus! I’ve got things here.” Logan said, strapping on a pair of bronze to his knuckles. They blazed to life, a dark flame engulfing his hands.
“But I can help-”
He shot me a scrutinizing glare. His jaw was tight and the few wrinkles that peppered his face creased inward. It gave him an intimidating demeanor that I couldn’t hope to win an argument against. I turned, biting my lower lip in frustration as I ran for Animus.
I heard a roar from Logan, his voice distorting into a bloodcurdling war cry. There was a loud clunk as the sound of him banging his brass knuckles together echoed through the air. A moment later, I heard the skull of his first victim shattering beneath his fist. Shortly after, a pistol’s gunfire was muted by the rage of Logan’s fire. It was the last thing I heard before I was out of earshot.
He’d never lose.