“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” Stephen King
Valentino paced the rocky road, metal toed boots crushing the pathetic gravel beneath them. He was becoming impatient, more than he already was. He had scheduled a meeting with this group of survivors’ leader, a man by the name of Makilin Andrei. By the sound of it—at least, if the murmured words of the camp refugees were anything to go by; they were known to spout lies just to see a fight and acquire some measly entertainment—Makilin was cold, cruel, and ruthless. He took no insubordination, and Valentino’s scarred escort—one of the camp’s guards—had even told him a tale in which Makilin had publicly executed a soldier who had disobeyed his orders on the field to retrieve a fallen teammate.
Finally fed up with waiting, Valentino turned to the guard of the small camp. “Where is he?” he growled, deep and menacing.
The guard was not perturbed. “Makilin is nearly here. There is no need to cause a ruckus.”
“I will not be kept waiting! I am a man of much importance!”
The guard’s eyes flashed with building irritation. “Importance is not of high significance here. You will wait for Makilin and you will follow whatever orders are given.”
His companion, a slightly shorter man with a bulky upper torso and short arms, nodded vigorously. “If you want a piece of advice, I would not get on Makilin’s bad side if I were you. Death literally leaks from the hands of our commanding officer. It will not hesitate to embrace you in its cold grasp.”
Valentino scoffed. “Your leader is not death reincarnated.”
A deep and rumbling voice sounded. “I suppose you will be the judge of that?”
He turned. A tall man loped towards the men, power rippling through his broad and lean frame. What surprised Valentino, however, was that he was carrying a rather tall woman, one who seemed to be taller than him. Her head was braced against his powerful chest, and slanted almond shaped eyes were shut against the obvious pain she was in. Long and thick black hair flowed behind her, as well as a tattered and slightly shredded cloak. Blood stained her menacing knee-high boots, dripping in steady streams down to the ground, and the fluid covered her limp hands as well.
“Are you Makilin?” Valentino demanded harshly, tossing his hair from his face in clear arrogance.
The man slowed his pace as he neared them. Up close, his bronze skin gleamed almost unnaturally, and the gruesome scar that marred his face stood out harshly. Golden eyes blazed through the depths of his dark and wild hair and fixed onto the impatiently waiting man standing before him.
“You clearly are dumber than you look,” the golden man hissed in an irritated and weary voice. With a slight nudge, he woke the woman slumbering in his arms. With a quiet groan, her eyes fluttered open. Valentino was surprised, only marginally, at the deep red color of her eyes.
“Makilin, there is someone here to speak to you.” The man leaned close and whispered in her ear, lips brushing her dark cheek.
Valentino was shocked. “This is Makilin? This weak, sickly woman? I can’t believe this!”
Makilin’s eyes shot open fully, and the vicious growl that sounded from her made him hesitate slightly. “Put me down, Aiath. Now.” The icy and detached voice that came from her only added to his suspicion that this woman was not normal.
The golden man, Aiath, gently set the taller woman on her feet, steadying her as she swayed. With an irritated groan, she pushed him away and approached Valentino, who held his ground, not intimidated in the slightest. The guards, in his peripheral vision, moved back slightly, as if her rage was something to be scared of.
“I do not know who you think you are,” she hissed in a low and menacing, albeit slightly hoarse, voice, “But coming into my territory and showing complete vulgarity to my men is something I do not tolerate.” A dagger was suddenly in her grasp, and her crimson eyes blazed. “If you continue to disrespect me, you can turn around and leave right now or risk being decapitated.”
He was not impressed with such a second-rate display of so-called intimidation. “I am Valentino Nikitvo Yaroslav II. I am the head of the Russian-based survivor rescue group known as the Spasateli.”
Her eyes widened and Aiath stiffened. The snarl of pure rage that erupted from her was unexpected.
“You,” she hissed, teeth bared. “It was you!”
She lunged and made to attack, ruby eyes blazing with unrestrained hatred and insanity, before Aiath and the guards rushed to hold her back. All the while, she kept fighting them like some rabid animal, complete with the thrashing and the snarling.
“Great. Your leader is insane. Anything else you want to add to the list?” Valentino crossed his arms, now extremely annoyed.
Makilin snarled, glaring at the black-clad man. “You were the one who killed them! You killed Sviatoslav!” Tears began to stream down her face as she cursed at him in Russian, over and over again, repeating the same words each time.
How does she know? Valentino wondered silently. He crossed his arms and an irritated look crossed his face. “What does she mean by that? We only come with goods and supplies to trade.” He motioned with the trucks rumbling contentedly behind him.
“In exchange for what?” Aiath hissed in a strained voice, muscles bulging as he held the crying Makilin in his arms, murmuring soothing words to her beneath his breath.
“We only ask for food, water, and shelter—nothing more, nothing less.” He turned abruptly and shouted to his lieutenant. “Esperanzo!”
The small and bulky man immediately came at his commander’s call. “Yes, sir?”
“Explain to them what our purpose is here.” Valentino took a slight step back, letting his second in command have the spotlight for a brief moment.
“We are a search-and-rescue group, ironically named the Spasateli, formed by our charming Mr. Yaroslav. We are dedicated to helping what remains of humanity thrive by supplying fresh food, water, and supplies. We hold what remains of the vaccinations created for worldwide diseases, and for those we do not currently possess or have the means of formulating we make up with our specially-trained doctors. We currently have commodities to trade, things such as fuel, food, water, and salt. We pose no threat and only wish for shelter. We have roamed the open land for quite some time.”
The enraged woman hissed, very much like an animal. “Lies! You present nothing but lies!” She struggled to break free but failed in her weakened state. Tears shimmered in her strange eyes. “You killed Sviatoslav!”
“Easy, Makilin,” Aiath murmured, stroking her hair in a futile attempt to calm her. His golden eyes fixed on the Russian man. “What makes you think we will accept you? We go by what Makilin orders, and she clearly does not favor you.”
“Your leader is clearly mentally unstable. She is not worthy enough to lead you.” With a flick of his long coat, Valentino had his weapon exposed and aimed at the fuming woman. “She must be replaced.”
This time, all three of Makilin’s supporters snarled at him, weapons at the ready. The guards came to stand in front of Aiath, and he pushed Makilin behind him.
“You will do no such thing,” Aiath growled, orange eyes burning. “Lower your weapon. Now.”
Valentino merely stared back at him and then suddenly erupted into hearty laughter. “Now, now. No need to panic; I was merely testing your reflexes. Clearly this woman taught you more than I first expected.”
“You doubt her—” the taller of the two guards murmured.
“—and she does not favor you.” his companion finished.
The first looked at the trembling woman. “Makilin, what will you have us do?”
Surprisingly, the woman stopped crying and froze, tilting her head. A predatory hunger blazed in her eyes and she straightened, all traces of enraged grief vanishing. Her lips widened into a vicious grin, and her tongue flicked slowly over her exposed sharp teeth.
“You will do nothing,” the woman hissed. Valentino was shocked by the woman’s sudden mood change. Perhaps she was severely bipolar? Yet he continued to listen as she began to circle them like a beast at bay.
“Arkady, Arsenio,” she said. “Take them to the prison cells.”
The roars of the guards’ guns echoed as Valentino’s men were gunned down.
“…terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” Stephen King
The cold was everywhere. It filled me to the bone, making me shiver despite the heat enveloping my body. I was becoming worse; there was no doubt about it. My episode earlier only confirmed it.
I looked up. Aiath, Arkady, and Arsenio stood in the makeshift doorway of my private quarters. Few people knew, but the three of them were brothers. They rarely saw each other, however, as Aiath were a soldier and my second-in-command and the others were constant guards I would trust with my life.
Aiath’s blazing golden eyes carved their way into me as he came over and helped me stand from my crouch against the cold stone wall. He paid no mind to the shivers racking my body, knowing that it was normal when I was in a state like this.
“They are ready for you.”
“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.” Edgar Allen Poe
Valentino and Esperanzo waited, arms shackled behind their backs. Valentino could not care less about the upcoming events; he had nothing to fear and nothing to lose. Esperanzo, however, was as frightened as a cornered rabbit awaiting the dreaded hunt. He shifted constantly in his uncomfortable excuse for a seat, beady eyes darting.
The door opened. The golden man and two different men entered, followed by the tall and strange woman. Aiath’s eyes blazed unnaturally bright and his muscular scarred arms were crossed over his chest. The gun in his holster was revealed, his coat pulled back to show off the weapon.
Makilin did not look well. She was pale and her eyes were dull, and faint shivers racked her body as she entered the room. Her long hair was mussed, dangling in elongated tangles and peppered with the occasional cobweb or dead leaf. When she saw the two men, however, her troubled expression quickly changed into one of unadulterated fury and despair, as it always did whenever she saw them.
Somehow she had figured out what had happened at the trade point, or, at least, some part of it. But the man Valentino had taken care of had not been as gone as he had thought and had clearly told the woman what had happened, complete with his name and purpose.
There was no doubt that this strange female would not take that event lightly. The deceased man had been close to her, and despite seeming completely emotionless from the outside, it was all too clear to Valentino that she was overcome with unrelenting emotions on the inside.
“State your real purpose here.” The woman circled the two cuffed men, eyes narrow and quiet breaths shallow and slightly hoarse.
“We already told you. We are a rescue group attempting to restore humanity.” Esperanzo, surprisingly, spoke up, meeting the woman’s gaze.
Makilin began to speak, only to hiss softly as pain flashed in her eyes, and Aiath took a step forward only to stop when she shook her head. She fixed her claret eyes on the small man. “That is a lie. You are not rescuers; you are killers.”
Valentino laughed. “Oh, come now. Who will believe such a ridiculous story?”
Aiath stepped forward. “I do. I saw Sviatoslav die.”
Valentino pursed his lips. “A mere misunderstanding. He was caught in the crossfire.”
Makilin’s eyes narrowed. “It was clear that he was not. His chest was deliberately crushed, and the imprint of a boot that looks oddly similar to yours was clear on what remained.”
“That is all the evidence you have? Please. You need hard, cold facts.” Valentino narrowed his icy eyes and leaned forward.
Makilin was having none of it. Moving with inhuman speed, she was suddenly behind the bound man, and the telltale coldness of a blade pressed against his throat.
“Oh, my dear Valentino.” The woman purred in a sadistic, sickeningly sweet voice, her breath scented with strong cinnamon and spice. “I will have no more of your lies. You will tell me the truth, and should I sense that you are even telling the slightest lie, both you and your friend here will not make it out of this room in one piece.”
Valentino laughed. “Go ahead. Do what you must. I have nothing to hide.”
He had to admit that the grin that curled the woman’s mouth was rather unsettling. The blade slipped in her hand and carved a path down his throat. He clenched his teeth as fire tore through him; he had not expected a poisoned dagger.
“Very well.” Makilin growled, deep in her chest, as she leaned forward to lick the blood from the cut with an ice-cold tongue. “We will do this my way.”