You Never Walk Alone
He had never planned for this.
Stalking through the long grass he felt the hem of his trouser legs dampen with morning dew. The fierce jungle heat rained down upon him causing perspiration to settle upon brow and lip; his shirt, torn and frayed, had turned ivory as time rendered the brilliant white hue obsolete. Speckles of a dried brown substance lined the right hand side of the tunic, and as he lifted the corresponding hand to shield his eyes from the harsh glare of the sun an incision along both fabric and skin could be seen, running down along his lower torso.
Shor cocked the gun in his left hand, barely holding up the weight of it with his gammy shoulder bearing the brunt of the pain. Eyes wide, he stumbled on through the underbrush, reaching out for the support of stray branches and tree trunks; his head spun, threatening to send him crashing to the ground. The distant humorless laughter pushed him on. This moon was full of demons, or so he had been told, but none were quite as fearsome as the beast which stalked him now.
Overhead a drelux flew, casting a large shadow across the sky. Even from where he stood, so far below, Shor could hear the leathery flap which accompanied each downbeat wing. The jungles of Solein had proven to be a cacophony of noises both familiar and alien, with him at the center he seemed like some composer, directing the natives in their song. Oh, how they would deny that.
Panting breathlessly, it wasn't for some time before he realized that what had begun as a simple stepped walk had turned into a sprint, snapped twigs and crumpled foliage making him easy to track and easier still to hear. But he could not stop. They were almost upon him now.
The trees whispered, his name eerie upon their leafy lips as they coaxed him further into battle. He had killed many a frightful thing since his escape, fought thousands more; it was rare that he backed down. His free hand clutched at his side as he ground to a halt, breathing sporadic. Had he become unfit overnight? Giving himself but a moments rest, Shor gazed about his surroundings. Eyes glistened out in the darkness, bright ovals catching the light of the sun from even down there in the murky jungle.
He hissed, and in an instance the pinpricks were gone, leaving naught save the rustle of leaves in their wake. With a shake of his head he turned full circle, before reaching out to grasp a tree for support. His hand came away sticky and slick with pure crimson life, and a groan escaped his lips at the released pressure from his side. Shor was no medic; he had stabilized the wound as best he could, but it wouldn't hold out for long. Another distant howl of laughter brought him back to his senses. He had to keep moving.
The incision at his side stung as sweat streaked down his torso, heat blazing down from the sky above. He could barely breathe the air was so thick, humidity well above what he was used to. In the distance he saw the shadow of an unfamiliar face, yet the soul was entwined with his own. Shor stumbled, his cracked lips releasing but one word. "Blaise..." Eyes watering, he forsake his masculinity as relief spread through his person. He trembled, sinking down to his knees before casting his gaze skyward. If there had been some sort of God, Shor would have prayed for forgiveness.
When he looked again, however, the visage had gone. He rung his hands, rubbed at his wrists which still bore the signs of his captive torment, and sank a fist down against the earth at his feet. But the echo of his connection still rang true, urging him first to his feet and then back into a sprint through the trees. His voice picked up, coarsely yelling into the distance. The dizziness and exhaustion were overtaken by the inane drive that coursed through his veins. Pseudo-clarity ran rampant through his mind as he trampled down the blades of grass in his hasty approach.
A steady hum rose up from around him, the ironic melody not lost upon him. He had heard it before, known it from a life before this. Far more taunting than the natural voices of the jungle, than the husky laugh of his captors who ran behind him. When he broke through into a clearing all sound failed; the sky above darkened. There, hunched over in the dirt, the visage knelt. Cast about him were countless bodies, strewn carelessly as the life seeped from their wounds. The fiend turned his head slowly, a wicked smile gracing his lips. His skin was pale, almost ashen, and contrasted the brown curls which tumbled down over his eyes.
"Hello, brother..." The feral beast before him grimaced, half smiling at the despair that surely lined Shor's expression. A sudden breeze picked up around them, blowing the hair from the eyes of the younger twin. They were as crimson as the blood in which he knelt. Shor tried to speak, but his throat was dry and his lips moved soundlessly. Blaise turned his gaze from the man he had spent nine inseparable months alongside and spread his arms wide to encompass all of the lifeless bodies. "Do you recognize them?" He knowingly asked, and with the click of his fingers all of their heads turned in Shor's direction.
The faces which stared back at him caused Shor to stagger backwards. "No." he rasped, head shaking frantically. "They were monsters --Diseased! I had to..." With a blink they disappeared, and in their place lay Blaise; his body was torn asunder yet there was no questioning whether or not the body was his. "You did this to me, brother" the lifeless lips uttered.
He lay there for some time, awash with twisted thoughts and memories he felt certain were not his own. The laughter had died down now, no doubt they had lost him somewhere in the madness. Or perhaps they were lying in wait, biding their time. Of course that made little sense, seeing as a wounded animal was much easier to put down than one permitted to become feral. With a groan he rolled onto his front and pushed himself up from the ground, his already messy clothes now caked in a thick layer of mud.
All signs of what had happened had, by this point, vanished. No blood or bodies, not even the horrific shade of his brother stained his vision. Blinking several times he made certain that this was the case, before cautiously taking a few steps forward. The crunch of twigs underfoot had him cringing, but the world around him showed no signs of listening.
Satisfied he hurried on. There had to be some way off this blasted world, with its crazy natives and all too real visions. By this point dehydration had already kicked in, yet he pressed on with sheer willpower all the same. Finally the jungle turned into nothingness, and he stepped out onto the edge of a large lake. To one side stood a shack, a boat in the water at its front. All that Shor could see was the sweet, sweet water. Making his way over to its shore he knelt into the sand and began to hungrily gulp down cupped handfuls of it, before pouring some over his head.
Then he sat back and stared up. The sun had been eclipsed by the horizon, leaving stars dotting the sky. While the shack called to him, he had no intentions of running into more of the natives and instead lay back in the dirt. He had not found what he was looking for, only a glimpse of what was to come. But hopefully that would change, at any rate he owed it to Blaise to try. Wasn't that what Shor had always done, after all?***
He blinked in the flickering light which hummed overhead. At what point had he fallen asleep? Turning his head he found that the more pressing concern was how he hadn't awoken already... There was no lake by his side, no overhanging branches sending leaves tumbling down, just permacrete and a single inset blast door which was more a solid sheet of metal than a means of escape. Shor made to sit up, only to have the rattle of chains as they scraped across the ground seize him in place.
Something shifted in the corner of his eye, yet as he turned his head whatever it was slunk back into the shadows. "Coward" he quipped, with an exaggerated grunt to accompany a sudden bid for freedom. The chains held, leaving naught save shredded skin for his efforts. Well that and the seizing of his right shoulder which for a moment had the young man knelt as stiff as a board, eyes closed and jaw set. As the pain lifted Shor remained rigid, peering through half opened eyes. He was rewarded with the view of a stout little man mere inches from his face, who startled the unsuspecting captive back a few feet.
"You will, of course, forgive my associate." The expression did not suit the quivering rodent, yet all the same it took the bemused Shor a moment to realize that it had been spoken by another. Drab and derelict, the room seemed to come to life when he turned his head to gaze upon the radiant figure who stood with his back to both captive and captor. "You see, he gets ever so eccentric in the presence of an animal. He still hasn't figured why they are so often referred to as wild."
While he had been named far worse, Shor knew that this was intended as much more than a mere slight. As the figure turned he stared down his nose and sniffed, before pacing several slow steps forward. His fingers stretched outward, yet fell short at the last moment as though touch alone would cause contamination. Around him the walls seemed to close in, stark white though they were they seemed far from sterile and for a moment Shor could swear they shivered under a tremor. No man or beast could cause him fright, yet the thought of the ceiling crashing down gave him pause.
The moment passed, however, and in its place the man turned and stalked from his view. "You will give me what I want" came the penultimate ramblings of a half-crazed old man, "In the meantime, enjoy the view won't you?" With a creak of metal both man and mouse disappeared into the unknown, leaving their half-starved captive staring at a blank wall. So perfect and flawless was its finish that he was unable to even amuse himself with pictures in the cracks, though after a while he felt certain that they were there all the same.
The fever set in after three grueling days, accompanying the stench of infection. On the fourth day two men had entered; one held a blaster in his direction, the other cut away at his shirt and began to clean around the incision. Neither of them said a word, and delirious Shor could not find the right ones to say. Instead a series of garbled phonics demanded their attention, to which they gave not an inch. Tests were taken, notes were made, and then they simply left him to his thoughts.
By some measure of inadequacy for their job, one pressing factor was overlooked within the medical report, and within a few short hours the man who had been a perfectly healthy candidate was rushed from his oubliette into what seemed to be a fully fitted medical facility. His blood pressure had risen drastically, until he eventually keeled over and clutched at his chest. With sporadic, almost non-existent breaths Shor did all he could to hold on while facing the real possibility of death. As a man who had gone up against foul users of the mystical Glimrel and come out on top, the prospect of such an ordinary ending terrified him.
Humbled beyond expression, when he made it out the other side of the tunnel Shor did not know whether to feel relief or disdain. His close call left him shaken and his body weak; they had even returned him back to his pale prison, which only added further salt to an already aggravated wound. "It seems as though we were wrong about you." The first words to grace his hearing in days were laced with vehemence. "You're not as strong as you let on, in fact you're downright weak." Pacing into his view was the self same man who had demanded from Shor the unknown. "You still have one of them, I've seen children respond to the extraction with more vigor."
Kneeling down before the shackled man, he reached out and grasped a fist full of hair, pulling back until the broken boy had no choice but to meet his gaze. Devoid, at this stage, of even malice, Shor stared back. "Now, I shall ask you again, for I am quite tired of this quizzical game of cat and mouse. Where is it?" Laughter arose, a mixture of cruelty and pain laced within the humor. "Gone" Shor rasped, cracked lips barely moving in their articulation. "I burned them. All of them." With a distinct thwack his head was knocked aside, yet still the scorned man smiled.
"You'll never find even a spec of ash" he continued, through the throbbing pain at his temples. "You should be grateful I got to him before the disease wiped them all out." The anticipated reprisal did not come. Instead the man collected himself, stood and proceeded to leave. As he did so he uttered just one solitary word. When the next person entered the shackles which had become embedded in his skin were carelessly removed, and no clunk of the heavy blast door accompanied their exit.
Suspicious, yet vying for his freedom, Shor rose with the support of the crisp wall, which became marred with the blood from his hand. He turned to find that there had only ever been the one door, which had always been within his view. To his surprise there was no wall at all separating him from the wilds, and upon further investigation he found the oppressive walls and ceiling to be flimsy and prefrabricated. Even the chains were only held down by a simple bolt that even a man half as determined as he could have uprooted.
The greatest insult of all was the lake which lingered just beyond the wall, silent in the still air of night. Clinging onto the only hope he had of truth, Shor relayed in his mind the final word he'd heard that evening and hoped it was not too late to change the wheels of fate. After all it was not death he would seek on Orus, but one very distinct lifeform.