“Ashes, ashes; we all fall down.” –A.F. Stewart
“Please, stop!” Rogue screamed, tears stained her face and left wet trails of fear through the dirt and grime plastered to her skin. Folter smiled gleefully at Rogue’s anguished plea. Lifting the red and black cables, he pressed the ends in his hands to Rogue’s chest. Powerful electricity flowed from the small car battery attached at the other end of the cables and sent searing pain scorching through her. Rogue released a blood-curdling shriek as her muscles locked and her fists clenched. Blood oozed from her palms and trickled down to the ground in crimson trails as her unmanaged fingernails dug into the flesh.
“What, no longer the proud and stoic soldier?” Folter taunted, releasing Rogue from the flow of electricity. She sucked in feeble breaths of air between the sobs that racked her body.
“Please just stop. I’ll do whatever you want. Tell Seraph I’ll do what he wants. I can’t-,” Rogue begged pathetically.
“Are you certain? I was severely punished two months ago when you said those very words and then spat upon Seraph’s shoe. This will not be repeated, no?” Folter asked. The hesitation and fear of Seraph was prevalent in his color. Rogue shook her head violently. Over the six months of obscene torture and mutilation, Folter had slowly taken off some of the restraints, as she no longer held the strength to break free from her binds, allowing her some minute movement of her appendages.
“Good. I shall see if he is ready to accept you,” Folter promised. With those words, he wrapped up his battery and other torture devices and began wheeling his metal cart from the holding cell. The wheels squeaked painfully as they turned over the concrete floor, the taste of each shrill screech sent a torrent of fear through Rogue and scoured her senses. She shuddered and loosed a huff of relief as the sound of the cart and its many devices passed from her weakened senses.
“Zaria, I have to earn his trust. Get close enough to find his weakness and kill him. I miss your light,” Rogue thought sadly. She had been holding out as long as she possibly could. Waiting for the chance that she could convince Seraph she was ready to do his bidding. It was the only way. Her only hope of seeing Zaria again.
Rogue was left alone with her thoughts in a cell that had become her new, dismal home. A bleak and damp home where the only things she could do were to sleep and eat every few days when Seraph allowed it. For nearly six months she had endured starvation, hours of merciless torture, beatings, psychological games from Seraph himself and the constant recordings played overhead to induce nightmares and other forms of brainwashing. However without the sun to tell her, she was unaware of just how long she had been subjugated to her capture’s violence. It could have been a year, or it could have been mere weeks.
She was forced to sit in her own waste for days until Folter would spray her down with a hose. Her body ached and the steel bands that clamped her body to the wall and floor had rubbed through the skin, festering and bleeding in trails of blood and bodily fluids. At one point Folter had tightened the binds to the degree that they cut nearly to the bone. He left them that way for nearly a week and not even Rogue’s ability to heal was enough to endure the agony, her body far too malnourished to even heal the black eye and dozens of cuts all over her body. Yet, as disgusting a man as he was, and as often as she had tasted the putrid scent of his lust, he never once raped her or molested her. At least he bore that much honor.
She tasted Seraph before she physically saw him. His self-righteous color emanated a rancid odor of hunger for power and control that was well beyond human proportion.
“My darling Azrael, are you ready to return to me and be by my side once more?” Seraph crooned as his black, pointed dress shoes clicked their way into her cell. Rogue bit back the desire to correct her name and simply nodded.
“I’m pleased. However I still can’t trust you. You are my daughter after all. So I’m going to give you something that I had our Mechanics work on while you were being… entertained,” Seraph smirked.
“What are you talking about?” Rogue croaked, fear gripping her heart. Seraph held up a small syringe that contained several milligrams of a mysterious chrome fluid.
“You’ve heard of the Augmentation Serum have you not? Well this is a lot like that, however it has a pinch of my personal touch programmed into the nanites,” Seraph informed her. He tasted far too pleased with himself and his color glowed with excitement.
“You’re going to augment me? Why?” Rogue asked.
“Tut, tut, you ask questions you need not know the answer to. Just know that if you try to betray me, there will be… consequences,” Seraph grinned.
“I don’t want to be augmented. I’m already powerful; I don’t need those things inside me. Please… Father,” Rogue begged. The idea of being augmented didn’t terrify her. Being augmented would put her on a whole new level of strength that not even Seraph could match, she knew that much. However the notion that Seraph was inserting some strange program into her body mortified her to her core.
“I’m sorry darling, but you don’t have a choice in the matter. Now be a good girl and hold still,” Seraph smiled, kneeling down. He placed the syringe into Rogue’s arm and injected the metallic fluid into her body. She felt the tingle and stirring of billions of small machines rushing through her blood stream and for a moment was fascinated.
“Oh I seemed to have forgotten to tell you. The anesthetic that decreases the pain of the Augmentation Process is no longer an option as the man that created it took the formula to his grave. This is going to be a very painful two days for you, my most darling daughter,” Seraph whispered into her ear. Stepping away he smirked at Rogue’s mortified expression and strutted out of the room.
Rogue struggled against her bonds, struggled for a way to break free although she knew the attempts were futile. However the tingling of the nanites movements slowly became more painful as the microscopic devices burrowed their way through her muscles and bones, as they self-replicated and poured through her veins in droves. In all of her time being tortured by Folter, nothing compared to this torment. Rogue tossed her head back and bellowed toward the heavens, howling in agony as her insides were torn apart and repaired over and over again. Veins and tendons bulged in her neck and muscles as she wailed. As bone was melted down and reformed, muscle was shredded and rebuilt. Rogue’s body was cast into instability, her internal defenses flooding her veins with the inky black transformation that was her true power, but it was in vain. Nothing she did could diminish the excruciating pain that wracked her entirety.
Up on the floor above Rogue, Nakir pressed her palm into the smooth black scanner and waited briefly for the white door before her to hiss as it slid to the side.
“Father, why are we doing this to Az?” Nakir questioned her father. Seraph sat in an almost all white room, a black mug of coffee resting in his hand as he stared out the only window that revealed a lush green forest. Nakir stood against the wall across from the window; light pouring in lit up her tan face and illuminated the crease of worry on her brow. The look was almost identical to Rogue’s own brooding expression.
“I know that it seems harsh, Nakir. Azrael lost her way and those people she’s been fighting with have distorted her perceptions to their own. She lost sight of what we fought for all those years ago,” Seraph said hazily as his eyes peered into a once violent past filled with blood and death.
“I don’t understand,” Nakir whispered. Seraph stood and strode over to his second daughter. He wrapped his arms around her and placed his chin on her head warmly.
“When your mother was killed, I swore that I would never let men like those that let her die be in control. The leaders of the world, the politicians, the miscreants that cared only for their own paychecks are the real ones that took her life. District X swore to me that they would take control of the world using men like Virus and Tanner and make it a place where everyone was equal and that leaders wouldn’t have the right to decide who lives and who dies based on their wallets,” Seraph began to explain. He released his daughter and strode up the three steps toward the single, massive window. His shoulders were slumped in defeat, lacking the bearing of a man that Nakir deemed as always proud and powerful. She frowned at the thought of him feeling anything but prideful.
“However they lied to me. They used Karma and his team to try and enforce their own vision, their own monarchy on the world. I couldn’t allow it. This world we live in, this anarchic land, is the way man was meant to be, truly free,” Seraph declared, holding his arms out before the light of the window, gesturing toward the open expanse. He lowered them after a brief moment and braced his forearm against the glass of the window. Leaning forward he peered out at the birds that flew by, their wings propelling them through the air like winged fish in a limitless sea ruled only by their own wills.
“And I’ll kill and do whatever I have to do to keep it that way. Azrael believed in our path until she let her rage control her. Not once did I order her to murder senselessly, but your sister she… she had a thirst for blood that is unquenchable. At least I thought so until she took the life of a little boy. She lost faith in herself after that, as did I. But now we have the chance to retune her to our vision. Help me to truly bring your sister back to us.”
Seraph’s speech was soft and gentle, but Nakir could hear the pain that tightened his throat. She stepped away from her father and smiled up at him.
“Whatever it takes, father.”
“Good,” Seraph smiled, turning to face his daughter. “Now Nakir, I need you to run a scouting operation north of our location while we await the… conclusion of your sister’s operation. The convoy in charge of recovering a particular set of individuals is late on reporting in. They should have passed through Jasper yesterday. Find out what’s delaying those men and report back.”
“Yes sir, I’ll head out immediately,” Nakir confirmed. She turned from her father and walked toward the white panel door at the far end of the room.
“Oh and Nakir,” Seraph called out. Nakir glanced back at her father quizzically.
“No one is to see you,” Seraph ordered. Nakir frowned, but refrained from commenting on her father’s consistent order to keep her presence hidden.
“Got it.” The door hummed shut behind her and sealed with a muted hiss like steam escaping from a kettle. Nakir’s soft soled boots padded dully down the all white, sterile hallway. Guards in black military garb with menacing assault rifles dangling across their chests guarded each of the white paneled doors as Nakir passed. The petite, Middle Eastern woman paused by the door that led down a long flight of stairs at the odd sound of what could be confused for an animal shrieking in pain. The color drained from Nakir’s face when she realized the blood-curdling scream was a haunting cry escaping from the throat of her agonized sister.
“Father, I still don’t understand…” Nakir mumbled in remorse. She quickly sped away from the door and entered a different branch of the building. Here the walls were no longer white, but a pale warm tan reaching all the way up to the twelve-foot high ceiling. She made her way into her own room. The floor was covered in soft tan carpet and the walls painted a faint bluish hue. Nakir crossed the brightly lit, windowless room to the grey locker that was positioned against the left wall. She lethargically pressed her palm against the access pad and pulled the grey door open.
Nakir removed her trusted long-range rifle from the locker and fitted it with a full magazine. Laying the weapon down onto her bed, Nakir quickly began to change her clothing. Pulling her tight black shirt over her shoulders, she tossed the piece onto the floor. She turned her head to look into the mirror, contorting her tone, tan body to see the tattoo emblazoned over her left shoulder. The design was a unique style of plant with four green leaves sprouting out from a rust colored sun. A thorny black root wrapped its way around the flower and trailed down to just above the small of her back.
“You always told me that you were the twisted root, holding up the flower so that it might grow,” Nakir said to herself in exasperation. Shaking off the nostalgia creeping into her mind, Nakir donned a loose fitting tan shirt and pulled on her brown cargo jeans and black combat boots. Tying her hair into a bun and adjusting a shawl over her head, the lone woman made for the exit, slipped out of her father’s compound and mounted the motorcycle parked within the lush Red Wood Forest. She brought the bike to a rumbling start at set off on the long winding road that led to the wastes.
Sunlight beamed through the branches of ancient trees that loomed far above, soaring with the hawks and the ravens. Nakir raced along the old asphalt road beneath the lush green, ignoring the patrolling guards and slight mounds of dirt that hid landmines and other fatal instruments. When the telltale gap of light at the end of the forest came into view, Nakir stomped her motorcycle into the highest gear available and roared through the barren wastes that her home transitioned so tragically into. She shivered at the sight of the scarred wastes. A shiver that hinted at an ancient, primitive fear in her soul that passed after a short while. Eyes forward, the shock she repeatedly experienced after leaving her forest each time gone, Nakir hastened toward the last known coordinates of the reconnaissance team. A part of old Los Angeles, just north of a refugee camp called Jasper.