The old G3 battle rifle was a leaden weight, straining against already weary muscles. A grim reminder that at four point seven kilograms, it was a lumbering dinosaur compared to the more modern—and lighter—assault rifles and carbines that had replaced it.
I dropped low, face-first onto the ground, moments before a hail of angry lead zipped through the air where I had been standing moments before. I tasted bone-dry earth and parched heather. I spat to clear my mouth and blinked to get the dust out of my eyes. My kevlar was gone again—that damn chin strap was never in place when I needed it. But my trusted rifle was clear of the dirt. That was the only thing that really mattered.
Inaccurate AK fire—short for Avtomat Kalashnikova, the weapons of the invaders—was tearing into the bush around me. I wormed forward and into cover. It wasn’t much. A pile of stony dirt crowned with a few long-dead shrubs. More 5.45-millimeter bullets passed overhead, but none came close to hitting.
The enemy had, for the time being, lost sight of me, earning me a short respite. I could not, however, afford to dally. There was only one of me and quite many of them. Soon they would pin me down, flank my position, and flush me out into the waiting sights of a sniper or two. I needed to keep moving, keep shooting, keep killing. Kill or be killed. It was always thus.
How had the world come to this?
When I was young, the world was at peace. Old enemies had become friends, the economy was booming, and it seemed that war—except for the odd local affair between third-world countries—was a thing of the past. There was inequality and there was injustice, true, but eventually, everyone would be lifted out of poverty and Earth would enter a golden age of reason and abundance for all.
But we were all mistaken. The darkness in the human heart would not so easily be vanquished. I don’t know how the fall started, and the details of the process are no longer important, but I do remember how the old world ended.
It ended the night the stars fell from the sky and smashed into the Earth. It wasn’t your regular shooting stars. They were huge, like the dinosaur-killing asteroids on National Geographic. I personally saw five, but I know there were many more based on other survivors’ accounts. Before striking the falling stars broke into pieces. I think that’s what saved us from utter annihilation and instead consigned us to a living hell.
Another barrage of gunfire brought me back to the present.
In this day and age, you can never have too many mags. I had started with ten. Two hundred bullets. Now I was down to two mags. Forty shots. I usually took around five rounds to kill a man, give or take. Eight more kills then. Probably not enough.
I slotted my second-to-last magazine with the practiced motions of a veteran fighter. Extract spent mag. Retrieve fresh mag. Insert mag. There was no need for me to work the action; I had left the last round in the chamber. It took me no time at all to get the weapon ready. I’d be a poor soldier if it did.
The Russki—I still thought of them as Russians, though technically there wasn’t a Russia anymore—was still in cover behind the spruce I had seen him slip behind. I couldn’t actually see him, but unless he had developed the power to turn invisible and fly away, he was still there.
I poked my G3 through the trampled low-growth blueberry bushes and sickly green moss—about the only things still living around these parts—and brought the stock to my shoulder. I took semi-careful aim at the foot of the spruce. I squeezed off a short burst, counting four hits in a flattened circle around the base of the tree.
I didn’t bother firing any more. It would be wasteful. If the enemy soldier was still behind the tree—which he was—he was now dead or dying. There was no doubt in my mind. The G3 had one advantage over more modern weapons: penetrating power. Maybe if the enemy had been hiding behind a gigantic oak. Maybe. But a spruce trunk was nothing to the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO.
I rolled to the side and sprang forward, crouching low, legs pumping, heading for the next cover. It never pays to stay in one place for too long during a firefight. Shoot and scoot.
Then again, it doesn’t pay to show yourself either.
The first Dragunov round missed me, but the second got me in the shoulder. It punched clean through, shattering bone and shredding flesh on its way through my body. I lost my balance and tumbled to the ground. I was trying to get my bearings when the third bullet shattered my skull.
Death was swift. Hardly any pain at all, just a brief sense of regret.
The first time was the worst. The utter confusion. The crippling phantom pains. The mind-numbing fear. It was horrible. I’ll never forget.
The next ten or so times were also hard, but a little less every time. The pain never went away, but the confusion was only momentary, and the fear sort of went away. Granted, there was some discomfort—I still dream of that first time I drowned, for example—but by and large, knowing you’re immortal kind of takes away the fear of death.
It was the falling stars that made the impossible possible. We didn’t realize it at the time, but those stars weren’t asteroids or comets or whatever. They were the gods of the ancient world returned. For whatever reason—we’ll probably never know—they broke apart and their divine essence was scattered far and wide. And—this is the most important part—that essence was then absorbed by ordinary humans.
I’m one of them, one of the divine scions, descended from the Egyptian god Osiris. Like the heroes and demi-gods of old, I’m capable of things no ordinary human is. I’m faster, stronger, tougher—like a Marvel superhero if you need a comparison.
How do I know this for certain? It’s the memories. Memories of ancient Egypt. Of worship and tomb-building and other things. Memories of another place, some else, a divine abode, shared by other gods. Memories of my beloved sister-wife, Isis, and not-so-beloved brother, Set.
Being Osiris was the reason I could die, but always came back. That was his thing. I’d seen other scions die of various causes. Some were frighteningly hard to kill, but once dead none of them had ever come back. Well, except one, but she was like me, the blood of Osiris. Took me long enough to figure out how to make her stay dead.
I was on my back, staring at the dark clouds above. Clouds, but no rain, like always. Hadn’t rained around these parts in months. Before the Fall, it was always raining. A good dousing of fresh, cold rain that was never far away, even in summer. Now it rained only a couple of times a year, torrential squalls that tore the ground apart and drowned everything in acidic, toxic waters.
It was always hard to tell exactly how long I had been dead. Watches were no good – strange things happened to the flow of time when the veil between worlds was rent apart. Even old-fashioned chronometers stopped working if I had them on me.
It was always hard to tell exactly how long I had been dead. Clocks were no good. Strange things happened to the flow of time when the veil between worlds was rent apart. I once had one of my followers—back when I still walked among mortals—shoot me a couple of times in the head. Each time I died, he took the time until I got back up using an old-fashioned watch. It never took longer than ten seconds, usually around five.
There were some caveats, though. I had once taken a direct hit from a 152-millimeter artillery shell. According to some nearby survivors, it had knocked my head clean off and then exploded behind me. They had looked around, but there was nothing left of me to bury, just a fine red sludge mixed up with the dirt. Yet I still woke up, naked and unhurt, a couple of days later.
So, I was immortal, but I wasn’t invulnerable. I could die—had died many times—but I would always be resurrected.
I scanned the ravine above without moving too much. Nothing to see. The shooter had either moved on—or was staying hidden. I figured he was just good at hiding. He had killed me with a headshot, so he was both skilled and confident.
I closed my eyes and called upon my powers. When I opened my eyes again the Eye of Horus hovered before me, dripping with eldritch power. Horus, my son from another life. I scanned the ravine again, and this time my gaze pierced trees, rock—and flesh.
Did I forget to mention I can do magic? Well, now you know. I’m no Thoth, but I know a useful spell or two.
I saw my enemy, hidden and in cover, binoculars in hand, his Dragunov resting on a bipod next to him. I was on my back, in the open. He was in hard cover, with a height advantage. He could kill me repeatedly, easy as that. I had a crap angle against him. Even with the Eye, there was no chance I’d get him before he got me.
I considered my options. There weren’t any good ones.
My right hand closed around my rifle even as I sprang into action. I ran as fast as I could towards the ravine, my angle slightly oblique to make it harder on the sniper.
One second passed. Nothing.
Another second. Nothing.
Third second. My enemy had spotted me. I started shooting from the hip, not hoping to hit, just trying to keep him down.
Fourth second. He took aim. Shit. He was a pro. He knew I couldn’t hit him.
Fifth second. For the second time that day, the Russki sniper blew my brains out.
Curiosity killed the cat.
He just had to know. Just had to make sure I really was dead.
He had killed me that first time, right? Seen my head explode through the optics.
Yet he had also seen me, impossibly, get up and charge his position.
What was he to believe?
He had to check. Had to know.
All I needed to do was wait.
So I waited.
It didn’t take long.
He made his way down towards me, always keeping me in sight, rifle always ready.
A pro, all right.
He stopped next to a large, lichen-covered boulder, not ten paces away.
Younger than I had expected, probably still in his teens. You either grew up fast or you didn’t grow up at all. He was also no more Russian than me. More like a mix of Nordic and Hispanic. Could be a descendant of a local woman and NATO soldier—or vice versa. Not that it mattered. He would soon be dead, whatever his ethnicity. Not that race mattered any more. The world was broken. Gods and monsters walked the Earth. No one cared about skin color anymore.
Through my third eye, I could see his heart beating, too fast for comfort. He was stressed out and afraid. With good reason. He’d killed a man, yet seen him get up again. Who knew what the young sniper had faced in the Norwegian woods? The forest was dark and full of horrors.
He brought up the Dragunov. Peered at me through the optics.
His heart made a little jump as his mind finally accept that my skull was whole, unblemished.
I rolled to the side and grabbed my rifle.
His shot went wide—optics are no good at pistol-shot ranges.
He tried compensating, but I was much too fast. I can’t outrun a cheetah but I sure as shit can run twice as fast as any of you mortals.
The second shot went wide.
I put a 7.62-millimeter round through his belly. He dropped like a rock, making a sound like a stillborn scream. The Dragunov made a god-awful sound as it clattered against the stones, unheld and unloved.
I slotted my last mag. There was no need to work the action. The final round from the next-to-last mag was still in the chamber.
It was a killing shot. But unlike what they used to show on the TV, people don’t expire the instant they are hit. Even a dead-shot boy like this would take some time to die.
Not a whole lot of time, though, so I hustled over before his spirit would have time to depart the mortal coil.
I slung my rifle and pulled out my knife. It was the kind preferred by the Sami—the Laplanders, a broad, one-edged blade, about a foot long. It was well suited for a variety of tasks such as hacking down saplings, marking your reindeer, and trimming your fingernails.
The Lap knife is also excellent for putting people out of their misery.
The cries of the dying man turned into pleas of mercy. I didn’t listen. Whatever compassion I had left after witnessing the horrors of the apocalypse had died with my body a long time ago.
More enemies—Russkis or whatever they really were—were approaching, no doubt drawn by the sounds of gunfire. I screamed ‘stoi’ at them. There was no reason for any of them to stop. None at all. Yet, they all did. A couple were rooted to the spot. Others stumbled, then stood around, looking dazed. The rest kept moving, but slowly, as if fighting against an invisible force. The Voice of Amun-Ra. Another useful, but very taxing, spell.
I put the rifle to my shoulder and calmly started picking them off. I got five before the rest broke free of the Voice and ran away, quickly disappearing between the trees. They had finally understood that they were dealing with something they couldn’t handle. Just as well. I only had six rounds left. I made a note to bring more mags next time.
I slung my rifle and pulled out the knife again. I was not without powers, but using those powers cost me. The double resurrection cost me. The spells were taxing, the Voice more so than the Eye. I had to feed, or I would weaken and wither. Food was useless to me in that regard. I needed a sacrifice of souls.
The sniper boy’s little soul hadn’t been enough to sate my hunger. I needed more. So, I had tried not to kill my prey outright, just cripple them. Why? Once dead, the soul quickly departs the body and that’s that. A blade through a still-beating heart is the way to go about killing. It’ll even steal the power of another scion.
As I walked the circuit of death, I contemplated what to do next. There was talk of a new warlord rising on the coast. He was not the first to do so. But this one seemed like he might be something special. An American officer, with a band of former NATO soldiers in tow.
He had, according to word of mouth, managed to gather together quite a domain, including a deep-water harbor, a fleet of fishing vessels, and even some ocean-going ships.
He was said to command the oceans, to be able to conjure forth wind and rains, to still storms. To ensure a bountiful harvest for those who sailed under his protection and destroy those who did not submit to his divine authority. If the rumors were true, he was like me, a scion, a demi-god, walking the accursed earth. Probably one of Poseidon’s get.
I figured I’d take a look.
After all, there is no soul tastier than that of another immortal.