The old G3 battle rifle was a leaden weight, straining against my already weary muscles. A grim reminder that at four point seven kilograms, it was a lumbering dinosaur compared to the more modern – and much lighter –assault rifles and carbines that had replaced it.
I dropped low, face-first moments before the first hail of angry lead zipped through the air where I had been standing. 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 – 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 – Avtomat Kalashnikova – fire was tearing into the bush around me. I wormed forward and into cover. It wasn’t much. Some dirt and a few long-dead shrubs. More 5.45mm bullets passed overhead, but none came close. So, not much cover, but good enough to provide concealment.
You can never have too many mags. I had started with ten. Two hundred bullets. Now I was down to forty. I usually took around five rounds to kill a man. Give or take. Eight more kills then. Not enough.
I proceeded to slotted my second-to-last magazine with the practiced motions of a veteran. Extract spent mag. Retrieve fresh mag. Insert mag. There was no need for me to work the action; I had left the last round of the previous mag in the chamber. Despite my awkward position, it took me no time at all to get the weapon ready. I’d be a poor soldier if it did.
The Russki 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 more shots. It would have been wasteful. If the enemy soldier was still behind the tree – which he was – he was now dead or dying. There could be no doubt. The G3 had one advantage over more modern weapons like the AK-74 and M-16: 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 better cover. It never pays to stay in one place for too long during a firefight. 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 times were also hard, but a little less so every time. The pain never went away. But the confusion was only momentary, and the fear sort of went away. Granted, there is 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.
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. That’s how I remember it anyway. 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.
I once had a guy shoot me a couple of times in the head from about thirty meters. 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 Russki 152 artillery shell. According to some nearby survivors, it had knocked my head clean off and then exploded like a meter behind me. They had looked around, but there was nothing left of me to bury, just a fine red mist mixed up with the dirt. Yet I still woke up, naked and unhurt, a couple of days later.
Immortal, but not impervious. I could die, but I would always be resurrected. Kind of like in the Bible, I suppose. Only I could die again as soon as I rose from the grave.
I scanned the ravine above without moving too much. Nothing to be seen. 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 pretty confident, and skilled too.
I closed my eyes and called upon my third eye. When I opened my eyes again, an eye, looking like the golden Eye of Horus, hovered before me, dripping with eldritch power. I scanned the ravine again, and this time my gaze pierced trees, rock – and flesh.
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 height advantage. He could kill me repeatedly, easy as that. I had a crap angle against him.
I considered my options. There weren’t very many.
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.
The third second. My enemy had spotted me. I started shooting from the hip, not hoping to hit, just to keep him down.
Fourth second. He took aim. 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 his optics.
Yet he had also seen me 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.
I saw him make his way down towards me, always keeping me in sight, his rifle always ready.
A pro, all right.
He stopped next to a large, lichen-covered boulder, not ten paces away.
Through my third eye, I could see his heart beating, too fast for comfort. He was stressed, afraid. With good reason. He’d killed a man, yet seen him get up again. Who knew what other horrors this sniper had seen in the dark Norwegian woods?
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 for him.
His second shot went wide.
I put a 7.62 mm through his belly. He dropped like a rock. His 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 the TV, people don’t expire the instant they are hit. Even a dead-shot Russki 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.
You know what they say: with great power comes great hunger.
By the time I reached the fallen man, I had 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 – including 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 apocalypse had died with my body a long time ago.
The last of the enemy tried to make a run for a spruce-crowned ravine. I screamed ‘stoi’ after them. There was no reason for any of them to stop. None at all. Yet, most of them still did. A couple were rooted to the spot. A few others stumbled, then stood around, looking dazed. The rest kept moving, but slowly, as if fighting against an invisible force. Such is the power of my voice.
I put my rifle to my shoulder and calmly began picking them off, single aimed shots only. It was around a hundred and twenty meters, which is a fair distance when you’re working with nothing but iron sights, but I’m a better shot than most.
I got five of them before the rest disappeared between the trees. With the Eye I could still see them running. And like I said, my G3 doesn’t care too much about a tree or two. I got two more before they were out of my sights.
Just as well. I only had six shots left. I made a note to bring more mags next time.
I slung my rifle and pulled out my knife.
Then began the grim work of feasting on the fallen.
I was not without powers, but using those powers cost me.
I had to feed, or I would weaken and wither.
Food was useless to me in that regard.
I needed a sacrifice of souls.
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 the deep-water harbor at Åndalsnes, a fleet of fishing vessels, even some ocean-going ships.
He was also 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, have was like me, a scion, a demi-god, walking the accursed earth.
I figured I’d take a look.
After all, there are no souls tastier than those of other scions.
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