Black and White
I entered the dark room quietly. My entrance sparked several flames that signaled my presence. They lit the cramped space from small, brass bowls filled with stones and flame that were scattered across the floor and hung from brass chains on a couple of walls. The lights lit up the dark wooden desk and a big, black, leather chair lined in red seams that appeared to be cloaked in darkness. A deep voice emanated from the darkness, "There are many misconceptions of me."
I nodded as if I knew for sure who I was talking to. "Many people, they believe that you are nothing but evil. They think in black and white."
The shadows in the chair shifted in shades, sounding vaguely like a short, howling breeze. "People can think what they like. I am what anyone and everyone can imagine. I can be evil, but I can also be good. I am that shade of grey that some fear and some worship, and still others simply ignore my presence." The chair moved back from the desk and the shifting shadows appeared to get taller. Footsteps followed the shadow until I heard them stop right in front of me.
Coldness fell over me. The shadow spoke, "Why have you come here?" I kept my head down; I couldn't look at him directly without a sense of fear. I didn't know what to think of him.
My hands were locked behind my back, each hand gripping the opposite elbow. "Your hellhounds, the ones that look like Rottweiler's with black, feathery wings, I had a difficult time getting here through them. They chased me till I reached the door. Why have you unleashed them and other monsters upon us?"
The shadow shifted significantly, it started to take a more humanistic shape. Red eyes appeared to materialize and I could feel the shadow's gaze on me. "You assume much. Yes, the flying dogs are mine, but they do naught but guard my home from intruders intending harm. Were you intending harm, you would not have made it through. If they attacked you, it was out of instinct, but as one of my creations they can do no harm to the harmless."
"But what about-" I started.
"The other creatures," he interrupted, "are not of my creation. They are the creation of someone else with some immeasurable level of power. Someone, who seems to have some sort of vendetta with you or your plane of existence, or else, it's someone who wishes control or more power."
"How do I stop them? How would I even find them?" I asked. I recalled just earlier in the day that I, along with a ragtag group of acquaintances that I had rounded up, was in a classroom, frantically setting up traps in preparation for a hoard of monsters that was said to be making its way toward us in a rampant hurry. I also remembered that it didn't work.
As soon as the hoard came, the class was in shambles. We fought with found weapons, but a regular classroom can only offer so many things that can be used as weapons. I ran, I snuck out a window, I left them all behind and I ran. Glass shattered behind me, the shouts and screams of college kids fighting to hold down the room. I remember the sprays of blood that began spouting out the windows, kids frantically jumping through the windows that had shattered, not taking the time to clear the glass or fully open the window.
Whoever survived, I wasn't sure. "I…I just want to ensure someone's safety. That's the other reason I'm here." The shadow, tall and in a more human shape than before, reached a hand out to my face. He grabbed my chin and carefully lifted my head. I saw another appendage in my peripheral, the arm grew a hand with fingers and gently brushed away a tear on my cheek that I had let slip. "Who is this, someone? Tell me." He pulled me closer to his face, if you could call it that, and he waited patiently.
"He, he is one of my closest friends."
The shadow head appeared to nod, "closest friend you say? And what is his name?" I paused. For some reason I could not discern, I didn't want to speak his name aloud. Maybe I thought he could hear me. It was unreasonable to think that. He was as normal a human as I was. Well, maybe neither of us are that normal. Not to my understanding.
"You want to keep him safe? Is that it?" I nodded and divulged the name. His arms dropped to his sides, "I can do that. But first, I need a favor from you. Stand over here." I stood up and walked around the desk to the area of the floor he was pointing at. There was an elaborate circular drawing on the floor. "Now, sit down in the center, cross-legged. I will speak a few words and he will be safe."
I felt puzzled, "What does this have to do with-"
"Patience child, it will make sense." I did what he told me and soon the whole circle was glowing and I was surrounded by an aura of yellow light. I had to close my eyes it was so bright. And in the background I could hear the jumbled chanting growing fainter and fainter until I heard nothing. I awoke.
I was in a bed in a large living room. Across the room was a door and when I went outside, I found myself on a balcony. "Julie Cabrera, welcome home."
I scratched my head and raised my eyebrow, "Where am I?" The owner of the voice made me jump back. I held back a scream; a centipede with a flaming tail and hands was talking to me.
"What's the matter mistress? You seem frightened. I get it; you must've had a bad dream, that's it. Come, we must prepare for tomorrow's fights. We are currently low on human fighters."
"Human fighters? Of course, Anosus, tell everyone to round up whatever humans they find."
The centipede bowed its entire body. The flame of its tail wavered back and forth as it rose up to its full height, "Right away mistress Cabrera." The centipede danced itself off the balcony, crawled into the empty stands, and skittered to the outside of the arena.
Suddenly, after being taken by the demons with large, red wings, I ended up in a cage, watching other people claw between the bars. I looked around. It was relatively dark but every now and again a door would open, someone would scream and I'd see someone being thrown out the door. It was always a human. The demons paraded around the cages which were neatly aligned against the wall. In the center of a room was a particularly large, circular cage. At the moment, it was empty. Outside the door I could hear unfamiliar sounds. It sounded vaguely like cheering, but it wasn't human.
Finally it was my turn. The door to the cage I was in was opened by a particularly grotesque and awesome looking demon. It's long, bony arm reached in, grabbed me with its spindly fingers and tugged on my shirt. At first, it was a gentle tug that turned quickly into dragging. As I made myself catch up, so as not to be dragged, I caught a peek of what was outside. Shit, there was an audience of demons. And I was in an arena surrounded by them.
From the looks and reactions at my arrival I wasn't the likely champion. I could hardly move. The scene looked amazing, yet I had neither the time nor was the situation particularly good. A measly, squidward-looking character brought out a set of weapons, all of which looked ancient and fragile. Out of the choices, I chose the only one that didn't look like it was on its last stand, a barbed spear. From a door over on the opposite side of the arena, a giant beast, tall, with lanky arms and legs, and a belly and throat the size of a gigantic snake's with a head to match, minus the tongue, crawled out. Its head slithered closer with its body following it faithfully. I wasn't a fighter. And I had to fight this thing?
A gong atop the stadium chimed and the crowd of demons roared and hissed. It must've been a signal to start because the snake-demon charged at me. Its neck began to surround me, but I ducked away at the last moment. While it uncurled its head, I took my spear and bum rushed it. One of its arms swatted at me and the arm itself missed. I was knocked off balance by the sudden force of air that came with it.
The spear landed on top of me, nearly catching me on one of the serrated spikes. I heard nothing but the horrible sound of blood pounding in my ears. My heartbeat raced and so did my lungs as I dodged and dodged, desperate to live. Any human instincts of survival had woken up in the fight. My body was telling me not to die and my reflexes were getting better. But I was tiring quickly and the spear was getting heavy in my hands.
I could tell the beast was getting tired of the chase, it wanted to eat me now. I defended from a chomp and it chopped the spearhead off in splintery wood. I grabbed for the sharp metal and tripped from fatigue. The snake demon reached a slender hand toward me, picking me and my spearhead off the dusty ground. It shook me as if to clear the dust off. Then, as the crowd cheered wildly with crazed roars, it lifted me over its snake-like head, opened its mouth wide and dropped me.
The darkness made me temporarily claustrophobic. With the sharp spearhead in my hands, I frantically tore at everything. I was being constricted in the snake's throat as it pulled me down and it was a struggle to get my hands free enough to dig the blades into the demon's throat. I could taste the salty liquid of blood, it stung my eyes and when I could open them again there was light. I had somehow managed to cut through the demon's throat and crawl out. I felt my hair; it was matted with saliva and blood. My skin was stained a sticky red.
There was a hesitation in the crowd. The crowd remained quiet as if each was afraid to cheer. One of the doors to the arena opened and a couple of centipede bodied creatures with hands and flaming tails stepped out and came toward me. I began to step away from them, but soon they had me backed against the wall. Each grabbed an arm and from one, I heard a squeaky voice emanate. "Boss said to come with us. She wants to see you right away."
She? I thought. I had no choice but to follow them willingly, the moment I started to lag behind it felt like they would tear off my arms. We entered an elevator and when it stopped on the very top floor, we continued down a dark hallway. Finally, there was a door that led to a large living room. The centipedes knocked first and then proceeded to enter, dragging me along, after a noise was made that I just barely heard.
I was surprised how nice the interior was. It was futuristically decorated with furniture that could only be found online or in a special magazine. The rooms all seemed meshed together into two. The living room area was also the bedroom, kitchen and dining room. All the furniture had the appearance of a steam punk's haven. The couch was also a bed, made up neatly with red and gold blankets and pillows. There was a clock face that served as the back and gold trim atop the canopy that was held up by four, gold-tipped, spear-like poles. The tables and chairs in the room all had pipes and gears for legs. The walls were filled with images of melting clocks and bizarre artwork that intrigued me.
The other room was the bathroom, with similar treatment done to its equipment. In the living area there was a sliding door made entirely out of metal. I was taken to the door, when it opened from the outside. There was a balcony facing the arena. The person who came in, I recognized her. Before everything had happened, I had thought I lost her. "Jules?"
She looked at me confused for a moment and replied, "Yes? Let's get down to business. I like your style kid." I didn't know how to respond. She called me kid? But we were about the same age. "Hey! I'm talking to you." Guess I spaced out. "Yes? You like my…er…style. What are you doing here? I thought you were…gone."
"Gone? I do not know who you are, human. I have been here. And I only wished to congratulate you on your victory. You are one of the few humans who have survived the first round. And if you pass round two, you'll have another chance to talk with me. Farewell, human boy."
"Jules? Jules wait!" I was ushered out quickly by the two centipede body guards. They took me back down to the arena. I wasn't fighting again till the next day. They gave me food and water that tasted better than I expected. I was back in a cell only this one was slightly different. Aside from being in a different location, it was a little larger and stood in the center of the room instead of against a wall. The down side? I was surrounded by more demons than humans. I suspected they made it past round one.
"Hey you!" I turned to see who kept shouting at me. It was a man, maybe around my age. Only I don't think he was human. Something about the vine-like tentacles that sprouted from his back, and the razor sharp teeth he had when he smiled gave me the impression that the next fight might be my last. "What do you want?" I asked sharply. I was beginning to feel bitter about the whole thing. Before, I was simply scared and confused.
"Careful who you get snippy with. You never know who you're gonna be stuck fighting tomorrow. It could be me." I figured, but what difference would it make how I acted toward a potential fighter who would likely crush me into dust regardless of how I talked to him the previous night. "You wanna survive tomorrow right? All you need is the right weapon. I don't know if you noticed, but only humans receive weapons, so if you end up fighting another human, be sure to get the best of the weapons. There's only one decent weapon, all the others are always garbage. Now, if you must fight a demon, like me, you may have more trouble. We'll see how lucky you get in the morning."
"Cabrera, how do you fare, dear one?" I heard the voice deep inside my head. It felt comforting. "I fare well master. Everything is going perfectly. I'm actually surprised the human made it this far."
"You shouldn't be. After all, you've been setting up his matches."
The floor of my cell was hard, smooth stone so I didn't get much sleep. I was exhausted when the gong boomed the start of the first fight of the morning. By the time I stopped rolling around and actually stood up, my door was being opened and I was pushed back into the arena. I could feel myself sweating, not from heat but from pure terror. I was about to fight and I was tired as hell. The same weapons guy came out with a selection of weapons. My challenger still hadn't entered yet; did that mean it was another demon? My hand shook as I waved my hand undecidedly over each weapon. Should I take the spear again? It worked last time. But no, that one had broken and it only saved me because I was inside the monster.
This sword looks nice though. Something Julie would like for sure, she'd pick that without a second thought. I decided to give it a try since none of the other weapons looked very sturdy. The weapon I chose this time was a sword. The edge of the blade was serrated and the hilt was shaped into a dragon with folded over wings forming the hand guard, and its body and tail were the grip and pommel. I gripped the blade with both hands (it was too heavy to hold with just one) and the weapons guy took off, the door closing shut behind him. I turned and waited for my opponent.
As soon as the door opened I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn't the guy I had talked to before and it wasn't another demon. This was a human. Why was I relieved? I had to kill another human being? And if I didn't, he'd surely kill me. The smile I had on my face dropped in realization and I wanted to scream. Fighting a human who was desperate for his own life was as dangerous as fighting a monster. He didn't hesitate either. The second the gong sounded, he charged forward with an axe dragging at his feet.
He was younger than me, and certainly weaker. His arms could barely lift the axe he had over-anticipated being capable of wielding. It was almost too easy. He took over ten seconds to get the axe in a swinging position. By that time, my sword was lodged in his guts. This couldn't have been round two. This guy, he couldn't have made it that far. This time the whole crowd was cheering. It didn't make sense. They made me kill off an easy victim. That had to be it. They were using me now to eliminate weaker humans. When I pulled the sword out, I heard the squelching of his guts and watched his stomach acid bathe the ground around him. The stench of blood and acid made me want to vomit.
Once again, the centipedes took me upstairs, and, once again my friend who didn't recognize me congratulated me. This time, however, she dubbed me The Eliminator. Bet you can guess why that was. "For a human to kill another human is much harder than killing a demon. The fact of the matter is that too many are weak, so we must eliminate them early, but don't worry, the people killed don't get wasted, the audience enjoys their snacks after the daily matches and the only way they get any of the kills, because they're not doing the fighting, is a human vs. human match. So congratulations, you're the crowd's new favorite human."
I wanted to say, I'd beg to disagree, since you are human. But that might've gotten me fired. Or fed to the crowd. Either way, I felt like living a little longer. "The concept is simple. We've devised a system. There are two groups of humans, the broader, more built, or heavier types, and the thinner and leaner ones. Let's call them group A and group B. Group A begins by fighting a demon whereas group B starts off with a human. Group A moves on from the demon to fight a human from group B and group B moves on to fight a demon. Then there are the two demon groups, C and D. C consists of the stronger, but less intelligent species. D, of course is the more intelligent but less intimidating in size. Everyone's third and final round is one of them."
For the first time since I awoke on the steam punk styled bed, I went outside beyond the arena and discovered where I was. The arena was constructed in the center of a school's campus grounds. The building looked out of place with the mess of destroyed buildings and partially reconstructed ones. They were being modified and surrounding the area were swarms of demons of all kinds on their way to see the next set of death matches. I recognized the buildings I had torn through on my half-broken wings only days earlier, when I escaped the classroom where swarms of demons had infiltrated and eaten the people who fought for their lives. I walked there; no demon gave me a second glance. They saw me and ignored. I wondered what he had done to make them all leave me alone.
I made it to the door without hassle from the hounds. They ignored me the same as all the other demons had. The door opened for me and, as I walked in, I was surprised to see that the room had changed. The ceiling was painted like the night sky and the moon and stars were the only light source this time. He looked different too. His cloak of darkness hung on a coat rack next to the desk, making it seem like there was a void inside the room. His form this time was demonically representative.
"Do you like it? I seem to have taken a fancy to wings lately," he unfurled a pair of proportional eagle wings toned to black. His teeth were sharp as ever and fit into his mouth rather than spilling out in saber tooth style like the demonic hounds that guarded his door. His head resembled a bull's head, with exception of the eagle beak, and giant, curled horns to match. His feet were taloned and his arms and hands were human. "It's very nice, sir."
"Sir? Why it was just yesterday you were calling me master. Has something happened?" I didn't want to be rude, but aside from very small pieces, I didn't remember too much. "Aye, well, you see…master, I seem to have, um, woken up from some sort of spell. Well, that's how it seemed at the time anyway. Waking up and not knowing what's going on. And being called 'boss' and my friend telling me I thought I was a demon…"
"Your friend. I see. He must've woken you up somehow." I glanced nervously at the ground, which I noticed had a carpet of moss covering it. "May I ask you why I was under such a spell?" He looked at me thoughtfully and grinned, "Dear, it was to protect you. And there is no reason not to become one of us; after all, you have earned the right." I wondered what he meant, but he wouldn't let me ask anything more. I opened my mouth, but he ushered me out the door, "go have an adventure or something."
I stood there at the entrance, stunned. What the hell was he talking about? Becoming a demon? Figuratively, surely. I soon forgot about it and instead began to explore the ruins of my old campus. I crossed back to where my broken, metal wings fell. No one had stolen them yet. I picked them up, they weren't really mine. I had borrowed them from the school's gym facility for some flight practice. They were relatively safe travel plus easy as hell to maneuver and an easier mode of transport that the unpredictable buses. Why they had let me take them in the first place was a different matter altogether.
I folded each wing back into its compartment and latched it onto my back. It felt very light. Normally, to use such a device all one would have to do is think. But my aerial module was broken now. I'd have to get it fixed later, so long as there was someone left to fix it. I walked by, what used to be, the foreign language building. Now, it was no more than a pile of rubble and partial walls. The buildings around it were somehow intact, though I suspected that some had been rebuilt for they had not had the metal coverings when I was simply a student.
I decided to raid the engineering building. It was a bit of a walk without my wings and when I got there I was grateful that it hadn't been touched. The doors were jammed shut, must be humans hiding out in there I figured. I took my time circling the building until I found what I was looking for. It was a cement block that stuck up out of the ground. A part of the underground tunnel system, it was a hatch and it was a way of getting inside the building. As I worked the door open, I checked around me to make sure there were no demons or outside humans lurking nearby. Just because the campus was now infested with demons didn't mean humans weren't a threat.
I made my way down into the tunnels. I had no idea where to go, but I followed in a direction as close to the building as possible. It was pitch black and I had no lights. I had to feel my way through the tunnels, groping the slimy and web covered walls until, ahead of me, there was a slim source of light that framed a rectangle. I thought immediately of a door and shuffled my way over to it. I listened carefully for a few minutes, to make sure there was no one on the other side waiting to ambush me. When I was certain that it was safe, I shoved myself into the door several times until it opened. I was in the basement with the furnace. It was hot. I realized, I had never been inside the building but once and that was over a year ago. As I searched for both survivors and tools, I came across a room with a broken door handle and lock. Someone had broken into it recently. I inched my way through the door and found no one. Several piles of metals, computer parts, and random clutter was all around the room. I searched through drawers and found several boxes hidden in the far back reaches of the drawers and cabinets. What I found inside made me gasp.
Inside, I found a glove-like object that fit my hand perfectly. It had some odd objects attached to it with a dial for intensity and a short list of instructions was written on a scrap of paper. The instructions called it an Electo-glove, capable of generating electricity that could be controlled in two aspects. Where it hit and how intense it was. I took an old backpack from under one of the tables and quickly stashed the glove and its instructions into the bag. I went through the remaining boxes, shoving aside anything rustic looking and stashed all the good stuff into my new bag. When I had thoroughly searched the room to my content, I continued down the hallway and noticed the closed classroom doors. I could hear a noise that stopped so suddenly I wasn't sure if I was hearing things.
I brought myself up to one of the doors, digging out the electo-glove and preparing myself. I figured, if they were human (which they likely were otherwise they wouldn't be hiding) there would be a few engineering majors within their rank. And they would certainly know how to use the equipment they had studied and created. And they'd be fully armed. "Come on out! I know you're probably armed. Better than me I'd bet.
Curious as to what people think of this idea.