Donny froze. His heart skipped several beats. Pure ice gripped his lungs while an unseen hand tied his intestines into knots. He looked at his companions to see they were similarly motionless. It was a standoff between themselves and a pair of female cosplayers.
The one to Donny's left side wore a rather generic anime schoolgirl uniform he didn't recognize. She had a fluffy pink wig and red eyes. She was, as far as Donny could tell, unarmed.
The one to his right sported what he assumed was a genderbent Kirito, but he wasn't familiar enough with the source material to know for sure. It was probably meant to be a sexy cosplay, judging by the amount of exposed skin. The black undershirt the character normally wore had been replaced by grey chest bindings beneath a wide open black trench coat. Dark short shorts were in place of normal pants. A sword hilt stuck up over her right shoulder.
The generic anime chick gave a smile, a slim, sinister sneer that split her face. The genderbent Kirito put a hand on her sword hilt. She attempted to draw the weapon, but the length of the blade kept her from pulling it out completely. She simply didn't have the range of motion.
In response to this obvious aggression, Jacob raised his weapon. He pointed it at the Kirito, finger on the trigger. Kirito froze in place, wary of the gun. Jacob tensed. Strain painted his face. He quite obviously held his breath. His hand began to shake from the death grip he had on the firearm. As a fellow dude, Donny knew exactly what his friend was thinking. He couldn't hurt them because they were girls.
Where Jacob hesitated, Sam did not. With a vicious warcry, she charged forward. The Kirito resumed trying to draw her sword, but still couldn't manage the arc necessary. Sam ducked low and football tackled the swordswoman. Kitiro was ripped off her feet and they both went down.
Sam immediately went for the mount. She straddled Kirito's pelvis and straightened her back as far as possible while keeping her target arm's reach. Sam grabbed both of Kirito's wrists in a hand each, trying to secure them. Kirito ripped her right hand free, then in the same motion went for Sam's throat. She batted away the attack and regained her hold on the wrist, only for Kirito to free her other hand. Kirito bucked, yet lacked the strength to throw off her attacker.
While the two women wrestled for dominance there on the ground, the nondescript anime girl produced a kitchen knife from underneath her too-short skirt. She moved to attack Sam. This threat was what finally spurred Jacob to action. He raised his weapon and fired a pair of rounds at her. One shot penetrated her arm. The other entered her cranium. The light left the anime girl's eyes as she toppled onto her right side.
Still stuck on her back, the Kirito's efforts grew even more frantic. She threw her hands around wildly, trying to both grab hold of Sam and knock her off. Sam went on the defensive. She swatted constantly at the fists coming her way. Many made it through, despite her best efforts. Most were ineffectual taps on her arms and shoulders. One punch, however, cracked against her chin.
The swordswoman used this temporary distraction to grab Sam's face with her left hand. She wrenched at Sam's head in an attempt to dislodge her. Sam opened her mouth and bit down on the Kirito's middle finger. The cosplayer's pained scream almost drowned out the sound of crackling bone. She tore her finger away, ripping the flesh in her desperate attempt to escape. Red dripped from the injured digit. Sam spit blood and viscera on the cosplayer's face.
Sam switched tactics. She reared her right hand back, fingers balled into a fist, and brought it crashing down on the Kirito's nose. Without missing a beat, she repeated the motion. The sickening slap of skin upon skin rang out over and over again as Sam continued the relentless beatdown. A low crunch preceeded the lines of blood which dribbled from the Kirito's nose. The cosplayer tried to reach for her fallen comrade's knife. Her injured hand clutched at the weapon, but it was out of reach. She couldn't move closer to it. She was helpless.
The cosplayer tried to bring her arms together defensively in front of her face. Sam capitalized immediately on this chance. She gathered up both of Kirito's wrists in one hand, pulling them up over the cosplayer's head. The weakened younger woman was too dazed and weak to resist.
From her pocket, Sam produced a blue pocket knife. She unfolded the stout steel blade. Holding her weapon point down, Sam plunged it into Kirito's windpipe. It penetrated easily. Kirito gasped and gurgled around the blood already seeping into her neck.
Sam tried to pull her knife through the cosplayer's neck, but only succeeded in thrashing them both around. The weapon remained lodged in place, but didn't cut. Sam made a second push, but to the same result. Her knife wasn't sharp enough to slice through that much muscle.
Sam reared back just slightly, and then fell forward. She grabbed the knife on her way down. The force of the fall combined with her bodyweight was enough to work the blade. It tore a jagged wound around the right of the cosplayer's neck. Sam caught herself on her palms.
Blood flowed around her hands. The genderbent Kirito gurgled and wheezed, coughing on her own essence as she rapidly bled out. Her legs spasmed, a last-ditch effort to survive. She hadn't the remaining strength. Her struggles weakened over the course of several seconds until she went silent and still. All the while, Sam's weight held her down.
The only sounds which remained there those of Sam's labored breathing. Her shoulders rose and fell with each inhale. After a moment, she stood, keeping her back to her companions. Blood dripped from her red stained hands. The drops splattered on and around the cosplayer she'd so mercilessly slaughtered. She took a deep breath in, and then out, and seemed to regain control of herself.
"Holy shit," Donny said, voice barely above a whisper. He watched as Sam began to wipe her knife and hands on the dead Kirito's trench coat.
Donny looked around at his other companions. Lucy looked at the ground with her eyes clamped shut. Jacob watched with a stoic expression. He was trying to appear strong, but Donny could see the tension in his muscles and the way his hands trembled. Andre was the least effected. The only reaction he gave was to breathe a little harder than normal.
"We need to get moving," Sam said suddenly. She turned to face the others. Sweat matted the hair to her brow. She allowed it to stay there. "Those gunshots are gonna draw more of them."
Sam was the first to follow her own orders. She stepped around the bodies, headed toward the employees only door. Jacob was the next to follow. Andre walked over to Lucy and placed a hand between her shoulder blades. She jolted at his touch, but refused to open her eyes.
"It's over, Lucy," he said in gentle tones. "We're moving, now."
"No," Lucy shook her head. "I can't look at it… at them."
"That's okay. I'll lead you to the door, alright? It's not far."
Lucy nodded a few times. Andre kept his hand on her back as he walked her over to the door, sure to beat a wide path around the carnage. Donny followed behind them. Theirs seemed to be the most logical route, as it didn't see him walking through pools of blood.
"Donny," Jacob called as he reached the door. Donny turned to his friend, who shoved something in his direction. "Here, take this."
Donny looked down at the thing being thrust toward him. Jacob held the Kirito's sword point down. It was pristine, somehow having managed to avoid the blood of its previous owner.
"What? Why would I want that?" Donny made a face of disgust at the weapon.
"You're the only one who has any idea how to use something like this," Jacob said.
"But I don't, really," countered Donny. "I've never even been in a fight."
"You're still the most qualified. No one else has any practice, I'm pretty sure."
"Just take the sword." Jacob pressed the hilt into Donny's chest. "We'll be stronger with more weapons, and I'll feel better if you're protected."
Donny looked from the sword, to Jacob, and back again. His friend was right, of course, but he still balked at the idea. Something about taking the sword felt final, as if doing so meant he finally accepted everything that happened. He told himself how dumb that was. No matter what he did, nothing changed the past. The cosplayers were rampant, people were dead, and he was fighting to survive. This weapon, though, could mitigate his struggle. He took the sword.
It was rather tame in comparison to most anime weapons. The nearly three foot blade was of realistic length and width. It was cut into a strange pointy half-crescent at the bottom. An L-shaped inlay ran along a sharp portion of the blade and also jutted out toward the front edge. The crescent terminated on the horizontal arm of the L inlay. The hilt was more than long enough to fit two hands. The whole thing was painted black, but turned silver where it was sharp. Donny turned it point up in his hands. It was heavier than a regular sword, but still well within wieldable ranges.
"Can I even use this?" He asked. "Isn't it, like, magic or some shit?"
"No," Jacob shook his head. "It's just a demon sword."
"Hey, are you two coming?" Called the voice of Andre. Both boys looked to see him standing in the doorway.
The two boys shared a glance. Jacob gestured for Donny to go first, which he did after flipping the sword point down again. He'd have to fashion some sort of scabbard for it later, if he could even figure out how.
The two of them walked through the door and into the employee tunnels. Andre locked them in.
Donny wasn't quite sure what he expected to be on the other side of that door. A little fanfare, perhaps? Or, at least some arrows pointing in the right direction. All he found instead as a long, boring hallway dotted occasionally with doors. There was an electrical box on the grey wall about halfway down, but other than that it was just a lousy corridor. How anyone got around back there was beyond him. He hadn't moved three feet, and he was already lost.
Sam stood several feet away, peering into the hall is if looking at something Donny himself couldn't see. Jacob walked past him, toward the Irish lady. Andre was still behind, triple checking the lock. Donny took a second to locate Lucy, and found her leaning up against the left hand wall, glasses in her hand. Her head hung low. A curtain of blonde hair concealed her expression. Donny felt an instant pang of sympathy at the pitiful sight. He walked over to her.
"Hey," he greeted. Lucy did not respond. "Are you doing alright?" He gave her a moment to speak. Still nothing. "Lucy?"
"No." She put her glasses back on. "No, I'm not."
"Andre," Sam called. Lucy flinched at the sound of her voice. "Come on, lead the way."
The security guard gave her a flat look before going to the head of the pack.
"Is there anywhere we can lay low?" Asked Sam as she fell in beside him. Jacob walked behind them. Donny allowed Lucy to bring up the rear, yet he remained close to her.
"Yeah," Andre said. "There's a storage room around the corner with a separate lock."
"I don't think these guys care about locks," argued Jacob.
"No, but it might stop one of them," argued Andre.
"It's a storage room?" Sam asked. "Is there anything we can use in there?"
Andre shook his head. "I doubt it. Most of the stuff that was in there got used for the convention."
"Figures." Sam rolled her eyes.
Silence descended upon the group as they plunged further into the convention hall's depths. But, perhaps that was for the best. Donny certainly didn't feel like talking, and he could only imagine his companions felt the same way.
As the five of them traversed the monotonous hallway, he worried about Lucy. She'd been in the restroom the entire time. Moving to the staff tunnels was her first encounter with the horror of what happened, of what was still happening. She hadn't had time to become desensitized to it. Not that Donny had either, realistically, but he was at least better equipped to handle it. Lucy, though? Not so much. She, like most people, had probably never seen a dead body before. And, she'd just watched two people die. He'd have to keep a close watch on her.
Donny also worried about his friend. Jacob probably thought he did a good job of acting tough, but anyone with a working brain could see his resolve crumbling. He'd killed two people on this day, maybe three if the Viking from earlier succumbed to his wounds. Donny couldn't even begin to imagine what that felt like.
Finally, as Andre led them around a left hand corner, Donny worried about himself. More specifically, about the stupid sword in his hand. Elucidator, if his minimal knowledge on the subject served him. What was he ever possibly going to do with a sword? What would he have to do? He prayed to never find the answer for either question. Still, for all these uncertainties, it was almost nice to worry. Doing so allowed him to forget about reality for a few minutes.
"It's in here," Andre said, forcing Donny back into the moment. The guard stopped in front of a pair of grey double doors. A sign on them simply said storage. Sam jiggled the handle.
"Still locked," she said.
"That's a good sign, right?" Asked Donny.
"Let's hope so," said Andre. He stuck one of the many keys on his ring into the lock. A twist worked the mechanism. The grinding tumblers inside were just barely audible. He looked back at everyone else for confirmation. Sam nodded. Jacob moved to the front of the pack, holding his pistol in two hands like a cop.
"Okay," he said.
Andre opened the door and stepped along with its arc to clear the way for Jacob, who barged in, weapon raised in trembling hands. He got a few steps away from the door, then stopped. Someone gasped from inside the storage room. With a quick sigh, Jacob lowered his weapon. Donny and the others peeked inside. There, they saw a brunette woman in her late twenties carrying a toddler in her arms.
"It's okay," Sam said, entering the room with hands up, clearly showing this woman her knife. "We're not cosplayers." She stopped several feet away. Her gaze clearly traveled up and down this mother-son duo. "I'm assuming you're not, either?"
"No," said the woman. "We're... we're normal."
"How did you get in here?" Andre said, trailing the others in his wake as he stood beside Sam.
"Some celebrity led us back here." A sullen look fell upon the woman's face.
"But he's not here right now?" Sam continued the interrogation.
"No. He said he was going to go find more people, but he never came back."
"Do you know who it was?" Jacob threw in a question.
The woman shook her head. "I don't remember his name, but he played Superman."
Donny locked eyes with the toddler for a moment. He gave his best winning smile. The little boy just looked away and huddled closer to the woman. The child was clearly terrified.
"What about—" Sam began.
"Guy's, come on," Donny cut her off. He stepped between the two groups. "Give them some space. They're obviously not cosplayers."
Everyone paused for a second, just long enough for Donny to be stunned at his own actions. The obvious distress of the both the child and the woman he clung to were more than enough to inspire his hand, he just didn't expect to actually do anything about it. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so proactive. But, now was as good a time as ever.
"Sorry," Andre said. "It's just crazy, y'know?"
"Yeah," agreed the woman.
Sam looked at Jacob. "Help me take a look around, see if there's anything we can use."
"Sure," agreed Jacob. They took off toward some empty rolling shelves by the left wall.
"We should probably barricade the doors if we're gonna be staying here," Andre called after them.
"That's a good idea. Get to it," Sam said without turning around.
Andre walked in the opposite way, destined for a few empty pallets. Lucy went with him, surprisingly enough. That left just Donny and the newcommers. He was just about to think of something to say when the little boy filled the increasingly awkward air for him.
"Mommy, who are those people?" he said, no regard for volume.
"They're like us, sweetie," whispered the woman, his mother.
"Are they gonna hurt us?"
"I don't think so."
"I still don't know. I'm sorry." The woman fixed a lock of her son's thin black hair. She let out a quick sigh, then tightened her fingers into a shaky fist. Watching the two of them broke Donny's heart. He had to say something.
"Hey," he began, closing the distance between them. "Sorry about all that."
"No, it's," she took a deep breath. "It's fine. I'm sure everyone is a bit tense right now."
"Yeah," said Donny. The boy looked at him again. He gave the child a sweet little wave, but received the same response as last time. "My name's Donny."
"I'm Alicia," said the woman. "And this is Charles Jr."
"Are you two at SDCC alone?"
"Um... no." Alicia paused. "My husband was cosplaying Victor Zsasz." She lifted up a piece of her cardigan and showed it to Donny. There was a long cut where it rested over her right thigh. "We barely got away."
"Oh," Donny looked away. "I'm sorry."
"Do you need anything from me?"
"No. We're good," said Alicia. "Thanks."
"Okay," Donny nodded. "I'm gonna go help barricade. Let me know if you need anything."
And with that extremely uncomfortable bout of saying only the exact wrong things, Donny walked away. He looked back just once to see Alicia trying to comfort Charles.
He'd had every intention of helping Andre and Lucy block up the doors, but only made it about halfway over to him before he stopped in his tracks. All that talk about family made him remember his own, and brought on a realization which halted all of his facilities.
Maya. With everything going on, he hadn't even thought about his younger sister. She'd been at a cosplay competition when people started to attack. She was a contestant. A sick feeling washed over him as he realized she was now most likely one of them.
Frantically, he dug his smartphone from his pocket. He quickly found her contact and called the number. The only thing on the other end of the line was dead air. Donny removed the device from his ear and checked its display to weasel out the problem. No service, not even Wi-Fi. Typical.
Expression dazed, Donny fell into a sitting position. He had no way of contacting her, of knowing she was safe. In that moment, he knew the meaning of true, unfiltered despair, of how it felt to be so hopeless and weak. He couldn't protect his own family. He failed as a brother. His little sister was out there fighting and killing, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Donny never made it over to the barricade. Instead, he just sat there for a good while.