2298: Shadows

Posted: April 26, 2009 by Kelly in deathmatching, fortress, league, stories

And I can tell you why
People go insane
I can show you how
You could do the same
I can tell you why
The end will never come

~ Audioslave, “Shadow on the Sun”

The top of the Fortress was a windy place, even on a warm spring afternoon like this one. All the way up here, the spring breeze was surprisingly chilly. It tickled my neck and cut through my armour and jeans. It felt like a breath of fresh air after the dankness of the poorly ventilated building. At least the breeze didn’t smell of blood and feces and sweat, and that had been exactly what I’d needed to clear my head. Even when you’re responsible for some of those horrid smells, they do kind of get to you after the better part of six hours.

So far so good. Below me, fresh blood and gore of dead bodies was staining the hallways. I’d fought my way to the top of the building in the middle of the grassy hills.

It was the Northern League finale and I was still alive. It had been easier than I thought. There was another announcement just ten minutes ago, telling me that we were down to three contestants. Sheva, Juanez, and me.

It shouldn’t have surprised me that Juanez would have held out this long. He was a bloody menace with that ripper of his. Old-fashioned weapon or not, he knew exactly how to use that thing to its fullest advantage and he knew no remorse whatsoever. I’d seen footage of him a million times; from day one in bootcamp and the prelims he had been the one to watch out for, next to Elmontz.

Juanez had admitted in interviews that he is addicted to the feeling of it all. Death, killing, power. He said he’d never stop doing this for as long as he was alive. I understood what he meant: I’d felt like walking around in a daze for the past few months. I felt like I had the world at my feet and with my minigun in hands, I had the power of a god. Nothing could touch me. I didn’t think /I/ would ever stop doing this.

It all depended on whether Juanez would prove to be a more powerful god than me. Most of the kills made in the Arena today are his. As for me, two out of fourteen kills were mine.

My first kill today wasn’t my most graceful one. It had been part luck, part thanks to my quick reflexes. Two hours into the Game, I’d rounded a corner and had completely unexpectedly looked straight into the face of Eventine, right into the barrel of her rocket launcher. She had been as surprised as I was, but I had been just a tenth of a second faster to pull the trigger of my minigun. I hit the rocket launcher. The weapon had exploded in her hands, blowing parts of Eventine up as well. The shock of the explosion threw me on the ground like a rag doll. Her blood was hot on my skin. I’d never even exchanged more than two words with the girl with the short ash-blond hair, and now I had ended her life. Most of my earlier kills in the prelims had been from a distance. It had never been this up close and personal before.

I’d looked at my bloody hands and realised not all of it was Eventines. Bits and shrapnel of her exploding weapon had hit me in the face and my neck and I was bleeding profusely. I don’t think that a major artery had been hit, but I was bleeding too heavily for comfort. I quickly sought cover and quickly created a makeshift bandage of my t-shirt and had gone to see if I could use one of my credits to patch myself up at a regen point.

My second kill was exactly at that location. It had been a close call. Of course it had been. Of all the people in the arena, I’d had the rotten luck to run into the current reigning champion of the Northern Alliance, Steiner Elmontz. As it turned out, Steiner just had a run in with his rival Juanez and had come out of it rather banged up, but alive. He had been on his way to the regeneration point and so had I; the cellar we’d ended up in had been too small for the both of us.

It was a good thing the cellar featured many places to use for cover. The firefight that we ended up in lasted for a good ten minutes before I finally got Steiner where I wanted him and managed to take him out of the fight. I’d finished him off by standing over him and shooting him in the face.

At first I thought that the feeling of triumph was making me lightheaded. I’d taken out the reigning champion after all! Even Stender had made some impressed noises.

The lightheadedness was not triumph, though. It was blood loss. I was seeing swirling stars and darkness on the edges of my vision and I had a hard time concentrating. I needed that regeneration /badly/. The shirt that I had wrapped around my neck had become completely soaked with blood and Elmontz had managed to nick my leg as well.

The yellow light of the regeneration set things right, though. The experience of it was mind blowing and left me out of breath and slightly disoriented, but completely healed. For the rest of the duration of the Game, I’d kept myself mostly hidden, figuring that I could finish off whoever was left when the smoke cleared. I’d been able to take out motherfucking Elmontz; I should be able to take on the others as well.

And now there are two. Juanez… and Sheva.

Standing with my back against the wall on the roof of the Fortress, I find my first target.

Sheva Lopes; of Portugese descent, twenty-five years old, wielded dual guns. I didn’t know all that much about her besides the sob story that the PR has provided. Everyone had tearjerking bios if it was up to the media, I hardly paid attention to them. It wasn’t like it mattered, anyhow.

I had seen her briefly at the pre-game dinner last night, but she was seated on the other side of the table and we did not exchange any words except a greeting. She was a more than decent competitor in the Fortress; quick, good reflexes. Her stats from boot camp were fine. She hadn’t made that many kills in the Fortress, but she was obviously cautious enough to stay alive so far.

Stender rarely told the contestants directly who was exactly responsible for the killing that took place in the early stages of the game, but he indicated a lot. And I never even remotely heard him say anything that was about Sheva. /Has she been hiding so far?/ Until Stender called out our three names, I’d almost forgotten that she was in the Game at all.

But here she was. In the silver glaring afternoon sunlight, she was sitting on the edge of the roof with her back turned to me. Her feet were dangling in the air. Her guns lay discarded next to her, glinting innocently metallic in the light. Her armour lay next to it. There was no blood or sweat stains on her clothes, nothing in her hair. Nothing that even remotely indicated that she’d been anywhere but here since the games started. She looked serene, relaxed.

/I don’t get it./ My adrenaline-induced nerves immediately made me look around for the catch, the danger. /Is it a trap?/

“I know that you’re here, Delmont,” her soft voice suddenly sounded. She didn’t turn to me, she didn’t reach for her weapon. She just sat there, outlined brightly by the blue sky behind her. Her curly dark hair showed golden highlights in the sunlight.

Perhaps two seconds had passed since I exited the stair house and entered the roof. Those where two seconds that I was disoriented by the chilly breeze and the blinding silver sunlight. Precious seconds in which she could have turned and taken me out without relatively few problems.

My hands clenched around my gun and I aimed for her unprotected back, but I didn’t shoot. /Not yet, not yet./ Perhaps it was stupid and reckless, but I needed to know. “Why don’t you shoot me, then?” I heard myself ask. My eyes flitted over the otherwise deserted roof. Besides us, there was nobody there. I still didn’t trust it.

I could hear her smile. “Why would I?”

“Isn’t that what you’re here for?” /Maybe I should just shoot her./

She shrugged and tilted her face upwards, towards the warm spring sun. “I didn’t come here to kill.”

Sheva Lopes, grown up in San Angels, ex-prostitute and pickpocket, recovering speed addict. What else did I know about her? I’d seen her stats. She’s was okay with her dual guns, had passed all the preliminary tests without many problems. She did fine in the Fortress. There was nothing to indicate she wasn’t here for the kill or the money or the fame and glory. Just another participant of the Games; assumed to pay debts off with blood. Or perhaps to drown her inner demons in the blood of other participants. Who knew? Everyone had their own reasons to enter the Game. Maybe her bio was even true.

It had to be a trick of some sort, but I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what she was trying to accomplish here. I refocused my aim upon her again, ready to riddle her back with a storm of bullets, ready to shoot her off the roof. “Then what?” I challenged her.

She stood up slowly and turned to me, still not picking up her weapon.

My mind was racing over the possibilities while I tried to make sense of her actions. /Is she in league with Juanez? Stender’s been awfully quiet since the announcements, perhaps they are leading me into some kind of trap?/

But then the sunlight glinted on her face. There were tears in her eyes, there was wetness on her face. She’d been crying. Was crying still. “I came here to kill and lost my taste for it. I thought I needed to kill but I don’t. It’s just not working.”

I didn’t say anything. I just kept aiming my minigun at her chest.

“I’ve been sitting here the whole match, trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with me. I was so angry after my daughter died, I thought I needed blood to get rid of that anger. In the Fortress, I thought it was working. But when I entered the Arena today, I just didn’t see the point anymore.”

So it was true after all, what the media claimed. Sheva’s seven year old daughter, born of one of Sheva’s former clients, had been raped and beaten to death in one of the bad neighbourhoods in the center of San Angeles. With all of the gang activities and crime syndicates it had turned into a bad place after the Great War, and Sheva had lived in the area with her daughter. The girl had disappeared one day, and Sheva’d found the girl six days later. She had only been able to identify the girl by the dog tags the kid had been wearing before she was taken. No wonder she signed up for blood.

“Then what did you come here for, Sheva? Don’t waste my time, Juanez is still out here.”

Stenders voice suddenly resounded from one of the loudspeakers nearby. It came so suddenly that I nearly pulled the trigger in reflex. “Don’t let the thought of Juanez ruin your little tea-party, people. He’s still five floors below you.” He sounded thoughtful, not nearly as dripping with biting wit and amusement as he normally was.

“What did you come here for?” I insisted.

Her dark eyes fixed upon my gaze and captivated me effortlessly. For a moment, the whole world narrowed down to the two of us on the roof. Nothing existed anymore save for her and me and what she had to say. And she smiled a little, crazily enough. “I came here to die,” she said. “I guess I just didn’t want to die alone. I wanted people to be there with me, to watch me as I died.”

/Aw, shit./ Millions of living rooms were tuned in to this confrontation. I understood what she was getting at, but I remembered the empty look on Steiners face as I finished him off. I remembered the glint of shock and fear in Eventine’s light coloured eyes the moment she knew she was going to die- the moment my finger found the trigger and hers faltered. One nano-second of pure intensity. It was a moment I shared with them, but not in the way Sheva thought.

“You’re wrong there, Sheva,” I told her quietly. “Everybody dies alone. Your daughter died alone, and so will you.”

She made a shadow against the bright sunlight. “At least we’ll be together again, then.”

“Maybe.”

My finger found the trigger again and for a moment, she stood outlined against the sunlight and her eyes met mine for the tiniest of moments as my bullets tore through her unprotected body. There was shock in her eyes as there was in Eventines, before she fell backwards off the building. She hit the grounds seconds later with a soft thud.

“Sheva Lopes, died from a fall off the roof after a meeting with Peter Delmont’s minigun,” Stender announced. He sounded somewhat subdued. “Delmont, Juanez, it’s down to you two now. We’re entering the final stage of the game.”

I walked over to the edge of the roof and looked at Sheva’s lifeless body all those stories below.

“Everybody dies alone,” I told her quietly. “I’m sorry, though.”

One. Two. Three heartbeats I gave her.

Then I turned around.

/Time to find Juanez. Time to get back into the shadows. Time to end this./

—-

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