The screaming. The hellish screaming. When would it end? It was everywhere, and yet they never saw the beasts until they were right upon them. Those monsters. The four-armed ones; the ones that spit the burning acid; the ones that leapt at you, flailing their spiked arms like a whirlwind. Leon could barely make them out until they were already getting ready to kill him – such was the speed at which they came. He was trained, though; an expert at the light machine gun. In less than a second he could separate friend from foe. A few milliseconds longer, and he could pick out what class of enemy he was up against. He could then make a decision based on this.
At the moment, the decision-making was slightly simpler: friend or foe, if foe, how close, if closer than the rest, shoot it. Most of the time, the thing he shot was in the process of hurtling towards him at high speed. Leon could dodge the corpse as it fell, but he couldn’t usually avoid what came with it. The thick green ichor dripped down his armor, sometimes squirming unnaturally. All the while, Leon held the trigger of his light machine gun down heavily, feeling the rhythmic banging emanating from the barrel. Around him, there were dozens of the monsters, all streaming from the depths of the jungle. Fighting alongside Leon, there were two more humans. To his left, the crack of a shotgun from the hands of a Warlock. To his right, the steady drumming of a pulse rifle from the hands of a Hunter.
It went this way for a little over a minute, until at last the shotgun stopped, and Leon heard the wielder cry “I’m out! Cover me!” Leon immediately started shifting left to fill the empty spot while the Warlock ducked behind a part of the downed drop-ship. “Okay, I’m– behind us! They’re right behind us!” Leon turned around to find a dozen Hive Knights descending upon his friend. Before Leon could open fire, one of the Knights dove at the Warlock. A crack; the shot missed. As the Knight got within a meter of the hapless Guardian, it drove its arm down heavily.
Attached to the arm was an energy blade.
The Guardian let out a piercing shriek as flesh and bone were torn asunder in a whirlwind of slashing and cutting. As quickly as the scream had started, it ended. Leon yanked down the trigger; the Knight erupted into a million pieces, shredded by the rain of bullets. More ichor drenched Leon’s armor. He stepped to what was now his left, towards the Hunter with the pulse rifle, hoping that he might be able to keep the Hive on one side of him. He stepped a little too slow. It could’ve been a railway car slamming into his side; it certainly felt like it to Leon. He slid to the ground as the monster that had knocked him down let out a growl – though it sounded more like rocks grinding together than anything animal-like.
As Leon lay still, the other Guardian screamed as a fountain of acid hit her from behind, the force knocking her down as the yellow liquid burned through her thin uniform and into her skin. A long shriek; she was burning. But the Hive did not stop. They continued to attack her, tearing her apart just as they had done to her comrade. The shrieking stopped; at last the Hive stood still. Leon just lay there, slowly regaining his wits. He stirred. Another of those growls. A Knight walked into his vision. It stared down at him, pitiless, soaking up his pain and enjoying it. After a moment, which seemed to stretch into eternity for Leon, it raised and dropped its arm.
The light of the blade blinded him.
The nightmare ended. Leon screamed, but no sound came. It took a moment for what had happened to sink in, and then he was breathing normally. He looked around the room. It was a cozy little place, with a relatively soft carpeted floor, three beds, a table, and some closets. He was in one of the beds, while the other two were occupied by sleeping figures. A cool breeze drifted in from the window. A minute of silence passed as Leon adjusted himself to his circumstance. He pulled the wrinkled covers off himself, and stood up. A quick stretch of his back, and then a glance at the clock. 6:52 AM.
Leon walked into the bathroom and stared in the mirror. He looked physically normal, except for one glaring feature: a long scar running diagonally along his neck. Scars were a normal feature of being a Guardian; spend a few years fighting the Fallen, and you’re bound to get at least one, if not a couple. But this one was unique, because it signified the most critical feature of Leon’s existence.
He could not speak.
His eyes fixed on that scar for several seconds. That cursed scar. His life was hell, simply because of that one scar.
Sometimes, he wished it had gone deeper.
Just an inch, that was all that had allowed him to live. But what is life when you can’t make even a sound? When you can’t reciprocate kindness? When you can’t even tell someone the most basic fact? Those most simple words, ‘yes’ and ‘no’ – he couldn’t even say those. That one binary, around which most of human existence is built – black and white, yes and no, good and bad, right and wrong – he couldn’t get that across, no matter how hard he tried. What is life then?
Just an inch deeper, that was all he had needed.
Leon walked out of the bathroom, his face still wet from washing it. It was 6:58 now. He looked out the window, and saw the City below. The sky was clear and blue, and the white metallic buildings of the City glittered in the sun. Leon was used to seeing the City, as most people were. Awe was rarely felt about it. Far from it, many Guardians could feel just how fragile it was. Had it not been for that dead thing in the sky, that mysterious Traveler, humanity would’ve been extinguished long ago.
Leon heard something stir to his left. Looking in the direction of the sound, he saw one of the sleeping figures turning in the bed next to him. The covers were wrapped around the person’s body tightly, and little more than a head poked out. Her dark brown hair was very short, a military-style cut. A tiny scar, barely noticeable, ran along her left cheek. Her lips were thin, as were her eyebrows. Her eyes, currently hidden in sleep, were a shiny amber. Leon stared for the longest time at her, barely moving except to breathe. God, if only he could just tell her…
The clock began beeping. 7:00 o’clock. Both of the sleeping figures began to stir as they woke up. Leon walked back over to his bed and sat down. The woman was the first one of the two to get up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and face before standing up and tapping a button on the clock. The beeping stopped, and silence returned. The woman rubbed her neck, and tried to shake the shoulder of the other person, who was still somewhere in-between being conscious and asleep.
“Hey, Dan, wake up,” she said. The only response was a bit of uncomfortable grumbling. “Come on, it’s time.” This time the response was intelligible, if only barely: “Alright, alright, I’m getting up.” The woman turned away from Dan, and back to Leon. “I see you’re already up.” He nodded.
Dan – his full name was Danuta Novak, but everyone shortened it to just Dan – slowly pulled off the covers and got up. His face was twisted in a sickly frown, his skin pale and green and his arm clutched around his stomach. The woman looked at him and said “I assume it’s the, uh, usual?” A nod. Dan was serious; she was being sarcastic. Dan had always been a bit superstitious, and any illness of his he attributed to an alien curse put on his head seven years back. As he sat there, his cheeks suddenly filled up, and he ran into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. Leon could hear him vomiting.
The woman – her name was Angela – sat back down on the bed and rubbed her forehead before staring out the window. Leon watched her for a while. After a minute, she caught his gaze, though he turned away, slightly embarrassed. She stared at him for a moment, sympathetically and with a hint of sorrow. He looked back, and their eyes met. “Hi,” she said. It wasn’t a simple greeting – it was an acknowledgement of his soul.
It just hurt more. She could acknowledge him, but he couldn’t acknowledge her.
He turned away painfully, and she recognized what it meant, likewise drawing away, feeling a little guilty. Dan returned from the bathroom, his face a little more flush and not quite so sweaty. “Better?” Angela asked. Dan nodded weakly.
To Be Continued…