“Ock, how’s it look?”
“Honestly? Way too empty. I went a bit farther than I probably should have but unless there’s a horde of ‘em hiding in skyscrapers not trying to find and kill things, I think we’re probably clear.”
Despite what should have been good news, Roko frowned. And while his face was covered by the mask of his Bio-suit, every person on the team could feel what he felt. Something was wrong. This was the smallest amount of fiends to come out of a Gate that they had ever encountered, and the next one up had at least twice as many. It had barely taken them 5 hours to make their way around the city and completely clean it of monsters, rescuing hundreds of hiding citizens along the way.
It was too easy.
“Roko to the Basilisk, any new readings on the Gate?”
“This is Basilisk, that’s a negative. Why do you ask?”
“I’ve got a bad feeling. We just finished what seems to be the last of the monsters, so we’ll be checking in on the Gate. Keep an eye out for any weird readings.”
“Alright team, form up. Let’s get this gate closed. Ock, stay out here and keep an eye out, and when Allaria gets back tell her to start making rounds to look for any pockets of survivors. Jack, get the relay set up. You’re on comms. Everyone else, on me. And do not let your guard down.”
With that, they turned towards the Gate. It stood within the ruins of what likely used to be an impressive building, but was now reduced to rubble by the escaping ravagers. The gate itself was a perfectly circular construction, seemingly built from a swirling mass of angry red hues. Devoid of context, and viewed through a screen or from far enough away, it might even be called beautiful. However, all open Gates exhibit an innate property that causes disgust and fear in sentient viewers, ruining any possible appreciation.
The group walked forwards.
Once immediately outside the Gate, all bio-suit masks went up as they steeled themselves to enter. Jack split off and began setting up communications equipment to keep contact with the team once they were through.
“Anchors, set!” shouted Roko to the team, causing them to all press a button somewhere on each of their suits. A few of the less experienced members flinched or clenched their fists as their suits began to inflict intense, piercing pain on each of them.
The pain was a necessary step in safely traveling through the gate - without something for the mind to hold onto, travel through the gate would all too easily rip the sanity from any sentient’s head.
Finally, they stepped through the Gate, and entered the Other Side. Normal procedure would be to spread out immediately, staying moderately close together while surveying the surroundings in case of ambush. This was the monsters’ domain after all. But the team found no need - this particular corner of the Other Side had no cover for potential ambushers to hide behind.
It was an empty, bone-white plain against a crimson-red sky.
The only noticeable difference in the terrain, apart from the Gate itself, was a glowing protrusion in the ground, roughly a mile out from the gate.
“That’s the Gate core, but… “ Roko trailed off, lost in thought.
“I don’t like this either, Cap,” spoke Karn, “why’s nothing guarding it? Too easy.”
“I’m thinking the same thing. I don’t think a Gate has ever been recorded as uninhabited. I’ve never seen one nearly this empty. And nobody guarding the Core? Even stranger. It reeks of a trap.”
“Cap, Jack’s finished setting up the transceiver, we’ve got signal!”
“Good. Hey, Basilisk, you read me?”
“Loud and clear, Roko.”
“Gate’s empty. No monsters. No buildings. No rocks. Nothing. I can see the gate core from here, it’s about a mile out. No guards. Still nothing on the energy readings?”
“I don’t know what to tell you, man, that’s super weird but I’m not getting any… oh no.”
“What is it? Basilisk!”
“Huge energy spike from the gate. It's preparing for something coming, either a swarm or…"
"Its an Angel. We'd have noticed by now if there was a swarm here. What’s the ETA on reinforcements again?”
“Last I checked it was about six hours.”
“Six hours is more than enough time for an unopposed Angel to chew up several cities. I’m not leaving. I can hold it back for a little while if I use that.”
“Consumption? Roko you’ll die!”
“You don’t know that, plus, it's not like running is an option either. The Angel’s close. I can feel it.”
Roko turned to his team. They couldn’t hear what he was talking about with command, but they knew something was wrong. Some of the more experienced members had already guessed what was going on.
“Alright everyone, listen up! There’s an Angel coming. It will be here in less than a minute. I’m going to hold it off. I want all of you out of here and helping with evacuating the natives. We’ve got an ETA of six hours for reinforcements, and I’m sure I don’t have to explain what would happen to people unprepared for an Angel if it was let out before they get here.”
Some of the newer members of the strike group made motions to protest, ask to help, but they were stopped by the more experienced members. They knew when they heard Roko’s voice he was prepared to die, and also knew staying behind would only mean more would die, and was unlikely to increase the time they could stall the Angel for.
Roko watched the team leave, and turned around. He could feel the Angel approaching, like pressure being exerted on his very spirit. Then in one quick motion, he pulled out his blades, turned them on himself, and stabbed. He doubled over both from the pain and from his own suit’s reaction.
The suit visibly pulsed, looking almost angry as it reacted to the injury, and Roko stood up carefully, the bleeding staunched by his suit. The Angel was visible now.
It was humanoid, with two legs, and four arms. It wore no clothing and had no face. Its skin was such a bright white it almost hurt to look at. It carried a jet black bident, and nothing else. It stopped approaching about 50 meters away from Roko.
Then it moved.
Before Roko could even recognize that it had moved it was on him, and he was only saved by a feeling he had had the instant before it struck, turning an attack that should have killed him into a glancing blow.
He retaliated without thinking, but the Angel was able to easily dodge. It seemed surprised he wasn’t dead yet.
The surprise didn’t last very long however, and soon Roko was forced to dodge again. This time though, the Angel knew what to expect, and shifted its attack at the last moment, slamming the side of its bident into Roko’s chest.
As Roko was sent flying, he could feel his ribs crack. The amount of force in the attack was monstrous.
He was tempted to just stay laying on the ground, but the thought of what would happen to all those innocent people if he let the Angel pass forced him up, and the deadly dance began.
With the help of his very angry bio-suit, years of training, and a sense of intuition only gained after hundreds upon hundreds of hard-fought battles, he was just barely able to not die whenever the Angel attacked him.
But the damage started to add up. Each attack added another cut, bruised another muscle, hairline fractured a bone. And as Roko was slowly losing steam, it was only a matter of time before he slipped up and a more lethal injury was gained. He started to worry about what would happen after he died, how many would die, how much culture and history would be lost, before he stopped himself.
He spit out a mouthful of blood.
Focus, he thought. Uncertainty dulls the blade.
His expression hardened as he once more got into a stance. The Angel kept coming. Luckily for him, or maybe unluckily, the Angel seemed to be toying with him at this point, trying to see how far he would go. At least that would give them more time to evacuate. It did not, however, mean this fight would get any easier. In fact, it only seemed to get harder as the injuries and fatigue piled on, until finally he was dealt what should have been a killing blow. A straight stab to the head, at speeds no human could ever match.
The Angel was done playing.
But something must have been watching down on Roko that day, for he was just able to dodge - but not completely. The twin points of the bident reached his face, and as he arched back to dodge and the bident pressed forward it gouged through both of his eyes.
He fell on his back. The Angel must have been surprised, for it did not immediately kill him while he was on the ground, and even allowed him to stand. He laughed a little, blood leaking from his mouth.
“Didn’t expect that one, huh?” he asked, knowing he would get no reply.
He was ready to die at this point, fully confident he had done all he could. He hoped he had stalled for long enough.
Until he felt something. It was a curious feeling. He felt like he should shift his body left and cut upwards with his left blade. He didn’t know why, it just felt like the right thing to do. And so he did.
Immediately he felt the wind of the Angels weapon passing millimeters from his face, and the characteristic resistance you feel when slashing a monster. An ear-piercing shriek confirmed his suspicion.
He cut it. He finally cut it. And as he continued to follow this new feeling he had, he continued to dodge, and continued to get cuts in. He started to see something, too.
Not with his eyes, those things were completely destroyed. It felt like he could see with his whole body at this point, feel and experience the flow of combat itself, and as he went through with it, he could feel himself becoming more and more energized, and the Angel became more and more erratic.
He was winning.
It took another ten whole minutes of this deadly dance, before the Angel really slipped up, and committed way too hard on an attack. Roko could feel the shockwave the Angel caused when it’s weapon had hit the ground, but that couldn’t stop his blades from piercing straight through its back and out the other side.
The Angel let out one last shriek, writhing on his blades, before passing out onto the ground. Roko was pretty sure it was dead, but just to make sure, he cut its head off.
He was about to start celebrating when he remembered he should probably close the gate. He wondered how, but luckily his ‘new vision’ helpfully highlighted the gate core as a large glowing mass he could easily spot, so he went over and broke it.
As he was transported back to reality, he could feel fatigue set in. When he landed on the ground, in the rubble of the building that had contained the gate, he thought he was home free.
Which was about when his body realized the amount of damage that he had sustained.
Roko couldn't hold back this time.
It felt like every cell in his body had been set on fire. His veins were magma, his bones barbed wire.
It wasn’t long before he fainted.
Just before he lost consciousness, however, he felt a soft presence, and was sure he heard a voice.
“Well done, Human.”