Chapter One (Psyche) by Lucy.
Chapter Two (To the other side) by Andrada Costoiu.
Chapter Three by B.V. Stratton.
Chapter Four (The fateful night) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Five (Insight Part I) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Five (Insight Part II) by Amitbhat0912.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Six (They’re still out there Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part I) by Lucy.
Chapter Seven (Cycles of violence Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part I) by Shweta.
Chapter Eight (Fragments of the past Part II) by Lucy.
Chapter Nine (Flashes from the past) by Smita Ray.
Chapter Eleven (Off the radar) by SteelWarrior.
Artemis dashed down the deep depths of the cave, Lauren clinging tightly to her as random thoughts swirled in her head. She hoped Tom was alright as she hasn’t seen him in a good minute. Well, even longer than that; she swallowed. She then heard the scream of what sounded like a dying dog who hasn’t had food in days, instantly relieved.
They arrived, only to feel immediate dread, with Lauren almost shaking when they laid their eyes upon her.
Anastasia sat there, her hand frozen over Tom’s neck as her nose bled. Her sharp, piercing gaze met their eyes before she went back to Tom. “Ah, so you have friends?”
“Fuck you!” was his only response. The murderess shook her head, realizing killing him wouldn’t help with the advancement of her plans. No. She instead tossed him to the cold stone, and within a heartbeat, Artemis sprinted towards her, causing Lauren to fall from her tight grip.
“Hey-WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” As she yelled, she broke her fall on her knees, now being adorned in additional red—far beyond the blood on her hands.
In her line of sight, she thought she almost imagined it. Not disposing a moment longer, she welded the image of her brother in an ambushed gaze, noticing how different he was from before they were separated. Her face softened when she spotted still some injuries that would not be so discrete to hide, and knowing him, not as much as he would have liked. She quickly looked back at the scuffle; the flickering of blows exchange, and grunts, throat-ward, that would tether into the wind. “Tom,” she murmured in fondness. “You’re alive.”
Lauren side-hugged her brother. “You need to get out of here,” she laid her hands on his shoulders, “I’ll be right with you soon.”
“You know I’m not going to do that, Lauren.”
“There is no time!”
“I’M NOT MOVING!”
Before the arguing could exacerbate, Artemis was tossed at them, limp. She had a few cuts and bruises, but was alive nonetheless. The siblings looked at once was their “holy grail” against Anastasia in divested horror and awe. A predatory smile awoke in the seductress of blood. “Yet another failed one. I guess-” Part of the ancient cave crumbled into a deep pile of rubble, Anastasia being crushed underneath. The same thought Lauren had earlier now came into fruition, but she couldn’t recognize if this were natural… or if this was an act from someone else lurking in the shadows. Tiny hairs stood upon her neck.
Lauren’s head whipped to Artemis and then Tom as she tried to assess the situation, forcing her face to look a certain way. After assessing the rubble, a plan formed and twisted throughout her mind.
She noted a cognitive mental map, one that she realized looked like a smudge on the original. “It’s almost like a staircase! There has to be something up there. That’s going to be our ticket out so maybe we can finally catch up and rest.” She was almost ready to make the leap, before turning back. “I’m taking Artemis up there!”
Tom first sought out a breath of relief, before re-engaging into the darkness from the damp cave. He finally saw Artemis for what she was–half human, half mutant. His traces staggered from behind with a balance, and through his eyes, a conflict between what had transpired between the hours lost.
“She’s a mutant?” Tom whispered. He watched into a quiet refuge on how the two women interacted together. A familiarity.
“Yeah, but it’s cool. We can trust her.”
“Are you so sure about that?”
Lauren abruptly turned, eyes narrowing. “You should be the last person to ask me that question.” A coalescence of fate shimmered throughout her, finally a chance she could see.
With Lauren supporting Artemis, Tom resigned himself to just be blunt. “What’s going on with you two?”
They both stopped, only the wind in the trees could be heard. “I… I don’t know,” Lauren admitted, not quite noticing the downcast look on Artemis’s half-awaken face.
He winced internally. “How… Well, how did you even, I don’t know, find each other?”
“Oh. Artemis was stalking me.”
Tom was growing more disturbed by this revelation. “So, wait, she stalked you as a night-slayer and you two formed… an alliance? Why does this not make sense?”
“Because you don’t know the full-story. It’s weird,” Lauren sighed.
Artemis stirred, concealing her claws and the blood that reigned from Anastasia—even discerning how unreal it felt on her skin. She shivered. “Not a night-slayer… and it’s more than just an alliance,” her yellow eyes trudged at Lauren who, in spite of herself, just grinned.
Shadows were in haste, snaking around the trinity following but it went unnoticed as it began. It took Tom a moment to get the hint. “Oh.”
“Yeah. Oh. Any more witticisms, Shnopsey?”
“Nothing. I just, I mean, I—I love you and just want the best for you. So, wherever this relationship goes, I’m here. You deserve some happiness too, Lauren.”
Lauren, shocked by the sentimentality (she really shouldn’t have, as knowing her brother in the life of before, he was just as emotionally volatile and vulnerable), looked back with almost an unpromising peace, maybe even content. “I love you too, even after everything.” They stepped across rotten ground as each ascended further, guilt coiling further into the trenches of her stomach as she recollected his love. Zara.
Lauren treated them both like shit, and after the end, was it worth it? Was it worth it in the idea of escapism that, while so close, may not be possible? She replayed Artemis’s words over and over each time she thought of deserted freedoms; there could be no escape. All of this could be for no true cause. And what she pushed for? Everyone that has died may have died for naught. She wanted to spare Tom the emotional burden, and more so, wanted to save both their skins. Zara was a security risk, but still, that was not the root of her spite.
She just didn’t want Tom taken away from her again.
Tom never dwindled with any similar spite, and while crossing a turnabout, she realized she had no choice but to be more open and honest. With her own memories coming back, it was time to piece things together and see what happened in the past that led them here. Artemis was submerged again in a set darkness, eyes flickering in and out of a stupor. The human’s own walls crumbled around her in the silent azure, feeling barren into the oasis of air. Now was the time to survive, who knew how much time they had left before word got around about Anastasia?
“How’s the leg? Can you walk on it still?” Lauren whispered.
“I can walk just fine.” Tom ignored his only partially healed injury and ran up the rocks like a child running for Christmas presents. Lauren grabbed Artemis and jogged up the rocks, keeping her surprisingly heavy body supported, which started to stir as they reached the top. With Tom just standing there, Artemis squinted her eyes in the pixelated darkness. “Is that… a mutant?”
Behind Tom, a figure was sitting towards the top of the edge but the darkness of the 4 AM sky was covering them from fully being seen. They were tall, had very broad shoulders, and some spiky hair. They also appeared to be dressed in what almost looked like a navy and black jumpsuit, but stylized for combat; padding all over. What appeared to be black fur glistened in the barely visible light as they removed their fists from being planted on the sediment, almost as if they caused the crumbling cave. “Move your asses or we’ll never get out of here.” He dashed off, assuming they would follow.
Lauren could have almost laughed in that crack pot’s face. Almost, but her heart was pounding. “Of course, why not?” After that remark, Artemis woke up, survival skills took over, immediately jumping to her own two feet—dragging Lauren with her, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Tom was not too far off behind. “Who the hell is that?” Tom motioned to the figure running in front of them, which they now assumed was male due to their build.
They sprinted for the hills, their feet crunching the fresh grass louder than before. So many things had been racing through their heads that they barely noticed that they had made their way past the cave. Lauren took a good look at the unknown man. “Yes, Tom, who is this?”
“How would I know?” Tom cocked his head at her.
“You dumbass, you should! I thought he was with you!”
“Ah, yes! That’d be perfect! Because I was being choked alone, I obviously have made a friend to save my ass!”
“Fuck you and your sarcasm!”
“To hell with your attitude!”
“He’s a mutant.” That was Artemis this time who carefully unsheathed her claws; the atmosphere quieted, but still was thick with tension. The male then turned around.
“Hi! I’m Max—” He didn’t get to finish because Lauren leapt at him with all her might. With a few quick slices in the air from a piece of wood she somehow got, fire started to rise in her eyes. She managed to land a few cuts on his face before Max was able to dodge the rest of her moves; he proceeded to catch her arm, holding tight enough for her to drop the wood. She winced. “Listen to me! I-”
Possessively, Artemis pulled Lauren from behind and spun around, one hand almost hitting Max. When the spin was complete, Lauren was thrown aside and Artemis was facing Max again. Without a word, she knelt giving Tom the upper hand to attack by stepping off her back with his good leg and using his bad one to kick. The hit landed on the new mutant, and he stumbled back, surprised. He had raised his neck and hands, and they were all shocked when they could clearly see him.
He didn’t have a collar, wrist band, or marking.
M196 sat down in the chair, almost sure it was going to be his last time doing so. “They threw me out…like I was nothing! I was just another failed experiment…they didn’t even try to fix me.” He was in a bleak cabin, with the light slightly slinging around as it hung from the ceiling. A nurse with bright red hair, rosey cheeks, and about a million freckles was setting up a small lab kit. She had a tag labeled “Kathy Rose” on it, and her outfit was already stained with some blood.
“They think you’re already dead, so we have the advantage. They’re looking for me, so if we both want to make it out alive then we better hurry this up. Your cellular structure didn’t bond properly with the botched treatments. What I’m working on should be a permanent way to stabilize your issues, unlike last time, but once we’re done, there’s not much I can do when it comes to surviving unless I end up dead too.”
He thought back to when he had almost died and how those who used him like a lab rat threw him out like he was nothing before Kathy had saved him. “Luckily, I know there are other people like me out there! Who knows, maybe I can make that superhero team I always joked about when we were kids.” He stopped to cough, but tried to suppress it, not wanting to attract attention from the outside.
“Take it easy, wise guy.” She took the needle. “I heard they aren’t so friendly.” She injected him with the serum and placed some wrappings on his skin. “It’ll be a moment, but with your accelerated healing, you should be okay in a few hours.”
A mixture of a black panther, elephant, white wolf, and gorilla, and who knows what else, his body felt strong yet decayed. This concoction left a deadly trace throughout his veins, almost a poison that welled and amplified; but it still wasn’t the true cause of his failures. “Well, my powers literally change my body as well, making it hard to be strong but fast at the same time. Although that doesn’t explain why my fur is black in most areas but white towards my hands—” He was rambling.
“I guess that explains why your body couldn’t handle it. But hey, you’re still a failure. So you’ll look like one.” They both broke into laughter for a moment before part of the cabin wall was busted open. K394, formerly a friend of theirs named Kevin, attempted to attack them. It was time they were found.
Max kicked Kathy away, so he ended up taking the hit, and the two mutants wrestled to the ground in a flurry of fists. Max looked hurriedly at Kathy while pinning down K394. “Go, now!”
“But your condition-”
“He’s mixed with so many things, so we’re both in poor condition!” He was holding down his former friend down in a good position to keep him from fighting.
“I won’t leave you behind!”
“LISTEN, the person inside of him is gone, but I’m still here! I can survive out there with the other freaks, but if you keep trying to help me in this circus, then you’ll just be the dead opening act. You need-” K394 got an arm free and punched Max in the nose, but it was weaker than earlier, giving the latter more time to hold that arm down. He knew he was dying. “You need to go, NOW!” He could see the tears in her eyes.
“I love you.”
“I love you too.”
And with that, she quickly packed up and left the cabin.
“That’s… brutal.” Lauren was still shocked and was only able to make out those words. None of the officials knew he was on the island, and his story sounded unbelievable. Artemis kept her eyes trained on him, while Tom shook his head, perplexed by what he just heard.
“Well, they don’t even know I’m here, so I’m getting out while I have the chance. I’ve lived in that cave long enough to become semi-acquainted with the other half of the forest. I just never thought I’d see any fellow survivors like myself. I promise I can make a good part of the team. I doubt the crazy lady is dead, though; she just dodges death like it’s a weak right hook.” He laughed, and Tom chuckled a little. Lauren just wanted to groan. “Come on, I know a good place to find supplies around here. It shouldn’t be so far off… I think.”
With another mutant on their side, the siblings started to feel safer from Anastasia, the officials, and the unknown. Who knows? Perhaps they could assemble some sort of team to take down the island forces if there are enough people willing to rebel. Wild in their thoughts, they didn’t even notice they reached an old cabin, eerily similar to the one Max described in his story. It looked nicer, though, and… well, it lacked a hole.
He opened the door and showed them in. It wasn’t quite big; it was mostly shelves, but there were enough things to salvage. Food, health supplies, fresh clothes, and a few weapons even. Lauren just smiled, soon abandoning her jury-rigged spear to the ground, and Tom kept his eye on a silver 380. “It’s best to just collect and go, and we can sort everything later.”
“This. Is. Unreal.” Tom was awed at the things they found inside, and the group dispersed to collect whatever they could. There’d even be a few bags in there, marked with a symbol Tom and Lauren seen before.
Unwanted memories flashed before his eyes, Tom struggling to keep down what he saw. Zara’s demise, Lauren cutting through her wrists, and the writ of the symbols. He swore he could just kill himself from the things he no longer understood, and judging the way Lauren stared back, she may have caught on to a similar realization. There was a connection between all living things, while the dead were used as symbolism for further placement. The encoding and scripture only revealed a partial story of the island, and it must have been at least thousands of years old.
When the siblings’ eyes met, they knew they had something to discuss.
But, there was no time for conspiracy talk. They had to head out, getting as far away from that spot as possible. They located shelter in the depths of the “hidden” layers of land, the night-slayers dissipating throughout the early morning hours, and the group settled down emptying all of their supplies. Lauren was the first to speak.
“Alright, Tom and I get the two pistols because we don’t have the ability to fight off creatures with our bare hands.” Everyone murmurs in agreement. “Now, for the food—”
“We don’t need it.” Artemis interrupted, and she motioned to Max, who nodded in agreement. “We can hunt for everyone.”
Tom almost spoke, but Max stopped him. “We good, bro!” He felt an awkward silence, as he was aware they didn’t trust him completely. Lauren especially, but it was best to have him stick around, especially since he could prove himself as an ally. Today’s theatrics notwithstanding.
“Uh, about the clothes—”
“I think Lauren and Artemis should have the dark cloaks.” Tom nodded at her.
“Why did they have cloaks in there?” Artemis was puzzled.
“And why should we have them?” Lauren shook her head in confusion.
“Well, girls look hot in cloaks.” They all looked at Max. Lauren slowly unfolded the garment, and whipped the cloak in his face before handing Artemis the other.
“These brown jackets are better for us. Besides, they already have literal psychos hunting us, let alone everything else. The target on Artemis might be higher now, and they don’t even know Max exists. It’s best to be this way.” That was Tom who Lauren stared at because that sounded like something she would say.
“Eh, one girl is good enough.” He received stares again, and soon everything was stashed away in their bags. “You all are so dark! Take a joke, will ya?”
Before any rejoinders could be mustered, an arrow hit a tree right next to the mutant. They looked off at the brightening terrain. All but Max quickly disperse for cover, as he went straight towards the… Person? Mutant? He didn’t know, nor cared. He used all of his finesse, only being slightly pricked by the arrows from close-calls, eventually kicking down the figure in the shadows. They sprang back up, but Artemis pinned them from behind. Lauren suspected Max.
“This one of your buddies or some shit?”
“What? I don’t know who the fuck this human, hybrid, or whatever is!”
“Wait.” Tom leaned closer, removing the hood from them. Artemis stepped back in surveillance.
“And to think this was a hunter. Relax, it’s just some armed human girl.”