Raina peaked out around the curtain, looking at the swiftly filling concert venue. That was a good sign for their ability to survive.
Much more chilling were the intermittent pops of gunfire and shouts of anger from around the doors to the stadium. Her security detail was manning the doors, keeping monsters away, but it was difficult as more and more people pressed in, desperate for a port in this bloody storm.
Her main bodyguard and friend, Matilda, and her manager and costume designer, Cassie, stood next to her.
“What do you plan on doing?” Matilda asked in a low voice, turning and looking at the frantically scrambling men backstage. Normally, they got their power from the small power plant the government of Franksburg still ran. However, that had become quite fickle in the last few hours, so her production team were scavenging the nearby area for generators.
Raina had even brought the one that powered her home when she came.
“I… Don’t really know. But…” And truly, Raina didn’t. These past few weeks, she had become increasingly reliant on the Senator. He essentially told her what she would be doing every day. It was nice, in a way. Her life was simple, and filled with music.
And yet, she couldn’t get the voice of that strange, stoic man out of her head. Should could still picture his face as he told her that he couldn’t tell what was the skill, and what was not. Sighing inwardly, Raina plastered a bright smile on her face and continued to speak. “But we couldn’t do nothing. Once word gets to the military, they will send-”
“No, they won’t” A cold female voice interrupted Raina, and she was shocked to find a bloodsoaked woman holding a spear standing near their group. Snorting, the woman pulled a towel out of nowhere and began to wipe her face. “The perimeter is full of holes already, there is no one they dare spare to come assist you.”
Then the woman hesitated, her face scrunching up. “...Except perhaps… me. I have come to investigate the state of the city. I am Alana.”
“You…” Matilda tilted her head to the side. “You are from that other village, to the north. The people who came down with classes…? DId you know this would happen when they found a village!??!”
Alana grimaced. “I did warn them, they simply didn’t-”
“Enough, it’s fine.” Raina said coolly, giving the woman Alana a short glance before turning back to the stage. “For now, let’s focus on surviving. My song can help calm people-”
A scream distracted her, and Raina twisted to see that several large toads were hopping in from a side hallway. They spat poison around, the walls and floor that got covered in it were slowly warping and melting.
Alana blurred, racing towards the toads, and several turned and spat towards the approaching threat. Spinning her spear, she knocked the strange liquid to the side, except for one fat glob. It arced slowly through the air, and Raina watched it with wide eyes.
It was inevitable, she thought. My body won’t even move.
Matilda seemed to realize what was happening right after it was too late. Her face flickered between expressions, from calm, to shock of the frogs appearance, to relief as Alana moved, finally settling on mounting horror.
The acid took her in the face. She barely managed to close her mouth and eyes in time.
First, there was nothing.
Then there was pain.
Her entire world was on fire, focused on her face. Every concentrated nerve ending lit up like a candle.
Collapsing, Raina heard people swearing and rushing around her, dumping water on her face. But the pain persisted, ripping deeper. Her mind stuttered, and began to slow.
“Fuck, open your mouth.”
Raina drifted off into darkness, her only regret being-
Someone punched her in the gut, and she reflexively opened her mouth, gasping. A strange, warm liquid was poured down her throat.
“Mixed by The Ghosthound himself, not that you will appreciate it.” The woman, Alana, said waspishly.
Raina shivered, as her once weakening body was once more filled with vitality. More water was poured on her face, and the pain had dropped a lot as well, down to manageable levels, even as she felt tears forming in the corners of her eyes.
Slightly woozy, she managed to stand, gripping tightly onto Matilda. Slowly at first, but then committing, Raina opened her eyes.
It appeared that Alana had swiftly killed the frogs, and no one else, other than her, had been harmed. Which was a blessing, but Matilda and Cassie were looking at her like someone had died.
“Is… something wrong….?” Raina asked, wincing as she moved her face. Her skin still felt tight and raw.
Cassie winced. “Oh… it’s… it’s nothing. Just… a little scarring…”
Alana snorted. “Girl, that acid sorta fucked your face up. It’s not something makeup can fix.”
After fumbling for a second, Alana produced a small mirror. For several long seconds, Raina looked at herself. Then she began to laugh.
It was a low chuckle at first, but then it twisted, and grew dark.
“Plain… he said I was….” She muttered to herself, which set off another fit of giggles. What she wouldn’t do to be plain right now…
“Cassie, do you still have that embroidered mask that he made?” Raina asked.
Cassie nodded quickly, then ran, grabbing it and bringing it back.
“So now-” Alana said, her eyes narrowed.
“Now we fight,” Raina said, a small, smouldering coal of hatred burning in her heart. Although that man had hated thinking that a skill had affected him, drawing him to her, he was very clear on one fact.
When she had smiled at him, he had liked it. And now that was gone. Raina wondered whether he would accept her now, but set that aside. First, she needed to survive. And she only had one path for that; her music.
She took the mic offered to her by a trembling crew member, his gaze on the ground. Ignoring the looks, and the not looks by the crew who had seen her disfigurement, Raina put the mask on and walked out onto the stage. The crowd cheered, raggedly and filled with desperation. She could see from the stage quite a few couples having sex, right there in public, driven by their fear and panic.
She pitied them.
But she pitied them more for what was about to happen.
Raina raised the mic and spoke, a single word, singing it softly, crooning it to fill it with as much of her skill as she could.
She did not bother with lyrics, or any of her songs, or any tune. She didn’t wait for the band to come out. She just felt the hot rage inside of her, and used her persuasive skill to give it a vicious and desperate voice.
She sang for every friend or acquaintance that was probably now dead, killed by monsters. For every hollow eyed fan who now crowded her concerts, starving themselves in this city in order to afford the ticket. For her dream of being a successful singer finally coming true, but everything about it all feeling so wrong.
She raised her voice, stressing the word now, dragging it out, adding more musical flair to her imperative.
People in the crowd were stilling as she sang, a glassy look appearing in some of their eyes. They breathed and moved as one, slowly aligning with her.
She heard them mouth the word, but knew it was not enough. Stepping forward, she moved to the edge of the stage, standing right above them, her arms raised to the sky.
“Fight, Fight, Fight.”
Slowly, they joined, their chant following hers, their eyes slowly narrowing and turning red.
“FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT.”
She was shouting now, clutching the mic with white fingers, hating the monsters, but loving them too. They had crushed her old life, but gave her this brief month of being on top of the social circle, even if she was nothing more than a glorified mouthpiece. No matter how twisted it was, at least she was loved.
The system had given her a skill that made even that stoic boy struggle to resist her smile. And just as quickly, the system had taken it away. Leaving her with scar tissue. For that, at the moment, she wanted to bring it all crashing down. And so she sang, howling her dissatisfaction.
Raina continued to shout, yelling her call to action, her skill imbued voice echoing over most of the town, but some people were already insensible at this point. Vicious, their vision tinged red, they turned and stumbled outward, picking up trash and furniture, gathering weapons.
When they found monsters, they threw themselves at them with wild abandon, not caring for their lives. Because they heard a beautiful voice, and it told them one thing: Fight.
Men and woman attacked each other in their haste to find and kill a monster. They surged outward, the weaker among them losing their feet and being swiftly trampled. But the crowd cared not. They were scared, weak people, and Raina had given them something to cling to. In her strange magic, they found strength.
Not their own strength, but the strength of a vicious, hungry, mindless mob.