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A note from pwtucker

Thank you SmaugBeiber and SudsieGravy for the reviews! 

James pushed open their apartment door. Serenity staggered inside, dropped her Sigs on the counter, and without a word entered her room and face planted on the bed.

With extreme effort James straightened, closed the door, and entered the little kitchen. He poured himself a glass of water and raised it to his lips.

The glass trembled.

He closed his eyes and drank.

Then, with great care, he set the glass in the sink, turned to cross his arms, lean against the counter, and lowered his chin to his chest.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been this tired. This kind of bone-deep ache. Yet his mind couldn’t stop replaying images, memories, horrific scenes.

James took a deep breath and summoned the count down.

 

11 Hours till Nemesis 2 Released

They’d worked through the afternoon, into the evening, through the night. At one point he’d stolen twenty minute’s sleep only to regret it upon waking up even more exhausted.

The sound of gunfire had been ubiquitous. The flash of muzzles under the Klieg lights. In his mind’s eye he saw endless swarms of gremlins come bounding, come leaping, gnashing their fangs and hissing as they ran forever into withering hails of gunfire.

When permission had finally come through, it had resulted in their opening a small clearing zone of their own in the park to which they’d escort groups of thirty. They’d position Serenity, Singh, and James in a triangle about the small crowd, with Huffman, Mancini and Delvecchio interspersed between them and ready to fire.

But setup took so much time. Collecting the group, introducing themselves tersely, running as best they could into Prospect Park to their designated zone, telling everyone what to do over and over again, and then ordering them to acknowledge.

Thank god the gremlins appeared right away.

It took less than twenty seconds to slaughter the thirty, and then they handed the crowd over to handlers who ushered them out the southern end of the park while James led the way back to Grand Army.

At his insistence they increased the size to sixty, then a hundred. They managed five rounds before a gremlin got past them and fell upon the crowd, killing a muscular guy who’d fallen backwards shrieking in horror.

That stalled things. They had to call medics over, stand around in frustrated horror as the body was carried away, fill out a form, and only then return for more people, the crowd size reduced to eighty.

And all the while Brooklyn raged outside the barriers, people chanted, screamed, roared. The sheer press of the crowd drove people crazy. Countless innocents were crushed against the walls, tanks, transport vehicles. Rescuing them from under the feet of those who surged over their bodies was almost suicidal.

And all James could do was run back and forth, herding little pockets of desperately grateful humanity into the park.

He felt as far from an Avenger as was possible.

And then night had fallen.

The army set up huge lights, kept piping instructions through powerful speakers, and the crowd raged. People collapsed from exhaustion, threw rocks, had heart attacks, screamed for help. Nobody could get to them.

Drop by drop the ocean was bled of victims, people trickling into the processing station. James estimated that between all the clearance teams they were managing to process a thousand or so people an hour.

Twice as many arrived every half hour.

And in the dark everything became that much more haunting.

James refused to rest, to eat. Mancini forced him to remain hydrated. They escorted, killed, ran back. An endless cycle. Each group that streamed south was another success, but it felt absolutely insignificant compared to the hundred thousand that waited outside the battered barriers.

But what could they do?

Even as he escorted people he tried to dream up new approaches. Maybe a Killer Egg could fly him over the crowd, just above head height, his aura washing over people, but then what? They’d ask everyone to acknowledge while in the crowd? What if they set up a turnstile, used a subway station, had people acknowledge then walk along the tracks as the gremlins came after and ashed in his and Singh’s auras?

He suggested that plan to Mancini, who escalated it, but they never heard back.

The moon sailed into view, slowly crawled across the sky, descended over the park’s treetops, disappeared. The eastern sky began to lighten.

James and his crew must have saved almost three thousand people by the time dawn broke, but it felt like failure.

They worked through the morning hours, bringing ever more, and now the brass felt the desperation and allowed groups of a hundred and twenty to be escorted, a hundred and fifty.

There were more casualties, but those were deemed acceptable.

The Red Cross was there. FEMA. Doctors volunteering in emergency tents inside the cordon. Firefighters wrestled with the crowd. There was always a fucking reporter on hand to shove a microphone in his face and ask how he was feeling.

The hours crawled by.

The crowd diminished at last, not because they were processed, but because they realized they’d not be helped in time.

You had to acknowledge within twenty-four hours. They’d learned that with the Second Wave. People decided to head home, slowly, painfully, limping and carrying their wounded, their dead.

To return home and fight their battles alone.

Still James and the other teams cleared. On and on, till at last the dreaded hour rolled around.

Shit went crazy at midday.

There were perhaps ten thousand people left in the crowd, a thin band around the barrier, people weeping, clawing at the walls.

With the deadline looming, they all turned to face outwards. Someone, somewhere, began singing that fucking John Lennon song.

The sound would haunt him for the rest of his life.

All we are saying,” they sang, thousands of voices raised and ragged, people holding hands, faces wet with tears, “is give peace a chance.

The army had set up a line of soldiers before them. A thousand soldiers with rifles at the ready, James and the fireteam amongst them.

The army played a countdown to coordinate the mass-acknowledgement.

 

10.

9.

8.

7

 

The song grew to a crescendo. It made James feel murderous, nauseous, heartbroken. He and those who could summon auras were positioned at the base of a subtle funnel, twin flanks of soldiers angling toward them so as to guide the gremlins in.

 

6.

5.

4.

3.

 

Serenity didn’t need her Sigs, but she had them pointed straight ahead regardless.

 

2.

 

James took a deep breath.

 

1.

 

Ten thousand gremlins appeared before them all, many of them materializing within the cordon behind them where more soldiers awaited.

The song fragmented, lasted for another line, then broke into screams as the gremlins threw themselves forward.

A thousand rifles opened fire. SAWs, grenades, helicopters strafing overhead, .50 caliber machine guns mounted atop Humvees.

The gremlins were chewed up, but they’d appeared only a score of yards away. Sheer volume allowed half of them to flow over their dead and against the soldiers, their little bodies bursting apart as high velocity rounds tore through them and into the gremlins behind.

James spread his arms, screamed, and charged forward.

The world became ash.

Everything was scaly limbs and open mouths, flaring gray aura and death.

He simply ran, returned, looped back. He couldn’t move out to the sides for fear of being shot, but there were enough gremlins for everyone.

Ash. Nothing but choking black ash.

It lasted three minutes.

Somewhere within that madness he registered a new level.

All told, the engagement was deemed a success. Only a hundred or so soldiers died, maybe three times that number of civilians.

Grand Army was a warzone, dead everywhere.

People sobbed, held each other, stared numbly at the corpses.

Across NYC, hundreds upon hundreds of thousands more fought their own battles.

Across the world, billions.

James stood, dark with ash, then blinked and began to help with triage. Doctors spilled out from the enclosure, medics with stretchers. Old skills came to the fore, and James helped process the wounded.

He didn’t remember much of what came after, but he worked on autopilot, directing some to the emergency surgery tents, others to waiting areas, ordering those who weren’t too badly injured to go home.

Their cuts and lacerations would heal.

They wouldn’t grow infected.

Finally Serenity found him.

She looked like she’d just survived a three-week binge of every drug known to man. Strung out, exhausted, and jittery, she simply fell into his arms and hugged him tight.

It was a miracle she’d managed to remain on her feet after her cocaine-fueled all-nighter. Only her enhanced Stamina had kept her going.

Mancini arranged for their return. Commandeered a jeep from somewhere, and together with the fire team drove back to their apartment.

Nobody spoke.

Brooklyn was still, as if stunned by what had happened.

Every store was closed.

Here and there they saw corpses. All cut up and bitten.

Cars abandoned in traffic, permanently blocking the roads.

People wandering the streets with blank looks, some wounded, some weeping silently.

Gun fire was constant. Gremlins were everywhere.

How many people had died?

How would the city recover from this disaster?

James blinked and came back to the present.

Refilled the glass of water and drank again.

The worst part of it was that he knew shit was just getting started. The Monitor had said that Nemeses were like cockroaches to her. Which meant far worse demons were on their way.

He checked his count down again. Another hour had ticked by:

 

10 Hours till Nemesis 2 Released

He’d gained another level at some point during the night. Hadn’t bothered to spend the points. But now he pulled up his sheet.

 

Name: James Kelly

Class: None

Rank: Mendicant 9

Title: Vanguard

Virtues: None

Benedictions: Smite

First Miracle: None

Second Miracle: None

Third Miracle: None

Aura: Lead

Aura Strength: 4

Aeviternum Points: 3

Strength: 11

Stamina: 5

Speed: 6

Agility: 4

Power: 10

Arete: 27

 

He considered. Nemesis 2 was going to be an upgrade. Stronger, faster, more lethal. More resistant, too.

No way they would ash as easily as the gremlins.

With grim satisfaction he dumped his 5 points into Arete, bringing it to 32.

 

Aura: Lead

Aura Strength: 5

 

He’d grown used to depending on his aura. When Nemesis 2 showed up, he’d have to be careful. That instinct could get him killed.

But he was sure Aura Strength 5 would still piss the new demons off.

Smite would have to do the rest.

He turned on the tap, washed his hands, then washed his face. Washed the back of his neck, then considered a shower.

No.

He was too damn tired.

James limped over to the couch and sat heavily. With great effort he hauled off his boots. He considered turning on the news, then decided not to. He knew what he’d see.

He lay back and stared up at the ceiling, one forearm resting across his brow, and just… stared.

Sleep refused to come.

He heard the faint echo of screams. Real or remembered?

He got up, went to the window.

The street was empty.

He rested his brow against the cold glass. How was anybody supposed to handle this kind of shit? If Nemeses didn’t kill them, horror and anguish would.

But no.

James took a deep breath.

There wasn’t time to be weak. For normal human frailty.

Maybe he’d never come close to being an Avenger, but he still had to do his best.

What choice did he have?

One thing had become painfully clear: waiting for permission, waiting for overwhelmed officers and bureaucrats to give him permission to kill demons and save lives was a lethal mistake. He understood the need for the chain of command. Without it, clearance zones wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

But the system was being stress tested to the point of collapse, and it could accommodate new entities like himself.

He needed control.

He needed authority.

He needed to be able to do what needed doing in each and every moment.

James dug out his phone from his back pocket and dialed Jessica.

“Hello? James?”

“I’ll do it.”

“Are you all right? Do you need help?”

“I’ll be the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Ranking Citizens. Tell the mayor. I’m going to sleep now. Kill Nemesis 2 tonight, and tomorrow you and I are going to put this department together.”

“Yes. All right. I’ll get everything ready.”

“Good. Figure out how I can get as much authority and clearance as is humanly possible. No more red tape.”

“Understood.” Her tone had become professional, clear, efficient once more.

He hung up, dropped the phone on the kitchen counter.

Was this a mistake? Was he a fool for thinking he could use the system instead of being used? Seven years on the streets had taught him one cardinal rule: laws were made to protect the privileged. If you belonged at the top, you could get away with murder. If you looked different, smelt different, were poor, were desperate, then looking at the wrong person the wrong way could get you thrown in jail.

James knew he’d never belong in the NYCEM. But had he changed enough to use the system in return?

Too late. After all, the hour of Nemesis 2 was almost upon them.

James lay down, closed his eyes, and forced himself to relax.

No matter how bad things got, the new Nemeses would find him ready.

He reached down, touched the iron skillet propped against the couch and let out a deep, weary sigh.

Maybe he’d not been strong enough to make a huge difference at Level 9, but with the right point of view, Nemesis 2 was just an opportunity.

A chance to get strong.

To level up and see what else the character sheet had in store for him.

Because that was the only real solution.

To get strong enough, fast enough, that he could make a difference.

So that he could kill everything that came his way, for however long it took, till every enemy was dead and innocent people were safe.

So thinking, James slid into a deep and dreamless sleep, comforted by the bleakest of vows for revenge.

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A note from pwtucker

Thanks everyone for the continued interest. Things are just starting to heat up, and we'll finally be meeting the Nemesis 2 at last today (I think.) Been waiting for what feels like ages to bring them onto the page.

We're still climbing the Rising Stars chart! Unbelievable. If you want to help out, a review or rating makes a huge difference. Thanks!


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pwtucker

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