Silas opened eyes, air filling his once dead lungs as he gasped for breath. He lay there looking up at gray, moody, sky with air that tasted of decay and age. His eyes darted around in every direction, dilapidated buildings covered in plant overgrowth in every direction he looked. He sat up and turned his head to get a better look around him, trying to find out how he'd gotten here. The last thing he remembered was shouting for James to get down before a barrage of bullets pelted him from all sides. He remembered the feeling of blood leaving his body and leaving him weak, the feeling in his extremities ceasing as his heart gave out. Yes, he'd felt that plenty of times. As the familiarity with death slowly came back to him as he recalled all the times he'd been "killed", so did his memories of the place he was in.
Silas's head swiveled as he tried to find the one that had spoken, the voice sounding almost exactly the same as his. The tone was slow and practically dripping with malice, seemingly coming from everywhere at once. Getting to his feet quickly, he balled his fist and continued to search for the one that had spoken.
"Come out!" shouted Silas, his anger echoing throughout the ruined settlement. Silas waited, teeth gritted and ready for a fight. He knew where he was, and he knew who was watching him. It was always watching, always whispering in his ear when no ones else was around, always telling him to let go.
A figure walked out from behind a building, its gait slow and fearless. The lifeless fog that covered the town made it difficult to make out the newcomers features, but as it drew closer, Silas became well aware of what he was looking at.
"Why do you believe there is a separate entity?" asked the thing that stood in front of him. It's black, unkempt hair, it's effortlessly muscular build, the vest and tie worn over the button-down dress shirt covering it's chest...all of it resembled Silas in every way. An exact copy. The only thing making it possible to tell the two apart were the eyes. Sila's eyes were normal by human standards, although strained and down-trodden. The copy's eyes, however, were nothing like his. Only pitch black holes stared back at Silas, mirroring the blank, dead eye sockets of a skull. Looking into them, Silas could feel nothing but death and decay that wished to spread to everything around him. There was no life within what stood before him. It's existence alone was a testament to death and its voracious, insatiable appetite.
"We are not one." said silas, knowing that he might as well have been speaking to essence of nothingness. "You are an intruder."
"I am?" said it, it's expression completely devoid of any passion. "You fool yourself, boy."
Silas began to hear a faint rumbling somewhere off in the distance, the skies lifeless grey beginning to form tints of red. But he didn't look away from the being before him. He stared it in its eyes, not willing to back down. It felt as though he were trying to stare down a god, but Silas didn't fancy himself a quitter, even when he knew he'd lose.
"You wish." said Silas, a steady wind beginning to blow passed him and unsettle the dust and ashes of the town. Skeletal limbs that littered the streets rolled back and forth, the jaw-bone of every skull open and afraid. "I've beaten you before."
"Consistency." said it. "Consistency will always determine who has won. It is not a matter of who wins the battle or the war, but rather how long they can keep winning that war."
The wind blowing through town intensified, weakened or hanging pieces of the buildings around them coming loose and being sent flailing through the wind. Silas could feel his eyes beginning to water as wind blew into them, but he did not blink. He refused to show weakness.
"If your enemy is still a threat," continued the hollow Silas. "If your enemy keeps coming at you, if your enemy does not STAY down, then you have failed."
"Then I guess we're BOTH failures!" said Silas, having to shout over the wind that was now whipping against him. They sky was now a radiant red, an evil coming along to fill what was once empty.
"I am immortal." it said. "I do not not tire and lose strength over time. I only grow stronger."
Silas was now desperately trying to hold his footing against the stormy wind, the buildings on either side of him beginning to crumble and blow away. His shoes skidded against the barren road as he felt himself being pushed back, using his arm to shield his burning eyes. It did not seem to be affected by the wind. It's clothes didn't even billow in the wind, remaining as perfectly still as the rest of him. Silas began to see a red blur rushing towards them from behind this other him. He smelled something familiar.
"You?" said the corpse. "You are human. By definition, you are limited. You lack the strength to win a battle forever. Your body and your resolve will eventually crack, splinter, and crumble away."
"So I fight until I die!" shouted Silas, his voice completely unheard over all the chaos. The scent he caught was getting stronger as the red blur drew closer. It was wild and free-forming, like an oncoming tsunami. A red one that smelled like Elizabeth.
"But I can not die." said it. "Only you can."
Silas began to feel himself being taken off of his feet as he stared at his hollow self. The scent of Elizabeth's blood was overwhelming now, the tidal wave of her blood rushing at them like a wild animal. Despite his surroundings and his inevitable defeat, he stared hard into the eyes of this other him. Common sense beckoned that he should run, but what good was running from an enemy that always knew where you were?
He heard sobbing behind him. He turned his head without thinking twice about losing the battle and saw a little girl, kneeling in a puddle of blood. Around her were the freshly mauled body parts of a man and woman. Her sobs echoed louder than the tidal wave of blood, filling the area like a blaring alarm in a large cave. His determined glare turning into concerned fear, he turned and lunged toward the girl right before the tidal wave hit, shielding her from the force.
James lifted Elizabeth's wrist from Silas's mouth, fearful that he might wake up and decide to to take a bigger bite. He was saddned by his actions, but now wasn't the time to reflect.
"C'mon!" said James as pulled Elizabeth with him. "We gotta leave the room!"
He was certain she was angry with him and confused, but he didn't want to risk being in the same room when Silas woke up. Also, based on how loud the gunfire had gotten, the attackers were closing in. They knew where he was and were planning to overwhelm him up close. Both his arm and leg were shot, so his chances of successfully fending off such an attack were fatally low. His concerns were solidified when he spotted a man run up to one of the kitchen windows as he and elizabeth tried to leave the room. The man spotted them, but that was all he had time to do before James blew his brains out the back of his head with a shockingly fast quick-draw from the hip.
"S***!" shouted one of the attackers. "Told his dumb a** not to go for it without us!"
"One less pocket to fill." said Richard, the sound of his voice making James grit his teeth as they left the kitchen and entered the living room. "Now...TOGETHER!"
James quickened his pace as he heard footsteps rapidly approaching the building from outside the kitchen.
"Keep quiet." said James in a hushed, calm tone as he led Elizabeth up the stairs, careful to avoid the creaking ones.
Richard smiled as he watched his men close in on the kitchen. Even James Redding couldn't defend against an instantaneous assault from multiple angles at the same time. A few would bust through the door, and a few others would bust through the front entrance. He'd been inside the estate enough times to know that the front entrance opened up into the living room, which you could use to get to the kitchen and dining room the moment you were inside. James was known for being fast, but the difference between tonight and all his other escapades was that he was the one being caught off guard this time. He was the one without the element of surprise. He was the one without the plan.
One his men were where they were supposed to be, they looked at Richard and waited for his signal. He sliced his hand downwards quickly and they nodded before aiming their guns at the locks of their respective doors and blowing them off. Kicking each door open, the open fired into the kitchen, half expecting to take a bullet themselves. But they didn't, and none of their shots hit their mark. James was nowhere to be seen. They immediately began looking around, figuring that he must have left the room somehow. The only person in the kitchen was Silas, filled with lead and dead. Stepping over him, the attackers slowly made their way through the kitchen to meet up with the ones in the living room. One of them, a man named Bernie, was the main man Richard hired to help him take over the estate. He was the one that found all the other bandits and misfits before getting them together. Richard had only offered him twenty percent of the potential earnings, but he had other reasons for accepting the job.
Bernie was maybe 17 when James Redding killed his brother in a gunfight.
Once he was certain the kitchen was empty, he pointed at the men in the foyer and motioned for them to check out the dining room. He and the guy with him would head upstairs, certain that James was just trying to hide and buy time. They all moved slowly through the state, being ready to take cover the moment they saw James. Bernie had told them all that he was far too quick-handed shoot at first glance. If they wanted to survive and take him down, they needed to work together by taking cover and pin-pointing his location to one another. Then they could flank him and that'd be it.
Bernie and the man with him were maybe half-way up the stairs when they heard the scream. It was short, and abruptly cut off by the sound of something liquid trickling onto the floor. It had come from back down the stairs in the dining room, and it didn't sound like James. Bernie's face contorted into confusion as he and his plus one turned around and aimed their guns toward the entrance of the dining room. He was certain the James would get to higher ground by going up a few floors. It didn't make sense for him to be downstairs where he could be easily surrounded.
As they slowly descended the stairs, Bernie got a sudden bad feeling, as if he'd messed up big time. It was the same feeling he got the first time he and his brother had encountered James. It was the same feeling that made him run when The Red Death blew a hole clean through his brothers lower left chest. He ignored this feeling, still angry with himself for running away all those years ago. He wouldn't run this time, and he was ok with whatever outcome that caused. That didn't make the feeling go away though. As they lined up on the wall just outside the dining room, Bernie steadied his nerves and steeled his resolve. He was looking in front of him with his back to the wall as he did this, looking into the kitchen on the other side of the foyer. He felt a chill run up his spine and he went rigid. Lord Grimheardt's body had been lying on the kitchen floor in a puddle of blood when they walked in.
Now the body was gone.
Bernie almost jumped out of his skin when he saw the hand erupt from his lackeys chest, scattering droplets of blood everywhere. Bernie stood frozen in place as he looked down at the hand, a clumped of meat he assumed to be his lackey's heart tightly gripped in its fingers. Both their backs had been to the wall, meaning that this hand must have also busted through it to do this. His mouth agape and his hands shaking, Bernie's eyes slowly traveled up to the mans face, a look of surprise and horror plastered on it as he coughed out a glob of blood. Suddenly, the hand squeezed into a fist, crushing the heart in a spray of blood before retreating back through the man's abdomen and leaving the gaping hole. The man jerked forward in desperation as he felt the life leave his body, an unbelieving, scared expression adorning his rugged features as he looked down at himself. Bernie saw the hole in the wall the hand had busted through, fresh blood glistening and dripping down from it. He could swear he heard chewing, crunching noises coming from behind it. Mustering more courage than he'd ever had in his life, he leaned forward to look through the hole. He felt the sudden urge throw up his last meal as he looked at the sprawled and mangled bodies of the men he'd seen inside. Something had torn them to pieces, only half a leg still attached to the torso of one of the corpses.
Bernie was frozen, all the courage he had left now gone. He didn't even notice that the chewing noises had stopped, and he didn't have the strength to move when a red, sinister eye peeked through the hole back at him.
Richard lit another cigarette as he watched Bernie and his men entire the estate, certain that he'd already won. After they came back out with James Redding's head and a bunch of tied of maids he'd use for his amusement later on, he'd pillage the estate and find Lord Grimheart's money. He'd tried doing business the low-profile way, but in his experience, high-profile was where the big payouts happened. He had plans, he had dreams, he had goals. He couldn't afford to wait things out with the little money Silas was giving him for the blood. Eventually he'd get caught and that would attract unwanted attention from the authorities. It was time to speed things up get the payout he felt he'd deserved.
As he took a long puff from his cigarette, he thought about the blonde woman that had been putting pressure on him. He'd have to find a way to make sure she knew nothing about this. If she ever caught wind that he had something to do with the death of Silas Grimheardt, she'd easily come to the conclusion that he'd also gotten his hands on his money. She'd ask for a cut, and Richard would refuse to pay before putting a bullet in her once and for all. He'd have to use the cash to leave the estate and find another spot to settle down until he could figure out what to do with the money. Maybe he'd start a business using the maids he'd kidnap. He'd spend a few thousand getting them all dolled up and trained to be dancers. They'd go abroad and he'd expand his services, maybe running a little prostitution ring while he was at it. Big leagues would pay anything to have a long night with a woman that was famous and far out of theirs. But not him of course. He'd get his services for free.
His thoughts ceased when he heard a scream from within the estate. It didn't sound like James, but he didn't really care. Every man Red killed meant one less person to account for when it came to payday, making him a little richer. He also generally didn't like any of the men he hired. He could tell how low-class and unprofessional they were just by looking at what they wore and smoked. First impressions meant everything in this business and if you weren't willing to pay for it, you deserved to be sent to your death by the richer man.
A peculiar sound came from within the estate, loud enough not to be completely muffled by the walls but strange enough to catch his attention once again. It sounded like plaster and wood-work being broken. Richard raised an eyebrow. If you were going to bust down a door and make that much noise, would it not be more beneficial to use your gun to blow off the lock? "All this noise but no gunfire?"
"Maybe the old coot's throwin s*** at em'." said Richard, the light from his cigarette illuminating the bored look on his face. "Don't worry. They die, I'll just send YOU in right aft-"
Another, loud, terrified scream rang out from the mansion, echoing through the trees and frightening the birds off of them. It was accompanied by gunfire that lit up one of the windows closest to the front door. Not too long after, the screaming stopped with a blood curdling gurgle followed by a large amount of blood being splattered all over the window. The cigarette in Richards mouth wilted as did his mouth.
"What the f***!?" said one of the men as he stepped back a little. They all waited in silence, certain that none of the men sent inside would be coming out. Was this what James Redding was capable of? Richard went through the possibilities. He was certain that the gunfire and scream he heard had originated from Bernie. He'd heard multiple shots, something The Red Death was never known for needing. One shot, one kill was practically his way of life. But if Bernie was the only one firing, how did he die? Had Red come up on him with a knife?
A crash was heard on the side of the estate opposite Richard, like a wrecking ball plowing through a wall at top speed. The gunfire that followed lit up the forest and Richard heard his mean curse and scream in shock. He couldn't see what was going on behind the estate, but based on the sounds, it as if some crazed animal was tearing his men limb from limb. This ideas was further cemented in his mind when he saw someone's freshly severed head get thrown out from behind the estate.
"HELP!" shouted the man that came running passed the head, blood spewing out of the stump of his arm as he tried to hold his guts in with the other. "HELP MEEEE!"
Richard began to back up as the men closest to him took aim in the injured mans direction. The gunfire on the other side of the estate had stopped, and Richard assumed it was because every man over there was very dead. Someone...something was out there with them, and he didn't want to be around when it reached him and the men closest to him.
"THERE!" shouted one of the men as he pointed into the thicket from where the dying bandit was running. It was barely visible in the night, but he could see too, red, beady little eyes staring back at him. Seeing what he was talking about, the men open fired. Afraid of ending up like the man that was desperately running towards them, many of them didn't bother to check their aim. Bullets tore into the ravaged man as the others tried their best to hit whatever was looking at them. He fell, dead from several shots to his head before he hit the ground. The barrage continued until they all had to stop and reload, the flashes and smoke from their gunfire making it hard to see if the creature was still there.
"Oh, man." said one of the younger outlaws, his hands shaking so much that he kept the bullets he was trying to load. He kneeled down to pick them up, the men around him spinning up their chambers and preparing to fire again.
"IT'S GONE!" shouted one of the men as they all looked into the direction where the eyes had been. This made a tingle run up the young outlaws spine as he felt his heart beat even faster. He began to regret the choices that led him to this day. All of a sudden, finishing school and becoming a law-man didn't seem so bad to him. But it was too late now. He'd killed dozens trying to climb to success and now he was about to pay for it.
As he scrambled to pick up his ammo, he looked up to see if the creature was coming. There was an outlaw standing in front of him, breathing hard through his mouth as he scanned the trees for the attacker. Then, with a wet sounding thud that sprayed blood everywhere, a black blur slammed into the man and he was gone. The young outlaw froze with fear as the men around him screamed and opened fire into the darkness. As he tried to get to his senses and load his colt once again, the screams changed from one of fear and desperation to those of agony and great pain. He could hear the thing tear them to pieces, the only thing making it possible to see the slaughter being the bright crackle of gunfire.
What he saw looked impossible. during each instance of gunfire, he could see what looked like a man in bloody, formal attire. He was moving impossibly fast. Someone would fire their gun and the brief instance of light would show this formally dressed man lounge at one of them. Ripping and tearing sounds would follow after the flash, and when someone else fired their gun, it would illuminate the outlaw missing his head or part of it, several limbs, and sizeable chunks of his body as it fell to the floor in a mangled, lifeless heap. Each shot brought on another brief picture of the man brutally murdering the outlaws around him, immortalizing the massacre in his mind like a 3D photo-shoot.
There was only one outlaw shooting now, each flash showing the tears streaming down his face as he screamed at the creature.
"NO!" shouted the outlaw as be backed away, his shots hitting nothing and briefly illuminating the unrecognizable piles of meat that used to be his partners. The young outlaw was now shaking and in a fetal position, tears also streaming down his face as he waited for a painful, gruesome, death. It felt difficult for him to breathe. He could barely hear the dull clicking coming from the other outlaws gun.
"Nonono..." yelped the outlaw through his sobs as he frantically reached into his pocket for more ammo. He was shaking so badly that he barely grab the single bullet that sat in his pocket. The moment he took it out, a hand that was slick with fresh blood grabbed his arm. The young outlaw heard cracks, snaps, and wet rip followed by the sounds of the liquid spewing and pattering against its surroundings. The outlaws screaming intensified as more tearing sounds could be heard behind the young outlaw. One final, loud, wet rip silenced the man's screams, liquid now gushing everywhere.
The outlaw's upper half landed a few feet in front of the young outlaw with a wet thud, droplets of warm blood landing upon his arms and face. The dead outlaws face was drooping and blank, blood seeping out of his mouth and an empty eye-socket. The young outlaws gritted his teeth, trying not to scream as he cried even harder. He didn't want to die. Especially not like the man in front of him. But it was inevitable.
A figure stepped in between him and the fresh corpse. The kid slowly, almost agonizingly, looked up. His mouth feel agape. A few swaying splotches of the moonlight that was filtering through the trees illuminated the mans blood-soaked clothes and face. It was hard to make out through the tears welling up in the boys eyes, but there was no mistaking it. Silas Grimheardt, the man he'd helped gun down when Richard gave the signal, looked down at him with eyes no longer human.
They were blacker than the night sky, glowing, red dots locked onto the young outlaw. There was no anger, sadness, or excitement in them. Just a hungry animal dedicated to the kill. The young outlaw felt like his heart was going to give out. They'd killed him, and he'd come back as...something else. Now he was going to pay and there was no telling of how it would happen. Deciding that it would somehow make the experience less painful, he clenched his eyes shut and gritted his teeth in expectation of what was to come.
The sounds of foot-steps could be heard in the distance and there was a whoosh of air that ruffled the boys hair. He held his breath, thinking this was it, but no pain came. He held his eyes shut for just a little longer before he cracked one open. Silas was gone, the only thing looking at him being the single, lifeless eye of the outlaw that had been yanked in half. Beyond the corpse, he spotted another outlaw running through the front entrance of the estate.
He wanted to feel relieved that Silas or whatever he'd become was now gone, but he couldn't. He'd never feel safe again. So he remained there, curled up and catatonic. He didn't even have the courage to move.
Richard didn't dare look behind him as he ran, the sound of gunshots and his men's spine-tingling screams cementing this notion. He heaved with each breath, spitting out his cigarette and trying to figure what the hell had happened. What was that thing in the woods? Some kind of monstrous guard dog? He'd been to the estate many times and couldn't remember seeing anything resembling a pet. He decided to think about it later. He spotted one of the cars he'd parked on the road just outside of Silas's property. There were seven others, but they wouldn't be getting used tonight. He slid over the hood as he took out his keys, jamming them into the car door with practiced ease. He swung the door open, noting that the gunfire and screams had come to a halt.
"Always something." he murmured to himself as he turned the keys in the ignition. The engine of his first-class vehicle roared to life and he floored the gas pedal. As he sped down the dirt road leaving the estate and all his men to their fates, he thought about what he was going to do next. This wasn't over. Not by a long shot.
Vernon slammed the door shut behind him, locking it with trembling hands that were slick with the blood of his gang. He didn't know why or how he was still alive and he knew even less of what attacked them. He couldn't remember seeing it, most likely because he ran the instant it tore off his right hand man's head. That was how he always survived. He was a firm believer of running away, knowing when to leave the table. This was definitely one of those times. Richard had told him that this would be a cake walk. Even though The Red Death was here, he was outnumbered and he would be unaware of what was going to happen. He expected some problems, but nothing like this. He'd caught glimpses of what happened to his gang as he ran to hide behind a log. He'd never be able to get the images out of his head. Whatever this thing was, it was strong enough to tear through a hardy man like a potato chip and fast enough to dodge gunfire.
He looked down at himself. His clothes and arms were stained with blood. He didn't even remember how it had all gotten there. There was just so much of it spewing around him, like sinister geysers trying to drown him.
"Eugh!" he huffed as he tried to wipe the blood away, only being able to smear it. He backed away from the door as he did so, almost tripping over something. When he looked down, he almost hurled. There lie what remained of Bernie, one of his lieutenants. His head had been ripped off, his throat crushed and his spine still connected. Vernon covered his mouth as he began to see dots in vision. Short and simple, he wanted to get out of there. The idea of eating another meal, taking a nap on a breezy day, drinking a beer, shagging a prostitute in an alley...they all seemed so far away now. Impossibilities. He'd give anything. He'd kill anyone. He just wanted to get out of there.