Chapter XLIII: Legacy of the FleshGradually, I woke from my torpor, dragging myself up with a groan. My wounds seemed healed, my wrist intact, the bones in my leg fused. My head pounded though, my throat dry, tongue feeling swollen in my mouth. I closed my eyes, trying to keep the throbbing at bay as I reached into my pack for some life. A blood-pack came to hand, although the bag was labeled differently from the others. I took a closer look, taking in the spider-like handwriting on the bag. 'Elder Vitae', it read. Shrugging, I ripped off the top, and drank hungrily.
The feeling was electricity, nerves sharpening, senses heightening. I felt better than I had since the night I had awoken...strong, unstoppable. The throbbing gone, replaced with an inhuman calm. I felt detached, yet a whole of something much greater. It was like I'd drank liquid gold. Picking up the discarded shotgun, reloading and setting the weapon on my shoulder, I crawled out of the tunnel, and pulled myself up easily, striding past the pipes onto the steel walkway that was at the end of the room.
My boots tapping loudly on the metal surface, I descended the stairs, and seeing no other exit, lowered myself into one of the shafts in the floor.
I crawled along the inside of the pipe, my ears picking up the skittering of rats, the sound of water nearby. No creatures, at least, not here. I almost pitied them should I come across them again.
Coming out of the pipe, I entered a maintenance room. Down at floor level, water spilled over the top of the concrete surface, damaged machinery causing sparks where cables rested in the water. Across from me, two of the creatures stared in undisguised hunger. The gangway had collapsed, leaving the two isolated and unable to escape, there forms showing obvious signs of degradation. No blood here, dogs.
Going down on one knee, I drew the rifle given to me by Romero, loading it carefully, checking the sight. Focusing, I pulled the trigger once. Twice. Both creatures disintegrated, the bullets causing extensive damage to the brain-stem, chunks of gray matter and bone splattering against the wall.
Carefully judging the sparks from the cables, I dropped down to the ground, feeling the water around my ankles. I climbed the ladder up to the opposing area, and drew the colt, using it to push open the door at the end of the room.
In the room was a switch. I flipped it to 'on', hearing the machine outside powering up, the distant sound of a fan churning water. Moving outside I looked down into the water, seeing the water being pushed from an exit pipe, spraying against the wall.
Using the switch on the top level, I switched off the fan. Hearing it power down, I walked past. Then I paused. Perhaps I could use the fan force to push me faster out of the pipe system, and cut this damned journey short. Hitting the fan button again, I ran, vaulting over the top of the walkway, and jumping down into the water.
Swimming hard, powerful stroked propelling me down the tunnel, I saw the fan beginning to rev up once more. A junction appeared in my vision, separating into tunnels branching left and right. On impulse, I turned right, feeling the water pushing me faster down the tunnel.
I hurtled down the pipe at an incredible rate, my eyes stinging from the water. I covered a space that must have been two miles in bare minutes. A human body would not have been able to stand the pressure; as it was, my muscles screamed in pain as I was forced further down the pipe system.
With a loud clang I was forced out of a pipe exit, the metal grate flying out, smashing against the wall where the iron crumpled, hitting the floor with a loud clang. I got up unsteadily, shaking some of the water from my hair.
Focusing further down the system, I saw what looked to be a hideously obese, too-tall man standing against a gate. Makes Chunk look like an athlete, I thought grimly, loading the colt, making sure the chamber was clear of water. I took a step forward, bracing myself as I saw the creature move. With a roar, green energy gathered at it's left hand, swirling in a sickly ball. Throwing it like a baseball, the mass hurtled towards me. Working on instinct, I dove to the left, pressing myself against the wall as the ball flew past, hitting the water with a hissing, green steam rising from the impact point. Moving back to the centre of the room, I carefully took aim, and then fired. Once. The creature stepped back, the impact of the bullet into it's chest forcing it to retreat. Again. The bullet entered above the first, catching the creature in the throat. Twice more I fired, within close proximity to the first bullets. With the fourth bullet, the thing gave a choking cry, sinking to it's knees before disappearing like the fleshcrafter's creatures. I reloaded the gun, carefully stepping past the warped bones, and opening the gate.
Past the gate was a maintenance door, across from a large pit, the bridge mangled and torn, lying at the bottom. Jumping across, I gripped the door handle and flung the door open.
The door led to another walkway. Crossing, I pressed my ear against the door, hearing a high-pitched whining noise. Like a woman in respiratory distress. Curious, I opened the door. Inside a large chamber was a massacre. The missing maintenance team had met their end here, bits and pieces of bodies covering the floor, long dried blood staining the stone underfoot. And then, from man's worst nightmare, a hideously deformed creature swung from the rails overhead.
Comprising three bodies cut off at the torso and melded together, a diseased, barely recognisable form of a woman looked at me from her remaining eye. Flappy, fatless, lumps of skin that were once breasts rested on a slashed stomach, it's contents long gone. Swallowing, feeling a wave of nausea as the woman-thing used the other bodies to drag herself across the floor, I tapped into my ability to form blood around myself as a shield, feeling it harden, protecting myself from the worst of the creatures attacks.
Jumping forwards, I drew the sword, slashing at the hideous face. The creature raised a deformed hum-arm, and despite my shield, I was knocked backwards, sprawling across the floor.
Useless! The inner voice had returned, condescending and furious as ever. You cannot take something like that head-on! You are weak! The voice was right. Losing the shield, I raised a palm, gesturing at the creature, making it's blood race, fall from veins, weakening it. As it lurched forwards, I swung the shotgun from over my shoulder, flicking the switch to automatic, and held down the trigger as the creature advanced. Bullets penetrating it, making it dance a macabre jig, I stood, continuing to fire. Once the clip was empty, I hastily dropped it, replaced it, continued to fire. With a shriek, the creature fell, collapsing in upon itself, flame dancing around it's skin as it exploded.
'How much more?', I snarled, feeling rage grow inside me. 'How much more of this shit do I have to go through for LaCroix?'
Trying to compose myself, I looked around the room. The gate across from here was locked, bolted, reinforced as if keeping the devil himself at bay. The route leading back to the maintenance rooms and the new sewer system, I knew I would not find Gary there. Turning, I looked at a grate to my left. It seemed the only possible exit from here. Shrugging, I jumped across the deep ravine, and landed in front of the grate, pushing it open and crawling through.
At the other end of the tunnel was an exit, leading down.
I felt dizzy, looking down that distance, the slow fan at the bottom forcing stale air upwards, the smell of death and corruption flaring my nostrils. My patience gone, I decided to take the quick route. Setting my feet firmly on the floor, I braced myself, springing over the edge, speeding down the chamber, air whistling past as I descended. Landing awkwardly on one of the propellers, I forced it free of the turbine, heavily hitting the stone ground, the corroded metal hitting me on the back of the head as the propeller came down. Flinging the metal against the wall, I stood up, carefully surveying the area.
I had entered a large circular chamber which seemed to be at the very end of the ancient underground system. It's purpose unclear, I only understood that I was coming closer to getting out of this hell-hole. The sound of the fleshcrafter's various monsters echoing around me, I vowed to clear out the festering pit of corruption. I loaded up the guns, and carefully made my way up the ramp, looking to the left and right at it's top. If I was quiet, I'd be able to take out these creatures one by one, leaving the others unaware. They possessed no intelligence, and little in the way of teamwork. I had already seen that they did not seem to respond to noise; despite my dramatic entrance, not one had come to investigate.
I walked steadily through the maze like corridors, killing quickly as I went. Coming up behind one of the female distortions, I found that a sword blade through the hind-brain killed as effectively as a drawn out frontal assault. Better, in fact. A corrupted, sociopathic Theseus, I used the blood of my enemies to mark my progress, using their wounds as the Greek hero had used string. My work was quick and effective, leaving me relatively unharmed, and able to progress quickly through the system.
'Argh! Fucking bastards!'
I paused. It seemed forever since I had heard another voice. Another voice, and the sound of combat. From up the ramp, and to my left. I raced forwards, hearing the sound of claws against skin, the sound of the sickly balls possessed by the obese monsters hitting walls, hitting skin with acidic effects. I chased the voice, chased the carnage, hoping to find an exit.
There! A nosferatu moved at astounding speeds, dancing around two of the creatures, his claws drawing blood in several places. Yet I could see that he was sorely outnumbered, unable to deal with the onslaught. I ran forwards, hoping to catch the creatures off-guard, help the vampire against his foes. Yet fast as I moved, the nosferatu's fate was sealed. As he ran past one, the other raised a clawed hand. The nosferatu ran straight into it, knocking himself down onto the floor. As one, the creature's raised glowing balls, before throwing them into the vampire's face. With a hissing scream, the flesh melting from the bone, the mutated vampire died, disintegrating. With a roar of frustration I jumped forwards, thrusting the sword deeply into the neck of one creature, the head lolling to the side, half severed. The creature collapsed, dying instantly as I turned to the other, dodging to it's side as it threw a ball at me. Slashing upwards with the sword, I carved out a thick chunk of muscle from the back of the creature's thigh. With a groan it toppled, looking up with confusion. Raising the sword, point down, I thrust it down through the creatures mouth, killing it.
Pausing to clean the blade, wondering what to do next, I caught sight of something that had fallen from the nosferatu's clothes. A keycard, frequently used. I picked it up, hope rising up inside me. Maybe I could find the way out. Out of this pit, out of this whole damned city if I was lucky. Trotting off in the other direction, walking through identical corridors, I followed my instincts, ignoring the bloodstained paths, heading towards the still clean stone. And then, I saw it. Salvation.
In the middle of this ancient ruin stood a computer system that would have looked at home in a science institute. Stairs in the centre of the room led to a heavily fortified manhole. Walking up to the computer system, I found a panel for a keycard.
'This better fucking work', I muttered. If not, I was royally screwed. The system lit up, beeping as the card was accepted. The access panel flipped open, exposing one big red button. I hesitated. Big red buttons struck me as not a good thing to press. However, I was out of options.
'What's the worst that could happen?' I slammed my palm down on the button, readying a weapon just in case. What would come out this time? Werewolf? Demon? The fleshcrafter himself, laughing his sadistic, knowing laugh?
Salvation. The access tunnel opened slowly, the manhole cover whirring as it opened in a spiral design, giving access to the walkway underneath. Hoping against hope that I'd finally escaped, I took the keycard, and climbed down the tunnel.