Yeah, I sort of figured to, on a whim, write up a novel. Some people buy stamps, some people look at porn; this is how I spend my days. X_x
Anyway, prologue and first chapter are done. Comments and criticism are welcomed. Enjoy.
-- **Heroes –
-- Prologue: Under the Rule of the Undead –
It was the break of day, December 31, 2021, as I recall. The world's then-governing body, the United Nations of Earth-Sphere, had just signed into being a new treaty that would bring an end to war. The three primary powers -- America, China, and Germany, the latter of which had resumed biological warfare testing -- were the driving force behind the proposal, which was meant to cut into swathes the armament of the world, using force, ironically, if needed, to remove each and every bomb, gun, and piece of weaponry that then existed. It was, at the time, hailed as a breakthrough, a new wonder of the human psyche, that war could be banished forever and peace eternal put onto its proper pedestal.
It's sad how wrong they were.
Germany, once renowned as the highlight of Democracy and high minds, the home of what had once been the deadliest man alive, unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon the world in the persona of "The Undead." According to my records, the German high chancellery had set down an order several years back to, in their words, "demolish the impurity of the human soul, in God's name." How ironic, that the first birth of that mindset was, in fact, the epitome of an impurity -- a man-demon, an undead scourge on humanity, we call now a Lich. It wielded power over biology and technology, alike, being an unholy mixture of man, machine, and mana, with which it quickly produced an army of the former German state and led a battle against the remaining Earth-Sphere.
No one saw it coming. The nations of the world, already having set in motion a plan to destroy armament, were bitterly unprepared for an onslaught like that first Lich wrought upon our poor souls. With no guns or bombs to stand against the Undead, and with most archaic weapons lost to the ages, the Lich known as Capistro ripped through nation after nation, continent after continent, leaving only a few cowardly humans alive as slave labor and nutrition. There were those who fought back, using hand, foot, and even old katana and broadswords, but it was all for naught. The world we knew as Earth, from North Pole to South, Illinois to Saudi Arabia, became part and parcel of Capistro's new order.
We humans have been under the tyranny and suppression of these Undead for more than five centuries, now. There is no real hope remaining, no vigor. All we once had is gone, laid waste to ages ago, and the only consolation we may take is in the actions of those daring few who shall not be named. We claim not to know of them, or where they lay, to our 'masters' in the daytime, but we do know. We brush off their existence publicly, and in secret, rejoice with their every sabotage. We die when they die; our hope is theirs.
May God bless them in their cause.
November 11, 2533
-- **Revival I: Begin the Revolt! –
"Work faster! Reap the ores, human, or die in the act!"
Stunned silence followed the interlude in the subterranean mines, as the latest victim of the Undead fell, dead with a snapped neck, to the rocky ground. Above him stood an inhuman beast, literally and figuratively. This was a middle-Undead, a Dracuer, dressed in only the finest royal wrappings to hide its repulsive, jutting bone structure; it towered above the humans at over nine feet tall, wielding only a glowing hand as a tool of suppression -- not that it needed anything else. The thing hissed, extending its snake-like green tongue out for a romp, before bringing it back into its skeletal mouth and snapping, "Well!? Work harder, human scum, or meet his fate!"
As was usual, the denizens of the underground land, Cruz, even after witnessing the brutal killing of their fellow, returned to their back-breaking work of mining the ore known so affectionately to them as Misery without missing a beat. They wore only the bare minimum, rags across their private areas and, in a few 'affluent' people, trappings around the waist and feet. Their hearts beat, but their souls had left them long ago; they were walking caskets, fodder for the Undead. Men, women, and children, alike, mined Misery from dusk till dawn (or, perhaps, past; there was no sense of time underneath the crust), and returned to their stone cave-homes for a few hours rest, before the inevitable next day arrived with new sorrows and agonies.
The Dracuer cackled lightly, seeing once again its superior might crush another human worm. They seemed to drop like flies, these days, what with the lack of strength in most circles. Humanity was but a shell of its former self. What had once ruled the Earth unquestioned now fell under the Undead conqueror's boot. How amusing it was to the Dracuer, the immortal demon created by man who, in turn, destroyed man.
It had hardly enough time to ponder the irony of the situation, however, as it felt a pebble crackle down onto its forehead. The demon looked up, and saw above him a spot of raw, lava-red, festering and pulsing quietly. It seemed to be melting the crust from above, as small bits of rock creaked out of place.
The cavernous mine shaft was thrust upon with a great clamor, as the red spot burst down, striking the Dracuer and crashing it to the ground as if gravity itself had turned against it. From above came three shapes, each human, each distinctly dressed and decorated with the emblems of some secret society -- a curving line shape like a tilted crescent. They landed upon the wounded Undead, drawing attention to themselves from both the other Undead proprietors and the half-starved humans. The youngest, an apparent leader, hopped from the small height, hand reaching for his katana.
"What? Never seen a healthy kid, before?" he mocked, loud enough for the remaining Undead to hear, in response to the dumbfounded looks he and his companions received. "And you call yourselves the rulers of the world. Hah! You aren't fit enough for the underside of our boots."
A collective hissing echoed through the vast cave, the Undead lords of the catacombs and their underlings clacking their collective tongues. Power surged through their fangs and claws, glowing a disturbing, sickly-green. One of the other humans, a burly man equipped with a large glaive upon his back, shifted his head to near the youngest boy's ear.
"I don't think we made a good first impression, Chrono." The boy, now named as Chrono, chortled, and responded, "It wasn't meant as a tool for diplomacy, Boire, and you know that quite well, I'd imagine."
Boire laughed raucously. "Hah! You know me too well, by now, kid!" Their last companion, a sickly-looking man of only twenty or so, gave a false cough. He wore an ensemble of rags, almost like the citizens of Cruz, but used to cover his entire body. If you knew your human history, you'd probably know of a garment known as the t-shirt? "You two are always far too gung-ho. Knock it off, and set your eye on the prize." Chrono again laughed softly, but agreed, "Yes, we need this place. Best to start the revolt now."
One of the lesser Undead, a Raeon -- a snake-like humanoid -- leapt forward, biological magics in full swing around its curled palms. "Who are you?!" It hissed angrily. "What do you want, human w--!!" It never got to finish, as Chrono threw forward his hand, palm open, fingers stretched, a faint shimmer surrounding it.
"Be gone. Coristes."
Chrono swung his free hand back at the Raeon, and as if through some unnatural force, it was blown back, a large dent evident in its stomach. The human slaves gave a sudden gasp at the word, Coristes. This had to be it. But it couldn't be! Simple logic would recognize that there were no such forces in the world, that might allow a human to defeat such a monstrosity...
"HUMAN WASTE! DIE!" The remaining Undead, both Raeon and Dracuer, made a sudden, light speed charge for the three, readying charges of power even larger than what the Raeon had called forth. Ever calm, ever quiet, Chrono's hand grappled the hilt of his weapon, and drew it out with a soothing clang. Boire took from his back his mighty glaive, decorated with a double-headed axe blade and an inscription in Latin (though it was unreadable at the speeds he moved at), and kicked off from the still-unconscious Dracuer, making a mad dash of his own with a great war cry. The third companion scoffed.
"Ever the lionhearted. Suppose we should go rescue him, Chrono?" The young man nodded, replying, "Indeed." His grip on the katana tightened, to the point of whitening his knuckles. To the surrounding humans, this would be the crux of their piteous lives, the fight to decide their immediate destinies. There were nearly two dozen of the Undead, against three humans. 'Defeating' a low-level peon and taking on a small army were two different things; hope was against them, even as their hearts wavered in favor of these strangers.
They were not to be disappointed.
The large man known only as Boire tore a path through the Undead masters of the underground, slashing some with the blades of his weapon, while simply bashing others in tender spots using the blunt shaft. Even if you for some reason didn't hear his laughter, you would be able to see from the smile on his face that he enjoyed this; he LIVED for this. One particularly tough Dracuer almost laid a hand on his shoulder, which would undoubtedly have proven fatal given the nature of their powers; that Undead was the only one of the six he manhandled, nearly simultaneously, to even approach his body. It was received with a sudden clip kick and a sickening CRACK that snapped its jaw into two segments. Boire cackled, throwing back his head as he laughed.
"Next!" He said it jokingly, but it proved to be more dangerous than he'd anticipated. From behind and above him, Boire was surprised with the open fangs of a Raeon, aimed to clamp down on his neck. Its arm, at the same time, darted out to pierce his chest straight through, a double blow the Undead were proud of having developed for surety of death. There was no time to react, no time to guard both places; surprise colored his face, and even the mighty one knew his time was up.
... Kind of.
From the center of its body, the Raeon halted in mid-air, held aloft by a glimmer of white light. It resembled a flashlight's bulb, but much smaller, more compact. That Raeon could feel the insides of its body collapsing even as it struck him initially, cracking its bone structure from the inside out. The sickly man, the companion of both Boire and Chrono, stood afar on the horizon, arm and finger outstretched at just the right point to collide with the beast's body. His hand, a pale white in color, shaking all the way, flexed, and tightened into a fist, as he spoke:
At that, the Raeon's body shattered altogether, the debris striking Boire's turned head square in the face. The large strongman stuttered, though he had no time to retort, ere his weapon was forced into defensive positioning against a Dracuer, coming from his flank. The other companion, as yet unnamed, also was forced to guard, this time against a threefold set of Raeons. This man showed noticeable fear, coughing and trembling, as the Undead devils approached him ever-so-slowly.
"You're... um... in the way, huh? Ronaron Xeratos." The poor fools never saw their deaths coming, feeling only a momentary pain and then, blackness.
As this occurred, Chrono -- the swordsman of the group -- confronted a set of Dracuers and Raeons, more than a half-dozen in all. Monsters, all, they each held a deathly powerful biological weapon in their own two hands, their fangs, and even their breath. They surrounded and encompassed him, leaving nothing to chance as to a human's cowardly escape, as they were accustomed to with minor acts of defiance.
"You're dead, human...!" breathed one of the Dracuers, increasing the charge on its biological weapon. Its companions laughed. "You can't take all eight of us at once! Surrender your life!" The young boy seemed taken aback by the suggestion, raising his eyes about his head as if in contemplation. When he returned his stare to the Dracuer who had spoken, he loosened the death glare he'd held, to be replaced by a beaming smile.
"Sorry. I refuse!" Chrono's voice was unmistakably chipper, as he added in another word for good measure, hand pointed above him: "Gregoa."
The crust above rumbled, its foundations struck by invisible forces unknown to these Undead; it ruptured shortly thereafter, and neatly collapsed around the young swordsman, trapping him, seemingly, in his own grave. The rubble settled, with a faint cry from within, droned away with the falling of the mighty stones. "Hah!" One of the Dracuers scoffed, dispersing his weapon. As its companions had laughed with it earlier, they, too, dissolved their powerful, deadly weapons. "He killed himself in despair? How laughable."
From behind the rock, however, a great clatter arose; the stones rumbled, at the very word: "Gregoa Xera." It was at those simple words, spoken through muffling rock and dust, that the rubble stirred restlessly. The Dracuer who had seemingly led the group braced its foot, again forming its weapon.
Too bad it was only effective against humans, eh?
Those stones, which had appeared as a human's grave, burst outwards, striking and felling down the Undead scourges flatly, trapping them underneath the rubble. Chrono remained standing, none the worse for wear, if you discounted a bit of dust, hand still raised aloft towards the now-broken crust. He glanced about, seeing the handiwork he and his companions had wrought: of the twenty-two Undead Raeons and Dracuers, none remained whole; most had been either slain or incapacitated by the trio's amazing powers. All that remained was a little mop-up.
"They're getting weaker, or we're getting stronger; either, or," Chrono remarked, hand bringing up his scabbard and returning his sword to its proper place. "Hey, Boire, Sorg! You guys alright?" It really was as stupid a question as you'd expect, to the spectators, and even more so to the actual fighters. Boire stood around a bevy of Undead carcasses, glaive tip slamming into the ground with a shunk. Sorg, meanwhile, as his name was revealed, gave another cough, as he walked towards Chrono, his ragged attire disheveled even more than previously.
"Do you really... um... need to ask?" From across the vast underground, Boire loosed a howl of laughter. "Yeah!" He exclaimed, excitedly. "You mean to say that you don't have faith in your own partners?" Chrono turned to face his companions; he shook his head decisively, and replied, "No. I just know you two can get carried away at times. You didn't cave in the mine, at least, this time..."
Boire was indignant: "Wh... What!? Aw, come on! That was only once, and you had a hand in it, too, right?!" It was around this time that Sorg cut in, musing (albeit loud enough for Boire to hear), "As I recall, it was you who actually broke open the crust. And," he added, to a fuming fellow, "You also broke open the Hoover Dam. You were the one who cracked the Andes, the one who dried up that section of the Nile, blew an almighty hole in the Great Plains..."
"Alright! Alright! I get it; everything's my fault, okay?! God... You're impossible, Sorg!"
"I do try." Another cough.
While those two bickered and shot back retorts every so often, the leader, Chrono, stepped forward, holding up his hand to signal silence before the quivering masses. At seeing their oppressors so simply slain, these starved, hopeless fools had found a new light in their darkness. There was no laughter on the outside (most had forgotten how), but on the inside, the natural human in them reared back and cackled.
"Citizens of Cruz, we stand before you, your saviors from the Undead legions! We, the Ripostes." There were murmurs at the term. Most had heard of the Ripostes, the ones whose names could never be spoken. Rumors had spread from the outside that the Undead were having trouble handling a small group of humans, who had mastered unusual powers and strengths; rumor had it that the Liches themselves were finding difficulty in tracking them. The estimate of their numbers varied, from six to sixty, but what could be ascertained, by all who were in attendance, was that the Ripostes did have the power to topple the Undead from their unholy throne.
For the first time, hope visited these people. For the first time, their faces shone in smiles, and laughter gasped from their lips. They each, in turn, loosed their grip on their picks, and almost at once, they let out a massive roar. The three Ripostes couldn't help but smile at the revival of the human spirit, and even Boire and Sorg stopped their argument to hear unrestricted the cries of a released humanity.
"No matter how many times I hear it..."
"... it's always the greatest reward of all," Boire said as he finished Sorg's sentence. The sickly one nodded, and relaxed his hands from their tightened position. In the meantime, Chrono simply stood by, and allowed his new comrades their time in the sun. It wasn't much, and it couldn't make up for the years of torment they'd endured, but even for just a little while, they felt hope again.
And that was more than enough.
**– Revival II: Nameless --
The Dracuers and Raeons had been disposed of, the oppressed tended to with a few words of wisdom and some herbs, and now, the Ripostes stood in the center of a vast crowd of humans starved for knowledge.
"So, you are THE Ripostes?" One particularly strong-looking man, apparently affluent (basing it on the fact that most of his body was covered), asked, cracking his knuckles. "I'd heard the rumors, but… Those rumors do you no justice. You laid into those Undead so..."
"It was simple," Sorg interrupted, holding out his flattened palm. "All we needed was a little mana compression." The Riposte murmured a single, powerful word, "Vira." From his hand came a small speck, which in turn twisted and bent into a new shape -- a reddened spark of fire. That spark grew steadily, and it wasn't long before those near him were forced to step back from the intense heat it gave off. Small flecks of the flame split off, crashing into the ground and simply bearing down through it for a time, before dying out.
"Mana compression," Sorg spoke, his tone firmer than was usual; "is the act of drawing out and manipulating the inner spirit we all hold within us. Some are more skilled at evoking flame or thunder, while others -- such as myself -- hold general sway over the powers that be. Watch closely, now. Vira Null." The flames that burned so hotly as to dissolve stone halted, crackled with power (or the lack thereof), and fell inert, as what appeared to be ash. "It's a simple enough task to create fire and smother it. I'm sure each and every one of you could manage it within, oh, a few days..."
"But, why would we...?"
"Because," Chrono intruded, stepping forward with his hand on his katana, "We need more manpower for the operations we're planning in the Western Theatre Our ranks are a grand total of six, and we need at least three times that many to do what we're going to do."
Nodding, Boire added, "We're going to take back the former states of Central America. If those blasted Undead won't give it up, we'll just have to take it by force, as a starting point for a counterattack...!"
"Th... That's INSANE!" shouted one of the older women workers, her face reddened. "There's no way we can--"
The woman -- and the remainder of the crowd -- were reduced to a stunned silence, as Chrono stepped in between Boire and the older woman. His face, which had so shortly ago been light and free, now bore the gravity of his situation. "We," he said firmly, "can do it. All we need is a few more hands. To all of you, to each of your hearts, I beg: help us! And yourselves, as well...!"
"... Not a one among you is brave enough to even try?" Chrono spat angrily, and returned, "It's ungrateful fools like yours that makes me sick, even more than the Liches themselves! Don't you get it? Don't you understand?!" The swordsman felt a hand on his shoulder; it shook, so it could only be Sorg's.
"Remember, they've been suppressed their entire lives," he said quietly, a low tone in his voice. "They know nothing else, so it's not surprising that none would join..."
"I'LL DO IT!"
Where had that come from? It was from somewhere deep, deep in the amassed flesh, a high voice, almost like a child's. "Wh... Who said that?" The crowd parted from several yards back, pushed aside forcefully by a great power. The three Ripostes watched in silence, as before them, a new figure appeared.
"Number 0-6-5-7-6-3 of the Cruz colony, reporting for duty!" That voice carried within it the will to survive, and moreover, to thrive. That voice carried within it the will to survive, and moreover, to thrive. This was the voice of kings and queens, dukes and lords, royalty in motion. Surely this person would be able to help, even despite any weakness or handicap!
That's what the Ripostes thought, anyway, before they first saw their volunteer: a young girl, wearing only the bare minimum (much to their hormonic glee), crowned with a fiery wreath of red hair and eye that could put down a hawk. "Number 0-6-5-7-6-3, child of 0-6-5-6-9-8 and 0-6-5-6-9-4, is here for your service!"
Silence, this time from the Ripostes.
"Well..." Chrono said at last, sighing, "At least you're enthusiastic about it. We can take you along, if you're sure." The young girl nodded emphatically, though from the crowd, another person -- apparently her mother -- shoved her way through the huddled crowd.
"NO! You won't be going, '763!" she exclaimed angrily, wheezing at the strain of having pushed herself through so many people. She, like her daughter, possessed the red hair that people have dreamt of, a brilliant ruby in a crowd of browns and blacks. Her stare, however, was distinctly desperate, as opposed to her daughter's resolve. The young daughter spat back, "At least I'll be doing something worthwhile, Miss '694!"
"... Numbers? What's going on, Sorg?" Boire asked, out from the corner of his mouth. This was quite unsettling, all this talk of numbers; he never was very good with math.
A cough. "Well... The Undead don't believe humans are worthy of names, so they've designated numbers, instead, using a system of six numbers, for every district of the underground mines. This is in the 'Zero' district, hence the zero at the beginning of the numbers... That's what I heard from my source, anyway." Though Boire grunted in agreement, he didn't really understand the ramifications of what Sorg had said. All he care for was crushing in a few heads, easing his pain by delivering it to those asswipes he so hated.
The argument between the two women escalated steadily, with insults and venom dripping from their every word.
"I'm going!" announced the younger girl, decisively, so forcefully that her mother recoiled from her words. "I... just... WANT TO GO!" Chrono watched in silence, his fingers subconsciously cracking at the knuckle. Sorg, too, seemed to whiten at the statement, though Boire responded only with a question.
"I... Is she really going to come with us, Chrono?"
"Dammit, answer me! Are we going to take her with us, or...?"
"Be silent, watch, and listen," Chrono snapped after a few moments of quiet; his knuckles sharply crackled. "Watch with your own eyes and ears, now. There's nothing we can do to help or harm. This is their fight."
Though he said nothing, Boire glanced up worriedly, only to see '763's' mother lash out with her hand, dropping her daughter to the ground with a great welt on her cheek. "We don't have to worry about the Undead anymore, foolish girl!" growled the mother. "These Ripostes are here and will protect us--"
"You really are a fool...! All of you are fools!" the young girl snarled, rising whilst clutching her wounded face. "You really think they're going to stay and protect all of us from the hordes of Dracuers and 'Kratons' that will come to take retribution against us? DO YOU? Not even a throng of these people could stand up to the Enforcers. Not even God could inflict death on the Undead.
"ALL WE HAVE LEFT IS THESE PEOPLE!! THEY ARE OUR HOPE!!"
It left his lips as but a murmur, so light on the wind that none could hear it, but the words echoed in Chrono's mind. Hope? He was someone's hope? How could he be? All he was, was a frail, helpless child. Helpless, and useless.
"I've had it with you!" she snapped, biting at the leash that bound her and rending it. "I'm going, and that's THAT!" The young girl turned with a huff, ignoring her stricken relation, approaching and standing before the swordsman leader of the group. Her face still bore the wound caused by her mother's slap, but her eyes were pure resolve.
"Do with me as you wish. I don't care about the others, anymore. If they want to die--"
"... then let them die," Chrono finished, half-dazed. Sorg perked up at once; Boire threw his every word at Chrono: "What're you saying?! Let them die? What the hell have you gotten hooked up on?! Chrono!" The addressed gave no response to the addressee, instead laying his hand on the young girl's shoulder.
"I, Chrono Astrignes, accept you as a member of the Ripostes in your new name, christened by God as a holy knight... Angela."
(( Tentative chapter only, towards the end. ))******