Writing a Scifi/fantasy/horror book-would appreciate feedback
#1
Hey, I'm writing a book called The First Law.  I've just created a patreon (here's the link: https://www.patreon.com/LaMDoH123), but I also figured I'd post some of it on here to see what people think.

Here's the first chapter:

The Quiet

The First Law, Chapter 1

by LaMDoH123

©2019

It was quiet.  The long corridors and narrow stairwells could carry sound a long way, and for as long as she could remember they had echoed with laughter, shouting, voices, the sounds of humanity.  But now there was nothing but quiet. Not silence, though. No spacecraft was ever completely silent, and the steady hum of the environmental systems, grav-plates, and the myriad pipes and vents hidden behind the walls permeated the corridors and cabins of the asteroid miner Benjamin Hembrooke.  If things truly had been silent, she would have been in real trouble.  Not that she wasn’t already. If anything, a danger as mundane as suffocation or hypothermia would have been welcome.  At least they were things she understood.



But instead the ship’s systems hummed happily along, and the quiet ruled.  It was the quiet of desertion, of the lack of any human presence save her, carefully inching along the corridor.  This had been her life since the madness came. An existence of hiding in closets and some of the larger vents, those she still fit into, interspersed with slow crawls down hallways and quick dashes through open rooms. Of scavenging for food and water.  Of constant alertness and fitful snatches of sleep. It had been at least a week – as measured by the ship’s automatic day-night cycle ­– since “it” had happened. She still had no idea what “it” was. One minute everything was fine. The next, people were acting strangely. Then they went crazy.  But being locked in a metal box with dozens of suddenly-homicidal lunatics wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that they all wanted one thing: her, alive. So she ran, and hid, and in one traumatic instance fought and bit and gouged, because she knew without knowing how that she would rather step out the airlock than be caught.



But now, nothing.  No voices chanted in languages that hurt the ears to hear.  No old friends and neighbors roamed the halls, sweetly calling for her to come out, promising they weren’t going to hurt her while gripping makeshift weapons.  It had been at least a cycle since she had seen or heard anyone, and now all she knew was the quiet. That, and a sense she couldn’t put into words, something that made her skin prickle – as if some animal part of her knew something terrible was coming, and wanted to flee.  This feeling had been there since the beginning, but it had only gotten stronger in the last cycle. It was this feeling –an instinct, a pressure– that had driven her from her most recent hideaway down in the ore-processing decks and towards the bridge. She hadn’t dared try to access it before, with the patrolling crazies everywhere, but now that they were gone she had decided to take a chance.  So far she had been in luck, and her path to the bridge had been clear. If she could get there, and get past the undoubtedly-sealed hatch, and then somehow access the comms system, she could call for help. Someone would hear her, surely, and come save her. Maybe they could even help everyone else. 



Finally, after what felt like an eternity, she reached the final flight of stairs that led to the main command deck.  She practically belly-crawled up the steps, keeping low as possible, and slowly stuck her head out the hatch and looked around.  To her left was the main spinal elevator– disabled since soon after the madness began. To the right was the forward airlock. It was a smaller one – meant for personnel, not cargo – and was surrounded by lockers that held vac suits.  Across from her lay the bridge hatch. Everything looked clear, and she got up and approached the entrance to the bridge. It was sealed, as she had expected. What she had not expected was the ruin where the access panel had once been.  Someone had completely destroyed it – prying open the panel and ripping out the circuitry and wires. She had hoped that she would be able to access it somehow. She had a knack for electronics, but there was no fixing or hotwiring that she could do to bypass it.  



Her heart sank briefly, but then she remembered – the crank!  Every hatch had one, a manual system that could be used to open it in an emergency.  She looked around for it. There it was! Towards the bottom of the hatch, a metal panel painted with hazard stripes.  Her hands scrabbled at it eagerly, trying to pull it open. It wouldn’t budge. Frowning, she pulled harder, so hard she ended up falling backwards and landing with a thump on the deck.  Groaning and rubbing her sore posterior, she looked at the panel and deflated. It had been welded shut. Someone had taken a welding torch and run it along the edge of the panel, melting it with the door.  The panel itself was solid metal, several centimeters thick. There was no way she was getting into the bridge. She curled up into a ball and began to rock. Short, muffled sobs wracked her form. After a few minutes, she gathered herself. She stood up, wiped her face, and stared at the hatch.  She wasn’t finished yet. There were tools on this ship that could get her in, and she just had to find them. She searched around, and her gaze settled. Maybe there was something in the lockers by the airlock.



She went over to them, and started opening them, softly.  The habit of silence was ingrained in her now. They weren’t meant for private use, so there were no locks.  The first was empty. She closed it, gently. The second had vac-suits. Again, she closed it softly. The third, fourth, and fifth had more vac suits. She found something useful in the sixth. It was a bunch of hand tools, but there was a crowbar.  Maybe that could work. In her excitement, she closed the locker louder than she intended. The clunk of metal was shockingly loud, and she froze. Was that her? She stared at the locker, then at her hand, trying to figure out how that sound had been produced.  Then it came again, and she jumped. It wasn’t her! She stood stock still, and listened. Soon, it came again. It was a clunk of metal on metal, oddly muffled, and it took her a moment to place where it was coming from. The airlock! Something was grabbing onto the ship outside the airlock.  Her heart soared. Rescue! The UN, or the League, or maybe the Alliance or Hegemony! A whole ship full of big, strong spacers and marines who could help her and subdue all the other crew and help them, and cure them of whatever madness afflicted them! They were saved!



All these thoughts ran through her head, and then another, more disquieting one took their place.  Why were they here? The ship was out, way out, beyond the normal shipping lanes, and they hadn’t been out of contact for that long, even if it had felt like a lifetime to her.  There was, the little voice of paranoia she had developed told her, a distinct chance that whoever was coming through that door was not friendly.  Maybe it was the Legion of Truth! At best, she had no idea who they were. Her train of thought was disrupted by a terrible hissing, screeching noise.  They were cutting through the outer hatch. She needed to hide. She cast about, looking for somewhere, but the hallway was too open and there were no handy vents big enough to crawl into.  Her eyes settled on the empty locker, and she dashed over to it, still gripping the crowbar. She pulled the door open and climbed in, closing it behind herself. She fit, barely, and she could even see a little out the vents in the door.  She all but held her breath, and tried to still her racing heart.



Eventually, the noise stopped. There was silence, and then the sound of heavy footsteps. The inner hatch ground open, and revealed what was behind it. At first, her brain struggled to comprehend what she was seeing.  It looked like a...picture? It reminded her of paintings she’d seen from churches and temples. It showed a lone figure surrounded by shadow and hideous, misshapen forms half-seen and half-imagined. The figure held up a sword, and light radiated from it, pushing back against the encroaching darkness.  Her gaze expanded from that focal point and noticed that the picture was near the center of a piece of metal almost as tall as she was and almost a meter wide. It was slightly curved, and in the right side a gap had been cut. Her blood ran cold as she noticed the barrel sticking out of that gap. To her, it looked big enough to swallow three of her fingers.  The wall of metal advanced, accompanied by heavy footsteps, and she realized what it was– a boarding shield. She’d seen them on the Web, and in holos, but never one quite like this.  



The person behind it swiveled the shield, and the gun, left and right, as if methodically sweeping the space before them, then they seemed to relax.  They came out of the slight hunch they had been in behind the shield and held it somewhat to the side, allowing her to see the person behind the shield.  She could only see them from the chest down, but that didn’t stop her from being confused. Like the shield, it was all a strange mix of new and old-fashioned.  He, and she was fairly certain it was a he, wore armor. It was slightly bulky, but did not look cumbersome, and when he moved it gave a slight whine of servos that indicated the suit was powered.  The short, stubby weapon he cradled in his right hand was a shotgun of some kind– that much she recognized, but it had clearly been heavily modified. She didn’t know much about such things, but she was pretty sure only elite soldiers used weapons and armor like that.  But he wasn’t a soldier, that much was clear by the armor’s color and...accessories. First of all, it was painted dark red, so dark it almost looked black, except for the silver-gray swirls and figures that decorated the plates in fine, intricate patterns. She found them difficult to follow, as if they somehow moved on their own.  His form was festooned with pouches, all bulging with who-knows-what. Strapped to his chest was a knife, its sheath filthy and its spiked grip covered in brown stains. Around his waist he wore a belt that looked like it was made of some sort of animal skin. It resembled she’d seen in an old, 2D movie about horses and cattle set in a place called the “West.”  It even had the bullets in the loops and the gun holster she remembered from the movie, hanging at his left hip. There was even a gun in that holster, its wood – actual wood! – grip gleaming in the light. That was odd, seeing something so old fashioned on something so modern, but it wasn’t the oddest thing. Not even close. There were – trinkets – hanging from the belt and elsewhere.  Some she recognized, a cross, a star, a crescent, a yin-yang. Others she had never seen before, strange things of polished stone, feathers, fur and what looked like bones. They rattled slightly as he moved past her, and she noticed what could only be described as a short pole with a blade-covered ball at the end dangling from his right hip. It, like the armor, was decorated with symbols and now that she saw it the pole was made of wood and animal hide.  All of this was odd, but as he walked past her hiding place she saw what was on his back, and it quickly took over her thoughts. He had a sword. An actual sword. She’d never seen one in real life, of course, (who used swords?) but she knew what it was. The sheath was like his armor, a deep, dark red, and covered in a tracery of silver lines and symbols. The handle was silver metal and dark wood. She could tell it was incredibly ornate – the bit just below the blade was shaped like wings, and at the end of the handle there was a gemstone encased by the metal.  It was strapped tightly across his back, the handle protruding above his right shoulder and the tip jutting past his waist.



So many weapons. She closed her eyes, fighting panic. Who was he?  Why was he here, why was he dressed like that? These questions and more chased themselves through her mind and her awareness slipped.  She realized that she no longer heard footsteps. Had he left? She opened her eyes, and stared into the face of terror.



Whereas before she had been unable to see his face, now she could.  He was wearing a helmet, which was not surprising. What made her blood run cold was the front of the helmet.  It was a grotesque mask, a thing of huge teeth and fangs and exaggerated features, twisted into a leering snarl.  There were a pair of horns sticking out of the forehead. The horns and teeth were painted ivory, but the rest of the mask was the red of freshly-spilled blood.  The eyes and mouth were things of shadow, deep pits that seemed to suck in all light. Demonic. That word, an old word, sprang to her mind and she found it the only apt descriptor.  That’s what he looked like – some demon of war. This figure, this walking avatar of violent death, stood in the center of the room, slowly panning its terrible visage back and forth.  She felt like there was a ton of metal in her stomach, and then the motion stopped.


Time slowed as, with all the inevitability of doom, the figure raised its hand and pointed right at her.

And here's chapter 2.

The Descent
The First Law, Chapter 2
by LaMDoH123
©2019
“Come out.”  The words were deep and dry, emitting from the front of his helmet like dust from the mouth of a corpse.  The command seemed to resonate from every surface. The response was a muffled shriek, and a loud thump, followed by silence.  Then, one word.

“Ow.”  Gingerly, she emerged from the locker, and he got a good look at her.  She was young, early-mid teens if he had to guess. Her gangly body, already suffering from the effects of inconsistent and low gravity, was also clearly in the unkind grip of puberty.  She was all knees and elbows, and her skin, pale even for those who lived in space, and short red hair were covered in grime. She was filthy, to the point that it was impossible to tell what color her too-big jumpsuit originally was.  Presumably it hadn’t been its current dirty grey, and it was covered in stains of all hues. She gripped a crowbar tightly in both hands, held in front of her like a weapon. Her wide green eyes stared at him with a look that was somewhere between fearful, questioning and glaring.  He looked her up and down, examining what he saw. The silence between them stretched. Then it was broken.

“You made me hit my head.”

“What?” He couldn’t help his response. He was surprised, and that was not something that happened often.  That was the first thing she said?

 No questions about who he was, what was going on, or why he was armed to fight a small war?  No staring open-mouthed at his mask? In the past, his appearance had been enough to reduce hardened killers to stupefied fear. He was, he had to admit, impressed.

“You startled me and I hit my head,” she elaborated, tone grumpy, although he detected an undercurrent of fear.  That was good. He’d worry about her sanity if she wasn’t scared. But not scared witless, it seemed. “How’d you know I was there, anyway?”

“I heard your heartbeat.” 

She looked at him blankly, as if expecting an elaboration. None came. “Ohh-kaaaaay.” She said it long, drawn out.  “Well, uh, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask two questions.” He nodded. She looked down, and took a deep breath.  The crowbar was still held in front of her like a sword. Or a shield. Her grip was white-knuckled. “Great. So, are you going to kill me?”

He cocked his head slightly, the leering mask regarding her.  He decided to give her an honest answer.
“Only if necessary.”

She nodded slowly, seemingly digesting that answer, then looked right at him.  “Are you here to help?”

“If I can.”  With that, he turned and walked towards the hatch of the bridge.

She watched him quietly, as if still pondering the brief, but strange, conversation.  Then she saw where he was going. “The control panel’s shot. And the crank access is welded shut.  You’ll need cutting tools to get in there.”

He didn’t seem to acknowledge her. Wordlessly, he jerked his left arm, and the shield compacted and rotated, panels sliding over each other until it lay along his arm and was no bigger than a large mess tray.  Part of the picture still remained – the figure, and its upraised sword, haloed in light. From the bulky apparatus on his left forearm where the shield was attached, a wicked chainblade emerged as long as the girl’s forearm.  It was a cutter– a standard piece of emergency gear used to cut away wreckage – but he doubted she’d ever seen one quite like this.

“Oh,” was her only response.

The cutter revved to life, and then he looked over at her and said, “I understand metal splinters are bad for the eyes.”  

She stared at him dumbly for a heartbeat, then what he said registered.  She covered her eyes and turned her head away. He then plunged the cutter into the crank panel.  With a screech of metal and a shower of sparks and metal chips, he made short work of the welded access.  Gauntleted hands tore away the remains of the panel, then reached inside and began rotating the crank. Slowly, the door to the bridge ground open.

“Do you think you could make any more noise!”

He turned to look at her, to find her splitting her attention between glaring at him and staring apprehensively at the stairwell.

“We are safe, relatively. My suit detects no other living beings for at least 200 meters.”

“So!?  Do you know how far sound travels in these corridors?” Her voice was a taught whisper.  “They’ll hear us! What are you even doing going in there?”

“Investigating,” he replied, and walked through the now-open hatch.  She dithered briefly, and then followed him.

The bridge was broadly circular in shape, with a lower level of consoles and stations along the outside of the wall and a higher level accessed via ladders and a catwalk.  Up there were more displays and consoles, and the general impression was of clutter and claustrophobia, despite the relative size of the space. In the center was a raised circular dais, big enough for the girl to lay down on.  Above it flickered a holo display, which he approached. It was currently displaying the predicted course of the ship and everything in local space. It was clear the computer was still flying the ship, keeping it clear of the major asteroids, but it was also clear that a course had been programmed in that would keep it in close to the Trojan Belt.  He considered the display. The path it was on could simply be explained as an asteroid miner looking for a good score, but it also served to somewhat hide the ship from prying eyes. He set his gun down on the console next to him, then reached down and accessed the computer. He only took him a few seconds to find the logs. The ship’s course had been set about one standard week ago, and it had been unchanged since.

“Damn!”  While he was examining the center console, the girl had gone over to one of the consoles on the wall and had been furiously typing away at it.  As he looked up, she gave it a kick and then spun around to face him. “Comms are locked! Hard-locked, too. I’d need the captain or xo’s access badge to get in.  We can’t call for help.” She paused briefly. “Wait. You have a ship, right? Of course, how else would you have gotten here?” She walked over to him and started tugging on his arm.  She was getting frantic, now. “Come on, we have to get out of here! We can call for help from your ship. Call someone’s military, and they can come and save everyone. Why aren’t you moving!?”  Her tugging had done absolutely nothing- his armored form hadn’t moved a centimeter. He turned his head to look at her, and the sight of his mask seemed to clear her head. She gulped, and he saw her eyes scan over his weapons.  She let go, and backed up a step. “Look,” she said, trying to sound calm. “We have to get help.”

“I am the only ‘help’ that’s coming, girl.  Believe me, militaries aren’t equipped to face what’s on this ship.”

“But you’re just one man.  Don’t get me wrong, you look really, really tough and scary, but I don’t think you get it.”  She was speaking slowly now, as if trying to make him understand. “The crew has gone crazy. As in murder-each-other-and-laugh crazy.  One minute they were normal, then suddenly people were tearing into each other. I barely got away, and I’ve spent the last week hiding in vents, scavenging for food and water.  There are hundreds of them, and they are going to find us if we stay here!” Her voice had risen as she continued, and she seemed to be on the edge of panic.

“They are not going to find us.  We are going to find them.” He replied flatly, and she shut her mouth with snap.  He leaned down, looming over her. “Make no mistake, girl. I did not come here to rescue you or anyone else.  Everyone on this ship is expendable. I came here to destroy. Something has manifested upon this ship, something that is a threat to every human being everywhere.  I must end it before it can grow and spread, or else humanity will be drowned in a tide of its own nightmares. The species is at stake, girl, so I need you to focus and help me.  I am not heartless, though. If you are still alive at the end of this, and I deem you…” he paused, “uncorrupted, then I may take you with me when I leave. Do you understand what I have said to you?”

She stared at him, eyes wide and face pale, and nodded jerkily.

“Good,” he said, turning back to the console and bringing up a diagram of the ship.  It flickered to life, an ugly, rounded tower a kilometer long, covered in antennas and growth-like protrusions. It expanded towards the stern to make room for engines and the machinery that allowed the ship to process asteroids for minerals.  “Now,” he said, gesturing to the image. “Can you tell me where it is?”

“What the hell are you talking about!? What is ‘it’?!” She gestured at the display in frustration. “I don’t know where everyone is! I haven’t seen or heard anyone for a day.  I don’t know anything!” She seemed more angry than panicked, which was good. Anger was useful, panic was not.
He stopped her with a raised hand. “I do not speak of it unless I have to, girl, and then only in the broadest of terms.  To do anymore risks feeding it, making it more powerful. Now relax, and breathe.” She stared at him, then took a deep breath.  “Good. Close your eyes.” She did. “Now, reach out.” He kept his voice level and quiet, no more than a whisper. “The mere fact that you are standing here talking to me means you have some strength in you.  Picture the ship. Picture it floating in space in front of you.” He watched her. Her brow furrowed and she frowned in concentration. Her eyes danced beneath closed lids. “There is a place on this ship, a place you fear to go, without even knowing why.  Trust that fear. It is your instincts, and they will keep you alive. They already have. Do not think, just act. Now, raise your hand, and point.” 

Slowly, eyes still closed, she raised her hand and pointed.  She opened her eyes, and he could see the astonishment written on her face when she found her hand pointed unerringly at a point on the holo-diagram.  “The main processing chamber,” she said, voice a whisper. She lowered her hand, and then began nervously rubbing it. “How did I do that?”

Ignoring her, he focused the display on that point.  It was a huge space, easily the biggest in the ship. While the ship didn’t have any advanced internal life-sign scanners, it did read ambient temperature as being several degrees higher in there than usual.  “Large open space. Signs of life. Very good, girl.” He zoomed out, expanding the view. “It seems the fastest route would be the main elevator.” He selected it, and the shaft on the holo flashed red. “Locked down.  Very well, then.” He grabbed his weapon off the console. “Stairs it is.” He strode towards the bridge exit. “Come, girl. Let us be about it.” He stopped at hatch, looking back. She hadn’t moved. “Girl! Come.”

She didn’t seem to hear him. She was still staring at the display, absently rubbing her hands together.  Finally, she turned to face him. “What is it? Is it a monster?”

She looked right at him, maintaining eye contact through his mask. The levelness of her voice surprised him. He decided to give her the truth, “Yes.”

She nodded and swallowed, absorbing that simple statement.  Then she looked at him again, “Are you?”

He was silent for a few moments.  Again, she had surprised him. Again, he gave the truth.  “When necessary.” 

She had no response to that, and so he continued walking towards the stairs. “Come, girl. The descent into Hell waits for no-one.”  He entered the stairwell and was soon out of sight. She stood there briefly, then ran to catch up.
------------------

The Descent
The First Law, Chapter 2
by LaMDoH123
©2019

Here's the second half of chapter 2, because it was too big for the character limit on posts.

The central stairwell ran the length of the ship, and wrapped around the shaft of the main spinal elevator. It was wide enough for five people to pass abreast, and was brightly lit by the same fluorescent-white strips as the rest of the ship. The pair descended, away from the bridge, passing decks of workshops and living quarters, mess halls and supply closets. There was even a rec area with a small theater – everything the crew and their dependents would need on a long mining cruise. It was like a small town set loose to drift across the void. It took some time, as he stopped frequently to investigate various decks. Everywhere there were signs of habitation. Food lay out on tables, beginning to go bad. In one bathroom a faucet had been left half on, the steady drip-drip-drip echoing through the corridors. Outside a small classroom, the walls were covered in children’s drawings. But it was empty. There was evidence that lives had been lived here, but there were no signs of life.

There were signs of its violent end. Bloodstains marked the walls and floors in some places. Often there were streaks indicating that the bodies had been dragged away. Uniformly, every streak pointed back towards the stairwell. He asked the girl if she knew anything about this. She shook her head. “The bodies were there, and then they were gone. It must have been while I was hiding. And before you ask: no, I don’t know where they went or why they were taken.” His only response was a nod. He hadn’t really expected any other answer.

They were about half an hour into their descent when he stopped suddenly. The girl ran into him and started to protest, but he shushed her with a curt look. His ears strained. He had heard something. Scritch-scratch. Scritch-scratch. There it was. A scraping noise, as if of metal on metal, just audible over the background hum of the ship. Now that he listened, he also heard low, indistinct muttering. There was someone there, just a few flights below.

“Stay close, girl. There is someone up ahead.”

“What?,” she whispered, then stiffened. She glanced over at a sign on the wall, as if to check what level they were on. She turned back to him. “Maybe we should go around, then? We can use one of the secondary shafts, go down a few levels, then cut back over to the main stairs. Come on!” With that, she started to walk over towards one of the exits. He grabbed her arm, stopping her. She struggled against his grip, futilely, frantically. She truly did not want to go further.

“We do not deviate from our path. If someone is there, then we must see to them. It is possible they can be helped.”

She looked up at him, disbelief warring with hope on her face. “You really mean it? You can help them?”

Her sudden swing in mood confused him. “Perhaps,” he answered at length. “But I must see them first. Now, stay behind me, and follow close.” Keeping his shotgun up, he moved smoothly forward, covering each angle of the stairwell. Eventually he came around a bend in the stairwell and onto a landing, and he was confronted with a scene of murder. Several bodies were strewn across the stairs leading down from the landing. They had been shot, their wounds showing clear signs of the low-speed, heavy frangible rounds typically used onboard ships. The one exception was the dead body on the landing itself. It was a young man, about the girl’s age, and he was lying face up on the floor. It was a toss-up to what had killed him: he was covered in scratches and bruises, and his eyes had been gouged out, but it was likely the gunshot wound in his side that had finished him.

The perpetrator of all this carnage was obvious: she was the only one still alive. It was a woman, of perhaps 40, dressed in the dark jumpsuit and light armor of a security officer. Her hair, long for a spacer, was clearly once intricately braided but was now messy and ratty with grime and blood. It hung in front of her face like a curtain. She was sitting on the floor, back upright against the wall. It was clear she had been forced into this position by the fact that one hand was cuffed to a pipe. Marks on her wrist and the pipe showed she had tried to pull herself free, to no avail. She was filthy, and had clearly been here for days. She was surrounded by discarded food and drink packets, which at least explained how she was still alive.

She was also the source of the scratching noise. She had a small knife, and was meticulously carving something in the deck. She was surrounded by such carvings– they covered the floor and the walls within her reach. Each was identical. It showed a sideways diamond, with a circle in the center. It looked like an eye. He knew that symbol. He approached her slowly, gun trained, but she didn’t seem to notice. She was too engrossed in her task, intent on it with a single-minded determination. He paused a few feet from her, observing. Her weapon, a standard pistol, lay next to her on the deck. It was empty, according to the ammunition counter on the side. She still didn’t notice him, but now she was starting to twitch. It was subtle at first, but eventually the jerks overtook her whole body.

“No!” Her voice was hoarse. She took her free hand and banged it against her temple repeatedly. “Get out! Me, not you! Get out!” Frantically, she rolled up her pants leg. What he saw there did not surprise him. The same carvings, this time in flesh rather than steel. She began carving a new one, repeating the same phrase, “Me, not you! Me, not you! Me, not you!” She sucked in air against the pain but kept cutting, and when she was done she flopped back, gasping for breath. It was then that she saw him, looming over her, and her knife fell from nerveless fingers. She scrabbled for her gun and raised it, pointing it at him with a trembling hand. “Who are you?!”

“Mom?” He turned to see the girl poking her head around the corner, as if afraid to come any farther. The woman dropped her gun immediately.

“Becky! Oh my God honey, you’re still alive!”

“Are you... you, Mom?”

“I think so, honey. For now.”

Becky crept from around the corner and approached her mother cautiously. When her mother made no sudden moves, she came up to her and knelt beside her. Her mother reached up with a trembling hand and cupped her daughter’s face, using a thumb to wipe away the tears that were tracking through the grime on the girl’s face. “Oh sweety, you’re filthy.”

Becky gave a weak laugh. “So are you.”

Now that they were together, he saw the resemblance. The same hair, same skin, same green eyes. The woman turned to look at him, seemingly unconcerned about his mask and weapons. Like mother, like daughter, it seemed. “You never answered my question.”

He thought for a moment, then did something that surprised himself. Letting his shotgun hang from a strap on his armor, he took his helmet off and hooked it to his belt. “Sebastian,” he said. “My name is Sebastian.”

Both women stared at him, before Becky broke the silence. “You are not what I was expecting.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “I was picturing scars, and burns, and missing teeth. You have a few scars, but overall you look very...normal.”

“Becky,” her mother chided weakly. “You’re being rude. I think he has a very kind face. I’m sorry Sebastian, the girl lacks manners sometimes. She, she does, she...” Her eyes started to cloud, then with an obvious effort she shook her head. “NO! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!” She banged her head back against the wall several times, before letting her head lol forward, panting furiously.
“Mom!” Becky shook her frantically. “Mom, come on! Snap out of it!”

Sebastian knelt down next to the woman. He swiped his index finger in the blood seeping from the fresh carving on her leg and quickly drew a pair of crossed arrows on her forehead. Her eyes went wide and she gasped, turning to him. “You have to kill it. Please! That’s why you’re here, right?!”

He nodded. “I have come to destroy it, and expunge all traces of its existence and influence.”
She nodded furiously. “Good, good! You must!”

“I will,” he vowed. He looked into her eyes. “I can also help you be free from it, if you wish.”

He saw in her eyes that she knew what he meant. Slowly, she nodded. “Thank you. I only ask one thing. Take my daugther with you when you go.”

“If I can, I intend to. That’s all I can promise.”

“That’s enough.” She turned to Becky, who was looking confused. “Listen, honey, know I’ve always loved you, and I always will, no matter where I am or what happens.” She reached back with her free hand and awkwardly untied something at the back of her neck. She pulled out a wooden charm on a leather strip and pressed it into Becky’s hands. “Here. With this, I’ll always be with you. And so will all your ancestors. Be strong for us, and yourself.”

Becky was obviously confused, and was growing frantic. “Mom, what are you talking about?! We’re both going to get out of here!”
She just smiled at her, then turned to Sebastian. “Karen O’Casey. You gave me yours, seems only fair I give you mine.” The blood mark on her forehead was beginning to disappear, as if evaporating. “Hurry! I feel it coming back!”

He nodded respectfully. “Farewell, Karen O’Casey. You are strong, and your daughter is stronger. Be proud.” With that, he reached forward and, with a swift motion, snapped her neck.

The sound of vertebrae cracking echoed through the stairwell like a gunshot. In its aftermath came silence. Then, a scream.

“BASTARD!” She swung the crowbar at him. He raised an arm to block it and it rang off his armor. “You killed her! Why did you do that, you said you were going to help?!” She swung at him furiously. He easily grabbed her wrists and dragged her in close, pinning her in his armored hands. Her furious flailing eventually degenerated into sobs, and the crowbar fell from her lifeless hands. He let go of her wrists, and she collapsed to her knees, sobbing. He followed her down, kneeling in front of her and putting his hands on her shoulders.

“Girl, listen to me,” he shook her gently. “Your mother was gone. Her mind was barely her own, and it wouldn’t have been for much longer. She would have tried to kill us. There is no coming back from it. It is not a disease that can be cured with medicine, it is far too old and powerful for that.” He shook her again. “No, look at me, not her. Me, not her.” Puffy eyes turned to him. His face was gentle. “This was the only way. Your mother knew that, and her final thoughts were of you. I told her I’d take you from here if I could, and that was all that mattered to her. I intend to keep that promise. Now collect yourself, and let’s keep moving before…” he trailed off. She finally composed herself, and then looked up at him. Turning her head, she followed his gaze down the stairwell.

He knew she could hear it too. A low rumbling, coming from below them. It sounded like rushing water, and as it got closer howls began to ring out. His eyes narrowed, and his mouth set in a grim line. He stood up, and moved to the top of the flight of stairs, standing there like a statute. “Pick up a weapon, girl. We have company.” He saw her cast around for something. Her gaze fell on her mother’s knife, but she didn’t pick it up. He didn’t blame her. Instead, she picked the crowbar back up. She seemed to be developing an attachment to it. She set herself, and looked at him. He nodded, and turned back to face down the stairs.

“The gates of hell are open night and day,” he spoke softly, barely audible over the howling that echoed up the stairwell. “Smooth the descent, and easy is the way.” With a motion of his left arm, the shield extended until it formed an oval shape. With his right he grabbed the helmet off his belt. “But to return, and view the cheerful skies,” With a swift, smooth motion he donned the helmet, its grotesque mask replacing his pleasant features. “In this the task and mighty labor lies." The last bit issued sepulchre-like from his helmet’s speakers. He readied his shotgun, cradling it loosely. “Stay close behind me, girl.” He turned his head slightly, looking back over his shoulder at her. “Be ready to defend yourself.” She gulped and nodded convulsively, knuckles white on the crowbar. With howls of animalistic hate, the crew of the Benjamin Hembrooke rounded the corner, and were upon them.
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