II – Hearts of Vengeance
Wendyll woke with a mouth full of sand. He hated sleeping prone, really, he hated the resulting stiff neck he’d carry the rest of the day. He rolled himself onto his back, stretching his arms above his head as the moment saturated with the magisterial calm of the desert sunrise.
He appreciated it so much that he zoned out long enough to fall back asleep until he woke up covered in sweat and his own blistered skin.
“Oh… shfok,” he told noone.
At least his neck wouldn’t be as sore. Like a pair of conjoining magic beanstalks, he sprouted up on both feet and brushed all the sand off his washed-out green uniform. In front of him was a massive concrete complex, standing out like a wart on an otherwise pristine face of flat desert sand. Behind him he saw a lot of nothing, and a small dot that seemed to be a shapeless black cloud of mist and smoke.
“Must be 50, maybe 100 miles away,” he remarked, once again to nobody.
Aside from that there was nothing else, nobody else, except his campsite. There were four small animal hide tents placed closely next to eachother. They each had a cross scrawled on their sides in bold black paint.
“Oh, that’s right,” Wendyll really liked talking to himself.
He remembered there were four others. After the last encounter, there was only him.
They had been following a man they all called Vengeance, but his real name was Ryan. Wendyll always figured that if you’re going to have a leader, anything was a better name than Ryan; especially if this man is leading you to the withered heart of the merciless desert.
Wendyll wasn’t the type to get involved in anything. Truth be told, he was lazy, lackadaisical, maybe even a bit of a lunk; all things he’d tell you himself, but he had also never been on a crusade before. He always guessed that was how he ended up in this hellhole, alone and hopeless, but, then again, he couldn’t really remember the beginning of anything.
The only other thing he knew was that he had to proceed forward. That’s what Vengeance wanted, that’s what they had worked for, and now that Vengeance was gone, it was only fitting. He didn’t really care for any of the others.
“Well,” he sniffed, “time t’wrap up.”
He strapped a Red Ryder BB Gun to his shoulder, and jammed a machete between his belt and headed for the massive building.
He reached the entrance and ascended up a couple dozen steps. The doors as massive a spectacle as any, whoever built the complex must have a sort of Pharaoh complex, or at least the same affinity for scale. They were both already open.
The instant he crossed from the outside world to the building, darkness set upon him. He was in a hall, grand and dusted with shadows and sparse paintings of candlelight. Large, rounded stones lined the walls and floor as the air hushed into an approaching chill of freon — a far contrast from the blazing world outside.
Wendyll could see a window at the far end of the hall. The beyonding room was lit; fluorescent and modern. At the center of his view was a robed man in a heavy black cloak with red adornments; standing and motionless. Wendyll couldn’t quite make it out, but it looked as if he might be surrounded by people bowing to him in reverence. A dissonant and constant chorus of humming softly reverberated from the distant room. It was too far away for Wendyll’s eyes to fetch any specifics, but enough distinction remained to recognize that tan face, and thick black mop of hair. That face and the motionless man; Wendyll sensed he was staring right at him, as if the entire cult had been awaiting his arrival.
A bolt of terror crackled through his spine, and that same terror gripped his lungs as his breathing constricted and hardened into a dry panting.
“Damnit Wendyll, what in muddy cripes y’doing?,” he whispered to himself.
Wendyll darted to the far left wall, trying to escape the view of the man beyond. No good. He darted to the other side of the great hall, but it was no use. What awaited him was the centerfold of his vision, and with nothing to obscure him from the paralyzing focus of the room beyond. His instincts set back in and he resorted to what had kept him alive the entire crusade; he ran away.
“Man, what a toet-ul turd,” he chuckled to himself at the thought of a gangly man with toy weapons sauntering into the dark and then beelining back out into the heat. “Enjoy the laugh before y’rot, at least.” His center finger saluted back toward the cult.
The desert scene brought no reprieve. What he once saw as just a campsite, he now interpreted for what it actually was.
He felt a strange tugging sensation in the back of his head, like a gale trying to rip a door open. Everything suddenly felt a little less real, slightly less dire. Wendyll felt something he hadn’t his entire journey. He felt control.
His entire body paused.
“Vengeance. Cocksucker’s still alive.”
He spoke those words not as if they were true, but as if the utterance made them true.
Whether it was always the case, or a new development, the words were true. Vengeance was alive. Memories slipped back into Wendyll’s mind.
“Vengeance is alive, the cult thought they killed him last night.. we were in, we were in a Skyscraper? Vengeance wanted us to fake his death so we could attempt an ambush, our Hail Mary.”
Wendyll was getting excited. Catching himself speaking a bit too loudly near the Hall’s entrance, he scampered back to the campsite. He noticed that the black cloud in the distance had dissipated.
At the tents he discarded the BB gun and machete, and picked up a hardback tome.
Wendyll awkwardly shouted in no general direction. “Ryan! Vengeance, hang tight chap, it’s stars’n stripes from here!,” he didn’t remember which tent had belonged to his leader.
Wasting no time, he scampered back to the hall with his book. Defiantly facing the window to the room ahead, he put the book in both hands and flashed its open pages toward the man in the window.
He held steady; waiting.
After several breathless moments, the archway doors ahead slowly opened, and, like zombies, dozens of people in grey and navy robes clumsily fumbled out the partially opened doors.
He ran up to the first wave and started swatting them with the antiquated tome. With each hit, bits of gossamer flesh and decrepit skin exploded like firecrackers in a July sky. Wendyll couldn’t believe his eyes, or what he was doing to these brainwashed people, but he also could barely see either, each swing of the book emitted a giant cloud of dust and age into the air around him until it swelled into a cloud of chaos and carnage.
As each person approached, Wendyll was inflated with the eponymous feeling of the man who had led him here, each blow like exhaling until the next being violently lunged at him. He remembered everyone of their faces before he smashed them. They all wore the same expression of fear and something else he couldn’t fit into a word, and then with a PWACK they broke apart.
“Th’hell’ve you gotten me into, Venge?,” Wendyll cracked a smirk as he said that, proud that he could still be slightly corny given the scene around him.
In the same amount of time it took his facial muscles to tighten into a slim smile he found himself overwhelmed by the flock of dozens swarming him. Just then, he felt compelled to stop fighting, let the book fall out of his hands and permit the swarm carry him into awaiting darkness, and he just about did it.
The pulse struck him again. A bludgeoning shock stemming from the back of his head set the rest of his body into motion, and he scrambled for his life through the glut of human drones trying to rip him apart. The light before him grew, and he was encapsulated with a familiar, unbearable rush of heat as hell outside greeted him.
Hell had never looked so good.
Bones knocked against stone as he slid down the steps feet first. Each rhythm of pain came coupled with doubts as to why he was doing any of this.
“The man ‘snut even a gud leader. Selfish a prick as’ve known, violent to excess..,” he rolled off his hinds as he picked himself up, “f’nut worse, and I dunt r’member the last time he did anything for anyone but he’self.”
There was a certain allure to the man, though. Vengeance might have had his faults, in fact, Vengeance might have only had faults, but something about him just picked away at you and led you to go to awful places and hurt people and do stupid things.
“Shet, this better work.,” Wendyll was in the final stretch of his dash to the tents.
“VENGEANCE! It’s go time mate, c’mon!”
A still wind gently brushed an idle tent.
“This better be some kind of jape, man!”
Nothing, but he had no choice but to keep running as the mob continued trickling out of the complex.
He got to the tents, and opened up the first two he could reach finding nothing but a coffin in each.
“Leave it out,” he muttered in disbelief.
The dissonant hum of the aggrivated cult swelled.
The third tent revealed a crude dirt stairwell that descended at least twenty feet until it was swallowed by the dark beyond.
“Is this you, Venge? This the plan?” He looked back at the giant complex, and at the herd of people chasing him when he saw a small figure calmly emerge from cover of the distant temple. Dark black mop in his hand, he dragged a black and red figure of man-sized slack; the leader.
Through all the distance, Vengeance and Wendyll locked eyes. He spoke, and he could hear him as if he were right next to him.
Awake? Wendyll had his doubts, but even covered in scratches and blood and bruises, he was definitely alive.
This is just a piece of what I wrote for NNWM a couple years back, but never finished. Just more one draft craps, this is an intro chapter set in a never ending sort of shared dreamscape with varying lucidity.