[FONT="]CHAPTER FIVE[/FONT] There was smoke slowly rising from the air, the smell of burning filling Arthur’s nostrils as he stirred awake yet again, but as always, feeling different. Cool grass was gracing his bare backside, as he lifted his head up, his vision impaired by the thin wisps of clear white smoke. To his left and to his right, his panning head noticed patches of burning material sprinkled across this particular grassy lawn, each of them smoldering with smoke. A chill went through his body as he realized a moment later that smoke was rising from him as well. He lost his voice as his eyes immediately darted over his naked body, the smell of burning overwhelming his senses now as his hands sprung to life and he started patting his body in desperation, slapping away in desperation, trying to smother the flames burning his flesh, fueling the smoke that was rising from his body. He stopped a moment later, his skin feeling warm… but touching no flames. Regaining his composure, he slowly rose into a sitting position, and then opened his palms up in front of his hands, noticing they were almost dripping with sweat. He then realized it was all over his body, glistening. He started to breath heavy, feeling a stifling humidity all of a sudden as he looked around, getting his new bearings, and soon realizing he was sitting in a small half block converted into a small park, surrounding by a parking lot. Several meters away, he saw the ambulance, or what was left of it. Most of it was blasted apart, with blackened shards of metal spread across the park, the charred hulk that was the front end of the vehicle having smashed head on into a large tree, its radiator and bumper half wrapped around the trunk of the arboreal. Arthur blinked, suddenly feeling lightheaded, not from anything physical, but from realizing that the most logical turn of events was that the oxygen tanks on board the ambulance had exploded, tearing apart the entire vehicle and throwing him several dozen feet away, onto the ground. He looked over his body. Not only was he alive, but not a single burn on his body. Doing a second lookover, he realized he had stopped steaming, or smoking, whatever it was. His Asian coppery tan skin was looking a shade redder of course, and he certainly felt warm, but, that was getting off excessively light for what should have been him getting blown apart. Rising steadily to his feet, he then looked straight ahead and saw before him was his destination. The interior was mostly dark, windows shattered, the cream colored walls pockmarked with burns, blasts and bulletholes but even to Arthur, towns hospital was readily recognizable as it jutted a clear eight stories above the ground, the entire building wide enough to take up a city block itself it seemed. And it was just a parking lot away. First though, he looked around, noticing craters in the park, as well as the immediate area filled with partially ruined buildings. Regina, the Fire Chief wasn’t anywhere in sight. Arthur thought about calling out, but decided against it as he looked around, noticing that unlike before, an unnatural calm had seemingly come over the entire area, though in the distance he could hear the distant crackling of gunfire and far off booms which almost seemed muffled and distant. Worry started to come over him as he contemplated with a far more clear head now then he had before the crash, what was transpiring. What was that entity that had attacked them and where was she now? Approaching the burning husk that remained of the ambulance, hoping to find something useful, he felt the warmth of the wreckage on his bare skin as he crouched in low beside the destroyed vehicle. But all that was left was useless, ruined and burnt to a crisp. Small geysers of dirt kicked up a staggered line just to his right, culminating in a sharp dinging sound as a bullet deflected off the crashed ambulances engine block. Arthur immediately dived to the ground and scrambled away on his hands and knees as another bullet struck the vehicles skeleton, ringing hollow as metal struck metal. He turned his head, and noticed that while there may have been a lull in the fighting, it was far from safe. A single man was charging straight towards him, one wearing a simple gray suit and pants. Dirt caked his business like uniform at the joints, as dark, almost black, blood stained the white shirt underneath his suit. His neck had a wide, gaping red gash on the front, where the larynx should’ve been and a pale looking face, leathery and dead, with blackened, gangrenous looking flesh surrounding the eyes and covering the cheeks, finished the visage of this new attacker as it sprinted towards Arthur at full speed. In one of his arms he held a pistol, in the other, an already deformed tire iron. Arthur recovered his feet, as he could almost feel a bullet zip past his head as he raced around the back end of the ambulance crash and started to sprint towards the hospital itself. Another gunshot rang out, as the Asian man glanced over his shoulder and noticed his ghoulish pursuer was still gaining on him, his gun still in hand, each round getting closer and closer to its mark. Its mouth fell open, but instead of letting out a cry of alarm or rage, more blackish ichor almost freely drizzled over its slack lips, spilling onto its chest. The gun barked again as it was fired one hand. He felt the bullet zip past his opposite cheek, almost taking a chunk out of his face. Complimenting the hiss of the bullet as it zinged past was a curious whinnying sound followed by a tremendous explosion as between the two of them, a bubble of earth and grass suddenly brewed upward into an eruption of dirt and shrapnel. Arthur found himself thrown to the ground, as his pursuer simply disappearing in the explosion. No the military hadn’t left yet. More explosions followed, as he realized the airspace had merely been cleared for what seemed like an artillery bombardment, which explained the distant booms he had heard earlier. Within seconds, the deafening inferno blotted out all other sound as Arthur pushed himself back to his feet and started to sprint towards the hospital again when he felt something smash into his back. Before he even hit the ground, he felt the tire iron smash across the top of his back painfully, before a strong hand seized the back of his head and pushed it forward, smashing his face into the grass. He felt his right eye burn up, when those same fingers pulled hard on his hair, lifting his head again as he felt a cold goo like liquid splatter onto his back. He chilled with revulsion, realizing it was the gunman who had blindsided him. Drooling on him. Arthur screamed. He dug his fingers into the ground and pushed off with his hands, bucking his hips as hard as he could, jinxing his attacker off balance as he saw the tire iron thud harmlessly into the ground a mere inch from the front of his face. Growling, Arthur shot back an arm into an upward arch, a backhand smashing into his adversaries deformed face, causing another dollop of black ichor to burst from his lips and knocking him to the side. Spinning about, Arthur pinned his foe below him just as he saw the tire iron come up for his head again. He raised his own arm to block his head, driving it down and forward to intercept and then lock the arm carrying the weapon. He felt a pistol barrel suddenly whip across his forehead, drawing a thin line of blood across his scalp. His eyes blacked out a moment, but his arms kept moving as he dropped his left elbow onto the open wound that was his enemies throat with all of his weight behind the strike. The creature gurgled, and Arthur ripped the tire iron free of its grasp with his right hand. Without hesitating, he raised the tire iron above his head, and at the last possible moment removed his elbow from the ghoulish figures throat. Its deformed head shot upward defiantly, when the simple metal handle of the tire iron drove down into the open wound in the front of its neck, and then punching through the back of its neck, the force of the blow driving the tire iron into the ground. It let out a dry, empty wail as Arthur immediately jumped off of the now pinned down gunman, watching him thrash about as he was pinned to the ground via the neck. Its arms were flailing, unable to reconcile the pain… or perhaps rage, at being immobilized, with the fact it could probably just pull the tire iron from the ground if it could focus long enough to do so. Arthur ducked instinctively, realizing that there was still an artillery bombardment going on, and glanced over at the ambulance. It was still burning. He picked up a nearby wooden branch and dipped it into the flames before walking back towards the trapped creature and setting his clothes alight. As soon as he did however, he noticed through the thick clouds of dust and dirt, more dark shapes, few of them close to human, yet all approaching, perhaps attracted by the gunfire of one of their fellows. One that wasn’t human seemed to grow darker and darker, which meant they were the ones closing in the fastest. Arthur held onto the flaming stick, and started to run towards the hospitals main doors. He didn’t reflect on the fact that glass windows and unlocked doors would somehow stop his pursuers and save him. Just the thought of being indoors, and even moreso, with the chance that his friends were in the same building, was all the comfort he needed right now. If he could just make it through those doors. The booming of the artillery continued, but none of the shells were landing in the vicinity of the hospital. In fact, it was almost as if it was avoiding it. To Arthur, it made sense. His legs started to burn. The tremendous explosions were going away though, giving way to something else yet not dissimilar. He heard the roaring, as it raged over the impact of countless artillery shells, and above that, the sound of thundering… hooves. He glanced over his shoulder, and saw vertical towers of dirt and asphalt plume dozens of feet into the air, noticing what looked like a pack of canines pursuing him. They were baying, and barking, but they sounded queerly silent over the constant clashing of voluminous explosions. Some had blood red hides, others had swaths of skin stripped away, exposed musculature or bones sticking out crude angles, all were mutilated well beyond nature, patently unnatural. They weren’t the origins of the thunderous repetition though, or the roars. For that, his vision shifted upwards as he saw coming out of the blackness of the sky were a trio of creatures that swarmed towards the ground like locusts, their wings beating through the air like insects, yet unleashing a terrific and resounding thumping that reverberated through the night air, overtaking the sound of a dozen exploding shells of artillery. Long, scorpion like tails ending in scything barbs trailed in their wake, as blackened and reddish faces, vaguely human with long manes of matted unkempt hair trailing over their carapaced bodies, scowled and gaped at their sole prey. Sharp gray teeth, lined in rows after jagged row, grew wider, opening up as if to roar but instead, unleashed a terrible jet of sulphorous smoke mixed with blinding streaks of infernal flame. Their breath projected outward like streams from a flamethrower, but instead of surging upwards, they seemed to sinnow through the air, curving through the empty space like serpents, tracking their prey as he lowered his head and plowed through the open doors, hoping they were wide open. They were. The glass door was heavy, his shoulder smashing hard against the thick glass, as he lost his balance, his feet stumbled, and he soon fell face forward into the carpeted hospital lobby floor. His body skidded forward a bit it seemed, until he felt the top of his head plow into something soft as behind him, the entire glass façade of the hospitals first floor suddenly shattered as the flaming smoke billowed into the room, saturating it from head to toe. He scrambled back to his feet when he realized he had literally plowed headfirst into the corpse of a headless, white shirted hospital security guard. Several dozen bulletholes had torn up his body, and yet he still had a gun in his hand. The locals usually took guns from their victims though, which meant that this person may have been killed later and thus no one had come by yet to liberate it of its weapon. He snatched up the pistol as he felt the searing heat start to burn across his backside, as the thick cloud of smoke shrouded fire closed in upon him. His other hand moved to unbuckling the mans equipment belt and without waiting to put it on himself, he started to sprint down the hallway, dragging the security guards belt behind him, a dozen different items dangling and skittering on the floor as he did. Up ahead, he saw a pair of what looked like swivel double doors, and noticed the warnings printed clearly on them, stating that they were supposed to open inward, not outward. Arthur lowered his shoulder, intent on smashing through these doors as well, figuring they could be no harder then the heavier glass doors up front. He fell backwards a moment later, his right shoulder exploding into a mind numbing pain as for a moment, he wondered if he had just dislocated his own shoulder through his own stupidity. His toes curled up, it started to feel like flames were tickling the bottoms of his feet. Turning around, he immediately closed his eyes as soon as he felt the wave of superheated air start to waft over him, preceding the dark cloud that had just enveloped the entire lobby. Against the higher reasoning in his brain which screamed for him not to, he forced himself to open his eyes, noticing only a blurry haze had replaced clear vision. He looked up, noticing a gray blurry dot in the ceiling, and opened fire with his new pistol. He didn’t stop after the first shot, and started pumping round after round into the ceiling, until he heard… and felt, the sudden spray of ice cold water saturate the hallway. A sizzling hiss filled the air, as black smoke shrouding bright orange flames suddenly recoiled as a near constant jet of water rained down upon the oncoming cloud of destruction. Arthur blinked several times, moistening his eyes up before reaching up to the wall and pulling a fire alarm lever along the side. Each sensor in the lobby detected the smoke, and at once, everyone activated as a dozen sprinklers, some already deformed and melting from the heat, fizzled to life, the water meeting the flame, causing a hot white steam to brew up from the receding cloud. Meanwhile he slammed a gray button right below the fire alarm, to open the double doors, and just as the warning said, they opened up towards him. Not wanting to chance staying in the lobby any longer, he crawled through the open doors, closing them up behind him and then, looking ahead, noticed the hallway before him was nearly pitch black, except for a few glowing points of artificial light emanating from what looked like a nurses station located in this corridors mini lobby, with three other hallways leading deeper into the hospital. Some of the computer monitors were in sleep mode, and each of the hallways entrances had a softly white lit sign hanging from the ceiling, with the name of each corridor. He glanced behind him, through the window, and saw only white steam shrouding the dark cloud. He made a beeline for the nurses station and grabbed a pair of bedsheets off one of the counters. Looping the cloth between the double doors handles, he tied them off. It seemed so pathetic that whatever was pursuing him would be stopped by clean linens, but it made him feel better as he then went to work looking for a pair of scrubs. Walking around naked might be a treat to the psychotic ghoulish ladies that infested this town, but being Asian, he figured he was at least a bashful type. He returned to the nurses station again, finding a pair of sky blue scrubs that fit him loosely and then fastened the security guards belt around his waist, before he started opening up shelves, looking for more goodies while glancing up at the double doors every other second it seemed, waiting for something fearsome to burst through in a dramatic fashion. He took some medical tape and tied a small smooth flashlight to his pistol, then lifted it. Grunting in displeasure, he ripped the tape off, realizing that offsetting the weight of the pistol with a flashlight was probably a dumb move. If he had to move around, he’d just do it without his hands free. He then snatched up a trauma bag and slung it over his head and shoulder before, just out of hope despite his previous chilling experiences of trying to use communications equipment, picked up the phone. It was almost a relief when he found that the line was dead. He then moved towards the nearest computer in sleep mode and swished the mouse when his head suddenly darted up, his ears picking up on a noise coming from the lobby, or at least he thought so. But the doors remained unmoving, and the windows were covered in an impenetrable fog. He glanced back down at the computer and noticed the screen was switching to different security camera views of the various hallways and other stations in the hospital. Some looked worse than others. In the brief span of seconds it showed each feed, tried to see the location, and what was happening in the area itself. Some showed bodies, others showed nothing, most showed some form of disarray or destruction. Then one showed movement. It was dark, with a snowy gray quality to the video, but he could see it clearly as three clearly humanoid shapes ran across the screen, down what looked like a hallway, coming closer to his electronic eye. The camera was mounted high in the ceiling, so he couldn’t see their faces, but what he could see was clear enough. Two men in military uniforms, and one woman with wavy blonde hair and an easily recognizable leather cowboy hat. They were sprinting down the hallway. He glanced down at the bottom of the screen. 5-1. Radiology and Nuclear Medicine Now he had a location, and could only guess the number five meant the physical floor itself. He glanced back up at the screen, only to notice the three of them were gone from the black and white feed. Instead he saw a softly glowing light surge through the top of the feed, entering the range of the cameras feed and soon cresting into the hallway itself. They were running for a reason, they were being pursued. Arthur felt the grip of his pistol, his fingers already twitching as he kept looking at the screen, wanting to know exactly what else was in this building with them. In the midst of the cloud of glowing light then, he saw the murky outline of a slender, sleekly curved creature with no discernible arms or head, but seemed to walk… or perhaps float, with a pair of legs, down the hallway. Visible even in this poor quality CCTV feed, he noticed ripples of brilliant white light criss crossing the sublime form of the apparition as it literally floated down the hallway before disappearing out of sight below the edge of the camera. It was then he noticed his teeth were chattering against each other. He willed himself to stop his jaw from trembling and backed away, wishing he had something more powerful than a pistol, a flashlight and a baton to dispense of his adversaries with. He turned away, making one final look around for anything useful here, and then glanced back at the computer monitor and immediately jumped back. The screen was glowing so brightly, a shaft of white light seemed to illuminate the nurses station itself, and shined directly on his face as he staggered back in absolute shock. Hs fingers fumbled for the trigger on the pistol he held tightly in his grasp as, wide eyed, he saw two coal black ovals suddenly appear in the field of white, and stare directly at him as. His eyes focused on the apparition, forming a distinct face and communicating to his mind the fact that they weren’t just black circles on the screen, but actually eyes. They told his mind to walk forward, to the light. Enraptured by the vision, he started walking towards the monitor. The light started to seep through, the brilliance slowly surging through the screen itself, the apparition itself shining more brightly, as its luminescent form slowly took a sickly green color, and the snowy white color immediately transitioned to the green hue. The darkness remained. An explosion tore open the double doors, incinerating the bedsheets flimsily holding the doors together as they got ripped off their hinges. Arthur leaped back instinctively, closing his eyes as he saw a twisted mockery of a human face staring at him, the massive insectoid body taking up the entire doorway, its large wings folded back over a blood red carapace. Arthur raised his pistol, and fired the first round at the green glowing apparition slowly emerging from the monitor. It dissipated as the monitor itself exploded into a shower of sparks. The lion maned monster uttered another bestial roar before it opened its many fanged mouth and spat forward another column of fiery black smoke. Arthur dropped into a roll as the black pillar shot clean over his head, the thick billowing flames incinerating the air above him as he somersaulted into a hallway and still keeping low, sprinted blindly down the hallway. His foot slipped, stepping into something liquidy on the floor, but he paid it no heed, as he struggled to maintain his footing this time at least and looked ahead. He smiled a moment later. He saw a stairwell leading upwards. But that wasn’t the reason for the smile. As he ran past it, he pushed down a large oxygen tank to the floor and with a bit of effort, kicked it into a roll down the hallway back towards the nurses station, now covered in the deadly smoke. He backed up against the stairwell and let out a whistle. He had been chased, tortured, and chased again. He wanted payback now. He saw the dark silhouette of the demonic monster pursuing him even through the smoke. It practically leaped into his line of sight, like any desperate beast would, into his path, tasting the opportunity for an easy kill. The oxygen tank rolled into the cloud. Arthur fired twice, having patiently lined his sights up with the tank the past few seconds. His shots were spot on, and it delivered quite the boom. The inhumane howls of pain and anguish he had inflicted upon his tormentor were delicious to savor as well.