Cole breathed rapidly, his teeth clenched tightly. Thick smoke filled the bullet-strewn hallways. His lungs drew in the tainted air. He could hear the screams of his comrades echoing throughout the tight space. The ceiling was crumpling, and the drywall fell upon his head like a fine snow.
The structure was heavily damaged, the fighting inside leaving it unstable. Even though Sebastian had already retreated, Cole didn’t turn back. He had to save the rest of his team.
Hearing cries from a nearby tunnel, Cole followed the sound to its source. The heavy buckles on his boots bounced steadily as he ran. Before entering the room, he stopped and rested against the wall. He surveyed the area cautiously, making sure to stay perfectly still.
Shadowing his slow gaze with a readied weapon, he was prepared to shoot anything that moved. This mission was anything but routine, and he had been out of his element since he had arrived. This new enemy seemed unstoppable, and Cole had watched helplessly as his friends had been slaughtered.
Swallowing hard, he tried to calm his racing heart. Through his scope, he could see a large mound of bodies. There were hundreds of them, piled up like discarded garbage. These were the men he had grown up with. The horrid sight ignited rage within him.
A greenish smoke rose from the corpses, the room filling with the metallic stench of death. He was about to do another scan of the room, but a low growl made his back stiffen. It was a beast-like sound, definitely not human.
Spinning quickly, Cole unsheathed the sword on his back. He quickly aimed it at the new threat. It was more subtle than his gun, and he hoped not to draw any attention to himself by firing a shot.
But then, he saw the man’s face and recognized his own uniform. Cole’s expression softened. A deep pain filled his chest that felt like a dead weight crushing his every breath.
“Richard?” Taking a swipe at the empty air, Cole’s features hardened. He then readied himself to attack. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you attacking me? It’s me, Cole!”
Richard released a barrage of bullets, but Cole artfully dodged them.
Cole tried to reach out to him one last time. “Get a hold of yourself! Stop this madness right now! Don‘t let it control your mind! Fight it, Richard! Please! Stop!”
But Richard didn’t respond. At this distance, Cole could see the green light reflected in his comrade’s eyes. He knew what he had to do, even though his heart was against it. The virus had contaminated Richard. His friend was gone.
“Cole,” Richard hissed, as a few soldiers came and backed him up. Cole’s eyes quickly darted over their faces. Each one had that hellish green light residing in their eyes. “It’s your turn to die.”
Charging forward, Cole halted Richard’s words with a quick slash of his sword. He fought until they all lay lifeless at his feet.
Wiping his nose roughly, Cole sniffled. Disbelieving, he studied the bodies of his friends. A few seconds of silence passed, as he tried to grasp what was going on. But he didn’t have much time to think. The soldiers he thought he had killed were rising up and preparing to attack him again.
This was impossible. Some were missing limbs. Others pawed at the floor as they dragged their bodies along it. Terror flashed in Cole’s ice blue eyes, his breath quick. He had never seen anything like this before and had no idea how to fight back.
Turning abruptly in the direction of the voice, Cole glared at the man standing behind him. His enemy wore a long, green robe. The flames that ravaged the building illuminated his face. A black dragon cradled his left eye, a dark tattoo that intensified his sparkling blue eyes. He wore a twisted smile, an unnatural expression that bathed his features in an evil light.
“So, you have finally arrived.”
“Who are you?” Cole’s weapon shook in his hands, but he swallowed his fear as he followed the man’s advance through the scope.
“You don’t remember me?” The man’s eyes narrowed on Cole. There was fury seething through his every word. His hands were fisted and trembled slightly.
Cole’s gaze scanned the Virus soldiers that stood behind the man. None of them were attacking him. “You…” He paused, his gun making a quick pass around him. When he saw no one, he pointed it at the man once again. “You’re one of them, aren’t you?” He took a few cautious steps backward.
“No.” The man chuckled.
“Why aren’t they attacking?” Cole watched the Virus soldiers slowly gravitate toward the man. They seemed to surround him, as if protecting him. “You! You did this?” Cole’s strong voice didn’t falter, anger flashing in his tight scowl. When the man didn’t answer, he spoke again, “Answer me!”
“Me?” Placing a hand over his heart, the man laughed. “I only command them.”
“You’re the one who brought Virus here, aren’t you?” Even though he was heavily outnumbered, Cole didn’t stand down. “Why are you doing this? Why are you killing innocent people?”
“Because I want to.” The man’s answer was matter-of-fact, a joking reaction that didn’t seem fitting to the situation. “What better reason is there than that?”
“Monster?” Suddenly, the man’s expression changed drastically. He scowled, clearly infuriated. “Me?” He took a step closer, but halted when Cole moved back and readied his gun. Letting out an annoyed sigh, he studied Cole. “Now, is that any way to describe me, Nero? So, you think it’s my Virus, huh?”
Laughing, the man put his hands in the air. The long sleeves of his robe fell back and revealed the old suit he wore underneath. Behind him, more Virus soldiers appeared. A devilish grin infected his face. “You really don’t remember, do you?” Cocking his head to the side, his gaze narrowed curiously. “Don’t worry, you will soon. I’ll help you. I have been looking for you for so long that I had almost given up hope. But you’re still alive. I knew you would be. I’m so glad I finally found you.”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
The man’s gaze burned with an intensity matching Cole’s, their eyes the same unique shade of blue. “What’s wrong with you? You look terrified…like a child.” Walking closer, the man turned his head slightly and studied Cole from a different angle. “What did they do to you? My son…” His bottom lip quivered, as if he were about to cry. “You look so…” He paused, confused, as Cole took a giant step back, his gun still aimed. A large breath was released with his next word, “scared.”
“I’m not afraid of you.” Speaking through gritted teeth, Cole’s response was firm. He pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. Fear flashed in his eyes as he tried several times more.
“Oh?” A smile sprung to the man’s lips. Opening his palm, he let the bullets that lay there fall to the ground. “You look scared.”
He chuckled as Cole checked the magazine and realized his shells were missing. But instead of playing around with it further, Cole bared his sword.
“What are you going to do with that toy?” The man pointed to the blade. He made a fist, and the metal twisted. Cole immediately dropped it and jumped backward. “I don’t wish to hurt you, so please…” He motioned regally with his head toward the broken weapon. “Stop trying to use your useless toys. Only magic works against a sorcerer.”
“A sorcerer?” Speaking through heavy breath, Cole tried not to show his alarm. “There are no sorcerers left except for the Sacred Family.”
“You really did forget, didn’t you?” The man crossed his arms over his chest, a more cheery tone entering his voice.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What are you doing here? And why are you creating the Virus soldiers?”
“This isn’t going to work.” Palming his forehead, the man let out a frustrated grunt. “You don’t remember anything.”
“How do you know me?” Cole studied the man with great worry, putting up his fists now that he found his weapons useless.
“I made you.” Love radiated in the man’s eyes as he looked at the young soldier.
“They have made you soft—taken away the perfect son I raised you to be.”
“What are you talking about?” A scowl infected Cole’s handsome face, his tanned skin covered in a thick blanket of white ash. “I’ve never met you before in my life.”
Changing the subject, the man pulled a pendant from beneath his robes. “Do you remember this?”
“No.” Reaching behind himself slowly, Cole’s hand rested on the hilt of a second sword he carried on his back.
“This is a very powerful pendant.” The man smiled proudly at the green gem then let it slip back under his robes. “It allows me to steal the life energy from people and turn it into magic.” He laughed at Cole’s horrified expression. “Isn’t that a marvelous invention?”
“It’s sick.” Cole’s grip tightened around the handle.
“No…,” the man said sadly, his eyes taking in the disappointing figure he saw before him. “You’re sick, my son.”
“I’m not your son.”
“You’re not?” The man advanced, forcing Cole to take a few steps backward again. “Who are you, then?”
“I’m…” Cole paused, an image flashing in his head. His breath quickened as he put his palm to his forehead. There was a pained look in his eyes, his hands shaking. Visions of the man flew through his brain. It felt like a movie being projected over his sight, dizziness trying to force him unconscious. “Stop…” Holding back tears, Cole held his head. A loud buzz filled his ears, and the sound of laughter echoed in his brain.
“My poor boy.” Sighing, the man watched Cole’s actions closely. “What have they done to you?”
“Why…are…you doing this?” Standing on shaky legs, Cole finally pulled out the sword. He held it in front of him defensively. “What do you want from me?”
“Come with me, Nero.”
“I will never surrender myself to you!” Cole’s expression hardened, the chains on his jacket bouncing as he readied himself for a fight.
“So, you’ve decided to fight me, then? I see…” The man raised his hands, and his army advanced toward Cole slowly. “So, that’s how it is? Then, get ready to fight, my boy.”
“Gladly.” The surface of Cole’s sword gleamed under the light, his icy eyes shining with great intent. His head was still spinning, but he tried to push it back.
“You’re coming with me, even if I have to drag you kicking and screaming!” A green wind rose from under the man, making his robes fly upward as the air thickened with magic. “Lay down your sword and surrender. You are no match for my army of Virus soldiers! Come to me, Nero!”
“Come to me, Nero.” Cole heard the man’s words in his head, even if he hadn’t said them a second time. He was hallucinating. He could feel it. He could see the man looking at him strangely. Then, he heard the voice speak again. “Lay down your sword and surrender, or I’ll kill her!”
“Stop!” Cole’s head buzzed. It was so loud that the deafening sound brought him to his knees. His vision was blurry, as if something were trying to control his thoughts.
Watching Cole’s reaction, the man’s face grew concerned. “Are you all right?” His breath then quickened when he saw the Virus soldiers advancing without his command.
“I’ll kill you!” Cole heard his own voice in his ears. “Don’t hurt her!” Letting out a blood-curdling scream, Cole held his swimming head.
A pulse slowly began radiating from Cole’s body. It was a whitish glow that snuffed out the greenish one that lay within the Virus’ soldiers’ eyes. With each wave, it became stronger. Its beams hit the soldiers, the powerful light reducing them to dust.
“Nero, stop!” There was a shrill desperation to the man’s voice as he held out his hands to Cole. “Stop! Don’t do this again. Fight the visions! Don’t give in to the madness! Listen to me! Stop!”
And that was the last thing Cole heard before he blacked out.