Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A hunt was going on just a few meters from where Lizard crouched. The runner was a lean man with considerable speed. His hunter was almost the exact opposite: large, thick, delivering slow powerful strikes with a bludgeon.
It would be easier to steal from him.
Lizard stealthily positioned herself behind the lean one, aimed for the back of his narrow thigh, and pressed the trigger, releasing a silent but powerful laser. He howled and reeled in pain, giving his hunter the opening he needed to crush the left side of his skull.
This was Lizards chance.
Without hesitation, she sprang from her hiding place behind the debris of the territory wreckage and lasered the victor in the neck. The shock gave her enough time to collect his bounty, and escape deep into the ruins where he couldn’t find her.
She didn’t even need to use her trench knife this time.
A high pitched jingle echoed across the sky, announcing an upcoming message.
Lizard didn’t flinch. There was always something new going on: player events, competitions, new weapons and systems for game play, and she didn’t care a lick about a single one of them. She wasn’t here to play in tournaments. Actually, she wasn’t here for any reason at all except to be Lizard. Lizard the Rogue, Lizard the Scavenger.
She counted her stolen points as a moderator with a boisterous voice spoke with way more enthusiasm than necessary.
“Gooooood afternoon Green Hunt and Red Eden! We’ve got some exciting news for you!”
A second voice with slightly less fake enthusiasm answered, “Thaats right and I speak for all the moderators of Red Eden when I say: It’s about damn time!”
They chuckled, dryly.
“So! Who’s gonna drop the big news?”
“I don’t know, how about you?”
Lizard rolled her yellow eyes.
They flirted and giggled a bit, (which Lizard found quite irksome) before finally saying in unison:
“After 65,000 years, players of Gold Week can finally have biological children! We’d like to officially announce: Eve’s Kiss!”
The less excited voice said, “ But, Eve’s Kiss is only available to Red Eden players.”
“That's even more reason for you Green Hunters to get those points up and buy a ticket to paradise!”
“And! To celebrate the release of Eve’s Kiss, the moderators of Green Hunt are starting a 30 day player event:”
In unison: “ Angels and Demons!”
“For more information, check your e-box! We’ve got all the cool details, instruction on how to use Eve’s Kiss, and a full map of the Angels & Demons grounds, before the event even starts!”
Lizard rolled her yellow eyes again. Only players who bought tickets to Red Eden got e-boxes. Everyone else, including her, would have to go into this player event blind. And these events were more often than not, dangerous.
But also very profitable if you killed the right people.
Lizard stretched her long arms until her shoulders popped. She’d become sore from crouching for so long, then again from sitting on rubble, and there was no reason to keep hiding in here. The hunter probably gave up on his own by now, and was probably distracted by the announcement.
Time to go home.
She opened her map and plotted the safest course, making sure she avoided wildlands and territories run by warring merchants. She hadn’t made enough in her most recent scavenging effort to buy the steambike she wanted and figured killing a few civilians on the way home might push her over that line without risking her life. Her scale armor would put them on alert, so she changed into a black cigarette pant, and a circular vinyl top that stuck out at each shoulder. The civilians in the nearest territory wore mostly robes, and loose clothing if she remembered right, so she’d have to ambush one and take their clothes if she didn’t want to raise suspicion. Easy.
Yet, the walk to the nearest territory felt uneasy, as if she was being watched. She could sense a thousand eyes, but when she looked around her, all she saw was red dust blowing in the wind, clinging to her clothes and tawny skin.
She climbed over the top corner of a sunken building, hid, and put on her heat frames. The world around her went black, except for the distant outline of several live bodies.
This didn’t make sense. No one ever came this way.
Lizard pulled out her mirror to see if her points were visible, but all she saw was herself grimacing at her own reflection with red dust in her hair and face. If her points were still hidden, there was no bounty on her, but there was no doubt about it: She was being hunted.
It was River’s favorite time of year. The trees molted and the warm winds carried their lovely leaves. Mauve, indigo, and lilac leaves swirled in the sky, shading the village from an unforgiving sun. Hiding them. It was one of the few time where it was safe enough for the village to put the tarp up and relax. Purple rays danced like party lights, the ground was green with life, and the field he’d saved up for for the past 52 years was finally ready to plow. He was feeling good, and just a bit cheeky.
The woman he had his eye on was working the brews today, the perfect chance to try to talk to her. Adults didn’t usually hook up with teens, but he figured, what the hell. If she turned him down for being too “young” he’d just laugh it off as a joke. If she went for it, then ... well, who knows.
He got in line behind two arguing children and wondered what he’d say.
The time came.
“What can I get you?” asked Nun in her sultry voice.
“Croak, please.” he answered.
A familiar jingle rang in the sky, and they paused to listen to the announcement.
Nun, stirring River’s drink, took in a deep breath.
“Are you scared of things like this?” asked River, under thin, unruly locs that shrouded his eyes.
“I’m just a bit nervous,” she admitted, her cool dark eyes widened by stress.
“I mean, considering.”
River shrank inside, he’d forgotten who he was talking to. She was a refugee recently escaped from a warring territory with a tyrant for a merchant, one of many. Before that, she’d survived a massacre from a couple of Red Eden players who came looking for money. How could he clean it up?
He grabbed her by the fingertips and caught her gaze, “The chance that somethings going to happen at this exact location is low.”
“I don’t know...” she murmured as she smoothly twisted her fingers back out of his grip.
He waited in awkward silence until she finished, took his drink, and went back to his seat.
At least his croak was good; gritty with just the right amount of salt. He let the thick gray mixture slide down his throat and cool his entire body, lied backward into the grass, and stared at the top of the tarp, where the bright orange plastic was tied to the pole. The same leaves that were currently sheltering them from view were also obstructing their view of the countdown. It wouldn’t become audible until ten seconds ‘til.
The villagers continued their activities as if nothing changed. They played games. They smoked. They laughed. They teased.
“Are you ready?” Nun asked, yelling over the usual noise.
River shrugged. They were in a civilian zone. As long as the field didn’t change, hunters would stay away, and where the hunters went, the scavengers went. They were already protected from their main danger. The chances of anything happening here was slim. But not impossible.
He had no idea what he’d do if something did happen. This event was sprung on them so suddenly, and no one around him had a clue what was going on.
His heart was starting to pound.
He started to notice the other villagers stir.
There was nothing but silence; no movement, no sound, as if time was halted entirely.
Three seconds passed. Wide eyes met more wide eyes, looking for reassurance in other faces.
Five seconds passed. River strained into forced laughter, breaking the silence.
He didn’t know why his heart had stopped. The chance of anything happening in this exact location was low, very low. Maybe a thousand to one. A few of the villagers began to chuckle along, and soon the tarp was filled with manic laughter, exhilarated by relief.
BOOM! a thunderous sound rattled Rivers brain, and shook the world around them. Shrill shrieks sent shivers down his spine until he shuddered. The children were screaming, using the defense mechanisms they’d bought, (the only advantage River could see to being a child.) Their cries were horrendous but it was keeping them protected for the time being.
Just the time being.
River scrambled to his bare feet, despite the quaking ground, and ran towards the horrible noise. He had to figure out what was going on, for the sake of the people around him. It was his duty, delegated to him by the merchant himself. He wasn’t exactly in favor of this decision, but Gatling knew River could survive anything, so he didn’t complain. He went, regardless of his own opinion on the matter: he wasn’t made for things like this.
His heart was pounding in his chest.
No No No NO! he thought. The quake was leading to a familiar location. His short, thin locs flailed behind him as he all but flew towards the location, tearing through the fresh foliage, leaving a fragrant yellow nectar on his calf's and feet. His panic escalated as his surroundings became closer and closer to his field.
The feeling in his narrow legs began to disappear as the noise sent vibrations through his entire body. He collapsed into the plants, disappearing into the rich green stalks and leaves, but not before he got close enough to see the horror in front of him.
The earth tore as if being stretched apart by hand, opening a scarlet chasm in the center of his own field. A horrible stench like sulfur and wet shit was released like a deep belch, assaulting River’s nose, mouth and eyes, making his vision blurry and his stomach turn.
River lie in the greenery, still as a rock, observing through watery eyes, ignoring his racing heartbeat. It started with one measly, monstrous hand: gnarled knuckles and twisted nails, clutching the rim of the canyon. Then several. As if on cue, the arms attached to those ugly hands began to drag hideous beings over the top: head, shoulders, waist, knees.
River gulped. Nervous sweat began to trickle down his umber skin, pooling at the tip of his chin. He had to find someway to warn the villagers, but he was so close his movements may be heard. He could end up leading the monsters right to them.
He scrawled backwards, hiding within the leaves as he did, giving himself a head-start.
He had to find Gatling.
Gatling was a short, stocky man, tougher than his size suggested. As a hunter, he was notorious for his brutality, as a merchant, he was soft. Too soft, in his villager’s perspective, but what could they do? Goods are bought with points, points are earned by killing, and if they wanted to keep food in their bellies and keep their civilian status at the same time, they had to do what he said. They could plant, trade, offer skills, but resources only stretched so far. Harboring those refugees was currently biting them in the ass, just like they always knew it would. Because of them, Gatling wasn’t even home when the event started. He was out hunting.
The village stayed huddled together in the corner of their land, to make the best use of the children’s cries. River and two men from the village were sent to find him. As soon as they walked out of the smooth curve of their lands, they’d have to face the steam pipes, six feet in diameter, unstable, and ready to blow hot air in your face at any point in time: one of several downsides to living in the shadow of Balbus, a developed, (yet violent) city-state. After that were the wildlands, and that was not the place to be with exposed points. River wasn’t ready to face that yet. When Gatling showed up on his own, his head popping out from a pipe like a meerkat out of it’s hole, he almost flipped for joy.
“Are you sure they’re violent?” asked Gatling, staring blankly in the direction of the chasm. River had wasted no time in telling him all that he’d learned about the player event, which he admitted, was not much. Gatlings chosen few sat in a tight circle, sipping Nun’s brew for bavery and stamina as they planned their next move.
“No. I didn’t engage them and I didn’t let myself be seen. I’m not sure what they are,” River said.
“And you don’t know how strong they are either.”
Gatling sighed, before giving up his seat on the floor.
The three moved to follow him but he waved them off.
“No Man, gather as many vital possessions as you can. Try to get a cooking slab for every five people at least. Don’t skip food and weapons either. Lily, get the villagers ready to start packing. The screams don’t protect against motion detection, so I’ll give off a signal when they’re distracted. River is going to scout ahead to make sure no one is standing on the other side waiting to kill anyone. He’ll toss a signal when it’s safe to approach.”
When, River thought, wincing at the idea that he was now responsible for not just reconnaissance, but for making a safe path for the villagers. His glitch prevented his health from deteriorating, it didn’t give him the stomach to fight. He was a pacifist for a reason. He had no idea how helpful he’d be if he actually had to fight someone, because, even though his body would snap back to normal regardless of all injuries, he was afraid.
He ran towards the closest exit, a series of caverns that the villagers could hide between in case of emergency, away from the city, but through the desert. Moss covered the place where his home and the caverns touched, as the humid, life giving air kissed its arid walls, gifting it with the color green. Once he’d checked each cavern and the exit into the dessert, he shook his flare ball and through it high into the air, where it exploded into bright orange flame. There, he sat and waited.
Lily and the villagers arrived sometime later, with their entire homes rolled into a sack on their backs. Some carried slabs over their shoulders, some, bags of grain and meat to dry.
“This isn’t a good place to set up camp” Lily said, in a hoarse voice, (presumably worn down by yelling at the other villagers.) “Too open. Anything in the sky can look right down on us.”
“It’s as good as we’re going to get. We can’t afford to cross into another territory without a merchant. We’ll be killed, or sold off,” said No Man, dryly.
“Still, this isn’t going to work for long.”
“There’s nothing for it. Just gotta wait till Gatling comes back.”
It was hard to accept, but Red Eden wasn’t exactly the paradise The Monster thought it would be. She didn’t get hungry or thirsty anymore, and she didn’t have to worry about someone trying to kill her, ( they couldn’t even try if they wanted to,) but her experience so far had been ... well, underwhelming.
She recalled the day she first bought her ticket and ascended into the Red Eden program. She was shivering with excitement, (or was it just cold?) taking in the deep sea scenery and marveling at it’s beauty, so enthralled by it that she didn’t even notice how long the line was. Now that same scenery kind of makes her sick. In the day time, the sky is deep navy, at night pitch black. The only light came from the fluorescent, candy-red coral, which made everything around it a kind of eerie, eye burning red. And then there was the water. The Monster absolutely could not stand the water. It was literally everywhere, sometimes on the floor like a never ending puddle, sometimes gelatinous, forming mounds and hills, sometimes it even jutted out of thin air, making fountains out of nothing, pouring upside down and in unnatural angles. Sometimes it was hot, sometimes it was freezing. Way too often it ran into her shack, so that she was perpetually wet. Inside or outside, there was no escape; she was always goddamn wet!
The entertainment box she was given on her first day in Red Eden was her only joy, even if all the channels were Green Hunt players. At the very least, it cast a blue glow instead of that heinous red one. She’d have to save up to buy a fish lamp for the sake of her own sanity. And some shoes, so at least her toes didn’t have to be so pruny.
At least the water was warm this night, as she kneeled on the wet ground, watching the channel Lizard with a few others. Their holograms filled her tiny home, making the space feel even more cramped.
“She realized it!” exclaimed a lean one, jumping out of her seat.
They all leaned forward, with excitement, waiting to see what Lizard was going to do next.
The rogue put her mirror away and kept walking as if nothing had changed, making use of her signature saunter.
“What is she doing?” asked a brown hologram, sounding quite concerned.
They all murmured and shrugged their ‘I don’t know’s,’ wondering when the fight would start.
One of Red Eden’s favorites was among the hunters that were currently stalking her, which made this an annoyingly high scale battle. Candy fans kept leaving little rude comments about Queen Lizard: “Kill that bitch!” “Fucking trash!” sending the Lizardites (as they’d cheesily named themselves) into a rage. But, they couldn’t deny, she was pretty awful.
Awful and free.
Lizard made it to town without event, dragged the first person she saw into an alley, and put the lazer to his eye to make him strip. She still gutted him afterwards, causing his entrails sag out for just a moment before his body dissipated. The Lizardites cheered, giggling at the sheer gruesomeness of their favorite Green Hunter. She collected all of his belongings, changed into his robes, and kept walking as if nothing happened at all. The Monster found herself howling along with them.
The comments from Candy fans got more and more vicous, the type of faux morality stuff that never ceased to get on The Monster’s nerves. If Candy was so heroic, she would’ve tried to save that civilian. No one was good. No one. Ever. Period.
In The Monster’s opinion, Lizard was using the ‘moral code’ that the hunters kept against them, cutting through civilian towns and safe zones. They’d have to stay too far to attack, even with a long range weapon.
“Looks like they’re going to meet her at her house, ” said Jooney, a male with buck teeth, his hologram sitting directly inside another.
What was she planning?
The sun began to sink behind the outline of distant ruins and tall, thriving city-states, touching the dunes with a warm, golden hue. Each step brought her closer to the battle they’d all been waiting for. Candy fans and Lizard fans alike went silent, no words neither spoken nor typed were said, and not a sound was made. The Monster’s shack went still, except for the echoing, never ending sound of the pitch-black outdoors, squeeking like a shoe skidding against a waxed floor.
She stopped suddenly, yards away from her home. Brown grass bent double by the force of the wind, bowing at her waste.
Without warning, a leather-bomb went crashing through her front window, thrown by Lizard herself. She sprinted to the right, towards the side door where two hunters errupted, their hair and skin ablaze. Lizard wasted no time in cutting them open with her trench knives, before they had a chance to recover.
The Lizardites cheered in time with each ruthless slice.
“Two at once!” guffawed Rake, a particularly zealous fan.
“How many died in the house?” asked another.
The Monster looked for Candy amongst the hunters but she was nowhere to be seen. It would be deliciously anti-climatic if the big shot hero was killed so early in the hunt.
“I don’t know, how many did they start with?”
The grass became tinder for a flame that the wind would probably carry for miles.
Lizard activated a glider and raced towards the glass forest. The Monster recognized the model: a single use prototype that the players were given for an event three years ago, the same one that got her addicted to flying. She squealed obnoxiously, enjoying the false sense of likeness.
“Seven. And what got you so happy?”
A third burst through the back window and ascended into the sky, another ran straight through the fire. Possibly wearing flameproof armor.
Lizard opened her mirror as she flew towards the remains of a city destroyed by lightning users. Glass protruded high into the sky, where lightning once struck the sand. There was barely enough space between them to move freely.
“What’s she planning?” asked Bongo, the other.
The flier fired lasers, forcing Lizard to dodge and weave, using her mirror to see behind her. Stray beams struck the glass forest, causing the twisting towers to shatter into many pieces. Flaming arrows struck the bottom of her glider, gifts from the fireproof hunter. It soon became mushy, softened by the heat. Before long it was flying crooked and sticking to Lizard’s feet.
She threw off her stolen robes, momentarily obstructing the fliers view, and dove for the glass forest, landing somewhere in the middle of the first tower, and swinging and sliding her way from form to form deeper into the ruins.
In the glass forest there were several of her, but they conformed to the shape of each tower, making her exact location impossible to see. With her signature scale armor up, covering her from the top of her head to the soles of her feet, she was a abstract line of deep green, dancing and stretching in time with each of her movements, and she never stopped moving.
The flier fired a laser at her colors, but it shattered a glass form instead. For a brief moment, The Monster became ensnared by the spiraling glass shards, like translucent bits of concrete, wood, a finger...
He followed her in, but she was much more nimble than he was, twisting and rolling from tower to tower with grace, speed and ease. He responded to this by smashing a glass tower with a wild punch, so the tower shattered in his face.
The Lizardites guffawed.
“What did he think was going to happen!?” laughed Rake.
“I hope it cut him up,” giggled The Monster.
The other hunters were beginning to catch up, the fire creeping behind them.
The Monster counted three hunters, including the fireproof one. The other two were running in something near an embrace, with a fabric shield draped around them. Lizard was now in the heart of the glass forest. There was no way they could ever catch up. This was over.
The Monster slid from her knees to her stomach. The water was just high enough to wet the front of her body.
In an instant, Lizards movements went from smooth and flowing to a sharp stop, a flash of gold became visible, and sparks went flying. She ducked and blocked, for no reason at all.
A stripe of red emerged from the deep green swirl, two chunks of gold lined the edge of her: her knives were drawn again.
“The fuck is going on?” asked Bongo.
“I think she’s bleeding.” The Monster answered, sitting back up.
“Somebody buy a zoomer.” Rake said, rather aggressively.
“I’m broke,” said Bongo, before The Monster had a chance to.
“Who has points to spare?”
No one answered.
Lizards movements became erratic, the gold was swinging, the red was spreading.
“Jam, everyone knows you’re rich. Buy a zoomer and add us on it,” Rake demanded, sounding more distressed than threatening.
“I was saving up for a fish lamp-”
“You don’t even need that though,” The Monster chimed in.
“Please?” asked Bongo, politely.
She sighed, “Ok, hold on.”
The Monster held her breathe, watching what looked like legs jutting outward repeatedly... kicking? A tiny mist of red popped out of the air where the feet never touched.
A transparent ring filled the screen. The zoomer was loading.
Lizard returned to her fluid motions, without putting away her weapons. The Monster found her face inches from the holographic display. Something was going to happen soon. Each rotation the ring made struck The Monster’s nerves. Why couldn’t it load faster?
“Bow!” exclaimed Knight, who was usually rather quiet, “It’s up!”
“Finally! Get us closer,” Rake said, his hologram now standing.
“Damn! Give me a chance! I haven’t even used this before.”
The other hunters were closing in on her bit by bit.
After zooming several times in the wrong direction, Jam got the screen close enough to see Lizard more clearly than they ever could before. The fans swooned.
Lizard was fighting what looked like a floating splash of blood.
The Monster sucked her teeth, disappointed that she’d missed the first part of the fight. Lizard was already on the offensive, using her familiarity with her surrounding to her advantage, forcing the hunter to slip and back into the glass. In what was obviously a final, desperate attempt, the cloaked hunter smashed the glass beside them, causing it to shatter.
The Lizard swung away and ducked behind another tower as the glass flew. The Monster noticed a blot of red, reflecting in the tower in front of her and shrieked without realizing. Lizard noticed it too and slipped away just in time, used inertia to spin back around and dug her knife deep inches from the blood splot. The cloak deactivated, revealing Candy, the fake hero. Lizard pulled the knife out of her face and dug it back into her throat, tearing it open the long way.
“This is why she lead them here...”
Lizard moved to steal the cloaking device off her body as she lay there sputtering. Then, an arrow burst upwards through Lizard’s left eye, from behind her skull.
The screen went totally black.
“What happened? Who-”
“Is she dead?”
“Is she dead?”
Is she dead?