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At the Heart of the Night

Written by Furlough :: [Monday, 28 October 2019 00:00] Last updated by :: [Tuesday, 29 October 2019 19:03]

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At the Heart of the Night

by Furlough

All within the room looked on with a sense of uneasy anticipation as the small craft's door opened.

If asked, none of them would be able to give a very thorough or convincing account of what they were doing there. They knew very little about the affair. All except one. She had been the one to bring them there, after all. But beyond her influence and their own expertise, there was very little in common between them. There was only one there who had even known of her before that affair— the only way she had managed to bring the rest of them together was by pulling quite a few strings and throwing a generous quantity of money around. Money that, the others could tell once they responded to her summons, was apparently very abundant to her.

But their thoughts of uncertainty were interrupted as the craft's occupants finally emerged from within. The three quickly lined up next to each other, clad in suits made of white, padded baggy material and helmets glazed over with an opaque, reflective visor that concealed their bodies and faces completely.

Some of the staff began to step forward, perhaps intent on checking on them, but she stopped them with a yell and a wave of her hand. Instead, she was the one who stepped forth, having previously occupied one of the back corners of the room, even as the craft had finally begun opening. The skin beside her eyes was slightly contracted and wrinkled, leaving those who could see her to assume that she was smiling, though her nose and mouth were concealed by a rather conspicuous apparatus, looking rather like a compact breathing mask. It raised questions in the other the moment they saw it, but they did not even have a chance to articulate them before a hostile hissing noise suddenly began filling the room, quietly at first, then growing louder as the streams of opaque fog became clearer to see.

Some of those present understood what was going on at once, and made a panicked run for the door. Exit was, of course, impossible, in spite of the efforts made by several of them to knock it down. Though their combined efforts were prodigious at first, it soon became clear that whatever gas had begun to fill the room was quickly sapping their strength and putting them in a defenseless, unconscious state. Rather more surprisingly, what some of them managed to glimpse before they were taken by such a sense of unconsciousness was a very curious sight; that of the masked woman brandishing a small, electronic device from her clothing and activating it to produce a loud, buzzing sound. Even more curious was how the craft's former occupants reacted to that sound, losing their composure and collapsing within seconds.

By then, nearly all except the woman had been rendered completely unfit to remain standing by the gas, but the few that remained did not cherish their position, as they saw the woman approach one of the craft's former occupants and remove their helmet. What they saw underneath inspired a sense of awed terror and disbelief at once, emotions which were reflected on their face as their minds were finally lost to oblivion. But such emotions were only magnified by those who chanced to turn and see the woman once more just before this occurred.

There was no room for doubt left. She was, in fact, smiling.

- - -

She awoke not quite with a start, but certainly feeling as if she had transitioned from unconsciousness to wakefulness far more abruptly than was usually the case for her, and apparently without the need for a startle. She suddenly found herself lying there, staring at an unfamiliar ceiling, with the feeling of an unfamiliar bed underneath her, and almost completely certain she was in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by a dry, acrid smell and an oppressive near-complete silence. The only thing she could consistently divine off in the distance was the vague sound of what she guessed to be animals— frogs croaking, insects chirping, and the very faint rustle of the wind brushing against the ground.

Making a small effort to sit up, her unfortunate suspicions were confirmed. She had absolutely no idea where she now found herself, only that it appeared to be something like an open bedding room for patients like you'd see at a clinic. The room was considerably wide, with a few rows of hospital beds and stretchers strewn throughout it, though a quick inspection revealed that the one she was lying on seemed to be the only occupied one. The room was otherwise completely empty, and dark as well— it seemed to be the middle of the night, though she suspected that it had only been a little while since dusk had fallen.

That left her wondering back for a second, about where she could possibly be, and how she could have possibly ended up here. She remembered that she had gone out for a drive, being on her way back home from some stuff she had been doing in town. She vaguely recalled passing through a slightly wooded road on the way, though after that, her memory was entirely blank. Had something happened then? Had she been jumped, and brought here, to this clinic, to recover by somebody? If so, why did this place look so empty and dilapidated? Just how much time had passed since then, exactly?

All of these questions continued to assault her mind and fill her with a sense of fear and uncertainty, but as she motioned to get up, she curiously noted how the same couldn't really be said of her body, at least for the most part. As she shuffled to the side and made a quick hop off the bed's surface, she noted how her body didn't seem to be in any pain, or even feel the slightest bit sore or tired. She examined herself superficially for any kind of pain or injury, and managed to find absolutely nothing. In fact, she could have sworn that she felt noticeably better than she usually did on any given day of her typical routine.

That made even less sense. If she had been in an accident, or anything that warranted that she be brought to a convalescent state, surely she must have been injured somehow. But absolutely nothing that she could see, feel or perceive betrayed any kind of hurt that had befallen her. The whole affair only grew more confusing the more she learned and thought about it. She decided she needed answers, and figured that if there was going to be any way of getting them, they would have to come from someone else. Presumably, whoever had brought her there. With an uneasy but firm step, she resolved to walk towards the door, trying to find her way out of the clinic.

The series of hallways she exited out onto were just as dark, unkempt and empty as the room she had woken up in. There was absolutely not a soul to be seen, not a single sign of life save for herself, and no indication that any of these facilities had been used anytime in the recent past. She tried calling out for help, or just to find out if there was anybody around who could answer, but received no response. She tried opening a few more of the doors that she came across, but other than the one she had emerged from, all of them seemed to be locked. After a few minutes of wandering, she came to what appeared to be a kind of front desk, though this room was in the worst condition of all, with a large, gaping open space left in its very exterior where there appeared to be frames for several doors or panels, structures which were now all gone if they had, in fact, been there at all. Beyond, she could see somethign that partially confirmed the suspicions her senses had planted within her as she heard the distant sounds that could reach the bed she had awoken in: Outside, she could see a simple dirt road leading away from the building, surrounded by what seemed to be thick woods every which way.

The things her exploration had revealed to her did little to assuage her questions and that which she was wondering. She stood there, contemplating the horizon beyond the building's exterior, noting that it seemed as though the moon was not terribly high upon the heavens quite yet, indicating that the complete darkness which filled the rest of the sky could indeed not have fallen until just a little while ago. Another look at that which lay below the moonlight on the ground level did not reveal much more to her, save for one thing that she had failed to notice before— a very faint movement that she could notice at the base of some of the trees that lay just beside the dirt road not very far from the hospital's entrance.

Driven by a sense of curiosity, as well as just a desire to learn anything more about where she was, she gingerly began approaching the mass of darkness that she suspected to have caught her attention just a moment earlier. No further signs of anything being there were revealed to her as she approached, stepping underneath the moonlight herself until she was standing right beside the suspicious spot. She looked down upon the dark, inscrutable ground beneath her, having all but abandoned the notion that she had truly seen something moving there, as she slowly began to stretch an arm forward so she could at least give herself some sort of confirmation.

The confirmation came in a rather unexpected way. A new movement did indeed come from the spot she had approached, but not one that filled her with any desire to chase it. Instead, a pair of suddenly very visible, glinting eyes turned to look at her from the dark, quickly followed by a low growling sound. Her eyes grew wide, but before she could have any further reaction, she found herself jumped by some kind of feral animal, one which she guessed to be a cougar based on the noises it made.

Screaming, she first felt the very unpleasant feeling of sharp claws tearing against her skin, drawing blood from her exposed face, but she then saw that she had managed to back off quickly enough to avoid the animal's immediate reach. She hoped that the creature would be content to just run away at that point, but as she raised her gaze back upon the road, she could see to her terror that the animal was in fact standing its ground against her, sizing her up as it prepared to strike again.

She slowly began to step back, quickly finding herself under the building's roof once more, but the animal continued to follow her all the while. Soon, she found herself with her back against a wall, her mind far too muddled with terror to come up with a plan for escape. The feral creature stopped, sensing it had cornered its prey. Baring its fangs more fiercely and with a renewed growl, she saw the animal crouch as it readied itself to pounce once more.

She could barely perceive it, but at that moment, it seemed to her that she could observe the animal's movement with a sense of clarity that she had definitely not experienced when it had first attacked her. It was almost as if she could tell precisely what was going to happen, like a physicist that had been given precise figures and formulas to calculate an object's trajectory. This sensation surprised her momentarily, but her survival instinct did not allow to become too distracting— though that did not stop what happened next from surprising her.

With a loud yelp, she quickly dashed out of the way as the animal suddenly sprung up at her, moving away from its path with lightning-fast speed and causing the animal to hit its body against the wall. Breathing heavily, the woman could not believe what she had just done. She had never been particularly good at any kind of sports, or physical activity, yet here she was, having just dodged a cougar's blink-and-you'll-miss-it strike with nothing but her own senses. And how had she managed to get out of the way so quickly, and without stumbling? She didn't even truly believe she had thought about it— it had just happened.

Her questions were only multiplied by this development, but something unexpected that accompanied it was a sensation of being emboldened by her newfound, inexplicable physical prowess. She figured that if she could wake up from some kind of accident with no visible injuries to show for it, and if she could dodge a wild cougar's attack without even thinking about it, there was no reason for her to lie down and accept her death against such a threat as this. Furrowing her brow, the woman herself crouched next, determined to respond to the wild animal's next move in a different way.

By then, the cougar had messily picked itself back up from its failed strike and was eyeing its intended victim from the darkness of the empty hall once more. Its growling had gotten a bit louder, as though some of its predatorial confidence had been eroded. Noticing this, she became further determined to show the beast that she had no intention of getting slashed up and eaten that night.

Less dramatically, perhaps intent on surprising her, the cougar lunged at her once more with a slightly weaker leap. This was the opening she had been waiting for; acting on little more than instinct, she moved her entire body to avoid the cougar's claws and fangs, but managed to stretch out her arms and grab a hold of its legs, gripping its thighs and shoulders and somehow bunching up its two back legs and its two front legs at once, two in each hand. In a motion that had seemingly remained uninterrupted since her initial dodge, she threw the animal with surprising strength out out the building, towards the dirt road and the woods, where its body hit the ground with an audible thud. The next moment, the cougar yelped, screaming like an angry cat, before seemingly giving up as it sprinted off away from her, towards the distance.

That had been a surprising spectacle indeed— especially to her. How could she have ever conceived that she would ever be capable of such feats without having undergone any kind of training or apparent change within her body? In a way, her newfound reflexes —which she hesitated to term as 'superhuman', though the term definitely came to mind— filled her with a rush of confidence and excitement, but that was more than a little dashed by how it emphasized the fact that she still had no answers for how she had come to that state, or precisely what kind of situation she was in. Even if she somehow managed to find her own way back home, how could she explain such a sudden, unexplained change in herself? Would she be able to hide it? Would she want to? But just as her confused thoughts began heading for a fever pitch, they were interrupted by the last thing she had been expecting to hear within that dilapidated hall.

"Psst! Hey, you! Over here!"

She nearly jumped at the sound of that voice. Another woman's voice, she could tell, though she had no idea where it had come from. There certainly wasn't anybody else around that she could see— and now that she focused more on it, she realized that she could see in the dark, unlit interiors of the hospital building far more clearly than she should plausibly be able to.

"Here, by the door!"

With a bit more clarity this time, she focused on the direction of the voice's source, and managed to indeed make out a door just beside a sort of plastic desk centered against the room's inner wall. The door seemed solid and sturdy, though it had a small slot around the middle, almost resembling the kind of old-fashioned mail slot she had seen on some doors back home. Gingerly, she approached the door, guessing that if there was going to be any way to find out what was really going on, another living person was the best place to start.

"Hello?" She finally called out.

"There you are!" The voice replied in a relieved tone. "I caught a bit of what just happened out there. Nasty business. Are you okay?"

"Y-yeah, I'm fine, but…" She didn't know how she felt about the fact that somebody else had just witnessed what she had just done, or that she didn't seem particularly bothered or surprised by it. "But, just who are you? And where are we? I have no idea where this is, or how I've ended up here…"

"Oh dear…" the other voice responded. "If that's what it looks like to you, I'm afraid I can't help you an awful lot. The illness does strange things to people. Were that I could help you further, but I really can't leave this place, or even let you in. Quarantine, and all that."

"Quarantine?" She asked, her nerves suddenly growing considerably more frayed. "Illness? What-what are you talking about?"

"Why don't we slow down for a moment, that'll be the best thing to do. My name's Lenore, dear. Dr. Lenore Maslovic. What's yours?"

"Heather," she replied. "Heather Whipple. But… seriously, can't you even tell me where we are?"

"That, I cannot just now, my dear," Lenore replied, "not without taking an unnecessary risks, that is. The illness can affect people's minds, people's memories, in rather unfortunate ways. Although you certainly seem to have your wits about you… though the fact that you're not even sure where you are certainly brings even that into question. Hmm… I'll tell you what, you'd better take this for now."

A moment after Lenore was done speaking, a small plastic vial, about the size of Heather's thumb, slipped out through the slot on the door and hit the floor with a dull clinking noise, rolling along it for a couple seconds. Heather looked down at it before picking it up curiously. The material was opaque, she couldn't tell what was inside, but she gingerly began unscrewing the top part of it, which came off easily enough, then took a whiff of the contents. They smelled vaguely like some kind of medication.

"What is this stuff?" She asked.

"Something that should help you out," Lenore replied through the door. "It's not the sort of thing I would recommend to my patients at the best of times, but… well, that's not what this is. Go on, take it."

Heather wasn't sure whether she really trusted that strange woman, who wouldn't give her straight answers or even show any part of herself other than her voice, but she was also painfully aware that her voice was the closest thing to a friendly face she had seen so far in this bizarre location. Reluctantly, Heather put the vial up to her lips and began drinking.

The taste was even more unfamiliar to her, certainly unliked any medicine she'd ever tasted. But once the initial feeling of nausea the unfamiliar, acrid tastising thick liquid brought with it had passed, Heather could not deny that whatever that substance was, it did indeed seem to be having a positive effect upon her body. Within a minute after she had finished downing it, Heather could certainly assert that she felt more energized and alert that she had been even upon awakening in that dark room a while back.

"What… what was that?" She repeated, now even more eager to try and learn the answer.

"I told you," Lenore replied, "something to help you. Rather an unorthodox solution, but… these are unorthodox times."

"Alright, fine," Heather conceded, convinced that she wasn't going to be able to get a straight answer out of the mysterious woman. "But come on, what else can you tell me?"

"Like I said, not an awful lot more. I'm afraid I really can't risk messing with the state of your mind or your memories until I have some kind of assurance that they've grown more stable." There was silence for a few moments. "Although, maybe…"

"Yes?" Heather perked up, eager to learn about any kind of answers she could be offered, though also because her newfound energy was quickly making her anxious to do something.

"Perhaps, if you approached the others, that process could be hurried along… consdierably," the woman articulated, seemingly with some reluctance in her voice. "Although I believe that in their current state, they might be somewhat… unwelcoming."

"What others?"

"Well, truth be told, there's not much to it but to let you go and see for yourself," Lenore offered. "Go and follow the dirt road for a short while. You'll come upon the centre of the complex. They should be gathered around there. Maybe you'll be able to get something out of them, though I have a few doubts about that. It's worth a try though. But like I said… be careful."

Heather remained frustrated with how vague the mysterious woman was being, but figured that being hostile towards her wouldn't help anything. Besides, she figured that if there really was anybody else around, maybe they'd be more willing to part with answers than the only other person she had found so far. Heather silently conceded with her strange request, deciding that it was probably the best thing to do at this point after all— though the way she was talking about an 'illness' and how it apparently affected the minds of others filled her with an underlying sense of dread as to what exactly she mind end up finding in her search for answers.

"And don't forget," Lenore interrupted just as Heather was getting ready to turn around and set out, "it seems like the illness has affected you as well, somehow. It's an unpredictable affair. It may have changed your physiology in… surprising ways, ways that you may not be aware of just yet. In a strictly utilitarian sense, I would urge you to experiment with them. It may make all the difference out there. Now, good luck!"

Heather could hear the faint sound of footsteps, which quickly grew quieter, figuring that Lenore had abandoned her post at the door and retreated into some deeper part of the building. No matter, she thought, she doubted she would have been able to get anything more out of her.

Her parting words did fill her with a strange sense of curiosity about herself, however. Heather could definitely perceive something that had changed within her— her inexplicable, newfound physical prowess. She wondered if that had somehow been helped along by the mysterious substance that Lenore had just fed her. Thinking back upon that factor, Heather took a second to revel in the just as inscrutable surge in energy that consuming said substance had afforded her— and how it could perhaps be synergized with her sudden new abilities.

Thinking back to the cougar she had somehow found the strength and reflexes to fight off with her bare hands, Heather gingerly eyeballed the dirt road heading away from the building. It stretched out towards the horizon for a short distance, but veered off to the left, with the dense forest surrounding it on both sides making it impossible to see what lay beyond the curve. Still, the visible distance was long enough that Heather felt encouraged to proceed with the little project her mind had just hatched.

Standing right at the point where the paved front entrance of the hospital building gave way to the mostly untamed ground of the dirt road and the forest, Heather crouched and readied herself much as the cougar had done when it prepared to pounce. In just a moment, Heather set off on a run down the dirt road, moving along the path at a speed she knew to be much, much faster than any she had ever achieved before in her life. As she neared the curve that rendered the rest of the path invisible, her seemingly vastly improved reflexes and motor skills led her to veer off to the side and keep on following the path without so much as slowing down. She could perceive faint traces of movement among the trees at each side of her, perhaps other wild animals— but she knew that none of them would even have a chance to notice or interfere with her sprint, she was going so fast. In a matter of minutes, she could have sworn she had already run a mile or two.

Eventually, she came to a stop in a kind of clearing on what appeared to be a hilltop, which afforded her a pretty good view of what lay ahead of her, as well as the part of the forest that concealed the path she had already taken from the hospital building. She took a few deep breaths to enjoy the night air, but found that even after that run, which should have been far more straining than anything she could recall, she hardly felt tired at all. Her legs did not feel sore, nor did any other part of her that should have felt strained by that exercise. Once more, she took a moment to marvel at her vastly improved physical condition, while still puzzled by the fact that she didn’t seem outwardly different in any way.

Her mind turned from wonderment to puzzlement once more as she took a brief look back at the hospital building she had come from. Much to her surprise, she observed that far from being the austere structure it appeared to be from what little of the inside she had seen, its central portion stretched upwards into the sky for what must have been 20 storeys or so. Was that where Lenore was hiding now? And just what was going on in that building, that mysterious hospital that was apparently placed in the middle of the forest, with the nearest sign of civilization not even being visible from the entrance?

But next, Heather turned her gaze back to the front, to what appeared to be the end of the forest road she had been following from the hospital. From her new vantage point, she could now catch sight of a cluster of modern-looking buildings within a more solidly paved area, like a rather modest collection of city blocks, though she also caught sight of a larger, more antiquated-looking building in the middle of the whole thing. It looked to be some kind of small cathedral built in the Gothic style, standing out like a sore thumb amid all the other buildings which sported a more modern, boring and utilitarian appearance.

What’s more, Heather focused her vision amid these buildings and began to perceive what she could identify as definite signs of movement, movement that seemed to be coming from figures that looked the right size and shape to be human. Heather’s excitement was magnified for a moment, only to then remember the lines Lenore had fer her about the mysterious illness that was apparently present in the area. Did that mean that these other people were like her? Or had they somehow been affected differently? Heather began to climb the rest of the path down the hill towards the complex, her desire for answers made hesitant by her sense of uncertainty. Once again, she could feel a clear sense of fear begin to pervade her very being.

Soon, Heather found herself walking the same streets she had been spying upon from above. The place was remarkably quiet and oppressively dark, without a single streetlamp or public lighting fixture to be seen anywhere. Had it not been for her own improved night vision, Heather knew that there was no way she would have been able to walk more than two steps without falling over forwards.

But right then, Heather's biggest concern was making contact with somebody, so she took on a brisk pace as she began scanning the streets to find any of the people she had glimpsed from the hill on the road. It only took her a couple minutes to finally come across somebody, a tall, lanky-looking fellow shuffling along the street, seemingly carrying something in his hands. There was no real indication of what he was doing out in a place like that, or where he was headed, if indeed he was headed anywhere. To Heather, it seemed as though he was merely wandering around in a mindless trance, something she was hopeless to explain and that certainly didn't inspire confidence within her. Still, she knew that she had to try something.

"Hello?" She spoke out.

The next moment, the man stopped moving. For the next few moments, he merely remained stationary, seemingly taking uneasy breaths in place, leaving Heather none the better for her trouble.

"Are you…" she resolved to speak again, "are you okay? I'd just like to talk with you for a second, if you don't mind."

Upon her uttering those words, the man slowly began to turn towards her, revealing what he was carrying in his hands. It was a sort of jury-rigged, crude instrument that appeared to have been made by attaching a woodworker's circular saw to the end of a sturdy wooden stick. The sight of it left Heather even more confused as to what purpose it could possibly serve, or why the man was carrying it around.

"You're…" the man suddenly begain speaking, albeit with a low, steely tone that certainly didn't help put Heather at ease. "You're not… what?"

"I'm… I'm sorry?" was all that Heather could offer in return.

"You're not one…" the man continued, speaking in a slurred voice, "one of them. You're more like… her. What has she… what has she done now? What has she done to us now?"

As the man continued to speak, he began to raise his voice more and more, and started walking with a shuffling gait slowly towards Heather, who began to back off slowly. Much to Heather's horror, she could sense the man's tone growing more hostile as his expression became tinted with rage the closer he got to her.

"She's done all this!" The man was shouting by now. "This is all her fault! And you're with her too! You're to blame! You have to leave!"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Heather responded, now being affected by a sense of desperation. "I don't even know where I am! Please, I really have no idea what's going on here! I swear!"

But the man had grown enraged beyond the point of reasoning. In a sudden, stumbling motion, he charged forward and lifted up his crude tool, making it clear he intended to use it as a weapon. However, his motions were clumsy enough that Heather, with her newly enhanced senses, had no trouble whatsoever avoiding his sudden assault. She moved back from his reach with remarkable speed, and the saw struck the pavement fruitlessly, leaving the man in an exasperated huff. Heather looked on in horror and frustration for a moment longer, but decided that there was no way she could allow the man to carry on with such a dangerous instrument if he intended to use it against her. Leaping forward with the speed of a beast at her own disposal, Heather grasped the handle of the weapon that was gripped between the man's hands and used her legs to try and kick him away.

However, it was at that time that her turn to be surprised came, as Heather found that releasing the man's grip from the weapon was going to be nowhere near as easy as she had hoped, even with her improved reflexes and strength. When she tried to pry him away with her legs, the man simply remained in place with a death grip over his weapon, revealing remarkable strength of his own.

Heather broke off the grapple with a huff. The man took a new swing at her, making it horizontal this time, but Heather was able to dodge it just as easily as she did the first. Once more, the man's sluggish motions made an opening for Heather to get in a jab of her own, but she now knew that a simple approach wasn't going to be effective.

Thinking quickly about how she could possibly disarm this madman, Heather decided to try a more drastic approach. Using all of her own strength, she took hold of the weapon's handle and tried to pry it not entirely from the man's grip, but downward. With a swift, energetic motion, she managed to direct a swipe of the weapon at the man's face, reminding her of the first swipe the cougar had taken at her own. A pained yelp was loosed onto the dark streets as the man cried out at the gash that had suddenly been made upon his face. Then, just as Heather had hoped, his hands suddenly released their grip from the weapon so that he could instead place them over his freshly made wound.

Her efforts having paid off, Heather quickly took hold of the weapon and tried to make off into the distance, but as she approached the street she had first walked down to approach the man, she could see a group of people with similar appearances that certainly hadn't been there before. They must have responded to all the noise the man was making, Heather thought, before realizing to her horror that they were all muttering things similar to what the man had been shouting at her. So much for finding somebody she could reason with.

Heather turned back to the man, who was now scowling at her with a look of utter scorn and rage. Gripping the improvised weapon she had wrested from his hands, Heather pointed it at him to try and keep him at bay, then set off as quickly as she could without dropping it in the opposite direction from the mob that had formed so suddenly. Perhaps if she hadn't encountered that man first, she might have entertained the notion that her newly enhanced physique would be able to keep even such a large crowd at bay, but if all of them were nearly as strong as the man had proven…

Heather soon realized that her best bet was to hide. She had no idea how many people were on her trail now, but she figured that pretty much her only hope of survival at that point would surely be to try and find another road to civilization and slink off quietly. She dreaded to think of what could happen if even one of those people managed to follow her out of there. But where was 'there', she still couldn't stop asking herself? And what the hell was happening to her— and from the looks of it, the rest of them? What was that bizarre illness that had apparently made them super human, but also messed with their minds and memories, if what Lenore had told her could be at all trusted? And what about what the words she had heard that man muttering— could they betray any indication of what was really going on? Who or what in the world had he been speaking about?

But Heather couldn't let such thoughts slow her down much, as she realized that the moment she had taken to collect herself around the corner had been enough to allow the mob to start catching up— and much to her horror, she could now see clearly that not all of them moved as sluggishly as the man. Some of them were beginining to sprint toward her with as much speed as she herself had displayed earlier. Panicking, she set off in the opposite direction once more, still being mindful to hang on to her weapon.

Now more than ever, Heather knew she had to think quickly. Where could she hide? But nothing she had seen of the complex from her vantage point up the hill brought anything to mind that could make a good hiding place. Nothing except, perhaps, for the church. It had to have been placed there for a reason, Heather thought. Maybe, even in their current state, that which the church symbolizes will be enough to slow down this mad crowd, or even get them to desist? The outcome was very much uncertain, just as much as everything else. But Heather soon realized that it was really her only option.

Identifying the church from the streets was not very difficult, as its spires rose up ostentatiously above the other nearby façades. It only took a minute of running for her to reach its front doors, which were fortunately open. Upon taking a few steps inside, Heather forced herself to stop and look back— there was indeed a small contingent of people running after her still, but their own pace seemed to slow as they approached the church's façade. Heather remained still for a moment as she looked back at her pursuers, who walked up to the church's doors, but didn't appear to want to cross them. Instead, they merely remained there, eyeing her with scorn and unease, until gradually a slightly larger group of them became gathered at that space. At that moment, some of them moved towards the sides of the entrance, where the outwardly-opening doors lay, and their purpose became clear to Heather in the space of a moment. Before she could react or move in the slightest, however, their intentions had been fulfilled— the doors were shut, leaving Heather sealed inside the darkness of the cathedral.

Once the thud of the shutting doors died down, Heather was left in nearly complete silence, wondering about the strangeness of the situation for a moment longer. She didn’t know exactly what to expect, but why would they lock her in a place like this after trying to kill her? Were they merely trying to contain her, or would they come back for her later? But that particular train of thought didn’t have the chance to go very far, as Heather turned to look back at the interior of the cathedral once more.

The brief glimpse she had gotten when she first ran in had betrayed nothing too remarkable. It was a large, open space with a high roof and a few pews scattered here and there, though they had been seemingly nearly all been pushed back and left lying near the walls. The place was certainly far darker than the exterior, and even with her enhanced vision, Heather hadn’t been able to make out anything but sheer darkness out of the architecture’s many nook and crannies. But what little pale light filtered in through the stained glass windows now afforded her a clear view of a silhouette that certainly hadn’t been present when she had first gone inside.

In the middle of the cathedral’s aisle, there now lay another figure, similarly human-sized, though hunched over forward, seemingly on all fours though with a raised head, that vaguely reminded Heather of the very wild animal she had faced down shortly after she had awakened. But this was no animal; upon closer inspection, Heather could tell that the shape was definitely human, with a long, scraggly head of hair cascading down from its scalp onto its sides. The limited amount of light also revealed that the figure bore a large, loose scrap of red cloth, like a scarf or a cape, over its back. Its general shape led Heather to want to assume it was female, though it was certainly bulkier than herself, or any of the other people she had seen outside.

The whole time she spent staring at the figure filled Heather with a rising sense of tension, though it certainly fuelled her curiosity to the point that she slowly began to approach. It only took a few steps for what Heather feared was inevitable to finally occur: With a low, animalistic rattle, the figure began moving towards her, stopping her dead in her tracks with fear.

Its movements were certainly inhuman, being far closer to a feral animal much like the cougar Heather had faced than anything a regular person would do. However, as the figure drew closer and closer, Heather could see that it was very much human, at least outwardly. A very quick, cursory inspection afforded to her by the limited amount of light coming into the church's interior revealed a feminine body wrapped in a strange mess of rags, seemingly left over from some kind of white coat as well as some humble cotton clothing that had been worn underneath, and though it looked like some of it had been ripped or torn off, it appeared as though some of it had burst open. Indeed, the parts that were missing revealed bare parts of the figure's body that bore some rather impressive musculature; her bare midsection had clearly visible ab muscles, its forearms and calves were equally impressive.

In a different context, Heather could have sworn that the creature now approaching her in the dark could have been made up to be a very successful fitness model, but that notion essentially evaporated completely once Heather caught a glimpse of the woman's face. Her mouth was contorted upwards into a sort of malevolent rictus, revealing a set of white teeth underneath a surprisingly alluring set of facial features, a visage and a body that could seduce anybody were it not consumed by the maddened, animalistic impulses that seemed to command the figure Heather then saw.

But Heather knew that there was precious little time left to size up the situation. The apparently insane woman had been approaching her slowly, deliberately, like a starving animal that had been suddenly given a fresh batch of prey to feast upon. Overjoyed at the circumstances, it had chosen to draw out and savour the moment, let the prey live for just long enough to let it know that it was up against odds it could not possibly hope to overcome.

Heather wasn't about to give up that easily, though, not after the close brushes with doom she had already had that night. Her attention momentarily turned back to the crude weapon she now held in her hands. Clenching her teeth and steeling herself, Heather tried to show no fear and stand her ground as the feral, monstrous woman moved closer and closer to her.

In just a few more moments, the terrifying figure was upon her, though rather than lunge and leap as the animal she had already faced that night had done, the monstrous woman quickly slinked closer to Heather and began to swipe at her with a rapid series of motions meant to scratch her with nails that Heather soon came to learn were far sharper than anything normal humans had ever come close to. Simple endurance was not going to be enough to overcome this foe, Heather soon figured. She needed a more aggressive approach.

Leaping back to distance herself from her attacker, Heather gingerly waited for her to approach once more. Sensing a feisty prey, the feral woman attempted to slink behind Heather's back before resuming her assault, but Heather was able to see this coming at the last moment. Driven by her resolve, Heather took a wide swing at the monstrous woman, striking her exposed abdominal muscles with the serrated teeth of her weapon.

A pained rattle echoed throughout the cathedral's interior as the beast-like woman recoiled in agony. Heather smiled to herself for a moment, feeling a moment of respite as she realized she had a chance against this nightmarish foe. But what she witnessed then left her with an enormous, unpleasant look of surprise upon her face.

As she looked on, the feral woman momentarily turned her gaze skyward and let out a terrifying cry, seeming almost like a banshee to Heather's ears. But as she did this, the woman's body seemed almost to vibrate as Heather felt something else, something mysterious and alien, begin to emanate from it. It wasn't something she could really see, but she could certainly feel it acting upon herself, leaving her with a faint sensation of pain or lethargy. It was the first time since she had awakened that Heather had felt any kind of sensation like that— and she dreaded the fact that she had to cope with it at such a crucial moment.

But the monstrous woman didn't appear to be negatively affected by it at all. She continued to exude the bizarre sensation that was quickly enveloping Heather as she once more began to slowly approach her intended victim. As she drew nearer, it seemed to Heather as if the strange influence that the woman's body had suddenly come to produce got stronger and stronger.

Heather knew that if she wanted any chance of getting out of this encounter alive, she would have to come up with a way to neutralize her foe completely, and fast. Her mind raced as she tried to come up with something. She thought about the couple of swings that the woman had tried to take at her. At that moment, it seemed to her that her foe had hesitated for just a moment, perhaps bearing some of the same sluggishness that was affecting the first madman she had encountered out in the street. Something of a long shot, but at that point it was do or die.

Heather leapt back, putting as much distance between herself and her adversary as she could. Soon, she was once more cornered against a wall, though one that was riddled with turned-over pews and chairs. Across from her, the monstrous woman that was seemingly lusting after her blood continued to approach her with slow, deliberate motions, anticipating the moment when she would attack once more.

As the woman was nearly upon her, Heather mustered up as much of her strength as she had left within her, lifting up one of the heavy pews on the ground slightly, just enough that it was no longer touching the floor. Just a few moments more, and the monstrous woman's frame rose up to take one more series of swipes at Heather, an attack that would have the potential to disable her for good. But just as she readied to do so, Heather's preternatural strength suddenly swung the heavy pew towards her, knocking her back towards the other side of the cathedral with incredible force.

The feral woman' back hit the opposite wall, and she was momentarily left helplessly flailing around on the ground. Seeing her one and only opening, Heather quickly leapt into action, grabbing hold of her weapon once more and jumping to administer a series of decisive, devastating blows of her own onto her opponent's body. Flecks of blood flew upward as she did so, staining Heather's own face and body, though she remained undistracted by this until the monstrous-looking woman on the ground finally grew quiet and motionless, revealing that the last of her life had left her.

Heather was still feeling weakened and sore from the strange force that the woman had summoned up to use against her, but she could feel it dying down now, as her strength was slowly returning. Taking slow, deep breaths to try and recover her cool, Heather took one last look at the face of the mysterious, feral woman who had attacked her so suddenly, and whom she had to assume the other locals were terrified of, for why else should they seek to lock her, their admittedly inexplicable mortal enemy, in a church with her? But the more she looked, the more she realized the tragedy of what she was facing. She really was beautiful in her own right. Heather could tell that she would have been a total knockout among anyone who was into muslce girls if she had the right attitude. But how was it that she had ended up like that, in such a monstrous, feral state? Had it been because of the same 'illness' that had apparently affected Heather herself? Was she going to end up like that, too?

But Heather soon found herself dealing with a new, unpleasant observation: The blood covering her own body, her face, her hands. The hands that Heather suddenly found herself staring at far more intently than she ever expected to. Her mind was suddenly assaulted by a bizarre urge; she did not know if it came from the sudden bout of weakness she had come to experience, or a more abstract sense of hunger, but that was precisely what it felt like: Hunger. Staring at the blood staining her own hands, Heather found herself steadily assaulted by an urge to consume.

Unable to stop herself, Heather thrust her own, bloodstained fingers into her mouth, licking and slurping off as much of the life-giving fluid as she could manage. It was not something she revelled in; indeed, she had been mentally fighting it as even then she found it disgusting. But the sensation she felt in the moments after she was done was anything but. More suddenly than she was prepared for, she found herself suddenly experiencing the same surge of energy she had felt back at the hospital building upon drinking the mysterious substance that Lenore had handed her. As she continued to thinking about it, she realized it far more clearly; it had been the same taste, the same texture. Had Lenore fed her blood? Was it this same kind of blood? Had it come from this woman— or from somebody else out in the complex? Just what the hell was her game, her role in all this?

Heather took a few more steps into the church to try and distract herself from the unpleasant thoughts that had suddenly begun to invade her mind. She decided to take a look at the altar that stood at he far end of the aisle. Heather wasn't nearly knowledgeable enough in religion to try and figure out precisely what faith this church had been meant to cater to, but she did catch sight of something that appeared remarkably out of place back there. Upon the altar, amid a morass of ruined and overturned furniture and decorative effects, there lay a curiously pristine shiny plastic box that didn't look as if it had ever been touched, so spotless was its surface.

Catching Heather's attention at once, she approached the conspicuous object and picked it up, almost expecting some kind of dramatic change to the environment once she did so. But no such change came, and Heather saw herself compelled to open the box and figure out what exactly its contents were. Within, she discovered a single sheet of paper encased in mica, seemingly to protect against wear. On it, a vague message was written, though one that renewed Heather's sense of hope of making sense of the bizarre situation she had found herself in:

"If you found this, that probably means you weren't caught up in this from the beginning. You're the best chance we got. Wait for nightfall and follow the moon eastward into the woods, up until you're almost at the lake's edge. Search for the ruins there, you will be guided. If you find her there, you may be able to put a stop to all this."

Heather found herself smiling a relieved smile for the first time in what felt like forever. The strange document raised more questions that answers, it felt like, but at least it gave her some semblance of hope for more answers, hope for an actual explanation for what the hell was going on. But first, Heather had to make her way out of this place and towards the forest.

Returning to the cathedral’s entrance, Heather made use of her newly renewed strength to try and push the enormous doors open. The wood budged slowly, creating a loud, creaking noise, though as Heather looked outside she could tell that the crowd that had been chasing her had dispersed. She wondered whether they’d be back anytime soon, as they surely must have known that they had awakened the monstrous woman in the church. Heather carefully stepped out onto the street, and indeed found herself alone. Keeping her head down, Heather looked up at the sky; though the moon was much higher upon it at this point, it hadn’t quite reached its apex, letting Heather discern which direction was east. Following the pale white satellite, Heather quietly headed off, soon leaving the small group of buildings behind and heading into the thick woods which seemed to go on for miles and miles around.

- - -

Taking on a brisk pace, Heather did her best to keep her direction strictly eastward as she travelled underneath the deep foliage. Had this been the first sight she had to deal with that night, she likely would have proceeded with a more restrained, subdued sense of dread and mystery. But after the ordeals she had already faced, she did not let the sight or inhospitability of the dark forest affect her. She merely proceeded onward at a steady pace, determined to ignore anything that would keep her from her destination short of another wild animal attack.

But her eyes gradually betrayed the presence of something else nearby, something that she fancied to be just as unnatural as the situation she had been placed in. Every so often, Heather could swear that her peripheral vision was capturing the sight of something like a human figure, though one that seemed much taller and thinner than a regular human— and seemed to be emitting a faint glow on top of that. But whenever she gave in to her sense of tension and curiosity and turned to give the figure a closer look, it completely vanished from her perception. Still, it seemed to her that these strange, momentary visions only occurred when she looked in certain directions, away from where her wandering ended up taking her.

She had been walking through the woods for what seemed like hours when she finally emerged out onto a grassy cliff that overlooked a vast lake, marking the forests’s edge. The moonlit reflection on the water’s surface let Heather know that the stroke of midnight had come. Still, the note had instructed her to search for someone in some kind of ruins. Heather wondered what precisely that could refer to, as she failed to see any kind of structure around her, or anywhere along what she could see of the lake’s shore.

As if in answer to her thoughts, Heather suddenly found her mind assaulted by a sharp, piercing pained sensation, like a sudden onset of migraine. The sudden discomfort caused her to put her head down for a second with a groan, but as she slowly raised it again, looking back towards the woods, she caught sight of a very clearly visible figure off in the distance, of the same kind she had been glimpsing throughout her entire walk— except this time, she was staring straight at it, and it refused to vanish from her gaze. Half-dazed, she slowly began to stumble towards it, but suddenly found the ground below her feet giving way as she fell down into what seemed to be a dark cave.

Heather felt mildly sore from her fall, but figured that it would feel far worse if not for her improved physiology. Looking around, she felt the sudden pressure that had come upon her head steadily relieve itself, as she came to her senses again. She soon observed that the cave she was in was not a cave at all, but showed telltale signs of old masonry upon its walls that were clearly man-made. Her gaze slowly travelled downward, observing more and more details that left very little doubt as to the cave’s artificial nature. A stare aimed straight across from her, which revealed what seemed to be a very much alive figure sitting on a more modern-looking chair was the last thing she required to confirm her suspicions: These were the ruins she had been sent to find.

Carefully, Heather got up and approached the figure in the chair. It appeared to be an older woman, looking to be in her fifties or sixties, though with tight-fitting clothes which clung to an admirable body that had evidently aged quite well. The woman appeared to be sleeping, though it didn’t seem a very restful sleep to Heather, who could clearly see that the woman was breathing in a rapid, laboured manner.

“So,” the woman in the chair suddenly spoke, “it’s true after all… someone from the outside made it here.”

Heather momentarily yelped and took a step backward, not having expected the woman to speak that suddenly. However, she quickly calmed herself down, her sudden alarm being overcome by her sense of curiosity.

“Though the fact that you were able to find this place means that she already has her claws in you, I’d say,” the old woman continued.

“Who does?” Heather ventured to ask. “And who are you? And what is going on here? Are you going to be forward with me for once?”

“Slow down, child,” the old woman retorted. “I’d rather we do this at a pace you can follow. First, tell me who you are and what you remember.”

“Okay, alright, well… I’m Heather. I have no idea how I ended up here, but… a few hours ago, I woke up in a weird, empty hospital. There was nobody else around, but as I made to leave, I spoke to someone.”

“Who?”

“She told me her name was Lenore Maslovic.”

The old woman chuckled contemptuously. “So, she didn’t even bother hiding who she was. I suppose with you, there was no need for that.”

“What does that mean?” Heather pleaded, growing more desperate for answers. “Who is this Lenore? Who are you? And are you going to tell me what’s going on or not?”

“If you got here, you probably saw the complex in the forest. The people who surely must have lost their minds completely by now. And that girl in the church… her name was Lindsay, once. I think she forgot that some time ago, though. And Lenore… well, she’s the one you have to thank for all that.”

“Why?” Heather said, expectantly. “What did she do?”

“What didn’t she do, to those people. But I suppose none of that would make sense unless I tell you about how we came to know each other, first…”

The old woman took a deep breath, sighing loudly. Heather stood there expectantly, knowing that she was in for a bizarre story.

“It began decades ago,” the old woman began. “Lenore and I were scientists, and our career paths eventually landed us a position as astronauts during a space exploration mission. We were to explore a moon on a nearby planet, take samples, a pretty standard survey… but we never expected to encounter what we did.”

Heather had never followed the scientific community too closely, but it seemed to her that if anything like what was going on here had any kind of precedent, surely even she would have heard about it at some point. What secrets were about to unfold?

“Not to shock you into next year or anything, but… well, the day we finally began our survey, Lenore and I were quite surprised to learn that aliens exist. What’s more, they’re not terribly different from us. Quite humanoid in appearance, save for that strange blue glow on their skin, and at least the ones we saw being freakishly tall.”

Heather thought back the her visions in the woods. The note said she would be guided to the ruins. She supposed that’s what they had meant by that.

“But even more amazing was the fact that they needed no special gear to survive out in the vacuum of space. Their bodies were strong, more than powerful enough to sustain themselves in that kind of environment. Though as we learned, that did come at a cost to the other creatures that happened to cross their path. We approached to make contact, of course, but as I moved forward to shake the alien’s hand… I suddenly felt overcome by a terrible sickness. Radiation, far stronger than that which our spacesuits were equipped to handle. It quickly became clear that I would die if something wasn’t done. So our new friends, the aliens, did the only thing they could. They bode me follow them back to their own spacecraft, put me into a sort of medical device, and transfused some of their own blood into my system.”

“But… how was this possible?” Heather questioned, in awe at the story she was being told. “How did you agree to that? Could you speak to them?”

“Oh, child, the language barrier between our kind is nothing compared to what can crop up with creatures from beyond the stars. No, I just had to sort of trust what they were doing. There was something about them that told me they were well intentioned. But as soon as that blood was in me… It didn’t matter. None of it did. I knew right then that their blood was the key to their strength, their incredible resilience. I never felt more alive. Their radiation no longer affected me, and I healed at once. I could even sense something about them, dare I say, their thoughts… it made communication among us simple, even without words.”

“What happened then?”

“Well, we decided that due to the reaction I’d had to their presence, it would be best for us to part ways. Such circumstances can be misinterpreted, cause complications… and just like us, the aliens were not native to that part of the galaxy, they were merely exploring. I returned to Lenore, we completed our survey, and the aliens’ existence was never reported to the higher-ups. But ever since that day, I felt stronger, more energetic. I even felt my body changing to be consistently sexier, if that makes any damn sense. But even though I never meant to flaunt it, I could tell that Lenore looked on to me with scorn and hatred. I told her everything that happened, of course, but I have a feeling she never really understood. Ever since that happened, she became obsessive. She wanted to have that vitality, that power, for herself. I never knew until recently, but she went to incredible lengths to get what she wanted.”

“Like what?” Heather asked, now nervously contemplating the truths that had been revealed.

“Like putting all her money into building this place. I was surprised to learn that the aliens had actually visited our planet before, long, long ago, apparently at this site. I don’t know what kind of resources Lenore had to help her find this place, but as soon as she did, she headquartered herself in the building you woke up in and had the small residential complex you’ve also seen built. She found sets of ruins like these ones while she was developing those buildings, where she apparently discovered ancient documents that detailed an extinct civilization’s dealings with the aliens.”

“But how do you know all this? Were you helping her?”

“I know because… well, because she told it to me first, to lure me here. This was just over a year ago. I had no idea what her real intentions were… but she told me that she was researching the aliens, and that I would be a big help. I didn’t think it would do any harm to help her, fool that I was, figuring that I was only helping out an old friend. But she told me that she had discovered a way to contact the aliens from here, get them to come, but she would need to use my blood as a medium. I knew the truth of her theory, having experienced a mental link with the aliens before…”

“But how did you end up here? What happened to those people?”

“Those people were other scientists she had lured here with promises of fame and fortune. Of course, I ended up being the final link in the chain she needed to convince them that all her research was legitimate. Curse my naïveté. But that day, after all her experiments were concluded, after she had convinced the aliens to make landfall disguised as a local spacecraft to fool any outside observers… Lenore finally showed her true colours. In an instant, she trapped every one of us, including our visitors. I suspect she must have used my blood sample to immunize herself to their radiation. But what was to come was worse than anything I imagined. She used the others as guinea pigs, inoculating them with different mutagenic mixtures she had prepared with the aliens’ blood, like some completely unrestrained madwoman. But what she didn’t know was that impure blood samples in their system would cause an adverse effect, strengthening their bodies but degenerating their minds until they were no longer capable of rational thought. That girl, Lindsay, who ended up roosting in the church like some feral creature, was one of the youngest, but Lenore pumped her full of her vile mutagen, transforming her into the monster that you saw, to the point that she could even mimic the aliens’ deadly radiation.”

So that’s what that was, Heather remembered. “How do you know all that?” Heather asked again. “Did you see it happen? How did you end up here, of all places?”

“Lenore put me here. She drained as much blood out of me as she could use in her experiments, then she dumped in this place and sealed it up. That was before most of her other experiments took place.”

“Then how—”

“Like I said, the blood had strange properties, ones I suspect Lenore hasn’t caught wind of just yet. It allowed me to enter a sort of psychic communion with others nearby who also had it within them. Like that girl, Lindsay; before she lost her mind, I had her prepare the missive that led you here in the first place. But once their minds were gone, it was no use. I could only watch helplessly as they flailed around, like idiots full of sound and fury, inadvertently providing Lenore with the data she wanted to prepare her own, custom-tailored mutagen.”

“And what of the aliens?”

“They’re still alive. I can still sense their presence, in Lenore’s foul building. And Lenore herself… I daren’t pry too deep for fear that she’ll grow wise to my snooping, but apparently her experiments are not yet concluded. But when you ended up in some kind of accident near here and she brought you in, I sensed something coming from her. She was going to use you as a special subject, the last batch of data she needed before her experiments were finished.”

Heather finally had one of the answers she had been searching for. She had been in an accident, and that Lenore had brought here there. Turned her into an unwitting guinea pig. Fed her alien blood, which she happily took. But she also couldn’t help but focus on one aspect the old woman had been talking about that apparently hadn’t affected her yet.

“You said that those with the blood inside them have a sort of psychic link to one another, yeah? If that’s true, why haven’t I experienced anything like that yet?”

“But you have, haven’t you?” The old woman retorted. “You found the note. You were guided here. You’ve already seen them, have you not?”

Heather thought back to her visions. The bizarre figures she had glimpsed. Were those the aliens, trying to lead her to the old woman?

“Then, can I…” Heather began to ask, reluctant to hear the answer she was expecting. “Can I talk to them, too?”

“That must be so. I believe only they can help you end this madness. But I needed to make sure you understood the situation completely before I did what I am about to do…”

The old woman suddenly convulsed and threw her head back further, straining her face. Heather noticed that she hadn’t opened her eyes the entire time they had been talking. But the next moment, the old woman’s eyes shot open, revealing a pure white light that seemed to suddenly envelop the entire room.

Suddenly, Heather found herself in a sort of all-white void, alone save for three figures similar to the ones she had seen in her journey through the woods. At that moment, she knew she was somehow mentally communicating with the aliens that Lenore had captured.

“H-hello?” She gingerly asked.

“Greetings,” one of them answered. “Your name is Heather, correct?”

“Th-that’s right…”

“Do not fear, for we mean you no harm. We bear no ill will towards any of your species. But we must beseech your help, as it is clear that this female, our captor, must be stopped at once, lest terrible things befall both our races.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Heather uttered nervously, “but, how am I going to go up against her? It seems like she’s the one holding all the cards here. That blood she gave me while I was passed out seems like it made me more buff, and made it easier to see, but I seriously don’t think I’m gonna be able to bring down her whole building by myself.”

“Such a level of brute force will not be necessary,” another of the aliens responded. “She, too, has communed with the blood. Though we cannot control her actions, I believe we can influence her thoughts in a way that will encourage her to confront you directly. That will be your opening.”

“You guys can do that?”

“The blood enables us to do many things. But even this is not by our own virtue. It is merely the vehicle that provides us a link with our Ancient, the true source of our strength.”

“Your… Ancient?”

“Not to use so crass a term as ‘God’, but that is surely what many members of your race would call him if they knew of his power. But he is merely an ancient member of our own race, one who has stored vast quantities of cosmic energy within his body over æons. For the betterment of our living, we are able to draw on limited amounts of that power through our own link to him.”

“The blood,” Heather repeated. “That’s crazy. But are you guys sure I can stomp Lenore just like that? The way her old friend was talking, it sounded like she was planning on making herself even beefier than me…”

“Of that, we cannot be certain,” the last of the aliens offered. “But that is why we shall bestow upon you an emergency measure, one that only we can provide.”

“Emergency… measure?”

“It is rather a drastic step, but we hope that it will prove temporary. If all goes according to plan, we shall reclaim it after our freedom is assured and the female is neutralized. But for now, it may prove vital to your success in our rescue. Unfortunately, its intensity will make it all but impossible for us to escape our captor’s notice, as we know she also bears this link. We must ask you to make haste and come to our aid as soon as possible once this transfer is complete.”

“Wait, but what—”

Heather wasn’t able to utter another word, however, as she felt a vast surge of energy flood her mind and pervade her body. It was quite unlike anything she had ever felt, even that night. Unlike the sudden migraine that had assaulted her before, this felt more like a gentle tingling sensation, with only a mild, underlying pain accompanying it. The feeling went on for what felt like forever, although Heather could tell that it was only a minute or two at the most, but once it was concluded, she suddenly found herself back in the room with the old woman, who now lay completely dead upon the chair.

Heather remembered the room being dark, but now she could make out every detail within it with resounding clarity. Taking a few deep breaths, she took a moment to dwell on how much more clearly she could see in the darkness, hear her own breathing and the sounds of the forest nearby, and focus her thoughts. If she had been super-charged before, whatever those aliens had done to her seemed to have ultra-charged her. She looked down at the dead old woman, lamenting that she had met such an ugly fate. She thought back to the people in the residential complex, and of the poor girl who had been turned into a monster stalking a dark church. She knew that there was only one thing to do for it: Lenore had to be stopped, and now she was positive that she had the power to do it.

A resounding crash burst through the quiet of the moonlit woods as Heather’s petite frame burst through the roof of the ruins, creating another opening, as she soared several hundred feet through the air before finally landing back down.

- - - -

Back at the hospital building, a loud, creaking sound resounded through the empty, dilapidated lobby as Heather tore the sturdy metal door through which she’d been talking to Lenore off its hinges with one hand. Momentarily thinking back to the vial of blood she’d unwittingly been made to drink, Heather punched the wall, creating a small fist-crater as she dislodged a few bricks. Behind the door, there lay a narrow hallway which led to a stairway leading upward. A few flights beyond, Heather found a large, open hall with some lights on, the only artificial lighting she had been treated to that night. She couldn’t see her, but she figured that Lenore had to be nearby.

“Lenore!” Heather shouted at the top of her lungs, hoping to lure the mad scientist out. “Where the hell are you? Get your miserable self down here and face me, you coward!”

“Tsk, tsk,” a voice, very quiet at first, shot back at her from an unseen location. “You just couldn’t be a good little girl and play along the very real horrorshow I made for you, could you? You just had to go sticking your nose in all sorts of unfortunate places. Naughty, naughty.”

“Shut the hell up and show yourself!” Heather retorted angrily. “You have no room to talk with all the horrible crap you’ve done to me and the rest!”

“To tell you the truth, I am a little disappointed,” the voice continued. It sounded like the one Heather had heard when first speaking to Lenore, though she could tell it was more youthful and energetic. “If you had just played your role as intended, my ascension could have been completed without you even being aware of what you’d helped bring about. Sheer poetry. But of course, that old bitch was craftier than I thought. To think that not only did she keep such a revolutionary means of communication from me for decades on end, but that it wasn’t even something I was able to discover on my own through my survey of the ruins! The nerve of it.”

“An obsessive lunatic like you doesn’t deserve any of what you’re seeking.”

“And she did? It was her idiotic ignorance that got her hurt in the first place. Why should she be rewarded for that? I could just as easily have been in her place. Don’t talk to me about what anyone deserves. Why, look at yourself— a dumb little girl who can’t even keep her eyes on the road. Maybe if you knew how to keep your own bloody integrity, you wouldn’t have ended up here in the first place. But you did. And now, because of what you’ve done for me…”

Heather suddenly saw a figure step out from behind a corner. Even though she didn’t appear much older than Heather herself, there was little doubt as to her true age and identity. An outside observer would have a much harder time guessing those details, though, as the woman sported a very alluring, youthful physique; with a lightly tanned skin, supple curves, and a dirty blonde mane flowing down to just past the bottom of her boobs. She was wearing nothing but a very small tank top and a pair of tight shorts, revealing a smooth, lustrous skin and a subtle but powerful musculature, mostly accentuated by her clearly visible abdominal muscles. As Heather looked on the transformed Dr. Lenore Maslovic, she thought she looked like a more subdued version of the woman in the church.

“I’d say I owe you a great deal…” Lenore continued. “You were the last piece of the puzzle, after all. And now, with all the data I’ve gathered, I was able to produce the ultimate mutagen for myself. I’m far, far stronger than you, or that idiot old friend of mine, could ever hope to be.”

“You’re insane.”

“Of course, you are right. And this is what insanity looks like.” Lenore looked down at her vastly improved body and worshipped herself, caressing her tits and muscles, moaning loudly at the pleasured sensations her probing produced. “To think that I could be so youthful, so sexy, so powerful… ha ha ha… ha ha ha HA HA HA!”

“Was it worth the suffering of the people who helped you? The destructions of all those lives?”

“Mere stepstools in the path to my supremacy. I’m far, far above all of them now, just as I am above you. Even those stupid aliens had become a liability after they showed me that they’d been scheming behind my back, so I did away with them.”

“You KILLED them?!”

“Better than let them continue their interference unchecked. Not that such a thing would have been possible for them, anyway, after my final infusion… I’ve become far, far more sensitive to their stupid thought patterns. Even now, I can tell exactly what the rest of my idiot test subjects are doing down there. Mere insects, having served their purpose, now waiting only to die. But this is only the beginning. Come, darling, if you want to square off, let us square off with a better view than this. But know that after tonight, the whole world will be mine!”

Suddenly, with a frenzied laugh, Lenore sprung upward just as Heather herself had done when she had escaped the ruins. Heather looked on as the madwoman clung to the ceiling and tore through one of the walls by swinging herself towards it with a kick, creating a hole that revealed another stairway beyond.

“Go on and try to stop me, girlie!” Heather heard her shouting. “No one can catch us! No one can stop us now!”

But Heather cared not what she had to say. With an impulse of her own, Heather sent herself careening up towards the hole Lenore had created, intent on chasing the madwoman down, whatever the effort necessary.

But the other woman was nowhere to be seen when Heather emerged onto this new stairway. Heather supposed the only way she could have gone was up. ‘A better view’, she had said. So be it— if that was how Lenore wanted their final confrontation to be, Heather would oblige.

So Heather set off towards what must have been the roof of the building, several hundred meters high up from the ground. Every time she rounded a corner while racing up the stairway, Heather half expected to run headlong into the mad scientist she was chasing, but that encounter never came. Never, that is, until she was nearly up to the top. Just as she was readying to finish climbing the last flight of stairs leading up onto the roof, Heather was greeted by a sudden assault as Lenore appeared in her path, striking her midsection.

Heather hadn’t really felt an awful lot of physical pain ever since she had awakened that night, save for when she had been weakened by the transformed Lindsay’s radiation. She certainly hadn’t been expecting another human, even one that had been affected by the blood, to make her feel that kind of pain. But even after her own strength had been increased by the aliens’ influence, the impact of Lenore’s punch had been so great that it left Heather out of breath and reeling for a few seconds.

Not content to let her victim recover, Lenore suddenly grabbed hold of Heather’s back and shoved her forward and downward onto the building’s roof, making her scrape her skin against it. Pain once more, but Heather resolved to resist it. But Lenore wasn’t done yet, as she proceeded to rip the concrete top off the small cabin that jutted out from the rooftop to house the top of the stairwell and threw it down onto Heather’s body, cracking it into several pieces.

The pain had grown more intense. For a moment, Heather doubted whether she would be able to do anything, or even if she would survive. With an effort, she managed to turn her head, and saw Lenore mockingly looking down at her with a grin on her face.

“Oh, don’t cry, you big baby. You won’t die. Maybe you’ll wish you had, though, after what you’re about to witness.”

“Now what the hell… what are you on about?” Heather said, her voice straining.

“Oh, nothing much. Just a few things that that small-minded fool who got lucky instead of me never even bothered to consider. Did you know that she never even knew that the aliens had visited this place in our world until I called her? Of course she wouldn’t have any bloody idea of what was kept here.”

“What…” Heather coughed. “Now what are you babbling about?”

“Just a few ancient texts that give a few very specialized and useful details on the aliens’ culture. Of course, a lot of it seemed like mumbo jumbo. It’s always like that with ancient texts written by ignorant, supersticious people. But there’s a lot of truth to these particular instances, as I’ve come to learn. The document detailing the ritual to summon the aliens here certainly worked. But there’s this other one that I was never able to make heads nor tails of…”

Lenore took a moment to look down at Heather once more, smiling a very gentle smile. A smile of deep gratitude.

“Until now, that is. Thanks to the little conversation you had with those pale blue freaks about their… ‘god’.”

Heather still had no idea what she was talking about, but the mention of that particular element filled her with a dread she felt in the pit of her stomach.

“It’s to do with other such creatures that were discussed in our own planet’s ancient history. Similar creatures, and a lot of bogus rituals meant to appease them or request a boon from them. But it’s a funny thing, really— the ancient peoples that lived here seemed to have a really good understanding of this blood magic kerfuffle. They certainly figured it out well enough to make the summoning of regular aliens work— so why don’t I go ahead and try out these other neat spells I found? ‘Summon the god, and bind him to your will’.”

Heather was horrified to hear how right her sudden premonition of dread had proven. There was no way she could let Lenore do such a thing, not if it had any chance of succeeding. But as much as she struggled, it was as though her strength had abandoned her. Heather could do little else than struggle underneath the debris that had been used to bury her as she heard Lenore begin to speak in a bizarre language, one unlike any she had ever heard. She wanted to believe it wouldn’t work, in spite of everything else she had already witnessed and learned that night. But with each passing moment, she could feel the air around her become more and more charged with an inscrutable, eldritch energy. The moon above seemed to suddenly shift colour, gaining a blood-red tint before her very eyes. Heather became overwhelmed with terror, shutting her eyes, wishing she would somehow wake up and be out of this nightmare.

But in spite of her desires, Heather found herself forced to open her eyes once more and take in the sight of what had just materialized atop the building. Silhouetted against the moonlight, a large, pale blue being, similar in appearance to a more uncanny version of an ancient, Grecian sculpture, was now floating above the building and the surrounding forest. Heather looked on in awe, while Lenore grinned, knowing that the strange summoning ritual she had just performed had been successful.

“So, you’re their god, huh?”

Heather heard no sound, but in the depths of her mind could hear the faint echo of a ‘yes’, she figured as a residual from the response the being had given Lenore.

“Awesome,” Lenore continued. “You’re bound to my will now, so why don’t we see what you can do. First, take this little idiot out of the rubble and dangle her over the edge of the building.”

Suddenly, Heather felt herself being roughly yanked out from underneath the broken concrete by an invisible but irresistible force. Said force then suspended her over the edge of the building, directly over the wooded expanse below. Heather knew she was hardier than any normal human, but even then she doubted whether she would survive that fall.

“Cool!” She heard Lenore shout. “Now, slam her body against the roof again. Really hard.”

The force moved Heather’s body and did as it was told. Heather smashed right through the roof, creating a hole that sent her careening right through into the room below. However, her impact had been muffled enough at that point that she didn’t create another hole through that floor, but it did take a toll on Heather’s body, as it became inflamed with unbearable pain once more.

“Hmm, that could be a problem,” she could hear Lenore’s voice say from the distance. “Oh, I know! Why don’t you alter the fundamental physical properties of the rest of the roof to make it unbreakable? Then take that hussy’s body and smash it against the roof one more time!”

The pained Heather heard a strange noise, as though of stone grinding against stone, but she neither saw nor felt anything that could match such a sensation, Struggling to try and put her self together, Heather yelped in desperation as she was once again seized by the invisible force, brought back up to the outside, then smashed against a different, intact segment of the roof. This time, even though she hit it with the same amount of force, the roof stayed in one piece. Heather’s ultra-charged body was really starting to hurt now; she wanted to believe she still hadn’t broken any bones, but the pain was so intense that it wasn’t easy to tell.

“That’s really neat!” Lenore said, suddenly jumping up and down with a faux-schoolgirl glee. “And you know, ever since I figured out what this spell was for, I’ve been thinking about a really potentially fun way to use it. You’re so powerful that you can do pretty much anything short of a logical paradox, right?”

Heather heard a faint echo of the alien god’s voice in her head once more: “Yes.”

“And while I have you bound to my will, you’ll do pretty much anything and everything I command you to, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s silly. There’s no need for you to have to do all that on your own. I’m sure you’re used to a more laid-back lifestyle, and I doubt whether anybody’s used a spell like this on you for a thousand years or so at least. Why don’t I do you a big ol’ favour and stop anybody from doing that ever again?”

The god offered no response, but Heather fancied she knew exactly what Lenore had meant by that. She knew she had to stop Lenore. She had to. But her body did not want to respond.

“Let’s just get to the point here, shall we?” Lenore finally said. “Weird alien god guy, I command you to transfer all of your power, eldritch cosmic energies, and wish-granting abilities into me, except for the bits of you that make you vulnerable to these blood-magic binding spells. I think I’ll do without those.”

Once again, the god offered no explicit response, but a subtle shift in the energies that pervaded the night air let Heather know that something was happening. Lenore soon felt it too, far more intensely, as all of the ancient being’s power began to pool within her own body. Slowly at first, then opening up greater and greater quantities, a tremendous force flowed across the reaches of space and time from one living being to another, leaving the millennia-old alien and depositing itself into the gluttonous, willing body of Dr. Lenore Maslovic.

Soon, the woman’s body began to transform, partially according to her own wishes, partially directed by the alien’s final order, in order to accommodate all of the unfathomable energy that was pooling within it. Lenore’s body grew larger, taller, its muscles denser and more visibly defined, her breasts ever larger and suppler though never to the point that they broke the balance of her newly developed perfectly alluring figure. Every part of her frame, already having been rendered youthful once more by her initial blood mutation, was further improved, her skin becoming more lustrous, her hair longer and more luxuriant, her facial features more refined and aristocratic. Just some minutes later, the ebb and flow of energy was finally stilled once again, the ancient alien god, having been drained of its powers, nowhere to be seen— and Dr. Lenore Maslovic, the most powerful being the world had ever seen, a newborn goddess, now floating atop her domain, the site of her ascension, in the middle of the woods underneath a mystical blood moon.

“Ahhhhh…” The pleasured moan that Lenore let out once her transformation was finally complete carried an invisible yet irresistible erotic power, of the same magnitude as the force that had thrown Heather around just a few minutes earlier. Upon hearing it, Heather was instantly brought halfway to the edge of orgasm, despite her disgust with herself at allowing her sworn enemy’s voice to affect her like that.

But Lenore merely let out an amused giggle, apparently being very much aware of what Heather was thinking. “There’s no need to fight it, my darling,” she spoke, the multi-layered tones of her voice crossing the night air and attacking Heather’s ears like lust-fuelled succubi. “I am your god now, after all. I’m everyone’s god. The mistress of this world… far, far beyond the point of you, or anyone being able to do anything about it. But there’s no need to fear…”

Lenore gently flew down and stretched her massive, divine hand out towards Heather, picking the now much smaller girl up off the roof. As soon as Lenore’s hand touched her, Heather felt an oddly comforting sensation, as all of her wounds were quickly healed, her pain dispelled. Heather could feel her hatred and fear of Lenore suddenly begin to vanish, as though it were a distant dream.

“I owe so much of this to you, my love,” said Lenore. “If you hadn’t given me such a crucial piece of information, I’d have to content myself with merely being superhuman, instead of the true goddess I now know I was destined to be. Someone as instrumental in my ascension as you deserves a special place in my new world, my new universe. I’ve just gotta finish making you truly mine… make sure your love for me is truly incorruptible.”

Carefully grasping Heather in both her massive hands, Lenore brought the smaller girl closer to her face. With a loving, affectionate motion, the newborn goddess began to plant a gentle kiss on the other girl, the final act that would be required to ensure Heather’s eternal devotion.

That’s when it happened.

As her lips made contact with Heather’s skin, a sudden flash of blinding white light burst out from Heather’s body, filling the night sky. The bizarre phenomenon apparently caused a great pain to erupt within Lenore, as she shrieked in sudden agony and released her grip on Heather, causing the smaller girl to fall back down on to the roof. As soon as she hit the hard concrete, Heather suddenly snapped out of the trance she had apparently been placed into by Lenore’s influence, gazing upon her foe with a much greater clarity. Though this woman was now inhumanly beautiful and powerful, Heather knew she carried evil, corrupt intentions within her. Even now, she had to find a way to stop her, somehow.

“How…” Lenore muttered to herself. “This power, it’s… How?! I’ll destroy you!”

Heather herself had no real clue as to what had just happened that had forced Lenore to release her grip upon her, but she choose to interpreter it as her having a chance. She considered jumping towards the flying Lenore and striking from above, but she feared whether being within the impossibly powerful woman’s grasp even one more time would spell doom for her. She would have to search for a better opening. But a look at Lenore revealed that she was flustered, frustrated, unpredictable. Heather would have to exploit that somehow, even if she had no idea how just then.

“I know…” Lenore said, apparently unaware or uncaring that Heather could hear her. “That power it’s… it won’t be a match for mine. It can’t be a match for mine! All I need to do is eliminate you, and then, and then…”

Heather suddenly felt an onset of chilling cold as it became clear that Lenore was gathering up all of her own energy, and even some of that in the surrounding environment, into some sort of grand blast. Heather doubted whether she could survive such a blast— but she didn’t allow herself to entertain such a thought. She only needed to avoid it, then retaliate. She had done it once before. She observed the massive superwoman’s frame and motions as she readied her attack. Momentarily, Heather closed her eyes and thought back to the cougar she had fought off at the night’s onset, just before speaking to Lenore for the first time. She observed her foe once more. The mighty goddess was about to unleash all of her fury upon her, and just then—

Heather leapt up into the heights of the night sky, then brought down the full force of her attack down onto Lenore’s head. A large portion of the building’s now impossibly dense roof had been atomized by the blast that Lenore had released, expending all of the energy she had been building up, but Heather only dwelt upon this momentarily before she and the much larger superwoman were sent careening downward beside the building’s exterior towards the ground below. Lenore, the newborn goddess, knew that she should have enough power at her disposal to stop this, but her exasperation, and her drastic attack, had spent her to the point where she could only flail around ineffectually for the time being— then her mind became impossibly muddled as her body smashed against the ground with unbelievable force.

Lenore’s mind filled with horror as she came back to the sudden realization that the alien god, for all the power it had held, was still mortal. Just a moment later, Heather began striking her head with her own, ultra-charged fists as hard as she could fathom. Her newly ascended, god-like face soon grew bruised and deformed, as did the other parts of her body that met Heather’s strikes. The blood-red tinge on the moon above gradually grew dimmer and dimmer as the eldritch energies that had come to pervade the night air slowly dissipated. Heather reached the end of the night knowing that her mission, her promise to herself, had been fulfilled.

- - -

It had been a few weeks since that night.

Heather had found her own way back home. There was a considerable mess left to clean up— the other test subjects Lenore had used were still roaming about the complex, seemingly doomed to forever meander around endlessly. Still, Heather knew that they must have some kind of sustenance, or else they never would have been able to live that long. Then there was the matter of Lenore’s research on the aliens, not to mention her mutated body, which Heather had left lifeless within her own lab building.

Heather wished she had found some kind of way to solve the entire affair that very night, as improbably as that was. But she hadn’t. She had been forced to walk away, knowing that unless she took care of her own survival first, it would all have been for naught. But now, after she had managed to secure her own position back in her old life, she suspected that those loose ends wouldn‘t have to be left as such for much longer.

The reason being that she had finally figured out what that strange force —that ‘ultra-charge’ to her body— that the aliens had bestowed upon her really was.

They did mention to her that it was supposed to be something temporary, a drastic measure that was only to be utilized for as long as it was needed, and not a moment longer. But the aliens that had granted her that energy were now dead, and with their species’ god gone, its power squandered, she suspected that there was no real chance of her being able to get in contact with them anytime soon. She wondered how they were doing with their race’s biggest power source removed. But it didn’t bother her too much, because she was certain that, before too long, she would have her own.

Whatever that force was, whatever the aliens had implanted within her that night, she realized, was not terribly different from a seed. A seed that had taken root within her immediately, and that now was being allowed to continue to germinate inside her.

She didn’t know exactly how she’d end up. Maybe she’d end up looking like Lenore, stupidly sexy. Maybe she’d end up looking like the aliens’ own god had. Maybe it was something completely different. But no matter what, she knew for a fact that she would be at least as powerful as those entities had been.

That was what had made Lenore so afraid of her in the end, after all. The knowledge that, if left to her own devices, she would eventually transform into a goddess. Perhaps the most powerful goddess of all. Even then, she was powerful enough to resist Lenore’s influence. Why shouldn’t she be scared?

But Heather wasn’t scared. In spite of all that had happened, this was finally her chance to put everything right— and then some. She figured she’d earned a few cheap thrills on top of some god-like power after the ordeals she had been through that night. Who says the world can’t use a few new gods —or in this case, goddess, Heather grimly chuckled to herself— every once in a while?

THE END

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