A mind-bending time-looping litRPG adventure
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* * *
“We know how it ends. We know how we die. And then the Loop begins anew.”
On the thirteenth day of Harvest, a mysterious woman enters Haven’s house of government and unleashes a devastation unlike anything this world has seen before. Reluctant hero, Sham, is caught in the blast—and is thrown back in time armed with a Legendary new skill.
Now, he has just nine days to find this would-be terrorist before she can destroy the city of Haven and take countless lives in the process.
But an investigation like this is never so simple. Dark cabals sell black market skill vials in the shadows. A strange new church pulls zealots from all walks of life. Trained operatives pursue Haven’s future saviour.
And the voices in Sham’s head are getting louder.
or read on for a taste of the first chapter of Loopkeeper…
Chapter One: What A Death This Could Turn Out To Be
‘Nah, man,’ the drunkard groaned, his putrid, ale-stained breath washing over Sham’s face. ‘You got it all wrong, see…’
The stranger’s voice had the typical slow cadence and lingering hoarseness of a boono junkie. This was a man long since lost to the world. One who hadn’t been strong enough. One who’d tried to make up the difference with black market, impure skill buffs. They worked for a while, sure, but at what cost? There was always a cost. And it wasn’t always advertised.
‘Oh, yeah?’ Sham replied, voice dull and monotone, eyes fixed squarely on the last of the ice melting in the faux antique glass in front of him. He caught his reflection in the dusty mirror behind the bar; flickering light cast shadows across the face of a fading man, the heavy rings around his eyes perhaps his only distinguishing feature. He gripped a beige piece of paper, one that had been crumpled but had since been smoothed out once more. An apt metaphor, perhaps.
The drunkard nodded to the sheet in Sham’s hand. The recruitment poster. ‘This new police force? They ain’t here to save us, see. They’re here to watch us. To control us. To make sure we don’t get out of line. Has nothing to do with our—’
‘Safety?’ Sham acted natural as he turned to glance around the bar. There were only a handful of other customers at such a run-down establishment. That was exactly why he’d chosen it; it was the ideal spot to drown his sorrows. A young factory worker sat alone, using a thin paper napkin to wipe dirt from her brow. Two men howled with laughter, their jokes made supposedly sharper by way of gallons of ale. Closer, a man of the greencloth sat with the typical wide eyes and ever-flinching shoulders of the Church of the Loopkeepers.
Sham met his gaze, and the man immediately glanced away. He was the only patron that might have overheard the drunkard’s treasonous talk, but a Greencloth would be the last to go running to the police. Not with things as they were.
‘Best keep quiet with talk like that,’ Sham told his newfound drinking partner. ‘Get you into trouble.’
The man took another swig of his ale, washing down the last of his glass and ordering another with a nod to the barkeep. ‘Yeah, and ain’t that representative’ — he stumbled over the word — ‘of the problem. You’re a smart man, I reckon. And you’re sat there in fear of speaking the truth. That’s control if I ever saw it.’
The barkeep returned with the drunkard’s ale.
With a tap on the rim of his empty glass, Sham ordered another. He couldn’t resist; not on a night like this. Even in the knowledge that such compromises of vices would flare up his condition once more.
‘Told you, you gotta keep it down, Drav,’ the barkeep muttered softly, with barely a glance in the drunkard’s direction.
‘Oh, not you too!’ He spoke at a volume clearly far louder than the proprietor would have liked. ‘Thought you were one of the good ones, mate. And here you are—’
The barkeep abandoned his pretence and leant in close to the regular. Speaking at a volume Sham could only barely hear, he whispered, ‘Yeah. I got sympathies. But I also got a bar to run. And if word spreads that my customers are speaking treason…’
‘So, what?’ Drav cried back, shouting now. ‘You ain’t got any of those principles I thought you had, then? You one of them capitalists now, too? Money over principle… What’s this city coming to? Was a time once that—’
‘Alright,’ the barkeep barked, pulling the freshly poured ale away from Drav and flashing Sham an apologetic smile. ‘Enough now, Drav. Go home. Sober up.’
‘Home?’ Drav replied. ‘Ain’t got no home anymore. “Home” was the city I loved. And that city don’t exist no—’
‘You live three doors down. Go there.’
The drunkard lifted his hands in the air to signal surrender, then retreated from the bar. He looked at Sham, eyes twinkling, and for a moment Sham’s stomach dropped; he didn’t like such a mischievous look on the face of a man who might get him into trouble. Instinctively, he pulled the pint from the bar and thrusted it in Drav’s hands, distracting him from whatever schemes were hatching in his brain. The beer was met with a soft smile, and then the man fled the premises while slurping the foam from its head at an antisocial volume.
Sham turned back to the bar and made eye contact with its keeper. ‘Lively one.’
‘Hasn’t ever been called anything kinder.’ The barkeep nodded at the poster in Sham’s grasp. ‘You signing up?’
Sham licked his lips, preparing excuses, but he could already feel the barkeep’s Cognizance skill seeing through them.
‘Nah, I’m not judging,’ the barkeep said, anticipating these excuses. ‘It’s tough times; you gotta do what you gotta do. And I understand the draw of them pure vials… Join ‘em and you can be a super soldier in no time—that’s what the posters say, isn’t it?’
Sham turned the sheet around. A print of a man in full burgundy uniform pointed at the viewer. Beneath, it read: THE ENEMY IS HERE. KEEP YOUR CITY SAFE. ENLIST NOW. ‘Not this one,’ he said.
‘Ah. A different angle. A little more…’
‘Yeah,’ Sham finished. Neither of them needed to voice the end of that particular thought.
The barkeep stood for a moment at Sham’s side, drying the inside of a—frankly not quite clean—pint glass. ‘So?’
‘Are you signing up?’
Sham took another look at the poster in his hand. It wasn’t his sort of thing. It really wasn’t his sort of thing. But after the last few weeks, he wasn’t sure he had anywhere else to turn. ‘Yeah,’ he finally said, finding the word partway lost in his throat. ‘Yeah, I dunno if I have much other choice.’
The barkeep said nothing, only raised his eyebrows. Sham could see he thought even a dark fate was better than joining the newly formed Citizen’s Police; it didn’t take the Cognizance skill to work that one out.
Sham shrugged again, as much for his own sake as anyone else’s. With this universal signal of apathy, the barkeep turned away, leaving Sham alone once more.
He pulled from his pocket an old, worn daguerreotype. Two figures were taunting the camera with their apparent happiness, standing by the side of a great canyon. Neither were recognisable. The first, a woman in a sleek green a-line dress, played with the curls in her long brown hair, gazing… Well, who was to say? After all, there was only a cigarette burn where her face should have been. Sham must have done that—he couldn’t imagine anyone else doing so—but he didn’t remember that particular stupor.
On the right stood a man even less recognisable than the woman with no face. Standing with his arm around his lady, a wide, cheesy grin on his face, was Sham. A much younger, thinner, better groomed Sham, but Sham nonetheless.
He recognised about as much of himself in the man in the photograph as in the drunkard who’d been thrown out the bar just a few moments earlier. Time had an awful habit of changing people, and you didn’t know it was happening until it was too late. There really were no do-overs.
[INTROSPECTION] BROKEN HEART: FAIL
You latch on to feelings thought lost. Feel a glimpse of their warmth; shadows of their former selves. But before you capture them in your heart, they slip away.
Sham stroked the last of the woman’s lush hair. ‘Sorry, darling,’ he whispered. He leant across the bar and towards the dying candle, placing the very corner of the daguerreotype into the heart of the flame. He didn’t need it anymore; it was little more than an image of strangers.
* * *
The Citizen’s Police enrolment office was surely one of the grandest buildings in all of Haven. Great red banners lined the exterior, with clean gas lamps illuminating a cast iron arched entryway. Hanging above the door was a red banner with a simple slogan emblazoned thereon:
BE ALL YOU CAN BE.
Sham wasn’t quite sure if he wanted to explore the full extent of some of his key personality traits, but the idea still spoke to him. ‘Be all you can be,’ he whispered under his breath. He imagined what skill vials might exist inside. Magnetism. Cognizance. Fervour. And pure stuff, too. No boono for the officers of the Citizen’s Police, that was for sure.
How quickly they had put this all together. Two weeks ago, Sham hadn’t even heard of these skill vials. Two weeks ago, if you wanted new skills, you had two options: take boono and deal with all the imperfections and flaws that came with it, or do it the old-fashioned way—toil away at something for thousands of hours, complete quests, and unlock achievements, until you finally gain the skill you seek.
Yet here he was, two weeks later, signing up to a department of the police service only enacted into law five days earlier—one built on the very skill vials that had only recently come into existence.
Strange how things go.
Sham took a deep breath and stepped into the building.
He was greeted by professional salespeople. Young, pretty men and women possessing what was surely Legendary grade Magnetism. Once inside, they had you. This was a social machine impossible to resist.
No sooner than Sham had said he was here to enrol had these hosts whisked him off into a room for uniform measurements. There was no conversation, no questions, nothing, just… the work.
‘Isn’t there, like… an interview process?’ Sham asked.
The woman measuring him shook his head. ‘No time,’ she replied, thrusting towards him a burgundy jacket of the correct size. ‘Work to be done.’ Even the syntax of her sentences spoke to the urgency.
Her attention shifted to the next conscript, being piled into the room through the door Sham had entered. Instead, he was directed towards an exit on the far side of the room, uniform folded in hand, and told to dress while he was briefed.
He watched as they hurried the next recruit in behind him, and told them, too, to change into uniform. There was no time for privacy, apparently.
‘Sham.’ He nodded to them.
The woman opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off by a man in uniform storming into the room, his authority conveyed only by mannerism.
‘Into uniform,’ the officer barked. ‘No talking.’
‘We were just—’ Sham started.
The officer glared at him. ‘No talking,’ he reiterated. He spoke with such Command that Sham felt his desire to interrogate him fade. ‘Your work for today is suspect identification.’
The man threw a file down in front of both Sham and his new partner. A woman, her head shaved, her eyes a manic shade of red, stared back at them.
‘This woman is dangerous. She is to be apprehended upon sight. You two will be one of many pairs searching locations important to public interest. Head to…’
The officer trailed off, looked down at his board.
Sham finished clothing himself in his uniform with the tie of a shoelace, then failed to resist glancing at his new partner as she changed shirt. The glare he got in response suggested that she’d noticed.
The officer retrieved a weapon from the shelving behind him. ‘Upon identification of the suspect, you are to fire these flares directly into the air. A member of the armed police will be on the scene within two minutes. Do not let the suspect leave your sight. Do you understand?’
This question opened up the opportunity for Sham to interrogate the man once more. ‘What’s the rush? I thought we’d get training. Or at least be interviewed—’
‘No time,’ the officer barked back at them. ‘Orders from the top. Apprehend this suspect, and use all resources necessary.’
‘And after we catch her?’ Sham’s new partner asked.
‘All the training you want, darling. Don’t you worry about that.’
Sham watched as the woman’s smile faltered at the word “darling”.
‘And if—’ Sham started.
The officer waved him down. ‘Question time’s over. Head to Government Plaza.’
Sham pressed his lips together, but nodded. He reached out for the daguerreotype image of the suspect that the officer had provided, but the same man snatched it away.
‘Need these for the next recruits.’
‘You haven’t got copies?’ Sham asked.
‘What, don’t think you can remember?’ the officer retorted, snarl on his face.
Certainly not. After all the drinking of the last few days? After all the stupors and blackouts? No. Definitely not. Abso-fucking-lutely not.
‘Maybe,’ Sham replied. ‘But I might have… some trouble.’
The officer shook his head in despair and turned back to the cupboard behind him. He pulled from it a shining blue bottle—one that emitted a faint glow into an already-bright room. Sham didn’t need to ask to know what it was.
A skill vial.
Right in front of him. The pure stuff. The rumours were true. This was it—the first step to a new Sham. All his flaws tidied away. Maybe even a fix for his illness.
‘Vial of Recollection,’ the officer said. ‘Drink now.’
Sham did, without hesitation, as he was told.
NEW SKILL: Recollection
The dreams of the past grow less hazy. Memories, once so fickle, stick to your mind as a fly to a trap, no detail spared… whether you like it or not.
Sham saw, as he removed the vial from his lips, the envious eyes of his new partner on the empty container.
‘Don’t worry, doll,’ the officer said, having also noticed the woman’s stare. ‘Plenty for you when you get back here. Gulp down whatever you want.’
If the vague insinuation made Sham feel nauseous, he could only imagine what his partner thought. But her face remained neutral.
The door at the rear of the room flew open, the latest recruit charging in, sheepish, holding a folded uniform in her hands.
‘Out!’ the officer roared at Sham and partner, and out they went.
There were none of the new-fashioned automobiles provided for members of the new Citizen’s Police force. Instead, Sham and partner were forced to walk the long, dirty streets towards the House of Government—a great architectural monstrosity that loomed over the rest of the city, that Haven’s resident has rather unimaginatively nicknamed “The Tower”.
‘Do you feel any different?’ the conscript at his side suddenly asked.
‘The new skill,’ she clarified. ‘Do you feel different because of it?’
‘Well, I… I dunno,’ Sham replied. ‘Nothing yet. But I never felt immediately different when I gained new skills the organic way, neither.’
The other conscript tilted her head. ‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Me neither, I suppose.’
Silence fell between them once more.
‘Mona,’ she blurted.
Sham nodded. ‘Right. Good to meet you.’
The woman licked her lips, not as a gesture of desire—god, it had been a long time since a woman looked at Sham like that—but as a reflex, as she considered her next words. ‘And you’re Sham. I thought I should introduce myself, if we’re gonna be partners.’
‘Honestly? I still ain’t sure this isn’t the interview process.’
An eyebrow was raised. ‘How’s that?’
‘You ever got a job before without ever demonstrating the least bit of ability in that area? I sure as hell—’
‘No, but, like Captain Dickhead said—’
Sham failed to repress a smirk.
‘—Time is short.’
‘Time is short? Really? So they put two new recruits out on the streets with flare guns?’ Sham waved the butt of the bulky brass signal gun in Mona’s direction. ‘Bet you they don’t even work.’
‘But it’s been, what, five? Six days? Since they set this force up? Everything about it has been rushed. Everything about it has been urgent, like there’s some immediate threat that’s just waiting to—’
‘To what?’ Sham butter in. ‘I don’t see there’s gonna be any “threat” that untrained conscripts are gonna be able to help with.’
He awaited a response, but was met with only a shrug.
‘That’s it,’ Mona replied as they turned the corner, then nodded to the square ahead. ‘Maybe we’ll see.’
The government plaza was perhaps the only public place in the city that was clean. Even now, an army of street sweepers were brushing the collected dirt off the polished tiles and into the gutters. Ostensibly, it was important to keep this area clean to impress foreign dignitaries, however Sham suspected it was just because the ruling elite liked to ensure themselves lives of luxury.
‘Gulp down whatever you need…’
The memory of “Captain Dickhead” rang through Sham’s mind as though fresh, as though he was experiencing it in that very moment. Just as the skill pop-up had said: they would stick to him, whether he wanted them to or not.
‘What is it?’ Mona asked, her eyes surveying Sham’s face.
He shook his head. ‘Nothing.’
Sham only nodded.
‘Good. Means it’s working.’ She paused, considered the words to come. Such a move was never a good sign. ‘Are you going to be OK to do this?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You’ve been drinking.’
It was Sham’s turn to pause. ‘What gave it away? The rings around my eyes?’
‘Your breath stinks.’
Sham paused for a moment, taking a second to absorb the sight of the woman before him. She couldn’t have been much more than half his age, her eyes still full of… Of…
He struggled to place what it was.
Of ideals. That was it. This was a woman who still thought she could do some good. For other people, that is. Not just for herself.
‘Way I see it? Captain Dickhead would’ve known too. And he didn’t seem to care.’
Mona smiled faintly—amused by Sham’s use of the nickname she’d coined, but tempered by the very memory of him. ‘Suppose.’
‘We good? Cos way I see it, the bosses haven’t given us any hours. So I’m thinking the sooner we spot this woman, the sooner we go home.’
‘You’re assuming she’ll turn up here?’
‘Better than assuming otherwise and then missing her.’
Another shrug from Sham’s new partner marked the start of the search.
* * *
The hours passed by… slowly. The last of the sun’s rays disappeared behind the rooftops, casting a great darkness across the sky. A hobbling man in a long brown coat traversed the square, lighting each of the gas streetlamps one by one. The crowds—not that there were ever any, really, in this area of the city—dispersed with the coming of the night, leaving only the odd straggler passing through. Without the hum of the city in the background, there was an eerie calmness to the near-desolate plaza.
So when the rain fell, Sham found it comforting. The sound of raindrops hitting the clay tiles was a gentle patter—a calming background noise for Sham and Mona’s ongoing search.
They approached the stragglers that passed through, catching glimpses of tired faces, but none of them belonging to the suspect. Mona looked to Sham for confirmation with each passing figure, trusting him—or, rather, the vial of Recollection that he’d earlier consumed—to confirm identification. Sham adjusted his grip on his flare gun every time, and then… nothing.
The people who came and went were not the ones Sham and Mona were looking for. They were an old man, shuffling to an early starting job he should’ve retired from many years earlier. They were a boy, too young to be working, too young to be out drinking, too. They were a young woman with long red locks that seemed so out of place in such a dusty hellhole. They were a middle-aged—
Red locks. A hypnotising colour. Distracting from the face they framed. Almost intentionally so, perhaps.
Sham adjusted his grip on his flare gun once more, and Mona gave him a strange look, apparently noting his tense posture.
‘That woman,’ Sham said, nodding to the back of her hooded head as she scuttled across the plaza for the seat of government.
‘It’s her?’ Mona asked, eyes wide. ‘You see her face?’
‘I… No. No, I didn’t. Got distracted.’
Mona opened her mouth to retort, but Sham cut her off by shooting away, across the tiles and towards the hurrying woman.
‘Hey!’ he shouted out.
‘Hey! You there!’ Louder this time. Still, no answer. Only walked faster.
Sham broke into a jog, and then a run, and found his throat tighten, that familiar wheeze appear. He’d sworn never to do any physical exercise ever again—it didn’t agree with him—and yet… here he was.
Mona shot past him not two seconds later, much faster than Sham at her young age. The running didn’t seem to trouble her, not in the least, and the distance between her and the target closed.
And then the fleeing woman made a mistake; she cast a glance over her shoulder to see if Mona was following. In that instant, Sham caught sight of her face for a second time, and on this occasion he imagined the woman without the hair. Without the… wig.
Sham signalled to his new partner that they’d located the suspect in exactly the same way that he would tell the rest of Haven’s police force; he raised the flare gun into the air, and he fired.
A great orange light illuminated the plaza, the shadows of the tall gas streetlamps scuttling across the walls of the surrounding buildings as the flare itself shot into the sky. As the flare fizzed, the target, Mona, and Sham all burst into sprints—but each at differing speeds.
The great brass doors of the Tower swung open—unlocked, as all public buildings in Haven were by law—and the target rushed inside.
Sham cast his eyes around the square, looking for signs of backup. There were none. How long would it take them, did Captain Dickhead say?
‘A member of the armed police will be on the scene within two minutes. Do not let the suspect leave your sight. Do you understand?’
Two minutes was a long time. Especially when the target was fleeing. And… much more agile than Sham was.
He gritted his teeth and pushed through the pain emerging in his chest. Couldn’t they have given him a Vigour skill vial, too?
Mona, too, disappeared through the doors ahead of Sham as he approached the narrow steps that led down from the government building’s doors. He stumbled as he ran up them, catching his feet on the penultimate step and pushing his hands out to break his fall.
A great crack rang out as Sham pressed himself back to his feet, the sound coming from the interior of the Tower. Then another.
Sham placed the noise. Pistol fire.
He slowed as they approached the doors. Orders were to avoid letting the suspect get out of sight. But the captain hadn’t said anything about gunfire. Surely his life had some value, too.
Sham did a mental calculation of how long had passed since he’d fired the flare gun. It couldn’t have been much longer than twenty seconds. Leaving the best part of a hundred still to go. Far too long.
He drew in a sharp breath, steadying his pounding heart, and then took a step inside.
Sham had never entered Haven’s house of government before. He hadn’t expected such grand architecture in the atrium—brass arches around great glass windows, intricate tiling patterns on the floor, a bold modern clock face hanging from the rear wall above a pair of grand staircases.
He also hadn’t expected the three bodies, pools of thick red blood forming rapidly around them, the liquid seeping into the cracks between the tiles. Nor had he expected the target to be standing in the centre of the great chamber, staring Sham down, a revolver to his new partner’s head.
‘That’s far enough, pig,’ the target called out, her eyes fixed on Sham’s. Her voice echoed around the grand atrium of the Tower.
Sham responded by raising his hands in the air. ‘I’m not armed.’
‘Didn’t say you were.’
Silence fell between the three of them. Mona made a pointed kind of eye contact with Sham, but to him, it had no meaning. What he was supposed to do next, in this scenario, he did not know. All he could do was make a play for time, hope for backup to arrive.
‘Were they the guards?’ he called out, not daring tear his eyes away from the criminal and to the bodies lying motionless on the floor.
‘You’re not him,’ came the response.
‘Kryl,’ the target said. ‘Said he was coming. Said that this time he’d stop me.’
‘This time?’ Sham asked. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand.’
The woman smiled. ‘You people never do. And there isn’t time to explain. The Loop…’
Mona jumped to turn on the spot, flinging her hand towards the criminal’s arm, smashing the revolver out of her grasp.
As the revolver rattled on the tiles, the target bared her teeth and jumped at Mona, pushing her to the ground and then grabbing her by the neck.
Sham sprung into action, charging as fast as he could across the great hall and towards the discarded weapon.
Mona hit the bottom of her hand into the criminal’s throat, sending her staggering backwards. Sham’s partner gasped for air as her own neck was released. ‘Grab it!’ she shouted to Sham, as though he wasn’t attempting just that already.
He staggered on, clutching at the roaring pain by his pounding heart, reaching his arm forwards for the weapon even though it remained a good fifteen feet away.
The criminal roared with anger, and Sham found himself so surprised by how animalistic this noise had turned out that he risked a glance over his shoulder in her direction. The woman ripped the cloak from her back as she screamed, revealing underneath it a vest covered in dozens of straps, each containing… a skill vial.
And not boono, either. This was the real stuff.
‘How? How do you have those?’ Mona shouted at the woman in an apparent attempt to distract her from Sham.
It didn’t work.
The criminal ripped a red glass vial from her chest and gulped it down as she charged for Sham. Her pace seemed to pick up instantly, her legs carrying her far faster than her short stature should have made possible. Fleet of Foot.
Sham jumped for the gun, risking damage to his own self in his careless tumble to the floor, but found a weight ram into his side just as his fingertips touched the cool metal.
The woman, now atop of him, jammed a clenched fist between his legs, causing Sham to scream a noise that made her earlier roar sound human.
‘Stop!’ Sham shouted, but to no avail.
The woman’s eyes seemed to… glow—very literally—as she looked down upon him. She ripped another vial from her vest and downed it without gulping. And another. And another.
The glowing grew greater. It spread. Fine lines appeared in the woman’s skin, a glowing network of veins that covered her from head to toe.
‘There’s not a man left alive who can stop me,’ she spat through clenched teeth. With that, she relieved the pressure on Sham’s testicles and allowed him to sigh with relief.
‘You sure about that?’ Mona replied.
Two heads—Sham’s and the criminal’s—spun to face her, and saw Mona looking down on them with her arm raised, flare gun in hand.
Mona didn’t wait for an answer, instead only squeezing the trigger. She had no regard for Sham, in the firing line, her focus only on getting the job done. In the briefest of instants after she pulled the trigger, Sham found that he had a warped kind of respect for her.
But nothing escaped the barrel.
And the target grinned. ‘One of those vials?’ she said. ‘Fluke. And it looks like it’s doing its job.’
The culprit stood from Sham and turned towards the now shaking Mona. She’d played her card too early. There was no way left to defend herself. And a woman armed with so many vials would eliminate her in a second.
Nevertheless, she remained still.
‘I’m not a monster,’ the target said. ‘You can go, if you do so now.’
Mona spat at the woman’s feet.
The target strolled casually over to the gun, just out of Sham’s reach, and plucked it from the ground. ‘Are you sure?’ she asked, raising the weapon in Mona’s direction.
Sham’s new partner grimaced, licked her lips, looked the target up and down. ‘I don’t think you’d do it,’ Mona said. ‘I think you only killed those others because they’re the enemy. But I don’t think you’d shoot—’
A shot rang out.
Mona dropped to the floor, lifeless, a small hole where vital organs should have been.
But there wasn’t time to grieve.
The sound of automobiles and heavy footsteps faded in from the direction of the Tower’s great front doors.
‘You stay here, you’ll die too,’ the target said, turning back to stand over Sham.
He looked her over—the mania in her glowing eyes, the cracks forming in her skin. This was a person on the edge, and, unlike Mona, Sham had no doubts that this woman would follow through on that promise.
‘Don’t know that I really have that much to live for, anyway,’ Sham replied. He found he meant it, too.
The woman considered him for a moment, then simply shrugged and turned away.
Sham watched from his position on the ground as the target faced down the open pair of entrance doors. As the thundering footsteps of armed police grew closer, the woman drank vial after vial after vial, until there were little more than a dozen remaining. This woman—though at this point she might identify more as a god—must have had skills in the near triple figures. Double figures was largely unheard of, achieved by only the strongest of citizens, but triple figures… that was a whole world apart.
But as the criminal charged away from Sham to fire at the police pouring in through the pair of front doors, the cracks in her skin glowed brighter, began to widen.
Sham hadn’t consciously understood what the cracks had meant before, but he did now. This was a woman breaking apart, her very vessel now no longer able to contain the power that dwelt within her. This was a woman who was about to—
A blinding yellow light encompassed the interior of the government building. In the split second before Sham died, he watched it all play out in slow motion.
Not only was the target ripped apart at the seams by the greatness of her strength, but the walls around her, the very ground beneath her feet, dissolved into nothing—so unable were they to withstand such unchecked power. A warmth washed over Sham in the moments after, and he closed his eyes, bathing in strength of what he knew would be his end.
There were so many ways he could have gone. The drink might have shut down his liver. An old enemy might have caught up with him. A few too many pills might have somehow made their way down his throat. So many ways to go, and yet… this was his way. And what a death this could turn out to be.
He would leave behind no mourners, no family. It would be as though he’d never existed in the first place, so unnoticed would his loss be. Perhaps this was better than the alternative. Perhaps this was better than leaving others with loss in their hearts.
Sham felt himself torn apart by the force, sending blinding pain searing through the very fibre of his being. He had just enough time to think of Her before the light of his soul was extinguished.
‘Well, that was hardly a death to remember,’ a strange voice cried out, ringing around Sham’s head. It was familiar, somehow, as though it belonged to someone he’d long since forgotten.
And then Sham was reborn.