It was giving him a headache, all the noise. Times Square was as usual bursting with life with automobiles roaring past each other, angry drivers using any excuse to mash their car horns, and the people all so packed tight causing their own ruckus. The sound of their excited voices all competing to be the loudest over the commotion forced its way into Alex’s mind, mingling with the already deafening sound of horrified screams and countless rushing memories. And yet, he had finally found a way to drown it out, forcing the noise to mingle together until it was nothing more than a buzzing din, like the inside of a beehive.
Well, perhaps “hive” was a rather inappropriate term for the given situation.
He wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Despite his constant headache, this was one of the few moments Alex had to himself. He could rest, if only for a few hours. It was an uneasy rest, filled with a constant migraine and the knowledge that everything he’s worked so hard for could be destroyed in an instant, but it was a rest nonetheless.
He wasn’t going to lounge and do nothing, however. He couldn’t possibly. There was an energy inside him that was constantly jumping through his veins and flaring in the back of his eyes that forced him to move. It kept him on his feet and active, always alert, and of course, always paranoid, leaving him no time to sleep. It kept him alive, but he was constantly dead on his feet.
Even this waiting was driving him mad. He’d been scanning the Square below him for no longer than 10 minutes when the desire to run and start fires burned in his muscles again. When would the urgent ringing in his ears ever cease? He thought this often, sometimes sighing in annoyance and other times clawing at his temples in an attempt to force the pain to stop. It wasn’t until this day that he found a long-lasting solution to his woes.
He supposed it was a predatory instinct. Perhaps he caught a scent, maybe a flash of a colour only his prey donned. Whatever it was, it finally allowed him to focus and drown out the noise around him.
A clump of white, too big to be a bird, crept forward slowly atop the iron beams of a billboard mounted on the the Times Square building. It rose to full height, which from this distance looked to only be half the size of Alex’s thumb, and he saw it to be a man, for some reason perched hundreds of feet above the others below. The figure scanned the area around from under what looked to be a white hood.
Alex watched in curiosity. Was this a suicide attempt? He tilted his head. Surely, he should feel some kind of pity for the demented man, as a human might. Of course he had the capacity to stop him in his attempt at a final leap. But who was he to rob this man of what he climbed so high to obtain? The obtaining, of course, also being a loss. Ironic.
Just as Alex was getting interesting in witnessing a death not caused by his own hands, the white-clad figure lowered again and slinked back on the billboard, slipping over the edge and climbing slowly and safely downward. Perhaps he lost his gut. Alex was almost disappointed. Was that sick of him?
Back to the noise, then. He watched for only a few minutes when the migraine became almost unbearable, and he was bracing himself to leap into the air and hit the ground running, to release some of the pent up, burning energy inside him, when his good almost-jumper friend stepped out from behind the building and slipped fluidly through the crowd of people. He was interesting enough to catch Alex’s attention for a few seconds as he moved purposely through the crowd. His gait was subtle and unassuming enough, but something about him contrasted heavily with the sea of conformity around him.
Alex noticed the radius of space the people bustling about the Square gave this man. Even the typical suit-and-tie business man, briefcase and cell phone attached loyally to each hand, deliberately stepped around him, turning to give him a look for a few seconds before continuing on his ever-important trek through the city.
The constant stream of people through the streets shattered instantly when a baleful roar echoed through the valley of the Square, marking the arrival of the infamously flesh-hungry Hunter they had only ever heard of on the news.
Alex almost smiled. This was his area of expertise. He immediately pinpointed the location of the Hunter, and wouldn’t you know it, it landed right there next to white-hood, who was the one person to hold his ground and not flee at the sound of the roar.
Alex stepped off the building on which he had perched and fell swiftly through the air. He turned even more heads as his landing caused a deep crater and the cracking of concrete resounded almost as much as the roar. Might as well make a memorable entrance if you’re going to save lives.
This would be easy. The Hunter was busy prying open a cab door and dragging a screaming woman out of the captain’s seat, its claws hooked into a backpack over her shoulders. While it was distracted, Alex could slip in with his claws slit its throat nice and quick, perhaps coating the poor woman with blood, but she could forgive that. Worse things could happen.
Alex wasn’t even given the chance to morph. It was too fast for him to see it. The Hunter suddenly stopped moving as if its power cord had been ripped from the socket, and its limp body was shoved to the side. Standing above the attacked woman was no less than old white-hood.
Now closer to him, Alex saw why people were avoiding him in the street. His long white robes were adorned heavily with leather armor, and blades of various sizes and shapes were holstered on every reachable surface of his body. He sheathed his bloodied sword at his hip and reached out a hand to the woman, who was still whimpering on the floor in a pool of blood that wasn’t hers.
Who was he? Or rather, who did he think he was? He must have been incredibly lucky for his little sword tricks to work on a Hunter. He must have been one of those comic-con nerds who got a little overzealous with the costume.
White-hood muttered something to the woman, assumingly trying to comfort her, and turned away when she continued to sniffle and tremble. He gazed around once more, his eyes settling on Alex.
Alex froze. He should think nothing of it. Plenty of people in the streets have stopped and stared at him. It’s not like he gives off a friendly or approachable air. But this man was no normal sight, either, even more so now with his ancient-looking robes, now bloodied at the bottom.
It wasn’t a look of hatred or fear, like what he was usually dealt. The man stared deliberately at Alex and scrutinized him head to toe, his expression unchanging. Without any further action he turned and walked away.
Alex wasn’t going to accept this. Who did this guy think he was? Looking America’s number one terrorist over and then just leaving? Alex didn’t care if he could destroy an entire hive with a butter knife, full on eye contact was blatantly a challenge, and Alex refused to ignore it.
“I think that’s him, I think that’s Zeus.”
The static-edged voice of a marine sounded across the street caused Alex’s nerves to bristle. The virus nearly leapt forward and tore him to pieces itself, but Alex forced it down long enough to pinpoint the man responsible for the noise.
The lone marine wasn’t looking at Alex. He had his sights set on white-hood, who was once again slipping fluidly through the throng of people, still humming with excitement after the recent Infected attack. The marine lifted his gun, gazing down its barrel straight at the robed man.
“Not until I’ve had a turn.”
Finally, the energy inside him could be released. He sprang forward, the muscles in his legs leaping for joy at their exertion, and he rocketed forward, closing the distance between himself and the white-hood in less than a second. Alex’s impact cased the man to yell out, whether in surprise or in fear Alex didn’t care, and his arms held fast, sending them both tumbling forward, avoiding the barrage of bullets the marine had just fired. White-hood groaned and their was a subtle shifting of leather and cloth, and without looking Alex could tell he was in pain from the force.
He didn’t have time to worry about white-hood. The marine’s head was bent to the right, most definitely in the act of calling in a strike team. That would be a problem.
With a grunt of effort, Alex swept his arm around and slung a wiry barbed whip of tendrils forward. It pierced the marine’s abdomen, and Alex flung him upward. The marine’s body spread over the brick wall behind them in an organic splat that Alex didn’t think possible with such heavy gear worn.
Alex barely caught a glimpse of white-hood’s enormous eyes staring in the direction of the stain the marine left. He grabbed the stranger around the waist and hauled him over his shoulder, carrying him brusquely as he sprinted down the street and away from the scene of the crime. His human charge was surprisingly silent throughout the trip.
Once relatively safe atop a building, Alex finally set the man down, sparing no gentleness. White-hood regained his footing quickly and leaned forward with a hand on his knee, using the other to hold the side of his head. He was probably still reeling from the fall.
Alex stood there, waiting. A few seconds passed, and still the silence flowed thickly between them. He took the initiative. “You’re welcome.”
The stranger glanced up. He still hesitated, once again flicking his eyes over Alex, almost judgmentally. Alex bristled again.
White-hood stood up straight and surprisingly tall. “…I thank you.”
Alex was expecting it, but the thick lilting accent over the three words still made his brow furrow. Obviously Middle Eastern. Was he some sort of terrorist? Alex almost laughed at the notion. ‘I suppose “our kind” has to stick together…’
White-hood continued. “What.. just happened? Why did you…?”
Alex was almost surprised his first words weren’t “stay away from me, you monster.”
“He tried to kill you.”
Alex smirked. “Because he thought you were me.”
“Why does he…want to kill you?” This white-hood was persistent. Talkative, even, for someone who seemed to struggle with English.
He was going to have fun with this. “Why don’t you?” he asked. Alex took slow steps forward, his palms lifted up. Tendrils flicked swiftly across his skin, pulsing almost like a heartbeat. They trailed from his head, over his arms, and finally down his legs, twining around him like veins.
Alex hoped to see fear in white-hood’s eyes. Fear was the normal reaction most humans had to him, whether he was shapeshifting or simply looking them in the eye. This man didn’t falter. He didn’t step back and jut out his chin with the same bravado most young men try to have. Rather, his eyes followed the tendrils almost eagerly, and when Alex’s display of his inhuman nature ceased, they turned back up to stare into his own again. It almost angered him.
White-hood spoke up. “You are not my enemy, creature.”
Alex stepped forward abruptly. He wanted to cause a reaction. He didn’t like the way white-hood’s eyes studied him, how they judged him. “I’m enough of one to be called ‘creature.’”
“Are you human?”
There was no pause. No quiver. The challenge was still issued, and Alex now doubted if he could uphold it.
He stopped in his advance. He wanted to give some kind of retort to the question, either an “Of course!” or an “Obviously not!” But in truth, he didn’t have the answer himself. This stranger clad in dirty, other-worldly robes just asked of him the one question that no amount of consuming or searching could answer. How could he respond?
‘Kill him.’ Inside him, the virus urged for white-hood’s blood. It would have been easy; no sword could possibly hurt him, and gunfire hardly slowed him down. All he had to do was slice open the man’s stomach, perhaps crush his skull, maybe break his spine over his knee. All it would take was one swift motion, and he wouldn’t have to deal with white-hood’s talk.
He forced the urge down. It was like trying to fend off a pack of ravenous wolves, but he handled it. His fists unclenched. His nerves unwound. Zeus was gone, and Alex was back.
Alex’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you, anyway?”
White-hood opened his mouth in response, but a distant thumping sound caused their attention to snap towards the east. Alex recognized the sound of a helicopter’s whirring wings, but the look on white-hood’s face revealed the opposite for him. ‘He’s more scared of a helicopter than of me. Annoying.’
Alex sneered in the direction of the noise. “I know where we can talk more. Come on. Try to keep up.”