And so, at last, it had come to this. Years of poring over religious manuscripts and numerological heraldry. Countless sleepless nights dedicated to documenting the most complex and perverse rituals in the world - at least, the ones that worked. The Foundation's religious studies department was drastically underfunded, and so her peers were lazy and unambitious; thus, her rise to the head of department was made all the simpler. A quick and untraceable curse, strategic mental influences on others in power, and the position of O5-6 was hers.
She now had everything in place. The right questions, the right transfers, the right items getting lost, and Six had acquired the exact and real-time geographical locations of every other O5 member. They blinked on the screen in front of her: twelve little red dots, overlaid on a simple black and white map of the world, with a little green one for her. An odd sort of distribution, with no groupings in any given area. If the world were cleft in twain at random, half of the organisational staff would likely still live. But she was not a sword, and her target not the world. Hers was a delicate, purposeful incision.
Six tapped in the first set of coordinates to the flight computer and sat down in the leather lined seat. Smooth as silk and silent as the same, her craft lifted from the ground and started accelerating westward. She uncorked a bottle of wine, poured out a glass, swilled it around in her mouth, then gulped it down with a grin. It was important, before she started, that she clear her palate. She wanted to savour every mouthful.
Twelve swift bites of flesh, and she would live forever.
"You and I are going to watch the sun go down."
O5-10 panted heavily, his hands awkwardly held above him, fixed to the wall with rusty nails. Six paced in front of him, a golden sunset behind her. The floor was slick and red from what had once been Ten's personal guard. Six errantly picked a scrap of flesh from her teeth, flicking it aimlessly onto the ground. Ten continued to stare into the sunset, burning his retinas a bit. Six grinned.
"That's right. Stare out at that ball of flame. It isn't such a bad final sight."
Six whistled a light-hearted tune. Blood dripped from the holes in Ten's hands, staining his otherwise flawlessly white business shirt. Ten was an odd place to start the process; in a more perfect world, she could have done it in numerical order, supplementing and reinforcing the symbolism of the act. Instead, she needed to move westwards around the world, chasing the night. She watched the sun pass below the horizon, then turned to the man she had nailed to the wall. Ten had remained as calm as could be said, and far more silent than she had expected.
Six sliced out Ten's eyes and swallowed them. Ten screamed until Six cut his throat.
The breve must eke an errant night, and strike the soul from twelve to one.
The night of sorrows, stolen, screaming, hidden safe from burning sun.
"So. You were some kind of psychologist, right?"
O5-4's response was muffled by the thick masking tape that sealed his mouth, and in turn, adhered his head to his table. Six opened up a file from the top of Four's desk, leafing through it ambivalently. Personnel reports, personality assessments; all of it organisational fluff to make sure nobody broke down at the wrong place or time. Four, unlike Ten, had no guard, instead simply hiding in a veil of obscurity. He seemed, by all accounts, a perfectly average middle-manager.
"Got a file on everyone, I see."
Four struggled, trying to free himself from his restraints. His forehead continued to swell from where he had been struck. Six leafed through one of the many cabinets in his room, finally coming to her name. She pulled it from the pile, amused at the prospect before her. She opened the file, skimming the key points. It was reasonably accurate; barring, of course, her complete and profound psychopathy. In that respect, it was simply a reasonably accurate assessment of her mask. She closed the report, placing it back where she found it and closing the cabinet drawer; then, she turned and grinned at Four, still helplessly bound to the table.
Six took a hammer to Four's arms until flesh tore and bone snapped, whereupon she drank deeply of the marrow. Four ran out of blood slowly enough to feel himself die.
The tokens twelve of masters five shall write a silent, subtle page.
To break the bonds of life and death, lest life or death be such a cage.
"There we go. Strong paralytic. No anaesthetic for you, friend."
O5-7 felt her heart slow. She sat, more motionless than she had ever been. Always, she had been wracked by shakes, her fingers never ceasing to tremble. Yet now, at the time of her imminent death, she was finally free of that wretched twitch. Seven would smile if she could, but she couldn't. She felt her eyes slowly dry, incapable of so much as blinking. Six sat on the chair opposite, wiping the bodyguards' viscera from her ritual knife.
"I'm going to need you to stay as still as you can."
Six stood from her seat, putting her hand on Seven's cheek. Six smiled, while Seven's visage stayed stuck in stasis. An ugly snarl. Six grabbed Seven's chin with one hand and her skull with the other, then pulled. She began to saw into the connective flesh with the serrated side of her knife. Blood flowed freely onto the table; yet could not be traced against its red velvet surface. Seven stayed silent. Her jaw hung limply, connected to her skull by only the slightest sections of sinew.
Six sliced sharply, and Seven's lower jaw dropped into Six's outstretched arm. Seven's pupils contracted to pinpoints, and soon, all life left from them.
The blood and tears of allied folk, with all those men who broke your bread.
A path and trail of capsules drained, directions followed, new paths led.
"You actually cut me."
O5-8 had a guard far more competent than the others before. Six was not expecting to lose this much time just yet: she was now two hours behind schedule, though such was well within her planned error parameters. With Eight's protectors butchered, Six walked into the office, only to feel cold steel against her cheek. Six wiped the specks of blood from the wound, feeling it knit itself back together, all the while binding Eight to the chair in chains.
"Not quite impressive, but decent enough."
Eight felt the metal dig into her skin. Six grabbed Eight's head, breathing into her face; the stench of raw yet rotten meat made Eight cough and gag. Six grinned, watching the captive squirm, only serving to tighten the knots that held her in place. She knelt down and grabbed Eight's left hand, examining carefully the freckles and blemishes on the skin. Six touched the smallest finger, then the ring finger, then the middle.
Six snapped off Eight's index finger, crunching it between her teeth; then moved on to the other digits, one by one. Eight sobbed until she stopped breathing.
New stolen touch, remembered will, a crescent moon above the sea.
Ascendant throne, descending sun, to walk on earth, forever be.
"It's warmer than I expected."
O5-13 shivered in the freezing cold, completely naked; harsh, billowing snow coating him in glistening white. Six had waited weeks for tonight. Not because her plan remained unfinished, but a far more fundamental reason: to kill all twelve in a night, all twelve must live within that night at once. Thus, she had to wait until Thirteen's native Antarctica ceased its endless daylight. There were no sentries or protectors here, save for the unbearable cold.
"Your skin's probably weathered enough, now. Turn around."
Thirteen's jaw chattered uncontrollably. He could no longer feel his fingers, wedged as they were beneath his underarms. Six towered above him; she grabbed his shoulders, and pushed him down to his knees. She took off her insulating gloves, then discarded them into the powder. She ran her hands across Thirteen's gut, moving upwards, feeling the bumps of each rib against her nails.
Six drove her hand roughly into Thirteen's chest, breaking through flesh and bone. She massaged his heart in her icy hand until it stopped.
The brilliant, piercing, striking sound, bereft of constant drumming tune.
The pattern stops and starts again, cross watered flesh on sandy dune.
"There's no hiding in a cage."
O5-1 stared emotionlessly at Six. She did not have to restrain him, for he could no longer move. His muscles had long since atrophied; his needs met by tubes and electronic screens. Long had he sat, deep underground, in the cool, dry earth. Layers of steel and concrete insulated him from The Outer, keeping him safe. Secure. Protected. Yet Six had thrown it all aside.
"I wonder if you've enough left in you to cry."
Six ran her knife through the pipe feeding One oxygen. He twitched as she pulled it from far inside his nose, ripping off skin that had long since formed around it. He coughed with vocal chords that had not been used in decades, though it came out more as a long, laboured sigh. Six extracted a thin metal instrument from inside her coat. One realised for the first time how much he truly feared death.
Six placed the auger against One's forehead and twisted. The strangled screaming started after two rotations and stopped after twenty nine.
The will of life and verve of kind, the movement new and thinking clean.
Yet foreign thoughts, intrusive, come, of kinds so old yet never been.
"I didn't think you'd be so young."
O5-5's research was esoteric, though not unrelated to Six's own field. Ghosts, spectres, the unseen; taken as a joke by some, though perhaps one of the most dangerous areas of study. Five had heard the alarm and ran, retreating from his research laboratory and into his office. He heard the wails as Six banished or bound every one of the spirits he had been studying. Six found him shaking in a corner.
"Up you get, kid."
Six knelt down, grabbed Five by the back of his neck, then walked to a table and pushed him against it. She flipped him over, face-up. Five looked at the face of his attacker. Six appraised him casually, bored by his resistance. Five struggled, but Six pushed his chest against the table, even as he pounded against its polished steel. He grabbed a pencil and stuck it into her arm; she sighed, pulled it out, and watched the deep wound heal.
Six held down the screaming child and slowly sheared off Five's skin, starting between his toes and working up to the head. James survived longer than anyone could have hoped.
The pound of flesh, reclaimed at last, with Shylock grinning, teeth askew.
Another smile takes smile from saint, and saint takes sordid breath anew.
"Greet me thankfully, old man."
O5-11 was seated on his porch, illuminated in the night only by his glowing cigar, swaying forwards and backwards in a rocking chair. Six walked up the stairs of the porch, only to feel buckshot tear through her chest. She staggered backwards, frowning, clutching at her ribs; half the lead had passed through to the other side of her body, while the other half remained lodged in her gut. She grabbed at her pierced flesh, picking out the scraps of metal and dropping them, red-stained, onto the ground. Again, she started climbing the stairs; Eleven had placed his shotgun beside him, instead focusing on extracting as much enjoyment as he could from his final cigar.
"I'm past halfway. Far too late for bullets."
Eleven simply nodded, quietly puffing away. His face was severe and taciturn. Six walked over, then plucked the cigar from the old man's grasp. She put it to her lips and breathed in heavily, then exhaled into flawless rings. She flicked it to Eleven's garden, starting a fire in the grass that was soon to consume the entire house.
Six snapped apart Eleven's ribcage, then squeezed his lungs empty. Eleven felt his last breath of smoke whistle out of his lips like a deflating balloon.
A swallowed wind with coins ablaze, through flames and ice and untilled soil.
Through hollow chest and stolen breath, dead fingers twist and turn and coil.
"You can't touch me, dog."
O5-3 grasped at the floor. Six had already massacred his personal assistants, but was taking her time with him. She kicked him in the side; Three groaned, and she kicked again. Six was not smiling. Three had wasted her time, her precious time, throwing soldier after endless soldier to their death at her hands. After a time, he had stolen the joy from killing. Three had made her act makework, no longer a celebration.
"Just lie down and die."
Six once again drove her steel-capped boot into Three's ribs, feeling them snap behind the force. Hours had been lost. Hours of her life that she could not get back, hours of this night that was the most important her world had seen. How dare he. Six so wished she could make the end excruciating, breaking every bone in Three's body with delicate care, to watch him cry and beg and mewl. But there was no time. She got down to her knees, holding his head on its side.
Six roughly bit off Three's outer ear cartilage, then gnawed unrelentingly inwards down the canal. Three felt Six's tongue burst his eardrum, and then all was his screaming silence.
Emphatic curse, empathic cure, antipathy will grow in full.
New screams, old screams, all screams of man, yet in your ears shall be no wool.
"Stop your struggling. Give up."
O5-12 emptied another clip into Six's chest. She felt her body extrude the pellets, then drop them to the floor. She no longer bled. Twelve reloaded desperately with one hand, still shooting with the other. Six scowled, continuing her pace towards the tall African. His suit was crumpled and dishevelled. Soon it would be crimson. Six grabbed the guns from Twelve's hands, throwing them out the nearby window. He stood, staring into Six's eyes. He felt his legs quiver.
"Shaking like a malnourished rat."
Six grabbed Twelve's shoulders, then pushed him against the wall. She watched him scream as bone snapped and tendons tore; his shoulders burst through his skin, and the concrete behind him started to crumble. Six sneered. She pulled down his face, looking deep into his watering and bloodshot eyes, and felt nothing but loathing.
Six opened her mouth wide, positioned Twelve's nose inside her maw, and bit down. She chewed it blankly, then snapped Twelve's neck.
The wind of change can turn again, the salt in breeze abrasive past.
Though winds in worlds of airless planes are never truly meant to last.
"You repulsive little worm."
O5-9 felt his face slam against reinforced glass, feeling both fracture. The depths outside his pressurised chambers rippled, a dull and electric light permeating through the water. He didn't mind it so much, any more. There were worse places to be than the sea. Six spun him around, staring at his face. He gasped desperately, trying to refill his lungs. Six rearranged her face, contorting it to a look of intense condescension.
"How dare you breathe my air."
She lifted him from the ground, slamming him against the floor. She picked up his wooden chair, then tore off a leg and drove it through his arm. He screamed. She tore again, and drove a second stake into his other arm. He screamed. Tear again, third to left leg. Screams. Tear again, fourth to right leg. More screams.
Six pried off Nine's toenails first, then moved to fingers. Six tired of the screaming and crushed Nine's skull with an errant flick.
With claw and maw and tooth and rot and movement edging ever in.
Immortal man has naught to fear, for only he is free from sin.
O5-2 sat, head and eyebrows shaved fully bald. In her hands, a platter with every hair from her body, carefully and individually plucked. Six stared at the offered meal. The guards had stepped aside, fearful of death. Six had made her way to Two's chambers, then heard the steel door seal behind her. It was no matter. One more bite, and it was done. She would live forever.
Two knew she was to meet her death. She had designed the room especially for it. Thick layers of cold steel covered every surface. Six's plot had to complete successfully; with her rite finished, it could never happen again. The Foundation would be vaccinated. With the death of the O5, the O5 would be free, as would the world. Six moved over to Two, silently grabbed a handful of hair, and shoved it down her gullet. Two looked at Six with disappointment; she was met only with hatred.
The men with guns watched on from the video feed, horrified.
The room flooded with acid while Six ate Two.
The blood runs cold, the oceans red, in screaming silence and decay.
Yet living not, but dying still, the soul shall never pass away.