Skinsaver slumped back in his office chair, closing his eyes. How did Rainmaker expect him to run his hospital effectively in the middle of a Sparking zombie apocalypse, while also running the entire city for her? Of course, Rainmaker's expectations were rarely grounded in factual circumstances, and Skinsaver was in no position to defy her. You would think after all I've done for her...
Skinsaver bolted upright, nearly knocking down his chair. He had expressly asked not to be disturbed, and had locked his office door. And yet, an unfamiliar man, thin and dressed all in black with a smug grin, sat across from him.
"Who do you think you are? How did you get in here?"
"I wonder, why does she put you in charge hmmm? I took me a bit to figure out where all the calls were going, and when I did I was... surprised. Why not delegate to one of her more well liked or more competent underlings?"
"I don't know who you are, or how you got in here, but I'm telling you ..."
"Then, it hit me," the man continued, as if Skinsaver had not spoken. "If she's going to replace her right hand, she needs someone she can trust. So why does the Queen of Corvallis trust a healer above her fellow rulers? What makes Skinsaver so important?"
Skinsaver felt a chill. "GUARDS! SECURITY! GET IN HERE NOW!"
"No need to shout, my friend. You told everyone not to bother you, remember? I've dealt with the staff in the area. No one can hear you." Skinsaver lunged for his phone, but the man seemed to vanish, only to reappear, catching Skinsaver's wrist before it could reach the phone.
"No need to worry. This won't hurt at all, and it will only take a moment."
Skinsaver adjusted his goggles and pulled off one of his mittens, shivering as the brutal winds hit his exposed skin. In his hurry to get inside, he keyed in the wrong pass-code, and had to try again before the electronic door slid open and he was able to replace his glove.
Today, the inside of the facility was almost as cold as the outside, except for the absence of the wind. The industrial strength heaters that lined the walls hummed loudly, blowing hot air at full strength, and yet doing nothing to change the temperature of the room.
"I'd keep the coat on today. She's in a chilly mood. Just be ready to pull it off if she throws one of those heatwaves at us." While the blizzard outside was nearly constant, the heat inside the complex tended to fluctuate at random, responding to the whims of the prisoner. Skinsaver had spent most of his time as a site nurse alternating between treating frostbite and heat exhaustion, often both in the same day.
Skinsaver nodded to the door guard, and made his way through the halls. One or two of the few people he ran into on his way stopped and asked where he'd been last week. Telling people he had been hiding out during an epic attack in his area assuaged most concerns. The staff at the facility was kept small, out of necessity. The fewer people who knew about the prisoner, the better.
Finally, Skinsaver made his way down to the heart of the complex. Two guards sat, protected behind glass on either side of the hall. It's now or never. You can do this. Today, he was going to change his fate, and claim his destiny.
"What's going on?" Skinsaver pulled up his goggles and face mask for a moment and flashed his I.D. "Why are you here?"
Skinsaver gulped, trying to keep the nerves out of his voice. "Just checking if anyone needs some medical."
"Not while on shift buddy, you know the rules." Buddy. Skinsaver felt his temper start to rise. "Right. Of course. Sorry. Just a slow day."
"I feel you, buddy. Part of me wonders why we don't just abandon this place all together. No one is gonna come looking for her." As the guard spoke, Skinsaver let his vision shift so he could see through the walls, searching for any information he could use to get through that door.
"You should probably get back to work," the second guard chimed in. Gazing through the walls, Skinsaver could see he was reading a book.
"Right, of course." Hating himself more with every step, Skinsaver turned and made his way back to the staff room. I can't do this. I've been chosen for something grander and greater. Those simpletons should be worshipping him, not calling him 'buddy'.
Skinsaver sat in the staff room for what felt like hours. He refused to work, of course, it would be beneath him now. But try as he might he could not think of a way to get through that door that wouldn't end with him in custody. Eventually, one of the guards from the prisoner's door waltzed in as his shift changed. "Oh! Hey there buddy! You on break too?" The guard--Skinsaver had never bothered to learn his co-workers names--sauntered over to the armory and opened the door with a flash of his key card. "I'm done for the day, myself. Those night shifts are the worst. At least we are safe in here though, eh? I heard you had some epic trouble back home... ...What's up?" The man turned around to find Skinsaver standing in the doorway. We are alone. I could take him. The man was a good twenty years younger than Skinsaver, but he had power now.
Skinsaver lunged, and grappled with the man, jamming his fingers under the man's face-mask and into his mouth to stop him from screaming. The man bit down, his teeth tearing into Skinsaver's hand, but Skinsaver sent the damage back, watching through the man's gloves as his hand began to bleed from severe bite wounds. The two continued to struggle, Skinsaver holding on to the man's jaw like his life depended on it and transferring every straing or bruise that was inflicting on him back to its source. Finally, the man got his hands on his gun and fired twice into Skinsaver's abdomen, and then crumbled to the floor when Skinsaver transferred the damage back. Skinsaver took a steadying breath and then grabbed the gun off the floor, checked to make sure it still had bullets, and fired one last shot to put the guard out of his misery. "See you later, buddy." He grabbed the guard's key-card and dashed out of the room, knowing his time was limited.
Knowing the shots would have been heard, Skinsaver dashed away from the staff room, avoiding running into people where possible, using his x-ray vision to keep track of how people were moving throughout the building. By the time the alarms started sounding, he was almost to the door. The two guards currently on duty stood at attention, watching the hall from their protective cages.
"Help!" Skinsaver called, not needing to fake the terror in his voice. "We're being attacked!"
The guards watched impassively as Skinsaver reached the doors to their secure chambers. "We're in lockdown. Can't let anyone in."
"Please! They'll be here any minute. You have to let me in!"
The guards shared a glance with one another across the hall.
"ATTENTION" blared a voice over the intercom. "ATTENTION. THE NURSE, HOWARD JENKINS, IS ARMED AND DANGEROUS. REMAIN AT YOUR POSTS, AND DETAIN OR INCAPACITATE HIM BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY". In what felt like slow motion, both guards eyes slipped to Skinsaver's ID badge, and then rushed to grapple with the controls for the guns mounted in the corners of the hall.
And then the heat wave hit.
Bone-chilling cold transformed into sweltering heat in an instant. The guards froze for a moment, torn between incapacitating Skinsaver and stripping off their winter gear to avoid succumbing to the overwhelming desert heat they were being subjected too. Skinsaver took his chance, and rushed for one of the chamber doors, using his key card to enter. The guard reached for his handgun, as Skinsaver began shooting at him wildly, praying that one of the bullets would hit. The guard took a hit to the leg and to the shoulder, but still managed to get a shot in on Skinsaver. As he felt the pain of the bullet in his belly, Skinsaver lunged forward, grasping wildly, taking two more bullets in the process.
I'm going to die.
Panting, the guard began backed out of Skinsaver's reach, and frantically began removing his winter gear with his good arm, both to get a look at his wounds, and because of the heat. Skinsaver, still in his jacket and mask, felt his head begin to go fuzzy, both from the heat, and from the blood loss.
"He's down?" The guard from across the hall entered the chamber, letting his jacket fall to the ground and revealing a sleeveless shirt underneath. All the staff in the compound were prepared for sudden weather changes.
"I think so. Just... argh! Here, help me with this will you? The sparking nut case got me, and I can't quite manage these buttons.... Sparks I'm thirsty, do you have any water?"
As the second guard passed by, something stirred in Skinsaver. A primal need to survive, to continue to live at all costs.
Gods shouldn't die.
Skinsaver reached to his side, grabbing at the guard's ankle. The heat of the guard's skin seemed to sing to Skinsaver, urging him on as he healed himself. He gasped as the bullets were forced out of his body and the guard collapsed on the floor next to him, bleeding out from wounds more severe than those Skinsaver had been dying from moments before.
The remaining guard shrank away from him as he rose to his feet. "You... you're one of them."
After stripping off his winter clothing, revealing the light scrubs he wore underneath, Skinsaver made his way through the open door into the cell. The heat was even more intense in the room. Skinsaver took out a canteen he had recovered from one of the guards and dumped it over his head, and then took a drink from the second one. He didn't know how long it would take to free the prisoner, but he didn't want to overheat in the process. He reached back and dragged the remaining living guard, still living despite his injuries, into the room and set him aside, just in case things didn't go as planned.
In front of him, a white cloud churned and thrashed behind a thick pane of glass.
Skinsaver studied the chamber, looking for any sign of a mechanism for opening the prison. The chamber was airtight, he knew, to prevent the epic from escaping in her cloud form. Initially, he had thought the controls might be in the guard chambers outside, but his search had been unsuccessful. Skinsaver stepped closer to the glass, searching the room with his x-ray vision, looking for any clue that might tell him how to open the door and unleash the monster within upon the world.
A face stared out back at him.
Skinsaver jumped back, shifting his vision back to normal. The face wasn't human--without any air or food for the entire period of her imprisonment, Rainmaker would die if she became flesh once again--it was shaped out of cloud, subtle patterns in the shifting mass, making the shape of a human face. She's watching me.
"Hello? Can you hear me? I'm trying to free you." The giant face reformed, taking a vaguely human shape. It--she seemed to shrug helplessly. "So you can't hear me?" The figure shrugged again, and then pointed towards the glass. That answers that question. He had expected Rainmaker to be in a relatively mindless state after her long confinement. It was surprising to learn that she was still conscious, and had some awareness of the world outside her cell, despite being made of cloud.
"You," Skinsaver said to the guard, "How do I open this?"
"You can't. They've sealed her in permanently."
"Then why guard the bloody place?"
The guard fell silent, leaving Skinsaver to stew about his problem. A sudden motion from behind the glass drew his attention. The clouds began to swirl rapidly, and when he looked up, they transformed again, forming into what looked like a shorter rectangle attached to a slightly longer tube. What is that? I'm running out of time! Why is she giving me riddles? Not knowing what else to do, Skinsaver took out his gun and fired several shots at the glass. Cracks spread, but the bullets didn't appear to penetrate all the way through. The clouds reformed again into a face, which nodded. She wants me to shoot the glass? But it's obviously reinforced? Skinsaver took another drink of water, trying his best to ignore the sound of the alarm and the repeated message on the intercom. A quick glance backward with his x-ray vision told him he only had a few minutes before a group of the remaining guards would reach his position. He had to act now, or they would kill him or lock him in some prison.
Shaking his head, Skinsaver took several more shots at the glass, trying to hit his existing holes, but his aim was off. Out of bullets, Skinsaver retrieved more and reloaded the gun, and tried again. The glass began flashing rapidly between white and transparent, momentarily obscuring the clouds within. It took Skinsaver a moment to realize that Rainmaker was trying to rapidly heat and cool the glass, hoping to weaken it. Shouts echoed from down the hall. They were coming for him.
One of the bullets punched through the glass.
Skinsaver was thrown backwards by a powerful gust of wind, and he watched as the clouds rushed through the tiny hole, coalescing on the other side. The clouds changed, taking the form of a thin woman with long dark hair. The woman gasped in a breath of air, but she seemed to wither before his eyes as her cheeks began to grow hollow. She collapsed and then returned to her cloud form. She shifted back and forth several times, each time appearing more emaciated than the time before.
She's starving. No one had ever fed her, of course. To do so, they would have needed to let her breathe, which would have potentially allowed her to escape. Now, all that time being without food was catching up to her. The next time she reformed, Skinsaver scanned her with his x-ray vision, and watched as her organs began to fail.
The goddess who was supposed to save him was dying.
Four guards entered the room, only to be knocked backwards by another powerful gust of wind. The winds continued in force, seeming to howl as their mistress died. I need to save her. Skinsaver slowly rose to his feet, bracing himself against the wall. "I can help you!" He shouted. "I can heal the damage that starvation is causing to your body. I can transfer it to another." The winds around Skinsaver lessened somewhat as Rainmaker took human form once again, this time close enough so that Skinsaver could see into her eyes. She was terrified.
"Just give me a moment." At his words, Rainmaker shifted back into cloud, and Skinsaver dashed over to the nearest guards, who were still being pinned to the floor by Rainmaker's winds. Reaching, Skinsaver grasped the nearest guard by the ankle, and then reached out with his other hand. "Grab on! I need skin contact for this to work." One moment, the clouds seem to fill the room, but the next they were gone, a bony hand clutching his. Skinsaver acted instantly, focusing on the damage starvation was causing and transferring it from Rainmaker to the guard. In moments, the guard stopped breathing, and Skinsaver moved on to the next one, feeling Rainmaker's grip begin to strengthen. When he looked back to check on her, her skin was shining bright with light.
"Grab the canteen from my belt. I can heal the damage caused by starvation or dehydration, but I can't transfer their water or calories to you. You need to drink, and we need to get you some food as soon as possible." Rainmaker nodded, and began gulping down water greedily. Her skin began to shine even brighter, lighting the room like a miniature sun. When she finished, she wiped her mouth and the tossed the canteen aside and took her hand from Skinsavers. With a gesture, she sent the remaining guards crashing from one wall to the next, crushing them with powerful gusts of wind.
Skinsaver, still uncertain of how well Rainmaker's recovery was going, would have preferred to have kept a few specimens alive, but he held his peace, waiting until she was done. As the bodies crashed against the glass with a sickening crunch, Rainmaker relaxed and turned to face him.
"You... you've freed me. You've saved me. Why?"
Being subjected to the shining figure's scrutiny made Skinsaver sweat, even though the intense heat from before had faded. "I... I guess I wanted an opportunity. You have power. The power to change things. I thought that if I freed you..."
"That you could rule under me, hmmm?"
Skinsaver didn't really want to rule--he was more interested in exploring his powers and using them to surpass what mortal surgeons like his parents were capable of--but he nodded anyways, thinking it best not to disagree.
"Well then. Rule we shall. But first, lead me to some food, little epic, and then let's see how many more of these useless wretches we can kill."