The city rooftop vistas stretched for miles. The stone and metal beneath our feet would creak and bend as we ran. The night had come and went, and the day had come with a cloudy sky again.
The building tops and sheer drops kept us constantly jumping and gambling on our footing. The Favela-like structures were more often than not very unstable. I had nearly fallen more than once.
My luck needs to keep up.
With my feet hitting the corrugated tin roof of a building, it bent and groaned. To keep from sliding off I spread my stance for a greater balance. I looked back down the drop I’d hurdled and I couldn’t see the street below.
Anna was aloft like a feather, gently stepping off a breeze and onto the roof. She could jump further and land lighter than I or Odessa. Ash leapt and landed with creepily little impact. We all gathered together again as we had over and over for me to pick the path. I would go first and they would follow.
As I had from the beginning, I felt nothing.
You’re completely lost, I told myself. You’ve got to do more.
I picked out the next building. It was at the start of a lower run of houses, but I could see where it would let us through a ridge of raised walls. A row of taller structures which I would rather go over or around, rather than into.
I jumped down easily. The roof had plastic white chairs thrown around. The ground was strong; meant to be walked on.
There had been some conversation, hours ago. But there came a point where you had to stop and focus.
There’s nothing pleasant to dwell on anyway.
Onto the sixth rooftop and we passed the row of taller buildings, going through a low gap. Problem was, it wasn’t a row. The rest of the buildings beyond were all just as tall, and ours had continued getting shorter.
“Fuck.” There’s no going backward. Not if we want to live. “We’ll have to go through it,” I said, looking into the dark opening on the side of the building before us. We could go in and work our way back up to the rooftop. It wouldn’t be easy.
“I’m not enthused,” Anna commented.
“Ash gets to go first.” I stepped aside for him, sweeping my arm.
“Oh boy, lucky me,” his sarcasm was halfhearted. He was already looking deep into the darkness. “Looks unstable in there, Doran.”
“We’ll be alright.”
“Not in the long-run!” he sadistically called as he hurdled the drop and disappeared into the black. He was silent only for a moment before shouting, “next!”
I took a couple steps back and then ran for it. I sailed over and landed without sight. Ash grabbed my arm and pulled me back as I was decelerating on the other side.
“There’s a hole there,” he warned.
Turning around and with my eyes adjusting, I could see Anna and Odessa make it through. What sparse light there was showed the hole Ash was talking about. The majority of the floor had fallen through.
I took Ash’s hand and he started leading us around it, but not before a quick utterance of “no homo.”
There was a crash and rubble dusted my head.
“Sorry. My sword struck a support,” Odessa apologized.
We circled the hole to a flight of stairs. I had to kick and find each one, and some had fallen out. We made it to the top of the flight and crossed an open room. The windows were blacked out, crusted in some kind of growth, I thought. There would be only one more floor before the roof.
We breached the top of the stairs with Ash throwing aside a piece of plywood. Immediately, we saw it. A fire with a single being sitting at it. A naked and darkly skinned man. His pigment was not dark, though, it was a black fungus which encased him. It grew and flared outward from him, sitting with his arms wrapped around his legs, staring into the flames. His back was completely deformed with the flowering of the plant in him, growing to reach out away from the flames.
Crackling, he turned his head to us. “It doesn’t like the light,” he breathed. His English was skewed, but clear.
“We’re passing through,” I spoke to him from across the room.
“Come close,” he moaned loudly.
“What do you see,” I asked Ash, low.
“Big growths along the room’s fringes. There’s a ladder at the opposite end, past the fun guy,” he offered with a pun.
“Thanks for that.” I drew my gun and kept it down, moving to the front. Calling to the man at the fire, “We’re walking past now.”
We would go around the left side of the fire, whereas he sat on the right. We started slowly, Ash directly to my back and pushing me towards the right direction. As we got closer the man at the fire watched.
His arms and legs fell slack as he lifted into the air, hoisted by a tendril of the massive fungal creature piercing his rectum. He hovered high over the fire and watched, the entire room suddenly crawling. He jerked as the plant ripped out his lower jaw to split and widen his mouth to the collarbone. Eyes peeked out from his moist innards, pitch ichor spilling from the new maw. He hunched to choke it out.
“Faster!” I yelled. We passed the fire and ran for the ladder just as there came a horrible gurgling.
The fungal man erupted gallons of the ichor, drowning the fire and quickly flooding the floor. I let Ash lead for me to walk briefly backward and fire several shots at him. He shook and dropped as the vine supporting him died.
Only Ash could see what was going on now, but I could hear the entire room stirring.
“Fire everywhere!” he ordered as he found the ladder.
I turned back and made sure the others were out of the way. I let loose.
With every flash of green light, I was given a glimpse of the dozens of Damned just like the one by the fire. They had been hiding in the walls. Overcome with the infection, fully turned, and coming for us.
A tendril shot out from between the mass of their bodies and punched me in the chest. I flew back into whoever was behind me, dropping my gun. It had intended to penetrate me, and thrashed against my armor, violently trying to find a way in. I grabbed it and wrestled it down, away from my face. It was slick and strong. I couldn’t hold on.
Ash was yelling at Odessa, Anna was the one beneath me and she was fighting to get free from me while I was pushed down. The fungal Damned approached.
A brilliant beam of light cracked open and filled the room. Odessa had broken open the hatch above and daylight flooded in. The vine quickly retreated and the Damned were yanked back by their tethers to the dark.
I was the last one up. We threw the hatch shut behind us. We were safe.
“Fuck this place!” Anna screamed.
“Y-” I trailed off when I noticed something.
There was a piece of the sky in front of us.
“What the hell?” Ash saw it too.
I stepped up to it. An inclined piece of the sky? The angle gave me the thought. I leaned in a little. The sky shifted with my perspective. It was a mirror.
The fire. It was right at a bottleneck, last time. The perfect place for a trap.
“Shatter it,” I told Odessa.
She swung her sword just as the mirror tilted. It uprighted and the four of us came into view. Odessa’s sword glanced off, reflected in its surface now.
I quickly looked back to confirm that the buildings behind our reflections weren’t the same as the buildings actually to our back.
We sprung the trap.
I looked at my copy. Its shadow faced away from the sun, properly. His face was stern and chiseled, unpleasant looking. His head and beard had a short stubble, and he squinted in the sunlight. I stepped to the side, away from the others, and his movements followed perfectly.
The others were watching their copies too. Both Annas looked to both of me and asked, “What is this, Doran? More witchcraft?”
“Yes. It’s a repli-rep-” I stumbled over my words as the Doran in front of me followed them. “The replications…. will deviate.” I was having difficulty speaking as my copy mimicked at a delay. The feedback loop screwed with my ability to speak. I waved my hand and watched the pause between his mimicry. The delay was widening. “It’s set up to capture our images. It’s working on changing them.”
“This happened with the fire last time,” she said. Her copy followed a few seconds later and at a different tone of voice.
“The fires are like junctions here. The traps are placed for maximum-” I stopped dead when I realized my copy wasn’t following at all. He was staring me down.
This is too powerful. Too deadly.
“They’re going to break out or switch places with us,” I warned. “We don’t have time, we can’t run. Back up!”
“What are you going to do?”
I stepped into the center as the others backed off. The four reflections moved up against the glass and put out their hands. Evil Doran spoke on his own. “You’re tricksy, aren’t you?” My voice, but it wasn’t me talking. Someone else speaking through. The Witch.
You’re not dealing with a person bound by rules.
I was the one kind of person equipped to deal with this craft. It equally matched whatever physical force I could put out. Odessa’s sword was easily deflected. But if the mirror could match our metaphysical presence, then it wouldn’t be a reflection at all. It was still an illusion. And if you knew a trick for what it truly was, you could break the magic. I could exert enough sheer force to overcome whoever had cast this trap.
“See you soon, sugar,” the other Doran said
I touched the mirror. Cracks spread across its surface. The mirror shattered into smaller and smaller pieces until there was no trace left.
“I have a feeling we’ll meet whoever’s behind this,” I said to Ash, Anna, and Odessa. “They’ll be looking for us now.”
“Why?” Odessa asked.
“The spell was one of possession. The Witch’s spirit was in those copies, and they aimed to take control. If we’d waited any longer, we would have started to mimic the reflections, not the other way around. They would have wriggled in. We’re okay, now, but they got a good look at us and at our souls. They know who we are.”
“You seem better than them at this,” Ash commented.
“Don’t put your faith in me,” I responded. “I don’t know what it was, but there’s something very concerning about this. I’m not confident.”
The fifth toll sounded in the sky, coming from somewhere far beneath the ground and echoing up and out between the buildings, unsettling their very foundation. When the ground had settled, we agreed to head out again.