What scenario do you think claimed the most human lives throughout history?
Would you point your finger to the wars? World War I or World War II, perhaps? What with ever-advancing technologies, the use of Death Camps, Atomic Bombs, etc. etc. etc.? One must admit, the statistics are rather staggering.
During WWI, is is estimated that over 15 million people (military and civilians included) died.
During WWII, that number grows to over 60 million people killed, possibly closer to 80 million.
Quite impressive, yes?
Which ones, you ask? Well...
The Plague of Justinian itself is rather impressive all on its own. With waves of the disease starting about 540 AD and continuing into the 6th, 7th, and early 8th centuries, it is thought to have killed as many as 25 million worldwide. That alone places it above WW1 and, when keeping in mind the world population at that time... it may have to be considered competition in line with WW2, reflectively. However, even if you want to compare just bare numbers alone, all we have to do is gaze forward. The Plague of Justinian didn't reach its full potential until its return in the 1400s. During which it gained a new name as it spread its wings again. Blanketing its hosting countries as The Black Death. An epidemic that is thought to have claimed up to 100 million lives across Europe, India, China, Syria, and Africa. Even when that ended, it later took flight again as The Third Pandemic between 1855 and 1959 - killing off an additional 12 million people in India and China alone.
Not impressed? Then what about a disease that was the cause of roughly one third of military deaths during WW1? A disease that only took half a year to, at the very least, equal the death total of WW2?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: The Spanish Flu. Between 1918 and 1919, it is estimated to have eliminated from 50 up to 100 million people in a time frame of a mere six months.
Want an even larger number still? During the 20th century, Smallpox claimed 300 to 500 million lives. As early as 1967, it was still taking lives by the millions. Only two million, however.
Or are the numbers to large to fathom? Let's go a BIT smaller then.
The Antonine Plague (165 - 180 AD) may have killed as many as 5 million.
The Russian Flu (1889 - 1890) killed at least 250,000 across Western Europe.
One outbreak of Typhus in particular killed more of Napoleon's soldiers than the Russians themselves managed to. Forcing his retreat.
But perhaps I am speaking too historical for you. I know what manner of attention span you glorious Highers have. So let me simplify it.
The Top Ten Causes of Death in the World rank disease as the top nine. 2008 statistics, but it's close enough. I don't have time to find anything more recent.
In the last 150 years, Measles has been estimated to have killed over 200 million people worldwide.
In 2010, Tuberculosis was responsible for 1.45 million deaths worldwide.
Malaria has been said to kill roughly 2.7 million people per year.
AIDS has been attributed to an average of 25 million deaths per year.
In 2005, Cancer took 7.6 million lives and is on the rise each year. It's estimated that, by year 2030, it will be killing 11.4 million a year.
Even the Common Flu. An average of 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year.
Why the history lesson, you ask?
Perhaps because I have been attempting to avoid contracting these diseases and MORE for over three weeks now.
Perhaps because David - who I took it upon myself to blackmail into assisting us - has been attempting to do the same for over a week now.
Perhaps because our enemy has been weaponizing their interests into creations that take only days, hours, sometimes even minutes to start showing symptoms.
Perhaps because, as a result of your incompetence and stupidity, the entire situation had progressed to a point of extremes before we'd even arrived into the area.
Perhaps because, as much as we slaughter them face-to-face, they are still killing us off from a distance.
Of the Plague Doctor Himself.
The Afflicted. Oathbreakers. Call them what you will.
To be taken.
You have pitted us against disease itself. Not blade or bullet. Disease. Illness. Viruses. Bacteria. We have clashed with these people in the past, of course, but it seems you morons have failed to understand the defined difference THIS time around. I have seen more ways to die in the past three weeks than I have in the past year. The effects their gases have when they spring a trap... it keeps changing. And it's obvious why. They're experimenting. Modern technology has allowed them to mutate diseases and viruses to their will... and now they are studying the effects. As though we are not but lab rats.
We have one Proxy in particular who seems to have developed Ondine's Curse. Meaning she no longer breathes from reflex alone. She hasn't slept in forty-eight hours, for obvious reasons. I expect to hear the gunshot sometime tonight.
Whatever game you were playing - whatever little pissing matches you were having amongst one another - I will tell you now: The humor has turned sour. You have left your Divisions to rot. You have left the entire operation to rot. Forcing us to pick up duties that are not ours to hold just to be able to keep the situation together.
As you already know, I have never been very tolerate of you idiots to begin with. Most of the time, I've chosen to ignore that oh-so-special "wisdom" of yours in favor of staying alive to see another day and using common sense instead of complete arrogance as my guide. Since I do my work well, you have been forced to tolerate ME instead. As such, I understand your desire to see me dead for my constant disregard for whatever elevated position you see yourself as on the totem pole. I understand it. I do.
However, if you truly want to kill me, I'm afraid you'll need to take a FAR more direct route. You presented me with a suicide mission. Did you really expect me to just toss myself in, for better or for worse? One would think that, by now, you'd know better. I recognized it for what it was and found a solution myself. Somewhat of a patch-job, I admit, but he'll do.
Your Divisions have been doing something of the same. Since you're left them with little other choice.
All of you. Are pathetic.
It should NOT have had to fall upon them to scrounge for assistance and supplies from every direction just to keep the plague that is knocking on the back door at bay.
It should NOT have had to fall upon me to force another member of the family into this mess so as to make the mission you assigned me at least somewhat possible.
It should NOT have had to fall upon me and my previously-mentioned, reluctant recruit to keep an eye on and assist YOUR Divisions to ensure we progress forward each day.
It should NOT have had to fall upon a man such as David to become involved into a side of the business he has no experience with.
What part of all this is confusing you?
Despite you not doing your jobs, the rest of us have been doing what we must.
Our Divisions of Proxies have still been fighting to remove the Afflicted from the "invaded" town to the best of their abilities. Succeeding, for the most part. Though casualties ARE mounting. Some of which could have been avoided.
I have adjusted my own situation to help ensure BOTH assignments are completed. In so doing, I've painted a target on the back of my head for my partner in crime to take aim at later. Thank you for that. You may very well get me killed yet. Joy, hm?
As for David himself, he has been adjusting all he knows just in order to survive and complete the tasks laid before him. While I felt from the start that his training would give him a fighting chance of coming out of this alive, he is - by anyone's definition - a rookie in the field. A newbie. He is used to handling norms. Runners. Proxies. This is his first experience against other cults... and the Afflicted are a difficult bunch to have as an introductory. Despite his lack of experience in the area... I had decided he had been worth taking a chance on. His skill level is correct. He had been fairly close by to our location. And he had a publicized weak point I could easily exploit. No one else fit my needs better.
And I must say... that he has been doing VERY well, for the most part. I'm impressed.
Pardoning the fiasco two days ago when he nearly killed us both.
Granted, it was my choice to go in after him. I could have left him to die. Perhaps I should have. However... I happen to be someone who hates putting so much effort into something only to come out empty handed. So, when I saw him disappear through the door of a Marked Building on the tails of a few of the Afflicted... I followed after.
(Normally, I wouldn't explain what happened... but I think my dearest Followers will enjoy hearing the tale.)
David had obviously been having fun as he went further and further into a Trap Waiting to Happen. Like a cat caught up in the excitement of chasing a mouse, he failed to take due notice to his surroundings. I simply pulled up the lower half of my mask (designed to filter the air similar to a medical mask) and followed the trail of bodies - figures in wide-brimmed hats and tattered robes slowly creating pools of thick crimson around their collapsed forms. Eyes of their signature mask peering out at the world still, but the eyes beneath the mask had obviously already been emptied. From the glances I gave them upon passing, I could tell they'd been taken out fast. Cleanly. Not skipping a beat. Just as I'd expect from the assassin.
He must have taken out at least six of them... before the trail lead me to a door which went down into the basement.
I hadn't had such a strong urge to bash my own skull against a wall for quite some time.
However, I'd gone this far. I wasn't turning back.
I descended the stairs with caution. Not really knowing what to expect. The first thing I saw inside the dimly lit basement... came with some relief. My little runaway was across the room, having just allowed his last target to crumble to the floor in front of him. Blade glistening with fresh blood. A wide, malicious grin across his face. He seemed more than pleased with himself... until his attention rose to his surroundings.
The slight trace of uncertainty that crossed his features then was almost cute, considering how deep he'd buried himself in Their building. I addressed him by name as I came down the stairs - just to make certain I gained his attention and not a bullet of surprise fired in my direction. He seemed genuinely surprised to see me. However, just as I stepped from the last stair... the dooming sound of a slamming door and the clunk of a solid lock twisting into place came from behind me.
We were locked in.
I was not surprised.
It was more or less the next obvious step in a bad day turning for the worst.
After all, that was exactly how the Afflicted work. They seem to despise face-to-face time and will avoid it completely when possible. Instead, they make their little air borne illnesses and set little traps for others to either fall into or be manipulated/driven into.
Hence why I wished to bash my skull in (or his, perhaps?) when I saw the trail of blood leading down to the basement.
We weren't even making them EARN it.
This was well beyond a rookie's mistake. It was practically suicide by ventilation duct... as that is typically their "gun" of choice. They feed their weaponized diseases and bacteria into the room of their choice via the air and let it have its fun with those stuck inside. The Afflicted then like to watch from a distance and take notes. Like good little Medical Students.
David used a piece of his shirt as a make-shift mask for himself (I have since given him a mask similar to my own) and inquired to me as to ideas of how to get out. I suppose he thought that I wouldn't have come down after him (or perhaps because I wasn't in a panic?) unless there was Escape Plan B waiting in the wing. He was more or less correct.
The Afflicted prefer the underground. Underneath their Cult Towns, you will always find the same thing: winding tunnels running from one side of the Town to the other. Connecting into the sewer system... as well as the basements of several key buildings. I already knew the building we were in was Marked as one of their "coming and going" points. I told David that we had to find the entrance to their own tunnel before we found ourselves suffering from exposure to whatever it was that they'd chosen to Eliminate us with. I told him that it was probably covered in some way...
David's response was rather perfect. "You can't be serious. As in the old Trapdoor Beneath a Rug trick?"
I looked to him... and then we both looked down to the carpet we were standing on. We quickly dragged the dead body off to one side before we each grabbed a side of the carpet and flipped it back.
Never doubt a Classic.
The trapdoor was wooden and just pulled open. No fuss, no muss. By this point, however, the air of the basement had taken on a strange taste, even through our masks. I could feel the irritation in my throat and David was starting to cough. Time was ticking, but before one of us could move... we heard a blast and the entire building trembled to the point of making us both stumble slightly in our footing. Then there was another blast. And another. And another. Building into a deafening explosion and the structure above us groaned horribly, dust pouring down upon us as the ceiling began to buckle and split. Pieces of cement crumbling down.
There was another reason we called it the Marked Building. It was set to be reduced to rubble. I knew this going in. I thought we still had time.
I was wrong.
I grabbed David through the shower of dust and chunks of cement and got him to jump down the hole first. I followed just as the ceiling collapsed down and flames from the explosions licked above our heads with searing heat. I'd seen the ladder on the side of the hole earlier, but the hole went even deeper than I'd thought. Sending a jar up my legs as I landed, but the rocks had found the hole as well and were pelting downwards. I threw myself forward to avoid the storming... and landed on top of David.
By the time everything had settled around us... he was half-way in between choking from whatever was in the air and the dust... and laughing his head off.
Honestly? I wasn't much different.
When he had the breath to, he commented about the whole affair being quite the little adventure.
I simply responded that he couldn't say I didn't take him anywhere interesting. Then I complained about having landed on his gun as my ribs were protesting rather angrily at that point.
His advice, while grinning, was not to set it off.
He's a charmer. Truly.
After we untangled ourselves, we took a moment to rest before I stood and offered a hand to David. We had to get moving, after all. We were now even deeper into Their territory than before. He took it after a period of hesitation and I pulled him up. It was then up to me to navigate us through the tunnels to find another exit. During which, we got a chance to talk. Spoke of a variety of things. One of which being his luck (or lack there of) that it had been ME to take advantage of Venny and not someone else. In my view, the Runner is safe and sound so long as David doesn't do anything too stupid. For that, he is lucky. To his eyes, he can't just "throw [me] out a window" and so that constitutes bad luck.
We've both concluded that we think one another to be very confusing individuals.
I also pitched him a warning concerning dearest Ronan. After all, David is attempting to create in the chaos that which it naturally destroys. I will not stand in their way to destroying themselves, though I do urge against the level of blindness BOTH these men live in. I gave him my two cents. David responded by stepping in so close to me with his whisperings that I nearly felt as though he was attempting to seduce me. Amusing, to say the least.
We had to change our route every once in a while. A shadow would appear in front of us as an approaching figure around a turn, so we'd go another way. Choosing to avoiding trouble while we were so deep in another Cult's territory. Honestly, the blocks seemed casual. Nothing seemingly suspicious enough or convenient enough to set off any red flags. In fact, both of us had thought we had AVOIDED a trap or two along the way... and then, after a long stretch of tunnel that looked exactly the same as any other... a dead end rose to greet us.
And They appeared from behind us.
They were all dressed in the likeness of their God. And yet... each one was slightly different. Different colors. Styles. Accessories. Some appearing more "steam-punk" while others held more traditional or tribal appearances. They each carried their choice of bladed weapons.
David and I didn't wait for them to come at us. We went to them. Driving through the crowd of figures with his knife and my gauntlet. Drawing our guns when needed. Always moving. Shifting. One opponent to the next. Shift. Strike. Shift. Block. Block. Strike. Shift. David's laughter was echoing through the tunnel as we worked as a team. The Afflicted fought back just as hard. Both of us earning injuries before long, but nothing that slowed us down, for the most part. What was bothering me, however, was all the while in my head... I kept thinking it was wrong. This wasn't normal for Oathbreakers. That there had to be something else going on...
I remember a motion from the corner of my eye, then there was an arm cutting across my throat as another hand snapped around me with a needle. I didn't hesitate. My gauntlet caught the arm with the needle as I slammed myself backwards against a wall. Bladed fingers cutting through fabric and flesh as I twisted the handgun in my opposite hand to fire backwards into my attacker's gut. There was a shot. A pained gasp. A spray of blood... and nothing changed. The hand with the needle continued to press against my own blades as the other arm continued to choke me. Two other servants moved in to take advantage of my situation. I kicked into the gut of one...
I couldn't help but cringe as a shot suddenly split through my hearing. David's gun having been pressed right against the side of my attacker's head when he took his shot. The hold on me crippled away. Releasing my windpipe for oxygen again. It was at that point that my weeks in this Town began to catch up to me. I couldn't catch my breath. My chest rattled with each inhale and exhale... but I didn't stop. I snapped up with my gauntlet, deflecting a blade from one of my two other attackers before I leveled my gun.
Two skulls splattering chucks of brain matter and bone on the walls behind them as they both crumpled backwards to the floor.
I turned back to David. It had finally clicked what they were doing.
I told him they were sealing us in.
These were not but decoys. Distractions.
We ran. Ignoring all injuries that came our way as we blasted through the tunnel stride for stride. Five more shots would pierce the air.
Two of mine. Aimed at those rigging the doorway of the tunnel into collapsing.
Three of David's. Aimed at the weak points that the now-dead Oathbreakers had made.
The tunnel collapsed behind us. Sealing the others inside.
David and I wasted no time in moving on. We found where the tunnel breaks into the sewer system and went up a ladder to let ourselves out onto the road. Like I'd planned, we emerged not far from Point Zero. Our Home Base in the town. We were receiving treatment within fifteen minutes.
Our wounds have been dressed and we are both still fighting our own internal battles... but we both got out.
It hadn't been said... but he knows as well as I do that he would have died had I not gone in after him.
He also knows as well as I do that I wouldn't have got out myself had he not returned the favor and watched my back.
So, while I tried to clear out my lungs and he fought off infection from a laced blade, we had a chance to talk things over more carefully.
A decision was made.
Plans have been adjusted accordingly.
It is time we did this our way.
Furthermore, "Highers", in response to your latest "order" we received... you can consider it officially IGNORED.
These Divisions have been under my eye for nearly a month now. Lives have come and gone and been replaced. If things continue as they are, we can both see this continuing for another few weeks... and that if far too long. David and I refuse to be the next corpses to be set ablaze. Therefore, since the lot of you obviously lack the backbone to handle command of what should have originally been a simple mission... I am now informing you that you have not but a single duty from hence forth:
Stay the fuck out of our way.
These Divisions are under my command now.
If you so desire to protest, then please do come to our lovely neighborhood and confront me.
I'll be sure to give you a fitting welcome.
You're dismissed, sweethearts.
PS: As for my Friends who are reading this... do be sure to pray for us. This will get interesting.