The End: Story One
The Lead Up

By: David K. Montoya

Sometime later, I awoke in a confused state, because for a moment I thought I was back home in Appleton and everything that I had experienced recently was just a horrible dream. After calling out to my wife a few times, I jumped from the bed and fumbled around in the unfamiliar darkness.

Then it came to me—none of it had been a dream—it was real! I lowered myself back down onto the bed, placed my face in my hands and begin to sob. Everything; the 'Sickness', the 'Unluckys', the countless deaths, all had taken place. I then remembered where I was; in Palace City, which was about fifty miles from the California border and twenty more to the Unlucky territory, also known as Corpseland. We were on our way north to Montana, to what was believed to be the last modern city, called Haven.

I continued to sit there in the darkness for a few moments longer, gathering my thoughts. My mind drifted back to my wife, who I had not seen in some fifteen plus years. It is hard for me to believe I have been alone for so long, and I cringed at the thought of never again experiencing the passionate touch of another. I flicked the lights on as I continued to sit on the side of the bed, trying to shake the lonesome feeling that had set in.

Finally, the couple minutes of sorrow started to fade away, even though it will leave me with a troubling heartache for some time. I moved into the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower. Steam quickly filled the room. I couldn't believe that this place had running water, but to have it heated as well—it was a nice touch.

I slipped under the running water and quickly remembered the wound on the side of my neck. A fresh onslaught of pain caused me to fall to my knees and let out a shriek, as the wound began to pulsate with fire. I had completely forgotten about the earlier attack. I attempted to examine the ragged gash in my skin, but then, I'm no doctor.

#

I stepped from the shower when I heard a knock at my door. Wrapping one towel around my waist and another over my shoulders to hide the wound, I opened the door to find one of the Emperor's Imperial guards. He told me to get dressed and follow him. After quickly dressing, we walked from the room to elevator and once inside, the man inserted a key into the panel and pushed a button that said 'PENT'. I could sense that we were traveling upward at a rather rapid pace.

With a ding and a whoosh, the door slid open and as we stepped out. As I looked around, I could see that this entire floor had been converted into a huge storage unit. Here, they had everything that a person could possibly require, from TVs and other appliances, to furniture and complete wardrobes (toward which we were heading). I asked him what were we doing here and he explained that since I was the Emperor's guest, I needed to dress appropriately for the evening. And, since tonight was a 'Black–tie' event, he had been ordered to assist me in finding the proper attire. The guard stopped in front of a long rack and he asked what size I wore, then started thumbing through the hanging suits.

Finally, he pulled back and handed me a black suit that was wrapped in a transparent layer of plastic. We moved away from the suits and went over to a HUGE assortment of shoes; there were hundreds of pairs and brands. I picked a pair of patent leather shoes which I thought would go well with the suit that had been given to me.

#

Once I arrived back in my room, I found Michael was waiting for me. He was already dressed in a black tuxedo and looked quite excited. My mind flashed back to when he was three years old and we were all at the Zoo. This was the same wide–eyed look he had right before we saw the elephants for the first time. I could always (for the most part) tell what was going on in Mike's head, just by looking at his face.

As I came in, Michael immediately started telling me about the things that he had in his room. From the sound of things, he must of been given a suite. He went on to say that the girls had been placed in V.I.P. room just down the hall from the Emperor himself. That did not really surprise me, as I couldn't help but notice the way he had been looking at the girls downstairs: like a wolf stalking its prey. I asked if he had seen Rose and the others, since I had no contact with them since we were assigned our rooms.

Mike said that he had seen the girls earlier. When he was leaving the storage unit, they had been coming in, but he hadn't seen Richard. I didn't know why, but that news worried me. I knew Rich could take care of himself, still, something just did not feel right. Michael went on to say that Renee had told him that she and the others would see us tonight.

Less than an hour later, Arch–Commander Patrick arrived at my room to escort Michael and myself to the coliseum. On the way there, the Arch–Commander explained that the coliseum was where they held all of their evening events. I asked him if they held some type of event every night? He replied that it was the same thing every night. First, they would hold some sort of play and then they would have the 'Main' event. I asked him what that was. All he told me was that I would find out for myself, soon enough.

#

The three of us made our way down to the coliseum and once inside, I was surprised to find that the format of the arena had not changed much since the last time I had been here for a boxing match, over twenty years ago. The only noticeable difference was that from the back stage entrance to the center of the stadium, where the festivities where held, was now all encased in a towering corridor of protective glass. We got to our seats which, to our surprise, were front row. Tina and Rose were already seated, but Rich and Renee were nowhere to be seen.

Rose explained that Renee was still in her room and would be on her way shortly. As for my brother, it seemed that no one had seen him since we got here. I thought about going out and looking for him, but Michael talked me out of it. I wondered to myself if he was possibly scavenging for another hit of 'LDM'. Finally, I took my seat and quickly noticed that there was not a lot of leg room.

My knees were pressed up against the glass and there was no possible chance of stretching out. But the view was spectacular; I could look right down into the arena. We were about twenty feet up and I would be able to see everything from this position. I heard a soft voice call my name and turned to find that it was Renee. I sat there for a moment quite speechless—she was absolutely gorgeous.

She continued to talk to me, but honestly, I didn't even hear what she was saying. I was totally stunned by how attractive she actually was. Eventually, I gathered my composure and was able to close my mouth, as she took a seat next to me. Shortly thereafter, the lights in the room dimmed and a number of actors took the stage.

Come to find out, the 'Event' was a play based on how the Emperor founded Palace City. It was interesting, although a bit over done, as well as very melodramatic, but the acting wasn't too bad. I could see the Emperor, who was directly across from me. He seemed to be more interested in the two women he had with him, but I'm sure he had seen this same show more times then he could count.

After the play, I was about to get up from my seat when a spotlight flashed on the Emperor. He stood from his chair and made this, 'My Fellow Countrymen' speech about tonight's main event, then the lights moved back into the center of the arena. Now, all of the props from the play were gone and a man was dragging a struggling Unlucky out into the open arena. It was chained and shackled, but at that moment I jumped to my feet, as I recognized that this demon was the one we had seen along the roadside, earlier. I had thought that it was dead!

I turned toward Patrick and asked him if this was the Unlucky that had been thrown into the back of a truck today. He studied the creature for a moment and turned back to tell me, yes, indeed it was the same one from this afternoon.

I told him I thought it had been killed, that I had seen him shoot this one with my own eyes. He chuckled and told me that the rifles they had been using were not loaded with bullets, but tranquilizers. Patrick added that they regularly gathered up those monsters to use in the gladiator tournaments, but before I could ask what he was talking about, the spotlight turned back onto the Emperor. He once again stood from his chair to announce who the warrior would be to go up against this Unlucky. Then, I could not believe my eyes, as dressed in traditional gladiatorial body armor and helmet, with a sword in one hand and a shield in the other, the warrior stepped into the light. Amid wild cheers and thunderous applause, the Emperor shouted out his name…

"…Richard!"

To be continued…

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