The Orc general was just down the corridor. Lei looked at his compatriots. Nothing needed to be said to this group. They all knew where he was and what challenges he presented to them. Lei felt the excitement amongst his team. It had taken them hours of hard fighting through a veritable army to reach this point. They were keenly aware that they were preparing to confront possibly the most powerful Orc any of them had ever seen. Lei himself was unmoved. A victor of countless battles, he knew winning a battle like this would be all about preparation. His group had collected what they could from the bodies of their enemies to supplement their dwindling supplies. The hope now was that it would be enough to deal with their opponent.
Lei wondered if he could get away with a cigarette. He had been craving one for about the last hour but conditions had permitted it. He debated lighting one now. Part of him knew that the edginess he was feeling from the cravings would be of some assistance for the battle ahead but the cravings were strong. Lei looked at his team as they each went through their preparations. Hong was administering blessings to ensure that his team was performing at their best. His other companions were busy applying their poisons, potions and sharpening their weapons. There was something comforting about the way everyone had his or her own rituals. Having fought together for as long as they had, Lei knew he could trust his friends to perform when the battle started. Despite the occasional setbacks, they had always ultimately triumphed and he had high hopes that this battle would be the final in their long war. Lei could feel his hands tremble a little. Perhaps that cigarette would be a good idea after all.
Lok recognised the signs as he slapped the back of his friend’s head. “Your cigarette can wait. Let’s get this done.” Lok had known Lei most of his life, far beyond this campaign, and he knew the benefits of having Lei slightly edgy. Besides, also craving a cigarette, Lok took some perverse pleasure in their both suffering over something so minor after all that they had been through. Lei tossed him a look that could kill but Lok was immune. “I’m in the same boat as you so let’s just get this done.”
Lei took a calming breath and stared at the massive door. Beyond it, their soon-to-be-dead target would be ready for them. The unofficial leader of this motley crew Lei could tell his team was now waiting for him. “Ready?” The team agreed as they started towards the door. Their weapon’s primed; all were focused and ready for battle. They would either emerge heroes, or they would be dead. It was that simple. Shen, had been elected to open the door. Being the strongest and most armoured of them all, his main task, if there were any surprises beyond the gate, would be to deal with them. Shen pulled at the door and rushed into the room. Then, darkness.
Lei could hear screams erupt from those all around him. He threw his headset off in disgust and stared at the barely visible computer monitor that was now sitting lifeless before him in the pitch black gaming cafe. “Fuck.” Lei allowed himself a moment of frustration. It took a moment longer to really register that the entire parlour was without power. People were beginning to re-join the real world, some with genuine cries of anguish. Probably not all gamers either. Some were likely students doing last minute work on their assignments. Lei had sympathy for them. His own time as a student would be forever with him. That horrible feeling when something went wrong and you knew it had been a very long while since you last backed up your work. He looked to where Lok was sitting. Despite the darkness that filled the room he knew Lok would be smiling at this situation. It was just his sense of humour.
“I wonder if Shen had the same problem?” Lok asked as he absent-mindedly stretched his neck.
Shen was on a trip to Japan and had set himself up in an Internet café somewhere so they could all play their regular game. Lok started to laugh. “He probably charged into the room all alone and wondered where his back up was.” Lei had to chuckle at that idea. He let out a long sigh as he looked around the room. He had not seen it this dark before. Not in Hong Kong. His watch was the only thing offering a faint glow. An old wind up timepiece that was a gift from his father to him years ago it seemed out of place in this room of computers, but that made it work for Hong Kong. It was a little shy of one o’clock in the morning. Time tended to drift away when they were gaming together.
The last few hours, though fun were now a complete waste of time. They would have to complete the raid all over again. Lei could hear the annoyed voices from people around the room. His eyes were beginning to adjust to the lack of proper light in the room. Everything was dead, the light, computers, music players. Even the waving cat on the counter had ceased its simple constant activity. If it hadn’t been for the moon outside they would have seen none of this. The chatter of voices had risen as customers became aware that the problem seemed to not just be restricted to just this parlour. Lok, sitting at the terminal next to him rubbed his eyes and replaced his glasses. “I guess we’re ok for that cigarette now.” He stood up and stretched. He grabbed his cigarettes and lighter from the desk and headed through the darkness where the dim light from the skies illuminated the street. As Lei approached the counter he smiled at the struggling attendant. Some customers were engaging in arguments with him, demanding their money back. Lei and his friends placed some money on the counter. The attendant was only too pleased to accept the money as the friends exited the store. People were slowly slipping out, and the street was becoming more illuminated as residents outside started lighting old style paper lanterns.
“We could have gotten off without paying.” Lok handed around cigarettes, “And besides we never really finished it all, so he would get the money when we come back and do it again.” Lei wasn’t going to bite. Lok’s family had come from more money than the rest of their group and as such, never really appreciated how valuable every single dollar was when running a business, especially in Hong Kong. Hong cast his eyes around the street. “You notice how quiet it is?” Hong was right. Sure, there were people talking, but in a city like Hong Kong people were always talking. Everything else was quiet. There was no music, cars or even computers. Just voices. More paper lanterns were starting to appear on balconies. People were so confused that Lei wondered if they had taken any time to stop and consider just how beautiful Hong Kong looked.
“I heard something like this happened here last week. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong.” Hong drew back on his cigarette. “This city is falling to pieces.”
“Central government is killing this place.” Lok observed. Lei had to find this funny. Most of them really didn’t know Hong Kong before the handover but blaming the mainland government had become a bit of a thing with people. Though Lei knew the older generations who still remembered the old times were notoriously tight lipped when it came to voicing such criticism. “I wonder how bad it is?” Lei looked up and down the street, as he drew deeply on the cigarette. More and more people were starting to appear on the streets, confused and unsure what was causing it all. Lei fumbled for his phone, wondering how widespread the blackout was. When he finally retrieved it, he was a little disconcerted to see it was also dead. All of a sudden the lack of power in the street and shops had lost its beauty. Lei was suddenly worried for his family. “Can I borrow your phone? I want to see if it’s the same at home.” Lok rummaged though his bulging pockets for his own phone. He drew it out amidst several tangled cables and headphones. Lei looked on, a little impatient as his friend tried to disentangle his phone. Finally having untangled his phone, Lok opened the cover. “Must have forgot to charge it.” Lok unconcerned, took a long drag on his cigarette as he pushed the phone back into his over already overcrowded pocket. Lei felt a chill run up his spine.
All of a sudden a shimmering glow appeared at the top of the street. It appeared half in front of a building and half shimmering into the street. At first people hadn’t noticed it but as the light was continuing to grow, people drew back from the light, the confusion of the situation guiding their actions. Lok was the first one of the three to notice it, lighting his second cigarette as he walked in the direction of the light. “Check this out.” The other friends followed. They walked around the cars that had come to a halt when the power died. A wind was picking up, bringing with it a strange smell and it seemed to be coming from the shimmer.
Lei had stopped a few meters behind his friends out the front of a phone store. The phones in the shop window were dead. They should have been charged enough to not be reliant on the power grid. At least one single phone out of all the ones on display, but they were just lifeless pieces of plastic now. “Guys, I think we should go.”
Lok and Hong were standing before the shimmer, which by now had grown to the size of a large barn door. Lok could see Lei’s discomfort. He felt it too, but he wasn’t one to miss an opportunity to show off. “Don’t be such a baby.” He held out his hand at the edge of the shimmer. “It’s just a light.” And with that, Lok thrust his hand through the wall of light.
His hand didn’t come out the other side. Hong who had been standing to the side trying to determine the source of the light jerked back with as the hand he was expecting failed to materialise. It wasn’t that his hand couldn’t be seen, Lok’s hand hadn’t come out the other side at all. Lok drew his hand out of the shimmer as if it had touched scalding water. Shocked. Out of everything that he had thought might happen his whole hand disappearing wasn’t it and he jerked it back, relieved to find his hand still attached. After he collected himself his big grin was back. “That was so cool.”
Hong couldn’t believe it. “Do it again.” Growing more fearless in the attentions of the growing number of onlookers, Lok moved his arm once again into the shimmer and he pulled it out again. Whatever this was, it was something amazing.
Lei hand started to move again towards the shimmer. He was still afraid, but it seemed too incredible an opportunity to miss out on. Hong tried sending his arm through the other direction but it passed harmlessly through the light. Disappointed, he came around to the front of the shimmer, determined to have a go. He stuck his arm in, all the way up to his shoulder. People were crowding around watching and laughing at the friends, putting things through the shimmer, some limbs, others whatever objects they could find. Lei joined his friends. He was about to have a go, when Hong decided to take the plunge no one had yet made and he moved his two friends aside. “Watch this.” Hong leant forward moving his head through the shimmer, dunking his head into a sideways swimming pool as people looked on laughing at the sight. It was then that everything went to hell.
Hong’s decapitated body fell to the ground. The creatures on the other side seemed to take that moment as the signal to charge. Their hulking green bodies came hurtling through the shimmer, their weapons drawn and swinging. Lok had been shunted aside as the creatures came charging through, falling directly into Lei. It probably saved their lives as the force knocked the pair behind the gateway. The creatures slowly got their bearings their attacks became more concentrated and savage began to swing less wildly, much more deliberate. Swords, axes, and other frightening weapons were leaving a trail of bloodied corpses in their wake. Hidden from the invaders immediate view, the two friends looked on in horror as the marching horde pushed the decapitated body of Hong out of their way like garbage at their feet.
Screams rang out as the people fell away under the onslaught of the hulking creatures. The fleeing crowd rushing headfirst into the approaching crowd that wanted to see what was happening, creating a blockage of people that made the slaughter that much easier. Lei helped his friend up off the ground and both of them forced themselves through an alleyway tucked behind the glowing doorway, between two buildings. The stench of the alley was terrible but the two friends barely noticed, their survival instinct too powerful. The screams behind them urged them onward away from the carnage and the opening at the far end of the alley promised them salvation.
They broke from the alleyway. The urgency of their escape in stark contrast to the bemused looks on the faces of those oblivious to what was happening on the far side of the buildings. Cars lay idle and people were wandering around spouting theories on what was going on. The only suggestion of the horrors nearby was the ever-growing sound of battle.
“What the hell was that?” Lei looked back down the alley from whence they had come. Lok couldn’t answer, vomiting as the shock of what had happened was starting to reveal itself in his body. Lei looked back at the small gap, fortunately the creatures seemed too broad to be able to fit through the narrow space. A red flash from somewhere at the end of the alleyway punctuated by what seemed to be people screaming in agony.
Recovering, Lok grabbed his friend and dragged him in the direction of the Western Harbour Crossing. “I don’t know. But we need to leave.”
Lei offered no resistance to the idea but felt guilty as he pushed pass some people starting to try and deduce the source of the sounds. “We need to warn people.”
Lok was already moving in the direction of the crossing. “And say what exactly? And Hong Kong is being invaded? We can’t do anything. We just need to get out of here.” Though Lei knew he was right, he felt guilty as he allowed his friend to drag him away. By now other people were starting to move in the same direction as the friends, heading away from the sounds of battle, whether they clearly understood the reason why or not.
“Well, we have to do something.” It was then that Lei noticed the city lights. In the distance they were still on. “The power is still working there. I need to call home.” The friends ran in the direction of the light, a task made easier as they were moving with the mass of people, surging on in the darkness. There were more sounds behind them, not just the screams of people but now what sounded like animal calls. Strange animals and their shrieks touched on a primal feeling deep in the pit of Lei’s stomach. Lok was looking back over his shoulder from time to time. There seemed to be fires breaking out behind them and his mind was processing the events of the last few minutes trying to make sense of what was happening. “You really think they were Orcs?”
“I have no idea, but they didn’t look like people.”
“You think that maybe we’ve been gassed?” Lok was grasping now, desperately trying to find a way for what was happening to be explained.
“They aren’t real. They can’t be. But we were playing a video game with orcs, the lights go out and then there are orcs.”
“So you think we have been gassed?” Lei had been trying to reconcile what had been happening but till then it hadn’t occurred to him that it might all be in his head.
“Drugged, or gassed. It makes more sense than anything else I can think of.”
“Who did it then?”
Lok looked around. He wasn’t certain if the government was listening but he wasn’t taking the chance.
Lei could see from his face what he was suggesting. “Are you serious?” They stopped again. It had only been a short sprint, but neither had the energy for consistent running.
Lok pulled his friend into an alcove. His breathing was laboured. “ I need to get in shape.”
“You really think that they would do this to us?”
Lok didn’t have time to answer the question as he had a realisation. “The lights. The electricity. It keeps moving away from us.”
Lei hadn’t noticed it until that moment but now; he could see it was true. A greater feeling of dread was gripping him. Whatever was causing the power to go out seemed to be creeping further outward. “We need to get to where there is some power. I have to call my family.”
“Me too.” Lok slapped his friend on the back indicating that he was ready to press on. The pair pushed there way back into the street and moved with the growing wave of humanity moving off the island.
The sound of the police helicopter approaching the area caused the pair to look up. People kept moving but there was an instantaneous feeling of relief as everyone realised that the authorities were already responding to the madness. People kept moving but there was an excited chattering. Surely if the police were responding, the army would be close behind. The optimism was short lived however, as the same helicopter that looked so impressive moments earlier, upon entering the area of the blackout simply lost all power. Its rotors slowly came to a halt and it seemed to hang in the air for a brief second, finally falling like the massive dead weight it was.
They could hear the sound of metal scraping along the sides of the buildings and glass shattering as they lost sight of the falling helicopter amongst the buildings of Hong Kong, punctuated by an explosion. Whatever hopes this was all just some terrible nightmare; Lei had been clinging to finally disappeared. He knew at that moment that this situation was real. There was no way his imagination could have come up with something so horrible.
They were coming up on Des Voeux Road, the last major cross street before they got to the entrance to the Harbour crossing and their way off the island. They could see that the blackout seemed to have halted a little way onto the bridge. The lights on the bridge and the city beyond a beacon of hope shining through the narrow street ahead of them. The mass of people had grown, a veritable tsunami of bodies, most not quite understanding what was going but, but understanding enough to know leaving the island was in their best interest. Lei stumbled as he ran, bodies crushed in the panic of the mob and never able to find their feet again. It made him physically ill to look at, so he pretended that they were anything else and pushed on. Behind them, the fires of the city were growing. The combination of high-rise buildings and lack of electricity had impeded the response and with the panic in the streets it would have been impossible for the fire department to respond.
Again came the roar of the strange beasts, but this time the direction of the screams was coming from Des Voeux Road. How did they get ahead of them? All of a sudden, several very large creatures tore through the crowds of people trying desperately to cross the street. They reminded Lei of dinosaurs however these ones had archers mounted on their backs firing arrows into the masses of people who now were now running into each other to try and escape the carnage. The beasts took up position at the end of the road and bottled the people in trapping them between the approaching ground forces and themselves. With nowhere to run, people were falling over themselves and each other creating even more chaos. Flames erupted from the sky above the crowd and rained down fire filling the air with screams and the smell of burning flesh. Lok and Lei, having missed the initial attack, had enough presence of mind to hug the walls waiting for any sort of window to present itself for their escape. The lights in the distance testing the pair’s patience as they beckoned them with their promise of safety.
The sound of gunfire broke the enemies focus, as archers fell from the backs of their beasts, surprised from behind by a resistance they had failed to consider. Lei assumed that it was the local police that were finally responding. Though outmatched, the bullets from the police were causing the invading forces to respond to the more obvious threat. The beasts broke from their attack and left a window of opportunity for those still surviving, to run from the street. Seizing this moment, the pair lunged in a desperate race to get across the road. The stench of death clung to the thick smoke that had settled along the ground and both had to fight the urge to vomit. Lei could see ground troops moving in a charge towards the crowd. The street was a slaughterhouse. Before they could clear the street the gunfire ended abruptly and the invaders turned their attention back to the masses. Lei knew that if they didn’t get across De Voeux Road they would likely die.
Lei had never truly understood what the term wall of humanity meant until now. The people were crushing each other as they pressed to get away. The fire from the sky had stopped but the damage had been done. A little girl screamed. Being knocked back and forth she was bloodied and clearly distressed. The mass of people had prevented her from falling to the ground but she was still at the mercy of the people. Lei grabbed her, pulling her up into his arms. In doing so, he came very close to falling but Lok grabbed him to steady him. They pressed on, the girl heavy in Lei’s arms was crying but he held on to her and she him. Lok encouraged his companions towards the bodies of the dead people.
“The fire!” Lei warned.
“- Has stopped. If it’s a mage, he would aim for another area where there are more people.” Lok dragged the two into the heart of carnage. Lok was right, the crowd thinned out a little as they climbed over the remains of the people. Lei tried to imagine they were playing the game that they had just been playing. If they were in a game then they just had to treat it like one of their fights. The bad guys would attack to a pattern. Usually not where they had previously attacked. Lei knew it wasn’t a game but just the notion of it seemed to calm him a little.
Lok reached down and grabbed a large knife from the body of one of the archers that had fallen. Lei wasn’t certain his friend would be able to do something with it but he felt better for him being armed. At this time they had almost made it across the street. The dinosaurs were now marching in towards the people, the remaining archers trying to establish the kill zones as their ground forces blocked off the escape. The edge of the street grew tantalizingly close but as the archers were bringing down more people, it was looking less likely that they would make it. Lei shifted the girl to his other side to offer whatever protection his body could afford her.
Lok screamed as an arrow tore through his flesh. It had gone clear through his upper arm but somehow he fought the urge to stop running. Lei wanted to check on his friend but the concern for the child in his arms spurred them on. Lok grabbed at the shaft imbedded in him.
“Leave it in.” Lei yelled. Fighting instinct, Lok left the arrow and pressed on. Both new that last few meters matter more than anything. If they could get across this street, the archers to their right wouldn’t be able to see them. They could now see clearly the overpass that was the Western Harbour crossing that would lead them off the island. The sounds of those who had been trapped in the area behind them filled the air and Lei couldn’t stop the tears that streamed down his face. His chest constricted, his arms and the girl they cradled felt like lead weights but still he pressed on for at that moment all that mattered was survival.
Moving along the underpass that led to the bridge, the people were starting to thin out. A combination of the massacre, and exhaustion had reduces the wave of humanity to a group of people that barely looked alive. The road had opened from the buildings and despite the abandoned cars. People were able to move more freely. The bridge stretched out across the water, it’s lights promised the end to the nightmare. Whatever was causing the blackout seemed to have stopped about halfway across the bridge. As they followed the on ramp, Lok fell; the bleeding and exertion had taken its toll. Someone stumbled around him stepping on him but not stopping. Lei was determined to not leave his friend. He held the girl in his arms firmly as he pushed back against the people to gather his friend. Lok, was looking pale. Lei tried to pull him to his feet. He didn’t move. They had come so far and he couldn’t fail now, just a little more walking and they would be across the bridge. He pulled again at his friend. Desperate of a sign that Lok wasn’t dead. Lei felt useless and weak, people were knocking against him, a mere obstruction to the safety they all pursued. He was frustrated now with his own weaknesses, screaming out loud for some hidden reserve of strength. If he lived through this he would never be this helpless again. Lok regained consciousness and pulled himself to his feet. He gave a desperate pull. His arm felt like it was being wrenched from it’s socket but Lok staggered to his feet.
All of a sudden a solider was beside them. So concerned with his friend, Lei hadn’t noticed the fact that soldiers were now running down the ramp towards the battle.
“Are you able to walk?” The soldier seemed younger than Lei but wore the uniform of an army medic.
Lei could barely speak. “His arm.” It seemed redundant as the young medic was already bandaging his friend’s arm as best as he could amidst the chaos. “What is happening?”
“Head over the bridge.” The medic had finish and was examining the young girl as best as he could despite her unwillingness to relinquish her hold of Lei. “We have people on the other side that will get you all to safety.” The girl looked to the young soldier, her grip loosened a little from around Lei’s neck. The sight of the soldier offered a degree of reassurance that had been missing for all of them. The soldier performed a cursory examination of the young girl as best as he could without disengaging her from Lei’s arms. Satisfied there was nothing life threatening, he stood up and adjusted his gear. “Get moving.”
The three of them staggered onto the main road of the bridge. Lei guessed that these soldiers heading into battle were those based out at Stonecutter’s Island. They were taking up positions on the overpass looking into the city and the sounds of small arms fire erupted sporadically as they tried to discourage the invaders from pursuing the survivors who were able to break from the buildings. As he ran the sounds of battle were lost over the sound of Lei’s beating heart. He only once looked back at the city. It was on fire. Buildings aflame everywhere like giant candles illuminating the sky. The Jewel of the Orient was now nothing more than a burning battlefield.
As the bridge crawled out over the water, Lok seemed to get stronger, sensing safety. The bandage had seemed to halt the blood loss and restore some vitality to him but he still stumbled as he walked. Lei slowed down and supported his friend in one hand and held the young girl in the other hand until their progress slowed to a desperate trudge. The other end of the bridge was illuminated by military and rescue vehicles setting up a base for coordination as the tanks roared up the road and onto the bridge. Soldiers were manually clearing the cars from the road to allow passage for the tanks to join the battle. Lei’s warning to them was lost in the roar of the engines but it didn’t matter, Lei knew it was too late as one by one, the tanks fell silent on the bridge and the blackout circle started expanding once again onto the other side of the river.