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"Do you really think things will be the same after this is done?"
Jowe paused, and replied.
"Nothing will be the same."
Welcome to Ascent, a chilling vision of how people change when they have to survive. There is no happiness, no happily-ever-after. What this is...
After twenty-five years living in the post-apocolyptic world, Jowe is offered one chance to change everything, to defeat the enemy, the Maelstrom creatures known as "Infected".
But truly, who is the real enemy?
The best thing we can do, is to hope for a better tomorrow, hope we make it through the day.
Because nothing will ever be the same.
"I wanted to change the world, but I found the only thing worth changing, is myself."
When everything is gone, what do you live for?
The Nexus Tower, once a great place for Imagination to thrive, burns. Although the Maelstrom was defeated, the Baron's spirit lives on. As corruption. The faction leaders grew greedy, conceited, secretive.
"War could never happen!", they said. "We factions are united in the cause of good!"
How wrong they were.
The Imagination tank is ever-depleting. Rules have become stricter and stricter. Creations are being demolished constantly. War grows ever closer between the discontented factions.
All that boiled up pressure, welling up inside. "War could never happen!"
Was it true?
Only the slightest spark can set off destruction.
Space Rangers are coming over on the east corner, behind the vendors. They have a package, so dear to us, but only one group can have it.
It must rest in the hands of good, the ones who desperately need it to save this place from evil.
"Intercept them at the right hallway, and retrieve that package, no matter what the cost!"
Discontent was common in Nexus Tower. What is the TRUE purpose of factions, they would say.
To do nothing but divide us. To prevent us from ever uniting together.
We are minifigs that believe in peace, in prosperity, in family, in the pursuit of happiness.
Energy bolts zoom past us. The Space Rangers are trying to close us off, to leave with that package. They can't. We can't allow it.
"For Imagination!", I yelled. The Inventors, Shinobis, and Buccaneers looked at me. Stared. Then, they screamed.
The Space Rangers had no chance of going away. We smashed them all to bricks and studs easily.
I walked over to the package, and opened it gently.
"Sir, you're hurt! We--we--we can't save you."
I'm in pain as I look at the ball of Imagination. The last one from Nexus Tower.
We are minifigs united in a single cause, the cause of good.
We shall bring freedom.
We shall ascend.
What is the TRUE meaning of Imagination?
I wake up in my makeshift cotton bed, with bottles of soda and food wrappers sprawled all over the ground.
I get up, eat a breath mint, then look at myself in the mirror.
Twenty five years had added some "touches" to my face. A scar here, some scratches there, a recent gash from a knife.
The Maelstrom has overrun Nexus Tower. They wouldn't have done so, if the factions weren't so busy squabbling over miscellaneous issues.
My blaster in my right pocket, my knife in the other. Perfect.
Time to go to work.
After the invasion of Nexus Tower, the factions fled to the surface of Crux Prime, and cleared out the Maelstrom there in a long, vicious war. After the war, a shining government was formed using the last orb of Imagination from Nexus Tower, surrounded by the rest of the population. But soon, there was an imbalance.
A knock on the door signifies the start of the day.
I open the heavy, titanium door, only to see a stocky, well-toned minifig wearing a bandana.
"You up for today's job?"
Let's go, Hugo.
Statues of the leaders line the streets of the city, Homeland, where freedom prevails. But not everything is free.
Beggars immediately perk up at the sight of a rich person passing by, but slump down as nothing comes their way.
Two armed people patrol the street, knocking down anyone who is breaking the rules. Some of the rules include don't beg, don't be dirty, and stop begging, you're ruining the image of the city.
A tap on my shoulders stops me.
"Say, you take the one on the right, I got the left?"
I nod yet again. Hugh winks, then grabs out his blaster with his calloused hand and fires at one of the police officers. He is smashed instantly.
While Hugo is yelling odd things at the officer, I sneak up behind and grab out my knife.
With a flick of my wrist, I grab the officer, pull him behind, and smash him with my knife. I then take his uniform, and hand it to Hugo.
"Off to work now, eh?
Some say the city of Homeland is a shining beacon of hope inside the sea of Maelstrom.
However...it has changed. More people want out rather than in. So, the fence was created, to "protect" citizens from the dangers of the outside world.
Nobody knows what's really out there...
We sit in an alley, selling various goods. It's technically illegal to do so, but who follows the law nowadays? With food scarce to come by, and money almost impossible to get, a law won't stop anybody from feeding his family.
I sell a basket of fruit to a man for a few bolts and screws, useful for a weapon..
The man smiles at me toothlessly.
I tip off my hat to him. It's not everyday that you are thanked by someone.
Hugo and I walk out of the alley, eyeing our surroundings. These days, you can trust almost nobody. Spies are always for hire, and one casual remark about the government can land you in jail.
Our bag is full of nails, cartridges, and scrap metal. Coins rattle in our pockets as we walk down the streets.
A police officer stops us as we walk up towards my apartment.
"Hey you," he says. "Ya gotta pay us some stuff first, ya know what I mean?"
Instantly, I lunge for the officer. We struggle for a few seconds, until I twist his neck. He slumps over on the side of the building, fainted and moaning. It will only be a matter of time until he's smashed.
I then glace over at Hugo, who's grinning with a smoking blaster in hand. Behind him, lies the remains of the other police officer.
We open the heavy, bullet-ridden door together. Before he goes, Hugo gives me half of our earnings today, and takes the rest.
"Good job today.", he says. "We'll be hitting up Frontier St. tomorrow. Bye."
He closes the door, and I walk slowly to my bed. It stinks with the odor of stale soda.
As I close my eyes, I think about my past. What had happened.
It just comes back to haunt me everytime.
You should've seen who I am now, James... Twenty-five years changes many things...
But not my past.It will stay with me.
"Hey Dad!", James shouted. "I got a surprise to show you!"
"What is it?", Jowe asked.
James hurried up excitedly to his father's bedroom. In his hands, lied a Nexus flashlight.
"What is this?", asked Jowe inquisitively. It'd been a time since he had received a gift. Ever since he lost his wife to an invasion.
"Your birthday, dum dum!", James cheerfully replied. "I fixed this for you!"
James pressed the power button on the flashlight repeatedly. The flashlight fluttered a bit, and then sputtered out.
Jowe looked at the flashlight a bit, then toussled James's hair.
"Good work kiddo," he murmured. He then held James's shoulders. "Now kiddo, I gotta go to work. Today's a big meeting. How about you stay home for me, and go to bed before I leave?"
"Sure!", James said.
Jowe tucked James into bed and kissed his forehead. "Ill be back later tonight," Jowe said. "Have a good night son."
James slept peacefully for a while, but then a faint rumbling outside woke him up.
"What was that?", James said softly.
He walked slowly to the window and looked outside. The city of Homeland was what James saw through his eyes. His home, beautiful and magnficent. But there was something wrong. There was suddenly a flash of light, then nothing. Darkness.
"Weird...", James muttered. Bored and not tired, he went to the television and flipped through the channels, until he stopped at the news.
"The number of cases regarding the Maelstrom infection has reached an all-time high, the local hospital reports.", a reporter croaked. "So far now, there have been over 10000 cases confirmed and-"
The power suddenly went out. The TV turned off by itself immediately, and the lights went dark.
"What's going on?", thought James. He went downstairs, and suddenly his father came in through the backyard.
"Dad, what the-?, stuttered James.
Jowe fumbled with a blaster in the drawer, then turned towards James.
"Son, stay quiet, and don't make a sound. Just remember I-"
Something opened the door.
Crash! The being tumbled into the room, breaking the sliding door. It then looked around, as if it were very confused.
"James, get down!", shouted Jowe.
Turning to the sound of Jowe's voice, the being stumbled its way towards James. Jowe fired at the being, aiming as best as he could with his blaster. It was a perfect shot.
The being fell to the ground, lifeless.
"Dad, what was that...?", asked James fearfully.
"That, James, was an Infected.", replied Jowe. "We have to get out of here, now."
Jowe picked up his damaged phone, and called someone. Then he closed it, and put it back in his pocket.
"Alright, James, I need you to do something for me."
"I need you go upstairs, and grab every essential item that you need. Put them in your suitcase, and hurry. Auntie Sam will be picking us up quickly."
James hurried up the stairs. After a few moments, he came down with a heavy suitcase, containing clothes, food, and a picture of better times. His family, posed in front of a mountain, smiling.
"Alright, James, let's go!", said Jowe.
Jowe's sister, Sam, was waiting in the truck in front of the house.
"About time you got here, brother.", she said.
"Sam, be quiet.", replied Jowe harshly. "We have to go. Now."
With of a look of surprise on her face, Sam nodded tersely. "Get in, Jowe.", she snarled. She then looked at James.
"James, sit in the back please.", she said with a much softer tone.
Jowe scowled in the car. After a few seconds, Sam revved up the truck, and drove down the road. Jowe took one last look at his house, and then looked away.
Sam turned onto the highway, and drove for a few hours. Suddenly, Sam turned to Jowe.
"Jowe, look at the side of your window."
Jowe's head instantly turned to the side of the road. Buildings burned as people rushed out of their homes, chased by Infected.
The world we live in today...Just...we have to keep fighting for survival. Never give up...
Never lose hope...
"How much longer, Sam?", asked Jowe. "The highway's almost congested."
"Don't blame me, Jowe.", Sam replied. "Blame the other hundred people going on this highway."
Jowe huffed in exasperation. He looked out the window, and there was a man standing outside his car.
"Hey, what's the holdup! I want to get out of this forsaken place, and if you guys don't-"
He was cut short by an Infected that grabbed him, and was propelled into the car, a look of horror on his face.
"Sam, we need to get out of here, now!", Jowe screamed.
Sam quickly responded, and stomped on the pedal.
"Take the exit, take the exit!"
The truck plowed through many abandoned vechicles at high speeds, and until Sam was sure she was far from the madness occurring on the highway.
"You're right, Jowe.", she said. "We need to get out of here, fast. There's a town not far away. How about there?"
"Alright, buckle up.", Sam said.
The truck powered through the now empty road, as thunder rumbled in the distant goldenrod fields. Soon, the trio arrived at their destination.
"Alright, we're out of that madness.",Sam said. "Now, all you need to do, Jowe and James, is to-"
A car swerved out of control, and screeched down the road. Hitting Sam's truck with full force was one of the things it did. The other thing was that James was injured, and he needed attention fast.
"Dad, I can't feel my leg!", howled James. Indeed, he was in much pain.
Jowe grasped to unclasp his seatbelt, and reached out his free hand to James.
"Grab my hand!", commanded Jowe. Slowly, James thrust his slick hand into Jowe's rough, and grimy hand.
Jowe pulled with vigor, and with good reason. He needed to save his son. Desperately.
After struggling with the broken windows, Jowe finally pulled James out of the burning wreckage, and then carried James into his arms.
Sam, who was scratched by a shard of glass on her cheek, stood at attention, and catched Jowe's blaster as he threw it.
Safety. That was the only thing on Jowe's mind now.
Jowe, with James in his arms, and Sam ran past burning cars, wrecked and looted buildings, and scenes of carnage.
"Whatever you do, don't look back!", shouted Jowe.
Jowe hoped that he was lucky, his son would make it. He was, actually lucky. Infected ignored Jowe, Sam, and James as they focused on their meals.
Soon, the trio came across a cabin, on the outskirts of the town.
Exhausted, Jowe set James down on a table gently, then conversed with Sam.
"Sam, if we don't get any help, the boy's going to be gone soon!", Jowe said.
"You're right.", responded Sam. "The boy needs medical attention, fast."
Their conversation came to a stop, when the door rattled. Without hesistating, Sam shot directly at the wooden frame. Outside, an Infected could be seen falling down without a breath of life in it.
Sam waved at Jowe.
"Go!", she shouted with anger. "I'll hold 'em off. You have to get James safe!"
Jowe was still shocked.
"Go, Jowe, go!"
Scrambling to the back door with James in his arms, Jowe took one last look at Sam, then bolted out of the cabin.
I have to stay alive, I have to run, Don't look back! These words kept replaying themselves in Jowe's mind.
Jowe, with James in his arms, soon came across a lake.
We can rest here, right?, thought Jowe. He was wrong though.
Infected were just nearing the bottom of the valley, saliva dripping from their mouths and their minds addled.
Carrying James in his arms, Jowe ran as fast he can to the other side of the shore.
The Infected grew ever closer.
Seeing that he had options, Jowe laid James down on the ground, and then stood over him.
Well...this is it., thought Jowe. Jowe braced himself for the Infected and prayed.
He prayed to his family, to the hope for a better tomorrow. He closed his eyes, and waited.
But suddenly, the crisp staccato of gunfire decimated the Infected. At the top of the hill, a soldier could be seen with a smoking rifle glaring at Jowe.
The soldier's gaze hardened.
"What is your intention?", he barked.
Jowe, still shocked from the encounter with the Infected, breathed.
"We're refugees!", he said, frantically. "We have to get out of here! My son needs help-"
The soldier waved his hand away. "Calm down," he said. "I have to message my commander about what to do with survivors."
He picked up his receiver and punched in a few digits. He then spoke into the receiver.
"Sir, I have encountered two survivors near Survival Lake. I request orders about what to do with them..."
The angry, gruff voice of the commander shouted in return.
"But...sir. He has a little boy, and I...just can't..."
The commander's voice blasted through the receiver, threatening the soldier with severe injuries.
The soldier put his receiver back into his pocket, and hefted his gun at Jowe.
Scared, Jowe picked up James, and prepared to run.
"Please, you don't have to do this..." sobbed Jowe. He couldn't believe that the soldier was actually going to take action against him.
The soldier's gaze didn't soften. "Orders.", he replied. In that split second, he fired.
Jowe screamed, and tumbled down the hill, with James in his arms.
Stop, and breathe!
The wind was knocked out Jowe as he landed face-first on the hard-packed earth. He scampered over to James, only to see the soldier looming over him.
Jowe threw himself against James, trying to protect him from the gunfire.
However, the soldier suddenly lurched over, a bullet implanted in him. Behind him, stood Sam.
Jowe sighed in relief, but then looked at James, and suddenly became grief-stricken. James, was wounded in the abdomen by the soldier, and did not have much time left.
"James, James, please stay with me..." begged Jowe. He couldn't bear to lose him.
James cried in return.
"I'll be waiting for you Dad, on the other side. I'll always be waiting for you..."
Jowe silently sobbed over James's body.
"Please don't leave me...Just...please..."
The Imagination Committee has ceased efforts to find a cure for the now-lethal Maelstrom infection. Cases are reported to be over one hundred thousand now. Take caution when you venture outside... for you might encounter Infected even steps away from your home.
Close all of your blinds, lock all of your doors. The Maelstrom infection has pervaded throughout Homeland, and whatever you do, do NOT let any strangers inside your house! Report any individuals that exhibit strange behavior to the military immediately...
The military has now decreed Homeland be put under martial law... Any person who wishes to leave the quarantine zone must be assessed for any signs of Infection by the military. Anybody who shows up positive for Infection will be eliminated swiftly.
The military has put bounties on all individuals belonging to a group, "RISE". These persons have been convicted of treason against the great city of Homeland, and anybody who reports these dangerous individuals will be paid the bounty.
Any individual who is found harboring a rebel will be executed for committing a great crime against the city of Homeland.
Strange, mutated, Infected have been seen near the city outskirts. Some claim they can spit toxic balls of infectious slime towards you, climb up walls like a spider, or even use a sharp extension of their arm as a sword. Take caution.
There are now numerous factions within Homeland. The military and RISE, are now the only ones that stand after a vicious war. Though there are constant conflicts, no signs of a revolution have arised...
Twenty five years.
We are RISE, the people who hope for a better tomorrow. We fight against corruption, tyranny, and injustice. We are the people who are for a bright future.
We shall rise against despotism, we shall ascend into a higher level of living.
This is our mark on the world.
This is our ascent.
I wake up yet again, thinking of my former life. I've threw away most of it, except for one remnant. My name. Jowe. That can never be forgotten.
Survivors of the Infection, the tyrannical government, and the ever growing Infected population make up the population of Homeland. Though Infected aren't seen too much nowadays, but infectious spores can always be found in the dark nooks and crannies of the city. Stay on alert.
After I finish my meager breakfast of a few canned eggs, I hear a knock on the titanium door. I scamper over to it, my gun ready. However, it's Hugo. He's covered in injuries.
"Hey, Jowe," he says casually. "Remember who Marko is?"
I nod. Isn't he the person that ditched us a while back?, I write down on my notepad. Ever since that day, twenty five years ago, I've stopped talking.
Hugo nods in return.
"Yeah, well he sent a few of his cronies at me this morning." He pointed towards a fresh new bruise on his left cheek. "But I'm fine now. I can't say the same thing for the other guys."
I smile. So, what are we going to do now, Hugo?, I write. Hugo looks at this, and grins.
"We're going to repay the favor.", he answers. "Now, follow me."
As the door slams shut, I write, Where are we going now, Hugo?
"The docks.", he responds. "But first, we gotta talk to those guys." He pointed towards a group of people wearing motley.
"Hey!", he shouts towards one of the people. "You know where we can find Marko?"
The man scowls. "Nobody talks to Marko. Alright?"
Hugo keeps the conversation going. "I just want to talk to Marko.", he says. clearly miffed.
The man turns angry. "If you don't stop, I'll bash your skull in that building so hard, your head will come out of the other end.", he threatens.
Hugo looks at me, then looks at the man.
"I ain't got time for this.", he says, before shooting the man point-blank in the face.
"Scatter!", shout the other people, not caring about their lifeless friend.
Hugo looks at me.
"That's just the start of today." he says.
So what are we going to do now, Hugo?, I write. You've taken away any source that can tell us where Marko is.
Hugo looks at this, and then speaks. "Not EVERY source," he says. "If I'm correct-"
He picks up the now dead person he shot moments earlier and examines his clothing and weapons. He then takes the gun and tosses it towards me.
"-Marko is near here. The idiot on the ground's shirt reeks of Marko's fresh, disctictive odor. Fresh garbage, straight from the sewers, if you know what I mean."
I reload the gun calmly, and give it to Hugo.
Alright, make this affair quick, Hugo, I scribble down.
"You bet I will, Jowe.", he says with a grin. "After all, James would be wanting-"
I point my gun towards his face. Not a single word about James. Ever.
Hugo's face goes slack, then brightens up again. I put my gun back in my pocket.
"Alright, Jowe. Follow me.", he says with a optimistic expression. After a few minutes of going into the factory near the docks, Hugo grabs my arm, and pulls me toward him, behind a crate.
"You hear those two guys?", he whispers. I strain my ear, hearing two, faint voices in the distance. I nod in agreement.
"Alright then, let's take 'em out. I got the right, you got the left." Hugo rummages through his satchel and finds a grimy bottle. He then throws it across the room, breaking it.
"Hey, did you hear that?", one of the men asks. He gestures towards the other person to check the situation. As he walks over, I run up behind him, grab his throat, and put him in a headlock. He's gasping for air, clawing my arms weakly, while Hugo is repeatedly attacking the other man, pushing his knife against the small of the man's back. Hugo nods towards me when he's done, and I grab my blaster out and fire at the person in my arms. His eyes glaze over, instantly deceased.
I put him down, and then scavenge him and the other man for supplies. I grab what I can find and toss it towards Hugo, preparing to enter the factory.
As Hugo and I hid behind counters, crates, and desks, we listened to conversations about the present between people. Before we got rid of them.
"Hey, heard of the recent news 'bout them rebels?", croaked out one voice.
"Yeah,", responded an equally respulsive person. "The military just grabbed random people off the streets, made 'em confess they were rebels, and bang, bang, bang. Fewer people to worry about in Homeland."
Hugo tapped my shoulder, and whispered into my ears, "Has our fellow man come so low? Really, I believe that the human race is truly the lowest animal. What do you think. Jowe?"
I was about to respond when one of the people who were talking walked over.
"Gotta inspect some of this stinking stuff for Marko.", casually remarked the person.
Hugo made a gesture with his mouth.
Three, two, one...
I grabbed the person by the feet and clamped my hand over his mouth, while Hugo repeatedly fired at the other person with his blaster.
The person that I had silenced, emitted muffled screams. He bited my hand, causing sharp pain, and thrashed wildly about, desperately trying to escape. My cold gaze never left the person face as my hands tightened around his throat.
A gurgle, then silence. He went motionless. I brushed my pants calmly, and glanced at Hugo. He was tending a wound in his shoulder with a homemade poultice we had come up with years ago, and grimaced.
"Let's get Marko soon.", he mumbled.
We walked around the factory offices, until we heard him.
"Woman, I've told you, the weapons will get here soon!", shouted a person furiously.
"Soon?", was the sarcastic response. "I've told you enough times already. Weapons tomorrow. Or you get out of my factory."
The man sighed, and then looked at us. In his hands, lied a revovler and a phone. His face displayed a look of shock, then fear.
"Well, Marko," Hugo said. "We got some business to settle, my dear fellow."
Marko fidgeted with his hands, flabbergasted. Just before he reached the breaking point, Hugo and I leaped outside the room, bullets whizzing above us.
"You won't take me alive, fools!", Marko screamed. He thrust his gun into the window, shattering it, and jumped outside. Hugo and I recovered from our initial shock and grabbed our weapons.
"I'll circle outside the building, while you chase after him, Jowe!", he said. I nodded in agreement. Hugo winked at me, then scrambled down the hallway. Meanwhile, I jumped outside the window, trying to track down Marko.
It wasn't that hard.
Marko overturned crates as he runned, pushed people over, and generally was being stupid. He kept firing as he ran, leaving behind the fresh smoke of gunpowder.
Finally, as I turned around yet around corner, I found Marko trying to climb a fence. I grabbed his jacket, and pummeled him down to the ground.
"Let me go!", he screamed, but his voice was dying down as my hands tightened around his windpipe. Hugo came just in time before I was about to end Marko's life.
"Well, well, well.", Hugo said, with humor. "Look like the garbage brought in."
Marko's face flushed with rage, but he didn't make any movements.
All of a sudden, Hugo beckoned towards me, and wanted me to get off of Marko. I heaved myself up, and Marko stood there, dumbly.
Seeing the opportunity, Marko raised himself up, and tried to sprint towards the nearest exit.
Instantly, Hugo swung his metal pipe at Marko's body.
Marko's kneecap shattered as he cried out in agony. He fell to the ground, dirtying his hands and face. Hugo and I stood over him, menacingly.
Hugo grabbed Marko by the collar and spoke directly into his face.
"Where are our weapons, friend?", he said.
"I-uh-I can cut you a deal!", Marko stuttered. "Just follow me this way!"
Hugo looked at me, and I nodded assent.
"You are one stupid fellow, Marko." was all he said before Hugo shot Marko in the temple, point-blank.
Marko fell facefirst.