Sinister Empire, the region formerly known as Pyeongchang
The clouds in the sky parted, and the storm cleared. Eight horses, each carrying a Sinister soldier and two pulling a cart, trotted steadily up the mountainside. They would have rather been back home, in a more urban environment where they could be comfortable, but there was nothing better to make one appreciate home than being away from it. They were hunting rebels, rogue humans and mutants who dared act against the Sinister System. This was both for sport and to please his High Majesty Sinister back in Seoul.
“Stop here, boys!” Their leader said, raising his hand.
The Sinister Captain dismounted his horse, his boot landing in the fresh snow. His fellow Sinister soldiers did the same. They knew what the signal meant: from this point on, the terrain would be too steep for their steeds. The Captain reached into his coat pocket and withdrew the key. He went to the back of the cart and unlocked it, allowing the beast within to escape. Or rather, to attempt escape, as he quickly grabbed it by the throat and fitted it with the harness. Once the chains were on, the creature acted as it had been trained to.
“Captain, what manner of creature is that?” One of the soldiers asked. “It looks... human.”
“Well, this dreadful specimen is based upon a couple of old, dead mutants. Mostly the one named Victor Creed,” the Captain said, nudging the mannish beast with his boot. “That’s why we call them Sabrehounds. An old-fashioned scent tracker, Creed was. Good for finding humans.”
“And the other mutant?”
“Called himself Caliban. Tracked other mutants.” He explained. “Put them together and you’ve got yourself quite the rebel hunter.”
Diamond Pond, South of the Woljeongsa Temple complex, on the eastern slopes of the mountain Odaesan
The ice cracked as Mia smacked it with the hilt of her knife. Liquid water was still present below, as she had hoped. She lowered a plastic jug into the water, watching the air bubble up to the surface as the container was filled. When it was finished filling she screwed the cap back on and put it in her bag. Mia hefted the bag onto her shoulder and set off back to Woljeongsa at a brisk pace. It was a bit of a hike back and she wanted to reach it before sundown.
It had been three days since the three visitors had found her in the temple. She had wanted to move on, but there was no more shelter around for miles. Coming to Woljeongsa in the first place had been a risky proposition, and she didn’t want to take the chance that she’s freeze to death avoiding people who were only possibly enemies. As such, she had decided to remain in Woljeongsa. If it turned out that they were telling the truth, that they were Rebellion members and not thieves, she’d regret missing the opportunity. The sound of a gunshot echoed through the air. Instinctively, Mia drew her gun. More shots were fired, mixed with shouts and grunts. Mia cautiously scaled a hill and peered over.
Mia nearly cursed as she saw the eight-member Squadron Sinister firing, their trademark plasma rifles trained on a single target. Her hill was located behind the Squadron's position, and so she had a chance at surveying the scene without detection. Sinisters braving the cold was a rare occurrence, but even rarer an occurrence was her luck being good. Mia tried to see who they were attacking, if they were even attacking at all, and not just having firing practice. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see through the debris cloud the Squadron’s shots were throwing up.
A bullet impacted in one of the soldier’s foreheads, and he fell over dead. The cloud caused by the plasma rifle fire cleared somewhat, and Mia could see a human head briefly peaking out over a rock formation. It was one of the so-called rebels, Choa. Mia grimaced, not liking their chances. The rocks had protected the rebels so far, but the weapons the Sinisters used were sure to break through soon, and they’d have no chance exposed.
Mia dropped her pack, and pulled off her left glove. Her handgun was useful, but it wouldn’t be enough to take down a Squadron. She needed more firepower, and she was thankful that there weren’t any ancient temples around for her to accidentally destroy. Mia slid quickly down the hill, behind the Sinisters. Before they could react she drew energy from her energy cell and released it from her left hand. She did her best to direct it towards the soldiers.
Four soldiers remained, and they picked themselves up as quickly as they could, grabbing at their rifles. They were distracted, however, from the rebels they had just been assaulting, and were swiftly gunned down. Mia saw that the rebels were the same three as before. Besides Choa, there was Kurtis and Woojin, the latter of whom Mia presumed to be the leader. He certainly had acted like it.
“Fortunate timing, Conduit.” Woojin said. “We’re in your debt.”
“What were you doing back in this area?” Mia asked, ignoring the thanks.
“We were bringing you some food.” Kurtis said. “You asked us to prove we were Rebels, after all.”
“Why so desperate for me to believe you?” She asked.
“I’ve been wondering the same thing.” Choa quipped. Mia ignored it.
“The Rebellion needs everyone we can get our hands on.” Woojin said, walking up to Mia. “We’re all in this together. Humanity against the Sinister System.”
A growling sound came from behind them. They turned to see the sabrehound running about, chasing a deer. Mia hadn’t noticed before, but it looked like a man. Choa raised her rifle and, before Mia could say anything, pulled the trigger. The shot hit the hound right in the forehead. Mia knew it was dead before it hit the ground.
“What did you do that for?” Mia shouted. “Look at it! It was human!”
“That was a Sabrehound. They only look human.” She insisted. “The thing’s brain wasn’t much more advanced than a dog’s.”
“How exactly do you know that?” Mia asked.
“You think this is my first time engaging Sinisters?” Choa replied. “Or are you the expert now?”
“Enough!” Woojin said, putting himself between the two before the argument could continue. “We can argue morality later. Right now we’ve got to get out of here. No Sinister dies unnoticed, let alone a Squadron.”
Mia couldn’t argue with that. The Sinister might not have been a hive-mind in the purest sense of the term, but all members of the system were psionically connected. Reinforcements likely had already been dispatched. Pyeongchang wasn’t safe for her anymore, if it ever had been. She’d need to head north to have any chance of avoiding them. The three rebels had begun walking away, and one turned to call to her.
“Hey Conduit!” Kurtis called out. “You coming with us?”
“Mia.” She said without thinking.
“Hmm?” Woojin said.
“My name is Mia.” She repeated as she caught up to them.
“Well, Mia...” He said, shaking her hand. “Welcome to the Rebellion.”
Sinister Seoul, Capital of the Sinister Empire, heart of the region formerly known as Gyeonggi Province
High Majesty Sinister smiled as a new generation of the Sinister Species emerged from the Creation Engines, basking in the glow provided by the energy of the Life Seed that powered them. Nathaniel Essex would have been one of the oldest men on the planet, if he still considered himself to be that man. He had literally reinvented himself a thousand times over, fine-tuning his genetic code each time. Sinister was no long just a name. Sinister was a species, a superior species, and the High Majesty the most superior of them all. He tapped his cane and the platform he stood upon rose up.
He could not help but admire his city as he flew over it. Sinister Seoul was a masterpiece of a metropolis, gleaming and bustling with activity. When he had deposed Apocalypse and dismantled his Akkaba Dominion, Sinister had been quite tempted to simply raze the city and build his Sinister London anew in its ashes. But he soon found he quite liked the name Sinister Seoul, so instead he built Sinister London atop the ruins of Pyongyang. The High Majesty was no fool and so repurposed the pre-existing infrastructure, and so Seoul became the natural center of his Sinister Empire. London was his summer home.
The platform brought him to his castle, and as it docked an advisor of his hurried up to him. The Minister of Foreign Affairs was as handsome as any of the Sinister Species, with bushy but well-groomed mutton chops. He was bit more portly than most, with an appetite that outpaced his healthy metabolism, but not so much as to be chastised for it. Taking his cap off, he bowed deeply. The High Majesty motioned for him to rise, and he did so.
“I hate to disturb you at home, your Majesty.” the Minister said hastily. “We’ve received a request from the Bureau. They’re requesting permission to land at Incheon.”
“As always, they forget their station.” Sinister responded. “They work to serve me, not the other way around. Still bitter about Apocalypse, now doubt. Why have they come now?”
“They’re investigating an incident of unregistered superhuman activity.” He replied, flipping through the papers he held in his hands. “They say it occurred a month ago.”
“Ah, the Pyeongchang incident, I presume.” Sinister said. “I could turn them down, force them to land in the Mandarin’s pittance of a Kingdom and force them to make their way on foot. The Minister of the Interior assures me he has it under control” He paused for a moment. “But what sort of a host would that make me? I’ll humor them this time. Permission to land at Incheon is granted.”
“As your Majesty wishes.” The Minister replied, bowing slightly and then walking away.
“Oh, and Minister?” Sinister said, catching him as he left the room. “Make sure to keep them out of my way.”
Abandoned Akkaba port, Sinister Empire, the region formerly known as Kangnyong
The boat docked at midnight. It was the night of a new moon, and so the night was dark. Darkness usually made sailing difficult, but Choa could see through the shadows. Mia was rarely glad to have her around, but even she could not deny her usefulness. She heard the lowering of the gangway from below deck. Grabbing her belongings, she made her way to the deck of the ship.
The Akkaba port was an impressive sight, even in ruins. Sinister’s aesthetic taste trended towards a mashup of futurism and retroism. Apocalypse had not been much different, but his idea of retro was older than even Sinister’s. His taste was distinctly Egyptian, which clashed with the natural environment of Korea. Mia doubted that had bothered Apocalypse, but it had evidently bothered Sinister, judging by how thorough his demolition of Akkaba structures had been.
Mia fell to the back of the rebel party as they disembarked. Even though she had been with the Rebellion for a month, she didn’t feel like part of her group. They were willing to let her keep her distance, and she liked that. Her boots thudded loudly on the dark stone streets as Choa lead them to their destination. The buildings had obviously been made to last, through battle scars were evident at every turn. They soon found themselves in a large square, where a rebel group had made camp. There were terse greetings and reunions as the two rebel groups joined. Mia had a few of her own to make, but was in no rush. She found herself a seat, and stared off. One of the men broke off from the crowd to approach her.
“Mia, are you a sight for sore eyes.” Kurtis said, sitting down next to her and patting her on the shoulder. “What’ve you been up to?”
“You know.” Mia said in a humorless tone.
“Causing trouble up in Sinuiju, right?” He asked. “Get anything good?”
“Some guns, some body armor, not much.” She answered. “What’s with the tents?”
“Nothing surprising. Woojin trusts the inside of an Akkaba building to be safe as much as he’d trust a snake not to eat a rat.” Kurtis explained. “Nothing dangerous showing up when we’ve raided the insides, but he’s not taking the risk.”
“How soon until we set out for Haeju?” Mia asked.
“Soon as we get enough hazmat suits scraped together for a good unit.” He replied. “Genocide’s death released so much radiation that Sinister never even bothered to come back. But the city’s still standing.”
“So, a potentially untouched cache of Akkaba weaponry? That’s what we’re here for?” Mia frowned. She was as distrustful of Apocalypse’s work as she was of Sinister’s. Her mother had made sure of that.
“That’s the idea. Woojin thinks we’ll need something like that to make progress against Sinister.”
“He’s probably right.” Mia said bitterly.
“Well, it was good seeing you again.” Kurtis said after an awkward pause, standing up. “You’ll want to find a place to sleep. It’ll be an early morning tomorrow.