Twenty

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Gabriel awakened to the sound of water running and painful cramps in his entire body. His skin was wet and whatever he lay on was hard and uncomfortable. It took a moment before he realized why - he was curled up in the bottom of his shower, lukewarm water still falling on him. He blinked bleary eyes, trying to piece together just what he was doing in his shower.

The past events came together and he jerked upright in sudden alarm. Pain lanced through his abdomen and he doubled over with a groan. For a long moment, he breathed through clenched teeth. Then he took a look.

Four long scratches drew ragged lines beside his navel, from about a two and half inch above to about four below. The wounds themselves weren't that deep - they had already stopped bleeding on their own, although the movements he just made had already opened the deeper sections up. Stitches probably would have been a good idea.

However, that wasn't the only problem. The edges of each wound were lined in black, almost like someone had taken a black permanent marker and outlined them. The darkened edges also appeared to be sending out little spidery webs of black lines. And beneath the weird lines, his skin had turned gray.

Did this mean he was poisoned, just like those villagers? He recalled the massive pile of bodies, how all of them were nearly covered entirely in the strange dark lines. Would that happen to him now? How long it would take to spread? How much it would even have to spread before it killed him?

Or maybe it won't, he thought firmly. Though pretty nasty, his own wound was nowhere as severe as those he'd seen on most of the villagers. Maybe I'm just over-thinking this.

Giving his head a little shake, Gabriel braced himself with a hand against the slick shower wall and managed to get himself to his feet. Just the slightest movement sent off a series of cramps through his legs, as if scolding him for sleeping in the shower. His world tilted on him for a few seconds, causing him to squeeze his eyes shut and grit his teeth. The dizziness passed eventually, so he reached out and turned the shower off.

Judging by the fog of humidity in the room and the way his skin had decided to resemble a prune, he must have been out of it for quite some time. After grabbing a nearby towel, he huddled into it, then stumbled over to the sink.

First aid supplies where in the drawers, so he pulled it open and began sifting through it. He found some sterile gauze, tape and tube of disinfecting ointment. He sat heavily on the toilet, the towel hanging over his shoulders like a cape. After a quick breath to gather his resolve, Gabriel set about bandaging his belly. He squirted the ointment over the gauze, then pressed the first piece over the top half of the wound.

His world went gray.

Gabriel blinked, snapping back into reality by the feeling of his lower half disintegrating. Right. Tape. He had to tape it on. After convincing the tape to stick to his damp skin, he went for the second piece of gauze. The process repeated itself.

He rewarded himself by taking four painkillers. Then he staggered down the hall to his room, realizing along the way that the stinking pile in the middle of the floor was the blood and slime covered Embassy uniform. Gross....I'll just... leave that for later.

Gabriel managed to find a pair of boxers and loose pants, pulling them both on before deciding that it was enough torture for now. He spent the next hour lying on his bed, staring at nothing while doing his best to not think. It turned out to be a futile task. If he were honest with himself, things weren't looking good.

The Embassy had gone silent. Not only that, but the emergency message that showed up on his phone made it clear that under no circumstance was he to try and go anywhere near the place. There was no explanation why. And on top of that, there was the small problem of the Zeroes and their doorways to hell.

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