Everything had gone crazy.
First, they had a simple plan. Corner this sorcerer and beat him until he talked. That plan had proved effective in the past. But this time…
All she remembered was Gersic screaming one word – Aparttum. She recognized it from Arcas. And then the sounds of the fight- the sounds of the world- disappeared. That word reverberated, as the world seemingly split apart in a kaleidoscopic display as the ground itself disappeared from beneath her.
She didn’t remember blacking out, but she must have. For the next thing she remembered was being in the street. Lying beside her, unmoving, was Gersic. Her first instinct was to check to make sure he was alive. He was alive- and stirring. So she kicked him. Hard. Every bit of her confusion at what was going on came out in that kick, and it was considerable. She might have kicked him too hard. But he was still alive.
The world looked different. It was washed out, like on a morning after a long rain, with the sun just coming over the horizon. It wasn’t dark, but it wasn’t light either. And the trees in the background thrust their limbs to the sky, backlit, with no details. It was like a scene from a Tim Burton movie. And cars were stopped in the street. Some intact, just sitting there. Others wrecked, like the drivers had been pulled while they were in motion, creating these surreal sculptures of twisted metal.
Her first instinct was to find a place to get out of the street- to find somewhere to regroup and secure Gersic. So she checked a cab near her, and found the door unlocked. Throwing Gersic into the back seat, she took his belt and tied his legs, and her own to tie his arms. Then she sat in the front seat, and tried to turn the key in the ignition.
Not just that it didn’t start. There was no sound whatsoever. The lights wouldn’t come on, and there was no response. As she sat there, she heard the first sound that didn’t come from her since she’d arrived. At first a whisper, too low for her to make out. Straining, she struggled to be ready in case it was repeated.
Get Down. Gotta get down.
She didn’t know where the voice came from, but she immediately flattened herself in the car, both to get out of vision of whomever or whatever was outside, and to heed the cry.
A wind blew over her from above, chilling her skin, and bringing goosebumps. As a shadow blocked out what little light there was.
A wind! And inside of the closed car! Accompanied by a shadow?
Stay quiet. Too much noise.
The whispers came again. Insistent. Under other circumstances, she’d think it would have been a yell of exclamation. But the voice was even and quiet.
Can’t make noise. Draw them to you. If I can hear you, they can.
Carefully, she opened the door, looking out. Seeing nothing, she scrabbled out away from the car, staying down, making as little noise as possible.
That voice again, but this time, she saw the movement of a shadow. Drawing on her vampiric nature, she drew in a breath and closed her eyes. When she opened them again, she saw things differently… heard things differently. She could hear the sound of someone breathing, low and steady. Looking in that direction, she saw rags, and advanced towards them. Though she wasn’t sure that something was there, when the pile started moving, she wasn’t caught off-guard as she might otherwise have been, and shuffled backwards.
Gotta get out of the open.
She was now sure that the whispers came from the rags, even before the primitive ghillie suit parted and she saw the blackened face peering out from amongst the shredded cloth.
Follow. Or not.
The shape turned to leave.
But be quiet if you do. Always gotta be quiet.
They traveled through the blasted landscape, seeing buildings burned out because of cars crashing into them, and a downed helicopter at one point. The figure picked its way carefully through the wreckage, headed towards a goal that Kassandra couldn’t fathom. But not knowing the landscape, it was better than being alone. The figure made no conversation, and almost as little noise, familiarity with the path giving its motions a fluid quality as he oozed further into the city center. She had so many questions. But remembering the shadow, she kept them to herself, being content to follow.
Finally, they reached a stairway headed down; she recognized the signs as pointing to a subway entrance. But that was also how she knew that this was not Charlottesville, nor anywhere in the surrounding area.
Though they went downward, the light neither decreased nor increased, staying that same washed out intensity. Finally, though, the light started to die, and he reached for a stick wrapped in rags on that flight of stairs, lighting it somehow. The burning smoke from the makeshift torch wafted up; her enhanced senses could smell some sort of tallow in the fumes, made from some sort of animal.
As they made it to the bottom landing, she could see that there was some sort of makeshift camp. It was nothing permanent; probably one of many that had scattered was her first thought. She heard him muttering under his breath as he rifled through the items looking for something- seemed like a two-sided conversation.
“Who are you?” she ventured.
“Me?” he whispered looking up at her as if he’d forgotten her presence. Then a bewildered look crossed his face as he thought. “Grimes,” he whispered at last, tasting the word.
“Yeah,” he whispered, a smile splitting his face. “Grimes.”
His dark face showed the lines of much stress; it was hard to guess how old he was. As he divested himself of his ghillie suit, it was apparent that he was fit; muscles rippled beneath the faded green wifebeater he wore. It was also apparent that he’d had a hard time of it from the scars that crisscrossed his arms.
“Where are we?” she asked, keeping a good distance between herself and the larger man.
He looked up from opening the can he had in his hands, first to an empty space, then to her. “Hell,” he whispered, matter-of-factly, before taking out a spoon and starting to eat silently if voraciously from the can.
From questioning, she was able to find out that he’d been there a while- he’d lost track of time, but said he’d been there through twelve rounds of people- people that had come at regular intervals- people that hadn’t known how to survive. People that had been eaten by the ‘black wings’, shadows that ate your mind, and zeroed in on sounds. But they didn’t come underground. George kept him company, and was who he talked to. But she was never able to figure out of George was product of his own insanities, or if he was real. She also found out that he’d survived any way he could, and that her arrival had been different- off schedule, and alone.
He taught her about survival, and she’d talked about going to get Gersic, but he’d been pretty sure that if she’d left him tied up as she did, he was dead by now. So they stayed, as she waited for her friends to come for her. And she came to trust him, her guard dropping. And that was her mistake.
She awoke one morning to the smell of smoke, coughing. She stumbled to her feet, and tried to make her way to the exit, calling for Grimes. Taking off her shirt, she held it up to her nose to keep the smoke out, and ran into the gate leading into the subway, now pulled down. Looking through the gate, she saw the outline of someone in the distance, and called out to him, but received no answer. Looking around for the source of the fire, she found it. Burning orderly in a ventilation tract, it was just out of her reach, and other than one can left from her dinner, she had no way to put the fire out. Going back to the grate, her strength flagging, she threw the can at the figure. Her aim wasn’t off, and she heard Grimes exclaim his surprise.
“Grimes! Let me out!” she yelled.
“Be over soon enough,” he replied. “Be over soon enough.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Making me too weak. Too much to be responsible for. Gotta use what I can to survive. Just like the others. Can’t keep you around.” he babbled, whispering in the dark.
“What about George,” she asked, thinking fast, her strength flagging. “You getting rid of him too?”
“What?” he asked, the disbelief heavy in his voice.
“George!” she shouted back. “You left him, he’s down here with me!”
“No he’s not,” Grimes responded. But she could see him shuffle from foot to foot.
“I saw him. Tried to pull him to the gate. But he was too heavy.”
“NO!” he yelled. “Trying to fool me. George told me I had to do it.”
“George,” she asked. “Tell him. Call him! That’s the only way we’ll get out!”
Little by little, Grimes approached, shuffling towards the gate. She cajoled through coughs and through flagging strength, and was finally able to get Grimes close enough. Every instinct in her told her to go for his neck- that his strength would fuel her, and make her strong again.
She grabbed him, and could feel her incisors with her tongue, but fought her instincts, and instead kissed him.
Finally he pulled free, but too late.
“George is in here. You have to rescue him,” she said, and Grimes quickly winched the gate up. They passed each other as she ran up the stairs.
She heard the gate fall heavily behind her as she gasped for breath, finally coming into the dim light cast from above.