Monthly Archives: November 2012

Blooded

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

Kari stared at the man in stunned silence. The cure to the…? He must be mad. There was no cure; everyone knew that. If there was, their way of life wouldn’t exist. She shook her head, feeling her hair sway back and forth. Even Richard looked taken aback, though he quickly recovered, “Julius, you said that there was no…”

Julius gave Richard a skeletal grin. Kari sensed Robin shifting nervously behind her; she didn’t blame him. The man was distinctly unnerving. He rasped out his answer excitedly, “I said there was no cure because I didn’t have her in my grasp. I thought the serum was gone, finished. But once we take a sampling of her blood, I can start creating something that will eradicate the virus once and for all.” He paused, seemingly for dramatic effect, “Will you help me save the world, Richard? We can be heroes.”

This should be good. Kari glanced toward Richard, watching a mix of emotions flit over his face before it settled again. His reply was careful, guarded, “We did make a deal, Julius, and I plan to honor that.”

Julius seemed to take that as a “yes.” His face brightened considerably and he waved one hand. Seemingly out of nowhere, two men appeared. They were dressed in matching outfits—dark suits with a red insignia on the shoulder. Kari squinted, looking more closely; it seemed to be a stylized crown. Must be their uniform. I can’t imagine they’d wear that by choice.

Julius spoke up, his voice carrying through the room, “Gerard, Clarence, please escort the girl downstairs.” He glanced toward Kari with a particularly nasty grin, “Then we can get started.”

Kari wasn’t about to wait for that to happen. She’d learned all she needed to know from this encounter, and staying any longer was a danger to her health. She gave Julius a smile in return, batting her eyelashes. Then she jerked her hands apart; the ropes fell to the ground.

The expression on Julius’s face made it all worth it. His smile slid; his white face turned even paler. Kari ducked and then ran for the exit. Robin made a halfhearted attempt to grab at her, but she nimbly stepped aside as Richard screeched behind her, “Get her!”

Unfortunately, she wasn’t expecting Julius’s servants to be so quick. One of them moved to block her way, arms outstretched. Kari jerked to one side, and then punched the man in the face. Her fist connected with a satisfying thud and the man stumbled, clutching his jaw. Kari winced, shaking her hand. That hurt. She didn’t have time to linger, though; the exit was in sight. She darted toward it.

“Catch her!”

She grabbed the handle and was out the door. Snow flew into her face: fat, wet flakes that partially blinded her. She could hear more shouting from behind her as she sprinted through the woods. Kari felt her face stretch into a grin as she did.

A white creature suddenly reared up in front of her from behind a tree. Kari stifled a scream and slid to a stop, quickly backing away. The monster gave a low moan, reaching forward her with bent fingers. Kari noticed that half of one was missing, leaving only the nub of a bone sticking out of its flesh.

She jerked and turned, dashing the other way. Another white face appeared. Something grabbed her from behind and she yelped, struggling as someone’s hand clamped down over her mouth. Robin’s voice hissed in her ear, “Are you trying to get us both killed?”

Kari mumbled and Robin slowly lifted his hand from her mouth.  I hope he washes his hands. She turned her head to the side slightly so that he could hear her as she whispered in kind, “Don’t give me that. Do you really think that Richard would believe that I wouldn’t try to escape?”

She felt Robin’s grip tighten for a moment, a telling instant that made her want to squirm. Kari waited for a moment, counting the seconds. Then Robin spoke again.

“True. By that same token, he’d never believe that I’d take you so easily.”

There was a sharp pain in the back of her head. Not again. Then there was darkness.

__

She watched Danielle stab the man: once, twice, three times. Blood sprayed outward, coating her hands and chest. So much. Then there was a bang, a shot that reverberated through the forest as the man’s body fell to the ground, his limbs crumpling onto each other like a rag doll’s.

Danielle fell with him, a low cry escaping her lips before she collapsed. Kari placed her hands to her mouth almost without thinking as Robin ran forward. He kneeled next to the bloody bodies, his hands gently pressing Danielle’s side.

Kari stood there for a moment, starting at the scene.   She then quickly shook her head. Staring isn’t going to help, is it? This might be her only time to escape. She wriggled her fingers, adjusting her wrists as she pressed the thumb from one hand against the wrist of her other. She pressed downward as she felt the familiar hard piece of metal hidden within the lining of her sleeve. Harder. There was the faint sound of ripping fabric and the small knife was free.

Kari carefully maneuvered the blade, turning away slightly as she began to saw through the rope binding her hands. She could see that Robin was doing his best to stop the blood, but there was so much of it. If Danielle wasn’t properly cared for, she’d probably be dead within the hour. The ropes fell away and Kari slipped the small piece of metal into her inside pocket.

She was free. She could be at her meet point in only a few hours if she pressed herself hard. It would be easy just to leave Robin and Danielle, to escape and continue to lie and cheat and steal. She could have all of the riches in the world, live like a queen. Damn my conscience.

Kari strode toward Robin, laying a hand on his shoulder and pushing him aside gently. He looked at her. For once, his mask had slipped. Kari saw fear in his face: real fear. A few strands of his blonde hair had turned red from the blood. His brow was knitted together, his green eyes wide. As soon as he saw Kari, though, his mouth hardened into a line.

Kari quickly spoke, “You’re not going to save her unless you let me take a look. You did a rum job on my arm, but I don’t think you have the expertise to patch up something this bad.” She glanced toward Danielle and winced; it was worse than she first thought. The bullet had gone into her side; Kari could only hope that it didn’t pierce any vital organs. Danielle had her eyes closed, her breathing harsh against the silent forest.

That’s when Kari noticed the other man, the one that was presumably dead. I never knew a dead man to stare like that, though. She jerked away slightly as a low, chuckling noise issued from his throat. His voice was a wet rattle, flecks of pink spraying as he spoke, “He’ll…kill you all, you know.”

Robin remained silent, but Kari sat up straighter, her eyes narrowing, “What do you mean? Who will? Mr. King?”

The man smiled, flashing red teeth in his warped face, “Not him, you fuckers.  Julius. King made a deal…now you’re all dead.” He laughed again, a sound which turned into a cough. It went on for a long time, but finally he swallowed, “I was…going to bring you in. But it doesn’t matter. You’re all dead.” His eyes rolled back as he gasped, then he was silent; his eyes stared blankly at the branches above.

Kari slowly looked back toward Robin. He had put his mask back on, his face inscrutable. He stared back before his eyes shifted toward Danielle. He barked out the next words as if they were painful, “What do you want in return for saving her?”

Did he not hear what the man said? Does he really want to play it that way? I’m always the bad guy. Might as well meet his expectations. Kari slowly knelt beside him, pressing her hand over his on Danielle’s side, “Well that’s easy to answer.” She gave him a wavering smile, one with no real warmth, “You’re going to turn me in to Mr. King. We’re going to play his game, and then you’re going to help me escape.”

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Secret

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

The basement was damp, smelling faintly of mold and mildew. Metal tables lined the tiled walls, covered with metal instruments and glass vials filled with unknown liquids. An electric bulb lit the room, buzzing faintly as it cast its harsh light across a small desk piled with pages of notes and diagrams.

But what truly drew the eye was the glass chamber in the center of the room. A creature stood within it, its dead eyes staring blankly at any nearby movement. Part of its face had rotted away, revealing bone and jaw beneath, surrounded by putrefied flesh. Every so often, it would shuffle around the perimeter of its cell, mouth agape to show its mottled, yellow teeth.

Richard could only stare in amazement, barely able to believe what he was seeing. He turned toward Julius, quickly hiding his surprise, “You managed to capture one of the restless.”

Julius turned and leered at Richard, showing his own yellow teeth, “Not one. I have several more subjects just like this one. This just happens to be the one that has shown the most….promise.”

Richard turned his attention back toward the creature. It had pressed its face against the side of the glass as it smeared what was left of its tongue across the smooth surface. For all that, it didn’t seem hostile. It wasn’t bashing itself against the glass to try to escape and tear him limb from limb.

“Can it see us?”

Julius seemed almost gleeful as he answered, “Oh yes, it can see us. Quite well, in fact.”

Richard rubbed his chin, circling the enclosure as the creature continued to lick the glass, “Why is it acting this way?”

Julius grinned widely, an expression that made Richard want to cringe. He beckoned Richard toward him with one boney hand as he picked up one of the vials on a metal table with the other. Richard slowly approached him, his eyes flickering toward the doorway where Samuel had perched himself. He was safe: for now.

“You know, of course, that the incident occurred many years ago.”

Everyone knew that. At least, anyone who had been educated to any small degree knew that. Richard folded his arms, leaning back against the table next to Julius, “I assume this thread has a point?”

Julius held up the vial. A clear liquid swirled inside, though Richard could see tinier particles in the midst of it, “I always have a point. After the incident, the infection spread. People died and we were plunged into a world where we lived week to week, day to day. “

Richard waited for him to continue, remaining silent. It was only polite, even if the man was slightly insane. He plastered a vaguely interested look on his face, nodding every once in a while as Julius spoke. Julius didn’t seem to notice that his audience wasn’t completely rapt; he seemed to relish the chance to explain his experiments to another individual.

“The worst was yet to come. The dead rose again, destroying our cities, our towns, our homes. Soon, we were but a shadow of our former glory. Now imagine if we could turn back the clock. Imagine if there was a cure to the infection, something that would allow us to live as we once did.”

Richard slowly unfolded his arms, looking at Julius more closely. The man had a glint in his eye, as if the best part was yet to come, “Are you suggesting that you’ve found a cure?”

Julius laughed, a warbling, hoarse noise that sounded more like a cough, “No. I learned long ago that there is no cure. We are all infected these days. We will all rise again when we die.”

“Then what….?”

At that moment, there was a knock on the basement door. Julius waved one hand and Samuel opened it, peering outside. There were a few hurried whispers and then Samuel turned to look at them with his impassive face, “Excuse me, Mr. King, but apparently the bounty hunter is here with the girl.”

__

She stood in front of him. Her leather trench coat was torn along one sleeve, her boots were spattered with mud, her brown bodice and white shirt were similarly coated with reddish-brown stains. She looked paler and thinner than he remembered, her face showing the weariness of days of travel. Her hands were bound in front of her, knotted with rope.

Richard smiled, the genuine smile of someone who knew he had won, “Ms. Heart, it’s lovely to see you again. I hope your journey wasn’t too arduous?”

To her credit, she flashed her own smile in return, her face immediately lighting up, “Well there was a bit of concern with the restless, but your man was quite adept at getting us through. I must thank you for putting me in such capable hands.”

They were in the drawing room once more, though it was far more crowded than the last time Richard was there. Samuel stood against the back wall while Julius lounged on a chair. The bounty hunter himself stood behind his captive, keeping a watchful eye on her with a hand on the hilt of his sword. A fire crackled in the grate, warming the room as snow pattered against the windows.

Richard smirked and moved closer to the girl, “You’ve caused us quite a bit of trouble. You should have turned yourself in at the very beginning. It would have saved you a bit of pain.”

The thief tossed her head back, her hair flipping out of her face, “I was thinking the very same thing. But honestly, I have a reputation to uphold. You can’t expect me to give in at the very first chase.” She grinned, a devilish expression that made Richard remember the night they had first met, “After all, I didn’t give in the first time.”

Richard reached forward and grabbed her chin, forcing her to look at him in the eyes, “Well I’m afraid your luck has run out. Julius here has a few plans for you, and I’m afraid that you may not like them.”

Her eyes slid toward his, her smile fading just as quickly as it had come, “Most likely not. But one thing still gets me…” She paused briefly, as if gathering her thoughts, “I only stole about a hundred credits. It was hardly enough to merit you chasing me across half the known world. And while we had our…dalliances.” She gave him a coy smile before continuing, “I think too highly of you to believe that you’d go through this much trouble over something so minor. Is it revenge?”

Richard let go of her chin, stepping back. He was about to respond when Julius broke in, his hoarse voice ringing through the room, “You possess something very valuable, my dear…something that Richard was supposed to deliver to me. Alas, you stole it and I had to take him for all he was worth. As soon as I’m satisfied that you have it, however, he will find himself back in good graces.”

The thief looked bewildered, and the bounty hunter shifted behind her; no doubt he was curious as well.  The girl shook her head and replied, “I didn’t steal anything valuable.”

Julius gave her one of his leers, lacing his fingers in front of him, “Oh, but you did. You broke a very specific vial…accidentally, perhaps, but you did. You breathed in the vapors and now you have the secret to the cure, my dear.”

Richard frowned, remembering the earlier conversation that he had had with Julius. What was the man playing at?

The girl looked even more confused if possible, her brows knitting together, “The cure to what?”

“Why, the cure to the infection, of course.”

Loyal

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

Danielle peered at the surfacer from behind a tree, careful to make sure that he was looking the other way before she did. He was large, larger than Robin; and it wasn’t all fat, either. Danielle could see the hardened muscles flexing beneath the patchwork of leather and cloth that he wore.  His meaty hands were gloved, but Danielle didn’t like the idea of a fist that size swinging at her. A gun hung from a strap that crossed his chest, and a knife was belted at his side.

He shifted his head slightly, enough for Danielle to see his face. It was melted on one side, the result of leaving plastic too close to the steam vents in the tunnels. The corner of his eye drooped to one side, his mouth twisted unnaturally, his nose was a stub of warped flesh. Danielle stared at him, fascinated.

His head turned toward her and she ducked behind the tree. Her hand slowly went toward her sleeve, gripping the knife and unsheathing it. Robin had told her to lead him astray, but he was a threat. Rak had always taught her to eliminate threats.

“I saw you, girl! Come out!”

Danielle slowly slid her knife away, staring at the bark in front of her. It was greyish brown, the color of stained pipes. An insect crawled from beneath one segment, crossing over her line of vision to the other side.

“I said come out! Don’t make me ask you again!”

Danielle stepped from behind the tree, her eyes fixing on the man in front of her. He had taken his gun into his hands and was now pointing it at her. The barrel glinted slightly, catching the light even though it was a cloudy day. It melded into the wood of the gun, engraved with a design that she couldn’t quite see.

“Who are you and why the fuck are you following me? Answer me quick or I’ll shoot your fucking brains out.”

Danielle slowly lifted her eyes from the barrel of the gun to the man’s face. His mouth was curved back into a sneer, warping his face further. She stared.

“What the fuck are you looking at?”

Danielle  lowered her eyes to the ground, staring at his feet. They were booted, splattered with mud. One of the soles had come loose slightly, leaving a hole where the damp and cold could seep in, “I was watching you.”

“Why?”

Danielle lifted her eyes again. Her hand slowly reached toward her sleeve as she spoke, “Because you look interesting.”

The surfacer scowled. After a few moments, he lowered his gun and walked toward her. Danielle took a step away, quickly unhooking the release to the sheathe on her wrist.

He held up one hand, “I’m not going to hurt you, girlie. Just tell me why you’re out here.”

Danielle remained silent, her eyes trailing from his lowered gun he’d tucked beneath his armpit to his gloved hands. Now that he was closer, she could see that they were studded with metal spikes on the knuckles.

“If you don’t tell me, I’m going to have to make sure you can’t follow me.”

Danielle could feel the hilt of her knife, the smooth way it fit into the palm of her hand, the firm grip that guaranteed it wouldn’t fall from her grasp. The surfacer took a few more steps toward her.

“I mean it, girlie. I’ll have to…”

Danielle unsheathed her blade and lunged, slicing at his middle. A bright line of crimson appeared as fabric tore.  It should have been deadly. His guts should have spilled on the ground, dark against the bright leaves. They should have glistened faintly in the light as the surfacer fell to his knees, breathing his last.

Instead, he had moved; so quickly that Danielle had trouble following him. In an instant, he had grabbed her arms and had slammed her against a tree. She saw spots as her head bounced against the hard surface. Her hand slipped on her knife. He slammed her against the tree again and she dropped it.

The surfacer picked her up as she struggled weakly, moving his face inches from hers. Spittle flew from his mouth into her face as he screamed at her, obscenities that she hardly understood. Her head thrummed and the world tunneled. All she could see was the marbled flesh of his face, stretching and moving, writhing like a live thing. He slammed her against the tree again. Everything went dark.

__

Danielle woke to a sharp pain in her wrists, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as her head. It pounded, relentless. She let out a faint whimper as she opened her eyes, trying to make sense of her surroundings. She wasn’t dead: that was good. Rak said that you could always get out of a bad situation as long as you were alive. She was tied to a tree, though, and she didn’t see her knife anywhere nearby: that was bad.

Danielle carefully tried to move her limbs, wincing at new bruises: nothing broken. The rope that bound her wrists stretched her arms behind her and around the tree. She tested it, straining against it—it held. She closed her eyes; everything hurt.

Robin was counting on her.

She opened her eyes and strained against the rope again, rubbing it against the bark. It chafed her wrists, burning them, but she continued. The sound of the rope scraping against bark and flesh echoed through the woods. Danielle felt something warm and sticky trickle down toward her fingers, coating them as she continued to work the rope against the bark.

Finally, there was a snapping noise; her hands were suddenly free. She jerked them in front of her, letting a low moan escape her as the burning in her wrists worsened, wounds and blood exposed to fresh, cold air. She grabbed a leaf, hastily wiping the worst of the blood away before standing.

She almost fell over again as a wave of dizziness overcame her. She staggered slightly, then found her balance. Her eyes scanned the forest floor, the yellow and brown leaves. There was the slight glint of metal about twenty feet away. She walked over, kicking the leaves aside as she picked up her knife, cradling it in her bloody hands.

Then she began to run. Her feet flew over branches and leaves as she slid between the trees. Her eyes focused on the path ahead, unwavering. The light was different now, dimmer. Darkness was creeping in, but she didn’t mind; it was a relief to have some of the pain go away.

She heard the sound of voices, yelling, demands. She skidded to a halt just outside the range of their vision, though she could see them with perfect clarity. The surfacer was pointing a gun at Robin and Alicia. He was shouting, his voice echoing through the silence.

The silence. Danielle jerked her head around, almost expecting to see them. She’d only heard silence this complete, this profound, once before. She tightened the grip on her dagger, her eyes scanning the forest as she took one step closer toward the surfacer, then another, and another. Quiet, silent. A cold wind blew through the trees as white flakes began to drift downward.

The surfacer turned. His eyes narrowed as he opened his mouth to say something. Danielle didn’t wait to hear it. Instead, she lunged, knocking the man backward. He stumbled a few paces as she thrust her dagger deep into his chest. Blood blossomed between her fingers, a fountain that rained across her hands and flowed down his chest.

The gun went off.

Truth

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

She was full of bullshit. From the first line out of her mouth, Robin knew that he wasn’t going to get the whole story—or even part of the story. She’s the sort of person that gives just enough truth to make what she says plausible, a grain of sand in an ocean of lies.

He didn’t even know her true name. Ms. Heart, Alicia, Saralynn: all of them were aliases that she had used at one point or other. Whatever her name, he had finally caught her; he wasn’t about to let her go.

Robin led her on a rope, her hands bound. He would have hobbled her as well, but that would have been another liability. Escaping from the restless is far harder with a girl that can’t run. He hadn’t spoken much to her over the past few days for a reason. There’s no reason to form an attachment, after all.

But all of that had changed that morning. A homing pigeon had found him; its message was short, but grim. He was to deliver the girl to Point Hope, a town that was known for its rash of disappearing people—especially those that happened to travel through it. Robin didn’t mind sending the thief there—he did mind walking into the town himself. He didn’t want to risk his neck without knowing all of the facts.

I guess a job’s a job. Robin sighed inwardly; he was going to have to negotiate a pay rise for all that the girl had put him through. Now, they were travelling through the back country: dangerous territory. But it would have been far more dangerous to take the roads. Bound as she was, the girl would have attracted too much attention—and others may have sought to release her.

After days of hard travelling, though, they were finally approaching the town. Robin could smell the earthy stench of the swamps, the aroma of decay and rot. It wafted in the bitter wind, a scent that he would always recognize; it smelled of home. The ground was becoming softer, wetter, muddier. The trees were beginning to thin, allowing less cover and fewer places to escape to. If it came down to it, they’d have to run.

There was the sound of rustling leaves, and Robin turned his head. A small figure appeared from the underbrush, her layers of clothes wrapped tightly around her, her face looking out from beneath a heavy hood. Robin nodded toward her, “Anything to report, Danielle?”

Danielle seemed to hesitate. It was hard to tell where she was looking with those black eyes, but Robin sensed that she was glancing at the thief. News better left unsaid, then. He nodded toward her and let out the lead on the rope, casting a firm glance back at the girl. She looked slightly bored, her blue eyes glancing at the surrounding scenery as if she were on an afternoon stroll. Robin leaned forward so that Danielle could whisper in his ear.

“There’s a surfa…I mean, a man following us. He has a large burn on the side of his face, and a gun.”

Robin leaned back and nearly swore. Jay, why the hell are you still following us? His mind raced. What could the man hope to gain by this point?

He probably wants a slice of the pie.

He shouldn’t have expected anything less. Robin quickly leaned forward again, whispering to Danielle, “What I tell you next is very important, so listen well. He’s probably following our tracks, so I need you to mislead him. Pick up our trail about half a mile back and start leading him in circles. We need to delay him until we get to the town.”

Danielle remained silent. Robin could see his reflection in the black surfaces of her eyes, a dark mirror. She gave a quick nod and turned, darting off into the trees. He felt a twinge of guilt, but quickly shook it off. Guilt was for the weak, for those that couldn’t get the job done.

He turned to look back at the thief. She had an arched brow, her mouth turned upward in a cheeky smile, “Trouble in paradise?”

Robin didn’t respond. He shortened the lead again and continued to walk, dragging her with him. I only have to put up with her a little longer. Just a little longer.

__

They walked for hours, only stopping to drink some water and eat the last of the jerky that Robin had brought with him. Danielle still hadn’t returned. The sun sank low on the horizon, casting the marshy forest into darkness. If Robin was correct in his calculations, they were about two hours away from the town; he wasn’t going to stop for the night.

A stiff wind began to pick up, bringing with it the crisp cold scent of snow. Robin closed his eyes, listening as branches snapped against one another. Still, the sound of footsteps remained elusive.

“Do you think she’s coming back?”

Robin didn’t bother looking over his shoulder at the thief, “She will.”

“She’s been gone a long time. She could have gotten lost.”

Robin didn’t respond. She was resourceful; she’d be fine. He didn’t have to worry about her.

“If she went too far back, she may have run into the restless. Maybe that’s why she’s taking so long.”

Robin turned. His eyes picked out the thief’s features: her red-brown hair, her slim figure, the red welt on her neck. He tightened his grip on the lead, “The restless calm down during the winter months. It’s cold enough tonight that they shouldn’t be an issue.”

The thief glanced toward the side, as if considering what he had said, “It was cold the night they attacked the first time. What’s to say they didn’t rise again?”

Robin jerked the lead so hard that the thief gasped, her bound hands flying to her throat. He pulled her inches from his face, his eyes gazing into hers as he tried to contain his irritation, “You’ve been lying continuously…from the very moment you opened your mouth when we first met. You’re selfish and arrogant. You’re a thief, a lowlife. You’ve been caught, and I may not be able to kill you but I can make things very uncomfortable for you. So take my advice and for once in your life, shut up.”

The thief remained silent for a moment, staring at him. Slowly, she lowered her eyes. Her voice when she spoke was barely over a whisper, “It’s Kari.”

“What?”

“That’s my real name. It’s Kari.”

Robin watched her a moment longer, “And why should I believe that?”

She slowly raised her eyes to look at him again, “Because for once in my life, I’m not lying.”

That’s when Robin heard the sound of someone cocking a gun. A man stepped out from the tree line, his face warped on one side from a bad burn. The smile he gave them was more of a grimace, “Well isn’t that fucking sweet. I hope I wasn’t interrupting anything. Now hand over the girl, Robin, and no one gets hurt.”

Prisoner

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

The remnants of scented smoke and sickly sweet perfume drifted through the air, mingling with laughter and the drunken slurs of party guests. Colorful women stumbled, hanging onto the arms of their escorts with their masked faces. Some lounged on couches while others twirled around the dance floor to the sounds of fading music: faster and faster.

Kari stood by the side, sipping from a glass at the punch bowl. The green mask sat heavily against her skin, disguising some of her features but leaving the lower half of her face exposed. The skirts of her dress swirled against her ankles whenever she moved, one of the only things she liked about it.

As she took another sip from her glass, a man walked across the room. He was like all of the others; his dark suit was well-fitted. His blue silk shirt matched the mask that covered his face, a spectacle of sapphires and emeralds set to look like the scales of a fish—the lord of the sea. Silver and gold rings glittered at his fingers, only adding to the illusion. But even with the mask on, Kari could that tell he was handsome. It was his firm jawline, the set of his blue eyes behind the mask, the cut of his black hair which fell to his shoulders. It was the confident way he strode across the room and the arrogant way he bowed his head when greeting her.

“I don’t believe we’ve met, but I would hate to miss such an opportunity. My name is Richard King, and you are?”

Kari curved her red lips into a smile, “I’d hate to miss the opportunity, as well. It’s Saralynn Kennedy. The pleasure is all mine.”

Kari woke with a start, her head jerking sideways as someone shook her. She groaned and opened her eyes, bleary with sleep. Immediately, she wished she hadn’t. Danielle was crouched in front of her, black eyes wide beneath her hood, “Robin says we need to go.”

“Of course he does.” Kari watched as Danielle started tying a rope lead around her neck. After that was done, she untied Kari’s feet before grabbing the lead and jerking it. Now I know how a dog feels.

Kari thought things couldn’t get any worse, but she should have known better. Things can always get worse, damnit. She stumbled to her feet, glancing around the forest. Her arm still stung from the cut Danielle had given her, but at least it was bandaged and slathered with salve.

They had been travelling for five days now, a relentless march that left her weary at the end of each day. Robin would often let Danielle scout ahead, and Kari noted with apprehension that he trusted the girl more and more as the days went by. Not a good thing for my situation, that’s for sure. Both of them rarely spoke to her, limiting their conversation to when they gave her commands: get up, eat this, hold out your hands.

Robin appeared from behind a tree, nodding briefly to Danielle and taking the lead around Kari’s neck. Danielle slunk ahead, her small frame flitting through the trees as she scouted. Great. Another long day with Robin.

She waited for him to start forward, to drag her along on the lead like some farm animal. Instead, he looked back at her. His eyes scanned her face, his mouth set with grim determination. Well this is a deviation from the routine.

“What did you do to anger him?”

Kari arched a brow, shifting her weight slightly from one foot to another. She had to be careful about what she said, “That’s a very good question. I assume it’s the fact that I humiliated him in a way that made it very hard for him to cover up.”

Robin narrowed his eyes, an expression that Kari had learned to interpret as his “I know you’re full of bullshit” face. He watched her for a moment and then tugged the rope on her neck, leading her forward. Apparently he had decided that talking wasn’t such a good idea after all. Kari sighed, letting her head droop as she walked. They passed the next few minutes in silence; then Robin spoke again.

“We’re headed to Point Hope.”

Kari felt her stomach give a tiny flip. She nearly stopped in her tracks before she realized that particular course of action would be painful for her neck. She cleared her throat, watching Robin’s back as he continued to walk, “Why are you taking me there?” Shit.

“Mr. King’s bodyguard related that it would be the best drop off point.” Robin paused briefly before continuing, “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me what made him angry?”

The sounds of laughter, of a glass breaking, of shouts and accusations ran through Kari’s mind. She closed her eyes briefly. I guess there’s nothing for it.

“I stole money from him. About a hundred credits worth total…”

Robin didn’t even bother looking over his shoulder, “I find it hard to believe that he would hire several individuals to track you down if that’s all you stole.”

“I’d imagine that’s because you didn’t factor in the fact that Mr. King quite liked me at one time.”

That made Robin pause. He turned to look at her, his green eyes seeming to measure her worth. Kari looked back at him, keeping her face as stoic as his for once. Don’t give yourself away.

“He sent me after you because you jilted him?”

“Don’t be so surprised. He’s done worse things to people for less…as I’m sure you’re well aware.”

Robin was silent at this. Not surprising. He’s not exactly talkative at the best of times. Kari shrugged in response, turning her head away slightly; from that angle, she knew that he could clearly see the angry red welt forming on her neck from the rope, “You see why I’d want to keep that quiet…and why I worked so hard to avoid you. I’m not exactly looking forward to his…greeting…when we meet again.”

Again, there was silence. Then Robin jerked the rope slightly. Kari stumbled forward and started walking again. Point Hope it is. I hope I don’t die first.

Leaves swirled around them toward the ground, drifting into piles like the snow that would soon follow. Kari couldn’t help but detect the faint stiffening of Robin’s shoulders, the overly tight grip he now had on the rope. She allowed herself a brief smile as his back was turned. Right where I want him.

Scientist

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

Point Hope was one of the dirty, backwater towns that Richard usually avoided. It had no culture, no panache. The town itself, if you could even call it a town, was located on the edge of the marshes—a large expanse of waterways, decaying detritus, and foul aromas that flowed for miles until it reached the more well-known settlements.  Most of the residences were ramshackle huts, places that Richard wouldn’t even deign to store his shovels. There was only one decent building in the area. The fact that the building was owned by one of the most powerful individuals of Richard’s acquaintance didn’t make up for the fact that it was surrounded by poverty and ignorance.

He sat in the drawing room of that very same building. A crackling fire blazed in a stone fireplace across from him. Leather chairs and sofas were placed artfully around it, centered over a carpet that was ridiculous in its extravagance. The faint glow of an autumn sunset filtered through the high windows, casting rays of golden light on the cream colored walls. Richard took a careful sip of the mulled wine in his cup, enjoying the flavors of citrus and cinnamon. It would have been the perfect evening, if you hadn’t counted the man sitting in the other chair.

He was thin, almost skeletal in appearance. His pale skin stretched over angular limbs. A mop of greyish hair tufted out of the top of his head, reminding Richard like nothing so much as dried grass. Despite all of that, he still dressed like a gentleman; his suit and tie were immaculate, carefully maintained and still fashionable. Gold rings glittered on his thin fingers, signs of his power in the area. No, Richard couldn’t find fault with his appearance. His personality, on the other hand…

His voice rasped out at Richard, a dissonance that made him want to cringe, “You say that he’s bringing the girl here? Are you sure?”

Richard took another sip of his wine, leaning back in his chair, “Yes, Julius. I received another note just this morning. He should be here in less than a day.”

“Good…good.” Julius glanced toward the fireplace, the light making his pale blue eyes glitter, “Though the situation really is inexcusable. The serum was supposed to be in my hands weeks ago.”

“My apologies. I didn’t count on a girl letting herself into my private study.” Richard cast a brief glance toward the exit. Samuel stood there, his arms folded across his chest as he waited for the conversation to finish. As usual his expression was unreadable. He didn’t necessarily need to be there, but it was always best to be cautious while in the presence of Julius.

“It’s due to your tastes, Richard. You see a pretty face and you automatically let your guard down.” Julius turned to face him with a leer, showing his yellowish teeth, “You’ll find I have no such weaknesses. I trust that this will never happen again.”

Richard took another sip of the wine, hiding his irritation. Yes, she had lured him in with her looks and her charm. Yes, he may have been a bit reckless; but hadn’t he paid the price already? He set the cup down on the wooden side table, “My tastes do differ from yours. But you can rest assured that my interest in business always comes first.”

“I never rest, Richard.” Julius’s eyes narrowed as he peered at Richard, a singularly unnerving effect with his features, “But on to other matters. Once the serum is secured, we will have to experiment. I have subjects in town, but it would be best to recruit outside sources as well. My current stock is…limited.”

“I’m sure it is. Are you asking me for help, or are you merely stating facts?”

“You know I’m asking you for help. You are the kind of person who can find others who will willingly follow you…volunteer.” Julius smiled, an expression that turned into a sneer as he spread out his bony arms, “I, alas, am not the same.”

Richard arched an eyebrow as he watched his companion. His eyes slid past him and toward the walls, covered in framed paintings of bridges and towers—structures that had either never existed or had been destroyed long ago. A massive clock tower stood over a sea of people in one. Their hands reached upward as if they could hope to summit its constructed peak.

“I’ll see what I can do, but you have to be sure that they will not be used for any other…” Richard paused, his eyes turning toward Julius again. It was important to emphasize these points, to drive the dagger home.  “…Pursuits that you might have.”

Julius waved one pale hand, his eyes moving back toward the fire, “Oh, don’t worry, Richard. They’ll be far more useful to me in my lab than anywhere else.”

Richard nodded and drank the rest of the wine; it had turned cold by now, its flavor diminished. He rose from his chair and nodded politely to his host, “Now if there isn’t anything else left to discuss, I think I’ll retire early tonight.”

Julius nodded in return, “Go ahead. I’ll be here.”

Richard turned and left the man in silence, striding across the floor as his host stared at the fire. As Samuel opened the door to let him outside, he heard Julius muttering under his breath, a chant that repeated itself over and over and which made the hairs on the back of his neck prickle.

“…We are coming. We are coming. We are coming…”

Devoted

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To start at the beginning of this series, check out the Dystopian archives here. 

It was bright, too bright. The sun shone through the colored leaves, dappling the forest floor with its harsh brilliance. It lit up the cool shadows of the trees, burning Danielle’s eyes and making her wish that she was underground again, safe, secure.

But that was no longer an option. She had seen Dur bleeding in front of her, his eyes widened in fright as he tried to protect her. His body had twitched, seemingly of its own accord as the restless tore into him—the sound of cracking bones and tearing sinew had mingled with his screams. No, there was no going back to the tunnels with them; they were no longer alive. Besides, she owed a debt to the one that had saved her life; she couldn’t leave him until it was repaid.

The blonde surfacer had travelled the entire night with Alicia on his shoulders. Danielle had followed him doggedly through the trees, at times almost slipping and plunging to the ground below. They had finally stopped when the sun had brightened the horizon and when the restless were no longer in sight.

Now, he was sleeping, nestled within the branches of one of the trees. Alicia was tied up below him, her hands and feet knotted together with rope. More binds secured her to the trunk of the tree itself, making it unlikely that she would escape.

Danielle watched her unconscious form. Blood soaked one of Alicia’s arms, caked and dried on her fingertips. More blood smeared one side of her face, probably where she had briefly placed her hand. In the sunlight, Danielle could see that her hair wasn’t exactly brown—it had a reddish tint to it. Danielle carefully lifted a finger and pulled a lock of her own brown hair from beneath her hood. It was darker, the color of muddy water. She carefully tucked it back beneath the layers of cloth.

Danielle dug her fingers into the dirt where she squatted, her eyes flickering from Alicia to her surroundings. A few stray birds called to one another, piercing the morning air with the twitterings of song. Branches swayed, creaking in the wind. Danielle lowered her lashes, wondering how her eyes looked in the light.

Suddenly, Alicia moved. Danielle immediately trained her attention on her, waiting for her to fully wake. The girl moved again and her eyes fluttered open. She moaned once, her head flopping forward as she weakly tugged at the binds that held her. Danielle waited.

Slowly, Alicia lifted her head. It took her a moment before she looked at Danielle, her mouth pulled into a grimace of pain, “He knocked me out, didn’t he.”

Danielle didn’t respond. Instead, she lifted a leaf, examining it closely. Red merged into orange and yellow, a sunset of colors. A few spots of brown marred its surface, freckling the perfect leaf. Danielle began to shred it with her fingers.

Alicia spoke again, slightly louder. Perhaps she didn’t think that Danielle had heard her the first time, “You know, I was the one that told him to go back for you. He would have left you otherwise.”

Danielle didn’t look up from her leaf. It was now in tatters, a crumpled piece of beautiful ruin, “Robin told me that you lie about almost everything…that I shouldn’t listen to what you say.”

“You shouldn’t do everything that Robin says.”

She blew the leftover pieces of leaf off of her fingers, watching them spiral downward toward the ground, mingling with all of its other fallen companions. She carefully selected another leaf; this one was mostly brown, a few stains of yellow merging into it, “He also told me not to kill you.”

That gave Alicia pause; Danielle could tell. She was silent for a moment before chuckling nervously, “Well perhaps you should listen to some things. But if he wants me alive, I should probably get my arm looked at. You wouldn’t want infection to set in, after all. I hear that can be deadly.”

Danielle didn’t respond. Instead, she set the brown leaf gently on the ground. She slowly turned her head and squinted at Alicia. Blue eyes looked back at hers before looking downward, “I’m sorry about your companions…were you very close with them?”

Her face may have been spattered with blood, but it was pretty. Her eyebrows arched gently over thick lashes, her nose was straight, her mouth well-formed. Danielle reached for another colorful leaf, shredding it to pieces, “They were my brothers.”

“I see.” Alicia glanced up at her again, arching one of those perfect eyebrows, “I thought…well…I didn’t think they were…”

“It’s because of my eyes, isn’t it?”

Alicia glanced to the side, wriggling her wrists against the ropes that bound them, “Yes, actually. You’re not the same as they are, even though you act like it.”

“We shared the same father.”

“I understand.” Alicia looked toward her again, a face that was meant to melt hearts, a face of regret, “I’m so sorry. If you’d like to talk, know that I’m here.”

Danielle began to tear the leaf into tinier pieces, so small that they wouldn’t exist anymore. She nodded briefly and Alicia continued, “I lost my own parents when I was young. It’s hard, I know.” She wriggled her fingers, perhaps to get some circulation flowing in them, “Do you think you could loosen these? It’s just that it’s very painful with the arm…”

“No.”

Alicia shrugged as if it didn’t matter, her eyes roving across the landscape, “Where’s Robin, anyway? Is he around?”

Danielle opened her mouth to respond, but there was a quiet thump behind the tree, the sound of someone landing on leaves. Alicia craned her neck as Robin walked around the side of the tree, “Right here, Ms. Heart.”

Alicia flashed him a dazzling smile, “Ah, Robin! So good to see you. You slept well, I hope? No bad dreams? Danielle and I were just…”

“I know what you were doing.” Robin crouched down next to Alicia, peering at her bloody arm. His forehead creased slightly as he examined it. He then glanced toward Danielle, “Thank you for watching her. You can sleep now, if you want.”

Danielle shook her head firmly, “I can keep watch still, if you need me to.”

Robin’s green eyes narrowed as he turned his attention back to Alicia’s arm, “No. I need to deal with this. Go get some sleep.”

Danielle slumped her shoulders and stood, brushing the last of the fallen bits of leaves from her fingertips. They fell to the ground: crimson, gold, mahogany. She set her foot down on top of them, pushing the pieces further into the mud.

Danielle glanced over her shoulder one more time before seeking out a tree that was close enough so that she would wake if Robin decided to move. She wasn’t going to be left behind: not this time.