Monthly Archives: December 2012

Death

Standard

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

The blast knocked Robin off of his feet and hurtled him forward into empty space. For a moment, he was flying. Heat scorched his back as the ground rushed to meet his face. He ducked and rolled, mitigating the impact before holding his hands over his head and ears. A piece of metal whistled past him, embedding itself in a nearby tree as the ground shook. She’s done it now.

The heat receded almost as quickly as it had come, leaving the forest silent but for the now-constant ring in his ears. He glanced toward Kari and Richard, still on the ground. Richard’s arm shifted slightly. Alive, apparently. Then he looked to the surrounding woods. The flames that licked what was left of Julius’s mansion caused shadows to dance and leap out at him, changing the shape of the trees and forest floor. Even so, Robin could see the white faces, illuminated by the flickering light. She’s always been a liability.

Robin rose to his feet, a hand on the hilt of his sword as he jogged to where Kari and Richard lay. Richard had pushed himself up on his arms and was moving his mouth. Most likely reminding me that he can pay me if I get him out of here. Kari, on the other hand, still wasn’t moving. Robin reached down and grabbed the back of her shirt, pulling her to her feet roughly. She was smiling—an expression completely at odds with the destruction she had just caused.  Robin shook her once and then began to drag her. Richard scrambled to his feet behind them, his eyes darting around them. At least he wasn’t trying to speak now. We don’t need to attract any more of them.

Robin’s eyes scanned the woods, trying to find a break in the sea of faces; there was none.  Stupid girl. He shook Kari again and she struggled to push him away. He held on, unwilling to let her go.

That’s when someone tapped him on his arm. Robin spun, glancing to his right, his free hand already unsheathing his sword. Then he saw the completely black eyes, the small face. He let go of his sword and nodded to her. Danielle. Apparently she survived. Good. Though not for much longer if we don’t get out of here. He gestured with one arm to the surrounding forest and she nodded. Apparently she understood—or at least pretended she did. Robin could never be sure.

They could try tree jumping again, but Robin doubted that it would work with their group. Richard was too uncoordinated, Danielle was too injured, and Kari would probably run off at the first opportunity. No, they’d have to find another way of escape. He had almost resigned himself to trying to fight through the hordes of restless in a last, desperate blaze of glory when Danielle touched his arm again. He glanced toward her and she gestured with one hand back at the flaming house. She then turned, limping slightly as she walked toward the wreckage.

Robin watched her retreating back for a moment before following. What choice was there? He dragged Kari along, only vaguely aware that she was saying something . Hearing must be coming back. She tugged slightly, trying to free herself, but Robin continued to pull her forward. Danielle was picking her way through the flaming debris, avoiding twisted metal and shattered glass. I hope she knows what she’s doing. Kari dug her heels into the ground, and Robin finally grabbed her by the waist and tossed her over his shoulder. She punched at his back and kicked dangerously close to his face, but he kept a firm grip.

Danielle paused and grabbed what looked like a large piece of wood siding. She attempted to lift it, straining. Robin could hear the grating sound of it rubbing against the ground. He grunted and gestured toward Richard, “Help her.” His voice sounded muffled even to his own ears, but at least he could hear something now.

Richard gave him a disgusted look, but walked over. He grabbed the board, heaving with the girl. There was a moment when Robin thought it wasn’t going to shift—then finally it moved. They shoved it to the side and Danielle beckoned them with one hand. Then suddenly, she disappeared.

Robin stared at the spot where she had been seconds before. He jogged over, keeping a firm arm on Kari. Brilliant. There was a hole in the ground—about the width of his shoulders and ringed with metal. He couldn’t see how deep it was, but there wasn’t another option at this point. He could hear the groans, the snarls, and the shuffling steps of creatures drawing ever closer to the bright flames.

He glanced at Richard, gesturing to the hole, “Get in.”

Richard stared back at him, “Are you insane? I could break a leg.”

Break a leg? I’m surprised he didn’t say “break a nail.”  Robin growled at him, “I’ll break much more than that if you don’t jump.”

Richard gave him a startled look before glancing at the hole sulkily. Apparently he preferred to face the hole, though, because he hopped into the dark, disappearing from view.

Now only the girl. He could hear her protesting now, struggling to get free. “Leave me behind! I’ve done what I came here to do…now let me go!”

It might have been nice to leave her, but he trusted her about as far as he could throw her—not very far. Fortunately for his purposes, it was far enough. He walked over to the hole and tossed Kari in. She gave a muffled yelp as she fell into the dark.

The restless were closing in. One of them was about ten feet away; it gnashed what was left of its teeth, snarling. Then it screamed: a high pitched, eerie sound that pierced the cold night. Robin stumbled back as it sprinted toward him, clawed hands outstretched. He unsheathed his sword and swung, imbedding the blade in the center of the creature’s head. Blood spurted, spraying the white snow. Shit.  More screams filled the night, more thudding footsteps raced toward him. Robin jumped.

His stomach flipped as he hurtled into the black. His foot hit the ground, his ankle turning awkwardly. There was a sharp pain and then his other leg hit the ground. He rolled, trying to mitigate the impact before sitting on the ground.

He couldn’t see anything at first. He could only hear the echoes of voices further down the passage. The others must have moved on without him. He slowly maneuvered himself onto his good leg and then stood. Then just as slowly, he tested his ankle. Another sharp pain lanced through it, but it wasn’t unbearable. Twisted…that’s embarrassing. This is just going to make things all that more difficult.

Screams echoed from above. It’d only be a matter of time before the restless threw themselves down after them. They had to move.

Robin began to hobble down the hallway, keeping his blade ready as the echoing voices came closer. He could hear Kari swearing and Richard commanding her imperiously. Danielle was silent. Well that’s no surprise. His eyes were slowly adjusting to the dim light. He could see shapes struggling ahead of him. The smaller one seemed to be fighting tooth and nail to get away from the larger shape—Richard, most likely.

“I said to stop it! You need to stay with us!”

“Fuck if I do, you pompous, overbearing…”

Robin interrupted them, tackling Kari from the side. She made a squawking noise and Richard shouted something incoherent as he stumbled out of the way. Before Kari could do anything else, Robin had his sword at her throat. He was tired of her escapades, tired of her lies, tired of her inability to work in a group. It was time to finally get some answers.

She struggled for a split second before she realized that the steel was at her throat; then she became perfectly still. A red line of blood trickled down her throat toward her collar bone. Robin leaned forward, his face inches from hers, “You will talk.”

Kari only smirked, “Is this the best place for it? The restless will follow us eventually.”

Robin pressed the blade harder against her throat, noting with satisfaction that she winced, “Who are you really?”

“You already kno…”

She never listens. He cut into her neck, drawing a thin line as she gasped. Blood flowed more freely as Richard spoke up in the background, “Robin, this isn’t the time. We need to go, and her death won’t…”

Robin snarled, “Shut up.” Kari’s eyes had widened, dark pools of blue in the night that surrounded them. Robin stared back at her, waiting. Finally she swallowed and spoke.

“You’ll never believe me.

“Try me.” Robin lifted the blade slightly so that Kari could speak more easily. She swallowed again, closing her eyes before opening them once more. Finally. The truth.

Kari’s voice sounded hoarse when she spoke, the sound of a defeated woman, “I’m a hired…liquidator, I suppose you could say. Do you know what I mean when I say that?”

She gives me less credit than I give her. Robin remained silent, glaring at her as he waited for her to continue.  Kari spoke again, seeming to take his glare as a sign that she had better hurry up, “My…employer caught wind of Julius’s experiments. He wasn’t happy. But the only way to get close to a man like Julius was to make him believe that the plan was all his…that it was his idea to bring me in close proximity to him. Otherwise, I could have been stopped before getting anywhere near him. You saw the two bodyguards, I assume? Those were show, mostly. There were more…far more keeping watch on the house almost constantly…inside and out. There would have been no way for me to sneak in.”

Richard suddenly interrupted, “What about being the Queen of Hearts? Surely someone in your particular line of work would find that title hindering. It doesn’t quite add up, does it?”

Kari didn’t turn to face Richard, even though she spoke to him. Her eyes continued to fix on Robin’s instead, “What better alias than a harmless thief? A famous one at that. Julius would never suspect it…and I think you underestimate the years I spent on this particular job. It takes a while to cultivate a reputation, you know…especially one as fabulous as mine.”

“Are you trying to say that your thieveries…the theft of the Emperor’s gold, the disappearance of the famous jewels of the north…all were part of some kind of…master plan to kill Julius?” Richard sounded dubious, unbelieving. Robin couldn’t blame him.

Kari smiled, her white teeth flashing in the darkness, “I’m not just saying that, Richard. I’m also saying that my theft of your miniscule amount of gold, that moment where I knocked the vial off of your desk, my seduction of you…all were part of my ‘master plan’ to kill Julius.”

Robin sensed Richard’s stunned silence, and then his anger as he his voice slowly rose, “So nothing you said was true. Nothing at all. Your whole existence was…”

Kari’s eyes shifted behind Robin, no doubt to focus on Richard. She smiled again, “Yes.”

Richard suddenly came into Robin’s line of view, his hands reaching toward Kari’s throat. Idiot. Robin swung at the man, connecting with his stomach. There was a wheezing noise and a thump as Richard fell to the ground. Robin called back at him, “We haven’t learned everything yet. Now control yourself.”

Kari suddenly laughed, the sound echoing through the small corridor, “And what else do you want to know? You’ve already learned most of it. Shall I tell you how I planted the bomb? Or perhaps how I found out about Richard’s connection with Julius? Or perhaps how I let you catch me time and time again?” The blood on her neck was smearing on her collarbone, dripping down and making her look like one of the restless that were howling above them.

Robin shook his head, keep his face expressionless, “No. I want to know who your employer was.”

Kari’s smile faded and her eyes narrowed. About time she got serious. “Do you truly expect me to reveal who my employer was? You should know better than anyone that I can’t tell you that.”

Robin shrugged, pressing his sword deeper again. Kari winced, trying to move her neck away from the blade and failing, “There are ways for making people talk, girl. I think you’ll find that it’s better you tell me now than later.”

“And what makes you think that you’ll be able to make me talk?”

Robin leaned forward again, for once allowing a smile to cross his face. It felt awkward, a gesture he wasn’t used to giving. “Believe me, Kari. I can make almost anyone talk.”

Kari stared back at him before lowering her eyes, “I believe you.” Before Robin could do anything else, her hand darted to her opposite sleeve and removed something small and white. It took him a moment to realize what it was. A pill… He felt his heart sink as his hand darted out—too late. Kari tossed it into her mouth.

Robin reached forward, grabbing her throat and dropping his sword. Don’t swallow. He squeezed slightly and Kari struggled, her face contorting in frustration. Don’t.

She swallowed.

Advertisements

Murderer

Standard

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

The first thing she noticed when she woke up was the cold feel of metal against her back. The second thing she noticed was the sound of voices echoing through the room, bouncing off hard walls and surfaces. The third thing she noticed was the sharp pain in her arm, as if someone had dug into it with a needle or dagger. Most likely they did, considering where I am. Hopefully I haven’t been out for too long.

Kari did, after all, have to keep to a schedule. She remained still for the moment, listening to Julius talk about his plans for the end of the world while Richard tried to coax him out of it. Slim chance of that happening. There was a squeaking noise as Julius raised his voice, then the thump of a body as Richard hit the floor. Kari tried her best not to smile. Serves him right.

She opened her eyes. Everyone would still be looking at Richard—or Julius. It didn’t matter who as long as she had her window of opportunity. This was as much as she was going to get. She maneuvered her hand into her sleeve and ripped open a small pocket that had been sewn inside. She felt the smooth metal of the device—the one that would send out the small light which would tell Danielle to light the fuse. She pressed the button. Now it was time to move.

Kari rolled off of the table, moving faster than thought. She caught Richard’s gaze for the briefest of moments. His blue eyes bored into hers before she jerked her attention to Robin. He was already unsheathing his blade, turning toward the two guards that had just noticed what was happening. This isn’t good. Kari darted toward one of the metal tables, grabbing a scalpel before turning toward Julius. Messier than I’d like.

Julius’s face had contorted. The thin flesh stretched over bone and teeth as he snarled. His pale, cracked lips were pulled back, his red-rimmed, pale eyes rolled wildly. His hoarse voice rasped out, “Do you really think you can stop this?”

Kari shrugged and smiled at him as she adjusted the scalpel in her hand, “Not really. But I don’t really care. I’m only supposed to kill you.”

Julius made a hissing noise as Kari darted forward. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the guards rushing forward. Richard was yelling something that she couldn’t hear. Julius swung at her when she came in range. She ducked beneath his arm, pressing herself against his chest as she stabbed the blade into the side of his throat.

Julius’s fingers closed around her throat as he gurgled. Black, congealed blood began to slowly seep from the wound on his neck. Kari could feel the brutal strength in his hand, closing in on her wind pipe, making it impossible to breathe. She withdrew the scalpel and stabbed him again…and again…and again. His hand closed more tightly and she was unable to breathe. Kari brought back her arm and then stabbed the blade into Julius’s forehead.

For a moment, she thought it hadn’t worked. His hand continued to squeeze with that furious strength. Then just as suddenly, it began to loosen. Kari stumbled back, coughing as Julius swayed in place, the scalpel still stick in the middle of his head. Then he toppled to the ground, his body crumpling.

No time. Kari spun, glancing toward Robin who was now fighting with one of the bodyguards. The other lay groaning on the ground, a bloody stump where his hand had once been. “Robin! We need to get out of here!”

Robin grunted, parrying a blow from the bodyguard’s knife. The man kept trying to sneak closer, but Robin was doing a good job at keeping him at bay with his longer reach. The problem was that the guard was fast. I don’t have time for this shit. Kari glanced toward the other tables, grabbing a nearby knife. She judged the distance, her aim, and then let it fly. It imbedded itself in the guard’s shoulder and he stumbled back with a scream. A dark stain began to spread across his uniform. Robin didn’t wait for any further reaction as he stabbed the man with his sword. The man cried out and then slumped forward.

Kari nodded to Robin and then ran toward the stairs, her heart pounding. How long had that taken? She didn’t want to think about it. Kari had leapt up a few of the stairs when someone grabbed her arm. She glanced over her shoulder, expecting it to be Robin.

It was Richard. His eyes were wide, pleading with her, “Take me with you.” Purple bruises had started to form around his throat, shaped like grasping fingers.

Kari snorted, jerking her arm away, “Is that a command, your highness?”

He shook his head briefly as Robin moved to stand behind him, “No, but please take me out of here. I’ll pay you.”

Kari stared down at him. I don’t have time for this. Yet she felt a twinge of something. Guilt, perhaps? Damn my conscience. “Remove your part in my bounty and we have a deal.”

Richard nodded. That’s all she needed. She grabbed his wrist and pulled him up the stairs, taking them two at a time as Robin kept pace behind them. Eight minutes. That’s all I have. Eight. She burst out onto the first floor, racing toward the door. This is going to be closer than I’d like.

That’s when the bomb went off. It shook the entire house as Kari grabbed the door handle and rushed outside with Richard. The sound was immense, blocking her hearing completely as she continued to run. She could hear the roar of it, the immense power of its destructive force as pieces of the house whistled past her. Heat scorched her back as the force finally hit her, pushing her forward and to the ground. Sticks and leaves and dirt and snow met her face as wood and metal rained down around her. She curled up, holding her hands over her head as fire roared behind her. Her ears rang, killing any other sound. She was dimly aware that there was a sharp pain coming from her forehead; something had probably cut it during their escape.

Even so, she found her mouth stretching into a smile, not caring that mud threatened to choke her, not caring that the restless would be attracted for miles by the blast. I did it. She smiled wider. I killed him.

Judged

Standard

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

He could see her eyelashes fluttering. It was a slight motion, almost undetectable as Julius continued his work: pouring liquids into the vial of blood, mixing and stirring. Yet Richard noticed it. It would be an easy thing to call out to the guards and to warn Julius. The girl had obviously woken up; Robin hadn’t hit her nearly hard enough, it seemed. He had almost prepared himself to interrupt the skeletal man when he spoke first.

“It’s done…It’s perfect! All we need is our test subject, and then we can use it on others. I won’t have a mishap like last time, after all.” Julius was now holding up a small vial of pinkish liquid, cloudy and swirling with tiny white specs.  He smiled widely, his yellowish, cracked teeth flashing briefly under the harsh lighting. Abruptly, he turned, walking toward the chamber that contained one of the restless. Richard could hear him muttering under his breath, sounding like the rasp of dry leaves whispering across dead branches. He suppressed a shudder and instead cleared his throat, “Julius, I think the girl is…”

Julius waved one hand, cutting him off, “No longer necessary if this works. We’ll keep her for now, and then we can dispose of her.” He inserted the vial into a small device that Richard hadn’t noticed before at the bottom of the glass chamber. A small tube fed from it directly into the space. The creature inside seemed to be growing more agitated. Instead of licking the glass, it was pressing its nose against it—its jagged nails raked down the smooth sides. Julius adjusted a few dials on the device. There was a hissing noise, and the pink liquid began to bubble downward, disappearing.

There was a moment of silence, and then a completely different hissing noise sounded. The tube at the bottom of the chamber began to eject pink smoke. For a brief time, Richard could see the outline of the restless, thrashing in its enclosure. It began to move faster and faster, a gyrating motion that looked like nothing human. He could hear the muffled sound of gargled screaming. Blood suddenly spattered against the side of the glass; a hand slid downward and there was a thump as the body collapsed.

Richard stared as the smoke slowly dissipated, floating to the bottom of the enclosure before disappearing entirely. A steaming, crumpled heap lay at the bottom of the cell.  Richard barely kept the look of disgust from his face—it no longer looked like anything close to human. It was a gelatinous heap on the floor, the result of years of decay. Bones floated in a brownish red pool.

Richard glanced toward Julius, half expecting to see cold fury or perhaps bitter disappointment. Instead, he saw something far more disturbing. Julius was smiling; he wore an expression that Richard could only describe as pure bliss.

“It works.” Julius smiled wider, an impressive feat considering how far his face had already stretched. He walked around the enclosure, a white hand trailing against the glass. His yellowed nails clicked against the hard surface, “It works.”

Richard cleared his throat politely, “Julius, I hate to point this out when you’re obviously so…pleased. But if your experiment worked, wouldn’t the creature have turned into one of us? That is, something sentient and possibly alive?”

Julius’s grin faded slightly as he turned toward Richard. The guards shifted in the background nervously, and Kari eyelids fluttered again. With a few strides, Julius was suddenly in front of him. Richard had never thought him to be a large man—he was all skin and bones, a walking corpse. Yet he was suddenly very aware that Julius was far taller than he was. “Don’t you understand, Richard?”

Richard looked up at the man coolly, determined to keep face, “Understand what?”

Julius gestured toward the steaming pile of gelatin in the glass chamber, “We’ve found the cure. This curse will no longer affect any of us. We’ll be free of this existence…free to die in grace rather than rising again.”

Richard slowly reached for the silk handkerchief in his sleeve, withdrawing it with all the care in the world as he gently dabbed the sweat forming on his brow, “Do you mean to say that this…whatever it is…will kill all of us?”

Julius spread his arms outward, “Why are you surprised? Since the Fall, we have been cursed to exist…but not to live. Never to live. We’ve had to scavenge a living from the bones of the old world, to try and eke out a living amongst the dead and the dying. We’ve done it, but we are still in limbo. What I’ve created will free all of us. We will be heroes, Richard. We will be the avenging angels that strike down the demon inside all of us.”

Richard always knew that Julius was slightly eccentric—the product of being left alone in this backwater town for all of these years, he assumed. But now, he realized that Julius was completely and utterly insane. Richard adjusted his collar, trying to keep the look of horror from his face as he smiled. He’d have to tread cautiously.

“How will anyone appreciate your work if they’re all dead? Unless, of course, this…cure of yours merely prevents people from coming back from the dead?” He clung to this small hope. It was possible that it was just a misunderstanding. Julius’s response dashed that hope like so much breaking china.

“Oh no, everyone will die. After all, the curse is in all of us, feeding us. This kills the curse and the host along with it,” Julius gave him a slow smile, the sort of smile that Richard would expect from a cat about to pounce on a mouse. “You don’t understand the true Hell that this world is…the Hell that I’ve had to exist in. Ages upon ages I’ve been here, trying to create a cure. But then I realized that there is no cure, not for this. The only way to combat it…to find true salvation…is to destroy.”

Richard took a step back. This was a problem, a big problem. His eyes flickered to the laboratory equipment on the metal table. Perhaps if he smashed it, it would prevent Julius from doing any more. Surely his bodyguards didn’t condone what he was doing. Perhaps they would rush to his assistance. He chanced a glance at the two burly men near the door and his heart sank. They were wearing the same smile that Julius had. He would find no help from them.

Richard looked at Julius again, “But we’re eking out an existence, as you say. Surely it’s more important to preserve what life we have as opposed to destroying it forever?”

That was apparently the wrong response. Julius’s face contorted into an expression of rage. He snarled, grabbing Richard by the throat. His yellow nails dug into Richard’s skin, causing sharp pinpricks of pain as he struggled to breathe, “Do you think me a simpleton? You have no idea, you foolish creature. I was there. I saw the world crumble into dust, fall into Hell. I saw the clock tower tumble into the hands of a thousand restless souls, pulled down brick by brick.” Spittle flew from Julius’s mouth, spattering Richard’s face as he tried to pry the fingers away from his throat, “I saw it and couldn’t do anything about it. I am dead, boy. I am dead in a way that you could never understand. And I will not be denied my one chance at Heaven.”

Richard tried to respond, but he only made a squeaking noise. Julius let go of his throat and Richard stumbled away, falling to his knees as he gasped for breath. Julius gave him a look of utter disgust, turning away from him, “There are those that believe we should profit and live in Hell, but they are heathens. I mean to destroy Hell and its worshippers. I mean to exist for the glory of God.”

That’s when Kari moved, a swift motion that took even Richard by surprise. Her auburn hair swirled behind her as she leapt from the metal table. Richard saw a glint of metal in her hand and heard the high wail of a siren before chaos ensued.

Pain

Standard

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

She was sitting at home beneath the earth. The comforting sound of dripping water filled her ears, a constant companion to her and her brothers in the dark. Broken and twisted metal pipes jutted out from the nearby walls, eaten by rust and decay and the prying hands of scavengers. The metal of the floor had long since disappeared. Now, it was dank earth—its faintly sour odor filling up the underground with its scent.

The metal of Danielle’s chair dug into her back, her wrists chaffing at the rope that tied her hands behind her. Terk and Dur stood over her, watching her warily. Their identical faces were shadowed, unyielding. Rak stood closer, his gold eyes as big as the moon, gleaming faintly in the dark.

Danielle found herself trying to shift in her chair. This was wrong. It had already happened. Yet Terk’s face had formed a frown as he glanced to his twin, “We shouldn’t keep her. She’s not like us. I say we kill her and use what we can get.”

Dur shook his head, “She’s our father’s daughter. She’s one of us…sort of. She even looks like us.”

“Looks like us? She’s a freak. You just need to take one look at her eyes…”

Their words cut worse than any knife, hurt more than any bullet. Danielle felt herself sinking down in her chair, trying to disappear as a faint whimper escaped her throat. She turned her face away, looking down at the soiled earth. A beetle scurried across the mud, its black carapace flickering once before it disappeared.

A different voice cut off the twins. Rak this time. Danielle glanced upward, swallowing hard as she listened, “She’s one of us. Father told us to take her in, so we will.” Rak took a step closer, crouching in front of Danielle. His eyes seemed to widen further—gold plates in a dark face. More beetles scurried behind him, “But she must be loyal. Unfortunately, she’s already failed.”

She could hear the insects chittering, their shining black bodies undulating like waves on the floor. Danielle tried to shrink back, but she couldn’t move. Instead, she whispered “I didn’t mean to leave you. I’m sorry.”

Rak smiled, his teeth shining and bloody in the dark, “Sorry? It’s too late for sorry, Danny. It’s too late for Terk or Dur.” The beetles seemed to be filling the underground, making the walls move and writhe as more and more appeared. A few plopped from the ceiling onto Danielle’s lap, and she struggled to flip them away. “It’s too late for me.”

Danielle woke with a scream she didn’t recognize as her own. It was a long wail, a sound of pain and mourning and loss. She keened into the dark as pain lanced through her body from her abdomen. Her wrists still burned like fire, her head pounded, and all she could do was lie there wailing.

A hand suddenly clapped over her mouth a whispered hiss hushing her, “Quiet.”

Danielle froze. She could feel tears trickling down her cold face, pooling on the hand over her mouth. Slowly, painfully, she turned her head to look at the owner. The surfacer looked back, blonde hair gleaming faintly in the dark. Without further word, he jerked his head to the side, toward the woods. It was unnaturally quiet.

The pretty girl sat a few yards away. Her hands were bloody, her face drawn and pale. She glanced over at them both and nodded, murmuring, “Technically we shouldn’t move her, but leaving her will be a death sentence.”

Robin nodded in return. Without further word, he gently picked Danielle up in his arms, cradling her. Another sharp pain jolted through her, but she pressed her lips together, determined not to cry out. He began to walk, almost floating over the rough terrain as Kari followed, “And where does Danielle fit in with this little plan of yours? Were you planning to leave her outside?”

Kari’s voice floated toward them, “In a sense, yes. She’s integral to making this work.”

Robin halted suddenly. Danielle noticed that his breathing had suddenly increased, his chest rising and falling against her. Anger. His voice was constrained, polite, suppressed, “She’s not exactly in a position to help.”

Danielle could see Kari’s face through the darkness, a smile curving her lips, “I promise it’s nothing taxing. All she needs to do is light a fuse.”

__

She could hear them all around her: the restless. They gnashed their teeth and moaned. Limbs shuffled through dead leaves as the snow swirled around their faces. Danielle huddled closer in the limbs of the tree, trying to ignore the throbs of pain from her new wound. The surfacer girl had given her something to dull the agony, but she could still feel it.

Danielle had heard shouts before, the sounds of the girl trying to escape only to be dragged back by Robin. It was according to plan—at least the plan that the girl had whispered hurriedly in her ear as Robin was keeping watch. Whether Robin knew all of it, she didn’t know.

Her escape was the first signal. Now Danielle had to wait for the second. She shifted on her perch uncomfortably, glancing toward the house. No light escaped from it even though it was the biggest structure she had ever seen. The roof spiked upward into a sharp point. Turrets and galleries flanked the building, providing shooters with a wide view of the surrounding area. But it wasn’t the building itself she was interested in. From her vantage point, she could just see the glint of metal set in the ground; the promise of an underground tunnel where she was supposed to throw the smallish object that the surfacer had given her.

Danielle clutched it in one hand—smooth metal melding with wires. She could ignore the girl, of course, but she couldn’t ignore Robin. She wouldn’t abandon him; not ever. She owed him a debt, owed him her life. She would repay it…

She wouldn’t leave him behind.

Plan

Standard

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

The snow was falling in earnest now. It swirled around Robin’s face and made the dim shapes of the restless meld with the trees. He hefted the girl on his shoulders, turning back toward Julius’s house. Behind him he could hear hissing breaths, low moans, a cacophony of pain and misery. Perhaps I should have kept her conscious. No use crying about it now. Robin began to jog as the snow slapped his face and blinded him. He could see the house ahead with several dim shapes in front of it—Julius’s guards. He slowed just enough to keep them from attacking. They nodded and ushered him back inside.

Julius was waiting for him. His pale, sickening face stretched into a morbid grin as Robin approached, “Ah, very good. Richard, you must tell me where you find your men these days. This one seems very…skilled at what he does. Perhaps I’ll hire him myself once all of this is over.”

Richard waved one hand nonchalantly, his eyes immediately turning toward the girl, “You’re assuming I want to get rid of him.”

“True, very true.” Julius turned and started walking toward a nearby hallway. Robin could hear him pause and then start descending metal stairs. His hoarse voice floated behind him, “Come along. Bring her down here.”

No choice. Robin adjusted the girl’s weight slightly and followed. The hallway was lined with carpet, though it was quickly interrupted by a hole in the floor where the metal staircase started. He could sense rather than hear Richard and Julius’s guards following. This is going to makes things far more difficult. Why did I sign up for this? He began descending the stairs.

It didn’t take long. He found himself in a room lined with metal tables and trays filled with shining instruments. A drain was located at the center of the room along with what appeared to be a large, glass case. Robin stared. One of the restless was moving inside, licking the glass as if it were someone’s marrow. He suppressed a shudder, keeping his face impassive. At least it’s not one of the bigger ones.

Julius gestured to a table with one hand. A sheet had been laid over it, providing minimal relief from the cold metal beneath, “Set her down here. Then we can begin.”

Robin carefully lay the girl down on the table. Her head lolled to one side, reddish brown hair falling over her face. He brushed it aside absentmindedly and then stepped back, glancing toward the skeletal man who was now running his hands over an array of needles, “Yes yes…this will do well. We have the girl in place and now we just need some blood. Then it will all be over.”

Richard cleared his throat. Robin noted that as usual, he was dressed in suit and tie. His brightly colored shirt jarred with his drab surroundings: a splash of bright blue in the midst of grey and black and white. “Julius, you still haven’t explained exactly how this will work. How can the girl’s blood provide any kind of cure to…?”

Julius flapped one hand as he prepared a needle, his pale eyes skimming his instruments, “Think of it as trying to use building blocks as a ladder to reach a window…no…better yet, think of it as a trap door instead of a window. You have to place the blocks carefully so that they don’t topple over.” He paused, wiping the needle with a damp cloth before turning toward Kari’s prone body and continuing, “Right now, I have all of the blocks in alignment. I have almost reached the trap door. I just need one more block, and that particular block is in her blood…inert…useless, unless I place it on top of my carefully constructed tower.”

Richard adjusted his tie, and Robin noted that he turned away from the table as Julius approached with the needle, “And what will happen once you construct that tower, Julius?”

Robin watched as Julius approached Kari. He took one of her limp arms, rolling back the sleeve of her coat before thrusting the needle deep beneath her skin. A deep red liquid began to fill the syringe. Julius licked his lips and then withdrew the needle, “Then the real work begins.”

__

She fell and his heart stopped. She was a small figure on the ground, her limbs crumpled, blood soaking her wrists and stomach. It stained the leaves beneath her, turning yellow to red. The metallic scent of it filled the air, blocking out the smell of the coming snow.

What choice did I have? Robin glanced toward the thief, the girl that he had been tracking for so long. Her auburn hair fell into her face as she stitched up Danielle with practiced accuracy. Fortunately, Danielle had passed out; the thief’s work looked anything put gentle.

Why do I even care? It was a good question. A better one would be why he had let his prey get the upper hand. He was treating her as an equal, a friend. Then again, letting Danielle die in the cold would only complicate his situation. Let the criminal believe that she is an equal. Then I can deal with her in a way to make sure she doesn’t have the option of escape.

Robin stood and approached what was left of Jay. His face was still contorted, but some of the lines had smoothed after his death, leaving him looking more peaceful. But no less dangerous. Robin unsheathed his blade, swinging it above his head before bringing it down against Jay’s neck. The head separated from the corpse with a dull thud. He glanced back toward Kari, “How long is that going to take you?”

Kari didn’t glance up, instead focusing on her stitches, “Few more minutes. This isn’t the easiest to do with the materials on hand, you know.”

Robin didn’t answer, instead letting his eyes scan the woods. It was too quiet, “Just be quick. I have a feeling we’re going to have to run soon.”

He heard a quick intake of breath and the faint sounds of thread sliding through flesh. There was a faint snapping noise, the sound of string being broken. Robin didn’t glance down; he couldn’t afford to with the woods so quiet.  Even the faint sound of Kari’s whispering didn’t break his concentration, “King needs me, Robin. I assume for some kind of medical experiment for this Julius person considering what happened when we encountered each other last.” She paused for a brief moment and Robin heard a faint whimper; Danielle, most likely. Kari continued, “That means that he’ll need other subjects…which probably means that you’re going to be handed over as well.”

Either she’s spinning a half lie, or she’s telling the truth; no one would come up with something this fantastical and hope to be believed, otherwise. “More than likely I can accept payment and leave. Why should I take your word?”

“Because if you’re wrong, then all of the money in the world isn’t going to do you any good.”

“Why not escape? Going to see Mr. King seems to be the opposite of what you want to do.”

There was another pause and Robin heard the sound of ripping cloth. Bandages now. He counted the minutes before she spoke again, “Let’s just call it curiosity of a morbid variety. I need you to act like you’re bringing me in…but keep the binds loose so I can escape easily if need be. Once I give you the signal, though, you’re going to do something else for me…there, done.”

Robin chanced a brief glance toward the two women. Danielle was still bloody, her face pale, but her wound was now closed, wrapped with questionably clean cloth. Kari was wiping her hands off on Danielle’s clothes, removing the worst of the blood.

“And what exactly do you want me to do for you? Keeping the ropes loose means I’m helping you escape. Why should I do anything else for you?”

Kari glanced up at him, a half smile crossing her face, “Because you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into.”