Tag Archives: dystopian

Resurrection

Standard
Photo by: Flickr/Kathy

Photo by: Flickr/Kathy

The morgue was cold at this time of night. The darkness had leached away any sort of warmth the winter sun had given it that day, chilling the bones of the earth and frosting the ground with ice. Heavy beams crisscrossed overhead, the dark wood sturdy and unyielding. The cracked bar could be seen as a dark shape in one corner of the room, empty bottles stacked on its surface.

Alexa shivered, wrapping her arms around herself as she tucked her head more firmly into the scarf wrapped around her face. She had come to this place to do something that was either insanely stupid or simply practical—she hadn’t decided which. What she had decided, though, was that she would survive it.

Her green eyes flickered to the others around her. Aladdin was standing with House, clearly nervous as he shifted his weight from side to side. Dark hair hung in front of his angular face, eyes shifting from one location to another. His colorful scarves were muted by the gloom, reds and pinks turning into browns. Bastion stood nearby, her short hair covered by a hood as her impossibly blue eyes stared seriously forward. She had left her shield and weapon behind; apparently, she didn’t think she needed them. Alexa bit her lower lip, placing a hand on the hilts of her sheathed blades.

House moved forward, a wide hood obscuring most of her face as she spoke in her calm, monotone voice, “Are you ready? Anything else you wish to say?

Alexa glanced to the others. They remained silent, and then she nodded, “Ready as I’ll ever be. We’re going to make it out. We’re going to be fine.” It felt like a bird was fluttering in her chest, making her lightheaded as she watched House’s solemn expression, set with eyes the color of the ocean. The Graverobber nodded once to her words in response and then turned toward the stone steps that led further into the morgue—further into death.

~

Dying is uncomfortable; not painful—uncomfortable. It’s the feeling of your body going cold as your nerve endings die—like when your leg falls asleep. Everything feels heavier. Everything is harder to move.

You suddenly realize you’re not breathing. You remind yourself to take another breath and suck in another lungful of air.  That’s when you notice that the sounds around you have become softer—fuzzier. People say things and you can’t understand them. You’re not breathing again—it’s too hard. The edges of your vision go dark. All you can see is what’s in front of you—and then it’s suddenly too hard to keep your eyes open.

Everything goes dark.

And then your heart stops.

Why can’t they see?

There was nothing in the ground—just darkness. Voices floated. Voices murmured. Voices said everything and nothing. Alexa opened her mouth—no, that wasn’t right. She didn’t have a mouth, did she? Was she thinking the words she spoke? Did it matter?

“Bastion? Aladdin?”

Why can’t they see?

There was no response. Panic gripped her momentarily and then she heard Bastion’s voice. Voice? Or thoughts? Which is it when you’re in the Gravemind?

“I’m here.”

Why can’t they see?

“Aladdin? Are you there? Aladdin? Aladdin, respond…please.”

His response came slowly, reluctantly, “…Here.”

Why can’t they see, Graverobber? Why can’t they see?

What was there to see? The truth? I’ve been wearing the mask for so long…no. Treat it like a puzzle, Alexa. Treat it like a problem that needs to be solved—and solve it.

Why can’t you see?

~

“Miss Rook….”

“I’m a monster.”

“Killer. Manipulator.”

“I’ve always run away. Mickey was right. I always run.”

“…Murderer.”

“I’m…”

Silence.

~

The first breath she took made her feel giddy. Air rushed into her lungs and if she had had breath enough, she would have laughed. She looked out into darkness, feeling her heart beat, feeling blood rush through her veins, feeling alive. She blinked back tears and glanced nervously upward toward the entrance of the morgue. Dim light filtered downward. The other two had already made it out; she was the only one left—but she was alive.

Alexa took another breath and walked slowly out of the morgue, stumbling. She had seen what lay beneath the mask. She had seen the truth; she had lifted the blindfold and saw what she had been running from all this time. In the end, it was nothing to run from at all. Alexa smiled.

It was time to stop being afraid.

~

“Are you done running?”

“Yes.”

What she didn’t tell him was that she had finally found a reason to stay.

Advertisements

Starvation

Standard

Forest Winter

“People are starving. If we don’t act now, it’s just going to get worse. Winter is far from over, and it’s going to be hard enough as it is.”

“Whatever you decide, know that I’m here for you. Like I said before, I’d go to hell and back again for you, darlin’.”

Pause.

“I hate this.”

“What?”

“This—what I do. Making these decisions.”

“It’s your choice.”

“I guess it is.”

~

Hunger isn’t something you can dismiss. It constantly gnaws at your insides and turns your stomach. It claws at your strength so that moving seems difficult.  All you want to do is sleep as you drink water just to make it feel like you’re full. You find yourself mechanically going through the motions of day-to-day life—not thinking, not acting. Your entire mind—your entire being—is focused on the possibility of a meal. You chew on twigs and bark just to give your mouth something to do. Even then, you’re never satisfied.

And when you see food? Any food? Well, let’s just say that rationality goes right out the window with common sense.

Alexa stood in the rain, the damp clinging to her hair and slipping down the back of her neck and beneath her armor. She gritted her teeth as she glanced around at the others, assessing the body language of each—how they all leaned forward with predatory eagerness and with a bit of desperation. Shit. Shit. Shit. Things had gotten out of hand.

The two groups stood in the middle of the large open field in front of the Doubletap, the main building in town. Alexa could see the faint glow of candles glimmering at the dingy windows, casting their dim light outward into the fading winter afternoon. Clouds roiled overhead as water continued to pour downward, the patter of freezing raindrops drowned out by the harsh, gravelly voice that sounded out in the crowd.

“This is my fucking territory. You think you can come in my territory without asking me? This is Old York. Don’t pull this shit with me. I know Old York.”

Uncle Chuck was practically shouting at this point, his face twisted in anger. His grizzled brows were lowered over hard, brown eyes, and he held a notched blade in one of his veined hands. Alexa watched the Yorker carefully, trying to keep her face neutral as she glanced from him to the people he was shouting toward—the caravan of mercenaries with a large crate. Their faces were grim, unyielding. They were there to do a job. And they’ll probably see it through to the end.

Alexa’s eyes shifted to the others with Uncle Chuck. TJ stood near him, the Merican’s normally cheerful face now desperate and angry. His brown hair was damp, water falling into his eyes. Bastion was nearby, her cropped, reddish hair framing impossibly dark blue eyes that flickered from one person to another. Assessing which is the largest threat, most likely. The Remnant held her shield up, ready to defend.

“We’re just doing our fucking job! We’re the Iron Cross. We’re on the road. Now get out of our fucking way!”

The voice demanded Alexa’s attention. She quickly glanced toward the man speaking, the head of the group of mercenaries. His bearded chin was thrust forward in defiance. His armor was already scratched in places where the Hayvenites had struck him, and a trickle of blood seeped down his temple.

Alexa grimaced. The Iron Cross. There was no way she could do anything other than defend them now that they had announced themselves. The price of being part of D.O.C. I’m bound in contracts tighter than a fucking noose.

She shifted her weight slightly, turning to face the Hayvenites as she lifted her blades. She kept her face neutral as she watched TJ’s face fall; it was like watching a child being hurt for the first time—watching someone being betrayed.

It’s the best option currently. And you can fall easily—make amends.

At least, that’s what she told herself.

~

The sound of rain pattered down on the roof above, muffled as people clustered together within the small space. Bunks were spaced in even rows, pushed against the back wall. A table stood in the front of the room, strewn with small bits and pieces of metal and other odds and ends. The hum of conversation sounded through the small space, the voices of those who called the Kennel “home.”

Alexa remained sitting on a trunk shoved against one of the beds, green eyes roving over the faces in the room. She was too tired to stand at this point, too tired to do more than slump in her armor as she tried to remember to stay alert. Never let your guard down.

Someone sat down next to her and Alexa quickly jerked her head to look at the arrival. Dark, shadowed eyes stared back at her, unblinking. A hat perched on his head, casting part of his face in shade.

“Alexa.”

She felt her stomach twist slightly as she nodded her head in greeting before quickly looking back toward the front of the room, her eyes focusing on nothing in particular, “Barnes.”

“I have a Christmas present for you.”

Her stomach twisted more; it felt as if a dagger had been shoved into it and someone was slowly turning the hilt. She turned her eyes to look back at him, noting the calm way he observed her. As if nothing had happened. Anger bubbled upward before quickly receding once more—washed away by control. Instead of saying what was on her mind, she replied, “I have one for you, as well.”

A faint smile touched the corners of his lips as he reached into his bag. Alexa watched him, noting the care he took before pulling out a small, glittering object. He placed it into her hands as she stared at it. It was gold with five points. As she turned it between her fingers, some of the shine came off on her hands.

“There you are. Now you don’t have to run off into the dark to look at the stars.”

Alexa closed her eyes briefly before continuing to stare at the object. Her thoughts whirled, unable to form anything coherent.

“I have one more thing for you as well.” A pale hand suddenly came into her line of sight and handed her a small bag. Alexa swallowed hard as she took it from him, unable to meet his gaze.

“Thank you.”

“Merry Christmas, Alexa.”

~

Noise and laughter and warmth filled the room. The smells of cooking food still hung in the air, even though every last morsel had already been eaten.  The entire party crowded around the wooden table at the center of the room, strewn with now-empty bowls and dishes.

House with her long dreads and piercing blue eyes sat at one end of the table, a very faint smile tilting the side of her mouth as she watched a young boy with dark hair excitedly show off one of his new toys. Aladdin was near them, the Rover’s many scarves standing out bright against his patchwork clothes as he chatted with Tex. The southern twang of the Merican’s voice mingled with Aladdin’s polished accent.

Alexa found a smile crossing her face as she listened, her eyes focused on her pale fingers spread against the dark wood of the table. A copper-colored ring flashed on her right hand, glimmering faintly in the dim light. It’s nice—relaxing for once. She glanced up at the others once more, watching as they laughed.  It’s a pity it can’t last.

She turned her head to look at the profile of the man next to her. His dark hair was tucked up under a black hat, and his brown, hard eyes twinkled faintly as he grinned and joked. He’s as good with a mask as you are, Rook. For once, he had taken off his armor, a dark shirt and trousers lying beneath. She briefly noted that they looked far less worn than his usual clothing. Trying to impress? Or has he just had a windfall lately? She studied him for a bit longer as a faint twinge of guilt tugged at her chest. You shouldn’t overanalyze this—any of it. Can’t you accept that you’re not being used?

She lowered her gaze again to look at her hands. It had been a long few months—and they had barely seen one another. He didn’t know what had happened—didn’t know what the costs would be. You should tell him—even if you want to enjoy a few more minutes. It’s the right thing to do. You don’t know when you’ll see him again.

“Hey, Mickey?”

She could sense him turn toward her more than anything else; she could feel his eyes on her, watching her. She continued to stare at her hands, twisting the ring on her finger absentmindedly as she spoke, “I have something to tell you.” She paused for a moment, hesitating. How do I even say this? Don’t be such a coward, Alexa. “I…died again.”

There was only silence. Alexa fidgeted slightly as she heard a sharp intake of breath from Mickey. She felt a burning sensation on the back of her neck as an icy trickle of dread raced down her spine. Mickey finally spoke, the single, quiet word shaking the air with barely-restrained anger.

“How.”

She couldn’t look at him. Coward. She instead continued staring at her hands, swallowing hard, “I was in a situation where I had to fight to the death—or Barnes would die. I fought, and wasn’t strong enough.”

There was more silence from Mickey. You should give him a way out—if he wants it. It’s only fair, after all. Alexa turned her gaze to look at the wood of the table, closing her eyes for a moment, “I’m going to see about potentially doing a surgery. I need to speak with House first. Because not everyone makes it out, I…understand if you no longer want to continue this.” She gestured with one hand weakly, feeling her face go warm as she hurriedly finished.

Again, there was silence. Then she felt Mickey shift slightly, his head lowering near hers, “If we weren’t under the rules of hospitality, I would punch you right now. If you die…”

The rest of the words didn’t matter. Alexa lowered her head, still unable to look at him. How could she? You kill people, Rook—both outside and inside. You’re a killer—always have been, always will be. Creation was never for you.

She closed her eyes for a moment more, exhaling slowly.

Well maybe it’s time to change that.

~

“Here. This is for you. I thought you’d appreciate it.”

He handed a wrapped package to her. The faint scent of flowers hung in the air.

“…Thank you.”

Pause.

“Do you have everything settled to go in?”

“I need to explain why I’m worth it to House.”

Pause.

He leaned forward, gently taking the sides of her face in his hands and kissing her on the forehead.

“What was that for?”

“I might not get another chance.”

She hid the disgust that roiled in the back of her throat.

Dream

Standard

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

The room truly was lovely in the afternoon. Golden rays slanted through the high windows set with small crystals. Rainbow colored lights danced on the richly carpeted floor and sofas. A small tea tray was set upon a cracked marble table, the silver gleaming in the glow. Iced cakes and delicate pastries rested on a china plate next to the silver, beckoning anyone nearby with their sugary smells.

In fact, the only thing that marred the otherwise perfect afternoon and the perfect room was the person that sat on one of the perfect couches. Then again, “sat” was perhaps too generous a word. She slouched, her back sloping and her stomach sticking out at an utterly unattractive angle. Unfortunately, Richard had to bear the woman’s presence. Victoria was, after all, still his wife.

She smiled at him, showing slightly yellow teeth. Richard found himself staring at them, unable to look away as flecks of spit flew from her mouth when she spoke, “I’m so glad that you’re home, my dear. There have been a few changes since you left, but I think that you’ll enjoy them. I freshened up the rooms and made a few different arrangements. Do you want a tea cake? They’re absolutely delicious.”

Richard could tell she thought they were absolutely delicious. The woman had gained about ten pounds since he last saw her. He plastered a smile on his face and waved a hand, “Not right now, dear. You were saying something about changes?”

Victoria nodded and reached forward, grabbing a pink iced cake between two fingers. She popped it into her mouth and chewed loudly, the wet sound of her tongue slapping against her teeth filling the room. Richard resisted the urge to grind his own teeth as she finally swallowed, “Why yes. Your finances were in a dreadful state. I had to really do a bit of work on them. You see…”

Richard tuned out her whiny voice as she continued. She would be gone soon enough. He was ruined, of course. The downfall of Julius meant his downfall as well. He would never fully recoup his losses—but at least he didn’t need to put himself through this sham of a marriage any longer. If he was going to suffer in poverty, he was determined to suffer alone.

Richard found himself staring at Victoria’s face as she spoke—at her muddy, squinty eyes, at the mole at the corner of her mouth. Victoria didn’t have her charm, her beauty, her wit. She didn’t make graceful motions with her hands when she spoke about a topic that interested her. She didn’t grin deviously. She didn’t laugh in a high, clear voice that reminded him of running water. She didn’t take the initiative to grab his hand and twirl him around a dance floor to the sound of violins.

Then again, she also didn’t lie.

Richard turned his gaze elsewhere, glancing out the window. The early morning frost was melting in the afternoon light, blown by the wind and falling like silvered glitter, making the air sparkle. The bare trees shone with ice, diamonds that made him squint at the perfectly blue sky. It was so different from the night when they had dashed through the tunnel, when they evaded the restless, when they emerged behind the latrine near a small town. Richard found himself briefly wondering where the other two were—whether the girl was still following Robin around like some creepy, lost puppy. He shook his head. It wasn’t important. They were gone—the same way she was gone. The bright light began to make his eyes water.

“Richard dear?”

Richard turned his attention back to his wife, blinking his eyes before smiling, “Yes, my sweet?”

Victoria stared at him for a moment before biting her thin lips, “You’re not angry with me?”

Richard forced himself to laugh. Even to his own ears, it sounded false, “Why would I be angry?”

“Because I essentially indebted you to my family, Richard. I know how you hate to be indebted to anyone. But papa was so kind when he said he would repay all your debt. He said that you were part of the family now, and that you should be treated as such.”

The blood in Richard’s veins turned to ice, freezing him in place. He felt his smile slowly slide from his face as he spoke, “Did he say anything else?”

Victoria gave him a trembling smile, “I knew you wouldn’t be angry. Papa was wonderful. He said you didn’t have to worry about repaying him. All you had to do was take care of me as you always would…as your wife.”

Richard knew a veiled threat when he heard it: Take care of her or else. “Or else” could be anything. It could be his ruin…or his death. He shuddered inwardly, leaning back in his chair. “That’s…delightful.”

His wife practically beamed as she reached forward, grasping his hand with her clammy one, “I knew you’d be pleased, Richie. We’ll be together forever, and you can rebuild your fortune. Papa said he’d be watching your progress and helping when he’s needed. Isn’t it a dream?”

Forever. Richard stared at her, swallowing back the bile that had come to his throat. Forever with Victoria: sleeping in her bed, kissing her lips, smiling when he’d rather scream. Forever without…

He closed his eyes, unable to even contemplate how he’d never again see her again. Perhaps this was his punishment, his penance. Perhaps this was what he deserved: a nightmare in place of what could have been, what was once his fantasy. Only her memory remained, the faint, lingering thought of a woman that was as false as his marriage.

Richard opened his eyes and smiled back, “Yes, a dream.”

Family

Standard

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

The tunnel was dark, winding beneath the ground and branching out to other side passages. The sweet, dusty smell of decaying earth filled the air as she took one step at a time, her feet tapping on the frozen mud that made up the passage’s floor.  She had immediately recognized what it was when Kari had pointed it out: a tunnel crafted by her people. Hopefully it would wind its way somewhere safe, somewhere where she could find a family again.

Danielle glanced behind herself, her eyes easily making out the curved walls, the roots hanging from the ceiling in long, tendril-like streamers. She could no longer see them, but she could hear them. Robin sounded angry. That seemed strange. From what Danielle understood, Kari had essentially saved them in some strange way.

She hesitated for a moment, continuing to listen to the voices. She could leave them behind; she had fulfilled her obligation to Robin, after all. Without her, they would all have been prey to the living dead: so much food for the creatures that made life so difficult. A life for a life, Rak had told her. If Robin chose to stay and wait for the restless to follow, she couldn’t be blamed.

Her feet moved of their own accord. First it was one step, then another, then she was running down the passage back toward Robin and Kari and the man that they had called Richard. Her side throbbed, the pain arcing up her side from her wound as she tried to keep up her speed. Rak had also always said that you never abandon family.

She rounded the corner and stopped, staring. Kari was convulsing on the floor, her eyes fluttering as her limbs spasmed. White foam came from her mouth, pouring down the side of her pale face. She didn’t look quite so pretty now. Robin was sitting nearby. For once, his emotionless face was twisted into something else: disappointment. Richard, on the other hand, was kneeling down next to her and shouting. He reached down and grabbed Kari’s shoulders, pulling her into his arms, “You can’t just leave without explaining! Why did you do it?!”

Danielle stepped forward hesitantly, keeping to the back wall of the tunnel. She could hear the screams of the dead above them. Soon enough, one of them would follow the sounds down the shaft…and then they’d be in trouble.

Just as suddenly, Kari stopped moving. Her blue eyes gazed blankly at the ceiling, her body going limp. Richard leaned over her and murmured something that Danielle couldn’t hear. Then he reached down and closed her eyes. Robin still sat on the ground, seemingly dazed.

Danielle suddenly heard a tell-tale thump and then the sound of a shuffling gait from around the bend. For a moment, she was frozen. The restless were around her once more, her brothers beside her as they tried to escape.

Then the moment passed. Danielle rushed forward, tapping Robin on the arm, “We need to go.”

Robin glanced up at her blankly. Slowly, he nodded, “Let’s go then.” He stood and walked over toward Richard, grabbing him by the arm roughly and pulling him away from Kari’s body. Richard made a noise that sounded as if someone was choking him as he struggled. Robin jerked him hard and then slapped him across the face, “Quiet. You can’t do anything more about her. It’s time to leave.”

Richard stared at Robin for a moment. Shock and disbelief crossed his face, and his eyes flickered back toward Kari’s prone body. Then his lips curled into a sneer, “If you do that again…”

Robin cut him off, jerking his head toward Danielle, “No time.” He jogged toward her, nodding for her to lead. Danielle took off down the tunnel—away from the screams, away from the entrance, away from death. Roots scraped the top of her head as the packed dirt flashed by on either side. Her feet pounded the dirt floor, thudding and then clanging as it gave way to metal. She could hear Robin and Richard behind her, following. Further behind, she could hear screams and quick footsteps. The restless had finally decided to follow.

The walls slowly changed from earth to rusted metal. Water dripped downward into the frigid air and left greenish streaks against the walls. The footsteps behind her suddenly stopped. Danielle whirled around, her eyes seeking out her companions. Robin had stopped, his sword withdrawn. The metal gleamed dully in the darkness as he turned to face the way they had come. There was a figure approaching them quickly. It had an uneven gait, one of its arms twisted backward while the other swung forward as it ran. Robin crouched slightly as the creature let out a horrific scream; it bounced off the walls, echoing through the small space as it reached one skeletal hand toward him.

At the last second, Robin shifted his weight and stepped to one side. The creature barreled past him and he swung his sword, catching the monster’s neck. Blood sprayed outward as the body stumbled, still reaching for Robin. Then the head fell and what was left of the creature slumped to the ground.

More screams came from down the hallway. Danielle glanced to Robin and then spun around, sprinting away from the sounds. The pain was almost non-existent now. All that mattered was getting away. She could hear his and Richard’s footsteps following, their breath heaving as they rushed forward.

Danielle rounded a corner and slammed into a metal wall. She stared for a moment. Unlike the rest of the system, the wall had been maintained. No green stains marred its surface, and there were only a few patches of rust to mark where age had taken its toll. She pressed her hands against the metal, feeling its cold, smooth surface, tracing her fingertips along the faint grooves that were there. Richard’s voice sounded high-pitched behind her, “We’re trapped!”

She closed her eyes, ignoring Richard’s panicked words, ignoring the screaming, ignoring the pain. She moved her hand along the metal until she found one indentation, pressing it with her finger. Then she found another and pressed that too. There was the squeak and whine of rusty hinges as the door slowly swung inward, revealing more of the passage.

Danielle didn’t waste any time. She darted through and waited on the other side, watching as Richard and Robin followed. She was already tracing the grooves on the wall as the screaming came closer and closer. Her eyes moved over the small symbols, finding the right shapes before she glanced briefly toward the open door. That was a mistake. She could see more shapes sprinting toward them, teeth gnashing. Danielle turned her attention back to the wall. There. She pressed a finger against a small indentation, and the door swung closed with a click.

She slowly turned to look at the others. Relief showed plainly on their faces as they looked back. If it hadn’t been for her, they would be dead. Danielle allowed herself a small smile before turning to continue limping down the passage, “This way.”

She was sure Rak would have been proud.

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.

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.