She stared into the small fire they had made. Having just woken up from the first guard, she still felt groggy from only five hours of sleep. Still, it’s not like there was a day-night cycle here. If they got tired, they could make camp again and get some rest when the time came.
The fire flickered and cast odd, discomforting shadows on the walls around her. The walls themselves were brick, concrete, and mortar, a cold barrier between her and the outside.
Rick and herself had checked the building before she took her turn to sleep. It used to be a church, once; a small modern one built in a time when grandeur was too expensive to afford. The pews where people sat had been moved around, broken and splintered, or simply left to rot. The books stored in the little shelves in the backs of the pews had either been disintegrated, stolen, or burned. Many books had pages torn out, the charred remains of which could be seen strewn around the building. At the front of the church stood a podium on a stage. A few candle sticks and candelabras were strewn across the floor, some broken or twisted into weapons of some kind. A statue at the front had fallen, or been pushed over, breaking the stage in two and leaving rocky remains of the personage depicted. The woman was sure the statue had been of a man; judging by the still standing statuettes and some jewelry lying around, he was usually depicted as laying on a cross with his arms open wide.
Her mind drifted across memories long since forgotten. She had grown up in the Undercity since birth, a cruel place for a child. She was lucky, however; her mother had a great deal of influence and power. She never understood why people came to her mother for advice, but come they did. They brought valuable things in exchange, food and clothing mostly. Every time the people left, her mother made a movement with her hands, holding a cross in the other hand. Her mother finished every meeting with “bless you,” and that was that. End of the meeting.
Her mother would also leave once a week for a couple of hours, and then come back with a full sack, which held clothing, food, or valuable metals. Over the course of the week, these objects would be given to different people, and the whole process would start again every week.
She had once asked her mother what she was doing every time she talked to people, or went out. Her mother smiled, and said, “I’m giving hope.” Past that, she knew almost nothing about the business her mother had with all these other people.
She was shocked out of her reverie by shrill cry outside. She strained to listen, but could only hear the blood in her ears. Moments passed by slowly, every second taking longer than the last. Still, she heard nothing, which cause her anxiety to flare. Sweat started forming in beads on her forehead, and her pulse started to quicken. Deciding it was no longer safe to be here, she quietly snuck over to Rick and shook him awake.
“Rick, up. I heard a scream.” She moved back to the fire to put it out, and then packed her things. When she had finished, she checked on Rick; thankfully, he was just about finished packing up as well.
“Move by the walls,” he whispered. “There’s an alcove by the dais at the front, hide in there. I’ll be right behind you.” He checked his weapons quickly, and moved to hide behind a rocky piece of debris near the alcove. She settled herself against the stone walls, and tried as hard as possible to blend in. She flexed her mechanical hand, which surprisingly felt as natural as her old hand did. Flexing her hand was subconscious, a nervous tic, but she was keenly aware of it now as she toyed with the idea of gripping her weapon.
She was now able to hear soft footsteps just outside the building. The doors slowly opened inwards, their ungreased hinges sounding a slow scream of metal on metal. Shadows entered the archway, and she could hear not just footsteps. Something was being dragged in; she could hear a scrape of something soft on the rough floor.
A cold, deep voice permeated the darkness. “Close the doors, light the candles.” A soft shuffling of feet ensued, and the doors slowly slammed shut, the reverberating thud echoing dully in her ears. The silence afterwards was a suffocating blanket. She stopped breathing.
A flame flickered into existence on the right, and then one on the left. She could hear footsteps as the intruders lit several more candles in a circle right around where they had made camp. She stared past the pillar of the alcove, hoping beyond hope that they didn’t notice the leftovers of their campfire. The fire was a huge fucking mistake, she thought. She glanced at the hunter, and saw… fear? He was fixated on what the people were doing in the middle of the room, she guessed. When she turned back to the scene unfolding in front of them, she understood why his gaze didn’t waver.
A group of six people stood in the circle of candles. Each one was clothed in rags, full of holes and rotting in certain places. They all faced the middle of the circle, their rags pulls over their heads like a hood. The hoods shrouded their faces in darkness, making it almost impossible for her to see who they were. Even with the candle light, the most she could make out were mouths, noses. Each mouth moved slightly, as if mumbling. Whatever the fuck they were saying, she concluded, they were saying it together. She felt a deeply uncomfortable feeling in her stomach.
A seventh member came into the light. His hood was down, revealing a sharp, blading man with a pointed face. Deep lines ran across his pale forehead. He wore elegant robes, midnight black trimmed white, with markings and symbols all along the fabric. He carried a man in his arms. Blood was dripping from a large gash on the man’s head. The hooded figure carrying him stopped in the middle of the circle. She could hear the pit pat of the blood hitting the floor.
The deep, voice carried from the hooded man in the center. “Keep the area clear, my friends. Search this holy ground, and protect me as I work!” The hooded figure set his charge down on the ground in the middle of the circle. At the same time, the figures on the outside of the circle turned around, and began scanning the area. Each one of them had pulled out a weapon; cruel looking blades, or rusty old handguns. Rick and the woman reflexively ducked deeper into their hiding spots.
“We need to move!” She whispered to the hunter. He nodded, and looked around for an exit or extra hiding place. Stopping his gaze just to her left, he motioned to turn around and move that way. When she turned around, she figured out what he was thinking.
There was a stairwell leading down, just on the back of the dais. She moved down the stairs as softly as as she could. Rick padded down the stairs after her, and moved beside her once she had reached the door. Looking down, she was supremely thankful the door was slightly ajar. With a slight nudge, the door opened enough that she could squeeze through without creating any noise. Once she made it through the doorway she became keenly aware of the darkness here. Her eyes adjusted to the dark, but still she saw nothing. It was pitch black. She felt fear rising in her stomach, and her mind struggled to keep calm.
Rick entered shortly after her, and quietly closed the door behind him. “Fucking son of a bitch. Who the hell are they, I wonder,” he said, turning on his flashlight and illuminating what was in front of them. “Well, fuck me.” He passed the flashlight over the room in front of them: stone masonry, from floor to ceiling. The ceiling itself was only seven feet high, but the room itself was wide. Squat, wide pillars spotted the chamber to keep the ceiling from falling in. The room reeked of rot and mold, of dampness and moist stones. It was clammy and cold. The flashlight passed over alcoves on the far wall, and in them the woman could see human skeletons.
The hunter stepped forward. “Looks like we’re in the crypts of the church. We should find someplace to stay hidden in case those fuckers coming looking down here.” He began searching for a place to hide, but the woman didn’t move.
After briefly searching the place, his shoulders slumped. “There’s no real place to hide,” he concluded, “so we should cover the door. Get ready in case something comes through.” He stopped, looking at the woman. She still didn’t move, her stare fixed on the skeletons in the back.
While the hunter started explaining why it was important to cover the door together, she saw something on the bones. Rusty red stains. Something deep inside her told her to inspect the bones closer. She moved to the back of the crypts, her heart hammering away in her chest.
The hunter rolled his eyes. “Okay, sure,” he muttered, more to himself than to the woman, “now you want to inspect the room. I’ll just cover the door on my own.” He then pointed his rifle at the door, the soft hum of the gun’s slug technology audibly coming to life in the quiet of the stony tomb.
Still she moved towards the skeletons, now close enough to make out details. There were three skeletons in the alcoves. The stains on the bones were probably from blood. Many of the bones were broken in two, the marrow disturbingly missing from their centers. Fear rose in her throat as she noticed deep scratches and gouges in the skull of one of the skeletons, as if something had tried to open the skull with their teeth.
She staggered back, as if struck in the chest. Too soon, she thought. It was far too soon, they were so far away from where she was attacked. Her heart hammered so hard it started to hurt, and her breathing was quick and shallow. He stomach was in knots. “Rick, we need to get out of this building.”
His gaze didn’t leave the door, but the dead, toneless voice of the woman left no doubt that something was wrong. “We can’t yet.” His tone was even, but the woman could hear a slight quiver. “We have no idea what’s up there right now. I’ll get close enough to hear what’s happening through the door.”
End of part 8