The Black Village
Breaking the surface of the water Daniel took in a deep breath, for a moment forgetting that he had a gas mask on his face and had been breathing just fine in the swim back up. He pulled the soaking sleeve of his shirt up and wiped the water from the mask's glass, his heart sinking upon seeing the drain holes from before -Before what could have only been double his height away were now tiny specks of light in the huge canvas of black, tiny peering eyes observing him in his new prison. Something bobbed up beside his face and he jumped back and shrieked before realising it was just his hat, he would have laughed if the water wasn't so bone chillingly cold. The flash light had vanished so he had to resort to slowly swimming in one direction until his hands met the wet brick walls then he waved them up above his head, but no walkway could be found above. He slowly followed the edge of the water, feeling along the wall with his hands, desperately looking for a way out. But he was sure he had already gone round at least once by now. Sighing loudly and resting his head against the wall he stared down at the dark water. Then he narrowed his eyes, looking harder at the water all around him. It was definitely slowly flowing towards the wall he was facing, he kicked his foot forward slowly through the water and it continued past the wall before his face. He swam back slightly and looked down below the surface of the water just about seeing the passage where excess water ran off to, realising he'd have to swim in this horrid ancient water.
The passage lasted just a few metres then he swamp back up again, finding himself in a similar cylindrical space with the same little white dots far above. He groaned and swam to the other side, finding another passage beneath the water and traversing this one as well. Popping his head up again and to his relief finding himself in a new area. Just up ahead the water ended as the a wide concrete ramp sloped out, small streams of black water flowing down them. Clambering up the slope he finally stood back on solid ground, shaking his arms and legs and trying to get the water off. The slop had led upto some tall wide tunnel that disappeared off into the darkness away from the extremely faint light from drain holes above. Making his way down the tunnel he saw doors appear in either side of the walls every few metres, he would have tried barging them open like the previous ones but there were somewhat larger and looked electronically sealed. Most likely leading off to other drainage areas which when full flowed down to these huge areas he suspected. Up ahead some strange electronic trolley sat in the middle of the tunnel, its back all smashed in. It looked like a golf cart from the front and had a tiny engine below the only seat. It must have been used by sanitation workers to get around the sewers quickly, obviously it couldn't possibly be working now. Wouldn’t hurt to try though. There was no ignition key, just a big red and green button beside the steering wheel. He pressed the green one and naught a sound came from the engine, but the headlights flicked on two huge cones of light surged ahead for what could have been fifty or so metres. Huge concrete pillars stretched out to the ceiling disappearing amongst a myriad of pipes that snaked all around the ceiling.
Walking in a straight line along the the path the trolley's light illuminated Daniel looked down at his own long shadow as he took each step. Eventually the light stopped running up against one of the tall pillars, walking around it Daniel's eyes lit up and a smile grew upon his face. Jutting out the other-side were a series of iron rungs that went up and into the darkness, a ladder. A way out. He climbed the rungs as fast as he could, more and more relieved to finally be out on the surface again. Disappeared into the darkness as the trolley's faint light had gone completely he carefully felt upwards for each new rung and pulled himself up until he was at the top, his head brushing against the bottom of a manhole cover. He pushed up against it but it wouldn't budge, peering his eye through the tiny hole in the centre and seeing the blue sky above only made him try harder. Feeling around the edge of the cold metal circle he found a tiny latch, trying his best to unhinge it, usually a special apparatus needed. That and it's age made it hard to move. Digging his fingers in against them as hard as he could he slowly managed to pull them free and unlock the manhole cover, giving a quick look at his hand and the tips of all his fingers bloodied. He ignored it and pushed up against the cover again just as hard, almost falling from the ladder as the cover shot up as his shoulder slammed against it and he moved further up than expected.
He stared slack-jawed at the view before him as his head poke out the ground. Hundreds upon hundreds of tree trunks surrounding him in the street reaching up taller than the old apartment buildings that lined the road and covered the space between with a million green leaves shrouding the land below in a cooling shadow save for where the long streaks of sunlight seeped in. Vines and big leafs spilling out of the glassless windows as fallen trees and the huge branches of the bigger trees formed bridges between the rooftops and holes in the buildings. The ground was completely green, tall grass and leafy plants growing as tall as the street signs, the shapes of cars visible but merged into the ground as the plant-life had claimed them as their own. Huge rocks and stones sat dotted along the street - what most have been part of the buildings once but had fallen loose and since been eroded by all the floods and now were as smooth as a pebble. If you stared straight down the street and didn’t let you eye stray to the side where the ancient structures stood you could easily think you were somewhere deep in Africa or South America.
Pulling himself out of the dark damp sewers he continued looking around in awe, his soaked clothes quickly drying off in the heat but the horrible stench sticking to him tightly. Making his way down the street he realised he had no idea just where he was, the street signs had long ago faded to nothingness and only displayed bare metal and the trees made it impossible to see any tall landmarks; Empire State Building or Freedom Tower which with to orientate himself. He had to be in mid-town though from Owen's description of the city, but which way he was heading he had no clue.
At an intersection where the ground dipped down and a small pond had formed Daniel looked down the three new routes. Straight ahead a cliff about four or five storeys high was blocking the road after a few hundred metres and a small waterfall flowed off it into an unseen river. The road going left and right looked identical either way, stretching on for a mile or so in to the light fog and haze that hung below the tree canopy but still gave no indication if it were heading up or down the island. Looking down to his feet Daniel saw the plants and grass near him had been trampled and yet he had only walked in a straight line here. Turning his head to the right and looking down the road again the plants all along there also flattened and trampled, this route seemingly used recently. He took the roadway to the right and followed the footsteps left behind, constantly looking up to see if any buildings he recognized appeared but none had yet. Stepping over fallen logs and around trees he noticed the trail had become more sporadic, meandering off to one side of the street then back over to the other side. Until it eventually disappeared into a doorway and no other trail could be seen along the road. The trail had led into some old convenience store, a huge crack ran from the roof to just above the bottom floor, the skeletal neon sign outside twisted and flaying, all the isles visible from outside were thrown all over the place as if someone had just picked up the building and slammed it back down again. Cautiously walking closer Daniel placed his hand around one of the iron columns that would have once held huge the store windows and leant his head inside, trying to see if there was any sign of life in the dusty darkened place. He called to anyone inside the building but no response came, just a dull creak which he couldn't decide if it were the building or one of the tall trees behind him. He stepped through the window and slowly made his way down the isle to the other side of the store, the entire building bare of everything of value, including by the looks of it wiring from the walls and the lights in the ceiling as huge. And yet the cash register still stood at the till, the tray open and filled with a hundred soggy old dollar bills, only the small-change absent.
The back-room stood just beyond the till, empty boxes and tiny crates everywhere and a small safe built into side of the room that looked untouched for a millennium from looking at the spider web that draped over it, but no spider present. He continued on through and found stairs leading up the other side, looking up the four or so storeys of stairs and calling out again to no one. The second floor let a little more of the light in, a big hole in one of the ceilings and letting light in from an upper floor, just the radiators and sinks remained in place, all appliances and furniture taken, the doorway from the stairwell cracked and widened, smiling to himself trying to image two unlucky souls trying to fit a fridge through it while constantly checking their oxygen supply. The smile vanished immediately upon seeing the dead body before him -in what must have been the dinning room- slumped against the wall a long trail of red painting the wall behind him. He hesitated for a moment, about to turn and walk out when he slowly took a step towards it. The unfortunate person had a long green overall on with a dark grey combat vest covered in pouches for ammunition and supplies and a cap upon his head. A long slash down his body that ran from his hip right up to just below his neck and a single dark bloody spot on his chest, his gas mask was visible a few feet away, flayed in half and useless. Daniel gripped the edge of the cap lightly with a finger and thumb and tilted his head up and immediately turned his head away and regretted it, the corpse’s face twisted into a horrified scream his eyes still full of fear and staring forward and who ever or what ever it was that had killed him. He had been perfectly preserved in the oxygen-less environment, he could have been killed a hundred years ago but you had no well of telling, having not decomposed in the slightest. Daniel carefully lifted some of the flaps on the man's vest pounces, finding only batteries and food which had use-by-dates that would have made them inedible even before he even entered the cryo-chamber. He then looked down at the man's legs and saw the holster strapped around his right one, the man's right hand pressed against it, maybe only a second away from saving himself when he met his fate. Squirmishly gripping his leave Daniel moved his arm out of the way and saw the pistol still sitting comfortably in its black leather home. Unclipping it he gripped the side-arm firmly and slid it out, pulling it up to the light and inspecting.
A Teksarb Production Armaments ESW-2014, 254mm long and with 12 rounds in the magazine, chambered in 9x19mm Parabellum. Or a “Cascade” as was printed on the side, right beside an etched in tally chart, a kill count he presumed. He looked at he pistol for a while, turning it over in his hand and wondering how he had remembered so much about that but not about vital things in his own life. He made sure the weapon was safetied and tucked it down the back of his pants and pulled his shirt over the top. He continued up the stairwell all the way to the roof but still the canopy of leaves above blocked the view of the skyline. The rooftop on some of the other apartments along the road were the same height so Daniel could easily cross over to the new buildings right up until the third entered with an alley below, and there was no way he was going to jump across rooftops. So back down the stairwell of this building it was. The interior of this apartment near enough the same as the other.
On the way out of the restaurant that took up the first floor something on the walls caught his eye, a series of bright orange posters that had hastily been put up, faded almost to unreadability.
In case of Protocol-U5 being initiated
all residents of safe-zone: Manhattan
to proceed to one of the United Arms buildings
Buildings will be sealed five minutes upon
Protocol-U5 being initiated.
For more information consult your
UABC health & safety leaflet.
He memorized those three locations, they seemed to be in lower, mid and upper Manhattan so whichever way he was heading he'd be able to get into one of those buildings. He looked again at the name on there United Arms and looked down to the UA on his tie again. He thought of tearing the poster off the wall to keep on him when something huge and bulky suddenly thundered past on the street outside leaving torn leaves and grass slowly wafting back down in its wake. Daniel ran to the front of the restaurant and looked out the shop-front, not seeing whatever it was, presumably already turning back at the intersection.
He thought it best he hadn't seen whatever the thing was, heading back into the restaurant hastily, tripping over a few of the tables and crashing to the floor in the process. Laying on his back he heard the sound again, coming back in this direction, he clambered to his feet using the table as support and ran as fast as he could into the back of the restaurant, ducking down into the kitchen and making his way to the back-door whilst crouching beside the counter. The thing outside stopping just in front of the restaurant front. Taking a moment to catch his breath Daniel eyed the back door, it might be locked for all he knew and whatever it was on the street would be staring straight into the restaurant and see him. But what was to say it won't just come into the kitchen anyway. He stared at the door and took a deep breath in, clenching his hands and jumping up from the cold tiled floor, dashing to the door and in one movement turning the handle down and barging his shoulder into it. The door flying open and sending him flying down the three stone steps outside and onto the ground, thankfully covered in grass and dirt and cushioning him. He heard the thing charging towards the kitchen as he stood but immediately stopping and backing off as he made it through the door. Rolling onto his front and getting up onto his knees he could get the footsteps heading back out of the restaurant and heading off down the street the other side.
Daniel got up onto his feet quickly and looked around his new surroundings, now in some confined alley that ran behind the apartment buildings and so filled with plant-life he'd need a machete to cut his way though. He looked to the opposite building and narrowed his eyes and his eyebrows drew together in annoyance. Seeing a window that could lead out of the alley. But inside a sheet of glass, staring at himself in the reflection, in what must have been the only intact window in the city. He quickly looked around the floor for something to smash it with, picking up a mossy brick and lobbing it into the glass, breaking the quiet tranquillity that hung over the area, the frequent heavy footsteps of his new friend the only other sound. He looked at the shards of sharp glass sticking out all along the insides of the window frame then down to the thin sleeves of his shirt. Taking a step back from the window and lowering to the ground, readying for a run-up he thought for a second the number of things he was barging through today it seemed. One more wouldn't hurt. Running forward and standing back up again he stretched his arms out and sprang off the ground, diving through the window and into letting out a cry as he landed down hard on the ground the other side, a long cut along his back as a shard caught him on his dive.
Groaning and wincing he clambered onto his knees again, feeling at his back and trying to find the cut but he couldn't reach. He shut his eyes tightly and rocked for a moment, trying to drive the pain away, hoping it'd eventually just turn into an annoying stinging sensation but the acute pain stuck. Gripping the radiator on the wall beside him he forced himself to his feet, walking down the hallway to the front door. Putting his hand on the handle he leant his head against it for a moment, breathing deeply and opening it, sighing as the warm sunlight fell on him. He stepped out and craned his neck back, getting an unobstructed view at last and seeing Freedom Tower stretch out over the apartments in front of him. All the crystal clear blue windows that once lined the walls of the tower long ago gone and now the building taking on a more depressing form, wires and cables visible even from here draping down from every ceiling like vines, the vague silhouettes of office furniture visible as well and for some reason some of the floors towards the lower levels -and the three top floors- had been surrounded with iron sheets. The skyscrapers and offices of lower Manhattan all around it all in similar condition. The familiar thumping footsteps of the creature from the restaurant appeared again just about to round a corner a block away. Daniel looked around quickly for any other open door way and considered just heading back into the one he left before wincing against from the wound on his back and deciding he couldn't hide and wait for it to go away, not in this condition.
He reached back and pulled the back of his shirt up, which seemed to be ripped down the middle, gripping the handle of his pistol and pulling it free, keeping his eye on the building corner just down the street as he brought it up to eye-level. Pulling back the slide with his left hand and hearing an all to familiar cl-click he kept the sights trained on the corner and quickly placed his left hand over his right to keep the weapon steady. Around the corner a soldier suddenly appeared, sat atop a robot similar to the one Owen had, galloping at full speed and into the street and towards Daniel. The pistol shook in his hand as the ground shook from the robot's heavy footsteps, keeping the sights trained on the soldier, unsure if this man was going to kill him. The soldier was adorned in a dark blue tunic with white lining, a bandoleer of small pouches hanging across his chest beside a shield-shaped badge cut from some metal, and a peaked officer's cap atop his head. He wore a gas mask that wouldn't look out of place on a WW1 German, a tube running from the funneled end to a long tank of oxygen on his back. His black trousers -from which a sheathed sword hung- ran to his knees then stopped immediately as tall leather riding boots took over, strapped into the saddle that rested between him and the robot. A lance made from a road-sign's metal pole and a bayonet welded to the end sat firmly in his right hand and the reigns to the robot in his left. The robot had satchels along it just like Owen's but a long sheath was also situated at the back left side inside which a short carbine rifle of some sort sat snugly.
The soldier continued riding forward at full speed, staring down the barrel of Daniel's pistol unflinchingly but not lowering his lance or reaching any of his other weapons. Daniel leant back and began taking a step back his finger hovering over the trigger as the mounted soldier drew up right in front of him before to an immediate abrupt stop and stood motionless before him. The soldier slowly turning his head down to meet Daniel's, his face unnoticeable behind the jet black lens of his gas mask which only reflected Daniel's half bemused half terrified face.
“SIGNOR!” The soldier suddenly announced making Daniel jump back, his volume startling and his near perfect Spanish accent catching him off guard.
“IF you intend to fire that weapon then you will barely get a single shot off before I dice you where you stand! If not, I trust you to state your intent in The Kingdom at once”
Daniel stood staring at the soldier, none of t he words he just said sinking in, the pistol in his hand trembling until the soldier unhooked his right foot from the saddle and slowly brought it forward and tapped the gun out of the man's hand with his booted foot.
“NOW state your intent in The Kingdom” He demanded again, seemingly having to start every one of his sentences with a shout to make his presence known.
“DO you have a tongue? Or has it been ripped from your mouth, speak.”
“I.. I don't know?” Daniel said, shirking away “I'm.. just passing through?”
“PASSING through? And to where might I ask? To the sea, the wrecked ships? HM? There is nowhere to pass through TO. Unless you were heading north. And signor I have been following you all morning, you bear on a south heading to Kingdom's land.” He hooked his foot back into the stirrup and looked the man before him up and down “YOU do not bear the look of a trader, most definitely not a mercenary and you cannot be one of our lord's men.”
Daniel's vision started to blur, the pain from his back beginning to become too much and he couldn't put up with the soldier's mad rambling much longer.
“YOUR clothes suggest you are a Termini politico but that is obviously some ruse. Maybe a visit to the dungeons will yield some answer out of you”
Daniel collapsed to his knees with a thud, letting out a groan and keeping his head lowered to his chest in pain, a red pool haven appeared below him from standing still and the blood dripping down his back.
“Signor?” The soldier asked, stepping back and looking down at the pool and back up to Daniel's face. He fell forwards onto his front against the grassy road as his eyes closed and he heard the faint sound of the soldier repeating himself and stepping down from his steed.