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The earth convulsed as the sky was leached away by shadows. Screams splintered the air and the world was swallowed by the thickest dark we’d ever been in yet. Blind, I tensed at the cracking sounds that filled the air around me and hastily scrambled away, the strap of my satchel cutting into my clammy palm. I teetered as the ground suddenly tilted to one side, hurling my hip into some unseen crates. A loud crash sounded from where I had just been, and a blanket of grit choked the air. Shards of rock and metal peppered my calves releasing hot veins of pain that spasmed beneath my skin. I struggled to breathe, my mind slipping into crashing waves of panic. I had almost died. I could still die. Move, move, some part of me whispered. Only by the the most primal need to survive did I force myself to creep forward.
I crouched to keep my balance, sticky rivulets of blood carving paths of lava down my leg, and put my hand ahead of me to keep from crashing face first into a wall. I blinked, but there was no difference to the seething blackness. I clenched my teeth, my insides feeling shredded by the adrenaline seeping into every cell of my body. For a moment, the earth stilled as if whatever had been slithering beneath its surface had fallen asleep, and we were suspended in an empty void.
A second later, sunbeams came crashing through the shadows and restored life to Effringere. My heart fluttered in my throat as I took in all the debris and destruction around me. The once glowing and rambunctious city seemed exhausted. Fissures ran up buildings and along streets, puffs of steam from broken pipes fogged the ground, bright colors and burnished metal had been dulled by heavy layers of dust, and clever inventions strenuously labored over were now broken and strewn across the road. Moans and wails wove through the sky as people writhed in pools of blood or saw their loved ones laying twisted, their glassy eyes staring upward with residual horror.
A skittering pebble roped my attention and I whirled around, the satchel thumping into my leg. Scrap! They had caught up with me. In the mouth of the alleyway stood the Sceleratus Guard, or Unholy Ones as most people called them. They all wore identical bronze masks, half of it smooth and blank, while the other half had a glaring red slit for their eye and was engraved with sharp runes that seemed to slither everytime they moved their heads. There had been whispers that underneath, they didn’t have faces, but instead were squirming masses of shadow and spectral flame; the place where they kept all the souls they destroyed.
But I knew for a fact that wasn’t true, for I had seen the monster beneath the mask, and it was far, far worse. One of them stepped forward, kicking the crates out of the way, and stalked toward me. I tried to keep my breathing even and straightened, pushing wine coloured strands off my face while I slunk my other hand into my satchel. They would not win this time. The guard reached for its mask and slid it to the side of its head.
“Heya, Sweetheart. Where ya going?” Hazel eyes glinted savagely through cinnamon dusted hair and a smirk carved his face in a cruel light. He casually tugged the collar of his cerulean uniform, but I saw his fingers twitch toward his weapon, a sleek pistol sword customized to each member of the guard.
“Trystan.” I stuffed as much disgust and hatred as I could into that one word before hurling it at him. It wasn’t very hard.
“Woah, Kyra!” Trystan exclaimed clutching his chest in mock hurt. “Aren’t you glad to see me?” I snarled and my fingers finally brushed against my chance for escape. I slowly set the trigger. “Apparently not.” Click. I froze. Trystan raised his brow in lazy menace while the guards behind him reached for their weapons. “Now, what do you suppose that was? Mind telling me what you’re hiding in that bag of yours?” Now or never.
I pulled out a little brass ball made of coils and gears. Flinging it as hard as I could at his face, I turned and took off sprinting. He chuckled when he caught it, but it evolved into hacking when the bomb exploded with an ear-splitting BANG and a thick cloud of putrid smoke poured out. I grinned. It sure felt good wiping that smug grin off his face.
I gripped the rough, cold pipe bolted into the wall next to me and shimmied up to the roof. I glanced back down to see the smoke dispersing. Scrap! Icy shivers pumped through my body as I resumed my escape. I needed to think of something, and fast. My gaze suddenly hooked on a ladder slowly ascending back up to one of the floating manors held up by huge steam engines and fans. A sudden thrill strummed my spine. That could work. My feet seemed to grow wings then, skipping over the chipped green tiles with determined speed. Thump. It was him. Trystan had found me. Almost there! It rose above the rooftops. I was going to have to jump. I tensed and pushed off from the edge of the building, leaping smoothly into the air. I stretched out my arms, air whipping through my hair, and…! A hand grabbed my leg. NO! The last thing I saw was Trystan’s leering face before my temple met stone and everything bled away.
It was my sense of smell that returned first. Fresh baked bread laced the air with its buttery aroma curiously mixed with frankincense. Then touch. Biting cuffs binding my wrists, feet, and waist to a stiff, wooden chair. A horrendous throbbing battered the inside of my skull. Taste. A bitter, metallic coat of blood rasping against my throat. Sound. Undulating music wafted with ethereal beauty through the air. Finally, sight. Glaring light filtered in and sent sparks dancing in the corners of my eyes. Blinking, I was assaulted with bright colors, opulent architecture and, best of all, a humongous mahogany table laden with plates and plates of steaming hot food glistening with grease. My eyes stopped on the steam powered music player. Cogs spun slowly and tapped metal strips that played out a tune magnified by a horn. The music could be changed with a gentle twist of the knob. Simple, yet amazingly beautiful.
“Hello Kyra.” Scrap.
“Your Majesty.” My palms quivered. Stop. Now is no time to be scared. “You always this generous to all your guests?” I rattled my cuffs to which he laughed grimly.
“Only the ones who sabotage the world engine and run away.” He walked around out from behind my chair and stood in front of me with his hands clasped behind his back. He was such a petite man to hold so much power, almost drowning in his robes of fur and silk, but he was lethally efficient, wielding his cruelty and cunning like twin sabers. “Now, I want you to fix it or you will watch all your friends and family die.” I felt something weird bubble up inside my chest and spill out my mouth. It took a moment for me to realize that the hysterical laughter was mine.
“I have no family! You already took them from me! As for my friends, they’ve already left me! I have no one, and you have no leverage.” The king’s eyes grew sinister, but he seemed to realize that nothing could have swayed me to help him, because nothing was worth the cost of what would happen after I fixed the engine. The king would try and make it more powerful again, and when he succeeded, our entire world would be destroyed. I regret the destruction and death my decision has caused, but something had to be done, and there was no other way. My friends know what to do. Once the king is gone, they can fix the engine and everything will be right once more. Still, such a choice has really weighed on me heavily, and I wish I could have done something more, found a better option. But I’d do it again to give this world a chance for a better future.
“Then you will be made an example of.” He growled, finally showing some emotion. He started towards the great arching doors.
“Better make it grand!” I called out. I heard the door slam behind me and smiled mirthlessly. A few minutes later, Trystan swaggered into the room.
“Times up, sweetheart.” He grinned with sick pleasure as he released me from the chair and dragged me out to the square where a rope was already waiting to hug my neck. Guess they were going to kill me as soon as I fixed the engine. Not that I’m surprised. The next little while was a blur. I was placed in the platform and the scratchy noose fitted around my neck. They read off my crimes to the gathering crowd. Trystan stepped forward for one last jeer. “Finally got you where I want you.” He reached for the lever, but jerked back, a spray of crimson ribbons trailing through the air. I searched for the source of the gun shot and my eyes clashed with that of none other than Ryan, the cheeky little idiot. He grinned at me.
“Stay there.” He mouthed. I rolled my eyes. As if I had any choice. Despite everything, overwhelming relief streaked across my skin. But when I looked at him again, he was rushing towards me screaming, eyes wild. I followed his gaze just in time to see Trystan reach for the lever. His dimming eyes were filled with hate. He was dying and going to take me down with him. I looked at Ryan again. At least everyone else now had a chance. The trapdoor opened, and I fell into oblivion.