Prologue  

2035

Brook, New Cinalia

“Here, over here! I saw them run off the highway here!” A Savage points to the sign displaying the town’s’ name. “You have to come back this way to leave. Only way around the forest is the river!”

“Find them!” A shrill voice orders from among the large mass of bodies storming across the decrepit highway, bypassing the shells of wrecked cars, and craters littering the asphalt.

The Savage leader sends out dozens of followers to search the town. Their clothing is ripped and filthy with some combination of blood, food, and soil. Their heads are either barely covered with stringy hair or completely bald with red pockmarked, burnt, and torn skin. A short, metallic spear is held over a grimy shoulder alongside a mess of dirty alabaster hair as the wielder urges his men on. His stern gaze follows the sprinting mass of manic warriors.

Their mouths gape open as they dash over and through obstacles. The large hunting party separates into groups of predatory members racing to overtake their enemies with an unhinged look in their eyes. They are fueled by avarice and the desire to be uplifted from the nameless faces of their companions. To be honored by not only their robust commander but the other lords of the Wastes.

The Savages tear through the streets, kicking in apartment doors, and breaking store windows with rusted metal poles. Three of them are holding chains attached to malnourished dogs. They cackle before releasing the hounds into an apartment building. One of them follows the dogs inside in search of prey.

Another of the Savages runs into a convenience store. Her foot catches on a thick wire, sending her body crashing into an empty shelving unit. The pressure on the wire detonates the explosives set up behind the cashier counter.

There is a blinding light followed by an earth-shattering blast as the concrete beneath the linoleum flooring is revealed. Glass, metal, and human flesh bury the entrance.

Dilapidated post office walls shake as the people within grab for their weapons, medical supplies, and backpacks. The lobby is bustling with activity, a place that formerly stood for order and reliability, full of the panicked disarray of countless distraught souls tearing through the last of their precious belongings while selecting which items to keep in a split second. Sid drinks from his jug of water and barely gets the lid on before he drops it onto a counter. He sweeps his gaze across the room, fully digesting the outcome his decisions have brought them, feeling the weight of it. It’s hard to swallow, the water doesn’t take the edge off the taste of ash and vomit that sits at the back of his throat.

Parents haul small children along behind them. Their small, grimy faces can’t decide what to focus on the most; the people rushing to the left or the people rushing to the right. Their parents wrench their arms forward when they lag behind. People grab soiled blankets off the messy floor, shove them into torn bags, or roll the material into balls to be held underneath an arm.

“We have to leave it! Leave it!” A rusted portable grill crashes to the ground. The owner crouches in front of the grill and shoves bits of coal into their pockets before rushing outside. Sid steps over the grill before stepping through the shattered glass entrance. The shards crunch under his boots. He sidesteps a pair on the stairs, huddled together talking in hushed tones.

Their foreheads are touching. They have the same unkempt look as the rest of the group. Their torn clothing are layered under ragged hoodies with tattered sleeves. The edges of their pants are coated with the same mud caked over their worn shoes.

Sid’s long sleeve shirt protects him from the chill in the air. It’s a stained, faded green wool shirt. He rubs his palms together while he surveys the area. In the distance, smoke rises into the sky toward the epicenter of the town. Around him, civilians rush by and scurry off toward the other side of the building.

When he continues down the slanted steps, he avoids the muddy holes along the sidewalk. He narrowly avoids stepping into a puddle and pauses to look back at the post office’s crumbling facade. It’s not more than a few seconds of consideration. In the distance, shouting draws his attention away from the remnant of the past. 

He follows the shouting to the parking lot where a muscular man stands among shuffling bodies. The man’s short, peppered hair clashes with his bright blue jacket.

“Civilians, grab only what you can run with and move along,” the large man yells. “Stragglers will be left behind. You have 10 minutes! I repeat 10 minutes!”

Sid skirts around the edge of the crowd and motions the man over to where the rest of the team is stationed. Huge chunks of debris riddle the street and obstruct the road. Several dark clothed individuals lounge on the stranded cars parked in front of the post office. A black bag is open on the hood of a white vehicle with ammunition stacked inside. Sid walks over to the center of the meeting area and claps his hands a few times. The large man jogs over to listen.

“Looks like Carla’s booby-trap idea bought us some sorely needed time.” Sid turns to the rest of the team. “Dan is going to stay behind and ferry these people to route 296. We need 10 minutes. Start the clock!”

“What?! No, you know this area much better than us.” Dan begins to negotiate. ”I’ll lead the-“

Sid cut him off. “Which means I should be the one distracting them. You’ll get lost without me. Plus, if anyone lags behind, I can’t muscle them to go faster. That’s your job. Go do your job, Dan.”

Sid tugs a gun from the waistband of his black cargo pants and checks the cartridge. Satisfied with its condition, he nods and grabs a few extra from the ammunition pile. He unzips two pockets to slip the extras inside.

“If I don’t see the signal, I’m leaving them all behind.” Dan stomps away.

“If I don’t see the signal, I’m leaving them all behind!” Carla’s bright, red curls bob on her head as she mimics Dan’s retreating form.

Sid glances over to Carla’s freckled face as she puffs up her chubby cheeks to mock Dan’s mood. He smirks before turning to the other nine people. “Carla and you three, go to the area with the broken traffic light. When the attack starts kill off as many as you can. Turner, you and the rest situate yourselves in the houses along the road. You can pick them off during their retreat.”

His orders spur them into immediate action, and they set off to their positions. They’ve already gone over Sid’s part of the plan. Leading the deranged Savages from the detonated convenience store and down the appropriate road will take an even larger explosion. Carla has already set the charges. Now all Sid can do is hope the Savages haven’t already started their search down another part of town.

This has to work. Sid won’t be able to live with himself if it doesn’t. Sia… He stops himself from thinking anything further. It’s time to hustle.

His jog gradually increases speed until he is sprinting through the streets. He ducks and uses wrecked cars as cover, but he refuses to slow down until he begins to hear cries of rage and savagery. He skids to a stop and crouches beside an overturned vehicle. The smell of burnt flesh is overwhelming. Sid steps over charred remains and large chunks of cement to peak past a flipped bumper.

“Don’t cower! Find! Them! Find them!” The Savage Leader punctuates each word with a kick to the abdomen of a Savage scrambling along the sidewalk.

The Savage is crawling along the sidewalk under the deranged glare of their leader. He tries to rise to his feet, but his injured legs are weak. The Savage collapses back onto the ground. Dissatisfied with their weak attempts to stand up, the Savage leader pulls a gun from his waistband and uses a long pale finger to undo the safety. Without hesitation, he aims for the quivering form and fires a round into the back of their head.

MOVE ON!” The Savage leader roars at the other Savages who scramble to their feet to continue their search.

Sid sees the alley a few meters from him is empty and takes a deep breath before yelling out. “To hell with you!”

The Savages hear the familiar voice and trip over themselves to get outside, ready to attack their enemy. In the blink of an eye, Sid runs into the alley and slams into the fire escape ladder. The chilled, rusty metal bites into his calloused palms as he climbs to the roof. When he gets to the top, he runs straight to the vent stacks. He rushes around large, white ventilation units and over to a long silver pipe running along the side of the roof.

Beside the pipe is a thick, white cylinder and there sits a muddy backpack. It’s plump and damp from the rain. Sid snatches the bag off the ground. He shoves the zipper aside to look at the contents of the bag, blinking lights and wires, and the triggering device is as Carla left it. Perfect.

Goooo! Get him!” The Savage Leader can be heard screaming from down below.

It’s too late. Sid tightens the gun straps across his chest, pulls the trigger from the backpack, and flips the switches all at once. The Savage leader jumps at the first explosion down the street and almost falls onto the surrounding corpses during the second explosion. Relying on instincts, he runs off at top speed; sprinting off to what he assumes is safety. His wild white hair streams behind him as he escapes.

Sid sees this while looking over the edge of the building before feeling the bombs from the lower level of the apartment building go off. He backs up to position himself with the next building and sprints toward the large gap between the two buildings. After his feet propel him off the edge, the building crumbles and flames lick out at the air.

While in mid-air, he realizes his error and throws out both hands to grab onto the incoming ledge. His face collides with its brick face. His fingers barely have a hold on the building. He doesn’t have time to do more than groan before glancing down at a fire escape as his fingers lose their grip.

The heated air behind him blows small shards of glass and rock at his backside as he releases the edge. When his feet collide with the metal staircase, he bends his knees, grabs the railing of the fire escape, curses, and tosses himself off. Glass windows shatter and debris flies alongside him. The sound of the other explosions deafens him as he weightlessly careens toward the approaching ground. He blinks away dust to stay focused on the landing path below when a chunk of cement slams into his head. He cries out and groans as blood flows into his face. His consciousness deteriorates as the muddled descent directs him toward the alley’s increasing mound of rubble.

 

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