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   Chapter 3 NO.3

The Rouges By Alzek16 Characters: 20073

Updated: 2018-01-05 17:36


IT WAS FRUSTRATING moving across the rooftops tonight. My leg ached every time I landed heavily on it causing me to limp the next few strides. But no matter how badly it hurt, I pushed through it. There wasn't time to complain or feel sorry for myself, the only thing I could do was work to fix it. No matter how bad the pain gets, you have to keep moving forward.

I could see the Ravager's reserve warehouse from nearly a mile away, the glass skylights illuminated in the dark night. I was never able to figure out how they had power while the rest of the city was constantly swallowed in blackness. While their dull humming lights weren't bright, they were still glowing. In all honesty, it almost put them at a disadvantage. As I stood in the dark, my well-adjusted eyes could see their every movement in the glowing lamps. But from their perspectives, they could barely see past the pools of light into the shadows beyond. With my black attire and cloaked hood I was nearly invisible.

Ravagers were violent, but not very bright.

Hunched, I wrapped my fingers over the edge of the building. Three guards moved lazily below me. I could see the sheen of black metal as they adjusted their guns. Even with all of the advances in technology, guns had still proven to be one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to kill someone at a long distance. Things like chemical warfare risked too many lives, proving hard to contain and weapons of mass destruction weren't such a great idea now that we were quarantined to such a small land mass. Most other modern day weapons would debilitate your target, slow them down, or render them unconscious. But here in Tartarus we aimed to kill. Knives and guns have been killing successfully for thousands of years, so why change a good thing. If anything, modern technology has only improved upon an already successful weapon. There were bullets that could track body heat, scopes that could see up to ten miles and knives that produced an electrical shock strong enough to singe your internal organs. Fortunately for me, these kinds of weapons were rare outside of The Wall.

I waited until the guards passed to make their rounds and lifted the makeshift ladder I had stashed on the rooftop. The span between the two roofs was too big to jump, but a well-placed ladder made a decent bridge. The wood landed lightly on the other side and I began to move steadily across before they returned. The wood creaked and shifted slightly under my weight but I moved onward unfazed. I always figured if it broke I would fall and die. Better it was at the hands of gravity while I tried to survive than in the grip of a Tribe while I surrendered.

The tarred rooftop was still warm from the day's sun, my shoes sticking slightly to the surface. I moved with ease to the second glowing skylight on the left. The third pane lifted with ease, letting a blast of warm air out.

My mouth watered as the sweet smell of food swirled around my face. They must have gotten fresh supplies today; I could smell bread mixed in the grainy scented air. What I would give to taste that freshly baked bread... but unfortunately food like that was not worth the risk of getting caught. MREs and canned supplies were the safest choice. They were always pushed on the back shelves, temporarily forgotten. Even procuring The Healer's herbs was a risk I rarely took, but the fire burning in my shin made it a necessity tonight.

Removing my backpack, I concealed it in a nearby air duct and pulled out my tote. With calculated movements, I slid through the open pane and transitioned expertly to the exposed beams. Careful to keep my feet centered, I focused on the next support beam and moved forward.

The key was not to look down.

The dropoff was nearly forty feet, but if I kept my eyes focused on the goal my feet remained steady. I continued this choreographed dance of sorts for another three beams until I reached the old water supply pipe running from the roof. Keeping to the shadows, I used the connecter pipes as steps and descended into the belly of the warehouse.

Most of the guards remained outside, confident no one could infiltrate their watch. The few guards inside took little notice of anything around them. From the looks of it two of them were nearly fornicating in the corner, while a third proceeded to stuff his face with some kind of meat. The bullring in his nose pressed against the meat with each bite as red juices dripped down his lips, collecting in his exposed chest hair. I had to look away to keep from gagging.

All three bore the marks of their Tribe. Black clothing marked with red, piercings covering their extremities. The woman's long black hair was shaved on the sides before cascading into a waist length ponytail. Beauty was not something the Ravagers held in high esteem. The harder you looked, the more respect you got.

With the three of them effectively distracted, I continued on my hunt. Keeping pressed to the back wall, I scanned the shelves for what I needed. I knew the herbs were closer to the guards and decided it would be easier to get those without a full bag.

Careful not to bump up against the tightly packed shelving, I wove my way forward in a crouch. People's eyes naturally searched at the average human height level, the key was to either stay low or move up high.

The herbs were only three rows ahead of me, but the sex driven couple was on the move. I dropped to my belly behind a sack of potatoes just as her steel toed boots passed.

"Don't you walk away from me!" The man growled as he pursued her.

She turned flipping him a rude hand gesture. "You don't own me."

"Like hell I don't, " his hand flashed out, winding in her ponytail as he yanked violently backwards. Her heels clattered on the floor as she toppled backwards grabbing at his hand. Catching her by the throat, he smashed his face to hers claiming her lips as she struggled. Then, with a startled cry, he dropped her. His blood smeared her lips as she grinned up at him. Cackling like a hyena she spit his lip ring back at him.

I thought he was going to kill her, but to my disgust he grinned and climbed on top of her instead.

As they pawed hungrily at each other, I crawled forward, desperate to get away.

With the two of them now engaged in the middle of my path, I had to take a longer route. Fortunately the herbs were right where I expected them to be. There were some I recognized like ginger root, garlic and rosemary. Those I didn't, I knew The Healer would. Careful to take enough for a trade, but not so much that their loss would be noticed, I filled a third of my bag.

In case the lovers where still disgustingly engaged, I moved further away and headed for the back wall. Something rotten filled my nose. Turning, my blood began to boil. Standing before me was racking filled with rotting food.

People were starving, scraping for scraps and these animals had enough food to let it rot.

My hands shook with anger.

Another cackle from the woman reminded me I should keep moving. With less restraint I began grabbing something off every shelf I passed, filling my bag. As my fingers nimbly worked their way up the pipe and my leg screamed in pain, I smiled. The heavy bag resting against my back felt vindicating. After carefully replacing the glass pane and hiding my ladder, I took off at a steady pace to find The Healer.

It was fortunate that her hideout was so close to the Ravagers' warehouse. After all of the physical activity I could feel the blood beginning to seep through my makeshift bandage. The Healer's hut was an old abandoned water tower on the city limits. She had broken off the ladder at some point, creating an unreachable tower. Even a skilled climber as myself could not make it up the entire way without falling.

Upon reaching the base of her tower I leaned against the huge support leg. My fingers searched, quickly finding the rusted hole I sought. Leaning close I whistled a three-pitch tone. A minute later, a hatch opened. I stood perfectly still. I knew at that moment a gun was pointed at my head. If I moved too fast or appeared to be a threat, she would shoot me. I must have passed her test because eventually a rope ladder dropped from the tower. Checking my gun and knife one more time, I then climbed upward towards The Healer.

The air was stifling as I emerged into the round metal room. A heavy smoke clung to the air, a faint scent of rot lingering on it. The room was nearly as dark as the night outside, except for the small fire burning in the center of it.

"Don' ya dally girl." A rough voice spoke in broken English from the shadows. "Pull up da rope."

My skin crawled as it did every time I came in contact with The Healer. I hated pulling the rope ladder up and trapping myself in this metal dome with her. As much as I detested it, trading with her meant playing by her rules and I needed those antibiotics.

Her faded eyes scanned my bag as I closed the hatch. "Whatcha go' for me today?"

Without saying a word I pulled the tote from my bag and dumped its contents out on her table. My portion of the food was already carefully stowed at the bottom of my bag.

Her eyes widened as they took in my offerings. "Ya mus' be in need of sometin big. An from ya limpin I say 'is ya leg."

"I need some of your antibiotic salve, preferably a double batch this time." My hand rested on the holster as I waited for her response.

"We may 'ave a deal." She began moving about the room gathering things in her withered hands. "Set ya self on the table an let da Healer look."

Keeping my eyes on her, I carefully sat upon her cluttered table avoiding what looked like entrails. Dropping a pile of jars and rags next to me she yanked up my pant leg with surprising speed for an old woman. My fingers reflexively twitched toward the hilt of my knife.

Clucking her tongue, she peeled back my bandage, pulling some of the scabbing skin with it. I sucke

d in a sharp breath.

"Dangerous world deez days." She muttered before smearing some rotten smelling cream over the raw skin. While the stench burned my nose, the pain in my shin was almost instantly relieved. I sighed with pleasure.

She grinned a gapped smile at me. "See da ol' Healer knows."

Her hands wound a new bandage over my leg, and then began collecting the jars intended for me. "Leave dat on for thirty time, den apply dis."

I pulled my pants over my leg and took the jars from her, placing them in my now nearly empty sack. With impressive strength she pulled open the hatch and kicked the ladder down.

Before descending I tossed her one of the romance novels. "For your troubles."

She grinned, "I see ya soon, I sure."

Hastily, I retreated down the ladder. The second my hands were free of the rough rope it rose back into the hatch. I took a deep breath of fresh air as I watched the hatch close. We both got something of benefit and no one died. It was a good trade. With my feet back on solid ground, the medicines clinking in my bag and the hatch door closed, I finally took my hand off my gun.

Without looking back I headed for the nearest building, knowing the back corner's drainpipe was still intact.

My leg felt amazing as I sat on the edge of the rooftop. The searing pain was nothing more than a dull ache now. While The Healer was not my favorite merchant, she definitely knew her stuff. Casually, I leaned back against the behemoth gargoyle perched on the side of the building, letting my feet dangle precariously over the edge. The sky tonight was clear; even a few stars could be seen through the atmospheric haze. I checked my pocket watch. There were still two hours until sunrise and I could easily be at the school within twenty minutes.

I picked up a piece of rubble and chucked it into the open space before me. As always my curiosity sparked as I watched the sky crackle and pop when the rock collided with the invisible force field. While the city of The Sanctuary was protected within the great iron walls that stood as high as most buildings, there was also some kind of force field above that. I used to think about jumping off a building to try and clear the metal walls below, but after witnessing a bird fly into the force field, that thought quickly died. The invisible electrified fence shocked the poor creature, sending its charred remains plummeting back towards the earth. The Wall wasn't merely a man-made barricade, but an impenetrable force field whose heights knew no bounds. On the rare occasion I was close enough to it, the temptation to fling things at The Wall was irrepressible.

There was little else beyond what was our city. Outside the masses of buildings was just dead, open land. There were broken stretches of streets filled with the skeletons of motor vehicles, but even those didn't lead anywhere anymore. There was nothing left to lead to. What wasn't wasteland was toxic water and what wasn't toxic water was wasteland. Even Tartarus was a mere fleck of its former self. What was once a prosperous city was now just blackened streets and broken buildings. The choices weren't great. You could escape the Tribes and die of exposure or deal with the Tribes in the urban jungle that was once a city and stand a chance- however small- at surviving.

I pinched another piece of rubble in my fingers, ready to fling it when a commotion erupted in the streets beneath me.

Shouting echoed off the abandoned buildings, bouncing back at me from all angles. There was a sound of distant gunfire as I rose to my feet, followed by the Ravager hunting cry. They were tracking someone. That eerie cry meant one thing and one thing only- someone was going to die tonight.

I hopped back over the ledge to the rooftop, it certainly would not be my blood spilled tonight. Another cry pierced the night and I reflexively turned in its direction. I could see the Ravagers' torch lights glowing in the distance. From the sound of it, they were closing in on their prey. I squinted as something moved thirty feet in front of them in the shadows. How strange that they should be hunting at night.

As the thought crossed my mind, the tiny shadow moved into the light from the street lamps. My heart dropped.

She was only a child.

Even from this distance I could see her body shaking with fear. Her long mousy hair clung to the small cherubic face as she searched for an escape. Panic filled me as I watched her frozen frame.

"Run!" I muttered to her under my breath.

Another gunshot fired, the bullet sparking as it struck the lamppost next to her. Falling backwards she scrambled away darting down the nearest alley. My gut clenched. I knew that alley, I knew every alley, and she had just trapped herself in a dead-end.

The Ravagers knew it too. Slowing their pace, they sauntered to the mouth of the alley, cat-calling at the little girl.

"Run away." My mind told me. "Leave her, this doesn't affect you."

While I agreed with this callous voice of reason, my body was already in motion. My feet carrying me to the edge of the roof, I blindly dove for the next building, bounding forward when my feet connected. Just one more rooftop and I would be upon her. I sprinted for the back corner of the building where I knew there was a half-constructed drainpipe. It was missing the last fifteen feet to prevent someone from climbing up it. But the drop could be managed with a calculated fall.

Moving like a shadow, I flipped my body over the side of the building and flung myself downward. My feet slid on the metal, finding purchase just before the pipe abruptly cut off. Scanning the dark alley I caught a glimpse of movement behind an overturned dumpster. She was only about ten feet in front of me. I began calculating my jump as the first leather clad hunter appeared at the mouth of the alley. He was idly twirling a bat as his side. Various spikes protruded from the head like lethal thorns.

"Maaaarrrrrco..." He called mockingly from the end of the alley. Rolling laughter erupted behind him as pierced bodies filled the narrow opening. There were about fifteen of them, the glinting metal and shaved heads making it nearly impossible to delineate the men from the women. But from my vantage point, it looked like the hunting pack was mostly male. My stomach churned.

Escape or die. Getting caught was not an option.

The leader took a few calculated steps down the alley, dragging the spikes against the ground as he moved.

"You're supposed to say 'Polo' little one or don't you want to play with us?" The girl huddled further against the wall. "Don't worry, we'll be gentle..."

The knife left my hand as the bloodthirsty crowd exploded with mirth. The blade flickered for an instant in the darkness before burying itself into the leader's left eye. The ensuing chaos was instantaneous.

The horde continued to laugh for several heartbeats before their leader's screams reached their ears. When his massive body hit the ground, writhing as he clung to the handle protruding from his eye socket I leapt toward the ground. Calculating the fall, I landed lithely on my feet letting the momentum roll my body forward. But I had underestimated the force of my fall. I rolled out into the center of the alley, stopping in a low crouch as fourteen and a half sets of eyes fell upon me. My gun was drawn and firing before they could react. Darting to the side I ducked behind the dumpster as bullets began to rain down on us. Based on the screams I had hit a few more of the heathens. At least if I was going down I would take a few of the scum with me. A tiny hand grabbed my arm and I turned to meet two terrified brown eyes. I gritted my teeth. She was no older than I was when I was left alone in this city.

Grabbing her petite body I pressed it into mine, shielding her from the onslaught of debris. The bullets were beginning to eat through the rusted metal. It wouldn't be much longer before they could reach us. It took my ringing ears a second to realize the gunfire had ceased.

Someone was still screaming in pain.

"If you give us the girl, we might just let you live." A female's voice called this time.

The child began to shake in my arms again.

"Leave and you may not need an eye patch like your friend." I called in a calm voice back to her. It was a farce, my only knife was gone and by my count there were only three bullets left in my gun.

"You had better hope this bullet finds you first princess, I won't be so gentle." The woman's voice echoed back.

There was an odd, high-pitched humming coming from the mouth of the alley. Without hesitating I yanked the girl off the ground and ran for the corner where the drainpipe was. If I lifted her high enough there was a ledge barely big enough for a child to stand on, from there she could reach the pipe. At least she could escape.

"You have to climb!" I screamed at her as I thrust her into the air. I felt her tiny feet scramble as her hands found their grip. The humming was getting louder, the tone nearly unbearable. The sound stopped just as she left my hands and my back exploded into shreds of fire where the heat-seeking bullet found me.

I slammed against the wall before staggering backwards, but as I fell there was a second explosion from somewhere behind me. This was not the work of a gun. A brilliant white light swallowed the alley, searing my retinas. I blinked- at least I thought I blinked. It felt like my eyes were open, but I saw nothing. I heard nothing.

I fell at an old angle, my limbs feeling disjointed from my body. Nothing moved, even my chest stilled as the pain seeped through my body.

This was it.

Hands found me, tugging and pulling at my limp body. The Scavengers were already upon me, stealing what little I had left in this world.

A small part of me found peace. So this is how it happens, this is how I die. All of those years of wondering and now I knew...

***

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