Crumbling Earth

While we all go about living our lives, a small group hold, possibly, the most important information in the world. The Earth is crumbling.

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13. Chapter 13

When Trecia reached the penthouse again, the doors to her balcony were wide open and the chill floated in steadily. She walked over to them and stepped through, the quiet of the night settling around her. A city wasn't meant to be this silent.

Grey leaned against the railing. If he was surprised, as he glanced up at her, he didn't show it.

"I didn't know you were awake." She settled beside him, tilting her head to get a better view of his face. "Are you sure you shouldn't get some rest?"

He shook his head but there was a slight tired look about him that said otherwise. "It's not like there's anything I have to be awake for in the morning. Besides, I'm used to late nights."

"Insomnia?" When they'd first met, Trecia hadn't taken him for someone who couldn't sleep at night - guilt flashed through her at the thought that her world might've caused it.

His eyes flickered downwards, as if he could detect that through the way she bit her lip, and he smiled at her. "No, no, I just like the night. I mean, I lived in what people like to called a 'deprived area' but we weren't savages. Everyone was quiet enough for you to just enjoy it the peace - unless they were drunk, but that was kind of entertaining." That smile grew.

"Huh... I'm not a big fan of silence."

"Why?"

She leaned on the rail, close enough to him that they were touching at the shoulder. Eyes closed, she muttered, "It means I don't know whether the people I care about are still okay."

 

For a second, she had the feeling someone was watching her. When she opened her eyes, she locked gazes with Grey. "I guess I never thought about it like that. Kailen always used to text me and everyone else I was close to lived at home." Then he placed an arm around her, and her shoulders tensed beneath his touch. He was about to pull it away when she reached up to grab his hand and settled against him.

After a few seconds, with one side of her face buried in his t-shirt, she mumbled, "You're good friends, aren't you?"

He raised an eyebrow at the present tense as his hand began to draw small circles on her bicep. "Yeah, I guess so."

 

"How did you meet?" She glanced up at him.

"Long story." When she didn't move, or open her mouth to respond, he sighed. "I caught her shoplifting."

Trecia rolled her eyes. "Doesn't sound like much of a long story to me..."

"Complicated, long, it doesn't matter." If one hand wasn't on her and the other on the rail, he would've physically batted the idea away. "I... I kind of helped her. Distracted the guy at the counter because we were really good friends."

"Why'd you do it if you didn't know her?"

"Things weren't the best for any of us - we were nine, if she was stealing then she was doing it because she needed to. Not because she got a kick out of it."

 

Cogs were turning in her head; despite the poor quality of life she had, in normal society, her lifestyle had been good. There'd always been enough. Of everything. It was more than just an insight into him, it was an insight into his class and his culture. "So you helped her steal, then what?"

"I bought a chocolate bar, tried to catch up with her and ended up sharing it between us. She was kind of guarded. The only way I found out about what it was like for her at home was walking back with her. I called my parents before she could stop me and they helped her dad to get off his feet. A bit. For a while." His lip curled.

"You don't like him."

 

Grey shifted, pulling her a little bit closer to him, as he let out a sigh. She breathed gently against him, lips inches from his neck. "It's not that, I just don't like how he left Kailen to deal with it herself. I know it must've been awful for him but, when I met her, she had less food than the guys down at the homeless shelter."

 

It was at that moment that the door flew open and Kailen stood in the doorway with her chest heaving. "Hey, guys..."

"Kailen, what-" Grey broke the contact to turn around, and Trecia missed the warmth of it.

"I just thought I should let you know... Let you know..." The brunette trailed off, panting. When she finally managed to speak, she pointed over her shoulder and said, "Just look out the other window, okay?"

 

The pair frowned at each other but followed her anyway, all the way to the other end of the corridor and through the door to the stairwell. A window looked out over the buildings and onto the Sea of Lives. Through it, they could see a storm brewing and pulled parts of the sea with it.

"Oh god..." Trecia pressed her hand against it, her breath making a pale shape on the glass."It's heading in fast."

Grey stepped up beside her, peering out. "When will it hit us?"

Trecia's lips stretched thin. "I don't know, not long. We need to get down to the bunker, I'll explain there."

 

 

By the time Trecia led them around the back of a building and pulled open the doors of a hatch, Kailen's breathing was ragged again. They descended into the darkness and Trecia picked up a box of matches, striking on against the side of it, and lit the candles dotted about the room. It was much larger than they needed but the floor hadn't suffered the same erosion as the buildings above ground.

The bunker had obviously been built for much more than three people.

Kailen lingered where the passageway ended as Grey took a few steps inside, hand running along the narrow shelf that lined the room. The entire thing had a layer of dust with the only thin spots being around the candles and on the floor in shape the of what could've been mattresses.

In her mind, the dust hid things in Namardia. History books, secrets, mattresses. People.

 

The silence was shattered by her placing the matchbox down and saying, "This isn't a normal storm, by the way. It's peeling away the barrier. The kind of disaster they used to teach us about in school. Like it'd never happen... I have to go and get Naid. I won't be long, I'll carry him back here and..."

She was already halfway down the passage when Kailen grabbed her arm, and the brunette set her gaze stern the minute she turned around. "No."

 

And Trecia stopped. In that moment, with her lips parting slightly, the younger of the two was convinced that her elder had planned it all out in her head and was already in there scooping her younger brother up into her arms.

"I have to go, he can't just stay there all alone. What if he wakes up and he's trapped?" Panic bubbled up on her features.

"I'll do it, just stay here." Kailen turned and caught Grey's eye. He frowned. "I'm not blind, you know. You two were having a moment back there. It could've been nothing but I'm probably faster than you, anyway. I've run from people who are much worse than a storm."

Nodding, Trecia slipped her arm out of the other girl's grip. "Go."

And then she was gone.

 

She pounded along the corridor, unshaken as her feet slipped on the uneven flooring, and pulled the door to Naid's room open. Even as it hit the wall, he didn't wake up.

Kailen stopped to catch her breath and, in that one second, he looked almost too peaceful for the chaos going on around him. Too quiet for the impending doom.

Then she dove right in and took the first blanket that weighed him down. Her hands fumbled to pull it loose and she cursed under her breath; enough time had already been wasted.

The second one was already in her hands when she heard - and felt - the rumble. Clutching it, she knelt on the bed and pushed the window open.

 

The drastic change in temperature stung her eyes but she stuck her head out the window anyway. In the distance, lightning struck a building ahead of the approaching mass. It was more than a storm. Much more.

A figure head twisted out of the mess, its eyes sunken. It watched her.

"Shit." The blanket fell from her hand. "I'll never get him back in time."

She pulled back and snapped the window closed. Then a flash of grey caught her eye - Bernis.

"I need to close the barrier, Bernis. That's the only way. I just don't know how..." She slammed the tip of her shoe into the nightstand, gritting her teeth through the resulting pain, and slumped her shoulders.

Two sets of teeth tugged on her trouser leg, a tail brushing against the fabric, then she saw the wolf walk ahead of her. "Where are you going?" When he broke into a run, she called out, "Hey, wait up!" And then she joined him.

 

It wasn't long before they reached the library and the wall the storm had created was much closer by now, casting a deep shadow over the building. It was little more than one hundred yards away.

Ahead of her, Bernis nudged the door open and walked in. Yet he didn't stop there, instead leading her on past shelf after shelf. They were at the back of the library, at a door with a busted lock, and the storm started to seep through the opposite wall. it shimmered as it leaked in and caught her attention, only for the wolf to draw it back to the task at hand.

The wolf was pawing at one book in particular.

"What's that?" Kailen swatted his paw aside and took the book out. "Bernis, this is a book about war history..."

 

No sooner had she said that than a piece of lined paper poked out from the front cover. When she pulled it out and unfolded it, the paper crinkling, Bernis stopped to watch.

It was a list of ingredients. She squinted at the handwriting until the title became clear.

"This closes the barrier. This is it, as easy as that..."

And then she felt a dragging sensation, like her cells were fighting against a vacuum. A dark hand curled around her shoulder. Then it tugged.

 

By instinct, she stuck out the arm holding the piece of paper and thrust it away from the wall. One leg was stuck in the iron grip of the wall, that side of her body drawn in towards the writhing mess. Lump by lump, it rose up her leg and began to reach out for her elbow until she tugged it away at a sharp pain.

The whispering was the worst part of it all. A thousand voices, maybe more, creeping into her skull. Never leaving.

Kailen glanced around and her gaze fell on Bernis. "Hey, if you could help pull me out here..." Her shoulders shook as she tried to pull free without falling over. "I'd be super grateful."

Then he turned. "Hey, wait." And he started moving. "Don't you dare leave!" Then she heard the door open and close, and gritting her teeth, and sighed. "Oh, you ass!"

 

At that moment, her arm was swallowed up by the wall - the wall was moving onto her torso and her other thigh. The leg she could no longer see was numb and her other arm strained to hold the paper away from it as she thrashed about.

When she was still again, few things were still free: an arm, her head, a shoulder, a small section of her chest. She could feel her breathing slowing down. Her head was growing light and heavy at the same time.

 

Just as the wall was about to swallow her whole, a memory hit her and she saw herself. She saw herself through her mother's eyes.

She heard her father's voice. "You are one brave little girl. My brave little girl."

Soon after, the vision dissolved and she slipped free of the wall. Paper in hand, pain prickling up her leg, she sprinted for the door and made it out and down the steps before the entrance way was blocked by the wall.

Then her feet thundered against the concrete once more - above the noise of the storm, her thunder was barely a pitter patter.

 

 

Only when she made it back to the apartment block did she realise that the paper talked about a pantry and she didn't have a clue where that was, which left her with two choices: she could wander around and throw more valuable time out the window, or she look at the map she'd seen in Trecia's office back when saving them was the last thing on her mind.

 

So she made her way up to the office and looked at a map of the building, aware of the unseen clock she was racing against. One room beside the kitchen had the words 'chemical storage' scribbled on it in black marker pen.

Her lungs screamed at her to keep still, even just for a second, but she started up again and headed back down the stairs to the storage room. There was no lock, just a chair leaning on the door that she shoved at three times to clear it out of the way. Then she was in.

 

It was almost as chilled as the outdoors and, slamming the door shut, she shut out all the sound as well.

Each ingredient was labelled by one of three pairs of handwriting: one Xander's, another Trecia and the last one was something he didn't recognise (not Naid's, he'd seen Naid's writing while looking at his work).

There were a few empty tables in the room, so she started spreading the ingredients out on there with a pot from the kitchen - she'd have to move it there when she was finished.

What was she going to do with the result?

Throw it into the wall. It couldn't be much more difficult than egging someone's house.

 

As she moved from one shelf to another, the dragging sensation returned in her leg and she was forced to downgrade to a limp. She kept going even when it reached her elbow, muttering, "No time, no time..."

Until the feeling reached her other arm and she realised it wasn't just her nervous system re-enacting everything.

 

There was a crash and her eyes shot to a figure by the door, who'd knocked over one of the ingredients she needed. The grains spilled out onto the floor.

"Damn it!" The soul who'd pulled her into the wall had followed her back, eyes hollow and expression listless. It had managed to go through the door without opening it but had failed to do the same with that one jar.

But, when she blinked, there was no memory to save her life. No physical escape route either.

It inched closer and closer to her. The feeling drew nearer and nearer to reaching her head. She didn't want to know either fate. Each shelf was too thin to climb and the space to walk at the side was entirely taken up by the soul.

The dragging started at her jaw and crept upwards and her eyes slid closed when it took her whole.

It's done, we're all over. None of us are going to get through this.

 

Then the sensation receded and she opened one eye. Then another. Then took a deep breath.

One soul had the other pin, but this one wasn't so dark and hollow. It looked at her, the ghost of wise eyes still in its sockets. It still had hair but no complexion.

"Xander."

He nodded. "I can't stay, but I'll take this one with me. I'm going for good and then I should get some peace. I think that was your mother's idea - remember your seance?"

While the soul writhed beneath him, he seemed happy. Calm.

"And one more thing - Naid's okay, just be patient."

Before she could ask how he knew all that, how he could possibly guarantee the eleven-year-old would be fine, Xander pressed down further on the soul. With an almighty screech on its part, they both vanished and left only tendrils of grey mist in their wake.

 

 

They were sat on the floor, Trecia's head resting on Grey's shoulder. They could hear the thunder.

"If she's not back by now, something obviously happened to the two of them," she mumbled, letting out a sigh.

Several long moments passed before Grey shifted, forcing her to sit up, and he asked, "Do you want to go and look for them?"

"I don't know." She bit her lip. "You see, the storm travels across the surface and it can't get to us down here as long as we're shut in."

The realisation seemed to wash over him like a wave. "So we don't know how close the storm is and if it's going to hit us when poke our heads out."

 

He'd never been in any storm quite like this, so he had to bottle up the questions he had. What would happen if the barrier between Namardia and Mirroria fully destabilised? Was it moral to hide through the whole thing? How did the storm manage to bring part of the Sea of Lives with it? It wasn't like normal water. It wasn't even water.

His train of thought was broken when Trecia got to her feet and walked over to the hatch. "I'm checking, stay back. If I can't close it, close it for me."

The implications of that statement weren't something he wanted to think about.

 

Instead of thinking, he stood and made his way over to the start of the passageway and waited for her to push the small doors open.

But they wouldn't budge. She pushed again, harder this time. Still nothing.

"Come and give me a hand," she called back, and moved to one side in the ladder so he could join her. Joined at the hip, in the least figurative sense possible, she counted down from three and they shoved at it in unison.

No change.

After two more futile attempts, they climbed back down and returned to their old position - neither spoke of what that discovery meant for them.

 

There was no silence from then on. All they heard was their own breathing and the sound of the storm on their doorstep. The latter had gotten louder by the time Trecia spoke, "If we get out of this alive-"

"When." Grey gave her a pointed look. "When we get out of this alive."

But she just stared at the ground, exhaling with a little more force than necessary. "If we do, I was wondering if you wanted to try...being a couple? I think Kailen was right. We were having a moment back in the penthouse. It's okay if you say no, I just..."

"Sure."

She whipped her head up, blinking at him. "That's it? 'Sure'?"

"Yep." A grin formed on his lips.

"Okay..."

"You should probably get some sleep. The hatch's stuck so nothing can get it while we catch a little bit of sleep. I doubt we'll miss anything."

She yawned in agreement and settled in against him. It wasn't long before he closed his eyes too.

 

It was the tapping that woke them up again. Slow, timed. Ominous. Something was at the hatch.

They took careful steps along the passage, shaking off sleep as they went. As they expected, the sound grew louder the closer they got. Both laid a hand on the doors. Would it open this time?

With one last glance at each other, they pushed open the hatch.

And all they saw were black bottomless eyes.

 

"Get out, run!" Grey pushed Trecia up the ladder ahead of him, barely waiting until her foot had left the top rung to follow her. He didn't have time orientate when he reached the surface because she was already sprinting for an alleyway.

They were side by side by the time they'd turned the second corner, the souls and their horrendous noise on their tail.

 

Until he tripped.

And she skidded to a halt.

Their gazes locked, guilt grabbing his heart and twisting it too far; she was scared of losing the people she cared about. Wasn't she? And that wouldn't be such a heartbreaking fact if he didn't know another.

She cared about him.

 

They were getting louder now and she turned to run back to him - he shook his head frantically, trying to get to his feet but something was making it so difficult to move. Some feeling that radiated through his whole body.

And he could no longer see her. They had him surrounded, closed off. Not one had touched him and yet they'd managed to smother the life from his lungs.

He was almost gone.

 

Then, light. Pure light.

The souls, the wall, they were burning. But not in flames. In flickers and wisps of light.

It was like a rainbow after rain. But they were the colours.

When the light ebbed away, Grey sought Trecia out and found her already heading for him with her hand held out. His fingers curled around hers, taking a different kind of strength from it, and he got to his feet. She smiled at him, then pointed up.

Kailen sat on the edge of the roof, legs dangling down. A flask was in her hand and the cork of another in her other hand. Despite everything that had happened, she grinned.

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