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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3. Chapter 3

Rough sheets greeted her cheek as Kailen voiced her protest at being dragged back into the waking world. She'd been buried so deep in her dream that it had seemed like reality. A brightly coloured version of it. A stray hair fluttered before her eyes, like a daunting reminder of the much duller real world. She opened her eyes - for once, she didn't have to blink and cower away from the sun. But the sun hasn't risen to signify her second day in Namardea. The curtains still remained hanging in a worn, exhausted-looking beige, covering one of the few windows in the apartment building that didn't have chunks or entire panes of glass missing. Whatever had happened there, that section had caught the brunt of it. Kailen laid a hand on the rough covers, pushed herself into a sitting position and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Grey still slept soundly opposite her. His head rested on one hand and his eyes whizzed about beneath their lids. Lips parted and released a shuddering, contented sigh.

 

Peaceful, eh? she thought, tilting her head to the side. His black locks were pressed against the side of his face, twirling in accordance to his breaths. Kailen looked up at her own and swiped at the knots that had developed there. Then she slid from under the covers and her feet hit the bare, carpet-less floor, eliciting a gasp at the sudden change in temperature. At the bottom of the bed, a pair of slip-on shoes was stacked atop a pile of folded clothing. The t-shirt was dim, like most of Namardea's remains, and the shoes were wafer-thin scraps of black material. But, otherwise, the attire was acceptable.

 

"Your standards are getting lower," she chastised herself quietly. Her regular attire was stripped and thrown to the ground, torn and still half-sodden. "And I won't be wearing those again."

"Oh no, the world's over," a sleepy voice slurred behind her. Her cheeks were on their way to becoming a ripe pink but then she realised that Grey was barely awake. She stifled the sigh of relief - he hadn't seen her change.

"You have no idea how cheesy that is." She looked over her shoulder at him and he simply shrugged, earning another exasperated eye roll from his companion. "I mean, considering we're at a disaster site."

"Trust you to find the joke in the situation," Grey mumbled, before noticing the difference in her outfit. "Do I get one of those?"

"A ladies' size 12 t-shirt?" Kailen teased, smirk plastered across her face. He scowled as his frustration at her mirthful mood grew. "I'm joking. Check the end of your bed, I won't peek."

"Okay..." Grey scraped through the covers at the foot of his bed. Kailen padded over to the window and parted the curtains a little so she could see through. Empty whistling sounds matched up to their visual origins, mingling with the shuffling that reached the girl's ears from just a few yards away. A spiteful voice in her head swooped in to comment on the childish way in which she allowed him to protect his modesty - cover your eyes and look away.

 

Like usual, she thought wistfully. Each time she walked past 'some kid' from The Bin getting beaten up, she did exactly that.

"You win some, you lose some," her dad used to say. His face darted across her mind and she smiled nostalgically; it was exactly how he looked before her mother vanished into thin air and he'd begun to buy alcohol in horrifying volumes... A finger tapping on her skull drew her back to the present.

"Where did you go?" Grey asked, now wearing a similar 'get-up' to her. She bit the inside of her lip and her mind snatched for something plausible she could've been thinking about.

"I was just wondering about this city. If you can call it that. What's your impression so far?" Kailen turned, praying her lie would suffice.

"Something happened," he noted. Kailen raised one eyebrow in apprehension.

"And? You're just stating the obvious, so...and?" she said, attempting to appeal to the nervous side of her friend's nature. It was his turn to bite the sensitive inside of his bottom lip. Uncertainty in answering manifested itself in the recesses of his mind. What was the right thing to say?

Who am I kidding? I've known her for years, she's not going to go mad. Right? Grey assured himself.

"I think we should find out more." He trod carefully, wincing when he saw the curious spark in her eyes. Kailen nodded, then spoke to him again in a low tone.

"Yeah... I think we should."

 

 

Xander tentatively perched on the edge of a chair. The rusty metal of the seat let out a displeased creak. Huffing, he shuffled closer to the table.

"Damn emergency furniture," he groaned. "Has to be the fifth time this week. Five people and a wolf in this city and there's only one decent breakfast table... And weakling chairs. 26-year-olds don't even weigh that much."

"You're 26? Hmm, I thought you were older," Grey intoned as he strode into the hall, absorbing the set up of the rectangular table and spindly legged chairs. Then he paused. "No offence."

"None taken. Grey, right? Trecia told me about you and your...wild friend, Kailen. Talking of her, is she with you?" Xander enquired. The man seemed open enough, with a smile far from clinical and limp, lazy shoulders.

"No, and I doubt she'll be here anytime soon. I've known her to skip breakfast, lunch and dinner just to avoid someone." Grey released a disgruntled sigh. His sister's juvenile habits were frustrating, to say the least, and not only to him. "Not that she has anything personal against you. I guess she's just uncomfortable. She'll come to her senses. Maybe find her way round too."

"Every corridor looks the same, eh?" Xander gestured for Grey to take a seat.

 

He stepped forward, nodding and chuckling in sync with his lunchmate, and settled opposite the older man. It took him a moment to acclimate to the tough material - clearly the seats weren't designed to be used on a regular basis.

"Yeah... They do all look the same. The only reason I found this room was because of your little battle with the chairs." The teenager grinned. Xander flashed him a fond smile, cringing slightly at the knowledge that he'd been heard, and pushed over a plate of (what looked like) pancakes. In an attempt to accept a small part of Namardea's culture, Grey took them and picked up a knife and fork.

"When you stick around here for too long - which I'm afraid you'll have to-" Xander began as he tucked into his own meal, only to be interrupted by Grey. He refrained from being offended, knowing there was a time when he felt that he was being forced to live in a city that wasn't his own.

"I'm surprised Kailen hasn't tried to find a way out yet. Home wasn't much but she wouldn't have it any other way." He shrugged. At those words, Xander seemed to drift off, buried in an abyss of unearthed memories. Mist gathered in his eyes. It was almost as if he wasn't just staring into space, he was staring at someone. "Xander?"

 

"Oh, I..." He jumped, looking more startled than lost. His walk down memory lane had been disturbed. So he replaced the blank expression he held to exhibit a pleasant smile. "Sorry, I know you've got a lot of questions - it's natural. But some of them have answers that are difficult to talk about. Damn near impossible, sometimes."

"Okay," Grey agreed quietly, storing the curious glances away for another time, before he put a precarious, yet blind, foot forward and asked, "I was thinking, actually, could you finish that sentence? The one you were saying when I cut in."

"Right. What I was trying to say is this - when you've been here so long, you get used to three things: the food, my rambling and the fact that the majority of the furniture is metal. Wood and china didn't survive the... It didn't fair well," Xander explained to him. He took a sip of water, kept his expression as stoic as he could manage and tried to gauge his companion's reaction. However, he was disappointed - and a little surprised - when he stood and pushed his plate away.

"It's been great chatting. I've, err, go to go." He excused himself, pacing towards the door before Xander could convince him otherwise. He slipped out the door and rested against the cool corridor walls. There he stood, mind reeling white it processed the hints and slip-ups he'd picked up on since he'd woken up in the strange city. He tapped a foot on the bland floor. Strange? Or confusing? Or both? His foot stilled. But, as he soon realised, the sounds persisted.

 

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. A harsh scratch drew a screech from the flooring. The tapping halted and Grey looked slowly around. His eyes came to rest on another pair of orbs, almost silver and shockingly bright, at his hips. Fur-lined nostrils flared as it inhaled his scent. It paused - Grey half expected it to growl and grimace before leaving him to the mercy of his own thoughts once again. Instead it made a firm noise of approval, nuzzling the side of his leg. The creature's coat was the same dazzling silver as its eyes, accentuated by the brown-pink flesh of its ears. Unlike its dull rivals, the fur wasn't a rusty piece of furniture or an imploding wall; it had a metallic sheen. One he'd almost began to forget. But who was this creature?

"Ahh." He hummed in realisation. "You're Bernis, aren't you, boy? I kind of expected you to be a bit more shabby. Sorry..."

Bernis allowed his mouth to bang open a little, revealing a moist, peach tongue cradled between a refined set of jaws. He cocked his head to the side an evaluated the teenager before him. Then the wolf seemed to deem him worthy because he tugged on his trouser leg and padded away. After a moment of hesitation, Grey followed the rhythmic tip-tap of his paws.

 

 

Dust. Dust and the timeless scent of wood. While the sturdy metal still passed beneath Kailen's feet, the library was the only place she'd entered, so far, that had retained much of its fragile original contents. The roof arched high, a slither of pathetic light making it through a crack in the filthy, clouded glass windows. Grotesque piles of shattered fragments seemed to have been the only occupants for some time - dust veiled the disarray of the shelves, hugging the sole wooden table in the centre of the room. Leather-bound and plastic-cover versions were housed by bookshelves with shadowy cracks. Fresh sawdust that had somehow been dislodged upon their arrival laid on the floor, which she still had no recollection of. Yet the place still seemed safe. Much more than outside; the support beams of buildings were protruding from the structures, debris swam in every alley and signs hung demolished and nonsensical. The alloy playing beneath her toes whined as she advanced upon the isles of shelves. Laminated notices told her that the one to her right was full of foreign language dictionaries and the books to her left would fully verse her on poetry.

Pun intended, she snorted to herself. One finger ran across the ragged edge of a laminated notice, allowing torn plastic to lap at the skin. It almost looked like someone had held a torch to it. But they couldn't have...

"No singe marks," she noted aloud. "Weird."

 

Kailen let the feeble material flop back against the wood and turned her attention to the rest of the rows. Until she sound one that was marked 'History' and dove in. Once brightly coloured records, that boasted of glorious industry and proud infrastructure, consumed space like ghosts of the past. Had whatever power known the place was doomed? And how had they suffered so quietly? Kailen was about to give up her search upon the twentieth title focused on (non-existent) tourism - then she spotted it. Thick, rough-covered, almost camouflaged by dust and concealed by paperbacks. She hesitantly pulled it out from the back of the shelf and threw open the cover. Dust particles flew up into the air, forming a cloud around her. Biting back a sneeze, she surveyed the pages. The title was printed in rich, black ink that transcended the time it appeared to have been made. But the letter were of little consequence when her curious gaze fell upon the inside of the front cover. Empty. There was no log for borrowings and no stamp declaring it the property of the library and its staff like the other books. It was an outlier.

 

"Strange city, strange books." She brushed it off. Even still, Kailen had never liked outliers - they meant that something odd or wrong or weird had happened to make them that way. In Miroria, you were a resident of The Bin, an upperclassman of the city or a tourist. You were never nothing. And if you just so happened to be... It generally wasn't a good sign.

"Kailen?" At the sound of the voice, she spun on her heels. Naid's watchful eyes pierced an unnerving hole in her. "Xander asked me to bring you your breakfast."

"Err, thanks." She nodded as he pressed a flimsy, brown paper bag into her free hand.

Hmm, guess he's not shy anymore, she mused inwardly.

"And you shouldn't be here." His words stopped her in her tracks, making her slide the book behind her back in a flash of guilt.

"Why?" she replied. A blush crept across her skin - she hoped he wasn't observant as well as objective.

"Trecia says so. It's not safe to be out. Go back to the apartments or somewhere else that's not dangerous," he informed her, before turning and strolling away. It was then that she knew they had something to hide.

 

 

Kailen had never stolen before - some people would be surprised by that but it was true - yet it didn't feel like theft. There'd been no security to stop her smuggling the book out of the library and into her room back in the apartment building. The strange events, the combined secretive behaviour and Naid's unknowing give-away was more than enough to justify the activity. Or so she felt. Despite her reasoning, butterflies hatched within the pit of her stomach as she settled onto the sheets of her bed. She deposited the volume in her lap and tossed a few pages by, burying her in the tedious task of reading the shrunken script.

There has to be something in here that explains why this place is so odd, she thought. A hand stroked along the edge of the page and turned it, her eyes falling on the peculiar section title - 'In The Mirror'. Upon scanning through, a cluster of words captured her attention.

'Well known for its destructive matter fluctuations every fifty years, Namardea is the capital of Mirror Universe workings...'

Time halted.

"What the... Mirror universe?" She gulped, grappling for air. She'd been looking for answers. All she'd gotten were more questions. Thoughts whirred, intent upon deafening her. But, to her, nothing could've been louder than the tell-tale creak of an opening door...

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