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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7. Chapter 7

It took a few moments, after the door had closed, for the rebellion in her mind to die down. Kailen was contemplating running after him but, as if they'd read her mind, her legs let out an aching protest. If she was going to be doing any sort of walking that day, it'd be more like hobbling. Her legs' instability aside, there had to be something she could do.

Where's that book? She swung her legs over the side of the bed and rested one foot on the floor. It felt like a pin - top-heavy and likely to topple any moment. Taking a shuddering breath, Kailen propped herself up against the edge of the bed. The literature in question laid snugly on the dilapidated armchair a few steps away.

 

One foot pressed in front of the other, she attempted to take it slow. Too slow. And, in a split-second decision, launched herself at the seat. Her hands fiddled for the arm and the book's spine, her pulse picking up speed to remind her how urgent it was. With a flash of relief, she felt her skin make contact with the rough surface. She clutched it and made for the safe harbour of the bed. As soon as movement ceased, her head spun and agony pulsed through her leg. The one smaller mercy was the softness of the battered sheets.

The book had been left open on a double-spread, one side containing text and the other was taken up by a sketched table. Her vision swept over the section Grey had read.

 

"The liar," she hissed through gritted teeth. "It means exactly what I said it did."

Her gaze flitted over to the chaos of etchings on the other page. Death counts. Locations. Her horrified expression grew as she read on. In one hour alone, more than ten people had died. Was that the true meaning of an epidemic? Masses disappearing in the blink of an eye? She shuddered, about to snap the book shut when she noticed a pattern - there were a lot of deathbeds noted as 'SoL'.

"Nowhere in Spain, I guess." Kailen let a snort escape. "I didn't see any dead bodies in Costa del Sol."

Allowing time for her amusement to pass, she flipped back through the pages. Eagle eyes searched for any un-abbreviated reference to it - until they came across that one sentence.

"They blew the charges last week and something weird's been happening since..." she read. "People are calling it the...sea of lives. Sea of Lives. SoL. Genius."

I guess I don't want to hear about what they had for breakfast. She snapped the diary shut. The spine let out a short-lived complaint. Then she took a look around the room and down at her hopeless legs. Frustration rose within her at the limited mobility she'd been landed with, so she resigned to taking the water that was on the cabinet and guzzling down a stream of it.

 

Long since the steam had stopped oozing from his ears, Grey found himself in the doorway to the dining room. The table was empty but the room still carried the scent of lunch, which he'd skipped in favour of venting his rage. Subtle whiffs and the solid barrier of an hour since he visited Kailen conspired to sooth him.

A hand clamped down on his shoulder. He jumped away from it with a startled yelp and turned to see who it belonged to. When he was met with Xander's composed face, he reigned in his wildly beating heart.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. How are you feeling? I can't imagine what it must have been like to see Kailen like that..." The older man offered him a warm smile.

"She's fine. Back to her usual self. Just without the walking part," Grey explained. "I don't suppose you know when dinner will be ready?"

"Ah, we've called it off. Naid is getting some rest and we're all a bit disturbed after what happened earlier," Xander paused, as if considering whether or not to say the next sentence, "but I can certainly make you something small to eat. I think there are still some leftovers from the last batch of crops."

"You grow things?" Grey raised an eyebrow and began to follow his companion through a door not far away from the one he'd used. "You never told me that."

 

As the door closed behind him, he realised how cramped the room was. Walls that seemed to close in on you. Kitchen equipment that took up half the room. Minimal space to move about.

"We do," Xander replied, reaching into a pot and pulling out a few unfamiliar foods. "I don't know why I didn't mention it, it's a normal thing to me. We grow things in a bit of a messy way, and try to use what we can in place of real sunlight. Fertilizer, feed, a bit of our energy reserves - that's why don't have lights or electronics on, and we only use it for medical emergencies. Like life support."

"Huh... I wouldn't be that organized in your place, trust me." Grey gave him an admiring smile.

"Don't underestimate yourself," Xander insisted, before pushing something that resembled a sandwich into his hands. "Eat."

Without hesitation (something he'd forced himself not to use when dining in Namardea), the teenager tore a chunk out of it and nodded as he chewed. However, he didn't feel as convinced as Xander; he was no longer a guest but not quite a resident. Although, he'd found himself drawn increasingly further away from Kailen. A scalded part of him wondered if he'd ever truly known her.

"You remember that I said we were all...disturbed?" Xander handed him a container of water. "Well, I left Trecia sulking on the balcony to her apartment. Go after her? I reckon both of you could do with the company."

Biting his lip, Grey considered it for a moment then nodded.

"Where is it?" he queried.

"Very top of the building. You'll find it." So, upon the twenty-six-year-old's orders, he headed for the stairs and began the long journey up. Each step seemed to be followed by a hundred others and, by the end, throbbing pain penetrated his soles. He pushed open the stairway door and stepped straight into the apartment.

 

Straight away he could tell that it once belonged to someone who preferred lavish surroundings. There were paintings, ornaments, chandeliers and chaise lounges that looked perfect even in their sorry state. Grand, tainted-white doors hung open. A solitary figure leaned against the railing of the balcony.

"Trecia?" he called out, approaching her slowly. Eventually, he came to lean on the rail beside her and was acknowledged with a 'hmm'. "Xander told me where you are."

"Do you like the flat?" Trecia asked, twirling a piece of jet black hair around a finger. "I've always wanted a penthouse. Looks nice on the map in my office, too."

"It's nice." He rested his chin on his hands, watching her jut her chin out to get a better look at the nothingness beyond. "How're you feeling?"

"Insane. Like one part of me is here and the rest has disintegrated into the atmosphere," she told him. He could see emotion swimming behind her irises; they reflected his expression of open care perfectly. Then she added, "If that makes any sense."

"In a way. You mean you're all over the place?" He received a slow nod in reply. "Sounds familiar."

"You seem off too. What is it?" Trecia dropped her head to his level, inclining it in his direction. Strands of her hair brushed his shoulder and he smiled meekly. One hand came to rest on his bicep. "You can tell me. If it's anywhere near as stupid as my problem, you've nothing to worry about."

"It's my birthday tomorrow," Grey confessed. He didn't take hold of the hand on his arm, nor did he shrug it off. "It feels like a ridiculous date now, though."

"Ridiculous? I'll tell you what's ridiculous... Look, we'll throw you a tiny party. Nothing special, just a meal and friendly faces." He seemed hesitant. "Kailen might even be able to come, you never know."

 

 

Later in the evening, he decided it was safe to pay another visit to Kailen's room. That added to the fact he was remarkably tired and her room also happened to be his. He pressed down on the handle and elbowed the door open, strolling in and flopping onto his bed.

"Well, aren't you exhausted?" Kailen commented, smirking. Her hands were clasped over her stomach and her head had sunk into the pillow, dark locks splayed out around her like a halo. Mirth brought a vibrant energy to her face, as she watched him from across the room.

"Aren't you supposed to be ill? A fall like that could've broken your neck," Grey intoned. She raised an eyebrow.

He's a bit calm for a rant, she thought. So, in reply, she just did her best impression of a shrug and monitored his reply.

"I'm guessing you were with Trecia..." She chose to sing the woman's name in a sing-song voice, averting her gaze to count the flecks of dirt on the opposite wall.

"Yeah. Problem?" he probed, frustration at not having her full attention evident in his tone. Kailen whipped her head round and shook it curtly. "Good. We just chatted. She has the penthouse and says it looks good on the map in her office."

"So interesting," his companion mumbled in reply. Then her eyes grew wide as she processed the last words. Map. Office.

"What?" Kailen realised, with a jolt of panic, that she probably looked as though she'd just discovered her purpose on Earth. Reigning in her excitement, she thought about the irony - if anything, that was one truth she'd never uncover. She reached over and waved her empty water cup in the air. Grey scowled and grunted to her, "You'll live."

 

And he curled onto his side, away from her. She didn't want to tempt fate - it obviously wasn't in a good mood - so she laid in bed for a few minutes after the soft breathing began. Then she swivelled her fragile legs to the side of the bed. They made contact with the floor in a soft whisper, applying pressure alternative to ensure they wouldn't crumple the moment they took on weight. Convinced she wouldn't become a casualty twice over, she shuffled over to the door and slithered out.

 

 

As far as offices go, this one has to be the worst, Kailen mused. Obviously, the cleaner died.

A lumpy pile of blankets invaded a small area of the room and a rickety shelf was nailed above. The rest of the room consisted on a desk, chair, papers, more papers and...a board. Oddly, it didn't smell of anything. Perhaps it was to compensate for the eyesore. The flooring felt odd beneath the aching soles of her feet. Night's deadly silence thrummed through the atmosphere. She began to approach the desk and board but pulled back in a flash; the blankets had shifted, ever so slightly. Her form froze and, gradually, she trod lightly towards the door. Then a low growl vibrated through her, silver eyes staring up into hers.

 

She bit her lip, forcing back a scream. Bristles of fur brushed her bare skin. Paws gripped her hip, somehow rendering their claws harmless. The steel expression the wolf wore left her rooted to the spot, yet let her know that she was entirely safe. Seconds later, Bernis returned to all-fours and angled his head up at her.

"I thought you were Grey's friend." Kailen gave the creature a curious look as she tried to shake some of the tension from her muscles. "You practically treated me like a meal gone bad when I ate with everyone else."

Despite the fact that his limbs didn't have the capacity to, the girl almost thought he'd shrugged. With a quick nuzzle of her shin, the animal let her walk past. One hand poised in front of the noticeboard, she shot a look of surprise over her shoulder.

"Let's see..." she murmured. The large, pinned map in the centre caught her eye.

There it is again... SoL. Her finger traced the small space, before it zipped to the edge and started pulling out pins. Then, a noise. Thump. Crap, someone's coming!

 

Kailen wrenched the map from the wall, dodging pins, and shoved it in her pocket. Her eyes surveyed the room for a hiding place to no avail. Her breath came in short - she was going to be caught. The footsteps grew louder and louder, until they seemed to become deafening eerie moans. And, before she knew it, the door had opened a fraction. As if in slow motion, she watched the handle twist. Her lip tucked beneath her teeth once again.

"Kailen? What are you doing here?" Xander stared at her from the doorway - at least it wasn't Trecia. He stepped further into the room, closing the door behind him. The fifteen-year-old's brain whizzed off to weave an excuse.

Come on, lying is your thing, she urged herself. Then it came to her. And, as revulsive as it was, it'd have to do.

"I was looking for Trecia," she told him. "But she's not here, obviously."

"I see." Xander didn't seem to notice the absence of the board's centrepiece. He gave her a cheery smile (or the cheeriest he appeared to be able to manage at such a late hour). "Naid must not have locked the door when I told him to, I'll have a word with him about that. I'm afraid Trecia's asleep now, you'll have to find her in the morning."

"Okay." Kailen nodded vigorously and buried her fists in her pockets.

"I'm glad you came round to our way of thinking. It's a whole lot better being friends than enemies, isn't it?" he asked, body halfway out the door.

"Yeah, definitely." She forced the words out of her mouth - they burned the back of her throat like rising bile. Bernis, the other occupant in the room, nudged Xander's legs out of the room and the man retreated, unable to see the extremely human look the wolf sent the girl. Until the door swung shut, returning the room back to its previous state. Kailen shivered and limped out of the room.

I think I've had enough adventure for one night.

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