She was in trouble.
Fragments of brick crunched underfoot as Maggie inched forward. The air reeked of burnt wood, glimroot and a smell that reminded her of roast meat gone bad. Please don’t let me trip on any body parts, she whispered as she examined the fire-blackened beam blocking her path. It was wider than she was and extended past the remains of the second floor. There was a narrow space between it and the remains of an inner wall. Tight squeeze, she thought. She tilted her head back and watched the snow falling through the missing roof. The cold flakes landed on her cheeks and lashes as she considered her options. The sun was beginning to set, but Maggie knew the moon would begin to rise soon after. That meant only a few minutes of darkness. I have to get out quick or find a hiding place further in. She dropped her gaze as she looked at the devastation around her, and remembered…
… the thudding strikes of the cley’s barrel-sized claws as it pounded the the building. Massive stone blocks shattered and began to shift from the relentless impacts and the wall began to fold and tumble inwards. The cley launched itself through the opening, it’s many legs racing over the debris. Armed Seawatch poured in behind the creature followed by the Kral. Maggie felt a chill at the memory of the young girl’s expression, and the thing growing out of her forehead. And Maggie remembered the sounds. Horrible sounds. The clang of weapons. Of a man crying out for his mother, and that cry’s sudden ending. The cley’s enraged chittering. And the screaming. The awful screaming that went on and on… until an explosion brought merciful silence.
Maggie shuddered and looked at the metal clad beam. The way up was treacherous. The snow would make it slippery and there was a tangled barrier that would be difficult to climb over. Maggie looked at the wedge of space between the beam and wall. No way around. She bit her lip and slid her arm into the narrow opening using her fingers to feel for obstructions. Ragged edges of metal tugged at her clothing. Nails scratched her legs. Grit rained down her back as her coat dragged along the wall. She was making good progress and felt the forward edge of the beam.
Then she was stuck.
Maggie fought down her panic and tried, to no avail, to free herself from whatever had snagged her coat. She could hear her heart pounding in her ear and took several slow breaths to calm herself. Her arm stretched forward until she found a metal strap. She pulled as hard as she could, bending her knees, and pushing with her legs until something ripped and she fell forward.
Maggie looked down at the new tear in her heavily patched coat. Great. A few more holes and I can use it as a net to catch fish. Maggie gave the rip a final look of disgust then arched her back until it made small popping sounds. She turned and examined the space she was in. A section of the upper floor and roof rested on the overhanging beam creating a dome like clearing about two steps in either direction. She sat on a large stone block – after looking up and not seeing anything that would immediately fall and crush her to death.
The ground beneath her hiding place had rumbled and groaned as the screaming stopped. Soldiers stumbled out of the building moments before a colossal explosion tore the heavy iron bound doors from their hinges and sent them wind-milling heavily into the street. Shards of brick and wood rattled against the stone wall beside her as she ducked her head. She felt dazed. Disconnected from the events unfolding around her. Much of what she remembered about what happened next didn’t make sense. She’d seen green flames and yellow smoke. A man with burning plants growing from his skin, and a wave of water pouring from the building.
Well the water was real enough. I woke up wet. The rest must have been hallucinations caused by the smoke from the burning glim. Maggie shook her head as she tapped the beam. Metal sheathed roofs were common enough on the hill, but no one living in low town could afford them. Unless they’re running a very profitable and very illegal glim factory. Maggie shook her head at the foolishness of the people using the potent drug. She’d seen what happened to them and she didn’t want any part of it.
Maggie considered her options. The cold air froze the inside of her nostrils, but it helped masked the horrible smells and the acrid taste in her mouth. She touched the tip of her tongue experimentally and spat. She help us the offending finger and peered at it. There was one clear spot where she’d licked it but the rest was impossibly dirty. Well that explained the taste. Nana would have had a fit.
Maggie smiled sadly at the thought of Nana and continued to look for an alternate way to exit the building. The setting sun filtered through dozens of openings creating a patchwork of shadows. Flakes of snow flickered through the lit areas adding a strange and unexpected beauty to the scene. Maggie shook her head and felt a moment of dizziness. She pulled a dried fish out of her pocket and chewed it slowly. Might have to run before this is over. When she was finished, she tugged the scarf wrapped around her neck to cover her nose and mouth. The once bright and beautifully embroidered shabid, was now soiled, its colors muted, but she could still detect the faint perfume of the hanais flower. It was a reminder of all that she’d survived.
I’ll survive this too.
Maggie pressed her face against a small opening and examined the street. Twin rows of charred buildings extended outward from her location. No torches, nor movements to signal life – yet she knew someone was out there.
She’d run when she spotted the men following her, easily outdistancing them. Children on the street were frequent victims of those who preyed on the unlucky or foolish. If you survived it was because you were strong. Or careful. Some joined the gangs willingly. Some by force, and then tried to survive the brutal price demanded of them. So far Maggie’s speed had kept her safe, and free. No one could run like she could. She’d turned into this street without slowing her pace. Her feet had inadvertently brought her back to the building she had seen destroyed weeks earlier. She’d known as soon as she turned the corner, that something was wrong. All she could do now was hope that she hadn’t been seen entering, and that the snow would hide any footprints she’d left outside.
Maggie started involuntarily when when the tall dark silhouette appeared at the head of the street. Clouds of vapor puffed in ragged streams from where his mouth should be, evidence that he’d been running. He panned his head slowly, and Maggie felt a sense of foreboding. There was something familiar about his movements.
A single high pitched screech echoed down down the street.
Maggie sucked in a slow hissing breath as she recognized her pursuer. She didn’t need to see his teeth or ears to know. The sound and strange contours of his body identified him. Bash. She shook her head at her carelessness, a chill crawling up her spine. He set a trap for me.
Backlit shapes began to peel away from the darker shadows at the opposite end of the street, drawn by Bash’s call. Maggie’s heart thudded loudly as she counted ..seven, eight, nine…
Too many to get past.