Chapter 1: Dancing In the Dark
“I am clothed in darkness
But one day the sun will die
And the doves will lose their beauty
Blackbirds rise, the days leave
And I will be here
Naked and free”
-Shadowbird, poet unknown
Dusk woke to a piercing darkness.
Her eyes flew open, a sharp gasp splitting the void like she had been drowning underwater. She really did feel like she was floating on something, a river of something thick and viscous, like fingers given liquid form.
It was pitch black all around her. A strange feeling, to open her eyes and remain blind. Like the light of the sun had forsaken her. She didn’t feel disappointed at the thought, maybe just a little lonely.
The light was there, far above her. It was the only spot of illumination she could see, when she turned her head forward and looked up towards the sky. A little hole in the pile of rubble stacked impossibly high overhead, a vision into a world that might as well not exist. It was twilight, receding into dusk; a dying light seeped down into her tomb, just barely keeping her from being completely lost in the darkness.
She was lying on her back, arms and legs sprawled out around her. Beneath her was a thick slab of concrete as big as a car, slightly tilted so that her center of gravity was off, and it felt like the earth was trying to suck her into its depths.
Dusk’s vision flickered in and out of commission. One moment the darkness was fleeting, the next it was absolute. She couldn’t decide how lost she was. Maybe she wasn’t at all, really. Maybe she just wanted to be.
Something was dripping from the sky nearby. Water maybe, clear and cool. A drop of it descended from the void and plinked against her forehead, stinging her with its uncompromising temperature.
That helped to rouse her, and consciousness returned in increments, seeping into her like the river holding her up.
She tried to move, and immediately regretted it; her whole body hurt, her arms, her legs, her heart. Something slow and sticky was clinging to her back, and she was laying in it, coating herself so completely she thought she would sink in.
A few more minutes, and her eyes adjusted to the darkness. Maybe not so lost after all. Soon she could make out more than just the fake sun above her. She made out the piles of rock and concrete scattered all around, the steel beams and wire hanging from the ceiling, the crushed up sand strewn across the floor.
Parting her lips, she groaned. The sound echoed through the void, bouncing off the jagged walls and leaping back at her. Soon the rubble was groaning back, like it felt her pain.
After several moments of deliberation, she finally resolved to sit up, taking a deep breath and forcing herself into an upright position.
Something dripped off her arms and back in rivulets when she did, disturbed by her movement. It poured slowly down to the concrete, staining it a color she couldn’t see. She shivered as it drew a cold finger down her back, slow and uncaring.
She put a hand to the ground to steady herself, and felt her fingers brush against something soft. Turning her head, she looked down to see what it was.
There, lying mangled beneath the half light of the twilight sun, was a bloodied corpse.
There was something profoundly undeniable about the sight of a dead body. No fantasies clung themselves to a torn up and ruined shell of a person. It existed regardless of opinion; preference was something meant for the living. And Dusk felt that undeniableness as she looked down at the corpse, feeling the blood pooling out from it run carefully through her fingers.
She supposed in another time, she would have recoiled from the body, screamed and shouted; in the closed world, she certainly would not have been this calm. But she didn’t live in that world anymore. In the place she inhabited now, death was as commonplace as the fear of it. And she had seen too much to be afraid anymore.
The hilt of a knife was buried in the man’s chest, or at least in what had once been a man, the blade lost inside the now rotting flesh. It rose from his body like a ragged flag, just one more nation to be conquered on the endless march to…well, she didn’t know really.
Reaching over, she wrapped her fingers around the hilt of the knife, pulling. It held fast, crusted in place by mountains of dried blood and shattered ribs. Pursing her lips, Dusk turned to face the body fully, planting her knee against the man’s stomach for leverage.
Inhaling deeply, Dusk yanked at the knife with both hands this time, bracing her knee. After a moment’s consternation the blade popped free, causing her to fall back onto her hands. A fresh spurt of blood followed the knife’s departure, staining her leg.
She sat back on the concrete slab again, catching her breath. That short effort had left her winded. Her breath disturbed the dust coating the ground, sending it scattering away.
Meanwhile, the body continued to bleed. That had been why she thought she was floating on a river earlier; she had been laying in a pool of the man’s blood, after collapsing next to him earlier. The realization was strange at best, and she would have laughed, if only her voice hadn’t left her.
Exhaling, she took in the man’s face. He looked kind enough, now that he was dead. Everyone could get along if they were harmless. She hadn’t wanted to kill him, in the same way she never wanted to kill anybody; but he hadn’t given her a choice, and Dusk was already far too used to taking what she could get.
Sighing, Dusk wiped the blade of the knife against her pant leg before trying to stand up. She failed; her right ankle buckled as soon as she tried to put weight onto it, and she fell back down to the concrete, bruising her hip in the process.
“Fuck,” she hissed, feeling pain lance through her entire right side. This wasn’t good. She needed to be able to move if she was going to get out of here. She didn’t have time to wait for it to get better. Maybe-
Her thoughts were interrupted when she heard shouting from beyond the rubble; voices rose from the darkness, and suddenly she was surrounded on all sides by the shouting of angry men, barking at each other as their footsteps echoed off the rocks.
Oh, fuck fuck fuck fuck. Dusk grabbed her knife and shoved it into her belt, scrambling onto one leg and hopping away from the body. More blood dripped off her edges as she moved. She fled through the swallowing darkness, praying she would find a way out.
She didn’t. The wall came up to meet her only a few moments later, barring her escape. Swearing, she turned and hopped in the opposite direction, only to find a similar blockage. She was completely buried beneath a massive pile of rubble, and there was no discernible way out.
Outside, the shouting was getting louder. Dusk’s heart stopped in her chest when she heard footsteps above her too. They were on top of her now. She was surrounded.
Soon her one good leg gave out, and she collapsed back to the ground into a fit of dust. Coughing, she dragged herself back towards the wall and leaned against it, gasping for breath through seared lungs.
Above her, the final dying breath of the sun disappeared over the horizon. Dusk closed, and it was night. Darkness consumed her tomb, and suddenly she was truly and utterly lost within it, with walls on all sides.
Her eyes burned with the hopelessness of the situation, and she took her knife out and stabbed it repeatedly into the ground, fighting the urge to scream.
The shouting grew louder, and she closed her eyes to keep the tears from falling, dreaming back to how this had all started.
The door to the apartment building blasted open as Dusk all but kicked it off its hinges, storming out into the evening air.
Mere moments later, footsteps pattered in her wake. After a minute a second girl ran outside as well, her short hair flopping behind her.
Dusk ignored her, instead stalking to the other side of the street where her bike was parked, digging around in her pocket for her bandana, other hand gripping the strap of her backpack. Her boots crunched against the cracked gravel of the road as she passed by the bombed out shells of cars, the silhouettes of empty buildings looming overhead. Shattered windows bore down on her like mouths full of jagged teeth, laughing at her anger.
She pulled her bandana out and tossed it over the handlebars of her bike, swinging one leg over and mounting it. By that time Piper caught up with her, running forward to put a hand between the handle and the ignition.
“Dusk, hold on,” the girl panted, out of breath. She was holding the beanie she always wore in her other hand, like it had fallen off her head in her haste to keep up. “Are you seriously just going to leave?”
“What else do you expect me to do? Stay?” Dusk fished a key out of her pocket and stuck it into the ignition, turning. The engine puttered to life beneath her, filling the air between her and Piper with a brooding ambience. She opened up her backpack and rummaged around inside, making sure she had her compass, her knife, her gun.
Piper exhaled loudly through her nose, pushing her short brown hair out of her face. “Yes? It’s better than just going. You think it’s going to get better if you just leave like this?”
“No,” Dusk said shortly, grabbing her bandana and stretching it out. “But if I stay it’ll definitely get worse. I can’t stand arguing about dumb shit like this.”
It was late afternoon in the ruins of the city. The sun was dipping lower behind the horizon, almost hidden now under the shadows of the endless rows of apartment buildings in their area. Stray rays of orange light peeked through here and there where buildings had collapsed, succumbing to the raw power of the bombs. Shards of glass decorated the floor, giving the sun a second life through their reflection.
“Sistine wasn’t trying to start a fight,” Piper tried, exasperated. “You were the one who made it uglier than it had to be. Why can’t you just come back and talk it out with her?”
“I tried to,” Dusk snapped, grabbing Piper’s hand and pushing it off the ignition. “But Sistine wouldn’t listen to common sense. What am I supposed to do when she’s being that stupid? Tell her it’s okay? Being stupid gets you killed out here. You know that.”
“You get killed if you’re stupid out there. When we’re around each other, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our mind!” Piper retorted, seemingly nearing the end of her ample patience. “You don’t have to put someone down just because you don’t agree with them!”
“I don’t care,” Dusk snarled, tying her bandana around her mouth and jabbing a finger against Piper’s collarbone. “She’s wrong, and that’s all there is to it. Anything else is extra. She wouldn’t be any less wrong if I was nice about it, and at the end of the day we aren’t leaving. She needs to wrap her head around that, and maybe you do too.”
With that she revved the engine of her motorcycle, kicking up the stand and pushing off with a pure intent to leave. Piper walked after her initially, her beanie clenched tightly in her fist.
Dusk responded by revving the engine a second time, drowning Piper inside the roars of the engine. She took off down the length of the street, kicking up a cloud of dust and stray debris behind her, taking off towards the sun.
Dusk didn’t really know where she was going. She just knew she had to get away.
She drove in a straight line for a while, listening to the engine of her bike growl in tandem with the savagery inside her. But after a while she felt like Piper’s eyes were still burning into her, so she took a couple turns, if only to put a few buildings between herself and those accusatory irises, which she knew would simultaneously look hurt.
The city looked like another world during twilight. The buildings grew shorter as she left the apartments and headed towards the east bank, wanting to be near the sea. Soon she was driving past lonely looking storefronts, their windows blown out and their insides gutted for anything useful, the very definition of a ghost town.
If anything, that was the one good thing the bombs had brought when they dropped. Access to silence. In the closed world, in the time before the end of everything, the city had never slept. Everyone always felt like they had to be doing something, going somewhere, and the result was that she could never find a quiet place to just sit and be alone, because the city’s inhabitants had conquered every last inch of concrete and metal available. No one owned anything, but that didn’t mean she got to own anything, either.
But that time was over now. It was gone for an effective forever. That was what she knew, and what Sistine failed to understand.
This is so fucking stupid, she thought to herself, narrowing her eyes as the dust grew thicker. The fact that we need to argue over this…
She had hurled a few choice words at Sistine before leaving, but she didn’t necessarily feel bad about it. It had been up to Sistine to keep things from getting worse, and she had failed to do so. Dusk never felt guilty for giving people what they were asking for.
The look on Piper’s face though. She knew she felt bad about that, even if she told herself she didn’t. She knew it wasn’t Piper’s fault. The girl was just trying to make things right again. Not everyone was as comfortable being uncomfortable as Dusk was. She knew that.
That didn’t mean she was going to apologize, though.
Sistine, you god damn idiot, Dusk thought to herself, taking another turn towards the bank. She jetted past a pile of stray papers, sending them spiraling towards the sidewalks. None of this would have happened if you’d just use your head.
But Sistine thought with her heart more than her brain. Dusk knew that, so maybe she was the stupid one for expecting anything more out of the girl. Shame on Sistine for not being enough, but shame on herself too, for knowing but trying anyway.
It was getting darker. The sun would set soon, but Dusk had always been more comfortable at night anyways. She felt more camouflaged, in the way a blackbird was vulnerable during the day.
It was getting harder to see, so she turned on the headlights on her bike, lighting the way ahead. Normally the road would have been filled with lights just like hers, and she would have been lost in the sea of brilliance. But she was all alone now, and her light shined by itself as she zoomed down the road, the only star in a big black hole.
To be honest, she kind of preferred it that way.
Going to the sea always made her feel a little better. Something about the vastness of it, its uncompromising nature. There was nothing she could do, and that meant her part was done.
She parked her bike at the end of one of the piers, throwing down the stand and turning off the engine. It murmured down to a dull silence, going still beneath her. She took off her bandana and left it draped over the handlebars, wrapping it around once so the wind wouldn’t claim it.
She turned and stretched her legs out to the side, looking out over the water. It was a a deep and pensive blue, so dark it was nearly black. She had no idea how far down the water went, or how far forward it was until she would reach the horizon, but that didn’t mean she feared the ocean. It was dark and unfathomable, like her, and she felt safer in the darkness.
Breathing in, she sighed, listening the waves lap at the concrete base of the pier. She knew she would have to go back eventually. She couldn’t just wait out here forever. As stupid and annoying things could get at times, her home was her home. Dusk knew she would rather fall asleep under the same roof as people who didn’t like her than people who might stick a knife in her gut when she wasn’t looking.
I want to leave. We can’t stay here forever. Do you intend to die here?
A question fed on dreams and fantasies. Dusk didn’t know what Sistine expected to find beyond the peninsula. They had decided to settle all the way down here for a reason. Anywhere else they knew of was too dangerous, and they would die before they got far enough to find something better, assuming something better even existed.
We’re too young. We’re just fucking kids, Dusk. Don’t you think there should be more to things than this? Is this enough for you?
It isn’t about enough or not enough, Sistine, she thought, grinding her toe into the concrete of the pier. This is about as good as it gets.
That was the thing, really. As much as she had hated Sistine in the heat of the moment, as much as she wished she could grab the girl’s head and bash it against a chalkboard until some semblance of education was rammed into her conscious, Dusk understood where she was coming from.
They had been living here like this for the past three years, in the southernmost tip of a city built on a tiny peninsula just barley connected to the mainland. After the bombs stopped dropping and the smoke began to settle, and they had emerged to find a world completely changed, anything would have seemed like a miracle. But that was a long time ago, and they were used to things now. There came a time when one wondered what was next, if anything was next, if they were destined to live out their days in the tail end of the end of the world until death came for them too.
She knew Sistine wanted better. She wanted better, too. But she also knew that they weren’t entitled to anything, and that things weren’t likely to get better. It didn’t matter if they were twenty or eighty. Anyone could die at any moment, because the world was cruel no matter how strong or ready you were.
Dusk knew that, but she felt like Sistine had yet to accept that. And if she hadn’t yet, Dusk didn’t know if the girl ever would. If the apocalypse wasn’t enough to rouse Sistine to the inherent darkness of the world, nothing would be.
The sun was gone now. A caustic wind cut across the water, ruffling her dark hair and causing her to shiver. It was getting cold. Strange, the summer night never got this chilly before. Maybe because there had been people around to warm up the city, with their bright lights and even brighter futures, all extinguished now.
Mounting her bike, she ignited the engine and drove slowly off the pier. She wanted to be inside, but didn’t want to head back just yet. She valued her solitude. She would pursue it for a moment longer.
There was an abandoned nanotech factory about a quarter of a mile down from the piers, its decrepit figure rising above the crooked roofs of convenience stores and auto mechanic stops lined up by the water. Dusk liked to go there when she needed to be by herself, and the weather wasn’t merciful enough for her to hang out by the pier.
Her bike coughed as she pulled up to the factory, driving inside the building through the wide open hangar entrance at its front. The fuel meter told her she was nearly out; she would have to siphon some more gas from some cars later.
The headlights flickered out as she parked, taking the key out of the ignition. She was in a large open garage space which comprised the first floor of the factory, the walls lined with rusted machines and heavy chains hanging from the ceiling. It was dark inside the hangar, and thick shadows lurked in the corners and the spaces by the wall, making the space seem smaller than it was.
Sighing, she tossed her bandana across the handlebars and hopped off. Crossing the hangar, she walked into the shifting darkness until she found a ladder that led upwards, to a small hatch built into the ceiling. There were stairs to the higher floors elsewhere, but this was the fastest way up.
Placing her feet on the corroded metal rungs, Dusk climbed up the ladder, quickly reaching the hatch. She reached up with one hand and undid the latch holding it shut, pushing it up and over. It clanged dully against the floor above, the sound echoing forlornly through the hangar.
Taking a deep breath, she climbed up.
The second floor was very different from the first. It was comprised of a long hallway that wrapped all the way around the perimeter of the building, with the space in the middle left empty so that the hangar could reach the sky. Narrow wooden doors stood side by side, storage rooms and offices where the factory’s employees would have once worked. Cold moonlight seeped in through the dusty windows, speckled but still beautiful.
Hefting her backpack, Dusk walked down the length of the hallway, disturbing the dust scattered across the wooden floor. She headed for a section of the floor where the wall had been blown clear out, so that a car sized hole let the night air into the hall.
Setting her things down, she sat at the edge of the hole, letting her legs dangle over the void. Outside, the moon danced with itself on the open sea. Its light rippled across the surface of the water, unclear, telling her that even satellites were insecure in the dark.
Shrugging off her backpack, Dusk dug through her things in search of something particular. There was a reason why she liked coming here in times of need. It certainly wasn’t because of the creepy abandoned hallways, or the feeling that the building could collapse at any moment.
She hummed when she found what she was looking for, pulling it out and tossing her backpack aside. It was a large automatic magnet, which could be turned off and on at the switch of a button. Dusk didn’t usually carry it around with her, but she had had a feeling she would be needing it later, so she made sure to pack it before storming out of the apartment.
Setting it beside her, she made sure the battery was full, tossing away anything metal that was situated nearby. She didn’t need anything flying through the air and hitting her in the head.
Reaching around the device, she switched it on.
It began to emanate a low hum, a vibration that she could feel in her chest. There was a clicking from inside her backpack, probably her compass going haywire because of the magnetic field.
She sat there like that for a minute, waiting. This didn’t always work, but it always seemed to come through when she most needed it.
A few more minutes passed, and all was quiet. Dusk sighed, preparing herself for disappointment.
Maybe not tonight.
Just as she was about to turn the magnet off, however, she heard something buzzing behind her. Her heart leapt in her chest, and she turned to look down the length of the hallway, eyes straining through the dark.
A small light appeared from the black, growing closer. Then another one joined it, floating in tandem with the first. Then another, and another, and suddenly there were hundreds of little white lights floating towards her through the night air, bringing illumination to her world.
Dusk laughed as she held up her hands to greet them, cupping a handful in her palms. They danced like fireflies between her fingers, droplets of the sun she could love.
Nanobots. The magnet humming along beside her was responsible for rousing the hundreds, if not thousands of nanobots lying constantly dormant throughout the crevices of the factory, which had once been responsible for manufacturing them. There had probably been bigger contraptions in the past too, war machines and weapons of mass destruction, but now only these little ones were left, remnants of a darker and more violent time.
Dusk cupped her chin in one hand as she ran her fingers through the thickening cloud of bots, feeling them prick against her skin. They were about the size of grains of sand, though they seemed bigger because of the light they emitted. Dusk wasn’t quite sure what purpose they were supposed to serve, but they seemed relatively harmless. The presence of a magnetic field usually aroused them, exciting them so that they floated towards the source of the pull, dancing around it like moths to a flame.
It was funny. She remembered when nanotechnology had started getting serious, about the time she was in elementary school. By the time she entered high school they were a staple in the military. And a few years later, they played a hand in the end of the world. Dusk was no expert in technology or warfare, but she remembered always watching the news reports on television and marveling that something so small could kill so many.
Just went to show that the little things mattered.
Sighing, she laid down on the floor of the hallway, staring up into the cloud of nanobots swarming above her. She thought back to her fight with Sistine, about the things she had said.
Don’t be stupid, Sistine. You know there’s nothing out there for us. You know that’s the truth. And if you don’t, you’re dumber than I thought.
Maybe she didn’t have to say it like that. But she didn’t think she was wrong, either. There really was nothing out there for them. Nothing but death and suffering, which would come one day regardless of what they did. There was no such thing as destiny, and there was no reason to expect anything from life other than its eventual conclusion. She knew that was hard to accept, but what other choice did they have?
I just want something better than this. This can’t be all there is for us. Don’t you think?
Dusk had never said that it couldn’t get better. She just didn’t think it was going to stay that way. At the end of the day, they all bled.
The nanobots were growing sluggish now, perhaps low on energy after their initial burst of expression. If she imagined hard enough, she could pretend that she was laying in a field of grass somewhere out in the country, surrounded by fireflies. Or maybe laying on a park bench late at night, watching the traffic swim by, comforted by the knowledge that everyone had somewhere to go.
Dusk closed her eyes, and tried to pretend. She tried to pretend that it could be better. She dreamed of short days and easy sleep. She wondered about fleeting yesterdays and endless tomorrows. All the things she wanted.
Just as she was about to succumb to this deadly fantasy, something deadlier snapped her back to reality.
The dull clang of metal rang out from somewhere down the hall, piercing Dusk’s ears and wrenching her back to consciousness. She sat up and turned off the magnet, turning her ears to the side. The nanobots flickered briefly before hovering around her, pensive.
A moment later a second bump echoed up to her, this time from below. It was coming from the hangar. Repeated clanging noises, following by something softer, more sentient.
Dusk was not alone.
Grabbing the magnet, she stuffed it into her backpack and pulled out her knife, flicking it open so that it glinted under the light of the nanobots. The robots themselves flickered forlornly again before dispersing, their lights dimming until they were indiscernible from the darkness.
Gripping her knife, Dusk decided to walk around to the other side of the floor, so she could take the stairs. Whoever was down there would definitely see her if she dropped down from the ladder.
The clanging noises had stopped now, but they were replaced by a steady string of muttering that crept through the air. It sounded like a man’s voice, a fully grown adult. Dusk briefly considered taking out her pistol instead, but decided against it. She didn’t have a silencer on her, and any shots fired would be deafeningly loud in the dead of night. And the intruder might not be by himself.
Holding her breath, she crept around to the other side, feeling along the wall until she found the hand rail for the staircase. This half of the building was opposite the moon, and so it was plunged in darkness; she couldn’t see a thing. Only her memory of the building’s layout would save her here.
Taking feather light steps, Dusk descended down the steps. It was a narrow staircase, and she held one hand to the wall as she descended. It would lead her to the far edge of the hangar beneath the windows, where she would be concealed in the shadows. Hopefully, if necessary, she would be able to catch the intruder off guard.
She stumbled slightly when she reached the ground floor, miscounting the number of steps. Biting her lip, Dusk listened through the darkness, but only heard the same muted muttering from before.
Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and held it, counting to three before exhaling quietly. When she stepped out from the stairwell, she would be completely out in the open. The shadows should hide her well enough, but she would have no cover.
Steeling her nerves, Dusk stepped forward, knife first.
A single man was standing in the center of the hangar by himself, illuminated by the moonlight overhead. He was hunched over her bike, one leg swung over the seat, and he seemed to be searching every inch of the vehicle for something.
“Fucking key…come on, fucking come on…” his voice floated over to her through the moonlight.
It occurred to her that he was attempting to steal her bike, but couldn’t because he didn’t have the key, which was stuffed into her pocket.
She wasn’t sure what to do. The man couldn’t do anything really if he didn’t have the key. At the same time, she didn’t feel so sure about waiting in the shadows until he gave up and left. Too much uncertainty there. Maybe she could have simply stepped out and confronted him, but she didn’t know if he was armed or not. Because from her experience, if the man was carrying a weapon he intended to use it.
She stood there like that for a full minute, cold sweat running down her brow. After a while the man swore and pounded his fist against the back of the bike, which got on her nerves a little. That bike was her only method of transportation. She wasn’t going to give it up easy.
Just then it occurred to her that her supply of shadow was decreasing. As the moon moved across the sky it illuminated more of the hangar, giving her less space to hide. In a few minutes she would be visible.
Clenching her jaw, Dusk decided to move back a little. She would be further away from the bike if she needed to actually do something, but it was better than being spotted.
She lifted her foot and took a step back, feeling through the darkness.
It landed on something round and hard. A bottle. It clattered loudly as it was kicked against the wall, the sound ringing loudly off the walls.
Dusk froze, her heart leaping into her throat. Her eyes shot back to the bike, just in time to see the intruder reach into his pocket and produce a handgun, his finger on the trigger.
The crash of gunfire assaulted Dusk’s ears as three quick shots were sprayed in her direction, red hot bullets screaming through the air like lightning. She ducked and threw herself in the direction of the stairs, yelling as more shots whizzed over her head in the darkness. One of the bullets exploded against the corner of the wall, sending chunks of concrete spraying into Dusk’s face and scoring a deep cut across her brow.
Dusk swore and fled back up the stairs, footsteps bounding agains the steps. No time to be quiet now. She had to get the fuck out of here, now.
More footsteps boomed behind her, as the man began to give chase. Her heart screamed and pounded against her ribcage in panic when she heard him beginning to gain on her, and she realized that he was faster than she was.
“Give me the fucking key!” he screamed, firing two more shots after her. Dusk threw herself up over the last three steps of the staircase, hearing the bullets sing past her ear and blow holes out of the ceiling.
“Fuck off!” Scrambling to her feet, Dusk sprinted down the hallway for her life, her elongated shadow leaping after her. Swinging her backpack around in front of her, she shoved her knife into her pocket and took out her pistol instead, praying that it was already loaded.
Pointing the gun behind her, she fired off three shots, feeling the weapon kick into her shoulder. The stranger shouted when he found that was being fired back at, hot sparks bursting off the concrete.
Dusk took advantage of the distraction to keep running, looping back around to the other side of the building. She would drop down to the hangar through the hatch and get back to her bike. Then she could get away. It was her only chance, short of killing him.
The stranger continued to run after her, but didn’t seem to be shooting anymore, probably realizing that he wasn’t going to hit a target he couldn’t see. Dusk fired another warning shot before turning the corner, sprinting towards the hatch in the floor.
That was when everything fell apart. Either she took too long lowering herself down to the ladder, or the man was faster than she thought, but the second she put her legs through the hole he was rounding the corner. Dusk looked up and panicked when they made eye contact, grabbing the hatch and trying to close it after her.
Two more bullets were fired in her direction, stinging her ears. One of them sheared against the edge of the hatch, throwing a shower of sparks in her face. Dusk screamed and lost her grip on the ladder, and suddenly she was plummeting down to the hangar below, the wind screaming in her ears.
She landed hard on her back, gasping as the air was punched clean out of her lungs. Her gun landed a few feet next to her, clattering to the ground.
As Dusk’s vision phased in and out of focus, she made out the silhouette of the man dropping down into the hangar after her, his large form outlined by the moon. A roar of adrenaline rushed through her body when she realized she was going to die if she didn’t do something. Rolling over onto her knees, she dove for her gun, closing her fingers around it just as she heard the man’s boots thud against the floor.
Whipping around, she fired blindly, emptying out her magazine into the night. She heard the man scream, and a spurt of fresh blood stained the moonlight. Through the haze of her ruined vision, she realized that she had hit him in the firing arm, knocking his gun into the corner of the hangar.
She tried to shoot again, but was met only with the cold click of an empty magazine. When she looked up she realized that the intruder was charging straight at her at full speed, completely disregarding his dropped weapon.
“Oh, fuck, fuck!” Dusk yelled, scrambling back and scrabbling for the spare magazine in her back pocket. She slammed it into her pistol just as the man lunged for her throat, his blood black against the moonlight.
She brought her gun up and fired four times, piling every bullet into his chest just before he was upon her. The man choked as he was thrown to the side by the impact, falling to the floor with a loud thud. Dusk swore and scrambled even further back from the body, keeping her shaking pistol trained on him the entire time, intending to empty the rest of her magazine into him if he moved.
Several minutes passed, but the man did not move. Dusk’s firing arm was shaking badly, overloaded with adrenaline and the shock of near death. Finally she let it fall to her side, her fingers going slack and the gun clattering to the cold hangar floor.
“Oh jesus christ,” she whispered, hanging her head between her knees as she caught her breath. The cut above her eye dripped blood down across her face. Everything had happened so quickly; she hadn’t expected that she would end up killing him. But now here she was, sitting ten feet from a dead body.
It was deafeningly quiet now. The sound of gunfire still rang in her ears. The stench of gunpowder was in her nose. She looked up at the body and looked away again, needing more time to steel herself to it.
She needed to get out of here. Dusk didn’t know if this guy had any friends, but if he did she didn’t want to be around to explain what had happened. They weren’t likely to believe her, anyway.
Taking another deep breath, Dusk picked up her gun and gingerly approached the dead body, intending to search it for anything useful. She would have preferred not to, but it was better than missing something valuable.
The body itself had probably seen better days. A small pool of blood was spilling from the bullet wound in the man’s firing arm, glittering like velvet in the light. Four more holes were torn into the front of his shirt, the bleeding plugged by the bullets that were still jammed inside his ribcage.
Kneeling beside him, Dusk searched through his pockets. She didn’t find much; a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, mostly. A spare magazine for his gun, which she took. She leaned over and grabbed the pistol itself as well, sticking it into her belt. One could never have enough bullets.
Just as she was about to call it a day and get back on her bike, she spotted something on the man’s chest. It was a small necklace, a little stone hanging from a thin string. There was nothing remarkable about it in the slightest, but something about it drew her to it.
Reaching over, she pulled the necklace off the man’s neck, marveling that it hadn’t been damaged in the shooting. She turned it over in her hands, observing its details. It was just a simple little stone, round and smooth, with a hole bored into the center so that the string could feed through. It didn’t seem to have any markings on it, or anything else to distinguish it.
And yet it drew her in.
She stared at it for a moment longer, then shrugged and put in on around her neck, hiding it beneath her shirt. She would ask the others about it later. Right now she had to get out of here.