The Cyneweard

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Part III - All That's Left is Blood :: 77

The booming had stopped a while ago. Ber heard nothing but silence from his darkened shelter. He wondered if the fighting had stopped or if both sides had simply killed each other down to the last fighter. The urge to leave started to gnaw at the back of his neck. His knees and back were sore from being so tightly cramped underneath the desk.

He strained his ears to try to pick up anything and heard nothing still. Using his feet, he slid from underneath the desk and into the small office. Stiff from the tight position, every join screamed at him as he straighted and tried to see outside of the large, shattered window in front of the desk. He saw only thick black smoke.

A smell reached him; he had never had something so acrid, so vulgar grace his olfactories. Sulfur mixed with copper mixed with iron mixed with a sweet rancidity that seemed so unnatural it made him wretch. Bile now stinging the back of his throat, he threw open the office’s door and stepped out into the choking gray mist.

The foul cloud was heavy, sticking to his nose and inside his mouth with every breath. He could see only a couple of paces in front of him. Only the sound of his own footsteps reached him. What had happened?

As he walked, he began noticing pieces of the ground, scraps of uniforms, the odd discarded weapon, and pools of blood. Where were the Unionizers? The Guards?

An answer to his question came just a few paces later. A shadow, slumped and walking with an erratic gait, was approaching him. Unarmed, Ber held up his hands.

“I’m unarmed,” he said. “I have no weapon or ill intent.”

The figure continued approaching him, coming into focus as it got closer.

It was a Machinist Gate Guard.

Ber struck his arms up higher in the air. “I mean no harm. I’m just trying to get back to town.”

He heard a cracking laugh come from the guard. The man looked up. His green eyes were bloodshot. Blood was crusted around his ears, mouth, and nostrils. The front of his uniform was coated in reddish brown blood.

“Sir?” Ber said, hands still in the air. “What’s happened?”

More laughter. The man’s eyes went wide. “The Below has come to the surface, friend.” The voice was distant and soft, a mad whisper.

“What do you mean?”

“The fog hides it, but it’s all around. Our punishment is here as Humboldt predicted.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m going to walk on ahead. I don’t mean you any harm.”

“...the only option,” was all Ber could hear from the man’s mumbling reply.

Ber began to walk forward, eyes locked on the slumped, mumbling guard. As he crossed parrellel to the guard, the Machinist reached to his side piece and pulled it from its leather pouch. Ber stopped and cringed, heart jumping into his throat.

“I’m unarmed!” he screamed at the guard. “Please!”

The guard laughed, brought the slugthrower up, and the shoved it against his temple. He fired. The resultant spray was so immense that a few drops of the man’s blood and brain matter landed on Ber’s face. Horrified, the Unionizer bolted away.

Just as he tripped over something hard and fell, he noticed that he had made it through the choking smoke. A new bounty of smells rose to the forefront of his senses.

Blood. Fire. Dust. Sweat.

He pulled himself up and looked down at his feet. His foot had caught on a piece of stone. Beneath the stone was a splatter of blood, skull, and brains. An orphaned eye stared up at him a few inches away. Ber scrambled to his feet and stepped over the stone only to trod on the ruined torso of what looked to be a Machinist Guard from the color of the uniform. Entrails covered his boot. He yelped and jumped to the side, crunching down on another corpse’s chest.

Ber finally found purchase on a large bit of stone that used to have a window embedded in it. Multiple arms and legs stuck out from beneath it, one of them sticking up at an unnatural angle through the window frame. He looked left, looked right, and realized what the suicidal guard had said was true. The Below was here, right here, at the intersection of Little Mille’s main street and the Machine Gate. Large bits of the town’s outer most buildings were strewn all over. Bodies and blood and limbs and weapons were scattered everywhere.

The sight was unlike anything he had seen or would ever see, and his brain simply refused to take it all in. He closed his eyes and lay down on the large stone slab, eyes looking up into the sky.

It was a beautiful day, but no one would notice.

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