CHAPTER 01 – The Land of Salt
How many months has it been? How many years?
Now it just felt as though it had all blurred together to the point where it could no longer seem any different from any other. But there was one thing that was different.
With the sickness of several diseases claiming so many lives, much of humanity was now on the brink, many choosing to travel to some far-off place and never return. In the hopes that they would be able to avoid the disaster that seemed to bring down the once countless cities all across the globe.
All the while the remnants of humanity that were left behind continued to grasp at what remained of this crumbling society. They clung to it, like mud on a shoe.
Once, there had been talks of walled cities, trying to keep a certain disease contained within it’s high colossal walls before they crumbled like dust. Much like those who perished to the sickness itself. Or a place across the ocean shrouded in consistent night where many believed paradise awaited.
It was something that had been talked about, over and over again until it faded into obscurity. Where now it seemed to be no longer relevant to the remaining people who merely wished to survive. Words of hearsay and remnants of a now dead history.
The year was 2052, or was it more then that?
Everything felt the same to the point she could no longer tell how many years it had been. Yet even that didn’t deter the land with a thick coating of white as far as the eye could see.
This was not snow. No, sadly it was salt.
Salt that once was many human beings, humans who became infected by a disease and were offered a choice once infected. A choice coming from unknown beings with no clear goal. The choice to become apart of something only known as Legion, to fight and kill any other humans regardless of who they were as a collected hive mind with no free will of their own or reject it and die turning into nothing more then pillars salt.
Stopping at the top of a salt coated hill, the young woman named Reina knelt down and with her gloved hands scooped up some of the salt and stared at it intently through her goggles. This salt was once a person, a person like that of her own brother and parents. Family who died from the continuing disease known as White Chlorination Syndrome or WCS for short. A horrible disease that to this day still saw no cure and was slowly bringing the destruction of humanity down to the earth. It was rather poetic in a way, that this was the possibility for humanities end even though many seeing hope for the future.
A hope that she could not understand no matter how hard she tried.
Reina merely went day by day as best she could. The salt slipping through her fingers like sand on a beach before she stood and wiped her gloved hands off of her pants before readjusting her mask. The winds howled lowly, behind her were buildings of a city, one of many abandoned since the outbreak cut a path through it like so many others before it, infecting thousands upon millions with WCS all those years ago.
With many of the major cities abandoned due to fear of infection, yet for her there was nothing to fear. She dealt with it once, and now it was nothing.
Reina walked through the ruins of this one particular city a portion of it being long abandoned while in the distance, high in the sky she could make the outline of a towering wall had been erected in the hopes for people of this city to remain safe. Cutting them off from the rest of the world. Or so she could only assume. She had never seen what was beyond these towering walls but for all she knew it could have very well meant the eventual fate that fell to the rest of them, or that it might have already happened only that no one knew. The sounds of her footsteps echo as she walked through the empty streets, the metal pipe she carries in her left hand as both a weapon and walking stick. Blue eyes shifting from behind her goggles as she looks above and ahead as the salt continued to drift down. Wary of what might be lurking within the crumbling buildings of old.
Over time she had seen people reform civilization outside the walls, creating towns and villages only for it to collapse at the hands of those who were apart of Legion. Those who had formed a pact with whatever brought the WCS into the world. And yet what felt like not much time after began the appearance of black shadow creatures simply known as Shades to the normal populous. She found herself rather confused by this, where had they come from? What were they exactly?
These questions however would go unanswered for Reina would often avoid going to these still thriving towns and villages unless she could help it and would often take on odd jobs. Much like now.
Though she found that some of these Shades seemed to be relatively harmless, at least the smaller ones. But when it came to people infected with the sickness, Reina would do her best to avoid those who were possessed by Legion. The red eyes being the strong indicator of this.
That was something that caused her to be wary most if not all the time. Though she was more then capable of handling herself when it came to deal with those who were infected, Reina rather preferred not running into them at all if possible.
Thankfully as of now, there were none in the current area, it was something she was told by a villager from a not too distant small town that would pay her for collecting things that this person needed but was too scared to venture into the abandoned city themselves.
Heading into one of the buildings and up several floors Reina founded what she needed. It was several cans of food, there were a number of them here, more then enough for what that person needed. And even for herself.
She paused when hearing something off in the distance. Lifting up her goggles she watched as something was shot up into the sky, a stream of smoke left a trail of what was heading up towards a faintly visible moon, Reina frowned wondering what that could have been. But those thoughts fell short when she heard something from below.
Quickly she put her goggles back on, tightened her hood, and grabbed several more cans before heading down the decaying stairs.
It was a familiar sound that she knew well be now. Grasping the pipe tightly in her hands she kept her back to the wall, eyes surveying the room keeping an eye out for those that would attack her.
It was then that something began to move underneath the stairs. Underneath her. Quickly Reina jumped off and faced what broke through another floor. With gritting teeth Reina braced herself as the black creature, which had a weapon of its own, went to attack her.
With her weapon in hand, she forced it back hitting it repeatedly until it fell to the ground, now lifeless as a red ooze came from it, almost like blood. It was a strange sight indeed, no real idea as to why.
What’s more, these creatures had not appeared until in the past few years. Around the same time as the appearance of peculiar copies of black books that looked as though this book had a face. Something of which she quickly avoided.
Something about the book made her feel almost uncomfortable. Mounted for the fact that when she first tried to touch a black book something inside of her gave a violent reaction. Making her feel sick, causing her to vomit. And with a red hazed vision, she realized that there was something within in these peculiar books that could have an even worse affect on her if she dared to touch it.
So, she burned the black book along with the place that she had been staying at for a time. Feeling that was the only real way to be rid of it, and those who had so easily found her in the first place practically undetected. Whoever had left the book clearly wanted her to touch it, for something to happen, and if she had then they would probably be watching from a distance with great intensity.
With a ragged breath Reina readjusted her shoulder bag before heading out of the decrepit building and walked back to where she had left her horse. Tightening her hood as she did so while also keeping her ears and eyes open in case another one of those creatures or even one of the infected revealed themselves to her.
Either way she would have rather preferred not to run into anything else. Human beings most of all…
When Reina reached her horse, it greeted her with a rather pleasant snort. Something of which that took no time in gaining trust of. Normally, animals were horribly scared of her, not that she could blame any of them for it. But because of that, this stubborn horse seemed all the more compelling with how it almost worked well with her.
Even others who tried to catch this great black beauty couldn’t seem to keep a steady hand. Yet this creature seemed fine with her. Almost knowing, seeing through her like looking through a window, as it trotted up to her in such a gallant stride before coming to a stop in front of her. Waiting for her to get on.
At first it shocked her, but as the beast continued to follow Reina around wherever she went, regardless of where. She felt that she had no choice but to take him with her. Since it seemed to have no intention of leaving.
She named the beast Rostam, a rather fitting name considering it was powerful and strong, it seemed to have no fear of anything and looked to be even greater than regular horses.
Giving Rostam a comforting pat on its muscular neck before hoisting herself into the saddle and pulled the reins to direct him into the direction that they needed to return too.
As Rostam started off in a faint jaunt, kicking up salt leaving a trail behind them as Reina glanced back to the now growing distant decaying city. But it was only for a moment before looking straight ahead. For now, that’s all she could really do.
* * *
It was almost evening, yet the sun remained high in the sky as she continued to ride Rostam to the small town that had requested the specific items she had collected. The person in question was also at a local inn and stable for horses. In fact, he was the owner.
When she entered the towns’ inn, she noted how there were barely anyone inside. She wasn’t sure if it was because it was so late at night, or if it was simply because there were few people because many had died.
It could have been either one really.
And at this point all Reina wanted to do was survive. For as long as she was able.
Upon placing the requested canned food atop the bar, the man seemed both surprised but exceptionally pleased. Pleased that he now got what he had been wanting for some time, and surprised that she managed to do it without dying. Something that had happened to a number of other scavengers before her.
She was well aware of this.
She saw the bodies after all.
When the transaction was done, the man offered her a free room and a hot meal for the night, saying that with what she had brought she had earned more then her keep for a place to sleep and a free meal.
She declined the bed, stating that she would be sleeping in the stable with her horse, in case something arises. But she would be grateful for some hot food for it had been a long time since she had anything hot to actually eat considering how cold the weather had turned. Even though it was supposed to be summer.
The man tried to coax her into staying in a room, saying it was no place for a young girl to be out at night, and in the stables no less. She merely responded with a shake of her head.
She had her reasons.
So, with a defeated sigh the man made her a meal, and even handed a large carrot, knowing that she came on horseback, before she gave a faint word of thanks and headed to the stables. Rostam clearly visible, for he was taller than any of the other horses corralled in the stable. His large head poking out as if too keep an eye out for her or something else.
The large beast hunkered down as she moved to join him, a routine they both were more then accustomed too by this point. And when both were seated Reina handed the carrot to the beast before starting on her own meal and began counting inventory of what she had collected for herself in what she could possibly sell for later.
But it had long grown late, and with her stomach now satisfied with food, she pressed herself close to the large beast as it let out deep breaths of sleep. And as she closed her eyes to bid the night goodbye, she clutched the staff close to her body.
Something of which that she had always done until the coming dawn of that ever-lasting sun that never set.