She walked unnoticed, head down through the grime soaked streets. People seemed to stay close to the walls, as if attached the by the very slime that stained the shining surfaces.
Things had changed, and she wasn’t sure what to make of them. Her body was aching, numbed only at times by the freezing cold that seemed to penetrate her clothing. Unable to suppress a shiver, she turned down an alleyway, wishing that the amber lights that hung from above gave off some sort of heat.
No one paid her heed. People came and went from this street all the time. Things had changed and since people had to start showing their papers to prove identification, mistrust had become rife.
She paused, glancing behind her as if she feared being followed. A cloud of hot air emerged softly from her lungs, the warm condensation quickly freezing on her lips. A bystander would see a young pale woman, eyes grey as stone and pale skin appearing almost bloodless in the cold. Long dark hair surrounded her face, tendrils escaping from the dark blue hood to sway to her waist. Tall, and overly slender by the hunger that had come with the winter season, a hardness and alertness was melded into her very joints.
If you looked longer than a few seconds, you would see the long metal pole she had in her hand, gripped tightly with bone white knuckles.
Certain finally that she was not being followed, she raised her hand and knocked on a door in front of her, red paint flaking like blood from an old wound.
Seconds passed before it opened, the blackness inside willing to swallow her up.
She ducked her head and walked in.
“You look like death, Sarah,” the doorman said gruffly. The old man rubbed his gloved hands together.
A corner of her lips quirked in irony as she nodded to him in greeting.
“Cuthbert,” she said, her voice sounding strange after not speaking to anyone for such a long time. “You ok down here? Do you want me to bring you some tea?”
The old man waved her off, lifting a metal canister of steaming liquid inside. She tilted her head, doubting that it held just a simple hot beverage.
“Got my own brew here,” he said with a wink.
Nodding in understanding, she finally started to walk up the stairs. She rented a room from him for £60 a week, and although she and a handful of other people were the only occupants, he insisted on waiting at the door at all times. He was a peculiar man, but he owned an entire block of abandoned houses, and that proved useful if you wanted to go unseen.
“I can see the badness in people,” he had said to her one evening. “I can tell whether I should open the door for them or not.”
“You want to be careful with talk like that,” she had told him sharply, not liking the thought of him seeing the black pit that was inside of her. “People will start thinking that you’re from Downstairs.”
It had made him laugh, but she hadn’t seen what was so funny.
Everything had changed since papers had been enlisted to every human-class being above ground. Those who had missed out were deemed unsuitable for co-habitation and were dealt with effectively.
Shot, hung, whatever you fancy. But not before a bout of thorough questioning.
She had missed out on getting her papers.
Sarah had been… elsewhere.
A knock jolted her from her thoughts from below and she paused mid step. Turning back around, Cuthbert was staring at her.
Slowly he shook his head, lifting up his finger and slowly running it across his throat, eyes wide, jaw slack.
“Bad,” he gasped.
A second of nothingness passed, a dead silence hanging in the air. Cuthbert opened his mouth to speak.
The door burst open, crushing him against the wall. Four Sentry rushed in, their black batons shining in the headlights strapped to their helmets.
“Don’t move!” the leader of them shouted. “Diane, Stillman, you are under arrest for violations and for the murder of Paulette Gasworth. Do not move!”
The deadness in the air was disturbed by the cracking of debris underfoot as the Sentry adjusted their positions. Dust twinkled as the Sentry waved their torches around like the frantic gaze of many eyes.
Diane turned slowly, the pole dragging on the ground in one dull chime. She raised her head, looking from beneath her hooded gaze. The door had pinned Cuthbert against the wall, and she knew he was gone.
A small malicious smile leaked into her lips, not because of his demise, but because the fury it incited made what she had to do a whole lot easier.
“Don’t move, Devil Bitch!” a sentry shouted behind the leader, her voice shrill and angry.
Diane cocked her head to one side, counting them slowly, letting the silent numbers run across her cracked lips. The scars across her body tingled with anticipation.
“Come along now, Stillman!” the leader said, growling something to his inferior. “Come quietly and let’s see if we can get a cell to yourself.”
Stepping slowly down, the shadows masked her expression of contempt. If they had seen it they would have been alarmed as the corners of her mouth turned upwards, a grin now breaking out on her face.
One of them finally did.
“What’s so funny, devil whore?” the woman shouted again, unable to help herself as she fidgeted in her spot, her baton twirling in a motion of threat between her hands.
“Shut up, Baskerville!” her Sergeant shouted.
“She thinks this is funny!” the woman raged. “We’ll see how funny you’ll find it when you’re in a cell, you sick devil fucking murderer!”
The Sergeant turned to the woman. “Will you just shut the fu-”
They barely saw her descending.
Diane cracked the pole across the Sergeant’s pointed arm, ripping a tangled cry from his throat. The other three panicked in the small space and threw themselves to the walls as Diane twirled the long sickly piece of metal above her head. Dull thuds permeated the air, mixing with the scent of salt and mould.
The Sergeant and the man behind him had fallen to the floor, one holding a broken arm, the other with a cracked collarbone and a bloodied nose. Diane paused as the woman stared at her, her mouth quivering open and closed as her black tinted visor misted over by panicked breaths and red speckles of blood.
A moment paused and Diane twirled the pole lazily in the air as she waited.
“I’m warning you, Stillman!” Baskerville stuttered, scrambling for her weapon behind her back. “I have the right to-”
“You have the right to nothing,” Diane growled, pointing the end of the pole beneath the woman’s chin, the other sentry running off and shouting into her radio. Diane knew she didn’t have long. “How did you find me?”
The woman backed up, her hands reluctantly raised in the air. “We have people everywhere,” she spat. “There’s nowhere you can go where we won’t find you.”
“No?” Diane’s eyebrow quirked. “I think I know a place…”
A place that’s hot with green fire…an age old voice said in her mind.
The woman’s eyes flashed with fear before she finally gritted her teeth. “The way to Tartarus is barred, Stillman,” she growled. “You can’t go within five miles of the gates without one of us gunning you down first.”
Diane barred her teeth in distaste as she tilted up the woman’s chin further, wanting to stamp it into her thick white throat. She could see the throbbing veins beneath, struggling beneath the cold metal surface.
“You think that’s the only way in?”
Satisfaction at the Sentry’s terrified expression was fleeting. Diane had no idea if there was another way into Tartarus, but she liked the idea of haunting the woman’s nights with the mere suggestion of another.
The woman opened her mouth with a snarl, ready to let out a barrage of insults fly.
They never left her lips before Diane swiftly struck her across the temple. The sentry fell to the floor in a heap of thick limps across her Sergeant, muffling his groans with her torso.
Frustration swamped Diane that she couldn’t cave the woman’s head into a pulp. Destroying the undead like Jake Derk was different. Diane hadn’t killed a person before.
Eyes flicking to the crushed door, she stepped amongst the various broken limbs on unconscious officers. Hesitating for only a moment, she reached out into the cold air and slowly peeled it open, straining against the groaning bodies against it.
Her eyes were prepared for the bloody mass of Cuthbert’s body. Was ready for the sickly clotted stain of blood and broken limbs.
But there was nothing.
Brow furrowing, she stepped back, staring at the nothingness of what remained of her landlord.
The sound of sirens jolted her out of her confusion, stirring her into motion. A curse dampening her lips, she turned and ran back up the stairs. Darting into a musty room, she grabbed what little belongings she had, stuffing them into a waterproof green backpack.
Diane had made sure she had an escape route weeks ago in case something like this happened. Most old terrace houses like this had a shared attic that ran along completely straight to the other end. Forcing her steps to be calm, she walked into a room that was devoid of wallpaper, carpet but abundant in dripping rainwater and broken glass.
Her grey eyes fixated on the ceiling.
Seeing the small square alcove, she lifted the pole and pushed the flimsy piece of wood aside. Dust sifted down, making her blink and turn her head away.
Voices echoed outside, steps clicking on the wet pavement. She bit her lip, resisting the urge to peer out. No time could be wasted. A three legged chair was by the window and she dragged it over, ignoring the view outside. The blue and red lights dancing against the walls from outside was enough for her to see. The chair was wobbly, but she had tested it out before. Managing to grasp the edge of the attic just before another leg gave out, she hauled her body into the filthy black hole.
Content that the chair beneath the hole didn’t look suspicious, she slid the wood shut, leaving her in complete darkness.
Moving across the rafters she used her hands to feel across the sturdiest parts of the wood whilst her eyes adjusted. Voices were inside the building now and she could hear the thumping of footprints beneath her. She swore as her hand scraped a nail, dust and grit embedding itself beneath the soft fold of flesh as she continued to pad her way through.
There were ten houses in total in a row, and it took a painstakingly long process to get to the other end. Pigeons seeking refuge stirring lazily out of her way as she continued to shuffle forwards, now content enough to move on her forearms, grasping her fists tight against the cold. Wind tore through the roof, making it sound as though the building was screaming.
Air blew softly against her face, alerting her that she was nearly at the end. There was shouting outside suddenly and she guessed they were searching the outside gardens. There was a million places someone could hide beneath the car wreckages that had been stacked haphazardly across each other in a mass grave. A back lane lay in wait behind the gardens that led onto a row of garages. It would also take time to search them.
She smiled despite herself. She wasn’t stupid. She always chose her hideouts carefully. It had been three weeks since they had discovered her last refuge. It was a constant game of cat and mouse.
Diane was growing tired of it.
Pretending she was a girl called Sarah had been necessary. Ever since the murder of her friend Paulette had been pinned on her, the country had gone into a media storm. Not helped by the new Governor of Defence, Benedict Sinclair.
“I’m the girl who restarted a war,” she muttered bitterly, remembering seeing the headlines.
The thought of Benedict made her lip turn in disgust.
Six months had passed since the fire at the hospital. Six months since…
Diane clenched her teeth, remembering the blood and destruction that had torn them apart from each other. The blood lust that had enabled her to escape and hide in a disused children’s playground for two days. She had been torn from her cousin, Louisa. She had no idea what had happened to her, whether she had made it back to Tartarus, had been captured or if any of them had made it alive out of the hospital. Madam Veela and Sebastian were nowhere to be seen. Everything had moved in hazy images and the most she remembered was gunfire, screams and suddenly being in the middle of a field.
Reality had become a nightmare and Tartarus seemed the safest place in the world right now.
Understanding of what had happened in her life escaped her. None of this was supposed to happen. It was only supposed to be her at risk, and now her companions were gone. A growl worked in the back of Diane’s throat as she thought of the man who had destroyed everything. She knew what she had to do now.
The presence of The Man had been a welcome one of late in her dreams.
He had been waiting her entire life for her to surrender to him, and now she was ready.
Taking a breath, she willed her heart to slow. “I know one person you are afraid of, Benedict,” she murmured, closing her eyes.
A chorus of panicked shouts was getting louder and more frantic. Satisfaction merging with a sense of urgency, Diane shuffled along until she found a small door in the wooden panels beneath.
Reaching around, she searched with her fingers for the edges and pulled it open. Cobwebs surrendered and fluttered in the breeze as she peered down a hole into a small disused room. Through this room was a door that would lead to an outside set of stairs, which would take her to the back alleys towards the city. She would be lost in a moment.
Time ticked by for a few seconds as she allowed her eyes to adjust to a new darkness. She knew what she had to do. She knew where she would have to go. Taking a breath, she lowered herself into a gaping mouth of gloom, her resolve fixed.
A determination was spreading through her, enabling her to go against her very humanity. Diane was ready to make a deal with the Devil and be done with it.
Reaching out into the blackness, she found the familiar steps she had practised she clenched her hand harder around the pole.
Unified as one force, she knew she would become the very monster Benedict feared to destroy him. She would do it. She would sacrifice everything.
Soul, body and mind.