Unsung Heroes: Devon, 2300 AD Chapter 2

Lands of Death

By Average Joe

The first leg of the journey hadn't bothered him so much. Marching across the dusty expanse between Arris and Lab Sixteen was not any different than walking from the outer gate of Arris dome to the Information Center where the leader of his group of survivors, an aged man--one of extremely few to exist, as most died before they had seen thirty-five years these days--named Doan tried to hold together the last of Arris' populous.

It only took significantly longer to make this trek.

The problem with this leg, however, was the unheard voices that spoke with the wind as it wandered through twists and turns in alleys and side streets. Devon shuddered as the wind blew through his shredded makeshift cloak. Halfway over a ruined building, a chill traveled up and down his spine and the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

"Be brave, kiddo. Be brave, kiddo," Devon chanted, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, the rock under his left hand gave way, causing him to slide down a mountainous pile of rubble. The only thing keeping him from howling like mad as he had done when he was five, trying to track his brother Toma through the forbidden underground of the Information Center, was that he had curled into a fetal position to protect the package that was entrusted to his care. The thought of protecting the seeds that his brother had given him--through the three unknown travelers, of course--had so completely occupied his mind that he did not think to scream.

Rolling down the hill of fallen building was not without ill effects. Devon was left battered, bruised, and unconscious at the bottom.

When he came to, Devon realized that the bundle he carried was missing.

"Yes, bones intact," he thought as he instinctively patted down his body as he stood. "I'm all here." Devon rubbed his aching skull. He looked at his hand and saw traces of blood on his fingertips as he pulled it away. "Well, most of me, anyhow."

Devon searched the ground around him, trying to find his lost pack. He stared up at the hill, squinting in the late dusk light. The pack had vanished.

Devon fell to his knees, and pounded the ground with his fist. A small puff of dust was stirred, settling again a short increase in radius later. When he saw the dust settle, he noticed that it had settled in an unnatural way.

He leaned forward, tracing the outline with his finger. Long here, sharp there, and a little mound here and here, indicating the creature was going--

Devon stood abruptly, a slight wooziness entering his head as he pointed off into a valley between two hills of fallen buildings, shouting, "That way!"

He stagger-sprinted as best as he could, not knowing whether or not whatever made the print had taken his belongings and the future of mankind, but those fresh prints were the best lead he had.

"The only lead..." Devon thought, pushing his way beween two closely placed boulders.

When enough room could be found, he looked at the ground for any trace of a footprint similar to the one he had seen near where he had fallen.

"Yes, there," he thought, tracing the outlines of several prints. "It looks to be..." he studied the tracks carefully, seeing how the exact same print moved back and forth, shifting about, and right in front of it-- "My pack!" Devon exclaimed. "It has my pack!" he grunted as he realized what the oddly shaped depression in front of the tracks symbolized.

Finding new prints, Devon once again fought his way as quickly as he could through the wreckage of what was "civilization," 300 years ago.

Just as the last of the late dusk light faded from the night sky, and as Devon was about to give up all hope of finding his pack, he stumbled out into a clearing.

"A rather large clearing..." Devon thought quietly, not being one to disturb sleeping ghosts even with an overly loud thought.

In the center of the clearing was a dome-shaped building. It shone in the darkness as a black blister against the unnatural greenish lighting coming from behind it. Devon felt himself pulled toward the light as much as he was repulsed by it.

As he made his way around the circumference of the clearing, the abject terror of having unseen presences surround him pressed heavily upon Devon's mind with an intensity he had not felt since he followed his brother Toma into the area beneath the Information Center.

Devon became dizzy and he started to swoon as the edges of the dome became blurred and indistinct. "Pull yourself t-together, Devon," he heard himself say. "Y-you can't let fear beat you."

One uncertain step after another found Devon at what could be assumed to be the front of the building, as much as any circle has a "front." Devon found that the light was not from the opposite side of the dome, as he had previously surmised, but instead emanated from within the dome itself.

He gazed up at the building with trepidation, terrified at what he beheld. A massive overhang above the two sets of double doors had partially melted. The support beam between the doors was being eaten away by time. As for the doors themselves, they were nowhere to be seen, probably shattered deep within the building. The steps were severely damaged, leaving not more than upturned slabs to suggest a former walkway. The paint that had once adorned the building had flaked away with the winds of time, leaving only mottled specks in crevices that could not be reached. Hairline fractures crisscrossed the cement surface of the dome. The eerie green glow flickered within. The total effect on Devon was that the dome appeared to be an enormous sun-bleached human skull.

Devon turned away in horror, and, shuddering, he fell to the ground. The night seemed strangely chill for summer, and though the wind stopped, he could still not stop shaking.

He sat up, and absentmindedly wiped the moisture from his forehead with the back of his hand, staring at the ground in front of him, away from the skull-dome. Before him he saw a single print, one that he had become quite familiar with in the past fifteen minutes.

Devon turned, staring at the ground, tracing the tracks as they led to the base of the demolished stairway.

He got to his feet, and again wiped the moisture from his face as it began to impede his vision. Step after tremulous step found him at the base of the stairway, staring down at the tracks leading in.

Devon closed his eyes, thought of his brother's courageous nature, the future of mankind, and the woman he left back home. Mustering some broken shards of his courage, Devon "kept his eyes on the prize," as his brother was fond of saying, by staring straight into the eyes of the skull as he climbed his way over the broken slabs of stairs.

The entrance to the building was incredibly anti-climactic. The innards of the dome were simply a ruin much like the one he had left the previous day. A single green light dangled from the cieling. Water dripping from a crack in the cieling spattered on the light's corroding metal fixture to fall into a limpid pool on the floor. The fixture swayed slightly in time with the dripping, alternating the light coverage of the room from left to right, left to right. The puddle on the floor rippled with the drops.

Devon furrowed his brow with anger as he spotted the small, faded wet footprints making a track to the rear of the room, just beyond the light's reach. His vision blurred with rage as he again wiped his forehead, quietly making his way to the back of the room. His heart and head pounded, not knowing what awaited him. His bare, calloused feet stepped lightly on the ground, and he held his breath and his clothes to make as stealthy an approach as possible.

"I'll get 'em," Devon thought. "Whatever stupid little thing took those seeds... I'll get 'em. I'll... Whatever it is... Get 'em. Get..." His mind began to blur with his fury as much as his vision was. Again, Devon wiped his brow, and then his neck to rid himself of the streams that began to flow down his face.

His steps became unsteady as he carefully made his way forward. He shivered, wondering exactly what it was that took his bundle. Step after wobbly step, one foot roughly in front of the other, and Devon's shadow began to coincide with the lack of lighting. When both of his feet were at the limit of the light's reach, Devon thought he saw something move in the darkness.

From behind a landslide of rubble only barely visible in shadow, a creature nearly knee-high leapt out at Devon. Devon immediately crossed his arms over his face and braced for an impact. There was none. He heard a brief skittering of clawed feet run between his legs and stop. Devon turned, wanting to see what sort of horrible creature was about to kill him.

Upon dropping his arms and his guard, a vile, disfigured grotesquerie of what once may have been called a "rat" stared back at him, bulging eyes dodging this way and that independently of one another. The creature hissed, brandishing its sharp yellow teeth, pointed at all angles, at him. The hairless tail twitched back and forth like a worm on a fishing hook. Its matted hair bristled. Devon raised his arms and yelled wordlessly at it for a moment, hoping to scare it off. It only hissed louder and bristled its hair even more.

Some far-off, backwards part of his mind thought to itself, "If it bristles any more, all of its hair will be facing directly at me." The rest of his mind used his arm to pick up a rock.

"Gyaaah!" he shouted, waving his arms. The rat was unimpressed.

"Geee-yaaaaaaaah!" Devon charged at the rat, throwing the rock. The rat dashed to the entrance of the dome, hissed at him once more, and vanished into the night.

With the current threat gone, Devon returned to where the rat had been hiding in hopes of finding his lost pack. His legs were leaden, and as he pulled the rocks away from the rat's lair, he began to notice that his arms felt...hollow. As if he was merely a moving shell.

These thoughts vanished when he felt a familiar texture off in some distant part of his bod--...his hand. He grasped the pack and pulled it from behind the debris. He dizzily made it up to his feet, and walked back into the light.

Devon stood in the middle of the room for a moment, thinking that this would make a good place to sleep for the night. He had a decent shelter from the chill, for it was much colder now than ten minutes ago. He had a small, but adequate supply of water, for he was feeling rather thirsty. And there was plenty of room to lay down in, for he no longer felt steady enough to stand.

"Uhhgh," Devon slurred, mopping his forehead yet again, tired of doing so, and just plain tired. Devon was looking at his pack as he returned his hand to hold it when he noticed something unusual about his hand. Instead of being green and shiny, as one would expect from wiping sweat in green light, Devon's hand was black and shiny. There are only two colors that show up as black in green light. Black, ...and red...

Those were Devon's last thoughts as the haze over his eyes gradually became the same shade as the color of his hand.


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