You've Come A Long Way, Baby Chapter 13

By Imrahil

“Wow, this place is trashed.”

Crono looked around the dark street. Debris and rubble littered the ground, and large chunks of the road were missing. The buildings surrounding them were crumbling, and a few consisted of only their foundations. The world here was much darker than the beautiful scenery in Hope Layer, and it was even darker than the dismal machinery-filled Trade Layer above.

“Where are we, Alex?” Marle asked the large officer, who now had boots and pants on, but was still shirtless, due to the fact that the one the maid had brought him had been far too small.

“It looks like the Darkscape; the surface of the earth.” Alex looked amazed. “I’ve never seen the ancient world so well-preserved. I didn’t think there were any ghost cities like this left. Where are we?”

“Didn’t I just ask that?” Marle said while running her finger down Alex’s left arm. “How often do you work out?”

“Marle! Don’t you have anything better to do?” Crono hissed through clenched teeth.

“Yes, let us find that man, Poe,” Magus said as he sniffed the putrid air.

“We don’t even know where to go,” Lucca said, while wildly looking from side to side. She could have sworn she had seen something moving in one of those dark alleys.

“There’s only one way to go, guys,” Alex said as he pointed straight ahead.

“I guess,” Crono said, and pointed skyward. “It’s not like we can get back up there.”

“Let us depart,” Magus said as he began to walk down the pothole-marked road.

“It’s very dangerous down here. Extremely dangerous. I think you guys should take out your weapons,” Alex said as they cautiously walked down the dark street.

Crono grinned as he pulled out Rainbow and swung it around in the air. Lucca drew the gun from the holster around her thin waist, and Marle removed her crossbow from behind her back. Magus simply pulled his leather gloves tighter on his hands.

“Do you need a gun, Magus? I’ve got one you can—” Alex suddenly remembered about the disappearance of his equipment. “Never mind.”

The group of warriors walked cautiously down the street at first, but after about fifteen minutes, they resumed normal walking stances. Crono almost let Rainbow drag on the ground as they trudged on through the debris.

Suddenly, Magus stopped. “Someone is coming.”

The group paused.

Crono looked skeptical. “You can hear someone coming?”

“There are three very large men about half a mile ahead of us. They are enraged,” the dark mage said as he closed his eyes.

Alex wasn’t sure how Magus knew this, but he felt an impending sense of dread in his chest. He could almost hear the heavy footsteps in front of the group himself, and he decided to take Magus’ warning seriously.

“Anything living down here is considered hostile, understand? We will soon be attacked; hunted down.” Alex looked at a huge pile of bricks on the side of the road. “There; we will hide behind that. C’mon.”

“Uh, that’s not exactly our style, Al. We’re more of the fight ‘em dead type, y’know?” Crono said while scratching the back of his head.

“The creatures down here are more frightening than anything you’ve ever faced before, not to mention stronger, more agile, and—”

“You’re underestimating us, Alex. We’ve gone up against very powerful creatures in the past,” Lucca said proudly.

Magus nodded. “It is well within our capabilities to disable whatever is coming down the road.”

“Alright, but wouldn’t you rather avoid conflict than instigate it?” Alex said. He was getting quite nervous.

“Too late,” Magus said as he threw his cape back and pointed down the road ahead of them. Three tall, looming figures lumbered out of the darkness. Each one towered above the ground at almost fifteen feet, and their muscles were enormous and over-developed. Their skin had an almost greenish tinge to it, enhancing the already spectral expressions on their faces. Blue and red wires snaked all over their backs, and small plates of metal were infused into their skin. Hollow, haunting sounds echoed throughout the street as they spotted the group and began ambling toward it, dragging their oversized hands on the ground.

“My God!” Lucca whispered. “That noise!”

“What are they doing?” Marle said, covering her ears.

“Don’t panic. For chrissakes, don’t panic.” Alex said more to himself than his friends.

“What are we waiting for? Let us strike them down from here,” Magus commanded as he began making abstract movements with his arms.

“What are you doing?” Alex yelled, but never heard an answer. A huge mass of black energy expelled itself from the fingers of the dark mage, and flew towards the closest creature. The energy struck the scavenger in the torso and disappeared. The creature increased the intensity of its hollow screams and quickened its pace toward the group.

“Impossible. It should have ripped apart,” Magus said solemnly.

“What the hell was that?” Alex cried.

“Maybe fire will hurt it?” Lucca said, panicking.

Magus shook his head. If dark matter doesn’t work, fire won’t. Try the Luminaire, Crono.”

Crono rose up in the air and a few beams of greenish light bathed the world around them. Alex stared wide-eyed as an explosion of white light engulfed the three creatures only a few yards in front of him. The police officer had to look away, but quickly looked back when the light had disappeared.

Two of the creatures were still standing, rubbing their eyes. The third one was on the ground, and was more singed than the others. It was still breathing, however.

“That can’t be!” Crono yelled after returning to the ground.

“Attack! Now!” Alex yelled as he ran toward the two stunned monsters. Crono followed him, along with Lucca and Marle and Magus, who was now wielding his scythe.

The four friends watched as Alex jump-kicked one of the scavengers in the face, causing it to fall down on its back with a rumbling crash. Crono preformed a handspring off the fallen creature’s chest and came down with Rainbow onto its neck, separating its head from its shoulders. Crono watched the yellow ichor flow from the decapitated body for a moment, and then looked up at Alex. The police officer was smiling, quite impressed.

Unfortunately, the other three were having less luck with the other upright creature. Magus had sliced its stomach open, and he was covered in ichor. However, the creature had knocked the wizard aside, forcing him into unconsciousness. Marle and Lucca were firing their weapons at the monster, trying to keep it away from the helpless form of the dark wizard.

Crono stared at the scene, not knowing what to do, and was surprised to see Alex out of the corner of his eye suddenly sprint toward the behemoth with inhuman speed. There was a loud crack as Alex’s fist met the jaw of the tall creature. It staggered backward, stunned, and was completely unprepared for the series of thundering punches and kicks that crashed into its enormous ribcage, one after the other. The creature howled in pain and clutched at its now-bruised sides.

Perhaps it was luck, or just Lucca’s skill, but she was able to land a shot directly into the one of the screaming creature’s eyes. The four warriors flinched as yellow ichor sprayed over their heads.

“Ewww! What is this stuff!” Marle was shaking her hands, causing bits of ichor to fly off in every direction.

“Got the last one!” Crono yelled, and the group looked over at him, bending over another decapitated body. “That’s two for me!”

“This is no contest, Crono,” Magus said as he pushed himself off the ground. “Our magics were useless against those things; I fear you were right, Alex.”

“I’m just glad no one got injured. I mean, you look all right, Magus. Are you okay?” Alex asked while rubbing some of the yellow ichor off his knuckles.

“Healing spell,” Magus said as he caused his scythe to disappear into the air.

“Okay, what the hell kind of powers do you guys have, anyway? I’ve never seen micro-implants that could cause that much damage,” Alex said as he began to walk down the street again.

“Well, each of our magics are based on the elements. I control lightning-based powers, Lucca uses fire, and Marle uses water. Magus uses Shadow magic,” Crono explained.

“Magic? Right,” Alex smirked. “Are your powers genetic, or something? Some alien genetic code that grants you these abilities?”

“No, it’s magic.”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Look, I won’t question your powers. I’m just glad you’re on my side. Now let’s go.”

“Remember what Gaspar said; these people have never seen magic before. You can’t expect him to believe us, especially since he sees really cool technological stuff every day,” Marle said to her friends when Alex had walked a few yards ahead of them.

“Yeah, I guess not. I bet after we finish this journey, though, he’ll be a believer,” Lucca said with a smile.

“C’mon! Hurry up!” Alex called from up ahead. The group of friends quickly ran to catch up with their alien ally.

* * *

“It’s hard enough to kill a big one, sure, but how ‘bout three of ‘em at the same time?”

“Three? You sayin’ you killed three at once?”

“Well, not just me. Y’see, there were three of ‘em comin’ at me, like I said, an’ I thought I was done for. Then five of them…them superheroes from the books suddenly come up beside me!”

“What would a buncha superheroes wanna help you for?”

“And so I says, ‘Hey! I need your help to take those two out while I take the first one!’ And one of ‘em nods, then he shoots a bolta lightning into two of the big ones, while I put down the other with my Roscoe.”

“Bolt of lightning?”

“And so I says, ‘Thanks,’ and they nod to me and start to leave. I yell, ‘Hey, are you comin’ to set things right down here?’ And one says, ‘We’re here to make things better, you bet!’”

“You weren’t stuck, were you?”

“I don’t mess with that dirty stuff no more; I haven’t been stuck for months now; so then they leave, and disappear. Top that story, Gar!”

“What did these superheroes look like? Like Blue?”

“Nah! One was kinda dressed like Blue, but his cape and clothes were darker, and his hair was long and white. The one that shot the lightning was dressed all in black, and had a magic sword. There were two women—”


“What did they look like?”

“You sure you weren’t stuck?”

“Nah! They was great! Just like the girls in the books! Tight clothes and everything; beautiful!”

“Tell us ‘bout em, Bret! Blonde or brunette?”

“Ah, I would, ‘cept there’s more: they had a normal guy with ‘em. Dressed like crap, he was. What I want to know, is how some normal guy gets to hang out with a buncha superheroes!”

“Who cares! Tell us ‘bout these girls! I want to know—holy—”

The bearded man in the tattered jacket stopped in mid-sentence and muttered a few obscenities as he examined the metal band around his wrist. The other men around the small fire suddenly stiffened and shut their mouths. They waited in fearful silence as the bearded man cursed and brought the metal band to his ear. He shook his arm, cursed, and put it back by his ear. After a few minutes, he got up.

“Riff? What’s—?”

“We gotta leave, we gotta go, now,” he murmured as he picked up a pile of discarded electronics and began to fasten parts of it to his chest.

“What’s he talkin’ about, guys?” the smallest of the crew asked in a quiet voice.

The others had already stood up and begun to stuff their belongings in makeshift bags.

“Don’t wait to question him, boy. Just get your bag, and let’s head out!”

“Again? When will we ever get to sleep? Do we ever get to sl—”

One of the dirtier men looked up from packing his belongings and spoke with a feverish animosity. “Shut the hell up! You’re only here ‘cause you said you’d stay quiet and do whatever we told ya to do! Now shut up, and get packing!”

The small derelict shrugged and stood up, slinging a small, pathetic-looking duffel bag over his shoulder. The crew of grungy men began to move out away from the wilderness and closer to the road in the city. They scuttled over fragments of concrete and rubble with an almost inhuman agility, and the small boy had a hard time keeping up with his new ‘family’. It wasn’t long before the kid misplaced his foot as he ran through a dark alley, and he cried out as he tumbled down toward the harsh, uneven pavement below

He couldn’t have been more than thirteen years old, and already he could feel his life was coming to an end. He sat up and ran his hands over his ankles and legs, making sure nothing was broken. No breaks, but it sure felt like it. He tried to stand, but his legs folded underneath him. Twisted his ankle, perhaps? The boy ground his teeth together as he forced himself to stand once more.

He smiled after finding himself leaning against an ancient wall, hugging it as he walked toward where his friends had run. He would be safe in only a few moments.

Without warning, a hollow cry issued forth from behind the boy. It sounded like a wounded animal, but seemed mechanical as well. The boy froze, his eyes staring into the darkness ahead of him.

The steady, rhythmic crunching sound of many light footsteps quickly made themselves clear, and the boy spun around to face his relentless pursuers. He plunged his hand into his duffel bag and pulled out a small pistol. His hand shook nervously as he pointed the tiny weapon in the direction the footsteps had come from. The sound was close, almost deafeningly loud, until it suddenly stopped.

The boy could see the sudden flash of eyes in the darkness, and he almost screamed. He fired a few shots, but they only helped enhance the strange atmosphere of the dark alley by echoing off the walls. The hideous sound of grinding stones was suddenly all around him, and he spun from the side to side, panicking. He realized with despair that the noise was an animal’s growl.

The boy shut his eyes and waited for the inevitable feeling of sharp, rending claws to enter his flesh. He had so narrowly escaped death so many times in the past. First, during the breeding crisis of the Trade Layer, when he had been lucky enough to be one of the only infants smuggled to the Darkscape in order to avoid mandatory extermination. Later, during his first year as a runaway, he had survived only by living in a high concrete tower above one of the skeletal cities, out of reach of the dangerous creatures below. It had been on one of his trips to the surface to gather nutrients when he had been attacked for the first time. The vagrants he was currently travelling with had stepped in, just in time, and broke off the attack of the vicious creatures that had pounced upon him. It was truly a pity, that after all his hardships, he was going to end up as meat for a pack of desert creatures. It was almost enough to make him cry, and he would have, if he hadn’t been so damn scared.

Almost at once, the sound of a high-powered rifle broke through the terrifying growling, accompanied by the sound of a man yelling.

“You stay away from him! I’m protecting him! Run away, now, get going!”

He heard the gunfire die down, and felt a strong arm grab his shoulder. He opened his eyes, and saw the dirty man who had cursed at him at the campfire.

“C’mon, boy, before they regroup,” he said with a fearful expression. He pulled a glowing tube out of his belt, broke it in half, and threw it on the ground. A brilliant light appeared out of the broken cylinder and bathed the alley in a revealing shade of green.

The two began to run down the alley, one leaning on the other for support. The boy looked back over his savior’s shoulder, and saw a dozen hairless four-legged creatures swarming around the break light, drenched in an eerie green. He turned his eyes forward and waited for the creatures’ snarlings to catch up with them. He knew they were going to die.

Of course, it’s extremely difficult to carry an injured fellow over unstable ground at breakneck speed, and the experienced derelict soon found himself, along with his young friend, face down in the dirt. The crunching sound of footsteps was only a few yards away; it seemed the creatures had already lost interest in the break light.

“Hold on to me, boy. This is going to be rough,” the grizzled man whispered into the young boy’s ear. “Try to put your mind somewhere else; you’ll be in Hope Layer, soon.”

The young boy closed his eyes tightly, and waited for the unimaginable pain. He felt himself scream, and scream again, almost in a psychotic manner. He heard metal slice through bone, and his own screams of pain that seemed inhuman. Were those screams actually coming from him? The boy opened his eyes, and looked around himself. He was still in one piece, and so was the man lying next to him.

“We’re still here, boy?”

The boy sat up and saw the glimmering wetness of blood everywhere around them. Pieces of organic matter were scattered in every corner of the alley, and the break light’s eerie glow only a few yards away distorted the gruesome images just enough so that the boy wouldn’t be sick. The sight that caught his attention, however, was the silhouettes of five people standing in front of the break light. The boy stared at the strangers wide-eyed, wondering what evil would befall him now.

“Glowing light?” a man with a dark voice said.

“It looks like a desperate attempt to ward these creatures off,” another said.

“That means the people who left it could still be alive,” a man with a lighter voice said hopefully.

“There are people down here?” a woman said.

“Very, very few. Anyone surviving this far from the living cities has to have some pretty amazing weaponry,” a man with an authoritative voice said.

“Let’s see if they’re still around,” another woman said, “could be the rebels.”

One of the figures began to motion with her hands, and a small fire appeared above the alley. Despite the fire’s size, the entire scene lit up very brightly. The young boy and the grizzled derelict stared at the five strangers with awe. The old man recognized them immediately. Bret’s story had to have been true.

“Bret wasn’t kiddin’,” the man whispered in the boy’s ear. “There’s women about.”

The boy had never seen a woman before; in fact, neither had the older man. They couldn’t seem to take their eyes off the one girl that had conjured the flame. The tight shirt she had on was quite distracting, not to mention the cutoffs she was still wearing.

“Yes, there are people, here. I wonder why I couldn’t sense them—” a man wearing a dark cape began.

“Let’s see if they need help,” another man said; this one was shirtless.

The group walked closer to the two fallen derelicts, and one with a large mass of red hair bent down and extended his hand to the older man.

“Let me help you up,” he said.

The dirty man shot up on his own and pointed his rifle at the stranger’s chest with a speed that seemed inappropriate for so old a man. The boy sat on the ground, frozen with fear and confusion.

“Jeez!” the blonde girl yelled, covering her mouth with her hands.

The one in the dark cape began to motion with his hands, but the shirtless man stopped him. He walked closer to the old man.

“Stay away! We have nothing for you! Stay back, or I’ll—”

“Hello, my name is Alex Raine. I have come here to find a friend whom I believe lives near here. We have stepped in and saved you and your son; perhaps you could now help us find the person whom I speak of? A favor, perhaps?”

The other four strangers lifted their eyebrows in surprise, as if they were totally unprepared for any kind of speaking ability from their companion. The older man seemed unaffected, however.

“A…favor? Where do you come from? Are you from the books, like Bret said?” the old man pressed the barrel of the rifle further into the red-haired one’s chest.

Alex spoke again, “We are from Oldtown, and we are good people. I am looking for a man called Poe. Do you know of him?”

The old man looked angry, at first, but his expression suddenly changed into a hopeful one. “Have you come to…to set things right down here? Stop the hunts, and clear out the towns? Are you superheroes, like Bret said?”

“Listen, we need to find a man called Poe. Do you know of anyone by that name?”

“Poe’s Garage.” The small boy on the ground suddenly spoke. He stared off into the distance, as if trying to remember something. “There’s a sign on a building in the last city that says ‘Poe’s Garage’.”

“You can’t read, boy! Keep quiet, now,” the old man said harshly. “I ain’t never heard of no Poe, and I certainly—”

The blonde girl in the blue jumpsuit had walked over to where the boy was sitting on the ground. She crouched next to him and spoke in a sweet voice. “Are you sure you saw a sign with the word ‘Poe’ on it?”

The boy nodded. Everyone was silent, now, waiting for the boy to say something else. Even the old man put down the rifle.

“Could you take us there, and show us where you saw the sign?” the girl asked.

The boy nodded again, but this time, the old man interrupted.

“He ain’t going with you. He’s going to stay right here with me. I’m bound to protect him, I am,” the dirty man said stubbornly.

“Enough talk,” the cloaked one said suddenly. He extended his gloved hand towards the old man, and everyone in the alley watched wide-eyed as the man’s rifle wrenched itself free from his grip. It hung in midair for a moment, until it began to bend out of shape and twist in upon itself. After a few moments, all that was left of the weapon was a small sphere of rusty metal. The cloaked man lowered his hand, and the sphere fell to the ground, clattering on the pavement.

The old man was now very afraid, and he fell on his knees in front of the five strangers. He began to bawl uncontrollably, and begged the strangers for forgiveness. Alex bent down and helped the man up and assured him that no harm had been done.

“Could we take you and your son someplace safe?” Alex said.

The old man stopped sniffling and spoke in a disjointed manner. “ He’s not my son. I’ll be fine. Take the boy with you to the next town. I can take care of myself. He doesn’t belong with us.”

“Are you sure? It’s really dangerous out here,” the red-haired man asked.

“Yes, yes,” the old man said as he gathered his dropped belongings from off the ground. Alex and the red-haired boy tried to reach out and stop the old man, but they were completely unprepared for his agile escape. Without warning, the old man scuttled across the broken concrete road and disappeared into the night.

“Shall I bring him back?” the cloaked man asked.

“No, he seemed really spooked by us,” the purple-haired girl with the tight shirt said.

Alex bent down and picked the fallen boy up and set him on his feet. Almost immediately, the boy cried out in pain, and he would have fallen again if Alex hadn’t caught him.

“My…foot…” the boy said as he pointed towards his twisted ankle.

“I don’t have any medical stuff; I…wasn’t thinking before we left—”

“That’s okay, Alex,” Marle, the blonde girl said, “We can use magic to heal him.”

Alex rolled his eyes, but quickly furrowed his brow as a bluish light extended from Marle’s hands and entered the boy’s foot. The boy stood up, and smiled.

“Well, I guess that’s taken care of,” Alex said as he eyed Marle suspiciously. “What is your name, boy?”

“Noll. I have to leave, now. Thanks for helping me.”

“Well, Noll, I’m Alex, like I said before, and these are my friends Crono, Magus, Marle, and Lucca. Now, if you could just tell us which way it is to the town, we can—”

The small boy shook his head. “I have to catch up with that man. The town is east from here, and the building I told you about is a huge warehouse in its center.”

“That man seemed pretty content with leaving you with us. You sure he’s a good friend of yours?” Lucca asked.

“He tried to save my life. I can’t just let him leave me here.”

“Why don’t you come with us, boy. We need your help in finding this town, and it is far too dangerous to wander around the city here on your own,” Magus said. The mage peered into the boy’s eyes.

“They’re my…family…I…” the boy looked up into Magus’ unblinking eyes. “Alright, I’ll come. But about that building; I don’t think you should go there.”

“We don’t have a choice, Noll,” Marle said in the same sugary-sweet voice. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Well—look, I’ll show you. How fast can you run?” the boy said, smiling.

The companions looked at each other and shrugged. The boy pointed down the alley, and then charged off into the darkness, scrambling over the uneven ground in the same inhuman way the old man had. The companions cried out, and then took off after the boy, running as fast as they were able.


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