Published: Nov. 27, 2016
Authors: L.A Richards, S.W Best
Words: 67,110
Language: English
ISBN: 9781370421985
Versions: Kindle, NOOK, iBooks
Publisher: Bowker - Silver Dog Publications

 


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CHAPTER 6
Into the Fire

It is nightfall when I come around, and my head is pounding. This is dangerous. I try to keep still, but my body feels as if I’ve been hit by a train. I glance down and check for broken bones, but there's none that I’m aware of. I’m lucky, but I don’t feel it.
My body’s aches and pains are the least of my worries. I know being in the city at night isn’t the smartest move I’ve made; however, it’s happening, and I must deal with it.
I force myself to stand, leaning on a crumbling wall to catch my breath as my legs struggle to work. If I don’t get my act together, I’m dead.
After a brief break to clear my head, I walk off a limp and make my way to the entrance and out onto the street. Thankfully, the street is empty.
The stars are clear tonight, but I can smell something burning. This puts me on edge. I’m not here for sightseeing. I’ve never been out this late since the Reckoning.
I need to leave. Elisia will be going out of her mind with worry. This would never have happened if Diesel were here . . .
No, I must not let that creep into my thoughts. I need to stay focused. The pain keeps me sharp.
I make my way into the night, taking my life in my hands.

***

With caution, I make my way back to the house through the outskirts of the city. My right leg is giving me some trouble, and I make a mental note to see what Elisia can make of it, if anything. There is something comforting about the night; it can shield my presence, but I know from experience that darkness can turn against you.
My eyes are drawn to several small fires in the distance. Typical. They stretch across the preferred path to my home, and I move forward warily, keeping to the shadows. My stomach turns. I can hear voices. No, not just voices . . . screams.
What the hell is happening?
At first, I think about another route, but I know it will add miles to my journey home. No, I have no other alternative but to investigate, so I creep closer and hide amongst the rubble of a building. There's an opening, and I adjust to get a better view.
I spot five men walking around naked with the same tattoos across the side of their faces. They appear drunk, yet focused, and my ears pick out the murmurs of a girl pleading to be freed. Oh, god, please don’t be Elisia . . .
I move to another viewpoint, feeling my insides twist as the mental image of Elisia’s torture rages through my mind.
I can’t lose my family, too . . . I can’t . . .
From my vantage point, I see the face of the victim, and a wave of relief passes through me. It is not Elisia, but a young woman that hung bloodied and battered from two wooden posts; her arms outstretched and taking the weight of her body as her knees had already given way.
I try to get a better view of the scene, but the men block it as they approach their victim with mockery. I am angered as I stare, unable to help her as she starts to thrash and spit, the fight for survival still strong, regardless of her situation.
I’ve seen enough. This private, sick show has gone on long enough, and I don’t want anything to do with it.
I leave my conscience behind and retreat without a sound, grateful their game is filling the air and masking my escape.
In my retreat, I find the body of her companion a few metres away, his face smashed in. I almost vomit at the sight, but I know my life is still in danger. I notice that his walking boots are my size and are in better condition than what I am currently wearing. Battling with my own sense of right and wrong, I remove the boots.
“Sorry,” I whisper to the faceless corpse as I quickly tie the laces together and attach them to the side of my backpack. I go to leave, but notice two rucksacks stacked against the wall. In my greed, I am reminded of the consequences of the ship.
The risk is higher as they are more out in the open, but, for now, the men are distracted with their sexual urges.
I’ll take what is useful and ditch the rest.
Blind arrogance overwhelms me, and I decide to take the risk.
Focus. Timing is everything . . .
With practiced patience, I lean in and take hold of the backpack resting on the broken wall. Steady does it. . . I gradually lift the backpack, taking my time to keep it level, but the unthinkable happens. It catches on a protruding piece of wood, which causes my mind to explode in panic as the wood is pulled out of place, bringing with it an avalanche of bricks. I drop the backpack and run as the remains of the wall crashes down.
“Over there!” I hear one of them shout. “Get him!” cries another.
I run as fast as I can back towards the heart of the city with a tall, naked, barefooted man charging after me.
My mind is on overdrive. The weight of my own backpack is slowing me down, but I cannot let it go. If I do, all the supplies and tools I've found will be lost.
I continue to run, but my leg is letting me down, and the man is catching up. Hopefully, the rubble will slow him down. In fact, I'm counting on it.
I make my way across a building, but my leg forces me to lose power when it slips on a loose piece of concrete. But I'm a survivor, and I am not dying here! This is my city!
I scramble to my feet and focus my breathing as the charging goliath easily gallops barefoot over the sharp flooring like he doesn’t understand pain.
I am in serious trouble.
It becomes clear that my previous diehard attitude of keeping the rucksack may have been premature.
In seconds, I make a difficult decision and wrestle the ton of weight off my back as I run.
Instantly, I am freed from its burden, charging forward with a newfound liberty.
With my confidence regained, I risk a glance over my shoulder to see the giant leap over the backpack, still giving chase.
Damn it to hell!
I return to the game of cat and mouse, but unexpectedly, I am trapped.
My feet halt in the dust, my heart choking me as I stare at three surprised gang members who were not expecting my sudden arrival. But these men are different; they're clothed, for one, and sporting different tattoos on their faces than the naked pursuer.
I think of charging at them, but they are armed and my futile attempt would last seconds. I know who they are. Tribes. Worse than gangs.
Close to hyperventilating, I turn to the pounding of heavy feet behind me. In all my surprise, I had forgotten about the giant, and a fist the size of a car takes me down with just the one punch.

***

I awake slowly and open my eyes with effort as I hear the sounds of an argument. I'm lying on the ground. Is my jaw broken? It sure feels like it.
I slowly turn my head to see where the noise is coming from, and I see that the goliath is in an aggressive disagreement with the other three. This cannot be good. I have been captured before, but this seems more serious.
“He is mine! Fair and square!” the big naked brute roars as he hits his sledgehammer-sized fist to his iron pecks.
“What’s wrong? You too love birds have a falling out?” the other three mock him openly, unafraid.
Are they insane?
As expected, this infuriates the giant.
Oh, God . . . don’t poke the hornet's nest.
I remain silent as I look around for a possible way out of this situation. If they’re distracted, maybe I have the advantage to sneak away without detection.
The men are steadfast, confident of their numbers over King Kong. “And who are you, big lad? What is your name?”
The man speaks with a twisted face of arrogance, “Yakov.”
Russian?
“You know the rules Yakov!” the tribe continues. “This is our turf. He is our property now!”
Yakov snarls and surges forward, reaching a breaking point. “Give me my prey, or you will be sorry!”
“NO!” The trio readies themselves, their weapons threatening. “You know the laws,” one warns, spitting his words as his weapon keeps the aggressor at bay. “You have a problem, then take it up with your precious chief!”
I start to edge away slowly, unnoticed as the hulk steps forward in challenge. “Why not fight for him?”
“No. We stand by that of the Cleaver!” said another unshakable.
Somehow, Yakov notices my cowardly retreat, and he reacts in fury by planting a large foot into my stomach before I can even think. Rolling in agony, I manage to steal a look through the thin eyes of pain as he turns and storms off with a warning of "Chicken Shits!”
I lay there, winded and fearing a cracked rib, or worse. “D-don’t let him take the b-backpack,” I cough, trying to salvage my own gear. “It’s on your turf . . . you can have it—”
“Shut it!” orders one of the three coming down to my level, pointing the tip of his knife a centimetre from my left eyeball.
“Benedyct, let the man up!” the tallest of the men says, and I notice a red scar across his face.
I place a name to the face with the knife.
Benedyct.
“What?” Benedyct snaps. “I say we kill him like the worthless rat that he is!”
Polish? East European?
“No. He stays alive,” red scar says, unyielding.
“That’s bullshit!” Benedyct roars, rising to his feet. “We kill him here, right now!” he says with anger. His manner changes to sarcasm. “Or are you too pussy, Skyler?”
Red scar; Skylar.
The two men size each other up both equally matched in size and intellect, but Benedyct appears the angrier of the two. This makes him unpredictable.
I watch, transfixed at this vulgar display of power. In its complexity, I am reminded of a nature program about fighting stags, their antlers clashing together in combat. I should run, but my injuries are great. After the grand escape across the ruins, I feel my body waking up fully from my earlier fall.
The third man gets involved and pushes Skyler and Benedyct apart.
“Benedyct, Skyler is right. We need him alive. That muscled idiot will take this up with his tribal chief, and that means our chief will be involved, too.” he says as he glances back at me. “We have no choice but to take him to see Grimm!”
Benedyct seems to think it over, his conclusion a frustrated one. “Whatever!” he snaps as he barges through the two others, spinning the knife around in his hand.
Skylar looks to me, and then demands, “You, get up!”
I try to comply, not wanting to upset my captives, but the pain is too much. The pressure on my ankle makes me fall back to the ground.
Skyler sees my fall. “Pick him up, Chase!” he orders to the third man.
Now I have all three names.
Skyler, Benedyct, and Chase.
Benedyct leaves us with a snort, walking ahead and almost blending into the dark of night. I guess he’s not the talkative type.
“Benedyct!” Skyler yells. “Run ahead and tell the guard at the Fort that we need to meet Grimm. Tell them we’ve had a run-in with a Tyne Walker!”
Benedyct curses and jogs into the darkness.
I hobble forward, propped up on Skyler and Chase’s shoulders. If this is a capture, it’s a successful one. But little do they know, I have a family to fight for—and that makes me the most dangerous man here.