After the Apocalypse
By: Firefury Amahira
Author's Note: I should really be working on my Danny Phantom fanfic Indemnification right now, I really should. My readers are gonna kill me if I leave them dangling on the cliffhanger for too long. But damnit, my passion for this game is messing up my muse and stuff and if I don't write SOME sort of CT fic, I fear my muse is going to drive me absolutely insane. Thus I'm taking a shot at expanding on my really, REALLY old oneshot "Happy New Year." (www. fanfiction. net/ s/ 547777/1/ Happy_New_Year )
Prologue- Day of Disaster - 1999 AD
"I can't wait for today to be over! No more exams, no more homework!" The dark-haired youth sat down at the table with a huge grin. "Just endless freedom forever!"
"Endless freedom until you start college next fall, you mean, don't you Corliss?" His mother chided.
"Well... yeah. But there's the big fair coming up too!" Corliss' grin only widened at the thought. "Too bad it's a party that's supposed to come around every thousand years. Gotta make it count, right Mom?"
His mother didn't immediately respond, occupied with a mouthful of coffee. The teen's enthusiasm was infectious though, rousing a smile on the woman's face. "I suppose so. But the Millennial Fair is still two months away and you've got exams today."
"Yeah, I was up half the night cramming for 'em." Corliss complained through a mouthful of toast. "By the way, when's Dad supposed to be back from his trip? He was supposed to be back by now!"
A ghost of a frown passed over his mother's face before she replied. "The scientists are still trying to figure out what's causing those odd earthquakes in the Medina province. The news says they've gotten worse, and your father and the others are trying to find out what it means. It would be pretty bad for a new volcano to go off without any warning after all."
Corliss heaved an overly dramatic sigh. "Yeah, but he promised he'd be back before my graduation!"
"And I'm sure he'll do everything he can to get home in time, but you know how important his job is."
"Yeah, being the Director of the Information Center, real important.... more like a real headache if you ask me. I don't get what Aurora finds so fun about going over data all day long."
"Well it's a headache somebody has to deal with, and your sister has a real knack for it. It's what responsibility is." His mother noted. "And speaking of responsibility, you'd better get going or you'll be late for your finals."
Corliss checked the clock and nearly dropped his toast. "Oh crud, it's that late already?!"
With a single, clearly practiced motion, toast, backpack, and bike key were scooped up as he bolted for the door. "See ya later, Mom, gotta go, bye!"
"So how do you think you did, Cor?" One of his friends asked as they walked over to the parking lot that afternoon.
"I'm pretty sure I passed at least." Corliss brushed his bangs out of his face and shouldered his pack.
"You guys wanna go hit the arcade or anything? First day of summer break!" Another one of his pals grinned.
"Hey, Corliss!" A female voice cut through the chatter. "How'd you do?"
Corliss felt his face flush at the voice as he turned around. "Uh… okay I guess… um. What about you?"
One of his buddies elbowed him with a knowing grin and whispered. "Dude, everybody knows you're sweet on Nadine. Just ask her out already! You waiting for the fair or something?"
"First day of summer, go on!"
Corliss tried not to protest too loudly. Was it really that obvious he liked the strawberry-blonde girl? They weren't total strangers; he and Nadine had been in the same class nearly every year since they were kids. They weren't quite friends, but she had helped him out of a tight spot with his studies more than once.
"Hey, you want to go hang out, Corliss?" Nadine asked with a bright smile, once again getting him out of a tight spot by asking him before his friends could tease and make him feel even more awkward.
"Just… you and me?" He squeaked, mentally kicking himself for stammering. "I mean…. Sure! It'd be fun!"
"You guys go have some fun." Corliss' pals winked and started for their own bikes. "We'll catch up later, Cor."
"So… where do you want to hang out?" Corliss asked, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
"Well, there's a nice route up into the mountains if you don't mind driving." Nadine looked skyward in thought.
"Not a movie or something in town?" Corliss cocked an eyebrow.
"Nah, it's such a nice day out; it'd be a waste to spend it indoors." She replied. "We can grab some lunch on the way up and have a picnic?"
"That… sounds nice." Corliss couldn't help but grin slightly at the shorter girl. "Yeah, c'mon. We can get up there in an hour or so on my bike."
"Wow, you weren't kidding about it being nice up here." Corliss shielded his eyes against the sunlight to take in the view.
"You know this is supposed to be where the legendary hero found the sword that saved the land from the evil warlock forever and a day ago." Nadine chuckled. "It feels like it's a place out of one of those old fairy tales, doesn't it?"
"I… guess so." He shrugged. Mythology was never his strong point, whereas he suspected Nadine could quote the stuff chapter and verse and was being vague to avoid flaunting the fact.
Corliss helped Nadine spread out the blanket they'd picked up at a thrift store on their way up the mountain, and before long the two were settled comfortably and munching on some fast food. The view from their vantage was nothing short of spectacular, the slope giving way far below to plains and forests, the sunlight glinting off the occasional skyscraper or distant dome and glimmering on a thin slice of the ocean visible at the horizon's edge. Distant aircraft drifted far overhead alongside thin wisps of cloud, the weather up on the mountain warm without being oppressively hot.
"Thanks for suggesting this, Nadine." Corliss leaned back with a contented sigh. "Definitely beats the arcade after all those exams."
The blonde didn't answer, and a quick glance indicated she was staring at something in the distance, a frown creasing her face. Wondering what had her looking so confused, he sat up to get a better look in the direction Nadine was staring at.
"What the heck is that?" He exclaimed, seeing a pillar of smoke rising into the sky in the distance. "A fire-?"
"I don't think so, Corliss..." Nadine gasped, pointing wildly. "Look! Down there!"
The shockwave was visible from their vantage, a visible wave of motion as the massive earthquake spread out, racing toward them. Corliss took immediate stock of their surroundings; they were probably far enough from the epicenter to be spared the most violent of the motion, and he thought the area of the mountain they were on was solid enough not to slide or collapse. That was about all the time he had to think about it before it hit, and he realized just how bad it was.
The ground heaved beneath them, throwing Nadine off her feet with a shriek. Corliss dove to catch her and they both hit the ground holding on to one another for dear life. The stone beneath them bucked and heaved like some sort of titanic beast gone mad, jolting every which way as though trying to kick the teens off the mountain, off the face of the planet. The clatter of stones and boulders sliding down other parts of the mountain and the rustling crashes of trees being pitched over was overridden by one other sound as the quake rolled on and on; the deep guttural roar of the quake itself, the voice of countless tons of rock shifting violently and sounding like a creature wounded near to death.
After what seemed like several minutes, the shaking eased off and came to an end, the chatter of disturbed birds and the distant wail of emergency sirens in the nearest cities seeming like silence if only for the cacophony that preceeded it. Corliss forced himself to breathe, worked joints locked in atavistic terror loose and staggered upright on wobbling legs that threatened to give way under him. Shakily, Nadine got to her feet as well, the grip she had on his arm seemingly the only thing keeping her upright, her face pale from the fright.
"Are you alright?" Corliss asked, trying to keep his voice steady despite the adrenaline still pounding through his body.
"I-I think so. Just bruised." Came the shaky reply. Suddenly Nadine's grip tightened and she pointed in the direction of the smoke plume that preceeded the quake. "Corliss! Wh-what the hell is that?!"
That was a huge mass that seemed to have appeared from nowhere; a giant thing covered in cruel spikes visible even at such a distance. No... it hadn't appeared from nowhere; Corliss quickly spotted the great fissures in the ground radiating out from the thing, the distinct glow of molten rock staining the cracks and lighting the thing from below with an ominous orange gleam. Whatever it was, it had emerged from underground.
"The earthquakes-!" Corliss gasped, connecting the geographic dots. "That's the direction of Medina province!"
"Then that thing was causing them!?" Nadine yelped, eyes riveted to the spiky mass. "Corliss... it.. it's moving!"
The movement was subtle, the slight change in the alignment of the spikes against the background the only clue that the thing was in motion at all. A warbling shriek carried on the air over the distance, the sound sending chills down both teens' spines. That was no military weapon or machine; that giant thing was alive, the alien cry nothing short of triumphant. As they watched, small red-orange glowing things launched from the spiky creature in all directions, each projectile blazing high into the air with trailing plumes of smoke marking ballistic trajectories.
"Nadine..." Corliss tugged on the shocked teen's arm. "We gotta get out of here, and fast!"
The urgency in his tone snapped her out of her momentary stupor. The first orbs were already crashing to the earth nearest the creature; their small size deceptive only because next to the beast itself they seemed tiny. Next to the things they hit, the blasts were gigantic, ripping the ground to shreds and splattering an inferno across the landscape the way an artist might wildly apply paint to a canvas.
"C'mon!" Corliss broke into a run, Nadine hot on his heels as the pair made for his jet bike, the picnic blanket and remains of their meal completely forgotten.
A suddenly warm, dank wind carried the echoes of the blasts as the pair got on the bike and Corliss gunned the engine. He had no idea where he was going, only that it had to be away from that tortured landscape rushing out from that monstrous thing. Nadine locked her arms around his waist, her face buried into his shoulder as she hung on for dear life while Corliss swung the jet bike around and tore off down the mountain road.
"We can't outrun that-!" Nadine shouted over the wind roaring past. "There's no way-!"
"Just watch me!" Corliss growled through clenched teeth, his eyes on the ground ahead of him as he pushed the vehicle faster than he'd ever dared ride before.
But then, he'd never tried to race the bike with the very fires of hell chasing after him before, either.
"Hang on tight, the road's too slow!" Corliss yelled back to her.
"What-" Nadine's query turned into a startled shriek when the bike suddenly lurched to the side, launching off a boulder and out over the cliff alongside the winding mountain road. That shriek turned into a proper scream as the bike plummeted down the side of the mountain toward the trees lining the bottom of the ravine.
Corliss mouthed a silent thanks that a friend of his had helped install a better hoverjet on the bike just a few weeks earlier. With a flip of a switch, the bike's uncontrolled descent slowed as it neared the ground, until the bike landed with a soft thump. Flooring the gas pedal again, Corliss took off through the trees, throwing the bike into bone-jarring skids and turns to avoid boulders and debris.
"It's getting closer!" Nadine shouted over the whine of the jet bike's engine and the ever louder roar of the fireblasts raining from above. "We've got to take cover!"
"Take cover where?!" Corliss hollered over his shoulder.
Actually, cover was largely the reason he'd chosen to take the bike so far off the road; at least at the bottom of the ravine there was some slight chance that if the rain of fire caught up to them, the flanking cliffs would help shield them from the worst of it. Hopefully.
"Keep driving, I'll watch for caves!" Came the reply. "There should be old mines and stuff around here!"
"Oh right, because then the roof can fall on our heads!" Corliss retorted as he maneuvered the jet bike through a narrow twist in the ravine.
An explosion sounded overhead, the ravine stained with the deep red light as a fireball crashed into the side of the mountain ahead, the report bouncing wildly off the cliffs. Corliss swore loudly and slammed on the brakes as a cascade of semi-molten rock and slagged debris rocketed down in front of them from the impact. He heard Nadine yelp in pain behind him, and bit back his own shout as the red-hot grit blew over the pair, a stinging, burning haze that raised dozens of tiny burns and scorched spots in their clothing, in the bike's paint.
Coughing and trying not to inhale the stuff, Corliss threw the bike into reverse, spinning it around and away from the flow of debris. Even if his jet bike could take it, he was pretty sure he and Nadine wouldn't have been able to handle trying to get across the smoldering mass of broken stone. The trees nearest the slagged rocks burst into flames, the crackling mass of fire leaping quickly from one to the next aided by the crazed winds.
We're gonna die. The thought crept unwanted into the back of his mind, the first claws of despair grasping for his rapidly fading courage. Their escape path was cut off, and he could see more fireballs racing across the sky overhead, the blue vaults of the heavens turned a sickly yellow as smoke poured into the air from an untold number of fiery impacts.
"Corliss, there!" Nadine shook his shoulder and pointed toward the cliffs, trying to cover her mouth and shield her eyes from the foul air. "A mine entrance... with blast doors!"
He turned bleary eyes toward the area indicated, spotting the gaping hole in the side of the cliff beyond burning trees. Either they would burn to death or get buried in a mine collapse; and the odds of surviving were probably better underground. Doing his best to ignore the stinging pain of his injuries Corliss steered the bike toward the opening, shooting between a pair of old oaks rapidly being reduced to ash and past equipment that had been shut down for the day.
The air was immediately several degrees cooler only a few feet into the tunnel; once they got several twists and turns down the carved shaft the air was not only cool, but still, carrying only the stink clinging to their clothes and the bike. Corliss stopped the bike near what looked to be some kind of switch; Nadine climbed down and after a quick inspection slammed the trigger. The metallic bang of doors slamming shut echoed down to them from the entrance; the blast doors were sealed, the fiery nightmare shut out at least for the moment. The rock groaned all around them, transmitting the bass rumble of the explosions still tearing everything apart outside, but for the moment at least, they were safe.
Corliss shut the bike down and got off, a flood of relief warring with the exhausted dregs of the adrenaline rush as he slumped to the ground against the side of the tunnel, letting the cool stone leech away some of the sting from his burns. The lighting was dim, the electric emergency lights flickering. He knew he was still terrified by whatever was going on, but the wild ride and the entirely too-close call left the teen too exhausted to panic, or to think much about events. He felt rather than saw Nadine sit down next to him, the young woman quivering from the same exhaustion that threatened to pull his eyes shut despite the ongoing rumble of explosions above.
Exhaustion won out. Corliss determined he would worry about what to do next after he woke up.
If he woke up.
Author's Note: This is going to be a short one, especially compared to my Danny Phantom epics; only five chapters total including this one. I just really seem to have a thing for these stories about post-apocalyptic futures or something. And to my Indemnification readers, I promise this isn't going to derail progress on that fic; at least not for too long. Seriously, I got side-swiped by my muse, this plot bunny, AND the entire damn Angst Train... in the middle of my bloody algebra final!
Also, it's kinda fun taking my experience with earthquakes and wildfires and applying that to the Day of Lavos. :D