He awoke, head throbbing and eyes burning. Blurred shapes amongst the darkness were only indicators of his surroundings, and though he blinked back the tears that stubbornly clouded his vision, nothing would clear his blotched eyesight.
Senses were beginning to shape his environment; below him he could feel the cold stone leaching his body heat. The air was heavy and stale, smelling of burnt flesh and sulfur. Everywhere hurt; his limbs were heavy and unresponsive as if he hadn't used them in years…
A voice, loud and obnoxious split through his ear drums and caused him to wince in pain.
"Is he dead?"
Suddenly his head jerked up; not by his will, rather the thick hand that raked through his hair and pulled. The light flashed in his eyes made them sting, the unwanted action spilling salt water trapped behind his eyelids. He felt as the cold, wet trails slid down his cheeks, itching and uncomfortable; he wished that he could brush them away, scrub the feeling from his face…
"No." Another voice spoke responded. "But he's still unresponsive."
The ache in his head had increased tenfold as his consciousness returned, the beat of his heart heavy in his ears. It was surprising that he could still hear anything after the ear shattering sound caused by the two male speakers…
Testing his limbs, he could only manage a twitch in his hand.
Pain assaulted him, enveloping his body in the burning agony of hurt. He wished he could think of something, anything to take his mind off the feeling, but the harder he tried to think, the more blank his mind seemed.
If only he could remember…where was he, what was this place?
"All the better. We have the key and the old man; we can dispose of this trash and carry on with –"
"Sir," another voice interrupted. "It's begun. The city's already started to fall apart, and there's been these reports –"
Testing his vision, he let his eyes creep open. The man with the flashlight had gone, leaving the room dark and easier to adjust to, despite the burning protest of his eyes.
It seemed that his benefactors had more malicious intent than he would prefer under the circumstances.
The shrill voice crooned over the other. "Then we're running out of time. Assemble the men and get up to the roof. The chopper should be waiting by the time we get there."
"What about him?"
"We have what we need from him. Shoot him."
His mind was still reeling from the noise buzzing around the room. It wasn't just the voices of the men, but something more…something from behind the walls…
He forced his limbs to cooperate. There wasn't much he could do in this condition, but the prospect of waiting to be killed wasn't an option.
If only he could see…
One of the men visibly flinched as he sat up, reflexively pulling a gun to the ready.
"Relax," the other voice crooned. "He's harmless now – as a matter of fact, it'll make your job a whole lot easier. Take him up to the roof and get rid of him, then meet us at the extraction point."
"Why do I –" the man began to protest.
An audible click punctuated the silence. "Do as I asked, or you'll be joining him."
It seemed that the two men had already decided his fate, and by the looks of things, there was no way to change that outcome.
His head hung down, observing his own body. Blood stained the clothes he wore, marks of crimson trailing his arms and legs, creating a wicked pattern across his chest. The stone slab that he had risen from was stained red.
Colored by his blood. God, there was so much of it.
"Alright then, come on," the man swiftly crossed the room and pulled on his collar.
It was hard enough to focus, let alone get his body to cooperate. It was like learning to walk all over again; he stumbled forward and almost fell, the tight bind of the other man on his jacket the only thing from planting his face in the ground.
"Come on!" he other man grumbled forcefully, tugging at the stiff material of his clothing and pushing him towards their destination. He was met with little resistance as he stumbled against the wall, steadying himself with his fingertips on the smooth surface.
"Hurry up already!" the captor was getting rather agitated.
"If you don't make it to the roof, we'll leave you behind…" trailed the old man, croaking his words out and letting them echo in the long hallway. Struggling from the distant room was heard, then nothing.
All that was left was his captor and the sound of their combined breathing.
He knew that the other man was still nervous. It was more than a feeling or a hunch; he could physically feel the man's fear rolling off of his body in the lonely corridor. The mutual quiet lasted only few seconds longer before the captor leveled his gun at him.
"Move." The other man spoke, gesturing at the closed door to the left of the hall.
It was about time to test his voice.
"Y…you don't want to do this." His voice sounded alien to his own ears; as ludicrous as it was, he didn't recognize it.
"Shut up." He captor's teeth clenched, waving the weapon again with more force. "Something's going on, and I'm sure as hell not going to be left here to rot because of you."
There was something going on; he could feel it. Just like he knew the fear escaping from his captor's body, hear his palpitations…
…sense that there was a presence nearby; something wicked.
As if in response to the thought, the building's foundation rocked again, this time sealing the two men in a cell made of darkness, the quivering column of light from the flashlight the only source of illumination.
He heard his captor mumble a curse as he gestured the object of their salvation. "Sounds like this whole building's breaking apart and I'm not sticking around to see what happens. Move!" The man ordered, pushing his prisoner toward the elevators.
After an unsuccessful attempt at calling the elevator, it was determinable that the last jolt knocked out more than just the lights.
"Damn it…fine – the stairs," the captor grudgingly declared, thrusting the other man in front. Luckily the emergency doors seemed to have been unlocked, granting them safe passage.
His legs protested to lifting him up the stairs, but with the prodding gun at his back, he had to make due and repress the pain. Each stair caused his muscles to ache, his skin tearing and burning as he plodded upwards.
"We're not too far from the roof." He sounded as though he was reassuring himself. Around them the walls shook and debris clattered to the floor, the sounds of destruction much more evident through these thin walls than the inner chamber.
He decided to try and reason again; what harm could it do?
"You heard yourself that I'm not worth anything," he reasoned. "Why don't you go and leave me here?"
The captor seemed to consider the thought for a moment before shaking his head vigorously. "Because if I do I'm as good as dead. He'll know."
"If this building is falling apart, then I'm already dead." The man retaliated, but the captor seemed in no mood to negotiate, given the constant pressure of the gun at his back.
After a few minutes they neared the corridor before the catwalk. He was still trying to think of a way out of the situation, despite the constant pounding in his head. The sound was almost loud enough to drown out the ceaseless creaking of the building the structure on the verge of its own death throes.
There was a click as the captor disengaged the safety on the gun. He turned to look at the other man, favoring seeing his demise over a bullet in the back.
The ambient lighting from the door's plated glass shone on the man, illuminating his features in the fading sunlight from outside. Surprisingly the captor was young; though his eyes still tinged with an aura-like spectrum, he could see that the other man's fear was visibly written on his features.
He was only a kid, barely above his teenage years.
There was nothing to say at this point, no words or thoughtful quips to exchange. He was going to die only fully realizing his existence for a handful of minutes before having it ripped away again, a bullet to the heart ending his short-lived awareness.
There was another crash, this one much closer than any previous noise so far. A dreadful sound like the boughs of a tree cracking, the deep throated groan sending shivers down his spine.
Without a hesitation, the captor raised his gun at the ready, taking aim of the most lethal zone on the human body. He could imagine the trigger being squeezed tighter as he prepared for the blow.
The room quaked, unsteadying both men as the ground shook beneath them. It was instantaneous as the floor caved, pulling the captor down with it.
"Wha…?" The captor exclaimed, voice bordering on that of panic. A look of sheer terror overtook him, and he screamed.
"Something's g-ahh!" he gritted his teeth in pain as he tried to scrape his way from the center of the pit.
Despite their fatalistic bond, he tried to help. He was still unsure as to what was transpiring, but as he tugged on the flailing man below him, the threat made itself known.
Blood spattered his clothes as the captor was dragged under, still screaming and pulling at the floorboards.
There wasn't much time to react, because the rip in the floor began expanding, seemingly reaching out for him next…
The walls shook and caved in, supplying drywall and plaster everywhere. He scooted back on his hands and feet to avoid the sinkhole in the floor when the building shuddered again.
The wall behind him buckled, pulling the ceiling down with it. It sent the flashlight skittering across the room, adding a dizzying effect to the darkened space.
He saw it for only a second, but the pale yellow glow was impossible to ignore; the creature moving below the floorboards slowly stalking him, waiting to make its move.
The flashlight was still following its crazy path, hitting hard against the wall that he backed into. It briefly drew his attention until he saw whatever it was move, lunging forward to strike.
It didn't get far as a support beam below him collapsed, yanking him away from the dangerous creature. It seemed the whole world slowed down as he watched the thing lash out once, then twice at him as he careened downward, falling more than a few floors through debris and foundation.
The world went black again and he couldn't bring himself to move. He had already suffered extreme pain and now it had been compounded by literally falling through the building. The tingling in his legs wouldn't quit and he wanted nothing more than to revisit the numb, lifeless void that he awakened from.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been unconscious, but through the haze of his thoughts he could tell the scratching in the wall was beginning to get louder. There was something more to the noise, like a continuous subtle crackling and popping he recognized but could not recall.
Those yellow eyes tortured his subconscious; how they burned with no other emotion but hatred. That memory sufficed enough to sit him upright, casting a cursory glance over his surroundings.
The room was in a shamble; furniture turned upside-down, tables and chairs knocked over…from the objects that once decorated the room, it seemed that this part of the building may have been used as office space at one time…
Despite the collapsing floor the area that he landed in seemed more stable. The creaking behind the walls had lessened, giving him a much needed reprieve of silence.
Now that the structural integrity of the building was less a threat, there were other things to worry about. Testing his limbs he found that nothing was broken and there were no new injuries – even the old ones were beginning to show improvement, scabs finally mending the damaged flesh.
As he stood the lights flickered briefly, outlining a doorway amidst the fallen debris. A medicine cabinet and a sink…suddenly there was a purpose in his step, heading toward much needed supplies.
The faucet squeaked in his hand as he turned the handle. Relief washed over him as a small stream of water jetted out of the fixture into his waiting palms. He allowed himself the small indulgence of splashing the cool liquid against his face – though his skin burned from the contact of water, it was a welcome feeling.
He grabbed for the towel at the side of the sink and dabbed at his face, looking inside the already opened medicine cabinet. Mixed feelings rose as he touched at his skin; he knew that the supplies on the shelf were needed inventory, however he could not ignore the strange sensation of his own skin under his fingertips.
Guiding the smooth mirrored door attached to the cabinet closed, a face emerged where he should be.
The wounds were the same on this man; water dripped from his chin as he stared slacked jawed at his counterpart. This was who he was.
Who…am I…? he whispered, mesmerized by the mouth that moved when he talked. The man touched with his hand, and he did the same. Dark hair framed his face, a few lighter strands scarcely running through his temples in front of his ears…The most prominent, however, was the long, deep scar that ran alongside his cheek from eyebrow to jaw.
Nothing about this face seemed familiar – from the moment upon awakening, the fact that he did not recognize himself at all was the most disturbing and upsetting emotion.
Ignoring the man that stared back at him, he reopened the cabinet and glanced over what was inside. A roll of bandages seemed the only salvageable item apart from a bottle of rubbing alcohol. It was amazing the items hadn't already spilled out of the cabinet with the instability of the building.
Stepping back out into the office space he tried to gain some bearing of his surroundings. He checked for emergency exit guides along the walls.
With the power back on, it wouldn't hurt to try the elevators again. According to the evacuation plans he was somewhere around the twelfth floor, and that seemed to be the best place to start. Finding anything through all this debris was going to be near impossible, but he had to get out if the building was already collapsing; no way that the structure would be able to put up with much more of the strain.
The elevators did not escape the damage of the falling building. The hallway was littered with chunks of concrete and plaster, and the sliding doors containing the devices were forced open with no car inside. The other two might possibly work; he pressed the call button to test his luck.
Unfortunately not much more came from it then that.
Gazing down one of the shafts, he could barely make out one of the cars in the dark corridor down on one of the lower levels. Maybe he could lower himself down to the first floor through the shaft…
It was a hell of a risk, but one worth taking. By the time he found an alternate route through crumbling walls and piles of debris, there may not be a building left standing.
Carefully lowering himself onto the wench, his muscles screamed against supporting his body weight. The pulley's cords seemed secure and electricity free on this car, the other tunnel sparked and fizzled with electric currents as he made his way down on the wire. He heard distant yelling from behind the walls, some of the unfortunate souls unable to escape the disaster in time. Slowly he descended, making his way down to the next floor at a measured pace.
The elevator below him creaked, the sound of thumping and scraping catching his attention. There were sounds other than the failing suspension; he could make out voices amongst the noise.
He descended, quietly perching on the catwalk as he peered inside. The agitated voices did not even notice his presence.
"Call upon the powers of the key, Emerson. It's the only way to get us out of here."
A frail old man, slumped into the lower corner of the car, shook his head sadly. "I told you that once the power has been unleashed, there's no way to harness it again. The key is useless."
He recognized the shrill voice of one man, but the latter was someone he hadn't recognized. He winced as he watched the old man was punched, the assaulter accentuating each hit with his voice.
"I don't believe you, Emerson. Do it!"
Instead of relinquishing and agreeing to whatever the madman wanted, the older fellow turned away, spitting blood and rubbing the crimson trail it left on his chin.
"Then give it to me!" The man yelled, grabbing and clutching at the old man, causing a scuffle between him and a few henchmen with him.
"Sir, stop – the car is already –" one began, before a loud groan filled the shaft. Everyone covered their ears, thrashing against the wall of the unstable elevator.
For a moment as he gazed at the car, it seemed as if the old man was staring up at him through the slats of the maintenance hatch.
It wasn't his imagination; somehow the old man was able to detect his presence in the dark shaft…but how?
Another crack sounded as a pulley cable snapped, narrowly avoiding the renegade cord as it whipped past his line of sight. The man in that car was in danger and he wanted to help somehow…
"It's too late. Run, Edward!" he old man called out.
But it was more then that. He could feel it as the man spoke, sense the danger in the man's voice. He knew.
There wasn't much time to think as the car lines snapped, each line a deathlike whip cast in his direction, quickly he climbed upwards and into an open sliding door just as the elevator's brakes gave out.
The horrific screeching that followed could not be drowned out by anything, mentally or physically projected, as the car fell to its fate.
He suddenly felt very alone in this prison of iron and stone. Water dripped from somewhere, accentuating the solemn atmosphere of the small chamber.
Edward…he thought. His brow furrowed as he contemplated the title. It didn't feel like his name. Then again his face didn't spring forth any memories, either. How could that man know who he was?
But he knew…what did the assailant call him? Emerson…this Emerson person projected something that he hadn't felt since he awoke in this absurd nightmare…