Hello all! *wave* This is my first story in quite some time, and it's nice to be back from such a long hiatus. My skill in writing has gone up, I'm sure (compared to AwAP) but if I may...please be gentle! I know it's freakishly long, but I promise I'll do my best to make you enjoy it! I'll make cookies if I have to! Just so you guys know, all chapters after this will be in 1st PoV, unless I'm asked to do otherwise. Hope you enjoy! ^_^
Her world was ending. It wasn't the way she thought they'd go…she didn't think anyone expected this…except maybe the ones who caused it. What made them so blind? Was it their greed? Was it their hatred? She bit back tears as she hid in an abandoned building, the ground never seeming to stop its rumbling. If it wasn't a bomb, it was a tank, and if it wasn't a tank, it was the feet of thousands of people brandishing their guns and making an endless cacophony of sound as they swept the city to hunt for their enemies. She didn't belong to them…she didn't belong to either of them…even though, as things were now, they were the only two sides to pick from. Their names were ironic in themselves, seeming to represent their desired affiliation so perfectly, but showing their true human fanaticism beneath. If the two represented factions were real, they wouldn't be like the humans on this planet. There would be no unnecessary chaos; there wouldn't be so much anger, so much blood…
As if the word reminded her body of its condition, she winced and grasped at the bullet wound on her arm. It had luckily only been a surface wound, but it hurt more than she'd like to admit. She tensed as she heard feet come running into the building. They shuffled around, as if looking around the room. She tried to press herself against the corner she'd picked to lay against, but cursed softly as the person whirled around to look at her. It was a woman dressed in a white suit, a tunic with intricate golden patterns woven into it draped over her blazer. She had dark delicately styled hair and smooth fair skin. When she got to the older woman's eyes, her lip curled upwards slightly in disgust. They were a lovely hazel, but she could see the tint of madness in there. Her suspicions were proved correct when she glanced at her collar and spotted the telltale symbol, a red bladed circle with a small dot at its center.
'How did they find me?'
With brisk footsteps, the cleric approached her and knelt, her eyes clouded in mock concern. The younger woman resisted the urge to reach for her gun and plant a bullet between the cleric's eyes. It wouldn't do to get in a fight right now. There was someone she needed to see.
"Are you alright?"
She nodded tersely and looked away from the crazed woman. The cleric might deceive other people, but the facade couldn't fool her. She'd seen too much of their acts of "justice" and what they believed was "good" and "holy". No "good" god would condone such acts.
"Are you sure? I have a med-pack on me if--"
"I don't need your help, you crazed slave!"
The woman straightened and took a step back from her, the madness flaring in her eyes.
"Oh…so you are with H.E.L.L?"
"No! I hate them!"
For a moment she seemed confused.
"Ah…then you are one of the rebels? The lost souls who wander this world with no true purpose…"
The younger woman gritted her teeth in anger.
"We're not lost! We're trying to find a way to stop both of you before you do something stupid!"
The cleric shook her head sadly.
"We are trying to save the world, don't you see? When the evil ones have been vanquished, we will usher in the age of peace, all in the name of our glorious Grand Seer."
"Save the world, yeah right. You aren't saving anything by destroying it!"
"Oh dear…I don't think you don't have a place in this world…here, let me put you out of your misery. It won't hurt at all, I promise. When you wake up, you can find your place amongst the other lost souls."
With that, the insane cleric pulled out a syringe filled with a thick golden fluid and started walking towards her. Alarmed, the younger woman stood up as quickly as she could afford and drew her gun, but the cleric charged her with an unnatural speed, stepped inside her arm and promptly batted it away. She grimaced as she raised her wounded arm to hold the zealot at bay, but ignored the pain as best she could. The woman had a serene smile on her face as she struggled against the younger woman's hand, the syringe aimed at her throat.
"Please don't resist. I'm doing what's best for you."
She held the cleric's other hand at bay with her good arm, but mentally panicked as she felt her weakened arm giving out. 'I'm not supposed to go this way…'
The woman's face went perfectly blank as she stopped fighting her and slid to the ground, the syringe slipping from her hand. She looked up from the fallen woman to see her savior, a man dressed in black and immediately she knew she wasn't out of the woods yet. There was faint red stitching on the arms of the jacket the man was wearing, and she sighed soundlessly upon noticing the mark of H.E.L.L on the thick collar around his neck, a dark blue triangle with a point partially cut off and a thin outline of a crescent moon etched into its center. Peons from H.E.L.L didn't wear suits or collars or have intricate designs around their temples. This one did…that meant he must be important. She admitted to herself that the higher ups from H.E.L.L had good taste in style, but that was part of what made them dangerous. The man lowered the Magnum he was carrying and ran a hand through his fiery-red hair. His ice-blue eyes lazily landed on her. A delighted grin spread across his face when his eyes landed on her hair, but he shook it off and directed his gaze back to hers. A lilting baritone met her ears.
"You okay, lady?"
"You're not gonna try killing me, too?"
The man laughed in answer.
"Kill you? No, you Neutrals only make the game more fun. You might want to get that arm bandaged, by the way."
She ignored that last comment and the answering pain in her arm.
"Game? This isn't a game!"
"To us it is. This whole war, this planet, is one giant chess board. H.E.A.V.E.N makes one wrong move, and we've got checkmate. Peons are decoration, they give the field color, movement, but that's about all they're good for. The Neutrals are a welcome addition to the field. They make everything so… interesting."
"But you'll kill the planet!"
He shook his head in response. He crouched down and examined the body of the cleric, then picked up the syringe and pocketed it, while the young woman had moved away from the body and closer to the entrance of the building. Smiling, he turned to look at her. Madness didn't seem to drive the people of H.E.L.L, only a genuine love for war and chaos. They represented their faction well…but they were still only human. Underneath all their acting-out and claims, they were still human beings who wanted what made them happy. They wanted what government made them comfortable, they wanted whatever world would let them die peacefully. Stupid, all of them.
"If they wouldn't have provoked us, none of this would have happened. We are simply people who desire true freedom. But H.E.A.V.E.N attacked us, branded us and decided to take it upon themselves to wipe us out. We are not the type who back down from a fight…in fact, we look forward to people picking fights with us. It makes things more exciting. But we want a quick ending too, you know."
He walked over one of the windows and placed a gloved hand on it. A soft sigh escaped his lips. The young woman walked over to where he was and stopped a couple feet behind him and looked out beyond the window. He made a brief gesture to the scene in front of him.
"Look at this city. It used to be bustling, filled with life, excitement."
"I'd know. I was born here."
"Ah. Then you know how active Lyman used to be. It's disappointing to see how much of it has gone to waste, isn't it?"
Filling up with nostalgia, she looked out at the blue sky turned red from all the bombing, the demolished buildings, all the destroyed cars, the glass and rubble scattered across the streets. In her mind's eye, she saw the candy shop she frequented as a child, the downtown supermarket where she used to get all her necessities after her mother died, where she would meet her friends when they were still normal. Everything…gone. The woman felt rage surge inside of her, but shoved it back down when she noticed the redhead staring, a knowing look on his face.
"You miss what you've lost here, don't you?"
She snorted bitterly.
The redhead shrugged and turned back to the window.
"I wouldn't know what missing something feels like."
A buzzing caught their attention and the man pulled a phone from his right hip.
He nodded a few times then snapped the phone shut. He looked to her, a small grin pulling at the corner of his mouth. Putting the phone away, he began walking towards the door.
"You'd best find a place to hide, Neutral. Headquarters is planning something big, and I don't think you'd want to get caught in it."
"Why tell me?"
He turned and gave her a toothy grin, and she was oddly reminded of a fox.
"Didn't you hear me earlier? You Neutrals make the game that much more fun."
With that, he left. Curious, she ran out to see where he was running to, but by the time she got to the street, he was gone. After a few moments of thought, she took off to her original destination. 'He must be worried sick by now…'
In fifteen minutes' time, she arrived at their hideout, short of breath. She placed her gun down on the little table in the corner of the rather cramped room and allowed herself to grab at the wound in her arm. It hurt, but nothing a few bandages couldn't handle…
She froze. Was her hideout not safe anymore? Uncertainly, she called out for her boyfriend.
There was a rather heavy 'thunk' as a gun fell to the floor and a body launched itself into her. Stifling a laugh, the woman staggered backwards and clutched at the sandy-haired man who was threatening to squeeze the air out of her lungs.
"Lu! Are you okay? Are you hurt? Are—WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN!?"
Lucy winced at his tone.
"Sorry…Vincent, calm down. I got delayed by some freaks. Nothing too serious."
She held her arm away from him, but he was stubborn and she winced when he grabbed it roughly to inspect it himself.
"No it's not! Lucy, what the hell!? Didn't I tell you to be careful out there?"
Ashamed, she looked away from him.
"No…no, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made you go outside to begin with."
"It's not your fault that I was clumsy. I'll get better, I promise."
"You're not doing anything that'll put you in danger."
Lucy growled angrily.
"Vincent! I'm not a little girl. I can take care of myself, okay?"
"Are you really sure of that…Lucy, was it? I did save you, after all."
The woman whirled around to see Rhenn leaning against the doorway, a lazy smile that seemed typical of him plastered on his face. His hand was buried in his fiery-red hair and his bangs were draped across his crystalline eyes. He smirked playfully.
"Like what you see?"
Her face burned but promptly shook it off. She felt Vincent's eyes boring into the back of her head.
"No! And you didn't save me!"
"But I distinctly remember planting a bullet in the cleric who was about to inject you with MortuChrysalis. Don't you remember?"
'So that's what that golden fluid was…'
She heard Vincent give a sharp intake.
She saw the smug grin on Rhenn's face as he pulled out the syringe from his pocket and presented it to Vincent. A sense of uneasiness took over as she looked down at the thing and the various emotions flying past Vincent's face.
When the emotions finally settled down, Lucy no longer saw the easy-going, smiling, loving Vincent that she'd first met five years ago when the war hadn't started. No, this was the wartime Vincent, the one who'd been trying to teach her how to survive this hellish landscape for the past eight months…and this Vincent was severely disappointed, probably because of her.
"MortuChrysalis is a death drug, though it isn't used for such an 'insidious' purpose as death, or so says the Grand Seer's personal cronies, the High Consul. The clerics are usually the ones who carry this nasty concoction. Hell, the clerics are usually the biggest, baddest deathdealers this war has seen. It was like they were trained by the best marksmen, healers, and are trusted by the High Consul to do all the dirty work. What this drug does is it puts you in a relatively tranquil cocoon of sleep that slowly turns to nightmare, while the lack of food, drink and other necessities kills you off."
She swallowed nervously. 'I'd almost been killed in a completely cruel way…' She noticed that Vincent was glaring at her steadily and shrank under his gaze.
"You were almost killed out there today, and you had to be saved by the enemy, no less!" Lucy stole a glance at Rhenn and saw that he wasn't in the least affected by his title. "You are not leaving this room again, Lucy. I will go out instead and bring back anything we should need."
Lucy felt like a child being scolded. She clenched her fist and kept the burning tears away.
A hand landed on her shoulder and she looked to see Rhenn shaking his head.
"Cut the girl some slack. She's apparently new at this; give her some time. Besides, you'll need to leave here in a while to find a better shelter."
Vincent pulled her out of Rhenn's grasp and she saw the redhead smile…though she couldn't tell if it was out of simple mirth or if it was more mischievous than anything.
"Why are you helping us?"
This time, Rhenn laughed out loud.
"Are all you Neutrals this dense?"
Vincent's eyes narrowed.
"No. But why are you helping us?"
The conniving redhead turned in the doorway and smiled back at them, his eyes glinting in obvious glee.
"It's like I told the beautiful Lucy here…"
Warmth flooded her cheeks from the rare compliment. No one had time for compliments those days. The redhead's eyes locked with hers and she felt, more than saw, his smile widen.
"You Neutrals only make the game more fun."
And with that, Rhenn was once more gone. She felt Vincent relax slightly, but then noticed that he was glaring at her again and flinched.
"What did I do this time?"
"What was all that about?"
"What was all what about?"
Vincent looked at the door, his arms crossed. All his anger and seriousness seemed to drain from his face…and he now seemed to be pouting.
"All that stuff with that guy."
Lucy blinked a few times.
"Vincent…are you jealous?"
The pout became bigger. He scrunched up his nose and breathed out shortly.
She burst out laughing.
"You are jealous!! Oh my god, Vincent!"
He scowled at her.
"How can I not be? He was all over you!"
"You exaggerate too much. He was not all over me. And besides, he's from H.E.L.L. He's bound to be devious and flirty, don't you think?"
"And you let him?"
The woman punched him lightly on the arm and began giggling all over again.
"It nothing, Vincent. Stop being such a baby."
He grabbed her and pulled her close, his arms tightening around her.
"But you're all mine…"
"I know that."
She looked up at him and returned the smile he was aiming at her. At 5'11", Vincent had always towered over her measly 5'4", but she liked it that way. No matter how much he joked about her height, being the lighthearted creature he was, she enjoyed the difference simply because she was able to fit so snugly against him. She watched as his face melted back into a frown as he held a strand of her hair between his fingers.
"When are you going to change your hair back from this god-awful red?"
Her jaw dropped.
"But you said you liked this color!"
"I like your black hair better."
"You said you HATED black hair. You said it was depressing!"
"Not on you…it made your eyes stand out."
Skeptically, Lucy raised an eyebrow at him.
"Vincent…they ALWAYS stand out, regardless of my haircolor."
He settled into a pout again.
"You say that like it's a bad thing…"
"That's because it IS. You know how many times I've been called a freak for having purple eyes."
"That shouldn't matter, Lu! Think about me, about Reyna and Lucas and Will and Steph! We LOVE your eyes!"
She shut her eyes and grimaced, turning from him. Almost immediately, a hand fell on her shoulder.
"But they're gone, along with the whole town of Toledo."
The hand squeezed.
"They heard the warnings that H.E.A.V.E.N was getting ready to bomb the place. They never should have gone there to begin with."
Lucy whirled on him, her eyes wide with anger and disbelief.
"So you're blaming them for dying? You're saying it's their fault they got blown up by a group of senseless idiots!?"
Vincent pinched his nose between his fingers.
"No, that's NOT what I said. I'm saying they knew what was coming. But they went anyway."
"So you're calling them stupid! You're saying they were stupid suicidal people!"
He growled loudly and threw his hands in the air.
"Yeah, yeah that's exactly what I'm saying! Our friends were idiots who went and got themselves blown to smithereens!"
She recoiled at his harshness as if burned. 'He's never taken that tone with me before...' She held her hands to her chest, her fingers slowly curling into fists. Nothing short of a whisper was possible at that moment.
The sandy-haired man looked stricken. His anger was quickly melting into panic.
She started backing towards the door, not caring that he was trying to reach out for her. Twisting the knob behind her and pushing it open, she still edged out slowly.
"Lucy, wait. It's not safe out there."
Her only response was shaking her head. She started stepping out, wincing as her wounded shoulder scraped against the doorframe.
She bit back the urge to cry and ignored the taste of copper, but apparently, the blood wasn't enough to keep a single tear from slipping.
She turned tail and started running in a randomly picked direction. 'Anything to get away from him...'
Tearing through the streets at a pace she didn't know she possessed, Lucy left the random few who were out and about attempting to salvage scrap metal from broken cars and the like staring after her in a passing confusion as they regarded her for a few seconds then quickly resumed their business.
'How could he be so cold? How could he be so mean about people who used to be our friends? What has this war done to him?'
She finally came to rest in an alley in the downtown area, trying to slow her breathing so her lungs wouldn't burn so badly.
"Hmm…odd that I would run into you again. Fate must be toying with us."
She whirled around to see Rhenn leaning against the wall with his arms crossed and took an involuntary step back as he pushed himself away from his spot. Not missing her movement, his lips curved up into a smirk. She never bothered to notice that he looked different, that his gloves and collar were gone and that his jacket was splayed open to reveal a plain white T-shirt covering his lean but obviously chiseled torso, that his hair seemed messier and that his normally mischievous icy-blue eyes were darker. She never noticed that his smirks were being forced this time.
"What's the matter?"
Frowning, she looked away, choosing instead to stare at the wall, which seemed fascinating all of a sudden.
"Aw…trying to be macho, are we?"
Her frown upgraded to a glare and she turned away from him to walk back out into the street.
He chuckled softly, grating on her already frayed nerves. 'He really knows how to get on someone's bad side,' she seethed.
"Ah, but where do you have to go? It seems that you're flustered about something, and I'm assuming you and your protective 'friend' had a little spat once I left."
'Oh yeah. He REALLY knows how to get on someone's nerves…especially when he hits his mark dead-on.' She whirled around to face him, the look on her face deadly.
"Ok, what do you want?"
"Hm? Oh, nothing. I told you meeting here was a surprise for me."
"You didn't say that."
"Well it was. Why haven't you found a place to hide yet?"
The woman was still filled with thoughts of Vincent and how it hurt and anger at the stupid redheaded man, so she didn't exactly catch on to what he was saying.
"Hide…?" she muttered dumbly.
"Yes, Neutral, hide. I'd say you have at the very least an hour or less to find a decent hiding spot, or else you're going to be very exposed and your chances of living will quickly dwindle to zero."
As he finished his sentence, the hairs on the back of her neck rose as a sense of dread washed over her. 'This doesn't sound like an ordinary attack…'
"What exactly are your people planning?"
His ice-blue eyes clouded briefly, almost as if the thought pained him. 'A member of H.E.L.L, pained?'
"Something that could kill the planet."
Her mouth went dry. 'No…no…why would they do this? It made no sense. If Rhenn was right and they were a people who only wanted the true definition of freedom, why would they do something that had the potential to kill the planet?'
"But…but Rhenn…I thought…"
His brows furrowed as he looked away and shoved his pale hands into his coat pockets. His fiery-red bangs fell in his eyes and he shook them away. The eye that was visible to her was filled with what seemed like anger, regret, and, an emotion that took her by surprise, sadness. For the first time since she'd met him in the day that seemed to last forever, he seemed so vulnerable, so emotional, so…human.
"I know…our views used to be the same, but the higher-ups changed. Their goal is no longer freedom…it's to eradicate H.E.A.V.E.N at all costs, even if it destroys them in the process. I guess their hate of the opposition won out over their love of life and freedom."
Feeling defeated, Lucy fell against the wall and slid to the ground, shivering despite the overbearing warmth of the dying world. 'So this is it…I'm going to die today.' She drew her knees to her chest and ground her teeth in fury and an unbelievable sense of agony and sadness coursed through her body, but most of all, she felt helpless, hopeless.
"Why…why!? Why, Rhenn!? Why'd you tell me!? I'd have been better off not knowing…"
His cool voice contrasted against the distant sounds of gunfire.
"You asked. All you can do now is wait."
His tone was nonchalant…as if he was accepting the fate he was being given. Lucy didn't want to give up this way. But…what other way was there? There was no way to escape something that would kill the planet. The man let out a slight 'hmm' and she heard him take a few footsteps in each direction, then heard him release a slight snort. He was thinking, she reckoned. She stiffened as she felt his warm body crouch next to hers and lift her chin to meet his eyes.
"Are you going to give up now that I've told you that the planet may die? Will you just curl up in a ball and wait for the final blow?"
Her eyes were a stark contrast against his, hers appearing dull and lifeless, devoid of any purpose or will, his glinting with the challenge he was throwing at her.
"What else can I do? It's not like I can survive the death of the planet. No one can."
He closed his eyes, almost seeming angry but with a smile on his face. A soft chuckle escaped his pale lips. When his eyes opened again, they seemed more vibrant, even more challenging than before.
"You never know. There might still be a way out; you just don't know it yet."
The woman snorted in disbelief.
"A way out? Out of the destruction of an entire planet? No way, Rhenn. No way…"
"So that's it. You're giving up."
A moment of silence passed between them.
"And what about your partner back in that abandoned storage room? Will you let him die without saying goodbye?"
He was challenging her again. The mention of Vincent back at their hideout made a chill run down her spine. They were going to die…and she wasn't going to say goodbye? Feeling determined again, she shook her chin out of Rhenn's hands and stood up, the redhead following immediately after. When his face came into view, another casual smirk was plastered on his face, but it seemed different somehow.
"There you go."
She took a step towards the mouth of the alley but stopped and turned back towards him. Her arms folded around her chest.
"And what about you?"
"I don't know. I'll just do what I can. If I die, I die. If I don't, then Hallelujah."
She blinked several times before finally talking again, letting her unsaid comment on him saying Hallelujah pass.
"That's not good enough."
"I said that's not good enough. You're here telling me not to give up and try to live and here you are saying that you don't care whether you die or not. That's not good enough!"
"It's going to have to be. I motivate you because you had no part in the war. You are a Neutral; your purpose was to stay as far away from the fighting as possible and when the fighting came to you, to fight like an animal trapped in a cage. Your purpose was to survive."
'If this stupid redhead is going to say that he's gonna drop dead just because he pulled some of the strings in the war, I'm going to deck him.'
"You helped me, Rhenn. You helped us. And because you helped us, that gives you the right to live, the right to survive, too. I'm not going to let you just give in like a kicked dog."
Eyes flashing dangerously, the redhead rushed at her and trapped her against the wall. His breath was cool and smelled like cinnamon. Lucy wanted to glare at him in defiance, but his proximity was making her nervous and caused her to turn her head away.
"Listen, Lucy. I've done a lot of bad things in the past eight months. I've caused a lot of people to die, so I'm doing the best I can to make up for it. Damn it, I'm just trying to make things right after all the stupid crap I've done. You don't decide whether I have the right to live or not. That's my choice, and I've made it."
After a long moment of silence, his rigid posture relaxed some and he removed his hands from either side of her.
"But I've got to say this at least. Thank you for letting me know what it was like to be human again one last time. It was fun, if not downright exhilarating."
She finally mustered the strength to look at him and saw that he was eyeing her hair again with a smile. He reached out and grabbed a strand with a few delicate fingers.
"I like this color. It's darker than mine. If I manage to make it through this, I think I'll dye it that shade. I always thought my natural hair color was too bright anyway."
Too close again and feeling her apprehension rising, she looked away, pulling the strand of hair with her.
"I should get going. I need to go back and apologize to Vincent…and maybe find us a place to hide."
Nodding briefly, Rhenn looked down at his watch and frowned.
"You don't have that much time left…give or take half an hour. Run."
Wasting no time, she ran the first few steps but came to an abrupt start and looked back at Rhenn. Her lavender eyes were steely and spoke with a tone that brooked no argument.
"Stay alive. No exceptions."
Smirking, he waved a hand at her, motioning her to keep going.
"Yes, you too, Neutral."
With that, Lucy ran off into the city and Rhenn leaned against the wall, his eyes facing skyward. After a moment, he closed his eyes and sighed in resignation.
Reaching into his pocket, Rhenn drew a pack of gum and threw another cinnamon flavored piece in his mouth, then pushed himself off the wall and started walking to the other end of the alleyway. After a few seconds, his face screwed up in annoyance and he spit out the gum.
"Haah, maybe I should take up smoking or drinking…this cinnamon crap is doing nothing for me…"
One hand was shoved in his pocket while the other ran through his hair as he let out a short, somewhat bitter laugh, rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.
Lucy arrived at her and Vincent's hideout only to find it empty. Exhausted from all the running, she collapsed in the back of the storeroom, resting her head on her raised left knee. She shivered again as she thought about what was going to happen soon. Not even a few minutes later, she saw a tall silhouette enter the storeroom and lean heavily against the door once he closed it.
The man's head snapped up and he took a few tentative strides forward.
"It doesn't matter anymore. We have to find a better hiding spot…preferably underground."
Vincent stopped a few paces from her and sank to the ground, his head touching against the wall with a soft 'thunk'.
"I heard you and the redheaded guy."
Even in the semi-light of the storeroom, she could see his features harden.
"Yeah. That guy."
"If you heard us…" he cut her off.
The tone of his voice was flat and she could immediately tell that he was upset.
"If you saw us…then why didn't you catch up to me?"
He ignored the question.
"Why'd you let him get that close?"
"It didn't seem like a smart idea to push away a guy who was angry. I knew he wouldn't hurt me. Besides…I was kind of shocked that he'd become so aggressive."
"If he'd tried anything…"
Lucy clenched her fist.
"Don't even go there. You know me better."
A small breath escaped his lips and she could see his features relax.
"Don't worry about it. We don't have that much time left. It'd probably be a good idea to find a more secure hiding place and soon."
"I know. Sorry…"
"Stop it. You're starting to sound like me."
She stood up and pocketed her gun and took a couple steps toward the door. Pleading eyes flitted back to Vincent.
"Come on, Vin. How many times am I going to have to say 'we're almost out of time'?"
Nodding silently, he stood and followed her out into the street. Upon stepping outside, Lucy felt her stomach clench. It was eerily quiet, almost as if the whole town knew what was going to happen in a matter of minutes. The fear that was gnawing at her was rooting her to the ground. Tears threatened to spill, bile rose in the back of her throat, her knees locked, and her teeth chattered uncontrollably. 'I'm gonna die…I'm gonna die…' A pair of arms wrapped around her and she thrashed around wildly, not remembering where she was.
"Shh, shh, it's ok. Come on."
Lucy willed herself to relax and force all the urges down. Taking a deep breath, she steeled herself and looked back at the man who'd taken care of her for so long.
"Now or never."
Vincent nodded shortly.
"We'll make it, I promise."
Allowing a small smile, the blood-haired woman took her boyfriend's hand and took off at a run. It didn't take long for them to find a half-collapsed house that had an accessible basement. Lucy looked around at the yard that had eroded to sand, the buildings that had been reduced to rubble, the sky that had become stained red with war and suddenly, despite its ugliness, she loved it all. Regardless of its state, this place was her home.
"I don't know if I'll ever see this again…"
"We probably won't."
"…you're right. But…I'm gonna miss it."
"I know. All we can do is hope for the best."
"I promise…Lyman…I promise I'll come back some--"
Lucy's words died in her throat as she saw a blinding flash of white in the distant horizon and, many fearful minutes later, a huge nova of energy ripping the land apart. Without another moment of hesitation, she pushed Vincent into the basement and followed after him, shutting the small door and running to the furthest corner of the long room. It sounded like a simple gust of wind at first, but soon it sounded like a tornado was directly above them. The room shook with the force of the nova and caused the ceiling to crack open, raining dirt and roots on their heads. By this point both Lucy and Vincent were screaming, holding their arms above their heads, begging for it to be over already. Within a minute or so, the temperature of the room began to rise, alerting them to the fact that the land above them was being scorched by the wave of heat that likely followed the 500+mph nova. Ten minutes passed without the heat relenting but after another half hour that seemed to last an eternity, the heat began to lessen. Too afraid to move, the couple stayed in their spot until they no longer felt like they were in a sauna. Lucy made a move to stand, but Vincent grabbed her wrist, pleading her to stay.
"Don't go out there. You don't know what's out there. Please, Lu…I'm begging you. You don't know what kind of crap is happening to the land or the air. Everything could have been turned to poison, for Christ's sake! Lucy, stay!"
"I…I have to see."
Without another word, Lucy shakily made her way to the trapdoor that hid her from the world that likely didn't exist anymore. She thought of her dead friends, of her father who had died fighting the first month of the war, of Rhenn, and she looked back at the sandy-haired man huddled in the corner of the basement, his fingers digging into his scalp. He was the epitome of trauma and fear. No doubt, she felt just as scared as he did, just as mortified that something like this could happen, but her need to see what had happened overrode her fear, if only for a moment. Choosing to avoid touching the metal handle of the door in case it was still hot, Lucy pushed the trapdoor open and immediately ducked as dirt and ash rained down on her head. Slowly, she pulled herself onto the ground floor and hissed softly as a gust of hot air tossed her hair every which way and nearly succeeded at immediately drying out her eyes. She stood straight and dared herself to look at her surroundings. The place was a mess. If she the thought it had been bad before, it was in ruin now. There were various fires eating away at what was left of the surrounding houses and a good number of the buildings further into the city were leveled completely. As far as her eyes could see, there was nothing left of human civilization.
Not noticing or caring about the debris on the floor, Lucy sank to her knees and finally let the tears that had been building that day free. They created mud tracks on her cheeks and disturbed the newly settled debris and dust as they fell to the ground. She felt a hand touch her shoulder and she looked up to see a bleeding Rhenn crouching in front of her. Again, the man seemed pained from the inside as he took her in his arms and let her cry it out. When she finally pulled away, she took in Rhenn's appearance and noticed just how messed up he looked. His right arm was sliced deeply and his chest had a few lighter wounds, likely caused by shrapnel or flying debris. The clothes were covered in dust just like hers but it wasn't the clothes that concerned her the most…it was the look in his eyes as if he blamed himself.
'That look is killing me…'
"I promised you I'd live through it. Here I am."
"You could have lied. Why make a promise to someone you've just met?"
Rhenn let out a low laugh.
"Since we've only met, I wouldn't expect you to know. I keep my promises. In any case…situations like these tend to make relationships progress at an alarming rate. It's only natural that we'd act to each other as if we've known each other for years."
"You sound really smart…dork."
"At times. But your attempt at humor is pathetic."
Lucy pointed to his wounds.
"What happened to finding a safe spot?"
The redhead shrugged.
"I was a little late. I got a tousled some before making it inside a building."
"Aren't you…weren't you scared?"
"Yeah. Vincent and I were terrified. Hell, Vincent refuses to come outside."
Rhenn shook his head slowly.
"You forget, Neu…Lucy. I've done a lot of bad things in the past."
She cut in quickly.
"I swear, if you say you were just waiting to die, I'm gonna--"
"No, Lucy. If you'd let me finish, I'd tell you that I've seen worse things than a bomb, I've seen worse than buildings collapse, I've seen worse than flesh-wounds. Besides those things, I've never been afraid to die."
"Though, for some odd reason, I was afraid of you dying…"
In his own mental defense, he restated that it was because it was a dire situation that caused his emotions to be stronger for the fellow redhead.
"…um…just out of curiosity…why didn't you finish calling me a 'Neutral'?"
The man laughed softly.
"Titles don't apply anymore. A good deal of society is probably dead by now. That bomb was halfway around the world, Lucy. Something of that caliber that enables us to see and feel its power on the other side of the planet probably killed off everything that wasn't hidden in a hole somewhere."
"…halfway…across the planet?"
"On the western continent. The Grand Seer had built his almighty fort in the center of a forest, seeming to think that the trees could hide a massive 300ft tall white structure."
"He was probably as insane as his clerics."
"True that. Though, it's probably the other way around."
"You know what I mean, Rhenn."
"Hehe, yes I do. Making you turn red amuses me, though, so I can't help but correct you or pick at you whenever I can."
Lucy tried to hold in her blush but failed.
Rhenn stayed silent as he stared at the blushing redhead.
"Gh…this is getting difficult. I can't do too much more of this. Why..."
"You should go get your…whatever he is."
"I should have known…my return to humanity and I get bombarded by these stupid emotions that do nothing but sting."
Without another word, Lucy went down into the basement. Rhenn heard alarm bells go off in his head when the ground under him trembled. He looked off into the horizon but saw no more flashes of light, which relieved him but troubled him at the same time.
"If the ground is shaking, but there're no more bombs, what does that mean…?"
At that moment, Lucy stepped out of the basement, Vincent in tow. The man seemed composed, but his eyes were slightly red. The redheaded woman looked to Rhenn.
"What do we do now?"
"Logically, we should look for more survivors…"
"How'd you figure that there'd be a 'but'?"
"The way you drifted off made it sound like there's a 'but'."
"Keen. Yes, there is a 'but'. We should look for survivors, but maybe we should find a place to stay that isn't so open instead."
Vincent pulled out of Lucy's supportive hold.
"We're going somewhere with him?"
The poor woman seemed confused.
"Yes…is there something wrong with that?"
"Yeah, there is. This guy is the enemy if you've forgotten."
She shook her head in disagreement.
"No…'this guy' isn't the enemy. He gave us the heads up on the bomb that probably would have killed us 'if you've forgotten'."
Rhenn walked up behind Lucy and raised his hand half-heartedly.
"No, Lucy, it's quite alright. He has good reason to distrust me. I helped spur this war on and as helpful as I may be, that doesn't quite make up for my short-comings."
She whirled around to face him, obviously angry.
"I told you to stop that, idiot! What matters is that you're trying!"
"Hehe…I'm grateful that you think that, but I'm afraid you're reaching deaf ears. My guilt extends further than you can imagine."
Vincent grabbed her shoulder and roughly turned her around. His reddened eyes were clear and hard as he regarded her.
"Stop trying so hard. If he wants to feel guilty, let him; it's not your problem."
"Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I'm going to try anyway. It's not your decision on when, how, and who I help."
"What's with you? You meet him today and you're defending and looking out for him as if you've known him all your life!"
"What's with you? Before today, you didn't have a jealous bone in your body and now all of a sudden you're snapping at everyone I talk to!"
"He's the ONLY one you've talked to today besides me!"
Lucy stared at her boyfriend incredulously.
"This is ridiculous. The world just ended and you're acting like a little boy."
The next thing she knew was that Vincent was shaking her and his eyes were getting watery again.
"I'm not acting like anything! I'm not!"
Rhenn felt something boiling inside of him as he sprinted around Lucy and threw Vincent to the ground. He heard Lucy call out for them to stop, but he ignored her.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't lay a hand on her in your state. Calm down and I'll consider letting you within proximity of your girlfriend again."
He looked to Lucy, who was holding her hands to her chest, a distressed expression on her face. Relenting, he got off of Vincent and held up his hands in apology.
"I wasn't going to hurt him, I promise."
"Though I wanted to…"
He heard Vincent get to his feet behind him and then it was silent again. For a moment, he believed Vincent was simply going to stay put and follow without another word, but then he was proved wrong.
"I get it…I get it…"
Lucy furrowed her brows and took a small step forward.
"You two must have met before…must have been sleeping together by the time I heard you two in the alley."
It took all of Rhenn's power not to turn around and launch his fist into that idiot's face. It was obvious that Lucy cared for the man, and yet he was making all sorts of accusations that she didn't deserve. Lucy didn't seem to have his sense of self-control, however. After recovering from Vincent's stunning remark, she ran forward, pushed Rhenn out of the way and decked Vincent in the cheek, who promptly fell to the ground again. Rhenn turned to look at the enraged Lucy.
"You could have asked me to move out of the way."
He grabbed her arm and made her look at him.
"Lucy, it doesn't matter how mad you are. You don't order me around, got that?"
He paused for a moment before talking again.
"I understand you're angry, but don't take it out on me. I'm just as offended as you are."
The woman blinked a few times.
Rhenn let go of her and pulled Vincent to his feet. Ice-blue eyes bored into amber.
"Nothing is going on between your girlfriend and I. She cares about you and yet you insult her and degrade her and disregard her loyalty to you because of your foolish jealousy. Wake up and look around you. Do you honestly think flirting with me, scoring and cheating on her boyfriend is the most important thing on her mind in the middle of a war and the end of the world?"
The blonde had the decency to look ashamed and hung his head.
More gently this time, Lucy pushed Rhenn out of the way and grabbed Vincent's shoulders. He looked up at her, guilty.
"You should know better, Vincent. I've cared for so long, it shouldn't be something that's questioned, period. Don't be afraid, you idiot. I've always been there by your side and I always will. Trust me."
"Don't be. I know you've been on edge lately with all the stuff that's happened, so it's okay."
She shook her head and smiled slightly.
"Didn't I say you were starting to sound like me? Stop it."
Vincent nodded slowly.
If it had been possible, Lucy and Rhenn would have sweatdropped. The blonde no longer seemed as guilty as he regarded her. He touched his cheek tenderly.
"You hit really hard. I didn't know you could throw a straight like that."
"I never had to hit you. I only hit idiots."
For a moment, Rhenn allowed himself to silently gloat over having never been hit by the blood-haired woman, but stopped when she seemed to read the atmosphere and turn to him, her fist clenched.
"Don't be an idiot."
He shrugged and crossed his arms. After a few moments, Vincent kneeled to the ground and grabbed a handful of dirt, a frown on his face. A moment later, he looked to the sky, then looked back down.
"Does something seem off to you?"
Lucy had her hands clutched together at her chest again.
"What do you mean?"
Rhenn took a look at the ground in the surrounding area, then took in the color of the ground in the horizon, and finally led his gaze skyward. A frown had also worked its way onto his features and he walked over to the edge of the house and picked up a broken off piece of the frame.
"There's only one way to find out."
Not one to miss anything, Rhenn had felt the slight tremors as they had been arguing but dismissed them and had shrugged off the state of their surroundings and decided that it had been caused by the wind and the heat…but it seemed that the condition of the area around them was declining as they'd stood there. Using the wood in his hand as a makeshift shovel, he shoved it into the ground and threw dirt out of the way; he was slightly surprised at the difficulty he was having getting the stick into the topsoil.
"The ground is unusually tough for this area."
Vincent seemed more troubled.
"It's the same over here…but the sky…it used to be red…"
"We can see the stars again…"
"Does it seem harder to breathe?"
"A little…but why would that be?"
"You two…take a look at this."
The couple walked over to Rhenn and looked inside the shallow hole he'd dug.
"The dirt is black…"
"Lyman doesn't have black soil. Rhenn…what does this mean?"
"Assuming I'm correct, this soil is universal for the entire planet now. What this means is that the soil is dead. And before I get any smart comments, yes, soil is indeed alive. Just about everything on this planet lives, though not as vibrantly as we do."
Vincent was silent for a moment.
"Dead…so if the dirt around the entire planet is dead, that means…"
The fiery-redhead held off answering that question.
"You've felt the tremors?"
Lucy nodded slowly.
"What are they?"
"I'm not sure. I'm positive that they aren't bombs, though."
The three stopped talking as another tremor ran through the ground. Suddenly afraid again, Lucy started walking to the source of a slight movement in her peripheral vision. She heard Vincent and Rhenn talking behind her and her fear only grew as she heard what they were saying.
"We can see the stars…but we can see each other perfectly without a light, without a moon…how's that?"
Rhenn's answer came slowly.
"I can't be too sure, but I think the cause is something left over from the bomb."
Lucy felt her heart lodge in her throat as she regarded the scene in front of her.
"There's a crack in the ground."
The two men joined her. Rhenn spoke first.
"So this is what the tremors are causing…this isn't a good sign."
"As if anything is a good sign nowadays?"
"Over there…that wasn't there before, was it?"
Rhenn looked at Lucy and followed the direction of her finger off into the horizon where the bomb had gone off. There, a strange greenish light was pooling and slowly drifting away into the open sky.
"Now…that isn't a good sign."
"Think that's the source of our light?"
"More than likely, but it wasn't there the last time I checked. How can we miss something like that?"
Suddenly, Lucy found herself wanting to cry again as she stared into the viridian light on the horizon.
'This isn't fair. I've done nothing wrong; I've never done anything wrong. Why is it that I have to die for someone else's hatred? No, selfish, selfish…why did everyone have to die for a few people's hatred? What kind of god lets this happen?'
"I feel like…"
Vincent finished her phrase.
"…this is really the end."
'I never imagined something like this…I'm not ready to die! There's still so many things I need to do, so many things I need to see…I want…to live…'
"It's so empty."
"It's times like this where I wish I could have died a long time ago, long before the war, long before I knew what it was like to kill without remorse, long before I knew humanity. I wish I never would have had to see something like this, something this horrible…I wish…"
Lucy looked at the redheaded man.
"The world. My superiors' victory. It's all so empty."
Vincent voiced a question that Lucy had been asking herself since she'd first stepped out of the basement.
"Are we the only ones left?"
Rhenn shoved his hands in his pockets.
"I sincerely hope not."
"Dying alone is not on my to-do list…you have Lucy. And me? What do I have? Who do I have? Nothing to my name, nothing to care for…tch…how pathetic…"
"Rhenn…Vincent…the light…it's fading."
"What does that mean, Rhenn?"
"I'm sorry, Lucy. I can't know everything all the time. My knowledge has its limits. I've never…seen anything like this…and I had hoped to never see something like this in my lifetime."
"I think that's something we'd all hoped for."
The three watched as the last of the pale green glow faded into the night sky.
"I think we know that Lucy."
"Nice time to be a smart-ass, Rhenn."
"No time like now, I say. We'll likely die tonight, so I can't say I care what you think or what you do. How ironic. I get feelings again and then I die. Haha…how sadly amusing."
The redheaded man watched as Lucy marched over to where he stood and pushed him with what seemed like all the force in her body, though he barely moved.
"Stop it! We're not going to die! Be happy, damn it! We're still alive, you idiot, we're still breathing, we're still standing! We're not going to die…"
She was screaming at him, sobbing, pounding on his chest with all the dwindling strength she had in her body. Rhenn grabbed her wrists and kept her from hitting him, but she launched her head into his chest, almost knocking the air from his lungs. His chest twitched painfully from an ache that didn't come from Lucy's head butt as he pushed the sobbing woman away from him and watched as Vincent caught her and held her in his arms as he glared at him. The blonde turned his attention to Lucy and soothed her softly, rubbing her back.
"It's not fair…it's not fair…"
"I know, Lu."
"…I'm sorry, Lucy, but you have to think of this realistically. What chance do we have of surviving on a dead planet? No animals, no plants, nothing. Canned food has probably been erased from the planet, as well. There's nothing left. Only us."
Lucy looked up from Vincent's shoulder and gave the redhead a look that could kill.
"You are such an asshole. You can't just keep our future in the dark. I know that we're probably going to die today. I know that! But no, you have to make sure I know it, you have to say it out loud and make our last moments alive a living hell. What's wrong with you?"
Rhenn gave a simple shrug.
"It's better to face reality than to hide behind some fanciful idea that will never come to fruition. I was trained to use logic and only logic."
"You just don't understand. That's what caused this world to die. Your stupid logic got everyone on the planet killed, do you understand that? The people who trained you killed billions of people today. Sometimes it's better to hold on to that fanciful idea. It's better…to die happy."
"Yeah, happy. Do you understand what that word means?"
"Yes. But Lucy…are you honestly happy right now? Have you been happy looking at the destroyed world around you? Have you been happy the past eight months as the town around you fell to ruin?"
"No…I haven't. I've been really upset because the place where I grew up went straight to hell."
The redhead could barely hold back a wince.
"But I've made the effort to be happy. I've tried to make the best of this messed up life. Every chance I got, I laughed. It made things a little easier to cope with…even when the world around me was falling down around my feet."
If there was anything Rhenn wanted to say in response, it was gone. He stared at the ground in between the three of them and took a step back by some deep impulse.
Lucy was starting to feel panic rise in her throat. She clutched Vincent's arm tightly as the ground in front of them split twice, three, four times in the span of a couple seconds.
The slight crack Lucy had found a while ago was now a gaping hole in the center of the street.
Vincent shook his head and stepped away from the still splitting crack in front of them, pulling Lucy along with him.
"I don't know…but I know for sure that this isn't an earthquake."
Crack. Crack. Crack.
Small chunks of dirt and root began falling off the edges of the gap before them, a low rumble was now persistently running through the ground, gradually getting louder and stronger, more cracks began appearing in the area around them and in the more distant land it appeared as if it was breaking into large fragments. By then, the rumble had escalated to a roar and it was taking everything the three lone people had to stay upright. It had only been a few moments, but everything, the noise, the cracks, the tremors, suddenly stopped.
Vincent hadn't released his deathgrip on Lucy's arms.
"I have a bad feeling that it isn't."
In a split second, everything seemed to explode. Everywhere around them, the ground caved and bucked and spit rock and dirt in all directions. Amidst the chaos, they heard Rhenn shout to them.
It was like a scene from hell. The land around them began to fall in, as if the guts of the earth no longer existed. Lucy screamed out to Rhenn, who was several feet ahead of her.
"Where do we go?"
He looked back at her fleetingly, before narrowly avoiding a large section of land that caved in.
Vincent looked around him wildly, and then stared back at Rhenn as if he had completely lost his mind.
"If such a thing exists, tell me now so I can avoid a violent death!"
"Now isn't exactly the time to have an attitude!" Lucy shouted exasperatedly.
Lucy felt like she was playing a demented version of hopscotch as she jumped from section of land to section of land. She looked behind her and blanched. There was nothing there, just a large canyon that was steadily growing larger by the second. Without another thought, she propelled herself to move faster, grabbing Vincent's hand as she passed him up. The land seemed to be falling faster, if that was possible. 'Death is teasing me,' Lucy mentally cried. When she looked up, Rhenn was waving his hands at the two of them, standing on a piece of land that didn't seem to want to fall. They ran to him and looked around at the falling land. There was a gaping chasm opening up before them and upon quick inspection, the land that hadn't fallen was empty, simply a thin layer of dirt that gave way to nothingness. There was no way. That couldn't be real.
"I thought…I thought there was the mantle and all that other crap." Lucy said.
Rhenn looked equally lost.
"I don't know what to tell you…"
Without warning, the ground beneath Lucy cracked and gave way. It seemed as if time slowed to a crawl, taunting her. The look of panic on Vincent's face, the look of fiery determination that hardened Rhenn's face as he sprinted towards her…they seemed to last forever. She knew it was too late, she knew she'd be gone before they even got to her. She knew they were gone too, even as she started falling into the abyss below her. The building behind them was collapsing rapidly. It was only a matter of seconds before flying debris or the building itself claimed them. It was…over. Everything…over.
She was already several feet down by the time Vincent nearly threw himself off after her and Rhenn had kneeled by the ledge, his arm extended, fingers splayed wide. Sound didn't want to register anymore save for the pounding of the blood in her ears. Thump. Thump. Thump. She could tell that Vincent was screaming and that Rhenn was trying his hardest to not scream along with him. Being the smart one, he quickly took note of the collapsing building and took hold of Vincent's arm, yanking urgently. 'Good, Rhenn. Save him. Please. Do your best to live. Please.' It was getting dark and the boys were becoming smaller as the distance increased. A strange sort of calm settled over Lucy and she looked around at the blackness around her. For some reason, she was no longer afraid. There were no temperature changes…nothing. There was just…nothingness. Comforting.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
As Lucy kept falling, a blue light, at first a pinprick, then a pulsing mass of light that seemed to swallow the darkness, encompassed her. Was this the supposed 'light at the end of the tunnel'? If it was, it was…comforting. Everything about the pulsing light felt welcoming, warm. 'I guess it's about time I got rest.' She closed her eyes and allowed herself to submit to the warmth the light was giving. It was…over.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Thank you so much for reading the prologue! Musta taken a while, but anywho. There's a review button right down thur *points* use it pretty please? or Chopin will be sad (though that may not matter to some...unfortunately D:)