Aderyn felt that she must have fallen asleep at some point by the fire, because when she woke up, the sky was light grey between the cracks in the building's roof and the fire was almost dead, except for a few orange cinders nestled in the ashes. She brushed off the dusting of snow that had formed on her shoulders during the night and stood, stretching and working the kinks out of her tired, bruised muscles (No thanks to her friend over there). She yawned, then looked down to see Mystery Girl, asleep. She was clutching both Thing and a thick book to her chest.
Either out of curiosity, boredom, or a mixture of both, Aderyn wandered over to her and tried to pry the book out of her grasp. A hand clapped onto her forearm, making her tense, but its owner was still fast asleep, her breath whistling slightly through her mask. Aderyn peeled the fingers off and slipped the book out of her grip. The Mystery Girl furrowed her brow in her sleep. Looks like she's having a bad dream, now, she thought. Not entirely unexpected, considering where they were.
Aderyn prodded at the fire and threw a couple of logs in before settling down nearby to look at the book. It was titled, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She flipped it open to a random page, then raised her eyebrows in surprise. Scrawled all along the margins and sometimes in the text, there was almost indecipherable writing, accompanied by a few doodles. Without anyone around to read what she had written, Mystery Girl's handwriting had deteriorated to the point where only she could read it. It almost looked like a made-up language.
Aderyn squinted at the handwritten text and managed to make out the following; It's interesting that the Order of the Phoenix is a lot like the French Résistance during World War Two. Voldemort is Hitler, Death Eaters are Nazis, and I'm sure I could draw many more parallels if I thought about it. Both Hitler and Voldemort are very hypocritical, believing in purity of race while they, themselves were impure by their own standards.
Aderyn raised her eyebrows. Mystery Girl obviously had a lot to think about in her spare time.
"Fascinating, isn't it?" asked a voice from just behind her.
Aderyn felt her heart rocket up to somewhere around her throat and turned to see Mystery Girl peering over her shoulder at the book.
"Don't do that!" she snapped, her fingers tight on the book's battered cover.
"Sorry," she said, not sounding too apologetic. "Did I scare you?"
"A bit, yeah," she said sharply.
Mystery Girl pointed at the notes she made in the book. "But it is interesting, isn't it? I love history. Well, not modern history. I don't like anything newer than a hundred years old."
Aderyn didn't feel the need to comment on this.
"Well," she said thoughtfully. "I like crime history. If the fallout didn't happen, I might have gone and been a detective, or whatever the Canadian equivalent of the FBI is. Or maybe I'd go into forensics."
Aderyn mulled that over for a few seconds, tilting her head. "Isn't that just looking at dead bodies?" To her, the girl didn't really look like the type that could handle a rotting corpse.
"Yeah. If I focus, they don't seem like humans to me. More like something that used to be human, which isn't so bad. It's odd. Also, the dead don't talk back."
Aderyn smirked, though it was probably hard to tell under the gas mask. Shame. "Funny that you of all people should say that. Do you ever shut up?"
"Sometimes." She titled her head. "What would you have done if the fallout didn't happen?"
"What did you want to be when you grew up?"
This enquiry startled Aderyn, as she didn't much like personal questions, but instead of expressing this she shrugged. "Fencer, maybe. I'm not sure. I was only twelve when the fallout happened, and that was two years ago, so. . ."
"So you're fourteen, like me." Mystery Girl tilted her head. "I think that's right. . . My math's not so good, you see, so—"
Aderyn cut her off. "You're fourteen?"
"Yes." The girl felt that this was a silly question, but she didn't say so.
"I thought you were eighteen or something," Aderyn said. She began to feel a little more sympathetic for the crazy girl, upon knowing that she was younger than she had thought. At first, she had just thought that she was a really stupid adult, then she thought that she was a fairly intelligent eighteen-year-old, now she thought that she's a. . . Well, she wasn't particularly sure what she thought of her, now. There was obviously a lot more to this girl than met the eye.
Mystery Girl interrupted her thoughts then. "A fencer? Well, if building fences is what you like, I can't go against it."
Aderyn sighed. Her patience with this girl has been worn down to a thread, and they haven't even spent a solid twenty-four hours together. "Sword fighting, stupid."
Mystery Girl looked up at the sky. "Neat." Some wheels turned in her head as she tried to think of some famous sword-fighters. "Have you ever fought Captain Jack Sparrow? Inigo Montoya? Bill Gates?"
She turned her head to see Aderyn give her a half-perplexed, half-amused look. "No . . . The first two are fictional characters, and Bill Gates isn't anything close to a fencer."
She felt her face grow warm. "Oops."
There was a pause from Aderyn. "Did you really think that Jack Sparrow and Montoya were. . . real?"
"No," she said, her voice jumping maybe an octave or so in pitch.
Aderyn saw through her lie. "How could you possibly think that they're real?"
She shrugged. "They seem real to me."
Another queer question popped into Mystery Girl's head, and she immediately said, "Can you play a musical instrument?"
Aderyn raised an eyebrow. "No. Well, I played piano when I was little, but that was a long time ago."
"I play piano, too," she said brightly. "And a little guitar. I've wanted to play saxophone for a year or so, now. I like how it sounds in my head."
"Uh-huh," said Aderyn. Good luck finding a sax that works in this dump. She didn't say that, though. There was a limit to the number of hopes and dreams she could crush per day. "It's been fascinating discussing our life stories, but we need to find something to eat."
"And my name!" she said with a grin.
"Whatever works." Aderyn shouldered her épée. "So, do you want food, or what?"
"Didn't you just throw some wood on the fire?" she asked, hoisting Thing into her arms with a yawn.
"Yes. . ."
"We can wait until it burns down, then. Can I have my book back?" she held out her hand.
Aderyn looked surprised to realize that she was still holding it. "Oh. Yeah. Sure." She dropped it into Crazy Girl's open hand.
She stowed the book away in her backpack, and produced a smaller book—the very first of the Harry Potter series—and flipped open to the first page to read aloud. The unusual part was that she started speaking before she even found the page.
"Chapter One, the Boy Who Lived," she said as she lazily turned pages, trying to find the right one. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. . ."
Aderyn sat silently as Mystery Girl read aloud to no one in particular. Perhaps she was reading to herself, to Aderyn, or maybe to Thing. Aderyn wanted to go look for food, but Crazy Girl didn't look like she was going to budge anytime soon, and she knew it would be a truly stupid idea to leave her alone, so she let her read the first entire chapter of Harry Potter—very expressively, too. She certainly gestured a lot and she did the voices of the characters.
"Hey, Mystery Girl," said Aderyn eventually, tapping her on the head. "We should go look for food, now. And we should also move on. The worms might find us."
She sighed dramatically and said, "Oh-kay! I know where we could go!"
"It better not be anywhere dumb," said Aderyn, somehow suspecting that her wish wouldn't come true.
"No. Just up top on the highest floor of that building, over there." She pointed out of a hole in the wall, over to a particularly large skyscraper. She grinned widely. "I have a fort up there!"
"A . . . fort?"
"Yup!" She turned back to the fire. "I'll show you later."
"Is there food there?" asked Aderyn, trying not to sound too hopeful.
She shrugged. "Maybe a little." She tilted her head a bit, glancing towards her friend.
Aderyn looked like she didn't want to wait. "Mystery Girl, we need food now."
"The food's not going away."
"Yeah, it might! Someone else might steal it, a rat might get it, or a worm might eat your "fort"."
"Oh, it won't. It's too high up."
Aderyn suppressed a groan. "Okay. Fine. Whatever. I'm hungry, so I'm going to go look for food. Come along if you want."
"Alright." Mystery Girl stood, she looked down at her wrist, shaking the watch that was there. She looked over at her friend. "Do you want this?" she asked. "I don't pay much attention to the time."
The Girl with No Name slipped the silver metal watch off of her arm and passed it over to Aderyn.
"Nice watch," she muttered as she clipped it on. "Where'd you find it?"
"In a rainbow puddle," she said. "Where else?"
Aderyn paused. "A what?"
"A rainbow puddle. You know . . . a puddle . . . that's got rainbows in it." She looked over at her, puzzled by the fact that she somehow could not grasp the concept of rainbows in a puddle.
Aderyn again chose not to comment. "Rainbow puddle. Got it. Well, let's go."
The girl smiled, pulled her backpack on, and skipped off, whistling, and rather badly at that. She hopped over a few crumbling bricks, and out the door of the half-collapsed building. Aderyn followed her with caution, leaving the smouldering fire behind them.
Crunching footsteps of a full-grown man made their way through the collapsed buildings. His face was covered in a full gas mask with unusually expressive blue goggles, he had a gun at his hip and wore a white and black jacket. Charles Snippy trudged through the wreckage on another one of Captain's "missions": to find a rainbow puddle. Or, you know, survivors.
What the hell is a rainbow puddle? he raged to himself. Ugh, maybe I should just make a drawing of a rainbow and a puddle and bring it back to that nut job.
He turned his head and his eyes widened in surprise. A thin tendril of smoke was reaching up into the light grey sky to join the clouds like a stem merging with a leaf.
Snippy held tightly onto his gun as he sprinted over the wreckage, making a beeline for the fire. Oh, God . . . he thought. Please still be there . . .
He ran into the building, and stopped just before stepping on the remnants of the fire. No one was around.
"Dammit!" he said aloud. "Looks like I just missed them."
He looked wildly around, hoping for a clue that would lead him to them—a clue, any clue! Then a sliver of red caught his eye. He looked down and picked up the piece of yarn. He tried to figure out where he'd seen it before . . . it slowly dawned on him then. That girl with the scarf! She was here! He'd seen her twice before, once when she was running from a worm—he'd shot it for her, but she took off before he could talk to her—and again with that other girl with the black hair and the sword. He was on top of a building and was about to yell for them, but then he saw the hunter-wraith. He was going to go to their aid, but last he saw of them was when they were being chased into a building. He thought that they had died. Evidently not. He wondered how they had managed that feat—hunter-wraiths were known for their persistence. Well, at least to him. There weren't a lot of people around to know it now.
He clenched his fist on the piece of yarn and stuck it in his pocket before looking around for boot prints in the snow. He saw two pairs of tracks leading out of the building—one going in a straight line like a normal person, the other twirling around and hopping and jumping from one place to another. He followed them with his eyes until he saw two figures—one wearing a red-and-gold scarf—ducking into a decrepit looking skyscraper.
He ran out of the building, following after them as fast as he could.
"This doesn't look very safe," said Aderyn as Mystery Girl led her up rickety stairs to the top floor of the building.
"I know," she said. "Too bad the elevator's not working. Mind the gap." She hopped over a hole in the stairs.
Aderyn carefully stepped over the gap. "Are we almost at the top?"
"Oh, you'll know when we get there."
"There won't be any more stairs."
Aderyn sighed again as Mystery Girl ran up a few steps, got her foot stuck, yanked it out, then sprang up the last fifteen before emerging at the top. As Crazy Girl looked around, she saw that it was exactly as she had left it. Half the roof was caved in and all the windows were broken, but that had always been like that. In the far corner there was a teetering rampart of books, taller than she was. It formed a long wall, behind which was a pile of ragged blankets and pillows, as well as the only window in the whole building that hadn't had its glass broken.
She smiled and wandered over, humming to herself. Taking the thick book out of her backpack, placed it on top of her fortress, then selected another one instead that was called Mark Twain; Four Complete Novels. Her smile widening, she slipped the book into her bag.
Aderyn looked around the room, kicking aside broken glass. "So . . . This is your 'fort,' is it?"
"Yup," she said with a proud grin. "It's nice, isn't it? Ooh, come over here!" She slipped in through a crack in the towering pile of books, and nestled herself in the blankets. "Look out," she said, pointing to the window.
Aderyn edged between the books and knelt by the window, gazing outside. Her breath was almost stolen away. The window overlooked the remains of the crumbling city, the crumbling skyscrapers tilting at a haphazard angle, cars strewn in the street, ash and dust coating everything in a thick layer. Beyond that, though, were the wastelands—flat planes that stretched on as far as the eye could see, filled with absolutely nothing. Not a single thing survived out there. A shiver crawling down her spine, she turned her head towards the ocean, lapping gently against the shores of the city. The water was a dark, icy black and filled with mutants, so she generally tried to stay away from that area. Despite all this destruction, the view was beautiful. Peaceful. Tranquil, really. It was odd. She couldn't place why she thought of it that way when pretty much everything she'd ever encountered in it was out to kill her.
"Pretty, isn't it?" asked Mystery Girl, holding her backpack to her chest as she blinked sleepily.
"Yeah. . ." said Aderyn. "Pretty." She shook her head. "Why did you leave those blankets here? Why not take them with you?"
She blinked. "Then there'd be no room for my books," she said. "Obviously."
Aderyn rolled her eyes. "Sure there will. Just wrap the blankets around them."
The girl paused. She'd never thought of it that way before. Grabbing as many blankets as she could, she wrapped the books carefully in them before jamming them into her bag. They wouldn't fit, so she had to stomp on them a few times to get them in.
"See?" said Aderyn.
"Thanks." She paused. She heard a strange sound, kind of like a THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, coming up the stairs. Her eyes went huge. "FORT LOCKDOWN!" she cried, leaping to her feet. Grabbing a large, jagged board, she heaved it over to the door of her fort, setting it down in the rubble.
"What exactly do you mean to do with that hunk of wood?" asked Aderyn, somewhat exasperated. She paused, listening. "Are those footsteps?"
"SHH!" said Mystery Girl loudly. "We're in LOCKDOWN! No one can get in, now!"
The thumps slowed down and turned into crunches as their owner came to the top step and entered the room. "Hello?" called a man's voice. "Anyone here?" He must've spied the "fort" because with a crunch, crunch, crunch, he came over to investigate. "Hello?"
Mystery Girl stayed silent, staring at the board as if she were willing it to turn into an iron door.
Aderyn growled something under her breath, stood, and pulled the board away from the door only to find a young man with blue goggles and a black-and-white jacket staring back at her. Immediately, she whipped out her sword and he his gun. They stared at each other, unmoving, for a while as the girl looked on, impressed.
"Ooh!" she said after a few moments, clapping her hands. "Staring contest! Who will win?"
They both turned and looked at her.
She pouted. "If you two are going to have a battle to the death, get out of my fort! Shoo! Shoo!" She jumped up, grabbed Aderyn by the shoulders and shoved her out of the book fort, closing the door behind her and surreptitiously peering over the edge to watch.
"Don't freak out, okay?" asked the newcomer. "I know how corny this sounds, but I come in peace."
Aderyn frowned, her sword point hovering at mid-chest. "Forgive me if I come off as rude, but you're pointing a loaded gun at me."
"You pointed your sword at me first," he argued. "Besides, my finger's not on the trigger, and that's the best I can do under the current circumstances." He twitched his finger to reiterate.
"He's got a point!" called the crazy girl.
Aderyn lowered her sword, but didn't sheathe it. "Who are you?" she demanded.
"They call me Snippy." He lowered his gun as well, but likewise didn't holster it.
"Zee Captain's army."
"Army?" Aderyn raised an eyebrow. "There's no way that there's an army around here."
"Sorry," he said. "I meant an army of four."
"Four is this many, right?" said Mystery Girl, holding up three fingers.
"No," said Aderyn, unwilling to pursue the topic at the moment. "Four is this many." She held up the correct amount.
"Oh . . . that explains a lot."
Snippy raised his head in a way that made the cyan goggles on his forehead act almost as eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
"She's nuts," she mumbled under her breath. "But I have a good reason for staying with her. She led me to food."
"I feel your pain," he said, sympathetic. "Two of the people I work with are insane, one of those two wants to kill me, and two of them caused the apocalypse."
Aderyn stared. "They WHAT?"
"Yeah," he said. "But Zee Captain threatened to sic Pilot on me if I shot him."
"Bummer," she said, but she frowned. "If they caused this mess, I don't think one pilot will keep me from making a few literal stabs at them."
"We must join forces," said Snippy. "It may be the only chance for the survival of the human race. What's your name?"
"Aderyn." She paused. "If you're talking repopulation . . ."
Either he didn't hear this or he pretended not to. He looked up at Mystery Girl. "What's your name?"
"I lost it," she said with a shrug. "Have you seen it? I think it had some letters in it. . ."
"Well," he said, knowing how to deal with insane people, "if you come with me, we may find it."
"Mm . . . nah. Aderyn's helping me find my name. Right?" She looked over expectantly.
Aderyn coughed. "Uh . . . yeah. Sure."
She grinned and looked back at Snippy. "See?"
Snippy rubbed his head. "Look," he said, frustrated, "I have to take you back, otherwise Pilot is going to steal my mask filters while I sleep. Please."
"No thanks," said Aderyn, her sword point slowly drifting upwards. "You're way too desperate for my tastes."
Snippy raised his gun again and pointed it at her. "Put your sword down."
Aderyn didn't move.
"What's that thing do?" asked Mystery Girl, pointing at Snippy's rifle.
"It can kill people," he said, keeping his eyes on Aderyn. He sensed that the crazy girl was completely harmless, but Aderyn could probably kill him if she felt the need for it. He took a step forward. "Sheathe your sword and hand it to me. Now."
She let out a heavy sigh and pulled the case off of her back. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Mystery Girl, who was silently moving the board out of the way of her "fort" entrance. The girl pulled her backpack on, then yelled, "CHARGE!" and made a mad dash for the door. She body-checked Snippy with a sound like two pieces of meat smacking together and he went sprawling.
"Oof," he grunted.
The girl sprinted to the stairs and started sliding down the railing. Aderyn followed, but she had only taken a few steps when Snippy grabbed her ankle and she hit the floor with a BANG. She looked back at him, his eyes pleading with her, but she kicked him in the face, scrambled to her feet—broken glass flying around her—and ran. She took the stairs two and three at a time as she ran down. Maybe Mystery Girl knew what she was doing when she slid down the railing?
Thumping footsteps came up from behind her, and she leapt out of reach, down onto the landing, spun around the corner and sprinted out of the building. She passed an upright garbage can, and a pair of eyes peeked out.
She stopped for a minute. Did I just see—
"Shh!" hissed Mystery Girl's voice. "I'm hiding!" She glanced over to the building entrance, yelped, then slammed the lid on the trash can.
Snippy didn't see Crazy Girl, but he did see Aderyn as she ran down the deserted streets. He sprinted after her as fast as his legs could carry him.
Wow, he thought as she kicked a car tire in his way, forcing him to hurdle the black rubber obstacle. She's fast.
But not fast enough.
He lunged forwards and grabbed Aderyn's arm, yanking her back towards him. The two of them tumbled down onto the broken sidewalk, Snippy pinning Aderyn underneath him with his weight. He yanked her sword off of her as she fought him all the way, then pulled a length of rope from a pocket on his cargo pants. It only took him a few seconds to tie her hands behind her back and her feet together at the ankles.
Great, thought Aderyn bitterly as he put in the finishing knots. From one lunatic to another.
"If you hadn't run," he said, standing and taking a deep breath. "You wouldn't be in this mess."
"I wouldn't be in this mess if you didn't tie me up!" she growled, trying to kick the knots free. "Let go of me!"
Snippy turned her over with his foot so she was facing up, then pointed her sword at her face. Aderyn froze. She knew exactly how sharp that thing was.
Snippy looked at her and she stared back. "I'm not going to kill you, nor am I going to break this." He looked it over. "Nice sword, by the way. I still can't let you have it, though." He sheathed it and slung it over his back with his rifle, then he stooped, picked Aderyn up and threw her over his shoulder.
"Get off me!" she snarled, trying to kick him in the face with little success. Snippy merely marched on, not bothered by the girl, so she growled under her breath and let herself dangle, her nose far too close to his gun for her liking.
"Would you happen to know where your friend is?" he asked, setting her down by the entrance of the building they had just run out of.
"No clue," she said half-truthfully. "She's probably wandering around somewhere, looking up at the sky." She glanced upwards at the now-falling snow.
Snippy sighed. "Damn. Well, I'll keep an eye out for food and Captain's stupid 'rainbow puddle'." He rolled his eyes behind his blue goggles.
Aderyn couldn't help but smirk a little at that. "Heh. Mystery Girl mentioned a rainbow puddle. She gave me a watch that she found in one. Good luck with your hunt, though. You'll probably be out here for a long time."
Snippy looked thoughtful. "Mystery Girl, huh? Hopefully she'll help me find one."
She grinned bitterly. "Yeah, but you've got to find her, first."
"Right, right," he mumbled, turning and trudging off to look for Mystery Girl. "You are just a ray of sunshine, aren't you?"
A few minutes later, when his footsteps and calls of, "Here, Mystery Girl!" couldn't be heard anymore, the lid of the garbage can lifted off and a familiar pair of eyes peered out.
"Hullo?" she turned her head, the lid of the trash can teetering precariously on her cap.
"About time," muttered Aderyn. Her wrists were raw from trying to squirm free.
Mystery Girl frowned. "How did I get in here?"
"Don't ask me."
"How am I going to get out without making a lot of noise?" she wondered. She leaned over the edge to see how far it was, but the garbage can tipped over with a CLANG and she fell out of it.
"Hurry! Untie me!" cried Aderyn. "He'll be back any minute!"
She looked at her, her head tilted. "Where's your pointy stick?"
"That guy took it! Now get me out of here!"
She paused for a minute, thinking. "Maybe if we ask nicely, he'll give it back."
"I highly doubt that," she snapped. "UNTIE ME!"
"What'll happen if we go with him?" she asked. "Maybe he'll give us food."
"Yeah, or maybe we'll turn into food! I can't trust anyone out here!"
"You can trust me," she said, feeling a little hurt by what her friend said.
"IF I CAN TRUST YOU, THEN UNTIE ME!" she yelled.
"No need to snap," she said, kneeling down beside her. She picked at the knots that tied her wrists together, then backed up so Aderyn could tackle the ankle bonds herself.
She never got that far, however, as just then Snippy came running up, gun at the ready. "What's going on here?" Still trying to free herself, Aderyn froze as the gun barrel swung over to her. He knelt down, one hand refastening her bonds, the other keeping the gun steadily pointed between her eyes.
"DAMMIT, MYSTERY GIRL!" she shouted as he got to his feet. "WHY COULDN'T YOU JUST HAVE UNTIED ME WHEN I ASKED?"
She blinked, confused. "I did."
She let out a peeved groan as Snippy hoisted her up again, his shoulder driving into her stomach. As he approached the girl he looked like he was about to grab her, but she jumped out of reach before he could make a move.
"Nope!" she said with a giggle. "No touchie!"
"Can you come with me?" he asked, almost pleading. "Please?"
She frowned. "Why should I?"
"Oh, I don't know!" called Aderyn. "Think about it for a few seconds!"
Ignoring this, Snippy racked his brains for a minute. What if this was Captain . . . aha! "We have a pet unicorn. Would you like to see?"
She titled her head. "Does it eat people?"
He didn't quite know how to respond to this. "Uh . . . sometimes?"
"Yay!" She clapped her hands together and followed him as he began to trudge across the barren city.
"A unicorn?" grumbled Aderyn. "A unicorn is more important to her than me? That does it. Next time she jumps off a building, I'm getting the heck out of the way."
"Be quiet," said Snippy. "You wouldn't want something to happen to your sword, now would you?"
"I hate you so much right now."
"Which is why you can't have the sword."
The crazy girl twirled happily along, snowflakes settling daintily on her goggles. Lucky me, two friends in two days. I wonder who I'll find next?