"Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends."
Shadows fell across the graveyard, streaking the gravestones and adorning gargoyles with alternating hues of darkness. The air was damp from mid-morning moisture, with the sky's greyness seeping into the encroaching mist. Nyla crouched behind a gravestone, leaning on the large piece of rock to help keep her footing on the wet mud. She clutched a sliver rifle to her a chest; the gun moved up and down in time with her steady breathing. She inhaled then paused to listen to signs of the grave robber's presence. She heard it digging into the ground, using nothing but it's blood-stained arms. It, unlike her, didn't breath, but instead let out a series of low moans and wails that sounded demonic. It kept digging maniacally and she knew it wouldn't stop until it had reached the casket. Time. She abandoned her hiding place to leap in front of the cannibal, gun pointed and at the ready. It hadn't noticed her yet, so she had time peruse its shaven head and matted khakis; it had once been an army man. She hesitated out of empathy, just for a moment, but that moment was enough for another bullet to fly across the graveyard and lodge itself into the flesh-eaters head.
"Drop it." He was impossibly by her side already, his cold pistol digging into her temple until she obliged, "Now." She let her rifle drop to the ground, flinching as it sent up sprays of mud. He kicked it away in one swift movement, all the while keeping his gun locked to her head.
"I'm not here to cause any trouble." She made sure not to let any emotion drip into her voice; the killer instinct detected fear from miles away.
"I'm sure you're not." When she heard his voice again she realised he was young, not more than a year or two older than her she guessed. She tried to get a good look at him but the cold metal against her forehead restrained her.
"Let me go, and I'll leave in peace." Her fingers itched to grab the revolver stuffed down the back of her pants and blow his kneecaps off.
"Not going to happen. You're coming with me." He finally stepped back, and she was able to get a good look of him. As she had suspected he was young, seventeen, maybe eighteen. He was quite thin, probably not very strong, and underneath the black beanie he wore she could see bright orange curls desperate to be set loose. His eyes didn't have the hard, troubled expression most did after the cataclysm, but instead they carried a strange humour in their blueness, as if he found amusement in killing cannibals and capturing girls. He kept his gun pointed at her as he kicked the rifle up to his hands using his feet and slung it across his back.
"Move." he gestured for her to precede him in leaving the graveyard. She weighed her options; if she tried to do anything now, he would blow her head off in a matter of seconds. She had to wait until they had left the graveyard and he had begun to trust her defeat.
"Where are we off to?" She said, trying to keep her tone light, but her mind was in overdrive thinking of different escape routes.
"You'll see." He chuckled darkly, finding entertainment in what she assumed he thought to be a nice surprise. She manoeuvred around the half-erected gravestones scattered around the graveyard floor, her captor close behind her. The air had grown colder, and the mist had thickened and was already pouring out of the wrought iron gates as she reached them. With a single bullet to the giant lock and a shove on Nyla's part, the gates screeched open to reveal No Man's Land.
Once an agricultural haven, No Man's Land had become a barren wasteland that served as a divider between the Upper Grove and the Lower Grove. The area was now desert-like and stretched for miles in every direction; rubble lay everywhere and what looked like giant storm clouds spread out across ground. All Nyla could see was a thick fog building up dramatically; getting rid of her captor wasn't going to be difficult.
"By the way," she turned to see him holding the revolver that had been concealed in her trousers moments ago, "Don't even think of running. There are minefields everywhere that will blow you away."
"You're lying," She said, trying desperately to catch his bluff.
"Keep moving or you'll find out." He smiled and poked her with her stolen revolver, urging her onwards. His dark humour failed to lift her spirits, instead making her tremble with fear. Now she had to do what Exodus had taught her; endure the torture she would inevitably have to go through and seek revenge when the time was right.
"So we're walking all the way to the Lower Grove?" She asked, choosing her words deftly in an attempt to extract information.
"Who said we were going to the Lower Grove?" He pocketed his pistol and began to inspect her revolver.
"So we're not going to the Lower Grove?" Their conversation seemed to only consist of unanswered questions.
"Oh no, we are going there, I was just wondering how you knew." He smiled to himself before poking her again with the gun, forcing her to pick up the pace.
They walked for a few minutes through the thickening fog, with the boy seeming to know exactly where they were going. After a while they reached a small, concealed dugout leading underground, which Nyla was informed also had minefields littered around the entrance for intruders. He brought out two flashlights and tested them both before handing one to her.
"Remember," He said, his face clouding over in seriousness, "Try to use that as a weapon and i'll shoot you without a moments hesitation." She felt a shiver run down her spine; she wasn't afraid of man-eating half-dead war veterans, but somehow this strange kid managed to fill her with fear.
"I'll try to remember that." She entered the dugout first, the darkness enveloping her. Even with the flashlight on, the fog made it impossible for her to see more than a few feet in front of her, and all that was, was a narrow tunnel leading into oblivion. The walls were wet and coated in moisture and the ceiling was the same. She felt something drip onto her head and wondered how easily the dugout could collapse.
As if reading her mind he answered, "It's a pretty sturdy structure. Been here since before the cataclysm actually, but of course Walt and I had to renovate it to make sure it was safe for use." He patted the walls, clearly proud of his restoration skills.
"Who's Walt?" She asked, trying again to subtly extract information.
"Oh don't worry about him, you'll meet him soon enough." Something in his tone made her wish that she wasn't going to.
They walked for what felt like an hour, with Nyla anticipating where she was being led to all the while. She tried to numb herself of emotions; fear of death would just cloud her abilities to potentially escape. And she had to escape; not for herself, but for Griffin.
After a while the walls began to diverge and the path grew wider; she assumed they were reaching their destination. They finally came to an opening. At first glance she thought it was a small room but then she noticed the floor was slightly higher than the natural ground; they were in some sort of lift. He walked over to a small fuse box on one of the walls and began to tamper with it. Nyla was too bemused to notice that he had left her unattended until the lift had started to ascend. She kicked herself for not running but then thought better of it; he would have had an easy shot at her in the tunnel.
As the lift went up, the ceiling began to inch open, bringing with it the dulling light of the day and the cold air of outside. She felt her breathing begin to speed up and a cold sweat break out across her forehead; for all she knew, a firing squad could be standing outside, waiting to take her out. She closed her eyes until the lift came to a stop and she was able to look at her surroundings.
"Welcome Nyla, to the Jixaw Military Base." Nyla was unconcerned by the fact that he knew her name; she was too busy gaping at the land around her in horror and awe.
"I thought the Lower Grove had been completely destroyed." was the only thing she could think to say.
"Most of it was." he explained, "We had to stay underground for a while but then we discovered this branch of the military base which was still somewhat intact. We had to do a lot of work, but it's safe, secure and what I call home now."
The military base was surrounded by water on three sides. The Saia Sea met the horizon in every direction except the one they had just come in. It was dark green mixed with hues of blue; the only vibrantly colored thing left after the cataclysm. The dugout they had just come from was underneath the only piece of land that connected the military base to the rest of the Lower Grove. They were on elevated ground that looked almost like a giant cliff, but she could still feel the spray from the water below. Barbed wire had been placed around the base for protection and a heavily padlocked gate had been erected behind them. Beyond the gate all she could see was rubble, debris and dust. The mist had settled onto the Lower Grove, but when she squinted she swore she could see the high towers of the clan headquarters in the distance. All she could see on the land making up the military base though, was masses of warehouses, caravans and supply cargoes.
"I'm guessing this was the storage facility of the military base?" She didn't expect an answer, and he didn't give one; he merely laughed.
He gave her a few moments to let her surroundings sink in before moving on, "Let's go. You've got to meet Walt remember?" He led her off the lift towards all the structures. They manoeuvred their way around countless cargoes and caravans, most of which were open, and Nyla could see contained nothing but food and ammunition. As they neared a large warehouse and began to slow down, Nyla's impending doom began to dawn on her. She had no idea how she was going to escape from this; unless she was going to scale the barbed wire, jump into the ocean and somehow survive, she was as good as dead. The boy's friendliness had led her into a false sense of security and now he was probably going to kill her. All she could think about was Griffin.
"We're home!" He rapped on the door three times, all the while humming a tune under his breath. He seemed oddly at ease about kidnapping and possibly torturing someone.
After a few moments of silence, the door of the warehouse finally began to lift upwards, screeching as it slowly revealed the silhouette of the figure standing behind it. All she could see against the darkness was the outline of a big man; she could tell he was burly, and his body-builder physique instilled a newfound fear in her.
"How's it going Walt?" Her heart sunk as she recognised the name, but her orange-haired captor was the opposite of afraid; out of the corner of her eye she could see him grinning from ear to ear.
"Hello Mish." Walt spoke, stepping forward in one long stride. He had a strange accent; it didn't sound Jixaw, but vaguely foreign. "Go get Nyomi will you?" It was more of a command than a request, but Mish nodded obligingly and started to leave, before suddenly turning back to Nyla.
"You're gonna love him." He said, before winking and heading off to find the aforementioned Nyomi. Nyla brought her attention back to Walt to see him flexing his muscles; with the movement of his arms she could see that what she had previously thought were tattoos, were actually hundreds of scars. She shuddered to think how he had gotten them.
"So Nyla," Walt stepped forward again, and this time she was able to see him clearly, ""Didn't put up much of fight did you? Mish isn't the strongest of the bunch. I reckon you coulda taken him." He gave a tight smile, revealing the scars running down his cheeks in place of dimples. Her eyes scanned his oddly elderly face, before inching up to his pure white hair. She found it frightening that his body said 28, but his face said 70.
"He's fast," She said, trying to dismiss his intimidating look, "And how do you know my name?" Walt smiled again before replying.
"Because we've been expecting you." In one swift movement, he grabbed her in an iron lock. She tried to resist but it only seemed to make him angrier and his grip around her tightened as he dragged her into the warehouse.
The warehouse's interior was dark and shaded, contrasting from the faint light of outdoors. It took Nyla's eyes a few moments to adjust, but once they had, she could see that the warehouse was far bigger than she had assumed. It was two storeys high and about fifty metres wide in each direction. The contents also took her by surprise. She had expected it to be a giant torture chamber, but was instead it was a training room.
There were different sections set up across both floors; acrobatics, strength, endurance, martial arts, normal combat, archery and firearms. She stared at each section in turn, amazed at how they had used rubbish from the cataclysm to create functional equipment. The beam in the acrobatics station had been constructed from pieces of metal being sawed into a long strip of plywood and the weights in the strength section were made from boulder pieces attached to pipes. A makeshift pool built from a trench in the ground filled with muddy water made up the endurance area and the martial arts and combat stations consisted of nothing more than mats spread out on the floor. What caught her eye the most though, were the weapons in the archery and firearms regions on the second floor. She saw enough crossbows, rifles, pistols, machine guns, and snipers to take out Exodus' clan within minutes. She suddenly understood why he had sent her to find Gaz and Jake Logan instead of doing it himself; if these random group of survivors had so much weaponry at hand, she could only imagine how much the Logan brothers had obtained since the cataclysm had occurred.
Before she had time to survey the room any further, Walt started leading her to the back of the room.
"Am I starting a training program? Or…" Nyla asked apprehensively. Her voice trailed off as she saw that Walt wasn't leading her to any of the equipment, but instead to a small medical area.
"Sit." He ordered her into a rusted, metal chair, disregarding her question as rhetoric curiosity.
"What are you going to do to me?" Her fear of being tortured had returned, and this time it was facing her head on, ready to crash into her at full speed. Walt didn't answer her but instead began to restrict her arms, feet and torso with metal shackles. She didn't try to resist; mostly because she had no chance in hell of taking Walt down, but also because she disliked the sound of the metal shackles scraping against the metal chair. He then proceeded to fiddle with syringes on the nearby table only to be interrupted by two figures arriving at the door.
"How's our captive doing?" Mish's voice carried across the warehouse in a whirlwind of sarcasm. They were just silhouettes against a gray backdrop, but as they got closer, Nyla was able to see the woman Mish was with. She was dressed in the same black getup Nyla was in but that was were the similarities ended. Unlike Nyla's moss-green eyes and fresh faced complexion that was only smudged by dirt, the woman was dark in every aspect. Her hair rose around her in jet-black curls, framing her ebony skin. Her eyes were peculiar, a misty grey colour, and her face remained contorted in a grimace, even while she spoke.
"Have you injected her yet?" the woman said in a low, curt manner, unaware of the fear she had just arisen in Nyla.
"No. I thought you'd be more suited for the job Nyomi." Walt said, not looking into her eyes. It seemed that Nyomi managed to inflict fear into the heart of anyone she spoke to; an evil queen shrouded in beauty.
"Very well." Nyomi joined Walt at the table while Mish decided to strike up a conversation with Nyla.
"What do you think of Walt so far?" His beanie no longer concealed his bright curls, and they were free to wave around in an orange halo.
"He's quite frightening," Nyla said, deciding to humour Mish in hope of getting some information out of him, "But I guess he'd be nicer if I were his friend."
Mish let out a loud laugh, "Walt doesn't have friends, he has accomplices, like me, and then he has subjects, like you."
"Subjects?" the word rolled around on Nyla's tongue for a while, "As in subjects for pain or-"
"Enough." Nyomi's voice rang clear, "Hold her arm down." She motioned for Walt to pin Nyla's already bound arm to the chair incase she decided to struggle and the needle punctured an artery. There was no harm of that happening though, as Nyla was too petrified with fear to move, let alone put up a resistance.
"Will this kill me?"
"No." Nyomi said, advancing towards Nyla at a menacing pace. "It will just render you incapable of coherent thought."
"Why? What is it?"
"It's a dose of the VH1 Virus from the cataclysm." Nyomi injected Nyla, her eyes narrowing in presumed pleasure as the pain of the substance began to take it's toll. "In other words, it's the Plague."