Kat and her soldiers disappear into a building beyond the stairway. The rest of us stay on the street, watchful until they get into position at an overlook higher up in the building, just a few windows up from the main floor. Once they arrive there, we do the same on our side of the street, working our way up two separate stairways in an old, abandoned structure behind us and reaching an overlook of our own. And then we wait.
The silence is unbearable. At least we were moving before. Now we are left to simply hope that the creatures don’t know we’re here, and that they’ll leave a way for us to get in. We don’t know if some of them stay near the stairs, or if they all venture out. That’s why Kat’s unit is separated from ours.
If some stay, her team is to create a distraction using explosives or small gunfire to draw any remaining sentinels away from the stairs, allowing us to sneak in undetected. It’s a nice backup plan to have, but I hope we don’t need it. I will feel much better down in the darkness if Kat is there with us.
The sun eventually sets, and my eyes stay fixed on the tunnel entrance below. I keep my visor turned off, though. The moon above is bright enough to provide adequate light for me to see clearly, so I want to watch things unfold with my naked eye.
Nothing emerges from below for a long time, only confirming my growing belief that my coming along was a bad idea. That my presence has somehow alerted the creatures of us, and so they are hiding and waiting. This thought runs through my head over and over again, making me so upset with myself that I want to scream. I shouldn’t have been so selfish to think that I had to be here, that there was some important reason.
But then a rumbling begins rising from the deep.
It starts with a subtle vibration so light that I ignore it at first. Soon, however, it becomes an unmistakable rumbling like the stampeding rush of wildlife I sometimes saw in the plains. The creatures then begin to surface, not with orderliness, but rather in a surge like falling water cascading down a mountainside.
They pour out in every direction, stretching endlessly down the different streets like rushing water dividing at a river fork. Their movement seems frenzied, though each one seems to know exactly where to go. Their heads stay down as them move, none of them looking up toward us. To my relief, they don’t seem interested in the buildings at all, but focus instead on heading away from this location just as we are wanting.
It surprises me to see women among the hordes of moving bodies. I had for whatever reason been imagining these creatures as genderless, but those I am seeing now come across more human than I’d expected, even down to their wearing of clothes. Yet this makes it all the more eerie the way they are moving together like a horde of wild animals.
A hand suddenly reaches across my body and pulls me back. I look up and see Brogan, who has his fingers pressed to his lips. He doesn’t say anything, but I must have been leaning further forward than he wanted.
I stop looking over the edge and close my eyes, trying to ignore the noise still echoing from the street. I try to relax, but there is no peace for me right now. Even though my body is tired and becoming somewhat weak, I don’t want to sit still anymore. I want to find my sister and get back home.
The rumbling dies down until the complete quiet of night returns. Brogan emerges from cover and stands up to look out the window. I join him, turning my visor on so I can see if there’s anything out there. I let out a relieved sigh as my visor reveals no movement in the streets below. Brogan then signals to Kat’s unit, and we begin our descent back down.
We meet Kat’s unit at the top of the stairs, where Brogan gives her a nod. Her team goes first, and we follow on its heels. The visor glows in front of me, revealing an open area where Kat and the others have halted to wait for us. Once we reach them, they move down another, larger stairway.
Halfway down, they stop again, and we do the same. I look further beyond them and my heart nearly leaps from my chest. A dozen or so creatures stand between us and a tunnel entryway beyond them. They stare off our direction, but they don’t seem to notice us. Their faces are blank, their expressions reactionless, like they are as blind in the dark as we would be without the aid of these special visors.
Brogan creeps up next to Kat, and the two of them communicate using hand signals. Brogan points at a piece of broken metal beneath him, and gestures toward an open area to the left of the stairway. Kat seems to disagree, pointing instead to her weapon and then at the creatures.
My heart suddenly cries out to me when she then lifts her weapon, as though I can somehow sense that we should not kill them. I step forward as quietly as I can and place my hand on top of her gun, pushing it back down. I then pick up the piece of metal. Brogan doesn’t stop me, which confirms my inference that he wanted to try to distract the creatures away first, so without another thought, I toss it as far as I can.
The loud scrape of metal as it crashes against stone instantly rouses the creatures from their stupor, and they run aggressively toward the source of the noise. Kat and two others point their weapons at the creatures as the rest of us quickly move around them and continue toward the tunnel. It all happens so fast that I can’t bring myself to look back, not until we have gotten completely out of view.
I turn around at that point and wait for Kat to catch up. She stops next to me for a brief second and puts her hand on my shoulder. I can’t see her eyes or face, but I imagine her smiling. It warms my heart, and the two of us run forward to catch up to Brogan and the rest of the soldiers.
A comforting peace fills me as it feels like we’re done with the creatures for now. But though we’ve made this far, things only get trickier from here. These tunnels go on endlessly throughout the city, and we will not be able to search them all before the sun rises and the creatures return. We’ll need a great amount of luck if we are to find Helena before that happens.
Hours pass, all of them fruitless, as we work our way through the sections of tunnel closest to the way we came. The time seems to rush by with the pressure of knowing that with every empty corridor we search, our window of opportunity has closed just a little bit more. I am about to give up hope when the most unexpected thing emerges in the distance. The flicker of light coming from further down the tunnel.
Guns are drawn as we approach it, the glow so bright on my visor that I decide to turn it off. Light, like that from a flame, is pouring out from a tunnel, one that looks more like a cavern that has been dug into the side of the tunnel that we are in. Brogan moves in first this time, and I follow him closely.
The way is lined with torches, a strange sight in such a place. Though the light should excite me, it instead fills me with dread. Even if this is where Helena is being imprisoned, it is unlikely this light is for her sake. Something else must walk these halls, something different and perhaps more terrifying than the creatures that even now stalk the city streets above.
We move carefully down the narrow halls that emerge in the passageway. Each one is so skinny and short in some places that even I have to crouch down to fit. This hinders our ability to move quickly, which makes one thing certain. There will be no running away and escaping from here if we are spotted by whatever occupies it. We will be cornered.
Things start to widen gradually as we get further down. Eventually, we discover a wider opening above a room with several small tunnels leading out of it. Each one looks much the same, and I fear t
hat we will have to split up to search them all. That is until a figure emerges from one of them.
I hold my breath as I briefly see his cloaked face, which has the appearance of a man’s, scarred and deformed, and then quickly look away for fear he can sense my gaze, though he doesn’t so much as turn his head. Instead, his focus remains on another tunnel, which he makes his way toward and disappears into. Brogan then turns around to face us.
He issues a series of more complicated signals that I struggle to follow along with, but the rest of the soldiers understand just fine and begin descending the many steps into the room below. They take up several strategic positions throughout the room’s many causeways, which connect the different tunnels that exit it. Below these many causeways is wide opening that empties into an endless blackness below, a frightening sight.
As the soldiers fortify themselves in their different vantage points, Brogan leads Kat and I down to the tunnel the mysterious figure disappeared into. Brogan then makes one final gesture to his men, and we continue out of their view.
The tunnel is long and eventually ends at a small room lit dimly with candles that are scattered throughout. Its rocky walls bend gradually into its ceiling, like that of the open
cavern before, and at its far end is the man, his back turned toward us as he sits at a desk. There is no reaction from him upon our entrance, our steps quiet and careful. That is until Brogan draws his own handgun and clicks off the safety.