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Chapter 12: What Lies Unseen
Desolation unfolds to its endless plunder, a field of timbers cut at their shins. It leaves nothing and there is no one for miles. The clone’s voice carries through the back country. “You never answered me back there.” A misty haze travels through this region. “Why are you guys out here?”
“They don’t teach you terribly well. Not that I would expect manners from you. You won’t be with us long, anyhow.” Velora snarls at him. I continued walking. The harnesses of my mask are getting on my nerves. It’s tight against my face and I clasp strangled every breath I drew.
“Be nice Velora. We all are tired.” I lead our little group of oddballs. I was at the front, a different feeling, but since the clone joined us, Velora was lagging behind. Then again… I am certain the bullet wounds and mangled flesh she suffered did not help. Nevertheless, she maintained it did not bother her.
The clone comes marching up beside me with his arms behind his head. “I wasn’t even asking you.” he came back under his breath. I peek over to witness him spew out of the side of his mouth. “So, you’re pretty short for a Masker. I am assuming you were an unfortunate one?”
“You might say that.” I sheepishly spoke. I noticed the gray earth swallow my foot in its muddy jaws. “That is strange.” I said as I pulled my foot out of the muck.
“Mud?” the clone snickers.
The creeping uneasiness overtakes me as I gave attention to the modest red tint to the soil. I stop in my tracks. “How can there be mud without rain?”
“You are overly thinking about it.” The clone remarks while slogging through the gunk.
“Are you tired?” My voice muffled from my sweat covered face, drowning beneath the veil. I observed the screen showing me integrated data. Things like the temperature of the clone’s breath rising. The shafts of his limbs were groaning as steam came off of them.
“No girl. We got to move. Up ahead there’s a nice place to stop. Mountain range. It’s hard going down, but the view is worth it.”
A mountain range, high rocks overlooking fields is what I had in mind. A gratifying variation of landscape. Though my unsteady feet had already hurt me from our long hike. The trek over a mountain sounded rather appalling. “I am getting a little tired to be honest.”
We could not have realized the fright that awaited us in that fresh sludge. The mud below our feet is deluged in a most chilling bile. I could sense the sick scent drifting from the earth. Leering on my right, I detected something rising out of the sediment. I froze, clutched in dread. It was cartilage. Meaty bone. Velora and the clone did not even note it. I craved a scream to alert Velora and the clone, but I didn’t. My throat locked, depriving me of any speech. Instead, I wagged my finger, pointing towards large chunk of limbs crawling up from the grave. A hundred arms at least, ripped open, weeping, shrouded in goo.
The clone looked over at me. “What the hell is wrong with you?” There’s a hefty force against my backside. I go speeding across the slush, plunging over my heels, rolling. Pushing myself up, I spot the most hideous object. There are not words to express the body. It was as if rejected… a clump of parts, abortions from God himself. He did not think wise, this thing be among us. Mouths and eyes along its limbs gnashing their teeth. Velora is continuing between me and the clone like a strong guardian.
“Go.” Velora yells.
The lumbering thing slithers up to Velora, overshadowing her as the monster decries us all. Rattling with many skulls from numerous creatures, half buried by pulsing tissue. The clone pops off several bullets from his pistol. The thing receives a one round in its eye, and it disintegrates with a black ink cloud. “Ah shit!” The clone says as it directs its awareness to him.
The many arms steal around Velora, enthralling her like a serpent. No doubt biting her, chomping at her flesh. I gotta do something, but I was a simple mouse. The waiting horror comes down like a sinuous swing of gore. It well caught Velora in the undercurrent of stout limbs, all intriguing for her. I burst out of my trance and reach for my leg, jerking the sword free; and dash fearless in my cruise, as I puff the fetid air around me. The taste of rot fills my mouth with its sour flavor. I let out a battle shout and plunge my laser blade into whatever it gnaws. I randomly strike the grisly monster. The creature relents for a shared moment.
“What am I doing!” I consider. A large orb opens up to expose four irises. The phenomenon observed me for a moment. Standing there was a young woman in the eye’s reflection. A feeble little mite to this beast of a freak. Without my mask, I glare back upon tear-stained eyes. Swinging the blade like a baseball bat, I shriek with the force of the swing, cutting deep as I scour the sword across that terror’s eye. Blood burst like with so much pressure I am knocked over in the gore.
A surge of black tar flows from the crevice, and I am engulfed in murk as I choke on the black ruby liquid invading my mouth. In the savage stream, my footing can’t get purchase. I press my foot onto what I hoped was the ground but beneath the waves my leg wretch ahold of by something unexplained, and I am taken straight into the air. Held up, I feast my views on a maw that was spherical and teeth lined it as far down as its dark fleshy depths. Bodies were inside of the thing, fussing and hollering for me. I ogle toward my leg to witness a member of arms clutching me like some culling of tentacle. I kick for all I was worth as the foul humid breath washed over my carcass.
The many arms seized me. It slashed at my body while yelling. As quickly as one group of arms lets me go and another catches me again. I was wretched from all sides as my body is tugged upon. I wail as the creature drops me into that wicked maw to be pierced by its long, all surrounding fangs. I am taken anew by another horde of limbs. My anxiety increases as my torso is dealt with like a rag doll, hauled along in another orientation. The body parts toil to grab me, as if struggling for me.
Another tower of meat rises out of the silt below us. I’m ripped into the air and powerless to meet the ground. “Ah!” shrieks the clone. I hear his blade lacerating the thing. It bites so deep that I can hear with every whack of his dagger. Which means he doesn’t have his gun. I felt my belly about to give way.
The blood surge to my head. I was exhausted. Faint. Yet, I hold, I hold on to consciousness. Tears filled my eyes as Velora never got up. Trapped in the swarm of hands, everything violated and knitted. The massive arms grabbed even at my eyes and mouth, stretching in me, my rib cage, my thighs.
Then, in the splendid moment, every hand missed me and my constant fall ended. The cruel, crushing blow from the mud was enough to knock any wind I had not cried out, leaving me gasping for air. One thought developed, run. It was beyond my strength to offer myself time to catch my breath. I rise to my feet and hobble away, breaking down like a child, leaving behind Velora and the clone. I have failed to save them; I could do nothing. Nothing. I hated how weak I was, alas I had to keep moving. More of the creeping flesh swelled out of the sodden soil. The rancid stench made my guts want to give way. The ridge’s edge is forwards, that’s where I need to go.
So I stiffened up my lips and pushed through the muddy field of damaged trees. It was midday when I arrived at the cliff-side. I paused there, peering down. I was aching for a charming view. All I saw was an isolated wasteland. This time I didn’t have Velora. I sank to my knees. I forgot all aspiration for myself. I can’t go on, not alone. Why would anyone curse someone to this? This is all Vanity’s fault!
A sense of seething anger broke over my heart. “Its all her fault.” I contemplate something dark over the mountains. I swallowed hard. “What am I doing? I don’t need this. I don’t need to do this. I don’t.” My scorn grew as I considered that horrible landscape behind me. “I don’t.” I beheld in the cold those things were still alive. Even though I was missing, their feud had not ended. Yet there was that sacred cliff. Anything was better than this. Anything. I collected my courage. I would disappear right here and now. One leap, that’s all it would take, and the vacant sky would embrace me for one last adieu. Just one leap. I stood there peering at that fall, but my fear paralyzed me. I shuddered and shook with the wind. It blew over me. It declared to me, “Go, and be done with it.”
“Primina!” I swing my head in astonishment. Like a ghost, there Velora was, torn up… she was bloodied but alive. Her wounds were mending before my eyes. The clone in her arms. “I told you to run.” My knees gave and onto the rocky earth I landed. The tempting breeze still murmuring “You could still do it.” I can.
“I lost my mask.” I responded to Velora.
Velora looks at me and bends her head. “How did you survive?”
“It dropped me.”
With her mighty hoove, Velora canters over towards me. Kneeling, she leaves the limp clone next to me. “Let me take a look at you.”
I pull away out of instinct. “I’m fine.”
“You’re bleeding.” I had not noticed it. Well, that was until she mentioned it. I noticed a sharp sensation. That manhandling I received must have cut me many times.
“Is he dead?” Velora shakes her head, drawing a flask of water, pouring a small amount on his face. She wipes off the dirt off him. “He is unusually pale. Almost like porcelain.”
“Yes, he is noticeably pale.” Velora answers.
Velora turns aside and turns toward those creatures. “Wait! Why are you going back there?”
She shifted toward me with that doll-like peer. “You lost your mask.”
“I don’t need it.” I argued.
“You do.” My stomach plummeted as she ran off, losing her among the many broken trees. I glanced back over at the clone. They knocked him out cold. Reaching I picked up his hand. First chance I had to inspect him. Someone had sewn together his index and middle finger like he had lost them. What I had first thought was a gauntlet, was plating fused to his flesh. This was the tattered shape of the short-lived clones. Among immortal things, they were mere infants. His arms had cuts and bruises and many white bandages.
I rested next to him, even if he was filthy and covered with dirt. I hugged him and wept until I too joined him in his slumber.
“You’re a machine now.”
“Human or not, you are to blame.”
“You are sleeping.”
“Humans bleed so don’t synthetics.”
“You’re not human anymore. You are just like us.”
A forceful hand grabs my chest. I open my eyes in a flash to see a figure above me. “How!” the clone screams at me. “How!”
“You’re hurting me.” I responded with little emotion.
He screams, “You are not a freak! How!” He removes his hand from me. “How.” It was moments like I had a warmth come over me. I was not like them. I was not a freak. A smile crept over my face. “Why? Why didn’t you tell me.” The clone’s eye filled with tears. His grip gentled into a delicate thing. He pulled my body close to his as he hugged me. “I was searching for survivors. I was searching for you.”
“I am sorry. I could trust no one to understand what I was.” The clone let go of me, allowing me to lower to the ground.
His sapphire blues looked through me. “Does Velora know?”
“Yes.” At this, he sat back.
“Wait… where is she, how did I?”
My face straightened. “She saved you. I don’t know how she saved you but she went to get my mask.”
“Went back?” He moaned with a shiver. He expressed the horror all over his frown. “Yeah. So you are a human, huh?” He looked into the distance. “Here I thought I was saving a Masker… turns out I was saving a survivor. So, where are the rest of you? We need to get you to safety.”
“I don’t think you understand. I am, from what I can tell, the only human.”
The clone’s mouth twists into a sour expression. “What are you talking about? I am human too, you know.”
Oh, poor thing. I didn’t have the energy to argue with him. Velora knew more than she let on. If she said he was a clone, I am apt to believe her. My bones felt heavy. I glance over to witness Velora returning. She stairs at the clone. “Its ok Velora.”
“Is it?” she says. Velora tosses my metal mask back over to me. I catch it clumsily.
The clone rises to his feet. “I won’t say a thing. She needs to come to the colony.”
“Clone, that will not happen.” The definitiveness in Velora’s voice was quite apparent. “Is that going to be a problem for you?”
“It is.” I grasped the side of his armored coat. I tug on it. The clone looks down at me. “What?”
“I am sorry. I can’t go with you. I have to do something for everyone.” I patted the dust off of me and rose to my feet covered in the grim and filth and snapped my mask back on. I turned toward the mountain’s edge. “Velora, are you ready?”
“I am going with you.” The clone says as he gripped my shoulder. “I won’t leave your side.”
Velora stood behind us. “Keep her a secret clone.”
“Yeah, everyone has their secrets. Even devils do.” he said, giving her an icy gaze. Though Velora looks past him to the ground, acting as if she did not hear his retort.
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