“This storm is getting worse,” Cabal muttered to himself.
Gritting his teeth, he watched as the displays flickered in response to another flash of lightning too close for comfort. Strong winds continued to buffet the Mandalay, adding to his already full time job of keeping the craft straight and level. His arms were starting to burn with the strain of fighting the shear.
Surveying the HUD he began looking for a sheltered place to set his craft down and wait out the harshest parts of the electrical storm. He was out over the far north Canadian territories, and knew there wasn’t much out here in the way of populations. Therefore, Cabal was surprised when he noted a small gathering of buildings nestled in amongst the recovering forests.
Tilting his head, he blinked and once more eyed the displays, not quite trusting the convenience of the shelter’s appearance. Being buffeted to one side and then dropped several feet overrode any caution he was applying.
Wrestling with the controls, Cabal nosed over and headed for the largest structure he could see. He had to be careful, a fact only reinforced by the change in the way the wind swirled as he closed on the buildings, not to crash himself into them.
Though he couldn’t spare much attention to his surroundings beyond clearances, he did note that there wasn’t a single bit of light spilling from any of the low structures he was now passing between. The condition of the buildings slowly seeped into his consciousness as he maneuvered down the narrow way between them. Mostly intact. Roofs in various states of disrepair. Weeds growing and gathering between the cracks and along the faces of the structures.
There were no vehicles or conveyances, with the exception of one or two rusted and dilapidated heaps abandoned along the sides of the streets. No one, and nothing moved about him. By the look of things, the place had been abandoned at least a hundred years or better.
He kept the hovercar moving forward just enough to keep the dust he was kicking up from obscuring his view. It took him a bit of time, but he found the largest most intact structure he could find and parked on the leeward side, keeping himself and his craft out of the majority of the screaming wind. He shut down his vehicle, securing all but vital functions of the computers and then sat a moment.
The debate was over whether he should stay in his vehicle of venture into the large structure to his right? The Mandalay was known protection, could be temperature controlled to keep him warm. The building was an unknown to him, but would allow him to walk about and stretch as needed until the storm died down. Not an easy decision. He’d already been in the hovercar 10 hours with only one stop between the start of the journey to now. There was a strong desire to be free of the vehicle at least for a little bit – despite the idea that it would probably be cold and dark and dank in that lofty building beside the car.
Angry with himself over the debate, Cabal keyed the door and flung it up. The effort was undermined when the actuators slowed the lift to the normal speed. The dhampir nearly clocked himself on the gull-wing as he flung himself after it. Laughing once in embarrassment, Cabal moved his seat forward so he could grab some supplies from the narrow and very crowded back seat. He couldn’t help how he shivered when the still swirling and angry wind snuck up sleeves and under the edge of his jacket. As quickly as he could, he shoved what he wanted into a half full duffel bag and backed out of the hole.
He waited long enough for the gull wing to close locking the vehicle and then peering up the face of the giant he had sought shelter next to. Brushing strands of hair out of his face he focused to find that he had come to a stop next to an old brickwork church.
“Heh,” escaped him. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not wont…”
More quickly he found entrance to the church, to find that the far half of the church was caved in. It looked to be more from age and lack of upkeep than any attack on its features. Here and there Cabal came across skeletons, piles of bones scattered on and between some still intact pews, some laid out on the floor. Exposure had affected the collection. All of them were old – to the point where they were beginning to crumble into dust.
“Has it really been that long since someone came through here?” he muttered.
An angry gust passing over him brought him back to the present once more and set him back into motion. Cabal moved closer to the end of the church where the pedestal once sat, the raised platform still imposing and sacred-seeming. He couldn’t help comparing it to the one church he’d come to know well. This one was grander by far than the simple church of Redemption. He wondered if people from outside the immediate town trekked in from miles off to attend services here – back when life graced the place of worship.
Despite the thought of trespass on the steps, Cabal made himself mount the four long stones stone leading up to the dais and then beyond it. He found several doors to choose from, hoping at least one led either to an intact room on this level, or down below to a cellar. He tried the weathered door that stood ajar and deformed on its hinges first. Using more strength then he thought he would have to, Cabal yanked the stubborn thing far enough open to squeeze through to the other side.
He needn’t have bothered. There was only a pile of rubble beyond the immediate landing and open to that same livid, roiling sky who had forced his landing. Cursing under his breath, he backed out once again, moving to a door that was still firmly in its frame. A hasp was drawn across the gap between the door and frame and a decaying lock secured the hasp. Tilting his head, and more curious than he should be allowed, Cabal wanted to know what was behind the door.
The dhampir was surprised, truly, because such a place was not out of raider radar. A lock meant something important was kept here – valuable – and that raiders hadn’t found it and already looted it was something of a surprise. He could only guess that the remote location kept them at bay.
Cabal wasn’t required to exert all that much of his considerable strength to get the lock free of the hasp – though it was the loop of metal the lock was threaded through that gave first. Prying the hasp away, Cabal needed a bit more effort to gain cooperation of the door itself. By the time he was finished, the door was in several large pieces – between the frozen knob and the rusted hinges – his anger had gotten the better of him.
Now he was faced with a dark maw leading down below the dead congregation. Swapping sight to better penetrate the pitch, he began descending into the lower level. The air in here was close, cloying, and dry, which was at once comforting and worry-some. Something had died down here – he could smell the musty stench which had never had a breeze to clean it out. The scent was as old as the bones upstairs – perhaps a decade or two newer – but not fresh. The comforting thing about it all was that there had been no one here in this room in a long time – no one had disturbed this place – or might still be here. The stale air meant that the roof and walls were intact and would provide more than adequate shelter for him until the storm blew over.
As the floor leveled out under his feet, Cabal slowly came to a halt. He dropped his duffle bag, and allowed his gaze to wander around the room. It was larger than he imagined from above – perhaps half the size of the ground floor. Here stood several rows of sparse benches made of simple wood. Between the rows of benches were tables to match. As his gaze swept the length of the room, he noticed a hearth on the far side. He could only tell it by the change in texture and pattern of the stones.
A fire would definitely be of help – despite that he was out of the wind, it was as cold as a tomb down here. He had the means to start one if he could find enough tinder.
“Okay, that’s the easy part,” Cabal laughed softly. There were tons of destroyed pews above his head. If push came to shove it would be nothing to tear apart the tables and benches between him and it. With a smile on his lips Cabal swept around one end of the tables, intent on discovering if a wood raid above was even going to be necessary to get said fire started. He hadn’t made it all the way to the fireplace when what was in it stopped him dead in his tracks.
“Dear God,” escaped his lips of its own accord.
He more slowly approached the fetal lump lying in the shallow concavity on the floor of the hearth. Chains struck heavy contrast to the mummified skin shackled amongst their links. The cloth was now set in stiff folds around the frail form. Hands were curled and laced together, the head pressed into their knuckles as if the being had died in prayer. The long nearly brown hair was nearly absent, fallen from the skin long before this moment and piled around the body. It was impossible to tell whether the creature had been male or female. The size indicated young adult…but even that was questionable.
As he tilted his angle to get a better look at that sunken countenance, he noted that there had been a leather mask strapped across the person’s face. The strap on the shrunken upturned ear had come loose and the mask itself sat slightly away from the face. A small pile of soot had spilled out of the contraption and piled at the far corner. He pushed the leather further from the leathery lips nothing a heavy dark gray stain permanently set into the skin around the mouth – how ash crusted the inside of nearly closed off nostrils.
“What in the world?”
Cabal wasn’t sure why he did it, but gingerly he pulled the unvented leather further from those shrunken, pious features. With a gasp, he leapt back, stumbling and ending up on his rump.
Heart thumping heavily in his chest, he continued to regard the poor shackled creature. Licking his lips and leaning forward, he crawled nearer once again. The lips were pulled ever so slightly back from gray and black, soot-stained teeth. It was enough – it was enough that he could see the arrangement and shape of the canines. Permanent, fixed, long, and sharp. He glared around the brick surrounding her, seeing small piles of carcasses, rats, snakes, anything the poor creature could get its hands on.
“A dhampir.” Cabal shook his head, swiping a gloved hand over the nearly hairless skull as pity and anger swelled behind his breastbone. “What happened that you ended up like this?”
He ran his hand over the skull once again, feeling something shift as his fingers touched the floor once again. Leaning over the emaciated form he realized there had been a foreign, manufactured edge to the form. Cabal shifted the piled tangle of lost hair off what turned out to be a bible.
The dhampir leaned back dragging the book with him. Opening the cover he found the messy scrawl of a person who had little practice with written language. The scrawl was hard to read – in no way helped by the lack of light in the room. Night vision was not nearly well enough equipped for reading. Squinting, he began to make out the short oft written segments of words that crowded the inside front cover of the Bible.
“I have no name…”
“I deserve my punishment…”
“I am a monster…a murderer…”
“I killed my mother…”