There was a rumble in the distance, an earthquake or a thunderstorm. It made the ground below them quiver.
“What’s that?” Michael asked panicky.
“I don’t know.” She replied thoughtful, a sense of worry encroaching on her. It would not go away. “Are you going to be okay?” He nodded. She handed him over to another friend to support him. “You guys go straight home, alright?”
She turned around.
“Wait, where are you going?” He pulled her back.
She looked at him briefly and turned in the direction of the Order headquarters. “I have to go somewhere, check on something.” She hoped so desperately that she was wrong.
“Alice!” He cried after her. She ran off, into the darkness.
Just a block away from the club a desolate ghost world began. A blooming part of town just a few hours before, now had more likeness to a post-war wasteland. No lanterns were lit, a few flickered and went out with a pop. It sent shivers down her spine. The streets were empty, the shops deserted. They showed signs of struggle. Trash cans were kicked over, their insides spilled across the sidewalks, a few doors hung wobbly from their hinges, cars were scratched and dented, the shoes of their yanked out drivers left behind on the road. Something crunched. She looked down at the broken glass from cracked windows beneath her feet. Svarts raided here as well.
She strode through the lane, on her guard, the only sounds her own. Her heels were too loud on the pavement and her feet were killing her. She took the shoes off and tiptoed crouching through the streets barefoot – carefully across the debris – clinging to the walls and staying in the shadows. She bit her lip. A squadron of Svart troops passed by, she pressed against the damp side of a corner and held her breath, waiting for them to march on and rubbing a hand over her queasy stomach. She had a bad feeling.
They stamped on in rows of two, blabbering and laughing, the sound of their military boots trapped, echoing back and forth between the high brick walls of the alley. What were they up to? And why hadn’t she met a single knight around? Where were the others?
Once they were gone, she crossed the street and looked around the bend. All clear. Nervously, she broke into a sprint.
There it was, the street. She slowed down, coughing. The air was thick with dust, everything was grey and it was so unusually, so deafeningly quiet and empty. And then she saw it.
With a sigh as if her last breath was squeezed out of her, she sunk to the ground. She’d been right. It had happened. Before her lay the pile of rubble that was once their tall, proud office.
She got up and plummeted headfirst into the smouldering wreckage. A few bits of wall were still upright, their characteristic iron bars sticking out like fish-bones.
“No!” On her knees she clawed into the ruins to look for life, for bodies, anything among the ash and stone, but two arms clenched firmly around her. She pushed him away. “Let go, we have to...”
“Alice, don’t!” A soft voice whispered, resolutely helping her up. “You can’t help them, it’s too late.”
She looked at him, in tears, exasperated. “Uncle, what happened?”
He held her close. “The building, they blew it up, my child.”
She struggled against him to go back, but he wouldn’t let her. “No, Alice, it’s not safe.” There was a distant thudding on the ground, she paid it no mind. “We have to go, they’re coming.”
She looked in the direction of the marching sound. “I don’t care. Some may have survived. We have to get them out.”
He clenched her wrists and made her look at him as he articulated the words carefully. “None survived, Alice.” He pulled his hair with a frustrated wave of his hand. “The collapse was just a cover-up, they gassed them first, there was a leak and...” He puffed. “No one even noticed what was happening.” He scuffed his foot over the concrete, unable to look her in the eyes. “I was just outside in the garden, I saw the whole thing through the glass door. Once it got through to me what was wrong, I rushed in, but it was already too late.”
“No! No!” She moaned, pulling her hair.
“Alice, please, we have to leave.” He said desperately. “If they spot us...”
“No, no, I won’t go.” She wiggled around for a way out of his grasp and back into the rubble, but he tightened his grip. He dragged her back into an alley and clasped his hand firmly over her mouth and his arm around her waist. She struggled like crazy and uttered suppressed screams, but he did not let go.
“Shht!” He whispered in her ear. “Be quiet. They can’t find us. You owe them that.”
She calmed down and nodded, so incredibly tired and so she hung limp in his grasp, watching through dulled eyes with tears pouring down as a dozen of the Svart task force went through the rubbish. They were looking for something, kicking rocks aside like it mattered nothing, be it stone or flesh.
“Captain!” One of them cried. Three of his companions rushed in to help and they shoved boulders until one pulled out the prize from its unbreakable titanium container in the ground where the front desk had been.
“The security system.” She whispered. “What do they want with that?”
Author's note: hi there, hope you're enjoying the novel. I know I sure love writing it. However, there might be slow progression with the project for the next month or so. The last weeks have been terribly busy, next week will be worse and after that, it's examination time again till end of July, and you probably know how that turned out last time... Yes, disastrous. So, be warned. It's very frustrating, because now I have to delay getting Alice to the point and place where it really starts getting exciting, I'm anxious to get there, which results in not rewriting each separate chapter for a hundred times over before posting. Sorry.