Chapter 24

Content: swearing, arguments, violence, death, etc.

Hide and Seek

They hurried past the Enclave building. It seemed different from the last time they were in town. Reinforced, more secure somehow.

Obviously had some problem with thieves Michael thought.

'Come along Tau' Mel said as she held his hand 'don't you think about those… things'.

'Yes miss' Tau said 'I'll try'.

A few minutes alter they were reached the end of the road. It split out in three different directions.

Michael remembered this from the last time they were in town, so did the others. 'This way' Mel and Asuif said.

The street they went into was all burnt out and ruined, just like before if not worse. A set of bodies hung from makeshift gallows made from the old street lamps and signs.

'Don't look' Mel commanded as soon as she noticed them. She made sure to cover Tau's face as they passed.

'Those poor people' Asuif muttered.

Michael tried his best not to look. 'Lets hurry up' he said.

They reached another intersection.

'This way' Asuif said 'there's that sign with all the graffiti'.

They were in the street that led to the Black Dragon, the pub that they had stayed in prior to their last visit to the university.

'Wait' Martin said 'can't we nip in for a pint?'

'What?' Asuif said.

'Well if were passing we might as well have something to drink' Martin said sheepishly.

'We don't have any money' Mel said 'remember we lost all of it back at the lab'.

Martin reached into his pocket and pulled out a few coins. 'I got some' he said.

'What?' Mel said 'from where?'

'That hut up ahead, you know the guy who said he was a wizard, I took some for myself, he wasn't going to need it anymore was he?' Martin said.

'Well' Mel said 'I suppose your right'.

'I am thirsty' Asuif said. 'Me too' Flint agreed. 'And we are in the area' Asuif said. Mel sighed. 'All right but just a quick drink, we got to get Tau to the university' she said.

'All right, all right, we know' Martin said. He went over to the pubs door and went in. Michael and the others followed. Mel looked like she disapproved. 'He's paying' Michael said to her 'you should lighten up'.

She turned on him. 'Don't you ever tell me what to do' she snapped and just as quickly she turned and marched into the pub with Tau.

Gary looked at Michael. 'Must be that time of the month, eh?' Michael joked.

They both went into the pub. Martin was at the bar ordering drinks, either that or flirting with the barmaid.

Michael sat down with the others on a nearby bench. It was rather full in here tonight; there were more people here than the last time they had visited. There were all sorts of people here: people in robes, people wearing armour, men and women. In the farthest part of the pub he could see Rack and Rake-the wizard and fighter they had met last time they visited this pub. Probably best not to talk to them after last time Michael thought.

'Busy tonight isn't it?' Gary said.

Michael nodded in agreement.

'One drink then we're off' Mel told them.

'Fine' Asuif muttered.

'Can I drink somethi-' Tau began but Mel cut him off 'No' she told him.

Martin returned with a few mugs of beer after a while. He set the mugs down on the table and sat next to Flint.

'Finally' Asuif said 'we've been waiting for what, like five minutes'.

'Very nice' Flint said after taking a sip of his beer 'thank you Martin'.

'Thank you' Michael said as he picked up his mug, the rest of them said thank you to Martin as well.

'I've been talking to the new barmaid, Ruby' Martin said 'guess what we've got in common'.

Below par IQ digits thought Michael.

'Can't be bothered to guess' Asuif said 'so just tell us already'.

'She's stuck down here just like us' Martin said.

Michael looked around to check her out. She wasn't unattractive; she had shoulder length brown hair and was wearing an old black top and a pair of jeans.

'Let me guess you want us to invite her along?' Gary said.

'Well why not?' Martin asked 'she needs help getting out of here just like we do'.

'We can't keep pick up more people' Gary said.

'Why not?' Mel asked angrily.

Tau looked nervously at the two of them.

'Your supposed to be helping us get out of this place' Asuif explained 'and if you ask me you aren't trying that much'.

'I'd like to see you do better' Gary said.

'I could' Asuif countered. 'Well why don't you?' Flint replied 'we don't exactly need you, if anything you need our skills and knowledge'.

'Please' Michael said 'can we not argue about this, everyone is trying their best'. Michael didn't want another argument especially after what happened last time. 'Let's get the kid – I mean lets get Tau to the university and figure out a way out of this place later, who knows maybe the people there will have some advice or something to help us'.

'Fine' Asuif said. 'Agreed' Gary muttered. 'That's the best thing to do' Mel said. She drained the last part of her drink. 'Let's get going' she said.

'Hey I haven't even finished my drink yet' Asuif said. 'Yeah me too' Martin added 'you were so busy arguing I didn't get a chance to even touch mine'.

'Boys' Mel said 'unless you want me to smack you down, right here, in public, I suggest you just come along'. She stood up and indicated for Tau to follow her.

'But…' Asuif began but then trailed off. He could see the look in Mel's eyes. 'Fine' he said.

They all got up and left the pub. Michael wondered guiltily whether they should have taken the barmaid as well. Then again they could always come back for her if they escaped.

They were walking in the street for a few minutes before they noticed that the lights were dimming all around them.

'Shit' Asuif muttered 'is it even curfew yet?'

'No' Gary said panicking slightly 'it shouldn't start for at least another hour yet'. The few street lamps they could see were now no brighter than a dozen matchsticks.

Flint and Asuif fumbled to light up their last torches. 'There barely anything left' Asuif complained 'a few minutes at best'.

'Wait don't you have that mobile phone, that has a torch setting' Michael suggested. 'Oh yeah I'd completely forgotten' Asuif said.

Michael got out his lighter from his pocket and lit it up. Asuif had his phone set to the torch setting, he handed his weak flamed torch to Mel to hold. 'Not much light is it' Martin said. 'best we have' Flint said 'better get a move on, obviously curfew' been moved forward for some reason, we don't want to be on these streets when they come out'.

'Who comes out?' Tau asked. He was staring at them wide eyed and fearfully. 'The monsters' Flint replied.

'Don't worry' Mel said 'stay close and you'll be safe, now everyone I suggest we get moving'. Leading by example Mel stepped forward.

'Ah, Mel' Asuif said sheepishly 'it's the other way'.

'Oh, sorry' Mel said and turned to the correct direction.

They walked on slowly, no one wanted to trip up over something in the dark.

'Come on let's hurry' Gary said. Michael agreed he had witnessed first hand the kind of stuff that happened after curfew in this town and he didn't want to get killed.

It had only been dark for about three minutes when they heard the first scream. It sounded close, far too close as far as Michael was concerned.

'Stay close' Mel said as she pulled out her rapier. She looked formidable holding her weapon in one hand and a flaming torch in the other. Tau remained close behind her. 'Come on' she commanded.

They stepped up their pace. 'That hut, you know where that crazy guy lived isn't far from here' Asuif suggested. 'And?' Mel said.

'Maybe we should duck in there, wait till morning' Asuif suggested. 'You know that's the smartest thing you've said all day, alright do you remember where it is?' Mel said. 'It's not to far' Asuif said 'we can't possibly miss it'.

There was something out there Michael knew it he could smell them. A foul stench, like something dipped in sewage and sick. Michael said 'be careful, there's someone out there'.

'I know' Flint said 'I can smell them and hear them'.

When Michael concentrated he too could hear them, a sort of scrapping, scampering noise. He pulled out his sword as slowly and softly as he could. 'It's up there' Asuif said pointing his torch in the direction of the house 'we'll be safe there'. Flint lifted his torch up and flung it forward, it clattered to the ground just ahead of them, half way between them and the house.

The torch's brilliant light shone out and lit up the path before them. About a dozen shapes skittered out of the way, out of the light. Michael only got a short look. Dirty, short, scraggy men. Men with filthy sharp nails, there bodies covered in excrement and filth clothed only in the barest of loincloths. 'Filthy creatures' Flint muttered.

'What the f-' Asuif muttered. 'Rats!' Gary exclaimed almost sounding, almost comically, hysterical 'Rats!'

A filthy clawed hand reached out to swipe at Michael head. He almost knocked Gary over as he stumbled away from the blow.

Martin reacted quickly and without fear, in fact he seemed to relish a chance to show off his fighting moves, he rushed forward and bashed the creature away using his gauntlets to enhance his punches. As soon as the creature collapsed to the ground, clutching with its clawed hands its battered throat, Martin drew his sword to finish the beast. He drove the blade straight through the beast's stomach. He still favoured his uninjured arm.

No Michael thought not a beast it's a man all the creatures down here were men, bizarre parodies of men, twisted men but men nonetheless.

Michael could hear the angry howls and hisses in the darkness, could feel the angry eyes directed their way, could almost feel the hatred directed at them.

'Hurry!' Mel shouted.

They ran towards the hut, arms swinging, legs pumping wildly. Their weapons swung back and forth as they ran long with the lights they held casting crazy shadows upon the road.

Occasional a rat felt bold enough to swipe at them from the shadow. They either ducked the blow or lashed out with a well-placed blade to the creature's hearts.

Behind them a formidable army had amassed, they howled and jeered at them, they chased and raced after the group.

'Shit' Asuif shouted as he reached the house ahead of them. He shoved aside a huge rat that came at him, tripping it up and stabbing at it with his sword.

Gary reached the house just as Asuif finished the deed. He slammed the door open and rushed inside. Asuif and Flint soon followed, they both stood at the doorway cutting down any rat that tried approaching.

'Hurry up!' Asuif yelled. What did he think they were trying to do Michael thought.

Up ahead Mel and Tau stumbled. 'Mel!' Michael shouted. He rushed to there aid. From beside them a foul looking rat approached. It had a misshapen clawed hand and a huge gouge where its left eye should have been. It reached out to grab them. Tau screamed out loud. Michael tried to run even faster than he was already.

Without hesitation Mel swung her torch into the creatures remaining eye. With a howl it stumbled back, clutching at its face. Mel grabbed Tau hand and ran towards the cottage.

Michael followed. He was puffing and panting; his legs and side ached, as they had never done so before. He hadn't had to run as fast as this since the Laboratory.

'Martin' he said out loud. Where was the boy he thought. 'Martin' he repeated.

'Yeah Martin voice was close, right besides him. Michael almost had a heart attack. How had he snuck up so close without being noticed?

'There you are' Michael said. 'Were you worried?' Martin asked. 'Yes' Michael replied honestly there was no point in lying about it. 'Then you do care' Martin said mockingly. Michael ignored him.

Up ahead reflected in the light form their torches he could see Flint and Asuif. Crawling around the side of the house, far from Asuif and Flint was what Michael could only think of as a thing. He couldn't see it very well in the light but from the way the light reflected off its surface he could tell it was made of metal, it moved low on the ground and whatever it was it looked like trouble.

Martin saw it as well. His eyes widened. He uttered a swear word and then, picking up the pace, he rushed past Michael.

Michael reached the door a few seconds alter and, after dodging a blow aimed at his leg form a particularly formidable looking rat, he rushed in and almost ran straight into a wall as soon as he was inside.

'Quick the door' Michael said. He had to stop he leaned against a wall for support. 'You've got to-' he started. 'It's done' Flint said 'we had plenty of time to think before you arrived'.

While Michael and Martin had been running for their lives the others had taken the time to search the house for things to barricade the door with.

The door was currently held fast by a collection of chairs, a table, a bookshelf, a few metal weapons and most sickening of all a life size statue of a human.

Outside the creatures banged against the door. It appeared the makeshift barricade was holding, for now at least.

Michael stared at the statue. 'Why the hell do you use it, are you sick or something?' he was shouting at no one in particular. When they had first visited the house weeks ago it had been owned by a particular sick individual that enjoyed using magic to turn people into makeshift statues. He would petrify them with spells that prevented them from moving and then treat the bodies in a special resin for the whole statue look. No one owned up to placing the statue there. 'You know what it is, why the hell did you use it for?' he asked angrily.

'Well' Mel said just as angrily and just as aggressively 'we were in a bit of a hurry, its not as if he's going to complain, but if it upsets you so much we'll shift it, Martin'.

Martin looked around sheepishly. 'Sorry' he muttered and he moved the statue off the barricade and rested it besides it on the wall.

'I thought you said the university would clear this place' Asuif said to Gary. 'Well lucky for us they didn't' Flint said 'otherwise we wouldn't have anything to block the door with, this is the only door right?'

Mel nodded. 'Yeah' she said 'we spent more time here than I would have liked and there definitely not another way in'.

Gary went to the wall opposite the door. He opened up his bag and brought out a piece of chalk. He bean etching a symbol or sign onto the wall. 'Well I suppose they haven't got around to it' Gary said answering the question from earlier 'or something happened to the research and recovery team'.

'Yeah' Flint said 'stuff like that happens a lot here, believe me'.

'What are you doing?' Tau asked. He had been quiet for as while now and he still seemed shaken by their ordeal in the darkness.

Gary finished marking the wall and turned to look at Tau. 'Just placing a glyph, it acts as a ward, if any of those things see this they might have second thoughts about attacking, you'll be learning this kind of stuff at the university'.

'Does that stuff work?' Tau asked incredulously.

'Well' Gary said 'sort of, like a lot of magic it's all down to luck mostly, besides didn't your grandmother do this at home?'

'Yes' Tau said 'but her stuff always worked, those things in the wasteland wouldn't dare hurt her'.

'Yes' Gary said 'but they could hurt you'.

There was a crash and the sound of wood splintering. In the corner of the room, something like a metal snout rammed through the wall. The banging on the door became more frequent and fierce.

Martin grabbed his new club from his belt. 'Time to try this out' he said.

Mel grabbed his arm. 'Don't be an idiot' she said. The creature in the corner was tearing the wall open with its claws now. Short, stubby metal claws. 'We've got no chance against that' Gary said panicking 'is there another way out?'

'There's an upstairs' Mel said 'a secret passage in the study, I suppose we could smash in the roof and jump off'.

'Then run as fats as we can to the university, its only a few minutes jog away, we can make it' Asuif said ecstatically.

'Ok' Mel said 'Tau stay close, lets go!'

She ran out, pulling Tau along with her the room and the others followed her. Behind them the metal monster roared, a strange metallic hiss.

They were going up the steps, two at a time as fasts as they could go. Asuif almost burnt Michael legs with his torch, as he was so close behind him. They were on the second floor, slightly disorientated. There was a crash from the first floor; shrieks and squeals the rats were in.

'Stay back' Flint said. He moved back as far as he could and ran forward, he slammed into the rood/wall, the weak wall shattered and he went flailing to the ground.

Michael and Asuif went to the hole and looked down.

Flint was safe, he got up slowly but he was ok, there were no creatures around him.

They jumped down, one by one, the ones at the bottom keeping watch and the ones at the top helping the others down.

'That spell won't stop them for long' Gary muttered as he got up. He was the last down. From the hole above them in the roof they could here the sound of feet on the wooden floor panels.

'Run' Mel said.

It was a nightmare trek through the darkened and ruined streets, jumping at any sight or movement or sound they came across.

'This is it' Asuif panted and wheezed. There lights shone upon the canvas that separated the university form the town, a particularly odd trick. When they first came here they hadn't seen any building at all, just a stonewall but the stonewall was just a covering, a disguise that hide the building form sight. All you had to do was reach out to touch it and you could tell it was just a cloth canvas. It could fool you once from a distance or in the darkness but it couldn't stand up to close scrutiny.

They moved under the folds of the cloth. 'Stay close' Mel told Tau.

The group assembled on the other side, before the dark and silent university building.

Authors Note:

Took me a while to finish this chapter, originally the group was going to get to the university straight away but I thought I'd make it more difficult for the characters.

The bit about forgetting the phone was a little joke at my own expense as I'm always forgetting details like this in my stories until I look back at old chapters and go oh yeah Gary picked up that ring or oh yeah Mel has those daggers.

This is a second version of this chapter, the first one had some of my notes left on it (sorry about that) you see I usually put notes underneath what I'm writing, stuff like lines of dialogue, characters, descriptions, plots, etc and I completely forgot to clear it when I published the chapter, so anyway, sorry about that.

Anyway hope you liked it.