The wind had picked up when they stepped outside, throwing a cold gust into Virdon's face. The sky was a churning mass of black clouds racing across the sky, hiding and revealing the sun in rapid succession.
The plaza reflected the pale, flickering light, but despite the unreal, nightmarish scenery, Virdon was acutely aware that this was real, one of them was gone, and his mind shied away from asking what was happening to Zana now, if she was even still alive-
He shook his head, trying to chase away those thoughts, and reached for Apache's rope. They would find her in time. They had to, not because of Galen's threats, but because anything else was unacceptable.
Burke came jogging back from his quick scout, still gripping the empty, useless gun that Galen had dropped. Perhaps he hoped to get his hands on some ammunition later.
„Found something, let's go," Burke gasped and stepped between the horses. „Get on Apache, Al, and take Tala's rope - once we have Zana, we gotta run real quick!" He handed the gun to Virdon and helped him onto the horse's back, then bent down to remove the fetters.
Virdon checked the saddlebags behind him and tried not to feel like the useless cripple that he was. Pete was right about having to flee on horseback, and Virdon knew that despite his bad leg, he was the best rider in their group, and would probably be the only one capable of keeping their horses in check, while Pete and Galen...
„What did you find?" he ground out while they hurried down the wide walkway. He saw Pete purse his lips and hesitate.
„Trail of blood," Burke muttered after a moment. „Hey, we're all bleeding, okay?" he added quickly. „Doesn't have to mean anything, an' it's at least something we can follow!" He pointed.
It was a broad, if thin, smear of blood, marring the otherwise pristine whiteness of the road, and Virdon felt the bile rise in his throat. These things had dragged her over the stones, and the smear was uniform, there were no interruptions, which meant Zana hadn't struggled, hadn't moved...
She was unconscious, he told himself, not dead. Not dead...
Nobody spoke. It didn't take any special scouting skills to follow the trail, and Virdon kept his gaze more on the edges of the visible area they were traversing than on the ground, scanning the facades, the intersections, the shadows under the... floating streets, all the nooks and niches. He fully expected another attack; maybe the trail was a trap, and Zana was bait, and they were unarmed, save for Galen's rod, and Pete's grenades, and their knives.
Burke stopped abruptly. „There." He pointed to another building, a massive block that reached into the sky with, Virdon estimated, several hundred floors, the top levels dissolving in the black clouds overhead. The trail of blood led to another hole at ground level, but this one hadn't been forced open; it looked like the gate to a subterranean parking garage. Yet another underground nest.
„Seems the things that attacked you were from another 'hood," Burke mused. „Took her back to their own lair." He rubbed his hand over his mouth, thinking.
„Does that mean, that... that every building has a, a colony?" Galen asked. His face mirrored Virdon's thoughts: Would they have to fight their way out of this nightmare against waves and waves of these creatures, each building spewing forth a new force?
That would be impossible. They'd never make it out alive. The rod was dangling from Galen's arm as if it was suddenly too heavy for him. Galen wasn't used to fighting; he hadn't held anything more deadly than a pen for most of his life. Virdon silently cursed his leg. Galen shouldn't be the one to go in there with Burke, he should, he knew how to do this...
YOU ARE READING
Cornered by Urko and his men, the fugitives have no choice but to hide inside a Forbidden Zone, where apes don't dare to follow. When they discover the ruins of yet another city, Virdon insists they search for technology that might bring them home...