Queen to Queen

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Just like her first encounter with the gigantic Undergrounder, Alex's trip into the bowels of the earth was done entirely in silence. No banging. No calls. Goliath walked ahead with a smooth grace uncommon to someone his size. Alex expected him to lumber. To sway or to shuffle like a hunchback. Goliath barely made a sound, his presence more wraith than human.

"Are you human?"

She hadn't realized the question slipped eel-quick past her thoughts and landed squarely on her tongue until it was too late. Freezing, she waited for him to react, to whip around, to growl or turn into some hideous monster now that the die was cast. He did none of those things. Didn't even stop walking, forcing Alex to catch up after her muscles thawed.

"Once," the behemoth rumbled, again catching Alex off guard with how deep his voice was. At first, she thought he was talking to himself until she realized he answered her question.

"Once?" Her thoughts skipped back to the conversation she had with Lucas.

"I am flesh and blood but not human. I haven't been human for over two hundred years."

In the darkness, her eyes must have looked like saucers. What? What? She didn't know how to process that, scrambling for a mental grip until something other than shock settled, making the skin of Alex's forehead crinkle.

"Did you...did you just quote Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire?"

Alex couldn't see Goliath's expression behind the mask, but when he turned to regard her over his shoulder, she was sure he was grinning.

"I guess gullible should be written on the ceiling," she muttered, warming with embarrassment at being the butt of a joke.

Not long after their brief exchange, Alex began picking up the faint tapping that preceded the Underground. Strange how the sound was cathartically comforting, like stepping through the front door after returning home from a long trip.

When Goliath triggered a hidden door a few yards further down and stepped through, the tapping grew louder and the tunnels brighter, illuminated with hanging cage lights bolted to the walls. This was a different path than the one Alex took when meeting Lee in the Chamber of Echoes. The cement was light gray and newer, the pipes less corroded with rust and wear. She toyed with the idea of asking where exactly they were in conjunction with the Underground's layout, but her answer came soon enough with startling understanding.

The hall they passed through, which appeared a dead-end to the untrained eye, continued after a ninety-degree hard right turn, ushering Alex through a low arch into a monstrous corridor that took her breath away. Not because of the size, though she was having trouble fathoming the ceiling height let alone the length, but because of what was there.

Everywhere Alex looked sat a dwelling crafted from available materials. Some families had tents. Others had wooden structures resembling long lean-tos crafted from pallet wood and tarps. Others were more bizarre, but everything, regardless of where her eyes fell, was impeccably clean.

No trash. No rats, largely due to the sheer number of cats roaming around. No smell of fecal matter or urine. Just the lingering scent of damp stone, hard water, and the coagulation of multiple cookstoves. There was no denying this was the beating artery of the Underground, a mini-city under the city, and the moment Alex and Goliath stepped foot along its arrow-straight path, that pulse went still.

It was eerie walking through a once bustling dystopian city to the lonely sound of her heels echoing off the walls. In any other setting, the click of high heels was a precursor of power, heralding a woman like a storm. Here, it might as well have been the slow staccato of an executioner if the looks Alex spied peeking out at her from behind doors, flaps, and drapes were anything to go by.

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