Fallen Underground

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Darkness clung to her, seeping into every pore like liquid smoke. It stole the passage of time, making it feel like Alex had been wandering for hours or even days in this subterranean heaven turned hell. She stumbled blindly, hands groping for purchase, praying this break in the earth wouldn't become her tomb. Pipes slipped by, jagged pieces of ancient metal hooking and tearing things Alex couldn't see but could feel. It was like wading through a pitch-black forest of metal thorns, each ragged exhale echoing absurdly loud in her oversensitive ears.

Without warning, the passage narrowed to an unreasonable degree, squeezing, strangling, suffocating. Alex began to panic. Claustrophobia had never been an issue in the past but now, the tighter the passage, the steeper her panic spiked.

She should have never left Lee. That thought joined the hurricane of others beating at her skull. She should have stayed. They should have never separated because now she was lost and scared and there were gunmen in the tunnels. If Lee didn't make it out alive... Alex couldn't even finish that thought without choking.

Lee would be there when she found her way out.

She would be waiting for her.

She promised.

A slash of gray split the blackness, dim as a soft sunrise, magnetically drawing Alex's eye. The exit! It had to be because the closer she shifted, the wider and brighter it became and the more sounds she could hear. People. She could hear people banging on pipes and shouting. Feet running. Screaming...

Oh, God. Oh, God, no.

Abandoning her slow shuffle, Alex tore for the opening, ignoring the burn of fresh cuts. It was little more than a crack in the wall, like Lee said, big enough for a person with narrow shoulders to squeeze through. Grunting in an effort to edge around the last obstacle, Alex made her final reach for freedom when the sound of gunfire stopped her cold.

Figures rushed past the crack. Someone stumbled in the melee and went down hard, spilling their belongings. They rose with all the grace of fleeing prey, scrambling to follow the crowd, but for a split second, Alex made eye contact with the dark-haired woman she'd seen briefly during the feast less than a week ago. How the woman found her didn't matter because one second, she was standing, and the next, the chamber erupted in the cacophonous rattle of gunfire and she was thrown sideways in a spray of crimson and lead.

Alex's blood turned to sludge, hands of terror strangling the scream echoed by dozens of unseen bodies. Bodies...that was all that would be left.

She couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. Couldn't compute the trauma and horror movie tragedy unfolding. At the mouth of the crack lay the woman, eyes open, lifelessly staring at the ceiling. The holes the bullets left behind were larger than a human fist. Bile ignited an inferno at the back of Alex's throat, doubling her over. She vomited until her stomach cramped, tears joining the blood and sickness staining the floor. With uneven steps, she exited the passage, numb from the neck down despite the tears still flowing.

What met her in the Main Hall was nothing short of horrific, the sight burning itself into her memory.

The Underground, razed to the ground.

Homes were burning. Shelters destroyed. Acrid smoke coiled along the top of the cement tunnel like boiling storm clouds, filling the air with the stench of burning plastic. And littered through it all were bodies.

Some were faces she recognized. Many she didn't. More gunfire popped off further down the passage, but it might as well have been distant fireworks for all the reaction it woke in Alex. She walked the length like a zombie, eyes seeing but not comprehending, wading through tragedy too heinous to find traction in the fragments of her mind.

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