Ruins: A Memory of Man's Destruction [Closed]

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Chapter One: Exploring in a Child's Mind

It wasn't a day normally suited for a war to begin. This was not the place you would expect real war to erupt. There were skirmishes of course, minor battles between the Tribes of this land, but nothing ever to this extent. They say the Old World had wars like this one, millions would perish and the world would forget them in 100 years' time. This would not be forgotten though, this war; for it marked a new era in the world, the second Ascension would prove to be a true prophecy and the world would know the truth behind the Event. This was seen by the seers of the Northern Tribes, known for their strange magics and powers beyond the realm of our understanding.

This would not happen in the Northern Tribes though, as it was predicted but one of partial Northern blood would be in the thick of it. For thousands of years the Ruins had always been thought to be the source of the Event, for the Ascension that took away most of the population so long ago. There were few who explored these places though, few areas that had been mapped within the Ruins. It would seem though, that it would change as a group of men and women would find what they had questioned for so long. Whether or not it would be what they expected remained to be seen. Whether or not it would answer the problems that would arise would be answered.

The Ruins, according to the Elders, are something to be feared. These remnants of the Old lands were forbidden to be explored, but there were those who defied the orders of the Elders. They were always caught in time, always banished in spite of age, or position in the tribe standings. This deterred many who would have explored and discovered the secrets of these Ruins, but not this group. This group was led by one of Northern blood and the North is notorious for its stubborn nature.

It was by the Northern blood that the 2nd Ascension would be predicted and by Northern and Eastern blood that it would be fulfilled. So it is said by the Great Northern Seer "Far Northern Flower" in the 2067th Year following the 1st Ascension and so it shall be recorded as truth in the books of the Elders. So it is.

These are words that would not be on the mind of Alexis as he moved through the Forest outside of the Eastern Tribe where he lived. His village laid at the edge of the explored world, the edge of the mapped world, where it was said that nothing lived anymore. It was also in this Forest where the Ruins of Turmoil existed, named for their twisted, jarring nature, the structures curled and twisted to the Clouds and expanse of miles of iron jungle laid before the people who dared to explore it. It was a marvel to behold, a dangerous gem within the rough of the Forest. The Forest itself reflected the mood of the Ruins as well, its roots growing through the entrance of the Ruins, as if reclaiming what the Old People had once created, its branches and roots gnarled and twisted, thick and unhealthy to touch the closer they got to the doomed cities of old.

These Ruins were a danger to any who entered; it appeared to be more than blind fear that prevented travellers from entering the Ruins. Rusted steel hidden by thousands of years of degradation impeded any who tried to cross with horse or wagon, one could only walk and tread carefully. Once one was cut by the rusted metal, survival was not guaranteed, there was no way to fight the infection that threatened anyone who injured themselves on the impure steel that supported the Ruins.

Alexis called to his cousin, who was close to his age, only a few months separating them, "Come on, you're almost there, slow as usual but you're learning. At this pace we'll only get to the Ruins by sundown and have to go straight home," he laughed as he jibed his cousin playfully.

The two were headed over to Alexis's favourite building for scavaging. It wasn't purely for the resources that were to be had there, but rather the beauty of the structure that brought the twisted steel structures of the rest of the Ruins to shame. Its crumbled walls gave way to high points, degraded with age and rust, only a shadow of its former glory and yet Alexis loved it; he could only imagine what it would have looked like in its prime age; before the Ascension destroyed humanity.

Once Cael had finally struggled over the stone blocks that had impeded their path into the Ruins, Alexis pulled him onto the platform where the two sat for a second drinking in the dawn. Alexis had dragged his cousin out of bed early to head down to the Ruins before they could be put to work with chores; there was no classes today on account of the Elder's reading today and so it was a great way to kill the day before sunrise when the tribe gathered in the Seven Halls to hear the Elders lecture. Exploring the Ruins could take a few moments or many hours if you found the right area and the right people to go with. Alexis hoped that after Cael got used to coming out here more, they'd explore more together, it was safer in groups and it meant that Alexis could drag more stuff home to barter with. It was also nice to just relax and sightsee with someone who hadn't seen the whole Ruins yet, buildings were still something that Alexis avoided though, going inside one was dangerous, as he had once learned.

For now though, it was great just to see the sun rising and drink in the cool breeze, "Alright you've had your break, c'mon its time to head to the Towers," he said, tugging on Cael's arm, "Lets go."

The humidity was killing him. It acted with a startling maliciousness, a bitter twang to its warm air, beating down even the most fit of laborers who had to pause and drink every few minutes to maintain strength. The ones who dared venture outside lay slanted in the shady areas, groups of them stuffed behind buildings and under trees. Small kids, who would normally sprint around and pushing one another over on the streets, either were kept up inside by their parents or were too exhausted to even sit up straight.

Akia had made sure his attire was suitable when he left that morning. His pants were light as was his shirt, and while has pack was large and stuff, he had made a few concessions to make sure he could fit flasks of water, which he kept near the top for easy access. This had perhaps been a lacking idea, as he soon found himself fishing for them when he was even remotely flushed, and the first of the three flasks were empty. He hoped it would be enough for the trip, and if he kept moving quickly he believed he'd be fine.

With such heat he knew the day would last long, but he kept his pace high as he wanted to be home as quickly as possible. Spending that much of the day under the burning sun was not an attractive proposition. Inside his pack were a collection of garments, freshly fashioned and folded into a neat, attractive pile. From his parent's tailor to a small settlement run by a single family out in the forest was where he needed to take the bundle. The order had come in a week before, and with the expenses paid the family had made sure the goods were put on high priority. Normally they put established families higher on the list - this family were the definition of removed from the populace. But, the money they had paid was extraordinary, even compared to the respectable sums normally paid to the tailor, and so the gear and finery were made in careful, calculated haste.

Akia had encountered little resistance throughout town, and as he began his stalk through the forest he felt oddly energized. The over-hanging tops kept him in the cooling shade, and while the heat was still noticeable, it did not have the same penetrating effects as before. He slowed his pace, enjoying the lush landscape. The path in front of him was barely inculcated into the forest floor, and what was of it was made by trampling feet rather than any attempt at human definition, but it was a solid enough foundation for Akia to follow.

There was a soft, rustling in the ferns near him, but he disregarded it as forest life scuttling about. He was corrected when there was a large thwack came straight to the back of the head, felling him almost instantly. His nose crunched into the dirt, his hands refusing to act in stabilizing him. Eyes blurred, he turned slowly and through the haze saw the shapes of people. They were too short and stout to be adults, but even through the blur he saw their imposing nature that defied them to be young children. Before he could draw on their face or even their clothes, a second more powerful thump came to his face, and a third, even stronger, landed in his groin. A rush came to his head, and black enveloped his vision.

He awoke with a tangible pain in his balls. They felt like they had become dust. The pain was offset by the succinct taste of blood that had dribbled from his forehead to his mouth. He took more than a few moments to find himself, and allow the grinding pain to subside. When his body had recovered, he took to his feet in an incredibly inelegant manner, and glanced around. He couldn't have been passed out too long, for the rays of sunlight that slid between the trees hadn't shifted.

Less troubling than the time of day was the complete lack of his pack. The strap it that it had been held onto with had been snapped off, and lay discarded on the forest floor. He frantically span around, searching for the pack itself, hoping it had simply been thrown to the side in the assault. But no, there was absolutely no sign of it. He sat back on the floor, both to help alleviate himself from the constant pain and to consider the reaction of his parents. The materials and goods were not cheap, and the wasted time would push the business back even further. That was not even taking into consideration the hit they would take to their reputation.

Akia felt a lightness to his thigh, and ran his hand up and down it, thinking it was an odd after-effect to the beating. Then, he stopped. There was something missing. He looked down, and saw a complete absence of his knife.

He jumped to his feet. His sense were sharpened again, and there was a fierce ferocity overcoming his broken, sore body. There was not a single trail of evidence showing Akia where his assailants had disappeared to. Panic overcame him, a bleak and yet emotionally overwhelming force. When he heard the distant rustle of a creature brushing through the forest, he sprinted towards it with all his force, ignoring the pounding heat and the pain spreading from his head to his groin.

The undergrowth was messy, and there was no even footing, but it didn't deter Akia. He bounded and stretched his way towards the noise. Any emotion was washed away by the sprint, his focus tightly set towards retrieving his possession. Unfortunately, this blind dedication stumbled him, for when he stopped to regain breath he saw he was nowhere familiar. Trees blended into trees, and greenery dissipated into greenery. The only thing splitting this illusion was a ruin, looking as though it had been dropped from a spaceship high above the forest. It was bound in a mawkish grey, and its once impressive form had been diluted by time, broken down and uncomfortably mashed into nature.

Akia had a strange inclination to slip inside. If the sound he had heard was indeed the people who had taken his things from him, then there was nowhere else for them to run but inside the ruins. They had perhaps made their way inside to look through what they had stolen, ready to sell the clothes and knife onward, or to keep for themselves. Regardless of their intention, Akia knew he had to retrieve his blade. With an unusual determination, he took the air to his lungs, and made his way inside.

The party of four had been following a familiar trail in the woods for a while. Last night, they had arranged to meet up early in the morning and all head out at the same time. All were armed; swords hung off of their belts, each given a couple of personal touches by their owner. The boy in the lead, Joseph, had his weapon in hand, cutting away overgrown branches and clearing a path for the little band. Jenna was one of the four, and the only girl among them. None of the other girls in their circle of friends had wanted to get up so early.

At sixteen years of age, Jenna was lightly built, a couple of inches taller than the other three with whom she was walking. Her elbow-length brown hair was tied back in two places to avoid it getting caught on branches or otherwise getting in the way. Dressed in simple clothes - a tunic, ankle-length skirt and the shoes she wore regularly were her outfit of choice that day - the seamstress's daughter had a little difficulty keeping up with the boys, but she managed it. The path was relatively straight, and the guy in front of her was only a couple of metres ahead.

Another thwack of Joseph's sword revealed a grassy clearing in the woods, a rare occurrence in Jenna's experience of forest-wandering. Three paths branched off from it, not counting the one the group had come from. The group happily took the opportunity to take a short break from the walking, and flopped down in the long, unkempt grass for a breather. It was cooler in this small patch of empty space than it had been in the trail they had been following; the sun's heat was amplified near to the point of discomfort. All three of the boys were sweating visibly in the heat; Jenna, however, was not perspiring as much as the others. It had long since been proven that she could beat any of her friends in a footrace and not break a sweat.

"So, where do we go from here?" one of the others asked after a few minutes of resting, to fill the silence. Zacharias, or Zac for short, was the one who had spoken. "Three paths, three possible routes."

"Well, I dunno where any of them end up, so... do we just pick one at random?" was Joseph's response. There was no de facto leader of the party of four: no-one really cared who was in charge unless a crisis presented itself.

"Might as well. Um..." Jenna trailed off as she raised a hand from where she sat, legs tucked underneath herself, and closed her eyes. She waved her hand around randomly for a few seconds, to the mild amusement of the boys, and eventually pointed to the right-hand path of the three. "That one?"

"Sure, why not. Let's go, team," Joseph said with a grin, jumping up and offering Jenna his hand to help her back onto her feet. She accepted the hand up, and Joseph blushed ever so slightly. Noticing the redness in his cheeks, Jenna raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. Instead she mentioned that he should take the lead again, and he did so.

Soon enough the group was on the move again; Zac was quietly joking with Joseph about what had taken place in the clearing. Jenna overheard a few snippets of conversation; according to Zac, Joseph blushed every time he came into contact with a girl. Smiling wryly to herself at the notion, Jenna followed after the others, occasionally looking down at the ground to check her footing... until she accidentally walked straight into the guys as they stood silently.

Totally embarrassed by her screw-up, Jenna opened her mouth to apologise... and stopped before she could start. They had stumbled across a place they'd never seen before. Ruins, the entrance of which was overgrown by plant life. There was no sign of any changes made by human hands; they'd found a place that had yet to be investigated. Who knew what secrets could be stashed away in the ancient structures, which had been destroyed by the ravages of time... and of course, the Event, as the Elders always said.

The group stood there in silence, awed by their discovery, until Zac eventually said, "Well... this is... interesting to say the least." Drawing his sword, he asked, "Are we going in? We could find some valuable things in there... there could be a fortune waiting for us."

"I'll go if you go," Joseph quickly answered, turning to the two who had not yet spoken. "Benji? Jenna? You coming?"

Benji nodded, pulling out his own weapon. Jenna, however, was hesitant to follow. While she was curious about the Ruins - not just this one, Ruins in general - and life before the Event and the Ascension, she was wary of just charging headlong into Ruins that had yet to be explored. Maybe they were left alone for a reason. These thoughts were in Jenna's head, but she couldn't find the words to say them. As a result, she kept silent.

"Oh, come on, Jenna... you gotta come with us! You came all this way, you can't give up on us now," Zac coaxed. Knowing Jenna's inability to speak with confidence in uncomfortable situations, he reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Come on. It'll be fun. We'll only be a little while anyway, just checking out the inside. Then we can go back. What d'ya say?"

At a loss for words to pose a counter-argument, Jenna simply nodded. She couldn't come up with a response if she tried. Not wishing to pull out her sword like the boys had - she disliked fighting and only carried the weapon to defend herself - she gestured for the others to go in before her. Joseph cut away the branches and leaves concealing the entrance to the Ruins, and the four of them made to enter warily. It was then that Zac spotted a second way in and pointed it out to the group; cruder than the one they had spotted, this was more of a hole in the wall than a proper entrance, unimpeded by plant life.

Curiosity getting the better of him, Joseph grabbed Benji and the two of them hurried over to the second entrance. They climbed in without a second thought, leaving Zac and Jenna behind to investigate the first one. The pair entered warily, with no idea what lay beyond the entrance they had found.

It was a hot day out as Sam walked through the forest looking for places to explore with his friend Tom wandered slowly around. They had no classes because of the Elder's reading day. They would have the whole forest to themselves today because everyone is required to listen to the Elder's lecture but they planned on skipping it like they did nearly all of the important events meant for showing respect to the elders. They wore dark green tunics with daggers hanging off their belts and bows on their backs. They were looking for something to occupy their time be it ruins or just some animals to hunt.

They came across some tracks it appeared that some other tribe members were heading the same way. " I wonder who else is heading this way, I didn't know anyone else had left this morning." said Tom "Yeah I think I saw a couple other groups of people our age have headed out today. Who knew they were so close." replied Sam. "The tracks seem very fresh they must be only a couple minutes ahead at most fifteen. Maybe we should follow them see who it is." "Fine by me who knows it could be anybody." They followed the tracks until coming to a part where the to trail split into three different paths the tracks followed the right one.

"Which one should we take?" asked Tom "How about we go straight I think I have seen this path before I think after a short while they merge together. That way we can see were they are going without them seeing us." Answered Sam. The two of them followed the straight path for mostly Tom went along with whatever Sam said being more of a follower. The path they went on went much deeper than the right path and took them into a dark tunnel like area.

"Wh where are we?" Tom fearfully stammered "I don't know it seems to be some sort of tunnel. Oh well let's continue forward. Nothing bad is going to happen" Sam reassured "I don't think we are supposed to be here maybe we should just leave." Tom argued "It's most likely better to just go back." You wanted to do something exciting right well this is certainly exciting now come on." Sam said while pulling Tom with him.

They continued until coming on a right turn then after a long time of changing direction ended up facing a massive plant covered ruin. They both stopped dead in their tracks mouths agape. "I told you we would find something!" Sam yelled excitedly. " It is very big isn't it." Tom replied still scared. "If you want you can wait outside for me if you want. If I'm gone for over an hour go back to the tribe." Sam exacerbated called back while drawing his dagger and cutting away some plants. "I'll do that." Tom yelled after Sam. Sam wondered if he was the first one to ever discover these ruins.

Yasmina woke up and got out of bed to check outside to see if the sun had risen. Upon opening the window's shutters, Yasmina found that the sun hadn't risen yet, but a light glow that could be seen coming from over the horizon indicated that it would soon. Realizing that she was behind on her schedule, Yasmina hastily put on a blue dress and grabbed both her tool bag and a larger bag that contained her crossbow, a few bolts for the crossbow, any spare parts that she'd salvaged from the ruins, and her work clothes.

Yasmina grabbed a hairbrush and the two blue hair clips that she always wore and started running the brush through her hair as she left her room and entered the main area of the hut. Putting the two hair clips in her mouth and leaving the brush hanging from her hair Yasmina grabbed a rag and put an apple, some dried meat, and a bun in it before tying it up and grabbing a canteen, placing both in her bag. Yas swiftly pulled the brush from her hair, put the hair clips in, and left a premade note that lied about her location for her parents before embarking out the hut's door.

As Yasmina started running away from her family's hut she looked back at it taking in it's oddly warming sight of stone walls and iron roof. Turning back away Yasmina picked up speed as some of the glow of oil lamps coming come other house started to disappear in preparation for the Sun's dawning. They day's heat could already be felt as she exited the outskirts of the tribe and entered the forest.

As soon as Yasmina hit the half way point between the Ruins and the tribe she stopped. Taking out her bow and preparing it to fire before looking around the area to make sure that she was alone. Knowing that the heat and her running were going to make her stain her dress with her sweat she had to make a rush choice and change in the open forest instead of the normal privacy of the ruins. Making the change rapid Yasmina took off again in the thicker, hotter, longer clothes; damning the heat in her head.

Soon the forest became much thicker and her pace had to slow. Nearly out of breath Yasmina panted while slowly walking past trees that had markers cut into them, indicating the direction of the Ruins. Yasmina removed the canteen from her bag and took a slow drink as she looked around. Nothing in the area look recently disturbed and the sun was almost in full bloom over the horizon based on the shape of the shadows of the trees. A certain symbol over a marker caught her eye and she knew the Ruins were basically right in front of her.

Even before leaving the forest the sight of the crippled, twist concrete and steel building was visible. The plant life that lined the walls and broke through the windows made it seem like mother nature held a choke hold over this creation of man. The sight of this place always held amazement for Yas, no matter how many times she came back. Stepping out of the forest and onto the rubble of a collapsed wall Yasmina began her climb into the Ruins. Looking down the hallway she saw the familiar markings of those before her and began her journey in.

Burning sunlight pierced Michael's eyelids. The smell of upturned soil and dust were crammed into his nose. He strained against the reality of consciousness, trying desperately to slip back into the lull of sleep, but his efforts were thwarted by the incessant nudging of his father's finger tip. Michael viciously waved his hand at his father, trying to get across that he was awake. He tossed the thin, scratchy cloth that served as a blanket off of his weary torso and shoved against the pile of leaves and hay below him to rise. In a daze, and with his eyes almost entirely shut, the golden glow of morning's light blurred with the black silhouette of Vick, his father.

Vick's nagging pounded against Michael's tender eardrums as he slapped on his tepid leather armor. "Kill three deer today, be sure to fill your quota, no stealing from the elders." The last one was new, due to Michael's most latest attempt at making trouble. The stern lecture continued until Michael's vision and mind finally solidified, the world falling into its correct shape before his eyes. Vick's angular, heavy face and piercing eyes made him want to hang his head in shame, even though he was convinced that he had done nothing wrong. The elders deserved to be shaken up once in a while.

As Michael slogged through the crude opening of his hut, accidentally brushing his arm against the protruding reeds, his father pleaded, "Please, don't get into trouble."

"I promise," Michael replied coldly while looking forward. He left the bug infested, dirt caked hut behind him as he slipped through the trees and into the dense forest which comforted him so.

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The searing hot air pounded against Michael's exposed skin as he lay cradled by the leaves of a bush. Beams of light shone through the dense canopy of deep green leaves, and the grass made a satisfying crunch as he shifted his feet. Chirping birds and mysterious cries of unknown animals echoed through the air, and the scent of flora graced his nostrils.

Michael's shortbow was drawn and ready to strike at his prey, a healthy group of stags grazing on herbs and grass as they stood in their typical, regal poses. He would only have the opportunity to take the life of one, maybe two of his prey before the rest would escape into the wilds, so he would have to choose his targets carefully. He selected the healthiest one to be his primary target, as a prepared attack could take out any of the deer. His secondary target was chosen to be the most frail of the bunch. He made a mental note of their locations, and calculated their most likely routes of escape; satisfied with his work, he began to sling his bow. Slowly and carefully, he threaded the crudely constructed arrow against the bowstring, and pulled back. His muscles twinged with tensity as he both pulled and pushed against the arrow, trying to retract it without making the creaking noise of the string too loud.

He lifted the bow slightly, near his eye, and prepared to take the lethal shot. The buck nibbled on blades of grass gracefully, blissfully unaware of his pending demise. The splintery wood of the bow scratched against Michael's fingers as he tightened, loosened, and then tightened his grip. Easy now.

Then, disaster struck. The faint sound of human voices startled the buck, which then jerked its head up and twisted its neck to face the noise, right as the arrow flew from Michael's hand. The tip made a thwack against the ground after flying directly through the space which the buck's head once occupied. The would-be-prey jolted its head to face Michael, and the entire group followed suit, a symphony of confusion and fear. Then, a mere split second later, they were all off.

Michael quickly located the frail specimen and sprung from his haven, sprinting wildly after his prey. He clumsily slipped his bow onto his back, a feat which required more dexterity than he had thought he possessed, increasing his speed output. The panicking deer darted forward with increased urgency, dodging scattered logs and twigs. Michael slid under a log and vaulted over a rock, scraping his gloves in the process, as he continued his hopeless pursuit. Then, the deer dashed sideways in a sharp turn beyond the capability of most animals. The hunter's muscles twitched in a desperate attempt to turn, or at least slow, but he was too late. He was flung full force against the unfeeling bark of a tree, thrown onto his back.

The hunt was over. Michael had failed. He drew his machete and swung at the tree trunk in frustration at his inadequacy, and then remembered the voices. Some tribe members, no doubt, had taken his prey from him. He swung again, chips of bark exploding from their former resting place.

Then, the voices persisted. They were faint, but traceable. A group, most likely. They sounded young, probably teenagers, or maybe even adults. Their tones ranged from deep to high, making it impossible to tell, but it didn't matter. He was going after them, to either scold them, or rob them in his white hot fury. He resumed sprinting, this time towards new targets.

The serene forest whizzed past his frantic eyeballs, browns and greens and blues zooming around in his peripheral vision. The voices returned, this time from the left. He shifted his pursuit and continued.

Eventually, he came upon the gaping entrance to a ruin. Various vines draped across the wide opening, nature meshed crudely with concrete. The sight made Michael angry; his pristine hunting grounds, polluted by this blemish. But it was a valuable blemish which contained his enemies, whose voices were echoing past him. He slipped into the entrance in order to follow the little shits who were causing him so much trouble.

"Hmm... Here's another one." Ilmar muttered to himself as he looked at the trunk of a tree just in front of him. Jutting out of its trunk was a small rod of weathered bronze, now bearing a distinct blue-green color. They were markers for the path that he and his father sometimes used to get to the ruins to scavenge more metal for their goods, hammered into the trees every few meters by his grandfather before he had been born.
Continuing on his path through the forest, Ilmar appreciated the work of his late grandfather. He would certainly have gotten lost without them, as everywhere else he looked there was nothing but trees and undergrowth. How some of the others in the tribe managed to find their way through here without any landmarks astounded him to a certain degree.

Looking further ahead he spotted more of the blue-green rods sticking out into his path, and following them he soon noticed that more and more sunlight was peaking through the canopy overhead, dispelling some of the gloom that seemed ever prevalent in this forest. Assuming this meant that the sun had finally begun to climb further up over the horizon, Ilmar begun walking at a quicker pace. He needed more materials ready for when his father returned from the Elders speech, and it also wouldn't hurt to have the forge heated up and ready for use. However, he needed to be swift if he wanted to make it in time, and seeing as finding good metal was often more challenging then he would like, that meant getting to the ruins sooner rather than later. Striding over a series of gnarled roots in his path, Ilmar begun seeing the signs that he was nearing the ruins. There were roots coiling over the ground before plunging into it, each clutching pieces of the gray rock that was so common inside the ruins, as well as the canopy overhead becoming lighter as the trees became sparser.

Reaching the last of the bronze rods, Ilmar looked in front of him at the point where forest seemed to have halted it's expansion over the destroyed landscape. The area right beyond was covered in rocky debris, with pieces of useless rusty metal that crumbled to the touch jutting out of it every other step. He had to traverse this to get to the good spots, hopefully areas that had been better shielded from the weather so that the metal wouldn't have corroded as badly. However, today he would possibly have to make do with rusty steel that still had a solid inner core, it was more work to prepare it and it yielded little metal compared to it's weight, but he couldn't afford to be too picky when he had a set time he needed to get back to the village.

Rummaging through the satchel hanging at his right as he entered the open, Ilmar withdrew a pair of leather gloves, his only protection to make sure that he didn't cut himself on the tainted metal. Quickly putting them on, he started making his way into the ruins in search of materials.

There were two things that made the Elder's reading day special. Besides the event itself. First and foremost, there were no classes. Which meant that there were no lessons or lectures. Secondly, because of not having classes Caelan could sleep in just a bit later than usual. His father had early drills and his mother's work cycle meant that she had the previous night's shift. So the house would be nice and quiet. Perfect for sleeping in.

Except things did not go according to plan. Those precious extra minutes of sleep were destroyed by the sudden arrival of Alexis, Caelan's cousin. The rumble of Alexis' voice and tiny rocks soaring through the window woke Caelan from his peaceful sleep. Grumbling about the time he slid out bed and stumbled to the window. He peered outside to see pre-morning fog still hung in the air. It wasn't even proper daylight yet. Caelan groaned quietly. Alexis' muffled voice sounded again. Caelan couldn't make out words, but clearly he was wanted for something.

He surrendered to the inevitable. And he had to admit he was curious. Caelan got dressed quickly, discarding his sleeping outfit onto the foot of his bed. Sleep still fogged his brain a bit. He made it to the front room before remembering to get his cloak. Caelan couldn't hear his cousin anymore. But after pulling his cloak around his body he stepped outside. Sure enough, there stood Alexis. Looking entirely too awake and excited for the time that it was.

"What do you want?" Caelan asked. He shivered briefly when the wind picked up.

An hour later Caelan decided that Alexis could be forgiven for the loss of sleep.

The Ruins. Caelan had never truly seen them before. He'd heard about them, of course. The tales of wonder, the tales of fear. And the personal tales, like the one about Alexis' father. But hearing and seeing were two vastly different things. The chores that waited back home, the breakfast that he'd skipped, and the crisp chill of morning air. All of these things dissolved in a wave of wary curiosity. Caelan watched Alexis ascend a stone block easily with what looked like practiced movements. Caelan eyed the stone dubiously. It was easily twice again his height.

"Come on, you're almost there, slow as usual but you're learning. At this pace we'll only get to the Ruins by sundown and have to go straight home,"

'I am not that slow.' Caelan countered mentally. He didn't waste his breath with voicing the remark. Instead he focused on finding handholds in the gray stone. Though covered in tiny green vines and moss the stone beneath was still sturdy. After brushing aside some of the plant-life Caelan found a good break in the stone to start with. Handholds gave way to footholds until Caelan reached the top. Releasing his right handhold Caelan leaned his weight on his left hand to push himself up. He could just reach the protruding edge.

With a grunt of effort Caelan hauled himself up onto the top of the stone block. The edge of the stone dug into his midsection until he found a solid foothold. A final push got him the rest of the way up. Caelan rose to a standing position, brushing at the dirt that now covered his forearms. Alexis was still waiting, just a bit further ahead. A thin line of sunlight illuminated his feet. With an ease Caelan was a bit envious of his cousin pulled him up onto a large stone platform. There they stood in silence to watch the sun rise. Caelan's breathing slowed as his body recovered. The chill he'd began the journey with had disappeared mid-way through the climb.

"Alright you've had your break, c'mon its time to head to the Towers," Alexis said, tugging on Cael's arm, "Lets go."

"Where is that?" Caelan asked. He broke his cousin's hold on his arm with a casual shake. Immediately Caelan covered his mouth to stifle a yawn. His eyes closed automatically until the reflexive motion ended. When he could see again Alexis was already moving and several yards ahead of him.

"Hey, wait up!" Caelan began jogging to catch up.

"Assholes and their games, who needs them anyways!"

A loud whomp was heard as a long, thick stick violently tore through the brush, such vigorous weed whacking was unnecessary yet it continued. The brutal trimming process was not being done in the pursuit of a path, but rather in the pursuit of reliving pent up anger. Anger, which had for weeks now, been steadily growing more and more overwhelming.

Charly was a normal girl, sure she had some eccentricities, maybe a missing limb here or a wild story to tell there. But that was no reason to be excluded from things was it? She had been able to integrate herself into the groups over the last few years but lately things had been different. There was this ever growing feeling of exclusion that Charly was unable to ignore, despite spending plenty of time with kids her age; she couldn't help but to feel that she was not truly part of the group, a bit of an outcast. The last few weeks has gotten increasingly worse, feelings of jealousy were easy to come by and overpowering, seeing her fellow friends spending time with others made her feel like an outsider. These feelings had been piling on top of each other and Charly was on the verge on snapping.

Today was the day it all boiled over. A new friend, Zac was his name, was spotting headed into the forest with some friends. Why he hadn't invited Charly she did not know, but it deeply upset her. Storming back into her house, she angrily stormed around, yelling at her mother she didn't know what to do. Eventually she barged back outside and headed into the forest, she needed something to release her stress, and the forest always did the trick. Quiet, lonely, massive. Odd that in her state she wished to be alone, but into the forest she went. The next hour or so was spent violently attacking the bush and cursing.

Charly abruptly stopped swinging her arm, large beads of sweat poured down her forehead as the hot sun bore upon her face. A sudden exhaustion swept over Charly, her vision began to blur and her legs felt as though they had turned to mush. Where was she? Unable to properly see, all she could make out was a series of massive, abnormal objects, despite her lack of proper vision, the lack of foliage was notable. Gasping for air, she stumbled to the ground, desperate to find a shady tree to lean against and rest, her hand frantically patted the ground, it felt hard and unnatural. Swallowing was now difficult, Charly felt as though her lips and tongue were too dry to properly function; a panic swept over her and her arm gave out. Charly's world went black.

The sweet melody of the birds chirping awoke Katie. As she crawled out of her sleeping bag beneath the trees, she quietly walked over to the creek. Kneeling down next to shore Katie cupped her hands with water, and began pouring it upon her body. Katie smiled silently to herself as she observed the water wash away all the dried blood, dirt and grime from her petite body.

Walking back to the tree, she slipped on her tight dark gray jeans and a light blue tank top. As she put her black hair into a pony tail, she noticed a purple bruise developing underneath her left shoulder, and multiple blotches of dry blood upon the right calf of the jeans, reminding her of the previous night.

Last night was particularly worse than most for Katie as her father began drowning himself in booze earlier than most, and it ended with Katie bruised, bloodied and sleeping outside beneath a tree.

Katie quickly rolled up her sleeping bag and placed her bear inside of it, and took off back towards her tent. As she approached it she could already smell the stench of booze resonating from inside the tent. She approached the tent in a most discrete manner, standing on her tip toes and hoping not to make any unnecessary sounds. As she approached the door, she even held her breath as to not make any unnecessary noise, cracked the door open, tossed her bag in, and ran like hell away not wanting her father to notice her.

Katie ran until she made it back to the sweet sanctuary known as the woods. As she entered the safety that the trees offered her, she began to laugh at the thought of seeing herself sprint as she did.

"What shall we do today?" Katie asked as she leaned against a tree.

"Whatever you'd like my dear" responded from a medium pitched voice as the image of a young man appeared in front of Katie.

Katie had gone a couple of months without thinking about Michael, but as things started to worsen at home he began returning to her mind. Michael was Katie's imaginary friend that she summoned in times of great despair in her life. Katie usually realizes that Michael is just a figment of her imagination, but there are times that he seems to be a sentient being to her. The only person who knows of Michael is Katie's father. Katie is usually pretty good about not acknowledging him around others.

"Well shall we continue exploring the forest where we left off then?" Katie asked.

"Sounds like a plan" and with that, the pair departed into the woods. They continue to wander throughout the area until they came to a small clearing. As they pushed their way through it, the Ruins stood in all of their magnificence before them. Katie stood in awe staring at them, her eyes studying every detail with precision. She had heard stories and mutters of the ruins before, but never actually had seen them.

She continued to gawk in awe at the structure until Michael broke her gaze with a simple sentence that sent Katie into a state of pure ecstasy.

"Do you hear those voices?"

Katie quickly turned to Michael. "What do you mean?"

"I think I hear people talking. I don't know though, could be the wind."

Just the mere thought of people her age being around drove Katie crazy with joy.

"Where do you think it is coming from?" Katie started to ask before she realized that she already knew the answer. It was coming from inside of the ruins, a place that she had been forbidden to enter by more people than just her father.

She stood motionless in thought for a few moments before deciding that what ever was in there that was attracting others must be greater than whatever punishment might be brought down upon her for entering, and with that she quickly darted in.

Alexis waited for his cousin before departing once again, deftly walking through the tattered remains of the Ruins. The twisted structures, decayed over time still had some of the hidden beauty that Alexis was sure they had been built in mind for. Of course the Ruins changed the further you went into them, the early buildings were nothing, simply steel huts, though larger in size, but once you committed to the exploration, you would see the structures that reached the sky, buildings eroded with time showed an even greater appreciation for artistic design with their columns reaching up in narrow spires, underneath the grime a glint of a brilliant metal shone. This was what Alexis loved about exploring the Ruins, the hidden beauty of it all.

Alexis could feel the crackle of glass and shattered steel underneath his boots as they walked across the overgrown streets of the Ruins. Alexis wondered what the people had thought about before the Event, before the Ascension, did they live their lives trying to find out things about the cultures before them, what mistakes they could learn from or did they trudge blindly into the destruction that they created for themselves. He often wondered this, what would the world be like without those two destructive forces that had destroyed humanity beyond repair?

To watch the Ascension was a death sentence to those who were unlucky enough to catch the glance, they knew they were doomed, there would be no future beyond tattered destructive forces, the poisons that would slowly corrupt and destroy their very essence. This would be the end of humanity. This was the end of the world.

A mother watched her daughters Ascended, she knew this fate would be better than the one she would face. She drew her shawl across her face trying to cleanse the Poison from her air source and wandered back into the city. A ghost in the Ruins of humanity.

Alexis tripped over a piece of steel jolting him back into reality. What he had seen, he wasn't quite sure, it looked like the Ruins before they were corrupted by the sands of time. They had been alive with light and life, not like the dead of the Ruins now. How they had changed; but was it real, it had appeared so real to him.

He raised his hand and sat down for a second, he felt tired suddenly, which was strange, it had never happened before; then again, he hadn't taken this route before, it could be that it was more difficult than anticipated and so he was exhausted. He looked at his cousin, "Why do you think the Elder's stop us from coming here, why do you think they banish those who delve too far into the Ruins?"

The greenery was tightly woven into the structures, spread out like a thick, lush viruse. It was an untamed coating, with some walls completely blotted out by tangled vines, and while there was the occasional protruding slab, pushing its way through like a giant held by ropes, the once man-made floor had been reclaimed by the forest. The buildings that surrounded Akia were desolate beings, sunken and defeated, having lain dormant for years and, while their struggle against the flowing of nature was surely valiant once, with their man-made arrogance keeping them steady and gripped to the world, no construct could be saved from the ever advancing, ever present flow of the world.

Still, to Akia, they were impressive in the way they glowered over everything. Defeated though they were, time had yet to sink deep enough to crumble them to dust. And so they loomed, a reminder of when ambition, rather than survival, was precedent. As null as he was to architecture or even to any design work outside of clothing, Akia could still breath in and be mesmerized by the impressiveness of this world. There was no reason for a building to be so gaudy, so meticulous and purposeful in its tawdry existence, but here they were, all crammed into nature by force, slammed into one another with little care and yet so much effort. Together they stood, with a bleakly fierce disposition to not sink into the earth, lying half-awake in their personal fake empire.

In comparison, Akia's own town was of such modest mediocrity he felt a bizarre overcast of shame. While men and women came to his parent's tailor to make themselves stand out with impressive clothing, in the end they would always value warmth or flexibility over style. It was understandable, but at the same time, surrounded by ambition and purpose, Akia wondered if survival was the antithesis of who people are and what they do best. His town had been constructed to exist, to house and nurture those who lived there and died there. Nobody ventured far away from the town when there was nothing to find. Everyone had either forgotten or had no will to create something to be found one day. The ruins in the forest may have fallen, but while they remained generation after generation, Akia knew that his own home, and the people held within it, would be dust on the wind in a thousand years. Perhaps sooner.

Akia clambered through the haunted ruins, diverging down long alleys and scaling rubble. He had completely forgotten his purpose here, and was instead moving further and further in out of pure curiosity. The ancient wreck of humanity lured him, a hook in his mouth dragging him across the landscape. Sound had evaporated, but he took no notice. The dry, eerie poetry of this world was addictive, and Akia had to indulge.

Taking risky steps and leaps to higher ground, he clutched to tattered ledges and slid his feet into makeshift footholds. By the time he made it to the flat expanse of concrete, his shoes had sustained significant damage and cuts gleamed through new gaps in his shirt. Exhaustion had caught up with him, and he sat down to see the sun softly gleaming, slowly bleeding into the horizon. Akia didn't know how long he'd been investigating the ruins, and he was too fatigued too care. He fell back and closed his eyes, allowing himself to fall comfortably into the silence.

Away from the thick, stifling woods, it was much cooler, though the sun still beat down on anything it could see. It was almost as if Jenna had stepped into another place entirely. That was the young girl's first thought as she wandered through the decrepit structures of metal and stone, Zac close by to ensure that neither of them got lost and couldn't find the way back. Jenna's gaze wandered across anything and everything; it was all alien to her, totally unfamiliar. And by extension, it was easy to get lost in... Jenna kept a hand on the hilt of her weapon for reassurance.

The two of them occasionally stopped to examine a small hut, or a structure that had collapsed in on itself and become a twisted, corroded hill on the ground. Jenna was amazed every time the pair paused. What manner of force could do such things? Take buildings that seemed so strong, so resolute, and scatter them like seeds across a field? Crush them as a booted foot would flatten a blade of grass? She didn't know, but if such a force was in existence, she hoped it never showed itself again. If it could destroy buildings like these, who knew what it would do to the buildings of the tribe.

"I've, uh... I changed my mind. I don't like it here, I'm going back," Zac said quietly, breaking the thick silence that had fallen as the two of them had explored. "You coming with me?"

Jenna looked round, puzzled. "I want to stay and look around some more... Is there a way to, um... mark the way we came? Maybe leave a trail from the entrance?" She didn't think of her friend as being a chicken, but she wondered why he had decided not to stick around. The Ruins were odd, yes, but she wasn't unsettled by them in the way he was.

"I'll see you back at the village, Jen. And yeah, I'll put up a trail. Smart move, the others'll see it," Zac answered, fear creeping into his voice as he turned and hurried back along the route the two of them had taken. Jenna watched him go for a few seconds, then went back to studying the building at which they had stopped. She didn't think she had wandered very far from the entrance they had found. "What happened to you, eh?" she mused, wistful for a moment as she tried to think of possible answers. She had none.

Then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something in the distance that stood out from the rest of the ruined landscape. She recognised the muted colours, though a fair distance away, as a definite contrast to the corroded metals and grey of stone. Curious, she got up from her spot on the ground and hurried to investigate, occasionally clambering over a large piece of fallen building materials or carefully moving around a building, keeping the unknown object in sight.

It turned out that the object in question wasn't an object at all... it was a human. A girl like herself, sprawled on the ground. Jenna didn't recognise her, but that was no reason not to see if anything was wrong. The girl had blonde hair, and was probably taller than Jenna judging by the length of her legs... strangely, she had only one arm. Could she have been attacked? But by what? And there was no sign of any blood or torn clothing, so it was unlikely... These thoughts ran through Jenna's head as she knelt down to examine the girl for any obvious injuries, gently rolling her over so that she lay on her back instead of pressing her face into the ground.

"Hello? Can you hear me?" she asked the girl in a fairly loud voice, noticing the rise and fall of her chest indicating that she was alive. She must have been unconscious before Jenna arrived, maybe from a fall or banging her head on something.

Michael pressed the side of his head against the rough, warm concrete, the vibrations of the irritating voices pounding against his ears, amplified. He pondered the direction of the voices, made a rough estimate, and followed the trail. The wondrous scenery was lost on him, too focused on his pursuit to care about anything else.

Michael crept behind a shattered heap of metal and stone, spires of steel girders stretching upwards.

"I've, uh... I changed my mind. I don't like it here, I'm going back. You coming with me?" asked a male voice. A female voice responded timidly, but her words were muffled behind the noise of Michael's shifting feet. Then, the two parted, their footsteps moving in different directions. One set was of heavy, clumsy steps, the other of more dainty, rapid ones. Michael cautiously twisted his neck to peek around a corner, and spotted a boy walking nervously towards the exit of the ruins. His steps matched the heavy ones.

Michael melted into the shadows, smelting his form with the remnants of a lost age. His line of sight was lost as he relocated, which made him nervous. What are these kids even doing here? Don't they have school or something?

He finally reached a lookout point, inside a pile of scattered rocks with a small opening shrouded in darkness. He peered outside, but found no sign of his target. His eyes darted across the landscape, alarmed, he even poked his head out, but could see nothing. He punched a wall in frustration, then immediately regretted it as sharp pain shot through his wrist. He crept out of his nest and headed back to the entrance of the ruins, but still snuck through shade, as he didn't want to be caught off guard, should he stumble upon the girl.

As he neared the exit, he spotted what appeared to be a girl. Was it the same girl as he was chasing? He couldn't tell. She was very small and thin, pale as well, and appeared to be talking to someone. He scanned the area, but found no one else. Either talking to herself, or there was someone hiding nearby. There were pauses in her speech, in which it seemed like she was listening to a response to her words, yet no other voice was present. Talking to herself, but most importantly, alone.

Michael conjured up memories of his failed hunt, his ripe prey escaping because of entitled brats, and anger swelled up inside him. He restrained himself and crept closer under the cover of darkness, wanting to surprise the girl for a greater factor of fear.

He perched himself behind a corner, and listened to the steps, gauging their proximity. He inhaled silently, allowing the dust and heat to fill his lungs. Finally, she was close enough. He popped around the corner, materializing out of the darkness instantly.

"You mind telling me what the hell you're doing here?" he shouted accusingly, towering over the girl in his best attempt to be intimidating, "There are hunters out there! You and your friends are disturbing the hunt, making the prey flee! How are we supposed to collect materials if you little wretches keep screwing everything up?"

He took the moment of pause to inspect the girl. She seemed to be covered in bruises and cuts, but not the kind children get from simply exploring the woods. They were too precise, and covered only the areas around her midsection; no amount of tripping could cause that. Michael's fury dissipated, his furrowed eyebrows loosened into a relaxed position, and his glower faded away.

"Where did those bruises come from?" he asked suddenly, in a merely inquisitive tone; the rage in his voice had crept out.

Charly's eyes slowly opened, her cheeks felt as though they were burning and her mouth was terribly dry. Slowly licking her lips, all that could be seen through Charly's hazy vision was a figure, luckily for her this figure was blocking her eyes from the burning sun. Reaching her hand out she managed to cough out a plea for help,

"W-water. Please I'm so thirsty."

The ground was unusually hard, her shoulder blades and tail bone stung in pain as she shifted, where was the soft, cushioned underbelly of the rich forest? Charly's vision was stilled blurred, but she knew she was in a foreign place, the smell and air of the forest she spent so many hours in was faint, there, but masked. Concealed by the stiff, hard air that surrounded her, where could she possibly be? Charly didn't feel completely out of place, there was still a somewhat familiar feeling yet something felt different. The forest was familiar to her, she knew the paths and trails leading about, there was no possible way she could have gone far enough away from her home to encounter another tribe. So then where was she? As time slowly passed, she attempted to clear her mind, what was nearby yet so foreign? What could she have stumbled across that made her feel so out of place?

Then it hit her, as hard as the thick ground where she now lay.

The Ruins.

Caelan slowed his pace when he saw that Alexis was waiting for him. He walked behind his cousin for a while, matching his stride. But after a short distance Caelan slowed again.

At first, the structures they passed appeared somewhat normal. Caelan could identify buildings that looked similar to the houses back home. The materials were different, but the general shapes were the same. But then the buildings began to get...bigger. A lot bigger.

'Why did they need buildings so big?' Caelan wondered. He had to lean his head back and squint to see the top of some of them. 'They're taller than the trees!' Not quite sure about how he felt about his realization Caelan stopped beside a pile of indeterminate rubble. Wood, grey stone, red stone, and glass seemed to make up the pile upon closer inspection. Caelan prodded the pile with his shoe before looking back at the structures.

One in particular caught his eye. It was another 'big' building. What was probably once a roof was caved in and riddled with holes. Trees and vines grew freely out of almost every open space. There was a doorway present but no door. Wide columns blocked the view of the rest of the 'front' section. Some of the columns were broken in two, the broken halves laying almost neatly on the ground, like fallen logs of stone. Other columns had been pulverized and lay in piles much like the one Caelan was next to.

Without realizing it Caelan began to move forward. To get closer to the old building. In his inattention his pant leg caught against something in the pile of rubble. That thing snapped with the sound of dry wood and the pile suddenly caved inwards, expelling a cloud of grey dust. Startled, Caelan jumped and raised his cloak up to cover his face. Rocks of various colors cascaded down into the vacancy in the pile that had been created. When the sound of shifting stopped Caelan leaned forward. He lowered his cloak slowly.

The inanimate, nonthreatening pile was now smaller than it had been. Wooden splinters in the center seemed to indicate some kind of frame had been holding the majority of the rubble in its previous position.

'Interesting.' Caelan noted. Grey dust was still settling to the ground from the mini-collapse. Some of the dust, Caelan realized, now clung to his cloak and the bottom of his pants legs. With a frown Caelan twisted and caught his cloak in both hands. He shook the material briskly to dislodge the particles.

"Why do you think the Elder's stop us from coming here, why do you think they banish those who delve too far into the Ruins?"

Surprised by the question Caelan ceased his actions. He turned to see Alexis seated on the ground. Caelan looked at his cousin silently before starting to think seriously about the question. He released his cloak, letting it settle back into its normal position at his back.

"People say that the Ruins are dangerous." Caelan said slowly. That was the common answer. But Alexis' father had explored the Ruins and returned unharmed...as had Alexis himself. "Father says that it's dangerous to explore any place alone." he continued. Caelan turned his gaze to the broken columns. The more important part of the question seemed to be why were explorers banned by the Elders.

Caelan slid a long piece of splintered white wood across the ground with his shoe. Underneath the wood was a pile of grey colored rocks and more grey dust. "I'm not sure." he finished.

Caelan knelt down and picked one of the dull grey rocks up. It was oddly shaped, jagged on one side as though it had been broken by sudden force. And it was heavier than it looked. Grey dust drifted from the object as Caelan turned it about in his hand.

"Why do you think the Elders ban those who go into the Ruins?" he asked. He tilted his head slightly. Did Alexis already know?

"Water? Um, okay, I've got some here," was Jenna's response as she fumbled at her belt for the fairly large canteen she'd brought with her in addition to the sword she carried. While she had no idea who this girl was or where she was from, she wouldn't refuse her request, especially since the stranger was alone and clearly in need of help.

After pulling the canteen from its place on her belt and opening it, Jenna shuffled over a little and carefully slid one hand underneath the girl's head, gently lifting it up a few inches to allow her to drink a little easier. "Here. Take it slow... and do try not to drink all of it 'cause that's all that I've got with me," she explained, a little apologetic more than anything. The others had also brought water with them, but she had no idea where they were now. For all she knew, they could have already headed back to the village.

"Um... I suppose introductions are in order," Jenna said to fill the silence that had fallen as the stranger took a couple of mouthfuls from her canteen. She continued to hold up the girl's head from the ground. "Jenna, Tribe D'reckle. What's your name?" She tactfully avoided mentioning that the stranger was missing an arm; oddly enough, she seemed to be used to the fact that she only had one.

Yasmina started moving through the buildings. There were normally marks from other people who came before her that showed potential dangers that lurked around each corner such as hallways that had collapsed or were ready to collapse at any given point in time. Still even with them the ruins were every changing despite seeming the same.

The first few buildings were stripped clean of anything that was useful by scavengers and thieves hoping to make some quick money by selling anything they found to whoever would buy it, which meant that what was found wasn't always used for the betterment of the tribe. It created a little bit of a race between people like herself that sought what remained in the ruins to help move the village forward and those who just wanted it for themselves. This feeling of a race pushed Yasmina forward into the ruins even faster hoping to find something useful before it got robbed from her. This caused her to nearly run through those buildings she already knew were bare.

Yasmina started reaching the larger buildings which normally contained a lot of salvageable materials. Entering into the buildings Yasmina saw a common sight of small stubs of metal tubes that held a green coating. This was normally the sign that copper tubes had previously been there and that most of it had been taken. There was normally mold that occasionally held small pieces of wood in the area around the stubs as they disappeared into the ground. It was clear that walls had been there in these places but now the floors of the buildings were completely visible from one end to the other with only concrete pillars blocking the view in some places.

Yasmina sighed. Buildings like this weren't uncommon and were always pillaged of everything in it because there were no walls to hide it. Disappointed but not deterred Yasmina had no choice but to push forward, exiting on the other side of the floor were a wall had partially collapsed into the building beside it causing its wall to cave in. Not willing to let the entrance provided go to waste Yasmina entered the building to the good sign of intact walls.

Yasmina started searching the place and had come up empty till she reached the third floor and found a hallway with the floor collapsed in two places; each one on either side of the floor in front of a doorway. A smile crept across Yasmina's face with a hint of pride at the sight. Most people searching the ruins left places like this alone because they felt that it wasn't worth the risk but Yasmina was willing to push things in order to get what others didn't risk for. This push had sometimes led to needless danger only to come up with nothing and other times she found something useful.

Yas removed a hammer from her tool bag and knelt down beside the wall, at the edge of where the floor collapsed and swung the hammer into the wall above where the floor would have been. The hammer dented the wall a little but didn't break through. Not to be put off another blow was put into the same spot and the bottom of the wall broke. Using the hammer to clear out a larger spot and started to clear the wall as far as she could. After putting on a pair of gloves, Yasmina lowered herself down and started to shuffle her hands across the cleared area until she reached it end.

Now in the clear risk of falling down to the next floor and landing onto rough and jagged pieces of floor that had fallen below, Yasmina tried to lift herself up and place her left arm across the open space in the wall so the she could clear the next section. With her weak strength it took her a minute or so with a few attempts nearly resulting in falling before she finally managed to hoist herself up and clear the next stretch. Upon reaching its end Yasmina could feel her strength start to fail and knew she'd have to take a risk of trying to grab the edge of the floor in front of the door.

Swallowing hard Yas pushed herself off and reached for the edge, grabbing it, and nearly let go as her bags slammed into her body. With a lot effort she managed to slide one arm upon the edge so she could free the other hand to move her bags off herself and up onto the floor above her. Nearly exhausted Yasmina managed to pull herself onto the edge and laid on the floor. After a few minutes of rest Yas sat back up and took a slow drink from her canteen. Now feeling safe an eagerness overtook Yasmina and got back up and picked up her bags as she entered the room.

A scan or the room revealed that there was a pile of rusted bars on the ground, the rotting remains of a wooden desk, and most importantly a dirty, dust covered, white machine in the back corner of the room. Upon seeing the machine Yasmina knew she could likely find something that she could use in it and immediately darted towards it. Before she made it halfway across the room the floor behind her disintegrated at the wall and plummeted towards the ground.

Before she knew it Yas was on her back a story lower in the building. The loud sound from the event was still echoing in the building as the pain started to flush in. Although Yasmina didn't find any serious injury a good portion of her body made it feel like she should have one. Not feeling like moving at this instant Yasmina laid back down on the floor below her, hoping the the pain might soon subside.

Alexis looked at his cousin, "I don't know, but it disturbs me that they do it," he gazed thoughtfully into the distance.

Why had they banished his father? Who had decided that the Ruins were dangerous, some random people who'd rather make messed up laws than find out what had happened before the Tribes, to know what the Ascension was, what the Event was and why they had destroyed Humanity's reign over the world? He closed his eyes a couple times; each time the fresh light of the day bathing them and burning them at the same time. He stood up, "It doesn't matter, forget I asked. We have to get to the place I wanted to show you."

It was just as Alexis walked with his cousin towards the towers surrounded by a bay of water, clear with the pure water that had slowly drained from the rivers into the manmade bay, that James tore through the Ruins, knowing that he only had half an hour on the Metal Men. They had pursued him for days, appearing to never tire, never give up. He was run ragged nothing left to him but his objective; he needed to get the dagger to the Elders; he needed to let them know that their enemy wasn't invincible, that there were flaws and they needed to be exploited.

"We're here," Alexis said after they had trekked across the Ruins for about 30 mins; the pillars of the ornate, but scarred building rose and collided with the sky. Seeing it was always magical for Alexis, but he wanted to make sure that his cousin had the same experience. The two walked over the rubble that had slowly collected on the bridge towards the Towers. Stained glass could be seen over the grey concrete that made up the bridge; the wind whistling through the cavernous windows that had once spread wonder to all who visited. It now only entertained the few who entered it.

The doors were open in a maw that both welcomed the adventurous and scared off the cautious. Alexis moved forward with an air of confidence; he had done this before. He beckoned his cousin to follow and the two of them entered the thicker air and the interior of the structure. Alexis smiled as his cousin was forced to drink in so much; as he did the first time he had stumbled into it; half eaten rugs covered the floor but gave off the impression of royalty, of wealth and greatness before the fall. It was exciting and depressing to see humanity's greatest achievements, dead and without care now. The footsteps of the pair echoed throughout the corridors of the building; something that wasn't supposed to happen occurred next though, the hallways echoed with a fresh set of steps, more methodical, more mechanical. Alexis's heart pounded as the steps grew closer and would have let out an audible shout as he and his cousin were pulled into a room, mouths covered by the stranger.

Around the few that remained, exploring the Ruins a small whisper through the brushes began, the solid thump of a march, as if an army was coming, a small army though; something to be feared, but nothing that wouldn't be driven back in a few days. That was from an army's perspective though; for children, they have no concept such as that, there is only fight and flight. Which would prove to be wise? For now though they moved unaware through the Ruins.

The mouths of Alexis and Caelan were uncovered as a young man beckoned them to be silent. They obliged until the shadows that darkened the halls of the Towers had moved on. His face was scraped up badly and a trickle of blood dripped quietly in the background, trailing from a hidden wound in his abdomen and travelling down the front of his pants, "They are here to destroy us, the Men of Metal, they are here." was all he said, the signs of shock still in his eyes.

Alexis was dumbstruck, not only was it odd to see more than one person in a trip to the Ruins, but he had found a Tribe Scout, one by the name of James, "What do you mean? The Metal Men haven't travelled this far East yet; why would they come now?"

James looked at Alexis in pain, "Because I've found that they are not Men of Metal, they are flesh as we are," he showed them a bloody dagger, "I managed to slay one by catching it by surprise, its exploding spear did nothing to save it and it died as any of us would."

As James spoke, his voice shook with effort and he sank closer to the ground, Alexis pulled his cousin aside, "What do we do?" he asked his cousin, "I know him, he's a Scout, do we take this back to the Elders?"

Charly sighed as the liquid poured down her throat, water is something that is often unappreciated until you are desperate need of it. Certainly Charly had never fully realized the value of water as she did now. The clear, seemingly simple liquid filled her body with a feeling of rejuvenation, a sudden wave of life.

"Charly, same tribe." she mumbled as she pulled herself up, using the provider of water's shoulder for assistance. Now fully sitting up, Charly's vision had been restored, she absently stared at her savoir. The girl appeared to be about Charly's age, she had pretty brown hair and nice eyes, without this girl, Charly could have died, she was truly in her debt, "Er, thanks... Thanks for the water Jenna. I'm... I'm pretty sure you saved my life."

Groaning, Charly slowly looked around, the large piles of rubble quickly caught her eye, they were such an unnatural tone. Sure she had seen rocks of similar colour, but the shape was so jagged and foreign. She had heard stories (most of them in an attempt to prevent searching) about the Ruins, she never thought it was possible to just stumble across them.

"Uhm Jenna... are we... where are we?"

Jenna was hesitant about responding immediately to Charly's question. The two driving factors in that hesitancy were that she didn't know this girl, and as a result her regular shyness had kicked in. She had tried to change that, tried to be more outgoing, but she had always gotten someone else to introduce people to her, and her mother took care of the social aspect of the work they shared.

The other important part was that she barely knew where she was herself. This was the first time she had actually entered Ruins. Many a time she'd seen them from the comfort and relative safety of the woods she knew well, but she'd never gone in until today.

"Erm, I, uh... I'm not so sure myself," she answered after a few seconds, standing up and helping Charly to her own feet, having returned her canteen to her belt. "It's Ruins, though, no doubt about that. I, er, I came in with three other guys, but we split up to investigate the Ruins we'd found... we were over that way, I think," she explained, pointing in the direction she recognised as the way from which she had come. The only familiar landmarks were the building she'd skirted around and rubble she'd climbed over to reach her new acquaintance.

"We're here" Alexis said.

Caelan found himself holding his breath as he stepped around Alexis to see better. For the distance they'd traveled he expected something majestic and huge. And the Towers certainly were huge. The state of decay, the broken concrete and pieces of debris, they were the same. But then, there was something about this area that made the rest of the Ruins seem common. Caelan walked slowly across the bridge, looking up at the windows, up at the Towers, trying to look at everything at once. As he moved he paid little attention to where he was walking. Bit os debris was kicked around by his feet as he walked. Caelan stepped on top of a small pile of debris, causing something to crack loudly underneath his foot. Caelan froze at the sound. He shifted his feet then looked down to see a piece of glass made of up many colors. 'Wait..' It wasn't all one piece of glass. It was several pieces. Every piece was a different colors and it looked as though the pieces had been fused together somehow. Curious about the colors Caelan looked around for Alexis. He saw his cousin beckoning him forward. Caelan hurried to catch up.

As they walked into the Towers Caelan forgot his question about the colored glass. In its place he wanted to know what this building had once been. It was huge! The door alone was easily bigger than his home. But Caelan didn't have a change to ask any of his questions. They were delayed by the arrival of a stranger. Bloodied and battered, the newcomer was clearly injured. And his message was shocking...

"I know him, he's a Scout, do we take this back to the Elders?" Alexis asked.

Caelan was relieved that his cousin knew the messenger. But it didn't decrease his alarm at the message. Metal Men? Here? They were the beings of stories. Stories that Caelan could only get his father to tell when it was late at night and Caelan's mother was asleep. Stories of mysterious weapons and shining skin. They weren't men. Well...they weren't...before...

Caelan glanced over to where the messenger had slumped over. Were Metal Men really made of flesh? The bloodied dagger seemed to be proof. Either way..."The Elders would want to know." Caelan said to Alexis. "Mother can help the messenger." he added.

Charly leaned on Jenna as she got her legs back, her breathing was much smoother now and the world around her had stopped spinning for the most part. Charly's face displayed a confused grimace, yet in mind she was quite content. Stumbling across The Ruins was something almost all children dreamed about growing up, sure the stories were scary and the warnings were clear, but who didn't want to explore in a mysterious land full of ancient history? And while Charly had matured over the years, the allure of The Ruins still bounced around in her head.

On top of that she found someone new, someone who seemed to like Charly to a certain extent and had the decency to help someone who was down and out. Indeed Charly felt like the day had taken a positive turn, considering the way it began.

"Well what are you planning on doing now then?" Charly asked, now fully standing on her own terms, "I'm feeling much better and... well since we are here..."

Even when the crash had stopped ringing out the echoes spread out, like a torrent of water overpowering its dam and forcing its way through. Akia was instantly awake, his half awake state confusing him to the exact location of the sound, but he was certain it was nearby. Scrambling to his feet, he adjusted himself and tried tracing his position, but the endeavor was hopeless. All he could see were the foreign structures. With dusk in the air they had lost all allure, no longer enchanting and no longer mystical. Akia simply found himself lost, a frightened child too far in the wilderness. No one would come looking for him - the Elders would deny even a search party from the ruins.

He sat down, his heart racing too fast to return to resting, contemplating where the crash had come from. It had been a thick, meaty sound - something big had fallen. Looking around at the buildings and the trees scattered around the fringe, he knew that such constructs were unlikely to begin falling apart at random. It would take some kind of push, some kind of intervention. Maybe a forest creature.

Maybe a person.

Akia shot to his feet. What if someone else was here? If he had to guess, the crash had come from the very building he had lain upon. Those who had beaten him in the forest, perhaps they were now below him. He had made his way up the building by climbing up the side, and there seemed to be no other option but to climb back down and try and slip in through a window. Lowering his feet gently over the edge, then allowed them to drag his body lower before catching the ledge with his hands, before realizing there was nowhere for his feet to go. He loudly cursed, let go with one hand and looked down, seeing a small metal deck roughly ten feet below him. It looked solid, and despite noticeable wear, he hoped it would support his weight after the fall. He gripped the ledge with both hands again, steadied himself and let go.

The smash into the deck was more powerful than he expected. He rolled around for a little bit, allowing the sharp pain in his ankles to subside. And then, he heard the sharp creaking and cracking, as the metal deck slowly began to slide out of place. Akia immediately stopped moving. The deck stayed firm with him. He slowly turned his neck, too fast, and saw the bolts holding the platform to the building were halfway out of the wall. Akia assumed standing up would shatter the bolts, sending him throttling to the ground in a metal basket. Ignoring the sharpness in his ankles, he shuffled his body towards the wall, edging closer to the open window pane. Each limb was an individual movement. His torso dragged by his shoulders and arms. His progress was slow, but he would rather take his time than rush and die.

Tuning out the creaking, he gathered to his feet right on the edge of the deck beside the window pane, only for the deck to immediately dislodge from the wall. Akia dived backwards into the room, seeing the handrails spiral downwards, followed a few seconds later by a crunching sound as the metal met stone slab at velocity. Akia saw his right hand had skimmed a shard of glass, the palm spurting blood which ran down his wrist. He quickly ripped a length of from his pants and wrapped it tightly around the wound, tensing his and into a fist to make sure no tendons had been cut.

With his shoddy bandage finished, he made his way through the rest of the building. There was a huge omission in one of the floors, with the entire ground seeming to have gone missing. He linked the crash to this, and, after checking the room to make sure there were no hidden assailants, peered down to see a girl lying there. She didn't spot him, so Akia called down to her.

'Stay there! I'll be right down!'

Its not simple, making the decision between saving one's tribe, or rather the potential to save one's village the pain suffered by so many, one forgets all that though, when a man lays bleeding in front of you. The ragged gasps of a wounded man take all logic and reason from your mind and evoke the compassion and sympathies of humanity, an inherent strength and an inherent weakness. Even as Caelan spoke of saving him, Alexis knew that it could have been a futile effort, but at the same time he needed to do something. He held the knife in his hands, the crimson blood still damp and sticky against his fingers. The tribe would never believe him if he came back alone with the knife.

"Here give me a hand with this guy," Alexis said, taking one of the man's arms and slinging it over his shoulder, giving the man some support to lean on. His cousin did the same and they began the long journey back to outside of the building. As they walked, Alexis could hear the breathing of the Scout become more and more laboured and his steps grew heavier.

Finally they needed to stop; Alexis laid the man against a small piece of stone rubble; the red stain covering his chest had grown larger and a sweat had built over the man's brow; it was looking less and less like the man was going to make it to the Village. He took a knife from his own belt and began to saw at a piece of fabric from the Scouts clothing. He lifted the shirt and gagged as he saw the wound oozing a mixture of blood and puss. Trying his best to ignore the smell of infection , he put the rag in the man's mouth and began to cut at the infection, he had asked his aunt how to do this kind of field work after he had hurt himself in the Ruins for the first time, he scraped at the infected flesh, the man's screams loud, but muffled slightly by the rag in his mouth.

Finally the infection was cut out; Alexis took some water from his canteen and watered the wound, washing both old and new blood from the wound. He cut another strip of cloth and bound it tight across the wound. The Scout whispered a muffled thank you through the cloth and Alexis pulled it out.

The trip moved a bit faster after that, a risk of blood loss averted; they moved out of the building and back into the bulk of the Ruins; they needed to find a less treacherous way out of the Ruins, the man wouldn't be able to make the trip that they had previously made. It was unnervingly quiet in the Ruins, particularly because of the extent of the man's wound, Alexis feared that they were here, the Metal Men, determined to do to them, what they'd done already to so many.

Suddenly the silence was cut through like a hot nice through butter, a shout of "I'll be right down," alerted Alexis immediately and he moved quietly towards the voice with his cousin, they hid the injured Scout out of the way to avoid more injury to him. He saw a young man, perhaps close to his age; his wrist wrapped in a red soggy bandage. Deciding to gamble, since they were on different levels of the building, he shouted to the boy, "Hey, what are you doing in here, don't you know that the Ruins are dangerous, what is your business?

The clanging of the metal stairwell crashing to the ground outside was lost to Yasmina. The voice that arrived a few minutes later wasn't lost to her. 'Stay there! I'll be right down!' Yasmina looked up to see a dirty blonde haired boy around her own age looking down upon her. So Prince Charming arrives. The only problems are that I don't need a Prince Charming and more importantly we're in the Ruins and odds are if you're in the ruins you aren't Prince Charming.

Yasmina was about to open her mouth to reply but stopped when another voice came from the floor she was currently on herself. Two boys in the same building in the Ruins. I don't like this in the slightest. The boy above had shifted his attention away from Yas. Using this opportunity Yasmina got up as quietly as possible. Looking around the room for an alternative exit Yasmina only found that her only way out was the doorway into the hallway with the second boy, and a sting to her pride as the machine she had seen before now laid on the ground, with its side broken off, revealing an empty interior.

Not knowing if the second person knew she was in the room or not Yasmina removed the crossbow from her bag; making sure that the pressure was still at max. Not wanting to expose herself if that was the case, she moved herself slowly to a part of the hallway wall that was damaged and allowed for you to see into the hall. Steadying the crossbow and changing her position slight to see farther down the hall, two people who both appeared to male came into view.

The question was not assertive. It carried neither a tone of authority nor a genuine sense of threat. Still, Akia panicked in his mind. A thousand scenarios pumped through his brain like torrents of water through tightly packed tubes. The questioner wasn't hostile - Akia rationalized hostility would not be preceded by dialogue. That didn't mean things couldn't switch in mere seconds. Akia wasn't up for fighting. He had already been beaten several times today, by a variety of different sources, and if he could perhaps sidestep another encounter, he would feel much better for it.

But, and it was a crucial but, those who had stumbled upon him must have a purpose here. And if not, and if they could be traced back to his very own tribe, they were in as much an illegal disposition as he was. He ruffled his fringe from his eyes and stood up straight to face those who had uncovered him.

'You have no right to demand why I'm here when nothing here belongs to you.'

He tried to sound stronger than he felt, but didn't succeed. There was a noticeable shake to his voice, the words rattling out of his throat rather than gliding smoothly outwards. The two men - no, boys - who stood before him looked remarkably confident, but he hoped the words themselves were enough to shake them. He began to gather more self-belief, that he had had made an impact upon these strangers. Perhaps they too had stumbled into the ruins, perhaps they had been retained her by the epitaph of a civilization and perhaps, at heart, they were just as unsure as he was. The only difference was they wore better-crafted masks.

Akia started to believe all of this, almost feeling gaudy with anticipation and an odd kind of hope. Until he noticed the bright red streak across the shirt of the one with the ponytail. It didn't look as though the stain was old and while the clothes were aesthetically rough, they appeared to have been well-cared for. No, the stain was very much fresh, and it was very much spread, a cancer spent all over the material. Akia braced himself, flicking his fingers towards the blade at his thigh before pausing. Realizing the blade was no longer there, that it had been stolen from him and that he had yet to reclaim it, screams twisted their way through his own head.

He took a look into the eyes of the boy with the ponytail. The boy whose shirt was splattered with fresh blood.

"Quite honestly... well, I came here to look around, see what goes on in here," Jenna explained to her new acquaintance. "And evidently very little happens," she added as a joke, gesturing to the multitude of silent structures and piles of destroyed, corroded metal. They all looked so much alike, despite their obvious disrepair in varying states.

"One thing, though, is that I'm trying to remember the way I came in, and I'm leaving a trail behind to help," she said, quickly looking around before she recognised the place from which she had come. There was a piece of jagged metal in a nearby building that stuck up like it was impaling the materials below; that was how she remembered it.

A little lost for words - a result of her shyer side finally kicking in, later than usual - Jenna stumbled across her next question. "So, um... where d'you, uh, want to go? Anywhere, um, catch your eye?" She looked away from Charly as the words haltingly left her mouth: the hesitation and slight waver in her voice was a dead giveaway that she was a tiny bit uncomfortable in the presence of someone she hardly knew.

'You have no right to demand why I'm here when nothing here belongs to you.'

'Is he a thief? Or a scavenger?' Caelan wondered. 'Why does he care about the stuff not belonging to us?' Caelan tilted his head back to look at the young boy who'd spoken. It was hard to judge height since he was a floor up but he seemed young. He was blonde, or had really light brown hair. Caelan took a step away from Alexis so he could see better. When he resettled he noticed that the boy's attention was focused on Alexis. Which was good. Caelan resisted the urge to glance back to where the messenger was hidden. They needed to get that man home.

Caelan lowered his gaze and began looking around the immediate area. Maybe there was a faster route nearby? But all he saw was more broken pieces of stone. More glass. Plus the giant hole in the ceiling. Caelan's gaze stopped abruptly on a particular broken wall. There was someone there. Caelan blinked. But the figure was still there. 'Another person? The newest stranger was a girl. Tall, with dark hair. She held something in her left hand. A strange device. Caelan frowned at the device waiting for the word to click in his head. He knew the word, his father had taught him. It was a weapon. One not commonly used. What was it?

'A crossbow!' Caelan realized with alarm. With more power than a regular bow it could easily clear the distance to himself or Alexis. Without looking away from the girl Caelan spoke quietly. "Cousin," he said slowly. Caelan closed his hand over the edge of his cloak. It was a precaution. If he needed to move fast the cloak was going to need to be out of the way. "There's another." he finished.

Alexis heard the whisper in his ear and his eye's flickered over to the girl who held a crossbow in her hands, "Please don't shoot," he said, his voice almost mechanical due to the fear and stress of the situation. They were surrounded and he didn't know if the two others were in league, "We're just from the Village, I don't mean to intrude on whatever you're doing here."

He looked back at the person above them, "You're right, I don't have a right to demand why you're here but I'm instead asking out of curiosity. There isn't much reason to come out this way unless you have either a taste of adventure in your heart or a streak of stupidity that will get you killed," he thought about the Scout laying and still dying as they debated who was in the right, "However you could help us, we're trying to help someone; they're hurt and we need to get out of the Ruins."

This was it, they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, mimicking his cousin, he prepped to flee, the crossbow was more pointed at him than his cousin though; made sense that he would be in the most danger, after all he was the one who got his cousin into this.

Damn. Yasmina was watching the person farthest down the hall and knew that she had been spotted; even before the closer of the two opened his mouth. With no reason left to attempt to stay hidden Yasmina rose from behind the wall, keeping the crossbow aimed at either of the two down the hallway, and walked backwards along it till she was able to side step through what used to be the location of the door.

Getting tired of all the talking that was going on since it was worthless towards helping her find out if the people who showed up were a threat or not. Yasmina looked back up at the boy behind her to confirm that she was the only one with a weapon currently drawn. A small nearly unnoticeable smile crept across Yas' face as it was clear to her that she held the most control.

"Don't forget your place right now. I have a weapon on you that will kill you if I hit you in your chest or your back so running won't help. You should probably know that I don't like the fact that the three of you basically showed up at the same time, and I don't know if this is some little act between you two but it's becoming redundant. I'm not far from fair however, you can start convincing me that I shouldn't have a reason to think you are lying, if you bring that injured person here. Although your friend will have to stay behind in case you are lying and you think about trying anything stupid." Yasmina said with a commanding tone as she gestured towards Caelan to be the one to stay behind.

"You also forgot the most important reason for coming to the Ruins. Duty. For those people who have the job of finding or creating the next thing that will help their tribe, it's their duty to come here. To find what is left behind and to learn from it and turn it into something useful for everyone." Yasmina stated with more pretentious hint to her voice in place of her commanding tone from a few seconds ago.

"You expect me to take an extremely injured man through this carcass of a building to satisfy your own curiousity," Alexis was becoming annoyed by this girl and her sense of power immediately going to her head, "I might as well just cut his throat, he'd be dead all the same if he tried to make this trek, do you not see his blood on me? This is not someone with a sprained ankle, this is a man that needs to get to a hospital immediately so that someone might help him."

When he had seen the girl's own small smile, he adapted quickly and moved to sound more confident in his delivery, "You think that crossbow is going to be able to kill us both before one gets away, you're absolutely mad, one would get away and murder is not taken lightly, even more so that your attack would likely kill another person through neglect. I believe the punishment for murder is death by stoning as well, isn't it?" his own smile was plenty apparent at this point, "Regardless you have two options, shoot me and by that, kill another at the same time, or you can trust me and help me, either way, we're done negotiating, I don't have time to swap words while someone bleeds to death."

Alexis spun on his heels, making the first move, so that he would be the first target. Before leaving though, he looked at the other boy in the building, "How about you? Would you save a man who was dying if you had the chance? Are you the kind of person to do more than ask demanding questions?"

While this occurred, there were, of course, more people exploring the Ruins; one remained alone as well, his friend long since left him; Sam had been exploring for a couple hours now, the wonderment of the Ruins had still not worn off; he was careless and so he easily fell into problems. The first was a simple cave-in from a building that twisted his ankle and the second had been a gash caused by a stray piece of sticking out steel. Bruised and battered he wandered on though, immune to an impending doom that was about to fall about him.

A quiet hiss and a crack of foliage caused him to spin around. He heard a second sharp intake from the metal masked individual that stood in front of him. His heart stopped; it was the Metal Men, the boogeyman of recent stories, right there in front of him.

An explosion sounded in his ears and a sharp pain racked his body. He felt the origin point of the pain and his hand returned sticky with his own blood. It was as if the breath had been taken from his body, the only breath he could get filled his lungs with his own blood.

Light headed, he sank to the ground trembling, a few tears leaking in his eyes, alone bleeding out in the Ruins, where no one would ever find his corpse even as it became dust in the winds of the world.

Akia licked his lips. The blood was of another, and it came from an attempt of salvation. Regardless of who these people were outside the ruins, he did not feel threatened by them now.

'I don't have a reason to care for this stranger, but at the same time I have no reason to let him die.' He turned his words to the girl with the crossbow. 'If you are to force this needless backtracking upon them you may as well kill the wounded now. Something which I doubt you are inclined to do. Your pretension of duty also falls on deaf ears. The Elders would never send out such a young girl to explore. You're as much a trespasser as I.'

He sized up the blood-stained boy in front of him. 'I will help you take this man out of the ruins, if you'll allow me. I don't trust you, but unlike some I've met here today, my conscience would never forgive me if I didn't assist.'

Yasmina tightened the butt of the crossbow stock to her left shoulder and lined up the sights with the back of the neck of the boy who turned around. That boy's pompous, self righteous speech was full of problems that Yasmina wouldn't leave unaddressed; if only to wipe that smile clean off his face.

"You should bite your own tongue before you continue to talk without a full force of thought. If you'd stop to think for a second a person who's too injured to even bring up here wouldn't even make it back to the village alive. If you were able to think of that you'd maybe think about what would happen if I shot and killed one of you. The person who returns would have to admit that they were in the Ruins and face the punishment of exile. Then you'd come to the conclusion that you have no idea of who I am or what my name is. So if the elders listened to you about claims of murder, you wouldn't be able to tell them who I am. If manage to convince them to send people out to investigate here, I'd have time to hide the bodies so it would just look like you are a liar who went into the Ruins. The blood on your clothes wouldn't help your case for that matter anyways.

Since I went to how you think or rather lack of it I might as well question you about your choices. If that person is extremely injured why did you leave them behind and come up to the second floor of this building? Are you that easily willing to give into a sense of curiosity than to focus on a live at hand? Have you given so far into it that you'd start making demands of why a person is in the Ruins instead of asking for their help right away? If they're bleeding so bad that that much blood got onto you, did you at least cauterize the wound to stop him from bleeding out?" Yasmina had raised the volume of her voice to match the demanding tone she was trying to portray with her little spiel. She would have gone further but she wasn't expecting any answers. Instead she was just trying to get into the boy's head.

"And for the boy with deaf ears. A job based on duty isn't the same as a job that you are told or assigned to do. The elders may not have told me to come here but I knew that by coming here I would be able to find what I needed to improve upon what we had. My prove of this is the crossbow in my hands. I innovated the design of a steam powered crossbow so that it would work with pressurized air. This improvement will allow our tribe to better fight and defend ourselves from other tribes and hopefully the..." Yasmina was cut short of what she was about to say by two loud bangs.

Yasmina bit her tongue and muttered 'Metal Men' under her breath. After a short pause Yasmina started to speak again. "It looks like the situations changed drastically because based on what I've been told, those sounds are made by the weapons used by Metal Men. So I know that you probably don't like and trust me and I know that I don't really like or trust you, but the presence of the Metal Men should call for all bets to be off.

I'm going to take my fastest route of the Ruins and go back to the village. Most of the route is inside builds which should help us stay out of sight. Since I know you'll want to get your man I'll come with you and lead you out." Yasmina's voice lost all confidence, pride, and arrogance as she spoke. A dry, hoarse, fearful voice quickly over came what she was saying by the third word out of her mouth. Not waiting for an anwser Yasmina lowered her crossbow and started walking towards the pair before her.

Alexis looked at the girl as she made demands and then suddenly changed her tone to be more adaptive of the situation; the explosion of sound had changed that; the tell tale sign of the Metal Men walking amongst them; it was time to move. Alexis nodded to his cousin and the two relaxed for a second, "We need to go now then; you up there, you're with us now, keep up; we need to get out of here now before the Metal Men get here."

The group moved to leave the building, stepping over the crushed remains of rusted steel and shattered glass. Finally with their exit of the building they were both free of its suffocating looks and the tense conversations that had occurred within it; they knew the stakes now and as such were at an uneasy alliance, knowing the other could betray them at any moment. The jungle like forestation had become their enemy, the thick foliage giving Alexis the paranoid feeling that any one of the trees could be hiding someone; or something out to kill them, the Ruins were unforgiving and by the sounds of the explosion; one had found that out the hard way; he hoped that his gut feeling wasn't true, but rarely it lent itself to confusing him.

While this occurred the Metal Men continued to assert themselves over the Ruins; their actions predatory and not at all subtle; they marched through, although few in numbers, with a confidence that would scare all but the hardiest warrior. They had found the fresh blood, known that their target was on the move and most importantly, had learned one of their guarded secrets, one that would take away the immortality that they had surrounded themselves with; the secret that would perhaps cause an actual counterattack to seem less impossible than it had seemed before.

The Scout grimaced as he looked at the hole in his side, covered with strips of old clothing, he could see it beginning to seep through; he realized that this was likely the trip that would kill him. Taking a small draught of water from a canteen given to him he began to speak, "You might have to leave me here; I don't feel as if I'll make it anyways," he was scared of dying it was true, but more scared that his family would suffer the same fate if his information never reached its destination; it was that important to him; important enough that for once it was something that would take precedence over his own life, "Take the information I have, the knife and something else that would offer proof that this isn't the ravings of some children in the Ruins," he removed something from his pocket; it seemed to be one of the Metal Men's smaller weapons, "Give this to them; the Elders."

Alexis pushed the weapon away, "I intend to have you deliver it yourself, I can't just leave one of my own people to rot away alone in the Ruins, I am no monster to do that."

The Scout shook his head, "A noble goal maybe but we're not looking for noble goals, we're looking for a way to stop them; people die in wars all the time, perhaps with this, we can avoid the potential bloodshed that moves this way; after all we're on the brink of destruction here, tribes are being destroyed and we don't even know why the Metal Men are doing it," his voice was getting weaker with every breath, as if trying to get every piece of information out of his mind until his death came to him, "Now please, go, bring my speculations to the Elders."

His arms gave out and he collapsed to the ground despite Alexis and his cousin's best efforts to keep him upright. Finally Alexis knew that it was time to go, "Alright, lets leave him them; a lost cause to the one that we have now; are you all still with me? I know we've lost the man we were trying to save, but that isn't just what we're doing now, apparently we have their secret now, we need to get it to the Elders, we need to do this for our Village."

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