The Rage: Part 23

XXIII

Trust is one of those things that is supposed to be earned. Some people earn it slowly through years of not getting you killed. Some people earn it faster by repeated saving of lives. Some people demand it in the first moments you meet. Those are the people most likely to see you die.

This man knows I cannot trust him and yet I have little choice. If I choose not to trust him, Emilia and Topi will die in that underground tunnel. If I decide to call them out, he could kill them before they have a chance to defend themselves. This all rests on me.

The sun is still bright in the sky, but the visor the man gave me allows me to see. We have a few hours to wait before the light dims enough for Topi and Emilia to leave the tunnel. I have time to decide if this man means to harm us.

It’s been so long since I met anyone new that I barely know where to begin. Miro was always the one to evaluate the threats. I only ever took them down. What questions do I ask? I take a deep breath.

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The Rage: Part 22

XXII

“Here.”

The man positions the frame over my eyes. The blinding glare of the sunlight surrenders to the comfort of the shadows. He steps back and I see him for the first time, his colours tainted by the exposure. He’s like no other man I’ve ever seen.

He has walked in the sun long enough to kill any other man. His skin is dark like rust and his hair like frost. His left eye is green. The right is orange and struck through by four diagonal scars from a Rager’s claws. His gaze dares me to back away. He knows he is infected.

“Who are you?”

“I am the man who is going to save your life.”

I cast my eye over him again. He carries little equipment, but what there is, is attached to a harness around his chest and waist. On one hip, he has a blade, on the other, a length of sturdy pipe. The handle of my knife sticks out of a pouch beneath his arm.

“Where are your companions?”

He seems too lucid to be a Rager, his tone calm despite the anger in his voice. If he wanted me dead, I would be.

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The Rage: Part 21

XXI

“You’re still alive?”

The voice is gruff and aggressive. I’ve heard this before. Words spat like they were poison. Every syllable a knife. Infection.

I take out my knife and lunge at the fuzzy shape. He moves, sidestepping me. I turn and the room spins with me. The man steps forward and I thrust the blade at him again, but he avoids the attack. He’s too fast – or I’m too slow. He grabs my arm and pulls the knife from my hand.

“Are you the only one left?”

I turn to the side and aim my foot at his stomach. The force pushes him back and frees me, but I’m face on to the cloudy window and I can’t see him.

“I’m not the enemy.” He’s behind me. “Are you the only one?”

“You’re infected,” I reply. “Give back my knife and I can help you.”

“I don’t need your help. You need mine.”

He takes my arm and pulls me into the shadows. I wait for his claws to sink into my flesh, for teeth in my arteries. Something hard pushes against my palm. Something cold. I run my fingers over the smooth edges. Metal. Glass. A visor?

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The Rage: Part 20

XX

It took three days to get through the tunnel. I walked ahead of Topi and Emilia. At the end, a hut sheltered us from the outside, but the light was still dazzling when I crawled out. Topi and Emilia are still down there, waiting for the sun to set.

I am half-blind, hungry and thirsty. I hear things moving outside. Perhaps rats. Perhaps ragers. I reach for my knife.

No. Voices.

There are voices outside.

I listen carefully. Topi and Emi are too deep in the tunnel for it to be them. I am not alone here. The voice comes closer. Louder.

The door rattles. I remain silent. It is still too light out for me to open my eyes. A knock. A thump. I crouch in a corner and wait.

I have never heard a rager speak after they’ve turned. While there is still humanity, they talk, but as the Rage takes over, they lose it. At first, they swear. Then they scream. Then they just growl.

Whoever is outside, they can still speak.

The latch clicks and the handle screeches as it is turned. Cool air floods the shelter. Footsteps approach. They stop in front of me.

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The Rage: Part 19

XIX

“How do we know this isn’t a trap?” Emilia whispered as we crept along the dark, damp tunnel.

“Have you got a better idea?”

Emilia sighed heavily but said no more. Topi and I walk either side of her, our hands skimming the surface of the walls, gathering the dirt and slime as we feel our way along the tube. We lost all sight twenty minutes ago and now there is nothing ahead but darkness.

A voice nags at the back of my mind, asking if Emilia could be right. I tell myself that we have no choice. We die up there or we die down here. At least the tunnel may lead somewhere. At least here, we might live a little longer.

Emilia forces us to stop, complaining as ever that her feet hurt, her back hurts and she needs to pee. It’s hard to think how much I’m beginning to resent her. Putting her down will be easy when the time comes. I don’t expect it to be too far off now.

I keep walking while she rests, scouting the tunnel ahead for any sign of life or hope or light. There’s nothing. Just perpetual darkness.

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The Rage: Part 18

XVIII

My night vision is not perfect and this tunnel is too dark for me. I put my hand to the wall and feel my way along the cold stones or bricks, hoping that I won’t hit anything. The air is stale and damp. The sound of dripping water echoes in the near silence. A puddle splashes beneath my foot. I feel my own breath on my face, a cloud of mist, but even that is unseen.

I look back over my shoulder towards the shaft of light that marks the exit. Even that is dim. Too far away. My heart thumps and my head screams for me to go back. A sticky web of spider silk adheres itself to my face. Something crunches beneath my foot. I have to turn around.

I hadn’t noticed how hard it was to breathe. The silence pushed on my chest like a weight, forcing me to hold my breath. I stop. I pushed my tongue against my teeth and whistled. The shrill sound echoed down the tunnel and a flurry of motion followed, rats scurrying, dust being disturbed, the call of a bird and its wings flapping in fright. Animal sounds. Nothing else.

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