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Final Retreat

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Prologue - Forgotten Ruins

The past while forgotten, rarely dies. The reverberations of actions long past can still echo. Maybe the confining cell had been built incorrectly, a wire tied loose, a gap too large. Perhaps the fault lay in some long dead human, a misspoken word, a mis-typed document, a switch thrown inadvertently. Or mayhap, the creators had made it a little too strong, a little too smart. Regardless, the creature of a past age still lived.

The creature should have died, drained of the humming energy that was its lifeblood. But however it had happened, the drain had been set too low to end its life. The creature had survived and for centuries slowly filled a reservoir with its leached power. Even a bottomless pit can be filled given enough time.

The creature slowly woke, climbing out of hibernation. Its limbs slowly formed, first just a mirage, a specter with no substance. But as it breathed, each breath as surprising as the last, the same mirages gained substance and weight. The creature looked up, searching for the red light of the camera, its horns scraping the sides of its cell. The only light came from the creature’s own body, dull dark green reflecting back from scarred walls.

Six twisted claw like fingers emerged with a metallic screech through the hatch above. Slowly the group parted, three pulling the metal to the left, three pulling to the right. The scream of the tortured metal echoed. The creature slowly pulled itself out of the pit, disregarding the glint of gold liquid that leaked from its hands. Only to catch itself upon the lip of the pit. The prison block was tilted, and damaged. Shards of broken glass glittered in the dark green light in a pile at the bottom of the room. The light fixtures were shattered, and dark scorch marks competed with large dents over which covered more surfaces. The door way out was open, one of the steel metal slab doors missing, the other melted into a bulbous heap. It was also on the side of the room tilted upwards.

The creature reached outward from its hold towards one of the larger dents, pulling itself upward. And did so again, and again, clambering up the floor to pull itself up into the sideways hall. The creature slowly edged its way through the dark, picking its way around shattered glass and light fixtures, easing itself around corners and shoving away rubble.

The air was cold within the hall. The quiet so perfect that it could hear the hum of its own life. The creature found itself tapping the floor, ceiling, anything to hear a sound to drive away the crushing silence. The battery reservoir at the center of its prison its lodestone within the maze of corridors. A rustle that could be termed laughter echoed for a moment. The instrument of its confinement was now the instrument of its escape. The light surrounding the creature brightened as it pulled fallen slabs of metal out of its path. A few more corridors before it could begin the climb out.

A rattling noise that might be compared to an inhale of breath cut through the silence as the creature came to the stairway. The stairs themselves were in tatters, cooled puddles of metal pooled at the bottom of the room reflecting the green light back warped, and drippings collected upon the walls. What hadn’t been melted was either shrapnel below, sharply glittering, or fragments that still clung to the walls. The creature began to climb, clambering slowly up, freezing whenever the scraps of metal underneath it groaned. Nether less, even when the metal underneath it buckled under its weight, the creature refused to retreat. It had waited too long to see the sky again to halt now when escape was so close.

Eventually, the creature crawled out of the tilted stairway, and beyond the two ajar blast doors. It was prepared for the severe slant underneath its feet. It expected the chrome dome to be visible above it, even to see the imprints of a giant’s hand pressed into the solid bands high above. Everything else however, was a terrible surprise.

Half of the buildings were rubble resting where the chrome dome met the steel plate below. Great furrows stretched across the plate beneath the dome, twining and crisscrossing through solid steel and stone, with only destruction in their wake. The stone obelisk from the central market was in two pieces, as if a leviathan had uprooted a small sapling before snapping it.

The creature leapt to a hand hold, upon the steep incline. It was the ruined foundation of a building, crushed by a great weight. Farther up part of a wall still stood, despite the wide clawed gouges. A crater surrounded by dark warped metal was used as a foot hold to leap to a wreckage cut so cleanly, the edge cut into the creature’s hand. It had to get out, into clear air.

The subtle scent of ancient smoke and fire was suffocating the creature. It was the smell of oil, of metal burning, rubber melting. The smell of war and death. Even as it was leaping from the ruined plate base to the dome above, the creature could hear screams of pain in the air. The screech of claws tearing through steel, the cracking of shattered bones, the quiet drip of lifeblood bleeding out.

Even the shuddering pant of its own breath could not chase away the sounds. Nor could the exertion of clambering the chrome bands upwards chase away the vibrations of artillery pounding the ground, the roiling of the earth as it was churned, the thud of a building being crushed. The sight of smoke blacking out the blue sky.

A band of chrome shifted suddenly, and only the fact that the creature had already grasped the next band kept if from plummeting with the band to its death. It allowed itself two breaths, attempting to ignore how the taste of smoke coated its mouth. What happened before did not matter. In a little while it would be out. It would see the sky once more. It would wash the smell away in a river.

The creature began moving, aiming for the gate it knew where the dome met the plate below. The creature moved towards that gate, towards the promise of trees dancing in the wind. Perhaps once out it would be able to see a farm. Would it search for one with open pastures, or with fields as wide as the eye could see? The creature wondered as it rested next to the first of two gates, a blast door made of two thick sheets of metal pressed together. It leaped and clung by the tips of its fingers where the two blocks met. It didn’t care if it saw the sun or stars outside. It just wanted to find home.

Slowly it pried the two sheets apart, against the grind of long stopped gears. Once the opening was wide enough, the creature lowered itself slightly, ignoring the tremors of pain. It would never retreat upon its path to home. What did the pain matter, the sky was just above. Outside long grass wavered in the wind, and water ran across creek beds. The creature thrust itself upwards, as fast as a daring song bird chasing the sky. With a mighty clash the sheets sprung back together, but not fast enough to prevent the creature from crossing their threshold. But not slow enough to allow it to do so unscathed.

The creature ignored the deep gouge upon its leg, ignored the drip of its lifeblood. It instead looked upwards towards the last barrier between it and the outside world. It could hear the wind just past the rusted metal. Clean air to chase away the memories. The creature slowly pried the rusted blast doors apart, the same style as the last, and leaped into the wind.

Sand blasted the creature, who was slammed into the outside of the dome. Acting upon instinct, the creature grasped the chrome bands, and held. Sand scoured the creature’s skin, and it could only look upon the area with horror.

Black clouds hid the sky, the cold chrome burned under its hands. Unseen above was the sun or stars. And shifting desert sands as far as the eye could see. The outside world was different, the creature could feel it. The desert was devoid of all life, and beyond in the distance the creature could not feel anything. The world it would find beyond would be as devoid as the desert.

A rattling scream raged at the shrieking wind. A rage at the world for dying before it could awaken. A wail of crushed wishes, and hopes. A mournful cry for a life the creature had dreamed of. And once that rage was spent, nothing but the shrieking wind could be heard.

The creature clung to the dome, staring at the shifting sands motionless. It no longer had any purpose. A question from long ago echoed through the creature’s mind. What did it plan to do upon escape? Its answer had been taken away. And now it again did not know the answer.

That was when the desert rain opened above the forgotten ruins of a lost citadel. The water rushed over the creature, who stared upwards. It had forgotten about rain.

The creature began climbing painstakingly to the ground below. The metal beneath it was slick, and the wind still rasped at it, but it was outside. It was not the world it had wanted. But it was the only world it had. It would find what had taken its world from it. It would have vengeance for the life stolen from it.

The creature reached the shifting sands below, and looked upwards at the forgotten fortress. Despite the passing of time, even damaged the creature could still see the resemblance the structure bore to a turtle. Albeit one with too many legs and lacking a head. Even with the shell tilted, the back legs collapsed, and with the forward legs over extended the creature saw a slow moving turtle.

The wind carried off the rattling chuckle as the creature moved towards the back legs. A turtle it may be, but one it would right. A turtle it would use to hunt the thief of the creature’s dreams. As well as vengeance for a hundred other reasons. After all, the past never truly dies.