Seventh Circle: Chapter Two excerpt

(Please do ignore WordPress’s insistence to destroy whatever formatting I add to this page.)

Uncommitted walked in a mindless stupor out on the street. Men and women of all ages shuffled with bowed heads and worn spirits, each wearing tattered garments that hung off their anorexic frames. The road was wide and cobbled, flanked by rows of dilapidated shops and rusted apartment doors.

Dirk lifted his head to see overbearing rooftop spires that thrust skyward like daggers, as if threatening to pierce the night sky. He inhaled deeply to find that the air smelled of charred, burning wood. It was thick and clung to the back of his throat, as if he was drawing on a cigarette. He coughed and spluttered, pounding his chest to get accustomed with the air’s density, while looking out at the Gothic stonework beset into the buildings nearby. The stone pillars and twisting columns that made up each structure’s exterior underlined the city’s age, while piles of granite rubble and imperfections in the masonry made clear that it was overcome with a perpetual state of decay.

He took a moment to consider what had happened to the city. Had it always been this way, or was it a mere shadow of better times? Dirk looked again to the Uncommitted, who seemed so emotionless and lost. Were they too relics of a more-prosperous era? Had they once fallen from the sky like him and tried to make the best of their lot? He shuddered to think that they had failed, and could only imagine what it must have felt like to lose their mind completely. The sight of those husks was incentive enough to soldier on, to seek out the humans that remained and find answers. He vowed that he wouldn’t lose himself so easily.

Spotting a gap in the tide of bodies, Dirk breathed deep and took the first steps into his new life. He didn’t know how to find Seventh Circle, but he had to keep moving to stave off the biting cold and wind’s unrelenting. He looked onward to find that the street stretched for miles. Off in the distance, a pair of grand spotlights cut through the dark, streaming high into the off into the rumbling cloud line. He stopped to ponder what lay at their base for a moment, until he was nudged from behind by a mindless, unflinching soul that forced him to keep up with the crowd.

Reaching an intersection, Dirk broke free from the stream of Uncommitted and crossed the street. On the corner he saw pale, skeletal hookers peddling their weathered bodies to anyone seeking release from their suffering. Behind them, a filthy Fallen man grunted as he ploughed a woman against a wall, ignorant of the fact that any passer by might be watching. At what point did these people lose their sense of decency? Dirk recalled some more advice the stranger had given him back in the alley.

It’s tough out there, but doing something – anything – to get by is important. Most of the Fallen lose hope completely and as the decades roll by they begin to slip away from reality. Money is still gospel and there’s plenty of it out there to be made if you’re willing to do the right kind of work and break the wrong kind of rules. You should do anything to stay focused and avoid losing yourself. That’s easier said than done of course.

He wasn’t wrong. The rules of the after-life had been spelled out to Dirk earlier and he went over them repeatedly in his head as he walked. He turned the corner to see an angry, screaming mob of Fallen congregating near a parked truck flanked by what appeared to be police officers wearing riot gear. They brandished cocked rifles and held them on display to deter any hint of rebellion. The leader, a female guard, stood in front of the truck and barked at the crowd.

“If you stupid fucking humans can’t form an orderly line then we’ll let you starve. Mark my words. Failure to form a line in the next ten seconds will see all supplies cut off from this district for a week, by order of Madame Bailey. Is that clear?”

Humans? Dirk pondered what the woman meant by that as some members of the swarm nervously fell in line, while others continued their disruption. Exasperated, the woman motioned to her men and they fired several rounds into the air, creating a blast that echoed throughout the street with deafening menace. Dirk hunched low and retreated to watch the scene unfold from behind some pillars on the opposite side of the street. If anything, the shots riled the mob up more, as the more ambitious Fallen pushed their way to the front to try and seize control of the guns. Dirk watched on and feared what was about to follow.

One gang of Fallen managed to tackle the woman to the ground and proceeded to stamp on her in a hateful frenzy, while other guards spat into their radios to request assistance. Meanwhile, other civilians prized open the truck and began hurling loaves of bread, cases of water and other provisions out into the crowd. Ravenous, they stepped over each other like rats descending on scraps. Men and women were trampled to death, others started fighting one another for a single meal or to quench their cracked, dehydrated lips.

Dirk fought his aching muscles as he ran down the street, the sound of sirens growing louder on the breeze. He sprinted without looking back, feeling the strength gradually return to his shivering legs. He hit the next block just as the rasp of gunfire erupted behind him, confirming that the backup had arrived and were neutralising the riot.

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