The City Breathes – Part Two – 7,505 words

BACK THEN

Eve doesn’t remember when she first ended up on the streets of Adeshell, or where she was before that, but she does remember where it started.

The hunger was the sharpest memory she had of that time.  How it gnawed at her core.  How difficult it was some days to sleep while her insides boiled with pain.  How the emptiness in her stomach echoed the loneliness she felt as a child on the streets with nowhere to go.

Adults couldn’t be trusted, and neither could other kids.  The underbelly of Adeshell was a harsh, bare place.  The air smelled of salt and shit.  The only colors of life there were beige and gray.  It was the lowest part of the city, the most vulnerable to the sea storms that tormented the city every year.  Nothing about growing up there left room for weakness.

She never could match the heartlessness of the slums.  Other kids would steal food and eat whatever small animals they could get their hands on, but Eve kept her hands to herself, sharing food with whomever and whatever she could.  When she found wounded birds, she tried her best to guide them back to health.  Eve was too strange to befriend, but sometimes other kids would come to her when they were desperate.  She always tried, even when it was almost impossible.

It had been a more brutal storm season than usual.  Almost everyone had suffered except those at the very top, which had transformed the hunt for food in the slums into starving desperation.  

Eve found herself shivering in a secluded alcove between buildings.  It didn’t save her from the rain, but without the wind and the hungry eyes of other vagrants sizing her up, the day felt survivable.  Her only company was a few rats nosing around the empty trash bins of the lot.  Neither she nor they paid each other any mind.  They were all just trying to make it to tomorrow.

The concrete in the center of the lot was cracked and split.  Little stalks of hopeful green peeked out of those spaces.  She stared at the complex, random web it created, following each branch until it tapered off into nothing.  Tracing those patterns was much better than acknowledging her soaked clothes or her aching stomach.  Better than acknowledging reality.

But then her reality changed with the simple appearance of a wicker basket beside her. 

It took a moment to realize that it wasn’t a hallucination.  There was no explanation that made sense.  Her back was against a wall, there were no windows above her, the ground was solid with no loose stones or drains.  It had just appeared there.

The basket was full of warm, buttered rolls, bordered with a garnish of daisies.  The yellows and browns and warmth were such stark contrasts within that cold gray place that they felt alien.  Her stomach growled with a pang while she stared in stunned disbelief.

The rats edged closer at the prospect of food.

She took out a few of the rolls, tearing them into portions, and tossed them over to the rats.  Only then did she eat, stuffing her face and stowing what was left in her threadbare coat.  For the first time in weeks, Eve felt full.

Resting a hand against the concrete, Eve murmured her thanks to whatever had fed her, if it could hear her.

There was a flipped trash lid a few feet away, rusted and filled halfway with rainwater.  It began to vibrate softly, water sloshing out as a clear tone emerged from the metal. Above her, the tin latch of a window gave its own note.  The trash cans joined the song, some of them toppling over from the intensity of the vibrations.

Eve got to her feet as the rats retreated from the emerging symphony.  Every puddle became chaotic pools of ripples as the very ground began to vibrate.  There was something expectant about the noise.  Like it was waiting for someone to join.

So she started to Hum, and nothing was ever the same.

NOW

Being hurt in the slums of Adeshell was, for most people, a death sentence.  Especially when you had two bullets in your lower back like Eve did.  There were no hospitals, no clinics.  The only options were disgraced or unlicensed physicians running their own shady offices.

Luckily, finding these offices was easy for someone who could see through walls.  She paid for help with shavings of silver from her revolver’s plates.  The physician, an older woman who showed signs of lost decadence in her tools and clothing, didn’t ask questions about the finger-shaped bruises around Eve’s neck or the bullet holes in her back.  

Eve bought as much morphine as a few spare bullets could buy from the woman.  She didn’t have time to feel the pain today.  

All of this was a greater risk than she would normally take.  Eve knew people who had fallen into morphine addiction.  She knew the doctor would gossip about the expensive revolver Eve carried, the injuries she had.  It was more attention than she wanted.

 But every time Eve Hummed that first melody, she felt Adeshell’s pain and fear.  It pleaded for her to go to the center of the city.  There was something that she had to stop there, and it was big.


//

Downtown Adeshell was absolutely unlike the slums.  

People and carriages crowded the roads like water in a river.  Trains passed overhead, suspended by steel supports.  The streets were alive with music and voices; something that didn’t happen in the slums.  Food vendors and street performers worked openly here, under the protection of the city-watch.  Above it all, the sky was a painting of storm clouds preparing to split open.

Her tattered, bloody duster stood out like a sore thumb here, but she had no choice.  All she could think about was the pain of Adeshell.  She could barely wrap her mind around the fact that a city could feel pain.  Could it die?  What could even kill a city?

The swirling, inexplicable Breath hadn’t left her mind either.  She kept thinking about the almost intelligent way that it flowed through the air.  It must be like the blood of the city, for how losing it hurt Adeshell.  Could losing it all kill the city?  What would happen then?

All she had to accompany her were questions, the morphine’s sleepy drag making her feel absolutely disconnected from those she walked beside.  She knew things these people would never know.  So she walked alone until the voice of Adeshell vibrated in her bones so loud that she knew she had arrived.

The call had led her to one of the indulgent parks that sat around the corporate towers.  Eve walked past pretentious suits and shallow silk dresses— people living a life she had no time to comprehend.  There was something beneath the carefully curated park that ached in her chest through the morphine.  It pulled her off the path to a clearing out of sight of the towering city and the aristocrats that walked there.

She Hummed the second melody, the tune of stone and fire.  Golden threads ignited in her vision.  There were thousands of them meeting here, reaching down into the earth.  This was the center of a stretching, burning web.

As she wondered how she was going to follow it, one of the threads split off the web beneath her.  It drifted upward without any consideration for gravity.  She snatched it out of the air and pulled.  The web shifted, opening a tunnel that bore into the ground at a slope.  The web strand drew taut, leading her into the dark without actually pulling her anywhere.  It was her choice, still.

She didn’t hesitate, walking into the hole as the dirt closed behind her.


//

Despite the thread being made of light, none of its glow reached the world around it.  Only her eyes could perceive it.  There was no real light in that tunnel.  The darkness was absolute.  She couldn’t even see her own hand in front of her face.  

That left Eve to stumble along after the faux-light of the string, getting caught on craggy stone and dead roots that she couldn’t see.  The only sounds were her own footsteps and the solitary melody she Hummed.  

It was difficult to tell how long the descent took.  A few hours?  An hour?  Ten minutes?  Walking the slope without losing her footing and rolling to the bottom was torture on her already-strained muscles.  She was running on fumes.

Eve reached the end of the tunnel.  Of course, she found out by knocking her head against the wall.  She swore, pressing a hand against her head and yanking on the thread.  The darkness pulled away just as the wall collapsed into a dim passage.

The last thing she had expected to find at the center was a place so artificial looking.  The corridor was made of finely cut stone blocks, with carved pillars stretching up into the high ceiling every dozen or so feet.  It had to be ancient, but it was as if time had largely ignored the hall.  The only sign that she wasn’t the first one here were cast-iron lanterns bolted into the pillars to illuminate the old stonework.

She paused for a moment, nursing her wound and letting her throat rest from the Hum.  Something told her she would need her energy soon.  This had to have taken more effort than one man with a machine, as it had seemed back at the apartment.  She had a feeling she was going to find those same unmarked gunmen here.

Heavy footsteps interrupted her rest.  Eve threw herself behind a pillar, straining her frustratingly limited senses to hear.

“There’s someone here,” a woman said, “I heard them.”

Another voice chimed in— a man’s— with, “There’s no entrance this way, we checked twice.  It’s just a hallway to an old silo.”

The woman scoffed.  “We both know Booker isn’t interested in anything except the Core.  If she missed something, it’s going to be our fault for not covering everything else.”

“Fine,” he said, “but let’s make it quick.  This place gives me the creeps.”

They drew closer and closer.  It would be easy to slip by them, but the hole in the wall her tunnel had left would only raise the alarm.  That left only one thing to do, really.

Eve began to Hum the first melody.  It echoed down the bare stone corridor hauntingly.

The hallway appeared in her perception even clearer than if she could see it.  Every pillar, brick, pebble, and speck of dust.  The man had stopped a few feet behind the woman, a horrified expression on his face.  “What the fuck is that sound?”

“Now do you believe me?” the woman asked, drawing her broadsword.  She was a six-foot tower of muscle with scars to match.  Eve didn’t love her chances in a straight fight against her, but this wasn’t going to be a straight fight.

When the pair passed Eve’s pillar, she leapt for them like a tiger let out of its cage.  Eve ducked the woman’s huge swing, caught the man’s hand before he could draw his gun, and twisted.  He opened his mouth to scream, but Eve silenced him with a jab to the throat.  The woman stabbed at Eve, not expecting her to dodge out of the way.  The gleaming broadsword plunged into the man’s chest with a sickening sound.

 Horror appeared on the woman’s face.  The man’s blood (her colleague? her friend?) stained her hands, and she stared down at them with shock as the adrenaline seeped away.  There wasn’t any fight left in those eyes.

Eve buried the observations in her gut and swung the handle of her revolver down on the woman’s head, bringing her down in one blow.  For a moment, looking down at the dead man she laid beside, Eve wondered if it would have been kinder to kill her.  

They were all still people, she remembered harshly.  People caught in the muck of something bigger than themselves.  Eve could turn around and leave.  Let these people do whatever they were doing to Adeshell.  No one else would have to die.

But how many people would say that before someone did something?

She gagged and bound the woman, dragging her a little further away from the man so she wouldn’t have to wake beside him.  It was the least she could do.


//

The corridor led into a colossal cathedral-like room.  The roof domed several stories above her head, shrouded in the dark.  Eve had trouble wrapping her head around it.  Adeshell was supposedly untouched land before the city was built.  This was anything but untouched.

The room was empty save for murals.  They stretched two dozen feet tall in places, pristine despite the centuries they had to have been down here.  They reminded her of religious images, like in a church.  The stray thought made more sense than she’d expected it to.

Most of the murals simply depicted figures, their clothes abstract but their faces painted in shocking detail.  They looked down at her stoically.  The gazes of men and women long dead.  It made her shiver.

Not all of them were like that.  Some started to tell a story.

The first showed a figure, black as pitch, standing over a group of figures wearing the same clothes as those from the other murals.  It was several times larger than them, with cruel claws and no face save for a gaping mouth.  A dark wave of something expelled itself from the Being’s mouth, engulfing the people as they fled.

The next one switched the dynamic.  The people gathered in a huge circle, screaming or shouting or singing as the Being covered its face in dramatic pain.  

The people chained it, forcing it to its knees as they used spears to tear something from its mouth.  The orange stone that was freed was swallowed by the ground in the next mural, though not before one of the people had pressed their hand to it.  The handprint remained as the stone vanished.  

The Being was forced into a pit, spiny bone-white spear points tearing its unbleeding skin into curtains.  Huge rocks were set over the pit, burying the thing that none of them seemed to be able to kill.  All the while, it screamed silently, nothing leaving its maw.  Voiceless.

The last mural was desperate in its detail, like it was painted by someone who needed it to be completed.  The Voiceless Being— the god— was trapped beneath a mountain of stones.  

Wispy, faint swirls surrounded it.  They rose from the orange stone, which had found a place far beneath the god.  Yellow lines had just begun to emerge from it as the Breath found its way up through the stones.

Eve knew with inexplicable certainty that that stone was Adeshell.  But the Being.  Could it be alive after so long down here?  She didn’t really want to find out.

More footsteps began to echo through the temple, but this time there was nowhere to hide.  A man entered the cathedral, and in any other circumstance the unarmed, lanky man would have been no trouble for her.  But two clear rubber tubes of Breath connected to the mask that he wore.

His skin was pale, strained, and covered in black veins.  He carried the same symptoms as the man from the apartment building.  But this time he had a tank filled with Breath strapped to his back, pumping directly into his lungs.

Eve’s hand drew the revolver in a flash.  The man didn’t as much dodge the bullets as know when she would pull the trigger and move accordingly.  He dodged three rounds— each hitting the brickwork behind him— before he reached her.  His clammy hands caught her wrist, yanked it upward, and twisted.

The revolver slipped from her grasp, and in the next moment, the cold end of the barrel was pressed against the bottom of her chin.  She froze.  “You will come with me,” the man rasped, muffled through his mask.  “Or I will shoot you.  Nod if you understand.”

She nodded.

He bent her arms behind her, an iron grip holding them in place, and straightened her back with a shove.  “Walk,” he demanded.  “Or I knock your brains out right here.”

She still had the bruises from the last time she had tried fighting one of these supercharged “Breath-users,” and that one had been half-insane.  There was no winning this fight.  Not yet.  “Fine,” she relented, walking where he led her.

They walked down the same hallway the man had entered from.  This one showed plenty more signs of disturbance.  Tables and chairs and sleeping bags (empty and full).  Wheel tracks marked the floor regularly.  They were moving something heavy through there.

The hall ended all at once into something that was barely a room.  It resembled something far more like the inside of an egg— huge and domed.  The walls were made of basalt columns that seemed too unevenly placed to be artificial and too smoothly cut to be natural.  Even the floor and ceiling were composed of the pillars.

Five huge Breath extractors had been planted in the walls far above the floor.  Beneath them, a couple dozen men and women in unmarked clothing hurried about with tools and oil and paper.  They all seemed to avoid the center of the egg, where Breath slowly drifted up from between columns.

The Breath-user took her to a wooden stage elevated high above the workers.  Only a single woman stood there.  Eve didn’t need to be a genius to understand that she was in charge.  

A careful shove by the man brought her to her knees.  He walked around her, handing the woman the silver-plated revolver.  “I caught this one in the mural hall, Booker.”

Booker turned over the gun in her hands with a keen eye.  She was only a little taller than Eve, but they couldn’t have been more different.  Booker wore her clean, tailored uniform like a medal.  Her hair was captured in a tight bun instead of the uncontrolled frizz on Eve’s head.  There was no hesitance, no slump in her form.  She had never had to survive on the streets, yet she still came out of it as hard as steel.  

“You must be the vagrant that bothered the Sergeant earlier.  Who are you working for?  How did you learn about Doctor Horace?”

Eve spoke the last lie without thinking.  “Hey, I was just looking for a place to sleep.  I don’t know any Doctor Horace.”

Booker waved the revolver around.  “That’s funny, since you shot him in the head.”

There was a sudden image in Eve’s mind of the apartment, of the Breath-infused man’s head snapping back after the bullet flew into his eye.  She couldn’t quite keep the horror from reaching her face, and the other woman noticed.  

“I should thank you for doing our job for us,” Booker said, “Horace was a coward.  He saw Breath and its life-giving properties and he stole it so that he would never die.  I would have left you alone if you hadn’t come down here to interfere.

“But since that path is already locked to you, you’re going to tell me how you found us.  Or I’ll have Bram here break you.”

The Breath-user cracked his knuckles and Eve almost rolled her eyes at the theatrics of the pair.  

She ignored the growing certainty of death.  It was an old lesson to forget about that coiling monster.  A final stand was on the horizon, and she would do better knowing what the fuck was going on.

“How did you find this place?” she said, “I was just following your footsteps.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” Booker replied.  She pulled out a faded orange rock.  “We used a Seeing Stone.”

Eve blinked at it.  It wasn’t dissimilar from the depiction of Adeshell.  “I don’t know what that is.”

“They surface in basements from time to time,” the other woman said, “Simple but powerful.  You strike them—”

Booker swung the rock down against the basalt.  It vibrated from the impact, wispy Breath flowing out through its cracks.  The First Melody tickled Eve’s skin.  “And then you can see things like nothing mortal was meant to.  It’s how we found this place, and it’s how we found Horace.”

She was obviously proud of the discovery.  Having someone to share these secrets with who would be too dead to share them soon had to be exciting.  Eve wasn’t going to complain about her questions being answered.  

“And you’re looking for more?”

“Yes,” Booker said, looking back to the center of the Core.  “Among other things.”  

Eve couldn’t keep the disgust from her voice.  “So that’s what all of this is?  Just another bid for power by someone who has enough?”

“Is that what you are, then?  Someone looking to stop me?”  Booker pointed the revolver lazily at her.

Eve shrugged.  “I suppose I am.”

Booker sighed.  “I could always use an audience,” she said, gesturing backward.  “There’s a door here, and we’re going to open it.  Mind staying to watch?”

“Not at all.”

The woman began to coordinate the efforts of the room, calling together groups of workers and ushering others out.  Whatever they were opening, it was going to be opened soon.  

There was no time.  Eve began to Hum the Second Melody.  Booker looked back, but she had no way to see what was happening.  The threads began to shimmer into existence around Eve.  They began to gravitate toward her, forming a tangled bundle of light that hovered in the air between Booker and Eve.  Booker was completely oblivious to it.

Eve didn’t let the anticipation reach her eyes.  By herself, there was nothing she could do.  That bundle of invisible light (that she had no idea how to control) was her only chance.  

Booker saw right through her feigned nonchalance.  “What do you think—“

Eve lunged for the bundle.  Booker recoiled, fumbling for the revolver, but Eve wasn’t after her.  She closed her fingers around the bundle.  It was like holding a flame, but the heat left no mark on her skin.  

She pulled with the weight of her whole body until the threads burnt out and the song died on her lips.  

Immediately, Bram grabbed her head from behind and slammed her face-first into the oak floor of the platform.  By some miracle, her nose didn’t break, but her skin still ripped and blood began to drip down her face.  He yanked her up to face Booker, his hand painfully gripping her hair.  

Booker seemed more confused than anything.  “What was that supposed to achieve?”

The chamber trembled.  Dust and stone flakes rained from the ceiling.  Pulling the bundle had done something, and it felt like the whole room was coiling before the other boot dropped.

The nearest Breath-extractor was the first.  A basalt pillar fell from the ceiling without warning, loosing dirt and rocks behind it as it speared straight through the center of the extractor’s casing.  The pistons continued to chug, but when a second column joined the first a few moments later, the machine fell silent.  A final pillar split one of the supports that held the machine up in half, dropping it with a thunderous crash of steel onto the screaming workers below.

Workers started scrambling for the exit, but a dense wall of stone blocked them before a single one could reach it.  Booker tried to rally the workers, but as the columns started to crush the other extractors in a rain of stone, chaos was in charge.  Some pillars made a point to flatten armed men and women to the ground with gory finality.

One by one, more columns began to fall faster and faster until every Breath-extractor was scrap.  The cohesive workforce was reduced to a group of scattered, cowering people.  The chamber was a forest of stone trunks.  Water leaked from the ceiling in steady streams.  

Eve had destroyed the entire operation in less than a minute.  She smiled through the blood dripping down her face.  She didn’t have to be Humming to feel Adeshell’s relief.

“Do you think you’ve won?” Booker said, stumbling toward her.  Dust and blood covered her torn uniform from where the falling rocks hadn’t spared her.  “You think I needed those machines?”

“I know what you are.” The woman grabbed Eve by the chin.  “You’re an Attuned.  A Listener.  I’ve killed so many of you, but I’ve never seen one who could do something like that.  I must be close.  What are you?”

Eve blinked.  There were more of her?  Attuned?  Listener?  It was a lot that she had never heard of.  Booker punched her across the jaw when she didn’t answer, scrambling what little coherence Eve had through the pain.

The woman leaned in close to Eve’s ear.  “What are you here for?”

It took a moment for Eve to form the words.  “You’re hurting it,” she coughed out with blood.  “The city.”

Booker looked at her incredulously.  “You can’t hurt a city.”

Eve hung helplessly in the Breath-user’s grip, unable to speak through the pain.

“Never mind it,” Booker said.  “You can watch as I split open the heart of this place.  Whatever drives you doesn’t matter.  You failed.”

She turned to face her workers.  “Open it!  We’re running out of time.  Don’t make this all for nothing.”

Incredibly, they listened to her.  Avoiding the piles of viscera and dead machinery, the survivors began to split into two groups.  Half formed a circle around the center with pikes and guns, while the rest gathered in the center with brushes and jars of blood.  The exit was sealed off.  Maybe this just seemed like the only option to these people.

“You’re making a mistake,” Eve said, not even sure of her own words.  “You don’t know if it will give you anything.”

“I’m freeing it for the power it will give me.”

Eve laughed grimly as blood dripped past her lips.  “Or it will destroy you.”

The workers used the jars of blood and paper references to draw huge, spiraling blood runes over the center of the room.  They reminded Eve of the ones she had seen at the apartment.  Some of the workers seemed on the verge of tears.  Eve got the impression they were here for reasons out of their control.  What did Booker have over them?

A circle started to take shape as they drew the symbols.  A soft murmuring started to echo through the room, and it took Eve a few minutes to realize that nobody present was speaking.  It was the voice of something or somethings long dead.  Maybe the people who built this place.  Eve couldn’t help but hear it as a warning.

Soon, the workers were done.  They retreated away from the circle behind the circle of armed soldiers.  Booker cleared her throat.  It was the only sound in the silence save for the trickle of water.  

Eve couldn’t help but feel a spark of anger as she spoke.  Who had been stupid enough to leave the way to free It if It was so terrible?  The builders of this prison had too much faith in those who would follow them.

“Voiceless One,” Booker called.  “Our Voiceless God.  The key is in place.  We only need your Influence to open it.”

A minute passed in hushed silence.  Frustration began to appear on the workers’ faces as the seconds drew out.  But it had worked.  Breath began to gush out between the cracks of the floor.  It rose toward the ceiling, stopping short to gather in a formless pool above the door.  

The blood runes sank into the stones.  The basalt columns that formed the circle began to shiver in place.  The mood of the room shifted into fear.  Something dark settled over each and every one of them.  The lanterns of the room burned low.

The pillars began to fall into the abyss.  The pit took shape, irregular and dark.  The prison was open.  Eve couldn’t make out anything inside.

And then an immense hand of pure night appeared on the rim.  There was no space between it not being there and it being there.  Like a lightning strike.  

The stone cracked where it strained to pull the rest of its body free.  More than one of the armed guards threw their weapons down and fled away from the rim of the pit.

Terror seized Eve, and she realized that most of it was not her own.  She didn’t have to Hum to feel Adeshell’s fear.  This was not good.  It was wrong.

Eve couldn’t sit as a prisoner any longer.  She Hummed the second melody, but no threads appeared, and she earned a harsh blow to the back of her head from the Breath-user as a result.  She was trapped.  Booker didn’t even look back.

“Booker!” Eve said, “stop this!”

“It’s too late, Listener.”  The woman said, half-triumphant, half-terrified.  “I will not turn away from my destiny.”

“Release me, please.  I’m your only chance at stopping It,” Eve pleaded.

Booker shook her head, turning to face Eve.  Her eyes were the color of burning gold.  “What makes you think I want to stop?” she stared through Eve like she wasn’t even there.  “Bram.  I tire of her.  Kill her.”

The Breath-user grabbed Eve by the shoulders and threw her.  She stopped just short of the edge of the stage and got to her feet.  “Come on,” she said as she faced off against Bram.  “Let’s go again, fucker.”

Eve found the first melody just before he charged.  No time to think.  No time to hesitate.  She gave her senses to Adeshell.

His first swing whistled past her ear.  She got on his side and yanked one of his two tubes free.  Breath spilled out into the air as thick as blood.  It seemed so far away.

He bellowed in rage.  It was more animal than man.  Eve leapt onto his back.  His elbow drove into her gut like a hammer, but the pain was far away, lost in the Hum.

She ripped out the last tube of Breath flowing into his mask.  The effect was immediate.  He began to suffocate.  

His hands clawed at his throat with desperation.  The mask fell from his lips.  “Please,” he begged, his voice unrecognizable as human, his skin whiter than snow.  “I need it.”

Eve shut her eyes and pushed him off of the platform.  He hit the ground a corpse.  

Nobody had noticed the fight.  They were too busy watching.

The hand flashed higher and higher, still moving in its unnatural skips.  Each time it shifted, the entire room flinched.  The entire room, save for Booker.  She was too spellbound, too sure that this was something good emerging.

Eve Hummed the second melody, but the strings that appeared were ephemeral and ghostly.  The web was still recovering.  She switched to the first melody, feeling outward toward the prison.  The Hum didn’t make it past the rim.

Then the god’s head appeared, massive and silent.  It was humanoid but featureless, with no mouth or eyes.  Its skin was an ever-changing field of fractals blossoming, splitting, vanishing.  Its shape drifted in and out of clarity.

Only one of its arms was free, and it reached out toward the few men and women who hadn’t retreated.  Then it swung through them like the hand of a clock turning every second.  Each person it touched was less killed than deconstructed into gore and bones instantly.  Blood ran across the floor in thick rivulets.  

Shock and terror drove the rest away, but the Voiceless God didn’t pursue them.

The viscera coating its gargantuan arm began to flow like water, taking the cruel shape of a flute constructed of bones and flesh and blood and mouths.  

The workers still keeping it together mounted an attack.  Riflemen fired a volley into the side of its head, and the pikes advanced to strike at its neck.  Both lead and steel turned to dust on impact.  

Adeshell vibrated up Eve’s bones with the first song in desperation.  Hum, it seemed to be begging.  She did, though she didn’t know why right away.

The Voiceless God lifted the flute like a torch.  It began to sing, if you could call the sound that emerged from it a song.  The mouths that made up the unholy abomination began to scream and groan in what distantly sounded like notes.  A melody appeared out of that horror, echoing through the room.  

It didn’t affect everyone the same way.  Some of the workers began to bleed through their skin.  Others went into a rage, beating at their own skulls until they fell still.  The last group started to pale, their veins bulging black.

Eve waited for the corruption to reach her, but the cold touch of the song bent around the Hum.  The two melodies were antithetical to each other in the same way that fire couldn’t be wet.  

As soon as she realized her immunity, Eve ran to Booker, grabbing her forearm just as it turned pale white.  The corruption fled the woman at once.

Booker coughed up black blood.  “Why?  Why not just let it have me?”

“Because you need to help me fix this.”

The dozen or so workers that weren’t dead started to trudge toward the platform.  There was nothing left in their eyes save for spiraling fractals.  They started picking up fallen lances and hammers.  

“That’s a problem,” Booker said.  She clicked back the hammer of Eve’s revolver.

Eve snatched the gun away.  “Forget them.  We have to stop it.”

The woman looked at her incredulously.  “It’s a god.”

“Someone put it down here once.  We can do it again.”  The fact that she had no idea how they did it went unsaid.  

Adeshell, she called out through the connection that the Hum gave her, what should I do?

But the city was too scattered.  Fear and panic clouded the Hum into incoherence.  Adeshell didn’t know what to do because it had spent so long trying to keep this from happening but it had and it had failed and it was over—

She shook off the fuzzy thoughts of the city.  They were on their own.

The god ignored them, content to let its thralls kill them while it tried to escape its prison.  It was getting much closer.

“Listener,” Booker began as the first lance started trying to reach their legs.  She stomped on the first to manage it, pinning the blade against the platform.  “Do something, or give me back the damn gun—“

Eve Hummed the second melody.  It was all she had left to try.  

The web of light had split and frayed sometime during the Being’s escape.  Its golden threads drifted through the air aimlessly like strands of hair.  There was no wonder Adeshell was barely coherent.  It was falling apart.

The enthralled froze when they heard the second melody— neither freed nor hostile.  It was as if the gloomy, low tones of the song had cut their strings.  

She ignored them, catching a glowing thread from the air.  Adeshell wasn’t there to direct the power.  She fixed a death glare on the Voiceless Being and pulled.

The falling column hit the god right in the temple.  The impact knocked It backward against the edge of the pit, and the pillar held the Being in place there.  For the first time, the Voiceless God rotated to look directly at her.  It had no face to make facial expressions, but she felt Its malice regardless.

Something changed, and the pillar dissolved into gray dust against its obsidian fractals.  The god started to collect more gory bodies from the bountiful supply around the room.

Eve didn’t want to give it a chance to finish, dropping pillar after pillar on the god.  But each of them disintegrated the same way that the bullets and pikes had.  They weren’t even an inconvenience.

So she switched up strategies.  The next pillar split the flute in half.  Blood and bone chips burst from it like a crushed grape, breaking the purity of the god’s skin with red and white.  

“How do you like that, bastard?”

The nightmarish song came to an end, breaking the trance over the few living workers.  Booker shouldered out of Eve’s grip.  “Don’t celebrate yet, Listener.  All you did was get it dirty.”

The Voiceless God dropped the remains of the flute, trying in vain to brush the gore from itself.  That was when it clicked for Eve.  Everything else flowed off the god like water, but the bloody bits of human had embedded themselves in place.  They made it straight through the disintegration effect that had swallowed up the basalt columns.  

What was the weakness of immortality?  Mortality.

She turned to Booker.  “Do you have a knife?”

The woman pulled one free from her boot, which Eve snatched away and used to slice open her own arm through gritted teeth.

Booker recoiled.  “What are you doing?”

She bit her tongue hard enough to taste blood as she let the blood drip from her arm into the loaded cylinder of the revolver until each bullet had a crimson sheen.  “I’m…” she winced, “trying to fix your mess.”  Her eyes were watering like hell.

“Can you?”

Eve pressed the bloody arm to her chest to try to slow the blood.  “Can I what?”

“Fix this?”  Booker avoided Eve’s eyes as she ripped her nicely pressed uniform and bandaged Eve’s arm.  “I… I don’t want that thing to hurt anyone else.”

There was a sinking feeling in Eve’s gut because she just wasn’t sure how this would end.  But the regret made her soften even though it was the woman’s fault that this had happened.  “I’m going to try.”

She took a look at her now-bandaged arm.  “Thanks,” she said before turning back to face the bloodthirsty god.

The Voiceless Being had pulled most of the gore from its skin and had begun rebuilding its flute.  Its need for a voice seemed to transcend the damage it thought she could do.

Eve clicked back the hammer of the revolver and fired.  The bloody bullet tore right through the god like a shooting star.  The Being flailed backward, silent but obviously in pain.  Breath hissed from both holes that the shot created.  The god abandoned the flute on the rim of the pit to try and stem the flow, but it was impossible with one hand.

Not that it would’ve helped, as she kept firing.  More hissing wounds exploded open, breaking the perfect fractals with smoky Breath.  The last round she fired tore across the Being like cutting at a seam.  A large curtain of fractal flesh came loose along the bullet’s trail like fraying fabric.  An explosion of Breath followed.

“Oh my God,” Booker said beside her, staring in disbelief.  “You’re killing it.”

“I doubt it.”  Eve reloaded the gun.  Something told her it wasn’t as easy as this to actually kill a god, otherwise the people who buried it here would’ve just done that instead.  She tore the bandage aside, watching her blood drip painfully slow onto the revolver.  Right now, she was going to shoot it until it decided to go back in its hole for another thousand years or so.

The Voiceless God had other ideas.  It picked up the flute, which began to change in its hand.  The flesh and blood began to slough off, dripping into the abyss.  Only the bones were left, which began to flow like liquid into a new shape.  A multi-pointed spear began to form, half-dozen times her height.  A knot of fear began to form in Eve’s gut because it was just too easy to imagine that thing tearing through her—

She fired all six rounds, tearing six clean holes in its arm that made the god pause but did nothing to stop it from finishing the weapon and turning toward Eve.

“Listener—”

Eve started Humming, grabbing threads with a prayer of save me.  “Working on it!”

The Voiceless God threw the bone javelin, which split in the air into a dozen deadly points.  

She heaved on the web of light with all the force she could muster.  The columns fell in a haphazard wall, stopping most of the spears, but not all of them.  

The wooden platform that she and Booker stood on collapsed beneath them as the spears tore it apart.  The ten-foot drop was enough to leave her breathless and bleeding in the wreckage of the stage.  But none of the spears had hit her.  She sat up, bleeding from dozens of wood shards and splinters in her skin but still breathing.  

Booker was less fortunate.  A spear had impaled her through the knee, pinning her to the floor while obviously also leaving her leg unusable below the knee.  She wasn’t walking any time soon.  Or, more likely, ever.  

“How bad is it?” the woman asked weakly, somehow still conscious.

Eve silently gave her a dose of morphine and set the rest beside her.  “I’m going to stop it,” she said, ignoring the woman’s question.  “It won’t hurt anyone else.”  She started to turn away.

“Wait,” Booker said, touching her leg with two fingers.  “If I make it— is there any way I can make this right?  For you, at least?  I didn’t deserve anyone to bail me out of this, but I still got you.”

“It’s not my job to redeem you.  I’m just here to save my city,” Eve murmured, pulling Booker’s hand into her own for a moment.  “You can do the rest.”

She brought the handle of the revolver down on one of the spears stuck in the wreckage.  The gun shattered into parts but left a jagged fracture in the bone.  It was easy to throw her weight down on that little crack and free a large enough piece for her to use.  That left an uneven shard three feet long and riddled with miniature cracks.  It didn’t look like a weapon capable of stopping a god, but It would have to do.

The god had gone back to constructing its instrument, but when she walked out of the wreckage, bloody and armed, It gave her Its attention fully.  It gave her the same malice It had earlier.  Did she really want to challenge It face-to-face like this?

Eve began to Hum for the last time, a strong and lonely melody that echoed through the room.  She answered Its question with a charge.

At the edge of the pit, she yanked on a cord of light.  The pillars beneath her leapt upward, propelling her into the air.  She came face to face with the Voiceless God as she flew across the abyss and buried her spear into Its forehead.  Then, she fell, tearing a gash wider and wider down the entire length of the god.  It burst into fabric and Breath.

They plummeted together into the darkness.


\\

Eve hadn’t expected the fall to take so long.  It would’ve been a greater mercy for her to just hit something hard and die, but it wasn’t that simple. She was faintly aware of the door to the abyss closing above her, leaving her in a darkness absolute.  She tried to Hum, but the sound was ripped from her, muted.  Was this the Voiceless God’s prison?  A hell of an infinite drop filled with darkness and silence?  She couldn’t Hum.  She couldn’t even hear the wind in her ears.  

It all might have been a comfort to an unfeeling immortal.  But she brought the exhaustion and the pain with her.  She just wanted to sleep.  To die knowing that it was over, that she had done something and her job was done.  But instead she just kept falling.

An orange light ignited in the darkness below, shooting past her before she could even process it.  Then another, then another.  Each little pinprick came and went as soon as they appeared.  A thousand falling stars that grew more and more plentiful.  Like she was falling into a sunset.

A familiar vibration joined her.

The shards were the remnants of a shattered Adeshell— the same stone she had seen in the murals: probably destroyed by the god sometime after the pair were thrown down here together.  The voice of a god, too ruined to ever speak the same way again.  

I’m here, she told the stones.  You’re not alone here.

Eve stretched out a hand, and the next moment, one of the stones met her touch.

An incomprehensible web of light formed in the darkness.  It was as large as she could see, glittering and beautiful.  She closed her eyes, and Adeshell caught her.  Like it always did.

2 thoughts on “The City Breathes – Part Two – 7,505 words

  1. Gracie

    I… what… this is the most beautifully written story I’ve ever read. Your writing is going to be read in schools someday, they’ll be calling it a classic. Everything about this story was so unique and original, I loved every second.

    Liked by 1 person

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