It took a while to be able to write for this again, IRL takes priority as always. I'm thankful for those of you that took of your time to read through this. If you have suggestions feel free to comment them.
Chapter 01: [Yet another start]
Noah felt a bit groggy. He had gone to sleep after going through his usual equipment cleanup routine, but something felt amiss now. It was something different from that early morning sleepiness that would persist; he was feeling cold.
Which was a bit strange to say. Even if the fire went out, the basement had a good heat-isolation setup and would remain mildly temperate for quite some time. Not even a day had gone by and the place felt chilly. Stranger yet, his body felt clammy and gross, almost as if he slept after doing heavy and rigorous exercise.
There was a chill that bit into his bones, but his throat was itching and he couldn't help a bout of coughs.
"How strange…" He muttered to himself, standing up and feeling his head ring with pain and nausea. The chill that ran deep into his bones intensified and all his energy seemed to be sapped off; this was not common.
Noah rubbed his left eyelid, the orb twitching and oddly bothersome today. He was used to it being mostly passive and unresponsive, the new sensation not entirely being welcomed in this particular moment.
He moved towards one of the shelves storing food, hoping that his headache and unresponsiveness were merely hunger, but as he grabbed a can of peaches, the young adult's grip upon the container was faulty.
As the aluminum can fell from his grasp, Noah noticed that something was definitively wrong here. His honed instincts were telling him that danger was surrounding him. He immediately moved to grab his backpack, feeling the headache worsen and the chilling sensation that gnawed on his bones to become especially bothersome as he moved to exit his shelter.
He barely touched the handle of the main exit and had to immediately whisk his hand away, pain flaring almost as if he had touched a burning piece of ember. That banished away any sluggishness that tried to persist, Noah now realizing what felt wrong.
He rushed back to his bed and yanked the aluminum frame from its place, the hidden trapdoor under it revealed to him. He would thank his paranoid mind later, but for now he merely scrambled to go through the small passage he had dug out. It barely managed to accommodate him and his backpack, but in the end he fit through.
The chills were starting to fade away and with his sensations back proper, he felt the reason as to why he felt his skin so clammy and gross. The fucking place was burning.
Someone most likely was trying to flush him out or hoping that he would die – either suffocated or burnt to a crisp. He would not give whoever the bastard was the satisfaction; worse yet, he mused that whoever his attacker was, they likely had access to some sort of supernatural power. There were no other explanations for the sudden bone-gnawing coldness that attacked him.
It took the better part of 15 minutes for him to eventually escape the haphazardly dug tunnel, the heat making him sweat even more as he scrambled to evacuate as quickly as he could.
He had always kept the possibility of his "safe-house" being found out in the back of his mind, but it still irked him something fierce to be forced out of his shelter like this. Unless he had the safety-in-numbers of a group, camping out like what he had done meant that it was only a matter of time until he had to fight against people. Be it raiders, bandits or any else that tried him. Maybe it as a bit childish of him, but Noah expected at least to have a shootout against the bastards. Yet here he was, being forced to evacuate through a tunnel almost like he was a damn rat. Hopefully the fire the fuckers set off would burn the supplies into uselessness.
If he could not have those, then no one would have them.
Finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, Noah went through the last stretch and emerged out of a concrete sewer tunnel. The concrete floor under him as a rough and long-stained thing, but at least it was dry. Noah's current mood wasn't exactly high, it would not do to step into some wet mess of whatever remained from the old sewage system.
The early morning air brushed against his skin, cooling off a bit of the sweat that clung to it, the man tugging a bit on his shirt to allow more air flow.
He grumbled, properly fixing both his attire and his backpack, dusting off bits of dirt.
The tunnel exit was quite far from his safe-house, but nonetheless the lone survivor began a track to get as far away as possible from it. The only place that could accommodate him outside of his hideout would be the city, but the mere thought of it brough a wave of anger to Noah.
Still, it would be troublesome to simply wander the wastes hoping to luck out and find a place that would be as good as he previously had. Mierda, now I'm regretting escaping from there.
Safe-zones, as the name would imply, are areas that managed to withstand the trials of the collapse. People that managed to carve out a niche little thing for them. Noah had seen a few safe-zones during his time as a wanderer, though the biggest one so far was the one he was closest to, Tallahasse. Surprisingly the survivors of the infected managed to wall-off the place and build heavy fortifications to impede further assaults on the place.
Noah was used to trading there once in a while, but living inside a safe-zone was not something that he had been planning for.
Still, it was either that or trying his luck with the bandits, and considering they managed to get the drop on him, Noah felt more prudent relying on the safe-zone. He could take commissions there and earn a living while getting ready to search for another place to live.
He took the road that would lead once again to the front gates of the city, always paying attention to his surroundings in an effort to avoid becoming a target. It took some time to reach the safe-zone, the people manning the gates keeping their guard up as he approached.
Cities rarely opened their gates after the sun went down, so anyone that reached after such time would have to camp around until the gates would open in the morning. They couldn't also camp in front of it, as there could be people already lined up to exit and the last thing the guards wanted was a blockade or some mess happening due to groups fighting.
There were also smaller doors and gates that allowed smaller groups or individuals to go to and from the city too. Noah headed towards one of those, aware that he would have to pay some sort of toll to get in. Maybe a few batteries he had stored in his bag or some cleaning supplies. The bartering economy in the apocalypse was a somewhat complex thing after all, so one could never truly know what would become valuable in certain places, though food and ammo was always in high demand.
He had seen a few deals in the wastes that would be unthinkable in the previous modernity.
Nonetheless, he headed to the smaller gate and knocked on the metal door baring his entry. A few moments later a smaller section was slid open, a pair of hardened eyes staring at him through the slit.
"What do ya want?" The rough voice of an older man echoed from behind the metal door.
Noah didn't bother with sarcasm or an attitude. When dealing with these sorts it was better to be mostly straight, though one could get away with mixing lies with the truth. "I'm a wanderer. Looking for a safe stay and some bounty jobs." He replied, resting his hand atop the handle of his large kukri.
The guard gave him a look, checking over the teen for any abnormalities. Seeing nothing outstanding, the man closed the slit and began the process of unlocking the metal door. A few metallic clanks and echoes had Noah stepping back a few inches, the door opening towards outside to reveal the man guarding the door together with a partner covering his back. Both packing heat in the form of two AK-47 rifles.
"Any infected bites?" The man that Noah guessed had been behind the door asked him. Noah shook his head, stretching his arms to allow for a search of his extremities. The man shouldered his rifle with a sling, his partner behind keeping his weapon trailed on Noah.
It was a quick affair, the man quickly patting him on his arms and legs and pulling the sleeves back to check on anything that would indicate a wound. Seeing nothing on the young adult the guard backed off. The man took a cigarette from a pack on his breast pocket and quickly lit it up with a lighter, inhaling smoke and exhaling a small plume of ash on Noah.
"What you got for the toll?"
Noah was slow and deliberate with his moves, unwilling to give a reason to the guards to pop a cap on his ass. He slid his pack off his back, dropping it on the floor in front of him, yet not opening it immediately. He glanced back at the man, his eyes asking for permission.
The guard took another puff of his cancer stick, this time though he did blow the smoke to the side, one hand carefully close to the side arm on his leg. "At least you ain't like the dumb sort. Last time a drifter came by he got his ass beat because he was overeager."
Noah nodded along. "Chicos like that don't last long out there, so he probably was from some other safe-zone trying to play tough guy."
The guard chuckled. "It takes a special type of crazy to live out there with the mutants and the bandits."
Noah opened his pack and slowly retrieved a few of the batteries from one of the inner compartments. Double AA's, standard stuff. Nothing that one should consider that expensive, but those things were worth their weight in gold now. "Frescas and in good state. I'd say that is plenty."
The guard did raise his brows at the items, but soon he schooled his features and hid his expressions behind another small smoke could. "Aye, plenty enough kid." He picked up the batteries from Noah and tossed them to his partner. "Come, I'll write you up and check to see if your name ain't black-listed."
Now that got Noah's curiosity. Last time he came for trade it had been a fairly easy process to get access to the city. The security measures seemed to have been souped up.
Entering through the door, Noah ended up positioned in the middle of the two man as he was guided further inside the guard outpost. They walked for a few seconds until the group reached a room that had a few other people in. No one looked particularly striking, most of the people present looking like they had arrived from the wastes too.
The guard that let Noah in talked with the one manning a desk in the corner of the room. "With him that makes fifteen. That makes the week's quota. Sign everyone in." His 'guide' had long slipped a few batteries in his pockets, giving the remaining to the desk person.
"Yeah yeah, I got it. Most are drifters, so they will be out of here in a week at most. The marshal has been quite strict on foreigners after all." The desk-man spoke without a care, eyes lazily glancing at the occupants in the room.
Something bad has definitively happened here, Noah mused. He hoped that tolls didn't become too heavy, else he might have to move out quicker than expected and his current supplies wouldn't take him far enough.