Art by Mike Bronka
The sun began to flicker through the clouds, beams of deadly light slowly growing in size and number throughout the city. Ajax stuck to the shadows of balconies and other pieces of cover he could find. Travelling when the sky was thick with smoke or ash was risky enough, but he hastened his journey back to the clan.
After creeping through the shadows and ruins, he managed to find it, the small warehouse where they had made camp. It was mostly intact, albeit rusty. The logo above the main entrance had been worn off by years of wind and weather, leaving only a few patchy white letters. The windows had been covered with thick black sheets from the inside, as well as a few holes in the walls. A few semis had been left in the parking lot, most of them charred beyond use or stripped bare of anything useful, even doors.
Ajax placed two fingers against his lips, whistling twice in rapid succession. The large entrance door slowly began to lift, revealing three figures in attire much like what Ajax was wearing, but with more protective pieces of metal or kevlar. Each one had a rifle at the ready, relaxing their aim once they realized that the source of the noise was in fact one of their own. Ajax walked through the entrance, which slammed shut behind him.
One of the figures stepped forward; a bulkier blonde vampire with a metal mask, with only two slits for vision.What little skin one could see was still pale compared to a human, but it still showed hints of having been tanned in life. He removed the mask and spoke with a hearty german accent.
“Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes.” The man smirked, flashing his larger-than-average fangs.
“Sorry, Able. You aren’t eating on the house two nights in a row.” Ajax responded with a smile and a handshake, patting the taller man on the back.
The other two guards returned to their post, as Ajax and Able walked through the warehouse the clan now occupied.
They weren’t a large group, only thirty or so. However, the warehouse was still full of activity. Oil lanterns lit the gathering of tents and bedrolls, tables lining either side of the warehouse where merchants peddled various tools and trinkets. A few were gathered around large pots of blood, where they talked and drank their dinner. Some prepared to pass the day away with a deck of cards, one vampire even played guitar, a simple but captivating tune, which attracted a few listeners. Passing the day was something Ajax’s people had become very skilled in.
In the dome cities, vampires had a plethora of distractions. With no need to sleep, they had unending hours to visit nightclubs or bars, or for the less fortunate there were always blood farmers who needed another set of hands or a visiting caravan to trade blood and stories with. For those beyond the city limits however, daytime was often a boring, eventless string of hours with little to offer but silence and the prospect of being alone with one's thoughts. Over the decades, vampires invented numerous ways to pass the time. Their world may have been bleak, but there was no point in joining in its despair.
The two vampires found a set of empty chairs at a table and made themselves comfortable. Ajax sat with his elbows resting against the desk while Able propped his boots against it.
“So what treasures do you bring today, Ajax?” Able asked, leaning back in his chair.
Ajax went into his rucksack, placing a partially filled bag of dark blood on the table. Able looked down at it, wrinkling his nose at the stench.
“I’ll split it with you for a full magazine.” Able offered.
“All yours. I’m not drinking any more of that shit.” Ajax chuckled.
Able shook his head, taking the bag and placing it into his own backpack. He was quiet for a moment. Ajax moved his elbows from the table and sat up straight.
“How many days worth do we have?” Ajax broke the silence.
“Three. Four or five if we ration it as evenly as we can.” Able answered, his tone suddenly less jovial.
“Ajax, if we don’t find more than Drained leftovers soon, things are going to start getting serious. We’re miles from any city and it’s been days since we’ve made contact with any other caravans. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to end up like whatever you stole this from.” He sighed, looking at the rest of the clan.
“I don’t want them ending up like that either.”
Ajax paused to consider his words.
“We could turn back towards Sepulchrum. At least we could top off before looking for better hunting grounds.” He suggested.
“We don’t have much to sell, unless you’re willing to start parting with arrows.” Able replied. He took a swig of the bitter blood, coughing as he swallowed.
Ajax rested his chin against his hand, now truly deep in thought. Sepulchrum sounded more and more like the safest option. It was the only dome city for miles, and blood farms meant that at least food wasn’t a question of ‘if.’ This wasn’t the first time the thought of settling down crept into his mind, but he still couldn’t see himself working a farm for the rest of his life.
“Where else is there to go?” He asked.
“We just so happen to be on the edge of uncharted territory.” Able spoke up as he retrieved a map from his backpack.
“We’ll reach Sepulchrum if we travel north for three days. We won’t reach any other cities without a lot of luck.” He pointed to the southern edge of the map.
“South of here is just desert. Nobody’s heard anything from there since the bombs fell.” He commented.
“Wait.” Ajax interrupted. “Nobody’s even bothered to check it out?”
“Like I said, mostly desert.”
Ajax looked back to the people around him. Was he really willing to gamble their safety for a hunch?
“What if there’s more to it than that?” He suggested.
“If nobody’s even been there, then who knows? Maybe there’s humans, or at least, I don’t know, something?” He tumbled over his words as he spoke.
Able looked at the map, then back to Ajax. Rolling up the map, he shook his head.
“You really think it’s worth a shot?”
Ajax tapped his finger against the table.
“I don’t know, but it’d be better than working our lives away in a bar or junkyard.”
Able stood up, hefting his backpack onto his shoulders.
“If you really think so, then I’ll get my things together and tell the others to head north.” He replied plainly.
“The others?” Ajax asked, quirking his brow.
Able’s smile returned.
“You didn’t think you were going alone, did you?”