Stranger and Stranger

The Wastes are a terrible thing to mind. Lucky for him, he didn't have to travel through that day. It was lucky that he didn't have to endure the monotony of the city either. Lucky knew exactly how he accomplished ditching his daily duties; and luck had nothing to do with it.

Sneaking past the city guard was the easy part; it was actually leaving town that was difficult: huge chains suspending midair between the town and a bottomless pit aren't the simplest to traverse. Lucky held for dear life onto the grooves in the giant piece of metal. While hanging, he remembered simpler days when he just had to squeeze into the cargo hold of the gondola used for transportation below; of course, that was before the fog descended. Snapping back to reality, he resumed his swinging on the gigantic chains to get to the end where he could rest at last. With muscle memory, his hand grabbed the metallic ledge of the the pit to hoist himself up. He stretched his body on the cool steel of the bluff, fogging up his gasmask with exasperated gasps.

Staring up into the sky, he could barely make out the power lines zig-zagging above him trailing to the floating city through the dense smog. He sat himself up. The soot-stained wraps felt heavier everyday he wore them; perhaps it was the smog-or maybe it was just his exhaustion. Through his dead-man's goggles, he spotted the Lighthouse's faint glow of the port across the wastelands. His blackened gauntlets wrapped around the handles of his six-shooters as he started his trek into the smog. The skies were a black-grey; mid-day. The only way one knew night had fallen was the way the surroundings turned pitch-black. Even with the modified fog-lights on his cap cutting through the fog, he could only see ten feet in front of him. Ever careful, he was always aware of the constant threat the Wastes had. Though he took much care to where he stepped, his boots crinkled the metallic debris covering the concrete earth; besides that, no sound was heard around him for miles.

He kept his steady trudge through the darkness despite the ever-looming fear that it could very well be stalking him without a sound. Breathing became more rapid, trudging went into a sprint, and fear turned to panic. The lenses of his goggles fogged with his rushing breath until he could only see a glint of the Lighthouse he was chasing. He felt something behind him; the burning feeling one has at the back of the neck when something is staring at them. Shutting his eyes, he ran faster. Faster and faster until his boot snagged itself on a hook jutting from the floor. Falling facefirst into the ground, he prayed for his hands to be able to break the fall. Fire. And pain. Fire and pain shot through the palm of his hand, piercing his right gauntlet as he hit the floor. He sat back and wildly gazed around him as he held his bloody hand. Logic left him as he searched for his pursuer. He knew he was being paranoid in his surveillance; paranoia and survival were one and the same. He gripped the artery in his arm, slowing the bleeding down. He thought quickly and tied a piece of ripped undershirt around the wound; another piece securing itself around the pulsating vein. Pushing off the ground, he stood once again. Lucky forced deep breaths on himself, and the illusionary calming that came with it. He restarted his trudge to the Lighthouse.

Jiang-Xiang was a different place than what the old stories described it as. The elders told of the many traders trailing through the wastes, peddling their goods and rare antiquities from the before times; the lights shining through the grey fogs, illuminating the paths of travelers; but now, the wastes of the once-great Jiang-Xiang, the city built on the backs of the caravans, were nothing more than empty wastes. Memories of the tales zoomed through lucky's mind until he felt something underfoot.
The ground wavered. The earth faltered. The floor fell. Swallowed by the city, he fell; not a smooth fall, not in the least. Smacking against the jagged concrete faults every now and then, he felt intense pain with every blow. A final blow to his mask switched everything to black.

He awoke to a crack in his goggles, all the way across the lenses, rendering them almost unusable; almost. He really had no choice in his apparel. Besides, certain problems were in need of more concern. His arms seemed undamaged from the drop, apart from small bruising; his back had a sharp pain directly in the center; and his legs had no pain whatsoever. He flipped himself off his stomach, and screamed to the upper layers in pain. Lucky tried to sit himself up off his back. His head cleared and he took a hard look at his body. His legs shouldn't have been bent like that. He fell on his side in shock; the pain in his back subsided. A bicycle handle had lodged itself in his back; no blood, luckily. Looking up, he saw a sign in Old Cantonese. The characters were barely recognizable to him, almost clean and fluid compared to the mangled writing system he used. "Pawn Shop, Food in Back." He realized where he was; the lower levels, the before-city. He gazed up to the hole where he fell. He gazed at the great towers and buildings that supported and comprised the floor of the wastes he knew. The ancient windows, the broken architechture, the ruined streets of the old city; and covering the huge megalith before him, the huge monument to the people alive before, was the image the elders had bewared him of since his days as a child. A flag of the red octopus with its tentacles outstretched in all corners over a sea of white; a blood-red, rising sun whose light touched all; the arms of the force who took this land.

He froze on the ground, paralyzed by fear and horror. Words escaped his lips without command: “Our attempts have failed. The pollution of industry has overtaken us. Shanghai has fallen. They have taken all. We have lost.”

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