The Footprints on Charleston Way

Chione ducked down behind the sun bleached rock wall as the arid blast of sand swept across the valley. The storm had risen out of almost nowhere, and came as both a blessing and a curse.

Her pursuers would now be struggling, trapped up on the plateau, unable to move and probably fighting for their lives, whilst she was in relative safety in the small pocket of calm the ruined building lent to her. Though this wouldn’t help for long, the storm would calm and she would have nowhere to go, the desert stretched for miles in all directions, an endless barrier of open windswept plains with nowhere to hide.

She had to find the door.

She checked inside the small leather satchel, relieved that its contents were still intact. So much depended on it, if the priests or their dog soldiers discovered her and retrieved the package all would be wasted, her father’s death, pointless.

The wind picked up even stronger and a rush of sharp dry sand filled the air around her. She moved as quickly as she could, stumbling through the broken archway, falling onto her knees on the cracked marble tiles.

After a few moments getting her breath back she took a look around. The ruin must once have been a grand building, the courtyard, though in ruins was a least the size of the plaza in her hometown. The floors all covered in broken but still obviously well-crafted marble tiles, big ones at that. There were no longer any of the upper floors; the harsh desert had forced these to collapse in, though most of the rubble was no longer there either. It is amazing what lengths people would go to collect valuable building materials, even to the point of robbing ancient buildings.

Chione hauled herself up onto her feet, her back and legs aching from two days of pursuit with very little sleep, she would not be able to continue much longer, a place to hide was an absolute must, otherwise they would find her, and she shivered to think what her fate would be then.

A voice broke her concentration and a sharp knife of fear seized her for a moment, reminding her that she was by no means safe. behind her barely a hundred yards away up on the edge of the plateau she could make out half a dozen crouched figures attempting to negotiate the slope into the ruins, it was treacherous and they were moving slowly but it would not be long before they arrived.

She dropped the satchel onto the marble floor and quickly unbuckled the revolver from her belt, checking the chamber, Only 3 bullets, not enough. She re-holstered the gun, grabbed the satchel a started running across the courtyard.

The wind was stronger out in the middle of the yard, blasting sand in her face and forcing her to slow to catch her breath. She pulled the cloth of her keffiyeh around her mouth and pushed on into the wind.

After fifty yards she finally ran down into a stairway leading to an alleyway between the ruins of two buildings, increasing her pace whilst the walls looming above her offered some protection from the elements, but suddenly she was knocked from her feet, sprawling into a doorway, her ears ringing from the shot that rang out. The door collapsed inwards, giving up after centuries of weakening under the constant pressure of the desert.

Chione fell hard onto the stone floor, clouds of dust erupting into the air as an intense burning pain began screaming in her left leg. She glanced round in time to see a cloaked figure appear in the door, frantically reloading the handgun that had been so accurate in stopping her.

Her assailant called out, shouting warnings to the other pursuers who would surely now be running to them from all directions in the ruins. In desperation she drew the revolver and quickly pulled the trigger. The noise was like thunder in the small room as the gun went off, black smoke filled her lungs and her attacker was blown backwards across the alley, a terrible cracking noise could be heard as he hit the opposite wall and fell to on the ground against a pile of wooden boxes that simply gave way under his weight.

Across the gap of the alleyway a stunned face looked back at her, blood and smoke bursting from the wound in his chest. He was still breathing barely, his body fighting its last efforts for survival.

Running footsteps rang out all around her, both in the alleyway and the courtyard beyond. She struggled to her feet, fighting the pain in her leg and forced herself through another ruined door into what appeared to be a stairwell heading down.

She cried out in frustration. There was nowhere else to go as another shot rang out and she felt the air near her face move. Small chips of the wall near her face scratched her as they flew by.

She ran, crying in agony as her leg screamed its defiance, made six steps down then suddenly tripped, arms grasping out desperately to stop her fall, the satchel slipped off and plunged down the centre of the stairwell and into darkness.

Chione tried desperately to hold on to the edge of the stairs with one hand, her other hand holding tight to the revolver.

A second pursuer burst into the stairwell, not quick enough to get his bearings, he fell to the last two bullets in the revolver, and the last thing Chione’s strength could manage before letting go and plunging into the dark below.

 

The three men stood at the bottom of the stairwell as others scrambled around in the dark corners, all were clothed in dark desert fatigues with their faces covered from the desert storm, all armed with rifles.

The tallest of the men, standing in the middle of the room where the stairs ended, glanced around the empty cellar, it was vast for a cellar, and in unusually good condition, but he could see no way out.

“I don’t understand. She fell down here you say”

“Yes,” replied one of the men, busy searching the room. ”Gann said so before he passed out, she shot him twice before he could return fire, but he did see her fall, she fell into this pit”.

“There is no way out of this room,” said the tall man. ”No other doors on the stairs and here is her blood fresh on the floor.” He spat, pointing to the small patch of blood spread across the mosaic floor. “Yet the dust in here is not disturbed like someone fell into here. She is not here, and neither is her gun or the package!”

The tall man turned and started walking back up the stairs, followed by his two assistants.

“You will keep searching,” he demanded. “You will turn over every speck of dust in this ruin if necessary! She must be here somewhere!”

 

Chione’s head throbbed with pain. Travelling always affected her like this.

Then she noticed the blood, and forgot about her headache.

The room was splattered with blood and body parts, Kre’esh, by the looks of it.

Lucky this time.

The creature must have been in the room when the door had opened. She had forgotten how messy it could be to have a portal open on someone.

She checked herself, looking for wounds, but only found the small gunshot wound in her leg. It looked as though the bullet had passed straight through, and she knew that it would hurt later. Quickly she bandaged it up, pulling the material as tight as possible, so that she didn’t lose too much blood.

She moved as fast as she could, grabbing the gun and the satchel, moving out of the room. The supplies were still there. Good sign. She took one tin and made her way as fast as possible out of the shop.

Outside, Charleston Way was quiet. No movement, no sound. A minute later and she was across the street, pulling up the manhole cover, and climbing down the ladder.