Lucia stumbled across the broken pillar, her sandal catching on a shattered edge. She tumbled to the ground, jagged bits of marble tearing through her cheek. She raised her head jerkily, and for an instant time seemed to slow. She saw a bead of blood arc gracefully to the dirt beneath her joining tears and sweat. She paused for an instant, mesmerized by the sight of her life draining into the parched soil. Only an instant. No sooner had she drawn a shuddering breath than the screams began again. She picked herself up, trying vainly to kick her useless sandal off as she stumbled into a vague semblance of a run.
She drew another painful breath and grabbed her chest, willing herself to go on. The city was a mosaic of muted greys and blacks, relieved only by the pooled crimson along the gutters, and spattered across everything. She began to cry again, wracking sobs that hindered her already slow pace. It was too much. She drew up against a broken wall which had once been a part of undoubtedly beautiful townhouse. Slowly sinking against the rock, she closed her eyes and waited for the end. Maybe she even hoped, just anything to end this, this semblance of a life. It wasn't even worth running anymore. The screams in the distance reached a new peak of frenzied desperation, and then abruptly cut off. Lucia waited for what seemed an eternity, but she heard nothing else. She didn't hear the measured tread of studded sandals, or the guttural tongue of the invaders. She listened, oh so carefully, but she didn't hear the sharp sound of metal slicing through air. She heard only her shallow, strained breaths, and the gentle patter of her blood upon the ground.
Finally, she raised her head from beneath her knees, and tiredly looked up at the sky. It was black of course; it had been black for days. Tinted red by a dying sun, the skies were choked with the soot and ash of a city aflame. In the distance she could make out a flickering inconstancy of orange, proof that something in this broken city could still burn. Lucia sighed, and drew a deep breath, spitting out the ash that seemed to be everywhere. She began to cough and couldn't stop for minutes as her exhaustion caught up with her. Her spit was black with soot, and the blackened red of dried blood. She knew it was more than the ash that was making her cough, much more. It was just really a question of what killed her first. Pulling herself to her feet with a groan, she stumbled around the wall and worked her way further inside the ruins.
She found herself a likely place, what seemed to have once been a solarium. Three of the walls still stood, although they seemed to have been pushed to the limits of modern engineering. No matter, she only needed one more night out of them. The opening looked out into the heart of the ruined house, and as near as she could make out, she was out of sight of the street. If they saw you, it meant death. Walking the streets was madness, and only when there was no other choice, when you had to run, was it worth taking to the broken cobblestones of the city.
Lucia sighed again, and looked around. They of course, had been here, they had found the occupants of the house at home – they had never fled. Not that there had been much time, but even then, most people simply locked the doors and prayed for salvation to come. And something had come, but it hadn't been salvation by any means. Perhaps it had been a long time in the coming, perhaps it had even been deserved, but it wasn't salvation. There were no corpses in the room, but apparently there had been. There was a coagulated pool of sticky blood in the corner, and the adjoining walls were stained not only with blood, but with almost invisible traces of a wheat-coloured substance reeking of consumption. Of course, that's what it was, but it was beyond Lucia to care now.
She laughed suddenly, and stopped just as quick, lest it give way to sobs. She couldn't afford to make any noise, the city was too quiet as it was. Except were they ‘held court'. There, the screams never stopped, only accompanied the crying and moans of the damned. The dead, they were the lucky. The dead couldn't feel anymore, the dead had already escaped. They seemed to have learned this lesson well. Far fewer of the hunted died outright anymore, no, they had a much worse price to pay. They lived, they suffered, and they bore witness to what had been done to them. Only then, were they granted the oblivion of death. And never gently.
Lucia tried her best to fix her ruined sandal, tying the topmost straps across the bottom ones, hoping it would hold well enough come dawn. Running with a broken sandal would be dangerous, but it would be even more dangerous to come up lame on something in the street when her life depended on it. The roads were blanketed with broken stone, pieces of bone and metal, and in places completely littered with the thousands of arrowheads that had descended upon the city.
Finished with her sandal, she sighed for the thousandth time. She rubbed her palms into her burning eyes, and drew them away tainted red with blood, black with soot, and yellow with whatever it was that was leaking out her eyes. Her life, of course. What was left of it. She envied the dead, but couldn't bring herself to join them of her own accord. She made a half-hearted attempt to wipe the floor beneath her clean with her filthy tunic, and lay herself down, cradling her head on her cracked hands. In the distance, she could hear the screams begin again. They never stopped, but for tonight at least, they weren't hers. She closed her eyes with an effort, but splashed across the black of her mind was still the tainted sky. It would haunt her the rest of her life, best that it was measured only in days. Her eyes flew open again, and now true night had fallen. In the dismal ruins of the solarium, there was only blackness. Now perhaps, she could forget the truth. She welcomed the quiet night now, its comforting darkness and gentle veil. She tried to keep her eyes open as long as she could, to drink in the night, to savour the peace before the hated dawn. Soon enough though, she sank into an oblivion of her own, and drifted into memory.
Her head screamed with agony, and she was surrounded by uncomfortable warmth on all sides. She was dimly aware that she was cradling something, but she couldn't remember what. Something else, something inside her hurt, and it hurt badly. She whimpered quietly, and thought about how easy it would be just to let go.