• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 03
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The day after the bomb fell we reached the underpass in a hail of searcher-stones. They bounced off every surface lighting the quick to a lurid ultraviolet. Our camouflage of closely-woven yellow moss dripped purple slime onto the deadened earth, puddling at our feet and making our steps uncertain and slippery.

Searcher-vipers rose from deep chasms in the earth, noisily slurping the slime into their long, metallic silver bodies. Whenever there was slime around, they would leave us alone; sated, they would sleep for many days.

Wet leaves shivered like shoals of fish in the trees above our heads, sifting the oncoming green twilight and making it dance and tremble in the light breeze.

We knew we had reached the underpass when we saw the thickening carpet of leaves – last winter’s sheddings – expand beneath our feet: a mosaic of vermilion, burnt umber, yellow ochre, sienna and Tyrian purple. They softened our steps and covered the slime as well as any carpet.

The high arched walls of the underpass were brightened by graffiti: tags, skulls, monstrous creatures, cartoonish faces and geometric designs. The air was thick with the fug of fires others had made and left, the packed-earth floor covered in their discarded clothes and cooking utensils.

In the deep pockets of our moss coats we fingered silky-smooth ambaric pebbles, which would help us light our own fires once darkness fell. We should be safe here from Quisitors: the underpass’s thick red brick walls should have absorbed the signals transmitted by our ear-implants.

A comforting earthy smell, like compost, musty leaves or old burgundy wine rose up and claimed us. We settled by the side of a wall covered in graffiti flowers, the colours too garish to be natural.



We could almost smell the heavy-headed red roses, lilies-of-the-valley, violets and the autumnal tang of chrysanthemums.

We gathered some twigs, dry leaves and soft old dead wood, and then struck a couple of ambaric pebbles together to create a spark. Fire bloomed and billowed in pink and blue tongues as we fed it thicker boughs. Light from the fire flared and played on the bright walls like waves, illuminating graffiti and the stories we told.

We roasted the fat sable nuts we had collected on our way here, the leathery skins crackling and splitting to reveal the creamy white meat inside. Soon sleep came and we covered ourselves in mounds of leaves, and then fell asleep in embryonic darkness.

Rags of grey light reached through the underpass’s entrance at dawn and we arose, shook off the leaves and crept out in search of food and water. Behind the trees the unnatural red glow announced the proximity of a Quisitor: the searcher-stones had done their work after all. As one, we bombarded the red mist with a cannonade of ambaric pebbles. He exploded in a bright cloud of pure ultramarine blue. We didn’t know before then that death could be so beautiful.