Holy Mother Of God, today just is NOT my day! I should have left an offering. Rheta’s body shook with the pressure of her position. Her fingers and toes were numb from a combination of strain and cold. The frigid wind whipped about, threatening her with certain death if she lost her precious hold on the ledge of the wall.
She needed to move, in one direction or another, but she was tired. So damn tired. Walking day after day in the nearly ceaseless, dusty wind had left her completely empty. Drained. It would be so easy to just let go. She longed to let the winds that swept the waste that had been society carry her into the oblivion. That is what would happen anyway, should the water tank on top of this building prove to be empty. Or worse, contaminated by the acrid red dirt that somehow found it’s way into everything, eventually.
She pressed her forehead against the rough surface of the plaster. Her hands were extended above her head hanging on to an architectural groove. Her eyes were burning with tears she didn’t have. Her throat was parched. She was ready to just say “fuck this” and end it all right now. Her father’s voice reached through time, clear and concise to find her there, on the side of a building, tired, cold, hungry…
“You have to keep moving, keep going. Even when you don’t think you can. The Good Lord won’t ever give you more than He made you able to handle.”
Rheta had not been to a church in more than a decade so she was not entirely convinced. She did know that if she had truly been meant to be dead she would be lying in the heap of twisted metal on the ground, seventy feet below.
Okay, think. Rheta commanded her attention back to the moment. She knew she couldn’t hang on much longer, and as soon as the wind slowed, she needed to be ready to make it to the window she had passed on her assent.
The wind’s eased up. Now it is time to move.
Pressing closer to the wall she cautiously slid her toes along the scant three inch ledge until she was under the window. She rested for just a moment, sending out a vague and shapeless prayer to her Gods, the universe, or whatever force might still be listening to the concerns of one woman alone, that she have the strength to pull herself up onto the wide window ledge, and still be able to get the window open.
Taking as deep a breath as she dared, and with a surge of strength she didn’t know she still had, she heaved herself up, arms straining to lift her small frame up and onto the relative safety of the ledge.
As her head and shoulders cleared the ledge, she saw a small hole and fissure of cracks in the lower right hand corner of the large picture window pane. She smiled a genuine smile for the first time in weeks. Finally, a small break. She laughed out loud at her own pun, outright madness threatening to take over as she threw her right leg up to the window ledge. The moment her steel toed boot found purchase there, she gave a last push and found herself laying on the wide ledge.
Thanking the universe for ostentatious buildings and the architects that built them, she tried to regulate her breathing. The alcove formed by the window offered some relief from the wind.
I wasn’t built for this shit. She pushed her body in closer to the window and up into a sitting position. With her back against the wall and her legs along the ledge, she looked down into the alley. Suppressing the horror of what had almost occurred, she blew out a hard breath.
Her back pack and sleeping bag thankfully had avoided getting buried under the rubble of the fire escape when it had flown out of her hand, as the deathtrap that had once been a life saving device had started to buck and tumble, just as she made it to the top floor of the four story building; she had scrambled to grab anything that might keep her skull from smashing like a melon on the hard concrete below.
She was actually grateful that she had shrugged out of the rather heavy pack to give her aching shoulders a break. It’s weight and bulk would have made clinging to the building much more difficult.
She cleared the thick coating of red dust from the glass. Peering inside she saw that this particular window belonged to someone that obviously had a flair for the dramatic. A dark, ornate wooden desk and glass fronted cabinet holding useless trinkets kept company with the deep crimson leather sectional couch. Heavy crimson velvet draperies with gold fringe obscured part of her view.
“Ugh!” Rheta muttered as her eye went back to the hole. She scooted along the ledge the few feet to it. The room was better than her current seat. Weary of being perched so far above the ground, Rheta stood carefully, staying as close as she could to the window. As her boot met with it the first time, a tell-tale creaking issued from the glass. Her second kick brought the glorious noise of shattering. She wasted no more time, quickly making the hole big enough to get through.
Her feet made next to no noise as she landed on the thick carpeting, which true to the room’s tone, was a crimson so deep and rich that it looked black where the dim light of the hazy sunshine from the window could not quite reach.
Something about this room felt as dangerous as the ledge outside. No trace of the room’s previous inhabitants, though, just like everywhere else she had been in the last two months.
Still, the icy prickles of panic skittered along her nerve endings as she let her gaze sweep around the room. For the first time in weeks, Rheta felt that she wasn’t alone. Instead of the sweeping sense of relief that she should be feeling at being safely on the inside of this rather ugly room instead of dead in the alley below, she felt an icy dread.
“Snap out of it! Just because this room has a not so subtle Dracula vibe going, you get all freaked out like you are three years old.”
Rheta had felt foolish the first time she spoken to herself for the sake of hearing a human voice, but as the days had stretched into weeks, and the weeks lengthened into months, she stopped caring.
Shaking off the sensation of something breathing down her neck she scanned the room. Time and again her eyes were drawn to the etched glass fronted cabinet that she had seen from outside.
What appeared to be actual books, hardbound with leather coverings and gilt lettering on the spines shared shelf space with various porcelain bowls, vases and trinket boxes.
The cabinet was locked when she tried to open it. This only increased her curiosity. Real, actual books. In another life, before all this, she had only ever seen real books once, in a museum. Before the event, e-readers were all anyone she knew ever used.
Well, Daddy’s Bible, but that was a family heirloom. Moving to the massive desk that dominated the wall along the far left side of the room, she tried every drawer only to find them locked as well.
Blowing out a frustrated breath, Rheta allowed herself a moment to sink into the soft leather chair. She was thirstier than she ever remembered being. The pounding headache reminded her that she needed water. The water tank on the roof.
Knowing she should try to find the access stairs, and see if there was still water in that tank, she sank deeper into the surprisingly comfortable chair. I would give anything for this nightmare to be over. Muscles, sore from exhaustion, exertion, and the driving cold she had been traveling in began to relax, though she still felt like she was being watched.
Closing her eyes, she let her mind drift back over the last twenty four hours. The tornado, the fire escape and now this creepy ass room. What next, fucking undead coming after me?
She opened her eyes several minutes later to the ugly gothic room. Her head still ached but the ferocious pounding had stopped. Her mind went to her provisions, down on the ground, and again to the water tank on the top of the building. Not helping myself much, sitting here on my ass.
Her reprieve over, she got to her feet and made her way to the large double doors opposite the window she had entered.
Stepping out into an equally ornate hallway, she looked around. The carpeting and dark stained wood paneling that dominated the room she had just exited was continued, and half globe sconces of crystal cut glass ran along both sides of the hall every few feet, mounted about six feet from the floor.
Posh digs. They were all dark now, but enough light came in through the large window at the end of the hall that sported the same creepy, red velvet drapes that she was able to see.
She quickly found the elevator, which was nothing more than a useless box now, with no power. A small table sat on either side of the doors, both held a large quartz crystal and a vase of now wilted roses. Two months ago they had most likely been a vibrant red, but now the heads hung, shriveled and black. Her eyes were drawn to the quartz crystals.
“Damn, what stones.” She actually drooled a little. They were perfect and perfectly matched, each around a foot and a half tall and easily twelve inches in girth. Oh, I must. She simply had to touch the magnificent stones. Never in all her witchy practice had she seen such fine crystals. Smaller stones of various colors and sizes she had in ample supply, both in the small leather pouch in her pocket and in her tiny cottage on the outskirts of Strata. The coven temple grove had contained several, but none this large.
As her hand grazed the one on the left hand side, a tingle of power shimmied up her arm, bringing out goose bumps, and further inciting her passion for all things crystalline. She stood between the tables facing the elevator door and reached both arms out to the crystals on either side.
As her hands made contact with the smooth surface on either side, the tingle of energy grew. A loud buzzing sounded in her brain, drowning out the last of the headache. She thought she must be hallucinating because she could swear that the little numbered lights above the elevator door were flickering. The sensation of raw power tripped happily along her nervous system, gaining both speed and power and she struggled to stay upright as the flood of euphoric energy surged though her. She could see the waves flowing into to her and through her as the sconces in the hallway begin to flicker on and off rapidly.
“What the hell?” She started, and let her hands fall away. She found herself back in the dim hallway, staring at a dead elevator door. The crystals seemed to glow softly for a few seconds before the illusion was gone. Even when The Coven Of Twelve had been fully focused on a Sabbat she had never felt anything like that. It was intoxicating and terrifying, at the same time, like when she had found Dani’s bottle of Absinthe when she was twenty. That was the only time she ever raised her voice at me
The lights had stopped flickering the moment the contact was broken, but the energy flowed through her still. Her vision became clearer and she heard a dog barking somewhere outside, down below on the street. She pitied any creature caught out in that, and said a brief prayer to Brigid that it would find shelter and nourishment. Dismissing the sensation that she was somehow changed from touching those quartz crystals, she turned her attention to the only other door on this floor, down at the end of the hallway. It opened easily enough and there she found the stairwells, one flight up to the roof, and several down to the ground floor.
Up she went, but at the top she found the door locked with a padlock. She had a toolkit including bolt cutters in her bag, down in the alley.
Turning with a sigh to go back down the stairs, she made her way to the third floor door.
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