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i know

what it feels

like to be afraid of

yourself and your own mind

i cant fight this

because you dont

know whats in there

and it scares you

like the dark closet

at night

night night night NIGHT

but you cant

hide under covers

it scares me too much

its you

in you

im dead

and you cant

get

away

get away

i want out and

away

get away

GET AWAY FROM ME

head hurts

hurts

so cold crying hurts scared -text becomes illegible-

-Last entry from a diary at the bottom of the Nexus ruins.

The water rose as fast as Gnesh could climb.

He could only go up. Walls--tunnel walls and ceiling--he was trapped in a cage like an animal. Gnesh threw himself against rocks--his hands bled--stung against the cold stone--water below, swallowing everything--getting salt in his eyes. He could feel his pulse in his head--throbbing like an ocean--so much water below him--his chest burned--tired--chipping claws on the rocks.

Gnesh slipped--almost fell. That would have been--he didn't want to think--he would have drowned.

A bump to his head startled him--it was a wall--Gnesh tried to move around it--groping darkness--hurry, water rising--get out--no way out--no escape!--he was going to drown!

Water up to his legs--he pounded on the rocks--his hands hurt so bad--so tired--water to his chest--screaming, can't hear over tide--water to his face--choking, spluttering, coughing--he let go--darkness--dammit--water in his eyes, over his head.

Fire on his hands--flailing, grasping, gasping--no more air--no escape--caged animal forever--prick of light behind his eyelids--Heaven? he thought, then crashed to the ground.

He coughed--pulling himself away, being pushed away by the current--he could breathe again. He kept his eyes closed and groped along the ground, searching for a safe place. A dry place. The water was already soaked into his armor, the leather pieces at least were ruined. He thought he could smell rot already. Or was that dirt?

When he was far enough away that the roar of the water became a distant sound, Gnesh stopped and pushed himself up to sit. He was crying--not of sadness--he was too tired to be sad--but there was saltwater in his eyes. He rubbed them and looked around, squinted at too-bright light. After a minute the brightness dulled a bit and he was able to see that the sun was setting in the distance--he didn't think it was morning, anyway, since sky was getting darker and not brighter--over a city skyline. His spirits brightened.

Almost immediately he tried to pick himself up, then dropped back down to the ground. He was tired. Down in his marrow, excruciatingly, he-could-sleep-standing-up tired. He took deep breaths, letting air get back to his brain, and was overcome by a slight dizziness. It passed and he felt ready to stand--though he didn't want to, the ground was not that uncomfortable and he was awfully sleepy--so he picked himself up and looked at his hands.

The sensitive palms were covered in cuts and bruises, and the rough patches on his knuckles were skinned where he'd been hitting rocks. His legs were sore and it felt like a nerve in his ankle was pinched. He was so tired.

It was against the rules for a Locust to not immediately report to the nearest figure of authority in the event that he had to flee from his current station. Gnesh would not tolerate getting himself exiled for sleep. He sighed, resigning himself to the long road ahead, and reached back to grab his Hammerburst, already bracing for the pain.

His Hammerburst wasn't there. It must have fallen off while he was underwater. Gnesh turned around, feeling a tightness growing in his gut. He didn't want to have to walk all the way to the city without a weapon.

A loud crash made Gnesh jump back around to face the city. It looked like parts of a building were falling off--the entire skyline looked distorted, tilted.

Jacinto, Gnesh thought, his brain working again. That was lucky. The city is under siege, so I can... As he was taking his first step, another loud crash made him freeze with his foot in midair. This time, an entire structure fell to the ground. Explosions sprang around the building--but the explosions were of water, not gas or fire. Gnesh was puzzled, but decided it was for other people to worry about--people smarter and more capable than himself. A Kantus, maybe.

Gnesh returned to the task of finding his Hammerburst, ignoring the random explosions from behind him. He had a Snub as a sidearm, but didn't want to go without that Hammerburst. He had a feeling he would need it more than anything else.

It wasn't anywhere on the path that he had crawled--Gnesh could tell where he'd come from by the water on the ground, it literally stank of decay and mildew--or where the water exited the tunnel. Gnesh stopped for a second, preoccupied with the water itself.

It was flowing in torrents out of the broken mountain, like a pack of ravenous predators searching for their next meal. The roar was not especially loud, but made Gnesh tense. It was not safe here. It was not safe near the water. All of that water--the geysers of it exploding around falling buildings, the flooded mountain--was going to kill him. It was going to kill everybody.

Gnesh looked back to Jacinto and cringed. He was suddenly glad he hadn't eaten since that morning, because he probably would have thrown it up right then. He looked away from the water, that vicious, ever-hungry, ever-present predator, and began shivering. Tears gathered in his eyes--but it wasn't saltwater.

It was just sad, what happened to him. Why did these bad things happen to him? All this water--all these terrible things with water--why him? It was wrong, it was injustice, it was--well, it was the way things were going to be, and if Gnesh couldn't handle it, he wasn't fit for this life. There was no need to be angry about something he couldn't change.

Gnesh took three halting steps, stopped, lowered his head to keep himself from looking at the growing river, and hummed to keep the roaring sound out of his head. He rubbed at his eyes and got seawater in them. They stung and he cringed--he had just reminded himself of how much danger he was in. When he opened his eyes, he decided to keep looking forward, because he was too afraid of stepping in the river, slipping, and getting carried off to the ocean.

One step at a time, he told himself, step after step after step and someday you'll get there. But where was there? Gnesh thought there might be a garrison around here somewhere--the area was under heavy protection since the plan to sink Jacinto was implemented--but didn't know where to look. And Jacinto was right next to the ocean. What if it flooded and carried him away?

Fear punched him like a fist in his belly, and he stopped dead. He was close to the coast--if a tsunami were to hit, he would die. He would--he--no, he couldn't let that happen.

Just move in-land, Gnesh thought, calming down slightly. Eventually you have to reach a place where the water can't reach you...there's not that much water in the world.

But there's enough.

Gnesh walked on despite feeling sick to his stomach. He was parallel to the river, keeping it out of sight but close enough that he would notice if it got close to him. He wanted to make a run for the woods coming up, but he was too exhausted. The river was breaking into tangents and flowing down different paths, so it would soon be gone and he would be safe.

If he'd ran, he would have stepped on the Kantus anyway.

Even if Gnesh had never seen this Locust before, there was no mistaking the intricate pattern of curves and lines on his helmet, and the detailing on his armor. Gnesh was in the presence of royalty--it looked almost like the High Priest.

Dead High Priest, perhaps. As long as Gnesh stood there, the Priest didn't move. There were also bruises and scratches all over the Locust's stomach. Gnesh knelt and peered closely at the Priest's face, hoping to see him breathe or something, any sign of life. After so long Gnesh grew tired of just sitting there and placed his hand at the other's throat. The pulse was weak, but steady.

Gnesh didn't know what that meant, exactly, but the Kantus was alive and that was all that mattered to Gnesh. Now he could sit quietly and politely and wait for this strange man to awaken.

The bizarreness of it struck Gnesh quickly. He had just escaped a flood, discovered Jacinto was in the process of becoming a ruin, found the High Priest napping on the ground, and all he could do was sit quietly and wait?

Gnesh mentally shrugged. It was basic conduct. There was nothing he could do about it. A Drone was not to disturb a Kantus--Priests, especially--while they were meditating.

While he was sitting there, frustrated, waiting for an unconscious High Priest to wake up, Gnesh thought about what he was going to say to the Priest, any explanations for his actions. Gnesh had half a speech done and when the Kantus began coughing violently and opened his eyes, Gnesh forgot it.

"Oh! Um--Priest--yes--High Priest--hello?" was all Gnesh could manage.

The Kantus closed his eyes, tossed his head side to side, and moaned.

"Please, I--there is something wrong--here, see, Jacinto--and a flood--" Gnesh gestured wildly, trying to compensate for his stuttering speech.

"Nnn! Fucking High Priest," the Kantus coughed.

"I'm sorry?"

"Not my name."

"I--"

"Skorge."

"Skorge."

Skorge snarled deeply.

Gnesh was confused. Wasn't a Locust of low rank supposed to refer to a higher rank by their title, not their name? Did the High Priest really want Gnesh to break the rules? After all, Gnesh couldn't disobey a Kantus--any Kantus, military or not--but this one wanted him to break a rule.

Ridiculous.

"What are you doing here, Skorge?" Gnesh said, struggling to keep his voice under control.

"What does it look like I'm doing?" Skorge said. His voice was pained, straining.

"Taking a nap," Gnesh answered.

Skorge called Gnesh some unkind names in a low voice before saying, "Fuck you. I'm hurt. Leave me alone and let me die."

Let him die? Gnesh's brow went up in surprise. He does want me to break the rules.

"Go, dammit. Get lost." Skorge gestured weakly with a hand. He apparently wanted Gnesh to run into a rock.

"I..."

"Don't tell me you're some romantic--" he coughed "--hero who just has to save everyone?" Skorge coughed for a full minute. Gnesh was getting worried before he resumed his speech. "Well, I'll tell you now, you little fucking hero, I want to die, and you shouldn't be able to do a damn thing about it. So go!" Skorge choked, or made a choking sound, and didn't say anything more. His eyes were closed and he looked dead again, but he would twitch every few seconds or cough so Gnesh didn't bother checking his pulse.

After a moment of silence, Gnesh shifted his weight from foot to foot and tried speaking again, this time with a more timid tone of voice. "Jacinto is gone, Hi--Skorge. I saw it. It's gone. Sunken or--or something."

"I know," Skorge whispered.

"What?"

"I know because I let it happen," Skorge continued. More coughing. "Should stop...talking now. Hurts." He opened one eye just enough to look at Gnesh, and inclined his head backwards. This time it looked like Skorge wanted Gnesh to go in the woods.

Gnesh was torn. He had to obey Skorge, he was a Kantus and therefore of higher authority, but if Gnesh just left him to die, he would get punished whenever his superiors found out.

My superiors are probably dead now, Gnesh thought. He looked at Skorge and thought hard. Leaving would condemn Skorge and perhaps Gnesh to a slow death--even if Gnesh left and didn't tell anyone, the truth always came out eventually. If not himself, then his surviving nephews, or grandnephews, or great-grandnephews, or whatever, would suffer. If he stayed and saved Skorge, then perhaps Skorge would forgive the insubordination and let Gnesh live. Gnesh might even get a reward for his services.

Besides, he was curious.

Gnesh made his decision. For the first time in his life, he was going to disobey a superior.

"I--you--High--Skorge--you're hurt. I want to--to--let me help--you're hurt."

Skorge looked at Gnesh. His expression was not angry, or disappointed, or murderous, but sad and resigned. Gnesh recognized it from the mass of faces in his hometown--except Skorge did not come from poverty, and he had no boss except for the Queen. Skorge had nothing to resign to.

Except life.

Gnesh shook his head free of that idea--it was ridiculous.

"Help me up," Skorge said with a sigh and a cough. "I've no choice, if you're going to go about it like that."

The Kantus lifted his arm slightly. Gnesh took it and pulled. Skorge pushed with his feet. Before Skorge was sitting up, Gnesh's back suddenly gave out from exhaustion. He let go of the Kantus; Skorge fell down.

"Shit!" he exclaimed, and landed with a snap.

He broke a rock? He fell down and broke a rock? Gnesh thought.

Skorge grimaced, his fists curled and his fangs bared. He forced himself to open his eyes and glare at Gnesh. "You dropped me."

"I'm sorry," Gnesh apologized quickly. "Please, I'm sorry."

To Gnesh's surprise, Skorge sat up by himself. He struggled and something else cracked--it had to be a bone, to Gnesh's disgust--but he got up. He stared at Gnesh levelly, blankly.

"I was fighting Delta Squad when I..." He paused, frowning at something beyond Gnesh. "I fell off of my Hydra," he finished in a flatter tone. He looked down, focusing hard on his feet. Gnesh was afraid to interrupt, and shifted his weight between his feet while waiting. "There's nothing I can do about it." Skorge looked up at the sky, apparently interested in a cloud. "I can't just die peacefully, either, it seems. But if you're alive...others might be alive. Myrrah might be alive." He stared fixedly at Gnesh's eyes, but he wasn't glaring or blank. "There's a garrison a few miles north of here. Between the two of us, at least one of us should be able to make it there."

Gnesh nodded numbly. He didn't want to say anything, because he had nothing to say to that. What could he say when someone implicated that one of them was going to die? But Skorge was silent, just staring, seemingly waiting for something to be said. "Alright, then, let's go," Gnesh said, and shrugged his shoulder. It was sore. He would be in incredible pain tomorrow.

He stood, and after a moment of silence Gnesh realized Skorge needed help again. As he was reaching out his hand, Skorge's expression soured and he set to the task himself.

It was hard to watch Skorge struggle, but Gnesh wasn't about to just reach up and grab him. After a series of movements and snapping sounds that made Gnesh cringe, Skorge was standing and leaning on Gnesh for support. He was taking quick, shallow breaths.

"Damn...Hydra," Skorge muttered, and took a step away from Gnesh. He stumbled and almost fell. When he found he was still standing, if lopsided and bent, Skorge shook his head and waved Gnesh forward.

Gnesh hesitated a brief second. He felt he was on the edge of something--something greater than he could comprehend--like the whole world was opening up to him for the first time. Maybe it was where so much was happening, that this small relief of having company--such powerful company as the High Priest--made him relax, and he could put things in better perspective.

There was no other explanation. Gnesh took a step deeper into the big, frightening world, and followed Skorge north to the garrison.

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