The smell is what wakes me. Then the movement of the train. My first instinct upon being assaulted by the aroma of death and decay is to panic, however, within a split second my memory takes the movement of the train and assures me that the smell simply means that I am alive.
I find nothing but darkness upon opening my eyes. Decaying flesh rubs against every part of my body, and I have to work hard not to vomit – which will only make things worse. I’m still on a train full of corpses. I stowed away on it after feigning my death in the EX chambers in the city of Soral. I didn’t actually think I would get away with faking my death and hiding on this train to escape the genocide. But I did.
I shift my weight to the left and right and manage to wiggle to the front of the pile of death and enter a very small space in the train car that is not occupied by corpses. I roll down the pile of bodies and hit my head on the wooden floorboard. I use my arms to push up from the bloodstained floor, take a deep breath, and look over to the pile of bodies. Hundreds of bodies. The heads are covered in black sackcloth, but the bodies have been stripped nude, and most are covered in boils, bloody lines, or acid-eaten patches.
I stand to my feet and brush myself off. I confirm that I am still dressed in my brown skirt and white blouse. My black denim coat has managed to keep most of the filth off my blouse, however, I feel patches of blood as I run my fingers through my long hair. I’ll need to shower once I find a safe place to settle.
A loud screech nearly blows out my eardrums as the train suddenly decreases its speed. Since I have been out cold, I’m not sure how far I’ve traveled from Soral. I know the destination of the train was supposed to be Baruck, but I have no idea how close we are to that destination.
I glance around to see if there is an exit to another train car, but most of the car is occupied by rotting corpses. The only doorway off the train is the large sliding one in front of me. I move the door latch to the right and slide the door open.
We are nowhere near Baruck.
The train comes to a complete stop. The same panic I felt upon awakening attempts to creep in again, but I will not allow it to cloud my focus. I have to get as far away from the train as possible before the authorities find me alive. I glance at one of the bodies. The flesh has been covered in acid that has torn away a good portion of the skin, leaving an open gash allowing me to see bone and muscle. I have no desire to turn out that way.
A siren rings out, and I know now that they’ve been alerted to my presence. I had heard that these trains had heat sensors integrated in them, but I hoped it had been rumor and speculation.
The train is a good three feet from the ground. I hop down without issue. I glance to my left and find a small company of blue armor-clad Sentries closing on my position. Blue laser blasts fill the space between them and me as I make a run for the patch of woods a few kilometers in front of me.
The snow isn’t too deep, and I’m able to run without too much hindrance. My sneakers are not the right type of shoe to be wearing in a pursuit such as this, but it’s nothing I can change at the moment.
A bolt hits my shoulder and I feel the sting of heat and needles. I keep running, realizing that they are starting to draw back from the pursuit. I keep running, nearly out of breath, until I reach the entrance of the woods.
Looking up, I understand why they fell back. The trees are tall, stretching so high into the overcast sky that I cannot make out the tops of them. The bark is black, and there are splotches of red paint cast across the trunks. Blood? Paint? I don’t want to find out.
“Sarah Groves!” one of the Sentries calls out.
I turn my back to the woods and give the small squad of Sentries my full attention. They are almost an equal distance between me and the train. Five of them. The leader is in yellow armor.
“Surrender, and we will take you in without issue.”
“Bullshit!” I shout. I have no desire to turn into one of the corpses inside the train car. I know that is what will happen to me if I turn myself in. However…I turn to the trees behind me. Black bark. Red splotches. This couldn’t possibly be the Blood Grove, could it? The Blood Grove is nowhere near the vicinity of Soral. Why would the train be moving through this area of Anaisha?
“We all know you’re not going to enter the trees. Come with us, and you will be safe. You will have a proper trial in Soral.”
The Sentry in yellow armor holds up his arms and chuckles. “You have nowhere else to run.”
“I do,” I whisper. I turn and thrust myself into the patch of trees, uncertain which is a worse fate to face.