Dark Survivor Awakened

Prelude

                   

Nine months ago

There was water everywhere.

Awakened from a deep slumber, she took an involuntary first breath, but instead of air, her lungs filled with liquid.

She was submerged and drowning.

Panicked, she flailed uselessly in a weak attempt to swim up.

At first, the feeling of hot air on her fingertips did not register. When it did, she forced her enfeebled body into a sitting position, and as her upper torso cleared the water, a painful coughing fit expelled that which did not belong in her lungs.

With much difficulty, she opened her eyes.

The murky death trap she had imagined was only about a cubit deep. Thank the gods she was in shallow waters. The sting in her eyes was not too bad either, which she took to mean that it was not a pool of sea water she had been awakened in, but fresh water.

Was she in an underground cavern with a shallow river running through it? Or was it a very dark night? Had she suffered a bad fall into a small pond or a puddle?

She must have had a fainting spell.

But what was she doing there in the first place?

Was it a dream?

Panic rising, she realized that not only were the location and her reason for being there unknown to her, but also who she was and where she had come from.

No name emerged in her thoughts, not even an image. It was as if she had been born fully grown in that shallow pool like some goddess out of primordial waters.

Lifting an emaciated arm, she peered at the bony appendage with horror. She was a corpse. The skin was dry and shriveled, even though she had been submerged in water, and there was barely any flesh on it. Further inspection revealed that the rest of her body was in no better shape. Scraps of rotted fabric were all that remained of her original clothing, and it was not enough to cover her nakedness.

For a few moments, she sat in the water, breathing in the musky air and listening to her own heartbeat to reassure herself that she was indeed alive. Slowly, the steady rhythm calmed her enough to notice her terrible thirst. Ducking her head back into the pool, she took a few gulps of the muddy water only to spit everything up and cough.

There was too much dirt mixed within the life-giving liquid.

A bubbling sound, not too far off from where she was sitting, hinted that fresher water might be near, but not fresh as in a natural spring. It had a metallic scent to it, copper or something similar.

She was no expert in metallurgy. Copper and gold, that was the extent of her knowledge. Well, at least there was that. She did not know her own name, or where she came from, or why she looked like a corpse, but she could recognize those two smells.

Too weak to push up and stand, she crawled toward the bubbling until she reached a wall. It seemed that the sound and smell were coming from the adjacent cavern. But if the water was spilling over into hers, there must have been a hole somewhere in the rock separating the two.

In the darkness, she patted the rock wall searching for the opening.

Her heart sank when she found it.

Even in her skeletal state, it was not big enough for her to squeeze through.

Except, as she gripped the opening, the soft sandstone crumbled under her fingers. Not all hope was lost. If she could enlarge the hole to half a cubit or so, it should be enough. She could squeeze through it then.

In her weakened condition, she could manage only a little at a time before having to take a break and rest. It took her a long time to enlarge the opening from one hand span to two, and then she had to take an even longer rest to let her hands heal before she could continue.

Sitting with her back propped against the rock wall, wheezing, her nails chipped and broken, her fingertips and the palms of her hands bleeding from numerous cuts, she felt like crying.

But what was the point?

It would be a waste of precious energy. She needed every scrap of it to keep on working.

Cradling her hands close to her chest, she waited for her body to repair the damage. Long moments passed until the bleeding stopped and the broken skin mended itself.

Somehow she knew that it had taken her much longer to heal than it should have, probably because of her body’s emaciated state.

Her nails were even slower to regenerate.

No matter, as long as the pain was gone, she could continue.

Hours must have passed as she worked and rested and then worked some more. When her task was done, and she squeezed through the opening, new cuts and scrapes joined the old ones, but she ignored the pain and kept pushing harder.

It was of no consequence.

Her mission was accomplished. She was on the other side of that rock wall. Now all that was left was to crawl toward the sound and smell of bubbling water.

At the source, she discovered a metal conduit that was obviously not natural. Smooth and round, it hung loosely from where it was attached to the wall with clamps, one of which had broken off, severing the two parts of the conduit or breaking one into two.

It was spouting what seemed like a never-ending supply of surprisingly clean water. The conduit seemed to be part of some sort of an underground water delivery system, which was odd since the cavern she had awoken in was natural and not part of a constructed dwelling.

Pushing her curiosity aside, she put her mouth to the water and drank her fill, then found an elevated dry spot and sat with her back propped against the wall.

After all that hard work, she needed a long rest. But the respite was way too short.

Her stomach rumbled, twisting painfully and reminding her that she needed food. Evidently, with her thirst quenched, her body’s other needs had been awakened.

Still exhausted from her previous quest, she wished they had not, or at least that they had stayed dormant for a little longer. To get to where she could find food, she needed to discover a way out of the caverns.

The water delivery system suggested that there were people living above ground. She was not far from civilization. And where there were people, there was food.

She also needed clothing to cover her nakedness. Not that there was much to see. The way she looked now, humans would run away screaming in horror, thinking her a walking dead—an animated corpse.

Humans. Somehow she knew that she was not one of them. She was different.

But how?

She was a female, she knew that, and if there were any flesh on her bones she would have looked like a human female, but she was not.

No matter, in time it would come to her.

Survival came first.

Chapter 1: Wonder

This was a strange new world she had awakened to.

Her memory loss must have been catastrophic because almost nothing was familiar. The language was foreign to her, with only a few words bearing some similarity to the language she thought in. Still, a full moon cycle had passed since her awakening, and little by little she was gaining a basic understanding of it—only a few words and phrases, but she was learning more each day.

There were tall buildings, wheeled vessels that moved fast on roads that must have been smooth at one time but were now in disrepair, and noisy, busy streets, teaming with humans.

She felt like an infant learning everything anew.

Stealing and manipulating the minds of humans were necessary for survival, but she hated having been reduced to thieving. The clothes she wore had been stolen from a clothesline, the sandals on her feet had come from a merchant whose mind she had manipulated to think they had been paid for, and the same went for food.

The merchants in the open market were probably shaking their heads when tallying their proceeds at the end of the day. Regenerating her tall body took large quantities of food, which their stands had provided free of charge, but not voluntarily.

She was getting stronger by the day, but a woman alone, even a tall one like her, was not safe at night. Not out in the streets. With nowhere else to go, she slept at the same construction site she had awakened in, making a bed for herself out of several empty sacks from the debris pile. She’d hidden it in one of the underground caverns that the tall buildings were built upon. The broken pipe had been fixed, and the arid climate ensured that the caverns had dried out in no time.

Most of her days were spent wandering the streets and markets while trying to learn everything she could about this land, its language, and its people.

The merchants flaunting their wares at the market were shouting that this or that was the best in Alexandria, and the street vendor with the large pages with writing on them was also yelling something to that effect.

The name was meaningless to her.

What she knew was that it was a port city and that the vessels moored in it were the size of villages. They were enormous monsters, the names on their sides written in a foreign language that bore no resemblance to the one on the shop signs and the large sheets of paper the street vendor was selling.

There was so much to learn.

The good news was that she no longer looked like a walking corpse, so hiding her frightening skeletal visage under the black outer garment she had stolen was not necessary.

What a relief.

Wearing it had been stiflingly hot, and yet many of the women she saw on the streets were wearing one just like that. The garment covered them from head to toe, leaving only a small opening for the eyes. Others wore long-sleeved shirts and scarves around their heads, covering their hair. Still, some of the women and girls wore form-fitting pants and plain short-sleeved shirts and no scarves.

Although everyone spoke the same language, many different people must have lived in the big city, bringing with them different customs from their homelands. The thing was, the varying levels of concealment were limited to the women. The men were all dressed more or less the same. Only a few covered their heads, and most did not concern themselves with modesty as much as the women did. They wore short pants that left their legs exposed and short-sleeved shirts that showed their arms—attire that made much more sense in the oppressive heat of the city.

There was much poverty everywhere, and she felt terrible for what she had been forced to steal to survive. Those few garments and foodstuffs were no doubt just as necessary to these poor people as they were to her.

But she had no choice.

Even the name she had adopted didn’t belong to her.

Wonder.

A week or so ago, a little girl on the street had tugged on her mother’s sleeve and pointed at her. “Look, Mama, Wonder Woman!”

The mother had smiled apologetically, saying something in the language these people spoke, then scurried away with the child looking behind her shoulder and grinning.

When it had happened again with another child on the same day, it was settled.

Wonder Woman must have been the name of someone important in this strange world she had awoken to, and since both times it had been said with a smile, it must have been a good one.

Wonder had a nice ring to it.

She just wished she knew what it meant.

Chapter 2: Wonder

“Look what we have here,” the young man behind her taunted.

Wonder walked faster.

At first, she’d paid no attention to the four human males following her through the market. A lot of people crowded the narrow pathways between the stalls, and her only concern had been not to get caught stealing food.

Should she run?

But if she did, she would attract attention to herself, which was the opposite of beneficial to a thief. Especially one that had garnered plenty of curious looks as it was.

Not that she understood why people were looking at her.

Her dark coloring was no different than that of the locals, and the green color of her eyes, which were somewhat uncommon among the mostly browns she had seen, was not so out of the ordinary as to justify the stares. She was a tall woman, but she wasn’t the only one. Wonder had seen several girls just as tall as her and a couple who were even taller.

Maybe it was her resemblance to that Wonder Woman person, who unfortunately she still had not figured out the importance of.

“Slow down, girly. We just want to talk,” one of the men called out.

Wonder walked even faster. Once she cleared the market, she could run. The question was whether she could outrun them. If she couldn’t, it would be better for her to stay where there were a lot of people around.

What did these young thugs want with her anyway?

She had no money they could steal. Was there anything else they might want?

Maybe they had seen her pilfering food?

If that was the case, she should run before they called a policeman, which was what people called the uniformed guards patrolling the market. She had seen them chase down a thief before and take him away.

Who knew what they did with criminals in these parts.

For some reason, her mind came up with whipping and enslavement, even though she hadn’t seen anyone who looked like he or she was a slave. No one was in chains, and she hadn’t seen anyone getting a whipping either.

Except, that didn’t mean a thing. Slaves could have been kept somewhere else, and whipping might have been done away from the public eye.

It was better to run than discover what these people did to thieves.

As soon as the last stall was behind her, Wonder started running, slowly at first, then faster when she realized the four were still behind her.

Wonder was fast, her long legs eating the pavement with surprising speed. Ducking into an alley, she was sure she had lost them, but they must've cut through some other passageway, and two of them appeared in front of her. When she turned round to run the other way, the other two appeared at the mouth of the alley, blocking her way.

She crouched, instinctively getting into a fighting stance, her muscles tightly coiled and ready to launch an attack as if her body knew what to do even though her brain didn’t. When a growl started deep in her throat, startling her, she didn’t know where that came from either.

What was happening to her? Was she turning into a feral creature? Where were those responses coming from? Were they part of her nature, or a muscle memory from a life she couldn’t remember?

“Come on, girly, no need to get all hissy. We just want to play,” one of the guys said as he sauntered closer, his friend following closely behind him.

Wonder didn’t answer.

Her knowledge of their language had gotten good enough to understand basic communication and to speak a few necessary words, but not good enough to form sentences. The vocabulary needed to answer the thug was beyond her capabilities.

Instead, she bared her teeth and growled louder. On an entirely instinctive level, she was aware that the men should run from her and not the other way around. But it seemed they were too stupid to realize that they were not dealing with an ordinary human girl.

Their mistake.

Her body knew what to do as soon as the first one reached to grab her. Without having to think it through, she closed her hand around his wrist and pulled, throwing him over her shoulder with such brute force that he hit the side of a building with a thud, then slid down and never got up.

Was he dead?

She didn’t look back to check, her hearing good enough to confirm that he was out of commission.

For now.

Enraged by their friend’s fate, the other three lunged at her all at once.

As Wonder’s arms and legs punched and kicked, her fast moves soon turned into a blur. Her goal was always the same—get leverage and hurtle the assailant across the alley. In seconds, the sounds of battle were over, and four bodies were strewn about the alley’s dirty pavement.

In the silence that followed, Wonder’s own heartbeat thundered in her ears for a long moment. When it quieted enough for her to hear the others, she could discern only three aside from her own.

She had killed one of them. It was the first one she had flung against the wall. No heartbeat was coming from his direction.

Bile rising in her throat, Wonder bent over and emptied the contents of her stomach.

She was a killer, a murderer, a taker of life.

The policemen would come for her and put her in chains. When the other three awoke, they would never admit that they attacked her first, and she had no words to defend herself with.

With one last glance at her terrible handiwork, Wonder turned and ran. With no money to pay for transport, she could think of only one way to get out of the city as fast as she could—sneak unto one of those huge boats leaving the harbor.

It shouldn’t be too difficult.

As she ran through the busy streets, desperate to distance herself from what she had done, Wonder didn’t give much thought to how she was going to accomplish that.

Her haggard state was her greatest concern. A bruised woman, wearing dirty, torn clothing, could not avoid notice. But shrouding herself in her current state was above her skill level. Ignoring the looks, she kept on running until she reached the harbor.

The security was much tighter than she had expected.

Standing on the dock, she observed as the crew and passengers showed the guard some sort of a booklet before being allowed onboard.

She was in deep trouble.

In order to get in, she had to summon her most powerful shroud to conceal her bruises and the state of her clothing, not an easy feat on a good day, and nearly impossible to maintain for more than a few minutes when shaken down to her core by the events that had brought her there.

On top of that, she would have to thrall the guard to believe she had the same booklet as the other passengers.

Taking several deep breaths, Wonder imagined herself wearing nice new clothing and holding the required documentation in her hand, then got in line behind a hefty older woman dragging a large wheeled case behind her.

Poor thing needed help, but Wonder couldn't offer it. First, because she didn’t have command of the language, and secondly because she needed to focus on holding the shroud.

“Here you go, young man.” The woman handed the official her booklet together with another piece of paper. “I’m so glad your vessel is taking on passengers. I didn’t know cargo ships did that, and for such a low price too. Now I can finally visit my daughter and my grandchildren without having to go on one of those flying machines.” She shook her head. “People are not meant to fly through the sky like birds.”

The guard examined the documents and handed them back. “You are free to pass, Mrs. Rashid.”

“Thank you.” The woman folded the piece of paper, put it inside the booklet, and stuffed both in her large bag. “Good day to you.”

“Have a pleasant trip, Mrs. Rashid.”

Holding her breath, Wonder pushed her thrall at the guard and followed behind the older woman without stopping. A few tense moments went by as she expected him to order her to halt, but the call never came.

Wonder exhaled a relieved breath and kept on walking.

DARK SURVIVOR AWAKENED

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