Dark Survivor Awakened
Seven 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.
The feeling of hot air on her fingertips didn’t register at first. 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 in a pool of sea water that she had been awakened, but fresh water.
Was she in an underground cavern with a shallow river running through it? Or was it night, and 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 seizing her, she realized that not only were her location and the reason for her being there unknown, 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 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’d 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 just sat in the water, gulping in the musky air and listening to her own heartbeat to reassure herself that she was indeed alive.
Slowly, the steady rhythm helped her calm down 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 it 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 some other similar metal.
She was no expert in metallurgy. Copper and gold, that was the extent of her knowledge. Well, at least there was that. She didn’t 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 for the water to spill over, there must have been a hole somewhere in the rock separating the two caverns.
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.
Not all hope was lost, however. The rock was soft sandstone that crumbled under her fingers. 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, it took her a long time to enlarge the opening from one hand span to two, and then she had to take a break and rest before she could continue. Not only was she out of breath and wheezing, but her nails were chipped and broken, and her fingertips and the palms of her hands were bleeding from numerous cuts. Cradling them close to her chest, she waited for her body to repair the damage. It took long minutes for the bleeding to stop, and then for the broken skin to mend itself. Somehow she knew that it had taken her much longer to heal than it should have, probably because of her body’s poor condition.
The nails were even slower to regenerate.
No matter, as long as the pain was gone, she could continue.
She had to stop two more times before her task was complete.
Squeezing through the opening she inflicted new cuts and scrapes on her body, but it was of no consequence. Her mission had been accomplished.
A metal conduit of some sort was the source of the bubbling water. It wasn't natural. Someone had built it. Smooth and round, it hung loosely from where it was attached to the wall with clamps, one of which had broken off, severing its connection to the rest of the conduit. It was spouting what seemed like a never-ending supply of surprisingly fresh water. It seemed to be part of some sort of underground water delivery system, which was odd since the cavern she had awoken in was natural and not a manmade dwelling.
Pushing her curiosity aside, she put her mouth to the water and drank her fill, then sat with her back propped against the wall and rested.
With her thirst quenched, the other needs of her body made themselves loudly known. She needed food.
But to get to where she could find it, she needed to discover a way out of where she was. 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. She wasn’t one of them. She was different.
She looked like a human female, but she wasn’t.
No matter, it would come to her in time.
Survival came first.
Chapter 1: Wonder
Six months ago.
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 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. 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 hid in one of the underground caverns that the tall buildings were built upon. The broken pipe had been fixed, and 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 small cities. Enormous monsters with names written on their sides in a foreign language that bore no resemblance to the language on the shop signs and the large sheets of paper the street vendor was selling.
There was so much to learn.
It was good 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, others 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 oppressing heat of the city.
There was much poverty everywhere, and she felt bad 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.
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 smiled apologetically, saying something in the language these people spoke, then scurried away with the child looking behind her shoulder and grinning.
When it 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: Anandur
“It’s like a ghost town in here.” Anandur waited for Jackson to finish restocking the café’s vending machine. “I suggest you cut back on the number of sandwiches you’re putting in there. There aren’t enough people left in here to eat all of that.”
Most of the apartments formerly occupied by clan members had been rented out, including the two penthouses. Anandur didn’t mind that only one floor remained reserved for the rotating Guardians, but for some reason, renting out the top two luxury apartments bothered him.
In some weird way it felt like a failure, like giving away something that should’ve stayed in the family. Those should have been retained for whenever Kian or Amanda wanted to stay in the city.
Except, ever since the clan had started their rescue operations, money was tight.
Anandur wasn’t a frivolous spender by any stretch of the imagination, but if it were up to him, he wouldn’t have done it, even though those penthouses were bringing in hefty rent money.
Maybe it was just his aversion to change. Too much of it had been happening lately. None of it was bad, but his life was not the same. Hell, he felt as if he was living someone else’s.
It started with the separation from Brundar. After centuries of cohabiting with his brother, Anandur had moved out to give Brundar and Callie the privacy and intimacy they needed as a mated couple.
But it was more than that.
Before Callie, Anandur had always looked after Brundar, making sure his brother was doing okay, or as okay as Brundar had been capable of before Callie had healed him.
Now, Anandur was suffering from what felt a lot like empty nest syndrome. His kid brother was all grown up, living his own life with his mate.
Anandur was no longer needed.
It was a miracle he was thanking the fates every day for. But instead of feeling unburdened, he felt as if an important part of him had been rendered useless. A void was created that was begging to be filled with a new purpose.
Then everyone had moved into the new village, and the few apartments still reserved for Guardians in the keep were managed like hotel rooms, including a maid service that came over twice a week to clean and change sheets and towels and other stuff like that.
A human maid service.
Jackson stuffed the last slot and closed the machine’s back door. “I filled it up yesterday, same as the day before, and everything was gone by morning, even the egg sandwiches, which are the least popular. It seems that Guardians have big appetites.”
Anandur’s eyes followed the big box of pastries Jackson pushed with his foot to the next vending machine. That was what he was waiting for.
There was nothing as mouthwatering as the smell of freshly baked goods.
“I can’t believe that the twenty Guardians on rotation in the keep are responsible for picking clean both machines.”
Jackson pulled out a key and opened the back door to the pastry machine. “They are too lazy to make anything for themselves or go out to a restaurant or even a fast food joint. They eat here breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pretty damn pathetic. If you want my opinion, you guys should pitch in and hire a chef to prepare proper meals for you.”
“But that would put you out of business, buddy.”
Jackson sighed as he started restocking the pastries. “You think I want to do this?” He motioned at the machines. “I wish I could move to the village as well. I want to leave Nathalie’s old café to Ruth and manage the new one in the village.”
“So why don’t you?”
“I can’t. Eva is still refusing to move because of bloody Nick, which means that my Tessa can’t move either.”
Stubborn woman. Eva was getting huge, which meant that her baby was coming soon. She should be living up there already, where it was safe.
“How far along is she?”
Jackson looked up. “Seven and half months? Maybe eight? I don’t know. Ask one of the ladies. They are all keeping tabs.”
Anandur grimaced. “What ladies? There are only guys in here, and I’m on rotation for another week.”
When the last pastry had gone into the machine, Jackson closed the back door and pushed up to his feet. “Aren’t you Kian’s personal bodyguard? What happens if he needs to go somewhere?”
Anandur punched the numbers for a Danish and stuck his credit card into the slot. “Retraining the old Guardians is more important to him right now. They need a lot of work.” He collected the wrapped pastry. “The last time most of them fought with weapons they were still using swords.”
“You should’ve told me you wanted a Danish, I would have left one out for you.”
“Nah. This is your business, and I’m not a mooch.”
“Let me at least get you coffee.”
“Only if you are having one too. I hate sitting here all by my lonesome.”
Jackson glanced at his watch. “Ruth is opening Fernando’s up today. I can spare a few minutes.”
“You are still keeping the old name? I thought you’d changed it to Nathalie’s Café.”
“We call it that, but the sign over the door still says Fernando’s Café. Nathalie would never agree to change it. The café is like a monument to her stepdad's legacy.”
Anandur walked over to one of the tables, took the wrapper off the Danish, and bit into it. So good. It was hard to believe Vlad was the baker. Never mind that the kid was using Fernando’s old recipes. Not everyone could pick up a recipe and know what to do with it.
Jackson came back with two coffees and put them on the table. “It’s so annoying. Nick and Ruth are acting like a couple from the fifties. Because of them, I’m stuck here in the city while Carol is doing her best to run the café in the village. It’s too much for her to handle on her own.”
“Can’t she hire some help?”
“No takers. You know how spoiled most of the immortals are. No one wants to work in the café.”
Anandur had been entertaining thoughts of kicking Carol’s training up a notch and getting her to adopt a more merciless attitude. At the rate she was going, she would never be ready to take on a spying mission of any kind, let alone infiltrate the Brotherhood’s camp. But as long as she was stuck running the village café by herself, that option was not on the table. He would have to wait for Jackson to take over, which meant Nick needed to step up his game.
“Can’t you give Nick a kick in the ass and get him moving?”
“You think I haven’t tried?” Jackson pushed his long bangs back. “It was such a dumb idea to introduce these two. I should’ve hooked him up with someone else.”
“Aren’t they in love?”
Jackson sighed. “Yeah, they are. But I don’t understand what they are waiting for. It’s not like they need to get married to have sex, for fate’s sake.”
“Are they even attracted to each other?”
“Are you kidding me? I’m sure Nick is jacking off at least five times a night.”
“What about Ruth?”
“She is attracted to him, that’s for sure. But she is in no hurry, even though she knows everyone is waiting for her to do it. She says she wants to take her time and get to know Nick first.”
“That’s not unreasonable.”
Jackson grimaced. “Maybe for a teenage virgin in the fifties it would’ve been reasonable to wait for so long, but not for a grown woman in today’s world. No one waits months before hooking up anymore. I can understand waiting for the third date, but no more than that, for a normal couple that is. There might be some religious restrictions or other crap like that. These two started dating seriously right after Eva and Bhathian’s wedding. That was three freaking months ago.”
Anandur scratched his beard. “What does Eva think about that?”
“She says to give them their space, and that rushing them might ruin things for them.”
“Smart woman. Not everyone marches to the same beat.”
“I guess theirs is glacial.”
Anandur stuffed the rest of the Danish into his mouth, then washed it down with what was left of his coffee. “Thank you for keeping me company.” He pushed to his feet.
“Anytime, dude.” Jackson offered his hand. “I’m here every morning at five-thirty.”
Anandur shook his hand and pulled him in for a bro embrace. “Hang in there, kid. Everything is going to turn out okay.” He clapped the guy’s back before letting him go.
Jackson picked up his empty boxes off the floor. “You’re an optimist.”
“Yes, I am.”
DARK SURVIVOR AWAKENED
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