Blackrock


“Get to Blackrock!  Wait for me!”

 

The sky was dark, rolling, spitting out fire.  Thunder crashed, and the constant roar from the heavens was not only that which Mother Nature throws out.  The scream of jets shifted in terrible pitch as they tore overhead, releasing their own hellfire and damnation on the ground.  The rain was heavy, pounding, obscuring everything.  But we could hear the fighters, and we could hear the screams, and we knew that the End Day had come.

 

Huddled against the rocks of the ridge, we knew that everything was, at last, coming to an end.  Piotr clenched his fists, jaw grinding tooth against tooth, his great beard soaking from the rain.  He looked up, shook his head, and I could see an anger there that surprised me.  For my part, there was only fear.

 

“Blackrock is where we will meet,” he called out above the noise, the terrible din of a world that was crashing around us.  “Get there, and wait!”

 

I gripped the sleeve of his coat, holding him back from rushing off into the tumultuous night.  “You can’t go back!  Are you mad?”

 

The look he gave me was pure fury.  Not at me; he knew his odds, and he knew that I was aware as well.  His anger was directed outward, at the collapse.  “I will not leave Natalya, dammit!  Now GO!”

 

That was the last I saw of Piotr, the great bear of a man that he was.  His hulking form rising, vanishing off into the night, the rain, the thunder.  Off on a fool’s errand.  Natalya had to be gone.  The entire community of Grishino was gone.  Surely his daughter would be gone as well.  They all were.

 

So I stared after him, the rain beating down on my own face, lightning bringing out the stark cliffs of Berezhki for a second, then veiling everything in darkness once more.  I was so suddenly alone.  My hands gripped the splitting ax, the worn wood slippery and wet.  I was alone.  And I had a long road.

 

In the near darkness, there was a moaning growl.

 

**********

 

My name is Joshua, and I am still alone.

I don’t know how many days it has been since the Fall.  Sometimes, when I climb atop the great ridges and mountains of my beloved Chernarus, I can still see plumes of smoke.  But they are always in the distance, and they are pale.  Fires, long since burnt out, now only smoldering.  Far distant wounds left over from the day that Hell fell upon us all.

 

Once in a great while, I can still hear the distant crack of gunfire.  I’ve come to learn that those single, echoing shots are the sound of the Infected being put down.  But there have been times when more shots can be heard, answering one another.  Battles being fought over resources.  Over food.  We fought the Infected, we warred against them, and we lost.  Now we fight each other.

 

It is still so deceptively beautiful, though, as I wander westward.  Those shimmering green mountains, the rippling golden fields.  Winds whisper among the forests, and one can almost forget that anything has changed whatsoever.  Chernarus, my home, was always a land of beauty.  When the sun would shine down on my home, I knew that everything was right with the world.  Even when there were rumors of some sort of illness down in Berenzino, I was content.  People were always getting sick down there.  Usually from too much Vodka.  Delivering my loads of lumber from Stary Jar, I’d fallen into that sickness myself, once or twice.  And so I paid the talk no mind.

 

Even now, as I stand far above Novodmitrovsk, watching the shine of the sun on the rooftops, I can almost imagine that city as being alive, still thriving.  I close my eyes, take a breath, and my ears are filled with the distant hum of traffic, horns, the long bleat of trains on the railway.  I fancy that there might be the occasional sound of voices, as well.  A small grin comes to my face, and I can see the vitality of that wonderful city.

 

The far whiplash crack of a gun shatters the illusion.  My eyes snap open, and I crouch down behind a bush, my hand falling to the butt of the scavenged 1911 hanging at my hip.  Novo is dead.  It is home to the dead.

 

Time to move on.

 

**********

 

The storms continued for three days.  The days passed from one shade of gray to another.  Gradually, as I moved through the wilds, the rocks, the forest, I noted that the sound of the military fighters had decreased.  But there was smoke, rising like accusing fingers towards the heavens, lost as they mingled with the clouds.  And there were the Dead.

 

I had moved south, threading my way among the trees, until finally I was overlooking Svetlojarsk.  I had lived there, once upon a time, a troubled teenager running away from the only life that I had known, sick of being a woodcutter’s son.  It had only been three weeks before I was kicked out of my flat, unable to pay the weekly rent.  But by then I was desperately homesick, and smarting from a difficult lesson learned.  I had a good life with my parents, and I should have been content.

 

For a few minutes, I slid and stumbled down the slope, until I was on relatively even grass.  The sun, had it been visible, would have been low, perhaps kissing the ridge I had just come down from.  I figured that was all the cover I needed, if I counted the added veil of rain.  So I paced myself and walked through the grass and mud, making my way towards the docks.  From there, it would only be a few minutes to the train depot.  I was hoping to find a car, a truck, something to make my journey that much easier.  Blackrock was just below Stary Jar, a name Piotr and I had given the spot.  It was sheltered.  And, I hoped, it would be where my best friend waited for me.

 

The slapping sound of bare feet in the mud barely reached me before I realized that there was someone rushing up behind me.  A distant rumble of thunder sounded almost as soon as I heard the screech of mindless hunger, and I turned around just in time to feel the blow of claw-like hands against my shoulder.

 

I kept my feet, and fumbled to unfasten the splitting ax from my back.  In the late afternoon gloom, I saw my assailant, his… it’s eyes sunken and surrounded by dark skin, locked on me.  They pierced me, and yet at the same time they were blank, unaware.  The mouth gaped, but there were no words.  Only an inhuman moan that gurgled into a growl.  And there was hunger.  It began to lurch forward again, boney hands raised, tattered shirt flapping in the wind.

 

In a single motion the ax came from my back, swinging outward in an arc.  The blade sliced so easily through the creature’s side.  I was used to feeling the splitting of wood, the crack of branches.  I had just discovered that the biting of metal into ribs was not so different.

 

But there was no blood.

 

The Infected one did not stop.  Only the physical force of the blow made it stagger back, but it began to move forward almost immediately.  My hands shook, the rain dripped into my eyes.  The creature screeched, and I yelled.  I swung.  The ax slammed into its head.  Staggering back, it ripped the ax from my hands, then fell back to the ground, utterly dead.  I stared down at it, and with a shocked sigh, slumped down to the ground myself, sitting in a near state of shock.  I had never encountered an Infected before this.  And I never wanted to again.  But Svet would be filled with them, I knew.

 

I looked up, towards the waiting city.

 

A man stood there, blocking my view, gun in his hand, pointed squarely at my head.

 

“Hello there,” he rumbled.  The gun cocked.  “I hope you’re a bit friendlier towards me.”

 

**********

 

Today I stand on the outskirts of Kamensk.  The sun is still bright.  But autumn is well aged, and I know soon it will carry no warmth.  I’ll make my goal long before then, of course.  But I need time to prepare.

 

There are no Infected here.  Those early strikes during the Fall all but eradicated them from the northlands, as far as I could tell.  What remained followed the feeing population southward.  But that exodus cleared the wildlife out as well.  I had not seen so much as a rabbit since I first started this journey.  Scavenging food was all well and good.  But I would have loved some wild game.

 

Oh, there are other possibilities.  There are people up here.  But I’ve not fallen to that, not yet.  And really, I’m not so sure that isn’t what brought about the rise of the Infected in the first place.

 

The Infected.  I don’t really know where they came from.  No one does, no one that I’ve talked to, anyway.  I think that sickness in Berezino, that was the cause.  But what caused the sickness?  I’m convinced that somewhere, someone performed that ultimate sin.  Rumor had it that the prisoners, way out on the island south of Kamenka, had been fed Human flesh by their sadistic guards.  Who could say?  It’s as good of a theory as any.

 

Time to start forward, I guess.  Kamensk was always a home for military families.  It would be good to find ammo for this 1911.  Or perhaps something a bit more powerful.  There were no Infected here, true.

 

But there were still people.

 

**********

 

“You’re on a fool’s errand, boy.” The stranger growled as we trudged through the rain, into Svet.  “Your friend’s gone south, eh?  Then he’s dead.  No one goes south and doesn’t end up as fodder for th’Dead.” He snorted.  “Or th’ bastards who fancy themselves the saviors of the country.”

 

He had already regaled me with his story of how he had wandered through the Northwestern Airfield, once home to Chernarus’ finest.  How he had killed the last remaining military men, taken their gear, and moved on.  How he was going to be a hero.  And how no one would stand in his way.  Some hero.

 

“So what now?” I asked.  He walked five paces behind me, his gun never wavering from its aim on the back of my skull, I was sure.  “You going to save me?  Liberate me?  What’s the point of being a hero if you kill everyone you meet?”

 

“It ain’t being a hero, boy!” he snapped, then fell into a rumbling chuckle.  “It’s all about survival.  They say that th’whole world has gone to shit.  I don’ know if that’s true or not, but I aim to live long enough to find out.”

 

Far away, in town, I could hear a brief scream from one of the Infected.  But we didn’t stop.  I wanted to, though.  If you could hear them, I reasoned, then they could hear you.  Maybe even see you.  “We need to get to shelter,” I said.

 

The stranger’s laughter rang out.  “Don’t be so scared, boy.  I’ve taken plenty of those bastards down with this baby.  We’ll last long enough for you to get where I need you.”

 

Where I need you. Right then I knew what his plans were.  My blood ran cold, and the shivering that beset me had nothing to do with the cold rain.  I kept my mouth shut, though.  We were coming into town, and moving steadily towards a large public building.  An office building, maybe.  Maybe it had been something else.  What mattered immediately was that it was dry inside, and marginally warmer.

 

We entered through the door facing the street, which the stranger closed behind us.  There were two other doors, one of which was open.  And a piano.  I chuckled inwardly, the absurd thought of me sitting down to play some Mozart intruding on my mind.

 

“Sit there,” the man grunted, motioning to the piano stool.

 

I complied, and passively watched as he moved around me, towards that open door.  I sighed, and slid my feet underneath the stool.  A soft scrape sounded out.  Metal.  “You going to build a fire?” I asked.  My blood had long since gone cold, but now my voice had gone cold as well.  A calm was descending over me.

 

He paused and laughed.  In the growing darkness, I could see his flashing teeth.  Behind him, the open door momentarily brightened as lightning flashed far away.  “How else am I supposed to make my supper?”

 

Slowly, carefully, I pressed my foot atop the metal object below me.  Millimeter by millimeter, I slid it forward.  “And none for me?” I innocently asked, eyes never leaving him.  He stared at me, backing up.  There was more distant lightning, but the door was shadowed this time, a shape blocking it.

 

I struggled not to gasp.  But I swallowed.  Hard.

 

His grin widened.  “None for you,” he spoke, then turned around to shut the door.

 

A form had appeared in the doorway, and it reached out with a scream.  The stranger, startled, scared, jumped back with a yell, his gun raising up.  Even as he began shooting, I leaned down and grasped the metal object below me, then lurched to my feet.

 

The Infected one dropped, at least one bullet having found its way into its cranium.  The stranger turned back to me, eyes wide with the near miss, just in time to see my balled up fist coming at him.  A sickening crunch of bone and his nose exploded into blood and he dropped like a sack of lard.  Who, I wondered, would have used brass knuckles in a governmental house?

 

I stood over him, breathing hard.  He was not dead, but he was out cold.  I looked out the open door, and in the light of another flash, I could see a distant, shambling form rushing up the hill, towards the house.  Attracted by the gunfire, no doubt.

 

I leaned down, grabbed his weapon, a well-worn 1911, and then sprinted out the door we had entered from.

 

Twice I’ve been to Svet.  I had no plan to return.

 

**********

 

Blackrock.  Further down the slope from the cliffs from Stary Jar, it is a massive block of granite, left over from some prehistoric volcanic catastrophe.  But it is surrounded by smaller stones, all lost within the forest.  A perfect place to hide.  Even from my vantage point, I could only see the top of Blackrock itself.  What might be at its base was utterly lost to my vision.

 

I’ve been wandering the north for weeks.  My clothing, my backpack, all stuffed with supplies.  Ever since Svet, I’ve learned the value of patience, caution, and perseverance.  And now, I hope… I hope that the value of trust will be realized as well.  Not trust in Piotr himself, but trust in his abilities to survive.  His drive to find his daughter.  His need to get back here.  For all of us to escape Chernarus.

 

Tucked into the back of my belt, I withdraw a flare gun that I had found in Stary Jar itself, forgotten in the back of a police car that had run off the road.  It is late afternoon, and a flare should be quite noticeable.  And, with a bit of luck, there would be no one nearby to see it.  Save the one that I wanted to.

 

Chernarus is gone, I know this.  But the land remains.  Survivors remain.  Some are friendly.  Some need help.  And some need to be put down.  I’ve been wandering for weeks, and I have killed.  I have taken what I needed, and helped a few when I could.  But I do not see myself as a hero.  I chuckle at the mere thought, and raise the flare gun to the sky.  No, I’m not a hero.

 

My finger squeezes the trigger, and the flare leaps into the sky.  Even in the afternoon, it is blinding.

 

I’m not a bandit either, though.  Those I’ve killed, I’ve put down because they forced me to.  I do what I need to.  I love my Chernarus, but I will also live long enough to leave her behind, and to discover if the world is intact.  I will do what I must to see that through.

 

Far below me, from the forest surrounding Blackrock, a glowing trail rises.  Another flare has been shot off, joining the first in the sky.  A slow grin splits my face, and I begin the careful descent downward.  My friends await.  I know they are like I am.

 

A survivor.