The alarm on the door twilled it’s small, quiet beep into the silent, heavy air. Twee-cheep, twee-cheep. Two Blinded, in their blue robes, and two Deafened, in their red, stood by the door. Hands clasped in front of them, heads bowed. Griff held onto her elbow, his wrinkled hand shaking slightly. She wondered, as always, if it was age or the things he had seen that had led to the shakes. She should have asked. She should have done so much more before this point.
“Ready, Sophie?” Griff asked his voice a whispering rasp.
Sophie stared at the steel door before them. It quieted Griff’s strong voice and seemed to deepen his wrinkles until all his years were apparent. It frightened them all as the final break between them and them. How many days had she stood at the foot of this hall, staring at it and trying to find enough courage to go towards it? Not enough, that was for sure.
With a slow, deep breath Sophie shouldered off the grey robe to reveal the grey bodysuit underneath. Griff took it from her. She met his deep, brown eyes and forced a smile onto her face. Then, before it could falter, she turned and walked to the door.
“Are you ready, Archivist?” one of the Blinded ask.
“I am.” She signed her answer for the Deafened.
The Deafened besides the Blinded man turned sharply to the alarm. The alarm gave a final twill, that sounded strangely like goodbye, before falling silent, all together. The two Deafened worked at the locking wheel, the bolts slowly shuttering open bit by bit. With an echoing ring, they drove the bolts home. Their hands went to the opening wheel in unison and turned.
With a squeal, the Deafened opened the door. The fog rolled lazily along the ground, slipping tendrils towards them in unearthly curiosity. Sophie stared out into the wild. The fog was thick, but she could still make out trees and the edge of the perimeter fence. The Deafened turned to her, their eyes wide. She nodded once. The Deafened gripped the arms of the Blinded and the four led her out.
“We’ll take you to the fence Archivist. Then the patrol will be looking for your return,” one of the Blinded said.
Sophie didn’t respond. The gate squeaked open on rusty hinges. They bowed her out. She was alone. With hesitant steps, she made her way to the treeline. Her ears picked up the soft twittering of birds, a sound she only knew from the memories. Deeper and deeper she went until the fog swallowed her.
With a shaking breath, she lowered herself down onto the damp leaves that had fallen. She rested her back against a tree, eyes peering into the fog, looking for anything out of the ordinary from what she had experienced in the memories. She wasn’t sure how long she was there before she noticed that the birds had gone silent.
Sophie straightened against the tree. A sharp crack sounded to her left. She turned her eyes that way and followed the shadow up and up into the canopy of the trees. Another leg descended, shaking the ground around her. This one was close enough for her to see the row upon row of scales that lined the leg down to the pointed claws. A roar sounded, unlike any being she had ever encountered. The tree to her right was uprooted, showering her with debris and dirt. Her voice froze in her throat as she followed it.
The tree entered the gaping maw of the beast. Large teeth tore bark from it, like a hunter stripping the hide from a kill. Brilliant, beetle like eyes shimmered from the dew of the fog. A frilled mantle spayed out as the beast roared once more. This time, it’s call was answered.
Sophie tore her eyes away from it as a beast rolled through the greenery. It righted itself, balancing on its curved bottom while the hundreds of eyes along its top spun, taking everything in. Each one alighted on her, searing into her soul. She felt all the memories she had ever experienced laid bare before her, each picked apart and dissected for its worth before being shoved back into her. The death, the lies, every disease, pain, and moment of fear was amplified in ways she didn’t know was possible.
She heard screaming, didn’t recognize it as her own until she tasted the blood in her mouth.