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“Are you ready?” I asked.

It was just Katarina, Red, and me… we were the only three that were going to leave the base. The smaller the group, the better off we’d be. I didn’t want to be seen leaving by anyone, and I didn’t want it obvious to any watchers that there was a change to the group dynamic. Thankfully, during the week, there wasn’t much to do other than cleaning up the buildings and increasing fortifications. After repeated attacks, the group was already increasing their fortifications, so really nothing had changed.

“We’re ready, Daniel. Let’s get a move on.” Katarina declared, still looking a bit uncertain. “What did you do with Kiera.”

“She’s… um… doing a test for me,” I responded. “She’s running an errand.”

My eyes flickered to Red, and Katarina seemed to get that this wasn’t the time to talk about Kiera. She nodded in acceptance, and then got on the latter and started climbing down.

“Buck up!” Red hit my arm. “We’ll get whatever they stole… although it would be easier if you told us what it was.”

I gave her a forced smile but otherwise kept my mouth shut. She gave up and climbed down as well. I finally followed up the rear. When we reached the bottom, I looked around.

“Where are we anyway?” I asked.

“These are service tunnels,” Red responded. “They run all over the city. People usually don’t take them though because they’re full of mutants.” There is a lot of radiation build-up down here too. It’s nearly suicide without… well, one of those.”

She gestured to my Perco, and I was reminded once again just how much easier it had made everything I wanted to accomplish. If only there were more Perco’s, I’d equip everyone with one. Unfortunately, they were extremely rare. Since they were locked to the person, no one bothered to keep or care for them once a person died, so even finding one I could unlock like Kiera’s was a rarity. To find one already unlocked was like getting the winning lottery ticket.

I made sure to activate my Geiger counter and my light, and then the three of us began to move. The area was narrow and cramped, it reeked of rust and sewage. However, if this is what we had to do to avoid being seen, then this is what I had to do. By the way, I had found out about this hatch from Cecelia. This was Ascension’s emergency escape plan. In case everything went to shit, our headquarters had an access to these underground tunnels, giving them the means to escape.

While these tunnels were good and allowing us to get around unseen, they weren’t practical for opening up a trade network. We could barely walk through them one person at a time. People carrying supplies would not be able to make it through. Even if one of us was carrying an oversized bag of supplies, we would have struggled to get through some of the packages. Without a digitizer like the one on my Perco, it would be impossible to transport any goods through this route. There was a sudden gunshot, and I couldn’t help but jump as I was brought out of my thoughts.

“Neerrat.” Katarina who was in the front declared.

I shivered as I remembered those massive things. What would happen if there was a nest of neerrats. They’d fill the entire corridor and with no room to move or dodge… I was beginning to see what maintenance tunnels were considered a last resort.

“A-are you sure it’s dead?” I asked uneasily.

“You’re welcome to kick it again as you pass it.” She responded flippantly.

I stayed back and let them each step over the large thing in their path. The was no room for such a creature to be pushed to the side. As Red passed it, she stepped on top of it, a crunch sounding out as some of the smaller bones broke under her weight.

I stared at the thing for a moment and then shook my head. Leaping over the neerrat, I continued after the two girls. She shot a few more times, and every time I froze up, worried that the shooting would continue. Thankfully, she never faced more than a handful of neerrats, and the smart rifle was more than enough to deal with them.

Overall, I’d say we were exceptionally lucky. We didn’t encounter any pockets of radiation, floods of neerrats, or even more aggressive mutants. I had felt like I required some luck after everything I had been through, and it looked like the world provided. We eventually ended up coming to another latter leading up.

“This should be near the edge of the city,” Katarina spoke up. “We might as well go up.”

I checked my Perco which mapped things out. She had come to numerous intersections on the way, but without having been down those pathways they all looked the same to me. Ultimately, she had been aiming for a specific direction at the edge of town, and that governed her choices, but I could see how much of a maze-like labyrinth this place truly was. We could have technically come up anywhere. As long as we were separated enough from the Ascension marketplace that no one could see us leaving or coming, then we’d be safe. However, this also happened to be the first ladder going up we’d seen since entering the labyrinth.

There was a concern we could get lost, but thankfully, I could map my way back home thanks to the Perco, so if we had found ourselves unable to reach the surface, we could at least return the way we came without a problem. That wasn’t necessary though, and soon we emerged into a large empty building that appeared to be a bus station if my guess was right. The two girls looked around thoroughly, and once they were positive there was no danger, they allowed me to climb to the surface.

I didn’t know how I felt about being protected by two women. I had considered asking Hunter or Husk to come with me. Husk’s large body might have struggled to get through those tight tunnels, and Husk’s long-range weapons would have been useless down there. Plus, if the girls thought I had brought a guy along because I didn’t trust their ability to protect me, I’d suffer for it.

We didn’t remain in the bus station long. We quickly stepped out, and for the first time since I had been to the apocalyptic world I looked on in shock. We had reached the edge of town, and I could see fields of gnarled trees and brown grass as far as the eye could see. Supposedly, all living things grew an ugly brown color now, and it was believed that green had been culled out of plants thanks to the virus. It also had made food very difficult to grow, and the quantities provided to not be enough to feed large groups of people. This was why food had become so expensive in this world.

I had known about all of this, but it took truly seeing the brown landscape for such things to click in. I could see an orange-colored horizon and a light grey sky overhead. The sun couldn’t be seen at all. In the city, there was so much decayed construction everywhere that it just felt like wandering into an abandoned city. It wasn’t until I saw the effect on nature that the word Wasteland truly made sense. This was a Wasteland in every sense of the word. The very land itself was now trash. A virus intended to bring magic into the world had instead brought it to ruin.

“We’re outside the city now. Are we safe?” I asked.

Katarina shot me a look. “No, we’re in even more danger now.”

“What?” I blinked. “You said the ferals and the mutants tended to congregate in the cities?”

“I did… and they do.” Katarina shrugged. “However, with them in the cities, the true mutants can wonder out here. There are some massive monsters capable of swallowing you whole.”


“Don’t scare the boy.” Red chuckled. “We’re not that far from the city. You have to get far out there to find those kinds of mutants. The mutants on the edges are a bit more reasonable. Just a bit.”

Katarina didn’t respond, and I didn’t feel reassured by Red’s words at all. Katrina pulled out a pair of binoculars and began to look around. After a bit, she lowered herself and gestured for us to follow.

“There are no buildings to hide behind here. We need to stay in the grass or risk being seen. Stay low, move fast, stay quiet, and maybe we’ll get there in one piece.”

Katarina didn’t wait for a response. She immediately began to move forward, picking up the pace quickly from how she was moving in the maintenance tunnels. Red followed after her like this was completely normal. I nearly let out a cry as I followed after them, although they didn’t slow their pace. We were leaving Argos city behind.

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