Alara: Chapter 4

Chloe emerged between two boulders nestled midway up the side of a steep hill. A few dim beams of sunlight pierced the network of trees, allowing Chloe the chance to examine her surroundings without squinting. Her jaw went slack. All around her, shooting up forever it seemed, were trees exactly like she’d seen in her dreams. She took a step forward and almost slipped on the loose gravel. Grasping a small boulder to her right, Chloe used it to steady her descent.

The bottom of the hill was covered with all sorts of plants. Some were harder, some less waxy and some even had color sprouting off of them, but Chloe decided to stay away from those. The ground was carpeted in plants that stretched to her waist. The stalks felt soft and lush beneath her fingers. When she looked up, Chloe’s eyes fell onto the tallest tree in sight.

“Wow.” She walked up to it cautiously. Her eyes widened when she came across five slash marks in the tree. She placed her hand over the marks and noticed how neatly her fingers lined up.

Chloe shook the unease in her stomach and looked past the tree, gasping at the forest stretching down into a valley. Brilliant hues of red and orange from a huge light above spilled over the tree tops like a wild fire.

Chloe ripped a strip of cloth from her shirt and tied it to a low hanging branch so she would remember her way home. As she descended the hill, the trees grew smaller and huddled closer together. More and more of them had colorful plants sprouting from tree branches. One particular plant caught her eye. Its leaves were long and white with purple tips. Warily she plucked it from its low hanging perch and brought it under her nose where an odd but pleasant odor floated into Chloe’s nose. She placed the delicate plant in her pack next to her notebook.

Walking through the foliage, she continued to place strips of cloth to mark her trail and suddenly remembered the stories about people who had wandered into the caves, never to return. Could they have found a way to the surface?
Her foot snagged on something hidden in the grass, but luckily, she managed to keep herself from falling. She reached down to free her foot and found black cable wires wrapped around her ankle. She followed the wires until the forest abruptly opened into a large clearing. Although most of it was covered in knee high grass, Chloe could still make out a large gray structure beneath a layer of climbing vines. Most of the doors were sealed to their frames from rust except one. It had been ripped from its hinges and discarded carelessly to the side. Chloe stepped lightly over the door and into the building.

“No freakin’ way,” she gasped. In the huge structure were a half a dozen airplanes. Her favorite stories her dad told her were about grandpa and his planes. Unfortunately, time had not been kind to the flying giants. All but one were covered in rust. The plane closest to her was missing one wing and a good portion of the other. She was about to walk away when she noticed the plane’s body looked mangled. Like the tree outside, something had torn through the metal as easily as she could rip paper. She cursed under her breath. How could she have been stupid enough not to bring some sort of weapon?

Shaking the nagging feeling in the back of her mind, she found a plane that was in fairly good condition. She whistled at its beauty. Sleek black from nose to tail and not a scratch in sight. She tore herself away from the gorgeous machine to explore the rest of the building.

Cracking open another light tube, she explored the rest of the building and found ten rooms. Nothing was particularly interesting until her eye caught a glimpse of her last name carved on one of the room’s doors.

She jiggled the handle and pushed but the door wouldn’t budge. Rolling her eyes, Chloe took a step back and, with two solid kicks, sent the door flying open. Dust flew everywhere, flying into Chloe’s mouth. Waving the pesky stuff away, she stepped into the office. The room was small, maybe eight feet by ten feet, but every inch of wall space was covered in maps, awards, and a whole variety of pictures. One particular picture piqued her interest. Two pilots, a man and a woman, were standing in front of a plane almost identical to the one she saw earlier. The man was holding a little boy in his arms. Chloe wiped the thick layer of dust from the frame, revealing an engraving at the bottom.

Colorado Gamma Air Base Dedication August 16th, 2140. Janice and Ryan Moore with their son Henry.

“Dad?” She blinked again but even so young, her dad’s goofy grin was easy to see in the boy wearing his father’s flight goggles. “2140? That can’t be right…”

She took a step backward and kicked the desk with her heel, knocking a book to the floor. Chloe scooped it up and flipped through its thick, yellowed pages until she came to the first legible entry.

March 14th, 2115

I found this in an antique shop yesterday. Janice rolled her eyes when I brought it home, although I think she’s secretly jealous of it. People just don’t understand the pleasures of writing on paper anymore. No matter, this “old fool” (Janice’s fond nickname for me) will continue in the face of “modern” society where everything from grocery lists to official reports are communicated via hologram.

Quite a few pages looked like they’d been torn out between entries.

December 9th, 2135

Henry is becoming quite a precocious little boy. Still, he will listen to whoever is patient enough to answer his million questions on everything. In fact just the other day he trapped poor Lieutenant…

The rest of the page was too faded to continue. Luckily, Chloe found several other passages. The next was dated October 21st, 2147, but the writing only became readable halfway down the page.

…grow weary of their games. What else is the government not telling us? My superiors tell me Janice’s patrol went down in the storm over recently discovered Balor territory. (Chloe had to squint to make out the words under the tear stains) If the crash didn’t kill her, hopefully the bombers sent in after them did. Hell, I would have done the job myself but Henry…

With half the Earth’s population either dead or converted, there seems to be no end in sight to this war. We’ve been ordered to retreat into the safety of the caves and finish Project Angel. I made a few modifications to the colony’s defensive shield. Just let those bastards try to get in.

A heavy weight pressed against Chloe’s chest. There was nothing she could say. Every question she tried to answer only resulted in more questions. Two hundred years and this Project Angel was still unfinished?

She searched the book again for another mention of these Balor. Skimming entry after entry, she finally found something near the last entry. Running her finger along the page, she read the passage aloud.

“A genetics war has its price. The super soldiers we sought to create are the very things that will destroy us. Their aversion to light allows us to fight back, but Lord knows that won’t last. Any who are infected lose any semblance of humanity. They just eat. Only one percent has survived, maybe less. Project Angel is our only hope.”

A muffled crash yanked Chloe from her thoughts. Holding the light tube in front of her, she slowly stood and peered down the hallway. She released a sigh and chuckled half-heartedly. A long, lonely howl echoed from somewhere in the distance. Alright then, time to go. Chloe stuffed her grandfather’s journal into her pack and retraced her steps back into the main room and out the building, running as fast as her legs would carry her. Only when she was steadily climbing the hill under the cover of moonlight back to the two boulders did Chloe slow her pace to catch her breath.

The two boulders were within reach when she heard a low growl coming from behind her. Looking over her shoulder, she came face to face with a creature straight from her nightmares. Scar tissue covered its eye sockets, yet Chloe felt trapped within the creature’s gaze. Long fingers and toes ended in jagged claws that matched its mouth full of blood-stained teeth. The two slits on its face contracted as it took a deep sniff of the air. Loose rags that resembled some sort of uniform hung from its shoulders.

She took a small step back, snapping a twig beneath her boot. Clenching her jaw, she held her breath and felt her heart beating loudly in her ears. Cold sweat broke out over her neck. The thing’s nose slits twitched once before it lunged forward in an uphill charge. Turning, Chloe grimaced as she jumped through the two boulders and fell through the entrance back into the caves. Her knees buckled under, sending her head first onto the stone floor. The pain knocked the breath from her and sent her head spinning so hard she almost didn’t hear the loud beeping above her. A loud shriek echoed above followed by a hissing sound and the stench of burning flesh.

“Go Gramps.” Her knees were shaking but she managed to push herself to her feet and limp off through the caves. Within a few minutes, she emerged into the fully lighted tunnels to find Oliver sitting against the wall, fast asleep. When she came running through, Chloe dropped to Oliver’s side and started shaking his shoulders.

Through the haze of sleep, Oliver recognized Chloe and snapped awake. “Do you have any idea what time it is?” He then noticed the trickle of blood coming from her forehead. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Yeah, my bad I know, but listen, you’re never going to guess what I found!”

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