The unspoken rules for travelling through the Rubble were simple: go quickly, and go quietly. The first was difficult, as debris lay strewn about the narrow alleys that wound through the glistening heaps of rock fragments. A lot of it was sharp, and a careless stride could leave you incapacitated – something you never wanted to be in the Rubble. The second was almost too easy; the dark aura surrounding the Rubble seemed made for whispers and quiet travel. While sunlight never reached most alleys in the Rubble, moonlight had an eerie way of glinting off the chalky material, making it seem to glow at times. It also created shadows that swirled and formed horrific images to behold. Traversing the ruins in the day was dangerous; attempting it at night was insane. Adam felt he had no choice, however; he had been caught late at the market, and upon beginning his journey home had sensed other presences skulking in the dark. He had always been one to trust his instincts, and so had meandered around a corner and took off on silent feet. He lived in one of the most northern homes, and had a sinking feeling if he took the long way, he wouldn’t arrive. So the Rubble it was.
Wan moonlight turned inanimate ledges and turrets into clawed demons that danced over the ruins as Adam scuttled silently through the alleys. When you grew up in Dome, you quickly learned how to navigate the Rubble; groups of younger children played in there during the day, with relatively no fear of being attacked. Adam knew several paths through the debris to come out at various locations around town; no one knew the entirety – or even the majority, for that matter – of the mass pile of wreckage, but Adam figured he knew almost as much as anyone.
Adam took a left at a three-way fork. Everyone had their own landmarks; for Adam, this one was a brutal looking twist of stone that had always looked like a giant dagger waiting to be thrust down. To him, at least. Anna, his twin, claimed it looked nothing of the sort.
As he was wont to do when traveling through the Rubble, Adam found himself trailing his fingers over the material of the debris – most of it looked extremely resilient, but the whitish-grey stone had a rough, chalky feel to it – and contemplating his problems. He and Anna had always been close growing up – unusual for the children of Dome. They had spent a lot of time together in the Rubble, first playing, then finding paths as they grew older. If anyone knew the Rubble as well as Adam, it was Anna.
Adam paused as another fork in the debris appeared, one path partially bathed in eerie shadow, the other completely dark. He considered. Recently, Anna had been more and more distant. He hadn’t expressed his concerns to anyone, merely written it off as normal behavior for a seventeen year old girl. Now, he had to suppress an inkling of unease that rose in his stomach. He hadn’t seen Anna in a few days; their parents said she was staying at a friend’s home. Whose, they weren’t certain.
Adam firmly shoved the feeling back down into his stomach, then mentally stomped on it for good measure. Yes, Anna had been distant, but they were not only siblings; they were also friends. They had promised to meet each other unharmed in the Stadium, and not try anything underhanded before that. Still, Adam’s senses were screaming that he was in danger. He looked again to the paths in front of him.
The one that was only half dark would wind around some large chunks of greyish stone, and come out on the street just south of his home. The path blanketed in still, silent darkness took longer and was harder to navigate, but came out almost on his doorstep. Normally, the decision was simple; the distance saved wasn’t worth risking a virtually blind walk.
If Anna was waiting for him, Adam decided, she’d be set up along the obvious path. Just to be safe, he started along the dark one. Although it was used very infrequently, Adam had used the path a few times when he was younger, and still remembered the major obstacles. Climb over a rough, rounded piece of stone – it always brought images of a vast pillar to Adam’s mind – walk with hands waving in front to find the overhanging sheaf of stone, and then crawl under it. The stone came so close to the ground that Adam, bigger than the last time he used this route, had to get right down on his stomach and squirm along. Adam offered a silent blessing to the night that he wasn’t afraid of tight places, or all-encompassing darkness.
Clearing the debris, Adam stood up and brushed his pants off nonchalantly. He could see a line of light along the path where the Rubble ended. He strode quickly and quietly along the relatively straight alley, feelings of unease receding. Even if Anna had laid a trap for him, he had avoided it. He probably wouldn’t ever know if taking the dark route had been necessary, but he had escaped the Rubble at night unharmed, and he counted that as coming out ahead. Approaching the mouth of the alley, he paused, resting his hand on a smooth piece of debris.
Gazing out, he was still shrouded in darkness, but could see his home clearly. The second dwelling up, he could see his mother gazing out their window, probably awaiting his arrival. Grinning, he stepped out, raising his hand in greeting. Before his hand got all the way up, however, he felt a hand seize his hair and roughly yank him back. He opened his mouth to shout, but a cold line was suddenly pressing at his throat, and a voice whispered, “Don’t say a word.”
Adam’s mother continued to gaze out the window, apparently not having noticed her son’s brief exposure in the light. He would get no help from her. Feigning confidence, Adam felt at his throat, and recognized the shape of a knife. It was quickly whisked away, and Adam turned to face his attacker.
He found himself gazing into an almost identical reflection of his own. Mousy-brown hair framed an angular face with a nose and chin that jutted out. Adam couldn’t see the colour of the eyes, but knew they were the same deep blue as his.
“Anna,” he said, oddly feeling no fear and asking the first thing that came to mind, “Where did you get a knife like that?”
Anna stared back, silent, shadows flickering over her. Although their features were essentially the same, Adam towered over his sister, and was much heavier as well. He had filled out relatively early, and had always been thick. He knew from experience that Anna was strong for her size, though.
Adam continued to stare at her silently, and Anna apparently felt awkward at the silence, because she finally spoke.
“Adam, I can’t stay in this place anymore.” Anna stared at her feet briefly, knife held by her side. Adam’s instinct screamed at him to run.
“Anna, this is stupid. Let’s go inside,” he said, his confident voice not betraying his frantic emotions inside. He turned to walk out of the alley, and stopped. Several shadows blocked the exit. They had snuck in, probably using the shadow cast by the Rubble as cover. There was no way out. Adam turned back to his sister, who was now looking straight at him, with renewed determination.
“You’re bigger and stronger than me Adam,” Anna said. “There’s no way I’ll win.” She took a step toward him. Adam resisted the urge to step back; this was his sister.
“I have to ensure I’ll win,” Anna continued, continuing to move closer. “I don’t want to kill you, but I have to make sure you can’t compete. I can’t stay here.”
Adam felt debris behind his back, and only then realized he had let his sister back him into the wall of the ruin. His inner voice still screamed at him, and sweat beaded on his forehead. He attempted to smile at Anna, but it kept slipping.
“Come on, Anna,” he said. “Look, if it means that much to you, I’ll let you win.” He wouldn’t – he couldn’t wait to see the world – but it wouldn’t hurt to lead her on a bit, especially if she was willing to go to these lengths. But Anna was shaking her head sadly.
“I can’t trust that you’ll let me win,” she said. “I have to make sure beforehand. I have to cut something in your leg. You’ll live, but you won’t be able to fight. James showed me how.” A shadow at the mouth of the alley shifted slightly. The rustle sounded loud in the quiet of the night.
A single drop of sweat traced a trail down Adam’s face, showing up clearly in the dirt that inevitably accompanied a nighttime crawl through the Rubble. But he wasn’t through, yet; in fact, he thought he knew the way out.
“Anna,” he said quietly, confidently meeting her eyes. “You know there is no way I’ll keep quiet if you do this to me. I won’t pretend this was an accident.” Anna looked away, and Adam felt a trickle of encouragement. He continued. “If you just forget this crap now, I won’t say anything. You and your friends,” – more shuffling – “will be safe. The only other option is to kill me now, and I know you won’t do that.” Adam glanced to the mouth of the alley, gauging his chances of plowing through the shadows gathered there. When he looked back at Anna, she was staring at him again, tears in her eyes.
“Anna, wha-“ Adam began. He cut off as fire seemed to blossom across his throat. He tried to swallow and continue speaking, but all that came out was a gurgle. He put his hand to his throat, and it came away warm and wet. Adam stared at Anna, who had backed away, as all the strength seemed to seep from his legs. He fell in slow motion to the ground, his knees seemingly creating twin explosions in his ears as they struck dirt. The sound echoed in his mind, as he stared up at his twin. She stared back, refusing – or unable – to break eye contact. Adam opened his mouth to try one last time to speak; for a moment, his mouth hung open, and his eyes bulged with effort. Then blood gushed out, and Adam collapsed forward to lie still on the ground. The night was silent again.
After a surreal moment or two, one of the shadows stepped forward.
“Take his valuables, his shoes, everything but his clothes,” a rough voice ordered. “Make it look like a robbery.” Shadows swarmed around the fresh corpse of Adam, as Anna stood by, still staring at her brother. She did not shed a tear, and her knuckles were white from gripping the hilt of her knife so hard. When the task was done, the shadowy figures converged with the blackness of the night and disappeared.