Kat ran the length of the tunnel, her heavy boots splattering the mud onto her legs. The air swirled around her thick and heavy persistent upon her never leaving this passage. Kat forced her feet forward, blocking out the screams of warning from the volcano with every step she trudged.
Kat stopped just at the edge of the tunnel, still hidden by its darkness she looked out onto the land beyond. Her breath caught in her throat as she struggled to comprehend the sight before her. The landscape that greeted Kat was a daunting one. The ground beyond the tunnel sloped down into a valley that spread for several yards before it flowed out over a rocky terrain riddled with the jagged roof tops of several crooked buildings constructed from faded wood; looking more like houses of cards than anything else. They clustered feebly together against the blazing air and scorching light. They stretched out for miles resembling the abandoned remains of a long demolished city but the faint light visible in the windows of the tombstone houses showed a city reluctant to fall. Too afraid to waver in this land lost underground, lit by the lapping glow of the Screaming volcano. No larger than a wicker candle in the distance, the volcano burned with a hot orange light that reached its flaming fingers out to the somber villages. A gesture of support yet a threat as well.
Kat exhaled sharply. It was strange, even now as she looked out onto this valley it was hard believe it existed. It was so very wrong, contrary to nature. But this cavity in the earth was kept whole, kept strong by some sinister will that thickened the air and tainted the light. It her caressed her face and body as sly as trespassing hands. Soon she felt she would gang on the very air that was keeping her alive. She wanted to rip out her lungs to stop the invasion of her body, to be apart from it somehow but it was smothering.
Kat struggled to breathe the bitter air, her gut twisted in fear. Her entire frame shook with the desire to turn on her heels and run back down that tunnel and ascend to the desert. Run to the safety of the sun, the warmth of family’s smiles, the comfort of their arms. But flames licked at the edges of her Technicolor image of serenity, that same dragon fire that had burned apart her home and propelled her and her family across the desert.
She had to complete what she had set out to do. She’d come too far to turn back.
Kat lifted her chin high and strode down to the foreboding city. She pulled her hood over her face and hid her hair underneath the cloth.
As she entered the city limits the oppressive heat of the land seemed somewhat muted, stilled by the surrounding shambles of housing and small shops. The civilians of the land wandered the sticky roads scavenging as rats, scuttling through the road heads bowed in constant praise of some fearsome demon shown through unwavering fear. They did not look up from their melancholy gaze, they didn't talk to one another, and they kept their limbs and their attention to themselves; even between couples.
Each villager was unique in appearance but they shared an unexplainable commonality, bond by something greater than their individuality that merged them into an almost indistinguishable mass. They scrambled around their village to the unanimous pulse that ebbed subtly through the air, each too afraid to break apart from it.
They didn't look at Kat as she passed. She was as a ghost in their presence and though she had wished to remain unseen she found the ease of her invisibility far more unnerving. She held her gaze to the floor if only to avoid catching sight of the vapid stares that surrounded her. She had no idea where she was traveling to but hurried through the streets just the same looking for a place to hide.
Pressure was mounting inside her. The sulfurous air thick on her neck, the distant screaming of the volcano stinging constantly at her ears, the smell of rot gagging her nose, the haunting stances of the withering passersbys. It was all growing too much, she felt she might explode from the effort of keeping this nightmare from invading her.
Soon she found an alleyway between a butcher store and a faded building that appeared to be abandoned. Kat slipped into the alley rubbing the back of her hands against her burning eyes. She took several deep breathes trying to clear her mind but the air did little to help calm her, it only seemed to irritate her. Kat sighed as she ran a hand through her hair, trying to calm her racing thoughts, control her frantic mind.