There are things you just can’t escape
The bunker was cool, with long concrete hallways. Usually a place like this would be bustling but at the moment sound was hushed. People with guns, the sort you didn’t cross, filled the hallways. Some looked strangely awkward, shuffling booted feet. Others looked tense, alert, on edge. There were even some, though not many, with an eager glint in their eyes. They were all waiting, as if the entire complex was holding its breath.
He’d passed them all while being led through the halls by a tiny older woman. The criminal element always took the best places in any town. This bunker was underground where it was cool, and well defensible. It was a bit of a labyrinth if you couldn’t remember your way. Most non-gang members who ended up down here never saw the light of day again.
Luckily, he was in a special position. News of a doctor in town spread fast, and he’d been brought down here with promises of reward. It was the leader himself, who was barely able to croak all that he’d give him if only he could somehow restore his health. The man was sick, far more than he had the ability to heal. In the old days he could have brought him back with a laying of hands and a little magic, but even with the supplies the raiders thrust into his hands, there was nothing he could do.
He tried his best for several hours, administrating what treatment he could, but it had only delayed the inevitable, and his patient had given up the ghost soon after. There had been witnesses the entire time, to assure he didn’t try anything bad. The mood had been tense, oppressive, and it broke the moment he announced the death. Almost moments after another had stood up, proudly proclaiming to have taken his place. He must have had a strong claim to the position, since no one yet challenged him. There was shouting, and wailing, as the news spilled into the hallways. It was a mess, but it wasn’t his mess, and he ignored it all, as he packed his bags to leave.
When he was done, he sought out the man who had proclaimed himself leader. He was huge, and burly, no doubt powerful. When he asked about payment the other man laughed in his face.
“He died. Like hell we’re going to pay you.” After a moment a rather evil grin curled his lips. “You did try, though. Speaking of a doctor, why don’t we just keep you here? No need to go tracking you down constantly. Would be nice to have a dedicated doctor, just for us.”
Seibel wasn’t afraid of men like this. It wasn’t that he was particularly strong, or powerful, though his skills did give him some immunity. It was more that he simply didn’t care. His expression was deadpan, giving little away. “I’ll not serve you. I won’t work if you hold me here.”
The man was clearly displeased by that answer, and he took a step forward, perhaps thinking his physical presence would do the trick. When that didn’t produce a response he sneered. “I doubt you’d be saying the same if shot you in the leg, or cut some bits off that old body of yours.”
“I still wouldn’t work for you.” He returned, the threats meaning little. What did it matter if he died here? He was nothing. Just a wretched man without a purpose. His death would do nothing but leave one less doctor in the world.
“Then what the fuck good are you?” The man lifted his gun, holding it just inches from his face. Some of the other raiders also aimed their weapons at him, but held their fire for the moment. “We might as well kill you now.”
“Then go ahead and kill me.” Seibel looked down the barrel pointed at his face with what appeared to be apathy. The raiders looked unsure. If he was calling their bluff he was doing a damn good job of it. Perhaps he really didn’t care if he lived or died. A man like that could be dangerous.
The leader scowled, forcefully pushing the barrel against the doctor’s forehead, grinding the metal into his skin. The action didn’t even produce blink, which was unnerving. His finger tightened on the trigger a moment, but then he cursed and put his gun down, indicating for the rest to do the same. “You’re fucking lucky you’re more valuable alive than dead. Now get out.We’ll find you when we need you.”
Seibel didn’t hesitate, knowing when it was best to be gone. Once again his skills had saved him, and the raiders had been wise enough to see having a live doctor in town was better than a dead one in their base. He remembered the way out, and he hurried from that place, surprisingly glad to see it behind him.
Outside, the sky was dark, a heavy storm brewing. Despite his previous calm, he felt as if he’d been suddenly struck, the realization that he’d been that close to death gripping him hard. He lurched away, ducking into an alley, his knees suddenly feeling weak. Why, after all this time, had he been affected like this? He thought he was beyond caring what happened to him.
He looked up at the sky. The roiling storm clouds formed into dead faces that swam in his vision. The rumbling thunder became a cacophony of chastising voices. Wind whipped around him, feeling like so many hands plucking and pulling at his hair and clothes. He let out a groan, covering his eyes with his hands. Even in the darkness he could see their faces. It seemed the dead weren’t done with him yet.
What was he doing with his life? He’d been ready to die in that moment. Part of him had wanted it. But he’d never been that close before, never felt that sure someone was going to pull the trigger. How was he honoring those he’d betrayed by giving in so easily? If he just laid down and died to scum like that he might as well have been betraying them all again. They’d fought, suffered, and died. He’d done none of that.
He rubbed his eyes until he saw spots and looked up again. The clouds swirled wildly, and oddly parted for but a moment. The sun broke through, briefly blinding him, and he could swear for a instant he could feel its heat. It seemed so odd. What, or who, could part the clouds? A thought began to form in his mind, small, but insistent, like a pebble in your shoe. He could have sworn he felt something moving deep down inside of him. He needed to change, to seek the light.
He thought it was, perhaps, time to get out of town.
The man had a motorcycle with a sidecar. It was an unusual sight, but he’d welcomed it, since it meant he didn’t have to spend the ride pressed up against a stranger. He’d set a broken leg for this ride. You could get a lot if you had skills most others didn’t. Long ago he would have found using his skills as a doctor to barter for services abhorrent. This land wasn’t that forgiving and he’d long since stopped letting it bother him.
He settled down low in the carriage, a borrowed pair of goggles pulled over his eyes to keep the dirt out. The dull landscape flew by as they raced over the flat ground. He hardly saw it. The world was broken, shattered, and he doubted there was any way for it to be mended. Even if, some day, something came out of all of this waste, it would always hold the cracks of the fall. Some things could never be fixed.
In the past this might have felt like running. It was far from the first time he’d skipped out of a town, seeking something new. This was something different. He’d spend days in isolation after the incident in the bunker, most of those given over to prayer. It had been so long since he’d prayed, but he’d opened himself up completely, and felt himself filled with the divine. He’d known then what he had to do.
It took them half the morning to reach their destination. He’d heard about the church from some of the locals, and knew it was where he belonged. It was little more than ruins. There was a hole in the wall that would have taken a work group to fix, and would likely decay more over time. The garden was filled with desiccated weeds, the iron fence having been stolen away at some point. Inside he found water warped pews, broken tiles, and shattered windows. There was a basement that smelled of something rotting.
But, there was an altar with a most intact statue of his god. The basement could be cleared, the weeds in the garden pulled up. And there were still various shards of colored glass left in the window frames that left dancing patterns on the floor when the sun shone through them. There was beauty here. It was a holy place, where he could be shriven.
His ride had remained, standing in the rubble of the collapsed bit of wall, in case the strange doctor changed his mind. When the old elf informed him that he’d decided to stay the question had finally tumbled from his lips.
“Why you want to be out here anyway? Ain’t no way for a man to survive.”
Seibel stood among the ruin, the sun painting his face with a myriad of colors through the glass. A knowing smile touched his lips. “I’ve come to learn there are things you just can’t escape, no matter how far or fast you run. So why not turn and embrace it? It’s far past my time to.”
The answer didn’t seem to really satisfy, and his driver had eventually wished him luck and left him to it. As the sound of the engine rumbled away into nothing he turned to look in at his domain, feeling more content than he had in a very long time.