The story so far:
She shuddered, sticking to the shadows between the buildings. Renni desired above all else to avoid hoarders and Mongerers alike. Racing to another hotel, she ducked inside the employee entrance and down the stairs. She knew where there was one last stash of food. She would need it. She couldn’t stay in the city. Not any longer. She had to leave.
It had taken Renni nearly thirty minutes to unlock and open the bathroom door. From what she’d seen through her tiny mirror, nothing remained of the Mongerers. No red light. No writhing half insect half machine parts strewn across the hotel room floor. Not even a tiny, furry, octi-armed, octi-legged, fanged creature. Nothing.
At first, the only reason Renni had left that hotel bathroom was the possibility that the Mongerers would return. She realized after searching under the door that they must have left, perhaps to follow whatever it was that had caved in half the bathroom. When she finally did unlock the door and step through, she knew she had to leave. The hotel window and half the room now adorned the street below.
For the next two hours, Renni had practically sprinted to each of her stashes. She gathered what supplies she could before moving on. All her qualms about wearing other peoples’ clothes disappeared in her need to leave the city. She now carried two backpacks, each filled with clothing, food, and any provisions she might need.
Renni emerged in the employee section of the hotel. She’d found plenty of canned goods there a few days ago. She walked into the small cafeteria. Already her leg ached. She limped back into the store room, grateful that the cans were still there.
For the most part, they were too big to carry. That was one of the reasons she did not use the stash before. Most were bulk sized and it would be foolish to grab even one to sustain her on her journey. If she had a vehicle, she might stand a better chance. But hoarders took whatever fuel they could find, just as they took whatever food they could find. Gas and water were the two most precious commodities in the city followed closely by any food. The hoarders used up the food and water. They simply kept the fuel. She hadn’t heard a car engine in three months.
Grocery stores stopped stocking food long before the evacuation began. Looters took what they wanted. There was only so much for the human race to survive on before they left their homes and went to parts unknown. Doomsdayers often targeted grocery or convenience stores.
People stopped traveling. People stopped working at their jobs. In all honesty, their jobs no longer mattered. That was why she searched the hotels. No one had been around to drain the food supplies there as they had in the stores. But now, she faced the dilemma of too big cans. The cans would keep the food for another year maybe. Perhaps longer. But then what. And could she really carry them and the two already full bags? Renni stood and stared at the cans for a long time before searching in and around them. One reasonable sized can of tuna and two smaller cans of milk went into her bag. The rest she left behind.
Renni moved to leave the cafeteria. But she stopped. She could stay. She could camp out there, find some way of blocking off every access point from the Mongerers. She could. But for how long? Had whatever it was not arrived at that moment, she would be dead, another victim of the fireflies’ strange light weapons. How much longer could she survive in the city? She knew she needed to leave. She just didn’t like leaving all that food behind for some hoarder to find.
“I won’t be like them,” she whispered to herself. “I won’t take it all and I won’t destroy it just to spite them. They deserve to live just as much as I do.” But she wondered whether they really did deserve to live. “It’s not for me to decide that.” She walked away.
Up on the main level she found a bar. Hardly any alcohol remained. She wasn’t looking for alcohol. She needed water. She might have overlooked some in her last search. To her dismay, she hadn’t. As she did in the other hotel, Renni walked the floors. With every step she climbed, she felt the pang in her leg increase. By the time she reached the top floor, Renni could barely put any weight on her leg. She touched her backpack but didn’t pull out the rod. Only twice a day, once in the morning to help her walk and once in the evening to help her sleep. She had nothing in her own rulebook that said anything about escaping. She gripped the wall and carefully pushed open a door.
Renni hadn’t searched all the rooms of the hotel before. After finding the food, she had spent the night and then moved on. In her heart, she knew that now she really didn’t have the time to look for anything else. But still, she might find something she needed.
In that room, she found a gun. She didn’t know anything else about it other than it was a gun. A box of bullets sat next to it in the nightstand drawer. She left it. Renni might have learned to use it with time. But that meant experimenting with a volatile weapon and using up bullets for practice. She’d found firearms before. She’d left each and every one of them behind. She felt her leg, swollen again. No, she didn’t like guns.
Two rooms later, she found what she was looking for. She found a pair of crutches. She grabbed them, hefted them and tested their weight. They were metal, not wood. And they were surprisingly light. She wondered why someone would have brought them to the hotel and then left them behind.
By the time she hobbled out of the hotel the sun had already begun its descent. A swift breeze carried with it a penetrating autumn chill. Renni faced the main street that led out of the city. With one last slow turn, she took in the buildings and streets and alleyways that had been her home for three months. Far off she saw the searching lights of the Mongerers. They followed her movements from earlier, going from stash to stash as she had done. Soon, they would follow her trail to the hotel and would search floor by floor as she had. That would buy her some time at least.
Renni thought about using the Harbinger rod early. She felt the night would offer her no sleep. She needed a good head start. But she did not want the Mongerers to sense the device. Not yet. Not until she was at least out of the city. So, instead she grabbed the crutches.
With a slow but determined gait, Renni walked away from the city. Her destination, only God could tell.