The Zalozhniy Quartet

Memories of those left behind

Katya and Yakovlev ran on through the rough tunnels. The adrenalin and blood loss were beginning to take their toll on him, he was running ragged. Katya ran alongside, listening. Shouts and shots were fading behind, echoing.
Yakovlev stumbled, but recovered. Katya slipped off the heavy, dirty coat and dropped it. She pulled Yakovlev’s arm over her shoulders and took some of his weight. It couldn’’t be far now to get out.

A memory had been trying to get her attention, but she’d been blocking it. No time for distractions in combat. Her legs settled into their running rhythm, moving automatically.

The dead Spetsnaz.

The childhood memory flooded in before she could stop it.

Orphanage No. 2, the top dormitory. Dark. Luka was still there, sat on his bed, he’s telling them another ghost story. Aleksandr’s holding her hand tight in the dark, frightened. She must have been nine, maybe ten?

Scary stories were fun because they didn’t happen, they were stories. Not like the scary things that did happen everyday. Luka’s telling the story of a farmer killed by a thief, who comes back from the dead for revenge and more. He said a word.

Zalozhniye.

A person who died before their right time, and became evil. Who lured the living to premature death, glorying in their suffering. Had her childhood stories come to life?

Yakovlev’s breathing was heavy, he was trying to speak.

“Who, what was that? He looked dead.” He was in shock, his training keeping him moving.

“I don’t know. We’ve seen odd things, people moving fast, time stuttering.” When Volkov died, she had felt the time disconnection again, as when Caroll had died.

A second piece fell into place. After Vienna, she had been trying to understand what they had come across . She had read books by Pier Daelman, a vampire expert, if such a thing was possible. He described a link between the Zalozhniye and Romania, but died in a fire at his house in Amsterdam. The fire service found clocks in every room, the newspaper had pictures of the scorched cogs in the ashes. Time.

She had to get out, get this information to someone. Glancing down a side tunnel she recognised the pattern of a street rain-sewer. Smaller tunnels every twenty feet off to each side of a main tunnel.

She guided Yakovlev into the side tunnel, and stopped, searching upwards. Twenty feet overhead was a metal manhole.

Before thinking, she climbed half-way up the side-wall, jumped and grabbed onto the remains of a rusted fitting next to the cover, swinging. Hanging one-handed, she pushed it up carefully and scraped it over to one side. Streetlight and damp air flowed down through the hole.

She swung, twisted her legs around, and flipped up, out onto the street, scanning. Clear, no-one around.

Yakovlev looked up at her, wide-eyed. “I can’t do that.”

Katya led down on the wet pavement and lowered her arm down to him. “Jump, I’ll pull you up!”
Her hand hung ten feet above his head. He crouched and jumped, but their hands were far apart. He tried again, but was lower still.

“Come back down and I’ll climb up from your shoulders” he said, suddenly scared.

His upturned face was white in the dark tunnel below. Katya’s stomach sank, she knew what she had to do.

“I’ve got to…” Her voice choked off. Chechnya. Vienna. Now Odessa. Why does she always kill Russians, the people she should be protecting?

“No! Don’t leave me! Help me up!” he held his arms up.
She crouched, and slid the manhole back over the hole, his last cry of “Tell my son I love him.” cut off as the cover slammed back into place.

Katya ran on, as far as she could before collapsing, sobbing against a dark alley wall.

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EmmaM

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