The World After

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  1. "Woah, I am really something amazing..." Lin thought bitterly annoyed at herself, as she rubbed her eyes and looked through the haze-engulfed window "Even if the world is coming to an end, I still managed to oversleep. That's really next level of talent!".

    Despite what she said, the girl kept lying motionlessly in the large king-sized bed, covered in silk bed curtains and linen blankets, which were surprisingly warm, despite the building's central heating having stopped working long ago. Whoever owned that apartment previously must have been helluva rich, for the walls to be decorated in original oil paintings and the huge, bended, flatscreen TV to be taking half of the wall in front of her. Well... it used to take it, at least - the first thing Lin had done upon entering the room was to smash it completely to pieces - an act of brutal vandalism that had felt surprisingly pleasant albeit somewhat cringy.

    It had been as if she was smashing her own old life, wrecking it into thousand worthless pieces with each blow. A part of her felt guilty for doing it - a reminiscence of the distant guilt she felt towards forsaking her own "old world" . Nevertheless, the new reality demanded it, if she was to ever be safe - for some reason beam technology, especially the newer ones, were somewhat of a magnet for... "Hmm, I don't really have a name for them yet, do I? I have to make one up sometime...". In any case, her best suggestion was they were also somewhat reactive to electromagnetism, just like humans subconsciously were.

    Whichever the theoretical cause, in practice, she had managed to secure herself a safe asylum from the horrors of the white fog of death that had occupied the outside world. Even if that was but a temporary sanctuary. She looked through the window again - how much time had it been? She lost track after about a week or so, when her third phone's battery had died, without a means of being recharged or replaced, but if she had to give it her best guess, Lin would suggest more than a month, since it all begun. In any case, it had been long enough for her to be able to learn to tell the time by the quantity of light, shimmering through the fog. Who would know that living in the smoke of Beijing would be so useful at some point - lifesaving even!

    Thinking of her home city inevitably invited an array of unpleasant concerns, about the state of her home and what had transpired with her family - all questions, which Lin would rather avoid having to dealing with. She had survived by pushing them away from her conscious mind and intended to do so, for as much as she could – weakness and sentimentality were not something that would keep you alive for a long time in the world after.

    The Chinese girl left the warm embrace of the bed sheets and headed to the mirror on the other side of the room. She could have as easily used the huge glass window overlooking the white emptiness that the fog was, but consciously choose not to – she had seen her fair share of people who got decapitated as a consequence of that exact same action – there were creatures, especially as high above ground as where the flat was, which could become almost indistinguishable from the mist surrounding them… and they also loved to play games with their -poor victims. In fact, she had reasons to believe that one of the reasons for her being alive and well now, was winning in one of those games.... but that was all a matter of speculation, of course. She shrugged, as she walked across the room - there was nobody to share the consensus of reality with, so actually whatever she believed was the ultimate truth... The concept was both scary and empowering when she considered this is how the things might be from now on.

    The girl spent some time on front of the mirror, studying the mist behind the glass, ignoring her own face, but couldn't spot any movements. Well, who knew if they even needed to move, perhaps there was something in that white, inexplicable doom that was transfixed on her the entire time she was asleep and if so, the best thing she could do was not worry about it too much and stay clearheaded. That has kept her alive thus far, at least.

    Giving up on studying her surroundings, Lin looked at herself – her medium height allowed her to reach just enough of the high mirror to explore her facial features – a fair complexion and a skin, that bore some bruises and scratch marks – most of those – self-inflicted while she was trying to squeeze through tight spaces. Her expression was commended by a set of green eyes – incredibly unusual in her race and not so unusual in her father’s family three. Her features had suddenly looked better, back when she could use products to enhance them, but looks didn't count for much in the world after anyways. Her nose and lips were both small, her teeth irregularly shaped, since as a child she had sternly refused to wear brackets. Lin touched a strand of her longish hair that she had bleached into blond. The structure was messy and the tips - uncut, while her hair in general looked as if birds had been nesting atop her head for quite some time. It was strange how much she had neglected to care about it, so as not to even notice. The timespan of this apocalypse wasn't even too large yet, and she had already begun forsaking what used to be routine habits in her life before - quite fascinating. This got her thinking of how much her personality had also changed, or would also change? Well... so far that personality of hers was more suited for the world after than the one before, which could mean one of two things: either she had either not changed at all yet, or - what was scarier - she had changed so rapidly she was unable to recall her previous persona.

    "What's a person, anyways?" Lin asked herself, as she begun to strip - carelessly throwing away all the clothes she had slept with, immediately in front of the shower, which was located in the bedroom for some reason. She had slept with the clothes, using her backpack as a pillow (thank god she had used a regular school backpack to carry her staff as opposed to a fancy purse or a handbag, right!), so that she could immediately bail out, or otherwise react to any sort of a threat, but since one was unlikely to approach right now, she intended to make full use of however few moments of tranquillity destiny threw at her, as it was highly unlikely for her to be able to enjoy a lot more of these. "A person, if we look at it from a materialistic perspective would be that body. But this is incredibly limited perspective - after all a person is so much more than their body... But even the body is a very good metaphor for everything else in general..." no hot water - of course, there was hardly any electricity to keep it warm, what the hell did she expect. It wasn't icy cold either, though it certainly felt like this on her skin at first, as she grinned her teeth and begun washing her hair with the peach-scented shampoo she had found - she hated peached, but beggar couldn't be choosers "So, even the body - it was made of cells which had changed several times over during my lifespan. Technically, all my cells now are different - clones, in fact, of the original ones. Yet their retain original information, so, at my core I am information. DNA. But even then, my "information" has changed so much. My five, ten and seventeen year-old selves have so much more in common with any other Beijingese girl at that age, than with who I am now, that it is almost impossible to make the connection. So am I, in fact? Am I the girl attending her first cram school, having her first period, getting drunk at parties, or am I who I am now? My current self has no more integrity in its claim over being the person named Lin Zhao than any of the others. So, in that line of thoughts, is there even such thing as change? Isn't it just an eternal process of -becoming... or am I changing back into what I am, for that matter?" Lin turned the shower off - the relativity of everything was really beginning to get to her, and with nobody to talk to, or no distractions whatsoever for the moment, it did seem as if she was doomed to ask herself those questions over and over again.

    Exiting the cold shower flushed her with even more cold, as the passive breeze of the apartment, which she had previously neglected to nice, had completely overwhelmed her. She begun dressing up, without even waiting for her body to dry out - after all, who knew when if she wouldn't need to be on the run again in a mere seconds - the comforts of completely dry, new set of clothes was something that had been alien to her for quite some time now and she intended to keep it that way, lest she grew too soft and had to re-adjust to the harshness of the world after once again.

    Almost dressed up, Lin began looking for a piece of cloth to dry her hair with, because she knew all too well already, that low noises and high-frequency sound waves seemed to attract... them... more than anything else, so even if she had found an automatic hair-dryer on batteries, she wouldn't risk using it. Failing to find one, she just grabbed the bed curtains - it's not like she was ever likely to use them again, and begin wiping her wet hair, when she pulled it too much and knocked her bag on the floor. It was unzipped, so the Tarot deck, neatly bound together with a pink rubber band and located on top of her stuff, fell on the ground, immediately in front of her.

    Lin gradually slowed down wiping her hair and begun staring at the deck. Could this be a sign, or was she imagining stuff? It was unbecoming of an economics major to show interest in quantum theory, but while most of her colleagues and acquaintances would find that tolerable, they would hardly ever condone her recent delving into the occult and into some of the ancient divination systems. That's why she has kept it hidden, going so far as to be forced to print out her occult literature with different covers at the university printers. Yet, all throughout, she had grown more and more assured of the fact, that blind fate was for the fools. The night before it all happened - the night, when doom begun, she had felt the urge to do a reading and had to confine herself to the bathroom, out of fear of her rommates noticing it and the result of that divination kept her up the whole night, which had saved her life in more ways than one. She had spent enough time studying the arts, to know all too well, that sometimes it was your own higher self pushing you towards doing something and moments such as that one were a confirmation of that. And yet... it was too often that practitioners, good practitioners in particular, would fall victim to their own arrogance and believe they could tell when that was happening all the time, while in fact, they were overinterpreting unrelated, or even random events. Such as the deck falling off her bag.

    And yet... Lin felt her hands had long ago stopped wiping her hair and she almost felt as a foreign observer, as her still wet fingers extended towards the deck. She lifted it up to her face and begun toying with the rubber band with her nails. Was she actually going to do it? Make a divination right here and now, at this apartment? Hadn't she spend too much time at this place already. Logically, it was dangerous, but logic was just one of the many tools available to an occultist. She had managed to spend the night and a significant portion of the day - it was already past noon, as she judged by the sunlight - in this place, managed to take a shower and even spend some time debating existential questions with herself - all of those were actions any sane, sound-minded survivor would shun. Most people dreaded entering the cities at all, in fact, because after all - the fog begun in the cities first and the feeling of death was creating a terrifying aura. Yes - the feeling, for all other aspects of the thousands of deaths that had occurred - the bodies, the blood and the destruction, were either gone, vanished, or rather - wiped without a trace, or simply hidden mercifully into the white oblivion that never seemed to disappear. Yet, that aura never stopped Lin, who was used, throughout her life, to her actions being at odds with what the majority of people were thinking or even considering as right, sounds, moral or reasonable. She had judged, that since most people would dread coming back into the cities, if those things lurking in the mist were in any way interested in humans, they would follow them out... besides, who is to say they didn't feel the same dread, or maybe even guilt, over all the death they had caused. Above all, by entering the city, she had escaped all the hustle and even the downright danger of having to deal with scared to death humans - this apocalyptic event would probably provoke both the worst and the best in them and both were stuff she would prefer not dealing with. Besides, Lin judged, that she needed supplies and it was best she got them from the city now, while the threat was still fresh, rather than later on, when others have been forced back, either by greed or necessity - after all, for how long could a bunch of survivors loot the countryside?!

    So far, her hypothesis had proved a 100% correct... not that it would have mattered if it didn't, though - she was practically dead from exhaustion and fear, so by the time she had gotten to this building, she only had the energy to climb as high as possible above the stairs, so as to escape possible other looters, or the ground-dwelling... ones. And having entered this apartment, Lin had judged that it she was going to die in her sleep, it might as well have been in a bed, rather than on the floor, if the only reason for choosing the other was clinging for the meagre hope that she may not be noticed from one of the huge glass walls. Nevertheless, night would soon be upon her and moving throughout the fog would become almost impossible and she wouldn't risk spending two nights at the same building - just in case those... things either routinely checked in for some reason, had noticed her at all, or were able to catch her scent (hopefully the last one wasn't true, considering her hair smelled strongly like peaches now!). No, spending even more time in this place would seem like almost asking for trouble, after all of this.

    But still... Lin realised, she had been holding onto the deck for quite some time now so the cards were already saturated with her energies and with her immediate dilemma. That thought was enough to tip the scales - her fingers undid the band and she frantically shuffled the deck, shooting one last stare at the window, before committing to the draw, having noticed nothing outside once again. As usual, she felt a short trembling at the tips of her fingers, which quickly passed and a stone-like stillness and confidence settled in. Just like always, she felt quite nervous about her draw - she knew, unlike some others whom she knew had tried their hand at divination, that she had to accept the initial draw - always and without question. Deciding on another one was the most foolish mistake an one could make. She hadn't asked the cards a particular question, because it wasn't her, who was initiating the communication... well, it wasn't that part of her, which was conscious of the person named Lin Zhao, at least. The communication was going the other way around. Lin placed her finger on the top card - she didn't pick it up immediately, but didn't hesitate for long either. With a single, graceful move of her hand, she took the initial card and placed it, face up, right in front of herself.


    Lin smiled.

    Death - the 13th of the major Arcana. Many people, beginners above all, flipped out when they faced this card, because the skeleton did indeed look creepy, plus the very vibration was not the most pleasant one. Yet, change never was. Unlike how many used to sugar-coat it, Death could very well simply mean to expect death, however more often than not, it implied change, an inner awakening of self-awareness - all those unpleasant stuff which were even more unpleasant than the actual death, to many a folk. Being caught in the inescapable, going through the vicissitudes of life was the meaning she inferred right now. Of course, with everything going on, it was to be expected that Death would reign over her draw, especially given the general system she was utilising right now. But she didn't smile because of that - she had smiled, thinking how much of an ironical joke of fate it would have been to die, but be warned about it a mere moment before it happened.

    The Chinese girl didn't move immediately for the next card, instead she persistently eyed the one in front of her. It could very well be, that the cards were designed to be an optical illusion, however to an experienced user, those were often likely to show additional details, as one looked at them. That argument would sound ridiculous to any reasonable individual, of course, but she was 100% confident it was true. A few seconds passed and no particular detail was revealed, but just as she moved to take the second card, just in that tiny fraction of the last moment, two major things happened:

    She heard a sound, not from behind her, but rather - from the front - as if someone was moving through the building, walking over the staircase and the sound was coming from the front door of the apartment, which she had been unable to close back, after she broke it to enter.

    And the face of Death did seem to extend into a suggestive, promiscuous smile.
    #1 Archmage, Feb 1, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 1, 2016
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