The sunlight snuck in between the cracks in the window boards, stealing their way across a small, cluttered room and making their way up to the face of the sleeping occupant. He turned, trying to ignore the light, groaning and cursing as he did. There was nothing for him to work on today anyway. That, and with things the way they were in this rundown part of the city, the less he was around, the better.
He groaned again as his pet ocelot Misha jumped on top of him and began to paw his face.
“Go away Misha. Lemme sleep.”
She just lay down and began to purr, her tail swishing back and forth. He found it very annoying.
“Fine. I’ll feed you.”
He didn’t have much to feed her with. Work had been scarce lately, what with the way things had changed in the last couple of months. Nobody had much use for a radio repairman in a world where electronics no longer worked. Misha sniffed her food bowl and yowled.
“I’m getting there. Sheesh.”
He dug out the last can of cat food, peeled back the top, and unceremoniously spooned it into her bowl. She began to eat enthusiastically.
“You know, I’m going to have to go out now. Out into whatever this city has become. Life was really so much easier before the rift.”
“Gregor, you complain too much.”, said Misha.
“And a lot quieter before you could talk.”
Misha walked over and sat next to his leg, rubbing her face on his pant leg.
“Come on, we’ll go out together. Maybe you can find some work along with some food. I’m big enough now to come along.”
“Are you forgetting that there are other animals out there, not all of them pets?”
“But I’m bored!”
“Better bored than dead.”
Misha began to protest, but began to pout instead.
“Oh hell, I suppose it doesn’t matter anyway. You could probably find food faster than me anyway. Let me get dressed.
Gregor and Misha emerged onto the streets of Krakow, in what was now a poor and run down section. People here struggled to get by, taking odd jobs where they could. The Rift had seen to their state. It had occurred in March 1943 and had turned the world on its head. The war had ground to a halt as communication had failed. Though, with electronics still in its infancy, the world had turned to the only things still working for power. That meant steam, oil, and coal.Those with the means to do so had quickly capitalized on this state, and this sudden imbalance returned the world to the mercy of royal blood. The revolution had been bloody in some areas. Hitler had been deposed as the people capitalized on confusion. Stalin had only managed to strengthen his position, though the satellite states had taken the chance to break off.
Through all of this, people like Gregor were left to fend for themselves, a fact he cursed daily. After all, going from middle-class to baseborn overnight was enough to drive anyone a little crazy. Even with the war, Gregor had managed to hang on to his shop. He had mostly done repair for the Germans after the initial invasion. He had even used information he overheard from some of his customers to feed to the underground. After the Rift, he was no longer needed.
“How long are you going to stand there staring off into space? We do need some daylight to do this.”
“Shut up Misha.”, said Gregor as he opened the door.
Their search took them through some of the more run down parts of the city. They searched abandoned corner stores, which turned up a few tins of cat food and even some drinkable water.
After a few hours they had accumulated food enough for another week for the both of them. Neither of them had really been paying much attention as they searched, and they soon found themselves on the edge of the city proper. They emerged onto what had become a makeshift cemetery with the end of the war and had just ended up becoming the cemetery proper. Gregor watched a crew burying a casket as a few funeral attendees lingered and watched. Soon he was just staring, not really paying attention.
“I suppose it won’t be long and this is where I’ll be.”, said Gregor.
Misha growled and hissed. Gregor laughed.
“What? How much longer can I go on like this? I think I will probably starve before my luck changes.”
Gregor sighed and began to walk into the cemetery. Misha followed, sometimes jumping from headstone to headstone. They both wandered aimlessly, soon coming to wander among older crypts and mausoleums from a previous cemetery. Gregor simply put one foot into front of the other, lost in dreams of a better life, only stopping to gaze back at the towering castle at the city center. Looking something akin to a Victorian castle that had collided with an ocean steamer, it was something he found both odd and beautiful. He could not help but picture himself walking its halls, never having to worry about wanting for anything.
“Don’t torture yourself Gregor. Let’s just get back home before we have to hole up here.”
Gregor chuckled, beginning to walk back, retracing their steps. He looked over the crypts he had previously been too lost in thought to pay any attention to, when something on one caught his eye. There was a mark on one of the crypts that seemed a little out of place. It was part of the design but something stuck out to him. It appeared to be the letter “A” but the cross piece was missing and the bottom legs were curved in. As he approached, he thought he could see a seam on the inner borders of the A that looked like it had been recently disturbed.
“Misha, what do you make of this?”
“I don’t much care what you’ve found Gregor. I just want to get home and curl up on my blanket. My paws hurt and I’m hungry. Just leave it be.”
He knew she was right. There would be plenty of time to come back after all. Something in him just would not let it go though. Besides, he could feel something in the back of his mind that made this seem familiar. So he pushed in the center of the A.
It took quite a bit of force, but there was a click and the center of the A slid outward and then tilted out on hinges. In the opening was what appeared to be a crystal skull. The eye sockets were hollow.
“Well, this might fetch a few coins in the market, eh Misha? Worth taking anyway!”
“I don’t know Gregor. Maybe we-“
But Gregor already had his fingers in the eye sockets and was trying to pull out the skull. There was another click, a whir of clockwork, and the pieces of the skull shifted so that it was now upside-down. Gregor was just about to say something when the ground dropped out from under the both of them.
* * *
Gregor awoke to find himself in a torchlit circular chamber, which was lined with statues. Misha was lying beside him, breathing, but unconscious. His head was ringing and he could not remember how he got here.
As he began to take a closer look at his surroundings, he could see that there was a walkway circling the chamber and as far as he could tell, there was no way out of where he was. He supposed he could climb the statues if he needed to. He thought he heard shuffling overhead but he could not be sure with his head still ringing. He turned his attention to Misha instead.
“Misha? Can you hear me? C’mon, wake up.”
She growled and batted at his hand, but there was no strength behind it, and her claws weren’t out. He supposed that meant she should be out of it soon. At least he hoped that was the case.
“Hello? Is there anyone there? We could use a little help to get out of here.”
Again, he thought he heard shuffling. This time he was pretty sure it was not due to his throbbing head.
“I can hear you up there! Please, help us out of here!”
“You are not supposed to be here, which means you are trespassing. Before we get you out, IF we get you out, you have questions to answer.”
Gregor felt a lump growing in his throat. He was fairly certain he knew how this was going to end, and he did not like that possibility.
“Please, it was an accident, mere curiosity. I will tell no one!”
A chuckle echoed out from the upper level.
“It was too late for that the moment you found our sigil. So, either you were simply curious and you will now find yourself employed, you refuse employment and die, or you are a spy and you die. Whatever the case, we must take our precautions. Especially as we try and figure out what has happened to the world.”
Gregor waited for more, but nothing came. He was not sure what to say in any case, so he just sighed and stared at the wall. Misha began to stir her legs twitching as she began to come to, and then she suddenly jumped up, back arched and growling.
“It’s okay Misha, I’m here, though I can’t tell you where here is.”
She glared at him and scratched his leg.
“I told you to leave it alone! I wanted to go back home! Now where are we!? And where is the food!?”, Misha yelled as she frantically looked for their supplies.
Gregor looked around, searching for the satchel he had used to put their scavenged supplies in. It was missing.
“I’m sorry Misha. If nothing else, maybe you can get out of this. I’m sure it should be no problem for you to climb out of here.”
“No, I’m not going to leave you down here, even though I probably should. I could try and figure out where we are though. Give me just a second to figure a way-“
“Neither of you is leaving the arena until we say so. Any attempt to get out will be met with deadly force, I assure you. Now, perhaps we should get going with this. We certainly have things to do, and I’m sure that you would rather get this over with as well. So, firstly, who are you and why are you here?”
Gregor did not see any choice but to cooperate.
“My name is Gregor Drazek. I was a radio repairman until the Rift. I’m here completely on accident, I assure you. I saw the mark on the crypt and I just thought it…looked out of place. I don’t know why I thought that now.”
“Hmm. An interesting story Gregor, though a bit scarce on detail. Whatever your reason for being here, we still have to be sure. What friends do you keep?”
“I beg your pardon? Friends have been scarce between the war and the Rift. I’ve been by myself since Germany invaded, though I did provide some information to the resistance. After the Rift I found Misha here, but I things have been too chaotic to trust anyone else.”
Misha was pacing a circle around Gregor, staring up into the shadows and growling.
“True, times have been hard here lately. We may have some here who can verify your part in the war but there are other things, other problems, we must concern ourselves with. Our enemies have been pushing forward hard as of late, so we must be cautious. Tell me, have you ever been approached by someone claiming to be from the Templar order?”
Gregor could not help but laugh at that.
“Templar? They’ve been extinct for centuries!”
“They would have the world believe that, yes. They have survived, I assure you, and they have been after control of the world ever since. So, if you have not been approached, and your appearance here is indeed a coincidence we may have a job for you. May I assume you would be interested?”
“As the only alternative is death, I don’t see what choice I have. As long as we are both taken care of, I may as well.”
“Excellent. As soon as you manage to extract yourself from the arena, come and speak with us. You will not have trouble finding us once you are out.”
Gregor sighed and began to look for the best way to climb out. Misha of course had no trouble finding her way up and out. She did her best to direct Gregor up to the surrounding walkway. It took him a good bit of time to get to the top of one of the statues and getting from there onto the walkway took some effort. There was only one door to take.