Descendants (set after Hope book one)
THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF HOPE
By Reign Atkins
Astrid opened her eyes. The first thing she saw was the dull luminescent glow of the light above her. She looked around, trying to determine just where she was and what had happened.
Her head hurt just to think and as she sat up, she felt the tugging of the IV cable that was connected to her wrist. Confusion sunk in.
She realized that she was in a hospital room, in a city that she was not familiar with. Carefully, she disconnected the IV from her wrist and used every ounce of her strength to move her legs to the side of the bed.
Her body was draped in a pale blue hospital gown and her clothes were nowhere in sight. Modesty was not her current priority as whoever had been working on her was not in the room, now.
Astrid shuffled to the edge of her bed, until her bare feet met the cold marble floor below and with one big heave she pushed herself to stand.
Her whole body ached, her stomach, her head and her legs were all jelly. A sudden crippling pain throughout her body made her fall, ending with her head being smacked against the metal wheeled trolley, beside her. The trolley rolled a little, making her all the more unsteady.
She crawled to the nearby chair in a second attempt to get to her feet, using the chair for support. With all her strength, she managed to climb up and sit in the blue chair. She was safe for now. She needed to get out of this room and she needed answers.
Astrid glanced back over at the trolley. She knew that she didn't have enough strength to stand, let alone to walk by herself. She pulled it close to her and leant on it, using it as a walking aide.
Her legs were still a little unsteady, but at least she had mobility. She pulled the robe tightly around her naked body for comfort, and leant her weight on the metal frame, making her way towards the closed glass door.
Wedging the trolley up against the wall, she brought her right hand to the door handle and with all her might and a sigh of relief she managed to open it.
In the dimly lit hallway, the distant sounds of voices could be heard and they sounded vaguely familiar, but Astrid's head hurt far too much to provide her with the answers.
The trolley made a squeaky noise, as she wheeled it through the hallway, following the sounds of the voices. Her instincts promised that she could trust whoever the voices belonged to.
As she made her way towards the nurse's station, she could see numerous silhouettes. They were people talking. No, they weren't talking, they were arguing. Two men and three women. One of the men was holding a small child in his arms.
"We're safe here! We shouldn't be risking her safety or my daughter's safety just to venture out there!" Cruz shouted.
"Do you really think that I want to, Cruz? I love her just as much as you do!" Samuel said angrily, "But, it's just a matter of time before we're chased by another cyclops... or hell... who knows... maybe even Medusa!"
"Don't you even try to tell me that you love..." Cruz stopped midsentence as his daughter started to cry. He attempted to calm her down.
"...Now is not the time to argue!" Tash told them, calmly. She looked up, seeing Astrid in the distance for the first time. "You guys... look!" she gasped. The group turned to see her standing in the distance, depending on the trolley to keep her balance.
"Astrid!" Hannah gasped as she, Stacey and Tash ran to her aid. Astrid remained quiet but her eyes were focused on the child in Cruz's arms. It was her child and she barely looked older than a year.
Everything was all coming back to her. She should have been dead, but she was alive. None of it made any sense.
Hannah led Astrid over to a nearby chair and started assessing her. "Are you okay? Do you know where you are?" Hannah continued to ask her questions as she checked over Astrid’s physical and mental wellbeing.
"Hannah?" she asked, turning to face the doctor, "I should be dead. What the hell happened?"
Since the day that Astrid and Cruz had been taken captive in the ruins of Olympia by the cultists, the world began to change. While the Seven Deadly Sins Curse had been broken, creatures began to emerge into the light of humanity.
It was as if a gateway had been opened, springing forth creatures from the myths of old.
Since Pandora’s box had first been open, there was another threat to mankind.
Aside from the child that had been born to Astrid and Cruz, humanity had grown infertile. Which would ultimately lead to the end of mankind for good.
Samuel had taken to leading the group, just as Cruz had taken up his new role as a father. Despite their differences, the group worked together ensuring their own survival in this new post-apocalyptic world.
Even Washington had fallen into a state of chaos. It had been terrorized by giants. Humanity was falling fast into an extinction.
As Hannah went over Astrid's vitals, Stacey and Tash delivered a full in depth explanation of the past year. They had already assisted her into some comfortable clothes.
"That just doesn't make any sense!" Astrid said trying to come to terms with everything that they had told her. "You're telling me, that since I died we have been hunted by mythological creatures and that my child was the only baby born since the pithos was opened... Hannah, can you please give me something for my sudden headache?"
"Sorry, Astrid... But it's the truth." Stacey said, as Hannah handed her some pain meds and a cup of water. "So, a cyclops?" Astrid asked them, after she had swallowed the analgesia.
"With one eye... yep..." Tash said casually, "...oh and it gets worse... Cruz and Buzzkill haven't stopped fighting over you since the day you, well... since the day that your baby was born..."
"You guys I'm alive... it's okay, you don't have to beat around the bush... just say it... I died!" Her friends looked at each other and then embraced Astrid in a big teary hug.
"Okay, okay, okay!" she laughed, shaking them off. "Hey! You never gave me the explanation as to why I'm alive! How do you go from being pronounced dead one minute, and then alive the next? I'm not a zombie, am I?"
Tash laughed and then looked at her sternly, "God, I hope not... just let us know if you get a sudden craving for brains, okay Sutherland?"
"We don't actually know why you're alive. Cruz would be the best person to ask..." Hannah said, "...he kept saying something about hearing voices right before your pulse returned. He wasn't willing to leave your side for a minute."
Astrid thought for a moment, she remembered one thing as clear as day. Cruz had told her that he was a descendant of Zeus. "Well then, maybe, I should ask him." She said under her breath.
"Here's your chance." Tash said, "He and Buzzkill are standing right outside the door... with your beautiful daughter, whose name is Hope, by the way..."
Astrid, who was sitting on the bed, stared through the glass door at the two men deep in conversation on the other side. But her eyes fell to the beautiful baby that Cruz was holding in his arms. She barely looked a year old.
"Do we let them in?" Tash asked.
"As long as we keep them separated from each other." Stacey said. "Maybe they should take it in turns visiting her."
"It's fine... let them both in." Astrid said.
Hannah walked towards the door and opened it, "Well then... maybe we should leave you guys in peace!" she said. "We should go and check on Joey. He's keeping perimeter watch."
"Don't say we didn't warn you..." Tash added as she leant over and hugged Astrid again. Stacey also gave Astrid another hug and then followed Tash and Hannah out the door.
Samuel and Cruz both stared over at Astrid in amazement as they entered the room. The fact she was awake was simply a miracle to them both.
Cruz entered the room first. "Wow... I still can't believe that you're okay!" he sighed in relief. He kissed her on the cheek and sat beside her on the bed.
She didn't react to his affections, instead she kept her eyes focused on the child. "This is our daughter, Hope!" Cruz told her, noticing her gaze. He handed over the beautiful dark-haired child.
Astrid held the baby in her arms, and knew that it was love at first sight. But, then she looked up at Samuel, who had remained standing, the whole time.
He smiled at her with that simple reserved smile. "Welcome back to the land of the living. I've missed your cover fire and your blatant disregard for the rules." He joked, thrilled that she was awake.
She resisted the urge to stand up and embrace him, instead she just smiled and looked back over at Cruz. "How am I even alive? Hannah said something about there being whispers?"
Cruz nodded, his eyes turned from her and focused onto the floor for a moment. "I'm not sure. I still haven't figured it out yet. But, at least you're awake... The Seven Deadly Sins curse is over and now we can be a family!"
Samuel held his breath, as if Cruz's words had cut him even deeper than any knife ever could. He needed to say something, "Cruz... the curse isn't over! This isn't the time to rest, we have a mission for self-preservation and you know that!"
"Stop being a General Buzzkill! Astrid's awake, we can at least celebrate that for the moment!"
"You guys, stop arguing!" Astrid told them. "What's going on? What's all this about mythological creatures?" she directed her gaze back onto Samuel for an explanation.
He pulled the chair over and sat across from her so he could speak to her at eye level. "It's chaos out there. We thought that it was just the Seven Deadly Sins that came out of Pandora's box, but it was a whole lot more.
The world's not what we once knew. We've seen everything from Centaurs to Cyclopes and they're hunting down mankind. Humanity’s becoming extinct!"
Astrid gasped. "Centaurs? Actual centaurs?"
Samuel nodded, "Mm Hmm! They're not easy to kill with our conventional weaponry either. We've had to resort to training with swords..."
"Yeah... if the buildings didn't still stand, I'd think we'd taken a trip back through time."
"Was the curse actually broken? Do people still suffer from the seven deadly sins?" she asked him.
"No, they don't." Cruz broke in, realizing the chemistry between Astrid and Samuel. "But, we are safe here for the moment. We're not going to let them come after you... I promise!"
"...Is that like your promise to put your own life before hers?" Samuel asked bitterly. "Because, we all saw how well that went!"
"You guys... Please..." Astrid snapped, as she looked down at her child and held her close. "If you're going to fight, just leave, okay?"
"Sorry," Samuel apologized. "We should start thinking about moving..."
Before Samuel could finish his sentence, Tash and Stacey stormed into the room unannounced, "Quick, The hospital's swarming with ants! We need to fight!" Tash said.
"Ants, Tash? Really?" Astrid laughed.
"Oh, shit!" Samuel gasped. "Sutherland! Stacey! Stay here, keep an eye on the baby! Let's go, Cruz!"
Cruz and Samuel immediately got to their feet and raced out the door with Tash, closing it behind them.
"You guys, they're just ants!" Astrid called out in disbelief. Stacey opened her eyes wide at Astrid. "Oh, these aren't the tiny little ants that you’re thinking about!"
Stacey took the child, assisted Astrid to her feet and brought her to the closed door. "Where are we going, Stacey?" Astrid asked her best friend.
"Just here... have a look through the glass and tell me that those are just ants!" Stacey said, pointing. Astrid did as she said and stared through the glass door, where she saw Samuel, Cruz, Joey, Hannah and Tash fighting at least three bear sized ants in the hallway.
"Oh my god!" she gasped. "Stay here!" she demanded.
"Why? What are you doing? You just woke up from your coma!" Stacey exclaimed as Astrid limped a little to the bedside table. She was pushing through the atrophy that had become of her muscles.
Astrid started opening draws and rummaged around inside, searching for something.
"What are you looking for?" Stacey repeated her question.
"My side arm! Where is it?"
"Astrid, you shouldn't go out there... it's too dangerous!"
"Where is it, Stacey?"
Stacey shook her head in defeat and pointed to the large cupboard in the corner.
"Don't do this! We lost you once! You can barely stand!" Stacey pleaded, still holding the baby in her arms.
Astrid made her way to the cupboard and pulled out her old semi-automatic. She cocked it ready and ran over to the door. "Lock the door after me!"
Stacey was frustrated with her friend, Nonetheless, she did as she was asked, while Astrid ran out of the room, holding up her weapon. She aimed it at the large ants that were attacking her friends.
She missed the first shot, but managed to retrieve her friends' attentions, instead. "Sutherland! What do you think you're doing?" Samuel demanded of her.
"You said you missed my cover fire, so what does it look like?" She continued shooting at the large ant. It shook its head and backed off, giving Samuel the chance to sink his blade in between its head and abdomen, decapitating it. "You're disobeying my orders!" he snapped at her, as the ant fell to the floor.
"Well, at least it worked!" she called back as she offered cover fire for Joey who had fallen onto his back in the middle of the battle. Cruz charged past him and sunk his own blade into the head of the ant that was preparing to eat his friend.
Even Hannah seemed to have learnt how to use a sword over the past year. She and Tash were fighting the third ant. It astounded Astrid just how much the group were working as a team.
Once all three ants had been brought down, Cruz, Samuel, Joey, Tash and Hannah all surrounded her just outside the door to her room. After seeing that it was safe, Stacey also joined them, carrying Hope.
"What the hell were you doing?" Cruz demanded of Astrid. "You just woke up out of a yearlong coma and you're already fighting the Myrmekes? You're just so reckless! We can't lose you again!"
"What did you just call them?" Astrid asked.
"Myrmekes." Samuel said, "That's what those ants are called... but now they've found us, we won't be able to stop them from coming."
"They're clearly looking for those chocolate wrappers that I left last week!" Tash joked. Astrid gave a little smirk at her friend's joke and noticed Joey standing there.
"How's it been?" Joey asked her, "We've missed you!" he gave her a firm handshake that ended in a hug. "It's been as good as it can be... considering I just took a yearlong nap."
"Do you remember anything at all like between the time you... you know, and now?"
"What? Like, if I went to a Heaven or hell?"
"Anything at all?"
At this point the attention of the entire group was on her. She thought back to whatever she could remember. "Not that I can recall. But, don't we have more pressing matters to deal with? How did those ants get through, anyway?"
"One of the side entrances. Someone must have left it open. But, it's okay. I closed it again and there didn't seem to be any more out there."
"Wouldn't they normally be protecting some kind of treasure?" Samuel asked.
"What bigger treasure than a descendent of Zeus and Pandora?" Cruz asked him.
"But they attacked us!" Hannah said. "How's that protecting her?"
"Yeah they did..." Joey declared, "...I was just sitting there, minding my own business and those ants swarmed me like a Sunday afternoon picnic."
"There's no point in us standing around thinking up conspiracy theories." Samuel said. "Our mission is to survive and now that Sutherland is awake we should get moving again, this hospital was only ever a temporary hideout."
"Where too? There's nowhere else to go!" Stacey replied. "We were lucky to find this place."
"Stacey's right." Tash said. "The last town we went to was taken over by centaurs, the town before that..."
"...those giants..." Samuel interrupted, "Yes, I know... I'm guessing we should head out to a smaller quieter town... Those beasts all seem to migrate to the cities..."
"What happened to the President and his men in Washington?" Astrid asked, as she took her daughter back from Stacey.
"We don't know." Cruz replied. "Back, when we ended the curse... Correction, when your death ended the curse... Washington was attacked by giants, we've been on the run ever since."
"It's quite literally a post apocalypse outside these walls. Just as Zeus had wanted it from the start." Samuel remarked.
"Then why do we have to keep running?" Astrid asked, angrily. "All we're doing is letting these beasts cause our extinction! Why don't we just take our home back? We can't let those bastards wipe us out!"
"And how do you propose we do that?" Cruz asked.
"We gather an army. We do what my dad was trying to do. We find a base. We take in survivors. We train them to fight these things! Many is mighty!" she replied, adamantly.
"But, Astrid. Your dad's base was infiltrated from the inside!" Tash argued, "how do we know that it won't happen again?"
"Because we're fighting for humanity's survival! It's a common goal that we should all agree upon."
"I like your way of thinking, Sutherland!" Samuel said nodding. "We're best leaving this city tonight... I'm going to venture out... See if I can find us a mode of transportation. The rest of you, pack your things!"
"I still think that this is a stupid idea!" Cruz argued.
"Well, then... what would you prefer we do?" Samuel asked him. "Stand around and do nothing and let those creatures come after us? To come after Astrid and your daughter? Those ants already made it through these hospital walls... we would stand no chance if we were attacked by a Cerberus or something just as bad, next time... even with our upgraded security."
"But these creatures are Zeus's own creations. Do you really think that raging out war on them is the best decision? It was Zeus that planted the pithos in the first place for revenge. Do we really want to piss him off?"
"But what option does that leave us with?” Astrid argued, “I'm not ready to give into defeat and let these monsters wipe us all out! How long will it take before they hurt our daughter, Cruz? Right now It's the only option that we have left."
Cruz felt defeated, "Alright. We'll do it your way... but I just have a really bad feeling about this."
Samuel said "goodbye" to the rest of the group and left the hospital grounds, leaving them to gather their things.
But, before Astrid could retire to her room, Cruz turned her to face him. "I get that there was something going on between you and Samuel before... well, before we lost you. But, I need you to know that the only reason that I did what I did was because I had no other choice. I loved you then, and I still love you now. In fact, I love you all the more, because you're the mother to my child."
"Cruz... please, I only just woke up from a coma..."
"I get that. I do... which is why I'm going to give you the time to decide what you really want... I'll do anything that you ask of me."
"Okay then, so tell me about those whispers..." she said sternly, as she adjusted the baby on her waist. "The whispers?" Cruz asked her. "What do you mean?"
"The ones you heard when my pulse returned... What did they say? How did they bring me back?"
Cruz pulled an expression. "I don't know. I couldn't understand them." he lied.
"You said you would do whatever I ask... the one thing I want you to do... is to tell me the truth... I know that you know what they said... Please, just tell me." she pleaded.
Cruz stared at her. That was not something that he was willing to tell. "I can't... I wish I could. But I can’t!" She knew that that would be his response, so instead, she took the child and left without giving him a further word.
Cruz, on the other hand went to his own private room and closed the door after ensuring that he was alone. "I can't!" he spoke out loud in frustration, to the whispers in his mind. "Not yet... but, I will, soon!"
There was a sudden knock at the door. Cruz opened it to see Joey standing there. He walked right in and closed the door behind him. "Hey, man. Who were you talking to?" Joey asked.
"Just myself, don't worry."
"I heard your conversation with her. You and I both know that you heard what those voices said. Is it really a secret worth keeping from your best friend and the woman that you claim to love?"
"Joey, I have no choice in the matter. I wish I did."
"Look, if something or someone is threatening you... you can tell me. No matter what or who it is!"
"it's not like that, Joe... If I need your help... I'll ask for it. We should just get ready to leave."
"Are you sure?"
Cruz nodded, “I’m positive!”
Joey gave a simple, "well, okay then!" and left Cruz in the room by himself.
Astrid made her way back into her hospital room and sat on the bed, holding her daughter. Her mind went back to that place in her memories.
The place that she had told her friends that she had forgotten all about. Sure, she had lied to them, but she felt that she had very little choice. She felt that she was going crazy.
That maybe her coma had affected her sanity and that her memories were just hallucinations. That was why she had been determined to know what the whispers had told Cruz.
Astrid closed her eyes and saw clearly in her mind the darkened skies and fiery wastelands. She could hear the sounds of screams and torment all around her as if she was right back there again. She continued to breathe through the experience. They were just memories.
As she had continued to walk through that place, she had seen murky swamps with darkened and dead trees. That place tormented her more than she could ever explain.
She suddenly heard the voice of a woman. But she couldn’t quite make out just what the woman was telling her.
But then, the voice of another woman broke into her thoughts "Astrid?" Someone was in the room with her. Astrid opened her eyes and turned around to see Hannah approaching her.
"It's such a relief coming in here and finding you awake and holding your child. It's all any of us have wanted for so long." Hannah said, as she went over Astrid’s vitals. "Are you sure that you're alright? There's something off about you."
"Well, I did just wake up from a coma." Astrid said casually.
"I suppose so. Still, if you need to talk about anything..."
"Hannah... I know, I have you and the rest of the group. But I'm fine... aren't I? I'm assuming all my vitals are all normal?"
"They're all very good. You have very fast healing, in fact... and the way you were able to go right back into combat earlier... well, I never believed in magic until the pithos was opened... but..."
"I get it... I'm right there with you... I've always been such a skeptic... but, it's so hard to not believe in magic, when we just fought giant ants... unless the scientists are doing some pretty crazy experiments."
Hannah laughed at Astrid's joke. "Just wait until you see a Centaur. All that doubt goes right out the window. They are just so majestic... yet so... fierce. Samuel fought one and was almost killed... but somehow they both walked away with a truce."
"I would have loved to see that."
"It was pretty remarkable. I should probably get back to packing. I'll see you out there okay?"
"Sure thing." Astrid smiled as Hannah left the room. She continued to hold her child as she tried to think back to the wasteland memories, which continued to offer her no clarity, whatsoever.
One thing that she did know, was that if those wastelands were a memory and not a hallucination, well, she had never been there in her whole life... But just maybe, she had been there in her death.