THE LAST TIME
A City of Sundown Roleplay
It was quiet in the city, though he knew it'd be clamorous again soon enough.
The sun was sinking just a little lower with every breath, casting a death sentence upon the concrete. The crumbling buildings and fractured streets may seem gray and still now, but before long it would be alive with moaned whispers and angered snarls as soon as the light leaked away from the abandoned metropolis, leaving only shadows behind. The world that he knew and loved would disappear, if only for the night. And the Infected would soon claim this realm for their own.
But only until morning.
Erskine had to close his eyes and sigh softly, thinking of that phrase. Many cats must have thought the same thing when they heard the Infected outside, or if they were trapped out in the night through some terrible accident. Even his own mentor had told him that line the first time she had taken him outside. Only until morning. Only until morning, and then the monsters would creep away with the shadows and leave the world bright and shining again, and those whose minds were still sharp and thoughtful and alive could run out with returned freedom, and pretend that they didn't live in a nightmare.
But then again... he really shouldn't say nightmare, should he?
I mean, maybe it was a fitting term. At least half of the cats' lives were indeed a living nightmare. But Erskine did find the city beautiful, in its own way. How the dust in the air almost glittered in the right sunlight, or how silhouettes and shadows fit so perfectly together to make a building seem less plain than it really was. How dulled colors of things told of an older time when everything was so vibrant and new... And Cahaya's park, too. He couldn't forget the park and its stubborn grayed tree.
He remembered the night Meesa had taken him out here for the first time, in this very same spot for a number of reasons, the first and foremost one having to do with the guard duty he was training for. The Infected were a jarring sight, and it was important that a cat got used to them so they wouldn't be taken by surprise or paralyzed at a time when they might need their fighting skills to protect someone else.
But Meesa had had other purposes to their sundown-sentry, which she explained to Erskine only after the sun finally rose above the horizon. She'd wanted Erskine to see the city for what it was-- frightening, yes... dangerous, yes-- but beautiful and grand in its own way. After all, the city didn't just belong to the Infected; it belonged to the gangs, too. It was their home, and no one should ever have shame and disdain for the home that gave them life when everything surrounding that home was dead. Or at least, that's what he'd been taught.
The final lesson? To watch the sun rise over the city and banish the Infected for another day... to appreciate the gift that life is, and to realize just how important the sun was in their lives. To understand even more deeply what Suran, the gang of light, stood for and held dearly. And to uphold that in his time as a guard.
Erskine had held all of these memories close to him throughout his life in Suran, and tonight he would be sharing the same lessons with his student, Victor. He had chosen a safe roof to take the young manx on and had led him here, where he would show him both sundown and sunrise in their full glory for the first time.
"What do you think?" he finally said, turning his head only a little to catch whatever the student might say. "And don't worry; the Infected won't reach us here."
Victor blinked up at his mentor, his emotions a dark swirl just being kept at bay by his own fur and bone. He shuffled his paws nervously, but not because of the disappearing sun- for the news he would have to spill to his trusted friend. He bobbed his head letting Erskine know he heard him.
"It's hauntingly pretty up here...." he trailed off eyes sweeping the city's expanse as he thought that tonight would be the hardest night in his life, even tougher than when he had been forced to kill his sister.
He turned his icy blue eyes up in wonder to his mentor, "so we really will be staying up here all night? When you first told me and led me up here I wasn't sure if you were serious..." he paused mulling over his words. "but it's nice, and a good place to talk and learn about the city.... And the infected." he added, his stump of a tail wiggling in anticipation at the dark world, a place he had really yet to see without the danger being too close.
"It's hauntingly pretty up here...."
"Yeah..." he replied, gazing at the city almost wistfully. "That's one way to say it." Erskine could already see just a few stars twinkling dimly in the sunset's wake.
"So we really will be staying up here all night?" Victor then asked as he turned to look at his mentor, who nodded in response.
"All night. But you already know how hard it is to find the entrance, and I blocked it behind us. And it's warm out too. Not a bad night to be out on."
"When you first told me and led me up here I wasn't sure if you were serious..." Erskine had to chuckle a little at that, "but it's nice, and a good place to talk and learn about the city.... And the infected."
Erskine waved his tail once, pelt bristling slightly at the thought of the infected. "True, and that's part of why I brought you up here. I don't suppose you know the history of the city? When the infected were born, when humans finally left... when the gangs first formed...?" He glanced upward and was pleasantly surprised to see that more stars were appearing. "We had to learn from the beginning to rely on each other, you know. That rivalry could only doom us."
Victor shook his head thinking about it hard, but he had only ever heard passing remarks about the stories. Humans were something his parents had spoken of to him though, but only as myths or legends.
He flicked his ears "you mean that humans were really real? And lived here once too?" he asked eyes wide with amazement. He has always written off such a panicy and stupid race as unreal, nothing could live for as long as the supposed humans did if they couldn't even learn to fight and hide from the infected, right?
He looked up at the stars and wondered about another more soothing myth his parents told him. Did those that died really become stars and clouds in the sky to watch over us? It had been a comfort but now, now he didn't really want his sister watching him barely survive. Or this talk, where he would have to disappoint his mentor.
"Erskine, if people really lived here..... Why did they leave? Why flee out of your homes and city and from their lives?" he asked, mind still wondering about from thought to thought.
"You mean that humans were really real? And lived here once too?"
Erskine had to smile just a little, he'd never seen his student so excited about anything. With his wide eyes and eager voice, he looked so much like a kitten.
"Yeah, they were, and they did." The cat turned and gestured to the city. "Humans made everything in this city. The buildings, the roads, the cars. They knew how to make light glow within their homes, so it was if it was still day-time inside, even after the sun had gone down... they took care of cats, too, you know, and others... they were our ancestors' masters, in a sense."
Erskine's eyes wavered into the direction of the now-gone sunset. Some little pinks and oranges remained at the horizon's line, but otherwise the sky was a dark and quiet blue, and the stars had multiplied.
"But then the infected were born..." his voice grew more serious. "No one knows where the disease came from, really. Whether it happened on its own or if the humans had anything to do with it."
"Erskine,"Victor then said quietly, "if people really lived here..... Why did they leave? Why flee out of your homes and city and from their lives?"
The guard closed his eyes. "Because the disease ravaged everyone-- cats, prey, humans themselves-- until those who were still sane and healthy just... left. This home wasn't safe for them anymore, so their only choice was to leave. And they left us behind."
"But unlike the humans, we could survive. And it was only through the strength and courage of the Nighthunter and her student, Stephan... and Suran's first leader, Luke. You may have heard of them, I'm sure. Well... Luke, at least. The other two you might not, since their story belongs to Cahaya." He paused to shake his fur.
"It was Stephan who founded Cahaya, teaching them how to survive in darkness and outwit the Infected. And it was Luke who first taught cats how to work together, and survive in light. But our gangs wouldn't be what they are today if they didn't have the humility to learn from one another. To realize how important it is to work together, to favor friendship over rivalry... " he turned and smiled at Victor.
"And to teach the new generation to take their place when they're gone."
Victor stared at his mentor then to the ground his forehead and nose scrunched up in thought.
"then... how do we know that somewhere outside of the city isnt safer?" he wondered aloud.
"I mean, if the humans left maybe they left and found someplace without this plague." he commented, his brain whirring.
If he could even allow himself to believe that, to think that even just maybe there could be a cure or just a place without this sickness.... or would that just be to much hope.
his brain wanted to tell him that it could never exist that it would be impossible. but his heart wanted to believe. and he wasnt sure what to believe.
"How do we know that somewhere outside of the city isn't safer?"
Erskine's brow furrowed as he turned away, remembering how
he often wondered the same thing when he was younger. It was a ... complicated thing to think about. If there was such a place, was it any better than the City? But then again, nothing could survive out there. Not in the desert, where there was no grass, no living thing but midges, where there was no water to be found no matter how hard one might look.
"I mean..." Victor added, "if the humans left maybe they left and found someplace without this plague."
"I..." Erskine started with hesitation before finally shaking his head. "Many of us have wondered at some point, I'm sure... but the odds surely would have been against those who left." He turned his gaze to the desert far beyond them, the cold wasteland that both shielded them... and trapped them from ever having the nerve to leave.
"There is no water there, in the desert... no shelter... and certainly not enough prey. What would they drink? What would they eat?" His eyes glazed over, deep in thought. "I don't... I don't know how they would survive it. No one even knows how far that desert stretches."
All the same, he didn't like thinking about it, didn't like teasing his thoughts with some fantasy of a greater paradise beyond the desert. No cat could let their mind be clouded with such dreams, when doing that would only make them bitter and drive them mad in their own home.
Home. It wasn't that he couldn't think of it as anything else... but that he couldn't afford to.
Victor nodded his eyes following the sun still wondering.
"But we dont know how long this desert goes on for either. maybe just over the those ridges theres someplace green someplace like that would be better to live then here...." he murmured thinking aloud.
He wouldn't want to die in the desert alone but even the thought that when or if he ever found the green thriving place he could almost see in his mind and he were to die there it would be better. Because it would be beautiful and he would have gotten to see freedom and life.
He shook his head wondering how long he had been daydreaming just now. he tilted his head back up to his dark furred friend. "I want to find out...." he trailed off wondering what he might say.
"...But we dont know how long this desert goes on for either," Victor finally said quietly.
Erskine's tail twitched once, and a part of him hoped that the student didn't see the movement, see how nervous he was making him. He was beginning to realize that the desert wasn't a subject that Victor was going to drop so easily...
"Maybe just over the those ridges there's someplace green, someplace like that would be better to live then here...."
...And Erskine was grasping for the right words to say. He was caught between reasoning with Victor as he would any other cat, or swiftly and fiercely shooting down these radical ideas before they grew into anything dangerous, the way a concerned father would for their kit...
... In the end, he managed the right tone of calmness, but the word he was most dying to say still came out.
"No... look, Vict-"
"I want to find out...." The manx murmured, staring off dreamily into the dry, arid unknown.
...Just as an Infected below knocked over a trashcan with a primitive yowl. While Victor was being captivated by wastelands, Erskine's attention was brought back to the fact that the sun had finally gone low enough for the diseased to venture outside, and remind him of the dangerous world they lived in.
The dangerous world he needed to protect his student from.
The Infected didn't just stay in the city, after all. He'd seen them, too, wandering the outskirts of the city and the desert.... it wouldn't be a dangerous journey, because it would be a suicide mission.
"Victor," he said again, this time not coating his stern tone. "I won't tolerate this kind of talk anymore, understand? There's nothing beyond the desert. Nothing." The harsher he said it, the more he believed it, himself. "Do you think you're the first cat to wonder what was beyond there? Many have gone before us. Suran, Cahaya, loners; if there was anything there, if there was somewhere safer and better, do you really think that all those cats would just choose to not come back for their friends and family? To tell us of this better place? They didn't come back, because they died, and that's all there is to it."
Victor watched his mentor only a look of sadness for the tom in his eyes,
"But maybe they couldn't come back. I know that if I found somewhere safe I would love to bring you all there.... but its probably such a dangerous and difficult journey for a single cat alone... couldn't you imagine the level of difficulty it would be to take more cats? I think next to impossible...." he looked out at the moon, listening to the moans of the infected wondering if he had a chance out there.
His ears flicked and he looked back up at his mentor, eyes trying to find something reassuring. He respected this cat to much to go traipsing off without at least knowing Erskine had faith in him.
"I believe that somewhere there is true freedom. Not being locked up at night being forced to be so scared all the time." He mewed strongly, hoping he would understand.
And Victor knew, he just had to believe that if his mentor would believe in him it would protect him if... no when he left.
Erskine had tried to discourage his student, but Victor wouldn't be swayed. The young cat wanted only to see the desert, and the more Erskine tried to put out his hope, the harder Victor tried to hold on to it.
"I believe that somewhere there is true freedom. Not being locked up at night being forced to be so scared all the time."
The guard was doing his best to keep a stern face, but under Victor's pleading stare, he found his anger melting away into the simple worry underneath it. His student wasn't trying to be rebellious... he was just... frustrated... just like everyone else here. Just like the same cats who had wandered into that desert over the years and possibly died for their dreams.
"Victor," Erskine finally said with a sigh. "I... I don't know if I believe in such a place. I don't think I can. I don't know what's beyond that desert or if there's any end to the desert to begin with. But I do know that the city keeps us alive. And without the city, we'd all be dead.
"The sun is what gives us life, Victor. Not some rumored land beyond the city. That's what I have to believe, and that's what you need to believe, too. I'm sorry."
Somehow, however, as he said it, Erskine felt something inside him clench. He hated snuffing out anyone's hope for anything. It made him feel like someone terrible.
*If only Victor could see the remorse and hesitance in the guard's eyes. Perhaps it would be blessing enough...*
Victor blinked scrunching his nose up. He could see this was hurting his mentor, and at this point he was glad he didn't have a tail to droop and give away his sadness.
With a deep sigh he nodded. He wouldn't continue his talk, he didn't want to upset such a good cat. But he couldn't help his ears falling just the slightest bit.
But even thinking about it he still believed. He still wanted to find this place outside the city that had always fueled his dreams as a kit.
Feeling sad that his father figure didn't feel the same wasn't going to change that. Though if he decided to leave, he knew somewhere he most likely would, that he would always take all of Erskine's training to heart and follow all his words of wisdom.
He looked up at the dark furred cat, "sorry, I know it's foolish...." He mewed finally quickly looking back down at the city trying to shield his mentor from his grief,
"But I still want to believe, it makes me happy to think some of the cats somewhere might be happy and free to go out at night." He explained hoping he could at least let him have that. At least see that dream as being ok.
Hearing the student's long sigh, he could tell that his words had finally hit Victor somewhere painful, and for that, Erskine flinched. He wished he could have been better about this... but he hadn't known what else to do. Next time he wouldn't let that initial protectiveness take over his tone of voice. Erskine hated being angry with the young student.
"Sorry, I know it's foolish...." Victor finally said quietly, glancing at his mentor quickly before looking away. The guard inhaled quietly, his ear twitching as he stared at his student and tried to think of something comforting to say, though anything he could possibly say at this point would only contradict the points he'd made earlier.
"... But I still want to believe," Victor said. "It makes me happy to think some of the cats somewhere might be happy and free to go out at night."
"... It is a nice thought," Erskine finally replied with a gentler tone. "And I'd like to think so, too. But maybe, someday, that could be us. This city... Maybe someday, the Infected will be gone..." he shook his head, quickly swiping away an itch on his nose with his paw. "At least... that's what I like to think."
He turned his eyes back to the streets below, as forgotten shadows of cats slid from building to building, sidewalk to sidewalk, their pelts only slightly blue under the dark night sky. The Infected were still as disgruntled and complaining as ever, but they were a little quieter tonight. It kind of made things easier.
He hoped that he had done things right. And that Victor wasn't too hurt...
Victor nodded watching the moving shadows of the infected cats from high above them. His ears flicking at small noises. He breathed deeply, scanning the desert for signs of which way to travel, because from this high up he was sure to be able to pick a good route.
But his eyes keep drooping after an hour or two of his planning. His head kept nodding to the side and his vision kept blurring on him when he looked out at the scenery.
Soon he was leaning against the raised ledge, his chin on the concrete his eyes closing slowly without his consent.
Victor had started drifting off, and Erskine decided to allow the student some time to rest. It had been a long day, and he could always wake him up as the dawn was arriving, since that was part of the reason why he'd brought him here. Tomorrow they'd be too tired, but the next day, maybe Erskine could do something to make it up to his student. A trip to Cahaya's park, maybe? Victor still hadn't seen that...
But for now, the guard wouldn't allow himself to be distracted. He was the only one on watch now, and he'd keep an eye out for any danger while Victor took his rest. With a small and troubled sigh, Erskine swatted away the little bug flying around the student's ear before turning his eyes to the ominous streets below.
EDIT: This roleplay has now been completed.
As an added note, Victor probably left a day or so after this talk; this roleplay was meant to take place a day before Nerezza's last sighting, and it would seem as though Victor could have left the morning after the night that Nerezza left.
Both Victor's and Nerezza's dissappearances occured before the events of the latest assignment.