CC Round Three: The EndErx remained still as the morning grew into the full glory of the winter day. The exhausted dogs gradually lost interest in the wounded cur by his side. They had seen it all before. The wounded never lasted long. Nature's law was merciless.
Zasha gradually came to. She blinked the sleep from her bloodshot eyes and peered out at the world, fighting against her throbbing headache all the while. By her side lay Erx; no other creatures lingered nearby. She tried to move her legs, but they forcefully protested her commands.
"Oh, you're awake," murmured Erx, turning his head towards Zasha as he spoke. "Don't move, you'll hurt yourself."
He examined Zasha's wounds. They no longer leaked blood, but appeared terribly close to tearing open.
"You're lucky," he continued. "The wound is deep, but you're still breathin'."
Zasha remained silent for a time, worrying for both her sake and that of Jessica and Duncan, her only companions in the ruins.
"Why're you here?" she finally asked, peering out at
CC Round Three Pg.7Erx burst out from the darkness in relief, letting out a bark that brought the amber-eyed Avi up the dimly lit stairs.
"Avi!" exclaimed Erx. "What're- what're you doin' up here?"
"I heard your hollerin'. I figured that someone'd just been hurt bad. It isn't you though, so what's-"
He lost his words at the sight of Zasha.
"Bloody hell, what happened?"
"Rust," muttered Erx.
"Why don't you up and pull her free, then?"
"Tried. Didn't work. She's trapped."
Avi slowly approached Zasha, trying to avoid tripping up in the pitch-black darkness. He placed a paw on the gnarled steel that tenuously gripped her. Erx looked on in wonderment as the metal distorted, shivered, and began to glide up Avi's outstretched paw. Within seconds, the spar was reduced to nothingness. Zasha, no longer held fast by the spar through her chest, slipped loose and crumpled to the floor.
"How did-" began Erx.
"This ain't the time to explain."
They stared at Zasha's limp form for a long minute.
"She's alive," Erx finall
CC Round Three Pg.6Rust lashed out at Zasha.
She lay still, a gnarled lump of metal jammed into her breastbone. A second spike cut a deep gash into her throat, but seemed to have carved around her veins. In the dim light, she appeared to meld with the rusty steel of an overturned steel table.
Erx shuddered and picked his way through the wreckage, fighting off growing nausea as blood's salty scent swiftly saturated the air. The rust had performed its encore, bowed gracefully, and exited stage left. A thousand terrible emotions clouded his mind as he reached Zasha's motionless form. He placed a paw on her chest.
Life beat from within. The encore was flawed. The finale had failed.
"Zasha?" whispered Erx. "Zasha," he called again, louder. "Zasha!"
She stirred weakly.
Her eyes flickered open, her pupils narrowed like a those of snake's. She stirred again, more forcefully this time, and made a faint gurgling sound. This repeated for several seconds before she managed to form a coherent phr
CC Round Three Pg.4"Please," spoke Zasha, "won't you just help me?"
"There mus' be something that can be done," sputtered Erx.
"No. You know that crazy Beyra, don't you? She doesn't care. She doesn't care about any of us! I can't change that!"
Erx took another step back.
"I'm sorry," he began, "but I cant' submit. Th' rust will never fade away, an' neither will I."
The collie turned and sprung into the hallway, paws scrabbling on the dusty floor. He sprinted around the corner and down the hall before weaving his way through a crumbling wall's ribs of steel, pausing in a derelict room to catch his breath. It resembled the space in which the curs had convened before, albeit smaller in all dimensions. Shattered windows admitted a biting gale, which in turn drove a large sheet of ice onto the floor. Distressingly, it stood between him and the only other doorway. He turned about to try and escape through where he entered, but his foe had caught on to his path. The soft pitter-pat of paws on stone skipp
CC Round Three Pg.3An aide of Beyra's approached Erx in a timely manner. Interestingly, it stood at his own height, unlike the rather imposing brutes of the previous rounds
"You're looking for a dark brown-black dog- she's a few inches taller than you. Name's Zasha. She's wearing a studded collar, if it helps."
"Okay. An' what'm I supposed to do?"
"Beyra didn't say much."
Erx nodded meekly and shuffled away with his tail tucked between his legs. Few of the dogs around him appeared remotely familiar, and of those who he did recognize, he understood little about them. It had always been so, but the stark culling of group made this all the more painfully clear. A fleeting glimpse of a brown dog bearing a collar studded with small nubs of steel caught his eye. The dog stood uneasily, evaluating those around it with suspicion. As if conscious of Erx's prying eyes, it flinched and backed away into the safety of the ruins. Erx scrabbled to his feet and ventured forth to seek out his foe.
Freed of the panic that
CC Round Three Pg.2A number of dogs looked up from the ground as Erx entered a wide room littered with rubble and old scraps of iron. They soon resumed their muffled conversations, which drifted from subject to subject without direction. He sought out a sheltered corner and curled himself into a damp lump, trying mightily to keep himself warm. The faint patter of rain started up, taking on a hollow tone as the night wore on.
Wonder where the others are, he worried. They'll perish if they're left alone. Only the warmth of the united can stave off the winter.
Sleep overcame him after an unbearably long while. His dreams ran their course, surprisingly devoid of fear or panic. A weighty aura of sorrow lingered in their place. Sorrow for those who had perished. Sorrow for those who had yet to perish.
An avenue stretches off into the distance, yet no creature dares to tread upon it, save for myself. A steady rain falls from the sky, but it turns to solid ice before it can strike the earth. Lit