Every day before dawn the girl stood on the quiet shore by the bridge, staring at something beyond the dried seabed and scattered pools of muddied water that made up the Vanished Sea. It wasn’t a very safe place to be at. It was too close to the Øresund and within reach of the scouting lights, but it was also reasonably quiet and free of scavengers, which made the already dangerous task of krebsdyr hunting a bit more bearable.
With the passing of the years, Saga had learnt to identify the safest spots on the beach, if such a thing as a safe place still existed. It took her many warning shots from the bridge – although the scar on her left arm told her that the soldiers at the Øresund couldn’t really tell the difference between a warning shot and shoot to kill – but in the end she had managed to find some blind spots along the shore.
She was standing next to an oddly shaped rock formation which shielded her from the biting winds and the hungry lights. The stone was slightly warm to the touch and uncannily smooth at some points, even slick, which made her feel uncomfortable and weird. Saga wasn’t sure whether that stone had always been there. Sometimes, when she thought of home she saw the rock among faceless, common people basking under a clouded sun. It towered above all of them, casting a curious shadow over the unaware individuals on the beach. Some other times, the stone had never been there and there was only a blank, unoccupied space which cast a curious shade over the white sand, like a half-formed thought or a nearly forgotten dream.
It didn’t really matter. The rock had probably been unearthed after the Fennoscandia decided to kill the Baltic Sea with a series of dry detonations. It had been a desperate measure to prevent the Danish forces from reaching Malmö¸ and lock them down in Amager. They were in the wrong, of course, war always finds a way, but by the time someone tried to make some sense of what was happening, the sea was already boiling itself away to a pitiful bunch of exhausted puddles. The resulting mist lingered for almost a year and for that time something resembling peace but more akin to shock seized the countries. It didn’t last. War always finds a way. As soon as the fog lifted and the targeting systems in Danevirke were functional again, Gothard retaliated with a devastating attack that rendered the Øresund uninhabitable.
Saga remembered the lights and the mist, but they were gone now, like most of everything else
It didn’t really matter. Saga’s world had shrunk to a muddy shoreline and a watery hole somewhere deep below the sewers.
Dawn. Although the sun was trapped beyond an almost perpetual cloud-layer, Saga could feel the first rays of sunlight pressing against the overcast sky. The bridge would be opening soon, which meant that the hungry lights would go to sleep for a while. It was her chance to hunt some krebsdyr.
Saga reached into the depths of her dirty fatigues and found her stiletto. It wasn’t a very efficient weapon, but it was the best she had managed to get without killing anyone and it was extremely useful when hunting krebsdyr. Besides, it had proved more than handy against other human beings when necessary.
Saga left the relative safety of the rock as soon as the lights receded. Before her, the seemingly endless expanse of the Vanished Sea stretched in every direction all the way to what had once been Malmö. Bands of greyish sand rivetted the decayed seabed among the isolated patches of marshy, polluted waters and congealed mud. All along the dying sea, interspersed at seemingly random intervals, dark rocks of an almost spherical shape littered the swampy grounds. There was a trail of disturbed dirt behind every rock, as if a wind too slow to be perceived had gently been blowing the stones up and down the sea. After the mayhem that blew up most of the marine life in the Øresund, the krebsdyr were one of the very few species that had been able to adapt to the aftermath and now riddled the ever-diminishing sea.
Saga treaded carefully, negotiating a path among the treacherous puddles of murky water. Her steps, swift and sure, made the tools in her belt produce a low, tingling noise. It was a relatively clear day and Saga could see many discarded krebsdyr shells scattered around. It was becoming increasingly difficult to find an intact crab. Although their almost utter immobility made them an easy prey, they were very hard to carry due to their immense weight and the way they clang to the ground. Saga had had it relatively easy at the beginning, preying upon those krebsdyr closer to the shore, learning to find the right spot in which to insert her stiletto, considering the right amount of pressure to apply, so that the shell would finally give up the meagre piece of meat at its core. However, as months and even years passed, she had had to walk further and further from the shore every day in order to find a suitable prey.
Saga was almost a kilometre into the Vanished Sea when she found the first krebsdyr. It was as tall as her knee, jet black and nearly completely round. The first time she had seen one she had mistaken it for a rock of strange proportions, but when closely inspected, one could see that the creature was no more than a morbidly overgrown crab laden with an arm-thick shell.
The krebsdyr was uncannily warm, as usual. Saga knelt beside it and put her ear against its surface. She heard nothing at first, but after a few seconds a distinct, suckling sound became evident. It wasn’t difficult for Saga to find the pressure spot. She looked around to make sure no one was near and then looked up at the bridge. The soldiers were probably busy scouting the trucks carrying supplies to Malmö. Saga introduced the tip of the stiletto in a tiny crack of the shell and made a swift, blunt move.
“Leave it alone!”
Shit. It was a woman’s voice. Saga glanced quickly at the bridge but saw no one.
“Leave the crab alone, bitch!
Saga stood up, eyes darting in every direction. She held her stiletto in a tight grip, ready to plunge it into whoever came too close.
“Get away from it or I’ll gut you!”
The voice came from somewhere dangerously close.
All of a sudden, a krebsdyr holding a makeshift spear rose from the seabed some ten steps away. It was impossibly big and incredibly fast, considering that its legs were buried beneath a thick layer of chitinous shell. The crab spoke again:
“Get away, you fucking moron!”
The creature was running towards her now, arms slightly raised, tumbling with empty husks and rocks alike. Saga had seen many strange things in her life as an outcast, but never anything as grotesque as a giant, talking crab. As the thing drew closer, Saga understood. The humanoid shape wasn’t made of krebsdyr but coated in it, like some sort of exceptionally cumbersome armor with a sturdy, little woman embedded in it.
“Shut up, fool!” Saga finally reacted, “the whole fucking bridge must be on alert by now!
The crab-woman lunged at Saga with her weapon, ready to injure and possibly kill. Saga jumped aside, barely avoiding the thrust.
“Stop it, you cunt. You’re gonna get us killed!”
“Leave it, leave the crab, leave it!”
The woman was ready to attack again when the first shot hit her in the head. There was no blood, only the sound of rupturing stone as the woman collapsed on the muddy floor.
“I downed the monster, Soren. That’s twice the points.”
The voice came from up the bridge.
“Oh shut up, it was impossible to miss that shot. The blond bitch is a much smaller target. Watch and learn.”
Saga could almost hear the soldier taking aim. The shore was too far away and there was nothing she could use as cover. There was still a way. She started to run towards the bridge. If she could reach it in time perhaps she would be able to run to the shore before they sent someone to look for her below the bridge.
“Leave it… leave the crab…”
The woman stirred.
“Oh shit not this, not now, not now!” But she couldn’t leave her behind. Although it was the logical thing to do, although that stupid crab-woman had almost got her killed, she simply couldn’t leave her behind.
“Oh shit, oh fuck.”
The next shot missed her by less than an inch.
Saga pulled with all her strength and started to drag the woman, but it wasn’t nearly enough. That damn, stupid armor was far too heavy.
“The crab, the crab…”
“For fuck’s sake, shut the fuck up!”
Saga drew a knife from her belt and cut the woman free from the chitinous toil.
The next bullet pierced the air where her head had been a second earlier and got lost in the mud with a muffled sound.
“And you call that aim? You are getting old, Soren,” laughs boomed uncomfortably close over her head.
Saga knew she had been extremely lucky. The soldier wouldn’t miss the next shot.
She had almost made it to the bridge when she felt something bite her left arm were the old scar was. It was a burning, familiar pain that ran all along her limp.
“See that? I told you I’d make it,” Saga heard a voice say somewhere above the darkness of the bridge
More laughter, further away this time. Indistinct chatter. Looming pillars. Walking krebsdyr. Suckling rocks.
“The crab… the crab…”