Darkness. Pitch black and so thick Eve could barely breathe. She gasped for air as she reached for her eyes, only to find that her hands were bound tightly behind her back. She shook her head back and forth, trying to shake away the blindfold that kept her vision from her. But there was nothing there. She blinked again, realizing the darkness was around her. Not a dot of light. Just pitch black nothingness.
"Hello?" she whispered. Her voice felt hoarse even though she hadn't been screaming. She licked her lips and wondered how long it had been since she had last drank anything. She couldnt remember. "Is anyone there?" she croaked.
Something crunched to her left and she instantly scooted away from the noise. Another crunch, then another. She pressed her back against the cold wall behind her as the sound of footsteps filled the darkness.
Blinding light filled the room and Eve finally screamed, clenching her eyes shut as pain shot through them. Someone chuckled. Another someone shushed them. Eve slowly opened her eyes. The light came from a single gas lantern. It wasn't super bright. But compared to the pitch darkness that had surrounded her just moments before, it felt as if the noonday sun had been let into the room. She blinked her eyes and dared to look up at the faces of those who surrounded her.
Men and women. Dirty, tired looking, clothes torn and faces grim. People like this used to be the ones who lined city streets, powerless unless you threw a penny into their hat. Eve pulled at her arms, feeling the rope that bound her cut into her wrists. Who was powerless now?
"What do you want?" she asked. "Who are you?"
A delicate hand reached out and gently tapped the shoulder of the man who stood in front with the lantern. He stepped aside and a young lady stepped forward. She was cleaner than the rest and she smiled down at Eve. Her smile wasn't inviting or sympathetic. It was the smile of someone who had won. Eve squinted at her, recognition dawning quickly.
"Hey there, Eve," she said, stepping closer. "Comfy?"
"Ali," Eve said, almost spitting but stopping herself at the last moment. Keep control, she reminded herself. "I was just helping you."
Ali nodded and crouched down so she could look Eve in the eye. "And that was very sweet," she said with a snide smile. "But you see, you can't help someone if they don't need it."
"What do you want?" Eve demanded. She looked around her room, trying to find her bag, but it was nowhere to be seen. Panic started to pulse in her veins. The map. She couldn't lose the map.
Ali stood and nodded to someone behind her. Two men stepped forward and grabbed Eve under the arms. They hefted her up and started to drag her towards the door. Eve thought about fighting, but with the room full of people, she knew she wouldn't stand a chance.
They stepped through the doorway into another dark room. Another door clicked again then creaked open. Out they went, into the chilled night air. It was lit with bonfires. The fires crackled and danced in the dark, casting eerie shadows that bounced off of people and trees. The men carried her past the people who were singing, chatting, slurping drinks and nibbling on food. Finally they reached a fire that was separate from the rest and let her tumble to the ground. With her hands bound behind her, she couldn't catch herself. Her mouth filled with dirt and grass and she sputtered, rolling to her side so she could gasp for air.
"Be nice," Ali said, clucking her tongue at the men light a chastising mother. Someone helped Eve sit up then disappeared into the shadows. A cup was pressed to her lips. She turned away. "It's just water," Ali said. "I bet you are thirsty."
Better judgment told her not to drink it. But Eve's mouth was filled with cotton and her throat refused to swallow any more. She turned to the cup and sipped at the lukewarm water. Nothing tasted funny about it. Hopefully it stayed that way.
"What do you want?" Eve asked again. "Who are you people?"
"We are just people like you. Just trying to find our place in this world." Ali's voice was teasing, lilting and pulling like she was talking to a small child.
"I wasn't hurting you. I was just following the..." She stopped. Who knows how many people actually saw that light. What if she was one of the few?
Ali leaned forward. The fire lit her face. Despite the remaining dirt she hadn't washed away, she was a beautiful girl. But her eyes danced with something ugly. "Following what? The Light?" When Eve didn't answer her, she just laughed and leaned in even closer. "Yeah, we figured. And that's what made you such an easy target." Ali stood and stretched her arms above her head. She smiled down at Eve then started to pace in front of the fire, casual and easy, without a care in the world.
"We are Dark Worshippers, since you asked," she said. "We embrace life as it is now, free from the technology that had kept us bound. We are primal. We are what mankind should have remained, dependant on the earth and what she gives us." Ali stopped and looked down at Eve, her eyes narrowing. "And we really just do not like those who think otherwise."
Eve licked her lips. She darted her eyes to the side and noticed something laying just out of reach. Her bag. The contents were spilled out along the ground, but everything was there. The map's corner stuck out of the bag, ripped more than ever. Relief flooded through her. She looked back at Ali, who was smiling again.
"So this light," Ali continued, "has become the perfect trap. We don't know what it is or where it is, but we do know people keep flocking for it. And here we are."
"What do you think you can do with me?" Eve asked. "I am no one. Just let me go and..."
"Nope, not happening." Ali crouched down again, her nose so close that Eve could smell her stale breath. "Here is what we figure: Whoever has that light must have tech. And they must be flashing it in the hopes of bring mankind back under tech's power. So we have to stop it. We are following the Light too, but not for the same reason you are. We plan to stop it. And you Light followers gives us a nice little package to barter with."
She stood, grabbed Eve under the arm pit, and lifted her to her feet. Despite how small Ali seemed, she was strong. They started to march away from the light, down a hill, Eve stumbling on rocks and twigs as Ali pulled her along. Light appeared once more, just a small jumble of candles perched along a fence. Just past the fence Eve could make out the shapes of bodies, tons of bodies. Some were curled on the ground, some pacing back and forth in the near dark, some pressed against the fence no doubt watching the two as they approached.
They reached the fence and stopped so suddenly that Eve fell against Ali with a grunt. Ali turned and smiled sweetly at Eve. The candle light darkened half of her face and Eve gasped. Ali looked like a demon come from the very dark that surrounded them.
"Tech killed our world. It ravaged our bodies, destroyed our lives until all we had was screens and antisocial children and wars raged on the basis that our tech was better than yours. It cannot come back." Ali reached over to the fence and unlocked a part of it. A little gate swung open. "The people flashing the Light have two options: Turn it off and you all can go free. Or you die." With that, she shoved Eve in through the gate and slammed it shut.