The six of them looked down the shaft, seeing only a dim radiance below. Shaurya moved toward what looked like crumbled concrete steps leading further down, but he froze at the sound of a dull, throaty voice.

Come no closer. I will hurt you, and I do not wish to.

There was no echo. The words were entirely in their heads.

Maria put a hand on Shaurya, and pulled him back. “Are you the thing we’ve been seeing in our dreams?” she said. “The thing born of that…that terrible blast I saw?”

I do not know if it was war, or an accident. It does not matter.

“Something like what Maria saw…it must have killed almost everyone around here,” said Shaurya.

They buried what remained, entombed the earth itself.

“Who are you, then?” asked Kumi. “A ghost?”

I am what remains. A radiative being, buried and terrible.

“I don’t understand.” Maria felt like she had heard that word before, buried in an old history book, or tossed off in an excavation of the old city, but the association was there. Fire, death, and a poison that did not go away.

I am dangerous unto a thousand lifetimes.

“Why did you bring us here, then?” Shaurya cried. He started hyperventilating again at the thought. “Do you want to kill us?”

You are the ones best able to withstand the death that is my life.

“It reached out to us, because it knew we wouldn’t die.” Maria said this as if she had always known it, even if thinking about it made her headache worse.

I kill all that lives.

“But…?” Kumi said.

I wish to hurt no others, and to be alone with my solitude.

“You were alone!” Shaurya cried. “Then you brought us down here for company! You ruined our lives! Why?”

You must convince the others to leave.

“You mean…everyone?” said Maria. “The whole city?”

They will all die if they stay. The cracks are already spreading.

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