Tension

Continued from ‘Don’t Thank Me

I wake again in the night. Kalla isn’t there. No one is. I lay alone in the fragile room, shivers running down my spine.

Grabbing the cloth from beneath my head, I spread it out and throw over my body. My arms shake from the effort. The ragged material bunches, not even covering my feet. I reach towards it. My fingers wrap around the cloth and shake it out, trying to get it to uncurl. It doesn’t budge.

Another shiver ripples through me.

I let go of the cloth and place my hands on the ground, hoisting myself off the ground like before. Somehow, I right myself. The muscles in my back seize as my arms stop supporting my weight. My body trembles as I toss the edge of the material over my feet. My arm shakes. It drops back to my side just as one of cloth walls move.

Someone enters the small room. He stops just inside the doorway, staring in my direction, but I can’t see who they are in the darkness, but I can tell it’s a man.

“I’ve brought more blankets,” he offers, his voice familiar.

Neither of us move or say anything else until the man steps closer. He places the blankets next to me and straightens again, staring down at me. “Kalla said you were feeling better.”

“Kalla? Where is she?” I ask, curious about where she went.

“She’s sleeping,” the man returns with gruff tone. “Just like you should be.” He turns for the door.

“Wait!” I choke out, the loud noise straining against my throat. “Water,” I whisper.

The man stops. His shoulders sag, but he steps back into the room. He grabs the water pouch and tosses it to me.

The half-empty bag lands on my lap, sloshing back and forth as the water settles.

Once more, he moves for the door. “Wait,” I request, my voice softer this time.

“What do you want?”

“What’s going on?”

The man hesitates. “What do you mean?”

“I mean-” I stop short, trying to orient my thoughts, but dozens of them spill out at once. “Where am I? Who are you people? What attacked us earlier? How can I move again? What do you want with me?”

“Woah!” The man throws his arms up between us. “Gods,” he hisses. He turns his head sideways like he doesn’t want to look at me. Though, I doubt he can see me any more than I can see him.

“You really should get some sleep.”

“Please,” I beg. “I can’t sleep not knowing.”

The man sighs with exasperation. “Fine.” He moves towards me. Snapping his fingers together, a spark flickers to life, igniting on the end of a wooden stick. He spikes it into the ground. The light illuminates his face.

“Julian,” I murmur, remembering Kalla call him that the other day.

His bright green eyes flash to me in surprise. “Yes, I’m Julian. I saved your sorry excuse for a fighter.”

“I’m not a fighter,” I counter, shocked by the accusation.

“Clearly,” he grumbles, crossing her arms over his torso. “Now, I really don’t want to be anywhere near you. So, choose your questions wisely.”

I pause, staring at his furrowed eyebrows in the flickering light. My first question would be about Alice, but Kalla said she was alright. She also said I’d find out where this place was when I put with ‘them’. Whoever ‘they’ are. “What happened out there?”

The man, not much older than myself I realize, rolls his eyes. “You’re gonna need to be more specific.”

“Why couldn’t I move?”

He gives me a curt response. “Wing dust.”

“Wing dust… what’s that?”

His jaw tightens. “Wing dust is the dust that falls off Sun Blockers.”

“Sun Blockers,” I repeat, still in my own world of confusion.

“The flying things. When they find prey, they shed the dust from their wings. It makes it so you can’t move.”

I gape at him. The Unknown really is as terrible as they tell us. “But how?”

“How should I know?!” Julian bites. “Now ask another question before I grow bored.”

“If the Sun Blockers attacked us, why weren’t they the ones eating us? What were the other things?”

Julian’s shoulders settle slightly. “We call them Shredders. The Sun Blockers keep the prey from running away and the Shredders wander in and shred flesh from body, muscle from bone, while the prey is still alive.” He grimaces.

“Yeah, I know what they do,” I return, touching my leg through the cloth covering it. It’s still sore. “But… if the Sun Blockers stop us from moving, how can I move again?”

“Water.” Julian shrugs as if it were that simple.

“Huh?”

Julian rolls his neck back, obviously annoyed with our conversation. “We dunked you in water, rinsing the wing dust from your body. It takes a while, but you’ll regain full motion again.” He glances at my trembling body. “Which is why you need to get back to sleep.” Having nothing more to say, he stands. He plucks the torch from the ground.

I pick up the water pouch from my lap, content with the answers I have for now when a memory snaps through my mind. “How do you know Alice, Julian?”

He stops. His shoulders tense. The fire flickers at the end of the stick as he stands in silence, as if debating whether to tell me. He doesn’t. Instead, he shoves through the flap of the door and vanishes into the night.

Next Installment: City Blood

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