Day Seven

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SHE DROWNED, OVER AND over. She reached out, blinking through the blood in the water, but every kick of her legs took an eternity as the water sucked her deeper under. Her muscles spasmed, twitching, begging for a way out, and as alarm jolted through her, pulsing, pounding, shuddering in her lungs, she sucked in a breath. Water became lava, burning in her lungs. She flailed harder, still too slow, her limbs hardening into bronze like the woman in the street, her life entombed in silence, a mystery to lie with the bones of thousands, just another death in the story of humanity's end. 

After the panic came the stillness. Not of her body, now frozen in gleaming gold, but inside her head. A lethargy, a peace, observing her hardened limbs as she drifted through the water, thumping softly against the corpses beneath. But through the haze that settled in her mind, snuggling up to her thoughts until they begged for sleep, came a noise. Small, distant, but just enough to drive her into one last push, one final kick. She willed strength into her legs and twisted, shattering the bronze that cloaked her, and she swam. 

After an eternity of failing, she broke the surface.

Raina's eyes opened onto darkness. She took a deep breath and coughed.

"Oh my God, she's awake."

Raina tried to speak, but managed only a garbled wheeze, her eyes spinning as she searched for an anchor in the black, anything to show her she was not blind, or dead. 

A light flicked on. "Raina?" Arleigh asked. 

Other figures gathered behind her, faint etches of silhouettes behind the flashlight. Calen pushed through, taking her wrist. "Pulse is weak but steady."

She reached over to feel the gash in her arm and winced. Her entire body felt weighed down by bricks, stiff and throbbing like she had fallen from a rooftop. "My arm," she said.

"The wound is long and ugly, but not too deep. Now, your ankle..." He trailed off.

Raina let her head drop back against the cold stone beneath her, trying to calm her pulse that thrummed at her throat. The air had a slight tang to it, pungent and stale, damp on her skin. Their voices echoed, tinny and shallow. She glanced around at the darkness again, broken ever so faintly by the reach of Arleigh's light. 

They had found a bunker. 

Someone placed a canteen in her hand, and she pushed herself up and drank. 

"I swear, if you'd died, I would have killed you myself," Rance said. The tears in his voice echoed against the tight walls. Then he wrapped his arms around her, and did not let go for a long time.

"How did you find me?" Raina asked at last. 

He pulled back. "Arleigh spotted you when you broke the surface. Maeve dragged you out. We got the water out of you, but there was so much blood, and you wouldn't wake..." He trailed off. "There was so much blood," he whispered. 

"We gave you some rations of painkillers," Arleigh said. "We don't have much, but we'll stretch them out."

Raina nodded and looked at the rest, gathered behind Rance. Her heart seized in her chest as she counted only five. "Where are the others?"

"Hunting. We all made it out of the attack."

Raina slumped back in relief. "Anyone else hurt?"

She shook her head. "None like you."

Raina looked down at her leg, at the blood spotting through the bindings.

"I've been changing it as little as possible," Calen said. "Stretching what we have."

She did not take her eyes off it. She stared at the white wrappings, and felt the creature's teeth sink into it once more, the blinding pain that blasted away every thought in her head, that consumed her. She winced.

"Pills are wearing off," Rance said. He offered her more, and she took them, reaching for the canteen with her other arm. Pain shot through it and she hissed through her teeth, snatching it back. 

"Don't move it too much," Calen said. "I stitched it as best I could. Should hold better by tomorrow." 

She nodded, and his words echoed into silence. Raina studied the wall beside her, the faint scratchings, faded writing scattered across it. She wondered who had last occupied the bunker. And what had happened to them.

Arleigh wrapped her arms around herself. "What was it?" she asked, her voice low.

Raina opened her mouth to reply, but its green scales flashed before her eyes, twisting in the darkness, and she clamped it shut. She looked away. "Are we still in the city?"

A pause. "Yes," Rance said.

"We need to keep moving. Would we be able to cross--"

"Raina, you need to rest--"

"Enough about me," she said, her voice harsher than intended. "We need to get out of here."

"The city may be a death trap, but moving you too soon is equally as dangerous. Your wounds are serious." 

The others returned, offering meat from one of the tusked animals--boar, they called them--and she took a small portion, careful not to worsen the pain in her stomach, a deep, constant cramping. Her lungs felt raw, and every breath scraped along her throat, but she did not complain. Because the others had insisted they remain another day despite needed to get through the city as fast as possible--for her. 

She took a bite of the meat and chewed; tough, stringy and bitter, she swallowed the hardened lump with a frown. But it was still food--they had run out of their own while she was unconscious.

Raina drifted in and out of sleep as the day wore on, her dreams cloaked in a haze that unsettled her, like she could never properly rest. Outside, night began to fall, and the others settled in for sleep around her, Ava and Arleigh at her sides. She heard some of her crew drift off in minutes, slow, steady breathing filling the bunker, but Arleigh remained awake, staring at the ceiling. Raina steeled herself. "It was long," she said. "And scaly. Dozens of sharp teeth. I swam to get away from the boar, and the thing took them out so it could have me."

Her voice carried, and she felt the others listening in. 

"The riverbed was full of bones," she whispered. "I bumped into a--a person, a decomposing person."

Arleigh did not speak. But she took Raina's good hand in hers and squeezed. "We would not have left you behind," she said at last, even quieter than Raina. 

She closed her eyes and allowed the medication to pull her down into an uneasy sleep. Soon the pills would run out. So would their treatments, and their bandages. But an even more urgent matter pricked at her, small but ugly. Arleigh said they would not have left her. But she did not know if she could walk--certainly not for long. And her pace was a danger to the others. 

She knew her crew could not wait forever for their captain. 

And deep in her heart, a tiny drop of fear slithered into her bones. 






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