Day Twelve

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"RANCE!" SHE CRIED OUT, but her voice rasped into silence, too dry to shout. Raina looked around at the smoke snaking along the ground, the trees vanishing in a haze, blocking out the dawn.

"Rance!" she tried again. Struggling to her feet, she grabbed a stone and hurled it at him, striking him on the leg. He startled awake and fell to the ground.

"What the--" He broke off, eyes widening as the smoke around them thickened.

They ran.

Raina's legs jolted forward, her lungs burning as she wheezed in and out. The heat taunted them, the air tangy and dry. Her heartbeat roared in her ears as the smoke wrapped around them, and a cough ripped her throat, burning all the way into her lungs. Her vision swayed and multiplied before snapping back into place, the dehydration pulling at her like weights strapped to her ankles, slowing her. She stepped in a pitfall and went down hard, but before she could even register the shock of pain in her ankle she was up again, pushing harder and harder, faster and faster.

Her mind spun with panic and her steps began to tremble, her body tipping left and right as she grabbed at tree trunks, branches, anything to keep her upright. Black spots mingled with the smoke in her eyes. Fumes invaded her lungs. Her vision grew hazier.

She had seen fires from the air, watched their smoke blanket entire continents at their worst. Raging swaths of flame that cleansed everything in their path, tearing apart the Earth, devouring all its life. She knew how feral they behaved. How fast they moved.

Crackling echoed behind her.

They ran and ran, but the heat crept up at their backs, the smoke blinding them, choking them--

Raina burst through a copse of trees and fell.

Down and down she tumbled, her arms flailing as she bounced down the hill. Branches and stones slashed at her skin, cracking against her head, her back, her arms. A tangle of brown and grey whirred past her eyes in a blur.

She slammed to a stop against a tree trunk, the air punched from her lungs. She dislodged herself and tried to stand, but her knees gave out and she dropped, tipping to the side.

The flames reached the top of the hill.

Raina looked around, but Rance was nowhere in sight. Muttering a prayer for the both of them, she launched herself back onto the hill, letting gravity whip her away from the fire that raced after her, sucking up the underbrush and bellowing out heat.

She felt the pull against her body as she gained momentum, rocketing down the hill, turning over and over, her arms locked over her head in a feeble attempt to protect herself. Then she plunged into cold, so jarring and sudden that all she could do was sink as the river whisked her along.

The currents tore at her. She struggled against them, searching for the surface as her brain continued to spin from the fall, but all she saw was a whirl of blue and brown.

Her body bucked and spasmed and she gagged, coughing as she inhaled mouthfuls of water. Her chest burned and she clawed harder at the water, kicking against it until her face pierced the surface for a moment, allowing a single breath before it yanked her back under.

Her fingers grappled at the river's edge, streaking through mud and stone. As she fought to find a handhold, a scream ripped the air, a strangled plea for help from further downstream. Ava.

The currents lashed at her and yanked her under as the river wound a bend, and the surface turned orange as they blasted through an inferno on the shoreline. Then she was past it, clawing her way to the surface, and the trees vanished, the water coursing farther and farther away. On the horizon, she could make out the twinkling of the vast, open sea.

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