Day Thirteen

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"THE FIRE'S COMING THIS way," Rance said. "The wind's shifted."

Maeve nodded and coughed. "Seems to have slowed down, though."

"Do you think the others--"

"Stop asking questions if you're afraid of the answer," Maeve said.

Rance bit back his retort and climbed down from the tree. The winds off the ocean had given them a night's rest, lasting nearly until dawn, but they knew better than to stretch their luck. They had been walking for hours. And as the fire began to trot after them, he was glad Maeve had talked him into it, even as his body begged to sit down.

The smoke, no longer steered away by the western winds, now returned, clouds of it billowing towards the sea, drifting down on top of them until visibility dwindled to a few metres at best. Maeve coughed again, and again spat up grey.

Rance averted his gaze, but he could see the worry on her face, in her sunken eyes. "Do we even know where we're going?" he asked.

"Ocean," she said. "And then, I guess we keep south."

"Yes, but--"

She pulled the map out and offered it to him. "We have nothing else to go on. Look."

He took the scraps of paper from her, ink running across oceans and continents until it all bled together into a single, illegible mess. As he squinted at it, his foot plunged into a dip in the ground, and he sprawled forward. His head cracked against the ground.

Pain flared in his back, a pain he had been fighting since his tumble down the hill. He froze, letting it pass, bolts of it sputtering downward to his tailbone.

"Hey." Maeve leaned down and offered her hand. He took it.

He winced as he straightened, taking a stiff, tentative step. Then another. He fell back into a rhythm, eyes fixed on the ground, now struggling to match Maeve's pace. He questioned, not for the first time, how far he could go, how far he could push his body before it gave in. Had he suffered Raina's injuries, he knew he would not still be alive. But while she was tough, he could not help the fear that they had gotten the best of her. Or the smoke. Or the water. And Kieran, and Calen, Arleigh and Ava... he swallowed a lump in his throat.

"Hey," Maeve said, nudging his side. He turned to look at her and she shook her head. "Don't think about it."

He swallowed hard and shoved down his emotions, the way he had seen Raina do so many times, a strength he could only pretend to have. But Maeve was right--he had no choice.

They kept walking.

➣ ➣ ➣

Sweat rolled down Kieran's face. He adjusted Calen's arms around his neck and took another step. Calen's weight grew with each passing minute, and Kieran swallowed against the sandpaper in his throat, casting a long look at the river beside him, choked with ash.

Finn trailed behind him, dragging his legs along the ground. After so long alternating between carrying them both between the two, Kieran could feel the end of his energy fast approaching. But he had felt the shift in the winds shortly before dawn, and with Calen's lungs too damaged and Finn's burns too severe to walk quickly, he had no choice but to keep pushing. 

He stepped over a log, and his limbs grew faint, his head spinning. "You need to walk," he ground out.

Calen slid down onto his feet and swayed. His eyes widened. He lurched forward and threw up.

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