Day Fifteen

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THE PURPLE IN THE SKY sky blended into a soft blue as they found shelter. Towering up on a hill, its stone face jutted outwards, creating just enough shade for them to crawl under it and collapse. They lay still, throbbing with exhaustion. The wind changed again, pushing back inland, and the smoke cleared at last, blessing them with clean air that smelled of the sea. The relief did not last long, though. The sun returned to its blistering state, the ground around them baking until heat hovered over the earth, a thick blanket that wrapped around Raina's throat. 

Her thoughts wove together and faded away, too scattered to latch onto. When she opened her eyes, two rivers stared back at her, far below. She clutched her head, pressing on her temples, trying to distract from the pressure that squeezed her skull from the inside, like her brain was swelling. She groaned. 

She rolled onto her back and focused on her breathing. In. Out. In. How easy it would be to just stop. 

Rance's face swam into her mind's eye. Then Maeve. She took another breath. Her chest heaved with the effort and the air grated along her lungs. She turned her head. Calen wheezed in the corner, his back to her, his body shaking as he forced himself to inhale. His skin was blue.

She struggled onto her hands and knees, but as she crawled down the hill to the water's edge, willing to drink the ash, her limbs failed her. Her elbows gave out, and she slammed onto the hard ground beneath her. Pain flashed through her head and down her neck. Stones dug into her chin. 

She lay still, burning under the hot sun. The only relief, too weak to help her, was the wind, blowing off the water that was so close and yet so far, smelling of--smelling of--


She twisted her head to the side, pressing her cheek into the ground. On the horizon, gathering amidst the waves, was a single dark cloud. 

A blessing--if only they could last that long.

She braced her hands against the ground and pushed up with all the strength she had. Her arms trembled but she held firm, sliding her knees under her--

She buckled. 

Her chin slammed against the ground again and this time her vision gave way, filling with stars, and she let out a dry, mangled cry. She could not move. She had no strength left. Not even thoughts of her crew, of Finn's burns or Calen's breathing or finding Rance and Maeve could give her the energy to get up. The pulses of pain began to morph together, gaining momentum, washing her body in red heat, spreading through her like wildfire. They prodded at her skull, pushing, testing for entry. 

As she closed her eyes and gave in, a pair of feet stepped in front of her. 

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