Day Sixteen ➣ Part One

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SHE WAS STILL ALIVE. Her limbs, lined with lead, pulled her down into the rough stone beneath her and she shivered as she cracked open her eyes, squinting into the darkness to make out the rocky ceiling above. Her head felt hollow, her throat rough and dry. Her ankle throbbed. And yet... She felt better. Well enough to return to her body, to wriggle inside of the pain, to look again through her own eyes, feel the air on her own skin. Sliding back into herself just enough to assess the figure above her, perfectly still, their body hunched with suspicion. She swallowed, trying to fight down the dizziness as realization struck.

It was not possible. Could not be possible.

The figure said something, their voice scraping over vowels. Then they fell silent, and for a moment, only the faint sound of their breath echoed through the cave.

Raina blinked. And blinked again. She did not trust her sight, did not trust that she was not hallucinating. But as the cold from the ground seeped into her and she shivered, as the fog of sleep cleared and the ache of exhaustion returned to her body, she trusted in the pain. "They were wrong," she whispered, her eyes wide, drinking them in. Within her fear, wonder blossomed, and beyond it, relief. They had survived. Humans. Humanity. She sat up.

The youth of their features surprised her, glowing brighter as the sun cracked over the horizon, spilling colours into the sky. Their hair, hacked nearly to their scalp, did little to conceal the lump behind their ear, nor another at the nape of their neck. Raina's eyes travelled to their arms. Yet another cluster on their shoulder, more pronounced. There were many costs to survival in a toxic world. 

But their eyes... sunken but bright, they shone with the weariness of a hard life. And distrust. 

In their hands, pointed at her, was a gun.

Raina's eyes widened. Her lips parted, but only a puff of breath came out as she took in the relic, gripped in the hands of the impossible. Her heart hammered in her chest. She glanced around, trying to spot her crew in the waning darkness. No luck. The person uttered a warning and stepped closer.

Raina shrank back. "Please," she said. Her head began to spin, the effort of sitting up sapping the little strength she had. "Please," she said again, too faint to even echo against the cave walls. "We need help. Help us. Help us."

Her words buzzed by the person's ears. She tried again, pointing to herself. "Raina," she said.

The woman stepped closer.

"Raina," she said again.

"Ray-nah," the woman said. 

She nodded. 

The person watched her a moment, tilting their head to the side, and lowered the gun ever so slightly. Raina noticed the fresh cuts and scrapes on their arms, and burn marks on their wrist and neck. Displaced by the fire, same as them. Where had they lived before it struck?

They said her name again, their face pinching ever so slightly as they considered something. Then they shook their head, raising the gun again. They said something, words of dismissal, but their tone was apologetic, their eyes resigned. Raina held her breath. 

Something stirred in the darkness. "Raina?" Kieran croaked. 

The person's head whipped to him, and they were on him in a flash. He let out a cry of surprise.

"Stop!" Raina yelled. She tried to stand, to approach them, but the world grew faint and she dropped to the ground, landing on her bad leg. She cried out and braced her hands on the ground, trying to steady the world as it rocked around her. But all she could see was the gun at Kieran's head, and she pushed back against the dizziness, the nausea. She slid her legs under herself. And she stood. 

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