Ten: An Alarming Anger

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It comes accompanied by a soft squishing sound, like one of Kate's strawberries being turned to mush beneath my mother's pummel stone. A loud scream fills the air, some-how louder and more ear-piercing than my banging in the vents. When I open my eyes Kairim is lying in a heap, his hand clutching the side of his face. Blood drips between his fingers, dropping like tears through the grates.

I stare at Dardy, at the thick pipe that's managed to get into his grasp. His eyes are the color of a night without the moon as he brandishes his blood stained weapon. "Dardy?" My voice is less than a whisper, a drop of fear in a bucket of tension. He turns to me, his face a horrible mask without emotion. My body begins to shake with an unnameable fear.

I scoot away from him, a scream building behind my lips. He raises the pipe above his head and I know my end is coming. I close my eyes, doing my best not to picture the sword slicing through Ackon's stomach. I hear the whistle of the pipe cutting through the air but the impact never comes. I peek an eye open, locating Dardy's ashen face through the haze of my own fear.

"Azra, I'm—" I scramble away, cowering behind Kairim's pain wrenched form. I hear the clang of the pipe hitting the floor and the stomp of vanishing feet. I don't look up until Kairim's moans are the only sound competing with my heartbeat.

Tenderly, I pull Kairim's face towards mine and pry away his fingers. My stomach convulses. The top part of his ear has separated from the rest, clinging on by only a sliver of skin. The blood has begun to coagulate, seeping out like slugs dripping from a carcass. His hair is matted into the wound and I carefully remove the strands, wincing when it makes him cry out.

I hush him, trying my best to be gentle. His breathing is coming out in heavy pants and I know it's only a matter of time before he passes out. I feel like I'm about to, too. The room spins, tilts at an unnatural angle. I shake my head, trying to clear it, telling myself I can't be faint now. I bite my lower lip. Mother would know what to do.

I shiver, remembering for the first time in almost a year how steady her hands were when they brought father's limp body into the kitchen. His clothes were singed, covered in soot, and the charred remains of our harvest. His eyebrows were gone and his skin was scorched and blistered, peeling back to reveal the red beneath.

I close my eyes, envisioning the smoke, the fire that took ten of our neighbors to tame. I remember Ackon, his face bleached white with fear. He'd been the one who first discovered Father, the first to run into the flaming shed. I remember him coughing, his lungs filled with the ash of our livelihood.

Mother hurried us all from the room, her expert hands finding rags and dousing them with water. I remember waiting, wishing for the screams that would signify my father could feel the pain, was still alive. I remember it taking hours.

Kairim's moans seem to start afresh in my mind and I realize with a start that his hand has mine held in a death grip. The tips of my fingers are beginning to turn purple. "Kairim," I try to keep my voice steady, commanding like Mother's was when she demanded I help her change Father's bandages. "You need to get up. Your ear is bleeding and I have no way to stop it. You have to get up and walk. I can't carry you."

He moans again, curling into a fetal position. His hand squeezes tighter around mine as if he's trying to transfer his pain into my body. "Kairim, please," I half-cry, pulling myself up into a bow despite his fingers pulling me down. "You have to get up. I can't help you here. We have to get to the main tunnels. We have to get help."

I pull my hand from his grasp, determining I'll have to go on my own. "Don't—Don't leave me." His voice is soft, like Luke's when he's fighting sleep, except his is filled with pain. I kneel beside him again, this time keeping my hands on my lap, away from his.

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