1.20 Survivors

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Refugees rushed to gather their scattered supplies, urged by Kessa. They called to each other about injuries.

"We must carry those who are injured," Kessa told them. She noticed that Thomas appeared to be forgotten, still cocooned in chains. The survivors would need to take turns carrying him.

People exchanged dazed, questioning looks.

"What about Alex?" someone called.

The Bringer of Hope still wore his makeshift armor, dented and smeared with blood and muck. Refugees had removed his chains and his helmet, but he looked dead.

Kessa forced herself to sound calm and assured. "I will check on him," she said, hurrying to do so. She did not like their odds of survival if they lost Alex, or Thomas ... but if a bunch of worn-out ummin refugees had to carry the fallen giant through pitch-black ruins, that would be an especially cruel challenge.

"Margo is badly hurt." Cherise sounded sick with worry.

"The teacher is hurt, too." Varktezo crouched next to Thomas, removing his chains. "One of those monsters ate his ear or something."

Kessa did not show her worries. "Do what you can to help them. Naglitay?"

"Yes?" The apprentice herbalist sounded scared, like the adolescent she was. She had lost her head cover, but enough muck spattered her dome to keep it from reflecting lights. "Are we going to die?"

"Not if I can help it." Kessa resisted an urge to clamp her hand around Naglitay's beak. Survival depended on being proactive and purposeful. The last thing they needed was despair to be voiced aloud. "Don't you have herbs that can speed up healing and relieve pain?"

"Oh." Naglitay looked down at her belt pouches, apparently surprised that she was still wearing them. "I have russet leaf powder? But it's supposed to be in a broth," she added apologetically.

"If that powder might help Margo and our other injured friends, then use it," Kessa said. With their powerful healer and their nurse down, the herbalist would need to step up and fill their roles.

"Okay!" Naglitay looked grateful to have an errand.

Kessa spread her hand in front of Alex's nose, and breathed a sigh of relief at the feel of his breath. He was alive.

She climbed onto his armored torso, certain that her lightweight size would not hamper his breathing. She needed to look at the wound. Maybe it was only superficial.

Dried blood streaked his chest plate, and part of his shoulder guard was disintegrated. The wound itself was wide enough to engulf a curled-up version of herself, and embedded with shrapnel.

A hardened, semi-transparent foam stopped it from bleeding. Kessa didn't dare touch the foam. It seemed to be the only thing holding Alex together.

"Kessa." Behind her, Choonhulm sounded grave. "We cannot help the dying."

Kessa straightened and stared down at the stocky miner. "We will not leave anyone behind, if they are alive. Alex would not abandon us."

"How are we supposed to carry him?" Choonhulm sounded exasperated. "We can barely carry our injured friends."

"And what about Margo?" someone else said. "And the teacher?"

Kessa began to respond, but Choonhulm cut her off. "Let's leave the mind reader behind," he suggested. "He's the one the Torth want most, anyway. We don't need him."

"Thomas has kept us alive multiple times," Kessa said. When she saw Choonhulm building up more arguments, she went on, ruthless. "We don't have time for arguments. The Torth will return at any moment."

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