Day Twenty-Five

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RANCE'S LEG HAD BEGUN to discolour, almost imperceptible over the deep red of his bruises. Raina examined it, as did Kieran, but without Calen's knowledge they could only tell so much, and nothing of how to help him. She pulled at the neck of her suit, desperate for fresh air as a heavy, humid morning set in. 

Her own ankle still throbbed, and purple welts covered her body from the landslide, but the effects from the puncture wounds had worn off in the night. The animals had approached them only once, and it had been Kieran who fired the gun, reloading with the handful of bullets Maeve had found. It still rang in Raina's ears as they began walking again, picking at the refuse around them for anything useful. A wrench. Some rope. In the middle of a pile of broken, warped metal, she spied a pair of baby shoes. 

A hill of debris blocked their path. Kieran hauled himself up first, scouting the area, and beckoned them forward. Raina followed, Rance on her arm. In his other hand he held her metal cane, the wound weakening his leg far more than she had anticipated. Another ripple of worry spread in her gut. 

As they crested the pile and descended, Raina wondered what it was like to breathe clean air again--she could not even smell the stench anymore. The haze, however, cleared as they advanced, and as they picked their way across the sticky ground, they began to hear the sounds of water. Waves. 

Hope flared in Raina's chest.

Maeve was the first to spot it, nearly invisible behind the haze. Her jaw dropped as she stared.

A wall.

Rising out of the smog, it stretched from horizon to horizon on either side, much of it still standing, covered in black nearly up to the top. But not too far from them, it had crumbled away, and the pounding waves of the surf met filthy soil. Rubble, still fresh, lay strewn at its base. It had not been more than a few years since it gave out. Raina stepped closer, staring up at the very top of the wall, thrust fifty metres in the air. A straight black line stretched across for as far as she could see.

"The black," Maeve said, her throat cracking in dryness. "It kept it in."

Raina nodded. She thought back to the wood, perfectly preserved. The little rust on the metals. Whatever the black was, it had been there for a long, long time. And when the wall had broken, it had poured into the ocean. 

The last hour of walking dragged on like days, the promise of fresh air, of freedom, so close. At last, they approached the wall. Raina's chest fluttered as she stepped over the rubble, massive stones fortified four times over. It would not have surprised her if it had been a storm that had finally shattered it. She paused, a hand on it, and could not help the awe she felt at those who had constructed it... even if it had been for such a vile purpose. 

She stepped beyond it onto a small beach, the sands hugging the wall down the entirety of the coastline. The wind blasted her face, spraying her with droplets of the sea, and she gulped down the salty air, basking in the smell of brine. Never had she been so happy to meet the ocean again. 

They followed the wall eastwards, the air clearing until they left the stench behind, and even then they did not look back. Soon, all traces of black were gone from the sand, only the odd scrap of plastic hinting at the disaster just beyond it. Raina did not even realize when they had stopped--only that they were jumping into the surf, scrubbing away at the sludge on them with clumps of thick, rocky sand, cleansing themselves of the hell they had walked through and survived. Raina rejoiced at the feeling of freedom on her skin, in her lungs, in her eyes. Breathing alone brought her energy, brought her hope. The sun sat high in the sky, early afternoon, and when she had finally exhausted herself of every last ounce of energy, she lay back on the sand and closed her eyes. But the wasteland had not let go of them just yet. 

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