Ash and Cinder | chapter 5
Posted August 2nd, 2018 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: this is late because i have no motivation to post on kidpub except out of nostalgia and that's just the way it be :p
the song for this chapter is On Fire by my favourite band, Ashes Remain.
Thanks for reading, leave a comment if you can (it feeds my horrible ego and gives me a will to be more active, ngl)
5 | Chastin
“Hendrix!” A terrified scream shatters the black oblivion of my dreamless sleep. I recognize the voice instantly.
My eyes fly open and I spring to my feet. Only it doesn’t quite work that way because the ground tilts on its side, and instead of jumping up, I’m crashing sideways.
“Hendrix ¡ayúdame!” Elle shrieks again. A fleshy crack echoes through the air. I struggle to my knees, frantically searching for Elle through dizzying triple vision.
“Elle?” I call. Her answer is a muffled scream. The world stops spinning enough for me to just make out two forms on the hill above me. One is Elle, and the other is a massive man in military dress. He has a clunky black gun pressed to Elle’s temple, his other hand is clamped around her mouth.
“Don’t shoot!” I shout on impulse. The man narrows his eyes, his finger tightens around the trigger, turning my blood to ice in my veins. Elle’s doe eyes are wide and glassy with tears, a sharp whimper escapes from between the man’s fingers. Her skin is shifting in a patchwork myriad, the way it always does when she’s scared. Some parts of her I can see, other’s have vanished, chameleon-like, into the surrounding landscape.
“Elle, ¡calmarse! You’re going to be fine.” Maverick appears on the scene, as calm and collected as ever. He’s facing the man, his hands are in his pocket. “He doesn’t speak English.” He says, more as an idle observation than anything. Without turning away from the man, Maverick addresses me.
“Trick, tell your sister that everything is going to be ok.” He instructs. Ok? I see no way in which this situation turns out ok. Then again, I suppose that’s been our life since the white coats showed up, so I fill my lungs with frigid air, and lie to my sister.
“Estas bien, Elle, es bien, we’re going to get you away from him.” The words stick to my throat on their way out. Elle’s gaze finds mine and holds it. “It’s ok.” I say again. Nausea is turning my insides to mush. In a moment’s notice, the man decides that he’s had enough of standing around. He takes a step back, and Elle kicks out wildly. His grip on her constricts and he starts shouting something at us in another language. Russian, I think. I recognize the vowel-heavy flow from years of listening to the white coats. He’s waving the gun around now, pausing every now and then to point it at any one of us. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimmer of movement. Someone is sneaking up on the man. Suddenly, Maverick’s plan becomes clear to me.
“Elle, calm down.” I instruct, and she does. Her feet stop kicking and she stares straight at me. The lack of resistance affords the man an easy way to drag her back. “Escucha, I need you to be brave okay, when I say duck, duck.” The man is nearly to the vehicle now, Behind him, at the top of the hill, is a jeep. A woman with blonde and dyed red hair knotted up in a tight bun is sitting in the driver’s seat. She stares pointedly away from the scene, from this distance I can’t read her expression, but I imagine it’s not a pleasant one. I wish they would get on with whatever they have planned, because we’re running out of time. Elle’s toes drag along the stony ground, her matchstick legs are motionless and her too-wide eyes are still trained on me, waiting for the signal. The man is nearly at the top of the hill and Elle is fighting tears, but she nods as best as she can. I glance sideways at Maverick. He waits, his eyes dart between the man and the other person. Then he tips his chin in affirmation.
“Duck now.” I command the moment I catch his nod. My vision fades in and out of blurriness
Elle twists in the man’s grip and sinks her white little teeth into the flesh of his arm. The man shouts in surprise but doesn’t drop her. At the same time, Chastin, who had slowly but surely been sneaking up to an angle where he could get a clear shot, lunges, his hands out, fingers splayed, and launches a volley of glittering white ice daggers at the man. The man reacts with impressive reflex. In a matter of seconds he whips the gun in an arc, first cracking it against Elle’s skull, then swinging it up and firing. Once, twice, four times, before an ice dagger meets its mark and burrows deep in his non-shooting shoulder, and he is forced to drop Elle. A spray of scarlet blood mists the air. Chastin falls. His mouth frozen open in shock. Behind me, someone screams his name. Elle drops to the ground, the pile of stones she catches her footing on gives out. Pebbles skitter down the hill and she slips, falls, cracks her head on the unforgiving earth and goes still. I see Maverick motioning to someone else out of the corner of my eye, the man sees him too, and levels his smoking gun at the person Maverick was signalling. Elle is laying at the man’s feet. Her skin has stopped shifting, her purple-stained eyelids are closed, but faint puffs swirl out of her nose in the morning chill. She’s still breathing. The man is barking out either warnings or orders as he crouches and grabs Elle by one skinny arm. Her head lolls, she’s out cold.
“Don’t do anything rash.” Maverick warns, though he’s gone noticeably paler.
“We don’t have time for another plan.” I mutter in response. The man is hefting Elle like a sack of flour. She flops like a ragdoll, there’s blood matting her curls surrounding the place where he nailed her with the gun. Angry, I rise inch-by-inch to my feet. The man squints at me, his gun still pointed at a person who is standing just outside of my field of vision. His left arm dangles useless at his side, melting ice and blood mix together and roll in fat drops down the front of his camouflage fatigues. Testily I take a step forward, the man barks an order at me in Russian. I freeze, determining a next step, when he moves. He turns the barrel of the gun to me, and squeezes the trigger. Maverick shouts something that I don’t catch. A force like a sledgehammer slams into me, knocking the air from my lungs and sending me sailing down the hill. I tumble and roll over sharp rocks and unforgiving stone, pebbles skitter in every which direction. I skid to a stop at the foot of the hill.
My first thought is that I have to get to Elle. My second is actually two thoughts at the same time, one; I cannot breathe, and two; I’m bleeding. The sound of an engine revving and tires squealing filters down the side of the hill. I stagger to my feet, gasping for air that won’t hit my lungs. The world pitches so violently that I have to lean forward and rest my hands on my knees.
“Sky.” Maverick’s voice filters down from the rest. I roll over once more and push myself to my hands and knees. The black is clearing rapidly and my breath is returning, which leaves room for me to focus on the fact that I’m bleeding. Not heavily, as far as I can tell, so I get to my feet and straggle back up the hill. I see Maverick at the top of the slope, he’s facing away from me, staring at something in the distance. When I’m half-way to the top, he pivots on his toes and comes down to meet me.
“Is she okay?” The words tumble from my mouth before Maverick even makes it to my side. He draws his brows together and shuffles to a stop.
“Let’s have a look at you.” He murmurs, more to himself than anyone else. He puts a hand on either of my shoulders and turns me from side to side, searching for new injuries. “No bullet, at least.” He allows at last. “The rocks did a number on you though.”
Surprised, I glance down at myself. The blood is coming from a number of minor scrapes and cuts, but there is no bullet hole, no bullet. What hit me, then? In the background, I see forms pacing. None of them are small enough to be Elle. Where is she? I start forward, determined to check on her, but Maverick steps in front of me, blocking my path.
“Trick, they took Elle.” He says, watching me warily.
“What?” I don’t understand. I don’t…want to.
“They took Elle. She’s gone, not dead,” He hurries that last part, “Just not here.”
The air leaves my lungs for the second time today, only this time it doesn’t come back. A strange, awful pain settles over my chest like a vice. Time stretches into meaninglessness. Seconds turn into hours, turn into months, turn into minutes, and when I snap back to the present I’ve made my decision. But first, a sudden, flaring anger has bubbled up inside me. I stalk up the nearest rock, which happens to be the one I sat on last night, and drive my knee down hard on it. The rock shudders, cracks with a satisfying hollow snap. The extra energy vibrates up my leg and dissipates around my hips, setting off phantom pain from an old injury. I stagger back, limping and trying not to. It’s then that the sound of weeping reaches my ears.
“We’ll get her back.” He promises, turning to me. “But first…” He trails off, staring at the place where Chastin fell. First, we bury our dead. I glance down the hill to where Maverick is. He bends, plucks something from the rubble, and shoves it in his pocket. I wait for him to trudge back up the hill, then we both make our way over to the others. The woman is on her knees now, she has Chastin’s head in her lap, and is sobbing uncontrollably. Four bloodred roses blooming in a scatterplot over his chest. A trickle of blood has dripped out the corner of Chastin’s mouth, his eyes, half-open, stare permanently ahead at some unseeable thing. The woman strokes his face, runs her fingers through his blond hair. Her chest heaves unevenly as she chokes on her tears.
A quick glance around shows that Chastin’s death is a loss that everyone feels. The Asian guy is blinking hard, tears form tracks in the soot on his cheeks. King has his arms folded across his chest, his chin is tucked as he stares at Chastin. In the light of day I can make out old scars on his face, carved across his forehead in imperfect raised lines. When he frowns, the lines buckle. Leaning on the boulder, not far away, is Dieter. He’s watching the others. I note with a slight twinge of regret that his left eyelid is swollen and black. The bruise flowers up across his temple and disappears into his fair hairline.
When the woman’s sobbing has reduced to sniffling, Maverick steps forward and crouches to rest a hand on her shoulder. A whispered communication passes between them. The woman nods, and Maverick stands up and steps back.
Carefully, the woman reaches over and folds Chastin’s arms neatly across his bloody chest. She gently lifts his head and sets it on the ground. Then words, soft at first, and in Russian, spill out of her mouth. A prayer of sorts. It is short, and by the end of it the woman is choking up again. This time, the Asian guy helps her to her feet and guides her back. Her hair falls like a curtain around her face, hiding her from the rest of the world. We give her space.
There is no place in the rock to dig a grave.
Maverick takes her place. Bending on one knee, he brushes his fingers over Chastin’s eyelids, shutting them forever.
“Rest in peace, Chastin Wardrop.” He murmurs. He hesitates a moment beside the body. Sadness passes clearly over his face, mixed with a darker, more hideous emotion. He clenches his jaw, and backs away, motioning for the rest of us to do the same.
“Bakari, would you?”
King gives a curt nod. He slides the ball of his foot along the ground in a sweeping motion. There is a deep rumble, then the earth splits open with a hollow crack and swallows Chastin. Another swipe of Bakari’s foot, and a Chastin is buried under a mound of fist-sized rocks. We all stare in silence, first at the grave, and then at Maverick. He is our leader, and we are waiting for answers. He stands still. A parade of dark emotions traipses across his face. His silence, I imagine, is more for him to process all that’s happened than for him to come to a decision. At last he speaks, his eyes alight with fury.
“We’re going after them.” He states. Nobody protests. The military man killed one of our own, and stole another. All of us except one, apparently.
“No.” Pasty speaks up, earning himself hard stares from everyone. He wans under the sudden attention, but doesn’t stop. “We should head in the opposite direction, get as far away from those psychos as possible.” He moves from his place against the boulder, as he speaks he leans slightly, as if he’s trying to put more emphasis into his words.
“Those psychos took Elle, and we do not leave one of our own.” Maverick’s jaw is tight as he explains this. His tone is even, but anyone can see that he’s not having a great time keeping it that way. I’m having difficulty too, as my anger rises, parts of me are slipping through the cracks, and I struggle to keep them attached.
“They also have guns that they clearly have no problems using.” Pasty argues. “What’s the point of going after one person if we’re all going to end up dead?”
“We can’t just abandon her!” I snap, more and more of the good part of me slips away. Pasty’s attention shifts to me. He crosses his arms over his barrel chest and faintly looks as thought he’s reconsidering.
“Dude, I’m sorry about your girlfriend, but it’s not worth the risk.” He says after a moment. I’m on him before the last word is out of his mouth. My fingers find his throat, squeeze, lift him up. His tiptoes scrabble for traction on the earth.
“She’s my sister.” I snarl. Pasty’s face is going red-purple, his mouth gapes as he gasps for air, and his eyes are rolling back in his head. Call me crazy, but I find it hard to care. I know I should put him down, but that part of me that would is sloughing away just like it does before a duel.
“Trick.” Maverick’s hand is on my shoulder. I glance sideways at him, at the rest of the group. They’re all staring at me with varying degrees of ‘what the hell’ painted on their face. Oh. I drop Pasty. He stumbles, gasps, coughs violently. His hands fly to his neck. A flicker of regret wriggles it’s way into the back of my head as I note the already darkening bruises there. I shouldn’t have done that. I turn on my heels and run my fingers through my hair, my glasses rest crookedly on the end of my nose, so I push them back up. Behind me, Pasty takes a steadying breath and mutters,
That’s it. I whirl around, my fist already balled, and nail Pasty across the cheekbone. A bone cracks, and he crumples fast. Maverick jumps between the two of us, hands out, ready to stop and all-out battle, but I’m already done. I shake out my hand and stalk off in what I hope is the direction the jeep took.
I am going to get Elle back, now.
The cold sun shines on everything. I have to squint against the brightness. Mid-spring in Russia is always like this; too-bright and borderline cold. Every other step my left knee twinges. My joints do that every time the barometric pressure goes down, always beginning with my knee. Part of it is the fibromyalgia, I think, but the knee only started aching after I shattered my legs. My breath no longer swirls in the air, which is a positive, but with each passing minute the pain pills are wearing off. I pat the pockets of my sweater, searching for the bottle. It’s not there. The scraps tied around my chest and over my shoulders are beginning to feel like shackles. The fabric is like sandpaper against my burned skin, even so I get the idea that the pain pills are blocking most of the pain from my burn. That means when the drugs wear off, well, I’m going to be in six kinds of hell. I guess that means I’ll have to rescue Elle all that much quicker, which is fine by me. The sooner I get her back, the better.
“Trick! Wait up.” A familiar voice calls. I ignore it and press forward. The terrain is rocky, and foliage is sparse, just a towering oak or pine here and there. In the distance, angled to my left, the trees are much thicker.
“Come on man, you know you can’t outrun me.”
I sigh, and slow down. Maverick jogs up beside me, matching me stride for stride. Behind us is the clomping of four other sets of feet.
“What do you want?” I ask, trying not to sound too bitter. I’m calm enough now to realize that Pasty had a good point. I wouldn’t be that surprised if the others followed his reasoning over mine, in fact, I’m not sure I want anyone with me for this. What if more of us die?
“Did you think I was gonna let you run off on your own?” He scoffs.
“I don’t need help.” I grumble, though we both know that’s a lie.
“You don’t know where they took her.” He points out.
“And you do?”
“Give me five minutes.”
Because this is Maverick, and only because this is Mave talking to me right now, I slow to a stop.
“Shouldn’t you be with your group?” I ask, crossing my arms over my chest for warmth, but then dropping them because the motion stretches the burn injury in painful ways.
“I am.” He says, and nodes his head in the direction we came from. Not far back is the rest of the group. Right, that would be what the other footfalls were. Pasty trails behind them, and I can’t help but notice with a measure of both smugness and self-loathing that the entire left side of his face is bruised an ugly gooseberry purple to match his black eye. Lower, my gaze finds blue-ish, finger-shaped welts on the soft flesh of his neck.
“We’re gonna rain hell on those military guys, together.” Maverick intones pointedly, “Catch my drift, Trick?” He raises both eyebrows. I dip my head and run my fingers through my short hair.
“Loud and clear.”
Maverick is making us all a team, regardless of whether we want to be one or not.
“Great.” He holds a fist out towards me, something in it rattling. “By the way, you forgot these.” I grin half-heartedly, and take the bottle of pills. They rattle pleasantly in my hand.
“Thanks.” I say.
“What’re friends for.”
I pop the lid on the pills and shake one into my hand. I wish I could down one now and kill the pain at its roots, but unfortunately that’s not how these stupid things work. Resigning myself to the aches, I dump the pill back inside and slip the bottle into my sweater pocket. I turn to get a better look of everyone here, and catch Pasty eyeing the top of the pill bottled. Unsettled, I shove it deeper into my pocket.
“So, directions.” I say, turning back to Maverick. He holds up a finger, his focus is on Bakari, whose bent over against a birch tree. The other guy, whose name I still don’t know, gives his back a solid couple of bumps before moving off to check the other side of the foothill we’re on.
“We’ll have them in a moment.” Mave assures me offhandedly. “King, how’s it going over there?”
“I’m good,” Bakari wheezes, straightening up. He pounds his chest with the side of his fist, coughing hard once. “I’m good. Heart’s working.”
Not more than a minute later a blur zips into our midst and skids to a halt. A spray of gravel kicks up under the blur’s feet. I step back instinctively, but Maverick remains impassive.
“Trick, meet Skyelar.”
The blur, now that it’s not moving, has become a person. A sweaty guy with a narrow build and wind-spiked ginger hair stands before us. Dirty goggles obscure his eyes.
“And while we’re doing the name thing, this is Piper,” Maverick points to the Asian dude, “Delilah,” The only girl in the group, “and I hope you at least remember Bakari and Dieter, since you saw them both yesterday.” The names all sound vaguely familiar, which means I’ve probably met them all before, except for Skyelar.
“Sky, this is Trick.” Maverick draws an invisible line connecting me and Sky, confirming my suspicion that we’ve never met before.
“Fastest kid in the compound, at your service” Sky pries his goggles off, mock curtseying as he does. His accent is distinctly British. Freckles smatter his olive skin and his narrow blue eyes are full of mirth. We shake, his hand is slender like the rest of him, I can picture him racing around the dome clutching a rubber knife.
“Not too bad, bit parched from all that running.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and looks to Maverick. Mave shrugs.
“Sorry man, try the snow.”
Sky rolls his eyes, “Prepared much?”
“I fail to see how he can help.” None other than Pasty himself pipes up. His voice is nasally. I definitely broke his nose, and possibly his cheekbone too. Maverick claps Sky on the back,
“Speedy here has been trailing our guys since they made their escape.”
Suddenly, I’m all questions.
“He has? Did you see Elle? Where did they take her?” I blabber. Sky holds his hands up.
“Woah, mate, breathe.” He says, eyebrows disappearing under ginger hair. I clamp my mouth shut, desperate for answers. Sky points a slender finger in the direction he came from.
“There’s a camp fifteen miles due east. I’m not going to lie, there are at least a hundred people there, all military, not too friendly looking.”
“Sky,” Maverick interrupts, “focus.”
“Right, at any rate, you could make it there easy enough, just not before nightfall, and some of the terrain you do not want to be navigating in the dark.” Sky drops his hand to his side, finished delivering his news.
“Any good campsites?” Maverick asks, already thinking ahead.
“I might’ve seen a few right before the travelling got well and truly nasty. That’s a big might, mind you, it’s not easy catching details when you’re going that fast.”
Maverick nods thoughtfully.
“Okay,” He says after a moment of quiet, “Here’s what’s happening; we’ve already hiked at least three miles, and we’re all tired from last night and this morning. So, we’ll go as far as we can today, set up a camp, scavenge some food if we can, and get as much shut-eye as possible.” He looks from face to face as he speaks, his way of addressing both the individuals and the group as a whole. “Tomorrow morning we’ll hike the rest of the way to the camp, grab Elle and whatever else we can, and get out as fast as possible.” Maverick clasps his hands together and rocks back on his heels, “Questions, comments, complaints, concerns?”
In response, Pasty starts to shake his head, only to stop sharply. Probably because his head hurts like hell. He settles for a scoffing noise instead.
“Dieter?” Maverick thumps back onto flat feet, meeting Pasty with a level gaze.
“Is no one concerned about the fact that this is a suicide mission?” Pasty fumes. Piper let’s out a low whistle.
“Cheerful bugger you are, mate.” Sky quips. Dieter shoots them both glares that could curdle milk.
“My man, you don’t have to come with us.” Maverick, forever the peacekeeper, steps in before things can escalate like they did on the hill. Dieter shifts his angry gaze to Maverick. They stare each other down, and endeavour that Maverick inevitable wins. “You’re free to go whenever you like, just don’t come back.” His answer seems harsh, but it’s necessary. We can’t afford to have any loose threads. Dieter holds his tongue.
“Uh huh.” Maverick turns to address the rest of the group. “That offer stands for everyone. I’m not going to force anyone to come on this little mission of ours. A quick glance around shows that nobody is keen to take him up on that offer. Delilah’s eyes flare with wild determination. I doubt that a rescue mission is the only things she has in mind for the military camp.
“Alright, now that’s settled, let’s go.” Maverick claps his hands together, “If you’re thirsty, grab some snow, if you’re hungry, well so is everybody else.”
I stoop to scoop up a handful of snow and pop it in my mouth before picking up a brisk jog. The snow numbs the roof of my mouth and tastes like dirt and pine needles. It’s a source of water though. I try not to focus on the grit in the snow, or on the discomfort that’s rising in heat-like waves off my burn. Just think, by this time tomorrow, I’ll have Elle back.
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