Jailbreakers // Chapter Twenty-Four
Posted January 10th, 2017 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: TWO CHAPTERS AND AN EPILOGUE LEFT
thanks for reading! ^-^
“Re-group!” Onyx’s command rang in Claira’s ear well after the last crail had fallen.
Claira sank to the ground, panting. Sweat mingled with the water from the Glass Pool and ran down her forehead. Her right arm was coated up to the shoulder with ichor, and the front of her shirt was soaked through with the same black goo. Claira wiped her forehead with her non-bloody hand, and tried her best not to stare at anyone. It was an impossible task with everybody stumbling around her to settle at the ruined remnants of what had been the fire.
Onyx’s self was ragdoll-ish, propped up inside a twisted and rusty iron cage. The bars of the cage fitted her form and moved when she did. Ren came up behind Onyx and stood at her side. His face was near unrecognizable, marred and hidden under layer after layer of scar tissue, his mouth was sealed shut. He was shirtless, and Claira couldn’t tell whether that was something the stone had made up, or if he really was. She decided on the former when she caught sight of a knife handle jutting from his stomach, he turned and Claira saw similar bone-handled knives had been driven in up to the hilt all across his exposed back and shoulders.
A bright flickering light drew Claira’s attention away from Ren, and she tilted her head until her gaze landed on Victor. He was on fire. He was also ten feet tall, and the flames licked up to the sky in angry orange, laced with prideful purple. One flame, right over the spot where Claira imagined his heart would have been if he wasn’t a massive fire giant, was colored a strange mix of pastel pink and black. She drew her knees to her chest.
At that moment a cold hand rubbed the curve of her back, and the person attached to the hand plopped down beside her with a graceless exhale. Timothy. She snapped her eyes shut. She was exhausted, sick of peering at the hidden-inner-selves of those around her. It felt invasive and unnatural. And, admittedly, she was scared to get a better look at Timothy’s hidden-inner-self.
“Are you doing alright?” He asked in a whisper. Claira inhaled deeply, nearly choking on the stench that clogged the air, then sighed, relinquishing her grip on the power of the Glass Stone as she did. When she opened her eyes again, the familiar grey black white blur was back in place.
“Yeah,” She murmured, leaning to rest her head on his shoulder. “You?”
“Wish I knew.” He answered.
“Is everybody here?” Onyx shouted. What she meant was ‘is everybody alive’. “Adie?”
“Here.” A little girl called back.
“Athena?” A pause, Onyx cleared her throat, “Peregrine are all your teammates accounted for?”
“Every last one, Jamie’s worried that her ankle is broken though, I’m having Rosie look it over.”
“Okay, Kyra, Victor, Timothy, Claira, Emely?”
Claira threw her answer in with the short chorus of affirmation.
“Good, I want everybody to start gathering supplies and preparing to move out of this area. If you’re hurt, find Scars or Songbird, otherwise you had better be doing something useful.”
Claira hauled herself to her feet. A quick check revealed that her sense sight was still intact and, to her great relief, showed everybody in their human states. Timothy stood up beside her, and she wrapped an arm around his waist. He was splattered with the same black blood that she was, but she discovered that she didn’t mind that much. He pulled her closer, held her to him, and she rested her cheek against a clean patch on his jacket. He wasn’t warm like he had been before. The Glass Pool had sucked all the heat from his body.
“If I could see you, you would probably look blue.” She commented, ignoring the fact that she could see him, very well, now that she was hugging him. He made a sort of choked noise that might have turned into a laugh in a different situation.
“Can I ask you something?” She asked, thinking back to— was it really less than an hour ago?— what she had witnessed in the Glass Pool.
“If I can ask you something in return.” Timothy responded.
Neither of them spoke. Around the camp kids were retrieving scattered weapons and salvaging what they could from under the decayed crail bodies. Victor was stacking wood off to the side, probably to build a bonfire.
“You first.” Timothy broke the quiet. Claira hugged him tighter, if that was possible.
“How did you know where to find the stone?” Timothy stiffened, and Claira loosened her grip to reach up and cup the side of his face in her clean palm. His jaw was clenched. “You don’t have to answer, I was just curious.” He shook his head slightly. His fingers found hers and he guided her hand away from his face and down to his wrist, an invitation. She ran her thumb across the skin of his wrist, she could feel the healing scabs from the zip-ties, and surrounding them were something else. Faint ridges. She could barely see them with her sense sight, but she knew what they had to be. Old scars, from long past times days.
“It was never duct tape.” He whispered, “He figured out that I couldn’t get out of zip-ties.”
The sounds of fire crackling and footsteps thumping and voices chattering seemed oddly distant. Like she had water blocking her ears. Come to think of it, she probably did.
“Your turn.” She nudged him. He seemed…unsteady, somehow, and that was beginning to worry her.
“I think I’ll save my question for later, if you don’t mind.” He said, a pinch of his normal self slipping in.
“Alright. Let’s go see if we can help with anything.” She said, and after a moment of consideration added, “Actually, let’s get you over to the fire first, you’re freezing.”
He gave a half-hearted chuckle.
“I’m fine.” He shrugged her concern off.
“EVERBO—” An ear-splitting, keening tone sliced the air. Like reverb from a broken mic. A volley of swear words faded in and out of audibility before the keening tone snapped off. “Damn it! Run, everybody run, now. Claira and Emely can get you out. Go!” Without the distortion, Claira almost couldn’t recognize the invisible person’s voice.
“Shadow dude, what the hell?” Kyra demanded, coming over from where Victor had a raging fire built.
“There is a herd of crail coming your way, too big to fight, you have to run.” The shadow man insisted. His words sank in and panic settled over the camp. Emely broke off, headed north-east, and Kyra was on her tail at a moment’s notice. The rest of the camp followed suit. Kids stopped to scoop supplies at random into packs. Ren already had his medic’s pack strapped securely to his back and was helping a limping Jamie walk. Claira jogged forward, Timothy beside her. She stumbled on an empty backpack and bent to snatch it up. She did the same with a knife a few feet away, and a canister. It was slow-going, stopping every few steps to shove another object into the pack, but they needed these supplies.
“What part of run don’t humans understand?” A frigid hand gripped her shoulder and propelled her forward. “GO!” The shadow man shouted. Claira staggered, caught her balance, and did exactly what the shadow man had told her to do: She ran.
The reality of the situation suddenly came crashing down around her ears.
A herd of crail, was chasing them right at this moment, hunting them. She couldn’t see them yet, but they had to be close, or else why would the shadow man be forcing them to run? And how was she supposed to help anyone get out of Angellock? How was Emely—and the answer became clear.
The manifestations, of course.
She supposed that Angellock wouldn’t just trap its own selected protectors inside, so she must be able to navigate Angellock, and Emely must be able to as well. Nothing felt different about running through the trees now than it had before. She was still disoriented, unsettled by how they constantly seemed to be running towards a wall of tree trunks but never hitting them. She would have to trust that the shadow man was right, and just keep running.
A shriek pierced the air, and Claira’s breath hitched in her chest. The crail were catching up. She pumped her legs harder. All around her, other’s did the same. They weren’t going fast enough. Ahead of her someone let out a sharp cry, but it sounded excited. A few paces more and she could see why: They weren’t far from the edge of Angellock. The forest was letting them out after all. But were they close enough to make it? At her side, Timothy let out a sharp gasp, and suddenly lurched backwards. Claira hit the brakes, narrowly avoiding crashing into a tree, and spun to see what had happened. Timothy was a few feet away, panting hard and way too pale. He stumbled a few sluggish steps, his shoulders and head were slumped. Behind him, Claira could see the forms of crail, thundering towards them.
“Timothy come on!” She shouted. He lifted his head, his mouth hung open, their gazes locked for a moment. He took one more step, and pitched forward.
“Timothy!” Her feet were moving before she had consciously decided to race back to him. She skidded to her knees at his side and shoved him hard to roll him over. He was limp, floppy, his head lolled to the side and his lips were a bloodless pale color. His eyes were closed. Dead.
And electric fear,
Explosive destructive chaotic frenetic
Burst inside her.
But no, his chest moved—scarcely. He was breathing. He was alive.
The scream of a crail broke her panicked focus, and her head snapped up. The monsters were nearly on them. Suddenly Victor was at her side, grappling Timothy, dragging him, and Kyra was there too, on the other side. Claira scrambled to her feet, and grabbed one of his legs to help carry him. To their left, Ren was all but dragging Jamie along, they weren’t go nearly fast enough to beat the crail. They didn’t have to go that fast, Claira realized with desperation, they just had to move faster than Timothy was being dragged.
Go, go go go go, they had to go faster, they weren’t going to make it.
As if in response to her fear, a now-familiar stench filled her nostrils. A dull, solid pressure struck her side from behind, lifted her up away from the ground, batted her down like a tennis ball. She landed with a breathless thud. Pain ricocheting through her like a shock wave, knocking the air from her lungs and the thoughts from her mind. She blacked out, briefly, for less than a second, but when she came to the crail were there, and her ears were ringing. And Victor was straining to drag Timothy on his own, and Kyra was rocketing towards Claira.
What was she doing?
Claira tried to wave her off, to tell her to go help Victor, but her body wouldn’t respond. Something warm and wet was slithering down her back.
Kyra reached Claira, bent, hauled her up by her shoulders and shouted something that Claira couldn’t hear. The wet ran down Claira’s back even more, and a draft chilled her back. Kyra clamped a hand around Claira’s wrist and towed her towards the edge of Angellock. They were close. Mere feet at most. Out of the corner of her sense sight, Claira saw a black blur. She turned, just a little, just enough to watch a crail lunge, claws and teeth bared. It sailed through the air, closing the space between it and Timothy.
It crashed, down, it would have landed on Timothy, killed him, if not for the shadow that materialized in front of the crail at the last moment, sending the beast skittering with a hasty pulse-like blast.
The reprieve lasted for less than a second. The crail attacked the shadow man, crushing him beyond survival under their bestial bodies.
But a second was all they needed. Kyra and Claira bolted past the final trees, followed closely by Victor dragging Timothy, and they collapsed with the rest of the group on the grassy meadow ground.
If the crail made it past the treeline, they were all dead.
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