Ash and Cinder | chapter 4
Posted June 2nd, 2018 by Zelda
in a perpetual predicament
A/N: woah, look at that, an update that's mostly on time?? Outrageous! Also, I got Grammarly and it has yet to be useful. It's trying, but my computer doesn't like it..
Okie, the song for this chapter is... Angels Fall by Breaking Benjamin.
Thanks so much for reading this chapter, CC is much appreciated!
4| The Compound
The manacles clink closed around my wrists. I wait patiently as a whitecoat secures me to the wall of my cell. I stare at the chain for a moment. They’re titanium alloy replacements for the iron ones I broke a while back. These shackles aren’t bad, actually, no scratchy rust, no blood stains. The whitecoat finishes locking me in and gives me a small, encouraging smile. I scowl back, and her smile falters. Good. After this many years, you’d think they’d stop sending cute and smiley ‘coats to lock experiments up. It’s misleading. I’ve probably developed some sort of complex because of it.
The cell door clicks shut behind the whitecoat and the cell darkens instantly. I stretch and listen to every bone in my back pop. Today was an exhausting one and yet again I was barred from seeing Elle. These are the worst kind of days. Elle is my sister, my baby sister, and it’s my job to protect her from everything. Everything. That includes the whitecoats and the cancer that’s eating her frail body. It makes me antsy when I’m not allowed to see her, it feels like I’m not doing enough to help her. I comfort myself with the fact that Maverick checked in on her after lunch.
I slide my back down the wall to sit on the cold floor. A faint light from the small, barred window set in the door illuminates most of the cell. There’s not much in here. Just a single dresser, bolted to the floor and wall. Its drawers contain five sets of the same grey tank tops, shirts, and sweatpants, plus two sweaters for cold days. Resting on top of the dresser rests a blue prescription bottle, half-full of oval pills. Milnacipran, pain pills, for the fibromyalgia the white coats accidentally triggered when they experimented on me. I forgot to take my meds before the whitecoat locked me up.
Without the pain pills, I’ll be neck-deep in borderline agony and muscle spasms before the night is up. As if to tease me, a pinprick twinge needles my chest. This morning’s meds are wearing off already. I lean my head against the wall and squinch my eyes shut. The chains keeping me pinned to the wall are too short, I can’t reach the pill bottle from here, and I can’t risk getting in trouble for breaking another set of restraints. Especially not after what happened with Pasty today. I suck in a huge breath, ignoring the twinge it sets off, and hold it. Well, since I’m going to be curled in an agonized ball in a few hours, I might as well get some shut-eye now. I let the breath out all at once, and shift to a more comfortable position. It doesn’t take too long for me to drift off into a dreamless swirl of unconsciousness.
I wake up to the awful sensation of a chainsaw ripping through my chest. I gasp and make the mistake of bolting upright. Glass shards stab into my back, all along my spine, and thick hot metal bands tighten suffocatingly around my chest. Something akin to a white-hot iron burrows itself deep in my torso, and the manacles that were mere annoyances early are a sudden, bruising pressure on my wrists.
Don’t fight it, don’t fight it, don’t fight it.
The mantra repeats in my head. The tenser I get, the worse this will be. I force my shoulders to relax, even though it puts that much more weight on my aching wrists. Slowly, slowly, I ease myself up to relieve some of the pressure. Despite my best efforts, the glass burrows deeper into my skin. I tip my chin up slightly, hoping that will help, and that’s when I finally notice that it’s no longer pitch dark in the cell. The emergency lights are on, bathing the room in an eerie bloodred light. Puzzled, my eyes flit to the door like it can give me answers. As if on cue it bursts open. The door crashes into the adjacent stone wall, and all at once an ear-piercing keening tone floods the cell.
“Why are you still in here?” An angry Maverick demands, storming in. He stalks over to me and makes like he’s about to jerk on my chains, but his hand stops halfway and he pulls back sharply. He probably just got a wave of the pained frenzy my mind is in.
“I just woke up.” I protest, I have to shout to be heard above the high-pitched shriek. I clamber to my feet, grinding my teeth hard again the wave of dizzying pain that shoots from my neck right down through the soles of my feet.
“You slept through fifteen minutes of this racket?” Maverick spins on his heels and strides across the room to snatch up the bottle of pain pills.
Blazing stars, are you already in withdrawal?
“Speaker in here must be out, ‘cause that could wake the dead,” I say, ignoring the question Mave speaks in my mind.
“If you don’t hurry up we’ll be dead.” Maverick shouts, clearly agitated. Out of nowhere, the ground shudders hard, knocking us all to our knees. Plaster dust rains from the ceiling.
“King, help him.” Maverick motions to me around a volley of coughs. King, a short black guy, who I recognize but don’t know anything about, steps through the door and starts towards me.
“I got it.” I wave him off.
“Listen, I gotta make sure nobody else was stupid enough to stick around in here, grab what you can and meet us out by the court ASAP,” Maverick instructs, setting the pill bottle and something else back on the dresser.
He leaves in a hurry, King on his heels. Not wasting a second, I wrap on chain around my arm, pause as the chainsaw punches through me again, and give on good hard yank. The bolt comes free of the stone wall, and in a matter of seconds I am chainless. I stumble across the cell to the dresser. Two pills rest beside the bottle. That must be the second thing Maverick set down. I pop them in my mouth and dry swallow. Unfortunately, their effect is not immediate, but I don’t have time to waste. I jerk open the top drawer and fish out a sweater. I pull the sweater over my head, grab the pill bottle, and shove it in my pocket. After that I grab an extra shirt, pants, and the last sweater. Whatever is happening, I want Elle with me, and it’s bound to be cold outside.
Tucking the extra clothes down my sweater, I jog out into the hall. The pain pills begin to work their magic as I run down the corridors of Block Three. The alarm blares, and the emergency lights give everything an ominous glow. Another blast rocks the building, sending me crashing into the wall. A scream echoes down from one corridor. I make the executive decision not to go see who caused it. A shadow appears on the wall, and I snap up straight, my right foot slides back a couple inches for better balance. Sure enough, the shadow belongs to a redcoat. But he barrels past me, shouting something into a walkie-talkie, wielding a shiny black stick. I don’t even think he registers that I’m here.
What the hell is going on?
I continue down the hallway, keeping my eyes peeled for other redcoats and white coats. The blocks aren’t particularly big, so it doesn’t take long for me to reach the exit. The door is gaping. Flickering orange light and distant shouting filters in from outside. I sidle up beside the opening and peek out, checking the area for any redcoats that might take offense to me being out of my cell. The chill wind nips at my ears and sends shivers down my back.
The compound is in chaos. Fires are blazing, flames lick three walls of the mess hall. Scorched patches and the fallen forms of redcoats and experiments dot the ground. And the fence is down. Experiments bottleneck the crude hole in the fence, redcoats buzz around them like flies, darting in and clubbing down an experiment where they can, but it’s not slowing the flow. There aren’t nearly enough redcoats trying to stop them. Where are the rest of the redcoats, I wonder. I sneak out of Block Three and skirt along the outside wall. The infirmary is on the far end of the yard. I turn the corner and run into Maverick. He has his hands on his hips. Behind him are Chastin, King, Dieter, and three other experiments.
“It’s about damn time.” He shouts, “Let’s go.” He wheels around and heads to the basketball court. That part of the fence is shrouded in darkness, but I imagine that there’s a hole in that section too, or there’s about to be one. One track mind, that one has. I still have no clue what’s going on. But if Mave thinks I’m leaving without Elle then he’s lost his mind.
“Go ahead,” I call over my shoulder, turning the other direction, towards the infirmary. “I’ll catch up.” I face the infirmary again and pick up the pace. The deafening roar of a gun going off cracks the air and a cluster of fist-sized balls fly over the heads of scurrying guards. One lands in front of the mess hall, another clinks to the ground near block four.
The next moment has me skidding to a dead halt. A blinding light flashes and I throw up my arms to shield my face. When I lower them, my lungs seize in my chest. The compound has gone up in a massive fireball. The heat wave hits me at the same time as a great boom shatters my eardrums. I’m bowled over by the sheer force of the explosion. When it’s passed, I am left floundering, deaf, with a sickening feeling taking hold of my stomach.
“Elle!” The scream rips from my throat. I can’t hear it over the ringing in my ears, but I can feel scrape on the way out. I shoot to my feet, ready to sprint the rest of the way to the infirmary. Maverick is a step ahead of me. He andKinggrab me by the arms, holding me back. They’re dragging me away. Maverick is trying to say something, I can see his lips moving, but I can’t hear it. I have to get to Elle. I have to.
“She’s gone!” Maverick’s voice breaks through the ringing. He’s wrong. The infirmary is the farthest building from what I can now see was ground zero. It’s still standing. It’s also on fire. With a heave, I throw bothKingand Maverick off. They go flying, ten feet in either direction, and before they have time to recover I take off towards the infirmary. I pelt past charred remains of things I don’t want to think about, and still-burning building shells. The heat from all of the newly spawned fires is suffocating. Black smoke makes my eyes watery and my throat dry. The mess hall is gone, and Block two, three, and four, haven’t fared much better. As I reach the path leading to the front entrance, my heart sinks. A massive blaze has engulfed the entire front entrance. There is no way inside.
No no no!
“Elle!” I call, desperate.
“Hendrix!” The cry is weak.
I whip towards the sound, my eyes searching. I find nothing. Then, miraculously, Elle materializes to my left. I run to her, scoop her up in my arms. Her matchstick limbs wrap around my neck and she holds on tight. She’s alive. I can breathe again. She’s alive. Now we can run. I cradle her carefully and turn on my toes to sprint back to the basketball court. I can see Maverick’s blurry shape through the smoky haze. Halfway across the yard, something clinks to the ground behind me. Elle gasps, and I have only a moment to drop and cover as much of her frail body as possible before the explosion.
“Help me with him.”
“And the girl?”
“Did you not just see what he did?”
A few sentences slip through the renewed ringing in my ears, but mostly they get lost under the thick blur of pain. I think my back has been melted off. Hands hook under my prone shoulders and pull me to my feet. I can’t suppress a cry at the wave of pain. I also can’t see.
“Come on man, you gotta stay with me okay? I can’t carry you.”
My arms are empty. Where’s Elle? Where is she? I had her, where did she go? I don’t have to speak for Maverick to know what I’m asking.
“Chastin has her, she’s fine.” Maverick pulls me forward. I stumble, I can’t see a damn thing. My nose is clogged with the scent of burned flesh, and searing pain ripples across my back at every step. Regardless, I clutch Maverick’s steadying arm and break into a run for the millionth time this night. Smoke is thick in the air and screams pierce the night sky. Suddenly a familiar weight settles on the bridge of my nose, and my vision clears.
“Almost forgot those.” Maverick remarks. Now that my glasses are back I can see that we’ve made it past the fence, and we’re bolting for the foothills. There isn’t a lot of coverage here, just sparse trees and the dark of night. Somehow, I doubt that the redcoats are coming after us.
“Thanks.” I rasp. My throat is raw.
“Save it,” he keeps his arm around my lower back, a support that is most likely the only thing keeping me upright. Ahead of us, I can make out a handful of other shapes, including Chastin, with Elle clinging to his back.
The compound becomes a red-orange beacon behind us. We slow to a jog when it becomes clear that no one is giving chase. We keep going and going and going until even the fittest of us all is gasping for breath. And then we slow again, to as brisk a walk as we can manage. We have to put as much distance as possible between us and the compound, or else this entire escapade will be null and void.
When at last we come to a full and final stop, the compound is a mere flicker behind us. The air out here should be clear of smoke, but the faint, choking scent clings to our skin. The crescent moon has begun its descent to the western horizon, but the sky has yet to start lightning. Maverick guides me to a boulder jutting from the side of the rocky foothill and makes me sit down. The world tips violently on its axis.
“Chastin.” Maverick beckons to the guy holding Elle. When he treads forward with Elle still on his back, Maverick shakes his head.
“Leave her with Dels for a moment. She doesn’t need to see this.”
‘This’ I assume is the awful state my back is in. I don’t have to look at it to know it’s a mess. Chastin shrugs Elle off and leads her by the hand to a woman who smiles sweetly and bends down on one knee to talk with her. Maverick paces around the rock, examining the damage.
“Can you get your sweater off?” He asks. I’m surprised that I still have a sweater. The whole way here drafts of wind swept my shoulders and sent chills down my arms. I tug on the sleeves and am met with instant pain. My fingers seize up, a spasm rocks up my shoulder. I bite down hard on a groan. Mave whistles.
“Okay. Don’t worry, it looks like the heat fused what’s left of the sweater to your back.”
“Don’t worry?” I hiss. Yeah, I have sweaters melted onto my skin every day. No big deal! I push my glasses up my face, fighting to stay in control of my racing thoughts.
“Chastin is going to ice the burn and I’m going to peel the sweater off, got it?” Chastin steps up to the boulder, the fingers of his right-hand dancing, tiny snowflakes float to the ground from his hand. So Chastin is a cryokinetic. Nice to know. He air-traces the edge of my burn, a deep, numbing, frozenness follows the path his fingers make.
“Brace yourself, Trick, this’ll hurt,” Mave warns, then he peels my sweater off, along with what I’m sure is most, if not all, of my remaining skin.
Hurt is possibly the understatement of the century.
They get the sweater off, and Chastin gives my burn a final numbing. Maverick makes me squirm out of my tank top, which by some miracle survived the explosion, then he rips up what’s left of the sweater and uses the strips as a crude bandage. By the time he’s done, I’ve contracted a bad case of shivers. The tank-top goes back on, and Mave hands me the extra sweater I grabbed. I protest, that sweater is for Elle. She’ll be cold. Mave makes me put it on anyways, and since I can’t think in a straight line, let alone argue my case, I go along with it. Then, and only then, does Maverick let Elle come near me.
The woman from earlier brings her over. Elle crawls into my lap, safe and sound. I wrap my arms around her and rest my chin on her head of frizzy hair. At thirteen, she weighs less than most ten-year-olds. Chastin rises from his resting place at the foot of the boulder. He encircles the woman’s waist and gives her a peck on the lips. They wander a few paces away to settle down for the night. Far in the distance, explosions pop. The sky is hinting at a morning just around the corner. I slump, Elle’s horns dig into my torso, but I don’t mind. In a matter of minutes, I tumble headlong into an exhausted sleep.
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