Previous: Chapter 13
Chapter 14 (A monster wrapped in fire)
Dizzy, I pushed myself to my feet with my one good arm then picked up Barges, stomach groaning for food.
The ground trembled, and the smell of sulfur and rotten garlic followed the shockwave. An eerie silence came next, and the woods were illuminated as if it were day. To my left, Yalrein lay crumpled next to a tree, blood rolling down his face.
“The One be damned.” I trudged over to Yalrein and unslung the backpack. “Are you alive?”
Yalrein groaned in response.
“I’m going to do something about your head wound. Ekanli would kill me if I didn’t.” I pulled out a pair of bandages and a jar of ointment. “Don’t attack me when you come to.”
Yalrein groaned again.
I took that to mean yes then applied the ointment to the gash in his scalp, wrapping his head up after. The ointment, forged with all four elements, had sealed the cut and brought lucidity back to Yalrein’s eyes before I could tape the wrap on. Honestly though, I never understood why I had to wrap cuts. Something about keeping it clean and keeping the ointment on the area, but it didn’t really make sense to me.
Eyes narrowed, Yalrein’s lips quivered. “Why?”
“Did you not hear me?” I rubbed some of the ointment on the gash in my arm and replaced the stopper. “Ekanli still loves you even though you’re a dick. Doing this one handed is a pain, so can you help me?” I slipped the remaining ointment into the backpack and offered him the bandages. “Please?”
“I still don’t like you.”
“Feeling is mutual.”
Yalrein grabbed my arm, tighter than was comfortable. “Why is it suddenly so bright?”
“I’m not sure, but I’m worried.”
“How hard did you hit your head?” I jerked my arm free. “Can’t you tell where that light is coming from?”
Yalrein blinked then his eyes grew wide, and he stumbled to his feet. “The village!”
“You’re a smart one.”
As I stood, I put the backpack on and started off back towards the village.
Yalrein grabbed my injured arm and pulled me to a stop, forcing me to grimace. “Where are you going.”
“Aisa and Mother are still in the village. My uncles, too.”
“But the mayor and a lot of Regime Hunters are there.”
“I don’t care. My friends are safe, and I thought Mother would be able to get everyone else out of there, but after that explosion …”
Yalrein swallowed before hurrying to catch up with me. His gladius trembled in his hand. “What’s the plan?”
Yes, he was right. I needed to think things through. “Well, I just want to know what that explosion and light are. If I—we can, I’d like to get close enough to see if we can find out anything about Mother and Aisa. Maybe we can overhear that they escaped or something. Or if this light is some sort of searchlight, that would be enough to say that they escaped, but that explosion …” Something caught in my throat, and my chest heaved. Despite the light, everything dimmed around me, and I stumbled.
Yalrein caught me by the shoulder and stopped me from face planting into a prickly-looking bush. “I’m sure they’re okay. My family was in that shelter the mayor set up the other day after Aisa visited him.”
Together, we moved as fast as we could for as hungry as we were. Coming out of the woods felt like staring directly into the sun. Even from this distance, the heat licked my face and soaked my clothes through with sweat. Twenty feet high and as engulfing the entire village, as well as the area around it, a white-hot fire blazed and crackled.
My jaw dropped, and I shambled forward. This couldn’t be real. None of it. I had to have lost my shit.
“Impossible,” Yalrein said, sounding as stupefied as I felt.
I shook my head. “This—”
A figure, bathed in red fire and about ten feet tall, turned in our direction. Inside the white light, each deliberate step was easy to see as the figure moved towards us. Like the One had earlier, this monster exuded an aura of death and destruction, though not quite on the One’s level. But still …
“We have to go,” I said despite how I felt.
“But … my family …” Yalrein took a step towards the figure, each of its steps seeming to close the distance between us.
Yalrein was right, but there was nothing we could do right now.
I gritted my teeth. “We’ll have our revenge. But as we are now, there’s nothing we can do against that thing but die.” I turned Yalrein around and cocked Barges back. “Don’t make me carry you.” Since the figure was less than fifty feet away now, gaining on us quickly, I doubted I could outrun it if I had to run with Yalrein on my shoulders. Plus, my stomach was groaning up a storm.
Yalrein nodded like the fool he was.
And together, we turned back into the woods and ran.
Next: Chapter 15