Another week, here already! I swear, they just keep going so fast. So this week I was inspired by having a character slip down. Just how and where... well, read on!
Fortitude Part Eight
Slogging through a jungle-like forest was much harder than walking down the street. Plus, I’d never walked all day without pause. Wildman might look like a half-starved waif, but he moved like a creature born to the wild and was never out of breath.
My mouth was as desiccated, but I dared not allow more than sip at our water supply. We were so close. We’d stumbled over a broken road, the smooth stones crumbling under the progress of the creeping vegetation, but Wildman wouldn’t let us walk on it.
“Bad,” he’d called it. He used that word a lot. Teddy kept trying to pry information out of him for his book, but Wildman shared few words. I had to wonder if that was because he didn’t want to talk to us, or because he couldn’t.
The trees were long since gone, but Wildman took us from cover to cover, using shrubs I didn’t think would hide a mouse, much less a man. No wonder his stalking had gone unnoticed for so long. The sun was overhead, beating down mercilessly, by the time the horizon was broken by jagged spires of rotted metal.
“The city,” I whispered. My dream—the culmination of years of planning—was so close to being fulfilled. We started hiking through a thicket of bushes that reeked and scratched at any exposed skin. The branches were woven underfoot in a springy mat, promising a turned ankle. “Be careful,” I told Teddy.
“I’m fine,” he said crossly. “Worry about yourself.” I stumbled into a small hole, and my foot got stuck. I freed it with a jerk, grunting.
“See?” Teddy pushed past me as I tried to push my foot back into my boot.
I hated it when he was cranky. I didn’t have any more chocolate buns for him, either. Buried inside the bush were some white flowers growing up from the ground I hadn’t noticed before I hunched down. I reached to grab one, intending to pluck it for Teddy to put in his buttonhole, when voices shouting startled me.
I jerked my head up before my entire body went stiff. I could barely see through the poky branches, but I could see people had surrounded Wildman and Teddy. They were calling out, but I couldn’t understand them.
“No!” Teddy reared back, yanking his arm away. “Will!” He spun around, fighting to keep them away, and then he disappeared from sight. I stared in shock, frozen in silence.
Where did he go? I longed to scream his name. In my head, I rushed to his aid a thousand times. But I couldn’t move—not when he was lost to sight, not when Wildman was captured despite biting and screeching, not even when midday turned to afternoon and afternoon faded into evening.
Only once night fell was I able to unlock my muscles. I’d been crouched down for so long my entire body burned.
“What the hell?” I prayed this was just a nightmare, but when I pinched my thigh, I knew I was awake. Blood smeared my trousers, still welling from punctures in my thumb and forefinger I’d never even felt. There must have been something in that plant, either it had spines, or I’d been bitten by some kind of bug and the toxin just wore off.
Whatever happened, I wasn’t frozen any longer, and I had to find Teddy. I fumbled with my pack. I needed the lantern. My brain was racing, lighting it was no trouble as I sent a wave of energy to the wick. The blue flare of light lit the encroaching dark. I winced, and tried to tamp it down, but for the first time in a very long time, I had little control of my mental powers.
Picking my way up to the top of the hill took longer than I could tolerate. My nerves were jangling by the time I made it. The bushes ended at the edge of a slope of bare earth that led down to the very edge of the city we’d been trying to reach. Faint twinkles of light broke the night.
There were people out here.
And they’d taken my Teddy.
Anger sent another surge to my lantern, and that’s when I heard it. A shriek broke the silence and then the air began to buffet me. I looked up in horror. The gigantic bird-like predator was nearly on top of me. I flung myself backward, the lantern going flying. I slipped over the crest, just like Teddy had. I tried to keep my grunts and groans in as I spun and tumbled. That damnable beast hunted by sight, but Wildman had insisted on silence as well.
My ribs ached, and I’d wrenched one of my wrists scrabbling at the ground, trying to stop my fall. I finally managed, but not until I was close to the bottom. I panted, face down in the pungent dirt, afraid to turn.
Not being able to see if it was coming for me was horrible. My tension mounted until I nearly screamed just to find an iota of relief. I had no idea how long had passed, but eventually I had to know, even if it was perched above, just waiting for me to make one ill-advised movement to expose my resting place.
But nothing blocked out the silvery light of the moon, or the blazing pinpricks of the stars that clustered thick in the sky. I breathed a sigh of relief, wiping my sweaty, filthy face on the sleeve of my shirt. It was starting to cool, so I grabbed my coat out of my bag.
Those people had to have come from the city. If they took Wildman, I’m sure they found another way down—not quite so precipitous—and nabbed Teddy, too.
Well, I was going to get them back. Then I’d figure out what was going on, like how in the hell survivors were living outside city walls among the wilds, and find Schvesla’s codex. I stood up and squared my shoulders.
I’d like to see anyone stop me.
Okay, more coming next week, and you can head over to the other Briefers to read more fiction. Happy Thanksgiving to my US fans! Even if you're not from here, come back and check my blog--maybe you'll find something to be thankful for. *winks*
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