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Desmond

Sensory overload was a bitch to deal with, but since my ears had been ringing for the entire time after the fight, it was easier to zone it all out. Those screeching bugs made me think my brain was going to explode. Adam’s sense of direction made me wish it had exploded. He got lost and stopped to look around, even though all we had to do was follow the cliff edge. I couldn’t blame him that much. He got fucked up. There’s no way he was feeling his best. I just kept on walking toward where I smelled roses and pine trees. We didn’t talk. I barely knew what to think, nevertheless what to say. I don’t know how I wasn’t having a worse reaction to all of this. Before, in my old body, I would pass out at the sight of my own blood and gag if somebody near me was bleeding. Somehow I helped scoop Adam’s remains back into his body without feeling queasy in the slightest. This body, something about it just didn’t feel like myself.

After an hour of walking, we caught up with Tells and she filled us in on what happened. She said we had to wait until tomorrow to see Vetia, and we had to figure out something for tonight even though we barely had enough supplies to keep us fed for one more day. “I know we need money, so I told them that we could hunt a scouriad fireblood, whatever that is. Mother Yeline said a guy near where we would be hunting would help us. If we get it, we can fix Vetia’s arms and they’ll probably pay us a lot because nobody around here has been able to hunt one.” Tells seemed passionate about this, something we hadn’t seen for a while. I never saw Vetia and Tells talk to each other much, but they were still close. And when they worked on something together, there was just something that clicked perfectly, like they knew exactly what the other was thinking before they were thinking it.

“How are we going to get a ‘scouriad fireblood’ after everything that just happened?” Brenden walked toward Tells, a quiver in his voice. He didn’t look angry or disappointed. He looked hopeless. “Vetia is basically the only reason we are alive right now after fighting bugs, and you think we can kill a fireblood? There has to be another way. We can’t just go killing ourselves right after she saved us like that. We need time to prepare. To train. We need to know what these things are before we go jumping into a pit full of spikes.”

“Brenden,” Adam put a hand on his shoulder. “Tells never said we had to kill ourselves doing it. There’s a healer here and Vetia will at least be okay until we bring this fireblood back. It sounds like the people in this town would be more than happy to give us information and resources if it means so much that they would pay us and fix Vetia for it. Maybe we should get some sleep before we plan for this, so we can all be in the right mindset. We’ll see Vetia in the morning and set our minds at ease so we can figure something out.”

Adam could always find a way to make us feel like dipshits for jumping to conclusions and rushing into things, but in the best way possible. After that, we found a place to sleep behind the town stables.

Trying to sleep was always the hardest. Tuning out the sounds and smells around me was like having tinnitus dialed up past 100. The town was quiet, though. I could hear the people in town sleeping. It was like a constant breeze the way the breaths of each individual overlapped. There was some chatter in homes that would occasionally turn to yelling, but it always hushed back to normal levels. This town was small, so I suppose fights would be talk of the town for the next week if they were heard.

I decided to go for a walk. We just got to this town after almost getting killed and I couldn’t even think to sleep yet. Everything had been exhausting me mentally and I didn’t know if I truly believed this was real yet. It felt like if I went to sleep, I would wake up from this dream in my bed back home. Like I would go back to having empty bottles thrown at my head and yelled at for not being good enough. I didn’t know what I would have preferred, being threatened with death every day or going back to the hell I was comfortable in.

At some point I had made it to the center of the town, where I could see the road to the lake. The full moon was behind me, lighting everything up in this silent town. I remembered being a teenager and running around that shitty little town until three in the morning with the same people I’m in this town with. A second light was peaking over the treeline in the distance, above the cliffs. A soft orange glow from another moon. It was warm and reassuring, holding me in a trance. The slowly rolling tides were sparking with the pale blue and orange lights, and for a second all I could hear was the gentle lapping on the sand. It was interrupted by the sound of a baby crying across the town. I refocused and started moving my feet again. I passed by the building with the tree and the clinic. I could hear murmuring inside the tree building. It sounded like an old woman.

“Goddess of sight. God of night. I beseech you both: protect this town from what has come and what will come. Terrors from the darkness masquerade as the living and the living aid the terrors. Let us have the strength to defeat the terrors and their unknowing aids.”

There must have been some gods of this place. Real or not, there was a lot about this place that I couldn’t explain. I walked past the clinic, looking around for windows. Then I picked up on her scent. I couldn’t tell if it was putrid or pleasant, but I knew it was hers. It was wafting out from somewhere in the back, and I could smell old blood beneath it. Nobody was out on the streets, so I snuck to the back of the building where I saw a window at about head level. I heard a constant, weak whisper from within. It was like a

“I don’t want to do it I don’t want to do it I don’t want to do it I don’t want to do it I’m so hungry but I don’t want to do it I’m scared…” It was Vetia’s voice, almost silently whispering to herself like last night. He breathing was inconsistent and shaky, and there was a subtle, quick, thudding. Like her heart was beating out of her chest.

I peaked my head in the window and she was already staring where I was. The moon behind me was illuminating her bloody, sunken face. I could tell she had been crying for hours, dried tears mixed with dried blood, reflecting the blue glow. Her eyes were screaming out “Help me” even though her voice was near silent.

“Get me out of here please get me out of here I can’t be around people like this I don’t want to do anything please get me out of here I can’t sleep anymore and I- I-” Her breath was running out and she could barely speak.

I don’t think she knew I could hear her. She had to be delirious, but even then I was worried about what she said last night. I made up my mind. She could last the night. She would talk herself to sleep. It probably hurt beyond imagining, having shattered arms and burnt organs, but there was nothing we could do to help her besides wait. I ducked away from the window and I heard a sharp inhale from her and I knew she was back to crying. I hated hearing so much. Why couldn’t I just turn it off so I wouldn’t have to hear everyone around me? Why did I have to hear her in a delirious state like she was in? I wish I could have done something other than just listen, especially since I couldn’t force myself to walk away like I wanted to. I stuck around listening for a moment after I walked toward the side of the building.

“Please don’t go please don’t leave oh god they’re gonna hate me they’re gonna kill me I’ll never do it I can’t do it but it hurts so bad and they’re gonna hate me for it I can’t do this it hurts it hurts it hurts.”

I covered my ears and ran back to camp. She was strong. I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t need to worry about her. That’s all I had to tell myself. She was strong. She could make it through the night.

* * * * *

I think I slept for a few hours. It was easier to ignore everything once I wrapped my head in some clothes. I was the first one awake and the sun was already high in the sky. Maybe I had gotten some decent sleep since the sun was that high. Then again, I think everyone was just exhausted from fighting and walking for so long.

“Ah fuck, we gotta check on her. Guys, get up! It’s late as fuck and we need to be good friends.” I dragged myself up, still in a morning daze. Now I felt like a real piece of shit. Sleeping in when the one who saved three of them is in the hospital. “Get the fuck up!”

The sleeping snails began to stir where they were laying, looking around like they were disoriented by the sunlight. They all saw the light and I could see the realization dawning on their faces that this was, in fact, real.

“Shit. Yep. Let’s go.” Adam picked up his things and threw them next to a post by the stables. “We’ll get those when we come back. Throw your shit in the corner and we’ll get it when we get back here.”

“Holy shit, fucking move!” I was getting a little irritated at their slowness, but I didn’t want to piss them off right at the start of the day. Whether they were in bodies that could rival Hercules or not, they still took forever to wake the fuck up. Some things just never change.

“Fucking chill, dickhead. We’re getting up.” Brenden had always been like a sleeping bear. Wake him up early and he was going to be miserable for the rest of the year.

“Fuck it, I’m going. You can all catch up after you get mani pedis and baths.” Tells caught up behind me first, and the other two slogged along like kids that were dragged into the makeup section while their mom was testing every perfume in the department.

We entered the clinic and saw the short man with the prepubescent voice. Holy shit it made me want to tear my hyper-sensitive ears off. “She will recover in about half a week. Her organs were healed, but her arms will require fireblood bones. When you get those, we’ll fix her arms. She’s in the back left cot.”

I tried to hide the bulging vein in my head and grunted “Thanks” to him. Vetia was sitting up in the far cot, the blood mostly cleaned off of her face and hair. Her arms were in slings and she was sitting up, looking out the same window as last night. Her face was still sunken in and skin translucent.

“What’s this about a fireblood that you guys want to capture and bring back?” She didn’t even turn to look at us and there was a bite to her words.

“We get the fireblood, use it to fix your arms, then we get paid and figure out what the next step is,” Adam said. “Simple enough.”

“Simple, yeah.” She finally turned toward us, looking unemotional and exhausted. “I think it would be better if we just got out of here. Headed on toward the next stop. No use in waiting around, and you guys don’t need to risk your lives to fix my arms. I’m sure there are fireblood bones available in a city somewhere.”

“No,” Brenden stepped up to the cot. “We’re getting that thing, whatever it is, and getting your goddamn arms fixed. No getting stubborn on us now.”

“Ironic you say stubborn,” she raised an eyebrow. “I hate this plan. You guys will be going in without any healing. At least if I’m there I can find some way to support you.”

“What the fuck are you gonna do?” Brenden was getting pissed off and Vetia’s shitty mood wasn’t doing him any favors. “You’re halfway to being a quadriplegic. One more wrong move and you’ll be racing around in a wheelchair.”

“I guess I’ll just have to use my fucking feet to heal you then! I’ll step on you wherever you’re hurting and you can bitch about it me trying to help again. One shape with my big toe and a few more with my middle!” She held her middle toe up right in his face and he pushed her leg back down. It caught me off guard because I was just impressed that anyone could hold their middle toe up like that.

“Well it was good to see you again, dickwad,” Brenden half growled his words and pushed his way out of the building.

“Vetia, I’m not saying I know how you feel right now, but I did have half of my body ripped out yesterday and I know it’s a lousy feeling,” Adam started talking, trying to sound optimistic and comforting. “But we really want to be able to fix you like you did for us. So just let us do this one thing for you.”

“Well I don’t want you to fucking fix me,” she was getting worked up and biting her words at us. “I’ll find a way to fix myself. It can’t be hard with magic and shit.”

Adam continued his nonchalant tone, almost to a point of sounding patronizing. “We know you want to fix yourself, but have you considered that you did all of that to yourself without asking us first. You don’t get to choose here because we are making the decision to help you for ourselves. Good morning and good day.” Adam strode outside, easy as could be. I didn’t know how he kept his cool so easily. I could tell from Vetia’s face that she was not happy about it and she was having a hard time keeping her own head.

Tells and I locked eyes for a second. I don’t think either of us knew what to say. Vetia was back to looking out the window, frustrated and trying to wipe her eyes on her shoulders.

“Can you just not do anything fucking stupid?” Vetia took a breath and laid her head back against the wall. “I don’t want to be stuck in this world alone.”

“Homie, we’re gonna be scared shitless the second we see that thing and you know that for goddamn sure,” I just said what came to my mind and that was it. “We’re not gonna have time to do anything stupid. That guy’s gonna tell us how to cage the fucker and we’re gonna cage it. That’s all there is to it.”

“I’m gonna be honest,” Tells finally whispered to her, matter-of-factly. “They said they couldn’t catch one, but everyone in this town is like three feet tall and old as fuck, so that’s probably why.”

She didn’t say anything, but a sarcastic smile crept onto her face, so I put a hand on Tells' shoulder and we met back outside with Brenden and Adam.

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About the author

Ren Cory

Bio: I'm an amateur writer, but I've got a story in my head that I want to tell. What I write won't always be amazing, but I really think it will get better with experience. I love reading and watching anything fantasy, scifi and anything in that sort of wheelhouse. I've always been inspired by those genres to be creative and do my own thing, creating entirely new worlds, histories, creatures, plants and the whatnot. I like trying out new ideas in the genres I love.

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