Our main characters, Gray and Storm, are introduced as they seek out their younger brother and try to bring him to safety.
The air seemed to shimmer and was thick, but moist, as if filled with mud. We had little time. I could sense my twin brother’s shadow nearby, extending to mine to make sure I was still there and extending out away from us, looking for any trace, any trace of our foolhardy brother.
It wasn’t safe. Nobody should leave the village alone and without preparation when there was this much dust in the air. Rune was damn lucky that the dust wasn’t yet dry; that would just make the sickness worse. As if his health weren’t already vulnerable to the damn stuff. And even if it wasn’t dry, it would still irritate all the animals, and cause them to be more violent and hungry. Rune didn’t know how to fight them. And even if he did, leaving the village alone was always a bad choice.
What in all of this wasteland would have possessed him to leave the village? What could have been so important?
I felt Storm’s leathery wing lightly touch my shoulder, and I glanced over to him. His cyan eyes were glowing, and locked onto an opening in the forest in front of us. I looked over to where he was looking and my stomach turned over.
Rune was safe, but not for long. He was crouched next to a small stream, filling up a small metal tube with the water. The water had the multicolored shimmer of dust in it, but that wasn’t the worst danger he was in.
The danger was in the bear standing behind him, saliva dripping from its mouth and its eyes completely clouded over. It had dried-up gashes on its flank and shoulders, with dust mixed into the dried blood and patches that looked almost as if the skin and hair had been burned off of its body. Rune was completely unaware of the bear, but Storm and I weren’t about to wait for him to become aware.
Storm unsheathed his daggers and leapt onto the bear’s back as it reared up to attack, and I jumped between the bear and Rune, knocking Rune out of the bear’s mangled paws. Storm dug one dagger into the bear’s neck and the other into the bear’s chest, and the bear quickly collapsed under him, and was motionless.
The three of us stood up. I looked at Rune. His red eyes were wide, and there was dust on his dark-skinned jaw and face. The black hood had fallen off of his flame-colored hair when I pushed him out of the way, revealing his furry red ears, but the metal vial still had some contaminated water in it.
“Rune, don’t ever pull this shit again,” I growled through my facemask. “Dump it out. Now.”
“I need it for experiments-”
“You don’t need contaminated water for anything,” I snapped. “It’s useless. We have clean water back at the village. And if you are trying to do anything with the dust specifically, well, that’s a special brand of foolishness.”
“Well, someone has to do something about it!” Rune snapped back. I opened my mouth to respond, but Storm lightly pushed my shoulder with his wing.
“Then talk to Sentinel about doing something,” Storm said. “Sneaking off alone with this much dust was a bad idea, Rune, and you should know better. Get rid of the water. Now.”
Rune’s ears were pinned back in his irritation, but he threw it back into the stream. “There. Happy?”
“I’ll be happy when we’re at home,” I muttered, flicking my tail. Storm nodded, putting a hand on Rune’s shoulder.
“Let’s get back now,” he said.
For a second, I considered checking to see if there was any usable meat on the bear… but it was too risky to try. Meat from contaminated animals was disgusting and the sickness from it was only worth risking if we were starving. We all lifted our hoods and secured our facemasks tighter as we started walking, but Rune had to lower his facemask to cough. My tail flicked in irritation again. Had he not just left without a word or preparation, maybe he wouldn’t be getting sick.
We walked as quickly as Rune could safely, but by the time we were at the uneven wooden walls that closed our village off from the contamination around it, Rune was coughing every few minutes. I couldn’t keep being angry with him. This experience was going to teach him a rough lesson regardless of whether I stayed angry or not. I might as well let it go as much as I could.
When we walked through the gate, a few guards looked up at us and nodded in acknowledgement. One of them looked at Rune, then looked up at me. “Your mom’s been waiting outside your house.”
“Thanks,” I said, putting a hand on Rune’s shoulder. He flinched away from my touch, flattening his ears more and swishing his tail angrily, but didn’t fight me as I led him inside.
The village was a large structure that was still being built after almost a year. There were no trees inside; planting a tree would have risked tearing the cloth that covered it protecting it from the worst of the dust. There were, however, some smaller plants around the edges of the village, and around each house. They were berry bushes, vegetable plants, and plants that could be used to make more cloth with to replace or mend the cloth that protected us. Since only a few rays of light made it through the ceiling, the inside of the village was lit by glowing stones that we could find in the mountains or enchant, which were strung together and hung from the beams supporting the cloth or from the roofs of houses, as well as strung into bracelets or necklaces that some people wore inside the village. The amount of light was bright enough for most people in the village to be able to see clearly, but not so bright that those of us who preferred to be active in the night would find them irritating.
The huts often looked like small boxes with one or two rooms, some having a second floor accessible by rough stairs if a lot of children lived in the house. There were a lot of children in the village. Almost every woman of child-bearing age had many children, though some of those children were starting to get to the age where they were interested in starting families themselves. It was only a matter of time before the village would have to expand.
Technically, I was one of those children, as was Storm. Though… I feared getting pregnant again, and he feared getting a woman pregnant. Maybe we were just more focused on our siblings for the moment, though… and our mother.
We worried about our mother a lot. Possibly too much. But after how much she had worried over us, it felt justified.