The storm forces everyone to stay inside, and their shelter is tested.
It wasn’t long before I feared for my life. I held the small, crying goat close to my chest, covering its mouth loosely with my hand and praying not only that the dust that seemed to rise off of the ocean and drift down from the sky wouldn’t infect the poor thing- also that my face mask wouldn’t fall and expose me to it. It was still mostly dry, and the air wasn’t thick with it- yet. But I didn’t have much time to get back to shelter. I started to move my legs as fast as I could without risking hurting the goat, but also took note of every cave and every somewhat sheltered place I could find. If I got caught in it, I’d have little hope of not being infected, but if I was careful, maybe I could escape the worst of it and be found by Storm and Scout…
I heard my twin’s voice the moment I closed my eyes. Only a moment later, I felt his hands on my shoulder. I looked up at how concerned his face was, even if I could only see his eyes.
“We’re not far from the shelter, Gray.”
“What are you doing out here?” I hissed.
“I came to look for you once we suspected there was a storm coming. Come on!”
We both started running, almost tripping over our own cloaks and the vines on the ground. It was only sheer luck that neither of us fell. We weren’t thinking about that. We just needed to get back to the shelter as soon as possible so that we could be safe… we were so close…
Yet it felt like an eternity before we reached the shelter. Rune and Scout had already put up cloths to cover as many holes in the shelter as possible. But they were still trying by the time Storm and I arrived. Scout saw us and immediately gestured for us to get inside. Both he and Rune had their facemasks on, and were clearly ready to go in and close the entrance- the biggest remaining hole in the shelter- the moment we arrived. They immediately went inside and Storm and I followed them, and I ran to the back of the shelter and set the baby goat down on the floor, where it looked up at me in fear. Scout hung his cloak above the doorway, then fastened the bottom edges of it to the floor, and sat on it. As he did that, I looked around. There was light coming in from too many places- too many small gaps in the wall that would become dangerous the moment this storm got more severe. I took off my cloak and hung it on a wall that I saw multiple holes in. Rune had already done the same. Storm was doing the same.
It wasn’t going to be enough. So, I decided to use my back to block the remaining holes. I sat down in the only corner that light was still coming through in.
“Gray, you could get sick, we don’t know how bad this storm will get,” Storm said, putting his hand on my arm.
“It’ll get bad, Gray,” Scout said. “You will get sick if you don’t move. We can find another way…”
“If you think of something else then tell me,” I growled. “If we do nothing we’ll all get sick, and just me getting sick is better than all of us getting sick…”
Scout closed his eyes and nodded. “Hopefully, this won’t be one of the worst…”
None of us dared to take our face masks off- just in case. Rune made his way to the back of the shelter, where the goat still was. He held his hand out towards the goat, letting it sniff him.
“Gray, where did you find this little guy?” he asked.
“In a cave, near the old battlefield,” I muttered. “The cave had a lot of blood, and a lot of dust in it, and there was a monster eating another goat nearby. I got this one out but didn’t kill the monster.”
Rune nodded, looking at the goat’s wounds carefully. “This doesn’t seem like a fatal wound. I’ll work on getting it clean and bandaged- as much as possible in these conditions…”
Storm sat down next to me. We both watched Rune, and Scout watched us carefully, especially me.
The wind began to whistle and batter the sides of the shelter as Rune examined the baby goat, gently stroking its ear in an effort to calm it down. The poor thing couldn’t move; perhaps Rune smelled a little bit too much like a wolf. Regardless, Rune kept whispering to it and gently touching it, offering it his paw occasionally so that it could smell him and get more comfortable with his scent. Every few minutes, my attention was sharply jerked away from him and towards my now-exposed back. My shirt had torn already; the dust was like a ravenous beast, sniffing out anything that might have blood under it and tearing it apart to see. It had found my shirt, torn through that, and found my skin, and was tearing through that. Every gust of wind felt like the sword of the dungeon’s guardians, slicing deeper into my flesh, biting down on the raw skin and trying to tear off as much as it could.
I glanced at Storm, who was sitting next to me.
“Can we switch?”
“No. If we switch we’ll risk the dust getting in. I can’t.”
“You look like you’re in a lot of pain,” Scout cut in. Rune looked up at me, and furrowed his brow.
“You really do, Gray. You look pale already.”
“It’s a really bad storm,” I growled. “Which means that if I move, we risk the dust getting in and all of us getting sick. I’ll live. I promise.”
“But it’ll be hard to get you back to the Village if you’re too sick to walk…” Scout’s voice was soft, as if he was scared for my life.
“And it’ll be even harder to get back to the village if all of us are too sick to move- and that would make this life-threatening. Okay?”
He lowered his head in a slight nod, and stood up and walked around looking closely at every single cloth to make sure that it was staying in place. Rune started feeding the goat some plants that he and Scout had gathered earlier, but was dipping them in cold blackberry leaf tea. There wasn’t enough left for any of us to have any… and there was little water in the shelter. We hadn’t even gotten the chance to go hunting. While none of us were strangers to dehydration and starvation, those would only harm my ability to heal.
As the hours passed, I tried to sleep. Scout had fallen asleep, Storm had fallen asleep, Rune had fallen asleep… even the tiny goat had fallen asleep. But every time my mind drifted off, another piece of dust hit my back. My entire back, arms, and legs ached.
I’m not even sure whether I can say that I fell asleep; I might have passed out from the pain and exhaustion instead, but regardless, I was not resting.
The dust felt like it was everywhere. In our throats, on our skin, in our eyes, and in our lungs. Storm and I couldn’t stop coughing and spitting up blood, even as we leaned on each other, every bone and muscle in our bodies trembling. Everything hurt, from my swollen belly to my pounding head and aching feet. And I couldn’t keep even water down. Everything hurt too much.
Yet our mother persisted. Even though her belly was more swollen than mine… and her baby was still alive. People told her to stop, to rest. Nevertheless, she persisted.
She watched the people who looked healthier, looked at what they were eating, trying to ask: why. And she found the blackberry leaves; she ate them herself first, to see if it was what was helping people. It worked for her, and she started giving them to all of my siblings and me, and we all started to get a little better. And then she told the others about it, and when the dust cleared up after weeks of suffering, some of us who had been hit hardest were even able to walk.
Despite my constant pain and stomach cramps, I carried some of my youngest siblings on my back and shoulders as we searched for a place that was sheltered enough for us to be able to build, and start to truly recover.
So we turned our backs on the scorched ruins of the Dungeon, and the smells of blood and death that permeated the air around it.