Finding shelter with minutes to spare is risky in Chirad... but it is the only option that Gray had, and she and the elves have to deal with the fallout of that later.
Storm was safe. I knew that much. I could feel his energy, somewhere, not where we were, but it wasn’t getting weaker. He’d found shelter- probably. Hopefully.
My heart was pounding in my throat, and my ears, and my head. I sunk to the ground early in the dust storm, and stayed there for most of it. And I couldn’t help but think of the soldiers from Lassania… if they weren’t immune to the dust, they would all die. But in my anxious state, every leaf cracking and every branch snapping became a soldier, who was ready to march into our hiding place or the village and take everything we had been working for.
I didn’t even pay much attention to the elves until Fayne sat down next to me.
“And now we wait, I guess,” he muttered.
“You don’t seem like yourself right now.” He paused to give me a chance to talk, but I said nothing. “I’m not one for comforting people, especially not after I’ve been so… abrasive for a long time. But something tells me your brother is alright.”
“Storm is.” I barely moved to say it. “I can feel his aura. I… don’t know about Red and Quiver. Hopefully… hopefully they’re with him.”
“Can you not feel their auras?”
“Their auras aren’t as attached to mine, so no. Wherever they are, they’re too far away.” I closed my eyes, shaking my head. “If the soldiers don’t die to this storm, we’re all dead, though.”
“If they weren’t dying to this, then they would have probably tried to storm the forest by now,” Safiena said, looking to me with anxiety and worry. “At least we’re… we’re safe in here, right?”
“More safe than out there,” I whispered. I watched as some of the branches covering our den lifted up, letting in a small amount of dust. The elves watched it in horror, clearly wanting to do something but not knowing what to do. But the only thing we could do was hope it didn’t get worse… hope no more of our cover was destroyed…
I first noticed my throat was feeling more scratchy when the wind was beginning to die down. By the time it seemed to be completely gone, my throat didn’t feel any worse.
“Gray…?” Nayila was the first to speak, looking at me somewhat timidly. “I’m starting to feel sick again…”
“So am I. I’d be surprised if we’d all managed to not get sick at all. But… I don’t think we need to be worried yet.” I spoke quietly, just in case. “We’ll reconnect with the others and then go to the village, or start to. But the worst thing we could do is just leave right now.”
“Agreed,” Fayne said. As I stood up, Safiena and Nayila pushed what remained of our cover off of our den, and stepped out.
“Don’t take your masks off,” I said to them, just in case. “No matter what.”
Safiena made a gesture that I had seen her make before to the other elves, that they seemed to take as an agreement. Fayne and I followed.
The light was just bright enough to send a shimmer through the coat of dust on the trees and leaves. It was almost too bright to bear. The elves were looking around in awe.
“It would be so beautiful if it weren’t… well…” Nayila’s voice trailed off. I nodded, looking around to try to look for storm. I felt for his aura, and found where it was.
He was looking for me too. The moment we connected, I felt him start to move closer. So I stayed put with the elves, letting them take a moment to get over how the aftermath of the dust storm looked.
“Gray! Safiena! Nayila! Fayne!” I heard Storm and looked over, breathing a sigh of relief almost immediately. He looked safe.
“Storm!” I yelled, my voice becoming a little hoarse. “Are Red and Quiver with you?”
“They were; they’re looking for the other chimeras.” I nodded, and Storm approached, wrapping his arms around me. “You all found shelter, then?”
“Yes. It wasn’t the best, but… well, none of us are feeling weak yet,” I said. “Just the start of a minor sickness.”
Storm closed his eyes, and shook his head. “Still.”
“Any sign of soldiers?”
Storm seemed to grow uneasy. “Aha… yes. We were closer to their camp and… there was screaming through the entire storm.”
My stomach turned a little bit. I could already imagine what it was going to look like. “Maybe… maybe we should go look to see if there are any that didn’t die or retreat.”
The elves and Storm all nodded. We started walking together, though the elves seemed reluctant… afraid of what they would see. Storm kept his wing hooked around my shoulder to keep me close, out of fear and worry. Every gust of wind seemed to stir up more dust and caused more anxiety.
We crept through the forest, towards the clearing where the elves had first met us. The best shelter the soldiers would have had would have been there.
The scene was… unlike anything even us chimeras had seen. There was just blood. Blood, and dead bodies, piled on each other in a mountain that covered where the elves had first taken shelter. A mountain that was covered in blood and cysts and exposed bones, all with a glimmering layer of dust making it shine like a sadistic jewel.
The last place we had seen anything close to this was… in the one place none of us wanted to go.
Rune wanted to study the dust. He wanted to find the origins of it, and learn how to better handle it, or get rid of it.
But there was one thing that made me angry: I couldn’t help but feel sorrow for these soldiers. Their deaths had not been pleasant or kind- especially not the ones who were buried by their desperate friends. Our battle was won, but I couldn’t celebrate. None of us could.
But if the tables had been turned, and we were the ones lying with our bones exposed? Oh, they would have reveled in our pain, they would have celebrated as if their world was saved! They would have laughed as they used to in the dungeon when a chimera got enough courage to tell them they were cruel!
Because we knew that they were people, we couldn’t. But because they thought we were beasts, they could. I wanted to take some joy in their misfortune, but instead, only found anger.
I didn’t need to explain it to Storm. He looked at the elves. “Let’s go meet with the other chimeras, now. Tell them what we found.”
None of us looked back. And we all tried to stop ourselves from remembering the house under that pile, the one that we had all met in and sheltered ourselves in… the one that now, would have to be burned, because even if it were possible to clean the dust out of it, the smell of blood would never be cleaned from it.