The hunters and warriors begin to travel back to the village in small groups, starting with those who are sick and wounded... including Gray and the elves who were in her shelter.
By the time we were all done going through the belongings of the dead soldiers, it was past the middle of the night, and even those of us who were nocturnal just wanted to sleep. Some of the younger Chimeras had already curled up to go to sleep, with older Chimeras silently staying near them and resting, but not relaxed enough to sleep despite the exhaustion.
Sentinel and Snitch came out of the house just when Storm, the Elves, Quiver, Red, and I were starting to think about also going to sleep, even if for a few hours only. Red and Quiver had almost fallen asleep, but scrambled up to their feet and tried to blink the sleep out of their eyes as soon as they were in sight.
“How much can we use?” Snitch asked, looking at me.
“Everything in the small pile,” Storm said, before shaking his head. “There wasn’t much, though.”
“How badly damaged was the rest?” Snitch was then looking at the large pile suspiciously.
“There was dust embedded deep in the metal of basically everything in that pile,” I said. Red nodded, and pointed at me in agreement.
“And the contaminated food has been burning for a while now,” he added. The smell of it seemed to waft through the air, reminding everyone of how long it had been since any of us had eaten.
“That still leaves the question of the houses,” Sentinel said. I suddenly felt tense, and Storm seemed to have the same worry. He was the first to voice it.
“Why can’t they be returned to the people who lived in them before, when we’re sure it’s safe to do so…?”
“If you have a way to clean all the dust out of the houses, then that’s an option.” Snitch spoke dryly. “They didn’t do anything to protect the houses, and so there’s dust in the houses that the wind can’t blow out. Probably dust in every crack. I doubt the houses are safe to live in.”
“He’s right,” Sentinel said, nodding at his brother. “If the soldiers had realized they needed to cover the houses in time it might have been safe, but they seemed to think the cloths were decoration.” Sentinel shook his head, looking at me and the elves. “Since you all look like you’re… not doing well, perhaps it would be best for you to start heading back, and have Shadowforth look at you all. You look like you didn’t find the best shelter during the storm.”
“It wasn’t as covered as I had hoped,” I said, bowing my head. “We didn’t have much time, and by the time we were in it, trying to find a better place would have killed us.”
“You don’t need to justify it,” Sentinel said, putting his hand up as Snitch sneered in my direction. “Things like that happen sometimes. Just go to your mother and have her help you all.”
I nodded. Storm put his wing around my shoulders. “Can I go with them, Sentinel? I want to make sure there’s someone who isn’t sick with them, at least…”
“That is for the best,” Sentinel agreed.
“And for us?” Quiver asked, stepping forward with her hand on Red’s shoulder.
“Stay here, but rest with the other warriors. We’ll be hauling back what we can as soon as we all have some strength back.”
Trying to travel with that level of exhaustion wasn’t fun for me or Storm. The elves seemed to be struggling a lot more than us still, however. Storm and I tried our best to go at a pace that they could keep up with, but the journey was still long. By the time we were at the village, it was the middle of the day, and I was leaning heavily on Storm with one eye closed from the light that seemed unnaturally harsh. The moment we were inside the walls safely, Fayne sank to his hands and knees. Then Nayila and Safiena did, all of them gasping for breath. And the moment Storm moved to get some water for them, taking his support out from under me, my legs started to shake and I felt myself collapsing as if my muscles were no longer there to support me either. I managed to fall on my side and prop myself up next to the wall so that I could watch the elves and Storm. Before a moment had passed, there were other Chimeras around us.
“Go get the healer,” someone yelled. “More warriors are back.”
Storm had handed his waterskin to Fayne, and then turned to me and put his hand on my shoulder, trying to help me sit up. Another chimera who had stayed back to guard the village handed me a waterskin, and I took it and drank immediately. I could taste that it had some blackberry leaves in it, and wondered if anyone else had gotten sick from that storm.
The elves managed to crawl up next to me and Storm so that we could pass the waterskins between each other. “I’m not leaving this place for a long time,” Nayila managed to whisper, before coughing.
“We might not have a choice,” I said. As I spoke, I tasted blood in the back of my throat, as if it was still dry despite the water I was drinking. “If we don’t recover fast we won’t be able to do much. But if Lassania attacks we won’t have the option to recover.”
“That’s… not reassuring,” Nayila said, sounding a little whiny.
“We didn’t come out here expecting comfort, Nayila,” Fayne growled. He held his hand up to his nose, and when he took it away, it was clear that it was bleeding. He scowled, and pinched his nose and leaned back.
“Well, we didn’t expect anything as… well… like this…” Safiena’s voice trailed off. I wondered if she was referring to us chimeras, or to the dust… or to both. She shook her head. “I’ll never forget that battlefield.”
I frowned. Had the elves honestly never seen anything like that before? What did wars look like to them before this one…?
As soon as I heard other chimeras yelling my mother’s name, I turned to look where she was. I was surprised to see that Valla was following close behind her, carrying what looked like more waterskins and bandages. When Valla and I locked eyes, I saw her take a deep breath as she tried not to panic. I smiled at her to try to ease her worries a little.
“This looks like the biggest problem you guys had was with the dust,” my mother said, not even trying to mask the surprise in her voice.
“We didn’t have time to find a perfect shelter,” I said, holding my hand up to my cheek. It was too warm. “Some dust got into our shelter. Not a lot, but… clearly enough.”
“I was in a different shelter,” Storm said. “But none of us have slept in too long and we haven’t had a good meal.”
“Those can all be fixed,” mother said. “And the sickness is worrying, but as long as it doesn’t get worse none of you are in real danger. Except…” She frowned at Fayne. The blood was covering his hand, and he looked like he was about to cry. “Have you ever had a nosebleed like that before?” Fayne shook his head. “Then I’ll take a closer look at you when we get back. You’ll survive, though. Thankfully.” She took the waterskins from Valla and handed them to us. They had a stronger concentration of blackberry leaf in them, and seemed to have other things mixed in that helped start clearing my head as soon as I took a sip. “Rest here for a few minutes, but don’t fall asleep just yet. Wait until you’re back in my house, alright?”
We did our best, and when we were able to walk, we walked alongside Valla and Shadowforth. Fayne had started using a bandage to try to clean his nose and stop more blood from coming out, though it had slowed down for a moment. When we got there, however, we were all asleep before Valla and Shadowforth could even talk to us more about what had happened.