Previous: Chapter 15
Chapter 16 (Supplies)
I woke up, face pressed against a fluffy white pillow, but when I tried to turn over, I found my arms and legs strapped down. The groan of my stomach said I was still alive, which brought up a lot of questions.
Though, the only one that mattered right then was what could I get my hands on to eat.
A lime scent clung to the pillow, and there was no trace of my body odor that had been present since going after the Fevered Four. Not being able to bathe had been awful, but not nearly as bad as not being able to eat right now. Food. I needed some food.
I tugged on my restraints, but it was no good. Opening my mouth to call for help, I took a deep breath then shut my mouth. I could be a prisoner. The Regime could have me.
But why was I strapped to a bed, comfortable mind you, face down?
“That’s a good question,” Barges said, once again his presence filling my thoughts.
Back after trying to kill me? I felt at the side of the bed, which my hands barely reached, looking for some way to release the straps.
“The One wasn’t trying to kill you.”
I’m sure. Throwing me against a tree and gathering energy to rip me to shreds was just his way of giving me a hug.
“He was just trying to teach you a lesson for getting in his way and betraying his will.”
His will? You mean killing Orshis? My friends? The horses? Yes, that sounds like something I would have loved for him to do. The straps on my arms were bolted into the frame of the bed, so I went back to tugging on them.
“Horses aren’t destroying this planet, and your friends are part of the One’s circle. Especially …” Barges made a garbling sound.
Just be quiet for now. We’ll talk more about this when I get out of this—
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Yalrein said from somewhere to my left. “You’ll undo all the work Torkis did to fix you up last night.”
“Why,” I said through gritted teeth, “am I strapped to the bed.”
“Because,” Yalrein said in a low voice with a hint of scorn in it, “you’re a criminal, and the Regime wants you.”
Muscles tense, I thrashed about in the bed. “You—”
Yalrein burst into laughter, but it was full of mirth, not hate. “You are easy to mess with. I still hate you, but you saved me last night. Twice. And the Regime burned my home down and killed my family. Until I make them pay, things between us are on hold.”
“Then why am I tied to a bed?”
“To keep you from rolling over onto your back. Whatever that was last night has melted part of your spine, and it was all Torkis could do after I got you here to heal you.”
“Yeah, from our run into the night while being chased, we had made it most of the way to Paster. With the help of your ointment after that monster disappeared and sent your hurtling into a tree, I was able to get us here by sunrise.”
“Guess we got lucky we were going in the right direction.” I knew that was a lie. I had planned this path long ago when Mother first told me she didn’t want me becoming a gladiator. Plus it was headed away from my friends.
I tugged at my restraints again. “Can you remove these? And do you have any food?”
The click of Yalrein’s boots on hardwood drew closer then the pressure on my left wrist vanished.
The other restraints joined the first on the bed before I pushed myself up onto all fours, not trusting myself not to just roll onto my back. “Thank you.”
“This makes us even.” Yalrein gestured for me to follow.
In the next room over, a kitchen, a plate full of sausages, ham and chicken wings acted as the centerpiece for the table. Around it were all types of peppers and vegetables that I couldn’t name, but most were yellow or blue. An elderly woman sat a pair of cups on the table, each filled with Maroon, the sweetest juice I had ever drunk and my favorite.
I leaned in close to Yalrein. “Is that Torkis?”
He shook his head. “That’s his mother.”
After wiping the drool from my mouth, I sat and began to stuff my face without ceremony.
“Heathen,” Yalrein said before taking the place next to me and doing the same thing. He sure was one to talk.
Once all the mouthwatering meat had vanished into our stomachs, we moved onto the vegetables, systematically working our way around the table till there was nothing left. We each had four more glasses of Maroon before the last piece of food vanished, and that piece—a long blue pepper—almost sparked up a fight between me and Yalrein.
A middle-aged man with tatters of gray in his dark hair entered the room. The healer’s coat he wore marked him as Torkis, the man who had saved my life.
I stood to bow. “Thank you so much for saving me.”
Torkis came over to me and strengthened me with a gesture. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”
“Better now that I’ve eaten.” I wiped at my mouth with the back of my hand, sure there were scraps of food there. There always were.
“That’s good to hear.” He turned to Yalrein and handed him a list. “I’ve arranged for some supplies and horses for the two of you, but you’ll have to go get the supplies and do a bit to help the shopkeepers you’re getting them from. The horses are already in my stable, as well as the saddles and saddlebags. You just need to do a few chores and bring your loads back over here.”
“We can’t thank you enough,” Yalrein said as he stood and bowed. At least, he kept some of his honor he had learned from Mother.
Torkis glanced at me. “Don’t do too much heavy lifting. Your back isn’t fully ready for it.”
I nodded then glanced down at my white t-shirt, yet again another new one. I’ve been going through shirts faster than Modaj went through books, but I was still breathing, so that was something.
Yalrein and I hit the streets a few minutes later and made our way to the first merchant on Torkis’s list.
The clothing shop, which also sold mild armor, had a line out the door, mostly older women. Despite the looks we were given for skipping the wait, the owner, a fat man named Hyaxe, waved for them to hurry inside. The tanned smell of leather and burned silk made the whole place feel authentic, but the constant jab-jab-jab of the sewing machine quickly wore out its welcome.
“Ummm,” I said, glancing around at all the angry faces, “Torkis sent us.”
Hyaxe smiled from ear to ear, chubby cheeks folding. “About time. Help me get this line out the door and the clothes and armor are yours.” He gestured back towards the woman on the sewing machine. “She should have the size right by then.”
Helping customers reach packages up high, carrying boxes down from the attic, bagging products and collecting money made up the good part of the late afternoon, dusk taking the sky before we made it to the camping supply vendor.
The young, bearded owner, no older than Yalrein, had them set up displays to earn the sleeping rolls, rope, backpacks and traps.
By the time we finished with the weapons dealer, getting a bow and other hunting weapons as well as the food and water merchant, the night was half over. A good night’s sleep in a soft bed before a long, hard ride to Jutzoran would be welcome.
Yalrein led the way into the stables where we packed up our supplies and prepared the horses.
“Now can we take a break?” I asked as we stumbled out of the stable.
“Yeah.” Yalrein blinked, glancing down the street.
“I know you wanted to concentrate,” Barges said, “But something is very wrong to the north of the city.”
And how do you know that? North was the way we needed to go, and if there was something blocking our path, it would be good for me to learn.
There was a crowd gathering around a young woman sitting atop a horse. She was gesturing wildly with her hands and gasps ran through the crowd.
“I don’t like the look of this.” Yalrein started towards the group.
And there went my chance to rest. I started after him. “This is going to be a pain.” Are you going to answer me?
“I can feel something. Some disturbance in the flow of the planet.”
As long as it’s just a feeling, we won’t have to waste a few days going around. I reached the gathered crowd with Yalrein. You’re probably still shaken up from merging with the other three.
“I don’t think so, but you could be right. I just can’t shake this feeling.”
We’ll be fine.
“And there was nothing left,” the young woman on the horse said. “The Regime scouts I had talked to on the trail said it had been the Fevered Four. They had finally struck out against Ayuhod with some agents on the inside and killed everyone, including Mayor Brumpet.”
“We need to go,” Yalrein said as he leaned in close to me, “now.”
“But … a soft bed.” I knew Yalrein was right, but it didn’t make accepting this any easier. I groaned then spun on my heels, heading back towards the stable.
“We have to keep our eyes out for any strangers,” the young woman said, voice raising, “because the Regime said they may be trying to do to us what Ayuhod. If you see anyone you don’t know, report them.”
A lump formed in my throat, and I doubled my pace, slipping into the stable as the angry mutters of the crowd grew to a fevered pitch. “How are we going to get past that group?”
“Blast them with a wave of fire.” Yalrein grabbed his saddle and set it onto a white horse with blue stripes down its side.
I had wanted that horse because it looked awesome, but I didn’t really know much about them. I had only cared for Guudra with food and checking its shoes. So I did the same for Wholt—White Bolt was where I got the idea for his name—checking all six of the metal shoes on the his feet. Then I did the same for … What would I call her? She was skinnier than Wholt with a purple head of hair and pink spots covering her brown coat. Hmmm, she could be Pentorse since the pink reminded him of the monstrous pentabulls that roamed the waists in the south. Like Wholt, Pentorse’s shoes were fine.
“Everything check out?” Yalrein asked as he put my saddle on Pentorse.
“Yeah.” I looked at the door to the stable. “But I don’t think we should hurt the villagers.”
Yalrein climbed into Wholt’s saddle. “Only if they get in our way.”
After making sure all of our supplies were loaded, I got onto Pentorse, patting her on the neck and flicking on the travel lantern attached to the saddle. “Maybe we could just scare them out of the way.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“We just have to race past them.”
“If they gather against us, they will stop us from reaching the north road.”
Barges buzzed, but I ignored him and trotted Pentorse forward. “We just have to leave in a burst and try and sling those out of our way before they know what hit them.”
Yalrein turned on his travel lantern. “I hope you’re right.”
I did, too. Taking a deep breath, I burst out of the stable and charged through the group, gathering a ball of water in front of me and using it to throw men and women in the crowd to the side.
Everyone gaped after us, and it wasn’t until we had gotten several blocks away and shouts of alarm rose up behind us.
We made it.
Riding hard for about an hour put us a safe distance away from Paster, and we slowed.
Ahead, a man, alone, stumbled down the side of the road, heading in the same direction we were. Without a shirt and his pants in tatters, the bones in his back were visible as well as his lack of metallic tattoos. He looked like he hadn’t eaten in weeks, and his long, matted hair spoke of sleeping in bushes and one the ground.
“He looks like he could use our help,” I said trotting over to the man.
“Not a good idea.” Yalrein hurried up behind me.
The man peered over his shoulder and smiled. His teeth had been filed to points.
Next: Chapter 17