It wasn’t sunlight, no rays stretching down to reach him where he still lay. It wasn’t from the moon, nothing of that sort. It glowed, small and distant.
He couldn’t call out to it, couldn’t bring himself to say a word to draw the light in closer. Instead it wavered, flickering between the trees and trotting along through the bushes. A candle, he thought until it brightened, grew closer and burned brighter. A lantern, he decided.
There were voice then across the creek, joined by impatient snorts and the sound of dulled mouths on metal bits. He didn’t hear the man speak at first, only catching the fact he had said something. It wasn’t until he came closer, dismounting and splashing through the shallow ribbon of water in front of him.
Silas’ head shot up, one arm shaking under him as he forced himself up from the ground. The voice was familiar and the face of the man, crooked nosed and laughter lined, let the terror briefly evaporate from his blood. It has been ages, years even, since Silas had seen him, but his face was the same, friendly in every sense of the word, soft, and rounded just like the rest of him.
“Em…Emery,” he croaked, reaching out for him desperately.
“Goddesses, are you hurt?” he demanded, dark eyes widening when he grabbed for a bloodied hand. “What are you doing out here?”
“Cutting a bullet…out of my chest.”
“You are not!”
Some part of him had always been afraid of her, wary in a way that confused him. It wasn’t that she frightened him herself, but she had a way of carrying herself, a confidence he envied, that always made him afraid of disappointing. It wasn’t even that he feared the story of her past, her husband, a drunken fiend of a man, who ended up dead, shot through the chest, after he attempted to kill her. But fear of disappointing and her past weren’t the only reasons, he supposed, and his memories of Mira, her sister, left him all the more intimidated by his potential failures. He had treated her well, loved her, and yet, she slipped away.
No one ever got away from the resistance, not entirely.
Mira was the exception.
Dianna was at his side just as quickly, wild hair tucked into her hood and tied back in a cloth. A firm hand moved him onto his side, careful fingers prodding their way up his body until Silas hissed air through his teeth.
“Who shot you?” she demanded, turning then, shaking her head. “No, explain later and lie still.” Dianna looked up, biting at her lip as she peered across the creek. “Josephine, dear, bring me my bag.”
“Is he alright?”
“We were looking for you,” Emery cut in. “He sent us out there, trekking all over the place looking for a group.”
“N-no group,” Silas wheezed.
“No group?” Emery asked.
Dianna made a strained sound, shoving Emery back with her free hand. “Stop making him talk. He can explain later. Don’t you see he’s not even breathing right?”
“M’alright,” Silas assured softly.
She shushed him. “Vex it all. What were you thinking? Cutting a bullet out yourself…do you know what kind of damage you could’ve done?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but stopped the moment her eyes narrowed further. Instead he managed a choked laugh, shrugging as best he could without further injuring himself. A breath caught in his chest then and he gasped, eyes widening as he reached again for Emery’s arm.
“Girl…Fina,” he managed, ignoring the previous warning not to speak. “You need…find her. Up that path…up the ridge.”
“Who is she?” Emery asked.
Emery caught his hand again, swallowing harshly. “Ally, don’t speak anymore, alright? You sit still and let her work.”
A third figure joined them, slender and hidden beneath her hood and curtain of dark hair. She knelt down, one pale hand clutching at the heavy satchel she had been ordered to bring. “Here-“
“Josephine, go find that girl,” Dianna demanded. “Emery’s sure to scare her off.”
Emery looked hurt. “Scare her off? Who says?”
“I says.” Dianna dug through her bag. “Now, Josephine, go.”
Silas let his eyes shut.
“Allikeo, look at me.”
His eyelids felt too heavy, weighted down.
There was a sharp pain in his side then, a hiss, and he breathed in sharply, lungs managing to fill for the first time. Silas coughed harshly, back arching and hand clamping down on Emery’s. He cracked an eye open, vision too blurred to make out their faces clearly, their expressions all but lost.
“Hold that right there.”
Though he couldn’t see it, he could hear the worry in her voice.
“You’ll be just fine, Ally. You remember when this happened to me? Mine was my back though, two of the things and not just the one like you-“
“You ruined my damned table,” Dianna mumbled.
“Not on purpose.”
They kept talking.
Silas couldn’t focus.
His mind wandered to the resistance, familiar faces and voices he had longed to hear again. He thought of their camp, Josephine’s hammock tied high above in quite possibly the one tree strong enough to hold it, and the tent city going against a stronghold. It was difficult to leave them, the people that had become something of a dysfunctional family to him, but finding Evander was something that had to be done.
Dianna had been there for some time, Emery even longer, a voice of reason when prison bars were all he saw, a laugh when he needed it most. They had been in the same place, different circumstances, but both enemies of the land. Prisoners then fugitives, renegades, fighters, and everything in between.
Josephine was the youngest and yet, she was just as much a part of them as any. She had scars just like the rest of them though more visible and she had lost more than anyone ever should. He didn’t blame her for her quietness, her wariness and the way she spoke as if afraid to be listened to.
Home, he thought, that’s who they were.
“She’ll find that girl you were talking about,” Emery replied certainly. “She’s real good at finding things, sneaking around too but, that’s not real useful-“
“Al,” Dianna called, “have you had anything for pain? Shake your head or nod.”
He swallowed, head shaking.
“Emery, get me one of those vials.”
There was something held up to his lips and he heard Dianna urging him to drink, obeying with a thick swallow and cringing at the bitterness that stuck behind his teeth.
Emery scooted closer, eyeing her hands carefully.
“Getting it out?”
“Not now, but I’ll need to. It’s too dangerous to leave it where it is.”
A groan escaped him, the pain in his ribs sending shivers of agony down his spine.
Emery cleared his throat, reaching up to grab for his shoulder. “Ally, we’re getting you back some place safe. He’s waiting for you, you and your brother. Where is that brother of yours anyway?”
“What did I say about making him talk?”
“Right, right,” Emery mumbled. “Sorry, Al, didn’t think of that. You can tell me later, tell him too. He’s got plans now, big plans for all of us.” He paused, looking up at Dianna questioningly. “Should…I keep talking to him?”
“Talk to him,” Dianna huffed, hands once again fumbling to find something in her bag. “Don’t you dare make him talk back. I swear…I should beat you bloody for this, Allikeo.”
“It’s not his fault somebody shot him,” Emery argued.
Her fingers trailed up his side again, cloth dabbing around the wound. “It’s his fault that he tried to cut the damn thing out!”
Emery grinned, eyes crinkling and face scrunching. “Still mad about that then?”
“I don’t think I will ever not be.” She paused, looking down at him and then turning her head to swear.
Silas let his eyes close again, hissing out a groan when Dianna pushed against the wound again. He was glad for them, thankful in a way he couldn’t even express, but the constant poking only made the pain in his chest resurface each time it happened.
“It’s not far in there. I could get it out if I had the tools, but nothing’s with me,” she explained.
“We weren’t expecting to find you shot,” Emery added, shrugging then. “Guess we should’ve known better with you-“
“Emery, go back to the camp.”
The man looked up, head tilting. “Why?”
She chewed at her lip again, legs shifting under her. “Allikeo can’t ride. See if you can get your hands on something, a wagon or a cart, and bring it as close as you can.”
He moved to sit up, reveling at just how sweet it felt to have his lungs fill again. “I can walk-“
He was pressed back down again, a firm hand pushing against his shoulder and he groaned once his body struck the dirt again.
“Oh, no, you can’t. I’ve had just about enough of you putting yourself in danger. Now, you sit still and you let me forget about what you tried doing a minute ago,” Dianna snapped, voice hardening. “I said it once, I’d beat you bloody, Allikeo. I should and just maybe I will.”
“You stay right there, Ally.” Emery climbed to his feet. “Don’t you go running off. If I don’t get a wagon, Josephine and I’ll just carry you back.”
Silas tried to laugh.
“Emery…camp,” Dianna commanded.
“Right, I heard you the first time.”
He was gone then, climbing with some apparent difficulty onto his horse, likely directly related to how his stirrups and his legs shared a shortness, Silas thought.
“Are you…angry with me?”
“Damned furious. Keep that mouth of yours shut. You’re not out of the woods yet, wounds like this are nasty. Chests fill with blood and you’re drowning yourself before you know it,” she went on to say. “But, of course, you can handle that on your own. Just cut a little here,” she paused, prodding him in a bruised rib, “puncture your vexing lung!”
Silas clenched his teeth.
“Broken, I’m guessing,” Dianna muttered. “You’re a mess of broken, aren’t you? You keep this up and you’ll be more scars than skin.”
He winced, instinctively raising a hand to cross his chest, fingers closing over to cover the three mars as best he could. Dianna swatted his hand away gently. “Like I haven’t seen them before.”
“Don’t like…reminders,” Silas breathed.
She raised a hand to her face, trailing a clean finger down her cheek. “Neither does Josephine. Just be glad you can hide yours.”
He went silent after that, letting his head roll sideways and feeling an almost unsettling numbness growing in his limbs, fogging his thoughts. The ripples of pain in his chest faded, drifting away just like the rest of him. It was wonderful.
It was strange.
“Keep still,” Dianna warned. “Can you still hear my voice?”
Silas hummed in answer.
“Floating…” The word trailed off, sounding wrong and clumsy on his tongue.
She pressed into his side again. “Can you feel that?”
Silas hissed air through his teeth, glaring.
“You better get used to this. I’ve got a lot to do yet.”
He groaned at the thought.
“Ah, goddesses, what’s that about?” Dianna wondered aloud. “Josephine!”
Light footsteps came tumbling down the ridgeline, stumbling and nearly bowling Dianna over the moment she reached them. Silas held a hand out, pushing himself up on an elbow stiffly only to be eased back down again sternly.
“Fina,” he called half in a wheeze. “It’s alright….friends.”
Josephine staggered after her, one hand clutching at her nose while her mouth spat a slew of rapid apologies. Silas could see the blood and part of him wanted to laugh, but the terror on Sarafina’s face kept it from escaping. Instead he only swallowed, clearing his throat.
“Friends,” he repeated. “The-“
“The resistance,” Josephine cut in nasally, fingers still curled around her nose.
Dianna’s attention snapped up, hood flicked backwards. “Hello, dear, I’d shake your hand, but your friend here’s got me all messy.”
“I-I didn’t know,” the little girl sobbed, head turning quickly to face the hooded girl. “I didn’t know you were friends. I’m sorry…I’m really s-sorry.”
Josephine smiled shyly, bringing her hand away and swiping a bit of blood from above her lips. “Oh, I thought you were just scared of the scars.”
Sarafina just stood there sniffling, hands crossing in front of her chest as she reached up to dab the tears on her elbow. Josephine crouched down, brushing her hood backwards carefully. “I’m not scary, I promise.”
The girl didn’t seem convinced.
Josephine traced the scars, the path tears would follow left permanently etched into her cheeks and down to her jaw, things Silas still didn’t entirely know the origin of.
“I didn’t put these here. Don’t worry, no one is going to hurt you.”
“I’m sorry for hitting you,” Sarafina called softly.
Nodding, Josephine turned, pointing a slender hand towards Dianna. “She’s going to fix your friend. Everything is going to be alright now.”
Sarafina seemed to perk up then, still sniffling softly, but her eyes lit up.
“Are we getting papa and Aurora back?”
Josephine grinned. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”