Part II - Our Common Grave :: 32
Singing. He heard singing.
She was singing again.
He was somewhere in the Waring Woods. It was night. He was injured by way of a trap set by another one of the crucible participants. The boys had been set loose in the woods and told to survive as long as they can. If they ever felt in danger, they would simply turn on a bright alchemical lantern and be pulled from the woods by one of the proctors.
Cyrus looked down at his pack, one side of it smeared in mud, the other dotted red with his blood. The whittled dagger trap had caught his outer thigh. He didn’t have time to care about it hobbling him. He could still hear them, in the distance, shouting for the fast little noble boy.
The bag felt heavy as he trudged through the undergrowth. The air stung his lungs. His leg shook with each step. Warm blood flowed down his leg, settling in his boot. He opened the pack and eyed the lantern. Her song grew stronger. Cyrus closed the pack.
They were closer now. He counted three of them by the differing tones of their voices. The gang wasn’t bothering to hide their presence. They knew they had the little fast boy on the run.
Cyrus looked back at the bag and then placed it near the base of a tree. He extracted a rope, a small knife, and the lantern, setting the alchemical device askew against the open bag. As he moved backward from the scene, he pressed his hand into the gash on his leg. A tear of pain escaped his eye but no blood would leave a trail for them to find his hiding spot. He chose a large bramble bush, deciding that the group of boys would not look in such a painful place for him.
“I’d like to see him run that far now,” said the middle boy as they neared the tree. “Bleeding all over the place.”
“Were we supposed to attack each other?” questioned the boy on the right.
The boy on the left shrugged. “Doesn’t matter does it? This is about survival. And what’s a little pay back?”
All three laughed.
“Look,” said the leader, pointing to the sack. “I think he may be giving up.”
The right boy looked around. “Wonder where he went.”
“Probably climbing the tree to hide,” said the left boy.
Cyrus sprung from the bush, rope in hand, and wrapped the leader with a tight knot of rope. He drove an elbow to the back of his head, then swept the legs out from underneath the left boy. The right boy lashed out with his own whittling knife. Cyrus caught the boy’s arm by the wrist and twisted. He heard a snap, the boy cried out, and he watched as the whittling knife flew out of sight into the brush. He threw the right boy down to the ground next to his fellows.
As Cyrus reached over to the lantern, he heard the leader boy yelp. “No! We won’t make it to the next activity.”
Cyrus shrugged and slammed his fist against the lantern. It fizzled, something in the device’s insides cracked, and the area was bathed in light nearly as bright as the sun. He cringed away from the light and slunk away, leaving the boys to their fate.
He wandered for a while, mind jumping from survival lesson to survival lesson. His leg was starting to become a problem, and if left alone, it’d be his greatest obstacle to finishing this second week of the crucible. Using the information given to him by Parton during his prep work, he foraged for thistle and whistleaf. The thistle would help clean the wound. The whistleaf would numb it.
After an hour of searching through the darkness of a new moon, he found a hollow in a rotten log in which to rest, empty handed. His leg was starting to throb angrily with every motion. He knew that if he didn’t get it looked at by a healer soon, it’d become a bigger obstacle for him to overcome. So much for trying to keep his promise to Brisa. He looked up to the stars, wondering how she was, what she was doing.
The woods at night were, his opponents and throbbing leg not withstanding, tranquil. Even with a young moon, everything had a certain otherworldly glow to it. Her song started to come back to him, slowly, softly, murmured in his head and heart. His eyes began to droop. He no longer cared for the competition. Brisa would show up in his dreams and the thought kept the pain in his leg at bay.
He woke the next morning before the sun had fully risen. His leg was stiff and refused to move beyond a small range front to back. Walking would set it right, or at least he thought, so he began foraging again. He found countless lanterns littering the undergrowth as he treked for the right leaves to quell his pain. Funny, he thought, how all the boys had played so tough during the first week but two nights in the Waring Woods were enough to drive most of them out. He found the woods more peaceful at night than the day.
Around mid day, his stomach growling, he finally laid hands on the necessary leaves. He found a quiet meadow in which to lie and cleaned the wound with the thistle tuft. It stung with every swipe but he knew he was doing the wound good. It had yet to fester, which was a good sign considering he had no lantern with which to call for help.
Thistle now depleted, he started to crush the whistleaf up in his hands. The potent smell made his head swim. It was the same stuff used in cigarettes and medicinal teas. His hands were tingling just from handling the stuff. He didn’t look forward to shoving the crushed leaves into the gash.
“Cyrus!” came a distant call.
He looked up, hand starting to go numb from the whistleaf.
In the distance, jogging towards him, was Emmet. He had heard that the Manipulator was among the Proctors administering and judging the tests but had not yet seen him.
Cyrus jammed the slivers of whistleaf into the wound on his leg, grimaced, and tried to stand. “Emmet,” he called.
“I heard what happened to you,” said Emmet upon arriving next to Cyrus.
“Yeah, didn’t know this was a hostile exercise.”
Emmet frowned. “It wasn’t supposed to be. They’ve been sent home early.”
Cyrus looked up, face still contorted by the burning in his leg. “G-great.”
“You need to be seen by a healer.”
With a grunt, Cyrus tried to stand. Emmet reached out and grabbed his arm, helping him up the rest of the way.
“I guess so,” Cyrus sighed. “Still hurts like crazy.”
Emmet pulled Cyrus’s arm around his shoulder and propped the boy up. “Don’t rest on that leg. We’ll head to the healer tent near camp. Think you can make it? You’re a bit heavy...”
“Funny,” Cyrus deadpanned. “Yeah, I should be good.”
“Why didn’t you call for help? You know what they did was wrong. We would’ve understood.”
“I felt like I needed to be brave.”
The song started to begin anew in the back of Cyrus’ mind. “I just did.”
“No reason to tough this out.”
“I thought this was a crucible.”
Emmet grimaced. “But not a war.”
Cyrus smiled. “Here’s hoping I don’t have to be in one of those.”
“Hear, hear,” replied Emmet.