The Knell

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Chapter Four: "Race Against Measure"

They walk until it is too dark to see their fingers mere inches from their noses. Louk and Hale set up camp silently, methodically, working around him and his sister as they huddle together, shoulder to shoulder against a tree. Branches are gathered, a fire soon blazing over the dewy ground, as close to the two of them as Louk can make it without setting them or the tree on fire.

After that the two Barrens sit down, handing out rations of jerky and passing along a water skin for them to share. Rett gives his share of the jerky to his sister, unable to stomach even the feel of it in his palm. He does take a slow draw of water, wanting more but unwilling to deprive anyone else of it.

Besides. They need it more than he does.

His sister takes notice though, taking a significantly shorter drink, handing the skin back to him and pestering Rett to have some more. He does if only to make her happy, collapsing back against the tree while leaning more into his sister’s shoulder to take pressure off the hearth-fire in his side.

She asks him how he’s feeling, but he doesn’t feel like wasting the energy it would take to tell her something she already knows. It’s his silence, he can tell, that makes her very worried – even more than she was before when she was complaining about him slowing them down during their hike earlier.

“Mischa would know what to do,” she whispers tightly.

Eh,” he forces out, a sound that is barely a syllable but feels like he just gave an hour long speech. Rett doesn’t think his chest should be feeling as crushed as it does, but he knows that there’s nothing to do about it so he keeps quiet.

“You stink,” Kaethe says as she is forced to take a sniff of his hair. She makes like she’s shoving him away, but all the push does is settle his weighted head further against her shoulder. “Remind me next time we’re being chased to trip you and leave you behind.”

He smiles tiredly, unable to even laugh though he does manage a soft exhale that could seem like a laugh if one were conniving enough. His sister is so she laughs along with him even though any mirth is absent of the entire thing.

“You better hang on, Rett,” she hisses at him. “I can’t . . . I can’t lose you too.” His sister draws her knees up to her chest, making herself as small and compact as possible, something she only does when she is well and truly terrified. Whereas, under normal circumstances, Kaethe would face the issue head on, head held high and trying to look as imposing as she can even with her so very petite frame, this time she is shrinking in.

Rett knows he should reassure her, promise her that everything will be fine. He knows he should pull himself together and be the older brother that he hasn’t been for so long, but . . . he’s too tired. So very, very tired. And he’s sad, too. He wants to hide, too – not that he can ever let her know. He wants to change things as badly as she does even though it’s impossible to.

So he doesn’t do what his gut, however shredded and aching, is telling him to do.

Instead he grabs the little finger of her healthy hand with his forefinger, not holding hands but as close as they’ve ever come as children and walking through the crowded streets back home.

Kaethe understands immediately, curling her finger tighter around his. “Remember when I was four and we were walking down the street when I tripped on a stone?” she asks him quietly. “I was holding your finger so tight and I didn’t let go when I fell.”

He smiles at the memory, too exhausted to do more than a once and done twitch of his mouth. “Broke,” he breathes.

She laughs quietly. “Yeah. I broke your finger. You were so mad, but you still carried me home because I was crying so hard because I’d skinned my knee. I got boogers all in your hair.”

He hums his response.

“. . . What happened, Rett?” she wonders.

Mmm.”

Kaethe exhales a long, drawn out breath. “Yeah. I don’t either.”

Only he does know when and where everything changed. He does know why things had to go the way they did. He knows, and he understands, and he wouldn’t change it at all. Rett just wishes that he could explain to his sister, his only remaining family, why he left, cut mostly all ties, why he had such blatant disregard for their family’s standing and heritage.

But he can’t. Not yet. Maybe later, months down the road. But not here. Not now. She needs to stay ignorant just a little bit longer.

Ignorance is bliss’ as the saying goes.

He drifts off then, unable to stay awake any longer.


Early the next morning, the sun just cresting the mountain peak, the four of them set off once more. Louk is still in the lead, bow drawn, arrow notched, scouting ahead as his brother had told him to do. Kaethe is next, lingering behind the Barren, staying closer to her brother who is being helped along by Hale, feet stumbling over each other and the debris coating the ground. She hovers even from the three feet of distance she has placed between them, worried for her brother, unable to help anymore than she has, needing to stay close so she can tell when he starts to deteriorate.

At least . . . deteriorate more than he had during the night.

When she’d woken just before dawn, Hale already up and putting out the remaining coals in the fire, she’d instantly taken notice of the heat against her side. A glance over had told her what she’d already guessed, that her brother was sick, infection setting in not even a day after being hurt. There was nothing to do except wash the swollen, angry flesh around the wound which then drew her brother to awareness, kicking and throwing elbows, one which caught Louk in the collarbone when he came to help. He’d been yelling, too, curses that only a sailor would be interested in stringing together, making her eyes go wide at the sudden language. One glance over her shoulder had told her that the Barrens were likewise caught off guard, Hale actually looking mildly impressed by the rainbow colors spewing from her brother’s mouth.

Now they’re struggling to cover six miles, still a good ten away from the closest Barren city where Hale and Louk are taking them. Her brother is lagging. Hale is trying to help as much as he can, but aside from carrying Rett there is little that he can do.

“You should just carry him,” Louk calls for quite possibly the twelfth time that day. He is standing at the top of a hill, bow still out, eyes still sweeping for pursuers or any other threats, but he is conscious of Hale and Rett staggering at the bottom.

“Rett’s not exactly light,” Kaethe puts in as she joins him at the top. She looks down, worrying her bottom lip as she watches the elders’ progress, watches as they tumble to their knees, rise slowly and carry on.

“Hale’s not exactly small.”

“No,” she agrees, watching the two oldest as they fall to their knees again, staying down for longer than before, and then get back up to continue. “But neither is my brother.”

“We’d move faster.”

“But for how long?”

“We’d cover more ground in less time than we have been.”

“But then we’d have to stop earlier.”

“Nah,” Louk says with a shake of his head. “Hale’s as tough as they come. He could do it.”

Their two older brothers reach them, finally, sinking down, gasping for breath. Winded doesn’t seem capable of describing the sound of both hyperventilating, bent forward to their hands, skin pale and sweaty.

Hale is the first to recover withdrawing Rett’s arm from over his shoulders. With the loss of the Barren’s support her brother drops first to his elbows, then to his side, and then rolls onto his back to stare up at the cloudy sky. There is a grimace in his eyes, a thinness in his pale, bluish lips, a pink flush to his clammy cheeks.

He doesn’t look good at all.

Kaethe sits down at his shoulder. “How you doing, Big Brother?” she asks quietly.

Rett’s hand twitches in what could be considered a wave-off. “Ask . . . me . . . that . . . when . . . I c’n . . . breathe?” he says moments before he jack-knifes slightly upwards with a tearing cough. The sound is rough, sharp and growling. It doesn’t bode well for him; for them.

“Easy,” she soothes, setting her good hand on his bicep.

Louk comes up beside her, planting the end of his bow into the ground. “We stopping or just taking a breather?”

She looks up to glare at him but her brother laughs breathlessly.

“Jus’a breather,” he answers, rolling back to his hands and knees so he can attempt standing. Hale is there in a blink, offering support and practically lifting Rett back to his feet when his limbs shake too much for the coordinated move. “Thanks. Lead on.”

But no one moves.

Rett looks around at them all, squinting in the hazy light. “What?” he rasps.

“Maybe having you walk isn’t such a good idea,” Hale answers.

Her brother scowls at this, appearing so very petulant and childish, Kaethe wonders if maybe this is an act for their benefit rather than him actually being upset about the implications. But she doesn’t know her brother well enough anymore to make such judgments. The act would fit with Rett’s personality, unserious and overly entertained by just about anything, from a bar fight to a public fart even though he’s nearing twenty. And yet . . . three years is a long time for someone to change.

They’ve missed out on much because of . . . she isn’t even sure what anymore.

“I may be a damsel,” Rett snaps, “an’ I may be in distress, but there is no way on Thiy’vah that I’m goin’ t’be carried ‘round like I’m one. The only way I’ll consent is when I faint like a girl.”

Louk snickers.

She shakes her head, trying for disappointed but failing when she can’t quite bite back her grin. “You’re hopeless, Rett.”

He beams tiredly, sagging just that little bit more into the Barren.

“Onward?” Louk asks, looking to his older brother who sighs and nods. “Onward, then.” He notches an arrow to the string, keeping the point aimed at the ground, stepping ahead once more. Walking along the ridge he leads, soon disappearing around the bend.

Kaethe starts out after him, but when the space between her and Rett and Hale grows she hangs back. Her brother is flagging, the climb uphill taking more out of him than a few minutes of rest could fix. She takes up position at his other side, mindful of his wound even as she presses herself firmly against it. Taller than her, taking his arm over her shoulders does little by way of helping him to walk, but it does give him a bracing, which enables them to pick up the pace.

They come to the turn in the ridge, come to another sloping climb. Rett huffs out a sigh but is otherwise undaunted. She and Hale prepare for the effort it will take.

Louk is already at the top, crossing into a grove of evergreens.

“Show-off,” Rett grumbles.

Hale laughs. “You think this is bad? He’s holding back. Fastest Barren in all the cities.”

“Believe it.”

“Keep up, ya slow-pokes!” Louk’s call echoes back to them.

“I hate ‘im,” Rett adds, setting his jaw and lifting his foot just a little quicker this time.

Hale laughs again and she cracks a smile.

“Now who’s the grouch?”

“‘m injured . . . gimme a break.”

Silence falls, the effort of even attempting to keep up with Louk’s rigorous pace so taxing that it’s not even worth carrying on a conversation. Winded for hours, when they finally catch up to the younger Barren it is growing dark and he is already setting up camp, a fire roaring with a rabbit roasting on a spit. He glances up when they stumble through the brush, smiling and declaring that dinner is almost ready and it’s about time they showed up and whether they stopped for a break without telling him.

“Hate ‘im,” Rett gasps, collapsing between her and Hale. The action forces them to lower him to the ground so he can fall onto his back, struggling for breath and coughing in between each inhale. “Definitely hate ‘im.”

“You wound me, Eive,” Louk retorts, his tone a bark while the bite is missing.

Her brother glances over and makes a slashing motion across his throat, to which the Barren only smiles brighter at.

“Here,” Louk says, holding out a tin cup to her, steaming and smelling distinctly earthen. “I found some Nakaea leaves and dug up some Iscitium root. It should help with the infection.”

She nods, recognizing both from her best friend, Mischa, and knowing that he is correct. Wearily she drops down to sit next to Rett. She tries to get him to sit with her but too tired to even think of moving she is forced to lift his head onto her knee so that he will be able to drink. At first hesitant, and then blatantly obstinate about not drinking the ‘poisonous tea’, Kaethe ends up having to pinch his nose until he opens his mouth to breathe, at which point she dumps the tea down his throat. Gagging and choking, Rett nearly vomits the drink back up, but somehow manages to keep it down.

“Hate . . . you . . . too,” he slurs haggardly.

“Yeah, yeah,” she answers, clenching her fists over her thighs to try and hide the shaking that watching her brother hurting so badly – because of her – caused. “Right back at you.”

“. . . Mmm . . .”

He fades out so suddenly that Kaethe’s breath catches in her throat. She touches two fingers to his neck, at first fearful, and then sagging in relief when she feels the lethargic thrumming beneath the pads of her fingertips.

She pulls in a quivering gasp, holding it as she closes her eyes, taking a small second to calm back down. “Thanks,” she says quietly, offering the cup back to Louk. He takes it but his eyes are on her brother, appearing so very worried that, for a moment, it’s almost easy to forget that she and Rett only just met the two Barrens the day before. “And thank you. For helping us,” she adds, looking quickly between the boys.

“Like I said,” Louk answers, “we weren’t just going to leave you there. Your brother saved mine.”

Hale grunts what she takes to be his agreement. “We’ll get your brother help,” he promises. “We’ll reach Knoll by afternoon tomorrow, maybe earlier if we can move faster than today.” None of them say anything about how unlikely that actually is. “And we’ll talk to our uncle about what we can do to help the both of you.”

She nods tiredly. “Okay. You don’t have to. You’ve done enough, but thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” Hale says firmly, bending his head so that they are at eye level even on opposite sides of the fire.

After another meal of jerky and sips of water they bed down for the night. Hale gives her his sleeping pad, ignoring any of her protests, throwing it down beside Rett and then helping her to move him onto it. Kaethe tries to protest further, wondering what he’ll do with the cold that just keeps dropping, but he won’t hear of it. He even goes further to give her his blanket, walking away before she can keep objecting. She watches as he goes over to his brother and the two crowd onto Louk’s own pad and beneath his blanket.

Seeing that Hale won’t be freezing for her or Rett she settles down, curling up beneath the blanket. It warms quickly, her brother’s fever still present, saving her from an uncomfortable night. She drifts into fitful sleep, waking at any twitch from Rett and any noise from the woods surrounding them. But even then she gets more sleep than she has for the entire week, and when the sun starts to rise she is awake feeling more rested than she has in a while.

“You look like crap,” Louk says as he untangles himself from the twist he and Hale have turned themselves into over the night.

He obviously does not agree with her assessment and it puts her into an irritated mood.

“Thanks,” she grumbles, wishing there was a rock she could throw at his smug face.

“Be nice,” Hale reprimands, reaching up and swatting his younger brother on the back of the head.

“Hey!” Louk cries with a wince, rubbing the sore spot. “I was just being honest.”

“Learn to keep your mouth shut.”

“Yes, Mam.”

Hale rolls his eyes, getting up and stretching out his spine with two echoing pops.

They munch on stale crackers, sip more water, and then Louk mentions about making her brother another cup of tea before they set out for the day. She agrees readily and he sets about brewing while she turns to her brother who is still sleeping even with all the ruckus that had been made as the fire was rekindled. With a hand on his shoulder she shakes him awake.

Only he doesn’t wake. Rett doesn’t even make a twitch. Or a sound.

She shakes harder, forcibly ignoring the flaring throb in her wrist, calling his name harshly.

Her brother is limp on the pad, rolling with the shoves she gives but never once opening his eyes.

“RETT!” she cries, her eyes suddenly stinging as she bends over him. “Rett, wake up,” she begs, listening to the scattered breaths he takes against her ear. “RETT!” The heat off his skin is stifling, the fever much too high to be healthy which her brother is definitely not.

Hale is next to her, arm reaching out and hand pushing against the wound in her brother’s side before she can realize his less than kind intent.

“What are you—” she starts to demand when Rett draws in a short hiss, finally moving, finally making signs of life. Kaethe leans back over him, a thin, ratted braid falling to his nose. She tucks it behind her ear, tilting closer, listening to the strangled breaths he takes. “Rett, c’mon, Big Brother. Don’t quit on me now. Please. You promised.”

Her brother wilts back to the pad, his eyes now open but barely, hazy and clouded and not at all aware of what is going on. He moans pathetically, his hand moving to touch his side before she can catch it between her own, gripping tight and begging him to hold on and not leave her too.

“Louk,” Hale barks. “Go. Get to Knoll. Get the doc. Have him meet us back home. Get Uncle Den, too.”

The younger Barren makes no sound of acknowledgment, but Kaethe can hear as he runs about, kicking dirt over the fire and gathering up his things. Not even a minute passes before he is running from their camp, fading into the trees much like her brother is fading from her.

“We need to move,” Hale tells her. He bends down, throwing her brother’s insensate form across his shoulders. The Barren stands as though the effort is nonexistent. Rett makes no sound and she knows then how so very far gone her brother is. “C’mon, Kaethe.”

She gets up, grabbing up Hale’s discarded pack, staggering under the surprising weight but staying upright. She looks to the pad and blanket on the ground, wondering if she should bother rolling them back up.

“Leave them,” Hale says, already setting off after his own brother. “We’ll come back later. They aren’t important right now. C’mon, Kaethe. Keep up, alright?”

“Yeah,” she says, chasing after him.


The cabin is actually quite large; bigger than she expected when Hale began explaining it to her in stilted breaths as they ran. It is two levels, a crawl space dug beneath. There is a porch wrapping two sides, a crystal pond to the right and a mountain slope just beyond that. It is homey, rustic, warm and welcoming.

“Get the door,” Hale rasps from where he has fallen a couple steps behind her.

Kaethe nods, too breathless to make an effort at coherent speech after several hours of up-mountain sprinting – she once thought she was athletic, but right now she is seriously questioning that big-headed idea of hers. Instead she rushes up the two short steps and to the front door. She swings it inward, holding it wide for Hale to stumble inside and then follows him, keeping close to his heels as he crosses the quaint, bright kitchen to lower her brother to the sturdy plank table.

A door further in squeaks and then footsteps come rapidly closer as a voice calls out, “Hale? Louk? Boys, that you?”

“Uncle Den!” Hale exclaims, relief evident in his eyes as he slumps into the table at the loss of her brother’s weight over his shoulders. “Uncle Den, we’re in the kitchen!”

In the archway between the kitchen and the rest of the cabin a man appears, significantly older than Hale but no older than his mid-forties. He is tall like Hale, broad in the shoulders like Hale and so obviously Barren by the shadow he casts upon the room that Kaethe finds herself creeping back into a corner in fear. Her palms begin to sweat and her pulse quickens. She wants Rett to get up and stand beside her, do what he does best and that is draw all the attention onto himself because that is his way. She wants to hide and forget that these thoughts, these cowardly ideas filtering through her skull, are new and the result of what happened only days ago; are because of what she has caused with her childish stupidity.

Hale does the complete opposite, crossing the floor and diving into his uncle’s open arms, collapsing for a moment from the strain she understands all too well.

“Hale?” the man begins in worry, arms winding tight and firm. “Where’s Louk? Are either of you hurt?” The man pushes Hale away, his eyes sweeping over his nephew as he searches for injuries.

“No,” Hale says with a shake of his head. “No, we’re okay. It’s not us.” He nods over his shoulder to where Rett is lying so very still atop the table.

The older man looks, his eyes going wide at the blood that has stained Kaethe’s brother’s jacket. “What happened?” he demands, going over to Rett.

“We . . . we were hunting,” Hale starts haltingly, “when we came across them. It was a pack of Eives,” he explains. “They were chasing them, planning on killing them. Louk and I . . . it was wrong, what they were doing, so we stepped in. We chased them back down the mountain, but . . . but one came back. He took a shot at me. Rett,” he nods down to her brother, “pushed me out of the way and got hit instead. He . . . he’s hurt bad, Uncle Den.”

“Where’s your brother?” the man asks, already stripping her brother of his jacket and shirt, tearing off the bandages and getting a close look at the torn stitches in Rett’s side.

Kaethe makes one failed attempt and going over, but then Hale’s uncle straightens and she is once again thrown wide by how very big the man is. He could snap her like a twig beneath his boot and there would be nothing she could hope to do about it. Maybe if he were smaller, more average in size . . . but no, even then she hadn’t been able to do anything and now she is forever branded—

She slams into the wall beside the door, cracking her skull and snapping herself from that.

“He’s getting the doc,” Hale says, drawing a weary hand down his face.

“Okay. Get me the medical kit from the washroom.”

Hale does without a word, coming back in a blink to hand it over. The older Barren rummages inside and pulls out a pair of tweezers and scissors. He cuts through the stitching, pulling each lingering piece of thread from the infected skin along her brother’s ribs. The flesh is red and green, weeping thin blood to the wood planks beneath. The bruising is evident, darker and deeper than her last time looking at it. It makes her stomach roll and she has to bite her tongue to keep the crackers from earlier where they belong.

“Get me some water,” the man orders next, to which Hale complies readily. The man cleans off the blood, both dried and fresh, as well as dirt that wedged its way beneath the bandaging. “You said this was caused by an arrow?”

“Yeah. The Eive shot uphill. Kaethe said it got caught against a rib or two.”

Hale’s uncle stands abruptly straight. “Kaethe?”

“Yeah. His sister.” Hale searches for her, not locating her at first, but then when he does spot her hiding beside the door he looks instantly worried. “Kaethe, it’s okay,” he tells her quietly. “This is my Uncle Den. He won’t hurt you.”

She shakes her head, unsure of what she means by it but knowing that his words have done nothing to calm her racing pulse. She is still shaking, terrified of this unknown place as well as for her brother’s life. She’s scared and wants to run, the only thing holding her back is Rett, dying right before her eyes, just like—

Hale materializes next to her, placing a tentative hand on her shoulder, so sudden that she jumps, nearly shrieks, at the change. He squeezes once. “Hey, it’s okay. You’re okay,” he says gently, dipping his head and searching out her gaze which is focused on her brother. “Kaethe . . . Kae, you’re okay. And Rett will be too. Louk’s bringing the doc. They’ll be here soon.”

True to his word, the door swings open, catching Hale’s elbow and bouncing back.

“Hey!” Louk cries on the other side. He peers around, holding his nose and glaring, but then when he sees her hiding there his eyes soften. “I got the doc, but couldn’t find Uncle Den.”

“He’s here,” Hale replies.

“Oh. Hey, Uncle Den! I found strays!”

“I can see that, Little One,” the older man says. “Doctor Ensen. Thank you for coming.”

A woman enters, a wild bramble of silver-white nesting atop her head, and a purpose to her heavy steps. “Just once I would like a month to go by where I’m not paying a visit to your home, Lord Chief.”

Hale and Louk’s uncle chuckles quietly. “The feeling is mutual.”

“What do we have this time?” the woman asks, peering down at her brother, prying open his eyes and humming to herself at the reaction – or lack of one.

“Arrow to the ribs. I believe two are fractured, but not shattered. The bones feel intact.”

“You’re right . . . Was the wound stitched?”

“Yes, but they tore. I removed them just a moment ago.”

“Good. Good. Infection has set in. I need to clean the wound. Get me the alcohol from my satchel? . . . Thank you. Hold him down. This will hurt.”

Hale and Louk’s uncle grabs onto her brother’s shoulders, pressing him down into the table. And then this strange woman pours the bottle of alcohol on Rett’s side, the oppressive stinging that comes with the action drawing her brother kicking and screaming to awareness.

“Get his legs!” the woman orders and Louk dives down to help, sprawling across Rett’s feet. “Hold him still before he gets himself killed.”

The choice of wording has Kaethe lunging forward, the terror gone, allowing her to move as she shoves the larger woman away.

“What the—” the woman begins, looking down at her with wide, startled eyes.

Kaethe snaps at her, a snarling hiss tearing from her throat. “Get away from him!” she yells, gaze focused on her brother even as she is hyper aware of the Barrens surrounding her, closing in on her.

Her brother continues to scream and fight, unseeing eyes swinging every which way. His screams are so similar, so eerily familiar that, for a second, Kaethe forgets where she is exactly, getting thrown back to the wharf where it all began and ended. The screams echo in her thoughts and in her ears. She can’t tell which is memory and which is happening right now.

I’m going crazy, she thinks. “Don’t touch him!” she snarls when the woman makes to press back in. “You keep your overlarge hands off of him!”

“Excuse me?” the woman asks, clearly offended.

“You’re hurting him!” she clarifies on a cry. “You’re supposed to help him!”

The room falls quiet except for Rett’s gutting heaves.

“. . . Kaethe,” Hale tries. “She is helping him.”

“NO!”

Yes,” he presses. “She needs to clean it. You know that. It needs cleaned because it’s infected and cleaning it is going to hurt, but Doc Ensen is helping him.”

“No,” she denies, shaking her head, sniffing through her clotting nose.

Yes,” Hale repeats, standing before her but turned in so he looks smaller than one would ever think possible. “You need to let her work. So she can fix your brother. Yeah? Let her help your brother.”

She looks back at Rett, delirious, dying. She knows that Hale is right.

“. . . Okay,” she gives in, pulling away even though it literally hurts her to allow someone else in.

“Good,” Hale tells her with a forced smile, gripping gently onto her shoulders.

The woman goes back to work, dousing Rett’s side once more in alcohol. The screams this time are weaker, less shrill, more hollow than before but no less wrenching.

“Rett!” she sobs, tilting towards him. Hale keeps her back and she fights him to get through. “RETT!”

“Get her out of here,” the woman barks without once looking over her shoulder, too focused on her task to bother dividing her attention. “She’s getting in the way.”

Hale makes to do just that, tugging her towards the door while she rails against him, clawing and screaming, trying to get back to her brother who doesn’t even know that she is there. In the end he lifts her up and easily carries her out the door which slams closed behind them. Beneath her cries and yells Kaethe hears the bolt twisting into place, locking her out and keeping her from her brother.

“RETT!”

She sags in Hale’s arms, the fight leaving her quicker than it came. And instead of scratching at Hale’s forearms for release, she is now gripping tightly onto them, needing something to hold to keep herself from shattering completely.

Shh,” he says quietly, sitting down with her still held against his chest. “Shh. It’s going to be alright. Calm down, Kae. They’ve got him.”

The screams start up again, weaker still, and the sound drives straight through her skull and to her chest, tearing it wide and stealing the air from her lungs. Kaethe wails – it’s too close, too much like his. She lifts her hands to clamp down on her ears, trying to buffer out the sound.

“Make it stop,” she begs.

Hale draws her closer. “It’ll stop. Just hold on. It’s going to be okay.”

She’ll believe him, but not right now, not until the screaming stops and things are still once again.

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