Nightmarish and torrent, Soren tossed and turned, his sleep unrestful. He was hot and wanted nothing more than to tear off his clothes and dive into the snow outside. The other part of him craved the warmth. His body twitched and convulsed every time a rush of cold surrounded him. He felt as though his skin was crawling, being brushed by thousands of irritating feathers constantly.
His breath was rough, and he woke himself coughing only to be dragged back into darkness. His throat felt glossy and coated, as though no amount of water could wash away the grime caking his insides.
Moments in time seemed to flash before his eyes, making him flinch away. There were moments of sharp, agonizing pain. There were shadows and sensations of falling or rising up, being completely weightless. There were moments of complete darkness, but they didn’t last as long as Soren wanted.
At least in the darkness he didn’t have to see their faces – the faces of his brothers. The same scene played in the pauses of darkness. He could see his brothers. His voice wouldn’t scream. His legs could not move. All he could do was stay frozen in time before the shadow overtook him.
He would try shouting again, this time calling to his brothers, for anybody, to help him. No one would come. Soren was left alone every time to be consumed by the darkness. Heart pounding, breath hot and ragged, body shaking and aching to its core, he would slip back into darkness only to repeat the cycle.
Soren couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes. It wasn’t because of the last thing he saw. It wasn’t because of what he thought he would see. It was because his eyes, like the rest of his body, hurt. It was a deep, aching hurt as though he had stared at the sun and climbed an entire oak tree in a day.
Coming to consciousness was the least of his worries. A wave of confusion scrambled his mind. Where was he? What happened? He thought he remembered what happened. Or was everything a dream? Why was his skin crawling? Why couldn’t he move his leg? Everything hurt, especially his leg. He squinted, eyelashes obscuring some of his vision.
He noticed, first, that the ceiling and the walls towered above him. He blinked several more times. Something was restraining his leg from bending, but the way it was throbbing subtly made moving it seem like a bad idea. The rest of his body was lightly restrained, but his grasping fingers slightly identified the restraint as a soft blanket. The surface he was on was soft and perfectly outlined his body.
It hit him all at once. His mind, still slightly foggy, cleared. His eyes shot open. He was not home. He was out – in the human world.
His head throbbed lightly as he glanced around in his periphery. From what he could tell, he was in some kind of cardboard box that used to belong to tissue paper. There was no lid, thank goodness, but there were low walls on each side of him. His heart began to pound in his chest, quivering as though it were pumping air.
The ground was made of some kind of soft, squishy material which was much nicer than anything he had borrowed for bedding in a long time. There was a strange taste in his mouth, but he couldn’t place it. It was slightly salty, but it didn’t taste like blood.
Soren reached up past the blanket and touched his chest and felt along his arms. These limbs seemed to be intact. His mind, firing wildly, became blank as the mortifying thought came to him – the pain in his leg. Was the pain there because his leg was throbbing? Or was there pain because it was gone?
Carefully, he reached out with his foot and pressed. Sure enough, his toes found something stiff and, to his relief, still attached. He nudged carefully with his unincumbered foot, feeling a quick jolt of pain ripple through his body. [Still attached. Still there.]
Soren could feel himself panicking. His breath was rapidly increasing. What had happened while he was out? He wasn’t where he was when he fell unconscious. Did that mean… Soren’s entire body shuddered. He felt light-headed, head swirling dangerously fast. Did that mean… the human? He couldn’t bring himself to finish his own thought.
He had to get out of here. He had to get out of the box, away from the human, and back to his brothers. A pit formed in his insides. How were his brothers? How were they holding up? What did Brady… Soren felt his teeth grind against one another as his fists clenched into tight balls.
Brady… he’s the reason he was hurt. He’s the reason he was caught. He left him to get captured. A burning, vengeful hate swelled in Soren. [If I ever see that scum again, I’ll make sure the humans are the least of his worries.]
Soren didn’t want to shake his thoughts away, but he had to. He couldn’t focus on escaping if his mind wasn’t clear. Despite his best efforts, Soren was having an extremely difficult time with this. His fuzzy brain wouldn’t let him string more than a few thoughts together at a time.
He focused on the simple things – the borrower rules. He had involuntarily broken two rules – don’t be seen and don’t get caught. There were other rules he had to maintain; the next one being to not let the human know he could speak and understand them – at least, not willingly.
Humans were cruel and had their methods of getting other humans to disclose information. Soren could only imagine what may happen to him. [Stop. Calm down. You need to think straight. I can’t focus on that right now.] Despite what his resolve, Soren’s body still shook involuntarily from fear. He raised his arms above his head and took deep, heaving breaths to keep his mind from spiraling.
He closed his eyes and listened. At the moment, he couldn’t hear any additional sounds nearby. He could hear the heated air rushing through the vents. He could hear the pounding of his heart in his ears. He could taste something strange in his mouth, but it wasn’t blood. He felt his leg pulsing from time to time with pain and the ache of his body. Did he dare look for bruises? What if they looked like…
Soren’s breath hitched and sent him into a coughing spasm. When the cough subsided, Soren let out a moan of frustration and pushed himself with what little strength he could summon into an upright position. The blanket covering his chest fell from his frame. The rush of cold air made goose bumps form on his arms.
It was then that he heard it – a thumping sound growing louder and louder with each passing moment. Heart racing, he pulled himself backwards until his back against the cardboard. His left leg dragged behind, a stark reminder of his already severe disadvantage. Soren reached down quickly and pulled the blanket over his torso.
[Breathe. Just breathe. You can do this.] He felt the vibrations in the ground growing closer and closer until he saw the top of the immense, human head cresting over the edge of the box. He felt his insides hollow and his shoulders begin shaking involuntarily as he became completely exposed to the human’s eyes. Nothing – not the training from his father or his years of experience – prepared him for this.
The woman’s eyes were a pale blue grey and her hair was pulled into a messy bun. She seemed to approach the box cautiously, barely peering into the box before spotting him. Her eyes widened upon seeing him awake and moving around. She looked hesitant and curious at the same time; a dangerous combination for him.
Her eyes seemed to look right through him, examining every feature in an instant. It was unsettling and made Soren’s heart beat faster with every second she watched him. There was a moment when their eyes met that Soren worried she might suspect his level of understanding and intelligence, which he tried to subtly deflect by staring from her off to the ceiling. He then began staring at his hands.
There were several seconds where she stared at him, observing every head twitch and glance or lack thereof. Then, she spoke directly to him.
“So, you’re awake – finally.” She kept her voice low, much to his relief. His throbbing head panged at every sound. Still, keeping her voice low wasn’t any better. The words themselves sent chill rippling through his body. He tried to keep his breathing as calm as he could, but noticed his heart doubled in speed.
Soren realized immediately this was going to be difficult. He had heard stories about humans and how they interacted with borrowers, but all of the stories and training he received from his father and mother paled in comparison to the true experience. He continued to tug at the blanket and tilted his head, acting confused. The woman approached a little closer and knelt. He continued to keep his gaze averted.
“What, nothing?” she prompted. Soren clenched his jaw and looked to the corners of the box. “You could at least say thank you after I patched up your leg and made sure your fever didn’t spike.”
[Yeah right; like I’m going to say anything to you human.] Soren took a few deep breaths hoping his pounding heart would slow. There were several more seconds of the woman simply staring at him.
“Playing dumb?” she asked.
[Please just leave. That or get on with whatever you’re going to do.] Soren knew his silent plea would be unheard, but it somehow brought an unsettling comfort. He wouldn’t be tricked into speaking because of a stupid insult.
“I know you can talk,” she stated plainly.
[False. You don’t. You’re taking a guess. There’s no way you can know. This is just a ploy.] Soren reached up and scratched the back of his neck lazily, hoping the woman didn’t notice the way his body was making his hands shake.
“You’ve done it already.” This, too, was unsettling. [I’ve done it already? How? I’ve been asleep. No. She’s just bluffing. She can’t mean it.] As if the woman could read his mind, she continued to press.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” she asked. “Well, if that’s the case, then let me ask this; Who are Dorian, Rey, and Brady?” Soren’s blood ran cold. His eyes widened involuntarily, obvious shock on his face. His body stiffened. Even in his peripheral vision, he could see a twinge of a smile on the woman’s face.
“Thought so,” she muttered. “You were talking in your sleep and, let me say, you had some pretty choice things to say about whoever ‘Brady’ is; and you sounded pretty worried about Dorian and Rey. High fever can make someone talk in their sleep sometimes.”
Soren, involuntarily, lowered his hand from behind his head and brought it over his mouth. Was it possible? Could he have spoken in his sleep? It must be true. She wouldn’t know the names, their names, if that wasn’t the case. His body took control once again from his mind and he began shaking and breathing rapidly. A wave of nausea pushed into his gut and his head swirled dangerously fast.
[What does this mean? If I didn’t talk in my sleep, then that means she has them. If I did talk, then I’ve already broken the borrower rules and she knows I understand her.] Soren began shivering uncontrollably. Both prospects were terrifying and keeping his mind from thinking straight. His heart felt ready to burst through his ribs. Every impulse in his body wanted to scream, but his voice caught in his throat. [If she knows I understand, I won’t be able to escape. She’ll build an impossible cage and keep me here.]
The woman’s voice snapped his attention back to the present, both mentally and physically. His eyes whipped up to look into hers just as he spotted her shrug. “It doesn’t matter to me either way to me if you understand me or not. You do you.”
With that, she stood, turned, and walked out of the room. Soren was left alone in the box to his thoughts.
[She just left? She left. No lid? No touching? No grabbing? Just left.] His mind was a muddled mess. He couldn’t think straight. Every thought was instantly dismissed and reintroduced as panic. Suddenly, one clear thought fought its way to the forefront of his mind. Now was the time – he had to escape now, no matter what.