Chapter 16: Trees
Internally, Kai knew a blow to the head should only left her unconscious for thirty seconds or so. It felt as if it had been longer, as her previously dark environment had been fully transformed. There was a hole blasted out of the wall and door, showing early morning sky and trees. Kai herself was flat on her back, surrounded by the debris that had been a wall. Sharp pieces of metal smoldered in the cool night air, smoke rising in idle curls. Pieces of concrete had dug miniature craters in the soft soil. The artificial prison had invaded the natural landscape. Her ears were ringing, and warm liquid dripped down her face. She sat up with all the care she could muster, bringing a hand up to touch her face. Her fingers came away shiny, coated in dark red blood. Her stomach turned lightly.
Great. That was just great. I always wanted a head wound.
Groaning, Kai wiped the blood on the leg of her pants, pushing herself to slowly stand. The world swam as she did, and the girl threw her hands out to the sides. It didn’t help much, and she found herself stumbling back down to the ground. One of her legs hurt, and badly. She sat there a minute, considering her surroundings. The garage had lost a good chunk of itself, and she could now see she was partially underground.
Or rather, had been.
Slowly, Kai stood once more, hobble-walking toward the opening. That leg, her left, seemed to want to drag behind her. It hurt to bend. The hole still smoldered lightly, and bits of debris had been thrown far out into the clearing. Whatever sort of charge had been used to blow a hole in this place had certainly been powerful. She leaned forward to the jagged metal edge of what had once been a wall, running her finger along it. A light red dust coated her finger as she drew it away. It glowed faintly as she shook it off. Bits of it stuck still, and she furiously wiped it on her pant leg. It gave off a strange smell, and had left blistered injuries on her fingertips. It didn’t hurt though, not yet. Internally, Kai knew that wasn’t a good sign. Was her brain damaged? Was she in shock? Or was it nerve damage? She didn’t know, and didn’t like the implications of any. She drew in a deep breath, finding that it caused an unpleasant burn to spread through her lungs. Was this dust the incendiary? Or a product of it? She didn’t know, but knew that it was something not of this world. The young woman reached down to pull her shirt up over her nose, hoping to shield it from further inhalation of whatever the dust was. It was suspended in the air, she realized, and there was a good amount of it coating her skin. It must have settled while she was unconscious, she thought, as angry red burns already had patterned the pale flesh. In places it was blistered. Did that mean she’d been unconscious a while? Slowly, she turned her gaze upward, took a step, then began to run to the trees.
Her gait was awkward and lurching. Truly, it was barely able to be considered a run. Kai could sense that there was something wrong with her leg. White-hot pain arced up her left leg once more, enough to make her cry out and stumble again. Her body was finally rebelling. She didn’t let herself fall. She had no idea just how long she’d been out here, nor if she would be looked for. She did, however, stop trying to run, opting for a somewhat speedy limp. It was better to move at a sustainable, moderate pace than to sprint and make her injuries worse. That brought about a new concern: how did she intend to fix that leg?
Should I just go back?
Kai pushed the thought from her mind. She’d figure it out. She always had. Besides, wouldn’t she rather die alone in the forest than be trapped in the compound? Actually, she wasn’t completely certain now that she was faced with the choice. More than that, she didn’t know if the place had been evacuated by now. They’d kept such a tight leash on her until now, it didn’t make sense they’d just let her go.
Once in the trees, Kai found her rate of respiration slowing. She hadn’t realized just how fast she’d been breathing. Her heart was pounding, and she was beginning to feel lightheaded. The adrenaline was wearing off, and she was now beginning to feel just how much abuse her body had gone through. Her back ached, which she suspected was the result of being thrown as hard as she had been. There would most certainly be a plethora of bruises decorating her skin. As such, she elected not to examine herself. Slowly, Kai moved to sit down against a tree. Her vision was blurred, which was partly the fault of the loss of her glasses, she thought. Or maybe her head wound was worse than she thought. She could feel the blood drying on her forehead, and the world was beginning to spin. Something moved in the corner of her vision, maybe two things, she thought. Or was she seeing double? Based on the symmetry of their movements, and the strange dream-like grace with which they moved, she was fairly certain it was the latter. She found herself too tired to care, even when the figure morphed into one being, a being that grabbed her shoulders and gave her a brief shake. It was a woman, she could see, perhaps in her early thirties or late twenties. Her expression was concerned if not terrified, and her eyes were on Kai. Her hands, which were icy, had settled on Kai’s leg, feeling at it. The girl cried out and did her best to pull away, which the other woman prevented.
“Hey there, can you hear me?” The woman’s voice sounded as if it was underwater, and suddenly there was a finger thrust in front of her face. It moved slowly back and forth
“Follow my finger with your eyes, please?”
The words may as well have been in a different language, as all Kai could do was stare at her. She just wanted to sleep. As her eyes began to roll shut, her shoulders were roughly shaken.
“We’ve got another one over here! Likely head injury!” The woman yelled off into the trees, gaze taken off Kai.
Briefly, Kai wondered why she wasn’t afraid of yelling. Weren’t there creatures nearby? Wouldn’t they be caught? She didn’t know. She didn’t understand, and a million questions, fuzzy and distant, gnawed in the back of her mind.
Either way, she didn’t have enough time to process any of it, as the darkness yawned large, and swallowed her whole.