Turbulent times, what with the Brexit, political upheaval in Thuringia, and storm Sabine going on. Hope you’re safe and sound! Where I live, the storm was not as bad as had been forecast, so that’s a relief.
On with the story!
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 14 Part 1
“Cole! What are you doing here?” Abbida stammered, feeling stupid for it.
“That’s what I wanted to ask you! What in the world have you been through? You look as if something chewed you and spit you out!”
She glared at him, but he took her by her shoulders and led her to a big fallen tree, that had been polished and used as a bench for many linears. “Sit. You look exhausted.”
At a loss for words, she complied. Her legs simply gave way, and she flopped onto the old trunk and watched him turn the well’s crank they’d installed together only a circulation ago. He filled her some water into a cup, and she drank it in great gulps. Never had water felt any better, never had it tasted any sweeter!
“Easy. Don’t choke on it.”
Gently, he pried the cup from her grip and dipped the scoop into the bucket one more time. Abbida drank her second fill, a bit slower than before. She imagined the water seeping into her limbs, her blood, her skin, and started to feel better. Cole dipped a cloth into the water bucket and gave it to her. Grateful, she dappled her face and sighed.
“Much better,” Cole said, smiling.
She wanted to smile back, but she still had all these doubts. “Why did you make off in the middle of the night? Why did you leave me alone with them?”
His smile died. He buried his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. “I’m sorry. It had to be at night or I wouldn’t have made it without catching attention. I thought the trip would be too much for you at night… That was stupid of me. You’re tough. I can always rely on you.”
“Rely on me… doing what? Just tell me what’s going on, already! What Rona is up to. And Tarek–Ashok’s own brother! What have they done to him?”
A curious look on Cole’s face made her fall silent as a terrible suspicion rose in her: Cole and Tarek shared the same hut. Whatever it was between Tarek and Rona, must have been going on for a long time. So Cole would know, wouldn’t he? Scooting away from him, she said, “Are you… in league with them?”
“What? No! Come on, you know me better than that! Tarek’s a good man, and normally I’d trust him with my life. But when it comes to Rona, he’s just…” He made a face.
Rage welled up in Abbida again. What was wrong with that woman? What kind of person went and sold everyone they’d grown up with? The village was more than a community, they were family almost, more so since the raids had begun. Why would she jeopardize all that? “What for?!”
“For her daughter.”
Abbida jumped off the log. Her legs protested the sudden strain, but she needed to move, clear her head. She pressed her palms to her aching head and marched in circles around Cole. “That doesn’t make sense! Noushka is only, what, eight? Even if it’s true, and they are targeting women now, she won’t be in any danger for a long time! Why risk everything? Now?”
“There’s Rona for you. She always plans ahead, that’s her thing. She’d never leave things up to chance, especially not when it comes to Noushka. Trust me, I know how that feels. Rona would do anything for that child. Even shoot at me.”
“She what?!” Abbida stopped dead.
Cole waved her concern off. “Ah, nothing happened. She missed by a mile. I jumped into the creek and stayed down for as long as I could.”
“You’re kidding, right? Is there something you forgot to tell me?” Had he developed green skin? She grabbed his wrist and pulled his sleeve up. Back in the day, Mother Marja had taught Latisha and her about the chlorophyll in the topmost layer of their skin, which gave off oxygen. Under water, you could see tiny bubbles of air rising up. It helped them stay down longer than other people, too.
But, as far as Abbida knew, she and her sister were the only ones with this kind of genetic alteration.
“Let go,” Cole said, laughing despite the situation. “It’s nothing like that. I hid in a patch of reeds.”
That made more sense, then! Abbida envisioned him, stuck in the mud up to his ears, breathing through his nose like a hippo, while Rona and Tarek searched around. A gleeful giggle escaped her. No wonder they’d been so upset when they caught Lian at the wreck! All their plans threatened to bust.
Aloud, Abbida wondered, “Why did she miss?”
Clicking her tongue, Abbida resumed her walk around Cole. “Rona said, the gun has a scope. She must have missed you on purpose.”
“Now, that’s the very least one could expect, isn’t it?” Cole muttered. “Still, I’m worried about Ashok. Initially, he was supposed to come with us. It wasn’t until right before our departure that Rona suddenly claimed, there had been a change of plan. Allegedly, Ashok needed to ‘build something’ for the council.
He balled his fists. “She didn’t even bother making up something specific. Later, I overheard them talking to each other. They had neutralized him much the same way as you.”
“I seem to remember you were the one to pour me that glass!” She glared at him, and he cringed.
“Never mind,” Abbida said, waving it off. “Let’s go home and warn the council, before Rona causes any more confusion. We need to help Lian as well!”
“Too late.” Cole wiped his unshaven face. He looked distraught.
“Not if we can get her out of the jungle in time, so the healers can have a look at her injuries. She needs medicine, a good rest, maybe a blood transfusion. She definitely needs a clean bed!”
“What injuries?” Cole said, frowning.
Right. He couldn’t know all that had happened there, after he was gone. In a few words she related the gist of it to him.
Cole swore. “I’ll never forgive Rona for that. And Tarek… Stupid idiot! I’d hoped we could somehow use Lian as an exchange…”
“Exchange? For what? For who?” Chills ran down Abbida’s spine. What had Rona done?
Cole didn’t answer and avoided her eyes.
“What?!” she yelled.
Looking frustrated, he kneaded the bridge of his nose. “There has been… a second invasion.”
The word ‘invasion’ echoed in her head. Before her mind’s eye she saw the faces of Latisha and Ilka, even Mother Marja and old Mandras, Joram and all the others. Her legs gave way and she toppled to her knees. She opened her mouth, but no words came out, only a groan.
“The village has been surrounded,” Cole said. “They planted a fence all around and mustered everyone, even the children. The colonel–you know which one, don’t you?–he said, we’re completely under his command now.” He snorted. “As if there was a difference.”
Abbida’s throat constricted. She remembered that colonel. After that first invasion, four linears ago, she still had nightmares every now and then. Usually, she’d wake up soaked with sweat, huffing, as if she’d been running into the woods all over again.
“Nobody opposed them?” she said, voice croaking.
Cole flopped down next to her. “The council has been broken up. People are confined to their houses. And worst of all: the mature women will be examined.”
He balled his fists. “I guess, we’ve had a hunch about that, haven’t we?”
Abbida almost gagged. Latisha and Ilka might be exactly, what these people were looking for. What would become of Ilka’s unborn child? Reminded of Inez and the death of her child, she didn’t dare mention the thought to Cole.
So it had begun. And they hadn’t stopped it.
She whacked a tree next to her and chafed her skin. Without feeling the pain she watched drops of blood pelt and wiped her fingers on her pants. “What about Rona and Tarek?”
“Dunno. There’s no trace of Ashok, either. Or anybody, for that matter. They’re all locked in somewhere.”
“We’ve got to get them out,” she said, knowing full well, how impossible that sounded. Cole gave no answer. Brooding, he stared at the ground beneath his feet.
Abbida pinched her eyes shut. Sensing Cole’s proximity, fresh resolve came over her. Not all was lost. Until now, all they’d ever done was to react to a threat posed. Any measures they had taken had been related to this ominous plan Lian had hinted on. But so far that had not worked out too well for anyone.
Well, except maybe for Rona.
Besides, whatever Lian’s idea was, however well-meaning, it was again imposed on them from the outside. About time, they came up with some plans of their own! Maybe if she thought things through from a different angle? What was the one action the enemy would least expect from them?
Next to her, Cole cracked his knuckles. The sound send chills over Abbida’s skin, and she was about to say it, when he lifted his head. His gaze was intent. “You think you can handle some action?”
“I think I had about enough action to last a lifetime. What about it?”
“Right.” He ground his teeth, sizing her up. “I might have an idea. Probably a very bad one. And it will only work if we can sneak up and–if need be–run like a pig from the butcher. You think you can do that?”
“You had to pick that comparison, didn’t you?”
She did feel like a raw piece of meat. How in the world she was supposed to walk any further, much less sneak around, was beyond her. On the other hand they were the only hope left to their neighbors. And there was also Lian who trusted her and waited for help.
“All right,” Abbida said. “Let’s hear your bad idea.”
~ to be continued! ~
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