I couldn’t make out the Pale One’s features but I could tell he was male. Did they even have females? I couldn’t tell if he was the same one from the woods that night, or not, since I didn’t know if his injuries could have healed this quickly. He stood at least as tall as Derik and was slightly hunched over. Though he was nowhere near as broad as Derik, and his hair was long and tangled.
He stared at me for a long time before speaking. I stood still, my eyes frozen on him. I jumped a little, when he finally did speak.
“Well, well, well… What have we here?” He moved toward me, and I jerked back a step. He began circling me, forcing me back against the cool, hard stone of the well. “You’re such a little thing to be out so alone,” he said, as he got closer. “So young…” When he was finished looking me up and down, he met my eyes, and I felt them go uncontrollably wide with fear. His became slits. “Ah… but not quite so young, I see…” This last word came out more like a hiss. He circled around me again, placing the well between us for a moment. I thought about running, but he was in front of me again.
“I would have caught you eventually, little bit.” He was closer than he had been up to that point and he had stopped moving to look me in the eyes again. “So small compared to the rest,” he said, considering, “like one of those delicate desserts humans can’t even remember…” His hand came up to toy with my hair. I leaned away, and he reached out to touch my face, causing me to jerk back. “Uh-uh-uh… play nice,” he said, with another hissing sound. This time, he did touch my face.
At first, his touch felt cold, then colder until it burned, and I couldn’t move away. My body felt very heavy, I wanted to lie down but couldn’t. I could barely think. And I couldn’t take my eyes off of his. Glowing, golden, animal-like.
Then the pain came.
Searing. Scorching. Like my very essence was being ripped from my body.
I will simply let the empty shell of her fall into the well.
What was that?! His thoughts? I can’t… It was getting hard to see through the spots growing in front of my eyes. Through the pain, I could feel his clawed fingers holding my chin. I made myself focus, though that was also becoming more and more difficult.
Just remember what Sabella taught you. It’s not that different, I told myself. So, I focused. I focused on my back pressed up against the cool stone, as I let my weight fall into it. At that moment, I also focused on my legs, on bringing my knee up and ramming it into whatever part of his body I could find. My body seemed to remember what Derik had taught me, without me even trying. When there was enough space between us, I used both of my legs, as I braced myself against the well, to kick him away from me. Then I focused on running. But as I moved away from the well, I realized how weak I felt and nearly stumbled over a clump of dirt. Though I was growing dizzy, I kept moving. When I heard a frustrated yell in front of me, I thought my mind was playing tricks. I thought the sound had actually come from the Pale One behind me, because he couldn’t be in front of me… Could he? Suddenly there was another searing pain in my right side, and my body was whipped around and sent sprawling to the ground. I felt the world go black for a second or two, but forced myself to focus again. The Pale One was standing above me, blood dripping from the claws of his right hand. I felt my eyes widen again, as he raised his hand.
Just as he was about to throw himself toward me, a blurred mass tackled him and both skidded across the ground. After he maneuvered to pin him, I saw Derik pull his arm back, fist clenched. Without glancing up at me, he growled, “Run,” and threw his first punch. I sat staring, too stunned to move. When I noticed the Pale One’s hand moving toward a small rock, I unfroze. Though I had never seen it, I had now been told about their ability to give deadly life to inanimate objects.
Ignoring the pain in my side, I yelled, “Derik, look out!” and lunged toward him, intending to throw him out of the way. However, that’s not exactly what happened, though I did end up knocking the rock away. I guess he didn’t get the chance to change it after all, I thought briefly.
And just as suddenly as I had moved, Derik was pulling me away. He was checking my hands and arms, with fierce dedication. When he didn’t find what he was looking for, he frowned and looked toward the creature he had been fighting. It was gone.
“Dammit!” he said, vehemently.
We were both sitting on the ground, neither one of us saying anything for a moment, until Derik broke the silence. “What the hell were you thinking? Pulling a stunt like this!” He stood up and dusted off his pants. “I should have left you to it, is what I should’ve done.”
I stared up at him, wide-eyed. What other way was there, at this point.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that. This was all your doing. Well, go on. You’re so eager to go back… or to get yourself killed. I’m not sure which it is but you’d better do it quick before you get someone else killed.” He stared down at me.
“Someone else killed?” I said, in shock. “So you do blame me, then? For what happened earlier, with the others? T – to Ferris?” I looked away at the mention of that name. I hadn’t even known the man – or boy… What if he was younger? I hadn’t thought of that and I lost what little color I had remaining.
“How can I not blame you, when you obviously blame yourself. I can see the guilt written all over your face. If you hadn’t lied about – ”
“Lied!?” I interrupted. Now I looked at him, but he had turned away. “I haven’t lied about anything! I’m not a liar, alright!” I stood up, the pain in my side making it difficult, but I made it. “I didn’t – you know what, no. I don’t need to defend myself. I haven’t done anything wrong. And so what if I want to go home? Wouldn’t you?”
After a moment, he heaved a sigh and turned toward me. The look on his face sent chills down my back. “Then, by all means, go.” He gestured with his arm. “We came across you just on the other side of those trees. You’re almost there. Go.”
I straightened a bit against the pain in my side and realized I was angry. Angry at his assumption, at his assuming I had come out here to run away, to go home. Did he think so lowly of me? “I feel like we’ve had this discussion before,” I said. I looked down and sighed, trying to alleviate the hurt and anger, without success. “You don’t know me so don’t pretend to know anything about me.”
“You told me, you’d take any chance you could to go home, and—”
“And I also said I would do anything I could to help before that happened. I won’t go back on either of those promises.” I looked him in the eye.
“And I said I’d stop you… of course, I feel I underestimated your determination…” He said, not taking his eyes off mine.
“You’re still not listening! I wasn’t running away! I was trying to prove myself, to… save my reputation, in a way… Not that there was much to save, since no one seemed to trust me to begin with…” I trailed off.
“To prove yourself? How?! By running into one of them and getting yourself killed? How? Enlighten me! Please!” He seemed truly perplexed and every bit as angry as I was.
“The well, for crying out loud!” I nearly yelled, even flinging my arms out to the sides.
He frowned. “The well? What about it? What do you mean?” He crossed his arms over his chest.
I almost lost focus at the gesture. “I came out here to find it,” I said slowly, in case he didn’t understand, “of course.”
He stared at me for a second, his frown ebbing into understanding then back to a look of anger. “Of all the stupid, crazy things to do!” Now this was the reaction I had expected. “What is wrong with you?! Looking for the well? How do you even know it still exists? Do you have any idea how much time has passed? This was a suicide mission! It was stupid, that’s all… Just plain stupid.” He shook his head in bewilderment.
My anger vanished at his words, and a smile began to peek through. “Wait. So you believe me then? About the well? That I didn’t lie?”
“What?” He scowled.
“You don’t think I lied? You don’t blame me for – for Ferris?” I asked, stumbling around the name again.
His scowl faltered. “No… I don’t think you lied. I’m not sure I was ever convinced you did. I was more angry at myself for not checking it out first, before sending the group. So, I guess, I blame myself more than anything.” He looked away briefly, then back again, quickly replacing the scowl. “But that’s not what we’re talking about here… Why come looking for a well that might not exist, alone, when you very well know the dangers. Are you crazy? Or just stupid?”
That shocked the smile right off my face. The anger was back. It was one thing for him to say I had done something stupid, another completely to call me stupid. I had done something stupid, and maybe I was. I guess that was the problem. I was feeling defensive about something I had done without thinking, and I knew it all too well. “Hey, well you said it first, maybe you shouldn’t have come. Maybe you should’ve just let nature take its course. We’d all be a whole lot better off then.” Holding my side, I turned to head back to the compound, wincing with every step I took.
Derik must have noticed, “Do you need help?” he nearly barked the question.
I kept moving, “No. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself,” I said, haughtily.
“Yeah,” he nearly laughed, “I can see tha – ” but then he had to rush up to catch me, as I suddenly felt dizzy again. As his hand made contact with my side, I winced. He drew his hand back, a grimace on his face. “You’re bleeding.” He quickly kneeled at my right side and began to raise my tattered shirt, which stuck slightly to my skin. I thought about stopping him but realized that would be childish. I mean, I was bleeding, after all. “It’s bad but not as bad as it looks,” he said, touching the skin gingerly. I winced again. “Why didn’t you say something?!” he said, angrily.
I just gave him a look.
The expression on his face softened somewhat. “You still shouldn’t have been out here alone,” he said. “What were you thinking, anyway?” I thought it was more of a rhetorical question, so I still said nothing. He looked up from my wound again and sighed. Straightening up, he pulled off his own shirt and started ripping it into long strips.
I frowned, “What are you doing?”
“What’s it look like? I’m making bandages,” he said, back to his normal condescending self. “Here, hold this up,” as he handed me the tail of my shirt.
I just stared at it in my hand. “This was my favorite t-shirt…”
Derik just gave me a look and continued with his chore. I hadn’t realized I’d said it out loud. He began wrapping the cloth around my waist, and his closeness made heat rise to my face. Every time his arm brushed my stomach, I felt butterflies stir. Before long, I was dizzy all over again. When he was finished, he stood and asked, “Can you walk?”
I nodded and took a step, changed my mind, as I swayed, and started shaking my head instead.
“Shit,” he said as he caught me again.
We’ve gotta stop meeting like this, I thought, as I met his eyes and caught them. Okay, I was getting a little loopy.
After a moment or two, he asked, in a low voice, “Do you want me to carry you?” Interesting choice, want not need.
I found I couldn’t think straight and gave a long blink before saying, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me… I’m not hurt that badly….” I frowned, still unable to think.
“I was afraid of that,” he replied. “Here, sit down.” He sat me against a small tree and crouched down beside me. “Look at me.” I did with some difficulty. He raised his hands toward me, said, “I just need to examine your eyes,” and hesitantly touched my face. Are his hands trembling? No, it must be me. I’m just so tired all of a sudden. “Little One, you need to keep your eyes open.”
“I am… aren’t I?” I blinked. Had I closed my eyes? I blinked some more, fighting my drooping eyelids.
He sighed, and I felt his breath on my face. Gently, he tilted my head back, using his fingers to open my eyes a little wider. “You should be dead,” he said, still crouching over me, hands on either side of my face.
That woke me up. “Huh?” I managed.
“He had you for much longer than I thought. Anyone else would be dead… how is this possible?” At first, I thought it was another rhetorical question, but the intensity of his stare made me realize otherwise.
“Uh…I don’t know… I…?” I shook my head because it was all I felt like doing.
He stared at me a moment longer, making me uncomfortable, before saying, “You really don’t, do you.” He glanced at his hands on either side of my face, quickly removed them, and stood up. His promptness made my head spin, so I pressed my own hands to my forehead. “Well, you’re obviously not fit to walk. I’ll have to carry you back…” he trailed off. He seemed angry again.
“I really wasn’t trying to go home,” I said. “I really was trying to find the well…”
He rolled his eyes. “I said I believed you, alright? Still, it was a stupid idea…” He sighed.
“I did find it,” I said, then.
“What? What did you say?” he asked.
“I found it, over there,” I gestured. For some reason, in my anger, I had forgotten to mention that part. I don’t think straight when I’m angry. And I most certainly didn’t think straight around Derik.
He turned to look toward the woods. There, hiding amongst the undergrowth and shadows, was the well. He walked over to it, examining it and the bottles I had filled, noting the ones I had dropped when I was attacked. “You found it,” was all he said. His eyebrows lifted. “I can’t believe it.” He turned in a circle. “I don’t believe it. Why didn’t you say something sooner?” He caught himself. “Never mind. Forget I asked.” He picked up the bag, placing the two empty bottles in it, and returned to my side. “Why didn’t you go home?” he asked.
Now, I lifted my eyebrows. “Why would I? I mean, yeah, sure… Everyone’s going to be looking for me. But this is more important right now. I mean, I can do more good here, than I ever could back home.” I lowered my eyes. “Besides, everything I had there has been taken away from me. They killed the most important person in my life… and for what? Me? Why? I can’t understand it… I – I’m sorry. Sheesh. Listen to me… The bottom line is I said I would do what I could to help out here and I’m keeping my word. That’s all.” All of this came out in more of a whisper, as I hadn’t the energy to speak any louder. Somehow I knew he could hear me.
He stared at me. “Well, you’ve done something wonderful here, I’ll admit that.” He laughed a bit. “Stupid, but wonderful. I’d say you’ve accomplished what you set out to… Are you ready to go back now?”
“Alright. Good. Just hold on, okay?” He helped me stand and scooped me up into his arms in one fluid movement. He was still holding the water in one hand. “You alright?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm,” was all I could say in reply. “Thank you,” I managed.
He smiled into my hair. “Don’t mention it.” And he started back toward the compound.
“Now, you can rest for a while, but try to stay awake… it’s very important that you not pass out, okay?” I didn’t answer. He paused and looked down at me. “Haylee?”
“Yeah. Okay,” I said, drowsily. “Can you talk to me, help me stay awake?” I asked him.
“Yeah, sure. What do you want to talk about?”
“Anything… anything at all.”