The Durants part VI

The shadow loomed ever larger over Bionca, her eyes widening. In awe, she whispered “What is that?”

Dr. Carlton hobbled beside her, chuckling to himself. “That, Bionca, is a tree.”

One of its leaves gently descended on the light breeze and came to rest on the woman’s left shoulder. “What do trees do? What is this?” she questioned, plucking the leaf. Oscar trudged up to the pair grumpily, despite his shared fascination with the new scenery.

“Trees,” the doctor began, “do a great many things. They make food for themselves by combining water, carbon dioxide, and light. Leaves,” he pointed to the reddened one in Bionca’s fist, “collect this light.”

“And then they give off some oxygen as well, which is what we breathe.” Gaia laid her palm against the trunk. “We get most of it from other places, but trees are the most beautiful source.” She smiled to herself as she looked up to the branches high overhead.

Drake and Brion brought up the rear, huffing as they struggled with the cart now laden with what they had scavenged. “Alright, that’s enough schoolin’ for now,” Drake chastised lightly. “We gotta keep pressin’ ahead. I fig’red going farther north would be good. We can pass through Taesh.” Without waiting for a response, he turned down the capital road.

Brion dropped his load of the cart. “Drake,” he sighed, apprehensive. “It’d be best if we avoided Taesh altogether. Gaia and I have a…history there that we’d rather not revisit.” He took a step forward. “We can keep going north, but can we consider veering away from Taesh?”

The other man slumped his shoulders. “Well, let’s keep goin’ then.” Overhead, birds called as they flew in the opposite direction. As if in their wake, frost began forming on their trail and the temperature plummeted drastically. The group shivered collectively. Slowly, their breath condensing in the air, they marched toward the frigid north.

Around six kilometers later, Bionca collapsed into the gathering snow, shivering. Beside her lay the frozen caracasses of many animals. Brion fell down next to her. “Bee, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”

The doctor felt Bionca’s forehead, then reflexively pulled his hand away. “She’s freezing. Hypothermia may start to set in, and I’m afraid her heart may start fibrillating. Brion, try to not move her much, but do your best to keep her warm.” He stumbled over to the cart and began rifling through their remaining medicine.

Brion hugged his daughter tightly. She had a dazed expression and didn’t seem to be processing what was going on around her. “I’m sorry Bee. We should’ve paid more attention,” he murmured.

He felt Gaia’s hand upon his shoulder and looked up to see Dr. Carlton gently inserting a syringe into one of Bionca’s veins. “That should keep her heart rate steady. We should try to find shelter as quickly as we can. Our clothes are not well-suited to cold weather.”

Drake nodded in response. “Alright, let’s get searchin’, then. I don’t wanna see our Queen Bee hurtin’.” He set the cart down and started divvying up directions for everyone to search. “Doc, Brion, you stay here with Bee. Gaia, you go look ‘round that forest on the left. Oscar, you look on the right. I’ll push ahead. Don’t take mor’n ten minutes. Don’t want anyone else gettin’ cold.” Oscar grunted moodily in response and stomped away.

“Doctor…” Brion began. “You’ve been such a great friend and help to my daughter. I don’t think we can ever repay you.”

“Oh,” he responded modestly. “I do my best. I just hope it’s been enough.” The pair fell into a silence that stretched as the minutes trickled by.

At last, Drake returned, though he had not found a suitable shelter. Gaia appeared moments later, breathless. “I found a cave,” she began, “but it looks like someone’s used it recently. I don’t think we’re alone out here.”

Color drained from Drake’s face. “They might’ve taken Oscar. He never dawdles this much.”

Before he could bound away, Gaia grabbed his sleeve. She shook her head sadly. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get further separated. Besides-”

“Wait. Do you hear that?” Brion interrupted.

A peal of malicious giggles descended upon their ears. “They are still here!” a woman’s voice shouted in glee.

“The men should get a nice price in the labor guilds.” A burly man appeared, dragging Oscar’s unconscious body behind him. “The women are too old, but with so many deaths lately, it shouldn’t matter.” He dropped Oscar face-down into the snow.

“Please,” Dr. Carlton pleaded, standing unsteadily and pointing at Oscar. “He will freeze if you leave him like that for long.”

The large man considered him for a moment, taking in his peg-leg. “We can’t have that, now, can we? Especially since cripples don’t fetch a high price. Rakosky, cut our losses.”

A slender man slinked out from the forest. Realizing his intentions, Drake and Gaia charged at him. Gracefully, he knocked the man’s feet out from under him with a low kick and shoved the woman aside. Dr. Carlton took a step back, his rotted leg giving way. Rakosky withdrew a dagger.

Bionca finally stirred just as she saw the doctor’s head pushed forward. The blade passed through his arteries and came away slick with blood. His body crumpled. He lay on the reddening snow and looked up at the Harbinger. A smile crossed his face. “Be strong, Bionca,” he gurgled through his slit throat. “I know you’ll save their lives.”

His face still stretched into a loving grin, the light in his dark brown eyes extinguished.

Time seemed to stand still. Bionca’s chest felt empty, her breath stagnant. When she at last took a breath again, tears began leaking from her eyes. Her head was swimming. Brion’s grip on her had loosened.

The roadmen took advantage of their shock and shackled them tightly. Their feet were chained together and Oscar was slung across the burly man’s back. “Move it,” he sneered, shoving them forward as they looked in agony at Dr. Carlton’s body. “We have a long walk to Taesh.”


Brittany Teodorski


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