“Excuse me?” I ask, pulling out from under his meaty palm.
Tarkin approaches as the old man backs away, obviously offended that I didn’t accept his embrace. And why would I? He literally just appeared from the shadows and put his hand on me. That’s not how I roll. “We heard of your actions back at Fort Legacy.” His raised eyebrows and smirk make me feel like I should know what the hell he’s referring to, but I’m at a loss. “Your face is plastered everywhere. You can’t tell me you don’t know that.”
Another chump chimes in, nodding. “They call you Nuclear Bitch for what you did at Legacy.” They laugh. “You’re fucking famous. Even more so than the general.” He motions toward the old man. By the look of him, I can tell he’s of some prestige – how could I have known I just offended the Renegade leader?
“General, huh?” I offer a smile as a peace offering. Thankfully, he accepts it.
“Sophia, please come with us. I have so much to tell you.” His comforted expression flips. “About the war; about you; about Sheradyn.” He pauses, noticing my failing state, to sit me on the carrier.
I stammer at the thought of her. There’s no way she can still have a part in this. I try to speak, but my parched tongue won’t budge.
“Sir, we need to get her back to the refuge. There’s no telling for how long she’s been in the absorption tube.”
This is all too much. A maelstrom of thoughts concerning Sheradyn, my past, and my alleged past rips through my conscience. And now an absorption tube? Is that what they call the metal crypt? Bright runes burn red on my skin, urging me to do what I know best. Run. It’s all I know, or think I know.
The runes have a voice of their own. It kills the maelstrom.
Recede. Let me guide you.
I feel my eyes grow heavy. I have not slept in weeks. Times that I had to rest, I was up crying my eyes out over losing Bobby. And that damned Sheradyn! Thinking of her drowns me with inescapable fury. Her violet eyes, designer clothes, and that voice. God, that voice.
“Get her sedated, boss.”
“There’s no need for that, Tarkin.”
Their faces begin to blur. My body shakes.
That’s it, Sophia. Forfeit control. Almost there.
I try to hold on to their words, but I’m slipping. With every dazed blink, a cerise cloud behind my eyelid darkens, grows richer, thicker. I feel her coming up my throat, and choking on her tangled hair. I can’t breathe. Crimson becomes me.
“General, we’re losing her! Quit standing there and do something, damnit!”
That’s it, baby girl. I’ll take care of you.
My eyes flutter open to an orchid expanse. Then I see him within the fog. “Bobby!” I yell, but his image fades away. Shadows of my past dance around me, a silhouette ball. My mother, dressed in her beautiful golden gown, is pressed against my father, and they sway with the rhythmic silence. Their blown kisses hit me in tufts, pacifying tranquility.
A flock of glimmering meadow larks and hawks glide past, their songs changing the pace of pirouetting shadows. I giggle at the sight and run to join my family in the mist. But before I can get close, the vapor turns to a violent downpour of galactic tears.
The birds are empty shadows in the sky. Gaiety turns to loneliness, as I am abandoned in a limitless expanse. Within moments, everything fades to reveal a little box.
The box is wrapped in periwinkle ribbon – my favorite color – and it sparkles under the dreamscape’s infinite light. The present is electrically charged, the static tickling me as I hold it in my palm. The lid comes off with ease, and I peer into the case, finding a strand of red hair.
Suddenly, the scape turns black, and I scream. Furious cackling shatters the sky, and red hair falls endlessly from the gorge. I feel a bulge form under my eye, and I pull loose long strands of hair. With every terrified scratch and tug, it continues to flow.
My stomach erupts scorched hair into my esophagus, burning strands snared between my teeth. It rips my tongue backwards, down my throat. I feel a pair of cold hands around my neck. The ground begins to fall in pieces into an ashen abyss. A pair of violet eyes beckons me forward, and I fall. The gravity of Sheradyn’s voice pins me to the wall, which was swiftly spiraling down to an obsidian snare.
“Bring me back!” My muffled screams fill the chamber. “Take me back now!” At last, the shadows subside, and I escape through the darkness.
I come to in the middle of the jungle. Instantly, I survey my body, scratching. My voice is hoarse and my body aches, but the red runes are gone. “General –” My voice is exhausted. But the scene in which I am placed needs no words.
Corpses lie scattered about, scorched beyond recognition. I recognize Tarkin from his old cloak, and the man beside him must be the general – the Renegades, each of them, all dead. A miasmic smog drowns the forest, filling it with the putrid stench of blood and shit.
Runes similar to my own cover the ground. The portion of sky directly above my spot in the jungle is cracked and stained amber. Among the Renegade and Pale bodies are also those of birds and other wildlife. Black blood oozes from a crevasse. The land has been poisoned… Surely, I couldn’t.
My fingers trickle with newfound passion, and a flurry of conflicting memories and words flood my mind. So, I run. I run as fast as I fucking can. Not even the bloody tears in my eyes and an infected shoulder can slow me down.