Hey, friend, how are you holding up these days? I keep busy writing, editing pictures and doing other more mundane stuff that needs taking care of even in times of lockdown. We’re two thirds into Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’ve still got many words I need to get out there to make it…
So, let’s not waste any time, just jump right in!
If you are all new to my story, please consider starting with Chapter 1 🙂
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 18 Part 1
Abbida waited until Cole and his prisoner were safely out of sight before she started unwrapping Lian’s bandages. They had soaked up a lot of blood, but it was dry and stiff now, and didn’t come off easy.
“How does it look?” said Lian in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Not good. I don’t see any pus, though, so I guess it could be worse.”
She couldn’t smell anything that hinted of an infection either. Relieved, she tried to peel the bandage off, but it stuck to the scabs. Abbida clucked her tongue.
“I’m gonna have to use your knife again.” Which happened to still be buried in her pocket. Somehow she couldn’t yet bring herself to part with it.
Lian let out a long shaky breath. “Just do it.”
Abbida tried to be careful with the knife, but when she started peeling bits of material off, Lian hissed between her teeth and shrunk back. Alarmed, Abbida stopped.
“No, no, go ahead! I’ll manage,” Lian said and groaned. “Why don’t you tell me what’s been going on while I was out?”
Reluctantly, Abbida gave her an account of everything Cole had told her and what she had witnessed firsthand. In hindsight it seemed even worse, like she’d been too shocked to really understand it all while she was there. When she came to the point where the colonel had threatened Rona–with a gun to her daughter’s head!–her voice almost faltered. What kind of monster did that?!
She clenched her fists and must have tugged too hard on the bandage. Lian gave off a groan.
“I’m so sorry! I’ll be more careful.”
“No, no, it’s not that… I’m just so angry! I should have knocked that murderous bastard off his pedestal a long time ago. He stops at nothing!”
For a while they were both brooding in silence, while Abbida finished peeling off the remainders of the rotten bandage. Lian gave her a fresh one to redress the wound, and Abbida finished her story while fixing her up.
Lian gawked, seeming duly impressed. “That must be the most reckless and boldest thing I ever heard. Stealing a fighter from under Guo’s nose! I’m sure glad I’m not your enemy.”
Despite everything, Abbida couldn’t help a grin spreading on her face. Such praise coming from a tough woman like Lian meant more than any earlier praise combined. She attached the end of the new bandage and helped Lian putting her jacket back on.
“You should rest some more,” she said, yawning. “We can discuss later what to do next. I could really do with some sleep myself.”
“No. We can’t. We’ve got to get moving immediately. Before the guard arrives.”
“Which guard?” Abbida said.“ The village is miles away. How would they know where to look?”
Lian braced herself against the tree and pushed herself into a crouch. Hissing sharply, she doubled over. Sweat pelted her face and she turned pale. Abbida wanted to give her a hand, but Lian declined and got up on her own. Huffing, she leaned against the tree.
“It’s Zhao Li Xiao. He’s carrying a transmitter. A tiny implant that all members of the patriarch’s family receive.”
Whatever an implant was, it sounded bad. Abbida bit her lower lip. “Where is this implant hidden? We’ll take it out and destroy it.”
“You can’t.” Lian shook her head and winced from pain. “It was implanted when he was an infant. It’s grown into his skull.”
Abbida gaped at her and involuntarily touched her own temple. How could anyone do this to a baby?!
Lian was not able to walk on her own, so Abbida gently placed an arm around her shoulders, giving her some balance. But even with Lian clenching her teeth they only made very slow progress. Step by step they made their way back to the clearing by the stream. Cole and the soldier weren’t back yet.
His name is Li Xiao, Abbida reminded herself. The guy has a name. “There is no use. We’ll have to wait.”
Lian didn’t say anything. She was even paler than before, sweat was coating her forehead.
“Sit down, no point in overexerting yourself.” Abbida helped her lower herself to the ground next to the burned-out fire place. Lian was shivering now, probably from straining herself, as much as the cold. Her eyes looked feverish again, too. Abbida sat beside her and tried to give her some of her body heat without touching her injured side.
“How does this implant work?” she said, in an attempt to distract Lian while they were waiting. “If it’s that small, how can it be found from such great distance?”
“Distance has nothing to do with it. The implant is sending a specific energy signature which can be traced by Sysnet, the satellite network that encompasses the world.” She made a feeble upwards motion.
Abbida tilted her head back. Apart from thick clouds and a few birds circling low there was nothing to see. “What are satellites?”
“Sorry, that was thoughtless of me. Just picture some companions circling the world. Man-made, not natural companions like the moon, and much smaller. All they ever do is receive and transmit signals. With the help of suitable devices those signals can be translated into readable information, even pictures and speech.”
Abbida felt like she was wading up to her ears in foreign words. What was an energy signal? Where did those ‘satellites’ come from? And what did all of that have to do with the soldier? With Li Xiao, she corrected herself once again.
It was a bit like back in the day, when Marja, the teacher, told the children what all the dashes and squiggles were about which they were supposed to scribble on their slates. In the end, Abbida had grasped the idea rather quickly, much faster than her sister Latisha who was one linear older. With that in mind, she sat up straight and said: “Explain it to me.”
“I’d love to, but there’s no time for that now. Trust me, the guard know where Zhao Li Xiao is. And they are on their way right this minute!”
“Who’s on their way?” they heard Cole ask from behind. The two men broke free from the underbrush and came closer. Cole had freed Li Xiao’s hands, and he was carrying an armful of dry twigs and branches, while Cole leisurely cradled the gun in his arms. The hilt of Li Xiao’s knife stuck out from Cole’s belt.
Abbida lifted an eyebrow and held her hand out, but Cole took a step back and grinned. “This one’s for me. You can keep Lian’s, she won’t need it for the time being. And if push comes to shove, I guess I could get our ‘guest’ under control much faster than you–maybe even without cutting off important body parts.” His grin widened.
Li Xiao’s eyes flared up, and he glowered at Cole before he caught himself. He blew his bangs with an indignant look and was about to turn his back on them, but Abbida jumped up and stepped in his path.
“What’s that on your temple?” she said, pushing back the matted strand of hair.
“What are you doing?!” He recoiled, trying to fend her off. But Cole stepped in and clenched down on his shoulder. To make a point he lifted the gun and pressed it to Li Xiao’s neck.
“Now, now, she’s not gonna hurt you,” he said. Behind Li Xiao’s back, though, he threw Abbida a questioning look.
Li Xiao stood still, glaring down on her. She was well aware how intrusive her actions were, but some strange instinct told her to look closer. What was it that she’d caught a glimpse of just now?
She got up on tiptoes and gingerly picked up the strand of hair again, brushing his forehand by accident. His skin was warm and smooth, the sensation sending a tingle through her fingertips. She felt her face heat up, and shot him a sideways glance. Wide-eyed, he drew a startled breath through his teeth. Her heartbeat quickened, and she almost stepped back, but she made herself put on a indifferent front and continued her examination. Always keep the upper hand. Believable or not.
Careful, so as not to open his fresh cut, she rubbed dried blood away where his skin was unscathed. Underneath she found a tattoo! Drawn very detailed, from his temple almost down to his ear, it depicted a water dragon. With horns, twirly whiskers and pointy claws. Even the scales were drawn individually, with shadows and highlights. A real work of art.
As a kid Abbida had seen such fairy tale creatures in one of mother Marja’s classes. In an old book they were depicted on images of antique vases, tableware and wall hangings. Of course, she had never held anything like that in her own hands. Nobody in the village owned such treasures.
At the time, mother Marja had closed the book with a thud and announced, sensible people didn’t need such elitist stuff. Back then she had always been quick-tempered and strict with the children. That was before the invasion. Before the death of her husband and the kidnapping of three of her five sons. In those days Abbida hadn’t even understood what ‘elitist’ meant. She’d been eight or nine.
A few moon circulations ago, maybe even a linear, kids in the village had amused themselves by drawing symbols on each other’s skin. The ink never lasted long, and the trend had soon died down again. Li Xiao’s tattoo didn’t rub off.
He was standing very still now, extremely tense. She felt his gaze on her, suspiciously, as if he was contemplating to run away, regardless of the weapon Cole was still pointing at him. Or maybe he was contemplating an attack.
She should really just let it go, but some inexplicable urge made her trace the dragon’s serpentine body. There was something beneath his skin, she could feel it! Was that the implanted tracking device? It was tiny!
She squinted, and looked him straight in the eyes. An angry red covered his cheeks now. He had caught his breath, struggling to keep his calm. Finally, Abbida let go and stepped away. He exhaled audibly. She was about to apologize, but something was bothering her about it. Something too faint, to grasp…
Frowning, she turned to Lian, “Does everyone have a tattoo like this?”
“Above the temple? Only leading members of the Five Grand Families. The dragon marks him as close relative of the patriarch. Why?”
Abbida ran her fingers through her hair. The longer she thought about it, the more she became convinced she’d seen this kind of tattoo before.
Only once she’d come close enough to the invaders to catch a glimpse of a facial tattoo. Could it be…? Was he the man that had saved Inez and her back then?
If she closed her eyes she could still see Inez, clear as day, folding her arms around her baby bump protectively. At the time Abbida hadn’t known, but her labor pains had set in. Later that same night, while Cole was unconscious from a bullet wound and fighting for his own life, Inez lost the baby. She never got over it. By the time Cole recovered enough to learn what had happened, Inez had chosen to take her own life as well. From one moment to the other, he had lost all the family he ever had.
Unshed tears choked Abbida, and her gaze strayed towards Cole’s. He frowned. Should she tell him about the possible implications? It was only a suspicion, but if this tattoo was as rare as Lian said there could be only one logical explanation: Cole was threatening her savior with his own weapon.
Thank you for reading!
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