My body felt like someone had stretched me out and tried to tenderize me with one of those mallets you use to flatten meat. There was a dull throbbing behind my eyes, but I was able to mostly ignore it as I started to slowly sit up. It was dark wherever I was, but I could hear the sound of people working—digging and hammering, it sounded like—somewhere near by. As my eyes slowly adjusted, I saw rough-hewn wooden walls and a dim light along the edges of a door.
They put up one of the sheds, I realized after a moment, as my sleep-addled brain put the pieces together. When did they do that?
I could barely remember drifting in and out of consciousness for a couple of days since the fight, though I know that someone had been there to get me to eat and then let me sleep some more. I hadn’t been the only one, but I wasn’t sure who else had been there, or where we’d been sleeping, or when we’d been moved.
A chill draft whispered in through the crack in the doors and I shivered slightly, drawing one of the blankets layered over me around my shoulders. I looked around slowly. The shed wasn’t very large, but it was more than large enough for three of us to be stretched out comfortably in the center, heads to the back wall, and still have room to walk around each of us.
Jacqueline was dead asleep to my left, curled on her side with a blanket hauled up over her shoulder. Kellin was on my right, flat on her back, chest rising and falling with each breath. Even in the dim, I could see a scar the width of my pinkie finger across her throat.
But she’s alive. I swallowed hard. She was alive, and that was more than I’d ever expected.
I pushed away the blankets that were spread over my legs and rocked to my knees, looking around for my shoes. There weren’t any to be found.
Guess they didn’t think I’d wake up and want to get out. I swallowed a groan as I got to my feet. One leg almost folded under me, but I steadied after a moment. Damn, I hurt. I hurt more than I thought I did.
I couldn’t remember anything after the Shadow Man—I didn’t have any doubt that’s who Angie had been seeing—had grabbed me. Cold had washed over me, through me.
Then he threw me, and I didn’t remember anything after that. It was like waking up in the ruined storage closet at the store all over again, except I was hoping to see something a little more heartening than devastation when I opened the doors in front of me.
The hinges creaked as I eased the door open and peered out. The sky was gray, but weak sunshine filtered down through the clouds, lending light but little warmth to the air. My flesh puckered almost as soon as the air hit me. I tugged the blanket tighter and stepped barefoot down onto a one foot by two foot slab of flagstone laid beneath the shed door. Beyond it was grass trampled down almost completely into mud.
They were digging ditches—trenches, really—to the left and right of the shed. Two more were already up, one on each side. Strings tied to stakes marked out what I guessed to be the spots where more of the sheds would stand, each with about two feet of clearance between them. I eased the door behind me shut.
“What’re you doing up?”
I jumped about three feet in the air and glared at Matt, who smiled sheepishly and put an arm around me. “Jesus H. Christ, Matthew!”
He looked exhausted, deep circles under his eyes, but otherwise all right. The cut on his face was healing up, no swelling, no redness. Just a line of stitches down the side of his face. He grinned at me. “I scared you, huh?”
“Yes,” I grumbled, leaning against him a little. He was warm, comforting, and his arm around my shoulders felt good.
“We thought if we didn’t put any shoes in there, you’d stay put. Wrong on that one, huh?”
I nodded. “Just a little. How long has it been?”
“Three days,” he said, apparently knowing what I meant. “J.T. says you’ll all live, which is good, because three people left that night after the fight, then two more after that. I guess random combat with things most of them can’t see wasn’t a good explanation for why a bunch of you were hurt and unconscious when they got back.”
I swallowed some bile and shook my head a little. “We knew that could happen.”
“Yeah,” he said softly. “We just hoped it wouldn’t.” He squeezed me tightly. “But all of you are going to be okay, and that’s what’s most important to me at this point. As long as the core’s together, we can make it through anything.”
The core. Is that what we are? Maybe.
Yeah. I guess we are.
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