[If you have no idea what this is, please read this post]
The water is the temperature of the air around us. It ripples like the air around a fire. It looks like the flames itself, reflecting the wounded sun and the sky it has bled onto. Just as well; the reflection covers up the real blood that trickles from my arm into the gush of the leaking fire hydrant. Six working fingers and two immobile ones are covered in red.
I can't feel the water on my skin anymore. I just feel my hands shriveling.
If I could just get the blood off, I could dress the wound. Kende and Rocio come to mind. Not unusual. They're always the two. I'm now sentient enough to realize this, and understand why.
"Whoa there, Lady MacBeth."
It's Kende. I hardly hear him until he pulls my arms away.
"I just-- need to wash this off. I just need to get them off of me--"
Kende holds my hands tightly and shakes them. The sun makes his eyes look red all over. "That's not blood. That's just paint. Brig, please tell me you know the difference."
The water evaporates from my arms as I stare at them. The red is still there. It should have washed off.
I look at my fingers again, and he's right. It's an unchanging red, steadfast in its color like paint, not like blood. I nod.
Real blood falls from my gash onto the ground. Kende holds my wounded arm across his like he's going to use his own forearm as a splint.
"Well, okay, that's blood. Let's get that wrapped up." He almost sounds like the Kende I met a month ago, but his light tone is struggling against invisible weight.
The whole time he's looking at my arm, I'm terrified he's going to insist that I get stitches, but he's merciful. He uses half of what remains in the first aid kit, and soon I can't see the wound anymore. My arm feels heavy with elastic and cotton, and my hands are still stained, but I feel clean.
We leave the overturned truck and head back up the Reverse Crater. Cin comes to meet us with a shovel slung over one shoulder. Both are covered in dirt and blood. She has helped Kende finish. The Reverse Crater has become a burial mound.
I was supposed to be with them when they performed the Final Task. I feel guilty, and Cin reads it on my face.
"Yes," I respond quietly.
I'm still trying to detect whether or not there was bitterness in her tone, or if she was sincerely asking. Bitterness is plenty justified, but as I look through the broken sunglasses at her mud-sprayed eyes, I desperately look for sincerity. She remains difficult to read.
Cin throws me a bone-- a figurative bone this time-- when she smiles. "Good to hear, Brigitta."
I sigh and return the smile. It's the first time in a month that she's called me by my actual name.
The Reverse Crater has been staked with dozens of little crosses. I'd never seen them up close before. Kende, Cin, and the others had done the best they could with what they had. I am surprised that they are so beautiful. Each one has love carved into its face. Even the Spottids'.
We reach the peak of the Reverse Crater in silence.
After we've been still for a minute, Kende murmurs, "It's weird. I didn't think I'd be here a couple of weeks ago."
"A month ago, none of us did," I agree.
Kende traces the top of one of the graves with his finger. It is Mar's.
"No, I mean, two weeks ago, I didn't think I'd be here," he says. "As in, alive."
I nod and grab his hand with my good one. He squeezes it tight. It doesn't stop my throat from tightening. I take a deep breath and concentrate on Kende's hand in mine. He is physically with me now. We are safe.
As if by instinct, I looked behind me for Cin. She is a few yards back, leaning on her shovel. I don't have to ask whose grave she is in front of.
Kende, Cin, and I sit down on the Reverse Crater. We nestle ourselves into the sharp rocks. The city around us is still empty. Emptiness is not the same as peace. Emptiness is not as peaceful as a quiet fullness. I wish something would make a sound beyond the Reverse Crater, but nothing does. In time, it will.
Kende and I rest tucked into each other, his head on mine, mine on his shoulder, our hands locked together. Cin sits with the shovel behind us. As we look out at the world, the sky changes colors. In time, we see blue.
There is nothing left to do now but watch the sun rise.