It’s Riss who finds him.
The sky is dark and fast and it is all he can see until he’s also seeing her. When she sees him her face goes pale and she looks sick to her stomach. Adal doesn’t feel good either. His ‘not good’ is very non-specific. Maybe it’s a small thing or maybe it’s everything. He isn’t sure.
When he tries to talk, his teeth hurt. Hurt isn’t a big enough word, but he can’t remember any bigger ones. Riss leans over him and touches him on the neck and he tries to sit up but she pushes him back down. Something is loose in his mouth. Things feel loose all over.
“Don’t move,” she says. “I’ll get Calay.”
Riss is smart. Adal trusts Riss. He always has. He tries to nod. She grabs him again.
Then she’s gone. He’s alone with the sky again. The sky is getting lighter. The storm is blowing away. He remembers being afraid of the storm but he isn’t afraid now. The clouds are fast and high and lighter than they were. Looking at them makes him tired. He can’t focus. But when he closes his eyes the pain feels like it’s getting closer.
He waits for Riss. There are other things he could be doing, maybe, but he can’t think of any.
He broke his arm once when he was a boy. Fell while climbing a tree. On the long walk back to the big house, he felt like if he didn’t look at it, it didn’t hurt as bad.
The big house is called the Estate. He remembers that now.
Riss is gone for a long time. Long enough that the sky turns blue again. It’s washed-out blue, like someone poured too much water in it. There’s a word for that. Adal does not know it anymore.
He hears voices but he can’t see people. He wants to turn his head, but Riss told him not to move. She was very serious about it.
“I don’t–I think he fell.”
“… All the way from the top?”
Did he fall? He isn’t sure. The last thing he remembers is being afraid of the storm. For some reason, this thought makes him nervous. His heart speeds up. The next time he breathes, something in his chest feels sharp and out of place.
“My bag’s still in the wagon. I’ve only got this much left.”
“He’s breathing, though?”
Boots crowd around him. Two of them belong to Riss. He can tell.
“Hey,” she says. Her eyes are wet. “Just hold tight. We’re going to fix you up.”
He tries to talk but his mouth is loose and all the little shards of things in his mouth hurt and it bothers him that he can’t remember what they’re called. Not knowing things is starting to scare him and make him angry.
His chest feels weird. His legs feel far away. His hands are numb. The list of small things that feel not right is growing.
Calay leans over him. His mouth his flat. His eyes aren’t as cold as normal. Adal is surprised by how young he looks.
“I gotta say, pretty boy…” He reaches down and unbutton’s Adal’s shirt. “You are some combination of phenomenally lucky and much, much tougher than you look.”
“What’s…” Adal tries to talk. All the tiny shards of pain in his mouth come back. Something is really wrong. His face feels like it’s burning. He tries to lift his head so he can see what is wrong, because once he knows he can try to fix it, but Riss is holding him down again and Calay’s hand on him is very heavy and it takes all his energy just to keep his eyes open.
There’s another voice.
“Go ahead.” It’s Gaz. Adal can’t see him.
Calay moves away.
“I told you to sit down.”
“Walking kinda takes my mind off it.”
“Calay.” Riss again, speaking over him. “We don’t have time.”
“Well I don’t have enough blood. I’m trying to–fuck, let me think.”
“Just do as she says. I’ll be okay.”
People talk around him. Adal stares at the sky. Calm, clear, watered-down blue. Like a pool. He remembers feeding the little things that live in his family’s ponds. Orange and silver things. Fast things. Why is he forgetting so many words?
Riss walks past him. She’s walking back and forth. Sometimes he sees her, sometimes he doesn’t. She isn’t talking anymore.
“Are you sure?” Calay sounds angry. Adal isn’t sure who he’s mad at. Him?
“It’s my choice. You don’t get to make it for me. Riss is right.”
“… I’ll do what I can. Later. I promise.”
Calay told him once that life never let him be soft. But he isn’t always as sharp-edged as he thinks he is.
When Calay comes back, he’s got his jacket off. He rolls up his sleeves. He pulls a face when he looks at Adal. Riss comes back, too. She reaches down and holds his hand.
“You stay real still,” Riss says. “Calay’s only got enough blood to try this once.”
He can’t see her, but he can hear Rodelinde sniffling. She always hides when she cries. She doesn’t want Mother and Father to see.
“It’s okay,” he tells her through the needling pains in his mouth. It hurts too much to say the rest.
It’s okay, he wants to tell her. I miss Berin too.
He tries to swallow but the things in his mouth are thick and clattery and wrong.
Calay tells him to close his eyes.
Calay is kinder than he thinks he is.
In the calm, slow dark, the sniffling stops.
Diluted. That’s the word he was looking for. The sky, it looked diluted. Washed out. Weak.