CASeries #5: COSMOS
Chapter 67 ♦ Fighting Blind
Tamara stumbled onto the open grounds, a man’s arms around her shoulders. The air was cooler but the head of the flames licked at her back like a longing caress, as though remorseful it hadn’t burned her with its touch. She let the injured man on the floor and took a few gulps of air. Her trembling knees scraped the ground as she scampered to get back to her feet. Dirt was thick under her nails and the soot veiled her nose and face. She struggled to breathe as her thick mane of hair curtained her vision.
Burning. Her throat was burning.
A hand swept down and grabbed her arm. “Tamara!”
She looked up and saw their superior. Behind him were the rest of the team. “Head,” she addressed dumbly. He was their assigned superior for the mission, the one who would oversee the task. He was a Celeste of the second rank but was on his way to break to the first.
“Are you alright?” he asked. “Why did you go into that fire? Didn’t I say to stay put?”
“No . . . I’m fine.” She shook her head. “The—Charles is still back there,” she told him, turning to see the flames raging the section of the city. It all took but a few moments for the explosion to occur. She had managed to get a few people out, trying to find her brother while she did. Unfortunately, she was unable to get a glimpse of him in her every attempt.
“I’ll summon the water wielders to bring down the rain from the clouds,” he said, his eyes raking through the fire. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she told him. She lost track of what happened and her mind was too jumbled to remember clearly.
“You carelessly got separated from the team. How many times had I told you to stick with the rest?”
“No, you don’t understand—” she reasoned.
“I’ll listen to what you have to say later,” he said. “For now, stay put.”
“I need to go back and get Charles,” she told her, stubbornly turning to return to the sea of fire.
“No.” He held her shoulders and had her stand still. “I admire you for your bravery, but stay put. You’ve done enough.”
Tamara watched her superior pull in the other members of the team, commanding for the cooperative summoning of rain to help kill the fire. The man she had helped get out of the tragedy was approached by the emergency personnel. They’ve long since brought him to a safer place.
“On the contrary, I should do more,” she muttered. She was never one to follow the rules so what was the difference if she didn’t obey now?
As they busied themselves with putting out the fire and rescuing who they could, Tamara braved through the flames, leaving them in the smoke calling out her name. She gazed at the crumbling walls, coating herself with a thin sheet of water to prevent herself from getting burned. Yet, the burning did not stop—and it seemed to be coming from her lungs.
There was it again.
Her throat; scratchy, hot.
The fire was hot, alright, and it breathed acidic embers that made her skin boil. Slowly, the flames became tinged black and Tamara’s face soured.
“Poisoned,” she said. “It’s poisoned.”
How long had she been breathing this? At any rate, the injuries to be acquired from this devastation would, no doubt, be . . . devastating to the point of inescapable death. Tamara’s heart broke at the thought of the scheming four-eyes burning and suffocating to his death. Yet, she didn’t know where to look. The sweat dripping down the sides of her face wasn’t only from the searing heat, but the rising fear that was slowly building up in her stomach.
“Charles!” she exclaimed. “Charles, if you can hear me, answer!”
Shadows moved silkily through the flames. The demonic energy pulsated like a trembling heartbeat. Each thump brought about oppression, bringing her shuttered breaths to a halt in an attempt to see—to hear it—again.
They shouldn’t have opted for this mission. There was a lot in the list they could’ve taken—why did they have to pick this?
She dragged her feet across the seared earth as the buildings tumbled down and screams filled the air. Tamara’s heart churned at the thought of one of those voices belonging to his brother—ah, they might not have been full-blooded siblings, but they were siblings all the same. She looked at the building debris of torn down walls and dead bodies. Try as she might to save them all, she was already too weak. The poison had long since seeped through her lungs and muddled her mind.
“Charles!” she hollered, coughing. The burning poison scrabbled at her throat, leaving her voice husky and harsh. Tamara didn’t know how long it was but she eventually fell on the ground, too weak to move.
Suddenly, a shadow swooped down. Fingers laced with a thin cloth covered both her mouth and nose—yet her eyes started to burn too. She was seeing through a thin layer of tears. It felt like a thousand onions were thrown at her eyes.
“Tamara,” a soft voice called out. “You will be alright.”
She blinked. Tears fell—she wasn’t crying out of misery, but to be seen like this was a little pitiful.
“Come, let’s get you out.”
She was hauled and guided out of the fire. She had just enough consciousness to drag her own feet—at least she thought that she was dragging it. For the most part, she was being dragged. But before they could set foot outside, she lost all the littlest bit of consciousness she had. The blackout lasted a few moments from her perspective. When she woke up, it was in the infirmary of the Larkovian stronghold, the Water Palace.
She would know that sound of running water anywhere. It brought her a sense of peace and frustration—all good and bad memories were in this place. It was partly why she refused to go back.
It took a few moments for the healers to notice she was awake. She could not make any sound, partly because her throat hurt with every swallow. Not to mention she could not move so much. They served her a glass of water and attended to her needs until her father, Lord Lovis, came at the news of her regaining consciousness.
“Tamara,” Lovis addressed, hands folding in front of him as he stared down at her from his stiff back. “Ah, reckless one as ever. Sometimes, I feel like I never had a daughter.”
She rolled her eyes and croaked, “What happened?”
“What. Happened?” She emphasized each syllable, hoping he would make it out this time.
Thankfully, her father seemed to take the hint. “Investigations have procured a few things that wasn’t too obvious at first glance but we still need a bit more time to get everything together,” he told her.
“Your brother is—” he sighed. “He’s alright.”
She moved to sit up.
“No,” her father said through his taut mouth. He grasped her shoulders and pushed her down. “Tamara, he is fine when I say he’s fine. I merely hesitated for a moment because he sustained a serious injury, but he will live. Maybe just not like before.”
Her questioning eyes and furrowed brows prompted him to explain further.
“The poison has blinded him.”
Her breath stuttered.
“It seems we have hope of saving his left eye but his right one is far too damaged. We still don’t know if he’ll be able to see with his remaining one.”
“He had . . . four eyes,” she croaked, lamenting. “Now he’s got none.”
Lovis could barely make out what she said but a smile cracked on his lips. “Tamara, you must not make light of this matter,” he admonished, but the smile pushed through. After a few moments, however, it disappeared. “Your brother will suffer through this.”
“I wasn’t . . . joking,” she muttered, then realized how it sounded. “Sorry. How long?” she asked.
“Wh—oh, you mean to ask how long you’ve both been here. Two days,” he replied. “Anyhow, the fire seemed to be a sort mixed with a strange poison which killed more than half of the city’s people who were trapped in the fire. We had to move out the rest of the civilians away from the site as it became too toxic. But what makes the others curious is how you managed to leave the vicinity,” he said.
“I heard from the superior that you rushed into the fire to look for your brother,” he told her.
She thought back to the events of the incident. Her frown deepened. She thought it was Charles who saved her. But if it wasn’t . . . “Then who . . . ?” she whispered.
Lovis frowned. “What did you say?”
“Who saved me?” she asked him.
“You mean you—there wasn’t anyone.” His lips were taut and tight. “You were found outside the danger, knocked out cold. They thought you got yourself out when you couldn’t find your brother.”
She shook her head.
“Did you know who it was?”
She shook her head again.
She sat up. “Doesn’t . . . matter who did. I need to see Charles,” she told him. Despite the harshness of her voice, it came out clear enough to be understood.
Lovis looked disapproving but he didn’t stop his daughter from leaving the bed. Instead, he came to her side, took her arm, and steadied her. Her wild, red hair flew to all directions, bobbing at each stutter in her footsteps. There was sting in the places where her father held her up. Looking at her body, she was swathed in gauze.
“Where is he?” she asked him, looking up to see his eyes veiled by sadness.
“He’s in his room. We thought he would be most comfortable there.”
“Did he wake up yet?”
Lovis’ questioning glance bade her to repeat herself. On the third time, he got what she was trying to say. The guttural scratching of her throat was not only uncomfortable for Tamara, but was grating to the ears. She didn’t like the way she sounded.
“No, but it probably will be best if you were there with him,” he told her.
Tamara pursed her lips, blinking her sore eyes. The poison seemed to have made her sight a little blurry but it was enough to see a good distance ahead of her. She had trouble focusing, however, and her vision seemed to double every now and then.
It took a while for the redhead and the Larkovian lord to reach the fourth-ranker’s room. There was dead quietness behind the thick doors, making both father and daughter hesitant in entering. Piercing through the eerie stillness of Charles’ chambers, they entered. The young lord was still on his bed, unmoving, until their footsteps shattered the silence and made him stir.
His eyes were wrapped in bandages around his head, messing his platinum blond locks, making it stand in all sorts of ways.
“Hey,” Tamara croaked.
“Tamara?” he inquired into the direction they walked on.
“Are you alright?”
“You sound hoarse,” he told her, sitting up. Pulling his pillow and leaning on his bed’s headboard.
“I’ll be okay,” she told him.
They stopped before the bedside. Tamara staggered into the chair beside Charles and blinked.
“Will you?” she asked him.
“I will be,” he told her.
“What will I be otherwise?” he retorted. “Did you expect I’ll make a wreck out of my room like a cliché novel? I knew it was going to happen. I am too weary to feel worked up all about it.”
“Of course, I do,” the fourth-ranker replied. “I’m sure I’ll be a bit frustrated in the days ahead of me. Perhaps I’ll even have to quit the Twelve.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I can’t see. I might never.” Charles sounded like he had resigned to his fate.
“You will let that stop you?”
“I’ve never heard of a blind lord,” he told them. “But it isn’t like I wasn’t already blind. It’s just a little . . . more intense than before. I might find a way to cope with this, but if I find myself inadequate, I will relinquish the position to you.”
“Are you crazy?!” Tamara yelled through the croaks. She smacked Charles upside the head.
He sighed, but didn’t get angry. “Rather than totally blinding this continent, I’d rather someone can see ahead, especially in these times, I might become a little shortsighted if I wasn’t already,” he calmly replied. “But then again, you’re rather unreliable. Rather than just blinding Larkovia, you’ll end up crippling it on both legs.”
Charles seemed to have expected Tamara to be insulted and yell indignant retorts like she always did, judging from the small quirk of his lips and the casual tone of voice he used on her all the time. This time, however, she decided to purse her lips, reaching out to touch the clenched hand on his lap.
“Will my eyes be good enough for you?” she asked him. “I know I’m unreliable, but I can see.” Half of that sounded incoherent, but she could care less about being understood.
He huffed. “I didn’t understand anything,” he said. “I’d rather you talk when you at least have half your voice back.”
For moments, there was silence.
“But I might need a little help,” he finally said.
“And I will need to call the healer,” Lord Lovis said. “I’ll ask them to change the bandages.” He gazed at Charles pointedly. “They’re a little . . . soaked.”