165) The Salvation of Eden: Chapter 5 — Dominic

         “Kohra…Kohra?!” A sing-song voice.

         “Sleeping.” She moaned. Her back felt sore.

         What was wrong with her bed? She unglued her eyes reluctantly, squinting.


         Eyes flung open. “Dom!! Oh…my –.”  Whatever she might have said was choked out as the tears came. 

         And then he was hugging her and saying things too fast and jumbled for her to understand.  And, he was shaking. 

         She let him cry into her shoulder, patting his back. This is what you’re supposed to do right?

         When he pulled back and met her gaze, it was a look she had never seen in his eyes before. Not even when Moose (his first snake) had died. And to Dominic, that was really a Whole Deal.

         The bottom fell out of her stomach. She didn’t want to put it into words, to make it real. But she had to know.

         “My mom? Col?”

         His forehead creased like he was in pain, but he smiled and looked straight into her eyes.  “I’m pretty, I’m pretty sure they’re ok, Kohra.”

         His eyes looked dead.

         He’s lying. I know it.

         I just don’t know for sure. They…they got in a fight with the Guard. I heard Col cry out. Your mom was screaming for us to run, and yelling at them to leave Col alone. That’s all I know. I’m sorry, that’s all I…that’s all I heard, Kohra. They were after me! I had….  I’m sorry.  I had no choice….”

         She hugged him again, pressing her forehead hard into his shoulder. She needed to feel something solid. Everything felt like it had disappeared, like she was floating in a void. 

         Have I just lost…everyone? 

         “What about your family?” she asked, hoping for…anything better than what they had so far.

         He shrugged, more casually than he felt, Kohra was sure. “I think they’re ok. Dad got me out. He got home just before they Guard, and warned me. We grabbed my bow, and Arrowhead, and we were out the back door in seconds. It was because of him I came to your house. He said you’d need help.”

         “How’d he know?”

         Dom shrugged. “How does he ever know anything that he knows?”
         It was true. Dominic’s father was some kind of scholar, and he seemed to know everything. He called himself an “unnaturalist,” by which he meant he studied animals that, he said, were not supposed to exist, animals that were created by magical experimentation or something he called “bio-splicing.” She didn’t really understand, but he sure knew a lot about weird creatures that most people had never heard of.

         Kohra suddenly glanced around, trying not to make it too obvious. But still, trying to make it obvious. 

         Dominic ignored her.  He knew what was coming.  And she was going to have to face it.

         “Uh…yeah, did you say, you got…Arrow…head?”  She tried to smile.  It didn’t come off yery well.

         Dominic nodded happily, “Of course! Thank the Gods, right?” He punched her playfully on the shoulder, knowing how much she hated that, and also knowing that she knew that he knew that, and it was his strange sense of irony that ….somehow…. did end up making it funny over time. 

         “Seriously, Dom? Thank the Gods?”

         He laughed.  It felt…almost normal for a moment.

         “Where, uh…?”

         “He’s out having snacks. I told him to go before I got here; thought it might freak you out too much to wake up to him.”

         His laugh was easy and warm.  It was quite difficult to get mad at Dominic. Although, sometimes, not ‘quite as difficult’ to get annoyed with him. In that way, as in most, he felt like her older brother. And who doesn’t get annoyed at their brother sometimes?

         “Don’t worry, we’re way safer with him around.” 

         Kohra rolled her eyes.

         “How is anyone going to sneak up on us while we’re sleeping, if Arrow’s watching?”

         “He…he’s going to watch us sleeping??” She really didn’t want to hurt Dom’s feelings; but…while she was sleeping?

         “Forget it, ok? Arrow’s with us, and you’ll just have to deal.”  He fixed her with a hard look.  “You watch; he’s going to save your butt someday.”

         Kohra said nothing for a while. She knew she’d hurt his feelings. And it was true; she was being insensitive. She just didn’t get it. A snake? Dominic treated it like it was HIS brother!

* * * * *

Some time passed.

         Kohra picked up a nearby stick, scratching at the ground. She knew Dominic would look. “Sorry,” with a sad face.

         Then she noticed the rapidly-darkening sky to the East. “Uh, Dom?”

         He looked up. “That’s great!” he started to shout, then lowered his voice. “I mean, that’s great.”

         She laughed, in spite of herself. “Yay, getting wet….”

         “No, seriously! This means we’re safe! Our tracks, our scent, anything they might have followed, will be gone.”

         She looked over at him, and he held her gaze. He was having one his Dominic-intensity moments.

         “We can do this, Kohra. We’ll find out what’s going on. We’ll get through this. We will.” He cleared his throat, wiping his eyes. “You and me both.”

         “And a snake that watches me sleep,” Kohra grimaced.

         He laughed. “That’s the spirit! We’re on Hero Ridge, remember?”

         She smiled. “I was thinking about that on the way up.”

         She looked over at her long-time friend. He was always so practical, action-oriented. Kohra’s head would be in the skyflows, swirling around forever, while Dominic’s would be firmly in the present circumstances, figuring out the best course of action. And, she knew, he really was the only reason she was even here. Without Dominic, she’d have been arrested — or whatever the Guard was doing with Ms. B’s kids — way back in the apple trees. And despite all the insanity they had gone through, he was still “on task”.

         All he really needed from her, was to know that she could take of herself.  And as an added bonus, it’d be pretty nice for him if she actually had his back as much as he had hers. Kohra made up her mind. She had his back.

         “Yeah Dom, you’re right. Hero Ridge! Let’s figure out what to do.”

         “Yes!” He handed her a waterskin. “I’ll start. Let me tell you what I know.”

         She took a sip while he took a deep breath.

         “So, yesterday morning, Anita, you know, Kevin’s sister? Curly red hair? She came riding up on her pony, all out of breath, saying ‘soldiers and horseys’ had come to their house that morning. They took Kevin in for questioning, and he hadn’t come back.”

         “Kevin?!! He’s in Ms. B’s class too!”
         Dominic nodded. “Yeah, that’s the thing. Anita said they asked for directions to other houses of people she knew, and they were all in Ms. B’s classes. All of them. She was trying to warn anyone she could find.”

         He paused, absentmindedly digging his toe into the ground.

         “I didn’t clue in though. I just didn’t think it was, you know, an emergency or anything. I wasn’t worried about someone asking me questions. Even the Guard. I figured I’d just be honest, and then they’d let me go.  I have nothing to hide.”

         “Well, you do know about my father.”

         He shook his head emphatically. “No, I only know that there are rumours about your father being involved in some type of rebel activity, but I know nothing first-hand.  And I have never seen evidence, even when I’ve been in his home several times, that would indicate this.  I believe he is a good and just man, and this is exactly how I would answer their questions.”

         Kohra nodded, impressed.  “Gods, Dom…. You sounded all…bad-ass there! Maybe you’re becoming MY hero!” She batted her eyes at him. This always made him uncomfortable; Dom hated any form of flirtation. So, Kohra of course flirted ironically with him, all the time. Usually, he responded by punching her in the shoulder.  It was sort of like their secret language.

         But this time he just smiled.  It was thin, but he was trying.  His jaw clenched repetitively.  He sighed.

         “If Dad hadn’t come home in time….”

         Kohra smiled, brightening.  “Hey Dom, I just had a thought ‑.” 

         “Just one?” he interrupted.

         She stuck out her tongue.  “Seriously! I just realized how right you are! I mean, your dad DID come home in time.  He DID know what was going on.  My dad probably did too; he’s probably fine.  And Ms. B?  She’s probably ok, right?  Even that parrot!  Oh GODS, Dom, I HAVE to tell you about the parrot!  You know that hilarious parrot that hangs out at the Market?”

         He looked a little blank.

         “You don’t know the parrot?”

         “Of course I know the parrot!” He closed his eyes for a moment, taking a deep breath, then exhaled slowly.  This was Dominic’s thing, when he needed to calm down.

         “Kohra.  I don’t know about Ms. B.”

         Some kind of strange cry came out of her guts, but she didn’t even notice.  This just…couldn’t be.

         His head hung.  “I don’t know…I just…I don’t know about anybody for sure. Anita said they had a whole list.”

         “But, everybody? Like, Aaron? Reilly? Oliver? Nico? Paula? Dom, they can’t do this!!”      


         He kicked at the dirt. “I feel so stupid! I mean, we knew this was coming. Well, not THIS exactly. But something! We’ve talked about this lots of times!”

         She nodded, not knowing what to say. He was right. Everybody knew “something needed to be done” or “something would happen”.


         “I hope they’re okay,” she whispered. Dominic put his arm around her shoulders. Somehow, it did make everything a tiny bit better.

         “Hey, Dom?” she asked, softly.  She hesitated.  “Um…I just…I didn’t see, anything. So, just, how DID we get away back there? Back at the house, I mean.”

         He pulled back.

         She glanced over. He looked stoic, at usual.

         She continued. She really did want to know. “They had horses and, that one guy even had a net. Hells Dom, I don’t even have shoes! How did they not catch me?”

         Still stoic. But his normally-bright eyes were muted, like an overcast sky.

         “I killed them.”

         It fell out of his mouth, shattering like a vase knocked off a table. “Except the ones at the house. I…Yeah, I just, killed them.”

         Hand on her mouth, face tightened, eyes mirroring his anguish. “Oh Dom….” She tried to think of something to say. “I’m so sorry.”

         He nodded, showing no obvious emotion, but she could see the ache in his eyes and the slump in his normally energized frame. He looked up, but his eyes weren’t really focusing on anything.

         “I shot the horses first, hoping that would stop them.”  He paused, swallowing hard.  “I love horses, Kohra.  I just…I had to do something.”  He wiped his hands on his face, shaking his head. “But they got up.  The Guards I mean. Two of them. The other two were at the house. There was some fighting but…I’m sorry.  I didn’t see what happened.”

         She didn’t respond; what could she say anyway? This was far beyond anything she knew how to “respond appropriately to”. 

         “Yeah.  So, these two, with the horses, they got up. One drew a sword and started at me, so I ran.”

         He paused. Drawing breath seemed to take more effort in that moment than he was willing to make. His eyes were squeezed closed, his lips trembling when he continued.

         “The other guy had a crossbow. I ducked behind a tree after his first shot. He had me pinned Kohra. I had no choice. I just…reacted.”  He kept talking, rapid-fire, as though he just wanted to get through this part. “After they were down, I turned to go back to the house, but your mom, she was yelling, ‘Run! Run!’ So I ran. I just ran.”

         He cradled his head in his arms. “I’m sorry….”

         Now it was her turn to put her arm around his shoulders. “Hey, Dom, hey….  It’s ok, I mean, you did the right thing. You did what you had to do. I…I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.  You saved me, you know.  I couldn’t even move, when that…that Guard was coming at me.  You just, came out of nowhere.”

         “I want to go back,” he stated, like it was more of a fact that was happening than a ‘want’. “I want to go back, Kohra.  Fernal demon, that King; he’s a Fernal DEMON!!  He has to be stopped. It has to be possible.“

         She shook her head. “I know. I just…I can’t believe any of this. I keep waiting to wake up. Like, any moment now, I’m going to be in my bed and be amazed at this crazy dream I had.” She broke off.

         “I know, I know.” He scuffed the dirt with his boot, then stopped, staring at nothing while silence wrapped back around them like a wet blanket.

         “What do we do next?” Kohra asked eventually.

         He answered without hesitation. He’d clearly been thinking about this a lot more than she had. “We have to get somewhere safe, somewhere we can stay for a few days, maybe a few weeks. That’s our first priority — a safe place, where we can store food.  Then we can find out what the hells is going on.  I have a few ideas.”

         “A safe place,” she repeated numbly. Then angrily, “I don’t GET IT!!! Why is this happening to us?”

         He nodded. “I know. It seems impossible. You had the Royal Guard at your house! The freaking Royal Guard! Your brother slugged one of them!”

         She grinned. “Yeah, I saw that too. Ha! I hope he broke his ‘fernal nose.”

         Dominic grinned back.  Then his face fell.  “Kohra, I am officially wanted for murder now. I killed the bloody Guard! I just…I never thought…. How can I go back?”  He paused, taking a deep breath and blowing it out forcefully.  “I can’t, you know.  I can’t ever go back. My parents….I’ll never see them again.”


         “I’m hungry. And cold.” Kohra could feel her body starting to shut down. “I’m sorry, I…I just am. I’m sorry.”

         He laughed. “Yeah, you’re right, let’s stop moping.”

         “No! No! I didn’t mean that. I’m just…cold.” She grinned, spreading her hands helplessly. “And hungry.”

         He laughed, good ol’ Dominic always looking on the bright side. “What good does it do anyway, sitting around thinking about stuff? What matters is Right Now. And right now, we’re just sitting here getting colder and hungrier.  So, let’s have a little fire. We’ll keep it smoke-free and small.”

         “A fire?” She frowned.

         “No problem.” Dominic always sounded confident, like he’d already thought of everything ahead of time. “I have a plan….”

         Kohra started to stand up.

         “What are you doing?” he asked, scrambling to his feet.

         “Getting wood?” 

         He gestured for her to sit back. “No, no, honestly Kohra, just…I’ll be right back.” He turned to go, then turned back. “Unlike someone I know, Idon’t leave trails.”

         She stuck out her tongue, and he was gone. He moved so quietly in the forest, she couldn’t hear him at all. Ahhh, Dom. She only half-understood him, and she hoped it was that much. So full of ideas, but he kept to himself mostly. It was like he’d been born to live in a different world, a world where people were more enlightened than they were in Eden.  Certainly more than they were in Anthor.

         Her teeth chattered. But, she actually felt weirdly grateful. She was alive. And, she wasn’t alone. 

         He came back with pine boughs, not wood. Kohra watched while he wove them together into a half-dome that, wedged against the overhang of rock under which they sat, sealed them off entirely from the outside world. She was about to exclaim how cool that was, but he held up one finger, turned his back on her to fiddle with the boughs for a moment, and then with a flourish, swung open a makeshift “door” and ducked out, shutting it behind him. Moments later, he was back with an armload of dead branches and twigs, and not long after that, they sat together, nestled inside their cozy, sweet-smelling shelter, warming themselves by a little, smokeless fire. Just like he’d said.

         Arrowhead joined them about an hour later, silently slithering through the pine boughs and under the overhang, curling around Dominic’s waist. Kohra’s stomach turned, but she fought it down. It was okay. They had an understanding, she and Arrowhead. She tolerated him, and he respected her personal space. In other words, he stayed away from her, and she pretended that he didn’t exist.

         She watched their shadows, dancing on the rock face, like goblins celebrating a recent kill.

         “This is amazing, Dom.”

         He grinned. “Yes! And we’ve got jerky.”


         He gave her a cock-eyed look. “I’ve always got jerky.”

         She stared in amused amazement while he pulled a carefully wrapped package out of his jacket. Nothing had ever felt so satisfying to chew.

         Dominic held up his piece thoughtfully, studying it like it was a map. “We’re going to need supplies.“

         “What do you mean? We can’t go back! One person sees us and….” She sliced her finger across her throat.

         He nodded. “Yeah I know, but still, we need food. And clothes and stuff. Heck, you need shoes!”

         “Is there anyone we can trust?” Kohra asked. “You know, a middle of the night visit?”

         Dominic was shaking his head. “Too risky. Even if we don’t get caught, what about the person who helps us? What if they get caught? Or what if they are scared and turn us in? I mean…who knows what they’ve been told? Or what rumours have spread? They probably believe we’ve actually done something wrong.”

         Silence descended like a thick fog. Kohra gazed into the fire almost worshipfully, as though somehow the dancing flames held the answers they needed.

         So what, do we steal stuff?” she asked. “Find some farm and…Dom, I don’t know. I don’t think I can do it. Nobody’s got much to spare these days, you know.”

         He sighed heavily. “Yeah, it sucks. I don’t want to do it either. But let me tell you, when you’ve been eating nothing but berries and the odd squirrel for a week and sitting in the same grimy clothes, you’re going to start thinking differently.”

         She didn’t respond. He was right, of course. She just didn’t like it. Although, in the back of her mind, part of her felt a shiver of excitement. Living like, like Robin Hood? Except Robin Hood only stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Then again, they now had every right to lay claim to the title of “poor,” owning nothing but the clothes on their backs, Dominic’s bow, and his remaining supply of jerky.

         He continued talking, happy to at least fill the silence. “The whole idea of ‘living off the land’ is both harder and easier than people think. It’s brutal, at first, until you’ve had time to set things up — make snares, find some food sources, build a good shelter. But even then, we would always be on the hunt for food. Once I had to maintain a solo-camp for three weeks with no food but what I could gather.”

         He laughed suddenly, and Kohra smiled; it was refreshing to hear something so normal-sounding.

         “What’s so funny?”

         He shook his head, wiping his eyes, his half-smile belying both amusement and embarrassment. “Can’t believe I’m telling you this…but hey, we’re convicts now, right? No use being embarrassed anymore. So,” he laughed, “I was just thinking about the weird stomach…stuff that happened to me. I swear, a Wilds-only diet cleans out your innards like you wouldn’t believe! I even wondered if that’s why we had to do it solo, because otherwise it would be too disgusting! I mean, the farting alone!! Hahahaha!!” Dominic suddenly made a loud farting noise with his mouth — a big, wet juicy one. Kohra almost choked with laughter. And for a while, their little improvised cave was filled with the strange, universal warmth of fart noises and butt jokes.

         As the laughter dwindled, Kohra lay on her back, watching the light flicker on the rock overhang. “I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to laugh like that right now.”

         He grinned, although she didn’t see it. “Yeah, it’s almost like we needed the…’release’….”

         She groaned. “Ohhh Gods, Dom. No more, no more….”

         “Okay fine.” He paused. “I’ll stop being cheeky.”

         She laughed all over again, resting her head on her hands with her arms stretched out lazily, listening to the crackling and snapping of burning twigs and deadwood. It felt like the warmth could seep through her bones and into her very soul. Even on the worst day of her life, she could step outside of the moment (or was it stepping into the moment?) and for a time, feel that things were, somehow, going to be ok.

There really is something magical about fire.

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