Kyre holds my gaze for a beat longer, then closes his eyes, nodding. "Alright." He pulls his hands from my grasp and opens his eyes again. "Go get your hoodie. It should be dry by now."
Pushing up his sleeve, Kyre swipes and taps at what appears to be a smartwatch. A thin layer of light projects from it, and I see telltale little icons of clouds, rain, wind, snow, and sun. He's pulling up a weather forecast.
I scan through the holographic boxes until I find one with today's date and the current time. The rain and wind icons glow softly, the temperature below it reading 42 degrees Fahrenheit. I shiver involuntarily.
Kyre double-taps the screen, causing the light to quickly fade away. He pulls his sleeve over the device, holding his wrist almost protectively.
"I'll be at the front door in five, do what you need to get ready." He pushes off of the counter and disappears somewhere into the house, leaving me alone in the kitchen. I rub my arms—suddenly the house feels much colder—to keep warmth, and glance through the square window above the sink.
The sky outside is pitch black, with faraway pinpricks of light glowing faintly.
I pick up my hoodie from in front of the fireplace, examining it with my hands. It's dry, so I shrug it on over the black shirt that I am wearing, enjoying the feeling of the long sleeves covering my arms. Its warmth seeps through me and I breathe deeply, savoring it.
I then look through my backpack, emptying its contents onto the floor for the second time—the first had involved spoiled food packets. Digging through it, I find what I need: a pair of leggings that I can wear under the shorts. I'd learned that layers really kept in heat during my second year underground; I'd wrapped blanket upon blanket around me to conserve heat. Unlike some of the other underground spaces, I didn't live near a geothermal heat source.
I hurry to the bathroom—it's not that far from here—and pull on the leggings. I tie the shorts over the leggings as an extra layer. My clothes are still a little damp in places, so after a little hunting, I find a hairdryer. Pressing the button, I hover the device over the damp spots, drying them almost instantly.
I hastily place it back, then run down the hallways, make a wrong turn, backtrack, then finally find the front door. Kyre is waiting there, tapping his boot rhythmically against the floor. His hands are covered with black fingerless gloves. When he sees me, he gives me a pair too. I slide them over my hands, feeling their warmth.
Kyre pulls the door open, and I slide on my flats before following him outside. Immediately, the cold envelopes me. A brisk wind pulls loose strands of hair out of my braid, and I pull my hood over my head. Far away, the wind shrieks, the high whistling sounds piercing my ears. Kyre pulls out a portable lightball, and the sharp white light sets the ground before me aglow.
Kyre sets off in front of me, his limp becoming more apparent in the cold. I nevertheless walk quickly to keep up with his long strides. The wind blows his hair, but he doesn't put his hood up. The tips of his ears are turning red, and the earring reflects light from the lightball.
Suddenly, he stops short. I nearly plow into him, but then regain my balance. In front of him is the wrangled, destroyed tree. I look around expectantly for the store—it was nearby before—but I only see a brick wall. There appears to be graffiti on it, but it's too dim to read.
Kyre's hand trembles as we approach the wall, the light shaking side to side. He spares a glance in my direction, then, taking a deep breath, he pulls off his glove and places his bare palm to the stone.
The stone illuminates just as the lightball fizzles out; it must have run out of power. The outline of a door glows in front of us, and Kyre taps his watch three times before holding it up to the door. It glows a bright white, then a series of numbers and letters appear. His deft fingers dance over them, performing a series of strokes so fast they blur before my eyes, then he reaches out and hooks an arm around my waist, pulling me up close to him.
I try to shift away, confused, but his grip tightens, his chin brushing the top of my head.
Then the ground falls.
And I fall with it.
The familiar darkness surrounds me and we fall to the ground. I let her go as soon as my feet hit the floor, pulling on my glove again. Reaching out a shaking hand, I feel for a wall, sighing with relief as I find it. Ashe's footsteps echo beside mine.
I focus on breathing deeply, trying hard not to faint. No matter how wide I open my eyes, I can't see anything.
The musty smell chokes me, and I force myself to breathe through my mouth. My breath comes out in ragged gasps. I steady myself on the wall, my hand finding something powdery on the damp stone. Images flash through my mind, a metal claw, a robotic voice, the all-encompassing cover of darkness. A whizzing bullet.
And pain. So much pain.
I shut my eyes tightly, trying to wipe the images from my mind. Breath in. Hold. Breathe out. With my other hand, I wipe a cold trickle of sweat from my forehead. It is quiet in the tunnel, and I can hear my breathing.
And then I realize: I can only hear my breathing.
I can't hear Ashe.