Bridge Builder: Chapter 1

Someone’s in the tent with me.

It’s too dark to see him, and the light rain plinking off the canvas makes too much noise for me to hear him, but… I know he’s here. I can feel it.

I’m not sure what time it is, or if I ever fell asleep. I’m too scared to move, I know something really bad will happen if I open my eyes.

But what should I do? I can’t fight him off, I’m just the camp interpreter. Should I cry for help? No, he’ll probably kill me before help can arrive. I think my best hope is to lay here, motionless, with my eyes shut tight as I pray he goes away.

If this is a nightmare I just want to wake up, and if it’s not then I just want the sun to rise. But my sense of time is shot, how long have I been laying here? How many hours until morning?

He hasn’t moved yet, I think. Maybe if I stay still all night he really will leave without a fuss?

Suddenly, I inhale a bit of saliva and begin to cough. A deep cough, gasping for breath in between as my body desperately to force the droplets out of my lungs. My chest convulses and it hurts, but the worse pain is in my cheeks and stomach.

He knows I’m awake. I feel in my heart that he knows.

I try to mask my coughing fit by rolling to my left side, pulling the thin blanket tight against my shoulder. My breathing is still forceful and I shut my eyes tighter. I don’t wanna die.

There’s nothing for a moment and I’m hopeful he was fooled, but then I hear it. A step. Careful, quiet, barely perceptible beyond the plinking of rain, I hear the faint rustling of the tent floor as a foot draws the intruder closer. By my legs, I feel the floor sink half an inch into the mud underneath.

Another step. Another. He’s getting closer. I grit my teeth just to avoid screaming, but even in this heat my whole body is shivering.

I feel him standing right next to me.

He touches the back of my right hand and I nearly jump out of my skin. He’s slow and gentle, but his thick, rough fingers soon coil around my wrist and raise it above my head. This is fine, I’m gonna be fine. I have a bracelet of small pearls and they’re probably valuable and rare to the locals this far in the jungle. He’ll take them off, set my hand down, then leave me alone, right?

My hand is brought higher, near his face. I feel his warm breath on my knuckles and pinkie, then I feel him breathe in. He’s just interested in the lotion I’ve been using! It’s very strange, comes from a land very far away, the soldiers of this camp brought it with them. Once he’s sniffed it enough he’ll get bored and leave me alone. I’m sure of it!

There’s a moist breeze on the back of my hand, then a faint whisper, only just loud enough for me to hear. It’s spoken by a man in a dialect unique to this part of the island and it takes me a second to translate. “[You’ll never be anything more than their pet.]”

Before I even have a chance to figure out what that’s supposed to mean, a sharp pain shoots through my hand. He’s biting me! He’s biting my hand like he’s trying to rip it in half!

“AAAH!” I scream from the shock as my eyes go wide and my head jolts up from my pillow. It’s a sharp pain, and his hand has gripped so tightly onto my wrist that I can’t break free.

Well he knows I’m awake now! “Let go! Let goooo!!!” I scream at the top of my lungs as I punch his face with all my might. He isn’t phased at all. He gives a few more crunches with all the strength in his jaw and it feels like he’s chipped a bone.

The man only lets go when he wants to, and I’m left cradling my bloody and saliva-soaked hand. “Aaah…” tears streak down my face.

Light filters in through the tent wall, and a second later the door flap is ripped off. “Pano!” My personal bodyguard screams as he lunges his sword at the man.

The intruder hisses sharply, and I’m able to pry my eyes open enough to see the struggle. The man’s side is bleeding. Most of his body is exposed, save a thin hide skirt and a few ceremonial animal bones and beads that decorate the rest of him. He tackles my bodyguard through the tent door and onto the muddy ground outside with a plop. The brutal impacts of them whaling on each other hits heavy against my ears.

My bodyguard, a soldier named Izydor, throws the man off and scrambles for his sword, but my attacker runs off. He skirts past the confused guards at the camp entrance, and disappears into the darkness of the jungle beyond our walls.

“Tch. I should have run him through when I had the chance,” Izydor says with a tight brow.

The rest of the camp starts waking up. I manage to sit up and wrap my hand in the thin blanket. Izydor rushes into the doorway.

“What happened? Are you all right? Did he hurt you?” I’m not a native speaker to his language, both his accent and the panic in his voice makes it hard to translate.

“H-he bit me!” I sniffle and grit my teeth to suppress the pain. “I… I guess I’m fine beyond that…”

“Nonsense.” He puts his lantern down and reaches out, prompting me to give him my hand. He carefully unwraps the now-red blanket, and I sharply inhale as some of the dried blood has clung the fabric to my wounds. It’s hard to make out specific details, but there’s a crescent shape of ripped skin on both sides of my palm, just below my pinkie. “Eugh.” He says. “It doesn’t look great…” he wraps my hand tightly then scoops me up. “Keep pressure on it, I’ll bring you to the medic.”

Izydor takes me into the warm night air. The rain isn’t enough to soak me immediately, though I’m getting mud on me from his arms and chest.

“…sorry. For not noticing and taking so long to reach you, I mean.”

Looking at the camp, the soldiers are only just starting to come out of their tents. Even the night guards still don’t know what’s going on. “Y-you did fine. Better than anyone else.” I whimper as I rest the side of my head against his muddy shoulder.

My heart’s still racing. I was awake for what felt like hours, confident that I’d be killed. Being carried by Izydor though, I feel safe and comfortable, it’s hard to keep my eyes open as I begin to doze off.

I’m brought inside the large medical tent and Izydor sets me down on one of the tables. He rummages through one of the cabinets before taking out a bottle, then gently grabs my wrist and sets my hand over a bucket. “This’ll hurt, just a little.” He pours some thick liquid over my hand, and I see all the blood wash off my palm and fall into the bucket. The pain sets in a moment later, like my hand is on fire. I use my other hand to cover my mouth, but a few whimpers still escape my lips.

The pain slowly subsides after that initial burst of agony, and I’m left with a dull, throbbing sensation that pulses up to my elbow. With practiced skill, he wraps my hand tight in a fresh set of bandages, “how’s that feel?”

Hesitantly, I raise my hand against the light of his lantern, rolling it back and forth, wiggling my fingers. “I can’t make a fist, but I guess that’s your job anyway, right?” I force a tired smile

“That’s right.” He pauses for a second. Unease, concern, doubt, whatever Izydor’s feeling, he shakes such thoughts out of his head and scoops me up in his thick arms. “You need sleep, we can talk about what happened in the morning.”

I nod, and pull myself closer to his chest. I’m half asleep by the time we reach his tent, then he sets me down on his bedroll and stands guard outside. The exhaustion catches up with me, and I fall asleep not long after closing my eyes.


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