The story so far:
Surprisingly, the pale gray metal was flexible. It felt cool to the touch and bent inward slightly as she put pressure upon it. She felt her fingers touching the metal on her leg, as if it wasn’t metal at all but her leg painted to look mechanical. Taking her hand away, the metal returned to its normal shape.
Faint lights blinked from her hand and leg in the darkness of the room. Two days ago, Phys stopped giving her the paralyzing medicine and she could move easily now. She hadn’t walked yet. Thomas and Phys both had told her to wait, to let herself heal a little more before attempting it. It would take some getting use to, walking on a mechanical leg.
She covered her leg with the blanket, noting how the lights shone through even the thick material. She wondered if that was why Thomas avoided wearing anything longer than a pair of shorts. It would feel weird wearing something, knowing that others could see the lights under it. Renni knew her friend struggled daily with the hand fate had dealt him. When they’d talked about it, he reasoned that he didn’t feel the cold of the winter air. His nerves had suffered too much damage. Clothing didn’t really matter when it no longer had a purpose.
No more nightmares came after Thomas had used the newly restored rod on her. Sleep now came easily without medical aid and though she fought the memories while awake, she at least had peace at night.
During the short intervals of consciousness, she found it difficult to not think about the bear and what the Mongerers had done to it, just as they had done to Thomas. With savage experimentations on animals and humans alike, the Mongerers were doing anything to add to their ranks. The bear had been naturally built to withstand the cold. The fireflies weren’t. That was why it had been altered and sent to follow her though the mountains. Or so she reasoned, alone in the dark.
That night was the first night she couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t dreams or nightmares that kept her awake. It was boredom. Renni felt restless. She wanted to do something. After months of surviving on her own, she hated sitting in a bed letting her body heal. She half considered trying walking on her own and shifted her legs in the bed, feeling the slight additional weight on her left side.
The door to the room slid open with a faint hiss. A pale light gradually illuminated the tiny space, casting soft shadows on the white walls. Renni nodded to Marshal, dressed in full armor. So far, she had yet to see him without it. In his smooth, cat-like grace, he strode towards her and sat in the chair Thomas usually occupied.
“You should sleep,” he said, his raspy voice concerned. “Should heal.”
“Can’t sleep.” She shifted again in the bed, lifting her leg slightly to test its weight. Maybe Marshal could help her get out of the bed and onto her own two feet.
“No. Just… bored. I feel useless,” she growled, setting the leg down again. A dull, aching pain throbbed from where metal met flesh.
“No useless. Useful. Renni good Harbinger. Fight Mongerers like Marshal. Renni good fighter.” He touched the blanket over her leg, his long fingers encased in a thick leather looking glove.
“Had it not been for you, I would have died both times.”
“You live long time alone. Without help.” He turned his face to hers. She could not make out his eyes through the mask. Every inch of him was covered in the thick plate armor. Renni thought back to the first time she’d seen him, how he’d fought the swarms with such elegance and skill. It would have been quite the show to see him fight the bear. Her hand reached out to the gloved one. Marshal pulled away before she could touch him.
“I’m sorry,” she said, turning away.
“No.” He grasped her hand, comforting warmth radiating from beneath the glove. “No, no sorry. No reason for sorry.” He touched her face with his other hand and turned her to face him. As he did when they’d first met, he pointed to himself and said, “Harbinger.” He then pointed to her and repeated the word.
“I think I understand now. We’re all Harbingers, aren’t we? Those who survive the Mongerers? We’re all messengers?”
“Not just messenger. We Marshals and Phys’ too. Harbingers work. Harbingers save.”
“Your names, they aren’t really names, are they? They're more titles. Phys is a doctor, a physician. And you, you marshal the survivors. You’re a shepherd.”
He nodded, mimicking the human gesture. Marshal let go of her hand. With his long fingers, he reached behind his head. Renni heard a faint click and hiss as the fingers moved away, pulling the armored mask with them.
“No be afraid,” he whispered.