Family are those who hold your hand as you pass from this world and into the next.
— Achyoni Kekināmi
Every part of Linsan's body ached. She couldn't isolate one pain from the other, it felt like she had been battered from all angles and then tossed off a cliff.
“W-What….” Her tongue didn't move as easily as she thought it would and the words stumbled from her lips. “What happened?”
Linsan shook her head to clear the haze before she realized the seat of the buggy had been tilted at a strange angle. Before she knew it, she started to slide forward toward the dash. The impact caught her shoulder and sent a sharp wave of pain sparking along her nerves.
Grunting, she braced herself and held herself still until her vision sharpened and she could inspect her surroundings.
The buggy had fallen hood-first into the crater that Gabaw had created. The impact had crumpled the front and ruined the tires. One of the axles had been twisted until the end pointed straight up. Weak trails of steam rose from dozens of cracked joints.
“Oh, shit,” Linsan said in a hoarse voice. She peered down, found a safe spot, and then planted her feet to lever herself up and out of the seat.
The violin against her chest began to slip away and she clutched it. A broken string cut into her skin and she froze. “Shit!”
Holding herself still, she inspected the violin in fear that she had cracked the Sterlig. When she saw deep gouges in the wood, she cringed. With tears in her eyes, she used her fingertips to inspect each one in fear that the violin had been pierced.
Finding no damage, she flipped it over and tried not to think about the sinking sensation in her stomach. More cuts and scrapes marred the almost priceless instrument.
Linsan didn't find any serious damage in the violin. The bow, on the other hand, had been snapped in two and she had lost two of the strings. Tears burned in her eyes as she looked at the damage; it would be almost impossible to replace either in a rural community.
“Damn. Damn.” Her hands trembled and tears painted her cheeks. She looked around with a sudden need to escape the ruined buggy. Spotting a flattened area, she carefully set her violin down on it and then pried herself free. As soon as she could dig her fingers into the scorched earth of the crater, she retrieved her violin and staggered away from the wreckage.
Linsan made it a few yards before she remembered her companion. “Shit,” she muttered. “Brook? Brook!”
Clutching her instrument, she hurried back to the hole and peered down. Her eyes scanned looking for Brook or even the bright colors of her dress. When she didn't spot her friend, she circled around the crater calling out to her.
Brook sat a short distance away on the far side of the crater. Her yellow-green dress was torn and shredded, exposing a generous amount of bare thigh and bloody scrapes. Her dark hair spilled out over her shoulders except where a few strands clung to the rough bark of the tree at her back.
“Brook!” Linsan rushed over. She dropped to her knees and peered at her friend.
With her face tilted up into the noon, Brook's cheeks glistened with her tears. Her red-rimmed eyes focused on the leaves above her but she didn't move except for a pulse along her slender neck.
Linsan's chest felt tight. “B-Brook?”
Brook let out a long shuddering breath.
“Are you safe?” Linsan glanced down. Seeing the still-crimson wound, she reached out for it with a shaking hand. Her fingertips pressed lightly a few inches away.
“S-Sorry. I wanted to see how badly you're hurt.”
Without looking down, Brook gestured to her other side where strips of her dress had been bundled up. The fabric had been stained and soaked crimson. Then she lifted her injured leg and flexed it. The heel on her shoe creaked and swung independently with only two nails keeping it in place.
“Good, no broken bones. Nothing else?”
Linsan waited for a response but there was only an uncomfortable silence. Behind them, something in the buggy gave and she could hear metal scraping as it settled further into the smoldering hole.
“Brook? Please, just say something.” Linsan reached out for her friend's face. “I need you to be okay.”
A fresh tear rolled down Brook's cheek. She was just on the edge of crumbling, judging from her struggles to keep her face smooth.
Brook let out a long, shuddering wail. Clamping her eyes tightly shut, she reached out blindly for Linsan. Her fingers patted Linsan's thigh before gripping it and pulling herself away from the tree.
Linsan crawled forward to pull Brook into a tight hug.
After a second of hesitation, Brook buried her face into Linsan's shoulder before letting out a long, shuddering wail. “I lost my Daddy!”
Linsan's heart strained at the pitiful sound. She opened her mouth to say something but the words froze. There was nothing to compare to the agony in Brook's voice. Instead, she closed her eyes and held Brook tightly as the tears wracked her friend's body.
“I couldn't catch him. I tried so hard, I… I couldn't do it.”
Linsan stroked Brook's hair. “It's okay.”
“No.” Brook sobbed. “It won't ever be okay. I broke everything, There is no way we can catch up now.” Her body continued to shake against Linsan.
“We'll fix the car.”
“It's in a hole! A Couple-damned hole! We aren't ever getting out of this!”
“We'll find them.” Linsan sniffed on the edge of tears herself. “We know where they live. Even if we have to stay here and watch the place, we can wait. We aren't going to give up.”
The words between the faltered and Linsan kept holding Brook until the shuddering stopped.
Then silence, punctuated by sniffs and tears.
Finally, Brook spoke. “They'll sell your violin.”
Freezing for a second, Linsan thought about Palisis. There was no question the murderers were going to sell it now. She looked down. “It's just a violin.”
“An expensive one.” Brook lifted her head to look into Linsan's eyes. Her red-rimmed eyes shimmered with tears. “Not even Daddy's wealth could afford Palisis, no one in town could. You…” her lips parted to say something else, but then a strange look crossed her face. Then she lifted her head slightly.
Linsan became aware of how close their bodies were. Pressed up against each other, there was no mistaking the warmth of Brook's body nor the way their curves ground against each other.
Brook took a deep breath. Her breath came in short pants. Her eyes were wide as they stared directly into Linsan's. Her lips pursed for a moment and she inched closer.
If Linsan didn't know better, she would have thought Brook was steeling herself up to kiss Linsan. Her cheeks began to burn with her thoughts.
“It-it's just a violin,” Linsan stammered. She froze. It felt like she had just jammed a dagger into her own gut. She was talking about never seeing Palisis again, losing her family legacy forever to the thieves.
The look in Brook's eyes faded. She shook her head as fresh tears ran down her cheeks. “My fault. I lost my daddy. My fault.”
“No, no,” Linsan said quickly. She hugged Brook tighter. “It was us. We did this and we're going to finish it.”
“How?” came the whimpering cry.
Linsan moved her hands to cradle Brook's chin and cheeks with both hands. She stared into her friend's eyes. “I promise. Come water or winds or flame, I swear on my blood, we will hunt down those men and bring them to justice.”
Brook trembled in her grip. “H-How?”
Linsan blinked past her own tears. “I don't know yet. But we will. Somehow.”
Brook took a deep breath and then buried her face into Linsan's shoulder again. Her sobs wracked her body but the sharpness had faded.
Unable to do anything else, Linsan held her friend and said nothing more.