There was air coming into the box. But that didn’t mean it was easy to breathe. Her chest was tight, her breaths coming in shallow and rapid, and her head swam. The time in which she was jostled about by movement felt endless while it was happening, then appeared to have taken no time at all once it was done. After that she was laid down flat somewhere, the only accompaniment to her own ragged breaths being the occasional low murmur of voices.
Piralael wasn’t on Novalis. The assembly had confirmed this using sky-watch, a live satellite image showing the entirety of the island from above which they had then switched over to infra-red. There was one concentrated heat source within the village hall, with everybody gathered, and innumerable spots too small to be human beings that frittered about the island’s forest, but nothing else. There was no other human being on the island beyond those in that room.
Kessimh’s neck was stiff and her toes were cold. She opened her eyes and blinked up at the trees which loomed over her, the small oval of open sky letting through just enough pre-dawn light to cast the world around her in a sickly grey colour. It was an effort to force herself up into a sitting position, and her reward was a nauseating pulse in her temples.
Getting to the hilltop wasn’t easy. It required a trek down a thin path being worried at on both sides by overgrown brambles, which followed a winding route downhill to a pebble-dashed beach. There was a broad cave several kilometres along, more like a tunnel since there was a way out the back to where a sheer cliff rose out of the water.
At nine years old, Piralael’s hair had reached halfway down her back, at the time its length and unusual colouring being her most outstanding features. When she was playing handball, she wore it in a tight braid, the majority of its length covered in mud and grime a state she found herself in more often than not when playing the game.