The force of the landing jolted through me, making my head ring and my bones shake. With a concentrated effort I sat up, clinging to the wall for support. Breathing deeply, I tried to get the world into focus. The sound of footsteps drew closer; I could hear barked orders from inside the city. They were so close; a few feet away from me.
"Get away from the wall!" cried an apparently disembodied voice.
This is it; I've gone absolutely stir crazy. I thought to myself, with a slight groan.
A figure emerged from the undergrowth, running straight at me.
"Do you want the soldiers to get you? Move it!" Snapped the person. Another girl. I couldn't see her clearly through the evening gloom. She wore a cheaply made black coat, with the hood up. Through its folds I could see a long narrow face with sharply defined features and dark eyes. Her frame was solid and muscular despite her thinness.
Reaching out she grabbed my arm, dragging me back in the direction she had come from. I blinked stupidly, then followed.
"Get down!" She hissed at me.
"Huh?" I mumbled, half a sleep and incoherent.
She didn't bother to reply. Instead she simply flung herself to the ground, pulling me over with her. I lay perfectly still. My brain had quite simply switched off. I was blindly taking the path of least resistance.
I waited quietly, watching for something to happen. I could hear the soldiers arguing in the alley by the city wall. There was scrabbling and cursing and heavy bangs. After a few attempts one of the younger soldiers clambered onto the top of the wall. He sat astride it wobbling dangerously, shining a lantern on the ground. He held it carefully aloft, staring all around.
I held my breath, willing him not to see me. At last, he returned to his comrades at the bottom of the wall. There was laughter and grumbling that quickly gave way to silence. I lay there beside the strange girl for a long time, pressed into the wet mud, getting steadily more cold and miserable. It seemed like hours.
If I moved as much as a finger the girl glowered at me so fiercely I quaked inside. If looks could kill, hers would've.
Finally, we heard the soldiers marching away, their footsteps receding into the distance. I turned warily to the youth beside me.
"It's alright, you're safe," she murmured softly, a friendly, sympathetic smile on her lips. Pulling back her sleeves she bared her shoulder to reveal a tattoo. A green circle with a strange rune inside it. I'd seen a tattoo like that before. The girl I buried; the little one with the injuries. She had that exact mark. I swallowed back nerves.
"See? I'm with the resistance. And there's no need to ask about you. Why else would you flee here when chased by soldiers? Why else would the soldiers want to chase you in the first place?" She gave a short laugh, continuing in a comradely tone of voice.
"You know, I think we're finally staring to scare them. They know that if we work together we can beat them; and now we're talking about equality, freedom, putting an end to corruption."
There was real passion in how she spoke, almost fiercely hopeful. But it also had a quieter, more solid, reliable tone hidden beneath the fire. A smouldering heat that would not be quenched.
She gave a quick shrug, switching topics again.
"Anyway. Enough strategy and politics; you'll hear all that back at the base. I'm glad we moved the headquarters outside the walls; it's so much safer. The soldiers never cross the wall to look for us. This is our territory; we can talk without fear of being overheard. What were you doing in the city? Gathering intelligence? Sabotage? Recruitment? Go on, I want to hear all about it. Then we can head back to base together when my watch ends."
I stared at her, shock reverberating through my mind. What? Why? Who?
"We haven't met, have we? I'm Q, from the 3rd division. What's you name?"
I continued to stare at her blankly. She hesitated for a moment, then took hold of my arm, pulling back the sleeve. My skin was unmarked.
"You're not one of us," it was a simple statement spoken quietly with a touch of raw horror, "How much have I told you? Curse it! I didn't have a clue; how could I know? But now it'll be bad for both of us." She gushed miserably. She trembled from head to foot, her breath came out in heavy gasps.
I reached out to put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure it'll be fine." I said soothingly, wondering if the girl was mad.
"Fine?" She shouted. "You utter fool! It is death for an outsider to come to this place and hear the things I told you feely."