Kanna’s body disappeared. She was living instead in the body of the giant.
And the giant’s hands were clawing at the ground. Those fingernails in front of Kanna’s eyes were wasted almost to the nub because they had been filed down on the stone floor. Her bones felt heavy. She was dragging herself. She was scraping her naked belly against the jagged pebbles beneath her, and her screams rang through the cavern, and every sound that burst against the walls made the inside of Kanna’s head—of Goda’s head—feel hollow.
Goda was reaching towards the light. Inch by agonizing inch, she was forcing her way closer to the threshold, to the mouth that was bordered with swirling snakes along its shadows. The giant’s muscles nearly locked. The veins on her forearms were bulging and throbbing. She heaved herself with one final effort through the gateway and into the rays of the hot sun.
Blinded, she cried out again. Her lungs were raw. Her voice echoed through the wide desert, but there was no one there to hear her.
* * *
All that Kanna could see anymore was a glare of light, because the sun was striking her right in the face. She blinked and squinted. She felt some movement against her right hand, and so she made a motion to turn her head, but her neck felt so sore that she quickly thought better of it.
With narrowed eyelids, she managed to turn her gaze as far as she could without moving anything else, and she saw that a pair of large hands were clasped against her cuff. One of those hands was holding her wrist down against the dirt, the other was turning the key—and then lifting the latch to start opening the cuff.
Kanna gasped. All her senses returned at once. Her heart pounding wildly in her chest, she lifted her left hand and smacked it against her bonds and covered the latch with her palm.
“No!” she croaked out. “What are you doing? What are you doing?”
But even in the stupor of just having awakened into mundane reality, she could see what Goda was doing: the giant was about to commit suicide.
Goda ripped Kanna’s hand away from the cuff. “Imbecile!” the giant was shouting, digging her fingers under the latch again even as Kanna struggled. “Are you trying to shock yourself to death?”
“Are you?” Kanna screamed. She suddenly found the inner strength to push herself up onto her side. She was still in pain, but she consciously allowed it and accepted it and welcomed it, and because of that it didn’t seem to hurt as much as it had before.
And because of that, she was also able to grasp Goda’s fingers without hesitation and dig her nails deep into the skin.
Goda winced and stopped moving, though she didn’t pull away. She looked Kanna right in the eyes. “If you’re hellbent on resisting the shocks until you die, then I’m taking the cuff off! Stop fighting me, idiot!”
“I want the cuff! Can’t you see I want it? Leave it on me!” Kanna yelled, her mind racing, her blood rushing up to her ears. She kicked her legs and waved her arms and writhed around so that Goda lost her grip. “It’s a part of my body now! Leave it! Leave it! I’ll bite your hand and tear into your flesh like a dog if I have to!”
It was only a second later that Kanna realized that she had grown so hysterical, that she had started shouting at Goda in Upperlander. Still, she didn’t care; the words were spilling out on their own, and she didn’t think they were for Goda’s sake anymore.
“Fuck you!” Kanna launched herself up, and in one fluid motion she punched Goda on the side of the neck, which made the giant recoil with a growl. “Let me go, you bastard! I want to be a slave! I want it! Can’t you see?”
“What’s going on? What is she saying?” a voice called out from a short distance away, somewhere closer to the road. She heard two pairs of feet beating against the ground, but when she looked towards the direction of the noise, the twins came to a scraping halt as soon as they had glanced at Kanna’s face.
Kanna did not know what their panicked expressions meant, but she was glad they weren’t interfering. She gnashed her teeth and turned back to Goda and shot her fist towards the giant’s face once again.
This time, though, Goda caught it with her hand and squeezed Kanna’s knuckles until Kanna cried out in pain. But she did not back down. She stretched up onto her knees, trying to wrench her hand free, trying to fight the giant off.
Then Kanna stopped.
Because the giant was crouched, she was able to lurch her face forward until her nose was just a hair from Goda’s own, her eyes widened with rage and passion. The both of them pushed against each other in a static tension, the muscles of one body adding force to the other, but neither overtaking. Their joined hands trembled with the effort of balance. She knew that Goda was holding back her strength. She knew that Goda could break her fingers at any moment if she wanted to.
The dirt they had kicked up was billowing up all around them in the midst of their intense stillness. It was like a curtain that was opening up, waving around and between them.
But Kanna did not grow distracted. She kept her eyes locked on Goda’s furious stare.
“Hurt me,” Kanna sneered through gritted teeth, consciously switching back to Middlelander. “Hurt me if you want—but I’m not letting you steal my cuff. It’s all I have. You’re all I have. You’re not taking that away from me.”
Goda let her go. Because the balance of tension shifted so quickly, Kanna fell forward into the dirt with the force of her own exertion. She pressed her hands on the ground and looked up at Goda with hatred; the woman had already stood up and started turning towards the truck.
“If you don’t want me to rip that cuff off your wrist,” the giant said, “then you’ll wear the rope again along with it.”
“What?” Kanna jumped to her feet, even with the pain still radiating from the core of her bones. “I’m not wearing anything. You can take that rope and shove it up your—”
Goda jerked her head around to face Kanna again. Her eyes were alive with rage and the previous emptiness had been swallowed by fire. “You will wear what I tell you to wear. You will do what I tell you to do. You are my slave!”
The sound of the giant’s booming voice made a shudder rush through the whole of Kanna’s body, and it was almost as hot and searing as the shocks had been. All at once, she was racked with fear.
But she felt the fear. She felt the fear that happened on its own, and in those seconds that seemed to drag on as she watched the giant leaving her, the fear oozed from her gut into her legs and arms. It morphed into something else—something that made her heart jolt again, that made her lungs feel numb with a widening void.
It shocked her so much, that she didn’t move until Goda had come back with the rope in her hands. The giant was clasping the cord tight and taut, like a garrote, but this didn’t alarm Kanna anymore. Kanna felt her breath returning; she felt it swelling and rushing out of her smoothly.
When Goda reached over to tie the rope, Kanna held her hands up to meet her. The giant looked at her with a bit of bewilderment, but did not pause, and she busied herself looping the bonds around Kanna’s joined wrists.
Kanna smiled when she caught the giant’s eye again. The smile turned into a grin, and this time Goda did stop. She looked at Kanna with a question on her face.
Kanna laughed. It was crazed—she sounded like a lunatic, she knew, like she had swallowed every drug in the Bou twins’ supply—and it rattled against the trees and scared some more of the birds, but she couldn’t stop.
She laughed and laughed, even though she wasn’t at all amused, and she already felt tears beginning to leak out from the corners of her eyes.
“You love me,” Kanna rasped, between the heaves that stuttered out of her chest beyond her control. She looked up at Goda, whose hands were still wrapped around Kanna’s wrists, and she put as much ridicule as she could in her voice. She wanted to rub it in Goda’s face. “You love me! You love me so much, you’ll fight with me over who gets to die first!” Kanna’s whole body shook. The water finally started to gush from her eyes in earnest, but she kept them locked on Goda still and she did not turn away with any shame.
Goda stood before her, anchored in place like a statue. She stared back at Kanna, unblinking, unreadable. After awhile, she opened her mouth slowly.
* * *
The journey in the back of the truck was rougher than before, because Kanna’s hands were bound. She couldn’t brace herself anymore every time they hit a bump—and there were many. Goda had forced her to lie down, and she had stretched Kanna’s arms over her head, and she had snaked the rope over to the front seat and anchored it to something there, so that Kanna had no chance to scheme about how to free herself.
Kanna had quit trying to tug at the rope. However, she did tilt her head back, and she stared at that upside down image of the back of the giant’s head, and she hurled insults at the woman as they sped down the road. She screamed against the wind so that the giant would hear her. She called Goda blasphemous names in Middlelander—the few that she knew—and when she ran out of those, she switched to Upperlander and called her things that she had never called anyone before.
The Bou twins sat huddled in the opposite corner of the truck bed, and they stared down at her with startled gazes. They didn’t seem to know what to do. They made no move to help her or untie her, but Kanna did not blame them, because she couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t lash out at them irrationally if they did.
She felt like a caged beast. The moment Goda would let her go, she thought, she would strike one last time. She would reach for that giant’s ugly face and she would dig her fingers into those surfaceless eyes until she felt blood rolling down her hands.
The truck sped faster and the air bashed against Kanna’s face harder, and it felt like this was Goda’s own hand buffeting her against the cheek. She gritted her teeth and yelled louder and louder, to compensate for the noise, to compensate for the fact that she could barely move anymore. As the light in the sky grew fainter, her throat became raw, and her cries grew weaker, and she let herself grow limp on the bed of the truck. When it was completely dark, she shut her mouth and allowed herself to rest, so that she would have the strength to insult Goda some more later.
They rushed through the darkness without stopping for a long time. Once the light had waned enough that Kanna had to concentrate to make out the twin faces nearby, she gave up on seeing, and she closed her eyes.
She didn’t know how much time had passed when she found herself opening them again. They had pulled over to the roadside. It was the dead of night, but because her eyes were fully adjusted, she could see Goda’s face in the moonlight as the giant turned to face the back of the truck. Goda’s stare was aimed directly at the Bou twins.
“Leave,” Goda said.
The twins scrambled to grab some of the spare blankets and mats, though they left the rest of their belongings in their haste, and they stepped over Kanna and jumped out of the truck. Kanna could hear them murmuring to each other as their footfalls hit the grass. She heard them step away, but it wasn’t far, and she figured that the group had stopped to sleep.
But Kanna decided that she wouldn’t sleep anymore. Instead, she would spend her energy trying to think of a way to bust Goda’s cuff from her wrist. If I can squirm my way out of these binds, she thought, then I can tie Goda up in her sleep, and I can find a knife and saw her hand off and take the cuff off safely that way. She won’t like it, but it will free her.
Just as she was in the midst of these morbid thoughts, however, the giant stepped over the divide between them. The truck bounced around with Goda’s heavy movements and Kanna watched her intently without saying anything. The giant crouched over her, straddled Kanna’s hips, lowered some of her weight onto Kanna’s body, but not so much that Kanna felt crushed.
Kanna took in a sharp breath. Conflicting sensations broiled together in her body. Kanna felt the urge at first to resist them, but then she gave into instinct, and she felt herself relaxing just slightly into the touch. She allowed herself to feel the warmth of Goda’s thighs on either side of her.
She met Goda’s dreamy gaze. The direct moonlight coming down from the cloudless sky made the giant’s eyes look silver, and it added a bluish tint to her faint, meaningless smile. Kanna felt that she had the giant’s full attention. It made Kanna uncomfortable, even though it was still the only thing she wanted.
Goda slipped a hand into her own robes. Kanna tried to crane her neck to see, but pulled back instantly when she saw that the giant had pulled out a knife.
“Ah,” Kanna managed to croak out in a soft voice, because her throat was still on fire. She let her head fall back onto the truck bed with a smack. She bit her lip with a mix of curiosity and fear. The truth was that Goda was still so unpredictable—that reality itself had become so unpredictable—that Kanna couldn’t rule out the possibility that she was about to take her last breath.
Just in case, Kanna tilted her head back some more to expose her neck. If something was going to finally kill her, she thought, then she wanted it to be Goda’s knife in her throat.
But Goda shifted a little to reach into one of Kanna’s pockets with her free hand and Kanna felt herself twitch again with surprise. With only the thin fabric separating them, she felt the giant’s fingers lightly brushing the space between her leg and her hip as that hand rummaged around. It excited some of the nerves there—which had already awoken to Goda’s presence, Kanna realized—and she felt the edges of shame swirling up inside of her. This time, though, because she had noticed the shame, she let herself feel it. She almost liked it.
The touch didn’t last long; the giant pulled out one of the fruits that Kanna had stored in her clothes hundreds of thousands of paces earlier, when they had stood by the tree. Goda stabbed the pome with her knife, which sent sweet-smelling juice sprinkling down on Kanna’s face. She cut a piece off the flesh.
“What are you doing?” Kanna finally whispered. “What are you—”
The giant forced a piece of fruit into her mouth. Kanna immediately spit it out.
“What…the hell!” Kanna said between coughs. The resistance in the muscles of her throat had made some of the juice trickle in the wrong way. “What are you doing to me?”
“In the middle of the night?” Kanna exclaimed, with as much strength as she could muster. When she thought about it for a second, though, she had to admit that it was as good a time as any. She actually wasn’t entirely sure when Middlelanders tended to have their meals, since she hardly ever saw Goda eat.
But she wasn’t hungry.
“This journey has been long and taxing on you. You’ll need your strength when we get to Suda, and I don’t have time to feed you while I drive. Eat it.” Goda cut up a smaller piece, as if the size had been Kanna’s objection, and she pressed it again to Kanna’s lips.
Kanna turned her head to refuse it. “If you’re going to be fasting, Giant, then I want to be empty as well. The only thing I want inside of me is you.” After the last few words slipped from her mouth without full intention, she glanced up quickly to study Goda’s face.
The giant had paused. She was staring down at Kanna with a rush of intensity. “No,” she said.
“You’re a coward.” The anger from before was returning. “Here I am, tied and helpless, and still you won’t take advantage of me, even though you want to. I know you do. Now that I know that it’s there, I can feel it faintly pressing against me through your clothes, and I know you don’t lack the desire. If we really are going to face some apocalyptic end in Suda, then at least give me what I want now before it’s too late for us.”
“That won’t solve any of your problems.”
“You’re my only problem, Goda.”
The giant was completely still again, quiet again for a long moment. “I could say the same, though I know it isn’t true. You’re a delusion. You’re a demon sent from the Goddess to tempt me on the final stretch. It hasn’t been easy. You are a very convincing hallucination.” Goda’s face was mostly blank, but something curious vibrated underneath the surface that Kanna couldn’t yet read. “A very beautiful one.”
Kanna let out a breath. Her heart pounded noticeably faster. Her mind replayed the words a few times. “Then let’s run away from this,” she whispered to the giant. “Stop torturing yourself and stop torturing me. We can find a way to get rid of the cuff. Even cutting your hand off is preferable to this life, don’t you think? The Bou twins will help us. We can take it off quickly tonight and throw it in some hole and the cuff can shock your lifeless wrist while we flee deep into the desert or into some obscure part of the Upperland. The government won’t know you escaped. They’ll think you just failed and died, like they wanted you to do.”
Goda shook her head. “Then what?”
It seemed like Goda hadn’t expected an answer, but Kanna delivered anyway: “We can live. I know it’s hard to hide who you are—since a lot of people know what you did, and certainly the soldiers and priestesses will recognize your face—but if we leave the Middleland, it will be easier. We can get married. We can live out the rest of our days as normal people.” Kanna stopped there, because her own proposal had been unexpected and it had just rushed out of her mouth with the rest of the words—but she did not disagree with it in retrospect. She hoped that it had sounded casual enough. She could pretend that marriage meant as little to her as it seemed to the Middlelanders.
Goda’s smile spread open a little. “Sometimes I do wish I was that sort of person,” she murmured. “Sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if life had unfolded in a different way. But it unfolded this way. It is still unfolding—and I’m not going to fight the will of the Goddess. You call me a coward, and it’s true that I’m afraid, but I’m going to face what I have to face nonetheless. And the monster I will face is in Suda. If I don’t do this, then I will spend the rest of my natural life running from shadows and demons. Like you said yourself, it would be preferable to cut off a part of me than to live a life of torture.” She looked down at her cuff-clad wrist, at the metal that shined in the moonlight. “But it’s not my hand that has caused me to sin, so it’s not my hand that I’ll be cutting off.”
The giant leaned away, and dismounted Kanna’s hips. She tucked the fruit back into Kanna’s pocket and stepped back over to the driver’s seat without another word.
* * *
In spite of her efforts to stay awake, Kanna had been sleeping again, and a rustling sound had roused her all of a sudden. There was a scraping next, then the puff of a flash fire eating through something. A bright light erupted somewhere close by, but then it dimmed in a split second. Kanna could still see the glow after, so with a lot of effort, she pushed herself up, and she tried to wrestle with the rope so that she could half-sit with her gaze pointing over the side of the truck.
Because she was so tired, her brain struggled to make sense of what she was seeing. A flame danced near the ground, seemingly suspended over the earth, trapped in a cage of glass.
She rubbed her eyes against her arm and looked again. The smell of fuel that hit her nose helped her wake up some more.
Goda had lit an ethanol lantern, and she was sitting, leaning against the outside of the truck, her satchel resting in her lap, her hands around a steel baton.
No, it was a scroll.
The giant untied the leather band and let the scroll fall open in front of her. Even in the dim light, Kanna could see the etchings in Old Middlelander; she could see that it was the same document that Taga had thrown on the floor of the cabin after claiming that she couldn’t read it.
“This is why you had me study Parama’s textbook, isn’t it?” Kanna murmured.
Goda tilted her head back slightly, as if she were pointing an ear closer to Kanna’s direction, as if she were a wildcat that had noticed some far-off sound. She didn’t reply, though.
“I know both Middlelander and Upperlander,” Kanna said a little louder, “so you thought I could decipher it.”
The giant let out a deep sigh, but her gaze remained forward, on the surface of the scroll. “It was one of the few possessions they allowed me to keep after my arrest—and the most dangerous. The only reason it slipped past the notice of the authorities is because soldiers are the ones who search you for contraband, and soldiers are usually too uneducated to know Old Middlelander script. I lied and said it was a religious heirloom from my higher mother. They didn’t know the difference.” She took the scroll between her hands and rolled it back up in one fluid movement; the leather seemed to naturally want to flow closed, as if it were used to being hidden. “I’m not gifted with languages. After spending all that time in the desert, I can barely even speak a word or two of Outerlander, and I’m not very smart, so even if I somehow got lucky and found an Upperlander tutor—which is extremely rare—I doubt I would learn enough in my lifetime to read this. Instead, I spent years trying to find someone who could tell me what the rest of the scroll said. Even Parama could not make sense of it. I’ve stared and stared at it many times, but it could all be gibberish and I wouldn’t know.”
To Kanna’s surprise, the giant lifted her arm up over her head, and she passed the scroll towards Kanna. Not knowing what else to do, Kanna struggled to reach over the edge of the truck, and she clasped her bound hands around the thick parchment.
“You should have it now,” Goda said. “There’s nothing I can really do with it. I think the only reason I held onto it for so long was because Taga had touched it not long before she died. It’s the same as the pendant that I took from her body. It’s just a superstitious token, a charm. The stories I told myself about it were more important than any actual use. I deluded myself.”
Kanna didn’t know what to say at first. She squeezed her fingers around the scroll and felt the layers that swirled in circles underneath. “I know what you mean.” Kanna’s tone came out with more sadness than she had intended. “I used to have tokens like that, too, until they took everything from me and I had nothing except for the clothes on my back—and then they took that, too. I thought to myself, what’s left of me? Who am I without all these things? But that didn’t last because that was just the very outer layer and the deeper layers were more terrifying still. I got used to not having any material things really quickly, so then I had no choice but to ask myself, ‘Am I the skin that I’m wearing? Well, if that’s true, then who is the I that is wearing it? Fine, then I’m the muscles. But then who is wearing the muscles? And the bone? And the marrow in the bones? Am I in the marrow, then? Or am I the brain that is thinking about the marrow? If so, which part? Could I point to it?’ I asked myself all these things for those weeks that they held me in the confinement center before you arrived to take me away. I sat alone in my cell and stared at the wall.”
Goda had pressed the back of her head to the steel of the truck. She was tilting her neck back and looking up at Kanna intently.
“I asked myself and asked myself, and I couldn’t figure out the answer, even with all that time to think,” Kanna said. “So I realized I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was; and I realized it had nothing to do with being smart or dumb at all. You just either saw the answer or you didn’t; somehow I knew I would have to go beyond my mind to find it. I also knew I couldn’t ask anyone else, because they didn’t know the answer either. Besides, they would think I was crazy just for asking.” Kanna met Goda’s gaze, and though the giant’s form had morphed again into that of a wild animal with wide, shining eyes in the dark, Kanna wasn’t afraid. “You were the one who finally answered my question. I didn’t even ask you directly at first, but you knew what I was asking anyway. Your words didn’t make sense back then, but they make more sense now.”
“Then why do you still resist me?” Goda asked. Her tone held no trace of accusation or frustration. She sounded merely curious.
“Because life has forced me to play this game with you, and so I decided that I would be your antagonist. Just because you were right about one thing doesn’t mean you’re right about everything, Giant. If there’s a chance that we can still escape, then I will take it. We still have time. We’re not in Suda yet, so I can still drag my feet and resist you.” Kanna couldn’t suppress a smile. “It’s the only thing I know how to do well.”
The giant pointed up at the scroll. “You can read.”
“I can do that, too, but I’m still an amateur. I’d rather spend my time fighting you and trying to sabotage your efforts. The risk is higher, but so are the rewards because I’m good at it.”
Goda reached over and flicked a switch on the lamp. The light died in an instant. When Goda stood up, Kanna could feel the giant dropping the lantern in the truck bed beside her, some fuel spilling out in the process and filling the air with spirits once again.
It was making Kanna feel a little drunk.
Goda leaned over the steel divide between them and she pressed a kiss to Kanna’s mouth in the dark. Kanna accepted it eagerly, leaned into it, inhaled the breath that rushed out of Goda’s nostrils.
“I’ll fight you,” Kanna said as Goda broke away.
“I know.” The giant hopped over the driver’s side door without opening it, and she climbed into the front seat to lie down.
“You might never set foot in Suda for the rest of your life. I might force you to change your mind.”
“I could die trying.”
“I’ll make myself so hard to ignore, so irresistible, such a massive temptation, that you’ll kick the Bou twins out the side of the truck while it’s in mid-motion, and you’ll tear away at my clothes with your claws, and you’ll spill all of what you have inside of me.”
Goda laughed. “Shut up.”
* * *
Because it was barely dawn when they set out again, Kanna felt exhausted before she had even opened her eyes. She looked up at the twins with irritation, as their chattering—and the plumes of cigar smoke that mixed with truck exhaust—made it hard for her to go back to sleep. The early sun painted the sky and the twins and the metal of the truck bed with many pleasant colors, but it did little to help Kanna’s bad mood.
She had dreamt about Goda the night before. They had both been naked in the dream. It had been a frustrating experience because it had ended just as things were becoming interesting, and to top it all off, now that she was awake and no longer invested in playing the role of a dream character, she realized that, in the dream, she had been Parama Shakka.
She couldn’t be certain if it had come from her imagination or if it was another taunting vision of the past. She would have to ask Goda about it later, she thought.
Kanna tried to roll over into a more comfortable position, one where the sun was not hitting her eyes, because perhaps she could curl up and fall back into the same dream.
The Bou twins noticed her moving, though. They offered her their usual naive grins.
“Oh great, you’re awake!” Noa said. “We were worried you had passed out or something. We weren’t sure what the giant did to you during the night.”
“Nothing,” Kanna said. “Always nothing. She is nothing.”
Noa scratched her head. “Ah…well, that’s good, then.”
As Kanna gave up on sleeping and tried to sit up, she found the light was too bright already, and she shielded herself from it with her bound hands. “God,” she complained, “do you people ever actually sleep? We went to bed so late last night, and yet all of you are bouncing around at the crack of dawn as if nothing happened.”
Leina stared at her. “What do you mean? We always wake up at dawn as long as we get two full sleeps.”
Kanna squinted at them with renewed annoyance. “Two sleeps? What are you talking about? I barely had even one.”
Noa made the familiar gesture of putting her hand to her mouth when she leaned towards Leina, but again, instead of whispering, she said in a loud voice, “Foreigners are different, stupid. She doesn’t sleep normal!”
“Oh, right, right!”
Kanna let out a groan so loud that she noticed Goda turning to glance at her briefly from the corner of her eye. “Don’t tell there’s yet something else!” Kanna shouted. “Isn’t what you’ve told me enough? Why does everything have to be weird and different? Why can’t one, singular thing be predictable? Why can’t your women be women, and your food be edible, and your government collect taxes like normal instead of selling people’s chopped-up bodies for cash? Lord almighty, what is wrong with you people this time?”
A long silence spread after Kanna’s outburst.
“Uh…it’s really no big deal,” Leina said after putting out her cigar on the bed of the truck. She reached into one of the bags and pulled out some yaw. Because she began gnawing on her breakfast immediately, Kanna had to make an extra effort to parse the words: “It’s just that when we sleep at night, we wake up for about an hour in the middle, then go back to sleep. We call that time midnight, because it’s between two sleeps. That’s all.”
“Oh.” It was Kanna’s turn to be awkwardly quiet. She shifted her eyes around, her annoyance draining out of her and turning into slight embarrassment.
This at least explained why Middlelander clocks might have been different. It explained all at once why she had woken up so many times to find Goda wandering around in the middle of the night. It explained why Goda had so easily been roused when Kanna tried to escape in Karo. It also explained why the bath house had been so full and teeming with life when she had raced through it to get to the midnight train.
But then she thought about it more at length. “Your midnight is around two hours before sunrise, though,” she said. “How can that be in the middle? How does that work?”
Noa shrugged. “It works just like it sounds like it works. We don’t go to bed until it’s far past sundown, then we sleep for two hours, wake up for one, then we sleep another two.”
“Four hours of sleep?” Kanna shouted. “How do you manage that?” It was no wonder she was exhausted; she had unknowingly kept the same schedule as the Middlelanders, but hadn’t noticed because she had seen only a few clocks during the entire journey, and she could barely read them anyway.
This time, it was Leina who shrugged. She took a huge bite out of the yaw. “That’s just how it’s always been,” she said with her mouth full of poison.
* * *
As the sun began to wane and the sky began to transition again into a blood red that etched the corners of Kanna’s vision, Kanna noticed that the road had grown smoother over time. Instead of gravel, the wheels scraped against something more uniform, harder, less chaotic. That steady sound lulled her enough that her muscles grew heavy.
She tugged halfheartedly on the rope to turn herself over to her side—but of course it offered little slack in her direction, because it was anchored tightly on some point overhead, in a direction she refused to look, in the direction of the giant. She turned the other way.
She allowed herself to grow limp against the bed of the truck, and pressed her ear against the metal beneath her, and let the vibrations of the motor and the wheels silence her mind.
She had plenty of time to scheme later, she thought. She could drift off, fall out of the nightmare and into a dream, let go of the burdens that had churned in her mind all day and left her exhausted.
But just as she began to fall into that inner world, Noa’s voice exploded from the nightmare outside. The words were sharp enough that they made Kanna’s eyes snap open instantly.
“Hey, I think I see the lights of Suda coming out from behind that hill!”