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Cujo ran.

Ran as fast as his stocky, cargo-covered legs could carry him. Heavy boots landed loud and echoing in the empty stone corridor. His lungs burned with dry, dusty air.

He had to stop. Just for a second.

Cujo ducked into some dark, narrow crevice.

Blood thundered in his ears.

He felt small. So small.

 

He heard the clamoring of the other Boys. Their taunting. Their laughing.

Aww, come on, Pup! We didn't mean nothin' by it!

Come on out, lil puppy! We ain't gonna hurt ya!

Where are ya, mutt? Hidin' someplace soft, I bet!

 

His chest was tight. So tight. His insides were shaking. He wanted to vomit.

But that would only tell them where he was. Screaming,

Here! Here!

A death sentence.

Alone in the dark.

Mediocre.

No one would ever find him.

No one would ever look.

 

Cujo heard them mumbling, war cries dying down, clomping of boots growing faint.

They'll stop looking in a minute. For now; breathe.

Cujo splayed a hand across his chest, pushing in and out, forcing his body to follow the same rhythm.

He inspected his damage.

A broken rib.

Two.

Three.

Maybe four.

A bloody nose.

A split lip.

A twisted elbow.

A ringing ear.

He couldn't tell which one.

Maybe both.

A half-dislocated shoulder.

And more bruises than he could count on his fingers and toes.

 

Cujo leaned against the cold-warm stone that had hidden him.

He wished he could disappear into it. He wished it would swallow him up and keep him there forever.

No one would ever find him.

No one would ever look.

 

Now that the heat of the chase had worn off, he began to feel the pain.

Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes of their own accord.

His shoulder ached.

Soft.

 

Clang!

Cujo's heart froze in his chest.

Run.

Run.

His guts told him.

 

Cujo slipped from his crevice. He choked down a cry as his shoulder knocked against the unforgiving stone.

You're soft.

The walls whispered.

Mediocre.

They should've come and finished you off.

 

Cujo moved as fast as he dared, bare feet a soft pat-pat-patting on the ground. His cargo pants rustled around his skinny thighs. He hurt all over.

 

An offshoot of the hallway offered him asylum.

Gather his bearings.

Lick his wounds.

Realize he was lost.

He had never been this deep in the heart of the Citadel before.

 

As his mind was flooded with relief, the promise of sanctuary from this throbbing hurt, he overlooked the flickering light there.

He rounded the corner, hunched over, cradling his abused shoulder, nose still drip-drip-dripping blood.

His body stopped before his mind did.

Big, dark eyes stared back at him.

Cujo's breath cut short.

Cornered.

 

The boy was long and skinny. Unnaturally so. His pants barely stayed up, even with a belt.

Years of living on nothing but lizard meat will do that.

 

His skin was dark under caked, white clay.

Flat, broad lips.

Sharp everywhere else.

Protruding bones.

Big, dark eyes.

Long, nimble fingers stained with soot and axle grease.

A Blackthumb.

Revhead.

Those big, dark eyes studied him.

Cujo was shaking.

His nose was still bleeding.

 

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

 

Something happened.

Behind the big, dark eyes.

 

They didn't soften.

But, they

Recognized.

Recognized something.

 

Cujo watched as the skinny boy unclipped something from his belt.

A canteen.

The boy held the canteen out to him.

 

"Just try not to get too much blood in it."