“I have to slow the bleeding.” Nat tore the loose cloth into strips and tucked them in the pocket of her duster, doing her best to shield his leg from the wind. There was enough sand already plastered to the wound as it was. She folded the last strip in thirds and pressed it against the wound.
Isin’s breath hissed out and his leg jerked.
She glanced up. “I need to tie this in place. Can you hold still?”
His jaw looked like it had been carved from stone. “I don’t know.”
At least he was being honest. He clearly wasn’t used to physical pain. “The less you move, the faster this will go.” She pulled a strip out of her pocket. “And we don’t have time to waste.”
He gave a tight nod. “Do what you have to.”
She wrapped the cloth around his calf and pulled it tight, creating pressure on the wound.
He started cursing, using words she wouldn’t have guessed he knew. The more strips she tied, the more colorful his language became. Her respect for him clicked up a notch.
“Yep.” It wasn’t pretty, but it would have to do for now. “You’re going to have to climb.” She pointed up the ridge. “We need to get out of sight before the Setarips show up.”
He stared at the steep incline, swallowing visibly. But he nodded. “I’ll follow you.” The tone of his voice had changed. More respectful. For the time being, he’d accepted she was in charge. That was progress.
But he was still overestimating his abilities. “You’ll walk with me. Otherwise you’re likely to topple over.” She grabbed his hand and rested it on her shoulder, then slipped her arm around his waist. “Lean on me.”
He stiffened, clearly uncomfortable using her for balance. “I don’t think—”
“Don’t think. Walk.” She urged him forward.
He took a step and stumbled as the sand gave way beneath his injured leg, knocking him into her.
“Save your breath. Just climb.”
He scowled, but didn’t argue. His weight bore down on her as they plowed their way through the sand. Good thing she spent most of her time hauling crates around. She needed the muscles she’d earned from hard labor. Even so, they moved like turtles. The voice in her head screamed at her to hurry, but she matched her pace to his. She couldn’t help it. Something had changed. Even though she’d be better off without him, she couldn’t make herself abandon him.
The crest of the ridge grew closer with each step. But a distant rumble drifted over from the mountain range like thunder. They both froze, turning in that direction.
She tightened her grip on his torso. “Faster.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. His breath punched in and out, but he kept up with her.
They forced their way to the top, their feet sliding in the sand as the roar grew steadily louder. Her foot caught on something and she tripped, dragging Isin down with her. They smacked the ground with matching grunts.
A metallic thud echoed from below.
Her fingers touched a smooth surface. Kneeling on all fours, she swiped furiously, clearing a section that revealed seams and a metal plate. Her gaze darted to the left, taking in the oddly symmetrical line of the dune they were standing on.
“It’s a ship! Find a way in!” She shoved sand by the handful, desperate to locate an entrance.
Isin worked beside her. “Here!” His shout was barely audible over the snarl of the approaching ship, but the sun’s rays glinted off the hatch he’d uncovered. The one she’d tripped over.
She grasped the handle and pulled. Nothing happened. “No, no, no!” She planted both feet firmly on the ship’s hull, and yanked. Still nothing.
Isin lurched to his feet and wrapped his hands over hers.
The blood rushed in her ears, deafening her.
The seal gave way abruptly. One moment she was standing, the next she had tumbled onto her back, Isin beside her. She rolled to her feet in a heartbeat. “Get inside!” She shoved Isin to the edge.
He followed her order, bracing his hands on the lip before lowering himself down.
She followed a millisecond behind, yanking the hatch closed with a bang as she dropped into the darkness.