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Darkest Before Dawn (KGI #10)(14)
Author: Maya Banks

She pulled at the headdress until it pooled at her neck, and she breathed in, allowing the wind to blow through her hair. It was a heated wind, not a relief wind bearing cooler, sweeter air. But it helped to remove the sweat on Honor’s neck and scalp and would dry it from her hair before she pulled the material back up into place. She picked up the mirror with one hand and the penlight with the other, turning it on.

Her eyes were always the first thing she looked into. It gave her a measure of reassurance to know she was looking into her own eyes. Living eyes. It reminded her that she was a survivor.

She touched up places that likely didn’t need it, but she did so to give herself the illusion that she was making herself safer from detection. Then she turned her attention to her hair. Her greatest liability.

Her eyes were brown and while she was usually fairer skinned, her time here had burnished her skin, making it a darker brown, though she was still noticeably lighter than the native women. But her hair was blond. A dead giveaway. In her time of panic as she realized the problem of her hair when she’d been hastily collecting supplies from the relief center, she’d considered simply shaving it all off. But a bald woman would get every bit as much notice as a blond one, perhaps even more.

Thankfully, her brain kicked in and kicked her in the ass and then took over, shoving panic and all the chaotic emotions out so that her only focus was on her escape.

Once she was far enough away from the attack site to feel that she could stop and take the necessary time to complete her disguise, she vigorously rubbed henna into any skin that could be potentially exposed, even with the mountain of material covering her body. She paid special attention to her hands, ensuring that they appeared worn. She’d smeared dirt and even made small scratches and cuts to her fingers and knuckles, praying the antibiotics would ward off infection, in an effort to make them look like those of the older woman she pretended to be. She’d torn off the remaining fingernails. Most of them had been ripped to the quick when she’d dug herself free of the rubble. The bruises and damage she’d sustained during her digging aided her because with the swelling and abrasions, her hands appeared gnarled and misshapen.

Once she was satisfied that she’d done as good a job as she could disguising her flesh, she turned her focus to her biggest danger. Her hair.

She’d meticulously coated every strand of her hair in the dark dye and then carefully applied the color to her eyebrows. And when she was finished, she waited precious minutes she couldn’t afford for it to set in and then she repeated the process. And then a third time. It wasn’t the best job, nor was it that convincing, but she was banking on the fact that no one would see her without her hair covered, and all but her eyes was hidden by the headdress. If a stray strand somehow blew free, it would appear dark, and for the few seconds it took for her to conceal it once more, someone wouldn’t have time to truly study the color or judge its authenticity.

It was hard to see well with the tiny light source she used, and she didn’t bother to even use the penlight. It was too risky. Instead she reapplied the dye to her hair, being as thorough as she had been the first time and ensuring that not a single strand was missed.

Finally finished with the repairs to her protection, she tiredly reached into the bag to pull out a protein bar, the bottle containing the last ounces of her water and the antibiotics and painkillers.

She drank first, sucking greedily at the liquid but tempering the urge to drink it down to nothing. Then she quickly ate the protein bar and chased it down with a small sip. She’d learned the hard way not to take the antibiotic or the pain reliever on an empty stomach. The first day had been hell with an upset stomach, her knee throbbing and her having to stop to dry-heave more times than she could count.

After downing both medicines, she reached for the binding around her knee, the last task before she could close her eyes for a short time. She’d taken special care to wrap it tightly before she fled from the clinic and to use some of the precious room in her pack for an extra Ace bandage and antibiotic cream to use along with the oral antibiotics she was taking.

The swelling had lessened some and the vivid black bruise had turned to a ghastly-looking mixture of green and yellow, which relieved her. It didn’t appear to be anything serious like a fracture or dislocation. It was painful, definitely, but the tight wrap had enabled her to have mobility, something that wouldn’t have been possible for a prolonged period of time if it were broken or dislocated. Not to mention she would have been screaming in pain and unable to continue after that first arduous day when she hadn’t stopped for twenty-four hours.

She doctored the cuts, pressed around the kneecap to test for the degree of swelling and then deftly rebound it after using some of the sunburn aid, which contained the numbing agent lidocaine.

Although she needed her hands to appear beaten and weathered to keep up her appearance, she still applied topical antibiotic cream to the deepest lacerations because she couldn’t afford for them to become so infected that she became ill and was unable to keep traveling. Knowing she would—hopefully—replenish her waning water supply in the morning, she used almost all of the remaining liquid to cleanse the dirt and pieces of debris still embedded in the skin. She hadn’t dared pay attention to them, and until now, she’d been able to block out the discomfort of the embedded shards.

Now when she carefully pulled them free and poured the last of the antiseptic she carried with her over the wounds, she let out a hiss of pain and held her breath, simply breathing through it and compartmentalizing it just as she had everything else. After patting the areas clean, she rubbed the antibiotic ointment on each of the cuts and then wrapped them in gauze. Just for this little time of rest. Before she went into the village in the early morning, she would unwrap them and pack dirt over the wounds again, and she’d keep her fingers curled so her hands weren’t readily visible by anyone. They spent much of the time beneath the enveloping folds of her garment, but when replenishing her supplies, she would need her hands and they would be exposed for a short time.

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