The road was hot as hell and buzzing with flies. I covered my mouth and nose with a bandana and kept pushing on, the people behind me cursing slightly before coming after me. I could see the Hilltop's fields and crops were all gone, burned to black crisps. The charred bodies of members of the Hilltop were laying motionless among the destroyed crops. A handful of Walkers were wandering around and approaching us as we got closer to the destroyed community, but some people broke off and started to take them down.
The gates of the Hilltop were no longer there. The walls themselves were also pretty much gone. I walked into the actual community and saw the destroyed wooden structures, the trailers close to the walls were burned out hollow shells, and the Barrington house was halfway destroyed, the woodwork black and brittle looking.
"Spread out," I ordered. "See if you can find anything worth bringing back."
The people behind me spread out and started looking for something, anything at all. Maggie had said there might be a few cows and goats they had had. If any had survived this attack, we'd definitely want them for ourselves.
There was a loud scuffle as Dwight and Laura struggled to round up the Hilltop's chickens into a box. The chicken coop had been kept away from the walls, so they hadn't been burned at all. I walked to the back of the Barrington house and looked at the field where the cows and goats had lived together.
A Walker on the far edge was digging into a goat and eating its bright red entrails. Beyond that was a burned cow corpse that had been standing too close to the walls when they caught fire. The single cow and two goats that were still alive were huddled in the far corner, hiding from the Walker as much as they possibly could.
Daryl took aim and shot the feeding Walker down with a crossbow bolt. With a worried glance my way, Daryl led Javier, Reagan, and Davis to the cow and goats to bring them back to the Sanctuary with us. I looked behind me to see more people going into what was left of the Barrington house to try and find some extra blankets and supplies that hadn't been touched by flames. I walked away and went to the medical trailer to see it still standing.
I had told Daryl last night about the idea of leaving the area, giving the Militia what they wanted and finding somewhere else. Daryl had been predictably furious, mad at the thought that we were thinking about leaving this place, and mad at the Militia for forcing us out, just plain mad. Nothing I had said calmed him down, and he ended up leaving our room to calm down somewhere else. He had only come back that night when I was half asleep.
So now the total amount of people who knew about the plan was now six. The three leaders knew, Earl and Daryl knew, and Rick had told Michonne the same time I had told Daryl. According to Rick, she had taken it about as well as Daryl had.
People wouldn't want to leave without killing as many Militia as they could. These people had come in and had already killed dozens of us. The thirst for vengeance was mounting, and people were beginning to take it out on each other.
Cam and Spencer had broken into a fistfight this morning during breakfast. Apparently Spencer had said something about Cam's son, and Cam had snapped and went to his son's defense. Now Cam was sporting a fresh black eye as he rummaged through the charred remains of the blacksmith's place, looking for anything useful.
Arat was already in the medical trailer with a basket from home, and she was loading everything and anything into the basket. I started grabbing things off the shelf and putting in it the same basket. Arat cast me a reproachful look but didn't say anything. We finished loading the basket and Arat grabbed it before I could and left the trailer with it.
Did she not like me either? She was sleeping with Negan, I knew that much. I wanted to ask him, but knowing who Negan was, he'd just spin it as me being jealous and nothing else. I gave the medical trailer one last look before leaving it.
The wagon we had brought with us from the Sanctuary was getting full, and it didn't seem like we had a lot. There were around ten chickens, the basket of medical supplies, the cow tied to the back of the wagon, and the two goats laying down beside the box of chickens. Cam came up to the wagon and put in maybe a cupful of arrowheads and knives. We locked eyes for a moment and he sighed heavily.
"I thought we were done scavenging." Cam said dully before turning away and leaving.
I felt a stab of worry hit my heart. If we did decide to leave, then we'd scavenging even worse than this. This was nothing compared to a life on the road.
"We got some clothes, boss lady!" Danielle called from the Barrington house's front porch. I smiled weakly at her as she carried a large bundle of jeans, shirts, shorts, and what looked like a random assortment of socks. Kaitlin, Kelli, and Marie came out right behind her with actual basket full of clothes and blankets. Once all of that was loaded into the wagon, the scavenging party gathered around the wagon, waiting for the all clear to go back home.
As we walked back to the Sanctuary, I couldn't help but keep myself in the back of the group. Javier and Kaitlin were riding in the front seat of the wagon, steering the two horses pulling it. Kelli and Marie were sitting on the back of the wagon, petting the goats and making sure the cow's rope remained tied. Laura, Carol, Danielle, and Reagan were all riding horses on the outskirts of the group, with Danielle and Reagan sharing. Behind the wagon and between the horses was everyone else walking. From my vantage point on Cupcake the horse, I could see them walking together, talking in hushed voices to keep Walkers at bay. Dwight and Daryl were talking to each close to me, though what about I couldn't hear.
This is what their lives will be if we left the area. Days, maybe weeks, of walking as quietly as possible, getting direct exposure from the hot sun that still wasn't giving us any sort of relief. We'd need more wagons; I thought, and depending on how full they depended on how many people could sit in them.
Daryl stopped talking to Dwight and stopped walking altogether until Cupcake was at his side. Then Daryl started walking right beside me and the horse, and he looked up at me with tired blue eyes. "You thinkin' 'bout it?" He asked, knowing we were out of earshot of any of the others.
"Yes," I said. "You know what this trip was, right?"
"Gettin' supplies for in case we gotta leave?" Daryl assumed correctly. I nodded and he narrowed his eyes slightly. "I figured second you said what we were doing. Wherever we end up, we're gone need this shit."
"Michonne took a group out right after we left." I told Daryl. "They're going to some museum, to get more wagons."
Daryl looked up at me. "You think this Militia will let us go that easy?"
"Nothing's ever that easy." I said bluntly. "But Major General wanted us gone; you'd think he'd be willing to let us leave if that's what he wanted."
There was a moment of silence before Daryl said, "We've had to have put a dent in their forces."
"Good God, I hope so too." I replied with a pained smile. Daryl looked up at me for a long moment before his mouth twitched upwards into a smile.
When we made it back to the Sanctuary, Alyson was on gate duty. Jesus was pacing by the entrance impatiently, but his face broke into a huge smile when he saw the wagon full of supplies. I rode Cupcake the horse up to Jesus and dismounted. "We got pretty much everything we could find. We put the cow and goats with our cow, and the chickens with ours if that's alright."
Jesus nodded enthusiastically and left to tell Maggie everything we had discussed about storing the Hilltop animals. Maggie was staying in my office with Hershel, having set up a sleeping mat in there. She was still recovering from the attack on the Hilltop, and she preferred to stay inside the factory where she could protect Hershel.
I grabbed the rope for the cow and started herding the goats over to the warehouse where we kept the animals. As I got closer, I caught sight of Blake in the field, using a shovel to scoop up cow shit. I walked over to the fence and waited for Blake to get closer.
"I brought some more animals, Blake." I called out. He flinched slightly and looked over, a look of excitement slowly coming across his face. "D'you think you can take care of them?"
Blake nodded excitedly and rushed over to the gate to let them in. I untied the animals and gave them to Blake, who promptly began ignoring me for just to take care of the new animals. I left him to it and stopped by the garden to inspect the plantlife.
The leaves of our crops were slightly stiff from the lack of rainwater, but the river water being brought up manually was what was keeping these vegetables alive. The same went for the apple trees between the warehouses.
If we got plenty of water jugs and filled them with boiled river water, we could store plenty of water for any kind of journey. If we did end up going anywhere, we'd have to take all the vegetables and apples we could manage to carry. Since the Hilltop's and Alexandria's crops had all been destroyed when the Militia attacked, this was all we had crop wise.
I glanced upwards at the sky; we had fought against the Whisperers in the spring. Just earlier this year. The summer was almost over now. We had gone the whole summer without a drop of rain. The last time it had rained was the rain that had flooded the river. Now the river was shrinking and it was the main source of water for the groups.
The Militia used our river as a source of water too, I thought. Unless they had found another source of water, they still had to come down here and take it.
"Hm," I hummed, an idea beginning to take root in my mind.
It wasn't hard to find where Negan was hiding out. He was in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and looked like he was eavesdropping on Judith, Eliza and Boyd's conversation. I stopped in the doorway, blinking at the children huddled a few feet away from Negan and whispering to each other. Negan sat on an upside down bucket, peeling the meager potatoes from the garden and looking interested in what the kids were saying.
"Don't worry, Terry." Sher said. She was clearly in charge of the kids, but she was bent over three large pots of stew, helping with the dinner shift tonight. "I've got a close eye on them."
"Ma!" Eliza screeched, abandoning her friends and rushing over as fast as her legs could carry her. I squatted down to reach her level and Eliza wasted no time barreling into me, wrapping her arms around my neck and holding on tight as I stood back up. The moment I got Eliza in my arms, she started talking my ear off, half of her speech slurred by plain baby talk.
"Amazing." I said to her, glancing at Sher. "I'll probably end up taking her with me. I came to grab that one." I nodded over to Negan, who was pretending not to be listening. Sher nodded in understanding and I walked over to where Negan was sitting.
Judith stuck a sticker onto Negan's boot when I got to him. "Looks like you finally made some friends." I observed.
Negan shrugged, finally looking up at me. "Had to keep them away from the knife. Hate to see what would happen if they cut their little fingers off."
I narrowed my eyes for a moment. "Aren't you heroic? Can you get up and come talk to me? I think I have an idea-" I didn't get to finish my sentence because Negan was already on his feet. I took several steps back as Negan moved forward, nearly walking right through me to put the potatoes and knife away from Judith and Boyd. Without waiting for me, he walked out of the kitchen and I grumbled for a moment before going after him.
I carried Eliza as I followed Negan. He was back on the Main Floor, leaning up against the bar and waiting impatiently. When I finally appeared, Negan grinned toothily at me. "How may I be of assistance?"
"What's the farthest outpost you had set up?" I asked immediately.
Negan blinked and thought about it for a moment. "The Library was pretty far away. First community I ever made a deal with. Kinda on the other side of the city, close enough so that they could realistically keep getting supplies. Don't know how much of it is left. Why?"
I shook my head. "Thinking about places big enough for a community to go to." I lied through my teeth, knowing for a fact that my nostrils were flaring. Hopefully Negan didn't notice. "The Sanctuary's not big enough for three communities to be living in."
"Tell me something I don't know." Negan said. "This morning, some fucker from the Hilltop nearly caused a traffic collision when he saw me. Kinda funny actually." His smirk faded for a moment. "You really gonna make one community leave?"
"Which community?" A startled sounding voice came from a few feet away and I looked to see fucking Spencer of all people staring at me with nothing short of hatred and alarm.
Without thinking, I quickly handed Eliza into Negan's arms and rushed over to Spencer, who responded by taking several steps back away from me. "Keep your voice down, Spencer. You don't know what you heard."
Spencer's eyes flashed. "It sounds like you're planning on kicking Alexandria and the Hilltop out on the streets!" There was about thirty people in the Main Floor, and nearly all of them heard Spencer this time. Raised voices of alarm sounded and Spencer took a step towards me. "I'm right, aren't I? You're going to force us out?"
"No, you're not right!" I snapped. "You don't know what you're talking about Spencer and causing a panic for nothing."
"You can't kick us out now!" A person I didn't know shouted from the crowd as more people started to gather. "What about the Militia?"
I turned to the crowd. "No one's being kicked out!"
The crowd was forcibly parted as Rick shoved his way to the front of the crowd where Spencer and I were facing each other. Carl followed after his father and the two Grimes men looked around right as Spencer pointed hard at me.
"This Savior bitch is trying to kick out a whole community!" Spencer snarled. I opened my mouth to object but Spencer ran across me. "Don't say I'm wrong, I fucking heard you talking to him!" He whipped around to glare at Negan, who was still standing by the bar with a confused looking Eliza in one arm.
Carl looked over at Negan while Rick squared his shoulders against Spencer. "Doesn't matter what you thought you heard. Last thing we need is people panicking and hurting each other."
Spencer shook his head. "I wouldn't others, I'd only hurt the cunt standing right there."
Rick swung his fist before I could. I heard a wail from behind me and saw that Negan had rushed forward, ready to do something despite the fact that he had Eliza in one arm. I made eye contact with Rick and it was as if there was a silent agreement between us. I tightened my jaw at Rick and nodded once before going over to Negan and grabbing Eliza.
"Do me a favor and go find Daryl." I said in a more hushed voice. "Tell him to meet us in my office."
Negan stared at me with a blank stare for so long I almost thought he was going to ignore me. But he finally turned and left through the pissed off crowd. I looked back to Rick and Carl and the two Grimes men followed me as I led the way up to my office.
Maggie was already in there with Hershel, and one look at us told her that something had happened. We waited until Daryl, Michonne, Abraham, Earl, Dante, Jesus, and Dwight were in the office with us. No one sat except for Eliza and Hershel, who were both settled on the mat and were baby talking to each other. Everyone else stood in a wide circle around the office, the members of each group sticking closely to their respective leader.
I explained the whole situation to everyone once we were all quiet. No one spoke until I was done and when I was, people glanced to each other with worried faces. I looked to Rick and Maggie. "This was my fault. If I had made sure Negan and I weren't able to be overheard, we wouldn't be in this situation this early."
Rick nodded in agreement but sighed heavily. "We woulda ended up dealing with this sooner or later." He turned to Michonne. "Have you heard anythin' from the Kingdom?"
Michonne shook her head and Maggie straightened up. "If we're going to leave, we can't wait for the Kingdom." Maggie said darkly. "William's not interested in helping anyway." She walked over to the desk and picked up one of the maps. "I was looking through these while Hershel was napping. I found a spot that's far away, but it's big enough for the three groups to stay the winter. It's a temporary solution, but it's the first real option I found that keeps us out of the city."
The idea of leaving was suddenly so real and I had an overwhelming urge to rush off and breathe again. But I rooted myself to the spot as everyone in the room got to voice their opinions and finally, after an hour of ironing things out, we all headed down towards the Main Floor to tell everyone else.
Maggie, Rick, and I went straight to the platform as the rest of the three communities huddled on the Main Floor. The people who knew what was coming were standing in front of the platform, making a divide between the platform and the crowd of separated groups. There was a loud murmuring of worried voices until Rick cleared his throat and the noise eventually died down.
With a final glance at me and Maggie, Rick began. "I know what you're all thinking. The threat from the Militia has gone too far, we've lost so much, how could we ever get it back? Some people have been at their respective communities ever since the Outbreak, they know no other way. Out of our three communities, only one stands, and even it is starting to crack at the foundation." He stopped and looked to me, wanting me to step forward and explain.
I shifted my feet until I was right at Rick's shoulder. "The generators keeping the Sanctuary warm in the winter and cool in the summer have reached the end of the road. Without a proper mechanic, there isn't a lot of hope to fix them well enough in time for winter. The Sanctuary is big, but it was not made for nearly two hundred people to live twenty four seven."
"You're kicking us out?" A voice from somewhere in the crowd screamed and a loud uproar of upset kicked off.
Maggie whistled shrilly and eventually the uproar calmed down. I continued. "I'm not kicking anyone out." I assured them. There was a moment of pause and I sighed heavily. "But we are leaving."
Instead of the uproar I was expecting, there was a worried murmur that went through the crowd. From somewhere in the far back, a baby started crying. Maggie looked out over the crowd, "It's not just those from the Sanctuary who are leaving, I plan on leaving with them. All of us leaders are."
"What d'you mean?" Someone from the Hilltop asked, looking worriedly at Maggie.
Rick got to continue. "The three leaders have discussed this at length. We aren't making this decision lightly. But the Militia want us gone. Right now they have us all cornered here at the Sanctuary, and if we don't leave soon, they'll come in and destroy this place and kill us all. What we've come to, all three of us, is to simply leave. Find a new place for all three of our communities to live in peace for the rest of our days."
"Where will we go?"
"There's nearly two hundred of us! How are we going to travel together?"
"I'm not traveling with any fucking Saviors!"
"They've killed us! We need to attack them, not just leave!"
Cries like these were deafening. People either screamed their dislike of this plan or sat in stunned silence as they tried to fathom how we were going to travel in this massive a group. I thought about the Whisperers and how they wore Walker skin to help hide themselves from the Walkers, but it would be even harder trying to convince these people to start acting like Whisperers. I recognized Jefferson screaming his dislike, while Danielle and Reagan were whispering into each other's ears. Negan stood by the bar next to Pam, and he looked shell shocked as he stared at me. Whatever he had thought about earlier, this hadn't been it.
By now the crowd had been calmed down a bit and Rick found the opportunity to continue on speaking. "Our plan is to start with smaller groups leaving tomorrow morning. Groups of twelve of people too young or old to defend themselves here, but with enough strong people to defend them to travel. While the first few groups leave, we'll have other squads attacking and killing as many Militia as they can find."
"What happens if we defeat the Militia?" Someone cried out. "What happens to the people who leave?"
"We've marked a safe location far enough away and big enough for everyone to stay at temporarily." I explained. "If we defeat the Militia before everyone leaves, then we'll send a party to get those who left back. If we don't, then this new place is big enough for all of us to stay the winter there."
"Whether or not either scenario happens," Maggie said. "Once we're out of here and all together, if you want to leave and go on your own separate path, then you'll be free to do so." Maggie nodded down to Dante. "Dante has agreed to lead the first group to this new place, and we've decided who will leave first."
It took several minutes to explain how everything would work. Everyone who wanted to fight back against the Militia for as long as they could would stay behind and attack the Militia on the banks of the river whenever they came for water. Those who didn't want to fight would be the first to be put in the groups heading to the safe place, along with children and those too elderly or injured to fight. Dante's group that he'd be taking consisted of a young family of four from Alexandria, a broken family of three from the Hilltop, and Earl's family.
I personally helped Earl and Cassie pack up the things they needed. Dante wanted their party to leave early in the morning, to make good time. Before I left them for the night, Earl stopped me and embraced me tightly. "Thank you," He whispered into my ear. I smiled and hugged him back, knowing that my friend would be strong enough to protect his family and the rest of their group on the road.
Daryl found me on the rooftop later. He didn't say anything as he came over and sat down beside me. Finally, I looked over to him and asked, "You think this is the right thing to do?"
"No." Daryl responded. "But I think it's what we can do right now. We'll kill them Militia and then everyone can come back."
I appreciated the fact that Daryl believed that we could destroy the Militia enough to keep the Sanctuary. Nothing but doubts were bouncing around my head. I leaned over and rested my head on Daryl's shoulders, and he wrapped his arm around me, keeping me close to his side. If I closed my eyes and listened to the cicadas crying in the woods and the sound of Daryl's heartbeat, I could almost pretend that we were in a very different situation and in a far safer place.