A/N: Hey, readers! It's me, Caris, back from the Land of the Dead to post again. My god, has it really been almost a month? –winces- I'm sorry about that, guys. My next (and maybe last) update of this story won't come so late. I promise!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. –weeps-
Dedication: To Hyperactive Lioness, as per usual. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Remember, readers; SPOILERS FOR LIES!!!
Panting and exhausted, the new Pack Leader of the coyotes stepped back to examine his work.
It had taken all night and every coyote in his pack to complete his mission. They'd arrived at midnight, having not hunted the day before. They'd arrived at the cave and, with Pack Leader's urging, had begun to dig.
It was slow, tedious work, pulling each rock from its purchase in the avalanche. They had worked solely with their teeth, extracting each rock painfully. There had been no hunting that night, no breaks. Even the females participated in the separation of rocks, leaving the pups to fend for themselves.
But, though the work had been grueling and painful, it would soon all be worth it, Pack Leader knew. Just by staring at that small hole in the ground, he knew. Pack Leader could feel the vibrations of power emit from the opening; not a large amount of power, but even the echoes of what had once been so great had many of the coyotes whimpering and whining, their heads bowed in submission.
Pack Leader turned to face the other coyotes. "Pack Leader go see Darkness. Stay," he growled. The rest of the coyotes nodded, thankful that they themselves were not the ones chosen to go see the terrible creature that lay beyond the ruins.
To enter through the hole, Pack Leader had to crawl on his stomach. The entrance was barely large enough to fit a single coyote, though he and his pack had worked all night on it. He growled and yipped as dirt-covered rocks scrapped against his skin and fur. Soon he was unable to see…though he could have sworn there was a faint green glow coming from the end of the tunnel.
Upon reaching the entrance, it could no longer be denied; there was a faint glow that bounced off the walls, making the cave no brighter, but more threatening and evil. The coyote's ears perked up, listening.
"Darkness?" the coyote dared to call out.
The response was instantaneous. The walls began to glow brighter, trembling. Pack Leader whined, sensing that something ancient and evil was awakening. He shook, his fur standing on end, his eyes darting back and forth.
The voice did not speak aloud and was not as powerful as it once was, but the mere sound of it in his mind was enough to cause Pack Leader to sink to his knees.
"I come for Darkness," Pack Leader yipped.
Yes, my faithful servant, I have need of you, the Darkness thundered.
"What need?" Pack Leader asked, daring a glance upward.
I need you to bring me a human. I have need of the girl…of Lana.
Twenty-eight hours previous…
By the caves it was so silent you could have heard a pin drop. No kid spoke, moved, or dared breathe as Diana Landris strode confidently toward Sam Temple. Her graceful movements bought her to Sam's side within a few moments, and she grinned cheekily. The remainder of the Coates kids stood still and remained by their cars, all with the exception of one blond girl, who had a small smile on her pink lips. Bug stood next to her, his eyes twitching, his fingers and feet flashing in and out of the visible spectrum.
Quinn's eyes narrowed at the sight of the blond Coates girl who'd tied him up only a few hours previous. He shot a glance at Albert, who was looking a bit pale himself. The dying light of the sun cast shadows on every face present, darkening the tense atmosphere.
"Well, well, well," Diana drawled, putting her hands on her thin hips, "if it isn't Sam Temple. What a surprise." Quinn saw Sam's eyes harden.
"What are you doing here, Diana?" he asked in a low voice. Some of the Perdido Beach kids began to back nervously away from the two older kids, opting to stand by the cave entrance or the cars. Soon the only remaining kids were Sam, Diana, Quinn, the Breeze, Computer Jack, Bug, and the smirking blond.
"The same as you," Diana replied, her voice quickly loosing its playful tone. "I'm here to get Caine out of that rubble."
"We're not here to save your boyfriend," the Breeze spat. Diana glared in her direction. Within seconds the tension had risen to an all time high as Brianna's fists clenched, and the blond by Diana's side fingered her pistol. Quinn could almost smell a fight.
"Brianna, calm down," Sam ordered. The Breeze's eyes flashed dangerously.
"What do you mean by calm down? Don't tell me to calm down, Sam."
Jack placed a hand on her shoulder. "Breeze, you've got to relax. Maybe you should try breathing in and out slowly—"
"Jack, shut up!" Brianna yelled, throwing his hand off her shoulder. Her gaze was murderous, and even Jack had the sense to back off.
"Don't tell me what to do, Jack. You want me to calm down?! You want me to talk to her?" Brianna pointed an accusing finger at Diana. "No way. No way am I doing this."
With that the Breeze spun on her heel, stalking away from the rest of the group, leaving Jack open-mouthed and with a hurt expression on his face. "Have fun talking to your girlfriend!" Brianna called behind her shoulder.
Quinn and Sam watched with dismay as she left, more than a few heads turning as she did so. Kids began to murmur quietly amongst themselves, shooting Sam and the others questioning glances.
Jack seemed to shrink under the combined gazes of the group, though he made no move to go after Brianna. Probably a smart move, Quinn thought.
"Diana, I understand that you want to save Caine, but I think it would be best if you just—"
"Just what?" Diana interrupted, her dark eyes flashing. "Just what, Sam? Leave? Wait for him to die in there? God, of all the stupid things Caine could have done…" Diana trailed off, silently cursing Caine. For a brief moment Quinn felt a small bit of pity for the worn girl standing beside him.
"But that's not the point," Diana resumed. "The point is that I'm not just going to wait around to be told what's happening to Caine. I'm not sitting on the sidelines this time, Sam. I'm just not. So, either you and your Townies let us through or we'll make you."
With that last sentence the southern blond reached for her pistol, a hint of excitement flashing in her brown eyes. For a moment Quinn was at a loss as to what she reminded him of, when, with horror, he realized that was the same look he'd seen Drake give numerous times before. Oh, god, Quinn thought, it's another psychopath. It's a girl psychopath.
"Diana, I'm not going to let you start making threats. Tell her to put the gun down." Diana's eyes wavered for a moment before a sneer took over her once-lovely features.
"Not until you let us pass," she hissed.
Quinn watched with growing horror as the southern girl pulled her pistol from her pants and clicked the safety off. With that Sam opened up his hands, a faint glow emitting from them. A few of the Coates kids noticed this and began making their way forward. The Perdido Beach kids did the same, grabbing spare guns or opening their hands as well. Brianna in particular had an evil gleam in her eye and was letting her hands vibrate at what must have been the speed of sound. If something wasn't done within the next few moments, a fight was bound to break out.
"Wait!" Computer Jack of all people cried. Sam and Diana's eyes flickered to him.
"Sam," Jack pleaded, "don't do this. I…we need them. They can help us. I mean, don't you want to save Astrid?" His voice rose with each sentence, and Quinn watched as he began to sweat in the cool desert atmosphere.
"We could use their help," he tried again. "The more people we have, the quicker we can save them. Besides, we can't afford to fight. We can't afford to waste any more time. Astrid, can't afford for us to waste any more time."
At the mention of Astrid's name Sam winced. Quinn felt a flash of anger at Jack for using Astrid to sway Sam's decision on whether or not to accept help from the Coates kids, but didn't complain. For whatever the reason, Jack was doing the right thing for once. The last thing anyone needed right now was a fight.
With a sigh Sam lowered his hands. A look of relief crossed Diana's face quickly before disappearing. Quinn knew that she understood as well as anyone that a fight right now would be devastating for both sides.
"Alright," Sam said softly, "you can stay."
Diana nodded, motioning for the southern girl to put away her gun. She did so reluctantly, giving Quinn a brief glare. He had the feeling that if it came to a shoot-out between the two sides, he'd be one of the first on her hit list.
"Thanks," Computer Jack and Diana said at the same time. The two shared a brief look.
"But," Sam said, ignoring the blush spreading up Jack's face, "you are only here to help us get Caine and Astrid out of that wreckage. That means that we split the work evenly, and you agree to help us with whatever we decide to do." After a moment Diana nodded.
"It also means that you cannot threaten anyone here. No guns." The blond's eyes blazed and her fingers immediately moved toward her pistol.
"Give it to me, Penny," Diana croaked.
"You gone crazy?!" Penny hissed. Diana shot her a trademark glare.
"Do you want to save Caine or not?"
After a brief hesitation the gun was handed over. Penny curled her lip at Sam, who feigned ignorance.
"Do we have a deal?" Quinn heard his friend ask. Diana stuck out her hand.
"Yes," she murmured. The two shook. "C'mon, Bug, Penny, let's go," Diana ordered.
She and the remainder of the Coates kids strode toward the cave entrance, something that caused a stir amongst the Perdido Beach kids. Quinn watched with shock as Computer Jack trailed behind Diana, and, not for the first time, wondered whose side he was on.
Astrid awoke in the damp cave to the sound of dripping.
Her eyelids fluttered open as she slowly regained consciousness, something Astrid thought she'd never do again. She was dimly aware of pain in her back and numbness in her arms and legs from sleeping on them the wrong way. The dripping continued in the background, sort of a constant noise for Astrid's scrambled brain to hang on to. She was extremely confused.
"H-hello?" Astrid rasped. She put a hand to her forehead and tried to sit up. This attempt was quickly followed by an insufferable headache, a pounding that ripped the back of her skull open and blocked the pain from the base of her spine. Astrid whimpered, leaning in what could be considered a sitting position against the cave wall.
Within moments the sounds of footsteps reverberated off the cave walls. Astrid opened her eyes but saw nothing in the pitch blackness around her. The girl began to tremble, trying to remember what had happened. She forced herself to calm down as the footsteps stopped near her. Was that the outline of someone she knew she saw before her?
"Good," the voice said. "You're up."
It took a moment for Astrid's foggy mind to place the voice with a face, but when she did it snapped her out of her daze. "Caine?" she asked, trying to sit up straighter, but finding herself unable to do so.
"Yeah, it's me," Caine said. Astrid heard him sit down beside her and struggled to remember the events of the previous day. All she could recall was something about water…and a fight?
"Caine, what happened yesterday?" Astrid asked.
"You don't remember?" Caine replied, sounding incredulous.
"Not much…" she prompted. Caine sighed.
"To make a long story short we were both looking for water, ran into each other, and I had a…rather brief fight with Brianna before the cave collapsed. Any of this ring a bell?"
Astrid nodded, letting the memories and images she'd been suppressing resurface. She could see in her mind's eye the collapse, Caine's injury, the fight…everything.
"I remember," Astrid whispered. She then turned to her unlikely companion, forced to stare into the darkness for a response. "But what do we do now?"
For a moment there was only silence. Then Caine said,
It was a rather awkward silence. Sitting around the blazing fire that Sam had lit, there was very little conversation between kids, none at all from the Coates side. They were busy devouring the food Sam and Quinn had set out, gulping the water and meat down with gusto. Sam wondered when the last time they'd eaten a real meal had been, and allowed a small amount of pity to enter his heart.
The only one not greedily eating the provided food was Diana. She ate slowly, as if relishing the flavor, her unfocused eyes gazing into the fire. Sam knew she was thinking about Caine; if he hadn't had so much more to worry about, he'd have been thinking about Astrid at that moment.
Sam picked at the fish on his plate, fingering his fork in one hand. Astrid. What was she doing at this very moment? Worrying? Was she in pain? Was Caine hurting her? The very thought made Sam's blood boil. Brother or not, temporary alliance or not, if Caine touched one hair on Astrid's head Sam would make sure that he was once again an only child.
Sam's fists clenched, his knuckles turning white. He was so mad he could scream. He could just scream and yell and throw up his hands. But he couldn't. He couldn't give in to the hysteria building inside of him. If he did Astrid would surely die.
"Hey, Sam?" Sam blinked himself out of his thoughts, feeling Quinn's hand on his shoulder.
"Yeah, Quinn?" Sam asked, trying not to sound as strained and tired as he was.
"Computer Jack says that the Coates kids want to have a meeting with you. You know, to discuss what we should do and all that." Sam nodded.
"Uh, yeah, tell Diana I'll be right there," Sam said, running his fingers through his hair. Quinn mumbled something about only needing to tell Diana's lackey before walking away.
Jack. That was another thing for Sam to worry about. Before today he'd seemed hung up on the Breeze, but now he seemed to almost be back on the Coates kids' side. Sam shook the thought away from his head as he rose; he'd just have to worry about that later.
As Sam made his way over to Diana and the Coates kids, there was a mixture of anger and awe written on every face around. Many kids had decided to spend the night near the action, while others like Howard and Albert had gone back to Perdido Beach. Quinn had, out of loyalty, decided to stay, along with Brianna and Taylor. Sam was grateful for their company as he sat across from Diana.
Penny sat by her side, her eyes focused on the cave behind her. Bug hovered nearby, unsure of where to sit. Computer Jack also sat on the outskirts of the Coates' group, much to Brianna's fury. Sam ignored the glares she was giving him with a practiced art.
"Do you have any kind of plan?" Diana asked, breaking the silence. All eyes turned to both her and Sam. He tried to ignore their piercing stares.
"No, we haven't," Sam mumbled, ashamed. Next to Diana, Penny snorted.
"Then we need to come up with one," Diana mused, putting her head in her hands. "Does anyone have any ideas?" she asked, never taking her eyes off of Sam's. No one spoke up.
"Why doesn't Sam just blow the cave open?" some kid called out. There was a mutual muttering of agreement amongst the other kids even as both Sam and Jack shook their heads.
"It'll never work," Sam explained. "If I miss or my aim is off, I could very well blow up the entire cave and kill Caine and Astrid. Next idea."
"What about Jack?" Taylor asked. "Can't he move some of the rocks?" Both Sam and Diana shot Jack the same inquiring glance. The boy sadly shook his head.
"If I move the wrong rock I could cause another avalanche," he said quietly. Sam felt the frustration build up inside of him. He was running out of time and options.
"Look," he said, turning and speaking to the crowd, "if anyone has any idea, any thought on what to do, speak now. We don't have time for second guesses or grudges. Remember guys, this is for Astrid. Not me, not Diana, not even Caine. But Astrid."
At this several kids murmured amongst themselves. The general population of kids in Perdido Beach liked Astrid. She was kind and strong and intelligent; the perfect role model. The only kids that didn't like her were the ones that weren't there; Zil's crew. They despised anything having to do with Sam or other mutants, which included Astrid. Sam was thankful that neither Zil nor his lackeys were there to invoke fear on the other kids and otherwise stir up trouble.
"I know someone who could lift the rocks."
Sam turned to the sound of the voice. It was Brianna that had spoken. She met Sam's gaze head on, the flames of the fire reflected in her eyes.
"Who?" Sam asked. The crowd quieted.
"The one person who can defy gravity. Who can lift those rocks as well or better than Caine."
"Dekka," they both breathed, Sam with horror, and Diana with revelation.
Because it just so happened that Dekka was no where to be found.
Caine couldn't ever remember being so hungry before. He hadn't eaten anything in days. Not since…not since…
Caine saw a flash of a kid with rings around his eyes, a glowing fire, a severed limb. He shuddered and pushed his mind back into the present. He would not—could not—allow himself to think of such things. Now wasn't the time to think on actions of the past. Now was the time to plan for the future.
That is, if he even had a future.
Ignoring the pain in his arm, Caine got up to pace again. He heard Astrid mumble something and shift positions in her sleep. Caine had checked on her a few times during the night, making sure that her sleep was simply from weariness and not from sickness. But, miraculously, she did not have a fever and her wounds had stopped bleeding. There was a very good chance that Astrid Ellison would live to see her precious Sammy again.
However, Caine believed his chances to be much slimmer. For one he was nauseous and dizzy, even when sitting down. For another his throat ached and he continued to sweat even in the cold cave. All signs of an infection, he knew. With his shoulder wound and lack of nutrition, nothing short of the Healer's touch could save him now.
Caine ran his fingers through his shoulder length hair. He had absolutely no idea what to do. He felt powerless, standing in the middle of the cave, unable to do anything to save himself. He felt weak and alone, standing there, his arm throbbing, his heart pounding.
Soon his thoughts turned to Diana. What was she doing at that very instant? Did she know what had happened to him? Probably. Bug might have been a coward, and Penny might have been crazy, but he trusted them to report back to Coates.
But, Caine asked himself, if she knows, what is she going to do about it?
Before Caine could dwell further on that thought, Astrid groaned in her sleep. Caine heard her stir, her hands and legs scraping against the sharp cave floor. "Caine?" she called out softly.
"Yeah, Astrid?" he asked, annoyed.
"What…what're you doing?" she finally asked. Caine almost shrugged before remembering the darkness and his wound.
"Pacing." Caine heard the genius sigh from across the room, her agitation echoing in the damp room.
"You really shouldn't," she reprimanded. "You're hurt. You should be resting." Caine rolled his eyes, walking over to where she lay.
"What are you, my—" Caine was cut off when he tripped over Astrid's outstretched legs. Arms flailing he collapsed in a heap at Astrid's feet, blood running down his cheek. Astrid squeaked, crawling over to his side.
"Oh, god, are you okay?" she asked. Her fingers found Caine's face, touching the blood.
"Fine," Caine growled, pushing her hand away. Astrid chocked out a laugh.
"I told you to stop pacing," she whispered. Caine rolled his eyes again, the day's events finally catching up to him. Caine felt his eyelids grow heavy and yawned.
"I knew you'd drop sooner or later," Astrid commented, yawning as well. She curled up in a ball next to Caine, her breathing evening out and slowing as she dropped into sleep.
Within a few moments, Caine joined her.
"Okay, Dekka, which tent do you want?" Edilio asked, gesturing to the two tents set up.
Dekka examined both with a critical eye. The sun had just set and Edilio had started a fire a few minutes ago. It now blazed brilliantly, a bright contrast to the darkness of the forest, and illuminated the sleeping bags and tents before them. Dekka wasn't too thrilled about spending a weekend in the woods with a guy she only sort-of knew, but if it meant getting out of Perdido Beach she was all for it. Anything to get her mind off of life.
"Uh, I'll take that one," Dekka said, pointing to the tent that looked the largest. Edilio nodded and began unfolding his sleeping bag for his own tent wordlessly. Dekka grabbed her own sleeping bag and did the same.
When she was finished Dekka flopped onto the grass, staring up at the sky. All around her were the stars, shining in the sky above her. According to Astrid the stars weren't real in the FAYZ and were simply reflections. Dekka wasn't sure whether or not to believe her, but one thing was for certain; refection or not, they were beautiful.
It really isn't so bad out here, Dekka thought, her eyelids drooping. Much more peaceful than that cramped home back in Perdido Beach. No worries, no responsibilities…this is the life.
With a yawn Dekka's eyes shut and she drifted off into sleep. Later in the night Edilio would pick her up and put her back in her tent, miles away from town, from civilization, in the campgrounds of the National Park.
In the bed next to her own, Orsay saw Nezzera dreaming of her mother. It was a sweet, peaceful dream, in which the two met at a local McDonalds and ordered food together, talking and laughing. Orsay sighed to herself, watching the family moment from afar; such a bitter-sweet memory, one which Orsay herself had no right to witness.
Just as she was about to pull herself from the dream, there was a knock at the door. Nezzera was pulled back into consciousness, the dream evaporating before her eyes. Both girls locked gazes, wondering who had come to see the Prophetess at such a late hour.
The Prophetess. That was the name the kids of Perdido Beach had, in recent times, given Orsay. Her ability to see into the land of dreams and the sub consciousnesses of humans both amazed and terrified them. Kids either worshiped her and her assistant or hated her.
"I'll get it," Nezzera said gently, touching Orsay's forearm. "I know how much you need your rest."
Orsay nodded gratefully, watching as her companion threw on a robe and headed for the door. Soon the murmur of voices filled the house, both male and female. Orsay sat up in bed, hearing Nezzera's agitated hiss and Sam Temple's pleading voice.
Before the Prophetess had time to wonder why Sam Temple was at her house at such a late hour, he'd barged in, past a fuming Nezzera, Quinn Gaither and, shockingly, Diana Landris at his side. Also with him were Taylor and the Breeze, a breathless Computer Jack trailing behind them. Orsay could make out the sounds of other voices just outside the doorway, all of them anxious and impatient. Orsay began to sweat.
"Listen to me, you stupid little hero," Nezzera growled, sticking her finger in Sam's face. "I want you to take your friends and get the hell out of here. Do you understand? Get out. The Prophetess needs her rest and can't possibly do it with all of you people—"
Orsay held up a frail hand, silencing her companion. "Sam," she whispered, "what is it you want?"
Within moments Sam was at her bedside, a pleading look in his eye. He grasped her hand tightly.
"Orsay, I need your help," he whispered. Orsay glanced at her assistant, who merely shrugged. She didn't know what this was about either.
"It's Astrid," Sam continued. "She…she's in trouble. A cave collapsed and she's trapped inside." Orsay's eyes widened with concern.
"Sam," she said gently, "as concerning as this is, I don't see how I can—"
"I wasn't finished," Sam said hurriedly. "Because you're right, there's no way you can move a ton of rocks. What I meant was the one person who can, Dekka, is off on a hunting trip with Edilio."
Sneaking a glance at Diana, Orsay said, "I still don't see how—"
"In the National Park." Orsay closed her eyes.
"You want me to find them, don't you?" she whispered.
"You lived there for close to three months," Diana said, speaking up for the first time. "Surely if anyone could find them, you could." But Orsay shook her head, her dark hair flapping back and forth across her face.
"It's not that simple," she said. "I mean, are you sure that they're within the camp grounds? Are you sure that they didn't stop in one of the nearby forests?" A flicker of doubt crossed Sam's face. "You're not sure then."
"Orsay, please!" Taylor pleaded, kneeling beside Sam. "You're the only one of us that knows the forests. You're the only one with any hope of finding them. Please, Orsay, if you don't help us both of them will die."
Nezzera's eyes narrowed. "Both of them?"
"Yes," Diana said gravely. "Caine is in there as well." Nezzera's eyes burned.
"Oh, and when were you planning on telling us that? You said that you wanted us to help Astrid, not Caine," she spat.
"Please," Sam said, never taking his eyes off of Orsay. "The only way to save Astrid is to save Caine as well. Please, Orsay, I need your help. Astrid needs your help."
Orsay gazed into Sam's dark eyes. He hadn't slept, probably hadn't ate, in at least twenty-four hours. He was scared, alone, and felt helpless. One of the last people he loved most in this world, the FAYZ, was in desperate need of help, and there was nothing he could do for her. Nothing but sit and wait for her to die.
For that reason Orsay whispered, "I'll get dressed and get my compass."
Less than ten minuets later Orsay was dressed and ready to leave. Nezzera was preparing bags for their trip ("If the Prophetess goes, I go," was her modo.) while Sam sat the others down to discuss who would join the search party.
"I'll go, and I'd like to ask Taylor and Quinn to come with me," Sam said, starting off the discussion. As usual, the Breeze had something to complain about.
"What about me?" Brianna asked.
"Breeze, I think you should stay at the cave. You and Taylor are our best lookouts and our fastest means of communication. You can run information back and forth not only to town, but to each other. I need at least one of you to stay at the caves, and I think Taylor would do better in the woods. I don't want to think about what would happen to you if you tripped on a branch going at hyper speed."
To the great relief of everyone, the Breeze accepted this and sat back down.
"I'm going," Diana said. Sam shook his head.
"No, Diana, you're too weak. Let someone else go—"
"No," Diana said icily. "I'm going, Sam. Caine left to get that water for me. Whatever happened to him is at least partially my fault. So I'm going."
For a moment there was a pitying look in Sam's eye that Diana would have like to slap off of his pretty face. Then it was gone, a look of seriousness in its place. "If you're sure," he said.
"I am. And I'd like to take Penny and Bug with me. They can be of great use."
After a moment Sam nodded, though not before catching an eerily familer grin on Penny's face. Bug just looked uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot and occasionally slipping out of the visible spectrum. Jack didn't look much better as he tried to shrink away from the ugly glares Brianna was giving him.
"Okay, so that leaves Brianna, Computer Jack, and some Coates kids at the caves. Any questions?" Sam asked, standing up. The Breeze raised her hand.
"Yes, Brianna?" Sam asked with as much patience as he sill pertained.
"Can't you take Jack with you?" There was a collective groan from the group.
"Actually, I'd rather it if Jack stayed at the caves," Diana said, surprising everyone, including Jack.
"Well, it's settled then. Jack stays with Brianna at the caves," Sam said quickly before anyone could continue arguing with him. He was desperate to leave and Astrid couldn't afford any more delays. The sooner he was out there searching for Dekka, the better for everyone.
"Are we ready to leave?" Nezzera asked, handing a bag to Sam and to Diana. Orsay slipped her own over her shoulders, baring the weight easily. For a skinny twelve-year-old, she was strong.
"We're ready as can be," Penny piped up unexpectedly. A playful smirk danced across her face as she accepted a pack from Nezzera. For some reason, Sam shivered, though it wasn't because of the cold.
"Let's go then," Orsay said quietly. She led the band of kids out of her front door, Nezzera at her heels. Taylor skipped after them, Quinn following, and Sam left as well.
"C'mon, Buggy," Penny said, slapping Bug on the back before running to catch up with the others. Bug reluctantly followed.
"Jack?" Jack turned at the sound of Diana's voice in the empty room. Everyone else was outside, and he had almost missed her slim form among the shadows.
"Yeah, Diana?" he asked as she neared him. For all the health that she had lost, her beauty reemerged in the moonlight, her skin looking soft and her eyes lit. It was enough to make Jack's heart race, his old attraction to the elder girl resurfacing.
"Jack, there's a reason I want you to stay at the caves," Diana continued.
"What's that?" Jack asked, trying not to let his voice shake.
"I want you to help protect Caine." This completely threw Jack off.
"Huh?" he asked smartly. "You want me to help protect Caine?" Diana nodded.
"Believe it or not, Jack, but you're incredibly strong. You're the only mutant I'm not taking with me to search for Dekka, and I want you to stay at the caves and make sure nothing happens. I want you to make sure that some Townie doesn't get cocky or get any ideas while I'm gone."
Jack was awestruck. The last time Diana had asked for his help it had either been on Caine's orders or to hurt Caine. He'd never thought Diana would come to him for help on a personal matter.
"Why me?" he asked timidly. Diana laughed, though it was without humor.
"Because, Jack, believe it or not, you're one of the last people I trust around here." She put a hand on his shoulder. "I trust you Jack. I trust you to do this for me. Don't disappoint me on this."
Jack gulped and nodded. For some reason, the last thing he wanted to do was to disappoint Diana.
After two hours of trekking through the forest, everyone was exhausted.
It was around midnight when Sam began to sway as he walked. They'd been hiking for miles on end, searching for Edilio and Dekka hopelessly. Orsay was in the lead, shining a flashlight on her map in one hand, a compass balanced precariously in the other. Her eyebrows were knit together, her lips pulled down in a frown. Sam watched as she yawned, leaning against Nezzera for support. Her assistant lovingly wrapped her arm about Orsay's waist, letting the twelve-year-old snuggle into the crook of her neck.
The rest of them weren't much better off. Taylor had completely drooped, and was now leaning against an equally exhausted Quinn. Bug kept yawing every two minutes, followed by a thwack from Penny. The southern girl had a sturdy look about her, and was the only one of them that seemed unaffected by weariness or mal nutrition. Like a programmed robot she trudged forward, ignoring the world around her.
But, of them all, Diana looked the worst. Her knees knocked as she stepped over roots and stones, her eyelids drooped, and her shoulders were hunched. It looked as though every part of her body were fighting an ongoing battle with her mind for rest. The only vibrant part of Diana was her eyes; they shown with determination and defiance. Sam was amazed at her ability to keep moving, to go on at all costs.
"Brah." Sam turned to see Quinn come toward him, Taylor in tow. The slim eleven-year-old was now in his arms, her head resting on his shoulder. Sam could just make out the gentle snores that passed through her lips.
"Yeah, Quinn?" Sam asked, glancing toward Orsay again. Nezzera was now holding the map and compass while Orsay handled the flashlight. Both girls seemed to be in a heated discussion about something that was only interrupted by the occasional yawn or stray tree root.
"Look, man, I know how much Astrid means to you. We all get it—she's a wonderful girl. But, man, I gotta say, we can't keep this up any longer. Orsay and Nezzera are going to fall asleep standing up, Taylor already is asleep, and Diana's going to literally die of exhaustion if we don't stop soon. Look at her!" Quinn jerked his thumb toward the swaying girl and Sam winced. Quinn was right; they needed to stop for the night.
"Hey, guys!" Sam called, waving his arms. Orsay and Nezzera stopped in their tracks, as did Bug. He halted in mid-yawn, Penny's hand already raised to smack him. Taylor jerked in Quinn's arms, regaining consciousness, while Diana eyed Sam warily.
"I think it's time we stopped for the night," Sam announced, a stab of guilt hitting him in the stomach.
"It's about time," Penny muttered, plopping down on the grass.
"Good idea," Orsay said, looking gratefully at Sam. "We can resume searching in the morning." Nezzera nodded, already setting out the sleeping bags.
Sam sat down on the damp grass, Quinn to his right, Diana to his left. The girl had curled in on herself, too worn to try and set up her sleeping bag. Another stab of pity shot through Sam; however bad the Perdido Beach kids had it, chances were it was twice as bad over the hill.
After setting out his own sleeping bag, Sam brought one over to Diana. She opened her bleary eyes at him as he rolled out the sleeping bag, bringing her an extra pillow and blankets. Diana watched him with questioning eyes, though she did not speak.
Soon they were all fast asleep, Quinn snoring while Penny and Bug slapped each other. Taylor was curled up by Sam's side, Orsay and Nezzera practically in each other's arms they were so close together. Sam closed his eyes, falling into the dark arms of sleep, anticipating a stressful day ahead of him.
So he wasn't quite sure when he drifted off whether Diana actually said, "Goodnight, Sam," or if it was just his imagination.
Amazingly, the first to wake was Diana. The next morning she rose just after dawn, looking as though she had spent the night tossing and turning, horrible nightmares plaguing her mind. She sighed, rubbing a hand over her sleep-incrusted eyes.
Diana surveyed the scene around her. Penny was still asleep, as was Bug. Orsay was mumbling something about winged dogs, and Nezzera was curled up at her feet. Quinn and Taylor were also out of it. Sam, however, was on the verge of waking, his eyes fluttering open.
"Diana," he said, seeing her awake and standing. She nodded at him, grabbing a bottle of water out of her backpack. She quickly gulped down the cool liquid, savoring its taste. She couldn't honestly remember the last time she'd had so much water to drink. A month? Two months? Did it matter?
Next she began searching for something to eat. She wouldn't accomplish much on an empty stomach, and she was determined to find Dekka within the day. After all, how hard could it possibly be to track down a rouge eleven-year-old girl and her Hispanic companion?
She didn't really notice Sam was sitting beside her until he handed her an apple. She practically snatched the fruit from his outstretched hand, shoving it in her mouth whole. She ignored the seeds and the juice dribbling down her chin, instead concentrating on the wonderful taste of fresh food. God, was it ever good. She'd have to save some for later, have to boast about her wonderful findings to Caine—
Caine. Normally Diana wasn't much of a touchy-feely person, but upon thinking his name her throat began to swell. Here she was, eating herself sick, while Caine was trapped inside of a cave. He hadn't eaten in days, she knew. He'd given all of his food to her. The last time he'd eaten anything had been three days ago when Panda…
"Do you want some more?"
Diana flinched at the sound of Sam's voice, as though he had read her thoughts and intruded upon them.
"No," she replied, glancing at the orange in his hand. Her stomach was no longer giving her hunger pains, and she figured it was time to get going.
Diana stood, stretching, feeling her joints pop as she did so. Sam watched with fathomless eyes that, for some odd reason, reminded her of Caine. The two shared nothing, aside from genes; they were complete opposites. She wondered why Sam should remind her someone so different. They couldn't be more separate. And yet…there was something…
"I'm going to wake Penny and Bug up," Diana said, surprised by the newfound strength in her voice. It was truly amazing what a night's rest and some food could do for a person.
"Alright," Sam said after a moment. "We should probably get going."
Diana nodded, and as the two set to work waking up their companions, she couldn't help but glance over at him once or twice and wonder what she saw that reminded her of Caine.
"Hmmm…Left or right?" Penny heard Nezzera ask Orsay. They were consulting a map on their next course of action, and standing at a fork in the road—forest.
Penny drummed her fingers against her pistol. She ached to turn the safety off—just to turn it off, to feel the cold, deadly power in her hand. Not to shoot anyone…just to feel that power, the power that ensured that she could shoot someone. That she held their lives in the tips of her fingers.
Penny closed her eyes, letting her hand drop away from the gun. Not yet. Now was too soon to start shooting things. She couldn't afford to cause a scene, not at a time like this.
Penny opened her eyes when her group began to move forward. She continued walking, chin up, eyes focused, for the rest of the way, ignoring everyone around her. Why bother paying attention to their trivial problems?
"Is there anymore water left?" Bug whined. Penny gritted her teeth, aggravated once more. Bug was such an annoying, useless kid. Only a year younger than her, and already a sneak and a coward. Back home, Penny would have already shot the dumb bastard, to heck with the consequences. He was like an old cow; a poor creature that needed to be put out of its misery.
"Here," Diana said gruffly, tossing a jug to Bug. He caught it and drank deeply, his greedy eyes closing in pleasure. Penny resisted the urge to snatch the water bottle out of his grimly little hands and drink the lot herself. Instead she forced herself to look away, to not notice him.
After about an hour more of walking, even Penny began to tire. It was now close to midday, and they hadn't seen hide nor hare of Dekka or Edilio. Penny was starting to think that their journey was just a hopeless goose chase. Caine had been trapped in the cave for over twenty-four hours. He had to have been starving by now. Chances were he was already dead.
"Maybe we should try heading in a different direction," Taylor suggested gently from the rear. She was hanging onto Quinn's arm like the little whore she was, Penny noted tastefully, her feet dragging in the dirt with each step. Still, compared to Diana, Taylor was as chipper as they came.
Diana had great purple and black circles under her eyes. Her feet dragged and she was covered in a fine sheet of sweat. Still, she managed to stay only a few steps behind Sam, who wasn't looking so pretty himself.
"Yeah," Bug agreed, resting against the side of a tree, "we're getting nowhere. Maybe we should just turn around and head back." Diana shot the worm a death glare, her hands on her hips. Bug shrank under her gaze. "Or not," he muttered.
"I agree with Bug," Orsay said. Sam and Diana stared at her with accusing eyes. "Not about the turning back part," she amended, "but we probably do need to change direction soon."
Sam reluctantly nodded, and the party continued walking.
Penny stared out into space, wondering when they would next eat. Not that she'd ever admit it, but she was starving and hadn't had nearly enough food last night. One good thing about the Perdido Beach kids was that they had food. Compared to Coates it was like feasting with kings.
Just as Penny was beginning to daydream about different types of food she wanted to eat, there was a snap! of a branch in the woods. Penny froze, her hand already reaching for her gun. She'd been taught how to hunt when she was a small girl, and even though that had been with a bow and arrow and not a gun, Penny knew enough not to ignore the sound of a snapping branch. It could mean danger. And in the woods, there were plenty of things to keep on guard about.
"Penny, what is it?" Diana questioned, seeing that she had stopped. Penny held out her hand, pulling her gun out of her pants line. She clicked the safety off, checking briefly to make sure she had enough bullets for a couple of rounds.
"What's going on?" Sam asked, eyeing Penny suspiciously. Penny ignored him, deciding that this was no time to get into an argument with Sam Temple on the moral issue of gun usage. Right now her sole objective was to be on guard and alert.
Without any warning another branch snapped. Penny twisted to her right, adrenaline making her blood pump and clouding her mind. Something was out there.
Just as Penny was about to take aim and go investigate, a small mountain lion burst through the trees. It snarled, its lips pulling back to expose two rows of deadly, sharp teeth. It roared at them, tail swishing back and forth menacingly.
Bug zapped out of existence while Sam took a defensive stance in front of them. Diana looked pale and Quinn was trembling. Penny glanced at them and rolled her eyes. Why were they frightened? This was the kind of excitement that she lived for in the FAYZ. After all; no adults, no rules.
Not wanting to wait around for Sam to fire off one of his lightning bolts, Penny shot three rounds into the beast. It roared again, this time in pain and fear. Blood spurted out of the creature's forehead and chest, and it sank to its feet. Penny let out a sharp laugh, firing two more shots into the almost-dead lion. The feeling of the gun in her hand, the blood of the lion in the grass, gave her an immense feeling of joy she hadn't experienced in months. It brought back wonderful memories; the first time she'd learned to shoot a gun, the first time she'd pulled the trigger and hit the target right on. She could still see Drake's grin of approval, the way he'd nodded in her direction each time she'd hit the bull's eye. This kill very nearly compared to that. The greatest accomplishment she'd ever made in her short life.
When she was sure the beast was dead, Penny lowered her gun. "Now, that's how ya go huntin'," she drawled, flicking the safety back on and sticking the gun back in her pants line.
Picking up her flashlight, Astrid shined the beam of light directly on Caine's shoulder.
It wasn't a pretty sight. Blood had crusted over the wound. The wound itself was angry and red, and appeared to be swelling. At the moment Astrid was trying to clean it with a piece of Caine's shirt and some water from the pool.
Caine sucked in a breath as the water hit the puncture wound. His eyes narrowed, and Astrid tried to be gentle as scraped away pieces of dirt and stone. She had been worried before, but now that she saw the extent of his wounds, Astrid new that Caine was in trouble. The chances of this healing on its own were nonexistent. If he didn't get to the Healer within the next few days, he'd die.
"Okay, that's the best I can do," Astrid said, removing her make-shift cloth from Caine's skin. He nodded briefly and leaned against the cave wall, closing his eyes. His face was pale and worn, and the bags under his eye suggested that he hadn't slept well at all.
"Turn that off," Caine grumbled after a minute. "We need to save the battery."
Astrid glanced reluctantly down at the flashlight. It was her only source of light. To turn it off felt like giving in to the darkness around them. Submitting to blackness and hopelessness.
Still, she flicked the switch, once again surrounding herself in pitch black.
"So…" Astrid said, trying to make conversation, "how's life at Coates?" Caine snorted.
"Just peachy. I mean, I've always been fond of starving to death. Haven't you?" Astrid winced at his bitter tone of voice.
"Why didn't you ever go out hunting?" she asked.
"What do you think I was doing today? I mean yesterday," Caine quickly amended.
Astrid frowned, settling back into silence. The mention of starvation had brought back her hunger pangs, which were getting worse by the hour. She couldn't imagine what it was like for Caine, who probably hadn't eaten anything in days.
Drip, drip, drip. God, was that sound ever annoying! The constant dripping of water aggravated Astrid to no ends. Other than the chirpings of bats, it was the only sound she ever heard these days—
"Hey, Caine?" Astrid murmured. Caine stirred.
"Yes?" he answered gruffly.
"How well can you work the power with only one arm?"
"Astrid, how many times do I have to tell you? I'm not strong enough to bust us out of here."
"Who said anything about getting out of here?" Astrid asked innocently. "I was thinking more along the lines of a bat hunt."
With those words said, even though it was pitch black and she couldn't see a thing, Astrid could have sworn Caine was grinning at her.
Edilio threw the last of their game into the pile at Dekka's feet. He slapped his hands together, grinning, signifying a job well done.
"Great work, partner," he said.
Dekka stared at the five dead rabbits before her. They'd also caught three small birds, though those particular catches would be for their meals later on. Dekka felt a sense of pride in a job well done, and a flash of guilt. Back before the FAYZ, she'd been a vegetarian, and a proud one at that. She hadn't eaten meat in over three years, and hadn't had any intention of wavering from diet until the starvation set in. Now it was either kill or be killed.
"Yeah, great work," Dekka agreed half-heartedly. She pushed her guilt aside and helped Edilio pick up the corpses. It was nearly two in the afternoon, and about time they took a break.
"Where should we go next?" Dekka asked. Edilio strained under the weight of the animals, huffing and panting, already too tired to answer. Dekka rolled her eyes, using the power to make the animals float beside them as they walked, caught in an anti-grav field. Edilio shot her a grateful look.
"Why don't we start heading toward Achatz River? It's not too far away, and maybe we can get some fishing done while we're at it."
Dekka was just about to nod in agreement, when a loud howl cut her off. The pair froze, the hairs on the back of Dekka's neck rising. She broke out into gooseflesh and shivered; she knew that sound. It was the sound of a hunter closing in on its prey.
It was a coyote howl.
"Get down!" Edilio barked.
Ignoring the game that hovered above their heads, he pushed Dekka down. The bodies of bloody rabbits rained down upon them as the sound of howling and the pounding of feet became louder and more insistent. Dekka broke out into cold sweat as she realized an awful truth.
"The rabbits!" she gasped. "They'll smell them."
Edilio's eyes widened as he rolled off of Dekka, jumping to his feet. He held out a hand, helping her up, before getting to work tossing the rabbits aside. Dekka copied him, though she knew in her heart it was no good. The coyotes would smell the fresh blood…smell them…
"Run!" Dekka cried in a moment of pure terror. She'd seen what coyotes could do to someone, felt their teeth on her skin. She could almost hear the sounds of her own flesh ripping apart, smell her blood.
She took off like a built, hardly caring if Edilio followed.
He did, panting as he raced to keep up. They tore through the woods, Dekka praying that the coyotes wouldn't find them. If they did she knew they wouldn't be able to defend themselves. It would truly be the end.
"Dekka!" Edilio hissed. He'd finally caught up to her, and latched onto her elbow, bringing her to a stop. Every instinct in Dekka's body yelled for her to run as far and as fast as she could, but one look into Edilio's eyes stopped that. He looked calm and in control despite his ragged state. Someone rational; someone who could think their way out of a situation, not just run and pray for the best.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice trembling. Edilio gave her the barest smile in return.
"It's fine," he whispered back. "I think instead of running away we should pick out a spot to hide. That way we won't inadvertently attract attention."
Dekka nodded. This made sense.
The pair searched and finally settled down in a tight patch of bushes and trees that obscured the casual onlooker's view. Dekka crouched low, her hands splayed outward before her. They had to be prepared for anything.
Within moments the coyotes burst through the surrounding trees, noses lifted to the air. They crowded in front of Edilio and Dekka, yipping and howling to each other. The new Pack Leader stayed a small ways ahead of them, seemingly lost in thought. I didn't know coyotes were intellectuals, Dekka thought bitterly.
"Human scent close," one of the lesser coyotes announced. Pack Leader turned to face him.
"We kill?" a female coyote asked, looking hopeful. Several others yipped in appreciation, begging for the chance at a kill. But Pack Leader shook his head.
"No. No find humans," Pack Leader announced. "Pack Leader and others must wait. We wait now."
With that statement, Pack Leader settled down on the grass. The other coyotes shared discontented glances, but settled down as well. A few of the pups fought over the rabbits Dekka and Edilio had dropped, while others conversed amongst themselves—if you counted half sentences and barking "conversing".
Dekka tensed, her fingers clenching and unclenching by her sides, preparing herself for the long day and night ahead of her.
After almost eight hours of searching, they had come no closer to finding Dekka and Edilio. Diana sagged, worn to the bone, against Sam, who'd kindly offered an arm. She concentrated on not tripping over the various roots and stones in her path as she strode forward.
There was no sign of them. No trace, no signal; nothing! It was as though they'd vanished; poofed out of the FAYZ. As the hours passed, Diana began to get more irritable, more desperate. Caine had been trapped in that cave for almost twenty-four hours; he could be dead.
"We have to stop."
Diana glared up at Sam. She was holding onto his right arm, huffing and puffing as they continued forward. She glared at him.
"No," she whispered.
"You can't go on like this," Sam pointed out, pulling back a stray branch.
"I can and I will," Diana countered.
Sam just shook his head. "Go any longer and you'll collapse."
Diana stopped in her tracks, shaking with anger. Sam stopped as well, turning to face her with defensive eyes. Penny cast them a spare glance, fingers hovering over her pistol. Bug, as usual, was oblivious to the mounting tension, though Taylor and Quinn seemed to have picked up on it. Nezzera frowned at them, still holding out the map for Orsay, who was lost in thought.
"Don't tell me I can't," Diana hissed. "Don't tell me I can't move on, can't survive. Don't even think about it, Sam. I'm going to keep walking, keep searching, until my feet fall off, and there isn't a thing you can do about it! I won't be pushed around. I will not be told what to do. I agreed to work with you for the sole purpose of rescuing Caine, and if you're not going to do that I'll go it alone."
Sam stared at her for an endless moment, his dark eyes searching her soul. For a moment Diana was yet again reminded of Caine; the brothers seemed to share the same critical, calculating look.
Then, without another word, Sam turned away, leaving Diana to move forward on her own.
Head held high, she followed.
Catching one of those nasty little buggers perched on the cave walls hadn't been much of a problem for Caine. He had enough of the power at his disposal to force one down to the ground, where Astrid quickly snapped its neck. The beast was tiny, a bit smaller than a football, with a soft underbelly and fleshy wings.
No, the problem didn't lie within the category of catching the creature. It lay within how to eat it.
Caine and Astrid stared at the bat for and endless moment. Caine tried to ignore the rumbling hunger pangs in his stomach as he studied the furry rodent, trying to figure out exactly what the best way to consume that meat would be. Hopefully, he turned to Astrid. She was a genius, after all.
"So, got any ideas?" he asked, pointing at the bat. Astrid frowned.
"Well, we could try to skin and gut it with the Swiss Army knife in my bag," she said.
"And then what?" Caine asked.
"I'm not sure," Astrid admitted. "I haven't got any matches."
"Can't we just scrape some of these stones together?" Caine asked. "Won't that make us a fire?"
"No," Astrid said sadly. "We might get a few sparks if we're lucky, but not anything close to a fire. Besides, we haven't got anything to burn."
"We could use your shirt." Astrid grimaced, her facial expression casting eerie shadows under the flashlight's beam. They'd turned it on to briefly examine the body, but now Caine found himself examining everything but.
For one thing, there was his shoulder. It throbbed and was swelling. He was running a slight fever, and he was feeling rather dizzy. Astrid, on the other hand, looked fine, completely recovered from her almost-death yesterday. Her back wounds were healing, and Caine guessed that the blood loss had simply given her a fainting spell.
"Don't go there with me, Soren," Astrid muttered, jerking Caine out of his revere. She reached over and grabbed her backpack, pulling out her knife.
"So, are we just going to eat it raw?" Caine asked, disgusted.
"It looks like it. I mean, unless you want to starve to death." Caine flashed Astrid a glare. She might have been a genius, but she was a very stupid girl indeed if she believed that Caine was giving up on life without a fight.
"Hand me the freaking knife."
Two and a half hours later, after more than eleven miles of hiking, Orsay and Nezzera announced that it was time to stop. The sun was beginning to set, casting shadows on the surrounding trees. It was getting late, and once it was dark there would be no hope of finding them. Orsay also informed them that it was best to set up camp before it became too dark to see—after all, you could never rely on man-made appliances, such as flashlights, in the wild.
Sam watched as Diana fell in a crumpled heap on the grass, her breathing ragged and heavy. Bug cast her a worried glance, and Penny knelt beside her, holding out a jug of water. Diana downed its contents greedily, her knuckles turning white from the pressure at which she was clutching the canteen.
Sam turned away, unable to watch for some reason. Instead he focused on helping Quinn with the sleeping bags and tents. Taylor joined Orsay and Nezzera in getting out the food, which the Coates kids eyed hungrily. The girls pretended to ignore them, and Quinn snorted.
"Let 'em have some," he called out. "If we feed them any less they'll be dead."
Taylor shot Quinn a glare, though Orsay obliged him by taking some cantaloupe slices and meat over to Diana. It was devoured in seconds.
"Should've let them starve," Sam caught Taylor mumbling under her breath as drank her own share of water. Apparently she hadn't forgotten the plastering, and wasn't about to anytime soon.
When they were done setting up, Sam lay down, completely worn out. His body sighed at the relief rest brought, but his mind was running in circles.
Where were Dekka and Edilio? Had something happened to them? Was Astrid alright? Was Caine? And…what was up with Diana?
Sam thought about the way she'd yelled at him earlier, her eyes glowing fury. Why had she been so reluctant to stop and rest, if only for a moment? Had she thought he was trying to delay their trip somehow? No, of course not. Sam shook his head. Diana knew he loved Astrid and would stop at nothing to get her back. There wasn't the possibility for doubt.
Still, Sam supposed it was only natural for her to strike back at him. After all that had happened at Coates with Caine, he supposed she would be against any kind of containment or control. For the first time that evening Sam turned his thoughts toward his brother.
Caine Soren. Sociopath. Delusional. Controlling. All of these words fit his twin nicely. It was hard to imagine someone as seemingly rational as Diana could possibly love someone like Caine. That she would risk her own life to save his after all he'd done to her. Sam simply couldn't fathom it; it seemed that Diana Landris would once again prevail in being the most elusive and mysterious girl in the FAYZ. Just when you thought you knew what was going on inside of her head, she turned around and twisted your views. It was an art, and she was a master.
Sam nearly chuckled. His brother certainly had an interesting taste in girls.
With that thought in mind, Sam drifted off to sleep.
For Computer Jack, the last twenty-four hours had been almost unbearable. All day he'd sat by the cave entrance with a few other Coates kids in a permanent face-off with the Perdido Beach kids. Or, so he was beginning to think of them as.
Brianna had been the worst, shooting him dirty glances and rude hand gestures. Albert had showed up earlier that morning, a grumpy Howard in tow. In total there were about eleven kids camped out, protecting Astrid. It wasn't enough to match the fourteen (or fifteen, if Jack counted himself) from Coates, but with the Breeze's powers and the lack of nutrition up the hill, no one was looking for a fight.
How did I get myself into this mess? Jack wondered. How was it that Diana had talked him into this? How was it that, no matter how hard he tried, he could never resist an offer she made or say no to a favor she asked?
Jack leaned against the cave wall. Stupid, stupid, Diana. Stupid Diana and her stupid charm. Jack hated it. At times, he hated her.
So why did he always keep coming back for more?
Hours after killing the bat and eating it, Astrid was sure she had made an awful mistake. Devouring the raw meat had been one of the most unpleasant and downright gross experiences she'd ever had, but the growling of her stomach had urged her onward to the next bite.
But now she knew that no good would come of the meat. Within minuets after consumption, her stomach began twisting and curling into painful little knots. Hunger pangs were replaced by nausea, and both she and Caine had thrown up repeatedly in the last few hours.
"How're you doing?" Astrid asked, stealing a glance over at her companion.
"Peachy," he moaned. Astrid could make out his arms around his stomach, but nothing more. Still, she could very clearly imagine the grimace on Caine's face.
"I'm sorry," Astrid apologized again. "I shouldn't have let us eat that."
"Well, there isn't a lot you can do about that now, is there?" Caine asked cynically. Astrid winced at his tone of voice.
"Now," he continued, "stop complaining and hand me that flashlight. I need to answer the call of nature, if you catch my drift."
After a moment of hesitation, Astrid reached over and did so.
Dekka struggled to stay awake as the night wore on. She knew that falling asleep now, with the coyotes so close, could very well be fatal. But her eyelids grew heavy, and she couldn't help but close them. She was weary from all her previous exertion from that day. Her limbs felt like lead, and Dekka was just resting her head on Edilio's shoulder when a howl broke through the night's quiet.
Dekka was awake and alert in an instant.
Pack Leader stood, his fur bristling, his teeth bared. For one terrifying moment Dekka feared they'd finally discovered both her and Edilio. But that moment passed when Dekka realized the coyote was staring not at her but at the sky above. Abruptly he turned to face the rest of his pack.
"We go now," he barked.
The coyotes stood, stretching their legs, yipping in anticipation. One anxious coyote asked, "Where go?"
"To Master," Pack Leader responded gravely.
This aroused a series of howls and cheering from the coyotes, who almost went into a frenzy. The words did not, however, invoke the same response from Dekka. At the word, "Master," Dekka felt her blood freeze. She knew the coyote's Master was the Darkness, the evil being that lived in the abandoned mine shaft.
But Duck had killed it! There was no way…no way that…that…
"Edilio," Dekka whispered, watching as the coyotes began to assemble and take off.
"You don't think that…that the Darkness…"
Edilio shook his head.
"I don't know, Dekka. I just don't know."
Late that night, Penny knew that it was time to move onto plan B.
The chances of rescuing Caine at this point were slim to none. He was probably already dead, anyway. Finding Dekka and Edilio had also become too great a challenge. It appeared as though they had simply vanished; as if the forest had swallowed them whole.
Penny knew that Diana wouldn't give up. She was madly in love with Caine, though she wouldn't admit it. Penny knew without a doubt that neither she, nor Sam, would give up on their lost loves for a long time yet.
But who knew? Penny pondered the sleeping teenagers that lay but a few feet from her. It seemed that for all their bickering and fighting, there was an underlying attraction between Sam and Diana. How odd. It was certainly strange that Sam should become attracted to his brother's girlfriend, the cunning witch. Diana and Astrid were almost as complete opposites as Sam and Caine; darkness and light, good and evil. The nice girl and the bad girl. Shouldn't the good girl end up with the good boy and vice versa? Penny wondered. But, perhaps therein lay the true reason for the attraction: the danger of the unknown. Experimentation, if you will.
But now was not the time to be thinking over other people's twisted love lives, Penny reminded herself. She had other matters to attend to.
Quietly, Penny slipped out of her sleeping bag. She rolled it up, careful not to make a noise, and stuffed it under her arm. She stole over to the backpacks and grabbed one, making sure it had fair amounts of food and water in it. She was going to need the nutrition where she was going.
When she was certain she had everything she needed, Penny moved onto her least favorite part of her plan; waking up Bug.
"Hey, cockroach," Penny hissed in the sleeping boy's ear. Bug jerked into consciousness, his wide brown eyes darting around. They grew even wider when they landed on Penny and took in the backpack strapped to her shoulders and the sleeping bag underneath her arm.
"What're you—" Bug began. Penny cut him off with a hand to the mouth.
"We're leavin', Bug. It's time to be movin' on." Bug's eyes narrowed.
"But," he stuttered through her lips, "Caine—"
"Is dead," she growled. "He's gone and he ain't comin' back. You here that, Bug? Fearless Leader ain't gonna come back to save your skinny little ass again. You gotta fend for yourself now, or you gotta find a new leader."
Comprehension crossed Bug's usually dull features. "You have a plan."
"Yep," Penny said. "All you gotta do is roll up your sleeping bag an' come with me."
Penny saw, to her great annoyance, a flash of doubt flicker over Bug's face. He was uncertain, and that was a problem. As annoying as he was, Bug was a great resource, and Penny knew she'd need him later.
So, instead of slapping him and causing a scene as she normally would have, Penny tried a different tactic.
Leaning in closer, Penny brought her lips to Bug's ear. She let them linger over the skin on Bug's neck and cheek, her teeth lightly brushing his jaw line. Bug stiffened and began breathing harder and faster. Despite her numerous threats and her loaded pistol, Penny was an extremely attractive thirteen-year-old girl, and Bug was a hormonal twelve-year-old boy. Things like death and war seemed to pale in comparison to pheromones at times like these.
"C'mon, Bug," Penny coaxed, winding her free arm around his waist, her hands brushing his abdomen and spine. "Just come with me."
For a moment he was silent, most likely speechless, before Bug answered with a shaky, "Okay."
Penny grinned wickedly, pulling away to stare into Bug's half fearful and half awestruck eyes.
"I thought you might agree."
For reasons unknown to her, Lana couldn't sleep.
There wasn't a sound in the house, and yet Lana felt as if the world were screaming at her. Patrick lay beside her in bed, his ears perked up and in tune to the sounds of her breathing. Lana reached out and stroked his fur, finding comfort in his soft touch. Out of all the things she could loose, Lana knew that loosing Patrick would be the most horrific. Lana didn't honestly know how she would go on if she lost him.
"Stay with me, boy," she whispered. "Don't ever leave me."
Patrick wagged his tail, letting it thump against the mattress. Lana buried her head in his fur, coming close to tears for a moment.
"What's wrong with me?" Lana asked herself, sitting up in bed. "There's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to worry about. Why am I so freaked out?"
Lana rubbed her temples, trying to calm her frazzled nerves. There was nothing to be afraid of. Nothing, she reassured herself. Patrick would know if anything was wrong. He would bark and alert her. Besides, who would want to hurt her? The Healer? She was far too important to risk in such an unstable community—even Zil's crew respected and stayed far away from her.
She was one of the lucky ones, she knew. Many kids had been picked off from the so-called Human Crew; beaten up beyond recognition, their bodies broken and bent at impossible angles. Lana knew. She'd been the one to heal them, after all.
Just as Lana felt a sense of calm come over her, having reassured herself successfully that nothing was wrong, Patrick growled.
Lana froze as Patrick leapt off her bed, standing before her, his teeth bared. Her hysteria and fear returned tenfold, and her hands began to shake. Lana nearly fainted when she saw the doorknob to her suite turn.
"Who are you?" she whispered timidly.
Moonlight streamed in from her seaside window, illuminating the pair of kids that entered her room. The younger boy Lana recognized as Bug, the Coates kid, but the dangerous-looking girl with the pistol in her hand was not someone Lana could recall meeting. However, the knowing smirk on her pale face told Lana that she was not someone you would enjoy getting to know.
"Hello, Healer," the girl drawled in a southern-sounding voice. "I think you should come with us."
Lana stood bravely, staring straight into the cold, unforgiving eyes of the girl.
"What do you want with me?" she asked. If it was a healing, Lana was sure she could make some kind of deal; there was a chance of being reasonable about the whole thing if that was the case.
But the southern girl's next words crushed all of Lana's hopes.
"It's not what I want with you," she said. "It's what the Darkness wants with you."
Dun-dun-dun! Muahahaha/Mwhahaha! I love cliffhangers.
My next update won't be for at least two weeks. Still, keep an eye out for it! I've got a pretty dramatic ending planned out for you, and for those readers who are desperate to uncover one of the many surprises I have coming, I'll give you one thing; certain characters that certain people on this site love and adore will make an appearance to save a few certain other characters.
You're all wondering if it's possible for me to get any more vague, aren't you?