I felt as if my legs might give way soon and with the sun slowly approaching, I needed to start thinking about finding some sunglasses to shade my sensitive eyes. As if on cue, I spotted a department store with a sunglasses rack near the door. Oh-so-casually, I walked past, swiping a pair of black shades and putting them on. With that, I released a breath, one that I felt I'd been holding for a while. The tension in my shoulders did not ease though, and I cast a glance both ways to make sure nobody was watching or trailing me.
I did not realize where my legs were taking me, it wasn't until I saw the torn, dirty, and old fire pit did I feel the sinking feeling in my gut.
I had left them. Left them for dead even, maybe. There was no getting around the fact that I'd abandoned my friends. Hell, it was even the first time I'd done it, abandoned people, that is. However it'd never before felt like I'd been stabbed in the abdomen, the knife ever-twisting with finality every step I took farther from my squad. Was I becoming weak?
I sat on the ground, tilting my head between my knees and closing my eyes. They had cried out my name, their voices shock-filled and terrified at my betrayal. What use would I have been cooped up there with the rest of them? I saw a chance so I took it, simple as that. Still though, justifying it to myself didn't get rid of that pit in my chest.
I was distracted from my train of thought when I suddenly heard a rustle nearby. Quirking my ear, I shifted, narrowing my eyes and surveying the area suspiciously. The camp had seemed vacant before, or had I missed something?
I began poking around the abandoned campsite, pushing aside brushes and staring hard into the branches of trees above me. Nothing.
That's when I saw it; two large amber eyes peering at me from a nearby bush, inhuman and curious. I let myself relax a little bit, it was just some animal. I took a few steps closer, cautiously in case it was still dangerous. What was it? I was about two meters away when I heard a loud grunt from above. I whirled around just in time to see a mass of orange and brown heading right for me.
I spun around with snake-like reflexes, avoiding the tangle of colour by mere inches. I turned on my heels to find myself staring down a great cat, its haunches gathered as it prepared to pounce. My brain barely had time to process that what was staring me down was a cheetah, I only had mere moments though, this time the creature from the bushes launched itself at me. I raised my arms in defence as a young male lion hurled through the air, unconsciously feeling myself jumping into the air and higher over it like leap-frog. I sprinted away to gain some distance and time before turning around, dropping into a fighting stance. Instinctively, I felt my long fangs drop from my gums, poison dripping off of them as I hissed furiously at the great African cat.
I calculated the cheetah's falter in step to be hesitance as the lion from before joined it. As if the situation wasn't weird enough, they both shared a glance, and with that, bounded off, leaving me standing alone, confused as hell.
I let myself relax, feeling my fangs retract as I warily returned to the campsite. What the actual heck.
It wasn't long after that I heard the rustle of brush again, but this time I was expecting it. I jumped to my feet, spinning around with my arms raised in an offensive stance only to face a girl around the age of sixteen staring at me from behind a tree. She was followed by a much younger looking boy lurking by her legs, around the age of 12.
The girl's eyes widened as we met eyes, followed by a beaming, genuine smile that lit up her whole face. I lowered my arms and stared openly at the strange duo.
"Hey there, Zippy," she greeted warmly, striding towards me without breaking pace, "No need for the stank eye." I backed away, hitting a rock and tripping. I got up at lightning pace, facing both of them.
"Who are you?" I demanded. Both of them had fairly tanned skin and light brunette hair, the girl's braided and tied to one side. Prominent freckles dotted her arms and face. She wore a white tank top with loose-fitting faded jeans. The boy was probably up to her shoulders in height, his own hair a mess of brown on top of his head, his black shirt reading "Slayer" written across it. They looked like just two siblings who had stumbled upon this random campsite, except for the suspicious smirk across the girl's face.
"Wasn't our introduction memorable enough?" the girl pouted.
"Well, we were a little bit rude, Mon…" the boy said knowingly, "I knew he wasn't going to hurt us!"
"Well, I had to make sure he was what he smelled like. Now, if he'd just held still for a second…" she chastised the boy, as if that was totally common knowledge.
"Um, smelled like?" I interrupted them. Puzzle pieces started connecting in my head. No way…
"Cats have great noses," she nodded. Click!
"So, you're telling me that you two are… cats. And it was you two that just attacked me." It just was taking a few seconds for me to adjust to the fact that these people were supposed shape-shifters.
"Yes, quite so."
I hesitated, raising an eyebrow, "Prove it."
"Well I could change to my cheetah form… but I would have strip for that, and I'd rather not in front of my little bro, if you don't mind," she said cheekily, plucking at the end of her braid absentmindedly.
I shrugged my shoulders, feeling awkward, when she let out a deep sigh that caused me to look back up. Her brother pulled a face and turned around, his long fingers covering his eyes as the girl, to my utter amazement, began to pull her shirt up until it was about halfway. She looked up at me through her lashes, grinning mischievously as I tried to look everywhere but at her.
"Oh, I'm sorry, does this bother you?" she asked.
"N-no," I spluttered.
"Well, just to be safe, I'll go behind this tree," she winked before disappearing behind said tree, her jeans and shirt hitting the ground lightly. Mere moments later, I heard a growling noise and I caught a glimpse of her human body as her whole body transformed in a millisecond and she landed softly on all four paws.
She now had large amber eyes, her pupils slit that were staring me down. Her soft golden pelt was freckled with dark brown spots that the sun gleamed off of. Her tail whipped back and forth as she sat on her back paws, watching me silently and expectantly.
"Holy fu-" I was quickly cut off by a loud snarl coming from the cat's mouth. Her little brother laughed as she began circling me, feinting leaps like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn.
"Okay, I might believe you," I mumbled quietly. The cheetah paused, looking into my eyes before sitting down and cocking her head to the side.
"She's asking why you were at the Mortem," the boy offered when the silence persisted. His hair fell just bellow his matching amber eyes, his own face cut and bruised from unknown injuries.
"What do you mean she is asking, and how did you guys know about that place?" I asked, cocking an eyebrow and the boy who was almost my age.
"We can sort of hear each other's thoughts… it was pretty cool for, like, an hour, but now it's just annoying. And Monica and I can smell it on you, it's disgusting really and only one place could have such a stench," he nodded knowingly. I heard a low rumbling noise, which I quickly recognized as purring as I saw the cheetah wrap her tail around the boy, swatting him on the nose.
"I was captured…" I said wary now.
"How?" The boy echoed Monica's thoughts.
"I went inside trying to investigate…" I muttered now looking to the ground. What I didn't say was that I'd been with my squad, that I'd deserted them.
"Monica…" the boy's voice hushed, "How can you stand to judge so quickly? After what you have been through?" The defiant cheetah attempted to roll its eyes and hissed in frustration. This was the weirdest thing to watch.
"She's wondering why you went in alone?" he sighed, turning his attention back to me.
"Why doesn't she change back then, I hate to be talking through a translator." I snapped at the rumbling beast, then looked back at him, "No offense." With a roll of her eyes, Monica walked back to the tree, I heard a grumble before it went quiet again.
"Clothes!" a female voice ordered expectantly. The boy tossed some behind the tree, his eyes tightly shut. Only a few seconds later, she walked back around, her expression unpleasant.
"Thanks, Pounce," she said to her brother, then her stern eyes pointed at me, "Why."
"I didn't go alone, I went with a group - I was part of a group of people like me…"
"Snake people?" she asked. How had she known what I was?
"How do you-"
"I can sniff out others' powers – yeah, I know it's weird, but no more than wanting to swallowing live rats whole, am I right?" she crossed her arms defiantly.
"No, um, just people who have powers. None of them share snake DNA though," I paused, taking a deep breath, "We got a letter from someone with the initials R.H." At that, Pounce let out a loud hiss, his eyes lighting up with fury. Looking back at his sister, Monica mirrored his expression.
"You really must be even more stupid than I thought!" Monica shot out angrily, "A mysterious person asks you to come to some big scary building with no further explanation and you just go? What, do you just have a death wish?"
"Well, I'm not dead!" I pointed out irritably.
"Clearly, but where is your group?" she said, her voice dropping to angry edge. I bit my tongue, my eyes falling to the ground
"I had to leave… there was only one opportunity and it was right in front of me. It was either I leave then or ALL of us were trapped in there!" I tried. Monica stared at me her amber eyes giving nothing away,
"How long were you in there? A day or two? Well lucky you for getting out alive. Wanna know what's happening to them? Because I know – hell, I've LIVED what's happening to them. They're either dead right now or well on their way, being tortured for who even knows what purpose. They're probably calling out your name this second in pure agony and hatred for deserting them," her voice was cruel as she pointed her finger at me, "So, what you need to do-"
I snapped, fury blocking out the rest of what she was saying as my fangs unsheathed. I sprinted forward, feeling my self-control draining away as her eyes screwed up in frustration.
A sharp blow to my side had me hissing in pain as I keeled over, glaring up at Monica with slit eyes, "You don't know me."
Craning my neck, her brother stood slightly to the side, twisting around Monica protectively.
"You stay away from her," he tried to say strongly, but his voice came out weak and cracked. Monica pushed him aside gently, pacing towards me.
"If you'd let me finish, Mr. Can't-Handle-Reality-Checks," her shoulders heaved in a big sigh, "Just… in a situation of fight or flight, you got the heck out of there. Why do you think that was?"
"Instinct," I answered, feeling dumb on the ground and rising to my feet.
"Okay. Well, it's not too late to change that instinct of flight," she bit her lip. I looked at her, my eyebrows pushed together.
"What do you mean?"
"Monica!" Pounce hissed, she lifted a hand though and silenced him.
"Pounce and I were thinking of going-"
"-Those were only dreams, Monica!"
"Pounce," she sent him another silencing look, "We believe that they might be holding our sister…"
"You have another sister?" I asked quizzically.
"Yeah, Michelle would be sixteen this year," she stopped, closing her eyes, "Though I haven't seen her since I was ten."
"I know she's there! I've been trying to find this place again for years; they have a lot of ways of throwing people off their tracks. Seeing you though, I know we're close, close to saving my twin," she straightened her back and Pounce smiled a little behind her, "And, well, snake boy, you look like you could handle this with Pounce and me."
"How can you even trust him, he nearly ripped your throat out two minutes ago?" Pounce protested, grabbing her shoulder protectively.
"You," she looked at me, "What's your name?"
"See, Pounce, the Mortem has taken something from Aello too," she paused, looking back to me, "We all have a chance here to rectify some wrongs here. I don't think any of us want to ruin that chance, we have to work together."
"You are insane," I whispered in disbelief, "I'm in."
"I knew you would be," she smirked, patting her disgruntled brother on the head as he opened his mouth to speak again.
"How in the hell are we supposed to do this though? I went in with six others, all strong, and we still got captured." I questioned.
"Well this time you have me and Pounce," she winked and her brother grinned, "I escaped a building just like the Mortem without a scratch, all with Pounce on my back. Plus, you know this place already; together it shouldn't be a problem, if you don't hold us back, that is."
"I seriously can't believe we're even considering this, that was years ago and a total fluke," Pounce grumbled.
"Hush," she rolled her eyes, "Plus, Aello, if we get captured, at least you can be with your dear old friends. Bet they'll be happy to see you."
She held out her hand and I stared at it. And she was asking me if Iwas the one with the death wish? She seemed so sure of herself though, and her words seemed truthful. She was right. I had to go back for my friends. Without another thought, I grabbed her hand and shook it once.
My bones felt as though they would surely break and cease to exist under the constant beating of the guards. I'd soon be a helpless puddle on the ground, numb to all feeling. Days grew longer, my power and hope waning; we were never going to leave.
A week ago Aello had left us, and at first we prayed he would be coming back to bust us out, but it's been days. If he's not been recaptured or dead, he must've just left us to rot here.
Should I be angry though? The immediate acid bubbling in my stomach told me right away that he shouldn't of ran. No one else in the squad would have left us.
I turn to watch Eric across the room where his cage had been stored away from the rest of us as he struggled to get comfortable without irritating his bloody gashes and bruises. The guards never stopped having their fun with him after his outburst, making sure he was too weak to even sit up straight.
I swallowed a large lump in my throat, feeling a body shift to the right of me. I looked up to find Tobi's eyes looking down upon me.
"Hey," I muttered, she said nothing, only gave me a nod and looking away. My heart sank in my chest.
I don't know how long I sat there, waiting for something, until I become aware that there were no words being spoken at all, just silence with the occasional whimper or cry from another cage. Silence was more torturous than the screaming.
I shifted my head when I heard a low mummer to my side though, sitting up to find the Eraser named Bryan holding a phone to his ear.
"Where?" he demanded, a gleam of anger in his eyes "Shit, okay, I'll get there." He closed his phone, scanning the area before exiting the room in a puff.
It was not a minute later that I heard a loud scream from the door outside. For a second, all you could hear was scuffling as everyone moved to the bars of their cages, straining their eyes to see what was happening.
"What the hell was that?" I heard Al mutter. A loud banging noise sounded outside in the hallways as the noise began to grow nearer. Louder and louder, the noise became until a voice was clear and I heard the cursing and grunts of Erasers outside. We were all too afraid to get our hopes up as we pressed up against our cage doors even harder, desperate to see our saviour barrelling through that door.
Then, as if on cue, a large body blew open the door and fell in the middle with an oof! I recognized it as Bryan as he stayed there for a second, stunned and afraid staring at a figure we couldn't see just past the door frame.
In strode a young girl around the age of sixteen, her hair braided to one side, her eyes wild as she stared the bloody Eraser down. She let out an exaggerated sigh before walking up to the confused Eraser and laying a steel-toed boot on his chest.
"You're a real ugly one, aren't you?" she laughed, lifting her foot high into the air and stomping it down on Bryan's groin. He let out a strangled cry in agony, and she reeled back and stomped him again and again, a boy walking in behind her and sort of laughing slightly.
The room was buzzing with chatter and cheers until I heard Phaearea's voice rise above the madness, "Hey, over here!"
As if remembering she was in a room full of crowded people, the girl quickly kicked the side of the Eraser's head, knocking him unconscious before rushing to a Phaearea's cage and beginning on the lock.
"Why, hello," the girl grinned devilishly as she looked at Phaearae through the bars.
"Um, hi," Phaearea answered feebly.
The boy then started working on some locks on the other side of the room. From the corner of my eye, I saw another figure emerge from the doorway and I gaped in surprise.
"Aello!" my voice was drowned out by the loud shout of the rest of the squad. I couldn't believe it.
"I'm here now," he shouted determinedly, lunging forward towards Lark's lock and breaking it quickly. A few seconds later, she had climbed out and with a quick pat on Aello's back, she began to help on
"Aello!" I screamed, my voice drained from exhaustion as he began to clip at my cage, "You came back." He held out his hand to help me out.
"Yes, I came back," He spoke softly, his eyes warm for maybe the first time ever. Once I was out, I began to help with Eric's cage and Al helped me pull his limp body from the cage.
"Michelle!" A nearby scream sounded "Michelle, where are you!"
"Monica, we need to leave, the second wave of guards are going to be here anytime now!" Aello shouted back to the girl who had hit Bryan.
"Aello, how did you - where did you…" Phaearae began but Aello shook his head. Now was not the time.
"We can talk about that later, right now we need to get the hell out of here!" he pushed Phaearae forward, "Lead the rest out, I'm going to get Monica and Pounce."
Phaearae hesitated for a second before Aello pushed her again, "Go!" This time Phaearae snapped into action, looking over us.
"Let's get out of here," she announced in a loud, commanding voice, "Al, you'll have to carry Eric, I think he is still out from the last beating."
"Got him," Al responded, pulling Eric over his shoulder fireman-style.
"Let's go!" She yelled, running out the room followed by every weak shriveling person in that room. I began to run when I stopped; I had to get Aello.
I ran back finding him grabbing that Monica girl. Cages around me shook with the bodies crashing to the floors screaming out pleas to be saved. I tried to block this out as I watched Aello struggle with Monica. I ran over and grabbed Aello's shoulder.
"Monica we have to go!" he shouted.
"No!" she screamed, "She has to be here! I'm not leaving without her!" Now the boy began to pull on Monica's arm as well. I watched silently as tears spilled onto Monica's cheeks.
"Monica, the guards will be here soon!"
Right then, I heard footsteps as a few guards barrelled into the room.
"In here!" one shouted behind him.
"Shit," I muttered. Looking behind my shoulder and to my left, I spotted the fallen Bryan with the long pole still attached to his belt. I grabbed it quickly, standing up against the guards as they charged. One by one I stung them, swinging and hitting them in the sides of their head, but soon found myself being overpowered
"Aello!" I yelled, now pinned to one wall as an Eraser snapped its jaws at me, his warm saliva hitting my face. His weight was suddenly lifted off me and I widened my eyes to see the girl with the braided hair giving me a curt nod before turning to bash the Eraser on the side of the head with her elbow.
Aello came to my side, grabbing my hand before pulling me along with the girl and boy to the door. I could hear the speaker blaring out rushed, angry instructions that sounded like gibberish as we dashed the few final yards to the large door that lead out of here, leaping over fallen Eraser every now and then. We busted through into open air, running so fast I felt like my feet would catch fire.
"Over here," the boy, Pounce, said as he grabbed onto Monica's side.
We dove through a few bushes, crawling madly until we found the rest of the Squad sprawled out on the ground in different areas in some clearing, all heaving with exhaustion and adrenalin. Phaerae and Tobi were kneeled over Eric, giving attention to his wounded body and trying to find some makeshift bandages from the foliage around.
To my side, Al and Lark were hugging, Al's hand rubbing the length of her back soothingly as she silently sobbed into his shoulder. A moment of vulnerability Lark barely showed was now flooding out. However, none of that mattered for the time being…
We had made it.
Thank you Thank you Thank you Fazzems the best Beta Reader of all time! big thanks to her ! :)
I hope you all enjoyed this chapter! please review and tell me what you think!