A/N: Well... it snowed where I live, and that inspired me to WRITE! So enjoy.
The group of Gracepunks walked into the darkening forest, the burning cathedral behind them. They had only been walking for five minutes when the snow started.
The first one to notice the snow was Caleb. He had been completely silent before then, but as soon as he saw the first snowflake, he let out a high-pitch squeak of excitement and went into little kid mode, running through the trees and chasing snowflakes. A moment later, the twins joined him, giggling silently.
"This is just great..." muttered Christopher, pulling his jacket around himself tighter. "We're in the middle of the forest with no shelter, no supplies, and even better, it's dark and snowing."
"Thank you for summing that up..." Ben muttered sarcastically, rolling his eye.
"Anything else you'd like to complain about?" asked Jen with equal sarcasm, not really feeling the need to remind him that she and the twins had just gotten back from the City with supplies.
Christopher simply grunted in return.
"As much as I hate to admit it, he does have a point," said James, glancing over his shoulder at the younger Gracepunks. "We should probably find shelter soon..."
"Where are we going anyways?" asked Andrew tiredly. He still hadn't completely recovered from his asthma attack, and the cold wasn't helping.
"I don't think I should tell you..." said Christopher, staying at the front of the group to avoid eye contact with the others.
"Why not?" asked Ben curiously.
"... Just in case..."
"In case one of us gets captured by a Gracebeast before we get there?" Jen finished for him cynically. "And you really think any of us would tell a Gracebeast anything?" She practically spit out the word Gracebeast.
"Well I know you wouldn't, even with torture," grumbled Christopher. "But I was thinking about some of our... newer... members."
Andrew glared at Christopher, small bursts of fire jumping out of his fingertips. He was certain that even if he got captured and tortured, he wouldn't give anything away.
"Speaking of liabilities, where is your brother?" Christopher asked Jen.
Jen opened her mouth to start shouting, but Ben stopped her. "He's got a point... where are Caleb and the twins...?"
Warren had been following the group of Gracelings the whole time. Luckily for him, there was a bounty of thick evergreens for him to hide in, and he was able to stay close enough to hear their conversation.
When the snow started, he saw the small kid with black hair run off into the thicker part of the forest, chasing the snowflakes. He also saw the twins follow him.
Warren knew this could possibly be his only chance. The three smallest and youngest members of the group had wandered off. As quietly as he could, he pulled out his gun. It only held three bullets laced with Pitch, but there were only three small Gracelings. One for each bullet. He just hoped none of them were allergic to the Pitch.
His gun in his hand, Warren silently walked across the tree branches, using his complete weightlessness to his advantage. Not even the smallest twigs snapped under his foot.
He located the small Gracelings a moment later. All three of them were sitting huddled in a small clearing. He cursed to himself, since he wouldn't be able to get a good shot at any of their knees until they were standing. After all, he would never shoot to kill. Not on purpose, anyways.
That was when he heard talking. The dark-haired one with the number 6 inked onto the back of his striped hoodie was muttering something, as if he were having a conversation with himself. However, the twins were responding as if he were talking to them.
Warren leaned in a bit closer, but as he did, his hand started to violently twitch, almost causing him to pull the trigger of his gun. He quickly put the gun away before he could accidentally fire it. Then, after waiting a minute for the poison-induced twitch to go away, he focused back on the small Gracelings.
Caleb had been having fun chasing snowflakes. He was wearing his ink nib gloves, so whenever he could catch a snowflake, he would be able to look at it for a moment before it melted in his warm gloved hands.
He heard the twins coming up behind him, but when he started to turn to see them, a sudden sharp pain in his head sent him to his knees. A moment later, then twins were at his side, one holding onto each arm to keep him upright.
"I'm fine..." Caleb muttered. He slowly tried to get to his feet before exclaiming, "No I'm not..." and falling back to his knees on the freezing ground. He was suddenly completely drained of energy, and he was dizzy and nauseous. This had only happened three times before, but he knew what it meant. It had happened the day before his mother died. It had happened the day before the bombings of the Dead City. It had happened the day before... something else he didn't want to think about...
It was his Grace violently telling him that something very bad was about to happen.
The twins seemed to pick up on the nervous energy radiating from him, especially Sam, since she was the best at reading emotions.
Erika gently placed her finger on Caleb's temple. What's wrong? she asked him.
"S-something bad..." he muttered as he unconsciously pulled a piece of paper out of his bag. His ink nib fingers still had ink left in them, and he started drawing. He drew with his dominant left hand and held onto his key with his right, in turn accidentally smearing ink all over his striped jacket. Again.
What is it? Erika asked. What's going to happen?
"Don't know... don't know..." Caleb gasped out, his eyes glazed over. "Something bad... something... something... don't... Don't look up... don't look up..."
Sam and Erika glanced up at each other.
Sam, can you see anybody? Erika asked.
Sam sat still for a moment before slowly shaking her head. I can see something, but I'm not sure. Maybe they're wearing one of those Gracebeast helmets.
"The helmets b-block out mind readers..." Caleb muttered, only knowing what the twins were talking about because Erika still had her finger on his temple.
So is there a Gracebeast following us? Erika asked nervously.
Caleb slowly nodded. "Don't look up... he... he'll see your eyes..."
I think it's more important that he doesn't see your eyes! exclaimed Sam. Everyone knows what that bright purple means...
Caleb slowly nodded, and right at that moment, he finished his drawing.
"Uh oh..." muttered Caleb, only now seeing the picture he had drawn as his mind regained control of his sight. He slowly handed the picture to Erika, who showed it to Sam.
The picture depicted somebody being torn apart by what looked like a large airplane propeller. Off to the side, two other figures were being taken prisoner and shoved into one of the airships that the Gracebeasts used.
The twins looked back and forth between one another and Caleb.
"We should... get back to the others..." mumbled Caleb. The twins nodded and helped him to his feet. Then they supported him as they walked back through the trees to rejoin the others.
Warren was hopelessly confused.
He hadn't been able to see the drawing, but he knew it must have been important from the twins' body language. He also wondered what was wrong with the dark-haired kid. And more importantly, he wondered what the hell that kid's Grace was...
It wasn't until after the twins had helped the kid to his feet and they rejoined the others that Warren realized he had missed his chance. Mentally cursing himself, he quietly followed the kids back to the group. He was protected from the wind and snow by the trees, but that didn't stop the snow from falling off of the trees wherever he walked. That was why he stayed back.
He knew that the Gracelings wouldn't continue walking for very long, but either way, he knew it was going to be a long night.
Less than ten seconds after Ben posed the question of where the three youngest Gracepunks were, they came stumbling back onto the nearly invisible path that they had been following. Jen immediately recognized the look on Caleb's face.
"Uh oh, Caleb, what did you see?" she asked, hurrying forward and helping him stand upright. He didn't answer. Instead, he handed her the picture.
Jen took one look at the picture before going pale. "We should keep moving," she said. "Christopher, how far is it to wherever you're taking us?"
"A couple days..." he said quietly.
"Days?!" exclaimed Ben. "In a couple days, it'll be November, and I'm sure you all know how cold it gets around here in November."
"That's why we should get moving!" exclaimed Christopher. "We're running out of time."
"And we're being chased..." muttered Caleb.
All eyes turned to him.
"What did you just say?" asked Josh, who was the only one who hadn't heard what Caleb said.
"Apparently we're being followed by a Gracebeast," said Christopher.
"Not a Gracebeast..." Caleb whispered. However, he whispered it too quiet for the others to hear. The only ones that did hear him were Jen and Andrew, since they were standing right next to him. They both glanced up at each other, sharing a confused expression.
"C'mon, let's go," said Christopher hurriedly. He then turned and continued leading the group on through the darkening forest. Their pace was notably faster, and up in the trees, Warren struggled to silently keep up with them.
"Okay, here's a good place to stop for the night," said Christopher.
The others sighed and practically collapsed on the ground. They had been walking for four hours now without a break. The twins had already fallen asleep, and Josh was carrying them.
The clearing they had stopped in had low-hanging branches that provided a good shelter from the wind and snow. Still, it was bitterly cold.
"I think it's safe enough to light a small fire," said Christopher, looking at Andrew.
Andrew simply wiped his nose on his sleeve and turned towards the forest to find firewood.
"So what are we going to do for shelter?" asked Ben.
"You all seem to have forgotten that the twins and I went to the City today," said Jen, raising an eyebrow.
"I thought you only went to go get food," said James, reminding himself and everybody else that they hadn't eaten all day.
"Well," said Jen, reaching into her jacket pocket and pulling out the list Caleb had given her earlier that day, "somebody gave me a tip on what supplies to get."
Jen then set down her bag and opened it up, revealing three long silver tubes along with a variety of other objects. "Sam's bag has the food in it, and Erika's has blankets and such."
"What are these?" asked Christopher, picking up one of the tubes.
"Watch," said Jen, taking it from him. She then walked over to a tree with a very low-hanging branch and snapped the tube on top of the branch. She pressed a button on the top of the tube, and then stepped back. The tube opened up and unfolded, metal supports running the length of the branch and reaching to the ground. A moment later, a tarp rolled out along the metal structure, and the next thing they knew, they were staring at a tent.
"Compact tent..." muttered James, a small smile appearing on his face. "Clever."
Jen went around and found two more branches for the other two tents. Less than a minute later, they had a camp.
"Well that's convenient," laughed Ben. He glanced over at Jen. "What else did you guys get?"
"I got you that bottle of morphine you wanted," said Jen, reaching into her bag and pulling out a small glass jar filled with clear liquid. She was about to toss it to him, but considering the lack of light and Ben's lack of depth perception, she figured it was a bad idea. Instead she walked over and handed the jar to him.
"Thanks," he smiled, putting the jar into his medical bag in a separate waterproof compartment that held his other liquid medicines, including antibiotics, fever medicine, and antivenom for snake and spider bites.
"Great," said Christopher sarcastically. "Now if any of us need surgery, we'll be fine. Now where is Andrew?"
Andrew had a difficult time finding firewood in the dark. He could have easily ignited his fingertips like a candle, but he didn't want to attract unnecessary attention, especially with the possibility of there being a Gracebeast – or something that wasn't a Gracebeast – following them. After a while, though, he did manage to find enough for a small fire.
As he turned to head back to the group, however, he heard a quiet thump as if something had fallen from one of the trees. Andrew quickly turned around, but he didn't see anything. At least... he didn't think he saw anything. But he couldn't tear his eyes from one area of slightly darker air between the snow-covered trees...
Suddenly, Christopher's voice rang out through the darkness. "Now where is Andrew?"
Brought back to reality, Andrew turned and quickly ran back to the campsite.
The first thing he saw when he got back was the first tent that Jen had set up. Then he noticed the other two.
"I don't even wanna know..." he muttered tiredly. He went to the center of the clearing and stacked the dry firewood in a pile. He held out his hand, ready to spark the fire, when he realized that all of the other Gracepunks were crowded around him. He assumed that they were eager for him to start a nice warm fire, but he also realized that Christopher, James, and Josh had never seen him light a fire before. James especially looked curious, as always.
A small smile crept onto Andrew's face, and he sparked a fire that hovered above the palm of his hand. They all winced at the sudden source of bright light. Andrew then stuck his hand into the pile of firewood, and a moment later, they caught and began to burn with a bright orange flame. The heat began radiating out from the fire immediately, and what little snow on the ground that had gotten through the trees began to melt.
"Well now that that's all settled, I think we should eat something and then get to sleep," suggested Jen.
"Yeah, we're gonna need it..." muttered Caleb, who was sitting off to the side, drawing in the dirt.
He knew that they were going to be in for a long day...
Warren had followed Andrew through the forest as he collected firewood. He stayed up in the trees almost right above him the entire time. He didn't take out his gun because his hand was still twitching, and he didn't want to accidentally fire it and hurt someone.
After a few minutes, Warren was finally able to get a good look at the kid. He recognized him from Felix's description, but there was something else...
Holding onto a large tree branch with one hand, Warren leaned over to try and get a closer look at the strange kid with the number 9 painted on his back.
It was right at that moment that his twitch decided to return.
The muscle in his hand spasmed so violently that he lost his grip on the branch and fell out of the tree. He landed with a soft thump, but the kid still heard it. Warren looked up from his position on the ground to find the kid looking directly at him. He was certain that he couldn't see him, though, because he didn't try and run or warn the others.
That was when Warren noticed something. The kid looked familiar. He knew what he looked like from Felix, but there was something else... something he couldn't place...
He knew this Graceling...
A moment later, he heard a voice, and the Graceling turned and left. Warren quickly and quietly scrambled up into a nearby tree, again cursing himself for missing another opportunity to capture a Graceling. When he got back – if he got back – he would be labeled as the worst Gracebeast in history. He wasn't even sure he was a Gracebeast anymore...
With a sigh, Warren got a bit closer to the campsite, just in time to see Andrew light a fire. Felix hadn't been lying when he said the kid could light fires with his mind...
Warren sighed and settled himself in a large pine tree. If he was going to attack, he'd have to do it soon. He somehow knew that this was his last night he would spend sleeping in a tree. He was determined to do something, and whatever happened – good or bad – he would be going back to the safety of the prison. Even though he couldn't help but wonder if he would be going back dead or alive...
A/N: Next chapter, stuff gets real. Aw man, you guys are gonna hate me. Mwahahaha! So I hope you enjoyed this chapter! See ya later, nuggets!