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Chapter 40

Kase was laughing so hard that he was gasping for breath; I didn’t know that a person could be so ticklish.

“Stop,” he gasped. “I can’t… breathe.”

“You know,” I giggled, “there’s a word you’re supposed to say. It’s mercy.”

“Mercy!” Kase shrieked.

I stopped tickling him, laughing. “That is tickling.”

There was a snap of a twig behind us.

“You know,” someone-not-us said. “When people are trespassing, they’re generally quiet.”

I spun around to see Marlee standing there, her eyes dark with anger.

“Marlee,” I managed.

Marlee rolled her eyes. “Yes, that’s my name,” she said shortly, “Don’t overuse it. Or worse, tell it to the sentries that are up the hill on the other side of the river.”

I kept watching her. “You’re acting like this is my fault,” I said flatly, referring to the sudden rift that was between us, gaping like a ravine.

“It is!” she exclaimed, her eyes sparking in fury. “You were supposed to be different. I was supposed to be able to trust you.”

I shook my head, my whole face turning solemn. “I never said that you could trust me, especially not in getting me to tell you about what happens in my day-to-day life. Do you know how long it’s been since someone actually cared?”

Marlee shook her head, refusing my attempt at an explanation. “Are you seriously trying to tell me you aren’t used to telling people things about you? What about all the things you’ve told us about you?”

I shook my head, unable to stop myself from making an incredulous face as I looked back at her. “How good do you think I am at lies?” I asked her.

Astonishment washed over Marlee’s face along with more pain before she smothered it. “Wow,” she laughed humorlessly, shaking her head. “Was anything you said real?”

I looked away. “Depends on what you call ‘real,’” I replied. “Did I really come from somewhere else and was my family really a million members large? Yeah.” I let out a long breath. “Well, my family wasn’t literally a million members large, but it was big.” I looked up at Marlee. “My own family didn’t care what I did half the time,” I said. “Do I really need to spell out how hard it is to be accountable to someone? This is why I never like being in charge; it’s why I never let anyone in.”

Marlee kept staring at me like I was some puzzle she needed to decipher. “Where were you?” she asked.

I scoffed, staring at her like she’d lost her mind. “Oh, so you think that you deserve and answer now? You don’t really care, do you? You just want answers like everyone else in this world.” I turned away. “I’ve got work to do,” I muttered.

Kase coughed uncomfortably. “Uh, me, too,” he managed.

I’d forgotten he was even there.

I walked over to a tree and didn’t even bother stooping down to pick up a stick. Instead, I reached up to the nearest dead branch and I yanked at it, momentarily satisfied by how it snapped in my hand.

“Geez,” Marlee grumbled, backing up from me. “Make room for the other people who have to pick up sticks.”

I stopped, turning back around slowly. “You have to get sticks?”

Marlee rolled her eyes. “What? You thought you were special?”

“Russ usually makes two tasks for getting sticks,” Kase offered nervously.

I grumbled. “Of course, I’d end up with you.”

Marlee laughed humorlessly. “You’ve got it backwards,” she sniped.

“Do I?” I asked snidely, rolling my eyes. “Let’s just hurry up, Kase.”

“Statistically speaking, people usually get their work done faster when they work in groups,” Kase said.

I shot him a look.

“Oh. Or not,” he hurried to correct himself, laughing uncomfortably.

Marlee looked conflicted. “He is right,” she admitted reluctantly.

I groaned, “you’ve got to be kidding me.” I looked at her. “You are not coming with us.”

Marlee sneered. “It’s not like I want to,” she scoffed.

My hand crept down to my belt, my emotions warring against each other. “I said you’re not coming with us,” I growled, “whether you like it or not.” The words were spit out of my mouth with a kind of venom I’d never used before. Some sorts of poison called betrayal and lies.

Not unlike I probably caused in everyone else.

“Look,” I began, taking in a deep breath and turning to face Marlee completely. “Why do you think I pushed you away earlier? I did it because I don’t want you around. So, why are you butting yourself in on my life?”

Marlee didn’t even flinch. “Are you trying to hurt me more because I think I’m broken at this point. It’s not going to work.” She kept looking right at me, her face expressionless like she really was broken.

I tried not to flinch. “Can you just go back to wherever you came from and we’ll continue on our way?”

“No,” Marlee replied. “Power is in numbers.”

“Stealth is not,” I replied in frustration. “Why do you want to come with us that badly? It can’t possibly because you were scared to come out here alone.”

Marlee stiffened.

“If you had been,” I continued, “you would’ve waited to see who your partner was before dashing off.”

“How do you know that I wasn’t too distraught to be afraid of anything earlier?” Marlee challenged.

I shook my head, managing to roll my eyes without even rolling my eyes. It was a matter of letting a measured amount of disgust and annoyance cross your face for a moment as you stared at your target.

This was the first time it hadn’t worked.

“You want an answer?” I asked, crossing my arms. “Because no one would let me get under their skin enough to make them ‘distraught.’” I shook my head at her, trying to ignore the twinge of pain that shot through me.

“Well,” Marlee smirked, her lips fighting to fall back down into a frown. “Apparently I am nobody.”

“How about we zip our mouths shut and begin working?” Kase suggested way too cheerfully. He threw a nut at me and shot me a look before turning to Marlee. “If you’re joining us, you’d better be worth something because there’s nothing stopping us from letting you take the fall for anything that happens.”

Marlee narrowed her eyes at Kase. “Point made,” she said irritably. “Can I continue collecting sticks now, master?” she asked sarcastically.

It wasn’t as funny as it would’ve been earlier.

“If you expect me to say yes, then I’m going to say no,” I snapped.

Marlee snorted. “Yep. Sounds about right.” She sneered at me. “I was talking to him.” She jabbed her finger in Kase’s direction.

I picked up a stick and briefly fantasized throwing it at her, thick end first like a javelin, but I decided against it. She was picking up sticks, too, and I refused to help her when she was being such a…

I shouldn’t finish that because it would be very hypocritical.

“Calypso is in charge here,” Kase said, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes at Marlee. Never had I ever been more grateful for someone else defending me. Though, needing other people to defend me wasn’t something that happened very often; I didn’t let it.

I raised an eyebrow at Marlee. “Do you want to ask that question again?” I asked innocently.

Marlee growled, the sound scraping out of her throat and sounding animalistic enough to rival even mine. “No,” she snapped, turning away. “I’ll just go over here and ignore you when you tell me to do something.”

I snickered, “Oh, but haven’t you heard? I’m in charge.”

“Not of me, you aren’t,” Marlee replied, moving towards the area she had chosen and picking up sticks. “And don’t you dare try to make me bow to you.”

My eyes narrowed and I exhaled through my nose loudly. “Make me,” I hissed through gritted teeth.

Marlee turned back, a devilish smile passing over her face. “How about I do that,” she said nicely as though she were about to do me a favor.

And then she lunged.

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