Morning came slowly and Gwen had spent the entire night thinking. Her words the night before had stuck in her mind leaving her feeling like she had ripped away a young child’s toy and smashed it right in front of them. It had been thoughtless of her to think that her two best friends that had stuck by her since day one hadn’t missed her, hadn’t mourned for her, and yet she had basically said that they didn’t matter.
James had said that they had searched for her and they had mourned for her. She wondered how long it took them to give up the search, and how long it took for them to believe she was dead. A day? A week? A month? How quickly had they given up on her?
She shook herself. Thinking about that would do would stress her out. She sat up, sighing softly. She shared a tent with Riley the night before, not wanting to attempt to try to share a tent with either James or Chris. She didn’t even know if they still slept in the same tent or if they separated because of their duties. The idea of the two of them sleeping alone unsettled her greatly, and left her feeling slightly cold.
She hated it, hated that James had gotten into Night Watch and she hadn’t been there to celebrate it with him, hated that Chris had become harder and was no longer the boy who had been so kind to her before. But mostly, she hated how much she had changed.
The time in the City had changed her, and Ryan’s death had bent her out of shape, messed with her mind. She hated that she would have to get up and see her two best friends, unknowing of what they thought of her. Did they hate her now? She wouldn’t blame them if they did.
Riley stirred in his sleep, floating somewhere between being awake and asleep for a few minutes before he finally shifted with a groan and opened his eyes.
“Morning.” He said, staring up at the roof of the tent and never looked in her direction. It seemed that he was still frustrated at her about the night before and she could understand that, but she couldn’t find it in her to apologise.
“Morning.” She murmured, standing up and stretching. She took a breath before stepping out of the tent. It was only early morning, and very few people were up yet. She took advantage of that, and walked around the camp to see the changes. There were more people than she remembered. Obviously they had been taking in strays.
Another addition she noticed were the dogs. She had noticed the dog food last night, but hadn’t paid any mind to it, thinking that they just had picked up a stray and it was the only one. Yet, there were a handful of dogs; most of them were standing guard outside of certain tents, while others followed after the people who were already up.
She wondered about the dogs. There had been talk of them before, but that had quickly been given up when they still weren’t sure about anything yet, being called an unnecessary risk. She wanted to know what had changed.
“They’re loyal.” A voice behind her said, scaring her out of her wits. She spun on her heel, and breathed out a sigh of relief when she saw it was only Hayden.
“You scared me.” She said, and he smiled lightly.
“Sorry.” He said and shrugged.
“What were you saying?” Gwen asked.
“The dogs. They’re loyal to their owners. They seem to know who’s safe and who’s not.”
“Who knows? They’ve protect us, so we protect them. We feed them, they stay.”
Gwen hummed, interested. “Can they tell who’s infected, or do they just know who’s a risk?”
Hayden glanced at her. “I think they just know who’s a risk, I guess. Tony said that they see us as their pack members, so they protect us.”
“He’s one of our newer members who were found in the town. He just happened to be a vet.”
Hayden nodded, before hesitating. “I saw Chris and James last night. They both looked pretty pissed off. Any idea why?”
“Yeah.” She said, but didn’t say anything more. Hayden seemed to realise that he wouldn’t get anything out of her, and changed the topic.
“James will be finishing watch soon, and I think he wants to talk to you and the group you came with when he gets back. Said something about the town.”
“Great, thank you.”
Hayden nodded, offering her a smile. “No worries.” He turned, about to leave before pausing “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but stay safe, yeah? Those two just got you back; they don’t need to lose you again.”
“I’ll stay safe. I promise.” Although, she wasn’t exactly sure if she was lying or not.
When James returned from Night Watch he hardly glanced at her, just grabbed her arm and dragged her off towards the tents where the rest of group from the City were staying. They were already awake, sitting out the front of one of the tents in a circle, all of them looking slightly out of place.
“Good morning.” James greeted, although he didn’t sound sincere. “Follow me.”
He didn’t give them another moment instead he walked off and forced them to keep a quick pace to keep up with him. He led them a fair distance away from the camp and stopped on top of a hill.
From there they could get a slight vantage point. They could just see the town from there, and compared to the City, it was rather small.
“This is the town. Supply runners and a handful of others have been working to clear it out so we can move into there, but at the moment it’s pretty well safe. That’s where we’ll head out to today. Chris and a few others are already out there.”
“Is it safe?” Isiah asked.
“For the most part. The part we’ll be going in is cleared out.”
“How many members of your camp are out there right now?” Isabelle asked, frowning slightly. “You don’t look like you have many to spare.”
James gave her a sharp look. “We’ve got around forty; close to half of our people are out there. Supply runners generally come back every day, but the rest stay behind.”
“Half? Isn’t that a bit risky?” Gwen asked.
“If we can get into the town, that’s it. No more running, even if a few lives are lost, we can save even more.” He had hardened up since Gwen had left, and she wondered if it was because of her.
“So what’s the plan?” Ariana asked. “Go into the town and try to get into the hospital?”
“Basically.” James shrugged off his backpack, and dug around in it for a few seconds before pulling out a rolled up piece of paper. He quickly shook it out and showed it to them.
It was a map that had been drawn by someone who had hands that were far too shaky for the job, but it was at least somewhat eligible. “We’ve tried the best to map out the place, but it’s not accurate, and it’s not the entire town.” He pointed to a point on a map, trailing his finger around the line. “We’ll follow this route and it should take us directly to the hospital. From there we’ll try to get into store rooms and hope we can find a lab.”
“And if we don’t?” Riley asked, and James shrugged.
“Then we improvise.”
Despite how the map had made it out to be, it was a fairly long walk to the town. Though Gwen had grown used to walking for long periods of times, she had found herself feeling worn out by the time they had made it to the town. She wanted to turn around and go back to the camp so she could crawl into her bed, but remained silent about her discomfort.
“Here we’ll have to run just to be safe.” James told them. “We should bypass a park, where Chris said he’ll meet us and from there he’ll help us to the hospital.”
Running. Great. Gwen thought to herself, sighing the slightest bit but readied herself.
“Keep close.” James told them before breaking into a sprint. She wondered how he kept this up, before she had left James had been by no means unfit but he had never been someone who could run for hours without taking breaks.
She tried her best to keep on his heels, but found herself falling behind and eventually; she was running at the back of the group struggling to stay with them. It seemed like they had been running for hours when the park finally came into view and she felt immediate relief.
Except the relief came too quickly because apparently that wasn’t the right park. Her lungs were starting to burn, and she felt herself getting a little less graceful, tripping over nothing, and then finally, finally, they stopped.
Gwen threw herself down on the grass, breathing deeply. She struggled to get her breathing under control but when she finally did, she noticed that she was the only one who was really struggling. Kel looked tired, but she wasn’t sure if that could be related to the running or the withdrawal but the others looked fine, as though they were used to this.
To be fair, they probably were.
“Here.” James said, throwing a water bottle at her. He didn’t look tired in the slightest. In fact, he looked as though he could do it another six times and she felt frustrated. Had they not just run for a good twenty minutes? Why were none of them feeling the effect?
Evidently the frustration showed on her face, because Isiah laughed at her. She scowled at him.
“Why aren’t any of you tired yet?” She asked,
Isiah shook his head. “We’re used to this. This is nothing compared to what we’re used to.”
“And you?” She asked James, who shrugged.
“Same as them. The last few weeks have been long with a lot of running. You get used to it eventually.”
Gwen shook her head, wondering how she could ever get used to this. Though she and Ryan had ran for days, she hadn’t been forced to run at top speed, and Ryan had always called breaks when he noticed that she was struggling too much, and obviously, the group from the City had been taking it easy on her. She wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or frustrated.
Her breathing finally returned to normal and she looked towards James. “We’re supposed to be meeting Chris here, right?”
He nodded. “Yeah. He’ll be here soon.”
The time spent waiting for Chris was awkward. James was obviously still annoyed at her, as well as Riley, and Kel wasn’t great for conversation at the moment, he wouldn’t be until he got over withdrawal or got his hands on a pack of smokes, and Isiah, Isabelle and Ariana were having their own conversation, and Gwen felt as though she wouldn’t fit in if she tried to join.
So she sat in silence, pondering over if she should try to apologise to James, but at the moment he seemed far too angry with her and any attempt at an apology wouldn’t go down well. Not only that, but she didn’t know what to say. “Hey, sorry about last night but I didn’t even think about you guys?’ or ’Sorry about what I said, but I don’t think I was lying.”
Those would just make him angrier, and she didn’t know how he would react to that. Would he just stop talking to her in general? Would he lash out? Would he pretend that she had never even come back?
Before she could think about it anymore, there was the sound of a group of people running towards them, obviously Chris’ group. She stood, and swallowed nervously, not sure what Chris would think of her now, or if he’d even talk to her.
“This part of the town is cleared out, and the hospital seems quiet.” Chris told them. “We didn’t get a chance to check the hospital yet, but Charlie, Rachel and Ciara went on ahead. They’ll at least make sure that we can get in safely.”
A girl stepped forward, hair like fire that fell straight past her shoulders and warm coloured eyes. “We brought some supplies for you guys. Weapons, mostly, for self-defence, but there’s some water in there.”
Riley offered her a smile. “Thank you…” He paused.
“Cheyenne.” The girl offered, and he nodded.
“Thank you, Cheyenne.”
She watched as Riley unzipped the bag and began quickly inspecting the weapons. There wasn’t much, just a few guns and the rest knives, and she hoped that she would never have to use one.
Cheyenne stepped back behind Chris. He appeared to be the leader of the group, and again she found herself wondering about them. How long had Chris been doing this to be accepted as a leader?
“The guns are only to be used if there’s no other choice.” Chris told them. “Don’t use them otherwise. The sound brings the infected running.”
“We should get going.” James said before anyone could say anything else. “It’d be best if we got home before it gets dark tonight.”
No one argued with that logic, and soon they were back to running. James, Chris and Cheyenne took the lead while the rest of the group that had been with Chris went to the back of the group, throwing glances behind them every so often with their weapons in their hands. It was obvious that they were keeping a look out for infected and any other threats, and Gwen hated that they had to become like this, not only watching their backs but everyone else’s.
It was fortunate that the hospital wasn’t far from the park and in a matter of minutes they had made it there. The group quietly made their way around the back of the hospital and entered through a door that had been propped open with a brick.
“Be quiet.” Chris called back to the group in a low voice. “We don’t know what’s in here.”
“Seems all clear on this floor.” Someone said, stepping out of a room and in front of the group almost scaring Gwen half to death, a slight gasp escaping from her mouth. The others didn’t seem too phased, though she glanced towards the group from the City and she could see how tense they looked. Obviously she hadn’t been the only one who had been shocked by the sudden appearance.
After she had composed herself, Gwen took proper look at the girl. She stood tall with a playful smirk on her face. She looked like someone who could kick anyone’s ass without any effort, though she had an attitude to her that didn’t make her seem to intimidating.
“Ciara.” Chris greeted.
“’Sup boss?” She asked.
“Where are the others?”
“Rachel’s further down that way, and Charlie said he would just check around the elevators and stairwells. They’ll meet back here soon enough.” Chris nodded, and then turned back to the group.
He nodded towards Riley. “It might be a good time for you to sort out those weapons.”
Riley wordlessly slid the bag off his bag and dropped it on the floor, unzipping it. He made quick work of sorting out the weapons. The two guns went to Kel and Ariana, and each of them had been given a knife of some description. Gwen had been given a knife that had obviously been swiped from someone’s kitchen, and Isiah had been given one similar. Ariana had been given a knife that was shorter and looked more ornamental rather than practical but Gwen had no doubts that she would be able to utilize it with little problems. Kel and Isabelle had both been given long knives that could almost pass as short swords, and Riley took a similar one to them for himself.
“Where do you even get these?” Riley asked as he shrugged the bag back on.
“You’d be amazed at what some people keep in their houses.” Cheyenne told him with a wry smile just as a tall man came around the corner and joined the group. He looked slightly out of breath.
“Took down a few infected upstairs, and I’m willing to bet that there’s going to be more on the floors above. We should be okay if we’re prepared.”
“Okay. That’s good. I was expecting much worse.” James said.
“Rachel should be back soon.” Ciara said, although her voice didn’t sound sure. “And then we can get a move on.”
Almost as though prompted by Ciara’s words, a loud scream echoed down the hallways.