Night and Day
Five minutes later, a couple of large sections of serpent were roasting away over the fire and Alpha Force was pushing the remains into a long trench they had dug for the body.
"Why didn't it just kill Amber with its poison?" Paulo asked Li, as they heaved the long corpse into it's grave.
Li dusted off her good arm on her safari trousers and stared at the Argentinean,
"Probably because it doesn't have any," She explained, rolling her eyes.
"Ah that is why it must squeeze." Paulo crowed, finally catching on. "So it does not bite then?"
"Oh no it still bites, didn't you see it snap? Come look at it's teeth." Li encouraged, becoming enthused about teaching her friend something about nature.
As Camilla and Alex continued heaving lengths of tail in the hole, Li carefully lifted the angular head from the hole and pried open the great jaws for Paulo to see.
"Why, they are wicked fangs!" He admired, gazing upon the rows of long, jagged teeth.
"They angle backwards too, you might have noticed, so that they prey can't wriggle out" Li explained with a cool grin.
"Is there some sort of irony to the fact that Slytherin here, tried to eat us and as soon as he's done over the fire, we are going to be eating him?" Amber cockily asked their chef for the evening, Hex.
"Probably" Hex shrugged before adding playfully "I thought you'd be more concerned about what your pal here is going to taste like."
That thought wiped the grin off her face.
"Dad reckoned they taste like chicken," Alex commented, as the snake burying party returned to the fire.
"That's what you reckoned about Komodo dragon too." Hex pointed out skeptically.
"Komodo dragon?" Camilla blanched, sounding astonished.
"I didn't think it was too bad for giant, septic lizard." Li mused.
"I'm sorry, what Komodo dragon?" Camilla asked once again, a bit louder this time.
"Quite dense meat I thought, tender mind you." Paulo added, reminiscing fondly.
"Are you kidding me? Freaking Komodo dragon?" Camilla practically shouted at the group.
"I think we probably overcooked it though," Alex decided thoughtfully, barely suppressing a grin. "I think it would have been better medium rare. Next time." He concluded.
"That said, it couldn't have been fresher though could it?" Amber reasoned, catching onto the game.
This was met with much profound agreement and nodding from Alpha Force until Camilla finally exploded at them.
"KOMODO DRAGON?" She screamed in desperation and confusion.
Alpha force couldn't help but laugh at the look of bewilderment on her face and it was a while before someone answered.
"Oh yeah, we ate Komodo this one time on an island in Indonesia" Alex answered, trying to sound as casual as possible and not laugh.
The amusement was clear in the groups' eyes when Camilla glanced around expecting elaboration on Alex's story.
She was ruined an opportunity for explanation by Hex inspecting their current meal and announcing chef style, " Snakes up!"
The grey skin with brown blotches had split and peeled off under the heat and the group was left with a thick, pale meat, which they carved straight off the spine with Alex's knife.
Popping a bit of the cooked meat in his mouth and chewing experimentally, Alex nodded and started slicing off more.
"Better then dragon?" Camilla asked sarcastically, still a bit miffed about missing out on a proper story.
Alex smiled, exposing his teeth littered with the white meat, "Much better" he mumbled through a mouthful of food. He still wasn't feeling too hungry, but the cooked meat was too good to pass up on and so he headed back for seconds.
"Easier to slay too I reckon," Hex muttered, briefly thinking of how he had almost ended up as the dinner of two giant scaled beasts now.
"Not that you did much of that slaying Hex." Paulo jibed his friend, the cowboy grin flushing his face.
Hex looked a little taken back for a second before coolly shooting back "That's alright mate, we did enough slaying on the Falklands to not take any crap from Argentineans."
Paulo choked on python laughing, "Ooohhh low blow Amigo." He coughed, before forcing his face into the undrainable cowboy grin again.
Camilla smiled at the friendly banter between these obviously close friends. Despite the Komodo dragon thing; she felt very much part of a group for once in her life and was forced to admit to herself that it felt good. She too hooked into the python meat and was pleasantly surprised by both its texture and its flavor. Alex's dad hadn't been far wrong when he described it as chicken.
Li also had no problem eating the exotic meat and figured it was definitely a step up from the terrible boil-in-a-bag meals they had brought with them. Maybe we can kill and eat some tasty beast every night, she thought jokingly to herself. Li was also impressed at how readily Camilla had both attacked the snake and then was prepared to eat it too. The girl is tough, Li decided with a new respect for the athletic blonde sitting opposite her, giggling at Paulo and Hex's antics.
Amber was having a bit more trouble stomaching the snake. The constant thought, that it could have easily been the other way round if Hex hadn't arrived when he did, stuck in her mind and soured her appetite. She felt another wave of gratitude for the loner from London, who always seemed to keep an extra cautious eye out for her and pick her up when she was down. Amber affectionately watched on as Hex's face split in his enigmatic grin, as he laughed at some joke Paulo had made.
Knowing though that she needed to eat, Amber sighed and with a wrinkled nose, carefully selected a decent looking bit of serpent, placed it in her mouth and chewed.
"Mmm definitely better then komodo," she conceded through a mouthful of meat, before helping herself to some more.
With the last of the meat wrapped in a plastic bag from the ration packs and buried near the fireplace, the six friends got ready for the night to truly descend. Luckily the snake's struggles had not damaged any of the girl's belongings and it was only their tent that was ruined.
The tents were well made with a lightweight nylon body, a separate nylon canvas fly and a built in tarpaulin floor. As well made as it was, it was also only really designed for three people and fitting four people in at once was a squeeze.
The other two people were going to be outside maintaining a staggered sentry roster, ensuring everyone spent some time out on the lookout, but at the same time allowing a reasonable amount of time for rest. Hex and Amber volunteered to take the first stag and let the others gratefully retire to the tent.
With the light truly fading, the two sat together on a log watching the lingering light disappear over the horizon. As the final rays of light were being brushed off Hex's face, Amber turned to him and kissed him softly on his cheek. Slightly shocked, Hex turned to her and asked in a quiet voice, "What did I do to deserve that?"
"Do I need a reason?" Amber drawled back, raising an eyebrow and forcing Hex into silence.
"That's for always being there for me when I need you" She decided after a long silence.
Hex beamed across at Amber in the darkness, before taking of his heavy bush jacket and wrapping it around her shoulders to protect her from the cool night air.
"Always" He simply replied, as she leaned her head in to rest on his shoulder and together they stared off into the edge of the horizon again.
In the tent Camilla shivered, she was closest to the door since she was next on sentry and the cold wind periodically blew against her. She burrowed deeper into her sleeping bag trying to keep her bare skin covered and out of the wind. The Singlet and trackpants she wore for pyjamas seemed inadequate for the cold night, she reflected.
She was weary of moving too much because of how close she was to Alex already, who was facing the other way, seemingly asleep. Also if she moved too much she might disturb the others slumber and because of this, she settled in; prepared to endure a little cold for the sake of everyone else's sleep. Another violent shiver rocked her body and Alex rolled over to face her, looking alert.
"Camilla?" He whispered concerned, "Are you alright?"
Camilla couldn't hide her next shiver from him and shook her head. "Just a little cold here Alex," she mumbled through chattering teeth.
Alex sat up in his sleeping bag, exposing his bare, pale chest and started shuffling towards her. "Here, move past me then, I'll lie by the door." He offered.
Too tired and cold to argue, she rolled across to the other side of him and lay back down on the thin padding. "But now you'll be cold won't you?" She whispered, biting her lip.
"Na, I'll be fine," Alex lied, already feeling the wind bite into his back.
"You're a terrible liar," Camilla giggled quietly, "But awfully sweet," as she unzipped her sleeping bag. "Here, undo yours too and we'll just share them like blankets." She suggested.
Alex did what he was told and the instant his zip unlocked the sleeping bag, he felt Camilla slide her warm body up against his. He blushed as he felt her ample curves press tight against his side, she drew her sleeping bag up to overlap with his and placed an arm across his toned chest.
"Better?" she asked sleepily, with a satisfied smile.
"Much.." hH replied with a swallow, unsure what to do with his hands or how he should lie.
He lay on his back drinking in her scent and trying to level the fluttering in his stomach, as she slid her head up to rest on his chest. Alex took a deep breath and slipped a brave arm across the lovely girl on his chest in a protective fashion, causing her to smile contently and snuggle in closer to him. Sharing one last lingering look, they both closed their eyes and were soon found by sleep.
Jeez, took them long enough, Li sniggered to her self, as she lay warm in Paulo's lazy embrace. Some of us are trying to sleep. She silently decided to take the next sentry shift herself to let the pair get some much-needed rest.
At midnight Amber and Hex slipped into the tent having just swapped with Li and Paulo, they were met by the sight of Alex and Camilla spooned together at the front of the tent. Amber gave a muffled, "Awwww cute," with a soppy expression, as they stepped over the sleeping pair and slipped into their own sleeping bags, glad for the warmth after the cold night air.
Hex turned to look at a shaking Amber next to him, "Alright, we can spoon too, if you're really that cold." He teased her.
Indignation lit up Amber's tired features, "As if," she hissed, "I'd prefer to freeze."
Still it was only five minutes later, when a still shivering Amber gently shook Hex awake and gratefully took him up on his offer.
Breakfast was a subdued affair as the final sentry for the night; Alex and Camilla, dug up the cooked meat from last night and reheated it on a flat stone over a small fire. As he slowly turned the meat, Alex realised his headache was a bit better, reduced to a dull pain behind his eyes and he reflected on what had been a fantastic sleep, despite it's short duration.
Concluding he had made the right decision by calling a halt last night, Alex smiled and glanced across at his other sentry, who was putting a billy of water on to boil. Despite her tawny hair being mussed from sleep, he still thought she was a majestic picture of beauty in the first rays of sunlight. Remembering his close proximity last night with the blonde babe, his smile stretched further and he returned his gaze to the meat, which was starting to burn from neglect.
A yawning Paulo lumbered from the tent, drawn by the aroma of food and rubbing his eyes. "Morning hombre," He lazily called to Alex, after waving at Camilla. "What is for breakfast, my tummy rumbles for food?"
"Snake" Alex replied chirpily, "With a hot drink if you're lucky." he nodded towards the billycan.
"Someone sounds awful happy this morning." Paulo coyly noted, before wincing as the side stretch he was doing tugged painfully on his wounded ribs.
Alex did his best impression of the his friends cocky cowboy grin before answering smoothly, "Amazing what a good nights sleep can do."
Paulo laughed loudly at the impression, despite the pain it caused him in his side. He was relieved to see a bit more life in his grey-eyed friend and couldn't help, but think that he looked much more like the old, quiet, confident Alex. The one his friends had been missing over the last couple of days.
From the tent they heard arguing, which could only mean that Hex and Amber were up.
"Ekkk! Keep your feet away from mine, they are like freaking icicles!" They heard Amber complain loudly.
"Yeah, well watch where you're putting those sharp, little bloody elbows!" Hex faintly retorted.
Li crawled from the tent moments later, rolling her eyes at her two friends who were still in bed and sitting to run a brush through her long dark hair. She got to her feet and strolled over to her friends, merrily calling good morning, as a scuffle finally broke out in the tent behind her. "Morning Li," chorused the breakfast crew, as they offered her some of the reheated meat and passed her a dull metal cup of tea.
"Good sleep?" She asked Alex and Camilla innocently, with a sweet smile on her face.
Noting the quick flick of eye contact between them, her smile sweetened as they replied quickly.
"Yeah pretty good"
"Yeah a good sleep"
Li was deprived further enjoyment by the arrival of Hex, who had fled the tent after losing a wrestling bout to Amber and deciding to seek comfort in snake meat and oversweet tea. His face was already ruddy from exertion and wasn't going to get much redder, as he bore the brunt of his friends amused looks when he came over to pick at the meat.
Amber followed after and hurled a pair of socks at Hex with a warning glance. "Wear those next time," she scolded him, ignoring the others giggling before proceeding to steal breakfast from his plate.
"Alright enough mucking around," Alex decided, kicking sand on the fire. "We've got a lot of ground to cover today, to make up for lost time yesterday. We need to pack up quickly and get moving again."
With all the morning fuzziness and playtime over, the six teens got to work taking down the tent, packing up their Bergen's and removing any signs that they had camped there for the night. Ten minutes later everyone was ready to go, with the stores of food, water and tools fairly dispersed across the six of them before setting off.
A nights rest had made the world of difference after the traumatic helicopter crash and this time the group set off with renewed energy and vigour. The groups' injuries still showed through though.
Hex was carrying Li's pack because she couldn't wear one with her fractured collarbone and slung arm. So Li took his place in the order of march and acted as Ambers pacesetter and cover-scout, while Hex toiled along quietly, further back with a double load. His butchered back stung from the sweat and the slash across his chest ached whenever he moved his arms in front of his body. At least both sites had a clean dressing on them again, after they had started bleeding post-snake fight.
In front of him, Paulo was still in considerable pain from his ribs, but as long as he stuck to shallow breathing he didn't aggravate it too much and apart from that he felt in pretty good form.
At the back Camilla hobbled along using Alex as a crutch, her knee was now very swollen, but not as painful anymore it just limited her range of movement a bit. Regardless of this, she still managed to move at a decent pace leaning on Alex for support. Alex's headache had returned with the strenuous exercise, but it was nowhere near as bad as it had been the day before, he still had short periods of blurred vision and dizziness though.
The further they got from the crash site the more confident they became and their tactical silence gave way to jokes, singing and stories as the group bunched up, turning the hard walk into a more social occasion. The change in atmosphere changed the dynamics of the hike and the teens ate up the kilometres causing their destination to grow nearer. Finally, as the late afternoon sun was giving way to evening, Amber spotted their destination in the distance.
A short earthen wall approximately two feet high surrounded a small rural settlement and formed its perimeter.
As the relieved Alpha Force closed in on the small village, they noticed that something was definitely wrong and reverted back to their noiseless means of communication while they slunk up to the dilapidated walls of the village. Squat, one-storied, mud-brick houses made up the majority of the buildings, with the exception of an ancient looking church in the centre of town and what looked like a small hangar on the fringe at the other side of the village.
Hex's eyes wandered over blackened fields that stretched out on two sides of the village, which obviously used to be for crops. The eerie silence of the village unsettled the hacker and he felt a tingling at the back of his neck at the thought of going much further.
Behind him Li was equally creeped out, she felt like there was something missing from the picture of this small village, but she couldn't quite figure it out. The wind whistled ominously behind her, as she knelt by the wall trying to decide how she felt, so she could explain it to her friends.
Paulo broke the silence by saying what was on everyone's mind. "Guys something isn't right here." He softly stated.
Amber was the first to click to what was wrong and voice her concern. "Listen," She whispered, "There's no sounds of life at all, no one talking, no one laughing or working. Nothing."
The dead silence sunk in on the rest of them like a heavy mist.