A Number's Game

Don't Let Me Go

For the past few days (or maybe less, I honestly have no idea anymore), a million things had run through my mind of what I would have said to Eight had I had the chance. Had he not died in the everglades, the cheesy 'if I had one day left' kind of thoughts. I mean, I wouldn't call it impractical to at least think about what you never got to say. Heck, some days in Chicago I thought I should start planning those speeches now, rather than when it was too late.

But in this moment… none of the carefully planned sentences seemed even close to summarizing everything I was feeling. Joy, more deepset anger, sadness. Deep down, maybe more than I would have liked to admit, I had hoped he would have recognized me like Ella had.

Me and Ella had always had a bond that was a touch tighter than with the rest of the Garde, and maybe me and Eight would have had the same thing. But I could tell by the detached look in his eyes that he didn't know who I was. Who any of us were, for that matter.

My conscious reminded me that the person standing before me wasn't real, just a copy of the original. He was just a figment of my imagination, after all. Nothing more…

"Uh, Marina?" John sounds nervous. I realize I had zoned out for a moment.

"Do I know you?" Eight asks again, raising an eyebrow at me as I try and find the right words that wouldn't scare him away. Or better yet, help me settle some of my 'one last day' fantasies and still not freak him out.

"I…" Is all I manage to stutter, too many ideas popping into my mind.

He shakes his head, chocolate brown curls spilling onto his forehead. He looks down, gives the ground a scrutinizing look, then glances over his shoulder. It's a strange sight; I've never before seen Eight act uncomfortable. "Just… nevermind." He turns around and runs straight into the woods, transforming into a lion midstep. Then he's gone again.

"How did you know that that dude…was a dude?" Nine questioned.

"Not to mention that was the fifth Number I've met today!" John sounds exasperated. "I thought I was the only one left a few hours ago!"

But I've already tuned them out, focusing on my Legacy and allowing my eyes to search the blackness of the forest where only I could see. He was still there… hiding.

Suddenly the lion resting in the darkness is gone. He had teleported away, I suppose. I blink once, now really unsure of what else to do. Staring at a tree seems like a good option as I try and collect my thoughts. Could I just walk away from this?

My brain, the one that held slightly feministic touches and was the constant reminder that this entire situation was an illusion, told me that I could. Just walk away, it's not like he glued your feet to the floor.

But my mind wasn't so headstrong and wasn't so independent from other people. My mind so desperately wanted closure, or even more wanted to just see him again.

I chastised myself silently for being so… weak. But I had never exactly been the strongest member of the Garde.

"Marina, are we going to get going?" John touches my shoulder, although I can't yet tear my eyes away from the forest. "Marina, come on…"

"Hey, does anyone here have a dirty past with a dead pet?" Nine laughs.

I look over my shoulder to see him playing with a black rabbit, letting it chase after his staff as he dragged it through the dirt. The bunny darts to the side and winds between Nine's legs, making a figure eight before it backpedaled a few feet and ran around in another circle. It finally sat down on its hind legs, nose twitching.

"He's cute, isn't he?" Nine says, bending to one knee and patting the rabbit between the ears when it didn't bolt at his movement. "I'm kind of hungry, though; do you think we could eat a nightmare bunny?"

I can't help but let a smile spread across my face. "That's not a rabbit, that's Eight."

Without warning Eight transforms back into a human. Nine yelps in surprise, falling on his rear. "Dude!" He rubs a hand on his jeans. "I pet you!"

"You're very perceptive," Eight comments, giving me lopsided smile. He glances at Nine. "Sorry, although I've been told by many that I am a joy to pet."

It's more than perception, I think. I'm about to say something— but instead I take a leaping step forward and trap Eight in a hug. For a second I second guess myself, considering whether or not it was a good idea to tackle a guy who didn't even know me. But I passed the thought with an ease I haven't managed in a while. He may act like a complete stranger to me, but he was alive in the flesh and in my arms. I never thought that would ever happen again…

I let out a startled squeak when I feel his arms wrap around me in response. I pull back, trying to search his face for an explanation. "Eight…?" I whisper.

He shrugs, still holding a hand to my shoulder. "I've also been told I'm an excellent hugger, and who am I to refuse someone who came all this way just for me?" He sounds sincere enough. Just another casual joke.

I don't know what to say again, so John does the talking for me. "Have you been following us?"

"No," Eight raises his arms in the air, thrusting out his chest as he stretched. "I've been living here for years now, I was convinced you three were following me." He bent one arm over his head, reaching the other towards the ground.

"You were living here?" He sounds astonished.

"For a few years, yes. Who would be foolish enough to go after any Number who's living in the nightmare forest?" He put both hands on his lower back, leaning his head backwards. "Although spending almost a year straight as a lion can put quite a—" His back cracks. "—Strain on one's body."

"That's amazing!" John sounds like he's really getting excited. "Tell me, how have you been ma—"

"Can we walk and talk?" Nine interrupts. He turns to Eight, making a rollover motion with his hands. "You wouldn't be able to show us the way out of the damn place?"

Eight nods, his head spinning in a random direction like an animal that just recently picked up a new scent. "Certainly, for a comrade." He says, looking at John and Nine but not at me directly. I blink and he's transformed back into a lion, bounding out of the clearing and into the thicket of forest ahead.

I can feel John's eyes on me, silently asking for my approval of this new idea. It feels strange, having to actually be in charge for a change. Usually, on earth, I'm a follower, but here I've developed into the leadership role that John had taken.

It was slightly unnerving.

I nod my head once in a gesture of acknowledgement before racing after Nine, who had already been following Eight's trail. It was hard to keep up with them as we ran, although to my credit Nine had his super speed and Eight could cover ten feet in a single bound as a lion.

I could tell just how much we had been holding Nine back when the three of us had travelled together—now he was whooping as he ran, bouncing off trees like a pinball. I would watch him zip up trees and down the next, or jump between branches like some sort of squirrel and then float back down without missing a step. For Nine, the world was a playground.

I wondered what it must be like to have so much confidence in one's abilities, not to mention so much agility and skill. I was confident in my own Legacies, for sure, but the way Nine displayed his made me look like I was still insecure about them. He just radiated self-assurance.

But I couldn't help but laugh as the world blurred around us and the only thing we could see were each other. I could barely see the faces of nightmares melt into colourful lines as I dashed by them: Hector; Elena, the girl who's bed was next to mine at Santa Teresa; another girl with glasses and thick red hair. But now those faces didn't bother me because in my peripheral vision I could see my friends smiling at me.

Eight must have wanted to join in because soon I see that's he's back to human again, chasing Nine up and down trees, using his teleportation to make up for what he lacks in speed.

There's a whirlwind of emotions inside me, and I don't know what to address first. Confusion, maybe, that I'm among the company of people who could seem so real but in reality are so… not. Sadness, that that in different aspects he may be here for only a short period of time. Happiness that at least I get this much… get at least a smile.

My eyes begin to prick, whether it be my raging female emotions or the wind from our run I can't be sure. I glance to my left where John is running at my side. He's following Nine and Eight's progress in the trees, his eyes exploring every extent of their axis. He turns his head and gives me a lopsided grin, obviously as happy to be having this moment. After all, he did grow up thinking that he was one in a place where nobody wanted him.

My breath catches and I stumble over a tree root as I see that face again, jagged but still unmistakable, watching me from among the trees. I tumble onto my stomach, skidding on the padded earth of the forest floor, dead leaves blowing in my face.

I don't stay down for long, my head cracking up and whipping to the sides as I scan for that face again. It was easy to place the pale skin, the long black hair that fell into his eyes. The blank expression… the giant sword in his hands.

I feel John's hand close around my forearm, helping me to my feet. "Are you okay?" He asks, clearly concerned.

I don't respond. Instead I allow him to help me up, then I place a hand firmly on his back and push him forwards. "We have to go," I say.

He staggers forwards. "Why, what did you see?"

"Just come on!" I push a little harder, and together we break back into a run. I don't want to alarm him, don't want him knowing exactly to what extent I angered the china dolls. And guessing by the fact that they followed us into the Forest of Nightmares I would say I angered them plenty.

I thought that maybe if we ran far enough, they would lose us and we'd be safe.

I should have known better.

Breaking the darkness of the forest was blinding. The white light of the sun hit me like wave, forcing me to bring a hand up to shield my eyes. The warm sunlight feels unreal against my skin, bleaching out any of the remaining uneasiness that had wriggled next to my bones while we had been in the forest.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the rays leaking between my fingers and I lower my arm, taking in the scene in front of me.

"Wow," John breathed. "I've always heard it was beautiful, but…" His sentence trailed off.

I couldn't help but get excited. There, like a shining green beacon, the emerald city shimmered in the sunlight. It looked as if a massive green crystal had sprouted from the ground, it's pointy top reaching for the clouds like a skyscraper. Beams of light bounced inside the city's shimmering walls, sending light (some of which was aimed at my face) in all directions like a massive disco ball.

I wanted to all out run to it, to the place I had endured my fair share of suffering to get to. The only problem was that it was probably still kilometres away, a giant gorge at least 500 metres across being only one of the multiple obstacles I could see in our path.

"Welcome to the Beyond," Eight says, spreading his arms as wide as his smile and walking backwards towards the edge of the cliff. "it's been said that the drop from here is endless." He took another few steps backwards, grinning at us as he leans back and falls into the abyss, disappearing completely from view.

John gasps. Nine snorts. "Did he do that on purpose?" He asks rather skeptically.

I couldn't help but smile as John and Nine scurry to the perimeter of the canyon, trying to decide if and when he was going to reappear from the depth.

"What are they looking at?" Eight asks me, suddenly standing at my side. His hair looks intensely wind-tousled, curls sitting up in wild directions, although he doesn't seem to notice. He grins at me, flashing that goofy smile that always made his carefree demeanor look easy. Always made his silly jokes look jovial.

"Is there a way to get over?" I ask Eight shyly, for some reason hesitant to speak to him.

"Absolutely, although I've never tried it," His grin never falters. He walks towards the edge, where John and Nine are still oogling over the side, and leans over the edge, this time, hopefully without the intention of jumping off. He points down into the gorge, my gaze following his finger into the darkness.

Instantly, probably easier than he could, I spotted the glittering stones at the bottom of the pit. Glittering rocks, organically placed in no particular pattern like a shiny, messy crystal lattice. It was nice to look at, sure, but how was it going to get us across…?

"Glowing rocks?" Nine says, down on his stomach, trying to get a better view of the bottom.

"Floating, glowing rocks," Eight corrects, aiming his hand towards a pair of rocks that slowly bump together and spring back apart without rhyme or reason. In fact, the entire gorge of rocks were moving, shimmering in the darkness without a specific force to propel them forwards.

"I've been able to teleport down there, it's got to be about a hundred feet down. But the bottom, well… it is called the Beyond. I could get you all there no problem, but when the sun goes down it's completely black down there. The rocks give off a lot less light than you'd think… and god knows what's living down there."

John runs a hand through his grimy hair. "So we stay here for tonight."

"We have time…" I cut in, but my argument falls through as I look up and see the sun clearly disappearing over the horizon line, the beams from the Emerald City throwing fake light around. How did anyone living inside sleep at night?

John turns to Eight. "You wouldn't mind waiting a night, if that ride to the bottom is still up for grabs?"

Eight freezes. He seems to be considering his options, weighing it all in. His eyes flicker to me, then to the perimeter of the canyon like he may actually be deciding whether or not just to push me now. After a moment of growing discomfort he finally shakes his head. "I dare not leave the forest."

Without a backing glance he walks back to the treeline and disappears within it.

We decided we were better off waiting until tomorrow anyway, although I was still feeling uncomfortable with the idea of those Mogadorians being so close by.

Nine had insisted that we gather some things from the Nightmare Forest. The dry, dusty area that spanned less than a hundred feet from the tree line to the edge of the abyss provided more than enough space to build a fire without the fear of it starting a blaze.

Naturally I was less that helpful having close to zero survival skills or knowledge, but I carried my fair share of kindling. We ended up putting out the fire not minutes after it'd been set, the wood giving off a rancid, stomach churning scent as it burned.

After that it was an attempt on gathering food. This time I knew I wouldn't be able to pass anything up. But in the end I wasn't given a choice; there didn't seem to be anything edible in the nightmare forest. Just depressing memories… and darkness.

And as it got darker, every time I would stray into the trees the dancing light from the Emerald City would fade, as if blocked out by the tough branches of the nightmare trees. Walk any farther than a few steps and there would be no light at all.

Even my legacy and John's Lumen couldn't fight the dark in the forest. I couldn't see zip, John's light flickered and sputtered out. The forest obviously possessed a dark magic greater than anything else we knew.

We went hungry, for the most part. My mouth felt dry, but I didn't say anything and neither did they. Survivors until the end, I suppose. How Eight ever went more than a day in that forest I will never know.

Later that evening I'm lying on the ground, my face to the open night's sky above. Not far to my left I can hear Nine snoring loudly, almost as if he were trying to attract something from the forest. In my peripheral vision the bouncing light from the Emerald City illuminates the rough outlines of two bodies on the ground.

I know they don't recognize me, but I have to wonder if any part of their wanting to come along could be inspired by the connection we had that they don't even know about. We were in some recess of my mind… I think. I honestly don't even know anymore.

I wondered what was going on back on earth. A few hundred alternate possibilities run through my mind as to what had gone down after I had blacked out. Had they jumped in to save me? Was Nine still defenseless, or did my healing work enough to allow him to help out Six? Would we have escaped?

The chain of events runs to bad point in my head, and decide to stop it altogether.

And what about Eight's bogus behavior? I mean, what did I do that obviously pissed him off? It somehow feels like losing him all over again. Why would he act this way?

I sit up to try and clear my head. My eyes involuntarily glance over at the dark forest, the blackness of the trees that seemed to curve outwards, reaching out for me in an attempt to swallow me whole. I had to wonder what Eight was doing right now, all alone in such a scary place. It was almost impossible for me to believe that not long ago he had died in my arms, and now there was a living, breathing apparition of him hidden behind this curtain of a wood.

A part of me, the more fierce part, wanted to give him a piece of my mind. I did want to see him again. But to give him another hug, and tell him I was sorry. For not being able to save him, for not being strong enough to stop Five.

For being so… weak.

Like an invisible hand was coaxing me, I silently climb to my feet. I feel suddenly drawn to the forest and it's impenetrable darkness. The light from the Emerald City bounces in all direction, casting crooked shadows on the trees as if the people inside the city were putting on a hand puppet show.

Did I dare re-enter the forest, especially by myself? I was almost shocked that the thought had even crossed my mind. Nine had gone completely numb by a nightmare that had obviously been very traumatic for him… what if that happened to me, but this time, I won't have someone to protect me?

But Eight was in there, I reminded myself. He found you once, what's to say he couldn't do it again?

It's barely an argument, yet it sounds completely enticing. I feel as if my gut was prompting me, fighting the logic in my head.

I look over my shoulder at John and Nine, still soundly asleep. They wouldn't notice if I went in for just a second. If I just looked for Eight for a little bit. They wouldn't mind. They wouldn't really care, either.

With that final thought I allowed myself to become engulfed by the shadows of the forest.

At first it was only pitch black. I couldn't see a thing, not the floor or the sky or even a tree that I may or may not have ran right into if I hadn't been careful. I slowed my walk to a crawling pace, letting myself feel at the ground for anything that may attempt to trip me.

It was so strange, not being able to see in the dark; I had become so accustomed to it. I began to feel a little panicked, like the darkness was suffocating me. It was a strange feeling, and I was past the point of beginning to reconsider my rash decision to walk in.

I wanted to yell out for Eight, but I was too scared that he wouldn't be near and I would end up attracting something else.

Then: a break in the darkness. At first it looked like a spotlight aimed right at me, a needlepoint of white in the black. But quickly after the needle widened and I caught the outline of a horizon, blocked by trees who's own shadows began to grow from their trunks as the light became more apparent. Light began to weave it's way through the tree trunks and my vision began to return to me. It was a sunrise. But how…?

Things began to come to life around me. Gnarled, twisted branches grew buds, leaves, shiny fruits. The ground seemed to even, the grass looked a little less wild. I could have sworn I saw a butterfly dance past my face. It was like I was in a completely different forest.

"This is incredible," I whisper to myself, milking in the new Disney-esque forest. I was almost expecting Bambi and Thumper to scamper by.

My eyes follow the canopy above me as the branches transition from dreary winter to sunny spring in a matter of seconds. Up ahead the sky turns a brilliant shade of orange laced with pink. The entire forest looks just so magical. Which had be believing that something really bad was going to happen to me.

A familiar shape catches my eye, just far of my left. An inorganic, twisty piece of rock that stood tens of feet above our heads. It's earthy colour and illicitly smooth surface reminded me of a piece of indecipherable modern art I had seen what felt like a century ago. I wonder what it was supposed to mean, being here.

I remember being in Chicago, Eight's warm hand holding mine. He had made a comment, something that made me laugh. This piece was said to be by the great Loric artist Hugo von Lore, he had said to me. I had called him a liar in response and we laughed about it. In our own joke that would only ever make sense to the two people standing there then, and not to any other person ever.

I felt my eyes trying to water, but I think I had used up all my tears. Or I was severely dehydrated. Either way, my throat was beginning to feel tight.

I didn't walk anywhere near the statue, but as soon as I glanced back it had vanished. As I continued to walk after that, I was a little less terrified for my life but a little more concerned for my mental well-being. There were other things I saw, all out of the corner of my eye: Stonehenge, contraptions that probably belonged to Nine's gauntlet… a hulking, futuristic looking thing that I was sure was our ship. But the closer I got, especially to the ship, the sooner it seemed to disappear.

And as I walked the forest only become more beautiful around me, and I had to wonder how such a transition was ever possible. Then again, a forest that could bring back dead people shouldn't have been possible either. My head was still adjusting to this insane place.

I'm suddenly aware that I hadn't been keeping track of where I had come from. Weaving between trees had seemed like such a straightforward thing to do, I guess I never really thought much else of it. My head twists from side to side, trying to get some kind of read on my location.

I pause for a second, looking and listening for anything that may be significant in finding my way back to the Beyond. I can hear a sound—among the almost overwhelming noise of chirping birds. It sounds like rushing water, and I can feel that dryness in my mouth amplifying. I swallow and if feels like eating sand.

I'm walking towards the sound, slowly at first so I can continue to listen for the direction of the water. But soon enough the pounding sound of water has grown so loud I'm almost running to it. I break through a rather difficult patch of trees, closely knit with leafy branches that stuck in my face—and I nearly fall off a cliff. I wobble for a second, waving my arms out in an attempt to regain my balance and prevent myself from tumbling off the side and into a water-filled gorge below me. My senses kick in and I harness my telekinesis to upright myself.

Breathing out a sigh of relief I peer over the edge. It's not that far of a drop, definitely survivable but still quite a fall. Not to mention getting completely soaked as the prize for such a distance.

The entire area looked rather familiar, though. I was having a strange sense of deja-vu. The overgrown looking ridge to my left, the waterfall right across from me. Down to my right I could see the cliff stoop down into a beach where the water was more easily accessible. The entire thing was shaped like a giant bowl of sorts, like the china doll city or… the place that Eight had lived in India.

I rub my eyes, a preferred alternative to smacking my own forehead. How could I not have recognized this place? In this area, if not at this same spot I had jumped into the water after Eight, just out of good fun. That time seemed simple now, a terrible lie to the complication that came with meeting up with rest of the Garde.

"Hello." A hand closes around my shoulder and I nearly jump right off the cliff out of pure shock. I'm surprised that anyone would find me, although it's obvious who that person would be: Eight.

I turn to face him and his hand retracts to behind his back. I'm not an expert, but Eight was always one to… overextend personal boundaries. Touching people was his way of connecting with them and showing them he liked them, but to see him almost cringe away… I can't understand what I did to this person who barely knows me.

"I'm sorry for startling you," He says coolly, letting a smile break loose. "I just never expected for you to be here." From behind me, the sunlight beating onto his face gave him a rough white outline, like some kind of spectre. But even for a memory, he was very clear.

"I'm sorry for, uh, wandering into your home, I guess. Didn't mean to interrupt…whatever you do here." My remark sounded like a putrid mix of Nine and Six, and I felt embarrassed about it. I just… didn't know how to interact with this person anymore. He was so distant in this world, and I had to wonder if it was because I wanted him there.

"Hm," He nods solemnly, his smile fading. Without saying another word he walks past me and lowers himself onto the edge of the cliff, feet dangling over the water. After a moment of just gazing at the horizon I decide to take a seat next to him.

"This would probably be where my true home is," He says, keeping his eyes locked on the distance. "I realize it's just an illusion now, but it's uninterrupted. Not like anywhere outside of the forest."

"So I could imagine your frustration when you ran into us," I say.

"Actually, I was more surprised that instead of finding this place, I found a clearing that was already inhabited. But it helps me to… put things into perspective about my life. This forest is a strange place, it adapts to those who enter it. It brings dreams to life, not nightmares. It just takes one smart enough to choose what type of dreams they see." He sighs.

I feel the warm sun on my face. It's not real light, outside of the forest it's the middle of the night. But here, I suppose anything was possible. I didn't respond, I didn't think it was right. There were just some things me and Eight never talked about because we didn't have to. Because sometimes I felt that… we were beyond words.

Oh god, these are bad things to be thinking about. And they were probably all in your head, too.

I can see his hands fidgeting, and it makes me increasingly annoyed. What was driving him so mad about me? I always tried to be nice to people, and I knew I hadn't treated him any differently than I'd treated anyone else.

"I feel like I must apologize for the way I've been acting since I met you," He said quietly, glancing over at me quickly, shyly. "It's not usually in my demeanor to act hostile…but you had me startled, to say the least."

I didn't say anything, and he continues. "Never in my life have I met you, and I have no idea how you would know my name." He pauses. "My real name, I mean. But you seem so familiar."

I turn to look at him. "What?" I don't even know how to feel about that. Is it something similar to how Ella had recognized me? Less and less was I understanding how things were supposed to be going here.

"I don't know anything about my past, and having someone jog it so suddenly… I hope you'll forgive me." He turns to smile at me again, and I smile back.

"I've been feeling the same way about you." I whisper quietly, not intending for him to hear. How to tell him anything without launching into the story that ultimately ends with his premature death? How to even make sense of it without making myself look like a complete loon.

An idea pops into my head. It's silly and I'm dubious it would accomplish anything, but… it's worth a shot.

I get on my feet. "This place looks excellent for swimming, don't you think?" I ask, grinning.

"Yes, but why would—" He doesn't even get the chance to finish his sentence as I leap from the cliff, hurtling tens of feet before I break the surface of the crystal-coloured water.

Instead of swimming back to the top I swim down, paddling myself towards the bottom of the lake. When I had been in India and I had sank down to the floor I had found the Mog ship that had held Eight's Chest. And it may have sounded crazy… but why not just give it a shot?

My Legacy activated as the water grew darker around me. I rhythmically pulled myself deeper in the water, unfearful of the time it took. I turned my head from side to side as I approached the bottom, searching for the sunken ship, but the floor was barren save for the natural growth of the lake's floor. There was no Chest.

I sigh underwater and I can see the last of the air I was carrying escape my mouth and head for the surface. It was only an idea, I had never really expected it to work. Besides, how would I even explain a Chest to Eight if he didn't even know he had one?

I allow myself to float back up to the surface slowly, and I'm met half way by a bottlenose dolphin that begins to swim circles around me. I laugh, although I'm sure it looks more like I'm just inhaling and exhaling water randomly. It offers it back to me and I hesitantly grab onto his dorsal fin as we're propelled to the top with rocket-like speed.

Upon breaking the surface I let go just as the dolphin breaks out of the water, landing a few feet away with a giant splash. But instead of a dolphin it's Eight that surfaces. He grins at me like that was the most fun he'd had in a long time—which, living alone in this forest, I suppose it was.

"I thought you were trying to drown yourself." He laughs, treading a few feet in front of me.

I run a hand through my sopping hair, pulling it out of my eyes. "I can breathe underwater," I can't help but laugh too.

"So then did you find anything interesting at the bottom of my lake?"

"Besides a salt-water dolphin," I grin at him. "not really."

"Ah, look who decided to be so clever!" He says, playfully splashing water in my direction.

"Hey!" I yell, but I start splashing back too. We went at it for a while after that, but there was no way I could compete when Eight shape-shifted into a small whale and almost blew me to the beach.

We ended up there anyway, wringing out our clothes on the sand. Well I did—Eight decided to go for the more convenient method of shaking it out in a dog form.

"I had thought that I would only ever be the one to see this place," He had said to me after a very long moment of silence. "I'm glad I could share it with you, Marina."

He doesn't say anything after that and neither do I, trying to fight the wrenching guilt in my stomach. He was opening up to someone that he barely knew, and he didn't expect any condolences. But unlike the Eight that I had known before I could help him with his problems, give him some insight on his apparent loneliness. He had always had a rough past, and this was one I could help him with. How could I keep our connection from him?

"Eight, there's… something I should tell you." I say quietly, almost hoping he won't hear and I'll be able to get away for a few more days pretending that he had just ignored me. But like I expect his head perks up in my direction, politely intent on hearing what I have to say. I have no choice.

My eyes stray to the lake, preferring to watch the water than have to look into his eyes. "Your past… I, uh, I don't know how to tell you but—" I freeze midsentence as I notice movement out of the corner of my eye. Someone on the cliff.

It's him again. The Mog that had followed me all this way, sword still drawn. But this time… he had company. There had to be at least twenty other figures standing on the cliff with him, knocking small chunks of grass and dirt into the lake. He must have seen the others with me, brought reinforcements himself. But they're being careless with their actions, easily giving away their location. Which means either they're looking for a fight or they haven't seen us yet.

Before I have the chance to say anything else I grab Eight's arm and pull him towards the forest. He must have sensed my urgency because he comes without a word or a backing glance at the lake.

"There were china dolls on the cliff, I think they're after me." I whisper to him once we're safe behind the treeline. "I kind of destroyed their city." I say sheepishly, rubbing the back of my neck.

Eight smiles and I can tell he's holding in a laugh. "Well it's probably not just that with the prophecy and all. Although I'm sure that ticked them off a pinch."

"The prophecy?" This was the first I'd heard of anything like that. John had always said he had no idea why being who he was made him a convict… it never occurred to me that Eight may know the full story.

"Well of course, don't you know the story? As with every wicked witch came the…" He pauses at an awkward point, but I'm getting the feeling that he may be experiencing a little bit more than a mind block. His eyes are focused on the ground. "Do you hear that?"

I don't respond and instead listen to the forest, but I don't hear anything out of the ordinary.

"It sounds like… pounding feet." He doesn't have to say another word as his eyes come up to meet mine and a single thought zips through both our minds: run.

We bolt faster than I have time to really comprehend what was happening. They must have found us, heard us talking or had spotted us already on the beach. A group of Mogs versus a weaponless me and Eight… I didn't see such a great fighting chance. Our only hope was to reach the Beyond and find John and Nine, who would be more than happy to do the dirty work.

"Come on, Marina, this way!" Eight yells, motioning for me to speed up. This time I can definitely hear the sound of Mog boots meeting earth, and a quick glance behind me only proves that I was right. A dozen of the many I had spotted couldn't be more than fifty feet behind us.

Eight was a little more nimble when it came to running through the forest. I, on the other hand, was not. It crosses my mind to try my legacy again, although I doubt it's possibility as I couldn't even really focus on running.

Think icy thoughts. Like, imagine a frozen floor. Try and force it out of you! I scrunched up my face, held my hands towards the floor, tried to visualize the desired outcome. It probably tried that for about thirty seconds before I gave up, now was not the time or the place.

Fifty feet was not the only thing keeping us from them. I could hear them yelling now, at me, at each other. "Get the girl! She's the one she wants!"

I scream as a stray blaster shot tears apart a tree to my left, sending wooden splinters flying in all directions with the sound of shattering bone. I don't have time to try and avoid the wooden projectiles, I just continue to run and pray I don't get a wood chip to the brain.

Another blast maims another tree, this one in our path, overshot. Chunks of wood come speeding right towards us and I hold my breath, trying to kill my momentum but with not enough space between us and the blast zone. We're about to get mutilated by a brigade of wooden gunfire aimed right at our faces. My last thought was of what Ella had told me in Chinatown: You can die here.

The next thing I know, I pair of strong arms are grabbing at me. I don't even have time to struggle before I feel my side being peppered by the sharp debris from the exploding tree. We both fall to the ground, and as my head connects with the dry earth of the forest floor, once again, my mind fades to black.

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