CHAPTER 1: RETRIEVAL
We sneak around the somber forest, trying our best to make minimum sounds walking atop the dead leaves and thin twigs that line the forest grounds. Fall has been upon us now for over three months, making things a little bit more difficult to make our way around. Its lack of dense leaves means our group is more exposed and can easily be noticed, so we move slowly and methodically.
We walk in an open circle, myself and my best friend Nyomi move in the middle, feet apart to allow space between us in the hopes to make the least amount of sound beneath our feet. Not far behind us is an older woman and two children; I assume it is her daughter who looks like she is eight and her son looks to be around five years old. All of which look completely exhausted, covered in dirt, and dragging their feet with every step, making a lot of noise.
“I understand you guys are most likely beyond exhausted, but their steps are making a lot of noise, could you...” Zaiden trails off after stepping closer to the mom and whispering in a harsh tone. The mom bends down still walking hand in hand with both children and whispers, this time I can’t make out what is said, but whatever it was worked because the children start to lift their feet as quietly as they can muster.
“How much trouble do you think we’ll be in this time?” Nyomi whispers to me. I briefly glance over my right shoulder and make eye contact with the guard minding the back of the group, and quickly look away once I take note of his scowl. “A lot” I sigh.
As we get closer to our destination, I begin to see the markers we lay out to signal where we are. A small symbol is carved into the base of the tree, only those within the camp know where and what to look for when it comes to them. Two lines connecting at the top facing right with a vertical line in the middle. It is like the letter A if it was turned to the side, only difference is the line in the middle does not connect to the other ones.
After passing the tree one of the guys on the right front flank –whose name is Tovin- suddenly stops and quickly shoots out his left arm into the sky, fist high, signaling us to a halt. We all cease our movements, silently watching and listening for anything or anyone around us. “What is it” the mom behind us asks in a worried voice.
Then the sounds of screaming come from behind a tree just as three men run out toward us, weapons raised high in the air as they charge forward. I can feel my eyes widen as my adrenaline starts pumping, urging me to run away as fast as I can. But I do not, one of the things we are taught within our camp is to never run away from where the guards are located because they are the ones who can protect us.
There are five guards surrounding us and three of them who charged us, even though the fight is uneven they manage to put up a good one. The children scream loudly, and Nyomi just looks on terrified and as if she could bolt the minute one of them get too close. “Shut them up!” one of the guard’s yells furiously, I can understand why, them screaming only attracts more of them towards us.
Suddenly something bumps into my right side almost knocking me to the ground, and when I look up it’s the boy; running. “Renan!” the mom screams as she ferociously holds onto her squirming daughter. The guards are preoccupied with fending off the others to know what is going on, so I do the only thing I can, and that is take off after him. “Drea!” Nyomi screams, but I do not look back because if I do, I will see the angry expression on his face, so I keep my eyes focused on the blonde-haired boy running before me.
He runs quickly and because he is new to this forest, he does not know in which direction to go to get back to our camp, so he starts to take off in the opposite direction. I do not slow my pace and I don’t scream after him in hopes that no outliers find us. He begins to slow as he grows more tired, and just enough to where I can reach out and grab a hold of his hoodie. As I grip it, I gently grip him in a bear hug and cover his mouth with my right hand in hopes he does not scream. “Shh it is just me” I whisper in his ear.
Just as I do so I hear a rustling sound close by, so I look around frantically for a place to hide us both. But the trees and shrubs are barren without their leaves, but I see a giant dead fallen tree nearby and quickly scramble us both toward it and duck behind it.
The boy and I are now facing each other, and I signal for him with my pointer finger on my lips to be quiet. I swing my green messenger bag from behind me to my side reach in and grab the object in mind, my hands shake as I do so because I have never had one, never used one, never even seen one so close till now. I find the fabric holder and gently pull it out of the bag, I look at it for a second, the handle of the knife sticking out from the brown nylon sheath. I grip the handle, gently pull out the knife to see its black blade and stick the sheath back in my bag.
I crouch down lower to see if I can see anything from beneath the fallen tree, any sign of movement. But it has gone quiet, only the sounds of me and the boys hard breathing. Then I hear running and screaming but not in front of us, it is coming from behind us, I quickly turn around and see her- an outlier headed straight for us. The boy starts screaming again but I cannot quite him now, I stand and ready myself with the knife in my right hand.
The girl moves closer, but it all seems to be in slow motion. I take in the look of her as she gains near, she looks to be around my age, taller with matted brunette hair. Her skin is dirty and dull in color, as well as thin. She looks as if life has been sucked out of her and just the hollow skeleton of her remains, my suspicions were confirmed when I take in her emotionless black eyes, not just the pupil and iris but the sclera as well. As she gets even closer, I try and muster the courage to do what I must.
I start to raise my hand ready to swing at whatever I can once she gets close enough, but then as I try and muster up the courage, she suddenly stops and falls to her knees. I stare at her form confused at first but then I see the point of the arrow sticking out from between her dark eyes. As this happens, I notice that the black disappears from them and her natural hazel ones appear, then she falls flat. Once I look up, I see him running towards us with his bow in hand. I try and process what I had just seen but it all happened so fast I began to think it was my imagination.
Once he gets to the fallen body he pulls the arrow out from its head, and I see the others of the group also running towards us, all seem to be okay. He walks up to me “are you guys okay,” I can see the worry in his eyes. I nod “yeah” I glance over to the boy “we’re okay.” The boy’s mom quickly runs over and picks him up crying, “what were you thinking, Renan you could’ve been killed you shouldn’t have run away like that.” She cries out. The boy does not say anything, just cries on his mother’s shoulder. “We need to keep moving” he says, “and you and I are going to have a nice long talk once we get back, so don’t try anything, and hand it over,” he demands, and I place it in his open hand and he sticks it in an extra holder he has strapped to his belt, then we all keep moving.