Fayted

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Summary

It had been seven years since the world ended...and almost just as long since Dani had seen another living human being. She and her feline companion, Nissa, had been forced underground, struggling to survive and keep themselves alive amidst terrifying monsters and imminent death. When their resources had finally run out, Dani made the risky decision to leave the safety of their underground home and venture out to find a safe place to finally live their lives in peace. A chance encounter as they headed out to the forest would lead Dani on a path to her destiny and a possible home away from the chaos. The Hedgerow was fortified to protect, though no one really knew what they were up against…but Dani did. Would they believe her when she told them the truth? Would they still accept her when they found out that she was different from them? Maybe she should have stayed in hiding, but there was no turning back now. Dani could be the savior of humanity even if she wasn't one of them.

Genre:
Fantasy / Action
Author:
Emari Moon
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
22
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
18+

Escape

“I’ve waited long enough.” She huffed, futilely tugging at the laces of her worn leather boots. Crouched down in the darkness, she slowly stood and leaned back into the concrete wall behind her. The boots that adorned her small feet hung loosely at her ankles; the shoelaces too frayed to hold anything together anymore.

“But we don’t know what’s out there. Remember the last time we surfaced? They were everywhere and we barely made it out alive.” A mildly irritated voice rang from a dark corner.

“That was a fluke and you know it. They were here looking for us; more of our kind, Nissa.” The woman replied into the nothing that had been their home for the past six months.

“Not us, Dani—you.” An inky black cat slunk from the shadows and sat herself down in front of the woman.

She lifted a forepaw, licked at her pad, and began stroking her face nonchalantly.

“I’m offended, Nissa.” Dani mocked, scooting her back down the wall of the old subway tube till she sat flat on the cool ground in front of her feline companion.

“Well, you should be.” Nissa held her head aloft and arched one nonexistent eyebrow.

“You know we can’t continue to stay here, Niss.” Dani lifted the hood of her threadbare jacket and narrowed her eyes at the cat, “We ran out of food. Everything has pretty much been picked through and barren on this side of town. Petrol is tapped; we can’t run the generator, and it is going to start getting colder soon.”

“I just…I don’t want to go through that again. They almost killed us last time and that was the worst close call yet. I’d like to survive this.” Nissa argued.

“Surviving? Is that all we are doing now, Niss? Just surviving? Seven years, seven years we have been doing this: running, hiding, scavenging, fighting; not just to survive—but to live. Mum would have wanted it that way.” Dani’s brow knit as she stared at her friend.

“I know, love.” Nissa sauntered over to Dani and curled up in her lap. “She would want you to keep doing what she wasn’t able to anymore. We can go, but where are we headed?”

“Out of this town. It’s dead here; it’s been dead for a while. They drove everyone out, but they still linger—taking the last bit of what we need to survive. I think we need to go out to the country somewhere, far away from the cities. They drove us out there to wrangle us like cattle, but the culling should have subsided by now. If there are people still alive out there, they are definitely doing something right.” Dani stroked the fur between Nissa’s ears, making her purr loudly.

“Are you saying we join up with other—” Nissa gasped in mock horror, “People?

“I know that I have said some negative things about my species as a whole in the past but—we can’t go on living like this. We won’t survive much longer and if we don’t survive, we’ll never get to live.” Dani mumbled.

“You’re sounding a bit mad, dear.” Nissa clucked.

“You know what I mean. I’m supposed to do something in all of this. Mum always told me that I was destined for something great, and as much as people told her that she was just inflating my ego, she saw something that I didn’t until a few years ago when all of this started. The things that I can do, Niss…who else can do that?” Dani stopped scratching the top of Nissa’s head and looked up at the ceiling. There was a small crack just above her head that had been dripping for days.

“I’ll admit; I’d never seen that before. Speaking of which, can you give us some light here? I can’t find dinner if it’s dark.” Nissa flexed her paw and lightly pricked Dani’s leg with her claws.

“Ouch. Patience.” Dani hissed, snapping her fingers. A spark of pure orange flame erupted at the tips of her fingers and illuminated a few meters in front of them.

“Not bright enough, Dani.” Nissa hissed, jumping from her perch to crouch down and scan the walls for their dinner.

“Yes, ma’am.” She rolled her eyes and flexed her hand. The flame shifted from a deep pumpkin orange to a blinding white.

“Much better.” Nissa leapt from her position in front of Dani and straight across the vacant train tracks to the other side. She snatched up a rather large rodent and proceeded to bring it back happily, placing it at Dani’s feet.

“No thanks.” She waved her fingers at Nissa before standing with her other hand aflame and walked towards the hatch that would take them up to the surface.

“Are we leaving now?” Nissa spoke through gnashed teeth as she neatly ate her supper.

“Now is as good a time as any,” Dani replied, shouldering her rucksack as she prepared to climb the ladder.

“Do we at least have a plan?” Nissa questioned as she licked herself clean.

“Yes. There’s an old textile mill at the end of town. Down underneath is a tunnel that leads out into the West Wood. If we can find a way to get down there, we can be out into the forest by night fall.” Dani had made it a quarter of the way up before Nissa pounced and perched, coiled around her neck.

“What if we can’t find the tunnel?” Nissa whispered in her ear.

“We will. Trust me.”

(*)

“This is so wide open. Too wide open, Dani. We are sitting ducks.” Nissa whispered as she tried to keep pace with her companion who was gliding effortlessly, and quite quickly, down the street.

“Just keep running and hush. The quicker we run through these open spaces, the quicker we can avoid getting attacked.” Dani ducked behind a pillar holding up a crumbling awning over a petrol station.

Nissa slid in behind her and panned her feline eyes about for any signs of danger.

Just before they decided that it was safe to run back across the street in order to avoid a giant break in the road, a rumbling could be heard.

“Oh, dear Gods.” Nissa gasped, pressing herself up against Dani’s leg.

“Run. RUN!” Dani screamed as the creature that was causing the rumbling rounded the corner of the town post office and came barreling towards them at an incredible speed for a monster its size.

Nissa sprung up past Dani and began hopping the rubble as the woman agilely leapt behind her, avoiding the deep holes in the ground from where some of the creatures had risen years before.

Nissa had almost made it back to solid pavement when she heard a panicked yelp from behind her. She spun herself around to find Dani in the arms of the hairy beast.

“Nissa! Run!” Dani belted as the bristling arms of the monster compressed her chest.

The cat stood frozen in place. Even though her friend had commanded her to run, she couldn’t. She had to think of something—and fast.

Dani tensed her whole body, trying to flex every muscle inside her small frame in hopes of holding back the death grip the beast had on her. She was strong, but not strong enough.

Her head started to reel as she gave in to its grasp; her vision hazy as she slowly felt her eyelids droop. She didn’t have enough strength to fight back anymore.

Before Dani slipped into darkness, she swore she saw Nissa flying through the air.

Nissa, faster than any feline should ever move, bounced back across the broken asphalt and catapulted herself up the side of the petrol station awning before soaring towards the creature’s face. That simple action alone caused it to remove its arms from around Dani in favour of swatting violently at the cat. Dani was conscious enough to poorly break her fall by putting her hands out for impact. As she hit the ground, her arms gave way and she scraped them deeply on the concrete of the sidewalk. Even though her hands were on fire, she spun quickly and hollered.

“Hey! Swamp arse!”

The beast quit pursuing Nissa for a moment and focused its attention on Dani once more. This gave the black cat enough time to leap from the creature’s shoulders and rejoin her friend.

The beast roared, throwing its shaggy green head back, preparing to attack. Before it even had a chance to charge, Dani threw her hand out, palm forward and fingers flexed. A bright white light erupted from her palm and completely knocked the beast off its feet. It flew back several meters before colliding with an old brick building, slumping over on itself. Dani and Nissa wasted no time in trying to see if it would still try to pursue; they knew better.

(*)

“Here.” Dani pointed, dipping under the crumbling façade of a rather large three story building.

“You sure you’re sure?” Nissa asked, nimbly following behind.

“Yes. Gods, do you not trust me or something, puss pants?” Dani reached behind her and playfully swatted at Nissa.

Don’t call me that.” She narrowed her eyes and scratched at the tips of Dani’s fingers. It was then that she realized how badly the palms of the woman’s hands were skinned. Blood dripped from the wounds onto the concrete.

“Dani, stop.” Nissa hissed.

Her friend obeyed.

“What’s wrong?”

“Your hands. The blood; they’ll smell us.” Nissa nudged her into a nook in the wall.

“Oh, I’d almost forgotten.” The adrenalin from their fight had finally started to wear off and she could now feel the intense zapping sensations in her hands. Dani pulled her rucksack from her back and rifled through it before pulling out an old bandana; it had been her mother’s.

“This will have to do.” She shrugged before unfolding it.

“But you have two hands.” Nissa pointed out.

“Well, so I do.” Dani assessed the situation and made a quick decision. Even in two halves, it still came from her mother. She bit at a piece of the cloth, nicking the fibers. She then ripped it in half, wound the sections, and quickly bound both of her hands.

“This won’t hold forever. We have to get to some sort of shelter quickly.” Dani shouldered her bag and prepared to leave their little nook in search of the tunnel when they heard voices.

Without saying a word, Dani signaled Nissa to run a bit further down the rows and rows of old textile shelving. The two ducked behind a molding stack of unfinished rugs before the voices grew louder.

“Nothing. We got nothing.” A male voice rang out in Dani’s native tongue. His accent was definitely that of a Londoner.

“Not nothing. We did get at least a gas tanks worth.” Another male voice responded in a different accent. An accent that could only come from across the pond: American.

“That will run a generator for maybe a week.” The Londoner responded.

“Better than not running at all.” The American quipped back.

“People?” Nissa whispered, crouching down to carefully peek around the rugs.

“Apparently. It’s been a while.” Dani whispered back, flattening herself against the foul smelling textiles.

“What’s that?” The American asked as the sound of footsteps stopped.

“What’s what?” The Londoner returned. Dani could feel their eyes panning about.

“Sounded like a voice.” The American lowered his own and Dani could hear one set of footsteps pick back up.

I think he heard me. No more talking. Communicate this way only. Dani made eye contact with Nissa.

Got it. Nissa blinked and the two slunk back into the shadows.

The American rounded the row they had been on just as they had hopped another aisle down.

We can’t keep this up for long. Nissa thought as they tiptoed down another row as quietly as they could, the American still close on their heels.

We are going to come out on this end, back on the main isle and we will run down into the back rooms and to the hatch. Dani’s voice in Nissa’s head came out short of breath.

Are you sure the hatch is there? Nissa’s internal voice was panicked.

Stop questioning me and just do what I say! We don’t know who these men are, and the last time we encountered humans…well, you remember how that went. Dani looked back at Nissa with fire in her eyes.

I don’t want to think about it. Nissa shook her head and followed closely on Dani’s heels.

Dani was preparing to turn their last corner back into the main aisle when she collided with a strong body.

“Got you.” The Londoner smiled, pulling her to him tightly, her small wrists fitting snuggly in his one handed grip.

Nissa hissed, fur bristled as the man called out, “You were right, Evan. I’ve got one!”

Evan came up just behind where Nissa and Dani had been waiting to make their exit.

“This one has a cat.” The Londoner swiped at Nissa with his boot-clad foot. The cat wasn’t sure how much of a threat these men were, but she stayed on her guard.

“Get your filthy hands off of me, Chief.” Dani rolled her shoulders and broke free of his grip. She stood there breathing heavily, her mouth twisted up in anger.

“Hey, now.” Evan placed his arm between her and the Londoner. He could tell that she was ready to return the favour.

“Sorry, princess. We have to be cautious.” The Londoner held his hands up in submission.

“Pete’s right. We have to be careful and people aren’t always what they seem. But you look to be human.” Evan cocked his head to the side and studied Dani for a moment.

Most of the people that he and Pete encountered on their assignments were anything but human. They may have looked it on the outside, but soon after engaging with them, they changed into horrible creatures with razor sharp teeth. Dani was clearly not one of those.

Her features were unique, however. She had large thistle colored eyes, almost cat-like in shape, with dark eyelashes that curled back from the lids and almost kissed her skin. Her complexion was pale as milk with naturally pinched cheeks and a slightly upturned nose like some sort of pixie. The ears that stuck out from thick ebony tresses were what stood out the most, however: they were pointed.

“I know this.” Dani relaxed and patted her shoulder. Nissa leapt up and landed on it, curling her tail around her neck. “And I am. Human, I mean.” She played tough when she needed to, but she was fairly awkward in her interactions.

“So, what is a girl like you doing all alone out here?” Pete pursed his lips, arms crossed.

“I live—lived— here.” Evan tried to make eye contact with her when she responded, but she avoided his gaze purposefully.

“Lived where?” It was Evan’s turn to ask questions.

“In the tube tunnels.” Dani shifted her weight as she became impatient.

“The Tube doesn’t run this far out of the city.” Evan challenged her answer.

“The train didn’t, but the tubes do. They originally planned for the tube to lead out of the city and into the metropolitan area, but they weren’t enough tax dollars to finish the build. It’s dark, quiet, and no demons.” Dani finished, matter-of-factly.

“You think they’re demons too?” Pete’s face changed from stern to surprised when the name was mentioned.

“What else could they be?” Dani feigned ignorance. She knew what they really were…

“Everyone keeps saying that it was the Apocalypse. I’m starting to doubt that this is anything of a Biblical context.” Evan responded, still focusing intently on Dani.

“Why? The fact that there was no Rapture? No boiling seas, or great storms, or poisoned water? No antichrist either and if this rubbish was indeed the so-called “Apocalypse”, it would have ended three months ago!” Dani snapped, not meaning to get so heated. When horrible things happen, people tend to turn to religion, but she knew shortly after it all occurred that what they were up against were not Biblical demons.

“Three months ago?” Pete didn’t understand.

“Seven years. It’s been seven years since this all started. The Apocalypse was supposed to end seven years after it began.” Evan explained.

“And they’re still here.” Dani briefly made eye contact with Evan. His eyes were such a rich, deep color; it reminded her of the raw garnet necklace her mother had always worn. A chill rippled down her spine. There was something about them, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

“Then what the fuck could they be, man?” Pete pulled a metal tin from his pocket and popped it open to reveal a solid row of rolled cigarettes.

Dani shrugged as Pete passed one to Evan who lit it with a metal lighter.

“Hm?” Evan gestured towards her with the smoke.

Dani hesitated a moment before nodding. It had been a while since she had gotten her hands on any and it had a tendency to calm her down, no matter how bad for her it was. It was a bad habit in a time where living was difficult.

“Where are you headed?” Evan puffed at his cigarette. He thought he already knew the answer.

“Out. I’m tired of squatting here. It’s too quiet.” Dani spoke plainly, ready to make her way to the supposed tunnel.

“You’re looking for the tunnel, aren’t you?” Evan knew he was right.

Dani’s eyes snapped to him. “Yes. I had heard stories about it and raided the library looking for more information. There was mention of it in this area, but I wasn’t sure.”

You said you knew for sure! Nissa screeched in her head. Dani reached up and thumped the cat’s nose. She was thinking too loudly.

“They were old WWII tunnels. An easy way to get in and out of the city. Most of the tunnels had been blocked off, but they are still vacant from here out into the countryside.” Evan explained.

Told you. She thought back at Nissa who flexed her paws, digging her sharp claws into Dani’s shoulder.

“Good. Then we’ll be on our way.” Dani tried to casually slip away from the men when she felt a hand grip her rucksack and pull her back.

“Sorry, love. You’re going to have to come with us.” Pete had already begun to wind a length of rope around her wrists. Nissa bristled for a fight, but Dani commanded her to stay calm.

I’ll get us out of this somehow.

“Even though you seem human, we can’t know for sure. Liam can tell though. If you aren’t, you have a new home with us. But if you are…” Evan trailed off as Pete finished binding Dani’s hands.

“You kill me?” Her gaze locked with Evan’s. This time she wasn’t going to look away.

“Sorry.” Was all he replied.

Dani knew she wasn’t one of them, but she knew she wasn’t human either; not entirely, anyway.

“Let’s go.” Pete gently prodded her as they made their way down the main aisle of the mill and back towards the rear of the building.

Dani held her hands still in front of her even though they throbbed from their wounds. She noticed that they had begun to bleed through the bandana, crimson liquid trickling silently to the dusty floor.

That’s not good, Dani. Not good at all. She could hear the panic in Nissa’s voice.

Let’s just hope we get to the tunnel before something smells me. You know I heal quickly. Dani thought calmly.

If that’s where they are taking us. Nissa fretted. She wasn’t normally this nervous, but she had the odd sensation that something bad was coming.

Dani turned her head to make eye contact with Nissa as if to say she knew for sure this time.

“One, two, three rows down and to the right; follow these directions to avoid a fight,” Pete spoke in rhythm.

“After all this time you still can’t remember where the hatch is without the damn rhyme?” Evan laughed.

“It just helps, alright? Like when you are trying to figure out what letter comes next in the alphabet and you hafta sing—.” Pete was cut short by a reverberating roar.

“Fuck, that’s not what I think it is, is it?” Pete’s breathing started to quicken and Dani could feel his pulse pick up through the grip he had on her arm.

“Moss Slinger.” Evan was positioned and ready to run.

“Moss Slinger?” Dani barely got out the words before the ground began to shake.

The creature that she thought she had killed earlier came bounding down the aisle from off in the distance. It had obviously survived being slammed into a brick building and had picked up Dani’s scent from the trail of blood she left from there until here.

Everyone’s reaction to the creature was a scrambled one. Pete let go of Dani long enough to draw a snub-nosed shotgun from out of his military pack. With lighting speed, Evan pulled two trench knives from sheaths attached to his thighs, ready to fight.

As much as she wanted to help, Dani had already dealt with the beast once and they looked as if they could hold their own.

She took off running, counting the rows as she went before turning right down the third.

Not far behind her were Evan and Pete. They were prepared to fight, but when the creature stopped relatively close to where the men had detained Dani, they figured they had enough time to flee and avoid fighting altogether.

“You were going to leave us?!” Evan huffed in passing as he slid on his knees right to the metal hatch in the dirt floor.

“And you’re possibly going to kill me. We’re even.” Dani came up beside Evan and held her hands out for him to untie her. Pete shook his head as he knelt down next to Evan and began prying at the hatch.

“I’m more good to you with my hands free; trust me.” Dani narrowed her eyes at the broad man on the floor in front of her.

“Fine. But then help me with this stupid door.” Pete sighed as he fiddled with the hatch. The metal was old and rusted, causing the door to stick.

Evan quickly unknotted the rope from Dani’s hands and stuffed it in his back pack.

“I can hear it, Evan. It’s gotten bored with whatever it stopped to do. We are running out of time.” Pete yanked with all his might on the handle of the hatch; it just wouldn’t budge.

Evan had Pete’s shotgun aimed at the end of the aisle, waiting.

“Move.” Dani shoved Pete out of the way and Nissa jumped from her shoulders to give her breadth.

With one hard yank, she ripped the hatch open with such force that it clanged back into the packed dirt floor.

“Go, go, go.” Pete waved his hand, gesturing towards the opening. The creature roared; a roar that was only a few meters away. Dani leapt through the hatch, followed by Nissa close on her heels. Pete reached out and tugged Evan to the opening where he followed behind and pulled the hatch closed after him.

“We should be safe now.” Evan panted.

The tunnel was surprisingly well lit. Raised sections in the ceiling vented stale air out and let natural light in.

“You don’t want to be down here at night, but it’s not bad during the day,” Evan commented on the state of the tunnel.

“Not bad—I’ve lived in worse.” Dani marched forward with the men. She tried not to think about what could possibly happen if they got to their destination. What sort of method did they have for determining whether or not someone was human?

“How far does this tunnel go?” Dani was curious when they would see actual sunlight again.

“About two miles. It literally comes out in the West Wood.” Evan answered, absentmindedly guiding her down the right path.

“Perfect.” She muttered, reaching down to scratch the top of Nissa’s head for comfort.

They walked silently for a while and Dani’s mind had wandered to listening to the cadence of her steps when she started to notice something off. She and Even were walking in sync with the pitter patter of Nissa’s paws in double time; Pete’s heavy footsteps following shortly behind. But now she was hearing a rumbling in between Nissa and Pete’s steps.

“Stop.” She hissed, holding her arms out to make sure that no one went any further.

Evan’s brow furrowed and he shook his head slightly as if to ask what was going on.

Something is following us. Dani mouthed, pointing back down the tunnel.

Evan cocked his head to listen. Pete palmed his shotgun holstered on his back and Nissa’s fur bristled.

The look in Evan’s eyes as he locked gazes with Dani conveyed everything. He knew what was following them and she nodded in confirmation. It didn’t take Pete long to pick up on who their stalker was.

He held three fingers up before pointing forward down the tunnel. Everyone nodded as he held his fist up: one finger, two fingers, three fingers. On bated breath, three humans and one feline rocketed down the tunnel heading towards the forest.

As if on cue, the creature that had been stalking them for the last thirty meters came barreling down the tunnel after them. It crashed into the concrete walls as it turned the bends, grunting and spitting as it went.

“This one is way too fast.” Evan panted, trying to keep pace with Dani who was leading the pack.

“Yeah. He’s a bit—uh, more fit than the usual.” She gasped back, scooping up Nissa who was starting to fall behind.

A roar ripped through the tunnel, so close in distance that some of the inner walls crumbled around them.

“Run faster!” Pete yelled above the echoing of giant footsteps.

“Is that a door?” Dani pointed ahead of them, trying not to stumble over her own feet.

“Yes, they used it to ward off outside invasion. If we can get through it fast enough and seal it, we can buy us a lot of time.” Evan pushed on, finally passing Dani.

The creature crashed through an adjacent wall and almost toppled into Pete.

“No time!” He screamed, pumping his legs so hard, Dani thought they would fall off.

She may have been fast, but her legs weren’t very long and she had begun to tire.

“Faster Dani!” Nissa yelled, not caring if anyone heard.

“I’m—I’m trying.” Dani gasped, thrusting her arms out in hopes that it would somehow propel herself forward.

Nissa turned to look behind them; the beast was so close that Dani would hardly make it. She couldn’t let anything happen to her friend.

“Love you, Dani,” Nissa whispered loud enough in Dani’s ear for her to hear it over the rush of air whistling by.

“What?” She turned her head in just enough time to see Nissa spring from her shoulder and straight at the Moss Slinger.

Dani had no time to stop and help her cat before she was already through the door and Evan was shoving it closed from behind.

“No! Noooooo!” Dani thrust her body up against the door and began tugging at the wheel lock.

“Hey, now. Calm down. What’s wrong with you?” Pete wrapped his arms around Dani and tried to pull her from the door; but she stomped on his foot, leaving him hopping about while she went back to tugging at the wheel lock.

“No, no, no….Nissa.” Dani laid her palms flat on the metal door and tried to sense her feline friend on the other side. She could hear a crashing in the distance, but it felt like it was moving back up the tunnel. Was Nissa fighting it? Or had it already killed her and was heading back out into the city to kill something else?

“Hey.” Evan’s voice was so close to Dani’s ear that she jumped. She just stared at him blankly, tears streaming down her face.

“What was her name?” He asked. Pete sort of snorted at his attempt at sympathy without even realizing that Evan was sincere.

“Nissa. Her name was Nissa.” Dani took a shaky breath while removing a strand of long wavy hair from her eyes.

Evan chuckled a bit, “I like that name; it’s different. She is a real firecracker.”

“Was.” Dani turned back to the door and gently smacked her hand against the steel. She wanted so desperately to blast the thing off its hinges, but she couldn’t risk everyone else’s lives. Nissa would have been disappointed in her.

“You don’t know that. She could still be alive. She’s small and feisty from what I witnessed; she could have easily distracted it and gotten away.” Evan offered his own take on the situation.

He wasn’t wrong, but Dani would have heard her by now. She would have come back to the door and communicated with her mentally like they always did when they couldn’t talk aloud. But all she heard now was silence on the other side of the tunnel.

“Come on; we’ve got to go. It’s going to get dark in a few hours and we don’t want to be out here after nightfall.” Pete was trying to be sensitive himself now, while still suggesting urgency.

“You’re right. We better get going.” Evan reached out to direct Dani away from the door when she slapped his hand away.

“What are you doing?” He asked, trying to catch her attention. She responded coldly and without even looking at him.

“I’m staying here.”

“What good is that going to do you, lady? You two are on different sides of a wall with a door that is air locked and you can’t open it without a special pin key that we don’t have.” Pete just wanted to get out of the tunnel and back on their way.

“I can’t—I can’t just abandon her. She would have never left me behind.” Dani had now sunk to the floor, her hand still poised on the wheel handle.

“Hey,” Evan knelt down next to her, “You know—I don’t even know your name.”

Dani was silent, refusing to even look at him. He made her uneasy for some reason, uneasy in a way that she didn’t understand, but there was something about him that clicked with her.

“It’s Dani. My name’s Dani.” She finally responded, pulling her hand away from the door.

“Well, Dani. If she’s dead, you waiting here till you die too won’t do anyone any good. She’d want you to keep fighting. If she’s alive—she’ll find her way back to you.” Evan offered his own piece of advice.

He was right. Dani knew it. If Nissa was gone, there was nothing she could do about it. She couldn’t just sit here and wait to die; then she’d be disappointing her mum and her cat. If she was still alive, maybe she’d find Dani before they killed her for being inhuman...

Staying behind was starting to look like a better option after all.

“She wouldn’t want me to walk into my own execution though.” Dani finally turned to Evan before shifting her gaze to Pete and back again.

“Now why would you be getting executed unless you’re one of them? You’re not one of them are you?” Pete cocked his head to the side and raised his shotgun.

“No, but in times like these, hysteria can make things seem like they are one way when they are not. I’m a stranger, an outsider; people aren’t always accepting of that.” Dani was blunt.

“I can promise you this: if you are indeed human you will have a place with us,” Evan assured her.

“Who is us?” Dani asked. They had to be a little more detailed if they were going to coerce her into going rather than staying.

“All of us that live at the compound,” Pete replied curtly. He just wanted to get the hell out of there.

“Liam doesn’t like when you call it that; sounds like some sort of cult. He prefers commune, I guess. That’s probably the best word to describe it. Liam founded it not long before the world ended, or whatever happened. He just started taking people in. There were some—not so savory people in the beginning, but he had a way of picking out the good ones most of the time. It’s peaceful, we’re self-sufficient, and best of all— there’s a barrier around the commune that keeps out the beasties.” Evan was trying his hardest to convince her to come. He couldn’t just let her stay here; night would fall in a few hours and she would be plunged into darkness. She’d have to wait out the rest of the night in pitch black till morning when she could finally lead herself out and into the woods, all alone with no one to guide her.

“If she doesn’t want to come, you can’t make her come, man.” Pete was becoming increasingly impatient.

“That’s what she said,” Dani whispered under her breath. She couldn’t help herself and she knew Nissa would have laughed at it. Her cat wasn’t normally as nervous and squirrely as she had been the past few days and Dani wasn’t normally so emotional and stressed out. The last couple of weeks had been hellish and the two weren’t sure that they were going to make it. But they did, at least half of them, and she wasn’t going to let it all stop her now.

“Let’s go then.” Dani stood up from the floor and tossed her rucksack over her shoulder before walking on down the tunnel.

“Did she just That’s What She Said me?” Pete was almost in disbelief.

Evan chuckled as he followed Dani’s lead, “Yeah, I think she did.”

(*)

“Here we are then,” Pete stated. The trio had come to the end of the tunnel and a rotting wooden door stood before them.

“This is the end of the tunnel?” Dani was surprised that it was so flimsy and not at all protective.

“It wasn’t supposed to look like anything fancy. They didn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention.” Evan pushed through the door and the smoldering orange sunlight washed over them. The sun would be setting soon and Dani could see the hot ball over the horizon amidst the trees.

“We got about another one and a half miles before we reach the commune. Stay alert and stick close to one another. We’ve been having problems with the Gnashers.” Evan instructed as they stepped out into the early signs of sunset.

“Gnashers?” Dani knew they were referring to one of the creatures, but she wasn’t quite sure which one; she only knew them by their real names.

“These nasty little buggers with greyish-green skin and razor sharp teeth. They may be small, but they can shred you in an instant.” Pete leaned in to explain.

“Ah,” Dani remarked. Now she knew what they could possibly go up against out in the West Wood.

“Just stay close. If we stick together we can get through these trees and up through the field well before night fall.” Evan suggested as the three began to hike through a thicket of hickories towards the commune.

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