Donovan and Eden were pushed from the sewers to the forest bordering the city, feeling more closed in by the thick tree trunks the deeper they got. When the finally made it to the unimpressive base, an inexplicable shipping container and some surrounding tents, Donovan and Eden were deposited into a tent and a guard was situated at the zippered door and Jasper left them alone as he fell in stride with Graham.
“How are we getting out of here?” Donovan looked at Eden and she shrugged.
“How should I know?”
“Well we need to think of something.”
“Shut up in there!” The tent shook as the guard scolded them.
“Well, maybe if we-” Eden was cut off by the guard shaking the tent again and cursing them.
“Try this,” Donovan whispered and touched Eden’s hand. They looked into each other and Donovan saw images of a farm he’d never been to, but he knew was close by. Donovan concentrated and tried to project images of Eden pleading for Jacob, trying to remind her that there may well be trouble waiting for them at her farm as well.
It was dark when they heard Jasper’s voice outside the tent. They could see the shadows of Jasper and their guard dancing on the nylon walls, cast by the huge fire in the middle of the camp.
“I’m here to take over for you,” Jasper said.
“My shift’s not over for another two hours and we’re under orders not to let you guard the potential targets.”
“Nonsense, you need some rest.”
Donovan watched the shadow of Jasper move quickly and strike the guard in the head. The guard turned and fell, just barely missing a loud collision with the ground as Jasper grabbed hold of the man’s limp body. He gently lowered the man and unzipped the tent.
“Jasper?” Donovan said.
“Let’s go. We’ve got two hours before Pietro comes to relieve this guy and we can cover a lot of ground in two hours,” Jasper said, gesturing for them to get up and follow him.
“No way. You said you’d tell us the truth when we got here but we’ve been stuck in this tent and I’ve yet to hear anything. I don’t trust you--is this some sort of trap or sick head game?” Donovan crossed his arms and looked away. “I know how good you are at head games.”
“This isn’t a trap and it’s not a game, this is serious! I’m trying to help you here, let’s get out of this place and I’ll tell you everything when we’re safe.”
Donovan felt Eden telling him she wanted to go with Jasper, but it wasn’t enough to convince him.
“You keep saying you’re going to tell me the truth, you’re going to tell me everything.” He paused. “Guess what? I’ve yet to hear a true word come out of your mouth! I bet you’ve never told me the truth the entire time I’ve known you.”
“Donovan, there are better times to break up with your boyfriend,” Eden said. “I trust him right now and I know you feel it too. He’s worried about us, he wants to rescue us.”
“No way. That’s not what I’m getting from him.” Donovan shook his head. “I know that tone and he’s playing us. He betrayed me, apparently he betrayed Charles when he worked for him and now he’s betraying his own people. How can you possibly trust him?”
Donovan looked at Eden, then Jasper. He could feel Eden’s opinion clashing with his own, but when he locked his eyes on Jasper there was nothing, the man’s mind was blocked off. Jasper held an eager hand out for them but Donovan couldn’t guess why he was offering his help.
“No.” Donovan shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest. “There’s no way I’m going anywhere with him.”
“You could die here,” Eden said, reaching out to grab hold of Donovan’s hands. They both felt their connection and they both knew that neither of them wanted harm to come to the other.
“You could die with him,” Donovan whispered back.
“I guess that’s true.” Eden looked at the ground. “But if I have a chance to get to the farm - maybe even find my brothers - then I’m taking it.”
“I know.” Donovan nodded and looked at Jasper who stood on the sidelines, looking offended that the two of them were discussing him as if he couldn’t hear.
“You don’t really trust him,” Donovan shrugged a shoulder and twisted his face. “I can feel it.”
Eden nodded, a lock of golden hair slipping over her shoulder as she did. “I know.”
“But you have to go.”
“I’ll... I’ll come with you then,” Donovan said, narrowing his eyes at Jasper. “But I’m coming with Eden, not you.”
Eden and Donovan slipped out of the tent and soundlessly followed Jasper into the darkness but Jasper quickly stopped and motioned for them to stay low to the ground. “Pietro’s coming,” he said, “he’s early.”
Before Donovan could process a plan of action, Pietro was in front of them, staring down with shocked eyes. “Jasper, I... what are you doing?”
Jasper stood up straighter, Donovan and Eden following suit. “Graham ordered me to take the targets to the reader.”
“Why would he do that? He told me not to let you near them.”
Jasper moved faster than Donovan had ever seen. He sailed through the air and landed on top of Pietro. The men wrestled into the trees and Donovan looked at Eden. “This could be our chance, we could get out of here on our own.”
“And how long would we last?” Eden responded, moving forward to help Jasper.
“Wait! Wait!” Pietro pushed against Jasper and the two of them rolled over. Pietro had the upper hand now and he pinned Jasper to the ground. “You’re freeing them aren’t you? Aren’t you?”
Eden came up behind Pietro and tried to pull him off, but he pushed her aside with one strong arm. Jasper took advantage of the distraction and had Pietro on his back in no time.
“I wanna help!” Pietro said, protecting his face from Jasper’s fists.
Donovan moved quickly to grab hold of Jasper’s arm before he could hit Pietro again. “What did you say?”
“I said I wanna help get you away from here.”
Jasper wrenched his arm free of Donovan’s grip and held Pietro tight against the ground. “Why?”
“Do you think you’re the only one who’s angry about the reader? Graham has changed, almost everyone has changed and it’s the reader’s fault. Besides, Mitchel may have been a spy, he may have betrayed you and for that he deserved to die in that tower, but Corinna was on his team and I know for a fact that she deserved to live.”
Donovan knelt down and looked into Pietro’s eyes. They were wet with fat drops that refused to break free and betray the man’s strength. “Jasper, let him up. I trust him.”
Jasper hesitated. “You trust him?”
“Right now I trust him more than I trust you.” Donovan helped Pietro to his feet and the men shook hands. “You loved her didn’t you, Corinna?”
Pietro didn’t say anything.
“I happen to know for a fact that just because you love a person, doesn’t mean they’re not lying to you.” He swept an arm out into the darkness of the forest around them. “Well then, should we get out of here or what?”
Jasper led the way through the dark, and Pietro followed at the rear. After an hour of silence, Donovan began to lag behind so he could speak with Pietro.
“What’s a reader?”
Pietro narrowed his eyes. “I’m sorry?”
“You and Jasper kept talking about a reader, what is it?”
Pietro thought it over for a moment. It looked as if he wasn’t going to answer Donovan’s question but then finally he said, “Not everyone can understand the prophecies. They come falling from the heavens in balls of fire, scrolls of ancient looking parchment completely untouched by the flames. To most people, they’re just that. Blank, brittle, paper. To a reader, they are a window into the future.”
“So, was Charles a reader?”
Pietro nodded his head.
“If only a couple people know what these prophecies even say, how can you know they’re telling you the truth about them?”
“You’ve met Charles, you know first hand that readers can be... convincing. When Graham and Jasper realized they were being brainwashed they broke free. Jasper was pretty pissed to find out Graham had taken up with another reader while he was gone. None of us were that pleased at first but we just... got used to it I guess. No doubt because of the reader’s manipulation. After what Graham did to Corinna it was like some spell had been lifted. None of the people back there are up to any good, Jasper’s doing you a favour getting you out of there.”
“He’s kind of the reason I ended up there in the first place.”
“If he hadn’t been there Charles would have, or Graham. Someone would have found you and probably hurt you. You’re lucky Jasper was the one who got there first.”
“So, these prophecies, they supposedly are about the end of the world?”
“Some of them. A few of them are about hope.”
“Or at least, that’s what you’ve been told.”
“That’s what I believe.”
“How many of them are there?”
Pietro shrugged. “Who knows? I guess Charles was collecting them for years, he was obsessed with finding them all but there’s no telling where they’ll land, or where they landed in the past.”
“Where do they come from?”
Pietro went silent then. “Well, the come from the sky.”
“So what does that mean?”
“What do you think it means?”
Donovan thought about it for a second. He remembered what Charles had said back in the tower. ‘I’ve seen more than you can imagine. A serpent who uses love as a weapon, an angel who passes knowledge on to heroes like a virus.’ “You think they come from... heaven?” Donovan twisted his face. He didn’t feel like that explanation was good enough for him.
“Some people think so.”
“What do others think?”
“You mean like, aliens?”
Pietro then fell into a profound silence. Donovan didn’t even bother asking more questions, he could tell by the stony expression on the man’s face that he was done talking about it so he picked up his pace and settled in beside Jasper. They didn’t say anything at first, but then eventually Donovan asked, “Why were you watching me? Charles said these prophecies referred to me as the hope for mankind. What is that about?”
Jasper took a long time to answer, but eventually he said, “The prophecies don’t really paint the picture of a very bright future. We’re in for the ride of our lives here. The zombies? The beasts? They’re just the start. Our planet has been taken over by a disease and all diseases do the same thing--hurt and kill their hosts.” Jasper looked at Donovan again. “But the prophecies also said that there was a bit of hope, a person who had a way of uniting the survivors and fighting back.”
“And you think I’m that person?” Donovan asked but Jasper looked at Eden as he answered.
“We thought you were.” There was a moment of silence before he started listing facts on his fingers. “You exhibit all the traits which match the DNA and lineage data. You’re persuasive, amicable, charismatic, and you seem to possess innate psychic abilities. Not to mention your overwhelming empathy. Just look at what happened with your family before you left them. They were stealing your positive energy, or at least you were giving it to them without realizing. Every bit of sadness, every bit of anger, you took it all in and gave them back happiness and hope. That’s why they loved you so much, why they were broken when you left, and why you harbour so much resentment towards them. Charles got the hunt for you started, but I had sneakier means than he did, I beat him to you.” He paused. “I guess I always thought it would just be you. Charles even seemed surprised by Eden’s abilities.”
“And what, exactly, were you planning to do with the target?” Donovan asked.
“My mission was clear. I was told to keep the target safe until the time came that you could reach your full potential. Your bite triggered that transformation, just like it did with Eden, just like it probably did with Felicia.”
Donovan rolled his eyes and turned away as Eden crossed her arms and said, “What about me? Your guys called me a target too.”
“Well, you heard Charles, your brain activity is identical to Donovan’s,” Jasper said. “You also seemed to exhibit developing pre-cog abilities, same as Donovan.”
Donovan wasn’t interested in talking about Eden though, he cut her off with a glare and she submissively stepped back. “Charles told me it was all a lie, that you never loved me. Was that true too?” Donovan asked, his tone wrathful.
“No... I mean... Yes. Yes, I lied to you, but I do love you. You started out as a job, but something changed. You made me love you. Why do you think I got you to make amends with Vicky that night? I figured she’d be an asset but I thought we’d have months, maybe years to rebuild the relationship.”
“What do you meant an asset?”
“You’re not the only person the prophecies talked about. The zombies were just the beginning of the hell we’re about to endure. This disease can do a lot of messed up things to a lot of different kinds of people. You apparently turned into a psychic messiah, Felicia turned into a vicious zombie controlling beast, Vicky was different though. She’s what Charles called a hero. If you’re mankind’s hope, she’s their defender. The difference between the two of you is that heroes exist everywhere, they’re almost common in some areas. There’s only one shot at hope, or so we thought.”
“Pietro said these prophecies came from the sky. Are they alien?”
“Some people, like Aleksi and Charles, believed they were from a heavenly plane of existence but the truth is nobody knows where they come from.”
There was a clap of thunder that demanded an end to Donovan’s questions. Eden looked up at the sky and Donovan could see fear washing over her. He turned his gaze to the heavens as well and saw the huge, glowing red clouds that billowed menacingly above them. Bright lightning leapt from one cloud to another and there was a second crash of thunder. “Okay, mister know-it-all, what the heck is that?” Donovan demanded as he squinted at the sky. He thought he saw something else in the clouds, something that moved like it was alive.
“Like I said,” Jasper responded. “The zombies were just the beginning.”
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