Usually, the rushing of wind, which came down from the mountain and tore through the trees, filled the forest with an ambient sound that drowned out many others. An ominous creaking of trees that were wounded in battle was the current sound permeating the area. The creaking of wood continuously grew louder until it transformed into a snap. The snap punctured all other sounds, but it wasn’t alone. The singular snap set off an avalanche of breaking wood that saturated the area with dangerous intent. Slowly, like a wounded soldier, a once-mighty tree began to topple. As its weight distribution changed and gravity gripped it tighter, its descent accelerated. The rumble of its prodigious fall shook the ground and rattled its still standing brethren.
The acrid smell of gunpowder traveled around the campground in clusters that slowly dissipated. As the cloud of dirt and displaced air rushed away from the fallen pine, it obliterated the few remaining pockets of stench. Gradually, the echoing faded across the campground to let the wind once more be the dominant sound. As the tree’s death rumble rolled across the ground, Enzo’s eyes snapped open.
He grimaced in pain from the sizeable spike protruding from his abdomen. His back was resting against a tree trunk, and he could see multiple roots shooting across the ground, away from his position. He slowly looked down; the minute movements sent trembles through his body. His entire lower half was dyed crimson. It made him surprised he was still alive. The last thing he remembered was a squad of soldiers advancing on his position. However, based on his injuries, he had clearly been attacked by a Metal Manipulator.
He leaned sideways and planted his hand on the ground in an attempt to rise to his feet. His breath caught, and a fire burned his guts. He managed to move back to his resting position against the tree. As darkness was just about to consume his vision, the pain lessened enough for him to breathe again. He sat there for a long time, waiting for his breathing to calm and his pain to subside to a manageable level.
Once he could focus again, Enzo looked around to see if he could spot any signs of other people. His egregious wound meant that it would be impossible to make it out alone. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to see or hear anyone. Then he remembered his radio. Their radios weren’t overly large, but he could always tell when it was present on his hip. Even though he couldn’t feel it, he still slowly moved his arm to his side. He patted the carrying pouch that held it, but as he expected, it was empty. He looked around once more to locate it among the forest’s natural debris. The radios straight lines and blocky shape would make it stand out, but he saw nothing.
“Help,” he bellowed. Unable to move and unable to see anyone, calling for others was his only chance, and without his radio, he was forced to use his voice. Not for the first time, he wished for powers like the children. If he was like a Metal Manipulator, he might not have been wounded as bad. If he was a Tree Bender as his niece liked to call them, he would have advanced healing. Although, he tried not to think of it too much, as he was just an old man slowly dying against a tree. He called for help a few more times, then took a break. Sweat had beaded up on his forehead from the exertion, and his breathing had become slow and labored.
“Anyone?” He inquired to the wind once he felt good enough to continue. “Hello?” He kept yelling again until exhaustion forced him to take a break. He wondered why he tried so hard. He thought of all the other children in camps that he had saved and felt happy about his life, at least in the last few years. His line of work was dangerous, and he knew that death hid around every corner. That day it had found him. It hadn’t caught him yet, but it definitely tripped him and was currently punching him in the stomach.
He yelled for help for a while longer, but no one arrived. Enzo knew what he had to do at that moment. His eyes hardened as he mentally focused on his task. He gritted his teeth while building up the necessary will.
Enzo placed his hand on the ground, then pushed and pivoted until he was kneeling. A roar rippled from his throat as he rose. The world spun around him, threatening to flip topsy-turvy and plunge him back to the ground once more. A deep growl rumbled in his chest, and he inhaled deeply through his nose. Slowly the world righted itself. He began a slow, controlled stumble forward.
He hadn’t been too far from the campground when he was attacked, and luckily, his path was downhill. Every step forward was imbued with shards of fiberglassed pain. He took a brief look down at his wound. Blood steadily dripped from the metal spike to soak in the earth below. He bottled the fear and unease swirling through his subconscious and continued to trek forward.
Time, nor distance mattered has he continued, only the placement of each foot further than the other. Not knowing how far he traveled, or at times if he was going in the correct direction, he continued to shout for help as he went.
“Enzo!” Came a voice that pulled him from a daze.
“Melody?” He mumbled, but as his mind cleared, he realized his folly. The voice calling his name wasn’t Melody, it wasn’t even a female.
More voices began to call out his name. Some sounded scared, others joyous, but he didn’t stop moving.
“Where’s Melody? Where’s Victor?” He croaked through his parched, raw throat. His niece and nephew were his responsibility. He always looked after his entire unit, but he thought of those kids as his own. Enzo didn’t bother to look up and see how many people were there, but a quieted hush fell over everyone. He began to fear the worst, but before his mind meandered down that treacherous path, one in the group spoke up.
“They were taken,” someone said softly. Enzo hadn’t been watching his path, and as those words registered, his endless trudge forward was obstructed by a fallen tree. His hips met the tree to abruptly stop, and in his weakened state, he was unable to make his torso stop too. The only thing he could do as his upper body lurched forward was turn it slightly, so the spike didn’t touch the fallen tree.
Enzo had a lot of questions, but not a lot of time to ask them, so he gathered his thoughts. While he did, he overheard the others who stood around.
“It was that boy’s fault,” he heard someone say. “I overheard some of the soldiers talking.”
“About what?” Another inquired.
“They were saying how that kid led the soldiers to our camp. They hadn’t even known there were so many of us. It sounded like the kid was on their side and knew what he was doing.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they did,” chimed in a third.
Enzo only half heard the conversation. His thoughts primarily focused on his family and the growing fatigue he felt after he stopped walking. Although, he knew that they were wrong about Aidren. He was a good judge of character, and he could read that kid like a book for nearsighted people. He thought of how the boy reacted to Melody, and he was definitely sure he wasn’t lying. He might have led the soldiers there on accident, but he didn’t do it on purpose.
“What should we do, boss?” One person in the group asked. His voice broke through Enzo’s reverie, slowly like a song playing in the deep end of the pool. Enzo’s thoughts were clear, but his ability to express them felt like talking through peanut butter. So many things were floating through his mind. He needed to alert the general, whom he loaned the scout from, about Camp Walker. They needed to know how well trained and equipped the force was and that the cadets in the camp were probably the best they had ever seen. He also wanted to tell the general about Aidren. He hadn’t known him for long, but he wanted the general to understand how talented he seemed. Unfortunately, his words weren’t coming out as he wanted them.
“Damn…” He mumbled quietly. “Have to tell the general…” Those words were louder, but they were slurred. Enzo’s tongue felt too large in his mouth. “Dangerous…” The last words came out as a whisper.
Enzo closed his eyes; they were too heavy to keep open any longer. His body was draped over the side of the tree at an odd angle, but he had never been more comfortable. He felt that if he just got a little rest, he could gather and express his thoughts.
Enzo slid from the fallen tree toward the ground, his body was caught and protected by those surrounding him. As he was gently lowered, his mind drifted away with thoughts of summer.