Chapter 26 - Isolde
“We should go back to the cave. I left some stuff,” Hadyn says. Judging from the tormented look in his eyes, this ‘stuff’ is important.
Katarina’s thin eyebrows pull together in thought. “Yes, but I think it would be best if we re-located.” She addresses me. “Isolde, do you have a place where your things are?”
“Just my back,” I reply. And it’s aching.
“Then we should go,” Tristan says. His voice tight. It goes without saying that he is displeased to see that I’m joining his little band.
They start to trek back, Tristan murmuring directions. I hurry after them, trying to analyse Katarina’s words: Do you want to join us?
Does she mean permanently?
I tell myself not to be ridiculous. We barely know each other. Them not harming me – it doesn’t prove much. I don’t have much trust in them; I don’t think that they would go into harm’s way for me anytime, anyplace; I don’t think that they will protect me like they’d protect themselves. That is what is needed for me to properly join them.
Still, I could stay with them for a bit. Katarina is definitely solid – she helped me in the first place – and Hadyn seems nice enough, though Tristan is incredibly hostile. I watch the guy in question as he leads Katarina, Hadyn and I.
He’s not very tall, only average height, and his hair is tousled and almost shoulder-length. He has a certain expression that unnerves me a bit – his hazel eyes seem profound, enigmatic and indifferent all at once. Tristan’s brows seem to be permanently furrowed, like he is always frowning. The skin on his face isn’t tanned, but isn’t pale, either, though faint bruises from lack of sleep show above his prominent cheekbones. However, he seems awake enough, moving through the forest with a confident gait.
My eyes slide to Katarina. Yes, she definitely is quite feline, I think, noticing that she has amber eyes which dart restlessly about.
Hadyn walks briskly, his long, lanky legs taking big strides. I can’t understand the size of him; if you ignore his height, he doesn’t look much near his teenage years.
We finally reach their dank cave. It’s a good hiding place, the entrance mostly covered by spiky leaves, making it look almost inaccessible, but I can slip through pretty easily. Problem is, it is even colder than it is in the open, which means very cold.
Tristan turns some torches on, and hands one to Katarina, and another to Hadyn. He doesn’t even look at me; his eyes slide past like I don’t even exist.
I feel my face getting hot. I literally saved his life, and he can’t even spare me a glance!
They start packing their items, while I dawdle at the mouth of the cave before turning to look outside. I rub at my cold nose with my gloved hands, and breathe out slowly. My stomach growls so loudly I almost jump in fright.
In quest of food, I shrug my backpack off my shoulders, just as Katarina and Hadyn begin to move out. Tristan marches past me, again refusing eye contact – I pause, gritting my teeth, as a brief fluctuation of body temperature zips through me. Katarina sighs almost inaudibly, and walks after Tristan. I hurriedly zip up my back, tightening my grip around my bread and apple, before jogging after them.
“Where are you going to go?” I ask Katarina when I catch up to her.
She shrugs. “We’re just looking for a suitable place.”
I nod, and eat as I walk. My legs ache; I have been moving about way too much in the last several days. No-one talks before I do – again to Katarina, because she seems the nicest of the lot.
“Why did you come to the NS?” I ask her quietly.
She shrugs slightly. “I had to.”
“Well.” She blows out a breath. “It’s a long story.”
“I don’t mind,” I answer. In fact, I’m itching to know, but I don’t want to be too prying. Early days, after all . . .
She looks at me briefly before beginning. “I was adopted by a man, Elario, who never told me that I wasn’t his real daughter. I never suspected a thing when young – we looked similar enough, after all, and why would a child even think otherwise?
“I was home-schooled,” she continues, “from when I was five until eighteen. My social life was pretty much non-existent – Elario kept me secret because of my powers –”
“Of flight,” I say.
She shakes her head. “Telekinesis.”
“Oh,” I say. I note that she was kept home from the young age of five. Was that when she developed her powers? I want to ask, but she speaks again before I can.
“I couldn’t control it.” Katarina cringes slightly. “I often . . . hurt him, and myself – in tantrums and so on. He never seemed to hate me, though I began to hate him because he hid me from public view all my life. It was very frustrating. A lonely childhood, I had, looking out my curtains and watching the other children play while I was kept inside. I snuck out a few times as a teenager, determined that I would get some friends.” She stops walking suddenly, looking fixedly somewhere in the distance, before quickly striding forward.
“I–I injured someone. I was angry at them. They just . . . flew into the wall and bones broke . . . I ran home, told Elario. I was very guilty – you can’t even begin to imagine how so. As usual, Elario wasn’t very angry, but disappointed in me, which was somehow worse. No-one knew that the person was wounded by me, and I kept inside the house – I had well and truly learnt my lesson. Luckily, the person” – I note that she trips over the words – “survived. When I was twenty-two, they came. The Antithetical Hunters. I don’t know how they knew, but they captured Elario and tried to take me, as well.
“I suspended them in the air, and their re-enforcements, too. Dodged their stun guns and ran. My biggest regret is leaving Elario there – he had taken on the burden of caring for me, but I knew that if I tried to rescue him, I would get shot; he would still end up in RepAnt, and I in Confinement.
“Elario had repeatedly told me of what would happen if I didn’t keep my power a secret. Having my freedom taken away from me for the rest of my days scared me so much, and drove me to abandon the only person I ever really knew. Before Tristan and Hadyn, of course.”
I look at her, digesting her life story with chills running through me. I thought that what I have been through is difficult, but it pales in comparison to Katarina’s endurances. I can’t imagine having to leave, say, Mum, as our house was raided by Hunters. My heart would have been tortured to breaking point.
“After escaping, I managed to sneak in here the same way you did – pretending to be an Antithetical Hunter. This was five years ago.
“I saw Hadyn, only a gangly seven year old at the time, being dragged away after being here for a week. I disabled the Hunters, and ran away with Hadyn, who was very co-operative. He stayed with me. Then, three years ago, Tristan sort of came up to us. I was very wary – I had seen many other Antithetical in the forest, and none of them nice. I lied to him many times, and of course he detected them. Though very suspicious, we formed a little band. Honest people earn trust quickly.” She sighs wearily. “And that’s it. We’ve just scraped by.”
I think in silence about the things she told me. My doubts about Katarina have been mostly expelled, and I don’t know why. Maybe because of how openly she speaks of her past – if I was in her place, I would have kept my mouth tightly shut. There’s something admirable about not being ashamed to voice what you’ve been through and what you’ve done, casually, to an outsider. Not sure quite what.
I look over at Tristan, who’s striding briskly ahead with his blank expression, and dare to ask, “Why does he hate me?”
Katarina frowns. “Who?”
I note how her face immediately tightens and her lips press together. “He doesn’t hate you,” she says carefully. The ‘you’ is stressed ever so slightly.
“Uh-huh,” I say, unconvinced. I kick at the earth with the toe of my boot.
“Ask him, not me.”
I don’t respond. I very much doubt that I will be asking him any time soon.
My stomach growls again, and I sigh before quickly getting out the spaghetti can, opening the lid and bending it to form a makeshift spoon. The bits of food swim about unappetizingly in the watery sauce, but I slurp the cold stuff up quickly – I am too hungry and tired.
The urge to say, ‘are we there yet’ is very tempting.
Tristan falls back after another few minutes to speak to Katarina. I look straight ahead, feeling uncomfortable. That type of feeling you get when you think someone’s looking at you, but, inexplicably, you feel like it would be embarrassing to look back.
“Are you searching for another cave?” I ask Katarina after she’s done talking to Tristan.
“I suppose. Where else, really?”
“I slept in a tree before I saw you.”
She stares at me like I’m mad. “How?”
I shrug. “Climbed up, found a thick fork, belted myself round the branch.”
Katarina wrinkles her nose. “I wouldn’t be able to sleep more than a few feet off of the ground.”
I suppress a smile. “Yeah, most people are like that.”
An hour later, Tristan finally finds a place that he, Katarina and Hadyn deem suitable. An opening masked by hanging vines reveals a shadowy place seven feet high. I shiver, wrapping my arms round my body as the cave is lit with torches.
Hadyn opens his rucksack and spreads a waterproof quilt across the floor before plonking himself down. “Your turn for food,” he says to Tristan, nodding his head back out of the area.
I find Tristan looking at me. I flush at the palpable animosity in his eyes – he seems to have forgotten about me stopping the Antithetical Hunters who threatened his life.
“How about you go get something?” he asks curtly.
“I don’t know these woods,” I reply as evenly as possible, keeping my eyes locked on his soulless ones.
“I think that you should get to know them,” he contradicts.
Tersely, I say, “Sometime.”
The single word is uttered like a threat. “Today.”
“How about you guide me?” I challenge.
His face hardens, but his right arm gestures outside. “After you.”
I walk past him, tense, ignoring the aching of my feet. As much as I just want to collapse into my sleeping bag, I will not give Tristan the impression that he scares me. Even though – I admit – he does.
“We’ll be back soon,” Tristan tells Katarina and Hadyn.
I hear his soft footfalls behind me, and my heart tries to break past my ribs. Eventually, I can’t stand hearing and not seeing him, so I turn to look. “What do you usually do?” I regulate my voice so that it is neutral.
“We usually find a rabbit hole and wait,” he replies in monotone.
I frown. “Why?”
He raises his eyebrow, though the rest of his face remains straight. “Have you never eaten rabbit?”
I clamp my hand around my mouth as my stomach jolts. I swear my heart stopped beating, for just a second.
“What?” I splutter, looking at him in horror. “You eat other creatures?”
“You and your Sector ways,” Tristan drawls, leaning casually against a tree. He studies me closely, unsmiling.
“No way.” I shake my head forcefully. “No way am I going to be a carnivore.” I spit out the word, repulsed by this unfeeling monster before me.
“Well, you can find your own food then.”
“Fine,” I snap, and begin to march back.
“Wrong way,” Tristan says from behind me.
I turn to glare at him. His eyes hold no humour, just complete apathy.
He casually walks in the right direction, and I follow him, intense dislike burning within. The savages! How could they unflinchingly kill and eat another creature? How? No wonder we Antithetical are locked up and away.
“What did you get?” asks Hadyn when we enter the cave. “That was quick.”
“Turns out little madam over here is opposed to our meat-eating ways,” Tristan tells him.
“It’s Isolde,” I say curtly, willing myself not to get angry.
“That’s fine,” says Katarina firmly, shooting a deadly look at Tristan.
“No, it’s not.” He folds his arms, and steps right in front of me. He’s maybe two inches taller than me, but it feels like a lot, lot more. I feel the instinct to run, but stay put. “We give you shelter,” he says to me, “Alliance. Protection. Escape. And you won’t even help us get food. You can’t do nothing. It doesn’t work like that.”
Keep your cool, I chide my boiling self. “Right, so stopping you from being locked away your whole life isn’t good enough,” I say sarcastically. “Sorry.” I turn to Katarina. “Do you have a cup?”
Wordlessly, she produces a plastic bottle, and passes it to me, looking uncertain. I will the small amount of liquid at the bottom to increase. The water fills to the top, and I hold it up in the torchlight so he gets a clear view. “There you go,” I snap. “Water. I don’t think that it’s nothing.”
Tristan glowers at me. “That’s not enough.”
“Not enough. Right.” I clench my fists, feeling the practically steam shooting out of my ears as I tremble in rage. “How about I fill the entire cave? Flood the whole flipping NS!” I shriek at him.
“Isolde,” Katarina murmurs anxiously. Her arm is half extended to me, like she thinks I’m about to physically attack Tristan, which is a very tempting thought.
“I tried to help you.” I stab a finger at him. “I did help you. What do I get? Cold looks and snarky comments. Even before anything happened. Why don’t you tell me why you hate me so much?”
Tristan’s voice is irritatingly calm and low. “I’m not having this conversation,” he says quietly, and walks out, leaving me shaking in anger.
“Isolde,” Katrina says again.
I yank up my bag. “This isn’t going to work. Thanks. Bye.”
I rush away, not looking back. I feel tears collecting in my frustration, and angrily wipe at my cheeks before continuing on.
My attempt to gain comrades has failed miserably. I am alone.