Antithetical

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Chapter 32 - Isolde

I find myself looking behind us often, my heart thudding. Hunters near – yet again. And very near, according to Tristan. We quickly glide through the forest with Katarina’s aid, but she sets us down after a while. Her powers can make her physically weak, so we begin to move on foot. When I hear the crack of a stun gun, I burst into a flat-out sprint, resisting the urge to yell out. My body isn’t healed and I haven’t been doing much exercise in the past few days; it is a strain. Tristan adheres to me, while Katarina and Hadyn seem to move away. He whispers something about going in different directions to confuse our predators.

I want us all to keep together, but there is no point in arguing. We run fast, only to find that there are sounds coming from both behind and in front of us. I instinctively leap up a tree, but I don’t remember that not everyone can climb well, and look through the leaves to find Tristan’s back disappearing on my right.

Stay safe, Hadyn, Katarina and Tristan, I think. My stomach twists.

I scamper higher up, where the leaves are denser, trying not to panic too much. I can survive on my own . . . but Katarina and Tristan and Hadyn . . . what if . . .

I swallow as I crouch in the tree, interlinking my fingers and breathing as evenly as I can. The others will be fine. Katarina’s abilities give her both the option of either flight or fight, Hadyn can befuddle his opponents, and Tristan . . . well, I’ve seen him fight. There is something both dangerous and beautiful is his lithe movements, the hard, unchanging look on his face.

I stifle a gasp as I catch sight of two people so close to the tree. Their backs are towards me; I can’t see their faces, but I know from the uniform they wear that they are Antithetical Hunters.

I glance down at my clothes. I’m not in the AH outfit, so there’s absolutely no chance of them not attacking if they see me.

Keeping as quiet as possible, I lean a bit out of the tree, trying to get a better view of them. Then one turns round, and I nearly collapse or scream or cry or all three.

Isaac.

My breath leaves me in a whoosh. I clutch the tree branches for stability as his name reels about in my head.

Isaac. Isaac. Isaac.

It’s him, I’m sure of it. He looks different – his messy locks cut completely off, his face rigid and serious. Days of climbing tree, foraging plants, laughing at school – they all flash in my mind, one after the other, endless . . .

I remember those last few weeks. My torture of not being able to control my powers. His torture of losing his brother.

And now we’re in such close proximity, but our friendship will never be restored. Not when he’s standing there, looking around for me, frustrated that he can’t shoot me. It is one of the worst feelings in the world to know that someone so close to you now wants to take everything away from you. Your complete and total life.

What would happen if he saw me? Would he shoot at once? Or hesitate? His companion would probably do the job if he paused, anyway.

Which is why he must not see you.

Their meticulous eyes search the area thoroughly, and I feel like I’m just waiting to be seen instead of hiding. I keep imagining Isaac, looking at me with unforgiving eyes . . . his gun angled towards me . . . thumb on the trigger . . . sharp pain . . . falling sensation . . . and a final thump . . .

Stop it! I command my tormenting thoughts. It just feels so real.

I twist my fingers, and try to decide what the best course of action would be. Try to run? Hide out here for a while? Use my powers?

The last one makes me shudder a bit. If they somehow manage to get their sights on me, they won’t have as much mercy.

I remember the gun I was given before entering the NS. It is right at the bottom of my bag, untouched. I have had no intention to use it. So why am I thinking about the weapon now?

I try to push away the thoughts, and look closely through the fronds of the tree. They still haven’t left. Why aren’t they going away?

They aren’t paying specific attention to the tree I’m in, so I’m not in too much danger.

At least, that is what I think before I jump in fright at a bird fluttering out of the tree, causing my rucksack to slip out of my hands.

I stifle a curse and fumble for it, my hands pushing it this way and that. To my dismay, it falls ungracefully and lands with a heavy thud on the ground below. Isaac and the Hunter – no, the two Hunters, I remind myself – spin round, guns to the ready. I don’t even dare to breathe, and clutch tightly at the tree, eyes frozen open as I run through numerous promises and prayers in my head.

Isaac nudges the other person, a stocky guy, and mutters something. The thickset man nods, and angles his gun. I am somewhat startled when he talks.

“You have five seconds to get down and surrender, or I’ll shoot,” he calls in a deep, rumbly voice.

I quiver in the tree.

“One.”

What do I do? I scream internally.

“Two.”

To climb down or stay put?

“Three.”

Either way I’ll be seized. But I just can’t just walk down to my demise. I have to fight.

“Four.”

And I can fight. Much better than them.

“Last chance . . .”

But I don’t want to fight. Not Isaac, not my Isaac.

Without thinking, I drop from the tree.

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