Tess turned to see that Bethany was waiting for her in the hallway. Tess rolled her eyes and kept heading back to her room. She heard Bethany’s heels on the floor as she hurried to keep up.
“Excuse me, Miss Galvin,” a voice screeched into Tess’s ears.
“I just want to go to my room.”
“I’d stop if I were you,” Bethany said. “You’re going to give me an interview whether you like it or not.”
Tess swung around to see a smug look on Bethany’s face.
“And why is that?”
“Do you want to keep your friends safe?” Bethany asked. Tess kept her mouth shut. “Nate could be in a lot of trouble for starting a fight. He was out of his mind.”
“Where is he?”
“Confined to his room for the rest of the competition,” she said. “Guards are watching his doors 24/7.”
Tess’s heart skipped a beat. She nearly panicked thinking it might be the last time she’d see Nate in person. How could she ever get him out with the guards watching?
“What does this have to do with me?”
“Well, all the viewers like a little drama. I need your perspective, unfortunately.”
Tess realized she didn’t have a choice. She silently followed Bethany into the interviewing room and took a seat across from her. Bethany forced a smile and motioned to the cameramen to begin filming.
“You better make this good,” Bethany threatened. “For Nathan’s sake.”
Bethany took a few moments to record her introduction and then she looked at Tess as if they were the closest friends in the world. Tess found it creepy how quickly she could turn the switch.
“You’re doing very well Tess,” Bethany said. “Do you think you have a good chance of winning?”
“I think I do,” Tess said.
“Critics say you haven’t really done anything to prove your place in this competition,” Bethany said, looking pleased. “Do you disagree?”
Tess bit her lip. She wanted to let them all know that it didn’t matter what they thought. Why did she have to prove that she didn’t deserve to die?
“I disagree,” Tess forced out. “I deserve to be here.”
Bethany waited for more, but Tess refused to say anything else. She looked frazzled for a moment.
“The audience at home does not know about Robert’s fight with Nate. Do you care to elaborate on that and let us know why it happened? Is there love in the air?”
“No,” Tess said, trying to keep calm. “Tensions are high right now. I think they let their emotions get the best of them.”
“And what about Scott? We all loved your romantic sunset ride on that ship…”
Tess felt nauseous.
“It wasn’t romantic,” Tess corrected. Bethany gave her a hard look. “The competition has been stressful. I think we both just needed to have a little fun.”
“It was very entertaining!” Bethany said. “How do you think your dad would feel about it?”
Something about the way Bethany mentioned her dad took her breath away. Bethany knew something. She could see it in her eyes.
“What about my dad?” Tess asked. She stood up in frenzy. Something was wrong. “Tell me what’s happening to him. Where is he?”
Bethany looked flustered, but Tess could tell she was relishing in the moment.
“Please get her!” Bethany shouted. The guards came in and grabbed Tess. “Bring her back to her room.”
Tess struggled as they dragged her back to her room. She needed to get back to Bethany and find out what she knew, but there was no chance of breaking free. They nearly tossed her into her room and slammed the door behind her. She knew there was no way she was going to get out again that day.
She tried to meet up with Scott and Nate in the chatroom, but there weren’t there. The bad feeling she had was just getting worse. She needed to talk to her friends.
That night, Tess turned on the television to watch her interview. They cut off the end to somehow make it look like it hadn’t all ended in chaos. They followed up the program by replaying Scott and Nate’s interview from before the competition had started. It was strange seeing them so lighthearted.
When the program ended, Tess reached to turn off the television, but a commercial caught her attention.
Tune in tomorrow night for the next chapter of Never World! Our last 6 contestants will have little rest before being catapulted into their next exciting adventure!
Tess could barely believe what she was hearing. She wasn’t sure what The Creator was up to, but they’d have no time to rest or strategize. She tried the chatroom again, but there was nothing. She’d just have to somehow talk to Nate in the game.
She went to bed as early as she could, but she was finding it impossible to sleep. Instead, she took a long shower and tried to work on her notes for the game. They all seemed useless now, but she wanted to document it somehow.
Tess woke up on the floor and groaned as she tried to stretch herself out. She changed and hurried into her pod, making sure all her things were still inside. She was becoming increasingly more paranoid as each level went by.
When Tess entered the new level, she was sitting on the edge of a wooden bridge that was incredibly high off the ground. She pulled her legs up, but immediately felt dizzy. The ground was covered in green foliage and she couldn’t look away.
Tess lifted herself up by grabbing the ropes that lined the bridge and looked around. She was surround by a massive tree top town that went on for as far as she could see. There were tree houses, rope swings, and bridges that allowed her to walk from section to section. Tess couldn’t see anyone else, so she found a place to sit where she was blocked by a tree.
It was humid and the area was foggy and it seems to be getting worse. It was getting harder and harder to see. She noticed that when a gust of wind blew by, the fog lifted for a few minutes before creeping back in.
Tess checked her map and saw that Nate and Scott were on the other side of the level. She knew this was probably something The Creator had planned, but she’d have to play along for now. Tess checked her objectives and saw whoever was killed first would be eliminated. There were no other rules.
After about an hour of sitting and waiting, Tess started to move toward Nate. She saw that she was the first one on the move, so she’d have to try to find something to defend herself with along the way.
As she started walking, she saw that Scott was moving in her direction so they could meet halfway. Nate stayed where he was. It took a few more hours before finally seeing Scott in the distance. He smiled when he spotted her, but they had to wait another twenty minutes for the fog to clear. When they could finally see the bridge ahead of them, Scott hurried to meet her. He stood in front of her, unsure of what to do at first.
“Tess,” Scott said. “Everything okay?”
“I’m fine.” Tess shrugged. “I couldn’t find any weapons. My pack didn’t spawn this level.”
“I don’t think there are any. I think we’re on our own,” Scott said.
They sat down on the bridge and peered over the edge. Scott reached over to grab her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers.
“Where’s Nate?” Tess asked.
“He wants you to be safe,” Scott said.
Tess turned to him, confused.
“What does that mean? He should be with us.”
Scott shook his head. She knew that meant he couldn’t explain now, but she wanted to go find him. He shouldn’t be out there alone.
“He’s going to be fine,” Scott said, trying to reassure her. She had to trust him. “We should just try to stay as far from everyone as possible. Maybe the twins will take out Robert for us.”
“And then what?”
Scott gave her a hard look. She was asking questions neither of them could discuss in the game, but she was dying to talk to them.
“We’re figuring it out.”
Tess wondered if they were making plans without her, which made her furious. They should include her in what’s going on. She worried that they were only trying to protect her.
“Well don’t go figuring out anything else without me,” Tess said.
Scott remained silent.
Tess rested her head against Scott’s shoulder as they kept watch. They hung out in the same place for a few hours before Tess realized that Robert was moving slightly closer. They moved a little farther away and waited more time. She wondered how long they had before something happened, but no one seemed to be in a rush. She was sure they were all just as angry about the lack of rest between levels.
Scott and Tess found a small tree house to wait in until the end of the day. Everyone was safe for the time being, so that night Tess wanted to work on getting out. She mentioned 8 p.m. to Scott, hoping he would get that she wanted to meet. Both Nate and Scott were waiting for her when she entered the chatroom.
“I guess we don’t get any dinner tonight,” Tess said. They hadn’t been allowed out of their rooms. “What’s going on with you?”
Nate looked up from his seat on the couch looking morose.
“I don’t get to leave my room at all anymore. Tess…we need to get you out of here.”
“Tomorrow during the game,” Scott said firmly. “You’ll log out and get rid of your tracker. Scott found a way to contact your friend Cameron.”
“How do you know about Cameron?” Tess asked.
“I had to learn a lot about you before this whole thing started. I sent her a message. She’ll bring you to the hideout.”
“Wait! What hideout?” Tess felt frazzled and annoyed. “You’re both coming with me. We’re not leaving until everyone can go.”
“We’ll be dead before then!” Nate argued.
“We’ll stay alive this level and Nate will prove he’s not going to cause problems and then the guards will leave,” Tess said. “We’re in this together.”
She interrupted him.
“Give us one more level to work on it. We can find a way to get you out.”
“I can beat Robert,” Nate said suddenly.
“Is that your plan?” Tess shouted. She could feel her anger rising. “You think you can win this? And then what? They’ll kill you anyway.”
“It’s impossible for the three of us to leave together!” Nate shouted back. “I will win and you two will escape.”
“No,” Tess said. “I won’t do it. You can’t make me.”
“You sound like a child,” Nate said.
Tess looked down at the ground. She certainly felt like a child. Scott placed a hand on her shoulder.
“We’ll wait one more round,” he said. “If we can’t think of something better, you’re going. You have to trust that Nate can win.”
“Of course I think he can win,” Tess muttered. “I just don’t see the point in trying. We can all get out of this.”
Tess worried about Nate being left behind. There was a chance that The Creator wouldn’t let him survive, even if he somehow won. The odds were stacked against him.
“Tess…” Scott started. “You know Nate will be safe if you get away, right? You leaving won’t put him in any further danger.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you have something The Creator wants. Something he was willing to hire me to find out. Whatever you have, he needs…and he knows Nate will lead him to it.”
“I still don’t like our odds,” Tess said. “I still don’t like anyone being left behind.”
“Then we’ll find a way to fix our plans,” Scott agreed.
Tess gave him a small smile.
The next day, Tess and Scott woke up in the tree house and checked their maps. She hoped now that they had decided to wait until Nate could come with them he would join them, but he didn’t. She guessed the three of them together would now be too much of a target.
“What are you going to do after all this?” Scott asked, trying his best not to get too specific. He knew perfectly well they’d have to be in hiding, but maybe he wanted to know what she would have done. “Do you have any plans?”
“I guess I just want to be with my father,” Tess said. She wanted to see him more than anything, but something felt wrong. The way Bethany had looked shook her to her core. “Maybe we can go somewhere nice.”
“I sort of like ships,” Scott said.
“When we were on that ship all day…I liked it. Maybe I can live on the ocean,” Scott said, smiling. “You think I could live on the ocean?”
“I think you could live on the ocean. I don’t know what you could do, but there always looking for fishermen down at the—”
Scott used his hand to lift her face toward his and kissed her.
When Tess pulled away, she stared at Scott, feeling confused. He shrugged and looked down at the ground.
“I just didn’t want anything else to happen before I did that,” Scott said.
“Me too,” Tess said.
Scott laughed and rested his forehead against hers.
“So, I guess I’ll see you on the other side?” Scott asked.
“If I’m allowed on your ship,” Tess said.
Scott jolted up when they heard a rustling noise coming from outside. As he checked the window, Tess brought up her map. Robert was close by, quickly heading in their direction. She grabbed Scott’s arm and they ran out onto the wooden bridge.
Robert was right on their heels as they took off following the bridge path. She could hear his shouts as they ran.
“This is the end, Scott!”
His heavy footprints echoed in Tess’s ears. She felt like he was all around her and she couldn’t calm herself down. She held on tightly to Scott’s arm.
Tess stopped abruptly when they reached the end of the bridge. Scott bumping into her nearly pushed her over the edge, but he was able to grab onto the back of her clothes to keep her propped up. They were looking a rope swing that would have to get them across to the other side.
She pushed herself in front of Scott as Robert approached.
“Wrap your arms around my neck,” Tess said.
“What?” Scott asked.
“Just do it!”
Tess grabbed onto the rope with her strong hand and pushed them off of the edge of the bridge. It was hard to hold on with the weight of Scott around her, but they reached the other side. Scott dropped to the floor of the bridge, but Tess didn’t have time to jump off. She swung back toward Robert who tried to grab at her legs.
Tess used her remaining energy to kick at his face, knocking him backwards. She was able to get the momentum to swing back toward Scott and she let go, falling on top of him.
“That works,” Scott said.
He lifted her up and they took off to find somewhere else to hide. It didn’t look like Robert was coming after them, according to her map.
They stopped to catch their breath, propping themselves up in one of the trees. Tess thought they would be able to get more of bird’s eye view, but the fog rolled in again.
“Do you think Nate is okay?” Tess asked.
“I think so.”
“I hope so.”
Scott placed a hand on her leg. He forced a smile, but she could see the worry written on his face.
They sat up there for hours as the game went on. She saw that Robert had gone in the opposite direction and seemed to be on the trail of the twins. Nate hadn’t moved in a while.
When the day was over, Tess was let out of her room for a bit. She headed to the cafeteria, but no one else was there. It seemed that Nate still hadn’t been let out. She met up with them in the chatroom later, but Nate didn’t have much to say.
“I’m just keeping my distance right now,” Nate explained.
“Still guards at your door?” Scott asked.
“Yeah,” Nate said. “That’s why I’m afraid to even come here. I don’t want them to come into my room and find me in my pod. I can’t stay long.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Tess asked.
“You won’t get rid of me yet,” Nate said. “Are you guys okay?”
Tess nodded, but Scott looked away and cleared his throat. Nate noticed the awkwardness.
“We’re staying safe,” Tess said to break the tension.
“Tess kicked Robert in the face,” Scott added.
It was nice to hear Nate laugh, but then he had to go. They said goodbye and Tess returned to her room to get some sleep.
The next day back in the level, Tess noticed Eli and Morgan were headed their way. They climbed down from the tree and started moving away from them just in case. The twins didn’t keep following them. In fact, it seemed like they weren’t following them at all.
“Tess?” Eli’s voice rang out. Scott wrapped his hand around her arm, fearing that she would come out of hiding. “We wanted you to know something.”
Tess said nothing. She liked the twins, but she couldn’t trust them. She had no idea what they could be up to.
“We wanted you to know we’re not playing the game anymore,” Morgan shouted. “We’ll die together.”
Tess pulled away from Scott and stepped out onto the bridge. A few feet down, Morgan and Eli were standing on the edge, in front of an empty space where another rope swing was. They were holding hands and looking down.
“No! Don’t!” Tess shouted.
They didn’t seemed phased at all by her presence. Tess started forward, but it was too late.
Eli and Morgan jumped.