The Beginning Of The End by Nico Carter-Moharic
Chapter 1 – My Completely Ordinary Career
I crouch at the end of a wedge of rock sitting on the outskirts of the Misty Isles, scribbling down the stupid poster Jaqulin made me write. I am so far above her in the ranks, I’m the first of The Four Divines, and what’s she? Fourth? She can’t tell me what to do! I roll my eyes as a cluster of people bustle by. People have been over reacting so much at Ahoy being smashed to bits. It’s actually ridiculous. Evacuating to that desert that’s deadly or whatever is so unnecessary.
“HELP!” somebody shrieks at the top of their lungs.
I glance up from my page and see a girl roughly age flailing around like an idiot by the water. Katsuki. My travel partner. She is so incompetent. I plan to ditch her, her presence only makes things about 100 times harder than they need to be. I jump up, and make my way over to her drowning body, yanking her out of the water.
“What are you doing?” I groan as she stumbles uselessly to the sandy bay, as I await an explanation.
“I thought I saw that idiot Cruor,” she hisses.
Her ex that she hates so dearly, it’s hilarious. The only thing she ever actually did to him was mess him up psychologically after she murdered his entire family them broke up with him. For experimental purposes. It was quite silly though, because he was quick to murder her whole family right back. How petty.
“Ok,” I mutter as I sit back down with my poster.
I couldn’t care less, so I don’t know why I asked. I’m almost finished with my flyer, I just need to stick it on a notice board and rip down any negative talk about The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines. There’s only gossip from the council, but nothing more. And the evacuation has been a real plus with recruitment. Free shelter, food, and water, for the small price of fighting with us. Fighting for freedom, as boss would say. I wouldn’t necessarily agree, but I mean, money. Being top of the ranks, I get paid shockingly well.
I perch on the rocky edge, over the waves that splash onto my poster, and at this point I’m tempted to chuck the stupid thing in the water. A bird flaps down next to me, letting out the most ugly screech I’d ever had the displeasure of hearing. There have been so many of these birds lately, especially in my convoy. I’m not sure about the whole convoy together, but they’ve been bothering us that’s for sure. Of course, everyone in The Four Divines isn’t in the same little convoy, but it hasn’t changed our mission nonetheless. I lurch off the rocks, and stomp off to a small tunnel near a small little isle, also known as the entrance to The Four Divine’s base. I crouch down and slide over the slimy rocks into the tunnel. Most of the new recruits scream on their first time down but I’ve gotten used to it. The screaming and the sliding.
I glide off into the main room, effortlessly landing on both feet.
“Hazel! There you are!” a boy with honey brown hair stumbles over to me.
Arthur. He shoves his hand to his head, awkwardly saluting me before he continues. “J-Jaqulin said to – umm, go get the people from the safe-tree?” he stutters.
“Erg seriously? What a drag.” I groan. “And go put this up on a notice board,” I add, shoving the poster into his arms.
He nods and scurries off. The Gafetree (not safe-tree) is a trap Clove set up for more recruits. I’ve never liked the idea, but it works so that’s that. The Gafetree is right at the edge of the Forgotten Forest by the Misty Isles, opposite of where the convoy is heading. We are supposed to be going through a desert, which is going to lead to our imminent death. But after we supposedly cross through, we’ll head into another forest, full of creatures that are 100% going to kill you. And we are doing all this to escape to the illusive ‘Yoha’. So the plan is a bit optimistic, to say the least.
Usually I’d just suck it up and go to the Gafetree, but I am Jaqulin’s boss. And I hate her. So she can do it. I stomp through our gloomy hallway, past all our top security air-lock doors, and all the way to… Jaqulin’s room. I screw up my face as a waft Jaqulin’s sickeningly sweet strawberry perfume hits me. I make my way over to her room, and just as I approach the door…
“I suppose… but she’ll find out eventually.”
The thick accent of Greta makes me twitch. I press my ear to the door, curiosity over-powering any sense of loyalty I never had.
“You know her, she’s very… strong minded with these things,” Greta says.
“Pfft. How so?” Jaqulin’s sharp voice snaps. I hear some crinkling, and that’s my cue to get a look.
I crack open the door, craning my neck closer to the gap. There is Greta, who is third of the four, of course Jaqulin, who is fourth, Clove, who’s second, and a stark face that is impossible not to recognise. Boss. The boss. MY boss. And Jaqulin’s holding a piece of paper, clenching it like it’s the most important yet unimportant thing ever. “You tell her that? She’d crack it. She’s already the definition of constant fury, and you think that would help?” Clove hisses.
“Enough! Just put it away,” snaps boss, twisting his head over to Clove. “Two,” he nods at her. She scurries over to the door. The door I’m standing at. I stumble back, and bolt to the room next to us.
I stab in the code, and I can basically hear the door sliding open as I desperately fumble around with the padlock. I burst through the thick metal doors, hastily slamming them behind me. My heart pounds in my chest, uneven breaths leaving me. Who were they talking about? And why was everyone important but me there? How many times do I need to say I AM THE BOSS OF YOU for them to get it? And why was boss there? He’s never anywhere and now he’s chatting with those three! What the hell?!
I heave out a sigh, and after a moment, open up the doors. I march off to the main room, watching my feet. I figure that they must be talking about something that I’m not involved in, or that’s what I’d like to convince myself. I try to get over it, and get the soon-to-be fledglings from the Gafetree. It’s surprisingly common to go into a highly suspicious tree, but dragging them back will be a pain. I’m sure we have the technology to bring them here through a tunnel, but nobody can be bothered. So, for now at least, it’s somebody’s problem. I clamber up the staircase to exit the base, but I can’t shake the doubt lurking in my every step. Something is wrong. Something is very, very, wrong. And I know it has something to do with what I just heard.
Everyone seems to be on edge. Like everyone knows something I don’t. I’d love to yank someone aside and yell at them, but they’d play dumb and I’d be the one looking like a fool. So, reluctantly, I force myself to get on with it and go to the Gafetree. I drag myself up the abyss of stairs. After a moment, I’m finally at the hatch. I awkwardly shove it open and squeeze through. I press my hand on the surface above and pull myself up. I kick it shut, and I hear the lock click, its stone top blending in with the rocks around it. I sigh, and shuffle away from it. It’s dull that we can’t have a more practical way of entering and exiting the post, but we can’t afford to get caught. So the slides and stairs it’ll have to be. I jump off the boulder, and head in the direction of the Gafetree.
It’s in the Forgotten Forest, not too far from where I am now. The hatch is right in between the Misty Isles and the Forgotten Forest, and the Gafetree is near the edge of the woods. So not far at all. I turn around to leave, but am quickly interrupted. “Hazel! Wrong way!” Paisley yells. Paisley is some idiot from my part of the convoy. She thinks she’s smart, but she still hasn’t caught on that I don’t like her. I groan and spin around.
“I’m aware,” I hiss, scowling at her.
“Well, to get to Yoha we need to stick together, so you have to be very careful to follow along with the rest of us,” she says, shoving her hands to her hips.
“I’m grabbing something,” I growl.
She crosses her arms, and twists forward, pursing her lips.
“Right,” she drawls. I scoff and march off. “You better be back soon!” she cries as I leave. That girl doesn’t know how to mind her own business.
I take to my heels, and quite quickly arrive at the Gafetree. I cautiously make my way inside, creeping past the tricks and traps that surface the ground. And, to my displeasure, I find someone struggling around inside a cage. I let out a sigh, and examine the person. Their clothes are business casual, but are scuffed up from being in the bars. They look the same age as me – 17 – and their eyes are strangely fixed on me. I ignore them, and pull a key out of the leather belt that droops down over my hip, and shove it into the lock. After a moment of twisting and rattling, the door clicks open. “This is a trap set by The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines, you’re now subject to our leader, please follow as I take you to the base,” I grumble, reciting the script Clove showed me. They blink at me, but instead of the miserable walk of shame out of the cell, they spring up, and… grin?
I frown at them. “Dude, what’s with the face,” I glare at them, but they get to their feet and tough their collar.
“And what’s that?” they smirk.
“Basically a cult,” I shrug, still glaring at him.
“Well, I’m Charles Xavier Harris,” he says, still grinning.
“And I’m someone who is taking you to a cult, and you’ll suffer there for the rest of your life. Is there any chance you’re on drugs? Because it sure seems like it,” I snap, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him out of the tree.
“What’s your name?” he asks, that stupid smile still stretched across his face. I push him to the ground and his grin merely gets wider.
“Again – drugs? You’re mental,” I hiss, glowering over him. “And would you shut up? I’m trying to imprison you in a cult and you’re being a creep,” I grunt, yanking his arm and continuing to trudge through the bushes.
“Seriously?” he frowns.
“YES SERIOUSLY!” I roar. “So would you shut the hell up!”
“Well…” he mutters, crossing his arms in a huff. “I’m just trying to be friendly,” he mumbles.
“You’re pretty and unlocked me from a tree cage, what do you want me to say?!” he cries.
“Nothing!” I shoot back, scowling at him.
“Fine then,” he dusts himself off. After a moment of silence, he breaks it with his idiotic posh voice.
“I’m Charles, and you are?” he sticks his hand out and I swat it back down. I grab his arm and keep dragging him to the tunnel, him arrogantly huffing and puffing the whole way. And finally, I make it. The long tunnel that winds down to the base. Without hesitation, I shove Charles whats-his-name down, and walk off with a spring in my step as he shrieks his way to the bottom. Oddly enough, he’s not even the weirdest captive I’ve had.
I should probably join my convoy, as it’d be unfortunate if I lost them. The only reason I’m travelling with them is because they are on the way to Yoha, and I wouldn’t want to lose them or I’d lose the cult and literally everybody in Ahoy. Which wouldn’t be ideal, so it’d be best if I catch up with them. And with that, I take off. It takes roughly ten minutes to find them, which is surprisingly short for the amount of time I left for the Gafetree. “Hazel!” Paisley sings, skipping over. Her, Dallas, Kyler, Veronica, Douglas, Bertha, a pair of twins I don’t know the names of, Bea, Connor, and Rodrigo are the irritating members of my portion of the convoy. All of them are huddled together with their bags, sauntering east.
“What do you want?” I grumble at Paisley.
“You were taking so long!” she exclaimed, throwing her hands out dramatically.
“Right, well we should get a move on then. Shouldn’t we?” I say flatly. She nods vigorously and crowds back with the others. I slouch down and lag behind the group. I wish I could travel alone, but I can’t. Therefore, the same dreary routine of ignoring them, ditching them, then coming back to them is necessary. We’re not supposed to leave the convoy for any period of time whatsoever, but Paisley is the only one who notices when I sneak off, and she’s too much of a people-pleaser to snitch.
The rest of the convoy chatter about how wonderful Yoha will be, a place I don’t think exists. Or even if it does, the odds we’ll get there is like one out of a thousand. The council thinks their plan is so flawless, when it’s going to fall apart in a matter of seconds. I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when they realise they’ve lost. Ahoy falling apart was never an accident. People don’t know why it happened. But I do. So do the Four Divines. And our rivals. Kind of. Except they can’t do anything about it. It’s a funny story actually. Boss made this little cult, and then this other person copied him. Straight up, just made their own cult. I don’t think they actually copied him though. I think they just agreed that the council is spineless and we deserve better leaders. But we didn’t like them, possibly sent a threatening message, but they made it a big deal and said we are enemies! Honestly, how dumb is that? The only thing close to big they’ve done is supposedly trigger starfall, which is when the Stjarnagard Islands fell causing the whole Ahoy destruction mess we are in now. But we think that that was us so it’s a mystery that remains unsolved. We are stronger than them either way, so it really doesn’t matter. The Paragons of the Soothsayer Cult. I’d say the name is a bit extravagant, but I work for The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines, so I can’t really talk. Nevertheless, I think they copied our insane name after we accused them of doing so. But whatever.
We’ve been walking for at least an hour, and we’ve encountered some… difficulties. First of all, we found ourselves in some rather muddy terrain. This has led to Veronica falling over, face planting in the sludge, Bea screaming about her expensive new high heels being ruined, and overall chaos.
“I am SO gonna kill you! STOP LAUGHING AT ME!”
“OMG I’m dying! HAHA!”
“Veronica! Are you ok?”
I stay silent, watching it all go down. This is so stupid. Mud is flying everywhere, this is not working at all. Mud flings onto my leggings and boots, which is the deciding point.
“Would you guys SHUT UP!” I bellow, causing quick silence from everybody. Bea clenches her teeth, but other than that silence. I let out an exasperated breath, and we continue in silence, other than quiet chatter about Yoha and the journey through The Great Desert and the Afeared wilds.
I see Katsuki heading our way out of the corner of my eye after a few minutes. I groan and she comes over. She does this a lot. Comes over and gossips in the middle of our convoy. I don’t appreciate it, if you couldn’t already tell. “I literally SAW Cruor!” She cries. She leans in closer and quiets her tone. “He literally is so creepy, I don’t even know how I dated him like-” she starts.
“No,” I cut her off.
“What?” she squarks.
“Stop,” I say, with no emotion in my voice. As much as I thought they did when I first met her, our personalities just don’t mash. She’s ignorant and petty, and adores a good talk. I, on the other hand, plan my missions carefully, and I naturally work smart. And I absolutely hate talking with people about such topics as dating and friendship. So it’d be best for everyone if she could just get lost. She blinks at me in surprise. I wave my arm around at us. “I’m done, I’m not a gossip doll,” I hiss.
“I never said that-”
“You sure act like it,” I interrupt her again. “Find another travel partner. Because I’m sick of this,” I snap. She scoffs, but doesn’t have any further objection. “Have a nice life!” I call as she marches off.
I’d love to say that brings me nothing but triumph, finally abandoning her. I’m glad I did, but it was bound to happen someday. I suppose I’d still usually feel proud, but what happened in Jaqulin’s room creeps back into mind, and I frown at the thought. Really though. What would they be talking about? They were holding a bit of paper, would it be a map? A letter? And who’s ‘she’? As much as I want to deny it, I have a heavy feeling in my gut that they were speaking about me. Most people were either captured or born in The Four Divines. That’s why so many people work there, either because they had to, or this was their family. I was neither. I came here for reasons I’m never planning to disclose. But before I was here, I lived in a place called Howlwyn. A town in the Forgotten Woods that nobody knows about. Could it have something to do with that? It adds up. They must have found out I lived there, so they wouldn’t want me involved. It’s not uncommon for boss to decide to send some people to take captives in a village. What would happen if they went there?
I force some sense back into me. Howlwyn is very well hidden, and very unknown. I doubt that they are capturing anyone or are planning to. At least I hope not, and if they are I’ve got a few tricks that’ll make them change their mind.
“Hey Hazel,” Paisley starts.
“What,” I snap my head up, pulling myself out of thought.
“How come you don’t have a bag?” she cocks her head to the side, obviously she’s just been thinking about it, or she wouldn’t sound so curious.
“Don’t need one,” I shrug, my eyes drifting back to my feet.
“Really? Because it’s kinda funny how you don’t have anything at all,” she furrows her brow at me.
“It got destroyed when the islands fell,” I retort.
“Yeah same! I used to live in Dragonridge Mountains, and like, so many of my shoes were crushed,” Bea pipes in. I shrug and nod, and Paisley gives me a sceptical look but turns away.
Paisley is nosey. When we first met she started interrogating me about where I live, who I know, and just other things you don’t ask about when meeting someone for the first time. Bea was raving on about how her shoes were destroyed, the twins looked blank as usual, Dallas was telling everyone that ‘everything happens for a reason’, and nobody was doing anything else particularly weird other than Bertha who’s dementia was acting up and she thought her dinner plans in Stjarnagard were still on. None of us exactly had a good first impression, to cut it short. And none of us really changed since. Me, on the other hand, introduced myself without introducing myself. I said nothing. Actually when Paisley was questioning me I said, “Hazel,” when she asked what my name was but other than that I stayed completely silent. There was too much going on to involve myself. Which is how it is most of the time actually.
Lost in thought, I don’t notice when Dallas starts acting up. “Guys. Did you hear that?” she whispers, looking around.
“Huh?” I mumble.
“That!” she cries, glancing around again. Some rustling in the bushes catches my attention.
“Oh. Probably a rabbit,” I mutter.
“It could be a more fatal creature,” Dallas says, attempting to sound calm.
“Doubt it,” I grumble.
Everybody else seems unfazed, clearly agreeing with my sentiment that it’s merely a rabbit. But after hearing it again, I’m starting to think otherwise. It’s just too purposeful. You can tell whatevers doing it is trying to be subtle and quiet, even if it is failing. But if it is some kind of weird creature, it doesn’t matter, because if it planned to attack it would have by now, before we noticed. So, we keep going, ignoring the crippling feelings of doubt weighing on our shoulders.
Louder footsteps, one of an animal, doubles over with ones that we’ve been hearing. Clearly nobody else is going to do it, so I’m going to have to be the one to check out what’s making that wretched noise. “I’ll check what it is,” I sigh. I pace over to the rough direction and glance around for any sign of a creature. Broken sticks and roots laying on the ground give me the impression it’s nothing small making the commotion. My eyes scan over the trees, and I almost skim over it, but I see it. A golden brown patch of fur peeking out from the bushes. I swiftly creep over, and standing there is an alpaca. A well groomed, clearly spoilt, alpaca, that somehow held a smile that seemed cartoonish. And standing to the side of the alpaca is a girl.
Chapter 2 – My New Friend Was My Old Rival
The girl looks at me, her eyes widening with surprise. “Who are you supposed to be?” I spit. I can’t believe an actual person has been following us.
“Umm… I… got lost,” she says, clearly lying.
“Bullcrap,” I growl. “Who are you?” I repeat, an edge to my voice.
“Evelyn,” she replies, crossing her arms. I glare at her again.
“What are you doing here?” I bark.
“None of your business,” she says sharply.
“Well you are being noisy and annoying, so spit it out would you!” I demand.
“I thought I was being quiet…”
“Well you were failing miserably.”
“Fine. I wanted a new group, a new bit of the convoy,” she admits, straightening her posture. “Why do you look so lonely?” she scoffs, looking back at the rest of my group.
“I just work for a cult so I’m not a fan of making friends,” I sneer. Her eyes widen, but not with terror, with… anticipation? Excitement? I actually don’t know, she just looks oddly not horrified.
“Really?” she snorts, the corner of her mouth twitching upwards.
“Obviously,” I narrow my eyes at her.
“I just ditched the The Paragons of the Soothsayer Cult,” she snickers.
“Seriously,” I say, unable to keep the amusement from my tone. The Paragons of the Soothsayer Cult. I was just thinking of them and now I am meeting one. Well, she was one, and now she’s apparently ditched them.
“Mhm, I want to spice things up a little,” she smirks.
“Who do you work for,” she asks, obviously intrigued in my cultist ways.
“The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines, I guess we used to be rivals,” I sneer.
“I guess so,” she says. She laughs to herself again and pats her alpaca. I glance at it and back at her.
“Oh, this is Jill,” she says casually.
“Fabulous.” Jill The Alpaca. What a name. “So…” this girl has managed to be the pique of my curiosity. “Why’d you betray your old cult?” I raise my eyebrow.
“Pfft. They were boring and I was sick of the same dull routine,” she shrugs.
“That I get,” I snort.
“Did I catch your name?”
“Oh. Hazel,” I reply.
“Cool,” she nods. “Imagine if I joined your cult,” she muses.
“Mhm.” as intriguing as this person is, I’m not sure I want someone who betrayed their last cult because they were bored on my side. But we are looking for new recruits…
Honestly, I don’t know what to say, I’m not sure I’m 100% on board, but then again, it’s not really my problem if it doesn’t end well.
“I guess,” I say reluctantly.
She nods quickly in appreciation, saying nothing. I guess that also means she can join my convoy group, as it wouldn’t exactly be much help to send her off on her own.
I half smile at her, and then grab her by the wrist and drag her out to the rest of my group. “Guys. This is Evelyn. She’s here now,” I announce to everybody. Paisley’s eyes widen and her eyebrows shoot up, “and this is Jill,” I remark.
“How- who- huh?” Paisley stutters. Her talk quickly ends after I shoot her the stink eye. “Ok then,” she mutters, turning around. I stay lingering behind everyone else, except now I’m lingering with Evelyn.
“That was surprisingly easy, are you like, the group leader?” Evelyn asks, turning her head to me.
“Don’t you have group leaders?” she blinks at me in shock.
“No…” I say.
“So you just don’t… kill each other?” she scoffs sarcastically. “Dang. I could never imagine.”
I roll my eyes at her, maybe that’s why our group is so horrible. “I threaten them into doing what I want,” I shrug.
“…ok,” Evelyn says.
We walk and talk a bit, but the majority of the trip we stay silent. The only thing to talk about is how I can get her in the cult, where she’ll stay, and anything along the lines of that. But I’d prefer my group didn’t know about the cult, as Paisley would no doubt blab to somebody who’d tell the council. Which isn’t ideal. So some snippets of small talk is all we have and do, and it’s probably my fault none of it lasted very long. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s just because I’m preoccupied. I have a bit of a mental-mission. I want to figure out what people in my convoy group’s deal is. Not because I give a crap about their lives, because I’m a jerk, and I’m totally gonna use it against them. I did that with my little sister’s – Willow’s – bully-friends, sticking my nose in their business at every possible interval with fruit slices. Offering them fruit slices of course, a chance to listen to their conversation. But we all basically live together now. They might find something out that could jeopardise my job, my life by telling too many people about my job, my respect by telling somebody about my job, you get the gist. So the best way to keep a secret is to screw them over with their own. So, I’ve been eavesdropping on a fair few people to figure out some ‘details’ that could come of use. I haven’t only been doing it to my convoy though. I’ve been doing it to The Four Divines as well. If one of them finds out why I joined, I’m dead. So this is my way of keeping their lips sealed.
“Hazel,” Evelyn whispers, interrupting my thoughts.
“Yeah?” I breathe.
“Should we go?” she asks. I twist my head back to the others, then quickly nod. She bites her lip, and turns around to the woods, and with that, we whisk off, Jill following closely.
Finally, somebody can actually keep up with me. It’s a rare occurrence that somebody can match my pace. We sprint through the trees, leaving unnoticed by the convoy. The loud sound of the wind whips through my hair. Running as I always do tends to end with dishevelled and coiled up hair, rather than wavy hair, but I actually couldn’t care less. “Where’s the entrance?” Evelyn wheezes.
“Misty Isles. Close,” I pant, short of breath. We stumble out onto the rocky bay, I kick off the rock covering the tunnel, and it shoves to the side with a creek. “Slide,” I say, gesturing down. After a moment of hesitation, Evelyn kneels down, and disappears into the abyss of an entrance. Jill slowly lowers itself down on its knees, carefully gliding down after Evelyn. I’m quick to get on my bottom as well, and off I go.
The tunnel is noticeably darker than usual. They dim down the lights when they need extra energy, usually for training. And only the fledglings really train, so I’m assuming somebody’s snagged a few new recruits. Probably Clove, as that’s her specialty. Kidnapping people. I mean, I’ve gotten 2 in one day, so I honestly can’t talk. But Evelyn was a surprise. It’s not often somebody voluntarily joins the cult. Unless you’re old and crazy. I’m not old and I wouldn’t say I’m crazy, but I suppose that’s debatable. Another surprise, Evelyn doesn’t scream like a small child on her way down. It’s impressive actually.
“Oh my god!” I hear her cry as she lands. I’m quick to side down, landing precariously next to her, Jill waiting at the bottom.
“You good?” I ask.
“Uh huh,” she nods.
“Right,” I say. “We should probably go put you in the system, so you are officially a fledgling,” I explain.
“Ok. And how do we do that?”
“I got it,” I brush off her confusion. Putting people in the system is a massive pain, and could be about 50 times easier, but of course, no, it must be as painstakingly annoying as possible. I plod over to the system room, which is an uncreative name for a bland room with a large array of systchargers, which are long blocks with a screen stuck on the top. This room is one with some of the highest security, after boss’s room. I put in the code that changes daily: 72502344, then unlock the second door with a retinal scan and a fingerprint. Finally, the metal door slides open, revealing nothing interesting.
“This room is…”
“Boring? Bland? Dumb? Useless?” I say, interrupting Evelyn.
“Sure,” she sighs, walking over to a screen.
“Don’t touch that,” I say as she peers down over the systcharger.
“Mhm,” she murmurs, stepping away. I walk over and log into one, then fumble around with the controls. It’s so hard to get this stupid thing to work, I once suggested we get new ones but of course nobody gave a crap. Eventually, I find my way to the fledgling section, and stick ‘Evelyn’ in the long list of names.
“You done?” Evelyn sighs, sounding very bored. I grumble out an indecipherable response, then leave the room, her and Jill following closely behind.
“You need a bed,” I say, glancing around.
“Usually you’d just bunk with the other fledglings but…” my brain whisks back to Charles and I almost retch. “They’re gross. So you can stay in my room,” I decide.
“Oh. Thanks.” With that, we head off to my room.
Jaqulin and the other three have the tiniest, crappiest room, and mine’s huge with a double bed and everything. This is because, instead of letting the Four Divines pay for everything, I asked for a huge room, equipped with a window, but without a single thing in it. And I’m here for the money, so I wasn’t going to waste it on stuff. So I stole them. Every luxury item in my room is stolen. From the bed to the books, the shelves to the rug, none of it is technically mine. But snooze you loose, people should take better care of their things.
“Welcome,” I say, swinging the door open dramatically. She nods approvingly, and leaps onto the bed. Jill wanders over to the corner of the room, lying down and immediately falling into a seemingly peaceful nap.
“By the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like you actually have another bed?” she remarks, looking around.
“Oh… I didn’t think of that,” wow. I probably should’ve seen that one coming. “Whatever, we can take something from someone,” I groan.
Then the best idea hits me. Jaqulin has a bed. And we’re going to steal it.
“Jaqulin,” I hiss, a nefarious smirk creeping across my face. Evelyn on the other hand looks mildly concerned, and in need of an explanation. “She’s a bietik. That’s all you need to know.”
We hastily creep around to Jaqulin’s room, completely unprepared, with no plan, no explanation if we get caught, no nothing. But I really don’t care because, I mean, what can Jaqulin do anyway? Say boo? I punch in her code: 0000, and the door slides open abruptly. I grin evilly at Evelyn, and she shoots the same devilish smile right back. We sneak in, hunched over on our toes. Snickering, we grab each side of the bed, and just as we lift the wooden frame, Jaqulin’s red, furious face stomps inside.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING!” she shrieks, bounding over. Evelyn shoots me a freaked side eye, but I don’t have even the tiniest bit of fear. Jaqulin’s dumb. She can’t do anything. I don’t even know how she got her job.
I try to keep a straight face as we dangle her bed in mid-air, but that’s quite the challenge when an ogre of a person is having a fit on the doorstep.
“WHO is that?” she screams, flinging her arms out to Evelyn. Without saying a word, I start running. Bed in hand, Evelyn and I rush out the door, trampling over Jaqulin and anyone in the way. We sprint over the glossy tiles, giggling and laughing the entire way. We arrive at my door, and I awkwardly put in the code, causing the doors to open. With a thump, we throw the bed to the ground; it scrapes across the floors with a sharp noise that makes me shudder.
After a moment, we both burst into cackles, snorting and snickering for what feels like hours. I make an attempt to collect myself, straightening myself up and crossing my arms.
“Speaking of, we should probably get to bed,” I mention, glancing at the clock poorly hung on my wall, the hands pointing to 10:45.
Evelyn drags her new bed over to the corner, then looks at me expectantly. I blink in confusion for a moment, then remember. Jaqulin is gross. Nobody should have to sleep in those covers. Ew. I don’t have many spare sheets, but it doesn’t matter. I have some so that’s that. I open up a long wardrobe, and fling some grey bed covers and a white quilt and pillow case over to her. She nods in thanks, and flings the old sheets to the ground. After Evelyn finishes, we crawl into bed, but before I can even close my eyes, Jill’s snort scares me off my bed. I tumble to the ground, blinking in surprise at the creature. Long and loud snores leave it, and cackles leave Evelyn. “Jill’s a snorer,” she giggles. I roll my eyes and climb back into bed, and slowly, my mind whisks off into sleep.
Chapter 3 – Unwelcome Presences
My eyes shoot open, my heart in my throat and I’m drenched in sweat. Terrified breaths leave me and I feel my entire body break out in goosebumps as I tremble uncontrollably. I saw my whole world fall apart. As I do every single night. And I awake to see it build itself back together. Except not really – as it fell apart when I got here.
I contain a sob, and stare at the clock, it’s spindly hands pointing at 1:30… am. My eyes drift over to Evelyn, still fast asleep, and then my gaze locks on the covers sprawled around the room. Lovely. I force myself up, and trudge over to the mess. Why does this always happen? Time after time, my brain just adores coming up with the most painfully realistic worst case scenario to torture me with. I make my bed – quickly pulling the covers into a neatly made form. I slide down to the floor, letting myself absorb that it was just a dream. An extremely vivid, horrific, dream. I crumble to the ground, balling my knees to my chest. “You’re not scared,” I whisper to myself. “You’re not scared, everything is fine. You’re not scared, everything is fine. You’re not scared, everything is fine,” I mumble. “Absolutely everything is completely and utterly fine,” I lie. I stare at the wall, not allowing my eyelids to droop and pull me back into sleep, as much as my body desperately wants me to.
4 hours pass. I don’t sleep. Just stare. Think of nothing. Feel nothing. The clock ticks 4:00, and I know it’s time to get up. Nonetheless of my desire to creep under the bed and live there for an eternity. I clear my throat, and stumble up to wash my face. Unfortunately, I don’t have an en-suite, and it’s not like I have a bathroom close to my room. But I still look like a mess, so it’s happening. Hunched over, I stagger out the door, consuming the darkness of the ill-lit hallways. It’s oddly peaceful to be in such an eerie atmosphere. Yet also triggers one to many memories. The key to the box in my brain is easy to find, and it unleashes about a thousand different emotions I don’t want to feel. My fuzzy, distraught brain fills with voices. My mother’s exasperating voice sings in my mind, making me itch to start running. Leaving. Betraying.
Eventually, I find the bathroom, the poorly marked doors stuck at the end of the hallway. A shaky breath leaves me, but I blink away any feeling that dares cross the threshold of my mind. I falter forward, lurching into the dark room. I swing the door shut, causing a simple click as it locks. I flick on the lights, sending bright white flooding through the room. I squeeze my eyes shut, adjusting to the sudden change of circumstance. I curl my fingers around the basin, absorbing my dishevelled appearance. I grab a brush, wrestling out the knots and tangles in my jet-black hair that treads the line between wavy and straight. It’s thick and dense, but not exactly wavy. Dark circles under my eyes are prominent, my olive toned skin covered in sweat. It doesn’t matter. Sweat washes away, and, honestly, who really sleeps anyway? I plod over to the shower, swifty undressing, then letting the steamy water run down my back. I let out a heave out a sigh, my dread washing away with the downpour. After a minute, I make my way out, shoving on the clothes I keep in a cupboard – a moss green cloak, black leggings, and a grey shirt. The others keep their clothes in their room, rather than having it here, but they know not to touch my stuff. Or they answer to me, which nobody wants.
This time I break out into a sprint on my way back, not wanting the distressingly persistent emotions slipping back into my head. I’m not having it. They can leave, or, better yet, die.
I creep back into my room, Evelyn waiting there awake. “Oh… hi,” I say, surprised.
“Where were you?” she cocks her to the side.
“Just getting ready,” I shrug,
“Early start,” she comments, shifting her gaze to the clock.
“I like an early morning,” I say. She nods, and stands up.
“Saying that, I should probably get ready,” she looks around, a frown forming on her face.
“You need clothes?” I guess, a short nod in response. I point to the wardrobe. “Anything in there.”
I grab the brown combat boots from my bedside, pulling them on as Evelyn slips out the door with her clothes. Her choice being leather leggings, a plain shirt, and a grey-blue jumper to protect from the increasingly arctic weather.
Evelyn comes back quickly, and I don’t care to ask where she went to change to be back so fast, already assuming it was nowhere she was supposed to be.
“Should I show you around?” I ask, on the topic of her not knowing where to go.
“Sure,” she replies.
“Ok. We should start at the main room,” I decide. She follows me out the door, leaving Jill in my room. I hurry down the many steps to be the tour guide of the base. “So the main room is the first place you get when you slide down – there is a hatch with a bunch of stairs but of course we can’t use that, as it’d be far too practical for The Four Divines,” I explain, Evelyn letting out a snort. “The hatch is for exiting only, so you have to hike up the hundreds of stairs – when I say hundreds I mean hundreds – unlock the hatch, and climb out.”
“That’s nice,” Evelyn laughs.
“Sure is,” I scoff. I walk through the hallway around to the hatch. “This is the hatch,” I say, sticking my arms up to the ridiculous amount of stairs. “Oh- sorry, the stairs. These are the stairs, and then way, way, way up – is the hatch,” I retort. Evelyn lets out another laugh, and I snort as well. We stride back to the main room, it having cross-road hallways that lead to the different parts of the base. Before I can continue my passive aggressive explanations, I notice some people going out of their way to avoid us, until some random soldier bumps into me.
He jumps back dramatically, looking unnecessarily taken back. I scowl at him, and he awkwardly stumbles back and rushes off. “Anyways…” I mutter. “Next up we have the rooms, which are all along there,” I spin around, showcasing the large array of rooms spiralling above the main area. There’s a big set of stairs that twist up and around the walls, isles of rooms placed along the sides. Most people don’t actually have their own room, a lot of these are offices, or full of storage, or locked, or just empty. But a fair few generals have their own rooms, and some officers. There are actually more officers and soldiers than anything else, so most of the rooms belong to them, the ones who don’t deserve a promotion, but some kind of reward that boss thinks means way less than it truly does. “We get the best room, just not the best placement. It’s high up, and nowhere near a bathroom. There is a hallway up there that goes on for ages to a bathroom at the very end.” I tell her.
I decide that the best route to pass though is, settling on the fastest. As we pass through the hallway to get to the training room. I notice something. I can’t put my finger on what, but something was wrong.
People were avoiding us like the plague, and I kept getting this look. Sympathetic? Pitiful? I’m not sure. But it was something. People knew something. From what happened in Jaqulin’s room, to how people have been acting- I just don’t get it. I shake off the feeling, and continue the tour. “So this is the training room,” I say, opening up the doors. There were lots of people inside, with an assortment of different weaponry, dummies, holograms. “It’s pretty straightforward. You train, you choose whatever you want to train – flexibility, shooting, whatever,” I remark. Evelyn nods along, eyeing the unusual amount of people.
“Lots of people,” she mentions. I shrug, not knowing why anyone needs to work this much or even how we got so many fledglings. Though I rarely recognise faces, I’m sure these ones are new.
Before I continue, Evelyn interrupts.
“Hey, do you notice something… off?” she says in a hushed voice, looking around. I frown, and she gives me a sceptical look. “Come on, I swear you don’t always get avoided so much, and… stared at,” she whispers, glaring at a kid who was gawking stupidly right at me. I shrug off her worry, and walk back around the hallway.
“I guess not. But I actually couldn’t care less,” I mumble – lying, and quickening my pace.
“Down there are the meeting rooms, but you won’t have to go to any because you are a fledgling,” I say. Evelyn peers around once more, but says nothing. “That’s basically it…” I mutter, my eyes glazing over everything once more.
“Oi! Hazel!” Greta squarks, coming over.
“Who’s that?” she snaps, jabbing her finger at Evelyn.
“Fledgling,” I say flatly.
“I haven’t seen her in the rooms before,” Greta frowns.
“She’s not staying in there,” I grunt.
“Why not,” Greta spits, unable to mind her own business. Which is ironic considering she won’t let me ever stick my nose in hers.
“Because it’s a pile of dragon crap in there,” I snap back. Greta furrows her brow at me, but continues.
“Well, you’re supposed to take a fledgling to Brastle’s Pond to investigate some commotion,” Greta says.
“Fine,” I say through gritted teeth. Greta’s frown gets deeper, clearly startled at my flat rudeness.
“Are you… mad about something?” Greta raises an eyebrow. I scoff, and take Evelyn by the hand to the hatch.
I frown, and Evelyn stumbles to a halt.
“What?” I say flatly.
“I don’t really want to leave Jill here…” she starts.
I roll my eyes and flick my hand over to the stairs, signalling for her to go and get it. She nods in thanks, rushing up the stairs. I stand staring at the ground with a frown painted on my face. What is wrong with people? People should respect me, and not be keeping things from me. But I suppose respect is completely out of the question, which is nothing new.
Evelyn quickly comes back, holding Jill’s fur and leading it over to me.
“What was that all about?” Evelyn wheezes as we climb up the stairs, the clonk of Jill’s hooves loud.
“Nothing,” I hiss. She gives me a look, and I figure I may as well tell her. She might have some sort of idea of what happened. “I overheard her, whose third, the second and forth of the Four Divines and boss talking about someone. I’m pretty sure they were talking about me so yeah, I’m annoyed,” I admit.
“That’s… odd,” she says, pursing her lips.
“No kidding, Sherlock,” I growl.
We make it to the top, scowling and sullen the whole way.
“This should be quick,” I mutter, shoving off the latch.
“Great,” Evelyn says. We clamber out of the base, Evelyn almost slipping as she lurches up onto the slimy rocks. “God,” she grumbles, leaping onto the grass, Jill having a much more grateful exit, following easily behind her. I sneer, and we start barreling off to the pond. We arrive within minutes, Brastle’s Pond being very close to the Misty Isles.
“Doesn’t look like anything-” Evelyn starts.
“I’d disagree,” I say as rustling comes from the bushes.
Evelyn jerks around and out the bushes come people.
A huge group of people swarm out of the bushes, and I watch Evelyn’s eyes widen. Before she says a word, I already know. The Paragon’s Of The Soothsayer Cult.
Chapter 4 – A Failure Of A Fight
Within a heartbeat, a brawl breaks out. An extremely unfair one for a matter of fact, them having swords and daggers, and us having nothing. Evelyn leaps off to the side, completely distracted as Jill starts running. She lets out a gasp as Jill starts darting for the woods, crying loudly as it lurches forward. Evelyn grabs onto a patch of fur, and Jill lets out such a miserable sound and jerks its head around. Evelyn stares up at it with teary eyes, and lets go. Jill starts hammering into the woods, completely out of sight. Evelyn stands frozen in place, quickly being pounced on. She swings out a sword, people flooding over her. “Jill’s gone!” she cries.
“What do you mean?” I hiss, kicking an attacker.
“It’s gone- it said it can live on its own and it doesn’t want to be a part of this!” she sobs. My face falls, and I’m overcome with an unfamiliar amount of empathy. But in the heat of battle I don’t have time. Neither does Evelyn. We charge forward, leaving the emotions to deal with later.
I jerk forward, jumping to the ground as a sword barley passes over my head. I slide into one, throwing my foot to the base of their sword. Surprised, they jump back, but not in time. I yank it off them, throwing my elbows into the one behind me. I lurch to my feet, grasping the sword until my fingers are white. I swing the sword at them, missing, but they tumble to the ground in shock. Gravel shifts between their feet, leaving them in a vulnerable and awkward position. They make an embarrassing attempt at a punch to my leg. I swing my foot to their chest, and they land on their back, winded. I hit them again, and again. And again. Blood drizzles from their nose, dripping onto their attire. These people aren’t as smart as The Four Divines, that’s for sure, but they are strong. I grit my teeth, and more begin to swarm over. I let out a growl, and clench my fingers to a fist, throwing it to one’s face. In one go I send them flying. But I’m still outnumbered. By a lot.
They are so close I can practically smell their sweat. These people don’t have a plan. But it’s working for them because all they really needed to do was lure us out here defenceless. I throw another punch, landing it right in somebody’s stomach. I thrust my elbow into their back. They let out a gasp, and I yank them by their shirt until they are dangling in mid air. I shove them into one of their team members, skidding to the ground. I screw up my face and let out a wheeze. We can’t win. There are too many and we aren’t prepared. I spin around, sticking my leg out and knocking a couple over. It’s like everyone that goes down another one comes up. I let out a gasp as a foot knocks me to the ground. I swear, and lurch forward and cling onto a leg. I pull with all my might, and they slam to the ground. I roll to my back, panting for breath. I let another wheeze, but jump up, making a dash for Evelyn. She’s having the same struggle with the same amount of people, with a lovely arrangement of them lying on the gravel. I jerk my head over to the increasing number of people flooding over. Panicking, Evelyn and I go back to back, the amounts of people growing overwhelming fast. We’ve failed. “Traitor,” one spits, throwing her fist into Evelyn’s face, knocking her out cold. Her gaze locks with mine.
“Liar,” and her fist meets my head.
I wake up. My head is throbbing and everything hurts so much I can hardly move. They barely touched me in the fight – what the hell? I squint my eyes and see nothing. Pitch black. I push myself from the ground, feeling a damp, cold ground. I let out a groan as I fumble to my feet. Silver handcuffs are locked tight around my wrists, and as my eyes adjust, I notice Evelyn blacked out on the ground near me. I crouch to my knees again, regretting getting up in the first place.
“Evelyn,” I whisper, shaking her shoulder. “Evelyn,” I hiss. I shake her shoulder with a hint more aggression, and a shaky breath leaves her as her eyes flick open.
“What the fu-”
“Shut up,” I growl as her voice echoes through the cell.
“What is this?” she scorns, whipping her head around.
“Don’t ask me,” I hiss.
“Did we just get kidnapped by MY OWN CULT?” she cries, ignoring my advice of shutting up.
“Not technically your cult anymore.”
“STILL!” she throws her hands in the air dramatically. “And Jill-” she starts.
“Zip it, would you!” I snap, scowling at her. I don’t want anyone knowing we are awake, then they’ll come in here and interrogate us or kill us or do whatever it is they plan. I know she’s sad about Jill but we can’t do that right now. We just can’t.
“God. Sorry,” she grumbles. She lets out a long breath, then she leans back into me, “how on earth did I get here?” She laughs quietly to herself.
“Tell me about it,” I sigh.
“I went from uni to a cult, when did that happen?” she snorts.
“I went from living rich to -” I gesture around the cell. “This.”
Evelyn laughs again. “You were living the good life?” she rolls her eyes.
“Rich, not good. It was my mother’s money either way,” I say, sharing more with those words than I have to probably anyone. Evelyn gives oddly… trustworthy energy. And she sounds like she’s had a pretty messed up situation too. So screw it.
“I thought a cult would be perfect, I hate rules and I hate being told what to do, but the Soothsayers just made up new rules. And no offence, but The Four Divines are just as controlling,” she scoffs.
“Tell me about it. I become the best, the best promotion, the highest of the ranks, but it’s like nothings good enough.”
“And all you can do is get over it.” Evelyn says in a self-deprecating manner. A hollow laugh leaves me, and we both let out a synced sigh, then just simmer in the silence of the cell.
“We have to leave – now,” I whisper, breaking the quiet.
I shake my head and pull my knees to my chest.
“First we need to get through there,” she suggests, gesturing to the bars of the cell.
“If somebody comes over, we could try and get the keys off them?” I say.
“And how will we get someone over here?”
My previous worries jump back into mind. A smile creeps over my face. “We make a commotion.”
And with that, we start yelling, kicking the walls, rattling the bars, screaming. Anything. We hear the heavy clank of boots against the stone ground, a rattle as keys and swords bounce against each other. Evelyn’s shoulders hunch ever so slightly, and she adjusts her stance. It’s time for a rematch.
“Zip it!” they growl, storming over to the bars. Fury thunders inside of me, and my muscles tense. Not with fear. If they think I’m scared then they’re idiots. Idiots on a deathbed.
I swing my foot through the bars into one’s shin, and Evelyn yank ones and throws them against the bars, her blazing eyes glowering over them.
“Open it,” I spit.
“Funny,” they sneer.
“So funny,” I grunt, clasping my fingers around their neck. The other jerks forward to stop me, but the opportunity of stopping us vanished when they came bounding in. I yank one’s shirt, and pull them into the cell bars. I tug harder and harder, until their face is pressed up against the metal. They thrash and struggle, but my grip remains tight. Others start trying to pull him back, but I simply pull harder. They are losing. I stare at them, my gaze cold.
“Open it,” I hiss. After a moment; CLICK. The door opens with a creak.
We push past them, breaking into a run as we pass through the hallways. I follow Evelyn, her obviously knowing the place better than I do. We barge past everyone before they can comprehend that we are not supposed to be here. Then Evelyn jerks to a halt.
“What?” I snap, knocking into her.
“Do you hear that?” she whispers, walking towards a door.
“Huh?” I squark, skipping over. She frowns, and creeps towards a door. The hum of whispers becomes clearer, and I press my ear against the door next to her.
“Where?” I hear.
“Some odd village in the Forgot Woods – Howlwyn?” My entire body tenses, and suddenly my heart beat seems a whole lot clearer.
“Should we check it out?”
“No point. Nothing there.” I haven’t been to Howlwyn in years.
“Nope.” I don’t know what has happened to it.
“Yeah… we could send a squad to loot it.” I don’t know who’s still there.
The rest of the conversation fades out, a deafening ringing in my ears. If something has happened. My chest tightens. If something has happened. If something has happened to the people – to my sister. If somebody is hurt. Dead. I didn’t help. Because I was here. Why? A question you’d have to ask someone else. A question you’d have to ask my mother. I could leave. But I also can’t. But death means all this was for nothing. If the wrong person is gone. And everything I’ve done would be useless if something happened to Willow.
“Are you ok?” everything comes back into focus, and I glance over to Evelyn.
“Nothing,” I mutter, shooting back around. And then I keep running, Evelyn following.
If nothing is there –
We approach the exit. Much simpler than the Four Divines, a door with a code. Simple. It takes a painfully long time to slide open, and instead of rocks or grass – water. The door slams shut behind us, and we burst out into a lake. Cold, freezing water. We flail our way to the top, gurgling and gasping when we finally break the surface.
After a moment of wheezing and struggling in the water; “Hazel, do you know what they were talking about?”
I slowly turn my head to Evelyn, my eyes wide and for the first time in a long time, I feel dead fear. I drag myself to the rocks, and Evelyn does the same. She shoots me a concerned look, but doesn’t push it any further.
We make the dreadful journey back to where we assume the convoy is, being in the middle of literal nowhere and, of course, this is a base Evelyn doesn’t recognise. If I were to judge at first glance, I’d say we’re between Giant’s Hollow and The Forgotten Woods. We trudge through the shrubs and bushes, completely drenched. Evelyn is grumbling and shaking the water off, but I’m preoccupied with wishful thinking.
We were rich. Actually, mother was rich. Willow was the favourite, spoilt and hidden from anything that could make her feel any less than special. Except she wasn’t an idiot. She was the sweetest, nicest girl you’d ever meet. And she knew exactly what mother was doing. But that doesn’t change it. She’s still smothered with fake love, so mother wouldn’t let anything touch her. So if I were to guess, I’d say if something happened to Howlwyn mother would have hired an army to protect herself, and maybe another small group for Willow. She was still selfish. But that’s not the point, the point is I doubt that Willow would get hurt, partially because they were scared of getting murdered, and partially because… well, money. So it’s fine. They might just be travelling with the convoy, who knows.
“We are almost here, I think,” Evelyn pants as we find ourselves deep in the Forgotten Woods. After a little while, I hear the familiar sound of Bea and Veronica screaming.
“God,” I mumble as we see them.
“How about we first go to the base,” Evelyn whispers, turning her head over to the direction of where the misty isles would be. I grit my teeth and nod.
About an hour of plodding through the woods later, we find the tunnel. “Bloody hell,” I hiss as we slither our way down. We stumble out onto the ground, a slightly less graceful landing than usual. I march past everybody, ignoring the looks and just getting to our room. I stomp up the stairs, my steps heavy, leaving mud footprints over the ground. I sprint to the bathroom, bouncing through the hallway before throwing myself at the door. It swings open as I run against it, shoving my hand down on the handle. I let out a wheeze, slamming the door behind me. I pant and blink to the slide of me at the mirror. I duck down and pull open the cabinet, quickly pulling on some clothes. My mind zips back to Howlwyn, and what happened in Jaqulin’s room, questions left hanging in the air. What happened? I swear to god everybody knows except me. I swear to bloody god. And they are in for a shock if they think they can keep it from me. The overpowering feeling of fury thunders in every step. My feet thud against the ground, and then I see it. Finally. Boss’s room.
Chapter 5 – Everything I’ve Ever Feared, All At Once
I kick the door open, fuming. I watch Jaqulin, Greta, Clove, and boss whip around, completely mortified. “Tell me,” I hiss. I take a step forward with my fist clenched, my nails digging into my palms.
“Tell you what?” Jaqulin scoffs.
“What happened to Howlwyn?” Jaqulin glances to the side at Greta, and she shoves something in a drawer behind her. And with that, I leap forward, and things get… physical.
I throw my elbow into Jaqulin, wrestling past them to the drawer. Jaqulin grabs my shirt, thrusting me back. I let out a furious laugh, and lurch at her. I shove my palm into her face, and wedge my knee into her stomach. I shove her to the side, and she stumbles back into boss. I swing the drawer open, but Greta grabs my arm.
“Hazel don’t,” she whispers. I kick her away, and her brow furrows. “Trust me- we’re friends,” she says.
“A friend would tell me what happened to my home,” I scowl. “And their reason for not telling me wouldn’t be that they don’t want me to ditch this bloody CULT!” I cry, kicking my leg into her. “So what happened?!” I bellow. Nothing. Her mouth stays shut, glued in a woeful expression. “Seriously?” my voice breaks. I stab my fist into her and spin around to wrestle open the drawer. Jaqulin leaps forward and knocks me to the ground, earning a kick in the face. She staggers back, cupping her face with her hands, blood trickling from her nose. I throw myself forward, grabbing onto the handle and pulling. Clove steps back, slipping out of the room. She’s not a fighter. She kidnaps, tricks, lies, but doesn’t fight.
Jaqulin grabs a metal lamp and throws it into me. I let out a hiss of annoyance, and snatch it back up. I hit the base against her knee, and she plummets to the ground with a shriek of pain. Greta leaps forward and snatches it off me, hitting me in the back, I fall forward, my nose hitting the ground. I let out a grunt of annoyance, and swing around, kicking the lamp out of Greta’s hands. She grabs my foot and lifts me up, her muscular build doing her well. I let out a cry as she dangles me upside down midair, glaring at me. “You can’t know everything,” she spits.
“Well I should,” I say flatly. I fling my fist to her face and she lets me go with a yell. I flip around and land in a crouch, lurching toward the drawer. Jaqulin grabs my shoulders and attempts to pull me away, but my grip on the handle remains tight. The drawer breaks, splintering out of the shelf. I grab the singular piece of paper inside, and then I make a run for it.
I burst through the doors, Jaqulin and Greta following closely behind me. I open up the folded paper, calligraphy scrawled in neat sentences. Before I can get a look Greta grabs the hood of my cloak and shoves me into an empty room next to us. Jaqulin rushes in, panting and wheezing, then slams the door shut behind us. Jaqulin leaps forward, ripping the paper out of my hands. I kick her fingers with all the power I can muster, and she lets out a hiss as a repulsive crack comes from them. The paper floats to the ground, and I snatch before anyone can react. Greta tries to grab it off me but I’m out the door before she can do anything.
My shoes thump against the tiles, and I jerk down a hallway, exploding through a random door, swiftly shutting it behind me. I hold my breath as Greta and Jaqulin run past, their angry yells fading off as they pass. I fumble around in the dark, looking for a light. A long rope comes from the ceiling, and with a tug the lights flicker on.
My eyes drift down to the letter:
Dear Hazel Grove,
It’s with great sorrow we’d like to inform you of some peoples passing. A plague – Azvidile-V3 – has been going around Howlwyn, and it has brought an end to many souls. Unfortunately, loved ones of yours were taken by this plague. Only the Howlwyn Committee were able to seek proper treatment for the plague in places outside of Howlwyn. You and us were the only survivors, and sadly the majority of the members in the committee are on a deathbed.. Some family that we must mention the death of is: Ms. Willow Grove, cremated then buried in Ravaline’s Cemetery. Ms. Edith J. Grove, buried in Ravaline’s Cemetery. And unfortunately every other citizen in Howlwyn.
You are very lucky to be out of Howlwyn the time you were, as you could have been taken by the same sickness. We wish that others could have had the same fortune.
The regulations were that you be rewarded $460 billion dollars, but unfortunately that has been jeopardised due to the abandonment of Howlwyn. Please understand we try very hard to follow the rules put in place, but it is not realistic at this time for such sacrifices.
Your sister did not have a will, nor did she have any funds, and your mother requested her finances go to Willow Grove, whose passing would lead to the money going to the committee.
Signed Howlwyn Committee,
My eyes turn cold. Darkness creeps into every corner of my vision, and tears well up, and then that’s it. That’s it. That’s everything gone. I’m trembling, shaking. Everything just shuts down, and my breaths come out heavier. Tears fall, wetting the letter, and I ball up my fists and shove them to my eyes. I’m crying rivers, and it feels like a shovel is digging out my soul, and smashing the few things I care about into little pieces. They kept this from me. They just held onto it all this time. Just because. There is no point. No point to me working here BECAUSE THE REASON I’M HERE IS BECAUSE OF THEM. The reason I AM EVEN TRYING is because of them. And now I won’t get anything. Everything I’ve worked for is for nothing. Willow is dead. Mother is dead. Everyone is dead. I don’t get the money. I got here at eleven. I spent six years of my life here. Six years wasted.
“Hazel!” I hear Evelyn cry. “We need to leave!” she shrieks. I wipe my eyes. Quickly and suddenly, my sadness gets overpowered by a crippling, completely deafening rage. They kept this from me. The committee clearly never cared until they were the ones being affected. They kept this from me for god knows how long. I swing the door open, tears still welling up in my eyes. Evelyn stumbles back, and her eyes widen as she sees me. I ball up the letter and throw it at her. She picks it up and quickly skims over it, then her face falls. “I’m so sorry-” she starts, but I glare at her and start to leave.
Evelyn follows swiftly behind me, and I march shamelessly through the hallway and up the stairs to leave, tears still pricking at my eyes. My breath starts to come out heavy and I swing open the hatch and clamber out. I blink out my tears, and start pacing around. A lump forms in my throat and I feel like I need to throw up. My heart stings, and I choke out a sob. I pull my hands to my eyes, and let out a bloodcurdling scream. I drop to my knees and start bawling. “Are you ok?” Evelyn says quietly.
“No,” the words strangled in my throat.
Chapter 6 – Everything’s Just Fine
I pick myself up, break into a sprint and just run. Run, run, run, run. I stagger into the Forgotten Woods, the trees caving in around me. I cower to the ground, sprawled out across the dying grass. I choke and wheeze, my entire body feeling completely powerless. I should have- I could have done something. But no, I was here. Working in a cult. Because I was mindlessly following mother’s threats. I hope she burns in hell. My heart pangs, and all I feel is an overwhelming amount of disbelief and guilt. Guilt, guilt, guilt and more guilt. I stare at my hands, blinking out tears. I shriek into the empty forest, the dark of the night swallowing all sound. I spread out my limbs on the ground, letting the cold bite at me. I watch the starless sky, tears rolling down my face. I’ve lost everything. My family, my friends, my home, my money, my life. All of it just thrown away like it’s worth nothing. Through a letter.
“Hazel,” Evelyn’s pitiful voice sighs. I lurch up, crossing my arms and wiping my eyes.
“Whatever,” I hiss, staring at my feet. She tilts her head to the side and furrows her eyebrows.
I look around and clench my teeth. “Now what? I’ve quite literally got nothing,” I breathe. Evelyn shakes her head.
“I don’t know,” she whispers. I’ve lost the cult too, just adding to the list. My entire life is worth nothing. Absolutely nothing. I have nowhere to go, nothing to do. Pointless. “Let’s just go find the convoy.”
We lumber through the woods in complete silence. I let out the occasional sob, but nothing more. This can’t be happening. What on earth am I supposed to do? Nothing? Act like the cult never existed? I’d gotten so, so far. Is all that effort for nothing at all? I was at the top! Best it was ever going to get. And now it’s crumbled. My whole life – crumbled.
I blink away my thoughts, and lift my head from my feet. Evelyn’s teeth are clenched, and she’s chewing on her lip. “What?” I grumble.
“We’ve gone really far… we are already near The Great Desert,” she frowns.
“Oh,” I breathe, glazing my eyes over our savannah-esque surroundings. “We are,” I mutter. She strains her eyes to make out the convoy, but she retreats with a sour expression, and I know the convoy isn’t there.
“I guess we’ll just go further,” she sighs. I nod, and we keep going.
Little creatures peek through the bushes, getting more and more lethal each step we take. The Great Desert is dangerous. A no-man’s land. The creatures are deadly, the climate’s deadly, the plants are deadly – we are dead the second we cross the border between the Forgotten Woods and The Great Desert.
We go further through, and I can tell Evelyn is getting worried. And that only gets worse as we leave The Forgotten Woods, and enter The Great Desert. Evelyn purses her lips, and freezes. I groan and shoot her a look. “Look at those tracks,” she says, pointing to marks trailing along the sand. I frown. Those look like tire tracks.
“Oh my god – they took trucks!” she bellows, seething with fury. “No wonder they got so far,” she hisses.
“Oh,” I mumble. She stares at me, her eyes clouded with questions. I groan and nod. She wants to run.
With that, we bound through the desert, helpless in our attempt to catch up with the convoy. We hurdle along, skidding across the sandy dunes. I stagger forward, the ground sliding between my feet, desperately trying to trip me. But we don’t let it slow us down, as losing the convoy isn’t something I want to add to the long list of things that have ruined my life.
Of course this is happening. My family is gone, my job is gone, my money is gone, now the convoy is gone. What’s next? My life when I die to some horrific desert monster? I try to tune out my emotions, and focus on the loud crunch of sand beneath my feet. I wish I could turn off my brain – that would be great. My mouth begins to feel concerningly dry, and my legs unusually tired. I let out a raspy breath, and Evelyn begins to falter. Nevertheless, we prevail. We run and run, and it feels like ages before night eventually rolls around.
The moon pushes out the sun, stars teasing us in the dark. Finally, Evelyn stops, and flops into the sand. A puff of sand erupts in the air as I collapse down next to her. I close my eyes, and without a word, Evelyn does the same. Sleep quickly pulls me under, and I drift away into the evil hands of the dream world.
My eyes flicker open, and I wake up in a mess of sweat and sand. I let out an audible groan, and Evelyn’s eyes open and she glances over at me. She sighs, and lurches up. I had more dreams – obviously – but all of them have happened now so it doesn’t even matter anymore. That’s one way to solve a problem. Have everything you’ve ever feared happen. Then nothing can possibly be worse than reality. “We should get going,” I grumble, sitting up. Evelyn nods and gets to her feet. I do the same, but before we can even start sprinting, the ground starts rumbling.
“What the hell?!” I cry, tripping over. A long body explodes from the earth, shooting sand in every direction. Panic stricken, Evelyn grabs my shirt and yanks me to my feet, widening her own stance, not to follow in my footsteps. The body jolts forwards, glowering down on us with a spiral of teeth splashed with blood. Evelyn grabs my shoulder, the ground still shaking furiously.
“Run,” she mutters. “Run, run, run!” she shrieks, barreling to the side as the creature lurches forward, throwing itself to the ground where we were standing.
I start pounding next to her, barely keeping my balance on the trembling and shifting sand. We start to pelt off in the supposed direction of the convoy, the creature hot on our heels. It lets out a deafening screech, and somehow that increases the shaking ground. I gasp, and Evelyn snaps her head around to face it. It’s too close and too fast, we won’t be able to lose it. I grit my teeth and grab a pair of daggers out of my belt, shoving one to Evelyn. I jump forward and stab it, blue puss oozing out of the gash. I screw up my nose, a pungent waft of the gunk hitting me. The creature lets out a shriek of protest, curling its head down to snap at us. I gulp, its jagged teeth being all to clear. On cue, Evelyn leaps forward and digs her dagger into its face, yanking herself up onto its head. I’m quick to do the same, dragging the dagger along the side of its head. I pull myself up next to Evelyn, a smirk stretched across her face that I know all too well.
“No,” I say flatly, digging my fingernails into the creature’s rocky flesh.
“We’ll never catch up to them on foot,” she states.
“You want to ride a sand monster to the convoy?” I hiss, the creature still whipping its head around to fling us off.
“We’re doing it, come on,” she snaps, turning around. I groan, but she’s convinced. And right – in a way. There’s no way we’ll catch up to them, but I don’t think this will help us either. But oh well. If we die then so be it.
Evelyn pulls her dagger out of the creature and hands it back to me. I pull mine out and shove it into my belt strap, along with the second one. Evelyn looks at me expectantly, and I sigh and lend her a rope strapped to my waist. She awkwardly lies on her belly, and I watch as she attempts to swing the rope around its head, me being no help whatsoever. She wrenches on the rope, and with a roar of protest, the creature stops. A smug grin creeps across Evelyn’s face, and she gives a more gentle tug. The creature lurches forward, and we start riding our way through The Great Desert. I clench onto the end of a scale, the creature rocking up and down. Evelyn stays precariously sat with the reins, guiding it in a straight line. I let out a grunt as it jumps in the air, landing with a thud. “Sorry,” Evelyn mutters as she tries to control it. Sand sprays around us, making an eerie surrounding purely of sand. I stay stiff in place, unable to even consider the idea of trying to get comfortable. I stare into the whirling amount of sand, my mind blank and posture rigid.
As hours go by, I stay still and silent. Everything that could go wrong has seemed to go wrong. Another bump – I spring into the air, my grip on the scale still tight, leading me to a rough landing back onto the creature. I let out a quiet wheeze, winded. I groan and pull my stomach closer to the monster’s body, squeezing my eyes shut.
“Erg, how long is this going to take?” I grumble. Promptly, a hum of chatter and screams of terror float through the air, and then we know we’ve found the convoy.
Evelyn pulls on a rope, steering the creature to the left, away from all the people. “We don’t want to be leading a worm monster to the convoy,” she mutters, tugging the ropes aggressively until it stops. She slides off the head, landing with ease on the sand. I follow, leaping off my spot and landing on my feet. “Just over there,” Evelyn says, nodding to the supposed direction of the convoy.
“Mhm.” I start making my way through the sand over to the convoy, them quickly coming into view. Before I can say anything, the all too familiar screech of Paisley curses my ears.
“HAZEL!” she cries, bounding over. I glare at her and say nothing. “Where were you guys?” she blurts as Evelyn comes over.
“Got lost,” Evelyn mumbles. I say nothing, the dead look in my eyes not changing the slightest, even with all the clamour of questions being thrown at us.
“Are- are you ok?” Paisley asks, cocking her head to the side. I clench my teeth and turn away. “Hazel?” she says, sounding genuinely concerned. My eyes get wider and my gaze stays locked to the ground.
“I’m fine,” I lie. Paisley’s gaze doesn’t move from me. “Just leave me alone,” I say, a lump in my throat. I spin around, and start treading in the opposite direction of everyone.
I look around, my stomach churning. My throat bobs up and down, and I force down the cry that waits on my tongue, embarrassment clenching on my heart.
I don’t want pity. I don’t want sympathy. I don’t want any of it. I don’t want her attention. I don’t want anybody’s attention. I wish everybody would back the hell off and never talk to me again. I want everyone to just go away. A soft grip rests on my shoulder.
Chapter 7 – Entering The Afeared Wilds
“Hey,” Evelyn says gently.
I turn my head to her, barely containing my tears.
“Everyone’s leaving, you coming?” she tilts her head to the crowd of people swarming into trucks. I frown, “we get our own truck,” she adds.
“Erg, I guess,” I grumble, trailing behind Evelyn as she hurries aboard a free truck. It’s big and grey, with a big stamp of the council’s logo on it; a royal blue background with a mahogany silhouette of an ogre arm lifting a village. Ugly, to say the least.
I clamber inside, crawling towards the rear. Evelyn is sitting in the driver’s seat, fiddling around with the gears, and with a churn of the engine, we are off. I lean my back against the cold metal, letting out a long sigh. My thoughts are filled with nothing. It seems my whole life has fallen apart. At least in Yoha I’ll get to start again. Start fresh. What else can I do at this point?
“Poor Jill,” she whispers.
“Oh yeah,” I murmur. I’d forgotten about Jill. I could only imagine how Evelyn’s been keeping it together this whole time.
“I’m sure it’s ok,” she says to herself, leaning back in her seat.
“It was for the best,” I tell her, unsure of what to say. She nods, and my mind flicks back to Willow. I wish I had the comfort of knowing she’s out there. Knowing she even might be ok. I furrow my brows and try to focus on the rumble of the truck. I close my eyes, and slowly, I fall into a disturbed and tiring sleep.
Thump! My eyes flutter open as the truck begins to bounce up and down. I whip my head around, a tsunami of green outside the window. The truck jumps up again, and my head bangs against the wall. I drop down onto all fours, disoriented. I hear Evelyn let out a cry as I hear a bang against the door. That’s when I realise where we are. We’ve made it. We’re in the Afeared Wilds.
“Evelyn?” I squark.
“Oh god! There is something smashing the door and we are trying to- arg!” Evelyn lets out a yelp as I hear another bang. “We are trying to get over all the roots but the truck isn’t taking it very well!” she splutters.
“Bloody hell. I’ll drive!” I say, scrambling over to the front seat. She opens her mouth to argue, but I shove her off and set myself down. I slam my foot onto the accelerator, and we continue to struggle over the roots and rocks.
“Oh god,” Evelyn mutters as the banging on the door gets louder.
“What is that?!” I bark, dents becoming clearer and clearer.
“Some weird animal!” she exclaims.
“Seriously?” I hiss, pushing harder in the petal. The piercing sound of claws against metal gets louder. I jerk the wheel to the side abruptly, the truck protesting with shaking and branches breaking the windows. Glass shatters inward, branches and twigs breaking through into the truck. I hear Evelyn’s shrieks, but there’s nothing I can do. I’m not facing another monster and I’m not dying in a truck and I don’t care what it takes but we are getting out of this and we will make it to Yoha where it’s the last thing I freaking do! I stab my foot into the petal harder, the wheels spinning and churning wildly. “Come on!” I scream. “Come on, come on, come on!” I cry. I bang my foot down on the pedal over and over, and – SNAP! Under the truck’s wheels a branch breaks, and we burst through the trees at top speed. I hear a loud whimper, and the banging on the door comes to a halt. “I think that was the worst of it,” Evelyn says, clinging onto the sides of the truck as it practically flies through the air. Jinxing us, a huge river comes into view. I veer to the left, narrowly avoiding the water. I hear Evelyn smash against the side of the truck, then her angry muttering of “spoke too soon.”
I lift my foot off the accelerator, slowing the truck down significantly. I press down more gently, and head back off to the other trucks. Grey and blue peeks through the leaves, and nervous babbling confirms we’ve found the convoy after losing them for the second time this week. We continue on a far less eventful ride, flinching at every rustle in the bushes. The council didn’t think this through very well, because every five minutes somebody gets lost, and we have to wait another fifteen minutes for them to find their way back. Or somebody is forced to go and find them, that somebody never being the council, a.k.a the people ordering others to go and find them in the first place. “Everybody stop!” a booming voice calls through a megaphone. The trucks come to a halt, “we are taking a break for the night, please sleep in the sleeping bags supplied in the back of your trucks, please don’t exit your vehicles unless necessary,” they blare.
“Erg finally – this is torture,” Evelyn grumbles.
“I know right,” I say under my breath. I let out a long sigh. I need some air.
“I’ll be back,” I tell her, pulling myself out of the truck. Evelyn nods, letting me leave without argument.
I wander off into the woods, a peaceful silence I don’t want to break. My mind drifts off, and I can’t help but think about Yoha. I’ve been stuck on the idea we’ll never get there, but it seems more and more likely the closer we get. But I have a crippling doubt that we might not make it out of here.
I breathe in the crisp evening air, and keep walking. Bushes and twigs crack beneath my feet when I hear something. I spin around in a circle, but am met with nothing out of the ordinary. I hear it again. I don’t know what that is but it’s there… I think? I freeze. I heard the growl this time. I’m sure of it. Another low hiss in the distance. And the disgustingly strong scent of something I can’t quite put my finger on. It reeks of herbal tea, but that can’t possibly be right. I march around the trees, taken back. I screw up my nose and squint into the distance. I push through the bushes, glancing around, an anxiousness I can’t settle biting at my brain. I shove through more trees and bushes, and am welcomed with- not a person. A huge red face glowers over me. I barely keep my jaw from dropping. It tilts its head to the side. “Hazel,” it says in a deep, oddly calm voice. I stumble back a little, and my eyes widen. What. The. Hell.
“UMMM- what?” I snap, forcing the fear out of my voice. I can not deal with this right now.
“I am Rovi,” it says. I am not doing this. “You are an interesting character. Judging from what I’ve heard,” it says, pulling its face closer to mine.
“What?” I utter. I am not fighting a dragon.
“Come, have some tea,” she says humbly. I retch, and Rovi’s face falls. “Cocoa?” she cocks her head to the side. I am not having a drink with a dragon, but it’s not like I am really in the position to say no. I can’t fight this thing right now. I just can’t. Rovi looks pleased, and I awkwardly set myself down on a log near her. I can not believe I am in this situation. “The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines?” Rovi shoots me a judgmental grin.
“I ditched them after they betrayed me,” I growl.
“Hmmm, I hadn’t heard that,” she muses. “How so?” My shoulders hunch up, and I snap my stare to Rovi.
“None of your business,” I hiss, sending daggers at her.
“Family?” she starts. I send her a look and her smile drops. “Unfortunate,” she sighs sympathetically. My shoulders tense up, and I take a long sip of the hot cocoa, shifting my gaze back to the ground.
“Whatever,” I mumble. She purses her lips, frowning. I snort. “It doesn’t matter, none of it matters,” I let out a self deprecating laugh.
“It does though,” Rovi sighs. “But you are also right. You need to move on but it still matters. It still happened. And there isn’t much you can do,” she claims, as if I don’t already know.
“So move on,” she smiles. I glare at the grass. This… thing can’t tell me anything. I know that very well, and it’s not her place to tell me to get over it. “I speak the truth, and only the truth,” she says, reading my expression.
“And what truth is what?” I retort. She smiles and closes her eyes, then lets out a long breath.
“Don’t sit around and do nothing,” she states. My nostrils flare and I glare at Rovi.
“I don’t know you,” I growl.
“I suppose. But I know you. I’ve heard everything about everyone through the ground, the soil, the trees,” she says, her gaze fluttering around our surroundings.
“Well…” I stutter.
“You’re made for more than to be following along with everyone else,”
“Pfft; finally, something we can agree on,” I roll my eyes.
“Then do something about it,” Rovi tells me.
“Like what?” I ask, watching her face.
“That’s up to you. You are a leader. You always have been. Lead something of your own,” she shrugs.
The dream I’ve had for a long time creeps back into my brain. But not as a dream, as an option. Start something of my own. My eyes widen. Then I’m struck with the best idea. Better than crying about something I can’t change, better than stringing along with a council I hate, better than trying to tolerate people I despise. I could create something of my own. I could make my own team. My own army. My own cult.
I look up at her, a sparkle in my eyes. “My work is done here,” she grins.
“Err,” I stutter, unsure what to say.
“Do it,” she smirks. I blink at her. “Do it, but do it with your friend,” she suggests.
“Evelyn?” I cock my head to the side. She nods.
“She has the same dream as you,” she states.
“She’d never,” I say.
“Leave it to me,” An only slightly evil grin sprawls across Rovi’s face, and for some reason I have a feeling that everything is going to work out.
I hurry back to the trucks, having taken much more time than I intended. I can’t believe that she thinks I should do that. I don’t know if I even could, but I sure do want to. “Hazel!” Evelyn calls, poking her head out of the shattered window.
“Coming!” I run back to the truck, swinging the door open and climbing inside. Evelyn is there, waiting on the floor in the back. I slam the door shut, a loud creek echoing through the rear. Evelyn rolls her shoulders back restlessly.
“Arg, I know you just got back but do you mind if I leave?”
“How come?” I ask.
“I’m stuffed. I need some air,” she groans.
“Fine,” I say, twisting over to the front seat. She nods, and hurries off into the bushes. Originally I didn’t think Evelyn would want to make a cult with me, but the more I think about it the more I believe she would. We are both cultless, and The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines and Paragons Of The Soothsayers Cult are weak rivals, and now our enemies. Hence, teaming up and ending their spineless careers doesn’t seem like an easy thing to refuse. So why not have a little fun and a well deserved rematch?
Chapter 8 – Great Ideas Lead To Great Success
Hours turn to nothing, time zipping by. Evelyn’s been gone this whole time. As I stand up to go and find her, I hear familiar screaming in the distance. Not screaming of terror though, squeeling of excitement. “Hazel!” Evelyn sings before she even enters the truck. The door swings open, and Evelyn quickly jumps inside, shutting the door behind her. The disgusting scent of herbal tea wafts off of her, confirming that she has already spoken to Rovi. “The weirdest thing happened-” she starts.
“You met a dragon and had herbal tea with it, then you had the bright, totally original, idea of starting our own cult? Because same, and yes, that’s a great plan,” I interrupt her.
“Really?” she utters.
“Uh huh,” I say. I slither down next to her, a mischievous smirk stretched across her face.
“We need members,” she remarks.
“I suppose, but first we should do something about the other cults,” I mention.
“Those filthy traitors deserve to die,” I hiss. The Soothsayers kidnapped us, and The Four Divines kept the most important, personal thing ever from me. Plus all they ever did was boss us around.
“Yes they’ll fall at our feet – but first we need a plan to destroy them,” Evelyn states, a bit of a diabolical look on her face. I’m all for it.
“Great idea. A rematch.”
“A pretty justified one at that,” she grumbles. “This time we bring weapons,” she adds.
“From where?” I ask, it’s not like we have any supplies of our own. Evil flashes in Evelyn’s eyes, her expression completely unhinged.
“We use their own,” she spits.
I rack my brain for ideas on how we would even get everything, and I can tell by the look of dedication on Evelyn’s face she’s doing the same. They surely wouldn’t still be in Ahoy, they would have packed everything up and brought it with them. I know who’s in the Four Divines, and Evelyn knows who’s in The Paragons Of The Soothsayer Cult. It’s only a matter of checking the right trucks and stealing from the right people. I rub my head with my hand, watching Evelyn as she comes to the same conclusion. “Umm, I guess we just check all the trucks to see where they are keeping everything,” I say.
“Yeah I guess they have to be in one of them.” She lets out a snort, “as much as they’d hate it with their grudges against the council,” she rolls her eyes, waving her hand at the council logo and colours around the truck. I stretch my arms out,
“Sure,” I yawn. “We can go now if you want,” I say, hoping she’ll say no. She nods, standing up. She shoves open the door, and jumps out. I let out a tired sigh and follow behind her.
I don’t want to do this right now. I know it’s likely to end in a fight, but for the first time, I just don’t want to. I’ve been trying to think about things other than my family, but the dreary atmosphere and the feeling of needing to constantly watch my back puts me on edge; which prompts the thought of my family to creep from the corners of my mind right back into my heart. I’m sick of the feeling that somethings going to pounce forward, it feels like chains weighing me down. But I suppose that’s the point. The sole purpose of the Afeared Wilds is to make you afraid. That’s why it’s called the a-feared wilds. Because it’s feared.
I grumble some inaudible nonsense under my breath as Evelyn stands on the top of a tire, peering through the window into the truck. She leaps back down and shakes her head. This cycle repeats itself for about two dozen trucks before Evelyn spins around with bug eyes. She jabs her thumb at the truck, nodding her head with her lips pursed in a grin. I sigh and hurry over to the door. With one mighty pull, the door unlatches, swinging open with a creek. I’m first to step inside, shoving my elbow into the person waiting in there. They fall to the ground with a thud, and neither of us give them any further attention. Duffle bags are sprawled across the room, overflowing with guns and knives. I grab the straps and sling it over my shoulder, Evelyn quickly doing the same. I have a feeling that this guy isn’t the only one who’s been travelling in this truck, so we should get a move on. After scrambling from the truck, we sprint through the mud, the squelch loud under our feet. I throw my hand out to the door of our truck, forcing it open, then leaping inside. Evelyn’s quick to follow, throwing the bags to the ground, sending knives and guns skidding across the metal floor. I drop mine, the weapons peeking through the opening, and I grin.
“We did so well,” I say, genuinely surprised we got all this from a single truck.
“I know, right?” Evelyn smiles, picking up a gun. She flicks open the magazine, revealing an array of bullets. She’s beaming at this point, and I won’t even lie about my own excitement. This is big. But it’ll work because not only is it big it is also better. Better than those cults. All of them.
“How do you want to get all the cults to, you know, engage in the fight?” Evelyn asks, still fidgeting with the gun. I frown. I hadn’t thought of that. “We could send a letter?” Evelyn suggests.
“Not a bad idea,” I say. I scrunch my face up. “Well, if they lie about a letter then we should too,” I scowl.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean we could lie about who it’s from. They won’t take it seriously if it’s ‘two random 17 year olds wanna have a fight,’” I point out.
“Good point… we could say like The Paragons Of The Soothsayer Cult declares war upon The Chosen Ones Of The First Divines?” she remarks.
“That’s- actually a really good idea,” I say, pleasantly surprised. I know Evelyn isn’t stupid, and it does make sense for her to come up it something useful, but a letter declaring war just seems a little… anticlimactic. And usually first ideas don’t pan out. But this is actually not a bad plan. “Then vice versa for the next letter,” I add.
“Great! Let’s get a move on then,” she says. I lean over the front to see if any paper is in the drawers. I rummage through, and after a moment I find some loose papers, fit for a letter. I toss them behind me where Evelyn is sitting, and continue my hunt, but this time for pens. “Arg there is nothing here,” I hiss, when, of course, as soon as I complain about something, I find a pen. I throw that over my shoulder as well, and turn back around to sit next to Evelyn.
“Nice,” she says as she picks up the pen and gives it a shake.
“Are you writing?” she asks, sticking the pen out to me. I actually have the worst handwriting, which is ironic considering one of my main jobs was writing posters for the Four Divines.
“You do it,” I shrug off the offer. She nods and touches the pen to the paper.
“What do I say?”
“Maybe ‘Dear Paragons Of The Soothsayer cult, we have collectively decided we need to settle the rivalry between our cults. We came to the agreement that the best way to do that is in fact a war,’” I pipe. She nods, ink flowing out of the pen in carefully scribed letters. “Then go like ‘this is a warning. We suggest you ready yourselves, as a refusal to partake in this settlement will not go unseen, and we will proceed with our battle on your cult. Meet us at…?” I start.
“What about the Clouded Holt?” Evelyn asks. The Clouded Holt are some flat plains, with dead trees springing from the withering grass. Called Clouded as it’s prone to bushfires, leaving the air smokey and therefore clouded.
“Ok say, ‘meet at The Clouded Holt 5am tomorrow’,” I suggest.
“That’s great, and I’ll end it with, ‘good luck, you’ll need it, Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines,’” she grins as she scrawls down the rest of the letter. She flicks the pen off the page, ink splattering across the paper.
“Perfect,” I say. “Let’s just write the same thing but switch names, for the next letter,” I shrug. It’s not as though they’ll see each other’s letters, and the whole point is they find out we were the creators of the writing in the end. Evelyn nods and shoves the paper across the ground to me. She has neat, cursive, handwriting, almost like calligraphy. She scribbles down the next letter, and shoots me a smug grin when she finishes.
“This’ll be great,” she says optimistically. I nod, and for the first time in a while, I feel genuine excitement.
“How do we plan to get these to them?” I add, spoiling the mood.
“Oh. Umm, we could give it to that truck we found.” She picks up a gun again, squinting at it. “These look like Soothsayer guns to me,” she mentions.
“Oh yeah. Then we can go back and stick one in there,” I say. She nods and stands up, stepping over the bags to exit the truck. I follow, on my way tucking a gun into my belt. I’m not making this harder than it should be.
I step out onto the dying grass, tailing Evelyn as she traces her way back to the truck we were in earlier. I lean down, ducking away from the windows, Evelyn doing the same. She drops to her knees, cracking the door open and sliding the paper underneath. “Huh? What the heck. Oliver? Come here!” I hear a strong rhotic accent squark. All of a sudden, Evelyn flinches and starts scurrying back in the direction of our truck. I whip my head around to her in surprise, stumbling forward as I race after her.
We clamber inside, and Evelyn sits against the wall and sighs. “What?” I ask her.
“Erg, I just know Oliver. If he saw us-” she starts.
“He didn’t. He wasn’t even there, that guy was just calling him, plus he probably thinks we work for the Four Divines,” I shrug, cutting her off.
“I guess,” she sighs.
“So come on, let’s go find some soldier idiots from the Four Divines.” I march out the door. Evelyn following, letter in hand.
The same painstaking process of searching all the trucks commence, my brain rotting more each truck we pass. I stand on the edge of a tire, peeking through the window. My eyes are welcomed with ink scrawlings over the council logo, a fledgling and a soldier I’ve met before, and a lovely selection of satchels and satchels of explosives. I am getting those. I’m going to blow these morons up.
I rush over to the door, slipping the letter through. Evelyn turns around to leave, but I don’t move. “What are you doing?” she mouths. I make an exploding motion with my hands and point to the truck. She slaps her palm to her face, but hurries next to me. I grip onto the side of the truck, hoisting myself up to the roof. A small emergency hatch sits on top, and I shove my foot into it, kicking it open. Evelyn groans next to me, but grabs my leg as I dip down. Silently, behind the fledgling and soldier, I grab the bags of explosives and glance up to Evelyn, signalling for her to pull me up. She pulls a face, but helps me up anyways.
“Got them,” I mouth, grinning. She sighs, and we slip off the truck and sprint back to our truck.
When we get inside my grin gets wider. “We got bombs!” I sing. “We could trap the place before they even get there,” I remark.
“Huh, good plan,” Evelyn replies.
“Mhm,” I hum, grabbing a bag full of explosives, and shoving a gun in my belt. She does the same, loading guns into her pockets. I lean over to the front, a compass displayed near the gears. “Well, if this thing is right, we should head north east.” Evelyn simply nods, and slides the truck. I get out after her, and we start heading off to The Clouded Holt.
We pass the trucks, our pace quickening until we break into a sprint. Poisonous bushes and odd creatures lurk in every corner, scratching against our legs as we run. “Go faster,” Evelyn mutters as something behind us starts growling. We burst through more bushes, finally stumbling upon a collection of dead trees and a grey sky. The Clouded Holt.
Without a word, we start digging holes around the ground and placing explosives inside, wiring them as we go along. There is a small button in the bag, with the simple step of holding it against the bombs to connect them, for the outcome of them exploding when we push the button. Generally pretty straightforward. We dig, place, then connect for roughly an hour, night falling. “I think we’re done,” Evelyn says, dusting her hands.
“I’d say so,” I reply, kicking some dirt in a now explosive hole. “Lets just sleep here because it’ll be a pain to walk to the truck and back again,” I say. Evelyn nods, and leans against a rock, her eyes flicking closed. I sit against the rock next to her, closing my eyes and slowly drifting off into sleep.
I yawn, waking from the slumber. From the darkness of the sky and the placement of the moon, I can only guess it’s around 4am. Perfect timing. I shake Evelyn awake, and her eyes open with a glare. “It’s like 4 in the morning, so get up and let’s plan what we are going t0 do when they arrive,” I whisper, not to disturb the quiet of the new day.
“Do you wanna do something really dumb?” she asks in a hushed tone.
“Do you wanna say like ‘welcome, welcome everybody?’” pulling a theatrical, showy tone. I snort.
“In that voice?” I laugh. She smiles and nods, her eyelids still heavy.
“Then I say something in the same tone,” she says.
“Something like that?” I ask. She nods again. “That should freak them out,” I mutter, grinning.
“Ya. I’d just think it’d be funny to pose it all as some kind of game,” she says. “Even though it’s so, so much more,” she smirks. I nod in agreement,
“I suppose all we need to do now is wait.”
An hour goes by; I grit my teeth. The Paragons Of The Soothsayer cult have arrived, cracking their knuckles and murmuring to one another. The crunch of roots and dead silence washing over the ocean of people tells me The Chosen Ones Of The Four Divines have finally come. They parallel each other, scowling from a distance. Then that’s our cue. We leap from under the rock, landing then balancing on the tip of it graciously. “Welcome, welcome!” I sing, everybody’s eyes lock right on us.
“We humbly invite you to a war!” Evelyn calls, mimicking the voice we agreed on.
“Against us,” I grin.
“A well deserved rematch I’d say,” Evelyn says, our words bouncing off each other perfectly. I smirk, and with a click of a button, the ground falls in on everyone.
Clusters of people fall to my trap, bullets quickly coming hurtling our way. We dodge them easily, and I tighten my grip on my gun as I leap off the rock. I trigger some shots of my own, and array of bullets flying towards our enemies. I grind my teeth together as I see Jaqulin begin bounding in my direction, and she falls with the boom of my gun. The small metal ball passes through her, a splatter of blood spraying to the ground as she drops to the ground. I’m soon swarmed by people, but I’m not at all fazed. As much as they think otherwise, we’ve already won this battle. They lost the moment they crossed the threshold of this battlefield.
I pull my sword out of my belt with a ‘shing’ of the metal, easily slashing the closest few. They falter to the ground, their knives and guns falling at my feet. I step back, adjusting my stance as one who looks about 40 attempts to snatch my sword. They fail miserably, tripping and tumbling to the ground. I’d feel more sympathy if these weren’t adult people trying to murder me. I barely lift a finger, confident as I fend off the buzz of soldiers crowding around me. I’d been unconsciously training for this moment for a long time. Each fight, each lost argument, each and every bit of suffering has all been a hint. A warning, a clue, a lead up to what I’m going to achieve. Is it optimistic? Yes. Is it big? Yes. But it’s happening and it’s working. I shove my sword into yet another stomach, and with each hit I take I feel my faith in our success draining. The sour taste of blood fills my mouth as a fist meets my nose. The thick red liquid splatters to my hand as I shove it to my face. I wedge my knee up, getting the offender in the ribs and sending the toppling to the ground. I leap back, grabbing a bomb out of my belt. I quickly set it, and start running.
At first the give if people I was brawling with seem nothing more then confused, that confusion quickly resolved as the bomb goes off. It misses many, but Evelyn and I agreed killing everyone in the cult isn’t the sole purpose of the expedition, but more ending the actual cults. Some people may prove useful for our own little group, and they are no use dead. I leap onto a rock, throwing a couple more explosives around. Suddenly, I feel a tight grip on my ankles, and I slip and fall to the ground, letting out a grunt as the air gusts out of me. A gloomy face towards above me. Pale blue eyes seem to stare into my soul, a deep frown hovering above me. They draw back their arm, shoving their long, silver sword into my side. I roll out of the way, using all my strength to avoid the strike. It passes through my side, a gash the edge of my stomach. I gasp, star bursts of pain exploding in me. They thrust out their sword, stained with blood. I feel the raw skin on my side as I grab my stomach, but I don’t have time to wallow with the throb of my gut. I roll out of the way, kicking their legs and shoving my elbow into their back. I scramble away, but they grab onto my shirt and pull me back. Before I can take out my sword, a short man comes bounding over, and the grip on my shirt throws me to the ground. The short man looms over me, with a glum energy matching the other person. I let out a cry as he attempts to catch me with a bullet, missing me by millimetres. I gurgle some spit into his face, it having a splash of red that should concern me more than it does. It catches him off guard, then I sweep his legs with my foot – digging my shoe int0 his shin. He tumbles back into the other man, hitting the ground with a thump. He digs his dagger into my foot, it being far too blunt to pass all the way through. He pulls it out again, but the rush of adrenaline keeps me composed. Blood sprays across my pants and shoes, but I immediately thrust that same foot into the man’s jaw.
Blood stained spit comes out of his mouth, he stops, coughing and spluttering it out. And struggle a gun out of my belt, sending poorly-aimed bullets into his chest. He gasps, meeting a quick death. The short man pulls out a sword, slashing open my leg, and I fall to the ground, landing on the side of my jaw. I groan, and as he looms over me with a sword, clasping his hands over the handle, but he’s too slow. I grab out my gun and shoot him in the head, and he falls back, his sword dropping next to him. I gasp, diving behind a log. I wheeze and groan in pain, my hands drenched in blood. I grab my stomach, blood pouring out of every wound. I blink away the fuzz in the corner of my eyes, engulfed in panic. I yank a bandage out of my belt, pulling up my bloody leggings, my hands shaking. I wrap the bandage around it, holding the cut shut as I do so. I pull up my shirt, carefully pulling the bandage around the gash in my stomach. I quickly do the same with my foot, shoving off my shoe. I gently curl the bandage around the side, hastily pulling my shoe back on and springing to my feet as I hear the bang of guns.
I send more bullets into the air, my aim relatively good for someone who doesn’t use guns too often. I notice Evelyn wheezing in the distance, and I hurry over to see what the issue is. “You good?” I pant. She nods and glances at my blood covered outfit. “It’s mine,” I say quickly. Her eyes widen.
“Are YOU good?” she asks, her eyebrows furrowed. I nod and pat the bandages hung on my belt. “This is taking a long time,” she sighs.
“Yeah,” I breathe. A group comes sprinting our way, and I fumble around with the gun for a moment, awkwardly sending a bullet into one of the opposers. I pull the pistol in front of me, ticking off the coming group. You could say it’s heartless, but these people are freaks. Terribly evil, very freakish people. They joined a war, of course originally they were under the assumption they were fighting the Soothsayers, which is perfectly reasonable to want to kill them. But they know now they are fighting TWO 17 year olds. They could retreat. But they aren’t. Not to mention the majority of the people in the wars are at the very least 25, very few being younger. And for god’s sake, I just got stabbed like three times. I’m going to kill these jerks whether they like it or not.
Only a couple of the bunch make it to us, meeting a swift end in the hands of my sword. A brawly figure comes barreling towards us, Evelyn letting out a cry as they throw themselves forward, dropping all their body weight on top of her. I gasp and Evelyn lets out an ‘oof’ nose as she hits the ground. “What the hell?!” Evelyn scowls, thrashing from underneath them. I carefully shove my sword into their back, avoiding stabbing Evelyn. A muscular man’s corpse’s dead weight sits on Evelyn. As I struggle to remove the body from Evelyn, I don’t have time to react as somebody leaps behind me. I gasp, throwing myself forward, a dagger grazing my skin. Blood flicks to the ground, but you can’t be fighting in a war if you are going to have a heart attack over a scratch. I swing my foot around, meeting their shoulder. They stumble back in surprise, but start firing bullets in my direction, missing me just. I shoot some of my own, my aim being much better than theirs, the consequence being death.
We depart from our spot and scatter to another. I set a couple more explosives as we run, the loud ‘BOOM’ signalling to us that they work. I send a storm of bullets toward some people chasing us, but other than that we’ve been making it across the battlefield unseen. I somersault behind a boulder taking a breath before doing anything. I peek up, finally noticing what everything looks like. I’ve been so preoccupied with fighting I haven’t been able to take in how close we are. Actually, not close. We’ve won. There are little groups of people scattered around, but everything is in ruins – they’ve lost. Yells and screams fill the hot air, explosions going off in every corner. We really only need to sit and watch the cults tear eachother apart. There’s nothing left of either of them. “As I said, this is taking too long. Let’s give them a chance to retreat, they are doomed either way,” Evelyn says, reading my mind. I nod and leap on top of the rock. Clusters scatter the ground, everything up in flames.
“Hello everybody!” I yell with a fake smile.
“We’ve decided to give you a chance to retreat,” Evelyn says, keeping the theatrical tone, as I was.
“We recommend you leave now, but trust, keeping these cults active will lead to demise,” I call out. Nobody moves a muscle. The few crowds of people start whispering. Then they start running.
The only thing left is us, fire, and corpses. “We just won,” I say, blinking in pure disbelief.
“We won,” Evelyn stutters. A grin sprawls across my face, and I stick my arm up and our hands meet, the cuts and gashes over our palms sending a splash of blood onto our sleeves. I let out a snort of surprise; we are the only cult in Yoha. We are the only ones left.
Epilogue – A Surprisingly Happy Ending
We’ve made it to Yoha. The Four Divines and The Soothsayers were unknown, underground. We are more known than anybody. Originally we feared a lack of members, but that thought quickly left when hundreds came bowing at our feet. Essentially, everything has panned out perfectly. As for the name, we found one – Wanderers of the Abyss, after much discussion of course, but we settled on that one. Evelyn was a bit down, with everything that happened with Jill. There was so much going on she didn’t really have time to take in what had happened. So in the ditch of sadness she lay, she chose the emblem of The Wanderers Of The Abyss. An alpaca.
We’ve won. After so much suffering and misery, we’ve won. My mother was insane, tried to kill me more than once. But she kept me living in a mansion, going to school which led to me making friends. My sister was the best I could have ever asked for. She was too nice, too kind, too loving. Then I lost it. All of it. A torch was thrown over it, and flames swallowed it all. And all that was left was ashes. And from those ashes, we built an empire. There were one to many people who left us to rot. The Four Divines, The Soothsayers, all of them. They betrayed us. Every single one of those morons are bowing at our heels. To put it simply, we have won. Not only some goal to be the best – which we achieved either way – but we’ve won back our lives. A reward has been given, a better reward than money. Better than going back to somebody I hate. A better reward than a house, to serve a cult, be a slave to the council, the people who couldn’t give less of a crap about their people. I’ve been rewarded with a family, a home, a real friend, and a life.
It’s a happy ending after all.