Chapter Seventeen – Part Two
West of Paradise, Galatia
Rolland coughs as a thick smoke hits him the moment that he bursts through the final bush into the clearing that he had been camping in the night before. Ahead of him, fires are burning wildly and the forms of quite a few hybrids lie dead. Several of the hybrids look like they had been caught in explosions while others were mowed down with bullets. The ground underfoot is thick with bloodied mud from the slain creatures.
Just a few paces away, one of the hybrids is gorging itself on the flesh of another hybrid. Without hesitating, Rolland dispatches the beast with three well-aimed shots to its back. The hybrid crumbles to the ground without much of a struggle and Rolland nods approvingly at his work. He knew how to kill hybrids, it was one of the few things that he had had to teach himself, his father had shown him just about everything else that he knew.
“Rolls!” Astrid calls from her perch in a nearby tree.
Rolland waits a moment as Astrid shoots at an unseen target before he asks, “What happened?”
“Hybrids came out at first light,” Astrid answers as she scans her surroundings for any additional hostiles that hadn’t been cut down. She frowns when she doesn’t see anything and she then continues, “One of Maverick’s people sounded the alarm. Everyone split up from there.”
“Why’d they split up?” Rolland asks, concerned. Smaller groups were a lot easier for the hybrids to pick off.
Astrid quickly shimmies down her tree and she replies as she works her way down, “Some of Maverick’s people made a run for it when the hybrids blitzed the camp. Maverick then sent some of his people after them while the rest of his people stuck around to put down the remaining hybrids.”
“Oh,” Rolland breathes. Splitting into small groups was one thing, they could actually defend themselves from hybrids, albeit not as well as one large one. Single people making a run for it on the other hand was as good as a death sentence. Being as capable of hunters as they were, hybrids could make quick work of lone targets.
“Rolland?” Haley asks, drawing Rolland away from his worries.
Looking over to Haley, Rolland sees the concern in her eyes. Her emotions quickly become his and he hesitantly asks, “What?”
“What about Flin?”
“He probably made it home by now,”
“It’s a long trip though.”
“These hybrids didn’t come from the northwest though,” Astrid offers, “So they couldn’t have gotten him.”
“But he’s never been good with directions,” Rolland maintains as his heart sinks. If he had just kept his cool, then he wouldn’t have sent Flin off on his own all those hours ago.
“We stuck markers on the paths, only an idiot could have gotten lost,” Astrid shakes her head, “Now, we’ve got more urgent matters to attend to right now, so snap out of it. We gotta worry about the here and now, that’s what we can change. We can’t change the past.”
“Fine,” Rolland gives in. He didn’t like the idea of forgetting about Flin, but Astrid was right. Right now, everyone depended on him and he couldn’t let them down.
“We need to find everyone,” Haley adds with a nod as she slowly looks around their clearing.
Rolland joins Haley in the survey and he can’t help but feel discouraged. A knot forms in his gut and he catches his breath when he realizes that the sounds of fighting are coming from seemingly every direction. There was no knowing where he should start.
Likely seeing that Rolland is unsure of where to start, Astrid announces, “Maverick and a few others took off to the north, Nick and Julius went east with a small group, and a lot of the other guys went south.”
“And where’s Warren?” Rolland asks.
“I don’t know,” Astrid shrugs, “He’s probably around here somewhere though. You know how he is.”
“There one second, gone the next,” Haley nods knowingly. Warren had a history of stealthily sneaking around and disappearing all the time.
“So, what’s the plan, Rolls?” Astrid finally asks.
“I don’t know Ash,” Rolland admits, “Maybe we should go after the Domers that went south. Warren, Nick, and Julius know how to handle themselves, and I bet Maverick does too.”
Nodding, Haley picks up her pack after finding it nearby and she urges, “Alright, let’s get moving then!”
Astrid glances over to Rolland and gives him a look that says how they shouldn’t bring Haley along since she would only slow them down. Noting the logic in her thinking, Rolland inquires, “Shouldn’t someone stay behind in case anyone comes back to the camp?”
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” Haley shakes her head. She had clearly seen through Rolland’s ruse. Adjusting her pack, Haley continues, “Let’s go, time is of the essence.”
“You heard her,” Astrid nods, giving in a lot faster than Rolland would have liked her to. She starts off after Haley who is already blazing a new trail to the south.
“I guess we’re moving then,” Rolland whispers to himself as he quickly finds his own gear and then closes the distance between him and the girls. He stops at the edge of camp and looks back to it wistfully. Sighing, Rolland asks himself, “Why couldn’t this just be an easy day?”
Onto the last part of this chapter!
Chapter Seventeen – Part Three
West of Paradise, Galatia
“Where are our horses?” Rolland asks worriedly as he follows the two girls away from their camp.
“The hybrids got them,” Astrid answers flatly, “They were the first thing that were targeted.”
“Oh,” Haley sounds, her sadness evident. Since she had spent so much time tending to the horses over the years, she had really taken to them.
Rolland’s heart breaks momentarily at the hollowness in Haley’s voice as her sadness momentarily becomes his own. Out of all people to lose something in this attack, Haley should have been the last in line. She had already gone through so much. Frowning, Rolland moans before he offers a weakhearted joke, “Well, my dad is definitely going to ground me for this one!”
Astrid looks back to Rolland and shakes his head, signaling that now wasn’t the best time to joke around and he returns the look with one that said that he was just trying to make Haley smile. Shaking her head, Astrid turns back around and continues following Haley who is still dead silent.
Several minutes pass by at a snail’s pace as Rolland resists the urge to speak up. As much as he wanted to say something, he couldn’t bring himself to after Astrid’s correction. It just wasn’t a good time right now, he could tell that now.
“Astrid?” Haley says suddenly, making Rolland jump slightly.
Stopping behind Haley who is now standing still, Astrid asks, “What?”
“These tracks don’t look very promising,” Haley answers as she points at some tracks that Rolland can’t quite see.
Craning his neck around the girls, Rolland is greeted with the sight of several sets of footprints which are spaced far enough out and depressed deep enough that he can tell that those who left them behind were running for all they were worth. However, what was most worrying was the large webbed prints that followed the same trail. A hybrid was tracking the group of kids who ran this way. Broken branches on either side of the path show Rolland and the others some even more frightening news—the hybrid was massive. The largest he had ever seen, without a doubt. Judging by the broken foliage, the creature was at least four meters tall and two meters wide. Up until then, the biggest creature he had ever seen was only about half that size.
As Haley and the others continue staring, Haley quietly breathes, “I sure hope Maverick’s people are alright…”
That’s all I’ve got for now, sit tight for the next instalment! 🙂