Chapter Fourteen

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It wasn't very hard to follow them.

Even with the snow pouring down faster than usual, the footsteps were so numerous that the snow couldn't cover them. I kept to the trees, only occasionally peeking out in case anyone was lagging. It was like what I'd been doing before, except so much more was at risk.

I wondered why I was even doing this. Being caught meant slavery, pain, and everything I'd been avoiding. Was I really willing to risk giving up myself to save these people?

Apparently yes.

I became more anxious as the time passed. I didn't know how I could fight off this many trained people when I could barely wield a dagger at Asten.

If I could cause just a little turmoil, it might give the captured enough time to fight back. I didn't know the extent of Mace's combative skills. Seeing as he was the leader of their society, I assumed he would have some training. I already knew about Asten.

The group began to slow down and I crept closer. I could make out the edge of what looked like a road, black peeking out from beneath the thick layer of ice. This was probably the way to their camp. I'd never personally been to one, but I knew they tended to habit dilapidated cities. I wasn't sure which one it would be, since I barely knew where I was. I'd started north and had kept moving southwest for six months, so I wasn't sure exactly where that left me.

A low rumbling sound came from somewhere in front of the group. It sounded like an engine. I wasn't sure if I was crazy. I hadn't seen a moving vehicle since the start of the snow. But as the rumbling grew louder, a green, open-backed truck came into view.

If they got everyone onto the truck and drove away, I would never catch up.

I had to act now, before it was too late.

I scanned the scene and realized there were at least two people per prisoner. The odds did not look good at all. The leader of the group was talking to the woman driving the truck with his hands on his hips. Her arm hung out the window as she counted their haul of people. The look of satisfaction on her face sent disgust roiling through me.

Four soldiers broke off to help load the truck. Their absence gave me a chance. And this was the last moment I'd have before they were taken away.

I needed a gun. There was a possibility that if I caught one of them off guard, I could steal one. I'd only seen surprise attacks work in movies. Hopefully, those scenes were at least somewhat factual. If not, this escape attempt would be a lot quicker than I expected.

I prepared myself, getting ready to sprint through the snow at the nearest guard. My target had dark blonde hair tied back in a tight ponytail with her gun only a couple yards away from me. She was parted from the rest of the group, occasionally checking her surroundings.

The leader seemed to be finishing his conversation with the woman driving the truck. There was no time to think. I didn't have a full plan, but I no longer had the time. Improvisation would have to do.

My hand clenched into a fist, and I leaped out from behind the tree. I was on her in seconds, ripping the gun from her belt and feeling the cool metal against my already frozen fingers. I didn't know how to use a gun. I just knew you had to somehow turn off safety – wherever that was – and pull the trigger. My fingers pressed down on random pieces of the gun, just as the woman turned around.

Suddenly, something on the gun clicked. Without knowing what that meant, I brought the gun back up and pointed it at the blonde-haired woman. Everyone else seemed to realize that there was something going on behind them, and slowly gang members and prisoners alike began turning around.

The leader was the last to show his pockmarked face filled with surprise. The woman, in fear, put her hands in the air.

"Don't move!" I shouted shakily, feeling my fingers tremble. I had no idea what I was doing. Would I have the guts to shoot this woman in the head if she disobeyed?

It would be so abrupt, her death at my hands.

The leader stared me down, his surprise fading into an eerie smile. It set fear deep in my bones – his smile made me feel like I'd heard a joke, but was missing the punchline.

He walked towards me, a predator waiting for the perfect moment to strike. He'd probably perfected this power play. I was scared to death and didn't have his confidence.

The people I was trying to save looked at me with disdain. None of them knew me that well. But out of everyone, Mace looked the most shocked and worried. His lips were curved downward and hung slightly open. I bet it was disappointment that I'd followed. If coloring outside the lines could save all our lives, then I would do it. Every time.

"How....cute," the leader muttered. His hands were clasped behind his back, and his outfit looked dirtier than it had from the tree. This wasn't the response I'd been looking for. "Go ahead."

My finger hovered just above the trigger. I imagined pulling it, feeling the gun yank me backwards as the bullet hit my target. If he really didn't care about his soldiers' lives...then I was hopeless.

But if I were to be taken anyway, I might as well take down some of them with me.

I pulled the trigger.

The bang echoed through the snowy forest, as the gun recoiled. I dropped it the gun immediately. The woman was on the ground, clutching her thigh. The leader just stood calmly, as everything else went to hell. The prisoners moved as one, breaking away from the carefully formed circle of guards. Mace was the first to act, slamming his fists against the nearest guard's head, then tripping another.

I wasn't moving, just standing amid the snow as it came down harder around us. The sound of clanking metal filled the air, but it was impossible to tell where it came from. My mind snapped awake as a guard ran at me. I reacted instantly by picking up the gun and slamming it into the guy's head. It worked. The guy fell to my feet, a large red gash painted across his forehead.

My feet stumbled over each other as I walked backwards through the snow. The leader still stood calmly, like the god of war watching a battle from the heavens. All around me the battle was escalating, prisoners slamming into the guards, guards fighting back with fists. My instinct was to run, but I wasn't sure I could in this situation. I'd gone through so much work to get this far.

"Watch out!" Mace's voice yelled above the crowd, and it took me a second too late to realize he was talking to me. Something hard and strong came up behind me, and before I knew it, my face was pressed against the snowy ground. I didn't have time to struggle or move before I felt metal handcuffs click together around my wrists. The rough knuckles of a guard brushed against my neck as the person on top of my grabbed me by my shirt collar and pulled me upright.

Something cool pressed against my neck. A gun. Our positions had switched. Instead of me holding a gun to their head, a guard was now holding a gun to my head.

The guard seemed to turn in the direction of the leader, looking for guidance. And the leader just nodded in bored acceptance. He turned his attention back to the fight and said in a calm, relaxed manner, "Stop, unless you wish to lose one of your own."

This was what Mace had wanted me to avoid. Too late now.

Everyone came to a shocked stop as they realized the fight was over. Checkmate. The guards easily handcuffed each of the prisoners. Their faces held no emotion, just hopelessness. The only expression that differed was Mace's, and I refused to look at him for too long. His eyes held disappointment, and for good reason. Even though I'd tried to help, it meant nothing now that I'd ruined that chance. If it weren't for me, they could still be fighting.

I could feel humiliation rising inside of me, the one chance I had to prove myself backfiring completely.

I was weak.

I let them win.

And now I was the reason that none of us would escape.

I didn't even fight as the soldier dragged me through the snow and shoved me in the back of the truck with the rest of them.

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