Chapter Fifteen

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The truck bounced violently along the icy road. Nobody spoke. I kept my gaze focused on the trees, not daring to look at Mace or Asten, the only people I really knew that were on the truck with me.

I didn't want to see their irritation. I didn't want to see their expressions that told me that I never should've come because I wasn't strong enough yet. Because I just couldn't handle myself. But I had handled myself; for six months. Trying to defend my actions wouldn't help; I'd still ruined our escape.

The truck engine cut off suddenly, and I heard doors clicking open.

One of the gang members walked to the back and pulled open the door of the open truck bed. Her face was sharp, and ready to hurt us if necessary. I wasn't sure what we were doing, since our scenery hadn't changed at all. We were still in a snowy forest with lifeless trees all around us. There were no signs of life in sight.

"Get out," she ordered. It didn't take much other than her gun to persuade us.

I jumped off the edge of the truck, my boots nearly slipping on the ice as I landed. The woman began to walk in front of the gathering group, leading the way. The other soldiers had already disappeared to somewhere in the woods, and I couldn't see them anymore.

Why would they want to take us into the woods?

It was getting darker outside. I wondered if they had come out here to kill us. It was possible, but then they wouldn't have had a reason to capture us first.

The woman stopped and turned her head in either direction before putting two fingers in her mouth and letting out a shrill whistle. Like dogs, the other soldiers reappeared. The leader was the last to arrive, his eyes inspecting the clearing that she'd found. He crossed his arms over his burly chest and nodded his head once at the woman. "Good. We'll camp here."

The growing tension in my muscles released at his words. We weren't dead yet.

The gang members began setting up tents and pulling out sleeping bags and other supplies from their packs. As this went on, a few gang members stayed with us, making sure we didn't try anything as they set up. When they were done, the leader announced watch shifts, and everyone who wasn't on watch duty quickly went inside the tent.

They were going to sleep for the night.

We likely weren't. Not with the wind blowing against my back and the uncomfortably cold chains biting into my wrists. I wanted to sit, but worried they might shoot me for that. My legs were tired and sore from the walking I'd done since leaving the compound. Even sitting in snow would be better than standing.

Somebody nearby me decided to experiment before I could. She sat down swiftly on the icy dirt. The guards on either side of us didn't even blink.

Like a pebble falling into a lake, everyone slowly began to join the one person on the ground.

I bent down and felt my pants dampen as my butt pressed into the snow. I was tempted to lean my head on something, but nothing solid was nearby.

"Calestia." Mace's voice sounded surreal in the suffocating silence that had been crushing the prisoners. I hadn't even realized that the two of us had ended up adjacent to each other.

If he was going to start ranting about how much of a failure I was, I wasn't sure I really wanted to respond. That didn't seem like something he'd do.

"Thank you." The words hit me like he'd just poured ice water on my head. I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out.

"You tried," he added softly, looking down at his wrists which were still bound together by chains. He seemed sad.

Instead of staying on the subject, I decided to ask him something else, feeling suddenly awkward. Anything other than discussing what had just happened would be good. And I'd been meaning to ask him something, ever since I met him for the first time.

"Why did you ever want to create...a group like you did?"

He paused, looked up at me for a moment, then looked back down. His entire body position spoke of defeat. "I honestly don't know..."

I waited for him to continue.

He looked up at me...but not really. His eyes were focused elsewhere. "I just wanted to make something that could last. I wanted to survive, and I knew I couldn't do that alone."

"Where did you come from anyway?"

He raised his eyebrows at me, and a small smile appeared on his lips. "Ohio."

"New York," I replied, remembering the city, and my home back in the Northeast. "It used to snow only in the winter back then..." I smiled at the thought of warm summers followed by slightly colder falls, then winters that froze me to the bone. But never as bad as this. No one could have ever seen this coming.

"I used to love family tended to go up north and go skiing in Vermont during Winter vacation." Mace was staring up at the stars now, speaking of a lost time.

"What were your parents like?" I asked, trying to continue this conversation. I didn't want silence. The silence would leave me alone with my thoughts, and with that, my guilt.

"My mom was always optimistic. Whenever something bad happened, she'd find a way to make it good. And I guess I could say the same for my dad. They were amazing," he explained. He'd used past tense, but I didn't ask. He'd gone quiet, and I could feel the silence settling down on us again. I watched him as he stared at the sky, a slightly pained expression showing in his eyes.

"It's not your fault, you know," I said. Whether I was referring to whatever happened with his parents or what had happened with us, I wasn't sure. But I could recognize guilt. "'s not your fault we're here..."

My words did nothing, and he continued to look as defeated as before. It didn't matter what I said. The way he was holding himself made it obvious that he did partially blame himself for this. Which made no sense, since I messed up the mission.

"I wish I could agree with you," he muttered, not elaborating on his point. He just leaned back, and rested his head against the snow, using his hands beneath his neck as a pillow. "It doesn't matter now. What happened can't be changed."

He shifted position, and I knew that he was done talking for the night. I looked over in his direction for one more second before placing my head on my hands and closing my eyes.

As much as I didn't want what he said to be true, I knew that it was.

What happened couldn't be changed. Nothing ever could be.

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