Chapter Sixteen

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I woke up to someone shaking my shoulder, without realizing I'd fallen asleep in the first place.

My right side was sore and the air felt cooler than before. The sky was still pitch black. The stars were clearer than they usual. I could see Orion's belt and the Big Dipper with its glaring North Star. There was no moon, just the stars lending their minimal light to the world.

I nearly smiled at the sight, before my view was blocked. Rough hands grabbed me and jerked me upright. It only then hit me that the sky shouldn't have still been so dark. There was no reason I should've been woken up.

The person who'd shook me began dragging me through the cool snow. I stumbled along behind them, still groggy from the little amount of sleep I'd gotten. I almost tripped over another sleeping body, but caught myself just in time. I was beginning to feel more and more alert as the seconds passed. Everybody else was asleep. Nobody noticed that I was now being whisked away.

My heels dug into the ground, as fear began coursing through me. I felt the figure turn around in annoyance, and tried to duck, but couldn't. Instead I got a face full of hard knuckles as I fell to the ground. My body was being dragged through the snow, and now I wasn't struggling. I needed to fight back.

I didn't really know what else to do. I let out a noise, but immediately felt knuckles slam into my mouth again.

It didn't stop me. I began frantically kicking my feet, trying to hit something. It did nothing. I was about to let out another noise, when the figure stopped and let go of my arm. I was on my hands and knees. Bright light lit up the snow from somewhere, turning it orange. I turned my eyes upward, looking at the large camp fire that had been created in the middle of the snowy forest. Gray clad figures sat around it in a circle, while the one who'd dragged me here walked away to join them. A pair of large dark boots fell and blocked my view of the scene, as black spots danced across my vision.

"Tie her up." The voice was deep and familiar. It was the group's leader.

There was no point fighting anymore. They had at least twenty people, and I was only one. Fighting would likely lead to my death. Plus, if they were planning to kill me all along, wouldn't it only make sense that they would've done it by now? That was my only comfort.

Unless they were just waiting for the perfect moment, a time when everyone was too asleep to notice or fight back.

I was picked up off the ground and my hands were pulled behind my back. Sharp plastic bit into my wrists. I could already feel that I was losing circulation to my hands.

My butt fell back into the snow as the person let go of me. There was somebody else next to me. From my position, I couldn't tell who it was.

The black boots of the leader returned. He knelt, and for a second I thought he was going for me. It took me a moment to realized he was in front of the person adjacent to me. He seemed to observe him for a moment before calling out to another soldier. The woman walked over, her face blank. She held something out to the man, and he grabbed it from her palm.

My fear rocketed up to a whole other level. I couldn't see exactly what was happening, but I felt a sinking feeling in my chest.

The man raised his hand in the air. My eyes followed the arc of the man's hand as it fell straight into the neck of the boy. A knife.

Any hope I had shattered. Blood leaked out of the boy's neck, dripping down onto the pure snow. The grotesque color stained it. The leader slowly removed the knife as the boy choked on his own blood.

I wanted to scream, but couldn't. There didn't seem to be enough oxygen in my lungs. There was nothing I could do to escape the same fate. I couldn't break out of zip ties. I didn't know how.

The man stood up, knife in hand, and turned around. Two soldiers ran towards the scene, picked up the lifeless body of the boy, and carried him away.

"How many more do you think we should kill, Jocelyn?" the man said and the woman who had given him the knife.

"Just the girl and the other boy, sir. We have enough resources for the rest. We can ration the amount of food. They won't have much, but they'll be breathing," Jocelyn said with her arms crossed.

The only part of her reply I cared about was her first sentence.

As if in a nightmare, I turned my head to the left, scared to look, but knowing I had to. Somebody else was going to die tonight, and I needed to know who. The second my eyes fell on the face of the boy who'd die with me, my breath caught. I wasn't sure how to feel.

Because it was Asten.

He deserves this, whispered a disgusting voice from deep inside me. I tried to ignore it. It still brought up the other thought I'd been trying to avoid, one that had been bothering me for a long time.

You deserve it too.

The leader knelt next to me, just as he had done for the boy. His eyes were cold and emotionless, much like Jocelyn. The knife was in his hand, dripping hot blood onto my cheek. I winced. He didn't care that I saw it. He wanted me to see it, to know that this was the end. That I was going to die, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Don't worry, it'll all be over soon. The thought emerged, a lighthouse in the dark sea of pain and hopelessness.

I looked away from the knife, and away from his eyes, not wanting that to be the last thing I saw. My breathing came in rapid gasps as I stared determinedly up at the constellations. They were bright and unrepressed by clouds. The sky was no longer crying its brilliant shower of snow. It had stopped, ironically just before I was about to die. Snow filled my light brown hair and the light of the stars filled my eyes.

The knife came down upon me.

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