Chapter Eighteen

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Taking down the rest of the gang was easier than I'd expected. We had the majority. A lot of the gang was still asleep in the tents, so it was easy to convince the remaining group by gun point to wake up their friends and leave. If it weren't for the guns, we probably wouldn't have stood a chance.

After they were gone, I was forced to address my next problem. Mace.

The look on his face had chilled me. It would be nothing like the welcoming tour he'd given me when I'd first arrived. I could feel the irritation emanating from his pores. It wouldn't surprise me if he exiled me.

He was just finishing cutting the ties of a the few remaining people. I watched as he cut through the last piece of plastic. Then, my eyes met his. He nodded his head in the direction of the forest, and I nodded back, walking in that direction. There was no way to avoid this now.

Once we were far enough away from the fire, Mace stopped and turned to me. I didn't say anything.

"Why did you follow us?" he asked with a straight expression. I was beginning to wonder the same thing.

"I wanted to help," I replied, truthfully. It wasn't a total lie.

Mace raised an eyebrow, like this surprised him. "We didn't need any more help than we already had."

"I thought that maybe you could use it-," I started off, but he interrupted me mid-sentence.

"Then you thought wrong." He was more than just annoyed; he was furious. "What you did...it was completely out of line in our compound, okay? We have rules because they keep us safe. And in this world, safety isn't easy to find."

"I know, I..." I wanted to apologize, but I wasn't sure how. It felt so wrong. My actions had indirectly led to the death of one of his friends. A sorry wouldn't solve the issue, because the guy was still dead, and I was still partially to blame for it.

"Don't." Mace seemed to know where my thoughts were headed. "Don't say it."

Even with his words, I found it difficult to not respond. Apologizing wouldn't fix the situation, but it would at least show that I cared. I couldn't just not apologize for it. This was my fault. "I'm...I didn't mean-"

"Nobody ever means for anything to happen!" Mace suddenly shouted and I nearly jumped backwards in shock. I had never heard him really yell at someone in the short amount of time that I'd known him. The outburst only lasted a moment, before he quickly quieted down and stared at a specific point in the snow. "Okay? Nobody ever means for things to happen. They just do. You still shouldn't have come. You're hurt, or were hurt. I could maybe forgive the fact that you got us caught...but you should never have even considered leaving. You should've trusted us, and you didn't."

"I know...," I repeated, feeling at a loss for words.

He looked up once again, and there were tears in his eyes, welling up in his eyes. They were not obvious in the dark, but the stars made the teardrops glisten in the night. He seemed to be trying to hide it, to keep on his leader-like persona, all charm and no sadness nor fear nor pain. "No, you really don't. I'm starting to wonder if I should've just left you in the forest."

I winced, like he had physically hit me. I hadn't expected him to say that. It stung. I began to back away from Mace. I didn't want to be there anymore. I just wanted to escape back to my old life in the snow, no matter lonely that'd been. Everything could go back to how it used to be. I could pretend this entire encounter had never happened. I could forget about Mace, Asten, and the rest of them.

I didn't need anybody, but myself. Trust was dangerous. I couldn't let myself get sucked into trusting these people. I couldn't fall into that trap again.

My eyes turned towards the direction of the dark woods, and I felt it pulling at my heart, urging me to run. I glanced back at Mace, and noticed the guilt in his eyes. I could tell he felt bad about what he'd said. It was too late for him to take it back now. The damage was done.

"Wait...I-!" Mace began to say, but I was already done talking. I'd made my decision. There was no place for me in the young societies of the post-apocalyptic world. I belonged only to myself. The thought comforted me.

I only needed myself. I was strong. I could live alone for years in the dark wilderness, maybe even build a small cabin when the snow stopped for the last time. Sure, maybe I'd get lonely, but loneliness didn't seem like as much of a threat anymore. I'd dealt with it for long enough, and I could survive alone. I would survive alone.

I felt the cold snow seeping into my boots, as the air smelled of frost and pine. I saw the bright stars overhead, lighting the world in a mild hue. They would be my company. This was my compound.

The darkness beckoned to me, and I responded.

I ran.

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