Chapter Nineteen

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By the time I stopped, the sky was nearly completely light. I could feel my eyelids drooping in fatigue. If I had to, I could always stop and find a nice enough tree or abandoned shelter to sleep in.

That was only a last case scenario. Who knew who might be crawling about since the gang members had fled into the forest? They could gang up on me.

A light breeze fell upon my face and I closed my eyes, taking it in. The air smelled of fresh pine. I opened them once again, my head tilted in the direction of the tree tops. Who ever said that I needed somebody to reach the Equator?

Why don't I just go there myself?

It would be so much easier. I wouldn't have to worry that the person standing next to me would whip out a knife and stab me in the back. There would literally be no one there. I knew vaguely where I had to go. I didn't need a guide. The sun was finally visible behind the sparse clouds as the snow thinned. I remembered where it had risen that morning.

The only thing left to do was go south.

I turned in the correct direction and continued walking again. People said the Equator should be obvious by the light pollution and sounds of city life. Hopefully, I'd be able to recognize it. I knew there were other ditched cities on the path, but I assumed it'd be obvious. The Equator was supposed to be the only perfect habitat left.

I knew I was extremely far away, but I could make it if I tried. I just couldn't stop for anything, anyone, or any reason at all.

Two seconds later, I realized that that was going to be harder than I thought.

Because, at that moment, something jumped out of a tree and landed a foot in front of me.

This was becoming comical in an unamusing way.

He literally fell out of a tree.

Just to stop me.

"Leave. Me. Alone," I spat at Asten with a nasty glare. I was not in the mood.

He raised his eyebrows and didn't bother to move out of my way.

I stormed past him, trying to understand his incentive in following me. I thought I'd ran fast enough, but apparently not.

"You won't get far alone," he commented from behind me, and I tried to ignore his voice. I continued walking, although, I admit, I was at a slower pace. "This place is gang-infested. The farther you go in that direction, the sooner you become a gang servant."

I turned around quickly. "That's lovely, but I can handle myself." He was standing with his arms crossed and a worn-out expression on his face. His tree bark brown hair was messier than it was when I first met him and his gray eyes looked dull and stormy.

"That's not the point. I know that. I'm just saying that you would be better off going with us." He was completely serious. Like he hadn't just jumped out of a tree after stalking me for hours.

"Going where?" I asked, not sure I heard him correctly.

"The Equator." He began to walk in my direction, closing the gap between us. "I know that's where you want to go. And you're not the only one who wants to. Mace and January think it's a good idea, too."

"And since when have you been best friends with them?" I said skeptically. Mace and January likely cared more about the Snow Society than my own impossible goal of reaching the Equator. It'd also be difficult for them to drag the entire Snow Society along, if that was their plan.

"The Equator is currently seen as the safest place to be, and after last night..." He didn't need to finish his sentence. The compound that they had could never be absolutely safe like the Equator might be.

"Why do you care if I go with you?"

"I might have betrayed you, but that doesn't mean I'm heartless. I'm still giving you the option." He looked genuine, but I was still hesitant. What if this was a huge ploy to trick me into being sold? What if he was taking advantage of the fact that I was alone to zip tie me like he had before?

What if I was just so tired of not being able to trust anyone that I was about to do something that I might just regret later?

I shook my head, feeling a mix of emotions. What happened to going out with your friends on a Saturday evening to watch the latest movie? What ever happened to being able to just live a normal life without the constant fear of death?

"Okay," I finally said, giving into to my greater desire. Trusting him again could be the worst decision of my life...or the best. I couldn't know until I took that risk.

"Great. Then let's go. We have a lot of planning to do." He turned swiftly and walked away into the snowy forest, the wind blowing his hair backwards in my direction.

I paused. I'd trusted Asten once when he'd said we'd go to the Equator together, and then he'd tried to sell me. I trusted Mace when he acted like he wanted to help me, before stabbing me in the back with his words.

I had to hope this time it would be for the best.

I stared at Asten's back as he walked through the snowy landscape, and then began to follow.

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