9. Not a Good Day

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By now, all the children and most of the women were settled inside the farmhouse. The injured were also given a place inside, out of the elements. He watched as Tarrod carefully helped one of his friends hobble inside. In the fading daylight, it took Jett a moment before he recognized him as the one who had emerged from the hole in the ground with Tarrod several days ago.

The young man looked like death, pain twisting his features, yet he still managed to grin at something Tarrod said. Then they disappeared inside, and Jett found himself staring at the ground between his knees.

Why did he feel guilty? None of this was his fault, right? It wasn't like he told the Kairg to attack Shann Tei. He wasn't the one who set the War Machines free to slaughter their way through the city. He had nothing to do with it! But even so ...

He leaned his head back and stared up at the patches of darkening sky through the tree branches. The first few stars were beginning to show. One in particular seemed to twinkle brighter than the rest, so he stared at it blankly.

If he focused really hard, maybe he could pretend he was back home in the Putarc Forest. He'd be lying in the cool grasses on a warm summer night, trying to see the constellations that his mother used to show him when he was little.

"See that star?" She'd always say, lifting a slender hand to point at the sky. "That one is always in the same place. It never goes away, even as the others sometimes disappear for a while. Do you know why?"

"No," he would say, even though she had told him before, many times.

"It's because it's the king of the sky," She'd answer gently. "He sits on his throne and watches over everything else. And even though all of his subjects - all the other stars, even the moon - move all over the sky, you will always find him there, in the north. So if you ever get lost, you just need to find the king that never leaves his throne. And he will always point you the way you need to go."

The star grew blurry as Jett watched it, causing him to blink several times. He wondered what would happen if he just up and left. Forget everything that had happened in the last year and just return to his little hut near the Putarc forest.

Even those silly villagers would be a welcome change compared to this mess. They treated him like an outcast, but even so ... some had made sure he had enough food and clothing to survive the winters. When his mother had died, they brought him food every day until he had shown he was capable of hunting his own. They may have not liked him, but even they would not let a child starve to death.

The sound of a vehicle's engine drew his attention. A large van had pulled up nearby, one of its headlights illuminating the outside of the farmhouse. The other one was burnt out.

Jett did not recognize the vehicle. And neither did the others. Crossfires immediately gathered, weapons held openly as a warning sign. Behind them, a couple of large fires roared, illuminating them in flickering orange light. Most of the gang members remained where they were by the fires, watching warily as their armed members faced this new arrival.

Jett stayed where he was. His hurting body agreed with that plan. Besides, Jett was pretty sure neither the Kairg or Troit travelled around in decrepit civilian vehicles.

A man stepped out of the driver's side. He wore a ball cap and a full beard that hid the majority of his face from view. He moved with a languid grace, outstretching his arms to show that he was unarmed.

The side door on the van slid open, and two more people came out. One was a lanky young man, also wearing a ball cap. He too, was unarmed. The second person was a girl, dressed in torn leggings and a oversized sweatshirt that went halfway to her knees. She was smiling brightly.

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