Chapter Seventy-One

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The newly lit flame flickered silently in the stone chimney, leaking heat into the freezing room. A few of the others had gathered together sticks and other flammable objects to set up the room's heating system in order to keep us somewhat warm. Even so, I could feel the constant cold of the air pressing down on me, its chill like icy fingers seeping underneath my clothes.

I'd been silent for most of the way back.

As I'd walked, I'd thought about the harsh things that Axel had said to me before we had left to get everyone else. He thought that I trusted to easily. He thought I was stupid and naive, and incapable of seeing the world for what it was. And he most obviously, found me useless, and a waste of space here in the group.

And as I remembered watching the boy dressed up and taught to act like a soldier, tumbling down on top of me, I couldn't help but agree. He was right.

I'd already known it. But now the answer seemed even clearer than before.

Before I'd even met with their group, I would barely have considered teaming up with anyone like them. I'd been correct in doing so. Back then, I was safe, alone, where I didn't have to worry about people stabbing me in the back.

Now I did.

And now, the more I thought about my experiences with the "Snow Society" the more I realized that there were many things odd about them all. Immediately, the questions I'd stored up in my mind, burst out into the forefront.

Why was the Snow Society even in existence? Why was someone trying to kill me? Why did it almost feel like even after all we'd gone through together, I still didn't completely trust them?  Recently, with Mace forgetting to invite everyone else...and Axel shooting the boy...

It was hard for me to wrap my head around.

But with the criticism I'd gotten from Axel, my eyes had been opened to one thing.

I didn't want to be that person anymore. I wanted to feel like myself again. The self that had been independent, and one hundred percent safe, out alone in the world. Because things were better back then. So much better.

I had to leave.

And I'd do it that night.

The fire warmed my body as I ran through my short uneventful plan of escape.

Before I could complete it, I heard the couch springs squeak as someone sat down on the cushion directly next to me. "Hey," Mace mumbled, and I immediately turned my head in his direction. In my distraction, I hadn't bothered to ask how he was doing. I was glad that things had worked out with him. "What's so interesting in the fire?"

"Sorry. It's nothing," I replied, monotonously. I quickly realized the tension in my tone, and tried to relax myself. I didn't need to accidentally give away my plan before going through with it.

As he shifted on the couch, I could tell just how unwell he was. He'd probably been forced to go running through the forest on a bad leg, that shouldn't have even been in use. He'd only got over towards the couch using a pair of makeshift crutches Kyan had built for him once we'd reached the cabin. Now, they rested against the couch cushion next to Mace. "You sure?"

I nodded quickly. "Yeah, I'm just still a bit....startled after what happened with the room..."

"What do you mean?" I knew that Mace hadn't been with us in line when we'd gone to those odd, small rooms that I'd been so afraid of. But I'd assumed that they would've made him get up and go through the procedure after all of us were done, seeing how negatively they reacted to me not walking in the room.

"The room....I refused to go in. That's why all of this happened...," I replied softly.

Mace went quiet for a moment. "Why did you do that?" he asked, at last.

"I don't know...I just felt like I shouldn't be in there. And it reminded me of...that girl...what she was saying..."

"You shouldn't have." Mace was confident in his words. I didn't understand what he meant. "You shouldn't have done that. There would've been a better way to escape."

He seemed a bit annoyed with me, like he had a while back, that first time he'd yelled at me for getting them in a huge mess.

Noting this, I was tempted to get up and leave before the conversation continued. I didn't want to talk about any more of my possible mistakes. I was done being criticized by people who I was starting to realize I barely knew.

I stood up from the couch, and I could tell Mace was a bit shocked by my sudden interruption. "I need to go...," I started without having a valid excuse. "I need to go to the bedroom...I want to sleep..."

I walked out of the room before Mace could spit another word at me. He was okay to be around most of the time, but sometimes, it was quite obvious that he saw himself as a leader. I understood why. He'd been with the Snow Society for all this time and had been the one to bring it all together with January. He took on most of the responsibility a leader would, and kept everyone in line. He wanted to keep me in line.

But I didn't want to follow someone else's rules.

In such a world as the one we lived in, following rules could mean death. It didn't matter if you agreed with the ideas set, because if you become to involved in any group, you end up doing things you regret. And something I regretted that I hadn't thought much about since it happened, was not saving the boy. I should've noticed Axel. And then I should have told him that the boy was no harm. He didn't mean any harm. Even though I understood the risk Axel would've taken by not shooting him, it wasn't worth the pain now felt at the idea that an innocent boy was dead. He was innocent.

I had to leave.

As I walked down the hall, I nearly ran into Kyan who was bent over in a closet, shuffling through supplies I couldn't see. He looked over his shoulder in annoyance as my leg banged into his, and I quickly stepped away. "Sorry...," I murmured, before continuing down the hall. I reached the door at the end. It was already open and I could see eight mats laid out on the ground for those who'd gotten out. We hadn't managed to get every last person. But we'd gotten who we could. Our originally large group had been cut down to just me, Axel, Asten, Mace, January, Jadyn, Kyan, and a girl who I hadn't been formally introduced to. At least the small amount of people meant that it was most likely that the one who wanted me dead wasn't there. That threat might possibly have been eliminated.

I found my things sitting at the side of one of the mattresses. Apparently, according to Asten, when they'd kicked me out, they'd also thrown my bag out into the snow. I hadn't seen it, but Asten had been fortunate enough to stumble on it and pick it up. I honestly wouldn't have minded if it had disappeared. There wasn't much in it. Just a few remnants of my house and the small journal that I hadn't had time to think much of from John and Claudia's house.

I walked over and picked up my bag, inspecting it for any tears or issues. It looked just as I'd left it. I already knew I had to wait until everyone was asleep before leaving. And once they were, I'd be gone.

And I wasn't planning on coming back.

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