"We would have been better off in the city," Camille complained. I'd lost count of every complaint she'd made since Rae led us back to her.
"We would already be dead," I said through gritted teeth as I adjusted her arm around my shoulders so that her weight was more comfortably distributed.
"Maybe not. That Morri man you like is still alive, isn't he."
The bite behind her words was softened by the real concern. She'd meant to taunt me, take a jab because she blamed me for all of this, but Camille wanted him to be alive too. If he was alive, the resistance was alive. It meant Juleen had not won yet. As long as Ro and his men were alive, there was a chance at a future for humans.
I couldn't answer her though.
I wasn't sure how long had passed since I last heard his voice. I knew it couldn't have been more than a day, but in those hours I knew what could happen. Fairyn was killed. Camille was wounded and it seemed like I was supporting more and more of her weight with each step we took.
"Of course he is," Analiese answered when I didn't. "But the others, they went back to get the survivors out of Aurael. It was a rescue mission, you idiot. No one is better off in the city."
I'd never heard Analiese speak that way to anyone. She had always been so timid and polite with everyone. I think the other two girls were as surprised by Analiese's outburst as I had been because they remained silent for a long while after that.
We hadn't been walking for more than a couple hours before I came to a reluctant stop.
"We should stop here for a while," I suggested. "Camille can't go any further and I don't think I can carry her much further."
Analiese helped support Camille's other arm and we lowered her to the ground so that her back was resting against a large protruding tree root. I straightened and let the strap of the bag slip from my shoulder and fall to the ground.
I wondered if whatever camp the rebels had in these woods was close. Mekhai had mentioned that they'd been expecting them back, but wouldn't expect to look for us alone. He'd promised they'd try to get word to their camp to find us, but I had no idea if he'd been successful.
"I can go ahead," I offered. "Maybe I can find someone and bring help."
Rae offered to follow Drag, she was sure he'd lead the way to food or water and we were going to quickly become desperate for both. When Rae brought us to Camille, her wound hadn't been cleaned or dressed at all and we'd used most of our water for that. We'd rationed what was left between us and finished the last of it before Rae followed Drag through the woods.
Analiese agreed to stay with Camille, and I headed deeper into the woods hoping to find the Morri.
I lost sight of them quickly in the dense forest and suddenly felt very alone.
Every few steps I found a twig to bend, leaving several inches hanging at a limp 90 degree angle so that I wouldn't lose my way back to the girls. I didn't trust that I would remember the way back as well as Rae seemed to recall that sort of thing.
We'd followed the path into the woods that the Morri men had directed, so I knew we entered the forest in the right general area. But depending on the size of the camp if we were too far off we may pass right by it without even realizing.
The light was growing dim and I knew I needed to turn around before it got too dark to see my way back. I didn't want to be here in the forest, alone, when the sun went down. I stopped and turned to face where I had come from. I hated the thought of going back with nothing.
The comm device in the bag. I was certain that it would have contacts within the camp we were trying to reach. It was Keon's device and I was sure that he would have a contact within the camp. If I could reach them, maybe they would help.
Swinging the bag around my shoulder, I knelt to the ground and reached in for the small round device and ear piece that I quickly pushed into my ear. Powering on the device, the image of Ro smiled in front of me in the recent contacts.
He could tell me who to contact, I reasoned with myself internally. It wouldn't hurt anything to check on him. A quick conversation.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I pressed his image.
The ear piece chimed in my ear. After a moment it chimed again.
After the fourth time, he still hadn't connected.
There were a number of reasons that he might not connect. His device could be out, or it could be that he's in a meeting or working to get people out of the city... if there were any left.
Maybe he was getting some rest.
A knot formed in my stomach. Despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise, I couldn't ignore the feeling that something had gone very wrong.
A voice in the ear piece finally prompted me either hang up or record a message.
"Hi," I said unsure of what to say next. "I'm okay—safe," I lied. "I hope you are too."
Ending the transmission, I fought the desire to try to reach him again. Searching through the contacts, I wasn't sure how to tell who might be able to help. None of them appeared how I imagined outlanders would. They'd always been likened to animals by other Morri in the city.
Sighing, I pressed into the picture of a Morri woman. She was in the recent contacts, so I hoped she was at their village and not in Aurael.
"It's about time," the woman answered, speaking the language of the Morri.
"Hello," I said, my voice shaking. "My name is—"
"Why are you contacting me? Is Keon alive?"
"Yes, I think."
It hadn't struck me that Keon or any of them might have relationships, but I knew she must be close to him. She had too much worry in her voice.
"They went back to Aurael," I said. "Are you in the outlands? In the Forlas?"
"Yes," she said and then gasped softly. "You are Lena, right? Eliro speaks highly of you. What happened?"
"They needed help."
I couldn't go in to any further detail about my conversation with Ro and the state of Aurael. I couldn't bear to repeat it. I couldn't bear to ask for help when I was sure the resistance still fighting in Aurael could use it more.
"Are you alone?"
"There are three other girls, servants in Juleen's paestra."
"Where are you?" She asked and then answered before I could. "It's the forest, right? You don't know." She chuckled. "Turn on your tracker, we will find you."
"I'm not sure how to do that."
She laughed again, sounding a little embarrassed. "Sorry," she said and then walked me through how to use the communicator to transmit my location. Once it was on, she promised to send someone as soon as she could get to them and ended the call. I stood there for a moment in the low light while it sunk in that they were sending someone for us. Then I picked up my belongings and walked with renewed energy back on the same path I'd come.
It was dark enough that I was having trouble telling which twigs I'd broken and when I heard movement from my right. Whipping my head around, I was prepared to see some beast stalking me but instead saw a group of Morri men and women dressed to blend in with the forest around them.
"Are you Lena?" One of them, clearly the one in charge said.
"Yes." Unsure my voice was audible, I nodded.
"Further this way." I gestured toward the sort of makeshift path I had made for myself.
"Okay," she nodded hard once and then turned to the Morri she was with. No, I realized. Not Morri. People. Two of the men were human, they had to be. I thought one of the women may be like me, a part of each, but I couldn't tell for sure. It seemed surreal to see them all together. I'd known that humans and Morri worked together in the resistance, but I hadn't ever seen it.
I'd never thought of it before; what it would be like to see a human in a position of power, working alongside Morri instead of under them. It was never something I thought was realistic, so I hadn't thought of it.
Now, it made me smile.
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"Human beings are vile, nasty creatures. Blood thirsty. Evil by their very nature. That is was we were told. By them. Humans relished for millennia in systematically destroying one another. Our innate yearning for violence lead to not only the de...