Chapter Eight: Twelve

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Dani looked at her map, then looked back up. "Kai, stop. Pull over here."

Kai wasn't able to crane his neck to see what she was looking at. He followed her order, pulling off to the right side of the road and putting the vehicle in park. "What? What is it?"

Dani unbuckled her seatbelt and hopped out of the car. She took a few steps into the grass and stood still as a statue.

He finally took a moment to follow her gaze. There was...nothing there. Well, there was grass for what looked like miles, but there wasn't a city. Off to the northwest lay another butte. It was pretty sizeable, standing impressively even among the backdrop of the snow-covered mountain peaks. For lack of better words, Kai had no idea what it was that Dani was looking at.

He glanced at Miriam, trying to see if she'd picked up on anything.

She only met his gaze, shaking her head.

Meredith's eyes were locked on Dani.

Kai unbuckled his seat belt and leapt out to meet her in the grass. "Hey," he started carefully. "Is everything okay?"

She didn't say anything. Her eyes were fixed on the map in her hands.

"Dani, what is it?"

She swallowed hard. "Here." She offered him an end of the map.

He gingerly took it.

She took a step to the side to give him a better view. "We came this way." Her hand traced the route from which they came. It followed their path north, then cut across through a darkened grey valley. "That," she said, pointing out to the butte in the distance, "is this." She tapped on the paper map a couple times. There was a small, bean-shaped spot printed just outside the discolored patch. "And—"

But she didn't have to say anymore. Kai saw it.

Just off the main road, firmly situated between the highway and the butte was that circle he'd seen before. The four-timed, handwritten outline he got a glimpse of when Dani first flashed the map his direction. This time, he could see it clearer. Next to the circle was a scratchy, handwritten A, written in the same style as the Arcadian crest.

Kai looked back up from the map. No matter how hard he looked, he couldn't see anything except the grassy expanse. If there was a famed, urban legend of a city here, it was either invisible or underground.

He wanted to say something, but he couldn't bring himself to look at Dani. She had a lot more to lose from this being a failed mission. That much was obvious.

The silence weighed on them almost as heavy as the realization.

Eventually, Miriam and Meredith got out of the Jeep and made their way towards them.

"What is it?" Miriam asked quietly. The fears of hearing the honest answer weighed on her voice.

Kai couldn't say anything. He gave her his end of the map and stepped aside. Without saying anything, he traced his hands along their route, pointing out the road, the butte, and the circle indicated with the letter A.

Meredith followed along as well.

Miriam's tone turned hollow. "Alright, so there's no Arcadia. We knew that was the risk coming here."

"Maybe it's a mirage," Meredith suggested. "Like, maybe we can only see it if we're standing at a certain angle."

"That's not what a mirage is, kid," Kai pointed out.

They didn't let that deter them. "Okay, well, maybe it's underground. Maybe that's how they escape the UV rays and keep intruders out."

"Wouldn't there have to be vents somewhere around here to filter the air in and out?" he countered. "I mean, look around, there's literally nothing."

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