Gardener rejoined the circle without any further conflict, sitting next to Kayleigh-Anne and pulling Reese into his lap.
Marco scooted next to Mikki. "He's not going to yell at me again, is he?" he whispered, casting a wary glance at Gardener.
Mikki lifted an eyebrow. "If you're not going to go out of your way to be difficult again, then I don't think so."
He blushed and looked very embarrassed. "I wasn't trying to be a jerk, but now that we're out, I feel like I have to watch out for myself more than I did. Don't you?"
"Well, yes," she admitted, "but that's what we have each other for."
The children ended up surviving their night in the cave just fine, except for a few bug bites and some aches resulting from sleeping on the ground, but they huddled together, staying warm, and managed to avoid being attacked by wild animals, which was a great fear of Reese's.
In the morning, thanks to their useful powers, the children found breakfast with ease. Fable, hunting with Echo as a wolf, caught a few rabbits. Marco tried to catch a few birds, but failed horribly, making everyone laugh. Red cooked the food for everyone. Unsurprisingly, the food was cooked very well, and he had never even cooked before.
"It's your gift for making things perfect," Gardener teased.
Once they had eaten, they set off towards the town once more. It was a long, boring trip and the children couldn't think of anything to do until Echo started singing.
It was a peppy, upbeat song with lyrics that none of them understood, but they all started singing it with him anyway, catching onto the nonsense lyrics with incredible ease. They all danced around as they walked and chased each other, all the time singing that same song, over and over again, until they got too tired to sing it anymore.
"What is that song?" Red asked, laughing. "I've never heard anything like it."
Echo shrugged. "They used to sing it wherever I was originally from. I think it's in my native tongue or something. But whatever it is, it always makes me feel better."
"Well, whatever it was, it made everybody happy," Gardener commented.
"Yay, song!" Reese shouted.
Everybody laughed and continued walking.
It wasn't very long until they came to a barn in the middle of the woods. It didn't make much sense to any of them, but seeing how there was nobody inside of it except animals, they all thought they'd better make use of the best shelter they'd found since leaving the Grossa Casa. The barn was your classic large, red structure complete with hay almost everywhere you looked. In the stables, on the floor, in the loft; everywhere.
They soon discovered that the hay was very "pokey," as Reese put it, and itchy, but a far better bed than rocky ground, so nobody really complained.
Before bed, they all played around, exploring the barn and playing with the tools hanging on the wall. Ash accidentally threw a tool at Marco's head, making him bleed, but the combined efforts of Kayleigh-Anne and Alyx had him feeling as if nothing had happened. As everyone else watched them horsing around, Mikki walked over to Echo.
"This is crazy," she said.
"You're telling me," he replied.
"This all happened so quickly…just two days ago, I was looking at that picture Padrone gave me, wishing I could smell grass, feel wind, hear birds…now, I actually am, and it's all just as wonderful as I expected it to be." She smiled. "Thank you for encouraging me to do that."
Echo met her eyes. "You're welcome," he said quietly.
They stood looking at each other for a moment until Red shouted, "Hey, lovebirds! Let's go round up some dinner!"
Embarrassed, they turned away from each other and went to go help catch dinner. It turned out just as successful as the last time they had tried to fend for themselves, except this time, they caught a deer. The food was delicious, the barn was relatively warm, thanks to the animals they shared it with, the hay was the most comfortable bedding they had found so far, and the animals they shared the barn with were actually very friendly. They hadn't a care in the world and they all slept soundly.
Well, some of them did.
A few of them had dreams.
Red had dreams of a fire. It was all around him, all exits blocked off, and his air supply was thinning, the oxygen burning up. He could hear people screaming his name, as well as the names of the other children, or so he thought; he couldn't be quite sure with all of the chaos. The one thing he saw before he woke up, gasping for air, was the face of a man. The man had brown hair and green eyes that crinkled at the corners. Now, where did he know that face from?
Mikki dreamed that she was standing in a room with the other children, plus some more people that she couldn't name. One by one, the children began to fade away. Looking down at herself, she saw her own hands begin to fade. She reached out to a young, brown-haired woman that looked vaguely familiar, but the woman just smiled. "Goodbye, Mother," she called. Suddenly, Kayleigh-Anne, Gardener, Reese, and another man with brown hair were standing in front of her. "Goodbye, Mother," they all called. As she began to fade, she tossed and turned in her sleep, frowning.
Gardener dreamed of voices. He could see nothing, but he heard faraway voices whispering again and again, "Soon, soon…He's coming for you, but he won't find you because it will happen soon…Soon, soon…"
Auster dreamed of a river. On the other side of it was a mirror image of himself. "Won't be long now," his reflection called back to him, smiling.
"Won't be long until what?" he asked, confused.
"Won't be long," the reflection repeated. "You'll figure it out."
"Hey!" a voice suddenly called.
Auster wasn't ready to go yet. He still had to find out what was going on. He fought to stay asleep, but somebody was shaking him and talking in his ear, so he really didn't have much of a choice.
When he opened his eyes, he saw that the person shaking him was an older boy with curly brown hair. At first, he thought it was Red, but then he remembered that his older brother didn't have brown eyes. "Who're you?" he asked groggily.
"I think the real question is who are you and why are you in our barn?" the boy replied.
"Ask them," Auster said.
"Who? There's nobody else to ask."
Auster looked around. Instead of being in the loft with the others, he had somehow fallen onto the floor of the barn and not woken up. "Oh," he said. "They're up there." He nodded to the loft.
The boy climbed the loft and, after some commotion, returned with the other children trailing down the ladder behind him. When they had reached the bottom, he whirled on all of them. "Okay, what are you doing here?" he demanded. "You better not have stolen anything, or you'll be sorry."
"And who's going to make us sorry?" Marco shot back, earning a glare from the others.
The boy clenched his fists, which were suddenly engulfed in flame.
"Can everybody do this kind of stuff?" Marco whined.
The boy seemed confused. "What?"
Mikki levitated a tool into her hand while Fable turned into a hawk. Reese turned the tool Mikki had in her hand into a ball, Marco poofed back up to the loft, and Ash was behind the boy quicker than anybody could track.
The boy's jaw dropped. "Mom!" he cried. Suddenly, a petite, brown-haired woman appeared next to him, looking worried.
"River, what's wrong?" she asked. When she noticed all of the strange children in the barn, her eyes widened.
Mikki stiffened. It was the same woman from her dreams. She stepped forward. "Hello," she said cautiously.
The woman took an abrupt step back. "River, calm down. They don't seem to be interested in hurting us or else they would have done so already; don't you think?"
"Yes, ma'am," the boy, now to be known as River, replied.
The woman turned to them, her eyes mostly on Mikki. She stuck out a hand and smiled. "I'm Calico, and this is my son, River."