I pace the small room, wringing my hands together—no doubt causing red marks to tarnish my pale flesh. Back and forth. Back and forth.
Back and forth.
And then it hits me. It's so obvious. Why didn't I think of this before? So simple. So easy. Too uncertain. Too risky.
That could never work. What was I thinking? Well that's it. I wasn't. There was not a single thing breathing logic behind my untamed walls.
But, what if.
I stand with my spine pressed against the abrasive bark. My hands are clenched into fists. My brown hair constantly keeps falling over my nauseatingly blue eyes. Chancing a quick glance, I peek around the tree.
That's all I see. Continuous sheets of falling snow and flickering stars. The sun set two, maybe three, hours ago. That's about how long I've been wandering around in these desolate, barren woods. I became hopeless a while back and decided to just return empty handed and face my reprimand, but there was just one issue. I had no idea which way was back.
Well, maybe there were two dilemmas. Lack of bread crumbs and the obvious. My reason for being out here in the first place:
I can't leave her out here with him. She could be freezing to death. If not already defaced by him.
Why did she have to leave with him? Why couldn't she stay with me where it was safe? Dumb question. Of course she could never remain in a place where they were going to strip her of her identity. Of her power, the remarkable abilities she only recently discovered. To be totally honest, if I were her, I would have disappeared in a heartbeat with whoever was willing to help me get out.
And that should have been me. I should have been that 'whoever'. Not the one trying to hold her in. Trap her in this concrete cage. I ought to have listened to her; seen what she was trying to tell me all along. What Wilkinson is doing is wrong. I only realized it three years too late. Now I don't think I can ever make up for what I did.
Especially not with Lailah. I can never go back and help her like I knew I should have. Like she knew I could.
Didn't I learn my lesson? Or am I really that brainwashed?
As I warily take a step out from behind my blockade, I hear the noise again. A slight crunch. Like cautious footsteps. I squint in the darkness, but all I see are trees.
Wait. Off in the distance. A movement catches my watchful eye. A person.
They must've heard me too, for they also imitate a statue. Not a single puff of smoky oxygen escapes my icy lips.
The shadowed person makes the first move. Just not in the direction I expected. Originally I thought it would've been a power thief, but the figure runs in the opposite direction of me without taking my power.
Focusing on my speed, I rush in the same route the person took. Quickly I catch sight of them again. And soon enough I've almost gotten close enough to make out details.
But before I have a chance to think another thought, something smacks right into my gut, knocking me to the frosty ground. What little breath I had is taken out of me and I seem to be having trouble gaining any back.
I hear my name. Blinking, I see a face fading into view standing over me. Blonde hair falls around her beautiful face like the halo she deserves.
"Karleigh?" I manage while choking for air.
Another voice grows closer. "Karleigh, come on. What are you doing?" It's not a voice I recognize.
For a brief, unfortunate, moment she looks up from my face. Her lyrical voice is all that keeps me from reaching up and pulling her eyes back to mine. "It's okay. It's not one of them. Well, I don't think he is..."
One of them.
The aquirenti di potere? The acquirenti di angeli?
What am I part of now? I am neither. I am an angel, the good side. The group that I belong in, no matter how many times I've tried to deny it before.
"Blake," her hand smoothes over my damp hair, "are you here to take us back to Wilkinson?"
Once I am positive that I can breathe without gagging, I sit up and, surprisingly, am eye-level with her. I hadn't noticed her fall to her knees. The golden sparkles in her gorgeous eyes have increased in amount. This brings an involuntary upward curve to my lips.
Then I remember her question. "No, no of course not. I would never hurt or betray like that again."
Karleigh's sullen face breaks out a relieved grin. Naturally, my smile grows.
"Well then, should we keep moving?" the unfamiliar voice penetrates the lingering silence.
For the first time, I look away to see who the voice belongs to. A boy, no older than sixteen in desperate need of a haircut, glares at me. His dagger eyes are tinged with gold—an angel. But who is he? And why is Karleigh out here with him?
It's now been thirty minutes since Konner left me. About ten minutes ago I heard two people wrestle something into one of the rooms down the hall. If I'm thinking correctly, it's the vacuum room. I call the place that contained whatever it was that messed with my head the vacuum room— because it sucks out every ounce of power from my body.
I'm lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, trying to decide when to bolt. But my curiosity is getting the best of me. I have to know what it was that they brought in. So as quietly as this old mattress allows, I get up and tiptoe down to the vacuum room. Pushing open the door, I feel a sort of haze. Now I wonder how I could have missed it before.
I don't enter the room for fear that it'll mess with my mind again, and I'd rather not have a repeat of earlier today. In the center of the floor, lying flat, sprawled on his back, is a boy. He doesn't seem too much younger than I am.
This guy must be who Devi was talking about before when I mistakenly thought she was referring to me as the prisoner. But why would these people even have a prisoner? Unless, of course, it is an angel.
So as my obligation, I have to help him bust out of here as well.
Glancing over my shoulder and seeing nobody, I whisper, "Hey."
I get no answer. Not a shrug or a sigh or a single word. I try again, but just a little bit louder. "Psst. Hey, are you awake? Alive?"
Again, he does nothing to acknowledge my calling. I start to get frustrated. What if this guy causes me to lose my window of opportunity to walk off unnoticed? I can't leave him, but I can't go in the room.
Focusing all of my energy to my hands, I hold them up like Konner did in the woods. The tips of my fingers begin to shimmer with golden sparks.
"Okay," I breathe, "now what?" In all honesty, I didn't believe I could actually summon my energy like this. Stumped, I chant to myself "shoot out, come on, come on, do something."
The sparks begin to feel hot between my fingers. The rising temperature makes me frantic. What if I can't do anything with it and my fingers burn off? Well, that's probably just the irrational part of my mind speaking. But, still, what if I can't do anything with these growing sparks?
Anger boils in me and with a huff I throw my hands apart. Shockingly, that worked! The glowing energy shoots off of me and attacks the passed-out boy. He curls into a gasping ball, clutching his leg that was hit. Yikes, I didn't think about it actually hurting him. I didn't summon that much energy.
"Hey," I try again, knowing I will get his attention this time.
Slowly, the boy turns his head toward me. Through his overgrown hair, he painfully peers up at me. "What!?" He wheezes.
"You need to get up." I further explain, "You're coming with me now."
"Where? Why?" he questions while obviously painfully getting to his feet. He stumbles toward the door holding onto his head.
"I'll tell you once we're out." I take his elbow to guide him along. When he is out of the room, he lets go of his head and sharply inhales the nontoxic air. I imagine he looks much like I did after stepping out of the vacuum room.
He looks at me like he is about to say something, but I quickly shake my head and throw a finger over my lips to silence his unspoken words. The boy glances around then looks to the living room where Tomlin Austen quietly snores. He nods in understanding.
The boy isn't but maybe half a foot taller than me. So in order to whisper in his ear I barely have to get on my tip toes. "Don't make a single sound."
Again, he nods his head.
We noiselessly make our way to the front door. He stands behind me as I steadily turn the knob. Holding my breath, I push it open and peer around the corner. In the rocking chair, where Alistair caught me before, sits only a thin pillow acting as a cushion. Nobody is out here to derail our exit. I beckon for the boy to swiftly follow me. He limps off the porch steps as quickly as his injury will tolerate. I take his arm and wrap it around my shoulders to support his damaged balance.
Not one person stops us the entire way. As soon as we are at a safe distance from the cabin I say, "I'm sorry for your leg. I didn't know what else to do and I'm kind of new at the whole power thing."
"It's alright. But couldn't you have just shaken me awake? Was the lightning necessary?" he asks, looking over at me with hidden brown eyes.
"Yes, it was. I couldn't enter the room. There's something in the atmosphere that messes with our minds. 'Our' meaning angels, that is." I'm not sure if he knows he's an angel. When I was taken I didn't. I'm praying he does, that would make explaining things much easier.
"Angels?" his brows knit together in incomprehension. Before I can clarify what I mean, he continues, "Is that what it's called? That's why I have all this light and energy and heightened senses stuff?"
He holds his hands up to his face to admire his pale hands. He pushes back the hair that has fallen in his face before dropping his hands to his sides.
"Yeah, apparently that's what we are. At least that's what everybody has been telling me for the past two days."
The limp in the boy's walk causes him to lean most of his weight on my shoulders. As we walked on, each step becoming more difficult, his weight was getting to be too much to handle. So when my feet started to turn numb I suggested that we take a break. Carefully, I helped the boy sit on a stack of boulders, his back leaning against a tree stump.
Once he is settled he asks, "Do you know where we are going?"
Placing my hands on hips, I look around. All I see for miles are pitch black trees. The sun hasn't been up for what seems like hours. I'm not sure how long we have been walking, or even in what direction. Everything looks the same. It occurred to me earlier that I didn't know where I was going, but I decided that we would keep walking until we found a road then figure it out from there.
"I do," I answer, turning back to the boy. I take a seat on a different rock than the one he sits on.
He inspects his leg, wincing as he pushes up the denim. "So, who are you?" he asks, still not looking up at me.
I chance a peek at his wound. Sure enough, it might get infected if he doesn't get it cleaned or professionally checked out soon. I look away as I answer. "Well my name is Karleigh. I was taken by the people who captured you as well."
"How did you get out?" he moans in pain as he slides his pant leg back into place.
"Get out of what?" I absently inquire. I cautiously glance around the dark woods.
"Where they had us locked up?" he asks.
I pull my complete attention back to the boy. "Oh, um, they didn't lock me anywhere. I was just supposed to stay in one of the rooms. Anyway, what's your name?"
"Oliver," he answers, then after a second he says, "Oliver Anderson."
That name sounds familiar. I wrack my brain trying to come up with why his name rings an unknown bell. And then I remember. I reach into my back pocket and bring out the crumpled piece of paper. While I unfold it, Oliver peers curiously over my shoulder. There it is. On the back of the drawing are the words I wrote from the computer screen. Oliver Anderson is clearly scrawled toward the top of the page.
My head snaps up from the paper. Certainly I am not imagining a whispered sound. "Did you hear that?"
Oliver looks at me for a moment before shaking his head no, indicating that I must be mad. But his reply is cut off by the distinct crackle of dead leaves. His shake immediately becomes a fierce nod. Lowering his voice quite considerably, Oliver asks me, "What is it? What do we do?"
I think back to the vicious coyote. Its teeth bared as a threat— daring me to venture closer, to make a single move. We wouldn't want another run in with something containing obvious rage issues.
A stealth movement draws my attention to the far away trees. It was no animal. Must be either a power thief or angel taker, and neither of those choices would be ideal. Quickly, a plan formulates in my overactive mind. I explain to Oliver that he must run (or in his case, hastily limp away) as soon as I get the person unconscious. He asks how I plan to do that, but I just say that he doesn't need to worry about it.
As soon as I catch sight of the silhouette, I move in its direction. I decided to get his attention, bring him this way, and then catch him off guard. It might not be the best formulated attack plan, but it will have to do for now.
After another moment of trying to find the figure again, I see him, and he sees me. Suddenly terrified of my horribly laid-out plan, I retreat. Before I can get too far I hear footsteps chasing after me. I duck behind a wide tree, gasping for a breath. Confidence makes its way back into my system—just in time too. The person is about to pass by me when I pick up a large stick and swing it like a bat with a force I wasn't aware that I had.
I am rewarded with an unhealthy thud. But when I see the person's scrunched face, I instantly regret my adrenaline-induced hit. Relief drowns any other emotion attempting to push its way into my muddled mind.
Oliver joins me as I kneel next to Blake's crumpled body. He assures us that he isn't here for Wilkinson. And for some reason, I don't have an inch of doubt that he is telling the truth. However, Oliver is radiating so much discontent that I can basically feel it rolling off of his rigid shoulders.
Once Blake has regained enough strength to stand up, we start walking. In what direction, I am not certain, but we follow Blake's questionable path.
"Blake," I start, staring down at the sparkling snow. Looking up to the night sky, I see a full moon curiously peeking down at us. "Why are you out here?"
Hope and worry battle each other for a place of precedence. In the end, as Blake's words join the fight, hope comes out on top.
"I…" he sighs, glancing at me before continuing, "I finally listened. When you left, I realized exactly what I was doing. Well, not exactly, for my head is still a bit boggled." At this, he digs his fingers into his dark hair, keeping them there until he speaks again. "You were right all along. We have to stop these people. They are destroying us."
Oliver takes my silence as though I'm not going to say anything in response. Really, I actually don't know what to say to Blake. He should have listened in the first place.
Oliver's reply is one I would have not expected, only because I don't know the way Oliver thinks. Though, I have come to realize that probably only a few people truly understand who he is. He takes my arm and pulls me to the side, though I'm pretty sure he knows that no matter where we stand Blake can still hear every word he attempts to whisper. "I don't trust this guy. Like, at all. He is so obviously not on our side."
"What do you mean 'obviously'?" This comes from Blake. "What have I done to obscure my credibility?"
Turning his head only slightly, Oliver squints his eyes in frustration. "Was I talking to you?" After a millisecond of silence, "Didn't think so. Karleigh, you don't seriously think we should go anywhere with him do you? I mean, where is he taking us right now? Do you know? Because I certainly don't."
I open my mouth to say something, anything. Nothing comes out. Blake comes over and twists my body so that I am staring straight into miles and miles of blue. "Karleigh, please, don't listen to this kid. You know me." His tone is overflowing with desperation. I've never seen him look so vulnerable—granted I have only known him for approximately two days.
My head is spinning. I can't really trust either of them, but if I am going to get anywhere I have to choose one. And I owe Oliver. I have to help him out of here.
But I have to help myself first. "Blake…" I look away from his pleading face, "I don't know how I can trust you."
"I'm here! Isn't that proof enough?"
"No!" I snap. "How do I know Andrew isn't waiting behind the trees? How do I know where you are even taking me? Taking us," I gesture to Oliver and me.
Blake sighs, looking over to the deep shadows. He shoves his hands into his pockets before answering. "To the Holding House."
"I knew it!" Oliver accuses. "This guy isn't here to help us. Come on, Karleigh." He takes me by the bicep and starts to pull me away.
"But only to show you that it's time," Blake says in a last attempt to make me go with him.
I turn back to see him staring intently after me. It's almost like he is trying to see through me, to the core of my vivid soul.
"Time for what?" I know, though I asked the question, I don't want to hear the answer. I don't want to know any of what I have learned these last few days. It's all just too much for me to handle. Really, I shouldn't have to cope with any of it. I should be in my room studying or out with Chris and Annabelle. This whole world that I've involuntarily stepped into is wrong. Angels don't exist on earth. People don't have powers outside of the movie screen. And there certainly aren't any groups of people searching for these so-called-angels.
Blake's face is contorted in a way that causes me to feel a wave of apprehension that settles deep into my skin. The way a termite claims the wood as its own.
Infested and frozen, I am not ready to hear the next spoken words.