Two days later, Arella, Sophie, Fate, and I were sitting outside with our small bags hidden under our shirts. It wasn't cold out, but my skin had goosebumps. "How much longer?" I asked.
"Helicopters usually come around noon, and it's eleven. You do the math," Sophie said.
Fate nudged her. "Cool it."
"It was a joke," Sophie replied. "You laughed, right, Twyla?"
"Whatever," muttered Fate.
We lapsed back into silence, ruled by our nerves. The anxiety was so thick it seemed to hang in the air, tangible but not at the same time, like the invisible squiggles I sometimes saw when I moved my eyes too fast. We all knew that this wouldn't work; it couldn't. We knew we were going to die. We just didn't care.
"You guys tell anyone?" Arella wondered quietly.
"No," Fate said. I echoed it a bit later, having to think about Charlotte. Technically I hadn't told her; she'd already known (I also knew that saying technically in front of a phrase meant that a person was avoiding the truth).
"I told my roommate," Sophie admitted. "Actually, she overheard me talking to Fate about it."
"Is she going to tell on you?" Fate inquired instantly, in a panic. "This is so bad! What if—?"
"Relax," Sophie sighed out. "She's harmless… and on our side, technically." There was that word again. "She was just upset…"
"What did she say?" I asked quietly.
"'Were you even going to say good-bye?' It made me feel awful to hear, but Courtney said…" Sophie drifted off, unwilling to complete the thought—address that she had followed a bleeder's directions by keeping this secret.
We lapsed into silence once more.
"Where's Indrid?" murmured Arella, if only to remove everyone's minds from the previous topic.
My tone must've been a bit too nihilistic, for it made Fate say, "I'm sure she's okay. There's just been a lot going on lately. Maybe it went to her head."
"Like it's going to yours?" I countered.
"Whoa," Sophie immediately defended. "Chill."
"It's fine," Fate dismissed to her friend before turning to me. "What are you on about?"
The wind cut into me, cold air slipping through to my bones as I opened my mouth for a short laugh. Nothing was funny. "You're a good person, Fate. And I'm serious. You're a good freaking person."
"I'm confused because that's a nice thing to say, but you said it in a mean way," Fate admitted.
"You're a good person, but," I continued, "you're doing a bad thing."
"This again?" bemoaned Sophie. "If you hate the plan so much—don't follow it. Don't come! It's not too late to turn back."
"Didn't Fate tell you to be quiet?" I said to Sophie.
"I didn't exactly say—"
"Look, I'm sorry." I was starting to realize how bitter and rude I sounded. My shoulders hunched as I brought my hands to my eyes to rub them out. "I just… there's been so much violence and bloodshed… it has to stop. Controlling another person will lead to our deaths. You know how bleeders view mind control. I… I don't know if I could handle it if you all died."
"You'll be dead with us," Sophie offered, as if that were to comfort me.
Fate glared at her friend.
Arella spoke, "We've all already made our choices. Twyla, you can't change that."
"Yeah," I said. "Guess so."
Arella coughed away the tension that had immediately formed. "So… are you bringing your grimoire? I don't see it."
Part of me wanted to laugh at her attempt to right things, but she'd struck a nerve. "Uh, no," I said, shifting and covering the area where my belongings rested under my shirt with my arm. "It's too big."
"You're leaving it?" Arella reiterated, shocked. "Your family heirloom?"
"We made our choices," I said, mimicking her words from before.
Arella attempted to understand. "I guess it is a little bulky for travel, but couldn't you have shrunk it?"
I tensed at the mention of magic. "No."
Sophie coughed to remind us that she and Fate were still here. At the noise, I glanced over at the rusalka and lost myself in her eyes. She and Fate were a good fit, I thought. Both beguilers. Both incredibly beautiful.
Sophie had this gorgeous, long, curly, blonde hair that always seemed to shine, despite the shampoo rations. Her skin had been clear through the rough parts of adolescence, white and glowing. She had dark eyelashes, thick and long, which were highlighted by her cheekbones. Matching the blue shirts she tried to wear were her eyes, light like the ocean should be.
Rusalkas were like sirens, except more human than bird. They were also cousins to the mermaid, except they had no tails. Rusalkas could control water and enchant others with their voices (The latter an adaptation to protect themselves from humans, Mr. Munson had explained last year). Most of them breathed underwater, equipped with both gills and lungs.
A few years back there had been mass hunts for rusalkas in lakes, deep rivers, and oceans. Not much of anything preternatural lived in the water anymore. Maybe some mermaids, if they'd learned to go deep.
Succubi were arguably more dangerous than rusalkas, though one would never be able to tell by the naïve, innocent look on Fate's face. She was an incredibly beautiful girl, and, if Sophie were shrouded in light by her hair, then Fate was in the dark. She had tan skin from the sun that complimented her dark eyes and nearly black hair.
She was a few inches shorter than Sophie but just as curvy. Considering how we all could sometimes go days without food, I was a little impressed by Fate's body; her breasts were large, as were her hips, and her figure was great. But the malnourishment gleamed on Fate's face; her cheeks were sunken in, eyes surrounded by dark circles.
I didn't understand how she could have such a stark contrast in looks, but I assumed had to do with her biology… to draw in prey. She was like Charlie in that way. He was always big and strong-looking, and Fate was always curvy.
Sophie was curvy, too, but remarkably less than Fate. The starvation showed more on the rusalka.
"So what's with you and Ben?" Sophie asked, assuming that by our eyes meeting, I wished to converse.
"What do you mean?" I countered. "Do you like him?"
"Not anymore," Sophie admitted, not getting flustered like I'd wanted her to. She glanced at Fate momentarily.
"Yeah, what is with the two of you?" Arella asked. "You've been hanging out a lot lately."
"We're just… friends," I said lamely.
"Ben doesn't have friends," informed Fate. "Like, I've known him for years, and we aren't friends."
A gust of wind shot by, and then, speak of the Devil, Ben was in front of us. Thankfully, he seemed expressionless, not having heard our prior conversation. "It's time," he said. "I'll tell the others, then come back."
Ben disappeared again.
"He's like Flash Jr., huh?" said Sophie. At our looks, her forehead wrinkled. "You guys never read the comics? Or saw the cartoon?"
"What are you even talking about?" I asked.
"Oh, you know, Flash," Sophie replied. "The DC speedster."
"What?" spoke Arella. "District of Columbia—?"
Sophie groaned. "You guys got in here too young."
"Tell me about it," I said with a small sigh. The speaking of comics had reminded me of Toby.
Again, silence. We kept insulting each other, so I'd decided to just not talk.
True to his word, Ben reappeared only a few moments later, claiming, "I told them. They'll be out here soon."
"Who is bringing Neil's body?" I asked.
"They'll probably go in for it, and leave the pilot alone," he responded. "Which, I assume, is when we will move in. Fate, you're still good on the plan?"
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asked softly.
Ben stayed quiet, staring at Fate patiently. What did Fate mean they weren't friends? They were friends.
"She's fine," Sophie answered for her friend. "Right, Fate?"
Hearing Sophie speak gave Fate confidence, for her nod was quite certain. "Yeah!"
Ben pursed his lips at this, clasping his hands together. It caused me to notice that he hadn't actually packed anything. Nothing at all. I didn't want to call him out on it like Arella had done to me, but I really was wondering if he truly had no possessions.
After almost three hundred years? No. He had to have something.
I tried to recall his mentioning of anything of value… And I remembered his prized drawing of Penelope. It'd burned it in the fire. His room had been on the side of the bomb.
"Traveling light?" Sophie commented.
My gaze softened on Ben at her joke; his mouth had folded downwards. "Me, too," I said, to take the attention off of Ben. "It's weird—they don't let us shop around a lot here."
"I noticed that, too," Arella added. "Totally crazy."
I nodded along. "Insane."
Ben's face was back to expressionless. Or was that a smile? It was hard to tell.
"Hey, we made it," Charlie called.
We all turned at his voice to see him, Courtney, and Indrid coming right towards us. The latter had her hair in a high pony with her arms crossed against her chest. She wasn't bringing anything, either, which was extremely odd. Indrid was very materialistic and clung to everything she came into contact with, and I knew for a fact that she had several prized possessions that she wouldn't dare leave behind.
"You know, I said to meet on the field," Courtney mumbled.
"I know," said Ben, "but this is where the helicopters land. You'd known that if you'd been here longer than two days."
"It's been almost a month," Courtney snapped, sticking her head up high.
"Can we not fight?" asked Charlie, in a way that was not a request. "This is a stealth mission, remember?"
Courtney shrugged at that. "I don't know, don't they have cameras here or something?"
"We aren't worth the money," Sophie said. "Her kind says so."
"My kind? Really?"
I sighed because Charlie had just asked for us to not fight. Clearly thinking the same thing as me, Arella gently reminded them, "Shut up."
"I just asked a simple question," Courtney said.
"We did have cameras, but they were only by the school. Most burned in the fire."
If Courtney was surprised by Ben speaking to her in a nearly neutral tone, for he almost was always hissing at the young woman, she didn't show it. "Huh," she commented plainly.
Maybe she would've said more, but the approaching sound of a helicopter had us all ducking down. It was hardly close to us, although the engine still managed to roar. I wondered how it sounded to Charlie and Ben.
"Are you guys sure about this?" I asked. This was a really stupid idea. We were going to get shot out of the sky.
"I'm sure it's the right thing to do," replied Courtney. "If you're having doubts, you don't have to—"
I had to. "I'm fine," I said quickly.
As the helicopter drew closer and as the synthetic wind stroked my hair, none of us dared to speak. Even though the bleeders had no possible way of hearing us over the small storm, we all kept quiet. We were watchful, in ways that teenagers shouldn't have to be.
We saw it land. Two armed men climbed out, walking towards the school.
Ten seconds passed.
And then another.
"Do we just go?" Arella asked.
"Are they in the building?" Courtney wondered aloud.
"I think so," Charlie said.
"I just heard the door," confirmed Ben.
"So we go." Courtney stood first, making her position known, and slowly everyone else followed. Indrid was pretty close to me, and that was how I noticed the book she was clutching as she stood.
"A diary?" I asked, reaching out for it.
Indrid quickly pulled her arm back, as if she had been burned, despite me not even having touched her. "Quit it."
"I just… I just wanted to see it," I stammered.
She scoffed and strode ahead, leaving me to stare at her back. This isn't a big deal, I thought to myself, and yet I wanted to sob. I'd been so emotional lately.
I managed to stay close to the group and ducked when they ducked, like when we approached the helicopter (The pilot kept the rotor blades going; if we were to stand, we would be beheaded). It was hard to see through the dirt that was flung into my eyes, but I conjectured that the hand movements Fate was making were to signal her intent to the rest of us.
Before I could even begin to understand what the rest of them were doing, Ben flung the hanger door open. There was a cry of surprise from inside at the noise, and so Fate hurried to climb in and shut the bleeder up. "All clear!" she yelled finally.
That worked… oddly well.
I was one of the last people to climb onto the helicopter, and yet I had a good view of the pilot, who was facing us in his seat. His eyes were glazed over, smile weak and dopey. And Fate wasn't even touching him.
"All right, fasten up!" Courtney directed, immediately taking charge. She climbed in the passenger's seat by the pilot. "Fate, tell him to get us up in the air."
I quickly scurried over to a seat, realizing that while Courtney had told us to take safety measures, she wasn't going to uphold them. Luckily, this was a moderately large helicopter, as it was meant to hold a body on the ground. There were four other seats, disregarding the pilot chairs, and some space on the ground for us to sit. I guess it was like the Titanic because girls got the first option of the chairs. Ben and Charlie took their seats on the floor—after closing the door, of course. Fate ended up there, too, so she could be a little closer to the pilot.
It seemed like only a second had passed since we boarded to us lifting off from the ground. Maybe it only had been.
Arella let out a small cheer as we achieved higher altitude. "Did you ever think this could happen to us?" she cried in my ear.
"Once," I admitted. When I was little I'd had hope—but now I remembered everything that had happened after that.
"What if we really make it?" she asked. "What if we really all make it out of here alive?"
I tried to pick up on Arella's joy because seriously, she'd been so gloomy and I wanted her to feel better, but my heart wasn't in it. It was like we'd switched roles or something. "Not all of us are alive," I reminded her tightly.
She nodded at that, her eyes falling. "Yeah." She looked away, out the window. "Yeah…"
I felt Ben's gaze on me—maybe Charlie's, too, but I couldn't handle either of them. Not right then. Our plan had worked perfectly, but at what cost? We were leaving everyone behind. What made it so we deserved to go? Why us, over everyone else? Because we'd trusted Courtney? Because we had nothing to lose? Why did we get to start over?
My eyes, during a blink, refused to reopen, and so I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to nap. It wasn't a long flight, but hopefully I would be able to get at least some rest… some release from this torture.