Luckily, Storm was able to survive the two-hour ride to Camp Reed, even though she was in such close proximity to Maxim. It was only the feeling of Iris pressed up against her that kept her sane and calm the whole ride.
"I still can't believe I'm going to be stuck with him for this whole mission!" the blond grunted as she and everyone else filed out of the subway.
"Oh, you'll be fine!" Iris chided gently. "Besides, at least you have me!" she added cheekily.
"That I do," Storm agreed seriously, then she and Iris walked up the stairs to the surface world side by side.
"Whoa!" Iris breathed the moment she was above ground once again. She'd seen pictures of Camp Reed many times before, but to see it in real life was something else entirely. The whole camp was situated on a mountaintop and where the subway had left them was right at the base. The very first thing anyone trying to enter Camp Reed would see would be the massive and imposing mountain face, staring impassively down at them. Iris always knew she was incredibly tiny, but she felt positively microscopic now and even people like Storm and Maxim were nigh invisible when compared to the overall height and girth of the Camp Reed mountain.
Maxim had been to Camp Reed many times before, however, so even though he did find their mountain quite majestic, he wasn't as awestruck as some of the newbies like Iris. Instead, he strode forward until he was standing inches from the mountain's face. He pushed a few stones, that Iris realized were buttons, and a giant section of the mountain opened up. It was a door and that door led into an elevator. Thank Denbar! Iris had worried that they might've had to climb all the way up…
"Some people have climbed up," Storm told Iris later. "But it takes between one and two weeks, based on your current fitness."
"Yeesh," Iris grunted, but it made sense. Camp Reed's mountain was 10,000 feet tall. This meant even the elevator, running at about 20 mph, still took nearly six minutes to reach the peak. There was cheesy old music playing from a speaker in the wall for the whole six minutes.
Once the group reached Camp Reed itself, Iris' breath was taken away again, partly from awe and partly from the decrease in atmospheric pressure. The Camp itself was surprisingly large and sprawling. Iris would've assumed that being on a mountain peak would've meant that they were tight for space, but no, buildings could be incredibly tall and it appeared that the mountain itself was larger than it seemed. There was more up on the mountain peak than Iris had expected. In addition, Iris was certain that she saw a few people rising straight up out of the ground. How much of the camp was in the mountain itself? Either way, it was a very impressive set up. Maxim nodded appreciatively at Iris' awe.
"They are wonderful engineers and technical designers. Their architecture is infallible!" he said.
"Your arrogance is infallible!" Storm whispered in reply. If Maxim heard, he said nothing. Instead, he led the group onward to the biggest building, right in the center of the mountain peak and facing out to where the subway was. Maxim pushed open the steel doors that framed the steel building and led the way down a very clean and clear hallway.
At the end of that hallway was a receptionist desk and at the desk sat a handsome young man with short dark hair and brownish eyes.
"Ah, are you the Camp Heath representatives?" he asked.
"Yes," Maxim replied with a firm nod.
"Excellent! Our leader is a bit busy right now, so I'm going to be your escort. My name is Rexus Alreth," the young man said. "Now, follow me this way," he stood up from the desk and gestured for the Camp Heath crowd to follow him back outside.
A few minutes later, the large group stood at the base of one of the smaller buildings on the mountaintop.
"This, as you can tell, is the sleeping area," Rexus said as he pushed the doors open. "You guys have half of the bottom floor reserved to you," he added, handing everyone keys as they filed in. Once everyone was inside, Rexus placed himself back at the front of the group. "Like I said, our leader is busy right now, so you guys have the rest of the afternoon to just get situated here. We'll give you more details over dinner, ok? Any questions?" Rexus waited, but when nobody had anything to ask, he excused himself, leaving the Camp Heath group to their own devices.
The hall in which they stood was long and plain, doors lining either side. Each room had a bed, desk and nightstand that doubled as a dresser. They were very small and plain, constantly empty because the ground floor was used for guests.
"Not bad," Iris muttered as she picked her room, tossing her bag onto the dresser before just lying back on the bed and taking a moment to rest. She was still very curious to know who the leader of this camp was. From what she knew, the leading family consisted of a mother, father, daughter and son, but she didn't know who they were so she wouldn't have recognized them anyway. Oh well. It sounded like dinnertime would show the big reveal. For now, it was just unpacking, but that hardly took 10 minutes because of how small the rooms were.
Eventually, however, it was time to head to dinner. Camp Reed's dining hall was far more futuristic than Camp Heath's cafeteria. Here, everything was pristine and bright white, except for the walls, which were painted a dark blue. Every meal was served through multiple lines running through a kitchen, served upon a steel tray. What really made it oddly impressive, though, was the meals themselves. Based on dietary needs, people were directed to certain areas in the hall. Sure, every other camp had a similar method of feeding its soldiers, for example, Camp Heath had special lines for those with allergies or intolerances and there was a place for vegans and vegetarians to find food they liked and those who preferred gluten-free meals had their own place as well, but Camp Reed took it to another level. There were calorie counts on every single item available and every food was sorted by what it was specifically. For example, there was one salad line, but every single lettuce was labeled as to what kind of lettuce it was and how it had been raised. There were also menus that advised what someone should eat and how much of it they should eat based upon physicality.
"Must they make everything so fancy?" Iris asked as she sat down with her tray of a specially designed meal of a small steak, several greens, and one whole-grain roll.
"It's Camp Reed. Of course they're going to take any chance they can to display their intelligence, even if it has to do with what you shove into your pie hole," Storm replied, sitting down with a meal that matched Iris', save that her steak was slightly larger and she had more greens and less grains. She also had several fruits. But, despite how creepy it was to have such a finely tailored meal, the food was pretty good.
"I'll bet they don't believe in dessert," Iris muttered as she finished her food. Camp Heath always allowed small luxuries like sweets.
"Sometimes they do," Storm replied, having finished her own meal a few minutes ago. "It's just not a nightly thing. The closest you get are the Health Sweets, but those aren't very good…" the blond made a face. She may not have had an enormous sweet tooth, unlike Iris, but she had tried some of the everyday desserts here at Camp Reed and they weren't too amazing.
A moment later, a man at the head of the dining hall stood up and every person fell silent at once. There was just something about the way that he held himself, something about the way his dark blue eyes swept calculatingly across the large room, that screamed power, authority, pride, and severity that silenced everyone at once. This was not a man to trifle with, despite his relatively lithe appearance. He wasn't scrawny or lanky, per se, but he certainly wasn't any sort of muscle man, though, Iris was more scared of this man than she might've been of a muscle man. There was just too much confidence, wisdom and power here to think that this man wasn't capable of putting up a heck of a fight if necessary.
"Soldiers!" the man began after the dining hall silenced entirely. "As you all know, we are currently formulating a way to break into our enemy lines! It is our plan that we will lure a few of these monsters out of hiding. We'll trap them, study what they're made of, study what they're afraid of. Then, once we have it, we'll use it against them and victory will be ours!" the man paused as the crowd cheered. "But first things first," he continued, silencing them all at once again. "We must catch these creatures. That is why I have called upon this small troop from Camp Heath. They will help lead us to victory. For that, I request that you all now give them a hearty thanks!"
The man stopped speaking, but gestured his arm out to the table where the Camp Heath soldiers had congregated. The whole dining hall was filled with appreciative shouts and claps again, but Iris' purple eyes were still firmly locked on the man. His voice was very standard, but there was some deep quality about it that made it resonate throughout the hall, reaching every corner but not quite echoing around. It was like his own voice was saying, "Ok. It's me speaking. You only need to hear it once because I know that, when I talk, you'll all listen on the first time." His voice was loud and clear, but the moment he stopped talking, his entire voice stopped. There was no echo. It was just one, quick, piercing speech, clean and clear. It was a voice just as sharp and intimidating as its owner.
"What a guy!" Iris marveled as he sat back down, moving gracefully while keeping a very stern expression upon his lined face.
"Isn't he?" Maxim almost sounded love struck. His eyes also had yet to leave the fierce and fearsome man. Iris, however, was not surprised that Maxim, of all people, would be looking at the man with such fondness and respect. The two were very similar in terms of how they carried themselves and how they interacted with others. Already, Iris had the feeling that this guy wasn't exactly the warm and friendly type and she could tell that he didn't smile very often. Just like Maxim. No wonder Maxim looked so infatuated.
"What was his name, anyway? I didn't catch it," Iris asked, turning away from the fierce-looking man.
"Northson Mapp. He's the patriarch of the Mapp family," Storm answered this time, disdain dripping from her voice. In the same way that Maxim revered Northson because Northson reminded him of himself, Storm disdained him for the same reason.
"The Mapp family," Iris echoed. "They're the leading family, right? Northson has a wife and two kids, right?"
"Yes," Storm confirmed, lip still curled in distaste. "His wife is Southlynn and the kids are, bear with me now, Eastla and Westford."
"You've got to be kidding me," Iris failed to bite back a laugh. "That can't be true!"
"It is," Storm started to grin, happy that someone else found the Mapp family name-scheme to be just as ridiculous as she did. "And did you know that the leader before Northson was named Cardinal Rose and that Northson's real name used to be Chucky Buttz?" she added, laughing harder.
Iris could only laugh and shake her head at this point. She wasn't sure what amused her the most, Camp Reed's running gag of map names, Northson agreeing to go along with the pun names even to the point of naming his children after the cardinal directions of east and west, or the fact that Northson probably agreed to the pun names because his birth one wasn't exactly the best. It was just so funny to imagine such a fierce man with such a stupid name, then proceeding to give his own children some pun-based names as well.
"Alright, that's enough of that!" Maxim admonished the snorting, snickering soldiers. "You ought to show more respect for the Mapp family! Northson is a brilliant thinker and a brave fighter!"
"He's also a terrible namer," Storm snorted. Iris, who had tried to stop laughing because Maxim did have a point that it wasn't nice to laugh at people, started to laugh again in response to what Storm had said. Once again, Storm smiled appreciatively down at the tiny brunette. It made her heart glow with pride to know that she was able to get the young soldier to laugh. Maxim could go fall off a cliff with his no-fun attitude. Anyone with even the tiniest bit of humor would easily understand why Northson's choice of name, for himself and his kids, was absolutely stupid. Storm wasn't trying to be mean, it was Northson's own fault.
"Be that as it may, he is still the smartest man in all of Denbar! The Mapp family is renowned for their wit!" Maxim continued to defend.
"Hmmm, I wouldn't say that," Storm replied with a smirk. Maxim only glared back at her.
Iris, meanwhile, tried to take her mind off of Northson's naming narm and she looked once more at the stoic man. She could see Southlynn sitting at his immediate left, suit matching her husband's. She had short black hair and dark blue eyes. Sitting by her right was a boy. It was probably Westford. He looked just like Northson, save that his expression was a lot shyer and more sheepish. He wore an incredibly dorky looking sweater vest and looked like he would much rather be somewhere quieter. But other than that, he and his father had the same short brown hair and blue eyes. But where was Eastla? Three of the four Mapps were in attendance, each looking so similar yet so different. But where was the fourth?
"Where is Eastla?" Iris asked her question out loud. She continued to scan the dining hall, but there was no girl that looked like she might've been Northson and Southlynn's. Her question pulled Maxim and Storm from their argument and Maxim answered.
"She is no longer a Camp Reed soldier," he said severely.
"What do you mean?" Iris asked, worried about why Maxim suddenly sounded so… cold. It was a different tone than the one he'd used on Storm. This one was crueler, more disdainful, darker.
"She went missing just a bit after you became a soldier," Maxim explained to the purple-eyed girl. "Rumor said that she ran away because she and her father had some big falling out. Apparently, Eastla had always been a bit of a hothead and a rebel. She and her father never got along and I guess it all finally came to a head and she just up and ran."
"Smart girl," Storm muttered, her own eyes now scanning the leader's table. Sure enough, she couldn't find Eastla anywhere up there.
"Stupid girl," Maxim corrected. "She was just a dumb, rebellious teenager who ran away just because she wouldn't listen to her daddy," the man paused to shake his head disdainfully. "Her running away caused a lot of trouble for the camp. It took Southlynn a month to get the rumors to stop! It was a selfish thing to do. She deserves whatever happens to her now that she's gone AWOL. Westford will turn out better than she could have!"
"I don't think I'd say that," Storm snickered. "Westford always has been a lost cause. I mean, has that boy ever managed to string more than six words together when speaking to a crowd? Or do anything without messing up or stuttering like an idiot? He isn't that smart and he's terribly clumsy! I'd be surprised if he knew how to get out of bed without falling over!"
"He's just shy!" Maxim snapped, defending the Mapp family again. "But unlike Eastla, he sticks around!"
"Figures, she talks too much and he doesn't talk at all," Storm mocked Maxim. "And only she'd have the brains to high-tail it out of here! I'll bet you Westford would be too scared to leave a room without Daddy Dearest's permission!"
"You're right!" Maxim agreed, missing the fact that she was trying to take a shot at him and Westford. "Eastla was just an ungrateful little brat! I have no doubt that her rebellious streak will end once she finally matures and then she'll come to her senses and see what a brilliant man her father is. Then she'll just be begging to be taken back! I can only hope Southlynn comes to her better judgment as the camp leader and denies her."
"Like Southlynn would deny her own daughter!" Storm sneered. "That woman has a heart of gold, unlike you! She knows how to lead camp without being a dictator!"
"That's her prerogative," Maxim grunted dismissively. "My point is, even she shouldn't allow Eastla to come back after the stunts she pulled. I don't care how Southlynn chooses to run this camp. It's entirely her call. But I am just saying that Eastla deserves no place here."
"Well, if that's your opinion of Eastla, I doubt she'd ever want to come back anyway. Usually, the people who run away intend to stay gone," Storm spoke with a patronizing tone that mimicked the one Maxim sometimes used against the newer or less intelligent soldiers.
"Then it's her loss!" Maxim raised his chin with a cruel finality. "Westford has more potential than Eastla ever had! She's a disgrace! It's good that she's out of the way now! I hope she's happy, causing trouble wherever she is now!"
"Harsh," Iris replied under her breath as Storm and Maxim kept arguing over the Mapp family dynamics. Iris continued to look to the leader's table. Northson had finished his meal and was sitting motionless, just surveying the crowd. It was actually kind of creepy because Iris was pretty sure he wasn't even blinking. Southlynn, meanwhile, was talking animatedly with a soldier to her right. She couldn't hear Southlynn over the general din of the crowd, but she could see Southlynn laughing. Clearly, it was a very light-hearted and friendly chat. How different the couple was! Northson was like a statue while his wife was anything but, being so friendly and open. Her leadership skills reminded Iris of Captain: very friendly and calm, polite and respectful to everyone without a single trace of a dictator. Westford, who was on the other side of Northson, was busy staring at his plate, trying not to make eye contact with anyone. His mouth was shut firmly. The poor boy really did look very uncomfortable, looking shy and afraid and like he would've much rather been somewhere else. And of course, Eastla was not present at all. Camp Reed, and the Mapp family, were shaping up to be very interesting.
AN: Sorry for such a late update. I've been busy with getting ready for college. I've posted TWO chapters to make up for it and will hopefully be back on a steadier schedule soon. Thanks for your patience.
Also, this chapter merely served to introduce the leading four of Camp Reed: Southlynn, Northson, Westford and Eastla. The leader, the deputy, the 'heir' and the black sheep. You'll see where Eastla ran off to eventually, but that won't come for a long time more. So just enjoy the present three for now and I hope to see you all again soon.