Chapter Thirty

Will to Live

Dawnie

We'd been driving long enough towards the south that the metal box we're in had warmed a good deal. It's stuffy and poorly lit by camping lanterns, who's orange glow only make it seem hotter.

I haven't seen the sky since they'd taken me so I'd lost all track of time. All I know is that sleep is far and distant from me. I couldn't sleep if my life depended on it.

So I stare at him; sitting in the corner of the semi truck box we had been shoved into, and will him to look at me.

Will that fucking silver eyed bastard to look at me.

Will him to look at the hurt in my eyes, and feel guilt for how he betrayed me. Look at my anger and recoil at what he had become. Look at me and fear what I will fucking do to him once I get free of my binds.

I sit at the front of he listless huddled group of victims that are well past being terrified, even beyond fighting back.

But not me.

My blood is boiling. If looks could kill, there would be few survivors.

And that fucking traitor would be he first to go.

He just sits there, messing about with his gun, the rest of the Tigers playing some card game beside him. They mostly ignore us prisoners; they have no reason to fear us. The dampening field is still around us, and we are bound an unarmed. But the real reason they know they have nothing to fear is that the fight has gone out of us. The group has given up the will to live. I was one of the last captured, the others had been in the Tiger's hands for weeks on end. They know it's hopeless. Those who have tried to run know its not an option, some are too scared to even try for escape, others never had a fighting spirit to begin with. Honestly, I would have classed myself with the later given this as a hypothetical situation. I never thought I would be the one with fire in my eyes and hatred in my heart. I didn't think I had it in me.

Of course I never, ever could have guessed that it would be directed at Kai.

How could he? How could he turn his back on his friends, lower himself to the life of a gangster? How could he do this to me?

I can feel the lump in my throat forming and the tears stinging the corners of my eyes as I viciously fight back the memories. I will not, will fucking not, give that bastard Tiger, that kidnapper, that slave peddling asshole, redeemable qualities. I will not remember the good times, I will not remember the person I could never imagine hurting me. I will not remember his laugh, his hugs, or his brilliant silver studded smile.

I will not return to the lunch hours in the fall when he let me sit on his lap to keep me warm outside.

His jokes to make me smile when I was sad will not come to mind.

I will push away the thought of all the times he saved my ass from bullies who would do me wrong.

No memories of sitting at the boy's house eating popcorn and laughing at cheesy B horror movies will surface.

I will not be softened by thoughts of him coming to support me in my speed training, always encouraging me.

I refuse the memories of the school dance he took me to, how he was the perfect gentleman. How he got me punch and complemented my hair, how he twirled me around and bought me roses.

How he asked me to tutor him in math, how he helped me in gym.

How he was always so nice to me, to everyone around him.

How he was always there for anyone who needed him.

That was not the same gang-color wearing traitor that sits in front of me, playing with his gun, ignoring me even as hot tears roll down my cheeks.

That was not the same bastard who handed me over to the Tigers on a silver platter.

That was not the same fuck who did goddess knows what in the name of the Tigers.

I tried my best to picture him beating people for debts unpaid. Of killing people for a sense of power. Dealing drugs to minors. Robbing innocents. Raping unsuspecting girls on the wrong side of the tracks. Recruiting those who didn't know well enough to run.

But try as might, I just couldn't connect the Kai in my mind to any of those mental images. I couldn't even place the gentle, muscle bound storm to the reality before me.

Deep in my bitter heart, I still expected him to turn his gun against the Tigers, exclaiming that it was all some game, some plot to save us all.

Then Scull and the others would bust in, and say how they were all working for the government to capture the bad guys, thanks for your cooperation, is anybody hurt, sorry to scare you Dawnie.

This was some sick joke, some movie. There would be a punch line anytime now, candid cameras popping out from behind two way mirrors. Laughter that I would ever believe that Kai could do this.

But I knew that was all a lie. This was reality, right here. There was no hero, no one coming to save us. Kai wasn't about to change his stripes now. He'd made his choice and dug his own grave.

I was my only chance and if I didn't save myself no one would.

I was sick of being the good little rich girl waiting for prince charming to snatch her from the evil dragon. I wanted to put up the fight and don the armor; I wanted to be the one they wrote about in history books. I was done with being the weak one, or some sweet little girl.

When I found someone who could help me train my speed, I just thought of being able to control myself. But I liked the training, I liked the structure. I liked having a challenge instead of getting what I wanted flat out. I liked doing something that was potentially dangerous.

But my slow rebellion had started well before that. It showed in my choice of friends. Even if I was a perfect little angel on the outside, they rebelled enough for a dozen teens. Chaos, Kira, Scull…none of them were 'normal', or 'perfect' or 'good'. They ignored parents, school rules, and society as a whole. They lived and looked how they wanted, they went against any convention that crossed their paths. They were all black sheep and deeply proud of it. I wish I had that strength, that devil may care attitude. I wish I could dye my hair purple, wear something gothic or punk. I wish I could stay out past ten without calling home to check in, or pierce my nose without fear of getting disowned.

I would never get my chance now. My life as I knew it was over. It was slavery or the life of a lab rat, and somehow I couldn't figure out what would be worse.

I wondered if Kai got more money for lab rats, if he had shown up at my training sessions to decide if I would make a good victim.

I wondered if Wynter had been grooming me for him.

No. No, I shake that thought out of my head. I can't think of more betrayals and two-faced friends, I would just fall to pieces now. It was hard enough to wrap my mind around Kai sitting in front of me with a gun, with knives, with implements of killing. Those things he had probably used to kill others.

It was hard enough to think of somehow breaking the dampening field and fighting back with my deadly speed, hard enough to think of subduing him, knocking him out, killing him if need be. Of somehow rallying the other kidnapped behind me, taking out the other Tigers, figuring out how to stop the truck and escape. Hard enough without thinking of more enemies.

Did I have it in me to kill, if I needed to?

Without even thinking of it long, the answer is a resounding yes. Yes, if I needed to, I would take that fucker down for what he was doing. I could beat all of these Tigers, so I could free my fellow captives and save us all from the horrors waiting for us in the desert.

I could be a killer, I could be a monster. I could lose my mind and rampage with the strength of a mother protecting her cubs. I could feel it, the killer in me bubbling up to the surface like sticky black tar. Even the thought of it stained me black, changing me forever. The thought of vendetta and blood on my hands filled me with a joy my bright side recoiled at. There was no turning back, I had let something snap in me and shadow the light forever.

It was a part of me that demanded survival, a part willing to do whatever it took.

Because there was no one coming for us. None of the kidnapped had ever been saved, or heard from again. They just vanished into thin air, and now I knew why.

The Bio Labs were far, far off the grid, so far many doubted their existence at all. As for the slave rings, it was all underground, and well beyond control of the law. The desert had its own law and government and its number one rule was survival of the fittest.

That would have to be me now. I would have to be the leader and the alpha dog because it was obvious no one else was going to step up to the plate.

I could do this.

I try to think of a way out, any chance of escape that might possibly present itself.

When would the truck stop? Would there be more Tigers waiting for us in the desert? Would we make a pit stop anywhere?

Would the dampening field run through the whole truck box? Certainly it stopped at the Tigers, they wouldn't want to weaken themselves.

If I attacked now, what would my next step be?

For that matter, if I attacked at the desert when we stopped, would it already be to late?

If I got Kai's gun and took a Tiger hostage, could I bargain a way out, or would they even care about one of their own?

Would they be able to see I didn't have it in me?

Did I really have it in me, when push came to shove?

And once again, that nearly disturbing, absolutely unquestionable answer came to mind. Yes, I could do whatever it took to get out. I could beat these Tigers, I could have their blood on my hands. I could even turn my back on the memories of Kai, and take that fucker down. He wasn't my friend anymore. He never had been, had he?

He had always been a traitor. From the start, that hidden agenda had been there.

I shift, moving my legs under me so I could spring at any time. I had to make a move before I lost the nerve, even if I had no plan yet.

One of the Tigers looks up at my movement, but doesn't bother more then a cursory glance. He just sees some little blond haired priss crying.

Two of the Tigers had gone to sit up front in the cab. In the back there were four left. They've all become relaxed and ignorant of us, if I moved quickly enough… maybe I would have a chance? I'd have a chance if the dampening field cut off.

There's Kai, who has begun taking apart his gun to clean it. That's a step forward for me; he's helping without meaning to.

The three playing cards are deep in their game, whatever it is, and one even has his back to us. There's a hunting knife of some kind hanging from his belt.

Could I get to it?

Would it matter? If I could get through the dampening field, I could disarm then in less then a second of real time. The truck box was made of metal, its not like I could set it on fire with friction. If I didn't actually touch the Tigers, I wouldn't harm them…

Fuck the Tigers. Who cared if I killed them flat out? Look at what they were going to do to us. They deserved it, didn't they?

Deep breath, kiss your innocence goodbye.

Without even a count to three I get up running, fully expecting some kind of resistance as I break through the dampening field, but I don't hit an ending. It covers the whole truck.

I stumble in shock, my plan dissolving before my eyes. I fall right into the Tiger with his back to me, unable to catch myself with bound hands.

It's a half second of shock before Kai get to his feet, moving towards me and trying to reassemble his gun at the same time.

The darkness in me, the same part that knew I had killing in me, takes over when I realize I'm in trouble.

I grab the knife near at hand and shove the Tiger into his group of buddies, standing quickly and throwing myself at Kai. Even without my speed I manage to knock him off balance, into the wall. Quickly the blade is at his throat and he stills instantly. He realizes I mean business. Just in case he decides I'm no threat, I lean into his ear.

"You fucking move, and I'm going to repay you for every fucking soul you've betrayed in your life. I will fucking drink your blood, and love. Every. Drop. Of. It." The words are almost alien, like someone else had put them in my mouth. But I mean them, and I press the knife deeper, just barely breaking skin.

"Dawnie…" He whispers it, I'm not even sure if I'm hearing it. But it can't move me, I wont let it, its over now. Nothing he could say would fix the sinner in me that had been let out. I wouldn't let him sell me like meat.

The other Tigers, still wide eyed, get up slowly. They know I don't have a good grip on the knife with my wrists still bound. I feel control and hope slipping away quickly.

But there's a blur of movement, a brown haired girl barreling forward with a cry like some ancient warrior as she throws herself into the standing Tigers. Kimberly, she knocks one off his feet. The rest of the group mobilizes with new hope. There's light at the end of the tunnel.

But Kai hasn't given up, he pushes me away. I move quickly, remembering his gun. I kick at him, I can see the gun knocked away. But sight is soon gone, someone knocks over the lantern, or maybe uses it as a weapon. There's a tinkling of glass as it breaks, the orange florescent tubes shattering. I start falling as Kai pushes me, but I drag him down with me.

We roll over in the pitch black as he struggles to get the knife from me, I can hear yelling and fighting all around me.

I end up on the bottom, Kai's weight crushing me. Somehow I manage to push him off with surprisingly little struggle on his end.

He falls with a soft thud beside me and I can feel something hot soaking through my shirt.

I reach up to feel the wetness; in my heart I know its blood. I know I'm not injured.

I reach over to where I felt Kai fall, I try to shake him awake. He doesn't move.

My breath hitches; I can feel my heart skip a beat as fresh tears come to my eyes. I wasn't supposed to cry, I was supposed to win.

"Kai? Kai?" I shake his prone form. He wasn't dead…he couldn't be. Not by my hand… I didn't….

The truck lurches before I have time to digest what I've done, the driver slamming on the breaks. The back end seems to come off the ground; people start screaming as we all slide forward in a dark jumble. I can't help but scream as gravity seems to play tricks on us, throwing us around like a rock tumbler, the sound of metal grinding against pavement as the truck slides across ground on its side. It's the last thing I hear before my head connects with metal and pain explodes in my scull.

Ashen

I hardly notice how far over the steering wheel I'm leaning in my concentration. What had started as a light drifting of snow had turned into a solid blanket of fat, wet snowflakes that turned the world to shades of blue and gray. The road was the faintest hint darker then surrounding ditches, which were ever so slightly paler then pitch black forests. Even though its dark my headlights are a hindrance, reflecting off the blanket of snowflakes and throwing my visibility to the dogs. Winter never hit this hard in the city. I had no clue how to drive in winter conditions this bad. At least the roads weren't slick yet, that was a plus.

I reach down to turn off the music completely; I had turned it down to concentrate before.

Damn it, I couldn't see at all. How was I supposed to know if I was even on the right road? I was way behind on my original time allowances, I was barely crawling along in this storm. I couldn't tell if the road I was on was abandoned, or if I was a few meters behind another vehicle.

I finally give in and stop entirely, in what's likely the middle of the road. I don't even care if someone hits me, my eyes hurt and the windshield is starting to fog inside from the rapidly dropping temperatures.

Without having a clue how close I am, I reach out a tendril of consciousness towards the mind pattern of Chaos. I tried twenty minutes ago, but could only feel the slightest flickering of mind. It was impossible to tell his location. I think he was behind some kind of shield then, or something like that. There is something about this whole area that throws off my radar. Maybe I had just been driving for to long.

Ugh, I have such a headache.

There…

Something flickers off to the edge of my mind, like a slip of paper drifting by the corner of my eye. I reach out for it, but its like holding water, my mind slips off and melts away. What the hell is with this place? It couldn't just be me.

But anyways, I can defiantly feel a direction now. He's close, to the right.

I can't contact him though, not if I cant even get a good grip on his mind.

I'd pull to the side of the road, but honestly, I don't even know where that is.

I sigh, out of options. I'd lose his direction if I didn't go for it, and gods know if I'd ever find it again. There's something wrong up here, something messing with the natural order of things.

I open my door and step out into the cold; leaving the car running so the engine noises can lead me back.

Hellfires, it was cold out here. And me with some thin little imitation of a jacket, if a local saw me I'm sure they would die laughing.

I quickly step around the car, not wanting to be out any longer then absolutely necessary. I look into the black forest with trepidation, though I can see better out of the foggy car, its still pitch black beyond the glow of the headlights.

I take a breath for courage and rub my hands for warmth. Best to just get it over with, if I was cold and distraught just imagine what Chaos must be feeling. If I had properly lined up the real time line with the one Hitori had accidentally slipped me, he had been a good half hour out in these woods. I hoped he didn't have frost bite. How long did it take that kind of thing to set in anyhow?

I take a step of the road and into what looks like a ditch level with the road, and am instantly waist deep in snow.

"Fucking hell!" Ugh, the snow had piled up deep here. Good thing I hadn't driven the car to the side of the road, if it had gone into the ditch I never-

"Hello?"

I freeze, looking up. Had I heard that?

The woods are silent, so quiet I can hear the snow falling. I didn't think snow made a sound, but it's almost like a slow rainfall drifting through the trees, a crackling as it hits the ground. It makes it seem even more eerie as it dampens the engine rumble of the car.

"Hello? Anyone out there?" I try, projecting my voice as best I can and straining my eyes in the dark.

I can hear the snapping of a branch underfoot directly ahead of me, it echoes unnaturally in the snow. He's a lot closer then I thought. Damn good luck, either his or mine.

"Hello? Help me; please…" Coughing, a shaky male voice. I can hear him stumble; I see movement among the trees as something falls.

I quickly struggle out of the deep ditch, wasting no time.

"Chaos? Is that you?" I run through the trees to the figure trying to get up, my eyes quickly adjusting to the dark. It doesn't seem quite so pitch black anymore, as the snow catches the headlights and reflects with an even glow.

I reach the figure quickly, and pull him to his feet. He's wearing a ski jacket and a ratty gray toque, smarter then me. But his jeans are soaked by melted snow up to the knees, and his hands are icy in fingerless gloves. Its deathly cold out, and he's not doing well. When he looks up at me with glassy eyes, I can see his lips are almost as blue as wisps of hair poking out from under his hat.

Blue hair, piercings, lost in the woods, its Chaos all right.

He doesn't recognize me though. Not like he would, he's never seen me before.

But he doesn't argue as I pull him in the direction of the car. He sees the headlights and likely equates them with heat.

Even with my hand on him, I can't touch his mind.

There's something utterly unnatural, unreal, about this place.

We stumble through the deceptively deep ditch, Chaos completely falling in. He's cold and weak and likely somewhat hypothermic, he cant keep himself up.

I pull him to his feet again, dragging him up to the road as his legs push at the ground uselessly. I manage to struggle the passenger door open with one hand, the other arm wrapped around he kid's waist. Even with the ski jacket I can tell he's a skinny little bugger. He falls into the seat gratefully and pulls the door shut without question.

I walk around the front of the car to get in my side, pausing to shake the snow off and strain my ears for the sounds of engines on the road. I can't hear any.

I feel weak myself and I know damn well I haven't been out in the cold long enough for that. And though I've been driving for hours, it should have only made my joints stiff and muscles sore.

There's something about this place. Something…wrong.

I wonder if I've stumbled into some kind of military grounds or private property that was magically muffled for some reason. But there were no warning signs or fences, and as far as I knew this road was a public road.

Whatever. I just need to head back.

I open the door and slump into the driving seat. The heat of the car welcomes me.

I look over at the rebellious teen beside me, and then lean forward to turn up the heat higher. As a fire element I can hold of the edge of cold for myself, so I hadn't put the heat too high. Chaos holds his hands forward to a vent to warm them, the fingerless gloves covering them strangely lumpy. And very wet, though his brain doesn't seem to process that.

He coughs suddenly, his body wracked by the wet sounding hacks.

Fuck, I hope he didn't get sick or something.

I reach over to grab one of his hands but he jerks away suddenly, I feel the tiniest amount of fear from him. I wonder how strong it must have really been to be getting through whatever was dampening my mind.

Chaos is skittish, he doesn't know me and seeing what the truck driver tried to force him to do I'm not surprised at the assumption.

"It's okay, I'm a friend of Hitori's…ah, of Wynter's. Look, this is Scull's car, you know it right? We're buddies, I'm here to help." I tell him in my most convincing voice. He stares at me with cobalt blue eyes, no longer completely glassy but defiantly showing no signs of trust. "Your gloves are soaked, you'd better take them off." I explain my movement towards him.

"Ah, yea. Guess so." He says slowly, coughing a little again. He pulls off the soggy gloves, revealing damp bandages underneath. Did he get hurt?

He pauses for a second, looking down at his shoes which squelch at his slightest move. They're defiantly full of icy cold melted snow. He tosses down his gloves to the floor and then starts struggling with getting his shoes off. Besides being soggy and partially frozen, his hands are cold and unresponsive.

Leaving him to his work, I reach forward and clean the fog of the inside of the windshield as well as I can. We need to get out of the area, I'm really starting to get the creeps.

I carefully and slowly start pulling a u-turn, not willing to drive deeper into the strange area. I'm paranoid about the deep ditches I would never be able to get the car out of, but thankfully manage to avoid going into one.

Once I get the car pulled around I start driving in the direction I came. I pray the storm lets up soon. It shows no signs of slowing, and I'm afraid we may be forced to stop. I don't want to stop, I know the Dragons will need me in the deserts. It will be a hell of a long drive trying to catch up with them. It was well into night now, and I was defiantly a days travel from their current location, let alone where they were headed.

If I could convince Chaos to drive too we'd be fine, taking shifts sleeping in the back.

When was the last time he slept anyhow, if he had been gone since early evening yesterday? Was it safe for him to sleep now? I was no healer, I didn't know if being freezing would make him go into a coma. I just knew he needed to get warmed up. And I knew there was noting I could do about that until I got to a more stable area, my fire powers were just as slippery as my mental capabilities.

I look over at the teen beside me; he's managed to get a shoe off and is awkwardly trying to squeeze some water out of his soggy jeans.

"Chaos, there's a car blanket in the back. You'd probably be smart to get out of any wet clothes and curl up in it. We're in for a long drive and I'm going to want your help later."

He doesn't reply to me just yet, pulling off his other shoe.

"So who are you?" He says to me, seeming more coherent now. Ten minutes of warmth from the car must be helping, he must not have been as bad off as he seemed. "Which one of Wynter's friends? How did you get Sculls car?" He doesn't offer up a guess, probably wondering if I'm genuine. The car has probably confused him, having Scull's car and claiming friendship with Hitori wouldn't make much sense. If I had Sculls car, it's his friendship I should have mentioned.

"I'm Ashen. I'm not sure what Hitor…Wynter told you of me, but I'm one of her roommates. I borrowed Scull's car, he's helping out Wynter with something. By the way, I know her by Hitori, usually, so you'll probably catch me calling her that. There's a big story behind all this, but I'll have to explain later." I didn't know if we were taking Chaos in yet, I couldn't blow cover without knowing how strong his mind was. And in this muffled zone… "I'd get you hooked up telepathically, but I can't seem to get a grip on my powers here."

"Yea, there's something weird. I thought it was the cold, but I just feel so drained." He says, shifting around and pulling his soaked jeans off his skinny legs, then the overly large soggy jacket. This kid was going to need some serious fattening up. He pauses, looking at me. He's not sure whether to trust me or not, and I can't convince him with subconscious thoughts. But he arrives at a decision, I can see it in his eyes. He knows there's not another choice, and knows Scull wouldn't lend out his car lightly.

He turns and crawls through the space between the front seats, pulling the blanket over himself. I watch him through the mirror, wondering if its safe for him to all asleep. But he seems mostly okay, color has come back to his cheeks and lips. He's responsive.

"I'm going to try sleeping some. Wake me when you want me to drive." He says softly, shifting around and curling up under the knitted blanket Skull kept in his backseat. He sounds tired.

"Right." I reply, and turn to concentrate on the road. It's no time to be bantering in a storm like this.

I wish I could read his mind. Find out where his thoughts are on this new situation and me. If he's utterly exhausted, if he recognizes me from Hitori's descriptions, if he's resigned to his fate, good or bad. If he's just utterly relived someone picked him up.

But he's quickly dead asleep, and I put all my concentration on the road. We'll be out of this anomaly soon, and I'll start picking his brain then.

A good three hours later we're far-gone from the unnatural muffled zone and out of the worst of the storm.

I'd reached out to touch Chaos' mind, finding surface thoughts that were troubled. But he was to exhausted and comfortable for them to disturb him. I'd found the reason he'd up and ran.

He death of his father had hit him hard; he blamed himself and didn't handle it well. Even talking to Dawnie hadn't calmed the storm in his heart like it usually did. He needed to get away and took possibly the worst route he could have thought of, trying to get up to the far north oil drills, deciding on a future of being a rig pig. But one look at him I knew he would have gotten himself into a lot of danger, possibly even killed. A teenager, and one as thin and harmless looking as Chaos, would have been a target for the rough and dangerous men that worked the rigs. Most were just fine, but none were likely to take him under their wing. He would have been open to every kind of predator imaginable.

Though I sift through a few surface thoughts, I don't try to implant any subconscious thought trails of trust and unquestioning following. He didn't need his head to be fucked with, he'd had a rough enough last few days.

Leaving him to sleep I'd touched on the far away minds of the Dragons, almost to far for me to reach even with their familiar thought patterns. All I found there were sleeping minds as well. Everything was going well then I assumed, I would bother them in the morning.

For now, I had glanced lights on the road ahead of me, off to one side. Likely a truck stop. which meant coffee, and food. I was starving and caffeine would be a damn good thing to have in my veins now.

I pull into the parking lot when I reach it, driving up to the front windows where I could see the car from inside. I wasn't planning on waking up the sleeping blue haired teen, he needed rest.

I went in quickly, leaving the car running as I ordered two burgers to go, a large coffee and the slice of pie the waitress demanded I try. What was it with these truck stops and pie? The whole time I kept an eye on the car and my mind close to Chaos', I was paranoid about something going wrong now. But nothing did, I made it out safely, eating my burger quickly and leaving the second for Chaos when he woke.

I filled the gas tank at the adjoining gas station, and we returned to the road. I just wanted to get back to the Dragons and the mission at hand.

While I drove, I quick dried Chaos' clothes with my returned firepower. The coffee woke me up and the storm was nearly gone, in a handful of hours I could wake up the kid and take my turn at sleeping. It seemed like everything was going to be alright.

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