Elemental Emotions – Episode 9

Chapter 9: Our Next Steps Alone

His reflection in the waterfall was distorted. Fleeting images of a dark being stared angrily back. The red in his eyes was nearly gone. The red of the blood upon his face and hands had turned to black. His fangs were larger. His claws gouged out the stone at his feet. The black wings that had carried him here lay behind him. A monster. A demon. That was what he was. Human was never to be a factor!

He wasn’t anything like those that beat and tortured. He wasn’t an evil being that tested on others and changed them from what they once were. Humans were disgusting, vile creatures without a soul. And he wasn’t one of them!

The water before him splashed out as his claws cut through the waterfall. Quickly, his distorted image returned. He turned his back on it. He was a monster that killed quickly and efficiently, and he would show them all what he was.

The world rolled on by unnoticed as Zene sat in the back of a wagon. The heavy book she’d taken sat open in her lap. Her hair fell around her face as she read. The wagon bounced upon the hard ground, causing her to sway gently where she sat. Her right hand moved to touch Nevetes’ jacket which sat folded carefully next to her.

Images of horrible atrocities done to Primals jumped out of the pages. With each picture her sorrow grew. Vampires held cruelly outside in the burning sun with no protection for their eyes. Fairies plucked of their wings and dissected slowly so that pieces of them could be studied. Witches harvested for their brains to see what differences could lay within. Werewolves cut open yet still alive to see when death would come.

Tears touched her eyes. She felt sick to her stomach. The images were horrible. The truth was unbearable! “How could they do that?”

It pulled her attention when the wagon came to a stop. She ran the sleeve of her jacket over her eyes to dry them. A soft sniffle emerged as she did.

The kind voice behind her let her know, “we’re here, sweetie.”

With a smile Zene jumped down out of the wagon, “thank you so much Tessa.”

Tessa was a beautiful and strong woman. A blacksmith by trade who was making her way through the woods to a massive town not too far from Hope. Zene had come across her once she’d set foot back upon the ground and began walking.

“You take care of yourself kid,” Tessa nodded at her. “Mind what I told you. McOrmond ain’t your regular town. It’s full of rough souls. Head to the Bear Paw. It’s a rough joint, but you ask for Sophie. She’ll take good care of you.”

“I will,” she assured. “Good luck on your journey!”

“Don’t need luck. I got these,” she held up her thick arms with a laugh. Then the horses began to move with a flick of the reins.

“Sure was lucky I ran into her,” Zene smiled as she watched the woman leave.

The day was in full swing and standing around wasn’t getting her anywhere. The fingers of her left hand tucked the hair behind her ear. With a hopeful and determined expression, she moved off following the line of people she saw ahead.

“Watch it!” snarled a big and burly man to another big and burly man.

“Ain’t much ta watch.”

“You aimin’ fer a fight?”

“Wud be if’n ya were a fighter.”

Zene stared with wide eyes as she moved slowly on past. Her body unconsciously mimicked those in the lineup. They too held their belongings close to their person. They kept a wary eye on those close about them. Those that didn’t ended up in a growling match, that was.

A rough hand gripped tightly to her upper arm! Recoiling did nothing. The hand held firm. The breath was hot as a man in a white and black coat leaned in, “where ya think yer goin’? Back of the line’s over there.”

“I’m supposed to go to the Bear Paw,” she attempted to gently remove the thick fingers off her arm.

“Whore then is it?” the man leered, taking in the sight of her body with a gaze that had turned hungry. His fingers remained firmly on her arm to hold her steady. His other hand touched the neckline of her jacket and began to pull. “Wudn’a mind a peek meself. Mayhaps a little performance.”

Fear widened her eyes. Confusion prompted her voice, “do you know where the Bear Paw is? I’m supposed to find someone.”

The teeth of the man in the coat were mostly black and broken. His sight wasn’t inclined to move back to her face. He seemed about to say something.

Someone else interrupted, “ignoring the lady’s question?”

“Back off,” the man was instantly and aggressively angry! His hand moved from her jacket to find the blade at his side. The other hand still held her arm. “This ain’t no concern of yers.”

“I would beg to differ.” The young man walking up was finely dressed. His sharp eyes were cold as he stared upon the man he shared height with. “And so would Lugon.”

The dark anger that washed over the man in the coat was frightening. For a moment it appeared that he would draw the sword his hand was upon. The man in the nice dresswear stared coolly. The smile on his face was thin. And he almost seemed to want the fight to ensue. But the man in the coat released her arm. With a stiff nod, he moved off muttering.

The man next to her turned the smile to her, “would you like an escort inside?”

“Umm,” she hesitated.

“I’m afraid it’s that, or wait at the back of the line. I hear that can take days,” he cautioned.

“I don’t have days,” her eyes moved to the line of people. They looked haggard and tired.

“Then it’s decided! Come on,” there was warmth in the tone that wasn’t in the eyes. But, perhaps he too was tired.

“Thank you,” she nodded as she shifted the weight of the book and Nevetes’ jacket to her left arm.

“I’m Conor,” he introduced himself as they began to walk.

“I’m Zene,” she smiled. “I’m not from here.”

“I can tell,” he chuckled.

“Did I do something wrong to that man?” she was looking at him as they walked. Conor walked with his head high so that he had to look down his nose at anyone approaching.

He looked down at her with that cool smile, “do not worry yourself about that small-minded imbecile.”

“He thought that I was a whore?” she questioned. “What is that?”

“Many people seek entry into McOrmond,” he brushed the inquiry off with an easy shrug. “Only the desirable should be allowed in. The man is only doing his job. Though not to worry, you are one of the desirables.”

Her feet stopped moving as she looked at the others in the line. Sorrow touched her expression, “they seem like good people…”

His arm was about her shoulder to coax her to move again, “and the good ones will be allowed in. I give my word.”

Doubt held her gaze over her shoulder even as they walked.

“You said you were in search of someone?”

The question brought her back. His arm fell off her shoulders as she moved back in pace with him. “I’m to go to the Bear Paw and ask for Sophie.”

“Sophie?” he spoke the name in surprise.

“Yes, Tessa told me to ask for her. Do you know where the Bear Paw is?”

Conor nodded, “I do, but I’m so sorry to tell you that Sophie is no longer there.”

Once again, her feet stopped. “She’s gone?”

His arm moved around her back to encourage her to move his direction. They were at a large gate. Nearly as tall as the tower in Hope! Her face turned up to it with wonder and awe for she’d never seen anything like it. And beyond the gate was a sight that widened her eyes!

A town larger than any other. More buildings than she could see. Daylight was dimmed and the crowd gathered on the streets were tighter than a dense forest. She stared open mouthed at the wonder of it. With Conor’s hand at her back, she moved past the guarded gate and entered McOrmond.

Conor was inured to the wonder the town invoked. He kept his hand upon her back to guide her. “McOrmond isn’t the city for everyone. Sophie left just yesterday. Headed to a simpler life, she said.”

“Oh,” Zene felt her shoulders drop.

“Not to worry,” he assured. “You and I have made friends, Zene. What is it you came to McOrmond for?”

Her gaze fell sadly to the side, “I met Tessa on the road. She said that I might find my friend here, but if not, I’d at least find her friend, Sophie.”

“What happened to your friend?”

She stared at the people crowding the street, “sometimes we’re not enough to keep people we love in our lives.”

“It’s a true statement.” There was a simple acceptance within the tone. It lacked emotion.

She looked at him.

And he adorned a look of pity, “and an awfully sad one.”

Her nod seemed to accept his words, “it’s something my sister said to me once. She tried to help an orphaned fawn, but it was too late to help no matter how much love she had. When he died, she laid the little body next to his mom’s. I asked my sister why his mom died when her baby needed her. She said that sometimes we’re not enough to keep the people we love in our lives.”

The crowd grew thicker and her eyes were upon them. Conor’s hand remained at her back. In her arms she felt Nevetes’ jacket and the book it covered. Her eyes softened and her head rose higher.

She shook her head with a smile that spoke of determination, “I don’t think she was right. Not this time anyway. I’m going to find my friend.”

“I’ll be happy to help.”

“Really?” she was thrilled at the offer! The gaze she turned to him sparkled with that excitement.

“I have a lot of connections in this city. I’ll see if I can find them for you. What’s your friend’s name?”

Zene looked at the pleasant face holding a pleasant smile. Young, charming, intelligent. The excitement within her dulled. Her hands pulled the jacket closer to her stomach.

“Carla,” she lied.

“Well, I have business to attend to today. I can ask my contacts about her. For now, why don’t we stop for something to eat?”

“But I…”

“Come on,” he replaced his hand at her back and pulled her along with him. He continued as though she’d agreed, “I know just the place.”

He moved them up the street to a building that had little round tables outside. People were sitting at them enjoying food. It did look delicious! Worry crossed the features of those sitting at the tables as she and Conor approached. One table had a hurried and hushed conversation, then they all stood up clearing the table as they did. Conor moved right towards them as though they weren’t there. There were a couple of hurried nods and the people vanished inside the building. With a firm hand, Conor guided her into a chair.

“Why did they leave?”

“Oh,” he seemed only now to notice. And he didn’t seem particularly concerned. “This is my table. I certainly don’t mind when others use it. But when I show up, they know to clear away. Simple as that.”

“Oh,” she murmured.

“One of my contacts is inside. Let me ask about your friend. I’ll be right back.”

She nodded, though it probably wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t agreed. Conor seemed as though he would do whatever he wanted. She watched him go inside the building. On her lap rested the items she’d carried from Hope. Her fingers traced lightly over the folds of Nevetes’ jacket. He definitely would not like Conor.

Angry voices were raised from inside. She was the only one to look. Others at the tables seemed in a hurry to finish their meals and wouldn’t raise their eyes to the noise. From out here, she couldn’t hear the words being said.

Her uneasy gaze moved out to the crowded street. People moved about in a hurry. There wasn’t time to say hello to others or to give a courtesy. Though some seemed to have time to yell rude things. What situation had she put herself into? This wasn’t like Lovey and Reason’s town at all!

A smiling face, that’s what was missing from this big town. Like the ones she saw down the street by an empty wagon that they pulled. A smile of her own emerged. They were friends with each other. Sharing in laughter and good times.

Her smile vanished as her jaw fell open. She stood up, her hands holding to the tiny white gate surrounding the tables. The smile was back and bright as the morning sun!

A blind reach behind her had Nevetes’ jacket and the book returned to her. She hopped the fence, her heart alight once again. Through the crowd she raced, politely apologizing as she bumped into people and doing her best to dodge around the others. The band of young adults with the wagon drew closer with every step she took.

“Bryn,” she shouted his name!

He looked. Surprise was quickly replaced with excited recognition. Jacket and book in her right hand and left empty, she raced into the embrace Bryn held open for her. He spun her about as they collided.

“Zene, what on earth are you doing here?” he was so happy to see her.

He had no idea how happy she was to see him. A friend here! She pulled back enough to tell her friend, “I lost Nevetes.”

“You lost…” Bryn seemed taken back. “I don’t think Nevetes’ the type to lose anyone he doesn’t want to lose.”

A shrug of one shoulder was the only answer she had, “I’ll find him.”

“Here?” easy to hear the doubt Bryn held.

She agreed with a shake of her head, “he would hate it here.”

“Yah,” the remark came with a chuckle. “So why come?”

“Long story,” she waved it off.

“Uhh, hello,” stated one of the young men Bryn was travelling with.

“Hi,” her voice was light! She leaned a little to the right so that she could see past Bryn’s shoulder to the young man who was now leaning against the wagon.

A second young man pushed in next to him. Chest out and head high, he did his best to look confident, “Bryn, are you going to introduce us to your very attractive friend?”

“Don’t,” Bryn glared the warning!

“What?” the first pushed up beside the other, mimicking the posturing. “We’d just like an introduction.”

Bryn sighed, “guys, remember that friend I told you about? The one I met on the road, and owe my life to.”

“Nevetes saved your life,” she reminded him lightly.

“Zene, meet my friends, Reis and Chad,” Bryn nodded to his companions.

There were friendly nods and smiles. The kind of smiles that would pull you to return them, and so she did.

Reis was the tallest by nearly half a head. Upon that head was a shock of thick, reddish-brown hair. Hazel eyes were warm and friendly. The other, Chad, was the shortest with a little extra weight. His dark hair and eyes didn’t look a thing like Nevetes’. Chad’s eyes were smaller, softer, and were a dark brown. They carried a mischievous glint.

“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Reis offered his hand to Zene.

She stared at it in question. Bryn slapped it away, “I’m not even kidding you two. Zene is…”

“How come you’re here?” she interrupted as she took a hold of his arm.

“And why did you not bring her with you?” Chad grinned.

“After you and Nevetes left, I went into the town. Chad was one of the first people I met,” Bryn explained, making no move to withdraw his arm from her. “We came here together. We met Reis shortly after.”

Hopeful, she asked, “it was okay that we left you there? They were good to you?”

“The best,” the assurance came easily!

“Good,” she sighed. Zene’s eyes moved to the side following the street back the way she’d come. The figurative light within her eyes vanished. Nevetes’ things were pulled a little tighter to her body as she asked of her friend, “how do you know if you can trust someone or not if you only just met them?”

“Well, we’re pretty good people and all,” Chad voiced the question that Reis’ eyes were asking.

Bryn shrugged, his eyes questioned the present and also looked to the past, “sometimes all you get is a moment and you have to go with your gut.”

“My what?” her head tilted slightly to the right in question.

“What’s in here,” Bryn placed a hand to his stomach, right where her hand held Nevetes’ things. “I only had a moment, but mine told me to trust you. I think it was right, back there on that road.”

With a pleased grin, she nodded agreement. “Ok then. Don’t tell him you know me!”

Hair flowing behind her, Zene ducked behind the wagon. The three boys looked about in confusion. But, it was only a moment before they were approached by a well-dressed man not much older than they. Reis folded his arms over his chest as he leaned against the wagon. Chad held a look that was almost a smirk.

Folded hands rising to chest height, Bryn spoke to the others,” we should get moving.”

“A moment of your time, gentlemen,” the young man approached the trio.

The three looks cast the man’s way ranged from bored to polite inquiry.

The man didn’t wait for permission to continue, “I’m looking for a young woman; blueish hair, about so-high, holding a jacket. Would you have happened to have seen her?”

Chad moved next to Reis, mimicking the relaxed pose, “hot little number.”

Bryn laughed, “you don’t have a chance.”

“She smiled at me,” Chad boasted.

“That’s called a grimace, and you’re why she ran off,” Reis claimed. “If you’d have let me talk…”

“She moved on?” the man pressed.

Bryn nodded politely, “said she was looking for someone. Seemed in a hurry. Is she your friend?”

The man’s eyes narrowed, “you won’t mind me having a look at your wagon then?”

“What for?” Reis too narrowed his gaze.

“It’s fine,” Bryn sighed, and waved the man on.

Whether they’d given permission or not wasn’t a factor. The young man was going to look regardless. He moved to the back of the wagon. Leaning to the side, he looked up the length of the far side. His fingers reached slowly for the blanket resting in the back of the wagon. With a rude tug the blanket flew clear revealing that nothing lay beneath it. Bryn moved to catch the blanket as it sank slowly to the ground.

“Hmm,” the man looked about.

“If you’re happy, then we have a deadline to return this wagon by,” Chad sounded irritated.

“Do you know where she went?” the question was a demand.

“Up the road, but no idea to where,” Bryn pointed with a shrug.

The man moved off. Seemed he had the answers he was looking for.

Chad called out, “good luck finding your friend.”

“What was that about?” Reis stared at the man as he made his way through the crowd.

“If it’s not bad news now,” Bryn shuddered, “it will be later.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Chad pressed.

“Remember that other one I told you about? The one with Zene,” Bryn held his arms as though a cold wind had come through.

“Yah,” Reis shrugged in question.

“Anyone even looks at Zene in the wrong way, I get the feeling he’d rip the eyes right out of their head!”

“It sounds like he left her,” Chad pointed out, and Reis nodded.

“Whatever happened between them, I don’t think Zene will talk about it. But he will be back for her. And if anything happens before then…” Bryn trailed off with a worried look.

“But he left,” Reis reiterated.

“Doesn’t matter,” Bryn shook his head. “He’ll be back for her. And when he is, she’ll welcome him back.”

“Sounds dysfunctional,” Chad was blunt.

“Probably,” Bryn conceded. “But I’m not standing in the way of either of them. And neither are the two of you. From this moment, you treat her like a sister. And you protect her like one.”

“Bryn, you’re being dramatic,” Reis waved off the concern he had.

“Treat her as though she’s your sister.” Bryn shook his head and rephrased, “treat her as though she’s my sister.”

“Why are you so worried about this guy?” Chad wanted to know.

“His smile doesn’t reach his eyes,” Zene rejoined them, mistaking the question Chad had posed.

“Nevetes doesn’t smile,” Bryn too was confused.

Zene sighed happily, “when he does, the red within his eyes almost glows! But that guy’s smile is cold. It doesn’t reach his eyes. I think that’s why my stomach says not to trust him.”

“Your gut,” Bryn corrected.

“What did you say to him?”

“I’m completely lost in this conversation,” Chad gave up. Reis nodded agreement.

Bryn filled her in, “we just told the truth and told him what he expected to hear.”

“What do you mean?” Zene questioned.

“Likely, he or someone saw you talking with us. So, we didn’t deny that. We said that you were looking for someone, which is true. And last we saw you, you’d ducked behind the wagon which is in the direction we told him you’d gone. All true things.”

“And clearly what he expected to have happened,” Reis added on. “The truth is far easier to remember than any lie. The key is to not provide additional details. Keep it simple and let them fill in the blanks ‘cuz they will.”

“He went away?” Zene asked Bryn.

He nodded, “he went away.”

“Good,” she breathed easier.

“Look, we should get out of here. We need to bring this wagon back anyway,” Bryn gestured at the wagon. Zene looked at it. Reis and Chad were nodding agreement. They took up the wagon’s handle. It was in that moment that Bryn seemed to notice something that surprised him. “You don’t have your bag with you! Did you leave it somewhere for the night?”

Zene looked a little sheepish, “after I left the general on ice, I didn’t think to go get it. I guess it’s still back in the woods.”

“I’m not sure I want to know what that means,” Bryn moaned pathetically. “So, you’re going to stay with us tonight.”

“Uh Bryn,” Reis questioned as they began to move. “In the guys’ dorm?”

“This’ll be fun,” Chad grinned.

Sister,” Bryn barked! “And we don’t have a choice. We drop off the wagon and then we get Zene back to the dorm. We hide her for the night, and tomorrow we’ll figure something out.”

“Definitely wondering how we’re supposed to do that?” Reis didn’t look upset as he challenged his friends.

“It’ll be easy! Put her in a few of our old clothes and say that Zen here is looking to transfer. Wants a tour,” Chad pose the scenario.

“Zen?” she questioned.

“I doubt she’d be able to pull it off,” Reis was sceptical. “No offense, but you’re a girly girl. Hard to hide some things.”

“But we have experience right here,” Chad placed his hand upon Bryn’s shoulder. “We can pull this off, no problem!”

“Experience?” baffled she looked between the three boys.

“She doesn’t know?” concern washed over Chad.

“It didn’t exactly come up,” Bryn admitted sheepishly.

“What didn’t?” she wanted to know.

But Bryn shook his head, “Nevetes knows.”

“Ok then,” the reply was as light as her smile.

“Wha-?” Chad’s jaw fell open. “You’re just going to accept that? The guy that leaves you knows, and that’s good enough?”

“Will you tell me later?” she asked of her friend.

“I promise.” His promise brought out her smile.

“I don’t get what’s going on here,” Chad voiced the confusion both boys now held.

“Just pull the wagon,” Bryn remarked with a grin.

The town was changing as they walked. What Zene had thought was a busy street had actually been a quiet one comparatively. The crowds were thicker here, keeping the four of them in close proximity simply so that they could hear one another talk.

“Chad and I were fast friends once I got to the town. Things happened really fast after that. Found out that I’m really quite good at teaching others,” Bryn was explaining.

Chad added in, “and since he was mooching off my parents already, they figured they’d send him here with me to learn how to be a teacher.”

“Once they got here, they met me,” Reis chimed in. “Been thick as thieves since!”

“I’m glad you’re okay Bryn,” Zene held his arm. A perplexed look crossed her face, “what’s a school?”

“Seriously?” Reis questioned.

“A prison where parents send their children,” Chad chirped.

“You’re in prison?” Zene was terrified for her friend!

“No,” he quickly assured, casting an annoyed look over his shoulder at his friend. “It’s a safe place. Chad’s just kidding.”

“So, you are ok?” she held both his hands, an earnest look turned up to him.

“Promise,” he gave assurance.

“Bryn!” a young voice up the road called out.

An adorable girl, just a few years younger than they, was making her way through the crowd. Her soft brown hair was in pigtails that danced wildly with her movements. Her bright brown eyes danced with excitement. She was a thin girl, her body more that of a child than of a woman. The knee-length dress she wore swirled about her thighs as she skidded to a halt before them.

“Hey, Sammy,” Chad greeted.

The happy smile the child wore vanished as she spotted Zene. She immediately focused in upon their intertwined hands. Her young voice held accusation, “who is this?”

“You are so dead,” Chad remarked. Both he and Reis chuckled.

“Sammy, this is Zene. She’s my…”

“YOU’RE DATING SOMEONE?” the volume had gone up significantly and drew the attention of several nearby people. “HOW COULD YOU BE DATING SOMEONE?”

“What’s dating?” Zene inquired with a smile.

“Oh, don’t even,” tears flew from Sammy’s eyes as she shook her head angrily. “It’s stuff like kissing, and him taking you out for food, and holding each other’s hands!”

Zene looked at their enfolded hands, “we’re dating?”

Bryn abruptly pulled his hands from hers. Waving them about in negation, “no, we’re not! Not dating!”

Chad took the opportunity, “Bryn says this is his sister.”

“Sister,” Sammy looked hopeful. “Oh good!”

“Ahh,” Reis let out an exasperated sigh. “Sammy, where’s your chaperone?”

“Ach! It’s midday,” the girl groused.

“On Market Street,” Reis scolded. He moved away from the wagon, leaving Chad to hold the heavy handle on his own.

“You’re being dramatic,” Sammy turned her head away, her arms crossed tightly.

Zene looked to Bryn in question.

He did his best to explain, “a chaperone is a friend to protect you. Like Nevetes for you.”

Annoyance narrowed two sets of eyes.

“A bodyguard,” Sammy pouted in anger. “All because I’m a girl. It’s stupid!”

“It’s not safe, is what it is,” Bryn stated with patience. “Somewhere else…”

“Why isn’t it safe?” though hidden beneath Nevetes’ jacket, Zene’s crossed arms still gave off the sense that she wasn’t pleased with the conversational direction. “Why does being a girl mean you need someone else to protect you?”

“Yah?” a smug note was in Sammy’s voice.

Annoyance heavy in his, Reis explained, “because girls go missing from our city all the time.”

“It’s not just girls you know,” Sammy pointed out crossly.

Behind Reis, Chad strained to hold the front end of the wagon up alone. His face told of the effort he was putting out.

“Why would people go missing?” Zene’s gaze was direct upon the boys.

But the boys didn’t have an answer. Reis and Bryn shared an uncomfortable exchange where no words came from either. Chad shifted his hold upon the wagon handle, his lips pursing with the effort.

It was Sammy that gave the answer, “I don’t think anyone knows ‘cuz they don’t talk about it. Either that, or no one cares.”

“It’s not that no one cares. It just…is more complicated than that,” Bryn was helpless to explain.

But that simply wasn’t good enough! Challenge sparked within Zene and Sammy’s eyes. Zene issued that challenge, “people go missing but you don’t know why and that’s just okay with everyone?”

“This isn’t our battle, Zene. Sammy’s fine.”

Chad’s expression went flat, and he dropped the heavy handle of the wagon with a bang. Dusting off his hands he looked at the others, “and we still have a wagon to drop off on time.”

“Bryn?” Zene didn’t let the issue drop. Next to her, Sammy levelled a pointed look Bryn’s direction.

Bryn couldn’t look her in the eyes. “It’s bigger than any of us, Zene.”

“Only if you let it be,” she stated firmly.

“Look, Bryn’s right, this isn’t our issue to deal with,” Reis shrugged. “I’ll get Sammy home safely. You guys take the wagon back.”

“Actually,” Sammy looked timid as her lightly clasped hands moved to cover her mouth.

“What?” Reis’ voice fell flat.

“Krista came with me today,” she admitted softly from behind her hands.

“WHAT?” Reis was livid!

“Oh no,” Chad and Bryn both groaned.

“It’s the middle of the day, and we’re together,” Sammy’s voice trailed off as she searched about with her gaze for her friend.

“What the hell were you two thinking?”

“Girls and their shopping,” Chad shook his head.

Sammy threw a menacing glare his direction that he avoided catching.

“If anything happened to my sister,” Reis threatened vaguely.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Chad stepped forward.

“This is my sister, man!”

“I know,” Chad raised his hands in defence. “And we’ll find her. I’m just saying the rumours are just that most likely. Scary stories blown up out of proportion. Think about it, they’re always a friend of a friend of a friend. And we still got this…”

Chad had started to gesture towards the wagon, but Reis’ anger cut him off, “I swear, if you bring up the damned wagon again, I’ll set it on fire right here!”

“Okay let’s just take it easy,” Bryn tried to calm them down. “We can do both.”

Reis glared at him. Chad took the moment to back a step away from Reis; a sigh of relief moved past his lips.

Bryn explained, “Reis, take Sammy and look for Krista. Zene, Chad and I will return the wagon. We’ll look for Krista with you as soon as we’re back.”

“Come on,” Zene was looking at Sammy. “Let’s go find your friend. And maybe you can explain in a way that makes sense.”

“Zene, it’s not safe,” a hint of panic was in Bryn’s voice.

“Humph,” Sammy blew air threw her nose as she looked coolly at the trio of boys. She took Zene’s hand and they began walking off.

“What just happened?” confusion was heavy in Chad’s tone.

Bryn’s shoulders and head dropped in defeat, “Reis, go with them. And remember, nothing happens to Zene. Nothing!

“Why does he get to go?” Chad’s annoyance was more of a pout as he crossed his arms and dropped his shoulders with a huff of air.

Reis grinned as he began to hurry away, “because the stupid wagon matters so much to you.”

“Oh, that is not fair!”

But Reis was already running to catch up to the girls. Worry was in Bryn’s eyes as he watched them move quickly up the road to where the crowds were the thickest.

Chad saw the look. With a hand on Bryn’s shoulder, “don’t worry man, Krista’s probably just up the road. They’ll all be fine.”

“Let’s just get this wagon back so we can get back here,” Bryn picked up one side of the wagon’s handle. Chad moved in on the other. They moved off Market Street.

Up ahead along the street, a shake of Zene’s head expressed her confusion, “no one knows why people go missing? No ideas at all?”

“No one’s willing to talk about it,” Reis moved up beside them.

Sammy looked sheepish as her right hand held her upper left arm, “I kinda thought maybe it was just a story people told to keep girls away from the market.”

“What’s wrong with the market?” she danced lightly around a harried looking couple that were in the middle of an argument.

Sammy explained with a pointed look at Reis, “some boys think we spend too much money there.”

“Some boys would be right. Though maybe it wouldn’t be an issue if you made your own money to spend,” Reis shot back.

“Please,” Sammy scoffed, “you don’t make your own money.”

“I go to school so that I will be making enough money to support my sister and our parents. Good try though,” Reis scoffed back.

“Is that how you explain away all the money you spend on parties and buying gifts for girls?” Sammy countered with an arrogant look.

“I do not…”

“What is money?”

“Seriously?” Sammy was baffled! “What rock have you been living under?”

Sadness took away her smile, and her eyes fell to the past.

“I-I’m sorry, Zene,” Sammy touched her arm lightly.

“Come on,” Zene pulled up a smile, “we need to go find your friend.”

“Why are you so worried about this guy?” Chad asked as they moved away from a vendor, now free of their wagon.

“Nevetes?” Bryn questioned.

Chad nodded just as they broke into a run.

Looking ahead, Bryn shook his head, “Nevetes is dangerous. A killer.”

“So, why do you let Zene hang out with him?”

“I doubt even Nevetes tells Zene what to do. He’s protective of her though. I don’t doubt that he would kill if it meant protecting her. And to Nevetes, I think the people that didn’t keep Zene from getting hurt are just as guilty as the ones hurting her.”

“Ok, but really,” Chad looked at him with doubt.

Bryn looked darkly ahead, “really! I’ve seen him reach up through a man’s chest and rip out his heart.”

Chad stopped short with a hand firmly on Bryn’s arm, “dude?”

Bryn shrugged, “he was already dead.”

“I’m not sure that’s better!” Horror held his face, “this guy sounds like a sociopath! It’s a good thing he left her.”

“He’ll be back, I’m sure of it.” Bryn began running again, and Chad followed. “So, we just need to keep Zene safe until he does.”

“This is messed up.”

“Yah,” Bryn sighed helplessly. “There they are!”

Reis, Zene, and Sammy stood together. Their collective worry, and the lack of a fourth person, said that their search hadn’t been successful.

“Man, this isn’t looking good,” Chad held a hand to the back of his head.

Worry wrote itself across Bryn’s features.