I crawl into the tent as silently as I could that night.
I had hugged the girls and Wolfie goodnight, and snuggle into my sleeping bag, zipped up to my chin in one of my fleeces.
The air here was different; more crisp, fresh, chilled.
We were definitely not in Cali anymore.
I smile to myself about what´s already happened in one half of a day.
I peer through my eyelashes to see Felix, hunched in his sleep, his eyebrows furrowed and his lips slightly apart. His eyelids were wet and tears stain his cheeks.
He was in a disturbed slumber.
"S...top it..." he murmurs. "Give...m...e her..."
I look at him in his sleep and feel my eyelids growing heavy. I bury my nose into Chiko, my childhood plush dog, breathing in his musty talcum-powder and rose smell.
I drop into a happy and peaceful sleep.
"Morning, you." I wake up to a gentle prodding at my cheek.
I peer through my eyelids.
"Oh, morning Wolfie," I smile.
"I cooked some rabbit for you," he grins, holding out a large leaf where reddish-brown meat sits.
"Thank you," I whisper, aware of Felix in a deep slumber. I tear the meat in half. "Want some?" I ask Wolfie.
"Nah. It´s yours."
"I can´t eat all of it." My stomach churns as I think of the sweet, innocent bunny that this meat used to be.
"I´ll give the other half to Felix," I say, tearing the rabbit with my teeth, savoring the juicy meat. "You didn´t find any grizzlies in the forest?"
"No. Only rabbits and a deer, which is still cooking. It´s so cold out there...Scarlett, I don´t think we´re in Cali."
"Me neither! I don´t even think we´re in America..." I reply.
"Why don´t you come outside?" he says softly, stroking my face. "Some of the others are already awake."
I stretch, pack Chiko into my bag and climb out of the massive tent.
I see everything better in the mild light of day, despite the clouded-over sky.
The five tents are in a large circle around the campfire, and now four logs are placed around the fire, where Bea and Kitty sit. Finn and Asher, armed with their weapons, stand guard around the outside of the camp.
"Celeste and Felix are having a bit of a lie in," Wolfie announces.
I huddle in my fleece and take a seat on an empty log, where Wolfie takes a seat next to me and allows me to bury myself in his side.
A deer´s foot sticks out of the bubbling pot over the fire.
I feel very queasy.
The mild wind whips my hair and the grim sky is almost unreal; days like these were almost non-existent in Cali.
Black birds pattern the grim landscape of tall dark trees and vast mud-flats. It was a large picture that I much preferred to the constantly sunny beaches of California.
"Morning," Felix says groggily, emerging from the tent with a hunk of rabbit meat. "Thanks for the food, by the way...whoever gave it to me."
I feel Kitty´s cat eyes boring into me, a look mingled with hatred and what seems like severe jealousy.
Celeste then emerges from her tent, and eats some of the freshly cooked deer stew.
"So, should we start moving again soon?" Celestia suggests after wolfing down get stew.
"Yes," Chase decides. "We need to find out a way across this bog first, though."
"How about we just jump across using the mud-flats?" Bea says.
"There´s sure to be a catch," I pipe up.
"We´re well armed," Finn says, swinging his sword to and fro. "I say we take Bea´s idea into action."
"Let´s get going, then," Felix says in a small voice. He wasn´t his funny old self that day.
We pack up our stuff and tents and try our best to make sure there was no sign of us here- throwing the campfire rocks into the mushy bog, rolling the logs back into the forest, kicking the ashes away.
I shoulder my backpack and pull the toggle harder on my belt.
"Let´s go," I say, folding my fleece into my bag and rolling up the sleeves on my camo jacket.
The strong-woven rope from one of our backpacks is clipped onto each of our bags, creating a chain. I lead the way.
"You guys ready?" I say, slinging my quiver over my shoulder.
"Yep," everyone replies.
I stretch my leg onto the first mudflat. It encases my boot and makes a horrible sucking, squelchy sound.
"Ugghhh!" I hear Kitty squeal. "This is horrible!"
"Oh, shut up," I murmur to no one in particular as I drag my leg out of the sand to take another step.
"I heard that!" Kitty roars from behind me. "Cats have pretty damn good hearing, buddy!"
"Calm down," Chase says soothingly.
I finally manage to slowly wade through the first sloppy mudflat, and make as high a leap as possible to the second one. Only two more in front of us, now.
The rope pulls on everyone´s backpacks as I jump, jolting them.
"Oww!" Celeste groans, wading full-force through the mud, the sandy mixture clinging to her hair without her bothering.
"Guys, just saying, but how are we going to wash this out?" Kitty complains.
"There´s The Crystal Springs as soon as we get out of the Crystal Mudflats," Felix says. "They´re sort of a pair," he mumbles after a short pause.
I finally clamber onto the third mudflat, when something isn´t right.
This one feels firmer, but more...slippery. Like glass.
I look down and see, under the sandy coating, is a massive cluster of multicolored gems, shimmering in the bog.
This whole mudflat was made of these crystals, covered by this mud.
"Woah...guys!" I shout. "I found these...sparkly...lovely...mine..." I murmur, attempting to break off a ruby.
"Do not go for the black ones!" Bea warns.
I see a coal-black gem, still see-through, but tinted like the night, swirls of all the colours encased inside it.
Compared to it, all the other gems seemed like little hunks of fakery.
I needed that black crystal.
The ruby comes off in my hand, and I tuck it into my backpack while I struggle trying to unearth the black gem.
Everyone else apart from Wolfie and Bea were squabbling and attempting to get the black gem.
"Stop it!" Bea shouts. "Please do stop, the black gem is a trick! I read about it!"
The gem loosens.
"STOP IT!" Wolfie roars.
I stop and look at him like I were a scolded puppy.
"You can take the others," he says calmly. "But not the black one."
I nod and start on easily breaking off emeralds, sapphires, diamonds, gold, amethysts, rubies and everything in between. The others eventually stop trying to gouge the black one and stand up, exhausted- all except Finn and Celeste, who were both working together to pull the hunk of black out.
I eventually stop breaking off gems and stand up.
Celeste had nearly got the black gem out, and Bea and Wolfie were screaming and tugging at them to stop.
"N-" I start, but it was too late. As soon as Celeste finally unplugs the black gem from the ground, a monstrous head follows it- an ugly brute, with pop eyes, slimy skin and a saliva-coated mouth, which was currently shrieking, showing off an array of blood-encrusted teeth.
Finn dives in front of Celestia to guard her, but the monster whips him aside with her mucus-coated tail.
Wolfie, Kitty and Bea run to help him in the bog, where he slowly begins to sink, near to unconsciousness.
"Celeste, I think she wants the gem," I shout over the monster´s eardrum-splitting melody.
But when I look to see the crystal tucked under Celeste´s arm, it is no longer a gem. It is now an egg, the same size as the gem, still as dark as the night.
My eyes rush back and forth between the slowly sinking Finn and the egg-hugging Celeste.