I just run, tripping over my feet, gasping for air and dragging a panicky Octavia by my side.
The light cuts through the jet night, nipping at our ankles, threatening to swallow us.
The forest is near at this point, and Ryder and Aurora are by a tree, beckoning for us to hurry.
"Mackenz-" Octavia wheezes, just before she trips and slams into the ground, writhing in the eye of the watchtower.
"Hey!" groggily roars the man in the tower, the rotating light now fixed on Octavia.
He aims the gun out of the hole in the tower. "No entering or leaving the grounds, missy!" He lays a finger on the trigger.
"Octavia," I whisper from the safety of the shadows. "Get up, Octavia!"
She drags herself to her feet, clearly winded, tears streaming down her face and cuts covering her hands and cheeks.
I pull her out of the light and sprint towards the forest.
"Hey!" the man shouts, quickly swiveling the light in a panicked manner in an attempt to find us.
I delve into the tall fir trees and into some bracken, tangled in the thorns and brambles.
"Oc-tavi-a," I pant, clambering out of the thicket and plucking the thorns out of my satchel. "Are-you-oh-kay..."
"Yeah," she whispers, taking a swig from her water-filled flask. "Thanks for staying with me, Mackenzie. I appreciate it."
I nod in welcome.
The first rays of sunshine peek through the trees, dappling the early morning sun on the grassy ground.
It was day, and there was the sun.
It was light, like a thousand- no, a million fireflies clustered in the sky, casting peels of shining rays upon us.
So this was the sun.
It wasn┤t a carrot!
"The sun," whispers Ryder. He stumbles forwards and dips his hand into the rays.
"What┤s that further up there?" I ask. Shimmering white in a clearing, surrounded by leafy shrubs and tall stalks. "Is it...water?"
I had wanted to see real water since forever.
The water at the asylum was pumped full of chemicals to prevent a reflection, as vanity there is illegal, and to stop all our preservatives and dyes from washing off.
"I-I think it is!" Aurora exclaims, stumbling forward to it.
She flops face-first into the pond, sloshing pure water everywhere.
"It is water," I say quietly, staring into it intently.
I saw myself for the very first time.
My nose was perky and slight, a little turned up at the end, and my chin was sharp and angular. My eyes were grey, like everyone┤s, and hawk-shaped. My skin was pale, painted white with the asylum┤s palette.
"That┤s me," I say. Ryder and Octavia are peering into the water as well.
I begin to feel the corners of my mouth turning upward, when suddenly my face in the water is obscured by a flurry of paint.
She has been completely transformed.
Her hair is copper, a brilliant wine red, and with the lenses washed out of her pupils, her eyes gleam watery blue. Freckles are spattered across her button nose, and her skin is slightly more tanned than before.
As the icing on the cake, a massive smile is stretched way across her face as she stares at her reflection.
"Hahaha! Look at me!" she trills, diving into the water and swimming back to the surface.
All these colours...they┤re startling.
In the best way.
Aurora grasps my arm and pulls me in too, and I can hear Ryder rooting through my satchel on the ground, and I didn┤t even care why. All I cared was that I was about to be transformed.
The water certainly did feel different. The water at the asylum felt heavy, thick, polluted with chemicals. This felt light and healthy, clear, pure, transparent.
I surface and feel as though I had lost a stone in weight.
The thick layer of makeup disappears into the water, as well as the black chemical that infected my blood.
I lift my hands to look at them and nearly fell over.
My skin was now a golden, olive colour, and from looking at my reflection, my hair is a chocolaty colour, streaked with light, milky strands of light brown.
My eyes are a strange amber, yellowy colour.
"Oh my..." my mouth stretches into a full, crescent-shaped smile.
I hear the snap of a camera taking a picture, and see Ryder taking pictures of me smiling.
"What are you doing?" I ask, unable to lift the grin from my face.
"Adding to your book," he replies, taking the instant photo and slotting it into the frame labelled ┤_____┤s first smile┤. He fills it in as ┤Mackenzie┤s┤.
"Oh!" I say, and turn around to see Aurora┤s brilliant hair again, but instead see my reflection once more.
"Phahahahaha! This is amazing!" I laugh. Laughing felt incredible, like the world┤s biggest burden had just been raised from my shoulders.
I turn and see Ryder flicking the ┤Stop Recording┤ button on the tape in the book labelled ┤Mackenzie┤s First Laugh┤.
"Thank you, Ryder," I say softly.
"No problem," he replies.
I grab the hem of his long shorts and pull him into the water as well, giggling uncontrollably.
I wring out my hair as we walk, soaking up the golden sunshine, shaking the water out of my waterlogged boots.
Ryder┤s hair turned out to be an ashy blonde, his skin dark and sun-kissed with a mole above his left eyebrow, and Octavia was dark-skinned and black-haired.
At this point, we were trekking through the forest, following Aurora┤s compass, weaving in and out of trees.
"You don┤t suppose there are...bears in these forests, are there?" Octavia asks worriedly.
"I doubt it," I say, ignoring the rustling in the bushes and steady breaths from the undergrowth. "But it┤s not impossible."
I toss her a tin of dried peaches to ease her worries.
"Can we stop somewhere?" I ask. "It┤s been an hour since the pond and my legs are hurting."
Ryder nods and sits on a nearby log, shrugging off his satchel and fishing through it.
I do the same, and produce a bottle of pure water I had filled from a different spring and a packet of flavorless, dried raisins.
We all eat wordlessly, simply shoving handful after handful of assorted disgusting dried fruits into our mouths.
"I┤m sick of dried fruit!" growls Aurora, chucking her wizened apple slices into the undergrowth. "I want something fresh!"
Her eye catches a bush covered in juicy, purple plums, brimming with juice, the same time I see it.
"Oh my," she whispers, climbing forward towards it.
"Aurora," Ryder cautions.
She ignores him.
She reaches out and snatches a plum, and takes a bite from it, the purple juice running down her chin as she sinks her teeth into the berry.
"Ooohhh...guyth, oo ave cho chry thith," she murmurs as she indulges in the flesh of the plum.
I┤m just standing up to join her when loud rustling sounds from the bush next to her.
She stops chewing, paralyzed in fear, eyes widened.
Countless amounts of grey, furry legs drop soundlessly from the bracken.
Attached to those legs were muscular, heaving bodies.
Attached to the bodies were snarling, slavering heads, dripping frothy saliva onto the ground.
So, no, there weren┤t bears in the forest.
But there was a pack of wolves who didn┤t like people eating their plums.
"Aurora," I whisper. "Don┤t move."
She breathes evenly, and drops what┤s left of the plum to the ground.
Octavia moves forward.
"Tavi?" I ask worriedly.
She ignores me.
The wolves pounce, and Octavia blocks their attack toward Aurora in a deathly embrace, the wolven teeth tearing through her skin.