"Look at this," Scarlett murmurs, fumbling open the notebook paper. "This knife is the Subtle Knife. It hold unbelievable power. Don´t trust the icy residents. Don´t take the starboard path- always follow the crows. And don´t trust ANYONE. I wish you the best of luck, Scarlett. Fiducia, certa, potestatem- Natasha."
A short period of startling silence follows as we dissect the letter in our heads.
"What on earth is that supposed to mean?" Charmy groans.
"I do not know," Bea whispers. She pulls her map out of her bag and peers at the annotations. "But next place we have to go is Searing Crevice."
Scarlett rakes a hand through her tousled hair, and that´s when I realized how disgusting we all looked.
We each had heads of lank, greasy hair, and filthy grime has painted our skin a dull greyish colour. The cuts that decorated us have grown crusty, possibly infected scabs. A thick layer of scum has collected under my stubby nails, and I´m certain none of us have had the time to change our clothes in our journey.
"How about we clean up a bit before we leave?" Scarlett asks, as if reading my mind.
"I was thinking the same thing...I´m a mess!" whimpers Kitty, picking at her cuts.
"I suppose we could clean our hair in another part of the Crystal Springs," suggests Asher. "Split off into our partners."
I reluctantly go and stand with Scarlett, while everyone else pairs off.
"Round this way," I say, directing the group towards a cleaner part of the springs.
"Um, don´t we want our tents first?" Scarlett asks.
"Oh. Right. We should probably do that first."
Scarlett holds the paper tenderly, her eyes flickering over it repeatedly.
I watch her closely.
Our tent was now neatly folded into her backpack, as well as everyone else´s in one of the partner´s bags.
We were making our way to the cleanest part of the springs, mainly in silence.
I take the paper from her and pop it in the bag. I help her into the springs.
"Thank you," she says quietly.
"Right, let´s think this through," Charmaine says, standing up. "We move today. Next stop is Searing Crevice. We´ll need to top up on water- that place is a desert. It´s..." she checks her wristwatch. "...10am. We leave at 3; that way we should arrive at Searing Crevice at 9pm. It´ll be dark and not as hot to walk in." she rakes a hand through her braids. "Fill up your bottles."
Scarlett washes the blood off her skin and bathes the bruises silently, every so often sighing, scooping water into her flask.
"I´ll go get wood from the forest, I suppose," Kitty says, turning to the left.
"I´ll come!" Wolfie says quickly. "I...have to tell you something."
They disappear into the shady trees.
Scarlett´s eyes follow them with a cold sense of hatred.
"You okay, Mud-Head?" I ask, jumping into the springs with her.
She shakes her head, her sodden hair flying around her face.
"It´s okay, Scarlett. You going to end it with him?"
"Yep." her face crumples up and she covers her face with her hands. "I just want someone who actually cares about me! Why can´t I have that?" she sniffles.
I could think of a thousand things to say right then, but I say none.
She clambers out of the springs and places some pebbles in a ring.
"For the campfire," she explains, straightening them out.
Finn and Celeste huddle over their swords. Asher and Chase sit on the floor, chatting away. Charmy listens intently to Bea singing sweetly. Me and Scarlett were the only ones without a partner.
Her hair hangs in soggy tresses in front of her face, knelt over the pebble ring, her face bruised and swollen, shining with a sheen of sweat and pond water.
"Scarlett," I say quietly. "I have to tell you about Wolfie."
I explain to her what Kitty had said to me about the whole love and kissing scenario.
"And you tell me this NOW?!" shrieks Scarlett. "What if I kissed him before you told me? Then what? Why didn´t you tell me?!" she sighs and slumps against my shoulder. "I´ll never understand you, Blondie."
"You neither, Mudhead."
I smile to myself.
A shrill high-pitched shriek pierced the air from somewhere deep within the forest, quickly followed with a low, rumbling howl.
"Wolfie," Scarlett says, panicked. She jumps to her feet and pegs it deep into the forest.
The others begin to pack away as fast as possible and shoulder their packs, quickly following her.
I pause then follow them.
Not a good vibe from all this.
Only I manage to keep up with Scarlett. The others lag behind, beginning to wheeze and clutch their sides.
I smack twigs, bowing boughs and leaves out of my face, tripping blindly over roots, until finally, we reach the source of the howl and the shriek.
A big cat prowls the clearing, with auburn fur and muscle bulging from her elegant legs, fangs bared and eyes glowing a lime green. A wild dog, even bigger than her, with ripped muscle and heaving bulk, snarls and joins her.
"No..." Scarlett whispers.
Two mini backpacks lie, straps broken, on the ground.
"He...he wouldn´t..." Scarlett narrows her eyes. "Actually, yes. Yes he would do that."
They had turned feral.
Wolfie must have kissed Kitty.
She stomps out into the clearing, in full view of the two beasts. "You would do that!!"
They glare at her, lips curled back over their teeth, claws raking the ground. "Scarlett!" I hiss. "Get back here!"
I dither between staying in the safety of the undergrowth or jumping out to stop her.
Before I can help her, she brings her fist down hard on Wolfie´s long snout. He whimpers and jumps back.
"You cheating son of a bitch!" Scarlett screams.
Wolfie´s muscles swell to two times it´s size, froth forming at the edges of his mouth, Kitty joining him.
I finally snatch out and drag Scarlett out.
"We have to go. And leave them here, okay?" I say quickly, holding her shoulders.
"Gladly!" her face crumples, and she takes one last look at her lover and her best friend.
She shakes her head and runs out of the forest.
I follow her, and gesture for the others to join me.
I look back at the blur of grey and red fur, and leave.