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Where I Live (Part 19)
When I got outside, I shoved my hands into my pockets and walked at a leisurely pace, but as soon as I was out of sight in the forest, I sped up. I didn’t sprint even though I wanted to and made sure I went completely around where I estimated Spike and Kole would still be walking. Once I’d gotten back to the lake where I remembered our family going out onto the water that one summer, I turned and looked out at the forest.
I thought back to that day and conjured up in my mind a little version of myself leading my younger siblings into the trees. I followed after them, retracing the steps we’d taken that day. After a while, Kyla tugged on my sleeve and I turned to head that way. Just as I started to see her and Kadin running towards the little hill, I caught three different scents nearly at once and hid behind a tree. As soon as Ethan ran into view, I tackled him behind the boulder, clamping a hand over his mouth.
“Shut up and stop struggling!” I hissed in a whisper. “I’m not going to hurt you but the Hunter that’s coming this way will!”
He stiffened, going completely still and only moved when I got slowly up off of him. He inched a little away from me and I tried to ignore him as I peeked around the side of the boulder. I could hear fast footsteps and when I looked, I saw someone running our way on all fours. It was Ran. I had picked up his scent earlier. The first had been Ethan’s. The second had been Ran’s. And the third . . . the third was disinfectant.
How did he get out?
I vaguely noticed Ethan move to the other side of the rock to see what was happening. Ran sprinted on all fours, eyes wild, looking behind him every couple of seconds. I looked behind him and saw the Hunter, walking calmly. As Ran climbed desperately up a tree, I turned back around. I didn’t want to see it. He’d been reduced to animal instincts and nothing more. I could hear him growling and whimpering almost at the same time as the Hunter got closer and after a while, there was a little pop, like a gun had been shot with a silencer.
I turned and looked up just long enough to see a little fuzzy dart sticking out of Ran’s leg. Tranquilizer. I thought as I pulled back slowly. Just a tranquilizer. He wouldn’t kill his prize. . . He wants them alive.
Soft little whimpers came from the tree and it took only a couple minutes for me to hear the muted thud of a body hitting the ground. Then, leaves and dirt shifted and heavy footsteps faded away. Ethan started to follow, but I grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled him back down.
“What are you doing!?” He whispered.
“Saving your butt.” I replied, trying not to look him in the eye. “You’re not going after him!”
“What are you, my mother? You weren’t all that concerned if I got hurt last night, especially since you were the one doing it!”
I fell silent for a few seconds and took a deep breath. “I already know where’s he’s going. You can’t just follow after a Hunter like that. You don’t even know anything about Hunters. He’d have you hogtied in seconds.”
He glared at me fiercely and I realized I’d never seen the expression on his face before. “I would say ‘bite me’ but I’m pretty sure you’d actually do it.”
“This is no time for talking about that! It was a mistake!”
“Then when is the time? ‘Cause I think it’s something that really needs to get talked about!”
I growled low in my throat. “Just shut up and stay down unless you want to die!”
He glared at me for another few seconds before turning away angrily. We both waited until I heard the muted, far away clunk of doors opening and closing. Then, we waited for longer until Kole dropped down out of the trees next to us.
“You!” He shouted.
“Me!” I shot back, not feeling as playful as I sounded.
“Why, you little –!”
He ran at me but Ethan caught him around the waist. “Shut up! We shouldn’t make too much noise!”
“Fine, I’ll quiet down, just let me go so I can kill her!”
“Sit down! You’re not the one that got bit!”
With one strong shove from Ethan, Kole landed on his butt with a thump. He blinked up at the older boy in shock. Maybe he hadn’t seen Ethan angry before either.
“How can you be so calm!?” Kole whispered.
“Wow, that was a fast recovery.” I muttered to myself.
“I’m not calm, I’m angry!” Ethan hissed back. “But I’m trying to put that aside until we get all of those people safely back to their families. And then afterwards I might have to kick the crap out of a certain Jungle Cat.”
“You do know I can probably beat you in a fight, right?”
“I know that!” He stabbed a finger at me angrily. “Let me have my moment!”
“Fine, whatever. I have places to be.”
With that, I walked away. The Hunter was long gone so I didn’t bother being quiet as I walked towards where I knew the doors would be. When I saw a small hill, my hopes rose, but as it did, fear started sinking in. Taking a deep breath, I came around to the other side of the hill and saw only leaves. Not wanting to test the door by stomping on it since it would make noise, I got down on my knees and started clearing away the leafy camouflage, wondering how he’d covered it up while he was inside. When I had cleared away a small patch of leaves, I expected to get splinters from the old door’s wood, but no such thing could have happened.
The doors were metal.
They’d been replaced.
Though they were painted a dark brown so they looked a little like wood, the cold feeling and hard texture made it clear that they were indeed some form of metal. Clearing away most of the leaves, I slipped off my hat and pressed my ear to the seam. I could hear small sounds from inside, something like an air conditioner or filter, but the footsteps had gone. I pulled my tail out through the hole in the back of my pants, thinking I’d need as much balance and extra coordination as I could get. I pulled a little on the door and to my surprise, it opened.
That was too easy. Don’t let your guard down. . . Stop talking to yourself. I was just about to step down onto the metal stairs when I heard footsteps above me.
“What is this place?” Ethan asked, his anger having faded into the background for the moment.
“It’s a bunker.” I whispered.
“Looks creepy.” He lowered his voice too.
“Yeah, well this is all you’re gonna see.”
“What? What are you talking about?” He glared a little.
Uh-oh, I’ve disturbed the beast. “You’re staying here. I’m going in. Now if you’ll excuse me, talking is dangerous with these doors open.
I started to walk down and close them, but he reached down and caught one of the doors. “You’re not going down there alone.”
“And why not? I don’t need an amnesiac Bird to help. Or one that hasn’t hit puberty yet.”
“Hey!” Kole snapped.
Ethan clapped his free hand over the smaller boy’s mouth. “Quiet. No matter how much I hate you right now,” I was surprised at how much actually hearing him say it hurt, “I can’t let you go in there alone. So let us come with you or we’ll make as much noise as possible.”
I knew he was lying, but I nodded anyway. “Fine, but if we’re going to do this I’m in charge. You do what I say as I say it, no hesitation, no contradiction.”
After looking at each other for a few seconds, they nodded and I pushed the doors up a little, holding them open. Even when all of us were low enough on the stairs to close them, I kept my hands on the doors. I looked at Kole. I could tell by his scent that he was sweating even in the cool air. He was afraid and his eyes kept darting around nervously.
“Last chance.” I said quietly. “If you want to turn back . . . do it now.”
Kole looked back at me and I could see his panic, but he shook his head. “My sister . . . I’m coming too.”
Nodding once, I slowly and quietly closed the doors. “Then let’s move. As silently as possible, all right? So from now on don’t talk unless it’s necessary.”
They both nodded and I led the way as we crept silently down the dark passage. As I realized I still wasn’t wearing shoes, I silently thanked my Jungle Cat heritage. Though they were the same color as my skin, on the bottom of my feet, I had protective pads, just like a cat. It was the only thing that had prevented my feet from being ripped to shreds in the forest and now on the metal floors. Unfortunately, I don’t have them on my fingers. If I did it would hinder my sense of touch too much.
Shaking my head a little, I forced myself to focus on the situation at hand, putting all of my senses on alert. As I took a deep breath, I was overwhelmed by the scents all around me. There were many different Birds and Wolves here, along with a very faint Cat scent. Since it was so familiar I could easily decipher Kadin’s from the rest, bringing anger back into the rapid mix of emotions I was already feeling.
I stopped walking for a second and tried to filter out the clans’ scents. There was air flow coming from vents near the ceiling so the scents were everywhere, places they shouldn’t have been. I would have to find Kadin and the others the old fashioned way: by actually looking for them. Before now, I had been sure there couldn’t have been many places for this Hunter to hide them, but now I realized that he had expanded the bunker by a lot and we would actually have to search.
Or maybe not. I thought as both of my ears twitched up. I held up a hand as we approached a door, then took a few steps forward and pressed my ear against it. “It’s quiet, guys. Unless there’s another door inside the next room . . . we just barely avoided a run in with our Hunter.”
Kole twitched and took a deep breath. Ethan’s expression didn’t change.