Still sniffing, the friends of Emmaline O’Meern lay against each other, too tired and too full of grief to speak. Gator absentmindedly rested his head against Tracer’s shoulder, gazing gloomily into the dying glow of the remains of Skyglass, now leaning precariously over the river racing below it. Nothing stood in the way of falling asleep to shut out the grief, but he couldn’t. None of them could. Something deep in their hearts told them that Emma couldn’t be gone. But there was no proof she would come back, and as the terrible night wore on, hope was painfully draining out of them.
Tracer broke the aching silence first.
“What do we do now?” was all he asked.
Gator breathed heavily. “I don’t know.”
“Can we go home?” moaned Raven, half asleep, from Wayk’s lap.
“Are you kidding?” exclaimed Kael, looking down the row. “Those Guards saw us! And there are, like, a million cameras in every tree. You really think they wouldn’t put two and two together?”
“Yeah, he’s right,” Falcon groaned solemnly, running his fingers through his short, dirty hair. “They’ll have records of our attack. The second any of us step inside the boundary again, we’re all hashed.” He made eye contact with everyone, searching their faces for understanding. “We can’t go back.”
A sudden noise from across the darkness made them snap their heads around. A critical support root of the tree had finally collapsed with a vicious crack, and the still-burning tree moaned its last. They watched as the Temple slowly tilted, then gained momentum and plunged into the dark river, hissing like a thousand evil serpents as fire met water. Its death was a final piercing into the hearts of everyone: their Temple was lost, their friends and family were lost, and Emmaline, dear, brave Emmaline, was lost. There was nothing left for them here.
Raven hid his face from the sight and began whimpering into Wayk’s leg. Gator, Falcon, and Tracer wiped newly sprung tears from their eyes, and Kael shielded his face behind his tendrils of blond-turned-brown hair. Wayk stared at the shadowless landscape in front of him and wondered aloud, “Where are we supposed to go?”
“We go home, we die. We stay here, we die. There’s no way to escape this madhouse,” ruminated Tracer. “Dang it, I’m so tired of fighting this place, its rules, its secrets. Why does everything have to be so screwed up?”
As the immense, stubborn fire continued blazing from the river, enough that ash began to fall, Gator inquired, “Couldn’t…couldn’t we change our names? Make disguises? You know, like on spy movies? Or—”
Falcon laughed frantically. “I don’t know, Gator, I just don’t know. I’m too tired to even think about thinking about it, and frankly I’m not sure I care anymore!” He stood up abruptly, fumbled his way a few feet down the slope and turned around. “Don’t you guys get it?” he demanded incredulously. “There is no way out of this! We’re trapped! We always have been.” He waved his arms about, trying to convey the hopelessness of their situation. “We can’t pass the Wall, and we can’t stay here either! Even if we did manage to keep low, whoever’s left of the Guard will search every corner of NeverSeen until they find us! See? There’s no place that we can hide, no place that we can rest! They’re going to hunt us down and make us Traitors! They’ll kill us just like Emmaline!”
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