Fortitude Part 37
“I really don’t like being down here,” Teddy said.
“There’s no such things as ghosts.”
“But it’s dark.” Teddy was right behind me, nearly treading on my heels with every step.
“It’s always dark inside a cave; the fact that it is dark outside doesn’t really change that.” Still, I sent a little more power to the lantern I held to light up the area around us. “Better?”
“Not really. I really don’t want to go out there, either.”
We were nearly through the tunnel leading out of the city. We’d had to wait for darkness to enter the cave. I didn’t think we’d be able to find Wildman, but the area he’d been in seemed to get pretty close to the city. My plan was to get a good distance from the wall and then set up a call that would hopefully bring Wildman in.
The true danger lay in what else might come, though, so I brought two pistols as well as my sword. The jungle outside the city smelled very different from the cultured gardens in the city. The scent of dirt and decaying plant matter underscored the perfume of flowers. Without the sun, the riot of color was muted, but everything was eerily beautiful in the moonlight too.
I tucked away the lantern, hanging it on a hook at the base of my pack. “Don’t want to attract unwanted attention. Let’s go, we have a good walk ahead of us.”
Closer to the river gave us a better chance of luring in Wildman. No matter how toxic the water, it was still a rich ecosystem. Whatever he ate when he wasn’t getting supplies from hapless travelers or pilfering it from Anna’s people probably came from around there.
My handkerchief was soaked with sweat by the time we reached close enough to hear the ripples of the water at the bank of the river. A small clearing made the ideal spot to stop. “This looks about right.” I swung the pack off my shoulders and carefully settled it down on the ground.
“Now we set up the signal.”
I pulled out two wrapped packages and then a small lantern with a fine wire mesh surrounding the element. “Here, take these.” I handed a package and the lantern out to Teddy. I unwrapped the other package, and the redolent scent of cheese filled the warm air of the clearing.
“Whew. That’s going to call more than Wildman,” Teddy said.
“That’s fine. The animals migrating over here might alert him to something going on if he’s not close enough to catch a whiff himself. Over here.” I walked over to one of the large trees around the clearing. Unlacing the bag of my pack from the metal frame, I bent a few of the bars to make a crude lid for the boxy frame. I stuck the package Teddy held inside and then tied the top shut with a rope.
First I tied a rock to the free end, then sighting above me with one eye squinted shut, I swung the rope up and over a sturdy branch. “Yes!” I hauled on the rope until the pack hung about chest high. “Put the lantern on the hook.”
Still bound up with his arm in a sling, Teddy needed help opening the hook, but together we got the lantern on the pack board box with the cheese inside.
“Can you find some rocks? Just fist-sized is fine.” I finished the knot holding the bait in the air and then Teddy and I arranged the rocks in an arrow pointing toward the city. I stomped on them several times to drive them into the dirt—far enough they wouldn’t budge from the pattern easily, but not hard enough to bury them under the soil.
“Now what?” Teddy glanced nervously over his shoulder. “I hear something.”
The sound of twigs breaking and bushes rustling was growing louder. I didn’t want to be in the clearing when the bait did its job just in case it brought the four-legged variety of danger. “Now I power up the lantern, and we head back to the tunnel.”
I gave enough of my power that the lantern was blazing white. I slung the nearly empty bag over my shoulder and held up our personal lantern. “Let’s go.”
We traipsed back through the jungle, alert for danger. Exhaustion was beginning to drag at my feet when we finally reached the rocky outcropping at the mouth of the tunnel back to the city.
“Just need to rest,” Teddy mumbled. He collapsed on the ground just inside the tunnel.
It reminded me of the last time we were here, but this time he wasn’t just tired, he was hurt. “We’ll wait here and rest for a while.”
My back ached, and my legs were sore from all the walking we’d been doing. I helped Teddy haul himself up against a smooth edge of a rock and sank down next to him. We leaned against each other, our sides plastered from shoulder to ankle.
“Do you think this is ever going to be over?” Teddy asked.
“It has to.” I left out the rest of what I wanted to say. One way or another, we’d either not care because we’d have lost our abilities and be poor wrecks like all the other betas and gammas, or we’d put a stop to the king’s atrocities.
“I’m tired.” Teddy yawned. He snuggled closer to me, resting his head against my chest.
“Go ahead and close your eyes. I’ll stay awake.”
I intended to, I really did. Teddy was leaning across my lap and my legs were deadened from how long it’d been since I moved. I blinked, trying to clear the sleepy crust from my eyes.
What woke me up? I eased my hand down to my belt.
“More food.” Wildman dropped to the ground in front of us. He eyed the pack at my side and licked his lips.
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