I shift from foot to foot, anxious for Amelia to hurry up and return to her spot. Hundreds of people have gathered, some from the rebel camp and others from the Society, all prepared to fight.
I’m not on the front line, thank God. I’ve been placed in the middle, commanded to lead a group of our rebels into the fight when needed. Amelia’s taken control over the front line, something that makes me uncomfortable as you’d expect.
It’s the front line that always dies, hence why I’m here. Amelia came to the conclusion that there was no way she’d let me die and destroy the hearts of at least two people, Toby and of course, Eliza.
“Miss?” someone pats me on the shoulder and I whirl around in fright.
The snitch brings up the young mans details and I scan them quickly.
Ernest Hemmings, eighteen years old and one of the main tunnel workers.
“Yes?” I brush my hair behind my ears, but it almost immediately flies back.
“Just got word from Soldier Amelia. There’s been a change of plans.”
He holds up a handheld radio and I quickly take it.
“Alice, we’ve figured out a way to beat the bitch. We’re going to divide our people into four groups. One will take them head on, two will come from the sides and another from the back. They all seem to be gathered in one area.”
“There are flaws to that plan. Maybe they’ve had the same idea.”
“Yes, and that’s why when each group is split up, half of each group will face the fight while the other half face the other, prepared for any attacks that may come.”
“Are you sure this will work?”
“I was sure my dad was going to live, but I was wrong, wasn’t I? It’s still probably our best chance. There’s at least a thousand official soldiers and only hundreds of us. This is probably rhe best chance we have.”
I don’t know what more to say, but I can see out the corner of my eye that every person in my group seems to be watching me, waiting for the verdict.
“If you think it’ll work,” I say slowly. “So do I. What do you want me to do?”
She gives me her instructions carefully and than switches off her radio after a wish of good luck.
“Right!” I yell and all soldiers snap to attention. “I need to go take care of the front line and than I’ll be back. Stay exactly where you are.”
“I’ll make sure no one leaves!” Ernest smiles and hoists up his gun.
I can’t help but smile back.
After instructing the soldiers in the front line to make their way to the south side of the Society, I tell my group of soldiers to make their way to the east.
I’m not in charge of the actual fight, just setting everything up. Therefore, like Amelia instructed, I select a male named Keegan Berry to take charge, leave the group into battle and retain victory. I pull him aside to explain the whole process and he nods thoughtfully.
“Not the worst plan I’ve heard offered.”
Than two hundred men are led off.
Even though I don’t need to since someone’s already assigned, I help another young girl instruct her three hundred soldiers, this group is to fight from the North side.
I don’t need to help with the final group, the one that’s now the equivalent of the front line, but as I walk away, I can see the determination set in the soldier’s eyes.
Most of these are from the Society, so they also look extremely anxious, balancing guns carefully as their leader gives them orders on how to fight with them. Many will die, that’s obvious, but maybe more so than anyone ever thought.
I pick my way through the streets, slowly and carefully. There was a treaty announcement made by the government so we could prepare or pack up. I don’t trust them in anyway so the task of getting to my crew takes a good hour or two.
Never giving much thought to how big this city really is, I take the time now to do so as it rushes past me for maybe the last time. I’m sprinting now, thanks to the little time I have before the treaty’s over, but I still pick up on details.
The men, women and children not fighting have been moved underground. Not to our rebel camp, thanks to the danger of impostors, but to another sector of the tunnels Collin found months ago, big enough to fit a small gathering. Some are still making their way there and they look up at me as I run past. I wave at them and also yell out to be careful.
They’re not exactly doing their best to conceal themselves.
I only make it to my group just a few minutes before the treaty’s meant to be finished. They’ve divided themselves well, some facing forwards to where the officials have mostly aligned themselves, and the other outwards which is where I’ve been assigned, too.
“Do you have a gun?” a woman whom my snitch tells me is named Melanie holds one out to me.
“I do,” I lift up my lightweight jacket and flash her the black medal.
She nods approvingly.
“I guess we’ll be doing this next to each other.”
“You guessed correctly.”
We both survey the outings of the city where old roads still run out of. I’ve always wondered if there was a fence somewhere in the distance, blocking the people from leaving. Odds are, no one’s ever really bothered to go check. Why should we? The Chocolate Society was a good, but poorly executed, idea.
What we face is a highway that stretches as far as we can see. The land is mostly flat, some hills here and another hill there. There’s a few trees, but not nearly enough to conceal an army.
We should be safe.
Melanie’s come to the same conclusion.
“Maybe we should help the others?” she raises her eyebrows, pushing back her almost blue black hair.
“No,” I shake my head, pulling out my gun and checking I have enough bullets. There’s a box of spares if I so need them. “They might need us as back up.”
“Let’s hope they don’t.”
I’m not feeling all that hopeful.
Earlier, in the early hours of morning, I woke Toby up with a long kiss, telling him I’d be back as soon as I possibly could.
He got all emotional, nearly crying as he crushed me to his chest and making me want to cry, but I did my best to look positive.
I left him than, only ten minutes after waking him up. I love him, I do, but my time belonged to someone else. Someone who had been with me for years and stood by me. Someone who would never leave me by choice.
Someone who threatened anyone that laid a finger on me.
Three hours, that’s as long as I had until I had to be at the tunnel entrance, ready to go. I got up at about 4 in the morning, dressing and eating so there would be nothing that could distract me from spending time with my best friend.
Eliza was happy to be woken up, almost cheered when I did. I told her to stay quiet as I listed all the things I was sorry for.
Taking her here, her parents being shot, the torture she went through and of course, not telling her about the war declaration.
I should have told her, I know that and so does she. I was going to, too, but every time I opened my mouth to tell her, something else would come flying out.
She listened to me intently, hanging on to my every word as she eyed me carefully, checking I wasn’t lying.
She told me once that if ever she could keep one job, one job in the entire Society, it would be counselling.
Yes, we have councillors here. They work for the schools mostly since yes, even the officials know that depression isn’t something that could be needled away. Eliza worked their twice over the years, but she loved it and as she watches for lies now, I’m reminded of that.
She would be great. There would be no pulling her leg and she’d tell you just how you feel.
“I have something else I want to apologise for,” I said to her finally, digging my nails into my wrists.
She simply raised her eyebrows, cocking her head to the side slightly.
Her face was quite funny. I had never seen her so confused.
Before she could object, I held up a finger and quickly told her everything.
“I’ve been devoting myself to him, way way to much. I did the maths in my head last night and since coming here, I’ve spent more time with him than anyone else. Way more time in fact. I know all the books say that when your friends get boyfriends or whatever, it’s normal for their time allocations to switch, but I never ever meant for it to be that bad.”
She stared at me blankly for a few moments before asking,
“You did maths?”
After laughing a bit, I went into more detail with her about how sorry I was for that. I dragged her into this mess when she could have easily stayed up here and lived an almost happy life. It was no way fare that I practically abandoned her over each day that went passed. I told Toby that when, or if, I get back, things were going to have to change. He nodded at my words, completely agreeing. Apparently he tried to tell me a few times that I was abandoning my best friend, but I wouldn’t listen, to caught up in my own world.
I told Eliza I loved her, of course, and promised I’d be back. I have every intention to as well.
But after a hug and a kiss on both cheeks, my final words to her were,
“Don’t hide your pain. It’s okay to be hurting. We all do it.”
Eliza’s who I’m really fighting for, I conclude while letting my eyes drift over the highway. Best friends are never meant to be separated, boyfriend or not.
The countdown starts after that, sixty seconds. Since our location is meant to be secret, soldier Keegan Berry won’t let the men countdown. We can hear the others though, the ones from the front line. If we can hear it, I’m betting that they’re probably screaming it.
When we get to the final ten seconds, I meet eyes with Melanie, my war partner.
She’s young, older than me, but still young. She has two kids, according to my snitch. Harold and Jessica.
“You’re kids will be so proud of you,” I tell her and she smiles warmly.
“I know. They’ve already told me.”
We’re still smiling at each other when we reach zero.
Chaos pretty much starts right away.
I more so feel than hear the first explosion that jolts me to the side, crashing into Melanie who’s also been jolted.
In fact, the whole line has been jolted.
“What was that?” a soldier barks, but Keegan yells for everyone to shut up.
“Move forward quietly until we get a good view of them from behind.”
Feeling shaken, I start to move backwards, clinging hands with Melanie who stills holds onto me.
Another explosion and another. There’s actually been five explosions before we finally come to a stop, me bumping into someone’s back.
There’s audible gun shots now, meaning me must be close. The men in the front line of this group have rifles meaning we’re still not as close as you’d think.
I stand my group, keeping my eyes straight ahead as I try to stop from falling over with each explosion,
I’m wondering where they’re coming from. Not from the sky since even the officials don’t have air carriers and certainly not from us.
I’m wondering if they have cannons or something, firing at the men in the front line.
I’m wondering, but I already know, especially when Melanie starts to sob, doing her best to stay still.
“Melanie,” I say calmly, hoping she can hear me over the rifle shots. “Melanie, remain positive whatever you do.”
“My babies are down there. My Harold.. My Jessica.”
“My best friend’s down there and my boyfriend. They’ll be moving the people.”
I know they are. It’s very unlikely the officials know exactly where the rebel camp is. After the first bomb, I’m sure they’d start to evacuate the place.
My brain literally refuses to think what might happen if they’re not.
Tears prickle my eyes, but I don’t let them fall.