It had only been a few hours when Celeste walked back up the road towards the house.
The four of them walked close together, none of their faces gave away any hint of why they were back so soon. I had expected them to be gone for at least a few days, and concern was gripping my heart – but none of them looked worse for wear, which was good in its own way, but even more confusing.
On seeing my expression Celeste power walked her way over to me, taking me by the arm, narrowly avoiding a rouge hit my sparring partner had decided to aim at me while I was distracted.
Celeste glared at him before carefully steering me away from the fighting and towards the rest of the group. None of them looked tired, or were sweating in the slightest – making me wonder exactly where they had been and what they had been doing.
As we reached the group I stared at each of them as they shared a look, easily forming a guard around me with Celeste in the front. Slowly but purposefully they led me towards the front of the house, stopping just short of the front gate, stepping into the shadows of one of the trees.
“What?” I asked, trying to peer around Celeste, only able to catch glances of what was ahead.
Celeste turned to me and smiled brilliantly before stepping out of my line of sight. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. From here I could see at least a few dozen sleeping bags, and tents were scattered around the edges. People sat in small clumps talking – people with tattered clothing sat and chatted with people who looked like they could buy Buckingham Palace with their pocket money.
“Whoa” I spoke without even meaning too and Celeste smiled smugly – as though she had been the one to gather all these people here – but I knew she couldn’t take the credit.
“We’ve been out here all morning talking to the girl who said she’s their leader, from what he found out they all answer to her.” Celeste scowled, and I had a feeling that meeting didn’t go particularly well.
“She wasn’t a fan of Dolly and I.” Celeste explained, and I clenched my hands into fists – who is this girl to judge my best friend?
“She asked to see our leader” Celeste restrained a smile.
“Like ‘take me to your leader’ kind of way?” I asked, and Celeste couldn’t hold back the laugh that escaped her lips, nodding.
“Right, well, take me to their leader.” I pulled a face, and the group once again formed their protective circle around me.
Celeste pushed her way through the horde of people, who had instantly swarmed us, arms reaching through my guards to touch my shoulder, or my hair, a wild look in their eyes said they were all a few cents short of a dollar.
Our little group slowly made its way towards one of the bigger more outlandish tends in the grounds – a bright orange that stood out against the greys and browns of the other ones in the vicinity.
Celeste knocked on the way next to the door, and I was surprised to see that the material didn’t bend under the force of her hand. She turned to look at me, and I nodded, allowing her to back off a little, and the group to form a looser circle around me.
A girl who seemed to be around the same age as me opened the flap, short bleach blonde hair was cut into a kind of pixie look with deep plum tips on the ends, she gave me a once over, before smiling wickedly.
“Come in.” She insisted, but I was sure the invitation was for me only.
“Go back to Karter, tell him to expect guests.” I instructed three of the group who had escorted me, making sure Celeste understood she was to come in with me.
The inside of the tent was almost double what it looked like from outside – it was honestly something out of Harry Potter. There was enough room inside the tent for at least ten more sleeping bags, making me curious as to why she made people sleep outside.
“If I started choosing favourites they would revolt.” She explained, guessing at my thought process.
“Please sit.” She motioned to the cushions on the floor, and I tried to sit as gracefully as I could – not an easy feat.
The girl sat opposite me, with Celeste hanging back the entrance, and even though I would have preferred her to be sitting with me, I knew she was still giving me her full support.
“I’m Payton, I heard about your upcoming ‘save-the-world’ war and I want to get involved.”
At least she got straight to the point, but I felt like there was more to this than that.
“I’m Ella, we don’t know how, or what we’re up against, all we know is that the world is going to end – and we’re going to try to stop it.” I explained and Payton smiled.
“Look, sweetheart, I don’t care about your motives, or even if there’s a 100:1 chance we’re going to win, all we want is to be able to get our hands dirty and smash Winston back into the hole he crawled out from.” Payton crossed her arms and my mouth went dry.
I do not want to be this girl’s enemy.
I realised her proclamation left no room for argument, so I shrugged simply.
“There are enough rooms in the house for all of your people. Some will have to share a room, but I’m sure they’d prefer that to sleeping in the open. We also have combat classes going all day every day.”
I stood, leaving no room for discussion.
“I would expect all your people in a room by tonight.” I explained, before stepping out into the cool air.
I must have been in that tent for over an hour, even though it felt like no time at all – I must be going crazy, loosing bits and pieces of time like this. Even as the though crossed my mind we crossed the threshold back into our base.
Just as I was preparing to take a deep breath and head back to the sparring mats – Grey ran up to me, excitedly pointing in the direction of the fortune seeing girl – Emery. He gripped my hand in his, pulling me along until I was face to face with the girl, who was shivering uncontrollably.
“She kept saying your name.” Grey explained breathlessly and I nodded, carefully squatting down to eyelevel with the girl – not taking my eyes off of hers even as they became an unsightly yellow.
“Ella” She stated, and I grabbed her hand lightly, showing her that I was here.
“Speak.” I ordered, and on hearing my voice the girl seemed to relax, letting out a breath I didn’t realise she had been holding.
“The war begins at noon in three days in a city square. You will challenge Winston to a fight, and when it doesn’t go his way his army will begin the war. There is so much blood, so much death and carnage…. There will be no survivors.” Emery’s voice dropped off at the end and I stilled, trying to stall for time.
“Keep this between us, swear it.” I looked at the small group who had huddled around Emery and I, who had all heard the same fortune that I did.
One by one they agreed, silently going off, either to rejoin the sparring or off into the face to lament the fact they thought they were going to die.
“What if Winston doesn’t die?” I asked Emery quietly, and she looked at me, searching my eyes before focusing on the horizon.
“If someone else dies in his place there is a chance that the world will survive.”
Emery didn’t sound very certain – but the future was fluid, and with every second my resolve became stronger. The world was finally more important to me than finding love, or becoming someone’s soul-mate.
Emery frowned, but didn’t move to speak, I wondered briefly if the future was changing in front of her very eyes, from one where no-one survived to that where most of the world was left unharmed.
I stood, leaving Emery to her thoughts and quickly took my place on the sparring mats, facing off against Karter, who, with one look at my face, quickly set to trying to beat me up. It wasn’t that he was trying to hurt me – he was just trying to make me as strong as I could possibly be, he didn’t need to hear the future to know that something had changed in my mindset.
“So about the groupies.” He stated, breathing heavily as we circled one another.
We were both sweating heavily, and I could feel some of my ribs bruising. Over the past hour of sparring we had seen most of the group from outside move into the house. Most of them were wary at first, stopping to watch us spar before moving on. At least now some of them had actually joined in, most of them stuck with one another, but a few were brave enough to spare against one of our people.
“What about them?” I asked, narrowly avoiding a hit to my stomach and responding with kicking Karter in the leg, making him move back a few steps.
“Do you know where their loyalties lie?” He questioned, moving in close.
Over the last hour I had discovered that Karter was a close range fighter, if he could get inside someone’s guard, they were as good as gone, so I had to stay on my toes to keep him out of range. I kicked at him, glad he didn’t have the reflexes to grab my foot midair.
I shrugged, avoiding his question until he got in close range, eyes flashing with premature victory he jabbed at my gut, never expecting me to reach forward and grab his hands with a speed I had brought to life through pure imagination. I pulled him close, before sweeping my foot behind his own, taking him down the ground and landing on top of him, hand pressed against his chest.
“Kill shot.” I stated proudly, and he stared up at me in awe before beginning to laugh.
Karter wrapped his arms around my waist, easily lifting me off of him and placing me beside him. I lay down opposite him, slowly letting my breathing return to normal before I finally decided to answer his question.
“Their loyalties lie with us for now, but…” I shrugged, and Karter seemed to understand I was saying ‘if they get a better offer their loyalties will change.’
We now had less than two days to prepare for war. But I felt confident enough that my people would hold their own. I had to believe that if I was going into this war to die, that the world would be ok in my wake.
Karter asked me to spend the night with him again, and though I had it firm in my mind to say no, I just couldn’t. I didn’t know what went on his mind when he was asleep, but the night before he had woke me up with his shivering, it took me almost half an hour to wake him up, and after would he wouldn’t tell me what his dream was about, the only indicator was that he held me much closer after would.
So I bit my tongue and snuggled into bed with him, not complaining when he slipped an arm around my waist and pulled me to him, kissing the back of my head in a gesture so innately intimate it scared me. Karter slowly relaxed and drifted off, snoring slightly, and I had to force myself to sleep, all the while my soul was begging me to find the one it really wanted.