We had our plan ready on Seven-day, 20, April.
Lukas, under Corey's careful instructions, drew up a simple map of the land between Roscoff and Korehtz, marking in a large blue circle for the lake and brown jagged lines for the mountains which were used as a barrier, separating the main city from the rest of Acire.
Corey drew two small circles, one beside the lake and the other by the mountains, to represent safe houses that he knew we would be able to stay in. He wasn't intending on coming with us, even when he marked a dotted line to show an abandoned railway which would take us all the way to Korehtz.
I pulled a small leather rucksack onto my back. The contents was limited, not enough to fill the scrap of paper I had listed each item in my bag and Lukas' on.
We had enough food for one meal a day for the next five or so days, the amount of time it would take us to get to Korehtz if there were no delays. Corey had given us a miniature fishing rod and bait and a fire starter to catch and cook fish when we were at the lake.
“Are you sure that you're not coming with us, Corey?” Lukas asked.
I didn't say a word and kept pretending that I was rechecking the contents of my back. For some reason, I didn't trust Corey. Back then, I had no idea why. There was just something about him that made me think that he was watching us for someone else.
After he kindly repeated that he was not coming with us and it would take us about six hours to reach the first safe house, he ushered Lukas and I to the door, pointing out the direction which we had to go in.
Those were the last words he said to us, spoken with a slight nod of his head as he held the door open, almost impatient for us to leave.
“Thank you,” Lukas replied. “Safe journey to you, too.”
I just nodded and strode forward, intent on making it to the place where the edge of the desert and forest met in the next two hours, just like I had predicted before we left.
It had only been an hour and a half when we reached the lake, reflecting the empowering sunlight like a giant silver mirror. Although I was tempted to take hold of Lukas' arm and drag him towards the glistening water, I resisted the urge, knowing that taking a break would waste too much time.
It was nearing sunset, around five and a half hours since we departed from the schoolroom a couple hours past midday. We would arrive at the first safe houses within the next hour.
As we walked in a comfortable silence, my mind wound back to the lines that Corey had drew on the map, marking our route. If we didn't stop at the safe house, it would have taken at least twelve hours to get to the second one. If we didn't travel around the lake and went straight from the schoolroom to the mountains, our journey would have taken six hours.
“Lukas, why do you think Corey didn't send us the quicker route?”
He raised an eyebrow and kept walking.
“I mean, he sent us all around the lake. That doubled the length of our journey.”
He shrugged, still walking.
“And where did Corey go anyway? Velsann is destroyed. Roscoff is destroyed. Korehtz is going to be under attack in eight days and a couple of hours.”
He stopped and looked me in the eye. “Laure, there are people who survived the attacks. Not many, but there's some. Those who didn't flee to the cities gathered supplies and have set up camps all around the country. I'm willing to bet that Corey didn't want to risk his life coming with us and decided to hide away in a safe camp.”
“Oh,” was my reply, until a few seconds later: “Why can't we go to the camps?”
He didn't answer but I knew what he would have said. I was the one they wanted.
The first safe house was a large, derelict building overlooking the lake. It was built a couple meters off of the ground, leaving space for storage beneath it. At a glance, it looked as if it was empty.
I demanded to go first and gripped onto the worn rungs of the wooden ladder, leading up to a platform in front of what I decided was the main door. A narrow ledge ran most of the way along the building but small sections were missing and I didn't think it would be safe to walk across.
The wood was rough beneath my hands and caused a stabbing agony to flare up in my scarred and cut palms. Despite the pain, I pulled my feet up onto the first rung, moved my hands up, heaved myself onto the second, and moved my hands up. The entire routine was laborious and painful but I kept climbing until collapsing onto the platform at the top. Lukas' head and upper body appeared over the edge momentarily. I rolled out of the way to give him space to climb up and helped him back onto his feet.
“Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the door.
I smiled. “Men just before.”
The inside of the building was as disappointing as the outside, but then I didn't know what to expect from it. Holes in the gnarled wood planks of the floor were covered over with threadbare rugs. Cracked glass from the broken windows entangled with the damp curtains. A sofa pushed to the side of the room was strewn with empty food containers and an endless tangle of fishing equipment. A sofa that was in better condition than the first, made of a quirky patchwork material, was in the center of the room.
Other than the obvious flaws, it would be a decent place to stay for the night.
“I'll take this sofa,” Lukas said, throwing his rucksack onto the grubbier sofa.
Too tired to disagree, I dropped my own bag to the floor and collapsed onto my own sofa, hearing one final echo of a voice before falling asleep.
Run before you're dead, Laure.