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  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Kill Order (Chapter 26)     
  • The Kill Order(Maze Runner Prequel #0.5)(26) by James Dashner
  • “Get up!” the man yelled. But the last word had barely come out of his mouth when he was slammed to the ground by a man and a woman.

    Mark scrambled to his feet, grabbed the torch he’d dropped, ran to where Alec was struggling with his two attackers. He drove the burning point into the back of the man’s neck—the guy screamed and grabbed his throat, falling off Alec. Then Mark hauled the log back and swung it as hard as he could, connecting with the side of the woman’s head. All Mark could hear was fire burning as she toppled off Alec.

    Mark reached down, grabbed Alec’s hand, helped him to his feet.

    More people rushed in on them. At least five or six.

    Mark whipped his log around, forgetting all control and just handing himself over to instinct and adrenaline. He smacked a man, then pulled his weapon back around and hit a woman right in the nose. He drove it forward at a man coming straight for him, thrust its tip into his stomach and watched as his clothes ignited.

    Alec was next to Mark. He was punching and kicking and elbowing and picking people up, tossing them away like bags of garbage. At some point he’d lost the torch he’d grabbed, too busy using both hands to fight off the attackers. The man was every bit the soldier he’d once been.

    An arm slipped around Mark’s neck from behind and yanked him off his feet, started squeezing the breath out of him. Mark gripped the log in both hands, then hammered it backward in desperation. He missed, pulled it back, then tried again, swinging it with every bit of strength he could muster while the oxygen rushed from his lungs. He felt the solid blow as he connected, heard the crunch of cartilage and the man’s scream. Sweet air rushed into his chest as the arm loosened its grip.

    Mark fell to the ground, sucking the life back into his lungs. Alec was bent over to catch his own breath. They had a slight reprieve, but one look showed that more people were coming their way.

    Alec helped Mark to his feet. They turned up slope and half crawled, half climbed into the thicker cover of the trees. Mark heard the cries of pursuit behind them—these people didn’t want anyone escaping. He and Alec hit a spot that was a little flatter and burst into an all-out sprint. And that was when Mark spotted it, about a hundred yards ahead of them.

    A huge section of the forest was engulfed in flames.

    Between them and their camp. Where they’d left Trina, Lana and Deedee.

    CHAPTER 27

    The trees and shrubbery of the woods were already half dead—a tinderbox ready to light up. It had been a few weeks since the last torrential storm, and anything that had regrown since the flares was parched. Misty tendrils of smoke bled along the ground at their feet, and the smell of burning wood laced the air.

    “It’s gonna spread like wildfire,” Alec shouted.

    Mark thought he was joking, but the man looked grave. “It is a wildfire!” he shouted back.

    But Alec had already started running straight toward the distant flames, which seemed to have grown in the moments since it had begun. Mark set off after him, knowing they had to make it to the other side of the inferno before it got too big—they had to get to Trina and Deedee and Lana. The two of them tore through the undergrowth, kicking past thick briars, dodging trees and low-hanging limbs. The sound of pursuit still rang out from behind, but it had lessened, as if even their deranged pursuers understood it was crazy to head into a forest fire. But Mark could hear lingering catcalls and whistles haunting the woods.

    He ran on, throwing all of his focus into making it back to Trina.

    The fire got closer, crackling and spitting and roaring. A wind had picked up, fanning the flames; a huge branch toppled from far above and crashed through the canopy, throwing sparks everywhere until it finally hit the ground. Alec continued to head for the heart of the blazing section of woods, not slowing down, as if his one final goal was to run to a fiery death and end it all.

    “Shouldn’t we veer off?” Mark shouted up to him. “Where are you going?”

    Alec answered without turning back and Mark had to strain to hear him. “I want to be as close as possible! Run along its edges so we know exactly where we are! And maybe lose those psychos while we’re at it!”

    “Do you know exactly where we are?” Mark was moving as quickly as he could, but the soldier still stayed ahead of him.

    “Yes” came the curt reply. But he pulled out his compass and looked at it as he ran.

    The smoke had grown thicker, making it hard to breathe. The fire took up Mark’s entire field of vision now, the flames close and high and illuminating the night. The heat surged out in waves, washing across Mark’s face only to be sucked away by the wind gusting from behind him.

    But as they got closer, now only a few dozen feet away, the waves didn’t matter anymore. The temperature had skyrocketed; Mark was drenched in sweat and was so hot it felt as if his skin might melt. Just when he thought Alec might’ve lost his marbles after all, the man suddenly made a sharp turn to the right, running parallel to the expanding line of flames. Mark stayed as close to him as he could, putting his life in the former soldier’s hands for the umpteenth time since they’d met in the subtrans tunnels.

    Intense heat pulsed across his body as he ran; sweltering wind from the left, cooler air from the right. His clothes were so hot against his skin, they felt as if they might combust at any second even though they were drenched in sweat. His hair was dry, though, any moisture sucked away by the searing air. He imagined the follicles on the cusp of drying out and falling to the ground like pine needles. And his eyes. They felt as if they were being baked in their sockets; he squinted and rubbed them, tried to force tears, but there was nothing.

    He ran on, mimicking Alec with every step, hoping they’d round the fire and break away from it before he died of thirst and heat exhaustion. The sound of the flames was the only thing he heard now, a constant roar like the ignited thrusters of a thousand Bergs.

    Suddenly, a woman came tearing through the woods from the right just ahead, the fire a glint in the madness of her eyes. Mark prepared himself for a fight, expecting the woman to turn and attack them. But she ran across their path in front of Alec—if she’d been a little slower he would’ve plowed right over her body. The woman ran, silent and determined, her feet crashing through the undergrowth. She tripped and fell, got back up. And then she disappeared in the wall of flames and her screams cut short.

    Alec and Mark kept running.

    Finally they reached the edge of the expanding inferno, the line of it far more distinct than Mark would’ve expected. They kept the same distance, but it felt good, sent a burst of fresh adrenaline through his body, to be turning toward the left, turning toward Trina and the others again. Mark ran even harder, almost tripped Alec’s feet up when he caught up to him. Then they were side by side.

    Every breath was a chore for Mark. The air scalded his throat as it went down, and the smoke was like poison. “We’ve gotta … get away … from this thing.”

    “I know!” Alec shouted back, bursting into a long fit of coughing. He quickly glanced at the compass gripped in the palm of his hand. “Almost … there.”

    Soon they rounded another corner of the main body of flames, and this time Alec veered to the right, heading away from the fire. Mark followed, realizing that he was completely disoriented now. He didn’t think it was time to head straight again, but he trusted the old man. They trampled through the woods with renewed energy, going faster than ever. Mark could feel the fresher air with every breath he sucked into his lungs. The volume of the inferno’s roar also died down enough that he could hear the crunching sounds of his footsteps again.

    Alec stopped suddenly.

    Mark ran past him a few steps before he could do the same. He turned to Alec and asked if he was okay.

    The man was leaning against a tree, his chest heaving as he took in short bursts of breath. He nodded, then buried his head in the crook of his arm with a loud groan.

    Mark bent over, hands on his knees, relishing the chance to rest. The wind had died down and the fire seemed at a somewhat safe distance now. “Man, you had me worried there for a while. I’m not sure that was the brightest thing ever to run so close to a raging inferno.”

    Alec looked over at him, but his face was mostly hidden in shadow. “You’re probably right. But it’s easy to get turned around in a place like this at night. I was dead set on keeping the path we’d followed straight in my head.” He checked his compass, then pointed at a spot over Mark’s shoulder. “Our little camp is that way.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire