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  • Home > James Dashner > Maze Runner Prequel > The Kill Order (Chapter 28)     
  • The Kill Order(Maze Runner Prequel #0.5)(28) by James Dashner
  • Alec was nodding and grumbling, impossible to read.

    “Not to mention that she has a civilian”—he made quotation marks in the air when he said that last word—“and a little girl who’s probably terrified. I highly doubt Lana would leave them alone to come after us or take the others closer to danger.”

    Alec got to his feet and brushed the dirt off his knees. “Okay, boy, you can quit going on about it. You sold me. But … what’s your point?” He had the slightest smile on his face, barely there. And Mark knew why. The bear was enjoying this—watching his pupil figure things out on his own.

    Mark pointed to the other side of the camp, toward the spot Alec had identified the day before as the direction they needed to go. The headquarters of that Berg awaited. The place where they’d find the people who had ruined their lives once again.

    “Like I said,” Alec spoke with an exaggerated sigh, “you sold me. Come on, let’s start looking over there.” He winked at Mark as he walked past but then gave him a scowl.

    Mark laughed. “You are one strange little man.”

    Alec stopped and faced him. “That’s what my mama used to say. She’d wake me up in the morning, give me a little kiss and a hug, and she’d say, ‘My sweet Alec. You are one strange little man.’ Got to me every time, right here.” He patted his heart, then rolled his eyes dramatically. “Let’s get to work.”

    “See?” Mark said as he followed. “Do I need any more proof? Strange. Little. Man. Officially proven.”

    “You got one word right. I’m definitely a man. I’m all man, baby.” He let out a strangled choking sound that might’ve been a laugh.

    They stepped more carefully when they made it to the area Mark had indicated, and soon they were back at it, searching every square inch for a telltale sign of a trail. Mark paused to take in the sounds that had become background noise, barely there until you focused on it. The roaring, crackling, spitting forest fire, still safely distant but getting closer, and the occasional hoot or holler or laugh of their new unfriendly friends. Again, safely distant—though it was hard to tell where the sounds were coming from. The air had begun to look hazy from the smoke now that the sun was up to reveal it.

    “Found something,” Alec announced. “Be careful!” he yelled when Mark tramped over to see for himself.

    “Oh. Sorry.” He slowed down and crept over to stand next to the soldier.

    Alec was on his knees, leaning back on his feet. He had a stick in his hand and used it as a pointer. “There’s about three bushes in a row that’ve been walked through, and by more than one person for sure. See the smashed part there, the broken branch there, the footsteps here and there.” He gestured at one nearby.

    Mark leaned forward and saw it. Small. Just the right size for Deedee.

    “There’s only one problem,” Alec continued, something heavy in his voice.

    “What?” Mark asked quickly.

    Alec used the stick to poke a spot—just above the ground where the others had passed—of leaves clumped together. Their shiny green faces had been sprayed with small drops of blood.

    CHAPTER 29

    Mark didn’t allow himself to have the same panic attack this time. But he went dead silent, his insides cold and his hands slicked with sweat. He imagined that his face was pale, too. But he forced himself to remain calm as Alec stood and slowly made his way along the trail they’d found.

    With growing dismay Alec pointed out more spots of blood along the path. There wasn’t much, but there was enough to see. “It’s hard to say how serious an injury we’re talking about. I’ve seen bloody noses spurt this much out, but I’ve also seen a guy with his arm blown off who hardly bled a drop. The explosion cauterized him right clean.”

    “Not … helping,” Mark muttered.

    Alec shot a glance back at him. “Sorry, kid. I’m trying to say I don’t think this is all bad news. Whoever’s hurt might just have a bad cut. People have survived more blood loss than this many a time. If anything, maybe it’ll help us keep on their trail.”

    Alec moved on again, his head swinging back and forth as he walked, taking it all in. Mark followed on his heels, trying hard not to look at the trail of blood. He just couldn’t. Not until his nerves settled a bit. He hoped this wasn’t some kind of wild-goose chase or, worse, a trap.

    “Anything else that lets us know it’s definitely Trina and them?” he asked.

    Alec stopped and leaned far down to examine some dirt next to a trampled bush. “Based on the pattern, I’d say it’s our pretty little group that came through here—I can see their footsteps well enough. And …” He flicked a nervous glance backward.

    “And what?”

    “Well … I haven’t seen Deedee’s in a while, so my guess is that someone started carrying the poor thing back there.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder.

    “So maybe she’s the one who got hurt,” Mark concluded, the thought of it making his stomach fall. “Maybe … maybe she just fell and skinned a knee or something.”

    “Yeah,” Alec replied numbly. “But the other thing is …”

    Mark had never seen the man so hesitant to speak before. “Would you just spit it out, man? What’s going on?”

    “When they came through here,” Alec said quietly, seemingly oblivious to Mark’s rebuke, “they were definitely running. And running pell-mell. All the signs add up. The length of their strides, the smashed bushes, the broken shrubbery and branches.” He met Mark’s eyes. “Like they were being chased.”

    That gave Mark a lump in the back of his throat, until he remembered something. “But you just said you could only see three sets of footprints. Is there any sign that somebody might’ve been going after them?”

    Alec looked up, then pointed. “Things fly around these parts, remember?”

    As if they needed one more thing to worry about. “Don’t you think we would’ve heard if a Berg came swooping in and chased our friends down the mountain?”

    “In the middle of what we just got done with? Maybe not. Might’ve been something besides a Berg, anyway.”

    Mark gave another weary glance upward. “Let’s just keep moving.”

    The two of them followed the path, Mark hoping the whole time they didn’t find more blood. Or worse.

    *

    The signs of Trina, Lana and Deedee’s passage continued into a long, low ravine that made its way toward an almost hidden canyon. Mark hadn’t noticed the walls of the mountains to their sides getting taller, and the slope was gradual enough that he didn’t really feel like they were descending very quickly. Especially being surrounded by the woods and spending most of his time studying the land for clues and traces of their friends. But one minute they were traveling along through a thick copse of trees and the next they came out into a wide clearing bordered by canyon walls of gray granite. They were so steep that only a little vegetation grew in small clumps here and there.

    Alec pulled out his handwritten map and stopped. “We’re here.” He made Mark step back and hid the two of them behind the large trunk of an oak.

    “Really?”

    “Almost certain this valley is where that Berg returned after every trip.”

    Mark peeked around the tree and examined the tall, foreboding walls. “A little dangerous to fly down into this place, don’tcha think?”

    “Maybe, but also perfect to hide yourself. There has to be a landing zone somewhere close, and an entrance to wherever they call home. I still think it might be an old government bunker. Especially being this close to Asheville—the city is just on the other side of this canyon.”

    “Yeah.” Something was troubling Mark. “So … what’re the odds that Lana and them would get chased this far? I’m really worried they got taken.”

    “Maybe not. Lana knows that wandering around the mountains looking for us wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. Better to make a beeline for the one spot that’s most obviously a rendezvous point. Here.”

  • Romance | Fantasy | Vampire