Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (29 page)

I did as you asked. It’s not fair. I kept the fire burning.

Fade passed the roasting meat to Stalker, and then for the first time since I didn’t remember when, he sat down beside me. He put his arm around me, and leaned his head against mine, as he’d done so long ago in the tunnels, when we had only darkness and each other. The tears fell harder; I couldn’t will them away.

“We’ll get through this,” he promised, as I had, long ago, when we set off to Nassau with no hope of coming home again.

“Will we?” I asked, glancing at Tegan. “How?”

And then a strange voice, a new voice, called out from the darkness, “Whozere? I seen your smoke. If you’re friendly, I’d appreciate a reply. If not, I’ll be moving on ’fore y’can catch me.”

I gazed up at the column of smoke swirling toward the dark sky, made more visible from the green wood, and I whispered to Silk,
Thank you.



I scrambled to my feet, biting back a moan of pain, and gazed up, for the voice had most certainly come from above us. For a moment, I saw nothing, which made me fear my fever had gotten worse, and then a shadow sharpened into a man-shape. He was tall, and he was most definitely
staring down at me. In one hand, he held a lamp, like the one Fade and I had used in the relic room underground, so long ago now.

The man shone the light on us, studying us. Surprise cracked his voice when he said, “You’re naught but young’uns. What’re you doin’ so far from safety?”

I strangled a laugh. In my world, there was no such thing. “We’re lost, and we have an injured girl.”

He eased cautiously forward to verify my claim, and he saw Tegan below. “Well, let’s get moving. We don’t want to linger.”

Using my hands as best I could, I climbed up the slope. It was a fairly steep drop with a good overhang; that was why we’d chosen to stop there. He gave me a hand up. Up close, I could see he was bigger than Fade—and
but not like Whitewall. This was a different kind of age, a version I’d never seen before. He had sloped shoulders and he wore something on his head, but it didn’t hide the silver hair. I gazed at him in silent amazement.

“You’re a long way off the trade road. D’you hail from Appleton?”

If I hadn’t been mute with shock, I might’ve come up with a sensible reply. I kept my hand pressed to my side and my left on my dagger, just in case. Stalker came up behind me, and he too drew up short. But he had the presence of mind to say, “We came from the city.”

The man raised his brows. “You funnin’ me? Nobody lives in the cities anymore.”

Our savior had granted those words the kind of conviction I’d once offered the elders. But his ideas were no truer than mine had been. His people didn’t know about mine. This wasn’t the time to argue with him, however, or to convince him Stalker spoke the truth.

“Tegan’s pretty bad off,” I got out. “Her leg’s all slashed up.”

“Ran into the Muties, did you? No wonder, out here. I never go anywhere without Old Girl.” He raised a long black thing that I identified as a weapon, even before he made it pump and click. “I’m Karl, but folks call me Longshot.”

“Why?” Stalker asked.

“Because every time I live through a trade run, it’s a long shot. Been doin’ it nigh on twenty years.”

That couldn’t be possible. In the underground tribes, in the ruins, people barely lived that long, let alone held the same job for that amount of time.

“How old are you?” I asked.

I knew the question had to be rude, but his answer was crucial. Because his very existence shattered and remade my picture of the world.


to a live in a better place, where people didn’t shrivel up and die so young. With every part of me, I wanted a glimpse of it. Maybe it wasn’t too late for me, despite my years below the earth. Maybe it wasn’t too late for any us. I clung to that hope, fiercely exultant.

“I don’t believe it,” Stalker breathed.

But the old man didn’t hear him. “Lessee about getting your friend up here. I can’t leave the mules standing long.”

“I’ve got her,” Fade called.

Stalker went down to help him. I waited up top because it had been all I could do to get myself up the incline with the hot knife in my side. I didn’t want to show weakness more than I had to. Silk might have sent this character; she might not. The boys gathered our gear, put out the fire, and then scrambled up. But when the old man got a look at Tegan he recoiled.

“That’s fever,” he said, backing off. “She plague-ridden?”

I shook my head, forgetting he probably couldn’t see me in this light. “No, I swear. It’s an injury. Let me show you.” I lifted her leg so he could see where we’d sealed the wound, and how her limb was swelling up.

“Y’did some backcountry doctoring. Right brave, that was. But her thigh looks bad, and we’re a day out of Salvation. Let’s get loaded up.”

He led the way back toward the road. I fell a little behind the others because the movement sent pain lancing through me. It was farther than it looked, and I was panting by the time I reached the wagon. I’d seen smaller versions, usually rusted and painted red. His was giant in comparison, and had two animals tied to the front of it. Mules, I seemed to recall him saying. They seemed placid enough as we approached.

“With all the supplies I’m hauling to trade, you’ll have to squeeze in back there. One of you can ride up front with me.”

“I will,” Stalker said, and vaulted up.

The old man hadn’t been kidding when he said it would be a tight fit. I climbed in first, swallowing another groan, and then I helped Fade get Tegan settled. The back was piled high with bags and boxes; luckily some gave when we leaned on them, and they weren’t all hard-edged awful.

“You set?” the man called.

“Ready,” I answered.

With a shout of “yah,” he snapped the lines he had tied to the mules and we jolted into motion. Once I found a corner to curl up in, it wasn’t so bad. Tegan lay across my lap and Fade’s. Every now and then, I gave her a little water. She had gotten too weak to swallow it unless I rubbed her throat.

I ached as I looked at her. Fever chills wracked me too. One minute, I felt like I was burning up, and the next, cold as ice. Fade put his arm around me and I put my head on his shoulder, not thinking about the future. Nothing we could do about it. We’d given this trip everything and then some.

“You knew somebody was coming,” he whispered. “Didn’t you?”

“Kind of.”


At that point, I was too far gone to care if he believed me. “Silk told me.”

He fell quiet, either worried about my mind or pondering what I meant. It was all the same to me. I slipped into a sleep full of whispers, as if I listened through running water.
Don’t leave me, Deuce. I need you. I want it to be like it was, before the others came. I never had the chance to say it—
like Fade, but he’d never speak these words. Never whisper with such raw emotion. Did he just say—

I love you?

to be dreaming. The next thing I knew, daylight blazed against my eyelids. My whole body was stiff and sore; my legs had gone to sleep from Tegan’s weight. I couldn’t feel them.

I bent down, frantic, until Fade stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “She’s hanging on. It’s all right.”

“Nearly there?”

“I think so.”

A slow exhalation pushed out of me. “Could you do me a favor?”

He almost smiled. “If it’s in my power.”

“Tell me the end of the book?”

Fade didn’t ask why. He just dug into his pack, found it for me, and opened it to the page where we’d left off, before Stalker and Tegan came between us, before his sadness closed him against me like a heavy door. Softly, he began to read:


They were married that very day. And the next day they went together to the king and told him the whole story. But whom should they find at the court but the father and mother of Photogen, both in high favor with the king and queen. Aurora nearly died with joy, and told them all how Watho had lied and made her believe her child was dead.

No one knew anything of the father or mother of Nycteris; but when Aurora saw in the lovely girl her own azure eyes shining through night and its clouds, it made her think strange things, and wonder how even the wicked themselves may be a link to join together the good. Through Watho, the mothers, who had never seen each other, had changed eyes in their children.

The king gave them the castle and lands of Watho, and there they lived and taught each other for many years that were not long. But hardly had one of them passed, before Nycteris had come to love the day best, because it was the clothing and crown of Photogen, and she saw that the day was greater than the night, and the sun more lordly than the moon; and Photogen had come to love the night best, because it was the mother and home of Nycteris.

Though some of the words were strange, hope sprang up in me. It felt like the right ending, the day boy marrying the night girl. In their triumph I found faith.

Just then the wagon jolted to a stop.

“We’re here,” Longshot said to us, and then he yelled, “Trade caravan! Open up!”

Easing Tegan away, I pushed up on my knees so I could see, and my breath caught. Tall wooden walls surrounded an aboveground enclave. Men stood on top of the gate with weapons like the one Longshot carried. They gazed down at us with hard faces and scrutinized the old man, his cargo, and us before waving us through. Most were younger than Longshot, but older than us. I had little way of knowing more.

As my heart lightened, someone opened the gates, so the mules could trudge inside. They moved like they were tired, and no wonder, hauling us all through the night. I put the book away and drank in the sight of Salvation.

The place was
. The buildings were all new, built of wood and clay, maybe, and some even had fresh white paint.
walked the streets openly and none them appeared to be armed. They were clean and well fed.

“This is the place,” Fade said. “My dad was right.”

Once the wagon stopped, I climbed down, ignoring the pain in my side. My fever had broken, leaving me more or less clearheaded.

“Let me take you to see Doc Tuttle,” Longshot said. “Bring the girl. If she can be saved, he’s the man for the job, and if not, he’ll say some kind words for her soul.”

“Soul” was a new word, one I didn’t know, but instinctively I connected it to the trace of Silk I’d felt with me, long after I knew the Freaks must’ve eaten her.

“Thanks,” I said.

Fade carried Tegan every step of the way. His back had to be aching, but he never faltered. After collecting our gear, Stalker paused every now and then to gaze around; I knew just how he felt.

People showed equal interest in us. We were wild looking and filthy, I had no doubt. The wall went all the way around the enclave, and people I took to be Hunters stood at every vulnerable point, guarding the safety of those who lived within. Here, there must be Breeders, who made sure the new generation could carry on, and the Builders, who made the things folks needed. It wasn’t so different from what I’d known, after all. But everything was bright and clean, and the air smelled sweet.

“Here we are. Bring her on in. Doc!” Longshot shouted. “Got business for you.”

“Did one of those mules bite you—oh.” The man who came into the front room was short and wide with a bald head. Like Longshot, he wasn’t young. I’d never imagined such a place, where people grew to look like this, instead of withered from the wasting that took us underground.

Longshot said, “Poor girl tangled with a Mutie. Hope you can help her. Anyway, I best get tending my goods before people take a mind to help themselves.”

“Did you cauterize this wound?” the man called Doc Tuttle demanded.

I shared a look with the boys and then said, “We put a hot knife on it to seal it up. It was bleeding buckets and we were in Freak territory.”

“That’s what I meant. Oh, you’ve made a mess of things. Get out of here now.” When we hesitated, he scowled at us fiercely, bushy brows drawn. “Get!”

“We’d like a minute with her,” I said firmly.

His frown didn’t vanish, but it softened. “Very well. I’ll go get my things ready.”

She wasn’t conscious, but it didn’t stop me from cupping her cheek in my hand, bending and kissing her forehead. “You’ll be all right. We’ll be back soon, Tegan.”

“We will.” Fade brushed her hair back and studied her, a muscle flexing in his jaw. I could see the idea of leaving her hurt him. But it hurt me too.

To my surprise, Stalker stepped forward and joined us at her side. He didn’t reach out, but I saw something new in his face. “You’re stronger than I knew, maybe stronger than
knew. So fight hard.”

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