Read Enclave Online

Authors: Ann Aguirre

Enclave (9 page)

“You think that’ll be enough for Silk?”

“It’ll have to be,” Fade said. “It’s the truth.”



The next day, I lacked the strength to run. We set our pace accordingly. Fear gnawed at me with relentless teeth, and the darkness made it worse. First my mind conjured monsters and then I imagined I heard them creeping along behind us, worse than the Freaks, smarter and scarier too.

The dark didn’t seem to bother Fade. He led the way without faltering whereas I found myself living for those rare moments when we found a broken tunnel. Light fell in crossed threads, lightening the gloom for precious seconds before we passed through.

Gravel crunched underfoot, and I stumbled. My knees buckled. I almost went down, but Fade was there to steady me.

“Maybe we should take a break.”

“We just started.”

“It’s been two hours.”

That surprised me. In the dark, it became easy to lose track of time, along with sense of direction. With his hand on my arm, Fade guided me to the stone rim to the side of the tunnel. Maybe it was exhaustion, but things seemed darker this time around. I hadn’t noticed it as much going to Nassau. Now it closed in on me, threatening to choke me. My breath came in ragged gasps as I boosted up and rested. I fumbled in my bag for the water bottle; to my dismay, I downed the last few swallows. Dry meat would only increase my thirst, so I opted not to eat.

“That’s enough,” I said. “I can go on.”

Fade leaped down. “Would it make you feel better to lead?”

“Not really.” I hesitated, not wanting to admit weakness, even to my partner. “I might get us lost.”

“I have your back, Deuce.”

“All right.” Maybe I’d feel better in the lead. At least I wouldn’t think monsters lurked inches away, waiting to grab and eat me.

We walked for hours more in silence. Up ahead, we faced the darkest part of the tunnels. There were no broken areas nearby, no ambient light. In this section, we used our ears to compensate. I thought I heard footsteps, but when I stopped to listen, the sounds stopped too. Maybe it was only an echo.

“You heard it too?” Fade whispered.

Then something did grab me. Hands snatched my arms and yanked me sideways. Fade lunged for me, but he missed. I heard him fumbling and felt the breeze from his movement. Kicking as I was dragged, my captors towed me toward the wall—or what
be a wall—instead I slid through a narrow chink in the tunnel. There was no room to fight here. Whatever had me, its hands were strong and it pulled me some distance. I tried to dig in my heels, but they slid in the loose stone covering the ground. They’d dug out secondary tunnels behind the ones leftover from the old days—or maybe these had already existed too. But they were older and more primitive, more natural rock, and less of the artificial stone.

A distant trickle of light illuminated my captor. He looked human, more or less, but his eyes were bigger, and he stood shorter than I did. His skin gleamed white; his people had adapted to the environment. Heart thumping, I wondered what his teeth looked like.

“Dem following you,” he said.

So it hadn’t been my imagination. I
heard something following us in the dark. A chill crawled along my skin, rousing fear bumps.


“We call dem Eaters. Come.”

“What about my partner?”

A shrug. “We doan want him.”

“I can’t leave him out there. He’ll

“Doan care. Come.”

I could hear Fade’s steps tracing away into the distance, running. He wasn’t yet calling my name because that would be dangerous, but he’d start soon. He must be worried; I’d simply vanished on him. While screaming might catch his attention, it would also enrage my captor and might draw the Freaks down on us in numbers.

He led me into a room with low-sloped ceilings. I couldn’t stand upright. Twenty others like him milled around me, fingering my hair and sniffing at me. I realized I didn’t smell great after days in the tunnels, but if they tried anything else, they were meat—or
was. It couldn’t end any other way. I had room enough to fight in here. Maybe not at the top of my game, but these creatures looked quiet and crafty rather than strong. They’d survived by sneaking and hiding, not fighting.

“What do you want?” I demanded.

They exchanged a look, and then the one that had yanked me out of the tunnel said, “New blood.”

I just knew they were hiding mouthfuls of sharp teeth. “Not mine.”

“Not like dat.”

I didn’t care if they wanted me for decoration, company, or to sing them to sleep. I shook my head, taking a step back toward the narrow tunnel. Even the wider room was too small to permit free-swinging my club, but I drew my daggers in a smooth motion.

“I can’t stay. I have a job to do.”

“You doan stay, Eaters gonna chew yer bones.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“You got da smart ones stalking you now.”

Smart, like the ones that slaughtered Nassau?

“There are different kinds of Freaks?” I asked.

“You din figger dat out on yer own?” He shook his head in disgust.

“The ones down near our enclave don’t act like the ones we saw at Nassau.”

“Dat’s the dead place? Nah-saw?”

I nodded. “We were ordered to go check the place out.”

“Your folk doan like you much, den. Why not stay?”

I looked around the room, caught the pale, avid faces and the huge eyes. They were creepy, but harmless. I didn’t think they’d resist if I tried to leave. The idea of going back into the dark alone, however, paralyzed me.

Then I thought of Fade, out there on his own, and searching for me. He wouldn’t just keep heading for the enclave. I felt sure of it. After the loss of his first partner, they’d kill him if he came back alone. I could no longer doubt it, after the way the elders had treated the stray brat.

“If you’re willing, I’ll accept your hospitality in offering a place to rest, but that’s all. And
after I find my partner. We need a new place to trade.” I didn’t know much about supply and demand, but I knew one thing we had that others always coveted. “We have fish pools. Maybe your people would be willing to barter goods?”

They conferred briefly, and then the one that had snagged me nodded. “Deal. We share our fire til da Eaters pass. But
find da other one and bring him.”

I could do that. Nodding, I turned and slid back out the way we’d come. I stepped into the inky darkness of the tunnel. For a moment I stood still and tried to orient myself. I listened for any breathing or hint of movement, but I could only hear the thundering of my own heart.

Which way would he have gone? Not back the way we’d come, surely. I turned left and crept along, listening every few feet for some sign of him. As I came to a fork in the tunnels, I paused again, sensing … something.

“Fade?” I whispered.

Movement. I didn’t see him until he was almost on top of me. He curled his hands around my forearms, sounding considerably less panicked than I would have in the same situation. “Are you all right? Where were you?”

“Come on. No time to explain.”

My skin prickled as I retraced my steps. Despite my concentration, I doubt I would’ve found the crack in the tunnel, if my benefactor hadn’t grabbed me again. This time I kept ahold of Fade and dragged him in with me. He had to turn sideways to ease through the gap. The side shaft was just wide enough for his shoulders.

The small man began fitting loose stones into the gap, a smart measure, even if it made me feel trapped. But it should confuse Freaks—even the smart ones—if they happened to track us this far. I didn’t speak until we were well away from the opening.

Fade gazed around in surprise. “What is this place?”

“Home,” one of them said. That time, I caught a look in his mouth as he spoke, and was relieved to see normal teeth, teeth for chewing, not tearing flesh.

“We need a place to rest before the last leg of our journey,” I told Fade. “They’ve volunteered. In return, we’ll try to set up some trade.” I paused, lowering my voice. “Freaks are following us.”

He grasped the problem at once. “Instead of attacking, they’re looking for the bigger prize.”

“They want to see where we live.” That definitely indicated a level of intelligence we’d never encountered in them before.

“We have to lose them before heading back to enclave.”

I nodded. “Yeah.”

He leaned in to whisper, “You’re sure we’re safe here?”

I pitched my voice low. “Relatively. We’re bigger and stronger, and I
think they want to trade. They wanted me for breeding at first, but I convinced them it wasn’t an option.”

His teeth flashed white in the smoky torchlight. “And no bodies? Impressive.”

Wearily, I sank down onto the stone floor. Around us, they went about their business. There were more of them than I’d first realized, though few in comparison with us. Considering their relative proximity, it was more impressive that we hadn’t known of their existence before. Silk would probably want to kill them.

They brought us a thin gruel that appeared to have been made from mushrooms and stuff best not inquired about. I forced myself to eat it and thanked them for the meal. Fade sat close beside me, practically keeping a hand on me at all times in case I disappeared again. His subtle concern warmed me.

I was starting to be able to tell the Burrowers apart. Though they shared a certain resemblance, the one who’d rescued me first was a touch taller than the rest. He gave me a little bow and said, “Am Jengu.”

“Deuce.” I pointed at my partner and said, “Fade. You want to tell us what you have to trade?”

“Why doan I show you?”

I figured that was a good idea; I could tell the elders specifically what the Burrowers had to offer. With Fade close behind, I followed Jengu down another tunnel. We negotiated some twists and turns. The fatty torches made the air taste as bitter as burned meat. I tried to breathe only through my nose.

We emerged on a platform like the one where we’d rested. There appeared to be no other access, due to a collapse and heavy tons of rock. Despite the blockage, this area was brighter and better ventilated. But that wasn’t even the most remarkable part—I’d
seen such a collection of old stuff. They had piles and piles of it, just sitting on the platforms. Most of it, I had no idea what it was or what it did, but this was the kind of treasure trove that would make the Wordkeeper run all the way here in person, just to examine the artifacts.

“Worth a few fish?” Jengu asked.

“And then some.”

I didn’t look through the stacks of stuff, although I longed to. But time was ticking away for Fade and me. We needed to rest and then get moving. Surely the Freaks would’ve lost our trail by the time we woke.

“Do you mind if we sleep here?” Fade asked. “You can search our bags now to see what we have, and then again before we go. We won’t take anything.”

“You wan sleep in storage?” Jengu seemed puzzled.

understood Fade’s request, at least. The ceilings were higher, and it smelled a little better in here. Good-hearted they might be, I didn’t think our Burrower friends practiced much in the way of cleaning.

“If you don’t mind.” I held out my pack so he could rifle through it.

“Got dis where?” he asked, pulling out one of the slim books.

“On the way back from Nassau. There was a room up some stairs—”

“Ah,” he said. “Up near Topside?”

I nodded. “I guess.”

“Anything else?”

“Sure,” Fade answered. “We didn’t take it all. Couldn’t carry it.”

Jengu seemed pleased. It was more for them to collect when it came time to trade. Once he was satisfied as to what belonged to us, he shuffled off toward the smaller tunnels. I guessed he felt more at home in the darkness with the coziness of low ceilings. It made me feel trapped.

“You’re all right?” Fade asked, once he’d gone. “They didn’t hurt you?”

I shook my head. “They’re harmless. It would do the enclave good to make friends of them, I think. Look at this place.”

“It’s amazing. They must’ve been scrounging for generations.”

“Thanks for waiting for me. But it was a big risk. Anything could’ve happened to you.”

He touched my cheek very lightly. “I have your back. I didn’t mean only when it’s easy.
the time.”

Warmth blossomed within me. Even if nobody else liked him, even if the rest of them never accepted me, I couldn’t have done better for a partner. I doubted the other Hunters would’ve acted the same. They would’ve followed orders to the letter and gone back to the enclave, leaving me to fend for myself. Silently, I thanked Silk.

Other books

Wake Up With a Stranger by Flora, Fletcher
Second Chances by Bria Marche
The Sirius Chronicles by Costanza, Christopher
Hitler's Foreign Executioners by Christopher Hale
I Take You by Eliza Kennedy
Eyes by Joanne Fluke
A Cook's Tour by Anthony Bourdain
Crackdown by Bernard Cornwell Copyright 2016 - 2023