“Piper, It doesn’t count if you’re already planning your defeat.”
I stared into his deep blue eyes and willed myself not to smile. “I’m not planning it, I’m expecting it.”
“What do you mean?”
I glanced at him and fiddled with the cloth on my sore ankle. “Well, I… I can’t use my foot now, and I’m not strong enough. Most of the participants left are men.”
“So what?” He came over and sat beside me. “You’re braver than most of them Stronger even. They’re scared. I know you’re not.”
“I am, though…”
“Piper, listen to me-”
“No! I’m not… I’m not Piper.”
I looked to my right, away from him. “I’m not Piper.”
He chuckled. “Then who have I been working with?”
“Chloe… I don’t know a Chloe… There was no Chloe picked to participate, even.”
“I’m… Piper, she was… she was my twin. She didn’t want to be in the game, but I did, so I…” I stopped and guilt suddenly swept over me. If I would even win, I wouldn't ever see her again. I cannot believe I did that to her. She was my last family.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ean shift his gaze to the ground. “You killed her?” He whispered.
I squeezed my eyes shut and exhaled deeply when I felt his hand on my shoulder.
“So either way, you’re being punished. Whether they know it or not?”
I opened my eyes. “How long have you known that’s what it was?”
He dropped his hand and his eyes. “I just figured it out, that’s all.”
“You’re lying.” He looked at me. “I know who you are. They hired you. You’re going to win.”
He looked at me expressionlessly. “I’m not… no I’m…” He got up and put out the fire.
“It’s ok, Ean. I know. I’m not lying anymore so neither are you. Admit it.”
He looked at me and his mouth turned up slightly. “Yeah. I’m perfect. I’m the winner.” His smile faded as he said those last words. “I don’t want to win.”
He messed with the ashes from the fire as he answered. “I don’t know, I just… I just don’t want to anymore.”
“Anymore? So you did at one point?”
He froze. “Yeah, I guess.”
I grinned. “So did I. When I didn’t know what it really was.” He nodded.
There were a few moments of awkward silence as we both stared at the ground. We heard a small clicking noise and got up, me limping on my ankle. He went ahead and picked up the packed that was just unlocked in his backpack and I got mine. We both opened them and I put it back in mine. They were the same thing, after all. Our next object.
It was still a scavenger hunt, after all. Just not the hunt I thought it would have been.
He looked over at me. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. Where do you think it is?”
“No, I don’t… I don’t even know what it is...” He walked over to me and got the picture out of my bag while I got a glimpse of his and gasped.
He made a face and handed me his photo. “That’s Cole. He’s my next victim.”
I silently mouthed ‘wow’ and stood up.
“The crossbow…” He whispered, looking at my picture.
I raised my eyebrows at him. “The crossbow?”
He smiled. “I know what they all are ahead of time so I can grab them if I see them. I have all the objects so far.” Ean looked as if he was about to say something else but stopped to look around at the tall, endless trees surrounding us, grabbing my arm to keep me steady. “This could take forever.”
“Especially with my foot…” I looked around with him. “I don’t want you to have to look alone, but I think I’ll keep you behind if you come.”
“I wouldn’t leave you, it wouldn’t be safe. We’ll need to find Cole so we can kill him then find the crossbow.”
“Do we have enough time for that?”
He looked at me surprised as if he didn’t think I would agree to killing Cole. I killed Piper, though. I wasn’t so perfect anymore. “Well, as long as we find it before midnight.”
“And if anyone finds it first?”
He sighed slowly and waited a couple more seconds. “We kill them.”
Every step I took was more painful than the last. I let Ean help me but I didn’t want to seem as if I was 100% relying on him.
He asked me frequently if I was ok or if I wanted to rest, and every time I said no. I was determined to at least finish this day. To kill Cole and find that crossbow.
“If you were a rich narcissist who wanted to punish people for bad behavior, where would you hide a crossbow?” I asked him.
He laughed. “That might be the oddest question I’ve heard out of context.” He dropped his mouth and looked around. “Did you hear something?”
I gazed as well and shook my head after a couple seconds of silence. “No…”
He kept walking. “Alright… nevermind then. Where would I hide a crossbow…”
The next few seconds were peaceful and I would never have expected what happened next. Suddenly Ean doubled over, yelling in pain. I looked in behind us and saw a man standing there, holding a long, thick stick like a baseball bat. He swung it at my head and I ducked, making him spin around and sticking my good foot between his legs. I’ve learned a thing or two from the movies, but honestly, I didn’t expect it to work. He lost his balance and dropped the stick. Ean grabbed it and handed it to me, then sat on top of the man with his knees on the fold of his elbows. He punched him several times and hobbled over like an old man and hit him on the side of the head. We watched his head drop, but he was still breathing.
“It’s Cole…” Ean said between deep breaths. I held the stick up still, waiting. Ean reached into his back pocket and I looked away as he stuck the knife into Cole’s chest. “It’s alright..” He got up with his bloody knife, clutching his side. “You alright?”
I nodded. “You?”
“Yeah,” he grimaced anyway and coughed onto the back of his wrist. He glanced at it then quickly dropped it. “Why do you think he attacked us?”
“Same reason we would have attacked him. We need that crossbow. It’s the first weapon in the games, he needs it to win.”
He rubbed his ribs as he nodded slowly, still staring at Cole. “Well… guess we can get on with it. Thanks for that,” He smiled at me, and I smiled back.
“No problem. I forgot my foot hurt for a couple seconds there.”
“Well then, maybe we should be attacked more often.” He let out a breathy laugh and wiped the back of his hand on his pants. He reached out his other hand and I grabbed it, both of us keeping weapons ready.
He coughed several more times as we continued to walk around. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
He nodded and touched the back of his head where he was hit, wincing as he stepped. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just got hit hard, that’s all…”
I looked down and saw red smeared on one of his legs. “You’re bleeding,” I said, very unexcitable.
He looked at me then followed my gaze and looked straight ahead. “No, I’m not. It’s fine.”
I stopped my staggering and grabbed his arm.
“Why are you bleeding?”
“There’s blood on your pants.”
He was getting annoyed with me, I could tell. “I’m not…” He choked and cough onto his wrist again. I grabbed it quickly and felt like smacking him.
“You’re bleeding. You must have broken your ribs, you’re bleeding inside. Admit it.” He didn’t respond. “Why do you have trouble admitting things, Ean.? You've changed my mind about this whole thing, you know. I don't want to win but I'm not going to give up. I'm not planning my defeat. Can't you do the same thing?”
“Alright! I’m bleeding, are you happy?” He let out a squeak as something suddenly hit him on the head. “Owww…”
I smiled as I picked up the white roll and recognized it. “Here sit down, take your shirt off.”
He rubbed his head and made a face. “What?”
“Just do it! Obviously, they must have been watching us, they know something’s wrong, and you have to win. They’re keeping you alive, Ean. Just take your shirt off.” I realized how weird it sounded but this was a desperate moment. I looked up but didn’t see any sign of a plane or flying machine that could have dropped it.
He grumbled as he kneeled and reached for the bottom of his shirt, tugging it over his head. I started to unwrap the medical tape and tied it around his waist. He sat there, very still and very uncomfortable.
After a couple minutes, I had almost finished wrapping his torso and swore under my breath when I ran out of tape. He laughed at me. “It’s fine, thank you.”
“No problem.” We stared at each other for a couple awkward moments and finally, I stood up. “You think you can walk?”
Ean got up, supporting his ribs. He nodded. “Now follow me. I know where it is.”
He smiled. “I know where the crossbow is.”
There might just be a chance.
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"Deception" - Part four coming soon!