Tobi’s step faltered nearly insignificantly when she heard the pleading tone of Tess’s voice. She corrected her gait immediately, hoping that Miss Antonina had not noticed any exchange happening between the two girls. She continued to walk toward her destination. Once she reached the intersection of the two paved driveways that adjoined the house where she resided with that where the younger girls on the property stayed, she turned left and her feet touched grass and earth slippery with dew.
She was thankful for how bright the moon was that night for the woods that they were to walk through to get to the stream were thick and uninviting. It was only ten feet to the edge of the woods, but the walk seemed like the earth had stretched to prolong her dread; as if giving her ample time to picture the innumerable tiny creatures that roamed the soil at night, poised to feast on the exposed skin of her feet and legs. She thought of all the little stings, bites, and cuts that had festered into infections of those unfortunate souls living in the shantytown.
She remembered how none of them could receive medical attention due to refusing to become Given Over and accept a Technetium. There had been former healthcare workers in the shantytown and some medical supplies, but not nearly enough to care for them all properly. Disease, malnutrition, and a general sense of helplessness were simply a part of life there.
Finally, Tobi did reach the edge of the woods and stretched out her arms to pull aside the limbs of some type of tall bush, making a way through for herself and the other girls. She felt pricks and pokes on her feet and began an inner dialogue of soothing talk, reassuring herself that she had been through these same woods during daylight hours and that there was nothing so menacing that she could not handle it. She heard the rustling of the other girls following her, small gasps and noises of frustration escaping them periodically. She knew that Miss Antonina would caboose their party in order to keep her sharp eyes on the girls and prevent any of them from running.
Although, this vigilance wasn’t necessary due to the Desmosouls, but Miss Antonina prided herself on the fact that she rarely made use of the dark creatures that patrolled the skies, terrorizing any ground walkers without a Technetium.
As the faint smell of mushrooms began to surround Tobi, her stomach grumbled, reminding her that she had been denied dinner. The breath of the Nephormed was not the pleasant aroma of mushrooms that one might find accentuating a meal. Rather, it was the smell of mushrooms possessing the faintest twinge of formaldehyde with an overlay of rot. Tobi didn’t know if this was due to something that was done to them in the warehouses or if it was present at birth. She knew that her hunger must be strong if this foul smell was causing the watering in her mouth that she began to experience once they were almost to the stream.
As they approached, the light of the Nephormed’s mouth was strong enough that they began to notice their own shadows. Stepping out into the clearing that surrounded the stream, they noticed the presence of other beings… two Desmosouls flying lazily overhead, just above the treetops.
“Ladies! I don’t want to see a single one of you pause! If I even imagine one of you hesitate in fear of those Desmosouls, I will command that girl to provoke them to attention and then run as fast as her legs can carry her. I will show you what real fear is if you tempt me. Take your places by the stream and let us get started.”
To be continued…