Authors: Jennifer Martucci,Christopher Martucci
The Savage Lands
By Jennifer and Christopher Martucci
PLANET URTH: THE SAVAGE LANDS (BOOK 2)
Published by Jennifer and Christopher Martucci
Copyright © 2013
All rights reserved.
First edition: November 2013
Cover design by
The Cover Collection
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
“Just keep going,” I encourage an exhausted looking June. I whisper the words in her ear and will her body to be infused with strength. My sister turns to me briefly. A look flashes in her silvery eyes. It is laden with steely determination, and utter fear.
“I am,” she replies breathlessly.
Her cheeks are beet-red and her breathing is labored. I hate seeing her this way, especially knowing that I am to blame, sort of.
My temples pound in time with my heartbeat, the sound of blood roaring in my ears filtering the sounds of the woods. But the
y hammer with less ferocity than the anxiety drumming away at my brain.
“How much farther are we going?” June asks between pants.
“I don’t know,” I answer honestly. I wish I had a better answer. I wish I knew exactly where we were going and how long it would take to get there, but things are not that simple. “But you’re doing great. All of you are,” I say as I crane my neck and look over my shoulder at June, Riley and Oliver.
Riley offers a weak smile and Oliver just nods. Behind them, Will walks. Rays of light streak through the woodland canopy and kiss his golden skin, causing a wash of chestnut highlights to scatter through his raven hair as he continues along the same dirt path the children and I travel along. His appearance, his rich bronze skin and brilliant aquamarine eyes are a sharp contrast to my emotions. Dark and heavy, I feel none of the vividness and lightness he radiates. To the contrary, I feel every ounce of the weight of four lives resting squarely on my shoulders.
As if sensing my load, Will says, “We’ll keep going until we find a safe place to rest.”
I marvel at his tone. He is not winded and he does not sound low-spirited. Surprisingly, his tone is almost upbeat.
“I know this is hard on you guys,” he continues. “All of us are leaving a place we’ve come to know and love. It’s scary. We’ve been through scary, horrible stuff. But we’re here now, together, and we’ll get through this.”
“That’s right,” I agree and wish I felt as certain as Will sounds.
“I’m just so afraid,” Riley says. The tremor in her voice is apparent. “Those monsters, the Urthmen, they killed mom and dad and I can’t get it out of my head.”
“Neither can I,” Oliver says.
I slow my pace so that I walk alongside Riley and Oliver. Up close, I realize Oliver looks a lot like Will, only shorter and with rounded, more boyish features.
I place a hand on his shoulder and give a gentle squeeze. “I know what you’re going through. Not that it helps at all,” I add and mentally kick myself for being so socially inept. I close my eyes for a split-second and try to channel June’s fluidity when she speaks to others. “What I mean to say is that what you saw was just about as awful as it gets, but you will get through it. The pain and sadness you feel, you’ll get through it, I promise.”
Oliver turns his head to face me. His eyes are glassy and bloodshot, making the blue-green of his irises glow. “Thank you,” is all he can manage. I hear the all too familiar catch in his voice as his ability to speak is strangled by the tightness in his throat.
Sadly, feeling his throat constrict is one of the many experiences he will endure when he recalls his parents’ murder. He will never forget what he saw. None of them will. I haven’t. Time only eases a small portion of the initial trauma, but it never erases it. The event will be indelibly etched in his memory. I cannot tell him that, especially since the loss of his parents is not the only challenge he faces.
We are fleeing the forest. Will, Riley, Oliver, June and I are leaving the only shelter we’ve ever known and heading toward an uncertain destination, one that promises unrelenting danger. But we must go. Urthmen, monstrous mutations of human beings that rule the planet, have infiltrated the area, and Lurkers, bloodthirsty beasts that hunt by night, have discovered our cave, have caught our scent. If we had stayed in the cave June and I called home for the last six years, they would not have stopped until they found a way inside and made us their meal. We did not have another choice. We had to leave. Our lives depended on it.
We continue to walk for what feels like eternity, passing tree after tree, bush after bush. Occasionally, I look behind me at Will. The hike begins to wear on his po
sitive mood, and now, what can only be categorized as a tormented expression plays across his face. Tormented, or perhaps it is an expression of quiet resignation to our fate. Either way, a horrible, sick feeling materializes in the pit of my stomach.
m so thirsty and tired,” Riley says and demands my attention. Her voice is as thin as a reed. I can hear the fatigue in it, the desperation. Her words echo my feelings. I wish I could tell her, tell everyone, that we can stop and rest, that another solution exists. But it does not. The sun is slanted low in the sky. The world around us is bathed in waning rays of gold. Dusk is looming. We must keep moving. We must keep going as fast and far as we can possibly travel. I know we will not make it out of the forest by nightfall. But we cannot remain out in the open as we are, vulnerable prey awaiting the predatory advance of ferocious creatures. I search for a place for us to hide as my eyes scan the lush surroundings.
“The day is slipping fast,” Will says to me. He peers at me over the tops of the children’s heads. His voice is tight and fraught with concern
, and his lips collapse and form a dour line. “Time is running out.”
He has stated the obvious. As the sun sinks lower, our need to find shelter becomes direr. Once it disappears altogether, so too do our chances of survival if we are not secure somewhere safe to spend the night. I do not know if such a location exists at this point.
“I’m looking,” I tell him and do not mask the unease in my tone. “We need to find something fast. Just keep looking.”
His eyes narrow and his brow furrows as he nods in agreement. He turns from me and looks out into the forest. I do the same. We are headed in a direction I have never explored before. This part of the forest is heavy with the scent of evergreens and musty earth. Pinecones continue to fall from trees and land with soft thuds and plunks. Overhead and all around us, imposing trees with limbs that sag as if bearing the weight of snow stand sentinel, intimidating with their pointed barbs and rigid appearance. Shadows of tree branches dance along our path as if waving us forward, inviting us deeper into the heart of this
uncharted area of the woods. I do not see a craggy rock formation, or anything for that matter, other than towering pines, firs and other green, spiny-leaved trees. A rock formation would suggest a cave, which is what I had hoped to find. Even if it were small, Will and I would find a way to squeeze our group inside, I am sure. But the possibility of finding a cave seems remote at this point.
A thread of doubt begins to weave its way into my brain. But there isn’t time for doubt or hesitation, only commitment. I have committed myself, and everyone with me, to making it out of the forest safely. June, Will, Riley and Oliver are all my responsibility.
We push ahead and make our way through the thicket.
Once we are past the point where the pines and evergreens grow side by side closely, I get a better view of what we have to work with: Nothing. We have nothing to work with at this point.
Worry sends an icy chill through me that courses through my veins until it wraps itself around my heart and nearly freezes it mid-beat.
Will casts an anxious look my way. I rub my forehead. My palms are sweaty and my heart has resumed beating. Its rate is now spiked
, not from physical exertion, but from panic.
“I don’t think I can keep walking,” Riley says and rips us from our wordless interaction.
Her color has paled dramatically, a fact that does not go unnoticed by Will. He rushes to her side.
“She needs to rest. We all do,” he says to me as I make my way toward Riley.
Will is kneeling and digging in his backpack. We took only what we could easily carry from the cave and left the rest. He retrieves a canteen and raises it to his sister’s lips. Before she fills her mouth, I place my hands on her cheeks. They are clammy and cool to the touch, a bad sign considering the heat has been sweltering all day long. I drop my hands and watch as she drinks.
I realize Will is right. I have pushed the children harder than their young bodies are capable of handling. They need to rest. And I need to figure out how we are going to survive the night.
“There,” I point to a small clearing with moss covered logs on one side. Will looks up and follows my finger’s trajectory. “Let’s sit over there,” I gesture to the closest one.
Will caps his canteen and slings his backpack over one shoulder. He then cups Riley’s elbow with one hand and wraps the other around her small waist. He leads her to the log and makes her sit and drink from his canteen. Oliver sits beside them, but June stays with me.
“Think she’s going to be okay?” June asks me, concern lacing her words. She stares at Riley and Will for a long moment.
“Yes, I do,” I reply.
“She just needs a rest and some water, maybe some dried boart meat, and she’ll be fine. I’ve pushed you kids too hard today,” I admit.
“We are running for our lives, Avery,” June spins and faces me as she speaks. Small coiled tendrils of her blonde hair have escaped her braid and frame her face. Her
complexion is flushed, and a small crease marks the space between her eyebrows.
“I know,” I say in a voice that is barely above a whisper. “I need to find us shelter fast, but I don’t see anything even remotely suitable.”
June chews her lip contemplatively and folds her arms across her chest. She stares off into the distance. “What can I do?” she asks after a moment. “Tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it.”
Will approaches and she turns toward him. “How’s Riley? Is she okay?” June asks.
“She’s fine,” Will answers reassuringly. But his expression remains serious. “Would you mind sitting with her and keeping an eye on her for me for a minute while I talk to your sister?” he asks June in a warm, familiar tone.
June nods and says, “Of course,” before making her way to the log on which Riley sits.
When June is out of earshot, Will’s demeanor transforms from friendly and earnest to tense and cool. “We need to find a place now,” he says with intensity.
He is looking to me for a solution, one I do not have. I have led us deep into the forest blindly, and without even the most skeletal of plans.
“I know,” I say as my eyes scour the surrounding area. My stomach knots tightly. Four people are counting on me to save them from an encounter with Lurkers. “I just need to think.”
Will leans in. “Hey, I’m not putting this all on you,” he says
. His tone is apologetic. “I’m with you; we are all in this together.” He grips my shoulders and looks directly into my eyes. “And we need to get through tonight together.” His breath feathers across my face and makes my skin tingle. Our circumstances teeter on the edge of a great precipice of danger, yet Will manages to evoke an array of unfamiliar reactions in me.
“I know,” I say quietly. I feel heat bloom across my cheeks and hate that I cannot stop it from happening. I swallow hard and finish my sentence. “But I got us into this. And I have to get us out of it.”
Will drops his hands from my shoulders and rakes his fingers through his dark hair, ruffling it so that I nearly lose my train of thought. “I am here to help too. I’m just not sure there’s anything to help with at this point,” he adds dejectedly.
“Well, we can’t just keep walking,” I say. “The kids are drained and the day is fading fast. I have to come up with something.”
Will’s eyes lock on mine briefly before they peek over my shoulder at Riley. Worry etches his features. He has lost so much already. His pain is plain.
“Go,” I say to him softly. “Go make sure she’s okay. She needs you.”
I need him too, but I do not dare say as much to him. His sister is a child, a child who just watched her mother and father be butchered by Urthmen. Riley’s needs take priority over me rummaging through my brain for a suitable and safe shelter for the night.