Authors: Lara Fanning
“Not gonna turn us in, are you?” Khar asks, his voice serious.
I look down at him kneeling by the water, ready to give him a piece of my mind and tell him that Seiger was the one who saved us all and prevented a race of violent, aggressive children from being born. But when my eyes land on Khar’s clean face, my voice gets stuck in my throat.
He is the most beautiful person I have ever seen, which is saying something given I’ve met Madison. He isn’t Caucasian like I expected. He’s Indian. Velvety, raven black hair flops into his startlingly green eyes and a shade of shadowed stubble covers his cheeks and chin. His skin is caramel-brown and flawless. He isn’t old either. Maybe in his mid-twenties. It is not what I expected such a stern man to look like and I stand gawking for a good half a minute before Khar grows uncomfortable under my gaze.
“Christ, Freya,” Madison says, pinching my arm. “Sucker for a pretty face, aren’t you?”
“I just… you’re not what I expected.”
He stands up and crosses his arms. “What did you expect?”
“Maybe an old, mature man? Not a little boy.” My acid tongue surprises me but I roll with it, folding my arms over my chest and cocking my hip out. If he is going to be rude, so will I.
A few people who hear my comment make little ‘
’ noises around us. Khar smirks, looking rapt rather than irritated.
“Aren’t you feisty?” he says, resting his gun on his shoulder. “Anyway, get to know everyone here for today. We all eat around the fireplace later on—” he points to a campsite where the fire has gone out, but a large black pot still hangs over the ashes “—tomorrow I’ll show you lot the ropes. Literally.”
And then the Indian man runs off into the forest without another word. I watch his slender form disappear into the leafy Dicksonia ferns with growing dislike.
“What an arrogant jerk,” I say.
“Not the easiest person,” Whil agrees.
“I like him,” Isobelle pipes.
“Yeah, you would. You’re a monster just like him,” I say.
Isobelle grins. “This place is great. It’ll be fun livin’ here.”
I look up at the houses and the people living in them are now all smiling at us and waving, seeing we bring no danger. I smile back and head over to one of the ropes to haul myself up and take a look around from up high. I spit in my hands and start climbing. The rope sways violently as I move, making ascending quite a difficult challenge.
Halfway up the rope, I glance down at the ground and the height is dizzying. If I fall, I’d more than likely break my neck. Madison, Jacob, Isobelle, and Lance are cheering me on while Whil hovers at the tree’s base, with an encouraging smile that makes his face look radiant. Hearing the commotion, the other Bs all look towards me and shout out their support from the forest floor.
My limbs feel like lead, my hands are slippery with sweat, but my friends grinning at me and urging me on pours new strength into my body. I reach the top, panting and dripping with perspiration, but the sight of my surroundings makes it worth it. I move to the edge of the hut’s balcony, which is remarkably stable and has an incredible view of the forest surrounding us. The waterfall directly beside the tree I’ve climbed makes a noise like thunder and algae carpeted stones speckle the crystal clear water. I can see rainbow lorikeets and bellbirds in the treetops, which aren’t too far above me. The little, olive-green bellbirds make high pitched chirping noises that echo deep into the forest. A clearing I can see through the trees harbours a brown stag that forages the shrubbery, surrounded by shy, dark wallabies. Vines hang from the treetops like jade streamers. If I jumped from here, I could easily grab one of the hanging vines and swing like Tarzan through the jungle.
Peace floods through me as a few of the “native people” come to greet me. Their smiles are warm and open. Although it isn’t my family’s cosy homestead, or my aunt and uncle’s farmhouse or even the Victorian Alps where I’ve always felt so at home and in my element, I know Isobelle is right.
Living here is going to be fine. Just fine.
And there is only one thing left to do to make life complete and whole again—to find my family. Looking over the green-shaded forest, I wonder if Settlement Jade is closer than I think. I draw in a breath that fills my entire body with newfound strength and courage.
“I will find you.”