And then there was Paul. He wasn’t close to any of the people who’d been taken, but he’d still felt it was his duty to volunteer because he’d been an officer back on the ship. Like anyone gave a shit about that anymore. “I’m the only one of us who’s been east of here,” Paul had argued—loudly, of course. “I know the terrain, I know the challenges. I got my people from there to here, I can get these people from here to there.”

Bellamy wanted to slip away without much fanfare. The quieter, the better. He heaved his pack over his shoulders, and for a brief, foolish moment, thought about picking Clarke’s up for her. But then he pictured the flash of indignation that would light up her green eyes and thought better of it. She was a thousand times tougher than he was anyway. He shook Max’s hand, nodded at Rhodes, and started to head across the tree line, when he heard Paul clear his throat.

“Here we are. The brave eight, walking into danger because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t know what we’re going to find at the end of this road, but I know…” He pressed a fist to his heart, jaw clenched. “I have faith that we will overcome it and bring our friends home. When my dropship landed and everyone was consumed with worry and despair, do you know what I said to them? I said—”

“Let’s save the end of that fascinating anecdote for later, Paul,” Bellamy cut in. “It’s time to head out.”

Paul shook his head. “We can’t just head into the woods willy-nilly. We need to march in formation.”

“Formation?” Bellamy repeated, willing his blood to stop boiling.

“It’s how we do it in the guard corps. Here’s what I suggest: I take the advance position, in case we run into trouble. Everybody else pairs up behind me.”

“We’re an even number,” Bellamy said dryly. “There aren’t enough of us to pair—”

“I know that,” Paul said quickly. “Luke takes the rear, protecting the flank.”

“This is ridiculous,” Bellamy said, no longer trying to hide his anger. He counted off on his fingers. “For one thing, Luke taking the flank is a terrible idea.” He glanced at Luke with an apologetic wince. “No offense, man, but your leg isn’t healed yet. You’ll lag with that limp.” He turned back to Paul. “And second, no way you should lead. Do you know how to follow a nearly dead track through a forest, day and night? Do you know what to look for? The way grass bends from a foot hitting it versus a hoof? The way rocks show mud when they’ve been overturned? Is that something you’re familiar with?”


Paul stayed silent, his mouth clenched shut.

Bellamy nodded. “It doesn’t have to be me.” He pointed to Cooper, Vale, and Jessa. “They’ve got even more experience hunting than I do. But I’m telling you right now, it makes zero sense for you to be the guy in front. You’ll lead us around in circles.”

“Circles?” Paul’s voice had lost some of its cheeriness. “Might I remind you that I was a senior officer back on the ship? I think that entitles me to a little respect, especially from someone who—”

Clarke cut him off. “Here’s what we’re going to do. Bellamy will go on ahead of us, marking the way we go and making the path a little easier to follow. That way, you can stay in the front line to protect the rest of us, Paul. And since you won’t have to worry about orienteering, you can figure out where we stop to rest and make camp and look out for potential dangers, since you know the terrain so well. Luke will flank you with his rifle, providing cover for the rest of us.” She paused and scanned the group, giving them the chance to interject. When no one did, she continued. “I’m happy to take the rear. That way, if anyone needs my medical help, I won’t have to backtrack.”

“That sounds logical,” Paul said, smiling a little too widely and making Bellamy’s stomach churn. “I second the motion.”

“No one put it to a vote,” Felix said under his breath.

Bellamy was already starting to turn away. They’d already wasted too much time talking. It was time to leave. The moon was full tonight and would provide plenty of light, but if those clouds in the distance rolled in, they’d be screwed.

Bellamy walked until the quiet of the forest surrounded him, his eyes adjusting to the muted light. They landed on the crossed branches, the subtle marks of wheel ruts left in the piled leaves beyond.

Here we go, he thought, and followed the trail, heart pounding. Let’s do it. Let’s bring our people home.





As silly as keeping to formation had seemed at first, Clarke didn’t mind walking in the back. She could take in the new terrain, forests opening onto wide green fields full of plants she’d never seen, before the trail took them back down into smaller, sparser copses of trees and out again. Keeping pace behind the others helped draw her mind off one reality and onto this one—one foot landing in front of the other, forward progress, a sense of hope in the middle of hopeless circumstances.

“Circumstances” sounded much nicer than “brutal, devastating attack that you completely failed to prevent.”

The Earthborn members of the rescue party took turns hanging back and keeping Clarke company. Right now, it was tall, wiry Jessa, who was a little quieter than the others. Clarke didn’t mind the silence, but she noticed how the older girl’s eyes were fixed on the horizon, a furrow of worry dug into her brow.

“How old is your brother?” Clarke asked gently.

Jessa cleared her throat. “A few years older than me. Kit can handle himself,” she said, so sharply and suddenly, it was clear she was speaking more to herself than to Clarke. “He might not even need rescuing. But he’s the only family I’ve got, and just going on without him like he never existed is not an option. You help the people you love. That’s what you do.”

“I know what you mean,” Clarke said, her mind drifting to Bellamy. Since they’d set out from camp a few hours ago, he’d been too far ahead on the track for her to see him. She knew what was pulling him onward in such a frenzy, and it wasn’t just the raiders’ trail. It was his family. He’d spent his life protecting Octavia, and he and Wells had just started connecting as brothers. It was no wonder that he was desperate to get them back.

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