Thinking, Had another group been run down in an adjacent tunnel?

Unimaginable.

To be overtaken down here.

People climbing over one another to escape as the monsters reached them.

Torches dropped.

Extinguished in the stream.

Devoured in the dark.

Up ahead, the torchlight in Ethan’s group had disappeared.

Ethan said, panting, “Where’d they go?”

“I don’t know,” Hecter said. “The light just vanished.”

The water under Ethan’s boots was rushing now and they were moving into a cold, steady breeze.

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They emerged from the tunnel onto a rocky streambed, and for a moment, the sound of the abbies was replaced by the roar of white water, close but invisible in the dark.

Ethan stared up the hillside, saw the torches trailing up into a forest.

He pointed them out to Hecter and Maggie, and said, “Follow the lights.”

“You’re staying?” Hecter asked.

“I’ll be along.”

The shrieks of the abbies cut through the crush of the falls.

“Go!” Ethan said.

Hecter and Maggie headed off into the trees.

Ethan racked a fresh shell into the tube and climbed several feet up the bank to a flat perch. His eyes were slowly adjusting. He could discern the silhouettes of trees and even the cascade in the distance, the black water starlit against the sky where it arced over a ledge several hundred feet above.

Ethan’s quads burned from sprinting through the tunnel, and despite the cold, his undershirt was soaked with sweat.

An abby exploded out of the tunnel and stopped in the streambed.

Took in its new surroundings.

Looked at Ethan.

Here we go.

Its head twitched to the side.

When the slug hit the abby’s center mass, it fell back into the stream.

Two more abbies ripped out of the tunnel.

One rushed to its fallen comrade and let out a low, pulsing cry.

The other made a beeline for Ethan, scrabbling up the rocky bank on all fours.

Ethan racked a new shell, shot a slug through its teeth.

When it fell, the other one was right behind it, and two more were already out of the tunnel.

Ethan pumped and fired.

The other two were coming and still more screams rising up behind them.

He took the first one down with a gut shot but missed the head of its partner.

Racked another shell.

Fired at point-blank range and hit just below the neck.

Blood sprayed in Ethan’s eyes.

He wiped his face as another abby joined the party.

Ethan pumped, aimed, squeezed the trigger.

Click.

Shit.

The abby heard the noise.

It lunged.

Ethan threw down the empty shotgun, drew his Desert Eagle, and put a round through its heart.

Gun smoke clouded the air, Ethan’s heart hammered away, and there were screams still coming up the tunnel.

Go, go, go!

He holstered the pistol, grabbed the shotgun, and climbed away from the stream, clawing his way through rocks and dirt until he reached the trees, sweat pouring into his eyes with a salty burn.

There were lights in the distance.

Screams behind him.

He slung the shotgun over his shoulder and ran.

After a minute, the sound of the abbies changed.

They were outside now.

Many of them.

He didn’t look back.

Kept going.

Kept climbing.

III

ADAM TOBIAS HASSLER

HASSLER EXPEDITION

NORTHWEST WYOMING

678 DAYS AGO

Brightly colored algae rims the bank, and jets of mineral water bubble where they surface up from the molten underworld below. The smell of sulfur and other minerals is strong.

Hassler strips naked in the falling snow and covers his clothes and gear under the stinking duster. Hustling through the grass, he glides into the pool and groans with pleasure.

Out in the center, it is deep and clear and sky blue.

He finds a spot near the shore a foot and a half deep and stretches out on a long, smooth rock that boasts a natural incline.

Pure, unabashed pleasure.

As if it was made for this very thing.

He reclines in the hundred-and-four-degree pool, the snow pouring down, letting his eyes close for little bursts of euphoria that remind him of what it felt like to be human. To live in a civilized world of convenience and comfort. Where the probability of death didn’t shadow every moment.

But the knowledge of where he is, of who he is, of why he is here is never far. A tense voice—the one that has kept him alive for the last eight hundred and something days in the wild—whispers that it was foolish to stop for a soak in this pool. Indulgent and reckless. This isn’t a spa. A swarm of abbies could appear at any time.

He’s normally vigilant to a fault, but this pool is nothing short of a gift, and he knows the memory of his time here will sustain him for weeks to come. Besides, the map and compass are useless in the midst of a blizzard. He’s socked in until the weather passes.

He shuts his eyes again, feels the snowflakes alighting on his lashes.

Off in the distance, he hears a sound, like water shooting out of the blowhole of a whale—one of the smaller geysers erupting.

His own smile surprises him.

He first saw this place in the faded color photos of the “XYZ” Encyclopedia Britannica volume in his parents’ basement—a 1960s crowd watching from the boardwalk as Old Faithful spewed boiling mineral water.

He’s dreamed of coming here since he was a boy. Just never imagined that his first visit to Yellowstone would be in conditions such as these.

Two thousand years in the future, and the world gone all to hell.

Hassler grabs a handful of gravel and begins to abrade the dirt and filth that has accumulated on his skin like body armor. In the middle of the pool, where the deep water covers his head, he submerges himself completely.

Clean for the first time in months, he climbs out of the pool and sits in the frosted grass to let his body cool.

Steam lifts off his shoulders.

He feels woozy from the heat.

Across the meadow, evergreens stand ghost-like, almost invisible through the steam and the snow.

And then—

Something he wrote off as a shrub begins to crawl.

Hassler’s heart stops.

He straightens and squints.

Can’t pinpoint how far away it is, but certainly inside of a hundred yards. Easy to mistake for a man crawling on all fours at this distance, except there are no men in the world anymore. At least not beyond the electrified, razor-wired fence that surrounds the town of Wayward Pines.

Well, actually, there is one.

Him.

The figure draws closer.

No.