Chapter 6: Dark Days
I rode all day and all through the night. It was a foggy morning as I guided the fox through scrubland. The radar beeped, telling me something was close. I stopped my fox. The fog was so thick that I could barely see in front of me. It was cold, grey, and calm. Nothing moved. Smiling a bit I turned on the multi-sensor. It was a Blade Liger, eighty yards and closing. I tuned into the satellite feed and communications. It wasn't communicating with anyone at the moment and there wasn't any information on it. The fox growled and began to get upset, like she had around Orwell's Saix.
We stood our ground as a zoid formed in the fog. Bright yellow? Well that's a way to stand out.
"Well, well, well, it seems I've found another," a male voice said over the intercom. His picture showed up too. He was just a kid. His hair was blonde and his eyes…the same lemon yellow that his zoid was.
"You're Grey," I said while remembering his name from the sheet. He seemed stunned.
"I knew there were others but I didn't expect a Shadow Fox," he stated.
"Why?" He grinned then.
"Too sneaky," he said and lunged forward.
A Blade Liger was fast, but a Shadow Fox could out maneuver most any zoid. I spun, sliding out of his way, using the Vulcan gun the whole time.
"We're on the same side," I said while stopping.
"Who says I want to be on the same side." He took a shot with the dual impact cannon before deploying the blades and jumping into the air. The multi-sensors went crazy.
"I know where you are," I snapped while crouching and launching myself into the air at him.
The blades flipped forward and he used the Twin 30mm pulse laser guns mounted there. But they missed by a fraction of an inch and the foxes electron bite fangs were crunching into his front leg by then. We landed, the fox on top and still ripping. With one final tug the leg came off. But a blade came out, nearly hitting me. It didn't have that great of reach though.
"I'm not new at this," I said while hopping off him and using the optical stealth.
I'd blend in with the background, not totally, but well enough to make him think twice about shooting. The Blade Liger stood and Grey laughed. A glowing yellow light wrapped around the damaged shoulder and the leg regenerated instantly.
"I've found my necklace foxy, let's see how you do now."
I had my necklace too. The burst of speed he used to come at me with was almost seemingly impossible. I was hit and flipped once before the fox righted herself and ran in a wide circle.
"Coward…just like a fox."
I smiled slightly, this fight was good. My blood was pumping and the high of battle was on. I disappeared into the fog, using the optical stealth to my advantage.
"Foxes aren't cowards. They're cunning…"
By then I was behind him and jumping into the air preparing the Strike Laser Claw. I landed on his back and the satisfying screech of metal being ripped apart was like music to my ears. Then I was up and off him. The damage was pretty bad. Most of the back was sliced open and the boosters were crushed bits of metal.
"You don't seem to understand do you," he stated. The glowing yellow light came and the Liger was brand new.
"Shit," I muttered to myself while looking down at my necklace.
But by then he was coming at me. I couldn't avoid the Hyper Blade Attack. The fox yowled and I felt myself sliding backward. Then as if the attack wasn't enough the ground opened up beneath me and I fell.
Blackness, soft grey, light. My sight was blurry at first and I realized that I was in a lot of pain. Something moved into my line of sight.
"Ava…Ava…can you here me?" It was Orwell's voice. My eyes finally focused. It was dark. His eyes stuck out and there was a fire lit somewhere nearby.
"Where's Shadow," I asked while moving.
"She's fine, she's regenerating slowly." I relaxed and looked up at him. He looked tired and worried.
"Where are we?"
"In that gorge I told you about. How in the hell did you end up down here?!" His worry was more like anxiety.
"I battled one of us. The Yellow Blade Liger. His pilots name is Grey."
"The kid? He's sixteen Ava…you should be able to beat him."
"Don't you think I tried," I snapped while trying to sit up. It only caused the pain to sharpen acutely.
"Sorry…sorry…just lay down and stay down," Orwell murmured while lightly pushing my shoulder down. I listened.
"He knew how to work his necklace, Orwell, and his zoid regenerated instantly. No matter what I did, he was fine. Then he hit me with a Hyper Blade Attack, which I might add, had enough power to knock me off the cliff."
"How did you not see it. It's a mile wide?" I couldn't help but smile.
"It was really foggy." He smiled a bit too.
"Are you hungry…or thirsty?"
"Some water would be nice." He reached to his left and picked up a canteen. He helped me drink and then I laid back. "Do you think I broke anything?"
"No…you just bruised most of your body."
"Am I purple?"
"Like a plumb." I laughed a bit and it hurt. "You're a lot more amiable when you're really hurt. I like you this way. Except for the hurt part…I don't like that."
"I don't like it either," I murmured.
Over the next few days I slowly got better. Orwell was very helpful and I found that he wasn't annoying me as much. Maybe I'd hit my head hard enough and switched stations. But it was mainly because he really truly seemed like he cared. Then one night he shook me awake. Blade was growling and I looked around to find my fox nowhere in sight.
"I woke up and she was gone Ava. I heard Blade's growling." I pulled myself up so I was half kneeling.
"Shadow," I called and then whistled. Nothing.
She never walked off very far and she always came when whistled. I felt empty. Like something had been ripped away from me. Orwell must've saw my change in expression.
"We'll find her," he said. I glanced at him.
"I thought you didn't want me around."
"I was just upset Ava. I really missed you alright and I thought you were dead. I was scared…so scared." His voice had gone soft.
"I'm not going to be happy until I find her," I said.
"Ava…your zoid is probably the worst zoid to loose. You can't find it. The foot scrubbers erase the footprints. It has optical stealth. It's almost untraceable," he said in a exasperated voice. I laughed humorlessly.
"I know…and the Gustav isn't equipped with long range tracking devices. Your Saix has nothing."
"Let's just get back to sleep…it'll be harder searching at night."
"You should get to the imperial city. I'll take the Gustav and find my Fox." He shook his head.
"I staying with you Ava. Just in case you find trouble again." I smiled slightly and laid down.
"You should just expect it." He chuckled a bit before lying down again and rolling over. He was only about a foot away in his own sleeping roll.
It was an early morning for me. I packed my stuff and lightly woke Orwell. I was petty healed up now, not up to par fully, but good enough to walk and talk and move about daily. I did need help getting into the Blade Saix though. Orwell smiled in a good natured manner and lifted me in. Then he squished himself behind me and moved the Saix forward. Without my fox it seemed as if everything was unbalanced, tipped to one side. Being that my energy was low I was actually feeling slightly depressed. We then made it back to the Gustav and he carried me from the Saix to the cockpit of the Gustav.
"You really didn't have to carry me," I said.
"It's less stress on you. I know how it feels. I was put in prison and they confiscated Blade. He was a long ways away in a Republican holding facility. It felt like the world had gone upside down." I nodded as he sat down and started up the Gustav.
"Which direction," he asked. I concentrated for a bit. I still had a pull towards my fox. We had been going west toward the capitol, but now I was being pulled south.
"Maybe we'll see the ocean," he said. I glanced at him.
"You've never seen the ocean?"
"No," he said, "You have?"
"No." He chuckled a bit.
"Maybe if we find your fox we can have a mini vacation," he said.
"No, we have to get to the capitol Orwell. We can't goof off."
"Sorry," he muttered and continued on. As the days went on I began to fall into depression. Without my fox I was nothing. I had nothing. One night, a week into our search, I sat there picking at my food while Orwell looked concerned.
"Ava…you need to eat."
"I don't want to eat," I muttered.
"I know this is hard on you, but you can't just give up on life just because you've lost your zoid. We'll find her."
"But what if we don't Orwell. She's the only thing that's precious to me and I'll go insane without her."
He looked back down at his bowl and kept quiet. Thunder echoed in the distance. The rains were coming and we were headed straight into them. Orwell picked up the equipment.
"Eat Ava, or so help me I will force it down your throat." I did as I was told and joined him in the gustav after.
"Why do you always sleep with your shirt off," I muttered while getting into bed.
"Because it's comfortable. You should try sleeping with yours off."
"This barely is a shirt Orwell, nice try," I muttered while pointing to my half top. He chuckled a bit. Then he turned toward me, his eyes peeking out of the darkness. "Afraid to sleep," he asked. He knew I'd been having increasingly horrid nightmares. The last several nights I'd woken up screaming.
"I know that's not true. If you'd just let me help you…" I rolled over, facing away from him.
"No." He thought that holding me in his arms was going to help me sleep. It only happened once. It's not like he could stop the nightmares from happening.
"Ava" he whispered, "I want to help you. That's what friends do. I want to be your friend…"
"We're not friends," I muttered, trying to get him to stop talking.
"Would you stop with that crap. It's very unbecoming. It's like you want to die alone and cold." I flipped over, feeling the warm buzz of anger start to pump through my veins.
"I don't care," I snapped and flipped back around.
"That's because you don't see to care about anything Ava. You just walk through life using people as you please. Am I just one of those people? Have you ever thought about what I feel…that maybe you're hurting me?"
"You came back for me. I would've been fine. I've always been alone and I've learned to be that way." I heard him let out a breath. I was fighting back a wave of emotion that I didn't want.
"I rescued you because I care and I've been alone too Ava…until I found you. Then I realized that I didn't have to live that way anymore. That I wasn't the only one with problems. My past is a mystery…I've never had any family except for my Saix and I've always thought that I never needed anyone. We're alike Ava…and we need each other…" I felt his hand on my shoulder. Everything had boiled down to this point. This changing time in my life, my personality. He was right and half my dreams had been about loosing him. Tears fell from my eyes as I turned around.
"I'm sorry…," I whispered, "I'm sorry if I hurt you…I-I just…" He moved forward and lightly pulled me into his chest.
"Shh…you don't have to explain."
I cried for a long time. Normally I would've felt embarrassed to cry like this in front of someone, but I'd come to realize that Orwell was my friend and he'd put up with me even though I'd probably really pissed him off. He wouldn't look at me any differently if I cried into his chest like a baby. After my sobbing had ended I stayed there and fell asleep. He didn't let go either. I felt safe and warm in his arms. Waking up the next morning still feeling that and having no horrible dreams was really the eye opener. If I felt safe in sleep, then I'd sleep peacefully.
Rain pattered against the canopy as I laid there. I was on my side and my back was pressed into his chest. His skin was warm where it touched mine. His soft breathing could be felt as it stirred my hair. I let out a long relaxed breath. It was nice knowing that I had someone I could count on now. Someone who could help me through everything. It didn't necessarily mean I was going to be nice to Orwell all the time, but I'd try and be nicer. Instead of waking him up, I let him sleep. Even going back to sleep myself. He mumbled something in his and moved a little. I heard him laugh a little as he sat up.
"Why are you laughing," I asked while facing him. He grinned.
"I was right." I smiled a bit and pushed him playfully while getting up myself.
"I'll be back, I'm going to put a rain cover on the Saix."
"I'll drive," I stated.
He'd been driving for the last week because I hadn't wanted to do anything. I folded the bed back and put the seats up. He hopped in, soaked with rain and holding a breakfast of fruit.
"These'll probably go bad in the next several days, we should eat them now." I selected a pear and continued driving. Being off road meant mud and Gustavs didn't do so well in mud. Soon we were stuck.
"Damn it," Orwell muttered after he tried getting the Gustav out. "I'll use Blade to see if I can pull this thing out." I nodded and sat in the cockpit. With some pulling the Gustav was free and Orwell came back in covered in mud.
"Ready," I asked.
"Yep." He was not in a good mood, I could see it in the slight scowl he was wearing. So we made it until we came to a steep hill. There was no way around it.
"I'm not dealing with this tonight," Orwell stated, "Let's worry about it in the morning." I nodded.
He sat there and tried to clean the mud off of most his clothes. It would be almost three weeks before we hit the next village, so he was going to have to wait until then or wash them if we came across a stream or pond. Before we went to bed he stripped off everything but his underwear.
"Orwell," I stated.
"What? It's not like I'm ugly," he said with a grin.
"But you're going to be sleeping next to me." He laughed and laid down in the bed.
"At least I'm not naked."
I laid down soon after and fell into a light sleep. Then like normal the nightmares began and I woke up soon after, breathing hard. Orwell was facing the other direction, but I moved closer and wrapped my arms around him. He was my antidote. Soon I fell into a deeper sleep and really didn't have any dreams.
Morning came once more and I was face to face with Orwell. Our noses were just barely touching. Our legs still tangled, his right arm thrown over me and the left was underneath my neck. What was I feeling now? It made me want to smile and laugh and move even closer to him. It was something more than friendship. The kind of something more that I didn't want. His thin, but just very slightly crooked nose poked out of his black hair. It covered his eyes mostly. Then there was the straight line of his jaw and the fullness of his sensitive lips. And then there was the fact that he was almost completely naked and pressed against me. I moved away but his arm locked around me and he lightly pinned me into the bed.
"Orwell…," I said quickly. His smile was wide and his eyes playful.
"I was too much for you wasn't I," he asked. I let out a nervous short and breathy laugh.
"Come on, you had your hands all over me."
"I was half asleep…," I said while glancing at his chest.
"Lame excuse Ava."
He sat up and moved off to the side. The heat drained from my face as I pulled my boots on. The little brat was using his looks against me. After we had put the bed away and eaten breakfast he looked outside with a grim face.
"The hill is steep and slippery. I'll take the Saix up first and you follow in this."
"Alright," I stated and let out a breath as he exited the cockpit.
I was actually glad he was gone, no more of his comments about how I was enamored by him. I didn't call it enamored really, I was just ever so slightly attracted to him. But who wouldn't be with that face, those eyes, that hair…
"Ava!! Are you actually going to move," Orwell asked over the intercom.
I fumbled for the controls and put the Gustav into motion. I blushed even though he wasn't there. Since when did I blush over guys? Since when was I ever friends with one? My love life was literally non-existent. I didn't date because I simply didn't have time. The last person I kissed was that freak Damian. Well he kissed me, I'd never actually kissed anyone with my own free will. It's always been overly forceful men thinking that they could have their way with me. Most of the time I beat them up, just to show that I wasn't a defenseless little girl playing mercenary. I was the real deal.
The progress was slow. The mountain was horribly slippery and water washed down it in rivulets threatening to take one of us down. Orwell's Saix was having trouble and getting bogged down. The next thing I knew he was sliding back, right towards the Gustav.
"Ava," he cried, but it was too late.
The Saix crashed into the canopy, causing it to shatter and rain down on me. The wheels lost their traction and I began slipping back. Orwell had managed to stop his Saix, but the Gustav kept rolling back.
"Get out Ava…let it go," he said.
That's when it stalled and started backwards. I tried to start it again, but it wasn't. The brakes gave way then and I scrambled to get out. I hit the ground and slid for a bit as I watched the gustav careen towards the bottom and subsequently explode.
"Ava…are you alright…"
Orwell was trying to walk down the hill toward me but kept falling. I pulled myself up and managed to take a couple steps before Orwell crashed into me, taking us down.
"You're alright right," he asked while looking me over.
"No, I'm covered in cold mud because you knocked me down," I muttered.
He sat back and tried pulling me up. It only ended in us falling to the ground again, this time I was on top.
"Well…," he said, "I'm not wearing these clothes in my Saix and neither are you…"
"We're wearing clothes Orwell," I muttered before managing to stand.
It took a little bit but soon I was standing by the Saix and trying to get the mud out of my hair, but my hands were already covered so what was the point. Sighing I tried wiping the bigger globs off my clothes.
"Hey Ava…," Orwell said.
"What," I asked while turning toward him.
That's when a giant mud ball hit me in the face. Grumbling I wiped it off and stalked toward him. He had his cloak buttoned so his shirt should've been clean. Smiling I ripped open his cloak.
"Whoa…I'll take my clothes off if you ask…," I grabbed a hold of his shirt and used it to wipe my face and then stuck my hands up his shirt to wipe the excess mud off my hands and onto him.
"Stop trying to be a lady killer Orwell…women normally go for rugged rich people…not thinly built mercenaries," I stated and turned around.
"Well you know what…men don't normally go for tall, bitchy, womanly mercenaries either." I turned to him, an innocent smile on my face.
"But you don't know that now do you."
"You have mud in your teeth…but that's besides the point. No one in their right mind could stand your attitude. You out man most men…no guy wants a girlfriend who's basically a boyfriend." I turned fully and walked up to him.
"Then why are you still here," I asked while putting my hands on my hips. I was smiling, looking up at him with challenging eyes. He grinned then leaning in a little closer. His eyes were just as challenging.
"I'm not in my right mind…" He leaned in and I backed away, pushing him a little while I did.
"We're covered in mud Orwell and there's mud in my mouth…I doubt it'd be pleasant," I stated and walked away.
"You think I was going to kiss you…," he asked while following.
"What else would you do? Lick the mud off my face to clean me up?"
"You don't know that…you pushed me away." He stepped past me and got into the cockpit of the Saix and I followed. We were squished in there quite tightly.
"Great," I muttered.
"I'm not looking forward to this either," he said and started Blade forward at a slow pace. We were silent as the mud dried. It pulled at my face and wherever else it touched my skin.
"Here Ava…you drive…I'm going to take a nap," Orwell said.
"You think so huh," I asked.
"Yep." He leaned back a little and took his feet off the pedals.
"Let Blade walk on his own and we can both take a nap."
"I like the sound of that…I get to have your mud encrusted body against mine…how nice."
I elbowed him sharply before taking the controls, which was a little awkward because I was closer to the hand controls. My elbows poked out a little but it didn't matter. It wasn't that hard to guide the zoid up the hill. Soon we were headed down the other side and the rain was letting up. That evening we stopped near a river. This side of the hill was greener and held more trees and shrubs. We hopped out of the Saix and stretched.
"You can get washed up first," he said.
I nodded and walked forward. Once there I made sure he couldn't see me undress. There were bushes in the way. Then I gratefully stepped into the water. It was muddy, but not as bad. It was cold too. I washed everything. Including the eye patch and my guns. By then it was almost dark. Orwell scowled slightly as I walked forward.
"You might not be totally lady like but you do sure taking a long time bathing."
"Shut up…I cleaned everything."
He smiled and walked past. I saw that he had canned food there beside the fire he had started. The fire dried me out and I kept my hair down, letting it dry too. Orwell was back shortly and smiled cheekily because he was shirtless.
"Bastard," I stated. He held his shirt out to the flames.
"The water is cold…I needed to warm my shirt up first."
"I'd want my pants warmer than my shirt," I muttered while picking up a can.
He pulled his shirt on and sat down beside me. I handed him a can and we ate in silence. As I stared into the fire I thought of my fox. I really missed her. I really did.