Disclaimer & Notices: See Prologue.


Volume I
by Red Hope


Chapter 5

Clarke Griffin, a former leader of the Sky people, continued studying the airport from her location on the runway. She pictured how the airport might have been prior to the nuclear apocalypse. She could almost hear the airplanes’ jets. The idea of flying seemed so amazing and far grander than outer space. A hesitant smile pulled at her lips then she stepped off the runway and crossed the high grasses. Behind her, Ares followed her. His nails clicked against the taxiway as they neared the tarmac.

Clarke stood on the edge of the tarmac and stared in awe at the huge jetliner in front of her. She could barely register the airplane’s size compared to what she had seen in videos.

The aluminum beast stretched for several hundred feet to a pointed nose. Its wings spread out long over the tarmac and still held two jet engines each. The grimy, dull aluminum was peppered with remnants of color from its previous life as a luxury airline. At the back, an unusual t-tail swept back and finished the plane’s beautiful aerodynamics. Even in such disrepair, the airplane was still a wondrous sight.

Slowly, Clarke approached the grounded airplane. She noted that long ago the gigantic tires lost a battle to weather and went flat. As she crossed the tarmac towards the terminal, she realized that Ares was no longer at her side. Confused, she looked back and noticed the wolf sniffing something on the taxiway.

Ares breathed in heavy again. A large huff of air expelled from his nose over the dark spot. He only lifted his head when Clarke came to his side.

“What is it, Two Tails?” Clarke knelt down and visually inspected the dark pool that had caught the wolf’s nose. Rather intrigued too, she pressed her index finger into the pool, and her fingertip was coated in the slick liquid. Clarke rubbed her coated index finger against her thumb and realized it was a greasy substance. She brought the substance close to her nose, and the sweet yet fishy scent made her realized what it was after a minute.

Clarke wiped the substance off on her pant leg and stared oddly at the fresh oil stain on the taxiway. It was impossible for it to be this fresh unless it had been made recently by a piece of equipment. Slowly, Clarke twisted her head to the right and stared warily at the airport terminal.

For a moment, Clarke studied the oil spot again then stood up. She retrieved the handgun from her waistband then started towards the terminal. She located a set of metal stairs so she hurried up them, but the door was locked at the top. A few times, Clarke tried to ram it with her shoulder, but it was sealed shut.

After a huff, she went down the steps to Ares. She started around the terminal and found another door. She was rejected again. Clarke cursed under her breath and looked to the west at the very low sun. Perhaps a third time would be the charm so she hurried to the next door. It was the same results, even when she kicked a few times at the metal door.

Ares backed up and whined to get his friend’s attention.

Clarke slumped against the door and looked at the setting sun. “I know,” she softly agreed with him. She pushed off the door and decided it was best to find a safe location in one of the houses. She was hardly keen on it, but it was safer than any other place.

“Come on, boy.” She and Ares abandoned their exploration of the airport in lieu of finding a safe haven. Together, they started across the tarmac and headed west to the housing development.

Clarke located a house that was close to the edge of the development. She decided to stay near the front door so she could easily escape if there was trouble. She checked all her exits before she settled in the living room of the former house. Tomorrow she would have to find another source of food. Hopefully she had an enough skill to hunt.

Ares found a comfortable spot on the carpet next to his human friend. He curled up against Clarke’s leg and only stirred when he smelled the sweet apple. He was happy to share it with Clarke.

After the small meal, Clarke pulled out her sketchbook and started drawing the airport and airplane. She put in as much detail as possible. She even made a faint mark of the oil stain. After the image was complete, she stared hard at the drawing. Down in the lower right corner, she wrote ‘why?’ and ‘who?’ in reference to the oil stain.

Exhausted and mentally drained, Clarke snuggled under the fur and dozed off. Her mind was still on the airport, and she hardly let go of it in her dreams. Eventually she made it into the terminal through a broken window, but she found the building to be inhabited by the dead of Mount Weather. Dante Wallace warned her that she should have stayed away from the airport.

Sharply, Clarke woke up from the nightmare and accidently roused Ares. She ran her fingers through his fur, and it helped soothe her emotions. Eventually Clarke fished out the smart phone and opened the map application. She studied the local area and further east. If the days’ weather continued to be nice, she would easily make it to former Washington D.C. soon. However, beyond the city there was the Chesapeake Bay. From that point, Clarke would have to pick a new direction.

Clarke closed the map application and decided to explore other features on the phone. She opened the camera, which worked normal. Then she switched to the music application, and she was surprised it came preloaded with music. With a shrug, she played music and hoped it would lull her to sleep. Eventually, Clarke dozed off and the music continued for another hour before it went quiet.

At dawn, Clarke was stirred awake by a bird’s morning song. She cracked open one eye then the other and studied the blue bird that sat on the window’s sill of the abandoned home.

Ares lifted his head from the dirty carpet and curiously studied the bird. He sensed that his human friend had awoken too.

Clarke remained still in her corner between two walls. She adjusted the fur against her body, but she was still chilly, all night. She hoped the morning sun would warm her. But for now, her attention was centered on the bird, and she enjoyed his song. It was truly the first time she had seen a bird so close.

The blue bird hopped twice then jumped into the air and flew off. He glided along the soft winds.

Clarke watched the bird until he was gone. She looked at Ares, who was snuggled against her side. “I hope you slept better than me.”

Ares had been curled up against Clarke’s side all night. He dropped his ears and rested his chin on Clarke’s knee.

The day was growing lighter so Clarke pushed off the fur and climbed to her feet. She was sore from the awkward sleeping spot, but she would stress her muscles. She put away her things and lashed the smart phone onto the side of the pack. She hoped it was a sunny day for the phone to charge up. Clarke pulled out a pouch that contained dry berries and nuts. Later she would share the dry meat with Ares. But right now, she wished to get out of the dilapidated house. The moldy smells were getting to her head.

The morning sun warmed against Clarke’s face and heated Ares’s fur. For a minute, they both enjoyed the beautiful day, even if it was a dangerous world. Together, they travelled out of the development, back through the woods, and to the airport. Leery of the terminal, Clarke went around it and head right into the suburban area. She wondered what the former town was like.

More homes emerged after the airport. From her mental map, Clarke traveled northeast towards a town that had caught her eye. She recalled it was named Reston. From old satellite imagery, she knew it was a larger suburban area. It would give her a chance to see humans’ former life and perhaps learn something new.

By noon high, it was time for a break. Clarke shared a snack with Ares. It also gave her a chance to check on his paw, which was healing well. She was pleased with his quick abilities. For awhile, she carried on a soft one-sided conversation with the wolf. Ares listened, patiently. He sensed Clarke’s distraught about the topic, but he could only offer his head on her lap.

With a heavy sigh, Clarke continued the march towards Reston. She approached what was a major road into Reston. Carefully she followed it into the town that had once been well populated prior to the nuclear destruction.

“Stay close, boy,” Clarke instructed.

Ares was on his friend’s heels. He sniffed the air.

Clarke stepped off the road and went onto the concrete sidewalk. The sidewalk seemed to hold up longer. Occasionally she passed an old, rusty automobile. She curiously eyed them but kept going into the formally large town. Her gun was at a ready.

Ares went slower and gave a low growl.

Like the wolf, Clarke was tense once she saw the movements of another human. She considered how a grounder, not of the Woods Clan, would handle her. It was worth a test, at least. Clarke pointed her gun downward and called, “Hello!”

Ares took a step in front of Clarke. His tails were down, and his ears tucked back. He carefully watched the stranger.

The grounder was in front of a rusty car. He carried what seemed to be a stick, but he lifted it with two hands, like a weapon. He bent his knees and stared down at the blond girl on the other block.

Clarke cautiously neared the grounder. “Do you speak any English?” She went slowly, and Ares remained at her side.

The grounder pointed his weapon at the strange girl. He shook his head in warning.

Clarke had stepped onto the same block as the grounder. She stopped though and attempted to talk again. “I won’t hurt you.” As long as he didn’t attack first, Clarke mentally added. She sighed when the grounder remained quiet. She tried switching to Trigedasleng even though she was hardly fluent in it. “Hei. Ai laik Klark.” She expected many reactions but not for grounder to suddenly run off.

“What the…” Clarke watched the grounder disappear around a concrete building. She looked at Ares and muttered, “So much for that.” Yet, it was better than him attacking her. As her journey continued through Reston, she had the same encounter repeat with another man. Clarke groused when she received the same response from the grounder.

“I must offend,” Clarke muttered to Ares. It had been quite some time since she had a chance to bathe. She took a seat on the side of a car and pulled out a canteen. She enjoyed the cool water against her parched throat. Once the canteen was stowed, Clarke pulled out the last of the jerked meat. She would need to find or hunt food tonight. She shared the food with her companion, who hastily ate each piece.

After a few more minutes, Clarke pushed off the car and adjusted the pack’s straps over her shoulder. “Come on.” She readied the handgun again and crossed the cracked road to the other sidewalk. Each building was eerie and whispered about humans’ past lives. Clarke imagined what life use to be like in Reston.

More than halfway through the ghost town, Clarke resolved to the fact that grounders would steer away from her. She thought it was strange that they seemed to avoid her. She summarized they had no clan and wandered the landscape to survive. It seemed sad that many grounders had become scavengers and probably never settled into a safe life. Not that Clarke expected or dared hope for such a life. It seemed to be out of everybody’s reach on Earth.

Clarke’s musings were cut off by Ares’s low growl. She slowed with him and lifted the handgun. Something ahead of them caught Ares’s attention. Quietly, Clarke inched backwards and ducked into an alleyway between two brick buildings. She placed her freehand on Ares’s back and hushed him.

Ares was hidden in the buildings’ shadows, only his eyes shined in the faint light. His teeth flashed as his lips curled up into a silent snarl.

Clarke pressed against the bricks. Her heart thundered against her chest. She flexed her damp grip against the gun’s handle. Soft groans drifted to her ears, and Clarke wondered what it might be coming towards them. She eased in a low breath as a strange creature walked into her view.

The creature had a human form with arms, legs, and a head. But its skin was a soft red, like it was sunburn. There was no hair of any sort on its head or face, even its arms and legs. Only a tied cloth around its waist hid what possible gender it might be, if any at all. Each time the creature stepped, its muscles rippled across its body. Long legs gave it a wide gait. As Clarke studied it further, she noted its fingers were talons, just like the feet. Clarke suspected the creature was far more savage than the grounders. It made her next breath hitch in her throat.

The creature paused beside a rusted pickup truck. It turned its head to the left until it could look behind itself. A sharp tonal sound came from deep in its throat. It then took a deep breath and slowly released it.

Clarke tried steadying her heart, but it grew louder. She clenched her jaw and kept hoping that the creature continued without spotting her. She carefully watched its face and realized its eyes were all white. A shiver raced down her spine. Clarke blew out a breath when the creature continued walking.

Just as fast as Clarke exhaled, she sucked in a surprised breath. Her space was suddenly filled by another tall, red creature that jumped from the right, beyond her view. A scream sprung from her lips, and she instantly fired a shot into the creature’s right chest.

Ares snarled and bit into the creature’s leg. He took it to the ground.

Clarke stumbled back as the creature went down. She heard its howl of pain followed by guttural calls from the first creature. She cut her eyes up and went wide eye at the two other creatures on the sidewalk.

“Shit,” Clarke hissed. “Ares,” she snapped. She and Ares raced down the alley.

The fallen creature clutched its bleeding chest. It growled low then slowly climbed to its feet. The bullet wound bled over its chest and down its stomach. Like its comrades, it gave chase after the human.

Clarke sprinted through the alleyway. She jerked to the right at the end of the alley. She had once felt this same dread when a pauna had attacked her and Lexa. However, these creatures were obviously more intelligent than a pauna and that made them very dangerous. Clarke’s mind raced as hard as her boots pounded against the pavement and concrete. It was impossible for her to outrun them, even for Ares. She had to face them. Now in the middle of a street, she stole a glance back at them. To her amazement, the one injured creature kept up the pace with the other two.

Clarke formulated a quick plan. She had no choice and prayed she could kill them before they ripped her into pieces. She darted in front of an upside down sedan then swung the Glock up towards the creatures at the end of the block. She rapidly fired on them. Each bang counted down her mental inventory of bullets.

Ares took a stance in the street. He snarled and bared his teeth as the creatures came for them. He barked a few times and prepared to launch at one once close enough.

Clarke hit the injured one in the stomach. She was stunned he kept coming at her.

The injured creature jumped onto the hood of a SUV. It gave a snappy growl at the other two, who bolt down the sidewalk to the human. It then jumped off the SUV, landed on the street, and jumped again. Its strong legs launched it high.

Clarke aimed and yelled as she shot at its head.

The creature howled and tumbled downward, out of control. It slammed into the upside down car in front of Clarke. The creature twitched twice before it went still.

Clarke registered its death, but she was already firing on the other two on the sidewalk. Her first two shots missed, but her third shot hit the left one in the forehead. She saw it go down, but she was already firing on the last one, which was almost on her.

Ares had zipped past Clarke. He sprung into the air, claws and fangs out, and hungry for the creature. But, he lost his target.

The creature had jumped to the side then leapt onto the overturned car. It then launched at Clarke, who had yet to adjust. It snarled in anticipation until a bullet landed into its shoulder.

Clarke went down with the creature, which snared her legs. She freed her right foot and slammed her boot into its head. She earned a nasty howl from the strike.

Ares was already coming after the creature and tore into its side. His paws and muzzle were tainted red in seconds.

Clarke swung the gun around and aimed at the creature’s head. Sudden pain shot up her left leg after talons cut through her jeans and slice her skin.

“Fuck!” Clarke hissed. Her voice barely carried over the creature’s snarls and growls. She slammed her boot even hard against its head. She was able to slow the creature’s attack enough, and she shot a bullet into its head.

The creature went limp against the cracked pavement. Its hands loosened around the human’s trapped leg.

Clarke pulled her leg free and hastily crawled away from it. Her breaths were ragged, and she felt lightheaded from the crazed fight. Carefully, she pulled her pant leg up and saw the claw marks that ran the length of her calf down to her boot.

“Bastard,” she hissed then jerked the pant leg down. Clarke needed to clean it soon.

Ares came to his friend’s side and sat down. He whined at her distraught features.

“Thanks, Ares.” Clarke ran her fingers through his fur. She took a deep breath then slowly climbed to her feet. She hissed from the razor sting in her left leg. “Let’s get out of here,” she suggested to the wolf.

Ares had blood on his face and paws. He ignored it and followed his companion down the street.

Clarke started with a limp. She glanced back at the three creatures that stayed dead, thankfully. Part of her was worried that the bullet to the brain was not enough. For whatever reason, a bullet to the heart was insufficient.

Clarke grew frustrated by her leg, but it seemed to improve as she pushed through the pain. She ran her fingers through her hair and actually felt the grease in it. She would love a bath right now, but one was hardly in her future. If she could find a stream, she could at least get cleaned up.

The town’s former limits were only six or so blocks away from Clarke’s location. However, her pace was slower, and she felt weary now. Clarke paused and took a moment to catch her breath. As she did so, she caught a movement in the corner of her eye. She gradually turned her head towards it and went pale.

At the corner of an intersection, five creatures hungrily eyed her. They remained still and assessed the lone human with her wolf companion. Two of them revealed toothy smiles. The whites of their eyes gleamed under the sunlight.

Clarke was shaking her head and whispered, “I haven’t survived this much to become lunch.” She immediately opened fire. She was amazed by the creatures’ rapid, almost aerobatic, movements to get around the gunfire. She cursed and snapped, “Ares!”

The wolf ran with Clarke, but he sensed she was falling behind thanks to her earlier injury.

Clarke tried moving faster. She occasionally fired a few bullets and hit one of the creatures in the leg. Her next attempt cost her. Her boot tip caught a piece of raised pavement and tripped her hard. Clarke went down on her left knee, hard. She groaned but quickly stumbled onto her feet. She had no choice but to shoot at the fast approaching creatures.

Ares attacked the first one that came at them. He took the creature to the ground. Talons dug into his skin, and Ares fought harder.

Clarke had a clear shot and fired on Ares’s opponent. She killed it instantly but then one of the creatures was upon her. Clarke ducked under its swipe then she shot it in the stomach several times. The creature toppled to the ground, blood everywhere, and yet the creature still crawled across the pavement.

Clarke back stepped but the last three creatures were all around her. She fired again and again. Her blood thundered in her ears. Each swipe she darted under or away from just in time. But the motions made her bleeding leg worse. Ares howls barely gave her hope. Clarke felt faint, and the rush in her head became an eerie stampede like hoofs beating against stone.

The Glock’s last bullet nicked one creature’s forearm. A blow to Clarke’s shoulder sent her down to her knees. Talon fingers tangled into her long blond locks and jerked her head backwards towards the sky. Her eyes mirrored the beautiful blue sky. For a moment, she remembered her previous life on the Ark. Her father’s smile was tender and welcoming to her.

Clarke briefly smiled until a creature’s jagged features cut off her vision. Its white eyes promised death, and its razor teeth would make it an agonizing end, just like the deaths of Mount Weather. Clarke’s grip on the handgun loosened. The filled magazine in her back pocket was completely forgotten. The creature brought its open mouth towards her face, but a flash of steel went past its neck. Clarke stared oddly at how the creature remained very still then slowly its head slid off from its neck.

Yells and screams erupted all around Clarke. Ares’s ferocious growls rang in her ears again. A sure grip hooked under her arm and hauled her up from the pavement. Clarke’s grip tightened on the handgun once again. Somebody was barking her name, and the voice was very distinct.

“Your fight is not over, Clarke!”

Every single muscle in Clarke’s body surged with new energy. The command made her wake up, and she grabbed the filled clip from her rear pocket. She dropped the empty clip from the handle then slammed the new one into it. Clarke racked the first bullet and allowed her weight to briefly lean into the strong, familiar presence at her back.

“Go for their heads!”

Clarke gritted her teeth. “Thanks! I got that figured out.”

“Heda, four more are coming from the east.”

Clarke shot the creature attacking Ares. However, Octavia’s words made her jerk her head to the left. She watched Octavia and Lincoln ride on horses towards the four new creatures. At her back, she felt the comfort vanish, but she turned around and witnessed Lexa take on a creature.

Lexa dodged a swipe then drove her blade into its stomach. She jerk her sword free then spun to her right before the creature jumped at her. She slashed at its back.

“Move!” Clarke yelled at Lexa.

Lexa obeyed and darted to the right. Gunfire echoed in her ear. She turned towards Clarke, who had another creature behind her. “Behind you!” She lifted her sword and drew it back.

Clarke went wide eye at Lexa’s intent. “Shit!” She dropped to the ground barely in time as the sword whistled over her head. She stumbled back onto her feet and saw the sword buried in the creature’s skull.

Lexa raced over and yanked her sword free. “More are coming.” She indicated the two that made it past Lincoln and Octavia.

Clarke aimed her gun at them. “What the Hell are these things?”

“Meukre,” Lexa snapped. She had her sword at the ready. Her dark eyes cut to the black wolf that stood in front of them, ready to fight the two creatures.

Clarke was shooting at the creatures, which jumped around her shots. She barely hit one, and she growled when one came right at her. The other went after Lexa.

Ares attacked the one coming at Clarke. He dug his claws into the creature’s thigh. His fangs went into its hip. But a hard blow to Ares’s head made him drop.

Clarke fired at the creature’s head and missed by an inch. She collided with it and lost her gun. The vicious growls were in her ears, and she pressed one hand against its face. Its teeth were so close to her face. She inhaled its foul scent, which nearly made her gag. Clarke cried out and jammed her knee into its side with no luck.

Ares had recovered and came at the creature on his human friend. His teeth sunk into the creature’s arm, tearing through the leathery flesh. Ares pulled and shook the creature.

Clarke hissed when talons dug into her padded shoulder. Air became thinner from the huge weight pressing against her chest. She had both hands on the creature’s right cheek. She tried twisting its head further in hopes to break its neck. She cried out as talons started breaking her skin. All of a sudden the creature’s mass was lifted off of her, and air rushed into her chest.

From above, the creature was lifted until its feet dangled in the air. It reached up for the hand around its throat but cold steel went through its chest.

Clarke was sitting up and stared in awe at the raw strength shown before her.

Lexa continued holding up the creature from the back of its neck with one hand. Its arms flayed around like a fish on land. Similar to her war paint, her eyes were dark and violent. All the legend and myth behind her commander soul became true reality before Clarke Griffin.

With her right hand, Lexa twisted the sword blade into the creature’s back, severing the spinal cord. She listened to the creature’s painful wails before she extracted the sword and opened her left hand. Once the paralyzed creature hit the ground, she ended its suffering with a clean slice through its neck.

Clarke released a low breath and continued staring at the commander, who moved away from the creature. After a beat, a gloved hand was held out to her. Clarke released a low breath and accepted Lexa’s help. She gained her balance on her feet and whispered, “How did you…”

Lexa tilted her head, the only indication she heard a partial question.

“Clarke, watch out. There’s a wolf near-”

“It’s alright,” Clarke insisted. She moved in front of her furry companion before Octavia or Lincoln could do anything. “He’s… my friend.”

“Friend?” Lincoln echoed. He adjusted the reins in his hand then sheathed his blade behind his back.

Clarke nodded. She shifted her attention to the grounder commander. “What are you doing here?”

“You’re welcome,” Octavia cut in. She received a warning glance from the commander. She inwardly sighed and kept silent.

Clarke grumbled but only because Octavia was right. She still looked expectantly at Lexa for an answer.

“Your lack of presence went noticed,” Lexa formally stated.

Clarke narrowed her eyes at the commander. She read between Lexa’s words and had learned to find more details in Lexa’s eyes. Lexa’s commander mask worked on many, but Clarke was perceptive, unlike most. A faint wrinkle in Lexa’s brow, a pull of her lips, or the coloring of her green eyes was an indicator to what was left unspoken.

“Your mother is asking for you.” Lexa sheathed her blade behind her back.

Clarke huffed and carefully studied Lincoln and Octavia before a third horse caught her attention. She recognized Lexa’s white mare. Lexa’s movements grabbed her attention, and she watched the commander approach Ares.

Lexa was curious about the wolf with two tails. She noted his close proximity to Clarke’s left side. Carefully, she knelt down so that her left side faced the wolf.

Clarke parted her lips, but words failed her as Lexa and Ares held each other’s gaze in a long stare. She cleared her throat and softly introduced, “This is Ares.”

Lexa raised her left hand, palm up and open to the wolf. She allowed him to sniff her then received his acceptance. Once their relationship was established, she threaded her long fingers into the wolf’s fur along his neck. Her green eyes mirrored his own.

“A fitting name,” Lexa conceded. A faint smile tugged at the corner of her lips, but it vanished as she stood up. She looked directly at Clarke. “We are headed to Polis.”

Clarke lifted her chin and waited for the rest.

“My invite still stands,” Lexa reminded. However, she knew Clarke’s response long before she offered it again.

“Thanks but no.” Clarke softly patted her thigh to get Ares’s attention. “Come on, boy.” She started down the street again but hesitated and looked back at the group. “Thanks for the help too.” She ignored Lexa’s hard stare and continued her journey with Ares at her side.

“Hey, no problem!” Octavia shouted. She shook her head and leaned heavily against the saddle horn.

Clarke breathed in and breathed out slowly after Octavia’s smart reply. She simply put one pained leg in front of the other. She hoped her limp went unnoticed by the grounders.

Lincoln waited until the Sky Princess was out of earshot before he gazed down at the commander. “Now what, heda?”

Lexa’s full attention was trained on Clarke’s receding figure. She clicked her tongue once and held out her hand as the horse trotted over to her. “We follow.” She tilted her head as Clarke’s limp grew more obvious. It was only a matter of time before Clarke’s pride gave way to the pain.

Octavia released a low sigh and straightened up. Once their commander was mounted, she and Lincoln tapped their horses’ sides and followed behind. Their pace was set to a slow walk so that they stayed behind Clarke. Octavia could be lulled to sleep by the horse’s sway, but she remained on alert for danger.

Clarke struggled to unclench her teeth. The white flashes shot up her leg each time she took a step. The adrenaline rush from the earlier fight had worn off and allowed her to take notice of the leg pain. She was drained and ready to rest even though it was only midday, perhaps early afternoon. Behind her, she listened to the horse hooves tap against the paved street.

After twenty minutes, Clarke shot a dark glare to her three stalkers. She halted, faced them, and hotly yelled, “I don’t need you following me.”

Lexa toyed with the reins. She easily called, “This is the way to Polis.”

Clarke seethed and muttered, “Bullshit.” She turned east again and continued out of the town. The grounders remained several yards behind her, at a slow pace. On her left, a distinct building formed after she passed a rundown warehouse. Clarke sadly smiled at the old church. She cast another glance at her stalkers before she made the decision to go into the church.

“Let’s see how far she’ll follow,” Clarke muttered to Ares. Perhaps there was a moment of solace she could find in the church. She needed to clean and wrap her leg. Plus Ares required medical attention. She beelined to the two sealed doors. The left one was locked in place due to time and aging, but the right one squealed loudly and allowed Clarke to pass through it.

Lexa, Octavia, and Lincoln halted their horses on the road beside the church. Octavia curiously studied the old medieval style stone church that had grown dark over the years from growth. She frowned and looked over at Lexa, who dismounted the horse.

“Wait here,” Lexa ordered.

“Sha, Heda,” Lincoln agreed. He watched the commander enter the church before he dismounted with Octavia.

The commander silently slipped into the dark church. A damp scent filled her nose instantly. There was a hole in the tall, vaulted ceiling that had allowed rain water through and collected on the stone floor. The pews had long ago lost their varnished luster and many were rotten from wet weather. However, the opening allowed for the sunlight to shine through, just as it did behind the few stain glass windows that remained behind the altar.

It was the first time that Lexa had entered one of the forgotten churches from another era. She had learned that humans once worshipped a single god. The idea was ludicrous in her mind. But, most likely the Sky People still worshipped a one-god, holding onto their old ways. At such thoughts, Lexa’s attention centered on the one particular Sky person that had challenged her upon her first step onto Earth.

Clarke had taken a seat in the left pew closest to the altar. Ares was seated in front of her, his previously injured paw in her hand, and Clarke gently cleaned it. She had already wiped Ares’s face clean of the blood. She silently thanked him for his help earlier. She was already well aware of Lexa’s presence, but she ignored it.

The commander silently traveled down the aisle between the rows of pews. As she drew closer, she studied the statue of a single man that hung from two pieces of crossed wood. Lexa imagined it was the god of the Sky People, but the man looked too human to be a god. She tore her eyes off the statue when her boots stepped into water.

Lexa hesitated and stared at the stream of water that ran between the pews, through the aisle, and to the other side of the church. Over the years, the rain water had collected and turned into a stream, which carved a slight channel through the stone floor. For a beat, Lexa watched the clear water pass around her while she stood in it. Finally, she crossed it and continued to Clarke.

Ares switched his attention to Lexa. He noted that his human companion disregarded Lexa. He sensed that Lexa was hardly a stranger to his friend. His paw was released so he went over to Lexa.

The commander ran her fingers through his thick fur. She already liked his personality and commended his loyalty to Clarke. She peered over at the Sky Princess, who was using a moist rag to wipe herself clean.

Clarke bit her bottom lip and broke the silent stalemate first. “I wish to be alone.” She was cleaning her hands of the blood. “So why did you track me down?”

Lexa kept her attention on Ares. “Now is not the time to be alone.” She left much unspoken, but Clarke would infer her meaning in many directions.

Clarke shook her head and argued, “I’m finding myself.” Her words were hollow, and they both knew it.

“You are seeking death,” Lexa stated.

Clarke swallowed hard, but she bent forward and retrieved a clean rag along with more alcohol. She set the items on the bench beside her then started rolling her shredded pant leg up.

“There are hundreds that need you.” Lexa stepped around the black wolf. She came in front of Clarke but knelt down.

“They don’t need me… not during peace.” Clarke had dampened the cloth with alcohol and reached for her bloody leg. But, Lexa grabbed her wrists and halted her attempt. She was surprised that Lexa took the cloth and proceeded to tend to her wounds. “They have the chancellor,” she softly reminded. Her mother’s disappointed features from the Tondc bombing zipped through her mind.

“There are hundreds that still need you,” Lexa repeated.

Clarke nearly spoke, her jaw loose. She considered the slight alteration to Lexa’s words, not quite sure what Lexa meant now. Her thoughts were sliced through by the harsh sting to her leg. “Fuck,” she hissed and grabbed the pew. Her nails dug into the rotten wood.

Lexa gingerly drew the bloody cloth off and studied the wounds. “You are very lucky,” she murmured. Briefly her dark eyes cut to the two tailed wolf that sat near them. She refocused on her task.

Clarke huffed and muttered, “You keep telling me that.” She gritted her teeth and closed her eyes as the wounds stung more.

“A meukre’s bite kills,” Lexa softly explained. She had finished cleaning the wound and put the cloth beside the bottle of alcohol. Next she hunted in Clarke’s pack for some type of wrap.

“What?” Clarke was startled by the news. “What are the meukre?”

“A creature that once was human.” Lexa retrieved a clean wrap and gently started putting it around Clarke’s injured leg. “They are very good fighters, especially at night. Normally they do not venture out during the day, but they are highly territorial… as you discovered.”

Clarke pieced together what she had seen of the meukre and what Lexa told her. “They’re mutated humans,” she summarized, “From the radiation.”

Lexa had no definition of the word mutated, but she understood enough. “Yes.” For years, her people had battled with the meukre, and she thought they were gone. She was wrong. It was a recent trend in her judgment that she loathed. A commander needed to be right, for their people’s sake.

Clarke put aside her thoughts about the meukre and looked down as Lexa finished tying off the wrap. She was impressed by Lexa’s skill. She had barely felt any pain as Lexa covered her wounds.

Lexa finished the small knot then raised her head, her hands now against the cold stone floor. For the first time in many days, she and Clarke locked eyes. Her dark war paint could not hide her from Clarke’s intense stare.

Clarke realized her heart rate had increased without reason. She read behind the commander’s mask to the concern hidden in rich green eyes. Slowly her attention drew wider to the commander’s features. One by one the markings on Lexa’s face settled into her mind. There were bruises in various spots and healing lacerations. The wounds were not from today’s fight but were a day or two old, the scabs still new. With a healer’s eye, Clarke noticed the beads of sweat along Lexa’s hair line and damp glisten around Lexa’s neck.

Without any thought, Clarke’s hand instantly shot up and went against Lexa’s forehead. She stiffened when a strong hand wrapped around her wrist. She had surprised the commander with her fast motions. However, Clarke was more concerned by what she felt against her palm.

“You’re burning up. You have a fever.”

Lexa removed Clarke’s hand from her forehead then stood up quickly. “It is improving.” She took a step to her left.

“You have wounds and bruises,” Clarke stated. “And not from Mount Weather… they’re too recent.”

“I am fine.” Lexa started around Ares.

Clarke was on her feet and turned to the escaping commander. “There’s always something to hide from me.” Each word held a sting in them that was meant to go under Lexa’s armor.

Lexa paused beside the small stream. She half turned then twisted her head to the right. If Clarke’s words caused any turmoil in her, she hardly showed it. “I have been commander for many years. You forget that there is nobody that I answer to, including yourself.”

“Oh is that why you’re running?” Clarke bitterly countered. She watched Lexa face her finally. She stood in the aisle. She tilted her head as Lexa’s words sunk deeper within her. “I really screwed up your little world, didn’t I?” She narrowed her eyes.”You don’t know whether to ally with me or fight with me. To trust me or hate me.” She folded her arms and coldly finished, “To kiss me or stab me in the back.”

Instantly the hot furry chased up Lexa’s stomach and filled her mouth with venom. Clarke’s inconsiderate words tore into her pride. Her hand went directly to the sheathed dagger at her hip.

Clarke hardly saw the warning until she had a dagger against her throat. Ares’s low growls made her wave him off. Now she faced the commander one on one.

“I would make that same deal again with Mount Weather,” Lexa coldly informed. “You may damn me all you wish if that makes you feel better than me.” She pressed forward.

Clarke backed up as the blade nicked her skin. Lexa followed her.

“We both know you would agree to the same deal,” Lexa whispered. She enjoyed when it was Clarke who bumped into the bench this time. “You made a deal when you ordered Monty to reverse those fans.” She leaned in closer and smirked. “You are not better than me… because you are the same.”

Clarke’s right hand gripped the back of the pew hard. Her chest rose and fell at rapid speeds. She felt as if she was just sentenced to execution on the Ark. Every fear raged under her skin. She wanted to run this time, but the dagger held her in place.

“I made a decision to follow you into Mount Weather,” Lexa continued. Her voice had softened, but the power was still behind it. She retracted the dagger and resheathed it in a heartbeat. “I made that decision with my heart.” A decision that cost Lexa, but she left such details unvoiced because it was her burden, not Clarke’s own. She withdrew from Clarke and created a dark void.

Clarke lost the air from her lungs. Her execution committed, and she felt as if she was floating in space. Her legs weakened as Lexa’s boot steps became faint. Clarke collapsed to the cold floor and leaned against the pew.

Ares came over and sat beside his friend. He nudged her hand in her lap.

Clarke dropped her head against the pew and gasped for air. She was still alive, somehow. Slowly, her head rolled to the left, and she stared up at Christ, who was still dying upon the cross. She wished she understood how Jesus carried mans’ burden upon his shoulders. Such burdens seemed to be killing Clarke, breath by breath.

To be continued.