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LEVEL 09: SILVER STAR
The fall only lasted a few seconds. Our descent came to an abrupt end as we crashed into twigs, which shattered beneath us. Dust filled the air and found its way in my lungs. I choked.
Dyonna arched her back and moaned. “You okay, girlo?”
We were deep in a cave, and my lungs wanted to exit through my throat. How okay might I be okay?
She squatted next to me and offered her hand. “Good. We work togetha and we can survive dis.”
“Where are we?” I took her hand, and she helped me to my feet.
Dyonna lifted the torch and waved it. “This be da Gauntlet.”
We were in another cave. The walls were natural, rocky, and wet, with the floor made of muck. The tunnel continued straight and given the limited range of Dyonna’s torch, we saw darkness not far ahead.
I glanced back and wanted to vomit. The fragile objects, having broken our fall were bones; skulls, ribs, spines, femurs, and others I didn't know.
I gagged. “I dislike it here.”
She shrugged. “Wait till ya see it furtha. I bet it gets worse.”
“Why did you bring me?”
Even through the dark, she had piercing, strong eyes. “It was da only way for ya to survive, and me too; once I let ya outta your cell.”
With a great sigh, I faced her. “Thank you, but we have to find my friends.”
“Sorry, but dey done for, ya?” Dyonna held up a hand. “But hey, at least yaself survived.”
I grabbed her shoulders. “I can’t abandon them!”
She shook her head. “I ain’t riskin’ my life for no one.”
I narrowed my eyes and wanted nothing more than to mount the stupid loincloth wearing bitch and smash in her face. But I needed her help and might not save my friends if I rushed into the Gauntlet alone.
“We’re going!” I stomped past Dyonna, and she grabbed my arm.
“Ya tinkin’ just ta stroll in like dat? Dey'll get ya for sure!”
I looked into the darkness, expecting a group of corpses to attack. “Who are they?”
“Calls demselves da Lonely Ones.” She too, looked around, scared.
A chill ran over my skin and climbed my spine. Whoever Lonely Ones were, their name alone scared the hell out of me.
“Who are they, and how do we avoid them?”
“Let’s move sneaky like, ya? Den you won’t need ta know who or what.”
The ebony warrioress walked by me, taking every step in stealth. I didn’t hear her; maybe because she walked barefoot, or because she'd trained.
I followed the girl as quiet as I possible, but the thwocking of the mud sucking around my shoes didn’t make it easy. To abandoned my shoes again, I'd keep as a last-ditch effort. I didn’t fancy being barefoot.
We walked for ten minutes before Dyonna stopped and turned back. “Ya da noisiest in da damn world, girlo!”
“Sorr-E! See any sign of a Lonely One or my friends?”
My companion held up the torch. She didn’t look as strong; she looked terrified.
Fear welled. “What’s wrong?”
She waved her torch. “Dere be signs of dem both.”
There were plenty of footprints in the cave muck. Most of them were from bare feet, which I assumed were Lonely Ones. The others were three distinct boot prints, the tiniest had to belong to Kiki.
Hope filled me. “Let’s hurry and follow them!
“Wait! Dere be a problem.”
And there it went. “What now?”
“Da tracks go dere.” She waved the torch where another tunnel split.
I furrowed my brows. “And?”
“Sure way out of da Gauntlet is dat way.” She showed a second path. “Dere be wind.”
I glared at the tribal coward. “No way I’m ditching them!”
“That be da problem. I can’t make it without cha. Dere be dead ones here.”
“So looks like you have no choice.” I sneered. “You’re coming with me.”
She breathed a heavy sigh. “I don’t like you, girlo.”
“Don’t worry; the feeling is mutual.”
I snatched the torch out of Dyonna’s hand and walked to the far tunnel, following the tracks. She caught up, and we walked side-by-side.
I stayed alert. “Tell me how you joined with those freaks.”
“Now not da time.”
“As good a time as any. They’ll see us coming a mile away with the torch.”
Dyonna glared with baleful eyes. “We came from a small town; Pinkton.”
“When da zombie men came, we tried ta fight back. Most became chow. Others, who knows? But a small group made it inta da forest. We banded togetha ta hunt animals, but dey disappeared too. Almost as if dey got gathered, or obliterated off da map. We made our way on berries and anything we found. When food ran out, we had to eat each otha when we died. Our numbers shrank by da day.”
“Where do you come in?” I glanced at her. “You haven’t quite told me any details.”
She sighed again. “I was a transfer student. Krool was my exchange parent. He was also da sheriff of Pinkton.”
“Now it's getting interesting.”
“He lost his mind afta we were low on food.” She choked. “Dere was an argument. Da town pastor and Krool fought over leadership, and well...”