We went east at first, and then north.  Genevieve’s hope was that, should her escorts follow our trail, they would be convinced we were running away from the Citadel and not towards it.  For days we hid in abandoned barns or in old rotting shacks, sleeping during the day and riding hard at night.  I was amazed at how different the world had become:  while I had heard stories, I had never seen how vastly altered the lands beyond our town had become.  We had lost electricity years before, but otherwise our little village had gone on the way it always had.  I still went to school and the farms still ran.  For some reason our corner of the world had remained untouched, but only a day’s ride away, everything seemed like it came straight out of the Dark Ages.

            I saw children wearing ragtag clothing, working on crops.  I saw half-starved herds of cattle and horses, run down buildings, ghost towns.  In only a handful of years, whole villages had been overgrown with weeds.  The pavement of major highways had been cracked to rubble by the growth of plants, as if Nature were crashing through the walls our society had built to take back territory stolen from it.

            Genevieve would ride us as far and as hard as she could before letting us rest.  I don’t know how she kept us at such a brutal pace, after so much hard riding in the weeks before.  Perhaps desperation drew her on.  She would barely have the strength to get out of the saddle whenever we stopped, and I would hurry to her side, helping her to walk to a safe place to rest.  To prevent her long hair from getting too dirty I braided it, and I had to force her to eat and drink.  It seemed as if she was giving up on herself as her fear took hold of her.  I took to sleeping beside her, to offer comfort when she inevitably began crying when she should have been sleeping.

            Evie would never speak of it.  As we rode under the stars and moon, there was no time for talk, and when we rested we were too exhausted to hold conversations.  I knew she was struggling with her suspicions about her companions in the West, that her heart was breaking, but getting her to say so was impossible.

            One night we stopped early beside a stream in a copse of trees.  My horse had thrown a shoe, and we had a brief respite from our arduous ride.  We sat together on a rock, and I hugged her tight.  Eve rested her head atop mine, as I just fit into her shoulder.

            “I’m sorry about all this.”  She said, “I don’t want to bring you into danger, but I couldn’t leave you there.   And to tell you the truth, I couldn’t go alone.  I’d be alone against the world, and I… just… can’t…” 

            My sister began to cry again, but just as I moved to hug her tighter she regained her composure.

            “No more tears.”  She resolved.  “There is hard work ahead, and we have to be strong.”

            “What exactly are we going to do?” I asked, wondering if she had a plan.  “I mean, you don’t trust them, so why are we going back to the Citadel?”

            “This may sound crazy,” Evie offered, “But I think we have to walk right into that nest of vipers to find out who we can trust.  We cannot fight an army by ourselves, that’s for certain.  We’ll need to gain allies, build resistance, fight back.  And we have to get Zoë out of there, she doesn’t know what’s going on.”

            “There’s going to be fighting?” I asked.

            “There’s going to be a war.”  Genevieve said flatly.

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