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Chapter 12

Joanne woke up to loud knockings the next morning. She slipped off the bed and grabbed the door.
“Cyndi’s missing!” Sharon blurted out as soon as the door swung in.
Joanne rubbed her eyes. “No, she’s not. She’s with me.”
“What? You let her sleep in there?”
Joanne’s hand went to her lips. “Sh…” She turned to check on Cyndi, seeing Cyndi stir. She lowered her voice even more. “Be careful. She’ll hear you.” She resumed her normal tone again. “It’s only for the night.”
“I better go tell the others,” Sharon said, not wanting to risk anything else.
Joanne returned to Cyndi’s side. “So?”
Cyndi stretched. “Much better.”
Joanne hadn’t seen Cyndi that energetic in a long time. Cyndi had always been that way, but there was a difference since… Joanne did not want to linger. “Let’s get ready and win that war.” She began making the bed. She even took it into her hands to close the bottle of orchid scent and replaced it in the drawer she found last night.
“You think we lived here before?” Cyndi asked as Joanne was gathering up her belongings.
Joanne shrugged. “If we did, then it must be when we were little because I don’t think my memory’s that bad.” She bit her tongue again, moving faster toward the door than she intended. “Let’s go. You still need to pack.”
“You haven’t changed yet,” Cyndi argued.
“I need a shower.” She did not take one last night like the others. She was too worn out and troubled.
Cyndi stared at the room once more, eyeing every single detail, wondering why it was so familiar yet she could not recall.
“Let’s go,” Joanne urged.
Cyndi stepped outside and Joanne hurriedly slammed the door shut, not allowing Cyndi a last glance.
“Hey,” Angela greeted them in the living room. “Sophia’s making breakfast.”
“Shower,” Joanne muttered, setting her belongings at a corner. She stopped briefly in front of Sharon as she walked by and sent her a look.
Sharon nodded but did not say anything. Cyndi caught that little exchange but did not ask. She had a feeling they wouldn’t tell her even if she’d asked. Angela was also puzzled by the exchange, but she did not want to pursue the matter. She rather asked Joanne later when Joanne was out, instead of stalking Sharon for information. She returned to the kitchen to help Sophia. Sharon also left the scene, claiming she wanted to go change before breakfast.
Left all alone, Cyndi studied the room more cautiously. They already covered it yesterday. But it was like she was looking at it with new sets of eyes. It was familiar. Really familiar. Yet…it was not the same familiarity due to the fact she already seen it yesterday. That was not it. It was…
“Time to eat!” Angela’s voice rang out.
Cyndi felt Angela tugging on her arm. She returned Angela’s smile and followed Angela down the hall–to the dining room. Joanne was already there and was helping the others setting food on the table. Her hair was wrapped with a towel.
“We’re so lucky that you guys know how to cook,” Sharon oozed.
Angela was taken aback. She was more than surprised to see Sharon making peace with them. She knew Sharon was annoyed with her bluntness. Sophia’s crime was having Jacky’s attention–and possibly heart. What brought this on?
“I’m used to this kind of thing,” Sophia said, her attitude caring as always.
“My cooking’s not that bad, you know,” Joanne said, sitting down between Cyndi and Sharon.
“Huh.” Yup, Sharon again.
“She’s seriously not that bad,” Angela seconded.
Sharon handed a pair of chopsticks to Cyndi. “Right…” She turned to Joanne again. “Who taught you anyway? We never know you could cook.”
Joanne had on her proud smile. “Jacky ge.”
“Really?!”
Joanne nodded. “Just because his job is to protect us doesn’t mean he couldn’t do other things.”
“He sure messed up somewhere along the way.”
Joanne turned on her aggressive glare. “Care to elaborate?”
“Hey, you mixed up the ingredients.”
“So I’m a bit rusty.”
“For a person who doesn’t know how to cook, you have a lot of opinions,” Angela jumped in.
Sharon turned on Angela. “As long as I know how to eat, I have to voice my opinion.”
Cyndi sent Joanne a look as the others were battling it out.
“Since we’re eating…” Joanne began.
The others turned to her.
“What?” Angela asked.
“Let’s take a vote,” Joanne continued, keeping her voice leveled.
“On?” Sharon prompted, her patience running low–as always.
“If we want to pursue the others or not.”
“So you lug your bag out not because you couldn’t stand that room but it’s because you already planned this?” Sharon asked, her voice reeking of an interrogation.
“What?” Cyndi blurted out.
Angela and Sophia also displayed traces of confusion on their faces.
“What’s wrong with that room?” Angela asked. “I thought you guys said you’ve never been in there before.”
“She saw shadows last night when we checked it out,” Sharon replied, her eyes not blinking or showing any traces of suspicion at all.
“Don’t change the subject,” Joanne said, scanning the other three. “Are you guys in or out?”
“That means you managed to recruit Cyndi? How could you when you obviously know that…”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“I was the one who talked to her,” Cyndi clarified.
Sharon’s eyes were still on Joanne. “You obviously know why we shouldn’t pursue. We talked about it yesterday.”
“And that wasn’t final yet,” Angela reminded her. “We only stopped because we were getting nowhere, and we needed proper rest.”
“I want to take that risk,” Joanne continued. “It doesn’t have to end there.”
“What about your fear?”
“I can conquer it while we hunt them down. We already lost one day and night. We can’t lose anymore.”
“And what about Cyndi?” She looked toward Angela and Sophia also. “And them.”
“What about you then?” Angela pointed out.
“That’s why I vote on us not going. Besides, if we get out there, we could only injure them but they will wake up. What’s the point? It would be hopeless.”
Joanne hugged her knees, thinking. She was the only one with her feet on her chair while she was eating. After a moment of silence, she removed the chopsticks in her mouth and turned to Sharon again. “I want to take that risk, okay?” She already said that, she knew. But bringing up other reasons would be too risky on another level.
“It doesn’t matter what Sharon thinks,” Cyndi spoke up finally. She thought Joanne had more concrete arguments. She turned to Angela. “What about you?” She knew the answer was obvious. She just wanted to prove a point.
“I’m with you and Qiao,” Angela said, her eyes on Sharon.
Sharon scoffed and turned to Sophia. “Do something.”
Angela wrinkled her face in shock. “You have to resort to that?”
“I can’t help it if the only person who agrees with me is my love rival.”
Joanne pointed at her. “I thought we straightened it out.”
“She doesn’t want Jacky ge, not my fault.”
“He has to want you first.”
“Stop changing the subject already!” Cyndi exclaimed, getting up from her seat and slamming her bowl of rice down with much force, alarming them all into silence. “I don’t care what goes on in all your love lives! We have to focus on the situation at hand.”
Joanne and Sharon exchanged a look–despite having snarled at one another since they sat down. A haunting look. And a fleeting one because it soon disappeared from their faces.
“Let’s say we do it,” Joanne said, breaking the stare with Sharon and turning to Cyndi again.
“We already won,” Angela reminded her. “Majority rules.”
“Okay, we have to take only the most necessary items.”
“Why aren’t you doing anything?” Sharon scolded Sophia.
“What do you want me to say?” Sophia returned, her expression and behavior so calm, driving Sharon insane. “They’ve already made up their minds.”
“So? We could still stop them. You’re the oldest one here.”
“Are you going to play that card on us?” Joanne asked.
“What have I got to lose by playing that card? I’m the second oldest here.”
“So am I,” Angela declared.
Sharon turned to her. “I’m counting by month.”
Angela had on her victory smile. “January.”
Sharon let out a gasp of disbelief. “You can’t be older than me.”
Angela still had on her challenging smile. “Sorry.”
“Wait,” Cyndi interfered, raising her hand up.
The others turned to her.
“I thought you’re 28.” She was pointing at Angela.
“I am 28,” Angela returned.
She directed her eyes toward Sharon. “Sharon, we’re 26.”
“No, we’re not,” Sharon blurted out.
Joanne kicked her under the table, glad she was sitting next to Sharon. Only Sophia realized it because Joanne had to put one foot down to actually do that. Cyndi did not notice because she was actually at the head of the table and she had already stood up, her attention too focused on the obstacle to care for that little detail.
“Stop lying, Sharon,” Joanne chided Sharon, shaking her head.
“Uh…” Sharon managed. “I just want to win, okay? This is our lives after all.” She turned to Sophia, trying to find an escape route. “It was her fault for not speaking up to stop you guys.”
“All right,” Sophia spoke up again. “If they want to go, we can go with them.” She turned to Angela. “You can take care of yourself, right?”
“I’ve been living on this island since forever,” Angela said, not answering directly on purpose.
“And you can take of yourself, right?” Sharon was eyeing Sophia with the same hostility she had regarded Sophia since the first day. And she thought she could trust Sophia to put her foot down after that little declaration since yesterday.
Sophia nodded. “I’ll try.”
“I hope it’s not like how you handle this situation.”
Cyndi finally sat back down at her place. Knowing that they had Sophia’s vote, it was easier to control Sharon. Somehow, she knew Sharon would cave in. Sharon had no choice anyway.
After breakfast, they cleaned up and packed. Sharon was as reluctant as ever, fuming with hatred within her. She did not care to conceal it. She did not need to. She wanted to fight every single step–until she could no longer fight. When Sophia came out and set her bag down, she saw Sharon eyeing Joanne with more than annoyance could ever describe. She stepped forward in between the girls.
“I want to talk to you two before Cyndi comes out,” Sophia said, her voice still calm, her expression still passive.
“I have nothing to talk to you about,” Sharon snapped. “And I thought you’re the most level-headed among us all.”
“You can’t stop them. Can you guarantee they won’t sneak out on us?”
“I won’t let that happen.”
“Even if you sleep by the door, they could still take you down.”
“So? I’ll try. Not like someone.”
“Going with them, we could keep an eye on them.”
“Knowing we will lead them to the worst.”
“Let’s not waste time. I want to ask you two something.”
Sharon saw no point. She made her move to get away from Sophia. Sophia reached her hand out and placed it on Sharon’s shoulder, applying only a little force but an effective one.
“You…”
Sophia ignored Sharon’s struggle. “Is it really your first time coming here?”
“Duh! Let go already.”
“You two have been behaving weird since we settled in last night.”
“This house is creepy, okay?”
“You’re not the type to be scared of some superstition.”
“Huh. Like you know us.”
“You’re trying to hide something from Cyndi, right?”
“You’re crazy.”
“Cyndi’s coming out soon,” Joanne said, her voice rushed.
“That’s why we should settle this now,” Sophia said. “Or do you two want me to ask all these questions in front of her?”
“Don’t you dare!” Sharon yelled out. “Damn it! Why are you so strong?”
“I’ll let you in on a secret.”
“I don’t care about your secrets, let go of me!”
“I used to be a cop.”
“What?!” Joanne and Sharon exclaimed at the same time. Sharon had stopped shifting temporarily.
“I was dismissed.” Her voice was still calm. “For not following orders.”
“How would we know?” Sharon asked, her alertness back on. “You could be undercover for all we know. All those cops say that just to mix in with some gang and then attack.”
“It doesn’t matter if you trust me or not. What matters now is I’m willing to take that risk, knowing both of you could take me down at any time.”
“Thanks, but you don’t have to give me too much credit.”
“I know your strength doesn’t just stop at your mouth. Don’t have to play this weakling game with me. We could all protect Cyndi if you’re worry about it. And you could choose to tell me the truth whenever you want.” Her hand slipped off Sharon’s shoulder at last.
“Sharon,” Joanne called out upon seeing Sharon react, her voice still low. “Cyndi’s coming.”
Sharon had no choice but to drop it–for the time being. Yet they all knew the conversation was far from over.

*****

They finally stepped out of the house fifteen minutes later after making sure they got everything they needed.
“Slow down, will you?” Sharon said to Cyndi–who was walking up front, placing a hand on Cyndi’s right shoulder.
The next thing they witnessed was seeing Sharon flying in the air and Cyndi righting Sharon again. Sharon had been flipped. The reason why she hadn’t fallen was because Cyndi was still holding onto her hand and managed to yank her arm, so she was able to straighten up before falling.
“Whoa!” Angela cried out, surprised.
Sharon had finally caught her breath. “What in the world was that?”
“Sorry,” Cyndi mumbled, shrugging. “I was thinking about something and you just have to tap me like that.”
Sharon was still clutching at where her heart resided, still trying to stabilize her breathing pattern. “I’m going to kill Jiro.”
“If we can find him,” Joanne jumped in.
“Just don’t do that again,” Cyndi said, resuming her steps.
Sharon fell back to walk next to Joanne. “This is really weird.” She was whispering, of course.
Joanne shrugged.
“What’s going on here?” Angela questioned, eyeing both girls.
“I’m just surprised why she learned so fast,” Sharon said.
“Jiro is awesome,” Joanne echoed Cyndi’s words from several days ago–without realizing it.
“Can you guys stop talking and walk faster?” Cyndi requested, her pace picking up again.
“Do you have to pick up the attitude from Jiro as well?” Sharon asked, eyeing Cyndi’s back with much annoyance. But she lowered her voice and whispered into Joanne’s ears again. “Do you think that house’s cursed?”
Joanne pushed Sharon out a bit, just slightly. “Stop acting suspicious.”
They continued on without any other side conversations. Cyndi continued to take the lead with the others falling back. Sophia seemed to have kept her word on watching Cyndi–as they all were. Though only Joanne and Sharon knew Sophia was pinning her attention on Cyndi with a reason like theirs. Angela did not want to start with them anymore. She already won with persuading them to leave. She did not want to trigger Sharon anymore than she already did.
At the end of the day, they stopped and rest. Cyndi wanted to continue afterward but the others objected, stating they did not want to be unprepared. They needed all their energy for whatever was coming next.
“But we’re wasting even more time,” Cyndi argued, still not giving up.
“We don’t know how far they are,” Sophia reasoned. “They might just be around the corner somewhere. And if we walk into an ambush without any proper energy…”
“She’s right,” Sharon said. Though her purpose was not to agree with Sophia. Her purpose was to delay things even more. “Even if I want to bluff and say that I don’t even need sleep, get real.”
Cyndi turned to Angela for backup. Joanne had already agreed with the others. Cyndi was fighting a losing battle.
“Even if I don’t want to agree with Sharon, I have to,” Angela said, shrugging. “Sorry.”
Sharon did not let the opportunity slip. She gave Angela a look. What kind of answer was that? Yes, she was agreeing, but did she have to declare her hatred for Sharon out loud? It was like drawing a line in chalk, emphasizing the boundary. Although that was just a brief glare. She quickly turned toward Cyndi again. “Why are you in such a hurry? I know you’re worried for our fathers but…it’s like…” She looked at Joanne for help.
“Like you want to grow a pair of wings and fly to the place, wherever it is,” Joanne finished.
Sharon pointed. “Yeah, that.”
“I just have a bad feeling,” Cyndi said, her face full of anxiousness.
“Since last night?”
“How did you know?”
Sharon kept a straight face. “It has been way too obvious.”
Joanne and Sharon exchanged one of their looks again.
“Except…” Cyndi continued.
The others paid attention again.
“When I was sleeping last night.”
“Duh.” Sharon…again.
“No, I meant like when I was in her room and was enjoying the fragrance.”
Sharon turned to Joanne for clarification. “What fragrance?”
“There was this bottle in the drawer,” Joanne said. “I opened it and used it to ease my nerves because I couldn’t sleep either and she came in later.”
Sharon rolled her eyes, feeling defeated. She got up and began to gather wood for the fire.
“You have to keep your nerves attached,” Angela said to Cyndi as Joanne and Sophia got up to set up their tent. She could feel the irony since she was not a patient type of person. “We have to or we won’t be prepared for what’s coming.”
Cyndi nodded, at last.
Just like that, they continued the trip the coming day and rested at night. It wasn’t until that second night that Sophia finally approached Joanne and Sharon again. Angela and Cyndi were already asleep. The three were hurdled in front of the fire with Joanne in the middle. They had made sure the other two were actually already asleep.
“You girls want to tell me now?” Sophia asked.
“You’re forward all right,” Sharon snapped. She had agreed to a little talk earlier, but that did not guarantee special treatment.
Sophia ignored Sharon, just like the others had learned to do, and turned to Joanne. “Well?”
“I’m sorry, Sophia jie,” Joanne whispered. “We already promised we can’t tell.”
Sophia turned her eyes on Sharon once more. A road less easy yet it was still a glimmer of hope.
“Don’t pry,” Sharon said. “I’m serious here. There will be consequences.”
“I’ve been through worse.”
“Not toward you, I meant all of us.” She paused, just briefly. “And how in the world did you get kicked off the force anyway?”
“Sharon!” Joanne called out–with the highest tone of voice that was allowed of her for this conversation.
“It’s a fair question.”
“She’s right,” Sophia interfered.
Joanne turned to Sophia, waiting.
“We chased a group of gangs and it ended up by a pier. They were getting away. I had to shoot the one who was untying the rope. I was the closest person. And I didn’t.”
“Why not?” Sharon persisted.
Joanne gave Sharon a look.
Sophia put a hand up to stop Joanne from lashing out. “It’s okay. I’ll answer it.” She let out a sigh. “I just couldn’t.”
Sharon had her eyebrows in a ‘Because?’ look.
“He was carrying a little girl on his back. I didn’t realize it at first because it was dark and the girl was hidden under a blanket or something. When I was close enough to hear the girl talking, I stopped. They got away and that was it for me.”
“You couldn’t explain?” It was another fair question since it was too suspicious and unbelievable rolled into one.
“I did, but they didn’t believe me. They said the gangs were cunning. They could and would use any type of technological devices nowadays to trick me. They said it was only sound effects that I heard.”
“And your eyes?”
“It was too dark, seeing something move was questionable. And because I could’ve associated it with a little girl’s voice because I heard it before the movement.”
“Wait…” Joanne said suddenly, putting a hand up.
“What?” Sharon asked, giving Joanne a look. It was one of those rare times Sharon could launch an investigation without being dubbed unreasonable. And Joanne was robbing her of the chance.
“That was fifteen years ago, right?” Joanne asked, looking at Sophia.
Sophia nodded, displaying her puzzled look. “How did you know?”
“It was an old pier,” Joanne continued.
Sophia nodded again.
“We separated like always and met up at the pier. We were the last group. We almost didn’t make it.”
“It was raining that night,” Sharon said, catching on, her expression no longer annoyed–and her voice no longer containing hostility.
“No, it was raining afterward. We caught a storm and…”
“Ended up here.”
Sophia had been observing both girls, trying to be patient. Yet she was shaking at that moment. “You mean…” She was eyeing both girls, not being able to speak up.
“I was that girl,” Joanne answered at last, turning to Sophia again. “And the guy you didn’t shoot was…”
“Jacky,” Sophia finished, her face had gone pale.
“I couldn’t believe I caused you to lose your job.”
Sophia pulled herself together mentally, shaking her head. “It wasn’t your fault. I made that decision. And do you think I could forgive myself if I had taken the shot?”
“Are you going to finish your job now?” Sharon asked, indicating the unfinished business that had cost Sophia’s job.
“Sharon!” Joanne’s voice had gone a little higher than before.
“Come on now!” Sharon yelled out with injustice. “She could still try.”
Joanne had on her doubtful look. “After so many years?”
“Not impossible. Ever heard it’s never late to get revenge?”
“I already defended my actions years ago,” Sophia said, her voice had traces of hollowness in it. “If they didn’t believe me, then I don’t think I need to justify myself anymore.”
“Your words.”
“If you were under command of someone who wanted you to shoot kids, would you?”
“Your superior didn’t know.”
“He chose to take the risk. What difference does that make us if we vow to serve and protect yet we ended up destroying everything in our path?”
“How in the world did you move out here then?”
“It was several years later after that incident when my brother and I got into an argument.”
“Wait…”
Joanne and Sophia waited. Like they were the type to interrupt.
“You were fifteen when you became a cop?”
Joanne hadn’t realized that. She should’ve paid more attention. She was too occupied on feeling guilty.
Sophia nodded. “Actually, I’ve been training for two years already. That was my first major assignment.”
Sharon gasped. She had the right to be surprised.
Sophia took a glance at her watch at that time. “We should turn in.”
Sharon wanted to know more. But she knew Sophia was right. “You better keep our suspicious acts from Cyndi.”
Sophia nodded. She did not care for threats, but she knew it was serious. “I’ll continue to keep an eye on Cyndi.”
Sharon got up and headed toward the tent. “We’ll see.”

*****

Two more days later, they found signs of familiarity–at least to Joanne and Sharon. Cyndi had gone almost hysterical after such long waits. Her short tempers worried the others. Even Sophia’s calm dictation did not soothe Cyndi. And Sharon was not all so hype to tease Cyndi about Cyndi’s anxiousness. The sun was setting soon.
“Hey, this is heading toward…” Cyndi said, looking at their surroundings.
“It’s the path leading to our new base,” Sharon blurted out.
Cyndi turned to her. “What new base?”
Joanne gave Sharon a sharp glare.
“Uh…” Sharon stuttered. “I meant we have her house and then there are several bases, right? This was established after the others.”
Cyndi did not care to question that matter anymore. She scanned the area again.
“We should find a spot to rest and then continue tomorrow,” Joanne suggested.
Cyndi turned to her. “But they’re just around the corner, right?”
“It might not be that simple. Let’s hide. We could be back-ups for them.”
“Or walk right into an ambush,” Sharon snapped, rolling her eyes.
“Let’s go,” Angela interfered.
Sophia led Cyndi toward a promising spot to set up that night. “Just one more night.”
Cyndi softened. She allowed herself to relax and listen to the others. Yet it was impossible shutting out the unease feelings.
“This is the most important war,” Sharon said when they sat around the fire that night. “Wonder what stage they’re at now.”
“What do you mean?” Sophia asked, turning to her.
“We’re going to wipe out the other gang this time.”
Angela gasped. “This is…”
“Don’t say it,” Sharon warned her. “You don’t know us.”
“Let’s turn in early tonight,” Sophia interfered.
“We have to plan our moves first,” Sharon reminded her.
“All right,” Joanne said. “We’ll observe first before jumping out or anything.”
“Should we divide ourselves into groups?” Angela asked.
“I’ll go with Cyndi,” Sophia volunteered, exchanging looks with Joanne and Sharon.
Joanne and Sharon nodded at the same time, agreeing to entrust Cyndi into Sophia’s hands.
“Like I don’t know how to protect myself,” Cyndi argued.
“Angela can go with me,” Sharon continued on, ignoring Cyndi’s protest.
“What?” Angela had the right to be shocked.
“Since we’re here already, there’s no point to hide anything. We know how to defend ourselves since little.”
Cyndi wrinkled her face. “What? You two never told me.”
“You were always sick when you were little and couldn’t really learn so Uncle didn’t let you learn anymore,” Sharon explained.
Joanne nodded when Cyndi turned to her. “So that’s why I said Jiro’s a genius. He managed to teach you where all of us failed.”
Cyndi smiled–a rare one these past days. “He has his own technique.”
“No more talk,” Sharon said. “Let’s turn in if we agreed.”
“If I go with you, that means Qiao’s alone?” Angela asked, looking at Sharon.
“I can handle it now,” Joanne said. “I tried my best with the meditation method Jacky ge taught me these past nights. I haven’t been experiencing nightmares, so I think I could hold up on my own.”
They discussed some more of the details before turning in. Tomorrow was the day. They needed all their energy.

*****

The next morning, they ventured past the clearings into the woods. After half a day of walking, they heard sounds of people. Apparent sounds of weapons against weapons. Gunshots mixed in with the entire atmosphere. The stench of blood reached their noses as they stopped. Up ahead was the battlefield. Or what seemed like one.
“Stick to the plan,” Sharon told them.
“Why are they fighting during the daytime?” Joanne asked, puzzled.
Night had always been their advantage. Even the thick fog did not provide enough shelter. What was more, how could they risk being so closed to their base? Were they found out?
“Let’s do it,” Cyndi urged them.
The others did not object. There was no point. No time to waste. They headed into the battlefield, following the tactic from last night.
“How did you learn how to fight?” Cyndi asked after they took down three guys from the opposing side.
“Living on this island, you have to learn how to protect yourself,” Sophia replied. She scanned the area ahead.
“This way,” Cyndi said, pointing toward the left.
Sophia nodded.
They managed to take down two more before approaching a cave.
“Don’t go in,” Sophia said.
“Where could they be?” Cyndi asked, her eyes darting.
“We have to wait till the fog clear.”
“It’s already mid-day and it’s not clearing up.”
Sophia could hear the anxiousness in Cyndi’s voice.
“We have to stay calm,” Sophia said. “Since the others are covering the other two sides, we’ll just have to work our way back. We’ll find the rest of the gang somehow.”
Cyndi had no choice but to agree. She tried to keep her cool each time she defeated another enemy and moved forward.
On the other side, Angela and Sharon had walked into a more complex situation.
“Which one do you want?” Sharon asked–despite the situation.
“Is there even a choice?” Angela asked back, her eyes observing the men who were surrounding them.
“Was just asking,” Sharon said.
They had their backs against each other. They continued in that same pattern, attacking and defending. Sharon was taking on the attacking role and Angela had to act as the defending party. Unlike their differences, they managed to work together to get past several groups. Sometimes their roles were reversed because of unforeseen situation, but the rest resumed in that same manner. And Sharon wasn’t the least surprised that Angela actually knew how to fight. Angela had to be an idiot to not know how to, especially when living on this island. Sharon’s constant objection these past days, of course, only aimed at one spot–stall as much as possible.
“Watch out!” Angela called out suddenly, pushing Sharon to one side.
Sharon regained her balance in time and was about to scold Angela for her carelessness when she heard gunshots. She shielded herself with her weapon. When it was quiet around them again that Sharon looked toward Angela. Angela was holding a gun in her hand.
“Where in the word did you get that?” Sharon asked, not even realizing Angela had it with her. In fact, she recalled Angela holding some rod.
“I took one out of the storage box where we found the secret compartment,” Angela answered.
Sharon was still staring in disbelief. Not because of the weapon since it was too obvious of what just took place. But she did not realize Angela had it in her to shoot like that.
“Sophia did say it was up to us whether to take one or not, right?” She diverted her eyes toward the fields again. “Come on. We can’t stand here.”
Sharon was still numbed and confused but she decided to drop the questioning–for the time being.

*****

Joanne was using a rod as her weapon also, not wanting to take a risk with the guns. She could always injure them. She weaved in and out of different groups, cranking her visions to search for familiar faces.
“Jacky ge!” She called out minutes later, seeing a familiar silhouette.
“What in the world are you doing here?” Jacky exclaimed, diving out of the way and pulling Joanne with him.
They took down two more before turning to one another again.
“Whose idea was it?” Jacky demanded, his authoritative tone taking over–a very rare case.
“It was three against two.”
“Tell me Sophia was the other one who objected.”
They had to concentrate on fending off more of the coming enemies after that. They did not have time to talk. It wasn’t until they bumped into Calvin and Chun that words of confusion were uttered.
“What in the world?” Chun yelled out, not forgetting to defend himself as more bullets were flying around.
“Why in the world are we fighting in the day anyway?” Joanne asked, ignoring Chun’s surprised state.
“They found us out,” Calvin replied. “Didn’t I tell you to stay put?”
“Like she ever listens to you,” Chun jumped in.
“If you’re here that means…” Calvin did not have time to finish.
They were all hurdled together but still kept a comfortable distance for moving around and fighting.
“Yeah,” Joanne answered when she was finished with the latest obstacle.
“Jiro’s going to kill us,” Chun said.
They moved from the area with the three guards shielding Joanne from attacks as much as possible.
“How long have you guys been at it?” Joanne asked when they were even further into the woods.
“Two days,” Chun replied. “Their leader is a turtle though, not daring to show his face.”
“Where are the others?”
Six more men crashed around them and they were on the move again.
“Your father’s on the other side,” Chun said. “Where are the others?”
“Cyndi’s with Sophia jie,” Joanne said.
“You got to be kidding me, right?”
“Watch out!” Calvin yelled. He grabbed Joanne’s hand by reflex.
“Hey!” Joanne yelled, her rod flew out of her hand. She had no choice but to reach for her gun. She wasn’t shooting yet. She was aiming it in front of her, scanning everywhere for a target.
They were forced to retreat again.
“Don’t use it if you don’t have to,” Jacky said. He meant Joanne.
Joanne nodded, her eyes still darting everywhere.

*****

“I’m going to kill Calvin and Chun,” Jiro echoed of Chun’s words somewhere around the battlefield.
Yes, Cyndi and Sophia had found Jiro.
“We don’t have time to waste,” Cyndi reminded him.
Jiro knew. Even if he was temporarily distracted of her presence but he had never taken his eyes off the fields nor was he off-guard. “Stay close.”
The fighting and dodging lasted for the last half of the afternoon. It wasn’t until around almost sunset that they found the others and ended up clustering together. Their occupied state did not allow for side conversations like before. The fog had lifted about several hours back. They were no longer outnumbered, but their energy was running low by then. As Calvin and Chun were reloading, they heard some sound from a distance. It seemed to be a signal because the opposing side had retreated and disappeared from their view.
“If it lasts any longer, you guys have to carry me out of here,” Sharon complained as soon as it was safe again.
“You seriously know how to be cheerful,” Joanne said, putting away her gun.
“Don’t let your guard down so early,” Calvin warned the girls.
“Let’s check the rest of the place out,” Chun said.
They separated and went to check. They were walking in pairs or groups. Jiro had taken it into his hands to have a firm grip on Cyndi’s hand the whole while they were searching. She couldn’t tell if he was mad at her or the others. They found Mr. Tseng first. He was making his way back from the cornfield nearby.
“What in the world are you kids doing here?” Mr. Tseng blurted out as soon as he spotted the three princesses.
“Ba!” Joanne called out, running to him, hugging him.
He held his daughter to him yet soon pushed her out at arm’s length. “Don’t think that you’ll get away by doing that.”
“This is not the time to make a fuss about the whole thing,” Joanne argued. “We need to secure the location.”
Cyndi and Sharon exchanged a look, knowing too well their friend was dodging out of a sticky situation again.
“I sure know what I should be doing,” Mr. Tseng said. He turned to look at Jacky.
Joanne saw the stern look, knowing too well what must have gone through her father’s mind. She shielded Jacky from her father’s stare. “It was my fault.”
“Let’s get out of here first,” Chun suggested, feeling too brave that he was actually stopping one of the bosses from punishing one of their fellow guards.
Mr. Tseng dropped his stern look and held onto Joanne’s hand as they made their way toward the dirt road.
“Jiro, watch out!” Calvin yelled out seconds later.
They all turned to see what was happening. Yet it was going too fast. Jiro, Cyndi, and Jacky reacted at the same time. They heard two gunshots. Then silence. Jacky was the one who shot the gunman who had awakened from somewhere. But he wasn’t the person receiving the shot from the opposing party. Yet it was obvious from the blood dripping that someone had received the blow.
© Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
Posted: Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

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