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datatime: 2022-09-26 03:53:26 Author:besiZLXg

"Nothin'," she said. "Just the Pit, and-" She stopped suddenly, because both of them knew.

"Nothin'," she said. "Just the Pit, and-" She stopped suddenly, because both of them knew.

"Why?" Paul asked. He was wary of the boy, didn't trust him worth a damn. "What's in it for you?"

"Who put you in charge?"

Rusty knew he'd collapse before he got ten paces from the shack. He almost wept with frustration, but he knew also that Swan needed to be watched over. He nodded and sank down wearily to his knees.

"What is it? What's on fire?" Glory's face was stricken as she peered out the door beside him. Aaron, who could not be separated from Crybaby, pushed between them to see.

Rusty stood up, but his legs were weak and he staggered against the wall. He felt like a deballed bull, and he was furious at himself. He tried again but still didn't have the strength to even get his damned boots on.

Swan said something in a soft, delirious voice, but Rusty couldn't make it out. She tried to sit up, and he put his hand on her shoulder to restrain her. Touching her was like putting his hand to the stove's grate. "Hold on," he said. "Easy now, just take it easy."

"Thanks for the warning," Sister said.

"I did." The firelight threw shadows in the hollows of his face, glinted off the fine hairs of his beard. His long hair, still full of feathers and bones, made him look like a savage prince. "I've decided to help you get to Mary's Rest."

"I don't know. What's over in that direction?"

"Oh, we didn't come out here to warn you. We followed you to keep you from getting killed." Robin climbed down the boulder, and the other boys did the same. They stood around the fire, warming their hands and faces. "It wasn't hard. You left a trail that looked like a plow had gone through. Anyway, you forgot something." He opened the other duffel bag, reached into it and brought out the second jug of moonshine that Hugh had given Paul. "Here." He tossed it to Sister. "I think there's enough left for everybody to have a swig."

"Thanks for the warning," Sister said.

"Maybe I want some fresh air. Maybe I want to travel." His gaze flicked toward Sister's satchel. "Maybe I want to see if you find who you're looking for. Anyway, I pay my debts. You people helped me with one of mine, and I owe you. So I'll get you to Mary's Rest in the morning, and we'll call it even, right?"

Swan said something in a soft, delirious voice, but Rusty couldn't make it out. She tried to sit up, and he put his hand on her shoulder to restrain her. Touching her was like putting his hand to the stove's grate. "Hold on," he said. "Easy now, just take it easy."

"No, Rusty"

A rifle shot echoed from the woods, followed by two more. Sister and Paul looked at each other uneasily, but the young highwayman lay motionless and undisturbed. The noise of rifle fire continued intermittently for another minute or so, followed by the angry shrieks of what sounded like several animals-but their cries were fading as they retreated. Paul reached for the moonshine jug to coax out the last drops, and Sister leaned back to contemplate tomorrow.

A rifle shot echoed from the woods, followed by two more. Sister and Paul looked at each other uneasily, but the young highwayman lay motionless and undisturbed. The noise of rifle fire continued intermittently for another minute or so, followed by the angry shrieks of what sounded like several animals-but their cries were fading as they retreated. Paul reached for the moonshine jug to coax out the last drops, and Sister leaned back to contemplate tomorrow.

Glory screamed, "Josh" as he barreled at the barn door.

Robin grunted disdainfully. "More like three, most likely. Anyway, I sat down and started thinking, back at the cave. I knew you'd make camp somewhere, probably screw that up, too." He appraised the boulders and the wall of snow. "You've got yourselves trapped in here. When that fire went down, the things in the woods would've jumped you from all sides. We saw a lot of them, but we stayed downwind and low to the ground, and they didn't see us."

"Nothin'," she said. "Just the Pit, and-" She stopped suddenly, because both of them knew.

"Why?" Paul asked. He was wary of the boy, didn't trust him worth a damn. "What's in it for you?"

He pulled his boots on, put on his gloves and his heavy coat. Glory and Aaron raced to bundle up as well. Red embers burned in the stove's grate, and Rusty was sitting up from his bed of rags; his eyes were still dazed, and cloth bandages were plastered to the side of his face and the wound at his shoulder. "Josh?" he said. "What's goin' on?"

"I don't know. What's over in that direction?"

"Nothin'," she said. "Just the Pit, and-" She stopped suddenly, because both of them knew.

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