-EIGHTEEN-Mature

Twelve minutes had passed, and Shale still had not arrived at the designated tree. Brida groaned and allowed herself to rest for a few seconds more, then finally mustered up her remaining strength and stood. It was time to find Shale, wherever that rapscallion had scampered off to.

Knowing she ran the risk of being recognized by fellow escapees, Brida kept on the outskirts of the now-destroyed asylum, sneaking in and out of empty spaces and darting to and from subtle shadows. Here and there, she paused to take in her bearings. Just a few yards from danger. That's right, Brida; don't breathe too loudly right now, or that person'll hear you. Oh, watch out for the cobblestones - you don't want them to hear your footfalls! Every now and then, she paused. Listened. No sign of Shale. Where was the little fool?

"Shale's probably looking for me right now, too," Brida muttered under her shaky breath, then clamped her hand over her mouth. Nice going, Brida. Now they'll find you, for sure!

But no one had heard. Brida exhaled silently, slowly. Then, she continued.

The damage Brida had done was appalling, but Brida reconciled her actions with her conscience by reminding herself of all the souls she'd set free. Yes, the asylum was nothing but dust and ashes, but that was fine, just fine! Think of all the people that don't have to live within confining walls anymore! They're free now, because you made them so!

Brida's hope for finding Shale was becoming dimmer and dimmer. In the past, when Brida had suffered from sorrow, she had simply curled up in a corner somewhere and allowed herself to be drenched in self-pity. But now, she couldn't have the luxury of nursing her own emotional wounds. She had to keep pressing on. Shale depended on her. But how could she find Shale? How did one cope with sadness? She didn't know. How was she supposed to make rational, mature decisions and observations, when she'd always been a child?

Brida decided she would finish circling the asylum, and then, she would return to the tree. If Shale was not there within a few more hours, then...Brida would have to assume the worst and make the journey alone.

The End

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