Had they left earlier, the trek might not have been so arduous. Without the light to guide them, they stumbled almost blind through the brush. Their escort took the path slowly, but at times it was still too fast for the girls, particularly the injured ones. Artemis just couldn’t understand how they’d managed to find their way through the maze of trees. Though slowly, but surely, they eventually came upon a small man-made clearing.
“Good to see you finally joining the party, ladies.”
Artemis hissed at the mocking voices, and they backed away quickly into their assembled piles of branches. The girls still huddled closely around her, flocking easily to the strongest will. Their guide spun towards them, disbelieving.
“We’ll help you to make shelter, but you have to accept us first.”
Artemis scowled and peered up through the canopy. The clearing was indeed covered by overhanging branches, but it certainly wouldn’t prevent them from getting drenched. She wasn’t sure how effective it would be, constructing a shelter in the almost nonexistent twilight. A hand found her shoulder, a rough hand.
“Stop being so stubborn.”
This time, it wasn’t the voice of their leader, but rather one that was softer, easier to reason with. She turned and found yet another boy, a bit older than the rest of them, with a softer face, albeit covered with scratches. Artemis gave another, exasperated sigh before nodding, holding a hand out to one of her girls.
“We’ve already made you a few, we knew you’d come around eventually,” said the soft one.
He led a pack of girls to one edge of the clearing, where stood a moderately-sized lean-to. It was a bit small, but it would suffice. Several more found shelter in the excess space of the boys’ shelters, which undeniably unnerved her.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to make you your own, Artemis,” spoke the leader. “Since you’re not so keen on sharing.”
“I’m fine with sharing!” Artemis spat. “Just not with idiots.”
“I’m a bit less idiotic, and much safer,” spoke the softer boy, who was chuckling softly in the darkness. “We have a little more room over on my side, if you’ll have it. Tomorrow, we’ll build you your own, but for now…”
He turned his face to the sky, rinsing his face in the light droplets that fell from above. Artemis only watched, nearly blind in the night, straining to see his form. His chin dropped and he turned for his little shelter. He didn’t stop to finish his thought, and neither did he turn to check if she would follow. An open invitation. It was hers to take or leave.
“Do you even know my name?” spoke the leader.
“Must I? We’ll all be leaving soon anyway, why go through formalities when we’ll never see each other again?”
The boy laughed, “Luka Aukraine.”
“I said I didn’t want to know,” Artemis frowned, flinching as a particularly large drop fell on her head.
“If I know yours, it’s only right you know mine.”
“The last was unnecessary,” Artemis huffed, turning towards the open tent.
“Well, what’s your last, then? So that we’re even.”
“I beg pardon?”
“Artemis Heat!” She flung at him hatefully. “Now just shut up!”
“For what reason?”
Her eyes were aflame once more, but she grit her teeth, not wishing to stand any longer in the rain. She spun and crawled into the shelter, curling against the heat of other bodies. Night the fifth, and only now did she know someone’s name.