They had found them. Layke almost collapsed in relief. They had been looking for a long time, searching every place they came across, yet they could not find them. They had even considered calling their names, that was how desperate they were.
“Linda,” Layke called softly. She couldn’t hear him. No matter, they would reach them soon. They had stumbled across some tracks and followed them, and the tracks had led them here, to where the rest of the prisoners were resting.
As soon as they were close to her, Linda’s head snapped up. Her old eyes were alert, and her hand instinctively went to her belt for a dagger that wasn’t there. Upon seeing them, her worried frown broke into a smile, and she hobbled forward to meet them.
“You’re here!” Linda said happily. “We thought you’d never find us.”
“We did too,” Layke said, grinning. “I thought you’d be mad at us, if truth be told.”
“Why?” Linda asked.
“For making you escape with us.”
“I’m still a bit angry,” Linda admitted, “but I can’t go back now.”
“No, you can’t,” Layke agreed. They were interrupted by the piercing sound of an alarm horn. Lucifer’s eyes widened.
“They’re after us.”
“Run!” Layke called, not too loudly but not too softly, either. All heads snapped up to look at him. “They know we’ve escaped!”
Everyone broke into a panic. Some people ran in one direction, others in another. Layke stood there, at a loss for what to do. If they ran around like this for any longer they’d surely get caught. Thankfully, Lucifer took charge.
“I want you all together, in one big pack,” he said in a commanding voice. They all assembled behind him, even the ones who had initially fled were coming back. When everyone was there, Lucifer spoke again. “Now follow me. We’ll have to sprint as fast as we can, so be warned.”
He started running, and everyone followed him. Another alarm horn sounded, urging everyone to go faster, fleeing into the woods. Layke made his legs go as fast as they could, pumping up and down, up and down. He had no time to think, just the endless shout of; RUN! echoing in his head.
They soon started tiring, the adrenalin running out. The pack started moving slower, but Lucifer kept on running, pushing himself and therefore pushing everyone following him, too.
“Keep going! We can’t let them catch us!” Lucifer yelled. Layke didn’t -- couldn’t reply. He just urged himself on, and on, and on. He had to persevere, he had to keep going. There was no-one following them as far as they knew, but they couldn’t be sure, because all they could hear was the rush of blood in their ears and their own ragged breathing.
Finally Lucifer let them stop. They stopped by a winding stream and a small cave. They were all panting and feeling faint. Layke collapsed, exhausted, onto the ground. He forced himself to crawl to the stream and take gulps of water, even though he didn’t want any. The water went down harshly, and he felt as if he was going to vomit it back up.
He didn’t look up for a long time, trapped in his own world. His lungfuls of air had made him feel light-headed, and he lay there, staring off into space. Finally, he stood up slowly, wobbling slightly at the effort. His head spun, and he collapsed onto the nearest figure.
“Are you alright there?” Lucifer said, holding Layke’s hand which had been clutching his arm moments before. “You look like you’re going to faint.”
Layke nodded slowly, not really hearing the words. At the moment he didn’t care about anything but standing there and trying to regain his balance. He forced himself to breathe normally, and gradually the feeling of lightheadedness subsided.
“You should drink some water,” Lucifer said.
“I … did,” Layke managed to gasp.
“Good,” Lucifer said. Layke managed to look up at him. How could he look so fresh and bouncy after running for so long? After leaning on Lucifer for awhile, he regained his sense of balance. Layke raised his head and looked around. Everyone was mostly in the cave by now, and a few people were kneeling by the stream having a drink.
Everyone looked so calm and relaxed. He couldn’t see anyone gasping for air and on the verge of fainting, anyway. Layke felt his cheeks colour. He hadn’t even been the one who was running the fastest and yet he was leaning on Lucifer, panting like he had run a marathon.
“We’ll stop here for a bit,” Lucifer told him. “The enemy guards don’t seem to be upon us yet.”
“We’ll look for Waiye, won’t we?” Layke asked.
“Waiye?” Lucifer’s brow furrowed.
“Oh, I forgot you didn’t know who Waiye was,” Layke said. “She’s the leader of a small group of women who are faithful to the Cause.”
“What’s the Cause?”
Layke hesitated, not knowing whether or not to tell him. Finally, he decided that Lucifer deserved to know. Who knows, he might even support the Cause.
“Well,” Layke began, turning his head to look at the stream. “I … we think that the women of this land hold too much power.” Layke risked a glance up at Lucifer, whose gaze remained impassive. He continued, determined not to be deterred. “Something needs to be done about it. The women aren’t being fair to the men, and don’t put it their worth of work.”
There was a long stretch of silence. Layke crossed his fingers mentally, hoping that Lucifer didn’t report him immediately. He shouldn’t have told him, he knew it.