Sitting on opposite sides of a large tree, Dawn and Kara listening to the pounding rain that they narrowly escaped. A blinding curtain of water blocks their view of the area, but they remain dry thanks to the thick canopy above their heads. Only a few streams come through the network of sturdy branches and leathery leaves, which has given the travelers a chance to get clean and have a drink. Regardless of the serene atmosphere and the relaxing smell of fresh rain, they cannot relax as an inevitable conversation lingers on their tongues. Dawn is no longer trying to get around the tree to check on Kara, who has claimed all of the food for herself. The sound of chewing and the occasional burp continue until she is certain that that girl is trying eat as much of the food as possible. She waits for the sound of footsteps rushing into the rain, but they never come. Dawn takes it as a sign that her companion is willing to talk and will not disappear into the wilderness. The thought of angry mobs coming after her sends a shiver along her spine, but a part of her considers that she deserves such a fate. Unnerved by the dark thought, she gets to her feet and begins gathering rocks to throw at the fist-sized figs that are growing in the lower branches.
“Are you a monster too?” Kara asks from her side of the tree. The girl peeks around for a second and swiftly goes back out of sight before she is spotted. “I heard what Addison was calling you. Also, I know what absorbing means. There are beasts out there that do that to their prey. So, are you going to eat me?”
“I prefer chicken, beef, and moose,” Dawn replies, hoping to cut through the tension. Not getting a response, she sighs and continues trying to knock down some food. “I’m not a monster and I won’t eat you. If you were really listening then you’d know Addison was calling me the sane one. She’s always been crazy, but I used to be that flicker of sanity inside her head. Now, she depends on Gemma for keeping her slightly grounded. This is why you see so many strange things in the world. Addison has no focus and follows whatever whim she has unless somebody manages to stop her in time. It really isn’t that different than when we were together since she never listened to me. I had some control when Corvus was around, but that leash disappeared a long time ago.”
“I don’t get it,” the girl admits before tossing a package of crackers into the open. She shuffles around the tree when she sees the woman go for the food. “How did you get out of the monster? Why don’t you have powers too? Also, she mentioned a safe zone. Is that the place I met you?”
Chuckling at the barrage of questions, Dawn ties her hair back and leans against the warm tree. “Kids always get right to the point. I guess Addison keeps all the powers since she has the original body. My creation was an accident when Ian tried to remove her insanity. That would be like pulling the pulp out of this tree and expecting it to live. All he did was split us into two parts, which did do some damage. I gave Addison enough focus to use her powers with precision, but now she’s entirely random. Since you’re going to ask, I ran away as soon as I was knocked out of the body. Neither of them realized what happened until a week later, but I was long gone by then. Haven’t come across Ian since then, but you can tell that Addison and I have had a few encounters.”
“So, she made the safe zone for you,” the girl guesses as she comes into view.
“Yes, but she did a terrible job,” Dawn admits with a smirk. Fearing that the expression will turn dark, she fakes a cough and bends down to fix her boot laces. “Remember me telling you about those monsters? They were supposed to make sure I stayed in the territory, but they ended up wanting to hunt me. Addison’s goal was to keep me contained until either she found a way to absorb me or I came back willingly. Instead, she made me hate her even more because every day was a battle for survival. Still, it’s better than being stuck in her head. At least, I can control my own actions out here.”
“But you stayed in one place for all this time.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were still trapped in the safe zone.”
“As you can see, I could leave whenever I wanted.”
“Then, why did it take you so long?”
Dawn’s mouth opens to answer, but she cannot think of the reason she never considered leaving the safe zone. The urge to go back rises in her chest as she tries to remember if there was ever a time she tried to leave. A few brief outings to help people in the desert or show them the way out of the forest come to mind. Yet, none of them made her want to go far or travel with them like Kara. Tapping her chin, she stares at the girl, whose face is covered in chocolate and sprinkles. She does not see anything out of the ordinary, but the fear that she has walked into a trap refuses to disappear completely. Regardless of the fresh paranoia, Dawn knows that Kara will probably die on her own. The silent acknowledgement helps her strengthen her resolve and push the doubt into the back of her mind.
“I have no answer,” she finally replies as the rain starts to stop. Staring out at the sparkling landscape, she munches on a few crackers that are about to go stale. “It isn’t like I had a plan when I was given freedom. With all of the memories and knowledge in my head, I was still a baby with no personal experience. Maybe I was simply comfortable and happy to have a life of my own. There were a few times I interacted with people, but I never traveled with them. The best answer I can give you is that the only reason I left is because you were alone. I’m not insane and cruel like Addison. I feel bad about my actions. Letting you wander off to get killed in the wilderness didn’t sit well with me.”
“So, you’re going to protect me?” Kara asks with a smile.
Wetting her sleeve, Dawn cleans the girl’s face and promises, “I will make sure you get to where you’re going. Maybe I’ll stick around after that. Seems you’ve kind of grown on me even though you ate most of our food.”
“I saved you the vegetables.”
“We didn’t have vegetables.”
“Then, what are the green things?”
“Guess bringing cheese along was a mistake.”