Anthony reached the top of the stairs, shut the metal hatch, and flung the wooden door open taking a step back outside. The sun was now directly overhead.
"Ant! Ant! Look at what I found!"
Anthony glanced over at Riley and saw a small Schreik standing beside her. It suddenly got down on all fours and sprung itself onto Anthony's foot.
"Ah!" Anthony tripped over his own feet and fell to the ground with a shout. Before hitting the ground, the small creature quickly jumped off and scurried back into the tall grass. Anthony sat back up with a sigh as the discomfort of landing on his newly purchased handgun, and the pain in his stomach quickly reminded him why he was there in the first place. He quickly stood up and slid the map out of his back pocket. Checking the marks Theodore made, he began to realize something.
26 miles southwest...
"Quick, Riley! Catch it!"
But after only a few minutes of chase, they realized they were wasting more energy than they would gain from eating such a small creature. All they could do was continue to the closest red circle on their map and hope to make it there before they have to expend any of their reserved supplies.
After a long day of nothing but walk and sightseeing, long after the sun finished setting they realized there was no helping it. They would have to set up a camp of some kind.
After preparing a few things and settling down, Anthony sat next to the makeshift campfire with an open can of peaches in hand. All he could hope was never to have to stand again as he felt the heat radiating through his jeans. They only had about three to four miles to go till they reached the small town of Torna, but Anthony wanted to stop before they got there. He was sure the townspeople wouldn't want a couple of broke adventurers sleeping on their streets.
After finishing half the can, Anthony sat it next to Riley and continued to stare at the fire with his arms wrapped around his legs.
"Why did you follow me?" He could feel Riley's sharp glance strike the side of his head as he asked that lingering question.
"You looked scared," she retorted.
Anthony's concentration on the flames broke by Riley's tilting head now fixated on the night sky. He stared as she threw her arms back and propped herself in a relieved manner as if she was worried to tell him her reasoning. He could hear her intake a large breath over the sound of the crackling fire. One thing that kept bothering him was that he didn't even know this girl existed before today, yet she talked to him as if she knew him from the inside out for years.
"Why did you leave?" She said exhaling that same large breath. It was almost as if she had switched emotions by asking that question. It was faint, but Anthony swore he could hear a quiet sigh behind her words.
"To figure out what I want-"
"Stop," she broke off his response like a weak branch from a tree. "I don't want that same excuse you gave everyone back there every day you talked about leaving the walls."
Anthony was worried about being honest. He didn't know if the anxious feeling now flowing through him was more for her or himself. Everything seemed like jokes and giggles until night fell on them. He figured that it was probably just his nerves, but the tension in the air appeared to be exhausting his body more so than it already was. As he thought more about the situation he was now in, he could feel his persona start to weaken.
If she had already figured him out, there would be no point in keeping up his front.
But should I keep it up anyway, for Riley's sake?
He could no longer control his reasoning after that question broke out from his subconscious, it froze on that thought. Though, unlike last time, another one had followed it through. Skipping over it, quickly making its way to the top of the long list of notions floating through his head.
Was this for Riley's sake?
It wasn't, was it?
If he had to speculate, he had built up this front to keep himself stable long enough until he could get away from everyone who would bother him. Riley being here just caused the reality to become skewed long enough to the point where he had thrown the primary objective to the back of his thoughts. He hadn't known this girl long, but something inside of him kept pushing to trust in this girl. Even to the point of spilling every last drop of hope into her.
Anthony had to make this decision now. Even though it felt like minutes to him since Riley had asked, it had only been mere moments. But soon those moments will run out and his time to do this would pass. Possibly forever.
Anthony swallowed every ounce of pride he had left inside himself to confide in this girl and give her an inch past his borders he had built around his heart. He took a slow, steady breath; the thick warm air had a scent of a willow tree close by, followed by the burning feeling of what seemed like ash sticking to the inside of his throat.
"I'm looking for my parents," he said as sternly as he could, his green eyes reflecting the unwavering flames. He could feel the trembling in his words. He broke his focus on the blaze once more, but this time, turning his head in Riley's direction. She looked back at him with a look he could not decipher. It was a blank expression, but it also had a hint of yearning for something, maybe more detail.
"The 'family' I left back in the city, they are my caregivers. Nothing more," he continued as he tucked his head back into his knees facing the inferno. "The people who raised me explained that I was deathly ill from a rare virus and was brought to the city for proper treatment after I was born. For whatever reason, my parents and sister couldn't stay long."
Anthony picked up a stick and poked it into the fire a few times as he continued, "they left me under the care of some old colleagues that knew before they left the city. The reason I didn't state my real intention for leaving the city was that my caregivers never told me directly. I heard the same story over and over, time and again, when they thought I was off to bed or wasn't home. They would talk about their sons Bradly and Donny wanting to follow them for years after they didn't come back. They always wondered when they were coming back or the details about their departure.
Anthony buried his face into his knees, "so I intended to leave while keeping everyone in the dark about my true intentions just as they did to me all those years. The only clue I have is something they called 'The Marrow' which I guess is a date of some kind and it takes place off to the west somewhere, that's where their sons planned on heading anyway."
After Anthony finished, he looked over to check if the length of his story had left Riley unconscious. However, she was no longer sitting next to the fire. He turned a bit to look around, but his action halted as two white limbs reached under his armpits and met in front of his abdomen.
"See? Being honest with yourself isn't so bad now is it?" Anthony couldn't respond, the shock of Riley's actions had rendered him speechless. He could see the tip of her nose and black hair from his peripheral vision as her chin rested on his shoulder. From the direction of her nose, it seemed she was staring at the fire alongside him. As he fixated back on the fire, he could see the memories of loneliness he experienced without his real family by his side burning away in flames.
Did Riley see this as well?
Just as that thought began to patter through his mind, the white arms retracted behind him. He turned to see the clear owner of the limbs now sat back beside him, well, it would be more accurate to say that she sat beside the pack he had laid on the ground next to himself earlier. His eyes followed her hands as she began to untie the string connected to her green hooded cape from around her neck and laid down on the ground. She placed her head gracefully onto the provisional pillow that was my bag and covered herself with a green wave of her cape.
"We can switch in four hours, okay?" She yawned out in a soft sweet-sounding voice.
"Okay," Anthony said as she turned away from the fire. He was glad she did this as not to see the tear streams now connecting from his glossy eyes to his smiling lips.