As evening set, the seventeen men...and two women...in Ez's group settled down around a large bonfire for their dinner. Unlike a typical meal with everyone sitting with their own gang, they all ate together at her request so she could determine the shift rotation for guard duty that night. Considering the dangers, it was finally decided that six men, in groups of two, would cover a three-hour shift each. Ez chose the teams, and although she would have preferred to team with Jackal, she split her shift from his, allowing for a better allocation of skills. As she finished the roster, she looked to Sammy, who was sitting between her and Jackal, a look of anticipation on her pretty young face.
"You will shadow with me Sam, if that is okay? I'm sure Owens won't mind a third?"
Owens nodded curtly and Samantha brightened. Her excitement at a chance to be included in the watch evident on her face, her youthful features lifting in a smile. She squeezed Jackal's hand and looked at him shyly under her long lashes. After a moment, she realized she hadn't responded and she added a nod, mimicking Owens, before rising to gather up the dishes from dinner.
"Leave those," Ez directed, "...we have first watch and need to get geared up. Owens meet us in five," she called. Together the two women walked to their respective sites, each gathering up their weapons and additional ammo. When they met with Owens, they set off to the north, finding a good vantage point to observe the camp. The location was level, but at a higher elevation, and had several rocky outcroppings and small groupings of vegetation...and too many places for shadows to hide as far as Ez was concerned. The only positive thing was the half moon--they wouldn't have to worry about visibility unless clouds moved in. Together the three settled in, Ez periodically talking softly to Sam as time ticked slowly by.
Ez was discussing Crawlers with Sammy, describing the creatures propensity for emerging in the dark and surprising their prey, when Owens stated he needed to take a leak. Ez paused, noting with good humor that Sammy's eyes were wide, the description alone scaring her. She was pleased with her positive outlook and the young woman seemed to absorb information like a sponge.
"Just a sec..." Ez responded, but when she lifted her head, the man had already disappeared.
Torn with indecision, Ez finally decided to wait for Owens and give him a good oral whipping when he returned. She could understand his reluctance to have two women stand over him while he urinated, but the buddy system was in place for a reason. It wasn't like she had never seen a penis before...and the same was true for Sammy. Sometimes men could be so infuriating.
After ample time had passed, Ez started to pace, worry setting in. She called out to him using their special signal--an owl's hoot--and waited, listening intently. She realized suddenly that the silence was complete...when had the night insects stopped chirping? She turned to Samantha, waving the girl over to her and putting a finger to her lips. She crept forward, Sammy copying her movements and keeping to the shadows as much as possible. When they came to an outcropping, Ez scooted around, pressing herself to the rough surface, leading with her hand.
A mix of smells hit her senses as she rounded the edge--first, the heavy odor of ammonia, then, copper. In the dim light she could see a dark patch and she bent to dip her fingertip into the substance, cringing at the warmth.
"Sam...you have to go," she whispered, putting her mouth as close to the girl's ear as she could. "Wake up the camp...anyway you can." She could see the girl's reluctance. Her fear. "I have to look for Owens..he could still be alive." She put her hands on the girl's shoulders. "Keep low..stay to the shadows. But you have to go fast." She gave the girl an encouraging nod, knowing this was breaking her own rule to stick together, but there was no way she could do both--not if there was a chance at saving Owens.
Finally gathering up her courage Samantha nodded. She would go wake up Jackal. He would be able to help find Owens--she was sure of it. She wasn't going to let Ezra down. She took off at a slow jog, doing just as Ez had instructed, not knowing that two sets of eyes were watching her.
Hidden behind a clump of trees, two darkly dressed men, who liked to refer to themselves as "salties", watched as the buxom blonde headed back towards her camp. They had been watching the two girls creep their way around the rocks--although it wasn't until the taller one had whispered that they had realized that she too was a woman. Both men wore grins, the heavier set LaSeur sporting a full beard. In charge, he pointed to the blonde and then to his companion, and then they split up.
Ezra found Owens a hundred yards from the rock, lying in a thickening pool. It had been easy enough to find him...she had simply followed the blood trail. She knelt by his side, her hands pressed to the gaping wound on his head, knowing she was doing nothing, but unable to stop herself. The man tried to speak and she shook her head. "Shhh...help is coming. Just hold on." Then his breath hitched and his chest fell, no other sound coming from him. Ez bowed her head, cursing silently while she wiped her hands in the sand.
Just as she was rising, Ezra heard the sound of a twig snapping right behind her and she turned quickly, seeing a dark figure almost upon her. The man laughed at her surprise, a deep and resonating sound that sent chills down her spine. Fight or flight? she screamed to herself, grabbing for her gun in its holster. Despite his size, the man was fast, and before she could even lift the gun out, he had gripped her hand in his, squeezing, his much larger appendage swallowing hers. The small bones in her hand were ground together and she reacted instinctually, bringing her knee up to connect with the man's upper thigh. He bellowed, his hand loosening enough to allow her to twist free from his grip. ...and she ran, flight winning out over fight this time. She ran blindly, deeper into the wastes, before a shadow stepped out from the trees and snagged her from behind.
"Hey LaSeur...need a hand with this wild cat?" called her newest captor, his hand gripping the back of her leather jacket as she struggled. With a quick move, Ez drove both of her arms backwards, allowing the coat to slip from her arms. For a brief second she thought she was free--but she was hit from behind, the force of LaSeur's body contacting hers sending her to the ground, his heavy weight holding her in place. With a grunt, he grabbed a handful of her hair in one hand and twisted her right arm behind her back with the other.
"Done fighting? Or do we have to get real nasty?" he growled in her ear, twisting her arm higher until she groaned. He pulled her head back and slammed it against the rocky ground until she stopped struggling. "Get me a rope--gonna tie this bitch up good and tight. ...and don't forget to get her weapons."
Sammy had made it past their look-out spot and started to pick up her speed as the camp came closer, her confidence increasing with each step. She never heard the man running behind her and never saw his rifle sweep in front of her feet, tripping her up. She fell forward, her momentum crashing her to the ground in a tumbling roll. Stunned, she looked up, seeing a tall slender man looking down on her with a lopsided grin. He was panting, his eyes riveted on her breasts, his eyebrows lifting when he saw her look at him. For a moment she froze, unable to think, but all that changed in a heartbeat when the man reached for her.
With a quick gab, Sammy kicked her foot against the ground, pushing herself backwards as she reached for her gun. She did not take the time to aim, just pulled the trigger once it was pointing in his general direction. The bullet whizzed past him and he cackled, a high pitched chitter-like sound. She remembered Ez's words..."wake the camp"...and she screamed then, loud and clear, the sound cut short by a blow to the side of her head.