It was with pressing concern that the four of them—and Cesium in sleep mode—made their way back to the tent. Aden had bruised his arm disastrously during his fall when he was with Charlotte, but as they walked, the pain seemed to ebb him back into consciousness. They were all exhausted from rowing the drifter to Spiro. But from the remnants of the tropical storm, trying to scour a humid forest full of dangers, twists, and turns for a robotic Great Dane and somehow managing to get split up in a mudslide, it was no wonder they had not passed out on their feet.
Charlotte, on the other hand, kept looking over her shoulder to the cavern they had just been lifted from. She had seen stones decorating the walls but did not know how to address them. It was one thing if everyone was in top shape and stable to mention them, but she decided it was in everyone’s best interests to come back when they were rested and properly looked after.
Keeping the information to herself was not as hard as she thought it would be. No one mentioned anything about the cavern as they maneuvered through the bedrock made with a makeshift palisade.
“I noticed this on our way in from the southeast side that most of this path was man-made, meaning there is probably some village or town nearby,” Damien examined the palisade with his hand on his chin.
“It’s relatively in good shape too,” Aden—dark and gloomy as he normally was—muttered in front of the group.
“That must mean they have maintenance on this path at least monthly or biweekly at best. If you look at the intricate floor slabs they have installed, you can see where it was cemented in,” Damien was on his haunches as he replied while examining the floor.
Xavier gazed over his shoulder to see Charlotte wandering slightly away from the three of them. “Hey, Charie!”
The boys glared at Xavier when he called the girl this, and he amended himself. “I mean Charle. I didn’t mean any disrespect.”
“Huh?” Distracted, Charlotte shrugged her shoulders. “You’ve been calling me ‘bestie’ and Lottie this whole entire time, and you’re getting flustered from calling me Charie?” She chuckled before explaining to them with an amused expression.
“Charie was my nickname since I was a kid, but I know when Charie was made.” She paused before she excitedly turned her attention back to the boys. “Sorry, you may not know her since it was Olivia’s first invention. Charie was a makeshift droid that she made to babysit my younger brother when she and I had to go to school. My brother kept calling her Charie, so it stuck too. I really loved her. I wonder if she’s still in storage.”
The three of the boys stood uncomfortably in their silence while the girl continued her pace a couple of steps away.
It took Xavier a few moments before swallowing the huge lump in his throat to respond back. “Just be sure not to go too far away, okay? We’ll be discussing what our next actions will be.”
“Mmm hmmm,” Charlotte responded absentmindedly to the men’s obvious discomfort. She figured they were probably concerned about the lack of traffic coming from maybe a nearby village of men and women.
Normally, she would have tagged along in the conversation, adding in that the technology was far ahead based upon what she had seen with the palisades, but her mind was far too jumbled to have a working conversation. She was too busy kicking some small stones off the path into the tiny divots, and then she decided to walk slightly ahead of the group. They had stopped walking to investigate the origin of the stones now, and that was something Charlotte was not interested in.
Besides, she was still thinking back to the last twenty minutes of being in the cavern with Aden alone. The steamy look, how soft he pressed his lips to her skin, only to add some slight bit of urgency, how she was lost in his touch.
Out of focus, she ran into one of the brothers as she rounded the corner. “I am so sorry!” Her brain felt that something was out of order, but she nonetheless apologized. If it was Aden she ran into, that would have been mortifying for her and her nerves. But for some reason, she felt that no one should have been in front of her. She did recall passing by the group briefly.
Turning her eyes up to the male, she immediately recognized that it was definitely not Aden. “’Ello, Poppet.”
“What’s a wee lass like yourself doing in these parts?”
“Is that a robot dog?”
“Looks to me like we found our stragglers,” another replied with a sneer.
“Oh, goodie, we have ourselves some more specimens,” the one farthest away from the group of ten men merely uttered and motioned the men by Charlotte to capture her.
It had to be a hoard of men with drawn swords, daggers, and rifles. Some were wearing the state’s uniform, and oddly enough, some were wearing what the pirates normally wore.
“You have got to be kidding me!” Charlotte replied with exasperation. Rowing, losing a robot dog, getting exhausted and injured to the point of breaking down, and now this.
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