First Page: DARK HOUSES – YA Dystopian
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The forest was noisy. Wind ruffled the leaves, birds sang, and something small and innocent scurried through the duff nearby. Caylen liked a noisy forest; it was when things got quiet that she started to worry.
She moved forward quickly but carefully, being sure not to add any sounds of her own to the din around her. A flash of motion off to the right barely caught her attention; it was small, moving parallel to her path — just a bird. There was a shape up ahead, though, something strange about it, almost blending in to the shadow of a large oak, but not quite… something just not right. She raised her left fist in the air, waited long enough to be sure that the signal had been seen by those traveling behind her, and then lowered herself closer to the ground and moved off the path into the undergrowth. It was tougher going, there; she could feel the forest start to notice her. Still not alarmed enough to be silent, but watching.
She crept forward, and by about ten strides from the object her brain finally started to process the shape. She could make out a leg, covered in a dark fabric, stretched out from the larger bulk resting against the tree. There was a boot on the foot, nothing fancy. It was much the same as the boots on Caylen’s own feet, although hers were more worn. She eased closer, looking for a trap, ears and eyes open for any changes or danger. Her bow was a nuisance, the only part of her that wouldn’t bend, wouldn’t mold itself to the forest floor, but she needed it; there was no point in getting somewhere quietly if she was unarmed when she arrived. A little nearer, and a little further around the side, and it became clear that the body slumped against the tree was no danger to her, and would never be a danger to anyone again. She had to be sure, though, so she found a fist-sized rock in the undergrowth and lifted herself up just long enough to throw it, hard, at the body.
The rock hit with a soft sound, tumbling to the ground rather than bouncing off the hard muscle of a living shoulder, and the body didn’t move. Caylen had her answer. She eased out towards the path, still cautious, but not alarmed, and when she got back into sight of those following her she raised her arm again, this time with a flat hand that she jerked forward. Come on.
She walked over to the body. It had been there at least a few days, from the look of it. No animals seemed to have found it yet, which was strange, but a careful sniff confirmed that the corpse was just starting to smell. The clothes were nothing special, but there could be something useful on the body; Caylen made sure she kept the smile from her face as she turned to greet Connell, the band’s second-in-command. “I’d check it out, but I’m on point.”
Connell peered down at the corpse. “Looks like one of us.” One of them. A Nomad, he meant. Connell crouched to get a better look at the face, then shook his head. “Hard to tell, now, but he doesn’t look familiar.” He glanced back at the group of nomads gathering behind him. “Romy, check him out.” He jerked his head down the path. “And you, Cay – if you’re on point, get your ass on point.”