Anger blazed through Alex’s eyes, coursing through his body. It fueled him, gave him energy. He would not sit idly by any longer. He had waited a week, a whole week of inner turmoil, for Dale to appoint him leader, or, better yet, send him off alone.
Throughout the course of the week, he had lashed out at those around him, made reckless decisions, and jumped to conclusions. He had driven more than one person to tears and had had multiple complaints filed against him. He had made sure of it. He was causing discord, throwing a tantrum, all to get Dale’s reaction. Alex yearned for Dale’s disapproval, for him to strike out at Alex, to punish him. All week Alex had tried and tried to get Dale to give him a reason to leave. To give up on him. To cut the thread holding Alex to this place. But Alex had waited long enough. He was ready to cut the thread himself. And cut it he did.
Looking back on it, he knew he wasn’t thinking. He had walked out on the only place he had ever known, the only safe place he would ever know, but he didn’t care. He didn’t think, he felt. He knew he couldn’t bear being cooped up in there any longer. He couldn’t bear the shame of needing to stay hidden, protected. He wished to prove himself. To earn respect. He didn’t care about the consequences. He wanted to show that he didn’t need anyone to take care of him, to baby him. He could manage just fine on his own, he thought.
So he walked out. And he didn’t look back. He brought nothing but the clothes on his back, Jeremy’s letters in his pockets, and a head full of stubbornness.
In retrospect, that was probably not the best decision on his part.
They found him curled into a ball, shivering and afraid. He had hidden in Redwood Forest, a place infamous for its magic. They, of course, were Michael and Ben. In Michael’s hand was Alex’s dagger.
Without hesitation, Michael offered his hand to Alex to help him up. Alex, embarrassed, stuck his hand out shakily and gripped Michael’s hand with surprising strength. Michael pulled him to his feet, and the two boys looked at each other for a minute, until Michael cleared his throat and handed Alex his dagger – the same dagger that Alex had once placed at Michael’s neck.
Yes, that had been during a practice fight and Alex never would have killed him, but the intensity and adrenaline were still there. The possibilities of what could have happened had swirled around in both boys’ heads. Michael handing the dagger over was a symbol of peace, a symbol of trust. Alex looked him in the eyes, studying him quizzically, before grasping the familiar handle of his trusty weapon. Michael nodded.
It wasn’t a relationship, but it was a start.
Ben scanned their surroundings. Trees towered around them for what seemed like forever, the branches ragged and defined, ready to reach out and grab unsuspecting travelers. Leaves filled the ground, making satisfying crunches whenever someone moved. Aimless wind whistled eerily around them, bringing with it the occasional howl of a restless animal.
“We should leave.” Ben’s voice was steady and calm, but with a hint of urgency.
“There is no way out. It is a maze, a hopeless tangle of trees and horrors. How did you even find me?” Alex responded.
“It wasn’t actually that hard,” Michael chimed in. “Dale was receiving letters from Jeremy too. He figured that the words ‘a forest so immense you can’t walk five feet without being lost’ would lead you here. Dale told us the trick with Redwood Forest is that you can only navigate it if you picture the person you are searching for in your head. The forest will lead you to that person, one way or another. I assume you were searching for multiple people, conflicted on where to go, and that is why you were trapped here.”
“If you say so. Who are we picturing to get out of here?”
“Well,” Ben started, “I thought that much was clear.” He paused, taking a breath. “We are picturing Jaq Stone. Time to hunt down an army.”
And off the three went. The Trifecta united at last, journeying through the unknown to fight an unwinnable fight, to save a safe haven, to complete the impossible.
Humanity is a powerful thing.