“Oh God, how are we going to get through this?” Moira asked as she stared across the desert.
“It’s so hot!” Lily exclaimed.
Moira gave her a withering look. “It’s only going to get hotter,” she reminded her.
“It’s only twelve miles,” Will shrugged. “That’ll take, what, four hours?”
“Are you crazy?” Moira asked him. “It’s supposed to be up to almost hundred and ten degrees today! It’s going to take way longer than that. We have to go slow, and stop to rest a lot. We need to drink a lot of water too.” She held up a container of water. “I hope this is going to be enough. I don’t think there are any reservoirs out there.”
Adrian and Jesse were still smearing sunscreen on themselves. “You realize that’s going to take a while to start working?” Will asked.
Adrian gave him a wide grin. “We want to tan, but not burn.”
Moira rolled her eyes at them. “The sun’s not even out yet you guys. It won’t be for a few hours.”
“Yeah, but if it comes out before we’re done, we’re ready!” Jesse chimed in.
“You two are idiots,” she said. “Do you even realize that we’re risking heat exhaustion, heat stroke, dehydration, and probably numerous sun-related illnesses?”
Adrian grinned. “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“I look ridiculous in this hat!” Lily wailed.
“It’s not a fashion show,” Moira reminded her. “No one’s going to see us. Besides, we’re all wearing the same thing.” She pointed at her own floppy wide-brimmed hat.
“Let’s get this over with before the sun comes up,” Jesse grumbled. “I want to get the hell out of here and go lay by a pool somewhere.”
Will threw the sunscreen into his pack and they began their descent into the valley. It was slow going. They slipped and slid in the sand.
Partway down, Lily’s ankle turned under her and she started sliding. Adrian and Jesse immediately ran after her. When they caught up to her, she had stopped sliding and lay on her side. She was crying.
“Lil, you gotta stop crying,” Adrian told her.
“Why?” she sobbed.
“Because you’re losing fluids and we don’t have enough water to replace them. We don’t want you to get sick.”
She sniffled a few more times. By the time Moira and Will had caught up to them, she had stopped. Adrian and Jesse pulled her to her feet and Adrian helped her dust the sand off. She turned to her brother. “I want to go home.”
“I know, Lil, but we can’t. We gotta finish this. If we don’t finish this—if we don’t win—we could all go to jail. You don’t want that, do you?” Adrian asked.
She shook her head. “No. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go home.”
“I know, Lil. But I need you to be strong. Can you do that for me? For Jess?”
“How about being strong for us too?” Moira called. “I’m sick of your whining.”
“Oh will you just stop being such a bitch?” Lily shouted.
Moira stared at her in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“I’m sick of you being so mean to me!”
“I wouldn’t be so mean to you if you would quit your damn whining and do something useful for a change!” Moira flung back.
“Maybe if you would leave me the hell alone then I could!”
Moira smiled. “Well, it’s about time you got a backbone.”
“Uhhh . . . I hate to interrupt this lovely conversation, but I think I saw something moving over there.” Will pointed to the right of them.
Everyone was instantly on alert. “What did you see?” Jesse asked.
“I’m not sure, but it looked human.”
Lily gasped. “Do you think it was one of those Hunters?”
This time, they all saw the shape moving in the distance. It definitely looked human, and it was moving toward them.
“Run!” Adrian ordered.
He grabbed his sister’s hand and started dragging her behind him. The others took off after them. The wind picked up as they were running. Sand flew all around, blinding them.
“I think I see a dune we can try to hide behind,” Will tried to shout over the wind, hoping that the Hunter wouldn’t hear him.
They struggled toward the place that Will pointed toward, which looked to be a mile or more than their present position. Moira tripped and fell. Her ankle rolled beneath her. She fought to regain her feet. When she tried to put weight on her ankle, she cried out and collapsed to the ground again.
She was quickly being left behind. No one had noticed her fall. She tried to yell for her teammates, but her mouth quickly filled up with sand. She grimaced and spat it out. Obviously, that wouldn’t work. She closed her eyes and concentrated. Help, she thought.
She opened her eyes. No one had turned around. Help! This time, she tried to throw the thought out toward her teammates.
She almost cried in relief when she saw Will pause. He turned around, frowning. He finally noticed Moira lying on the ground and floundered through the sand toward her. “What happened?” he asked when he reached her.
“I twisted my ankle,” she shouted above the screaming wind.
“Can you stand?”
She shook her head.
Will didn’t hesitate. He reached down and picked her up. “Hold on!” he ordered, then started to run after the others.
They finally reached the dune and ducked down behind it. “I’m not sure this is a good idea,” Moira told them after Will placed her on the ground.
“Why?” Adrian asked.
“Because the wind might pile the sand up back here. We could get covered.”
“Oh crap. I didn’t think of that.” Adrian thought for a minute. “Let me try to see if the Hunter is still out there.” He slowly stood up, and peeked around the dune. He edged around the corner and soon the rest of the team couldn’t see him anymore.
They waited what felt like an eternity. They tried to take advantage of the time to rest, but they began to worry if Adrian had been captured.
The wind had begun to die down, when Adrian finally popped back around the corner. “Hey!” he said.
They all jumped. “I think the Hunter guy’s gone. I don’t see anyone,” he told them.
They made their way out from behind the dune. Everyone looked around, but they didn’t see anything either. Just more sand.
They began to walk again, the guys taking turns carrying Moira, who still couldn’t walk. When they finally reached the edge of the desert, they nearly collapsed in exhaustion.
“Hey, there’s our car!” Lily pointed.
“I wonder how it got over here?” Jesse asked.
“It was brought over for you, of course,” Chance Cagney said from behind them.
“Dude! How do you always show up out of no where?” Adrian asked.
Chance grinned. “I have my ways, Mr. Rayne.” He turned his attention to the rest of the team. “Well, I think you have all earned a reward. Enjoy the day—and night—off. You will find information about your reward tomorrow.” He turned and walked away.
The team all stood around, staring at each other. “Now what?” Jesse finally asked.
“Let’s find someplace to sleep,” Moira suggested.
They all agreed and headed for the car.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .