Nicole made her way the down the ladder, and she almost immediately wished she hadn't. Sidney was there, and she was definitely dead. Even from where she stood, a little bit away from the others, Nicole could see blood. She didn't want to get closer, to see whether any of the girl's bones had suffered compound fractures. She didn't want to know what damage had been done, what had been inflicted, directly or not, by Anthony. This was very different from considering injuries and death in a classroom setting. There was no chance of learning anything useful here, no possibility of setting things right. There was just a dead girl, and two feuding survivors, and Nicole powerless to help.
"I need a second," she muttered to the other two. "I'll be right back."
It didn't feel right, abandoning them when the tension was this thick, but Nicole needed to clear her head if she was going to do any good. She didn't want to let things fall apart again, didn't want to let someone else die while she was too stunned or distracted to act. She didn't want to mess up and push one of the others over the edge. She needed to be in top form here.
She walked away from Anthony and Janet and the body, got the tower and a bit of hill between her and them, stood and looked at the nearby jungle. She tried not to think about Sidney, about how the girl's consciousness had left her body forever, about how she probably wouldn't get a proper burial and her friends probably wouldn't get a chance to pay their respects.
Nicole took a few deep breaths. Sidney was dead. There was no helping that. There was still a chance she could help other people, though. There was a chance she could prevent things from devolving between Anthony and Janet. She hadn't heard any sounds of conflict yet, and even a little space and distance from the pressure was letting her regain her composure and confidence. She was pretty sure she could do this.
The key would be to get them to listen. Janet had seemed close to hysterical, and Anthony had seemed terribly distraught. Nicole needed them to pay attention to her, and she needed them in a position where they wouldn't try anything.
She had just what she needed to ensure all of that.
Nicole slipped the gun free, considering its weight and the smoothness of the metal. She wasn't going to shoot anyone. She almost emptied out the bullets, just to be sure, but that seemed unwise. Better to be prepared, to have the ability to fire a warning shot if it came down to that. She wasn't expecting it to. She wasn't even expecting to point the weapon at the two on the other side of the tower. All she'd have to do was make Janet aware of the fact that she was armed. Then they'd listen, or maybe Janet would leave. That would be okay too. It wouldn't be great—it was all too likely the girl would get herself killed with her attitude—but Anthony was the one Nicole trusted right now. It was time to act. She'd only been away for about thirty seconds. There was still plenty of time to make a difference.
She took a few more deep breaths, and wiped her eyes with her free hand. She hadn't quite been crying, but thinking of what had happened to Sidney had definitely caused her to tear up a bit.
She made it three steps back, not even close enough to see the others. Then, a hand came from behind her, snatching the gun away. Nicole was so shocked that she didn't even think to resist until a second later, and by then it was too late. The arm that was now holding her gun was locked around her throat, preventing her from screaming, and she felt another hand on the back of her head. Her air was cut off, and she started to panic, trying to claw the arm away and clear up her breathing again.
It didn't work. In a matter of seconds, her vision was fading, and it was all she could do to stay upright and conscious as she was dragged backwards into the jungle.
((Nicole Husher continued in Pursuit