[Harlequin Girls --> Ema Ryan]
She didn't notice it, at first. It just seemed to be the natural progression of things. Hayley had been gone a while, the immediate area around their camp wasn't exactly filled with exciting diversions to keep Ema's attention on the umpteenth time she plodded through it, so the vaguely-circular paths she moved in gradually got wider. It was innocuous, she would wander a short distance astray to look at a strange-shaped tree, or to briefly consider trying to climb one with some conveniently low branches, only to decide against it and move on.
It was all so natural-feeling that she never noticed it had happened until she could no longer spot the clearing she and Hayley had camped in in the distance. To put it simply, Balls. Eloquent, too, Ema's got to keep up her standards of being absolutely inept with the English language, in spite of her rich vocabulary and wealth of literary pursuit. Yeah, Oh... bloody... balls! What the hell is wrong with me!? is the absolute best she can manage.
Wait. What was that strategy from before? The very night before, in these very woods, it had worked. What was it? Spirals. That's the one. If she'd been walking in sort-of-concentric circles around where she started, it stood to reason that Ema could find her way back if she walked in an inward spiral. Of course, that was assuming she knew which was "in" was. She'd made enough 360-degree turns on the spot looking for which way she'd come from to make herself well and truly disorientated, so precision was a crapshoot. The only option was the guess. Ema turned towards the direction she was vaguely sure the camp was in, then set off on a shrinking-spiral path towards it.
A few minutes in, it occurred to her to look for notable clearings on her map - she'd had the foresight to bring her daypack as well as her gun, luckily - so she started to rummage about for the map whilst still walking, glancing around furtively every few seconds to make sure she didn't walk into any trees or get snuck up on by some cunning devil. So it was rather ironic, she later decided, that it was between two such glances that she wandered straight into something even someone as spatially unaware as Ema Ryan should have seen a mile away. The mountain of a man that was Ma'afu Tuigamala.
True to form, there was only one thing she could say to introduce herself.
((Ma'afu Tuigamala continues from Never Take Friendship Personal))
He couldn't believe it.
For not the first time in his life, he couldn't even grasp a word in his mouth.
The announcements seemed so long ago, but the message still rang clear. He'd killed someone, killed Nick Reid. The same boy who he clashed with in the caves all those days ago. In a gap of memory so terrible that it had to be cut away like a browning piece of fruit skin from a perfect apple, he'd taken someone's life. And the announcements didn't stop there. To think that they would just stop there would be laughable and childish. It got worse, and it got to that point where he wasn't even sure if he still had the right to keep on walking around in adequate safety like this.
Jennifer was wrapped up in a long list of names the newest Danya or whoever had taken over his job now had read out in utter boredom. She was last, dead last. Disgustingly fitting how close that adjective was to the reality of what had hit him now.
He'd failed. Maf had never seen Jennifer, and now she got tangled in something he couldn't save her from. She was dead. It was the worst day in existence. Worse than hearing the death cries of his teammates, and his friends, mocked across the island by a fat man in a suit on a stretch of land so far away and detached. The girl he...the girl he knew he was in love with was gone, and he was left to grieve.
Some would call it silly how he realised how much he missed her after she was gone out of his reach. It was all just a high-school thing, it was all it was supposed to be. They'd have something, even if it was such a friendly thing that he could never see the feelings that they really shared, they'd enjoy what they had until graduation, and then they'd go their separate ways in life. That was all.
But after looking for her for so long, they evolved. A longing, he knew that if this was the last day they could ever spend together, he'd have to make it last, he'd have to do something to protect her, help her, anything.
And now there was nothing. Jennifer was gone, and he was left behind.
His mind wasn't sure how to react. He'd only stopped to refill a water bottle from the stream when they came on, after leaving behind his friends much longer ago. Maf had stopped. The bottle fell from his grasp when he heard his own name among the killers, tumbling down the stream almost comically, and his feet stumbled up the ledge behind him, backing away from an invisible assassin who weaved his name into the killers to besmirch him and commit the grandest act of treachery to his name.
Maf had slowly started to walk backwards, as though an entire squadron of his friends were standing knee-deep in the stream staring mouths agap at his name, and he could do nothing but back up against the tree closest and grasp it reflexively with his fingers, digging into the rotting bark and feeling a small colony of displaced ants hurry away in panic across the back of his hands.
But then the announcements ended with that name, and...
It had been hours ago now, it was dark. His body had slid down to the ground somewhere in that timeframe, and rooted there like the tree behind him, as the words were still floating around in his head.
He never even felt the small girl stumble into him as she blindly stumbled around following her map. He could hear a voice, an exclamation, but there was nothing to get him to get up.
God and all his angels couldn't unroot him from the ground.