Jenell's desolate, and pain-filled voice invaded the atmosphere as she disappeared out of sight.
Ashley was the first cry out when she saw what happened. It looked like a huge shadow crashed into Jenell's body then swept her away into the distance.
Ashley stood frozen in place, tears welling up in her eyes as she continued to stare blankly at the empty space where Jenell's body used to be.
Ashley's body trembled as she suddenly felt a warm drop of liquid hit her face which brought her back to her senses.
"What the" After blinking a few times, Ashley wiped the liquid from her face and a pungent odor invaded her nose. When she looked at her hand, it was covered in red.
"B-blood?" Ashley stared dumbly at her hand for a moment. The world suddenly grew so silent that she could even hear her own heartbeat. Her breathing grew erratic and she stuttered for a moment as she tried to take a deep breath. She felt a piercing pain in her chest which gave her a feeling as though her heart had stopped beating for a moment. Everything that happened just now seemed like a dream, no a nightmare. She turned her head to look at the other candidates and was greeted with their horrified expressions.
"Aaaah!" A young girl within the crowd screamed after seeing Ashley's blood-smeared face which instantly broke the deathly silence.
The young girl's scream seemed to have woken up the other candidates from their stupor. They all blinked a few times and looked back to the spot where Jenell was a moment ago then looked at Ashley's pale, blood-smeared face.
"Y-your face," A candidate said, his voice trembling as he pointing at Ashley.
The candidates started frantically looking around them to see if anything was approaching them as they huddled closer to each other. The forest was no longer safe.
"W-what was that?"
"Did you see that?"
"It happened so fast, I blinked, then she was gone!"
James had an ugly expression on his face as he looked at Sebastian, "What the hell was that thing!?"
"You're asking me!? How the hell should I know!?" Sebastian replied, his face seemingly competing with James'.
"It looked like a bird." Said a voice from the crowd. Everyone turned their heads towards the speaker. It was the candidate who was by himself without any other teammate.
"A bird? That's impossible! There are no birds in existence that big!" said someone from the crowd.
"I know what I saw." The young man replied with a frown on his face.
"Hey! What's your name?" Ashley asked while making her way over to him.
"Micah." The young man replied.
"Did you see which direction it took Jenell?" Ashley asked in a hurried voice.
"I can't say for sure. But judging from its trajectory, I would say north, towards the mountain," he replied.
Ashley nodded then started running in that direction.
"Wait! What do you think you're doing?" Sebastian called out when he saw Ashley running away from the group.
"What does it look like? I'm going after her!" Ashley shouted.
"Have you lost your mind!? Do you even know what that thing is? We need to stay together and keep moving forward!" Sebastian shouted back as he moved towards her.
"That's my best friend! I'm not gonna abandon her!" Ashley replied then ignored him.
"I'll come with you," Micah said which surprised everyone.
Ashley paused for a moment then looked back at Micah. "Alright," she nodded with a grateful look in her eyes.
"Are you two mad!? We just spent three hours walking in that direction. We only have about six hours of daylight left to find the southern base. Even if you do find that thing, it probably already killed her!"
"And what if she's still alive? Ashley replied in a cold voice. "I'm not gonna leave my best friend behind." She no longer paid Sebastian any attention, and then the two disappeared in the forest.
Sebastian was left standing there with a twisted, and dumbfounded expression.
"Let them go," James said, "That's their decision if they rescue her that's great if they die trying that's their problem."
"Tsk," Sebastian gnashed his teeth so hard that they almost shattered. "Let's go!"
Within the clear blue skies, a massive silhouette could be seen tearing through the heavens at terrifying speeds with a tiny figure in its grasp.
"Aaaah! Let me go! Put me down! Aaaah, let me go!" Jenell was struggling to break free but was completely powerless.
A sharp pain invaded her shoulders the more she struggled which quickly sapped away her strength. The pain was utterly unbearable. She felt as though she would probably pass out at any moment. Jenell found herself moving so fast through the air that the wind felt like blades across her skin. The exo-suit protected most of her body, but her face was completely exposed. Jenell narrowed her eyes and tried to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that held onto her, but was forced to lower her head because it felt like the wind would either snap or remove her head.
Jenell turned her head to look at her shoulder and was horrified to see four massive talons deeply embedded into her flesh. The blood that was coming from the wound was quickly blown off into the air the moment it leaked out. Seeing that bloody wound caused her to feel even more pain and she cried out once more.
A loud screeching sound pierced Jenell's ears which sent her mind reeling. The sound was so loud that she felt she was about to go deaf.
"A hawk!?" Jenell's face instantly blanched the moment she recognized the sound. Her complexion grew paler as time went on. Due to the severe blood loss, her body was growing weaker by the second.
Her fate was sealed. There was no way for her to break free.
The air grew thin the higher they flew and it became harder for her to breathe. Her vision grew blurry, and before long, she directly passed out.
Two silhouettes could be seen swiftly making their way through the dense forest. It seemed they completely discarded any thoughts of moving quietly and continued to make a beeline towards the mountain at the center of the island.
"There's a clearing up ahead." Said one of the two figures.
In the next instant, the two made it to an empty patch of land that had a clear view of the sky.
"There!" shouted one of the figures while pointing towards a tiny silhouette in the open sky that was quickly drawing away from them.
"Good call Micah," Ashley replied the moment she caught sight of the distant silhouette. She was relieved. They had not lost Jenell.
"It's heading towards the mountain, that's probably where its nest is" Micah added.
"It's not that far away. We should be able to make it in time," Ashley said. "Let's keep going."
The two adjusted their path and made another beeline in the direction the silhouette was heading.
An unknown amount of had time passed since Jenell fell unconscious. Her senses were hampered due to the severe loss of blood, she couldn't even feel the pain from her shoulders anymore, just a bone piercing coldness.
The hawk gave a loud cry as it entered a large opening on the side of the mountain. It seemed the cave wasn't naturally created and went deep into the mountain.
The hawk tossed Jenell's still unconscious body inside the cave before it landed. Jenell's body rolled for a distance until she finally collided with a wall. The pain from the impact woke her up and she groaned in pain as she coughed up a mouthful of blood.
Her vision was still blurry, and the smell of her own blood made her feel like death was quickly drawing closer. She glanced at the towering beast that stood a few feet from her and felt even more dread.
"I don't want to die like this..." Warm, sorrow filled tears started welling up in Jenell's eyes then started streaming down her face. She was completely powerless. She didn't even have enough strength to move a single finger.
"Someone, anyone, please help..." Jenell begged. She didn't know whether she said this out loud or silently to herself. But the moment she did, she heard the hawk quickly started making its way towards her.
*Boom, Boom, Boom*
A soft sob escaped Jenell's lips as the hawk continued to move towards her. Each step felt as though her heart was being crushed under the pressure.
The hawk was now a single step away from her body. Jenell lowered her head and tried closing her eyes but her tears kept flowing making it impossible to close them. She held her breath to try and stop the sobbing, but doing so caused her body tremble uncontrollably.
In that brief moment, it felt as though time had stopped. Jenell started recalling all that happened during her short life. Her 16 years of walking the earth flashed through her mind in an instant. There was so much that she wanted to do, and there were some regrets that she had yet to settle and make peace with.
A face suddenly surfaced within her mind. "Dante." She thought to herself.
She didn't know why, but in her final moments, for some reason, she thought of him. She didn't want to die yet, but she was forced into a situation where she had to accept it, even though unwillingly at that.
Jenell kept her eyes closed and prepared herself for the excruciatingly painful death to come.
Jenell let out a whimpering sound the moment the beast took that next step. She laid there on the ground expecting to feel its cold, hard beak tear apart her flesh and eat her alive.
However, against all expectations, the booms continued to resound throughout the cave, then they became soft and distant.
Jenell's palpitating heart finally calmed down and she cracked her eyes open, surprise written across her face. "I-I'm alive? W-where did it go?"
Jenell was shocked but confused, happy but confused. She would've never thought that she would live beyond that moment. Suddenly her eyes started streaming even more tears than before. Her body seemed to be venting all her pent-up emotions, all at once through her tears. She couldn't move, so all that she could do was lay there and cry.
After some time, Jenell started feeling a warmth on her shoulders. It felt like a warm hand was giving her a deep tissue massage. The feeling felt extremely soothing and she couldn't help but give a light moan.
Jenell used what little energy she had left to turn her head to and glanced at the wound on her shoulder. What she saw left a bewildered expression on her pale face. "W-what?"
The holes that were made by the hawk's talons pierced through her exo-suit and went deep into her shoulders. Jenell saw some 'silver liquid' slowly fill the holes in her shoulder, then gradually recreated the skin that covered that area, even the hole in the exo-suit. She was astonished! She continued to blankly stare at her shoulder then blinked a few times.
"Ha-ha..." Jenell gave a light laugh but then winced in pain immediately after. A tiny trail of blood leaked down the corner of her lips. It seemed she sustained some internal injuries earlier when she was tossed inside.
A moment later she started feeling the same warm feeling inside her body, then very soon. The pain was gone.
Jenell's breathing was now steady and she could feel some strength come back to her. She was still, however, anemic due to the severe blood loss.
Jenell struggled to her feet then slowly walked towards the entrance to the cave. When she arrived, she was greeted by a strong cold wind that actually managed to leave tiny slits on her face. She narrowed her eyes and look out into the distance.
She could see far into the distance but saw nothing save for the top of the clouds surrounding the mountain peak. She glanced down and saw a steep drop that went down for God knows how far and took a deep breath.
"I'm... at the mountain?
The air was even thinner now up here and she found it even more difficult to breathe. It felt like she was suffocating. Each breath felt like her lungs were scraping for more oxygen.
The wind was furiously assaulting her lithe body and she was forced to go back inside.
"What now?" she asked herself. She was thousands of feet above the ground with no apparent way to go back down. She turned around and stared at the tunnel that led deep into the mountain where the hawk disappeared a moment ago.
"I must be out of my mind." Jenell thought to herself. There was only one direction she could go.
Jenell took a deep breath, gritted her teeth then stepped towards the tunnel.