I am so happy to have this done.
so SO happy.
So to PUMP YOU UP for Friday's release, here is the first chapter in Ordinary.
Ally stood on the steps outside Heath's office, gazing up at the clear sky. It had rained for two days and nights, not letting up except for a few moments here and there. The roads were almost completely hidden under large puddles of water, except for a few spots of concrete poking out here and there. The dirt areas of Champaign had turned to thick mud, and had become play areas for the children in town. The rain had never bothered Ally until now.
She had wanted to leave Champaign as soon as they had gotten back from the City. She had even gone as far as to pack her bags and grab a map from Max's basement to come up with a quick plan. Max had spent hours trying to talk her down, and even Stosh had stepped in.
"Ally, think about this." Max had said to her as she did circles in his basement.
"We need more time to plan," Stosh had added.
Ally had stopped and glared at them both. "I don't want to wait around here any longer than necessary. Not with Heath sitting in his office and planning out ways to destroy the City. I just risked my life to save all of those people, and for what?”
"He isn't going to destroy the City," Max had pointed out. "Just return it to it's former self... pre-virus."
Ally had moved toward him then, wishing she still had her abilities to knock him back. Her fists would have to do.
Stosh had grabbed her from behind and held on tight with an arm around her waist. "Let's just wait a few more days and settle on a plan. I'm not saying stay, Al, because I want to leave just as much as you do. But we can't going running into the Wilderness, in the middle of the night, when there may be Rogues hiding out there."
Ally had relaxed against her brother.
Max had looked at her with a mix of concern and regret.
They had planned on leaving three days after that conversation. It was enough time to make plans, gather supplies, and hunt down Rogues outside of Champaign. The hunting parties had found two groups of Rogues; one with eight and another with five. They had all been cured and were recovering in the jail, which was now more of an infirmary.
Two days into planning the storms had come and they decided to wait it out.
Now the rain was gone, the skies were clear, and they were headed out in an hour.
Ally, Stosh, and Sabine.
Willow would be staying behind to have the baby in Champaign. Once Ally found the southern City, and they knew they were safe, she would come back and get her.
Max stormed out of the building, his eyebrows furrowed and his blue eyes fierce.
"Heath is ready to see you," he said before stomping down the stairs.
Ally watched him disappear into the woods, knowing he was headed toward the abandoned part of Champaign. The place he had taken her to several weeks ago, to show her his hopes for the future. She wondered if he still had the same dreams, knowing that his uncle had bigger plans and knowing that change was coming.
She turned and walked into the building, knowing just where to find Heath now. He was seated at his desk, not staring at the wall but through it. She recognized a man deep in thought, but she didn't care at the moment.
"Heath," she said in greeting as she took a seat in front of his desk.
"Ally," he responded. "You wanted to see me."
"You probably know that we're leaving this morning," she said to him. "I'm meeting Stosh and Sabine in an hour."
Heath just nodded.
It had been hard for her to ask Max to set up this meeting. She didn't really want to see Heath, or talk to him, but she would be naive to think that they didn't need his help.
"Would you be willing to give us some of the guns to take with us, in case we encounter any Rogues along the way?"
Heath nodded again. Or maybe he hadn't stopped nodding. He looked tired, older somehow.
"Yes, of course, take whatever you need. Not just guns," he responded. "You know where the warehouses are."
Ally nodded and stood. "Thank you," she managed through gritted teeth.
"I am sorry," Heath said before she left, "that it came to this."
"Me too," Ally said, not even bothering to turn and look at him.
The meeting was just how she wanted it: short and to the point. Stosh and Sabine had arrived at the steps, their large packed bags in hand. Max had retrieved the large packs from the warehouse on the second day of planning, saying he thought they had been used for camping and hunting trips in the old world.
"We need to go to the warehouse and get them ourselves, but we can have the guns," Ally told them.
"I'll go with you," Stosh said. "Sabine, can you stay with the packs?"
She just nodded, twirling her red hair around her finger. She hadn't been quite the same since they came back from the City. The war against the Rogues had affected her, watching people die and her home be ripped apart. She was distant these days, and really only spoke with Stosh.
Once they were far from the building Ally looked over at Stosh. "How is she?"
Stosh shook his head. "Upset. Depressed. Distant. A few other things, too."
Ally put her hand on her brother's shoulder. "She'll be back. That was a lot for any of us to take in."
"What if it gets worse, Al?" he asked. "We don't know what we are walking into down south."
"She agreed to come," Ally said. "She knows the risks. We have to take the chance. It’s either that or stay here, where another war is brewing."
"You were so quick to jump into the first war. What about this one?" Stosh asked.
"Things have changed," she responded. "Luke has changed, the City has changed, and I'm not so sure this is a war I can stop. I don't think it will be violent like the war with the Rogues. I think there will be a lot of verbal back-and-forth.”
They walked the remaining distance to the warehouses in silence. She knew which warehouse the guns were stored in, and they headed straight there. She rapped on the door three times, and then twice again, in a musical tone. The door creaked open and a familiar face peered out at them.
"Lilla!" Ally said excitingly, but then her smiled faded. Lilla looked different. "You're...."
"Ordinary," Lilla responded.
"Did he..." Ally couldn't speak through the anger.
"No!" Lilla said quickly. "I volunteered. I said I would, we all did."
Ally thought of all the Exceptionals she had spent the night with during the raid. The same night Stosh and Sabine had been taken to the City.
"Why?" Ally asked.
"It was the least we could do, after all Heath has done for us. He needed to test the gas."
Understanding dawned on Ally. She hadn't even thought about how he had managed to develop the gas, or how he knew it even worked. She was suddenly glad that she hadn't heard of this before she had gone to see him. It would have been a less civil conversation.
"We need guns," was all Ally said.
Lilla nodded and held up one finger.
She returned ten minutes later with a black duffel bag and handed it to Ally.
It was full and heavy.
"Come with us," Ally blurted out. "Come south."
Lilla's eyes widened with surprised.
"I... I shouldn't. My brother, and the others," she stuttered. It seemed very unlike the Lilla that Ally had first met.
Understanding hit Ally. Lilla was lost without her abilities.
"We could use one more to make our group an even number," Ally said with a smile.
Lilla smiled. "Really?
Ally nodded. "You can always come back."
Lilla stood in the doorway, biting the corner of her lip.
"Okay," she responded with a smile. "I'll grab my things."
“Grab a pack and fill it with clothes, blankets, and dry food." Ally told her. "Then meet us at the steps outside Heath's. Quickly."
Lilla nodded and then disappeared.
"Outnumbered three to one," Stosh said with a sigh.
"I'm sorry, I don't know why I invited her, it just felt like the right thing to do," Ally said.
"Replacing Willow?" Stosh asked.
"She should be with us," Ally responded. "It doesn't feel right without her."
Stosh nodded. "You know why she can't come."
"I do," Ally agreed. "We started out with four, and four we'll be when we reach the southern City."
Stosh took the gun bag from her and slung it over his shoulder. They took the walk back into town more slowly, not in as much of a rush knowing that Lilla had to gather her things now. When they reached the steps, Sabine was sitting at the top, clutching her pack and looking pale.
Stosh rushed to her side. "Sabine? What happened?"
Sabine looked past him and straight at Ally.
"He's here," she croaked.
Ally raised one eyebrow and shared a nervous glance with Stosh. Was Sabine losing it?"
"He's here," she said again.
"Who?" Ally asked.
"In there, with Heath." Sabine pointed at the door. "Luke."
Ally's heart stopped beating and for a moment she was sure she was going to pass out. Her body tingled almost painfully, and she stumbled forward.
"Ally, wait..." Stosh said.
But Ally was already running toward the building.
Ally wasn't sure what she was expecting to find in Heath's office.
A dead body?
Two dead bodies?
Heath and Luke grasping each other's throats?
Instead she found a very calm Heath sitting at his desk, and a very calm Luke sitting across from him.
Max was leaning against the wall, looking pissed off.
Three pairs of eyes turned to look at her.
Ally met Luke's eyes first. Then she remembered the last time she looked into those eyes; in his room, in his bed, when the pregnant Ordinary came in. He hadn't changed much in a week. His dark hair was buzzed again, but other than that he was still tall and lean, his muscles showing underneath this shirt.
Her eyes flicked over to Heath, who was trying to sit up straight and appear in charge. Then they flicked to Max, who had gone back to using his eyes to bore a hole into the back of Luke's head.
Ally wasn't sure exactly what she should say, but she sure wasn't going to miss the rest of whatever conversation they had been having. She slid into the chair next to Luke and waited.
"Heath and I were just discussing a peace treaty." Luke spoke first.
"Oh is that right?" Ally responded.
Heath nodded reluctantly. "Lukin here would like to postpone my plans for one month."
"Or you could just call it off," Ally added.
Heath shot her a glare and she returned it.
"Why one month?" She asked, forcing herself to look at Luke.
"I figured it would be enough time for us to reach the southern city, and come back again," he responded lightly. "I told Heath that if I don't return by then, he is free to do as he pleases."
Luke spoke as though he were talking about the weather. Slightly interested but not enough to show emotion
Ally's mouth hung open and she looked at Heath, and then Luke again.
"I've agreed," Heath said.
Ally groaned. "You've got to be kidding me."
"I'm going too," Max piped in.
"Max," Heath growled.
Suddenly Ally understood what they had been arguing about just an hour ago. Max wanted to travel south with them. She had been surprised when he hadn’t volunteered during their planning. Champaign was his home. His friends and family were here, and he didn't really have a reason to leave.
Except maybe Ally, but she had made it clear that they were just friends. At least, for now. A future with Max had seemed impossible with him in Champaign, but now that he was coming south with them, the possibility was back on the table.
"No," he held his hand up. "I'm old enough to decide for myself, and I'm going. Someone from Champaign should be on this trip, as a representative." Max was reaching now. "I can bring back information."
Heath didn't buy it, and neither did Ally, but neither said a word.
Max eyed Luke cautiously.
Luke was back to watching Ally.
"So, can I join you?" Luke asked her.
He was asking for her permission. She wondered what would happen if she said no. Would he go anyway and travel by his own means? As much as she didn't want to admit it, they could use him in their group. He would be the only Exceptional, and a powerful one at that.
Also, Ally needed him.
She wasn't ready to point out that it would take much longer than a month to go where they were going. It had taken almost as long for them to get to Champaign and it wasn’t really that far from the City, just a handful of hours by transport.
She sat up straighter and tried to appear casual and uninterested. "Yeah, of course."
The corner of Luke's mouth pulled up into a smile. "Good, because I have some surprises."