CHAPTER V: The Truth is Out There.

A dull throbbing was the first thing that entered Lark Ravenís mind as it slowly, almost drunkenly, stumbled back towards consciousness. Slowly a bleeting noise joined in time with the throbbing, a low, pulsing sound that only magnified the throbbing in her head. Soreness soon followed, as her entire body made itself known, she took little relief in the knowledge that all her parts were intact and complaining loudly.

Eventually she realized there was light, just on the other side of her eyelids, that she was breathing, that there was something against her skin, and that, yes, she really was still alive. Tentatively, Lark opened her eyes, blinking against the light as her pupils were forced to adjust after a long period of relaxation. A small, tired smile crossed her face as she saw Sloane sitting in the chair next to her bed, his head at an odd angle and his eyes shutóobviously asleep.

Looking around the room, she quickly realized it wasnít her room at allóthe one at Garden, or the one at home. A small scrutiny showed it was the infirmary, which is where she should be if the throbbing in her head was any indication. She wondered briefly if it were possible to get knocked out and still pass her field exam and reluctantly admitted it probably wasnít.

Lark looked up as the door to the room softly opened, and her smile widened a little as she watched Rodor gently shut the door, careful not to make a sound. She realized he thought she was still asleep, and her grin turned slightly mischievous.

"Hello, Ro," she greeted softly, annoyed when the words came out a little grainy. Just how long had she been unconscious?

The red head jumped appreciatively, then turned around to look at her, a wide grin across his face, "Raven!" He exclaimed, blushing and lowering his voice when she winced, "Youíre awake! Thatís great! How are you feeling?" By now he was already at her side, his eyes glittering happily and his smile so wide it looked like it would break his face in half if it got any wider.

Lark couldnít help but smile back, "Like I was hit by a car," she said in answer to his question. It took a second for her to remember that was what happened and she chuckled a little, "Jeez, I was hit by a car, I should probably be dead." She coughed a little from the strain speaking put on her throat and Rodor handed her a glass of water. She drank enough that her throat wasnít burning anymore and continued.

"So, I guess I feel alright for being dead." Lark concluded, "Why arenít I dead, anyway?"

Rodor flicked his head toward Sloane, still fast asleep in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. "Sloane got you out," he answered, "He didnít say anything, of course, but I guess Squad B was near enough to see what happened. Zell saw the whole thing, Sloane pulled you away from the car just before it exploded, and carried you back to the boats."

Lark stared at the sleeping teen, "Sloane did all that?" She asked in a hushed voice, looking at her friend with a new found respect. Rodor nodded. Lark scowled suddenly, "The idiot, he could have been killed!"

"Yeah, but he wasnít," Rodor put in, "And thanks to him I donít have to find a new training partner."

Lark looked down, thoughts about her own mortality that had never really occurred to her before slowly milling about in her mind. "The car exploded after he pulled me away from it." She remembered from Rodorís story. "If he hadnít pulled me out, I would be dead. Really deadÖ God." She shivered. Part of her felt like crying, pulling Rodor into her arms and sobbing on his shoulder. Part of her felt like running, jumping, dancing for joy to still be alive. She was torn and could feel tears already prickling at the corner of her eyes.

"If it werenít for Sloane, I would be dead, right now." She said again, repeating her previous sentiments.

Rodor looked over at her uncomfortably, thinking about his own inevitable death as well, "Yeah, you said that before." He muttered, "Can weÖ talk about something else, please? Um, cause, you know, you arenít dead. Thatís whatís really important, right?"

Lark rubbed her eyes furiously, refusing to cry, "I guess," she agreed reluctantly, still not quite able to get over the fact that she almost died. She almost felt like she should be dead.

"How long have I been out?" Lark asked, shoving her unpleasant thoughts about death in a little closet in the corner of her mind. Maybe sheíd sort them out later.

"Two days," Rodor answered, "Well, the rest of yesterday, and then most of today. So more like a day and a half, I guess. We were pretty worried about you, Raven."

"Sorry," Lark said, "SoÖ" She took another drink of water as she tried to think of something else to say. "Oh yeah, we must have got the test results by now. Who passed?"

"Only four candidates," Rodor answered slowly, not meeting her eyes. Lark knew from that she hadnít been one of them. "Squall Leonhart, of course, and Zell Dinchtóprobably because he was on Squallís team. Uh, that transfer studentówhat was her name?óSelphieÖ"

"Tilmitt," Lark put in, "She was in our squad."

Rodor nodded, "Yeah, Selphie Tilmitt." He smirked and added, "Seifer didnít pass again, I heard he got about a weekís worth of detentions on top of it, mustíve done something really out of line."

"So, whoís the fourth person?" Lark asked, "You only said three so far, Squall, Zell, and Selphie. Did Sloane pass?"

Rodor shook his head, "No, but Nida did, he was the fourth person."

Lark frowned, "Sloane didnít pass? Even after he saved my life?" Her frown deepened and she locked eyes with Rodor, who was squirming nervously, "Or did he not pass because he saved my life?"

"Er," Rodor started hesitantly, "I umÖ well, I donít think that was the deciding factor, anyway."

Lark raised an eyebrow, "But he lost points for it, didnít he? Idiot, he shouldnít have come back for me!"

Rodor glanced around the room, clearly not comfortable with this conversation either. After a few seconds he quietly put in, "Well, Iím glad he went back for you, Raven." After another short pause he added, "And so is he. He wouldnít have wanted to pass if it meant you got killed."

Larkís expression softened immediately, "I didnít mean it, Ro," she said, "Iím really glad he did choose to save meóI just wish I hadnít needed it."

Rodor nodded in understanding, then grinned, "And being saved by a staff wielder, of all people! The humiliation!"

Lark laughed, "I suppose staffs are a lot more useful in prying up cars than a shotgun would beÖ Speaking of which, where are my things? My Remington?" She had grown a little partial to her shotgunóyour life depending on something kind of did that to you.

"It was a little damaged in the accident," Rodor slowly answered, "The blacksmithís got it now, she said it could be repaired easily and should be done in another day or two."

Lark smiled, "Good. God knows it would be awful if I lost that and had to switch to a staff."

Rodor laughed loudly, and Sloane shifted in his chair, his eyes blinking drowsily until they took in the two people before him. He was out of the chair and on his feet in a second, and it took Lark no longer to find herself enveloped in his embrace, and only a moment before she was returning it.

"I canít tell you how glad I am to see you awake," he murmured in her ear, holding her tightly like she might disappear if he let go.

Lark hugged him back just as tightly, "I imagine you must be at least as glad as I am." She responded.

Sloane smiled and slowly pulled back, "I canít believeÖ Raven, when I saw that carÖ and then there you were andÖ Hyne, I was so sure you were going to die!" He barely managed to finish and his voice cracked a little.

Lark saw tears in his eyes and felt her own welling up again, "JeezÖ donít cry, SloaneÖ" she whispered, but the tears started down his cheeks regardless and she soon felt them escaping her own eyes as well. "Now youíve got me started, too."

Despite the tears rolling down his cheeks, Sloane smiled at her, then pulled her into another hug, "Itís okay, Lark," he said, holding her tightly again, "I think itís okay to cry right now."

Lark weakly nodded, allowing her face to fall on his shoulder, and no longer fighting against the tears. "GuysÖ" She let out a weak laugh when she heard Rodorís pleading voice, and imagined that by now he had tears in his own eyes. A quick glance blurred by water showed her she was right, and she pulled on arm away from Sloane and opened it for him, Sloane doing the same.

Rodor didnít need any more encouragement than that, and when Dr. Kadowaki walked in she was surprised to see the three teens hugging each other as they cried. She watched them for a moment, her face softening into a smile as the image pulled on her heartstrings, and she slowly walked over to them, placing a hand on Lark and Rodorís shoulders, and gently drawing them apart, her hand moving from Rodor to Sloane as they slowly sat back, tears still running down their wet faces.

"Hush now, dears," she said, feeling particularly motherly, "Itís okay now, youíre all safe here, nowÖ"

Lark smiled weakly, wiping the tears from her face, "Thanks for helping me, Doctor," she said, then remembering she hadnít actually thanked Sloane yet added, "And you, Sloane."

"Thatís alright, sweetie," Dr. Kadowaki responded, her gentle hand slowly steering the girl to lay back on the bed. For once Lark didnít take offense at the name, "Thatís it, just lay back. Youíve had a close call, your body needs itís rest."

"I am kind of tired," Lark admitted, sinking back into the pillow.

"You should get some rest, Raven," Sloane agreed, "Weíll still be here when you wake up."

"Thanks guys," Lark said, "For everything." She slowly allowed her eyes to close and was soon drawn back into a healing sleep, but not before the familiar sensation of a cure spell swept over her.

When Lark woke up next she was slightly disappointed to find that neither Sloane nor Rodor was there. But Nida was sitting in the chair next to her bed, and looked up with a mix of emotions playing in his dark eyes. Confusion, surprise, joy, fearÖ Lark wondered how anyone could feel so many things at once, and then remembered the overload of emotions that had assaulted her when she realized she wasnít dead, and how close she had come to actually being dead.

"Hey," she said, giving the boy a small smile.

He returned it, "HiÖ"

There was an awkward silence and then Nida asked, "Are youÖ are you feeling betterÖ Raven?"

Larkís smile widened a little and she nodded, "Much. Almost as good as new."

He seemed to relax a little, "Thatís good."

Another silence and then Lark asked, "Where are Sloane and Ro?"

"Oh, Dr. Kadowaki kicked them out," he answered, something flashing through his eyes too fast for Lark to identify it, "She told them they couldnít come back till theyíd gotten some sleep and food."

Lark nodded in understanding, "Thatís good."

The silence that followed stretched out longer than the others, and it grew awkward just as quickly. Lark wasnít thinking about how close she came to dying, anymore, instead she was thinking about Nida, how he had kissed her, and then how heíd avoided her.

At length Lark broke the silence with the only thing that came to her mind, "You kissed me."

Nida blushed terribly and looked down, a small, embarrassed smile on his face. "Iím sorry."

Lark laughed in an attempt to relieve some of the tension, "Donít be. It was kind ofÖ niceÖ"

The boy looked up hopefully, "Really?"

Now Lark blushed, mentally berating herself. She hadnít really thought about what she wanted at all, what with the field test and almost getting herself killed. The whole situation with Nida had kind of slipped her mind. "I didnít mind so much." She said tactfully.

Nida looked around the room uncomfortably again and then hesitantly started, "Do youÖ" Apparently he lost whatever courage had started his question half way through.

Lark smiled softly and looked down, "IÖ I donít really know, Nida. Iím sorry, Iíve never really had to think about anything likeÖ well, like this before. And thenÖ well, and then I almost diedÖ Iím sorry, I donít really know what to do now."

Nida blushed again, eyes fixing on a point on the floor in between them, "IÖ donít really know what to do now, either." He said at length, "I justÖ I was so worried that youíd die, Raven. Hyne, I was so worriedÖ I wasÖ I was originally supposed to be in your group, but they transferred me to another oneÖ If I had been thereÖ"

"I still would have gawked stupidly a moment too long and almost been killed," Lark supplied, "Come on, Nida, nothing would have been different if youíd been there. There wasnít anything you could have done."

"StillÖ I wish I could have been there." Nida said.

There was another silence, although it wasnít as awkward as itís predecessors. "IÖ never really thought about dying before," Lark said eventually, almost faltering over the words, "I never thought that I wouldÖ that I couldÖ die. It justÖ didnít occur to me, I guess."

She looked up at Nida, "But now, I see. Thatís what this is all about, isnít it? Do you know how many retired SeeDs there are? How many have even reached the age of thirty? Every time they go out on a mission, they risk their lives. A single mistake andÖ itís all over. I donít think Iím ready to die, Nida."

"I guess Iíve never really thought about it that way, either," Nida admitted, "In this line of work, if you think about death too much youíll freeze up, and then what? You canít afford for that to happen in the middle of battle, or itíll become more than just a thought. I just think about what I have to do to get the job done. Itís just following orders, you donít really need to think. You canít really let yourself think."

"Rise, set; rise, setÖ I canít believe I got stuck with SD, itís so boring!"

"And the wind is so much better? It practically blows by itself."

The first man sighed inaudibly, leaning back on what you could only imagine was supposed to be a chair, "But itís the same thing every bloody day! Rise at six, set at seven. Over and over and over again. Just rise and set, rise and set, rise and setÖ"

A third man broke into the conversation, annoyance resounding in his unspoken words, "Itís no more than you deserve, meddling in the lives of mortals like that."

The second laughed scornfully, though no one could hear it, "Donít act all high and mighty, I didnít see you stopping us!"

"Nor do you see me complaining when Justice delves out duties where duties must be." The third responded reasonably, his voice that was not there calm to an extreme.

"Iíd like to see you say that when youíre stuck with a sun," the first complained, "How many times have I ordered it now? Rise, set, rise, set."

The third rolled his eyes, watching as the fiery orb moved ever so subtly backwards and forward through the sky at the words of the first. "And if you keep on like that you will end up extending the day by hours," he noted without amusement.

The first had the decency to look abashed, embarrassment radiating from his whole being, "I keep forgetting, but how long has it been? Far too long, a year perhaps, or ten. I donít know. Far too long. Besides, whatís a few hours, anyway, Iím sure no one will notice."

"To mortals a few hours is plenty to notice," the third replied seriously, "Be more cautious with your words. And itís hardly been three months, I am sure."

"Three months?" Interrupted the second, sight tearing away from the wind patterns covering the earth, allowing them to do what they would for a time, "I would guess double, at least."

"Maybe less," the third continued, turning his attention down to the earth, "I do not believe it is the season for hurricanes in the west."

The second quickly returned his attention to the wind, and cursed softly as he redirected the winds. The first groaned, "See? Even the winds are more interesting than this. Surely the sun doesnít need someone directing itís every movement. I could justÖ"

"No," the third interrupted, "You know yourself how important the ordering of the sun is. I remember last time it was left to itís own devices; stayed in the sky for well over 24 hours, we were forced to add time to the calendar because of it. It is a very lazy body, when left on itís own."

The first sighed again, "I know, but I grow so weary of directing it the same way day-after-day. Perhaps you would switch with me, just for a bit?"

"You would never come back," the third commented with a ghost of a chuckle.

The second interrupted again before the first could defend his honor, not looking away from the mischievous winds of the Atlantic. "What have they decided, anything, yet? Are they going to bring her home? It was a her, wasnít it?"

"It was a her, a mortal female," the third confirmed, "They have decided to look for her. They will be starting soon, no doubt, and she will be found shortly thereafter. No decision has been made about what will be done after, of course. Sending her back would create as many problems as it solved, but it will no doubt be decided once she has been seen."

"When was the decision made?" The first asked with interest, "We will start our counting from then, if there is no arguments."

"Yes, we will start our counting from then," the second agreed.

The third sighed and rolled his eyes again before replying with wholly silent words, "It was decided no more than nine days past." He answered, "I will inform you of your loss when she has been found."

Lark stretched exaggeratedly as she stepped into the cafeteria, Sloane on one side and Rodor on the other. "Itís good to be free," she told them, grinning widely.

Sloane laughed, "You make it sound like youíve been in detention for the last four days, not the infirmary."

"Iím not entirely convinced that would be worse," Lark said, making a face, "Hospital food is the worst! Iím ready for something real!"

"Alright!" Rodor agreed energetically, "Letís get pudding!" He ran over to the counter, Sloane and Lark staring after him. The two teens exchanged a look before shrugging and following after him.

They all sat down at a table a few minutes later, Rodorís pizza practically swimming in vanilla pudding, Larkís mountain of hotdogs was about ready to tip over, and both teens were laughing at Sloaneís hamburger.

"Just because I donít want to destroy my lunch doesnít make it boring," Sloane reasoned with a frown, "I have pickles on it."

"Ooh, way to be brave there, Sloane," Rodor laughed.

"At least he didnít drown it in pudding," Lark said, looking at Rodorís plate with disgust, "Youíre not really going to eat that, are you Ro?"

"Of course I am!" Rodor cried indignantly, "Have you ever even tried pizza pudding?" Lark shook her head. Rodor sighed, lifting the piece of dripping pizza to his mouth, "You donít know what youíre missing." He told her before taking a big bite.

Lark and Sloane laughed as Rodorís face drained of color, and his nose crinkled up in disgust. He promptly spit the bite back onto his plate and guzzled down half his water, dropping the rest of the pizza as if it were diseased.

"Itís not funny!" He cried as soon as heíd rid his taste buds of the foul sensation, "That stuff is nasty!"

"Iím so glad I donít know what Iím missing," Lark laughed. Sloane heartily agreed while Rodor pouted indignantly.

"Here," Lark said, handing over one of the hotdogs to her friend, who grinned before tearing into it.

"Too bad Nida had to leave," Rodor managed around a bite of his second hotdog a few minutes later.

"Yeah," Sloane agreed, "He was pretty down, wanted to see that you were okay before he left."

Lark colored slightly and pointedly finished chewing her mouthful of hotdog, "I was okay before he left," she said, "Dr. Kadowaki could have released me days ago."

"Yeah," Rodor agreed, "If she believed in releasing her comatose patients."

Lark rolled her eyes, "I mean after I woke up, Ro," she clarified, "I could have stayed in my room or something."

"Itís pointless arguing about the matter as it is already over," Sloane drawled, "Anything in particular you want to do, Raven? Classes donít start again for a few more days."

"You mean besides shove my Remington in Headmaster Cidís face and demand that he gives you the SeeD certificate you deserve?" Lark asked, a slight scowl masking her face.

Sloane rolled his eyes, "I told you, that wasnít your fault. I lost points on a couple of other parts, too."

"Is that a yes or a no?" Lark questioned innocently, not convinced that the boy was being entirely truthful.

"Yes, besides that." Sloane affirmed.

"We should go get your shotgun back from the blacksmiths," Rodor said, "Itís probably done now."

Lark nodded, "Alright, weíll do that," she agreed amiably, reaching down to pick up her last hotdog. She frowned down at the empty plate for a moment, casting a sidelong glance at Rodor who, noticing her gaze, shrugged innocently, his cheeks too full of food to say anything, and half a dog in each hand.

Lark rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to Sloane, "Iím just glad to be out of there."

"Still, we should do something special," Sloane insisted, "Rodor wanted to throw you a party, but we couldnít think of enough people to invite that you wouldnít blow down when they tried to encourage you."

Rodor laughed, bits of bun spraying onto his pizza-pudding disaster, "Hey," he managed after swallowing what was left of his current mouthful, "I still think itís a good idea. It would be funny."

"I donít think Dr. Kadowaki would appreciate it if I bring in any more injured students sometime soon." Sloane said.

"What?" Lark asked, "Is there a one student-per-month limit or something?"

"So what do you want to do after we pick up your Remington?" Rodor interjected loudly, causing Sloane and Lark to laugh again.

"How about we go down to the beach," Lark suggested with a shrug, "I donít think Iíve been down there yet."

With a small frown on his face, Sloane thought this idea over for a moment before slowly nodding, "YeahÖ I think we can do that. Rodor and I should be able to handle the field monsters in between here and there."

Lark raised an eyebrow, "Sloane, Iím not an invalid, I can take care of myself."

"You just got out of the infirmary," Sloane argued, "You shouldnít exert yourself too much."

Lark sighed loudly, "Itís not like Iím suggesting hardcore training or anything! If minor bit monsters make a nuisance of themselves, though, I think Iím perfectly capable of lending a hand. Itís not like aiming and shooting takes a lot of energy."

"Just leave any fighting to us," Sloane insisted, "If we need your help, weíll ask for it. Otherwise, you should take it easy."

Lark turned an annoyed gaze to Rodor who raised his hands defensively, "Oh, no!" He exclaimed, "Iím not getting in the middle of your love spat!"

Both teensí faces turned bright red simultaneously. "Weíre not having a love spat!" Sloane defended loudly, glaring at Rodor as he tried to force down his blush.

"God, no!" Lark agreed in like.

Rodor just grinned knowingly, "Sure you arenít." He stood before either of them could get another word in to defend their actions, "Well, letís go get your gun, Raven."

Lark followed with slight annoyance, her burning face slowly returning to itís normal shade. Sloane carefully fell in step with plenty of room between them, and glowered pointedly at Rodorís back.

They arrived in the smithy a few minutes later as a strangely quiet group. Rodor led them, grinning smugly, and both Sloane and Lark were trying to decide if it was safe to look at each other yet, and whether or not it would be particularly inhumane to kill a certain red haired boy. Lark was pretty sure it wouldnít be, but she still didnít have her weapon back. A situation that would soon be remedied.

The blacksmith looked up and grinned when the three students walked in. She disappeared into a back room before any of them could say a word and reemerged a few moments later. She was wearing the standard blue student uniform, complete with neck tie and the mini skirt the guys liked so much. Her black hair was down around her shoulders, and she was now carrying a pristine leather case.

"Itís good to see you up again, Lark," the girl said, "I hope you were as good a patient for the doc as your Remington was for me."

"So you were able to fix it?" Lark questioned, a tinge of anxiety in her voice. When something stood between you and death everyday, you got a little attached to it. For a while now she had been trying to decide on a name for it. Death Penalty had a nice ring, but she was sure sheíd heard it somewhere before, and was a little hesitant to use it incase some mean guys in black suits showed up and sued her for it.

The girl grinned toothily, "Of course!" She handed the case to Lark to open.

Lark opened it and saw her shotgun laying carefully inside, light glinting off the polished metal. She grinned widely and took the gun from the case, "Thank you so much!"

"No problem. Thatís what Iím here for." The girl said, then frowned slightly, "Well, that and to become a SeeDÖ but Iím actually here toó"

"Donít worry," Sloane interrupted, "We get it." The girl smiled again.

"Well, have a nice day!"

"Yeah, um, you too." Lark said, and the two boys also said goodbye before they left.

The three teens lay stretched out on their backs, lazily watching light glisten off the waves from the low sun. Lark lay in the middle with Sloane on her left and Rodor on her right. Everything was silent except for the splashing of the waves on the shore.

Lark was trying desperately to remember if she had any siblings and kept on switching between being pretty sure she had a younger sister and being positive she didnít have any siblings during which time she would wonder who the girl was, then. Sloane wore a small smile as he remembered his own home and falling asleep on the dock while his father tried fruitlessly to teach him the finer points of fishing. Rodorís eyelids were heavy as he thought of nothing much at all and slowly began to be lulled to sleep by the rhythmic pounding of the ocean.

"Well, we should get back," Sloane said at length, "Itíll be getting dark soon."

"No," Lark said quickly, "Letís stay for the sunset."

Sloane, now sitting up, scratched the back of his head, "I dunno if itís safe to be out here after dark."

"Come on," Lark said, "Weíre practically SeeDs, we can take care of ourselves!"

"Oh just let her have her way," Rodor mumbled, blocking out the light of the sun with an arm over his face, "You know sheís going to get it anyway."

Sloane glared at Rodor for a moment then sighed and lay back down, "Fine, but only because weíre celebrating."

Lark smiled, "Cool."

There was another long silence as the teens watched the sun slowly move across the sky (or, as in Rodorís case, slowly drifted off to sleep). Lark broke it quietly, "You know, I always used to love to watch the sun set over the ocean. Iíd sit on my dadís lap and he would hold me in his arms as we watched it together."

There was another brief silence before the girl continued, "That was a long time ago, though. After he got his promotion he was always too tired or home too late to do anything like that. We havenít done anything together like that for yearsÖ"

Sloane smiled slightly as he looked over at Lark, "My dad used to drag me out to the docks every Monday morning before heíd go to work. Weíd be out there even before the sun rose and he would try to get me to sit still long enough to fish with him for a little while. I never did like fishing much, though, I always thought it was boring and got distracted with other things every few minutes. Still, it was great to spend some time with my dad."

There was another drawn out silence during which Rodorís snores suddenly became evident. Lark and Sloane looked over at the sleeping red head and then at each other before bursting out laughing.

"I canít believe he fell asleep on us!" Lark said.

Sloane laughed, "I can, Iím getting pretty tired myself."

Lark rolled her eyes, "It canít be any later than eight." She paused slightly and looked at the dark haired teen accusingly, "You two didnít stay up all night worrying about me again, did you?"

Sloane grinned innocently, "Who, us? Of course not!"

Lark punched his arm, "Liar," she accused, "I told you I was fine. How come you werenít there when I woke up, then?"

Sloane shrugged, "Dr. Kadowaki finally locked us out around three in the morning."

Lark rolled her eyes again, "You guys are crazy." She settled back down on the sand to finish watching the sunset and Sloane did the same beside her.

The golden orb slowly sank lower in the sky. As it began to sink on the horizon the sky turned red and orange and overhead the sky darkened more. It was about halfway hidden when a splash of cold water made Lark start suddenly. Another splash made her jump to her feet, scrambling away from the rising tide.

Sloane was laughing and doing the same next to her and Rodor yelped as the cold water rushed up his legs and scrambled clumsily up the beach and away from the intruding waves. He glared at his friends when he noticed them laughing at him and Lark managed to say something about it being deserved because he fell asleep and the three started walking back to Garden.

"My pants are soaked!" Rodor complained, trying to squeeze water out of the bottom of his jeans as he walked.

Sloane and Lark laughed again which only made the younger teen more miserable. It was quite dark when they finally made it back to their dorms and said goodnight to each other.

The buzzing of the ever-present bane of Larkís entire existence slowly woke the teenage girl at five in the morning. She pounded her fist on it for good measure before blearily opening her eyes and turning it off. She sat on the edge of her bed for a moment before shaking her head to rid herself of the lingering effects of sleep. Yawning, she forced herself to get out of bed and moving. It was probably one of the few mornings in the alarm clockís history it hadnít been sworn at or otherwise abused upon her waking. If alarm clocks had sense, it would surely be wondering what was wrong.

Lark tiredly opened her dresser and pulled out a clean set of clothes, black jeans and a long sleeved black shirt with a single red dot on the left shoulder blade and the word "BELIEVE" written across the top in small, white letters. She padded quietly past Brettaís door and into the bathroom. She took a quick shower and got dressed before sneaking back to her room. There, being as quiet as she could, she pulled a black pack out from the very bottom of her drawers, and started shoving a few extra sets of clothes into it. Once that was done she walked over to her desk, leaning over a piece of paper in thought.

Picking up a pen laying nearby she began to write.

Sloane, Nida, Rodor, and others:

You know those yellow flowers you sometimes get in your yard that wonít go away no matter how many times you cut them, dig them out, or spray them with poison? Well, this really has nothing to do with that. Sorry I didnít say goodbye, but I knew youíd just tell me what an idiot I am and I donít really need someone else telling me what I already know. Iíve got it made here, friends, family, a good life, but Iíve got to find the truth or Iíll never be comfortable. Sloane knows what I mean.

-Raven

P.S. I think those yellow flowers are called dandelions or something.

She folded the sheet of paper over and left the note on her desk. In the kitchen she threw the whole box of pop-tarts in her bag along with a box of crackers and a bag of turkey jerky. Satisfied that she had everything she would needóher gun was in its holster at her sideóLark left.

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