“Can I be out and not him?” I whisper.
“Don’t cry for me, Serena,” Sawyer says as he hands me his goggles. “War is hell. Stay alive. It’s up to you now. And I’ve got beer waiting for me back at the clearing.” Louder, he yells, “I’m out!” Then he places his gun in the air with his green glow stick hanging from it as he walks out of the barricade.
More paint explodes on the tin roof on top of us.
“They have someone in the trees. We need to get better cover. Follow me,” Dillon says. “Be quiet.”
In the dark? Yeah, I’ll get right on that.
I don’t have time to put the goggles on, so I tuck them in the pocket of my vest.
He takes off running through the woods, and for half a second, I think of standing and making myself an easy shot to get out of this mess, but I crouch and take off after him. Not a quitter!
We run through the trees, leaving the fairy lights behind, then slow down and circle back next to a large wooden crate. I make every step he does, trying to not crunch on leaves.
Dillon puts a finger to his lips to signify being quiet—I am!—then points at me and then at our fort with the flag. I shake my head. What? Are we guarding it?
I interpret that we’re going there next and he wants me to go first.
While I try to figure out the best rudimentary sign language to use to argue with him, he holds up three fingers and starts counting down to one.
Crap! On three, I take off running, paint exploding around me with every step. I hear a voice up in the trees yell out, “Dammit!” and the barrage stops.
I turn and see Zane climbing down the tree with Dillon under it. “Red out!” Zane grumbles to whoever is listening, gives Dillon a fist bump, and sprints through the woods.
My mouth gapes as I walk back to Dillon. “I was a decoy?”
“A great one. Once he started firing at you, I got a clean shot.”
“I was bait! I could have been shot!”
“If they had someone sprint all the way here, they’re probably swarming our fort at the basecamp. They did the same thing last year.” Sweat drips down his face as we take cover behind a tree and he gazes around. “This way.”
He weaves through the trees for what feels like forever as he meanders, making his way to another dugout area near the edge of the tree line. How many hidey-holes are in these woods?
“In here,” he calls as he ducks into the little structure.
“I don’t think anyone’s following us,” I reply, my lungs tight from running. My walking and yoga haven’t prepared me for this kind of cardio.
“They think their sniper can protect this flank, but we rushed him out of the gate. So while most of our group is on the east side, we’ll come up the west and grab the flag. Problem is, we also can’t protect our flag, so we can’t stay here long. Make sense?”
I take off my helmet to breathe better. “How long does this go on?”
“Couple hours. There’s a flurry of action at the beginning for spots, then both sides dig in for a bit and figure out where everyone is before moving into an attack formation.”
“Like dating,” I muse.
“Yeah.” He smiles. “Ready to move?”
I nod and slide the goggles over my mask. The entire world turns green and I can see detail! Each point of light becomes a star.
“Whoa, these things are great,” I say. “I can see everything.”
“Maybe you won’t shoot our side now.”
“Smartass,” I mutter.
We leave and start toward a path, heading to the other side of the woods. Dillon motions for me to get behind some bushes then slides in next to me and whispers, “Can you see anyone watching their flag?”
“Yes. Two big red things in the trees behind the really bright red thing.”
“Okay. How high in the tree?”
“About ten feet.”
Someone rushes toward us from the way we came, and I lift my paint gun. I’m ready! Dillon knocks it up into the air before I fire off a round.
“Flash!” announces a voice in the darkness.
“Bang!” replies Dillon. “That’s one of ours,” he tells me.
Troy kneels down below our cover with us.
Dillon gives him an arm pat. “On three, let’s run a pinch play on the two guards. Serena, you stay here. Count to thirty Mississippi then start shooting at both of those trees. Keep your shots high to avoid us.”
“Keep it high, right.” Goodbye, world. I’m about to die.
“Just distract them. Once they’re down, we can grab the flag and then have an easy time going back to our side to win the game.” Dillon puts his mask against mine. “I’m counting on you.”