Chapter 1:

Gunshot At Reaper's Peak


"'Bout two hours, I give it," Captain Melvin says as he looks through his binoculars, eyeing a distant shoreline in the darkness.

"Yeah, well I'd give it one hour if you'd just crank the gear up a notch already," Nicholas stands beside him, hands on his waist.

Melvin scoffs. He takes off his binoculars and puts on his hat. "Two hours," he repeats as he heads back to the cockpit.

"I can swim to shore faster," Nicholas continues.

"Then start paddling," Bobby shouts from the back. Tim and Logan laugh.

Nicholas clicks his tongue and sits down next to Von. "We can barely hear each other talk over the sound of the waves and they're still worried about the engine making too much noise. Ridiculous. I told you it was a bad idea to get on this boat. These people are just out here for fresh air."

"We have to trust the old man," Von turns to the next page of his notebook. "He's the only one who has gone to Farheid and made it back alive. If we get seen here, we're good as dead."

Nicholas sighs and looks at what Von is reading. "What you got?"

"The locals are really our best bet," Von stretches his neck. "They're going as far as keeping the country closed. Whatever they are hiding must be scattered in the streets. It has to be. They can't just claim to have an average life expectancy of two hundred and fifty and not have anything shady going on in plain sight."

"Let's just hope the locals would be nice enough to tell us everything we'd want to know."

"I don't expect it'd be that easy," Von closes his notebook. "Like I said, it's a bet."

"Well, the faster we get any scoop, the faster we get out of there. So pack up and get your things ready."

They hear a whistle that gradually gets louder and louder. It's coming from the skies, but it's too dark to see anything.

"Drop!" Bobby shouts.

Something hits the water, a few feet off the boat's port side, and explodes causing it to veer off course.

"We're spotted!" Nicholas yells as everyone frantically tries to run to the back of the boat. "Get us moving!"

The engine gears up, but there's another explosion. A lot closer this time. The boat tilts significantly. Tim and Nicholas fall off the water.

"Nick!" Von makes his way to the side of the boat but yet another explosion knocks him off balance, hitting his head on the bow. The shouting and explosions continue but everything starts fading away with his consciousness.

A wave brushes up Von while half of his face is under the sand. Coughing as he wakes up. He slowly gets up, looking around confused. He faces the sea but can't see any boat. Or anything at all.

"Nick? Cap?" Von calls out to his companions but he is alone on this narrow beach. He walks up the shore, the waves to his left and the foot of a tall cliff to his right. "Anyone?" No response but the echo of his own voice.

He looks up to the cliffside that he can barely see, thinking he would have a better view of the surroundings up there. He tries to climb up as soon as he gets the chance.

Once at the top, he continues searching the sea, walking along the edge.

Nothing. Not even a slight disturbance in the area.

He gets to a point where there's no land at the bottom of the cliff. He accepts that he might not see any of them at all anymore. Some time must have already passed since the attack. He could very well be the only survivor.

Defeated, he starts to make his way back down the cliff, but as soon as he turns around, he bumps into something. No. Into someone.

A woman in her fifties stands in front of him holding a lantern. She looks just as shocked and afraid as he is. Von raises his hands halfway up, showing that he is unarmed but unsure of what to say to her.

The woman moves her lantern from side to side, inspecting Von's arms. She doesn't seem to find what she's looking for but some fear in her face dissipates. Von notices her other hand holding a rolled piece of paper.

"A foreigner," she whispers.

"Listen. I don't mean any harm."

"I knew those were explosions earlier. What are you doing here?"

Von observes her. She doesn't look like a person of authority. House clothes, like she was just cleaning a few moments ago. A local.

"I'm... just visiting the country."

"No one visits this country," she looks around. "You shouldn't be here. Leave before someone sees you."

"You're not going to call the police, are you?"

"If I did, I'd be in bigger trouble than you. Now go," she sways her lantern towards the woods, leading Von away, and away he slowly walks.

"There's nothing you would want to see here," she comments. Von turns around. "You messed up getting into this shithole of a country. Should've stayed where you were from."

Confused and intrigued, Von takes a few careful steps towards her. "That's exactly why I'm here. I'm a journalist. Perhaps you'd have something to share?"

The woman looks away, biting her lips almost about to cry. She looks back at Von. "Nothing."

"Your face says otherwise."

She closes her eyes for a brief second, taking a deep breath. "You'll get nothing from me. I've got nothing left," She sniffles. "If you go straight down that path and into the village, maybe you'll find something that will."

Von notices her voice cracking, and her hands shaking. Anger or fear, he can't tell. Maybe both.

"Are you okay?" Von takes another careful step.

"Go!" her slightly raised voice causes Von to back up. "I need to be alone here." She turns around to face the sea.

Von slowly walks back and disappears into the woods.

He continues walking for a bit until he hears a pair of footsteps far ahead of him. He stops in his tracks and listens. When it's apparent that the footsteps are headed his way, he hops to the side as quietly as he can, getting off the path.

He hides patiently as the footsteps grow louder. Then he sees a silhouette of a person wearing a big hooded cape that covers their body down to their thighs, walking with such commanding steps. The person passes by Von, he is trying to see under the hood but he can't even make out a face. He gets a glimpse of the person's left arm sleeve under the cape. It has two reflective red bands on the wrist.

It is headed where Von came from. The direction of the woman at the cliff.

Letting his curiosity get the better of him, he stalks this person, tiptoeing around the trees.

Soon they arrive where the woman stands. She turns around to see the hooded person. She starts sobbing and whispering. Von moves closer to the side where he has a better view of both of them while still staying hidden. The woman unrolls her paper and hands it over. The hooded person carefully reads through it, then stashes it inside the cape, all while the woman is sniffling. The hooded person nods, and the woman smiles while more tears flow out of her eyes.

"Thank you. Thank you," the woman continuously mumbles as she kneels down grabbing onto the lower part of the person's cape.

The hooded person places their hand on the woman's head and starts to chant. The voice is too soft for Von to understand what's being said, especially over the woman's sobbing noises.

"Thank you. Thank you," she continues.

The hooded person drops their hand but the chant doesn't end. The woman grabs the hand with both of hers, looking up at the person as if praying.

Von leans forward slightly, hoping to hear clearer what they are saying, but stops when he sees the person lift their other hand. A silenced pistol in its grip. Holds it point blank at the woman's forehead. Von's eyes widen, and his jaws drop. The chant stops.

"Thank you so much!" the woman cries one last time, her smile never leaving her face.