"Right," Ashley said as she pulled into the parking lot in front of Goldenwood. "We're here a bit early, so the two of you won't have to deal with the last minute-rush. I have some papers of my own to drop off, so you'll be here a bit longer," she added to Kit.
Lara wasn't quite certain just how Ashley knew Kit, but from the ease with which they'd taken to one another, they had to know each other somehow. Maybe they'd met at Goldenwood when Kit had gone. Or maybe she'd been one of the multitudes that eventually made its way to the Fletcher home, with mail and gossip for Kit. In either case, it made sense that he hadn't remembered her name – it had been four years since Kit's visit to Goldenwood, and at least a hundred people had been to her house in his four years of high school.
Kit, Kit who had rushed them out the door to arrive early at the airport, Kit who had gotten more and more restless with each delay, Kit who had, upon questioning, muttered that he had an appointment to keep, didn't seem at all concerned about the wait. Instead he looked back at the two of them and asked, "Need any help with your bags?"
"Sure!" Something, the sixth sense that belonged to all younger sisters was telling her, was not quite right. However, it was also telling her that Kit wasn't going to tell her. So, unless the whatever-it-was came up soon, she wasn't going to bother worrying about it.
The registration office was a rather plain building, the inside of which reminded her of the hundreds of information kiosks scattered around the country – clustered, in the case of the more touristy areas. Dozens of pamphlets stood in neat rows before the front desk, some of them advertising Goldenwood's virtues – Why advertise for a camp you were already at? – others promoting various camps and services, presumably in the area. Ashley reached over the counter to let herself in and then started up the computer, tapping her fingers as she waited for it to load.
"You work here?" Lara asked.
The dark haired woman looked up at her with a mixture of surprise and confusion, and then gave Kit the sort of look that told her she should have known that yes, Ashley did work at Goldenwood. "Yes. It's been a while since I've attended the camp itself, but I do work for Goldenwood. Aha! Um… Ontario, Ontario… Jenna Dennington and Lara Fletcher. Namely, the two of you. Welcome to Goldenwood. You're both in Yellow. The rest of the kids should start arriving within the next ten minutes or so, so the two of you can pile your stuff over there and get ready."
"If you get there early, and the group isn't a bunch of kids who have been together before, you can get yourself a lot of influence in the group just by being there early," Kit added.
Ashley frowned as she glanced out the window. "Per– Ms Delton is here. She'll be giving the opening instructions, so once she gets in here, any questions you have are for her."
Lara looked over her shoulder to see this Ms Delton, expecting someone rather like Ashley, perhaps a bit older since she wanted to be called Ms and not by her first name. Instead, the woman was short and blond, with a toothy white smile that practically screamed, "We're at camp and we're Going To Have Fun!" Capitals included. She took a step back, stunned. She had never before seen anyone so…
"You ok, Lara?" Jenna asked.
"Perkzilla," she whispered, still staring at the incredibly perky woman. "She's Perkzilla."
A snort of laughter escaped Kit, and he coughed hastily to cover it up. Ashley shook her head slightly, obviously amused. "Chain," the dark haired woman said to Kit. "Definitely."
Her brother shrugged. "Maybe. Anyways, since we've got someone to watch them, can we get going? I've got an appointment to keep, and…"
"Oh. Ok. If P– Ms Dalton asks if you've been registered, Ashley did it, alright? Have a great time at camp."
The green eyed teen hugged her. "Have fun at camp, Lara. And…" He paused. "Be careful of Silvers, ok?"
She nodded, even though she was inwardly wondering what a Silver was. Or had he simply said sliver? "Have a good time with your friends."
He smiled. "I will. Believe me, I will."
"Ashley," Kit said evenly as they walked back towards the car. "Isn't it standard gossip procedure not to mention the Chain to anyone outside of the Chain?"
"Of course not," Goldenwood's owner replied cheerfully. "How else would we get new gossips? From gossiping families? Don't be ridiculous."
He looked back over his shoulder just in time to see Perkzilla pounce eagerly upon the two teens, feeling a slight pang of remorse for abandoning his sister to someone so perky. But then again, if she'd stayed home like she'd planned to, he wouldn't be pretending to be going somewhere else and she wouldn't be dealing with Perkzilla the perky.
"But you weren't inviting Lara or Jenna to become Chain."
"Kit," she sighed in the voice of a gossip explaining something painfully obvious to the female mind to a guy who just didn't get it, "you're a Guardian and Chain. Do you really think that we're going to let your sister run off into high school without taking her under our collective wing and nurturing her to her full potential?"
"That's the speech that Natalie gave me. And isn't 'nurturing her to her full potential' a gossip euphemism for 'teach her how to get her nose stuck in everyone's business'?"
"More or less. Hey, enshira, it's what we do best. Learn things and pass them on. There were whole cultures based around that sort of oral retelling."
"Those cultures weren't based around the oral retelling of Josh fighting with Roshan over Karie when Karie's making eyes at Alex."
"Shush, boy. You're ruining the beauty of the moment." She smiled faintly. "You boys are so protective of your younger sisters, you know? Look at it this way – we're gossips. We're a bit eccentric, we go running around the country to meet trayve'lair caids and Guardians, we poke our noses into everyone else's business, but we don't do drugs, we don't start fights – usually – and we don't get expelled. We're a lovely nice crowd for your sister and her friend to join up with, and you even have the added bonus of being a sort of figure in our Chain."
"Charmed," Kit muttered dryly. "I'm sure."
"Never mind. You, boy, have an appointment to keep. Now, go and have a nice summer with your Guardian friends, and don't you dare start telling your sister stories about gossips when you meet up with her again."
He grinned at her, looked up at the registration office, couldn't see Lara or Jenna, shouldered his packs and then started off into Goldenwood forest, intent on reaching Silver territory before the rest of the campers started off for their own sites.
Ashley smiled behind him, shaking her head a bit. Guardians. She returned to her car and turned on her laptop, figuring that she might as well finish typing up the proposal for the new, Hazelwood camp of Ontario.
The Yellows, as Kit has said, were suitably impressed by the fact that Lara and Jenna had made the effort to arrive early, and simply gathered around them, rather than choosing another meeting place. Made up mostly of first and second-timers, with about twenty girls, the Yellow group was already forming its hierarchy as Perkzilla – Ms Dalton! – walked perkily to the center of the large field, a white and red megaphone in one hand.
"Welcome to Goldenwood!"
Lara winced. She hadn't known until now that perking was a possible form of speech. Talking, yes. Shouting, yes. Perking? Only Perkzilla. At least, hopefully only Perkzilla.
"Now, you have been divided into your appropriate groups. If you are not in the colour group you have been assigned to, please go to that group. If you do not have a group, please go to the registration office. If there is a problem with one of your groups that has been discussed prior to camp, or if you have a letter from your parents explaining this potential problem, please go to the registration desk to resolve it."
There were a few mutters, usually from older teens, as the groups readjusted themselves. No one left or joined the Yellows, however, nor either of the groups nearest them. There were also a few groups to their left, almost certainly different colour groups, but so close together that it didn't make much of a difference. The girls in those groups whispered and chattered quietly, looking occasionally at Ms Dalton and smiling broadly. Probably kids who had been to Goldenwood before.
"As you know, at this camp, you have to work together to keep your group fed and sheltered. There are emergency shelters provided in case of heavy rains or high winds, and first aid kits kept in these shelters. However, it is assumed that you will only use these shelters if you need them. Thanks to the heavy rains this spring, some of the usual plants have only grown back in small numbers, so we will be providing a twice weekly meal at the emergency shelters, just in case you cannot manage without outside help.
"Remember, if you ever need any help, there are radios in the emergency shelters, and there will always be someone in the registration office to keep an ear open for any problems. Now, one of your group will know where your area is located, so please follow them! And remember, you are not supposed to cross over into the different groups except in cases of emergency.
"So, have a great camp!"
Voices cheered, and even the chattering, giggling girls to Lara's left shouted something loud and cheerful before taking off into the woods, though just what it was, she didn't know. Then the Yellows were grouping together, the redheaded girl at their center having appointed herself leader.
"Right, girls, I'm Jessie, and this is my sixth year at Goldenwood. Anyone older?" She waited, but no one put themselves forwards. "Well, come with me. I've been a Yellow three times before, so I know where our territory is. I'll explain a bit about Goldenwood as we walk. Any questions?"
"How do we get food?"
"We have guidebooks in the emergency shelters," Jessie explained. "They tell you what kinds of plants you can eat, and have pictures of them. They also have fishing hooks and the like, but no snares. We've more or less chased off anything you can snare over the years. I'm pretty good at gutting a fish, so I'll teach anyone who's interested."
"What about the boys?"
"No boys allowed in Yellow territory."
"But what if they come in?"
"There's a three meter wide band of clear-cut land between the territories that the boys and girls are in. There's almost always some sort of an adult there, and if you do catch a boy in our territory, then shout. Loud. Try to make sure you're with a friend if you really want to go near the boys' land, but don't worry too much. The territories are pretty big, and the boys usually stay away from the girls' places. They get in big trouble if they're caught. So do we," she added. "So don't try anything."
"Who are Silvers?" Jenna asked, and Lara nodded.
"I heard," one of the younger girls said, "that they're the best campers of all, and that they practically live at Goldenwood."
"My brother went here a few years ago," another all but whispered, "and he said that I should avoid Silvers no matter what I do. He's never mentioned them before, though, so I don't really know why he brought them up now."
"I'll tell you a story about the Silvers," Jessie said quietly as they stepped into the dappled shade of Goldenwood forest. The path they followed was quite worn, with only a few tree roots or stones sticking out of the packed earth to try and trip the girls. Yellow, red, dark blue and pale pink markers pointed further down the trail, and up ahead Lara thought she could see the pale pink arrow pointing off the right. "But first, you have to promise not to get worried about anything I say."
There were murmurs of assent.
"Right. There's a territory to the North of us… or maybe it's the East. Actually, I'm not really sure what direction it's in from us. But if you follow this trail through our territory, you get to a larger one with no markers. That's Silver land. There's never an official group there, and even if the entire camp is booked up, all the adults do is put some of the kids into one of the other groups. There isn't anything wrong with Silver land – sometimes it's got even more than our territories do, and once in a while, kids take a few plants or a fish or something from there. But you always leave something behind, even if it's only a bit of fruit. It's just the way we do things.
"I've got two stories about Silvers, and they both involve Greens. They're the boys' group closest to us, and they're considered to be the best of the boys' groups. They always do really well, and all of the kids who get into that group are really happy, but sometimes they can be a bit vain. You know how it is. They're boys. In the first story, it was my second year at Goldenwood, and I was in the pink territory. That would be, oh, five years ago.
"It was midway through the summer, though I didn't find out what had happened until near the end of camp. There was a Green named Chris, and lately he'd been taking a lot of things from Silver territory. He hadn't seen any Silvers, either, so he didn't worry about the fact that he hadn't been leaving food or anything for them. One day, he saw a girl in Silver territory that he knew. He went over to talk to her, but she didn't want to. No one really knows what happened after that, or just what he said, but she slapped him across the face. That made him mad, so he pulled his arm back to hit her back…
"That was when the Silver appeared. He just grabbed Chris's arm and pulled him away from the girl – she had a funny sort of name, like Areeah or Aria – and then he literally picked him up and threw him into a tree. Not very high, or very hard, but he still threw him. All of the Greens but one left after that, but the one who stayed behind and hid saw the Silver take off his cloak. He had black hair and black eyes, and she hugged him really hard. I'm pretty sure they'd met before that summer, because you never see guys smiling at you like that after only two weeks."
Aria? Lara thought suspiciously. Why was that name familiar?
The dark blue arrow had pointed down another path, and now they were only following the yellow arrow to their territory. Jessie said nothing for a minute, and then continued. "The next year, one of the Greens from the year before was having trouble with his new group mate. Everything the new kid just grated on Nick, and he became certain that the kid was doing something wrong. Maybe he was stealing from Silver territory, maybe he was hiding something, but there was something weird about him. It didn't excuse what Nick did, though – he kept beating up the other kid, and none of the rest of the Greens did anything about it. They were still afraid that someone else would anger the Silvers and get all of them in trouble, so they were willing to believe that Nick was doing the right thing.
"One day, Nick caught the new kid eating something when it wasn't one of the mealtimes. You've got to understand; eating at Goldenwood when the stockpile is low is always done in a group, so that no one can take more and leave other people hungry. He punched the new kid in the face, and the kid just got up and ran as fast as he could. Nick convinced some of the rest of the group, who hadn't seen what had happened, to come with him to catch the new kid. They'd nearly caught him, but they'd chased him into Silver territory, and a Silver was there. The group leader had just tried to convince him to come out when she dropped down. She was tall and redheaded, and she had a sword, and she told them that only an idiot would come out. Then she threatened to attack them if they came near the new kid."
Someone snorted, but Jessie just nodded. "I know. It sounds like a story or something, but later that day, when they were telling the Greens who hadn't come what had happened, the new kid came back. He had the redheaded Silver with him, but he also had the girl from the year before with him. Areeah, or whoever she was, told Nick that if he ever did anything like that again, she'd make sure that no woman would ever even consider him a friend, while the redheaded Silver made sure he got all of his clothes and everything.
"They didn't see the new kid until the end of the year, when he was leaving with his mother. He was skinny, even for a kid who'd been at Goldenwood all summer, but they said he looked really, really happy. Nick was going to apologize, probably because he was terrified of the Silvers, but when he started to go near the new kid, he looked into the forest and saw the two Silvers – the black haired man and the redheaded girl."
There was a stunned silence. "Wh-what if they come into our territory?" a girl asked.
"They don't. Actually, the only time I'd ever heard of a Silver going into camper land is when the redhead and Areeah went to get the new kids stuff. But sometimes other kids just leave their groups because they're going with the Silvers, and no one says anything about it. They always come back at the end of the camp, and they're never hurt or anything. They never talk about what it's like around the Silvers, though…"
There was yellow flagging across the path, which Jessie simply stepped over. The rest of the girls followed suit, and soon enough they found themselves standing in front of a low, hill-shaped mound of earth. When they walked around it, though, they realized that it wasn't a mound of earth, but a large hut based on the sunken pits of medieval times. There was a long ramp leading down to a tight-looking wooden door, which their leader opened to reveal a spacious, if low-ceilinged, room.
She looked around at the walls, carefully inlaid with stones to keep the water out, and the thin little gutter that ran around the edge of the room to collect any water that did enter the hut. Stared with some wonder at the neat tiling job that had been done on the floor, a cobblestone pattern of once-round stones that had been smoothed down by years of Yellows. Admired, as did everyone else who had never been a Yellow, the shelving on the far wall and the raised slats that could serve as both bases for beds and tables. And wondered just how long Goldenwood had been in existence.
"Welcome to Goldenwood."
"Wow," Jenna whispered. "I had no idea it would be like this."
"Jen, you know that story Jessie told us?" Lara demanded. "She said the girl's name was Aria, didn't she?" At Jenna's confused nod, she added, "That was the name of the woman who wanted to talk to Kit on Saturday. And Kit was the new kid in the Greens four summers ago."
"She never said who the new kid in the Greens was," her friend reassured her. "Come on. Who on earth would beat up Kit? He's friendly enough, when we aren't practicing Romeo and Juliet. And he just has to give you that look, and then you know you're going to listen to what he says."
True enough. But still. Every time he mentioned the Greens, there had been something… sharp hiding beneath his usually soft voice, though if Goldenwood alone was mentioned he tended to start looking a little dreamy. And when he'd returned from camp, he'd been remarkably skinny, even for the rather scrawny teen he'd always been.
"Right. First thing we've got to take care of is clean water. I'll take five of you up to the emergency shelter – there's a water purifier there. The rest of you might want to start getting a feel for the lie of the land. Make sure you're with a partner, and don't stray past the yellow flagging. You'll either go into Silver territory, the corridor or even end up in another group's territory." Jessie nodded her red head firmly. "Let's go!"
Lara shoved aside the dilemma of the new kid's identity. It might have been her brother. It might not have been her brother. It might simply have been a tale to frighten the new and the young. But whatever it was, it wasn't going to make her any more familiar with the Yellow territory that would be feeding her for the next four weeks. The maybe-Kit could wait until later.
The Wicked Storm: Welcome back, Callie. I was wondering where you'd gone. Well, knowing evil teachers and their bizzare fondness for giving out homework, it may be a while before you read this, but many thanks for the review.
Mya von Dor: Ah, homework. The bane of our exitence. Forsooth, it has been four years since Fate and Fire. (Kit was entering grade nine after that summer, and now he's completed grade twelve. Or eleventh grade, or however you want to say it.)
Casey Drake: At first, I wasn't sure how Kit would act... But he seems determined to make everything light and amusing, so now I'm wondering why I didn't write more from his PoV. Happy belated birthday, and hope you like the at-camp chapter! -shrugs- I don't know why I didn't like him Heryn, I just didn't. Call it, oh, Conscience. :)
Phoenix: -grins- Perkzilla and pyromania. What a lovely combination early in the morning. (Note: Do not take with medication!) ;)
Alexei: Surveying to death is a procedure common in high school. So many surveys from so many people... now they want to know how long it took you! -smirks- There's a wonderful Zits comic about that, in the nineth sketchbook, I think. He fills out a survey as a female senior with cousins for parents, and then later the mother says, "Tsk! 83 of seniors think that Berlin is a country in South America!" Or something like that.