"We're not taking her."
Ruby put on the kicked-puppy look, the one that Keelin detested because it worked. "Keelin. She's nine."
"Ten," corrected the little girl, Olivia, numbly.
"She's a f—" Keelin grumbled and loosened her goggles to dangle around her neck. "She is a liability. Another person to care for. And she's a child. What's she going to do in a fight?"
The blonde glared, blue eyes flashing. "If she's a liability, what about Aidan? What about me? We all know you'd be better off solo. Why take us with you then?"
Keelin muttered under her breath.
She leaned forward. "What was that?"
"... Wanted to protect," she mumbled sullenly.
Ruby gave an unexpected, warm smile, like the sun coming out of the clouds. "See? I knew you were under there. If you had a cape, I bet you'd shove as many orphans under it as possible."
Olivia gave a small jolt at the word orphan, and Ruby seemed to realize her mistake. "Hey, sorry, kid. You're with us now, alright?" She wrapped an arm around the little girl, who seemed to un-tense a bit.
Keelin scowled, swore in Chinese, and stomped over to Aidan, who had his earbuds in, nodding his head to whatever metal track he was listening to. "Blair," she snapped, and he fumbled with his earbuds, shoving them in his pockets.
"Whatever Ruby told you I didn't do it," he said quickly. Keelin was aware she could be a bit threatening, even with her height.
"It's not you I'm mad at. Ruby's decided to adopt that kid."
"That's cool." Aidan waited.
"And I'm not an expert at... kids? Or emotions?" Keelin struggled to find the words she needed. Yeah, she was smart, but not when it came to... talking. "Basically, I have no idea what to do with her."
"Oh. So... You want my help?"
He perked up a bit. Keelin knew he was still sad about his family dying.
(She wanted to kill her mother herself, but whatever.)
"So I can finally be useful!" he exclaimed, tucking away his music stuff. "What's her name? Started with an O, right?"
"Olivia." Keelin jerked a thumb at the two girls, who were sitting on a clean spot on the pavement, turned away from the blood and bodies. Olivia was probably crying. Either that or her shoulders were shaking because she was laughing hysterically, and Keelin seriously doubted that. "Go help. I don't know how to deal with this."
"Okay." Aidan cast a complicated look at her before he left, and Keelin walked over to a tree to stand guard. And to do some thinking.
She pulled on her goggles and did a customary scan of her surroundings. Maybe the outbreak in the school happened at the same time as the others, probably why the area was so deathly quiet. Some of the windows on the buildings were tinted dark red—they were a few streets away from downtown.
It was weird how she wasn't bothered at all. Aidan was a broken mess when it first started, and she was sure Ruby had had her own panic attack at Poleton; but Keelin was an assassin. She was trained to roll with the punches, sometimes literally.
The last time she was truly broken... Well, probably when she found out her parents were just another lie, and she got abducted to the Order.
She'd been so naive to think her parents—no, those dead liars—ever cared about her. And then she'd met Mother, whom she liked at first, and she'd been foolish to think she loved her, and then she'd learned to dry her tears and be cold and uncaring and not feel anything, just kill who she had to kill and not say a word about it.
Keelin hated it. She hated every second of it. Spending every summer at the compound, snapping at Ruby when she asked questions about her injuries, driving away everyone, missing the entire last half of eighth grade to train and kill.
Then she finally hit her breaking point, stopped killing, and ran away. And she'd done well. Hidden for most of two years, until this morning. She'd gotten the threat, a slip of paper with a spider drawn on it, laying inconspicuously on the top shelf of her locker. The Order was stealthy, mere whispers and legends in Asia and Europe, and not even heard of elsewhere. Keelin knew she'd have to stop hiding and face them eventually.
She was such a coward.
Keelin jumped, her hand automatically going for her quarterstaff. She saw golden hair out of the corner of her eye and relaxed. "Ruby."
The British girl leaned against the tree beside her. "You seem stiffer than usual."
"I'm pretty sure stiffer isn't an actual word."
"You're avoidin' my question."
"I'm not stiff. I'm fine."
"I'm talking 'bout the actual meaning of my question."
Keelin arched an eyebrow she knew Ruby couldn't see. "I wasn't aware there was one."
Ruby socked her in the arm, which she barely felt. Hmph. Poor form. "Stop bein' a wanker."
"You have zero reason to be using British insults in Canada, and I've never wanked anything in my whole life."
Ruby jabbed her again.
Keelin let out a dramatic sigh and pulled down her goggles. "That's a terrible punch. Your stance is awful."
"You and your punching. I prefer guns."
Keelin lifted a chin at a nearby store. TODD'S GUNS spelled out in big white block letters adorned the front.
Ruby's eyes lit up, and then she turned to look at Keelin suspiciously. "You're tryin' to get rid of me."
Keelin grumbled, suddenly uncomfortable with her eyes exposed. She tugged her hood down further. "Go enjoy yourself."
Ruby's feet twitched, as if moving on autopilot. "We are having this talk later."
"Whatever. Go away." The words were harsh, but her tone was soft.
Ruby groaned. "You are not making this easy."
"Fine. Be like that." With a huff, Ruby started to walk, then flat-out ran for the store. "Aidan, Olivia!" she shouted over her shoulder. "C'mon!"
And Keelin was left alone.
Which was what she wanted.
Ruby was quite disappointed to find that the store was already raided.
"Bloody bastards!" she yelled. "People have no decency!"
"There are plenty of guns here," Aidan pointed out, looking around nervously. Olivia looked nervous too, seeming younger than her actual age. Awww, they were so adorable.
"No employees, obviously been raided already," Ruby shot back, scanning the shelves with quick efficiency. "Jeez, how long has this virus been happenin'? Where is everyone?"
Aidan didn't reply, but the words either dead or infected seemed to simultaneously pass through their heads.
Ruby gave a slight shiver, then brightened back up. Aidan was right. So. Many. Guns. Finally. She was in her element. Ruby skipped around like a little kid, eagerly looking through everything. "Oh my god! Look at this JC-65! It's in perfect condition! And it has a shoulder strap!"
She snatched up the fancy rifle, ripped off the price tag (which read $800), slammed in a cartridge of bullets, and fired an experimental shot at the window. It punched a clean hole straight through it. "Oh wow, I'm definitely keeping this!"
Aidan looked like he was having a heart attack. "Please don't fire any firearms while indoors. That stuff's dangerous."
Ruby stuck out her tongue at him and flounced over to a wall of shotguns. She picked up a classy retro pistol with a holster belt and fastened it around her waist, stocking it with bullets. She also grabbed two more rifles, three shotguns, a mini rocket launcher, extra ammunition, a few cherry bombs, and two identical handguns that fit in her hands perfectly. "Okay, I think I have everything I need. Aidan, heads up!"
She tossed him a standard handgun, and he caught it uncertainly. "Ever fired a gun before? Don't point it at me, geez. And don't put your finger on the trigger unless you're ready to shoot."
Aidan stared down at the gun uncertainly, sticking his trigger finger straight out. "Okay..."
"Hold it in both hands, by the way. You'll get used to shooting with one hand, but this is just to be safe. And when you do fire, there'll be a kick. Now point it—not at me, ya bloody idiot!—over there's fine. Now fire."
Aidan clumsily pressed down on the trigger, then stumbled as the kick from the explosion drove him back a few steps. He'd missed his target by a few feet, but at least he didn't fall (which Ruby had done when she'd first fired a gun).
"Pretty bad," noted Ruby. "Though beginners will be beginning."
Aidan frowned. "That doesn't make any sense."
"Whatever. We've got everything we need, let's get outta here." They exited the store and walked up to where Keelin was still brooding by the tree.
"Good, you're back. I've been thinking about the v—" Keelin frowned when she saw how loaded down with firearms Ruby was. "Do you really need that many?"
"Says the girl who keeps a thousand pointy things on her body at all times," retorted Ruby, motioning at Keelin's surplus of sharp weapons. "You have a glorified butcher knife and a katana strapped across your back, like sixty throwing knives and ninja stars on your belt, and not to mention that staff. And don't think I didn't see that extra knife you put in your shoe!"
Keelin started to defend herself, then seemed to decide against it. "Never mind. What's the plan?"
"I thought you were the leader," replied Ruby. "But I'm pretty hungry."
"Keelin motioned at their backpacks, which they'd set in a pile by the tree. "Chocolate, candy, trail mix, and an orange is what you each have. And water."
Ruby strode over. "I'm assumin' we eat the orange first, Mom?"
"I don't appreciate that. And yes, or else it'll rot and your bag will smell disgusting. Hey, kid, catch." Keelin suddenly tossed her chocolate bar at Olivia. "Since we didn't plan on picking up hitchhikers, you can have my food until we raid another store."
Ruby stared at her. "Are you... being nice?"
Keelin made sure Olivia wasn't looking, then gave her the finger.
Ruby pressed a hand to her heart. "Awwwww. Keelin Fang has a heart after all."
"I'm never being nice again."
"Super cute. Anyway, what were you saying before?"
"Virus. It seems almost mechanical, how it's spreading."
"Where do you think it started?" asked Aidan, taking a bite of her chocolate bar.
Ruby shrugged. "Usually world-killing virus spread in less-developed countries like Africa or China-well, the poorer parts of China," she added quickly at a mild glance from Keelin. "But this is obviously not your typical world-killing virus."
"Right now, the most important thing to do is survive," said Keelin, waving it off. "We'll get answers later. So the plan is to get to France."
At the mention of France, Olivia perked up. "France?" she asked excitedly. "I've always wanted to go there."
"Yeah, well, we're probably not going to do much sightseeing," replied Keelin. "Which direction is France, again?"
Ruby tried unsuccessfully to raise one eyebrow. "You've never done assassin stuff there?"
"No. Mostly just China, Japan and Egypt."
Ruby waited for more clarification, then rolled her eyes when Keelin didn't continue. "Fine, be vague. France is east. Though I'm pretty sure there's no pedestrian walkway over the Atlantic Ocean."
"Flying a plane can't be too hard."
"Sure, Miss Overachiever. We'll see when we get there. Are we taking a commercial plane or a military fighter or what?" She really hoped it'd be the last option.
"Well... The assassins are probably coming over on the Order's fighters, but most are pretty small, only fitting two people or so."
"I can fly one, you can fly the other." Ruby put on a winning smile. "When I went to a military base, I got the highest scores on the flight simulator."
Keelin raised an eyebrow, and Ruby had to restrain herself from whimpering. "We'll see when we find a military base, then. In the meantime, we're walking." She cast a look up at the sky. "Judging from the position of the sun, it's almost seven. Let's keep going."
And so they kept walking without a specific goal, not even looking at all the rotting bodies around them. They were almost on the empty highway overpass when Keelin stopped short and swore.
"Hide," she hissed, actual fear in her eyes. "You need to get out of here right now."
Aidan frowned and fidgeted with his new gun, the safety on. (He'd double-checked a thousand times—Ruby had laughed.) "What is it? More infected? More ninjas?"
Keelin drew her katana. Ruby was beginning to feel a bit scared now. She mostly dealt with problems using her fists. If she had her weapons out, this had to be serious.
And then she heard it-a motorcycle engine.