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The days passed with quiet ease. The fire crackled gently in the makeshift metal grate, the meals came and went as before: canned beans, root vegetables, canned fruit, cooked flesh. The body was disposed of in the proper way, the less wasteful way, and Danielle almost felt comfortable in their new surroundings. Almost.

She sat at the wooden table, legs curled beneath her, one finger tracing out the stains on it—both old and new. Her older brothers were in the other room for the moment, talking about something that didn’t concern her. Once again she found herself wondering if they were doing the right thing, if their lifestyle was necessary or avoidable.

“It was necessary, you know.”

Danielle jumped, her head whipping toward the voice before she allowed herself to relax. Her oldest brother stood in the doorframe, his body wrapped with cloth and leather, his pale face exposed with its yellowish eyes and cracked lips. Danielle slowly uncurled her legs from beneath her, resting both of her hands flat against the table, “You scared me, Rak.”

He shrugged and walked toward her, settling himself on the chair next to her. She shuffled slightly in her seat; Rak never made her feel comfortable. He was the leader, the planner, but he was also the most ruthless, and he always seemed to know what she was thinking.

“The old man was using all of these resources for himself, Danny. Imagine how much he could have shared; imagine how much he didn’t share. Hell, he was barely allowing you to spend the night. He would have kicked you out after a week,” Rak drummed his dirty fingers on the table. Danielle watched them intently, noting the brown-red pieces caked beneath his nails. “Now we can support ourselves and bring some back for our kin when it’s all over.”

Danielle nodded, glancing toward the open doorway where presumably her two other brothers were still talking. She wished they would come in. Dur with his jokes, Terk with his steady silence; either would be better than Rak trying to cheer her up with common sense.

She heard Rak sigh deeply, a sign that he was becoming impatient. She slowly looked back toward him, “I understand.”

“Great.” He stood abruptly, tucking his hands into his pockets. “I’m taking the boys out tonight to deliver some of these cans. We can probably make it back here before sunrise, if we’re quick about it.”

Danielle lowered her eyes to the table again, looking over the thin lines patterning the wood. The grain lay straight, every so often developing into a faint whorl where a branch once was; like a fingerprint. Danielle felt her stomach turn slightly.

Rak continued after a moment. She could sense that he was irritated by her lack of response, “If we meet anyone, we’ll do what we usually do. But we’re counting on you to watch this place, Danny. If someone comes knocking, you know what to do. We can’t afford letting word get out.”

Danielle felt herself nodding mechanically as she kept her eyes on the fingerprint, the table, the brown-red stain, “Okay, Rak.”

__

That night was colder than any of the other nights in the metal house. It could have been because autumn was quickly fading with its crimson leaves, falling to frost and the iciness of winter. Danielle sensed that it was more due to the emptiness of the place. She had always had someone keeping her company before—Rak, Dur, Terk. Now she was alone. All she could hear was the gentle crackling of the fire and the faint groan and rattle of the tree branches outside.

Danielle wrapped the thick quilt around her more firmly as she stared at the dull metal of her blade. She had cleaned it thoroughly, carefully buffing away any lingering smudges. She shifted the blade so that she could see her reflection. Her face stared back at her: thin, wide-eyed, lit faintly by the red glow of the emergency lighting.

She closed her eyes and slid the blade away into the sheathe at her wrist. Staying awake was easy. Falling asleep was the hard part.

Her eyes flew open when she heard a frantic series of knocks at the door. Had she actually slept? Danielle stood, her heart pounding as she unsheathed the knife. It wasn’t her brothers; they would have knocked three times and then waited for her to open the door. Whoever was there now was tapping incessantly, a woodpecker against a metal cage.

Perhaps the person would go away. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to open the door. She waited a minute as the knocking continued, more frantic than before. Danielle exhaled slowly and approached the entrance. Her fingers sought out a small metal latch which she swung downward, revealing a peep hole in the door. She stood on her toes, pressing her eyes against the thick glass.

It was a girl—probably only a year or two older than Danielle. Her hair hung loose around her shoulders, mostly hiding her face. But her clothes told Danielle all she needed to know. She wore a reddish, close fitting trench coat; good leather, by the looks of it. Her boots were also leather, but brown instead of red. A few pouches hung at her belt, along with what looked like a knife, but Danielle couldn’t see any other weapons. All in all, she looked wealthy and well fed. Her brothers would kill her if she passed up this opportunity.

Danielle flicked the latch shut and then grabbed the metal bar holding the door closed. She lifted it up and away before grabbing the handle. Slowly, she opened the door.

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