The packets of thessaline were divided into six separate bags and Cedric distributed one bag to each of them.
"I don't have to say again how dangerous these are if you should be caught with them," Cedric said.
"You just did," Jasmine said.
"Of course you're right Jasmine. I'm sure going to miss you, I'm going to miss all of you. It's because I care about you I keep warning you, I guess. I don't mean to be a nag."
"You aren't a nag. You've been absolutely wonderful, and we're going to miss you too, Cedric," she said giving him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
Dora and Louise showed up with some food packages they would carry in their packs. They were all eager to get going. They thanked Dora and Louise and apologized for leaving a mess.
"We know what you are doing," Louise said, "and we want to be a part of it. This is our part."
Oscar and Henry showed up to see them off. Oscar would also drive them to the tunnel entrance.
When they all had said their goodbyes, and thanks, and good wishes with hugs all around they made their way outside with their packs and the head lights already in place.
"Are you taking that back with us?" Yuwon said pointing to the bull roarer eddy has hanging by his side.
"Yes," he said. "It reminds me of how wonderful you are."
They all jumped onto the open bed of Oscar's truck.
"Hold on!" Jasmine said sarcastically, holding on to Lester.
When they arrived at the tunnel entrance there was a small crowd waiting to greet them and cheer them on their way. Without ceremony the children climbed off the trike and headed for the entrance. Behind them they could hear a little applause and words of encouragement being shouted. Just before they started down the other side of the little hill that would begin the descent into the tunnel they heard on loud voice very distinctly say, "come back."
Lester and Jasmine looked at each other. "Do you think we will?" Jasmine asked.
"First we have to do this," Jasmine. "After that we'll do whatever we know is right to do."
Anthony and Veronica were leading, then Eddy who was holding Yuwon's hand, followed by Lester and Jasmine. Anthony and Veronica set a very fast pace.
"We should make good time at this rate," Eddy said.
"We should make as much distance as we can while descending," Anthony said. "We got a late start but we should still be able to make twenty miles, if we don't have any trouble."
"Big if," Veronica said, pointing ahead of her.
There were bottles and other debris scattered around. They all looked at Eddy.
"It's new," he said. "It wasn't here before."
"It was at least four of five days ago," Lester said. "Whatever was in the bottles is dried up, and these wrappers are already disintegrating."
"We should still try to make as much distance as we can," Anthony said. "We'll just have to be especially alert. I hope we've reached level ground before anything happens."
They had in fact already reached level ground, and were approaching the first bend in the tunnel. Before anyone could say anything Jasmine had sprinted ahead with her pistol in her hand. As the others were reaching her she waved Eddy on.
"It looks different to me," Jasmine said. "Has anything changed?"
"Sure has," Eddy said.
Eddy and Jasmine went back to others waving them to the side out of view of the turn in the tunnel.
"What is it, Eddy," Anthony asked.
"There are mounds of rocks that weren't there before. There are six of them and they look almost like graves."
"Could they be graves?" Lester asked.
"If they were made by Nebers they're not. Nebers hold nothing sacred. They'd be more likely to eat the dead than bury it. I think they are an ambush," Eddy said.
Yuwon surprised them all when she pulled out her gun and said, "well let's get it over with."
Everyone knew she was right. There was no way they were going to avoid the Nebers now. They would just have to face whatever was awaiting them. They all had their guns out now.
Anthony started walking at his usual fast pace. They were no longer in a line, two by two, but grouped in a jagged line, and walked loudly and boldly. There was no need for caution, only being ready.
They were approaching the first mound on their right when suddenly two of them came out from behind the furthest mound. They were filthy, their dirty scraggly hair hanging like used mops around their face and shoulders. Both were extremely skinny. They were holding guns.
"Stop where you are," they shouted. "What have you got in those packs children?"
But the children didn't stop. They continued walking boldly toward the two Nebers when eight others suddenly appeared from behind the other mounds.
"Shoot and move! Shoot and move! Lester yelled as he shot the Neber closest to him. Anthony had already shot one of the original two who challenged them, but the other ducked behind the mound. When he poked his head out, Veronica shot him.
One of the Nebers was approaching Yuwon. "Oh, I like you," the Neber said
as he approached. Eddy jumped in front of Yuwon ready to shoot. The Neber shot first. His shot was low but he hit Eddy and Eddy went down. Before the Neber had a chance to turn, Yuwon finish him off.
Lester shot two more Nebers. Jasmine, standing beside him was whirling and shooting taking down three more Nebers.
The last Neber began running away and had gotten about forty yards when Veronica aimed and shot, killing him.
The only casualty was Eddy, who was on the ground but sitting up with Yuwon beside him.
"Where'd they get you, Eddy," Lester asked.
Eddy stood up with Yuwon's help and said, "in the bullroarer."
The bullroarer apparently deflected the bullet. Eddy's leg was sore but there was no real damage.