“That's gunfire!” Brianna yelled.
Lana said, “Brianna, no! You're not done healing.”
“What, this?” Brianna pointed at her disfigured face. “Pff. Just a flesh wound.” She winked with her good eye. “Where's my stuff?”
Lana nodded toward a pile in the corner: the familiar modified runner's backpack with the sawed-off shotgun and machete.
“Kick ass, Breeze,” Lana said, but she was talking to air.
Down the hall in a second. Down the steps in less. Through the lobby. And now she could really turn on the speed as she blew down the hill, tripped, and went tumbling head over heels.
Brianna did not get up with super-speed. She stood slowly. Both knees were bleeding, as were the palms of her hands. Brianna touched her swollen eyes.
“Depth perception, Breeze,” she chided herself. “Depth perception.”
She slowed through town, doing no more than sixty miles an hour down Ocean Boulevard past a darkening sea that was just swallowing the sun. She hung a hard right on San Pablo, blew through the town plaza, slowing just enough to hear the fierce cheers of “Breeeeze!” from shooters positioned in windows and on rooftops. She gave them a jaunty wave. She hit the highway and cranked a left toward the sound of gunfire, passed a fleeing kid, noticed that the entire northwest was on fire and the air smelled of smoke, yanked out her machete, and merely had enough time to think, This could go bad, before she saw Gaia and Orc.
Gaia had a hand on Orc's throat, and Orc, forced to his knees, was punching air as Gaia twisted her head this way and that to dodge blows. Gaia was laughing. Her blue eyes were alight.
Brianna blurred to a stop.
“Hey. Gaia. Remember me?”
Gaia tossed Orc aside as though he weighed no more than a toy.
The fight lasted six seconds.
In that time, Brianna rushed, swung her machete, and missed.
Gaia swung a fist as powerful as Jack's and caught just a corner of Brianna's shoulder, spinning Brianna away to sprawl on the concrete. Brianna was up in a flash, snapped her shotgun up, fired, and hit Gaia in the chest with a load of buckshot that knocked Gaia staggering back with seven small holes in her.
Brianna rushed, yelling, “Die!” stuck her shotgun into the stunned Gaia's mouth, and pulled the trigger.
Gaia's head exploded. Blood sprayed everywhere, coating Brianna's upper body, and bits of skull and brains flew into the air to splatter on the highway concrete. Gaia's body glowed faintly green before going limp, suspended in a standing position by Brianna's gun, still in her mouth. The shotgun punctures on her chest slowly stopped bleeding.
There was a moment of silence, except for the faintly heard cackling of the fire as Gaia slowly slid off the barrel of the shotgun, falling to the ground. Then Brianna screamed in absolute triumph, swelling up with pride.
“YES!” she shouted. “YES! Hah hah!”
She'd done it. After an entire year of fighting the monstrous creature, she, the Breeze, had finally taken it down. In six seconds. She'd be famous, the star of all the news broadcasts and interviews. She could see the headline in her head. The Breeze, the savior of the FAYZ.
Brianna loaded another round into her shotgun and fired into Gaia's bloody face. She danced around the fallen gaiaphage until she was tackled. She instinctively reached for her machete before realizing who it was that tackled her. Dekka.
Dekka wrapped her arms around Brianna, shouting in joy and crying at the same time. “You did it, Breeze,” she said as she sobbed. “You did it.”
After a moment's hesitation, Brianna returned the embrace. Then Dekka pulled away, looking slightly embarrassed at the emotion she revealed.
“Sorry,” she muttered, glancing behind her.
After an even longer moment's hesitation, Brianna gave Dekka a quick kiss on the cheek. She didn't say anything, just blushed furiously. Almost as furiously as Dekka.
Then the situation was ended by Edilio when he came into view, walking toward them from where he was thrown by Gaia.
“What...?” he started. Then he saw Gaia. His eyes widened. “Is she—did you—?”
Brianna put her hands on her hips and nodded. “I did. I killed the bitch,” she said, grinning widely.
His mouth fell open. “Brianna, you—”
He was interrupted by Orc coming blundering out from brush alongside the highway. Then his mouth also fell open. “Good job,” he rumbled, a smile spreading on his face.
Those were his last words.
The wet gravel that made up most of his body began falling off. It slipped off in patches and landed on the concrete of the highway. He looked down at his crumbling body, and then up at them, shock, fear, and confusion in what was left of his face.
Edilio moved toward him with a concerned, “Orc?” But Orc's body continued to crumble until he fell to the ground, unable to hold up his weight any longer. The rest of the rock fell off, and for a moment, just a moment, there was the body of a boy, a teenager, lying on the road. But then that disentegrated, too.
Brianna, Dekka, and Edilio stood in utter disbelief, staring at the mess of gravel and flesh that was Orc.
“Why did this happen?” Brianna whispered, the elation of defeating Gaia gone.
“Gaia's dead,” Dekka said, tears trickling down her face as she stared at the remains. “She was the source of all the FAYZ's powers. If she dies, we all lose our mutations.”
“And his was keeping him alive,” Edilio finished. He wiped tears off of his face.
“Wait, what?” Brianna shouted. “We lose our mutations?” She ran around Edilio and Dekka, but no super-speed. She fell to her knees in shock.
“I'm not the Breeze anymore,” she said, her voice almost a whisper.
Dekka knelt down beside her, and put her arm around her shoulders. “Don't be ridiculous,” she said. “You'll always be the Breeze.”
“You'll always be our hero,” Edilio said, and he too put his arms around her.
They all hugged each other, ignoring the blood that drenched Brianna, sobbing freely.
When they had calmed down a bit, Dekka said, “Guys, can you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Edilio asked.
“Sirens,” Brianna realized, hearing them too. “The barrier is gone.”
“It's over,” they all said.
Edilio stood up. “Get back to town,” he said. “Tell the authorities about the bodies up here. Talk to Astrid about what to say about Gaia. She'll figure something out.” He reached down and picked up his machine gun rifle, slinging it over his shoulder.
“Wait, where are you going?” Brianna demanded. They'd just won. They couldn't go separate ways just yet.
Edilio shook his head. “I can't let the authorities take me. I'm still an illegal immigrant, remember?” He gazed off in the direction of Lake Tramonto. “Besides, I have to find Roger's body.” A fresh wave of tears took him over, and Brianna and Dekka hugged him as his body shook with sobs.
He let them for a minute before he pulled away. “Good luck, friends,” he said, and turned to sprint off towards the lake.
“Edilio!” Brianna called.
He turned around.
She tossed him her machete. “The coyotes might still be out there,” she said. “And dangerous.”
“Not to mention the fire,” Dekka said. “Be careful.”
“We'll see each other again, 'Dilio,” Brianna told him.
Edilio smiled. “Yes, we will, Brianna. And you, Dekka.” And with the blood-dripping machete in his hand, he turned and ran.
Dekka and Brianna found Astrid arguing with two policemen.
“You have to recover the bodies first,” Astrid was saying. “The town is already in terrible shape, the fire shouldn't be the first of our worries. We have at least a half hour before it reaches the town.”
“Ma'am, the bodies will still be here after we put the fire out,” one of the cops said. “Now, if you would please let us put you in an ambulance—”
“Astrid!” Dekka called. She got the attention of Astrid and the two cops, who both froze at the sight of Brianna. She was still covered in blood and bits and pieces of brain.
Astrid ran toward them, pulling them both into a hug. “You did it,” she breathed. “You actually did it.” She pulled back. “Where's Edilio? And Orc? Edilio's soldiers?”
“Orc's dead,” Brianna explained. “He survived the battle but when I killed Gaia—I killed Gaia—his mutation failed and he... crumbled.”
“Edilio's soldiers are up there, dead,” Dekka continued. “Edilio left to avoid the authorities and find Roger.”
“He left for what?” one of the cops asked.
“To find his boyfriend,” Astrid quickly covered up. “He was at the lake massacre.”
“He went straight into the fire!” the second cop protested.
Dekka shot them dirty looks. “He's been through worse than forest fire. We all have.”
“Where are Caine and Diana?” Brianna wondered.
“The island,” Astrid said. “They'll be back eventually when they realize the barrier's gone.”
They turned to see Quinn running toward them. Astrid looked behind him, hoping to see Sam. She looked crestfallen when he wasn't there.
“Where's Sam?” she asked, beginning to panic.
Quinn looked worried. “That's what I'm here about. Taylor told me that Sam's on the highway with a broken spine. I was going to bring him to Lana, but from what I've gathered that's not going to work now.”
Astrid turned to the cops. “Here's a priority for you: My boyfriend is lying mangled and dying on the highway somewhere. Go find him.”
The cops looked at one another, and then ran off, hopefully to get Sam.
“Brianna?” a voice said.
Brianna turned to see Computer Jack, standing a few feet behind her.
“Jack,” she said awkwardly.
“Did you kill her?” he asked, in awe. “Gaia?”
She nodded, pride filling her face. “I killed her.”
He grinned and made a move to hug her, but she stepped back. He looked at her uncertainly. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
In response, she took Dekka's hand in hers, and stepped closer to her. All three of their faces blushed furiously.
“Uh—oh,” Jack said. “Okay. Uh—” He turned and quickly walked off.
Dekka looked at Brianna and beamed. She looked truly happy, unlike she ever had before.
“Happy endings,” Astrid whispered to herself.
They didn't know until Caine tried to summon his glass of water from across the room. He stretched his hand out and willed it to him, but it didn't budge. Confused, he tried again. It still wasn't working.
That's when he realized.
“Diana!” he shouted urgently, scrambling up from his bed and throwing on pants.
“What?” she yelled back from the bathroom.
He stormed into the bathroom, where she was brushing her hair. She dropped the brush in fright, not expecting him to barge in so suddenly.
“What is it that's so important?” Diana asked irritably. She picked up her brush from the floor and continued brushing her hair, not considering what his purpose for interrupting her bathroom routine might be.
He grabbed her hand. “Come on. We're going back.”
Diana looked at him in misunderstanding. “What? Why would we do that?”
He pulled her closer to him, and took her face in his hands.
Lana stood on the balcony of her Clifftop hotel room. She gazed out upon Perdido Beach, now overrun with military, police units, fire department, Red Cross volunteers, parents and newscasters breaking through the police-held line. Only one ambulance had thought to come to Clifftop yet, and the professionals were transporting the injured kids down to the ground to be loaded into ambulances. Lana shut herself out on a balcony, smoking what would probably be her last cigarette. It's not like they need her help in there.
It's not like she'd be any help. Her power was gone. She'd felt the exact moment when it died, when the Darkness finally died. She'd cried in relief and freedom. Her mind would finally be her own again.
The door slid open, and someone stepped onto the balcony. She knew it was Sanjit before she saw him. She blew smoke in his face, and he wheezed. She smirked.
“Hey, babe,” he said. “So it's dead?”
“It's dead,” she confirmed.
He whistled. He opened his mouth to say something else, but then closed it.
“No,” Lana said. “You can't do that. Now you have to tell me.”
Sanjit sighed. “My parents are going to be here to pick us up soon,” he began, his tone regretful. “They're probably going to take us to their Malibu mansion. Obviously, that's all the way across the country, and....” He looked off toward the island he used to live on. “Listen, Lana, I really like you, and—”
“Save it,” Lana said. “We're going to lose touch and drift apart from each other until we never talk. I know. I get it. It's okay, I forgive you.”
Sanjit tilted his head and looked at her. “You're strange,” he diagnosed. “But thanks. I... I love you, Lana.”
“Oh, shut up,” Lana growled, and pulled him in for their last kiss.
The coyotes were still out there. And dangerous.
As far as Edilio could tell, there were only three, but it was hard to tell when the air was so thick with smoke. He saw the dark shape of one and shot at it without hesitation. He heard a cry and a whimper, and knew he at least hurt it.
Another jumped out of the smoke towards him, but Edilio's gun was faster, and he fired at the animal. It fell to the ground, and Edilio saw the life leave its intelligent, soulless eyes.
At least one more, he thought.
He thought he saw a shape in the smoke, so he aimed his gun and pulled the trigger. He didn't hear the satisfying yap of a wounded coyote. He fired at another shape and swore when he realized he was out of bullets. He felt his pockets for extras. He felt a box in one of them. A box of bullets. Yes! He pulled it out, but he felt the weightlessness of it and knew it was empty. He cursed again. He instinctively reached for the pistol he kept tucked into the back of his belt, but it was gone. It must have fallen out when Gaia threw him off the highway. Cursing even worse, he reached into his backpack and yanked out Brianna's Bowie knife.
He heard scuffling behind him and he whirled around. A bigger, mangy coyote was slowly approaching him. This must be Pack Leader.
“Pack Leader,” Edilio choked out. “You don't have to eat me. The wall is gone. You can hunt as much as you want.”
Pack Leader barked at him. If it was possible for a coyote to look frustrated, Pack Leader did. What was wrong with him? Was he unable to talk? Maybe the remaining coyotes lost their speech mutation when Gaia died, too.
But oh, no, Edilio knew this trick. One coyote distracts the prey while the other attacks from behind. He jumped around just in time to shove the machete into the side of the second coyote's neck. The coyote was close enough to drool on him—and it did. The animal went limp.
Edilio began to panic as he couldn't pull the machete out of the dead coyote's neck. He gave it one last tug before abandoning it. He reached into his backpack and pulled out a rare pepperspray he had been saving for Gaia, and emptied its contents into Pack Leaders yellow eyes. The animal howled in pain and aggravation, and Edilio took off running, hopefully towards the lake. When Pack Leader's bellows of pain began lessening, he forced himself to go faster.
Running through the smoke and hearing the nearby roar of the fire was like running through hell. He couldn't breathe. The stench of charcoal and ash filled the air. Sweat covered his body, his clothes stuck to him.
It was only when he tripped and fell face-first into the water that he knew he was at the lake. Pushing himself to his feet, he ran toward the outline of the marina he saw against the glow of fire.
“Roger!” he called out, his voice hoarse. It achingly hurt to talk, but he had to find Roger. “Roger!”
Becoming aware of Pack Leader behind him, Edilio swung off his backpack and threw it at Pack Leader's head. He didn't expect it to save him, but hopefully it would buy him time. That was all he could do.
Pack Leader sank his teeth into Edilio's ankle, and Edilio went down hard. He landed on his chin, his teeth slammed together and chopping off the very tip of his tongue. The taste of blood filled his mouth. His vision went red, and he rolled over onto his back. He kicked Pack Leader in the face, but that just made the coyote more determined. The animal leaped onto him, snapping at his neck, but at last second Edilio got a hold of its neck. He held it at length from his throat, but only for that moment. He knew he wouldn't be able to hold out much longer.
He knew he was dead.
The coyote clamped its iron jaw down onto Edilio's left forearm, and he screamed in pain, feeling the teeth dig into his bone.
Then the coyote toppled over and off of Edilio. It stayed there, lying limp.
Edilio blinked his vision clear to see a dirty, bloodied Roger standing over him with his hands in front of him, shock on his face. The coyote had a machete planted in its skull.
“Edilio?” Roger croaked in disbelief and hopefulness.
“Roger,” Edilio sobbed, pulling Roger into an embrace with his good arm.
They leaned against each other's foreheads, and spoke the words both of them had been to afraid to say before.
“I love you.”
Five months after the FAYZ ended, all of the survivors were officially pardoned of any crimes committed while inside the FAYZ. The closest call was Caine Soren. So many of the kids had spoken of terrible things he had done, but in the end, Astrid and Diana had managed to convince the jury to give Caine a chance.
A part of the agreement was that Caine spends eight months in an inpatient mental health facility, and at least the three following consecutive years in therapy. At least a year of therapy was required for every survivor, and often “FAYZ therapy groups” were formed.
Sam's back is almost fully healed, but he will never be as athletic as he was before. His surfing has to be “toned down” as to not be so rough, and any physical contact sports are out of the option. He has been emancipated by his mother, and lives with Astrid and Diana.
Astrid's relationship with her parents hasn't been the same since before the FAYZ. They'll never understand what it was like in the FAYZ, or what happened to Little Pete, who faded from existence after Gaia's death, which destroyed the realm in which he was surviving in. Living with Sam, they plan to get married as soon as legally possible.
Diana's relationship with Caine is complicated but definitely there. She visits him every day at the mental institution, and promises to spend the rest of her life with him. She lives with Sam and Astrid, who are all doing their best to help each other recover.
Lana lives with her parents in Las Vegas. She no longer cares at all about social status at her school, and whenever she hurts herself, she laughs for five minutes at the irony. She still talks to Sanjit, but she knows nothing will ever happen between them.
Quinn came out of the FAYZ a better, more loyal friend. He lives near Sam and goes surfing with him every weekend, and makes sure it's “toned down” for Sam's back's sake.
Dekka's parents still aren't happy with her “lifestyle,” but they are glad to have her back and reluctantly allow Dekka and Brianna's relationship. They live in different towns, but every weekend they meet for a date.
Brianna will always be the Breeze. She'll always be the hero of the FAYZ. She's found herself as a bisexual and meets with Dekka every weekend to go on a date together. She is determined to win the track championship for her school, and still tells people to call her the Breeze.
Edilio is now a legal citizen. He and Roger were found by the lake during the fire, both critically injured, and were taken to a hospital immediately, where they found out that he was an illegal alien. After hearing the stories of his heroicness in the FAYZ, they refused to report him, and due to his crucial role in the survival of the children of the FAYZ, his family was granted US citizenship. He waited the months it took for Roger to recover, they are in a happy relationship.
Roger is happy with Edilio and completely recovered from his fragile condition he was left in after the Lake Tramonto Massacre. He still draws often, but he has never truly recovered from the loss of Justin. He talks to Edilio all the time about adopting a boy and naming him Justin, and every time he asks, Edilio agrees to name their first son Justin.
Computer Jack gets over Brianna, and becomes happy for her and Dekka. After the FAYZ, he is more of a computer nerd than before, having been deprived on technology for almost a year. He already has scholarship opportunities, and has a bright future.
Howard is not whole without his best friend Charles Merriman, but even he understands that Orc had matured from a simple schoolbully into a hero.
Taylor is still seen around the Perdido Beach Memorial area, and has become a sort of local legend. She has her own website, where it is discussed where she is most often seen and the best methods to finding her. It's clear she will never return to normal, but who will?
Drake Merwin's body—well, head, was found near Perdido Beach, looking formerly attached to the adult Alex Mayle's, the man who fell into the FAYZ. Scientists will always contemplate his undeadness and whip arm, and he will always haunt the dreams of FAYZ survivors.
The FAYZ will always be an unsolved mystery. Perhaps that's the beauty of it. The key of the FAYZ was change; the animals changed, the people changed, mentally and physically, the environment changed. Through it all, through the death, starvation, murder, cannibalism, mutations, riots, divisions, rivalries, hatred, pain, suffering, and evil, there was also kindness, empathy, goodness, heroes, and love. The FAYZ survivors will forever be affected by this, and it's because of all of this that they are the people, the survivors they are today. From Michael Grant, from Sam and Astrid, Caine and Diana, Quinn, Edilio, Lana and Patrick, Dekka, Brianna, Albert, Computer Jack, Orc, Mary, Sanjit and Choo, Howard, Hunter, Little Pete, and all the rest (even Drake), thanks. You are now free to leave the FAYZ.