There were caches of food, water, cash and other supplies buried all over Europe, and they needed them, because N'buli’s insistence on avoiding all signs of civilisation meant they were taking the most torturous route across the continent.
They ended up going around in circles in Poland, and somehow crossed the border into the Ukraine without realising it. By the time they were deep in the Ukrainian forest, N'buli and Max weren’t speaking to each other any more, with all the tiny little inconveniences proving too much in such a tight space. The lack of contact with any other human beings combined with the constant stress to make both men irritable and grouchy. N'buli was tempted to suggest they take on some of the rogue roving militias he knew were in these woods, just to give them something to do. But it was best to stay on target, and silence was the best option for the pair of them under the circumstances.
A week after they left Amsterdam, they were driving a thoroughly dependable Ford Laser, and Max pulled into a rest stop somewhere in some foothills. It was surrounded by tall, dark trees, and like all their camping spots, there was nobody around for miles.
It was still a couple of hours until dawn and N'buli would rather they got a bit further before bedding down for the day, but they were both exhausted and could use a couple of hours sleep.
Max killed the engine and stepped out of the Laser to get some fresh air. It was late autumn in this part of the world and a definite chill in the air. Sighing theatrically, N'buli reached over and closed the door after Max, and settled back in his seat.
All this travelling was exhausting, and he fell asleep in an instant.
The last time he had gone rogue, it had been a lot more fun. He'd been forced to go on the run after the Squid Kings of Uranus had mentally infected the entire top brass for most of the eighties. Even Mr Moon and old man MacGregor had been taken over, and N'buli had been forced to flee.
It took seven years to clear his name that time and he'd been forced to go deep, deep underground, running a fast food joint in Winnipeg for most of that time. This was before Dave, but Val had been with him the whole time and they'd even convincingly pulled off a totally platonic marriage for most of the period, until they'd been able to hit back at the squids.
Seven years of pretending to be a normal guy with a normal job and it had become a kind of slow-form meditation. Staying off the grid, waking up to the alarm clock, going to work every day and watching TV every night with Val, it was all N'buli's first taste of a normal life. He'd never been even slightly tempted to resign from LOVE and live the good life, but he could use the break.
He listened to lots of music and watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books, and when the invasion began to take hold of greater society, he went on a desperate last-effort mission to the heart of the squids, and came out triumphant.
N'buli walked away from that mundane life without a second thought and never went back. Within a week he was swinging onto the deck of a ghost pirate ship in the Arctic, and had already forgot the correct temperature for the french fry oil.
Even as he slept in a car in the middle of fucking nowhere, N'buli knew this trip off the reservation wasn't going to last seven years. This felt bigger, like the stakes were so much higher, and he felt the irresistible urge to get this sorted as quickly as possible. He slept the sleep of the just, and because he knew he would need the rest.
He might have dozed for a while, but N'buli soon noticed that Max hadn’t come back for a while. Fighting off the sleep, N'buli stepped out of the car into the open air.
Dawn could not have been far away, but it was almost pitch black outside the car when N'buli got out. Almost. There was a faint light off in the trees to his right and N'buli walked towards it, stumbling slightly over tree roots and small shrubs as he stepped in amongst the trees. Had Max taken a flashlight with him when he had got out of the car? N'buli couldn’t remember.
He couldn’t see where the light in the forest was coming from, but it was getting brighter as he carefully picked his way through the trees. It was far too bright to be a flashlight and it lit up the light mist that was curling through the leaves.
'Max?' asked N'buli again, a little more cautiously. 'Are you there?'
N'buli thought he heard someone talking, up ahead of him, but couldn’t see anything through the thick trees and the conversation was quickly drowned out by a low humming noise. A feeling of fear and paranoia crawled inside his head, and N'buli found himself running towards the light into the trees, crying out for his friend.
He came into a clearing as the humming sound got louder and was momentarily blinded by the harsh light that filled the open space. His vision quickly adjusted and N'buli could see Max standing in the light about 20 metres in front of him, surrounded by small, humanoid figures.
Max turned at the sound of his name, saw N'buli and waved. Then he turned back towards the light.
N'buli didn’t waste any more words, he just ran after his last friend. The light was odd and it felt like it was both daylight and night time all at once, twilight and noon mixing together like cheap paint, but N'buli raced into the centre of it.
He almost reached Max, but he was just out of reach. The humming was everywhere now, but N'buli heard every word that Max said when he turned around. 'Oh wow. Who knew fucking fairies were real, man?'
Then Max turned and stepped away into nothing and it all stopped. There was no noise, or mysterious light. Just N'buli, all alone in the dark forest.