Sadja felt at once something was wrong. The father came back inside, he cleaned the saber and gave her a long look. It was always hard to understand their emotions with their black faces and unblinking, glowing eyes. But she could smell his doubt. And something else, beneath. A sense of shame. He shook his head, shut the door and and walked upstairs, talking with his sons.
The mother stayed with her, though she tilted her head to the upper floor; and bit by bit, as Sadja tried to pretend nothing was bothering her, her body language changed. She laid down all the pretty things the merchant had given her and came to sit on the table, looking at her.
The father came down, hissed some more of those words she did not understand to his wife and walked outside, still holding the saber.
From there came a few more muffled words, then some sort of hum and thrum that Sadja did not recognize, slowly fading away.
Did it mean the merchant had left? But he did not get any payment for his wares.
Unless… when she looked up, she met the gazes of the brother and daughter.
And her heart grew heavy.
From then on, a new, cruel game began, as the shadows crawled over the wall and the only sound shared were sighs and murmurs. She couldn’t believe it.
If she tried to walk away from her spot, the mother was right there, offering her a stripe of meat, a fruit, or a warm blanket.
“Can I go outside? I need to…” she gestured towards her stomach.
And the mother nodded. She rummaged through the piles of forgotten items in the home and handled her a bucket.
Sadja looked at the rusty, moldy thing.
“T-thanks,” she groaned, going back to her spot. She did not even try to use it – they were… they were trying to keep her there.
But why? Because the father had left with that ‘merchant’, that was why! He was coming to get her… maybe right now he was laughing all the way to his friends, calling them all to surround the house.
Her eyes stung as she bit her lips, laying down on the floor and holding onto her tail for comfort. These people… didn’t they take her in? They had given her a roof, a meal, and even forgiven her for stealing. And now they wanted to sell her?
For a few trinkets like those?
The brother and daughter also came down.
They encircled her, keeping their eyes on her.
The brother looked dejected. He fidgeted with all four of his arms, his wings laying limps behind his back. The daughter kept sharing glances with her mother, but the woman did not seem eager to have any kind of exchange.
Sadja balled her fists. Feeling like her heart was being pulled apart, she dried her tears.
“Please…” she croaked. Stopped. Drew a long breath and tried to steady her voice. “Please let me go.”
The daughter was the first to talk. She turned back to hiss some unknown words to her mother, and bit by bit the conversation between the two grew louder and quicker. The brother, started, shifted his eyes between the door and Sadja, his four hands clenching.
And they were just wasting their time. If she had to escape she had to do it now while it was just three against one – the other two would soon come back, and with that so-called merchant there would be more captors, and their throwing nets, and their pokes crackling with lightning and… and… her. At the thought of Mastra Verna slithering through the woods to once more poison her mind with her sweetened lies, Sadja’s lips curled and let out a pained growl. No no no. She couldn’t stay here, she couldn’t…
The brother dashed towards her. Sadja, caught unaware, had barely the time to bare her teeth when he took… not one of her limbs, but the sturdy firepoke. He pushed her aside, jumped towards the closest window, the one with the thinnest wooden bars to cover it, and using all four of his arms pulled it apart. The planks creaked and fell on the floor, leaving only rusted iron and glass to hinder her.
“Sssswifft!” He pleaded. The mother let out a shriek and stood up.
“I’m sorry,” Sadja exclaimed, jumped at the window covered only in her vest, and punched the old iron latch. It bent and the window opened onto the afternoon air. Its pungent, too-sweet smell hit her nostrils. She pulled herself through, murmuring one last feeble I’m sorry, and then she was touching the ground and ran away.
Something caught her attention. A few paces behind her, the father and the mysterious man had just arrived. The father looked at her, stunned, while the other one was covered head to toe in what looked like black tar. He tossed away a misshapen head with too many eyes and ran after her.
Her heart roared as she ran, ran, ran. She had no aim, no direction. Just going forward. Away. At least he seemed to be alone, but he must have brought his friends with him, they’d strike from the shadows at any moment, trying to bring her back to her, back to her, back to her. She wasn’t going to let him do that!
Behind her heavy steps followed. She did not make the mistake to turn and check, or even slow down even as pines and thorns scratched against her exposed skin, shards bit into her feet and branches grasped her tail.
“Wait!” Came the lame call, but she ignored it. She would never go back. Never.
And then something hit her back. Sadja let out a surprised cry, stumbled, hit her foot on a branch and fell forward, next to the object that hit her.
It was a black, heavy notebook.
The man quickly as upon her. Sadja growled, trying ti stand up. But her ankle sent a burst of pain up her leg. Her foot bruised and twisted, a dark grey color where she had twisted it. She tried to put weight on it, collapsed again.
He came closer and lifted his hands, as if that could calm her down. Blood wept from his right eye, swollen and crimson.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I won’t go back,” she lashed out, trying to hurt him, bite him, scratch him.
“I won’t go back,” she repeated, pulling up for a strike at the man’s feet. She’d get him!
He crouched, his hand closed against the soil and threw dust into her eyes.
“Raaah!” Sadja yowled, swinging wildly as she tried to get it out. Her hand hit a tree and she yowled again at the pain.
The man pulled her into a steel-like embrace. She yowled and scratched and bit and kicked, but it was like trying to hold back a wall of stone. He applied pressure to the back of her head and Sadja’s vision swan. Her eyelids fluttered. It was like falling asleep. Much quicker. No escape. She let out one last miserable I won’t… and her eyes closed.
And darkness rose, once more, as inclement as the first time.
Pic by hiveworkshop.comAuthor’s Notes: Well that was quite the letdown. I have briefly considered to show a little more of Sadja’s skills, but I decided to end it without too much foreshadowing. A prerogative of this challenge is that if I show too much too soon I’m likely going to pain myself in a corner. It’s stimulating, trying to understand what to show and what to keep in store for later without a roadmap or a pre-made structure…
All in all I hope you found this chapter interesting, even though it ends on a sour note. We’re approaching the end to the first arc, and I hope you’ll keep reading, especially now that the Hunter finally got his mark. Question is what he’s going to do with her. Thanks for reading.