When Sadja opened her eyes the strange man was still there.
She struggled against the ropes holding her to the vehicle even as it sped through the pines.
“Finally awake, hm?” He said, turning to take a look. She growled, but could little else. He had put something around her mouth that kept her from biting down on the ropes, some kind of block she was having a hard time breaking. In fact, she could barely move. Her heart leaped into her chest at the though: he was bringing her back! He was in league with Verna.
“I’d prefer if you did not struggle too much,” he said, his voice strained. Not with anger. He just seemed really tired, which made her feel a little better about the situation. The more inconvenience she managed to cause him, the better. The deep dark bags around his eyes were so dark it looked like he traced his eyes with soot.
She renewed her efforts, trashing on the ropes, pushing left and right, trying to veer the sled out of its path, and screaming as much as she could; she tried and tried even as her lungs started to ache from all her screaming and her tense muscles strained, and her skin bruised against the ropes.
In the end, she found herself as helpless as before, with the cold winter and snow racing through her hair and getting lost in her tail – and just feeling crankier and more tired for it.
She drilled holes through the back of the man who had caught her. If he looked back at her, she could at least try to spit at him… though through her gag would be hard… but she would try as she might!
So, she kept looking even as the man’s back began to lean back and forth, as if he was about to fall asleep. Was he really in such a haste to bring her back to Verna? She started trashing once again, but this time he did not turn to even give her half a look.
She was the one who turned her head as she caught a glimpse of a white figure flashing for a moment through the mist and snow, her stark red hair a clear contrast from the grey pines.
And Sadja felt something shift. It was so weird, like that time she fell down the waterfall and she lost awareness for a moment, but when she woke she was fine, and alive, even after falling from so high. Like the world fell out of focus for a moment and then back.
Except when it did, there was a tree right in front of the sled.
“Spirits!” The man cried out. His reflexes were too slow to avoid it. He barely managed to twist the reins left and the sled buckled against the pine, scraping its bark – an unpleasant sound of twisted metal ran through Sadja’s body and her ears flinched with pain as the impromptu branches nicked her back.
The sled careened to the right, leaning as if to kiss the ground and stones and snow rose to caress her tail. The man cursed again as he tried to right it, but then something behind her blasted into flames and a wave of heat exploded past her, followed by a trail of smoke that sputtered towards the white blanket of clouds.
Bit by bit, the engine sputtered, whined and died.
The man let go of the reins and jumped off. As soon as she came at spitting distance she tried her trick, but he seemed too busy unlatching her from the backseat, even though he only undid the knots holding her to the vehicle. As soon as she was (sort of) free, she tried to get the jump on him, but he merely lifted her, gave one look at the open wound of the engine on the left side and picked her up, setting her on the snowy ground.
She trashed about, hoping for a sharp rock on which to cut her ropes, but it seemed as if her luck had ran out.
“No no no,” he whined, walking to the opposite side, taking off his coat and suffocating the still-burning engine as he coughed on the noxious fumes. Sadja’s nose bristled upon contact and she began to cough as well, but little by little the smoke dispersed and the flames abated.
“How could I…” he turned to look at the tree they had hit the black bruise against its side clearly visible from where it had stepped onto the path of the sled. Sadja was sure something weird had happened, but she did not mention it, and she wouldn’t even if she could have talked. “Am I really so tired I can’t see a tree!?” The man raged, kicking the snow. He shook his head, in a clear panic. He withdrew the coat, now with a nice big black hole in it and crouched in front of the still-sputtering engine.
Sadja managed to grin even beneath the gag. Good for her. Without this sled, he’d be forced to walk much slower, and she’d have a lot more chances to escape, or to hinder him even more. The man did not seem to pay her too much attention, though, he was completely focused on the smoking gash.
She started to roll away, though between the trees and the snow was really hard to find good purchase. Snow filled her coat and froze her neck, but she persisted. She had to find a shark rock or a low-lying branch, or something… though the trees were mostly covered with the same crimson sap she had seen grow for the past few weeks and would probably be too slipper to cut her ropes… but she had to try. At least she could to remove the gag.
“No no no,” she heard him lament, which further improved her mood. That’s what you get for kidnapping. She had a good thing going with her newfound friends, and he had to come and ruin everything. If it wasn’t for the brother and daughter… she hoped they were safe and their parents weren’t too angry with them.
At last she reached the closest pine and began to brush her face against it, trying to untie or at least loosed her gag, spreading the sap all over her skin. She yowled as her hair got caught in the resin.
Still, maybe bit by bit the latch would come off. She had to keep this up.
She tossed another look at the man, who had opened the sled up and was taking out provisions and a stack of black notebooks similar to the one he had hit her with. He began to tinker with some metal tools but only more smoke and sparks came out of his efforts, together with more cursing.
As the sky turned from white to leaden, both he and Sadja found their hope frustrated. All she managed to do was to make her face sticky and unpleasant, while he had just covered his body with soot and kept coughing on noxious fumes.
In the end he kicked the snow once again, screaming at the sky for some unknown god and goddesses that surprised Sadja by their nonsensical attributes.
He sat over the corpse of his sled for a bit. Then they exchanged looks.
“We better not waste much more time,” he said. He pushed the sled against the nearest tree and locked it to it using a metal padlock and a chain. He took out a lot of supplies and other trinkets, but she did not stay and look and wait for him to reach her. Oh no.
She fell back on the snow and began to roll once more, trying to ignore the shivers as more snow ended up against her calves, neck and sides. She’d smell like a wet dog for weeks, but he had another thing coming if he thought she was just going to lay down and die.
On her fourth turn she twisted her head to take a look. He was still there, a large rucksack on his back, pouring some of his blood onto the metal monster.
Whatever his reason, she kept rolling, feeling the slope change. She was now going downhill. Maybe she could try and find some place where to hide under the snow, or cut her knots, or even reach a river and let it carry her further away. Wouldn’t she drown? Maybe, but in that moment all that mattered was to get as far away from him as poss-
“On march!” He pulled her up and put her on his shoulders over his sack. Sadja protested, trying to escape – he just pulled a rope around her body and over his shoulders, tying her up. “Ooop! You weigh more than you look. We have a long way ahead, let’s try to make it…” he swung his first heavy step on the light snow, and Sadja roared her frustration.
All around them, the procession of the Fae proceeded.
There was no redhead figure anymore, but Sadja caught a glimpse of a black and gaunt ‘man’ with long horns of a deer, its head twisted backwards. In its glassy eyes she read a roaring laughter.
Pic by CRAZYRUSSIANAuthor’s Notes: RIP sled. I hope we’ll see it again, I really liked it. Too bad the Hunter’s now on foot, and with the Tide breathing down his neck. Surely thing cannot go much worse? Thanks for reading.