Sadja lost count of the hours. Fear and hunger dug their claws deep into her, and she was just waiting for a chance to get free and run… run away. Fast and without looking back. For the time being though, her only companion was the frigid embrace of winter and the bruises left from the ropes and the chains. She did not care that if she moved and struggled and squirmed less she could avoid most of it. If it made life harder for the man who had kidnapped her, all the better.
For the last day, though, it seemed as if even her hardest efforts had achieved nothing. He had been even harder to read than usual. She had tried to look for a weakness, for a moment when he’d lower his guard and she could try to bite through her knots, but he did his best to keep her clean, to shift the rope so that it did not rub as hard against her skin, and he kept walking uphill.
They had left the large amount of houses that he called a city and followed an old trail covered in snow, with bent metal sticks marking their path at regular intervals.
From time to time he’d stop, make a weird bundle of sticks and strings and tie it up to a rock, to a post, to a house’s door. Or he’d lay them on the ground. He’d always leave a drop of blood in each of them – she had also gotten used to it as well. Red blood.
She used to believe everyone bled silver, just like her.
And the vermillion liquid spilling from his hands looked sickly and disgusting, like it wasn’t supposed to be there. Why wasn’t his skin ruby-red? Why was her own so pale and grey? It did not make sense and it made her feel sick, like yet another part of the world turned against her.
At last, they reached the top of the hill, where the corpse of a house lay bare, destroyed by a small number of trees and bushes, sprouting from the garden and growing to envelope each wall.
There he put her down and tied her against a tree. As soon as he turned to go do something else in the snow, she looked around for sharp objects she could use to cut the ropes.
And as always, she did not find anything… but this time, as absorbed as he seemed with his surroundings, he had made one mistake. The tree’s bark was quite rough.
As soon as he stepped away she began to rub the rope against the bark. Small, quick movement, trying to play them as shivers.
That day, he seemed even more focused on the forest than usual and he did not pay her any mind. He walked out in the snow, making more of those weird bundles, making the snow drink blood and walking in a wide circle.
He also took off his clothes at one time and lay there, half-naked, chanting in the freezing cold.
If he wasn’t the man who was going to bring her back to Verna, she’d almost find it funny.
When he came back, dressed once again, he checked her ropes.
“This is not going to work,” he clicked his tongue explaining. “These have a steel core. You can’t keep rubbing them away and hope they break.” He chuckled. “Points for trying, though.”
She groaned through her gag. Steel core or not, she’d find a way to break them. Somehow.
She just had to keep trying. Every hour she stayed there with him was one hour closer to her imprisonment, and this time Verna wouldn’t be as gentle as she had always been, not even pretending to. She knew as much in her heart.
From time to time, the mists departed, showing the procession of weird shapes walking about between the trees, bent on tracks she couldn’t see nor follow. Days out in the cold had done wonders to her sense of smell. Her nose was itchy and dull. She couldn’t really make much use of it.
As if to make things worse, the man sat next to her, cleaning his rifle and his knife. He seemed to be expecting an assault of some sort.
“Good guess,” he said the third time he saw her gawking, “The peace we have enjoyed so far is about to end.”
She snorted. As if that could be called peace! But there was something in his tone that did put her on the edge.
Something moved at the edge of her vision. Sadja shifted her eyes only to catch a glimpse of flaming red hair and a white vest, but nothing that couldn’t be a crimson-covered branch moved by the wind. Between that and the spiraling mist, it was hard to understand where the forest finished and where the ruins started.
The sky turned from off-white to leaden, and she still tried to break the ropes. He huffed and told her to stop, that it would amount to nothing, but she persisted every time he moved his gaze from her. Which was a lot of times. In the end, as twilight approached and wind slowed to a standstill, he sighed, walked up to her and crouched so that their heads almost touched.
“I don’t want to bring you back bruised and in pain. This is just a job to me, girl. I don’t have anything against you. Besides, Verna…” he trailed off. At the mention of her name, Sadja squirmed, her ears standing up and her tail straining. “… nevermind.” He let it drop and began to gather firewood to make a fire.
As the sun completely disappeared, eight fires burned in a circle around them; a ninth, the largest, he had lit right in front of her, so as to keep her warm even as temperature dropped even more.
She did not care. She did not want to stay warm and cozy. If she did, she’d still be there underground, stunned like a dead fish by drugs and false promises and venomous kindness.
He surely was the same. All these gestures to so-to-say keep her safe were just a facade. She had to escape. No idea how. But she had to.
He ate in silence. He offered her more salted meat, but she nibbled on it only when he departed from the main fire, standing up, rifle at the ready, looking downhill.
As for her, she felt them before seeing them – the same sort of feeling she felt when she passed under the arch, but more widespread, inconsistent and inconstant. From the darkness below rose a sea of eyes.
The man let out a pained groan and from under his clothes ribbons of crimson smoke rose in the air, dissipating into the night.
He tossed her a look.
“Stay put. There’s no more time for games.” He cocked the rifle and pointed it at a misshapen beast that reminded her of the head he carried with him the day he got her. All teeth and eyes and black skin. The thing stalked uphill, and yet it stumbled to its right, attracted by one of the stick bundles he had left behind. Its black paw touched it and it recoiled in pain, pale flames rising from its cursed flesh. Sadja shivered as the thing yowled and shrieked, losing its footing and rolling down to the edge of the forest.
From there came more screaming. And screeching. And a noise of eager jaws crunching bones.
She shivered. The man sent her a knowing look.
“Miss home yet?”
There was no going home. She’d make sure to show him.
And yet, her resolve wavered like the bonfire as the sea of black figures began to reach for the top.
Pic by 8512590215848Author’s Notes: I feel a little better. I managed to work on the update without too much annoyance, and I’m grateful for that. Also, did you see the new headers? I hope you like them. I’m also working to fix an issue with the blog (namely, some of the links used to be dead). All in all, I hope you enjoyed this chapter as well, especially now that the Hunter’s protection has completely run out. I hope these two will see happier times… sooner or later. Thanks for reading!