Sadja’s mind had wandered through dark corridors. Sometimes she was back in the underground hallways she had escaped from, but this time no matter how far she ran or how fast, a tall figure in white always reached for her from behind, holding her with her hook-like hands and pulling her in the dark with her. Sometimes she was in the forest – she looked down at her arms and saw them laying on the ground, spilling silver blood over white snow. Then they scuttled over between the bushes, moving on their own. No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t find them.
Sometimes, a sad-looking redhead girl was shouting her name from a distance. She did not hear her voice, but knew she was calling for her. No idea why. She did not even know who she was.
Even if she did seem vaguely familiar, but each and every time she tried to remember, it slipped off her mind.
And there were moments when she was awake, but she did not move – barely holding onto her breath. Those were the moments when the man turned to look at her.
She was playing dead. Trying to keep her breath even. She was barely aware of her surroundings.
Cold. White. Rust patches. The clutching smell of smoke.
And yet he always seemed to know when she was awake. Then he’d walk up to her and change her bandages, clean her wounds.
She remembered the Tide. The endless white that had bit her. She came to it often.
It was only little by little that strength came back to her body. At first, only for a few moments, when she managed to keep her breath even, open her eyelids enough to take in her surroundings.
She either lay on a log, on a blanket in the middle of some meadow, or she was tied to the man’s back as he proceeded southwards.
Those were the worst.
She’d get a spindly burst of panic and her muscles would tighten, but just as swiftly as it came, her strengths would leave her and she’d fall back into that strange land between night and day.
And then, it was all gone.
Sadja blinked and the world made sense. She lay on a blanket in a dark room, amidst dilapidated walls. From the thin windows she could only see trees and other walls. Air was crisp and it smelled like rotten, charred flesh. Aches rose from her arms, her chest, her stomach and her neck. She was still worn out, but she was clearly aware. She stood up, trying not to push down with her arms.
Her kidnapper was asleep.
Or he pretended to be.
She followed the metal chain from his wrist sneaking all the way across the floor to her ankle. Slowly, she leaned forward, her fingers aching for the grip of metal.
“It’s useless,” came his rough voice. Sadja froze. He spoke without even looking at her. “If you are hungry you’ll find more strips of meat in the bag next to you.”
She turned to see he had left her a bowl of water and a small pouch full of the same salted strips. Not as good as the soup she had back in the forest, but better than anything.
Reluctantly, she took one and sniffed it.
Nothing strange, save for the meat starting to turn a little stale.
Nibbling on one end, she thought back about her friends in the forest. The father did not like her in her end. And if there was a small part of her heart that tried to make her understand he had likely did it to protect his family, she quickly hushed it.
Ironic how his very daughter and son tried their best to help her escape. If she ever came back…
Which was delusional.
The man laying on the other side of the room would never let her go. He had shown as much.
He needed her alive because Verna needed her alive. And unspoiled.
That was likely the reason he even took the time to take care of her wounds. A dead girl was not a good girl.
It was just a whisper, but it shattered the silence like a hammer thrown into a pane of glass.
The man shifted. He seemed uncomfortable. Maybe due to her question. Maybe due to her presence.
She’d be glad for any small victory.
“You should save your strength,” he replied. “Talking will only make you feel more tired.”
“Well what if I want to talk? What will you do then, mister big, bad and ugly?”
“I get ugly and big. I have been putting on more weight. But bad?”
“Good people don’t kidnap girls.” She shuffled her feet, making the chain tinkle. As it was her habit, she pulled up her tail and hugged it, passing her hands through its hairs. They felt coarse and wet. She smelled like a whipped dog. Sad and lonely and stupid.
“Good girls don’t run away from home and three meals a day,” he rebuked. Which made her ears twitch.
She stretched her arms, showing the pockmarks. “I did not get these by scratching against the walls.”
That seemed to shut him up.
She munched on the meat for a little more, taking slow sips of water. Her moth-like friend taught her to get stronger bit by bit. Eating too much at once would only upset her stomach.
“Your blood…” he began. Hesitated.
“Yeah, you want some?” She whipped her head back to glare at him. If she could she’d make him disappear in an instant. He wasn’t like one of those black, horrible monsters, or she’d cut herself and smear her life fluid all over him. Then she could turn back and run, run, run.
At last, he waved his hand.
“I can manage with my own. I wouldn’t take it anyway.”
She gritted her teeth. Was he playing with her?
“You are going to bring me to her. You know her. You know what she does.”
That also gave him pause. He leaned back, kneading his face as if he was trying to change its shape.
“I have given it some thought. I have known Verna for about ten years now.”
“I can’t believe she’d do anything like that to a girl. Even one as… unusual as you.”
“Hey!” She pulled her tail closer and her ears stiffened.
“I did not mean it as an insult. But you’re likely half-Fae, or something like that.” He frowned. “Or maybe not. I can’t see Verna dealing with anything like that. She’d gleefully destroy it. And your blood…” he tilted his head, giving her a once-over.
“I don’t really care,” Sadja replied. “I just want to be free. I don’t want to go back there. I don’t want to be sedated. I don’t want any more needles and drugs and sweet lies!” She balled her fists. “Please. I don’t want to go back to her.”
He stood up and the chain linking them tinkled.
“As I said, I have given it some thought. Currently, we are hiding in the rubble of a small town next to what used to be an highway. My goal is to bring you to Verna.”
“Why?” Sadja screamed, her question leaving her throat raw.
“I need her help and I made a deal. I don’t walk back from a deal.”
“Maybe I can help you! No need to go to her.”
He scratched his cheek.
“I don’t really think you could. Even with your blood… there are some things that are beyond us. And yet… I know what you are doing, you know?”
“What I’m doing?” She growled.
“Verna set someone on my trail. I’m not positive about who, but they are going to be dangerous. And there’s something else that’s trying to reach me.” His face turned even darker. “That’s what you are doing. Trying to make me think twice. I won’t go back on the deal I made.”
Sadja connected the dots.
“Well, she surely seemed to trust you!”
“Verna’s not one to leave things to chance. She’s Venexia’s High Seer. Do you know what that means? She has…” he waved his arms in a big circle. “Powers. She can see into the past and the future. Well, every Vestal worth her water can, but she’s exceedingly skilled. It’s likely she had already predicted all this, down to the very words. That’s another reason why I told you talking is stupid.”
“I wasn’t the one who wanted to talk.”
“Spirits. You’re a lot to deal with.”
“All the more reason to leave me alone!”
He shook his head and sat back into the same spot.
“Point being, it’s useless to argue with an Augur such as Verna. If she wants you back, she will. I’m just trying to find the path where I can get something out of it. You should…”
She spat at him.
It landed between his feet.
“Talking is stupid.”
She turned and gave him her back.
“… have it your way,” he sighed. “Think about what I told you.”
She gritted her teeth so much her neck ached.
She’d find a way to escape.
Verna could see into the future? Well, if she did so, why let her leave?
Her plan did not make any sense. And she’d show it to her.
By finding a way to run, and run, and run so far away she’d never seen her again.
Not even in her dreams.
Pic by KelThuzadAuthor’s Notes: whoa, forty-one chapters in and we have the first conversation between our two protagonists! I’m such a hack. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun to pit these two together. They both have very good reasons and I hope we can understand the Hunter’s motivation even more as we proceed. Thanks for reading and I’ll try to make the rest of this journey just as enjoyable if not more.