For a moment I just watched the glass, but suddenly fear, frigid and gripping, shot into my heart. I ran to close the window and only wondered what this alien people would do to the girl who helped her sister run away. I was alone now, not only isolated, but one Gia weaker and more vulnerable. I was no longer one of two girls. Now not only was I the only prisoner, I was a felon.
Suddenly a low, startled noise choked near the door. I froze. I heard angry bustling.
Mud Judd swung open the door.
Judd’s eyes widened. He saw me standing there, alone by the window, petrified. He looked like a raptor, ready and eager to snatch a kill. The door slammed. Judd had disappeared outside. We should have known they wouldn’t leave us without a guard. He sprinted down the pathway, calling furiously to the others.
The hunt for Gia began.
The cabin was clean and small. My breath didn’t echo; it simply disappeared. A silence, an isolation expanded throughout the room, increasing like a virus and hanging spitefully by my face. The silence waited for me to notice it. I closed my eyes, but Ori’s image appeared loudly in my mind so I opened them quickly again. The silence pounced when I stirred, its arms crossed haughtily, sneering. Finally, finally I faced the isolation, and it held up a mirror. I saw myself standing idly in an unguarded cage while my brother remained unaccounted for and while my sister raced for her life. What a fool!
I lunged towards my pack and slung it over my shoulder. Gia, Ori, or bust, I thought to myself. I cannot do nothing.
I quietly turned the knob. The outside air hit me with physical force, but I tightened the straps on my bag and stepped into the enemy camp. I was surprised to hear hurried voices so close, and I know they were looking for Gia. I crept into the bitter darkness, alert and alone.
I slinked across the cabin wall. The night was young but imposing. I was thankful as the darkness washed over me like a cloak. I hoped it would hide my sister too.
The path was wide, and I knew I would be completely vulnerable if I ran across. I looked about and saw nothing but the roaring light of a bon fire licking the night air. I dared not approach that place, because surely they were congregated there, chewing their bones and grinding their meat. I turned instead in the other direction, running away from where Gia had gone, and hoping that their fields marked the boundaries of their village.
Suddenly a shot fired. Gia shrieked.
She was distant and I couldn’t hear her words, but Gia was unmistakable. They had overtaken her. I pictured her now, bleeding to death and begging for help from the heathen who stuck a bullet in her gut. I pictured Judd’s face as he struck one final time. I felt sick. Soon they would feast again to celebrate a second kill. I couldn’t think about it for long.
I hadn’t gotten far. I knew I could return to Zaida’s cabin right then and no one would ever know I had left. But now they had captured her. I could not turn back. If Gia could not run to Skyta then I would assume her role. I would go get help. I would sprint the month-long journey in one night and somehow communicate Gia’s danger to the Skytan medics and then make it back in time for them to fight off the warrior and stop her wound. I knew it was a bad plan, but I did not think about it. I just went.
I darted across the path. I thought no one had seen me. I ran to hug the next cabin wall. I took a breath and skirted towards the next. I almost wanted to hear voices or footsteps, just to have some idea of which places to avoid, some idea how close I was to capture. I ran to the next, and realized gratefully that the cabins were thinning. That also meant, however, that my hiding spots were thinning as well.
Not too far ahead lay a large field. It must have been an orchard in the fall, but now the naked trees waited for the spring, standing in rows like an army and stretching toward the moon like claws. Netlike shadows from their branches flashed across the ground when a stray flame from the bonfire leaped like lightning into the air. I would have been grateful for lightning. Silence had found me when Gia left and now had stalked me here.
I sprinted into the orchard. I crawled and ran amongst the trees, hiding in their spidery shadows. My vision blurred in a soup of memories and fears, but I forged on, determined this time not to collapse, not to submit to weakness.
Suddenly all my senses heightened. I had heard something. Or, I thought I had. The silence suggested I had only imagined it.
But before I could act a rough hand clamped over my mouth. They had me.
“Otter, it’s me! It’s Lazaro,” whispered a voice. He removed his hand and helped me to stand. “I just didn’t want you to scream. You’ll be fine. They don’t know you’re here. I’ll protect you.”
My breath caught. My warrior had come.
I looked into his face: playful, handsome, and familiar. It was so nice to recognize someone! The red handprint had started to peel.
“You don’t talk much, do you?” he asked, smiling through his eyes. “Your brother doesn’t either.”
“You saw Ori?” My hands jumped to his arms and my eyes searched his face. I couldn’t wait for his answer. I needed to find it first in his expression. “Tell me he’s alive!”
Lazaro’s face dropped. “You think he’s dead? Who told you that?”
“Is he alive?”
“Of course he’s alive. I just saw him at the feast. Why didn’t you come?”
Relief fell over me like a wave. I wanted to laugh and to cry. I spread out my arms and hugged my Lazaro, burying my face in his chest. A vague and uncertain voice in the back of my mind muttered something about impropriety. It cautioned that I barely knew this boy, but that voice finally surrendered. I didn’t know if I was crying, and I didn’t know if I was happy or worried or confused. All I knew was his warmth and the gentle way he was laughing now. He pulled me close to him and ran his fingers over my hair. He smelled new and earthy, like dirt, the rich kind of soil that nurtures plants to grow. I was no longer alone.