Author: Geraldine Aubergine PM
Have you ever heard of the grigori? The nephilim? The elioud? No? Great. Good for you. And if you have... Duck and cover.Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Crime - Chapters: 6 - Words: 14,490 - Reviews: 1 - Updated: 04-27-12 - Published: 04-19-12 - id: 3014832
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Every last one of Amena's senses had been anesthetized by shock as her flight responses kicked in, and she abandoned her home for what her intuition subtly hinted would be the very last time. She felt as if she were riding a current of air; she was nothing but a pair of legs whose muscles were ill-suited to the task of leaping from her bedroom window and carrying her over the soggy terrain behind her little house, but she pressed on and slipped into the forest.
Her golden hair streamed behind her like sunlight, although whatever light permeated the forest's thick canopy belonged only to the moon. It was almost midnight and Amena could not see more than a couple of feet in front of her as she wove through narrow trails that were really nothing more than gaps between the trees. She'd hoped the forest would provide something of salvation, a place to hide. Ironically, scattered stumps, sprawling roots, and the shadows of thick trunks imprisoned her in the oppressive dark.
As she darted between a couple of saplings, a mesh of long, gnarled roots snared Amena's bare foot. Finding both her arms to be currently useless to break her fall, she could do nothing but allow herself to crash into the next tree, and her shoulder grazed painfully against the rough bark as she dropped to her knees.
She dared to glance back, to see if she were still being pursued though she knew they would not relent this time. She could see nothing, but though she was practically blind, her other senses were functioning all too well. The forest had a damp, earthy musk to it that at any other time would have comforted her, but there was also a hint of something else. She had never been able to place the dizzyingly sweet scent that captivated her as they began to catch up. She forced herself to stand and continue on.
Suddenly, her hearing kicked in. From the moment they'd broken into her home, filling the nearly empty house with the sounds of busting glass and the stomping of heavy boots, her ears had been rendered useless by a deafening ring. But now she became acutely aware of her surroundings: the steady drumming of hooves beat the ground behind her, galloping like her unstable heart, and the shrill whinnies of the horses sounded like screams. The metallic bite of her own blood assaulted her tongue as little red droplets seeped past her swollen lips.
Once again she fell, with a grunt of frustration and pain, and this time she tasted dirt. The muscles of her left arm tensed, wrapped securely around the precious bundle she held, and her free hand clawed the earth as she scrambled to her feet again.
Despite the crucial nature of her silence, the pressure on her right arm forced a strangled noise from her throat. The limb was fractured in so many places she thought the word shattered described it perfectly without exaggeration. The pain nearly swept her into unconsciousness, but she bolstered the satin swaddle as best she could and even dared to glance up at the moon as she took off again. She was steadily coming to realize she might never see the opposite side of that coin again. But that was fine by her. What worried her was not her own mortality, but that she would fail to complete her task, something with which she not could reconcile in the afterlife.
With a defiant burst of energy, she leaped blindly over a rotting trunk covered in moss. The skirt of her silken nightgown caught on a branch and tore to her knee. She forged ahead, twigs slapping her in the face, leaving shallow cuts in addition to the deeper gash at her hairline, as the trees grew denser. She bowed her head to the bundle in her arms and sang breathlessly, a tune she'd known all her life, which would likely die with her. Blood dripped onto the pale satin, each drop heavier than the last. Amena eventually came to realize it wasn't blood anymore: rain poured down from overhead. It soaked her to the bone, washing the dirt from her wounds but also bringing on uncontrollable shivers that made coordinating her aching limbs very difficult.
"Stop!" called one of her pursuers, his voice gravelly and even. "Give us the child and you will be allowed to go free!"
His proposal disgusted her, but she supposed she should be grateful, for her fury was perhaps the only thing keeping her upright. Finally the trees began to separate, thinning out into a small clearing. Without acknowledging the offer of her pursuers, and knowing she couldn't outrun them much longer, she darted to the left and clung to the shadows as they galloped past. For a moment she thought she'd lost them, but she knew such hopes were far-fetched.
It was as if they'd materialized from thin air, and all at once she was surrounded. Hooves reared up in front of her, forcing her back. They hovered above her a moment, and then all she could see were those heavy metal shoes coming down to crush her. At the last possible moment she mustered the wherewithal to leap backward and out of the way.
"No!" she shrieked, her voice breaking as she clutched the tiny package to her chest and fell to the dirt. All throughout her flight, instinctually knowing that silence was vital, it had not given a single sound to hint at its existence. But at the sound of her voice it let out a single, soft wail that was almost sympathetic.
Seven men on horses were posted all around her, all clad in the same dark uniform, stiff-shouldered and proud. Each wore a row of medals on his left breast pocket, ranging in size, type, and quantity, denoting rank, functions, achievements; each sported a cap emblazoned with one fairly large gold stone that boasted dozens of facets, like a diamond.
If she'd had a prideful bone in her body, Amena would have realized that her escape from the house was an incredible feat. The fact that she'd managed to run all this way after fighting them off on her own was nothing short of a miracle. She merely chalked it up to her belief that someone was looking out for the two of them; protecting her, if not just the child.
But now she was surrounded by seven brutal-looking men, mounted on black horses that looked equally as deadly. The man who'd reared up his horse to threaten her jumped down and slowly approached. His gait held a pompous, swaggering quality that was also reflected in his smug expression. When he spoke to her, his tone was particularly saccharine: "Hello, Amena."
She screamed as he kneeled and thrust his face closer to hers. By the moonlight, she could see his scars, but she didn't need to see them to know that they were there. Victor had a cruel face, always with a shadow of stubble, always with the crisscrossing white scars he so admired in his mirror every morning. There were two across the bridge of his nose, one taking a sharp downturn from the corner of his lips, and another above his right eye that disappeared up into his hair. But most noticeable of them all was the diagonal slash on the right side of his throat, thicker than all the others and gnarled as if made by a jagged blade. This scar was a different color than the others; it was fresh.
"Yes, you remember this one, don't you?" he asked, turning his head so the skin grew taut, his scar more pronounced. He reached into his belt and withdrew a short but expertly sharpened dagger, with which he tapped the puckered skin of his scar, then brandished the blade at her delicate face.
There was a malicious light in his pale green eyes as he threatened her. Victor watched with avid interest as her chest quickened its unsteady up-down when he slid the silver blade along her throat, the path corresponding to the slope of his own scar. Milky moonlight gleamed on the knife, and Amena saw her own eyes, wide and full of helpless fear, reflected back at her.
At once, she despised them. Not the men around her, no, she did not hate them. In fact, as she lay on her back on the ground, drenched, drowning in the mud and in her own weakness, she pitied them. She pitied Victor most of all.
But she hated her own blue eyes, whose gaze was so weak, so vulnerable and resigned. She could not remember a single time she'd discovered resolve, or even subtle confidence, staring back at her from the mirror over her bathroom sink. As a little girl, she had always been coddled and protected.
God forbid poor, delicate Amena should get a paper cut; Heaven knows she would certainly crumble in the face of any adversity. Best she should be kept away from it altogether, that she should never know of hardship or war.
Her parents' sentiments, goodhearted though they were, had made her so frail, so unprepared to fight back. The result of years of pampering was this yielding, watery gaze of which she now felt severely ashamed.
She felt like she'd been forced to swallow a cup of flour, but she licked her lips and gathered enough rainwater- maybe even blood- to spit it back out into Victor's eyes.
He snarled and brought his hand up to slap her, but she had already scurried away from him. She bolted under the belly of one of the dark horses and bit its back leg hard enough to scare it, then slapped the haunch of the animal beside it before taking off into the night.
Behind her, she heard the men shouting to their horses, and Victor crying, "Go after her!" But the horse she'd bitten bucked its rider; the one she'd slapped took off at a gallop and caused two of the other chargers to panic. Amena could hear nothing but the pounding of her own heart in time with the frenzied beating of the horses' hooves as she ran.
Victor cursed as his horse took off into the forest. His heavy boots sank into the wet ground with every step as he ran to one of his companions and unceremoniously ripped him off his saddle.
"What are you all waiting for!" he bellowed out as he pulled himself up into the saddle. Two men joined him, while the others remained to calm their startled mounts.
Amena had already reached the edge of the forest. She thought she heard some sort of rushing. Perhaps it was a river, or perhaps it was only the sound of her own blood coursing through her ears.
She forced her way up a steep incline and pulled herself over a rusted guard rail. When her feet met solid pavement, there was one single moment of silence followed almost instantaneously by the harsh blare of a horn. Her head whipped to the left and she screamed. Lights shot into her blue eyes and drowned out her vision. All she could do was twist away from the source of the light, squeeze her eyes shut, and tuck the baby under her chin.
I beg you, protect him, she prayed, wondering if her plea was even heard above the awful squeal that filled her ears. Burning rubber assaulted her sense of smell, and the child in her arms began sobbing. She couldn't be sure if she'd really registered the incredible impact that sent her flying forward. But then she felt, she saw, she heard nothing at all.
Victor pulled his horse to a halt at the edge of the forest and rounded on his men. They skidded to a stop and the horses snickered, stamping their hooves impatiently.
"Back up, back up!" Victor hissed. They receded into the darkness, just out of reach of the headlights, and watched the scene with rapt attention. A young woman jumped out of her car and sprinted toward Amena, who lay motionless on the blacktop.
Smoke curled up around the edges of the car's hood, and one of the headlights died. Victor and his men hesitantly moved forward to watch, still obscured among the trees, away from the beam of silver Dodge Stratus's one remaining headlight.
"Oh my God!" screamed the girl as she dropped to Amena's side, her hands hovering over her injured body. She watched as Amena slipped in and out of consciousness, eyelashes fluttering weakly.
"Just… Hold on," the girl breathed, scrambling back to her car for her purse. When she returned with the bag, she dumped out its contents to search for her cell phone. "Hold on, I'm going to get some help."
"It's…" breathed Amena, her eyelashes fluttering.
"No, don't talk, just hold on. Oh, God, I'm so sorry, it's going to be okay, I… damn it!" The girl's voice shook as she frantically jammed her thumb into her phone's power button, to no avail. "It's dead. Do you have a cell phone?"
Amena moaned. Her vision had gone, and the tremendous ringing in her ears would not relent. Trembling, she bit her lip, trying to wet her tongue to speak. "Take… it," she wheezed. The breath hissed from her as if it would never return, but she held on for just a little bit longer.
Still thinking about the cell phone, the girl nodded fervently. "Right, your bag-"
She reached for the bundle Amena held, and carefully extracted it from the death grip of the girl she'd hit with her car. Its contents nearly tumbled out of the wrap. In the dark and the rain, the owner of the Dodge could barely make it out until the baby gave a weak cry. She inhaled sharply and covered its face with the satin blanket to keep it dry.
"Leave me… Please," Amena managed. But that was all she had left to give. She forced one last breath, savoring the way the moist air smelled when it rained, how fresh everything was during the springtime, even though it was cold. Her lips trembled, but she managed to smile; she would not die with such an ungrateful look on her face. She had been given everything in life, and had thanked no one for any of it. So she gave thanks as she died; as she lay bleeding and broken on a winding country road, entrusting the completion of her self-assigned objective to a pure stranger who had brought about the end of her journey. The failure of her task. Her final breath passed blue lips, warm enough to form a small cloud of steam in the bitter air. Amena's dying thought was that it was her soul going free; God have mercy on it.