To read the first story of this series, click here.
The pain was excruciating. It seared her eyes and crawled its way into the base of her skull, a fiery burn that wouldn’t stop. It was a throbbing, relentless agony. Her body thrashed against the metal floor, her limbs smashing into it over and over again; anything felt better than the pain. From far away, she could hear screaming, a wail that went on and on and on. It took her a moment before she realized the screams were hers.
And then it started to fade. She curled her body into a ball, whimpering as it turned into a dull ache: something manageable. Her other senses began to function again. She could feel the hardness of the floor, the raw feeling of her throat, the self-inflicted bruises, the hot tears on her face. She could hear footsteps, shouting and threats.
She couldn’t see.
Danielle felt a moment of panic as she stretched out one hand, groping blindly on the floor. Why couldn’t she see? She squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again. Why couldn’t she see?
She closed her eyes and stumbled to her feet. Every part of her felt sore, unable to cope with what was happening. Her knife. Where was her knife? She knelt on the floor again, searching with her fingers, scrabbling with her nails against the metal. Where was it?
A sob escaped her throat as she sat back, curling her knees up to her chest. She couldn’t find it. She couldn’t find anything. She couldn’t see.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat there. Minutes? Hours? At first she thought she was imagining it, that the dim shapes were figments of her imagination. But they became clearer, slowly shifting and forming into the familiar outlines of the room. There was the roughly hewn chair, there was the table, there were the dancing flames of the fire, dimly lighting the room. There was her knife. Danielle reached out with shaking fingers, grasping the hilt of the blade and pulling it toward her. She cradled it delicately, wiping her nose on the back of her sleeve.
Danielle took a few deep breaths and then stood shakily. The outer door was open a crack, enough for a cold breeze to slither its way inside. She stumbled toward it, placing her hand against its surface. She could stay inside, waiting for her brothers to return. She could stay safe.
She pushed open the door and stepped outside. A blast of wind hit her, chilling her to the bone as she shivered, clutching her knife in one hand. Her eyes still stung, but the darkness soothed them, a balm that promised the pain would soon be all but forgotten.
“Get them! Circle up!”
The shouts rang through the night. Danielle dimly recalled hearing them before. She ducked her head, pulling her hood over it before jogging toward the noise. It had to be her brothers. She recognized Dur’s voice.
The group slowly came into view. There were five of them: her three brothers, Alicia, and some other man. She peered at the newcomer more closely. He looked dangerous, someone that they would normally avoid. He wore a black leather jacket and boots, black gloves and black arm guards. A black tattoo wound around his neck. The only thing that stood out was his hair, gleaming blonde and pale in the darkness, tied back with a piece of black string. He was taller than any of her brothers, and possibly stronger. Fortunately, there was only one of him.
Her brothers had surrounded the two; their knives glittered faintly in the moonlight, their faces wrapped up partially against the cold in brown cloth. Only their yellowish eyes gleamed from beneath their hoods.
Rak took a step forward, his hoarse voice whispering, “Come quietly and we’ll let you live.”
The blonde man remained silent, but Alicia spoke, her voice friendly and unassuming, “Well I’d love to believe you, but I’m afraid that you’d rather have us over for dinner…if you understand my meaning.”
Danielle barred her teeth, hissing through them. Alicia needed to die. She started forward, moving into the circle with her brothers. Rak glanced at her briefly, his eyes widening in surprise; but he didn’t say anything. He accepted her.
Dur dipped into a crouch, his knife held in front of him. On the opposite side of the circle, Terk did the same. They moved as one, closing in as Alicia and the blonde man moved back to back. Her brothers struck.
Terk jabbed forward with his knife, aiming for Alicia’s throat. Dur darted forward; he probably wanted to get to a point where the blonde man’s sword would be useless. Alicia blocked Terk with her own knife while Dur had to leap to the side, narrowly avoiding the blonde man’s attack. The boys withdrew and then began to circle again.
Danielle glanced at Rak, waiting for the command. She would fight with them. She would kill her. But he merely stared ahead, watching the two.
Her brothers engaged again, this time it lasted longer. Blows were exchanged as the boys danced between blades. They were testing them, finding their weaknesses and flaws; they worked as one, changing positions, moving together. Danielle had seen this all happen before. Soon, Alicia and the man would be dead.
“Danny. Go back inside.”
Danielle turned to look at Rak, staring at him through bleary eyes. He wasn’t looking at her, instead watching as metal clashed against metal, as her brothers fought for what she couldn’t have. She opened her mouth, wanting to speak but unable to.
“I said go back inside.”
She glanced down at her blade. It was slightly curved, the edge jagged like a rodent’s teeth. The handle was wrapped in leather, though Danielle knew there was an inscription on it. She clutched it firmly, her eyes drifting from it toward Rak.
She was about to say “No” when she saw a pale face appear from behind a tree next to Rak. Its mouth was open, showing yellow, rotten teeth. One eye was missing, the socket shrunken and shriveled. The other rolled back into its head and then forward again, as if it couldn’t decide whether it wanted to see or not. It reached out one white limb toward Rak, curled nails grasping for his clothing.
Danielle couldn’t remember moving; she only knew that she must have done so, because her knife was suddenly in the thing’s head. Black blood oozed around her wrist, trickling down her arm to her elbow. She withdrew the blade with a cracking noise and plunged it in again and again. The creature was suddenly on the ground, motionless, a pile of rags and putrid skin.
She glanced up at Rak who was staring, something akin to horror written across his face. Danielle stood, carefully holding the dagger out and wiping the blood off on her sleeve.
That’s when she realized that Rak wasn’t staring at her. He was staring behind her. She slowly turned, her eyes squinting as she tried to focus them in the darkness.
A sea of white faces stared back at her.