Genevieve revealed a razor-sharp dagger from the silver belt around her waist, which featured several snakes entwined and twisted amongst each other. The dagger itself was embellished at the hilt with diamond and black stone, and there was a unique language carved across the edge of the blade.
I crawled back as she raised her weapon above her head - in both hands - preparing to strike.
It couldn't end this way.
As I realised I wouldn't be able to climb to my feet in time, or to run, or to move further away for that matter, I felt my eyes intensify as they fixed on this girl's. "Not today, #-#####, I hissed.
Her eyes blazed with fury, her perfect ponytail faintly swaying behind her.
"I will request you place down your weapon, Madame, or I may be forced to pull the trigger", the familiar voice echoed in my ears. Sebastien De Lange, here to rescue and lead me again. It occurred to me how many times he had referred to a female as 'Madame'. The smug expression pasted across his face was unusually comforting, especially as Genevieve spun round in shock, dropping her dagger, wide-eyed. The other two boys beside her paused, turning to face the eight year old in silent motions.
"If you know what's good for you, child, you will leave".
Sebastien stood there calmly, his gun raised and pointed at the three, chest puffed out and eyes dancing with pride and excitement. "Unfortunately sir, the Madame is a beloved acquaintance of mine, whom I shall not allow to fall under the blade of Ms. Belle, here". He briefly gestured to Genevieve, but his fixed aim with his pistol did not shift nor flinch at the slightest.
"We do not plan to kill her, if that is what you are referring to", Demetri spoke finally, glancing at the others from the corner of his eye before returning his gaze to Sebastien. "At least not all of us do". He placed his own gun on the ground before him, concealing the amusement playing in his hazel eyes. "Here is Genevieve Belle, Leon Hunter, and myself, Demetri Talon". He paused, and for a moment I thought I saw his eyes glow. "We are nomadic hunters, originating from the south-east, here in Astria". He stopped again, his lips curling up at the right into a smirk. "And we need the 'Madame'".
* * *
The dark-haired boy, Leon, grabbed me by my wrist, dragging me back with such effortless strength I didn't even realise it was humanly possible. Then I realised it wasn't humanly possible, because as I struggled from his grip, he hissed harshly, revealing his canine teeth, which were unusually and dangerously sharp. Flecks of crimson seeped across his eyes, spilling across his iris like thin blood, until his eyes were completely and utterly red. I had always imagined that if I was attacked, I would kick and run … that I would have some chance of escaping; but faced by this creature, I was helpless. I could already feel my wrist crushing under the pressure of his fingers, and I could see that fighting against him was like kicking bare-footed at a boulder.
My eyes caught the dagger in his belt. Whilst it was not embellished and decorated like Genevieve's, it was sharp, which was most important to me. Nothing else mattered. Ducking under his arm, I curled my fingers around the hilt and tore it out of his belt and sheath, plunging it into his chest. The attack caused him to loosen the grip on my wrist, which allowed me to run. I spun round again, aware I couldn't leave Sebastien. He was fearlessly firing bullets at Genevieve, who managed to dodge every attack he sent. Grabbing her own knife, she leapt down from the nearest tree, lunging at him with the blade. The two fought, back and forth, and the one thing they had in common was the fact they were both enjoying it.
But then, I subconsciously shut out every sound and action surrounding me, because Demetri Talon was walking towards me, unarmed, but no less dangerous. I turned, prepared to run again, but I stopped when his voice rang in my ears.
"We're not here to kill you, Anastasia".
How did he know my name?
"You have a thousand questions you want to ask. Questions we can answer. Unfortunately, we do need you to come with us, and we will bring you … the easy way -" he paused, as if for dramatic effect, "or the hard way".
I tightened the grip on the blade I held, absently watching as Leon's blood splattered on the grass, sliding down the silver before dropping near the hilt. It stained my fingers, and the droplets rolled down the back of my hand. I bit down on ## ###### lip, so hard I thought I would taste my own blood at any moment.
Because his blood wasn't red.
It was black.
* * *
I didn't turn to face Demetri. Whether it was because I didn't want to see his face, or because I didn't want him to see mine, I wasn't sure. What I did know, was I wasn't going to be following after he and his friends, especially when one of them was trying to kill Sebastien.
"Run! I'll find you later, just run!" His voice rang in my ears, his urgent yet amused expression catching my gaze.
Run, Anastasia. They won't kill me, don't worry, just run and don't look back.
I did what he said, not even questioning the fact he was communicating with me without his lips even needing to move at the slightest. There was something about his echoing voice in my head that confirmed it wasn't just ordinary ventriloquism.
I ran into the woods, awkwardly slicing through the branches and thorns with my knife.
My knife. I never thought I would say or even think that, but here I was, with a bloodstained dagger in one hand. This had never been my idea of the "epic fantasy" I'd dreamed of being part of my entire life.
As I ran, as fast as I possibly could, the blood slid down my arm and shoulder, matting and staining my raven black hair. I was too afraid to be disgusted, and my mind was too focused on running to take much notice. A hand grabbed my wrist, forcing me to spin round to face him - Demetri. I struggled in an attempt to loosen his fingers from around my arm, throwing a kick to his shin; he barely even seemed to notice. "Let go of me!" I felt like I was screaming, even though I knew I wasn't. He reached for my other wrist, barely missing it as I pulled away from him again. "Let, go!" he released his grip on me suddenly, which caused me to throw myself backwards into the nearest tree, slamming my head into the trunk. Blood trickled down the edge of my face, before my vision was speckled with black dots, and I had the sensation I was falling -
* * *
Demetri slung Anastasia over his shoulder, her limp body an easy weight for him to carry. The dagger slipped from her loose fingers, disappearing amongst the foliage. His blonde hair shadowed the edges of his face, somehow causing his tanned skin to become slightly paler. There was a smug look painted across Genevieve's expression, as if she believed she had personally managed to capture Anastasia. Sebastien had just been thrown back into the snow, a mixture of anger and annoyance in his eyes. Genevieve smiled grimly, revealing her glistening canine teeth. "What do we do with him?" she gestured calmly to Sebastien, who was crawling out of the snow and to his feet. Demetri hesitated, "Leave him".
"What are you taking her for?"
Sebastien demanded the information, cursing under his breath at his pistol, which was broken and snapped to one side, thanks to Genevieve.
They had already turned, but Leon faced Sebastien again, the red in his eyes gradually reducing. The answer lingered on the edge of his mind, but he was reluctant to respond.
Genevieve answered before he could.
"The East Mountains of Ashbrook. We have company waiting for us there".
But before another word could be spoken, the three had disappeared, so rapidly they were barely a blur.
Sebastien tossed aside his broken pistol with a sigh.
"Madame De' Grace will kill me", he muttered under his breath, even though he was certain he was wrong. If anyone would kill him, it would be Alexandra, especially if he didn't get Anastasia back.
* * *
When I awoke, an entire series of dreams and nightmares were hovering on the edge of my subconscious mind, too far for me to reach just yet. I remembered how real it had seemed; there had been a boy, and there had been Demetri also … my eyes snapped open. At the same time, I swallowed, and it was as if my ears popped and I could hear again. I tried to raise myself up, but my body was as stiff as a board, and my head was still pounding.
"Slow down … You'll need to rest for a while longer".
My eyes narrowed almost as soon as I heard the familiar voice. "You", I said accusingly, quickly climbing off the bed before his hand reached my head.
"Just sit down. I can explain-"
"Don't you talk to me! Don't you even get anywhere near me!" I blinked as the blinding light washed over me. I felt like I was in a hospital room, and I was starting to feel claustrophobic. I slammed my fists against the wooden door, wishing I could scream for someone to help me back to my ordinary life.
It had never been ordinary, Anastasia. This is your fate, and it has been since the day you opened your eyes.
I grabbed the brass knocker on the door; it was carved into the shape of a small lion's head, about the size of my fist altogether. I began repeatedly knocking it against the door, listening absently as it thundered against the wood.
Demetri's eyes widened, his entire face hardening. "Are you insane? Stop doing that! You're going to lead-"
He was cut off as a creaking noise sounded from the door, and gradually slid open.
I moved away, almost stumbling over the edge of the bed. I was feeling more and more of the anxiety in Demetri's tone by every passing second.
A figure stepped out from the shadows lingering behind the door, and two weary hands brushed against the hinges.
I hesitated, almost reluctant and afraid to believe what I was seeing. But I knew it was real, because I could see it with my eyes, I could hear it with my ears, and I could even smell that familiar yet distance scent of peppermint and parchment. It was the same obvious scent I had smelled a thousand times in the office in our house, where the shelves of old books had sat, collecting dust for so many years. I remembered the hidden jars of candies across the oak wood desk - the ones I had snuck into my pockets and sneakers so many countless times. But most of all, I remembered that man, who had sat at his desk, locked up in his office, and who left an empty chair at our table almost every night, because the only way to hold onto the scraps of those memories was to be reminded of them again and again. The worst part of this was, this man was looking at me the way I assumed he would have looked at me when I was born, and the way I know he looked at me when he unwrapped my birthday presents with me each year.
* * *