She spent years looking for sanctuary. Her family reunion doesn't go as imagined.
|Silver light of a half-moon shone down on the snow-covered hilltop, illuminating faded white paint of an abandoned house sitting in a forest clearing. Leona crouched behind a tree with a knife in each hand and eyed the building warily. According to their group leader, Felice, houses had once been viewed as safe and trusted dwelling places. Leona couldn't imagine feeling safe in one of those giant mouse traps.
"Felice is going in."
Ducked behind a bush a few metres to her right, Bertrand nodded at something in the distance. Leona followed his gaze across the clearing to see the shadowy outline of their adult guide darting towards the house. Leona locked her gaze to the moon above them and reached for the little sapphire that hung from her neck. She gripped it carefully but firmly in her fingers and pressed it to her lips. I will find you and together we will find them. She didn't speak it but she mouthed the words against the sapphire. Bertrand snorted in that disgusting way he had. She didn't look at him.
"You still say that stupid prayer?"
"It isn't a prayer. It's a promise."
"It's a stupid, false prayer and that stone is worthless. Your brother is probably dead and he probably isn't your brother anyway. And I bet the weirdo that gave you the stone wasn't your mother. She's most likely dead too."
Not all of us were abandoned by cowardly parents. Leona kept that thought to herself. She would rather avoid a beating later. She also hoped that if she didn't answer Bertrand would shut up. Adjusting her grip on her knives she readied herself to run; towards the house or away from it.
She would have preferred to sleep outside. That was how they did things - not holing up in a creepy old ghost house where they would most certainly be killed in the event of an attack. They had no real choice in the matter though. It was cold up here and they needed to light a fire. The house would provide shelter from the biting wind and it would hopefully keep the fire from becoming a beacon that attracted other wanderers.
Felice appeared in the door. Waving her hands above her head. From the treeline around the house they emerged, teenagers poised to attack or flee and wrapped from head to foot in furs and oversized stolen clothes. They were lucky; their group was young and there weren't even ten of them in total. They could move quickly and keep together without elderly or young to hold them back. That did not mean, however, that they had an advantage. Only in the past year had they filled out and gained muscle. In the eyes of others they were weak. Easy targets. They were probably one of very few groups that relied on stealth over strength. This worried Leona more than she could express. If they retreated into the house they were increasing their chances of death.
They chose a back room. Felice lit a fire but kept it small and didn't use the fireplace. They didn't want smoke giving them away. Leona suggested they fan out and sleep in different rooms to avoid being cornered but of course, nobody paid any mind to her. They would stay where the fire was. Spreading out was pointless, apparently.
She sat near the door with her backpack still fastened to her back. She let herself close her eyes but she was not at ease. Sleep did not come for perhaps another hour and when it did it was restless. Eventually she slipped off into a sounder sleep, dreamless and empty.
And then pain. First the twinge of pain in her ankle as somebody stepped on it; that woke her. Then the incomprehensible angony of something sharp piercing her right shoulder. That informed her that they were as good as dead.
Coming to her senses Leona cried out, clawing at the hand-made spear protruding from her shoulder. She didn't have the strength to rip it out herself. She needn't have worried about that because the young man who threw it was approaching quickly from the other side of the room.
How had they gotten in without her hearing? She was not a heavy sleeper. Her eyes darted from person to person. Some she didn't recognise but others she knew as her own group. Three lay bloodied on the floor, at least one of them dead. Felice and others were nowhere in sight but judging by the shouting and sounds of a violent struggle they were elsewhere in the house. They weren't getting out.
The young man that pulled the spear from her shoulder showed absolutely no mercy. He wasted no time in taking a knife from her belt and jamming it through her thigh. She screamed and he hauled her off the ground.
He shouted over his shoulder and a girl who had to be four or five years older than Leona ran to his side. He tugged on the chain at Leona's neck. Katie huffed and gave a curt nod before rushing off.
Leona was dragged through the house. She was in too much pain to put up a fight but that didn't give her an excuse not to try. She pulled the knife out of her leg and slashed at the man beside her. She cut a gash into his ribcage but was immediately slammed to the ground hard enough that the knife left her hand and the strength left her body. Her second knife was taken from her and she was dragged outside.
She was thrown in the snow. Freezing cold mush pressed against her neck and slipped down her collar to her back. The cold was too intense to numb the pain of her injuries and instead served to amplify it. Her consciousness threatened to leave her and she fought against the haze that dimmed her vision. Stars still floated in a dark sky above. They hadn't been asleep long - which meant this group had been right behind them the entire time.
Rough and careless hands gripped her coat and lifted her a few inches. A young man's face appeared before hers, furious and familiar.
"Did you steal that necklace?"
She didn't answer him. The question hardly even registered with her.
"Did you steal it?!" He shook her violently.
He dropped her in the snow and vanished. As he did she caught a glimpse of a sapphire hanging from a chain at his neck. How did he get my necklace?
The haze worsened. Her vison doubled, then darkned. Cool hands pressed against her face but she couldn't see anymore. She couldn't hear. The pain in her shoulder and leg spread like fire through her body, pulling her into the darkness.
Together we will find them.
Did she hear it or did she think it? She didn't know. She pictured the woman who had instilled the words into her years ago. She'd had dark hair like Leona's own. She had promised that she wasn't sending Leona away forever - they would meet at the safe place at the end of the road. Wouldn't they?
A black so complete it wasn't natural invaded her mind. Her thoughts ceased. The pain ceased. She noticed the cold hands move to her shoulder but then they, too, disappeared. They disappeared along with the rest of the broken world.