It was the only thing we could do, under the circumstances. Every step I took tore through me, pain flared, shot through my body and made me want to scream with every move. But instead I ran. Griever at my side, tried once more to carry me but I just pressed on. Pain was worth being able to run away on my own from that castle.
I was conflicted. Conflicted by the emotions that were teeming at the edge of my consciousness, the thoughts yammering to be heard. They told me he was not as bad as he had seemed. Told me he'd helped. Told me he'd stopped. Told me...
I couldn't forgive him. Every excruciating step away was a reminder of why he couldn't be trusted, of why I was glad to be away. Any sign of decency he had shown was burned from me by the heat of pain and anger. He had done this to me.
This consuming, unforgiving, unrelenting, endless pain was his doing.
"We're being followed!" The yell woke me from my thoughts. I glanced behind and saw a group of guards following. Enough to outnumber us. Momentarily I hoped he was there, so I could hurt him. Kill him. Anything. But I was in no state to fight and the rest of them knew it. I couldn't have anyone else inflict my vengeance. Although, he probably had been run through with a sword by order of the Sheriff by now. I felt a degree of horror at the thought of it, which I put down to wanting to do the deed myself.
"We should hide!" I suggested, knowing they would agree rather than risk me being a liability.
Sure enough, Jem made the order and everyone continued with eyes peeled. It was the creepy child, Ali, that found it. A large tree, its roots covered in moss, sprawled on top of a mound. Her keen eyes spotted the gap and she cried out.
"I know where we can play hide and seek!" We ground to a halt and followed her pointing finger. I avoided looking at her for too long, since her mouth was still stained with blood. Human or animal, I did not know, but I did not wish to find out. The gap was barely noticeable, but we saw the tell-tale sign of dark space, hidden behind the roots. The noise of the soldiers reached our ears; they were gaining. No one thought, merely piled in. Griever helped me, damaging as it was to my pride I couldn't deny I needed it. When the last of us were in we held still and silent. The guards reached us, armour clanking. Feet stopped outside the mound and their voices reached us.
"Where are the bitches?"
"Hidden, gone to the devil. Who cares? Let's just go back!"
"You know what the Sheriff will do if we come back empty handed?"
"What? Hang us? He freed the Marshall, he'll forgive us."
I stilled. He was alive, unpunished. And available for me to hurt.
"Look, I'm not going back till we've done a proper sweep, just to be sure. Now get moving!" They moved off and there was a collective sigh of relief.
A giggle broke through the silence.
"Someone tried to cook your feet!" I shuddered as I felt the child moving near me. "I wonder if they taste nice?" She chuckled.
"Ali, shut up!" I heard Norida say. "I think there's something back here."
"What?" I heard Jem immediately spring in to action.
"I don't know, just a feeling. I'll have a look." A flame sprang up and I could see the faces of all the Hawks, squished together. Jem and Griever hurriedly shifted; the sudden hiding had made them sit very close. I wondered, not for the first time, if there was something between them. They seemed closer than they had before I had been captured.
The flame moved and Norida was leading the way.
"Come on Kate, we'll follow." Griever said, eyes twinkling, and helped me up. We set off down the darkened hole, and I could see the roots of the tree twisting and reaching from the walls. Then they began to change.
Each root seemed to become alive as we walked, and I watched, fascinated, as they moved along the walls. They became the walls. I could no longer see the dirt, just the roots. But they were no longer roots. Leaves grew from them, swaying in some breeze that I could not feel. And then suddenly, the flame that Norida had lit on a branch went out, and we could see a faint light in the distance. Now framed by the dark, we hurried towards the light. Griever was carrying me and so I watched the light in hope of something. I didn't even know what I was hoping for.
We emerged in to light, and once my eyes had adjusted I stared around in shock. It was not the forest we had entered from and yet it was a forest unlike any I had ever seen. Light spilled from everything and everywhere, and the flowers were not like any I had ever seen.
"What on earth...?" Jem said, staring around.