The shadows ran through the forest at the speed of wind. When they finally came to a halt, the village was far behind.
"Is it safe now?" the Centaur asked, as he shifted his weight impatiently on his legs. His voice was full of concern, and sounded like he was almost scared, a thing which was very unusual for a Centaur.
"It's safe," another voice said. The silhouette of a woman began to form in between two large oak trees. Her voice was harsh, cold and she sounded as annoyed as he was scared. "I can't believe we missed the chance -- our only chance, perhaps -- at taking down Zarina just to rescue..." she stopped mid-sentence, looking angrily at the Centaur's back. He shifted his weight again and, with one quick move, laid the heavy load that he was carrying onto the ground.
"She has to be safe, you know that, Valrya. We have orders." he said with a firm voice.
The woman sighed and left it at that. There was no point in arguing with creatures like Centaurs. The only way of persuasion they understood involved a club, an axe, knives or something of the sort.
There was a soft moan behind them. They turned around, trying to pierce through the darkness of the forest. No threat just yet...
"I think she's coming back now," the Centaur said in a whisper. He looked down at the girl lying on the ground. She was covered in a long silvery cloak, but her fiery orange hair stuck out of the hood and went down to her waist. She looked young, about sixteen or maybe a bit more, and her face was a pale white that made her look more like a ghost than a living being. "She looks so...white! Do you think she's alright?"
"I don't care, Arragus, don't you see? She shouldn't even be here! She's not one of us, no matter what Marcus says!"
At that moment, the girl's eyes flung open, and the feminine voice became silent once again.
She looked confused and scared. Her eyelids flicked a few time while she tried to adjust to the darkness around her. She felt the hard ground underneath her and saw the thick tree trunks everywhere around. She knew where she was. What she didn't know was how she'd ended up there to begin with. She looked to her left, to where the voices had come from. Not far from her, she could see the silhouette of a woman, dressed in a silver fabric that sparkled in the occasional rays of moonlight and of someone that looked like nothing she had ever seen before. They looked at her: he looked concerned, as she could tell from the frown on his face, but she just shot her a cold, icy glare that sent a shiver down her spine.
The girl was tired and in pain. The fall had given her a few ugly bruises that she fully felt now. She closed her eyes and felt herself being lifted up by strong, capable arms and thrown onto something not much softer than the ground. In spite of her efforts to be quiet, she gasped silently as she felt the pain in her left arm worsen.
"I'm sorry..." the man began, but he was cut off by the woman's cruel voice:
"She's fine. Let's go."
And they went on, the Centaur stepping quickly over the ground, his hooves thumping on the soft mossy surface. The girl was unconscious once more.
Pain. Real, live pain. That was all that she could feel. As they moved faster and faster, the path became more difficult, filling with big, wooden tree roots and old, fallen tree trunks. With every obstacle they had to avoid, her body changed its position and the pain came back stronger. The girl could feel it, even in the unconscious state she was in, as her dreams filled with brutal images.
"Midnight! Where are you, sweetheart?"
She'd spent her whole day in the garden, plucking out weeds and watering the plants. The clouds were darker than she ever remembered and the air around the village was filled with tension, like something was ready to snap at any minute. As she was bent over a particularly stubborn little weed, Midnight heard her Grandmother's voice in the distance. Dinner. Her stomach made a low growling sound in response to that thought and she smiled. The fog began to settle in, so she started picking up her tools and placing them in the little wooden box next to her. There was a loud ruffling noise, like someone stepping on dry leaves, and Midnight got up, thinking her Grandmother had grown impatient. She could be a little slow at times. Instead, her eyes met the silhouette of a tall woman watching her from across the street. It was too far for her to see anything exactly but, somehow, the girl could see her face. She gasped and felt a chill going down her back. The woman's face was crinkled, even though she was tall and didn't look older than thirty years of age, but it was her eyes that had shocked Midnight the most: underneath the hood she was wearing, two yellow eyes looked back at her, a fiery spark inside of them. Her mouth twitched as she smiled and her face looked wrong and dangerous. Midnight wanted to run, to scream, but she couldn't, as the yellow eyes bore into her green ones. A gust of wind blew from behind and the thick fog began to take over the village. Midnight blinked, trying to see through the white smoke, but there was nothing left to see. The girl could feel her hair stand on its end. She picked up her stuff and almost ran inside the house.
"Goodness, dear, are you sick?" a soft, warm voice asked. Midnight looked down at the woman sitting on the chair. She looked very old and tired, but her eyes sparkled like little bright emeralds. Her face was white, even somewhat translucent, but her hair was jet black.
"No...I'm fine...I...I'm fine." the girl replied, sitting down at the table next to her Grandmother. The woman eyed her suspiciously but pushed no further on the matter. She knew better than to try and make her granddaughter say something when she didn't want to.
The girl looked out the small window. The feeling of unease hadn't left her completely and the white fog outside only made her more nervous. It was something very unusual for Midland to have such cold weather during the Heat season. Midnight sighed and tried to get back to her dinner.
"I'm sorry, Gram, did you say something?"
The woman looked surprised:
"No, dear, I didn't."
Another chill went down the young girl's back as she heard her name being called for the second time.
"Midnight...I know you can see me..."
Her hands must have started shaking pretty badly, because her Grandmother had to pin them down with all of her strength to keep her from knocking all of the food off the table.
It took the girl a fraction of a second to feel the danger coming. Her Grandmother's voice had died too abruptly, as she, too, started shaking badly. Her eyes now looked past Midnight's face, staring at something outside, in the white mist. The girl turned her head slowly, blood rushing to her head. Something was horribly and desperately wrong.
Outside, in the mist, the silhouette of a tall woman advanced silently toward the house.
"Midnight, listen to me."
The girl turned her eyes to face her Grandmother.
"Gram?" her voice was shaking, but she didn't know why.
"Listen carefully and promise to do as I say. Now, you can't be scared, you hear me? I want..." she seemed to be struggling for words. "I want you to go outside through the garden door, and I want you to run."
"Run? Run where? And from what? Gram?"
"Listen to me! When I say, I want you to...no, I need you to run as fast as you can into the forest!"
The woman's voice became stronger with every word and her eyes seemed to burn with a bright green fire that scared Midnight more than whatever was coming for them.
"What are you talking about, Gram? I can't go in there, it's forbidden to all people! And..."
There was a loud bang on the other side of the door, and another noise, like a snake's hiss, only worse.
"Come on, Midnight..."
Both women screamed as the door swung open violently. By now there was no more light, only dark clouds covering the sun, the sky, the whole village. Outside, there was a woman. Midnight looked up, trying to see her face, but it was still covered by the mist.
"Midnight...you have to run now! If she comes in, you'll never make it!"
There was another loud bang outside as the woman backed several feet away, cursing angrily.
"You stay out of this, Melissa!"
The girl jumped as she saw her Grandmother tense. Nobody had called her by her real name before. She'd never allowed it in seventeen years.
"I just want the girl!"
The woman cursed again as she backed up a few more feet. She turned her eyes to meet Midnight's green ones and the girl could finally see her face, only for a second before the mist began to cover it up again. "The girl, Melissa!"
There was another bang, but this time, the woman didn't back down anymore. The wooden door exploded in a million pieces as she stepped forward inside the tiny room, her eyes searching, once more, for Midnight's.
"You wanted to see my face, little one?" she whispered, taking another step forward. "No one has seen it in...Oh, a very long, long time now...Why don't you take a look?"
Her voice sounded so warm, so inviting, that, for a split second, the girl considered turning her head to do as she was told.
"Don't look at her, Midnight." her Grandmother whispered.
The woman laughed, but there was nothing warm or pleasant in the sound that filled the room. Instead, it made Midnight feel angry. Her heart began to race and she felt sweat trickling down her face.
"I don't know what you want from us!" she yelled.
The laughter stopped abruptly as the woman turned around. Even though she wasn't looking, Midnight could feel the yellow eyes burning holes in the back of her head, growing in intensity with every second that passed by.
The mist was inside now and the girl jumped as it touched her feet. It didn't feet like mist. It felt cold and cruel, like a snake hovering over its prey. Like a spider over a helpless insect. Like danger. Like death.
The tall woman came even closer, her hands stretched in front of her.
"It's quite simple, actually" she whispered. "I want you...dead."
A flash of purple light touched Midnight's face and she found herself being pushed across the floor. Her body slammed into something hard and it took her a whole minute to realize she'd hit the wall where the door had been. Her feet hurt badly but she got up anyway. The mist was everywhere now, and it made it difficult for her to see clearly.
The sound of her Grandmother's voice made her blood run cold. She'd pushed her out of the way...
The girl gasped in shock and stumbled backwards, out of the house.
"How touching! Now you can both die together."
For a second, the mist disappeared and Midnight was able to see her Grandmother on the floor, her arms full of cuts and bruises, but her eyes still wide open.
"Please..." she said, her eyes looking past Midnight's shoulder, at the first row of trees on the other side of the river.
It was getting darker and it was hard for the girl to see the dark silhouette clearly now, but she knew it wouldn't be long until she got to her. She could hear the ruffling noise again. Closer.
Suddenly, she felt something hard hitting her shoulder. There was a loud cracking noise, like the sound of bones breaking, and Midnight screamed. The pain was too much, and the girl lost her balance and fell, tumbling towards the riverbank. Her body arched as it hit the rocks on the bank and fell into the water.
"NO!" a voice screamed angrily in the distance and, for a moment, Midnight's mind became clearer. She'd made it.
The sharp pain in her shoulder woke her up. For a few moments she couldn't remember where she was. She closed her eyes and let her healthy hand dangle over the ground as the Centaur moved around a tree root.