Aside from the breaking door, everything that happened next happened quietly. Rin was pinned by her panic as a handful of bodies slipped into the house and darted from room to room. Rin had often imagined the raids that happened in the areas nearby, but in her head, everything crashed and clattered and people screamed and yelled and the insides of houses were torn to pieces. In her head, raiders were careless brutes, hot-headed and rampaging.
These raiders were very different from the ones in Rin's imagination. They slipped like shadows, their movements confident and accurate. They did not crash or clatter and her parents did not scream. Rin wanted to drag them under the bed with her, but she was frozen in fear as the shadows picked steadily through room after room until they reached the bedroom.
It took only a few seconds, but it seemed to take the raiders forever to find them. Rin watched through the open door as one shadow flitted into her own room. She wanted to yell at it to stay out of there, to leave her books and drawings and models alone, but her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth. She waited for crashes to announce the destruction of her ideas, but she heard only soft scuffling, and that was somehow even worse.
Through the gap Rin watched her parents. They huddled together, their breath quick and shallow, in the corner the bed frame made against the wall. It took a huge amount of energy for Rin to reach out and grab the hem of her mother's shirt. She gave it a feeble tug, then a far more demanding one, but her mother slapped her hand away. One of the shadows was crossing the hallway.
Rin prayed desperately, but for what, she didn't know. For him not to notice her parents? For him to notice them and leave them alone? For him to change his mind and turn around at the last second? They were all impossible, of course, and in the end Rin bit her tongue until it bled as the figure halted in the doorway.
It was a woman. A powerful woman, tall and lean with fearsome eyes and a fearsome face. She let her gaze spill over Rin's parents, filling all their gaps and cracks like water, missing nothing. A man appeared behind her and hovered. His gaze missed no more than the woman's did.
"He works for the government," said the woman. Her pale fingers trickled down her ribs. Rin was struck with curiosity, a feeling completely out of place amid the fear that so thickly clouded her mind. What was she doing? The woman's fingertips were delicately tracing the line of her breast, an action that seemed just as out of place as the wonder Rin felt toward it.
The woman shifted slightly and Rin's wonder turned to dread. She was tracing a knife strapped to her ribcage, a long and ruthless weapon that curved gently around the woman's breast. She had another one on the other side that mirrored the first, Rin saw, the handles crossing in the dip of her sternum. Somewhere in Rin's panicked mind she wondered how the woman managed to keep them there without losing her breasts to their precarious caress.
The strange moment of intimacy was broken in a flash as the woman whipped out the left twin knife in her right hand, darted forward, and caught her father by the hair in her free hand. There was no sharp hiss of steel as the blade opened his throat, only a strangled grunt and a splash. Rin's mother wailed, but her cry was cut short before her father hit the ground. They slumped together like toppled dominoes, and Rin threw up.
The bed was hefted up. Rin saw the woman's breeches, crossed with belts and decorated with tiny flat knives, the muscles beneath the tight fabric bunching as she lifted the frame and mattress together with one arm and dragged Rin out with the other.
"Please don't kill me," she mewed pitifully, clumsily trying to wipe her mouth as she spoke. It was awkward; her whole body shook violently and the woman's arm, holding Rin upright via a handful of sweater collar, was in the way. Rin gripped the arm in an attempt to keep herself steady. The muscles were taught like steel cords beneath her trembling fingers.
"It's barely a child," said the man from behind the woman. Rin had forgotten about him; his skin was inky and he disappeared into the shadows when Rin was focused on the woman, who had by far proved herself to be the scariest thing in the world for the young girl.
"I'm n-not a ch-chil-ld-d." The courage Rin had tried to force into her words was thin to begin with and didn't keep up to the second syllable. She gulped and tried to slow her breathing from the short, heavy gasps to something a little less pathetic, but it was difficult; everything about her felt pathetic right now. She tried not to look at her parents on the floor beside her, turning her rolling eyes instead to the woman's. She tried to find anything in the woman's eyes that was not emotionless and cold, but there was nothing.
I'm going to die, she thought.
The man shifted in the doorway, and Rin's eyes flew to him. "Please," she whimpered. He did not respond in any way, so she turned back to the woman who gripped her still. Rin's back was beginning to ache. The majority of her weight was pressed into the back of her sweater, pulled taught by the woman's fierce hold. Her toes touched the floor and scrabbled about in an effort to find a little bit of traction, to keep herself from swinging clumsily in front of the woman.
"Did you know he had a daughter?" the woman asked with a glance back at the man. Rin's eyes darted between the two of them, drinking in every little detail of their interaction, watching desperately for something to suggest they might let her live. Her parents were pushed out of her mind. There was nothing Rin could do for them. She wanted only to escape.
"No," the man said. "But she probably doesn't know anything."
"I d-don't know an-ny-th-thing," Rin sputtered. "D-Dad wanted to move to the city so he could design buildings," she said, the words spilling out too fast this time for her to stutter.
"Shut up," snapped the woman, and shoved her against the wall. Rin yelped and instinctively snarled. The woman snarled back. "Shut up," she growled. Rin's brief flare of anger was snuffed out and she shut up.
The woman suddenly let go of Rin's sweater and she spilled down the wall and onto the floor, landing on her butt with a hiccup. "Are you going to kill me?" she gasped, but the woman had turned away as if she had completely lost interest, and was striding past the dark-skinned man and into the hallway. Rin looked hopefully up the man, but his expression was blank as he grabbed Rin's arm and hauled her up. "What are you going to do?" she asked shakily.
"You have to come with us," said the man. His voice was deep, gravelly, and as dark as his skin. His vowels held the slightest tilt, like the tail-end of an accent, and Rin found herself hanging onto his rich tone. It was menacing, but it sounded to Rin like a passive type of menacing, as if his voice was just menacing by default. He pulled her out the door and she stumbled after him, but grabbed the doorframe at the last minute and tried to pull back toward her parents. The man gave her a tug and she lost her grip and tumbled after him.
Outside was dark. Whatever light they had carried before was extinguished now. The shapes of humans darted around the hulking figures of horses, checking bags and fastenings and beginning to mount. Rin spotted the fearsome woman approaching an equally fearsome horse, a tall and agitated mare who was as wiry and feline as her master. Aside from her bone-white face, every inch of the mare was inky blue-black. Rin stared at her as the man tugged her onward. A massive red stallion seemed to be their destination, and Rin turned her attention to him nervously as they approached.
"Why are you taking me?" she asked. The man put his hands in Rin's armpits and launched her up onto the stallion's back, who pawed the ground and nodded his head with impatience. The man left her question unanswered as he swung up behind her and scooched her forward so that she perched on the saddle's pommel. With his feet in the stirrups and hers dangling, Rin's heels reached a little below the man's knees and her head was level with his nose. One bare arm snaked around Rin's body and pinned her, arms and all, to the man's body. The other arm reached around her to grasp the reins, and before Rin had time to voice her doubts about the safety of this entire procedure, the party of raiders began to take off after the woman and her squealing black horse.