Thursday, March 17
Fear pursues the frightened,
Terror the fugitive,
The mouse drops its mask,
And bares its venomous fangs.
Of Pins and Butterflies
The dark trees were no more than a blur, as the two fugitives ran through the under-story. Aleksei had great trouble keeping up with his sister. He could not understand where all this endurance of hers had come from? Suddenly, her shadowed form leapt metres into the air to avoid a waist high log, kicked out against the trunk a tree, and ricocheted off another. She finally landed, knees bent on a low limb before hopping to the ground, temporarily vanishing amongst the ferns. And where did she learn to do that? On a good day, I’m not that athletic! His baffled expression vanished when he heard faint barks for the first time.
However, despite the urgent desire to escape, Aleksei’s body rebelled, bringing him to a halt, as he stopped and leaned heavily against a tree, gasping for breath. All he got was the icy, winter air ripping through his throat like knives. His hands were turning pale blue and he could not feel his feet in his shoes.
Mashka ran back to him, “We need to go!” she hissed.
“I can’t!” He rasped, “We’ve been running for so long, and they are still gaining on us!” He took in another heavy breath before finishing, “We need to think of a plan.”
“They are going to catch up with us even faster if we stop!”
Aleksei inclined his head and slowly he smiled. “I hear water. There’s a creek down the hill to the right. If we cross that, we cou--, could lose their sce--,” His words were cut off, as he began to wheeze painfully.
Mashka looked at her brother’s colourless face. She knew that he was not up to this, and was it not for her new found strength, she would be in the same state. “That’s a good idea. But we need to move now!” she urged, helping him up. "And then, maybe you can rest for a bit."
They ran down the hill towards the gurgling sound of a melting brook. Their progress was slowed, as they had to trudge through hardened, left over snow. As they were about to cross the small creek, Aleksei felt a tingle go up his spine.
There was a wicked presence in the dark woods. The bare branches ceased rattling even though the chill breeze still shook the canopy. All sound to the distant sound of an owl was cut off mid coo. The woods had fallen deathly silent, save the small stream beside them. Just as Aleksei was going to ask Mashka if she could still hear the dogs, one of the beasts leapt out of the bushes at him. In reflex he kicked it mid-air, and Mashka landed a heavy punch on its forehead, while it was still airborne. It landed and ran away whimpering.
They stared into the darkness looking for more of them. Aleksei knew the dogs had surrounded them. He could feel the water in the air being disturbed in the darkness by their forms. But still he felt that something else was out there, giving off an ominous weight.
Mashka’s eyes adjusted and she could clearly see the outlines of people between the trees, as well as smell the dogs and the sweat of their pursuers. She also smelled something else, nervousness, and fear. But she could not hear anything, which set her even more on edge. A single laser point appeared on her chest. She lunged to the left, and something whizzed pass her.
Aleksei was no longer aware of the dogs or men. All he knew was that something else was there. He could feel it. Something otherworldly was nearby, an evil malice lurking somewhere in the dark. Though his eyes were wide in terror, a strange, hungry grin sprouted on his lips. Snatching his sister’s arm he ran, not caring where he went, as long as it was away from that evil intent, that seemed to both terrify and fixate him.
As Mashka went with her brother, even though he strangely hid his face from her, she could feel his terror. A sharp pain in her leg forced her to stop releasing her brother's hand as he vanished into the darkness before her. She ripped out a pink tufted dart, and felt a cold fluid crawling within her veins. Drowsiness began to overcome her. As she staggered, another laser point appeared at her shoulder. She heard the hiss of the air gun and reached out, snatching the second dart between her fingers. As she looked at the dart, something snapped inside her. Her vision immediately enhanced, all of her fear vanished, and was replaced with pure wrath.
The man who had shot turned on the light mounted on his gun to see her clearly. He was shocked to see her holding the dart. She turned her head his direction, her eyes reflecting the light, like two shining golden mirrors. He was transfixed by the glow, as she threw the dart back at him. He gasped in surprise at the dart in his abdomen, before falling unconscious.
After throwing the dart, she felt the weariness from the substance start to dissipate. Next, she needed to find a way out. She ran into the trees, but her pursuers were now closing in. Two dogs leapt at her. She punched the first one then took the elbow of the same arm and slammed it into the other’s neck, dispatching both of them quickly. Finally, she put her back to an ancient elm, desperately looking for an escape.
Aleksei had not noticed that his sister had fallen behind; he still held his hand back, grasping at the air. He was numb to everything, except whatever presence he was fleeing. When he reached the thawed creek, he glanced back and finally realised that Mashka was not with him. He could barely see her through the under-story, leaning against a tree, others closing in around her. He would have run to her, had two men not emerged from the undergrowth and pointed their guns at him. He did the first thing that came to mind. He raised his hand over his head and evaporated the creek behind him, creating a fog screen.
The two men were surrounded by the dense whiteness, their target had vanished.
The effects of the tranquilizer were again starting to take hold of Mashka, and the world began to spin. She pressed tighter against the elm as she looked for a way out, but the texture of smooth bark changed into a leather coat, and a hand pinned one of her arms to her back. She felt a prick of a needle, and her final bit of strength left her, as a stranger’s arm wrapped around her waist. Her head rolled back weakly, and the last thing she saw was a bald man with piercing eyes, grinning down at her.
With a sweeping gestures, Aleksei used the fog bank to cast the two men into the creek with quick blasts, and ran to where he had last seen his sister. The cloud around him destroyed all visibility, but he used it to feel every tree, bush, or person. He came to where Mashka should have been. He repelled the fog for a moment, to look at the scene. There was scratched up dirt, but no Mashka. He looked up when he felt the presence, and saw a shadowed man staring calmly at him.
“You are wondering where your sister is, da?” the man’s Czech accent oozed malice. “You will join her soon enough.”
Aleksei noticed the man’s arm move and ducked. The dart grazed his cheek. He spun and ran back towards the creek. As he ran, he summoned the mist and hid himself. His legs froze as he tore through the chill water, but he was oblivious to it, his mind stuck in a primal sense of terror.
The trees seemed to run on forever, and there was nowhere to hide. He had to get away from not only that man, but also the darkness.
“Over here!” a hushed voice whispered in his ear.
He turned to the sound, a stream of vapour wrapped around him, ready to attack. Out of the dark woods emerged a girl in a white dress. A strange ethereal light surrounded her, banishing the dark presence. She beckoned to him. All the terror fled from his being, and was replaced with peace. He came towards her, and behind her an ivy encompassed tree appeared out of the darkness.
“Climb,” she ordered softly.
Aleksei slipped behind the ivy and shimmied up in the thin space between the vines and the trunk of the broad oak. The ivy still stubbornly held onto its brown, dead leaves through the winter and granted him shelter. He reached the first broad limb, about five metres up, and sat there where the vines made a sort of tent, sheltering him from the wind. When he looked down, the maiden was gone, but her voice continued to whisper soothingly in his ear, and a warmth filled his body.
Elsewhere, the men combed the forest for the boy. The Czech walked among them, “Why are the dogs not finding him?” he snapped.
One of the handlers replied, “They are frightened for some reason. They keep trying to go back to where we came from. I think they lost his scent.”
“And how did they do that?” The Czech asked irritably.
“He ran through the creek. Not to mention all the water he’s been moving around probably dispersed the scent trail,” the agent answered nervously.
The Czech stepped away without a word, and glanced into a calm pool in the creek. It annoyed him to have a mere youth, slip through his fingers. He would capture him eventually, but he was not used to even temporary defeat. He watched one of the dogs, which seemed braver than the rest, cross the creek and sniff the ground. It walked forward but then squealed in pain, falling to the ground. As soon as it got up, it ran as if it was being chased by a stampede.
His spine tingled, and he heard the faint sound of giggling in his ear. The moon’s reflection in the pool changed into the blonde girl. She smiled smugly at him, and then seemed to sink under the surface and disappear. That was when he knew without a doubt, that some other person was manipulating the outcome of these events.
“Listen,” he said quietly to the pool, “After I find the boy, I am going to hunt you down. You’ll toy with me no longer.”
A final whisper reached his ears, “We shall see.” it said cheerfully, causing a chill to run down both his and the dogs’ backs. They yelped and fled, but he was paralyzed until the sensation left him.
Now The Czech knew there was another power out there. But was it another person like him, or something greater. An angel? A demon? The hand of God?
Wee update for everyone! I have been working insane hours lately, so I've been late getting around to editing chapters and adding links to the table of contents. I still have a month of episodes ready to go, but it's been insane. Thanks to everyone who's been following this and reading!
Also, I have become addicted to an awesome site duolingo.com and am learning Esperanto, French, and Spanish. It's like Rosetta Stone but free, and with extensive grammar explanation. Check it out!