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Chapter 2

The sound of footsteps awoke her. An urgent instinct kept her awake. It was too quiet. No crickets. It seemed nature was holding its breath. A cold harsh light beamed through the air, hitting the ground just a few feet from her head. Her eyes widened as it sped around, looking for signs of habitation. She swallowed; her fingers reaching slowly for the sturdy metal shield that rested under her pack. She was glad she had covered the smooth surface with leaves to prevent it giving her away.

Hoots, like an owl, but unnaturally loud and organized. She could see the nearest bodies to her shift out of sleep, heads slightly rising to see what the noise was. Slowly, she pulled off her blanket, shoving it into her pack. She started to crawl to the nearest group to quietly wake them. She could see some other groups also trying to quietly pull themselves together. But then a babe cried. The harsh light swung to illuminate its’ angry face and that of the panicked mother. Two bangs rang through the night and down she went, red spreading through her shirt, the baby’s head missing. More lights came, clearly illuminating the clearing and she jumped up, running for the far trees. She felt the impact as a few bullets bounced off her shield. Then she was in the trees. She ran until it was dark, where the lights didn’t throw a shadow; then she jumped up, gripping a tree branch and pulling herself up until she was high off the ground, huddling against the trunk.

The shots faded into the night to be replaced by shouts of victory and the gloats as the soldiers looted. She hugged the tree tighter, closing her eyes and willing herself to remain silent.

She waited until their crashing walk and triumphant voices had truly faded before she dropped to the ground, and ran back. She hugged her pack against her chest as she inspected the destruction. The patrol had taken great care in making sure their victims were dead, perhaps knowing that there had been a healer in this group. Every corpse that she checked had a single hole in the forehead, even the babes. Upon further inspection, she found that some were missing- five young girls, younger than even her, just barely come into womanhood and three boys. She fell to the ground, and covered her eyes. It was too much to bear, both the deaths, and the chosen slaves. Just that evening, she had soothed their pain and told a story to remind them of their history.

The night was starting to lighten; beginning to turn to gray morning as she finally wiped her eyes and pushed herself to her feet. She walked over to where she had dropped her pack and shield beside the body of a little girl who she had teased over dinner. She slung her pack on first, then the shield’s strap that went diagonally across her chest so that the metal protected her back, but could easily be shifted to be held to protect her front. She decided to hammer out the dents and repair the camouflage later, when she had moved far away from this place. The only important thing at that moment was to move.
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