Escaping Udora Novavax
1715 Warwood, battling country (fourteen years after the stars fell)
Rain poured in sheets, stirring loose dirt into puddles of cold mud. A particular puddle was rolling out rivulets from the droplets. The forest was quiet. Animals silent.
A barefoot splashed through the reflective puddle. The tiny foot cutting a swath through the woods in flowing steps.
Five sets followed, tearing heedlessly through puddles. Disrupting the night. A parade of wraiths arriving to haunt the forest. White sleeping gowns floated in the night. Soft breaths huffing out frosty mists. Colored manes whipping in torrents of wind and rain.
They ran until their little hearts were ready to erupt. Terrified the woman calling herself mother, Udora Novavax was already in pursuit. The wicked creature who’d painstakingly collected them like precious treasure, had tortured many of them. And others were never seen again. Their numbers steadily dwindling over the past eight years.
Chastain, the eldest of the fleeing girls led through familiar trees. Six painstaking nights she’d mapped this path in her mind. A stranger’s voice guiding her.
He’d manifested to tell her where to go. A hazy image appearing next to her to point from one tree to the next as she snuck out each night to carefully etch trees with a dull butter knife, she’d foraged from Udora’s trash.
Chastain stopped to catch her breath, knowing that even now the evil woman might be waking in the cottage. Always sensing when they tried to escape.
Chastain shook her head, sending damp red tresses over her shoulders and alongside her face as she tried to banish her fears. Pressing a palm to a familiar mark on a tree. Yelping involuntarily as the slick coarse bark stung her blistered palm. Over the years, the sores had worked through the top layer of skin, marking her palm with open wounds.
Rubbing the area, she bit her cheek. Knowing their hands would be no better.
Peering around the tree, she assessed the distance. Glimpsing the hazy outline of her guide.
He was here. Waiting and ready to lead them. He turned slowly with black hair billowing from his shoulders. His face twisted in worry as he pointed hauntingly to a break in the trees. He eyed them, still as statues. Like a group of does awaiting direction. Wide innocent gazes were on the redhead. Shining with blind trust.
Swearing to himself at their vulnerability, he waited. Only the eldest, the redhead could see him. She instinctively trusted in him. Some primitive part of her sensing what he was.
The rest followed her.
“Come. Follow me. Be free.” The ghostly figure whispered as he turned and walked further down the pathway. Slate gray eyes soft as he looked back to assure, she followed.
A glance behind Chastain revealed the girls’ exhaustion. With little food and less sleep, they quickly tired.
“I’m so hungry Chasy.” The little brunette held her stomach and looked back up at the oldest girl as she tripped over the muddy earth.
She gestured for them to keep going while she fell back to catch Meralee’s tiny hand. The girl’s bony fingers clung to Chastain’s hand.
Starvation has taken its toll. He recognized.
I’m not sure they’re strong enough to make this journey. He swallowed, sending up a fervent prayer to the contrary.
“We’re all hungry.” Riaura snapped. “That woman tried to starve us to death!”
“Move!” Chastain whispered harshly. Pointing toward the gap in the dark trunks. Rain still dumped from the leaves overhead, dousing them.
“Do you think it’ll be Udora that comes looking for us or that man.” Sabine asked softly. Terror in her eyes.
They all feared Udora’s lover.
“Let’s hope it’s just Udora.” Chastain said. “And Radix stays behind.”
“He’ll beat us senseless.” Meralee whimpered.
“He might kill us.” Sabine’s huge blue eyes were terrified.
Chastain stared through the trees, trying hard to dismiss what they said as they tore through puddles.
Courageous little thing.
Little dark-haired Ebony fell once, and Chastain lowered quickly and caught her hand. Yanking her from the puddle she’d landed in.
“We have to keep moving.” She told them urgently.
Squinting against the darkness she looked for her next mark. Feeling like each moment they spared was borrowed.
“Where are we going?” Serdephe demanded. “Do you even know, Chastain?” Serdephe was the closest to Chastain’s age. Her inquisitiveness emerging as defiance.
“I know where we’re going.”
“How?” Serdephe’s eyes narrowed on the redhead.
“I-I dreamt it.”
“Great! We’re going to die.” Serdephe tossed her arms. Purple-blue eyes accusing as she tossed hair that had, in recent years, gone from dull brown to brilliant violet. “At least I could’ve gotten some sleep before they kill us!”
“You think my back doesn’t sting from the work too Ser?”
“All of ours do.” Riaura added glowering.
“Why tonight during a downpour?” Serdephe demanded.
“Do you not see her?” Chastain shook Meralee’s frail arm slightly before leaning close to Serdephe. “How many more days do you think she has in her?”
Serdephe saw how Meralee’s dark eyes were glazed over and her step grew halting.
“She can’t go much further.” Serdephe said sympathetically before sweeping the tiny girl into her arms to help.
Chastain fervently sent up a prayer.
“Dawn is coming.” Serdephe said, worry filling her tone. “I hope you have faith in this dream of yours.”
“I do. I’ve had it for sennights.”
At Serdephe’s confused look, she added. “The voice told me it had to be tonight.”
“That makes zero sense.” Serdephe shook her head.
Chastain’s own step faltered, and she slid to a knee. Sabine and Serdephe shot her a worried look. Well-aware that the oldest had been carrying most of their work for them and dividing her food amongst the youngest girls.
“When did you eat last?” Serdephe asked.
“I don’t know.” Chastain said dismissively. Forcing herself back to her feet weakly. Chin hitching. “Keep moving!”
Chastain would be only fourteen this year and, yet she was the oldest of them. Next was Serdephe almost ten and three with her purple hair and strange bluish eyes, her moods as changing as those vivid eyes. Then Sabine and Riaura. Those two, who were only a year apart at ten and one and ten years old, behaved almost like twins. A fact they matched in looks also. With silver-blonde hair draping down their slender backs, but one had deep blue eyes and the other a snapping green. Ebony and Meralee were the youngest. Both highly spirited. But Ebony’s glistening black hair and dark eyes lent her a childish look that would forever make her seem much younger. The youngest and most petite was Meralee. The little one inspiring the mad flight. Her usual high spirit and adorably bossy air gone these days.
She’s tired all the time. Their savior noticed. Watching the littlest one. His fear clearly written over his face.
This is the last of them. All that’s left of the Fallen’s comrades. He noted.
“What’s wrong with her?” Riaura looked up at Meralee in Serdephe’s arms. Her eyes shiny as she stared ahead, her body nearly limp. “Did Udora beat her again last night?”
“Every night.” Sabine said breathlessly. Gaze falling. “I can hear her begging to know why Udora hits her.”
“Better her then him.” Serdephe hissed. Recalling the flash of a belt across her forearms and the slap as it rung along her shoulders.
“How’d you get her up?” Serdephe muttered. “She usually sleeps so heavily…”
“Not tonight.” Chastain ran a soothing hand along Meralee’s hair. “She was sitting up waiting for me though I’ve no idea how she knew.”
“I’m coming.” Meralee had whispered, as she weakly rolled off the edge of her cot. So fragile she had to catch the edge of the bed to steady herself on her feet. She’d padded to Chastain’s side on shaking limbs.
It’d only taken minutes to get the girls out the door. They’d willingly followed Chastain out into the darkness. One by one.
Chastain ordered her mind back to the present. Sweeping lush red hair from her face and feeling the weight of it fall down her back. Her gown was soaked from the damp underbrush already. She shivered.
“I’m scared they’ll catch us.” Ebony looked up at Chastain with eyes so dark they seemed black.
“There’s so much light.” Riaura looked up at the bright moon which had lit their path so dimly most of the night but now illuminated the whole forest as the cloud coverage faded into the distance.
“Sabine.” Serdephe called.
The tiny blonde stilled.
“Hide the moon.” Riaura whispered in her tiny voice.
Sabine closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. The breath emerging from her lips as a vapor. Ice crackled along the branches above them. Drops of rain froze into icicles or hardened into tiny pebbles of hail as they landed. Clouds rushed over the sky in heavy billows before a dense wind drove them over the moon.
Sabine sighed and collapsed backward. Riaura caught her hand and put a palm to her back to keep her moving forward. “I got you, Sister.”
“I know.” Sabine breathed. Steam still rising from her parted lips as she blinked drowsily.
“Come along girls.” Chastain ordered briskly, sounding strong and assertive to feign a confidence she didn’t feel.
“The water.” Meralee told them, her eyes glossing to white.
“What water?” Serdephe asked.
“The rain has made a river ahead.” Meralee said in the far-off voice she used when she was seeing things she couldn’t possibly see.
Serdephe handed her to Chastain with a smile and a lifted brow. “Water? Water I can handle.” Cracking her neck, she led the way to the rushing torrents.
With a crazed laugh, Serdephe knelt next to the water. Reaching in caused Chastain to gasp.
“Careful Ser. Don’t get washed away.”
Serdephe smiled over her shoulder. “Don’t be naïve Chastain. Water like this does what I wish.”
The water receded from around her hands. Pulling back until it made two walls for them to walk between.”
“Why couldn’t you stop the rain?” Riaura said bitterly.
“It’s mighty hard to control drops.” Serdephe hissed. “I can control one but the other billion do what they want.”
“Huh.” Riaura scoffed. “Seems like you should work on that.”
“Shush.” Serdephe smacked her upside her head. “Light.”
“Fine.” Riaura held out her palm. Serdephe put her hand under Riaura’s to help her focus the energy.
“Remember? Like we practiced.” Serdephe said. There was a sputter then a green illumination bloomed in Riaura’s palm.
“Good job.” Serdephe ruffled her hair before returning to Chastain’s side to retrieve Meralee as they crossed the river.
Sabine had composed enough she held Riaura’s free hand to guide them across the mud to the other bank.
The rest followed, weaving through the thin brush toward town. When Chastain sped up, dragging Ebony along with her and packing Meralee who was nearly half her size, the girls trudged determinedly behind her. Keeping pace, despite their weariness.
Finally, Sabine and Riaura pled for her to stop.
She turned to tell them to keep going, in time to see Meralee’s small frame collapse against Serdephe’s shoulder.
Rushing to them, Chastain pushed dark brown hair from the little pointed face.
The other girls crowded close, terrified faces intent on the youngest.
Checking that her baby sister still breathed, Chastain tenderly lifted her from Serdephe and pressed on. Feeling herself growing weaker as she poured life into Meralee.
Riaura watched her carefully.
“How many more times do you think you can do that?” Serdephe demanded.
Chastain eyed the little girl.
“I’ve seen you at night giving her yours. And I know you give us all your food while you weaken.”
Ebony spun. “What have you been doing every night?”
“Healing Meralee.” Riaura filled in.
“What have you been thinking?” Serdephe demanded. “You can’t save us all!”
“The dreams.” Chastain said weakly. “I know that voice. I know him. He says he’s coming back, and he’ll help us. We just have to get you to safety and away from Radix.”
“Who is he?” Serdephe asked uncertainly.
“Chavias.” Chastain breathed. A tear trailing her cheek. As he whispered to her even now. “He says his name is Chavias.”