The staccato beat of an invisible drum filled her black world. Muffled voices faded in and out between each beat encouraging her confusion. Consciousness slowly resurfaced and with it, the hollers of a foreign language. Abruptly, she pitched to the left slamming into an invisible wall, scraping exposed skin. A yelp parted her lips in protest, but her eyes remained closed. Stale air soaked her skin, drenching her in a thin layer of salty sweat. The servant’s garb she had been outfitted with clung to her thin frame uncomfortably and somewhere along the way she had lost her shoes.
Another turn and she pitched sharply to the right slamming into another invisible wall. Opening her eyes, her black world barely lightened. A thick layer of darkness filled her gaze, but if she stared hard enough she could focus on various cracks in the wall in front of her. Hesitantly, she reached out, tracing careful fingertips across the walls holding her in. A half hearted attempt was given at pressing against the wall above her, but it refused to budge. It was as if she pressed her weight against a tree; immovable. The same could be said of the walls in front of and beside her. With the growing realization she was trapped, panic set in. Little room had been given in her confined space and she could feel the press of claustrophobia closing in on her. Careful fingertips turned desperate, scrabbling along the wood searching for a break between the boards of the dark wall.
“Shut up in there.”
Her confines shook as a warning she didn’t heed.
“HELP!” she shrieked, pounding one of the dark walls with her small fist.
“I said shut up,” a deep voice growled menacingly. Something hard thumped against the other side of the wall forcing her to scramble backwards as far as the small space allowed. Without warning, a hand and the face of an older man phased through the wall grabbing the front of her dress. He may have dragged her close enough to see his face, but in the darkness he was a featureless blur. A surprised scream built in her throat, but the prick of something sharp against her neck silenced it.
“If you don’t shut your fucking trap, I’ll rip your vocal chords from your throat. Where you’re going, you won’t need to speak,” he threatened.
A soft whimper escaped her lips as the only consent she could give through her growing fear. It seemed to satisfy the man who had grabbed her. He grunted without further threat, released her, and disappeared through the wall. Immediately, the young girl flew against the wall the man disappeared through, pressing her body against solid wood that wouldn’t budge under her efforts. Twisting, she pressed her hands against it, bracing herself by pressing her bare feet against the other wall to add pressure to her efforts. The wall remained as immovable as the top of her prison.
A few more illogical attempts were made before she gave in and slumped against the cool wood hopeless and afraid. Breathing heavily, she felt a familiar tingling near the top of her nose that preceded the flow of tears. Nothing was making sense. Where were her parents? Where was Echo? … Where was she?
Soft sobs of hopelessness shook her thin frame. Habit had her right palm pressed against her quivering lips in a desperate attempt to keep her sounds of despair silent. She hated crying and knowing there were strangers on the other side of her prison made it worse.
‘They will not hear me cry. I will not cry…’
The thought didn’t matter. Tears continued to trace wet tracks through her dirt coated cheeks and she couldn’t get a hold on the dam that once held her emotions in check. Pulling her knees to her chest, she leaned against a corner of her prison trying to keep herself steady as she was carried to a place unknown. Sleep evaded her mind, but her thoughts drifted. The last thing she remembered was playing in the woods with Echo. Their parents had been picnicking by the river while they were left to explore. They should never have left their sight. If only they had stayed by the river…
A sudden drop alerted the young girl something had changed. Alert, she wiped the dried tear tracks from her cheeks peering through the darkness. She searched for an opening of any sort again to give her a glimpse of the outside world. The shouts close to her prison had died down to a gentle rumble and on occasion someone laughed. Fury sparked abruptly within her core eradicating her sense of hopelessness. Was this funny to them? Kidnapping was funny? Did they not know who she was?
New found vigor urged her fingers to continue their search for a hole, but despite the occasional cast of firelight flickering through her prison, she couldn’t find a hole large enough for her to see through. Frustration erupted. Grunting, she slammed a tiny fist against the wall and winced. It wasn’t her smartest decision, but it was what she had been reduced to. Cradling her hand against her chest, she stared at the wall in front of her as if she could disintegrate the wood with her gaze.
As she was about to renew her efforts in her search for a hole, a high pitched scream echoed outside of her prison. She froze. The voices talking close to her faded into silence and for the first time since she woke up, she believed she was alone.
No one answered. Backing up, she used what little space she had to gather momentum and threw herself against one of the walls. Her prison shook, but it didn’t yield to her weak attempt of escape. Backing up again, she thrust her shoulder against the wall with what strength she had in her seven year old frame. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to create a subtle crack. Hope bloomed and as she was backing up again to ram her shoulder into the wall, a sound caught her attention.
The whisper, a breath of existence, rang out through the darkness. She knew that name. She knew that voice.
“Sh. Sh. I’m here,” the girl called Echo soothed, pressing her fingertips against the cool wood she heard her friend’s voice coming from. In the darkness, the box had been hard to find on the dock. The only thing special about it was its contents and the fact it had been the only one shaking. Thankfully, it had been shaking.
Relief washed through Eelei, weighing on her breath. Pressing her fingers against the wood, she could imagine her friend on the other side. “How did you find me?” Eelei whispered.
Something on the other side of the wall stabbed into the wood making Eelei jump backwards. “Echo?” Scrabbling noises answered her question followed by a small weight moving on top of her prison. Reaching up, Eelei touched the roof of her prison hesitantly. Paranoia warned her the roof could fall in on her, but the ceiling held steady.
“Give me a moment,” Echo mumbled, realizing she hadn’t answered her friend’s initial question. Crouching over the lock, she eyed the keyhole thoroughly. It was designed differently than what had been on her prison, but she was certain it wouldn’t be a problem.
“E? Who screamed earlier?”
“The man guarding my box,” Echo answered distractedly.
“You were captured too? What happened to your guard?”
“Concentrating,” Echo growled softly.
“What did you do to him, E?” Eelei persisted.
“Still concentrating,” Echo muttered.
The gentleness of the tone struck Echo forcing a soft sigh from her lips. Momentarily, she paused sorting through the key ring she’d pulled from her pocket, but didn’t answer. Captivated by her blood stained fingertips in the flickering firelight, she could still see the look on the guard’s face when he fell at her feet. The gurgling sound of the guards dying words echoed in her ears. He had been her first kill.
Blinking, Echo shook herself back into the present returning to sorting through the keys. “A moment Eelei and you’ll be free,” she murmured softly. It didn’t take longer than a moment to find the right key. Inserting it into the lock, she heard a satisfying click and the lock popped open musically. Removing it, she slid to the end of the box. Pulling on the lid, she felt it slide easily, creating a small gap large enough for Eelei to crawl out of.
Hoisting herself out of her prison, Eelei almost cried out from the sudden pain in one of her legs when she placed her weight on it. “Pins and needles, Co,” Eelei winced, rotating her ankle .
“Give it a moment. It’ll wake up,” Echo murmured, leaving her friend to massage her foot while she replaced the lid back onto the crate. Grunting under the weight, she slid the lid back into place and relocked the box. Quietly, she crouched next to Eelei wrapping her friend in a fierce embrace. Unspoken emotions passed between the two friends, but neither bothered to voice what they’d feared when they’d awakened. When Echo released Eelei she got a good look at her friend for the first time since they’d been taken. Her dress had been replaced with servant’s garb similar to her own. A matted mess of brown hair had replaced the delicate braid her mother had taken time to weave around the crown of her head. Dried blood stained the shoulder sleeve of her servants dress and her shoes were missing.
“If your mother could see you now…”
“Oh hush…You don’t look much better.”
Echo snickered softly. “No I don’t, but I always look like this” she countered.
“True,” Eelei agreed and Echo thought she saw a hint of a smile.
“Are you ready to run?”
“It’s run or stay here,” Echo pointed out, not giving her friend time to argue. Neither of them had time to spare or a choice and while she knew Eelei wasn’t the quickest, she'd need to be. It wouldn’t be long before they were both discovered missing. “Come on, we need to go. Now.”
Echo started to stand when a desperate hand gripped into the sleeve of her servants dress. She paused laying a reassuring hand on Eelei’s. “We’ll be fine Eelei. We just-”
“They have a Siorth, E,” Eelei blurted out, interrupting her friend.
Echo froze, the first hint of fear trickling down her spine. A Siorth… here… That could mean…
“You need to go now Eelei. To your right, run. Go, follow the river and go north,” Echo whispered quickly. Picking her friend up, she shoved her, urging her desperately to start running.
“Go and don’t turn back,” Echo hissed, shoving Eelei once more. “I’m right behind you,” she lied.
Following Eelei through the maze of boxes, she cut to the left behind another larger box at the last moment when she saw Eelei breach the edge of the forest. Lashing out, she started slapping boxes and shoving smaller ones. Panic and courage urged her onward, but she knew what these men wanted and it wasn’t her. If Eelei could find her way home they stood a chance. In the meantime, she needed to survive.
Somewhere behind her, she heard a man shouting. The men who had gone to investigate their comrades scream were returning. She didn’t have long, but she didn’t plan on making herself easy to find, Siorth or no. Ceasing her antics, she darted closer to the dock sliding over the edge. Slowly, she eased herself into the water, biting her tongue when her breath froze mid-inhale. It wasn’t long before the chill seeped into her bones and her limbs lost feeling. She forced her teeth to remain still as she slipped deeper beneath the dock and held onto a wooden pole supporting the wooden slats above her. The voices in the distance grew louder when their owners drew closer. Closing her eyes, she hugged herself close to the wooden pole. She felt as if the wood vibrated with each abrupt pound of her heart. Taking slow breaths, she willed her heart beat to soften and prayed she wouldn’t be found.
Her prayers weren’t answered.
A large hand phased through the wood above her, wrapping itself in the folds of the back of her servants dress. Harshly, she was yanked out of her hiding spot and through the wood. It was the strangest feeling which left her stunned and mentally grasping for something to stabilize her sudden lapse of vertigo. Held by the nape of her neck, she winced when the face of a snarling older man was thrust into her face. Wrapping her arms around her torso, she shivered, feeling hopelessness bleed through the chill traveling from her head to her toes.
“Thought you could escape, hm?” The older man growled, shaking her threateningly.
Echo wrinkled her nose in distaste, but didn’t answer him. Maintaining her silence she found one piece of happiness in the knowledge Eelei had escaped. They'd never find her friend if they were too occupied locating her.
“You can’t hide from a Siorth, girl,” he scowled, lowering her to the ground where she was barely able to hold her weight with her shivering limbs she called legs. He held her in place giving a nod to two other men standing behind him with torches in hand. She hadn’t noticed either of them, but now she was aware they weren’t alone, she searched the darkness beyond the gleaming firelight. Squinting, she could see a few blurred shadows standing close to the boxes huddled together in a group. They were talking about something, but she couldn't hear.
One of the men near the Siorth walked towards the group, joining their conversation. It took them a moment, but it seemed an agreement was made and three men took off towards the trees opposite the way Eelei had gone. Echo’s heart soared. She presumed they were still searching for Eelei and the direction they chose was wrong! They wouldn’t find her and by the time she got to her parents, it would be too late. She’d be safe!
Despite the circumstances of her situation, Echo’s lips twitched into a triumphant smirk. A side glance was risked upwards towards the man holding her tightly. Surprise laced her glance when she found his expression mirrored her own. Confused, she noticed he was nodding towards a direction. Following his subtle hint, she turned and her draw dropped.
Over the shoulder of one of a tall man walking towards them, lay the limp body of a small female. Echo didn’t need to see the face to guess who it was. She crumpled and her captor let her.
“I told you girl. You can never escape a Siorth,” the man next to her boasted softly.
’He was right. They would never escape…’
The man holding Eelei was taller than her own captor with piercing green eyes. His dark hair was pulled back in a low efficient ponytail. Not a hair was out of place and when he pressed into the firelight, Echo noticed he was cleaner than many of the other men loitering close to their small group. When his gaze caught Echo’s, his pupils flashed white. She gulped.
“A wraith….” she whispered.
“You’re well informed girl,” her captor grunted, plucking her off of the ground again by the nape of her neck. Habit found her struggling for release, but a sharp slap to the temple forced her limbs to go limp and her vision to sway.
“What do you want done with this one?” The wraith asked. His voice was everything he should have been. Wispy and course, it caressed Echo in a chilling manner. By the time the question had faded into silence, she felt as if the man standing before her knew her every secret and fear.
The Siorth frowned. “Stop that,” he growled. “I hate it when you do that.”
The wraith smirked in response, but nodded his head with mild obedience. “The child?” The wraith asked in a voice more befitting of a human.
Something passed between the two men. Echo was unaware of her captors answer until the knife slid smoothly through cloth and skin into Eelei’s left side. Time stopped.
Shrieks broke through the night. No one else seemed to notice the growing darkness on Eelei’s dress. The two men stared at Echo. Eelei stared at her, shock painted across her face as her fingers sought the source of her pain grasping weakly. She gasped for air, for life. The wraith withdrew his blade and dropped her onto the dock like a rag doll where her seven years of life stained the wood. Echo broke free of her captors hold when her senses returned. Darting forward, she collapsed next to her friend momentarily hesitant. The shrieks had altered to hiccuped sobbing and it wasn’t until the uncontrolled tears slipped down her dusty cheeks Echo realized she’d been the one screaming. Gently, she brushed a stray strand of hair away from Eelei’s face pulling her friend onto her lap.
“I’m here Eelei… I’m here…” she cooed softly.
The body beneath her trembling fingertips shuddered in response. “Co…”
“Hush Eelei, hush. I’m here,” Echo whispered, noticing her friend’s eyes were closed again. She pulled the cloth of her friend’s dress apart, placing a gentle, but firm hand over the wound. If she could stop the bleeding she could stop Eelei from leaving her.
“Hurts,” Eelei gasped. Her face twitched with pain and what Echo suspected was the feeling of life draining from her lively limbs.
“It’s alright Eelei. It’s alright. It will go away soon. You’ll be fine. I’m here. I promise,” Echo murmured comfortingly. The blood wasn’t stopping. It seeped between the creases in her fingers. It wasn't stopping. Despair weighed on her.
A smile pulled at Eelei’s lips, unaware. “You’re always there for me,” she murmured, taking another shuddering breath.
“Always,” Echo whispered. Why wouldn’t the blood stop?
“When we get home, promise… promise we won’t… won’t wander off again?…”
Slowly, Eelei’s voice faded with each word she spoke. The blood continued to pump out through Echo’s fingers and she could feel her friend’s life leaving her with it.
“No no no Eelei. Eelei listen to me…. Eelei? Eelei??”
Eelei didn’t answer her. Echo moved her hands from her friend’s side to her face, she grasped her cheeks shaking her lightly. “Eelei. Eelei!”
“She’s dead,” a voice pointed out above her.
“You shut up! Shut up!” Echo screeched at no one in particular, clutching Eelei’s head between her bloodied hands desperately. Eyeing the pale skin, she shook her friend again refusing to accept what her captor had pointed out. She wasn’t dead. She couldn’t be. “Eelei?” Her friend didn’t answer, but Echo continued to stare. "Eelei?" she whispered, unable to comprehend. Eelei remained unresponsive despite Echo's small hands slapping her cheeks lightly. It wasn't until Echo's denial crumbled beneath acceptance that she carefully pulled the limp body close to her chest helplessly. Rocking slightly, she couldn’t find air to breathe. This wasn’t happening. None of this was happening. She had been certain her escape plan for Eelei was full proof. She should’ve been the one to have lived. They needed her! She needed her.“Eelei…” Echo sobbed. A well of grief overwhelmed her. Pressure grew ignored and unchecked within the pit of her stomach. Emotions swarmed her mind and her heart and she felt, for the first time, heartbreak. The pressure within her continued to build, urged to a greater capacity by her emotions. Hanging her head back, Echo screamed. Everything she felt in that moment, she released. Her anger. Her frustration. Her fear. Her grief. The scream echoed across the dock and through the forests. Mid scream, a sudden bud of blue light sparked into existence. As abruptly as the scream began, it cut itself short. The blue light disappeared and Echo fell into the welcomed embrace of a dark emptiness.