THE DARKNESS DIDN’T last forever, thankfully. Practiced hands soon found a torch that was placed on the wall. With a flick of a matchstick, a fire was ignited and the long passageway that they were trapped in was finally bright enough for Violet to tell her right from her left.
In moments of fear, Violet found herself drawn to the flame just like how a moth would be. She inched closer towards Maddox, hovering so close to him that he could even feel her breath against the exposed parts of his skin.
“Are you alright?” He questioned, furrowing his eyebrows as he watched the girl shiver. Whether it was from the cold or from fright, he wasn’t too sure of it himself. All he knew was that Violet Harper now looked like a fawn abandoned by its mother.
“Perfectly so,” she replied almost too quickly. When she spoke, a puff of white smoke emerged from her lips, a byproduct of the chilly weather. “So, you know the tunnels?”
Maddox swung the torch around, allowing its flame to illuminate their path ahead. The room they were in was a long passageway whose end was nearer than it should be. It then split into three separate passages, most likely to deter any pursuers from catching their prey.
The walls were damp and old, mud clinging onto the surfaces like wallpaper. In such a tight and confined space, the airflow wasn’t as steady as the world above-ground. As a result, it soon became difficult to breathe. Thankfully, it was nowhere near suffocating. The lack of heat due to the wintry season also made the temperature much cooler. Without the rays of the sun to provide warmth, the world underground could only gain heat from the flickering torch that was in Maddox’s hands.
These tunnels, however, were no issue for Maddox who had grown up with the knowledge of this escape path. He confidently walked forward, ensuring that Violet was following closely behind the entire time.
“Of course,” he answered, adjusting the satchel he carried over his shoulder. “I’ve escaped using these tunnels once or twice. The local authorities could never find the entrance to this place, much less follow me through them.”
“It’s like a maze down here,” Violet commented in awe as they passed by a second fork just two minutes down the road.
“That’s why they’re so good. Even if the authorities were to find this place, they’ll never know where to go. The ground is solid,” as if to make a point, Maddox tapped the point of his boot against the floor beneath their feet, “That means no footprints.”
“Handy,” Violet commented. “Who built this place?”
“My mother did. With some help, of course. Three pairs of hands will always work faster and better than just one.”
At first, Maddox’s tone was smug and even a little boastful. Pride had seeped into his voice, nostalgia coloring his eyes before slowly fading away into melancholy. He remained silent after, his smile drooping down as he looked at the ground, walking mindlessly.
A question had popped into her head after hearing what Maddox had said but she stayed with her better judgment and chose to keep her silence. She wondered who the third pair of hands belonged to since there was no one else in the house other than Maddox and Diana. Was it his father that he was referring to?
Sensing the change in mood, Violet cleared her throat and attempted to switch the topic.
“So, where does this secret passageway lead to?”
Her question snapped Maddox back to reality. At the sound of her voice, he raised his line of sight and regained a practiced smile on his features. That was the sight Violet had grown used to seeing. But, of course, it was at that moment that Violet learned and confirmed that the people with the brightest smiles often hide the biggest secrets in their hearts. Those secrets could be dark, devastating, and calamitous. However, like all secrets, it wasn’t meant for the world to learn of it.
“The forest,” Maddox mumbled. “Just a distance short of the main road outside. However, it’s going to take some time before we reach. If you ever get tired of the walk, just let me know.”
Violet wrinkled her nose. She had never been one to outwardly ask for favors often.
Maddox wore a dimpled smile. His expression, though seemingly sweet, revealed nothing. There was no falter in his steps nor any hesitance in his words. His reply was immediate, smooth, practiced. And it made Violet’s heart skip a beat in surprise.
“I’ll carry you.”
It must’ve been hours since Diana had first opened the latch that led to their escape. In the dark, the two youngsters had searched for the way out, trudging through the muddy terrain in an attempt to break through to the world outside again, hopefully without the pursuit of authorities this time around.
Violet wasn’t sure when she had fallen asleep. All she could remember was that she was walking one moment and the other, she was blinking the sleep away from her eyes and stretching with a yawn. Her feet were dangling in the air, her body swaying a little in tune with someone else’s steps. It took her quite a while to sober up and realize that she was being piggybacked by Maddox.
“W-What…” She slurred her words, still clueless about what had transcended that led to her being supported by Maddox instead of walking on her own two feet.
“Finally awake?” Maddox asked, a hint of laughter in his voice. He looked back at her, eyes twinkling despite the dark. One of his hands held onto the torch, the other holding her up so that she wouldn’t fall. “You were sleeping quite soundly back there.”
“H-How did I… I wasn’t too heavy, was I?” Violet blurted out her question, causing Maddox to explode into a fit of chuckles.
“No, don’t worry. In fact, you need to eat more, that’s for sure,” he assured. “You fainted halfway. Collapsed to the floor in a sudden. I’m just glad that you fell asleep and it was nothing serious.”
“Please put me down,” Violet requested, her voice almost a murmur.
Her cheeks were in flames, burning bright scarlet at Maddox’s comment. All of a sudden, the press of Maddox’s palm against the skin of her leg seared through the fabric of her skirt. She could feel the warmth of his skin all too well, along with his body heat with how closely they were pressed together. It made her head light and fuzzy.
“As you wish.”
Gently, Maddox lowered Violet down until her feet her barely an inch off the ground. She dropped to the floor with a soft thud, the sound echoing a little in the space they were in. The road ahead still seemed long, blanketed in darkness, but Maddox merely smiled at her softly as if he knew something that she didn’t.
“You woke up just in time, actually. If you hadn’t, I would have woken you. We’re here,” he revealed.
Waving the torch in his hand, the light from the flame illuminated a set of wooden stairs just in front of them. At the top of it was a latched door, one that Maddox had no hesitation about opening. He gestured for Violet to stay a short distance back, choosing to check on the world outside first and making sure that the coast was clear before signaling her over.
Once she was pulled up into the world above with the help of Maddox, she felt her lungs ease up immediately. Air immediately filled it, crisp and cold due to the low temperature but Violet wasn’t complaining in the least bit. There was no moldy odor like found in the underground passageway. Instead, the world outside was fragrant, a minty perfume that also brought a whiff of pine in the cold.
As soon as Maddox was sure Violet was no longer wobbling about, he returned to latching the door back in place. The exit to the tunnel was hidden in between three large trees, their branches and the canopy shielding it from plain sight. What’s more, Maddox made sure to first cover it with a layer of leaves before piling on a blanket of snow so that it wouldn’t be found.
After he was done, he dusted his two palms together, looking at the finished product with a satisfied nod.
“That should do it,” he mumbled to himself.
Dawn had not yet surfaced. The skies were still dark, coated in navy with a splash of diamond-like stars that twinkled. Even the moon in the distance was bright, painting the entire forest silver beneath its dazzling illumination.
The critters were still asleep, some deep in hibernation while others seeking rest for the mere night. Only some nocturnal fauna could be spotted roaming the lands, scuttering between blades of grass that poked through the snow, leaving their paw prints behind in the white powder.
Not far away was the main road that connected two towns to one another. There was a horse stable and a small inn just nearby, a place for the riders to rest if there was a need to. However, they most certainly did not have the time to stay the night. While a warm bed would be appreciated, that was a luxury Violet nor Maddox could afford to have.
Instead, Maddox had his eyes on the strapping stallions tied in the stables. They snuck in with the aid of the night’s darkness, entering the stables without alerting any of the inn’s staff nor its guests.
“What are you doing?” Violet asked, scrunching her nose at the smell that engulfed her the second she neared the building. It prickled at her senses, almost causing her to tear up with how foul the place was.
“Borrowing something,” Maddox casually replied.
He stopped in front of a beautiful thoroughbred, gently soothing the animal before unlocking the stable doors. With a hand on its muzzle and the other on the gear hanging on the wall nearby, Maddox began to saddle up the horse.
“Stealing, you mean!” Violet squeaked. Her eyes turned wide as she spun around to make sure no one had spotted them yet. Thankfully, her worries were unfounded. “We’ll get into trouble.”
“That’s only if we get caught,” Maddox cheekily replied. In the next second, his hands were around Violet’s waist, heaving her up onto the animal before climbing on himself. “And I’m not about to stay and wait for the owner of this beauty to wake up. Hya!”
Urging the horse to move, the duo galloped out into the open, bursting forth from the stables and into the night. They were barely even a distance away when Violet heard the sound of yelling, bright lights trailing after them in the dark. Her curiosity caused her to turn back and look, peering past Maddox’s shoulder just in time to see a man, red in the face and a torch in hand, chasing after the horse.
“Maddox… The owner… He doesn’t look too happy about this…” Violet warned, watching as the stocky man attempted to keep up with the horse’s trot.
At Violet’s words, Maddox, too, turned his head back to sneak a peek. He barked out in laughter when he noticed their portly pursuer, grinning widely before giving a nonchalant shrug.
“Well,” he said with a smirk, “Even so, there’s nothing he can do about it.”
Using his legs, Maddox gently added pressure against the horse, urging it to pick up speed. Dutifully, the animal followed as instructed and soon enough, they had left its previous owner panting in the dust that was kicked up.
“That was madness!” Violet gaped, still turning back to peer every once in a while even though she knew there was no way for the man to keep up with the horse’s galloping speed.
“We all are,” Maddox fluently replied. There was no sign of hesitation in his words. His reply was smooth, practiced, and just as it was rehearsed in his own head. “This entire world is filled with people who’ve gone mad. That sanity of ours is what ties us down from achieving greatness.”
“Wise words from a wise man?” Violet asked almost playfully, her laughter carried by the wind that whipped at their hair.
Maddox didn’t reply. He simply gazed down from behind Violet, his smile unwavering even as he returned his line of sight to the road ahead of them.
The fields stretched out for miles, the dirt road worn out by carriages that had gone down the path thousands of times. Violet hadn’t got a clue where they were headed but she didn’t feel like there was a need to ask. She leaned back, comfortably settling into Maddox’s arms as if skinship between man and woman weren’t a sin in the standards of society.
Yes, Maddox was right. That sanity of hers was the very thing that denied her from accomplishing anything beyond the ordinary. It was time for her to be done away with it.