Chapter 2 - Seekers
"Oh, that's enough of this talk, Dave!" My mother scolds, her hand flying out a second later to smack at his arm.
I laugh as my dad snorts in response, his body pivoting away in a sad attempt to protect himself from her weak attacks. Despite the few hours that have passed since their guests left, the effects of the alcohol they drank seems to be still coursing through them.
The laughter dies out naturally as my mom stands from the couch and begins to gather up my dinner dishes. Because of the guests I didn't have the opportunity to eat with them tonight, but thankfully there were plenty of leftovers for me to fill up on.
"Thanks, mom." I beam, offering her a toothy grin as she bends and places a quick kiss on the crown of my head.
It's clear that both she and my dad feel guilty for being the reason I had to sit in my hole all afternoon, but no amount of assurances on my end seems to relieve that pressure.
Dad stares at me intently as mom wanders off into the kitchen, his brows pulled down and lips sucked into his mouth. I take a moment to look him over as well, noting the deepening lines that stretch across his face and the slight sagging of his cheeks. It feels like he's aging right in front of my very eyes, the healthy young man that I still think him to be a painful contradiction to the one that sits in front of me.
"Come here." He finally says after a moment.
Throwing out his arms, he gestures for me to squeeze into the small space left between him and the edge of the couch. Resisting the urge to roll my eyes, I lift myself from my chair with a slight huff and meander over to him. He does this every time he invites guests over, and as sweet as it is the news of the human captures tonight has me too on edge to pretend to enjoy it.
He holds back a grunt as I plop myself on him, my butt sliding off his legs until it lands on the couch and my bent knees rest across his lap. I lean back against the armrest of the sofa as I get comfortable, my cheeks heating up as I take in my dad's pained face.
I'm not a child anymore, and his body isn't exactly well equipped to take the impact of a full-grown adult dropping down on their lap.
"Sorry." I mutter.
Dad forces out a laugh as he grabs onto my shins, his hands warm and comforting.
"Don't be. You'll always be a little girl to me." He responds, patting my leg affectionately for good measure.
As always, he takes a couple of moments to collect himself and set the mood for the conversation that I've already had with him hundreds of times at this point. Someday I'll stop him before he starts and admit that I don't need to hear this, but today is not that day.
The sounds of my mother clattering about in the kitchen fills the silence between us, her quiet humming serving as the perfect background noise.
"It's important to me that you know that I don't think of your mother as property. I don't enjoy showing her off like that and would never," He pauses before turning to make eye contact with me, his solemn expression showing just how much these words mean to him. "Never let anybody touch or hurt her. She is not property in my eyes. I love her, and you of course, more than anything else in this world."
I nod, my lips twitching upward as I acknowledge his confession. There's not a part of me that doubts what he's saying, and if there ever was I'm sure it would have been squashed between the ages of five and fifteen when he confessed this to me every week.
My lips purse as we get to the next part of the conversation, my body tensing up in uncomfortable anxiety. His reaction is the same as mine, his fingers wrapping around my shin as he holds onto me like I'm about to disappear into thin air.
I suppose in his mind that's a genuine possibility.
"If you are ever taken from us, I want you to know that no matter what happens that you're not property. You are your own person with thoughts and feelings, and you deserve nothing less than to be treated that way." He explains, his voice thickening as he continues. "Say it."
Sighing, I dart out my tongue to wetten my dry lips before repeating his words.
"I am my own person with thoughts and feelings. I deserve nothing less than to be treated that way." I say, ignoring his intense gaze on me.
"Dammit, Dave. I told you to stop making her do this. Charlie's a grown woman; she doesn't need to be sitting on her father's lap repeating self-assurances to you." My mother scolds as she makes her way back into the room, a tray of tea held firmly in her hands.
I laugh, shrugging slightly as dad scootches over to give me more room on the couch. He grumbles something quietly in response, but is smart enough to keep his retort low enough that my mother doesn't hear it.
She's understandably in an irritable mood after having guests over, her patience having run thin after spending all night being leered at by my father's co-workers.
"Let me help." I mutter, turning so I'm sitting on the couch properly before reaching forward and helping her serve the hot drink.
I politely ignore the tremor of her hand as I gently grab the teapot and fill up each cup. She's quick to throw in some sugar and ready them for us all, our movements efficient after so many years of practice.
"We should discuss the repercussions of the human capture." I speak up.
Neither my mother nor father respond to my statement, their reluctance to talk about what happened earlier today frustrating. It's crucial that we make sure we are all on the same page.
I watch through narrowed eyes as they exchange hesitant glances, their body language almost immediately giving away that there's something they're hiding from me. My cheeks sink into my mouth as I wait for them to fess up, my teeth absentmindedly gnawing at the skin.
"What is it?" I finally ask when neither of them takes the initiative to share with me what's going on.
My mother is the one who gives in first, a pained sigh falling from her lips as she runs her fingers through her thin hair. She avoids looking at me for a moment and stares at the front door instead, her anxiety visible in every action she makes.
"Well, the men at dinner tonight mentioned something pretty concerning. With the sharp decline in women these last years the seekers have been getting desperate. They'll likely begin doing house raids again." She mutters.
"House raids?" I repeat, looking for clarification.
If it's anything like it sounds then we're in deep shit. The only thing that's allowed me to stay hidden this long is the fact that the seekers remain out of our houses, the government having enacted a law that prohibited their surprise raids after the seekers accidentally killed a young boy a couple of years before I was born.
"They aren't allowed to enter our house without evidence of a female?" I question when neither of them answers me. "That's the law." I continue, wincing as my voice cracks.
My mom stares down at her drink as she shakes her head, the trembling of her shoulders a tell-tale sign that she's beginning to cry.
The atmosphere in the room is uncomfortable at best, all three of us sitting silently as we lose ourselves in our thoughts. It doesn't take an expert to understand what this means for us, and the knowledge that it's only a matter of days before I am taken has us all stunned into silence.
Our population has always been relatively small compared to most other breeds. Our lifespans are short and birth numbers low, meaning the seekers will very likely be able to examine all of our homes within an unnervingly short time.
They will struggle to find the underground facilities that I've heard are hidden around the world, but every home is logged into their system for easier management.
"What are we going to do?"
My mom releases a loud sob at my question, my father saying nothing as he wraps his arms around my waist and pulls me into his chest. I know that he expects me to cry, that they both do, but instead I feel only numb.
I've known that this was a very likely possibility my entire life. As much as my parents wanted to believe otherwise, my capture has always been more of a when instead of an if.
"You should turn me in before I'm found." I speak up.
The seekers will kill my father and take my mother if they find me in our home, the punishment for hiding a woman severe. If they hand me over they'll still be punished but it will be manageable. There will be no death, and my father will likely be allowed to maintain ownership of my mother.
She's beyond the age of childbearing so it's not as if another can buy her. I'm willing to bed that there are millions of horny men who would do so gleefully, but her saving grace is the fact that she's a human and our government has restricted the purchases of women for the sole purpose of rape.
Apparently it's only condoned when the female has the possibility of getting pregnant and bearing a female from it.
"Absolutely not." My dad murmurs into my hair, his voice shaky and quiet. "That isn't an option we are willing to consider. There's a possibility that they don't come and I couldn't live with myself if we gave you up only to discover that it was unnecessary."
I open my mouth to argue but change direction and shut it as I take in my father's expression. His lips are set in a firm line as he looks at me, his eyes hard and shrouded in warning. No amount of begging on my end is going to convince him otherwise, at least not tonight.
The conversation goes stale as my mother continues her crying and my father refuses to hear any of my suggestions. It's taking everything within me not to scream out in frustration as the night goes on, my patience reaching an all-time low by the time I get up and head to bed.
I eye the hidden latch that leads down to my hole as I move about my bedroom, debating on whether or not I should just sleep down there for the next couple of weeks. It's not comfortable and will leave me with back pain in the mornings, but will bring me peace of mind that if the seekers come that I'll already be hidden away.
Although I'm sure that if they are inside of the house that they'll be able to find me without much effort, their advanced hearing able to pick up my heartbeat and breathing. My lungs feel heavy as I prop up the door and prepare it for a quick entry before crawling into my bed.
I leave on the small lamp in the corner, wanting to be able to see where I'm going if I need to make a quick escape in the middle of the night. I don't know when the seekers will come, but I'm willing to bet that if the rumors about the night raids are true, it won't take long.
They are known for their efficiency and swiftness. I give it a week at most.
Despite the exhaustion I feel throughout my entire body, I remain awake as I stare up at my ceiling and try to imagine what my life will be like when I am inventively captured. They'll take me to a facility where I'll wait until somebody comes to buy me, which I doubt will take long given the current demand.
From what I've read it seems as if humans are genetically compatible with most other breeds, meaning that the market of who can buy me is immense. I only hope that it'll be another human-like species; the thought of being purchased by an orc or goblin horrific.
The house goes silent as I continue to think over every possible scenario in my head in a failed attempt to mentally prepare for what's going to happen.
I could always sneak out while my parents are sleeping and run until I'm captured. I estimate that I could get a couple of miles away before being found, and at that point it would be impossible to know exactly what house I came from.
It would keep my parents safe and out of trouble.
The sudden sound of screaming has me flying up out of bed, my mind going in a thousand directions as I try to figure out what is happening. My mother's voice is ear-splitting as I turn and run towards my hole, my movements jerky and panicked as I sprint to the small trap door.
A scream of my own is ripped from my lips as a hand grabs onto my hair and yanks my head back. My feet fly out from underneath me as my bottom half takes a moment longer to catch the memo that my upper body has been restrained. I fling my elbow back in an attempt to hit the person who's wrapped their arm around my waist, the attack proving to be ineffective as I'm ripped from the room. I don't need to see the person to know that they are a seeker, their strength far outweighing mine.
My kicking and screaming appears to make no difference to them as they drag me down the small hallway and into the living room where my mother continues to scream.
My eyes lock in on her first, quickly darting over the trail of blood that seeps down her cheek from her hairline before moving to take in the face of the man that restrains her. He seems annoyed at her struggling, but his eyes light up as he notices me being pulled into the area.
It appears that my mother hasn't noticed me yet as the man continues to drag me towards the front door, her attention solely on the opposite side of the room. My throat dries up as I follow her line until landing on my father.
He lies face down on the floor, his unmoving body signaling to me that he's either knocked out or dead. Given the pain in my mother's screams I would say dead.
Time seems to slow as I am pulled from the house, the pain from the man's grip fading to the background and the sound of my mother's screams disappearing until all that's left is the blood pumping in my ears. I feel disconnected from everything that's happening, my mind viewing the scene in front of me as if it's watching it through a television screen.
I see the man's grip on my mother loosen before she notices as well and pries herself free from his arm. He makes no efforts to chase after her as she lunges towards my father, her body pivoting at the last minute as she finally notices me being removed. She'll be taken to a facility herself but there is no rush to get here there.
The seekers will leave her alone with my father's body before coming back later to take her. Their goal was to find me, and as I'm thrown into the back of their vehicle that goal has been achieved.
My mother stumbles as she runs towards the car door that I was thrown behind, her face upturned in a picture of agony I've never seen before.
I'm barely able to register that this is the last time I'm ever going to see my house or family again as the van starts to pull away, the men sitting in the front chatting excitedly amongst themselves.
They'll be heavily rewarded for capturing a female. This will make their career.
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