I race for the treeline ahead.
My bag slams against my back, hitting a sore spot where my tailbone is—it cries out with every thud, agony searing me beneath the flesh. Falling over that wall has wounded me all over.
I shove through the pain exploding under my skin, at my ankle and back, my burning shoulder—I push through the pain and run faster than I fear my legs can carry me. They’re wobbling beneath me, threatening to give way as I race up the hill.
I make it halfway before an arrow whirs by my face. I jerk back just in time. It grazes my nose a second before I throw myself back onto the grassy slope.
My bag breaks the fall as I slam down on the dirt. But it doesn’t stop me from rolling down the hill, faster than I can run. Everything whirls by me; grass, dirt, and darkness polluted by orange firelight. The spinning only stops when I land with a crunch on the cobblestone at the bottom of the hill.
With a grunt, I scramble to my feet and spin around.
The dark fae are pouring out from the alleys, all over the village, and from the woods comes another dozen of them, arrows notched and ready to release. And as I know from the tiny drop of blood swelling at the tip of my nose, their arrows are faithful.
I’m completely surrounded. I have nowhere to go.
They advance on me. Their movements are dulled now. They know they have me cornered. They advance, slow and steady, wearing wicked smiles on their faces or vicious scowls that ache of bloodlust.
I can’t believe, after this long of survival, this is how it ends. Behind some forgotten village, where I’ll be left to rot or be eaten by wild animals from the woods. Either way, I’ll be gone. Forgotten, just like the village.
I back up to the nearest building until the hard touch of its walls presses against my bag. My hands somehow found themselves held up, as if in surrender.
And I do surrender, don’t I? By not running or fighting, I’m giving up. Facing death so weakly might not save my life, but it might mean a quick death. And that’s the best I can hope for right now.
Menacing faces draw in closer. Bloodshed glimmers in dangerous eyes all around me. I sink back further against the wall, as if I can simply fall into it and vanish.
It’s truly terrifying how silent their footsteps are. Even as they close in on me and I see their boots flatten against the ground, I can’t hear much other than my own rapid, choppy breaths and pounding heart.
Sweat seeps out from my pores. I can feel the beads gather at my brow. Watching the advancing dark fae, I hook my thumbs through the straps of my bag and slip it off. It slams down at my feet, freeing up the space between my waistband and my hand.
Reaching behind me, I feel around the waistband for the scissors tucked there. My fingers brush the handle as the first dark fae, whose eyes are like cut emeralds, comes at me.
I whip out the scissors and strike. Of course it misses him.
He laughs as he effortlessly dodges my attack. His laughter rises up over the army as some even throw their heads back and howl.
Guess I’ll go down fighting after all. But I’ll be laughed at in my final moments.
I lunge forward and swipe out at him again. His fiery-red hair whips to the side as he swirls around, and my scissors sinks into nothing but dark air.
Howls of laughter bubbles over the fae.
The red-haired one turns to face me, a feral grin twisting his mouth. He looks up at me from beneath short lashes and, in a blink, he moves for me.
A scream catches in my throat as he snatches me by the throat and, swiftly, throws me back against the wall. I smack against it audibly, then crumble to the ground.
Heat swells at the back of my head. Blood, I’m sure of it. I felt the crunch of my skull against the solid wall. My bones heard the impact.
The ground is spinning. I try to push myself upright, but everything tilts with every move I make, and dizziness washes over me. My body jerks forward as a violent heave shoves through me, and I slowly let myself slump against the ground. Better to die down here.
The heat of flames advances on me. I feel the sear against my skin. Lazily, I look up at the dark fae crowding me and see the fire-torches in their hands, outstretched, as they get a good look at me.
Some of the dark fae wear frowns as they study me. The red-haired one tilts his head and stares intently at the side of my neck.
Gingerly, I reach my hand to my neck and feel around for any monstrosity or wound. But there’s nothing there, nothing that I can feel at least. But there must be something, otherwise why are they all looking at my neck as if it’s just sprouted an arm?
Murmurs ripple over the crowd encircling me. Some of them look to another and talk in soft voices—as soft as their cutting language can sound. I frown back at the red-haired one as he takes a hesitant step toward me. I notice that he’s holstered his blade. There are no weapons in his hand.
He swipes a fire-torch out of another fae’s hand, then brings it closer to my head. The heat burns my skin, an odd itchy sensation. But it’s a short-lived feeling, because he pulls back after a few seconds, apparently satisfied. He chucks the fire-torch back to the one he stole it from, then gestures to me.
I’m too sore to move. My heart is pounding, my legs don’t work. It’s all I can do to lie on the ground as two fae move in on me and lift me up.
They carry me, not kill me. Yet.