The wind howled as her feet churned the damp earth, twigs snapped under her tread, branches caught at her hair, scratching her face and arms. The girl did not look back as she ran faster than the deer she had startled from its slumber, faster than the birds soaring above the canopy. She ran on and on, her blades making dull noises as they slapped against her body. She ignored the burn in her lungs, she ignored the ache of her muscles as she focused on running away from the darkness. Away from the pain and the fear, away from the reality of what had happened, of what she had done. As long as she kept running, it wasn’t real, but she knew that as soon as she stopped, everything would come crashing down on her. She couldn’t bear it, so she kept running.
The girl felt her boot catch under the root of an ancient tree. She was so tired, so, so tired. She fell to her knees and threw her hands before her. They connected with the musty forest floor and she was vaguely aware of the jarring pain in her elbows. She felt her fingers dig into damp leaves and soft earth as she tried to push herself back up – she had to keep running. But her muscles would not obey. She was so very tired. Her arms gave and she collapsed on the bed of leaves beneath her, unable to move.
As soon as her face hit the ground, as soon as she stopped moving, it hit her like wall. She remembered the chaos, the screams, the smoke, the smell of fear in the air. She remembered the mangled bodies as she had run towards the heavy oak doors, remembered the smell of blood as she had pushed them open. She felt once more the fear and the pain like a knot in her gut as she had fallen to her knees, she felt the guilt as she had gotten up and ran. She felt the heat on the back of her neck as her home had burned down behind her. The girl couldn’t bear it; it was too much. She felt the weight of it crushing her, squeezing the air from her lungs. She felt darkness creep at the edges of her vision and she welcomed it.
The girl drifted through mist and shadow, she knew not how long. She had no body, no mind, no substance. She just swirled like smoke in the ether, neither here nor there, neither alive nor dead. She felt nothing, knew nothing, thought nothing, she was nothing. If she could have felt joy, she would have reveled in the nothingness, but joy had no meaning here.
Too soon, feeling returned to her. The nothingness coalesced around her into shapes: a rock, a tree, a dirty, bloodied hand. The girl opened her eyes. For one blissful moment, the numbness lingered and she felt nothing; but then, it was gone and pain wrapped itself around her. It seeped into her bones, wriggled into every atom of her being. Her whole world was pain and she could not remember a time when it had not been so. She lay there hopeless. No one would come help her, no one would try to take her pain away. There was no comfort for her. She was alone.
Alone. That word echoed inside her mind until it was the only thing she could see, hear, think. Alone, alone, alone. Everything had been taken from her, everyone she cared for was gone, leaving her utterly and painfully alone. The girl choked out one solitary sob and then all at once, as if a dam had broken, hot tears gushed from her eyes and her entire body convulsed with great, wrecking sobs.
The girl lay there on the damp ground unmoving but for her shuddering breaths for hours, or perhaps days, but slowly, she felt all her pain, her despair, her loneliness, turn into rage. It crawled through her body, like tendrils of ice that lodged into her heart, into her mind, into her muscles, until she felt her entire body still in frozen fury.
She pushed herself to her knees, then to her feet. She felt the rage settle in her stomach like a block of ice and she knew what she had to do. She would avenge her family, her home and everything that she had lost. She would pay Asha back for every bit of pain she had suffered. She would look into her eyes as she unleashed her frozen anger upon her. But until then, until then she had work to do. Her eyes flashed pale-blue as she took a purposeful step and then another and another.