The light would fade in an hour, and darkness will take over the forest. I could see my breath and feel the crisp, cold air straight to my bones. The breeze’s bitterness made my body feel stiff and my muscles burned with every step I took, but now I have slowly started feeling numb. My threadbare clothing underneath my cloak does nothing against the frigid air. Hunger was consuming my every thought, and I felt my body struggling to keep pushing forward as exhaustion was slowly creeping in. I have been traveling since early this morning and am thankful that the snow has not started to fall yet. Winter is close to arrival, making my task at survival that much harder.
Deciding I need to rest and replenish some energy, I gathered up some wood for a fire and will try to shut my eyes for a few hours. I hated not being aware of my surroundings when I had to sleep; it makes me an easy target to the hunters who have been after me since I was young. Prior to starting the fire, I needed to hunt before the sun completely vanishes from the sky. Retrieving my bow and arrow, my limbs protesting as I began my search, hoping this wouldn’t be another fruitless hunt like yesterday. The animals have been scarce since snow is almost here. All I have left in my bag is the end of a stale loaf of bread.
Twigs and leaves crunch underfoot as I slowly scoured the forest. Crouching beside a tree, trying to ease my breathing, and straining to listen for any hint of game passing by. Readying my bow as slight movement rustled the bush ahead. Holding my breath, my stomach aching for food, a rabbit appeared in my line of sight. I needed to be as efficient and silent as can be. I drew my bow back, feeling the smooth wood against my cheek, readying my aim. I was reasonably good with a bow, I learned when I was young since it was my primary way of filling my hunger, aside from the minor stealing I have had to do. Drawing my bow back a little farther, I took my shot. Letting the arrow race towards its intended target and I would have hit my mark, but something soared overhead that startled what would have been my supper.
Glancing upward to where the moonlight is slowly filtering through the trees, searching for anything overhead. The forest around me became eerily quiet; the only sound I could hear was my pounding heart and the faintest whirl of the wind brushing the leaves. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, my body and mind frozen but alert. Substantial black wings zoomed above the trees as quick as lightning. Panic seized me, clutching my bow and arrow as I took off through the woods. The will to live overpowered my body, demanding me to rest. Racing between trees, dodging branches, and leaping over roots, my lungs stinging from the exertion. Before I could form my next move, pain blasted me in the back of my head, and everything went black.
The light started filtering in as I began to peel my eyes open. My head pounding as I took in my surroundings. The contrast from the vast darkness that overtook me to the blinding light caused me to squint. How long have I been out? Where am I? Fear gripped me as reality caught up to me. My vision blurred for a minute before my eyes could fully adjust. The room was cold and musty; the stench of urine and something rotten instantly made me nauseous. The floors were damp, the old tattered brick walls were stained with dry blood. Probably from the previous victims that were captured. With force, the truth settled in my chest as if it was being crushed by a stone; they caught me. Shit.
I have been hunted my whole life by the demons, and I still have yet to figure out why. I am just an orphaned human girl; my parents died in a house fire when I was twelve and have been on my own for 10 years. Unable to settle anywhere for long, I have not been able to make friends either, especially the part of putting them in danger. Every few months, I have to find a new location to lay low for a while. Why do the immortals want me? I have no ties to the supernatural realm. Looks like my luck has run out. Escaping wasn’t on my side this time. I didn’t even get a fighting chance; they knew my location earlier than expected and ambushed me. Now I am chained in some wretched cell, the sharp cuffs digging into my skin. I stalked up towards the thick iron bars peering down the hall. A clinking sound snapped my attention to the cell adjacent to me, and I sucked in a breath. Another girl who looked a little younger than me stared at me with wide eyes, curled up in the corner. Her clothes were torn and covered in filth, her skin pale, and her body looked haggard from whatever suffering she has endured. Her brown hair is dull, cheeks sunken in, and dark circles under her fear-filled eyes.
Carefully I lowered myself to her level to try and get some answers from her. “Where are we?” She stayed silent; maybe she was mute or too scared to simply talk. I crossed my legs on the floor and tried again. “My name is Natalia; what is yours?” She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She swiftly glanced around and whispered so soft that if I wasn’t so focused on her, I would have missed it. “Elise.”
Phew. Okay, not mute. I tried again. “Are you able to tell me where we are exactly?”
She double-checked to make sure we were alone again before she quietly spoke. “In the realm of the underworld. The Dark King’s castle.”
My jaw hit the floor … did she just say the underworld and Dark King?! What the hell would he want me for? I have done nothing to him! Putting my fear and confusion aside, I wondered why Elise was here. “Were you hunted down too?”
She tilted her head slightly, turning over what I just asked. “No … my mother could not pay off her debt, so he took me as a prisoner in exchange. Uhm, did you say hunted?”
I regarded her curiosity that hung onto her question, but before I could say another word, footsteps sounded down the hall. I took a quick glance at her and watched her cower closer to her corner. Dragging her knees to her chest and tucking her chin down. I was terrified and lost, but I did not want to show an ounce of fear. I needed to shove that down right now and put on a strong front.
Three mountainous-sized men appeared in front of my cell. Two of them looked like pure blood demons with their grayish skin, horns, bat-like wings, and pale eyes. Their stare felt like they could see into my soul, causing me to want to shrink back. The third one was slightly different looking; maybe he was half-demon? His wings were black but with soft, beautiful feathers, no horns, golden skin, and searing green eyes. His eyes widened when he noticed me, but just as fast, his eyes hardened again.
The one pure-blooded demon banged on the iron bars with the handle of his sword. “Well, well, aren’t you a pretty little witch.” He spat, seeming intrigued and disgusted at the same time. Wait… witch? They definitely got the wrong girl. I gave him no reaction, just a cold hard stare. Clenching my fist to help me focus on not making the wrong move. The demon unlocked my cell, grabbed my chains, and yanked me across the floor to him. My knees banged on the ground and I landed on my side. He leaned over, getting in my face, “Let’s have some fun with this witchling, shall we?” He went to kick me in the ribs, but before the blow could land on me, he was thrown back into the wall. The third demon, who looked different, glared at his companion.
“NO harm is to come to her, Amon! Those were direct orders from the Dark King.” This man was seething and was about one second away from ripping someone’s head off. He stalked towards the demon, who apparently is Amon, and grabbed him by the front of his armored tunic. “Get out of my sight! Both of you! Let me deal with the witch.” The two demons bared their teeth but followed his orders, nonetheless.
Once they were gone, the half-demon crouched down next to me, offering a hand. I shoved his hand away out of anger and got up on my own. When I looked up at him, it seemed like there was concern in his eyes. He stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m Damien and am on your side” Hold up… what the heck?!
“What side?! You DEMONS have the wrong girl! I’m human, not a witch! Is this why you have been hunting me? Because your “Dark King” thinks I’m someone else?!” I was fuming, and from all the confusion, lack of food, and just overall being kidnapped, I took it out on him. I am pissed.
He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Look, Natalia, I can’t get into all the details now, but I am here to help you escape. I have been here for years undercover in case you were brought in so I could make sure the Dark King doesn’t get his hands on you.” I stared at him in shock. Before I could say a word, he continued. “To be blunt, you are a witch who was hidden amongst the humans. The Dark King wants to drain you of your powers to have them for himself and become even more powerful. We can’t let that happen; I need to get you out of here. I can explain the rest once you are safe again.”
I eyed him suspiciously, not sure if I can trust him. But what other option do I really have? I need to get out of here, and then I’ll process everything he just told me; it’s too much right now. I peered over at Elise. “Okay, but I won’t leave unless Elise comes with us.” He looked confused and jerked his head towards her cell. He sighed, closed his eyes, and swiped his hand down his face. Dragging his stare back to me. “Fine. But she will need to do what I say and keep her mouth shut. This is already risky enough. I will be back at nightfall.”