The sun had nearly risen by the time The Moor reached the deadfall. She had been forced to stop several times on her journey back. As badly as she had wanted to run the whole way, she simply couldn’t. The frigid air burned her lungs, and breathing became a constant agony.
She would momentarily collapse against the trunk of a tree, catch her breath, and then continue on her way. She pushed herself as fast as she could.
The deadfall had been completely dismantled, branch by branch, log by log.
The children were gone. It didn’t appear that they had been harmed. There was no blood spilled, no sign of a struggle beyond the destruction of the deadfall.
She could see six separate sets of drag marks leading away from the site. The Wild One had likely bound and gagged them. Some of the children were strong enough to give him trouble otherwise.
The Moor studied the ruins of the deadfall as the Sun crested the horizon and spilled light into The Deep Wood.
They had taken everything.
Her clothing. Her weapons. What little food she’d managed to accumulate over the winter. Everything she’d had in her possession was gone.
She looked toward a nearby wood pile. Her axe had been left behind. Somehow The Wild One and his henchmen had missed it.
She picked it up and tucked it into her belt.
She decided to follow the drag marks immediately. There was no time to spare.
As she made her way past the ruins of the deadfall, her vision began to swim. Bright, undulating black stars danced across her pupils and the sky began to tip backwards into itself. She blacked out and fell into the snow.
When she awoke, The Moor stood and gathered her axe. It had fallen aside when she fainted. She checked the snow around her. There were no new tracks.
She had slept unobserved.
She took to the trail left by The Wild One and his men. She’d seen enough different sets of footprints near the deadfall to know there were at least four men. She’d only heard two near the clearing.
So there were two men who remained, to her, unaccounted for.
She didn’t bother tucking the axe away. She was likely to need it upon a moment’s notice.
She followed the cluster of drag marks for several miles before she realized she was heading back in the direction of the clearing from the night before.
Something wasn’t right here. The Wild One was behaving unpredictably.
She picked up her pace. She needed to find the children and do it quickly.
The sun had passed overhead hours ago. Time lurched on. Only a few hours of daylight remained.
The drag marks became harder to detect as The Deep Wood got thicker. Her quarry had taken every effort to throw her off the trail. Several times, she had followed a trail only to have it turn and double back on itself. She lost several hours due to their subterfuge.
As The Moor approached the top of The Hollow Gorge, she paused and knelt by the frozen riverbed. North of The Gorge, the river was much wider and lined with coves and inlets.
As she knelt by the mouth of The Gorge, she decided to stay there for the night amongst the brambles. She could not count on making it out of the wood before nightfall, and she didn’t wish to make camp beyond the protection of The Deep Wood. The brambles would provide ample cover and leave her multiple points of exit if attacked in the night.
Just a few miles ahead was the perimeter of The Deep Wood and the clearing where she’d nearly been captured.
Of course, she hadn’t really been nearly captured. She realized now that she’d been had.
The Wild One had gotten exactly what he wanted: a distraction.
She assumed that he’d already had the children when they met in the clearing. He’d known about the deadfall all along and had snatched them as soon as she’d gone foraging.
Her only hope was that he’d kept the children alive.
She crawled deep into the brambles and closed her eyes. She kept the axe under her head, gripping it tightly.
The Sun crept down and darkness descended upon The Deep Wood.
She wondered if she’d ever see the children again.
She couldn’t sleep right away. Her mind was racing. She tried to calm herself.
The Moor lay with her axe amongst the brambles and hummed quietly. It was a song that she’d always known. But she couldn’t remember where she’d learned it.
Eventually she stopped humming and silently rocked herself to sleep.
She awoke just before sunrise. She crawled out of the brambles and tucked the axe in her belt once more. She inspected the top of The Gorge for the trail. She crossed the river.
The trail was easy enough to spot now, for blood had been spilled upon it: a great deal of blood. The area around it had been torn apart by swords.
The Moor’s eyes burned with tears. She took up her axe as she followed behind the drag marks, which were now interspersed with sporadic puddles of blood.
She walked in a daze, tallying up the dead as she came to each kill site.
So, they were dead after all. The Wild One had intended this the whole time.
To give her hope and then, tortuously, to take it all away, bit by bloody bit.
Her axe drug in the snow. She sobbed and shuddered.
A stuffed bear. She stumbled and fell to her knees, clumsily standing again and continuing her stilted, zombified march.
The edge of The Deep Wood lay just ahead of her. Less than a mile now. Her eyes were red and puffy from weeping. The wind stung them.
She continued to drag the axe as she finished her macabre funeral procession.
The last of them. She fell to her knees again. It no longer mattered what was ahead. It had all been a ruse. It was just The Wild One, amusing himself. He had been playing with her.
As he always did.
She fell backward into the billowing pillows of cold white, casting her gaze to the heavens.
It was snowing again.
Gone, she thought. Gone forever, and I don’t get to say goodbye.
She squeezed her eyes shut. She had no more tears left to shed. She tried to push the world away. To reach out and feel the children through the nothing. To help guide them.
She blocked everything else out until she was floating behind the abyss of her vision. A myriad of swirling colors danced in the black of her closed eyes.
Then she heard voices.
She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she heard them just the same. There were two of them. She assumed these were The Wild One’s other henchmen.
The Moor stood and picked up her axe.
She ducked as she walked the rest of the way toward the clearing, peering through the dense growth of trees.
She saw two figures, crouched along the bank of the cove.
She took in the scene surrounding them. The shore was covered in blood. Just before the clearing lay the children, all of them, lined up end to end. Head to toe.
A low moan started at the base of her throat.
The Moor lifted her axe high and began running toward them. She paid no mind to the branches that poked her or the thorns that pierced her flesh.
The younger man also wielded an axe. She would take him out first. The second man was old and would be less of a problem.
The two men stood. They’d heard her coming. They scanned the terrain.
They’ll see me soon enough.
The Moor smiled.
She ran faster and began screaming incoherently. She searched for words that made no sense to her. They were elusive, on the outside of things. She reached for them regardless.
She closed the distance between her and the two strangers in no time.
She moved with purpose.
As she reached the edge of the clearing and burst out of The Deep Wood, the younger man raised his axe to meet her.
A collision course of violence stretched across time.
The old man ducked behind his protector, covering his ears to block out her pitched shrieking.
As she neared them, The Moor finally found the words she’d been searching for.
SOUNDTRACK 05: “Orlando”, XXXTENTACION
CONTINUE TO CHAPTER FIVE