"Ouch!" Jade rubbed the back of her head gingerly.
"What the flip?" she mumbled, glancing around in search of her assailant. There was no one to be found. She shrugged absentmindedly and straightened her shoulders. Today's the day. She shook her hair from the tight bun atop her head and gritted her teeth in the mirror. Stay fierce, stay fiery. Looking go--
A sudden urge to jump overtook her, and allowing her instincts to prevail she hopped--right out onto the roof below. There was instant silence. Jade's body moved of its own accord; it eased into a low crouch, tense and alert. No thoughts, no feelings--
And then she was off, zipping across the roof with practiced ease. The wind whipped lightly about her hair, tossing it to and fro in a rather graceful rhythmic dance. Her legs were in a fury as they dashed across the old red shingles of her grandmother's house. Then--
WSH! Jade glided across the night sky and vanished in mid-air.
There was nothing Ashna would've liked more at that moment than having a piping hot mug of herbal tea. She sighed at the thought as she basked in the pure comfort that was her weekly bathe. Steaming hot water flowed from a little underground spring and washed over her as she sat on the ground and wistfully meditated on the last few days.
She'd found the spot one day while she was picking berries for Tobe's birthday jam. This forest had been new to them, and she'd lost track of her trail quite quickly. Once she'd realized her peril Ashna's stomach had immediately tensed into a tight little ball and her breaths became quick and shallow. Being alone was one thing, but the thought of being permanently lost nearly blew her mind. Horrific little movies had started playing in her head of little Tobe wandering after her when he woke up and found her missing. She could only imagine all the ferocious blood-thirsty monsters that lived in this forest, just waiting for a light breakfast...after having me as a midnight snack! Her heart nearly flown out of her chest as the full comprehension of the situation she found herself in hit her. She'd grasped at her chest frantically until she'd found her amulet and gripped it in her fist so hard it almost dented. An owl howled deafeningly overhead. Ashna snapped. She'd broken into a sprint, tripped, and tumbled head over heels through a bush before finding herself floating in mid-air.
Ashna glanced down.
Below her thundered a waterfall the size of a mountain, the water crashing wildly down onto the shards below.
Except it didn't thunder. It didn't roar, scream or even yell a little. It was strikingly silent. Ashna couldn't hear anything. No birds rustled in the trees. No insects buzzed. She couldn't even hear her own breathing...not that she was. She couldn't. Everything started to slowly shift out of focus, and she couldn't think straight. It was as though the waterfall had enveloped both her thoughts and senses at once. And with that realization, she started to fall.
Ashna yawned as she stood and stretched her sore muscles, making her bones pop. She had a good feeling about today. She glanced over at Tobe, who was snoring peacefully off in a little corner, resting his head on their meager pile of belongings. This kid, she thought with a smile. If there was something that never failed to make her realize how important her survival was, it was Tobe.
Ashna moved out from under the steaming water and strode over to where their livelihood was stored. She carefully held Tobe's head up as she slid the duffle bag out from under it, gently laying it back down on the cool rock of the cave. Tobe immediately curled up into a ball and went on snoring without missing a beat. Satisfied, Ashna pulled open the bag and peered at its contents. They each had some clothes that were either too large or too small (and certainly didn't match), some cream for special occasions, half a bottle of hard alcohol, two containers of broth (freshly made), a small hammer, rope, and a huge empty thermos. Ashna pulled the thermos out and skipped over to the entrance of the cave.
Water clear as crystal, ice smooth as stone. She gazed at the torrential downpour before her. It had been weeks before she'd gotten used to it, but when she finally did, it became as much a beauty as a comfort. Ashna knew that they'd be safe with the 'fall there; it completely hid their cave from sight, and even if someone did manage to spot them they'd never make it past the voiceless protector.
Ashna suddenly felt a rush of warmth as she bent down to fill the thermos. She looked up and gasped as she saw an arrow hovering right in front of her face. She immediately threw herself to the right and whirled around in haste.
All was silent, all was still.
Ashna swiveled back to the arrow. She now realized that it wasn't hovering in place, but was moving in slow motion through the air. She stared at it as it inched its way into the cave. What the heck's going on?
Then it hit her. "The 'fall!" she exclaimed aloud. Ashna took off into the cave like mad. She grabbed a tiny pebble and tossed it at Tobe. He awoke with a start and looked up to see his assailant wrestling with a t-shirt.
"Ow! Ash? What's going on? What--" he began, but Ashna was already fastening the button on her jeans and hoisted the duffle over her shoulder.
"Come on kid! It's time to jet; we're not safe here anymore."
With that she ran over, pulled Tobe up by his sleeve and whisked him off into the darkness.
Jade could see everything.
From the moment she leapt off the roof to the instant she was speeding with inhuman agility through the trees to the second when she pulled out her bow and shot a poison-tipped arrow through the waterfall, she had been aware of it all. But as soon as she let the arrow fly and took off after it, everything was lost in a haze. She began to gradually gain feeling back in her limbs, not that it made a difference. She was stuck, suspended over the lake in mid-stride.
Her thoughts hit her like a sack of bricks.
--od. What?? AGH! Nooo! Not again! Not now! Not today. Granny...A silent tear flowed down Jade's cheek and into the lake without so much as a "blip." I always let you down...
And then gravity let her down.
Ashna's eyes flew open. She whipped her head towards to the sound of Tobe's voice, primed and wired. Her eyes shone frantically in the moonlight
Tobe's tiny frame was reverberating with fear. His eyes were wide and his breaths were coming out in short gasps.
"Tobe, what's wrong??" Ashna frowned. She couldn't see any imminent danger. She'd made sure of it. They were hoisted up in an old sequoia at least 200ft. off the ground. Who could've found them up there? Were there more slow motion arrows?
Tobe didn't answer. He just slowly shook his head back and forth, trembling so violently someone might've thought he was dying a slow, frozen death.
Ashna tried not to panic. She took a deep breath, reached over him and gently but firmly tightened his rope to the sturdy wooden trunk. Normally she was terrified of heights and grew queasy just looking out her third-story window back home. Home. How long has it been now...Ashna shook the thought out of her head. If I start feeling sorry for myself now then what'll happen to Tobe?
She glanced down at the endless tornado of leaves and branches below them. She leaned back against the trunk and closed her eyes, put her hand over her mouth and tried to scream. Ashna's heart sank. The escape from the cave was a blur. The escapes always were. She must've been running on pure adrenaline when she binded Tobe to her back and scaled the massive sequoia. I don't know how we managed to climb a 200ft tree, but I have a pretty good idea of how we're gonna get down.
She returned her gaze to Tobe. He appeared much calmer now. Ashna sighed in relief. At least he's okay...
Ashna nearly jumped out of her skin. "Uhh, yeah?" She tried to play it cool.
"When are we gonna get to go back to Grandma's house?"
Ashna tried to force a smile, but the moon's beam never failed to reveal the truth, and it became much more grave.
"They don't want us there, kid. Unless we're sleeping, they don't want us there."
"Grandma? They're ready for you now."
"Thank you dear, I'll be down in a second."
"Alright, I'll let them know."
"Oh, and Jade?"
"Would you be a dear and sharpen granny's talons?"
To be continued...