I rushed backwards, waving my hands in a desperate attempt to cling to something, anything, and soon a wall of bodies replaced the gleam that had sent me frantic.
My brain banged against my skull for moments until I realized someone shook me. The physical sensation brought me back to awareness. George’s long, thin face appeared as an intermittent vision as I blinked fast, trying to gather myself. His words sounded muffled and the first thing that came through clear was, “Are you going mad too, Alice?”
“The window! I saw someone!” I squealed.
The Wretch moaned in his corner and my head snapped to him. His eyes were wide with fear, fixed on the pane, while his body struggled with invisible enemies, the chair screaming under him.
A commotion started, and before long people claimed, “There’s nothing here.” I pushed George aside but still hung on him for support as I craned my neck to see the panes. My jelly-soft legs barely kept me standing.
Indeed, darkness spread over the window, only the snow in its corners glistening like the veil of a ghost.
“I saw someone,” I whispered. Someone, I was sure of it. And indeed no wolf. The eyes had been at the same level as mine, which meant whoever had stood out there was a tall person. Outside the ground leveled much lower than inside the lodge, I’d realized that when I’d been out on the porch. No animal standing on its back legs could have as much as reached the sill, unless that animal was a bear.
“Are you sure?” George asked.
I already had second thoughts – not as to the glowing eyes, but to whether or not I should insist on it. Bottom line was: we all sank in deep shit, but panic was a bad advisor.
“No. I started when I bumped against the window, the rest could’ve been just in my head.”
“For fuck’s sake, Alice, you almost gave me a heart attack.” George scorned.
“We have enough pressure already,” another one called, his face hidden in the group.
I shut out all reproaches and welcomed Ruxandra’s comforting presence by my side.
“This whole thing is getting to us all,” she said. She allowed me some time to gather myself, but the small slaps on my hands and face were a clear sign of urgency.
“What did you get out of Marius?” I asked as soon as I could master my voice. Now, I too had a great urge to find out what the hell had put us in this situation.
Ruxandra searched my eyes, ensuring I could stand, then slapped me lightly once more. “Follow me.”
Before I could blink she started toward the door, snaking her way to the kitchen. I hurried to catch up with her down the narrow hallway, bumping into people who talked about what was to be done.
We found Damian and Hector forging the same kind of plans with a few others – including George, to my surprise, who listened with a serious look on his face, nodding. He seemed proud to have become a part of their closest gang.
Damian stood with his back at the counter, knives and other metallic, rusty objects lined on it, the sheepskin coat folded on a chair by his side.
“ . . . not before Hector and I have scouted the area,” he concluded as we came in.
I wanted to punch myself for how my heart fluttered as I laid eyes on him. I’d already waved a finger at my inner self and decided that Damian Novac was a no-no. I reminded myself that, if we survived this mess, he’d only have me toss and turn at night, obsessing about the smallest gestures he made and the most meaningless of glances – like I had until now. Not to mention that we most probably owed him this shitty situation. The man was serious trouble, no matter from what angle I looked at him.
Sick of myself, I kept a low profile by the door, but Ruxandra went straight to the men.
“Have you seen this before?” she interrupted Damian bluntly, her tone accusatory.
“Seen what?” Damian’s deep, forbidding tone shattered Ruxandra’s determination, but she picked herself up quickly enough.
“Damian, you’re keeping things from us and– ”
“I thought you wanted to ask, not impute something,” he interrupted.
Ruxandra brought a fist to her mouth and cleared her voice, probably buying time to rephrase once more. As she spoke, she sounded defiant. “I see, this is a game. Okay. Let’s play. Why did you have us gather all objects that can be used as weapons?”
“So we know exactly where to reach in case of need,” he replied as if he were prepared for the question.
“Why not simply arm everybody?”
“Because I don’t want you panicking at the slightest sound and hurting each other.”
“I’m sorry, Damian, but that sounds more like an excuse than a reason.”
“Do you want panicky drunks waving broken bottles around your pretty face before somebody actually bursts in?”
“You expect people to barge in on us?”
Damian’s eyes flashed as he spoke the next words.
“People,” he stressed, as if saying a name, “chased the three of us from the village back here. They tried to kill one of us. A lash whipped out from the darkness and wound around his ankle. They dragged him, his body hit against trees and rocks until he came to a precipice, where he almost saw his end. Yes, I think People will eventually barge in on us, and they’ll bring some hellish killing techniques with them.” His voice was steady, but anger lurked deep in it.
“You make it sound like People are pretty good at what they do. And yet here you are, Damian, all three of you. Why do you think you made it back?”
“What are you implying, Ruxandra?”
“I’m implying People want us all in one place,” she said, raising her chin and taking a step closer to him. “I’m implying they were after us from the beginning. They were after the whole group, whom they want to take down in one blow. I’m implying they can take us down in one blow. I don’t think they need guerilla tactics, but just wanted to scare you, so you wouldn’t leave this place again. You made it back because People let you. They chased you back to your cage, and now they’re waiting for the right moment to attack, which is why they haven’t stormed in after you. You didn’t bother to block the door, so I think you know this damned well. You know what to expect.”
Damian’s jaw tightened. “And your question is?”
“Am I right?”
“It doesn’t sound like you still have a doubt.”
“To make the question clearer still: Have you met People before, Damian?”
His features hardened even more. “I have.”
My jaw dropped. Ruxandra straightened up, even more accusatory. “Then why don’t you tell us what to expect now?”
Damian’s face sealed off all expression, turning into a beautiful, sculpted mask.
“Because it won’t do you any good.” His eyes swept over us cluttered in the doorstep. I thought his gaze rested on me a second longer than on any other face.
He grabbed the sheepskin and started to the door. Toward me. I melted on my feet, cursing myself silently. How could I be so taken with him, even now? Stupid bimbo!
Hector followed, and George scurried after them like a pet. Those of us who clustered in their way drew aside. My heart smote me as Damian passed by, leaving a trace of cool air and fir scent behind. The others trailed after them like tide, soon leaving Ruxandra and me alone, gawking at each other.
Hope you enjoyed this:) If you did, I’d love to read from you in a comment. If the story of The Executioner now happens not to let you sleep, it’s available in whole here. Enjoy!
Also, stay tuned for a new episode of The Marquis on Friday. Check out all previous episodes of The Marquis here.