The sun was coming up by the time they had wandered into town. Their food had recently ran out and the water had gone shortly after Renn had picked the girl up. Very few shops were open.
"Where are we?" The girl asked.
"No idea, I have never been anywhere other than my cottage."
"You have never left your house?"
"Of course I have left it. Just never been anywhere but the cottage and the small forest that surrounds it."
"Oh." The girl seemed disappointed, as if the fact that Renn could protect them did not mean anything anymore. Although, last night's events proved otherwise.
"Will you tell me your name now?"
"Only if you tell me yours."
"Fine." It was not a promise, Renn had no intensions of telling the girl her name.
"My name is Hazel," She sighed. "Your turn."
"Uh..." She tried to think of a fake name but nothing came to mind. She winced, she was told to trust no one. "Renn."
"Are you sure? Because I think that you are lying." Hazel narrowed her eyes.
"I am not lying, Hazel," Renn spat Hazel's name out as if it were poison. "My name is Renn. It is my real name but I need to come up with a fake one to mask my identity. I did not want to tell you because I was told to trust no one but it is a little late for that. So, Hazel, will you help me come up with a new name?"
"Okay." Hazel gulped. 'Mask my identity'? What did Renn mean?
"Thank you," Renn sighed heavily. "We need to find the Orphanage. I am pretty sure that it is in that direction." She pointed in the direction that she was facing.
"Renn?" Hazel asked.
"How did you know so much about me last night? How did you make the fire appear and then disappear?"
Renn shook her head, pushing the original topic out of their conversation. "Right now, we need water-"
"-And food." Hazel dismissed the thought as well.
"Yes, and food. But mainly water, that is what will keep us alive for a longer period of time."
Hazel nodded and, as she did, the Tourist Information shop's sign turned to 'Open'. A smile spread across Renn's face. She practically skipped with joy to the information point. Hazel quickly followed behind, surprised by her sudden show of enthusiasm.
〰 〰 〰
"What do you mean 'there is no such thing'?!" Renn shouted, her fist slamming on top of the man's desk.
"I mean, ma'am, that there is no such thing." The man replied.
"Of course there is such a thing! I was told specifically that there was such a thing," She took in a deep breath. Her tone was calmer, much scarier. "Now I will ask you one more time."
The man nodded. Intimidated by a nine year-old. How atypical.
"Where is 'Madam Orav's Orphanage'?"
"Ma'am, I assure you, I have never heard of such a place. How can I give you directions to a place that does not exist in my knowledge?" His voice was small: afraid. He was pushed back into his green leather chair, trying making himself seem smaller than his circular belly allowed. He was shaking. "I am sorry."
"Come on, Hazel. This man is of no use to us," Renn ushered Hazel out of his office. "We are so sorry that we could not spend all of this money with your company." Renn lifted a few curled fifty pound notes she had found in her mother's bag the night before.
"Ma'am, I could always check the map again?" The man asked, growing out of his chair and toward the money.
"No, thank you. You have already proved to us that your services are not the best of the best," Renn pocketed the money. "Good day to you, sir."
"And to you, ma'am." He replied shyly, disappointed that he had failed his chance to bring in a profit.
And with that, Hazel and Renn walked out of the Tourist Information point and toward the local supermarket. They really needed some food and water.
They did not spend much; they did not intend to do so. A few bottles of water each and a warm loaf of bread, topped with cheese, to share was enough to keep them going for a few more hours.
"Do you actually know where you are going?" Hazel questioned.
"Kind of." Renn replied, taking a swig of her water and drawing the map from her mother's bag.
"What do you mean, 'kind of'?"
"I mean what I say and I say what I mean. If we are where I think we are," Renn looked at the landscape surrounding them; there was a building in the near distance that she could almost make out to be a hotel. "Then that," she pointed in the direction of the building. "Is where we are headed."
"Renn..." Hazel began before Renn shot her a look. "Beth, I mean, there is nothing in that direction, just more of this." She gestured to the ground around them. It was sandy and dry.
"Hazel," Renn began but stopped herself. It was happening again. She was hallucinating. Hazel was right, there was no building in the distance.
"Nothing. Do not worry."
"I was not worrying, Re-" Her sentence was cut short.
"Duck!" Renn's voice was panicked, her eyes wide.
Hazel turned around in spite of being told to duck, a knife came hurtling towards her. She collapsed, her breathing instantly short and shaky.
"Hazel!" Renn's panicked voice sounded distant. The sound of her footsteps were just about distinguishable. "I told you to duck!"
"Run." Hazel panted. She knew that she was not going to come out of this alive.
"I am not leaving without you."
Hazel smiled, or at least, tried to smile. A knife was embedded into her stomach causing her to be in the same position as Renn's mother was. Hazel took in a small, shaky breath. As she did, blood appeared at the corners of her mouth, making her seem as though she were a vampire. Why was it that whoever Renn cared about died? Because of Renn? She continued to smile although the pain from doing so was great. Renn held Hazel's slowly limping body in her arms.
"Hazel, do not let go. Stay with me," Renn's eyes were streaming with tears. Everyone she loved was dying. "I will carry you."
"Renn. Do not bother, do not waste precious energy on a dead-man," Hazel pulled the knife from her stomach and managed to lay down with little pain affecting her. "Take this and run. Remember me, Renn, and I will remember you. I will see you again, just not in this life."
"Hazel..." Renn whispered. "Please live, I cannot have another person die on me."
"Goodbye, Renn," Hazel drew another breath. Her last breath. "Good luck."
"Thank you, Hazel," Renn's eyes welled up even more, she could not think of anything else to say. She certainly did not want to say goodbye because saying goodbye meant going away and going away meant forgetting. She promised not to forget Hazel. She would keep her promise.
〰 〰 〰
Hazel died with her eyes open, in Renn's blood-covered arms, at the age of nine. She was too young. Renn stayed by Hazel's side until she was ready to continue the journey, once again, as one.
The knife was in Renn's hand. To any passer-by's, it would look as though it was Renn that had committed such an act. But her fate was already decided. And it was much worse than what the wildest imagination could conjure. There would be a lot of this to come. Lots and lots of dying. All too much for a nine year-old to bear. All too much for even the Fire's Child to bear.
Renn examined the knife that had killed Hazel. The handle was a little bent, enough for it to have been made specifically to fit the curve of a young woman's hold. Twenties. The woman was in her twenties and she had been paid a lot to commit a sin that would land you in a cell, for life. Reluctant, at first but then she was shown her prize and greed got the better of her. It was a shame that her prize was never to be in her possession.
"Greedy little so and so..." Renn muttered to the wind. She stood up, Hazel's bloody body slipping from her arms and falling, in a heap, in the road. "I will avenge Hazel, my best and only friend, who was taken from life, from me, against her own, free will. I will avenge her. No matter how long it takes. I am on my way and when I arrive, you better sure as hell be ready."
〰 〰 〰
The tears had not sopped falling since the blood had first appeared on Renn's mother's coat. The blood was Hazel's... But it was mixed with her own. It had been a few hours since her murder and Renn was not coping as well as she had hoped. There were no cars in sight and Renn was sure that she was going mad.
The sun was at its highest so Renn decided to read for a little while before carrying on with her painfully lonely journey. Her hand dipped into the bag and dodged the two knives' blades before she closed her fingers around her mother's worn copy of 'Alice in Wonderland'.
She opened the book up to where she had folded the page over yesterday, page 32: the Mouse and the Duck were fighting. Renn read ten pages but put the book down when she heard rustling near-by.
In one swift movement; the corner of page 42 was folded, the book was shut, back in Renn's mother's bag and the two knives were clutched tightly in both of Renn's sweaty palms.
Renn took a deep breath. The suddenly surrounding darkness intimidated the Fire's Child.
"Who is there?" Renn asked, trying to sound as confident as possible.
"Who is where?"
"You. Where are you?
"Where am I," The voice hesitated. "Renn? Where am I?"
The voice was cold, like the skin of a venomous creature running up a spine. Renn shivered. The darkness chuckled.
"I do not know."
"You do not know what, Renn?"
Her name sounded vile coming from the cold voice.
"I do not know where you are."
"Silly little girl," The darkness said repeatedly. "You should never have left the cottage."
"And why is that?"
"Because," The darkness sneered. "Now we are going to kill you, just like we killed your mother and Hazel."
It all came out at once. The brave exterior of a worn woman was broken back down to the bone. A nine year-old. She did not cry; she instead let it out in a series of insults, too foul to put into words. Especially since they were coming from a nine year-old's mouth. Especially because these words were in no recorded language. Especially because these words were in the language of The Ignis. Flames burst around her in a perfect circle: protecting her.
"YOU ARE GOING TO RUE THE DAY YOU KILLED THE CLOSET I HAD TO A FAMILY!" Renn shouted, barely noticing that fire had spread around her, barely noticing that her toes were no longer touching the ground, barely noticing the shape of a murderer shift in front of her un-seeing, revenge-filled eyes.
The darkness was cleared from all view and Renn was left where she had stood before her nightmare surrounded her. The fire dyed down, her bare feet touched soil and she was, once again, left alone.
There was a car up ahead. In the front seats sat a man and woman, husband and wife. They were tightly tied up with their mouths covered. They were scared of the blood-covered child. As she walked closer, their terror spread across their faces. Renn held up both of the knives; the couple in the car cowered. And no wonder, they had seen everything that Renn could not remember.