Chapter 2- Green Eyes
“I'm home!” I shouted to the top of the stairs but there was no answer from Swiftstep or Ironcatch.
Running straight to the kitchen, I turned on the tap and I placed the glass underneath it to watch the water run. I put the glass to my lips and sipped the water that tasted like a teaspoon of salt in my mouth. I spat it out before I had the chance to be sick.
I walked up the stairs with the horrible taste still lingering at the back of my throat.
At the top of the stairs I saw Swiftstep's chaine squirrel sprawled out on the floor. I knelt beside beside the squirrel and nudged but it didn't move or respond in anyway. I swallowed hard as the word lingered at the back of my mind.
In a single second, the air was too much for my lungs and I forgot to breathe. My heart was going to burst out my chest any second.
If Swiftstep's chaine was dead. It could mean one thing.
“Swiftstep?” I called, dragging myself to my feet. “Swiftstep!”
I swung open the door to her room. Before the sight hit me hard in the chest, I was already down on the floor beside her body. She lay on the floor looking upwards, eyes empty and cold. Her white hair stained with blood and her mouth slightly open as if to silently cry out before she took her last breath.
“No,” I reached my hand out to her stone cold face and squeezed my eyes shut so tears were forced out. “No...” Putting a hand to my mouth, I muffled a scream.
Stupid tears flowed from my eyes. If only I had a chaine I wouldn't be crying like this. My heart wouldn't be beating like this and my skin wouldn't be burning like this.
But suddenly it stopped and the room was no longer filled with agonising sobs. Sadness was replaced with anger as the sudden realisation of the issue struck me.
My father is gone.
The word forgotten by most people of the peaceful Underworld felt bitter at the back of my throat and lingered at the back of my mind.
Days passed with me staring silently out the window. Ironcatch never returned so it sealed whatever doubt I had about him. My own father had killed her. But why? Murder was never common in the Underworld. Everyone lived contently with each other. No one would think about ending someone's life knowingly. We have no anger, sadness, jealously fear or love so why did he do it?
There was a sudden raspy knock at the door. I wiped away a tear and uncurled myself from a ball to walk do the corridor.
There was a second impatient knock just as I pushed down the handle and came face to face with Ranger.
“Drifter.” he said in almost a sigh of relief.
His fox chaine curled around his leg. He looked tired and weak from fighting Ranger's emotions. Sometimes I felt sorry for chaines having to fight it all physically so we didn't let the mortal five show.
“What are you doing here?” I quickly dabbed my eyes to make sure they weren't watery. People with chaines never cried. They couldn't.
“What do you mean? I came to see you of course,” I gasped as he grabbed my wrist and pulled me out the house. He slammed the door shut with one hand and kept dragging me along the street. “You can't stay in there all day. People are starting to get suspicious. You mustn’t let people think your sad three days before you get a chaine.”
I wanted to tell him I was sad and I did feel emotions. My mother's death just happened to be in a time when I couldn't control them.
“I can walk myself,” I snapped and pulled my wrist away. “I don't need looking after.”
Ranger rolled his eyes. “But you need a break. And time to get ready to come back to Voyagers.”
I tilted my head. “What?”
“Redstar wants you back. She's been close to murder with the quality of some of the fighting.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat.
“-Sorry,” Ranger quickly said. “I didn't...”
“It doesn't matter. You're right,” I walked a little in front of him, almost into the entrance of town. “I need to get over it.”
We walked for some time around the crowded town. Customers shouted back at people on the other side of the tables and exchanged the plain foods. There wasn't much variety in the Underworld. Sometimes I liked to think about what foods might have been like for the dirtwalkers, the humans that had lived on the surface. In rumours, there were all kinds of colourful berries from blues to red or even greens. Even the shapes were different. Some people said they could be spiky, how could you eat that?
“Do you want some greytarts?” Ranger asked pointed at a basket full of small grey fruits. I used to eat them all the time when I was little but now the thought of the sour juices bursting from the berries' skin on my tongue made me feel queasy.
“No thanks.” I said, grimacing at Ranger as he handed over the coins and took a paper bag full of them. He took one out and popped it into his mouth before offering some to the fox.
We strolled through town till the end of the markets, talking so happily I almost forgot about my mother till people began to stare. Rumours spread quickly and there hadn't been many good rumours like murder in many years.
“Ignore them,” Ranger whispered, feeling my body growing tense as people hissed words to each other all around me. “This way.”
He pulled me down a dark alleyway and kept his hand firm on my wrist. His chaine fox looked around suspiciously yet had no choice but to follow him.
“Where are we going?” I asked quietly.
“A short-cut.” He said plainly.
I didn't argue though I doubted he had ever been here. The smell from the dirty, empty streets clogged up my nose, making it difficult to breathe.
After a few seconds of silently walking through the shadows, voices tugged at my ears nearby on the other side of the wall. The faster we walked, the louder they got.
“Who-” Ranger covered my mouth before I got a chance to finish my sentence.
He put a finger to his lips as he put his hand down. We could hear the voices clearly now. There were two people just a few steps away around the corner. Though we could hear their booming voices, I couldn't make out anyone's face without them noticing us so we stood backs to the wall, listening.
“What are you going to get out of this?” one female voice snapped. She sounded old enough to have a chaine but she sounded...angry.
“Not being queen!” another female voice spat. If I couldn't tell from the voice, I could tell by the conversation. It was Redstar.
I eyed Ranger but he looked as confused as I was.
“I need to get away from here. I can't take it much longer. I don't understand why father chose me,” Redstar said. By 'father' I presumed she meant King Steelwing. “But he won't listen to what I have to say!”
Who was she shouting at? I didn't recognise her voice so I doubted it was anyone I knew.
“If father finds out, you're dead,” the other girl hissed. “Dead. I am not covering you up any longer. The next time it happens, I'll kill you myself.”
I bit my lip to stop myself from gasping out loud. I had never heard someone talk so violently to anyone in my life never mind threaten to kill someone. What could Redstar possibly have done to deserve that?
I looked down at the little fox. He was hiding his eyes with his tail.
Before I had a chance to debate with myself, footsteps were drawing near. The girl's raven chaine hovered over us. There was no place to run. Once she was around the corner it was over. Her chaine had already spotted us.
My heart thumped so loud I thought she might hear it. Her footsteps got closer and closer till they stopped in front of us. We were dead.
She turned her head around, staring right into my eyes. The first thing that struck me was her striking resemblance to Redstar. The glossy black hair, high cheekbones, full red lips and long dark eyelashes. But one thing was different. She had incisive green eyes unlike Redstar's deep brown. It was her twin sister, Blackstar.
I held my breath as she looked intently at me. She eventually gave a low growl through gritted teeth and walked on.
I let myself breath again once she was far enough down the street.
“Come on,” Ranger whispered. “Before Redstar catches us.”
We ran down the alleyway with the fox chaine leaping in front of us. Within a few minutes of sprinting as fast as we could, we emerged out of darkness and stepped into the bright light of the busy market again.
We stepped to the sides, doubled over and catching our breath.
I looked at him and he looked at me. The corner of my mouth twitched till a breathless laugh escaped me. Looking at him again, he was grinning widely, making me laugh harder.
“I think that's enough excitement for one day,” Ranger said more seriously. “Let's go home.”
“You always have to ruin the fun.”
I laughed, pretending to be calm and content. But something about Blackstar's eyes haunted me all the way to my front door.
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