The façade of the Sanctuary was blacked and charred as it burned, flames billowing through the broken windows. Children sat huddled in groups in their night clothes, crying, the older children trying to comfort the younger ones. The four peered out holding their breath. What had happened while they were away?
A lean figure of a man strode into view, a snarling grey dog at his heels.
“Get those ones over there” he said to the animal, who appeared to understand his every word and trotted up to and surrounded another huddled of whimpering children. His voice was neither loud nor quiet, but carried a menacing tone that commanded respect and authority. His face was cold and sharp, his brow high and smooth, almost ageless and his eye were dead and black, Aly shuddered. Eyes like a lifeless puppet. No light or life shone through them. Black leather draped over his shoulders, covering him from head to toe. When he moved, he seemed to float on the night; like an apparition.
“Please! Please! Leave the children! Miss Myra screamed in desperation as the strangers in black tore through the Sanctuary, ransacking then torching each room they went through. All four quadrants lay in ruins.
They lined up all the children, crying and shaking, and the tall, dark one walked up and down the line, inspecting each one.
“It’s none of these” he said dismissively,” they are still out there somewhere. Search the forest and make use of the rest.” Miss Myra screamed and pleaded. The rest of the men and women in black shouted with sinister victory.
“Please leave them! They are just children!” she sobbed in the mud, wringing her hands, begging. “Please take me instead, just don’t hurt them! Please!” she howled.
He walked slowly up to her and bent down until his black eyes were level with hers. She shut up quickly and remained quiet; unsure and terrified.
“These children are ours now. They will make us stronger than you could ever imagine old woman.” He almost quivered with disgust at being so close to her, his revulsion was tangible.
“You are nothing, so shut your mouth you foul, hoary wench.” His voice was steel and cold.
He stood up.
“Kill this one” he instructed, pointing at Miss Myra.
“She makes me feel nauseas.” He said, frowning distastefully, like he was in the presence of something revolting. They dragged her back towards to the burning building.
“Now search the forest, I won’t leave without what we came for. I know they are here somewhere. Find them and bring them to me.”
The Sanctuary burned and crackled, casting an amber glow across the tear stained faces and misery.
“We have to go, now!” whispered Alyssia. They slowly started to retract themselves from the creepers and vines, inching backwards as quietly as possible. Suddenly they saw two yellow eyes glowing in the dark, and one of the black wild dogs, stepped out of the gloom, snarling, teeth bared.
“RUN!” Aly screamed.
She can’t remember what direction she was going on. The disorientation spun around her, north was south, east was west. She tried to look for the stars, but Mother moon had covered them as a mother might her children to protect them from what had happened that night.
Once she had her breath back, she took a moment to look around at her new surroundings. The leaves matted on the forest floor were shades of gold, red and orange, like a beautiful patch work quilt. The trees were tall and bare, but the air was fresh and the black night wrapped its shadowy arms around the woods, engulfing all its creatures, big and small. The peace of the woods seemed such a stark contrast to the scene she had just escaped from a moment ago. She thought for a moment perhaps it was something she had dreamed up. She looked down at her torn and ragged shirt and changed her mind.
Tel, Liza, Chester… She couldn’t remember where she had lost them. She pressed her back against the trunk of a tree she hasn’t seen in the forest before and closed her eyes. The tiredness overwhelmed her. All her muscles ached, with all the adrenaline drained out of them. She felt lost and sad and tearful. At the base of the tree was a large, deep crevice. She poked a stick hesitantly into it, to make sure someone or something hadn’t already made a home of it. She wiggled inside, where surprisingly she had more space than she imagined and curled herself up as small as she could. She was far back enough not to be detectable from the outside but could still peek out and see what was beyond the knotted roots. If she could just wait here until she saw the others, and perhaps she would be safe here from the horror that went on at the Sanctuary. Who were those people in black? Why had they attacked them? What had happened to the other children? She felt cold inside, and tried not to think about it.
If she could just close her eyes for one moment, just to clear her head…
Two black figures, strode through the forest, hands on hilts of swords, searching for the one they were instructed to find, but neither of them saw the girl curled up deep in the overgrown roots of the tree, sleeping quietly. The last leaves fell from the branches, to cover the entrance, as if trying to protect the sleeping girl.