“White”, Jessie exclaimed excitedly. The victory was so close she could already touch it with her fingertips.
“Nope.” Senna tried as hard as she could to stay serious while looking around nonchalantly.
They were strolling down a forest path side by sid e, with Senna leading Akela by her reins.
Jessie furrowed her brows in thought. Then her eyes widened. “Then it must be golden”, she laughed.
Senna chuckled and nodded. “Yes, golden. Aaand?”
“Aaand what?” Jessie clapped her hands, but then dropped them when she saw Senna looking at her full of expectations. “No-no-no...that's it. Golden. That's how the game goes. You look at a color and I have to guess which one it is. I found out it was golden and I win.” Jessie jumped a few feet forward and giggled.
But Senna quickly put an end to it, when she grabbed her shoulder to stop her from prancing around. “In the last round, I had to tell you WHAT I was looking at. Not only the color of it”, she pointed out.
“Well, that was the last round”, Jessie playfully replied. She spun around and walked backwards while sticking her tongue out at Senna.
“And who has changed the rules of the game so suddenly?”
“I did. And besides, gold isn't a color, so you should be happy I don't disqualify you anyway. Aaaand, you were talking about Akela's fur, of course. Golden fur.” Jessie spun around again, now walking in front of Senna and Akela, her head held high distinctively.
“Yes, you're right.” Senna agreed. 'But it was the color of your hair I was actually thinking of' , she added in her mind. She watched Jessie lead their way.
This was the fourth day of their journey and it was already midday. It was another wonderful summer day and if you didn't know of all the chaos crossing the land, you would have thought them to be a couple of friends, just chilling on a hiking tour. Senna sighed and looked around. A soft breeze had picked up a bit ago, the rustling of the leaves the only sound in the peace around them.
“It's your turn”, Jessie requested with a glance over her shoulder.
That was the moment Senna rather heard then saw something flying towards her companion. The next moment Jessie yelped and then sunk to the ground. She pressed her hand against her left temple and moaned in pain.
“Jessie!” Senna shot forward and bent down onto her knees beside her friend.
Jessie lifted her face. Her eyes were wide with shock. “What the hell was...” she started. But suddenly Akela whinnied and then ripped her head up that quickly, the reins slipped out of Senna's hands before she was able to react. Next, Akela spun around and galloped back the way they had come.
“Akela!” Senna screamed after her. There was no time for her to follow her horse, though. With the next intake of breath, she felt a sharp pain at her shoulder.
“What's going on?” Jessie reached for Senna's arms. She dug her fingers into the muscles when another projectile hit her back. “Ouww!”
“Damn it!” Senna swore. She grabbed Jessie's arms and pulled her up. Shielding her with her own body she guided her to the side of the road where they ducked down against a large tree.
“What the hell is going on?” Jessie asked with wide eyes. There were more projectiles hitting the ground beside them.
Senna reached for one and then looked at it. It was a small rock, the sides sharpened by human hands. “Stones…” she muttered and looked around to find out where the projectiles came from.
Then suddenly there was screaming, as if a whole grade of school was running towards them in full speed.
“Oh, they wouldn't....” As Senna got up, she nearly knocked Jessie over, who had leaned against her, trying to hide somewhere between Senna and the tree.
“Senna?” Jessie asked in disbelieve, when she saw a large group of kids running towards them. They carried sticks, bats and slingshots as weapons.
The next moment, something fell down on them.
Jessie screamed in surprise.
Senna quickly lifted her arms to protect herself from the attack from above. But her hands and arms entangled in the net that their attackers had thrown over them. Senna sank onto one knee. She was ready to jump forward the moment the net was going to be lifted off of them.
Jessie on her part was fighting with the net wildly. But just like Senna she couldn't free herself.
And before they were able to blink twice, they were surrounded by the group of kids, who immediately aimed their slingshots at them. “We got you! Don't move or we'll shoot!” one boy said.
Senna lifted her head slowly and gazed at the kid talking to her. He was barely twelve years old, his voice still that of an innocent child. His eyes though sparkled with mischief.
“Are you kidding me?” Senna mumbled under her breath. It hadn't been loud enough for the kids to hear it, but Jessie had understood the words just well enough. She pushed the heavy net up and a bit off her head. “I think, we fell in their trap”, she mused.
“We'll lift the net off you now, but don't move or we'll shoot you”, the kid said and then gave four of his comrades a sign. “Stay down and hold your hands in front of you.”
As soon as the net was lifted off them, Jessie looked over to Senna, who was still down on her knee. But as ordered, she held her hands in front of herself.
Jessie lifted her brows when her eyes met Senna's. This was unbelievable! Some kids overpowering her and Senna? What was going on? Why was Senna not fighting them?
“Tie them up” the kid ordered and two of his comrades moved in to tie both Senna and Jessie's hands.
“What are we gonna do with them?” A girl, maybe seven years old, asked tentatively. “Franklyn said we should never take any prisoners.”
“I don't care what Franklyn said. These two are not normal refugees, don't you see that?” the first kid said. He pulled his shoulders back and rose to his full heights, obviously trying to impress the girl. “Bring them along”, he ordered to the other kids and then turned around to walk into the direction the group had come from.
Senna and Jessie followed the order, their eyes taking in the kids around them.
“Michael, maybe Caroline is right and we should simply take their bags and then let them go. I don't trust them”, a third kid, a little blonde boy, maybe 10 years old, said.
“No!” Michael replied with as much force as he could bring up. “We will take them back.”
The other kids lowered their heads and then followed Michael, taking Senna and Jessie into their middle.
They let them off the road and deeper into the forest. Slowly the hill got steeper and steeper.
Jessie looked over to Senna, who was watching the kids around them suspiciously. “I can't believe this”, she whispered. Senna frowned and then pressed her lips together tightly. There was nothing on her face that could have told Jessie what her tall companion was thinking at the moment. With the stoic look it was as if Senna had put on a mask, covering any feelings that could have betrayed what she was thinking. Jessie looked ahead again when the forest slowly cleared. They came closer to the ruins of an old castle. It wasn't very big, but two towers on each side were still intact. As were some other parts on the other side of it.
“There are more of them”, Jessie whispered and when Senna looked at her she nodded towards the towers.
On each one of them kids stood guard. Senna simply dropped her gaze, her eyes passing Jessie quickly without any sign of confirmation.
They were taken further into the ruins. There Michael ordered: “Take them into the cell. But don't untie them.”
Two of the kids moved Jessie and Senna on. Senna let herself be pushed forward, but not without shooting an irritated glance over her shoulder at Michael. The two kids took them into a small room at the bottom of some stairs. Only by the barred gate you could have guessed that it used to be a cell many thousand years ago. There was handwriting all over the walls – comments like ‘K was here, 2009' and ‘T loves N, 1998'.
“Sit down, back to back”, one of the kids ordered and then nodded to the middle of the room. In his hands he held more rope.
Senna and Jessie followed his command and sat down as he had wished in the middle of the room. Next the two kids used the rope to tie them together.
“Don't try running. You can't escape from here”, one of them said, before shutting the barred gate and then locking it with a padlock. Then the kids disappeared out of Senna's and Jessie's view.
“What now?” Jessi asked. She looked around the room, trying to find a way to get out of it. Since it was at the bottom of the castle where the hot summer sun couldn't reach it, a chill ran up her arm, goose bumps rising on her skin. She tried lifting her bound hands, but the second rope around the both of them made it impossible. “I can't believe we got jumped by a bunch of kids.”
“I'll get us out of here and then I'll kick their little butts”, Senna replied through clenched teeth. She started fidgeting with her hands, obviously trying to free them.
“They are kids, aren't they?” Jessie commented in sheer disbelief about the situation they found themselves in. “Or maybe I'm just dreaming and they are some kind of aliens hiding in disguise.”
“They looked a lot like kids to me.” Senna started waggling her hands even more.
“I wonder what they're up to. Maybe they will have us for dinner”, Jessie said, while being pulled about the more Senna wiggled her hands. She had given in to her fate already and simply crossed her legs. Then she leaned forward a bit to spy out of a small window that was facing directly to the courtyard they had passed to get to their cell.
“I don't think they're cannibals, Jessie”, Senna replied and then leaned forward as well, pulling Jessie back with her.
“Hey, stop that”, Jessie complained. She had enough of being pulled around like that. There was no use for this anyway. The rope was too tight to even think about slipping out of it.
Just when Senna wanted to reply something, Jessie said: “Someone's coming.”
Senna immediately held still. Then the gate opened again and Michael came back in with two teenagers. He stopped at the door and then said: “Take the blonde, leave the dark haired one in here. She's a greater threat than the blonde.”
“Oh, that's just wonderful... a greater threat...” Jessie mumbled and rolled her eyes.
“Play along and find out what you can”, Senna whispered before the two teenagers freed Jessie from the second rope, and then tied it around Senna again. After that they pulled Jessie up and dragged her along outside.
With the sun still high up in the sky, Jessie had to squeeze her eyes to see anything at all as she was guided into the courtyard. She was pulled roughly into another part of the castle ruins. There the two teenagers pushed onto her knees, right in front of a high staircase leading into an open room one floor above her.
“She's here” Michael called, after he had stepped up beside Jessie. He looked up the staircase. Suddenly his body tension vanished and his voice started to tremble.
It didn't take long, before Jessie saw movement behind a broken wall. Then a young guy, maybe 17 years old came out of the shadows. He was wearing black trousers and a black t-shirt, some kind of metal band's picture on the front. His dark hair though was cut short at the sides, underlining his grim look.
“Who's that?” Jessie asked Michael while she watched the guy take a few steps down, then stop and cross his arms.
“Franklyn”, was the pressed reply.
“Surprise”, Jessie stated and rolled her eyes.
“So, I don't see it”, Franklyn said and shrugged his shoulders. He not only looked older than the others. But his voice obviously had changed into that of a man already as well. Still, there was a clear aura of his teenager years surrounding him. Even though he seemed to try and hide that the best he could. He took the rest of the steps, then walked up to Jessie and grabbed her chin. Lifting her head harshly, his brown eyes danced over her face. “No, nothing.”
“They are different”, Michael said. He lowered his head when Franklyn stepped up to him and regarded him with a serious expression on his face.
“And that is what? One of your ' special feelings' or what?” Franklyn asked, his voice leaving no room for any excuses.
Michael held his head low. “I just know it.”
“And that's why you brought them here? Because you 'just know it' ?” Franklyn frowned dangerously. Then he walked around Michael slowly and when he stood in front of him again, he suddenly slapped him right across his face.
Michael yelped in surprise, and then lifted a hand to his face, pressing it onto his cheek.
“Why did you bring them here?! Have I not told you to never take any prisoners? To never bring anyone to this place?!” Franklyn screamed. Then, in lightning speed, his fist hit into Michael's middle.
Michael tumbled over and fell onto his knees. He groaned in pain and pressed his hands onto his stomach.
“Hey! What are you doing?!” Jessie quickly moved closer to Michael. She lifted her eyes to Franklyn in horror. “Leave him alone.”
“That is none of your business. You should be happy I don't throw you off one of those towers!” Franklyn replied coldly.
“What is your problem?” Jessie wanted to get up, but as soon as she had lifted onto one of her knees, one of the teenagers behind her pushed her back to the ground and then used his weight to keep her down.
“Take her back to the cell. I will take care of them later.” With that Franklyn turned around and climbed back up the stairs to his 'room'.
Jessie couldn't believe what was going on. How dare Franklyn hit Michael, who was at least three heads smaller than him? That was horrible!
By now, Michael had recovered. He wiped a drop of blood off his lips, then climbed back to his feet and grabbed Jessie under one arm, pulling her up into a standing position.
“Why do you let him do this to you?” Jessie asked while Michael pulled her along towards the cell.
But he simply ignored her. His eyes were clouded by a cold bitterness. His face showed no emotions.
“You shouldn't allow this. Has he beaten the other kids as well?” Jessie pushed on, trying to get Michael to talk to her. But he didn't answer. When they reached the cell, he reopened the gate and pushed her in. Then he ordered towards the two teenagers following them: “Tie her down again.” With that he turned around and left.
As soon as Jessie was in her old position again and the two teenagers had left, Senna gazed over her shoulder to her, her eyes wide with worry. “Are you alright?”
“I can't believe this”, Jessie mumbled, trying to free herself by pulling on the rope around them.
“What happened?” Senna asked alarmed.
“This guy... Franklyn or whatever... he must be their leader….” Jessie said, pulling on the ropes again. By now she was getting more and more frustrated. If she just could get her hands on Franklyn, she would....
“What did he do? Did he hurt you?” Senna turned her head around as far as possible to check on her.
And when Jessie saw her friend's worried eyes, she stopped her attempts to free herself and smiled instead. “No, he didn't hurt me.” She paused when Senna breathed out relieved. Then she continued, a sorrowful expression on her face: “He beat Michael because he brought us here.”
Senna stayed silent, but Jessie could feel a change in her composure. As if she stiffened by the news.
“I mean... I can't believe this. Why is he doing this to his own people? He's not much older than them and they are just kids!” Jessie's voice broke as she remembered the pain in Michael's eyes.
“Because through fear it's easier to rule others. You don't have to think about ways to keep your people happy. If they fear you enough, they will simply do what you want without daring to ask why”, Senna replied through clenched teeth.
“But they're only children!” Jessie objected. “He can't do that!”
She simply couldn't believe what was going on in this place. One teenager ruling over the others with such brutality - when all they should have done was stick together to go through these hard times as one group.
“He can”, Senna replied, her voice lowering.
“They are children!” Jessie repeated. Senna's words made no sense. “Come on, you never believed them to be that bad. You could have kicked their asses out there if you thought they were a proper threat. But you didn't.” Jessie tried looking over her shoulder at her companion. Senna's head was hanging low.
Jessie waited for a response. But there was nothing coming...
Senna closed her eyes when suddenly her mind was flooded with pictures - memories of a long time ago:
A warzone somewhere in the hills of Yugoslavia, a village, dead men at the side of the road, their hands tied behind their backs, bullet wounds in their heads. Women, round up like cattle by men in army clothes, rifles at the ready. Then - herself, just a teenager, 17 years old, standing in the back of an army jeep.
“Believe me”, Senna moved the Ak-47 from one hand to the other and brushed a strand of her black hair back over her shoulder. Then she lowered her dark burning eyes onto the group of young men, barely boys, kneeling behind the Jeep and in front of her. “It's a wise choice for you to join us. I mean, come on, everybody would be honored to defend their homeland, right?” She flashed an evil grin at the boys and dusted her dark camouflage shirt off nonchalantly. “But it's such a shame your fathers didn't see it that way.” Her eyes travelled over to the dead men by the road.
Suddenly one of the guys on knees jumped up. He cried an “I will never be like you...” and started a dash away from the jeep.
Senna lifted her rifle, aimed and then held her breath. As soon as she had pulled the trigger, the sound of the shot let everybody freeze. The boy had not come far. He was hit right in his neck, took one more step, and then fell face first into the dirt.
Senna spied past the barrel of her rifle for a second longer and then lifted her head.
A woman screamed and pulled her arms free from a man holding her. With tears running down her cheeks she rushed over to her fallen son. “Noooo, please...no...” she lamented.
Senna lowered her head back to the rifle, laid her finger against the trigger and aimed.
Everybody fell silent, all eyes on her and the woman, now cradling her son's head in her lap.
Then Senna looked up again and turned to the boys in front of her. “What a shame. He could have had such a great future with me.”
The young men turned their attentions back to Senna, fear written over their faces.
“Is there someone else who has any second thoughts?”
The eyes stayed on Senna, but nobody moved a single muscle.
“Well, then, thank you for your attention and now - move it!” Senna spun around and dropped down in the backseat of the jeep. “Go!” she ordered her driver and he accelerated quickly.
Her men round up the boys and pushed them towards some trucks to take them away from their village – their families, their loved ones.
When Senna's jeep halted beside the largest house of the village her army had taken shelter in, she jumped out of it and then strolled into the building. A content smile on her face, she handed her weapon to a soldier waiting for her. “Clean it. I want it to be as new”, she commented and then turned to her left to enter a huge room.
“You're back. Success?” A large man, dressed in army trousers and a tight shirt, looked up from his desk. His dark brown eyes wandered over Senna's body. He licked his lips as she let herself fall into a chair on the other side of his desk. With one hand he wiped over his beard.
“15”, she said and looked at her nails. Then she rolled her eyes and corrected herself: “Well, 14 and one dead.”
“What happened?” The man sat back down at his desk, a stern look on his face.
“He thought he could run from me.” Senna's expression was as nonchalantly as could be. No sign of regret showed in her cold eyes.
“Senna, I've told you, we need all the men we can get.” The man's hand had been lying on his desk. But now he formed a fist and clenched his teeth.
Senna turned sideways in her chair and moved her legs over the armrest. Then she reclined backwards on the chair. “I know, I know. But it was his decision.” She shrugged her shoulders.
“Since when are you interested in the decisions of others?”
Senna lifted one brow. Silence fell over the room. Then she suddenly jumped up, moved over to the desk, pulled out her army knife from the scabbard at her belt and rammed it into the desk right beside the man's fist. “I'm not interested in anyone's decision. No one tells me what to do or not, Goran.”
She had just finished her sentence, when Goran grabbed her throat over the table with a single hand. He squeezed it hard and Senna gulped in surprise. Goran came around the desk, then pushed Senna through the room until she hit into a wall with her back. She gasped at the pain shooting through her body. With shaking fingers she grabbed Goran's hand on her throat to pull it away. But his hold was too strong.
“Say that again”, Goran said. He was at least two heads taller than her and his muscles, formed over years of merciless training, were that firm, that he could have crushed Senna instantly, if he had wanted to. His eyes danced over Senna's face.
But Senna was only able to answer with a groan. Slowly but surely her sight blurred as Goran squeezed her throat even tighter.
‘He's going to kill me' , Senna thought. But the fear she should have felt deep down inside of her, was nonexistent. Instead, her heart started hammering with anger.
“Say that again”, Goran repeated through clenched teeth. He pulled Senna's head back a bit, only to ram it against the wall.
Senna yelped and closed her eyes. When the grip on her throat loosened a bit, she hissed: “No one tells me what to do, but you, Goran.”
Goran grinned and then let go of Senna. She collapsed to the floor right away, her hand reaching for her throat and rubbing the sore spots. When Goran turned away from her and walked over to his desk, she raised her head. Her eyes had darkened again. Pure hate and dismay spoke more than any words could have ever done. She stared at Goran's back.
“Now…” Goran sat back down at his desk and pulled a map of the region closer to him. “…next time I want them all. For every loss, you will pay personally.”
He looked over to her and when their eyes met, Senna closed her mouth tightly. A low growl escaped her throat anyway.
“You're such a wildcat.” Goran grinned at her and then, in one sudden movement, he threw her knife at her. It landed on the floor, directly beside her foot. “You should be happy I like that in you so much.”
Senna flinched in surprise. Her eyes fell onto the knife. 'Kill him.... kill him... now!' a taunting voice in her head repeated over and over again. As if a demon was flying around her head, pushing her on to fulfill what she had sworn herself to do when Goran had killed her brother years ago. After all, this was the reason, why she had joined his army in the first place - to take revenge when the right time came.
But Senna grabbed her knife and pushed it back into its scabbard at her hip. Then she rose to her feet and walked towards the door. Just before leaving she looked back to Goran. But he had already returned his attention to the map on his desk.
'There's a time for everything' , Senna replied to the voices in her head. With a dark grin on her face she stepped outside.
It was a hot summer day and the many, many days without rain had dried out the earth. Feint clouds of dust followed Senna as she made her way through the village over to the training camp. Further to the north was a firing range, to the west the training ground for hand-to-hand combat training. And then there were the empty houses to teach the recruits the house-to-house fighting. The camp had everything - everything that was needed to teach death and destruction.
Senna remembered the day well, when Goran's army and herself had stormed the old village in the mountains, chasing away the villagers – or at least those, who were smart enough not to fight back. Her eyes drifted over to the improvised cemetery they had built for those villagers who had wanted to protect what once had belonged to them. At least that bit of dignity Goran had given the dead.
Senna continued on her way, past the soldier's sleeping tents and towards another big one. Silently she slipped inside.
Everyone fell quiet the moment the men in the tent saw her.
“Senna...” A guy, wearing black army trousers, an army vest and a bandana nodded his head at her. He was in his mid-twenties and would have been a handsome young man. But the hard life in Goran's army had left their traces on him – especially the large scar on his right cheek.
“So, how are they doing, Dario?” Senna stopped by his side and then turned her attention to the 14 young boys kneeling on the floor in front of Dario and his men. Some of them had blood dripping from their lips or out of deep gashes on their faces. Their hands were still tied behind their backs.
“They don't seem to understand what honor it is to serve you and their home country”, Dario explained. He stepped forward to slap one of the boys nearest to him.
But Senna caught his hand in midair. She glared at him. “What are you doing?”
Dario lifted his brows and when he met Senna's angry expression, he swallowed hard. “Make them good soldiers, as Goran has ordered us to do.”
Senna regarded him emotionless.
“Isn't that what we're supposed to do with them?” Dario blinked at the pain in his wrist where Senna was still grabbing his hand.
“Get them clothes, feed them, and train them. Leave the rest to me.” Senna let go of Dario's hand.
“Yes... I'm sorry”, he said and pulled back his shoulders.
“Stop crying like a little girl”, Senna warned him when she heard his soft reply. Then she turned on her heels. She stopped when her eyes fell on the young man Dario had wanted to slap in the face.
“What did he do?” she asked over her shoulder. The young man had his head hanging low, refusing to look up at her.
Dario cleared his throat before explaining: “He said he will kill us all for what we did.”
A bright grin exploded over Senna's face. She stepped up to the boy and yanked his head upwards until he was looking her straight in the eyes. “Save your fire for others or you won't see another tomorrow.”
The young man clenched his teeth. His eyes shot out deadly daggers at Senna.
But she simply grinned and then pushed his face away from her. The young man moaned in pain. “Put that one separate. I think I like him.” With that, Senna turned on her heels and left the tent.
Senna heard a soft voice near her. It came from somewhere behind her. Like the gentle hands of a lover, it pulled her back to the present.
The voice became more desperate. Then Senna felt something move behind her. She shook her head and opened her eyes. It had darkened around her and Jessie already. But she was still in the cell and still tied to her companion.
“Senna? Are you alright?” Jessie tried to turn around as far as possible to finally get Senna's attention. But the ropes restrained her from moving any further.
“Yes. I'm fine.” Senna blinked confused. She had not paid any attention to her surroundings. Instead of thinking of a plan to escape, she had drifted off to a time she really had not wanted to be reminded of.
“I thought you had passed out”, Jessie said. She turned her body again until she was leaning fully against Senna.
“I haven't”, Senna commented dryly.
“Where were you?” Jessie seemed worried.
“Nowhere”, Senna lied. She dropped her gaze to her hands that were still tied in front of her.
“What do we do now? I'm not sure about those kids, but this Franklyn, I think he means trouble. And I don't want him to surprise us like those kids did in the forest.” Jessie leaned a bit over and looked out the cell window. But it was quiet in the courtyard.
“He won't surprise us”, Senna replied. She started turning her hands, then pulled and yanked them until they finally slipped free.
“Oh, so you do have a plan!”
Senna could hear the excitement in her companion's voice. She couldn't help but smile at it.
“Will you tell me about it?” Jessie asked over her shoulder, not realizing that Senna was about to free herself completely.
“Yes”, Senna quickly lifted the second rope off her. Then she slid around and reached for Jessie's tied hands.
“How did you...?” Jessie's eyes widened. Then she laughed to herself. “Yes, I know. Many talents. I shouldn't even ask how you did it.”
Senna lifted her eyes. She met Jessie's gaze and winked at her. Then she freed her from the ropes. After that she got up and walked over to the window to look outside.
“So, what is your plan?” Jessie asked. She rubbed her wrists where the roped had left behind thick, red lines in her skin.
But Senna ignored her and moved over to the barred gate instead.
It was getting darker and darker outside. The few kids still around were carrying torches to light their ways.
“Come on, you've said you'd tell me.” Jessie watched as Senna reached first for her knife on her belt and then for the lock on the gate.
“I can't believe they let you keep your knife”, Jessie said astonished.
“They're just kids”, Senna replied with a lopsided grin over her shoulder. Then she returned her attention back to the lock. She pushed the tip of her knife into the keyhole, then turned it left, next right, then left again and with a soft 'click' the lock opened.
“I like your plan. Anything else I should know about it?” Jessie nodded to the door opening and inviting them to flee from this place.
“Yes and no”, Senna answered. She pushed her knife back into its sheath. Then she waved Jessie closer. “Come on, let's get out of here.”
Jessie walked past Senna and climbed up the first few stairs towards the courtyard. “Next step in your plan?”
“I will kill Franklyn”, Senna said before slipping out and into the darkness, then moving past Jessie.
Jessie's mouth fell open. Senna's words were ringing in her ears. They built a tornado that was getting stronger and stronger with each second. Kill Franklyn? For slapping another kid? Senna had to be kidding!
“Wait! You can't do that!” Jessie felt panic grabbing her stomach. Senna's words had been so cold, they didn't sound like a joke at all!
But Senna was already out of sight.
The young Senna shot out of her sleep when a hand grabbed her wrist painfully. She was lying in her bed, in the main house of their village. It was in the middle of the night and as she was pulled out of bed, she could see the stars in the night sky sparkle at her through her open window.
Senna felt the pain of hitting the floor hard. Then, the person pulled her up and onto her feet.
“Hey! What are you doing?” Senna hissed. There were two of Goran's men in her room. And they grabbed her, only to pull her with them. “Let go of me! I'm warning you!”
“Goran wants to see you”, one of the men said, before opening the door to their leader's private room, then throwing her in. The door closed behind Senna a second later.
Senna fell right onto her knees. She gasped when the pain shot right through her legs and into the rest of her body.
“I heard you had a problem with Dario.” Goran sat on a couch, staring into a fireplace. In his hand he held a glass of vodka.
Senna quickly jumped onto her naked feet. She could hear Goran's tense voice and she immediately knew she was in big trouble.
Her hand flew to her side. But besides some shorts and a t-shirt, she was not wearing anything. Her clothes combined with her knife, were still in her bedroom.
“See, if you'd listen to me just once, you'd know that you never sleep unarmed.” Goran turned his head and watched her.
Senna quickly dropped her hand away from her side. She looked up and met Goran's stone cold eyes.
He slowly got up and with his glass in his hand, he walked over to her. “It seems to me it happens more and more often these days that you're not listening to me.”
Senna followed Goran's movements with her eyes as he walked in a circle around her. But she didn't move, nor did she lower her head. When he reached for a strand of her long black hair at the side of her head, she felt a chill run down her spine.
“I just don't know what to do with you” Goran lamented, regret swinging in his voice. “You know you're my finest. But you're still so young. Just a little kitty trying out her claws.”
Senna lifted one eyebrow. She wanted to reply something, but in the next moment, Goran's fingers sunk deeply into her hair and her head was pulled to the site painfully.
Senna gasped in shock. Her face was now only inches away from Goran's. “Dario told me, you stopped his little introduction session two days ago.”
Senna clenched her teeth, but didn't reply. The pain in her head, where Goran pulled it to the site, became stronger and stronger. But Senna swallowed and then forced the groan to stay inside of her. ‘I won't give you this pleasure, bastard' , she thought to herself as she looked into Goran's eyes seemingly unimpressed.
“You have nothing to say to that?” Goran quickly yanked her forward and in the same move kicked out her legs so that she landed flat on her stomach. “You see, I've told you, my men are MY men. I let you toy with them when you are on a mission. On one of MY missions. But that's it.”
Senna wanted to pull her hands to herself to push back into a standing position. But Goran was faster. He stepped up to her. Then he lifted his foot, only to bring it down on her right hand.
Senna bit her lip when the pain of her fingers being squished under Goran's foot was shooting up her arm.
“I didn't allow you to order them around or to tell them what to do with the new recruits. I mean”, Goran turned his foot a bit around.
Senna yelped in pain. She could feel the bones bending but Goran stopped just before they broke.
“I know they respect you. Maybe because they know you're my little pet. But they are still my men and it's going to stay this way.”
Goran moved and lifted his foot off Senna's hand.
She quickly sat up and pulled her hand against her chest. Slowly she moved her fingers. It hurt, but the bones were still working. She clenched her teeth as the burning in her fingers grew stronger the more she moved her fingers.
“Dario is one of my best men. I took him in when his family was killed even before I found you. He's very loyal to me, you know.” Goran had sat down on his chair again and gazed back into the fire.
Senna didn't reply anything. She knew how loyal exactly Goran's men were to him, what they spoke when they thought no one heard them. They feared him. His brutal, pitiless site each one of them had suffered more than once. She had heard it all and she knew they hoped to be freed of him one day. Just like she was hoping with every breath she took. Fear was good. In others, in enemies or to break the will but not when your own men wanted nothing more than to see you dead. That much she had learned already in the years that she was with Goran.
“He also told me about your little boy toy.” Goran turned his gaze away from the fire and met Senna's eyes.
She bit her lower lip. Then she said flatly: “I don't have a boy toy.”
Goran chuckled deeply in his throat at that. Then suddenly he lifted his hand and threw the glass of vodka at Senna. It hit her hard on her temple and she tumbled backwards before sinking back onto her knees.
“Don't lie to me.” Goran stood and crossed the room. He grabbed Senna by her hair again and hauled her after him.
She yelped and reached for her own hair. Helplessly she was dragged outside and into the hand to hand - training camp. There Goran pushed her onto the ground.
Senna felt tears of anger come to her eyes. She growled and lifted her head. But the next sight knocked the breath out of her chest.
There was a young woman tied to a pole in the middle of the hand-to hand training area. She was looking at Senna and Goran with pure horror in her eyes.
“Meet Jelena, your little boy toy's sister.” Goran grinned and then walked up to the woman. “She was hard to find in that village. But your little boy toy told me when I threatened to kill everyone in his hometown.” Goran stroked his hands over the woman's cheek and when she yanked her head away he laughed whole heartedly. “We will have so much fun together, won't we, little princess”, he said, letting his eyes travel over the woman's body.
Senna stared at Goran in disbelief. Was this really happening right in front of her? Why was Goran doing this? This woman was no use to him. She was in no way a fighter, never would be. And fighters they were searching for their army. Women and children were not their aim.
Then two of Goran's men appeared. They dragged the young man Senna had saved from Dario's hit in between them. His face was full of fresh bruises.
Goran walked past him and took a look at his face. He made a sound that was close to an 'ouch' in his throat when his eyes fell on the boys injuries. Then he continued to Senna's side. There he kneeled down and pointed to the woman at the pole. “Show him, what happens if you don't follow my commands.”
Senna gazed from Goran to the woman, then back. She lifted a brow in question.
“Oh, come on...” Goran rolled his eyes, got up and walked over to the woman at the pole. He slapped her one time and she screamed out in pain. “Show him.”
Senna shook her head. Everything inside of her told her to simply refuse the task. This was not her. Yes, she liked to feel people tremble before her. She liked the thrill of seeing their fear and conquering them. But not like this. There was no use in this. “No...” she whispered.
Goran was at her site faster than she was able to react. He shook his head one time. Then he kicked her in the side.
Senna felt the pain shoot right through her rip cage when one bone broke in two. She gasped and rolled to the side. Her hands landed on her rib cage.
“Show him.” Goran walked over to the young man and lifted his head up so that he couldn't do anything else but watch his sister at the pole. “Show him.”
Senna crawled onto her feet. The pain of her broken rib nearly blinded her. But she bit her lip and took a step forward.
“Senna, wait,” Jessie had caught up to Senna. They were crouching in the dark, just above the stairs that let to their cell. Only on the towers kids were standing, guarding their castle even in the night. The others seemed to have gone to the few rooms still intact and building some kind of shelter in the ruins. There were the lights of fires in the few windows.
Senna lifted a finger to her lips when Jessie kneeled down beside her. Then she pointed to a kid, seemingly working as a guard, torch in hand, patrolling over the courtyard.
“You can't kill him”, Jessie whispered. She grabbed Senna's wrist and squeezed it to make Senna look at her. “They're just kids. Franklyn might be brutal. But he's still a kid. He's not much older than Michael and the others.”
Senna lowered her finger away from her lips. She studied Jessie for a moment with a serious gaze. “Sometimes, age doesn't matter, Jessie”, she whispered. Her eyes seemed to take in every centimeter of Jessie's face. A hint of regret showed on her face when she said: “The only thing that matters is what is in your heart. And if it is darkened by hate, you will do anything. No matter if you're a child, a grown up or an elderly.”
“Senna...” Jessie held Senna's gaze. The sadness in the blue eyes turned her stomach. Slowly Jessie lifted a hand and stroked a strand of the black hair behind Senna's ear. “We have to find a different way. I don't think it was hate that made him hit Michael. He's just lost and scared. But it wasn't hate. I looked into his eyes, you know.”
Senna closed her own eyes for a second and took a deep breath. Then she reopened them and searched Jessie's gaze again. “I wish everyone was as good, as you think them to be. But it isn't always like that, Jessie. There are bad people out there and they will do whatever is necessary in their eyes to get their way. No matter the costs. And Franklyn is one of them.”
Jessie watched as Senna smiled sadly and then turned away from her. And in her mind the question formed if Senna was still talking about Franklyn or if she was referring more to herself than him.
“They will do anything, unless someone stops them”, Senna whispered and moved forward.
Jessie took a deep breath. Her heart had dropped when she had heard Senna's sad words. But now, with the thought of her aiming to kill that kid, it sped up again. This was madness! She had to stop Senna before she did something she was going to regret later. No matter what Franklyn had done, he didn't deserve to die for it.
Quickly Jessie followed her friend through the darkness. They made their way through the courtyard over to where a restaurant used to provide hungry tourists with food and drink during their visits to the castle ruins.
When they reached the front door of the restaurant, Senna stopped with Jessie close behind.
“How do you know there's someone in there?” Jessie nodded to the closed wooden door.
Senna nodded to the light shimmering underneath it.
“Maybe it's only were they store their stolen goods”, Jessie mused.
Yes, she could have turned around and left this place. She didn't want to be a part of murder. But if there was the smallest chance that she might find a way to safe Franklyn - and Senna- she was going to take it - despite the voices in her head warning her to follow Senna on this path.
“The leader always stays where it is the most comfortable. Why should he sleep with the others in those crashed rooms when he can have a fine room with everything he wants in there?” Senna lifted a brow at Jessie who grimaced as an answer. Senna grinned and then moved along the wall to the back of the restaurant. All windows were barricaded with wooden blanks. These ones were much too thick for her to break them off with her knife. So instead, Senna moved on until she found the entrance to the cellar. Silently she pulled out her knife and broke the lock on the chains holding the doors closed. Then she opened them and motioned for Jessie to follow her.
“Are you really going to kill him?” Jessie couldn't stand the thought of it anymore. She had to stop Senna. There had to be another way.
“I'm not discussing this anymore with you, Jessie”, Senna commented flatly. She walked through the first room of the cellar. “My decision to end this right now and right here is done.”
“But...” They had entered the second room from which a ladder was leading to the floor above. Through the wooden floor they could see movement above them. Two people. Their voices mixed in discussion.
Senna lifted a hand and stopped Jessie's words. “Shh...” she whispered and pointed to the two above them.
Jessie felt a chill run over her when she realized they were close to Franklyn. And that meant she had to think of something fast, before Senna was going to commit a murder.
She had no doubt Senna was going to fulfill her plan. As much as she saw the warmth in her friend's eyes when Senna looked at her, she had seen the grim determination when she had talked about her plan. Senna was not here to play games.
One of the voices above them became louder. And when Senna and Jessie realized it belonged to a grown up man, they looked at each other in question.
“They brought them here, despite what you told them to do. Don't you see that your power over them is slipping out of your grasp?”
“No... I just...” This was Franklyn. He stood a few feet away from the door of the cellar. The man stood opposite of him, to the left of the cellar door in the floor.
“I didn't ask you to tolerate this kind of behavior they are showing.” The man stepped forward now towering over Franklyn, who had moved back a bit. Jessie and Senna could see that he held his head bent.
“How do you want to solve this little problem? Or do I have to take care of that as well?” The man asked, his voice leaving no room for doubt about his anger.
“I'm sorry”, Franklyn replied. His voice was breaking.
The man reacted immediately. He lifted his hand and the next moment he slapped Franklyn hard across his face.
Franklyn yelped with pain.
Jessie gasped in shock. She glanced over to Senna, who watched the scene above her with a stern look on her face.
“Show him”, Goran repeated.
The young Senna stumbled towards the woman at the pole. She looked up and into the woman's face. Tears were streaming over her cheeks. She was not much older than her brother. But in her eyes lay only fear and nothing of the hatred her brother had thrown at Senna back in that tent, two days ago.
Senna lifted a hand, ready to strike.
“Yes, show him.” Goran laughed and pulled hard on the boy's face. He moaned in agony.
Suddenly, everything inside of Senna turned silent. She could hear her own blood rushing through her veins. Then she whispered: “No...”
As soon as the word was out, she felt the hard hit in her side. She sank to her knees with a low groan.
“No?!” Goran leaned over her. Next he grabbed her chin and ripped her head up enough for her to look him straight in the eye. “Did you really just disobey my order - again?”
“I won't do it... not this time”, Senna said through clenched teeth. And with that, her body took over. In one swift motion, she whirled around. Her legs took out Goran's and he fell to the ground.
Senna quickly jumped to her feet as Goran cursed a “You're dead!” under his breath.
Senna grinned and took a few steps backwards. Then she lifted her hands and waved Goran up and to come closer. “The time has come, old man”, she muttered. Her heart was beating hard in her chest, the boiling blood pushing her on with every passing second.
Goran rose and lowered his eyes at Senna. “Get her!” He ordered to the two men holding the young boy.
They looked at each other and then dropped the boy in unison.
“Get her but don't kill her. Leave that to me.” Goran grinned dirtily. “I'll rip out each of your talons personally, little kitty.”
Senna lifted an eyebrow, a sly grin on her lips. “Try it”, she said over her shoulder. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see the two men taking a few steps forward and towards her. But suddenly they stopped. They looked at each other in question before both turning their eyes towards Senna.
“I said, get her!” Goran screamed.
But the two men didn't move anymore.
“See how loyal your troops are to you?” Senna laughed deep down in her throat.
And as she had expected Goran shot forward. He tried to launch at her, but she swiftly moved out of the way. He stumbled a bit, but then caught himself.
“They follow your orders like a pack of dogs...” Senna mumbled. “But like dogs they turn against you, when someone stronger comes to lead them.”
Goran screamed in frustration and then jumped at her.
His fist flew by Senna's face only by centimeters. Senna could feel it brushing her cheek. But in the same instant she turned and rammed her own fist into his stomach.
Goran yelped and then fell forwards.
Senna laughed again, when she saw him falling to his knees, holding his stomach, “You're done”, she informed him before kicking him in his side. The feeling of his rips breaking against her feet sent a chill through her. Senna's grin widened. A feeling of pure joy rushed through her body.
Goran yelped in pain. His eyes rolled back in his head.
But when Senna threw the next kick, he caught her foot and he pulled on it. She fell to the ground with a moan. Goran quickly jumped forward and crawled on top of her. His hands closed around her throat, pressing down hard on it. Senna felt the airflow to her brain dying away. With her last strength, she lifted her arm and rammed her elbow into his face. The sound of bones breaking returned the power to Senna's body instantly. Senna used the momentum of her hit against Goran's cheek, to roll him over and now sit on top of him. With fire burning in her eyes she started uncontrollably beating down on the hated face.
In the beginning Goran tried to protect himself. But when his arms fell to the sides powerless, Senna knew she needed only a little push to send him over to the other side. Her heart was hammering hard in her chest. Senna stopped, looked down at the half unconscious Goran and then laughed. Next, she got up and walked around him. Blood was dripping out of dozens of gashes on his face. His eyes were swollen shut already.
Senna's hands were hurting from the beating. But she grinned, when she kneeled down behind Goran, pulled him up and then placed one hand under his chin and the other on his forehead. One yank and Goran would be history. He moaned, blood gurgling in his throat.
“Ding, dong, the asshole is dead...” Senna said. Her eyes lifted up and she stared into the far distance. Saw the faces of loved ones. Felt the pain of losing her family to Goran's wrath. She was about to yank his head around, when someone screamed at her.
“Wait! Use this!”
It was Dario. He was standing at the outskirt of the training site with a couple of Goran's men behind him. In his hand he held Senna's knife.
She laid her head to the side and regarded him thoughtfully. He, too, had new bruises on his face, obviously traces of Goran's interrogations about the incident in the tent. His eyes sparkled with hope.
Senna nodded and he threw the knife over to her.
She grinned when she pressed the blade against Goran's throat.
“No… don't…please…” Goran begged, blood spilling out of his mouth.
Senna ignored his plea, even though it sent a chill of joy down her spine. That was, how it had always been supposed to be. This was what she had waited for all these years. Now the time had come to make Goran pay.
Senna's grin widened as she pulled the blade through Goran's throat slowly. He gurgled one, two more times before sinking out of her arms.
Senna leaned back on her heels, the bloody knife raised at her side.
Her heart stopped and everything around her fell silent. But that feeling of joy, that feeling she had yearned for so much – never became reality.
Senna blinked. Nothing had changed. The pain about the death of her family by Goran's hands was still there. The hate. The anger.
Senna blinked again when she heard the cheers of the men once following Goran. They fell into each other's arms, padded each other on the shoulders and cheered whole heartedly. Then they started moving towards Senna.
Senna felt her heart speeding up again. The fire in her inner core grew bigger again. And when she saw how Dario bent his head in front of her, followed by the other men, she smiled devilishly.
“Senna... our new leader, we pledge our lives to you”, Dario said. The answers from the other men followed right away, when they bent their heads. Then they started cheering. And when someone started firing bullets in the air, they could not have been held back anymore. They grabbed Senna and lifted her onto their arms, carrying her around their camp.
Senna leaned her head back and laughed deep down in her throat.
“Who is this guy?” Jessie asked in horror. Her eyes lay on the two men above her and Senna.
“His Goran”, Senna mumbled. Before Jessie was able to react to her, Senna moved over to the door to the upper floor. With a scream, she yanked it open and then jumped up. She landed right behind the older guy. With fast hands she grabbed his arms and held him against herself.
Franklyn gasped in surprise at the sudden attack. There was blood dripping out of his lower lip and nose. His face showed the traces of a fresh beating. With wide eyes he stared at Senna.
“Hold still or I'll break your neck”, Senna hissed against the older man's ear.
Jessie quickly climbed up the ladder. The next thing she saw was Senna with the man in her arms. She stood right in front of Franklyn, who still watched her totally in shock.
“Is this, what you're dreaming of, Franklyn?” Senna lowered her eyes on the young man opposite of her.
He lifted his eyes to her and frowned.
“He teaches you fear, doesn't he?” Senna asked. Her voice became softer than expected in a situation like this. “Or did you enjoy how you had to treat the other kids for him?”
Franklyn shook his head slowly no. His eyes wandered back to the older man. Tears came to his eyes.
“Do you want him dead? Do you want him to pay for what he has done to you?” Senna asked, tightening her grip on the older man. He tried to struggle free, but Senna's hands just closed around him even tighter.
“I want him to die...” Franklyn mumbled. “I want him to suffer.”
Jessie quickly crossed the room and hurried to Senna's site. “Senna?” she asked carefully. Was Senna really asking this kid to kill the older man? Helping him with it even?
Blue eyes turned to her for a split second, before Senna looked back to Franklyn. “This is your chance to be free, Franklyn”, she said.
Franklyn chose that moment to suddenly shoot forward. He lifted his hands and started hitting the guy in Senna's hold. The man tried to turn away, but Senna held him still.
Franklyn's tears came harder now, running down his cheek in thick streams. “I'll kill you!” he screamed.
Jessie gasped when she saw the hard hits the man was taking. Panic grabbed her. She wanted to reach for Senna's arm but before she could make contact, Senna shot her a dark look. “Step back, Jessie”, she said through her teeth.
Jessie stopped her hand in midair.
Then Senna suddenly let go of the man in her arms. He fell to the floor, then turned and crawled along the floor towards a few boxes. Dark moans drifted over to Senna, Jessie and Franklyn.
Franklyn screamed again and wanted to rush after him. But Senna quickly grabbed his arm. He was whirled around towards her.
“Stop it now”, Senna softly said. “It's enough.”
Franklyn growled and wanted to pull away from Senna. He grimaced with anger. “I'll kill him”, he growled.
“No, you won't.” Senna tightened her hold on Franklyn's arm. She laid her head a bit to the side and held Franklyn's tearful eyes. “It's you choice, but I can assure you, killing him, will change everything. But still the pain will stay the same.”
Franklyn stopped. He regarded Senna with a frown. “Who are you to tell me what to do? You have no idea what he has done to us.” He tried yanking his arm free again, but Senna's grip was too strong. “Let go of me. He has to pay...”
“He will do.” Senna forced a smile onto her face. “If you kill him now, he will win.”
Franklyn dropped his hands to his sides. Then he bit his quivering lip. “He has to pay”, he repeated.
Senna let go of Franklyn's arm. Then she took a step back and nodded over to the man now hiding near the boxes. He watched Franklyn and Senna with nothing but fear. “Please, don't…” he begged.
“It's your choice. But let me assure you, it won't help. It won't make the past undone and only you can change the future with the things you do.” Senna caught Franklyn's eyes. For a few seconds they stared at each other quietly.
Jessie regarded the site profile of her friend. Senna seemed tense and pulled back. But in her eyes, Jessie could see pain and regret shimmering.
Senna turned her head and then caught Jessie's eyes. She smiled softly when the green eyes took her in curiously.
“I want him gone from here”, with that Franklyn turned on his heels and walked over to the main door of the restaurant. “This is not his home anymore.”
Franklyn pushed the door open and left the building.
Jessie, Senna and the man stayed behind.
“What just happened?” Jessie asked perplexed. One minute she had been sure, Senna had wanted to push Franklyn into murdering that man. The next, Senna had stopped him. What was going on?
Senna turned towards the man and grabbed him off the floor. He didn't say anything. His face had taken a few good hits by Franklyn. But the bruises weren't life threatening. “Move it”, Senna ordered and then dragged the man out the restaurant. She didn't answer Jessie's question. Instead she pushed the man over to their cell, threw him in it and then closed the gate, followed by the lock.
Jessie was waiting at the top of the stairs for her. “What are we going to do with him?” She nodded towards the cell. This was no solution. What, if Franklyn changed his mind and went down there to kill the man?
When Senna reached the top of the stairs, she quickly looked over her shoulder to the cell.
“He'll kill him”, Jessie said thoughtfully.
“No, he won't.” Senna replied softly.
“How do you know?” Jessie searched her friend's eyes.
“Because he had the chance, but he didn't take that step.” Senna smiled, and then placed her hand onto Jessie's shoulder to squeeze it gently. Before Jessie was able to react, Senna pulled her hand away and walked on, back to the restaurant.
Jessie stayed at the top of the stairs a moment longer, before following her friend.
Jessie opened the steel door and entered the huge storage room. She gasped when she saw the supplies piled up all over.
Senna walked in behind her.
“They have everything...” Jessie breathed. She took a small bag and looked at its contents. “Even seeds for tomatoes...” She took another one and looked at it “...and salad...” And another one. “...and carrots.” Jessie threw the seeds back onto the pile and then turned around to her friend. “I wonder how many people they have raided for that.”
“They are very organized.” Senna seemed impressed.
“But they didn't make any good use of it.” Jessie commented. She pondered this for a few seconds. Then she suddenly searched Senna's eyes. “Maybe we could teach them how to do this.” She smiled over her whole face.
“What do you mean?” Senna lifted a brow. She reached for a bag of cereals and read the ingredients.
“Well, they have all those things here”, Jessie waved around, and then she picked up a bag of seeds again. “My mother had this herb garden. And when I was little, I used to help her with the plants. I could teach those kids to use their resources.”
Senna looked up from the cereal box and lifted a brow at Jessie skeptically.
“Don't look at me like this.” Jessie slapped her friend on the arm playfully. Then she smiled. “And I bet you could teach them a few things as well. You know, with all your talents. Besides, with their 'leader'” Jessie rolled her eyes, “gone, they need to learn to live as a unison without all the fear.”
“I think Franklyn will do this just fine. He's a natural talent.” Senna put the cereal box down and walked further into the room to look at the other stuff.
Jessie followed her with her gaze. “Do you really think he will be a good leader for them? After everything he has done.”
“It wasn't him. It was this bastard”, Senna replied coldly.
“I know.” Jessie said softly. She could feel the tension in her friend grow. That's why she crossed the room and placed a hand on her arm. “But Franklyn was the one doing those things to the kids, not the man.”
“Michael had brought us here because he had hoped we could help them and not to get rid of Franklyn. Those kids still trust Franklyn because they can feel he didn't want to do all those horrible things to them, but that he was forced to do it. Franklyn has the chance to change things - to turn into the right direction”, Senna said. She avoided the green eyes trying to catch her gaze.
Jessie regarded the closed expression on her companion's face. After a moment she quietly said: “You never got that chance, did you?” It was just a guess. Nothing more but a feeling. Senna had not told her much about her past yet. But Jessie had the feeling that this whole thing with Franklyn and this bastard in the cell, had stirred unwanted emotions in her friend.
Senna dropped her gaze. She only looked at Jessie when the blonde squeezed her arm softly. Senna regarded Jessie thoughtfully, then she smiled sadly. “No, I never got that chance. You know, I spent a lot of time in a place like this.” Senna let her eyes travel to the open door.
“You were a child soldier?” Jessie asked perplexed.
Senna crossed the room and sat down on a box. Her eyes drifted to her feet. “I joined a militia when I was not even 14. Their leader taught ME what fear really means.” Senna looked up through her bangs without lifting her head.
Jessie crossed the room and sat down beside Senna. “That's horrible.”
“It's a long story”, Senna said and waved Jessie off.
But Jessie could hear the small tremble in Senna's voice. Hesitantly she slipped one arm around Senna's shoulder and squeezed it, as her own heart ached at the pain Senna was trying so hard to hide from her.
Senna lowered her gaze again. But to Jessie's surprise she didn't move away from her.
“I've done many horrible things, Jessie”, Senna said. “And it all began in this militia. With Goran. He was the leader. Well, maybe I shouldn't call him a leader. He terrorized his own men. They feared him as much as you can. He never really let them the way it is supposed to be. They just did what he wanted because they feared the consequences if they didn't listen to him.” Senna stopped. The memories of those times seemed to overflow her mind.
Jessie gazed at Senna's profile. Tears were clouding the blue eyes and it that moment Jessie wanted nothing more than to guide Senna's head onto her shoulder and simply hold her friend. Take away her pain. But the bit of closeness Senna allowed was more than Jessie had expected at all. And so, instead of pushing her luck even more, Jessie softly asked: “What happened?”
“I did”, Senna replied quickly. She laughed bitterly and then pushed her tears back to where they had come from - along with her feelings. “I had stood at a crossroad like Franklyn last night. But I took a different direction. I made another choice.” Senna looked at Jessie only for a short glance.
But Jessie answered the look with a gentle smile. “You were a kid.”
“It doesn't matter if I was a kid or a grown up. I made my decision that day and it let to many, many more bad things. Much more pain and suffering.”
“But you're not like this anymore”, Jessi replied and squeezed Senna's shoulder.
“I don't know.” Senna answered thoughtfully. “I wanted to kill Franklyn. I wouldn't have stopped at anything.”
“But you did. And you gave Franklyn the chance you never had.” With a trembling finger under Senna's chin, Jessie guided her face around until she was able to look into the blue depths. “I KNOW you're not like that anymore. You're a good person, Senna.”
Their gazes deepened, as Senna regarded Jessie. Her lips started twitching. Then she lifted a hand and carefully brushed a strand of golden hair out of Jessie's face. “If I am really a better person now, then it is because of you.”
Jessie felt her heart do a flip. She couldn't pull back from Senna. No matter what she did, she felt herself drown in Senna's eyes. “Not because of me, but because of what is in your heart, Senna. We have only just met.” Jessie shrugged her shoulders shyly.
“Yet, you…” Senna started. She was stopped by Michael entering the room. He cleared his throat embarrassed at barging in like that on Jessie and Senna. It was obvious he could feel that there was something deep going on between the two women at that moment.
Senna turned her head quickly as she saw Michael coming in. She lifted a brow at him. “Something wrong?”
Michael bent his head and then nodded shyly.
“Has Franklyn done something?” Jessie gasped.
“No…” Michael said tentatively. “Owen is gone.”
“What?” Senna jumped up at the news.
Michael immediately took a step back in fear. He lifted his eyes and watched Senna carefully. “I'm sorry…” he whispered.
“How did that happen? He was in that cell”, Jessie asked as she got up as well and stepped up to Senna.
“I don't know.” Michael shrugged his shoulders. “Franklyn is checking out the cell at the moment.”
“Alright”, Senna said. “Tell him, I'm there in a minute.” With that she nodded Michael to return to the cell. As soon as he was gone, she turned around to Jessie.
“Senna…” Jessie said. She could feel her heart speeding up. What if Owen was still around, planning his revenge on the kids, on them?
“I'll find him”, Senna said. She reached out and squeezed Jessie's shoulder, before turning around and leaving the room to go to the cell. Jessie followed her close behind.
“He had help”, Senna said while checking the lock of the door.
Franklyn stood by the cell window and looked out into the courtyard. “There are some kids missing”, he said thoughtfully. “I already sent out a group to search for them in the ruins.”
“Someone opened that lock with a key and let Owen out.” Senna threw the lock to the ground and stepped up to the stairs to look into the courtyard.
“Who would do that, after everything he has done to those kids?” Jessie couldn't believe this. They had freed them from this brutal man. But still someone had helped him escape.
“Did your search group find any traces of the missing kids?” Senna turned back around to Franklyn who was now walking through the cell to look for any more hints about Owen's disappearance.
“They took some of our weapons, their clothes and some other small stuff. But other than that we haven't found any traces. I am building a team at the moment to go search for them outside the ruin.” It was obvious Franklyn didn't feel safe sending the other kids out there while there was the threat of Owen being around.
“No”, Senna said. “I will go look for them. You and the kids stay here and watch the ruins.”
“We'll go after him?” Jessie asked. She felt her stomach tightening.
“I will go after him”, Senna said. She walked up to Jessie and looked at her. “I'll check if I find any traces of them. You stay here and take care of the kids.”
“But”, Jessie started. She closed her mouth when Senna smiled at her.
“It's not that I don't want you with me in that, Jessie”, Senna softly said. “But I need someone to help the kids get organized in here. You said you wanted to show them how to take care of an herb garden and how to make use of their supplies. This is your chance. Plus, I'm faster when I go with Akela to find them.”
Jessie regarded Senna for a moment. Then she dropped her gaze. “Okay.”
“Thank you”, Senna said before turning to Franklyn. “I'll find him.”
With that, she turned around and left the cell.
Jessie watched her friend leave, before turning to Franklyn. “You have seeds we could use for an herb and vegetable garden…”
Jessie and Franklyn quickly walked into the middle of the courtyard, as one of the kids on the towers screamed at them. The boy was pointing to the north excitedly.
A moment later, Senna rode into the courtyard and brought Akela to a halt right beside Jessie.
“And?” Jessie asked while reaching for Akela's reins.
Senna quickly jumped off the mare and stepped up to Jessie and Franklyn. “I've found them.”
“Where?” Franklyn asked. It was already getting dark and Senna had left just before noon. It was obvious he fought his mistrust.
But Senna simply reached for Akela's reins and lead her over to a bucket filled with water. “I followed them through the day”, she explained as she turned around to Jessie and Franklyn. “They went further north.”
“They're not coming back?” Jessie asked. She searched her friend's eyes. She had helped the kids built a vegetable garden. Had helped them organize their treasures in the storage room. But through it all, she hadn't been able to just for a moment not worry about Senna. Now, the tall woman was back and it seemed she brought good news with her.
Senna smiled and reached for Jessie's shoulder to squeeze it, as if she was able to read her mind. “No, I don't think they are coming back. Owen kept leading them further away from here. If he had any plans to return to the ruins, he would have made camp nearby to wait for the right moment for an attack.”
Senna let go of Jessie's shoulder and searched Franklyn's eyes instead. “I think you're safe now. But you have to keep up your guard.”
“Of course”, Franklyn nodded thoughtfully. He didn't look too happy about the news.
“What is it?” Jessie asked when she saw his hesitation.
“I feel bad for the four going with him. And I don't understand it. I mean…” Franklyn shook his head and lowered his eyes.
“They have made their decision”, Senna calmly said. “You can't do anything about it. But what you can do”, she bent down a bit to catch his gaze, “is take care of the others. They trust you and need you.”
Franklyn glanced at Senna for a moment. Then he looked around the courtyard. With the night coming closer and closer, the other kids were slowly returning to their rooms. “I don't know if I can do this. And I don't know why they trust me anymore. I have done really bad things to them.”
Jessie quickly reached for his arm and held it in a gentle grasp. “They are able to see into your soul and understand that it was Owen and not you, who did those things to them.”
Jessie glanced at Senna and when her tall companion smiled softly, she smiled back.
“I will show you some tricks to fortify this place before we leave tomorrow morning”, Senna said and turned to walk towards the restaurant.
Jessie and Franklyn followed her right behind.
“Do you think they'll be okay?” Jessie asked, while waving one last time to Franklyn and the others who stood at the entrance to the castle ruins the next morning.
Senna was walking right beside her, with Akela to her left. “Yes, I think they'll be fine.” She smiled at Jessie as doubtful eyes lifted to her.
Jessie stayed silent for some minutes, just listening to Senna's footsteps beside hers. Then she softly said: “I'm sorry that you never got that chance.”
Senna gazed ahead of them, the squirming of her eyes her only reaction to Jessie's words.
Jessie sighed and dropped her gaze. She wanted to find out more about Senna and her past. The things that had made her the way she was. She feared the dark side and Senna's past on the one hand. But on the other hand, it was a part of Senna and it had also created the incredible person now traveling this journey with her. And Jessie knew, she was going to accept whatever it was, that lay in Senna's past. Now, that she had the present and future with her.
But Senna seemed so reluctant to show more of her past.
“I got a chance”, Senna suddenly said silently.
Jessie turned her eyes back to Senna.
And when Senna felt the green eyes on her, she caught them and smiled softly. “You are my chance”, Senna said, her voice just about to break. She quickly looked away again to hide her feelings from Jessie.
“You'd be able to do all this without me, Senna”, Jessie replied, waving Senna off with a nervous giggle.
“But who would keep me company then? Who would play games and change the rules just how she pleases?” Senna winked at Jessie and then she said: “By the way, I spy with my little eye something beginning with… g”
Jessie chuckled and shook her head. “Golden. Been there, done that.”
“Nope”, Senna laughed.
“Oh, you…” Jessie slapped Senna on the arm and then lowered her eyes onto her companion. After a moment of thought, she said: “Green, as green as the grass by the side of the road.”“Yes”, Senna nodded with another laugh. ‘As green as your eyes' , she corrected in her mind…
To be continued in episode 6 …I'd be happy to read your comments to the story at www.facebook.com/PledgedSouls or in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Return to the Academy