“Do you see them?” Raelin whispered. Her voice barely audible enough to carry over her lips, but she knew Gailin had heard her. He always did.
“Yes,” he answered, his eyes carefully watching the mist seeming to gather around them. Its movement appearing more animated to the naked eye than he would like. “We need to keep moving.”
As they looked out upon it, the forest was grim, the night black. It seemed to weigh heavily down upon the white lights that lined the concrete walkways beneath the trees, their lit trails leading back up into the heart of the camp behind them. However, from where they stood outside of its reach, the glow of the stark light seemed ominous in the early morning fog. It lit the space between the evergreens and pines - revealing apparitions within the mist as they trailed through the forest, caught in the tow of the ever moving breeze.
Watching them, Raelin could not help herself as Nahara came to the forefront of her mind. The words she had spoken to Gailin really Nahara's own as they echoed in Raelin's thoughts. Nahara had once asked her that same question as they watched the mist take on the shapes of lone figures in the dark. Ghosts with nowhere to go, and no will left to hide -- although they no longer needed to. ‘Now, the mist is all we have left of them,’ Nahara had told her, the look in her eyes full with grief. ‘It is our way to preserve the memories of the dead.’
The thought gave Raelin a chill while a gust of wind blew past, cutting through the thin fibers of her clothing as she steeled herself against it. Closing her mind off to the hindering cold, Raelin’s muscles stiffened as a distant cry met her ears. The shriek barreling through the night air, echoing within the canopy of the trees above, as Raelin instinctively turned to look back at the buildings stacked high against the rising mountainside behind them.
No, her thoughts pleaded.
Reaching out, Gailin gently cupped her wrist within his fingers, warning her to keep from moving any further, as he spoke her name. She succumbed to him, stilling her movements in place, for Gailin was right. They couldn't risk being seen. However, Raelin couldn't help herself as her gaze stared just beyond his shoulder, making sure she kept herself otherwise well hidden from view.
She could feel the hairs begin to rise on her arms as another cry carried through the trees toward them, but her heart kept a steady pace. There was once a time in her life that a sound so terrible would have made her breath hitch in her throat, causing a gasp so fierce that it would have burned her lungs, as a red flare of warning ignited within her mind. It would have told her to run - and run fast. However now, all she could do was stand and listen in the dark. The shrieks full of pain and vengeance, she could hear it in the brutality of their cries. They were full of anger, and held no regret for what would happen next. A defiance not tolerated within the camp, as the fervid sound was suddenly broken off. The silence leaving only the eerie melody of the leaves to rustle within the wind’s grasp once more, as it pulled through the trees.
The oxygen ran thin in her lungs, as tiny gasps filled her chest.
Raelin knew such an outcome would occur the moment the shrieks began. There was no arguing it. But now the reality of what had just happened forged its way within her thoughts. She could feel panic begin to rise within her chest. The sudden rush of it causing her breathing to become erratic, as her hands began to twitch at her sides. She could feel Gailin’s grip tighten around her wrist, as his golden stare beckoned for her own.
“We couldn’t stop it, Rae,” he whispered to her, his voice a deep, soothing rumble in the dark as he held her as best he could. His left arm carefully wrapping itself around her waist as he pulled her to him.
Instantly, Raelin’s limbs tightened as her senses fanned out into the nearby forest surrounding them. Empty, she reassured herself. Well, aside from Gailin that is. A presence she wouldn’t want to know how to live without.
“It came from the east wing,” he said. “Just inside the exit doors.”
“Who was it?” she asked, knowing the tall, lean figure standing before her would immediately recognize the voice that had cried out. A call that was probably meant for themselves. A warning.
After a moment's hesitation, Gailin answered her. “Rodney.”
A full head of auburn hair, and pale blue eyes surfaced within her mind.
Feeling her heart sink within her chest, Raelin felt an encompassing shroud of loss lay itself upon her shoulders. The weight of it pressing down upon her as she reigned in her emotions, before they caused her to feel too much. Yet, she couldn’t stop herself from picturing the large stone arena built within the mountain that the camp resided on. The vision of Rodney being dragged out into its epicenter, and the stones that would fly, punishing him for his insubordination. For there were no unwitnessed deaths within the camp.
The knowledge made Raelin’s stomach churn, coaxing the anger she was trying so desperately to repress to grow within her like a chemical reaction. One ready to exterminate this awful place in one foul move.
If only, she thought, her mind reigning in the grief she felt for their friend - one of many they started to call family over the years. For a quick death would be a privilege compared to the prolonged, and torturous lives they were forced to live here, amongst these criminals. These thieves who had stolen them from everything they had ever known.
Gailin pressed his lips to her temple, his embrace understanding, yet the tender squeeze of it told her they needed to move forward, and quickly - or else Rodney’s fate would soon be their own. Raelin leaned into him momentarily, thankful for his strength before she stood on her own once again.
Focusing on the fact that the forest surrounding them was empty, at least for the time being, was satisfying enough as Raelin turned off her emotions. A trait she had learned in this place early on, for emotions only dug a wound deeper. They caused pain to inflate, allowing you to feel so much more of what has happened to you, than you would without them. A suffering far worse than the torture devises the Keepers had here, for emotion only coerced you to reflect and analyze. A dangerous combination when you have been kept against your will - when you have been preyed upon time and time again, and have watched the same happen to those you loved. Emotion was interpreted as rebellion amongst the Keepers, because the thoughts it evokes could lead toward revenge.
Revenge, Raelin reflected, turning her back on the mountain once more, careful to stay within the boundaries of Gailin’s broad shoulders. Revenge doesn't exist here.
The fact couldn’t be argued, for such an act had been labeled as a fate far worse than death within the white walls of the camp - a nickname passed around among the people of the Reliance. It was snuffed out, and eradicated. So the Reliance - the name the Keepers used for victims like herself and Gailin - learned to do without emotion as best they could.
Like a switch being turned off, Raelin’s senses changed. Her smell heightened, her sight seeing farther into the dark, as the weight of her fear and encompassing loss suddenly lifted. Taking in a deep breath, Raelin knew only one thing at this moment. The need for survival. They were unnoticed by the Keepers for the time being, but she knew their circumstances could very well change at any time.Looking out at the mist through the trees, although she knew she wouldn't be able to sense her, Raelin wondered if Nahara was out there now, watching her amongst the other ghosts lingering in the dark. She hoped she was, because then she would know at least one of them had gotten away.