They came for us in the night.
Two days in, and we were low on resources, terrified, running blind. We didn’t know where the children went, where they were headed, what we would find. We had all left, going on what we assumed was the most likely path they’d gone, but we had seem no trace of them, no fallen seed, no scrap of cloth or sandal, no blood or footprint in the dust.
Nothing at all.
We bunked down in the dirt, under the starless dome of grey, huddled to one another to stay warm, some of us more wretched than others.
We woke, torn from one another’s hands, fire at our wrists, our throat. We could not breathe to scream. We could not clench our fists to pull the shackles from our flesh. All we could smell was smoke and fire. All we could taste was ash.
We saw them come up from the ground, from the chasms in the earth that mirrored that one scar in the sky from whence our creature fell. The creature we saw mocked in these forms. Where its wings shone, these had gouged wounds in their shoulders, as though they had torn their own wings free. Where it had music in its voice, these had the discordant screams of every heart ever broken.
We could hear our own selves, wailing for our lost children, mocked within the throats of the things that pulled us away from one another, so we could not even find solace in being together.
They surrounded us, panting, snarling, teeth bared; one of them pinned Ilen, while another fell upon Riesa. Ilen began to scream, and the beasts seemed to grow in size, to become enormous, to feed and feast upon the sound of horror.
They painted the rocks with Ilen, and the dust became mud where we panicked, more and more of us falling to the giants, the monstrous, raging things that came for us in the dark, tore into us to find the secret heart of our fears, and lay it bare, beating and bleeding. Ilen fell, and another, and another, and another. We broke and bled and begged; we cursed the Captain, cursed our children, cursed ourselves.
Riesa, as she lay against the stonegrass, could think of only one thing. She reached up a hand and touched the monstrous face of the beast that was drinking away her life through its clawed, burning hands. She did not curse, she did not scream, she did not plead.