She stumbles out of the undergrowth only to slide straight into another pocket of brambles.
It’s been hours since they’d knocked on her door, had made the delivery and told her that it was time to report. She’d had a partner lined up and everything, but things had moved so quickly and so suddenly, and now she is running for a life she’d never really wanted, breaking her way through the woods that circle the compound.
She misses a step, skids on the loose dirt and slams her knee straight into a low-hanging branch. The pain jolts up her thigh and she winces, but there’s no time to stop and assess the bruise that’s surely been left.
There is nothing in the world except the dull ache of every footfall. She was not made for this. And yet she has never been more sure of her body’s purpose.
There’s a sudden fluttering behind her. She whips her head around, only to see a pack of crows stream into the sky. If there are wilds in the woods around her, she’s close to the edge. She almost feels something that… isn’t sadness, but squashes the feeling down almost as soon as it appears.
The danger is still here; far behind her, she feels the echo of home and the fury it masks. She must leave. She cannot leave. She must, she must, and though every breath she draws cuts into her burning throat and the bruise on her knee sinks into the bone, she cannot stop.
It’s been centuries since the Call was put forth: to serve the colony and bring forth its next generation. And so she’d done what she’d been asked to do, had chosen a mate out of a pool of eligible candidates, but what she couldn’t have known was how badly he’d wanted to break into the outside world, to sully his blood and free himself from the Call.
Before they cut him open, he’d told them that she was in on the plan too. It wasn’t a complete lie: he’d told her what they would do to her once the mating was complete, what he’d seen from his time in the Center, and she was scared, so so scared, but she didn’t have the strength to run with him then.
He promised her that he’d protect her, but promises like that mean nothing in a place where nothing is less sacred than flesh.
She thought he’d settled down, given up on his runaway dreams, until she’d answered her door and found him neatly divvied up in ribbons of flesh studded with fragments of bone, and on top of the still-steaming pile was a piece of paper rolled up and wrapped in a thin black ribbon. On the sheet: REPORT TO CENTER stamped in slick black blood.
Even now, she doesn’t know why she did it – pick up the summons, tuck it into the band of her skirt, run like hell. It had still been early; light was just beginning to peek above the horizon, and the morning horn hadn’t yet sounded.
She’d flown by the checkpoint at the edge of the woods. The sentries all wore familiar faces, but they were contorted into expressions of confusion as she darted past them. She’d almost stopped, turned around to ask them if they’d like to join her, but then the first siren went off, and she’d sucked in her cheeks and lunged into the tree line.
Had been listening to “Into the Labyrinth” by Kraddy a lot in recent days so I took that and ran with my internal imagery. Want to turn this into a full-fledged story but, with all things, I need time… and there’s still the matter of the Biggest Fish to fry…