PROLOGUE: THE WOODS

Nina could not look back. She knew what she would see if she did. In the brutal stillness of the night, she could hear their shouts and the barking of the dogs. Every now and then, their searchlights would scythe and catch the spidery web of her sister's hair. It streamed, unbound and ghost-like, behind her as she ran.

The forest floor was freezing beneath her bare feet. Yet her blood pounded hot and desperate through her veins. She could feel it in her throat, so thick it was all she could taste. Each breath was a struggle. With every leaping step, she swore that her ribs were about to burst through her chest.

She had to fight through the pain. Elena was ahead of her and she had to keep up. If she fell, they would take her back, and she would never see her sister again. She would not survive without Elena. Elena knew where they were going. Elena had told her to run, and she would run to the ends of the earth if Elena thought it would save them.

"Come!" Elena called. "Keep going!"

The searchlight erupted over Nina's head. She ducked as if it burned her. That horrible white glow swept over the dense cluster of trees. They were getting closer together. Citizen Darla had told them that these woods sheltered monsters. They were waiting in the shadows.

"Come!" Elena cried again. She grabbed her wrist and dragged her into the copse. Nina closed her eyes. She felt the pull of wet earth at her ankles, the clawing of twigs at her clothes, the mottled skin of creatures through the leaves. Elena beat them back, and then they were through. Nina tried to breathe, but there was no air left in her lungs. It was only terror that kept her moving. Terror, and Elena's hand around her wrist.

The dogs were howling, caught at the grove. The guards would just go around.

Elena weaved to and fro. The lights were missing them now, getting lost in the trees. In the corner of Nina's eye, they looked like tall figures. Her and Elena had left the path too long ago, and now it was nothing but ancient, untamed woodland.

"Here, here, we're almost there."

Elena's hand vanished. She dropped to her knees. For a second, Nina thought she had been struck. But then she urged, "help me, Nina."

Nina scrambled in the damp grass, bruised knees screaming. Her palms touched soil, soil, soil...metal, buried beneath the green carpet. Elena was gripping a handle. She pulled it, weak arms trembling. "In, in, in," she panted, nodding at the dark cavity. Nina turned, saw the search-lamps like glowing eyes through the trees. The dogs were sniffing, the men pointing at the surrounding shadows.

She squeezed through the gap and fell into nothingness. Elena followed. The door was closed. She barred it.

For a moment, they stayed utterly motionless. Elena grabbed Nina's shoulder, and Nina could feel the familiar brush of her hair against her cheek. She breathed heavily, but did not weep as Nina felt like doing.

The footsteps came closer, echoing through the tunnel, like they were down there with them. Who knew what was down there with them. And yet, Elena said, "come," and on they ran, into deeper darkness.

Nina could not look back, nor forward. There was nothing but shadow. She did not dare to hope that they had escaped. Not yet.


A/N: So this is a story that I published on here ages ago but recently decided to go back to. It's one of my favourite stories of mine and one that I have been writing little bits and pieces for for years (like little prompt fills for my Tumblr writing page), but not the actual story in order! I'm really busy with work and uni atm, so right now, I've been wanting to do a whole load of different stories to keep things fresh and to keep me motivated for writing, which has been hard sometimes. Anyway, I have loads more ideas for this story than I did last time, and I hope you like it! Feedback is always appreciated :)