What had she done?
What have I done?
You’ve deserted your father, you cowardly little girl. And everybody else. You were scared and you ran away. And now look where you are.
She looked around her, and fear and guilt set their hard hands to either side of her heart, and squeezed.
She was on a dark railroad platform lit by the intermittent glare of the workings around a black fortress of some strange planet in some strange universe, inhabited solely by insect monsters and her. And her father and the friends she had made along this strange trip were maybe all dead or maybe not, but almost certainly gone somewhere she couldn’t follow in a million years. She was alone, alone, alone and powerless, and would never see anything she loved ever again. That about summed it up.
Her eyes rested on the body of the mantis that had tortured her father, but who hadn’t seemed all that bad at the end. She remembered what her last words had been--that her jewelry would enable them to commandeer a train to take them out of here--but if she was able to do that, what could she tell them? Even by the standards of these trains between universes, that was no ordinary train. And where could she tell them under any circumstances? She didn’t even know the name of the station they had come here from!
Nonetheless she rummaged around in the darkness. Even though the mantis’s execution was only minutes ago (had it been minutes?) The body was as dry as sticks. She found a necklace and two bracelets--and then the sound of tromping feet made her stop.
They were distant, but they were getting closer. She clutched the jewelry and ran, ran down the tracks away from the fortress and into more complete darkness.
(Swell. And if Dada did wake up and commanded they turn the train around, and they did, where would she be? Far away was where--or of course dead if she stayed.)
She jumped off the tracks as they started to rise, she knew, into the sky. She remembered that, way beyond the fortress and the yards, there was forest, and that had to be her goal.
The light changed. There was a red glow ahead of her; she angled away to avoid it, but it grew bigger. She found herself in a jumble of tracks and sheds and machines illuminated dimly by a light off to her left, and was trying to make it back into the shadows. Then a steam whistle went off, and the whole landscape was lit up brightly from a pillar of fire leaping up into the sky from a broad flamepit. She was out in the bright light and in the open.
For a few seconds there was only the fire. Then there were figures pointing at her, and it was twenty feet to the nearest shelter. She crouched down and ran, and energy beams licked through the air around her. She kept as low as she could, zigzagging over the obstacles, and hoping that they considered her some sort of forest pest.
None of the beams really came close, and she managed to increase her distance until they stopped. Evidently ‘chase it away’ was enough for the creatures, and not ‘kill.’ But she kept moving as fast as she could.
The metal and stone gave way to cinders, the light dimmed, and she was soon among stiff brush, some with thorns. This in turn gave way to full forest, and after climbing a few rises and falling into a few gullies, the darkness was deep.
She should have stayed with her father and, if necessary, gone into Death with him. But like any child who was alone with her thoughts and with the right kind of books often enough, and who loved her own thinking and learning and being aware, her fear of Death was so big she just couldn’t do it. And while Grandmère had said death was not for them, Senhor Capoeira had raised the possibility that she was only half-toon, and there was no guarantee of anything. And she was just a cowardly little girl who liked reading about heroes in her comfy apartment, and who had run away.
The dark floor of the forest heaved up before her, and she clung to a tree, her heart pounding in her mouth. The hump subsided and she ran on. She saw a big thing that had the outline of a giant beetle with huge mandibles, the size of a bear, but it went off in another direction, and she ran on.
Then there was a crack and a rumble from high overhead, snd it began to rain. Her inadequate clothes got soaked, and her feet slipped on the slick leaf-mould. She could see nearly nothing, and none of the trees she passed had any sort of shelter.
She may have run for an hour through the intensifying rain before she came to a jumble of boulders before her. They were smooth and rounded, and she found a small space where they leaned against each other that was relatively dry. It was too small to accommodate all of her no matter how tightly she skrunched up, but with her feet sticking out, at least her head and back and tummy were pretty dry.
This is how adventures end, you know. Quite a few of them, and all the time. The ones they don’t write books about.
She didn’t want to cry, because there was absolutely no chance of anybody coming to wipe away those tears, ever again. Instead she shivered, and sneezed, and snucked up her snot, and sneezed again, and felt the two big hard hands squeeze her heard long into the night, until she couldn’t not sleep any more.