Ashara puts off her rest as long as possible. She eats, cleans and dresses her wounds, inventories her pack, and fusses over Samm. She can feel Samm's irritation at her overly careful treatment, but bullies him into submission. She insists he sit and have his wounds seen to, not allowing him to get his own food or water, she brings it to him like a nursemaid. While he eats she checks with the other members of her party, notably avoiding even glancing at Willow.
The usually cheerful young woman is noticeably quiet and somber, not even able to muster a real smile when Thorn tries to cheer her with his antics. She does show her appreciation of his efforts with a kiss on the cheek and a fierce hug that lasts much longer than usual, before she shuffles back to sit next to Samm and annoy him further with her nursing.
When Ashara finally runs out of excuses to avoid sleep she lays down on her makeshift bed, having moved it as close to Samm as possible without lying directly in his own bed. She lays in such a way that she can easily see Samm and Thorn, keeping tabs on the two men she considers family, before closing her eyes and using an old habit to try and relax herself.
In her mind she runs the streets of home. Mentally, she traverses every back alley, side street, dark corner, rooftop and secret passageway in the under city. Her muscles tense and relax as she imagines climbing the rough walls and leaping from rooftop to rooftop. After a long while she drifts into an uneasy sleep, the comforting streets of home slowly morphing into a dark maze as a nightmare takes over. Anyone watching her closely would notice shadows moving over her features, more than could be contributed to the flickering of the fire. As the night progresses her features begin to subtly shift, melting, becoming indistinct, blurring together. Her skin becomes ashen, then darkening until it could be seen as bruising. A thin sheen of sweat develops and under her blanket her hands curl into tight fists, her muscles clenching painfully. Her breathing becomes shallow and rapid, no sound escapes her, but if one were standing close enough, they would hear her teeth grinding together.
Ashara turns a corner and stops short. A moment of confusion sweeps over her as she looks down an unfamiliar street. She looks behind her to see the usual row of closed up fruit vendors that normally line the street behind her home. But again, as she turns forward the street before her is unfamiliar. It is darker, the stones rougher beneath her feet. Deciding that she must be losing her mind Ashara turns around again to head back down the street she came up, only to find it has been replaced by another mysterious street. The unfamiliar feeling of fear sinks into the pit of her stomach as she realizes she recognizes nothing. Impossible.
Ashara back tracks her steps and the feeling of fear intensifies as she stops where the door to her home should stand, but instead there is only cold stone wall. In fact, there are no doors anywhere. Ashara moves towards the other end of the street, her steps quicker, and her muscles tight. Nothing. The street which should lead out onto a broad thoroughfare, into the market place, leads nowhere. A tall stone wall hulking out of the darkness blocks her path, and Ashara begins to feel the cold fingers of fear trace along her skin. Goosebumps rise on her flesh and she rubs her arms. She can clearly hear the sound of her glove over her shirt, which makes her notice the silence.
Her city is never quiet, even in the dead of night there is noise. The sounds the city makes have always comforted her, the dripping water, cats and dogs, even rats shuffling, scratching. The occasional shout from a drunk, the hushed flap of wings as the birds that scavenge at night make their rounds. Those sounds are ever present, but now... silence. It’s unnerving, unnatural. The chills move from her skin inwards, trailing up the back of her neck and down to settle in an icy ball in her stomach.
Ashara knows that staying put is almost never a good idea, so even though she has no idea where to head, she turns and begins moving back up the street. She keeps to the shadows along the side of the street and stops frequently to listen, but the only sounds she hears are her own rapid breathing and her heartbeat.
As she gets to the end of the street, she makes the decision and turns to her right. The moment her foot hits the stones of the cross street the screams begin. The first was startling, after so many minutes of silence. It cut through the night, slicing into her like a physical blow. The scream is loud, far too loud to be natural. Even if the volume had been normal the sound was inhuman. Dozens of tones all blend together to offer a discordant chorus of terror and pain, as though a million voices all cry their horrific lament at once. The sound reverberates off the high stone walls and Ashara is forced to press her hands to her ears to try and muffle it. As abruptly as the scream began, it ends. The silence following it is deafening, leaving her disoriented with the lingering hum of the scream ringing in her ears.
Although the sound was unearthly, Ashara knew in her heart it was Samm. How she knew she couldn't say, but she knew with the same certainty that allowed her to find him no matter where he hid in the city. The scream leaves her feeling numb, her fingers frozen, her breath ghosting out into the frigid air. Samm. She takes a step, then steps back. Wrong way. She closes her eyes, reaching inside to find the connection. Samm. A step, yes. Not Samm. Two more steps. She opens her eyes and begins to walk. Her heartbeat matching her feet, each soft footfall completed by the words. Not. Samm. Left and right. Not Samm. Not Samm. Again. Again. Faster. Push. Ashara closes her eyes, the city around her keeps shifting, changing, throwing dead ends and blocked roads in her way but her feet lead her. Not Samm. Not. Samm.
Ashara is unaware of how long she runs, eyes closed she runs as fast as she can. Her breath burns in her throat and tears stream down her cheeks. Hold on Samm. she thinks to herself. The road she's following begins to slope down, the cobbles slick underfoot. Ashara keeps her eyes down, focusing on her footing, on her breathing, on her mantra. Not. Samm. Not. Samm. Not. Samm. The road continues to slope steeper, and Ashara begins to lose her footing, slipping a little with each pounding step, running a little too fast to keep her feet under her. Water begins to rush over her feet and within seconds she is sliding more than running, barely keeping her balance. When the scream comes again she is caught off guard and she falls to the cobbles, sliding down the near vertical slope, the scream surrounding her, pushing her until. Silence. The road falls away under her and the sound chokes off until all she can hear is the pounding of her own heart. Free fall. Nothing below her but darkness and Ashara fills the silence with her own scream of terror as she falls.
Ashara hits bottom with a sickening crunch. She feels bones shatter, feels her joints grind together, feels her head snap back and crack against the stones. For an instant the world is white as she lays still, assessing the damage. After a long moment, Ashara opens her eyes and turns her head. What she sees stops her heart for an instant before it begins to thunder.
"Samm." She meant it to be a shout but the meekness in her own voice brings tears to her eyes. He's there. Right there. The sight of him makes bile rise in her throat. He's in a cell, the only thing separating the two of then is a barred door. He's strapped to a chair, his skin flayed, blood running in crimson sheets down his front to puddle on the floor. His head lolls to one side, but his eyes seek hers. The look in them makes her veins turn to ice. Gone is the warmth, the gentleness, the fond amusement that has always resided in his gaze. In it's place is anger, betrayal, disappointment, condemnation. His lips do not move but she can hear his voice in her head. "Your mother was right. Useless." she shakes her head to tell him he's wrong and begins to crawl towards him. She reaches the door and pulls herself up, inch by inch, gritting her teeth against the pain. The door is locked, she has no tools, no strength. Tears fill her eyes as she realizes she cannot get to him. That he's right.
Movement from behind him makes her jump as the pack of Vampires melts out of the shadows to surround him. Ajoh looks him over impassively, before turning to Ashara. "What a shame." she says.
"Please, don't hurt him. Let him go. Take me instead." Her voice is small, no echo returning to her as though there are no walls.
"Oh don't worry little one. We have no intention of doing anymore harm to him. That's her job." Ajoh inclines her head elegantly and Ashara sees Willow standing in the shadows. The shifter's snout is elongated, her canines extended, as she slips forward with a growl. Ashara's mouth goes dry and her hands curl painfully into fists. This is why he's here. Willow gave him up, served him up like dinner to serve her own selfish ends.
Willow leans in, and without warning, rips out Samm's throat. Her teeth dig ruthlessly into the soft flesh and tear it viciously. Hot blood splashes across her face as Ashara stares. Her heart goes numb, no sound escapes her, she simply crumples to the floor. No will to fight any more, even as the Vampires move to her side and one of them rips out her own throat.
Ashara starts awake without a sound. Her muscles burn, aching from hours spent tense. Her eyes instinctively seek Samm, and she can take her first breath only when she sees his chest rising and falling. Before she can second guess herself she crawls over to him, she lays herself down as close to him as she can, pressing her body close against his. She tucks her face against him and cries. It's the first time in as long as she can remember that she has allowed her feelings to spill over like this, but for now she simply needs to be next to him. To feel that the only person she truly considers family is warm and breathing and here. As always, Samm is there, and Ashara sips back into a mercifully dreamless sleep.