Minty stepped over the stream, watching the reflection of the Japanese maples and cherry trees that danced across the surface. The maple leaves and cherry blossoms seemed to fall endlessly from the trees, but the branches were never left naked. Minty loved it there, though she'd always found the cranes a bit disconcerting.
Time had slowed down, as it sometimes did, and Minty was watching the world fall in slow-motion, each flower spinning slightly as it drifted toward the water.
“I thought I might find you here,” said a voice from beside her. Minty started, her ear twitched, but she managed to hold her ground. “What are you doing?”
Minty was annoyed at herself for not having smelled him, but she managed a polite smile as she stepped back to take in his half mask. “Hello, Voss.” She nodded curtly and began to walk across the damp, well-manicured grass of the park.
Voss easily matched her stride. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
Minty sighed inwardly. “Walking,” she said simply.
“I'll join you.”
“I'll walk alone,” she said, a little bit more briskly than she intended.
It didn't seem to matter where Minty went or what she said, lately, Voss was showing up everywhere. And her polite refusal of his attentions only served to encourage him.
She had been enjoying Japan; she didn't have the energy for him now. She stepped out of the way as he reached for her arm.
Minty stepped around a hedge, out of the lazy afternoon sunlight and into the early morning mist that hung about the river. She nodded in thanks to an otter who handed her a giant yellow umbrella then helped her steady it in the rushing water while she stepped on.
The river carried Minty away quickly, as the rain started to fall. As far as she could see, Voss was no longer behind her, and she almost felt certain that the otter would delay him as long as possible. Otters could always be trusted.
The umbrella whirled and danced on the water, threatening once or twice to buck Minty off as the raindrops made tiny pinging noises against her perfect porcelain skin. Eventually, the rain stopped. The water slowed, the river calmed and narrowed and Minty stepped off the umbrella and into a cornfield. She picked the umbrella up, righted it and blew it, like a dandelion seed, back to its owner.
She walked through among the tall, golden stalks of corn until she came to the edge of the forest. In the forest, it was morning, warm and sunshiny. Beautiful. Perfect. And blissfully emptier than Japan.
“So this is where you come—” His voice was slow and deliberate, only hinting at playful. “—When you want to get away.” Voss chuckled softly.
Minty ran. She didn't think about it, she didn't try to be polite. Her stomach lurched. All she could think about was getting away.
It didn't take long for Voss to catch her. He sprang on her from behind and only a cushion of sharp orange pine needles saved her from being shattered when she fell.
Voss was surprisingly heavy and he forced all of his weight against Minty, so that she could barely breathe, let alone struggle free.
When he entered her it was sharp and sudden, her underwear being pushed to one side. Nothing went through her mind. Everything did. Her brain was empty, exploding, bursting and caving in on itself – while he, his hands pinning her wrists to the ground, thrust faster and deeper. More than once, she tried to scream, but she couldn't. There was no reason not to, but she was physically incapable. No one was coming to help her.
The sound of footsteps on broken twigs was like music – a wonderful symphony or a single, perfect note. Her saviour. She looked into Craven Lorne's eyes and silently begged her to save him. Craven spun on his heel, ready to walk away.
Minty felt a sharp pain as Voss's weight forced her skin on her back to fracture.
Voss grunted, released her wrists and arched backwards and Minty... let go. She let go of everything that had been threatening to make her head explode, she let go of the hate she felt for Voss and of every silent scream. It burst through her skin, white hot, burning her, blinding her instantly. She could feel her eyes, but not use them. She felt them dry, turn to ash and blow away, one tiny flake at a time.
Voss was gone. Wherever he had landed, he was no longer on top of her and she did not waste time before crawling and groping her way to the edge of the forest.here.