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The Glorious Second Life of Holly Monroe

Chapter Text

It was nearly suppertime, and sixteen-year-old Caterina Pozzi was just about ready to lose her dang mind.

Not because of the fact that she was left alone with her four younger sisters to start prepping supper by herself. Not because peeling carrots and potatoes had to fall somewhere between shoveling Oatmeal's droppings and having to burp baby Rosie as one of her least favorite chores. Not even because the damp weather was souring her mood. No, it was because her younger sister kept tugging on the hem of her skirt on the slim chance it would grab her attention, and Caterina had to make a concerted effort to not whirl around and throw her out on the back porch by the collar of her dress.

Adelaide, only ten years old and already a troublemaker the likes of boys twice her age, insisted on staying inside and helping her older sister with supper. Instead, she just sat on the floor to either complain about how hungry she was or try and steal vegetables from the cupboard. Every time she started back up, Caterina would have to shoo her away from the pantry with her knife and a threat or two about tattling to her father.

"Rinaaaaaaa," there she went again. Caterina sighed but didn't look up from the carrots, "I'm boreddddd."

"Then go play with your sisters," Caterina told her, one watchful eye trained on the window. Outside, Caterina and Adelaide's' twin sisters Bianca and Graziana wandered around the edge of their backyard, their tiny hands stuffed full of wildflowers.

"I don't wanna."

"Then take the veggies I just cut up and put them on the dinner table."

"I don't wanna do that either."

"Alright, then what do you wanna do, Adi?"

The girl thought for a second. Outside, Bianca held up a buttercup to her sister and started running around in circles when Graziana attempted to steal it. A little ways behind Caterina and Adelaide, baby Rosie gurgled and started slamming her wooden dog toy on the floor of the kitchen.

Only after Caterina chopped up the last carrot and moved to the final few potatoes did Adelaide pipe back up with her answer. "I wanna go out with papà and Luca and help them with the hunting!" she declared.

Caterina snorted. "Maybe in your wildest dreams," she teased. "Because papà would never let a little slacker who don't lift fingers to help her older sister go out into the middle of the woods and shoot turkeys."

"He would, too!" Adelaide complained, defiant.

Caterina turned around, seized the bowl of vegetables, and thrust it into her sister's hands. "Then help me with dinner and maybe I'll put in a good word with papà, hm?" she put a smile around her threat. "Now get to it."

Adelaide scowled, but when Caterina returned her efforts to their supper, she heard her younger sister stomp as loud as she could over to the dinner table. She slammed the bowl on it like she wanted to break the dang thing in half, which of course caused Rosie to start wailing. Caterina rolled her eyes, put down her knife, and wiped her hands down on her dress.

Abandoning the potatoes, Caterina returned to her baby sister and picked her up in an attempt to quell her crying. Adelaide, meanwhile, had perhaps sensed that she was about to be told off and rushed outside to the backyard. Sighing once more, Caterina left the kitchen through the back door while shushing Rosie. She settled herself on the back stairs and bounced her baby sister on her leg, waiting for her to tire herself out while she searched the tree line for her father and Luca, and hopefully their main course.

Bianca and Graziana were weaving flower crowns out of dandelions and buttercups when Adelaide came running up to them with a stick she'd found on the edge of the woods. Holding it with two hands, she pointed it at the twins and started making gunshot noises, to which her 'victims' deserted their projects and ran away, laughing. Adelaide gave chase too, hollering right alongside them. Rosie stopped crying and stuck her fingers in her mouth, watching the scene with as much interest as an eight-month-old could watch with.

Caterina cringed slightly as Graziana ran through a muddy patch of dirt, sending flecks of brown everywhere. "You better stay out of that dirt or I swear to the good Lord in heaven that you'll all be doin' the laundry yourselves!" Caterina shouted.

Her sisters, of course, paid her no mind. Caterina could only shake her head in disapproval and keep rocking Rosie as they darted this way and that way, oblivious to the mess they were creating for each other. "Promise me you won't be nothin' like that when you get older, Rosie," Caterina murmured, even though she knew that she wasn't going to get a response. The baby gurgled in what Caterina could only figure was enjoyment, slobbering all on her fingers.

The sun hung low in the sky, the dying light momentarily setting their lawn ablaze with a golden glow, when Caterina spotted her father and brother coming out of the woods. Gianni Pozzi, a man small in stature but large in pride, guided Oatmeal, the family's brown stallion, out of the woods with his repeater slung over his shoulder. Luca Pozzi, Caterina's eighteen-year-old brother, brought up the rear. As tall as a birch tree and only half as wide, he was nearly toppled just as easily as one when Adelaide and Bianca tackled him around the middle. A typical greeting for the only boy in the family, Caterina thought as she rose from the steps and hurried over to greet her father.

Gianni smiled warmly as Caterina reached him, holding his hands out in a silent offer to take baby Rosie from her. Caterina accepted, taking Oatmeal's reins from her father after passing her baby sister into his arms. Rosie cooed happily in the crook of their father's shoulder, reaching out to seize some of his beard.

"Buonasera, papà," Caterina greeted him, "how'd your hunt go?"

"Fine, fine, about as fine as it could ever be," Gianni said. Meanwhile, behind him, Graziana had now joined the attack on the eldest Pozzi child, seizing chunks of his dark hair and pulling like she thought it'd come up as easy as her buttercups. Luca yelped in pain, swatting at her, while Bianca and Adelaide let out cheers of encouragement from where they sat on his stomach.

"Ragazze! Fermate!" Gianni shouted. All three girls stopped and stared; Graziana still held a clump of Luca's hair in her fist. "Quit attacking your brother and go wash up before dinner."

With an air of finality that Caterina wished she possessed after all these years, her father brandished a finger back towards the house. Adelaide, Bianca, and Graziana nearly tripped over each other in an attempt to make it to the kitchen first, leaving Luca to sit up by himself, wincing on the ground after his manhandling.

Caterina let out a grateful sigh. "What did you manage to find tonight?" she asked, placing a hand on Oatmeal's nose.

"Two turkeys and the stag. Meat enough for one or two meals, I suppose," her father said, stroking his beard with one hand and bouncing Rosie with the other. Caterina's eyes fell onto Oatmeal's rump, where a deer carcass had been secured. Gianni disappeared around Oatmeal's other side, and after a moment reemerged with a turkey clutched in his free hand.

Caterina took the dead bird from him as he began to make for the house. "I trust everything's ready for dinner?" he called out to her.

"Yes, papà."

"You'll stay and help your brother bring the game in? And tend to the horse?"

She rolled her eyes. "Yes, papà."

Gianni gave her a smile from the back porch. He waved to her, then stopped to pick up Rosie's pudgy arm and wave it too, before heading inside. Caterina smiled softly to herself and shook her head as she rounded Oatmeal's side and hooked the turkey's neck back into the loops on the saddle.

"They're monsters, the lot of 'em,"

Luca stood against Oatmeal's other side, bracing his back against the saddle. He placed both his hands on his hips and cracked his back, groaning from the pain and the effort. "They see me, and I swear it becomes a goddamn competition to see who can get me to the ground fastest."

"You should feel honored," Caterina said, "it ain't like they do that to me."

With a scoff, Luca shook his head, brushing hair out of his eyes. "Be glad they don't do it to you," he warned her. "You'd break in half if Adi tackled you like she tackles me."

Caterina laughed, then gave a slight tug on Oatmeal's reins. Luca fell besides her as the two of them led the horse to the side of the house where Oatmeal's stable stood. By now, the light truly was fading, shrouding the hills around their house and beyond in semi-darkness as twilight turned into night.

"Adi wants to go hunting with you and papà," Caterina found herself saying. "She wants to come along on your next hunt. Says she's bored at home."

"What, sitting at home's not enough for her? Next, she'll be wantin' to go to school like some sort of fancy Saint Denis duchess, or whatever they call 'em these days," Luca grumbled out, opening the pen's gate for Oatmeal as Caterina led him inside.

"I mean, it ain't a bad idea, Lu," Caterina said offhandedly, taking the bit out of Oatmeal's mouth and working on slipping the harness off. Luca, in the meantime, had started sawing at the ropes that held the deer with his carving knife.

"Papà'd have to lose all his wits and more if he brought Adi within ten feet of that carbine repeater," Luca said sarcastically.

"I meant school, you dolt. I mean, not one of those Saint Denis academies or whatnot. An actual school or somethin'."

He paused, still holding onto the rope he was trying to saw through. Luca stared at her, a serious expression on his face, as Caterina took up a bucket and started filling it with oats. "Don't you need help 'round the house, Rina?" he gestured with the knife. "Like, with the cooking and the cleaning and the laundry and all that?"

"Tryin' to get Adelaide to do any of her chores is like tryin' to teach a three-legged cat to hunt—useless for all parties and the problem still don't get solved," Caterina grumbled. "And usually, I gotta end up doin' 'em for her. At least with Adi and the twins at school, I could get some work done around here without the cryin' and the complainin'. I swear, you take your eyes off her for one second, and she starts acting like no one has ever given her attention in her life."

Caterina scooped oats into Oatmeal's feeding trough somewhat violently as Luca finally got the deer carcass off the horse's back. Together, the two siblings undid the straps of Oatmeal's saddle and lifted that off his back as well, placing it on the wooden railing outside the stall. With the horse's nose buried contentedly into his evening meal, Luca once more took up the deer and Caterina grabbed a turkey with each hand. Side by side, they set out back for the house together.

"It'd be nice to have someone in the family go to school," Luca said as they walked together, then pulled a face, "Wish it could've been us."

"But if I went to school, then who'd've taught us how to actually feed you?" Caterina noted with a shrug of her shoulders. "Last I checked, I don't think that any school I know of can teach you how cook a deer and scrub blood outta your shirts."

Luca chuckled at that, adjusting the deer's weight over his shoulder. "You really want to suggest to papà that the girls should go to school? To get educated?"

"Believe me, I could use the peace and quiet. And those girls could use attention from someone who ain't me for once."

"I bet after five classes, they'll be smarter than you and me put together."

"Ha! They're already smarter than you, Lu. Even if she don't do it, at least Adi knows how to wash a pair of knickers, unlike someone else I know."

Luca's playful shove sent Caterina into the wall of the house, who promptly launched a kick at his shin in retaliation. Together, the two siblings tumbled over each other into their house as the door snapped shut behind them.

~X~

Caterina awoke later that night to what sounded like someone coming up the stairs.

Rubbing the fogginess from her eyes, Caterina perked up. Hair cascaded over her face and into her eyes, which she brushed away behind her ear. "Papà?" she murmured, propping herself up onto her elbow.

Sounds were coming from outside of her room now, so Caterina pushed herself fully out of bed and tiptoed for the door. Moonlight bathed the room, drenching the small space in cold light. Adelaide slept on in the opposite corner away from the door, drooling all over her pillow. Caterina was about to open the door up when she heard another door out in the hall creak open and someone let out a cry that was quickly cut off.

Suddenly wide awake and extremely alert, Caterina pressed her ear to the crack between the door and the wall. Yes, someone outside was heading down the hall, and what sounded like multiple pairs of heavy boots were crossing each other. Their owners said nothing, but Caterina heard the unmistakable sound of muffled screaming. Two voices, trying to cry out but unable to. "Shut your goddamn mouths," a foreign voice hissed from the hallway, deep and menacing.

Ice shot up Caterina's spine.

Instinctively, she backed away from the door, feeling herself pale. Footsteps were coming, and another door slowly creaked open. The one across from them. Rosie's room.

Caterina bit back a gasp by covering her hand with her mouth as the backs of her knees hit her bedframe. Outside, she heard the baby start babbling, then someone shushing it. Footsteps grew louder and then faded away, but not before Caterina heard the repeated thump thump thump of someone coming back up the stairs. Someone was coming up to finish the job, looking to search the last door at the end of the hall.

Without thinking, Caterina pressed herself to the floor and crawled under her bed. She tugged the hem of her white nightgown with her, scrunching herself as far back as she could in a fruitless effort to not be seen. She was about to hiss at Adelaide to wake her up before the footsteps approached her door.

All of the sudden the door creaked open. It was like something out of a nightmare Caterina must've had when she was a child. The door fell open like it'd been blown ajar by something as harmless as the wind. A singular riding boot entered her field of vision, then it's pair. Caterina shrank further back as she got the tiniest glimpse of their intruder. She could only see his boots, worn dark brown leather with rusty spurs, but the person that filled them moved almost like a phantom over the wooden floor of her bedroom. Each step he made barely creaked the floorboards, to the point where Caterina wondered if this was all a cruel trick caused by an overactive imagination she didn't know she still had.

Eventually, the booted figure made his way over to Adelaide's bed. Some piece of clothing fluttered. Her sister said something unintelligible. Then there was a large commotion that sent sheets flying and bedframes sliding across the hardwood before being followed by the sound of something hard being slammed into the wall. It only lasted a few moments, so when the room fell silent once more it was almost like nothing ever happened. Caterina watched in horror as the boots spun on heel and made their way towards the exit.

They stopped, however, just before the door, right by her bed. Caterina could hardly breathe but the boots didn't stay for long. Just as soon as he arrived, he exited, leaving Caterina cowering in a room that a mere five minutes ago had two occupants.

She didn't dare move, not in case they decided that an extra unkempt bed was fishy and decided to return. So, Caterina stayed there, feeling every minute tick by one by one, waiting for someone to come up and drag her out, kicking and screaming. But three, four, five minutes must've ticked by, yet no one came back to search for her.

Slowly, Caterina edged herself out from her sanctuary and turned to her sister's empty bed. The sheets had been tossed this way and that way, the pillow thrown to the ground. On the wall, a small smudge of something that looked awfully like blood trickled down to the floor.

It was a mad scramble for the hall and then for Rosie's nursery, which Caterina noted with horror was already open. She peered inside but found the cradle empty and the blanket askew. The same story held true for the twin's room—nothing but strewn about sheets and empty beds. Caterina's heart started pounding painfully against her chest.

Movement from the window caught her eye, but Caterina didn't dare edge forward for a closer look in fear of being seen. The house was silent now, eerily silent. The only noise now came from the curtains billowing in the late February wind.

As Caterina made her way slowly down the stairs, that lone truth was quickly broken.

She knew what a gunshot was. She'd seen her father fire a gun. She wasn't a fan of the noise, always made her jump. And that was a gunshot, clear and loud. It sliced through the quiet like a whip, reverberating through the house as if it were trapped in the wooden walls and searching for a way out. Caterina dang near passed out, gripping the railing of the staircase as she collapsed to her knees, weak in the legs and the head. Someone…no, multiple people were screaming. Or crying. She couldn't tell. Whatever it was, it was bad. Real bad.

Caterina made it to the ground floor a panicked wreck, taking in the kitchen but not really processing anything. Still, her eyes drifted to the carving knife she'd been using mere hours ago to cut up vegetables sitting on the counter, washed and clean. She crept forward, her breath catching every single time her bare feet made a sound on the floor, before she seized it.

Another gunshot. Caterina whipped around, waving the knife with her good hand in a vain chance she could fight off an attacker that wasn't there. There was someone outside who was crying now, a real ugly cry too: the kind of crying Caterina had done at her mother's funeral. Strangled and pained and mournful all at the same time.

Slowly, she rounded the corner and moved for the front door. Slowly, ever so slowly. It was shut tight but not locked. How'd they open it? Caterina dully wondered if she remembered to lock it before she went to bed.

She reached her bad hand out for the doorknob. A tear slid down her cheek.

And suddenly, Luca was there. Before Caterina could even make a sound her older brother had pressed a hand over her mouth and backed her up against the cupboard. In his other hand was their father's carabine repeater that they kept in the closet for emergencies. Caterina could only stare at her brother's illuminated silhouette in the moonlight, the carving knife still clutched in her good hand.

Her brother had always been far stronger than her. He held her steady, clearly shaken but otherwise keeping himself together. Only his eyes were wild: darting, racing, looking just as terrified as Caterina felt. Another gunshot punctured the night. Together, the siblings held their breath. Outside, one of the men was shouting curses. Someone was still wailing. Another had begun laughing.

After what felt like eons, Luca removed his hand from her mouth but pressed his finger to his lip as a means to hush her. Caterina nodded her understanding back. Another gunshot. Both siblings gave a simultaneous shudder.

"Rina, listen, you need to run," Luca hissed. "Run to Longshore, and don't stop until you get there. Get the sheriff."

"Run?" Caterina protested as quietly as she could. "I need to take the horse!"

"I already saw them put a bullet in Oatmeal a long time ago. We're on our own, Rina."

Another set of shouts from the men outside. Someone—their father, it sounded like—was pleading. Another gunshot. That was five now. The men cheered.

"Lu, Lu, they're killin'  'em," she whimpered, unable to hold back her tears. "Those men're killin' 'em. Why? What'd we do?"

She would've sobbed further had her brother not gripped her by the shoulders and shaken her. "Rina, you need to go now. Run like the wind and send for help."

Caterina stared at him, "What about you?"

Her brother didn't answer. When his eyes darted to the gun in his hands, Caterina's stomach somersaulted inside of her. "No, no, no, no, no," she sobbed. "No, please, come with me! You can't take them on your own, Lu."

Luca didn't answer her at first, but instead cocked the repeated. "We don't have a choice, Rina," his voice was solemn, almost mournful, "you gotta go, and I gotta stay."

"Luca, that is—"

"Have we reached a deal, dago?"

A foreign voice cut through the night. A horrible voice. A voice that sounded like teeth scraping on bone. A voice that sounded like a dog ready to rip out the throat of its prey. All caution forgotten, Luca abandoned Caterina and moved to the front door while she followed close behind. Together, they squeezed on top of each other to peer out the crack in the doorframe.

At least eight men in dark dusters stood in a line. Their horses stood behind them like ominous specters, the steam billowing upwards off their large bodies in the cold night. In front of them, Caterina's father knelt down with his hands up in defeat. There were four small lumps laying on the ground besides him, unmoving. The moonlight glinted off the largest man's revolver as he reloaded it; each bullet that slid into the chamber sounded like another beat of Caterina's racing heart.

"Mr. Pozzi," another bullet, "it seems as though," another bullet, "you've been holding out on us," another bullet. The man, with a flick of his wrist, clicked the chamber back into place and aimed it to her father's head.

Her father sniffed. He was crying, hard. Caterina didn't think that she'd ever seen her father cry. "Please…" he whimpered but trailed off immediately after as the barrel of the gun moved closer to his forehead.

The large man tutted like he was disappointed. The men around him roared with laughter, lifeless and cruel. "I'm afraid I've run out of second chances for you," the sound of the gun's hammer snapping into place was almost worse than any gunshot sound before it, "but then again, four chances is rather generous, wouldn't you say?"

Above her, Luca trembled with tranquil fury.

A sob racked through her father's body. Caterina watched as his whole body, dark against the light of the moon, shuddered violently. "What do you want from me?" he pleaded. "Money? I-I-I give you money! Just…just please…"

Nothing. No words. No sounds. Caterina sucked in a breath. It seemed her lungs had been neglecting to take in air.

Which made the sound of gunfire all the more jarring.

Caterina must've screamed, because she was suddenly on the floor with her brother's hands over her mouth. A series of moving images passed in front of her eyes as the moments ticked by in the dark.

Her father's head jerking back.

The spray of red erupting from the back of his head like a burst pipe.

The way he slumped to the ground, lifeless, to join the four small lumps surrounding him.

A fresh wave of both tears and nausea overcame her, and Caterina would've definitely given her and her brother away with her sobs. The pressure of Luca's hand over her mouth grew stronger the more she cried but she just couldn't stop, try as she might. A drop of water hit her forehead, much to her shock. Her brother was frantically pressing his finger to his lips again in an effort to keep her still but he was crying too. In the quiet that followed, Caterina heard the deep voice again. Both siblings immediately hushed themselves, falling silent effortlessly.

"Torch the house," the disembodied voice of the man said. "Any loot you find, you keep."

A loud series of cheers followed those words. Luca removed his hand from Caterina's mouth and helped her stand. Outside, the air was filled with sounds of celebratory whoops, the rummaging of saddlebags, and the loading of even more guns.

And then Caterina was being ushered, dragged, to the back door. Luca was pulling her along by the wrist. "C'mon, Rina, now's the time to go," his voice, while still a whisper, was as fierce as death. "Run to Longshore and get the sheriff."

They'd reached the back door. "What about you!?" Caterina pleaded, trying to tug her hand back.

"I'm gonna fight 'em off."

"You're gonna get killed, Lu!"

The sound of the front door being broken down stopped all argument in their tracks. Caterina and Luca both looked over their shoulders as moonlight bathed the hall behind them. The floorboards creaked under the weight of the house's new intruders. As they spilled in, Caterina heard the dreaded cock of a gun as one of the men loaded his first shot.

In her distraction, Luca opened the door and practically threw her down the stairs into the backyard. Caterina tumbled, the carving knife falling out of her hands as she rolled over the grass. She struggled to stand as Luca now cocked his gun himself, his brown eyes swollen but hardened. "I'll find you! Now run!" he practically screamed at her, and Caterina's last image of her older brother was of him turning back into the shadows to confront their assailants with the repeater in hand.

So Caterina had no choice but to run.

Her hair falling over her face, Caterina scrambled to her feet, scooped up the carving knife, and ran into the woods.

Behind her she heard the now all-too familiar sounds of a gun firing: her father's repeater. She heard a voice that sounded vaguely like Luca before it was obscured by even more gunfire, booming like a cannot shot yet as steady as the fall of rain on a tin roof. A scream rang out over all the fighting, then was cut off just as quickly.

Caterina fought her way up the large hill her house stood in front of, swallowing hisses of pain as all kinds of unknown things bit into her bare feet. She held the carving knife in her left hand, the folds of her nightgown with her right. She glanced back as often as she could, heart pounding so madly that she was surprised that it hadn't simply clawed its way out of her chest.

When she reached the top, she ran. She ran until her sides hurt and she felt as though God himself would have to give her the strength if she were to carry on. Her hair blew behind her and settled over her shoulders as Caterina weaved in and out of the trees, trying to make sense of where she was. Was she going north? South? She looked up but couldn't see the moon nor the stars through the foliage. She longed for a lantern to guide her way, or for Oatmeal, so at least she wouldn't have to worry about tripping over a root and breaking her ankles.

She longed for her siblings and her father most of all.

They're all dead, she wailed silently inside of her mind as she brushed past another tree, Adelaide and Bianca and Graziana and Rosie and now father and Luca! They're all dead and soon, you're gonna be dea—

Caterina's thoughts were rudely interrupted by an unseen tree root wrapping around her foot. Shrieking, she fell to the ground, the knife spinning away from her grasp. She fell face-first into the fresh mud, her ankle suddenly throbbing.

Before Caterina could stand up and hobble away, she felt the earth shake under her feet. A small thundering was coming, right for her. Horses. The bad men.

Forcing down her sheer panic, Caterina glanced wildly around and spotted a fallen log only a few paces away. She scrambled on all fours for it as the sounds of horse hooves grew louder, louder, louder still. She looked inside, almost fainting with relief to see that it was hollowed out. Caterina forced herself inside her makeshift sanctuary as quickly as she could manage, yanking the rest of her nightgown in with her and smoothing her hair down and out of her face.

The galloping grew more and more deafening. The horses' neighing grew stronger. It was bearing down on her. What if they went over the log and trampled her? What if they saw her? Were there holes in here? Caterina curled up as best she could, pressed her hands over her head, and buried her chin into the mud, desperately trying to quell another fresh set of tears.

Louder.

Louder.

Louder.

And suddenly, the world fell silent. Caterina opened her eyes, not entirely sure when she had squeezed them shut. Even though she couldn't hear or see anything, she felt their presence above her like the devil himself was flying overhead.

And just as quickly as it came, the peace was shattered by the return of the thunder. Now, the horsemen were directly in front of her, their large beasts' noises almost humanlike. The sound of horse hooves faded into the distance almost as soon as they had begun bearing down on her.

Trembling violently, Caterina edged forward and poked her head out of the log. There was no one to be seen, nothing to be heard except birds and wind and the soft rustling of the branches overhead. The moon poked its head shyly through the leaves, reflecting off the blade of her knife as it stuck out of the muck a few feet away from her. With a twinge of relief that she knew wouldn't last, Caterina realized that the men on horses were looking for her but had passed over her log with their huge horses, riding off either with all of their treasure or in search of her.

Had they seen her leave the house? Where was Luca? Should she wait for him?

What would her father do?

Head to Longshore, Caterina thought. Head there, find the sheriff, wait for Luca. Move before those men decide to come back.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Caterina inched herself out from under her cover and pushed herself up to her knees and then her unsteady feet. Her white nightgown was covered in dirt. The pain in her ankle was agonizing, but she didn't bother to pay it much mind. Rather, Caterina practically crawled her way over to her sole source of protection, wrenched it out of the ground, and started running again. She made sure to veer off from the direction the bad men had gone, lest she ran into one of them doubling back to the house.

The house!

Against all her better judgement, Caterina turned to look over her shoulder back the way that she had come. A distant glow was rising over the hill she'd sprinted over. It was warm, inviting, and possibly could've been the signal of a new dawn had there been no dark smoke accompanying it. To her, it served as an omen of destruction. Her house—and with it, her whole world—was burning.

Caterina didn't stop.

She turned and ran, sobbing, turning her back on everything that she'd ever known.