Vanya came to a halt as the pain of a thousand needles jabbed at her side. Huffing heavily, she balanced herself against a nearby wall and scanned the horizon, analyzing every citizen. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. She locked eyes with a frail old woman for a brief moment. Vanya glanced away, but she could see from the corner of her eye, the old woman approaching her.
She was not yet ready to continue running. The pain was still too much. She tried to turn her back, but it was confirmed to be futile when she felt the boney hand gently touch her shoulder.
“Excuse me, miss?”
Vanya cursed under her breath as she turned around. “I don’t have anything, and I’m in a hurry.”
The knee jerk response was lost on the woman. She simply looked back with her sad eyes, her skull too prominent to be healthy. “The famine has taken all I have.”
“I– but I don’t–” stammered Vanya.
“Anything you can offer.”
It pained Vanya to look at the old woman. Her own mother looked like this when she was struggling, but every moment here was time lost chasing her target. It’s been several hours now with no leads, and the frustration has already overwhelmed her. The silence grew awkward, while various scenarios danced around Vanya’s mind. If she couldn’t find her target in this town, she’d have to return back to square one. Finally, she reached into her pouch and pulled out her field rations and handed the woman a coin to dismiss her.
The old woman nodded gratefully as she returned to beggar’s spot.
Vanya’s breath had finally returned, but so did the hopelessness. She once again scanned the area and found the same old eyes were staring at her.
“You’ll miss it if you’re not there,” the old woman called.
“Miss what?” asked Vanya, her face screwed up.
“There’s a dark alley over there that is hidden to all who don’t stand there.” She pointed at the pile of rotten garbage.
The wall across from it was dull, devoid of anything worthy of attention. Vanya skeptically walked over but had to plug her nose for the stench. Her eyes followed the wall opposite her. A few steps away from the garbage, the dark alley appeared before her eyes. It was cleverly obstructed by the architecture of the two surrounding buildings.
Vanya took a few steps in and immediately noticed on the ground, two splotches of blood. One red, one black. With pursed lips, she felt a little bit of regret at how she treated the old woman who ultimately helped her get back on track. A deep breath later, and she was refocused. The new lead filled her with hope once more.