Login | Register


All times are UTC + 1 hour [ DST ]


It is currently Sun Jul 23, 2017 10:39 am




Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 19 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2  Next
Author Message
 Post subject: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:47 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Prologue - Catalyst

The air of that place was dark, dank, and dreary. Any normal person looking upon it would call it a "prison." But the inhabitants didn't see it as such. Most of them knew not what a "prison" might be. Very few words were spoken there, and "prison" was not one of them. The word "cage" was not unknown, however. When one of the tall men patrolling the compound said, "Get in yer cage!" he was understood, and obeyed.

In one such cage stood a small girl, in the company of three other children. She was the tallest, though only by a little. She was the eldest by far, as she was one of the first. She remembered the time when there were few. She even remembered when she lived in her own cage, but she knew not how long. Time or seasons did not reach her eyes, and she did not know them. There were times when her feet seemed to shrivel as they touched the frigid iron, and others in which the stifling heat made the filth and the stench hard to bear. There was water, there was food, and there was sleep. There was little else in this world of iron and rust and filth.

But whatever else there was, she made it her business to learn of it. When she heard the chink of chain mail as a guard patrolled down those dark halls, she watched it with great interest. Those tall beings. The ones who watch. The ones who are watched. She would look for changes. If they noticed something, she would take notice as well. And whenever they muttered to themselves, or conversed with others in hushed tones, or yelled, or cursed, she would listen carefully for any shred of meaning she could glean from them. She was evidently quite good at it. Whenever something was noticed, she was always the first. The others would soon follow. You could almost call their actions "respect."

She would also "test." The others took great interest in that. From the cage and surrounding objects, she found she was able to scavenge a length of fine steel wire. When stretched taut over a long distance, it was as good as invisible if you didn't know it was there. Coordinating with the children in the pen across the hall, she aroused many a fit of snickering when the patroller would suddenly trip over nothing. Those patrols so maligned would then curse at their peers about some sort of "trickery" or "sorcery." And so she came to view her works as such, she and her company of "brats" or "little devils."

Today, her ears caught wind of a grand bit of change. The guards were bustling feverishly, excitedly. This didn't go unnoticed by the other children. Thus she took her usual watching position, standing straight, staring nigh unblinkingly down the stone hall. Most of the guards were shuffling animatedly about as they walked, while some even broke into a run. Many times they failed to keep their voices in check around the "brats," saying something about this or that being "not ready." They had never been this excited except when... oh.

Her suspicions were proven when a passing guard muttered to himself in a dour tone. She caught the words "more" and "little devils."

It didn't take long before all the kids in the pens lining the hall were craning their necks to see a company of guards escorting a handful of plump-looking children, stopping at one pen or another that looked lacking in heads to distribute them, one by one. The girl in the pen noticed right away that they were different from usual newcomers. For one, they were quite plump (although in her eyes, an emaciated, hunger-ravaged body was the average build), and they were clean, their faces unblemished with dirt and grime and their clothes dry and colorful. What struck her as truly odd, though, was the way they cried. Of course, all newcomers tended to cry, and they quickly learned to be silent, but as these children wailed, she could swear her ears caught smatterings of words through the sobs.

By the time the company stopped in front of her cell, it was clear. They were speaking words the guards understood. Kids never spoke in that place, even if they learned how to listen. Speaking was for grownups.

A piercing wail sounded as a little girl raised her voice. "I wanna go home! I want my mama!"

The guard nearest to her gave her a swift kick in the back, making her double over as the air fled her lungs in surprise and fright.

"Quiet down, brat! Mummy's not comin' for you!"

"That's right," said another guard with a sneer. "I'll bet yer mummy got 'er head lopped off when they found ya!"

Whatever it was that they said, she obviously didn't like it. As another guard fumbled with the keys at the cell door, she gasped for air. As it came back to her, she began to scream. The guard at the door opened it at last with a clang and a grumble, yelling at the kids inside to back away from the door. And with another kick, the girl tumbled into the pen, right at the feet of the one standing inside. Again, she found herself short of breath. Her chest heaved with futility as she lay on the ground, unmoving. The guards slammed the door shut and moved on, seemingly eager to distribute the rest of the kids before she began screaming again.

The standing girl found herself deliberating over who she should observe, the guards or the girl, and decided the latter was much more worthy of attention. The girl was breathing now, interspersed with randomly timed coughs and teary hiccups. At last, she made a move to stand, giving the older girl a good look at her features. Her face was now smudged with the grime of the cage, as were her hands and her brown linen dress. Most onlookers would consider such a dress quite plain, but compared to the filth-encrusted rags the older girl wore, such attire was the stuff of fables. Her once smooth, soft white face was warped by her sobs, with seemingly more to come. Her rose-pink hair framed her face, and was now quite disheveled, but it looked soft. The elder girl had never seen such soft-looking hair, and she thought she could smell a sweet fragrance from her. Driven to touch it, she reached her hand forward, and winced in surprise as it was hurriedly slapped away. The pink-haired girl was clearly frightened, her breathing still choking with sobs. Undeterred, however, the older one edged forward, trying to get a better whiff of the scent surrounding her.

"Stop it! You smell! You all stink!" She ran and turned her back to a corner of the pen, trembling. "I wanna go home," she whimpered softly, and began to weep.

The elder girl put her finger to her lips and hissed, "Shh!" but to no avail. As the little girl continued whimpering, another child in the cage sprung into action. Before the elder girl could react, he carried himself to the little girl's corner, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her, shouting with wordless hostility.

Thus was the way the kids there reacted to crying. Normally, the elder girl would let them frighten others into submission, observing passively, but she felt driven to intervene. With one fluid stroke, she stepped forward, thrust both of her arms in between his collarbone and hers, and shoved the boy forcefully away with the back of her arm. He landed on the iron floor with a loud, rattling bump, and then raised his gaze to glare at her. Her response was to stare back with a cold, menacing smile, and the boy quickly grew scarce.

Turning around to check the little newcomer, her eyes widened in surprise as the girl latched onto her, throwing her arms around her and burying her face in her chest. She could only stand, astonished, as the young girl released her tears into the rags covering her body.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry," she sobbed. So many words that the elder girl had never heard in all the years she spent in this place, the only world that she knew. "Mama," "home," "sorry." She mouthed the words quietly to herself. This tiny girl came from a world of which the elder girl had not even dreamt. A world of language. A world with many things that she didn't understand. Things that she wanted to understand, to learn. How could anyone want to silence her? She could teach so much.

With many thoughts flooding her mind, the girl found she could only stand there and return the embrace in her muted language. There were many things she wanted to say, to ask. Perhaps, one day, she would. Hesitantly, she brought her hand to the girl's hair, and was not refused as she patted it softly. Truly, it was every bit as soft as it looked.

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:48 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 1 - Stimulus

It was a few hours after the new kids had arrived, and the air was filled with a quiet anticipation. This was no anticipation for anything new, however. It was merely that time again. All the stomachs in the iron pens seemed to resonate around this time. The kids there (at least most of them) had no concept of time, but their bodies could somehow tell when food was coming.

Ever since she calmed down, the new girl didn’t do much of anything. She merely stood in the corner of the pen. She didn’t sit. She didn’t touch the bars. Even her bare feet seemed loathe to touch the dirty floor, shifting her body weight from one to the other. Every now and then she wiped her face with the relatively clean surface of her arms. The elder girl could only stare. She couldn’t tell her to speak, to teach her, because she knew not how. Whatever goodwill the little one felt for her new company after the outburst of her arrival, it must have dissipated by now.

Every now and then her face would turn to the one watching, and then it would turn away hastily. Obviously, she didn’t like being watched so closely. She was still deathly afraid, but watching others was a habit that the elder girl could not relinquish.

"Please, stop it," she muttered imploringly. Unfortunately for her, the elder girl couldn't comprehend her words. In fact, because she had finally spoken again, she took even greater interest.

"Stop it!" The elder girl felt she could understand now, albeit more from the girl's manner than anything else. Her shoulders were trembling.

It wasn't until a few moments later when the young girl came to the realization that her monitor had shifted her attentions down the opposite side of the hall. A rotund, baldheaded man in plain clothes and an apron was shuffling down the hallway, a torch in one hand and a large bucket in the other. In his passing, iron pen after pen came alive with rattling excitement. After a while, he set his bucket down in front of their own cage, reached his hand in and fished out a medium-sized loaf of bread. As it came into view, the awful stench of the cages was overpowered by the slightly sweet smell of fresh-baked bread. The elder girl could hear the sound of air catching in the newcomer's throat as she gawked at the sight and smell. She must have expected something far less appetizing.

That expectation wasn't disappointed by what happened next, however. Gritting his teeth in apparent anxiety, the rotund man pushed the bread towards the bars, then jumped and lost hold as the child with the longest arms shot his hand out of the cage to grab it. It fell with a "thump" to the floor, and the child didn't hesitate to scoop it up and into the pen. As he wedged it through the grimy bars, the reason for the rattling excitement of the other cages became clear. While anticipation of food may have been one cause, it was more often a result of competition as the children would rip it to chunks and stuff away as much as they could before it was gone.

Just as one kid seemed to grab enough of a hold to stuff the bread between his gaping jaws, the hand of the elder girl came down on his, striking his fingers numb and forcing the bread from his grip. Her practiced fingers then pried the others away and she raised the dirty loaf above her head, the other three kids snarling at her, chittering, and spitting threatening noises from their hungry mouths. She only needed to smile, though, and they sat down expectantly as she began to appraise the loaf and divide it.

"...Like a pack of wild dogs," the new girl sighed. Then she started as a voice grunted behind her. The elder girl finished her work and turned to the corner where she sat, as did the other children.

"Hey." The rotund man in the apron mumbled behind her, getting her attention. He was holding another loaf of bread at the bars, scowling at her. "No talking. Just eat."

She glared back at him. "I'm not hungry!"

"It's yer only meal of the day, brat," he growled.

"I don't c-"

"Back!" he spat suddenly, and the sounds of scuttling and creaking told of three children doing as they were told, glaring at the new girl. Only the oldest didn't budge, holding her hand towards him, expectantly.

"Orders from the missus! Newcomers get their own! And if she doesn't take it, you don't get any, ei-! Hey!" He tried to pull his hand back in time, but her timing caught him off guard. She pulled the loaf easily from his hand and slipped it throught the bars. "You little scamp!" The sounds of snickering echoed through the dark halls. Their pen was the center of attention. The girl dodged his flailing hand easily and held the loaf above her head, casting a wary glance at her cohabitators through the corner of her eye.

"Bah!" The baldheaded man returned to his work with a snarl. "The missus will hear of this!" His angry tone provoked more snickering. "Filthy pests!" he spat at the next cage before he set his bucket down in front of it. The elder girl tapped the younger on her shoulder, getting her attention, and held a chunk of bread in front of her. It was dotted with dirt as it sat in her grimy hands, seemingly close to a fifth of the whole. It had come from the loaf that was. The one that had dropped on the floor.

"I can't eat it," said the newcomer, quietly.

The tall one returned only a puzzled look.

"Mama said you can't eat dirty food. You'll get sick!" She regarded her elder penmate with a confused glance, mixed with surprise, pity, and a little revulsion. "Do you know what I'm saying?"

She didn't understand at all. Whether the bread was dirty or not, she always ate it, crust and all. It was quite unfathomable that the girl before her could be so plump when she refused to eat. She gave it some thought, dodged a grab from a cellmate, and thought some more. At last, she thought she might have the answer. Circling around the cell, she passed out the two fifths of the old loaf that she had saved for the new girl and herself, then broke off a fifth of the new, cleaner loaf to give to the third boy. Satisfied, the others had finally calmed down. She then broke the remnant into two halves, kept the end, and proffered the center.

"But-"

Holding the crusty end under her arm, she grabbed the other piece by the crust and split it in two, then held it to her mouth, taking a bite in mime. She pointed at the soft white bread meat inside, untouched by her hands.

"Ah!" The small one smiled. Having facilitated communication, and having come to the realization of something new, the taller one returned the smile with a happy grin of her own, offering the bread once more.

At last, the small girl took it, and ate. She took a few test bites, sniffing at it, then chomped down heartily as she continued, as if she was eating a watermelon. Prison or no, the bread was fresh-baked. It would take some effort in the making to taste truly bad (handling aside). As she looked at her companion, she was horrified to see her scarfing her portion down greedily, crust and all.

"S-stop it! You'll get sick!" The elder girl looked up to see the pink-haired one peering at her, her tiny pink eyebrows furrowing in concern over her deep hazel eyes.

The tall one blinked back at her, and tried to repeat the word she heard.

"S-z-... zit?"

"...Huh?"

"...sit?"

"I don't wanna sit. It's dirty!"

"...wanna..."

"I DON'T wanna sit!"

"...sick..."

The pink-haired girl paused, and blinked at her elder companion. She hesitated a short time before she spoke. "...sick."

"(word that rhymes with 'sick' and means 'a certain male organ'... silly censor program)"

"No, 'sick.' You're trying to say 'sick,' right?" Luckily, neither of them knew what just came randomly out of the tall girl's mouth.

"Sick," she said, now rather sure of herself.

"Yeah. I was trying to say, you'll get sick if you eat dirty things." She took a deep breath, and peered pitifully at her cellmate. "You really can't talk, can you?"

"...t-ch... chalk?"

"No, 'talk.'"

"Salt?"

"Ugh. That isn't anywhere close!"

And so their "talk" continued, a cycle of mistake and correction. It quickly annoyed all within earshot, although no one raised a word of protest. Not that anyone could. Or rather, almost anyone.

"Keep it quiet in there, ya damn runt!" There was a bang, a rattle, and a pain-inspired curse as the guard kicked the cell with armored leg, knocking it with enough force to stub his toe and make the bars sway, creaking. "Gah!" He collected himself and glared at them, his eyes burning as bright as his torch. "You know the rules! No talking! None!"

That outburst was more than frightening enough to send the little girl to her knees, sobbing. The tall one only stared placidly at him. "No... talking," she repeated softly.

"That's right, runt."

She smiled at him. It was the twisted smile she often showed that would make her cellmates cringe. Something changed in his face as he looked at her. Something faltered, then changed to puzzlement. And with a curse, he went back to his patrol, his torch growling as he stalked his way down the hall.

Something had changed in the air. The little girl's sobs had quieted, and she looked up at her neighbor, bewildered. The other children, even the ones in the other cages, merely stared at the girl in quiet awe. The little girl may not have understood. Even the guard didn't seem to understand, but they did. Her smile was a challenge, and she won. She won, against a grownup.

Soon enough, the heavy air had lifted, and she looked down at the small girl next to her, smiling with gratitude. Smiling warmly. This was what she had hoped for. She was learning, and learning quickly. Everything the guard said, she had understood. Normally, understanding the general meaning wasn't so hard, but she understood every word, and she felt as if she could repeat it... with practice.

The little girl stood up, swatting hopelessly at her dress in a vain attempt to wipe away the grime, though she only managed to smear it and make it worse. Resigned, she looked up at her beaming companion, quickly checked the hallway to make sure the guard was far enough away, and whispered.

"You're really brave."

She blinked in return. "B-... br-blaze?"

The little girl shook her head, sighing, and waved her hand dismissively. "What's your name?"

"...Maim."

She shook her head again. "Name. What's your name?" She patted her chest as she continued. "My name is Imoen." She patted again to emphasize. "Imoen."

The taller one patted her own chest and tried to say the name, mangling it. Imoen shook her head again. "No. And Imoen isn't your name. It's my name." She patted again. "I... am... Imoen."

The girl pondered, and grinned. "You... are... Imoen." She pointed at her.

"Yeah!" Imoen beamed. "That's right!" And so she continued. "So, what's YOUR name?" she pointed at her tall companion, and was disheartened to see the confusion on her face. She pondered for nearly a minute, and Imoen began to wonder if she really understood. She was about to speak when the clinking of chain was heard and the light of a torch was seen down the hall.

They waited silently for him to pass, Imoen trying to look nonchalant, while her companion stared fixedly at him. When he was out of earshot again, Imoen repeated herself.

"What's your name?"

"...Brat," the girl replied, after a bit more thought.

Imoen's jaw dropped, and she slapped her forehead, sighing. "'Brat' isn't a name! It's what they call you, but it isn't a name!" She realized the volume of her voice and put her hands over her mouth. A disgusted look soon crossed her face and she removed them, coughing and spitting at the ground.

Her friend thought for a while before trying again. She had to get this one right, sometime. "...Little devil."

Imoen shook her head, about to right the girl when the answer crossed her mind. She frowned, and gazed at the girl, a pitiful look on her face. "You... don't have a name?"

The girl stared down at her, placid as usual, before she furrowed her eyebrows in thought again. Imoen raised her hand to stop the girl, knowing it was no use. "That's wierd! Everyone's supposed to have a name!"

The elder girl was only watching her, wondering what the problem could be. Imoen stood in quiet thought for a while, and they let the guard pass yet again before she looked up at the girl with a smile.

"I know! How about I give you a name?"

"...give..." she mimicked the pronunciation correctly, and looked down at Imoen expectantly. Another new word among the countless words she'd just heard for the first time. She liked the ring of it as Imoen said it. She stored it in her mind with all the other words she aimed to learn, and wondered how to address the hazel-eyed girl looking up at her. She just asked for permission to do something, so she nodded an affirmative, hoping she would illustrate what "give" meant.

"Okay. There was this girl in my hometown that looked like you. She was really pretty and smart." She appraised the girl before her, and wrinkled her nose. "I think... you'd be a lot prettier if you weren't so dirty... but, her name was Leylia, so I'll give you her name. From now on, your name is Leylia!"

"Leylia," she repeated, and stored the word "pretty" in her memory.

"Yeah! It's a pretty name, isn't it?" She extended her hand. "Here, give me your hand."

Leylia pondered for a moment before she held out her hand, hesitantly. She wasn't going to take it off, was she?

Imoen took it in hers and closed her fingers around it, giving it a good shake. Leylia was utterly confused. She wasn't trying to... pull it off, or anything, right?

"Nice to meet you, Leylia." The shaking stopped, and Leylia released a relieved sigh.

"Now you say it."

"...What?"

"It's what you say when you become friends with someone. So now you say, 'Nice to meet you, Imoen.' You see?"

"...friends..."

"Yeah! Come on, say it!"

Leylia paused and drew a deep breath. Those were a lot of words to say at once. "Nice to... meet you... Imoen."

Imoen gave her hand another shake and smiled. "Nice to meet you too, Leylia! I hope we become good friends."

Leylia smiled. She wasn't quite sure she understood what just happened, but she was thankful. She had learned so much in such a short time, it was very hard to absorb. She still wasn't sure she knew what "friend" meant, but it must have meant something very special to Imoen. There was little she could say to the girl with rose-colored hair other than a quiet "Yeah." But Imoen certainly looked happy. A strange, persistent, contagious happiness that continued long into the night, even after their conversation ended, long after, and Imoen reluctantly lay down on the iron floor to sleep.

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:53 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 2 - Reaction

As the days passed into weeks and months, the air grew thinner, cooler, and the stench of the grime became slightly more bearable. The months also brought many more changes, and musings, and revelations, as the conversations between Imoen and Leylia continued.

For one, there were many things about her new surroundings that made Imoen cringe in horror. One was the way in which they received their water. To the side of the cage, a tin vessel was fastened by a stiff set of wires. At its base was a tiny nozzle, with a valve. Drinking from it made Imoen feel like some kind of pet hamster, and it was far from the cleanest water she drank. It even managed to make her sick a few times, and when the sickness evolved into something particularly bad, she had to be taken away by the guard. She didn’t remember what they did to her, but she felt better when she had come to.

Becoming accustomed to the way they drank took a good deal of time. It took some practice before she could drink from the nozzle without spilling any, and any time she did, the other kids would snarl at her. She even earned a rebuke from Leylia when she first tried to wash her face with the water. She harshly emphasized that the water was for drinking only, and Imoen quickly saw her point when she indicated the volume. There were only about five liters to split between five kids, per day.

That was far from the worst of it, however. When Imoen’s confused cries first indicated to Leylia that she needed to pee, the tall girl pointed at a hole in the ground at the corner of the cage. Imoen thought that was the last her sanity could take. Her screams brought the guard running, but her pleas to him were in vain. He only kicked the cage over and over until she quieted down, sobbing. She eventually became used to her conditions, which disturbed her all the more. She felt herself become one of them: a filthy, caged animal. It wasn’t long before she understood how Leylia’s attitude made her the ruler of this hell.

The elder girl was extremely crafty. Imoen quickly realized that she was bright, and a quick learner, but the talent she displayed as she set about her work could hardly be explained away by mere “intelligence.” It seemed more like she had a connection to something greater; something that worked through her. Imoen thought she could catch a glimpse of it whenever the elder girl flashed her threatening smile at the others. She could practically feel a wave of nausea pass over her as she looked at it. It was creepy, and almost inhuman.

Leylia never seemed to use her gift for anything impractical, however, including now. She was wrapping a length of dirty rags around her hand, like a makeshift bandage. It certainly wouldn’t serve any such purpose. Any open wound wrapped in that cloth was more than liable to get infected, Imoen mused.

That was not the purpose, however, neither now nor ever before. Wrapping herself in the cloth (which was probably torn from the rags covering her body at some point) was the surefire sign that she was about to go to work. All the kids in the surrounding area hushed and watched her with great enthusiasm. She took her length of steel wire, her treasure, in her hands, wrapped it into a circle, and tossed it from the bars with one hand, holding a free end in the other. It fell to the floor lengthwise and rolled a short distance, but stopped short of its goal.

Gingerly, the girl wound the thread-like wire back into a circle in her arms, and tried again. This time the loop hit the floor gracefully and rolled all the way to its destination at the base of the cage across the hall. One kid (usually the same one, but they sometimes took turns) stooped to pick it up, his hand also wrapped in a length of cloth. Once he wound it around the cage bars and pulled it taut, the wire stood about thirty centimeters off the stone floor, nigh invisible.

Evidently, the other kid was not quite so adept at making himself appear nonchalant as the guard clinked down the hallway, bearing a torch as usual. Leylia stood in a position nearly indistinguishable from her usual attentiveness, holding the wire end looped around her clothed hand, stiffly behind her back. It wasn’t long before the chain mail rattled fiercely as the man slammed into the ground. His empty girded hand couldn’t even stop the side of his face from connecting with the stone, the heavy chain having added its momentum to his own. The torch also clattered to the ground, sputtering.

“Grrragh!” The entire hall erupted in laughter, as it nearly always did, in answer to his growl. Imoen and Leylia seemed to be the only ones silent, though the little one could barely suppress a giggle. Honestly, she pondered. When will they ever learn? It wasn’t as if that heavy armor was at all necessary. Meanwhile, Leylia hurriedly wound her treasure and stuffed it into a small gap at the ceiling of the pen, let her wrapping cloth fall to the floor, and returned to her usual position before the guard managed to right himself.

When Leylia first conducted her “test” after Imoen came, she called it “sorcery.” Of course, Imoen quickly corrected her, saying that “sorcery” involved a lot of light and flashy things, which obviously took some length of explaining. The two of them settled on “trickery,” and it became the defining term for nearly any stunt she pulled. The girl was cruelly calculating, always seeming to space her acts of trickery just far enough apart so the guard wound up in the same happenstance each time, completely defenseless and utterly confused, shielding her trick from discovery. Imoen noticed that her friend’s “tests” grew in frequency whenever she issued a “challenge” with that infamous smile. These challenges came only after the guards grew zealous in their duties. Rather, whenever they started kicking the cell to silence their conversations.

Anytime a new guard arrived, Leylia would occasionally test their tolerance by speaking loudly enough for them to hear. The first guard since Imoen’s arrival had more than enough, quitting his job in frustration. Unfortunately, the second one, this one, was much meaner than the last.

“Grraaaaaaagh!” The guard bellowed, picked up his torch, and stomped straight for Leylia. Imoen cringed and backed to the wall. This was the most furious the new guard had ever been. He looked like he was going to come into the cell, and he did. He produced the keys and fumbled with him until he unlocked the door, and almost forgot to lock it back before he stomped over to Leylia and grabbed her by the shoulders. Imoen cried out in fright, but Leylia was every bit as placid as always. With his free hand, he pushed her against the back of the pen, pelting her face with spittle as he screamed.

“I KNOW THAT’S YOU, YOU BLASTED DEVIL! YOU CAN’T FOOL ME!”

She didn’t break eye contact. She didn’t even blink as the spittle hit her face. Slowly, mockingly, her lips curled into a smile: that same abysmal smile as always.

The guard’s hoarse scream now lowered to a thin growl, but was no less menacing. “I’m gonna kill you…” He gloved hand moved up, to the soft portion of her throat, and squeezed. Imoen began crying as she watched, her voice failing her as she pleaded wordlessly for him to stop. Still, the girl kept smiling. No trace of worry showed in her face. She knew. She knew that she was more important than any stupid guard. He was far more expendable than she. Slowly, the smile worked it’s magic on him, and he released his grip. With yet another muttered curse, he stalked off. His legs carried him quickly down the hall.

Imoen took in a big breath of air and fitfully looked her friend over. “Are you okay?”

She tried to speak, but coughed instead. “I-I’m…” She coughed again. “Ok-kay…” The last vowel trailed off as her body slumped to the floor, her back sliding down the bars.

“You’re not okay! Leylia!” She put her hands on the girl’s shoulders and looked helplessly at her face. Her eyelids were half open, dazed. Her breathing was labored and rough. On closer inspection, Imoen could see thin trails on her face where the dim torchlight was reflected. Tears. The girl was crying. For once, she looked helpless and frail, the gauntness of her face appearing more prominent, and the short width of her shoulders slightly more obvious than usual. Something in her was very afraid, despite her placid exterior.

“Leylia…” she whispered, pulling her friend into a hug. “Don’t do that again…”

Her friend didn’t respond. She only sniffled weakly.

“SHUT UP IN THERE!” screamed the guard, and he continued his patrol, shuffling his feet fiercely. Evidently, he hadn’t reached his breaking point yet.

-----

The following day brought the much awaited “bath.” Baths always occurred regularly on a weekly basis. The entire event was orchestrated on a rather precise level. Two stocky men, always the same ones, would stomp down the hall, setting two large buckets of water before each pen. As usual, they grumbled as they went about their work, and when it came to the actual act of bathing, they spat obscenities at the kids, throwing in the occasional scathing joke about the hygiene of their captives as they picked up the buckets and lobbed splashes of water at them.

As usual, Imoen was grimacing the whole time. Obviously, the gesture hardly did anything for them, and it hardly worked to smother the smell. The water only washed the stink from their bodies to the floor, and then drained into the toilet hole. At the very least, it managed to make their bodies feel a little cleaner. If Imoen had the misfortune of being missed by the bather, however, she was out of luck. She was usually lucky, however, and Leylia managed to instruct her before her first time that she had to turn around quickly if she expected to get equal treatment for both sides. Leylia also managed to make her remove her dress beforehand, although with great reluctance. She was quite thankful after the fact, though, and quickly got into the hang of things.

Perhaps the buckets were filled a little higher this time. She managed to catch two splashes for each side before they were done, and the men stalked off, snorting derisively.

“Are there any people in here that are actually nice?” Imoen sighed to herself as she worked herself back into her (now thoroughly filthy) brown dress.

Leylia blinked at her. “What is ‘nice’?”

“It means…” she stopped, and thought to herself for a moment. “Not being mean.”

“Not being… mean…” she mimicked, as usual, waiting for Imoen’s approving nod. After she saw it, she put her finger to her chin and stared at the ceiling. She always seemed to do that when recalling something from memory. “Ah.” She nodded. She knew what “mean” meant, well enough. Imoen blurted out the word many times after she first arrived. “So… ‘nice’ is Imoen.”

“You mean, ‘Imoen is nice,’” she corrected, and arched her eyebrows in an embarrassed smile.

“Yeah,” Leylia smiled back. “Imoen is nice. Imoen is pretty, too.”

“Ah!” She covered her gaping mouth in surprise and embarrassment and shifted her eyes, nervously. “Leylia… thank you.” For a while, she scanned the pen and thought to herself. Somehow she felt driven to repay the gesture. Unfortunately, she didn’t think of anything she could do. She only replied weakly. “You’re pretty, too, Leylia, you know that?”

Leylia stared back with a smile, and after a while, a puzzled look crossed her face.

“Ah, that’s right,” Imoen mused matter-of-factly. “You’ve never looked at a mirror, have you?” Again she scanned the pen, but saw little more than the bars, its occupants, and the grimy, wet floor.

“…mirror…” Leylia repeated thoughtfully, and began her own search, wondering what Imoen could be looking for. She jumped when Imoen let out a gasp of revelation.

“Ah! I know!” She beamed, and ran over to the water vessel. “Come here! Come here!” She beckoned, waving her hands animatedly. Leylia quietly did as she was told, hesitantly.

“Now, cup your hands under-“

“YOU BRATS HAD BETTER SHUT THE $#&$ UP, RIGHT NOW!”

Both of their backs quivered as if they were struck by a whip, and they turned to see the grumpy guard, waving his torch beyond the bars to make it roar.

“That’s right. Don’t make me come in there…” he sneered. Evidently quite pleased with himself, he went back to his patrol.

Imoen waited for her racing heart to slow, while Leylia looked at her expectantly. She had to take several minutes of deep breaths, waiting for the guard to pass again, before she felt comfortable enough to continue. She then did so in a whisper.

“Okay. Cup your hands under the spout.” She put Leylia’s hands into position as she spoke. Leylia noticed with suspicion that this was the way Imoen looked before she tried to wash her face. She frowned. And behind her, the other kids snarled.

“It’s alright, geez,” she placated. “I’ll just drink less, okay?” The kids shifted back to rest, idly, apparently satisfied. She mused after them, rather surprised that they understood, then looked back at her waiting companion. “Now… don’t spill any, okay?”

“Spill?”

Imoen traced a finger in Leylia’s cupped hands, miming a drop of water as it slipped over the edge and fell. “Yeah, spill. You see?”

“Okay,” she nodded.

Imoen opened the valve, and as she expected, her friend’s hands were nearly watertight as they captured the water and held it. She let the water fill to the brim of her hands, and motioned carefully as she gave her friend further directions, checking the torchlight briefly, and beckoned for her to stand near the perimeter of the cage. When the girl was in position, she put her hands on her shoulders and applied pressure, directing her gently to a crouching position. Then, after one final directed rotation, she touched her index finger to the water, making it ripple.

She leaned close and whispered excitedly into her friend’s ear. “There, look!”

Leylia slowly leaned forward, and as she caught a glimpse of the figure in the water, she gasped, her hands shaking, letting a few drops fall. She drew a quivering breath.

“Don’t be scared. That’s you!”

Leylia looked up at the girl in wonder. “S-sorcery?”

“No, silly! It’s just water. It’s a mirror!”

“Mirror… ah!” She leaned forward, this time unwavering, and beheld the figure in the water. She and Imoen remained quiet as the guard made another pass, eyeing them warily. When the water steadied, she saw the pale-faced girl looking back up at her, her face dotted with smudges of dirt.

“When you move, it moves, see? It won’t hurt you.” Imoen reached down and positioned her head next to hers, gingerly pulling the girl’s long, dirty blonde hair back so as not to disturb the water. “And that’s me.”

Leylia blinked in astonishment. She felt she would never be able to describe how she felt now, no matter how many words she learned. It was amazing. She smiled wide enough to show her teeth, and quickly shut her mouth. Compared to Imoen’s nearly unblemished whites, hers were ugly and yellow. So she smiled with her mouth closed, and eyed the rest of herself.

“The color of your eyes are green. They’re really pretty. And mine are brown, see?” She pointed as she spoke. “Your face is thin. If you could just get enough food to eat, and cleaned yourself up, it’d be really soft, and you wouldn’t have these anymore.” She pinched the girl’s cheeks, indicating the sunken pockets in the sides. “Your hair is long and blonde,” she said, playing with the locks, holding them up. “I’ll bet it’s never been cut. It goes nearly all the way down your back! If you could just get it washed, it’d be gorgeous!”

“…Gorgeous…” she repeated quietly. A short, nasal laugh punctuated the word, and tears leaked out of her eyes.

“And your ears are long and pointy. I’ll bet you know that much. That means you’re an elf.”

“…Elf.” She knew her ears were different. It wasn’t like she never felt her own face, though she never knew what that meant. So… long ears meant that she was an elf.

“Yeah.” Imoen pet her hair gently. “I’ll bet almost all elves are pretty. I’ve only seen a few, but they were all pretty.”

Leylia and Imoen remained, enjoying their “mirror” for a good while. The elven girl was delighted at the opportunity to test her reflection, turning her face to see her profile, moving her cupped hands to reflect different parts of the cage, or focusing on Imoen’s face. Whenever she moved, the water would ripple, warping the image. She would then wait as it righted itself, taking great delight in this new mystery.

After the guard had passed several times, she felt the urge to try one last thing, to learn one last aspect of the elf she saw looking back at her. Gradually, she let her face return to its placid, static stare. Imoen looked on with relish, wondering what her friend would do next.
As she stared, she curled the edges of her mouth upward. Her eyes shifted into a subtle slant, narrowing back at her. For the final touch, she let her mouth open slightly, and showed herself the look that played across her face every time she issued a “challenge.”

“Gah!” Leylia’s body jerked back, striking Imoen in the chest. The water fell to the floor with an abrasive splash.

“L-Leylia?” Imoen whispered, her voice fraught with bewilderment.

Leylia’s breathing was irregular, quivering. Her pruned fingers twitched in their broken position. She felt the anxious width of her opened eyes, and shut them tightly. “N-no…” Her quivering breath intruded into the words she spoke, breaking them apart.

“…Leylia, what’s wrong?”

“Ah-… Ah!” Her head rose, craning at the ceiling, and her crouching body bent backwards, falling into Imoen, who responded by circling her arms around her waist to prevent the girl from falling back on the grimy floor. When the movement quieted, her voice rose in its place, gasping. “It’s her! It’s her!”

“What? It’s who?”

“It’s her. It’s her! No. Not me, no!”

“Leylia, shh! The guard’ll hear!”

The elven girl did not respond, continuing her rant as if Imoen had said nothing.

“It’s you, Leylia. It’s just you! It’s just a mirror! Shh!”

“No!” Her body seemed to spasm. “It’s not me… It’s not me…”

“Okay, okay! It’s not you! Shh!”

"WHAT 'N THE NINE HELLS'S GOIN' ON IN THERE!"

When the voice sounded, Leylia felt as if some manner of wave had passed over her head. She could hear Imoen saying something, but it was muffled by the rushing force passing over her. The mirror, the guard’s angry voice, everything seemed to culminate into a rushing din and crested. The wave grew and grew, and as the crest passed over her head, she could feel the added pressure coming down. Something inside her was overwhelmed, washed away, and her eyes rolled back into her head as she slipped into unconsciousness.

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:55 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 3 - Impetus

"WHAT 'N THE NINE HELLS'S GOIN' ON IN THERE!"

"No!" Imoen's voice rose in a cry against her will. "Leylia, stop! Get a grip! He's coming!"

Leylia made no indication of response, or even comprehension. In fact, the weight in Imoen's arms grew as the girl's muscles laxed and went limp. Imoen was quickly forced into a sitting position, supporting her torso on her lap. She jostled the comatose elf by the shoulders, slapped her cheeks, but to no avail. The roar of flame sounded in her ears, and she looked up to see the guard, snarling at them from outside of the bars. She also heard the screech of metal as the other children scrambled to the other end of the pen, away from the two girls. They must have sensed something new in the man: an intent that was not there before. When the muddled words ricocheting in Imoen's head grew quiet, she thought she could feel it, too.

Imoen swallowed the lump in her throat, loudly. She could feel the tears at the edge of her eyes, but willed them back. After taking a deep breath, she looked up at the armored man and pleaded, unable to isolate the slight nasal tinge from her voice. "Mister... something's wrong with her! S-she needs help!"

"Oh, she's got somethin' wrong with her, alright," he agreed softly, menacingly. "And I'm goin' ta fix it."

Imoen didn't need any animalistic sense to know his intent, now. His tone was laden with a dangerous sarcasm. Once again, she forced the tears back to let a scream escape her throat. "HELP! H-he's gonna kill her! He's gonna-!"

"SHUT UP, ya thrice damned bastard of a girl! I'm not gonna kill 'er!" He waved the torch back and forth. "The bitch knows I can't kill 'er. But I don't think the missus would mind if I... solved the problem." He ended the sentence with a large wave of the torch, making the crackling flame growl in tandem with him. "And I ain't never met a problem a little fire couldn't get rid of."

Leylia's body stirred in Imoen's arms, but only slightly. She was far from awake and far from ready. If she didn't do something... "Leylia, wake up, please!" The guard was fumbling with the keys. Leylia's eyes fluttered, and she stirred a little more. "Leylia!" Imoen could no longer keep the frightened sob from her voice.

"Oh, the bitch's comin' to, eh?" The guard finished his sentence with a click, opened the door, and stepped inside. "As if the little bastard girl could do anythin', anyway!" He turned to shut and lock the door. "We'll see how scary that smile is when I burn out yer eyes!"

At Imoen's constant coaxing, the elven girl's eyes finally fluttered open. "Get up!"

"Hmph!" The guard was now glowering at them. "So that's how it is. You've been teachin' the little beast how to talk, eh? Well, I'm gonna have ta thank ya fer that, girl." A sob caught in Imoen's throat as she looked up at him, and he chuckled, the sick oscillation in his throat reverberating with a disturbing ring about the cage.

Leylia now had one hand on the ground and one grasping in mid-air. Once she managed to get her feet to the ground, she rose, slowly, blocking the man's frightful visage from Imoen's eyes. The slow movement seemed to be infused with an air of composure. Any trace of her screeching fit from before was now a relic of the past.

"Yeah, I'll bet you'll enjoy watching me burn yer little pink friend before I work on- What the!?"

As he was speaking, she raised her left hand to fling her blonde hair over her left shoulder. The movement was the epitome of grace. Far too graceful, even for the cunning elven girl that Imoen knew. The hand lowered gingerly to her side, two fingers locked together facing outward, as if pointing. The heel of her left foot raised as her leg moved back slightly. Her right palm was open, facing down. Her hair fell straight down her back. The sight of her stance struck Imoen with a strange aura, and her sobbing quieted. The girl looked like she was about to lower herself in a curtsy. It was then that she interrupted the man's words.

"Y-your eyes..." The breath seemed to have caught in his throat. "Anyway! That's not gonna work on me, wench!" His body jerked forward and then stopped. "Wha-!?"

Leylia's left hand swung slightly outward as he moved, then fell behind her back, where she locked her hands together for a second or two, released them, and then pivoted on her left foot, ignoring the guard. Her hands swayed as she moved fluidly, effortlessly, perfectly. Her hair seemed to sway softly as she passed Imoen, heading for the corner of the cage. In her passing, she spoke quietly. "Don't move." And from the niche near the ceiling, she produced her coil of steel.

"G-gr-! What the hell!?" The guard was struggling against a seemingly invisible force, and covered as he was in heavy chain, there was little chance of him discovering its nature in time. When Imoen strained her eyes, she could see the torchlight reflect faintly off of a thin thread, extending from the top of the cage at the right, midway back, to the lower left at the front, looping around, then tied with a neat knot to a thread that extended from the ceiling, tied at the wire mesh. When on earth did she- Did she have the cage rigged the whole time? Imoen shifted her puzzled face to look at her, standing quietly at the center of the cage in the back, her hand on one of the bars. It was then that she noticed Leylia's eyes.

Her irises had changed color, shifted into a deep hue of molten gold. The torchlight glanced off of them, making them seem to shine. Her eyes were staring in the direction of the guard, but not at him. The irises shifted left, right, blinked, and then returned, taking in everything. Imoen's mouth fell agape, marveling at the transformation. Her skin glowed in a clean, pale white, like polished porcelain. Her hair fell neatly, and appeared to have dried, blazing in an untainted golden hue. The only part of her that seemed to remain the same was her rags.

"So that's it," growled the man at the entrance. "That's your trick!" His hand reached for the hilt of the sword at his side. "Enjoy it while you can, brat!"

"Oh, I will." The ringing voice, like a bell, made Imoen's breath catch in her throat. Just like her movements, her voice was calm and precise, conspicuously bereft of the halting lilt that punctuated nearly every word that came from her mouth before then. What's more, it was not at the back wall. She was now standing at the wall opposite Imoen, the other kids to her left, her right hand on the bars. The wire was coiled around her left wrist. When the guard tried to draw his sword, it rattled in its sheath and progressed no further. Leylia's mouth twisted into a smile, revealing teeth that glittered like pearls. It was quite unlike any smile that Imoen saw her make before. Her eyes had widened to show the whites around her irises, and glowed like two golden suns. Instead of a nagging twinge of nausea, Imoen felt a wave of force emanate from her. As it passed, she realized that her body was quivering, her breath dry in her throat. She was frozen where she sat. She could only imagine the effect it had on the guard.

"As for that torch, I hope you have had your fill of enjoyment from it, waving it around like a madman." Her feet flowed into motion as she spoke, stepping slowly towards the center of the cage, unraveling the loop of wire as she walked. When the words stopped, she traced the wire with her right hand and led it to her mouth, held it in her lips, tossed the loop into the air, caught it, then pulled the wire slack in her right hand, and finally let it fly in a graceful stroke, gesturing toward the guard, who could hardly move an inch in response. The movement of her arms resembled a master harpist, plying her musical trade. As her right hand pulled back, the guard's left arm, holding the torch, lurched forward. Her movement still once more, Leylia let the wire fall from her lips and spoke. "Once it sputters out, your life will be over."

The guard must have attempted to say something in protest, but his breath only caught in his throat. Her right hand came down, smacking the only part of his gloves covered in leather instead of chain, his knuckles. With a wooden "clack," the torch clattered to the damp floor. The lighting was now dim, making the glow of her eyes all the more apparent. Leylia had nothing more to say as she gestured with her left hand in two counter-clockwise loops, throwing the wire to circle his neck twice. The torch on the floor began to grow dim.

The surrounding kids raised their voices in awe, the conclusion now at hand. As the din of expectation reached her, Imoen felt a twinge in her chest. Her only friend in this hostile place now stood in front of her, preparing to murder a human. She had no idea if that person was truly her friend, or another person entirely. The realization of that unknown brought another fear down upon her. Not the cold, unnatural aura of fear that emanated from the girl she called "friend," but the horrible heart-wrenching possibility that her friend might now be gone. Somehow the new fear pushed back at the other one, like one poison neutralizing another, lifting the paralysis from her body. The torch was growing yet dimmer. She drew a deep breath.

"Leylia!"

"Ah!" The golden-eyed girl stopped, her eyes open wide, her foot lifted in mid-air. Hesitantly, she set her foot down, and looked down at the smaller girl. "You still move..." She blinked in surprise, and the darkness pressed in at the cage in the split second that her eyes were shut.

"Leylia, you can't kill him!"

Her eyes narrowed, the golden discs placidly staring back. "And why is that?"

"Because... because you'll become-"

"A murderer?"

"Ah-!" The girl's bell-like voice rang clearly, smothering her own. A murderer... Imoen was about to say "a monster," but Leylia's wording fit the matter far more precisely. Imoen nodded, weakly, wondering if that was one of the words Leylia heard before her arrival, or if she knew it all along.

"Silly girl," the golden-eyed one smiled, and Imoen once again felt the creeping terror of her stare, restricting her movement. "We live in a world of death. Murder is what makes us special. Murder is what we are." She raised her foot again.

Imoen sought a breath of air, a long enough breath to scream, to yell, to shatter the bonds that held her. She had to search every fiber of her being for that strength, but she found it. Again, she drew breath.

"No, it isn't!"

The girl lowered her foot again. This time her eyes were wide with astonishment. She whirled to face Imoen's hazel eyes.

"Murder isn't what you are, Leylia..." Imoen's voice choked.

A sigh issued forth from the golden-eyed girl's mouth and her eyes shut, the world darkening again. There was a pause before she spoke. “…You are a strong one.” Her eyes opened, catching Imoen inside them. Despite their brightness, Imoen could see herself reflected inside them, as if they were about to swallow her whole. “Imoen…” For the first time, the golden-eyed girl spoke her name. A smile played across her face as she watched, but it was not the fearsome smile of her “challenge.” Something about it seemed meek, distant. Something about it seemed sad, as emotions seemed to collide and conflict behind her eyes. After a while, she spoke again, with finality. “Leylia isn’t here.”

Her foot rose one last time, and came down. The tensing of wires was audible as they closed around the man’s throat. Her placid gaze was now on him. Her foot stopped in mid-fall and Imoen could see her leg muscles working as they slowly pushed down, losing none of her natural grace.

Two thin lines appeared above the man’s collarbone and deepened, shaped as a thin, sideways “X.” Rivulets of blood gradually began to leak out and run down. His voice gargled, and his eyes swayed wildly back and forth as he struggled against the force holding him still. Then there was a sound of something catching, breaking, and a “twang” sounded from the wires as the muscles throughout his body slackened. The full weight of it was now being pulled down by gravity, and the golden-eyed girl’s foot raised into the air as it slumped, then came down one last time. There was a wet splash and a rattling of chains as the armored body fell to the floor, and his head followed shortly after with a sickening “thump.”

Imoen turned away and shut her eyes, though not in time to avoid the thumping impact. She could hear the torch sputter violently, and then fizzle out. When she opened her eyes, used to the light that was, her surroundings were now dark, drained of color. The only color she saw came from the girl’s golden eyes. They cast a light that played across her face, showing black specks and thin lines where the blood had splattered upon it.

An abrupt chortle escaped the girl’s mouth, and she seemed to hold the back of her hand up to catch it, in a ladylike gesture. The chortle evolved into a soft, ringing giggle, and then subsided. Her laugh was then echoed in the surrounding cages as the other kids chimed in, suffusing the darkness in a horrible roar.

When it had drowned out at last, she cast her smiling gaze at Imoen, and spoke. “Well, let us hope the next watch will be more lenient.”

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:56 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 4 - Inertia

"Smell is... strange..." Leylia observed. She had made several verbal "observations" ever since she woke up, poring over every inch of the cage with her emerald green eyes. Most of them were completely obvious, as if she simply wanted to hear herself speak.

It was not herself she wished to hear, however. She kept speaking, searching, speaking, because she wanted to hear another's voice. Imoen hadn't said a word since Leylia had come to. She didn't even look at her, sitting at the corner of the cage where she had shown the elven girl the mirror of water, hugging her knees close. Whenever Leylia tried to meet her eyes, she would always move them, or shut them. When the elder girl sensed that her friend was becoming particularly incensed, she stopped, and went back to "observing," occasionally asking questions.

Of course, she knew what the strange smell was. It was the same smell that came from her hands, which were covered in cuts. There was a cut on her foot as well, which had been burning ever since she had awakened and had been growing steadily worse. Leylia knew that such cuts were usually the result of using the wire without shielding her hands with cloth, but she found the cut on her foot to be quite puzzling. When she searched, she found all of the wires right where she left them. Nothing was amiss, or nothing should have been amiss, and yet everything was. The paradox was driving her mad.

"Foot... hurts..." She looked at Imoen through the corner of her eyes, and thought she saw her rose-colored hair twitch slightly. She took that as a good cue to press further. "Imoen... what happen... what happened to... Leylia's foot?"

Imoen hugged her legs more tightly, and exhaled an agitated breath through her nose, making it hiss. Leylia could tell she was angry, but she couldn't take it anymore.

"Imoen... Imoen... Imoen! Why doesn't Imoen talk!?"

"Stop it!" Her hazel eyes now glared at the elven girl, her breath darting in and out of her mouth, rapidly. She continued speaking, her words broken by her quivering breath. As she spoke, her voice rose gradually until it had become a scream. "You... you said you aren't you... you said it wasn't you... you said Leylia wasn't here anymore! I don't know what's going on!" Tears began leaking out of the corners of her eyes. She wiped them with the back of her arm, looked away, and hugged her knees again. Her quivering voice came again, but slowly. "I don't know who you are, anymore..." She sighed. "I wanna go home..."

"...home..." Leylia lowered her knees to the floor, now sticky with a substance she knew, but couldn't name. "Imoen said that... when she came... It was the first thing Imoen said, right?"

The little girl inclined her head, slowly.

"What is home?"

"Home is..." She raised her head and looked at the girl she had called "friend." The emerald green eyes staring back at her had a pitiful look about them. A sad look. It was the first time Leylia ever looked at her that way.

...No, not the first time. Back when her eyes were gold, Leylia looked at her like that once, briefly. Imoen cringed in spite of herself, but looking into her pretty green eyes, and seeing herself reflected inside them, somehow gave her the urge to speak.

"Home is where you were born."

"What is born?"

Imoen sighed. "It's when..." She was forced to pause a moment and think back. What was it again? "It's when... you come out of your mama's stomach..."

Leylia recoiled, blanching at some horrible vision in her head. "...c-come out of..."

"Y-yeah..." Imoen had found herself at a loss as well.

"Is... Is Imoen's mama okay?"

"Yeah, I think so..." Imoen gradually felt the smile return to her face, as she thought of someplace far from there. Then, a memory popped into her head, a bad memory that she had put away and forgotten. "I-I hope so..." Her voice trembled. When she was brought to this place, the guards said that her mother was probably dead. She didn't remember seeing her mother die, but she didn't really remember when they took her away, either. "N-no..."

Somehow, Leylia guessed at the thoughts that now darkened Imoen's features. She placed her hands on Imoen's shoulders, squeezed, and pushed the girl back, forcing her hazel eyes to peer into hers.

"Imoen..." As Imoen watched, she saw a soft strength gather in the elven girl's eyes. Narrowed, serious, earnest, and she realized that Leylia had never looked at her with those eyes before, either. "Imoen's mama is okay."

"...wha-"

"She's okay."

Imoen fell forward and buried her face in her friend's chest, a hopeful relief flowing into her heart as the worry flowed out of her eyes. Leylia embraced her tightly with one arm, and pet her hair with her other hand as the girl quieted.

"Imoen..."

"Yeah?"

"Is home a nice place?"

"Yeah."

"Then, Imoen shouldn't be here."

Imoen blinked, jerked back, and looked up at her friend's eyes. "What?"
They hadn't lost their strength. If anything, they appeared stronger. "I will take Imoen home."

"But-"

"It'll be okay." Leylia smiled. Yet again, something completely new, as if something had changed, and had kindled a fire inside of her. The smile on her face seemed to be the polar opposite of her "challenge." Imoen could feel it fan the fires of hope inside her. Giving strength, instead of taking it away. She fell into the girl's embrace again, smiling. "No one will hurt Imoen while I'm here."

"...Protect."

"What?"

Imoen spoke into her friend's chest. "It's a new word, Leylia. You'll protect me, so I'll protect you, too. I won't let anyone hurt you."

For a while, they remained together, basking in each other's warmth and pushing away at the cold of the iron around them. It seemed like their aura of warmth was invincible, until the elf heard a sound echoing down the hallway. When Leylia lifted her eyes to look at the growing point of light, she came to a realization that had escaped her before. Ever since she had awakened, not one guard had come down the hallway. They had been left alone until now. Did the guard change?

As the sound grew louder, Leylia was certain that it had, indeed. The armor gave off a different sound, a sound she had never heard before. Instead of a clink, this was more of a clank, heavier and solid. Soon, the torchbearer moved into view, catching Imoen's attention as well. Instead of heavy chain, the armor covering the thin figure consisted of metal plates. The torchlight glanced off of the edges with a dull orange glow.

"It's her!" Imoen whispered excitedly.

"Her?" Leylia was befuddled. That tall figure wasn't a man? As she moved closer, Leylia confirmed that she was indeed tall. She was slightly shorter than most male guards she had seen, but not all of them. The edges of her armor branched out in many tapered points, and was colored a midnight black, from the breastplate to the greaves. The only colored surface was on her midsection, which bore the design of a golden skull in a raised, brown disc, surrounded by golden drops of... something... spiraling outward. She had a large shield tied to her back, and a silver-colored star-flanged mace hung to her side. Her golden blonde hair was wound around her head in an intricate braid. Her skin was fair and smooth, and very clean. Her eyes were colored an emerald green, set in a thin face. Her ears were long, ending in sharp points. Leylia could have sworn she had seen that face before.

Imoen glanced sideways at her friend's gawking face, and smiled to herself. She leaned her mouth close to the elven girl's ear, now more than delighted to bring up the subject of their new watch. "Hey, Leylia, is that your mama?"

Leylia gasped, her eyes flabbergasted as she turned to the little human girl. "...Mama?"

"Come on, is she, or not? She looks just like you, and she's an elf!"

"...An elf... mama..." Leylia gazed distantly at the approaching figure, thoroughly baffled. "What is... mama...?"

As Leylia asked her usual question, Imoen felt as if she had swallowed a large chunk of ice, whole. It sank into her stomach, making her body quiver. "...You... didn't know..."

"I have... a mama...?"

The elven woman had now stopped in the center of the hall and turned her torso, facing their cage. Her eyes were thin as she scanned the cage, focused on the two girls, and narrowed further. She then shifted her feet and closed in, her black metal boots seeming to ring as they clacked on the stone floor. Imoen cringed and grabbed hold of Leylia's arm. Leylia continued to stare, her eyes seeming to glaze over as she took in the woman's features. She mouthed the word, "mama," again and again.

The elven lady set the torch in a socket at the corner of the cage, then moved to the door. Her eyes ignored the two girls, her mouth a fine line as she lifted a set of keys from her belt. She eyed them thoughtfully, then pinched one key and inserted it into the door. It clicked and failed to turn. She removed the key ring and pinched another key, inserting it, turning it in vain, removing it, trying another. She set about this task mechanically for three more keys before she sighed, as if bored. She rounded her gaze in a sweeping survey of the cages, then looked at the keys. She appeared to be counting them. At last, she set them back upon her belt, clanked to the corner of the cage where the girls sat, and lifted the corners of her mouth in a soft smile as she looked at them.

"I hear you've been developing quite a vocabulary of late," her eyes narrowed at the elf. "...Little girl."

"Her name is Leylia!" Imoen raised her voice in a challenge. Challenging the woman to use a name, any name, if only to show that she had at least named her own child.

"Yes, of course." She smiled, but her eyes were still thin, appraising. "Leylia."

“Mama…” As Leylia used the word to get her attention, Imoen thought she saw the woman’s eyes twitch, very slightly, before she smiled at her daughter, attentively. “What is… mama?”

The elven lady’s voice was sweet and condescending when she answered. “A mother…” she paused on that word. “Always knows what’s best for her little girl.” When she smiled, Imoen was relieved to see that Leylia didn’t smile back. Perhaps it was the animalistic senses she had honed after years of staying in this hole. Whatever the reason, a look of worry had drained the smile from her face. The woman’s suspicious motives were not lost on her, but she was very confused. “You understand, don’t you? A mother loves her daughter.”

“…love…” Leylia looked up at her mother imploringly. “What is love?”

A short, stifled laugh issued from her mouth. “Leylia, you certainly are an inquisitive one.” She raised a finger to stop the girl before she could ask what “inquisitive” meant. “Now, mommy is very busy.” She held up the key ring. “Mommy’s missing one of these. Would you know where I can find it?”

“What?”

“The key, girl. There is a key missing.” The sweet sound disappeared from her voice.

“I… I don’t know.”

“Leylia,” her voice was now stern. “Mommy needs the key to protect you.”

“Leylia, she’s lying!”

The elven girl looked at her friend, her eyes sad, puzzled. She appeared to be in pain.

“L-lying?”

“Don’t listen to her!”

“Ach!” Leylia’s voice broke as her face contorted in pain. Her hands went to her right foot. “Ha-..gh! Ghaah!” As she cradled it, a long, ugly gash entered the torchlight. It was discolored, festering from the filth of the cage floor. It was the foot she used to sever the guard’s head.

“Oh, my…” The armored woman covered her mouth with her hand, as if shocked. If Imoen didn’t know better, she would have mistaken her manner for genuine concern. “Come, child, this is why I’m here.” She beckoned Leylia to edge close to where she stood.

She moved her hands in a wide, swirling motion, around an imaginary orb level with her chest. As she opened her mouth, she spoke in a strange language that echoed eerily throughout the halls. A shudder went down Imoen’s spine. Somehow it seemed as if the warmth was being drained from her very bones, and collecting in a brilliantly glowing sphere that now flared inside her twirling arms. Her incantation ceased, and she made a final gesture to break the sphere into several glittering shards of light, making a distinct “snap” as the pale-blue light fell into her hands.

“S-sorcery…?” Leylia gasped, amazed.

“Yes,” she smiled, a rather proud look on her face. “Something like that. Now give me your foot.”

Leylia lifted her gash towards the bars, obediently. The spell itself seemed cold as death, but when the elven woman touched the light to her foot, it was pleasantly warm. After a moment, the pain was gone, and she stared at it in wonder.

“There, you see?” The elven woman smiled. “Mommy isn’t a bad person.” She knelt to look her daughter in the eyes. “You can trust me, Leylia. Now where is the key?”

Leylia could feel the insincerity in her voice, somehow, but her foot was still warm with her touch. She was very confused. All the same, there was no way for her to give the woman what she wanted. She didn’t know anything about a key.

“I… don’t know!”

The armored woman stood, and her eyes narrowed, cutting into the elven girl like two blades. “Leylia, be a good girl and give me the key, or I’m going to get mad.”

“I’m sorry… I don’t know!”

She breathed an exasperated sigh, her hand at her temple. “Fine. We’ll just have to do this the hard way.”

Once again, her mouth opened to speak in her strange tongue. Rather than the energy-sucking feeling of the last spell, this one caused the air to quiver with a strange energy. As it surged about the cage, Leylia could feel an odd tugging sensation at her brain. It made her body feel strange, as if its form was unstable. The pattern of energy between her gesturing hands was a coiling tendril of yellow light, swirling concentrically in the air.

“No!” Imoen sprang into the air to jump between the elven woman and her friend.

The cessation of her words and a crackle, like discharged static, signified the completion of the spell. The woman wasted no time, reaching inside the bars to give Imoen’s shoulder a forceful shove to the side. Leylia saw the girl’s head pound into the bars and moved to catch her, but a mysterious force stopped her and pulled her vision to the right, making her lock eyes with her mother.

Leylia felt a tingling wave slam through her eyes and into her skull, and the strange wave pulsed throughout her body to the very tips of her toes. It then grew and grew, until it seemed to emanate from her skin. It felt like she had suddenly changed into a different person.

“Stand.”

Leylia stood. She could do nothing but stand. She wanted to do nothing else.

“Good.”

Imoen recovered from the blunt pain in her head to look at the elven girl. Her eyes were placid… No, it was nothing like the typical sight she saw in the girl’s eyes. They were dark and soulless. The torchlight did not reflect off of them. There was no light in them. They reflected nothing, absorbed everything.

“Now, go get the key.”

Leylia only stood there.

“Where is the key!? Answer me!”

“I don’t know.”

“What!?” The tall elf’s voice rose in frustration. “That’s impossible. I know you have it, so fetch it!”

Leylia stood still.

The woman cast her furious eyes at Imoen. “Where is it!?”

“I don’t know either!”

She glared back at the human, and then her daughter. Her lips were in a thin line, livid. After a while, she seemed to have crossed upon a new strategy.

“I see… You don’t know.” Her mouth twisted into a smile again. “You’ve just forgotten, and I’ll help you remember.” She reached for the keys, and held them up. “Now, look carefully. It should look just like these. Search your mind, and remember when you touched it last.”

A grimace crossed Leylia’s face, and grew in intensity until it intruded upon her voice, which rose in a painful wail. Her arms reached up to grab the sides of her head. “Agh. Kha-!”

Imoen ran over and grabbed her friend’s shoulders. “Leylia! Don’t listen. She’s killing you!”

“Silence, human! She can’t hear you, anyway! Now let her concentrate, or you’ll make the pain worse.”

Imoen whirled on the woman, walked to the bars where she stood, and grabbed them, shouting. “Stop it! She’s your daughter!”

The girl felt a bludgeoning force ram into her stomach as the woman forced her fist through the bars. She released the bars and fell back, clutching her belly and coughing.

“Has she sealed her memory, somehow?” She grinned in fascination. “Interesting. Whatever seal there is, undo it, and do hurry.”

The painful contortion of Leylia’s face grew lax, and she turned her vacant eyes towards her mother.

“Good. Now fetch it.”

Her feet carried her listlessly to the back right corner of the pen, where she traced her hand along the bar as she knelt, then began to pull on the steel string that was tied there. The ring of metal upon rock was heard as a glint of metal slid out from under the neighboring cage and into her hands.

“Hmm… that’s my girl. Very clever. Now bring it here.”

Leylia untied the string from it, and walked towards the bars where her mother stood. Imoen, summoning her strength, sprang to her feet and ran to intercept, grabbing the girl’s thin shoulders as she crossed the center of the stage.

“Leylia, if the girl resists, kill her.”

Imoen froze as she saw Leylia’s listless eyes turn on her. She relaxed her grip and grew still. The elven girl then raised her hand and pushed her gently out of the way, walked quietly to the bars, and passed the key to her mother’s waiting hand.

“Good. Now grab a hold of your human friend and wait for me.”

“What!?”

“To be honest, I’m grateful.” She turned the key in the lock, with a loud, oily click. “You’ve shown me a side of my daughter that I’ve never thought possible.” The portal creaked loudly as it opened. “I doubt I’d ever have noticed, if it weren’t for you. She’ll serve her father well.” She reached in, grabbed Imoen’s wrist, yanked her out of the cage, and closed the door. “I want to reward you, and I know just the thing. Leylia, sit.” The elven girl did as she was told, sitting down on her knees and folding her hands in her lap, obediently. Her vacant eyes stared at nothing.

“N-no… let me go!” Imoen struggled in her grip, but the woman was strong. The plated gauntlet bit into her wrist as it tightened.

The woman’s face had dropped the last of her playful pretense. “Come with me. I have some children that would love to teach you their language.”

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:56 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 5 - Friction

There was a furious rattle of screeching metal as Leylia paced to and fro at the front wall of her cage. Her right hand rose to pat at each bar she passed, some spots oily with grime, others grainy with the texture of rust. Back and forth, back and forth. She was irate. Irate at this despicable situation, irate at her cellmates, irate at the woman in black armor, irate at everything.

Well, almost everything. At the right corner she stopped again, and turned her gaze down the hall. Several pens away, opposite her, in the dark, her elven eyes could see the form of her friend, lying prone in her cage with the glowing forms of her cellmates dancing about, as if mocking her. The glow she saw was the glow of their heat that made them visible to her eyes in the dark. They were much brighter than she. Her dim form told the elven girl that she was cold, hungry. Leylia's fingers closed around the bars and shook them. She soon stopped herself. The anger made it difficult to concentrate, difficult to plan. And she had to plan something, or else...

The rattling sounds at the back of the cage reminded her that she was not alone. The eyes of her cellmates were shining in the dark at the back of the pen, resting expectantly on the object in her left hand. She raised it to her eyes, sniffed at it. It was today's meal, bread again. Usually, around this time, the three kids would be busy making grabs at the loaf, but today they dared not approach, probably because of the fury they felt from her. Quietly, the muscles in her hands tightly wound, she tore off a piece, and they squirmed in response. She took the piece and threw it at them with all her might. Each one scrambled to be the first to catch it. She tore off another piece and pitched it at them, and then, losing herself, she raised the loaf above her head and slammed it into the floor, letting them dive upon it. She hoped it would make them sick.

More than anything, she was irate at herself. The one who had handed the woman the key to their cell was her. The one who delivered Imoen to be removed to a new cell was her. There was no way she could eat, not when Imoen was nearing death's door with hunger. They were already malnourished enough as they were, and the meals had come twice since then. The extra portion that had been promised to newcomers was now a thing of the past. Leylia fell against the bars and slid down, feeling the fatigue of her outburst weigh her down. This was no good. She had to concentrate... She had...

The clink of chain mail announced the rounds of their new watch. After Imoen was taken away, Leylia saw no more of the elven woman. The children were given a while more of reprieve before the next watch started his work, and he turned out to be a reprieve in his own right. Leylia had already tested him, shouting a message loud enough for Imoen to hear in her cell. The armored human did little more than clink up to her cage, tiredly say, "The mistress said you're not allowed to speak in here," and clink off. Unfortunately, while Imoen was happy to answer at first, the other children were busy teaching her their "language" by beating her, grabbing her and shouting at her, making her eventually grow silent. Now Leylia was afraid to elicit any manner of response from her, for fear that it would tire the girl more.

As the new watchman passed the cages, he did so slowly, seeming to survey each child he passed. The look on his face was one of bewilderment and horror, his mouth agape as if his muscles had forgotten how to keep it shut. It had been two days, and the man still seemed like he wasn't in his own skin as he passed through there. Leylia flipped over onto her knees to get a good look at the passing guard. Something about him seemed different from the rest. Maybe... just maybe... She was willing to try anything.

What word did Imoen use to get their attention? "Mister!"

He turned his head her way, the creases in his face deepening as he focused his eyes. She beckoned him closer, and he came, clinking over with a sigh, as if exhausted. "The mistress said you can't-"

"Mister, Imoen is hungry."

"Imoen?" He peered into Leylia's cage, letting out a long sigh as he did so.

"Not here." Leylia pointed. He turned his body to look that way for a moment.

"Kid, I can't even see where you're-"

"Imoen is there! Imoen might ki-... they might kill Imoen!"

"What do you mean?" His brows were furrowed in puzzlement as he turned to look back at her.

"Imoen's too nice... to take food from others."

The man looked like he was about to drop his torch. "T-take food?" He glanced into the darkness where Imoen's cage lay. As intently as he was observing the kids, it must have been easy for him to place that name to the figure he saw in passing.

"Please, take Imoen away. Take Imoen home."

The guard turned back to look at Leylia, his greying beard twisting into a frown. He had a helpless look in his eyes. "I'll... I'll ask the mistress if she-"

"No! Don't ask! Don't tell mama, please!" Leylia hung her head low, pleading.

"What the- ma-!?" The man's eyes grew wide as he held his hand on his head, as if the weight of the place was pressing down upon it. "Ilmater be merciful... Child, what in the nine hells is this place!?"

For a while, Leylia could only stare at him. Words somehow felt inadequate. "This... this place is..." She had lived in this place for all her life. How can you say what a place is when you have never seen any other? None of the words she learned in the past few months seemed to fit. Except maybe one... No, there was one that fit all too well, but she didn't like how it felt as it came out of her mouth. "This place is... home."

"Home!?"

"But, it isn't Imoen's home! Imoen shouldn't be here!"

"I told you, kid, I'll ask-"

"Don't ask! You can't!"

"Then there's nothing I can do!" He raised his voice to finish his sentence, a crossed expression on his face.

Leylia let her head fall to the bars, unable to meet his eyes. It seemed her cause was completely lost on him. Or maybe not. Something in the back of her mind seemed keen on pressing the issue, as if there was something more to say, but she knew not what. Her words always seemed insufficient. She wasn't nearly as good at explaining things as Imoen was, but... she couldn't even find an outline of any argument in her memory. Nothing to say. But there was something! The nagging thought seemed to grow, tugging at her brain, but there was no way she could voice it. If there was one thing to do, it was to ask. "Why?" That was all she could do.

"This place is like a fortress. They practically have an army! But even if there weren't, I couldn't do anything because of the geas!"

"Fortress... army... geas..." What word should should she ask him to define first? "What is geas?"

"You wouldn't understand, kid, and it's not like you can do anything." He sighed again. "I should never've taken this job..."

The nagging thought grew in her brain, and Leylia quickly felt her helplessness being replaced by anger. "What is army!?"

"Look, kid, I have work to do."

Her hand pulled back and rushed forward, slamming into the bars and rousing a racket that caused him and several children to jump. There were many things she wanted to say. Many things. There was one word in particular that seemed to fit perfectly, but she never heard it before. It was odd how it came to her. It was like a bubble, slowly rising to the top of a pot of boiling water. The moment it popped, the word popped into her mind. Coward. "Coward..."

The man said nothing. It seemed he was still recovering from the shock of the noise. Many more bubbles followed, but somehow the words could not reach Leylia's mouth. The pot could only take so much. It was boiling over. She raised her hands to her temples, trying to hold it in. It was hot. It hurt. And then it spilled over. She looked up and realized she was looking through someone else's eyes. Someone she knew. She saw the guard recoil at something he saw, and felt her hands flipping her hair over her shoulders, then relaxing at her sides, completely free of her volition. Her mouth opened and spoke in a pitch completely different from her own.

"A geas, you say... what manner of geas?"

The man rubbed his eyes in a look of complete puzzlement. "What on earth are you...?"

"Just assume I understand and answer." Leylia felt her eyes narrow at him. "It must be something dreadful."

He thought for a bit before he answered. "It is. It's a geas that binds your will."

"Oh, yes, I know of it. Would you like me to remove it for you?"

His bushy gray eyebrows blanched in surprise. "What?"

"Just kidding." Leylia smiled and crossed her arms, taking great pleasure in his perplexity. "I know that such geasa don't exist. Mortals have the freedom of choice. Not even a god can take that freedom away, if the mortal is strong of mind. So what is the geas?"

His eyebrows furrowed in thought once again. "It's-"

Leylia felt herself take a step back, and turn to glance sidelong at him. "A geas can only be as powerful as the one binding. I don't suppose you know its name?"

"I... don't know it," he said, averting his eyes.

"But you know its effects."

"I don't see what you're getting at."

"Care if I guess?" Leylia's body shifted her feet, pivoting twice in a dancing movement to come to rest at the right side of the pen. "I think your geas is nothing special. A mere fear effect that arises when you aren't doing your job as directed." As she spoke, she slowly raised her right foot against the bars. Leylia could feel the sensation of her grabbing something with her toes, a loose loop of wire around the bars. She did so playfully to avoid attention as she spoke the words that touched his nerves. Then she took it in her fingers and raised it further, pulled it tight, and left the bars in a whirl before facing him, doing it all in one fluid motion. Through peripheral vision, Leylia could see the wire extending diagonally and down to the corner. Leylia remembered setting such a wire herself in the past, but it was not designed for whatever the girl had in mind. She was changing it, but whatever trap she planned to spring, it was incomplete.

"So you're saying I'm weak-minded? A coward?" His voice took on a stern tone, but it was audibly shaken. Leylia felt her arm swing out to her side. This undid a loose knot elsewhere in the cage. She waved her arm as if in a mocking dance, and as the end of the wire came within reach, she caught it.

"I'm just saying that you have a chance to do the right thing." She extended her hand toward the bars and walked along the wall, making the illusion of patting each one as she moved about, while passing the wire end down along the outside of the cage.

She had reached the corner when the guard breathed a tired sigh. "Kid, I don't know what you expect me to do, but-"

"Just listen," she said, as her fingers danced across the bars, reached the bar closest to the door and tied a makeshift knot, all with one hand. Leylia couldn't help but marvel at her dexterity, although the knot was still loose. All the same, it was nearly a miracle that he didn't notice the thread, as it was very close to him as she moved it. Somehow, she had managed to keep his attention on her eyes, instead. "You were asking about this place, right?"

He only furrowed his brow. "You said it was 'home.'"

She moved her face to peek at him sidelong, diagonally from between the bars, perhaps making it hard to see her face. "But you wanted answers for the 'why,' not the 'what,' yes?"

He nodded. "I thought it was slave trading, but it doesn't make sense to keep them from learning Common, or anything. You're saying you know?"

"Think real hard. These children..." She extended her hand from the bars and made a sweeping motion, pointing at all the surrounding cages. "What are they?" The loose wire now rested a short distance away from the cage.

"That's what I'm asking."

She pulled away from the front of the cage. "Think about the place."

"The temple?"

She danced toward the back left of the cage, making herself hard to see, pulling the guard closer. "A temple to whom?"

"I don't know."

"Think about the insignia on your employer's armor." She swayed into motion again as he did so, heading now to the right side of the door. Slowly, so as not to alarm him. By the time she reached it, raising her hand toward the knot, he had arrived at his answer.

"...My god... I thought it was only a rumor..."

"Yes, and that rumor is now all around you."

The look on his face was that of one who had fallen into a den of asps. Before his frightful steps carried him out of range, Leylia's hand deftly undid the loose knot, raised the wire of the ground outside to the height of his waist, and stepped back, giving one forceful tug to slam his rattling chains into the bars. As the stunned fright escaped his lips, she pulled the wire to the right wall and tied a knot at the bars behind her back. This was the knot that would hold. The trap was sprung.

"What the-!? What trickery is this!?"

"Shhh!" She walked up to the bars, standing mere inches away, her right finger on her lips, her left going for the dagger sheathed at his right side. "I'm only asking for your help."

"I will never help you!" he screamed, his breathing frayed with fear. "You are evil incarnate! The spawn of the Lord of Murder himself!" His left hand reached for his sword, while her fingers reached out the bars, hooked around the wire encircling him, and pulled it forward over the hilt. Her movement was a step faster, and when he pulled at it weakly, it only rattled in its sheath, the string catching at the pommel.

"That's right, and when he dies, we will be sacrificed to bring about his resurrection."

His struggle grew quieter, but his breathing remained livid. As he looked straight into her eyes, Leylia could see her own face reflected in them, and the glowing golden eyes.

"Think about it. You have the chance to thwart the plans of Bhaal, the god of death!"

For several moments, they locked gazes. His breathing slowly grew calm. Leylia could hardly imagine what was going on behind his eyes, as well as the golden eyes reflected inside them.

Eventually, he uttered his answer, through clenched teeth. "I... I will not succumb to your lies! HEL-!"

Before he could cry out, the golden-eyed girl shot her hand out between the bars, her fingers bent in a punch with raised knuckled. Her knuckles rammed into his throat, silencing him.

"Fine, worm! Serve Bhaal's mistress until the day you die, for all I care! I hope that day is soon! But first, you will give Imoen the food she needs to recover, or I will kill you here and now!"

At last, air passed through his gaping mouth, bringing a mixture of blood and spittle with it. As he took a breath in, the golden eyes set their gaze upon him. Leylia could feel her mouth curving into a smile as a conduit of power opened, forcing her eyes open wide and releasing her will upon him in a wave.

"Are we in accord?"

The guard took several labored breaths before he nodded.

"Bread alone will not suffice. She needs protein."

He nodded.

"Very well."

Hiding his dagger behind her back, she cut the line, releasing him, and pulled the wire, threading it through until it was slack and safe from discovery. "This may not be a geas, but I will hold you to your word with your life." She narrowed her eyes at him. "You should know full well how capable I am of ending it. Now go."

The man did as he was told, and did not look back as he continued his duties. When he was out of sight, the elven girl lifted her fingers to examine her new dagger. She ran her finger lightly along the edge, adding pressure until it drew blood. It was sharp, and perfectly balanced. And, most importantly, the hilt ended with an iron ring.

"You understand, right, Leylia?"

Her graceful footsteps carried her to the front left corner of the cage, where another line of wire lay in wait. Gingerly, she took the wire, threaded it through the ring, tied it, and reached out past the bars to slide the dagger under the cage. She then stood, and turned to address the three children clumped in the opposite corner.

"Touch it, and I'll kill you."

She moved to the front right corner of the cage and touched her hand to the bars as she looked beyond. In the darkness, she could see Imoen's glowing form. She was on her knees, her hands grasping the bars, looking this way. A sigh fell from the elf's mouth as she turned away, headed for the water vessel. With one hand cupped under, she opened the valve, catching the water in her hand, then shared it with the other as she made her way for the corner where the torchlight struck. She knelt down and lowered her face to peek into its surface, where the golden eyes stared back at her.

As she waited for the rippling water to grow still, the elven girl inside her thought she saw a distant, sad look behind the golden orbs.

"Leylia, time to wake up."

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:58 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 6 - Collision

It was not long after Leylia had "awakened" before she set about her testing. She pulled out the dagger and puzzled over it for a while. It was the first time she felt the naked steel of a blade within her hands. The golden-eyed one had shown her its use, capable of breaking exposed flesh. But, as she imagined the tactile sensation of chain armor in her mind, she understood that it was far more resilient. The area had to be exposed. She imagined cutting herself with it. What were the places where someone would die if she stabbed them? Somehow, the answer came naturally. Perhaps it was her honed instincts, from living many years without language. Perhaps it was something darker. Eyes, temples, throat, spine, heart. The heart was usually protected.

When she tested it by tying the wires of the cage to the ring, she felt she understood why her benefactor had picked the weapon. Tying the end of a wire to it essentially gave her a leather handle with which to control her traps. Using it to pull, she found she was able to apply her full strength to it, without fear of injuring her hands.

It was the moment when her mother had told her to "break the seal" when she came to understand that there was another person inside her. Thus she "remembered" using her wires against the guard, and tried to recreate the scene in her mind, dancing around the cage as she did so. It took a while before she felt she had it right, and she learned a lot in the process, but could still feel the remarkable gap between her and her other self. She had access to the memory, and the sensation of it, but that was all. She felt that a remarkable cache of knowledge was hidden beyond her grasp, but her mind could not contain it. The pot was too small.

As far as Leylia was concerned, she felt that everything was set. She had only to wait for Imoen to gain some strength, so she used the opportunity to practice further, imagining herself in a confrontation with the guards, banking, dodging, striking. Then her mother's face would float into her mind, making her feel at a loss. How could she combat "sorcery?" What if she used the spell to control her mind again? She remembered what the golden-eyed one said to the guard about the geas, that no one can take your freedom of choice if you're strong of mind. But, how could she strengthen her mind? Her teacher was several cages away, in the dark.

It had been several days, and their "bath" had come and gone. The rattling of chains announced the coming of the guard. Leylia could see that he was carrying a tin cup with a steaming liquid to the cage where Imoen lay. He had kept his part of the bargain, and the glow gradually returned to Imoen's form, perhaps even glowing a bit brighter than before. She wasn't sure if he kept his word out of fear, or if he genuinely wanted to help her, but the pallor had waned from his face, and he seemed more confident as he attended to his duties. All things said and done, he was a nice man. It made it hard to bear what she was about to do to him.

It was time, and Imoen had to go. Leylia was grateful to him for nursing her back to health, but having rations delivered to her hand was both a blessing and a curse. Imoen needed the nutrition, but the treatment by her cellmates grew increasingly severe. The guard quickly discovered that he had to stay with her, lest the food be wrest from her. Sometimes they even beat her until she couldn't hold the food in her stomach. It was truly hard to watch, and Leylia began to feel that she understood why newcomers received extra rations. For one, they probably couldn't feed themselves otherwise, and had to learn to be selfish at meal times, but it was also a preventive measure. Imoen was certainly not the only child capable of talking, but receiving extra rations put the other newcomers in bad graces with their cellmates. It hadn't taken long for them to grow mute, their language dying in their minds. And now Imoen was in danger of the same thing.

The guard was passing by, and Leylia stood attentively at the front of the cage, giving his armor one last appraisal for weaknesses. He sometimes turned his gaze her way, very briefly, before averting it and continuing down the hall, as he did now. As he moved out of range of hearing and sight, she fished her dagger out from under the pen, tied it to her coil of steel, and threw the loop deftly over the surface of the stone floor. The occupants at the cage across received it, tied it, and waited. Leylia held the dagger in her right hand and tied her length of cloth around the left, and waited.

As the footsteps told of another pass, her heart began to race. The operation was intensely delicate, and this would be the first time her hands killed someone of their own volition. She begged her heart to remain calm, or at least not to let the anxiety show on her face. He was close, now. She replayed the maneuver in her mind, focusing on the most difficult movements. This was her first attempt, and she couldn't allow it to fail. She had to keep the wire steady as he tripped, but without tying the wire at the bars. As he took the last step, she dropped out of her nonchalant position and held the wire with her wrapped hand. The tugging sensation came. He slammed down.

"Gah!"

As his feet rose into the air behind him, she launched into the next step, letting the wire slacken with her right hand, swinging it in circles with her left. The loops oscillated down the wire before the child in the cell across released her end, catching around his left ankle twice. Leylia prayed for the loops to hold as she pulled on the dagger with all her might. The stunned guard slid in her direction. The weight was extreme, but between his lack of friction with the smooth stone floor, and her added leverage with her dagger's leather handle, he slid quickly across the floor. As she reached the back of the cage, she looped the dagger around a bar and switched to pull the other way. He soon lay at the base of her cage, pointing his head toward the center of the hall, facing down. He was just beginning to stir.

She released the dagger and yanked on the wire with her other hand, letting the weapon fly back, around the bars, and forward into her waiting hand. She pulled a set length of wire slack in her hands and rushed to the cage door, where she quickly looped the wire around a few times, then passed the dagger across on the outside of the cage, pulled it in, around the bar, and then up and over the gap between the bars and the top of the pen. The guard now had his hand on the ground, and was attempting to lift himself, with great effort. The positioning was perfect. The wire loop and the dagger were set at about the width of his shoulders. Taking the slackened wire in between, she threw it over his head, looping it around his shoulders, and gave the dagger one final yank.

"Hyaaaa!" She strained against the weight of his armor, letting out a yell as she pulled. His effort was added to hers, and his back flew up and slammed into the bars.

"Gaugh!" He gasped as he tried to breathe. "Wha-what are you doing!?" He grit his teeth as he reached for his sword. Leylia raised her dagger. The base of his neck was exposed. "I did... I did everything you asked!"

"I'm sorry." Aiming just above the bump of his bone where the spine bulged at his neck, she drove her dagger in. She felt it slide through his spine, and drove it further, as hard as she could, pinching her eyes shut at the prickling feeling in her own back. A wet, hacking cough escaped his lips, and he slowly slumped down against the bars until he sat still on the stone floor. On the way down, the dagger was pulled free by the descending weight of his armor, and pried itself out of the elven girl’s clammy hands as the wire surged upward, screeching against the bars.

As the air around grew silent, Leylia took notice at the volume of her panting breath, broken and rasping as the fatigue set in. It took several moments for it to quiet. Her skin was cold with sweat, her heart racing. After a moment passed, her heartbeat slowed down, allowing her to relax, though it took far longer than she would have liked. She struggled against the aching and quivering of her body to stand, undid the wires, coiled them around her wrist, and reached around the man's carcass to lift the keys off his belt.

One by one, she inserted the keys into the lock outside and turned, until one wound all the way around and stilled with a loud "clunk." As she pulled it free, the door swung open, the rusty bars groaning as it turned, and she stepped out. As her feet touched the cold stone floor, she let out a tiny yelp, then checked herself. It seemed as if the floor was quivering underneath her, making her sway as she stood. After a second or two, she realized that it wasn't the floor that was unsteady, but her. It was the first time that she remembered setting her feet outside the cage. The stone felt remarkably firm, with nary a quiver as she stepped across it.

Righting herself, she set off directly for Imoen's cage, leaving the cell door wide open. Her cellmates slipped out silently and followed after her, but not before taking a moment to steady themselves on the stone floor.

"Leylia..." Imoen was standing with her hands on the bars, watching the elven girl approach. On the elevated floor of the pen, the level of her eyes was slightly higher, forcing Leylia to look up as she spoke to her. It was an unfamiliar position, to say the least.

"Imoen... Imoen's okay?"

"Y-yeah..." Her hazel eyes seemed to be at a loss. It seemed she was trying to avoid looking at some distant spot. Leylia followed her eyes back to where her cell lay in the dark, and sighed. The glow of the guard's body was now gone, cold.

"Sorry..." She walked to the door and began testing the keys in the lock.

Imoen shook her head. "No, Leylia, it's okay, as long as... it's you... I thought the guard was-"

"He is."

"What?" Imoen merely blinked at her.

"He's dead. I killed him."

"You mean that-"

"Leylia killed him."

Another “clunk,” and the door creaked open. Imoen stood still at the doorway, the barrier of the bars now gone, staring down at her friend. Leylia couldn’t help but feel as if she was being judged.

“He was a nice man, right?”

No answer came from Imoen’s lofty perch. She only stared as several shadows flitted around in the dark behind her.

“I’m sorry. Now Leylia is a murderer, too. But…” Leylia made an effort to force the anxiety from her face as she stared back. “I will still protect Imoen… no matter who I am.” She reached out her free hand toward the doorway. “I promise.”

Imoen remained silent as she took the girl’s hand with a soft smile, stepped down onto the stone, and threw her face into her friend’s chest in a hug. The blonde locks fell around her face as the elf returned her embrace.

“I missed you, Leylia.”

“Yeah… me too.”

Imoen could feel that her friend had cast a wary glance elsewhere, however. Looking up and following her gaze, she noticed the four shadows in her cage, shuffling about, casting curious looks at the door. Every few seconds they would shuffle forth, shuffle back, as if testing how far Leylia would let them go. With each rattle, the elf’s arms seemed to twitch slightly until, having had enough, she released Imoen and moved to shut the door.

“No, wait. I have an idea.”

The elf stopped at the door and turned to look back, listening expectantly.

“When you asked the guard about this place, he said something about an ‘army,’ right?”

“Yeah. What is ‘army’?”

“It means there’ll be lots of guards between here and the exit.”

“Exit… okay…”

“So… you should open all the doors.”

Leylia blanched in surprise and tilted her head thoughtfully for a few moments. After a while, she raised it to look thoughtfully at the cage behind her.

“It’ll keep the guards busy!”

Leylia nodded with a sigh. She seemed to understand, but was still hesitant. The shadowy figures inside continued to watch the door, not so much with anticipation as with curiosity. They were the shadows that taunted and hurt Imoen, and may have even starved the girl to death without intervention.

After a short period of watching, Imoen felt she understood. "Leylia, it'll be okay."

"Yeah..." Leylia watched them for a short while longer, a strange look on her face, before she breathed a reconciliatory sigh and, smiling slightly, swung the door open. Without any further lingering, she stepped away from the door and walked down the hall. Imoen could see that the shadows inside had ceased their testing movements, and were merely observing the open door, inquisitively, perhaps fearfully.

"You can go... You're free now," Imoen prodded, haltingly, and yet the shadows continued to stare at the door. There was a light stirring of air, and the little human felt something brush past her. "Yah!" She turned to see the children she recognized as Leylia's cellmates, stalking off into the dark where their "leader," the elven girl, had gone. There was a creak of metal as the four shadows from Imoen's week long dwelling sprang out in pursuit. Leylia was no longer visible, but the creaking of metal bars could be heard in the distance. The little human suddenly felt rather uncomfortable in her solitude.

"Hey, Leylia, wait up!"

-----------

It didn't take long before all the cages were open. There was an incredibly odd feeling that came with traversing the boundaries of the stone hall. Sixteen cages. Months of confinement there made the scope of it seem almost infinite. Now the little human felt as if she had ventured to the ends of Faerun and back. Having come from the world outside, she knew better, but she could only imagine the feelings running through Leylia's mind, let alone those of the children gathered around her now.

She stood at the elven girl's side, now, surrounded by the skittering forms of her prisonmates. She could no longer make out any forms she knew, their grime-smudged faces blending into a sea of gray. The motion of their excited fidgeting had also blended together into a wave-like movement, advancing and receding.

And if the other children were a sea of gray, Leylia and Imoen stood on a deserted island within it. They revolved around the key-bearer, chattering with their unnerving ocean song. What struck Imoen as most curious was that they remained there.

"Why don't they try to run away?" Imoen shivered as the chattering din encroached upon them, instinctively reaching for her friend's arm.

"They don't know..."

"Hmm?"

"This is all they know. The outside is scary. This place is their home..." The tall elf turned to look into Imoen's eyes. The human could see the fear reflected in them, however subdued, before she averted them. "...My home."

Imoen gripped tightly at her friend's rags. "...Is that why you didn't want to let them go?"

"No." She shook her head. "I was mad, because they hurt Imoen... but..."

"But?"

"I know now... I was the same... before Imoen came." They looked into each other's eyes again, the elf reaching with her other arm to return her friend's grasp. "If I didn't meet Imoen, I would still..."

"No, Leylia, that isn't true."

She sighed, an anxious smile playing on her lips. "Maybe... they will meet someone like you... outside." She stiffened her face and turned to the sea of gray. The din dimmed, and the waves receded to let her speak. "Go. Run!"

It was the simplest of commands, but they obeyed, scattering, and surged toward the opposite end of the hall. For the first time in their lives, the two friends were together, alone. It was hard to decide whether the darkness was more oppressive now or before, but being at each other's side felt no less reassuring. As the grim silence crept upon them, Imoen tightened her grip again.

"So, what now?"

"It was your idea." Leylia turned to the opposite direction and walked toward a dark alcove, Imoen in tow.

"Is that a joke, or what?" The human shot her friend a fretful stare. The area where they were headed led nowhere. She could see the dim outline of a sconce on the far wall, but it wasn't lit. The only light came from a few distant sconces scattered about the hall. Leylia's footing seemed sure, however, and her legs carried her to a chest in what appeared to be a miniature office. She released her hold on Imoen to bend down and open it with a woody creak, and began fishing through it. “Umm… can you really see in there?”

“Just a little.” Every time her arm moved, the resulting metallic rattle grated on Imoen’s nerves. Was she fishing around in a cache of blades?

“B-be careful… geh! Are you okay?” There was a metallic scraping sound that made her teeth chatter, and Leylia withdrew her hand from the chest, as if bitten by an animal.

“Okay…” She stuck her hand back in. “There.”

At last, she withdrew a long, thin, leathery-looking thing from the box. In the dark, Imoen could hardly guess at its function, but as it dangled, a soft ringing sound issued from several small metallic objects hanging from it.

“Okay, let’s go.” Haltingly, she set out for the other end of the hall. As the torchlight grew brighter, it fell upon the object she was adjusting in her hands. It was indeed a leather belt, with several thin, blade-like objects dangling from tiny hooks. Five hooks with two objects each, making ten in total. The objects looked like daggers, but had no handles, with only a thin strip of metal big enough to be pinched between the fingers. Each one had a single hole, by which it hung on the belt. Leylia was struggling to fasten it to her waist, but to no avail. “Imoen… help?”

The leather strip, on the other hand, was a normal enough belt, and Imoen quickly managed to buckle it to the elf’s waist. “You were looking for this?”

“Something like that… I think.” Smiling gratefully, Leylia removed the coil of wire from her left hand and hung it on an extra hook. With hesitant hands, she unwound some of the wire and began fiddling with the throwing daggers. She seemed to be set upon a difficult task, but her legs soon renewed their pace. “Let’s hurry.”

“No, wait.” Imoen tugged on her friend’s shoulder to pull her to a stop. She turned her eyes over to the right, toward the cage where she had spent several months with her elven friend. At its foot slumped a large, armored figure. He was seated against the bars, his head bowed. His eyes were open, frozen in a disturbing display of surprise. Perhaps, just perhaps, there might have been an air of sadness behind them. His chain hauberk was covered in the blood that had spouted from his lips and neck. “You can’t leave a dead person like that. Come on.”

“S-sorry…” Leylia mumbled as she set herself at the corpse’s shoulders, while Imoen heaved at the feet, pulling him away from the bars. The body was stiffening, but moved with little complaint as they arranged him to lay straight on the ground. Leylia then looked on silently as Imoen folded his hands on his chest and closed his eyes.

“There. He should be able to sleep easily, now.”

“Yeah…” The look on Leylia’s face was of meek, disbelieving agreement.

“It’s really important, you know!”

“Sorry! I-I’m-“

“Leylia…”

“Yeah…?”

Imoen looked up from where she sat, next to the man’s bloody face. “I forgot to say something, back then, before you told everyone to go…” She lowered her eyes, to the dead guard’s face, then shifted her gaze elsewhere. “You said you were one of them, before.”

“Imoen, we have to-“

“I just wanted to say… if I didn’t meet you…” She raised her hazel eyes to gaze at the elf once more. “I would probably have turned into… one of them. Thank you.”

The elven girl said nothing in response, merely offering her hand with a smile. That same smile, that gave strength instead of taking it. Imoen took her hand and used its strength to stand, and the two set out for the opposite end of the hall, leaving the cages behind them, never to return.

----------

To the two lone children, walking out of half a year or a lifetime of confinement, hand in hand, the corridors of the temple seemed like a gargantuan maze. To the multitude of the other children, however, it must have seemed more like a playground. Giggles, snickers, and screeches echoed across the walls, followed in short order by the frustrated curses of the guards in pursuit.

Imoen and Leylia were forced on two occasions to duck into a crevice as a guard passed, carrying a child over his shoulder, kicking and screaming. Such instances didn’t drag on for long before the screeching giggles and muttered curses resumed behind their backs. Even if a guard was successful in capturing a child, the cages wouldn’t hold them without the keys. The temple was embroiled in chaos, but it was still large and hard to navigate, and Imoen’s memory from about half a year before had not sustained them long before they felt the need to backtrack.

Regardless, Leylia absorbed the sights and directions like a sponge, and the constant backtracking gradually narrowed down the forks in their path. Occasionally, they would come across the dead body of a guard or two, their weapons missing. Once or twice, they even found a dead child losing her warmth on the stone. They didn’t avoid the attention of the guards completely, by any means, but they were usually busy chasing someone else, and keeping a low profile brought them unnoticed through many rooms.

As they ventured down another brightly lit stone hallway, they came to face a wooden portcullis that divided the entire corridor in two.

“Leylia, I think we came down this way before.”

“No, this is another one.” The elven girl walked forward, dagger in hand, and prodded at the barrier.

“You don’t think they… closed us off?”

“…It’s not as strong.”

“Huh?”

“Not as strong as the cages.”

“Yeah, it’s wood, but you can’t just pick at it with a dagger. It’ll take too long.”

Leylia knelt down and bent close to examine it, sniffing at it. “…wood…”

“Leylia, we don’t know if this goes to the exit. Besides, we need an axe, or…”

The blonde elf picked at her belt to remove a throwing dagger, and seemed to test it in her hand for a moment before she gripped it tightly, her knuckles white with strain, and brought it to bear against an intersection of the wooden boards. “Hyaa!” The strength of her yell supplemented the strength of her hand, nearly driving the entire blade into the reinforced barrier. “Agh!” When she withdrew her hand from it, the skin was torn and bleeding.

“A-are you okay? Why’d you do that!?” Imoen knelt down next to her friend to assess the damage. Just looking at the wound made her hand ache.

The elf grit her teeth against the pain, panting for a few seconds before she spoke. “…Watch for guards.”

Imoen sighed and stood to do as directed, pausing once in a while to observe what the elf was doing. Leylia took her dagger and threaded the wire through the ring of the hilt, and Imoen noticed absentmindedly that it was not the wire of the loop at her side, but a separate wire that was tied to the hole in the shaft of the lodged weapon. She then threaded her contraption around one section of the boards, backed away from the wall, circled her dagger around an iron sconce, and pulled with all her might, lifting her leg to push against the stone wall. She was soon rewarded with a “snap” and resonant “twang” as the wire slashed through one section of a board.

Imoen watched with a slack-jawed stare for a moment before returning to her watch, the elf continuing her work behind her, making another loop. Three more snaps signified that the girl’s work was complete, and Imoen looked back to see her detach a cross-shaped section of wood from the portcullis, and toss it aside with a satisfying “thunk.” The resulting hole was just big enough for a child to crawl through comfortably. The elf motioned with her hand, telling Imoen to go first.

"Be careful. The guards won't be busy on this side."

Imoen nodded, and hurriedly ducked through the portal. Leylia untied her leather-handled dagger and followed, leaving the lodged dagger stuck in place. They were soon edging down the hallway, hand in hand, moving much more cautiously now, keeping a careful ear ahead for the shuffling of armor, be it the clinking of chains… or the clanking of metal plates. The hallway curved, curved again, and opened into a great hall.

The room was large and brightly lit. Several braziers sat on the edge of a smooth, polished stone disc in the center, while several sconces hung from a second floor balcony, supported by several pillars. The torchlight set the yellow limestone of the hall aflame, forcing the two children to shield their eyes. A wide grand stair rose to their left, while the walls in front of them were dotted with wooden doors, and were broken with passages on either side that continued to the right and left. At the opposite end of the hall, there was an archway leading into the relatively darker recesses of a hallway. Imoen could hear the clinking of chains, but it sounded distant.

Far heavier on her mind, however, was the change in the air. She thought she could feel it stir, briefly, and she could have sworn the smell of grass was carried to her nostrils. She peered into her friend’s face, delighted to see the perplexed look that was crossing it now. The elf looked inquiringly at her.

“Do you remember this?”

“Yeah. We’re getting close! I think it’s past that hallway!” She pointed to the dimly lit archway.

They continued slowly, cautiously, while Leylia noisily sniffed at the air. After a moment, she stopped abruptly and turned, looking back at a door they had just passed. Imoen thought she heard a wooden creak and the sound of chains, and felt a jerk as Leylia tugged strongly at her hand.

“Run,” she whispered firmly.

And so they ran, Imoen tugged along by Leylia’s hand, their bare feet stirring the dust on the floor. They had barely managed to round the corner ahead when a door opened loudly behind them, an armored guard clinking his way out into the great hall.

“Hmm…” The guard’s voice echoed loudly from his throat and traveled down the hall. “Anyone there?”

Loud clomping sounds rang as his feet edged towards where they stood. Imoen felt highly conscious of her own breathing, and quickly noticed that Leylia was panting much louder than she. In fact, her face looked heavily fatigued, despite the relatively short distance they ran. The elf tugged at her hand, and they began to walk down the side hall.

“Hey, who goes there?!”

Imoen had no idea what noise they made had alerted the man so, but his chain greaves had broken into a jog, so the two of them began to run at full speed. Quickly, they rounded a corner, and the human saw several doors on their right and left side. She also noticed that Leylia was slowing down, the smaller girl quickly overtaking her, and switching positions to pull her friend’s hand.

Imoen had to think quickly. The corridor was long, and if they weren’t out of sight before he came into view, they would probably be caught. Quickly, she chose a door, opening it, thrusting the two of them inside, and slamming it shut.

Her eyes darted quickly around her new surroundings, looking for a place to hide. There was a bed.

“Leylia, get under there. Hurry!” she whispered forcefully.

She heard a door open, but it wasn’t theirs. Leylia fretfully darted under the bed, and the human followed. More doors opened and, after a pause, shut. The elven girl’s breathing was now frightfully loud, and rasping. It sounded like she had some kind of sickness. Imoen could hear her effort to still her breathing, and she was successful to an extent, but it was quieting too slowly. Leylia’s chest suddenly heaved in a spasm, and she threw her hand over her mouth, holding her breath to stifle a cough just before the door shot open.

“No way some runt’s escape is gonna fall on my head, no sir.”

His greaves could be seen from under the bed, pacing to and fro, giving it a once-over before he shut the door and moved on. Leylia’s eyes were now shut tightly with the effort of holding her breath still, but she obviously knew better than to release it. Whatever the man was, his hearing was rather acute, and still in range. After a few more doors had open and shut, she finally let the air exit her mouth, but it quivered with the effort it took to keep it quiet. Judging by the tight spasms of her chest, she might as well have been breathing into a balloon.

Eventually, his footsteps relaxed and he walked back the way he came, muttering to himself. Leylia waited until some time after his boots disappeared from Imoen’s hearing before she released her tension in a coughing fit. The position she was in hardly seemed to be helping, so Imoen crawled out from under the bed and offered her assistance until she sat upon it, where her coughs gradually decreased in frequency. Imoen thought her heartbeat was quieting at nearly the same pace.

“Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah…” She panted, as if the simple act of talking tired her lungs, and coughed again. “Just… ch-tired.”

“That’s a really short run to make you that tired! Are you sick!?”

She shook her head, and lapsed into another fit of coughing. A dim oil lamp cast its light on her face, which seemed more wan than usual, if that were possible. Imoen walked to the desk where the lamp sat and lit two more candles in its flame. As the darkness crept away, she saw that the small, modest room had a few rather immodest features. For one, each corner sported a bookshelf, packed with neatly yet compactly arranged books. The bed was just large enough to hold two people, but was set only for one, with comfortable sheets.

Of particular note was the mahogany desk, which held a golden disc bigger than both of Imoen’s hands, put together, with the fingers spread apart. The disc was inset with a golden skull, surrounded by radiating drops of blood. It appeared to have several bloodstains caked into its surface.

“You think this could be that woman’s room?”

“Y-“ Leylia coughed. “Yeah… I can smell her.”

“Smell, huh…” Imoen looked over the rest of the items on the desk. One was a ceremonial dagger with a gold hilt, the steel blade inset with gems. The other was a plain, ovular mirror with a wooden handle. “Hmm… wanna rest for a bit?” She felt a mischievous smile play on her face as she continued her search.

“Just a bit…”

A cursory look was enough to produce the item that Imoen sought, a leather pack that was small enough for her to carry, but large enough to hold the trinkets she found. She picked up the golden disc and wiped the blood on the bed sheets, only managing to clean it slightly, but it would do well enough. She had stowed it in her new pack and was reaching for the dagger when she noticed Leylia poring over the desk. She reached under the blonde's gaze, cautiously, wondering if she might earn a rebuke for stealing. Obviously, it never came. The girl had no concept of ownership, after all. What's more, her attention wasn't on the flashy trinkets that the human had pocketed.

"Mirror...?" She peered into its ovular surface and reached out with her index finger to touch it, then tapped it, seemingly disappointed that it didn't waver.

"Yeah... that's actually a real mirror. The one I showed you before was just water."

"A real... mirror..." She raised her other hand to her mouth to suppress a cough, while her other hand tapped the glass a few more times, evidently fascinated with the resulting fingerprints.

"Leylia, I think you need some rest."

"No..." She patted her chest as she coughed a few more times. "I'm ready."

"We won't get far with you coughing like that." But the elf seemed to be ignoring her, picking up the mirror and walking to the door. "Wait, you're taking that with you?"

The elf nodded, and her chest shook with one last spasm, but she caught it in her throat and stifled it, letting it come out as little more than a forceful breath. "Let's go."

Imoen was about to breathe one last word of complaint, but the elf had already opened the door, slowly, and motioned for her to go through it. Her emerald green eyes seemed steady now, with little trace of the struggle that had overtaken her for the past several minutes. The human could only oblige. Their time was far from abundant, after all.

When they returned to the hallway, Imoen felt the air stir again with the smell of grass and... perhaps... pine needles? Oddly, it was stronger than before.

Once again, Leylia sniffed at it with great interest. "That way?" She pointed down the hall to the right, which was opposite of the way they came.

"Maybe..." If the air was coming from that direction, then there must have been different paths to the exit. With that reasoning, the two children set out in that direction. It always made more sense to take the alternate route, after all. They had to learn that lesson to get as far as they were now.

The hallway was neglected and dark, but the smell seemed to be getting stronger. By the time the two had felt their way around two corners in the unlit passage, it seemed to be getting lighter. The light was not the blazing orange of torches, but a soft, warm green, with stirrings of chilled air. The weather outside appeared to be windy. The rustling of leaves reached their ears as they peeked around the last corner, and one last hall came into view.

It was the entrance hall. And the first feature that caught their eyes was a large, simple square opening that projected out into the forest beyond with a white stone stair. The room was lit with two torches, but to Imoen's dark-adjusted eyes, they were quite unnecessary. The green light coming in from the forest beyond was more than enough, even though it was mostly blocked by a thick canopy. The hall appeared to be unguarded.

"There's someone there," Leylia whispered into her ear. Imoen saw no one, but could not doubt her friend's superior senses. Perhaps on the second floor balcony. "We have to run."

Imoen tensed her legs and focused on her breathing, hoping her friend would do the same. "Okay... now!"

The two of them launched toward the exit, breathing in sync, not looking back. The distance was fairly far, and Leylia began to lag behind, but she strained herself to keep just enough speed so as not to slow Imoen down. The exit was far, but getting closer. Closer. They were just about to reach the square opening when Imoen heard a loud "snap."

Time seemed to be slowing down. In mid-step, her foot rose, but didn't fall. She found that her muscles had to strain to push it down. For a moment, it gave, and reached the ground, but her other foot did not raise as she ordered it. It only seemed to tremble slightly, as a stasis forced itself upon her. She could feel it upon her skin, pressing down.

"No..." Leylia's voice was straining to speak, behind her. She must have been more set upon resisting whatever spell had been cast on them, as Imoen couldn't speak at all. "Not again..." A strong breeze blew past them, carrying a strong scent of pine needles and autumn leaves. Time had not frozen. The wind was blowing normally. The only things being forced into stasis were them, and they were so close to their goal.

A stern female voice sounded through the hall. "Escapees! Shut the portcullis, NOW! ...How did they get this far?"

It was her, Leylia's mother. At her behest, a metal clang sounded above them as an apparatus clicked into motion. Something heavy was coming down, but Imoen's eyes were frozen, staring at the exit. She couldn't look up to see it, but she could tell that it was large, and solid metal. No wire trick of Leylia's could ever breach the barrier that was coming down upon them.

"Never... again." Leylia could still speak. Imoen could hear her gasping as she struggled to move. The gate had lowered to nearly a fourth of the way down when she felt a hand at her back. At its touch, she felt a gasp of air leave her lungs. Her body surged forward, pushed with great force by the hand behind her. She was thrown off balance, and her head dropped into a roll as she tumbled under the lowering spikes, her skin coming down hard on the white stone. She had fallen down one step when she heard the metal "bang" of something clicking into place, and fell down another before she came to a stop.

"Imoen, get up!"

Leylia's stern, high-pitched voice rang behind her, and she struggled against the pain to push herself up, groaning at the aching in her head. Her vision swam with strange colors, and she swayed unsteadily, but caught herself on the stairway railing and looked at the direction of the voice. The elven girl's locks of blonde hair were turned her way, her back to the grid-iron portcullis, on the other side.

"Leylia!" Imoen struggled against her swimming senses, working her way to the gate, catching her swaying gait by locking her fingers around the iron bars.

"Imoen," her voice was quiet, calm. "Do you remember the way to the nearest town?"

"Yeah."

"Then go there, get food and water and go farther if you can."

"Leylia, I can't leave you!"

The elf's body shuddered in a twitch at Imoen's words, and something fell limp from her right hand, clattering to the floor with a dull, bouncing thud. It was the mirror she had taken from her mother's room. The elf's head and body turned, but didn't look at her, raising her now empty hand to overlap Imoen's fingers on the bars. Her hand was unexpectedly warm, almost hot.

"I need to hold them off if you plan to get far at all."

"But you said you'd be with me! You said you'd protect-"

"I never said anything of the sort!" The hand holding hers tightened, almost painfully, as she turned her full face into Imoen's view. Her irises were blazing in a gold color, like the torches behind her. Imoen flinched away from the bars and pulled her hand free, reflexively.

"N-no..."

The golden-eyed girl blinked at her, a gravely serious look on her face. Her right hand reached for the end of the steel loop at her side, and returned to the bars to tie a knot. "You can figure out how to protect yourself." She finished tying the knot and curved her mouth into a smile. "Now go, or I'll kill you." It seemed like she was trying to face Imoen with her "challenge," but the wavering of her eyes betrayed the sadness behind them.

Imoen backed away from the bars, but didn't turn away. "Promise me that you'll escape!"

She sighed tiredly. "Your precious Leylia will catch up before you know it. If not... then find some strong-looking adventurer and send her here." She seemed to stifle a giggle at the last statement.

The rattling of chains and the clanking of plates were now closing behind her. Imoen backed further down the steps. "T-thank-"

"If, for some reason, you're feeling some shred of gratitude, or pity, then save it." She turned her golden eyes back towards the entrance hall. "But... if you'd give me a name when we meet again... I think I'd like that."

"Okay... I will!"

Imoen turned away, and didn't look back as she ran down the steps and into the connecting forest path. The breeze upon her was strong, and she felt the fingers of her right hand grow cold in its passing. When she looked down, she realized her fingers were wet with blood, the sticky liquid losing its heat in the autumn breeze.

"Please be all right, Leylia..."

----------

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:58 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
A series of hacking coughs escaped Leylia's mouth as the guards approached. When they calmed down, the golden-eyed girl followed them with a derisive chortle.

"Protect... ha! What a laugh. You'd only slow her down out there."

"You there! Halt!" The deep voice of one of three guards bellowed out.

"Wait... where's the other one?"

The golden eyes fell upon the woman armored in black. "She's beyond your reach, mother." The elven woman drew back in surprise. "Perhaps you'd like to open the gate and find her, but... ah." Leylia's right arm reached up to fling her hair over her shoulder, and she turned to face them sidelong, mockingly, her leather-handled dagger down at her left side. "First you have to make sure I can't run, yes?"

"You... your eyes are like his..."

"And you're surprised?" She narrowed her eyes and shifted them over the four armored adults, sizing them up. "I'm the daughter of Bhaal, after all."

The green-eyed woman turned to direct an order to her underling. "Go back up and open the gate, now!"

As the guard to her left turned in response, Leylia's right hand slid to her belt and plucked a dagger as she would a rose. She gave the adults no chance to react as she raised her hand above her shoulder and let it fly, straight and true, into the back of the man's unarmored head. The blade lodged itself inside him with a "thunk," as if it had split a canteloupe, and his body twitched and fell like a broken doll, slamming into the ground with a rattle.

"So unwise to turn your back on the matter at hand."

The three remaining adults could only stand, mouths agape in shock, as she passed her leather-handled dagger behind her back to her other hand. One of the guards mumbled to himself, "What manner of fiend is she?"

"Murder is the lifeblood that flows through my veins." She smiled at them. "If you would drink of it, then come." She then opened the conduit of power, forcing her eyes wide open as she caught them all in her stare.

The two guards in front quivered in magically-induced fear as the wave passed over them, but the elven woman only flinched, and quickly regained her composure. She raised one hand and uttered a single word of power, which reverberated about the room as a shower of blue sparks fell from her hands. A pale blue light erupted, bathing the three of them in its glow. Leylia's feet began backing towards the portcullis as the two guards righted themselves. She circled her left hand behind her back to the ring of her dagger, felt for the wire, and pulled it out behind her with her cloth-wound hand, manipulating it so as not to trip over it, perceiving the wire's position intricately with each tug. Each step was slowly and carefully placed, giving the now dormantly observing Leylia the impression of a spider adjusting her web.

"She's just a child. Capture her!"

The girl's legs carried her out to the left side as the guards began to advance. The one on the left moved to the front, grinning as he moved his hand to his sword hilt, while the right one moved behind. This must have been the intent of her movement, though she made no show of it. Although her face was placid, she must have had the appearance of a frightened child, but the wire was feeling increasingly tight as she tugged it with her left hand. The elven woman, unmoved from her original position, began the preparations for a new spell. The wire was set slightly below Leylia's waist, which appeared to be just below the knees of the guard closing in. But, how could she spring a trap if the wire wasn't between her and the guard? It was behind her, tied to the gate, and projected diagonally into the entrance hall to the dagger in her right hand.

The guard in front drew his sword, and raised it over his head as he lunged forward. Leylia's legs stopped moving and fell into a tense position as the golden eyes watched his movements, her left arm letting the wire slacken. The moment his hands twitched to bring the sword down, she launched into motion, stepping just barely to his left side with her left foot and pulling on her dagger as she swung her right leg around, planting it behind her in a swift, graceful dance, bending at the forward knee and swinging her right arm, holding the dagger, out to pull the wire taut, just between the projected path of the sword and his knees. The forward guard continued to lurch ahead as his sword pulled itself down by its own weight, and she shoved the flat of her left palm into the small of his back to knock him further off balance. There was a strong pull on the dagger in her right hand as he tripped into the wire and toppled over.

The air snapped behind her as the elven woman finished her spell preparations, and the guard approaching behind began to draw his sword as the forward guard smashed into the ground, face first.

"No blades! If she dies, it's your head!"

This opened another opportunity as the approaching guard paused, which the golden-eyed girl was more than ready to take. She put her weight on her left leg to jump back towards the gate, letting the wire fall slack underneath her and switching her leather-handled dagger to her left hand as she pivoted on one foot with the landing. Behind her back, she tied a new, shorter string to its ring and pulled a throwing dagger, to which the string connected, free in her right hand.

The man was surging forward now, his hands raised partly to defend and partly to tackle. She shot her right hand forward, the throwing dagger poised for his throat, moving straight past his flailing hands like a striking snake, but the man evaded successfully, lurching backward to his full height. As he did, she brought her right hand down, to her side, hard, letting the dagger fly as strongly as she could. A single, dull crack signified that it had sunk hard into the limestone rock of the floor.

With a confident grin on his face, the guard surged forward again, making a successful grab for her left arm with his left hand and pushing her down with his weight. However, the leather-handled dagger was now in her right hand. She turned herself around to face her back to him before he could manage to pin her movement, throwing the dagger in one circle around his neck.

A surprised cough escaped his throat when she pulled the dagger strongly to her right, pushing it out from underneath him. The wire that extended to the gate was too slack to suffocate him, but the shorter second wire, anchored in the limestone floor with a throwing dagger, was more than up to the task. The anchor was to their left, the lever jutting out to the right, and encircled between them was the man's neck. He gasped for air, but delivered none to his lungs as she pushed it out, readjusting the dagger in her hand for a firmer grip. Blood soon began to flood into her hair as the line sliced through the veins in his neck. His grip slowly slackened, then relaxed. She gave one last testing tug to make sure he was gone, and heard the ringing of plated greaves behind her as the elven woman moved forward to observe. The elven girl crawled out quickly from the smothering weight of his armor, and untied the string that had suffocated him with as much discretion as she could muster, pulling her dagger behind her back.

However, his body gave one resulting jerk during the process. The woman lowered her eyes to his neck, with great fascination.

"Hmm..."

She and the girl were now on opposite sides of the body. She was circling, and her leg soon came into contact with the other thread that was tied at the portcullis. Her cautious steps came to a harmless stop, and she smiled.

"Very interesting." She reached down with her armored hand to grasp the wire and pulled tightly. In response, Leylia's right hand lurched forward. Her pull relaxed, and tightened again, testing. As she pulled, the golden-eyed girl righted the dagger in her hand and brought the blade to bear against the wire, snapping it with a resonant metallic "twang" as she steadied her movements, carefully untying the last remaining string.

As the wire whipped around and scratched harmlessly at her armor, the woman only smiled. "Leylia, my dear, you make a mother proud. If only your father could see you now."

The golden-eyed girl made no effort to respond, merely tying her leather-handled dagger to the loop behind her back, and assessing her surroundings. She could rest assured that two of the three men were dead. The condition of the other, the first one to advance, was unknown, but he was clearly not going to get up anytime soon. Whatever damage he had taken from his fall, he was at least unconscious. The two wires she had planted were useless, at least for now, and the one she used to choke the guard was too short for anything elaborate. Seven daggers remained on her belt, one untied.

"So, what is it that makes you so special?"

"I imagine it didn't all come from father."

"I would hope not. It would be troublesome to take care of eighty more of you."

Their gazes met for a moment as they smiled at each other, hiding their malice with something warmer... or perhaps colder. Mother and daughter. And the first one to break that stalemate was the mother. She took something from a pouch tied around her waist and tossed it into the air, then swirled her arms around the object as it came to rest at its apex, setting it afire with a purple light. The daughter's response was to pluck a dagger from her belt, raise it over her shoulder, and let it fly. The dagger flew straight for the woman's head, but she didn't move. She didn't even blink as it glanced off her forehead and twirled away, clattering to the stone floor some distance away.

"Protection from Normal Missles. How astute." The elven girl raised her leather-handled dagger to her mouth while she plucked two more daggers from her belt, passed one to the left hand, and threw the other with her right to lodge it in the ground. She had passed the other dagger to her right hand when the woman's spell focus shattered into brilliant purple scales, completing the spell. There were two loud popping sounds, and two pillars of smoke billowed into the air before her.

The young elf managed to lodge her other throwing dagger in the stone above the entrance and withdraw two more daggers before three forms emerged from the smoke, the elven woman and two large, menacing-looking dogs, growling fiercely.

"Take her down."

Leylia passed one dagger to her left hand and held it tight, while she threw the other one a short distance before the dogs' feet. As the wire pulled taut, one dog jumped over it. The other bounded into it with a screeching yelp. She flicked her wrist and sent an oscillation down the wire, ensnaring it, but the other was quickly headed her way. Leylia dropped the dagger from her mouth into her right hand and pulled with her left, creating another barrier for the approaching dog while suffocating the one held ensnared. From the armored woman's direction, she could hear the beginnings of another spell preparation.

As predicted, the approaching dog vaulted over the steel wire. In response, the elf ducked, and held her dagger firm in its flight path. She planted her feet as it pierced the skin, catching the animal just below the sternum to gut it lengthwise down the abdomen. A bloody rain wet her hair, followed shortly by a dull thud as the dog hurtled into the ground, and bellowed in a series of painful yelps as it tried unsuccessfully to stand.

The young elf paid it no further heed as her weapons switched hands. She raised the throwing dagger in her right, connected by wire to the one lodged to ensnare the remaining dog, and hurtled it into the far wall. The choking hold on the dog's neck tightened, and its struggle grew fierce, but the daggers held in the stone.

Now all that remained was the armored woman, but she was no longer visible, her spell preparations obviously finished. The girl had reached her hand for her two remaining daggers when the woman's glowing heat appeared before her eyes, through the billowing clouds of smoke. Her armor rang furiously as she raced out of the obstruction, wielding her shield and mace, charging. She was close. Too close to dodge.

Leylia's hands flew into the air as the woman's shield slammed into her. She held the daggers tight in her hands as she flew back and hit the floor. The armored elf's strength was unreal, probably enhanced by the spell she had just cast. As she hit the ground, the golden-eyed girl smacked it with her arms, breaking her fall and launching her feet over her head and back to the ground, where she quickly rose to her feet.

The smoke was now thin, blown away by the wind, and she could see her mother's form clearly, a very short distance away. Her shield was held forward defensively, her mace raised threateningly behind her. The mace was too dangerous, however. She would use the shield. Thus the young elf anticipated the woman's forward movement and dodged, twirling past to her left side. Her right hand stilled, rose, and fell, shooting another dagger into the stone as the woman whirled to face her.

"You can't run forever, girl."

The young elf switched the other throwing dagger to her right hand, the last one, and let it fly, over the woman's shoulder and into the opposite wall, to the right of the entrance.

Leylia felt a burning sensation rise in her chest as her alter ego let out a rasping cough, raising her hand to catch it and quiet it, stifling the fit that would have followed. She thought she could sense a faint smell of iron in her breath. The golden-eyed girl relaxed, and smiled at her mother.

"No need to run."

Her eyes opened wide once more to let the power rush through them, centering squarely on the green orbs of her mother's pretty face. The blast of energy was concentrated and strong, and seemed to take much more of her along with it. The woman was now frozen still, but that was not from the gaze she had just received. She was encircled with a mess of wiring that the girl had twirled around her, once before the shield hit, once when her attack was dodged, and was now locked in place with one anchor at her feet and the other at the opposite wall. The gaze of power merely cemented the effect.

The golden-eyed girl switched her dagger to her right hand, and removed the loop of wire to hold it in her left. She let the coughing fit escape her chest as she continued her work, making no effort to play at some pretense of composure with displays of grace. She was tired, battered, and had just taken a strong blunt attack to her chest. Her insides were shaken up more than enough to open up a few scratches inside her, the smell of the iron in her blood flooding her mouth with each choking spasm.

She loosened the wire and threw two circles around the woman with her right hand, then moved to where a dagger was lodged in the floor, circled it with the loop twice, and threw a few more circles to ensnare her arms. She continued this process, circling slowly as she did so, traveling from one anchor wire to the next, making sure the woman could not break free of her bonds.

At last, she dropped the loop of wire, and raised her dagger as she moved in behind her. The woman was now bending over under the force of her bonds, the nape of her neck exposed under her beautiful, intricately braided hair.

"Goodbye, mother."

"Leylia..."

Leylia felt herself gasp at the name, and her eyes glowered at the back of the woman's head. "You still speak..."

"Leylia..." Her voice seemed shaken, pathetic. Somehow a breath caught in the young girl's throat.

"That's not my name!" Leylia could feel her dagger hand trembling with anger.

"I know... I haven't been... a very good mother... but..." Her armor rattled, as if she was in great pain.

The breath caught in Leylia's throat again. Was it pity? If so, was it from the other girl, or was it her own? "Stop- stop it! Shut up!"

"Leylia..."

"Shut up! Shut-!" Leylia's chest heaved with spasms, letting loose another coughing fit.

"Leylia, are you really gonna kill... your mother?"

The next spasm was a quake that sent ripples throughout Leylia's soul. Her head was filled with a strange ringing as she fell to the ground, overcome with the quivering gasps in her chest. A feeling of fatigue and dizziness grew throughout her body as she struggled. Her dagger dropped from her hands. She dropped to her knees to retrieve it, but when she grabbed it, she felt unable to stand. Rather, she could only fall to her side limply. That was when Leylia realized...

Her body was once more her own, but she couldn't move it.

The ground quivered near the woman's feet as her body shook with the effort of a great struggle. Leylia could feel the air brimming with energy, the wires screeching with strain as she panted on the floor, able to do nothing. The wires gave one last creak and then screamed with echoing wails as they snapped, and the woman's arms gained the freedom to move. The air whistled as one wire end scraped at the ground near Leylia's face, while it seemed that countless more scraped at her body, slashing her legs, arms, and face.

The woman's voice rang in the echoing tones of chanting, as she began to cast one last spell. It was a long spell, the chanting continuing for several seconds, but despite the opporunity to act, Leylia could not get up. It seemed as if all of the energy had left her body, leaving her completely exhausted. Every tiny quiver she made brought stinging pain from the numerous cuts that covered her now.

At last, the spell focused with a snap, and a scraping sound could be heard as the air churned with an unnatural wind. Leylia looked up to see a cloud of blades, circling, slashing in the air where the woman was. The cloud moved about the room, slashing at the limestone, slashing at the wires and sending them flying, slashing at the daggers lodged in the stone.

After a short time, it quieted, satisfied with the destruction that it had wrought. As the cloud faded, Leylia could see her mother standing at the center of it, brushing her armor free of any wires that remained. When she was done, her face warped in a disturbing smile of satisfaction, and she looked down to where her daughter lay.

"I was hoping you would see it my way, Leylia."

"Mama..."

Her boots clacked on the ground, moving closer until her feet were at the girl's side. Leylia flinched and coughed as the boots touched her skin.

"Come child, you will be performing a great service to your father when I'm done. You should be proud."

"...Father..."

"That's right. Both your father and mother are very proud of you, Leylia."

Her armor clanked as she knelt down, scooping one arm under the girl's shoulders and one under her knees to lift her up. Leylia winced as she was raised into the air. The woman's black armor felt like acid on her lacerated flesh.

"You are a magnificent specimen among his children. You will make a marvelous vessel."

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:59 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
Chapter 7 - Rebound

“Thirty? You can’t go any higher?”

“No, kid, I have a family, with two kids and two dogs to feed. I can’t afford going higher than that.”

“But, it’s gotta be worth more! How heavy is thirty, anyway!?”

“The weight might not match up, but the thing’s covered in blood! It’s not worth anything to me if I can’t sell it!”

Imoen slammed her hands down on the counter and glowered at the merchant, trying her best to look intimidating. When it came to pushing a transaction, the best she could do was imitate her mother. Intimidation or guilt trip. She quickly regretted trying the former as her first act of desperation, seeing as the man hadn’t even flinched, merely furrowing his brow at her over the rims of his spectacles. If anything, his mouth seemed to be twitching in an effort to keep from laughing. Her face wasn’t that strange, was it?

Quickly, she changed tactics. “Look, I need the money!”

“We all need money, kid. This is the Time of Troubles, you know.”

“You could at least go as high as fifty!”

He sighed. “Okay, deal.”

“Urgh…” Now she had done it. She could see in his eyes that this was the moment he’d been waiting for. It was remarkably subtle, but she could see it. Perhaps living with those mute children for half a year had attuned her senses more toward gestures and expressions. Besides, she had visited quite a few stores since she learned that you must never name a price you can’t accept when dealing with a merchant. At any rate, this haggling session was over. “I’m leaving.”

She scooped the golden plate into her pack and stomped toward the door.

“Wait a minute, kid. I thought we had an agreement!” The man bumbled about his counter, quickly lifting the countertop and running until he stood between Imoen and the door.

“I never said I’d sell it for fifty.”

“Look, kid. I know that thing is stolen, so-“

“Oh, yeah!? You have any idea who it came from!?”

That drained the color from his face rather quickly. Evidently, he had an idea who it had come from. Imoen had first used this statement in her own defense, but she quickly learned that it was a good way to get any insistent merchant off her case, good defense or no. Excusing herself, she steeled her shoulder to bump his midsection as she passed, and reached her hand quickly for his belt to pinch a few coins before ambling out the door. Luckily, this one didn’t seem to notice. She felt a proud grin cross her face as her sandals scraped onto the dried mud of the town’s main thoroughfare. Maybe she was starting to get good at this.

Once she was out of view of the doorway, she examined the coins in her hand. She had managed to nab three coins, and they were all gold. Despite his insistence otherwise, that particular merchant must have been fairly well off. He had more than enough to offer her a decent price. He simply didn’t take her seriously. No one seemed to take kids seriously.

Of course, she hardly knew enough about money to guess at the value of the sacrificial plate she had taken from the room of Leylia’s mother, but she knew enough to tell when the merchants appraising its value were lying. It was at least worth its own weight, and it was pretty heavy.

It was also the last item she had to pawn. She was facing similar difficulties in pawning the dagger she found, but she had little choice in its case. After she had arrived at the first town outside of the forest, it wasn’t long before a contingent of armored men arrived to find her. She tried waiting for Leylia to arrive, but the fact that soldiers had come meant that at least one person who knew of Imoen’s escape must have survived. In other words, the golden-eyed girl had failed to kill everyone, which meant that Leylia was likely captured. However painful it was to admit, getting caught would do nothing for her elven friend, and word of one lone homeless child in a small town quickly spread with the winds of gossip. She had no choice but to use the dagger as payment on the first caravan she had come across.

And so she was let off in a bigger (though still small) town, two stops later on the caravan’s journey. Nearly twelve days had passed since her escape. When she added the gold coins to her stockpile, she saw that she had four gold, two silver, and five copper coins. She had enough for a few nights in a bed at the inn, but only one if she wanted a bath, and it had been a few days. She sniffed at her armpits. Yeah, she needed one.

“Hey, little girl, c’mere, c’mere!”

Imoen was roused from her thoughts by the voice of a woman standing at the doorway of her home, beckoning excitedly with her hand. She took one look to size the woman up. She was wearing plain clothes, with a white blouse and a long brown skirt, covered in an apron. Her curly brown hair was held up in a bonnet, and her smiling face was the visage of a middle-aged woman, weathered with a few select wrinkles from the range of emotions that have crossed it in a lifetime. Confident that she was a nice woman, Imoen approached.

“Are you that traveling girl I’ve heard about?”

“Yes, ma’am.” There was no point in denying it.

“Look at that hair. You’re so adorable!”

Imoen let out a nervous laugh as she gave a thankful nod.

“Do you have a place to stay?”

She shook her head. “I have enough to stay at the inn, but…”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that, dear, come in.” The woman turned and walked back into her house, beckoning for Imoen to follow. “My husband and I have little. We had a little girl about your age, but… alas, these are troubled times.”

“Ah… I’m sorry, miss.”

“No, don’t be, dear. At any rate, we have an extra bed, and I can fill the washbasin if you like.”

Imoen failed miserably to keep the beaming smile from her face, but the woman smiled back warmly. Every now and again she met people like this. It was rather mysterious how the people with the least seemed to be the most comfortable with giving. They were indeed poor, with only two rooms. The one to the side doubled as a kitchen and storeroom, while the room in which she now stood consisted of three beds and a curtained area for the washbasin. In fact, it reminded her of her own home. She would most certainly take the offer, especially if a bath was involved. Ah, but she had forgotten something important.

“Are you sure this is alright? I could be a-“

“There’s little of value here worth taking, dear, though if you would like to try on my daughter’s old clothes, I would be honored.”

Thank goodness that was out of the way. She quickly learned that putting her providers at ease was an absolute must. Although she had no intention to steal from nice people, there was a very real possibility that she was a thief, “real” being the operative word. But there was one other important thing.

“By the way, miss…”

“Laura, dear.”

“Miss Laura, have you heard of any adventurers in town?”

“I have… but, what in Faerun would you want to do with them?”

“Oh, it’s nothing rea- wait, you have!? Where!?”

Laura was taken aback at the girl’s outburst, having to think for a bit before she continued. “Umm, w-what was it… The S-Sessile Charlatan? Their kind often go there…”

"Thank you!" Imoen managed to leave a word of thanks as she bounded out the door, ignoring the woman's words of protest. Judging from most stories she heard about adventurers, it would be a dream within a dream for a child to be promised help from such people, let alone for any such promise to be kept or, gods forbid, realized. But she had to try. She clutched her bag tightly as she ran. Should she hide the golden disc to keep it safe until they've done the job? No, no one would take her the least bit seriously without it. Even if it could wind up stolen, she had to take the chance.

----------

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Top
 Offline Profile  
 
 Post subject: Re: Prodidgy [M] By ZoharContact
PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2010 9:00 pm 
Grand Poobah
User avatar

Joined: Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:01 am
Posts: 611
The Sessile Charlatan was rather far from Laura's house, but having stayed there a few days before, Imoen knew the way well enough. Rather, the place was so boisterous, you could practically locate it if you were blindfolded from a hundred paces away. The town's poor were oft to drown themselves in its modestly priced room and board.

Today, on the other hand, the place was rather subdued, relatively speaking. The bar itself was the same as always, but the dining area in the neighboring room where people usually went to drink had a rather sparse clientele. Aside from a few drunken stragglers at the far corners of the room, there was no one except a single party of five in the center.

Of the five, one dwarf and one human seemed keen on compensating for the odd silence that fell over the place. The dwarf was particularly loud. He seemed to find everything happening around him to be quite hilarious, and hardly a minute seemed to pass before he threw his head back in a bellowing fit of laughter. The other three, an elf and two other humans, were eyeing the two nervously every once in a while as they conversed in hushed tones. It took quite a feat to understand them through the racket roused by the dwarf.

“Last we heard of it was more than half a year ago. The rumors are growing-“

“Vannnishin’ kids! Tr-r-rickerrrry most fffoul!”

“HWAH, HA HA HA! Tilt ye back anudderun, oaf!”

“Ugh… growing cold. I’m not sure how long we can sustain this search, Gorion.”

The addressee leaned forward to rest his bearded chin on his hand for a moment before answering. “But we’ve already received notice that the Lord of-“

“Lord of Mu-Mur-Murder! Mmmurdered! …Ulp!”

“HWA HA HA HA HA! Look at ‘im spew, the pur bastard!”

“Ugh…”

Gorion cleared his throat and continued. “That was little more than a week ago. Something’s bound to happen soon. I only hope we’re not too late.”

This was much harder than Imoen thought. They were incredibly hard to approach. Every time she thought she had gathered up the courage to step forward, another laugh would sting her ears, making her shrink back. Maybe the fall of one self-made comedian would keep the dwarf busy enough for her to get in a word edgewise.

The elf looked like a safe enough mark. She was pretty, with short brown hair that curled at the tips as it fell midway down her neck, and crystal blue eyes. Her body was covered in a slim suit of black leather, which she wore under a gray cloak. An unstrung longbow rested at her side, with an arrow quiver leaning against it. She had been sitting straight, silently, and mostly still since Imoen arrived, moving occasionally to pick at her food or take a sip of water before folding her hands in her lap again and listening intently, though her eyebrows twitched slightly every time the dwarf raised his voice. Her severe expression reminded Imoen of Leylia’s mother, but she could tell somehow that she was a nice person. Probably.

Imoen edged forward slowly and gave the woman’s cloak a hesitant tug. She responded by turning slowly, appraising the girl with her sapphire eyes.

“Um… miss, I-“

“Call the barmaid, laddie! She’ll clean it up! She’ll think yer just dandy! HWAH, HA, HA~!”

Imoen let out a quiet shriek as she hid her ringing ears behind the woman’s chair.

“Ugh… can’t you two move to the bar?”

“Dun’ look a’ me! I ain’t the one who cannae hold ‘is grog! Hah!”

“Gorion, you have a visitor.” The elven woman’s soft voice rang at last as she turned to the man seated to her right.

“Oh?” The gray robed man shifted his feet and leaned out of his chair to observe the little human, peeking shyly from behind the elven woman’s chair. He was a wizened man, with a graying beard that hung slightly below his neck and a balding head. His eyes were also blue, but of a lighter shade, and peeked out from under low eyebrow ridges and bushy brows. When he caught sight of the girl, he smiled. “Something troubling you, little one?”

“Gorion, this is important.”

“Jev, we will continue,” the elf’s voice suddenly took on a stern edge, yet remained quiet. “Now be silent.”

“You always say th-“

“And yer always a bloody buffoon.”

“Bernard, you want me to cast a… silence…”

“HWA HA HA HA HA!”

“Gorion!”

“In the middle of something, Jev. I’d appreciate you keeping him entertained for a little while.”

The armored man sitting across from Gorion muttered a curse as the wizard turned back to the pink-haired girl.

“Don’t mind them, child.” He smiled. “What is your name?”

“My name’s Imoen, and I need your help!”

“Ah? With what, pray tell?”

“My friend’s being held in some kind of dungeon. Please rescue her!”

“A dungeon, you say? Where would that be?”

“…I’m not exactly sure, but…”

“Hmm.” He began to stroke his beard thoughtfully, waiting for her to continue.

“It was in a forest, and a town was close by…”

“What was the town’s name?”

“Umm…” Unfortunately, she never asked before she had to flee on the caravan.

“About how far away?”

“…Two days, I think.”

He bowed his head in thought as he stroked his beard. “Hmm. Nathleah, probably. Near the Gulthmere forest.”

“That- I think that’s it!” Somehow the name rang a bell.

“Hmm…”

The cleric across the table broke away from his arguing to throw in a word. “Gulthmere? That forest is vast! We’ve no time to be poking around in the woods for some-“

“I-I have something to pay you!” She fished around in her pack quickly to retrieve the plate before she lost their attention, nearly dropping it on the floor as she set it on the table. “I… I know it’s dirty, but please!”

“Hmm.” Gorion gave his beard another stroke as he peered at the item. “There it is. You see it, Jev?”

Everyone around the table leaned forward to look at the design of the skull on its golden surface. Even the elven woman broke her calm demeanor to peer closely at it.

The aged wizard cleared his throat, loudly. “Never refuse to hear a plea for help, I always say.”

“Then, you’ll do it!?”

“We will indeed,” said Gorion, turning to her and curling his whiskers in a wide grin. “It’s quite a coincidence that you came to us, little one.”

“But,” Jev chimed in again. “How can we be sure-“

“Imoen, were there other kids being held there, besides you and your friend? Kids your age?”

“Y-yeah.”

“Then it’s settled.” He nodded once to himself. “Parbor, give me the- Oh, dear.” He turned to the other armored human to notice him sleeping where he sat, his head tilted back in a way that looked most uncomfortable. “Bernard, you push the kid too far.”

The dwarf responded with a dismissive snort and took another swig of his drink as Gorion stretched out his arm to retrieve a pack that rested next to the chair where the human had passed out. From it, he produced a large bag that gave a good rattle when he set it down, replacing the pack that held it, and began to count out gold coins, in groups of ten, piling them on the plate as he did so. Imoen puzzled over what he was doing, and began to feel increasingly uncomfortable as the pile rose ever higher. After a while, he finally stopped.

“Two hundred gold pieces. How does that sound, Imoen? Eilinia?”

The elven woman gave a soft, approving nod.

“What!? But…”

“We will not be accepting this plate as payment, but we would like to take it off your hands. We can use it to divine the location of this dungeon you speak of, so we will compensate you for it.”

“But I… umm…”

“You’ve brought us one big step closer to resolving our quest. It’s the least we can do. Hopefully, that’ll get you home. Or it can sustain you until we get back, with your friend.”

“T-Thank you very much!” It was hard to look the man in the eyes. This was far more than she had hoped for, let alone expected.

The robed man patted her head as he stood, retrieved a cap from the table and put it on his head. “By the way, your friend…”

“Ah, yeah!” She had almost forgotten. She waved her arms in animated gestures as she recited the description. “She’s an elf, with long blonde hair. And her eyes…” It was obviously best to leave that part out. “Umm, and she’s really tall. Her name is Leylia.”

“Leylia, I see.” Gorion reached inside his robes to retrieve a small vial.

“Wait! You gotta watch out for her mama!”

“What, mother!?” Everyone at the table blinked in surprise, while the elven woman shot out of her chair and spoke.

“…Yeah. She has this big suit of black armor and cast spells. She’s really strong, and mean!”

“Armor… a cleric?” Jev appeared to be quite puzzled. “A cleric of Bhaal, and she casts spells?”

“Umm, I think so…”

“Impossible.” He waved his hand dismissively.

“No, according to the prophecy, he had plenty of forewarning. I imagine there are ways.” As he spoke, Gorion unscrewed the cork in the vial and held it under the sleeping human’s nose.

“Wha-What!? Gak!” The armored man’s eyes shot open and he squirmed, his arms flailing in the air as he tried in vain to steady himself, then fell to the floor with a clattering “bang!”

The dwarf once again let out a delightful roar of laughter.

“Ugh.”

The elven woman let out a long sigh as she picked up her pack and began to arrange her things. Somehow her quiet motions caught the attention of the cleric over the rousing crashes coming from the other side of the table.

“Hmm? Is something wrong?”

“No, I was just thinking about how despicable it is.” She shifted her gaze to Imoen for a moment before returning her attention to her things. “To think that an elven woman would trap her own child underground… like a drow. It sickens me.”

Somehow that reminded Imoen of one detail she forgot to add. “Leylia… she can hardly talk. She’s been there her whole life.” When she had the elf’s attention again, she added. “But she’s really smart. She’s probably the only kid there that can still talk.”

“Nine days since the death of Bhaal…” The elf’s sapphire gaze rested gravely on Imoen for a few moments. “How long has it been since you escaped?”

“Umm, about twelve days, I think…”

“Three days before his death…”

“Huh? Who?”

“Nothing, child. Though I advise that you continue on your way home.”

“What, why!?”

“Eilinia, there’s no need to frighten the girl.” Gorion was looking up from where the armored man lay on the ground, his face showing a kind smile. Imoen could feel a measure of gravity from it, however.

“Gorion, I usually entrust you with these matters, but that girl is probably-“

He shook his head back at her, stopping her in mid-sentence. The elven woman responded by uttering a barely audible curse before addressing the party. “Time to depart. Make haste!”

The dwarf grumbled as the table lurched into motion, slowly gathering his things and grumbling more when made to help his inebriated companion. The five of them were soon headed for the stables. Gorion gave Imoen a quick word of warning not to show the gold to anyone if she could help it. And, before she left, Eilinia muttered something to herself. It was barely above a whisper but, somehow, Imoen could hear it clearly.

“Confined below the ground… that child will be warped… at best.”

----------

When their horses left the stables and galloped into the distance, Imoen was there to bid them farewell, though Gorion was the only one that responded, waving back with a kind, yet grave smile.

They were soon out of view, vanishing into the plains grasses, leaving Imoen to turn back and head for her slated lodgings. The elven woman’s advice notwithstanding, she intended to stay in this town until they returned, hopefully with Leylia in tow. The woman’s last words left her with no small amount of worry. But, once she saw Leylia, she would probably change her mind. She only hoped that her elven friend would be all right.

She was passing under an overhang, her arm sagging under the new weight in her pack, when she saw something on a bulletin board that caught her eye. Haltingly, she began to pronounce each word to herself, taking it in slowly.

Have you seen this child?
Runaway daughter, age 6. Human.
Hair color: Pink Eyes: Brown
Reward: 200 gold pieces
Please take her to Evergreen residence in Nathleah.
Be forewarned. Child is expected to resist.

Imoen hurriedly tore off the sheet of parchment, balled it up, and threw it into her pack. She cast nervous glances up and down the street, and breathed a sigh of relief when she saw no suspicious glances cast in her direction. She had only to take two steps, however, before she stopped to notice another poster on the bulletin board. She quickly gave it the same treatment, and gave the forum one breathless survey before breaking out in a run for Laura’s house.

If she planned to wait for Leylia, she would have to keep a low profile, if it wasn’t too late already. She could only hope that Laura’s intentions were genuine.

----------

To the stirring of an autumn breeze, the vessel opened its eyes. It took a great effort to push them open… or were they open the whole time? Its sight was blurry. It had to blink many times to channel some moisture into its eyes. Eventually, its vision began to clear. What was it about the wind that had stirred it so? It was hard to think… hard to determine. Perhaps the coolness felt pleasant against its… her… its skin. No, a “vessel” is a thing. It doesn’t feel. It merely perceives.

There were many interesting… no… new scents on that breeze. Scents that weren’t there yesterday. Perhaps if she… it… focused its eyes, it would learn what had called it to wake. The yellow limestone of the room appeared unchanged. It was slightly lighter than before, the sunlight was coming in through the barred window now, but that was nothing new. The level of light had changed many times, having become rather ordinary. Light to dark. Dark to light. It was routine. There were shelves of wooden boards off to the side, arranged with various implements. None of those had moved. The touch of metal against its skin was the same as ever. As for the table in front of it…

The table in front of her. Something was different. There was a new object sitting there. A peculiar, interesting object that drove her to direct her full attention at it with some mysterious power. A leaf? That was nothing new. Leaves managed to flit inside on occasion. But something was different about this one. It had a peculiar hue. It was the same shape as the red leaves that usually fell inside, but its color had faded somehow. Less intense than red, it was something softer, something vaguely familiar.

Leylia. The name floated into her head suddenly, as if the leaf had whispered to her. She was not a “thing,” or a “vessel.” She was Leylia. The wind stirred again, and the leaf danced across the table as the touch of chill wind brought an odd warmth to Leylia’s chest, where seemingly none had been before. More memories must have been beyond the veil, but as the leaf whispered, and whispered, Leylia’s head began to hurt. The pain grew until it became difficult to look at it.

She had lost something, something precious. But whatever that something was, it was out there, protecting her. Leylia was startled as an odd pressure grew behind her eyes, flooded out onto her cheeks, and began to cool in the stirring breeze. What a strange feeling of nostalgia.

Her ankles and wrists were locked onto a circular iron contraption that usually stood vertically in the small limestone room. Her rags hung loosely about her, ripped and frayed as her body dangled there. The weight of her torso pulled down her iron-fastened wrists. She had no strength with which to resist the pull of gravity, and her wrists were bent in an excruciating angle. She was used to it, however, and her brain was hungering for any stimulation it could receive, including pain. How long had she been there? If she was to believe the memory in her head, she had been there forever. For her entire life, or… as long as she existed… no… The leaf told her that this was a lie.

That leaf... if only she could touch it. She felt that if she could only touch it, she would be able to grasp something soft, something warm. But any time she moved, her body merely shivered, and a painful spasm wracked her body, starting from the wrists.

Then, there was a sound at the edge of her awareness. It became more defined as it drew closer, a metallic clanking sound.

It was her.

More painful spasms followed as her body began to shudder uncontrollably. That woman's coming meant pain, and oblivion. Slowly, the clanking approached, and the wooden door creaked briefly as it swung open. From the portal, a figure armored in black emerged, stepped casually into the room, shut the door, and came to stand before the girl, appraising her.

"Well, now, what have we here?" The delicately fitted metal glove of her right hand reached toward Leylia's left cheek.

"Hya! S-stop..." The elven girl shied away from her touch, but could only move so far. The metal fingers gave her cheek a gentle caress, but her touch felt like acid. It felt like something was crawling under her skin tunneling deeper, deeper, and picking at her brain, twisting it. Leylia's breath came out in shuddering, painful gasps as the woman brushed her hand across her skin.

"My, oh my," she said through a smirking smile. "What is it you intend to be feeling, now, vessel? Fear? How very quaint." She reached across the table and lifted a large, metal rod, glittering with purple scales. Leylia's breath quickened, scratching her throat as she braced for the impending pain. "Vessels don't feel fear."

It came swiftly. All it took was a touch, but the woman brought the rod to bear against Leylia's ribcage with great force. Far greater than the blunt shock was the wave of seeking tendrils that ran under Leylia's skin, setting her nerves on fire as they raced for her brain and searched around inside it, seething, stealing, rearranging. It was not a physical phenomenon. It was entirely in her mind. She felt her captor forcing her will upon her, rewriting her.

"You are a vessel, an object."

"An... object..."

"You need only feel one thing, the essence within you."

Leylia could only pant tiredly, groaning with the memory of the psionic shockwave.

"Do you feel it...? My lord? Are you there?" She waited for a moment, peering into Leylia's face for some sign, some change. Eventually, she frowned and continued. "Fourteen of the Children are dead now, twelve were sacrificed as you directed, yet still... you resist..." She thumbed her chin thoughtfully as she glowered at the girl. "Could it be... because two Children died before your mortal death? Answer... you will answer me!"

The vessel had very little understanding of what the woman said. Its vision was swimming, and she... it... could feel the vortex drawing her in... her... it. No... Something embraced her and drew her away from it. Remember, the pink leaf said.

"Ma-..."

"Mm?" The woman's eyebrow twitched and her frown deepened. "What?"

"Mama, water!"

Her frown deepened into a glare. She drew the rod back and jabbed it forward into Leylia's stomach. If Leylia's arms and legs were not fastened down, she would have shriveled like a dead spider. Her nerves flared as the feelers tunneled through them, reaching up to pick at her brain again.

"A vessel has no mother, and it does not need sustenance! Throw those thoughts away and embrace the essence!"

The vessel was confused, and afraid. It knew such thoughts were wrong to have, but it couldn't help it. Was the woman going to hit it again? The thoughts fed upon themselves, growing louder and more intense.

And then, the despair leaked out. A dry, manic laugh began to scratch at its throat. Tears simultaneously poured from its eyes as the vacant chuckle issued from its mouth, broken sporadically with breathless hiccups. The elven woman seemed unsure whether to be pleased or disgusted, as the laugh grew. Eventually, the vessel ran out of breath, its chest heaving of its own accord to gather it again, then release it in even greater volume, this time interspersed with coughing spasms. The sound was quite unnatural, and by the time the elven woman finished waiting, it had become a cackle.

The woman breathed a disappointed sigh and raised the rod again, bringing it down hard on its left shoulder. The hysterical laugh ended in a painful scream, but the woman did not relent. The rod continued to press against its skin, its tendrils scraping away at the few shreds of identity it had managed to regain.

Eventually, it all began to coalesce into some formless mass and fade away. The fear, the pain, even perception itself began to slip into the void.

Just a little farther.

Just a little farther, and it would all end.

But, just before the darkness took it completely, the woman withdrew her arm, and the oblivion receded. The darkness, however, remained. The vessel had no further awareness of its surroundings as it slipped into its forced slumber.

----------

And awoke. A pungent scent brought its mind to awareness with a numbing jolt. A flurry of uncontrolled spasms escaped its lungs as it struggled to perceive the stimulus. Once again, its eyes were dry, and saw nothing. It strained its ears and heard a voice speaking in low, mumbled tones.

The vessel jerked back, coughing. Was it her? No, the voice was much lower, and other voices were answering it. Guards?

"But to what end? Why would someone torture a child?"

"Discipline, perhaps?"

"Like ye'd beat 'em frumda front, lad. Injurin's too easy dat way."

"She's coming to, now."

The light and color gradually returned to the world, revealing four figures, the likes of which it had never seen before. One was short, just a little taller than the vessel would be if its feet were on the ground. As it was, he was a measure shorter, with long, brown hair sprouting from his face and his body covered in heavy chain, as if he were a tiny guard. Two others stood at a normal guard's height. They wore helmets that made it hard to see their faces, and armor made of metal plates.

...Metal plates.

"Yaaaagh!"

The closest one, the bearded man in robes, clamped his hand over its mouth. "Shh!"

Its eyes opened wide with fright. It knew that it shouldn't feel fear, yet it screamed, and the punishment was swift. The man's fingers felt like acid on its face, and he didn't seem keen on removing them. It felt the tendrils burrowing into its skin, into its brain. Even though it knew the effort was futile, the vessel struggled, shaking its head vigorously.

"It's okay, girl! We won't hurt you!" exclaimed one of the plate-armored men.

They were hurting it plenty enough already... wait, girl? It stopped its struggling and blinked at them, in spite of the pain. Was this a test? The robed man removed his hand, seemingly satisfied that her... its fear had changed to perplexity. It... took the opportunity to cough, as if to spit out the pain.

"You think this is our girl?" asked one plated man.

"The physical description fits, but who knows?" mused the other. The two men looked mostly similar, and it was hard to tell who was speaking, but the second was holding a mace in one hand and a shield in the other, while the first had a sword sheathed at his side.

"What's your name, little one?" The next to speak was the robed man. The man who hurt it... burned its face. He reached his hand forward now, to her... its shoulder.

It flinched. "No! Stop! Stop!" The metal contraption binding it rattled loudly as it struggled.

"Okay, okay! I'm sorry."

Sorry? He was saying he had made a mistake? It was the vessel that made a mistake, crying out as it did. And he was asking its name? No, maybe his mistake was to touch it with his hands. He might reach for the rod, next.

The vessel calmed down as quickly as it was able and recited what it was taught, what it was supposed to know. "Vessel has no name. A vessel is a thing. An object."

"Vessel? Wot under de brrown earth is that tree-huggin' brrat tolkin' abaut!?"

The mace bearing man turned to answer the short one. "Bernard, if you believe what the girl said, she's probably never seen a tree in her life."

He responded with a derisive snort. "Den she be a damn sight better off than I be nau, aye? Sometimes I wish I'd a never come out o' de grround."

"Her treatment here is probably to blame." The robed man interrupted them, gazing thoughtfully at the vessel with his light blue eyes. "One more time, my lady." He leaned forward and looked at her earnestly as he asked his question. "You say you don't have a name? Is this true?"

He was so earnest, the look on his face grave, but kind. His hands were held carefully in front of him. He made no effort to touch it, and he didn't even give the rod a glance. Maybe he really wanted it... her... to tell him her name. But the name was gone, sunk into the depths of oblivion.

"I'm sorry..." An odd feeling of loss welled up inside her, as it seemed to have done many times in the recent past, and tears fell quietly down her cheeks. "I'm sorry... I don't know."

"Could it be-"

Leylia. "Leylia!" It was as if the name had jumped from the tip of his tongue to the tip of hers. Or perhaps it wasn't him. She looked around the room, and her eyes rested of their own accord on the faded, pink leaf that lay on the table. It seemed to whisper to her of memories long gone, memories that made her head hurt. Had she seen that leaf before, somewhere?

"I see." The gray-bearded man smiled brightly and rose to his full height again. "We've come to rescue you, Leylia."

"...Rescue?"

The wooden door opened with a loud creak, making Leylia's body jump painfully where she hung. Whoever was entering, Leylia never heard one hint of her approach. The new entrant was an elven woman, clothed in black, with short brown hair and beautiful blue eyes. She closed the door without a word and eyed the elven girl from there.

"Eilinia, good of you to find us."

"I could hear the racket you were making from a mile away, Gorion."

"Ahaha... My apologies."

"At any rate..." She walked closer, to where the group stood, and stopped to look up at Leylia from the front. Even as she moved at that distance, the best that Leylia could hear was the rustle of her clothing. "...This is our girl, correct?"

"Yes, this is Leylia."

She frowned at him. "I trust you weren't going to do something so rash as tell her who we were looking for before getting her name, were you?"

He fingered his cap with a helpless smile on his face. "Come now, it's healthy to have a little faith in people."

She removed a strap from her arm and moved over to the table of implements to set a pack upon it. "You're asking me to have faith in you or the girl?" Gorion seemed about to answer when she removed a small book from the pack and handed it to him. "The woman's journal. Even if the girl hadn't cut your slippery tongue short, it's all there. How's that for trust?"

The robed man didn't reply as he flipped through it briefly. "Z'talinress?"

"She was probably talking about this." The elf lifted the purple-scaled rod from the table. Leylia couldn't help but let out an involuntary shriek as she hefted it, then set it down. Although the threat had passed, her muscles still shivered with the memory of its touch.

"What the hell is that?" asked the sword bearing human.

"A relatively unknown tool of the drow. Those who speak of it in Common are oft to call it a PID."

"A PID... hmm..."

"Psionic Interrogation Device. Made from illithid parts and requires frequent recharging with illithid blood. Combine that with the side effects and it's easy to see why it's not used often."

"What sort of side effects?"

"Severe memory loss, for one." She turned and walked back to the contraption where the girl was hanging. "Leylia, do you remember your friend, Imoen?"

"Im..."

"You know, the little human with pink hair?"

"...What is pink?"

The woman walked back to the table and picked up the leaf, then held it in front of the girl's eyes. "This color is called 'pink.' Her hair looked just like this."

"...Pink... Im-...-mo... agh!" The pain flared in her head again. She bit her lip to try and stifle it, but could still feel the tendrils searching around inside her. "Ngh... Ah-!"

"Come on, try harder."

"Eilinia, that's enough!" The robed man stepped in front of her, sternly.

Her face was no less stern when she responded. "Yes, Gorion, that's enough! Our mission takes precedence, and this child is practically dead, already. Thrusting her out into the midst of society would be irresponsible."

"You're saying we should kill her instead!?"

"She was going to be his vessel, Gorion. What do you think I'm saying?"

For a few moments, the two glared at each other in front of her. One of the other three seemed ready to project an awkward comment when Gorion cut him off, speaking determinedly down at the elf.

"I'll raise her."

"You don't have the slightest idea what you're saying."

"I'll adopt both of them and raise them like my own flesh and blood. After this quest, my adventuring days are over."

She drew back in surprise, furrowing her eyebrows perplexedly at him.

"Is that good enough?"

She sighed and waved dismissively as she moved to the contraption where Leylia was suspended and began to examine it. "You'll probably regret this."

"Every child deserves a chance."

She gave a derisive laugh as she reached inside her cloak and pulled out two lengths of steel, then set about fiddling with the bonds holding Leylia's right ankle. "I guess you plan to adopt the other sixty, then?"

"Lathander be merciful..." interjected the mace-bearing human. "Did you say sixty!?"

"More precisely, sixty-five, plus twelve ritual sacrifices, two dead in Imoen's escape, Imoen herself, and Leylia, for a total of eighty-one."

"Where did you learn all that?" asked the other human.

"In her journal. And make it thirteen sacrifices if you include the one I just saw." There was a soft click from the contraption, and Leylia's right ankle seemed to swing out of its own accord as it lost its support. The feeling of release and movement for the first time in her memory brought an odd, yet pleasant shiver over her whole body. "Gorion, make sure to hold her torso when I release the other one," she said as she moved to the lower left.

"Unfortunately, the girl seems to have a problem with being touched."

"Ah..." Eilinia stopped her work briefly before continuing. "Right. I forgot about the other side effects."

"Like what?"

"Loss of motor control, schizophrenia, general dementia, incontinence, post-traumatic stress... Tactile hypersensitivity is probably most common."

"...H-how do you know all that?" asked the sword bearing human.

"Hmph! As if yeh understud a word of it, lad."

She sighed and continued, ignoring them. "At any rate, our princess needs to find a foothold, lest her arms end up in a world of pain." But Gorion had already found one, setting a small stool in front of her feet. He smiled as Leylia set a foot upon it, and a clicking sound accompanied the other's release before it followed suit. If the support weren’t there, she would have been supporting her full body weight with her hands, although the mere act of keeping her legs in place was painfully difficult. "Also, Gorion, you had better read the entries of fifteen and twenty-two days ago."

Thus the rest of the unlocking was done in relative silence, as Gorion continued reading, the others shifted uncomfortably, and Eilinia rattled the locks. With another click, the odd feeling of release spread to her left arm. The part of her wrist that had been bound in iron was strangely discolored, and slimy with stagnant sweat, but the sensation of rubbing it against her own skin was too good to be true. And although she knew better, her brain was telling her that this was the first time in her life where she had freedom of movement. Perhaps this was how it felt to be born.

Her vision soon began to blur, however, and the air she was delivering to her lungs somehow seemed insufficient. Her feet were wobbling and slipping, her breath was rapid and labored. The simple act of standing seemed remarkably difficult, let alone balancing upon a small stool.

“The last one’s about to give. Get ready.”

With one last click, her final limb was free from the contraption. When the feeling of release came, her equilibrium seemed to leave. What’s more, she was forced to stand on her feet for the first time she could remember. Purple specks seemed to flood her vision, and then darken to black. There was a wooden clunk as she toppled over, and subsequent flood of searing pain in her shoulders.

“Ah! Oops, I forgot that the blood was rushing to your limbs. I had to catch you for a second, there. Sorry…”

The dark clouds covering her vision slowly receded to reveal the sapphire eyes, looking down at her apologetically.

“Can you stand?”

Leylia tried to answer the elf’s question by turning over, placing her palm on the ground, and giving a push. However, if she had ever stood before, it was never this difficult. Once she pushed her torso off the ground, she had to wait, panting and coughing, before she brought her knees underneath and raised herself to a kneeling position.

“Gorion, how long do you think she’s been without food and water?”

“Probably… the whole time.”

“That’s not funny.”

“No, she was probably given a metabolic stasis potion. It’s often used in interrogation to keep the subjects from messing themselves. Freezes the digestive system and provides some magical nutrition.”

“…With side effects, I take it.”

“Well, it’s no nutrition potion. The muscles still atrophy, and it disorients them, making it easier to pass out. Usually combined with a nutrition potion to offset the effects… unless you don’t care whether they pass out or not.”

Leylia had given up trying to remember words to ask about long ago. Now she had to put her full concentration on rising to her feet. She grabbed the stool and used it to provide some support, but the process was still particularly grueling, especially when she began to raise her knees off the ground, the blood flowing freely through them once again.

“’Atta girl.”

“I actually brought some nutrition potions, just in case.”

“Maybe you should’ve given it to her before I took her down, you think?”

Leylia heard a tired sigh as she rose to her feet and left the stool to seek support from the circular metal apparatus that had been her home. “Leylia. I need you to drink this.”

When she heard the shuffle of robes behind her back, she reflexively darted behind the gridiron suspension, peering at him from behind the bars.

“Don’t worry, I won’t touch you. You see this?” He held his hand up for her to see the tiny glass bottle held within it, containing a glittering yellow liquid. She hesitantly emerged to examine it.

“Water… potion?”

“That’s right. First, drink the potion, and you can have all the water you want.”

The elven girl crept forward, and peered at the bottle from several angles before she carefully took it in her hands, and examined it some more. She noticed a strange smile on the elven woman’s face as she watched the proceedings, wherein she twisted it around in her hands and almost tipped it over horizontally, then stopped when Gorion shifted nervously.

“Just remove the stopper… and pour it.” He gestured to indicate what his directions meant, pointing to the glass knob at the top of the bottle and pinching his fingers in mid-air, then lifting an imaginary bottle to his lips.

Leylia followed his directions and drank the sour tasting liquid. She almost dropped the bottle when her wavering vision brightened with absolute clarity.

“The bottle, dear, the bottle.” Gorion held his hand out expectantly.

“Bottle?”

“The bottle the potion was in.”

“Ah!” She replaced the stopper and placed the bottle carefully in his hands, after which he stowed it within his robes and breathed a sigh of relief.

“Okay,” The woman rose to her feet with a soft chuckle. “Time to go to work.”

“Indeed. It’s time to bury this god-forsaken hole.

“Hah! A bloody insult to holes everywhere!”

The elven woman was about to walk away, towards the door, when Leylia caught her cloak and gave it a tug.

“Hmm?”

“Pink.”

Eilinia blinked down at her. “What?”

“The pink thing!”

“Ah, the leaf. Umm… where’d I put it…” The woman looked a bit flustered as her clear blue eyes darted over the floor, and stopped at a spot under the suspension. Quickly, she reached underneath to grab the faded leaf and push it lightly into Leylia’s open palm.

“Hmph!” the short one grunted. “Even if she dunnae ‘ave a clue what it is, a tree-hugger’s still a blasted tree-hugger.”

And so the lot of them opened the door and ventured out, but not before Gorion offered to take her new treasure and keep it safe. He had to reassure her a few times that he would give it back before she relinquished it, and he retrieved a book from his pack and shut it inside. He then directed her to stay in the room, which she agreed to do… until the five of them were gone, where after she opened the door and followed them, trying to keep out of sight. The five of them were far removed from anything she had seen before, and far too curious to let go.

She soon learned that they were at odds with any guards they came across, as any chain-armored patrol they encountered attacked them immediately. And whether they accosted two or six, they always cut them down with ruthless efficiency. As for the elven woman, she soon learned that they were being followed, much to Gorion’s dismay.

“It didn’t occur to you to use a lock spell?”

The other three snickered while the robed man breathed an exasperated sigh. “I didn’t want to confine her… What should I do? Go back?”

“I think not. They’re quite well aware that we’re here, now. You’d best keep her close by. The guards might have orders to kill escaped children.”

“This is nothing that a child should be watching.”

The woman put her hands on her hips as she walked through the ranks of the others to stand in front of him. “I hope you’ve read those entries I told you about.”

He was silent for a moment before answering. “She doesn’t remember that.”

“You don’t know that. And it doesn’t matter. My orders are to move on.”

“Umm…” The fierce blue orbs rounded on the elven girl when she timidly raised her voice. “S-sorry…”

“You can say that to Gorion. Also, it would help out if you did something about that cough. It’s hard to get the initiative when we’re making that racket.”

“Cough?”

The woman had only to mime Leylia’s choking spasms for a moment to illustrate.

“S-sorry. I’ll be quiet.”

“Good girl.” The woman flashed a pretty smile before walking back to the head of the group. “Now, there are going to be five more, ahead. I’ll go first to secure the area and take their backs. You all can follow in a minute or two. Gorion, you should be able to sit this one out, too. Just watch the girl, for now.”

After that, her cape fluttered softly as she disappeared into the shadows of the hallway ahead, and was soon nowhere to be seen.

Gorion leaned down and whispered at the girl’s ear. “A real taskmaster, isn’t she?”

Leylia only looked up at the man quizzically. She was too afraid of getting yelled at to ask what “taskmaster” meant.

For a while after she left, the remaining group waited restlessly, the three armored warriors ahead shifting noisily from one foot to the other. Leylia thought the noise of their armor was quite loud enough, but readily acknowledged that the sound of her coughing was louder. Also, what did “initiative” mean? Eventually, the three armored men gave each other a nod of agreement, and rushed forward.

Leylia was wondering whether it was okay to follow them or not when the robed man next to her dashed along to follow. Thus, she broke into a run and managed to catch up with them quickly enough, but as the pace continued, her chest began to grow hot with fatigue. Soon, the end of the hallway came into view, with a party of five soldiers visible beyond it. The dwarf bellowed out a battle cry and the three of them further increased their pace. The three of them pulled ahead as the elf’s footfalls began to slow, and the hallway was soon filled with the sounds of battle.

“Hm!? Leylia!”

As she pushed herself further, it soon became difficult to keep standing. Her hand naturally sought support, and found the cracks of the wall as she slowed to a walk, her chest heaving. The heat in her chest quickly rose and scratched at her throat, and she had to push back with all her might to prevent a spasm from escaping her lips.

“Are you all right!?”

She had no idea. It was hard to understand what was happening, surrounded by chaos. Had something like this happened before? She was told not to cough, but she had to hold her breath to keep from coughing, when her lungs were desperately waiting for oxygen. She soon felt the blood in her head grow cold and fell to her knees.

“You can cough now! It doesn’t matter!”

At his permission, she let it escape, and continued to cough in fits and bursts until the sounds of battle had ceased, after which it slowly began to slow down.

"What happened?" the woman asked, panting, after running over to where the two sat.

"It seems the girl is either sick... or has a weak pair of lungs."

"So which is it? Do you have a potion?"

He sighed as he shook his head, reaching forward to pat the coughing girl on the back, and thinking better of it. "Regrettably, Potions of Cure Disease are rare and expensive..."

"Jev?"

"Nothing. No potions, no scrolls," answered the mace bearing human.
The elven woman muttered a curse, and after a while, she addressed the robed man again. "Anyway, Gorion..."

"I was watching. If there were any anomalies, I would have added my powers to yours."

"Even if it meant leaving the child, assuming she had some kind of attack?"

"Even so." His voice was gravely serious, and perhaps a little placating when he answered. Leylia cut her fit short to look at him. He returned her glance with a smile, however. "I need all of your help to get her out of here, after all."

"Good. It's nice to hear you say something pragmatic for once."

"Umm..." Everyone suddenly turned their faces to look at the elf on her knees. The combined pressure of their stares was so alarming, Leylia feared she might have another fit, but she managed to push it down. "I... I'll still keep quiet. I just... can't run very fast..."

Eilinia smiled at her again, rose to her feet, and offered her hand. "It's alright to lag behind a little bit. Just-"

"Hya!" When Leylia reached for her hand without thinking, she was again bitten by the familiar sensation.

"Ah... sorry."

"No, it's okay." Before the woman could pull her hand away, Leylia grabbed it quickly, bearing the strange burning sensation until Eilinia pulled her to her feet.

For a moment, the woman's eyes were wide with astonishment, before she smiled down at her. "Hmm..."

"Hah! I think she's taken a liking to ya, boss," remarked the swordsman.

"Hmph!" She quickly turned away and walked back to the head of the party. "Cut the idle banter. We're going."

"By the way, Leylia," Gorion got her attention as the group resumed walking forward. "She was about to say, if you see anyone coming up behind us, give a holler."

"What is holler?"

"...Just scream really loud."

"Huh..."

The six of them proceeded to the end of the branching hall, where one brightly lit hallway curved and descended into a spiraling stair. Before their descent, the woman once again turned to address them.

“There should be a number of them here, too. Eight or ten, I think. Gorion?”

“At your command,” he answered, flamboyantly, bowing with a flourish.

“Okay, I’m going ahead.”

“Godspeed.”

And with that, she disappeared down the stairwell. Even her leather armor seemed loath to let slip the tiniest of creaks as she faded from view. As with many other previous encounters, the three others shifted uncomfortably as they waited for a few minutes, their armor clanking noisily from side to side.

“Alright. Follow me.” Jev was the first to go, clanking down the stairwell, the other following in sequence as closely as they were able. As Gorion’s gray robes fluttered out of view, Leylia began to follow at a walk, turning to take one last look and listen behind her before she went.

The sounds of battle erupted beneath her, but they ceased before the hall even came into view. There was a rather odd air about the ordeal. If there were eight troops, it seemed logical that the battle would be fiercer than the one before it. The hall that appeared before her was massive, and rather dimly lit, illuminating long rows of barred pens on each side of the room. In the center was a circle of stones, flanked by two braziers, with a bloodstained altar in the middle. Standing before it was the party of five, with two dead chain armored soldiers lying at their feet.

“Sorry, Gorion. My mistake…”

“Bah.” He waved his hand dismissively. “It just means I’ll be sitting out a little longer. I don’t mind in the slightest.”

“That aside,” said Jev, turning his helmet for a sweeping look about the place, then pulling it off to reveal a sweaty head of black hair before giving it a better look. “This is where they kept them… all this time? It reeks!”

Indeed it did. Having been exposed to the fresh air of the surface, Leylia could easily understand the depths of the stench that surrounded this strangely familiar hall. The whole area had the raw tinge of sewage in the air. And a nagging thought in the back of her mind told her that the smell had increased.

“Yeah… probably the biggest source of it is that, there.”

The other human removed his helmet and squinted at the area in the dark where the elf was pointing her finger. When Leylia followed their eyes, she saw a misshapen, knobby mound rising beyond the altar. Four of them went forward to investigate, while Gorion looked hurriedly around the room, his search coming to a stop when his eyes rested on the young elf.

“Leylia, come with me,” he said, stomping severely to where she stood. His finger pointed and indicated the curving stair.

“Gorion, what is that?”

“Hurry up and follow me.”

“Oh, god! …Ulp!” The sword bearing human’s voice echoed through the hall from where the pile stood. What was he doing? What was that? Leylia turned to get a better look at it, squinting her eyes to discern what she saw among the glowing forms in that direction. She thought she saw a speck of warmth on the pile.

“Leylia, do as I say!”

Reluctantly, the elf turned away from the knobby anomaly and joined the robed man at the stairs, where they proceeded to wait for the others’ return. At the sides of the hall, the elven girl could see the warm, skittering forms of the cages inhabitants, the torchlight reflecting in their dark eyes. They observed the newcomers in a palpable state of fear. Most of them shivered with their backs to the cages, as far away from the center of the hall as they could muster.

When the four other adults left the mound to return to the stairway, one kid ran to the front of his cage in their passing. When he saw them flinch at the movement, he grabbed the bars and began to shake them, filling the hall with a loud, metallic banging noise. As he continued the gesture, several other children ran to the bars and joined him by shaking their own. Gradually, the noise began to grow, and grow, and resonate with the stone until it ceased to be a sequential banging and became a dull roar, filling the hall with enough sound to shake the ground. The four adults then broke into a run for the stairway. When the three metal armored warriors arrived, they didn’t even spare a glance at Gorion or Leylia as they rushed up the stair.

“Hold it! Hold it!” Eilinia screamed after them, her voice fading into the din. She gave an animated gesture up the stairs and dashed up. Gorion ran after, while Leylia walked after them, eyeing the cages as she went. Slowly, the noise quieted, and before the hall disappeared below the stairwell, their bright eyes were looking curiously at the retreating elf, brilliant and red as they reflected the torchfire.

Like mirrors, the elven girl mused.

“How in the Nine Hells did the three of you lose your heads over something like that!?”

The three armored men hung their heads low as they received their rebuke.

“Those children…” began Jev. “They’re not normal.

Eilinia’s lips were in a tight line as she glared at him. “I can see that… but they were behind cages! That racket traveled throughout the whole complex! Imagine what would have happened if you came up here, running like a decapitated chicken, and found a REAL threat waiting for you!”

“Sorry, ma’am!” bellowed the swordsman. Was he crying?

“I’ll have you remember, we weren’t able to afford even ONE resurrection rod for this entire damned trip! I’d have had to make Gorion turn you into zombies to get any kind of use out of you!”

“Eilinia,” the wizened man sighed. “That comment was in poor taste.”

“Ugh…” The woman made a face as if she had swallowed a bug. “Sorry… anyway, what are we going to do with them?”

“Hmm?”

“The kids.”

Gorion winced as the hand stroking his beard closed tightly over it. “…You’re asking me!?”

“Yeah. To be honest, I’m stumped.” The woman looked gravely at Leylia, seeming to measure her words carefully before she continued. “The best thing I can think of for them… is to put them all out of their misery.”

“Hmm? What is misery?”

The old man sighed, deeply. “I know I can’t adopt them all, and we can’t just take them to the nearest town… but I just can’t stomach that idea.”

“Yeah, I can’t either… But if we shut this place down, and leave them there… They’re going to get hungry, and…”

“Hmm…”

Leylia turned to look at the circular stairway she had just ascended, wondering what “misery” meant, and how someone might be brought out of it. As her mind grew blank, a vision of another place began to show over the narrow stone walls. She saw the bars, the oily, grimy, rusty bars, and she was behind them, watching kids in the neighboring cages, watching the adults pace to and fro.

She thought she heard someone call out to her, and turned to look behind. The person she saw there wasn’t a person, but a formless gray shadow. Even though it had no mouth, it seemed to be smiling. She was a kind, nameless mentor who taught her anything she wanted, and answered any question she asked.

What is misery? She asked in her mind, but no answer came. The vision faded, and she saw nothing but the stone wall.

“…I was there.”

“Hmm?” Gorion grunted inquiringly as he and everyone else turned to look at her. “Leylia, did you remember something?”

She felt all of their stares on her, and couldn’t help but squirm, but she answered. “That place is home…”

The entire party seemed to sigh collectively as Eilinia approached and knelt down in front of her. “Have you been there, this whole time?”

She nodded.

Eilinia smiled sadly and reached to pat the girl’s head, but thought better of it. “It’s amazing that you can speak. The other kids never answered me.”

Leylia turned away to look distantly at the stairwell. “Some of them know. Knew. Someone taught me… someone.”

The aching pain flared again in her head, like a balloon that inflated and pushed at her brain. She cried out and reached up to hold her temples with her hands, pushing back until the pain gradually faded.

“…Maybe that’s where her respiratory illness comes from.” She heard the woman direct her observation at Gorion.

“Probably. If a miner can get sick from being around coal dust too long, a child growing up in that filthy air would probably have deformed lungs.”

As Leylia managed to relax and freed her head from her grasping hands, a strange thought popped into her head.

“Open the doors.”

“Hmm?” Once again, everyone turned their eyes on her simultaneously.

“If you open the doors…”

“Kid,” said the mace wielding human. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“No, wait,” said Eilinia, interrupting him. “It could be the best option.”

Gorion smiled. “A simple solution, but if it gives them a chance, why not?”

“However… We don’t have the keys, and I’m not going to pick sixteen locks when the enemy knows our position.”

Gorion nodded in agreement, alongside everyone else. “So, that would mean…”

“That’s right, we’re going to get the keys. And I’ll bet I know who has them.”

----------

The entirety of their trek back through the lower levels was quiet. In fact, the quiet became quite oppressive as the rattling sounds of the warriors’ armor echoed about the halls. The torches were still lit, though some had sputtered out from neglect.

It was quiet, and tense, but the woman neither meandered, nor did she slip ahead for scouting. The entire lot of them merely marched determinedly on. Eventually, they reached a narrow corridor that Leylia found to be rather familiar. About halfway down its length, she saw a large, straight crack that sectioned it off, as if cutting the passage in two. When she looked up, she thought she could see the dark outlines of spikes resting potently in the darkness. It was then that the elven woman turned to face the group.

“Gorion, do you know what time it is?”

“Hmm? We haven’t seen the sun for a while, but, do you have an idea?”

“It’s about half past the eighteenth hour. Time for that, don’t you think?” A strange smile seemed to have crossed her face.

“Ah, indeed.”

He reached inside his robes and withdrew something, pinched between his fingers. He threw it into the air and quietly muttered a strange word in what was clearly a magical language. The pinch of dust crackled with a blue light and exploded, bathing them all in a cerulean hue. As she felt its glow upon her, Leylia had the odd feeling of something in her mind being strengthened. Any anxiety she had about their current environment seemed to have been lifted from her shoulders.

“Excellent. Now, let’s go.”

As she turned and continued to lead them on, Gorion bent down and whispered into the young elf’s ear.

“From now on, whenever Eilinia or I tell you to do something, I want you to do it quickly, without any questions. You understand?”

“Oh… okay.” Somehow, the girl felt she understood the meaning behind the woman’s actions a moment ago. This kind of atmosphere, this air of intent, meant that a battle was imminent.

The corridor bent and bent again, then opened into a great hall. Leylia noticed that the party had passed into cleaner air. The room was constructed of yellow limestone, with braziers in a circular formation at the center, a great stair between them and the far wall, and a second-floor balcony.

Eilinia seemed to exercise no caution as the party bounded towards the center of the hall. As they left the area near the wall, there was the deafening creak of many wooden doors opening simultaneously.

“Don’t move!”

As they were ordered, Eilinia and the party came to a stop. The voice that gave the order was behind and above them, from the top of the great stair. The voice was that of a woman. A voice that Leylia knew all too well, but couldn’t name. If there was any time that the girl heard that voice in the past, she would always have felt such an oppressive fear that she would hardly have been able to move.

_________________
Free legal music.
More of free legal music.


Last edited by Despair on Wed Jan 27, 2010 9:32 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Top
 Offline Profile  
 
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 19 posts ]  Go to page 1, 2  Next

All times are UTC + 1 hour [ DST ]


Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:
Jump to:  
cron