I remember nothing about her, only that she was me. That was a long time ago. My mother had died giving birth to my third brother, Toron.
Because of my mother’s death, my father became a drunk. Any money he got from working odd jobs was imidiatly spent at the tavern. I, being the eldest of four children, was left with the task of raising the others.
The town, or hamlet, consisted of our house, four total, one of which was burnt down long before anyone in this town could remember, a shrine to Sol, a grave spot with many rest written in an archaic language our shawman says people stopped using a mileniam ago, and a few even older then that... Also a well and the tavern that, if a stray wanderer came to town, doubles as an inn.
Our neighbors have food growing in dirt patches around their houses. I attempted to do this myself, but to little success. Sometimes, the only food we had was a caught rat.
Day to day life was rather monotonous. I know for a fact that I wasn’t happy. But I didn’t know anything different.
I write this not to explane the pity of my past, but as an account of my metaphorical journey. It started here, in the nameless settlement I have drawn out for you.
There was a man in the town; his name I don’t recall... Praelo, I think. Could be Pringle. I don’t remember. His name doesn’t matter to me. All that does is that he preyed upon little girls, as I was. And I was unlucky enough to be caught alone in a room with him.
I was in the tavern one night, hoping to find my father to talk him out of drinking so much, and maybe help with finding food and repairing the house a bit. I wore a dress that was my mothers, believing it would stir some memory of her. Toron, Poe, Caain, and I were her children, after all.
My father, however, had left the tavern. Somewhere on the road between it and our house, he was likely to be passed out on the ground. I started thinking about how a small girl was going to get him all the way back to the bed in our house without help from someone bigger. I asked the barkeep for help, but he just lauged. “Not my job, kid,” he said. “When you find him, just leave him. What has he done for you anyways?” He then went up the staris to the living area of the building, leaving me alone in the tavern. Or so I thought.
I turned to leave, but before I could get to the door, a voice called out to me. “Girl,” it said, “come here and show me a smile. You would be so pretty if you would only smile...”
I stopped, and turned to see Praelo, sitting in the dark only feet from where I stood, swishing around the contents of a leather tankard.
A voice in my head, the voice of reason, most like, told me to ignore him and walk on. But I was frustrated. This made me bold.
“I am not here for your enjoyment,” I said. “Go find someone your own age to torment.”
He laughed, then reached out and grabbed my leg.
Unhappilly, I tried to slap his arm away. This only provoked him further, for he slid his hand under my skirt and between my legs.
I remember the rage I felt as he felt me up. It filled me. It forced me to defend myself. I twisted, shoving his hand away, then took a step towards him, bringing my knee up between his legs.
He cursed at me and threw his tankard to the ground. Then, he grabbed me by the hair, and threw me down onto the now wet floor. I screamed for what was left of my honor. Desprately, I kicked up at him, but he only grabbed my leg and pulled me closer before kneeling down to mount me. One hand pinned me by the neck to the floor as he lifted my skirt with the other.
I struggle to retell this next part.
He took me. I felt him enter me, and I felt pain. It felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside. But I remember it all in the third person, as if I was watching myself from the ceiling of that room. I wached him leave me alone and watched myelf cry. I felt ashamed and angry. I let out wordless call of anger, slamming my fist into the tavern floor. Waiting for what, I did not know, I cried there for the better part of an hour before an idea struck me... Revenge.
I went out to the well, cleaned myself up, then went to my house and locked myself in the attic.
My story begins here. A little girl with too much responsibility, left impovereshed, and lastly, violated and broken.
Over the next few days, It formulated a plan. However, I was not strong, quick, or clever.
Praelo... He spent most of his time in the tavern. He’s still sitting with his drink long after the bar keep has retired for the night. More often than not, he’s alone. I don’t think he actually had a place of his own in town. He just bummed at the tavern all hours.
A knife behind the counter is a common thing. So is a sleeping drunk. What isn’t common, at least in that small town, is when a man is found murdered in a public place.
This was my doing. I did not like Praelo, or Pringle, or Potatoe, or whatever his name was. He had to be stopped.
The barkeep had retired upstaris for the night. I watched him put out the last lantern in the tavern before taking his own candle for light up the stairs. The wooden door that lead inside the building had no lock... It didn’t even have a handle. After waiting five counts of sixty, I pushed in the door, hoping the hinges had been oiled recently. The scraping sound the door made against the floor was the loudest sound I had ever heard before, or so it seemed at the time. I dared not close the door as I went inside, lest the scraping sound wake anyone inside.
I paused, and soon my eyes adjusted to the lack of light inside the tavern. Light on my feet, and very slowly, I creapt through the dark to the other side of the building. Behind the bar, there’s that knife I was talking about. I looked at Praelo, a third of the way across the room, then down at the knife I held, anxous, and only half believing that I was doing this.
I spent the day before fancying myself like the ancient and imaginary assassins, thinking about how good it would feel to finally be rid of him. Now that I held the knife, creeping slowly and silently behind this sleeping man, I was not so sure of myself. What if he woke up? What if the barkeep came? What if I couldn’t go through with this? I stood behind him, and put the blade of the knife a few inches away from the skin of his neck. What if the blade wasn’t sharp enough to cut through his skin? I paused, and a million questions went through my head.
I pushed the knife into his neck, and slit his throat, then ran as quickly as I could out the door, hearing him choke and cough on the blood.
The constible was arriving in town to check on the settlement after the body was found. The town shaman was leading her, and it looked as though they were coming to talk to me. Before she could get to me, however, the bar keep ran up to the constable, arms flailing.
“Madam!” he shouted, “Madam, a man was killed in my bar last night! Thank Sol above you’re here!”
The constable was a woman of average size. I thought she was fairly young for the job at hand. Her face dark and hard, framed by aubern hair that fell to her shoulders. She moved quickly to the scene of the crime, glancing at me with an almost apologetic look. She mouthed something, but I don’t know what.
I made myself scarce for the rest of the conversation. I hid in my house’s attic. It was an eternity later, though, until I heard a knock on the old door below. Toran answered the door.
“Hello, boy,” the constible said, “is your sister at home?”
He just pointed to the broken celing boards and stuck his fingers in his mouth. Although he could understand our language, he couldn’t form complete sentences yet...
“Azrah,” the constible called, “don’t make this difficult; just come down here and we can talk about this.”
She called out again when I didn’t respond.
“Now girl,” this was her third call, “if you step down and come to Veii quietly, there are things we can do to help you. If you fight on every stop of the way, those options won’t be available. so Azrah, please, just come down.”
Hesitanty, I walked across the attic, avoiding the lose or crumbling boards until the constible and Toron were visible through a hole in the celing. She held a hand out as if offering to help me down. I hopped down about a yard away from her.
“You killed Praelo?” She was asking, but it sounded more like a statement.
I shook my head without looking at her.
“Who did, then, Azrah?” she asked. “It doesn’t take someone too bright to put the pieces together. He hurt you, so you killed him.”
I looked at her face. “Maybe,” I said.
The constable laughed.
“He had to be stopped,” I said. “This is serious. Why are you laughing?”
She smiled. “I know how serious this is. My work is very serious. I take any amusement I can, at this point. And I’ll count that as a confession. Come with me” She tied my hands before me with a long rope, and tied the other end to his belt.
“You’ll want to grab some food. Its a few days travel to Veii,” I remember her voice sounding calm at this point.
A simple response: “There is none here.”
The constible went to the tavern to talk to my father, I figured she was worried about my brothers. Of course, by the time she and I got there, my father was too drunk to comprehend anything.
“I’ll try and look after them,” a small woman said. She was a lady that lived in the house closest to ours. Her skin as white as the rose flowers that grew wild, with hair in varying shades of whitish grey.
The constable and I left after she spoke with the woman for a time. I did not care to listen in. At this point in time, my brothers were on their own.
The path out of town was long, and somewhat twisted. Enough so that I would have a difficult time telling the exact direction from the main road the town lay. It was set deep into the forest. From the walk, I would have thought it was farther than I later learned it was. The path was unpaved and rough. Often, I couldn’t tell where it turned without following the constable. The tree roots seemed to jump out of nowhere, grabbing my feet to pull me down to the ancient cities, and to the tormented rest of all thoes who died died during the Black War.
In the village, there were folk tales about trees so old that they had grown aware of their surroundings. Soon after, they started to speak to each other, then walking, using their roots for legs and feet. My mother used to tell me stories about these trees before putting me to bed. I thought about that while we walked the trail, I wondered what things trees would talk about. I thought about anything that kept away the thoughts of punishment for the act of murder.
Night was falling by the time we found the main road. This was the farthest away from home I had ever been. The trees had cleared away to reveil a line paved in on the ground. Along a North-South axis, it was made of stone and bonding agent. The road was twice as wide as I was tall.
“We need to hurry and get to the next town. The roads can get very dangerouse after nightfall.” The constable said, her pace quickening.
I nodded following after. Not that I had a choice.
Despite the setting sun, the road’s traffic was still steady. I saw people hauling carts filled with food and other goods to sell. Tired mothers carriying or dragging their tired children. Travel-worn men wandering in seemingly aimless directions. In saw a begger being given a coin by a woman that looked almost as poor. Poverty seemed to be the only common thread holding all these peoples together.
An old man fell to the ground before me. He moaned from sickness, and everyone flew away from him with rapid steps. Not knowing what to do, I followed their lead, feeling the rope that tied me to the constable tighten, and then slacken.
A hand grabbed my arm. I screamed and started fighting against it before realizing that it was only my escort.
“What is wrong with that man?” I asked the constible once we had returned to the relative calm.
“He’s been marked by a demon,” she explained, “See, child, there are certain places where they live. These demons haunt those places, and anyone who walks into them are marked. We can’t see it, but Sol does. Sol turns his back on those marked. Anyone who gets to close to those people get marked as well and die before the end of the week.”
“Oh,″ I responded. I thought of places that the Shaman and other townspeople had warned against going to see. I wondered if that man had stumbled across one of those areas, or if that had been the reason I was warned against going.
“I see the town ahead,” the constable said, “hope there’s still some room in the inn.”
Her pace quickened with anticipation, I had to run to keep the rope from dragging me.
We walked into a building, the constable first, me after. The creaky door sounding as though it were screaming in pain before giving a room-shattering bang as it closed.
“Leena, good to see you again!” shouted the innkeeper behind a wooden counter.
The room was not large. The counter was by the far wall, the only distance separating the two was enough for the keep and a chair. Between us and it were three tables scattered about, with three chairs spread around each. Four of those chairs were occupied.
“Leer,” the constable said, tipping her imaginary hat.
“Would you and your, eh... prisoner want something to eat?”
“No, Leer, just a place to crash.”
″Alright’” the innkeeper said, grabbing a small key and motioning to the stairs. “You want the room that needs the key to both get in and out, I’m guessing?”
“Bring another bed,” the constible added, “I don’t think she’ll be to happy with sharing.”
The innkeeper said something about money and the constable ignored him and lead me up the stairs and into the room, closing it behind me.
“Well, girl,” she said, “I don’t think you should be going on trial at all, with what was done to you and all, but its not up to me.” She sat down on the straw bed and sighed, ″You barely resisted arrest, and you’ve been nothing but cooperative on this. The restraints are precautionary, but you haven’t faught them at all. If I get a word in, I’ll say something about all that. It might mean being sold into slavery instead of execution.”
That didnt make me feel any better.
A knock on the door and a strange look from the innkeeper later, I was chasing sleep on a small, lumpy mattress. Back at the house, I was always on the floor when it came time to rest, so the mattress was better than my usual accomidations. The thin blanket did little to keep out the cold, however, but it still was better than normal.
I do not need much sleep - that’s more of the Night genes in me. A few hours usually does me right. But that night, even to nod off for a moment was impossible. The constible snored. I wanted neither to be executed or sold into slavery. I thought I would make a good slave... Do as I am told and work hard... but in all likelyhood, I would eventually find myself as a prostitute. Forced forced sex was something I had already had enough of.
Morning came an eternity later. With Sol, the constible rose, not wanting to waste any time.
The innkeeper was still asleep by the time we got downstairs. The impatient constible went back up the stairs and banged a door repeatedly. She came down less than a quarter hour later with the innkeeper behind, looking tired, grumpy, and just a little beat-up. It doesnt take someone with profound intelligence to work out the details of the keeper’s morning.
The constable puts small handful of coins on the counter after the innkeeper had made his way behind it.
“Count them, Leer, and be done with it,” the constable said, ″We need to be all the way to Veii before the gates close.”
I don’t think the innkeeper cared; He deliberately took more time than nessicarry to count them, and then to count out the change he owed to the constable.
After that game was over, the two of us were out the door and back on the road in less time than it took would take to ties shoelace. I can’t say I was upset about that. The road held enough stimuli to keep my mind from the destination at hand and my ultimate fate once we got there.
The traffic started out fairly light, but grew more dense as the morning progressed. Soon I had to weave in and out of people that stepped unwittingly between us, just to keep sight of the constible. I often wonder if he was intentionally trying to lose me. If I escaped, the odds were that no one would care enough to search for me.
I wish I could have had these thoughts at the time - I could have had the freedom and life that I had wanted.
One could argue, however that had I ran off, would the Order have found me? There is the possibility that I could have starved on the street, like some of the beggers I had seen. A whole number of possibilities could have happened to that little girl I was, and only a few of them would have concluded well for me. It was for the best, I choose to believe, that I stayed with the constible until I was officially in custody of the Veiin Guards.
I am jumping ahead of myself.
I observed that the closer we got to our destination, the less empoverished the persons walking the roads appeared. Their clothing appeared less tattered. The people themselves looked less like they were starving. They were more lively as well. More conversations, and laughture. More smiles.
A little before midday, we come to a building on the side of the road. There was a sign on the front, but I couldn’t read, and had no indication of what it said.
The building itself was old and made of crumbling brick. Vines were starting to root themselves into the walls. Despite the near-ruins, or maybe because of it, I thought the building to be beautiful. The small buds starting to bloom on the vines seemed a nice contrast to the rough, dark brick. I smiled as we entered through the wooden door.
Inside the building seemed a paradox when compared to the outside.
Although the inner walls were made of the same bricks as the outer walls, they looked as though they had been laid the day before. The black stone floor was flawless and clean enough that I debated in my brain about whether I should take any more steps, for my bare feet would surly stain it.
“You can eat while walking, right?” asked the constible.
I nodded in response.
This building was an indoor marketplace. I had no idea that a market could be so clean. There were two halves to it, separated by an isle of vender stalls. This line was two stalls thick each facing away from its counterpart. The left and right wall also had vendors, but not all of them had a stall. They were selling their goods straight from the cart.
“We can get something to eat at one of the fruit stands.” said the constible while walking down the left isle, dodging the crowd of people looking around. Once again, it seemed like he was trying to lose me.
I followed followed after quickly, though.
I’ll spare you the details of haggling over prices, though I will say that I think the constible spent more of his money than she wanted to, and the vendor got less than he expected. The berries I was given didn’t last to see the door. I had not eaten anything in the morning, so I felt ravenouse. Two apples and a pear had soon disapeared as well.
I don’t know or care what the constible consumed.
The rest of the day and road passed with few more interruptions. A few times, I drank from my escorts water canteen. We stopped twice, once to relieve ourselves, and once to refill the canteen. One man was rather insistent about selling his shoes to me, and the constible had to threaten him with being arrested and then whipped before he finally left me alone.
“The poor girl...” he said. “Look at her feet. How can you let her walk around without any protection on her feet?”
“I don’t want to see you again,” the constible shouted at him. “You bother this girl or me, I’ll haul you to the dungones of Veii myself!”
But he silently persisted, following after us and motioning to me to his shoes in his hand when I looked back at him. I doubt that the large man’s shoes would have fit on my small feet.
We reached Veii’s gates just as Sol started to descend down under the horizon. The gates had just closed. The constible was not happy. She started yelling at one of the two guards after being denied entrance into the city. Her efforts were futile.
There was a rather convineanty located tree, however. I was a child; climbing trees was something I did for fun. I figured if I could make the jump from one of the branches and onto the wall, it would be as simple as getting down on the other side.
The Veiin Guards didn’t like my plan very much. The guard who wasn’t being verbally abused shouted at me as soon as I grabbed onto the wall. I proceeded to pull myself up onto the top of it, and promptly fall down the other side and onto a rooftop of a building built into the wall. I realized that I had twisted my wrist when climbing down off the roof. The guards aprehended me immediately after me feet touched the ground, restraining me.
“Shes not going to run away,” the constable said. I assume that once I was over, they had to let her in, with her being the original arresting officer.
The guards ignored him. They were careful, after I screamed, but they bound my wrists together behind my back.
I wouldn’t have been able to tell you exactly where the guards took me. The entirety of the nameless town of my childhood could have been lost in only a single building of this vast city. This was the planet’s capitol. As I was led through the streets, I marvelled at the sheer size and height of the buildings. some seemed to be made of metal. I had never seen metal before. A few towers reached high enough to touch the very stars, I thought.
Being taken to an underground building disrupted my thoughts. They started again, though, after several levels down when I saw that the city continued as far below ground as it did above. Truley, a majority of the planets population resides within the walls it dwarfs.
Soon, it was just me and a single guard.
“Where did everyone else go?″ I asked, feeling rather stupid for not noticing their absence before.
“Constible Leena went to go fill out some paperwork,” he answered, “its messy, going out to investigate a raping, but coming back with a murderer. Our Emperor has enough work without these hearings, and when something strange or unusual happens, there’s a lot more work to put into it. So he’s doing that.
“The other guards went back to their posts.
“Will you follow me if I untie your wrists? I feel that it’s cruel to keep them at such an angle when you hurt yourself...”
I nodded, and my wrists were untied.
He then looked at my wrist. “You’ll be fine, I think,” he said. “Just need to work it out. My son climbs things all the time, and hurts himself almost as much. This does not look as seriouse as some of the injuries he’s had.”
I nodded to indicate that I understood.
Walk down a hallway; Walk down a long set of stairs; Turn a corner; Walk down yet another hallway; It felt to me that we were walking all night. I can’t be sure, though.
But finally, the guard stopped and opened a green stone door. I stepped in, with him following after. The small room contained a desk with a man behind it, half asleep in his chair, and one foldable chair seated on the other side, facing the left wall. We barely fit as well.
“Kyne, I need some internment forms,” The guard said, startling the dozing man.
After coming to his senses, he started flipping through the mess of paper, inkwells, and quills on the top of his desk.
The guard stood there with an impatient look on his face.
But soon enough the man, Kyne, found what the guard wanted and offered it to him as quick as he possibly could.
And back through the laberynth we went... Although, not very far. We rounded a corner and into another room. This one with two chairs, a table, and enough space to allow me to think.
The guard motioned to one of the chars, and, once I sat on it, seated himself on the other. He asked me a series of questions. What was my name? Did I have a second one? How old was I? What race? They seemed to me to be means of identification. I didn’t understand why they were being asked of me.
He then gave me a number, wrote something on a tag and told me to atach it to my shirt, then handed me the quill he was writing with and told me to sign my name.
I grabbed the quill hesitantly and stared at the paper.
“You can’t read or write,” the guard said.
I shook my head.
He then got up from his chair and left the room.
“Kyne!” I heard him shout.
Moments later, he and Kyne came back into the room. Kyne took the vacant chair, and the guard leaned up against the wall.
“Right,” he started, ″Azrah, just mark the page: Scribble, or draw an ‘X’, or whatever. Then Kyne here is going to sign beneath, meaning that he has witnessed you ‘signing’ the paper.”
“Why does Kyne need to see me, or sign?” I asked, drawing the symbol that was on a rest back at the nameless hamlet.
“Procedure” he answered, “annoying, but procedure. This is one of those unusual occurrences that make everything more complicated than it needs to be”
Kyne saw the page, and shot an uneasy look my way before signing it. So did the guard, upon seeing my mark.
“I’ll go submit this” he said, “then notify you when you can be placed.” He seemed very eager to leave.
“What’s going on?” I asked the guard.
″You’ve commited crimes, as you know. All people besides Rebles or War Criminals have the right to a hearing in front of the court. This includes the Rain District Elect, also known as Constible Stein, the Emperor himself, and a handful of his advisors. Other witnesses will be there as well, but those are all the important ones.
“Normally, we would give you the choice of weather you want this or not. But you are so young, and you face execution, For someone of your age to be in such a situation, you must be cleared by the Emperor. No lesser official can make that call.”
At that moment, I noticed that the guard liked to speak with his hands.
“Right now, we are placing you in holding until you can go to the hearing. This may take a long time, however. With the Emperor being the ruler on the entire population of the planet, he can get very busy.”
“This place is completely different than my town...” I mumbled.
He grunted in acknowledgement.