Chapter 1 - Vesper
“Okay, how ’bout this. I’ll trade you my stale bread for your moldy porridge. C’mon, you know the bread tastes better.”
“I don’t know, Torren. There’s only a few bites left of that loaf, I’m not sure that’s worth an entire bowl of porridge.”
The two pre-teens entered a staredown, the morning sun adding dramatic lighting as it streamed through the walls of the rickety shed. The boy presented a half-eaten loaf of bread with a confident smile, as if he were showing off a precious jewel. The girl crossed her arms, her pale blue eyes telling him one thing. Not. Good. Enough.
“Fine,” Torren eventually conceded. “What’s your counteroffer?”
“You take all the porridge. I get the bread and I get to use the gardening fork that still has a handle for the entire day.”
“You drive a hard bargain, Vesper. We have a deal,” Torren smiled and shook hands with her now that their business had concluded. “Not bad, Ves. Getting better at negotiating. Good skill to have. I’m tellin’ you, I’ve seen master rip so many people off using these tricks.”
“Probably how he got so rich,” Vesper mused. She hopped up and eagerly found the single garden fork that still had a handle, relishing the relief her blistered hands would have today.
The dim shed was suddenly illuminated as a young boy opened the door and staggered inside. His face was gaunt and his body frail from malnutrition. Vesper hurried to his side, gently sitting him down in a pile of hay.
“Are you okay Yura? You look ill. Did master not feed you?”
“No, not that,” Yura shook his head, his face looking quite queasy. “When we were in town, they were having a witch trial and a woman was... sh-she was-”
“Burned at the stake? Yeah, that happens pretty often nowadays. Horrible smell, ain’t it? The screams too,” Torren said while picking some dirt out from under his nails as if they were chatting about what they had for breakfast. “What’d they get her for?”
“Wind magic. Someone said they caught her conjuring up a storm.”
“Yeah right, some fool must’ve felt a gust of wind and blamed the first woman they saw. Poor lady probably had no clue what happened,” Torren shook his head in disgust.
“You really think so?” Veser asked.
“Of course! If she could use real wind magic, she would have just blown out the fire when they were trying to burn her at the stake. Duh. Use your head, Ves.”
“What’s going on in here? Why aren’t you miserable maggots in the fields yet,” roared their master, lord Guller, as he stormed into the shed. Vesper was always amused at how his is silk clothing was customly tailored to fit his massive gut.
“My apologies, lord! We were just discussing the witch trial,” Torren quickly stood up and gave a polite bow. Vespyr rolled her eyes as Torren put on his ‘sophisticated’ voice as he always did in the presence of their master. “Good thing they’re ridding the town of those vile creatures. How did you know this one was a witch, my lord?”
“Oh, I could tell the second I saw that wretch that she was a heathen. I knew it in my bones,” lord Guller said, his voice now reaching a much more civil tone. “It’s all in the eyes. She had a crazy look in them.”
“You say that about all women,” Vesper muttered. To her horror, her master heard her. The veins on Guller’s temples became more pronounced. His fists began to tighten. She squeezed her eyes shut as he lifted his arm.
Torren beat him to the punch in the most literal of senses, striking Vesper squarely in the cheek. She fell to the floor, the room spinning around her.
“How dare you talk back to our master! You will speak when spoken to, do you understand?” Torren quickly switched from yelling at Vesper to addressing lord Guller. “My apologies for her insolence, lord. I will ensure she is punished.”
“Good. Now get to work,” Guller growled, taking his leave.
After their master reached a suitable distance, Torren rushed to Vesypr’s side. “Ouch, sorry Ves. You okay?”
“It’s fine, I’d rather have you hit me than master. He doesn’t punch like a girl,” she said with a smirk, feeling where her cheek was beginning to bruise. “I still don’t see why you indulge him so much.”
“Notice how he doesn’t hit me or yell at me? That’s why.”
“Still, he’s a horrible person and you know it. Standing up to injustice is the right thing to do.”
“Who told you that, your parents? The poor peasants who sold you into slavery? Yeah, probably not the best people to take life advice from,” Torren shot back. The downcast expression on Vesper’s face made him wish he had chosen a different witty reply.
“Sorry Ves, but I’m not wrong. Justice, honor... those kinda things don’t matter. Not for people like us. We weren’t born into nobility. The only thing that matters for us is survival. And if you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes to survive, then you won’t.”
Vesper remained silent as they headed out into the fields and began their long day of labor. About noon, the summer heat had taken its toll on Torren, his forehead dripping with sweat.
“Ves, I’m dying here. Can you do the thing?”
“What? You’re the one who told me not to do that.”
“Yeah, but this heatwave is killing me, so I changed my mind. Besides, master’s inside drinking and the other slaves aren’t watching.”
“Fine.” After taking one last cautious look around, Vespyr held out her hand, facing her palm towards Torren. She closed her eyes and took a slow, deep breath. Despite the dry heat a sparkling cloud of air was clearly visible as she exhaled. Torren breathed a sigh of relief as cool air permeated his clothing and surrounded his body.
“Whew, thanks. You okay Ves?”
“Yeah, just a little light-headed is all,” she said, rubbing her temples for some relief. As her eyes fluttered open, she caught a quick nod from Torren. Their master had stepped outside.
“Uh oh, he doesn’t look happy,” Torren noted as lord Gullen stormed across the field, a whip in his hand. He winced as their master began brutally whipping one of the slaves.
“Wait, that’s Yura! Torren, you have to get master to stop!”
The pair sprinted over to the scene. Yura was on the ground, his eyes rolled back in his head and his body trembling. Torren stepped forward to intervene, but before he could get a word out, lord Gullen shoved him to the ground and continued whipping Yura.
“Get up you worthless maggot, and get back to work!”
“He has heatstroke, master, he can’t help it,” Vesper pleaded, but her cries fell on deaf ears. She looked desperately to Torren, but he knew he couldn’t stop their master’s rage.
The sound of the hard leather lashing against Yura’s sickly body was too much for Vesper to bear. She rushed between them and shoved lord Gullen back will all her might, screaming at the top of her lungs.
A deafeningly loud sound erupted in front of her, accompanied by a flash of bright blue light. A thick fog enveloped them, obscurring their vision. As her adrenaline rush began to fade, a painful tingling covered her right hand and forearm. She looked down at her hand, the tips of her fingers nearly black.
“Oh gods,” she heard Torren breathe.
A warm breeze began to clear the fog. Lord Gullen’s body was covered in white ice, with massive icicles extending behind it reaching nearly seventy feet away. Half of his house was demolished by the giant formation. A horrified scream came from inside as his wife tried to dig herself out of the rubble.
Torren was quick to react, shaking Vesper out of her shock.
“Ves, you need to get out of here now. I’ll try to buy you some time, but once lady Gullen reaches the village, they’re going to hunt you down.”
“W-what do I do Torren?”
“Run as far as you can. Follow the path north, but don’t walk too close to the road. Hunt and forage for food. Promise me you’ll do one thing, Ves.”
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