Runeheart

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Chapter 5 ~ Rena's Tale

R e n a

I’m an impure one, branded so by whatever force of nature, but you already knew that. Though I was never brought to Aldevia as soon as I left my mother’s womb, I was still snatched from her arms at the tender age of two.

The road to Aldevia was long and hard, trekking wagons through the Aesurian wastelands, full of imprisoned children born with their fates sealed.

Most children upon arrival were sent to their assigned new homes or sold off to the highest bidder at the local markets. Though fate it seemed had other plans for me.

I was born a fighter, a streak of rebellion coursing through me like as silent death trap, something that would eventually get me into a considerable amount of trouble.

I spent my first few early years in a prison cell, a small hole in the ground, rusty bars jutting out of the walls, sealing me in the darkness along with a number of other unwanted impure, too young to work or too unbroken to take orders.

After my spirit was weakened after being left until the brink of starvation and heavy punishments I was bought and like many other impure I finally had guardians, though they were a far cry from a family.

Upon my arrival I spent my days working the household from dawn until dusk, every impossible chore piled heavily onto my weakened shoulders, treating me like an animal. Failure to comply meant heavy punishment, some of which I still have scars from to this day.

Even after spending the majority of my childhood caged and beaten to the brink of death, I’d always been a fighter. I was rebellious, headstrong and could even become quite vicious to any demon that got too close.

When I turned eight my owners had grown tired of me, I caused to much trouble and was not worth the amber they had paid for me. They told me they had sold me off at a very high price and at the time I was glad to be rid of them, unaware of what was to come. At the time I thought my life would get better in comparison to what I had gone through with my previous owners.

I really believed things couldn’t get much worse, that they would only get better for me after the two demon males took me away, but I was wrong. Things only got worse.

They took me further north, just on the outskirts of Aldevia’s capital. An area I wasn’t familiar with and had never come across, the building more cramped together, streets piled with demon-folk and mixlings alike, the air thick with smog and dust.

They led me underground, still tied from the long trip, through darkened tunnels into what I first had though was some sort of tavern.

There I was introduced to the owner, a Halfling named Oriax. I’ll never forget how those bright yellow eyes bore into me that day, and how easily they read me.

He told me how I was in The Devil’s Corner and that it would become my new home, if I was obedient.

After some serious scrutinising, he told me he’s heard I had an unbroken spirit to which I simply addressed him with a cold glare, my hands fighting to escape the twisted rope cutting into my wrists. He then asked me if I could fight. Me, being the young and naïve self that I was, took this as an immediate challenge and I remember blatantly telling him how I could and would take on anyone if I wanted, including him.

He’d smiled at me, though it looked much more like a sneer, obviously pleased with my answer. The smile never seemed to reach his eyes, they took on a different emotion entirely, a look of utmost malice. Then without another moment’s notice he ordered the two men who’d brought me, to put me in the ring.

I was shown from the room and sent out into what looked like a huge arena. There were thousands of seats everywhere, encircling the entire room. They rose up all the way to the top of the underground ceiling, lit by swinging candles burning with small flames.

In the centre of the ring stood a huge metal cage, only two doors on either side to let people in or out and as my eyes traced all the locks that ran down the door, I realised I’d be in that cage until they decided on their own terms, to let me out. Though there was no roof, I knew there would be no escaping; the top of its walls were covered in barbed wire and electrical charges.

I was brutally shoved into the cage, taking quick note of all the dry blood splattered across the dusty floor. I heard the men as they locked and bolted the door behind me and as soon as I heard the last bolt, a shiver ran down my back. I was trapped, like an animal, no worse off than I had been with my previous owners.

I didn’t have to wait long before my opponent, a young girl, showed up, entering the cage from the door ahead of me. The reversed rune that rested on her cheekbone pointed out her heritage. She was one of my kind.

She appeared to be a couple of years older than me, but while I was small but strong she looked ragged and weary.

She had mousy brown curls that only just reached her ears, though I soon noticed the huge area of naked skin on the front right side of her head, where someone must have ripped out her hair. Her eyes were big and brown, set behind a wall of thick black eyelashes.

She also had bruises, I noticed almost instantly, black and blue, covering almost every inch of her body. The way she held herself was poor and anyone could see the limp she had in her left leg from a recent injury most probably caused by the events which occurred in the very cage we both stood in.

My heart went out to her. Even with my small understanding of our lifestyle, I knew this poor girl had seen far too much pain for her age. I couldn’t even begin to imagine the horrors those pretty brown eyes had seen and I didn’t want to.

I was pulled out of my stare by the noise of someone seating themselves to my right. My head whipped around to see Oriax watching me carefully whilst he smiled.

Smiling wasn’t something I liked him doing; his were too fake as if he were trying his best to lead me into a false sense of security, while his eyes told too much.

“Kill her and I’ll let you live little one” he said suddenly.

Hearing this made my stomach drop and fear take hold of me, as the realisation of my current situation dawned on me. Did he really expect me to kill one of my own.

She was ill, weak and it was clear to everyone in the room that she was badly injured. She probably hadn’t eaten in days and he expected me to snatch her life while she tried so desperately to hold onto it.

I was rebellious, yes, but I certainly was no killer and I had never purposely tried to hurt my kind in any way other than steer clear of them. I could feel myself shaking my head in horror but I couldn’t speak as he interrupted with a single clap of his hands.

I barely had time to register, before she was upon me. For someone as injured as her, she was fast and it was clear that I had made a mistake. She was feeble yes, but knowing I was her death sentence would be encourage anyone to fight back and it seemed as though she still had quite a bit of fight left in her.

But after taking the kicks and punches, not fighting back, something instilled in me. If I didn’t kill her, she would certainly kill me. This was enough motivation for me and once I’d let the fire within me blaze up, my anger took control and I began to beat her back. She didn’t want to die and neither did I, not like that but it was what was to be done for survival. But my need for it finally overcame hers hours later and after a long struggle, I snapped her neck killing her instantly, a numbness spreading through me as she fell limp into the muck and dust of previous kin.

Killing her didn’t make me feel powerful and undefeated. It scared me to think how easily they could manipulate us into destroying ourselves for the sake of our own survival. I was afraid of what he would shape me into, a monster, a killer, a demon.

I shouldn’t have been given the chance to use that power and I’m not proud of what I did that day or the days to come. But that first day in the Devil’s Corner stays clear in my mind, her lifeless eyes still haunt me, but I was given no other choice.

After I stood up, my hands dripping with her blood and my own, my hair tangled and my eyes dark, Oriax began to clap clearly proud of his new fighter. This disgusted me further. I had become another pawn in his sick and twisted game and the worst of it was, I was given no alternative. I had to do his bidding or face the ugly alternative, death.

He took me out of the cage and snapped his fingers once. As the two men from earlier led me out of the arena, Oriax just ahead, I dared to glance over my shoulder. What I saw brought a tear to my eye; a small boy, no older than me and what I assumed to be impure, kissing the girls forehead before dragging her lifeless corpse out of the arena.

This small private scene made something inside me crack, a wound that would eventually make me the cold, ruthless killer I’d soon become.

After the fight, Oriax branded me with a hot iron in the shape of an O. The two men who’d brought me, held me down against my struggling and another one of Oriax’s slaves came at me with the iron. I’d never felt pain more excruciating than those two minutes that it met with my skin.

In the weeks that followed, they began to call me Wildfire. My real name didn’t matter, not anymore. I never lost a fight, not even once. Losing meant death. Days grew to months, months stretched to years.

Fights became a regular part of my daily schedule and I eventually became the most popular and most famous fighter in the whole industry.

Demons and Halflings would pay in huge amounts of amber just to catch a glimpse of my fighting skills and much to my dismay Oriax was quickly becoming rich because of me. This made me his most prized possession, which to me wasn’t a good thing at all.

I spent my days alone, secluding myself from the others in Oriax’s possession, afraid of letting myself get too close, allowing myself to feel emotions I couldn’t afford. I kept my distance forever aware of each of their fates as well as my own, that is until they brought in a boy with half of his faced charred, the other beautiful and undamaged. Eyes as bright as moonstones, his left blinded by whatever happened to his face, he never did tell me.

He never saw Wildfire, he saw the shattered person beneath, the one once called by another name. The girl who would not survive had I stayed in her shoes.

In the ring he was the blinded brute but once alone with me he was simply Boe, an impure a year younger than I who also had the misfortune of being a fighter, but the luck he would say of finding me.

I tried to keep him at arm’s length, hold back but I couldn’t. He became my constant reason for not falling apart, he became something dangerous, something that weakened me yet strengthened me. He became something I grew to cherish.

My time there, my routine never changed and I had begun to lose hope of ever having my freedom, believing I’d live out the rest of my days as Oriax’s personal money machine. That is, until a certain demon claiming to be from North east, a few miles off from the dragon’s mouth, who started coming to see me fight.

He watched me every night for two weeks and always made sure Oriax gave me the two stones of amber and silver he’d always leave for me. I knew he paid well or else I wouldn’t see one single amber piece, not that I needed money. I never stepped foot outside Oriax’s territory.

I always gave the silver to Boe, hoping one day we could both be free of it all. I saved the amber, stashing it away in my rags, saving for those two whole weeks, truly believing that I could buy our freedom with them. After all, to us, it was a lot of money.

It was a long shot and I knew deep down that Oriax wouldn’t let go of me that easily when I was making him filthy rich and I ended up being right. All my hopes and dreams of freedom vanished. I somehow knew I’d stay in that hell hole until the day I died.

The next night, the demon came once again to see me fight. He sat in his usual spot and observed me the way he did every time he’d come. As I was led into the cage, I looked out for him, trying to avoid looking at the cage for fear of being reminded once again how much I hated it, how much I hated my life. It reminded me of every one of my own I’d killed and it always left a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.

But on this night, what came after was completely unexpected and much worse.

My opponent for that night’s big fight was Boe. He stood silently watching me from the fines of the bars. My stomach clenched tight as the situation I was faced with became clear. Oriax was making me fight the only friend I had in the horrid excuse I called my life. It was beyond cruel, but I couldn’t believe I didn’t think this would happen before. I wouldn’t put it past him, anything for a good show and I always knew they were cruel bastards anyway.

I remembered the day we’d met, the day we promised that if we were faced with each other we wouldn’t fight.

We stood each in our corner, our eyes locked onto one another. Neither of us moved, neither one of us willing to begin even after the ringing of the starting bell.

Then he stepped forward and I could only follow in pursuit, until we met in the centre of the ring.

“I guess we should get started,” he said, his usually bright eyes dark.

“But our promise..” I trail off, my eyes clouded.

“I will not fight you wildfire, but I will be proud to die for your life Rena,” he told me, his eyes boring into mine.

“But,” I began.

“No more, do what has to be done,” he replied, his eyes closing as he sealed his fate.

The crowd watched on as we began to encircling each other, and then the fight began.

It broke my heart and crushed my soul, but he welcomed death, refusing to take mine. I was never the same after that. The crack which had infiltrated my mental suit of armour slowly grew to a bigger wound over time, had now become a gaping hole no one could ever hope to fix. I was broken, my spirit my fight had left me and everyone could see that.

That night after the arena, I decided my fighting days were done and was even considering following after Boe, it was my only choice, my last chance at freedom.

Then I heard the whispers and gossip from some of the other impure, the rich demon had bought me from Oriax for a five hundred stones of amber, an absolute fortune.

After six years of absolute hell, things finally looked as if they were going to get better. Sadly, once again I was wrong, though not at first. Misfortune, it seemed, had its way of finding me.

After he had bought me from Oriax, my new master took me to his beautiful home in the west where I began to live as his servant. He was kind enough to me, seeing as he was a demon with a terrible temper. I soon began to realise that he favoured me to all his other servants, the majority of them women or young girls like myself. He didn’t have nicknames or pet names for any of the other girls, except for me. My name was wildflower, not caring for my previous callings.

Every one of them was aware of my status in his abode and though I felt guilty for being our masters favourite, they all pitied me and I never knew or could understand why. I found out for myself over a year later.

I remember how he’d called me into his study, his favourite room of the house, so that he could speak to me in private. I knew this room well, as I was the only one who was allowed to enter unaccompanied. I knew every painting, every crack in the walls, every decorative piece standing tall on the shelves and his desk.

As I walked up the hallway towards the study, I began to panic and my thoughts wandering over every possibility every action I had committed to figure what I had done to upset my master. I began to truly think I was in trouble and I was, just not in the way I’d first expected. I reached the door and as I went to knock, he told me to enter.

Walking tentatively into the room, I shut the door behind me and walked into the centre of the large room, stopping hastily in the centre of the large rug stretching across a good two thirds of the marble floor.

I watched him, my heart pounding, as he stood from his seat, his tall frame casting a shadow over his large oak desk, not taking his eyes from me for even a second. I began to feel uncomfortable under his gaze, my heart picking up speed in my chest rendering me almost breathless. Silently he slid out from behind his desk and began to circle me like a vulture.

I felt my skin crawl when I felt his breath on the back of my neck as he moved my curls over my shoulder in a simple swish before continuing to walk in circles around me.

This continued for a little longer, before I couldn’t take it anymore and spoke, involuntarily taking a step back.

“You called for me,” Is all I can muster.

Within moments, he pushed me against the wall brushing his filthy lips against my chest, sickening me further. I roughly pushed him away, my heart pounding in my chest and my body trembling.

A look of anger flashed across his face and he grabbed me throwing my five foot nothing self to the floor. I remember a he dropped to his knees and dragged me roughly by my ankles towards him, my skirts bunching at my knees. I struggled to free myself, but it only made his grip on me tighten.

I couldn’t even scream, I knew no one would come to my aid even if I did, everyone too afraid of the consequences. It was finally when he began to pull and tug at my shirt, that my wild fury was set loose and kick-started me into action. Sending me straight into survival mode, I began to scratch and kick at him until I had enough room to free myself.

As I slipped out from under him, I grabbed the first thing I saw and plunged it through his upper back, the end protruding from his chest oozing black tar-like blood before he’d even had time to grab me again. They hadn’t called me The Wildfire of The Devil’s Corner for nothing.

I was found hours later by one of the older girls, when the silence had become too daunting, cowering in the furthest corner while my eyes burnt holes into the corpse of our master. Over the days which followed the others were sold off to the highest bidder along with the house. I however, was classed as unstable and dangerous and needed to be punished for my unspeakable actions.

That same day, I was dragged screaming to the Queen. A horrifying creature, with such beauty and fear the strongest beast would succumb to her. As I stood under her malicious gaze I knew that death would be only a blessing. For an impure to kill a demon is punishable by the worst sentence you can ever imagine.

As my punishment I was sent to the pitt off the Dragon’s mouth, the closest thing to furthest depths of hell you could think of.

I remember the journey, tied like a dog expected to keep up with their wilderbeasts, no food, no water just the ongoing road and my fate sealed by iron gates.

I will never know how long I was there for, every hour felt like an eternity. The pain and torture is enough to send the sanest person into a spiral of madness. The demons down there, sent to keep us in check, played with the punished like pawns of their own game. I could feel myself slowly turning mad from it all, my sanity slipping as I slowly lost myself, but I prevailed.

Staying sharp and keeping focused, aiding myself with runemagic in my imprisonment was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I had to find a way out, I had to wait for my opportunity to arise, I had to have my freedom. And when it finally did, I never even had to hesitate. I took escape and I ran.

I ran for the freedom I so desperately craved, for the mother I was taken from, for the years I spent a slave, for lives I had no right or choice to take. I ran for Boe, the boy I’d loved and lost, and I ran for the girl they called Wildfire.

And never looked back. For the first time in my life, I was free. And I was afraid.

Afraid of the shadows of my past, afraid to look over my shoulder. Fearful of losing my freedom, of anyone who got too close, running from everything that could hold me prisoner.

Running for two long years.

Running, until now.

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