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 been 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 choics. I imagine she would have simply dragged me by the rope tied to my hands, had I not ran after her.
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.
“Azrah, hurry up!” It was the constible. I had fallen behind while making observations. The rope that attatched me to her was pulling me along.
Before I could make a step, 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.
A large hand grabbed my arm. I screamed and started fighting against it before realizing that it was only my escort, taking me to safety.
“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.
Of corse, thinking of my hamlet, and the people there, brought me around to thinking of my crime...
Pringle or Praelo deserved to die; There was no question about that. But me killing him... How did that ever happen? I see the scene in my mind again and again, but somehow, it never seems like me.
I am a good girl... I take care of my brothers, no matter how burdonsome they become. I catch and prepair food for them. I take care of my father when he comes home drunk. I clean and do what is expected of me. How could I have escaladed so quickly to murder? Was I possessed by a demon? Perhaps I never should have walked alone out in the woods the other night... Just a stroll to clear my mind must have been when a demon took me. I was marked!
“I see the town ahead,” the constable said breaking my thoughts. “Hope there’s still some room in the inn.”
Her pace quickened with anticipation, I had to run to keep up.
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.
“Stella, 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 sleep.”
″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.” He sat down on the straw bed and sighed, ″You barely resisted arrest, and you’ve been nothing but cooperative on this. I don’t even feel the need to restrain you. 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 as I said, it still was better than normal.
I do not need much sleep. 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 nor sold into slavery. I thought I would make a good slave... Do as I am told and work hard... It is what I normally do, after all. But in all likelyhood, I would eventually find myself as a prostitute. Forced forced sex was something I had already had enough of.
And again, my thoughts turned to the murder Praelo. I must have been possessed... And yet, I remembered it with so much clarity. I felt detatched from the entire experience, though... This must be because I wasn’t in control of myself, right? How could I have done something so outside of my own self?
But I remembered what he did to me, and felt the anger rise again in my chest. This... This was not something I could control. I felt compelled to hurt something... Anything just to make the anger subside. But how could I? I was devoid of hurting utensils, and the only person in the room was going to make sure I don’t get executed... Why would I hurt her?
I got up, and searched the pockets in her dress for the room key. Maybe I could do something to someone else. The anger inside me was compelling me to do something. I couldn’t sit here and do nothing. That anger... The only thing I could do was to bite my lip until it bled. Perhaps I wasn’t marked after all. This was just how I delt with my anger. If that were so, then what was wrong with me?
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. I smiled to myself, thinking that witnessing the rousing would have amused me.
The constable puts small handful of glass 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 tie a shoelace. I can’t say I was upset about that. The road held enough stimuli to keep my mind from the destination at hand, my ultimate fate once we got there, and what I had done to deserve such a fate.
The traffic started out fairly light, but grew more dense as the morning progressed. Although she had tied my hands before me, she had not tied me back to her belt as she did the day before. I often wonder if she 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.
But what did I want?
One could argue, however that had I ran off, the Order would not 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 choose to believe, knowing the assassins myself now, that they would have found me, no matter where I was. The question now becomes, would I have survived long enough to take me in?
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, white 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 internally about whether I should take any more steps, for my bare feet would surly stain it. I hesitated, for a briefe moment. But then the constable walked on, calling back to me, without even looking, however. I released my inhabitions, and stepped gingerly onto the floor. Nothing happened. Thus, I followed after the constable.
“You can eat while walking, right?” asked the constible, once I had caught up to her.
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 she was trying to lose me.
I followed followed after quickly, though. Even then, I was light on my feet.
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 woman was rather insistent about selling her shoes to me, and the constible had to threaten her with being arrested and then whipped before he finally left me alone.
“The poor girl...” she 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 her. “You bother this girl or me, I’ll haul you to the dungones of Veii myself!”
But she silently persisted, following after us and motioning to me to her shoes when I looked back at her. I doubt that the large woman’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.
Meanwhile, I used the oppurtunity to loosen the bonds at my wrist, until I could slip my hands out.
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. Upon falling from the roof, I landed on the ground, almost face first. I put my arms out to block the fall, and twisted my wrist by the way I landed. The guards aprehended me immediately after I picked myself up off the ground, restraining me. They were careful after I screamed when they wrenched at my wrist.
“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 her.
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. The only metal I had seen before was a small cup a young lady had at my village. 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 Stella went to go fill out some paperwork,” he answered, “This is very messy... She told me he was going out to investigate a raping, but then came back with a murder suspect. 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 she’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, as the sun never made it so deep underground.
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, or what even some of the questions even meant.
He then gave me a number, wrote something on a tag and told me to atatch 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, dissapointed.
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 I was talking about 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 Stella, 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.”
“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 planet, he can get very busy.”
“This place is completely different than my town...” I mumbled.
He grunted in acknowledgement.
We sat then in silence, It came to my attention how absolutely fatigued I was. I put my head on the table and tried to stay awake. I’ll have enough time to sleep once I was in holding, I thought to myself. I was too interested in what was going on around me to want to sleep. But alas, slumber took hold of me.
When I woke up, I was in a large, dark room. Soon enough, I could see that I was not alone. This room was by no means filled with people, but there were enough to make that little girl frightened. More people were living here than the population of the village, but only by a hand full, I figured.
Someone had hung up strings, and used towels, sheets, any hint of fabric, it seems, atached to these strings to separate the large room into many small alcoves. Some of them seemed randomly placed amongst the others.
“Yer awake,” said an old man not far away. ″They just flopped you in here not moments ago, some the other folk figured you were dead. But you’re just asleep.”
The man was short. He had thinning brown hair, green eyes and a hooked nose. Based on his thin stature, I imagined that he was under-fed.
“Where are my manners! My name’s Talor Talor Airmaster before I got myself in here. But that was eaons ago.” Talor shrugged off his own remarks with the wave of his hand.
“Hey, Riydon, girls awake!″ Talor called.
A man appeared from one of the string-rooms and looked over at us.
“That’s Rydon, he was the last to get here, besides yourself.”
Rydon shuffled over to where we were sitting, by the very large, metal door. This place must be truly ancient.
“What’s going on out there?” Rydon asked, looking at the door.
I shook my head to indicate that I had no idea.
″You can speak, can’t you?″ he asked.
“Hold on. Let the lady get herself together.” Talos told Rydon before addressing me: “Although, getting to know your name would be nice.”
“Azrah,″ I said, “what is this place?”
“Limbo’” said Rydon.