In To The Dark
The bed was so soft. She didn’t want to wake up but knew that there were things that had to be done. She took the time to stretch langourlsy before slipping her feet to the carpeted floor. Padding to the wardrobe, she opened it to find something to wear. Her brow furrowed. A hard frown crossed her face. There wasn’t a single dress that she would wear in there. She sorted through them looking for a comfortable set of breeches. In lieu of that she chose the most modest thing hanging there.
That turned out to be a wicked thing. There was no back t the dress what so ever. The front was cut to the navel in a V. It was patterned after flames and actually flowed to the floor, which was the only reason it was the most modest of the dresses.
She assessed her appearance in the mirror. The scoop necked leaf patterned dress made her pale skin glow ethereally. Her nearly translucent hair was piled on her head in a severe updo that made her look much older than she was. She felt ready to face the day.
She descended the stairs from her confining shack, not bothering to make the flea infested pallet that she had been afforded to sleep on. Her father was at the breakfast table reading the most recent Snildon Herald. His eyes rose over the edge of the newspaper. “Good morrow, youngling, I trust you slept well.”
“MmmHmmm.” She mumbled as she took a large bite of the Prapple marmalade slathered toast that had been sitting on the table in front of her.
“Good. Because you need to wake up before your suitor arrives.”
She swallowed, brow furrowed in puzzlement as he faded from the other side of the small desk in her shack. She looked down at the purple dressing gown that she was wearing and it hit her. She wasn’t really awake. There was a heavy knock at the door. She rose to answer in her usual casual attire. A tight sleeved linen shirt in barely blue under an indigo vest. The vest was left open to show the high waisted ebony brocade trousers. These ended at mid-calf where her indigo kid-leather riding boots took over.
She threw the heavy bolt and ran a hand through her recently shortened hair. The entity’s smile made her cringe. It also caused her to realize that he had been messing with her. She was slightly angered at that but decided to let it pass. He was a demon after all and it was in their nature to skew a person’s perceptions.
“Didn’t like my selections?” he drawled in that irresistible voice.
“I don’t really care for things that make me look like a strumpet from the red light district.” She said with a lopsided smirk.
“Ah so your nation doesn’t typically dress its women in such attire?”
“No, everyone gets to make a choice. Generally, only street walkers or someone intending to shock the assemblage. The worst trend that I have seen is probably the one that was a low v in front with a mid-back scoop.”
He gave an eyebrow lift to indicate that it was interesting . “Not what we are told.”
He gestured for her to walk with him outside. She closed the door on the way out.
“By whom?” She asked dryly. “The masters of your prison or your controlling overlord?”
A look of controlled rage passed through his eyes. “Does it really matter who tells us these things?”
“Only in that they are misinformed.” Her eyes narrowed. “Enough of this idle banter, what is it you want?”
“The same thing that I wanted last time, but I know that you won’t give it to me.”
“Not willingly, not now. I do not know you well enough.”
“What is there to need to get to know? I am what I am and I will not go against my nature.”
“No but for all the minds you have contact with, you are lonely. I have to say that I pity you there. So many people and not one friend among them.”
He gripped her shoulders painfully. “What do you really know wretched elf!” He raged at her. His hands slid down to where he could turn her with a harsh twist to her arm. Before her was a mirror, it reflected the pained look on her face and the malicious grin on his. “You sit here now with every intention of getting me to change my view on your kind. It won’t happen you know.”
“She gritted out a smile through her pain. “I could only hope. You know one of my best friends is half-succubus. She has the vilest temper, much like yours, but she also knows how to reign it in. It appears that you need more practice at it.”
He shoved her to the ground with full force. The rocks and pebbles bit into her hands leaving little trails of blood. “You can be too observant.”
“Consider me your trial in patience.” She smiled.
“That I will.” He grinned back at her. She couldn’t suppress the shudder that passed through her at the sight of his viciously pointed teeth.
They continued on in silence after that, eventually arriving back at her stoop. He gestured for her to enter. Before she was able to get herself safely ensconced behind the door, he took one hand, kissing it lightly across the knuckles before releasing her to re-enter the safe haven of her shanty.
She woke to a light tapping on her shoulder. Cracking her eyes she saw her tutor there with a tray. She ate a small feast of eggs, toast and ham with him in grateful silence. It was the first completely solid meal she’d had in week, her stomach tried to rebel but she was able to hold it down. He started as she nodded her thanks to him.
“Now we need to talk. What things have you done prior to your journey to the light?”
“I was teaching and taking care of various house chores.”
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Not to be rude, but that sounds absurd from what I’ve been told of Nuelm.”
“What can I say, we were a strange family. Mother never allowed father and grandfather to hire a house servant. Now we did have an occasional stable boy, but most of them would quit after a short time. That would leave it up to us to be sure the manor was always in order.”
He was taking notes as she spoke. Once she stopped he looked up, prompting her to continue.
“Umm…that is what took up most of my time until recently, I was drafted into service with a group of my friends due to the war and here I am.”
“So just what was it you were drafted for?”
“My ability to take the worst of assignments and find some way to make them work.”
“So you would be considered some sort of miracle worker in the military’s eyes?”
“No, just someone with incredibly dumb luck.”
He snorted back some humor at this. Standing he strode over to his stool and motioned for her to come sit. “You wouldn’t be averse to teaching here would you?”
“Depends on what you are asking me to teach. I will not instruct in anything that will compromise the security of Nuelm.”
“You admit to knowing secrets of the enemy but refuse to divulge them. Why remain loyal to a nation that you will never again see?”
“There will come a time when what I know will be of no use. Besides what I know of tactics has probably already been examined, shared and deemed of no consequence as there are those that know more than I do who have already had their minds picked. That and my family still lives there. I will not do anything that will jeopardize their continued health.”
“A respectable notion there. What would you be willing to teach?”
“A better sense of where the body lies in space, how to quiet it, how to go unseen, how to get out of tight places. Oh and the mythology and language of the dragon myths.”
“The first few are a very good start, but the last seem completely non-useful what so ever.”
“Ahh. You never know when a myth may become a reality. Stranger things have happened.”
He shrugged. “Yes well. I will deliver this list to the councilors and give them my opinion. You will remain here until I return.”
She nodded her assent assuming that he knew full well that she might have tried to escape. Not a likely chance, she had no clue as to her location in the Imperium, there were too many enemies between here and the door to whatever building she was being held in let alone between her and the nearest border. No suffice it to say that she wasn’t planning on going anywhere anytime soon. Her luck wouldn’t hold to get her as far as she needed to be away from here.
Instead she cleared the small bits of furniture that were in the room to the corners. Then she stretched out to limber up before going through one of many tumbling routines. These were something that they would occasionally hold competitions for in the school. She had yet to enter one herself. She just hoped that she would be able to do so some day.
Having just completed a pass, she had her back to the door as she balanced lightly on her right hand slowly lowering her feet to the floor. She was so concentrated on this maneuver that she never heard the door open. The loud clapping startled her as she came down causing her to miss her footing and twist her ankle on the way down.
She bit back her curse and rolled to her knees. “You have word already?”
He looked shocked. “Already? I’ve been gone near three hours. Have you been at this display since I left?”
“Yes.” She said sheepishly. “I needed to burn off some pent up energy. Must have lost any sense of time.”
“No matter, from what I just saw we have made the right decision. You are to begin your classes on the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow you will go to your first sermon at the square and then you will be escorted to new quarters.”
“What will be on the agenda for the rest of my day?”
An almost sad look crossed his eyes as a pair of flocklings entered the room. “You are to go with these two. They will take you to a debriefing.” There was a very subtle emphasis on debriefing.
She knew she was in for some trouble. The trip from her tutoring chambers to the interrogation room was relatively short. It was the first time that she had been outside since that sickening teleport though. The sunlight was painful, like sewing needles pricking her eyes; the clothing she had been supplied barely adequate to stave off the cold. So it was that she reached up to rub a little warmth into her arms as she stepped into the chamber.
She didn’t see the guards on either side of the door that pushed her to her knees; the only thing she saw was the statue of the Radiance at the back of the room before she received a boot to the middle of her back that forced her forehead to the floor. Followed soon thereafter by a voice that she could have sworn that she had heard before.
“Some just don’t learn fast enough. Now we have a few questions for you demon-spawn. You will answer them.” She furrowed her brow in concentration, the voice was so familiar. She hadn’t heard it in a little while but…she heaved a sigh and let it pass. It would come to her or not as the Laughing One willed. Besides dwelling on it would only wear her out more.
There was a brief pause before another voice picked up with the first question.
“Who are you?”
“Sareth M’Kilas.” There was a tingling sensation at the base of her skull. She received a harsh amount of pressure to her spine when she attempted to reach to itch the spot. There were some barely audible sounds…speaking?...oh how she wished that she could see what was going on.
“Who sent you?”
She frowned into the floor puzzled as to the seeming inaness of the question. Couldn’t they at least come up with something better than that? Torture shouldn’t be this humorous. “No one sent me. I was pulled from my original destination during a teleport.”
There was more pressure on her back as the next question came. The seam of the ice cold granite tiles bit into her cheek. If she didn’t know better she could have sworn that boot boy was trying to make her face occupy the same space as the tile beneath it. It continued on like this for some time, pressure never lifting but increasing with every question that she apparently did not answer to their liking. Then the question she had been expecting all along came.
“Where is the former Lord High Praetor?”
“Hopefully sipping tea with his daughter and son-in-law in Nuelm!” She spat out defiantly; jaw grinding into the floor with each word. She had gotten tired of their little game. For all she knew they had him and were just doing this in order have some sort of sick fun.
Spots swam before her eyes as she was hauled to her feet, luckily she did not pass out. Before her vision cleared she was slapped hard several times, adding the sharp sting of a bruised cheek to that of her aching neck and back. She still hadn’t caught a glimpse of the face that went with the voice as a blindfold was placed over her eyes.
Someone seized her shoulders. The grip was extremely strong as she attempted to struggle free of it. Her thrashing did not get her far as she felt two more sets of hands clamp down at her wrists and knees. At first her mind registered that there should be three but as her sense expanded along her captors arms she realized that all three sets of hands belonged to one person. A pit of dread opened up in her stomach. She had only met one being with six arms and he accompanied only one person. “Illim!” she whispered in surprise. Then a bit louder. “Shouldn’t you be at the front?”
There was no answer save for a resoundingly hard slap that rattled her teeth. As her head cleared, she could have sworn that she heard the clicking and scraping of something on the floor in an almost type of code. She wasn’t sure but soon after the noise stopped she heard his voice again, sounding almost pleased. “Prepare her.”
His six armed slave’s hands tightened on her as he moved. His grip shifted and she felt her arms being chained over her head, toes barely scraping the floor. Then her hand me down clothing was removed so that she was naked.
As she concentrated on the feel of her bonds, she realized that they were not metal. They had all the strength, if not more than, the finest crafted mithril but were entirely too soft, comfortable even. She gasped, opening her eyes suddenly beneath the blindfold, as she felt her stomach churn a bit from the sudden movement from standing to laying.
Something cold and wet touched the center of her naval, meticulously twisting its way outward on her stomach. She counted the ever-widening spiral…one, two, three…a total of thirteen times from mid-point to outermost edge. Somewhere around loop number seven she felt the bristles of the brush, they were extremely coarse, feeling more like spikes than hair. About swirl nine she felt her skin begin to warm, tingling in a most unpleasant fashion. After the brush was replaced with a hard object that was slightly warmer than her tingling skin which also started its journey at the center point of her naval, she started to feel ready for something elusive. As the object finished each of its lines with quick, practiced strokes, the feeling began to settle low in her stomach. She thought briefly about the lines as they were drawn; center to left nipple, center to right nipple, center to bottom of the left rib cage, center to bottom of right. Her eyes widened at the last, center strait down. Down so far that she could have sworn that the creator of this pictograph would reach inside to recreate it there. The cold wetness of the brush returned, made even colder now that her skin felt like it was on fire. Small, Precise strokes created one glyph and then another that felt as if it were being cold-branded into her skin. It dawned on her that this must be a ritual of some kind. After several minutes the brush was removed from her naked torso, just to move to her forehead. Just a couple of swift, sure strokes there and it moved on to her chin skipping the blindfold. Once these markings were complete she felt distanced from herself, there but as if she were like her mapping rock, just recording what was around her. Finally the blindfold was removed and the loathsome voice continued.
“You will witness every moment of this, in the future you will dread forever what is coming but never truly remember why.”
As he finished his little speech the servant lined her eyes just so with the warm hardness of the charcoal pencil. Starting with the upper lid, he traced along the crease coming to the corner and out, curling the tale of the line along the upper edge of her temple. Then he repeated the simple lining on her bottom, this time tracing along the bottom edge of the temple and ending with a swirl in the center of it. She felt the muscles paralyze locking her eyes open. For the first time in about five years she saw Ilim, his eyes were still that overly intense violet that you either fell into or shuddered at the site of. His lean, toned body was just as decorated as hers was. Arrayed behind him was a rack of ‘toys’ that she doubted even Cherry knew all the uses for.
“To answer your earlier question, I am on respite at the moment, which I am going to enjoy much more than you.” He looked to his servant. “Be sure to inform Serge that her questioning is going to take longer than originally anticipated and to ask the students to forgive her stubbornness.”
He folded his six arms over his chest and bowed before sauntering off to do his masters bidding.
She watched with dread as Illim came nearer with a wicked short blade. The dread turned to shock as she felt her body tingle with anticipation. Her captor just smiled at the reaction. “Oh, yes I am going to enjoy this much more!”
It was sometime later, a day or a week, she wasn’t really sure, when she first woke up in her shanty. She vaguely remembered being escorted here by a couple of the guards the night before. Mainly her mind had been on not throwing up or screaming from the aching pain in her body. She also had this sense that she was missing something, but couldn’t figure out quite what.
It was a Glorification Day so they were all expected to show to the square for services. So she tiredly pulled on her clothing to make the aching march to the slave quarters square after tidying up. She straitened up her threadbare blanket on the flea infested straw tick she was given to sleep on, dusted down the ledges, folded the one change of clothing she had been given, then stepped outside to begin the trek to the square.
It was a moderate walk from her shanty. One that could have been boring if not for the others taking it. As it was she was barely out her door when Dominic caught up with her.
She turned as the sound of his voice. Now that she could actually see his face, she found that he was not bad looking, not great but not bad. He had close set blue-green eyes that were slightly canted, a strait wide based nose, slightly high cheekbones and small even lips. Much of this hinted at there being some elven blood or something mixed into his heritage.
“Hey Dominic! How have you been doing?”
“I’m fine. I was more worried about you.”
“I’ve been alright. Why do you ask?”
“Well they kept you much longer than everyone else for questioning. Even came out about this time tomorrow…last week that is, to indicate that you were being stubborn and would be detained a bit longer in order to get you to answer the questions.”
It was what he left unspoken that let her know that he expected her to look much worse than she did. They walked in silence for a time before she admitted. “I really do not remember much about that. I remember being taken into the questioning chambers, that they asked me about the former Lord High Praetor after a time but after that it goes blank.”
He looked taken aback for a moment. “Why would they think that you know anything about him?”
She heaved a sigh figuring that she may regret it later but knowing that at least someone besides her should know. “He’s my grandfather.”
She waited for his shock and highly probable revulsion at the statement. Instead he snorted back a laugh. “You’re kidding right?” When she held her serious look his eyes grew wide. “No way. Sounds like you are in for a rough time. What did you tell them? Do you know where he is?”
She smiled at his youthful chatter. “I said that I hoped that he was sipping tea with is daughter and son-in-law in Nuelm, not that I really know if he is or not but that was the goal of the little fiasco that got me here.”
A pained look crossed her features. Luckily for her they arrived at the square as this question came up. “I’ll tell you after we are done here.” She whispered.
They found a place in the middle of the crowd as the last bell faded with the morning mists. On the heels of the last echo came the voice of the priest from the middle of a raised stone platform.
“We thank thee oh most Radiant Lord for chasing away the night’s darkness and the Mists of the Dark Beast that would cling onto the edges of your day to coerce the fledglings gathered before us into his service. Let us all voice our thanks.”
She mumbled a thanks with the rest of the bleating sheep gathered in the square. The priest then continued.
“The Light smiles on you this morning my young charges. He sees fit to brighten your path and lead you from the darkness much as He has the rest of his children. All that he asks is that you turn your back on the heathen ‘gods’ that you follow and acknowledge that there is only one god. These “gods” were shown to us long ago to be false and in most cases demons from the darkness bent on nothing more than stealing your soul in some fashion.
“He took pity on his true children and showed us the error of our ways. Many of our misguided he saved and there were some that were blessed with abilities that others find hard to comprehend. These abilities were granted after endless hours of toil and sacrifice, in recognition of the hard work of many and the aching blistered hands that followed. So shall it be with you, go forth and show your worth by that which you make with your own hands. Share those skills you know that are not tainted by the trappings of dark pacts, so that others may better provide for themselves and the community. Banish the darkness within, Light keep you!”
With that last fervent statement, the priest held his hands high causing everyone to kneel in supplication. The devotion bell tolled and the monotonous droning began.
She thought it would go on forever. Her stomach was growling, letting those around her know that a meal had been missed. The only warm places on her body were the ones tucked in from the chill air were the ones tucked into the bow or where the tight pack of the crowd caused another’s body to touch hers. The bell signaling devotions end finally rang causing Sareth to suck back a breath of relief. Dominic tapped her on the arm and helped her to her feet.
“Soooo.” He prompted, having not forgotten about her promise to tell him more after the gathering was over.
She took a look around as her stomach growled. “Let’s find something to eat, a quiet place and I will elaborate.“ In the mean time they chatted idlely about miscellaneous things; from the chill of the day and the inadequate protection of the clothing to the validity of certain planes of existence. Once they received their allotted gruel, they found a quiet clearing near to an storage shed in one of the gardens. Before he could ask her she began.
“I was in Autenburg, sent forth by the Magistrates and the Military High Command, to retrieve what I knew as “the package.” Needless to say I had my suspicions that it was my grandfather long before I met up with him due to other things that had happened on my way home from a merchanting expedition. Anyway, it was way colder there than here of course, I attempted to get us out of there in under the watchful eyes of Imperial spies in the city. To do so I had to set up a voyage to sea and have my grandfather send for a couple of his mages, they cast the teleports within seconds of each other and the few of us in that group were given a nasty surprise. Needless to say I have no clue what happened to the others, those that were with me or my grandfathers group, but I can only hope that they survived.”
She finished. Stirring her gruel idlely as she waited for him to comprehend everything, her apatite had diminished since beginning the edited version of the tale.
He eyed her with slight suspicion. “But why didn’t they just kill you on sight like they must have with the others?”
She put her bowl down then and mumbled. “I wish they would have.” After heaving a sigh she continued loud enough for him to hear. “They wanted me alive, Dominic; I had known this before-hand but decided that getting grandfather to the relative safety of Nuelm was worth the risk of getting caught.”
“You don’t even know the man, why would you be so worried about him?”
“Known to me or not, he is still family. To not have aided him would have been like having his blood on my hands anyway.”
“I see.” He didn’t really but she didn’t need to know that. He had a family and for all he was concerned of them they could rot in the darkest depths of the Abyss. He didn’t tell her as much but instead chose to change the subject. “So what’s on your agenda for tomorrow? I have a couple of classes myself and then it’s off to the laundry house to aid with the washing of the underwear.” He smiled as if joking on the last part.
She smiled back. “Well tomorrow I actually start teaching a few things. Maybe I’ll see you in one of my classes.” She looked at her bowl again. “Do you want this? I don’t feel too good at the moment.” She held it out to him.
His eyes lit up as he took the bowl. “Thanks!” He said around the first mouthful.
It was yet again Glorification Day, while she had successfully been able to not keep track of the days, it seemed that the priests conspired to remind her of the weeks that went by. It was another of those beautifully lying days, where the sun shone so intensely that you could swear that it should be sweltering out, but as you opened the door the cold draft of wind that so harshly reminded you that it was still mid-winter. She opened her door to this, somewhat surprised to see that Dominic was not finding some excuse to tarry near her hut. This had been the normal going on for many a devotion call, as they would hold whispered conversations after the first monotonous repetition of the chant to relieve boredom. On this day, he was nowhere within site. This troubled her greatly but there was nothing she could do and made the boring trek to the square on her own.
Today had just been another day of classes. Yet again she wondered at how fast these young ones had taken to the training and how some, about seven of them, seemed to be vying for teachers pet as they would stay after asking question after question or even asking for correction in form. She was thinking of even holding a tumbling competition soon just to see who would be on top. She smiled to herself at this, there was that one kid…Cylus?...she thought would do real well, if he could get over the performance anxiety he had. He had been doing so well with what they had gone over today but when he realized that she had been watching with a critical eye, he faltered and near took his head off on one of the trip wires that he’d previously avoided. He was one of those seven, he had such a drive and was so refreshingly honest that she might find herself falling for him if she weren’t careful.
She had just entered the small stand of trees. She liked passing through here because it was peaceful and she could almost imagine that she were back home in her parent’s backyard. Then she heard it. Something akin to the squeal of a pig, no there it was again and there was no mistaking the very humanoid cry that followed it. There was a child in danger. She drew nearer and could just begin to make out the distinct sounds of boots contacting flesh. Holding back no longer, she skidded to a halt amidst the group of boys. Some reared back in surprise and others didn’t stop throwing kicks until they realized that they were being defended off. But they all backed away several feet when they caught the look of fury on her face. Then she recognized one. “Who put you up to this Cylus?”
“I…uhhh…” he mumbled as he scuffed the ground with his toe. He was so sheepish that she was sure he wouldn’t talk. The other boys in his group had slowly started edging away.
“Don’t even.” She narrowed her eyes at them. “All you are accomplishing is to confirm the belief that those of us with arcane ability are evil and out of control.” There was a brief movement of leaves to her left. She jumped and snatched the young man from the tree. “As for the choice of people you hang out with,” she twisted the young man’s arm behind his back, “if they are not willing to face punishment with you…they aren’t worth getting in trouble for.” She gave a small nod of her head and the boys ran off.
“As for you, Dominic,” she pushed her captive to his knees as she let go of his arm, “I thought that you had a better head on your shoulders than this. I catch you doing anything like this again and you won’t be let off so easy…” She was sad and felt that there was something amiss. She turned to the Praetor hopeful, kneeled and offered a hand for him to rise. “I apologize for them.” He just stared at her. “Come now we must get you back to your quarters and see if one of the clerics will come to tend you.” He tentatively took her hand and attempted to stand. His leg gave out from under him and he wailed. Not hesitating one more moment she swung him into her arms and began to carry him straight for the healers’ wing.
The shock lasted for all of a minute once she entered with him. It was just long enough for Sareth to get severely irritated. As she took a breath to speak one pointed to a table. She had just enough time to the whimpering child on the table before she was elbowed out of the way. Then yet another yanked her around and slapped her.
“How DARE you. Such a vulgar display and the audacity to bring him here afterward. You are as evil as they come. You are going to be reported for this…”
The cleric would have continued on her rant, if it were not for the look that crossed Sareth’s face. “That you would even let the thought cross your mind that I would be capable of harming a hair on the head of ANY child is enough to confirm that you are blind and deaf to your surroundings. It must have passed your notice that he was thanking me for helping him.”
The cleric just gave her a calculating look as she shoved Sareth out of the room.
She slumped her shoulders. There would be an aftermath to this, that was one thing she was sure of. She tried not to dwell on it as she continued the walk to her quarters. She was still absorbed in thought though when there was a tap on her shoulder that made her start.
Cylus took a step back. “Easy, Mistress Sareth, I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.”
“Just Sareth child. Quite frankly I deserve what I get if I’m not paying attention to my surroundings.”
“I know that you aren’t from here but things are normally like that. We give as good as we get from those hopefuls.” When Sareth looked like she was about to lay into him he continued, “but I have thought about what you said. Maybe we have been wrong with the tit for tat. It is just so frustrating to be treated like I am less than human for a circumstance of birth.”
“You sound like you have been talking to many of the captured from other nations.”
“We do find time, now and then.” He smiled. “Usually over gruel.”
Sareth smiled. “Sounds about right.” The smile melted as she returned to a previous statement. “My only problem is that he looked like a target of opportunity and not one of retaliation.”
He looked sheepish at this. “Well, yeah. We thought to get to him first.”
Sareth cut him off. “He can’t have been more than eight! He most certainly does not have sufficient training to ward off six young men more than half his size. You have a head on your shoulders, use it.”
“Sorry.” He bowed his head.
“None of that. You made a mistake. Learn from it, alright.” She noted the guards looking their way. “We’ve been spotted. Time to get to our shacks.”
She arrived to her quarters just in time to turn at the stairs and fake devotions. It was a full candlemark before the devotions ended. So it was that she entered her tiny shack with the last rays of the sun fading.