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Vagabonds- Chapter 2

Vagabonds- Chapter 2

A Chapter by Alli

Slowly, Joan came to. Years of being on the run and even more years before that suffering as a prisoner under Mortemin had taught her how to wake up slow. She didn't open her eyes, but slowly took inventory of her body and surroundings.

It was crisp and cool, well into the night by now.

Ropes, no, chains laced across her midsection, legs and arms.

At least they respect me enough to use something more that rope. She realized she was upright, and her back was against a big tree. The chains crushed her lungs as she tried to take a deep breath, she couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't fight.

Calm down, calm down, it's fine, it'll be fine, we've been in worse scenarios!

Oh really?! Worse situations? She argued with herself, We have been tied to a tree by a bloody WOLF who works for MORTEMIN. Do tell me how this can get worse…

"Do you always make faces when you talk to yourself?"

Good job, sarcasm dripping off her thoughts.

She opened her eyes to see the dark blue eyes poring into her. She suppressed a shudder,

"Do you always make a face when…oh wait! That's your normal face."

It raised an eyebrow at her. She strained against her chains in a futile effort to escape. She thought they were going to kill her, not bring her back. Oh Lyk, she couldn't go back. Dark memories crept in, turning the edges of her sight black.

Focus, don't freak out.

You know what? How about YOU don't freak out.

"Shut up, both of you." She murmured as her brain raced a million miles a minute.

The wolf- in human form- cocked its head, studying her with interest. She sighed,

"Can't you give a lady some privacy when she is in chains? How rude…"

She was cut off by the slow thud of boots, the clank of metal on metal, and the nauseating sound of a phoenix cry.

It was too late. Her vision swam, her heart hammered, and she thought she was going to be sick.

Cold nights, bloody wrists. And that constant feeling of fear and hopelessness and an emptiness that said there was nothing she could be about it.

She felt a presence next to her. A steady heartbeat, a cool and controlled soul reaching out to her splintering one. Desperately she grabbed onto it, let her breathing match it and her heart fall into rhythm.

She could do this. She had countless times before. Her body rallied to her next call, heart slowing until it beat in sync with the throb of battle pulsing through her. Because she wouldn’t be taken without a fight. Even if Mortemin himself was here.

He emerged from the underbrush wearing a smug look that Joan had the intense urge to slap off. He was a big man, with a scarred, shaved head and a dragon tattoo. She met his gaze steadily, her hands only slightly shaking. His dark blue eyes glinted victoriously, a mile of intelligence behind them that stopped Joan’s breath.

She had never been truly free. Never. Every move she made, he probably knew. Gather intelligence for when they could strike and take her back.

A growl forced it’s way up her throat and got her breathing again. She would not go without a fight.

"Well done, boy." His deep, scathing voice floated through the air towards the presence next to her and Joan finally snuck a look to see who the calm soul. Disgust bit the back of her throat when she the wolf standing next to her.

It saw her reaction and took a small step away, something changing in its eyes.

A piercing cry grabbed Joan’s attention back to the monster before her, the phoenix flying at Joan’s face. Even though she managed to hold back her cry, her instincts had her head down, cringing. She couldn’t stop the wince either when the bird ended up on her shoulder, its sharp claws digging into her flesh.

The small movement did not go unnoticed and Mortemin let out a deep, throaty laugh. The Asuras gathered around him snickered a little as well. Joan ground her teeth.

Standing there, tied helpless to a tree with no allies and facing the man who walked her nightmares, she felt like she was little again when she hadn't seen her brother in weeks and was scared and alone.

Her brother… she latched onto the image of him, of the mischievous spark in his eyes and his calm voice. Even though her heart shattered and screamed against the raw image, she held onto it, drawing strength. She had promised him. And this was one promise she would not back out of.

That resolve was tested when Mortemin took deep, striding steps to stand inches from her, reaching up and gently wiping away some blood that dripped from a cut on her cheek that she hadn't realized she had. But there was nothing gently about the act.

"You have wasted my time girl," then bending in closer to whisper into her ear, "but I know we will have plenty of fun when we get back home." She could feel his mouth twisting into a disgusting smile. Nausea threatened to overwhelm her as his stench of sweat and blood choked her spirit.

She let out a small breath of relief as he stepped away and his presence untangled from hers a little.

A mistake.

Quickly, before she could hardly feel the wave of pure terror that crashed over her, he spun around, long whip that looped around his waist now out and whizzing toward her thigh.

The crack sounded a second before the pain and she was lost in the darkness that came spiraling up to meet it.

5 lashes. For stealing bread. Crack! Blinding pain, one after another. Her already scared body jerked in response to each lash, the taunts and jeers of the Asuras spectators deafening. But no tears came. Tears would only warrant more lashes. Nothing…think of nothing, feel nothing, be nothing. "Because you are nothing," she reminded herself. Nothing didn't feel pain, it couldn't get hurt.

 The very real lash pulled her up from the deep trenches of memory. She bit her lip to keep from crying out.

Be nothing, feel nothing.

Through the humiliation she didn't let the wolf's small twitch and grimace go unnoticed.

"Don't think you will ever escape me, girl. Whatever dark cave you run to, whatever mountain range you cower behind, I will always find you. Because you," he paused as he ran a hand down the twisted scar that curves up from her back onto her shoulder, "you are mine. Always."

Indignation flamed in Joan, and she rose in her eyes to the challenge. She belonged to no one. Her lips twitched as uncertainty flashed in Mortemin’s eyes- he wasn’t expecting her strength, her stubbornness.

"You've done well, moordenaar." Mortemin said, using the Western name for the wolf. Joan thought it translated into something along the lines of ‘murderer in the night’. She wondered if the blue-eyed boy now standing next to her had indeed killed, or just brought back its prey to Mortemin. "I think you have proved yourself enough to receive a reward."

The wolf clenched its hands, some cut it must have had on its palm dripping small drops of blood onto the green grass below, and Joan could see the muscles in its jaws working nervously.

Mortemin just smiled ruefully and twitched his head to signal an Asuras to unlock the big metal carriage that was being pulled by two large rams. The hulking man reached in to grab something inside but quickly fell backwards, cradling his now bleeding nose. There was indistinct screaming from the carriage. Joan rose an eyebrow, curiosity peeking despite the grave fate of the prisoner.

Mortemin growled and stalked to the carriage himself, delivering a quick whip blow to the Asuras who failed. His whip then positioned itself in the air above the carriage and came crashing down.

Joan looked away, her stomach rolling in nausea.

It wasn’t until he reached in and threw out a small, frail figure in chains that Joan's heart stopped.

It was a little girl, no older than 10.

The little girl, the wolf, the promise of a reward.

“No,” Joan whispered, not loud enough for anyone to hear. The wolf glanced towards her though, and for a heartbeat she swore she only saw unrestrained terror in its eyes, before they lost all emotion together, becoming hard as ice.

"Kill." He commanded the wolf, the drops of blood falling from its hand becoming a stream of blood splashing against the green grass, cast in moonlight.

What felt like an eternity passed as the wolf just stared, and the girl trembled- but still stared back defiantly, tears dripping down her cheeks. The girl had somehow managed to keep a little flower crown on her head.

Fight you fool.

So, she started laughing, and all the Asuras' heads turned towards her, including the wolf's.

"Sorry, sorry," she said in between her pretend laughing, "it's just that… you really have become stupid, haven't you? I mean, killing a fae…" she burst out in more laughter. The girl wasn't a fae of course, they hadn't been seen in almost as many years as the Lykaians, but there were plenty of rumors about them walking in the same skin of humans.

Her lie made a stir in the Asuras- killing a fae was said to bring the wrath of their power- fire, earth, water or wind- upon whoever killed them. Mortemin, however, remained fixed upon the wolf, who had yet to move. Joan was going to have to try a little harder…

"Kill." Mortemin repeated his command and the entire world held its breath. Except for the little girl whose defiant demeanor broke down into a quiet crying, and she curled up into herself.

Joan bucked against the chains. “Your weak,” she growled at Mortemin, who paid her no heed. “You think this gives you any power? You think-“

It took her a moment to realize the wolf's gaze was now upon her. She stopped when she saw the eyes that normally were so cool and steady, suddenly now full of fear and confusion and a reckless hopefulness. Or maybe it was hopelessness.

Get ready…Her instincts whispered.

It walked slowly towards the girl, it's double sided scythe fully drawn. It raised the blade and Joan could see it whispering something to the little girl, sorry, Joan thought it said.

And then the scythe went down. The sound of metal on metal screeched as the chains holding the little girl snapped and then the wolf took a step towards her, flinging the blade at her own and allowing her to wiggle free.

Did Joan know what was happening? No. Did she care? No.

The wolf was busy at work now, slicing down Asuras left and right, it's face contorting into a vicious mask of death. But Joan couldn't help but notice that it never sliced across an artery, never stabbed into an organ. Pain was debilitating, but it didn't have to kill. The wolf was giving them a chance.

Joan took all this in in a millisecond before sprinting to the little girl and scooping her up, and then sprinting away.

The thicker underbrush of the lower canyon scratched her face and underbrush made the sprinting more of a desperate squirm.

Get away, get away, get away.

The wolf lived up to its reputation, she only heard a few Asuras chasing after her. Hope bloomed in her chest.

Until the entire bloody army was upon her. She could hear them coming from all sides, but what really made her blood run cold was the screech of the phoenix circling above her head, trying to find her. She hated that stupid bird.

She stopped under a giant, gnarled root of a tree that was sticking up a good three feet above the ground. Her fresh wound on her leg was pounding, she needed to tie something around it before she bled to death. She shoved the little girl under and stood up, swords drawn. If she could draw the Asuras and Mortemin away, maybe the little girl would be safe. Joan knelt by the little girl and said softly while peeling off her own shirt to tie the wounds that scattered the girl's body asked,

"What's your name?"

She stared back with big, warm eyes, and said back a little too trustingly for someone who just went through hell,

"Luz. What's yours?"

Joan smiled, "My name doesn't matter. I'm going to keep you safe, okay? But you have to stay here, can you do that? Stay here until I come back?"

She nodded and took the flower crown off her head,

"Here, it'll protect you." Joan just stared back. She just met this girl, how could Luz be so trusting?

"I don't need it, I have these," She waved her swords a little too fast and strongly, and the little girl flinched back, "they always keep me safe. You keep the flowers, you may need it too."

The little girl faced squished in fear, but Joan couldn't stay to comfort her. She hastily finished tying pieces of her shirt around the girl's shoulder, back and thigh where the worst cuts were. Mortemin must be off his mark today, because none of the cuts were that deep. She'll live. If the Asuras don't find her first.

She cut off a piece of fabric from her filthy shirt, prayed to powers she didn't know if she believed in anymore that it wouldn't get infected, and tied off her own wound. Then she made off in the woods, towards the loudest sound of destruction.

When the sky was turning back to that dark blue found in the wolf's eyes, Joan finally returned to the old gnarled tree root. She had led the Asuras around and around and around, taking down as many as she could until they finally went off on a tangent, chasing their very own carriage that she had sent off. The rams were smart creatures, they knew freedom when they saw it and had no quarrels when Joan untied them from the tree and sent them running the opposite direction.

Finally, she reached the tree root. But there was no one there. Joan stared, unmoving, unfeeling for a long time. Then she let out a stream of curses and walked the circumference of the tree, trying to find tracks. She was rewarded with two small feet scurrying away- towards the north.

Stupid little girls and their misplaced blind trust. She set off along the tracks.

It was dark by the time she heard talking, and crying. Quickly she climbed a tree and peered out among the branches. In the moonlight- gosh she hated the night- she saw a small clearing with the little girl, and a middle-aged woman. The woman was clad in Asuras outfit, but Joan could tell her movements were gentle and comforting.

The woman must be the girl's mother, and the mother must have been tracking the girl by pretending to be a Asuras. She remembered the commotion in the Asuras ranks when the girl was pulled out of the carriage. Joan approved of her.

She let out a little sigh of relief and was about to climb down the tree when a light caught her eye. Peering through the underbrush on the other side of the clearing was a giant, white wolf with dark blue eyes and 6 scars on the shoulder of his front leg.

Joan froze. Her mind slow to process.

It might have freed her and the little girl, but there was something terrifyingly malevolent about the muscular wolf, its mouth twisted into a snarl and sharp teeth that caught the moonlight. Joan's instincts twitched- it was not here to enjoy the reunion.

The woman brought the little girl- Luz, Joan remembered- into a hug and the wolf leaped out, transforming into the boy- who was more of a man, Joan now realized, or at least someone in that awkward stage between child and adult hood like herself. Before Joan could cry out, he launched his scythe threw the air. Joan screamed and launched her own knife to intercept the scythe, but it was too late.

Too late.

The scythe entered the woman and there was silence. A horrible, deafening silence. Broken only by the gasps of a dying women.

Then the little girl began to scream and crouch over the woman and kiss her cheeks and try to stop the blood with her little hands. Incoherent words rushed out, any plea to her mother to stay with her.

A red roar overcame Joan senses as her eyes became sharply focused. She could hear each pounding of her heart, but couldn't feel her hands, strange. Not as strange as the blood pouring out of the woman though. Who knew the body could hold that much blood?

You do, a little, forgotten voice spoke up in her. Remember? Remember the blood you saw, the…

"Shut up," she growled and whipped her head up to the wolf, ready to kill this monster. Blood-lust stopping the flow of memories.

Her dagger posed for a killing throw stopped short.

The wolf- still in human form- was backing slowly into the underbrush, his head shaking and mouth repeating words in silence. His eyes were big and scared, and he tripped over a root, crashing into the ground. Scrambling back when Luz cried out,

"Who's there?!"

Understanding flooded Joan- the wolf didn't know the woman was a mother, he thought it was a Asuras, intending evil.

The look of horror on his face echoed in Joan's mind, clenching her stomach into knots. Scared people do desperate things that don't end well.

Torn between the wolf and the little girl and her own self-preservation she froze.

Then slowly, barely breathing, no longer feeling, she turned her back on the girls screaming and the closed her heart against the wolf's disgust at himself and walked away.

She had made a promise.

She walked in gross silence for a long time, the thud of her footprints the only sound.

Then she started screaming curse words at the sky, at the trees, and anything that would listen. And when her voice was hoarse and her body finally feeling the exhaustion of the day and night, she collapsed against a tree. She curled up, pressing her forehead against her knees and squeezing her eyes shut against the horrors of the world. She stayed there for a while until finally she felt purged of the emotions rocking her body and she looked up to get her orientation.

She was on the second tier of the cliff. The first one that she had jumped off of an eternity ago led to the valley where she was now, then the second tier let down into the canyon's true bottom.

But the thought of the canyon didn't make her breath hitch and heart beat rise- it was the sight of the wolf. In human form again, silhouetted against the full moon, sitting on the cliff's ledge.

Curiosity drew her forward, its figure was slumped and something kept glinting in its hand. She smelt the distinct flavor of blood. And lots of it.

Was it finally dead?

What she saw made her freeze. He wasn't dead, but all the life was certainly gone. The glinting object it was holding was a jagged piece of metal, stained red. Joan's eyes took in the blood pooling in his hand and dripping onto the ground, and then traveled up to his arm.

Bright and sticky, it was drenched in blood, which didn't bother Joan much. But what did was that the 6 scars along its arm had a new companion, another deep cut, right below the last one. The same ragged line, the same size, the same depth.

Another tally.

All the words Joan wanted to yell at it when she was beating his sorry soul for killing Luz's mother suddenly flew away with the wind. All she could think was, prisoner, weapon… human. Human, and hurting. Like she was, like people with soul left in them do.

Slowly she crept up to the cliff edge. He didn't move but he saw his blue eyes flicker towards her, registering her, and the flickering quickly away. Whatever he thought was coming, he didn't care. He probably wasn't expecting her to sit down next to him though, to dangle her legs over the cliff's edge and to stare out at the billions and billions of stars. And he definitely didn't expect her to quietly rip away the last section of her shirt and hand it to him to bandage his bleeding arm and to quietly ask,

"What's your name?"



© 2019 Alli


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Added on January 7, 2019
Last Updated on January 7, 2019
Tags: fantasy; fiction; young adult; m


Author

Alli
Alli

Colorado Springs, CO



About
Writing is my passion, and a way to get out what I can't say out loud. My head is in the clouds 90% of the time, and I love to write fantasy stories and, more recently, poems! Outside of writing I lov.. more..

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