Suddenly ther monsterous rider burst out, explosively, and just as terrifying as he was before, maybe even more so. He was attend horseback on each side. Men in shimmering, multicoloured, silken suits and top hats. Women in large, voluminous, silken dresses of variou shades trimmed with lace-like material. They looked human but Leonard could tell that they werern't. He suddenly knew that these were his attendants, his cronies. And they were about to capture him for crossing the "sacred" line of slavery, for changing who was and wasn't allowed to be free.
Everyone should be free from Leo's previous torment, no questions asked.
Leonard and the young teen started running, as fast as they could. Away, far from those guys, towards freedom and safety. They kept running, on foot, exhausted and full of energy at the same time.
The crowd chasing them was rambunctious and rowdy, yelling insults at Leonard for being a slave, shouting profanities and threats at him for running away, chiding the girl for being so rebellious and not listening to them. They chittered about how superior they were and how superior they were and great they were. The girl was running hard to get away from the noise, from the ones bent on making her the perfect complacent daughter. The boy was running for his freedom.
The riders, the ring of screeching flame, always carried a deafening loudness which was silent with it, as the lone Roaring King also did. This loudness though was filled with haughtiness and judgement and contempt. Rage and superiority at Leonard for being an escaped slave. Contempt towards him because of his perceived inferiority. Superiority and control over the girl for being so rebellious, for thinking differently, for being so contrary.
Their force and the tangible power of their rage tried to reach the youths and writhingly wrap around them and hold them. They wanted the two youths back. They wanted them in their proper place. They wanted to entangle them and keep them down and keep them in their place forever. Their deafening silent loudness was viscous and clawing.
Leonard could feel it, feel their ferocity and their aggression as they tried to get him. He felt the sting of their words, the sting of the emotions they conveyed to him. He felt their scrutiny breaking him down, tearing at his sense of self-respect, making him feel like a little bug under their gaze. This was not as bad as how he felt as a slave, because the human masters while not as blatant as these attendants in their hate, made their feelings more than clear. But he could tell that if they ever caught up to him, if he ever fell into the heavy, bitter air that was around them, it would be unimaginably horrible.
He felt a soft fire within him though, that was keeping that heavy air at bay as long as her ran. He could feel an energy from the girl too, strong and fresh like river currents keeping him safe. But the closer the riders got, the more his defence faltered.
The girl was getting weaker, and was increasingly stumbling and tripping as she ran.
He reached a fence, a fence with a hole in it. On the other side of the fence was a blue lake, deep blue with waves that reflected the sunlight. Det couldn't swim. He looked around and couldn't see the girl.
He faced the riders. Their horses were whinnying like feral wolves. The air around them was bussing with aggression and pride and corruption. And they. Looked. Terrifying. Leonard knew that drowning would be better than this so he slipped out of the sugar field he was in and into the water, through the hole of the fence.
Light on the Water
Reuniting with Hacombe, Leonard set out to find work. He saw Thomas in town briefly, a man he remembered as questioning his own place in life, and Thomas gave him a few small silver coins which would tide him over for a few days.
Eventually he considered asking the rich people for a job again. He was outside the gates of an estate, sitting in the grass looking in and pondering if he should go in or not. They were outside their big whitewashed house, sitting in designed chairs and drinking tea from delicate, colourful china cups on glass tables.
Leo was thinking on how the dark rider was, or called himself, the God of Lines. How did that relate to the power or meaning of lines that was working inside of himself? And why was this being so angry at him? And why was his line affinity so oppressive while Leonard's line affinity was so freeing/kind/warm? Leonard realized that the dark rider was the God of Not Crossing Lines, of seeing what the status quo was and keeping it there, while Leonard's power was crossing lines, of triumphing over status quo. He realized more than ever that he'd have to help as many slaves as he could get to freedom.
He, on an unrelated thought, resolved to go into the estate and ask about employment. What he didn't know was that becasue of the Roaring King's influence the slaveowning families knew that he was an escaped slave and would jus enslave him again if they found him. Before he stood up he felt a finger over his lips.
He looked over and saw a girl, fifteen or sixteen, lying on the grass crouching like an antelope. She had dared hair darker than the night and pale skin paler than snow. And she had one hell of a gaze. He was lost in it, it seemed to hold him, and he could see her looking into his soul, connecting with him, trying to understand him, trying to protect him. It was so powerful, and so friendly, and so kind.
Leonard had no idea who this girl was he didn't know who she was or what she wanted. Some strange part of him trusted her though, and another part of him was questioning, and another part of him was rebelling against the sheer strangeness of it all. She was motioning to her helmet, which was similar to the helmet he saw the dark rider wearing. How would she get that helmet? It it even the same helmet?
These thoughts were rushing around Leonard's brain. It couldn't be a different helmet because literally the only other time he saw a helmet even similar - black with a white, thin animal skull, weirdly shiney, made of strange material - was on the dreadful rider. Why did she have it? Was she some kind of helper for that being? No, she seemed too protective/nice and too ... rebellious for that. Was she this daughter he'd heard about? Maybe.
She put his hand on her heart and then started beckoning him towards the river. He followed, unsure, but trusting her.
During all this time the Roaring King was looking for Leonard. The Roaring King was the embodiment of lines, of metaphorical lines, but not in the same way Leonard was. He was enraged at Leo for escaping. He was also enraged at him for plotting to help other slaves, who couldn't, of course, escape on their own but are beautiful souls deserving free lives, to escape.
Now Leonard was going around town trying to land apprenticeships but he hadn't landed anyand his stuff was running out. In his desperation he went to the estate of a slaveowning family to see if they had any jobs for him. He was scared of them and uncomfortable in his interactions with them but took comfort in knowing he was a free man as far as anyone knew. There was a dark, unsettling, corrupted, and almost infectious atmosphere over the estate. The manor house was huge, and towering, and the ladies were in very frilly dresses with frilly umbrellas. They said they didn't have any work for him and Leonard left a bit sad.
But mostly he had a feeling of something dark watching him.
What happened next was a nightmare. The author doesn't quite know how to write it down. There was a man behind Leonard. Not a man, a thing. A grotesque, disgusting, horrific thing. But as frightening as it was to look at what was ten times more frightening was his vast, deafening aura. The immense feeling that rode with him like an outstretched peacock tail of a thousand snakes. The being had long, rough, white hair, and sunken dark eyes embedded in what seemed like an ocean of wrinkles. His face seemed to be a wrinkled, saggy, loose, pale gray mass of skin loosely draped over a fat, deformed skull. His body was fat and pale and wrinkly. But the feeling he carried, like an immense, deafening, rabid, raging, grating, yet silent scream, was beyond proper explanation.
Leonard beleived in magic now. Whatever that thing was, it could not possibly be human, it had to be a dark, powerful force.
It rode behind him, sometimes on a black horse with red eyes and sharp teeth and sometimes on a motorcycle, which was an alien device to Leonard. Hacombe galloped fast but could not get away.
The aura of the inhuman rider was all-encompassing, all around Leo. It was smothering and oppressive, grasping to reach him and hold him down and suffocate him. It was roaring and screeching and powerful and corrupted, and inspired terror and disgust. It was angry and raging and furious. It fell over him, all around him, and blared through his mind. It was strong and proud and tangible. It was choking him.
He tried so hard to escape the rider. But the rider was gaining momentum. Leonard was terrified and, as the rider came up to him, the last thing he saw before passing out was Hacombe galloping away, and he was at least happy the horse escaped.
He woke up and the dreadful rider was standing over him. He felt a cold, weary sense of dread. The rider had a gruff voice. It said it was going to hurt Leonard. It introduced itself as the God of Lines, as the god of lines society said were not supposed to be crossed, of the social structures, behaviours, lifestyles, and attitudes that the status quo said must be maintained.
Leonard was scared because it was going to hurt him, but he also couldn't help but feel a sense of connection to the beeing's affinity with lines. He recognized the magic in himself and that a big part of him is to see the lines set by society and to analyze why they're there and what they're for and what they're about and then he crossed those lines and broke those social codes. Lines, and specifically crossing them was intrinsically a part of him, was tied to him, and was the constantly burning star within him.
Now, he saw he was on the ground beside a tend and in the tent was a dark-haired teenaged girl strapped to the bed. He knew the girl was there even though the tent was closed and he couldn't see into it. He was scared for this mysterious lady just as he was scared for himself.
The dark rider, who was, in fact the Roaring King, knew he would torture and kill Leonard for being an escaped slave and therefore challenging the status quo of slavery, which no-one had done before. But he saw the fear and tentative, confused respect Leonard helps him with and thought he could use that to control him into aiding the King with something. He told Leonard to go inside the tent and hold his daughter down and attach a drip containing the King's blood into the girl.
So Leonard learned from that that the girl inside the tent was this mysterious entity's daughter, and probably he was trying to somehow hurt her. This confused him. Shouldn't magic things, especially family-related magic things, get along? Well, he didn't know too much about magic. He could tell though that having the dreadful rider's blood but into her would corrupt her and weaken her, and having the corrupting, corrosive, locust-ridden force in her would really hurt her.
He didn't want to do it. But the suffocating, oppresssive, corrosive, scary force in the air was still around him and choking his mind and forcing I'm forwards. But as he got closer to the tent he felt a different force. A kindly free, comforting, warm, airy feeling that made his mind feel free.
He took that power and inspiration and used that power and inspiration to escape. To get out of there. He thought he was free from the dark rider, that he could live free and the way he's wanted to as long as he stayed out of that rider's way. He knew though that were were forces at work within him and within the world that he had not known before.
Forwards into the Sunrise
One of these slaves that Thomas talked to was a seventeen-year-old (and therefore, you know the key word, YOUNG) stableboy named Leonard. Leonard had hair as golden as sunlight and eyes light blue like the daytime sky. (Author's note: I'm not implying that "Aryans" are prettier than other people, truly all people and all peoples are equally beautiful. I'm trying to symbolize his connections with daytime and the daytime sky.) While this may be hilariously bad in context it's meant to represent daytime and how it's good for people and how day always comes after the oppressive night. And to further symbolize the fact that he represents the changing from a painful situation to a positive on, his spirit name was Golden Dawn, after the liminal, emotionally mixed, and dynamic time between night and day. He was a quiet, thoughtful, passionate boy.
This is the scene I was witnessing from the world inside my dream. Leo was riding through the outskirts of Coralivia on a horse he loved. He had just escaped his old master and he was filled with brightness, happiness, lingering sadness, and hope. He was excited and ready to start his new life in place where he could be free since no-one knew he was a slave. He was anticipating all the great things just across the horizon like respect and dignity and being a part of and accepted by society and being able to work in a dignified and humane work environment and not feeling trapped to be with people he hated and not being hungry and sick all the time. He really thought he could make it in the world as a free person. He was a firm believer that things could get better, that peoples' lives could get better, that the world could get better, though he wasn't really thinking about that last one right now, yet. He felt great changes, great power, great inspiration, alive and at work within him. He felt like very important events, not just for him but for the whole world, were taking place.
But he also felt and almost supernatural sense of fear, that something dark, something corrupted, and oppressive was coming to get him and hurt him, supernaturally. Now Leonard didn't beleive in magic yet, so he wrote it off as paranoia, which was especially ironic he WAS magic, he just didn't realize it yet.
While he was riding he also remembered his life as a slave, which was very painful and depressing. His master was a very rich nobleman who really enjoyed plays. He would fund a lot of really extravagant plays, often with very pro-status-quo stories, and sometimes Leo was brought along to the performances to take care of his master's horse. Being a stableboy was an incredibly lonely job as he had to spend all of his days in the stable, cleaning it, getting hay, feeding and brushing the horses, etc. He didn't really get to see the other slaves, and the loneliness was agonizing. He did develop a close relationship with the two horses though, especially the roan horse, Hacombe, who was being mistreated just as Leonard was. Leonard also didn't get enough food or warm clothes from his master, which meant he was sick a lot of the times, which meant the work was agonizing a lot of the times.
One day, though it's never explained how, Leonard stole a bunch of supplies, and rode off to Coralivia with Hacombe. During the ride from there to here both lives got considerably healthier and less sickly, on account of Leonard being able to take care of them properly.
Leonard was the first escaped slave in the entire country's history, bestowing him quite a legacy to have. Amazing things were unfolding.
By the time they got to the town - a small, sprawling town compared to the city they were used to - supples were running a bit low so Leonard knew it was imperative that he get a job and settle down (no more constant traveling). He was very excited to have a real job where he could be respected and part of free society. He was, yeah. Happy. But he knew it would be kind of hard.
PM: I will not undergo psychological transformation after poll defeat
The PM was responding to Tory party chairman Oliver Dowden saying it could not be "business as usual" as he quit.
Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he "humbly and sincerely" accepts criticism.
But he said he also had to distinguish between "criticism that really matters and criticism that doesn't".
The by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton on Friday came after the prime minister faced months of criticism over parties in Downing Street during lockdown, alongside soaring inflation and a narrower-than-expected win in a confidence vote from his own MPs.
Speaking from the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Rwanda, Mr Johnson repeatedly said that policy was more important than allegations about his conduct.
Gratitude Journal For The Week of 6/20/2022
A Church I follow has an app (Crossroads Anywhere) where we journal together as a community, and one of the things we journal about are things we are thankful for. I wrote these for this week's prompts from the app....
"What are you looking forward to this week?"
- A shorter work week.
- Seeing a close family friend.
- Taking to heart the message I heard at church yesterday, and working on accepting the gift of the Sabbath each week.
"What are you grateful for today?"
- Accomplishing the goals I had set for myself over the long weekend.
- The sleep I am about to enjoy (it is 1:22 AM).
- It was nice having the past four days off. It will be nice only working three days before having time off again.
"What made you smile or laugh this week?"
- Getting a shoutout from a writer whose work I enjoy on Prose.
- Reading Mo Willems books to my students at work.
- Finding out that my wife helped my son with a Batman video game (she isn't a big DC fan).
"How did someone help you this week?"
- I had assistance from another teacher with helping my students during Water Day - this is always appreciated!
- The library being great when I needed to collect Summer Reading Program prizes for 11 students.
- God's constant patience and steadfastness with me.
Affirmation: "God listens to me."
"Is there anything you would like to thank God for this week?"
Thank You God for another work week being completed, for a fun family movie night watching Jumanji, some time to work on writing, and time with a close family friend.
"Think of your friend. Why are they special?"
Our family friend is special for many reasons. She is a very talented artist and writer, and she also has a big heart, and a great love for her family and friends (we are blessed to be in her circle). She is especially great with our kids, and they are blessed to have her as an aunt. We have been enjoying a visit from her as she pursues teaching opportunities close by.
A Light so Faint and Distant
Thomas is coming home to Carolivia from studying abroad. He was supposed to study business and politics, which would mean having to continue the slave trade in Coralivia and other places. That's because for any business to be even slightly viable it needed to have slaves because of the massive profit margins slaves generated. And only wealthy people could vote so to get into politics you had to be pro slavery. Now slavery those days, in those lands, wasn't really about race at all, it was more about getting crazy rich off the suffering and poverty of your slaves.
Coralivia was a beautiful place with amazing, breath-taking nature with sandy beaches, tall evergreen forests, bright deserts, peaty loam, jagged cliffs, and the river that ran through everything. But the citizens' minded were unnatural due to their greed and exploitativeness and all manner of other vices, and partly due to the presence of the Roaring King who made sure nothing would ever change.
Now Thomas was a pretty intelligent guy. He was a young man from a very rich slaveowning family with a bit of power and a huge mansion. Huge, ornate, architecture and made from stone. It caught your eye. It was very far removed from the nature around the manor. Thomas always had the shine of the idea that slavery was wrong somewhere in his mind but didn't understand how to follow it and mostly just went along with what his parents wanted in his life, growing up.
Going to college, those views quickly began to change. He had to live humbly, as a student, in small, quite small, simple tents, by nature, with simple food, with his only form of entertainment being talking to his fellow students, all young people, in their early twenties, really young. He had no slaves. He realized he liked this lifestyle. He didn't need all that extravagent stuff, he was okay having just what he needed. Also, it was so peaceful for the soul, spirit, and conscience to not have slaves. It was so great to not have slaves, to not be waited on by slaves, to not have the source of your lifestyle be someone else's suffering. It was also good to not have a lot of stuff, becasue that meant people were being cheated out of their fair share, suffering, so you could get that much stuff.
But he wasn't perfectly good yet. He still didn't know how to live without his parents' blessing. He didn't know how to or think he should live without his parents accepting him and being okay with him so he consigned himself, reluctantly, to going back to his life of being a slaveowner. He also, while he was okay with being lower middle class, he wasn't okay with being poor and not having the stuff he needed to live and be healthy. He knew that without his parents no-one would give him money and you needed a bit of money to get started on a career. So even though he didn't like having slaves he didn't want to not have slaves enough to fight against it.
During the whole time he spent in school and changing he also really got into theatre and playwriting. He loved making stories and acting them out and potentially changing peoples' thoughts, though at this point his stores weren't too original because he wasn't too original.
Plays could be very elaborate and extravagant with flashy costumes, sets, and props if sponsored by a rich patron. They could also be very simple, with just a bunch of people in you tent and you and your friends acting it out. Thomas liked the latter type much more. Writing plays was very hard word but he and his friends liked it. Thomas liked it a whole lot. The feeling he got was incomparable. A constant push foreward met by a constant buzzing sense of harmony. Playwrites never made more than a little money so he could tell his parents wouldn't want such a career for him. But playwrites never had to use slaves so that was a huge plus. His friend Alexander, who was from a different, better countrym encouraged him to go professional in his passion. He eventually decided he wanted to, but he still wasn't okay with potentially not having enough to live. So he decided to ask for more money from his parents under the guise of it being for something else, and use it to sneakily start his playwriting career.
But he didn't ask soon enough and soon it was time for him to go home. His stint at college may have been ended prematurely by his parents catching whiff of his plans. He could've tried to say longer but he didn't since he was so against being abandoned and poor.
Anyways, dark things were at work, always had been at work, (for a while) in his home state of Coralivia.
A spiritual weapon that would help him on his future journey of redemption was that he had talked sincerely (respectfully, listeningly) to a few slaves and therefore the thought that people experiancing slavery had their own thoughts and emotions was more strongly within him.
So this is all a dream that I had one night. It takes place in a dream world that of course is different from the real world. An alternate world. But like most alternate worlds, this world perhaps mirrors our world in some ways. It takes place in somewhere that looks like a mixture of Antebellum America, Victorian England, and the wilderness. It takes place in a country - Marissileccea- whose economy basically runs on slavery. Most people are slaves, a few people are unbelievably rich, and a very small number of people are free but poor, scraping by on just what they need to live. They have some plants that we don't have and they don't have some plants that we do have. They have magic forces interacting with their world that our world might not even understand. But the way their world is the same to ours is that both worlds have beautiful nature, beautiful people, suffering, greed pride apathy, change, and learning. I will be honest with you, this work is far from perfect. I don't entirely understand what I dreamed or why I dreamed it. I don't think I did a perfect job of conveying the dream to you on paper. But I'm not any more perfect than you or anyone else, all that I have going for me is my constant and unwavering effort to make the best decisions I can and know how to make. So if it inspires you, great. If you hate it, great, that's your opinion that you're completely entitled to. But I hope that I can improve your experiance on Mother Earth's beautiful world. And yeah. :D :D :D Onto the story!
Chapter 1: The Song
Maman hummed the wild song of the Romi as she stroked Ella’s hair. Ella nestled closer to her mother’s warm body, smelling the sweetness of lavender as Maman pulled the sheet over her.
“Rest now, child,” she said. “It’s been a long day of running and riding.”
“Tomorrow will we see the colts Ferka brings?” Ferka promised her a filly every year once she was as tall as the rose painted on her wagon door, and Ella hoped against all hope that this year she would be tall enough.
“Of course, little one,” Maman whispered, touching her nose and laughing at her eagerness.
“Sing to me,” Ella murmured, obediently closing her eyes. “A new song.”
“A new song?” Maman asked. “Every night it is a new song. I am running out of songs.”
In a land with hills of green,
Where lilies sweeten the air,
There was a king with wisdom keen,
Who sought to choose an heir
Three sons he had, and all were strong
Yet choose the king did not
Instead he sent them on quest long
With adventure and danger fraught
Bring me a pup, a little dog
Said king to each son
So they traipsed through hill and field and bog
To find him the perfect one
But close the youngest came to doom
As the sun set on a wood
The youngest son saw castle loom
Round which dark trees stood…
Suddenly the candle, already wavering weakly as the song progressed, died in a sudden gust that came through the windows. The mother stared at the shutters, her voice silenced as she brushed a brown hand over her daughter’s curls. Pressing her lips together, she tiptoed to the window and peered out into the night. The sky was cloudless, stars shining like diamonds, save for the murkiness in the west, where the mountains loomed. The mother shivered, closing the windows and remembering whispered Romi legends of the dwarven black magic that hid in those snowy peaks. Tonight was not a time to sing of the dark past. Instead she turned away, to look upon her beautiful daughter and think of light and laughter and love.
The darkness in the mountains hid the cloaked figures standing in the softly falling night. The taller one shivered, unused to the bitter wind of the Gallish mountains, but his companion stood stiff, pale eyes glinting beneath his cloak.
“They say you seek the magic,” croaked the shorter man, who merely reached the other’s waist. “What makes you think I will give it to you, Juif?”
If the tall man was offended, he concealed it well, his dark eyes towards the ground. “I have magic of my own,” he murmured.
“Indeed, indeed,” the other laughed, before his tone turned dark. “Yet you dare waste my time?”
“I came because I have nothing left, and I know what you stand for. I know what you desire.”
“We all desire many things, foolish man. What is it that you desire? I see your mind; I see your wishes…I see her. Will you leave the cause for a mere woman?”
The tall man was silent, once again looking at the ground. His broken-nailed, filthy hands clasped and unclasped. “She is only a memory in my thoughts now. I desire only vengeance.”
“Ah, yes,” the other replied. “Vengeance. Then you have come with the proper purpose. For that is what I, too, desire. Welcome to la révolution, young man.”
All is Fair in Love and War
Azalia focused on her breathing. In. Out. In. Out. She focused on gently rocking baby Lohan in her arms. She had no idea why, but it was imperative that the baby didn't cry. She cried, though silently. Did Mac and Kaliaa make it? She hoped against hope that they did. Would Lohan be able to see them again? He was too young to be an orphan. The sky was heavy and dripping with a torrent of explosives. She was crammed in the basement of a small yet sturdy church along with six of her neighbours. Netha, the old woman whose presence she was glad for. Allie and Juneka, twins that were two years younger than her. Dio and Eren, who were in love and who she shared her house with. Sami who flirted with her and she could never tell whether the other teenaged girl was serious or not. She could almost hear the war raging around them. For some reason there was abject silence around her. But people were clutching each others' hands, leaning against each other, crying into each other's shoulders. She held Lohan in her arms. She had been looking after the infant boy while his parents were out in the fields. He was teething, meaning that he was especially fussy. But now he had went still with terror. That was good. Even if they did survive this bombing, it was almost certain that this was the last holdout before the entire fucking town fell. And she knew the rules of war.
Hours and hours passed. Lohan was asleep for a lot of it. Thank the gods. But he woke up hungry and fussy and crying like all eight-month-olds who missed their parents and were hungry would be. Azalia literally did not have any food. Nobody did. She gave him her finger to suck on and kept rocking him and prayed that he'd feel some sense of comfort but she knew what the boy needed and she knew she was an abjectly powerless poor young peasant girl and if she walked out of this church right now she'd just be delivering the boy to enemy soldiers.
Eventually she couldn't ignore the child's hunger any longer. As much as getting bombed or shot would kill the kid, starving would also kill the kid. Loud crying that drew attention to their hiding spot would get literally everyone captured including Lohi.
"Aunt Netha can you take Lohan? I need to get some food." Her voice was hushed as she spoke to the old woman beside her.
"Sure. Good luck. Stay safe." The tired old woman gently took baby Lohi from her and Azalia slowly arose and quietly walked towards the heavy metal door.
"Be careful," someone whispered to her but she didn't know who.
The day has melted into twilight when she stepped out. She started in the shadows of bombed-out rubble. Not that it provided much cover. All the buildings in their farming town were barely taller than her anyways and now they were mostly dust. For the past four years people had crammed themselves into the increasingly dwindling living space like the story of the little pigs. She loved the small, simple one-room huts she shared with her family and neighbours. But that was back when they were six to a hut now it was frequently fifteen. And her family was gone. She stayed near the few still-standing walls and near broken trees. Off in the distance soldiers were concentrated, she could tell by how laser fire lit the darkness with an eerie yellow.
She found a tree that was full of soft, sweet jili fruits. Thank the gods. Ignoring her own fatigue she hoisted herself onto the higher branches. She had no basket to put them in, Fuck. She was really unprepared. She slipped off her shirt, ignoring the cold of the night, and tied it into a sort of bag.
After she had filled the worn threads of her shirt she climbed out of the tree, careful to not spill anything. She walked quickly back to the church, ready to collapse the moment she got there.
And really she should have been more careful. It was, it was cloudy, it was moonless, it was starless when the unnatural glow of a laser bolt zipped dangerously close to her, briefly illuminating her terrified slight figure. She stood there frozen before she ran off into the cover of a pile of rubble.
"Hey! What's a young lady like you doing in a war zone like this?" Azalia couldn't breathe. The words were kind but the tone was seeped with haughtiness, with predatoriness. What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck?
The tall, hulking form of a man dressed in a uniform strode up to her, backing her into the brokenness around her.
"Please let me go. I have a baby." Her voice was shaking. He charged up his blaster, so that the barrel was lit with a soft glowing light, too dark for the fighters in the distance to see. It glowed pale against her olive skin, dim against his camouflage. She hated all the soldiers equally regardless of what side they were on. She hated this whole war and the governments in their palaces that started it. But she could see that this guy was an enemy soldier. And that made things worse for her right now.
"And who's the lucky father of this baby?" He staked a step closer, leaned in until she was lying against the sharp prices of clay. She shook her head, terrified.
"What, did he die? Did one of our guys kill him? I suppose I should thank that comrade for making you available." What the fuck? If she wasn't two moments away from literally getting raped she would've laughed at this idiot soldier. She didn't have a dead husband or a living husband or even a boyfriend. She had her friends' child who she loved as her own. But that was the thing. Zohan was getting weaker by the moment and his survival was more important than anything that happened to her. This man might for all intents and purposes kidnap her. And then how would she deliver the much-needed food? She needed to think. The man was straddling her hips but making no attempt to get any of her clothes off, instead hovering his weapon on different parts of her body, idly looking over each piece of skin he illuminated. She was panicking more than she ever had, desperately digging with her hands through the rubble for any sort of weapon at all.
"You're by far the most beautiful woman I have ever laid my eyes on. Though I suppose you're not quite a woman yet. And I found you which means I get you by the way. I can't believe my luck. You're going to like it in Zirunika you honestly are. There are buildings that soar to the sky and shine in the sun. There are marble monuments to our glory. Bright gardens. It's beautiful there much more beautiful than in these backwoods villages. I'd be taking you away from this squalor and drabness."
"Sir just let me go." She squirmed under his roving hands.
"You're too pretty. Prettier than anyone I've seen. Prettier than anything I've seen. I'm never letting you go. I'm taking you to civilization with me." His words were heavy and thick and pressed down on her throat and chest. Finally her hands clutched around a shard of clay pottery. It was easily sharp enough to tear through flesh. But so much of the soldier was covered in thick fabric. Through the haze of horror, worry, and disgust a plan pulled itself together.
Striking quickly, she brought the shard up to the skin of her neck and started pressing down, hard enough to draw blood. It was a risky move. But it worked. He stopped, looked at her in... maybe it was confusion?
"I promise to come back to you. But first I have to drop this stuff off. Do not follow me. Or else I will kill myself. And then where would you get your perfect little war prize? Let me drop this off and then I swear I'll be back."
"Stop this madness."
"Take me to your beautiful civilization just let me do this one last thing as a free person."
"You'll come back?" There was something almost childish in his words.
"Fine." He got off her. And everything inside her screamed at her to run. But she knew better. She has to sell the lie. She's been poor for long enough to know the value of lying to power. But now it was more important than ever that she succeeded at deception. She walked calmly into the night.
"— wait." She turned back, just as he latched a thin band of metal around the base of her neck. He pressed his thumb into it and, goddamn, she felt like she wanted to die right there. But she hid the feeling.
"This ensures you'll come back to me, and that you'll stay with me all the days after."
She walked through the active war zone back to the little church where she'd see her people for the last time. She was extra vigilant that nobody followed her. She didn't want to lead them to the rest of her people. Lohan was to young to be west away from his world, and honestly nobody deserves it. She felt like her entire soul was flaking apart. She felt like her humanity was being drained from her. The collar was smooth and left plenty of room but it felt like a barbed wire noose. She was used to terror. She was used to hunger. She was used to weariness that settled into every corner of her being. She was used to grief that was insurmountable. She was used to physical pain. She was used to cold, to sickness. She was used to mourning, she was used to constant anxiety. And it all hurt terribly and she hated all of it but at least she had her friends and neighbours to get her through it. But now this was goodbye. This was farewell. And she wouldn't even get to say it to everyone.
She silently descended into the basement of the church, and pulled herself in, She passed the fruits to Sami. And then collapsed in her arms crying. Sami held her and cried with her.
"I'm glad to have known you," Sami said softly.
Azalia stayed there for a while, in the embrace of her people. Holding baby Zohan, feeding him one last time. Telling him how much she loved him, how much she hoped he had a good life. She fell into the arms of Eren and Netha and Dio and Sami and Allie and Juneka. They told her how much they loved her. How glad they were to have known her. How kind she was. How strong she was. How interesting her thoughts were. How much she helped them and protected them through the horrors of the long war. How much they enjoyed raising her or playing with her before the war started. How much they would miss her. How they wouldn't forget her. How they would think of her and would hope things were at least a little bit kind for her. She told them how much she loved them too.
Hours passed. The fighting died hadn't down around them. It wasn't safe to leave yet. But Azalia knew that she had to. With tears in her eyes she hugged everyone one last time and stepped out of the door. It was still dark.
She walked past the rubble that was all anything was these days. She didn't take precaution to avoid getting killed. She turned to see that the tree she had picked jili fruits from has been killed in the bombing. Nothing good lasts. She had her shirt on now and it felt like a small bit of protection. She waited near the same rubble pile where she first "met" the soldier. She didn't even know his name. She let her tears flow freely.
Another hour or so passed. The fighting died down. A military glider zoomed up to where she was standing. Headlights shone through the darkness. It was emblazoned with the seal of presumably Zirunika. It could fit a lot of people, if they sat close, but only for people stepped out of it. One of them was that man. With great effort she kept her body absolutely still.
"Oh gods, she is a fine thing. It's not fair that you found her first Patton." The soldier's tone was jovial.
"Well maybe Lord Aldura favours me. Because she is mine."
They bantered back and forth a little bit. Azalia couldn't pay attention to any of it, her mind was screaming. Patton slung her over his shoulder and got on the glider. He positioned her onto his lap as he sank into the plush seat.
"You'll love it there. I have so much to show you." He traced the hemline of her pants.
As they zoomed away Azalia kept her eyes glued to her village until it faded into the night.
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