Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Acies ab Vesania

Sleep Innocence, Sleep.

Recommended Posts

“Hurry up Matti, you don’t want to be late!”

Her mother called out to her from the kitchen, where she finished putting together a special breakfast for her going away to boarding school. She still could not fathom how her parents found the money to get her into a proper school, but they did and now she was going away. Standing in front of the mirror, she did all she could to control her unruly hair and made sure her blouse remained free of wrinkles and her knee length skirt smooth. She felt nervous, nervous about leaving and about having to meet new people and make new friends. Her mother assured her that everything would go well, but she still felt a little scared.

After one more glance in the mirror and yet another fruitless attempt to tame her wild hair, Matti slowly trudges from her room to the kitchen, where her mother stands over the stove, warming a pot of porridge seasoned with real shredded fruit—a rare treat for their home. To say they were poor would be to gloss over their state of affairs with a generic paintbrush, missing the finer details that made up the picture of their home life. Both her parents worked more than twelve hours a day, six days a week, making a pittance at some factory in the middle of the district. This left her and her brother on their own, with her responsible for seeing him to and from school and keeping him out of trouble. Now that he was nine, her parents said he ought to be able to handle watching out for himself while they gave her the “opportunity of a lifetime”.

 

“There she is. My, you look lovely. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”

Her mother’s smile is drawn and obviously forced, just the hint of sadness blended in. Her stepfather sat at the table, waiting for breakfast while he oiled his tools he used at work. He spoke little as is and even less so toward Matti, he and she never forming much of a relationship at all. Not to say that they fought or felt mutual dislike or anything of that nature, but rather they simply existed near each other without taking interest in getting more familiar than they were. Matti stayed quiet out of shyness and the hope of going unnoticed, he remained so out of what seemed a disinterest in most everyday interactions. He spoke somewhat with her brother, his actual son, but even then, their interactions were far less than what tended to be “normal”.

 

Her stepfather looks up from his work and glances at her appraisingly, looking at her for a second or two longer than he normally bothered, although he still failed to make eye contact and ended in the same bored way he had any other time he acknowledged her existence. It surprised Matti that a man so indifferent to her took strides with her that they afford her a better opportunity than most other children in the slums ever had. Though Mezthaluen mandated that all children be given some education, the schools in their area hardly resembled schools at all, filled with up to fifty kids in each classroom and short of supplies or motivated educators- it was a small wonder that any of them ever learned anything at all.

 

“Moooom, I’m hungry!”

 

Her brother came in just after her; he still dressed in his undershirt and a pair of shorts, hair in a bigger mess than hers and sleepiness still in his eyes. He stumbles into the room and sits at the table, getting not so much as a glance from the man who headed their home, he reserving his words for when he thought it pertinent to speak. Matti sat in the seat beside the boy, smoothing down his tousled hair with her left hand while her mother dished up bowls of the steaming food. Though porridge itself become a regular staple in their morning meals, the smell of spiced apples and plums made the dish seem entirely new and exotic, a mouthwatering delight she might not see again for years.

“Leave my hair alone Matti, I gotta eat!”

 

Her mother no sooner put a bowl in front of him before he swatted away her attempts to smooth out his mess he called hair, finding herself still trying to take care of her younger brother despite leaving in the next hour or so. Withdrawing her hand slowly, she realizes just how much she would miss taking care of him, even if he could be a real pain sometimes. Though he often teased her and seemed to go out of his way to give her trouble, he still relied on her and made her feel important. For all his complaints, he even occasionally thanked her for her help and on one occasion admitted his appreciation. She wondered how he really felt about her leaving- well, at least how he might feel after he eats, since that boy never thought of much else when food was on his mind.

“Be nice to your sister Thumos, she’s leaving today, remember?”

Her mother chides the boy gently, seeming to use her trip as leverage to get the boy to act a little more cordially in their final morning as a complete family. Thumos does not respond with words, but instead glances up quickly before shoveling food back into his mouth like it were going to disappear any moment now. Matti chose to relish the meal instead, eating in slow measured bites. It allowed her to enjoy it more while avoiding upsetting her already mercurial stomach. Her nervousness seemed more like “butterflies in the tummy”, but instead like a swarm of hornets had built a nest somewhere in there, if only they had the room. Matti was decently tall for her age, but she never seemed to fill in, always slightly built and waifish. Her mother used to joke that a strong wind might someday take her away.

 

It takes an extra effort, but she does eat the entirety of her bowl, leaving nothing for her vulture of a brother lingering nearby, hoping to get leftovers. Thumos sighs in disappointment when she hands the empty bowl over to her mother to go wash. Her stepfather finished his food at some point as well, but like with everything he did, he completed the meal silently. Matti assumed he would remain silent the rest of their brief time together, but he surprised her when he spoke.

 

“Mind yourself and do what you’re told. Things will be better that way.”

Matti glances up surprised at the man she barely knew, the statement amongst the longest he ever said to her. In doing so, she missed the nearly alarmed expression her mother made, one that disappeared as Matti gave an earnest response in her quiet way.

“Yes sir. I’ll mind.”

This seems to satisfy him enough, the man only maintaining eye contact for a few more seconds before excusing himself from the table, leaving for his and her mother’s room, likely getting whatever else he needed for work. Matti too gets up from the table, making sure once again that her clothes looked neat and proper, taking to heart what she once heard from a teacher at school.

 

First impressions mean most in this world.

 

She certainly did not want to give her new schoolmates and teachers the impression that she was some poor kid who planned to squander her rare opportunity. Her conscientiousness seemed to please her mother, so Matti assumed she did the right thing in making sure she came off as a proper young woman. Her carefulness nearly went all for naught when her brother, still wearing nearly a fourth of his breakfast, attempts to lunge at her with his arms held wide. She just barely manages to get out of the way.

 

“Thumos, you’re filthy!”

“But I want a hug Matti. Are you sure you gotta go? School is sooo boring anyway. Who’s going to take me to go play while you’re gone?”
 

Matti could not help but smile, the feeling of being appreciated- and wanted- something she only got in the smallest doses.

 

“Oh, you’ll be fine, you and your friends are plenty good at keeping busy. I’m going to go learn about the important things, and then someday I’ll open up a real shop and take all of you away from here.”

Thumos smiles at this.

“Really? I want to see the business district! Some say they sell fresh food right on the streets, right in the open. How crazy is that?”

Matti smiles and nods, but just before she answers, she catches a glimpse of her mother, looking sadder than before, the woman turning away just before tears rolled onto her cheeks. Matti waves of her brother and walks over to her mother, giving her a tight hug.

“Don’t worry mom, I’ll visit as soon as I can.”

Her mother, looking off into the distance, does not answer for a long moment. Finally, in a voice of resignation, she says,

“I’m sure you will. I’m sure you will.”

Before anything else can be said, a sharp knock comes from the front door. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Her stepfather answered the door.

Outside, two men stood, both dressed remarkably well for being inside the docks district, where anyone dressed nicely became an instant target for wandering bands of opportunists and thieves. They wore silk shirts with shiny buttons, tucked into fine leather breeches, both wearing black. Their boots were polished and shiny, there shoes the first she had ever seen that were new, free of scuffs and even clean. Though they dressed well, neither of them men had faces that spoke of a cultured nature, one with an nose previously broken and the other covered in pockmarks from old acne scars. Both have hair combed but a little greasy, and when they smiled, they showed off stained teeth; one even had a missing tooth.  

 

Matti felt unsure of what to make of it. They dressed appropriately but they otherwise did not look like the sort of men a private school would send out to pick up a new pupil. Still, she had seen worse, and she even knew men who looked worse than these two but were among the most honest in the slums. It reminded her to refrain from judging others simply based on appearances. They wore the right clothes and clearly made an effort to dress for the part, so that might be enough. They could not fully control what time had chosen to do with them.

 

“Matti, your escorts are here.”

Matti lets go of her mother and shuffles out of the dining room, her stomach flip-flopping harder and faster than before. She wanted to wring her hands together, but her mother told her before it was unbecoming of a lady to act that way and if she were to make a good impression with the first people from the school she met, she would have to make sure she acted proper, and polite.

“H-hello.”

 

Matti makes sure to curtsy upon approach, making sure to fulfill her mother and stepfather’s expectations.

“I’m Matilyn. Pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

She hoped using a bigger word projected her intelligence, showing them that while she was a child of the southern district, her upbringing came with a halfway decent education despite her humble background. It seems to please the men, who both break out into wide grins.

“Pleasure to meet you as well, young lady. Are you prepared to leave?”

 

The one with the acne speaks, his voice inflected by some foreign accent that she did not recognize. It might have been hint as to where this school was located. Her parents had not been forthcoming in the details, but they said it lies away from the city.

“I am. I have little to take with me.”

 

She holds up the small bag she packed the night before, having left it near the door so she would be ready to leave when they arrived. Preparedness is another quality she knew people favored, so she hoped to show the school escorts that she was an organized and conscientious person.

 

“Good, good. Well, say your goodbyes then, so we can be on our way.”

 

Though the first man spoke, it was the second man who showed her more interest, eyeing her closely. It made her feel uncomfortable—she never cared for people looking her for extended lengths, preferring to go unnoticed amongst others. She took it as an examination and early appraisal, despite the way it made the hairs on the back of her neck stand.

 

“Okay.”

 

She turns around, taking in a deep breath, forcing the tears back. She would not cry; she had to be strong for her family, and to make a good impression.

 

She goes to her brother and gives him a hug from the side, carefully avoiding the food he wore.

“Take care of yourself, and stay out of trouble!”

 

Her brother groans, and laughs.

 

“Okay, maybe… just for you.”

Matti ruffles his hair and smiles.

“For me then.”

 

Next, she goes over to her mother and gives her a tight hug. Face buried in her apron, she whispers,

“Thank you.”

 

Her mother, still acting stoic, gives her a light hug back.

“Go on then, before you make them late.”

She hurries back out in the living room, stopping in front of her stepfather. The man eyes her with the same cold and impassive expression he always wore around her, his face revealing neither love nor contempt.

“I… guess this is goodbye.”

He only nods once, once again saving his words.

“I… thank you.”

She thought to hug him, but never once in her life had she received a hug from the man, or was expected to give him one in turn. He never asked and her mother never suggested it. They kept their distances from each other, and now, she felt that she should perhaps extend the gesture, if only in thanks for what he had given her—an opportunity at freedom. A chance to leave this city behind someday, to make a better life for herself in some other place, using what she learns from this new school. Try as she might, she cannot bring herself to cross that gap, so instead she extends her hand.

He looks down at it, and after a long pause, he finally takes it, giving her two firm pumps.

“Goodbye.”

 

He spoke this time, saying the last word he would ever say to her, though she did not know it then.

“Bye.”

 

Turning around, she faces the rest of the house.

“I love all of you! See you soon!”

 

She very nearly loses control, tears threatening to break the plane and come to her eyes despite her careful efforts. Regaining composure just in time, she scrunches her face and then turns back around, stepping out the door with the men.

“I’m ready.”

The one with the accent, the only one who spoke, was the one who answered once again.

 

“Good, good. Let us be on our way then. We have quite the journey ahead of us. Much to explain, all of that.”

Matti nods and starts walking with the men, leaving behind the home she knew for the last fourteen years, the only home she ever had, the home she would never have again. She left behind that city street, the place she once played and would never play in again, going past the kids she once called friends, who she would never have as friends again. She went down the busy streets, passing among them in the open for the very last time, unaware of the great changes coming her way. Some people eyed her with suspicion, others seemed sad. Still, none of them said a word, letting the men through with a wide berth. She did not understand it then, but she would later, soon enough. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As they walked away, it occurred to Matti that she had no idea how they would be leaving the city. She never thought to ask her parents, and to be honest, she was unsure if they knew themselves. She wanted to ask the men who escorted her, but their silence made her hesitant, as if speaking up would incite some drastic change in their personality and demeanor. They seemed nice enough from the start, but she could not help but sense an overwhelming impulse to stay quiet—which is exactly what she did. Stuffing her curiosity deeper than her misgivings, she let the weight of her anxiety keep her inquisitive nature from sneaking away from her. While it gnawed at her, it at least remained at bay.

 

The men lead her back towards the docks, a section of the city she avoided at all costs, and with good reason. The docks were a place where no sensible person who go alone, even those who themselves were up to no good. Gangs of adolescent youth abandoned to their fate roved like hyenas looking for scraps to scavenge and goods to pilfer off others. Sometimes they let their victims go in peace, other times they killed simply for the thrill of it. Even in the daytime, people had to remain vigilant and aware, for some held no fear of the light, so long as no guards were around and the shippers were waiting on more goods to haul into the port.

 

Knowing that anyone sensible would walk around the docks rather than cut across them, Matti quickly deduced that their exit out of the city would be via a ship traveling along the river. She could only guess what the implicated in terms of their travel plans, given that the river reached many other rivers and connected to the ocean up north as well, which could take them anywhere. The implication of that made her a little more nervous, knowing that she could wind up not just hundreds of miles from home, but thousands even. She promised to visit her family as soon as she could, but if they were taking her somewhere across the continent, it might be years before that could happen.

As they walk down the docks, a couple of docks workers stop and eye the girl, their eyes following her perhaps a little longer than they should be staying on a twelve year old girl. Their stares made the hairs on the back of her neck stand up, but despite her natural tendency to assume the worst, these men did not strike her as being like the other predatory types she had seen on the streets. Most were impassive; a few even seemed reticent about her passage, perhaps contemplating making some sort of statement, but deciding to stay out of it anyway. This proved to be even more disconcerting than just assuming the men were having inappropriate thoughts.

While she looked back at a few others, she misses seeing a man walking down the docks, he too focused on something else. When she runs into him, she finds herself flying back, bouncing off the thickly built shipping worker like he were a brick wall and her a kitten trying to get past it.

“I’m sorry!”

She scrambles to get up as quickly as she can, afraid that she might dirty up her skirt or even worse, put some kind of hole in it. The man looks down at her, his pale blue eyes locked on her own amber ones, pausing before offering her a hand back up—a hand she gladly accepts. He pulls her up easily, the effort minimal for the seasoned worker. He nearly steps away, but something makes him hesitate. Again, he nearly keeps going, but once again he stops himself. Looking back over his shoulder, he says,

 

“Don’t trust them kid.”

 

“What?”

Matti found her voice trembling, the warning striking her like a backhanded slap across her face, a confirmation of her inner worries seemingly verified by some stranger she bumped into.

“The two lugs you’re with. Bad people. They’re piles of shit, and you won’t like where they’re taking you. If yer smart, you’ll take off before they notice you got left behind.

“But… I’m going to school.”

The man laughs, a barking laugh that is nearly as cold as the river water in the dead of winter.

“Sure you are kid, sure you are. That’s what they tell all the girls. Can’t say I didn’t try. If yer smart, you’ll turn around and get out of here. Go home, or better yet, figure out how to get by on yer own. Better off that way.”

From the docks, another man yells,

“Hey Wer’tan, get back here eh? Got several more crates to go!”

Wer’tan looks over and shouts,

 

“I’m on my way, hold yer fucking pants up…” under his breath, “Fucking cocksucker.”

With one more glance at the girl, he holds up a finger and flicks it once.

“When they offer to take your shit and put them “In a safe place”, just know you’ll never see it again. All I got to say.”

The man called Wer’tan turns around and starts to walk away. Matti, regaining her senses, shouts,

“Wait! Tell me, where are they taking me?”

The man stops, and without looking back, answers Matti with a voice devoid of emotion.

“Where the little girls never come back from kid. Where the little girls go and never come back.”

With that, he goes back to work, never looking back.

Matti realizes that she has gotten quite behind now, the two men escorting her still walking ahead like she still stood beside them. She realizes that such a failure to observe her absence certainly boded poorly for men who were supposed to be intelligent, observant, and experienced with children. Still, she did not know what else she could do for right now. Picking up her bag, she runs after the men, racing as fast as her legs would carry her, despite the weight of her belongings.

 

Behind her, several shipping men shake their heads. The only who does not is the man who spoke, his eyes cold and emotionless, his face an impassive mask of steel. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

She catches up to her escorts just as they come to a stop, standing next to a ramp leading up to a particularly dilapidated ship. Paint peeled off old wood, the vessel rising and falling in the water as its old boards creaked and moaned. Matti knew little about ships and what constituted something sea worthy versus trying your luck, but she had the feeling this craft might be closer to the latter than the former.

“Alright girl, we are at the ship. Only a few minutes until we get going. Why don’t you give your suitcase to Bezel so he can go put it in a safe place for you.”

The words rang through her mind like a hammer striking an anvil. Just as the young man had said, they would offer to put her things into a safe place, despite it seemingly unnecessary, given that she should have some kind of quarters to reside in.

“Can’t I just put it in my room?”

She looks up at both men shyly, her shrinking both real and intentionally put on, a combination of actual nerves and a desire to remain thought of as small and unknowing. The other man, Bezel, still refrained from speaking, standing patiently with his hand out. The other man, who addressed her this whole time, showed a brief flicker of irritation cross his face before regaining his composure. Had she not been looking for signs of strange behavior, she would have missed it entirely.

 

“Well, the rooms are small, so we stow away the suitcases in a storage space. The trip will only take but a night, so you will not go long without your things.”

He does his best to smile earnestly, and nearly succeeds in creating something genuine, but the smile never quite touches his eyes, eyes that still flicker with signs of annoyance. Matti decides not to press the issue too much further for now, and switches tactics instead. Turning to the one called Bezel, she asks him,

 

“Will you make sure it is safe? I would hate to lose anything.”

Bezel smiles and nods vigorously, revealing a mouth with a missing tooth, yet another odd trait for someone who works for a prestigious school. His total lack of speaking also put her off. Before she could ask about it, the speaker gave an explanation.

“He’s mute lass, can’t talk. Good worker, but he has to communicate through sign language.”

On cue, the man lifts his hands and makes a few gestures, apparently signing some kind of message that she could not interpret, but the speaker had.

“He promises to make sure your things are kept nice and safe.”

Matti eyes Bezel for a moment, and then shrugs.

“Okay, here you go.”

Letting go of her few personal belongings took more effort than she made it appear, she reluctant to let those few treasures out of her sight, even if it were mostly clothes. She had a couple of books, hard to come by for kids in her neighborhood and often not important to them anyhow; despite going to the local school, many kids her age were still barely literate and hardly interested in reading. They had no use for books that told stories of mighty heroes who stood up to tyrants and brought peace to war-torn kingdoms, slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. They chose to do other things, those other things as often illegal as not.

Bezel takes her suitcase and walks up the ship with it, going for a set of doors that lead down into the ship. While he does that, her other escort nudges her on to the ramp, encouraging her to walk up to the ship.

“Will I have my own room, or am I sharing with another prospect?”

The escort smiles sweetly and says,

 

“You’ll be sharing with other prospects, and you will meet them very soon. They have yet to arrive, but they should be shortly. Here, let me show you to your room.”

He leads her down the ship and back to a sleeping quarters, the door on the outside of a thick wood and the windows sealed shut. The man pulls out a key and unlocks the door, opening it up to a small but decent looking room, with four bunk beds crammed inside.

“Here is where you all will be staying. It is small, but it is only for one night. Why don’t you get settled in.”

He nudges her from behind, gently easing her towards the room. She looks inside, examining it from top to bottom, trying to decide what she thought of it. It was small, smaller than even she were used to, but it was still livable, especially for only a night. Because of his insistence, she enters the room and sits down on one of the bottom beds.

“Alright, I have much to prepare, so for right now, take a little time to relax. I’ll see you soon.”

The man exits the room, his departure marked by the door closing and the sound of the key turning.

Locked in.

Matti found the act strange, but thought perhaps they feared her wandering about and getting into trouble with no supervision as silly as that notion was, given her excellent skills in minding herself. She thinks about lying down, but walks to the windows instead, trying to see out. The glass is dull and fogged, making it nearly impossible to look through them. Still, with a little effort, she can make out vague shapes of people passing, and when she listened closely, she could hear their hushed conversation.

“Take care of the case?”

Silence.

“Good. The rest of the cargo will be here in a few minutes. Go get the captain for me.”

Matti wondered what cargo they would be bringing with them, given that the man had only mentioned other students. A moment later, someone else shows up.

“Captain.”

A grunt.

“We should be ready to leave in fifteen minutes, once the other three get here and I get them secured. After that, we head for the river route towards the Alcove.”

Another grunt.

“Agreeable today aren’t we? You’d think you’d be smiling more when the Barron promised you a pick from this litter. The first one is a bit scrawny, but she’s nice looking.”

Another grunt.

“Hard man to please. Well, just make sure we’re ready to leave. I don’t want to wait for any of these shits to figure out where we are really going.”

Matti leans back against the door, tears filling her eyes. She knew that sort of talk, she knew what it meant.

These were not school officials. They were slavers. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Her hands rolled into balled fists, her knuckles white against her tanned skin. Tears trickled down her cheeks, hot as the temper burning inside her. This newfound anger, it lights up a fire she never knew she could muster. Not since she last defended her brother against bullies had she felt anything remotely this close to what she felt now, and even that seemed like a candle compared to the blaze rising within her. These men fooled her parents, tricked them into thinking she would get a proper education and that she would return a bettered person.  

 

She breathed hard through her nose, the air expelled feeling white hot and capable of melting lead. She realized her jaw had clenched down when she began to feel a tightness forming at the corners of her neck, the pain just trickling into her thoughts. She had heard tales about these people, the kind of people who took girls (and sometimes boys too) to some place far away, where they were never seen again. Some of the older children spoke of rumors surrounding their purposes, traded so they would be the “playthings” of old rich men. She had only just begun to understand the concept in the last year, between the onset of puberty and her increased association with more street-savvy children.

 

She felt so angry she wanted to tear the men apart. The normally sweet, reserved child felt the anger of a cornered animal building up with in her, and without thinking, she kicks the door as hard as she can, a reverberating “clap” echoing the contact of her shoe to the door. The wood splinters apart as the door ripped past its latch and opened up before her now very wide eyes. She had no idea what happened or how it did, but she was no fool and she knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. She runs as fast as she can move herself, shoes slapping against the wooden deck as she makes a beeline for the plank leading back to the docks.

 

“Hey!”

 

Probably investigating the sound of the crash, one of the men, the talkative, smiling one, came back just in time to see her making for the ramp leading back down to the docks. He shouts the alarm, soon joined by his silent associate who never said a word in their entire time together. She ignores the both of them, tearing her way back down to the docks and heading back in the direction of home. She hoped that perhaps she might run into the dockworkers, in particular the young man who had taken enough interest in her to warn her, even if his hints were subtle and vague. The man had size and presence, perhaps enough to deter these men, should he be inclined to help.

 

Only, she did not get nearly far enough, nowhere near back to her home and not even halfway back to where those men on the docks worked. Though she ran as fast as she could, and she was by no means a slow child, the grown men were older and stronger, with a much longer stride than her own. They caught up to her easily, the silent one scooping her up into his massive arms while the other one came running up from behind. As she lets out a squeal of surprise, the garrulous one laughs.

 

“Change your mind? Where did you think you were going?”

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

His breath smelled terrible, a mixture of whiskey and death. It felt hot on her neck, spreading slimy warmth from the base of skull and down to her frail shoulders. She fought back with the shoulders, writhing back and forth, trying to escape. Despite all her efforts, Matti could not overcome the brute’s strength, his grip growing tighter with each feeble attempt she made to free herself.

“Let. Me. GO!”

She tried to sound tough, but all that came out was the shrill cries of a young girl who knew that she was caught. She hated sounding weak, never in her life had she let her diminutive size stand between her and getting what she wanted. She protected her brother from danger, and now she was here, unable to protect herself. It made her mad; it caused the unrequited rage to build up inside her, growing brighter and more potent with each failed attempt to get free. Her vision blurred, everything wavered around her, as if caught up in the same heat she felt building up inside.

“I said LET GO OF ME.”

There it was again, that same wave of energy that ripped through her as her foot crashed through the door, only this time it extended through her arms and the very core of her body, finally breaking apart the thug’s grasp. While the second man laughed and stroked her face, she caught him off guard by first forcing the other man’s grip free, dropping her to the ground, and then by sucker punching him in the jaw, hitting him with a tiny fist with such force that his jaw made an audible crack as he fell to the ground. She had no time to contemplate this, to wonder how she found the strength to drop a full grown man with a single punch, all she had time for was running. And so ran she did, back down docks in pursuit of the one man who showed her kindness on this day, or anyone else who would help her. Close behind, she could hear one of the thugs (likely the one she did not punch) chasing after her.

Must run faster, must run faster…

She hated having short legs, for short legs meant that no matter how much she pumped them, no matter how quickly she lifted her feet off the ground, she could still be easily overtaken by someone much taller. She found it to be true of races on the streets with older kids, their long gangly legs giving them an advantage over her natural gift of speed, and it allowed these thugs to catch up to her the first time and seemed likely to allow it again.

Matti felt the man’s presence behind her, closing the distance with every step. She hoped to find someone, anyone, who might render aid, but the only soul present on the docks this morning is an old tramp sitting against the wall, sleeping. She doubted that a man in his position would be willing to help her (or capable of it for that matter), so she didn’t give him a second glance. Instead, she went running past him, unaware of how he had only pretended to sleep, and that one of his eyes was half-open. She was unaware of the fact that as she crossed his path, he began to rise to his feet, jumping between her and the thug who was just out of arm’s reach. She missed seeing the look on her assailant’s face as the once perceived as harmless tramp slammed a fist into the man’s solar plexus, causing him to crumple to the ground. She only became aware of something happening when she heard the man crashing to the cement, and turned just in time to see him go down face first.

“What in the?”

The once unremarkable tramp now stood before her with an unmistakable presence, one emanating power and capability. He was not small or frail, but rather wiry and in much better health than what his initial appearance suggested. He was older, but not so old as to be feeble and weak. In fact, nothing about him seemed weak at all. When he spoke, his voice was smooth and warm, though still laced with just the slightest hint of sadness.

“I would not return home if I were you.”

“What?”

Matti felt confused. Why was he telling her not to go to the one place where she should go?

“There is no home for you anymore. Not there at least. Come with me, and I will give you a safe place to sleep, and a place to uncover the mysteries of your newfound power.”

“What?”

The word confusion only just barely brushed the surface of what she was feeling. It was confusion, dismay, fear, fatigue, sadness, and a general feeling of being muddled. What power was he talking about? And why would she no longer have a home? The men did nothing to her parents.

“I’m… I’m going to leave now. Thank you?”

She turned and ran. And when she looked back, the man was gone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Her mother always told her to not be so “melodramatic”, but at this point, Matti was sure that she was well within her rights to call this the worst day of her life. It began with a dream of an education, becoming something more than just another kid running around the slums of Mezthaluen. Now that it was half over, she very nearly had been kidnapped, found out the opportunity to go to a good school had all been a farce, she nearly got taken a second time, and now strange things were happening to her. That, and the odd homeless man who was trying to coax her away from returning home, where she belonged no less, to tell her something about “new powers”, whatever that meant. She hoped that he was mere a little off now that he had reached his twilight years, and not someone who would pursue her all the way back to her home.

 

Returning back to her home proved to be a difficult undertaking, as there were men all around who could very well have been connected to the kidnappers who were undoubtedly still looking for her. It required that she take a multitude of back roads and even a couple of rooftops, taking routes she had learned throughout her childhood while running around with the other neighborhood kids, especially when they had been up to mischief and were avoiding the repercussions of their behavior. Fortunately, no one from her old crowd were out and about right now, it being too early. Once she had committed to leaving in pursuit of an education, they had disowned her, thinking of her as a traitor, as someone who abandoned them. In truth, they were envious just as she had been of a couple others who found ways out of the southern district- she had always assumed that it would never have come true for her as well.

 

And it appeared that it really wasn’t going to happen for her.

 

After a couple of hours, she was back in her neighborhood, not far from her home. She could see the familiar houses as well as a handful of kids who were out and about, playing games and trying to get themselves into trouble. It was likely that her brother was among them now, playing his part in some prank or scheme or some other activity meant to help them pass the idle hours of being too young to work and being just well enough off that begging was beneath them. She had to be careful about crossing through here, because she did not want to make a scene or cause a stir, as some kids were prone to acting out with violence when they felt offended.

 

With some carefully timed dashes between objects, she got back to her house without being seen by any of the other kids. She tried the door but found it locked, her parents probably away at work. Knocking seemed like a logical choice, until she remembered that she was trying to avoid drawing the attention of the other kids, and knocking would certainly do just that. Instead, she went back around to the back of their home, intending to see if her window remained unlocked, as she never did lock it at night—she wanted to easily be able to sneak in and out. When she got to the window, she gave it a little test nudge and found that it did give.

 

She slipped inside and closed the window behind her.

She very nearly went through the door of her room and back into the main part of the house, but she stopped in her tracks when she heard her mother and step father talking. Talking about her…

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

“Are you sure we did the right thing?”

Her mother sounded despondent, filled with regret. The response that came from her stepfather was cold, as detached as she had always come to expect from him.

“We needed the money and it’s one less mouth to feed. Now we only have to worry about one child, and not one who would later have cost us a dowry, a dowry we don’t have the ability to pay for mind you. Better that someone find use for her. Her future in this dump was to likely to become nothing more than a drug addled whore, like you.”

Matti felt the sting of tears in her eyes. She knew that her mother spent nights away from home, and it was earlier this year that she came to understand that she had spent those nights with other men, earning coin to put food on the table. She never saw her mother doing any drugs. As for what they said about her, what did they mean by needing the money, and avoiding a dowry? It was beginning to sound like what those men had said carried merit. That they were…”

“She can be someone’s pet, a whore who is fed and well cared for. That’s what they promised, make her the pet of a rich man who would spoil her in between the times he fucked her. Sure, it’ll probably be some twat who’s as likely to fuck her as beat her, but it’s a small price for her to pay in order to have food and medical care. It’s better than what she got here, and now she isn’t our problem anymore.”

“It’s just… I’m still not sure. It feels wrong. She is our daughter after--”

A loud smack interrupts what her mother was about to say.

“She was never mine. She was yours, and now she’s sold. Forget about her, she’s someone else’s whore now. I only hope she really was still a virgin, lest they come back here looking for some of their money back.”

Matti takes a step back, her heart pounding her chest, blinded by the tears that won’t stop coming. She felt sick, her stomach tied itself up in knots and threatened to upend what breakfast she had managed to eat this morning. All of it was true. Her parents sold her to the slavers, sold her to the people all the children told stories about. She was not taken, they were not fooled, they had willingly given her up, knowing what would in store for her. Coming back here was a mistake. If they found her, if they knew that she had escaped, at the very least her stepfather would see to it that she went back.

She had to go, and go now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Matti ran for the window, fumbling with the latch, cursing herself for being so clumsy. She managed to get it open without making too much noise, slipping out the window and not bothering to close it back up tightly. She made sure that she would be half a block away before her parents went to investigate anything they might have heard coming from her now abandoned bedroom, and further still should they decide to go look outside. She wanted nothing to do with them, especially with him. Her stepfather, the man who had always been so cold and indifferent to her. He was sufferable so long as he left her alone but this… this was unforgiveable.

 

Matti felt the tears coming back, and so she angrily wiped them away, hurt because she was abandoned, angry because she felt hurt at all. If her parents did not want her, so be it, she would stay away. She would become another street kid out here trying to make ends meet. Just so long as she could remain close enough to watch out for her brother, to make sure that he didn’t get himself involved with the wrong crowds, or find trouble some other way. She worried about leaving him before, but now she could stay behind and make sure he would be okay.

Matti thought about tracking him down, but quickly came to the heart wrenching realization that she could never approach him. Not now, and not for a very long time, if ever at all. Her brother thought that she went to get an education and did not know the truth. So long as he was ignorant of it all, life at home would be easy for him and he could go on being happy and content. She would watch over him, but it would always have to be from the shadows. It was best for him to remain ignorant of the truth.

Matti felt like crying again. She hated her stepfather even more, just for that.

Wiping her eyes and her nose, she keeps moving down the street, looking for the old places that she knew were safe places for her to hide. She needed somewhere to lay low for a little while, to get her breath and her wits back about her, and then to decide what she would do from here. Such as where she was going to get food, and where she was going to hole up for the long term. There were many places to hide in the Southern District, but many of them were only good for temporary haunts, not places to stay and linger. Life on the streets was tough; any street kid could tell you of the dangers that came with it, including those same men who tried to take her away.

 

Soon, she came upon a deserted building that had half burned down some time ago. People tended to avoid it, even many of the street kids, because the building and its foundation were unstable and the place stunk of charred flesh. She knew it work out as something temporary, so it was here she would sit for a while, until she felt sure that no one would be actively seeking her and she regained her wits. Right now, she was too distressed and angry to think clearly. Thinking without clarity got you killed on these streets. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

She thought she would just stay there a while, remaining out of sight while she figured out what she would do next, but before Matti knew it, she fell asleep and slept several hours, time slipping by her without notice. By the time she woke, the sun slipped away and gave the sky to the crescent moon, which hung over her with a comforting light that made her almost forget her predicament. That is, until she realized she was outside hiding in an abandoned building that stank of burnt flesh and charred wood. With reality crashing back down on to her, Matti realized that she was now on her own and had to fend for herself. That meant finding food and better shelter than this.

That one man offered to help me. Maybe I could find him?

She knew it to be a long shot. Finding a homeless man in the Mezthaluen south district was as easy as throwing a stone down an alleyway in certain neighborhoods, but finding a specific one was like trying to find a valuable coin in a heap of trash. He could be anywhere, wandering the streets in search of the things to keep a person alive, much like she would be. Matti supposed the best she could do would be to seek shelter and refuge in the same general area where she had seen him last, and hope he turned up. So far, he was the only one who seemed to offer her any kind of help at all, even if it was to explain “powers” she had. Maybe he could explain what happened to her before.

Matti gets up from her hiding place, dusting off her dress and doing what she can to make herself look reasonably presentable. Just because she was going to start a life on the streets doesn’t mean she had to look like the average street urchin. She would maintain some semblance of pride for as long as she could. After a time, it might be one of the only things that keeps her going- she knew how rough it was for the street kids to survive out here. She held no illusions about what they went through trying to make ends meet, to get enough to eat or to find good places to sleep. Some kids still with their parents romanticized the tales of the street kids, her brother included, but she knew better.

Matti sets out towards the neighborhood connected to the docks where she last saw that homeless man, staying close to buildings and making herself as small as possible. She listened for the sound of voices, especially voices in groups, which were the most likely to give her trouble. Most of the roving gangs would leave her alone, given her age, but a band of teenagers, or someone in league with those kidnappers, would try to snatch her up in a second- it was best to remain out of sight.

Traveling like this takes her an hour to get where she was going. Naturally, the man is nowhere in sight. She expected as much, and knew that this meant starting her life in these parts, waiting for their paths to cross again. She could hope for as much, though it could take anywhere from days to months, assuming the man didn’t mean some dark fate in between now and the time they met again. Life out here is hard, and the longer you lived, the less time you had. It was all a matter of chance, and chance only had a way of giving you so much time before your number came up.

Then it was game over, thanks for playing and here’s your final score.

Matti had to hope that her number did not come up anytime soon. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Three days later, its pouring rain, and she still has not seen any sign of the man. She is drenched from head to toe, her loose fitting garb cleaning to her frail body, the appearance of which resembled a half drowned cat. She was cold, quite hungry, and if not for this rain, she would have been dehydrated as well. Fortunately, she managed to swipe a bowl from someone, and now used it to collect rainwater, which sated her parched throat. In the last few days, she managed to find some food, but it failed to quell her appetite and it certainly would not sustain her at a healthy weight. Digging through trash cans found her old bread, nearly rotten meat, and the occasional mostly eat piece of fruit. It would keep her alive, if only barely.

Aside from the opportunity to collect fresh water, the other advantage of the rain proved to be the lack of competition out searching for food. Others seemed to regard the rain with enough disdain to stay back in their makeshift shelters and not go out in search of scraps to eat, leaving her with the first picks from the trash cans and local places that sometimes give out leftovers. Of course, the pick of a terrible crop is still undesirable, but she found enough to sate her appetite that day, allowing her to return to her current home with a full belly, at the expense of coming home drenched to the bone. If anything, she could use the soaking anyway, as it had been four days now since she last had a chance to wash up at all, and she knew that dirt and grime were beginning to make themselves a permanent part of her features.

Stomach full and her needs met (for now), Matti curls up and goes to sleep.

Tomorrow would be another day. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Day five, still no sign of the old man, and now she was even hungrier and worse off than before. Finding food remained difficult, especially now that the rains stopped and all the other homeless people began to drift about again, foraging and competing for the castoffs of society. She did find a hat she rather took a fancy to, even if it was old and beat up and had a number of holes in it. She thought of it as having character, rather than being someone else’s rubbish. It kept her head warmer and it protected her to some degree from the rain, so it was good enough for her.

Today she was once again out looking for food, scraps, or any kind of resources she could use in fortifying her makeshift home. That, or find something with some kind of value so that she could exchange it for access to food. She kept an eye out for the man all day, but by the time the sun was beginning to set and all of the others living on the streets began to drift back to where they hid and holed up for the night, she had not yet seen any sign or trace of him. She would be returning home without progress once again, neither having seen him or coming across anyone willing to talk to her who had seen him.  For the most part, people out here were reluctant to talk or carry on a conversation, sure that even a child like her would attempt to cause them harm.

It really made her wonder what kind of harm must have befallen them to make them that wary.

As it would turn out, today would be the day that she nearly got a taste of what makes the others so nervous. While she walked home, staying out of sight as best she can, she still very nearly walks right into a group of young men, ones who were obviously out prowling, looking for ways to stir up trouble. Fortunately, she ducked out of sight before any of them took notice of her, an act that quite possibly saved her from serious harm, or worse. She recognized this particular group, a group of teenage boys older than her old circle of friends and no for causing trouble as well as hurting others for fun. The youths here were particularly cruel and known for beating others for no reason other than they could. There were other stories about them too, but she preferred not to think about them.

While she waited for them to walk down the street and get well out of ear shot, she remained hidden behind some boxes, practically holding her breath the hold time they remained close. She watched as they kicked things over, threw rocks at empty houses, hooted and called out colorful words meant to rile up anyone listening. She had to turn away as the young men came across one homeless man and immediately made sport of him, spitting on him, kicking him, and calling him names. She flinched with each blow the delivered to her peer, having to listen to the sounds even though she did her best not to watch.

Today the homeless man got lucky; they stopped short of killing him and even stopped short of knocking out one of his few remaining teeth. They still bloodied him up good and left him with a split lip and a nosebleed. Matti could almost feel his pain, feeling a deeply rotted sense of empathy for the man, his position very much her own now too. She supposed it was only a matter of time before someone caught her out here. At best, she could hope for them to bully her and steal what food she had on her at the time. If that were all that happened, she really would not have room to complain.

The only problem is, that almost never happened.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Two days later, she got into her first tussle as another one of the homeless. She was digging through tossed out trash in one of the places she had been getting lucky, and someone else showed up shortly after- an adolescent boy around her age. She was willing to share the space, even if it meant eating a little less, but the boy was clear about his intentions from the start. He was hungrier, far more selfish than she was, and he decided the space was his now. He first tried posturing, strutting around with his chest puffed out, holding up lanky arms that had a slight tremble. When she scoffed at him, the wound to his pride motivated him into lashing out.

The tussle felt like it lasted for many moments, as they always did, but she had watched enough fights to know that they never actually lasted long. He tried to punch her, but she used her superior speed to sidestep him and take a quick shot. Despite her connection, he kept trying anyway, lunging at her again, missing for a second time, he receiving a couple of quick placed punches to the side of his face. Getting frustrated, he tried to tackle her, but again she moved out of his way, and this time took a jab at hi, landing a blow to his left kidney. Less than a second later, he let out a blood-curdling scream and landed face first on the stone ground, rolling on his sides. For good measure, she kicked him in the head a few times, just to make sure he knew he was better off staying down.

Matti didn’t like being cruel, but she knew how things on the street worked.

Despite the fact that he attacked her, she still left him some of the food she found- not an even split like she would have given him if he had approached her kindly, but still something to soothe his appetite. Given how frail he was, she could tell he needed the nourishment and acted out because of his needs, not out of true evil. Certainly, the boy could turn out to be quite the sociopath by the time he reached adulthood, but right now he wasn’t a villain, he was another scared kid trying to make sure he got enough to eat, and when he saw a girl the same age as he, he thought he had the advantage. Little did he know that she grew up learning how to fight with the best of them. She didn’t play nice, because on the streets, there was no room for honorable fighting.

Just surviving.

The rest of the day went fine for her, without any other needs to beat up over confident youths who thought they saw an easy target. She managed another day, and she found enough to quell her appetite for the most part, so at least there was that. Even then, she noticed that she was losing weight, her clothes not fitting as well as they once had. She really didn’t have much weight to spare, but with any luck, she’ll keep finding enough food.

When she went back to her makeshift home, she pulled her pathetic covers over herself and tried to go to sleep. Her fists her, but her emotions were worse. She still felt the shock and anger of her parents’ betrayal, she still felt the cold sadness from knowing she would never have a feeling again. But the ache in her fists, it reminded her that today she had to harm another person to ensure her self preservation. It seems like it should be easy to justify what happened, he attacked her, she never attacked him. No matter how she spun it, she still felt bad about the ordeal. The kid was only trying to survive, and now she put a hurting on him that might reduce his chances of that significantly.

The life of a street kid. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another two weeks, still no sign of the old man who once offered his aid. Matti began to wonder if it was just a dream, a fake memory she created out of desperation. Though she was gradually becoming more accustomed to caring for herself, learning the nuances of street life, where and when to find scraps of food, beg for coin, and what she could get a way with stealing, she felt the inner light of hope slowly fading. Each night on the street created more distance between that time she thought someone cared enough to take her in. She still thought back to that man on the docks, the one who tried warning her off before the snatchers nearly took her away. She went back to look for him, hoping that maybe he’d take her in, or help her out in some way—only to find out he’d been in a fatal altercation three nights prior, and was sitting in jail.

Mezthaluen’s Southern district claimed another soul.

During the two weeks, she encountered no signs of the old man, and the few she managed to ask about him claimed to have never seen nor heard someone of that description. Most she asked either brushed her off or demanded “favors” for information, and she learned quickly that favors led to men taking off their pants, so she immediately walked away from any who asked for favors.  During these two weeks, Matti also found herself in three more scraps, and was quickly learning that avoiding fights was smarter than fighting, even if you felt confident in your skills as a scraper. Cuts, bruises, and scratches take time to heal, and with little nutrition they heal slowly. Every injury slows you down and makes it that much more likely that the streets would swallow you up. She had encountered a man with a gaping wound with redness and swelling that consumed his entire thigh. He was delirious, rambling incoherently and making no sense. Two days after she first ran into him, she found his corpse, lying back against a wall, stiff as wood. She learned then how an infection can stop anyone.

A few nights earlier she finally mustered up the courage to follow her mother one night. To see if her step-father’s words were true, that she was using drugs. There is adage about avoiding truths that you don’t want to know, and Matti learned then exactly what those words meant. Tailing her mother one night, she followed her to a seedy little tavern where she sat with a group of men, her hands down their pants as they drank and caroused. They passed her drinks and let her smoke from a pipe that smelled sickly sweet, the scent making her light headed. She saw her mother’s head lull and her eyes fade, and before long the men took her upstairs. Her mother eventually stumbled out of the tavern, early in the morning hours, her hair mussed, clothes disheveled, her eyes bloodshot and her lower right lip dressed in dried blood.

Matti later learned that the stuff she smelled was an opiate called “Sweet Dreams.”

Three weeks into living on the streets, Matti wouldn’t say that it was getting easy, but she was at least learning how to get by. She knew where to find food, how to avoid fights, and she also learned when to steer clear of certain areas, where the snatchers went roaming for street kids, possibly even still looking for her. To her surprise, they never went back to her parents and demanded their money back. For all her parents knew, she was captive somewhere, entertaining a rich man in some other land. She felt a tight, sickening pain in her chest each time she went by her former home, and if it weren’t for her desire to look after her brother, she would have stopped altogether already. She knew that each trip was a risk of being seen, being caught, still free and not entertaining some lord. Knowing her step-father, he might try to resell her if he knew she was still free. Still, she took the risk every day, just to make sure her brother was alright.

On third day of the fourth week, that proved to be a nearly fatal mistake.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...