Friday, June 10, 2011

Short Story: Wench

Copied from my old blog:

Breathe slowly, don't panic. I got myself into this situation, I can get myself out, Anya silently repeated that mantra as she crouched down behind a bush.
How could she be so reckless? With delicate fingers, she fidgeted with the eagle-shaped talisman around her slender neck. They had stressed to her time and time again the importance of returning before sundown. The lives of the others were in her hands. This was her chance to prove to her elders she was no longer a child. Six hours ago she lead two scout initiates into the woods for the Hunt. Her companions were now dead, and she had been reduced to hiding behind a bush with the darkness around her while doing breathing exercises in stale air that stank of muck and gloom. Fantastic.
Had she not found herself in this situation, she would have been overcome with guilt for Hasul and Dasha's demise. It was her curiosity that had killed them after all. They pleaded with her to avoid the brook to the East. But she wanted to show them. She thought the three of them should know what lurked in those waters. After all, she had Mother nature on her side.
“What are you doing? They told us to stay away from the brook!” Dasha had protested in a hushed whisper.
“Haven't you ever wondered what they looked like?” Anya asked in a louder voice, “you are going to be scouts after all. You'll have to fight them some day.”
“Have you seen them then?” Hasul asked, also whispering.
Anya hesitated. “Well no. Not exactly. It's not like we're going to parade in. Just a peek.”
“I don't like this,” Dasha muttered, “we should stick to the plan the elders gave us.”
“Bollocks. We'll just look from a safe distance and quietly leave. What do we have to worry about? Mother Nature will protect us.”
She sat between the bush and roots contemplating those words. She had given them her word they would come out unscathed. She was positive her faith in Mother would protect them. After all, Mother always knows best.
Mother Nature's a baneful wench! Anya swore silently as she punched the forest floor beneath her.
Wench. Anya once observed some human travelers from afar. They laughed and carried on oblivious to the dangers the woods wielded for those who dare venture beyond the beaten path. Humans and elves spoke the same language closely enough, but what seemed eons of isolation had caused the elves to develop a dialect so different from the humans, it made it near impossible for Anya to understand. Despite this, she managed to glean from their conversation the word “wench”. She only understood an inkling of what they were talking about. Something of a wench, a bar, and the large pianist. She had assumed a wench was a free spirited woman who was also a music enthusiast. It quickly became one of her favorite words and was the quickest one to earn her a good flogging when she uttered it in front of the elders.
“Mrph!” She stifled a pained gasp as she realized she struck a thorn.
Now's not a time to lose my wits. She reminded herself.
The thorn was probably a good thing, in retrospect. It brought her back to the situation at hand.
The forest was a dangerous place at night. Not only were there the mundane tasks of caring for the flora and fauna of the wilds, there were also the Dregs. Everyone knows for every enchanted forest they encounter there's always a cursed creature. These were beyond vile.
The nights in this forest were a misty blend of mud and dew. It riddled full of overripe mushrooms that burst when you stepped on them, shooting spores that could knock a man out if he inhaled them.
They have already claimed two souls tonight, they won't have another. Anya vowed to herself she would have revenge for her fallen comrades.
It was about two hours to the village. She was sure she could make it with a bit of stealth and a few well placed arrows, though she prayed she wouldn't need to use them. Dregs were deadly at close hand combat. The preferred method for keeping them at bay was archery. Even in the foggiest nights, all you had to do was aim between the glowing green eyes and hope you hadn't been lazy with your target practice.
She gathered her wits and slid out behind the bush with a practiced, silent grace. Yes, the elders had taught them well. It was a silent art that started with the breathing; in through the nose, out through the mouth. She would remind herself of this often. So long as she remembered it, she was nothing more than a shadow.
Weaving in and out of the trees, her jade green eyes were always darting from place to place, careful to detect the slightest hint of movement. Over the rocks, under the branches, taking particular caution to avoid the brook to the East.
She managed to keep from letting out a startled cry as an owl swooped down and snagged a mouse from right in front of her. She realized she had just sneaked up on a mouse in the dark. She grinned, satisfied with herself, until she felt the air turn icy around her and the foulest of odors assaulted her nostrils. It was as if a frozen hand had come out of the crypts and gagged her. She couldn't decide if it was the godawful stench or the sudden surge of twisted panic that had overcome her. She found herself struggling to keep her calm, controlled breaths from becoming short and ragged.
That's when she saw the eyes. A horrible green incandescence in the empty darkness, these eyes soon found their way wandering in her direction.
In the nose, out the mouth, Anya repeated to silently to herself again. Don't lose my wits, it hasn't seen me yet.
She slowly, deliberately grasped her bow and drew an arrow from her quiver.
Well it's about time I see how the archery training fared, I suppose, Anya thought as she set the arrow and pulled it back against the sinewy string. Otherwise, I'll be joining the others soon. Mother save me.
She waited in this position for what seemed like an eternity, watching the green orbs ahead. The creature swiveled its head about, as if searching for something. Step, by step. Anya could see the glistening, wet sheen of the dreg's tar-like skin in a thin sliver of moonlight.
Hold still, It was all Anya could do to keep from shaking.
The dreg scratched at the ground, examining leaves and stones on the ground with its long, spindling as if it were on a hunt of its own. The moon was full that night. The creature stepped forward into the light perking its long, pointed ears and listening for the slightest disturbance. That was when Anya saw a glimmer of something around its neck. As it shifted, she saw two of the same totems she was wearing.
A strange feeling befell her as she felt her stomach bind into a knot. She bit her lip and tasted blood. In her silent rage, all she could do was concentrate on those damned glowing eyes. She shifted her foot ever so slightly.
Then she heard a noise, a sloppy, wet popping sound. It wasn't until her nostrils were filled with a familiar, rancid aroma. Suddenly her head felt heavy and she found it hard to stand.
She swayed slightly, as she looked down and to her horror she realized she had stepped on one of the mushrooms. That was another rule of the forest: always watch your step.
The creature's head shot up, easily spotting her. It barreled towards her on its knuckles.
This is where I join my fallen mates. Her eyelids drooped and scraped against her eyes like sandpaper. Her limbs were heavy. She was going to die and couldn't do anything about it.
I have to take it, this is my only chance.
She let go. The arrow flew, somewhat clumsily, spearing what she believed to be the creature's throat. It wobbled as it tried to lumber towards her before finally collapsing on the forest floor. A puddle of sticky ooze instantly formed around its body. Anya exhaled sharply as she struggled to wipe a stray tear from her cheek. Lurching forward out of the noxious cloud, she felt almost as if she were about to vomit her own heart as it pounded against the back of her throat.
Anya fell to her knees and crawled towards the creature, examining it carefully as she approached it to make certain it was dead. She brushed a stray silvery blond strand back as she gazed at the dead dreg. What a hideous thing it was. The squat, round body lied limp on the ground, with wiry arms splayed carelessly at its sides. Where there was a bright green glow were now two glassy orbs. Around its stout neck were the two eagle shaped talismans. A keepsake from her fallen friends.
“I'll be taking those,” She said quietly as she cut them from around its neck. She stared at them in her hand and sobbed quietly. After a brief moment of silence she stood up, realizing she had to keep moving. Where there was one dreg, there would soon be many.
Part of her wanted to praise Mother Nature, but Anya wondered, where was she when Hasul and Dasha needed her? Did she really deserve that kind of credit?
All of her life she had wondered; was it truly as the elders had said, that every aspect of their lives was susceptible to Mother Nature's will? Was she truly watching to make sure you kept up with your chores like a good little elf? Where the thought of an omnipotent, omniscient force gave the others comfort, it only served to frighten Anya as a child. It made her feel ashamed for things she felt hurt no one. It was up to the elders to inform everyone of what Mother Nature decided was bad. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Only faith.
As she walked, she mused to herself. Her task was to bring the initiates into the woods. Mother would deem them worthy. Anya's role was to be nothing more than a guide. So long as she stuck to the plan and didn't go poking around where she shouldn't, their safety was assured. It made no sense. Anya realized the elders used Mother Nature as a weapon against their greatest foe: Curiosity.
The scouts were nothing more than a title. Where their ancestors fought to keep the evils of the forest at bay, there were now only dregs which wouldn't dare attack an entire village. Where The Hunt was once an integral part of their survival, it was now just a ritual, a celebration and a testament to the power of Mother Nature's creation.
Mother Nature didn't aid me in killing that dreg, I did it myself.
Anya concluded.
She set her jaw firm. Of course she felt responsible for her friends' deaths but the blood wasn't on her hands alone. The elders played a part as well. Rather than inform, they would just forbid. If it were called to question they would use this invisible force, this 'Mother Nature' as their scapegoat.
She found herself at the path where she stopped, looking down each way. She took the talismans out of her pocket and examined them. She had never thought of leaving the village before, but that was when she was a different person.
If I go back, I'll never be able to look at the elders the same way. It'll bring shame to my family. The thought frightened her more than any dreg ever could. There's nothing left for me here. Not right now.
She smiled and took off her necklace, placing it in her pocket with the other two. She stepped onto the path and just began walking. To where, she had no idea. It was an adventure, after all. There was an entire world to explore, rich with knowledge and ideas and cultures. Anya knew she would return to the village one day, but not until after she sampled what the outside had to offer so she could share it with her tribe.
If I can't bring the village out into the rest of the world, I'll bring the rest of the world to the village.

Each step became easier and easier as she ventured down the path.
I left the village a silly girl. From now on, I'm Anya the Wench!


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