Vicissitudes in the Dark Woods (pt. 11)

“Tell me, little girl,” Edda’s rough voice cut through Zsófia’s awe at the bustling city, “Do you love your Horned God?”

Startled by a mule drawn cart that seemed to come from no-where, Zsófia clung tightly to the older woman. The city felt so much bigger, louder, and more frightening now that Rubin’s malediction wasn’t hung so imminently over their heads. The vibrant, attention grabbing colours that loudly proclaimed the presence of merchants, taverns, and other stranger stores were overwhelming when trying to comprehend them all.
Edda had taken Zsófia under her wing these past few days, during which she had shown the girl a significant amount of the city while she tended to her patients. The entire experience had been exhausting for Zsófia but at the same time she had learned a lot about the subtleties of using magic to bolster the sickly and alleviate suffering. She’d developed a strong affection towards the older woman, while learning the vast gulf between their knowledge as healers and a healthy respect for her force of personality.

“I…” The question was difficult, not for finding the answer but for delivering it without defying His precepts, “Am grateful to the protection He has provided my family.”

Edda barked out a laugh, “I see, I see. And are you looking forward to returning to His domain?”

Zsófia remained silent. The truth was that she wanted nothing more than to leave the forest behind and see the world outside, but if she didn’t return He would punish the villagers in her stead. Her thoughts were her own, but to speak them out loud would leave her as Rubin.
With no answer given, Edda’s jovial expression hardened into it’s resting state, indistinguishable from a glare. The rest of their walk was made in silence. Zsófia’s attention was once again so swept up in the commotion that she didn’t even notice they had arrived until Edda announced it.

“Here we are dear,” Edda’s voice was lower but still just as clear, “This is The Resting.”

Before them was a humble, but large building. Similar to the store houses Edda had called Warehouses, but with a corner of the top of the building lowered to form a large balcony that overlooked the street below. With the only symbol identifying the building being a white circle with a crescent painted over a grey background which resembled either a closed eye or waning moon, Zsófia couldn’t immediately understand the purpose of this building the way she could most others.

“What is this place?” She asked.

Edda led Zsófia through the door into the building. Inside The Resting was almost as open as the warehouses, but instead of stores of goods stacked on shelves, The Resting was a chaotic mixture of kitchen, dining hall, sitting area, beds, and library. In spite of this assortment of services, and the large number of people, many with children, using them there was a strange serenity.
Giving Zsófia no time to stand by and try to figure out the building, Edda guided her without slowing her pace after entering the building. Weaving through the people eating, sleeping, and reading, they reached and ascended a staircase at the deepest point of the hall where the light from the massive windows along the front and side had begun to fade. Something about the shadows and Edda’s silence made Zsófia nervous, but still she followed.
At the top of the stairs, the only light came from a row of candles that flickered along the walls and the quickly receeding sunlight that just barely peeked over the lip of the steps.

“The Resting is a community hall. Built by the Earl and blessed by Lord Anir, the God of Darkness, this is a place for those who fortune has overlooked.”

“And why have we come here?”

“Why? Aren’t you one who fortune has overlooked?” Edda barked out another laugh.

Edda pulled a ring of keys from a pocket Zsófia hadn’t even known was there before she saw the keys pulled from it, and likely couldn’t have found again even after. Twisting one of the keys in the lock, the door opened to a room completely filled with darkness. Immediately she stepped inside and with a rippling in the ether a globe hung from the roof began to glow.
Revealed now by the light, Zsófia saw that the room within was largely unfurnished. Simply a wide open room with some chairs stacked in the corner. Cautiously, she entered. The feeling of disquiet she had felt at the sight of the stairs had grown in her chest to pressing dread.

“Edda, I have a bad feeling about this place.”

“I know, dear. Anir isn’t the most comforting patron even to his own followers, as a Priestess to a god not even part of the pantheon your fear is natural. But you are safe here, as long as you respect the rules of the house.”

“And what are those rules?”

“Nothing unusual. Do not bring violence, respect the other guests. I am sorry dear, that wasn’t meant to carry any veiled meaning.”

Still wary, Zsófia looked about the room. It was maybe ten strides across and roughly square shaped. The utterly unremarkable wooden floor and walls added to the strangeness, especially as the single magical light source didn’t quite reach the corners.

“I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand why we’re here. There’s no sick around for us to treat. This is just an empty room.” Zsófia heard the very slight pleading in her own voice, was she truly that frightened?

“There is a sick person here, my dear.” Edda’s voice carried no emotions, but the moment they left her mouth the ether roared into a tempest.

Terror flooded Zsófia, turning her veins to ice as she hurried to reach out to the ether to defend herself. At the same time, she turned and ran to the door fighting to open it and escape but finding it would not budge.

“Stop!” She cried, her voice dampened as if being swallowed by the shadows that crept. “Please, Edda! Why are you doing this?”

“Quiet child. This will be faster and easier if you do not resist.”

Before Zsófia could answer, Edda hurled her gathered ether. The force of her spell impossibly powerful, Zsófia felt her defences brushed aside as if they were non-existant. Carried away into the dark.

Featured image credit: Brooke Shaden – rapt

Author: Zairron

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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