After my parents were both murdered, I was in kind of a haze. I awoke some time later to find myself caged. I knew not where I was, nor did I remember being taken from my home. And the guards offered no explanation.
The cage sat at the edge of a forest, a narrow field spread before it. An old man, a human swaddled in filthy rags, lay at the other end of the cage, his eyes rolled back in his head. He stank severely, as he was smeared in his own excrement. I stared at him for a long time. I couldn't take my eyes from him, although the sight made me nauseous and slightly dizzy. The guard outside, who was scarcely cleaner than the old human, caught me staring, and leaned against the cage.
" 'E's a crazy old man, miss. Now, if
it's a gent for entertainin' you seek, well—I'd be
more 'an happy to oblige you." And he smiled, showing
several missing teeth amongst worn and rotted nubs in his gums.
I, being only ten years old at the time, only stared blankly at him, not comprehending what he had said. When I didn't respond, he snorted and skulked away across the field. Once the guard had gone from earshot, the old man across from me gave a shudder. He spoke, and I jumped, not expecting him to be lucid.
"Good to see you looking well. I was certain you were gone from us." His eyes were light blue, and twinkled with a sort of hope I had never seen before. I knew I would never forget those eyes, and what I saw in them…
"Well, you just sort of sat there for days. Stared straight ahead of you. I don't suppose you slept, and you certainly never ate. Your eyes maybe focused a little, when you were being spoken to, although I hadn't heard you utter a word in response."
I stared at him again. "I was like that for days?"
"Well, you know, I thought the same thing of you when I saw you. What with your eyes rolled back, and you drooling on yourself, and…" I trailed off, dropping my eyes to my lap, not wanting to mention his stench and filth.
"With the stool on my clothing?" He asked, grinning deviously. I nodded, and he went on. "I do this so that they," he motioned towards the guard, who was now talking to two other men, both wrapped in long black cloaks, "leave me alone. And it might not be a bad idea for you to do the same. It's unsettling, the way he looks at you."
"What are we being held for?" I asked.
He raised one eyebrow. "For experimentation," he replied.
The guard was returning to his post outside of our cage now, and the old man, sensing this, returned to his position with his head rolled to one side, his eyes no more than white slits sunken into his face. I watched him for a while, hoping for more of an explanation, before I realized that he would give none so long as there were others listening.
Curling into a ball on the barred wooden floor of the cage, I hugged my knees to me for warmth and comfort, although found little of either. I must have drifted off to sleep rather quickly, for the next thing I knew, it was night. There was no moon in the sky, just a deep blackness, peppered with dancing stars. Hearing a movement near the door of the cage, I sat upright, coaxing my eyes to focus. I saw a shadow approach, moving fast, felt a splitting pain on the top of my head, and crumpled over.
When I awoke again, I was on the ground, facedown, with the grass tickling my nose. The world burned in a pale pink light; it was dawn. I pulled myself up from the ground, and swayed where I stood, my head throbbing just behind my eyes. Looking around in the soft light of the morning, I saw I was on a path of a maze, with thick green hedges towering to either side of me. There were footprints in the dew on the grass, leading to and from where I had been laying, in both directions. There was also a definite imprint where the grass was matted, showing where my arms and legs had sprawled out beside me. Lying on the ground, just below where my left hand had been, was a scratched, lackluster dagger. Someone, somehow, knew I was left handed. I picked up the dagger, felt an incomprehensible iniquity shoot up my arm, and dropped it quickly.
My mother had been murdered by a dagger.
I began to walk away, hoping to find a way out of the maze, and limping terribly with every step. I was bruised severely over my ribs and hips, my inner thighs, and all down my legs. I can not, to this day, even force myself to comprehend the implications of that. But at age ten, all I knew was that it hurt.
And then I heard a noise. Through the hedge to my left, sounding of neither man nor beast, I heard a low growl. I do not know how I came to this conclusion, but it sounded hungry to me. Running back in spite of the pain, I seized the dagger, holding it out in front of me, half in fear of the blade itself, and moreover, consumed with a terror that the animal on the other side of the hedge would leap through to devour me. That dagger was my only fighting chance.
I held my breath, convinced the animal would hear me, and I listened for any noise—a snarl, a movement, anything to tell me where it was. Many minutes passed, and when I heard nothing, I decided to keep moving on the path in the opposite direction.
The sun had passed overhead, and was beating down on my face from over the tops of the hedges when I heard a noise again. Immediately, my hand shot forward, the dagger clenched so tightly in it that my knuckles turned white. I stopped dead in my tracks, my heart pounding somewhere just behind my eardrums. And then I heard a voice.
"Hello?" It was the old man from the cage.
"Hello? Oh, dear Nallyssa!" I ran to the hedge, pressing my cheek to it, as if it would let me pass through to the where the kind voice of the old human was.
"Is that you, girl? Are you all right?"
I began to cry. Hot tears streamed down my face, burning my cheeks. I couldn't have stopped them to save my life.
"Shhh, shh," came the old man's voice, now a bit closer. I imagined he was pressing his face to the hedge too, trying to be closer to me, to comfort me. But when I looked through tearful eyes to try and see him through the bushes, the foliage was much too thick to see the other side. Suddenly, I remembered the animal.
"Sir, you are not safe! There is an animal over there. I heard him, and he sounded hungry!"
"Listen to me, girl. You need to find a way out of here, as quickly as possible. Walk with the sun to your back. I have just come from the other way, and there is no way out."
"Sir, I am scared. I am so scared..." even to myself, my voice sounded weak.
"I know you are, Deary. But, please, just listen. The guards were talking, back when we were in the cage. They spoke when I was awake, only because they thought me an invalid." His voice was urgent, almost mad as he spoke quickly, trying to get everything out at once, and slurring words together. "Listen. You awoke with a dagger in your hand, right?"
"Do not use it, whatever you do!"
"What do you mean?" His words resounded in my head, hollow and absurd. I never had any intention of using such a vile weapon...a weapon used to murder. Yet, even as I thought this, my eyes drifted down to the dagger I clutched as if it were my life support.
"Kelsey, listen to me. This experiment they're conducting...we're the experiment. They want to see if...."
"They want to see if what? Sir? Are you there? How do you know my name?"
Nothing. There was absolutely no sound coming through the hedge. I sat down and cried. I was so ashamed of myself, furled in the grass and weeping like a baby. My father always told me that it was wrong to let oneself be consumed by emotions. He said emotions opened you to vulnerability. It was those who were vulnerable who made themselves easy pray to sins against our Nallyssa. But my father wasn't there. To tell the truth, I had a terrible time even believing Nallyssa was with me at that moment. I cried for hours, my body and mind completely numb to anything around me. It wasn't until the path I was on had grown completely dark that I came back to my reality.
Walk with your back to the sun, the old man had said. But which way was that now? In the vacant darkness that seemed to close in around me, weighing down on my chest so I could scarcely breathe, I couldn't seem to remember which way I had been walking earlier that day when the sun glared in my eyes. I started walking along the hedges, painfully aware of how dark it was this evening, as I stared up into the sky to see it was overcast, with sparse, lone stars twinkling through. Stumbling a bit over uneven ground, I found myself sprawling face first into the grass again, the dagger flying from my hand. It thudded on the ground a few feet from me.
And I heard it. Very near to me, there was a low raspy growl, and a smooth, slithering movement. Panic swept over me. I scrambled to my knees, feeling around the grass frantically, searching out the dagger. My hand closed on its icy metal hilt. I could hear the slithering behind me, drawing ever nearer. It hissed. I ran, my legs stretching wildly in front of me, devouring the length of the maze with ravenous strides, and yet I seemed barely to be moving. My flight was in slow motion, as if I was pushing my body to run through water. And yet, I know I must have been moving very fast, for when I hit the dead end, crashing face first into spiky branches, the impact embedded me deeply into the bush's tiny limbs.
As I struggled to disentangle myself from the hedge, I could hear the hissing behind me. I thrashed around, feeling branches cut into my arms and face, leaving trails of warm wet blood on my skin. The beast was close behind me now; I could feel its breath on my neck. My fist balled tight around my dagger, I began slashing at the hedge, cutting away until I had freed myself. I could smell its acrid breath. I whirled around, slashing at it with my dagger. It screamed in agony, and I plunged the dagger deep into it. I don't know how I knew to do this, but I twisted the blade with every thrust, widening the wounds I made.
Somewhere a few feet down the maze, a loud crack resounded, followed by a blinding flare of blue lightening. The entire path was lit up, and I was staring straight into a dazzling pair of light blue eyes. I watched the old man crumple before me. Looking past him, I saw the two sorcerers that I had first seen at the far end of the field my cage had been in. They where standing stock straight, chins raised in triumph, staring down at me with cold black eye, motionless and perfect save for the billowing of their cloaks in the wind. The image locked itself into my memory in the second it took me to fall to the ground as well.
Voices. Muffled. They sounded as though they were under water. Or perhaps I was hearing them through a wall. They became clearer. So did the pain in my head, and soon enough, the pain in my entire body.
"So the female snapped first?"
"Yes. I would have thought it would be the old man."
"The invalid? What could he have done?"
"He was not what you think. The man was as sane as you or I. He was merely putting on a show. He was on to us."
"How do you know this?"
"Because I knew him. I captured him from the same village I captured the girl."
"And she killed?"
"Not just killed. Mutilated. Her stabs where precise and lethal. Her aim, delicious."
"And both specimens are here?"
"Indeed. Take a look."
A door creaked. Footsteps on marble floor.
"Note here, and here, where she chose to attack. Areas with optimal blood flow. Note the spiraling effect in the wound. She rotated her blade into him. The damage was maximal. If I hadn't known these wounds where inflicted by a young girl, I would say she knew what she was doing."
"You do realize the conclusion this brings us to?"
"Our experiment was successful!"
"Not only successful. Our findings support the notion that anyone—anyone—can be trained to kill. Through mental manipulation. Through developed scenarios of extremely terrifying circumstances. We can mold our armies of slayers."
My eyes opened wide, as I began to comprehend what I was hearing. At the far end of a very narrow corridor stood the sorcerers, both wearing identical expressions of excitement and standing facing each other, one with his hands on the other man's shoulders.
"Come my friend. These findings deserve a celebration!" They exited the room without so much as a glance at me.
I stared at the ceiling for some time, tracing the length of the bare wooden rafters. I was vaguely aware of my own heart, thumping dully in my chest. The conversation I had just heard rang much more loudly from the depths of my mind. My stabs where precise and lethal. My aim was delicious. I knew what I was doing. I was a murderer.
I jumped up from where I was laying, and heard a clank of metal on the marble floor beneath me. Looking down, I saw my dagger, still stained with blood. Sinking back down on my cot, I looked over at the cot next to me. There, lying perfectly still, his face sagged and pale, was the old man. His eyes were vivid blue, and round with shock, but even in death, they still shown with a kind of hope I have never seen since. I will always remember that.
I kept the dagger. I still have it today, although I seldom use it. Only for novelty killings. I prefer a Devyn's Defender nowadays. I rarely kill the elderly either. It seems sort of futile. I mean, they have already lived, already endured. I much prefer to kill young ones. Relieve them from this world before they see the things I have seen...