A/N: This will be your typical Anna story. It is my goal to start with her escape from the ranch in this chapter and end sometime after her death. We will see how this plays out. I will admit up front that I am very new to ToS and my biggest goal is keeping my inaccuracies to a minimum. I hope I have succeeded with this, but I'm sure you will let me know. ;-) I'm a complete sucker for accuracy and detail, so expect that - no, demand that - from me. Crits will not hurt my feelings, I promise.
A quick note on the title: Adbertos. This is a Gaulish word meaning 'sacrifice'. I have a love of using old and sometimes forgotten words for titles. You are likely to see a few more of these as the story progresses.
It has been quite a while since I have submitted anything here, so it is absolutely hilarious to me that my first submission in eons would be this. I'd like to thank my brother (leonhart423) for giving me this cursed disease. A disease I find myself strangely happy to have acquired. C'est la vie!
And the standard disclaimer: I own nothing, I have nothing, I do nothing out of disrespect!
There is a saying that the most serene surroundings often hide the most disconcerting, hideous secrets. And sometimes those secrets aren't so… secret.
In the midst of the sun-soaked forest, under the leafy emerald trees was a clearing and in this clearing was a place that the surrounding villages knew to be a place of torture and death for any unfortunate enough to be taken from their home. Those who had built the place called it a ranch, though the name hardly did the place justice. The term ranch normally brought to mind a warm home filled with hardworking, honest people; not the steely, cold gray structure that seemed to leech any promise of peace or happiness from the very air. To view it sent shivers down the spines of those being brought up to the gates, knowing that once they entered this compound they would never again leave.
It was from within this place that a pair of brown eyes peered out, watching as the scouts returned from their mission with more prisoners in tow. Human prisoners judged to be inferior in comparison to their half-elfin captors. Glancing over her shoulder to be sure she hadn't been caught by the guard overseeing the laborers the girl continued to stare as the newest people were admitted into the compound.
Whipping her head around the brown eyes came to rest on a girl smaller than herself, whose eyes were wide with fear. She surely wasn't any older than ten and had only been at the ranch for a couple of weeks but already she knew the dangers of being caught by the guards. These Desians viewed their human prisoners as disposable property and would not think twice for doling out punishment for the smallest infraction.
"Please, the guard will see you."
Anna glanced at the guard once more before replying, "It's fine, he's not looking. But if we keep whispering it is sure to catch his attention."
The small child scurried back to her corner, staring at the large stone in front of her with tears in her eyes. Anna frowned, she hated making the child feel any more pain than they were forced to suffer at the hands of their captors, but without her discouragement the two would have no doubt been beaten for speaking, or looking at one another, or standing too close together. The Desians didn't need a sound reason for flogging a human.
Turning her eyes back to the new captives she scanned them looking for any sign of strength, of determination. For several weeks now she had slowly been secretly plotting, watching her fellow captives and realizing for her plans to succeed she would have to find her muscle elsewhere. Those held at the ranch were far too broken and weak to be of any real assistance to her, but if she could find one or two others to help her with her plans to escape….
Sadly it looked as if the new group was comprised of very young children and a few old women. There was no warrior here, no savior, no knight in shining armor. Filled with bitter disappointment that threatened to bring her to tears Anna turned back to her stone, attacking it with the force of her frustration.
It was unfair! Why were countless human lives sacrificed in this place? Where was justice? For longer than she cared to remember she watched as human beings were paraded through the gates, prodded like cattle and locked in tiny, overcrowded cells. Many nights fighting broke out between the captives over the small amount of food thrown in the cells - the only thing they ever received to eat.
Anna had long given up more than half her portion to the children of the ranch, hoping that the small bit she was able to give them would keep them strong enough to fight. It was a fruitless endeavor however; most children died within the first month they were brought here.
Resting for a moment she stared at her hand, at the small stone that had been embedded there within moments of her arrival at the ranch. If she hadn't been so sure that this small gem was the cause of all the problems she and the others were facing Anna would have thought it pretty. It did shine nicely in the dappled sunlight, its color the deepest blue of the lake. She made a fist, pounding it against the stone, biting her lip at the reverberations that rippled down her arm.
That was when she noticed that the captives had been led further into the compound, the guard at the gate accompanying them and leaving the gate unguarded. She was shocked only for an instant, then she quickly sprang into action. Kneeling down she began to crawl, keeping a wary eye on the guard stationed nearby who hadn't taken notice of the new arrivals - or of the fact that his comrade had abandoned his post.
His sloppiness was her salvation.
Staying low to the ground Anna scurried back between the rocks, slowly making her way towards the gate. She was a few feet along when she heard a sound behind her; heart in her throat she looked back, seeing the small girl following her. With a tight smile Anna nodded her acceptance, knowing that she couldn't deny the child the opportunity of freedom. She motioned for the girl to stay down and keep silent, receiving a curt nod in reply.
Suddenly the escape attempt felt more dangerous, knowing that it wasn't just her life in jeopardy now, but the child's too. There was little doubt in her mind that the child would be beat to death if they were caught. Anna would surely receive the same beating, but her body would be better able to handle the trauma.
This new worry weighing down on her Anna continued on, ever so slowly. She could not afford a rock to tumble or a pebble to clack. There could only be complete silence if they were to remain undetected. She knew from experience that the guards seldom paid any mind to their quarries. Where would they go in this heavily guarded place? The thought of escape was ludicrous. This was what she gambled on; the arrogance of these half-elves.
Upon reaching the gate Anna wanted to cry with relief - they hadn't been spotted! But it was too early to rejoice, the most dangerous part of their journey stretched before them. Keeping to the limited shadows Anna motioned for the child to follow her, her eyes roaming the space between the gate, the buildings and the nearest guards. No one had noticed… yet. Now they would have to step out into the light and run past the gate. And keep running until they could be sure there was no one following them.
Taking a deep breath she crouched down next to the child, whispering softly and praying to Martel that she wouldn't be heard. "We will have to run now, and fast. We keep going until I stay to stop."
The girl nodded, her eyes determined.
Anna recognized the spark of defiance, "What is your name?"
The girl mouthed her response, "Maribelle."
Anna nodded, taking one last look at the nearest guard before whispering her command. "Now."
They stole across the few feet separating them from the gate silently, Anna tensed for the shout that never came from the guard. It wasn't until they made the cover of the trees outside that she allowed herself to even slow down, then stop. Maribelle followed behind her, silent as a shadow. They were out, free… and no one had raised the alarm. An overwhelming sensation began to fill Anna; the tension dissolving to be replaced with giddiness. Before she realized what she was doing Anna found herself giggling hysterically.
She had made it out! And Maribelle too! The girl was watching her nervously now, looking back towards the compound warily and further into the dense forest impatiently. Forcing down her hysterics Anna took charge once more.
"Right, we should get further in. We're too close to the ranch here, if they send a search party they'd trip right over us."
"We should head for the town," Maribelle suggested. "Maybe we could hide there."
Anna shook her head. "No good, that will be the first place they'll look for us. We'd be better off hiding in the forest."
She should have known that they would be found. In her heart she had known all along. Her initial reaction to keep Maribelle from following her had been right. If she'd listened to her gut then the child wouldn't be dead now. She had always known this wouldn't end well.
The two had walked along at a leisurely pace enjoying their newfound freedom. The sun had slipped between the leafy canopy above, warming their skin and adding to the tranquility.
"So, do you know where you were taken from?" Anna had asked the child.
Maribelle had shaken her head, "My family were wanderers. We had a small caravan and traveled all around. I'm not sure where they are now, or if they were captured or killed."
Anna's brow furrowed, "Will you look for them?"
The child shrugged. "Maybe. It would be best to wait for them to find me though. If I stay in one place they are sure to cross my path."
"Yes," Anna agreed. "But find a village away from this place; far away where they can't find you. It is dangerous escaping like we did; I shouldn't have let you follow me. Now you will have to hide the rest of your life."
Maribelle looked up at her curiously. "But because you took me with you I will have a life to live now. You have always been kind to me and the others, Anna. Some of the older ones say that you only give us your food because you know they won't kill you, but that's not true is it?"
"What do you mean?" Anna frowned.
"You are kind, right? You aren't giving away your food and doing all those nice things because you know you're protected, are you?"
Anna's frown deepened. "Are you saying that the Desians treat me different? I am beaten just like the rest of you. I am forced to slave in the yard, am deprived of any sort of liberty or rest. I have the same gem on my skin that the rest of you do."
"Yes, but you are different to them," Maribelle insisted. "But that isn't what I wanted to know; why do you give us your food? I have always said it is because you're a good person, but the others told me I was wrong. They say that you only act nice because you know the Desians won't let you die. That you give us your food to make yourself feel better, because you know they don't care about us like they do you?"
"Why would they care more about me?" Anna asked, puzzled. "I only give you and the others my food because you are so young. You need the food more than I do, and I keep enough for myself."
Maribelle shook her head. "You are special to them Anna." Anna stared at the child, baffled. "They let you get by with more than the rest of us. They give you special treatment."
It had made no sense to Anna then and it certainly didn't make any more sense now when the search party was breathing down her neck. She stumbled over tree roots obscured by the darkness of the night. The searchers were close, she could hear them clearly, their shouts were impossible to ignore.
Hands in front on her she continued on, crashing down a steep slope through scrubby undergrowth before plunging blindly into the icy cold waters of a stream. Biting back her cry she struggled through the swift moving water to the opposite bank, grabbing what she hoped was a limb and hauling herself out, continuing on and praying not to stumble into the Desians giving chase.
She wanted to cry as she ran, and was fairly sure the moisture on her face was more than just water from the stream. The peace that had followed their escape had lasted longer than Anna had dared to hope and she sorely grieved its loss.
Wandering through the trees had brought the two to a stream around midday. Both had drank greedily from the stream then sat back famished.
"You know, if we could figure out how to sharpen a couple of limbs I'd bet we could spear a few fish," Anna had lazily suggested, looking up into the trees.
Maribelle had taken the suggestion seriously, hunting among the rocky bank of the water until she had found a suitable stone; flat and sharp as any knife. Anna had carefully broken two limbs from the tree and set to work trimming each one to a point. Before long both were up to their knees in the stream, splashing and laughing as they tried to spear the fish that darted around them. They had been fairly successful, climbing back onto dry ground where Anna had lit a small fire to roast their catch. Thinking back on it this was likely where she had made her mistake.
She should have known better than to light a fire.
Gasping as she tried to catch her breath Anna fought her way uphill through brush that tangled and tore at the hem of her dress. She pulled free only to be caught by another snare. Twisting and pulling she made it to the top of the hill and looked back. Her path was excruciatingly clear and there was no time to hide it. She could hear them getting closer now and she vaguely wandered which direction she was headed. In the dark everything was so confusing and now she was completely disoriented.
Picking a direction she started running again, only to trip over a stone and fall to her knees. Stupid! she thought to herself. She had done nothing but make mistake after mistake and now she was going to pay for them, quite possibly with her life. She should have left the forest immediately. If she had been smart she would have found a boat and put Maribelle on it. She shouldn't have stayed here, shouldn't have insisted they would be safer in the forest, shouldn't have decided to stay the night in unfamiliar territory so close to their enemies.
"We'll stay here for the night," Anna said, looking around the small clearing. "We've got a fire so we should stay plenty warm. You can sleep when you like, I'll keep watch."
Of course Maribelle immediately fell asleep, the child probably hadn't had a proper night's rest in eons. Nor had Anna. It wasn't any surprise that as the fire died down and the forest darkened that her eyelids had drooped, closing in exhaustion.
She couldn't be sure what had roused her. Maybe she had heard the Desians before they came upon them, or perhaps she had startled into wakefulness in shock from falling asleep in the first place. Whichever reason it was it was still to late.
Anna had frozen, knowing she had been spotted. Her eyes instinctively sought out Maribelle, who was awake now. The child ducked beneath a bush, effectively hiding herself from the Desians.
"There were two of you, where is your little friend?"
Anna remained silent, glaring stubbornly up at the guard who leveled his spear at her.
"Speak, inferior being, where is the other who you took with you?"
"Here sir!" another of the guard called, pulling Maribelle out and prodding her forward. "Hiding, the nasty little worm."
Maribelle clutched at Anna's dress, her eyes filled with horror.
"Very sweet," the guard chuckled darkly. "Risking your life for an infant wasn't very wise. Kvar has been exceedingly beneficent and has promised that your life would be spared if you agree to come with us."
"Never," Anna spat. "I will not go back."
" Oh, you will go back, one way or the other. The choice is yours ultimately, I would suggest you choose wisely."
With a signal Anna didn't manage to catch the guard instructed his two companions to take Maribelle. The child cried out in pain and fear; Anna lunged for her, trying to pull her back, but she was not strong enough.
The Desian looked down at the child thoughtfully. "Kvar has said that the life of this inferior being is not of any value to him any longer. But since you seem to find some value here perhaps we can come to an agreement."
"No Anna, don't listen. It's all lies!"
Before Anna could utter a word the guard struck out, sending the child flying into the nearest tree. She lay crumpled at the base of the trunk, moaning softly. The guard crossed to her, pulling her up by her hair and looking questioningly at Anna.
"What is her life worth to you?"
"What do you want?"
"You will come with us."
Anna swallowed hard, "And you'll let her go?"
He laughed, "Not hardly. We will take her back with us. Kvar might spare her miserable life if you cooperate with him."
"Only if you free her, then I will come with you."
The guard grimaced, glaring at the child and shaking her limp body. "You will not make ultimatums here! Either you agree to come with us or we kill this maggot and drag you back!"
Anna stared at the child, hardly daring to believe what she was hearing. The guard looked at Maribelle furiously.
"You! You will keep silent - now!"
Maribelle lifted her head slowly, looking the guard in the eye. "You no longer have power over me. I am free!"
His face purple with rage the guard struck her again, this time with the spear he held in his other hand. The anguished cry that escaped the girl's body freed Anna from the trance she seemed to be under. The other guards were watching their leader now, their faces obscured by their helmets. It did not take Anna long to take advantage of Maribelle's sacrifice.
Anna's lungs burned with the strain of simply breathing as she continued running blindly, directionless. Her legs ached with the strain and she was sure she was going to pass out any moment. She only hoped she could find someplace to hide before she did.
There was a sheer wall of solid rock ahead of her that looked vaguely familiar. It was with a shock that she realized the Desian guards had successfully herded her back towards the ranch. Realization of this slowed her down and she began walking towards the prison she was being shepherded towards.
She couldn't win now. Her attempt to escape was a fruitless endeavor that had gone horribly wrong. She had taken an innocent child with her, and that child had died thanks to Anna's mistakes. She couldn't even honor Maribelle's sacrifice by escaping herself. No, she had been chased all through the forest and now would be drug, exhausted, back through the gates of the ranch.
And the guard had said that her life would be spared. Maribelle had been right; she was important for some reason. Too important to kill. This gave her pause; to live with the consequences of her actions seemed almost unbearable. Forced back into slavery, knowing that she was responsible for Maribelle's death. It was too much, yet if her life were so important to them….
She could fight them. She would either gain her freedom by beating them, or she would force them to end her life. Either way she would win.
She looked around for a weapon, wishing she had one of the crude spears she had used to fish with. Her choices here were limited to a few small rocks and a sturdy looking stick. They would have to do. Anna knew very little about fighting, but it seemed a good idea to put her back to the rock wall. The stones went into the pocket of her shabby dress while she took a two handed grip on the stick and waited. She didn't have to wait long.
It seemed that the number of guards had increased as they got nearer to the ranch. Anna got lucky with the first one, surprising him before he could make the smallest sound. She cracked the stick down on his uncovered head, laying him out cold. Part of her regretted the attack, not wanting to cause pain to anyone, but she knew she couldn't think that way now. Her life, her freedom was on the line.
They kept swarming out from the forest and Anna began to wonder if every Desian had left the ranch to come and search for her. She could feel the physical and mental exhaustion beginning to creep back, her adrenaline rush had long run out. She couldn't keep this up forever, and the way things were looking the guards would simply wait for her to collapse then drag her back to her cell.
With a last anguished rush she lunged out, striking blows with her stick and leaving her back exposed. That was all it took. They closed in behind her, surrounding her, their weapons raised. Anna stood, her crude weapon held ready, breathing raggedly. There was a pause then, as if both sides were waiting. Anna glared at the Desians and they stared back at her, unmoved.
And then chaos erupted.
Anna couldn't be sure where this new warrior came from, or even whose side he was fighting on. She stared at him, dumbstruck, as he slashed his way through several Desians towards her. His eyes met hers for a brief moment and then he shoved her aside, back towards the rock wall, where Anna stayed, bewildered. At least he wasn't trying to kill her, that had to be a good sign.
As she stared the man continued his attack, driving the Desians off completely. He stood watching them retreat for a moment before slowly turning to face her. She could do nothing but stare, completely astonished at how suddenly the tide had turned in her favor, unsure of the motivations of this man who had rescued her.
If she were so valuable to the Desians did that mean that she could be valuable to others as well? Was that this man's motivation? To capture her himself, for his own ends?
Questions ran through her head with no answers and abruptly her exhaustion caught up with her. She had barely registered the fact that her legs could no longer carry the burden of holding her up when she felt her eyes roll into the back of her head and fell into blissful oblivion.
Endnote: Please remember to review! Constructive reviews are always helpful and may persuade me to keep going... though I do not think I'm going to need that persuasion for some time yet!