Adrenaline pulsed through me and, despite the cold weather, I felt my skin break out in perspiration. My legs began to burn, but I urged onwards.
When I knew my body couldn’t take any more I scanned the area for a safe hiding spot. The land was covered in a blanket of snow, making it look like a winter wonderland, that is, if you had a warm home to return to. For me, it just meant another obstacle in my way of freedom, but at this rate, my survival.
I settled beneath a tree that managed to still have some of its leaves. I pulled off my boots and socks, shaking out some of the dirt that found it’s way into the crevasses, jumped and ran around some, warming my almost frostbitten feet. I pulled my socks and boots back on then curled up in a fetal position, trying to steady my breathing.
The kingdom of Peredia wasn’t far away, my hometown and nightmare. Humans were merely food or slaves to the Nytes; The creatures that took their place in the higher ranks of this world. The kingdom of Peredia housed the strongest Nytes, the Aryans, the winged creatures of beauty and the divine, but those also known to cruelty and rancor. They’re the ones who held this pitiful world in their hands, like their own personal play toy. It made me sick.
I grabbed a nearby branch and pulled myself up. I readjusted my backpack and was on my way when I tripped over something buried in the snow. I brushed the snow out of my eyes and turned to see that, that something was actually a leg. My first reaction was to scream.
My scream was interrupted by a series of coughs that racked my chest, which, fortunately, brought me to my senses. I crawled over to the lifeless leg and begun shoveling the earth, after I shook away my temporary disgust. I recovered a body lying motionless. I covered my mouth in horror. The poor man’s face seemed to be bruised badly and judging by the way his arm rested it seemed to be broken or sprained. I searched for a pulse and almost cried in relief when I located a faint beat in his neck.
I tried to lift him, but his weight must have been twice my own.
“Toughen’ up girl.” As my dear friend, Lani, would say.
I pushed up my sleeves, ridded myself of my backpack, which I was going to miss later, and tried once more. I balanced his body on my back and wrapped my arms through his dangling legs. Although the position was awkward it seemed to work. I gritted my teeth against the pressure and begun to trudge back towards the place I feared and loathed.
I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to smuggle in a half-dead body along with myself, through the castle gates. I did have my advantages, though, with most Nytes preferring the night and sleeping like the dead in the day. Plus with me being a ‘mere human’ they wouldn’t think us rats would have the balls to escape. Not that I can blame them, the Aryan’s punishments were not something to be mistaken for as child’s play.
I flinched. Sadly, on my return, I would be expecting mine.
I found Lani and I’s window with ease, seeing that almost daily I snuck out that same window. I pushed it open, careful not to cause alarm, then opened it all the way. I dragged the body in behind me and quickly shut the window. I placed his body over near the fire and started undressing him. I heard the door open and a startled gasp.
“It’s just me, Lani.”
“Evangeline! Good heavens! What are you doing here?” She scolded. Her gray hair was shoved into a messy bun, her eyes a tired, pale blue. Despite her rumpled appearance Lani still somehow managed to keep her back straight with a slight tilting at the corners of her mouth. Lani was like the mother I never had. Ever since I was found some odd years she has taken it upon herself to protect me, befriend me, and more than on one occasion chastised me. There was no way I could ever repay her for everything she had done for me.
“I know, I know. But I couldn’t leave him to die. I wouldn’t have made it anyways, I was stupid to think I could in dead winter.” When I removed his wet shirt and coat, I noticed the fresh blood covering his left breast. I took off my shirt, ripped it into even chunks, and wrapped his chest the best I could. I heard him moan. I reached for a pillow and blanket from the only bed in the room, placed the pillow gently beneath his head and placed the blanket over his exposed chest.
I pulled off his shoes and socks and started massaging his feet, returning the feeling to them, along with his fingers.
He moaned again but this time begun coughing. Before I could ask, Lani was at his side with a cup of water.
“It’s water. You need to drink it.”
At first his lips didn’t budge, but when she placed the rim to his lips he drank thirstily. After gulping down the rest of the water he sat up slowly. I quickly placed my hand on his shoulder but he pushed it away.
“You shouldn’t sit up so soon. Your wounds-”
“My wounds are fine.” His deep, velvet voice stunned me into silence. His eyelids fluttered open to reveal two lapis blue eyes that gazed intently at me, his expression appearing sensual as he stretched provocatively.
“If you say so.” My mouth suddenly was dry.
After a moment of awkward silence, I suddenly became self-conscious, sitting there in tattered pants and a bra.
I stood up and grabbed a dry shirt off the rope draped across the fire. I pulled it over my head and gathered our wet clothes, placing them on the rope to dry.
“Evangeline, they saw you. I‘m afraid you’ll have no way out of your predicament this time.”
I sighed. I assumed so, even though just a sliver of hope had remained. I knew I should’ve taken the northern route. Damn.
“I figured much. I better be on my way before they cause a ruckus and start rummaging through the slave quarters.” I looked over my shoulder and felt my nerves tingle when his eyes met mine. “If they don’t bother to check down here, which they rarely do, you should be safe. Until then Lani will look after your wounds so you can be ready for your departure.”
He remained silent but his gaze still lingered on mine. His eyes captured my full attention and his very essence seemed to tug on my body, making me want to run my hands through that long, black hair of his and taste that full, lush mouth on mine. I shook my head and cleared my throat. I swear, from my peripheral vision, I saw a smirk.
“Time to meet my fate. Can you heat up some extra cloths for when I get back?” I remembered that we’d need extra warmth for when the blizzard hit.
She simply nodded, a sad expression on her face.
I smiled. “I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”
She just shook her head, her features wearied. I felt a pang of guilt for how I must’ve worried her. “Thanks, Lani.” My voice barely above a whisper.
I shut the door and walked down the hall, passing a series of small rooms occupied with scrawny humans huddling close to each other for heat.
The slave quarters were made up of a cluster of small rooms in which contained stonewalls and concrete flooring. Aryans, most Nytes in this case, didn’t care much for there slave’s needs and comfort, so much as they lived long enough for them to be worthy of there paid price. You were lucky enough to get a bed and a fireplace.
While I made my way up the stairs, I couldn’t help but think about our unexpected guest. He definitely by far attractive, but the pull I felt towards him was almost…uncanny. Wrong. Besides, where had he come from? And what was he doing out there barely alive stranded in the middle of nowhere? I decided to ignore my thoughts as I stared at the entrance to the castle’s kitchen. Dread was like a heavy burden upon my shoulders, but I took in a deep breath and opened the door…only to be greeted by the last face I ever wanted to see.
Vane, Peredia’s most notorious torturer.