Aeraina sank to her knees, breathing heavily, her arms wrapped tightly around her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain, so she didn't see the next blow come. The
heavy boot rammed into her ribs savagely, lifting her off the ground and sent her flying several yards across the grassy clearing. She heard the sickening crack that could only mean her ribs had
broken under the force of the blow, and she screamed in agony. The girl hit the ground with a dull thud. She tried to sit up but the pain in her side was too much.
“Fetch me the Elf,” Aeraina's attacker snarled. An orc detached himself from the crowd of bystanders to follow his lords order. The girl's head snapped up, and the fire returned to her eyes. She forced herself to stand, biting her lip to hold back her screams.
“She has nothing to do with this!” Aeraina protested desperately, her voice breaking. The massive orc warlord closed the distance between them in two long strides. He raised his meaty arm and backhanded the girl. Again she was thrown several feet under the weight of his strike, but this time she didn't stay down. Stubbornly she pushed herself back to her feet and faced her master.
“She has nothing to do with this!” Aeraina repeated. “It was all me! Leave her out of this!”
“SILENCE!” The orc roared, lunging at Aeraina. He grabbed her by her hair and lifted her from the ground effortlessly. She cried out, clawing at his arm and trying to kick him where ever she could. The soft sound of meek footsteps caught their attention. The orc turned his head to track the light sound, until the young Elf girl appeared from the tree line followed by the orc sent to fetch her. She kept her jewel blue eyes on the ground at her feet, and bowed her head to the orc.
“You called Master?” Her musical voice was soft, like falling leaves.
“Gaelira! Run away! Lira, go!” Aeraina commanded. The orc responded by throwing Aeraina into a tree trunk. The small of her back connected fully with the tree and she crashed to the ground in a boneless heap. Black spots danced before her eyes and it was all she could do to cling to consciousness. The Orc turned away from the fallen girl, to give the Elf his full attention. Gaelira cowered under his harsh glare.
“How long?” He growled. Gaelira cocked her head in confusion, keeping her eyes downcast.
“I don't know what you mean Master,” she told him, her voice trembling with fear. The giant gray-skinned monster advanced on the frail Elf, and she backpedaled, getting tangled up in her own skirts in her haste.
“Gaelira, get away from here!” Aeraina called from across the clearing, her voice thick with pain. Gaelira met Aeraina's eyes.
“What did you do Aeraina?” Gaelira asked, her voice accusing. “What did you do?” Aeraina couldn't speak past the pain, she just hung her head. “Master, please! What ever Aeraina did, she did on her own! I had no part in it!”
“I believe you,” he crooned, gently reaching out to stroke Gaelira’s platinum hair. Gaelira breathed a sigh of relief. “But we both know how stubborn your sister is. She heals too quickly for a beating to make a lasting impression on her.” Gaelira's eyes widened in terror, and she shot to her feet poised as if to run. Suddenly the orc unsheathed the short sword from his belt and slashed the Elf, cleaving her from shoulder to hip. Blood bloomed from the terrible wound and Gaelira crumpled to the ground without a sound.
“GAELIRA!” Aeraina screamed in anguish, her voice cracking under the force of her emotion. “Gurok you bastard! I'll kill you for this!” Aeraina tore her eyes from Gaelira's limp form to glare at the orc hatefully. Gurok laughed at her empty threat and that only inflamed the girls rage even more. Her own pain forgotten, she pushed herself to her feet and lunged at Gurok with another anguished cry. He swung his arm and brought the pommel of the sword down hard on the girl's neck. She dropped like a marionette with its strings cut.
Without even looking at her, the orc lord gestured to two of his subordinates, whom had been milling around watching the scene unfold. They scrambled to their leader's side, fearful of evoking the volatile orc's wrath.
“Take her,” Gurok rumbled forcefully. The two orcs rushed to obey, each grabbing one of the injured girl's arms and hauling her to her feet. She groaned in pain, her head lolling to one side. With great effort she raised her head to glare at Gurok again, but the fire in her prismatic eyes had died.
“Just kill me,” she begged. Her strength left her and she slumped against the orcs' hold as they dragged her after their master. Gurok laughed, a harsh gravelly sound akin to a rock-slide and somehow invoked the same terror in the girl.
“Don't worry, krujab, you will die soon,” Gurok promised, throwing a cruel look over his shoulder at her. “But not too soon. Chain her to the post.” He ordered. The two orcs dragged her to the thick wooden structure staked into the ground. They chained her arms to the horizontal bar above her head and strapped her waist and legs to the post. As soon as they let go of her she sagged against her bonds, lacking the strength to hold herself up. She pressed her cheek to the side of the post, waiting. Across the clearing Aeraina could still see the lifeless form Gaelira, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
Gaelira, sister, forgive me, Aeraina thought blearily through the anguish. Gurok the Bluudrin, the foul gray-skinned Orcish war-lord who was Aeraina's master, raised the heavy leather bullwhip high over his head and brought it down hard on the girl's back. Aeraina hunched against the rough wooden whipping post, trying unsuccessfully to bite back her scream of pain. She strained against her chains weakly, feeling the unyielding iron cutting sharply into her flesh. The lashes continued to rain down upon her, one after another. The pain was incredible. Aeraina found herself wondering how it hadn't killed her yet, surely the pain alone would kill her. A black wave washed over Aeraina, dragging her into the blessed unfeeling of unconsciousness.
She found herself drifting weightlessly engulfed in a gray haze. Listlessly she glanced around. There was nothing around her but the gray fog and Aeraina lost interest, content to just let herself drift. Huh, the pain's gone. Did I die? Normally the thought of dying scared her silly, but in the fog, away from the terrible pain all Aeraina could feel was relief. She sighed contentedly, closing her eyes. Hmm, I wonder why I was so scared of this? Death is... peaceful. Something tapped her arm. Startled she opened her eyes. There was someone standing beside her. He was glowing a bright red, the only source of light in the dim gray murk. He glowed so brightly that his features were obscured and Aeraina had to look away. Her reflexes kicked in and she spun herself away from the stranger.
~Who are you?~ She asked nervously. The stranger cocked his head as if he was unsure how to respond.
~I'm a friend. I'm here to help you.~ It was Aeraina's turn to be unsure. Help me? What does that mean?
~Are you a reaper?~ Reapers were beings sent to help the dead cross over to the Other world. Aeraina always imagined reapers to be dark terrible creatures, but she supposed if they were the shepherds to the next realm people would more willing to follow them if they weren't dark and scary.
~No, I'm not a reaper. I'm just- I'm like you.~ He replied. Huh? Like me? Aeraina glanced down at her hands, which were glowing faintly. Fascinated she turned her hand over, noticing as she did that her glow wasn't steady like the strangers. Hers was pulsing in time with her heartbeat. She had absolutely no clue what this meant, but she smiled at the unexpected beauty in it none the less.
~Like me? But you look so different...~ Aeraina turned her face away, noticing as she did that the gray fog was slowly creeping closer. The stranger saw it too and stepped forward quickly.
~Look, you're dying. That's why we look different. I can help you, keep you alive,~ He sounded frantic now. He reached out a hand to her and Aeraina just stared at it like she didn't know what it was.
~What's the point?~ She asked suddenly.
~This didn't happen to me on accident. My master wants me dead. If I don't die now, he'll only try harder to kill me. I don't want to hurt anymore.~ Just thinking of the pain made it seem closer, like it was pressing against her. She shook herself violently. ~I can't.~
The stranger pressed closer relentlessly. ~I'll protect you. That bastard won't hurt you anymore. I promise. Please, take my hand.~ The conviction in his tone drew Aeraina's eyes to his face. She squinted against his bright glow. After a brief hesitation, Aeraina grasped his outstretched hand. Warmth exploded in her palm, rapidly traveling up her arm to spread to the rest of her. The white light seeping out of her skin waxed brighter and brighter, and the creeping gray haze retreated from sight.
~I'll find you out there, just wait for me.~
Aeraina's eyes snapped open. The sun was low in the sky and shining directly in the girl's face. She winced in pain and tried to move, but suddenly pain erupted in
her back and ribs. She tried to scream but her throat was so dry all she could manage was a pitiful croak. The pain held her paralyzed and she hardly dared to breathe. She willed herself to pass
into the haze again, but her body stubbornly clung to consciousness. Now that she was awake, the pain wasn't about to let her escape into the oblivion.
The sudden intense pain in her wrists drew her eyes and she saw she was still chained to the whipping post. The whipping post. Memory flooded back and her eyes darted frantically around the grassy clearing. But Gurok was gone, the guards were gone, the only ones left in the clearing were a small group of slaves milling around just outside the treeline. Aeraina's eyes skipped over them, dismissing them as a threat instantly, instead her eyes landed Gaelira. They left her broken, bleeding body in the middle of the clearing, the soft earth soaking up her blood. She struggled to breathe around the blood bubbling out of her mouth and nose. Her fair hair, which normally shone like starlight, was dull, matted with blood and dirt.
"Lira," Aeraina gasped, her voice came out as little more than a squeak. Gaelira, hearing Aeraina's voice, turned her head towards the slight sound. Their eyes met across the square, Gaelira's jewel blue and Aeraina's prismatic green.
"Rai-na," Gaelira mouthed, unable to force her words around the blood in her throat.
Seeing her sister's pain, pain she caused, was too much for Aeraina to bear. Her wounds all but forgotten, she struggled and bucked against her bonds, the cruel iron cutting into her wrists and splashed blood down her arms. The metal chains did not yield. Come on, break dammit! She commanded forcefully, hoping by some miracle she could pull the chains from their anchor in the wood. The metal, predictably, did not heed her pleas. Gaelira moaned across the way, her eyes fluttering shut.
"Lira! Gaelira no, no, stay awake!" Aeraina cried in panic thrashing against her bonds, splashing blood on the grass.
“Raina... Why? Why can't you...” Gaelira wheezed wetly. “Ever... just behave?” Tears spilled out form the corner of the Elf's blue eyes and she coughed up more blood.
“I'm sorry, Gaelira, please I'm so sorry,” Aeraina sobbed helplessly. Gods please! Spare her! I'll do anything you want, please just spare my sister! But the gods, the gods she had abandoned long ago, abandoned her now.
“Don't get... in any...more troub-” Gaelira's voice trailed off and her eyes slid shut. Aeraina saw her chest shudder and then go still. Aeraina's eyes went wide, and her vision went blurry with sudden tears. She howled in anguish.
"Gaelira! No, don't leave me! Lira please, no, no, no, no!" The girl’s screams subsided to hopeless sobbing. The group of slaves detached themselves from the shadows of the trees, moving to kneel by Gaelira's side. “Get away from her you bastards!” Her desperate shriek had no effect what-so-ever on the men. One of the slaves placed his hand on Gaelira’s neck, checking for a pulse. Feeling nothing he motioned for the rest to lift the girl's body. “Stop! Leave her alone! Please, please, don't take her away from me, please. I don't want to be alone.” Her pleas were drowned out by choking sobs, and still the slaves took no more notice of her or her despair than they would an insect in their path. Together they bore Gaelira away, leaving Aeraina absolutely alone. Alone. All alone... again.
She slumped against the post, trembling so violently the chains clashed together in an irregular staccato rhythm. All my fault. It's all my fault. I'm cursed. The all consuming despair dragged her down into its cold embrace. Even the physical pain could could find no foothold under the weight of the grief. Her cracked ribs sent waves of agony through her with each sob, but Aeraina relished in that pain, it was no more than she deserved after what she did. She tugged against her bonds listlessly, the warm metal cut into her wrists, splashing crimson blood down the length of her arms. Her eyelids grew heavy from the blood loss and exhaustion, and she gratefully surrendered to the darkness.
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