Monday, 12 March 2012

The Outcast ~ Part One

Her time in favour had come to an end. Her actions, her decisions, her choice to turn against the family code and reject her inheritance had been her undoing. She was an outcast, a murderer and in the eyes of all able to see she was a true sinner. After abandoning her family, she had also abandoned her love. The curse of her kin had, by her own hand, come down to strike, almost as poetic retribution for her numerous betrayals. Only two things in the vast expanse of her deteriorating world gave her the courage to go on. And so, carrying them close, into the wilderness she fled...

The moon was bright and luminous in the sky that night, casting its eerie glow into delicate pools amongst the crags and crevices of the mountain side. The crumbling rocks began to give way to gnarled and twisted trees as the forest edge rushed up the greet her. In her wake the weaving torch-lights softly flickered high above on the mountain pass.

The shadowed trees whipped past in a blur as she ran forward. Every few moments, she snatched a glance over her shoulder, dreading to see if the torch-lights were gaining. The air was close and silent, her ragged breath echoed loudly in her ears. Her arms were beginning to numb but she dare not slow her pace lest they should catch up to her before she reached the relative safety of the forest. Only there may she be able to find cover to consider her desperate situation and decide on what to do next. In her haste to leave she had not thought of where to go. She had no provision other than her sword and the steel of her determination.

Suddenly she heard faint shouts from the distance confirming that her scent had indeed been caught. By which party she could not be sure as indeed many were in pursuit. With a tightening grip on her delicate bundle she stumbled onwards and into the shadowed concealment of the forest canopy. Almost at once she diverted from the path, hoping to lose them in the darkness. Ducking branches and awkwardly scrambling over fallen logs, she summoned what little energy she had left and weaved her way onwards, deeper and deeper into the wilderness until at last the shouts grew silent and the flickering torch-lights were lost.

A thick mist began to gather as she suddenly broke into a clearing. For a moment she hesitated, her free hand reached out to grasp a nearby branch to steady herself. Her heart pounded in her head as her dark glittering eyes searched the open space for signs of danger. The mist swirled in a smooth circular motion, lightly licking the ground in a violet haze. She watched, steadying her breath as the mist ebbed and flowed and changing direction with a comforting ease. A chilling breeze began to whistle though the surrounding trees, carrying with it a whisper of her name "Celeste". She spun lightly, seeking its speaker but found only the crawling mist as it seemingly creating a rippled pathway to the opposite side of the clearing. Her eyes penetrated into the darkness beyond, seeking out the possibility of making a break from cover to reach the other side.

Suddenly in the distance a light appeared. Her eyes widened as she made out the distant shape of a window, illuminated by a solitary candle. As her eyes adjusted she could see the outline of a small cottage, nestled on the opposite edge of the clearing, its walls almost hidden in the shadows. She pulled her cloak a little tighter as soft snowflakes began to silently drift down from the now cloudy sky. A tiny whimper escaped the depths of her robe as her arm went instinctively to touch her delicate cargo. She made a soft hushing sound before edging out into the clearing, her eyes darting as she cautiously made her way through the grasses, the violet mist swirling at her booted heels.

As she approached the cottage her eyes became fixed on the candle. She stopped suddenly, holding her breath as a dark shadow passed the window, momentarily blocking out the light. For a few seconds she was frozen to the spot, certain she had been seen. Her hand grasped the hilt of her sword, her knuckles pale and shimmering in the retreating moonlight. When she heard no shout of detection she continued to progress stealthily until finally she reached the windowed wall. Pressing her back flat against it she took a moment to gently peel back her cloak. Her dark eyes peered down and smiled, reassured as the cry had given way to silent slumber.

Carefully she tucked her cloak back tight at her neck and pressed her ear to cold ivy-clad wall. Inside she sensed a single human male. He appeared to be grumbling to himself although she could not make out his words. With relief she turned silently, her hand gripping the window sill as she pulled herself up onto the balls of her feet to squint into the candlelit room. She took in the sparsely furnished room, littered with only a worn leather chair and wooden table placed before a darkened and empty fireplace. The grumbling man entered the room once more, carrying an armful of firewood. He threw it to the hearth still muttering under his breath. He seemed rather elderly, bending down with obvious discomfort to light kindling for the fire. It took several attempts but eventually he was satisfied and heaved himself to his feet.

Her eyes still at the window, she watched as he slumped down into the chair and took out a pipe. A dark desire began to rise within her from the depths of her stomach. It had been four days since she had last feed and she felt her strength waning fast. She glanced warily up to the sky. The moon was almost completely hidden by cloud but on the horizon the first signs of early dawn were beginning to stir. Spurred on by her hunger and the fast approaching sunrise she crept to the shadowed doorway at the rear of the cottage. Quickly she peeled back her cloak once more and carefully untied the knotted linen from her shoulder. Bending down she carefully lifted the rousing infants from their makeshift sling and laid them delicately in a patch of soft grass. “I will be gone only a moment” she whispered before throwing her cloak over them to keep out the chill. She stood and crept to the doorway. Her pale hand took hold of the rusting handle, turning it with a soft creek. To her gratitude the door swung open noiselessly, revealing a darkened kitchen area. “Human fool” she thought to herself as she moved deftly towards the candlelit room beyond. From the shadowed doorway she watched the man dozing in his chair. is hand drooped to the side and she watched with a frown as his pipe went clattering to the ground.

He awoke with a grunt, his eyes snapping open but she was behind his chair in an instant. With the strength of two men she hoisted him backwards out of his seat and sunk her teeth into his wrinkled neck. It was not the preferred rich blood of youth that flowed steadily into her mouth, but after a drought of many days and the energy spent fleeing her pursuers she welcomed it gladly. The old man twisted, his arms and legs flailing in an attempt to shake her off but her hunger was too strong to release him. Gradually his limbs grew still and fearing her own greed she withdrew and pushed him away, his heavy body falling back into the chair and his face frozen in a contorted spasm of pain and surprise. She leaned against the back of the chair, her breath deep and rasping. A fleck of blood stood out upon her ivory cheek like a crimson tear. She closed her eyes, savouring the flow of new life through her veins, renewing her strength and hardening her mind.

Almost at once her spell was broken as she heard a cry from beneath the window sill. Like a panther she darted back out into the shadowed air. The snow was falling fast, covering the ground in a thick white blanket. Gingerly she gathered the bundle of cloth to her breast and slipped back inside, kicking the door shut behind her. A stray snowflake escaped the exile and drifted through the doorway towards the old man, still slumped in his chair, alive but barely breathing. It landed on his wrinkled cheek which by now had grown so cold that it did not melt immediately. Instead it hovered, almost dancing in the firelight before finally succumbing to its heat, dissolving in a puff of iridescence.

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