Submitted into Contest #235 in response to: Write about a character who suddenly cannot run anymore.... view prompt


Fantasy Fiction

For Mepka, being alone in the cabin was not nearly the same as being alone in the wilderness. There was a disquiet to the place, like it might tell her mother of any secret thing she did sitting in its guts. Still, by herself for the first time in weeks, Mepka couldn’t help but call out her word. 

"Ahtr’ul" She swept hands over the course of her figure. Where they passed she faded from existence ever so slightly, ever so briefly. The call allowed her a moment of peace, to feel as though she was there and not here. She called out for that moment again, and again, and again.

A strange sense broke her from this roll, tendrils of an approach. Her core knotted, and in an instant she willed away the echo of aether fog that had swirled in comfort around her.

A moment passed in tension. Estrid flitted in past the cabin’s doorway curtain first, with a look equal parts panic and elation. Two figures swept in behind her, a biting woman and a caustic man. Recognition pooled in Mepka’s view of the High Abbess of Reclamation and the High Abbot of Consternation, governors of the city of Peyr and most holy of the Conservators of Myarsa. Their presence sucked the air from her lungs, choking her on decay and dread.

The abbess Niolett spoke first, her voice silken spite. "Mepka, so good to see you again."

"Yes," Mepka stammered under the weight of their focus, "Yes certainly. It has been some time since you have come for temple mass."

The abbot Anzaw’s lip twitched at the reply, prompting a shared glance from his wife. Their connection cemented Mepka’s unease.

“Yes, well. It seems as though the same can be said for you.” Niolett’s gaze swept off of Mepka in seeming disinterest. “What excuse do you have for your absence today?”

Mepka glanced over to Estrid with a look of worry.

“Your holiness,” Estrid took up the call for aid, “We thought it best that my daughter keep to a private penance.” 

Mepka took a subtle step back to place her mother at the forefront.

“And why might that be, dear Estrid?” The abbess’ inquisition drew the faintest of cruel smiles from the abbot, leaning back against the doorway.

“Considering her,” Estrid wracked for a word, “circumstances.”

Mepka gritted against the moment, but kept quiet in light of the panic she felt.

“Her continued sacrilege, you mean?” Anzaw rose in a voice like untreated iron.

“I don’t know if I would-“

“We would, Estrid. We really would.” Niolett interrupted. “There is not a need for you to contradict us.”

“Be glad, woman, for the grace we’ve extended to you.” Anzaw underpinned his wife’s statement. “Expect now to display faith in kind.”

Mepka’s focus bounced between her mother and the abbots. “Grace? What are you talking about?”

The abbess ran her fingernails over the wooden table at the center of the room. “Your kindly mother has shown humble penance in her labor here. She has been invited to return to the comforts of Peyr.” 

Estrid’s eyes shown hopefully.

“We’re going back to Peyr?” Mepka’s felt herself spinning out.

"You’ll be going nowhere." Anzaw cut in, "One family member, paltry as she may be, is enough consolation to ensure your father’s continued agreeance."

"My father did this?" Mepka’s mind cinched on encompassing resentment coupled against intense relief at the thought of being left alone.

"Highest abbot, please, I beg of you. My husband will surely work better with the knowledge of his child’s safety. He needs us. You need us, if you have any hope of-", Her mother cupped nervous hands at her heart, but in the midst of the pleading Mepka saw only vulgar light filtering off of Niolett’s fingers.

Lu’byke Guasyr”, Niolett called a set of words, and Estrid’s veiling statement cut in her throat to a gurgling of choked water.

Mepka rushed to her heaving mother’s side. Her eyes trained in fear on the abbots.

Niolette leaned over to meet Estrid’s hunched field of vision, “The decision has been made, Estrid. You will come, and she will stay. Now, tell me you understand the wisdom of our path set for you and yours.”

The water poured from Estrid’s mouth with a distinct lack of pretense or dignity.

"Stop this! Stop this now!" Mepka howled.

In a terrifying flash, Anzaw clapped an armored mitt down on her shoulder to yank her away. "Stay out of this, wretch."

Mepka felt power flow up her arm, her hand moving instinctually to the point where Anzaw held her.

"Ahtr’ul" Her word rang openly through her touch, and in a burst of aether the gauntlet holding her dented inwards. Anzaw grunted out in guttural surprise, releasing her and shifting to his back foot. The reverberations of her spell sucked all else out of focus.

Niolett turned sharply, flicking away her held incantation. Estrid sputtered from her knees, sucking in deeply drawn air.

"That," Niolett rolled out in an unsettling hush, "is a very interesting word."

Anzaw slammed back into attention, smacking Mepka across the face and sending her tumbling. The rotted boards of the cabin floor cracked under her impact. The Conservators stood together over her prone form. Mepka looked up at them, the visage of her mother framed behind.

"Well. It seems your wish may be granted after all, Estrid. She’ll most certainly be coming with us.” Niolett’s smile pierced.

"No." Mepka’s mind raced through panic into desperation.

Estrid looked at her daughter woefully overwhelmed. In a despairing bid for escape, Mepka scrabbled towards the open doorway.

Anzaw drew his mangled hand in her direction, and commanded a gritted tone. "Comrir Soihs’nunnehv"

Every muscle in her body tensed, and then went limp. The will to move was pushed into deep recess. Anzaw unsheathed his sword, a long tarnished blade, flipping it in his grip. The hilt of it struck the back of her head, and the world shattered away into unconsciousness.

--- --- --- --- --- --- --- --- ---

The intervening hours were lost to Mepka. She saw nothing. She felt only swaying, an intense pressure on her joints, and spite. At moments she knew she was struggling, but it was as though she was occupying someone else’s body going through those motions. Her indigence only landed her retributive blows from unseen hands.

She came back to clarity in a cell. It was a small space, still and cold save for the pulsing of her pain. Wooden walls around her bowed, and behind their cracks the swamp threatened with the weight of pressure-packed clay. Her hands were hitched behind her in a binding tie, holding her to a slumped seat on the ground. She pulled against the cord, fruitless and indeterminate.

A panic welled up in her, a beating of her heart that she thought could only be quelled by calling her word. When she tried, she found that the gag lodged in her mouth prevented her from forming it, the syllables garbled out of coherence. Still, she could not help but rage against her binds. 

She thought she must be at the very center of Peyr, so deeply set that her wounds formed a heart for the place. Before this time it had not occurred to her that there were cells to be found in Peyr, where the surrounding muck slavered at the step of exiles. She had never once in her life longed for the swamp, not like she did now. The swamp she could fight, could silence. This place, though, this was silence.

Sounds of scraping and shuffling behind the walls transmuted Mepka’s fury into a wrenching dread of the unknown horrors that awaited her. The door could only groan at the entrance of her father.

“Mepka,” Irec started, lingering in the doorframe, “Oh…”

In her unconsciousness she had been stripped, the comforting wrap of her work clothes replaced by an oversized jute shift. It left her feeling unsettlingly bare, helpless against the elements of her surroundings. The pitiful sight of her had drained some nerve that Irec had collected prior to his arrival.

“They, they say you are not yourself.” He spoke to her, not registering that she could not speak back. “I just don’t understand why you would do the things they say. I’ve told them, we are a happy family. I just don’t understand how it could all go this wrong.”

Mepka’s eyes went to incredulity, that after so long this would be his tack. She tried to yell, but again it was stifled by the hemp tie filling her mouth. Irec winced in reaction to the gurgled cry, and he stepped across the threshold to approach his daughter. For all the animosity she felt towards him, his closeness drew equal shades of comfort and shame to her.

“Your mother is safe.” Irec filled the silence as he reached around her head to work out the knot in the gag. “She prays day and night for you.”

Mepka felt hot tears welling up at the thought of her mother, water pouring from her lips in the last moments that they had been together, and for her crying she was glad that her father was leaned over her and would not see. 

Irec removed the gag with the great care of a healer’s hands. Mepka wanted to pour out her anger, but instead she felt a sudden and sickening desire of care overtake her.

“Father,” The word grated on the stiffness from her jaw, “Please help me. Please, take me back to the cabin. I can’t be here, don’t let the abbots get to me.”

Irec spoke quietly, as though to himself, “The abbots- you have to understand dear- things can’t be as simple as they should be right now.”

Mepka felt that dread begin to percolate again in the back of her stomach, some of that acridity bubbling up into her throat. “What does that mean?”

“Well, and this isn’t to say I-” Irec stumbled rigidly over his thoughts, “It’s just, sometime, when an illness strikes-”

“I’m not sick.” Mepka’s voice trembled, “I’m not sick. You need to help me, I need your help. Please, untie me. Please.”

“I can’t- I can’t do that.” Irec put a hand on his daughter’s cheek. “The abbots will be in soon. You need to comply with them.”

“I- What? No, you can’t leave me with them.” The thought of it all was too much to bear once more.

Irec descended deeper into a hard coolness that he kept on hand, the same look he took on at temple. “Answer their questions. Being honest will only help to cure you, to set your spirit back to right. And, when this is all over, you’ll have a place back home in Peyr. Anzaw has sworn that to me himself.”

“You’d leave me with them? You’d leave me to this place that I hate?” Mepka felt a deep outpouring from within herself, “I hate you!”

She began to struggle against the binds once more, yelling heartfelt loathings at her father. Irec, for his own part, deflated back into a seated position on the ground out of her reach.

Mepka felt her heart tug out for him, for her family, for understanding, like a singular cord on her soul.

“They say that you have allowed some demon into your heart. I could not believe that my daughter would do such a thing.” Irec’s mask of stoicism had fully fallen away. “I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

“So that’s it? You would take their superstition as enough to see me hurt like this? To let them force mother and I away from you?” Mepka’s voice strung so tense that she feared it might shatter.

“I don’t know. I just don’t know.” Irec shook his head violently, “This break inside you, I just don’t know how it could have come on so suddenly.”

Mepka felt the pressure inside her well up at his words, at his impossible lack of awareness, at his misunderstanding of who she was and the life she had lived, and she felt that last cord snap.

“I don’t care,” The words fell out of her mouth in a mumble, realization striking a stunning blow to her core. “I don’t care for you.”

With its passing across her lips, her acknowledgment of that truth, she felt her anger slip away. Even it had been care, in it’s own perverted way. The disassociation sent her adrift, blank and floating through what was left to come.

“This place,” She felt herself smile, a hazy manic smile, “I am not of this place, it’s over here for me.”

“What?” Irec was set off guard by her altered demeanor, “What does that mean Mepka? Of course you are of Peyr, it is your home.”

“Did you really not see it?” Mepka asked in dispassionate tone, as though she were speaking about someone else. “Are you happy, father?”

“I-” Irec ran tense fingers back through a thick bramble of hair, “I have lived well. I have done what was expected of me.”

Mepka’s smile turned sad, not to the hate that had left her but to pity. “You’re blind. You don’t care either, but you can’t admit it.”

Irec drew in breath as though to speak, but could not find the words before Mepka’s drone continued. 

“You put me into this world, at the mercy of the abbots and their conservators.” She stared ahead blankly, putting a fine point on her newfound relinquishment with a catharsis that had eluded her, “They’ll kill me, for what I have. Or else, they’ll see me waste away. They’ve already broken me, it will not be difficult for them. And then, when I have faded fully and there is nothing left of me, I will be free.”

Irec bit back tears that fell from his face like stone. “That’s not true. I know you can’t see it, but it’s not. The abbots- They’ll get you the help you need. They will.”

Mepka signed in high resignation. “You should go. Mother will need you.”

Irec was unpracticed in weeping, and so his face screwed up in a particularly ugly way as he sniffed away the tears and nodded. He thumbed the gag he had removed so that they could speak, his hands moving apart from his mind.

“Goodbye.” She said simply, believing with every part of herself that these to be the last words she would speak to him in her life.

She could see the layers building back up around Irec as he lifted himself up to standing once more, dusting himself off from the grime of the dungeon. He leaned forwards and she loosened her jaw, preparing to take the gag once again. Instead, her father kissed her forehead for a long moment.

Mepka watched him walk out, shutting the door behind him. He was gone, and she knew in that moment that he would not return to her.

Her wrists chafed against the hempen rope that held them. She opened her mouth tentatively, as though she were not sure she was as alone as she was. She wondered an intrusive wonder, if this had been intentional or if it was another of Irec’s many oversights. No answer would come to her.

She moored her focus back onto her body, her lashed wrists. She spoke next in quiet plea, not to any yielding ear nor even to the origin of her power itself, so far away as it was at the edge of the plane, but rather to the wellspring within herself. "Ahtr’ul"

Ahtr’ul Ahtr’ul Ahtr’ul” She incanted, feeling her emptiness crystallize into intangible magic. Her wrists passed through their binds as though they were no longer a part of the same world. She fell forwards, catching herself on hands and knees. Her heart suddenly began to pound, and she prepared herself to run.

January 26, 2024 20:01

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