Abandoned in the Night

Abandoned in the Night

Abandoned in the Night

“Selfish, selfish, selfish.”

The whispered words were snatched by the frigid breeze that swirled around the form huddled in darkness. Snow was beginning to fall on the camp that sat huddled near the border of Byrnan and Haima. Tents that had been erected some twenty feet west buzzed with warmth and drunken soldiers. In the tent occupied by the shivering children to the east there was no mirth; no heat. Several of them clumped together in ratted clothes and under thin, holed blankets. Desperate for some sense of comfort even the children who couldn’t stand each other were cuddled up in the darkness.

Three years had passed since two of the children had fled into the darkness. It had been between seasons then. Spring was merging into summer and the rain had fallen hard and fast. Muddy fields had swallowed several smaller bodies and had allowed those two the escape they had been plotting.

“Selfish, selfish, selfish.”

Again the words were whispered from a corner of the camp. Huddled alone was a small form. Thin, but muscular arms and bony hands were wrapped around equally muscular legs. The body barely moved and could easily be mistaken for a boulder or some pile of garbage tossed in the corner. Under a layer of filth translucent skin shimmered in the near darkness. The children were not allowed to have a fire near their tent but the flames from the fires that kept the soldiers warm cast weak rays of light through the torn sides of the tent and upon the children. In the corner the small child who bore the cold alone was caught every now and then by the light of the flames.

The child had been ignored by the other children since the escape of her friends. They were the first, and last, children to ever successful escape from the iron grip of their soldier masters. She had known about the escape. She wanted to go with them. So badly did she want to escape the hell that was her life.

During the nights when the soldiers who oversaw the management of the children went on patrol, the two plotted their escape. They spoke in hushed tones and constantly looked around to see who was listening. The other children had given these two a wide berth. They were not normal children like the rest. They were the favourites of the commander. That was a privilege that no one wanted. To be a favourite of that man meant that you would be subjected to excruciating abuse and humiliating assault on a regular basis. Because they were favourites, they were the most desperate to escape.

She had watched them plot for months. She watched them as they observed the soldiers, memorized current rotations and very carefully spoke with merchants about the lay of the land around the camp. None of the of the children were permitted to leave the confines of the camp. Those that slipped out to explore were never heard from again. It was that dark ambiguity that lodged fear into their hearts.

On the night of their escape she had planned to go with them. She had made her own preparations and resolved to follow them into the night. The day before the escape she had spoken to them. Carefully she had revealed in no certain terms that she knew what they were about to do. She carefully stated that she would like to go with them. She expected they would take her. There was no doubt in her mind that they would take her. For her entire life she had been together with these two. The three of them had consoled each other, cared for each other and cleansed each other of their wounds.

“Selfish, selfish, selfish.”

Her murmurs were getting louder now. No longer were they whispers on the wind. Her crisp green eyes stared down at the dirt she sat on. She stared, but she was not aware. She was not mentally there. For the three years after the two had escaped she had been punished. Every punishment was harsher than the last. Every part of her body had been bruised, battered and violated by the soldiers in the camp. Even that moment where she curled in a ball and murmured in the darkness was a rare time of solitude.

She spent every night thinking of them. Thinking of how they left her. Thinking of how they had betrayed her. She had watched children die because of their escape. She had taken the abuse heaped on her by the dissatisfied commander from losing his prized pets. She had taken their place. What was once spread between two was stacked upon one.

Since their escape the commander had intensified her training with the sword. She had practiced many times with her friends who had escaped, but they were always better than she. One of her friends was skilled with a katana. Her other friend was skilled with throwing knives and hand to hand combat. The commander was trying to form her into a combination of the two who had left. Those two prized beings that had slipped from his grasp.

So her skill had grown. Day in and day out she trained. She fought with soldiers, children and passing mercenaries. Her stature was small but she was solid. She could toss a grown man over her shoulder and slam his back into the ground. After years of pushing her body to its physical limits she gained a heightened sense of speed and awareness.

There was a catch, of course. The desperation with which she trained caused her to rise in favour with the commander. Not only did he use her to replace the two who had fled, he used her to commit other acts of atrocity.

In the three years since her friends, her shields, had left she had killed so many.

So many men had fallen to her hands. She trapped them with her timid appearance only to change into a demon at the last minute and gut them. Quiet and small she rarely gave off the scent of a threat. New men assigned to the camp from headquarters fell to her sword and knives easily. Mercenary groups passing through their camp which served as a border check point laughed when she was put forward to face them.

Mercenaries were always looking for a fight; for ways to improve their skill. Fighting soldiers for fun was a common event whenever a group passed through the camp. Strong mercenaries were often purchased from their group to serve with the military. Weak ones were weeded out from the ranks of their group and left to die. It was a situation where both the leaders and the military prospered. The soldiers who faced the hired men were treated much the same: the weak were left to die and the strong were decorated.

She faced hired men occasionally. If it were a particularly strong one or if the commander was bored with what he was seeing she was often tossed out as a form of entertainment. How the commander loved watching the looks on the faces of the men who fell to her. The surprise, agony and shame that twisted their faces filled him with delight.

When the battles began, she was mistaken for a small boy. Even though her hair was longer and tied to the side there was nothing feminine about her. She had no curves, no breasts, and no air of beauty to define her sex. She had her strength, speed and willingness to kill. These matches were not kind to the participants. Only one could leave with breath still in their bodies. She was not ready to give up just yet. It was that desperation to live that drove her.

“Selfish, selfish, selfish.”

The chatter from the soldiers’ tent got louder. The boisterous sounds of enjoyment made the children huddled together shiver in fear. The happier their tormentors were, the worse it was for them. Older children attempted to comfort younger children as they whimpered in the dark. Because she hadn’t moved from her spot, a thin layer of snow had fallen through the tears in the roof and covered her curled up frame as she remained in her corner in the dark.

The rise in volume did not get past her. While her dead eyes stared at her bare feet which were slowly being buried in snow her ears picked up on the change in mood. Her body immediately stiffened and her breath slowed so that the briefest puff of white that escaped her lips was thin and fragile. The children in the tent with her sensed the shift. Immediately they scrambled to the far side of the tent. The further they got from her, the more crammed together they were. Their silent scramble was betrayed only by the marks left in the snow. The younger children were shoved to the back and the older children created a barrier between her and the youngsters with their bodies. It was an odd sight: fifteen children scrambling over each other to get as far away as possible from a single form.

“Selfish, selfish, selfish.”

Her final whisper was weak and barely reached the ears of the children who had run in terror from her. Suddenly and slowly she began to unfurl her body. Her back straightened, her legs moved until she sat upright and cross legged. Her dirty clothes consisting of a worn sleeveless tunic and patched trousers settled around her frame after she moved. Her hands moved slowly to her head where she re-tied her long sandy blonde hair to the side of her neck. As if returning from the abyss her eyes began to twinkle with brief sparks of life as she raised her head and looked towards the entrance of the tent.

Within moments the entrance of the tent was pulled back and the intimidating figure of a soldier shoved his way inside. He was a tall man, burly with a balding scalp and heavy facial hair. His bear reached his chest and was woven into three braids. Dirty hands covered the mouths of the smaller children in an attempt to silence them. The quieter they were, the more likely the soldier was to forget their existence. It was clear that he had come to the tent for one of the children only. That child sat straight and looked him in the eyes. Her green eyes locked with his hard brown ones. She knew this soldier. He was often the one sent to fetch her. His arrival announced her departure. No words were exchanged. They were unnecessary.

She rose to her feet and slapped her thighs and chest to disrupt the snow that covered her. Silently she crossed the tent and came up to the man. He towered over her as he wiped his nose with his fingers and turned to open the tent door. She left the tent, her bare foot imprints being stomped out by his heavy combat boots. Once the door flapped closed behind them she could hear the sighs of relief as the children she left behind tumbled away from each other.

It didn’t bother her. She knew they were happier when she was gone. She did her best not to interact with the children who were still alive after the two had left. She would never put herself in a position of betrayal again. She would never allow herself to be left behind. She held herself high as she marched toward another tent that waited for her.

In this tent she would be allowed to wash herself with lukewarm water, if she was lucky. She knew what was coming and knew that the commander had a certain image he wanted to retain. No one outside the camp was to know about the treatment of the children. It was his delectable secret to keep.

The large soldier that had fetched her stood outside the tent and waited. She knew she had to be quick and shed her clothes and discarded them to the side as she crossed to the waiting tub. She plunged her foot into the cold water, not once wincing at the bite of frigid liquid. Methodically she wiped herself down with the provided cloth. She wiped the dirt and grime from her legs, arms, abdomen, chest, neck and face. She saved her hands for last.

Stepping out of the tub and efficiently drying off her body she began to dress. She pulled on a fresh pair of trousers: ones that were not patched. She tightened the rope belt around her thin waist. She grabbed the waiting sleeved tunic and pulled it over her head, carefully lacing the chest closed. She attached the thin leather belt around her waist where her short sword would hang on the left. She moved again to attach a small leather pouch to the outside of her right thigh. She slipped her tabi socks on and tucked her trousers into the tops. Finally she tied her straw sandals to her feet and exited the tent. The entire procedure occurred in less than 10 minutes.

No words were exchanged between the soldier and herself. He led her in silence across the camp to the training grounds where the commander waited for her. The sun had begun to rise and if she looked, she would have seen a beautiful sky smeared with soft oranges and reds. But she did not look. She kept her eyes on the back of the man before her. She tuned out the sounds of the soldiers who followed her following him. She tuned out the callous remarks they made and the revelry they engaged in. She focused her every essence on the man before her and her destination.

The training ground wasn’t anything special. It was a vast area of dirt that was fenced off from the rest of the camp. It was here where the soldiers would train for hours in the morning and evening. It was here where she would kill mercenaries. It was here where she would murder children who tried to leave. It was here where she would discard her humanity and embrace the monster within.

It was that monster, that other self, which allowed her to remain alive.

The commander stood at the front of the training grounds, typically where the instructor for lessons would be. Next to him was a tall, almost fluid, woman. She cast her green eyes over the woman, curiosity piqued.

The woman wore deep red clothes: a low-cut and revealing sleeveless tunic and slightly baggy trousers. Over these she wore an oddly white ornate jacket. It was draped over her shoulders like a cape with embroidery down the sleeves that was difficult to read from the middle of the grounds. The woman wore black combat boots, much like the soldiers in the camp. Her black hair was piled on top of her head and messily tied with a piece of red leather. An abnormally long kiseru was pressed against her crimson lips. A puff of smoke escaped the woman’s lips as she knocked the tobacco from her pipe onto the ground and crushed the slightly sparked bundle with the heel of her boot. It was a beautiful pipe with a mouthpiece of some sort of shining metal connected to a black shaft carved with the likeness of dragons. It was thick and solid. Almost like it was also used as a weapon.

Waiting for the commander to speak she stood in the centre of the grounds and completed her survey of the woman. The soldier that had brought her from the children’s tent approached her now, weapons in hand. He handed her the short sword she always used and a cluster of throwing knives that she slipped into the pouch on her thigh. It was the intense bloodlust that caused her to raise her eyes from what she was doing and look across the training grounds to the topless man who stood there. His shoulders were broad and he looked even bigger than the soldier who hurriedly left her side. The cuffs of his pants were tucked into the tops of high cut combat boots. His body was covered in tattoos: dragons, eagles, swords, skulls. From the neck down it was impossible to find any existence of flesh. It had all been covered by the art he wore. He appeared to be unarmed, but she could discern the bulge of a concealed weapon. From the shape of it, it seemed to be a pistol.