The following events occur 2 days after “Into The Flames of Tribulation Part I”
Lydia drifted slowly into consciousness and raised her arms to stretch her shoulders. Today was the second day she’d woken up feeling completely exhausted. Yesterday morning had brought fair business by the fountain in the square. Having been forced to leave several hours early, Lydia suspected she’d either over-exerted herself, or had stumbled upon a zeon imbalance; too little zeon regenerating to supply all of her active spells to gross any excess energy to fill her reservoirs. Such things tended to sort themselves out naturally as spells draining too much energy automatically faded away without the necessary fuel to sustain them.
Despite her general lack of energy, she remained determined to make any sort of progress in her training. After all, a little studying at the library would be a relaxing adventure for a change as opposed to slaving away in town and hoping for donations.
First on the list was a hearty breakfast to help with recovery and a nice warm bath to soothe the knots in her back that naturally followed sitting on the fountain edge with no support. When finished, she dried herself with a thick and fluffy towel before getting dressed in casual attire.
For finishing touches, Lydia pulled back her long hair in the same bun with which she was familiar and held it in place with a band and some chopsticks. Supposedly, according to both George and Markus, the look suited her quite well. Finally, Lydia felt for the bracelet on her nightstand by her bed and slipped it on her wrist.
She was fairly certain that she’d never meet the man who’d given it to her again, but the much needed compliment on her eyes had made the accessory precious to her. It had occurred to Lydia that the entire matter was likely nothing more than flattery, but there was a lot of comfort in compliments with no way to judge her appearance herself.
With everything in order, Lydia felt as prepared as possible to head outside and make her way to the library for some learning and mental exercises. Making her way slowly to the door to her chambers, she counted her paces carefully with her hands out in front of her until she reached the door.
The guardsman outside stood with a clinking sound as bits of his armor shifted while he stood.
“Good morning to you, your Holiness.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t call me that,” she replied bitterly. Lydia absolutely despised her new escort. He’d been around for some time now, and she didn’t even know his name. After hearing no reply in her brief pause, she closed her door and continued speaking. “I’m going to the library, I imagine I’ll be out late.”
“I will escort you, your Grace.”
“Leave me well enough alone, please. I know the way just fine, thank you,” Lydia stated forcefully as she tried to ignore the second unwanted title that had been thrown at her by the guardsman. Without allowing any chance for argument, the girl strode off down the hall and carefully made her way down the stairs. Of course, he wasn’t about to argue.
The man had once before attempted to do his duty and follow Lydia despite her protests. He recalled as the girl slowly turned to face him and the halls began to shake under her fury. Foolishly he tried to stand his ground and remain unwilling to be intimidated. The man immediately regretted his decision as she yelled something about no one being able to replace “George” and froze everything in the hallway solid with a thick sheet of ice, including the poor guard himself before storming off.
Hell hath no fury indeed.
Today was going to be a good day for Lydia, and she wasn’t going to let anyone, even one of her personal escorts, get in the way. As she said she would, the girl found the library with enough ease by means of distinctive land marks. Using the sound of the docks, or the trickling of the fountain in the city square, combined with counting the rough number of paces needed to reach each one, it was only ten minutes or so before Lydia arrived at the steps of the library. She knew each one by heart, having walked up and down their worn surface countless times.
The interior of the building was quite comfortable. It was practically the perfect temperature and almost quiet enough to be haunted. Only the occasional sound of footsteps and polite whispers made their way through the silent atmosphere.
This was indeed going to be a good day.
With a yawn, Lydia walked down the steps of the library and thanked the man who’d willingly stayed behind several hours late to lock up after she’d finally left. Her eyes were heavy with somnolence and her brain practically begged for sleep to allow proper processing of all the new information obtained.
“Just a while longer,” she told herself and ignored the urge to curl up on the steps and simply sleep outside.
The city was fast asleep as she wanted to be, with barely anything but the sound of her own footsteps and the faint breeze to let her know that she was still conscious. Lydia’s feet practically dragged, and her head was slumped forward as she slowly made her way back home.
As the girl crossed a long alleyway, the scuff of a boot behind her caused Lydia to perk up into attentiveness. She stood still for several moments listening for any further sounds that might indicate the presence of another living thing. There seemed to be nothing.
“Hello,” Lydia called out, “is someone there?” With no reply, and nothing further to go on, she warily pressed forward. Telling herself there was nothing to worry about and hurrying home was the only real option. Perhaps the escort would have been a fair option after all.
A strange mechanical “clunk” sound preceded a sharp and painful thud in Lydia’s lower neck. She staggered forward under the unexpected attack and reach up with her hand to feel the wound. There was now a thin wooden shaft lodged in her flesh. Gritting her teeth, she yanked it out to inspect the object. It seemed to be some form of projectile from a small hand-sized crossbow.
“Hello,” she called again as she slowly backed away from the approximate direction of the attack. Her voice betrayed her emotions by faltering under the fear and uncertainty that threatened to send her thoughts spiraling into chaos and panic. The alleged assassin didn’t seem terribly interested in coming out to meet her despite missing a killing blow.
Lydia’s eyes widened at the realization. It was the only explanation for using such a small projectile clearly not admired for its stand-alone killing power. Her attacker would simply let the venom run its course rather than directly confronting her.
“Anyone? Somebody help me,” she cried out as loudly as possible. Her desperate words echoed uselessly in the dead of the night. Lydia found a wall with her fingers and followed it as quickly as possible without being reckless. Running wouldn’t do any good if she knocked herself out cold sprinting face first into brick.
A sudden surge of dizziness sent Lydia stumbling to her knees. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest as her breaths became increasingly short. It seemed impossible that she would be attacked when her magical defenses were so unusually weak. No, this had to be a coordinated assault. But why?
That, Lydia quickly decided, was something to think about later. Refusing to give up, she pushed herself to her feet and entered a dead run. The important thing now was to find the public eye before the poison could take her. Only moments later, Lydia fell once again, scraping her hands and knees on the brick tile. Moving was become difficult as a cold numbness spread through Lydia’s limbs and ate away at her consciousness.
As she could no longer stand, Lydia crawled forward on her stomach. There had to be someone close by who would see her; Lydia’s life depended on it. Finally, the sound of footsteps made themselves known again.
“Who are you? What do you want with me?” Her questions were met only with a harsh stomp from a boot on her back that ripped the wind from her lungs. Lydia coughed violently, trying to control herself to insist the man answer her inquiries. However, her body was reaching its limit, and Lydia soon faded into the restful grasp of the poison that flowed through her blood.
The air was stagnant and humid from Lydia’s breath. She’d woken up inside the cramped confines of what seemed to be a cargo crate. Banging on the walls with her fist and crying out for assistance hadn’t yielded any results. For the time being, Lydia had decided all she could do was wait patiently for the crate to be opened by her captor.
Whoever had taken her hadn’t left her with anything more than her pants and the flimsy undershirt that did little to protect her body from the cold. However, Lydia’s concern remained more with the priceless gemstone that she always kept around her neck on a small chain. There was no telling where it was now, or if it was even possible to retrieve it. Despite her desire to get it back, Lydia was well aware that her own safety had to come first. It was as good as lost if she was killed in the liberation process.
Along with her losses, Lydia had also involuntarily gained a thick leather collar around her neck to add to her list of possessions. She’d tried casting some of her most simple spells with the innate zeon in the air, but the cruel device injected a chaotic interference into her body that made keeping her grip on any accumulated zeon impossible. Not unlike trying to catch a swarm of flies in her bare hands, she was unable to gather more without losing the tiny bit already contained.
It was likely similar in function to the bracelet that in hindsight was an obvious trap. The dart and the poison would have been like firing a spit-wad at a brick wall if any of Lydia’s magic had been functioning properly. Without the ability hold onto her zeon reserves, all of her wards and protections quickly faded away in only a couple of days.
Suddenly, the door to the room that housed Lydia’s crate flung open, and footsteps followed. The man grunted and looked around momentarily before approaching the crate. The jingling of keys indicated that the crate would soon have its lid popped up open and Lydia instinctively curled up tightly and covered her head with her arms for fear of what was to come in her extremely vulnerable position.
Instead of a sharp blade, or any number of imaginable outcomes, a firm hand gripped Lydia’s bicep and yanked her out of the crate and onto her feet. She wanted a moment to stretch her back and knees which had now felt stiff after being confined for so many hours, but immediately the man forced her wrists together behind her back and pushed her forward.
“Where are we going,” Lydia asked timidly, uncertain if there would be an answer or retaliation for speaking out of turn.
“To see the captain,” the man replied without slowing down.
“The captain?” Lydia decided to risk pressing for more information as far as the man would allow.
“This is a cargo ship, girly. The captain wants to inspect the goods.” Lydia’s heart sank under the weight of his words. These men wanted her for her magic. It would still be nearly three months before any of her friends knew she was missing and the escort in the Temple of the Eleven would be far to used to Lydia disappearing for months at a time to make a report.
Fortunately, it was unlikely that she’d been selected at random for labor or prostitution given the effort they’d put into her capture if she had indeed been forced into slavery as was implied. Even still, Lydia was certain that enslaving mages was no longer a legal trade, and punishments for ignoring the law were dangerously steep. With a sigh, Lydia decided that more information was needed to truly understand what was happening.
The two arrived at the upper level where the sounds of deck hands working filled the open ocean air. Lydia shivered as the misty wind pierced her clothes and hoped that she’d either be given protection or brought below deck once again. Between the size of the crew in the area, and the time it took to cross the deck, it was easy to suspect that this was a vessel of considerable size. Lydia was pushed through yet another door into a warm and quiet room. The atmosphere was still and unsettling, with only the sound of a nearby clock to break the silence.
“Kneel,” the man spoke harshly, “or I’ll make you.” Lydia did as she was told without hesitation. It was unlikely that force or defiance would accomplish much here. However, she figured, perhaps diplomacy would prove to be a valuable asset.
“You may leave us,” spoke a new and unfamiliar voice just ahead of Lydia, who now figured herself to be in the captain’s cabin. Without a word the man did so and the door to the cabin slammed shut. Lydia bowed her head humbly and remained silent.
“The name is Captain Forde. Welcome aboard my ship. What’s your name, little lady?” Forde stood from his chair and walked around his desk to stand in front of the girl.
“Lydia.” She had a flood of questions for the captain, but was unwilling to push her luck for this man as she had the one before.
“And do you know why you’re here?”
“Not with certainty, Sir.”
“Sir? My, my, you are quite sophisticated, aren’t you?” Lydia held her tongue and continued to wait for the proper moment to discuss her release. “But I think you do know, don’t you? You’d just rather not believe it. People such as yourself who possess ‘the gift’ are quite rare these days. Those who do tend to linger publicly don’t quite have the potency as someone like yourself.”
“So what exactly is it that you want from me?”
“I’m not stupid enough to keep you around long enough to let you rip my vessel’s hull to shreds and wipe out my crew. However, there are plenty of clients out and about who would pay tens of thousands of gold for a chance to control a pretty lass with so much talent,” Forde explained.
“Pardon me, but I thought the enslaving of mages was outlawed,” Lydia countered. “You’ll be hanged when the Eternia Navy hears what you’re doing.”
“Will I, now,” Forde chuckled. “I’ve been running this gig for twenty years. I can sell whatever I want at the Star Islands, honey. There sure as hell aren’t any anti-slavery laws over there. You see, as far as Eternia is concerned, I’m just a legitimate businessman trying to make some honest gold.”
“Then nothing I say can make you set me free. Perhaps you’ll take my final request, then?”
“I’ll hear it. I don’t make promises to anybody.”
“I had a gemstone around my neck. It is more valuable than my life and must be returned to the Mercurial Lighthouse.”
“What, this little old thing,” Forde asked as he pulled the gem from his pocket and began to swing it around on it’s chain. Lydia could clearly see the familiar aura emitting from the object. “This can’t be worth more than a few hundred gold.”
“Please, my request is imperative. If I’m going away, then they will need it back. If for nothing else, do it for my honor.”
“Your honor? I left you with honor when I ordered my men to leave a shirt on your back and keep their hands off of your unconscious body. You’ve got what shred of honor you’re going to keep under my watch, little lady.” Forde set the trinket in his hand on the desk before standing up and walking over to the girl kneeling on the floor. “Well, I’m not going to sit here and let you beg if that’s where this is going. I’d hoped we could have some pleasant conversation over a couple of glasses of rum.”
“I’m not in any mood for a drink, thank you. If you won’t release me, then take me back to my crate to allow me some peace to think things over for my final days of freedom.”
“I didn’t have anything so generous in mind,” Forde chuckled as he yanked on the back of Lydia’s collar and forced her to her feet. “It’s like I said before, the kindness stops with the shirt on your back. If you don’t like it, I can arrange to have it removed.”
“The shirt is quite enough then, thank you,” Lydia forced herself to speak calmly and politely despite the flaming anger that burned inside, “I am grateful for your generosity.” It would have been easy to talk smart or spit in the captain’s face in the moment, but the humiliation of submission was of a far lesser magnitude than the consequences that would have followed if the captain decided he wanted to go through with his threats.
“That’s too bad,” Forde sighed with exaggerated disappointment as he led her back out to the main deck. “Garret,” he called out.
“Aye, Captain?” It seemed the man from before had been waiting just outside the door.
“Have one of the crew bring us two buckets of fresh water along with a rag.”
“Aye Captain. Trevor! You heard the man! Two buckets and a rag!” A faint reply of acknowledgment could be heard from across the deck.
“You intend to have a blind woman clean your deck,” Lydia asked as she turned her head toward the captain and raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t like idle hands,” Forde remarked to answer her question.
“I’m quite certain that I can take care of a deck with just the one bucket of water.” The sounds of sloshing water and footsteps quickly approaching soon ending with the clunk of the buckets on the wooden deck.
“As am I,” Forde assured her as he struggled to contain a laugh. An unexpected torrent of water poured over Lydia and caused her to gasp as she was instantly soaked from head to toe. Lydia pressed her thighs together and clung tightly with her arms to her chest shivered to fend off the cold. The ocean breeze, which had been chilly before, now felt unbearably frigid. As the crew laughed at the spectacle, Forde decided to make an ever larger scene by delivering a swift kick to Lydia’s butt that sent her staggering forward and face first on the deck. “This boat had better be spotless when I get back, or you can do it again while topless.”
With the slam of the captain’s door to signal he’d left, the crew cheered and whistled loudly. Lydia spent the next half hour scrubbing on her knees like a golem and ignoring the fusillade of harassment thrown by the crew before they’d finally grown bored of her unresponsiveness and left her be. Though the rest of her body dried and warmed up to a degree, her hands and forearms were numb and tingled painfully if she moved the joints too much.
The captain never did emerge from his cabin over the next several hours of labor, or if he did he hadn’t made a fuss about the quality of her work. Lydia was grateful as there was only so much she could do being blind and in an area she hadn’t had time to map out in her mind. By the end of the day, her shoulders and back ached with stiffness. The upper decks had quieted down a considerable amount as only the hands on deck dropped to its minimum functioning amount.
Long exhausted after working from morning to dusk, Lydia became curious if the captain had forgotten about her. She stood casually while continuing to swab the deck from a crouched position on her feet and slowly made her way towards the captain’s cabin to avoid any unwanted attention. When Lydia finally reached the door, she built the courage to stand upright and open the door to slip inside. After all, what were the crew members going to do? Throw her back in the crate like she’d asked for in the first place?
As quietly as possible, Lydia eased the door closed and turned to face the captain, expecting a scolding or some sort for abandoning her task. She cleared her throat and prepared to speak before being interrupted by a long, and deep sound. Captain Forde was… snoring? Lydia grinned at the opportunity. She was practically alone in the captain’s cabin and none of the crew seemed to have seen her creep inside. The Mercurial Eye, which was the gemstone Lydia had stressed so much over, still sat in plain sight on the captain’s desk.
All she had to do, Lydia decided, was to get to it without bumping into anything else and make her way back out the door. Perhaps she could hide it somewhere until circumstances were more in her favor. Slowly and carefully, Lydia crept toward desk, trying to feel for any obstacles in the floor in front of her. It would be disastrous to assume everything was kept clean only to trip and in turn awaken the captain. Finally, the precious gem was in reach, and the girl outstretched her hand to grasp it from the surface of the desk.
Some glass object fell over and the sound of liquid spilling out of a small opening sent chills down Lydia’s spine as it told her she’d just been caught. The chair in which the captain had been resting creaked as he groaned groggily to see what the commotion was.
“That,” Forde breathed deeply to keep from yelling in anger, “was the best rum I’ve tasted in my twenty years of running this cargo vessel. You just poured it all over my lap.” Rum? Lydia hadn’t suspected that a glass object would be conveniently sitting in front of the gem. Magical aura’s could travel, to some degree, through tough materials like cloth and some thin sheets of metal. Unlike light, the glass held no authority over the aura’s travel therefore allowing it to pass like nothing had been there in the first place.
Lydia instinctively backed up several steps as the quick stride of the captain could be heard rapidly approaching. The man gripped her neck and shoved her roughly against the wall next to the cabin door.
“I would kill you right here if you weren’t worth so much damn gold alive! All for your stupid little rock, you thieving little brat! You think I wouldn’t notice if it went missing?” Lydia gagged and let out a whine of desperation as she tried to pull his increasingly tight grip off of her neck. “No,” he reminded himself and let Lydia fall to the floor, “I ain’t gonna kill you.” The girl coughed and gasped for air, relieved to finally be released from what she thought would certainly be her death. “But, I don’t mind ripping a few petals off of a rose before I deliver.”
“Please, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again,” Lydia begged with tears now streaming down her face. She couldn’t be certain what exactly he was threatening to do.
“When I’m through with you, you’ll regret even thinking of stealing from me.” Forde grabbed Lydia by the wrist and pulled her up before pinning her wrist to the wall. Before she could utter a single word, the ring of a metal blade being unsheathed barely gave the girl enough time to flinch before a cold steel dagger pierced her forearm and lodged itself deeply into the wood behind her.
Lydia grunted loudly as her own warm blood began to trickle down her arm and onto the floor. She tried forcing the blade out of the wall, but she was too fatigued and weakened ever further by the pain it caused in her arm.
“You know,” Forde spoke with a tone that was calmer after exerting some violence to ease his anger, “my father was the barbaric sort. He was a bandit, and taught me everything I know about wielding a blade.” Lydia could hear the captain walking away toward the back of the cabin as he spoke. “I wasn’t as big as he was though. I had a smaller stature and naturally had taken a liking to the rapier, a weapon of great finesse and dexterity. But my father, he liked nothing more than to sink a large axe into the chest of his opponents.” Captain Forde pulled a mounted combat axe off of the wall. “I’m sure you can’t see what I’m holding, but this axe was his.” Slowly, Forde walked back toward Lydia who’d gone pale and sweaty. She’d settled into a wilted posture as she squeeze her arm to stop the bleeding.
“Please don’t do this,” she managed to say with a trembling voice. She knew anything involving an axe couldn’t be painless.
“It’s far too late for that sort of talk, little lady. This axe hasn’t tasted human blood in a long time. I don’t figure it’s too late to change that.” Forde held the weapon with both hands over his head and took a deep breath to ensure precision. “You might want to hold still girly, I wouldn’t want to miss and hit you in the face.” Lydia cringed and braced for the inevitable.
As the axe came down with full force, Lydia’s agonized scream could be heard by the entirety of the crew. The girl’s senses blurred as she sank back down to the floor of the captain’s cabin. Her arm had been severed just below the shoulder and still hung like a slab of meat draining on a butchers hook on the wall. Blood coated her ribs and hip as it flooded onto the floor. Breathing heavy and labored breathes, Lydia grimaced and pressed her hand against her shoulder before growing dizzy and falling over onto her good arm.
The bloody axe dropped to the floor, causing it to ring as it bounced briefly before setting down on the hard wood.
“Don’t you ever try to steal from me again, little lady.”
(To be Continued)