Bare feet slapped across a muddy forest floor, mindless of the barbs and roots which tore at their soles. Lithe legs pumped hard, thin arms harder still, trying to take flight and keep pace with a heart that pounded to a rhythm set by terror. Wide, dark green eyes looked onward, unblinking, with only one goal in mind: run. Run as fast as you can. Run, and do not look back.
Those fools, Dnara silently cursed. She sped through the foliage as if some great beast pursued her. Those damned fools…
They had pushed too far in their attempts to summon a sleeping god, and now their charred, burnt bodies lay in an equally burned and broken tower. She assumed them all dead, her foolish masters, but did not stay long enough to count the remains. A slave does not question the chance for escape, she simply takes it and runs.
A root tripped her stride, felling her to one knee. A nearby tree offered stability, but at the cost of her palm’s flesh against unforgiving, rough bark. The sting came sharply, drawing a tight breath between clenched teeth.
Behind her, leaves rustled, pushing her onward. No time to stand and bleed. No time to think of the splinters and pain. Run, girl, run!
She pushed from the tree and fled into the thick underbrush. Briars tore at her hair and scraped lines into her cheek. The metal collar around her neck chafed with the sweat, its ensnaring command spell as dead as the man who had maintained it. Despite the fear, Dnara smiled at the first hope of freedom and pushed into the next thicket.
It had begun as a pleasant day. Well, as pleasant as any day in which one has no say in how they spend it. Wash this. Cook that. Carry these books. No, don’t read them, stupid girl.
‘Keep quiet’ had been the last command she’d received as robed men formed a circle inside the tower, intricate lines drawn on the floor in milky chalk. Then the men began speaking in their strange, monotone tongue. A light formed in the circle. A great rumble trembled the earth. Then… darkness. Darkness that screamed. Darkness that raged. Darkness that was alive.
And the heat… Oh, the heat! Like lightning hitting the earth. Dnara remembered being pushed back, thrown away from the tower and into the muck, feeling as if she’d been struck by that lightning. Her skin still crawled with the sensation.
Mages and their hubris. Dnara spit an unspoken curse to the side as she ran. Fools, all.
The earth shook again and she fell hands down into the mud. This time, no tree offered to save her. The ground rumbled on, pebbles dancing and brown muck bubbling. Her thin linen dress and hempen apron soaked up the rippling puddle, the cloth already brown and slightly singed around the edges. Holding up the charred end of her apron string, she counted her blessings to still be breathing even as her lungs burned. Maybe she had been struck by lightning… Would be her luck, she thought.
As she paused to catch her breath, her skin began to itch. From the earth below her fingers came shattered lines of light which sank into her arms and filled her veins. With a frightened cry, she pulled away only to be tethered back down into the sodden earth. A roaring voice exploded from the undergrowth behind her and her legs tried desperately to run, but her arms remained anchored to the ground, unable to move. The voice spoke no words she could understand, and it filled her heart with dread.
Would be her luck, to taste freedom only to die a moment later.
Would be her luck, indeed.
Giving in to what would come, she closed her eyes to accept what fate had brought her. It could be no worse than where she had been. In a way, she reached for it, the freedom death might offer. But as the lightning dug into her soul, in the very final second before letting go, she held on to what life remained.
Clawed for it. Cried out for it.
Live. Gods take their price, she wanted to live!
A powerful force hit her, moved through her, sucking away the breath from her lungs and igniting the lightning under her skin. Nameless, primal ether consumed her, then it cascaded from her like silent thunder. A choice given, a price accepted.
Centered in a circle of broken briars and felled trees, Dnara collapsed. Birds took flight overhead, a storm of grey feathers filling her fading vision. As the world around her went black, the faceless voice spoke one final word on the wind; one which she could understand.
When next Dnara awoke, it would become clear that what one being considers a gift, another may consider a curse.