Tally Marks This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 6, 2017

Pale sunlight from the sun's early rise flooded into my cell, it's soft and sensitive light exaggerated the defining shadows and highlighting the ruggedly carved tally marks that covered the wall of my dingy cell. My eyes flickered around the room, still sluggish from the fitful sleep that had haunted me for more days than I could count. My malnourished form had thrust itself into one of the small crumbling corners in an attempt to conserve my body heat. Managing to propel myself forward, the best I could without toppling over due to the binds on my bony wrists, which at the moment, seemed quite content to play that dangerous circulation cutting game that they had played for the past week or so.


A smirk played its way onto my sunken face, I knew in just a few hours time I would be dead, my head cut off and paraded around the town as some sort of trophy perhaps, with my limp carcass somewhere tossed out and rotting. A hollow laugh escaped my dry and cracked lips, I would die, I had accepted that fate long ago, but I wouldn't be the only one meeting death, this I was certain of.


Tears blinded my eyes as the sun’s despising glare blasted itself onto my fragile eyes, I hadn’t seen the sun for so long, and now I remember why I hated it as much as I did. Even in my final hour's mother nature had assured herself that she would have the last laugh. My body still dripping wet from the bucket of water the warden had thrown on me to clean me of my “outer filth” which, it had done very little of its intended job, instead, it had only succeeded in making me cold and wet.


The harsh slap I received from an unknown figure brought me out of my childish rant. Tilting my sunken face upwards towards the figure, a smile tainting my lips, making me look demented, just like they believed I was. The figure, who I could now Identify as male, looked me over, his rugged face, which I could only just see if I squinted hard enough against the sun’s rays, was unshaved, oily, and had several scars running across his protruding nose, a sense of nostalgia flooding through me and even though his face gave no indication of his reaction towards me, I could tell he was frightened, the way he held his arms tight against him, shoulders squared back with his back arched back to make himself appear taller.


My sadistic smirk fought itself onto my lean face, his eyes, though, were my favorite, holding repugnance and disgust when he managed to glance at me. I was laughing now, the hollow sound reverberated through my malnourished form, leaning forward I peered at him, my eyes showing excitement and bloodlust.


“So, today’s the day is it not? Are your men all lined up for the execution, or are you going to parade me through town some more, you useless oaf?” I kept my tone sickly sweet, knowing my face showed the malice that I truly felt.


His face fell slack at my not so sweet words, his expression, much to my disappointment, lasted only a moment before switching back to its previous annoyed look. The blundering man turned to the side before nodding to who I can only assume is a fellow soldier.


Two hands roughly hauled me up from my kneeling position on the dirt floor that lay under the white tent that the previous men had stored me in. Looking back up to the man who I could now fully see, thanks to the shade from my makeshift cell, I was taken aback at how young he was, no older than thirty at most, had the empire really stooped so low as to accept under trained men, who were almost guaranteed to die? Throwing away the unwanted thought, it didn’t matter anyway, not anymore, at least. Giving the man whose name I’d never bothered to obtain, a sweet smile.


“This was fun, I would suggest doing it again sometimes, that is, if you weren’t going to die just like the other useless pigs out there!”


My morbid sentence ending in an insane giggle, I didn’t care anymore, if I was honest, maybe I never had, all that mattered now was how many of those brutes I could bring down with me. Having been blinded by my overbearing thoughts I failed to notice that the sweaty hands that had my arms in an iron grasp had begun to pull me forward with them, dragging out of a mock sense of security that the tent had provided. The two rough hands hauled me fully to my feet which made a satisfying crunch against the worn yet sharp gravel, the hands that were now clasped on my bound hands that were neatly tucked behind my back, just out of reach.


We trudged down the trodden path, that many executees before me had walked, some sobbing while others held their heads high as a calling stork. I was neither of those though, I knew what I did was wrong, I knew those people hadn’t deserved the fate that I had burdened them with, I just didn’t care, these people were evil, just like the man who sat on his golden throne, stuffing his face like you would a cattle for slaughter. The same man who watched helplessly as his wife and children were taken from him, their bodies limp and hanging, the slash marks that lined his beloved’s neck tainting the starch white snow a sinister red, his children’s cries muffled against the potato sack hood, the man who never realised that his youngest daughter escaped her captor only to find that her father had given up in finding his lost daughter and instead cast her out like yesterday's rubbish.


Hatred steamed under my skin as I remembered everything that had transpired before this moment, the hunger, the searing headaches, the woman’s silhouette against the brick of the alleyway, the knife, the tears. I hadn’t wanted to kill her, but she left me no choice. Tears welled up in the corners of my eyes yet refused to spill. Shaking away the unnecessary thoughts, I lifted up my hollowed face towards the city streets that were ahead, I could already hear the roaring of the ravenous crowd that thirsted for my demise.


There may have been a period where I had languished the very notion of meeting my eternal demise, but that time was no long upon me. Blustering to myself as I was piloted through the toneless cobble brick streets, I turned my head away as I descried the macabre yowls of the berserk horde of people just a few blocks away. I was now in spitting distance of the ocean of settlers, their eyes exhibiting the unkempt rage they felt at one of their own being savagely murdered by the disgusting hands of a lone rogue, who they believed simply needed a few copper coins. That reason, however, was far from the truth. Blocking out the boisterous noise of the god's forsaken crowd I stepped up onto the vibrant white painted platform.


Rearing my head upwards towards the mob I beamed at the infuriated men and women. Smirking I cleared my throat that tasted of sandpaper and ash,“ this has been fun, honestly, being here was an absolute pleasure! Now I’m afraid, though, that I have overstayed my welcome, no matter, though! I’ll be taking my leave now.”
Just as the words were uttered I yanked myself free from myself free from my cloth binds that had ensnared my wrist for much too long.


Everything seemed to be moving at a funeral pace, shock mirrored on everyone’s sickening faces. Snatching the small dagger that I had bribed one of the brutes that posed as guards to smuggle through to me, I plunged the small blade through the silver chest plate of the young guard, his wailing screams piercing the toxic air.


It was like a bomb had shattered the place. Children's cries became broken and hoarse as their mothers and fathers bound them up, guards rushed at me, their burnished swords thrust forward in an attempt to skewer my lean body. Barely managing to avoid the sharp objects hurled my way as I hoisted the deceased guards shining sword into the air, I wasn’t going out today. I would make my father pay for his treason, one way or another!
Sinister red liquid painted the innocent snow, corpses sprawled everywhere. The wind no longer frolicking in the tree canopies, the air was thin and my breaths came as ragged gasps as I implore the grotesque scene that I had created, enthralled by the sense of nothing that had contaminated the now desolate village. The fight had been straightforward after the woman and children had escaped.


Cautiously wandering the village, my steps creating a thunderous boom against the red splattered stones. Only stopping when I heard a meek groan, turning my head towards the pathetic noise, my body remaining stand still. The groan rang out from one of the collapsed huts, stepping towards the threshold of the dainty home. I espied the fact that there were two armored legs poking out from under the dull mound of rubble.


Sighing to myself in discontent, I leaned forward grasping on to the silver and gold armored ankles, tugging the figure, who I assumed was male, out of the toneless heap. My muscles ached in agitation when I pulled myself upwards again, reminding me that I too, was human. Stepping over the man’s bloody body, his right arm mangled, twisted like the gnarl in a tree root. A whimper escaped his cracked lips, pleading for mercy, pleading for help.


Sliding the plated helmet off his battered head, I was mortified by what I discovered underneath. The soldier from early, the one I had goaded, and snarled at, his face adorning many cuts, blood seeping into the building ocean of blood round his matted and greasy main of hair. I stared at him, enthralled by the waterfall of red liquid. Taking a scrap of cloth from my tattered tunic, I wiped the liquid that coated his eyes and forehead revealing the strangely familiar face that I hadn’t been able to place before now.


“He must have extirpated you as well, aye, brother?” My voice was broken, yet cold. I felt no empathy towards my dying brother, whom I hadn’t gazed upon since that night many years ago. He had lost my love when he separated from me, to follow in our infernal father’s steps.


“I bet you thought you were important to him, yes? I bet you believed to be more than just another pawn in his cruel game of chess! How idiotic and child like you’ve become brother! I mean, just look at you now, you’re lying here, dying! The life’s ebbing out of your body… And, and it’s all my fault!”


Tears fell down my gaunt face as laughter swelled within me, insanity eating away at my mind, tormenting memories threatening to overtake my mind, but guilt, guilt was something I had never done well with.
Grabbing The leather hilt of the sword that was covered in the blood of those who opposed me. I relished the gleam it gave in response to the blaring sun, turning towards my brother, whose eyes were now open and hazily peering at me, with his eyes now lit with disbelief. Tears dotting his ugly hazel eyes as he muttered out the last word I wanted to hear.


“Elswyth!” His voice was cracked and raw, dropping and escalating different octaves as it went, but the word was there.


My name, the name I hadn’t heard for so many years, the name that filled me with a bitterness that rivaled that of a Red Maple tree.


“Don’t you ever call me that! That’s not my name any longer, and you know it!” I despised the way my old name passed through his lips so easily, no hint of bitterness or hatred.


No indication of what a monster his sister had become.


His chest heaved up and down as he struggled to push himself up, he was dying, that was painstakingly obvious,
“Sister, please I didn’t know, I believed you to be dead! Father informed me that you had jumped into the canyon, I-” His words failed him as his armor-clad chest gave one last heave before falling still, his torso falling backwards onto the bleak cobble road. His eyes glazed and bleary stared at the endless sky above. He was dead. Glancing down at my sword, the one I had thrust in and out of his feeble chest, blood dripped from the blade and onto the stone road, creating an evil colour palate that painted my picture of insanity.


“You see brother, father’s game of chess is ruthless and boring, I much prefer cat and mouse, because, you see, I never play fair.”


My words were true enough, I had always hated my father’s games and much preferred my own, they were always more entertaining. I had failed to noticed that tears had built up in my bleary green eyes, leaving them to fall, mixing with the blood of my brother, and many other unknown soldiers. Pushing myself upwards, balancing myself on my shaky feet, I nabbed the leather satchel of supplies I had raided from the village. Starting my trek out of the village and to the unknown, I would find my father and he would pay dearly. Casting a final farewell glance towards the village, a tear slipped down my cheek as I murmur the words that hadn´t been spoken since many years ago.


¨Farewell brother, may the warmth of everlasting slumber greet you and mother for many moons to come, I love you...Abbadon, tell mother I said hello,¨ my parting message still lingering on my lips as I drew a shaky breath from the clean air that resonated from the neighboring forest, turning I began my trek West, towards Demogorgon, the capital where my father resides, I would get my revenge even if it tears my dying gasp from my bare throat, that was my salvation for the time being in this repulsive world.


Two days, I had been trekking for two days, my stomach felt hollow and had stabbing pains from what felt like broken shards of glass. My throat was dry, a desert which had once held life, a desert that was now desolate and its resources run dry, leaving an empty husk. I had past few streams that lay on the side of the downtrodden path, and each time I gained a small fill of water, not taking many chances of the water being polluted or poisoned for that matter, with all the items those peasants rid themselves off by placing them into the water, I wasn't taking chances. Food was a different story, though, I had yet to spy a single deer or fowl, the gnawing in my stomach caused me to feel heavy and bloated despite not eating much else besides the few scanty carrots that I had snatched from the village miles back now.


I recognized the atrocious fact that my existence would be prolonged no more, if I couldn't find the resources I so desperately needed. The only way I would manage to get food, since there was no game or foul, was to rob one of the smaller cities, and to pray to the gods that the civilians there had no intelligence of my bloody escape. The only minor farming city that I had never had the assignment of being acquainted with was the small city of Ashby, it’s fitting name, meaning ash tree farm, leaves little to the imagination of what the most recurring occupation is. It was only a mile or so from my location, from what I remember about it from one of my stale history lessons with professor Aethelberht, who may have been an agreeable teacher, in his own time, had become platitudinous and vague. 


Looking down at my ratty tunic and lacerated trousers, I knew I’d have to steal more than just food. If I wanted any chance at managing through the bitter air of the mountains to reach the Demogorgon, I would need better equipment to deal with more than just frostbite and the risk of starvation. With newly discovered ambition I began the final stretch towards Ashby, towards food, the next step towards my revenge.


My back ached in discomfort and I was lethargic from the cold, my breath came in dry pants as I sweat, despite the air around me being a moderate temperature. My body lay in a near comatose state, just off the pathway, having collapsed as I was nearing the last bend in the road before the town. I was nearing my end I could acknowledge that much in my sorry state. My body contorted and shook with every breath I took, an earthquake thundering through my abdomen as I took another shaky breath. My sword lay by my side, it’s blade painted with my own blood, sliding down off the blade and joining the demonic puddle that was beginning to envelop me form. I hadn’t expected to be mugged on the road side, especially so close to a city! Now, though, I was paying the price of being unprepared and reckless. The blade of my own sword having plunged into my shoulder. Not a fatal wound, if you had a healer or doctor accompanying you. In my weakened state, however, I doubted that I could make it to the city before giving out to blood loss. A hollow smile grew on my bedraggled face, accepting my fate, accepting failure.


¨I'll be joining you and mother before long, Abbadon. Please forgive my betrayal brother...¨ My dying words faded out into nothing, the feeling of abandonment pounding against


my heart, I had forgotten what this felt like, to be lonely. As I shut my eyes and listened to the gentle call of nature, the bird´s high-pitched song played amongst one another, each their own unique composer to their own melodies. A final sigh escaped my lips, a farewell message, a parting word, I was so wrapped up in my own situation, though, that I failed to notice the child making his way towards me as I drifted farther back into my mind and into a comatose state.


My body was awake before my mind, adrenaline pumping through my veins, I could hear the sound of arrows piercing the hardened bark of the various types of trees that I was now struggling to dodge. A broken scream pierced the air, quickly becoming muffled, my feet creating dull thumps on the forest floor, I had no clue of where I was, no inkling of how I got here. Was I dead? I didn’t believe so as I could still feel the harsh pain of hunger that pulsed through my abdomen, I could feel the spongy moss under my bare feet, I could feel the jagged ends of branches that had drug themselves across my skin. I was alive as far as I could tell, whether it would stay like that, though, was another story.


I was covered in blood, whether it was mine or someone else's, I couldn't tell. Looking in the direction of my shoulder I observed the fact that there were now clean white bandages protecting the wound.


“Who put those there?” I asked the woods, not expecting to receive an answer I slowed my furious pace, I could no longer hear the thunder of pursuing footsteps, nor the muted thump of arrows that pierced the fallen logs and thick trees. My stomach was empty and had needle like pain pulsing through my lower stomach, it seemed that whoever had patched up my lesion had not managed to rouse me awake enough to feed me. My throat and tongue were moist and cool, though, showing that I had drunk some kind of liquid in past hour or so.


Sighing, I had not the faintest idea of where I was, was I still near Ashby?  Not certain what to do next I stood, the winds calming song fluttered through my unkempt mess of hair, blowing across my face serenading me to the point where I could nothing but hum in content. The pain in my stomach, forgotten at the present time, having also been lost in the winds tranquil words, no longer growled in agony and was now as silent as the moss below my scraped feet.


In my session of contentment, however, I failed to notice the guard with the unmistakable design of the head of an ash guardian, fire and magma seeping over the corners of its exposed shards that hung low from its mouth, sharp pieces of loose ash rock that substituted for teeth, it´s head showing resemblance to that of a monstrous wolf.     


The burly man notched his arrow, pulling back the spring wood bow, it's springy wood quivering under the weight from his iron grasp. Snap! He let the arrow spring forward in his attempt at catching me off guard, but I was ready, tearing away from the man, I hightailed my way towards, what I hoped was a city, my heart shuddered in my chest like the panels of a window slamming shut in a storm, rising up into my throat. My mouth having the lingering taste of stomach bile and blood.


Leaping over small boulders, thundering steps trailing me, his voice, miffed and indigent carrying through the underbrush, threats and petty words forcing their entrance to my mind, an attempt to provoke me enough to attack him, he most likely has other guards waiting on standby, so that if  I attack they can capture me and place me in custody that day. Forcing my form into some auburn underbrush, it’s prickly ends jabbing into my arms, creating small crimson streams that dripped from my arm.


¨Come on little girl, don't you feel bad knowing you killed all those people? Just give up and face justice, it’ll save us a lot of time,¨ His voice was rough and mocking, showing little remorse.


His words made me freeze, though, feel bad? Did I feel bad? No, I, though, I don’t feel bad. After all, it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve done this-


My thoughts are cut off by clomping thuds. Bursting out of the underbrush I darted forward, pushing through the branches that seemed ever so eager to caress my face. I would escape this, muffled yelling forcing their way through the muting branches.


Their footsteps becoming silent as I drew farther and farther away from them, My heart still pounded, having dropped to my stomach like a stone in a lake, I had to keep moving, who knew if they would come back? The trees grew sparser, and their frames now springy and wiry. Light streamed through the almost bare forest, trickling in like a stream. A feeling of calmness now overtaking me, as I had just spied the Southern wall of Ashby.


I stayed in Ashby for two days, not having had another run in with those treasonous guards, I had been taking up odd jobs here and there, along with purchasing salted meat and many refillable water skins, made from the moleskin that the hunters had trapped in their last run to the tundra. I also picked up a new set of clothing, hide boots, a green tunic, and brown trousers, simple but it felt nice to once again be clean. My hair after multiple washes has regained somewhat of its former shine, no longer knotted and distressed it was now sleek and smooth, it’s former copper colour no longer appearing to be the same colour as the bottom of a pig’s pen. Sadly, though my time in Ashby has come to an end, after all, I had a mission to do, and I was nearing the end.
Stepping onto the worn pedestal of the sturdy carriage, it’s worn supports squealing with protest as I placed my foot in the wrong spot.


“Maybe not so sturdy, huh,” I muttered sarcastically to myself as I proceeded to toss my leather knapsack onto the weathered bench.


Purposefully ignoring the driver as he told me to hurry up, I went at my own leisure making sure I wasn’t going to be planting myself onto bird dung, “What a charming entrance that’d make, ah yes excuse me I’ve appeared to have sat in some dung, does anyone have a towel?”


Snorting to myself as I continued the scenario in my head as I took my seat on one part of the weathered seats. The wheels, slowly but surely began to roll, starting my safer trip to destroy my father.


Jolting awake, the crescent moon illuminating the city that had came into view, the moonlight shed calming light over the bulky jagged walls. The mysterious shadows, never truly being able to tell what had taken refuge in them, at least, not until it was already much too late. Casting my head towards the starlit sky, reminiscing about all that had transpired the last week or so. There had been more blood than I would have liked, more death as well, but I would just have to weather it out till next time. For now, that gave me the motivation to keep moving on.


Stepping off the carriage, I came to the full realization about how much had truly changed, the once joy full city, no longer had music flooding through the out side and filling the air, no, now all the filled the air was a deathly silence, one that seemed to make the air thick and heavy. The trees that used to dance and twirl in the wind now stood, still and silent, having seemingly lost the childish life that they had held throughout my childhood.
Stepping through the immensely broad gates, I was appalled at the scene that lay before my very eyes. Bodies piled into stacks, charred corpses flooding the streets like clumps of paint on a canvas. The crumbling foundation of the many buildings that I had strolled past with my brother on late Sunday evenings, lay crumbled onto the red brick street, charred and shattered, having the same fate as the broken bodies that surrounded them.


Taking delicate steps through the lethal mess, careful not to misplace my steps, who knew what I could land on if I fell?  Nearing the dramatic steps that lead towards the place I had called home for a good portion of my life. Abandoning my memories, a sense of nostalgia filling my chest. How many times have I trudged up these stairs? A sigh of annoyance fluttered through my chest, I was so tired of this, why couldn’t things go back to the way they were, why did I have to do this… Tears flooded my weary eyes but my body was much too exhausted to wipe them away, as I reach the top of the grand steps, casting one final glance back towards the city that had once been filled with life, now was only a wilting flower, drifting away, leaving only a reminisce of the prior life, a shell. Pivoting once again to face the manor, the only building that wasn’t charred and crumbling, leaning all of my weight against the door, It's heavy panels giving way, swing open. Drawing a deep breath, my heart beating like the pounding of a racing horses hooves, I cautiously tread into the unknown, not knowing what would lay ahead of me this time.


The corridor was dimly lit, the only light illuminating from various candles that were sparsely placed against the walls. Cold air blew against my neck, making me shudder. The portraits eyes seemed to trail after my form as I entered into the throne room. The room was spacious, The small steps that lead up to the thrones were still their polished white, just like I remembered, but that’s not what drew my attention.


My father sitting on his throne with a smug look, no guilt or remorse shown on his face. Tears making my sight distorted, blinking them back the best I could, scowling I faced him.


“What brings you here?” His voice held venom and mockery, he knew exactly what he’d done. “Where’s your brother? Of course you killed him too, I would expect no less from someone like you,” His voice now held malice, like I was the evil one here.


Clenching my fists tight, my face red with rage, my visions slight teetering informed me that I was shaking with rage. Tears beginning to pour from my eyes I glanced up, “You know what you did, and I’ll kill you as well. But, first I need to know why, why? Did you doom your people? Why did you leave us to die? Why...Why did you abandon us?” My words were quite, desperate for answers that I knew I would never get. His smirk widened, showing pearly white teeth.


“We already know how this is going to play out, so you might as well just get it over with,” His voice held no insanity, no rage, he was calm and collected just as he had been the past few times. Glancing down at the blade of my sword, it’s silver reflection giving it a gleaming appearance. With shaky hands that grasped the hilt of the sword I turned, my father had moved from his spot on the throne and was now kneeling on the ground, his eyes seemed faded, his focus appeared to be on something I could not see.


Lifting the sword I plunged it through his chest, breaking through the skin almost instantaneously. Father weakly lifted his head, a smile gracing his features as if he wasn’t coated in his own blood, it made him appear the man I remembered, the father I adored.


“You were such a good puppet dear, but now it’s time to reset, I love you,” His last words were fleeting and raspy but, I had little to no time to hear them as a sword plunged through my chest.


Falling onto the granite floor, pain pulsing through my chest, My vision fading in and out. A fire was burning in me, a scream clawing its way out of my throat. The last thing I saw was a small child strutting up to my body before I became dead to the world and my pain.


At the end of the day, what was pain? What was hate? What was love? I lay floating the dark abyss, aware of nothing but the endless black of space. It wasn’t like I hadn’t done this before, after all I’ve been through, after all I’ve done, it means nothing. A scream of rage tore its way out of my dry throat. Rage, my last emotion.
My skin, my skin was burning! Thrashing my body, my nails raking along my sensitive skin, blood filling the air, the sickening scent of iron overtaking my senses like the scent of pollen in the summer afternoons. My screams echoing throughout the air, resembling that of a caged animal, panting, tears pouring out my eyes like waterfalls. Someone, please, end me. Blurry flashes of light blinding my eyes, flashes of shattered memories gracing my thoughts, the terrible deeds I had committed this time around forcing their way into the light, forcing themselves to be noticed. Becoming aware of the glowing orb in my vain attempts at ceasing my suffering, the flashes almost fully overtaking my tremorous vision, I reached out, pleading for my suffering to stop. Grasping the orb, its pleasant warmth heating my frigid hands as I allowed fatigue to over take my soul once again.


Pale sunlight from the sun's early rise flooded into my cell, it's soft and sensitive light exaggerated the defining shadows and highlighting the ruggedly carved tally marks that covered the wall of my dingy cell. My eyes shifting open, it’s time to play the game again.






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