Contains Graphic Description Of Gore
The girl knew if she stayed longer, she would die.
Leah was not sure how long she had been trapped in this wasteland. A year? Two? More? Few plants grew in this desert and water was scarce. This particular period of time, it was drier and hotter than before. She wandered from one end to the other, feeling her strength fade. There was no food, no water, and no portals that could lead her to other worlds. She had tried conjuring a portal many times, but they had always disintegrated before she could step inside. Her magic was not strong enough for that sort of power.
She sat beside a large boulder, wiping sweat off her brow. Her lips were dry and cracked. Her eyes flickered and she felt as if she were about to pass out. She could not feel her body anymore; it was as if she had become a part of the rock. She could not let herself die, not now. She was too young and had a long life ahead of her. She began to sink….
Leah made out something blurry, a figure in front of her, a hand near her face. Death. Death would take her, and bring her back to her mistress' realm where she belonged. The figure grabbed her as everything went to black.
Suddenly she awoke for the first time in her life. She blinked. She was at the same spot she was earlier. She blinked again. A wrinkled hand was in front of her, dabbing a wet cloth on her face. Her vision was clearer now; it was an old man, dressed in brown, with grayish-black hair, blue eyes, and a wrinkled face who supported her up.
Leah opened her mouth to speak to find that she could not make a sound.
"It's alright," The old man said in a soothing tone. "You are safe. Here. Drink this."
He lifted a canteen to her lips. Water. Cold, sweet, water. Her hand grabbed the canteen, trying to drink as much as she could.
"Slow down. Slow down," The old man told her. "I have food."
He took out a hunk of bread from the bag on his belt and handed to her. Bread. How long had it been since she had seen bread? It smelled so fresh; the crust hard, the middle soft, and felt warm under her fingers. She brought the bread to her mouth and ripped at it with her teeth.
"Careful child! You'll get sick!" The old man exclaimed.
She ate and drank as rabidly as a beast would devour its kill. When she was done, she dropped the canteen. She pulled away from the man and sat up straighter, slightly embarrassed.
"Thank you," her voice was hoarse. It was odd to hear her voice after not using it for so long.
"No need to thank me child. It is a waste to die in this desert."
He handed her another canteen. She drained it.
"Who are you old one?" She asked.
"I? I am no one of importance," the old man said. "I only happened to pass by."
"But that's impossible!" Leah pointed out. "This land is sealed from all!"
"Forgive me my lady, I am being rude. May I ask for your name child?" He looked her over. "You are no longer a child anymore. Forgive me again. Once you've lived eons everyone younger than you is a child."
"Leah of Hel," the girl answered, uneasy by his gaze.
"Of Hel? It is rare that I find the dead to speak, much less face death once more," the old man remarked.
"No. I am alive. I am--was a handmaiden."
"You must have been a horrid one to end up here," the old man chuckled.
"No! I wasn't punished because I didn't carry out my duty!" Leah protested. "I don't even know why I'm here."
"I see," the old man nodded. Leah opened her mouth to say something but the man quickly interrupted her.
"Do you mind if I make camp here?"
"No," she said. "I do not mind company."
The old man smiled.
"Then it is settled."
It was late at night when the old man went to sleep. She sat by the boulder and kept guard. Her ability to stay awake proved useful against the dangers the desert housed at night. Leah's thoughts kept her preoccupied. It was strange that she met someone in this wasteland, even stranger that he saved her from near death. But he had given her food and water, made sure that she did not fall ill once more, talked to her. But she did not trust him. She did not trust people easily, but there was something unsettling about this man despite his kindness. She had to be careful.
Around dawn, she went to take a stroll, making sure to stay close around the area. She was still weak, but she could easily regain her strength in a few days, and would be on her way. The wasteland forced her to build up her muscles; defending herself from predators, hunting, and from being constantly on the move.
She returned to find that the old man was awake. He was heating a fire which was cooking a pig over it. The smell of roasting meat made Leah's mouth water. The only edible animals in the desert were rabbits and lizards; pork was a welcome treat.
"Where did you get the hog?" She asked.
"I have my ways," the old man smiled. "If you walk behind the boulder you'll find a surprise."
She peeked behind to find a tub full of water. A bath! Even though she tried to keep clean, water was scarce and she went weeks without either bathing or washing her dress. It was not good for her skin which was constantly clammy and broke out just as easily as it burned. Her dress once a beautiful dark green, was now faded from the sunlight, stained by dirt, sand, sweat, and blood. She started to remove her dress when her suspicions returned. That man could spy on her.
"I promise I won't look," Leah heard him call out as if he could read her mind.
It assured her enough. She stripped and bathed. For the first time in a long time, she let herself relax, not having to worry about being attacked, having enough food, or shelter that protected her from the rain. She got out to find that there was a set of clothes, a comb, and a mirror beside the tub. They were fine clothes too, made of the softest silk, cotton, and lace. They appeared to be about her current size; her old clothes were getting tight. She put on her stockings and undergarments and picked up her new dress. She stopped and held it out to take a closer look.
Leah did not recognize it at first, but it was a dress that she had been working on before she was exiled. She remembered laboring over it every night in her cave, sewing by the light of the fire. It was green, like all her dresses had been. She was halfway done with it, the sleeves were the only parts that were missing. Someone had sewn them on for her; they were a slightly lighter green than the rest of the dress. Only she could tell the difference.
How did the old man get his hands on the dress? Why was he here? What did he want from her?
She hurriedly put on the dress and left the old clothes in the tub. She fixed her hair and looked into the mirror before going back. Her appearance had improved; she almost looked like her old self.
She walked out to the fire. Two plates of food were set out; pork, bread, and apples. A jug of water and glasses were close by. The old man looked up as she sat down and grabbed a plate.
"Your magic is extraordinary," she remarked as she took a bite of pork.
"I have had many years of practice," the old man said. "You'll get to my level if you work hard."
"You managed to get here."
"It took a lot of energy," the man sipped his water. "It would take at least a week for me to open another portal."
"I could help you," Leah said. "I've tried summoning portals before."
"Extra energy could work," the old man mused. His eyes suddenly narrowed.
"Of course we'd need to work out an arrangement if I agree to take you back. A price to pay."
Leah felt anger and fear rush through her. She dropped the apple in her hand to the floor as she jolted up.
"I will not!" She hissed. "Your tricks won't work on me! I know what you want! I've seen how you've looked at me! You will not take advantage of me and I won't let you!"
"Child," the old man started. "It is beneath me to sully a maiden. I would never lay a hand on you. This I promise. All I need is your help."
Leah wanted to hit him. She could feel her fist clenching up. She swung it back, ready to aim at his face. She stopped when she saw a flash of light.
The old man held a glass to her. It was a vanilla milkshake, heavy on the whipped cream, with a cherry on top, exactly like the milkshakes of her childhood.
"Only your help," the old man repeated.
Leah reached out her hand and took the glass from him. She grabbed at the straw and drank. It tasted the same; sweet and cold. Of a happiness and innocence that she could not get back even if she tried. She teared up as she drank.
"There, there, no tears child," the old man said in a soothing voice. He made a move to wipe a tear from her eyes but she flinched back.
"So? Do you accept?"
Leah gazed down at the empty glass. He scared her. He had tracked her down, with her things, and knew how to play with her emotions. Who was he?
But she needed to escape this land. If she did not, she knew she would die.
"I accept," was her cold answer.
The two stood in the most open part of the desert. The old man held a hand up and motioned for the young woman to follow.
"Take my hand child," he said.
"I don't trust you," she answered in a low voice. But her hand went into his.' It was thin, blue veins crisscrossing on the back, as soft as a baby's skin but frail. The old man lifted the other hand and she followed.
She did with all her might. Her hand started to shake. A bright white light flashed before them with a booming sound. A portal materialized in front of them.
Leah's heart lifted and her eyes teared again, but from joy. For the first time in ages, she let out a smile. A wide grin. She slid her hand out of the old man's and started to run to the portal.
"Not so fast."
She felt a tight grip on her arm that pulled her back.
"Unhand me!" She shouted as she tried to squirm out of the old man's grasp.
"We can't leave. I haven't explained anything yet."
"Let me go!" She tried to step on his foot and elbow him, but the old man only grabbed her other arm and locked her in.
"Now listen," he said in a sly voice. "I make sure that certain things come to pass. I have plans. Grand ones."
"My first plan was to orchestrate a murder. A boy. No older than yourself. He looked an awful lot like you," the man rasped. "It worked like a charm."
Leah continued to struggle. The old man's grip tightened even more.
"My second was my revival. I emerged from the blood spilled of a god stabbed by his brother. And I set out to work, to ensure the rest of my plans succeeded. And they will succeed."
"Let me go! I'll do what you want! I'll murder your enemies! Help you conquer worlds! Just let me go!" Leah shrieked.
The old man turned her around and dug his black nails into her upper arms. His blue eyes flashed green.
"Oh Leah," he evilly grinned. "You haven't realized. You are one of my plans."
He shoved her. She was thrown into the outer boundary of the portal which was made of pure energy. It slashed at her skin, sending shocks into her bones, violently tossing her about. She let out a blood curdling scream. It was a pain of a thousand knifes slowly digging into her, ten million lighting strikes impaling through her. She felt as if her flesh was melting. It was the end. She would die; betrayed once more, her screams the last thing she would hear, pain the last sensation she would feel, nearly blinded by the energy….
By a miracle Leah came to.
Besides the acute pain, she realized that she was lying in a pool of warm blood. Her eyes adjusted to sight; wherever she was it was not the desert. She was lying on a floor,staring up at a ceiling in a dark room, lit by candlelight. Where was she? When was she?
Shaking, Leah tried to sit up, feeling the pain shoot through her. She let out a cry. Her head spun and she feared she would be sick. Her arms reached out to support her. As she looked down, she felt the nausea return.
Her arms were covered in both blood and burns but chunks of flesh on her left arm were torn out, exposing the bone. The rest that was left intact was rotting, a dark gray color that smelled burnt. Her hand was covered in pulsating boils and one finger seemed close to breaking off.
Leah vomited. She was close to passing out again. She looked down again in horror, looking at the places where her dress had been torn apart. The left side of her body looked exactly the same as her arm; decaying gray flesh with charred bones that jutted through, boils that oozed blood and pus, and a rancid smell.
She let out another scream as she fell to the ground. She put her hands on her head to find her hair was gone. The left side of her face was covered in boils and painful to touch, as she felt her nose, a piece of skin ripped off. She wept, feeling the blood and water run down her cheeks.
Like my mistress She thought.
There was a mirror on the other side of the room. With her last strength, Leah dragged herself to it. She lifted her head and braced herself for what she would see.
No. I am my mistress