Emily’s eyes fluttered open to see a clear sky. So this is what death is like, she thought to herself. She was being gently rocked back and forth, like when her mother would hold her as a child. She began to notice that her breathing was pained. Her lungs felt sore, like she had been vomiting again. She lifted her head to see that she wasn’t dead; she was in a boat. A dark figure, shadowed by the sun, was operating it. Emily was wrapped in what looked like a bundle of blankets. She wriggled a bit to know that she had full control of her body. She felt a bit panicked, but was relieved to know that nothing bad had happened to her thus far, so she must have been safe. She couldn’t be too relaxed, however.
“Where am I?” Emily asked. Her voice was hoarse and quiet.
The man turned. Emily could see what looked like dark skin and long ears, like an elf, but... dark. It was unusual. His hair, though gleaming in the sun, looked to be some kind of shade of white. “You were falling from the sky. Now, you’re on your way to shore. Try to get some sleep, lass.”
“Who are you? What is this place?”
“Don’t worry about who I am, and you’re in the ocean.”
“Wh-where is the ocean?”
“Have you lived under a rock your whole life? I suppose it can’t be helped... Listen, just lie back and I’ll explain.”
Emily did as told by instinct, then just listened as the man explained what he knew. She dropped from the balcony of the pleasure house before being plucked out of the water and onto the boat. Apparently, the man had been fishing nearby when she fell. There was some shouting from the balcony, but the man thought it would be a better idea to get her away from that place. It only made sense, judging by all of the rumors about it. Emily was now being taken to shore at an opposite island where she would be free to do as she wished. It seemed less than wanted in her eyes. She was alone and didn’t know what to do. She had never experienced life outside of the Panther, so this was all completely new to her.
“Where, uh- where do I go?”
“That’s up to you, lass.”
“What if I don’t know where I want to go?”
“I’m sure you’ll find somewhere.”
“But I don’t know of anywhere.”
The man turned his whole body to look at her. “You really have no idea what is outside that building?” The only response he got was a nod. He sighed, “Fine. I guess you’re with me, then.”
Emily sat up, but winced from pain and lied back down. “But I don’t even know who you are.”
“Don’t worry about it, like I said. Now, get some sleep.”
She still wasn’t so sure about the situation she was in, but Emily obliged. She covered her face with the blankets, despite the heat getting to her, and let the gentle rocking of the boat drift her to sleep.
When she awoke again, the boat was being tied to a dock. Emily was told to get up, which she hesitantly obeyed. She wriggled her way out of the blanket cocoon to see that she was still wearing her mother’s robes. They weren’t wet anymore, but they certainly weren’t pleasant having been soaked in seawater. She nearly fell off into the water again when trying to get onto the dock, but the man helped her up. She was very light- the years of malnourishment had taken a heavy toll on her body. This reminded her of something: she was starving.
“You don’t happen to have any food I could eat, do you?” Emily was shy; she wasn’t sure at all how to talk to this person.
“We only have a short walk. You’ll manage.” The man was dressed in a worker’s outfit. He didn’t appear to be anything like the other men in the Panther. He didn’t seem like them at all. Maybe not everyone is like those people. Maybe not everywhere is like that place, Emily thought. She held hundreds of questions in her mind, but didn’t plan on asking any of them. She knew they probably wouldn’t be answered yet.
The two of them walked over the wooden dock. The dock had many boats and past the dock was a small marketplace. There were people strolling through the markets, chatting and laughing. Emily had never seen people that were so happy before. The man led Emily through the crowd. She got some weird looks from some of the passersby. She probably still had some blood on her and her hair was probably a mess. I must look like a freak.
Emily was taken past the marketplace into what looked like a town square. There were houses lining what looked like an image of a stag in the center stone floor. Some people were sat at tables around the area, but none seemed to really pay attention to the two of them. The place they went to was a house right near the end of the circle. It was small, much smaller than the Panther. Inside, there was a bar with drinks lined on it and some tables to sit at. There were more tables than there were people, so this must have been a community building.
“This is my tavern. It’s my home.” The man prodded her along to a staircase. She ascended it to see a small bed and drawers. An even smaller desk was on the other side of the room. It was maybe half the size of her room in the Panther, but it was alright. She was just happy to not be in the Panther anymore.
Emily spun around. “So, this... is...” The man was gone. She could have sworn he was right behind her, but he was gone. She took to the steps again and looked down in the main tavern room. There were people smiling and laughing at a few of the tables. A woman was behind the bar cleaning an empty glass. She looked up to Emily on the steps. “The room suit you, dear?” Emily blinked, unsure of what just happened.
“The room, dear.” The woman persisted.
Emily looked over and shook her head. “I don’t believe I’ll be staying. I thank you for your kindness.” She smiled at the woman, then stepped over to the door.
“We’ll be seeing you again,” the woman spoke cheerfully, as if foreseeing the future.
Emily placed a hand on the knob of the door, then stopped. She looked directly at it, not really finding it familiar whatsoever. This isn’t happening, she thought to herself. She turned the knob and swung the door open. The sky was now a grayish-white color with the clouds barely covering the shining sun. It was a different sky than she had remembered as the clouds seemed to be much, much closer. In fact, everything seemed very flat and gloomy. The cobblestone road that led from the tavern to the center of the city was dark and mossy. The individual stones were crumbling away to show dust below. The plants nested in a small pot of dirt on the window sill of the tavern were seemingly of a monochromatic shade and looked as if they had not tasted sunlight for ages. Common folk trudged by with their heads down, seeming very unnatural.
“Heard o’ the ol’ Empress and her new laws, Miss?” A young boy’s voice lit up the world from the side. The voice originated from the dry lips of a hungry-looking, freckled child. He was holding out a newspaper to Emily with a huge headline:
“WEAPONS OUTLAWED - WORK HOURS DOUBLED”
Emily raised her hand to wave the boy off, but a voice caught both of their attention. A loud, boisterous man was speaking from a soap box in the center of the town square. Well, town circle to be precise.
“We will not live with Lacedonia’s tyranny! Down with the Empress! Down with the Empress!” The man continued to yell to the crowds that were shuffling by. Emily took the distraction as a chance to find her way out of this place. She wasn’t sure this was where she wanted to be because of all of the negative feelings she had about it. Nothing felt right about this town, which was a shocker knowing where she grew up at.
Emily moved into the crowds and began to hear snippets of conversations which helped her to get a little bit of an understanding of what was going on.
“...husband comes home from the mine every night with new bruises...”
“I hear she sleeps in satin sheets. I have nothing but a pile of hay!”
“Quiet, little one. We don’t want the guards to get antsy again...”
Emily pushed her way out of the crowds and looked forward to see the road leading out of town. It was eerie and held little promise of safety, which was almost what she expected. She looked back one more time. The man on the soap box was being dragged off by men in suits of leather and armor. He was screaming about the Empress the whole time. Who is this woman? She thought.
As she was turning back to the road, her line of sight stopped on an empty doorway. A splatter of something dark coated the wall of a house. The flicker of a candle was just barely able to see through the dirty window. Why would someone leave their door open like that? It’s indecent. Emily walked up to the open doorway and peered inside. The house was very dark and wasn’t about to lighten up. A thin, misty fog covered the floor at ankle level which complimented the freezing air. In the corner, a chair was very slowly rocking back and forth. The armrests were splintered and falling apart.
Emily began to step a foot inside the house when a rumbling shook the ground beneath her. Next she knew, she was pulled and flying backwards out of the doorway. After opening her eyes again, she saw dark, claw-like blades had shot out of the floorboards right where she just was. Above her, a figure stood with its hands smacking together angrily. A voice joined in the little routine which shared the same angry tone.
“What do you think you’re doing, wand’rng into an accursed house? Don’cha know any better?!”
Emily crawled backwards away from the man with a horrified look in her face. He kept on screaming at her about the kill house. She got up and ran, but heard, “-And get some damn clothes on, woman!” from behind her. As she ran behind some houses, she noticed that she had still not managed to get herself something more decent to wear. It wasn’t too modest to be wearing such ragged underwear.
Maneuvering from corner to corner, Emily eventually stopped in front of a tailor’s shop. She entered with the sound of a bell ringing overhead and a stout dwarf’s cheerful “Good day!” from the counter. Emily smiled at him in acknowledgement and then looked around the shop. She saw many beautiful gowns and outfits that she liked, but she didn’t see the very curious look from the tailor. Within a few moments, the dwarf had moved to the back of the shop, which would be odd for a shopkeeper to do. Emily was not aware of this as she continued her shopping.
So many to choose from. She eventually stopped at a full leather outfit. It was light, but durable. The pants featured a thinner and tighter material, but also had straps of leather in a dress fashion coming out of the waistline. As she began to put on the outfit, she had to discard her corset. She knew she wouldn’t need it anymore. From across the shop, a family’s children stared wide-eyed and at the woman changing in public.
Emily finished changing into her new outfit. It fit well as the clothes were designed to either form around the body or lay loosely on the shoulders or hips. From the back, the dwarf emerged with a holstered dagger. As he laid his eyes on Emily, he grew bright red. “Oi, what are you doing?! You gotta pay fer that!” He drew the dagger and pointed it at the now fleeing Emily. The dwarf was shouting at her and her first instinct was to get out as soon as possible. Nearly as soon as she got out of the tailor’s shop, guards had arrived and had her surrounded.
Emily shrieked as one of the guards moved to grab hold of one of her wrists. She resisted and struggled, but was too frail too overpower a town guardsman. Suddenly, however, the guard withdrew his hand and yelled in pain. “Witch!” he exclaimed as he grabbed hold of his own wrist, seeing that holes had been burned through his gloves and fire had scarred his hand. “By the Voidwalker’s Realm, she’s a damned witch!” Emily looked down at her wrist to see it bright red. Her veins were glowing orange and yellow all while pulsating rapidly.
The guards still surrounded Emily, but stayed far back. A crowd had formed to see what all the ruckus was about, to which they saw Emily staring bewilderedly at her own nearly flaming forearm. Hushed whispered rattled through the crowd, all some variation of, “Is it true, a witch?” or “Mages have not existed here for years.” A few guards held their arms out to hold the crowd back, but some just watched for Emily’s next move. She, however, kept still and had actually begun to tremble on the ground. I’m no witch, she thought. They have it all wrong.
Emily shakily stood up from the dirt, put her magic-imbued wrist in her other hand, and then faced the crowd. She opened her mouth to speak, but then an arrow pierced the ground before her. She yelped and jumped back an instant before the entire area had become clouded in smoke. Screams rang out and the crowds scattered. Heavy foot falls shook the roof above Emily until she felt the ground thud around her as two figures dropped down. They took hold of her and she immediately felt herself being lifted off the ground. Emily wriggled and screamed, but she could still not see anything. Before she knew it, a fist flew to meet her face, pulling darkness to envelop her vision.