Zoe's Story

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Post  Summer on Sun Jan 13, 2013 7:17 am

Sup; I’m Zoe. Don’t ask for my surname – I don’t remember. The Lady of Silvered Torment took it from me the same day she took my home, my history and my humanity. You think you’re hard done by because they took you from your family? Me, I don’t even have a country.
I was five – I do remember that. Well, practically six, really. I’d felt someone watching me for a couple of weeks before, but on the eve of my sixth birthday, that’s when She came for me. Sometimes I wish I’d known enough to run – but wishing alone can’t change shit, so there’s no point in dwelling on that. She came, and I went with her; that’s all there is to it.
The years following... I don’t know what to call them. A blur? A nightmare? Well, to start off with, there was no day and night, down there in the cells; no way to keep track of time. There was just lying on the floor, lying on the torture bed, and occasionally being dragged from one to the other. I grew into a woman there, like that. Hah.
For a little while She tortured me herself; I still remember her long teeth flashing in that elongated grin each time I screamed, and the feel of her claw-like fingers shoving mushed fruits into my mouth, bringing me back from the brink just so She could hurt me again. Eventually, though, I realised that it wasn’t Her any more. After a while, She drifted to the back of the room, watching as a tall man with empty black eyes pushed me ever further. I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, but it kind of makes sense now; much as She likes hurting us, She absolutely loves making us hurt one another.
One day, I remember, I realised she was gone. It was just me and the empty-eyed man. I begged him to let me go – but he just laughed, clamped my mouth open, and broke my teeth, one by one.
Over the following... well, I don’t know how long it was, but it felt like months... She was present less and less. It wasn’t always the dead-eyed man who tortured me, either; there were at least half a dozen others who took turns.
One day, when I was lying on the floor of my cell, She reappeared. She picked me up, put me on my feet and instructed me to follow. By that point, I barely remembered words; it took some time to register what had been said, and I was almost whipped before I started to move. Walking on my own legs was the most bizarre feeling I've ever had, without exception. That was the day I found out what all the torture had been about.

The Lady led me to a familiar chamber, but this time there was someone else strapped to the bed. Wordlessly, She handed me a small hammer and nudged me forward; my bones cried out at the touch, even though it was the most gentle thing I could remember having felt. I stumbled forwards, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, I realised who it was on the bed.
It was the empty-eyed man.

I looked back at the Lady, confused and bewildered. She simply grinned and gestured for me to continue.
That was all the permission I needed.
My time of suffering all leapt at me; remembering each blow I’d taken, each tool used on me, I became a frenzy of action. The empty-eyed man’s screams filled the air, mingling with my manic laughter as I let everything out in a single heady rush. To this day, that’s the first time I can ever remember having laughed.
When I was done, the empty-eyed man was little more than pulp. Through some horrific miracle, though, he was still alive; I could see his chest rising and falling with each breath. I felt the Lady’s hand on my shoulder; looking back at her, I saw what I can only describe as pride.
Each day after that, I let loose on the empty-eyed man, over and over again. No longer was I the victim; now, I was vengeance incarnate, unleashed on the one who’d hurt me so. I know what you’re thinking – it wasn’t really his fault, he was just a tool of the Lady like me – but if you were in my shoes, you wouldn’t have considered that either. In that place, there's nothing but pain – and I was much happier giving it than receiving.

The Lady moved me to new quarters, with a real bed and a real window, through which I could see the Sun rise each morning as I left to begin my day in the dungeons. By my count, it was at least a year before I realised that I hadn’t, in fact, been tormenting the empty-eyed man each day. Some trick of the light down in that awful place had made each of my victims take on his face – but for a long time, they hadn’t been him. Maybe they’d never been him; I don’t know. Anyway, after I realised that, I calmed down a little, kept them further from death. I saw their faces, heard their pleas, then shattered their bodies, minds and dreams. It wasn’t about innocence or guilt; it wasn’t even about revenge anymore; by that point, it was all about creating pain. Each day I found new and exciting ways to hurt those set before me.
Sometimes the Lady would watch, but sometimes I wouldn’t see her for weeks on end. I didn’t think to escape, even when they begged for release; after all, where would I go? The Sun outside my window each morning terrified me, driving me back underground in search of the perfect torment.

Now, obviously I did get out at some point; after all, this is past tense, right? Full disclosure, though: it wasn’t all me.
See, the day I escaped started out like any other. I woke up, made my way to the dungeon, loomed over my victim...
It was a new one. A small girl, hardly more than six or seven years of age. I saw the fear in her eyes, relished in it for a moment, but then something in me shattered. In that moment, I saw reflected in the piercing blue of her eyes another blue-eyed girl – a girl I once knew, but had forgotten a long time ago. I saw that girl aging, suffering, and finally becoming something... else.
The thoughts rushed through my mind, and I reached for the hammer. The girl winced in anticipation as I raised it over her – and struck.
The chain holding her left arm fell away.
The chain on her right, too.
The chains on her legs resisted, but eventually they relented as well. I let go of the hammer; it clattered to the floor, breaking the sudden silence. I opened my mouth, but couldn’t remember how to form words. Meeting her innocent eyes once more, I reached out a hand. Without a moment’s hesitation, she took it.

I gathered the girl in my arms and ran. My footfalls echoed through the silence. Filled with a growing dread, I didn’t dare look back; I had no idea if we were being followed, but somehow I knew that if I paused even for a moment, we’d both be thrown back in our cells. I ran from the dungeon, threw myself through the window of my room, and fled into the forest outside – a forest which reached for me, grabbing at me, cutting into me as I ran.
Eventually I collapsed, gasping for air, my legs burning form the exertion. Looking around, I realised I had no idea where we were going. All I’d considered was the ‘from’ – not a single thought for the ‘to’. I searched the darkest recesses of my memory, but all I dredged up was the faint image of a pink door at the end of a cobblestone path. It certainly wasn’t enough to find my way anywhere.
I opened my mouth, and this time words came out. They were clumsy and stilted, but still – I was speaking.
“I... I don’t... know where...” I looked around helplessly and shrugged.
“You don’t know the way home?” the girl asked. I nodded. “That’s okay,” she said, smiling with the warmth and sincerity only a child can, “you can come to my home!” She grasped my hand and pulled; reluctantly, I got to my feet, forcing my legs to resume moving.
Her name was Allison, she told me on the way. She told me more, too; about her friends and her soft toys, about how her mum made her eat Brussels sprouts before she was allowed dessert. She even told me she was turning eight tomorrow.
“I am... five,” I told her, then frowned. “Turning six.”
“No you’re not!” she declared emphatically. “You’re old.”
Only then did I reach up and feel my face for the first time. She was right, of course; my cheeks were creased with deep lines and wrinkles. I wasn’t seven years old anymore, and I hadn’t been for a long time.

When we pushed through the last boughs of the Hedge, I saw before me a cobblestone path. My heart leapt into my throat, but of course it was a different path. We made our way up it, and she led me around to the side of the house, where there was a spare key hidden under the doormat. Allison let us into her house and ran straight to her bedroom, then froze in the doorway. Stepping up behind her, I saw why.
“Don't worry,” I whispered to her. “Just go back around the corner; I'll take care of it.” She looked at me with wide eyes, then nodded and did as I'd said.
I approached the bed, carefully, trying not to make a sound. The sheets gently rose and fell with the breaths of whoever – or whatever - was under them. Whatever it was, it was around the size of a child. I reached out and yanked the sheets away, putting a hand over its mouth so it couldn't make a sound. I had to stifle a gasp; it was – or at least it looked just like – Allison.
The girl in the bed stared back at me with the same blue eyes as the one I'd just rescued. I spared a glance to make sure she hadn't come back into the room; fortunately, she was still in the hallway, waiting obediently. Turning back to the girl in the bed, I examined her – it – thoroughly. It was... somehow wrong. The skin looked a little like bark, and was rough to the touch; the hair touching my hand was solid only until I looked away; even her eyes, once I looked closely, seemed almost painted on. I took a deep breath, inhaling through my nose; the girl in the bed smelled of blood, pain and stagnant water, with just a touch of pitch. In short, she smelled like the Lady of Silvered Torment. Taking a deep breath, I placed my second hand on her chest, bracing it as the hand on her face twisted with a short, violent-
It wasn't the sound of bone breaking; it was more like dry kindling. Looking down, I saw a shard of wood in each of my hands – and there, painted on the smaller shard: a crude picture of two piercing blue eyes.
“Is it safe?” came Allison's voice from the hallway, speaking in hushed tones. As I turned back to the door, the wood turned to ash, spilling from my hands and fading away before it touched the floor.
“There's nothing here,” I replied. She didn't need to know the truth; it would only serve to give her nightmares, and I had nightmares enough for both of us. “Just a trick of the light.”
She peeked around the door. Once satisfied that I was in fact alone in the room, she rushed over and jumped onto her bed, wincing a little when the welts on her legs – her gifts from the Lady - collided with the mattress. Her scars would heal soon enough.
I tucked Allison into bed, then glanced out the window. The night was coming to a close, and I suddenly felt very much like an intruder.
“I should go,” I told her.
Her eyes shot open, wide with panic. “What if the scary Lady comes back for me?”
“She won't,” I promised.

“I'll keep you safe.”

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