The Runaway's Hope (Part 1)

Vola scrubbed her hands until her skin was raw, but the blood remained. No matter how many rivers she washed in, it persisted. Even using salty ocean water and sand did little to dim the stains. The gore of dead familiars remained as a bright reminder of her guilt. On her hands, her arms, and even matted in the furs of her long robe, the dried blood of the slain magical animals ensured every passing human knew of her crimes against the supernatural.   Her most recent kill, a large deer, was strapped to a makeshift litter of a blanket and long wooden poles. The journey to drag it to her master’s lair on Hudcharg’s southern face had taken weeks.   The stares and scorn from villagers she met during her travels continued to bore through her. She adjusted her heavy furs to hide the stains to no avail. They saw the blood’s shocking crimson on her robes and the deer’s magical transformation to stone. The older villagers threw contemptuous glances as she passed by. The youth her own age openly insulted her as she dragged her burden in silence. Every village was the same.   Vola hated the feigned ignorance of the passing travelers as she struggled to drag the heavy corpse along the dirt roads. Conversations stopped when they recognized the blood and stone. She imagined their thoughts. Is that stone? She’s dragging a familiar? How could a maiden have hunted and killed such a rare creature?   She would have stopped to explain, but her master demanded silence. The dead look on her young face was the only way she could hide the pain inflicted by her forced solitude. Her master’s desperation for the corpse and her fear of punishment drove her on. The lines carved in the dirt by the litter grew ever longer.   She didn’t feel different from the life of slavery she escaped. Instead of hands sore from tending the potato fields they were stained from slaughtering magical creatures and scarred from cutting the petrified flesh. The hope that fueled her escape had been dimmed by growing despair.   A putrid wind enveloped her. The volcano’s heat was a stark contrast to the icy winds of the tundra below. Loose, white ash blew over her. She dropped the poles and struggled with her furs to place her inner robe over her face. The smoke worked its way down her throat and caused her to cough. She sat on the path, using the carcass as a shelter from the sudden wind and ash. Hidden under her furs, Vola could not escape looking at the bloody stains.   Her rest against the stone animal was not a comfortable one. Each strand of fur, now a monochrome stone needle, snagged her clothes and left deep scratches when her arm accidently brushed by.   Her master explained very little about what happened to the familiars when killed. Any knowledge of magic was a treasure after a hard battle of wills. From what she gathered, familiars, regardless of species, preserved their magic internally through rapid petrification. This stored magic was what her master craved more than anything. Learning new tidbits of magic kept Vola’s hope burning.   One way the master used his magic was to observe and command her. She was grateful that she could tell when he was watching her, the pressure of an invisible helmet rested on her head. Communicating was not pleasant. His disembodied voice pounded instructions into her mind, sometimes without warning. Images projected into her eyes blinded her to her surroundings. When she hesitated to kill each of the familiars, the master took full control of her body. She became a puppet, fully aware of the atrocities she committed but powerless to stop them.   As she rested, her master’s presence descended heavily onto her head. She jumped and grabbed the poles of the makeshift litter. His presence lifted as she pulled the heavy burden up the mountain path.