Tila could feel the horse's breath on the nape of her neck. The fear and exhaustion burnt through her in equal amounts, but while she would love nothing more than to fall to the ground and take deep glorious breaths it was the hope of escape that drove her on.
Behind the fleeing woman, a rider in black grinned maliciously as he extended a gloved hand to his prize, “I got…”
Her naked and scarred feet scraped against a broken tree branch sending ripples of acute pain to race up the terrified woman's leg and making her lose her attention for just a fraction of a moment.
Before she could understand anything else she heard the turning of a metal lock and before she could stop herself she had forced her way through what could only be described as a wooden door which she would later swear came out of nowhere.
Tila closed her eyes as she tackled her way through the door and into some place she didn't understand. Panicked, the woman skid across a polished wooden floor and crashed into a table. Behind her a horse screamed in surprise.
Half-mad from fear, Tila fought with the table and the collection of chairs which kept getting in her way. She looked back at the way she came, expecting the foul men to jump on her at any moment. Instead, she found one young man in strange clothes, dangling off a bronze door handle and looking dazed.
“What the...” the man said shaking his head and trying to get onto his feet.
Trying to find an exit, Lila searched frantically for a way out, just not the one that she came in from. Her scared eyes landed on a door located at the back of this crazy placed and she limped over.
The thing that she assumed was a handle of some sort was round, made of brass, and looked like it could have been a child's toy. The door rattled as she used all of her tired strength to force it open. Figuring it to be locked she scanned the room frantically for a hiding spot.
Her heart beating like a caged animal she saw what she had stumbled into for the first time.
Once when she was young her mother had taken her to a tavern, and while she didn't enjoy the experience of being in a room filled with stale meed or the wondering hands of the drunken patrons, this place seemed to have a similar feel to it.
Tables made of fine polished wood took up most of the space and over by the side of the wall there was a counter with shelves filled with expensive glass bottles containing exotic liquids.
Tila’s eyes landed on a set of knives which were sitting inside a wooden block behind the counter. Instead of running all the way around the counter, Tila used her good foot to climb up and over the bar for the only weapons that she could see.
The man, forgetting to close the door moved behind the bar to arrest the frightened Tila, “Get out of. Woah,” he jumped back as Tila took a swipe at him with a carving knife. It was then that the two got a good look at each other.
Tila knew how she must have looked. A trembling maniac who wore nothing but a torn hemp sack for a dress. Her bare feet were filthy and covered in blisters, and both her arms and the left side of her face were sporting serious bruises. She was as out of place in this clean and fancy tavern as a rabbit in a squirrel's nest.
In contrast to her wild appearance, the person Tila assumed was the owner of the bar was a giant of a man. He stood a head taller than any man who she had ever met, with a broad back, and muscly arms that knew a hard days work.
Despite being intimidatingly tall the man was a handsome, clean shaven, and well groomed individual. His skin was even whiter than Tila's which was worn down by the harsh sun and violent company.
To increase the man's curious nature, instead of wearing the robes of an Enseen citizen or the furs of a Northerner, his wardrobe consisted of a white shirt, a dark green vest, and a pair of black pants which looked horribly expensive.
“What the Gods' name is a door doing in the middle of nowhere?” came an irritated voice from outside.
Tila's host, and only hope, appraised her and the knife which she was pointing at him and gave her a wink that put her off guard. The stranger straightened himself to address her captors who were now proceeding into the tavern.
The two men who entered the establishment smelled of sweat, and things best not described. They each had a shortsword out, and their hard eyes scanned the tavern as if they couldn't believe what they were witnessing. They wore bronze plate armour and red skirts, their chest-plates baring the symbol of a lion.
“Greetings gentlemen, and welcome to Abstract. My name is Frank, owner of the Abstract. How can I help you?” Frank said.
Both men rounded on Frank, their eyes going wide when they saw Tila. The man with a beard like tangled shoelaces displayed a mouth full of missing teeth, as he declared with a hint of mirth, “Got'cha.” He and his partner moved towards the bar and the now screaming woman.
The nearest of the pair, a man that was built like a bear, reached out his hand to grab a hysterical Tila. Frank got between the two before the giant could snatch at her,
“Excuse me, but I don't think she wants to go with you.” Frank tensed up as a sword was pressed against his neck.
The man with the beard smiled, “What is this place?”
“This? An oasis of sorts. Bar, hotel, restaurant, general store. It's a bit of everything.” Frank gave a carefree smile. “I never could just stick to one thing growing up. I will say now, sir, threatening the bartender will not be tolerated in my establishment. I'm afraid I will have to ask you and your friend to leave.”
What was wrong with this man? Why was he so confident with these soldiers? Was it possible that he didn't understand who they were? Tila doubted it, everyone knew of the Enseen Empire.
“Won't it?” the man with the odd beard asked. “Do you know the punishment for harbouring an escaped slave, stranger?”
“I don't think he does, Percy.” The bear-man giggled.
Tila, knowing that her options were limited, tried to put herself in a corner. Right now the soldiers were concentrating on the bartender, if she could only get past them she could maybe escape further into the wilderness. Meanwhile, the soldiers were putting the pressure on Frank.
“Why, that's stealin' the Empire's property. By rights I can take you to the nearest tree and hang yeh.”
“Or take yeh to Commander Jagon and let him hang yeh.”
“Oh no, Sandy. Jagon don't hang thieves. That's a waste that is. He'll just burn this place to the ground and sell this here Godless thief to arena.”
The owner of the Abstract, politely pushed the sword away from his neck and leaned forward. “Easy boys. I own an honest establishment here.” He gave the men a wink to both men and proceeded to pour them a bubbling amber beverage each. “Here, on the house. So, you're both slavers, is that correct? What's that like?”
Seeing that the odd man understood who was in control of the situation, the one called Percy took up the puny glass, “We like to think of ourselves as...”
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
There came the sound of crashing thunder. Tila screamed and launched into a foetal position, her hands covering her ears.
Percy, meanwhile, flew backwards as if struck by a hammer, the lower part of his body torn to pieces, his intestines a mess on the floor.
The giant, Sandy, stumbled back and his face crumbed in confusion. He reached down to the spot that had been his groin and when he looked at his hand he saw both gore and blood. He turned his head at Frank, who was holding a strange device that the giant had never seen before. “What is that?” he asked dumbly.
“This? This is a Taurus Judge. I like to just call it Judge. Now, I know what you're thinking. Yes, a typical Judge mangles any ammo you put in it, but I have loaded the clip with a pocket dimension and connected the trigger to the portal. Each round of ammunition inside this mini-universe was pre-fired but is locked in a state of suspended animation. This means that there is no recoil and I can fire potentially billions of the most insane bullets you can imagine. Even meteors the size of cities.”
From down on the floor, Tila watched as Frank pointed the magical device at the entrance of his tavern. “Including plenty of nine millimetre hollow points. Watch.”
Tila's choice to stay and not run screaming for the only exit out of this insane place proved to be the correct path, as a third man poked his head out from the door frame, he was aiming a bow at Frank's head, but had needed to check his aim.
Frank, needed no such time to re-aim, and Tila screamed as there was a crack of thunder in the air.
Frank carefully removed the knife from a whimpering Tila and prodded her with his foot, “Hey, they're gone now.” He gave up trying to move her when it became obvious that she was going to stay there until she was done.
The owner let out a deep sigh. “Shouldn't get involved, Frank. Shouldn't get involved.” he mumbled to himself in frustration. Holstering his thunder maker, he then proceeded to search the bodies for valuables. Having confiscated their weapons and coins, he deposited the bodies outside for the crows to eat.
Having closed the door he looked back at the mess of blood, brain matter and the remains of one man's testicles. “Audible sigh. Abstract reset,”
Behind the counter, Tila heard a sucking sound and a slight vibration. She didn't care about either, her shattered mind was still trying to grasp what had happened. After an hour she finally stopped crying.
Drained both physically and emotionally, she got up. Instincts taking over she reached for another sharp knife for comfort. She spun around, eager to draw the blood of any man who would dare to touch her again.
Sitting at a table, Frank calmly ate a plate of eggs, bacon, and sausage. He gestured to a second plate opposite to him.
This time Tila grabbed a long thin knife that, while it looked impressive, was blunted. She looked towards the now closed door, calculating her chances to escape successfully. Had he locked it, was there another exit somewhere?
“You are not going to get far on an empty stomach, and they'll send out a team when the first ones don't come back.” Her host reminded her.
Tila didn't move, she stayed there, knife pointed at the odd man who made thunder and bad men go away. She looked at him with the fear of somebody who had know the worst cruelties that another person can perform on their own kind.
To get things moving, Frank put his weapon on the table. “Get out or eat, your choice. I don't mind throwing you out.”
Tila sneered at the magical device and then realised what this man was and how much danger she was in. To create a portal, make this strange place and to shoot thunder from his hands? The man must be a sorcerer.
It was fear that caused Tila to drop her knife and moved out from behind the counter. Now that her host could see her clearly, the frightened woman dropped to her knees in supplication. “Forgive me, my lord. Forgive me. I didn't mean to trespass. I...”
Frank rolled his eyes. “You done?” he gestured to the plate of food.
Terrified of being turned into a frog, the crying woman tentatively sat before the sorcerer, who put away his weapon. She watched him eat his eggs, stirring the golden yolk in with his burnt bread. The escaped slave examined the instruments and meal before her and felt fresh drool seep from her mouth.
The cutlery was far too luxurious for a simple woman such as herself to dare touch. Using her dirt covered hands, she scoped up the sausage and ate ravenously. The taste of processed meat and the heat was nearly too much and she almost spat it out in shock. It had been so long since she ate anything but bark soup and bugs.
She noticed Frank raised an eyebrow at her lack of table etiquette but he decided to not say anything.
Tila flinched when she saw the man's hand coming for her but relaxed slightly when she saw that he was just filling her glass with a clear substance.
On further inspection the fluid appeared to be water but it was far more clear than anything that she ever saw. As she drank the content within the glass she also found them unbelievably cold as if it had come from a frozen lake.
Having beaten Frank in devouring her meal first, Tila was shocked when her host presented her with the remains of his plate which were mostly untouched.
“Tell me what happened,” Frank said.
While it was considered an offence for a slave to look at such a powerful being, Tila risked it.
Frank wore a set of practical black pants, that while plain to look at upon first glance were expensively well made, the same with his white shirt which appeared to be tailor-made for him. In the stories that she had been told as a young girl, Tila imagined sorcerers to be old cruel men with beards that reached down to their knees.
This sorcerer, however, appeared to be younger than she had expected, maybe thirty with the appearance of a less mature man. It was when Tila looked at Frank's eyes that she knew that she was mistaken. They were the eyes of her grandfather, the eyes of somebody who had seen terrible things and had irreversibly changed because of them.
Given a command, Tila lowered her head and relived through the pain. “I'm a slave, my lord.”
“Just call me Frank,” Frank said trying to sound polite.
Tila became flustered, “I- I would never seek to be so informal to a sorcerer, my lord.”
Frank opened his mouth but stopped himself, “What's your name?”
Tila paled, she had heard that it was never wise to reveal your name to a man of magic. Names had power to them and they could use it to trap or enslave you. Then again, Tila was already a slave. Or an escaped slave doomed for the whip and the axe, so what did it matter?
“Tila, my lord.” as she spoke her name the pent up stress and frustration seemed to leak out like pus from a infected wound. “I couldn't take it no more, my lord. I just couldn't take it. When I saw my chance I took it. I ran.” The memories of those nights made Tila shudder and her eyes become dead.
The big one, Sandy, had been one of the worst of the lot. While the others liked to talk he preferred to stay silent. The Jagon, though, while Tila had never had the pleasure of his company, the younger girls had and their cries could be heard throughout the camp.
“Hmmm,” Frank mused and clicked his tongue. “And how did you become a slave?”
The woman turned her head away in shame, “There wasn't enough food for winter and men came to the house. I don't remember as I was too young. The lord who bought me was nice at first until I got older and...” she trailed off not wanting to stir those memories. “When I got too old for his tastes he gave me to a... friend of his.”
Tila's knuckles turned white as she remembered those times. While her first master was an old fool who drank himself into a coma and rarely could muster an erection, his friend had had appetites; and liked to share.
“And this Jagon?”
“Much latter. I was put up for auction. They sold us into blocks.” Tila recalled the other woman, sold cheaply because they were either older or too wounded. While Jagon preferred younger meat, he didn't mind giving his men cheap things to play with.
Frank cocked his head a fraction to the side, making small popping sounds, as if the struggle to hold back took great effort. The sorcerer smiled at Tila as he poured himself another glass of water, “Could you tell me where this camp is?”
Tila's eyes went wide in horror, “Please, don't take me back, my lord. I know I am a tad older, but I've learned things. Please, please, I beg you.”
The sorcerer spared the woman an look, “Old? You're like. What, thirty?”
“Twenty-eight, six months ago, sir.” Tila's shoulder's slumped, knowing that it was a lost cause. Nobody wanted slaves who were already seen as spinsters, and while some women might get away with appearing younger, Tila had not aged well and her body had tasted the touch of many men and many a whipping.
With a grunt, the owner of the Abstract got out from his chair. “Oh, I'm going to have to hurt someone.” He declared. “You see. That's the problem with this places navigation systems. They're stupid, but they're smart stupid.”
He moved towards the door, “You say you want to go to some place where people are desperate for an escape to, some place nicer and it gets messy. It takes a little fiddling around, and you need to tweak it.”
He grabbed the bronze door handle, “So when I say to take me to the place where Tila is running from, it could take me to the surface of the sun, or...”
The sorcerer opened the door and Tila felt her legs shiver. Before her, bent over a girl who was silently crying was a hairy man with scars criss-crossing his body. Not for the first time in these many years, Tila was thankful that men considered her too old to touch.
“Jagon, right?” Frank said as he pulled out his thunder maker.
The imperial soldier, confused at the sudden appearance of a door and this stranger popping up, answered, “No. I'm...”
The man fell onto the young girl, his brains spilling out onto the straw. The girl screamed.
“Don't care,” Frank looked back to see a dumbstruck Tila who had no idea what was happening. “Just going out for a second, could you mind the shop until I get back? Thanks.”
Still sitting at the table, unsure of what was going on, Tila stared at the open portal. She watched as Frank pushed his latest victim off the small girl and helped her inside of the Abstract. Done, he closed the door.
The confused girl and the even more confused Tila spent a second staring at each other, both parties having no idea what was happening.
The pair jumped as Frank opened the door again this time pushing another frightened woman inside his bar. “I miss anything?” he asked grinning like a madman.
In the distance somebody called out, “Hey, who are you?” Frank raised his weapon towards what Tila assumed was the owner of the voice, the sorcerer's weapon then let out a sudden explosion.
The door closed with the three very confused female slaves inside.
Born in Australia I am a late bloomer when it came to books. I started writing when my grandfather died and it just sort of turned into a hobby.
I like science fiction, but not space opera. I like fantasy but I am picky when it comes to epic and urban types. I try to stay away from vampires, zombies and romance novels when I can.