The Secret Sellers

Once upon a time an old woman foretold a world where monsters ruled. And they did. The fairy tales from history seemed to foretell the mutations of the future. Forests grew large and dark and within them, creatures thrived. Avis Eldred is one of the few surviving humans; she should be grateful for that. But she's not grateful for killing in order to survive. Now she faces a choice - take a leap of faith and defy everything she ever knew, or keep being a murderer and a coward.

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11. Sanctuary

 

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Sanctuary

Avis and Beck arrived at the edge of the Sanctuary several hours earlier than expected. Maybe because he was keeping an angry pace, waiting for Avis to slow down. He should have expected that she wouldn’t. She didn’t because she knew that he expected it of her. She liked to play games with his expectations.

“You should be a pony.” She passed the water to him. He looked at her like she was crazy. “I’m a pony.” She beamed. “Like the Pony Express.” She wasn’t using words he knew. “You don’t know history?”

“I know my history.” He rolled his eyes. “Why would you be the pony? The men delivered things.”

She shrugged. “It was called the ‘Pony Express’ not the ‘Cowboy Express’” We liked the name.

He glowered. “I don’t want to be a pony.”

She laughed with her whole body. “But you are so perfect. So fast and relentless. You hardly stop to eat.” He could see that she was gearing up. “You’re strong enough to carry the heavy stuff we pass up.” She wasn’t going to stop.

He started running. So did she.  

“What if we call you something else? Not a Pony. Pony Pal, Pony Brother.” He stopped short. She ran past him and started running backwards. “Okay, you can be the Cowboy.”

She was then tackled from 2 sides by a group of children.

“The Devils Got Me!!!” She screamed. There were sharp teeth in tiny faces and flashing yellow eyes. She swore she heard someone bark. “Help!” There was growling of various levels. Avis cried out “No! Not like this.” She was trying to roll onto her hands and knees. “Beck, please help! Feral children.” She crawled for a few paces. “Beck, monsters. Possibly cannibals.”  She pulled her head down to cover her neck. “Beck!” The clawed little hands were grabbing at her loose clothes but there wasn’t any scratching. She stopped screaming. “Why aren’t you helping me?”

“They’re harmless. They’re just children.” Beck assured her. His mouth was the closest she had ever seen to a full blown smile, his bunny like teeth poking over his lips.

One of the boys, dark haired, giggling, with deep dimples, crawled over to her and sniffed her hair, “You smell good.” She flinched.

Beck growled. Avis was slightly pleased when all the children scuttled back from her.

She sat up and brushed her hair back from her face. Keeping her hands over her neck.  A tiny girl with tight curly hair and mocha skin crawled onto her legs. She turned her big eyes to Beck, “She’s your friend?”

He sighed, “Sometimes.”

The girl crawled up to sit on Avis’s lap, “I like her.” She grabbed at her arms and pulled them away so she could wedge herself into Avis’s space. Pressing her face into neck, “She’s mine now.”

Several of the other kids laughed and one protested, “That’s not fair.”

Avis’s heart was racing and her breath catching, “I’m still not convinced they aren’t cannibals.”  

“Let her up,” Beck peeled her tiny arms away. Avis looked on the verge of an anxiety attack. Beck thought maybe he should have helped her sooner.

“I hate you so much,” she glared at him. She was still being stalked by children. The little girl now had a handful of the loose fabric of her pants. He smiled down at her and tsked. The little girl smiled back and didn’t release her hold.

The path from there to the house was short but being hobbled by 3 year olds slowed the trip. The others ran ahead and by the time they made it to the steps, the door was open and a large black man, arms wide and welcoming, was standing in the entryway.

He greeted Beck and scowled at his children, “Girls, let go of the guests.”

The little girl stepped to the side but didn’t release her hold on the pants. She defiantly stated, “She’s mine now.”

The man frowned at her. “She’s here with Beck.”

She glared at Beck, who now had one of the others in his arms. “He doesn’t like her and I do.”

Avis bent down and scooped the twin into her arms and looked at Beck. “She likes me,” Avis kissed the little girl on the cheek “I like you too.”

Beck actually growled at the small child. Both the little girl and Avis growled back. A growl coming out of a human mouth was completely unusual, it didn’t suit her either.

Upon the man beaconing them duo into the house, Beck walked up the steps and looked to the man for help. The man took the girl, “You have to share.”

She shook her head, “No I don’t.”

It turns out that the man was an associate of Beck’s, named Adam, who was an insider in the Sanctuary that swapped information for mountain goods. Adam was said to be trustworthy and then again he couldn’t really kill her in front of his children. That would be bad parenting.

The inside of the house was bright and warm. She noted that all of the furniture looked to be hand hewn and covered with large cushions. Comfort over style.

They passed through to a dining area and were pushed into chairs. Food seemed to appear in front of them and children lined the long table with chins on hands, staring. Beck didn’t hesitate to start eating and the eyes of all turned to Avis.

She hadn’t touched her food and everyone waited.

“They won’t eat until you do,” Beck grumbled at her.

She wasn’t royalty and in the wild everyone was somewhat equal to one another but nevertheless once she started eating the offered meal everyone else on the table, besides Beck of course, started too. The conversation over the table was everything a family meal should be – vibrant and loud. Avis’s family dinners back in the compound had been spent in silence more often than not or in subdued conversation about that day. It was different here. It was better here. However, Avis couldn’t shake off the tense feeling that they were avoiding the most important thing.

“I was travelling with my sister to this compound but we got separated,” Avis started putting down her knife and folk and watching as the table stilled in their mannerisms, “I was wondering if you had heard any news about her coming here.”

Adam swallowed his mouthful of food before answering, “Up here we don’t get many people arriving from further places. However, there was a Courier that popped in days ago.”

“Black hair, blue eyes and with a shady passenger?” Avis eagerly asked,

“I don’t know the specifics although I heard that the passenger was sick and was being looked for by the Queen.” Adam replied finishing off his hardy meal and smiling at his children around the table.

That person had to be Neveah but that was days ago, Neveah would be long gone by now probably back at the dome. Although that said nothing for Avis’s next move, she didn’t know whether she could go home or not because it had been Neveah that had done the job and not Avis. Technically, she had failed the mission.

“Why were you Couriers?” The little girl that had clung to her, her name was Megan, questioned.

“It was my punishment for something I had done back at home. I was meant to come here to one of the most dangerous compounds, where the other Couriers had hardly ever ventured to, and deliver a man named Dr. Lovelace. I suppose it was like a grounding for a tantrum.” Megan wasn’t satisfied with this answer and picked or more information like a vulture; however, Avis was quiet and clipped with her responses submerged in memories and lies.

She asked if she could enquire about the passenger but Adam replied that now that the Queen had gotten ahold of him, he was almost impossible to get ahold of. Although he promised that if any information would come to light about the passenger or her sister he would send word for them to come back immediately.

Beck’s and Avis’s adventure to the Sanctuary was almost useless.

They walked back out in tense and thick silence. It was only broken by Beck’s insufferable questions; “You’re not a criminal are you?” That one went unanswered,

“What did you do wrong that was so punishable?” That one went unanswered too,

“Are you using me to get back at your community?” It went on and on like this until Avis snapped at him like she was a rubber band that had undergone too much pressure and became a long line of rubber instead of a circle.

“I didn’t do anything wrong in my eyes!” She shouted halting their journey to meet with Crevan.

“Then what did you do?” Beck questioned once more, still digging and digging for answers.

“I got friendly with a monster and in return they executed him for corrupting me, and sent me out to die because I was a tainted betrayer of humanity. And I am doing the exact same thing here because I don’t know what else to do, but knowing me I’m going to be the reason why humans come trudging through the trees and kill everything in sight.” She didn’t expect a reply from him, she wasn’t there to witness it either because she ran forward as fast as her legs could carry her. Avis knew that he could probably catch up with her quickly what with that super nose and sharp eyes but if he knew what was best for him he would keep his distance.

Weaving in and out of the trees she tried to become disorientated. This was probably not the best thing to do right at that moment but she just wanted to be alone with only the trees as her silent strangers. Her laughter, breathless, sporadic and wet, was an even cadence that mingled fluently with the forest chorus sung by the woodland beasts. She should have been worried about that but all she was worried about in that moment was putting her feet one foot in front of the other continuously.
As the canopy overhead thickened, her steps grew muffled by the pine needles that blanketed the forest floor; the ground no longer cold beneath her soles. She paused. The trees were much thicker in the lowland territories, like the Sanctuary. She didn’t know this place.

That made it slightly more exhilarating.

Avis came across a gigantic tree stump, a vast spiraled circle with tendrils of roots reaching towards the outer perimeter of the clearing she and it occupied. She found no choice but to sit upon it and burry her face into her hands, her chest heaving with her frustration and fatigue from running. “Well,” Someone said, “That was certainly and utterly pointless.”

Avis didn’t scream. If she did it would be a sign of weakness. It was a lesson that she had learned that out here in the wild she must never show fear to the monsters. She looked around wildly, trying to determine the source of the voice, but she glimpsed nothing but leaves and light poking through the thick branches.

“Where are you?” She gasped. “Show yourself,”

“But I am not hiding young one,” the voice sounded amused as if it was playing a game with her “Perhaps… if you opened your eyes a bit more, you’ll be able to see me.” Directly in front of her a pair of amber eyes appeared without a body. And slowly as Avis looked harder and strained her eyes she could just about see the near invisible body of a very ginger fox. “There we go, you’ve opened your senses up, and that’s utterly wonderful! Can you see me now?”

“You’re a fox,” she replied rather stupidly, and she swore it rose an eyebrow at her as it fully appeared to her.

“In the crudest sense then yes I suppose you could call me that,” The fox, who now she had gotten over her shock was now a he and not an it, arched its back before sitting on one of the tree roots in front of her. “Others call me Crevan and I heard that you, my dear, were looking for me?”  

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