Before the Fall

Fanfiction of When the World Falls to Darkness by DragonSoulJess.

The fall has begun. alliances are being formed, and guardians are being rounded up. In a small outpost called Ryoko, a small number of guardians still fight for their freedom.

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14. Ash

 

    Kylora was still sitting numbly on the floor of Aaron’s room when he came back with a plate of food. He put it on the floor next to her, and then sat across from her. She stayed where she was, unmoving. Aaron frowned.

    “There’s food,” he said.

    Kylora said nothing.

    “I brought it up here so you could eat it,” he continued. “It’s for you. It’s okay, no one is going to hurt you for eating it. It’s for. You. Go ahead.”

    Kylora looked up at him, and then back down to the food. It was nice human food. Too nice for someone like her. With one finger, she pushed the plate away.

    Aaron frowned. “Why won’t you eat it? I thought you were hungry. You looked hungry.”

    Kylora simply shook her head. How could she explain to this human that the very sight of the food made her feel sick? How could she explain that this food just represented the fact that she was now a slave? This human may have been trying to be kind to her, but all he wanted was to study her. She could tell by the intensity and curiosity in his eyes. He could fake concern all he wanted, but she wouldn’t let herself be fooled. Not now. Not by humans. Not by the son of the human who had broken her spirit.

    He paused. She could tell she’d confused him. How simple and predictable was this boy’s life? How could he not understand?

    Of course he doesn’t understand, she thought bitterly. Nobody understands. Especially not a human.

    She forced herself to breathe. It’s not his fault, she reminded herself. And it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.

    Aaron nudged the plate towards her insistently. “Eat.”

    It was an order this time. She took the food, picking up a piece of bread. It appeared to be the simplest, blandest thing on the plate. Mechanically, she tore a piece off and shoved it into her mouth, chewing slowly. It tasted like dust in her mouth. It was nearly impossible to swallow, but she kept eating. Why bother disobeying the human? What did she care? She couldn’t master enough will to fight back. So she did what he said.

    She finished off the bread, and started on the rest of the food- sumptuous dishes that she had no name for. They were too rich, and too full of flavor for her tastes, but she ate them anyways. When she finished, she shoved the plate away again, and stared at the ground. Her stomach twisted itself into knots, but she ignored the sensation. She said nothing, waiting for the human to speak again.

    “Are all guardians as quiet as you?”

    Of all the foolish, naive questions to ask… Kylora thought distractedly. How could this human not understand? No, of course not. But the ones that were captives- the ones that had been forced to serve humans… of course they were quiet! All the fight had been taken out of them, and they had lost their will to do anything but obey. Of course that left them to be quiet. This human was both foolish and ignorant, and that confused her. How could any human not understand what their own kind did to guardians? It was ignorance, and that didn’t make any sense.

    She shook her head.

    “Do you know many other guardians?” Aaron continued. “I mean, I figured you guardians were kind of solitary, but my father said something about a guardian army… were you part of that? It was up in the North- Ryoko, right? Did he find you there?”

    Find, she noted. Not capture. She wondered if this human had been intentionally misled, or if he was just stupid. Her pulse spiked at his questions. Did he want her to betray the other guardians? That couldn’t be right. He didn’t seem to have that much interest. But maybe all of this- the nice food, the kindness… maybe all of it was a ruse to get her to let her guard down.

    But he had asked. So she answered.

    “Many,” she murmured. “I led that army for a time. Until we were defeated.”

    Aaron’s eyes widened with fascination, and that made Kylora’s stomach churn even more painfully. How could this human be so eager about the moment that Kylora’s life had been destroyed?

    “Boy!” The human’s voice came from below. “Get down here, and bring the guardian!”

    Aaron stood, and turned to look at Kylora. He sighed. “Come on.”

    She stood, and he guided her out the door.

    The halls of the mansion were fancy. Tapestries and paintings covered the wall. Many were of hunting scenes, and guardians in nets. After a few, Kylora stopped looking. The sight made her feel sick. This was clearly a family that had an active role in subjugating guardians. They were the worst monsters of humankind.

    And now I serve them.

    They stepped out into a grand hall. It must have been the human’s audience chamber. He sat at one end on what looked suspiciously like a throne. At his feet sat a figure who Kylora instantly recognized as his guardian.

    It was hard to guess the guardian’s age. She would have placed him as young- maybe in his 20’s. He studied Kylora with luminous eyes- one white, one blue. With a shock, she realized he was blind in one eye. Had the human done that to him?

    The human rose as they approached. He studied Kylora, and she ducked her head low, not allowing herself to meet his eyes.

    “Kneel, guardian,” he ordered.

    Kylora knelt silently.

    “Leave us, boy,” the human ordered.

    Aaron hesitated. “Father, she’s my guardian-”

    “And you are my son!” the human said sharply. “You will do as I say. Your guardian will be returned to you later. I will not allow you to coddle it. Don’t think I didn’t notice you sneaking it food. This preferential treatment will stop.”

    “She’s my guardian,” Aaron repeated stubbornly. “I should be able to treat her how I like.”

    “You know nothing of guardians!” the human barked. “Now leave us!”

    Aaron left with a soft huff. Kylora listened to the hall doors slam behind him, and she closed her eyes, bracing herself.

    As expected, the human struck her. The first blow took her in the cheek, and she was thrown to the side, where she lay, motionless. Her cheek stung, and she let out a quiet hiss of pain. The human kicked her, and she gasped softly. She saw the male guardian studying her with what might have been sympathy, but he didn’t move to help her. The human pulled her to her feet, studying her with grim satisfaction.

    “No fight in you now, eh guardian?” he growled.

    Leave me alone, Kylora thought weakly. She tried to pull away, but he yanked her back.

    “Useless,” he laughed. Then he hit her again. The blow connected with her jaw, sending an explosion of pain along her face. She hit the ground, and stars danced before her eyes. The world darkened to black for a moment, then came back. She was lying on the cold, marble floor. Her cheek was bleeding, and her head was pounding. The human was gone, and the male guardian was crouching beside her, holding a cloth. He gently pressed it against her face. Kylora gasped sharply and tried to sit up, but he pushed her back down.

    “No, not yet,” he murmured. “He hits hard. Stay down for a little bit. When you can walk I’ll get out out of here. But until then, wait.”

    “Thank you…” Kylora muttered. The few words sent a flash of pain across her jaw, and she yelped. That just caused more pain, and she shuddered, breathing hard. She’d felt a lot of pain in her time leading the army. But this surpassed it all. This time, the pain wasn’t just physical. The wounds inside were really what were destroying her. If she kept up like this, she would simply fall over and die. She was sure of it. There was no way she could live constantly with this pain.

    “Shh, don’t talk,” the male guardian murmured. He ran the cloth along her face. It was cool, and she let out a little sigh of relief as it began to numb the pain. The guardian’s kindness didn’t surprise her. It was better than kindness from a human. It made much more sense. Of course guardians would be kind to one another. It was how they lived. They had to care for each other because no one else would care for them. Guardians had always formed powerful bonds with each other. Even in slavery, this seemed to be the case.

    “We should move-” she began, but once again the guardian silenced her. He pressed a finger to her lips, and she quieted. Idly, she thought back to her time leading the other guardians. If someone had tried to silence her like that, she would have broken their finger. But now she was too weak to move, much less protest. Besides, the guardian’s kindness both warmed her and exhausted her. How much courage had it taken for this guardian to show her kindness, knowing he would face the same punishment. Perhaps he had faced it before, and understood.

    “Can you walk?” he asked quietly.

    Kylora nodded.

    “Good. I’ll help you up. I know a place where master and his son won’t disturb us. Come on.”

    He helped Kylora stand. She nearly blacked out from the pain as he lifted her. Her knees buckled, and she nearly collapsed to the floor, but he caught her. Without another word, he scooped her up into his arms. She was too weak to protest, and let her head lean against his shoulder. Her eyes closed, and she reflected on how truly pathetic she had become- being carried by an unfamiliar guardian. But she was too tired to care. She closed her eyes, and let herself slip into a semiconscious state.

 

    The guardian set her down in a small building near the mansion’s stables. The floor was covered with hay and a single ragged blanket. A bucket of water sat in the corner. It was miserable and dilapidated, but she gathered that this was where he lived. He set her down, and put the blanket over her. She murmured a protest, but he waved it off.

    “You need rest. Master always beats his new servants.”

    “Other humans?” Kylora murmured. She was fighting to keep her eyes open. The male guardian was sitting next to her now, the collar he wore glinting against his pale throat. A match to the collar that burned against her own neck, reminding her of her slavery.

    “Angels, actually,” the guardian replied. “He clips their wings so they can’t fly away, and he beats them almost as often as he beats me. He’s a cruel master.”

    “And his… son?”
    “His son is strange,” he said thoughtfully. “He asks a lot of questions, and always watches the servants with curiosity. He tends to stay away though. His father doesn’t let him ask questions. Now you should sleep. Master won’t call you again until the morning.”

    “Wait…” Kylora reached up, and gripped his arm. “Your… name…” she was too exhausted to even form coherent sentences anymore. Fortunately, the guardian understood.

    “Ash.”

    “Ky…” Kylora took a deep breath, and forced the word out. “Kylora.” Her name almost refused to leave her, as if it were the last thing she was hanging on to.

    Ash said something, but the words were blurred in her ears. She closed her eyes, and slipped away into unconsciousness.

 
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