She lay amongst the filth in a secluded corner just off a busy street. A place of shadows reserved for those whom society would rather forget. Her stomach cramped and groaned as her weak fingers rifled through the market waste hoping to find something to ease the pain. As the sky darkened, delicate aromas filled the air as people prepared their evening dishes. The delicious smells of roasted meats and spiced wine danced on the air tantalising and torturing her senses simultaneously. This was the time of day that she loathed the most. Her eyes drifted upwards hoping to catch a glimpse of the flags of her former home. The homes of the privileged few congregated together on the east side of the town separated for the lower castes by guards posted at the gates. Only a couple of streets away, she could hear the flags, from the privileged roof tops, slapping in the wind. Each slap was like a slap in the face, reminding her just how far she had fallen.
The sounds from the market drifted up from the harbour, mingling with the twilight which added dark undertones. The animal noises sounded sinister whilst the peoples chatter sounded almost ghostly. The masts of the boast could been see above the darkening rooftops. The reddening sun staining the highest tips. Even amongst the bone-white stone walls of the inner city, the light struggled to filter down into the narrow streets.
She had vague memories of her mother. She could remember their matching ice blond hair, her only memento of her mother. Her mother’s crisp and smiling blue eyes as they shared their opulent lifestyle. Surrounded by servants and waited on hand and foot, she remembered the food, the rich colours and flavours from the furthest reaches of their fleet. She had been loved by her mother but everything had changed so quickly.
There had been a great argument one night between her mother and grandfather. She was hazy on the details but remembered that there was a marriage proposal for her mother. She was due to leave to meet with her intended and after a few days she could follow and meet with her mother at the capital. Her grandfather had called her a dirty little secret and that no good man would want her mother with another man’s child in tow. Her mother had defended her and she had been whisked away from the fight. She couldn’t remember how much time had passed after her mother had left but one morning she awoke cold and stiff, alone except for the surrounding filth in which she now lay. She wandered through the streets trying to find her mother, her night dress dragging across the ground, the edge brown and ragged. When she finally found her way to the privileged quarter she was turned away non-too gently by the guards. Her memories after that she chose not to remember.
She shuddered as the residual emotions from the supressed memories tried to burst through her. She couldn’t cry anymore, her body felt hollow and weak. As she lay watching the stars appear from above she heard someone stumble towards her. Instinctively she flinched away from the noise and curled up into a small ball, her petite frame trying to disappear into the shadows. The heavy clomping of boots hammered towards her as the slurred speech of the man muttered something incomprehensible. He lurched forward and landed next to her causing her to squeak in fright. She opened her eyes to peer out from under her eye lashes unable to hear anything over the beating of her racing heart.
The man’s face was blotched and bloated as he lay there with his head half buried in the muck. His eyes were closed and she wasn’t even sure that he was still breathing. She began to slowly move away from him not wanting to be around when he stirred; the smell of mead emanated from his clothes. She glanced back at the street where people were walking past the narrow entrance between the buildings. She leant to get up when a large hand closed around her arm. She squealed as she turned back to the man. She tried to wrench her arm away but his grasp was too tight. His head lifted slowly up to look at her. The face seemed like dead skin loosely hanging onto the skull beneath. Even the grey eyes looked dead and blank. Suddenly there was a flash of something in their depths. Her heart thudded so hard that she felt all her inside jolt with the force.
“What’s your name girl?” the swollen and sticky lips said through the drool. The voice didn’t match the owner. She sat as still as she could and hoped that he would let her go. “You do have a name, don’t you?” he asked again a cruel tone sneaking in to the words. She nodded, not trusting her voice. “and what is that beautiful name?” His voice slithered across the floor as he lay unnervingly still.
“Rilyena” her voice trembled out of her.
“Ah, Rilyena, what a fine name!” He said releasing his grip on her arm slightly. “I was looking for a Rilyena actually.” he said matter-of- fact, his head still flat against the ground. Rilyena felt her stomach nose dive with what was to come next.
“Why?” She whispered. Tears coming to her eyes as some of her earlier memories tried to escape.
“Well my dear, I have been looking for you for as long as I can remember. Since your mother couldn’t find you, I came to look for you.” His grey eyes watched her and the news hit home.
“My…my mother sent you?” She stammered as her heart stopped for several seconds. “Where is she? Why has it taken so long?” The unnerving man, forgotten for a moment as she recounted the years she had spent lying in cold, damp streets waiting for mother to find her.
“She didn’t say, but I can take you to her.” His eyes watched her narrowly like a cat watching its prey.
Rilyena almost jumped for joy at these words. The chance to be out of the nightmare which was her life was too much to resist. “That’s if you want to go back to her?”
“Please.” she burst without thinking “Please I need to go home!” a wide, crooked smile slowly spread across the man’s bulbous face. After seeing this smile, she paused. The painful memories resurfaced briefly again in the form of lessons and warning in her mind. She had experienced similar conversations before. “What would you want as a reward for this kindness?”
The man’s face broke out in a sly smile bearing blackened teeth which stank of decay and alcohol.
“Aha, we have a very clever little girl here. A girl who knows the way of the world. Nothing comes for free and everything has a price.” He paused for a moment as his eyes looked her up and down. She swallowed loudly, her initial dread returning. “I am not what I seem little one,” He started, “This man you see before you, isn’t my true form, it is a man whose life has been spent between whore house and ale house, whittling away his hours.” He snorted then in an attempt at a laugh. “Would you believe by looking at this form, lying in the muck before you, that this is the body of a very powerful mage?” she watched the man as he referred to himself as if talking about someone else. She felt the dread and confusion mingle inside waiting for one to win out. “His power called to me but I got here too late he had already pickled himself into oblivion.” Distaste twisted his features, his eyes focused on a point in the distance.
Suddenly she was under his full attention, she squirmed uncomfortably. “I can get you to your mother but I need your help to do it.” She braced herself waiting for the request. “I am a creature of the fade, a veil-sprite, just trying to get home, I do not have a body in this realm. I rely on the generosity of others to transport me here and there. Could you be as accommodating as this man and let me travel with you?” She sat for a moment, it was not the demand she had been expecting and for that alone made her want to help him. But she didn’t know what this “hitchhiker” would require.
“How could I take you anywhere?” She asked testing “I am far too small to carry you”
The man smiled again. “As I said before little one, I am not what I seem, this man before you is merely a vessel, a sack waiting to be filled. When you help me, this man will be left lying in this heap as he sinks further into the drunken oblivion that he has dropped himself into.” the man blinked a slow blink. “All I require is a small corner of your mind to reside in until you reach your mother and I can get home.” Another longer and slower blink “It won’t hurt.” The man looked around wildly for a moment before staring into her eyes with an urgency “Little miss, I don’t mean to hurry you but I need an answer, If I stay here much longer I will be dragged down into the precipice along with him.” She watched as his face became more panicked and urgent. “Only I know whom and where your mother is and between us we will have the power to get to her and no one will stop us.” he said at last and she knew she had no choice. She had heard rumours of veil-sprites and their tricks but this was one which she wouldn’t dare miss if there was even a chance she could reach her mother.
“Alright, how do we do this?” The man smiled a last smile before his face went slack and his grey eyes died. She could almost see the life leaving him as she sat there. Had she missed her chance? What was she to do now? She sat for a few more moments, the dark night had descended so quickly around her, she hadn’t realised, in the course of her conversation, that it was fully dark now.
“Thank you little one. That was close indeed!” she spun around looking for the source of the voice and finding no one else in the ally with her and the dead man.
“Where are you?” She asked, feeling her fear swell in her stomach
“In the small corner of your mind, remember? I can hear what you are thinking so you no longer need to speak out loud. Calm yourself, don’t be afraid, in fact, you must be so tired.” Without warning she felt her eyelids begin to drop as she lowered herself down back onto the filth. What had she done?
“Are you still going to take me to my mother?” she asked as she felt the edges of her mind go fuzzy with sleep.
“Of course, I will. Now go to sleep, I will wake you when we get there” her mind went blank as she drifted away.
Rabisu sat up as he looked down at his new body. The body of a young girl, petite and delicate. Still a couple of years from womanhood. He laughed to himself as he felt the untapped power running through her veins. He wondered how she had never been able to tap into this power before. She could have levelled the city if she had chosen to. It was now all his for the taking. He stood up as he stretched himself into all her limbs, he practised moving as he wriggled his bare toes and flexed his tiny fingers. Everything worked and there was not a drop of alcohol in site. He looked down at the man and felt the sneer appear on his new young face. He kicked the plump and bloated body on the floor. “powerful mage my arse” he snorted. Just a means to an end. He had felt her power from leagues away shining like a beacon to him. He was just surprised no other had claimed her before now. He shrugged, feeling her straw like hair stick his face. He smiled. He would be able to stay in this body a very long time. He had reached her before she had been able to poison herself. So first things first he needed to plan what his next step was. First, he needed to get clothes and shoes, and for that he needed money, he pondered for a second before looking back down to the lump of a man on the floor. He bent down and began rifling through his belongings. He looked at the coin in his hand. He had no idea whether this was enough for clothes but he could certainly get more. He looked up again and found the whore and ale house that the man had stumbled from. He smiled as, in his new feminine form he walked towards the entrance. Whichever way the pint was poured, he would be walking out with all the money he could carry.