I jumped from my slumber, my small hands grasped the stick I had carried in for protection. Night had fallen across the forest while I slept. I could hear something. My eyes searched the darkness, and soon caught the light from a torch that was bouncing through the dark. I could hear someone singing nervously through the darkness, I assumed it was the same person carrying the torch.
I stood up and followed them, while keeping the stick close at my side. I had no idea why I was following this person, I didn't know if they were friendly or not. With each crunch of the underbrush I cringed, hoping whoever I was following didn't grow wise to my presence. My legs ached from the constant assault the lower branches delivered, I ignored it and pushed on.
After a while the torch stopped along with the singing, I crouched behind a tree and watched silently. Whoever it was, had stopped for a long time, perhaps they were setting up camp, I thought.
"How long have you been following me?" A low voice pierced me from behind.
I nearly jumped out of my skin. I spun around and held the stick out in front of me. I wagged it around like it was some sort of real weapon. He laughed while he fired up his torch, the glow became bright enough to where I could see him and some of our surroundings. I stopped my feeble attack, but my heartbeat on.
"Why are you out in the middle of nowhere?" He asked in an accent I wasn't familiar with.
My back was pressed against the tree I was hiding behind, the stick shook in my hand in front of me. I looked over the armor he wore, on his breastplate there was a symbol etched into it. It looked like a bird grasping a circle, the sun, I thought. I'd never seen a uniform like that before, it reminded me of something you would read about in a fairy tale, like a knight.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to bother you." I replied in a quick stutter. I hoped he would believe the lie I told.
He lowered the torch and glanced at my legs. "You must have been following me a while to get cuts like that. Why would you walk around in the dark dressed like an idiot?" He asked mockingly.
For a moment his statement reminded me of something Justin would say, and his arrogant tone didn't help matters.
His eyes watched me. "I was following you... I am sorry. I have no idea where I am. I'm not entirely sure why I was following you to begin with." I confessed to him. The fire flared on the torch causing it to crackle loudly, I jumped.
He looked me over again cautiously. "Follow me." He motioned for me to walk over to his camp. I followed behind him hesitantly.
In the distance I could hear a faint snorting sound. It was soft at first and grew louder the closer we moved to his camp. I found my feet pushing me quicker behind the young man who was leading me. I hissed each time a branch nicked the wounds on my legs.
He laughed, and looked back at me. "It's okay. Watch yourself and take your time." He smiled and walked quickly ahead.
Ahead at his camp, I could see a very large animal, it was standing next to the other torch. It had a rich brown coat that shined even in little light. I kept my distance from the animal examining its size and beauty.
"It's just Ellah. You seemed startled by her disgruntled noises." He walked up to the animal and brushed his hand across her snout. Her tail swatted the air.
"Roughing it doesn't quite suit her."
I joined them. My eyes were glued to her. "Is Ellah a horse?" I asked. I could only guess, not having seen one ever. I had been told stories about some of the animals that lived outside our settlement, but never seen photos or illustrations of them.
He gave me a puzzled stare. "You act like you've never seen a horse before." He grabbed a bag that was attached to the saddle.
I scratched the wounds on my legs nervously. It was obvious I was an outsider but for some reason he wasn't picking up on it.
"You must be parched." He handed me a clear bottle. "That's water."
He picked through the bag again and pulled out a small glass jar along with some torn cloth.
"And this should help with those cuts."
I tended to my wounds while he made a fire. I watched him, the newly added light brought out more of his features. He was young, he had to be around the same age as me, I thought. I watched him as he stared at the fire in wonder just as I would have if I wasn't as nervous as I was. His blue eyes glimmered brightly with the fire's reflection, I looked away nervously when he caught my stare. The ointment that he had given me was starting to take effect, the burning on my legs ceased.
"You never answered my question from earlier." He spoke up, our eyes met, the dancing fire in his eyes caught my attention again.
"Why were you out here alone?" He asked.
I wrapped my arms around my legs and pulled them to my chest, breaking our eye contact.
"I'm not sure how I got here, the night before was a blur." I stared again at the fire.
"Must have been some night." He snorted amused at his little joke.
"The last thing I remember was lying in my bed. I was extremely ill... I can't remember what happened after that." I replied.
"Where is your home?"
I hesitated with my answer. "Larska."
His eyes widened. "You're from Larska?" He gawked at me.
He gave me a half-smile. "Is that supposed to be some sort of joke?"
He forced out a laugh. "Did Cassandra set you up to this?" He looked around. Was he expecting someone else to join us?
I looked at him confused at what he was asking. I didn't understand why he was questioning my answer.
"If you're really from Larska, they would have tagged you. Where did they tag you?" He moved closer to me.
He was talking about the tattoo all of us were given for ID. It was a failsafe if Larska Servers went down to return us to our proper holdings.
"See for yourself." I replied.
I tilted my head and folded my ear over, on the back of my neck was inked LS3 Elis. He pulled my head closer to the fire so he could read the tattoo.
He released his grip on my head. "Yeah, it's official." He sounded worried.
"Are we near Larska, can you take me back?"
His eyebrow rose.
"Well as far as I know Larska is South and you are North... way North of Larska. It's a miracle you've made it as far as you have alone. And to answer your question, No, there is no way in hell I would go near that place. Why would you want to go back there anyway?" He poked at the fire with the stick I was carrying for protection, his stare wandered from me to the fire and back quickly.
"I never heard of anyone who escaped from Larska, they usually run a tight ship there. You should count yourself lucky you got away from that prison."
I glared at him. "Prison, what are you talking about? Just who the hell do you think you are anyway?"
He chuckled to himself and apologized to me. "I'm James and you already know Ellah." He replied sarcastically.
I paused, his name brought a fleeting feeling that I could not grasp. Was it a clue from the previous night?
He watched me waiting for my introduction.
"I'm Alanis..." I replied nervously.
He smiled. "Alanis, what a lovely name."
He went on to tell me that there were others, like me, who had left settlements just like Larska. He also said it was forbidden for his people to cross into those territories, that they each had an agreement to stay out of each other's affairs.
He told me about Berthold, the city he was from. The more he went on about everything, the more it really sounded like a fairy tale. Their cities were run by royals and they had guards and servants. He told me he had just been accepted into the Lahre of Berthold, they were Knights that protected the city of Berthold. He told me he was ordered to explore the forest we were in as his first mission, that he was in search of something.
The way they lived seemed backwards compared to the way of life I was used to living, I found his story curious but at times it overwhelmed me. It would take a long time for me to grasp what was going on. I stared at the fire and thought of Justin, wondering if he had known about this all along, if he had known about the people who lived beyond our settlements.
He offered me his cloak to lie on, it was soft, and the inside had been lined with a thin layer of velvety fur. I curled up on it and watched the fire, not allowing my eyes to rest.
"James," I spoke up. "What did you mean when you said nobody escapes Larska?"
"You're the first that I know of who has left Larska." He combed his fingers through his sandy blond hair. "If you say it's not a prison then it must be true. Some of the others that have joined us have claimed otherwise, so that's why I assumed." He leaned back, his pack cushioned his head.
I observed him as he settled against the large tree trunk. Something didn't sit right with the answer he had just given me, but it was most likely the paranoia I was feeling that made me question his motives.
"Go to sleep." He spoke up noticing my thorough examination. "Nothing will happen to you, you have my word."
"After all you do have a Knight protecting you." He winked.
I rolled my eyes, knowing he had been just as nervous as I was. I had heard him singing out into the darkness like a scared child.
He laughed abruptly, my eyes were brought back to him. "I can't believe you've never seen a horse before." He scoffed while closing his eyes.
His comment stirred a negative emotion within me. I turned away from him as my eyes began to fill with tears. The events of the day had finally overwhelmed me. I curled up and suppressed my sobs, until I fell asleep.