Welcome again to YAFF Muse: blog rounds. The ladies of YA Fiction Fanatics have come together for YAFF Muse. To have a little fun, explore different styles of writing and to give you some kick-butt shorts to read. Enjoy!
Photo Credit: Gingerkrick from wikimedia commons
We ducked behind the twisted metal of what was left of an old station wagon. Ace grabbed my hand, jerking me toward the alley.
“Come on Rina, you need to move, now.” He shoved me into the shadows right as flares erupted overhead, lighting the whole street.
“There’s nowhere to hide. They’ll find us.” I swallowed hard. Today was Blood’s Day. A day we were forced to celebrate and give to those who’d allowed us to live.
It’d been seven years since the world had been punished—nearly obliterated. Or so the Grand Mayor said. But I didn’t remember anything, other than the moment Ace found me six years ago. Everything before that was lost. I had no family. No home. Nothing. Hell, I didn’t even remember my own name. So Ace gave me one. Rina.
Screams echoed off the crumbled buildings as people ran, trying to hide from the soldiers. No one ever came to this side of town, until they needed something. Or rather, someone. We all knew what they came for and none of us wanted to give it willingly.
“Damn it, Rina, move your ass.” Ace ducked inside the remnants of the cinema. His grip on my arm tightened as we dove behind the rows of dilapidated cinema seats.
Dust kicked up like we’d been sucked inside a vacuum, and the loud whir of helicopter blades sounded from above.
Bright light exploded. I covered my face to shield my eyes. But it was too late. A man repelled down a rope, snagging hold of me.
“Ace,” I screamed. The last thing I saw were his startled blue eyes as I was ripped into the air. “Let me go.” My foot connected with my captor’s shin, but he held tight like a coiled snake constricting its victim.
“Stop thrashing or I’ll drop you right here.” The soldier warned.
The chopper carried us a short distance, where a wooden platform stood erected near several white tents. Fear ensnared me like a giant bear trap. This was it. We landed several feet from the stage and two armed guards immediately met me.
They ushered me under one of the canopies.
“Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?” a woman with white cotton ball like hair said. “Such an honor to be chosen.”
My jaw clenched. “Chosen? I wasn’t chosen, I was stolen. I don’t want to do this.”
“Come now. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”
Then maybe you should go in my place you rich piece of crap. The words rolled around my thoughts like marbles.
The guards raised their guns. I closed my eyes, sucked in a deep breath, and followed the woman. She showed me to a steaming wooden tub.
“Get those grimy clothes off and I’ll have Greta come give you a good washing. We don’t have much time, it’s nearly midnight.”
My fingers trembled as I unbuttoned the baggy shirt and tight pants, they fell to the floor in a heap. Hands shoved me from behind, until I stumbled into the scalding water. It burned my skin and I yelped.
“Sit down,” another woman, Greta, I think, said. “Can’t having you look like vermin in front of the Gods.”
I wanted to tell her to go to hell and to take her fake Gods with her. Every year the Grand Mayor ordered young women to be taken from the city and brought here. He made a celebration of death, while everyone cheered and partied and carried on as if this was a joke. And every year, the Gods ignored the gifts—we still suffered and the Grand Mayor still controlled everything. Well, everything but the Labyrinth.
Strong hands forced me down, dunking me under the fiery hot liquid. I couldn’t breathe. She’s drowning me. My lungs burned. Bubbles rippled in my vision.
At last she jerked me upward, scrubbing at my head, face, and back with a thick brush. Tears ran down my cheeks as the bristles dug into my skin. Any moment now, I expected to see my flesh come away or spatterings of blood in the tub.
“Hurry Greta, they’re almost ready,” the other woman called.
Arms the size of tree branches hefted me from the bath and rubbed me dry. “Here, put this on.”
I was handed a long white robe. My stomach churned. I reached forward to steady myself on a nearby chair. The Blood’s Day girls always wore white. So the whole village could see us bleed.
Trumpets sang in the distance and cheers from the plaza nearly deafened me.
“Ah, so here is our little flower.” The Grand Mayor parted the flaps of the tent; his beady eyes rested on my legs, which were visible beneath the sheer fabric of the robe. “You should hold your head high this day.”
He reached a meaty paw out to caress my face.
“Burn. In. Hell.” I spat.
His eyes narrowed. “Take her to the Labyrinth’s center.”
Guards dragged me forward, the stones scraping my legs as I fought to free myself. When the spectators saw me, they cheered louder—whooping and hollering. My gaze drifted over the gathered crowd. Mothers held tight to their daughters, relief flooding their features, for their children were safe for another year.
My head snapped up. Ace pushed his way through the throng of people. Shaggy dark hair fell across his forehead nearly hiding the piercing blue eyes I’d grown so accustomed to. Even with dirt smudged across his face, he was perfect. Strong. Beautiful. And I’d never get the chance to tell him.
“Ace.” My fingers brushed his before the guards pinned him to the ground, keeping him from me. My throat thickened with emotion. Sorrow washed over me. I love you. And I’d die to keep you safe.
Two other girls were rushed through the center of the chaos both adorned in white, like me. One cried, clutching tight to a gold chain at her neck. The other marched forward on her own, no resistance at all as if she was proud to give herself over to this madness.
We were ushered to the middle of the Labyrinth like stones. The Grand Mayor tapped on a microphone, taking his place at the raised podium.
“Good people of New Virginia Beach. Today is a special day for us. A day we celebrate and offer blood unto the gods. We ask only for their continued blessings. And for the opening of the powerful Labyrinth, which will grant us what it is we seek.”
Three of the guards stepped toward us each armed with a ceremonial dagger.
“Which of our Blood Girls offers first blood?” The Grand Mayor’s toothy grin reminded me of a hungry monster.
“Me,” the proud girl said.
“Very well.” He gestured for the soldier to proceed.
I turned my head, but as the crowd quieted I heard the first slice of flesh then felt the spray of blood on my own skin. My stomach rolled, but the onlookers hollered their approval.
“Thank you for your sacrifice Milicent Wendell,” the Grand Mayor said. “But she is not the one. Next girl please.”
The girl with the necklace shrieked even before the knife made contact. I have to get out of here. I can’t die, not like this. Help me. Please.
More agonizing yelps sounded, drowning out all other noises. My heart pounded and I kicked out my legs, knocking one of the guards to the ground. It was fight or die. My mouth clamped down on my captor’s arm. He released me and I leapt over the bodies of the fallen girls, blood already pooling around the Labyrinth like tiny rivers.
Crimson fluid splashed against my legs as I tried to run.
“Rina, now is the time to remember,” Ace shouted. He shoved aside the armed soldier who’d held him at bay only moments ago. With a sickening crack, he broke the guys neck.
“Remember us.” Voices sprung up from the stones beneath my feet. “Come home my daughter.”
The ground rumbled causing people to fall to their knees. The moon turned red, casting scarlet shadows on the surrounding buildings and faces At last, Ace reached my side, clutching me tight. The Labyrinth sprung up around us. Air whooshed and thunder boomed. Painful howls and shrieks spiraled from outside our protective wall.
“What’s happening?” I clung to Ace, burying my face against him.
“You’re going home, Goddess. You’re job here is done.” Ace’s dirty rags fell away to reveal bronze armor beneath. He clutched a sword in his hand. “The people have been punished. And after the Grand Mayor’s death today, no one shall be sacrificed again.”
“Goddess?” I whispered. Then I remembered all.
The light. My arrival to Earth. The battles. The deaths. And now, it was over. I could go home. Ace held tight to my hand and we stepped into the light.
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