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Meiyerditch, Sanguinesti Gideon District, Eight Years Ago




          A strong gust whirled it's way through the labyrinthine city of Meiyerditch, and blew away momentarily the dust and smog of thousands of cooking and warming fires. Fate, in it's strange way, would have it also ensnare in it's flowing grasp the kite of young DiMarko Illyrivich. A sorry thing, the kite itself was primarily made of many layers of news pamphlets, the words on them smeared and unreadable from the elements and wind. Not that anyone would like to read them anyway, everyone in the Sanguinesti knew who really wrote them. The all-encompassing embrace of Vyre overlordship cradled them, nestling them from the outside world, and coming swiftly and brutally to collect it's tithe with little in the way of warning. It was the horror of this fact, the gnawing anger of it, that led DiMarko to escapism. Many hours he had spent, half-way up a rise somewhere or other, or atop a tenement, gazing dreamily at the fluttering diamond tethered to him. He would feel the wind tugging on the line, and dream of being a bird. A bird would have no reason to stay in this place. He could fly away.

          Kites may fly away, too. DiMarko frowned as the frayed line of threadbare cloth snapped, and the fruit of his labor spun and twirled away from him, dancing on the rising air. Luckily, DiMarko observed the kite flutter four or five stories up a dreary tenement building, snagging itself on a barred window. Drat. He thought. He had never been fond of climbing. But for the kite, he would scale the Wall again. DiMarko raised himself from the plinth he had been sitting on, and hopped down. Faceless masses of drained-looking people passed him. Even a full month since their District's last tithe, the adults were quieter and meeker than usual. Careful not to stray into enclaves of buildings hidden from the sun, Dimarko made his way to the foot of the tenement and began to climb. Handholds were easy to come by, with the urban decay that was in place. In no time, he had reached the kite and retrieved it. His dirty, boyish face folded into a frown when he saw that it was torn. No matter. He resolved to mend it later. Grasping the window bars, he looked down. Above him, on the roof, he heard faint sobbing and the whimpers of a crying girl.

          He realized that it would be simpler to just climb to the roof of the building and make his way down from inside. He hoped not to run into any residents, Sanguinesti were especially jumpy in their homes. Still, confused about the source of the climbing, DiMarko reached the parapet and climbed over to investigate. As he crossed the low wall, his arm scraped roughly against a hanging carpenter's nail. Bright blood leaked from it, and he rubbed masonry dust in the wound to slow the bleeding. He rounded a small shack atop the structure, and came upon the curled form of a crying girl. She looked at him, with running eyes.

          "Stetchka?" He quivered.

          "Marko!" Stetchka quickly turned her head, hiding her tearful eyes behind her flaxen hair.

           "Are you crying? What's wrong?" Dimarko dropped his kite, and knelt next to her.

           "Nothing. It's nothing." She would not look at him.

           DiMarko bit his lip and pouted, speaking. 

           "Stetchka, don't lie to me. We're meant to look out for eachother, remember? We can't do that if we're not honest with eachother."

          She wiped her eyes lightly, and rose. He rose next to her, and the pair leaned on the parapet. The gleaming orange ball of the sun shone through the gloom, and gulls flapped their winged forms across that gleaming field. She sighed.

          "I don't want to grow up, Marko. I don't want to be tithed."

          Marko was silent, allowing her to speak.

          "I asked Father Pasha about that brass thing, months ago. You remember? He said it was a bell."

          Marko tilted his head. He was never a scholar. "What's a bell?"

          "Father Pasha said that it was something people used to hit with a mallet when they were happy. Or sad. To make music."

         She continued.

          "I asked him about the words, too. Libera Aeturnum. You were right about it being an old language."


           "It's older than the Vyres. Older than this city, even. Angels used to speak it. It means to be free, forever."

           Marko's heart swelled. He was moved beyond words, and could not speak. She was speaking with a voice full of emotion now.

           "I want that more than anything, Marko. To be free of all this. To be free with you.

          "Let's leave, Marko. Let's leave now and never look back. That spot on the wall. We'll ring that bell, and we'll jump off into the sea. We'll swim away and-"


          Before she could continue, a horn rent the air. The very noise made them ill. The Tithe had come to Gideon. Primal panic overwhelmed them. They had recently aged out of the orphanage, and were now subject to the taxation. Their first Tithe was imminent. Stetchka dropped to her heels in a ball, and quivered.

          "No, no no no no. No!" She repeated, seemingly losing control of herself. She would not move.

         "Stetchka! STETCHKA! We've got to go! We've got to get off the roof!" He pulled at her unresponsive frame. She was completely limp from fear.

          Thoughts raced through Marko's mind faster than he could recognize them. They could not hide, it was common knowledge that the Vyres and their Seeker Thralls are more than thorough, would discover them, and then make them pay a Penalty Tithe. If they attempted to escape now, they would be apprehended by the encroaching Vyrewatch and, again, made to pay a penalty tithe. Steeling himself, awakening within him an iron resolve to see Stetchka kept safe, he resolved to guide her through the Tithe. He would not lose sight of her, no matter what. Bending down, and lifting with his legs, he cradled the smaller girl in his thin arms, and heaved her aloft. He entered the building, and began to descend the maddening fray of the stairs. Dozens of smells assailed his nose, of cooking and human waste. Infants cried, alone in their cribs. Mother and brothers and fathers clamored about within the cramped, ship-like space of the tenement. The great master Fear was at work here, and men turned mad as they scrambled over eachother to get onto the street. The waifish girl gripped tightly to the rough-hewn cloth on his chest, and he squeezed her tighter as the pair entered the street together.

         "Put me down, please. I-.. I think I can walk now." Stetchka asked, still seemingly weak. Marko obeyed. The screeching call of Vyres flying above them shook them to the core, their arrival heralding as always another parade of woe. Up and down the corridor-like streets of the city, the citizenry, cowed and weak, queued themselves into lines, all universally knowing their powerlessness. Long minutes passed here, and the shuffling line of humanity approached the Tithing Pool.


           Like ants, their thousands shambled along. Closer to the pool, Vyres wearing heavy armor, with wickedly shaped polearms enforced tranquility. The booming voice of the Tithe Master rang out above all, even the constant murmur of chittering gossip among the Blood Cattle. Even from here, the stately Vyrric voice could be heard calling out numbers in decimals of liters. As a toddler, nearly every Sanguinesti citizen learned to count blood in liters. It was a vital skill. The most common tithe would be just below a liter. Penalty tithes varied on the whim of the tithing Vyre, mostly ranging up to two liters. Beyond that, tithing was frequently fatal, and it would be more economical just to tithe the entire five liters and be done with it. Stetchka, hearing the calls, shrank and whimpered.

          "I'm afraid, Marko. I'm so afraid."

          "I am too. Just stick with me and we'll be alright. Everything will be alright."

          His words seemed to calm her, and her whimpering ceased. Time passed slowly, and soon came the group in front of them's turn. A fearsome Vampyre, more bat-like than man-like, stood next to the Ravenstone with a cruel cudgel, red gemstones embedded in his ornate armor, and rings of gold hanging from his glowering wings. When he spoke, the world seemed to vibrate. He ordered individuals forward and, his assistants clutching their arms and pulling them over a metal trough, he sank claw-like metal blades into the flesh of their arm, and rent open a medium-sized tear in the skin, allowing blood to pour in. Skilled in their trade, these tithe masters could visually identify the quantity of blood being drained just on duration of draw, and would swiftly send their fodder to the nearby medical station, to have their wound closed. The Master pointed a gnarled finger at a man in front of them, and beckoned him forward. He examined him briefly before calling out, in a voice like thunder:


           Like a lamb, the man bowed his head and held out his arm. The allotment of blood was drained, and he was led away meekly. Marko's soul trembled as the finger then lay upon them, and the voice called out to Stetchka.

"GIRL." The harshly accented Vyrric voice roared. Stetchka shrieked, and dropped to her heels once more. A pair of Thralls approached her, burly men with hollow eyes. Wordless, they grabbed the waif by the arms and led her to the Stone. Weakly, she thrashed against them.

"CEASE AT ONCE AND BE TITHED, GIRL." She would not listen, she was in an animal rage now, and couldn't be persuaded. She bucked the grip of one of the Thralls, wheeling around wildly in the open square. Swift as lightning, the Tithe Master was upon her, and grabbed her other arm. She froze for a moment, staring into the Abyss of the Vyre's eyes.

"ZERO POINT SEVEN." Fear gripped her, and in a panic, she bit into the hard flesh of the Vyre's ringed fingers in an attempt to get free. Wordless, without even a whimper, the Vyre released her.

"STETCHKA!" Marko cried out from the throng. It was too late. Hands seized him. What a fool he was to cry out.

           The wicked Vyre club was raised skyward, and made to fall on her shoulder. Even from where he was restrained, he heard the bones crack. She howled. Many people covered their lifeless faces. The Vyre threw the leg of his towering frame over her, and brought down the club once more, denting her skull like an eggshell, and breaking her jaw. He stepped off of her, and, still in a panic, the girl scrambled about, clutching at the open ground around her on all fours. She continued to scream, distorted and inhuman now, her mind failing and her mouth a ruin. Her eyes wide, she looked directly at Marko. He wished she hadn't. The club fell upon her skull once more as she gazed, and sank within her head. She was no more. Marko screamed and bucked against his captors. Skull fragments and brain matter hung grimly from the master's cudgel. Marko felt ill. The thousands of gathered humans were silent.


          Juvinate attendeds scrambled to clear her corpse from the square, removing what tattered clothing she once wore and trussing up her naked corpse above the trough on black chains. The master's blade sunk into her throat, and they opened her nearly to the ribcage. Marko was made to watch by the Thralls. He broke free from them, and ran as quickly as he could toward the Vyre responsible. He wanted nothing more than to die. He wasn't even sure what his objective was, now. No one he had ever heard of had killed a Vyre, and for good reason. They were faster than you could ever imagine, and seemed to know exactly what you were going to throw at them before you ever did. He crashed uselessly into the tower of the Vyre's armor, who looked down on him from above, sneering.

"NO TITHE FOR THE BOY. HE WILL NEED STRENGTH FOR THE MINES." Marko pounded futilely on the armor, and the Thralls moved to slip a canvas sack over his boyish skull. Before darkness enveloped him, he saw greedy Juvinates dipping bone cups into the blood trough, and savoring the drink. Rope bound his arms and legs, and he fell into a black pit of silence and sobbing as the harsh wooden floor of a cart bed pounded against him, rolling over cobbles to the weeping of hundreds of women. He had wondered before if there were worse fates than death. Now he knew.



Edited by The_Fridge

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