The Road Not Taken – Yuri Webnovel Chapter 11

Sometimes, Artumes managed to take a bit of time to herself after training. She would go to bed in her spot behind the barracks, a corner made out of an old straw mattress and darkness that stank of her sweat after an entire day of running and fighting. 

Life was neither easy nor safe in the Outback, but it was still an improvement after all that happened. 

Artumes took off her training clothes, revealing her growing body. At sixteen years of age and three years since the attack at the village, her body still bore the signs of the fire and the assault of the Marrowers: her dark skin scarred by the lashes, the flames that had licked her flesh, and the thin incisions similar to lightning pathways that had been etched on her left arm by the Marrower’s arts.

If she closed her eyes, Artumes could still see her own skin and flesh coming apart as if alive, ripping itself in crimson and umber ribbons, revealing the pale bones beneath.

She clenched her hand. 

All good. 

She had healed nicely. The blood of the Land Beneath the Tide might not run true in her veins, but not all the gifts of the gods ran skin-deep. 

Still, the memory of that day haunted her. The screams, the fire, the slave-mills from the Iron Crown with their empty eyes and their rusty weapons, hacking slashing killing burning-

She winced.

Yes. She could still see that day. Sometimes even when she did not close her eyes. 

“Day will come,” she muttered to herself. Her father used to tell her that no matter what Men could do, the mill of time would ceaselessly turn. That spring would always come after winter, no matter what. 

And young Artumes, refugee from a world that had been swallowed by iron and flames, would carry a spring of death within herself.

She clenched her fist again, marveling at her growing muscles.

She was gaining in strength, speed and resilience. Training here in the Outback, far away from the comforts of the King’s Land, meant she would never taste a warm shower again. But also that when the time came, she would be tempered enough to look into the silver eyes of the Marrowers that had assaulted her village and ripped her family apart, bone from bone and tooth from tooth, and not flinch.

No, she would not flinch at all.

She sighed, allowing the weariness of the day to fill her after the quiet and ever-burning anger had sustained since the last dawn.

Young Artumes put on the grey rags she used as night clothing, and she lay on the straw, closing her aqua eyes. Behind them she saw: she saw the spring she carried within her.

As slumber reached up from the dusty corners of her perception to wrap her up in its dusty bag, the anguish of yesterday turned to the hopes of tomorrow.

The scared, weak kid who was pulled away from the line of fire by a pale girl her age turned into a tall warrior armed of sword, or perhaps of a bitter lance, her rage and her vengeance having tempered it needle-sharp.

She would thrust the silvery weapon deep into the Marrower’s head, cleaving iron, flesh, bone and meat in one fell swipe. She would holler her victory to the heavens and praise the Gods.

For she was Anthilian, and she was young, and she bore the cry of the ruthless people that was yet, even after all those years, the chosen by the Gods.


Sometimes, Runo managed to get a bit of time to think about what she was becoming. 

She reached the bare bathroom in her quarters, lumbering on uneasy legs, and she emptied the contents of her stomach into the cesspit. Her face cringed at the burning taste of her vomit, mixed with the reject that’s been accumulating there for days. 

“I did not mean to,” she said. She could still see it.

She would point the bone wand at the poor mill-slave and watch his skin bristle, his blood boil and seep out of his eyes as he screamed and heaved and struggled against the chains, surrounded only by the echoes of the others, their cries making the air rattle with blood thirst.

She did not want to be there. They had taken her.

Killed her family.

She had only managed to push that Anthilian girl out before-

“I did not… I’m sorry. I’m-“

“Runo,” said a female voice behind her.

Another girl, paler than her, her blonde hair running down to her shoulders. Unlike her, her eyes were already starting to lose their color and they reflected the crumbled moonlight filtering from the open windows. 

“Heleth, I…”

“What are you doing here? You are a mess,” Heleth frowned reaching up to her.


“Shush,” she said pulling her away. She dragged her to the closest water fountain and she pumped a bit of icy water out of it, cleaning her mouth. She made her drink from her palm and then, even as Runo was shaken by spasms, she made her sit next to her on the cold cold cold wall. 

“I’m sorry,” Runo muttered. “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Heleth grasped her face in her hands and forced her to look at her. Runo’s green eyes were glassy, unfocused. 


“Why are you even sorry?”

“I… I made… his blood, I…” Runo grimaced as she felt another fresh bout of vomit rising up from her bowels. Heleth shook her head and she put one of her hands over her stomach – the sensation died down. 

Runo took a few deep breaths as Heleth’s magic set her bowels straight. 

She still felt like running away, like… like jumping from the window straight onto the blood-streaked ground below, but she was a bit calmer.

“The world is a river,” Heleth said, her voice sounding to Runo’s ears like the only light in a sea of darkness. “Pain and sorrow run through it. There is no stopping this river, do you understand? Here, try.”

She began to pump more water from the faucet.

“Hold it. Stop it. By the Gloom Lords, stop the water!” Heleth hissed, raising her voice to the point of a scream, and Runo’s shivering hands rose to try and hold the faucet, but water always spilled from her hands, no matter how hard she tried. 

“I-I can’t.”

“Nobody can,” Heleth sighed, withdrawing her hands from the pump. She took Runo’s hands into her own. “That’s the truth of this world: the only thing you can decide is where you stand. Either downstream, with the slave-mills and the knit-fields,” Runo shivered at the image of the endless plains of curated, living meat, “or upstream, as a proud servant of the Gloom Lords.”

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to be in the river,” she lamented. 

“The die,” Heleth stated. She took a step back, leaving her alone, cold and bereft of all touch. Runo was alone in the dark – she was… bubbles of panic rose and broke against Runo’s ribcage as her heart rattled.

“Do you want to die?” Came her question.

“No! No, no…”

“Your place is here,” Heleth assured her. She closed the space between them and pulled her into an embrace, passing her frail hands over her back. “Next to me. As upstream as we can get. We will never be right at the source, but we can avoid much pain and punishment, if we are smart. You have enough skills to be the best Marrower in our coven. Well, besides me, of course. But you have to start to use them. Otherwise, you will slide too far donwstream for me to help you. I don’t want that. You don’t want that.”

“I don’t… I don’t want that,” she replied – and in that moment, she believed it. 

“That’s right. We are going to face this together, and we are going to walk together, crushing everyone who will stand in our way.” 


The Anthilian Stalker looked at her, raising an eyebrow. 

“I did not think you could do that anymore.”

Runo registered her voice as if from a distant dream. She was laying beyond the borders of the burned land, where even the coronet had ran out of hunger – air still smelled like fire, but here on the slopes of the nearby hills, when every fire had died down and the only lights were those in the night sky, she could take a few full breaths for sure.

“Doing what?” Runo tilted her head towards her captor. She had produced a chain, attached it from her ankle to her warden’s wrist. The Anthilian was giving her a death glare. In the darkness, her aqua eyes had turned reflective and golden, like those of a cat.

The Anthilian tapped just between her enhanced eyes.

Runo reached for her cheeks.

Something warm and wet streaked them. 

“Cry,” the Anthilian scoffed.

Author’s Notes: Probably my favorite chapter so far. Thanks for reading.


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