Topic: Rose Red
You can consider this part one of two, I suppose. It's much in the vein of my last story, although it's considerably less bleak. I also apologize for any typos and the like in advance, this was a shot from the hip and isn't particularly well-edited.
The light streaming through the window in my father's office seared my eyes. Between the tears and the darkness of the rest of the room, I couldn't see the face of the man at the desk. A face I hadn't seen in half a decade.
The man's voice echoed through the room, “I presume you have considered my offer?”
I wiped the tears from my eyes with my hand, steeling my gaze at the figure at the desk. I hoped the bravado masked the fear.
The man at the desk seemed to hiss at my response.
“Then you are no son of mine.”
Not an hour later, the gates to my family's manor shut behind me. It had been six years since I had last left those gates, four since I had last left my room. In the west, the lights of capital sparkled. I went east.
I shivered as I collapsed into a pile of snow. Why had I chosen east? What could I possibly have been thinking in doing that? It had been at least two days since I had last seen anything resembling society.
Deep down, I knew the reason why. I simply wished to...no, I couldn't think like that. Anything was better than this cold, than this hunger, than this bright-white path that seemed to venture on into eternity.
It was some time until I could muster the energy to look up from my spot again. I squinted further onto my path, trying to discern anything in this white haze.
My heart skipped a beat. Did I..? Was that a light..?
Minutes later, the doors to the building were in front of me. I knocked on the door, glancing at the small placard that said 'St. Windrose' next to it.
The door opened, a woman with a look of shock on her face.
“A new acolyte?” She said before stepping aside. I made it two steps in before collapsing.
A thick, floral scent greeted me once I regained consciousness. I pushed myself into a sitting position and examined my surroundings. Outside the bad I was sitting on, it was mostly bare—just a small chest and empty desk on it. The smell appeared to be wafting in from the ajar door across from me. I pushed myself back on my feet, failing to the first time and hobbled my way in the direction of the smell.
The pews and pulpits signaled to me where I had ended up. On the other side of the large room, I could see the doors I had first entered from. In the middle of the room was the pulpit, a large rose set in the pot on it. Across from the pulpit, there was also another door. The most curious thing that set this apart from other churches, however, was the long mural of intricately-drawn flowers that encircled the entire room, each of which magically glowing and giving an uncanny ambiance to the room.
Below the pulpit, the other woman was boiling something in a pot. She looked up at me.
“Oh, you're finally awake!”
She stood up and walked over to me, taking my hand towards the pot. “It's not ready yet, but I have much to ask you.”
“Yes. It's quite unusual for the village to send us new acolytes in the middle of winter.”
Her eyes grew a little wider, “You are an acolyte, right?” I shook my head, then she continued, “You are from the village though?”
Once again I shook my head, “Before last week I had never even left the capital.”
“O-oh, How did you find yourself here at Windrose Manor then?”
“Bad decis--”I managed to get out before coughing, finally noticing the dryness of my throat. I looked at her and coughed again. A moment later, she had returned from another room with a small glass of water. Then, I continued.
“The truth is I don't really have a home to return to. So, I started walking and well—you saw me when I made it here.”
She nodded, “Indeed.” A moment passed. “Do you have a destination in mind?”
“Not particularly,” I sighed.
She just looked at me, her head tilted, “What's your name, mister?”
I told her.
Two days later, the chill that had almost been my death had passed me by. Flora—as I had learned was my hostess's name—was quiet and inquisitive, I had found out. With only a scant few questions, she managed to derive the majority of my situation and had left it at that.
In that time as well, all I had notice was that thrice a day she went through the back door of the church to tend to the garden. Not once had she let me through however, even when I asked she made up some excuse. Yet, I didn't feel unwelcome by any means. Besides the mysterious garden I was free to do as I pleased, albeit 'as I please' did not amount to much in such a barren place.
Which was why I was caught off guard when she asked if I was going to leave soon that morning.
“Why do you ask?”
Her lip curled up a little, “I mean simply, have you considered your future?”
I didn't answer.
“And if you haven't, would you be willing to listen to a story?”
Somewhat shocked, I just blinked and told her to continue. She smiled.
“Saint Windrose, it is said, was our village's savior centuries ago.”
“In those days, wars between various city-states were common. Our village, being too small to fend off advances from the larger cities, paid tribute to what is now the capital and they protected us. This agreement lasted for fifty years, it is said. Yet, eventually things turned worse.”
“One year, a particularly harsh summer killed the harvest. In the early days of that winter, a missive came from the capital to us—pay twice the tribute or be destroyed. With a failing crop, we were distraught.”
“We didn't pay—if we did, the village would starve. They sent the messenger back alone, his head severed. The village was despondent. We knew we were doomed unless a miracle happened before winter's end. Thankfully, a mysterious man appeared in our darkest hour.”
“He identified himself as Windrose, a magician from the east, although we now suspect he was an avatar of Horus. He said he could save us, but required the firstborn son of every family in the village. Faced with certain death, the village handed their sons to him. Once gathered, he presented each of them with one of these.”
Flora reached behind her, then jumped when she realized it wasn't there. She scrambled up to the pulpit, pulling the rose out of the pot, then presented it to me. When I touched it, a warm feeling I had not felt in ages pulsed through my body up to my head, where it began to hum in the back of my mind. Just as quickly as it happened, Flora pulled the flower away from me and with it the feeling.
“He had them disrobe, and in turn placed a single rose inside each of their—ahem.” She paused, and I could see a small blush across her face. Surely she didn't mean there. Then, she nodded at me, “Follow me.”
I got up and followed her to the garden door, waiting as she unlocked it and pushed it open. The bright light made my vision water, reflecting off the white sheets of snow that covered everything. Squinting, I managed to follow her into the snow. When we reached the end of the path, she turned to me and stepped aside.
“The transformation was slow at first, but eventually they became what you see here.”
I cleared my vision again, glaring into the garden in front of me, and my heart froze.