The world is an extravagant place. It contains beautiful creatures coexisting in a natural balance, either cohesively or for mere survival. In the wild, they're surrounded by lush, fresh green seas of grass that give light, subtle scents of a fruity essence. A cool spring breeze lightly brushes against our tan skin and tussle our hair playfully; making the trees rustle with a soft energy, and making pollen fly through the air, tickling our noses. The sun beams down with gentle rays of warmth, hiding behind fluffy white clouds every so often, and making the rivers and streams glisten like sheets of glass.
Our town, Naisha, is nice too. The streets and roads are made of grey and red brick, with no sidewalks. The streets have small, vintage stores, like of antique shops, bookstores, clothing stores, or grocery stores. Our homes are typically stone cottages with ivy vines spreading across the exterior, giving them a vaguely nostalgic and romantic appeal, and a white fence surrounding our homes to define territory. The centre of Naisha features a sandstone fountain, designed with a black stoned swan with its wings extended, clear water spouting from it constantly. The outskirts of our town derive from the modern architecture, where red brick turns to brown dirt, with tall green grass extending as far as the eye can see. Just a bit in the distance, a wooden deck sits out on its own, with a ramp leading up to it. We call that area the Auction Deck, and everyone, including me, Sylua, avoids that area if possible, despite its quiet, soft beauty, it is just tall grass with a deck.
The Auction Deck's use is only for "certain things", as my mother put it. Vaguely, I remember asking her about that place when she was brushing my brown hair to calm her nerves, during the Slumber Season, a cold time of year with snow and little life. When I asked, she stopped brushing immediately, turning me around gently, and her dark grey eyes looking into mine. She rested her hands on my shoulders, shaking them gently. She said "Sylua, that place is used only for certain things, no one should go there idly."
Back then, I was confused, too young to understand what she had been warning me of at the time. I had only found out just three years ago, age 14, of what the Auction Deck's use was, but I guess, before I explain that, a bit of background is needed.
It is not anything remarkable or symbolic. Naisha is our town - the Elves' town - the only town able to welcome us after years of conflict. "Compensation" is the best way to put it. The Auction Deck, though, was the humans' idea. All it is used for is to display our kind for little money and exports. It is only during the Time of Life, specifically the fifth day of it. Hedonistically, this day is now considered a "holiday", Giver's Day. The process goes that the town of Naisha is to group around in the plains, facing the deck, with neat dresses and suits, and styled hair. We wait. We begin waiting. Waiting at the start of noon, waiting and waiting, until the humans come to take some of us away.
The process is not random and only Elves, mostly women, taken for what the humans call "the gathering in an effort to extend the next generation's lifeline". However, to me, it is a bunch of sugarcoated trash. I was once told, by an older Elf, that something similar happened with the humans many millenniums ago. Nevertheless, back then, it was between the humans themselves, divided by appearance and blood, and any gatherings were simply for breeding.
"With each difference that humans have come to terms with, they are always ready to attack another one," the old Elf said. He said that, since humans had actually complied peacefully, or as much as their mind allows them, of all things, the lifeline, blood, and appearance separated us from them. I suppose it is true. Compared to humans, our lives are longer, our blood is thinner, and our ears pointed while theirs were round.
That is exactly why, today, Giver's Day, I am surrounded by Elves just like me, dressed in white dresses and black suits. Staring blankly at the Auction Deck and waiting anxiously for those damned creatures to come by and take someone away again. Just looking at the deck infuriates me, but what's more infuriating is the Elfin man in front of me, with scraggily light brown hair and a sloppy suit, hands in his pockets and shifting nervously. He does not anger me, though, it is the reason he is so unnerved. This Elf, Isol, was usually seen with another two Elves, good friends, the lot of them, and he was rational, tough-minded, and a relaxed person. Today, though, he stood separate from his friends, waiting for someone to return this year.
Every few minutes while I stood behind him, waiting, staring at his stiff back and at the Auction Deck, I had the urge to ask how he was feeling, see the look in his eyes, and know what he was thinking. Instead, I kept my mouth shut, shaking my head and telling myself not to, feeling the long blades of grass scratch against my skin.
For several minutes, all I could hear were cicadas, birds, and my own breathing. Vaguely, though, I heard it. The clip-clops of horses, the jerking of an unstable cart, and the occasional cracking of leather whip, far in the distance, but getting louder and louder all the same. I turned my head slightly to the dirt path that stretched into the horizon, anticipating the cart's arrival. Staring, and staring.
Isol was looking too, and from what I could see of his green eyes, it was an intent, begrudging look he gave the path. We are the only two people looking in the cart's direction, while everyone else stares at the two Elves walking onto the Auction Deck. One of them, named Cain, was adorned in silver armour that covered his chest only, while the rest of his attire was neatly made dress pants, and a sword strapped to his waist. Beside him, a woman with long, wispy black hair, named Lisia. She wore a long purple gown, tied at the waist with an extravagant gold bow, matching the diadem on her forehead. Those two Elves, they were exempt from Giver's Day, and instead welcomed back the Elf that returned to us. Lisia was a good person, in all honesty, it was obvious that the soft smile she wore could be made out of cardboard, she did not wish for the cart to have someone in it at all, ever. She would rather that Giver's Day never existed, but regardless of her feelings, she was treated differently, exclusive to the human's rule, just as her knight was. It was odd, having people in a small town like Naisha be treated like royalty, but all the same, it was how she was born, the daughter of our only cleric.
Lisia and Cain looked for the cart as well, and from Cain's grim expression, I knew that it was nearby. The jerky thing was louder than just a few seconds ago were, and the whip's cracking made me flinch, gripping my arm unconsciously. I hated that cart.
And just like that, there it was. Solid wood, drawn by two chestnut horses with only tape keeping the end closed off. As it grew closer, I saw them. The two women in the carriage, one with long black hair, the other having frizzy blond curls and she was lying in a small, round tub of water, curled up like a ball. She was not ours; she was some other town's woman. However, the raven-haired Elf, clad in a dirtied white dress with straps barely staying on her shoulders, she was ours, and she was our Arailia, a beautiful and once modest girl. Her head was down, and her body seemed limp, but she was not dead. At least not physically.
Isol's head perked with interest, daggers watching the cart as it jerked over to the Auction Deck, the robed human tugging at the horses' reins to stop them. He got off quickly, walking behind the cart and gesturing for Arailia to follow him. Arailia, though, she only sat in the cart, not responding at all. The human cursed loudly in some harsh language I did not know, removing the tape from the cart and hopping in, moving over the auburn girl and to Arailia. She did not take notice, did not make a sound when the human tugged at her arm and made her standing, nearly pushing her off the carriage. She landed sloppily onto the ground, making no effort toward the deck.
The sight made my skin crawl, but I could not look away. I did not want to watch this go on, but I felt the need that I should see. That if I watched, and then some sort of primal truth might be found. When I watched the human stomp over to Arailia, and pulled up on deck, only to turn around and back to the cart, already on his way without a word, which was for the better, in my opinion; I hated the sound of human voices, they were always so harsh, loud, spewing foolish nonsense.
Cain gave Arailia a deep nod, guiding her onto the deck and next to Lisia. The regal Elf smiled at Arailia, patting her near bear shoulders. I was too distracted to notice their kindness, though, and had my eyes glued onto the red, chain-like markings on Arailia's wrists and ankles. Unconsciously, I held my hand to my mouth, resisting the urge to retch at the thought of what happened to her. Her eyes, once a bright blue, were dull and flat, they told a story, one so fractured and broken that I refused to listen.
Lisia cleared her throat loudly, turning to the Elves of Naisha, a stern look on her face. She said something in a clear, bell-like voice, but I did not hear.
I did not want to hear what she said.
I did not want to see the look on Isol's face, watching Arailia stand blankly on the deck.
I did not want any of this.
Earlier, I said that the world is extravagant.
I feel the need to point something out.
The world is beautiful.
The people are not.