More mud than woman, Atrocious Lex tramped along a rain soaked road. Her ragged fur boots glugged into the mire every few steps, soaking in just as much water as they repelled. Loose braids escaped their twine ties and slapped about her face, leaving pink trails across her cheeks. Her nose was red from the chill of the wind, her lips chapped from the elemental lashing.
Atrocious liked the outdoors, but she did not particularly care for the way it was trickling into every crevice and seeping into her socks. A more seasoned, better funded traveler might have worn impermeable over-clothes, but Atrocious did not have those kind of resources.
A solitary, sodden figure, she was a perfect target for all the evils of the wilds. She knew her path was far from safe, but with the wind whistling in her ears and the cold cramping her toes, she could barely muster the energy to care.
The officious tones of an Imperial guard rang out from what seemed like half a mile away. Atrocious stopped in her tracks, feeling herself sinking slowly into the muddy mess little by little. She squinted through the rain, wondering if it was too late to backtrack and avoid the altercation about to take place.
“NO. COME HERE AND HALT.”
Taking one deliberate step backwards, Atrocious disobeyed the order. There was still a chance of getting away.
“I SAID, HALT!”
The soprano note of frustration in the otherwise boomed command denoted the soldier as female. The revelation did not make Atrocious feel any better about anything.
Atrocious came to another halt. This one was slightly less muddy, though it hardly mattered now that she was covered in the stuff up to her knees anyway. She watched as the guard maneuvered her black mare carefully around the mire, the horse taking the raised edges of the road with a careful, almost prissy, gait.
The pair came to a stop not three feet from Atrocious and the soldier glared down her nose. She was a handsome enough woman, a northerner with a long straight nose, jutting chin and ice blue eyes rimmed by pale lashes.
“What is your name, peasant?”
“Atrocious, if it pleases you.”
The nose wrinkled in a sneer. “What kind of a name is Atrocious?”
“A pretty one, if my mother was to be believed.” Atrocious procured her very best charming smile.
“Your mother was a fool. A blind fool,” the guard sneered cruelly.
It was a mistake to cast aspersions on Atrocious’ mother. The woman might not have been educated – she might not have known her alphabet from her elbow, but she had been an honest and loving mother right up until the moment the plague ate her alive. In response to the insult, Atrocious snarled, lifting the corner of her lip in an expression of toothy fury.
The guard guffawed at the impotent display of anger. “Move along, peasant, or I’ll take you in.”
Atrocious moved along at a quick pace, eager to escape the attentions of the Imperial. Her haste was her undoing. Somewhere in the boggy mud was a stone. Her foot met with the stone quite unexpectedly and an entirely unfortunate chain of events was set in motion. Atrocious’ body continued its forward motion, but her foot stayed still. She plunged face first into the mud.
The first thing audible to her clogged ears when she lifted her head was the guard’s uproarious laughter. Atrocious was forced to shove her anger and frustration down and stand with as much dignity as she could muster, which was not a lot by that point. Having fallen was no small matter, the next town was a long way off and she would be covered in sludge until she got there.
“You laugh like a jackal,” she muttered under her breath.
The laughter abated quickly. The guard wheeled her horse around, blocking Atrocious’ path.
“What did you say, peasant?”
The Imperial removed one of her booted feet from the stirrup and poked it towards Atrocious’ chest. Atrocious stood her ground as the boot made contact with her mud covered vest, ignoring the strongly implied physical threat as she glared into the guard’s face. Her patience, which had always been limited, was running dangerously low.