Chapter 11: No Retreat, No Surrender
“Again.” Aka orders. Amsyn sighs and thrusts out her foot. She delivers a solid kick. Aka catches her ankle and twists it. The sharp pain causes Amsyn’s other leg to give out and she crumbles to the ground. A cry tumbles from her lips.
Aka nudges her side with her foot. Amsyn flinches. Aka’s earlier strike has left the area bruised.
Avdon trained her for two days before handing her off to Aka who has been tormenting her for the past eighteen days. If it wasn’t for her skills as a healer she would probably be an assortment of body parts scattered across the training floor. Her body is littered with bruises and cuts.
“Set up.” Amsyn shakes her head.
“I’m tired. Can we please stop?” She begs. The Thunderbird rolls her eyes.
“And when a Quvanian soldier is trying to kill you will you ask him to wait so you can catch your breath.” She demands. She bites her the inside of her cheek to keep from retorting. Aka would shatter every bone in her body if she did.
“I have been training for almost three weeks non-stop. I need a break.” Aka sighs, tilts her head back and mutters a series of curses.
“Fine.” I am not in the mood to listen to a tantrum.” She storms over to one of the weapon racks and snatches a spear from it.
Amsyn winces as she rises. The muscles in her arms and legs scream and her throbbing knuckles are covered in drying blood.
Amsyn looks around for Sinnion, but he’s not here, probably still sleeping in her room. Lately, that seems to be all he does. She staggers out of the hall; her body howling. Sinnion might have the right idea sleeping all day.
Amsyn glances up to see Avdon heading towards the hall. He waves at a group of creatures seated on the grass weaving banners. His eyes find her and in a moment he is standing before her.
“What happened?” He asks, a hint of anger in his voice. He raises her chin with his index finger.
“Aka is quite harsh.” She replies. Avdon’s eyes furrow. He tilts her head to the side to analyze the blooming bruise.
“I will speak with her.” He promises. He glances towards the open training hall door. They’re able to catch a glimpse of her impaling the dummy with a spear. Amsyn looks away.
“You are injured. We are going to get your wounds tended to.” She mutters an ‘oh’ her cheeks showing her embarrassment.
Avdon carefully wraps an arm around her waist and escorts her to the manor. “I can tend to my own wounds.” She protests, frowning.
He leads her into the living room and sits her down in one of the chairs. “Stay.” He commands. Amsyn opens her mouth to argue, but Avdon’s pointed look silences her.
Amsyn glances out the window at the suns traveling across the late morning sky. They remind her of Helio. She thinks of him and their home in Fulor. She wishes she was there with him now. Her heart sinks. She has no idea how he is. Has he been harmed or worse, killed? What will she do if he’s dead? She shakes her head. She can’t allow herself to think like that. Helio is strong and smart. He will not fail.
She looks down at her bruised and bleeding knuckles. The darkening blotches stand out against her alabaster skin. This is for Helio, her mother, and Fulor.
She thinks of Avdon and guilt grapples at her. He has been nothing but welcoming and kind and she’s betraying him. The fact they have the same goal is of little comfort.
The wood creaks and Amsyn looks up. Avdon crosses the room to her in a few, shift steps, In his right hand is her healing bag. “I hope you will forgive the intrusion into your room.” He remarks. She nods, unsure of what to say. Technically, it is his room. This is his house after all.
He kneels before her and takes one of her injured hands within his. He pulls out a rag and soaks it with a cleaning solution. Gently, he cleans away the blood before doing the same to her other hand.
“Why were you headed to the hall?” Amsyn inquires.
Avdon reaches into her bag and pulls out a pale pink jar of homemade salve. He spreads it across her knuckles, trying to keep his touch as light and painless as possible. Amsyn hisses as his finger brushes over a cut. He sets his other hand on her clothed knee. She jerks back and then lowers her head so her hair will conceal her embarrassment.
“I needed to speak with Aka. It can wait though.” Despite his assurance Amsyn feels she is drawing him away from his duties.
Coolness spreads over her knuckles as the magic infused salve takes effect. The pain ebbs away though the cuts and bruises remain.
Avdon releases her hand and takes ahold of her forearm.
“Did something happen?” Avdon raises a brow; an unidentifiable emotion flashes through his sapphire orbs.
His gaze drops to her arm. He dips his finger into the salve and lathers it on the bruises.
“The Quvanians have taken an entire village hostage.” He replies. His grip on her arm momentarily tightens.
“How? Why?” Avdon halts his ministrations to look up at her. Amsyn is taken back by the guilt displayed on his face.
“They are searching for rebels. The village is a haven for the Children of Tevata. They’ve taken the village hostage until the rebels come forth.” He resumes rubbing in the salve. His touch is a gentle contradiction to the emotion in his eyes.
“How can they do that?”
“Who will stop them?”
Amsyn relaxes as the numbing effect takes ahold of her wounds. Avdon grasps her chin. Her heart skips a beat and a fluttering feeling fills her stomach. He runs his thumb over the bruise on her cheek. She flinches and tries to pull away, but Avdon’s grip doesn’t allow it.
“That will start to fade in a couple days. I can take you to one of our healers if you would prefer.” Amsyn shakes her head. The limited motion reminds Avdon of his hold and he releases her.
“No, it’s only sore to the touch. I’ll be fine. Thank you.” He gives her a small smile and rests his hand on her wooden leg.
“What are you going to do?” Amsyn asks. “About the village.” She clarifies. Avdon sighs and drops his hand from her leg.
He stands up and goes to the window. He stares out the window, his eyes following the creatures traveling about the forest sanctuary. His back is to Amsyn, revealing the web of tattoos and design of his muscles. He folds his arms over his chest.
“I was planning on sending Aka with a team and have them free the hostages.”
“Was?” Amsyn stands up and goes to him. She leans her back against the wall and stares up at Avdon. His gaze is locked on the world outside the window.
“I have a bad feeling about this.” He says, shaking his head. “Maybe I am becoming paranoid.” Avdon turns his attention to Amsyn, his arms falling to his sides.
“You’re not paranoid. You’re cautious, necessary survival skill.” He cracks a small smile.
“You’re probably right.” He concedes with a dip of his head.
“Am I one of the ones going with Aka?” Avdon’s face hardens and his eyes blaze with emotion.
“No.” The Elf recoils startled by the force behind the word.
“Could I be?” She asks while twisting her flesh hand around her wooden one. He takes ahold of her chin again forcing her to look him in the eye.
“Do you want to go? Think about the answer.” She nods, fearing her voice will fail her.
“Then you can go.” He releases her chin. “You will leave in two days with Aka.”
She turns to leave. “Amsyn,” she glances back at him. “Please, be careful.” He pleads.
Amsyn grins. “I will. I promise.
Amsyn is awakened by pounding on her door. She lifts her head startled and dazed. Sinnion leaps up. He snarls at the door, huffing smoke. Amsyn kicks off the covers and staggers out of bed to the door whilst sweeping the tangled mass of curls from her face. She yanks open the door to come face to face with a scowling Aka.
“Yes?” She rasps, her voice groggy from sleep.
“Avdon ordered me to deliver you this. He says you are to join us in the hall once you are dressed.”
Amsyn accepts the pile of folded clothes from Aka and mumbles a polite thank you. Amsyn shuts the door and turns around to find Sinnion hovering at eye-level. He lands on her shoulder and nuzzles his head in her neck, purring softly. Amsyn strokes his scaled body.
“I better get dressed. I don’t want to keep Avdon waiting.” Sinnion flies off her shoulder onto the bed. He curls up on the piled covered burying his head beneath his wings.
Amsyn retreats behind the changing screen with the pile of clothes. She slides the nightgown off her shoulders, allowing it to pool around her feet. She changes into the clothing Avdon has provided her; a pair of black leggings and an olive green, long sleeve tunic that extends to her knees. She unfurls the jacket, marveling at it’s substance. It’s made of factrey, a fabric as durable as Dragon scales and as light as Fairy wings. It is a beautiful golden brown color with a pattern resembling bark. It is sleeveless with a collar that climbs the side of her neck. It reaches her ankles. Amsyn slips on the matching vambraces, followed by brown, leather boots.
Amsyn emerges from behind the screen. Sinnion uncurls himself and looks at her. “What do you think Sinnion?” She spins on her heel. The Wyvern lets out the closest thing to a bark he can. “I take it you approve.” She giggles.
She slings her quiver over her shoulder and grabs her bow. “Come on Sinnion. We don’t want to keep Avdon waiting. Or Aka.” The Thunderbird terrifies her.
Sinnion lands on her shoulder. He probes at her jackets with his claws. “Comfortable?” She questions. Sinnion wraps himself around her neck.
Amsyn walks into the hall to find Avdon seated at the head of the table with Aka and six other creatures seated around him. “Amsyn, good morning. Please, take a seat.” Smiling, he gestures to the empty chair behind him.
She returns the smile and takes a seat next to a Fauness dresses in a crudely made burgundy, leather skirt and a matching crop top.
“Now that we’re all here.” Avdon stands up and pushes the chair aside, providing an unobstructed view of the map covered wall. “The Quvanians have taken the village of Pal’swa hostage. The village is only a few hours’ flight from here. We need to free them and get any Children out of there, either relocate them or bring them here.” Avdon orders. Amsyn has never heard him speak so firmly before. His demeanor radiates authority.
“Amsyn,” she looks to him. “I had Stalia gather some fresh herbs for you.” He gestures to the Fauness sitting beside her. “I would like you to tend to the wounded.” He addresses her softer than he did the others.
She nods. “I can do that.”
“Good.” He smiles.
“Stalia, take Amsyn to your home and give her what she needs.” He instructs.
The green haired Fauness verbally agrees and rises. She gestures for the Elf to follow her and they leave the hall together. “I’m Amsyn.” She extends her hand to the Fauness.
“Stalia, a pleasure to meet you. Avdon seems to regard you very highly.” The Elf’s eyes widen and a blush follows.
“He’s very kind.” She replies, looking down at her feet.
“Avdon’s always kind, but it’s more than that.”
“I’m sure that is an exaggeration.” Amsyn stutters, wringing her hands. Stalia shakes her head.
“I’ve known Avdon for a while. It’s not.”
Tears prickles at Amsyn’s eyes. He cares for her and she’s betraying him. She can imagine the betrayal and disappointment she will see when he finds out she has been working with Helio all along. Amsyn will never be able to forgive herself if she hurts Avdon. She chooses not to reply. There is nothing she can say.
Stalia stops before the door of a quaint cottage with drab, stone walls. “My humble abode.” She makes a flamboyant gesture. Amsyn giggles, driving away the sadness from her eyes. They go inside.
The cottage, like all of Ta’floon, is modest with only three rooms. Pushed against the wall beneath the front window is a long, wooden table with various knives and herbs spread over it. The cottage’s earthy aroma reminds her of home, of Udor.
“I’m not sure how much of this you can use.” She confesses.
Amsyn lays her hands on the table. From on her shoulder Sinnion stirs. He pulls his head from her flaming curls and crawls down her clothed arm onto the table. He nudges a Nelcedus branch with his snout. Amsyn steals it from beneath him and lifts it to the light to examine.
The branch has six large, fan-shaped, teal leaves. She plucks the two bottom leaves that are beginning to brown. She removes the others from the branch and piles them off to the side.
Sinnion sniffs the leaves as if searching them for hidden dangers. Amsyn taps his nose with her index finger. He glares at her before turning away, pouting.
Stalia giggles. “He’s adorable.” She scratches his head. He purrs and leans into her touch. Amsyn playfully rolls her eyes. He is such a child.
She moves onto the Jaionta leaves, draining their gel into jars. Next, she handles the Danae Odorata flowers.
“These were hard to pick.” Stalia comments. Amsyn laughs.
“I would have thought the Nelcedus would have been harder, not to mention more unpleasant.” Stalia giggles.
“You’re right. The gas if repulsive. I was nauseous all day yesterday.”
“I was too the first time I picked them.”
Amsyn cuts away the bright green leaves with a half-dull knife. She pushes them aside into the growing trash pile.
Sinnion probes at them with his nose. He raises his snout only to find a leaf stuck to it. She shakes his head furiously trying to free himself of it. Amsyn and Stalia burst into laughter. Sinnion scowls, though it’s concealed by the leaf. Amsyn pulls the wax covered leaf from his snout.
She dangles it in front of his face. “This is why we do not stick our nose where it doesn’t belong.” She scolds. He lowers his head between his front hands.
Using the same knife, she scraps the wax from the flower stems and into a glass jar.
“What does that do?” Stalia questions. She leans forward, resting her elbows on the table.
“It’s an anesthetic.” Amsyn informs her. The Fauness nods and continues to watch her with great interest.
Amsyn packs the jars and wrapped plants with care into the bag Stalia provided her with. “Alright, I’m ready to go.” She slings the bag over her free shoulder. Sinnion lands on her other shoulder coiling his tail around her neck.
Amsyn, Sinnion, and Stalia meet up with Aka and the others at Ta’floon’s border. One step past the tree border and they will be thrust into the outside world.
Avdon’s face lights up when he spots Amsyn. Stalia sees and makes herself scarce.
“Do you have everything you need?” Avdon asks.
“I think so.” She takes a deep breath. It does nothing to soothe her nerves.
Avdon holds out a dagger for her. “To keep you safe.”
She looks up at him, her eyes as wide as the suns. “I-I can’t accept this.”
Chuckling, he shakes his head. “Yes, you can. I would rest easier knowing you have something besides your bow.” He takes her flesh hand-still at her side-and sets the blade in the palm of her hand, folding her fingers over it. Amsyn stares at him, speechless.
The dagger has a simple, slim blade and a masterfully, leather wrapped handle. Dangling from the back are three beads tied by a leather string, no thicker than one of Sinnion’s claw.
“Thank you.” She manages.
“Be careful.” She promises to.
Avdon lets go of her hand. Amsyn brings the hand to her chest, clutching the blade like a treasured possession. “I will see you soon.” He dips his head, a Faunish goodbue. Amsyn returns the foreign gesture. It doesn’t feel strange.
She joins the others. “Ready to go?” Aka demands, no kindness in her voice. Amsyn nods. She tucks the gifted knife into her boat and then looks up to find Aka glaring at her. Sinnion notices and snarls. The Elf pats his head, whispering comfort.
“We need to leave now if we have any hope of reaching Pal’swa before sundown.” The Thunderbird states. She narrows her gaze at Amsyn, who shifts uncomfortably. Stalia links her arm with Amsyn’s in a show of support.
“Come on.” Amsyn allows the Fauness to drag her along.
She leans closer to Stalia. “How are we going to get there.” She whispers. They could ride there, but it would take longer, and it would be more dangerous.
“Aka’s going to fly us. She’s not happy about it, but she always follows Avdon’s orders.” Amsyn gulps. She’s never flown on anything other than a ship. While escaping from Udor, her and Helio couldn’t risk flying for fear of drawing attention or attacks-from either side. She doubts Aka will be gentle, given her apparent dislike for her.
Stalia reads her face. “Don’t worry. Aka won’t harm you.” Sinnion lays his head against her neck. It comforts her. Amsyn is wary of Aka, but she trusts Stalia.
Aka widens her stance, bracing herself for the magic she’ll unleash. Sparks flare off her fingertips and eyelids. She slams her open hands together; a flash of lightning envelops her. The expanding light blinds all those that look at it. Amsyn shields her eyes with her hand. Sinnion shields his with his wings. The unleashed magic shakes the ground. The vibrations pass through her body.
The light dies. Amsyn drops her hand from her face. Her eyes widen, standing above them is Aka in her Thunderbird form. The shadow she casts covers them all. Her body is composed of sapphire feathers, lighter colored feathers line the edge of her wings and fill her tail. A curved horn is mounted on the peaks of her wings. Her blade-like talons wretch the ground as she moves. Her crooked blade is golden-the same color as her talons. Each blink releases streaks of lightning.
Stalia is the first to approach Aka. She climbs up her lowered wing with practiced finesse and speed. She settles herself on the Thunderbird’s back.
Amsyn steps onto Aka’s wing, clutching onto the feathers to keep from slipping. She takes cautious steps. Her heart stops every time her feet slide. She crawls up the length of Aka’s spine to settle behind Stalia.
The others board Aka.
Stalia turns to look at Amsyn. “Hold on tight. The mischievous glint in her eyes encourages Amsyn to hold on tighter.
Aka lifts off from the ground with a single wing beat. The collision of her wings emits a sound akin to a crash of thunder. Amsyn lets out a scream and shuts her eyes, clinging onto Aka until her knuckles turn white.
Aka breaks through the barrier.