Frostbit the air in the early morning sunlight, yet the grass on the open field before them was still green. They were at a standstill. On one side, a small rundown village, full of farmers and pregnant wives. On the other, an elite army of Heliki soldiers. One female stood in front of the trembling farmers desperately clutching their pitchforks and rusted blades. She was dressed for battle, leathers she wore old but still fit, dirty blonde hair tied back in a tight braid, the sword by her side pristine and as sharp as it would get. She knew one day they would find her. Her aunt’s dreams of never being found were just that. Dreams.
Her golden eyes followed the commander’s movement as he walked in front of his troops, speaking to them in words that she could not hear. The man was hardly more than a boy; he couldn’t be more than 18 years old. Amira wondered just how little the royal family thought of them, sending a boy to dispatch them. No matter, this would be over soon.
She had begged the villagers to run, her family and friends who had generously taken her in and protected her for the past nine years. They refused and now stood here lined up like lambs ready to be slaughtered. Amira hated it. At least she stood a chance against the supernatural warriors. These humans did not.
They called themselves hellhounds, men who could shift into creatures of smoke and ivory. Rumors said the strongest of them could even command the elements. Yet they were just that, rumors. No reason to put any stock into them until proven true. Excluding the extermination of her people, the Heliki people rarely left their borders, nor did they involve themselves in the affairs of the other kingdoms. Only when rebellion against their reign arose did they ever slink out of their shadows.
The commander was walking forwards towards the center of the plain that divided them. Amira remained rooted to her spot. She would not walk out to meet him. She would defend these people until her last breath. When he was within range, he stopped and lifted his voice. He did not yell; he didn’t need to. He spoke, and it was almost as if the wind pushed his words to her very ears to be heard at a regular volume.
“Our informants say there is talk of a rebellion in this village.”
A statement. Not a question.
“Give us the traitor, and we will spare you.”
Amira moved to take a step forward; a hand shot out and grabbed her arm. Dryan, her uncle, a small man with dark hair and striking golden eyes like her own, holding his own sword, held her in place, and lifted his gruff voice to respond.
“There is no such traitor that you speak of here. Go on now and leave us in peace. We have done nothing against the crown.”
The boy smiled, and Amira felt her blood turn cold and rotten. She could taste the death to come in the way that he looked at her. He simply shrugged as if to say, ‘have it your way.’ Amira’s eyes caught on the golden embroidery of his suit flashing in the daylight. Black and gold, the colors of the royal family. There’s no way they sent a prince all this way for one little rumor of treason, did they? Amira didn’t have the time to think, as, with a flick of the boy’s hand, the soldiers marched forward.
They didn’t run. They didn’t charge. Instead, the soldiers slowly marched forwards impending doom closing in on the innocent villagers. The whine of metal on her scabbard was clean and sharp. Amira loved that noise and cherished its last ring as she would likely never hear it again.
“Get out of here,” The voice came from beside her side, her uncle having drawn his sword as well face grim spoke with little room for argument. “I gave your mother my word that we would hide you and protect you from this-”
“I am not a child anymore, uncle,” her eyes remained fixed on the approaching force, even as she cut him off, “you have done well by your word and protected me well. It is my turn to do the same.”
“You aren’t ready,” the sharp hiss of his tone sparked the wildfire that lived within her, and just as quickly as the cold had set into her bones, it was whisked away. Her eyes burned violet as she turned her head to stare down at her uncle. Her own magic was surging up from the depths in which she had buried it for so many years.
“I will not run anymore. I will not hide. Either help or get out of my way.” She spoke with the voice and authority of a queen, her birthright. It was about time she claimed it instead of running from it. This was her home. These were her people, and she had no intention of going anywhere. She rolled her shoulders and lifted her blade as her uncle conceded, taking a step back. He would not disobey a direct order. He may be her elder, but she outranked him in many more ways than one.
The soldiers were here. She stepped forwards to meet the first one metal clashing against metal in the harsh first sound of battle. She began to dance, weaving in and out, ducking around and under moving fast all the while that blade of hers flashing drawing blood wherever it hit. Memories of countless days training with her uncle and whatever boy was feeling confident enough to challenge her. She heard the cries of her fellow friends and family as they threw themselves into the warriors as well. Made brave and courageous by their desire to protect their home. She vaguely recognized the cuts on her own skin. They were nothing, mere scrapes, and with the magic coursing through her now filling her with strength and speed, she was unstoppable.
Heliki soldiers fell around her. The battle was not nearly a minute in, and already they were losing. She could hear the cries of pain, sharp and crisp, begging for mercy. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see one of her friends dragging another one out of the fray, only to be cut down as well. They didn’t stand a chance. Even her uncle, every bit the warrior he had trained her to become, was starting to falter. Their human slowness and weakness, their ultimate disadvantage. Fighting back was hopeless.
She had made a promise to her uncle and her aunt. But as she saw that red haired woman, the one who had the kindest heart and wouldn’t hurt a flower, let alone another living being charging towards the fray wielding a bat of all things, to protect her husband’s back, Amira broke that promise. She roared, magic ripping from her very skin and leaping into the waking world. A wall of fire erupted into the world, creating a barrier, separating the village and its people from the hellhounds.
“ENOUGH!” her sword was drenched with blood, the area around her cleared, but only for the moment. The soldiers shifted, circling around her, yet made no move to attack as they had suddenly realized they actually faced a formidable threat. They moved like wolves, and yet not. They were far more disciplined than the werewolves of the west. They split down the middle, moving as one allowing their boy commander to approach. The male tilted his head curiously as he looked at her over, stopping just outside of her circle of destruction. The wall of fire behind them burned hot, and consumed the screaming of her adoptive parents. The agony on their faces Amira would never turn around to see.
“You won’t be able to hold that forever, you know.”
“Even less still when I give the order to attack once more.”
“Then why show yourself, after so many years of hiding Princess?”
“Because this way,” Amira hissed, raising her sword and pointing it at the male, the promise of death in her eyes, “When they tell the tale of my death, it will be worthy of being told.”
The boy chuckled and shook his head, sandy blonde hair framing his face perfectly, “you know, I quite like you, I admire your spirit, Princess. After all these years of being hunted, you do not let my family convince you that you are beaten.” Family? Amira blinked. Oh yes, he was definitely one of the princes, likely the youngest, Rue. He continued, unaware of her revelation, “perhaps we shall make a deal, hm? I heard your kind used to honor those in the highest regard similar to mine.”
“What kind of deal?” Amira demanded short on words as she continued to feed her magic into the wall separating them from those she cared about most in the world. She could feel some of the soldiers pushing and prodding at her wall with their own limited magic; she lashed back out at them, and they jumped back, earning her a devious smile from Rue.
“Come with us back to the capital, peacefully, and face your death there.” He said shoving his hands into his pockets unceremoniously.
“What would I get out of it?”
“Why, we will leave your precious village in peace, of course,” Rue said a wicked smile pulling on his lips. Amira wondered exactly what had happened to this poor boy to make him so twisted inside. She needed to be careful, deals made with hellhounds were very specific and they would often work around the wording. However, he did seem genuine in his desire to make an honest deal. Sensing her hesitation he added, “and will promise them protection from any others who try to harm them they will be safe forever blah blah blah. Do we have a deal?”
“We do.” The words left her mouth and she felt a weight lift off her shoulders. Rue approached her and sliced open his palm, with his own ornate blade and held out his bleeding hand to her. Amira mimicked the action and shook his hand, bleeding palm to bleeding palm.
“Pleasure doing business with you Princess,” Rue said in a sickly sweet tone. Amira could hear her Aunt and Uncle screaming through the fire, but she ignored it as she dropped the wall, flames simply vanishing from existence, her eyes locked on Rue’s. She nodded slightly and he let go of her hand signaling for his troops to turn around.
As they began to walk away the prince turned back to Amira. “Oh yes, one more thing” The princess blinked in confusion and then the air in her lungs began to pour out. She lashed out blindly with her own magic, but it was untrained and feral, she did not know how to shield herself from such an attack. She gagged as she struggled to breathe fingers reaching up to desperately claw at her throat to no avail. Her vision swam in front of her eyes and she swayed on her feet. She could vaguely sense the prince drawing near and she blindly lashed out at him and missed. “Goodnight little Druherean” she heard Rue mumble just beside her ear before she lost consciousness, and slipped into a dreamless sleep.