Hearing chaos from around him and feeling a smoldering heat beat down on his face, Tom, a young boy of Hearia, opened one eye. His vision was hazy, streaks of golden flames whipped past him and he felt the rumbling of many people storming around outside rumbling past him. He rubbed his eyes tiredly and blinked around the room, seeing a gray-haired man standing at the doorway with a torch in hand. He wiped glistening red blood off of his cheek, staring down at the boy.
“Get up,” the foreign man ordered in an urgent tone as his dark eyes narrowed intimidatingly, “We desperately need you in the battlefield. Don’t ask questions, just follow me.”
Tom’s eyes widened and he crawled out of his bed in a hurry, his mind a blur. He stumbled and struggled to stand and held onto the wall for support as he slipped his shoes on as well as a shirt that he had lying on the floor. He swiftly wheeled around to face the visitor and they dashed out of the room as quickly as possible. Tom’s eyes were still heavy and he felt as if he’d fall asleep at any moment but kept surging through the town. He could see other young boys following men outside of their homes where they leaped onto horseback and galloped out of town.
It appeared to be midnight when they set out, riding out into the darkness under the faint glow of the moonlight. Its silver ball was at its peak, surrounded by golden flecks littering the black backdrop of the sky.
“Where are we heading to?” Asked one of the boys as he took a glance back towards the village.
“To Valys,” one of the elders responded, scanning the area ahead of them, the bright light of the torches illuminating their path.
Minutes later, Tom began to hear faint screams echoing throughout the area muffled by the galloping of the horses around him. He squinted out into the fields and saw small lights flickering in the distance, it appeared to be the source of the screaming.
The lights were easily recognizable as bright fires burning furiously in the distance, gray smoke trailing up into the sky as war cries filled the air. Flashes of gold, wine red and lemon yellow whipped past his vision.
As they neared the chaos, small figures were seen swinging their way through the air as they attacked the foes. Their razor-like teeth began to bury deep into the flesh of their targets and they growled intimidatingly.
The dragons, Tom told himself internally, witnessing one of the men that fought suddenly collapse to the floor as a dragon was struck down, soul bound to their masters.
The boys on horseback began to leap off of the mounts as they came to a halt, hurrying to what was left of the weapons at the blacksmith. Tom followed swiftly, unsheathing a weapon from its rack as quickly as possible. In a group, the young warriors flooded from the building and began to face their enemies.
The screams only grew louder as many others began to collapse to the floor from the lethal wounds they had gotten from battle. Shadows seemed to swiftly shift into people from all around Tom as he slashed at one of his targets, inflicting a huge gash on the man’s right arm. He continued to slice through the air to finish off his target, sliding around in the soft ground below him with flashes of fiery red illuminating their battle.
After killing his opponent, Tom swiftly wheeled himself around to face another, but instead was met with a young woman shifting from her shadow form. She had a blade in hand and she scowled, knocking him down and launching herself onto him.
He fell to the ground with a thud, stunned by her sudden appearance, and coughed roughly, feeling pressure pound down on his chest. Time seemed to freeze as he felt her weight pounce on him and he began to recover from the sudden ambush.
He gazed up into her eyes fearfully and felt his heart drumming in his chest with incredible force. The colors of the bright orbs within her eyes were a silvery gray and baby blue, they seemed to glimmer in the light of the fires that surrounded him.
The girl seemed to squint down at him, her sterling blade brushing against his neck, but not enough to draw blood. She, herself, had a scar running down her cheek that glistened with deep red blood and old scars lining down her arms. Her hair was mocha brown with golden streaks running through it and it hung down to both sides of his neck, he could feel it tickling him.
She’s beautiful, he remarked internally although still fearing for his life. Time was frozen and his eyes locked with hers for several moments before life seemed to move again and his heart surged faster in his chest.
She gritted her dragon-like teeth and swiftly took the knife from atop his neck, launching herself upwards. Within seconds, her figure shifted into a dark shadow, whipping past him, and she faded into the crowd of warriors battling their lives, leaving him to wonder what made her stop.
Tom slowly picked himself off of the ground, looking towards the direction of which she had gone, but she was nowhere to be found. His eyes scanned the area but he didn’t have much time to look because within a minute, another enemy lunged himself at him and he had to battle once again.
He swung his sword furiously at his enemy and struck him down, continuing to battle for his life for the remainder of the day.
After a few hours, the battles stopped and the attackers from the Shade Guild retreated back to their camps in the forests, uneasily recognizable by a single well-hidden torch in the rocks.
Tom sat next to a fire near Valys, where the men that had battled were resting and discussing their future plans for the next day. He sat beside Nick, a childhood friend of his, and listened in on the conversations of the elders.
His friend had straight jet black hair and big brown eyes that glistened in the light of the fire. His body build was slim and he had long limbs and beige skin.
“We should send two assassins out tomorrow evening for this task,” recommended one of the old men. His name was John and he was the leader of the men who fought for Valys. “Two young men who are both stealthy and swift.”
Nick gave Tom a wink and chuckled, veering his gaze back to John soon afterwards.
The other men nodded in approval to the idea and the leader continued, “So are there any volunteers to complete this task?”
Not a hand was raised and no voice spoke for several minutes before John grumbled, “All right, we will be choosing who we think is best.”
The elders all gathered around him and discussed in low voices before nodding and backing to their seats.
“Tom and Nick, please step forward,” John announced with a grin and the two snapped to attention, swiping their heads over to see him, “You two seem worthy enough to take this task on.”
“But,” Nick protested and the leader interrupted him, “No questions about it, you will be sent at dusk tomorrow to kill William, one of the head council members of that camp.”
The next evening…
Under the dark night sky, Nick and Tom snuck through the woods. Howls hooted their sorrowful melodies from above in the treetops and the sounds of crickets crackled from the bushes. They stealthily roamed, keeping their destination and goal in mind.
“Y-you’ve got to be joking,” Tom heard a voice speak from up ahead and he sped up, seeing the camp in the distance under the glow of a torch’s light.
The two halted behind trees near the camp, listening to the conversation between a family and the leaders. He slowly peeked from behind the trees, catching sight of the girl who had leaped onto him earlier.
“I’m not kidding,” one of the tall, muscular men growled, “Your family will be executed for your weak acts, although you will be spared since your skills are needed in this guild. However, one more slip up and we’ll kill you as well.”
He saw an older woman, supposedly the girl’s mother, stare at the girl in disappointment and shame. “It’s your fault,” she hissed, “We’re being executed because you thought a stupid boy was too innocent to be killed.”
The girl whimpered and took a step towards the fire, away from her family. She narrowed her eyes in both anger and misery, unable to stare at them.
“Dawn, you are a disgrace to our family,” hissed her supposed father before cries of pain wafted over the forest.
William drove his sword into the man’s skull with one swift movement, patches of red staining his silver blade. He threw the corpse to the side and turned to face his next victim, the supposed woman who dared to resist and fight back. She tried to snatch the sword away from William but instead, he kicked her to the ground with an amused chuckle and skewered her on the tip of his sword.
Blood stained the dirt beneath the camp leader’s feet as he mercilessly slaughtered the family one by one, showing no remorse in his facial expressions.
“N-no,” whimpered the girl, covering her eyes with her hands while sobbing furiously, “T-this can’t be happening... mom... d-dad...”
Tears began to trickle down her cheeks and she collapsed to the floor, curling herself into a ball next to the fire. The two men accompanying her exchanged grins and sat on the opposite side of her.
“This is the price for disobedience,” one of them told her, “Only the strong belong here.”
Tom stared blankly, feeling a pain stab his chest as he watched the girl cry helplessly. Deep inside, he felt the desire to aid her but was incapable and instead stared in agony, witnessing tears flowing down her cheeks as wept into her hands.
“Shall we go in for the kill?” he heard Nick whisper from beside him, “They’re distracted by the fire.”
Tom gave him a swift nod and they crept towards the camp, watching as the two bulky men rumbled with laughter, holding closely-guarded spears to their chests. The girl sat silently, the sight of her family unbearable.
The faint chirping of birds and the sorrowful melodies of owls wafted over the area as the silent warriors crouched with their swords in hands. The steel blades were rusted with ancient blood of their previous fallen enemies.
They closed in behind one of the burly men with a long, curly black beard and one eye, the other covered in an eye patch. He was tall and his round stomach rumbled as he laughed. Tom delivered a swift fatal blow to the back of the man’s neck, swiping the blade across it. His sword gave off the rewarding metallic tune of slicing through the air as blood stained its tip.
The man didn’t have time to scream as his head was taken off of him, leaving the bench with a decapitated body. The girl beside him slowly glanced up, seeing the two boys with their swords and slid backwards until he bumped into the other man who pulled her closer and unsheathed a dagger from his belt. He swung the small weapon up to the girl’s neck with a sly, toothy grin.
“I’ll kill her if you move a step closer,” he snarled in a menacing tone with his soulless gray eyes widening in amusement. He didn’t show any remorse for the boys’ victim. “You wouldn’t kill an innocent young warrior, would you?”
Tom froze in his defensive stance, blade above his head and ready to strike down on the Shade member. He waited patiently until blood began to draw from the girl’s neck and she fought back screams, gulping nervously. The pleading, sorrowful look in her eyes made Tom’s knees weak as he stood, the crackle of the fire roaring in the background as a golden light illuminated her expression.
Without thinking, he delivered the finishing blow to the man’s head, the sword sliding in and cracking his skull open. He didn’t have time to end the girl’s life and fell backwards, the dagger brushing against her neck but not cutting her.
“Thank you,” the girl smiled after a moment of silence and leapt up from her bench, red beads of blood dripping down her neck as she suddenly threw her arms around Tom thankfully. Her eyes glimmered a deep navy blue in the glint of the flames as she pulled him into a warm embrace, thanking him again. He guessed that she hadn’t remembered him from when the Shade Guild was attacking and seemed so innocent, as if she wouldn’t hurt a soul.
Tom slowly glanced down at the girl in surprise, his mouth gaping. Moments later, he felt his cheeks burning and he began to blush.
“My name’s Dawn, by the way,” she whispered to him, slowly unraveling her arms from around him and she gave him another grin. They stared at each other for a moment before her eyes swirled into confusion. “Wait… Have I seen you before...? Your face is familiar.”
“Uh… you uh…”
“It’s you,” she remarked, her eyes suddenly narrowing as she took a step back. Her hand reached for the hilt of a sword, but she stopped herself as the innocence in her eyes dwindled. “You’re the reason why they killed my family. Why did you look so innocent in the battlefield? They would’ve been alive if it weren’t for you being there.”
He looked at her, his mouth still gaping and his blue eyes twinkling with fear. The blush that swept across his cheeks seemed to vanish.
She clutched the hilt of the sword with an enraged growl but didn’t raise the blade to strike at him, and instead took a deep breath and looked into his frightened eyes. “You saved me,” she mumbled as her anger softened, “So, in honor of that, I won’t hurt you.”
Dawn smiled weakly through her tears and loosened her grip on the sword, bowing down briefly to thank him. Although she acted strong and the expression on her face was still stubborn and cold, he could see the struggle within her to contain the agonizing pain that had brought tears to her eyes. She stood up and wiped the blood that was smeared across her cheek, straightening herself.
“Why didn’t you kill me earlier?” Tom asked softly after a moment of silence as he locked eyes with her.
“You seemed so innocent, as if you didn’t want to hurt a soul and as if you despised the war,” she admitted with a deep sigh, “Like me. Luckily, I won’t be partaking in the war anymore since I’m considered an outcast after sparing you… I guess I’ll be living in the trees for now.”
Dawn hunched over again, turning over to face the fire in an attempt to escape his gaze. Her expression was sorrowful and she mumbled nonsense to herself, fighting back tears although her eyes were already watering. She sat there for several minutes and Tom felt a tugging pain in his chest, encouraging him to say something.
“Well,” Nick muttered suddenly, he was posted beside the tree with his blade in hand, “We should get back to camp. They’ll be worried if we’re gone for too long.”
Tom nodded, attempting to eliminate the overwhelming feeling that dwelled inside of him but finally gave in after his struggle, “Dawn.”
She swiftly swung her head towards him, a sleep-deprived look on her face, “Yes?”
“Do you… want to come home with me to Hearia?” he questioned, wincing in nervousness.
There was another moment of silence as Dawn stared before a slight smile graced across her lips and she said, “I guess it’ll be better than sleeping with the squirrels. I’ll come.”
Tom felt the blush returning to his cheeks and Dawn stood up, stretching her arms in the air. She was far shorter than the boys and had a chubby body build with short legs. Her face was round and her default expression was stubborn and cold, but it was enlightened as he asked the question.
We’re going to have to hide her, he told himself while she began to gather broken daggers, stale pieces of bread, a half-filled glass jug of milk and the tip of a spear, packing them into her brown leather bag.