This was the routine she had practiced for two years, when chained to her seat- her throne, as the guards called it. Mostly for the dry sense of irony. Daily, it was all the same. Wake up, bathroom break. Be held down by five men as they fed her. 30 minutes of time to exercise, with, of course, her right arm bound shoulder to finger tips in heavy steel plating. Dinner. Bathroom break. Sleep.
Her down time was spent studying the flickering flames of the torches, placed on either side of an unyielding brass door, through the eyehole of her wretched mask. She had grown fond of the dancing fire-the only source of light in her stone, windowless universe. The smells were the same- dank and moist, with sometimes a hint of the burning torches.
But for the past several hours, she had watched in dismay as her torches slowly dwindled out. From her place, sitting paralyzed, she had heard dull thuds and distant shouting. There was a commotion tonight, as they had failed to give her dinner, let her relieve herself, or relight her torches. Her eyelids slowly closed, in the hopes that maybe tomorrow her guards would remember her. Remember her before she soiled herself, preferably. Her nose picked up a faint, but foul odor.
A sudden yelling and the sound of something tearing snapped her eyes open- there was the clattering of weapons on the ground, the resounding crash of armor colliding with stone. A jingle of keys. The sharp snap of three locks unlocking.
The brass door was pushed slightly ajar, light peaking through the continuingly growing crack. She could hear the sound of someone straining to push it forward, the metal screeching against the stone floor. As a low light crept through the room, the dark figure stopped halfway to catch their breath, then gave a final shove to push the brass door fully open. There were quiet panting sounds as the hooded person slowly approached her, a bloody dagger in one hand and a sword wrapped in rags in the other. Her eye widened slightly as she recognized the hilt. Behind them, she could see a pool of blood growing in size.
Through her eyehole, she gazed steadily as the figure set down the sword sheathe against the wall. They hurriedly unlocked the chains on her legs and left arm, then took their dagger and cut through the several thick leather straps that bound her to the stone seat. She breathed deep, and then slowly rose to her feet, growing to tower over her hooded friend. They scurried back across the room to retrieve the sword, handing it to her with their head bowed. There was a soft exhale of breath as she clasped the familiar hilt with her hand, unwrapping the gold-colored blade. A magnificent thing- in three places it splayed outward to give a slightly serrated edge, and it looked as sharp as ever. The grip was ribboned with gold, and at the end of both segments of the guard as well as the pommel there were two glistening circles of gold. As she admired it, nostalgia returning to her, the figure set to work on her right arm- there were five consecutive snaps as they unlocked it, prying open the individual segments until the plating was loose enough to collapse to the floor. She shook off the steel glove herself. The person gave a nod, saying in a rasping voice,
“Klaif wants you to come out through the front, Mara,”
Her name was a strange sound on this person’s lips, if only because she had not heard it uttered in such a long time. They turned their back to her, and started to scuttle out of the room. They stopped under the door frame- she noticed that the light of the torches had dwindled into nothing more than embers.
“He also wants you to make a show of it.”
And with that, they slunk away.
Mara stood there, watching the place where they had been, before giving a huff and ceremoniously stretching out her limbs. She gave a quick tug at her mask, but when it would not give she gave a heavy sigh and started walking. With every step, she stretched her legs, and all the while her arms were rotating, twisting. Her fingers would splay out as far as they would go and then curl up again, she cracked her neck, she twisted her hips all the way until she was under the brass doorframe. She stepped lightly over the bodies of the armored guards and into the light of the hallway, then traced the fingers of her right hand against the grimy stone walls. Mara focused on the old scars that traced up and down the skin- they puckered and twisted, the products of countless times it was ripped with a blade. The inconstant torch light only made them more grisly. Her left arm twirled her golden blade, and occasionally stabbed and slashed at nothing. She was horribly out of practice, yet Klaif sincerely wanted her to come out through the front? Her bare feet slapped loudly against the floor.
Her head perked up at the sound of heavy, metal footsteps. Her left arm twirled the sword more excitedly, her steps quickening in speed. Her breaking was ragged, and she came across a fork in the halls. The metal footsteps were getting louder, but from which direction? Mara looked to the left, peering through the eyehole of her mask. That hallway was lined with cells on either side from what she could make out in the dim light, but the right hallway was lit with torches and had a clear stairway at the end of it- and thus, Mara walked right, the ever-loudening footsteps strengthening her resolve. Her sword rippled in front of her, overhead swings and quick feints that led into careful stabs and slashes where a throat might be. She ducked and weaved behind invisible enemies, her movements becoming more and more complex as years upon years of training trickled back into muscles. It was a calculated and careful dance, and the rust was obvious compared to before she was imprisoned, and yet-
“S-Stop right there!”
Mara froze mid-parry, the abrupt stop sending her unkempt hair flying in front of her eye. It was matted, greasy, the once brilliant red dull and dark. Never had she had it so long before- the years had grown it far past its original length. She tucked it behind her ears and slowly turned to the source of the voice, and she presumed, the metal footsteps. Two armored men, brandishing their swords at her. One was obviously a knight, the other a simple guard. Mara rose her right arm in front of her in consideration. They took it as a threat.
"DON’T!” The knight roared, rushing her with his companion in tow. He was fast, and obviously experienced- Mara barely rose her sword in time to block his blow. His strength sent a violent tremor throughout her arm, and she was forced to backpedal quickly in order to maintain control. She had only dingy prisoner clothes compared to his armored body, and his quick assault gave her no time to give her right arm use- and all the guards and knights here knew very well about her. To keep his companion at bay, she used her right arm as a shield of sorts whenever he tried to flank her in her blind spot, keeping it steady in places where he would have strikes. She ducked under a blow from the more experienced knight, dodging behind him and readying her sword- but her target was someone different. The guard quickly moved to her blindspot in her moment of calculated hesitation, and the knight was already turning towards her with his sword raised. Mara whirled at the last second, her sword arcing horizontally in front of her to catch the guard in the throat, his blood spraying on her mask. Her right arm was raised in front of the knight, blocking her face in anticipation, and she braced for impact. There was a small gasp from the knight- the momentum of his swing prevented him from stopping his sword in time, and the blade bit deep into her underarm, severing through almost until the bone.
The pain was sudden and burning, and Mara let out an involuntary howl of agony as her body gave a savage, compulsory shudder. Blood erupted out of her arm, spurting in time to her rapidly beating heart, but did not splatter to the floor. Instead, it ran up to her open hand, forming a hilt and an ever-growing blade that grew longer and sharper by the second. Mara ripped her arm free, blood at first flying through the air but then switching course to add to her sword of blood. The knight, in panic, swung his sword towards her face again, and Mara’s gold sword rose to meet it. The strength behind her block, fueled by adrenaline and anger, flung the knight’s weapon out of his hands. Mara wasted no time- she lunged forward, and buried her blood sword in his throat. In a few moments, the tip exploded out the other side of his neck, and Mara had to wrench it free in order to prevent it from becoming any longer than she wanted. She could already feel the wound on her right arm healing, and the weapon’s growth slowed gradually as the source of its blood ebbed.
The knight fell to the floor, making inhuman gurgling noises as he bled out. Mara was nearly out of breath- she felt like her mask was suffocating her, and she set down her gold sword in order to once again attempt to pry it off of her face. A frustrated noise escaped her with increasing volume as it refused to budge, the effort of trying to remove it exerting her even more. After a few more seconds of clawing and pushing in vain, Mara let out a tormented screech and snatched up her gold sword again. She slammed it into the less armored guard’s body once, twice, three times until she had to stop. The only sound now was the voices of curious prisoners and the crackling of torches. The firelight flashed strange patterns against the corpses at her feet, illuminating them in such a way that by the time she caught her breath again she was back to an icy calm. Mara turned away from the bodies and walked up the stairs, taking them two at a time. The door at the top was open, and she slipped through to see another hallway full of prison cells. The stairs seemed to keep on going- so she rounded the doorway and climbed them further. The sounds of combat grew louder, and after another set of stairs she came across a barred iron door, leading to the outside. She could smell smoke, something foul, and hear frantic yelling- outside, she could occasionally see a guard or knight running past, some stained in blood that could have been theirs or someone else’s.
Mara pushed slightly- and when it proved to not be locked she swung it open and stepped out, cringing slightly at the loud whine of the iron door. She quickly rose an arm to shield her face- the sunlight was near blinding after spending so long in a world where the only light was from a flame. After her eyes adjusted, she drank in her environment as cautiously as possible. The fortress was in chaos, with its northern tower ablaze and the incessant barking of orders coming from all directions. She surveyed the battleground carefully as she slowly crept along the prison wall- making absolutely sure that the prison had no defending spirits. The layout of the place eluded her after have only been in one place for so long, but she did recall the mention of several shrines throughout. Perhaps they were in the northern tower, which would explain why there were only humans here. As she drew nearer to the source of fighting, injured men and women littered the ground with increasing capacity. The dirt was damp with blood, more than should have been possible from just injured soldiers. The stench of rotting meat made her want to gag.
He also wants you to make a show of it.
Mara gave a huff, peering ahead at the fortress gates. They looked to be open, strangely enough. Most of the guards and knights seemed to be congregated there- and fighting, viciously and angrily amongst one another. At this sight, this spectacle of undisciplined slaughter paired with the horrid smell, understanding dawned upon her. A low rumble built in her belly that spilt out into a laugh that pealed through the air. Klaif, Klaif, Klaif. He did love being entertained, even more so where he could achieve a tactical victory that crushed enemy morale.
She began twirling her gold sword again and stalked forward, and it wasn’t long before more guards noticed her- these ones were separate from the bloody fighting that was at the front, and were a couple of women propping up a bloodied man. They gave out low gasps, and struggled to set their injured companion down- but Mara was already upon them, using her momentum to help carry her into the first woman, stabbing her in the gut, and then pulling the sword free to slash at the legs of the second. As she collapsed, groaning, Mara rose and gently, almost kindly, pushed the gold blade into the her throat. Mara was careful to keep her blood blade out of combat and thus a reasonable length- it had already been a little longer than a short sword from the battle with the knight, but now thanks to stray sprays of blood and the slow bleeding of her right arm previously (it had stopped now, thankfully), it was now roughly the length of an estoc. Mara gave a sigh, and turned away.
Mara continued on her path to the front gates, occasionally cutting down stray guards that attempted to stop her. By the time she reached the fighting at the front, the ground was quenched with blood, and her gold sword’s color was hidden away in a cloak of deep red. The guards and knights were locked in an endless loop of battle, killing and then turning on one another to find another target to quell their bloodlust. It was a set up of the most obvious kind, and it was a true marvel of how much Klaif wanted her to perform. Mara turned her head skyward, and extended her right arm in front of her, the blood sword pointing to the direction of the infighting. She brought her gold sword up to her right wrist, roughly slashed it horizontally. Immediately, the blood on the gold sword swept away until it was as if it had been washed clean, joining with the blood from her wound to add to the red blade that pumped even longer, a ferocious and greedy being that seemed intent on devouring every last drop. The blood sword was impossibly and impractically long now, and lengthening fast to the size of a spear.
Mara cracked her neck and surveyed the battlefield.
“What a wretched place.” She murmured.
And with that, she plunged the red sword into the blood-soaked earth.
Mara stepped carefully over twisted corpses and moaning, sometimes screaming bodies. Her feet bled from her consistently stepping on stray swords and the sharp edges of armor, but she barely noticed it. For her, she was finally realizing that her time spent in this prison was over. It was a bittersweet emotion- it meant she could finally move, but if she could move, it meant that someone wanted her fighting. Her right arm hung limp, empty-handed, and swung listlessly by her sides. She kept her eyes to the ground, walking until she saw black boots in front of her. Mara looked up, eyes narrowing at the sight of Klaif’s rugged face. His armor was grey- the same color as his thinning hair and beard- and lined with gold, complete with a silver cloak that reached all the way to his ankles. His boots gave him an extra inch of height, and still Mara loomed over him.
They were surrounded by carnage, but from what she could tell, Klaif had crushed the force holding the fortress. In fact, he had many soldiers to spare, apparent from the many that surrounded them. Her spectacle was completely unnecessary, especially with the backing he had received. Pitiful.
“Fort Lain has treated you kindly, I see.”
Mara was stricken by the forts name- it was laughable, forgetting the name of the very place she had been imprisoned in. She had certainly tuned out, it seemed. Mara pointed at her masked face, and whispered malevolently,
“I want it off.”
Klaif gave a huff, and turned his back on her.
“Did they keep you so alone that you forgot your proper manners?”
Mara’s voice was cold wind sweeping through a tree with dying, shaking leaves, and her voice trembled through the air as she added, not totally impolitely,
"My Gracious Lord.”
Klaif started walking, and the few other troops surrounding them stepping into line and following him. He beckoned her to follow. Mara padded behind him, the remaining soldiers following into step. In the distant wood, she thought she could make out the shapes of horses. The air was still stagnant and vile, even through her mask, and she turned her head behind her to see if its source was still lurking above the fortress. It wasn’t. She turned her her head back, and examined her right arm again. The scars were in full daylight now, and the two new ones she received today were still red and malformed, the skin around it a sickly pink. She felt her eyelids start to slowly fall again, until they were almost closed.
“Oh, I almost forgot.”
Klaif’s deep voice pulled her back, and she perked her head up. His head did not turn to look at her, and he continued,
“We’re journeying back to Paralay, but we’re stopping by Lavyn City first to send a message of our victory here. You have duties there, so get back into fighting shape before we arrive.”
He sniffed his nose, and made a disgusted grunt.
“And for Parafron’s sake, wash up as soon as possible.”
Mara bared her teeth in a grim smile, though he did not turn to bear witness to it.