Fire and Blood
Fire and Blood
The fires were hot that night, and roaring with their hypnotic life. Creaking and moaning of the floorboards seemed to rise above the other noises of the celebration. Ryla winced at each sway of the inns guests. The bitter and then salty sweet of drinks and meals was a confusing pleasure to her nose. However in between even those scents she could pick up the distinct slap of sweat in throat. She never liked large groups much. Especially when the men could not leave their eyes from her. Not that she blamed them however, but she hated that stuffing sensation of the crowd. On this particular night she found that it was unavoidable however.
Flutes and curved string instruments played festive music that some of the more drunken citizens clapped too. Ryla couldn’t help but glance at the exit. Even though the fighting was over for her at the moment, she still couldn’t help but shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen. It was part of her nature to sense such things. Her instincts had helped keep her alive many times. Ryla slowly lowered her hand to brush the hilt of her sword, Dragon Ash. Having it near brought her comfort.
A young waitress, black hair with red brown streaks brought over a tray of fruit that Ryla found delightful. The round purple fruit with what appeared to be sharp bristles covering the skin were rather soft and exploded with flavor. She thanked the young hostess and returned her gaze to one man in the corner of the fire ring. He was not drinking or eating. He sat there, staring into the coals of the fire. Ryla could hear his heartbeat was steady. Nothing was abnormal in his body’s functions. He was merely caught by a thought. The man had fought with her before. At least she figured at some point they were on the same battlefield. Gil was his name, a Knight of the Dalaxean kingdom.
A drunken couple arm and arm brushed past her nearly spilling some of their drink on her. Ryla slightly shifted her body away from as the foam splat on the floor near her feet. “Sorry Seraph.”
With a slight flick of her hand Ryla waved them off with a smile. As she glanced about the room she could see even more eyes had been drawn to her. Ryla leaned back in her chair turning her shoulders completely toward the center of the inn. Again the feeling of exit crawled up her back as if something at any moment would barge in. Ryla figured she should ignore it just this once. She heard many tales of soldiers going mad after battle. The tolls of war were mental just as much as physical.
The familiar scent of a friend drifted softly toward her. It was citric in its potency by soft like fresh lunar flowers. “Haven’t eaten much?”
Ryla turned shaking her head. Lilianna Rainfall was her dearest friend, one of the few people she felt she could trust. Ryla forced a quick smile as she turned to face Lilianna. “I lost my appetite. However these berries will do.”
As she spoke Ryla motioned with her head all the men staring at her as she popped a berry into her mouth. Lilianna smirked leaning closer toward Ryla. “I would say that it was because you are Pairran but of course it can’t be denied that you are the most beautiful woman in all of Dalaxea.”
“They would just need to abandon their pride and mingle in Pairra and they would find plenty of beautiful women.” Ryla huffed looking back at Gil who still seemed fix on the fire. She pulled some of her golden hair to the side of her shoulder to block off the sight of the exit, hoping that would shake off her tension. “Strange that after so many years the war is over now.”
“We can only hope that it is,” Lilianna let out a short breath. The firelight caused shadows to gather underneath her cheekbones. She pointed to Gil. “We all feel uneasy. Its part of recovering from battle.”
“Easy for the more experienced to say I suppose,” Ryla folded her leg on top of the other.
“It doesn’t get easier for the old,” Lilianna chuckled and seemed to bounce slightly as she leaned forward. “Look at Gil, he has been a Knight for decades and he still can’t get over the scars of battle.”
“After what we had seen I don’t blame him,” Ryla leaned back in her chair letting out a steady breath from her lips.
“You seem on edge,” Lilianna cocked her head to the side her eyes watching for Ryla’s answer.
The music seemed to get louder as Ryla tried to respond. Laughter filled the room as Gil suddenly stood from the fire and stumbled for the exit. Ryla could see he had too many drinks that night. She wondered why he seemed so unhappy compared to the others around them. There were not many warriors among them, but they were cheerfully enjoying the inns hospitality. As Gil left the inn the laughter seemed to stop immediately and returned to the light cackling as they danced to the music. Ryla felt sick to her stomach. Among the warriors in Dalaxea, Knights had a high prestige. Yet Ryla was surprised to see such disrespectful toward Gil. With a sight she figured that heavy drink turned even the best of people into the foulest of beings.
A man in the corner started to point back to the door and laugh out loud. Ryla focused on the noise coming from the far corner. The man spewed out insults of the courage of Gil and how he was emotionally broken. Ryla could not argue that was not the case for Gil, but she would not stand for such dishonor toward a warrior she knew was great in battle. Nearly leaping in the air, Ryla pushed from her chair and started for the corner.
Lilianna called for her but Ryla pushed ahead. The man noticed she was coming and grinned widely as he took another drink from his pint. Ryla returned the smile and stopped a few feet from the man. He was rather thin and was dressed in loose dying reed attire. She figured he must have been a farmer of some sort. The man opened his mouth to speak, spraying his sour breath straight into Ryla’s nose. On instinct she grabbed the man’s drink and threw it on him. He sputtered out curses and slapped his back against the wall as he tried to wipe the drink from his face.
“Filthy Mongrel,” The man threw his arms down to his sides and stared sharply at Ryla. He opened his mouth to continue but Ryla pinned him against the wall grabbing a hold of his dirty shirt. She lifted him from the ground slightly and couldn’t help but laugh in her head as his eyes widened in terror. “Forgive me Seraph Flameheart. I didn’t mean too.”
“Next time you decide to get drunk, make sure you are not around those who can harm you,” Ryla dropped him too the floor. As he stared up at her Ryla held his pint in front of him. The man stared at the pint, Ryla, and then to the silent eyes in the room. Only Ryla could hear the uncontrollable pounding of everyone’s hearts. The wooden pint moaned in her grip as she tightened her forearm muscles. Then in a splintering snap the pint exploded in her hand. There were some faint gasps from the women in the room as the remains of the pint crumbled to the floor. She smirked as she turned back to the room that couldn’t seem to decide whether to stare at Ryla or the shattered pint. “You speak of your warriors with respect and honor. They fight so you can live. Show them that gratitude.”
Before a response could be made Ryla slowly turned toward the exit and pushed the wooden door open. The music started almost immediately after she left the inn but was muffled as the door shut. The moon was high that night. It was almost the time of Eve as the second moon peaked over the top of the trees form the west. The air was mild and there was no breeze. All was at peace. She could hear somewhere in the distance the subtly roll of waves against a shoreline. After fighting for over 3 years in war she had grown to miss her home. Tomorrow she would travel with Lilianna across the ocean for a short while and then reach her destination on the Sun Set Islands.
Letting the air slowly travel into her body as she took in deep breaths, she noticed something odd. Shaking her head at the metallic pinch she looked about the quiet village. Hilera was small and dark for the night. The adults were celebrating in the inn while the children were tucked in their beds, something that would not have been done so willingly before the end of the war. She slowly walked between the wooden buildings enjoying the distance between her and the inn. She leaned against the wall of one of the buildings on the outskirts of the village and stared up at the moon.
Nights were different for her in Dalaxea, far different than from her homeland in Pairra. The night sky would be blazed with colors from the northwestern skies that traveled from Amaria. Ryla figured they vanished before Dalaxean borders. She missed them. She took in another deep breath and again her nose twitched at the metallic odor. However this time it was stronger. It was a familiar scent to her. Blood. Yet there was something rotten about it, almost as if there was some sort of decaying flesh near by. Her heart started to pound and she reached for Dragon Ash. The hilt brought her comfort and she peered into the darkness of the woods around Hilera. As far as she could tell there was no movement, no sign of life anywhere. The lunar flowers that littered the forest floor in patches did not reveal any movement as well.
Something moved from behind one of the buildings. Her body reacted and she turned to face the sound. Dragon Ash was ready to be drawn forth. She crept to the edge of the building hearing something drag along the rocky dirt. Taking deep breaths and hoping her heart would not jump to her throat she shuffled quickly to the edge. Taking a slow breath through her nose she peaked around the corner of the building. Gil was near the forest edge stumbling about.
Letting out a sigh of relief Ryla couldn’t help but laugh. She watched Gil half lit by the moon light throw his pint into the woods. He cursed the Dalaxean goddess Kilaria and fell to his knees. Ryla cocked her head, not sure why he was behaving as he did. They had victory and yet she was watching Gil act as if they were defeated. Ryla could not understand the Dalaxean culture. She was about to turn around when the night air suddenly jumped to life. Night birds in batting caws left the sanctuary of the treetops. An eerie mix of human screams distorted into an animal like shriek slowly filled the night. It sounded as if there were three at first but soon it grew louder and came from more sources. Hilera seemed to be surrounded by them. It was not form any beast she knew of.
Dragon Ash gleamed in the moonlight as she drew it from the scabbard. Ryla turned as Gil stood to his feet wiping his face. Then before she could process what she saw, Gil was seized upon. Shadowy figures slipped out from the dark forest The jagged figures shaped two monstrosities were on top of him. There was nothing familiar about what she saw ripping at Gil. They were human like in build, but the features were deformed. Spikes jutted from the back and sharp claws glistened in the light of the night. Ryla felt her heart beat shake into her limbs as she pushed forward. There was not much noise from Gil. At least Ryla was unable to tell if the leathery tearing was perhaps the last cry from Gil’s lungs.
Heat built up in her hands. It pulsed with each stride she took toward the attack. The heat seemed to warp memories before her. Burning buildings forming towers of smoke above them. The bitter lick of blood crawled into her nose with each breath. She felt her the warmth travel into her sword in short bursts. She was close to the beasts. The moonlight glistened off the leathery skins of the creatures. They paid no attention to her. Feeling her muscles tug between her shoulders and neck she forced the heat in her hands into Dragon Ash. White flames exploded around the blade, dancing about like a tamed celestial fire. Ryla readied for an attack and watched the creatures snap and twist their heads around to face her as the white light revealed their features.
There was a brief moment of hesitation. All of her battle experience had taught her to never do such a thing. Yet seeing the deformed human like creatures before her were something she only imagined could be horrors from scare tales she heard in Pairra as a child. Their eyes were an empty black matching the complexion of their skin. Their muscles were littered with red veins that she didn’t quite notice before. Even darker marking on their skin curved about them in clawing patterns. Their lips were curled back revealing jagged sharp teeth that appeared to cut through their skin if they were not careful when shutting their mouths. They reeked of blood and pine trees, mixed with the sour stench of rotting flesh.
The moment of hesitation cost her as she watched another creature leap from the growth next to her. Ryla stared straight into razor sharp claws nearing her eyes. She swung Dragon Ash toward the creature knowing at that point she would still possibly loose one eye but bring the beast down. She couldn’t help but growl out her frustration, feeding the flames around her sword. Somewhere behind her, a muffled hiss tickled her ear. The creature in front of her went limp as an arrow plunged half way throw its skull. Ryla swatted the creature with the flat of her blade, drenching in a coat of white flames.
The familiar scent of Lilianna comforted Ryla as she turned back to face the remaining creatures shrieking toward her. Ryla leapt back hoping to have enough space to get proper footing for battle. A cold chill filled her body as a red orb swirled to life deeper in the woods. She couldn’t tell what created it, only a quick shadowed figure was revealed for an instant and then disappeared as the large fireball roared toward the village. The building nearest Ryla shook as the impact of the flames began to swallow it. With out thinking Ryla rushed toward the smoldering home. She could hear the sudden cries and wailing of small children inside. She felt her muscles tighten in her legs as she caught eye of a window at the second level. It was shattered from the force of the attack so she could easily grab onto the exposed pane.
Pushing herself from the ground, she soared in the air feeling the heat of the fire squeeze against her skin, as she got closer. She stuck Dragon Ash into the wall and used her free hand to grasp the windowpane. The muscles in her shoulders strained slightly as she yanked herself into a crouch looking inside. Luckily she was in the children’s bedroom. Two young Dalaxean boys turned their heads to her, tears soaking their horrified and confused faces. Ryla felt her jaws clench at the site and the heat seemed to complement her emotions. Quickly sheathing Dragon Ash she scooped the boys in her arms and then rushed out the window. She landed as bets as she could feeling her knees jolt from the shock of the impact. The boys lost their breaths for a moment but quickly returned their small arms to there clinging grip around her arms and waist.
Not long after landing another fireball roared into the next building. Ryla could see it was the tavern. Soon everyone in the village were swarming out of the buildings, screaming and crying as they looked for a way to safety. Ryla pushed the two small boys toward the larger crowd, as the shrieks grew louder behind her. Drawing Dragon Ash she spun around ready to fight.
“There is never a break for a Seraph,” Lilianna ran toward her from the first building consumed in flames. Ryla couldn’t help but smile as she raised her blade. Three creatures rolled and tore at the ground as they rounded the corner of the first building. Ryla had given herself to live a life of combat. She had made a promise six years ago. One she intended to keep. She knew the people of Hilera were helpless and the only fighters around were Lilianna and herself. Grinning widely, Ryla stared at the first creature in front of her. The blade spilt the creature into symmetric halves like a large target. White flames exploded around the blade. She glanced to Lilianna who had her bow drawn back. They both nodded to each other. Ryla hoped that it wasn’t going to be a long night.