A lone girl stared out at the horizon to a city across a hilly expanse. Dusk had fallen and the townspeople were skittering inside, trying to beat the darkness. She watched as the people, merely specks in the distance, continued obliviously with their lives.
“I don’t know about this, Destra.” A voice came from her side, removing Destra from her trance and drawing her attention. She looked down to the brown fox who stood at her side. “Are you sure you want to enter a city that big?”
“Oh, Caramel. Do you trust me, or don’t you?” Destra cooed, crouching down to pet her fox.
“Of course I do,” Caramel frowned, her ears pinned back. “It’s just... well, we’ve never been robbing in a large city like that.”
“As long as we stick to our usual plan, we have nothing to worry about,” Destra assured her.
“I guess.” The fox let out a heavy sigh. “Just remember that our mission is bigger than this.”
Destra scowled. “How could I forget?” She grunted and got back to her feet. “We’ll just make a pit stop here and be on our way again soon. Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” Caramel nodded.
The pair made their descent down the ridge where they stood, progressing assuredly toward their targeted city. Caramel stayed protectively at Destra’s heels, ever vigilant in her lookout for any followers. Destra kept her gaze focused forward as they approached the gates of the city.
Slipping into the city was no great feat, and soon enough they wandered the stone roads along with the townsfolk. Humans and their animal companions alike inhabited the city, going about their typical days without paying much mind to Destra and Caramel. Despite possessing a slightly more haggard appearance than the typical peasant, they blended in with the city-dwellers well enough, stalking through the rapidly-darkening roads with haste.
Destra came to a sudden halt when she saw a patrol of soldiers turn the corner and begin heading in her direction. She quickly ducked into the nearby alleyway, beckoning Caramel to follow. They disappeared into the shadows behind piles of rubble, waiting with bated breath for the soldiers to pass them by. Destra let out a sigh of relief when they continued walking past her hiding spot.
“The nighttime sentries are already starting their patrol routes,” Destra noted aloud. She looked down at her heels to where her fox companion stood. “Go on. You know what to do.”
“I’m on it,” said Caramel as she zipped away. The tiny fox made no noise except the light patter of her paws on the road, her outline vanishing into the darkness. Destra remained in hiding there within the alleyway, waiting patiently for their usual plan to be executed. Several minutes passed as the sun disappeared and the moon’s pale light ascended; the twilight was just dark enough to shield her from the gazes of far-off soldiers.
“Hey, what are you doing? Get back here, you little mutt!” The sound of a soldier shouting indicated to Destra that all was going according to plan: Caramel had provided a distraction. The heavy clanking of the soldiers’ armor sounded nearby, although it eventually faded away until Destra felt safely alone in the area. Giving a glance in each direction for good measure, she finally emerged back onto the streets and crept toward the marketplace.
It took a short while to find in the darkness. The area was populated mostly by shops, all of which had closed for the evening. However, there was a circle of carts in the center of the square, each covered by canvas and tied down with rope bindings.
Destra rushed over to the cart nearest to her, untying the rope and throwing away the tarp. Fruit and vegetables laid in a beautiful array before her, just waiting to meet the gruesome fate of tomorrow’s breakfast. Destra filled her bag with as much food as possible, giving little to no care to the state of the food. A wanderer like her could not afford to be picky, especially with food being as rare a commodity as it was for her.
“Well, well, well...”
Destra gasped and looked up when she heard a voice in the area. From where she stood, she could make out the outline of a soldier at the edge of the square. He was dressed in heavy armor, presented with the colors of the empire. The torch he held revealed a sinister smirk on his face.
“What have we here? A thief? A little gutter rat?” he chuckled.
Destra scowled and took a step back. She turned around and prepared to make her escape, stopping short when she saw her avenues of escape were cut off by more soldiers. Each of the routes out of the square were occupied by a different soldier, the four of them closing in on her.
“Didn’t think we’d catch you?” another of the soldiers laughed.
“You should really think about changing up your methods once in awhile,” another taunted.
Destra ignored their comments, looking around the general area. It was difficult to see in this darkness, especially with the lights nearby to further worsen her sight in the dark, but Destra was fairly certain Caramel was nowhere nearby. She scowled; where was her fox?
“We’ve been expecting you, Miss Destra Luvalle.” The soldier who had first addressed her stopped a comfortable distance away, leaning against his spear. “You’re getting a little complacent, stealing from a cart right in the middle of a trade city like this.”
“You...” Destra scowled. “You know who I am?”
“Oh, you’ve become something of an urban legend,” he grinned. “Although I did expect something more impressive than...”
“Than me?” she spat.
“Oh well,” he shrugged. “Men, capture her.”
Destra dropped her bag and held up her hands. “I can’t fight. You’ve got me.”
She did not struggle as they carefully approached and restrained her. She allowed her hands to be bound with rope in front of her, one soldier tugging on the binds to make sure they were secure. She kept a straight face and a watchful eye as the events unfolded.
“What do we do with her, commander?”
“Our orders are to take her north and put her with the other prisoner.”
He groaned. “She’s being transported all the way to Adella?”
Destra’s eyes lit up. “My brother is being held at Fort Adella?”
“Err...” The soldier winced.
She grinned. “Imbecile.”
“Hey, that’s enough out of you!” the commander shouted. “Now, I noticed your little fox was missing.” He scowled. “I won’t leave until she’s found. Why don’t you call her on out?”
“You asked for it...” Destra smirked. “Caramel! Demon dive!”
There was not a noise to be heard as Caramel made her approach. The only sign of the fox closing in was the glint of torchlight reflecting off her eyes as she sailed through the air. She leaped from a rooftop and soared down toward the group, landing with her teeth sinking into the neck of one of the soldiers. Caramel jerked her head with one violent motion, instantly ending the life of the soldier nearest to Destra.
Surprised shouts arose from the remaining three soldiers. Destra took advantage of their distraction to bend down and reach into her shoe. She quickly procured a dagger, sawing through the ropes that bound her with a couple seconds of work. The commanding soldier took notice and attempted to stop the process, but Caramel was quick as lightning, biting into his leg and dealing a grievous wound as she zipped past him. He cried out and withdrew a few steps, buying Destra just enough time to get free and back to her feet.
Destra twirled the dagger in her hand. “Good thing you didn’t expect anything more impressive than me. You’ve really given me the advantage here.” The soldiers all stood around her, warily trying to decide their next movement. She sighed. “Are you really still here? You don’t want to end up like your poor friend there, do you?”
“You’re not typically so violent, are you?” the commander grimaced. “Usually your antics are destructive at best, but not murderous...”
Destra flipped her brunette locks over her shoulder in an attempt to appear uncaring. “Seems like you guys aren’t leaving me much choice.”
“Listen, Destra, I tried to do this the easy way,” the commanding soldier sighed. “I have orders to capture you, and now you’ll be charged with murder on top of theft. Do you really want to dig yourself any deeper a hole?”
“I’ll take my chances,” Destra hissed.
The commander looked over his shoulder at one of his compatriots. “You, go and fetch reinforcements!” he commanded. The recipient of the orders nodded wordlessly and took off. The commander and remaining soldier both drew their weapons and turned their attention to Destra and Caramel, who stood at the ready.
Caramel was the quickest to act, engaging the uninjured soldier. The soldier frantically slashed toward the ground with his sword, but he held no hope of moving fast enough to land a hit on Caramel. However, he did well enough in fending her off that she could not score any blows either.
The commander charged in toward Destra, holding his spear at the ready. She sidestepped the blow, spinning around to land behind him. He could not retaliate quickly enough with the combination of his heavy armor and leg wound, giving Destra the advantage. She swiftly delivered a kick to his back, sending him flying into the nearest cart. It ruptured with an enormously loud clatter, the commander collapsing to the ground afterwards.
The final remaining soldier turned his attention to the noise, giving Caramel the opportunity to score a wound in his leg. This gash was deep enough to cause the soldier trouble with his footing, and he collapsed with a cry to the ground. Caramel did not dare to attack further, as that was enough to keep him from giving chase.
“Come on!” Destra shouted frantically. “Let’s get out of here before the reinforcements arrive.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Caramel huffed. The two took off into the night, disappearing into the streets. Destra ducked into an alleyway at the first opportunity, trying to take back streets and shaded passageways as often as possible. She could hear the shouts of the soldiers as they mobilized through the city, searching for the vagrant girl and her fox companion.
Thankfully, the soldiers had not yet had an opportunity to block the exits to the city, so Destra and Caramel were able to slip out quietly during the madness. They did not dare to slow down until they were quite some distance from the city. Destra panted and leaned against a tree trunk, staring back at the city she had just fled from. She could see the lights from their torches flickering in the distance, indicating that they were still searching the city for her.
She sighed heavily; they had escaped for now.
“That was way too close,” Destra breathed heavily. She looked down at her fox companion. “Sorry. Maybe I got a little overconfident after all.”
Caramel shook her head. “It doesn’t matter now. Hey, can we find a stream or something? I need to get this taste out of my mouth.”
Destra nodded. “I should wash up, too.”
They wandered away from the city and into the wooded areas beyond. The sounds of the nightlife chittered all around them. Destra easily ignored the wildlife with her companion by her side, looking for any signs of water. A couple minutes of searching led the duo to a small stream, beside which they sat and took a moment to rest.
Destra washed her face while Caramel took a drink and spat out any remaining blood. Caramel took her time lapping up a long drink of water and otherwise grooming herself. Destra stared idly into the flowing water and was lost in her thoughts. Caramel took notice of this, shooting her human an inquisitive look.
“Hey, what’s the matter?” the fox asked.
Destra scoffed a laugh. “Seven years...” she muttered. “It’s been seven years since my brother left home, and after all that time spent searching... it was that easy?” She smiled bitterly. “I just had to wait for the right idiot to come along and accidentally tell me...” Her expression hardened. “Erric is being held at Fort Adella.”
“He must have been a new recruit,” Caramel reasoned. “But... I mean, at least we know now, right? Now we have somewhere to go.”
“I guess so.” Destra shifted where she sat. “Fort Adella... How in the world will we even get inside a place like that?”
“We’ll figure it out,” Caramel said assuredly. “For now, I think we need to get quite a bit further from that city.”
“You’re right,” Destra realized, climbing to her feet. “Let’s go.”
The two set out through the wilderness together, fearlessly facing unknown territory as they wandered into the night. It was not until a couple hours later that they felt safely isolated, settling on a nook to sleep in. After making sure the immediate area was clear of any dangerous wild animals, the pair turned in for the night.
Destra used her backpack as a pillow and tried to make herself comfortable. Caramel curled up next to her human, and Destra petted the fox until she was comfortably asleep. Destra, however, remained awake for a long while; thoughts of the long-awaited reunion with her brother consumed her mind. With their newly-acquired information, she knew that meeting was not far off.
“Just hang on a little longer, Erric,” Destra whispered into the night. “I’m coming.”