At the age of fifteen, Emilia had come to realize that just existing could get her in trouble.
A mob had killed her father. And she would have met the same fate had she not escaped.
She had been on the run since.
Emilia woke up to a cloth roof above her. As she sat up, a throbbing pain shot up her right arm. A bandage covered where the dagger had cut her.
Ten years on the run.
How many times was it now? Being stabbed, burned, run down. She feared getting used to it all. Go to a new place. Stay there until you got discovered. Then get chased out.
This time at least, she had gotten hurt for a different reason. It was an accident. Two soldiers had started fighting in the street. And she, standing not far from them, had got stabbed when one of them had dodged a blow. Filling the streets and harassing town people. That prince and his army could burn in flames.
Her last memory had been people carrying her into this tent. And there was some woman asking her to stay calm as she bandaged her. The woman gave her some medicine to help with the pain. That medicine had put her to sleep. She noticed the strands of hair hanging over her right shoulder. Strands of white hair. She jumped.
She heard clinking sound of metal from outside the tent. There were murmurs as well. She was in some sort of medical camp. She could see bandages and medical equipment spread on the ground. There were three more beds. But all were empty, sheets messed up. Everything was scattered.
As if everyone had left in a hurry.
As if they had seen something that horrified them.
As if… they had seen her.
No no no no no….
That medicine must have had some sort of sedative material in it. Her illusion was gone. Her eyes were probably purple now as well. She touched to find her ears pointing outwards.
“Oh, dear lord…”
Had she been found out?
She heard the clinking sound, again. The murmurs and whispers were closer to the tent now.
She read out the spells for five effects; one for her face, her ears, her eyes each, and two for her hair:
Milai elesra i mojya orona baya,
Milai kirani elona orona baya,
Milai tilaya orona nuraya,
Milai ilisbishi niha shi,
Milai kirani elona niha bini
She could feel her mana flowing outward. Her hair started shrinking as it darkened in color. The magic sequence was working. Her hair was now black. Her chin had reshaped to slightly more circular form. Her cheeks had bubbled outward.
She touched to find human ears again. She let out a sigh of relief.
After making sure that the visual illusion was complete, she peered out of the tent. A crowd of town people had gathered outside. They were murmuring quietly. They carried axes and pitchforks.
The moment they noticed her head peeking out of the tent, everyone hushed and backed away from the tent. They were looking at a monster.
She had been found out.
“Say Auden, couldn’t we stay at Lady Maria’s manor for a little longer?” asked Carner. The old man, wearing a dark robe, walked to Auden’s left. They were on their way to the medical camps. The streets were bustling with people.
After every few journeys, Auden had to hide somewhere long enough for things to cool down. Then, he started again, murdering, and setting shit to fire. Carner being the newest member of the party, didn’t know how things worked. He had no armor and no weapons. His odds of surviving their little adventure to the Rahli capital looked bleak.
“Can’ot do dat, we can,” said Ronalzo. The tall, bulky, giant of a man was a foot taller than Auden. He trailed the party of four. “Boss says we mus’unt overstay our welcome.” He wore a half helm, leather trousers, and a leather jerkin over a dark doublet. His jerkin was ornamented with bone fragments, which he had called his armor and Auden had refrained from arguing. He carried a bone axe on his back, which, again, according to him, could splinter any steel. And again, Auden had not argued.
“That be true, friends,” nodded Rilma. The stout, hardy dwarf walked on Auden’s right. “True indeed.” He wore a leather hat, brown trousers, and an old-looking, scratched breastplate over a long green doublet. And surprisingly, no beard on his scarred face. Ronalzo had called out his lack of beard and had almost lost his left arm. The usually calm dwarf carried a steel battle axe, which looked more threatening than whatever Ronalzo had.
Of all the people he had ended up travelling with, Auden had come to enjoy this lot the most.
They would be already on the Dragon’s Road, off to their journey, but Carner had those special herbs to trade at the medical camps.
“I wish we could stay, Carner,” said Auden, “but that’s just how things are.”
“But the lady was head over heels in love with you!” Carner shook his head. The aged herbalist tried to find logic in everything. Well, he wouldn’t find any of that here. “We could have stayed for eternity and she would have been happier for it.”
“I can only make necessary stays. If I don’t get to Karalai in time, someone will come to pick me up.”
“Well, that’s good right?”
Auden eyed the man. “What I meant to say was that: They will send someone to pick up my corpse.”
Carner was quiet afterwards.
If Auden had stayed with every woman who claimed to be in love with him, he would still be in South. Shinaza. That brought back memories. He had traversed half the Continent by now. That was not by choice, but he didn’t regret anything.
They passed another group of soldiers as they walked toward the medical camps. The town was swarming with Rahli men. It had something to do with some battle? Auden had lost track of the highlords and their squabbles a long time ago. Cast them to abyss for all he cared.
They soon entered the medical encampment right outside the town. On the opposite side of the town would be the Rahli army’s encampment. These medical camps were set on the opposite side of the town on purpose; to keep loud, unruly troops away from the injured people.
He was looking around when he found something curious. A crowd of soldiers and common folk had gathered in front of the tents.
Carner patted Auden’s shoulder, saying, “Be back real soon.” Auden was sure that Carner was selling some illegal drug, but he didn’t say anything as the old man walked off.
When he was gone, Auden looked at the crowd. Guards, standing amongst the crowd, were armed. The town folk were holding clubs and pitchforks.
“So,” asked Rilma, the dwarf, “we doing something, are we?”
Auden shrugged. Then he touched the pommel of his shortsword, as he did before a fight. “Just stay alert. We only fight in self-defense.”
The dwarf grinned. Auden grimaced. The last time Auden had said that, things hadn’t gone well. He gestured Ronalzo, the tall man, to put his weapon down. Then he started walking toward the crowd.
Auden wasn’t awfully tall a man, but he still towered above the common folk. His time fighting and killing had given him a look that warned people to step out of his way. The crowd moved as Auden, Ronalzo, and Rilma, made their way to the center. This was probably a lynching. These people had probably spotted some old woman wearing weird clothing, or talking in an unfamiliar language.
It could be a deserter. They were probably waiting for him to wake up before stoning or burning him to death.
All voices died down as someone emerged from the tent.
It was a girl.
Pale skin, short black hair, and naked feet. A normal, not-at-all-looking-like-a-witch, girl. She wore ragged clothing that would have looked decent had it not been damaged by overuse. Her left arm was bandaged.
Auden was confused.
“Witch,” said an old man with twisted back.
“Gods preserve us,” said a woman wearing a light colored gown and covered head. Must have been a healer or an herbalist. “She changed her hair. And her eyes. She had these” – the woman put both her hands on her ears to demonstrate – “these pointy elven ears. And purple eyes. I tell you, her hair was white as snow!”
“That’s a high elf!” One of the farmer-looking men elbowed a soldier. “What you waitin’ for? Kill ’er before she kills us.”
The soldiers, confused and scared, straightened their battle axes.
Auden rolled his eyes.
Not this again…
He stepped in to get closer to the girl. Ronalzo and Rilma followed.