Temperatures were rising and the heat was nigh upon unbearable. Lyria crossed her arms over her face, hoping to find comfort beneath her shadow, but it was impossible; her sweat ran rivers along every inch of her skin and she ached from sleeping on wooden slats that were as misshapen rocks beneath her back. She had taken to resting on the floor, but the sweltering heat had thwarted her plans. This day was to be devoted to rest after spending the entire week consumed by her loathsome role and it now seemed that such desires were beyond reach… it was fitting; comfort was a luxury she no longer deserved.
Compelled by the desire to begin her new life, she tried her best to ignore her disgust and had immediately begun work on Lord Andru’s task. By night’s shadow she became familiar with Arnauld’s exotic gardens and was now adept at navigating the paths she must take to perform her duty, and now she only wanted to relax her anxious heart, to compose herself before the inevitable strike. A bizarre confidence wavered through her revulsion and she felt as ready as ever to make the move requested of her —the despicable action that would initiate her into a life she both desired and shunned— and was going to act this upcoming night but had not anticipated the disgusting heat. It was a roasting air that overwhelmed her body and mind and rendered her as useless as a snow in the fiery wastes. It was too much. Syosse never had over-encumbering heat such as this. She could scarcely believe the burdening air that weighed down upon her, trapped her, that held her enclosed as… as the pile of corpses had not even a fortnight ago!
She leapt up from the floor and paced her tiny room. She needed to move her arms and legs, it was imperative to prove that she was free and no longer held bound by the dead, but each moment was more claustrophobic than the last and her heart raced faster than she could think. Her terror rose through the confines of the enclosing walls and she flung open the door, at last finding relief as she escaped into the outside world. Her heart soared at the sunlight’s embrace and her panic evaporated, but the relief did not last. There was no breeze and her blouse clung to her sweating skin as she squeezed through similarly overheated crowds. She had thrown herself out from her sweltering cottage and into an environment thick with the discomfort of a thousand groaning people, but at least the walls were gone and there was always the beach; perhaps the seaside could offer some respite. It was the only option and she hurried towards the docks, the thought of the cool water a bliss that spurred her lethargic legs onward as she elbowed through the sticky masses that restricted her path.
The crowds thinned as she approached the pier and a thick curtain of steam blanketed her, the dense cloud lapping against her in hot, humid waves that drenched her and her garments. She was wrong; the beach was not an option at all. No wonder people were going the other direction. Curse this unrelenting heat! She brushed a hand through her sodden hair and held back her tears. How could these people stand it? They muttered and groaned, but they kept on with their lives as though this were just a minor inconvenience. She was ready to collapse.
An eerie shriek burst through the mist, snapping her from the misery. A mile from the pier, barely visible within the shrouding steam, what appeared to be a serpentine creature leapt from the burbling water and wrapped itself about the silhouette of a large carrack. The sea serpent hissed, a rasping growl that reverberated over the waters and rumbled through her eardrums, and a fresh heat blasted from the mist and circled her, threatening to melt the flesh from her bones. By the Three… she had believed these creatures to be myth!
Andru’s demands were forgotten as she hurried further along the pier, hoping to observe the scene clearer than she could by the pathways, and discovered another crowd hidden within the mist —a crowd as perverse and eager as herself to witness the distant excitement. The people were hushed as they craned their necks, straining to see the skirmish between boat and beast, and the unexpected thrill replaced her exhaustion as she joined them, trying to catch sight of any movements behind the thick mist that obscured the display they desperately sought to watch. The serpent screamed a shrill, unnatural cry that shook the pier and pierced into her as a dagger through the brain, and a wave splashed up against the platform in a violent spray of boiling droplets. Lyria leapt back from the water, her hands flying to her ears in a futile attempt to protect her ears from the anguished scream, and stumbled into the dispersing crowd, steadying herself as they muttered beneath their breaths, dissatisfied with the epic sea battle that could have been.
“Wasted half a noon-meal for this.”
“Aye, the lads could’ve at least waited ‘til the fade and put on a proper show for us.”
“Would’ve made up for this blasted heat…”
A familiar, accented voice rose over the hushed complaints and Lyria turned about, greeted by Antohne’s jovial grin, five soldiers at his back as they approached the docks and awaited the return of the victorious ship. “Either way, we’ll be eating well tonight!” He sent her a cheerful wink, seemingly immune to the relentless heat that remained despite the serpent’s death, and she allowed him a tired smile before turning back to the sea, hoping to catch a better glimpse of the fabled creature as the boat docked.
The hot steam enveloped the carrack in a secretive shroud before it evaporated in long, gaseous tendrils beneath the noon-sun, revealing the crimson scales of a beast thrice as long as the vessel that had triumphed over it, each scale a mirror that reflected the iridescent skies and glimmered with a flawless, prismatic sheen.
“Enjoy the show?”
Cael disembarked alongside various soldiers and boatsmen, a priggish smile fixed to his face as he ran his disdainful eyes over her, unaware of the seaweed draped across his shoulders and tangled through his sea-drenched hair. He looked ridiculous. Lyria hid her smirk behind her hand as she wiped the sweat from her face, preferring to watch as Antohne and the soldiers helped the boatsmen with their prize.
“Didn’t see much. I’m impressed that you actually joined your men instead of watching from the palace’s safety. That would seem more fitting for your type.”
“My type?” He snorted. “Father has no love for the highborn. We have our duties and we do our utmost to perform them, with our men and not over them.”
His voice was terse and his contempt emanated from him similar to the heat that radiated from the calm seas —a farce— there was nothing placid about the serene aqua water that caressed the docks with its gentle, enticing waves. She would not be swimming for quite some time, if ever again.
“Speaking of duties. Do you not have an order from my father? This moon-cycle is almost over and I have yet to see you confer with him.”
The provocation was evident and Lyria refused to rise to it. She remained fixed on the activity by the boat, watching as the men expertly descaled the giant serpent and filleted the remains into manageable chunks. It seemed as though they had done this before. How often did they deal with the sea creatures? The city-dwellers weren’t perturbed, it was as though this abysmal heat was a regular occurrence… by the Three! How was she supposed to adjust to this? She could not recall anything similar from her childhood days in the city, nothing was familiar anymore —was this even the same Astana? Cael coughed beneath his breath and she rolled her eyes, allowing the man an exasperated shrug as she replied, “You weren’t present for my directive. What would you know of my duty?”
“I’m not daft. I am well aware of my father’s purpose and am just as aware that you are unsuited for such work. Perhaps Xandur’s favoured will join us on the boat next time… if she’s allowed to remain in Astana at all.”
Cael had deciphered her fear as easily as though it were etched clear across her face. She whipped about and glared at him, her cheeks as heated as the boiling seas. His tone was thick with condescension yet his eyes gleamed with mirth as he observed her reaction, and she wanted nothing more than to remove the tiresome smirk that spread across his face, a smug grin that widened as he indulged in her anger. Antohne had declared that another skirmish was inevitable and now was a good a time as any, a grand showdown beneath the midsummer sun, the pretentious oaf defeated before the eyes of his own men, but before she could respond to his gibe, he shrugged at her and strode away from the docks, a tangible air of arrogance exuding from his departure.
Laughter rose up behind her and she glanced over at Antohne. Arm-deep inside the remains of the sea serpent, he sent her a genuine smile that Cael seemed incapable of and his warm accent soothed her temper.
“I’ve known Lord Andru since I was a boy, miss. He seems fond of you. I don’t know what he’s asked, but pay no mind to Cael… think you’ll enjoy the seas?”
“Not if I’m on-board the same vessel as that infuriating Lordling.”
Antohne chuckled, “Just don’t push him into the sea, I don’t think Lord Andru would forgive that,” and returned to his task.
Lyria rubbed at her brow. Though Cael was a pompous arse, he had also been correct; the moon-cycle would begin anew within two days and her duty must be completed before then. Her original intent had been to infiltrate Arnauld’s manor this night, hoping beyond hope that she would be capable of performing the despicable action that she had been tasked with, but the sweltering heat had crushed her purpose, and was only now renewed by the desire to prove herself to a conceited man she wanted no business with, unless it involved her sword to his smirk. She wiped the fresh beads of sweat from her forehead and raised a questioning eyebrow as Antohne’s head once more emerged from the beast’s stomach.
“Will this heat last much longer?”
“Aye, miss. The serpent’s boil can sometimes outlast the week.”
Those were absolutely not the words she wanted to hear. Lyria nodded and turned away from the men and their prize. There were only few hours remaining in the day and she needed to acclimatise to the dreadful temperature and take leave of this burdening exhaustion. It seemed impossible. Her nausea returned tenfold and stirred her stomach as the lack of choice mocked her. This night she would attempt to kill her own kind in order to cement her position in a city she didn’t particularly want to reside in and to work for a man she both liked and loathed.
Johne, the God of divination and fate, seemed to have an ill sense of humour.
This concludes Chapter Five of Vengeance. 🙂 As always, I appreciate any comments and critique. Your critique is valuable! I would love to know any thoughts you have, any criticism, critique, did I leave a typo? A misplaced word? Maybe there was a sentence that seemed odd. Anything that will help me make this a work worthy of self-publishing!
Thank you so much for reading! 🙂
B.M.Matthews — @kaelci