Lyria’s heart thumped in loud, deafening beats beneath the screaming silence. The vile laughter and heavy footsteps were gone… was it safe? It had to be. She gulped for breath, inhaling the lingering shreds of decay, and her stomach churned as she risked her escape, clawing through the warm, dead flesh of the bodies that bore down upon her, surrounded and suffocated her. By Xandur’s eternal light, she needed to get out!
Disorienting patterns and colours spun free, broken only by a tiny gleam of light that filtered through the swirling darkness, a distant hope she yearned to reach, and her aching limbs sang as she at last tumbled from the heap, their gratitude as joyous as the rainbow skies that shone down through the sunlight and brightened the countryside, illuminating each golden blade of grass, burgundy leaf, and the blood that darkened her mother’s face. Oh, Gods… Lyria shrank back, blinded by her welling tears. The Gods had abandoned them! What had they done to deserve this?
The murderers’ laughter rose up in an imagined cacophony that mocked her pain and she wrenched herself from the sight, wincing as a bright sheen was replicated through her brimming teardrops. Her father’s sword lay discarded upon the path, returning the noon-sun of this nightmarish day, and her tears dried as she focused on the blinding reflection, the steel a brand that seared her eyes. She grasped the black hilt and removed the weapon from the cracked stone, glaring at the single streak of blood that tarnished the blade, a crimson drop that was likely to be one of their own. Her father had barely been able to swing the thing, the murderers had come out from no-where and there was no time… where was the scabbard?
Turning back to the pile, Lyria ignored her aching heart as she searched for her father and swallowed her rising nausea as she dragged her friends and neighbours away from one another, trembling as their lifeless eyes threatened to haunt her forevermore. She pulled the baker’s son from the heap, her muscles throbbing as she removed his thick legs from her father’s face. Tomas had always been on the larger side, of course he would be the one smothering her father. A snarling plainscat with gem-encrusted eyes greeted her as she freed him from Tomas’ bulk, the feline’s face etched deep into the black leather of the captain’s scabbard, and she grimaced as she unbuckled it, repelled by the unyielding flesh that lay beneath his uniform, the same flesh that when soft had received the blow that was destined for her… damn it all, she didn’t want to be alone; she should have died too.
She couldn’t look at him any longer. Instead, Lyria peered over the remains of the once idyllic cliff-top village and immediately wished that she had not as her habitual anger stirred. Houses were shattered, splintered wood and glass lay strewn across the bloodied grass and pathways, and the slaughtered remains of sheep and cattle dotted the nearby paddocks, their carcasses left to rot beneath the summer sun. Even the horses hadn’t survived the onslaught. It was wasteful. Each ransacked building and blood spatter transformed into a collage of chaos forever painted across her mind and as she once more met her mother’s stare, her eyes filled with terror even as she lay within the emotionless cloud of death, the simmering rage broke free. Damn them all to the lower planes of the Aethya! She would hunt the men who had performed these vile acts to her family, friends and home, and they would pay with their Godless lives.
Lyria rehoused her father’s sword and slung it over her shoulder then stalked the winding path, each step faster than the next until she ran full speed down the incline. The landscape passed by in a flurry of golden hues as she endured the miles of thick grass and the heat of the glaring sun. Consumed by her anger, she ignored the scorch the sun left on her skin and soared across the meadows, indifferent to the dangers that lurked within the grasses. There was smoke on the horizon. Fire. The murderers had not burned her village, the next had not been as fortunate. She raced for the grey plumes that rose high over the skyline, determined to face the men who had torn her life apart. Her sweat dripped through the blood and dirt caked over her face and she denied her reflexes as she swallowed the muck and breathed the dust, her thirst for vengeance all that mattered as she pushed her feet to their limits.
The blackened remains of the Loren settlement came into view. Only the buildings had been burned, the faint embers still glowing bright through the thick smoke, and Lyria clenched her fists as she looked over the slaughtered people piled high in the village centre, her nails biting deep into her palm as a breath of wind revealed the lifeless stare of a young boy, barely older than five. It was inhuman. The despicable men would not escape.
The pungent stench of death and decay danced amid the sharp whiff of smoke and ash, and bar the crackling of the smouldering wood it was as eerily silent as her own village. An agonised groan echoed about the crumbling buildings. What was that? Everyone was dead. With a swift pirouette, she removed her father’s blade from the scabbard and brandished the weapon in both hands, near expecting the dead to rise as she searched through the smoke for who, or what, had made that woeful sound.
Crisp wood crunched loud as the voice rasped from the ruins of a nearby dwelling. A blackened husk stumbled from where a doorway had been, remnants of a captain’s uniform in tatters upon his charred body, and Lyria pointed the blade at him as he staggered forward.
“Which way did they go?”
The burnt man coughed and heaved before falling to his knees with a sickening crunch.
“Please. Word must reach… Astana. Lord Andru…”
His pleas were irrelevant. She glared into his weeping eyes, her tone oozing with an unfamiliar malice through her hoarse throat as she repeated her question, “Sir. The raiders. Which direction?”
“They are not… raiders. Fiends! Monsters made flesh! Lord Andru… he must be informed.” He stared at her, his eyes pained and pleading, before bowing his head. “North… towards the city… miss, please…”
Her anger quietened as she looked down at the charred man prostrated before her. He was undoubtedly in the same position her father had been: a captain, a lone protector of an otherwise defenceless settlement, and had deserved better. Lord Andru be damned! Safe behind his city walls, these villages were worthless to him.
Normally a priest would be required to administer the last rites to the dying, but no messenger of the Gods would be delivering this man today. She would do what she could, what little that may be. Lyria tightened her grip on her father’s sword.
“By the Three’s gift of light and life, may your Chosen watch over you amongst the Aethya’s eternal skies.”
She swung the blade against the man’s neck, unflinching as the steel cut through the bone, and turned from his crumpled remains, not wanting to see another dead body unless it belonged to one of the men she sought. His repetitive plea rasped through her mind in an endless litany and her anger festered hotter than the sweltering sun as her mother’s pale face replaced the peeling black flesh of the burnt man’s. No! She would not go to Lord Andru; the murderers would not escape while she threw herself before the mercy of a man who would only demand her death.
The stench of decay strengthened, though she was now accustomed to the odour she had inhaled over the hours; each repulsive intake a reminder of all she had lost. Rough chatter drifted through the air… that grating voice and peculiar chortle were unmistakable. Lyria swept into the forest, her calm motions belying her inner rage. Her anger had driven her further than she had imagined. Her cliff-top home was surrounded by yellow grasslands as far as the eye could reach and the only forests in the region were miles away, an entire day’s journey on horseback and close to the Lord’s city.
She glided from tree to tree, imperceptible amid the natural cover, and closed in on the men. The day’s end was near and first moonrise would be upon them in minutes; second moonrise would be her hour of retribution. The murderers would be as unaware of her as her family and friends had been of them.
A cool breeze swept across her sunburnt skin as night shrouded the land. The rainbow skies were tinged by the low light of the rising moon and enhanced the subtle beauty of the Gods’ creation; the leaves, blades of grass, the smooth and twisted trunk she concealed herself against all shone with an illuminating life, and the sweet, flowery scent of the summer evening was unwelcome as it interwove with the powerful odour of death. Lyria ignored the ethereal wonders and focused on the men who stood mere feet from her. Their raucous laughter reverberated about the clearing they had taken as their own, their voices both grating and smooth as they chatted to one another and made light of their deeds this day, cackling as they spoke of more on the morrow; their Lady demanded it. Their Lady would die too. She fingered her father’s blade. Her soul and his sword both sang for blood and she would soon deliver their desires.
The passing hours were an illusion as she waited, devoid of all but her thrumming anger, when the glimmer of the second moon danced across the horizon. The iridescent heavens shrouded the orb with a ghostly green tinge, and as it rose above the skyline her boiling blood burst into life. It was time. Small fires were lit about the camp and cast an eerie glow about the site, all was silent but for the muttering of the lone guard on watch, the men who lay about the campfires slept as the dead and only one crudely constructed tent had been erected. They would be the first to taste her father’s steel.
Edging through the scattered shadows, Lyria headed for the structure. Gruff snores grunted within, the coarse wheezes reminiscent of the burnt man’s dying breaths, and she closed her eyes as she faced the twin moons. May Xandur, God of empathy and compassion, guide her hand this night; may he redeem himself for allowing this day of death. Her blood stirred with her magic —a birth-blessing that served as both gift and curse— and as her surroundings slowed in response, she tore open the fabric and slashed mercilessly at the three slumbering men within.
They fell without awakening. The silence of their absent screams infuriated her further and she leapt out from the blood-spattered tent and soared through the air, almost in dance as she paraded through the slowed motion of her world and felled every resting man before they could rise and apprehend her. She glided, twirled, slashed and sliced until she stood behind the final oblivious man; the lone guard who had been muttering to himself, unaware of that which had occurred around him. Striking her final blow, she was at last satisfied as his stunned grunt echoed through the moonlit night.
The flickering fires spun in a dizzying whirlwind of flame and flying embers as her surroundings returned to their natural flow, sharp pains shot through her limbs and her wobbling legs gave way, her collapse a thud that reverberated loud within the silence. Staring into the Aethya, Lyria watched as the twin moons became one in the eternal skies before allowing her weary eyes to close. Her quest was complete; may her mother and father ascend in peace, and may she join them in the otherworld.
Book cover courtesy of FrinaArt – Rights are mine, B.M.Matthews (@kaelci)
This concludes the first chapter of Vengeance. Following chapters will be posted each Wednesday, 20:00 AEST. When posted, chapters will be available for viewing at Kaelci.net under the ‘Book One – Vengeance‘ heading.
I welcome all comments and critique. If you make a valid suggestion within the allowable editing time for this post —7 days before payout— I will take it to heart and try to incorporate it. Anything to make my story more enjoyable and ready for an e-book audience. Once the seven days are up, this chapter is final.
Thank you so much for reading. See you again next Wednesday! 🙂
B.M.Matthews — @kaelci