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Vengeance: Chapter One

The vile laughter and heavy footsteps were gone. Was it safe? It had to be. Lyria’s heart thumped in loud, deafening beats beneath the screaming silence and her stomach churned as she risked 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 be a tiny gleam of light —a distant hope she yearned to reach— and her aching limbs sang as she 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. She shrank back. Oh, Gods… 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 tears. Her father’s sword lay discarded upon the path and returned the noon-sun of this nightmarish day, 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 one of their own. Her father had barely swung the thing, the murderers had come from nowhere and there had been no time… where was the scabbard?

Turning back to the pile, Lyria 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. The baker’s son was next, and her muscles throbbed 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 to smother 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 her disgust rose tenfold as she unbuckled it, repelled by the unyielding flesh that lay beneath his uniform —the same flesh that when soft had received the blow 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. Trembling, Lyria whipped away and 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 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 soul, fuelling her burgeoning rage, and as she met her mother’s stare once more her fury 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 the over-sized blade over her shoulder before she stalked along the winding path, each step faster than the next until she ran at her full speed down the incline. Miles of thick grass passed by in a flurry of golden hues and the glaring sun scorched her skin, but the discomfort did not matter. There was smoke on the horizon —fire. The murderers had not burned her village, the next had not been as fortunate. The blackened remains of the Loren settlement came into view. Only the buildings had been burned, the faint embers still glowing bright beneath the thick smoke, and Lyria clenched her fists. More slaughtered people were piled high in the village centre, and her nails bit 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!

Death and decay danced amid the sharp whiff of smoke and ash, and bar the crackling of 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 its housing and brandished the weapon in both hands, near expecting the dead to rise as she searched through the smoke.

“Young miss…”

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, and her tone oozed with an unfamiliar malice 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 and murmured, “By the Three’s gift of light and life, may your Chosen watch over you amongst the Aethya’s eternal skies,” and 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 murderers. 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; each repulsive intake was a reminder of all she had lost and she breathed it into her soul with every step, allowing it to take her further. Rough chatter drifted through the air… that grating voice and peculiar chortle were unmistakable. She swept into the forest, her calm motions belying her inner rage. Her anger had driven her farther than she had imagined. Syosse 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 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.

Raucous laughter reverberated about the clearing the men 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. She fingered her father’s blade —their Lady would die too. Her soul and the 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, 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 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. The twin moons became one in the eternal skies and she closed her eyes. Her quest was complete. May her mother and father ascend in peace, and may she join them in the otherworld.

Published inFiction