Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for violence and mature content.
Trigger warning for a rape scene.
Jerica panted, still leaning over the puddle she’d created on the ground, sides heaving. She glanced up as she saw a rag dangling just in front of her face, then took it and wiped her mouth. She pushed herself to her feet and turned to face Aerik, hesitating as he offered her a canteen of water.
“To rinse your mouth.”
“Come now, Princess,” Aerik said as she took the canteen. “Nausea is hardly a unique side-effect of being transported. And your hesitation at the thought was a pretty easy give away.”
Jerica grunted, rinsing her mouth several times before she returned the canteen. Aerik fastened the canteen back on his belt and pulled a small chunk of bread out of a bag. He smirked as she eyed the bread hungrily. “Thought you might be hungry after that.”
“Yes, sir,” she answered, gratefully taking the bread. “Thank… you.”
“Manners are hard, eh?”
She frowned at him.
“Kidding. You’re welcome.”
He had a point. Manners were something that had been actively trained out of her. A general didn’t need to ask her subordinates to please obey her. A princess didn’t have to thank her servants. And she’d found that her equals were more likely to do what she wanted if she had the edge of intimidation on her side, which was lost if she padded her request with niceties.
“Where did you take us?”
“We are about a mile outside of Elmirana.” Aerik shrugged, gesturing for Jerica to come with him as he started walking. “I figured it would be good for both of us to have a minute to compose ourselves before we launch into the battle.”
Jerica nodded, taking a bite from the roll. “What’s the plan?”
“Kill as few men as possible and take prisoners.”
“That’s ironic,” Jerica muttered. “Are they coming back to the mountain with us as well?”
“No,” Aerik smirked. “You are the only prisoner I am taking. Kaidren will deliver the others to the main city for Derik to take care of.”
“That’s not any of your business.”
“Why are you helping Atra by defeating the Niapians now and taking prisoners, while helping Niap by keeping me out of the battle?”
“Again, squarely in the camp of none of your business.”
“It’s my business now that you’ve involved me.”
“And yet, here I am, not explaining myself to my prisoner.”
Jerica sighed, rolling her eyes as she continued to eat the bread, walking next to Aerik. “If my men are still alive, I can put them in charge of organizing the prisoners for transfer.”
“Excellent,” Aerik answered. “And if they’re not?”
“Well… I’ve got the intimidation of my public image on my side.”
“True enough,” Aerik agreed. “But you can’t take on entire squadron of soldiers by yourself.”
“No,” Aerik cut her off. “Even if you can, we are not taking that risk. We can begin working through the city from opposite ends.”
“Alright.” Jerica shrugged. “Meet in the middle and all that?”
“Yes,” Aerik agreed. “I will tell Kaidren to wait in the field off to the west of the city. If you can get the soldiers there, he can keep them subdued until we have time to come tie them up.”
“Alright.” Jerica finished off the bread and then drew her sword, swinging it several times through the air to loosen up her shoulder. She continued walking next to Aerik at a brisk pace, stretching her arms and chest and shoulders and back as they made their way to the city. Before long, it came into sight.
“I can start on this end,” Jerica said.
“Alright,” Aerik agreed. “I’ll circle around and start from the other end. Remember, the least amount of bloodshed possible.”
Jerica nodded, and veered away from Aerik to approach the small village at an angle. Her men were nowhere in sight. She grunted, trying to figure out where they were. If they weren’t watching the edge of the city, then surely their bodies should be there. And yet, the only corpses in sight were a few villagers. She could hear the clattering and shrieks that always accompanied military raids.
She cut into the barn to the right, slowly walking through it as she scanned for any enemy soldiers. The tools inside were jostled and tables were overturned, but there were no people inside. Jerica continued through the side-door and walked into a nearby house.
Her eyes flicked around the little one-room farmhouse quickly, focusing in on the two Niapian soldiers who were jeering at a young woman and two small children who were huddled in the corner. Their house was just as disheveled as the barn had been, torn apart during the Niapian pillaging.
“Hey! How about you pick on someone your own size?”
Both soldiers whirled around at the sound of her voice.
“You’re supposed to be dead!”
“I don’t usually do what I’m supposed to,” she spat back.
“It’s a ghost.”
“Then tell me how my ghost blade feels in your stomach,” Jerica said, starting towards them threateningly.
“No!” The soldier nearest her threw his sword to the ground. “I surrender!”
“Good idea,” she sneered, then strode forward, looking at the other soldier. “How about you?”
“I also surrender,” he said, nervously eying his friend.
Jerica looked back at the first soldier just as he made a lunge for his sword. She leapt towards him, slicing her blade straight through his throat even as he bent for his own weapon. He fell to the ground with a groan and a gurgle as blood splashed from the gash on his neck.
Jerica turned her sword back towards the other soldier. He threw his sword on the ground and raised his hands in the air. “Aye! I surrender! Really!”
“Then move,” she snarled, gesturing towards the door. She walked after him as he obeyed, moving towards the door. She walked him behind the barn, finding where Kaidren was waiting a few hundred meters across the field. She gestured towards him. “Go wait there.”
“That’s suicide!” the solider protested.
“And you think staying here isn’t?” Jerica asked threateningly, raising an eyebrow.
The soldier hesitated a moment, then groaned and reluctantly started across the field towards Kaidren. Jerica turned back towards the city and began clearing each of the houses and businesses she came to, killing the soldiers who refused to cooperate, sending the cowards to the field to wait with the dragon.
Jerica’s head shot up as she heard a shriek coming from the bar just to her right. There were few things that could produce such an anguished cry as she’d just heard. She hurried inside, eyes scanning around the area. There were a handful of soldiers lounging around the barroom, some picking through the alcohol, others enjoying pints at the tables.
In the corner, almost out of sight, her eyes landed on a girl lying on the ground with a soldier on top of her, pants lowered. The girl screamed with each movement the solider made. Jerica’s blood ran cold as she realized what was happening.
“Sir!” The soldiers nearest the door leapt to their feet as they saw Jerica.
The soldier on top of the girl looked up.
“Eloonta!” Jerica bellowed, seething with an instant anger as she saw his face.
The soldier nearest her lunged forward. Jerica knocked his blade aside easily, and sank her own through his throat, still focused on Eloonta. She hadn’t thought it was possible to hate him any more than she already did for his treatment of her – and yet, as she looked at him now, she realized the hatred could get much deeper.
Jerica turned the next soldier to approach her, blocking his blade with her own and then throwing him into the table to the right. She sank the tip of her sword through the next soldier’s neck before he could even bring his attack down over her head, then she turned back the soldier as he was gathering himself up. She sliced next to his knee brace, making him cry out and sink to the ground. She drove her sword downwards past his collarbone.
She turned back towards the two remaining soldiers, leaping forward before the one closest to her decided which move he wanted to make. She grabbed his shoulder, blocking his sword, and sank her own blade into his side, where his breastplate met the plate on his back.
She blocked the sword of the final soldier as he brought an overhanded blow down over her head, then turned her sword to slice his throat as she brought her blade away. She turned her gaze back towards Eloonta as the soldier crumpled to the ground in front of her.
Eloonta had composed himself and was now on his feet, sword drawn. “I should have killed you when I had the chance.”
“Yes, you should have,” Jerica agreed, starting forward. “Rapists don’t get off easy when I’m around.”
“Oh, I’ll finish with her in a second,” Eloonta sneered, gesturing lazily at the terrified girl on the ground who was scuttling backward into the corner. “I’m just going to make sure you’re actually dead this time, first.”
Jerica didn’t bother to respond. Rather, she swiftly crossed the distance that separated them, and took a swing at Eloonta’s head. He blocked her attack, stumbling backward under the intensity of the blow. He returned with a thrust towards her abdomen.
Jerica dodged to the side, grabbing the wrist of his sword arm and yanking him forward. She brought her sword down towards his shoulder. He turned at the last moment, throwing his own sword between hers and his flesh.
She blocked as he made a pass towards her chest, punching him in the face as he allowed his sword to pull him off balance. He stumbled backward. She attacked with a combination attack – first a blow towards his side, another towards his shoulders, a third towards his knees. Her final strike locked with his and yanked his sword from his hands.
“Don’t!” Eloonta shouted, throwing his hands up as he saw his case was hopeless.
Without hesitation, Jerica meted out the death blow, blade slicing most of the way through his neck as she spun around in a circle. She watched as his body crumpled to the ground in front of her, panting for a moment as her brain processed that he was finally dead.
Take that Noot-Noot man, she thought, suddenly finding her brain incapable of maturity as she faced the corpse of a man that she hated with every fiber of her being. She wasn’t sure if it would even be more gratifying if this was Lesaf instead of the arrogant young officer. This kill was one of the few she doubted she would regret.
Her eyes flicked towards the girl as she whimpered.
Jerica took a step towards her. The girl whimpered again, sliding even further away from her, eyes wide with fear and panic. “Please don’t hurt me!”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jerica said, laying her sword on the ground and raising her hands in front of her chest to prove they were empty as she knelt next to the girl.
“But… we still can’t pay,” the girl sniffled, tears streaming freely down her face as she attempted to cross her arms in front of her chest. Her dress was ripped, revealing a large section of her chest. The floor was marred with her blood from Eloonta’s abuse.
“What are you talking about?” Jerica asked gently, unbuttoning her own shirt.
“The king withdrew the soldiers here to protect us because we couldn’t pay the extra tax,” she said hurriedly, stumbling over her words. “We still can’t pay. Please.”
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Jerica repeated, even more anger bubbling up inside her. She would need to have a talk with the war council, if she ever got back to Atra, about leaving their own villages unprotected amid a war. For now, she focused on making her voice gentle. “My uncle didn’t send me. I am here to be sure the Niapians don’t hurt you anymore.”
The girl sniffled, nodding.
“Here, put this on.” Jerica shrugged off her shirt and held it out to the girl. “There are a bunch of men around. You shouldn’t be exposed.”
“But… then you’ll be…” the girl trailed off, gesturing at Jerica’s bared shoulders. Her undershirt was thin and revealing, but it was adequate for the remainder of the day.
“They won’t dare lay a hand on me,” Jerica assured her, urging her to take the shirt. She carefully helped the girl into it, brushing the arm as she noticed the blood that had soaked through the right sleeve. She offered an apologetic smile. “It’s better than nothing?”
Suddenly the girl threw herself forward and wrapped Jerica in a tight hug. Jerica froze as the girl clung to her, unsure of how to respond to the sudden outburst of emotion. Few people had the courage to lay a hand on the King’s Assassin, and Jerica certainly hadn’t been expecting a hug after the girl watched her kill so many Niapian soldiers mere moments before.
Finally, Jerica wrapped her arms around the girl, returning the embrace. She looked up, surveying the room as the girl snuggled into her chest, and started as she noticed Aerik standing in the doorway. He surveyed the carnage left in Jerica’s wake, then locked his eyes on her, lifting his eyebrows inquisitively. “Was all this really necessary?”