Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language and violence.
Jerica looked around the bustling medical tent, trying to assess who would be the biggest threat to her, should she be discovered. There were about a dozen men only minorly injured, most of whom were sitting by weapons of some type. It seemed like there were close to a hundred men more severely injured lying on cots.
The physicians she’d noticed were hurrying back and forth to provide care as soldiers came by ones or twos to carry in wounded comrades. It looked like there were about a dozen trainees rushing around to help the physicians – how well trained they were in combat was anyone’s guess, but they looked around Jerica’s age, so likely fairly green still.
“You, help me with this man, then get back out to the battle stop hiding in here.” Jerica turned towards the voice of a man two cots behind her. She saw a physician standing over a soldier, rolling him onto a stretcher.
“Sir.” She made her voice as deep and gruff as she could, using the Nykerian word and desperately hoping the Nykerians didn’t have a different custom for acknowledging an order.
She hurried towards the stretcher, keeping her head low, and grabbed the side opposite of the physician. He walked with his back to her, holding the polls of the stretcher on either side of his body as he led the way out the far end of the tent, past the minorly injured soldiers. They didn’t look up from their card game as they passed.
The sight on this end of the tent was gruesome.
There was a massive heap of corpses stacked up just outside the entrance, bloodied and stinking in the hot summer sun. The physician began muttering curses under his breath as they walked. “Sanguis can’t die a moment too soon to suit me… End all this senseless killing.”
He lowered the stretcher to the ground. She set her end on the ground as well. She took a deep breath, stepping nearer to him. He turned around. “Roll this fellow off—”
His eyes instantly grew wide as they locked on her face. Her hands darted out in an instant, grabbing his chin and the back of his head, and twisting it until she heard the pop. She stepped backward as he crumpled to the ground. A shudder ran through her body as she stumbled away from the physician.
She loathed her every kill – but especially so the ones that she had to do with her own hands. It was silent; it was quick. It was intimate. The wave of fear crossing his ocean-blue eyes would be etched into her conscience; the guilt of his death weighing on her shoulders.
“When you finish out here, could you–”
Jerica whirled around. Another of the physicians stood before her, eyes wide, locked on the corpse of his colleague. She grabbed a knife from the belt across her chest as she leapt forward. She grabbed the back of his neck with her left hand, holding him in place, as he plunged the knife into his diaphragm.
He gurled on blood, grasping her arm tightly as his knees buckled. She pulled him closer to the other physician as she lowered him to the ground. He held tight to her arm, gasping for breath, and voice raspy and soft as he spoke. “Rynyr? Is – is Rynyr—”
He coughed on blood.
She pulled her arm away from him.
“Is my son alive?” His eyes screamed with desperation. “Is my Ryn still alive?”
The doctor closed his eyes, the crease between his eyebrows softening. “Thank the gods. My sweet boy. Tell him I love him.”
Jerica nearly tripped over her own feet as she stumbled backwards, heart feeling as though it’d been ripped straight from her chest. She’d either just lied to a dying man; or left a son to grieve his father. A bitter taste filled her mouth. She spit.
She whirled around to see a trainee standing at the mouth of the tent.
Jerica threw a knife from her belt and lodged it squarely in his throat – but it was too late. She heard commotion inside the tent. She yanked the sword from her belt and lunged into the tent in a flurry of motion. Her first swing passed half-way through a man’s neck, leaving him to crumple over on himself on the cot. She made a back-handed swing towards another of the minorly injured soldiers, also easily killing him.
She brought the sword downwards in a stabbing motion, sinking it into the seated man’s torso from just above his collarbone, as she jumped onto the cot where he sat. She grabbed a knife from the belt with her left hand and flung it towards a nearby soldier lunging for his sword. It caught him in the side of the neck and made him topple over, blood spurting everywhere.
Jerica leapt across the body lying in front of her, landing on the next cot over, and tore through two injured soldiers with a single swing as they hurried towards her. She jumped off the cot and fought through the next five – six – seven soldiers who rushed towards her. It was easier work than she was accustomed to. The majority of these men weren’t even wearing armor – plenty of soft fleshy targets to hack away at.
She reached the physician next, sinking her sword into her chest before whirling around to stab at a trainee approaching her with nothing but a metal bedpan raised over his head. She looked towards the mouth of the tent as another trainee was trying to sprint away – no doubt going for re-enforcements. She couldn’t allow that. She hurtled another knife through the air, catching him squarely between the shoulder blades and making him fall flat on his face.
Jerica made her way the length of the tent in a matter of moments, killing each of the men who approached her or looked like they might be in danger of running off and spoiling her edge of surprise, but moving past the men who didn’t even stir at the ruckus she caused. She paused at the end of the tent, heaving to catch her breath. She caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror by the entrance and cringed.
Blood coated her stolen breastplate and bare arms – smeared across her face and helmet as well. She looked like something straight from the underworld. She re-sheathed the sword and wiped her hands with a nearby rag, then found where she’d left her bow by the first physician, and quickly exited the tent before any more soldiers could add to her problem. They’d no doubt find the carnage soon. She needed to be sure she was well away before that happened – but first, the sorcerer.
Jerica re-loaded her knife belts with fresh blades from the weapons rack and added a shield to her repertoire, then started towards the back of the front lines. Valeren was still carrying on with his theatrics, explosions turning different colors and shaking the grounds varying amounts. She spotted him up ahead, maybe twenty meters in front of her, a mess of soldiers standing between her and him.
He had his back turned to her, but there was no doubt who it was. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and grossly overweight, with greasy red hair that hung around his shoulders. He wore flashy purple robes and was holding a staff as he raised his hands. She couldn’t hear what he said, but a moment later a flash of dandelion-colored explosion shook the ground.
A stab of fear shot through her chest and she took a shaky breath. This was one of her stupidest ideas yet. A sorcerer. She couldn’t take on a sorcerer. What had she been thinking, volunteering for this? What an absolute idiot.
She grabbed an arrow from her quiver and notched it, then took a deep breath. She looked down at her right hand, glaring at the slight tremble. Stop. Shaking.
It didn’t listen.
She took another deep breath, calming her nerves, then drew the string and aimed it. She took a moment longer to aim it than she generally did. This one had to be just right. She looked down the shaft of the arrow and positioned the tip until it was pointing at just the right spot in the center of his back, then released it.
A soldier stumbled into the arrow’s path at the last moment. He yelped, falling backward into Valeren.
“Fuck.” She reached for another arrow. Valeren whirled around, eyes locking on her immediately. He started towards her, hand raised and glowing dark cyan. “Fuck!”
She dove forward to grab the shield, raising it the nick of time. She crouched on the ground behind the shield as rods of dark blue energy crashed rained down on her like lightning. The metal of the shield was growing hot on her arm. She wouldn’t be able to hold it for long. She grabbed a knife from the belt on her chest and threw it in an arch over her shield, careful to keep her arm from passing from behind the shield.
A man yelped, but the barrage of magic pelting her shield didn’t change.
Think of something. Her thoughts felt as trapped in place as she was, crouched behind the ever-hotter shield. She swallowed hard, fear making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. Think!
Her bow was laying on the ground by her feet. It’d be impossible to get a shot off from this angle – she’d have to either to move the shield entirely or remove it from her arm before she could even hope to aim an arrow towards him. Unless –
The pressure against her shield suddenly got even stronger, more focused near the center. It took all of the strength she had to keep from toppling over. The roaring of a strong gust of wind filled her ears, overwhelming her senses as it whipped past her shield and slapped her face. She reached for an arrow and notched it.
She took a deep breath, clinging tight to her bow with her left hand and arrow notched on the string in her right, then suddenly relaxed all of the muscles in her body. The force of the wind carried her backwards and drove her into the ground. She was careful to land with her legs curled up by her body, fully covered with the shield, but let out a blood curdling screech.
She forced herself not to pant for breath after. She needed to be still – to give the Nykerians a false sense of security. An eerie silence filled the space around them, and then Valeren’s nasally voice.
“Are you dead yet, whore?”
She grasped her bow tighter. The shield was still so hot against her arm, burning the flesh between her wrist and elbow. She lay flat on her back, straining to hear if he was approaching. When he spoke again his voice was nearer.
“You will be soon, if you’re not already!”
She closed her eyes for a moment, steeling her resolve.
“Let’s take a little look at this ‘mighty warrior’ these cowards sent for me.”
It sounded like he was standing over her.
She took another deep breath, then sprang into motion. She sat up, bringing her shield around in a fluid motion as she drew her bow. The shield slammed into Valeren, making him stumble backward a step. She loosed the arrow.
The tip struck the base of his jaw and cut through the flesh until it lodged itself in the roof of his mouth. He let out a guttural yelp – the arrow in his mouth glinting in the sunlight before becoming coated in crimson blood.
She leapt to her feet, bringing the shield down on him, hard. The bottom edge of the shield lodged in his neck and shoulder, spurting blood into her face. She tried to yank the shield away, but it was lodged in his collarbone. She grabbed a dagger and sliced the leather throngs holding it in place, freeing herself from the shield.
Valeren crumpled to the ground, eyes rolling into the back of his head. Dark smoke began pouring from his every orifice – covering his head and then entire body in a matter of moments. She gawked at him, a lead weight sinking in her gut. That can’t be good.