So, there’s been a while since this chapter and the last chapter, but I’ve finally written it. In fact, I’ve also written one and a half chapters beyond this. =P I’ve been working on trying to edit my posts more thoroughly before I post them. Also, now that I’ve started school again, I should be writing a lot more. Now, those of you who are eager to jump to the chapter, go right ahead and read it, but I’ve got some news to talk about, especially with the direction of this blog.
The biggest news is that I was contacted by MyTrendingStories to write for their website. You can see my first post on there here. It shouldn’t change anything on this blog, but for those of you interested, I’ll be writing more article-style pieces for them. This means that I’ll get to become more specialized on this blog and devote it towards my fictional pursuits. Occasionally I might repost stuff I posted on there to here, but that will probably be fairly rare. So, if you want to hear me talk about more stuff, check out my profile on that site. (Oh, and yes, I did watch a video on suturing, so those descriptions should be pretty accurate. =P) Apart from that, enjoy the story. 🙂
Chapters: Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | ToC
Ryke dropped a pile of books on the library table. The bookkeeper had been all too eager to show off his collection of books, despite Ryke’s intimidating appearance. Or maybe it had been because of that. Either way, the amnesiac now had a full five hours’ worth of reading in front of him, and hopefully it contained some much needed answers.
Seating himself with the same precision he used in every other part of his life, Ryke picked up the first of the volumes to peruse. This one talked about the Great War, and how devastating the losses had been for everyone. It discussed in depth the horrors that were perpetrated, and railed against the non-Humans. Thousands were slaughtered on both sides, but Humans, through sheer determination, numbers, and deceptiveness, won.
One of the sections in the book briefly mentioned how the Humans created mutagens to help them win the war, then started discussing the current Purist crusade against the resulting mutants. There, the shimm-tex ended, and it would not be continued until the author wrote more. Ironic, Ryke thought, How this speaks against the arts and the manipulation thereof, yet this very book would not have been possible without it. With a slight smile still on his lips, he moved on to the next book.
Between shelves and in shadows Aylya skulked, careful not to make the slightest sound. Her movements were unhurried, light, and graceful, allowing her to make full use of nyp’kah, Aelvish for “short breath.” Purist acolytes learned this technique, along with many others, to help control the sound of their breathing. Aylya could still remember the countless number of times she’d passed out from the exercises they performed. Those were the lengths one had to go to when fighting monsters, she mused.
Her thoughts came to a halt, as did her body, when she arrived at the perfect vantage point. Directly behind her quarry, she rested her crossbow on a shelf and aimed between the books at Ryke’s cloaked back. She could visualize his shoulder blades, and she envisioned the rib cage beneath. He still sat there reading, completely unaware of her presence. Breathing in halfway, she held the air in her lungs for a second and squeezed the trigger evenly.
In a flash, the bolt had fled her crossbow and embedded itself in Ryke’s back. He slumped forward over the table, tearing a few pages out of the book he’d been reading. Aylya slowly came out from behind her cover, dual daggers drawn. A shot like that severed the spine and was meant to paralyze the target. However, it often did not kill, and there had been rare cases in which the mutant had somehow avoided complete paralysis.
With each step closer, her muscles got tighter, till finally Aylya was within range to strike the killing blow. She flipped the dagger in her right hand and drove downwards, aiming for a clean slice to the jugular. What happened next took her completely by surprise.
Ryke’s right hand shot up, and his gauntleted forearm smashed into her wrist, causing her to drop her dagger. Reflexively, she started to spin. But not before Ryke slashed her across her ribs with the knife he’d concealed in his left hand. Instinct from years of training kicked in, and she hopped back as Ryke stepped forward. Quickly switching her remaining dagger to her right hand, she assumed a pervfin stance, unique to the Purists in which the knife fighter stood on the balls of her feet and bent at the knees to keep as close to the ground as possible.
Aylya subtly shifted her weight back, preparing for a quick strike. Her eyes saw the flick of Ryke’s wrist before she comprehended it, and she ducked without thinking. The knife flew past her, having missed by a head, and she lunged, taking advantage of Ryke’s defenselessness. He sidestepped, and she saw motion in her periphery before a chain smacked the dagger out of her hand and across the room.
She rolled as Ryke swung the chain at her head. He stepped after her and sent it flying down. Rolling to the side, Aylya ran for the window she’d singled-out earlier as an escape route. Ryke’s chain caught her in the back of her thigh, making her stumble, but she managed to dive out into the darkness of night.
Ryke started after her, then stopped himself. “Not my target,” he muttered, wrapping the chain back under his gauntlet.
He looked around at the havoc they had wreaked in such a small amount of time, then swung the shield off his back and worked the arrow out of it. Carefully, he laid it on the table, before bending to retrieve both of Aylya’s daggers. These went beside the arrow.
Ryke stared at the assortment for a minute, and the longer he stared, the more his brow furrowed. Finally, he picked up the arrow and spun it around in his hand.
“Definitely Purist make,” he muttered, then paused. “But they only hunt mutants.”
He tightened his hand into a fist, snapping the bolt, and threw it across the room.
Aylya fell through the doorway into her room and hit the floor hard. She kicked the door shut before crawling to the cupboard where she kept her medical supplies. Opening it with one hand — her other was pressed to her ribs — she pulled out the enchanted bottle of medicine her nurse had given her all those years ago.
Gritting her teeth, the assassin pulled her shirt off. Moonlight shone in through the window, illuminating the scars crisscrossing her torso. Opening the bottle, Aylya quickly poured its contents onto her wound. She gasped as the powerful antiseptic took effect, then reached back into the cupboard for the stitching tools.
She still recalled how badly her hands used to shake when she threaded the needle for this kind of operation, but she slid the thread into the eye smoothly now. Everting the edges of the wound, which had started to numb, she pushed the curved needle into her skin. Despite having done this more times than she could count, the sensation of the string running through the hole in her skin felt as alien as ever.
In a practiced motion, she punctured the opposite edge of skin and tied a surgeon’s knot, locking in the stitch. A few minutes later, she’d closed the wound up, and, reaching for her special medicine bottle, emptied its contents on her wound again. Then she emptied it a third time on some bandages and wrapped them around her torso.
If the Headmistress knew about Aylya’s special bottle, there was no doubt as to what would happen to it and Aylya, but from Aylya’s perspective, its three special medicines had kept her alive long enough to kill more than enough mutants to make up for her possession of it.
Slowly, she stood up and stretched her aching muscles, being careful not to disturb the wound on her chest. She closed her eyes and traced her fingers lightly over her body, reliving each scar and the kill it had been associated with, until tonight: the second time someone had left a scar on her and got away with it. Her eyes opened, and she replayed the fight in her head.
After going over it multiple times, she had to admit defeat. She’d taken him completely by surprise, and yet he had cleanly and efficiently disarmed her and very nearly killed her. She rubbed the back of her thigh where a welt had developed. Unfortunately, her little bottle was meant only for open wounds, and had no effect whatsoever on bruised skin.
She dropped her pants and climbed into bed, lying flat on her back. The room felt oppressively hot, but, as habit dictated, she pulled the blanket over her body. For a few minutes she lay there, staring at the ceiling, ignoring the dull throbbing of her wound. Then, after shifting slightly, she placed her hands on either side of her body, and fell instantly into a deep sleep.
Fire haunted her dreams. Burning. Something was burning. Her house was burning. Why were her parents screaming? Of course. The house was on fire. That made sense. What were they saying? Run? Why run? It felt horribly hot. Who was that? She did not recognize him. What was he doing? No! Don’t hurt—
Aylya woke up with her body covered in beads of sweat. She threw aside the covers, but it wasn’t long before the cool evening air had her shivering, and she had to pull the blanket back on again. She pressed a wrist to her forehead. It was hot and clammy. Stumbling out of bed, she dug around in her medical closet and pulled out a bucket and some towels.
Filling the bucket from the water barrel in the corner, she wet some of the towels and put them on her forehead and neck as she laid back down in bed. Her body shivered, and she pulled the covers all the way up to her chin.
A number of hours later, her fever had died down, and she threw the cloths aside. For a moment, she debated folding the blanket back down to her armpits, the way she always did, but she decided against it. A little extra security would not hurt. It was unusual for her to succumb to such feelings, but tonight hadn’t been a usual night anyway.
The following day, Ryke left the inn. He’d decided on a destination overnight; he was going to the Purist headquarters. His route took him through Temmark, and dark thoughts filled his mind when he recalled what had happened. The transformation of that girl, and the other transformations he’d seen, was still something he did not understand, and he refused to think about it.
The air was completely still, and the desolate village on his right stood in stark contrast to the dense forest on his left. Above him, the sun beat down with an unpleasant, throbbing heat, and not an animal stirred. Smoke rose in the distance from the girl’s house, but it was not smoke from a chimney. There was too much smoke for that. Looters must have come.
Kyr-lya put her head through the noose. For a moment she hesitated, then, as tears welled up in her eyes, she stepped off the tree branch. Air whistled by her ears, loud as rushing water, before— she hit the ground. What? She looked up. The noose hung loosely around her neck, and still quivering in the tree trunk was the knife that had severed the rope.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she yelled at the man who stood eyeing her.
“Saving your life,” Ryke replied.
“Does it look like I wanted it?”
“There are better ways to go out.”
Kyr-lya paused at this.
“You’re right,” she said slowly. “I’d rather go down fighting.”
She grabbed the knife from the tree and charged straight at Ryke. He quickly stepped outside her arm, and, catching her wrist, hit her in the shoulder. Her deflected momentum sent her flying, and she lost hold of the knife. Ryke walked over and kicked the knife up into his. He sheathed it and looked down at the prostrate girl for a second, then turned and continued on his way.
Getting up, Kyr-lya ran blindly at his back and flung her arms around his neck in an effort to choke him. But no matter how much pressure she put on his neck, the hand that he had somehow managed to sneak between her arm and his neck prevented any actual suffocating.
For an hour they continued like this, Ryke walking with Kyr-lya on his back trying to asphyxiate him. Then Ryke felt her grip loosen as she slumped forward. He slipped his arms under her as her heavy breathing informed him of what he’d assumed; she was asleep.
Night had fallen by the time they arrived at a roadside inn. An elderly man with his wife opened the door when Ryke knocked, and they hurriedly ushered him inside upon seeing his burden.
After putting Kyr-lya to bed, Ryke handed the innkeeper several coins. “For the night, and food for when she wakes.”
“And you, sir?” the innkeeper asked, peering at Ryke. “Will you have a room, too?”
“I won’t be staying,” Ryke said shortly.
The old man peered some more. “And what do I tell the lady when she wakes?”
Ryke stared back evenly. “A lie.”