Artumes has asked the night if it was all better now – after the cleaning fire, after the flames had purged it.
Maybe the earth would have a different answer, but the air did feel a lot better. Filled with soot, so much that even her Anthilian physique was having a hard time breathing. She dampened red her shawl in water and plastered it against her face. The warm and wet cloth was uncomfortable, but it would stop most of the soot. She immediately felt better.
“We deny passage to the Iron Crown,” she muttered, turning away from the burnt thumb that used to the postal tower, now cleansed of any Marrower spell, at least. The stones and the wood would not remember, anyway.
In time, this land would heal – and maybe, one day, it would see Anthilian children play between the trees once more.
It was now time to leave. She would find a nice spot where to set up camp for a while and wait for the Marrower to return. Maybe she was already near – the weird feeling had persisted. She felt observed, but thankfully her axe was safely at the ready.
She walked on the cinders, her boots lifting tiny clouds of soot. The flames dying down allowed her eyes to get used to the night once again, and everything turned slowly sharper and greyer, safe for the spots around the flames that still held a shade of colour.
It did not matter much, though, not even her eyes could see much further through the coat of dancing cinders. She cleaned her eyelids of soot as more lingered on her skin, through her clothes, down to her undergarments. She would need to take a bath soon enough, if only to avoid the sooth chafed her as she moved. She had to be efficient in combat to face something like a Marrower.
And this Heleth would prove to be a formidable opponent, if her abilities with spells were anything to go by.
And then, ahead of her, through the smoke, she saw a human figure stumbling forward.
Artumes frowned and detached Moonbite from its holder. Her axe firmly in hand, she walked towards the newcomer. Maybe she would eat breakfast with the others yet.
Runo had walked through the cloud, guided only by the faint candlelight of her own powers. The throb of her heart allowed her to feel if there was anything living nearby. She couldn’t see, and she almost couldn’t breathe. The embrace of coronite had destroyed everything that still lived on the land for miles, as the fires propagated now behind her. By the lack of that charring sensation that threatened to eat right through her soul, she guessed that the horrible substance must have ran through most of its potency.
But her skins was still fresh and rosy and smooth. Some of her clothes adhered to her sweaty body like patches of forgotten skin.
She only knew that ahead lay someone or something that was still alive, while around her the bushes were long gone, and only a few tree trunks still burned, their spark of life turning fainter by the minute.
Runo heaved and walked trying to proceed at the briskest pace she could, but each time she breathed in more cinder, even if she tried to block most of it thanks to her powers, even control over her bloodstream and breath could do only so much when surrounded by a sea of soot. Air choked her throat and its was becoming increasingly hard to just stay upright.
“Help,” she croaked, as she reached a low circle of once-wood that still contained an inkling of life in it. Maybe it was the remnants of the palisade. “Help. I have information. I come in… ahh…” she wheezed, stopping and trying to take a few breaths, no matter how painful it was. She cleaned her burning eyes from the soot and tried to look around, but she could perceive nothing but a very faint orange light from the still-burning flames and the hint of silver from the fragments of the moon. “Help.”
Water. She needed water. And someone who could listen to her. Know she was indeed coming in peace.
Oh, if the gods existed, they would have her meet with an Anthilian who would hear her plight.
Their flame of light was coming closer and closer – she proceeded through the destroyed village, her feet creaking over the charred wood as she stumbled forward like a delirious phantom.
The figure had heard her. They were coming closer, and Runo stumbled forward with renewed vigour.
They met next to a home where the flames were still burning high, so Runo dared to open her eyes to see if she could peek at their face through the clouds of ash.
“I…” she opened her eyes and started.
In front of her stood the tall Anthilian, an expression of disdain turning her beautiful features into a mask of contempt.
Her hand already gripped her axe.
And Runo recognized it. She has already felt its touch, even though it had been while she still inhabited the body of a steelbeak raven.
But that had not stopped the girl then, and she was far too sure it would not stop her now.
Artumes couldn’t believe her luck. There she was – a Marrower. She doubted it was Heleth, as she couldn’t see her getting caught like that, stumbling and coughing her lungs off in the cloud of soot, her hair and clothes covered from head to toe in ash. She must have been close when she had officed the ritual, which also meant that whoever she was, she was most likely not who she was looking for.
But she was a Marrower, dressed in their ritual robes, and with a thick band of metal surrounding her forehead, like a crude diadem biting into her skin.
Whatever the reason why she had come to find her here, she was alone, apparently without allies, and she did not have mill-slaves chained to her to use as fuel for her spells.
Which meant Moonbite would not go to bed hungry tonight.
Author’s Notes: Thanks for reading.