She’d stayed longer than she’d originally intended; the sun was now behind her instead of above, meaning that she didn’t have long before sunset. And though this wasn’t very good as far as time was concerned, it did make her path easier to see, which was always helpful. It was of course her fault that she’d lost track of time; but she had always rather enjoyed her visits to the Caravan, as well as with Kadin, so it often lay forgotten.
It wasn’t long before she could no longer see the Caravan; she had a very empty feeling inside at the prospect of being alone yet again. Her left hand fingered the whistle as she tried to think of how best to send it to her brother without the Law realizing. She was sure he’d love it; maybe that was how he would start communicating with her again, through the songs he’d write for the whistle. Hime couldn’t easily send away a song-bird, now could she?
Risa glanced down at the dress as she felt a fold of the greener fabric slip from her hands. She grabbed it, tucking it carefully back under, and held the bundle even closer to her chest.
It really was a very nice dress, even with how heavy it was. She wondered if Hime would like it; she never did know with the girl. One thing was for certain, though--that the Justice would detest the fact that a ‘commoner’ had touched it. If there was nothing else to complain about, then she would resort to that.
Hime didn’t like it when Risa touched any of her belongings; but she couldn’t simply make it against the Law, as nothing would ever get done. It had taken a very long time, but the Justice had eventually gotten used to the fact that she wasn’t in Reihem anymore.
An idea came to Risa as suddenly as a thrown dagger and she laughed aloud, wondering why she hadn’t considered it before. Chuckling quietly to herself, she ran toward a group of rocks that she saw in the distance and began stripping off her dress, pulling Hime’s on instead. Even now she could picture the Justice’s angry face, scrunched up into a tight knot as though to burst; she grinned wildly as she tied the purple sash around her waist, draping her thin work-dress over her shoulder. Risa was sure she’d be furious; she had never done anything this defiant before. Maybe Hime would become so angry that she would try to make her leave--only to realize that it was nighttime, when she didn’t want her desideria outside!
And then Risa would make a deal with her, saying that she would never do such things again so long as she was allowed to see her brother. She felt as though the dust-wind had gotten caught up in her insides; she could scarcely breathe. It was the perfect plan, and it just might work; it had to work. She would be able to see her family again--her entire family this time, and not just in secret.
Someone shouted something in Korish and Risa jumped, not having expected the sudden noise. Giving her sash an extra tug and hurriedly pulling her unruly hair up and out of her face, she scrambled up to see who had spoken.
Five or six men in dark green clothing and dull metal armor were riding side by side, slowly moving closer to where she had been walking only moments ago. One of them had a flask of something and was passing it around, as though in celebration; and they were all drinking and laughing, without a care in the world.
Risa’s eyebrows furrowed. She didn’t recognize who these people were, so she couldn’t know what they were doing in the deserts so close to the Middle Sands; she had never seen such a uniform in her entire life.
A rhythmic pounding noise, and another man came riding toward them; he must’ve been someone important, because they all silenced when he approached. He was holding something up in their direction, but Risa couldn’t see what it was; it reflected the sunlight excellently though, glimmering blindingly in her eyes.
The men let out a sudden and riotous cry; they raised their fists to the sky, cheering on the man as he thundered toward them on his majestic white horse. He was close enough now that Risa could see what it was that he held.
It was a sword. Even now it was still bright, though not as Risa had expected it to be; for there was something covering it that dulled it’s shine, something she hadn’t noticed from far away. A closer look...she could almost see it...
Risa swallowed a gasp, dropping down behind the rocks. She clutched Hime’s dress, feeling her heart pound audibly in her chest. She knew who they were now.
How? her mind whispered frantically, dropping the thoughts almost as quickly as it picked them up. How are the Kalpans in the desert already?
She tried to listen to what they were saying; but they spoke only in Korish, so it was difficult to understand.
“Did ne skraah her?” one of them asked. Risa gritted her teeth in concentration and peered up above the rocks again.
“Foreigners cannot zadha,” the one with the sword replied, wiping his blade on his uniform.
Foreigners? Risa’s mind whirled. She knew that the Reihimians weren’t the only foreigners on Kor; but they were the first to form a town, which certainly would be reason enough to earn such a title. She’d always thought it Hime’s fault that they’d had so many problems in blending with the rest of the tribes; they should’ve become one themselves, for maybe then they would’ve avoided the Kalpan’s attention.
“Where ke njale, Aasir?” a thin man ask, his mouth twisted into a sneer. He looked oily, like a desert rat.
“Kalpar,” the man replied, confirming all of Risa’s suspicions.
“Teila,” came several nods.
She was slowly returning to her senses as her mind began to wrap around the situation, carefully deliberating on what to do if they found her. Adrenaline pumped violently through her veins; she fingered the sand blindly, never taking her eyes off the soldiers as she searched for a sharp piece of rock. They were close enough now that she could see the colour of the sword-man’s eyes; they were green.
“Such an easy Leihmajin,” the desert-rat commented, trying to stir up conversation again. “Kalpar jahrari its Ahnma kyopi.”
“Shantar ke jahra their crops. Are dyar their lives raysko kora?”
Risa gripped the rock she’d found even tighter, anger coursing through her body as rapidly as the adrenaline. By the tint of disgust in their voices, it sounded almost as though they spoke of a herd of foul animals instead of a group of people. It took nearly all that she had to keep from attacking them, despite being unarmed (the rock didn’t count--how she wished for her sword!) and her teeth were clenched now that she held her breath; they were scarcely a few paces from where she was hiding.
“One kayno boy didn’t even shantir,” a bald but bearded man added, laughing in such a way that it caused Risa to shiver. “He only arfadi ji his crutch, to zadha. Kyoje child!--Kalpar had swords!”
In Risa’s mind flashed a perfect picture of her smiling Kalauda; but it was ripped from her memory as quickly as it had appeared, and she saw nothing but red, the colour of the stains on the Kalpan’s swords. She was filled momentarily with a deep and heavy nothingness; her whole body shifted, and her eyes grew blank. Kalauda...he couldn’t be...
A rage consumed her so suddenly that it was like a jolt of lightning, roaring it’s way to her core. It flamed in her hands, her chest, her eyes; she saw nothing but her brother, her family, and everyone in Maura that she had loved. It was almost as though she was no longer herself, for everything had gone frightfully numb.
Had she been more aware of her surroundings, she would’ve realized that she had been gripping the rock so tightly that the blood was now draining from the palm of her hand.
Her feet acted of their own accord; she stood as though controlled by strings, staring blankly at the men on the horses. Her mind was empty, and she couldn’t breathe. Or maybe she didn’t want to breathe. She couldn’t decide which it was. For there was nothing left to think, nothing else that mattered--except that the murderers paid.
She let out a war cry, running toward them with a fearful speed despite her constricting dress, and threw Hime’s sash around the nearest man’s neck, giving a strong tug. He fell to the ground, sinking through the air like a rock; and he had not yet landed when he felt her foot push hard against his side. She had managed to grab a hold of his sword was pulling at the handle, struggling to loosen it from the sheath.
When she finally managed to pull it free, she aimed it at the nearest horse; it balanced solidly in the air and she looked up, as though daring them to challenge her.
But her sweaty hands fumbled with the weight of the sword and she felt it, her eyes breaking focus for half a second; and she tottered to the side, falling with the blade.
The men were yelling now, realizing only that someone had fallen. Two of them had jumped from their horses and were drawing their swords, the silver blades glinting in the sunlight; one of the others had rushed to the man on the ground, pulling out a small glass bottle as he kneeled on the sand beside him.
One of the two stepped forward, the first to meet her gaze; his green cloak billowed around him as he drew his sword, directing it powerfully to his side. He watched her, his mouth pulled into a tight line; he studied first her position, her expressions and surroundings, then lowered deep into a fighting stance.
His confidence was irritating. She threw her rock as she would’ve done a dagger; but he seemed to have expected this, because it bounced off his arm and disappeared into the sand. He didn’t move
after that, calmly waiting for her to attack again.
She glanced around briefly at the other men, expecting them to be closing in on her now.
But they weren’t. Instead they sat around, watching the two with as much interest as one would place in a lesson, or even a sport. Her hold on the rough handle tightened; she let out a second war-cry as she drove her sword straight at the weak spot in the man’s breast-plate, her arms shaking with a powerful anger.
“Zadha her, Tanmar!” one of the Kalpans called, breaking Risa’s focus. “Leihmajin ke ne!”
Out of the corners of her vision Risa noticed the man with the green eyes shake his head, placing a hand on the man’s shoulders.
“She’s only a kayno girl, he will Leijin soon enough,” he said. “Ano does it matter if he zadha?”
The tone of his voice struck a nerve, and she growled with anger, driving her fist into the side of the man’s back where there appeared to be no armor. But it was like hitting a stone; he didn’t even flinch. In fact, the briefest of smiles lit his face as she pulled her hand away, staring at it in surprise.
“Why don’t you just give it up?” he whispered. His words were oddly familiar, but her mind was too preoccupied to think about it.
She clenched her teeth and swung her sword around in anger, aiming a second time for his back. Again he blocked; but this time he threw the dull end of his blade against the side of her leg.
Risa didn’t have enough time to move as she was still dealing with the momentum of her own weapon; it hit her leg full-force, and her knee twisted sharply to the side.
An enormous pain knotted and swelled; it paused, and in that moment it was almost as though Risa couldn’t feel a thing. She gripped her sword, lowering a second time into a fighting stance...
And then it hit.
A startling wave of pain came roaring through her as though the very ocean was coursing her body and she screamed, dropping to the ground.
Her knee was in such agony that it was almost numb; she clutched at it, wincing when she realized that the bones were now disconnected and aiming in opposite directions. Tears streamed down her face, and she was in no position to stop them; there was no appropriate reaction to this sort of pain.
The men, who were slowly beginning to talk among themselves now that the battle was over, appeared to be disappointed that it had ended so quickly. Was she only important to them so long as she could fight?
Her mind allowed her to think once more of Kalauda, of his face the last time she had seen him. Tears were falling then too, though they were not her own. Were these same as his?
No, she realized, they weren’t. He had been afraid for his life, afraid that the one person he loved would be leaving him. Her promise stabbed her in the back like a rusted Kalpan dagger and she doubled over with the grief. She would always be there for him, she’d said.
But where was she now? She was on the ground, crying shamelessly at the face of his murderers. Was that what she’d meant when she’d promised to protect him?
She gritted her teeth, reaching for her sash. Slowly but deliberately she wrapped it around her leg, pulling it tighter and tighter until she could no longer feel it’s throbbing pain. Sheer will allowed her to move, and nothing else; she grabbed a hold of the sword she had been using and thrust it into the ground with every last bit of strength she could muster. Shaking it a little to insure it’s sturdiness, she began pulling herself up, leaning upon it with all of her weight.
A wave of gasps and hushed chatter fell across the men as they watched the foreigner emerge from the sand, leaning against her sword, the sweat dripping visibly from her face. The one who had been tending to the man on the ground stood suddenly; he began running toward her, but the man in the cloak blocked his path. He said something, shaking his head; so the boy backed off, but he didn’t stop staring.
Risa watched the Kalpans as she stood, making eye contact with each and every one of them in the hopes that it would be burned in their memories for as long as they walked the sands; for this was, in her mind, a silent testament to all who had died back in Maura. She was sure that they had done everything within their power to fight the Kalpans when they had fallen; but she needed to prove this again now that they were gone. Maura wouldn’t become just another triumph for Kalpar, another notch on a wooden stick. She would preserve their honour.
One man in particular was watching her already; and she recognized him immediately, for his uncommonly green eyes were hard to forget. He was glaring at her, his eyes squinting in frustration, as though trying to see through her; and it was almost as though he recognized her, but couldn’t place who she was.
She quickly tore her eyes from his and moved on, feeling somewhat as though something had been taken from her.
And when she had finished, Risa pulled her sword from the ground, holding it high in the air. She could almost feel her right leg throb again now that the blood was coursing through it; but as she shoved every last rational thought out of her mind so as to let her emotions take control, the thought of it quickly faded.
Her attack was silent this time; she feared that if she cried out, she would only be wasting her strength. She hurled her sword at his, and he dodged it with almost no effort; her blade fell to the sand like dead weight.
“Don’t fight me,” the man in the cloak whispered, seemingly begging this time. His words were so familiar, so soothing; they were nothing like the Korish that the Kalpans spoke. Risa couldn’t understand why she still recognized their meaning, and couldn’t spare a thought for it; but had she been thinking more rationally then, she would’ve realized that he had been speaking perfect Reihimian to her at the time.
She only shook her head, raising her sword high above his. Her face contorted with pain as she raised it higher and higher, lifting it over her head; but before she had the chance to bring it back down again, he used his blade to catch the grip and throw the sword out of her hands. He reached up and grabbed her by the wrists at almost the same moment; he lowered her cautiously to the ground, where she watched him with wild and confused eyes.
“You can’t...you can’t kill me,” she spluttered, staring straight into his almost apologetic expression. She didn’t understand what was happening, for the pain in her leg was greater now; it was like fire consuming ice, then freezing back over every second. Her head throbbed mercilessly.
“Ana dyar?” the man with the green eyes asked, and the one in the cloak stopped; he moved quickly to the side, allowing the man to crouch down in front of her. He was watching her again, studying her; and she turned her head away from the sound of his voice, not even wanting to understand. His was a hard and rough sound, the same as that of a Korish native, of a Kalpan.
“It is...against the Law for you to kill me,” Risa rambled, her words slurring together haphazardly as she thought of what to say. A hush fell over the men; she paused for a second, wondering if they knew of the magic she spoke of. Perhaps it meant something entirely different in Korish.
“Law?” the green-eyed man echoed. She nodded after a pause, and looked up at him with a sudden and strangely confident gaze.
In her mind she heard over and over the stories they once told her of the moon and the sun, and how it tore itself away for the love of the night...how it was cursed to be nothing more than a shadow, a mere reflection of the sun...
“My name is Hime Lumina,” she declared, her voice unwavering and surprisingly strong. “And it is against the Law to kill a Justice during her Stay.”
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