This was the response of a little writing hook from Merry Sisters. Not really sure if it fits with the theme, but it was the story that came to mind. I also ended up writing it on Sunday night, after spending of the entire weekend doing honey-do lists.
In other news, lost another 0.3 kg which is promising. In the right direction at least, so I can't argue.
But, back to the story. Here is my little contest:
Sharista sighed unhappily as she dropped her backpack on the water’s edge. Groaning, she unbuckled and drew off her belt, feeling the torn leather tugging on the loops of her trousers before she could free it. Tossing it into the air, she turned away before it hit the water. Not even looking, she could hear the faint sounds of her broken sword slipping from the sheath and clinking against stones. By the time she turned back around, only a plume of sand revealed the burial of her no-longer trusty weapon.
“Auntie Shar, can I go play?”
Sharista fought back the glare of annoyance as she stared at the young girl tugging on her blood-stained shirt. Bright eyes innocently looked back, not even aware that their home burned brightly a few hours to the east. With a snap, she yanked the sleeve from the girl’s hands.
“I’m not your aunt. And I don’t care.”
“B-But, mama said you were in charge.”
Sharista found herself fighting back the surge of nausea at the flash of memory. That last minute promise to the queen and Sharista regretted every moment since.
“Yeah, whatever. Go on, just stay within sight.”
“Okay!” the princess said cheerful, then hopped over the ruined leather belt and raced down to a spot between two trees. Setting down, she found tiny stones and began to stack them up, humming some childish tune out of key and out of rhythm.
Sharista groaned and sat down, ignoring the rocks that dug into her backside.
“Why did I bother?”
The same question she asked herself almost every waking moment in the last three days of running, terror, and fighting. She tugged off her left glove and tossed it on the belt. It took her longer to pull off the fingers of the right, the palm and wrist burned away by an acidic attack spell from the assassin who hounded them. She almost got him, the last time they fought on the roof of the inn, but he managed to slip away in the fire.
Her eyes flashed up until she caught sight of the princess, then back down to the water. Leaning forward, she swished her hands in the water and whispered the words to a quick spell. A heartbeat later, the grime and blood washed away completely, leaving her hands as clear as the day she first learned that spell. Leaning back, she flicked the water off then grabbed her wineskin. Lifting it above her, she already knew nothing would come out. Not even a drop. Grumbling, she snatched up the water skin and drained it. Tossing both of them aside, she considered refilling them then dismissed the idea.
Too much work.
Rubbing her shoulder, she leaned back on the roots of the nearby tree and tried to find a comfortable spot. The princess, blond hair almost shining in the dim light, hummed happily as she built a castle out of pine cones. Sharista quickly looked away and rubbed her body harder.
“Hurry up, damn it.”
She didn’t speak to the princess, but someone else. Impatiently, she reached down long enough to pull out a leather-bound book from her backpack and cracked it open. The pages hummed with power, crackling with static electricity. Immediately, her fingers began to itch down to the very bone. Shuddering at the feeling, she flipped to the middle. Tugging a pen from the holder, she wrote as neatly as she could.
“Where the hell are you?”
The words shimmered in the dim light then faded to the purest black. A moment later, more words appeared below hers, in the scrawl of the girl’s father. Sharista peered at it, trying to comprehend the king’s horrible writing.
“About an hour?” She looked up at the princess, “Yeah, I can live with that. Hear that? An hour and I’m finally rid of you.”
The girl looked up in confusion.
“Auntie? Did you say something?”
“No, I didn’t. Just stay in sight.”
Sharista shook her head.
“I should have just taken the hundred crowns and be over with this.”
“The offer is still there,” said a slithering whisper across the water.
In a start, Sharista jumped to her feet, her hand reaching for her missing sword and her eyes staring out into the dark waters.
“Damn you, I thought you couldn’t get in here.”
The man’s voice chuckled dryly in the darkness. Sharista strained to hear the direction, her feet inching toward the water’s edge. He continued after a moment.
“The wards here are very powerful, but thankfully, it is just a matter of finding the right key to get in. It wasn’t a matter of if, my dear mage girl, it was a matter of when.”
“You can’t have her.”
Her voice faltered as the exhaustion sapped at her strength. The itch of her fingers grew worse by the second, like thousands of fire ants crawling up her bones. A moment later, her mind registered the pain and she snapped out the curt words to send a surge of magic through her body. It hurt, but only for a second, then the exhaustion melted away like the mist.
He chuckled again. The water rippled and Sharista stared out in the darkness as the assassin stepped out on the surface. He wore a leather coat that brushed over the surface of the water. His impeccable leather boots shimmered with energy, holding him above the water’s surface as he tapped his tri-corner hat to her.
“The offer is still there,” he grinned amicably, “I’ll even double it. Two hundred silver crowns for you to walk away. Come on, she isn’t even a real princess, just a country title and not even worth the weight of that crown.”
Unwittingly, she glanced over at the princess. The little girl splashed her hands in the water, completely unaware of the killer twenty meters away. She turned around, then jumped back. The assassin, in that brief moment of time, stood right in front of her, a smile on his dark lips.
“A thousand silver crowns.”
She licked her lips, stunned, and he pulled a small bag from his pocket. Tossing it to the ground, it spilled open into the multi-colored coins of the realm.
“Go on, count it. Even as a mercenary, I’m sure you haven’t seen that much money in your life.”
He spoke with confidence, but it felt like a knife with the truth of it. Sharista felt tempted, wondering if he would kill her as soon as she knelt down. Then her eyes caught sight of her belt and the water beyond it.
An idea caught her head and she fixed on the memory of her broken sword falling into the water. Kneeling down, she began to whisper the words to an attack spell. The itch in her joints redoubled, then quadrupled. The resonance of their energies, the bane of most mages, tore through her senses like a maddening burn. She glanced up to see him tugging on a strand of hair, discomfort burning brightly in his dark eyes.
Her hand hovered over the coins for a moment, then she lurched forward. Her knees slammed into the rocks but she plunged her hand into the water. The universe slowed, droplets hanging in air as she snapped out the last of the words of her spell. Time froze for only a micro-second, but it gave her enough time to wrap her fingers around the hilt of her sword and spin around.
The hilt of her sword caught his sword as time slammed back into its normal track. She winced, feeling rocks piercing the skin of her knees, but she felt relief as she drew in another breath of air.
The assassin’s smile faded instantly.
“Should have walked away, mage girl.”
She felt the itch crawling through her bones and shoved forward. His magic curled up around him and turned into a mist the color of an infected wound. She hissed and slashed at him, cutting through the spell and interrupting him. Energy popped and crackled, but he managed to parry with his own sword before she could take his life.
A flurry of blows rang out. She felt exhausted and tired, but something drove her forward. Spinning around, she skipped into the water and brought her hand up, splashing as she jabbed in the middle of the curtain of liquid. She felt the tip piercing flesh and the hiss of pain. She grunted loudly as she twisted hard to do as much damage as possible.
She started to pull back as he growled and the itch in her bones seared clear up to her shoulders. The sensation of millions of ants chewing their way through her nerves tore at her sanity. She choked back the scream and braced herself for his spell.
Mists poured into her face and she could feel the sickening sensation of something burning away at her throat and lungs. It suddenly hurt to breath, to think, to do anything.
It would be so easy to just relax, to let his spell snuff the life out of her. But the idea of letting the assassin get to the princess slashed through everything. Sharista wasn’t getting paid for this, but she just couldn’t give up on that promise. Even as a mercenary, nothing haunted her more than watching the girl’s mother die in front of her.
Sharista screamed out and punched him hard. Raw, emotional powerful coursed through her veins, increasing her stretch. His jaw broke from the impact and he staggered back. The spell that kept him above water broke and he plunged into the waters with her.
She exhaled hard, in an effort to get rid of the spell that burned at her insides, but he managed to keep his thoughts on that one. She tasted blood in her mouth and a shake spasm through her body.
As the assassin struggled to stand up, she started speaking as fast as she could, working her thoughts and energies around the most powerful spell she had. It drained her and she watched black spots swimming across her vision. Through the sudden haze, she watched him surface and gasp for air.
She lifted one shaking hand. Her body burned and the feelings of ants filled every bone in her body, from wrists to ears to toes. Their energies crackled as they interacted, sweat and blood dripping from his brow and the pain in her body. Her hand reached out and pressed against his forehead. Over the noise of her own screaming, she didn’t understand the last words of her spell, but her intent fueled the magic far more than any mystical utterance.
He didn’t even have time to scream as his bones glowed from the inside. Steam rose up from the water around them as his skin smouldered and then ran like water. She staggered back, gasping for breath, but couldn’t take her gaze away from his burning up from the inside. Every movement hurt, every twitch of her pulse felt like a hammer. Somehow, she found the energy to turn back to the shore and stagger out. One foot after the other. By the time she slammed one sodden foot on the rocks, the assassin body had long since blown away in the wind. She lurched forward, falling more than walking until her shoulder hit a tree.
Sliding down, she flipped over and nestled into the roots of the tree. It hurt too much to breath or even to move. Her strength slipped from her body as her vision grew dim.
Her eyes snapped open as the princess knelt next to her.
“I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention!”
Sharista smiled as much as she could, still unable to really breath. The burn of the spell faded, along with the itching in her bones, but the damage remained. She wouldn’t make the hour much less the night.
Her breath came out in a whisper.
“It’s okay, j-just stay in sight.”
“Okay!” said the little girl with all the innocence in the world. Spinning on her heels, she ran down to the edge of the water and knelt next to the blood-stained leather. Her fingers grabbed the silver crowns and began to lay a fortune out on the rocks.
Sharista watched, her vision growing dark. Her hand trembled as she flipped open the leather book. She fumbled a few times before she could pick up the pen and wrote as carefully as she could.
“She is safe.”
After that, it didn’t really matter what Sharista thought about saving the little girl.