The familiar warmth of alcohol buzzed through my head, dulling the pain of my most recent ‘adventure’ in heroism.
Heroism. Dashing Heroics. Oh, I was such a brave and noble hero, letting those children die at the hands of a corrupt monster before I could take action. Hero, my ass. I hugged my bottle of wine to my chest and felt its cool surface between my breasts. Ah, if nothing else, the locals knew how to keep their wine cool. I pulled it away and drank the last pull regretfully. No more? So soon? I peered into the bottle and sighed forlornly.
I ordered more, and before the barmaid could arrive, I felt sleep’s hold on me. Without a single bother, I closed my eyes. This was the point of the three empty bottles on the table, after all.
I opened my eyes to stare at a world filled with red. Even my white hair was red. I toiled in battle, stained in soot, blood, and animal refuse. Beside me, the man I loved fought heartily. In this red light, his fiery hair looked far less beautiful, but it was still as smooth and shiny as always. My heart throbbed each time I looked at him, and we exchanged banter. An earlier argument left us sore, and we kept our insults light.
The land grew more red, more dusty, as we continued to fight our way through. We paused once, and looked out across the land. All of the water looked like blood. I tried to hide behind my Mal, but he shoved me into a flying balloon with a bomb chained beneath it. It wobbled mightily with every breeze, and each time, it felt like I would fall to my death.
We arrived in one piece at the scene of a fight between two leaders of the army we served. My ears slowly slid back as I began to feel uneasy. Mal’s strong back remained straight as he looked between the two. Our direct superior glanced at us and gave us orders to protect our position, so we hurried away, grateful to avoid listening to the internal conflict.
Mal fell into the middle of a fight, and I stole one of our war machines to break it up so he could return to our lines. I wasn’t too terrible with them. He told me that my future husband might find that talent attractive as he tried to steal one of the machines for himself. It didn’t fit in the elevator back up to our high fortifications once the mission was finished, and he almost fell to his death.
Finally, after pulling Mal from the wreckage of his almost-stolen machine, we rose together in the elevator. The man who was not our direct commander stood alone. He beaconed us closer and asked us to look for his son, and told us where he had gone– a neutral training ground for students who wished to learn healing-by-the-knife.
I felt sweat run down my back under my robes as Mal spoke for us. We would gladly go look for his son. My heart sank the entire way. Scared students huddled together and stared at us with wide, frightened eyes. Mal began to look shaken as he looked around. He grasped my hand, and we ran inside the main building, calling out for the man’s son. “Mikel! Mikel!” Mal stopped short, and I rammed into him. He stumbled a moment before he caught himself.
“Blood.” My vision became black and white, and I saw it– red blood on the ground. It looked like someone or something was dragged through it. Slowly, I stepped forward. Mal tried to stop me, but I turned first, and inside the open doorway, there were thirteen dead bodies. One was Mikel. He looked just like his father. The other twelve bore uniforms not unlike the students. Mal caught up and looked in, then pulled me back so he could investigate. “Watch my back.”
I nodded mutely and stared out the door. Despite his perversion and insults, Mal was a perfect gentleman when it came to protecting women. He investigated the scene, and I watched the empty hallway until he emerged with a grim expression. “What did you find? Anything?”
“I found a general’s insignia, grasped in Mikel’s hand.”
My mouth became dry. “Does this mean-” I couldn’t finish the question.
He knew. He nodded.
As one, we began to run. As we ran, each scared student pointed at me. None pointed at Mal. They pointed at me, their mouths open in silent screams. I closed my eyes as we waited impatiently. Any time I looked back, I saw them, closer than before, pointing and screaming silently. We rose in the elevator, and I trembled as I leaned against Mal. I tried to tell him about the accusing students, but he didn’t hear me. We arrived and presented the insignia to Mikel’s father, who challenged the general. Defending myself seemed like nothing more than a blur. My mouth was hopelessly dry.
Wine would help.
Mikel’s mother looked bloody, despite never once taking a hit. She urged us with dead eyes and a limp mouth to inform the commander of the general’s betrayal. We raced back on borrowed fliers, only to hear the commander already knew. He was going to execute the rest of Mikel’s family. He forced tired beasts back to the air and urged them to speed.
We arrived in time for Mikel’s mother to point at me with a wide, silently screaming mouth, and fall. The students were there, also. Those close enough clawed at me and tore my clothes. Mal hurried forward, and I followed more slowly. The commander was on a bridge overlooking the school.
The bomb-balloon was near him. He sent it off. I buried my face against Mal, and screams exploded around me. Waves of blood washed over me, and I slipped from Mal’s protective grasp. He didn’t reach for me as the king himself grabbed me from the bridge and threw me at the burnt remains of the school.
Burnt bones reached from the ground and grasped me. The students were suddenly there, tearing at my clothes and clawing me. I began to claw at myself.
I woke up suddenly as someone touched my shoulder.
It seemed so real. I looked around the dark bar.
“You should go to the inn,” the maid urged. “The beds there are more suited to you.”
I shook my head. “Thank you, but I think I’d just like more to drink.”
“We’re closed, Miss.”
I slowly nodded and rose to my feet. I was shaking.
Finally, I left and tried to decide where I should tell my wobbling feet to take me.