Chapter 40: Call it a Day
“Let’s go, we are done here. Would you mind telling me your name young girl?”
The wind was picking up, blowing a cold wind on the assaulted city which forecasted the fall of rain; the dragon was already able to smell the incoming storm.
Walking alongside Lance Corporal Hale, Nisha was admiring the efficiency displayed by the soldiers under the woman’s command; they quickly stowed away their shields and bows to reform the ranks, the last two soldiers in line taking the handcart in which the previous target’s heads had been stored.
Once ready, a black haired guy with a deep scar pointing to his right eye nodded at his superior who was waiting for the signal; the man was almost two heads taller than his supervisor, and looking up at him was quite the task for the young dragon.
“You are quite the mystery, aren’t you, little elf?”
Hale had to raise her voice to make it reach over the murmur of the gale, which also made her shiver slightly as the sudden cold streak mixed within the winds pierced through her light clothes, fitted for a battle of agility.
Tilting her head, the small girl eyed her in confusion, she had been ordered to put her swords away, but she wasn’t sure where she should leave them; Eldrin had always told her that taking or putting things in her [Soul Space] in front of strangers was bad.
“Why would I be one?”
The corporal’s statement didn’t quite make sense to the dragon, her physical appearance wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary: her transformation made her body look exactly like that of an elf, she even felt elvish in some ways, her perception and senses were just sharper than that of an average elf, but that last peculiarity wasn’t visible. Afraid that her disguise was failing her, she continued to stare at the woman, waiting for explanations on the alarming statement.
Shocked by the dragon girl’s calm demeanour, Hale halted her steps for a moment to stare at the odd creature in front of her, then shook her head and resumed her march, looking disbelieved.
The uncomfortable silence finally forced her to elaborate.
“Where do I start … for one, how about the fact that you are talking to a full pack of twenty battle-hardened soldiers and are neither displaying fear nor are you backing down. You seem to be simply bursting with confidence.”
The corporal held up a finger to underline her point; Nisha was about to retort when she raised another finger.
“Secondly, when we found you, you had just cleaved a man in half, his blood was splattered all over you and you didn’t even blink. Hell, you even have some still stuck on your face right now. How old are you? 12 turns? 13 turns?”
I will only be 12 turns soon … but I suppose that I shouldn’t tell her.
Licking her lips, the dragon couldn’t help but notice the iron taste, she had indeed failed to note that she was covered in sanguine liquid.
A few candles ago the feeling that there was blood on her hands had repulsed her, hostile soldiers agonizing over their loved ones was heavily burdening her heart; yet she was currently soaked in gore and didn’t even bother to heed it.
Nisha’s reply died in her throat as she saw that Hale wasn’t done, lifting one more finger.
“Despite your age, you don’t have a guardian with you, you don’t look particularly bothered when facing a force of over twenty well-trained soldiers either. You are clearly very confident to be able to escape us, or maybe you even think that you are stronger than all of us … combined.
Not to mention the short swords made of rare metals in your hand, no one could acquire things like these without a significant background.
And lastly, you are literally clad in a … living shadow? Darkness? I don’t know what it is, but I bet half of my men are wondering whether they should try to attack you and obtain your precious-looking swords or run away, since you might as well be a monster in disguise from your appearance and behaviour.
The only reason you haven’t been stuffed with arrows the moment we saw you was because you had hunted down our target for us and were awfully polite for a potential danger.”
Chatting in a somewhat amused tone, Hale continued to taunt Nisha, who was now awkwardly staring at her moving cloak.
Truthfully, she had forgotten that Midnight was still around, the runes were an extension of herself like her flame, having them stick close to her felt natural, even more so when they were conveniently shaped in a piece of clothing; but the material was literally shadows, hence strands of darkness were occasionally wandering on the surface, giving away the true nature of her garment.
Nisha stared ruefully at the runes that had cleverly disguised themselves only to hint their special essence right away. The cloth wasn’t hindering her before the corporal mentioned it, it felt like an extra limb so to say.
Not even a candle since I found out about your true being, and you’re already getting me into trouble. Bad Midnight!
Luckily Eldrin had foreseen the need for Nisha to lie about her strange abilities, and had thought of a few ways for her to explain the unusual occurrences happening around her, even if it had pained him. Telling one of the scenarios they had prepared together, the dragon recalled one memory in particular.
She was still blind, sitting together with her grandfather in front of a chess board. The old man was pressuring her hard, giving her no leeway, the result of a little tantrum she had thrown earlier.
She had caught him purposely letting her win and sulked, refusing to talk to him until he had apologized and promised her to play seriously, which was now coming back to bite her.
Autumn leaves were scattered around, carried by a gentle wind that smelled of acorns and of summer’s last memories, warming her up from the inside.
“It’s just a trick, my grandfather gave me an enchanted item as a lucky charm. It doesn’t do much by itself, just scares inferior minds, it’s an illusion, you see?”
Originally the excuse was meant to be used in case someone had caught her assessing her [Soul Space], but it also fitted the current situation.
She gently pulled the runes back inside- they had slightly satisfied their raging bloodlust -, and they eagerly followed her command, almost as if they wanted to prove which individual symbol among them was the most devoted to her, hoping for her affection in return.
Like a small animal… But let’s leave those matters aside for now, the soldiers are still suspicious, I think they distrust me. I can see the fear in their eyes when they look at me.
Without Midnight surging around her frame, the dark leather gear she had changed into earlier shone through, giving the dragon her original appearance, that of a hunter; more suited to the little girl she seemed to be than that of a beast straight from a nightmare. Nonetheless, Hale and her soldiers were still wearily glancing at her as none of them knew of an enchantment capable of achieving such a spectacle, yet they chose to believe Nisha’s story rather than considering that the cute elf was a monster.
Not that it made them see her in any more favourable way, but at least they didn’t suspect her to be one more than they initially did.
Getting called out on her negligence hurt Nisha; just because she was hunting didn’t mean she could lose track of her surroundings this badly; displaying her true might in plain view without caring who might be watching could have proven to be fatal in another situation. She had disregarded the soldiers because their killing intent wasn’t directed toward her, and thus they wouldn’t have been a threat in the Wilderness. But this wasn’t the Wilderness.
A gloomy mood struck the young girl for a while, she kept on looking at the ground, observing the dry dirt and the dust rising in the air at each step the fighters were taking, although their walk barely produced a sound, which seemed to defy the fact that they were wearing heavy plate armors that should have rang out like bells at every slightest move they made.
It would be nice if the rain was coming faster. No more dusty roads, I was suffocating on the carriage.
Two more times did Lance Corporal Hale encounter enemies, both times in which there was no little dragon to do her work in her stead, forcing the platoon to face one group larger than the one Nisha had slaughtered and one group of similar size; two short shuffles the dragon missed, gloomily self-reflecting.
Though a choice was given to the enemies – to either surrender or continue the discussion six feet under ground -, the full-armored soldiers ended up adding more bundles to their handcart, as none agreed to surrender.
Wouldn’t they want to live? I think I’d never let myself lose hope.
“Hale, why don’t they surrender?”
The childish inquiry hadn’t much meaning behind it originally, Nisha only wanted to know about these men’s strange behaviour. She was shocked by the lance corporal’s serious reply.
“It’s not too surprising, actually. Our Empress is not known for her kindness, and our politics aren’t very forgiving either. They know they would get tortured and interrogated before getting executed if we can take them alive, there’s almost zero chance they would get pardoned.
We are the Second Legion, these officers know what to expect once we catch them.”
The name of her army was apparently a big source of honor for Hale, she basically gleamed with pride when she mentioned it to Nisha.
Nisha, who only tilted her head to the side, unknowingly dealt a hard blow to Hale’s ego.
“What is the Second Legion? And where’s the first one, then?”
“Did you live under a rock so far?! How have you never heard of the Terus’ Second Legion before?!”
“That’s true, how’d you know? But I also lived in a cottage in the forest recently.”
Innocently reacting to Hale’s outburst without changing her position in the slightest, she responded calmly.
“Sigh, I really can’t deal with you. So much for the collected and stern superior my men see in me. Where do I even start, I thought everyone had heard of us at the very least … you’re making me lose my composure here!”
Glancing accusingly at the cute offender, Hale gave up on bolstering the fame of her division by bragging about it, and massaged her temples.
“Thankfully we are about to reach the wall, my guess is that the marshall is somewhere in the middle, coordinating the defense. The remaining troops from the Second Legion should arrive soon too, we will be able to start cleaning up this mess when they reach us. What do you need Marshall Dharnas for anyway, I think I haven’t asked you yet?”
No matter how hard the corporal tried to keep a serious front, watching the attitude of the pouting girl was too much for her; after realizing that someone had easily seen through her lady disguise and guessed that she had not grown up in a city, Nisha had bitten one of her lips and had begun to chew on it, not paying attention to where she was walking or the way she was dragging her short swords on the ground because her shoulders were lowered.
This particular delinquency earned her many more ill-fated glares from the professional soldiers, each of them desired a precious weapon like the ones she wielded; and Nisha was just treating the blades like sticks, she didn’t even carry sheaths and literally dragged them through the dirt on the road.
Unable to tease the little girl any longer, the corporal spoke up again.
“You see, the Second Legion is the army I am part of, Lance Corporal is my rank, a privilege and a duty at the same time.
I really thought you’d have heard of us, but it can’t be helped if you didn’t. We are dispatched to act as the right hand of the Empress herself, no one else but her has the required authority to mobilize us.
Don’t be too sad about getting caught, you are still young and you will have many more chances to learn.
Now, will you tell me what you were doing there?”
Presenting the young girl a hand to hold, Hale displayed female qualities she didn’t even know she had, the sweet little oddity awakened her motherly feelings, and urging her to show her particular care, although they had only met each other less than a candle ago; Nisha was simply too cute to resist.
Happy to have someone quenching her curiosity and cheering her up, Nisha gladly held the extended hand.
It’s quite rough. Is this what happens when you train a lot with the sword? Grandpa warned me when I started sparring with Lydia and Annabelle, but after a few blisters my hand never turned coarse again. It’s warm too though.
“I guess it’s only fair for me to tell you something in return. My name is Nisha, and my sisters and I were travelling to the capital when we made a stop here, the siege got in our way. My …” – I don’t know what to call Luthais. It seems he is adopting me as a sort of daughter, but what does that make him for me? – “ … uncle is helping with the city’s defense, but he doesn’t know about the breach in the wall yet, I think. That was the reason I went out, to ask him to help us with the invaders; my two sisters are guarding our carriage.”
Both Grandpa and Luthais warned me not to talk to strangers, but this is fine, right? This is for Annabelle and Lydia, I need to get to Luthais fast, he can help us. And she didn’t give me any candy.
“The soldiers I killed attacked us and were about to report our position or maybe hurt us, so I had to hurt them back. I’m a good hunter, you see?”
A happy grin on her face, Nisha’s mood had turned around completely, though the blood smeared across her body and on her face wasn’t helping at all to make her look her friendly.
Lance Corporal Hale was both terrified by the dragon’s gruesome expression and relieved that she had been able to comfort her. She wasn’t really confident in the girl’s abilities as a hunter, but she nodded anyway.
“Actually I had planned to sneak to my relative, but there were new soldiers in front of the inn we were staying at, and since there’s something really important in the carriage I had to hunt them down.
Hunting is a lot easier than fighting!
But now that you are here, I can call it a day and walk with you to see Luthais, thank you very much, Hale.”
Throwing an especially broad smile at the lance corporal, Nisha didn’t even notice the stunning effect it had on the woman, the little girl was only glad to have someone to talk to and help her in her search for the half-elf.
“I also want to thank you for being so nice to me, I have heard a lot of stories from my grandpa where soldiers aren’t nice at all, I was really skeptical when you first arrested me, but you are definitely a good person.”
In reality the dragon wasn’t as upbeat as she appeared to be, she was incredibly stressed by the fact that she didn’t know how her sisters Annabelle and Lydia were doing and it put a considerable strain on her; adding at that that she she had gotten caught by a squad of soldiers of unknown origin, the constant vibrations of the ground from stones hitting the wall, and the screams she could hear from time to time; she ended up on the verge of madness; talking to Hale had alleviated a lot of that stress, therefore having answered the corporal’s interrogation and thanking her weren’t empty gestures for the dragon girl.
“A mood like quicksilver, it seems like it wasn’t a baseless rumor about elves at all.”
It was impossible for Hale to say which soldier had muttered the bold comment, she could only sharply glance at the men under her command; usually she got along very well with her platoon, it seemed that they were unusually bothered with their latest orders that day, to the point that they disclosed their thoughts in front of outsiders.
Nisha didn’t mind it much, simply smiling amusingly, another saying from one of the books she had read during her education sessions with Lydia coming to her mind.
I wonder if he knows that dragons are said to have a changing temper too.
Sensing the overall situation shift, Nisha didn’t want to stick around any longer, the wall she was trying to reach now covered a large portion of the sky, which meant that the fortifications were not far from her current position anymore.
“Earlier you said that you want to talk with Luthais too, right? I’ll go ahead and tell him you want to see him, he’ll probably meet you if it’s my request.
I don’t know if it will work with the soldiers too, but if you tell them Nisha Dharnas allowed you entry, that could also help!”
Before the veteran soldiers or even their superior had a chance to react, Nisha had let go of Hale’s hand and was rushing towards the wall; most likely there wouldn’t be any more disturbances on her way to the defense forces thanks to the soldiers of the Second Legion.
Waving goodbye to the baffled lance corporal, Nisha was running, a barely suppressed grin on her face, the small prank she had thought of while talking to Hale had succeeded perfectly.
Due to this trick, the dragon’s mood had risen considerably when she crossed the last patch of land to the wall. She was confident that everything would turn out alright.