She woke up. She was thirsty. Not such a surprise, she had been hiding there for two days, until they left, and a bit more, just to make sure. Rish stood up, and pushed the ceiling. The scuttle opened with a shriek. A whiff of corruption. She came out her hideout. She was in the basement of his home. She started to walk up the stairs to the ground level, fearing what she may encounter.
She found nothing, and everything. Her house was no more, just a smoking ruin of scorched wood beams. The smell made it difficult to breathe, but she kept wandering around what had left of the house, looking for something that had survived. On one corner of her room was a little commode, untouched by the fire. On it was a wooden pieced, carved by a friend artist. It resembled her, and her father, and colorfully painted.
Rish reached out to pick the portrait with her dark hands. She took her black straight hair away from her face to look at it. Her father, a tall blond man, hunter, she wasn't at home by the time the village was attacked. She didn't know where he was. She didn't look like him at all. Some said she was like her mother. She had an exotic looking dark skin, and dark eyes too.
She put the portrait in her bag and left the house. The hole village was a smoking field of ashes. She headed for the well, so she could drink something. When she arrived she didn't like what she saw. Some of her neighbours lay dead around the well, and as she looked inside, another was floating in the well. The water was probably poisoned by the dead body.
The unknown enemy had come in a thunderous rage, burning and killing. Rish barely had time to hide. But she had been ready for one day like this. War had expanded throughout the country, it was just an issue of time before it arrived to her home. But she knew what to do. She had already told her father to leave the village and look for the Hidden City, the last elven settlement in the whole country, where her mother had friends. The only mementos she had from her mother was the bow at her back, and a silver round plate with and elven text. She couldn't read elven, but she knew it was a kind of token she could use to request asylum in their city.
Rish left the village, walking into the forest, in search for a stream where she could find water, and hopefully find any sign of her father.
Something was amiss. She could sense it. She was hidden on the tangled branches of the trees, where she thought she would be safer. There was a whispering stream, and a little pond. It was the place where she usually met her father after a long absence from home.
Feeling the danger, Rish took her bow from her back, but kept hidden in the foliage. As swiftly as a wolves pack, a group of soldiers entered the clearing next to the pond. They wore black armors with an nine-pointed white star on the chest.
− We've been hunting this man all the way down the river for two days... we'll never get'im.
− Orders are orders, just shut up and hurry, he was here an hour or two ago, we're gaining on him!
− shouted the one with a golden helmet.
Rish waited until the noise was lost. She climbed down the tree, and approached a particular stone next to the water. It was big. She lifted it, and, surprise! There was a parchment under it. It was a message for her, from her father.
"Walk following the river upwards, until you find the ancient temple in the forest. From there, take the East path. Seven days walking until you find the Ward. I hope to meet you there, but don't wait for me."
Two statues guarded the trail to the ancient building, more a chapel than a temple. The statues, one of a druid and another one of a deer, were covered by moss. Big oak trees cloaked all the place in deep shade. The ivy crawled all over the ruins. Rish entered the building.
She was admiring the sculpture of the Lady of the Forest inside when she heard something. Voices. She looked through a broken window, and she saw three soldiers. With the black armor. They were aiming for the chapel. They had surely seen her.
Quickly, she readied an arrow, and with a swift movement, loosed the string... The arrow raced through the window, hitting one of the soldiers on the neck. He fell in silence, unable to shout, while his companions roared and run for the entrance.
Rish waited for them to come in, and when she saw them, shot at one of them. The black armor nothing could do against the arrow. The bow was really strong, a gift from the Eastern Lands, even matching those of the elves.
The last man, with a shout in an unknown language, started running. An suddenly, with a red flash, he disappeared... and appeared next to her! Rish threw the bow aside and kneeled to avoid the blade of the enemy. She took her hunting knife from the boot, and screamed. Screamed for her missing father, for her dead friend back in the village. And screamed for her luck, for the blade of the soldier, when failing the thrust, had hit a bench, getting stuck in the ancient wood. She didn't hesitate, and beheaded him, full of anger, wrath, and hunger for revenge. The blood tainted the sculpture of the Lady of the Forest, and she kept there. Kneeled in front of the Goddess. Crying.
It was raining. Lightnings cut a sky covered with dark clouds. Rish was completely soaked. She could see the Ward. Two incredibly large oak trees silhouetted an archway, one of the few gates through the Ward, the magical wall that protected the Hidden City. Her father had told her many stories about this, but he was the only human alive that had ever seen it.
She gathered her courage and started walking. Her father was not here, and she had waited more than enough... more than he would have wanted. She stood in front of the gate, holding the silver token, and walked across the archway.
It felt like crossing a waterfall... the token heated up, and almost burnt her hand. Suddenly the sensation was over. She was at the other side. A forest as alive as the one out of the gate. Then a sound came from behind.
A blond man was running on the path. And after him a group of knight was chasing him. He stood no chance against the horses. The one with a golden helmet raised the sword, and swung it with lethal efficiency.
Her father fell dead.
A yell broke through her throat. She took the bow, and she was about to run back through the gate, when a hand held her shoulder.
− Do not waste your life− said the blue-eyed elf holding her−. You are safe now. Your mother told us you would come.
When he finished saying these words, arrows started to rain over the soldiers, and they died, but Rish could not see that. Could not hear so. She had lost almost everything.
Tears flooded her eyes. Again.