Varos jumps into a fight before I can reach for him to pull him back, or speak words to dissuade him. He races forward on his bare feet, the spear held horizontally towards the woman's gut, his deft hands twisting on the pole with a hatred that befits him. I relax for just an instant, nobody can beat Varos in a fight, there's a reason Anikee hasn't disowned him, and I feel safe. But then I watch as the woman catches hold of the spear end, the point tearing her palm as she reaches, dried blood gaining a darker, fresh coat, and she squeezes.
The spear frays in splintered ends in her hand, and Varos stands petrified just a couple feet away. Run! Run! my mind screams at him, but I'm penetrated by the gaze that the woman gives Varos, the look of something possessed by madness, rage, murder.Without flinching, she straightens her hand and swipes at Varos, blood spurting out of his cheek in a deep gash as he's knocked to the side, grasping his face and groaning on the ground.
With that, it's the turn of the other hunters, who race towards her, and the rest of the women - myself included - watch as she takes each of them down. Most of them strike true, stabbing her gut and her shoulder, leaving flesh hanging, but she doesn't care, and she doesn't even seem to notice. In the moments that the hunters pause in victory, she attacks, knocking them aside with insane speed, turning the spears around on them, raising it over their heads and striking down.
Most of the women don't look, and the smart ones have already fled, but I'm transfixed by something I can't decide. Fear, horror, awe. I think of what Father always said, above all hatred, respect the skill of your enemy. This was skill, but it wasn't acquired like years of bowmanship. This was demonic.
Suddenly, something grabs me by the wrist and I spin around, my dagger raised even though I know the woman is in front of my eyes. I meet Anikee's fear-stricken face, she crouches as she tries to tug me along behind one of the tents.
"Come, Namiah. We must flee this place,"
"We cannot simply run!" I protest, swiping my arm away from her. My chest fills with courage and in that moment I decide to strike. The woman now crouches down near the body of a hunter - whose own spear splits his head - and as I approach, I see the strangest sight. The woman takes his dead, limp arm, and with strange slowness and precision, bites, tearing his rubbery flesh into her mouth. Spilling into the wound from her lips comes a greenish substance, running across his arm and bubbling. I want to vomit, but I'm already too close, and as I come to veer above her, ready to strike down onto her back, she jerks her head towards me and, still chewing the flesh, growls. She strikes, and I feel her hand on my gut, her fingernails piercing my flesh and sending rhythms of agony through me. I scream, thinking she'll twist her hand or reach deeper, but she withdraws and lets me stumble back.
I have no choice. I stumble between two tents where it is dark and comforting. The ebbing light of the firepit is behind me, and I know that some of the camp is already on fire, coals rolling under tents when our clan had fled in all directions. I can see little in the dark, but I pull away the hand that grips my gut, and see silvery, dark blood on my fingertips.
I want to be strong, but my energy seems to drip from the five little wounds, making my head feel light, my eyelids feel heavy. Will I die like this? I promised Father I wouldn't. I made a promise...
Die warm in your bed or warm with the power of battle.
That's what he'd asked me the night before the ambush on the Ka'Luht clan, that's the last thing he'd said to me before we'd fallen asleep in the treehouse and I'd woken in the morning to find him gone. I feel my consciousness waver and my head bow, but before the darkness can take me, I sense somebody crouched in front of me, their strong hands pushing me upright. My eyelashes flicker and I look up to see a face smudged with blood and ash, but whose blue eyes still shone through. Varos...
"Namiah," he says my name as he shakes me, and I feel my veins shiver with approval. "We must hurry out of here,"
"No..." I groan, shaking my head, a mistake that sends my mind spinning with dizziness.
"That monster will kill us if we don't go now!" I hear his voice rise with frustration as he pushes my knees to my chest so I can eventually stand. It clenches my gut and I seeth. I don't want to look weak, not around him, but the pain is too much. Still, I shake my head and refuse to move. We can't run away like cowards, we must fight...but then I think of the bodies lying around the camp, the bodies of those that had thought the same, and reluctantly, I realise Varos is right.
But my belongings, my father's belongings, they are the last I have...
To my disbelief, Varos appears to read my thoughts. "We will salvage our possessions in the morning, but we must go now!" He's angry at me, I see it in him, and I don't want to make him so. I just look at him, hoping that he might read me again. He does, he sees the slightest nod of my head and takes it, pulling me up as if I am nothing but a shell of air. My knees shake and I fall into him, at which point he decides to carry me. His arm wraps around the top of my legs, and if I was not overcome with pain and terror, I would blush.
My hands link around his neck, my head resting in his nape, and I feel the power of his legs through my whole body as he runs with me, leaping over the strewn bodies of his comrades, never pausing to acknowledge them, unable to. The sight of our now-smouldering camp blurs past, and as we reach the outskirts, jumping into the thicket, I feel the blood of my wound staining the hot flesh of his back, and before I close my eyes and rest, I pray that he'll forgive me for it.