Her ears rang. She walked slowly along the edge of the sidewalk. Puffs of fine black dust rose with each step. The walls around her were jagged, destroyed and smoldering. The air was searing. The only sounds were the low crackling pops of ambient fire. Then, a voice.
"Are you alright?"
She took her eyes off of the ground and stared at the man in front of her. He wore the colors of the Guard. Red and Gold. Blood and Ego. Brutal colors, known for their cruelty. But, his face was different than the stern regiment associated with his station. He looked worried. Earnest.
The guard waved his hand, a dumbstruck expression on his face. "I didn't think anyone would have lived through that. I've been searching for an hour for any sign of life..." He paused. "Can you hear me? You must come with me."
His face didn't suit his outfit: Hard metal chain covered his head and neck, the rest by heavy iron plate. The shield attached to his arm trembled, clanking gently. His sword was sheathed, but his hand always found its place, resting on the grip. His eyes grew more forceful. "We need to get out of here. Now."
Grabbing her arm, he led her out of the wreckage of a small village, and into the trees.
They moved quickly, or rather, he pulled her along quickly. A few hundred yards into the forest, He stopped.
"We should set up here for the night." Then, his eyes darting around nervously, "I don't mean that you have to stay here with me, but... it would be a bad idea to go off on your own, with all that's going on." He smiled. "Who knows what's out there. By the way, My name is..." He trailed off, staring.
"Can you hear me? Can you speak?" The leaves above rustled in the wind. She slowly sat on the ground, bringing her knees up against her. It was quiet. She nodded.
"Alright, well... What is your name?"
She looked at the guard. He sat across from her, dropping his shield and unfastening his sword. He looked relieved to be rid of the weight. Opening a bag hanging from his belt, he offered her the contents.
"It's not really 'food', but... It's something. Pork fat and assorted things. It will at least give you some energy."
"I was part of the Regional Patrol. They're all dead, though. I'm just a man, now. I'm not from here, so I don't even feel the loss that you must. I'm not sure what really happened. Everything was calm, and then... I saw the city burning. It was instantaneous." He stared off into nothing.
"My name is Calder. I'm... well, I -was-, a member of the Regent's Guard. I think that's all over, now..." His tone was of remorse, but his eyes betrayed a certain apathy. Maybe he was glad to be free.
"From your clothes, I'd guess you were staying at the orphanage?" She wore a ratty black dress, covered in dirt and smeared with ashes, now. She had liked it because it matched her long, dark hair.
"I stole them."
He was taken aback. "You actually spoke! I was beginning to think you were mute or something!" He laughed, then hesitated. "Are you feeling okay? You're probably still in shock, after what happened."
Her eyes were closed, her head resting against her knees. Calder exhaled softly, and watched the approach of twilight. Slowly drifting off to sleep himself. Ornate patterns of orange and red danced underneath his eyelids. He dreamt of a burning sky, lithe flames dancing in a swirling mass of tranquil chaos. She etched herself slowly into his mind.