Crouched in a garish shadow cast by a burning house nearby, Nicola began to cry.
"What the hell is happening?" She sobbed to herself.
After a few minutes she pulled herself together, wiped the ash and tears from her face with a gritty sleeve, and stood up.
She had to find out what was going on.
Quietly, to avoid detection from nearby soldiers, Nicola moved through the outskirts of the broken town.
After walking about thirty feet, she came to the bakery where her Mother used to work and for the most part, it was still intact.
An acrid smoky smell hung close in the air. Nicola pushed the door open slowly, cringing when the hinge squeaked. She listened for shouts of alarm, but when none came, she opened the door a bit more and shuffled in.
Nicola took one glance in, then stuck her head back out of the doorway and promptly vomited.
Hanging from the roof was an old friend of hers, from when she used to help out at the bakery. Phillipe le Margo his name was. If she hadn't worked next to him for a year, she would never have recognised him. There were great slashes from his shoulder to his hip, in an X shape, and his entrails had spilled out on to the floor. His face had evidently been subjected to a torch, and the bloody stumps of his arms still oozed ichor.
Nicola half-collapsed, half-sat in the doorway, desperately trying to keep her crying to an inconspicuous level. Luckily, the crackling and whooshing of the flames all around blocked the sound from leaving the nearby area.
What kind of army brutally tortures and murders a 17 year old bakery worker? Why was there an army attacking Arkos in the first place? These and similar questions rebounded through Nicola's mind like sparrows, each one having no reasonable answer.
A few minutes passed, and Nicola realised she would have to make a move, lest she be caught by passing patrols.
Although there didn't seem to be much to patrol and check.
They had been thorough. Only ghosts remained.
Her dark throughts were interupted by a cry, carried on the wind from somewhere closer to the centre of town.
Nicola had been considering fleeing what was left of Arkos, and running to Brigitte, the next town on the main road.
But now she had a purpose.
Slowly sitting up and shifting her weight to the balls of her feet, Nicola shuffled out of the door and, without looking back, scurried down the street.
All around her lay smoky mirages, a silhouette of a monster turning out to be a barrel and mop, that of a man really being a lamp-post. After finally beginning to stop jumping when they loomed into view, she nearly screamed when one moved.
"What've we got 'ere then?" Drawled the smoky spectre, slowly moving towards Nicola. "My my, don't you look... Tasty." The gloom which had been covering his features dissapeared when he entered touching distance, and Nicola wished it hadn't. From floor to head, he looked to be about seven feet tall, all of him garbed in the King's armour and coated liberally in fresh blood. "Com'ere darlin'..." he slurred, reaching out an arm.
Nicola acted quickly, swinging her little dagger straight at his forearm. The soldier howled as his hand dropped to the floor with a squelch. Pausing only to howl again, almost like a wolf, he threw himself at Nicola.
She was anticipating the move and swiftly sidestepped, slicing the blade under her assailant's exposed chin and cutting his screech short.
Her mother had insisted on teaching her how to fight from the age of 10, when the threat of barbarians laying siege to the village was tangible.
She wished her mother was there.
Wiping her blade on the already splattered tunic of the dead soldier, she took the time to check the pockets of the tunic.
She found nothing, but she didn't know what it was she was looking for anyway, and abandoned the search.
"Onwards and upwards..." Muttered Nicola, as she dragged the man into an alley nearby. He was of a considerable weight, especially garbed in chainmail, but she managed it.
Killing had never bothered her, as whenever she had taken a life, it was always absolutely necessary. Although, she had never killed a man before.
But these soldiers weren't fighting like men at all. They fought like wild beasts, howling and clawing.
She had not found a sword on or around her victim.
Her adrenaline wore out, and Nicola only managed about 4 steps before she was taken with shaking and tiredness.
She was going to need to try harder if she was going to get the source of the cry.