Falling-Chapter 1 (part 1)

May 27, 2010
Heavy breathing, heart pounding, filling my ears with a deep thudding that seemed to reverberate to the very core of my being. Stale air rushed around my head as my bare feet flew over the cold gray stones of this deep, dark hallway to the abyss. I could feel the burning exhaustion in my body, eating away at my limbs and lungs, threatening to consume me like the flames of the dim torches that would occasionally light my way.

But I knew somewhere in the back of my mind, that whatever I did, however fast or far I ran, I would never escape him. I didn’t know who he was exactly; I just knew that he was pure evil. I could smell the dual stenches of decay and death that came off of him in waves, and feel the raw power that radiated from him. Even as I thought of this man, I began to hear the faintest echoes of his footsteps, snapping at my heels like hellhounds. They seemed to be in time with the intense waves of pain and anger coursing through my body.

I kept running, almost falling asleep to the rhythm of my own footsteps, as my battered feet pounded endlessly against the stone floor. My mind fell away gradually, leaving my empty shell of a body to continue in its endless flight from death. Nothing could hurt me down here in the very catacombs of the subconscious. All the pain and suffering faded into the background.

When I came back to myself at last, there were no other audible sounds in the corridor aside from my own breathing, and the rasp of my bare feet hitting the ground. I slowed to a stop so I could recover, the silence pressing against my ears like two weights. Tremors of exhaustion were running up and down my legs, chasing each other in an endless game of pain that left me gasping and trying to keep my hold on consciousness. I had no idea how long I had been running for. Once I had caught my breath somewhat, I forced myself forward at a more manageable pace, every step torture. The endless gray walls seemed to blur into one dreary monotone mass, and I was startled when the mass on my left broke open, revealing an emptiness waiting to swallow me whole, a turn in the hallway. And at the end of the path I saw a door.

I froze in shock for a moment, then, breaking out of my reverie, I started to run, ignoring the searing pain, stumbling and floundering in my desperation for freedom. The gray door loomed closer and closer, and as my hand brushed the cold steel of the handle that lead to my salvation, the door flew inward, revealing him, the one I had been running from. I had no idea what he looked like, as my body was frozen in fear, and my eyes could only look upon the weapon of black metal strapped to his back that jutted out over his shoulder. I watched in blind horror as he drew the dark instrument and slowly leveled it at me. The man stepped forward, executing a perfect thrust aimed at my heart. Time slowed to a crawl. My eyes sucked in every detail as the blade came towards me. The tip of the huge sword was so sharp it seemed to cleave the very air in half, and I could see every single drop of moisture on the blade, every plane and reflection singularly visible to me as the sword plunged into my chest, spilling the red liquid that kept me alive to splash in intricate designs against the walls and floor.

I awoke screaming as though the very flesh were being stripped from my bones. I quickly choked off the scream, pressing my hands to my eyes as though I could squeeze out the images that were flashing before them. It didn’t matter though, as I could never remember specifics of the dream longer than a few minutes. Eventually I calmed down; my quick breathing and pounding pulse subsiding to a normal rate. I opened my eyes, letting my sight roam across the grass–thatched ceiling. Why me? Who is that man? Sighing, I swung out of bed, wiping the now cold layer of sweat from my brow, and padded out to the kitchen for some breakfast.

My name is Relna. I live in the country Mach, in a godforsaken place called the Forest of the Abandoned. I’m here with my older brother, Bryce, and my father, Dembar, the most skilled swordsman in our land. At one time, he had been the most feared man in the country, and had taken many lives during his service in the Machrian Army. But four years ago, when the Dark Ones took over our country, my father took an oath to never kill again. Our mother’s death in the invasion had ruined him. She had been the Earth and the Sun to him, and when a man is humbled to such a level, he hardly ever recovers. He had thought he was invincible, and when he went to save her, it was this recklessness that had caused his failure, as well as her death. My father had almost no confidence left, but the few tactical minds left in our country had gathered together, rallying anyone who could wield a sword and retreating here, to the Forest of the Abandoned, in a fruitless attempt to plan to fight for our freedom.

Only after many months of grieving and then almost a year of urging, my father agreed to begin training the troops of the Machrian resistance. The last of our country’s tactical minds, including my father, to me at least, are close-minded fools. When the Dark Army invaded, thousands of innocents and soldiers were wiped aside like so many leaves, my mother among them. Why did they think a group of peasants with swords half the size of our original army had any chance of taking on the most bloodthirsty empire to have existed on this planet since the time before the swords? Even now that my father has been participating, it would take a miracle and about a million more men to have even the slightest chance. The only army that has the strength to throw down the six angels is the Army of the Light, headed by the Six Bright Ones, the other half of the remaining angels in this world. But they weren’t going to help, because they would rather watch the world go to pieces than break their no war code of stupid honor.

This forest is just the headquarters, and I live here with part of the army, one of about ten girls among about a thousand men and boys. The rest of the army is waiting, spread about the country until they are needed, and our numbers are now around 10,000. If I wasn’t the daughter of the famed and feared Dembar the swordsman, things could have gotten a bit out of hand. But the men are always polite and respectful, because even though my father had made a vow not to kill, it didn’t mean he wouldn’t chop off an arm or two in defense of his beloved daughter.

My older brother on the other hand, didn’t need any protecting, being the strongest and most promising warrior in camp. He walked around all day acting imperial, following my father around like some puppy, and basically being the most annoying eighteen year old brother ever. But he could be sweet when he wanted to be, and was always ready to jump up in my defense. Not that I really need defending anymore now that I was sixteen.

My small family and I live simply by most people’s standards, but in comparison to the troop barracks, our house was heaven. We have three rooms instead of the usual single room. There’s a kitchen, a room for me, and one that my brother and father share. I suppose being a council member’s daughter has its perks. I’m pretty much the only person in the entire camp who has their own room.

I sat at my kitchen table, feeling tired, despite my long sleep. I reached for an apple from the bowl on the table, munching on it morosely, wishing for companionship, but knowing my brother and father had already left for morning training, leaving me to sleep. I could join them if I wanted to, but my father was already unhappy with me. He had found out just how good I was at fighting, and he had always hoped I wouldn’t follow down the same “bloodthirsty path” as he and my brother. But the thing was that I liked fighting. The adrenaline rush, the intenseness, it made me feel so alive.

My father had let me start to participate in their exercise regimen when I was thirteen, thinking I wasn’t serious, that I was just lonely and wanted to join in. I suppose that was true at first, but that first time, when I heard the laughter of my brother and father as I struggled to keep the practice sword’s point off the ground, I had felt the blood rush to my face, and gritted my teeth. At that moment I told myself I would become better than all of them. So I began to train on my own, running for miles every morning, and climbing trees and cliffs to build up strength. Over time my body became more trim, and I began to lose what I had left of my little girl physique and manner. My new body, coupled with my curly brown hair and green eyes, drew men’s eyes after me on the training grounds as I practiced and trained. I wanted more though, because being strong wasn’t enough. I still lacked the skill to go with the strength. I eventually made some close friends who agreed to train me in sword fighting in secret, for my father refused.

Their names are Wes and Barret. These two people are pretty much the only guys in the entire camp who don’t immediately snub me just because I’m a girl. Well maybe that’s because I kicked Wes’ butt last year. I smiled at the memory, managing to catch myself before I laughed out loud, not wishing to sound insane to any passerby.

Wes had just come in as an archer recruit and had been training for a few months. We could all tell that he could outshoot anyone in camp, and was almost as talented as the master archer. He had gotten cocky and was showing off for his friends one day. I had been on my morning jog, and hadn’t thought it anything important when I saw him and his buddies huddled in a circle, sneaking the occasional glance at me when they thought I wasn’t looking. That was just usual stuff; I was used to it by now. But I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder a moment later. I was just in time to see an arrow fly through the air not touching me in the slightest but slicing the hair ribbon from my head and nailing it to the tree behind me.

Both of us knew that I hadn’t been at physical risk from his showing-off for an instant; for he never missed a mark, especially at this close range. But it had been a stupid and reckless move, and something inside me snapped. Not breaking stride, I spun around on one foot and sprinted at the thin sixteen year old boy who barely outweighed me. His friends backed away from him doubled over laughing by now. Wes took up a casual fighting stance, a stupid grin on his face, never once thinking he was about to get knocked out by a girl. The look on his face as my right hand connected with his mouth was priceless. He looked up in shock from his spot on the ground and then his face grew a deep red and he jumped up, furious. He advanced slowly, fists held in front of him, but it was hopeless, as he wasn’t a close-range kind of fighter and the only reason he hadn’t run from the fight was because he had thought it would be an easy win. I, on the other hand, had learned quite a bit about fighting from Barret.

He swung a right which I easily stepped back to avoid, and then I stepped inside his guard, grabbing his shirt and throwing him to the ground once more. He was getting pretty aggravated by that point, and tried to tackle me to the ground in an underhanded move. I easily countered with a kick to the face. He stood up, his nose dripping blood down his face. I jumped forward, swinging my fist, combining my own strength with my momentum. He had no chance. My fist connected solidly with the center of his face and he fell back unconscious, his nose broken. His friends collected him and his now shattered bow, which he had collapsed on top of. They nervously skirted around me, making sure to stay out of my reach. I laughed as I watched them carry him awkwardly off. But after his nose healed up and we had apologized to each other, I and the older boy managed to become extremely close friends.

Barret was the one who taught me to fight, both with a sword and with my hands. At 55, he was the oldest person in our camp and the master blacksmith. No one else had the respect that he had, except for maybe my father. When he spoke, the room would immediately quiet to hear what the aged man had to say.

A master among masters when it came to blacksmithing, Barret could tell exactly what kind of weapon a person needed with barely a glance and only one or two measurements. And when you used the weapon, you could count on it to be perfectly balanced and have no equal for craftsmanship. Not that his weapons are just functional. They’re some of the most beautiful as well. The kindly but serious old man had taken me under his wing and we had become very close friends.

I had been humiliated on the practice field. I had been training for almost a month, ever since my vow to become better than all of them. I had gone back that day expecting foolishly that after a single month I could keep up with the army’s daily exercise regimen. I was wrong. I quickly fell behind after only a few minutes, and I quickly realized how hard training myself to be strong would really be. Disappointment struck harder than any blow could. I turned from the field, tears blurring my vision as I struggled to hold them back.

Once out of sight of the field I ran, the tears now streaming down my face freely. I finally collapsed against a tree, resting my head against my knees, and wrapping my arms around my legs. I took several deep breaths in an attempt to calm myself. I sniffled and wiped my nose, sighing.

“I can’t do it,” I murmured to myself. A choked sob slipped out my mouth.

A laugh rang out in the thin early spring air. “Of course you can.”

My head snapped up. In front of me stood a tall old man, dressed in a leather apron and a white shirt. I quickly wiped my eyes and nose, standing to disguise the motion. The man smiled at me, and I could tell he knew I had been crying. I recognized this man only by sight and reputation. He was a council member and the camp’s blacksmith.

“You weren’t going to give up were you? I thought you were going to be better than all of them?” he said, crossing his arms, and raising an eyebrow. I narrowed my eyes at him. How did he know that? I hadn’t told anyone. “I’ve noticed you training every day, and your determination is admirable, but your routine is all wrong.” I glared at him. How dare he judge me?

“What does a blacksmith know about training anyway?!” My anger flared, and I was suddenly yelling at him.

Barret didn’t react however, except to sigh. He talked as if I weren’t there. “She doesn’t realize that this blacksmith used to be a warrior. So much fire in her. Now if only she could make that fire work for her, instead of succumbing to it. She needs a good lesson in patience.” He chuckled. “And manners as well.” His laughter died as he scrutinized me.

I clenched my fists. “Shut up you-” He was in my face all of a sudden.

His eyes burned into mine, and he was whispering in a voice I daren’t interrupt. “Do you really want to become stronger than all of them?”

I said nothing.

“Well?” he demanded.

“Of course I do. I’ll do whatever it takes,” I admitted grudgingly,

He straightened up again. “Then you’ll need my help,” he said with a smile and an offered hand.

I barely hesitated before reaching out to take his hand.

I snapped out of my reminiscence quickly, for our makeshift table, made of branches and woven vines, decided at that moment to collapse again. I had had my chin in my hands, with my elbows on the table, and I fell to the floor, landing in a heap with what was now left of it. I picked myself up hastily, brushing myself off, glancing around to make sure that no passerby had noticed anything through the open door and windows. Seeing no one, I sighed and pushed the pile of branches and twigs that had been furniture in a past life into the corner behind the open front door with my foot. Was it really that hard to build things so that they wouldn’t collapse?
I turned from the mess on the floor, searching for something to wear so I could leave finally. After digging them out of the mess under my bed, I pulled on my tight brown cloth boots that came up my calf, which I had had for years and wore all the time. They had had many repairs done on them and were extremely worn out, but they fit perfectly over my dark green leggings. I straightened the brown tunic I was wearing, and stood, stretching my arms over my head, feeling my back and shoulders crack. Now I could leave. I turned and walked out my front door, squinting against the sunlight, ready to face the new day.

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