Nisha stood at attention outside of the theater, only the twitch of her tail betraying her irritation. Various members of the rebellion surrounded her, their expressions a mixture of nervousness and excitement. She knew she should encourage them, but her mind was far from the present. Inside, a mere hundred yards away, her companions were brewing trouble. For the thousandth time, her eyes were drawn towards the wide double doors and her fingers tightened on her shield. Even now, she wasn’t certain that she’d made the correct decision to stay behind.
Firmly, she turned her eyes away from the door. Their goal was to maim or murder. Or, at the very least, extortion. A sick, oily feeling curled in her stomach at the thought. This was was how far she had descended, cohorts with those who would kill for a slight offense. Of course it was the right decision to stay behind, but was this who she was becoming? One who would only object weakly as evil happened beneath her nose? At one time it would have been her who stood proudly against murderers and schemers and now she considered them her companions. Hers to protect and keep safe.
Her elongated ears drooped subtly, eyes dropping to the cobblestone road as she allowed herself a moment of doubt. Every prayer and supplication that she’d offered to Iomedae had left her empty and confused. The path was dark and her faith was weak. She needed to be among her own kind, her brethren in arms! Hopefully, her golden eyes rose to Arial, but the cold look on his face was enough to stifle her words.
Arial was not the same man she had once believed in. His easy smile, the way he could make someone feel welcome and at home had vanished. Even someone like her. Angrily, she gripped her shield as applause rose from inside of the chapel. Anger. Rage. The emotions she’d buried in favor of serenity filled her like a raging river bursting free from a dam. Aroden had died, her home had been ravished and her friends killed or changed into something she no longer recognized. The world was going to hell and she and this motley crew were the only ones resisting it.
The strong preyed on the weak, and the government supported such actions. Nay, encouraged them! And now… And now… Deflated, Nisha let her eyes trail back to the doors as laughter spilled out into the streets. It hadn’t been by chance that she’d chosen the Playhouse to escort people home from. If a fight broke out, she knew that she would run her companions aid. Despite the fact that they had been in the wrong… Despite the fact that Thespian was a man who brought laughter and beauty to people’s lives, people who lived in a dark time… Nisha could only save those who were in front of her.
She hoped Iomedae understood.
Intentionally, Nisha chose a merchant who lived nearby to escort home. He and his wife spoke amicably about the play, but her ears perked up at the ‘uncouth’ display at the end. Confused by the woman’s small smile, Nisha exchanged glances with Arial but remained silent. These people would be more traumatized if there was bloodshed, and Nisha felt a spark of hope for her companions.
Seeing the couple safe at home, Nisha and Tarvi split from the rest of the crew in favor of the stables. Along the way, Tarvi spoke of her mother’s death by a Shadow Beast and she felt a stab of sorrow for the young girl. So many had been lost to the corruption of Cheliax. The young girl now knew a hurt that should never have happened to her, and instead of hiding indoors like many did, she was out and fighting. Gently, Nisha patted the girl’s hair, at a loss for what to say. There was no pain like losing someone, and there were no words in any language to soften it.
They barely arrived before Will and Harley, the door clicked closed behind Tarvi just as their carriage turned the corner. Impatiently, Nisha waited as Harley and Will made their elongated goodbyes, followed by a kiss. Eyeing the sliver of sun disappearing over the horizon, Nisha cleared her throat. Night was falling. Her destrier, picking up on her anxiety, stamped at the ground, tossing his black mane and Nisha glanced back down at the couple. Will insisted on Harley visiting him the next day to ensure her safety and the pieces of the puzzle clicked in her mind.
Will was afraid of losing another person to the night.
Looking up, her eyes caught on Tarvi peeking out the window. I’ll never let him lose you. She swore to herself. Never.
Finally Harley was ready and Nisha pulled her up behind her. Her long black and crimson skirts waterfalled behind them as they took off at a gallop. Twilight set in around them, doors and shutters slammed shut and locked tight as they raced along the empty streets, determined to keep ahead of the dangers that roamed the night. More than once she thought she heard the scrape of claws behind her, but everytime she looked there was nothing but the shadows staring back at her.
Safe and sound they entered the church yard and Nisha relaxed. Helping Harley dismount, she took her time unsaddling and brushing down her horse.
“I should find a name for you.” She mused, the currycomb working in brisk circles to dislodge dirt and hair. The work was a distraction. A way to keep her mind and hands busy and the mental wars of the day at bay. Nisha kept busy the rest of the night, avoiding the others and their stories, and the lingering anger that bordered the fringes of her mind.
Unfortunately, the next day began in an equally frustration manner.
“They have children!” Nisha exclaimed, her eyes wide with incredulity. Janivan had just explained that their delay had resulted in children being taken from their homes by the Bandits of Erebus and the others were insisting on waiting another day. They felt they needed more ‘Team Building’ exercises. In her mind’s eye, all she could see was the mutilated bodies of children, sacrificed or raped… Swallowing hard, she reigned in her fury as they spoke of how dangerous it would be for them to attempt to attack now.
They were fully grown warriors with armor, weapons and years of experience behind them, and they were afraid of the dangers. Where they were too afraid to walk, children were screaming in pain! Didn’t they know? Didn’t they understand? This might be the last day that these children were alive and Rashaan was bartering his vote away. Fixing the man with a scathing stare, Nisha listened in silence as the votes began to sway towards cleaning up the lesser problem of bandits.
You are not the boss. She reminded herself. You can only protect what is in front of you. But it wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough, not strong enough to save the children, and not eloquent enough to convince others to try.
Helplessly she watched the votes unfold, her and Zarias the only two voting to take down the real threat. Enraged, she stood and stalked from the room, her teeth clenched and tail swiping hatefully from side to side. As soon as she was alone, her fist cracked against the wall, bloodying her knuckles. Iomedae…
Her prayer faltered as she found she didn’t know what to say. There weren’t words to convey her sorrow for lives lost, her anger at her companions and the sheer helplessness she felt all. The. Time. The world was spinning out of control and she was standing beneath it, arms raised and desperately trying to catch everyone who was flying off in crazy directions. Too many of those bodies were splattering, inches from her fingers and the blood was getting to be too much.
Pressing her forehead against the cold stone, she shut her eyes and pushed her emotions to her goddess. It’s too much. She prayed. I can’t do this alone… And the ones who are to help me are not men of honor. They aren’t the ones who protected Westcrown in it’s glory days, they are thieves and liars and selfish! Looking for personal gain wherever they go… How is it that these are the ones fighting for a cause I believe is just? How is it that this is the path that I walk?
She lost herself in her supplications, repeating herself over and over as waves of emotion crashed over her. By the time she had finished, she felt weary and spent. Pushing away from the wall, she turned back towards the room where everyone had gathered after preparing their gear. Nisha didn’t know if Iomedae had a lesson to teach her in all of this, but she felt a new resolve fill her. She had joined Liberty’s Blade expecting the best; a crew of people as devoted as herself to free Cheliax from an oppressive and cruel government. What she was handed was a group of talented people and overly aggressive personalities.
Maybe that’s what it took to free a country.
Pushing back into the room, Nisha took control of her petulant anger. She wasn’t their leader, but she would help them every way that she could, and she would keep everyone alive.
* * *
Hours later she sat inside of Steve.
It was something she’d tried to avoid, asking to pretend that she was the old lady instead of Cinder – because, seriously? At 6’10” the man was pretending to be a grandmother? – but had ultimately been overruled. Being inside of Steve creeped her out more than she could reasonably explain. The fiery, floating skull transformed into things beyond her comprehension, played music that physically hurt her brain and seemed to have desires and emotions of its own. IT WAS SO FUCKED UP! Not to mention that it was hot, long, bumpy ride where they all had to remain silent as to not give away their cover.
She hated every gods damned minute of it. Nisha realized distantly that anger was coming to her easier and easier, but she didn’t particularly mind. It fueled her, made her feel strong. She had a job to do… Protect the ones around her and if she was lucky, she could kill some of the evil bastards who were threatening them.
The wagon lurched to a stop and Nisha gripped the edge to keep herself from falling over. Her pointed ears perked up as she strained to hear the distant voices, fingers flexing around the handle of her shield. This was it. Anxiety spiked within her as the conversation unfolded, only able to catch snippets of the conversation. It seemed that Cinder had indeed managed to convince the men that he was an old grandmother. Idiots. Rolling her eyes, she settled her hand on the benevolent longsword at her waist, then paused.
She had immediately assumed that she would be killing these men. It would be just to give them a chance, perhaps they had even been forced to steal to support their families. Trying to justify their actions, Nisha switched to her merciful longsword, tail twitching in nervously. They were taking so long, what if the bandits attacked first—
Cinder’s voice rose, matronly, with a bit of a warble but clearly threatening and a sudden roar of fire exploded, wreathed in surprised screams. The cover was thrown back and Zarias vaulted out of the cart, racing to his husband’s aid. Nisha followed, taking in the scene as she ran after him. A man and a woman stood in the front, with three crossbow wielders behind them, they all looked a bit singed. Danger bells sounded in her mind, the bolts could reach those she could not defend. She had to get their attention on her.
“Stand down and none of you will die!” Nisha commanded, her voice sharp and the two people in front exchanged sardonic glances.
“Seeing as you are outnumbered, we’ll take our chances.” The man said with an easy smile and Nisha frowned, her eyes running over the five of them. Five against six? Understanding blossomed in her mind and Nisha spun as arrows sang from the trees. Horrified, she watched helplessly as arrows sank into Cinder with sickening thuds. He dropped and she whirled back to the enemies before her.
“Rin?” Her voice grated, concern warring with anger.
“I’ve got him.” Came the reassuring answer and Nisha threw herself into the fight. Zarias fought by her side, a comforting presence against the odds. He was different from the rest. Reasonable, with a sense of honor that became him naturally. He didn’t force his ways upon others, merely did what he believed was right which Nisha admired. How one of her race had grown to be so level headed was beyond her but she was proud to have him by her side.
Darkness descended around them and Nisha struck the condescending man before her. Activating the magic within her sword moments before impact, dulling it’s blade to bludgeon the man unconscious. Cut the head off the snake and the rest would falter.
Only he wasn’t the leader. The woman commanded the rest to attack and fled for the woods and Nisha watched her go with unadulterated loathing. To flee was cowardice, leaving behind the crew that she led. Never would she understand that kind of leadership and while she longed to chase, she stood where she was. With her armor she’d never catch up to her and her shield was needed here. Rage whispered in her ear, her now constant companion but she resisted it’s touch as she brought her shield up to catch bolts. It tempted her, called to her devilish heritage. These men deserved her hate. Murderers. Thieves, and corrupt ones at that. Her golden eyes flashed with luminous anger, glowing at the edge of the unnatural darkness.
The prayer was half formed when a cheer rose up behind her. Cinder had struck down the leader with a bolt of ice, the liquid melting to run freely with blood down her face. Drawing upon the reserves of her patience, she encouraged the remaining men to give in. Her words sounded distant to her, as if drifting to her in deep water.
They laughed. Demanded money as recompense to even consider giving up and Nisha gave into her rage. Fools. Self-centered bastards who cared naught for others – who loved the oppressive, corrupt government if it lined their pockets. They were a scourge, a living example of what was wrong with the world and she would wield the sword that would purge their existence. Her merciful blade was sheathed. They did not deserve to live. She cared not if they had families or friends who would miss them. Nisha was sick of compromising between lesser evils and these vermin would be the ones to receive her rage.
The next few moments were a blur. She didn’t know if they died by her sword or by Zarias’s fist but she hacked and parried with a vengeance. It was only when Zarias cried out that she realized Telarin had fallen. Everything slowed in her mind as she took in the battle. Harley was bloodied and surrounded, Rin on the ground unconscious with blades lifted over his throat and flurry of daggers were arching towards Zarias.
She couldn’t save them.
The party was split. Everyone had separated from her, too far from her shields reach. In that instant her rage was extinguished and she moved to do what she did best: protect. Her hand clenched at her chest and she flung it out towards Zarias, sending him her armor. It evaporated from her with a glitter of magic, reforming around his body. Daggers sparked against it’s heavy metal, away from his neck, kidneys, and heart, the combination of which would have been deadly.
Denying any sense of relief, Nisha’s hands worked in a complicated motion as she ran towards Telarin, summoning a golden orb of magic. Horribly exposed without her armor, she darted between the two men bent on stealing Rin’s life and she plunged the orb into his chest. It blossomed around him, a shimmering shield of righteous energy.
The blades plunged down. Ermola deflected one, and the other pressed against the barrier, hesitating for a fraction of a heartbeat, before slipping through.
“The Power of Iomedae repels you!” Nisha commanded, her words reverberating with power. The sword was forced back, as if by a shock wave and Nisha allowed herself a smile at his shocked expression. Evil would never understand the force of good.
Glancing back at Zarias, she watched with surprise as he dismantled the two knife masters with heavy thuds. Despite her dislike for the men, she cringed painfully at each strike. Zarias always hit hard, but the armor somehow made it look all the more painful. Drawing upon her magic, Nisha began to heal Rin, working first on his innermost injuries. His eyes fluttered open and she heaved a sigh as her companions finished up the fight. Giving him a potion, she stood and stepped to the side as Zarias wailed for Rin, struggling to run to his husband. Nisha turned away, hiding a small smile at his difficulties in her armor but the expression soon faded.
They had been lucky this time… But she worried about the road ahead. Walking to Harley, she gave the brave girl a healing spell before standing apart from the rest, hands shaking. It had been years since she’d lost her temper like that, and the force of her rage shook her to the core. Still it whispered to her, justified her actions and she closed her eyes against it’s sultry voice. They had all lived… That was enough for now.