“The streets were filled with ash and charred corpses. Nothing was left untouched.”
***The Ruins of Orwen***
The silence is so wonderful. Normally, someone always makes noise in the slave quarters, so being able to sleep a little longer must be a gift from the heavens. I shift in my sleep, still deep inside the world of dreams.
Then I move my fingers and bright pain flares up like an explosion. I scream and sit up, immediately awake from the pain and the rush of adrenaline. Pain! So much pain! “Gaaah!” I sit up and look at my hands, but they are inflamed, burned ruins. The skin was burned away and raw flesh is the only thing that remains. Then I remember what I did.
Surveying my surroundings, I find myself in Nemus's tower. The three charred and burned corpses are still on the floor. Just a small, protected area around me wasn't touched by the flames. My throat feels dry and raspy, so I have to gulp several times before I can moisten it with some saliva.
“The spell worked.”
I get up, wincing at every movement. By using just my elbows, I manage it somehow. My hands hurt so much that cutting them off feels like a less painful solution to my problem.
The wizard's tower was conjured from a single piece of stone, so the building took the inferno with stoic ease. I feared that the heat might become enough to damage even the tower. Another factor for my survival was the broken window, which is sufficiently big to let in enough air. It kept me from suffocating. It also helped that I was in the highest room of the tower. Even now, the wind keeps up a nice air circulation.
The stone mage who summoned the building did a good job.
The summoning room itself is a charred mess, but I am interested in the storage area which doubles as Nemus's office. The door to the office is charred, but the heavy security enchantment wasn't the only thing that secured Nemus's treasures. The door itself was made from fireproof material, the wood of a krebin-tree.
At first, I try to kick the door open. It would’ve been nice to go easy on my hands, but the door doesn't budge. Then I notice that the security enchantments are gone. All mana was burned away by the inferno spell. That leaves the door unlocked and unprotected. There is just one small problem. “Which fucking idiot installed a doorknob on a safety door?” I never noticed this serious design flaw before I burned both my hands.
I use all my willpower to pry open the fingers of my right hand. It doesn't work at first, so I try again and again. The dry crust above the flesh breaks and blood starts flowing freely from the newly opened wounds. When I finally place my hand on the doorknob, hot tears trickle down my cheeks.
Turning the knob requires another act of will, but the door opens. I shudder at the thought of repeating the procedure with my other hand. Normally, I would use magic to heal myself, but I am completely drained.
I've no idea how long I slept, but my mind feels so dull that I don't want to attempt something dangerous like healing magic. So many things can go wrong when a mage uses magic on their own body. Even the strongest wizards of this city went to specialized healers for their rejuvenation treatments. Otherwise they wouldn’t stay young and healthy.
Besides, there is an option which is almost as good as healing magic. I step into the room and sigh in relief upon seeing that the contents were largely spared. The intense heat singed a small area around the safety door, but nothing flammable was close enough.
At least Nemus was dutiful when it came to the correct storage of his wizardly belongings. Some of the chemicals in here can be quite dangerous, so it would be criminal not to store them properly.
I walk to the shelf with the various potions. First, I choose one which assists in numbing pain and disinfecting wounds. Pouring the clear and cool liquid over my hands feels like pure bliss. The pain is replaced by a prickling sensation. My hands feel a little numb, but that's okay as long as the pain is gone. I take the time to clean the burns as well as possible.
Feeling more confident in moving my fingers, I take a healing potion and drink it all. Then I open one of the big bottles with regenerative salve and push both my hands into the yellow substance. I don't know the exact recipe, but I've seen it work wonders many times. Handling the salve in such a way will make it useless for further use, but there is more than enough of it in this room.
Nemus always stored a large stock of medical equipment because he was a poor healer.
The salve won't heal me immediately, but the burns will heal in days instead of weeks. The nature of the wounds could've killed me in case of an infection. That should no longer be a possibility. I simply have to keep my hands clean from now on.
I search the shelf with my eyes until I find some clean bandages and gloves to take care of my hands. First, I bandage myself. Then I pull the gloves over the bandages to keep everything clean. Once I've had time to rest, I can heal myself. But from now on I am on the run. Who knows what else might happen? I don't want to lose my hands.
With that done, I down one of the mana elixirs. Like the salve, it won't replenish me immediately, but it'll bring my mind up to speed and help me to regenerate once I sleep. I immediately feel clearer. Alchemy is far from being almighty, but it helps.
Having used all the drugs which might help in my state, I turn my attention to other issues.
Ransacking this entire room of everything that's useful is the next item on my list. My eyes wander to the big, leather backpack. The thing was enchanted by a wizard of the tenth circle with spacial magic. It cost Nemus a small fortune to acquire it.
On all the worlds I've been to so far, such items were standard equipment for every traveller. Not so on this world. Here, the magic to manipulate the space and volume of a three dimensional room is a well kept secret. The few people who know the enchantment can make tons of money by selling their items in limited quantities. Maybe I'll make the knowledge public once I am out of here.
It would be fun to watch their economy crumble when, practically overnight, even poor people can easily transport huge amounts of wares wherever they wish. It makes a huge difference when even a lord's servant can pack up all of his belongings and leave overnight.
The backpack needs a quick check for damage because it was left in storage for a long time, but the spells on it are untouched. Now assured, I start filling the backpack with everything that's small enough to fit inside. The shelf with the potions and medical equipment is first, as they strike me as the most useful items.
I follow up with most of Nemus's tomes and his wizardly equipment. I find a dagger and a fitting belt to carry it. It was meant for sacrifices, but having a good knife is never wrong.
What I leave behind isn't of worth or of immediate usefulness to me. The most important treasure is a large dragon rib. It has the size of an overly large staff and is slightly curved. Dragonbone is one of the most sought after materials on this world. It can be weighed in gold.
It’s not really the bone of a dragon, but a sturdy metal-carbon alloy. There are very few places in which it can be found. Sadly, this world’s metallurgy isn’t able to reproduce the material. Yet.
It's receptive to magical energies and highly durable. Only the best enchanted steel can even hope to scratch something that's made out of dragonbone and enchanted. Wizards prefer to use dragonbone because it is easier to place permanent enchantments on it. It's also a status symbol for anyone with magical abilities. A magic user with sufficient skill can shape dragonbone with his mind.
Nemus had the money to buy dragonbone. He did so by wasting it on this huge piece, just to find out that he is too incompetent to shape the material. I found it funny. He tried for months and all he managed were a few small enchantments. Too proud to walk around with an oversized rib as a staff, he hid it inside this room and never mentioned to anyone that he bought it.
I am sure that I can put it to good use, once I have the time to shape it.
I walk around the room, sad that there isn't any basic survival equipment. After I am sure that there is nothing of value left, I shoulder the backpack and head out. On my way down the stairway, I find out that the rest of the tower is a mess. When something crunches under my boot, I realize that I stepped onto the burned bones of a small child. I smile at the thought that both of Nemus's brats turned to ash.
Nothing can stop me from enjoying my new freedom.
The clinking of golden chains around my neck and on my boobs reminds me that I still look like a sex slave. I remove the piercings from my nipples to get the chains off of me. Then I shove them into the backpack. They are pure gold, so they represent money. Wherever I go, I'll need money.
The collar itself doesn't come off, since the sword-strike bent the opening mechanism. I'll have to take it off once I regain my strength.
After some further investigations of the various rooms, I have to admit that the rest of the tower burned out completely. Even the family's treasure chest was just a large piece of metal which was fused with the ground. I didn't even try to reclaim it with my wounded hands and without magic. I am sure that it would've involved a lot of pain.
Outside, the streets are filled with ash up to my ankles. The ash is still hot in some places, but the air is clean, except for the strong smell of burned flesh. The wooden buildings are completely gone and even the ones which are made out of stone took a lot of damage. It's rare to find a building that looks like it can be restored. I walk the streets with the hope of finding something that was left untouched. What I want are clothes and survival equipment.
On my way, I loot the corpses of several wizards for coin. They are easily recognizable because of their metal trinkets, but all I get are molten lumps of gold and silver. My loot represents a lot of money, but there is no way to use such currency as money at the next city. Everyone would suspect that it came from here.
After half an hour, I have to admit to myself that my search for decent clothes is a waste of time. The city is in a worse state than the wizard's tower. Nemus's storage room was protected against magical accidents. Unless I find a store with similar standards, it's unlikely that I'll find anything of use in this huge pile of ash.
To my knowledge, there is just one place left which surely has at least something of worth to me. I make my way past burned corpses towards the mage citadel. The main government building of Orwen. There I'll find the city's greatest treasure, a huge mana stone. It was used to harness energy for the city. Lighting the whole city with magelights took a lot of power. Having an artefact of such strength will help me in my endeavour to take revenge on this world.
On my way, I encounter not a single soul, which surprises me. I suspected that there would be at least some survivors without magical talent. But the city was so charged with energy that everything flammable was incinerated.
The citadel itself holds another surprise for me. Compared to the tower, the citadel fared much worse against the flames. It almost looks as if the huge building was torn apart from the inside out. I carefully enter the ruin and search for the reason behind the damage. The tower was in relatively good shape, so I thought that the citadel would have fared at least as well. It was also created with magic after all.
I find the blue mana stone where it is supposed to be. It stands proudly on its pedestal where the Great Hall was located. Strangely enough, no debris fell onto the area. It looks like this was the centre of the explosion which tore the building apart.
My steps quicken, but upon coming closer, I realize that my spell was more effective than I thought. The mana stone was a head-sized piece of aquamarine with golden runes embedded on its surface. Now, a huge crack has split it in two. I realize why the citadel looks even worse than the tower. My spell jumped from person to person until it found a huge amount of mana within the stone.
The heat was so intense that it blew up the citadel and even damaged the legendary artefact. I sigh and put down my backpack. Then I store the stone away. It's magical properties might be gone, but maybe I am able to repair it.
At least this place looks like the epicentre of the catastrophe. The Empire will think twice before they use another mana stone in one of their cities. It might give the enemies of the empire an edge. Nobody will connect the catastrophe to Nemus.
I shoulder the backpack and turn around, just to come face to face with the tip of a staff. It hits me on the forehead and for a short moment the lights go out.
“What's wrong with you Marv? Can't you see that she is a slave? And a sex-goddess on top of that. How can you damage such a face? It's a sin!”
“Aw, shut up. Don't you find it strange that she is the only survivor we encountered so far? Get her up and we'll bring her to the captain.”
Rough hands grab me at my arms and haul me back to my feet. Then I am dragged across the ground.
“Take the backpack. I am sure that she is a looter.”
I groan and open my eyes. The left one feels swollen and I can't open it completely. Though I can see enough to judge my situation. My assailants are four soldiers in imperial red and blue uniforms. They wear light leather armour.
I could curse myself for my lack of attention. It was so clear that someone on the outskirts of the city would survive and call for help. There is a garrison just a few hours towards the border. They must have sent people to investigate as soon as they heard about the inferno.
They pull me towards the big plaza in front of the citadel, where a man on a lemu is waiting. My head is still ringing, so I don’t put up a fight.
Lemus are the most important riding animals in this world. They are essentially big, green lizards. The captain looks highly displeased upon noticing the approach of the first soldier. “Didn't I tell you just five minutes ago to search for clues? Nobody allowed you to return before an hour of searching.”
“Yes, captain! But we captured a survivor.” The man who struck me with his staff points at me. I think they called him Marv.
“She looks like a slave, but she was at the centre of the citadel,” adds the soldier who has my backpack.
They bring me in front of the captain and he studies me with displeasure in his eyes. “Definitely a slave. Look at her collar.” He dismounts to take a closer look at me. “What about her hands?”
One of the soldiers pulls off the glove with the bandages and I scream in pain. He definitely wasn't gentle.
The captain pulls a grimace. “Must hurt like fuck. Force her to her knees. I'll heal the wounds. It won't be pretty, but at least she won't die on the way back to the garrison. If someone wants to use her later on, they can bring her to a professional in order to clean up the scars.”
They force me down to my knees with my hands towards the captain. Marv rips off my other glove, causing even more pain. I silently swear to myself that Marv won't survive the day. The captain mumbles a few words and I feel his magic latching onto me. I am still weak, so it's unbelievably hard to mount any sort of defence. Then I scream and wriggle in pain as the healing magic accelerates my body’s natural healing abilities.
I try to wriggle away, but the soldiers hold me in place, showing absolutely no mercy.
The captain's healing spell is indeed third rate healing magic. All it's good for, is to quickly patch someone up during a battle. My skin crawls back up my hands, and scars over in less than a minute. They are still holding me when the captain is done. He didn't even bother to clean my hands, so my skin grew over some threads from the bandages. It will take me days to even out the damage he did with that spell.
Suddenly he frowns and steps closer to lift my chin. His eyes latch onto the damaged collar. “She is-”
I scream and lunge forward, biting into his hand. Pushing against my captors, I bring my legs forward and close them around his hips. I move my teeth in a sawing motion and blood fills my mouth. Being so close, I feel his mana pool and siphon off as much as I can.
“Get her off! Get the mad bitch off of me!” He screams and weakens while I get stronger, the soldiers scream, everyone screams. Except for me; I have my mouth full. They try to separate us, but I hold onto him like a leech that found a source of blood. I drain his energy and send it through my body and to my muscles.
I lock my legs even tighter until there is a satisfying ‘crack’!
The soldiers don't have any magical talent, but the captain had enough mana for me to work with. The guy with the staff batters it onto the back of my head once, twice, and a third time. With the fourth attempt it breaks. Now that I have at least a little magic, it doesn't bother me at all. All I have to do is to channel mana through my body and to my skin. This basic defensive move is enough to stop most normal attacks.
I force my hands together and throw off the two guys who are holding me. The captain falls on his back, hitting me with his free hand. I land on top of him. Seeing the tip of the broken staff next to his head, I grab it and jab it into the captain's throat, just to rip it out sideways. His eyes widen in shock and disbelief, but he quickly loses his consciousness when his blood pressure drops to lethal levels.
I open my jaw and spit out the blood, then I get to my feet. Having dealt with the only real danger, I turn around and throw myself at Marv.
Taking away his broken staff is like wrestling away the lolly of a child. He holds onto it with all his might, but he isn't a magician. I jab a finger deep into his eye and wriggle it around, mashing up his brain.
Then I notice that the guy who has my backpack is running away. I throw the broken staff at him, propelling it forward with a little kick of force magic. The piece of wood turns into a horrifying projectile and rips right through his leather armour. It goes completely through and out the other side. He falls and stops his own momentum with his face on the ground.
I turn around and face the two who were holding me. They are in the process of getting back to their feet, so I kick the left one, sending him back to the ground. The other draws his sword, but I crush his windpipe with a spell, causing him to drop the weapon.
Then I draw the dagger from my belt and ram it into his chest. Pulling it out, I barely avoid the spear of the other guy. He is still on his knees, but didn't accept defeat. I throw the dagger and it embeds itself in his throat. He gurgles and in his panic he pulls it out. Exactly the wrong move.
While he gets back to his feet, I walk backwards and out of his range. Not giving up, he follows me five steps. Then his eyes turn upwards until only the white is visible. A moment later, he topples over and lies still.
I survey the scene for several long moments. “Shit. There is no way to cover this up. Whoever finds this will think that the soldiers encountered the one who caused this.” Or maybe I am too paranoid. They could've been attacked by bandits who came into the city in order to loot anything of worth. But mere bandits wouldn't manage to kill a mage like the captain. He was weak and badly trained, but a mage is a mage.
“Fuck!” I curse and hurry to gather all my things. All I need are a few days of recovery and small fry like these guys aren't even a problem. But no! I wake up to freedom and am attacked right away. No rest for the righteous!
I cover myself with the captain's cloak. In my paranoia, I gather everything I touched and strip one of the men for his clothes. If I don't get decent clothes on a silver platter, then I can at least improvise something with his uniform. Though the ridiculous red and blue will stand out anywhere. I even hack off the captain's hand, the one I bit, and stuff it into my backpack.
During the entire procedure, the stupid lemu watches me with big eyes. I wish that lemus were carnivores. Then I could have fed the hand to him instead of sullying the backpack. But no! Lemus have to be herbivores! Just my luck.
For a change, I don't get interrupted by returning soldiers, but I am still painfully aware that there must be more of them out there. A plan takes form in my mind and I decide to be bold by using the stolen uniform. Then I mount the lemu.
The plan was to ride out of the town as if it was my right to do so, waving off any soldiers I encounter. Apparently, the lemu doesn't know the plan, since it doesn't move an inch. “Go! Hühopp! Yala!” I give it the spurs, but nothing helps. “Run, or I'll cut off the tip of your tail!” The stupid animal is in charge and it decides not to move at all. “I hate everything that's bigger than a cat.”
Then I notice the two long tentacles which are coming out of the side of the lemu's head. They are more like earlobes, but I remember seeing riders holding onto them when they rode through the city. I reach forward and grab the two appendages, finding out that they are more like leather than flesh.
When I pull, the lemu jumps forward and almost throws me off. Clenching my teeth, I hold onto the animal. It's legs flail in a comical motion as it runs, but the saddle stays relatively still compared to the erratic movements of the rest of the animal.
On my way out of the city, I encounter only one group of soldiers. They call out to me, but they are too far away to identify me. I simply wave a hand to reassure them and ride on. The lemu and I leave the city without further complications.
In the north of the city, in direction of the garrison, I notice an army camp. Of course, I do my best to stay as far away as possible and guide the lemu into the forest which covers the foot of the Lahil mountains.
My first goal is to leave the empire. I have to train in order to regain all my power. Once I've recovered from my existence as a slave, the people of this world will learn what it means to anger a being like me. But first I have to escape the soldiers. It would be too comfortable to ride along the foot of the mountain and hope to sneak past the garrison. After Orwen's fall they will be on high alert. I have no illusions about taking that route without getting into trouble.
That leaves the way directly across the mountains and into Alliance territory. I've heard that there are some paths which can be taken by small groups, but not by an army. Unfortunately, I never got to see the world outside Orwen, so I have to play it by instinct.
My attention turns to the large satchels which are hanging down the lemu's flanks. And with some luck I even stole some survival equipment from the captain.
But I manage to abstain from checking the satchels. First, I want to put as much distance as possible between the soldiers and myself. Instead of taking a path through the underbrush, I opt for the wide and open areas. After all, I've no idea how the lemu deals with problematic terrain. In my eighty years as a slave I learned a lot about the world, but I did so by listening to conversations. Not by experience.
My greatest fear is that my imperial accent will cause me trouble in the Alliance. But from what I heard, they use the same language. That's a small relief.
I ride for the rest of the day, always keeping a wary eye on what's behind me. Something tells me that someone must have seen me when I left the city. I had to cross a large piece of open fields and I can't believe that the army didn't have the city watched from the outside while their soldiers went in.
But maybe they had other worries than to hunt down a single mystery person. Maybe my ruse worked so well that the watchers didn't even think to investigate a lone soldier who rode into the woods. “Maybe they thought I am just a deserter. That the Alliance would catch me anyway on my way over the border.”
I try to make up reasons for the lack of pursuit as I make camp in a well protected part of the forest's underbrush. After making sure that my fire can't be seen from more than a few metres away, I cook the only food I have.
The captain's hand.
The satchels had a tent, cooking gear and a mattress, so I won't get cold during the night. Sadly, my paranoia didn't allow me to stop and hunt for food. But it seems like nobody is coming after me.
The lemu lies down next to the fire and watches me with huge, accusing eyes. It's as if he wants to tell me that killing its master and then eating him is totally unacceptable.
“You are not going to give me a lesson about morals.” I won't waste a piece of perfectly fine flesh when I am tired and beaten. I have to use every chance I get to regenerate. And that means that I won't go hungry even for a single day if I can avoid it.
I've already committed cannibalism in my life. Many times. As long as human meat is cooked well, it's bearable. A little chewy and a lot of skin, especially on a hand, but that's okay.
When I am done, I settle down and look at the night sky with its many stars. That's the only beautiful thing about low-tech civilisations. They all have these impossibly bright stars without all the light pollution from nearby cities.
I close my eyes and sleep like a baby. Today was the best day in my life.