At dawn, the fog would dissipate, and Lyrei would breathe easy.
Until then, she wouldn’t risk slowing down. She tightened her grip around the handles of her glass daggers. Her leather boots pushed into the dirt with each running step. Dashing across the forest, she slid to a stop, then ran uphill. The scarlet archers taking position would turn the tides if ignored.
“Spare no malice,” a nearby captain called over the clashing of weaponry. He beat the end of his spear against his shield. “And spare no mercy!” Soldiers cheered in unison, rallying together to push the attack. “Our skill bests their numbers! Here we stand, and here we send these fiends back to where they came!”
Lyrei focused in. If one well-placed arrow struck the captain, her people’s morale would drop—his vigour would be needed for the nights to come. Lyrei dashed to the hill’s peak, then channelled the goddess’ power. Her vision blackened at the edges. Shadows seeped in and cloaked her in shade.
Out of sight, out of mind.
The world grew dark, and all noise distant. Lyrei walked between the planes of existence—unseen from mortal eyes. Not even the moon’s silver glow could break through. She approached a scarlet archer, barely hearing the chittering of teeth as it spoke in an odd language, and grabbed its steel helm with one hand.
With her glass dagger, she severed the fiend's throat.
The movement broke her stealth. Another archer turned and pointed, mashing its teeth together as if to break them. The archers—three more that she could count—all took aim at her, the crimson flesh making up for their fingers pulling back bowstrings. Lyrei kicked the body down the hill before fading back into the shadows.
Into the gloom. Silence.
She approached the second fiend and struck—a forward thrust deep into its eye. As her cloak faded, she grabbed the dying corpse and used it to block an arrow, then dodged around it. A sideways cut left the third archer grasping at its throat.
Before she could walk beyond the light, back into the shade, an arrow caught her shoulder. She staggered back and gritted her teeth, wrenched the arrow from her leather armour, then let the shadows take her. Enveloped in darkness. Only the sound of her breathing and the thud of her heartbeat remained.
“Start running,” she whispered.
The archer panicked and fumbled its bow, then unsheathed a side sword and swung haphazardly. Lyrei appeared behind the fiend, then sunk her daggers into its neck. The blades struck its spinal cord, locking its fingers, arms, and legs in place—paralyzed from the neck down.
Lyrei flicked the tar-like blood off her daggers. Below, she caught the captain’s eye, who waved in gratitude. The sun would soon rise—the scarlet fog would retreat for another night and its soldiers with it.
For now, the fight pressed on.
A shriek pierced the forest as she descended the hill. Lyrei faded into the endless silence of the shadows. A beast, an insect rather, with claw-like appendages that stretched out like wings, dropped from the trees. Saliva dripped off its hanging tongue as it searched for her. Blood coated its exoskeleton.
“Come, wasteling,” Lyrei muttered. “You’ll find me ready.”
The fiend caught her scent and broke into a chase.
Lyrei dashed. She jumped over a tree root, hit the ground, then turned and threw a dagger. It struck the fiend’s eye—the monster refused to flinch as it gained speed. It swung with one scythe-like arm, ripping through her leather armour, missing skin by an inch.
With her cloak of shadow broken, a downed fiend on the ground grasped at her leg. Lyrei tripped. Her teeth hit the dirt. She stabbed a dagger at the hand grabbing her, then rolled to her feet. The monster swung its appendage. Lyrei deflected it off her blade, knocking the weapon from her hand, leaving her defenceless.
She stepped back. There’d be no outrunning it.
Goddess, I’ve done the best I could.
Vines sprouted from the ground. They entangled the fiend’s legs, working up to its chest, the thorned plant constricting and bleeding the monster. Its howls echoed in the air.
“Close call, dark elf,” a thorn mage said. He stepped beside her and lowered his staff. The clinging vines continued the work of bleeding the creature dry. “Look at it,” he said. Shell and bone cracked by the second, the plant filling its mouth, stopping its cries. “A fate well deserved.”
“It had me,” Lyrei said. “I could hear the goddess calling.”
“And think nothing of it.” The thorn mage looked to the sky, and Lyrei followed his gaze. “The sun rises and burns away the fog. We shall live to fight another day. Go and find rest, shadestalker.”
Lyrei nodded, and caught her breath.
- - -
Broken walls and dead bodies.
Lyrei walked through the aftermath of the battlefield, where her people worked to recover. The horde would return with the moon, the scarlet fog their lifeblood. Elven soldiers piled the fiend’s corpses into bonfires. Thorn mages repaired the walls, coating them with razor-sharp flora. Men and women, an occasional child, dug graves for the fallen.
She dragged herself into the village. Lyrei crossed a pond, doves keeping their distance, and entered the healer’s abode. Their time would be short—the healer would soon be called to work the morning. Celaena stood by a table, readying her herbs into a satchel.
“My love,” Lyrei said. She stepped forward and embraced her, gripping her tight, fingers pressing into her back. “I didn’t think I would see you again. They grow more vicious by the night, mutating in the fog-”
“You’re hurt.” Celaena pushed her to arm’s length. “Sit. I’ll tend to you before I leave.”
“It was just an arrow...” Lyrei winced as she removed her armour. The adrenaline of battle no longer numbed the pain. The wound had dried over, streaks of blood now claret-red marks. “I’m surprised it broke the leather.”
“Should’ve come to me right away,” Celaena said.
“Did I not?”
“Faster, next time, Ly! Run here if you must. And don’t pull the arrow out in the midst of battle, for the goddess’ sake—if anything, it’s a surprise you haven’t caught the scarlet rot, yet.” Celaena took Lyrei’s hand, then raised her other toward her shoulder.
“Hold on tight, love. This will sting.”
The healer’s eyes glowed a verdant green. Trails of mist drifted off her fingers, finding the wound, knitting the flesh. Lyrei gritted her teeth as if wasps swarmed her skin. She squeezed Celaena's hand until the healing finished.
Celaena smiled. “All better now. You should know, word has it our seers are a step closer to repelling the fog. Don’t take any risks tonight—you worry me too much as is.” The healer stood and reached for her satchel. “I must go-”
“Stay with me, for another minute?”
“If only I could. Please, find a sound rest.”
“I would that it were so easy.”
“I promise to see you before sunset. For now, our people need me, as they need you.”
Lyrei took her hand, and felt her touch fade as Celaena walked to the door. It closed behind her. The fireplace crackled in the corner of the room. The cycle of fighting, moon after moon, would continue until the seers could repel the fog, or the village fell, however long either would take.
Lyrei exhaled, slowly, and got to her feet.
She’d need a new pair of daggers by nightfall.