Missiles rained from the sky, hundreds at a time, exploding with mighty bangs and clangs before the villagers of Rena could let out a shocked cry.
In seconds, houses, shops, dogs, children and more fell to the ground, engulfed in orange -red flickering flames ,all begging for death to soothe their pain.
In an hour, the Iralion soldiers had stormed the Castle grounds, finding and beheading the prime-minister that had hid in the bottom bunker, hands pressed against his ears to block out the deafening wails of the people.
In a month, the name Sadar was wiped to oblivion—the tyrant province of the Saran empire, buried in ashes and despair—forgotten by its three sister cities.
My mother said it was a good thing. She said it was time the Sadarians were stopped— whatever that meant.
You see at the time, I was too young to comprehend the apparent wickedness of my sister city. Barely eleven, with cardboard for breasts, I couldn't understand just what my people had done, but I smiled nonetheless. Proudly, if I must add. We were saving our empire and I watched it with my own amazed eyes.
With the help of our drones that followed our soldiers into the attack, I watched the head of the raid burst into the central castle doors, gunning down the palace guards one at a time as he made his way to the king. It was muted but I could hear the grunts as the men fell in their blood and took their last breath.
I remember how silent we all were when my people had found the King's bunker. My mother had ordered the servants to take me to my room but I had been persistent. I hadn't watched this far to not see the ending, because at the time I was watching a movie, not the massacre of a civilization, but a gruesome action packed movie. It was fun.
The head of the raid pulled off his mask, the veins on his shaven head visible as he held out his gun.
That's when they un-muted it.
"Ikular Saran Borayong" For the love of Saran, he said and that was how I watched our emperor die at the hands of my father.
It was a befitting ending to my movie.
My father came back a hero and our remaining two sister clans made him head—the new emperor. No one returned to Sadar, no one spoke about it , asides the survivors of the raid, who were branded on their necks and transported to my city- Iral.
My father said the branding wasn't to torture or isolate our sister but to keep our people safe—trust was something we'd never have with them.
A decade wasn't enough to change that. Reduced it ,but didn't change it and we lived like that, with the family members of our victims freely living amongst us, with our culture, our rules, our names and our leadership.
10 years ago I didn't understand it…And I wanted to change that.
Hence, my presence at the gates of yooni-market, a sure place to meet any Sadarian.
For a reason or two they were never at the central city and it took a great amount of planning, bribery and next level sneaking to escape the castle grounds, but I was finally here. What I would do when I found my target, a complete mystery to me.
I adjusted the identity cloaker necklace I borrowed from my father and stepped into the bustling space.
My feet strolled the busy market, eyes taking in whatever they caught sight on and hands clasped behind my back. The sky shops hovered over me much like the ones at the capital but their yelling owners contrasted to the calm and collected shop keepers mother and I visited. The street—tiled path, was littered with people in different patterned anshikris and trousers, and some women woret the same, save some that wore the gowns. The street wear resembled the capital also, so did the inch high trees and colorful flowers that decorated every place not occupied with human activities. So far this part of Iral just looked like a busier extended version of the capital and for some reason I liked it.
But then, if only I wasn’t so engulfed in my sightseeing, I would have noticed the men following me and would have been prepared when they swiftly dragged and threw me into a narrow corner.
I blinked the pain away as I sprung to my feet. My elbow ached and I examined the small bloodless scratch.
“Mother wouldn’t like that,” I grumbled to myself.
“That’s a pretty cloaker.”
I raised my head to see a stout man, probably tanned yellow from the afternoon sun, with the skin around his crinkled eyes a lighter shade. “Wonder if you’re the same under it.”
I turned to see the brick wall behind me and my eyes moved to my only exit that was blocked by a huge man looking to the market who’s back faced us.
I gulped and lowered my gaze to the stout before me.
“I’d really love to give this to you, but I can’t,” I told him.
He gave a hoarse snicker as he stepped forward. “I’m not asking, baby girl.”
“Well, that’s rude of you. Didn’t your mother teach you any manners?”
His smile dropped. “Give me the damned necklace before I hurt you.”
“You’re not very intimidating. Try again,” I said and his eyes widened a fraction.
He lunged forward and I dodged . I circled my arms around his buff neck and pulled out my knife. Before he could react, I placed the cool metal against his skin, and bent to his height, till my lips were beside his small ears.
“Have you seen a poisoned blade before?” I whispered, turning the tip into his cheek
“You’re….you’re a witch.”
“Aren’t you told too old to believe in witches?”
“Kiran!” the man shouted, probably signaling for his road-blocker friend and I hissed.
With a slash of my knife, I made a small cut by stout's ear and he fell to the floor.
“It’s just a small doze. You’d be up in a few minutes,” I told him as he wiggled on the ground and I stood tall, waiting for road-blocker to attack.
“You’re dead ,you bitch,” road blocker growled as he stomped forward.
“Trying to sound American, are we?” I giggled to myself while taking cautionary steps back.
Knife in hand, I kept my focus on his towering physique, hoping I had enough venom to knock him out. He looked too heavy to go head on with, but I could always run past him. Then again, I didn’t know what weapons he hid under his baggy shirt and I didn’t intend to find out.
I filled my lungs with the necessary air, but before I could let out my award winning scream, road-blocker came to an abrupt stop.
My gaze shifted to the reason, and it raised an eyebrow over road-blockers shoulder and I raised mine back.
The man was just as tall as road-blocker, but less intimidating, yet he had a hand firmly placed on road-blocker's shoulder as he turned him around.
“What’s happening?” my helper asked and I witnessed road-blockers broad shoulders tense.
Just then stout’s poison wore off and he’s worm-wiggling had come to a shameful end. His eyes locked with mine and he shuffled backwards till he got to his feet.
Like a fairytale, helper walked to my side and I took a cautionary step back. Without a word he turned from me to the two other men and they broke into another language.
“Ri sor alimar y kator?” helper asked the men and they replied judiciously.
It wasn’t Iralian, so I stood there, my heart beating erratically but body standing firm, with my eyes faced with the back of the tall helper as he shielded me from the men. I returned my knife to its place and continued listening.
“Y lora dikaro sukar,” he said.
There was a certain charm in his voice, I’ll give him that and I found myself staring.
“I’ll handle it,” he told the men and he waited till they were both out of sight before turning to me.
“Somnida. Alinye irim,ee?” Sorry, I’m Alinye, you? He said and my heart lightened.
He spoke Iralion.
I smiled and shook his stretched hand. “Raylene,” I said truthfully and he raised a brow.
“Like the princess?”
“Exactly,” I said gesturing to my long cottoned skirt and worn out shirt, with a comical curtsy.
He nodded and walked to the side and took a seat on the bricks on the ground.
“Are you waiting for someone?” he asked as he leaned to the wall, stretching his long legs before him. “Better you get going before the sun sets.”
“It’s just noon," I said and I dusted my skirt. “Barely even evening.”
Plus I hadn’t completed my task. If I was going to get locked up in the castle when I returned ,I at least didn’t want risking my freedom to be in vain.
“It will be past that before you make it back to the capital.”
I furrowed my eyebrows and he chuckled.
“You don’t look like someone from here.”
I looked down at my clothes and then to him.
“No one is dressed that badly,” he explained and my lips dropped to a frown, but he continued, “It seems like you wanted to fit in but knew nothing. Means you’re from the capital…or somewhere around those parts.”
My jaws clenched and I suddenly felt self conscious, but my self-pity and embarrassment was distracted by his chuckle.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” He shrugged. “Seen worse.”
That… did not make me feel any better.
“And you?” I asked, walking to take a seat beside him. Guilt rustled in the pit of my stomach, as I pondered on his words and the slight fact I had insulted him some way. “You seem to know a lot about the capital. Do you live there too?”
He stretched, flexing his muscled arms behind as he spoke,” Can’t imagine living there. So busy, so detached from what’s actually going on,” he looked to me.” D’you know how much houses cost there?”
I didn’t but I shrugged with a faint smile. “So you just can’t afford it?”
He laughed heartily and my grin widened. His joy was contagious.
He looked down to me, his lips twitching to the side as though he was thinking and the air around us stilled.
My task forgotten I slightly tilted my head, and with that moment I took in as much as I could. His dark brown hair— that could pass of for black —curling down his head and covering most of his forehead, and which lead to his stretched but scanty eyebrows. He was a few shades lighter than me, what the Europeans could call olive, but I preferred wood brown. He reminded me of a tree, strong and tall, yet beautiful in its own uniqueness.
He was a sight to behold.
I blinked as my cheeks heated, but I don’t think he noticed because he scoffed playfully.
“Well,” he said, “in my defense, heard it’s very busy and the buses don’t carry just any one.”
I tilted my head.” Are you sure about that?”
“Hundred. Them conductors are picky with passengers. You’d have to be some celeb or something.”
“What if I was injured?”
He smiled a dimpled smile. ”You can always try your luck,” he said turning to face the brick wall and that's when I saw it.
Infused in his skin; an arrow pointed downwards with a thin line circled around it. In other words: the brand of Sadar.