Lenoa soaked her hands in the lake, washing dried blood from her knuckles. She avoided looking at the damaged, sanguine-stained trees around her, or the growing ring of things dying and deceased within the forest. She brought her hand to her teeth, chewing splinters from her skin and spitting them back to the water. Anything to break the reflective plane that continued to remind her of whomever it was looking back. No longer a guard, captain, or knight. No longer royalty, a princess, or a queen. Just “her.” Just the ‘lost little Nephilim.’
She’d been encamped at the lake for some time, ever since she was no longer her. The freezing burn of anemic dragonfire and little essence nearby assaulted her veins for dominance like thunderous hornets trapped in a wither basket. Maintaining any form of control was the most she mustered.
The yellow jacket sun buzzed with warmth throughout the semi-evening wood, in spite of the cerulean moon hanging overhead. Sweat dripped from her brow as Lenoa stepped into the lake, soaking her legs. She no longer wore bracers, or any other armor. She had purloined a leather surcote with her heraldic crest, and other key provisions before she abandoned the castle. She’d renounced her title yet retained her feathers and thorns.
A sickly bird squawked as it flew overhead. It circled for a moment, watching her watching it, before it left as casually as it came. The time passed in stillness, as it had learned to do around her.
At some point, bushes in the tree line began to ruffle, and gave way to a large furry creature trundling to the watering hole. She sighed, swallowing a gulp of saliva before stepping from the lake and back to her camp. She drew her hunting knife from a satchel and made her way through the wood line.
She came upon the boar unaware, gorging itself within the lake. She readied her knife, watching the creature fill itself with glee. Though her veins began to throb with anticipation, her knife-hand trembled. She clenched the grip tighter, but couldn’t keep it under control. “Dammit!” she shouted. The boar turned about, examined her for only a moment, and charged. Before she could react, the boar grazed Lenoa’s leg and dropped her to the ground. She rolled over as the boar came charging back. Her knife-arm tensed, and she screamed as she stuck the boar on its way past.
The boar lie injured near the waterbed, unable to move as Lenoa climbed to her feet. She hobbled over to the squeal-snorting giant pig. A tightness formed in her throat as she saw the look in its eyes—the fear she had introduced to so many before. She watched on for a moment longer. The boar continued to squeal as it bled. She removed the knife, exhaled, and granted it a final bit of mercy.
She rested beside the dead boar, sheathing her knife and taking deep breaths. Cicada chirping echoed through the air as she drew each breath. Before long, she scooched up to the lake, forming a cup with her hands to gather some water. After a few gulps, she began to feel an all-too-familiar sensation hit mid-slurp. She drew her knife and positioned the blade across her scarred arm, breaking the skin just enough to let the blood rush to the surface.
Her vision became blurry, but not altogether disappearing as she found herself vicariously in the throne room yet again. The stinging from her father’s backhand remained palpable on her cheek once more as she lie across the cold marble floor. The sinking hole feeling within her chest reminded her what awaited in the corner of the room. What always came next. The lynx guard. Her father. Everything. With the little control she retained of her knife hand, she pressed the blade until the crimson pain brought her back. The vision aborted.
She laid back next to the dead boar, breathing heavily as scarlet clouds passed overhead. She was, and forever would be, a murderer. And this was her price. The blood streaming from her arm trickled along the sand until it pooled with the boar’s.
“Honey, that’s kinda gross. Want some help?”
Lenoa arched her neck while remaining on the ground, looking up to see an upside-down Emarosa, head-cocked, staring back at her. Lenoa sighed, closed her eyes, and rolled over, burying her face in the sand.