It was a scream for help.
Scarlett struggled to get up, almost forgetting to put on the dress she had tossed at the side of the stream. While the slope had been easy to descend, the way up wasn't nearly as smooth. When she reached the top, she realized that something was very, very wrong.
There was smoke coming from the general direction of the plaza, and more and more screams filled the air.
Scarlett ran towards the barracks, bursting into the room where she and Mimbi had been in just an hour or so ago. It was empty. The weapons rack was also empty, which meant Mimbi had gone off with them, just moments before Scarlett arrived.
Was the village under attack?
She realized that she had no idea where she had left her sword, and that her armor was probably still being cleaned near the pools where she had undressed to bathe last night. Navigating the village's corridors, she ran as fast as her tired body could carry her. All traces of her hangover had vanished as soon as the fear she was feeling settled in.
Before long, women started rushing towards her, running in the opposite direction. She couldn't make out what they were screaming about, but one word stood out.
There was a Hova in the Karai village? That was impossible. There had never been a direct attack of Hova in the village. Besides, the outposts made it impossible for any invader to arrive unannounced. The village had a foolproof security system, where patrols and guards were alert every second of the day. But it had been the Night of Flames… What if a Hova spy had managed to get in, and somehow sabotaged the patrols?
She continued to move towards the plaza, avoiding the girls and women who ran in the other direction. Some began to enter their homes, grabbing packs of food and scrambling to take whatever they could carry. The wails and cries of little girls sent shivers down her spine as she ran.
They were crying out for their mothers or caretakers, too scared to move.
Scarlett heard the tumult before she saw it.
The plaza had turned into a battlefield, and it wasn't just one Hova.
It was a Hova army.
Fire flew in the air, with women of all ages, Karainas or not, struggling to defend themselves from the black clad soldiers that had invaded the city. Even some buildings, though built to withstand fire for obvious reasons, had caught aflame. There had clearly been some fights happening inside them.
She suddenly had flashbacks of the visions she saw during the remembrance. The death and slaughter. Panicking, she grabbed a lance that someone had discarded near a cart, and rushed on to attack a Hova that was trying to bite a young girl. She was kicking and screaming, holding him back with a wooden tray.
Scarlett roared to get his attention, but the Hova kept threatening the girl, getting closer to her. He didn't even have a weapon on him.
She threw the lance with all her strength, piercing him in the back. It went through his chest, almost hitting the girl in front of him. The girl looked at Scarlett in horror, and then ran towards the residential quarters of the village.
This was the first time she had killed a Hova.
The fight went on in the plaza, where Karainas were fighting on top of rheas. But they were clearly overwhelmed. A formation of Hovas with shields, axes and swords surrounded a matron, who was hurling fireballs in all directions. Some hit their targets. The Hova who had been too slow to use their shields howled in pain as their bodies burnt up.
They were so susceptible to catching fire, which was why the Karainas had always had an advantage over them. But the Karaina's strength was also in their organization. This had been an ambush and had taken them completely unaware. And of all days, it was the day after the Night of Flames. Everyone had been awake the entire night.
Scarlett pulled the lance from the Hova's body, black blood dripping from its tip. Then she charged into the nearest Hova, dodging a fireball that was directed at a Hova that had been about to jump at her. It was Voty, dressed in her Karaina armor.
"What's going on?!" screamed Scarlett, getting close to her.
"I don't know! I fell asleep near the fountain, and woke up when they put out the bonfire. Then the Hova came rushing in," she called out, summoning more fireballs and hurling them in all directions.
Scarlett felt a pang of envy. She could be killing so many Hova if she only had fire magic. Any magic at this point was enviable. All she had was her very human body, and even if it was strong, it would never be a match.
Still, she fought on, piercing whichever Hova got too close to them.
For a while, it seemed like the Karainas had gained control of the Plaza. The bodies of charred Hova littered the ground. Among them, there were also bodies of women and Karainas of all ages.
Scarlett dropped the lance she had been using and grabbed a sword that had belonged to a Hova. It was thinner than the one she was accustomed to using, but it was still better than the lance. She hadn't trained to fight with lances as much as she had with swords. The weapon was also lighter, and it felt extremely easy to use.
This time, she had no need to protect herself from fireballs. So she grabbed another sword for her left hand. Every movement sent waves of pain through her arm, but there was no time to concentrate on pain.
The matrons were starting to carry the wounded Karainas away from the plaza, when the world was rocked by a thunderous explosion. They looked up, and saw it came from the barns.
She had been wrong.
The fight was far from over.
Those who could still fight ran towards the meadow near the arena.
Hundreds of Hova were still fighting against perhaps eighty Karainas, including the High Chieftess.
The Arena's stands were on fire. So were the barns, the stables, and the general quarters.
Scarlett stayed close to Voty, and together they charged to help. Before she could make it to the fight, Pakuri left the ranks and ran up to them.
"The High Chieftess ordered me to get the newest Karainas and take the little girls away from the village. Voty, you go the east residential side. I will take the west side. You… put on some armor for Karai's sake. And try to get the rheas out of the fire. We will meet near the barracks and try to cross the stream with all the children we can get out," said Pakuri.
She was drenched in black and red blood, and her arms were full of scratches. She even had a bite mark near her left elbow. Scarlett looked down at her own body. Her dress was stained with sweat and black blood, leaving almost no white spots left.
"But what about the fight? They're being overrun," said Scarlett.
She couldn't take her eyes off the battle. Another Karaina went down, swarmed by at least five Hova who punctured their teeth into different parts of her body. She was turning white in the matter of seconds.
"These are direct orders from the High Chieftess. Go!" yelled Pakuri, and she ran towards the west residential quarters.
Voty sighed, and turned around, leaving Scarlett alone.
Was Mimbi among the Karainas fighting in the field?
To hell with the orders, she thought, and she charged.
The two swords were like nothing she had ever used before. They flew, piercing through armor, cloth and Hova flesh. She felt some satisfaction that their own creations were being used against them.
Scarlett tried to get closer to the center of the fight, where she thought she saw blue fire flying around. Mimbi wasn't the only one who had blue fire, but she was one of the few.
Before she could get too far, the High Chieftess almost slammed into her on top of her rhea
"What are you doing here? Go take the children away from the village!" she said, as she fought off a Hova that attacked her with a ball and chain. A wave of fire hit him square in the face, burning his head off.
"Mimbi?" was all Scarlett was able to say.
"She was also ordered to evacuate. GO!!!!!" screamed the High Chieftess, as she and her blood-soaked rhea ran towards a group of Hova.
Scarlett ran towards the stables. A group of women were already herding the rheas away from the fire and towards the forest. As they tried to put out the fire on the stables' roof, a Hova and a Karaina fought head to head near the entrance.
She tried to spot Sunu, but among the mass of feathers, it was impossible to point out a single rhea.
They ran as a large mass, following the women who were crying out orders. But before turning around, Sunu almost ran into her.
The rhea was darkened with ash, but otherwise unharmed.
Scarlett smiled, and quickly mounted her. It was hard to stay on top of a rhea without a mount and reins, but for now, she tried to hold on using the strength in her legs.
"The barracks," she said, and Sunu ran.
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