A lot of things happened at the same time.
Pakuri hurled a fireball at the Hova before he started coming down the slopes, and Voty and Scarlett tried to usher the kids into the forest. But it was impossible to move them as a single group, and the little girls ran in all directions.
Voty called out to them, grabbing some of them mid run and yelling at them to follow the group.
Scarlett left Voty to the children and went back to see what was going on with Pakuri and the Hova.
Pakuri wasn't the only one fighting him. A group of human soldiers were after him, and instead of fighting back, the Hova ran down the stream's shore down its winding path. The soldiers, clad in gold and silver heavy armor, had trouble coming down the slope. But they chased the Hova down until Scarlett could no longer see them.
Pakuri was seething, looking just as hostile towards the human soldiers as she had been towards the Hova.
"Who are you?" she said, not letting her arms down.
The man who was clearly in command removed his helmet. Scarlett had never seen such a beautiful human being before.
He had a square, angular jawline, and a straight nose. It was slightly bumpy, as if it had been broken and repaired several times.His hips were thin, and his chin had a little dimple right in the middle. And his eyes… they were blue like the clearest skies.
"My name is Ragnor. I'm the commander of the Golden Company. We were travelling north on the Jara road when we saw the smoke," he said, giving a slight bow towards Pakuri.
Then he set his eyes on Scarlett.
He stiffened, as if uncomfortable by seeing her. She was, after all, half naked. But at the same time, he couldn't take his eyes off her.
Living among women her entire life, Scarlett wasn't uncomfortable with nakedness in the least. It took her a few seconds to understand that maybe the man did have a problem with seeing women like this. But she made no effort to cover herself. She had nothing to cover herself with anyway, and she was in the Karai village. Men had no business being here.
"Who is in charge here? We found some survivors, but they're all in bad shape. We need bandages and antiseptic. Do you know where we can find those?" said Ragnor, looking at Pakuri. He had assumed she was in charge.
"She is," said both girls at the same time, pointing at each other. Ragnor's eyes went back and forth, trying to understand what was happening.
"We are Karainas. The High Chieftess is-"
"The High Chieftess is dead," said Ragnor, matter of factly.
Pakuri remained expressionless, and Scarlett let out a small cry.
What about Mimbi?
She should have stayed on the battlefield until she found her and took her away. In her first real test as a Karaina, she had abandoned her best friend, all because she decided to follow orders.
All of sudden, Sunu let out a shriek, as splashes were heard down the stream. Six soldiers, all slightly beaten up, waddled their way upstream. Two were holding the dead or unconscious Hova, dragging him. The Hova seemed to have taken an even harder beating, but it had given the men a fight.
"Is he dead?"
"No, he barely struggled. Strange," said a soldier.
A Hova never let himself be captured alive. He would rip out his own veins before falling prisoner to humans. But this one had apparently let them take him alive, despite fighting them.
Take him to whichever house is not burned down and tie him up.
Another soldier came up the stream, carrying at least five knives in his arms. The Hova had been carrying all those weapons on his body.
"You, go find the girls who were hiding here. They must still be near. Don't frighten them. They… must have seen enough already. Take them to the barracks. We will regroup there," said Ragnor, pointing at the two soldiers.
"And you, come with me," he said, waving his hands towards Scarlett and Pakuri.
"We don't take orders from men," said Pakuri, sitting back down.
"Well what are you going to do? Sit here until night comes and the Hova return? You need to bury your dead," he said, and turned around without so much as glancing at the girls.
Scarlett sighed and looked at Pakuri, who made no effort to move. So she crossed the stream and went up the slope behind Ragnar.
If the vision had been a nightmare, what she saw was hell itself.
There were bodies everywhere, both Hova and women. The Hova were cut in pieces, and most of the women were hollowed out. As if the life of them had been sucked out. It was their blood that had been taken.
It was common knowledge that the Hova didn't need human blood to survive. They could do just fine with animal blood. But human blood invigorated them, and it was said it tasted like heaven to them. As soldiers, their only taste of humans would have come from the ones they killed.
If they captured humans alive, they were automatically property of whoever owned the army, whether it was King Davorin or some noble sending his henchmen to collect new stock.
Now Scarlett wept freely. This time, there was no use in keeping the tears back. Nothing she could do would bring these people back.
The soldiers re-lit the bonfire, using carts and debris from other fires to kindle it. They were tossing the Hova bodies into it. The women and girls were being set to the side of the plaza. Some had been covered by sheets or mantles, but there simply weren't enough to cover them all.
As she had done in her vision, Scarlett looked at the faces. While there were some who had clearly died by surprise, others had a calm, resigned look. She was proud of them. They had gone to the afterlife in peace.
Scarlett turned back and hurried towards the barracks. The scene there was another kind of hell.
All the furniture had been moved to side, and every room had at least a dozen women and girls on the floor, all wounded in different degrees and crying out for their loved ones. An older Karaina who Scarlett didn't know was agonizing. Her arm was nearly torn off, and a large gash went from the top of her face down her side.
Two teenage girls were trying to hold her back, but the Karaina kept screaming.
"END IT!" she repeated, knowing she probably wouldn't survive the blood loss.
The girls didn't know what to do, and tried to dab her with cloth to clean up the blood. Each time the Karaina screamed, some energy left her body, until she passed out. Some of the other women looked up to Scarlett with pleading eyes.
They had been so used to having a leader, whether it was the High Chieftess or the Matrons of their guilds, that they had no idea how to act or what to do without someone making decisions. They were all trying to do what they could to help the ones who were worse off, but there was no one to tell them what would happen next.
No one knew.
Ragnor appeared behind Scarlett.
"We have placed the fallen Karainas in the meadow. What should we do with them?" he said brusquely, as if it were all a matter of duty. As if he wasn't speaking about Scarlett's friends and family.
She turned and faced him, and left him in the barracks.
Running as fast as she could, she reached the meadow in less than a minute. No one stopped her.
The High Chieftess lay beside her rhea. The bird hadn't been separated from its master while alive, and it had died along with her. She was thankful that the soldiers understood that the birds weren't to be moved away from the bodies of their masters. They had known, after all, who it was that they had come to help.
Was this the end of the Karainas? How could it have been so easy for the Hova to take down an ancient band of warriors who were experts in killing them?
Then she understood. The bodies of the Hova were in the hundreds. The human soldiers had apparently tried to move them to one place, but they had given up mid-way. There were simply just too many of them.
Scarlett scanned the faces of the women she had lived with for the previous months of her life. None of them were drained of their blood… which meant they had fought to their dying breath.
Mimbi wasn't among them.
Ragnar soon appeared again.
"I apologize if I sounded insensitive towards the situation, but we need to hurry. We don't know if there are more Hova patrols on the way, or if they are done. We need to let our king know what has happened here.
"Have you talked to anyone by the name of Mimbi?" said Scarlett, ignoring what Ragnor had just said.
"No. Who is she?"
"The High Chieftess' daughter. She is the leader of the Karainas now, if she's alive," said Scarlett.
"What does she look like?"
"She had- has long black hair, honey eyes. Skinny, tall. You would have noticed her if she were around," said Scarlett, dreading the truth.
"Maybe she was taken," said Ragnor.
"When we arrived, we saw that the Hova had put several women and girls into cages. At least one hundred of them. Most were the young ones. You did well in getting them away from the village," he said. "If your leader's body isn't among the fallen ones, perhaps she was taken prisoner."
Somehow, Scarett felt that Ragnor was right. If Mimbi had followed her mother's orders, she would have also been trying to get the little ones out. If they had been captured, she would have gone along with them as to not leave them alone.
"Then we must go find her," said Scarlett, turning to leave. She would go find her armor in the pools, if the building still stood. Then she'd take Sunu and hunt the Hova down.
"There aren't enough of us to fight them, and we would never catch up with them anyway," said Ragnor.
"Then I'm going alone," said Scarlett.
"And you're going to fight the rest of the Hova army on your own?"
"No, I'm going to follow them. If we ever plan to get them back, we need to know where they are being taken. What direction did they go?"
"Towards the wall," he said.
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