Rebellion - Chapter 01 - DRAFT

Rebellion Chapter 01
By Aurora Eos Rose

Vengeance

“La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid.”
Revenge is a dish best served cold...
-- Pierre Choderlos de LaClos in Dangerous Liaisons

Her thighs burned. She closed her eyes for a moment, reaching for her center, the place in her mind where she escaped. Tonight the meditative state proved elusive so she attempted to block the fatigue by staring at the overly opulent carving on the head of the bed. Twisted faces of satyrs and nymphs leered at her, their bodies fornicating in positions that looked more painful then pleasurable. The muscles in her calves had started to shake and her attention was drawn to the purple silk bed hangings, ruining the attempt at meditation. She blinked rapidly and tried to clear her mind again.

Her eyes danced over the dark wooden paneling and finally focused on the painting splashed in shades of red that stretched across the wall above the bed. The image was as obscene as the carvings on the headboard. She focused on the eyes of a particular creature in the travesty of art. It was a woman, her eyes hard and cold as she plied a whip on the back of a kneeling man. It was like all the other images in the room, sex at every turn, naked men and women with bodies entwined, from the walls and bed to the carpet on the floor. She considered the room the embodiment of lust.

Her lips curved halfway between a grimace and a smirk as the man’s breath quickened and the grip on her hips became almost painful. This was the longest the bastard had ever lasted, almost an hour now. An hour of letting him slide inside her body while she feigned pleasure and release. But the fatigue was getting to her now. She needed to finish him before the spell wore off. Her internal muscles clamped down tighter and she moved faster. Her legs shook in protest.

The body below her shuddered and a cry erupted from the man’s throat. She tried not to grimace as he erupted inside her; it was a thoroughly disgusting feeling. His hands reached for her, drawing her body against him. He stroked her back softly and she let the tension leave and sighed in relief. There was a long moment of silence and she could feel the sweat on her body dribbling down her chest. Then the hands lifted her off easily, set her on the floor beside the bed, and followed the action with a low grunt.

“Perhaps this time you’ve managed to conceive, woman.” His voice was soft, the tone longing. But she’d long ago learned to ignore his emotional games. There was a long moment of silence. She kept her head bowed low, hands clasped in front of her naked body, and ignored the disgusting feeling of his seed slowly dripping down the inside of her leg.

“If it is the will of the goddess, my emperor.” She knew he didn’t believe in the goddess, knew that the phrase would touch a nerve and she’d get the quick dismissal she desired. The man on the bed reacted as she’d planned. He growled and stood. Two dark-skinned, half-clothed female slaves immediately rushed forward, wet cloths sweeping away the evidence of their recent activities from his body. Her eyes swept up his figure and down again. Some might have found his body attractive, lean, muscular and tall. The two shared the same white-blonde hair from their father, but she had inherited her mother’s pale blue eyes, while his were a strange brilliant purple. His face was controlled, emotionless. She felt only disgust and the bile rose in the back of her throat.

“She’s not seen fit to answer your prayers yet. Perhaps you should try the stronger power of the god.” He spit the words, his disapproval of her religious beliefs in every word he spoke. She kept her head bowed and tried not to shudder as he stroked a hand over her hip and slid it up her shoulder to her face. He lifted her chin and stared in her eyes as though he could read her soul. However, she kept her gaze straight ahead, and her emotions hidden. She couldn’t show her fear, her anger, and her absolute hatred of this man. “I’m beginning to think I made a poor bargain. I’ve fulfilled my part of the deal. Now it’s time for you to fulfill yours.” She jerked her head from his grasp. Her voice was crisp but even.

“I promised to become your concubine, to share your bed when you wished how you wished. I may share the same fate as my half-sister, unable to bear a child. I cannot change what the goddess has decreed.” Another long silence stretched between the two and the man sighed, his shoulders dropping and a touch of real pain and bitter irony laced his reply.

“I seem to have no luck at all with picking fertile women. You are dismissed.” He waved her from the room with one hand and she gladly obeyed, thankful to be out of his reach, desperate to wash the sweat and grime and his scent from her body. The ships would land today. Just a few more days of this, and then she would have her revenge. Her mind vibrated with the dark thoughts. For a moment, she imagined death, the carnage that would follow the great army. The burning homes, children ripped from their mother’s arms. That entire accursed island would finally fall to the greater power. Her greater power. She stopped in front of a large mirror in the hall, idly admiring her sweep of hair. It was in a ridiculous style that looked like she had two dumplings on top of her head, but it was her way of remembering, her way of honoring a mother long dead. She smiled again, seeing the suffering and destruction she would bring to the last free kingdom in the world. Then she’d personally see that every one of the fucking witches burned alive.

~~**~~

Conal vowed to kill the dark haired oracle should he ever set eyes on her again. Of course, that was likely to never happen. He ran a hand through his curling, greasy black hair and wondered if he’d ever felt so dirty. He was chained to a line of equally filthy, desperate humans in a cold, disgusting, stone holding cell, and the oracle was safe in her mountain temple with only a volcano and pet crows as company. At least until the Emperor’s armies swept across Innes and burned her alive. The thought made him shudder and he closed his sapphire eyes in despair. Would they kill his sister as well? Or keep her alive as some sick sort of prize? He swung his fist into the wall, ignoring the pain that announced broken knuckles and the dust now climbing its way into his lungs.

Why had he believed the witch? It was a foolish plan, a gasp in the dark, a pitiful attempt to halt the horrid fate that would soon be dealt to his people. He should have stayed with his sister, should have met the invaders in battle and died an honorable death. He should never have placed his hands in the capricious grasp of the elements and their ever changing visions of the future. Hadn’t she warned that the future was always in motion and nothing was set in stone? And yet he had agreed to this insanity, agreed to run away in secret, cut off his hair, sail to the empire that wanted his head, pose as a poor peasant in hopes he could get a job at the palace. But then he’d been so stupid, he’d ruined every hope of reaching the evil monster who had decreed death for all he held dear. And all because they’d been beating a little slave girl.

He should have stayed out of it; after all it wasn’t his problem. He’d done so well, had almost achieved his goal. And then because of a child’s tears he’d murdered a lord and ended up sold for his crime. Now he was a slave. A well beaten slave who would have scars for the rest of his life, a slave with a temper and death wish. A slave who wanted nothing more than to rip out the throat of every man responsible for allowing such inhumanity to exist. And they’d still killed the girl.

Even now the thought was enough to make him lash out, pounding fist and foot, elbow and knee against unrelenting stone, hoping the anger and pain would finally fade and leave him room to breathe. He’d failed. His people, his sister, even the little girl with the sad eyes. He’d failed them all. He collapsed in a heap on the floor, too sore and tired to move as blood dripped from his hands, feet, and his now festering back.

~~**~~

Aurelia hadn’t always hated men. Once she had been one of those rare women who found men more interesting than her own sex. She’d kept them enthralled with her wit, beauty and charm and they worshipped at her feet, grateful merely for a smile. But that was a long time ago, three years to be exact, since her marriage at eighteen ordered by her stepfather, the now deceased emperor. And now, now she couldn’t even look a man in the eye much less smile at one. She stared at Oriana, who was sitting in the marble tub and the hate rose in her soul like mercury in a thermometer on a hot day.

She managed, somehow, to keep her face completely impassive as she helped her half-sister scrub thoroughly. There were bruises on the younger girl’s hips and a cold light in her pale blue eyes. Aurelia grimaced; she’d seen that emptiness in her own cobalt eyes, in the mirror every morning, for several years now. She had never wanted that haunted look on anyone’s face, and she cursed the goddess for giving women such a horrid fate. She cursed the emperor, both the current one and the previous one, for treating women like pieces of meat. And she cursed herself for ever being born. Her sister spoke, the words sorrowful and tired.

“He was overly long this evening.” Oriana scrubbed her stomach harder as though the sponge could remove the memories. Aurelia moved the sponge across the girl’s upper back and allowed the smug success in her mind to flow through her words.

“Yes, but the spell held long enough. I was successful again. You will bear him no bastards tonight.” Oriana sighed loudly and Aurelia laid a hand on top of the younger girl’s head, stroking long fingers over the soaked silk. When wet it was almost the same color as her own honey colored hair, but when dry Oriana’s was almost white, a rich platinum blonde that Aurelia had often coveted. “I know this is hard for you, but it was your decision.” She couldn’t keep the disapproval and censure from her tone. She couldn’t keep the despair from her eyes, but Oriana ignored the former and couldn’t see the latter.

Aurelia hadn’t approved of Oriana’s mad plan for revenge. She only wanted freedom. Knowing that freedom, and the added bonus of revenge for those that had murdered her mother, would come at the price of Oriana’s innocence, that thought made Aurelia long to hurl herself out the nearest window. But if she died her husband would kill her entire household. She allowed herself a long moment of pity and then finished washing the girl. Neither of them had time for their sorrows. Oriana had generals to meet with, and if Aurelia wasn’t back in her apartments on time, naked and ready for the bastard she called husband, Adonis would beat her again. Aurelia hated men.

~~**~~

He watched her with the eyes of a hawk. His gaze could be described as possessive if any who knew him well had seen his flat, steel gray eyes. But the Megas dux answered only to his emperor, and then only rarely and there was only one other soul who could read his emotions. He leaned against the wall outside the royal consort’s apartments, his gray-white hair bright against the dark wood, where he’d been waiting since she’d entered the elaborately carved doors almost two hours earlier. But he had nowhere else to be, nowhere else he would rather be, and he’d been absent from the capital for too long. He would have waited all night just to see her again.

The doors opened slowly and he didn’t move, didn’t breathe. She moved out into the hall quickly and closed the doors gently. She never looked his way. He drank in her small figure, her gentle hands clasped before her, a pale blue chiton flowing around her body like water, simple jewelry of gold and topaz at her neck, ears, and dancing on her left wrist. He noticed every detail, from the soft leather sandals to the way her hair was braided and caught up on her head. She moved through the corridor with a silent tread, head bowed, arms folded softly, eyes downcast. Even her spine flowed in a curve of submissiveness and defeat. The posture made him growl under his breath.

He recalled the glittering jewel she had once been, the Principessa who laughed and danced and made the court flutter about her like a flock of trained doves. The brilliant days and nights under her sharp but witty tongue and her gentle smile for every man. He had wanted her then, but the old emperor had been terrified of contenders for the throne, and since she was the eldest, the only child of Augustus the third, who had been murdered by Lucien, who had been murdered by the current emperor, his oldest son. Her husband would have a chance to claim the throne if he desired, as long as he was willing to fight. Quillon snorted. He hadn’t cared about the throne, only the woman. But she’d been given to a lowly aristocrat with little money and even fewer connections. And she was miserable. He pushed himself off the wall gently and followed her. Soon he would have his chance, and the man who had reduced her to a shadow would die. And she would belong only to him.

~~**~~

For fifteen years she’d watched the coast, the first ten with her father, and for the last five, alone. Fifteen years since the death of their princess, fifteen years since the dark empire pulled back from the brink of invasion. And now she kept her eyes fixed on the dark, pulsating ocean, desperate to separate the red sails of the imperial fleet from the white and blue of the sea.

Sheridan hung onto the branch of the tall tree that had been her perch for so many years. The twisted, dark roots of the conifer clung to the rocky clifftop like spiderwebs. The rough bark bit into her hands and the sharp needles stung her skin, but she’d grown immune to the discomfort. As a child she’d sat in her fathers lap and told him stories about the shapes in the clouds. She hadn’t understood the vigil then, hadn’t understood why he never turned from the dancing waves, and never understood why he came to this spot every day, in any weather, at the time when the tide would let a fleet over the vast shoal protecting the island Innes.

This was her homeland, a rich place of green and mist, the same green the filled her eyes, a place where the old ways still prospered. Sheridan fisted her hand and glanced at the sun. Only an hour more and the sea would recede, returning the protection the elements had granted to their sanctuary thousands of years ago. Her name meant “protector” in the old language, the language still spoken in the villages, although the empires flat speech had overtaken the lilting song of the old tongue in the cities. And so she had taken on her father’s duty, her fathers curse. She watched and prayed that she would never see…

The flash of red was just over the horizon, barely visible as a swell rose and fell on the far edge of the shallow waters. She held her breath. There it was again, whipping over the whitecaps, standing out like a splash of blood. She lifted the glass to her eye, the old telescope made long ago by a craftsman on Avalon. It still displayed crisp, clear. The boat surged into the waves, hid behind another roll, and then was close enough to be seen clearly. And the wind was at their back. She lowered the telescope, all the blood draining from her face. There were thousands on the horizon. More ships than she had seen in her life. And they were headed for the stretch of beach she called home.

She was down the tree and across the barren cliff so swiftly that her chest burned. She had to reach them in time, had to warn them. But the damn wind had picked up, ripping her hair down from it’s confinement to whip around her face in a flurry of red-brown curls. She’d never remembered the path to the lookout being so long. And the damn elders had refused to continue the signal lights. They’d frowned and clucked. Fifteen years was too long, the invaders wouldn’t return. They’d had their fill of death and destruction. The breeze scraped against her body, holding her back, while at the same time allowing the destroyers to gain on their target.

The trees seemed to push her ahead. She could hear them in her mind, their song of danger and sorrow sweeping through her soul. The element of her village, the great tree where they sang and danced and made love. The woods understood her panic, shared her distress. Maybe the elemental of wood would come forth herself, green hands wide, and crush the invaders. Sheridan gasped every breath.

~~**~~

Sloan stood at the prow of the ship, his brown hair floating in the breeze. He was almost home. The word echoed in his heart, in his soul. He was returning home, the bastard, the exiled child. Traitor, weakling, coward, thief, so many insults had been thrown at him. But today a new name would be added to his litany of titles, conqueror. And he would make them pay.

He hadn’t seen the shores of Innes in ten years, ten long lonely years in a land where his dark hair and strange name made him an object of laughter and spite. He’d arrived with nothing but a rusty sword and the clothes on his back. But he’d done well in the Empire, where a good sword arm and a great deal of loyalty could grant the world. It helped that he was willing to do the nasty jobs that no one else would touch out of honor. He snorted. There was no honor among humans, only betrayal at every turn. So he simply chose the winning side this time.

His eyes traveled the length of the ship. His ship to command, his navy to command, all because he didn’t have any sense of morality left. His sailors and marines were ready to go ashore as soon as they hit the harbor, Perth had been chosen as the staging point for the attack because it was completely unfortified and would be easy to capture. The additional soldiers on the decks bristled with impatience. They were not his, in their red and silver uniforms, brilliant red plumes rustling in the breeze. They were Varian’s men, but well trained. And they would be responsible for the majority of the slaughter.

He kept telling himself that he was only the ferryman, only the one delivering the messengers of death to the land he’d once called home. But a part of him reveled in the fact that the people who had cast him out would soon be begging for mercy. The other part of him kept repeating that since he was only the ferryman their blood would not be on his hands. The mantra was not helping much. A spark of conscience still lay buried somewhere in his subconscious.

His orders were simple, complete and total subjugation of the island. It would start with taking Perth, fortifying the natural harbor and using it as a staging ground for additional troops, and continue with the bombardment of the great city of Leslie on the western coast. Every village and person was to bow down to the might of the empire and proclaim the great Emperor as their own. Cassius had a far more difficult task. He was to purge the island of elementalists.

Sloan felt his heart skip a beat at the thought. The empire had no idea how the magic penetrated the island, the people. The elemental spirits could not be wiped out so simply, they would not be wiped out. The powers that protected Innes would never allow a heathen female from across the sea to drink their blood in her quest for vengeance. He gripped the deck tightly as the boat swept against the gentle sand beach and disgorged its deadly cargo. He gripped his sword tightly and leapt over the side, his men following. It was time.

~~**~~

Brenna stared into the flame, her entire soul screaming in horror and terror. But her lips were pressed into a thin line, their edges tight with suppressed anger. She had hoped, prayed that her visions would not come to pass. She’d secluded herself in the temple, called for the prince and sent him on a fool’s errand. She’d done everything her protector had asked, and yet the demons had still come to annihilate the freedom of Innes.

She finally closed her eyes to the slaughter the fire showed. The visions were no longer of the future, but rather the present. That made them even more horrifying.

“My child, you asked to see why the northern shore gave off such a great pillar of smoke. I merely showed you what you wished.” The fire’s voice rumbled gently and Brenna shook her head slowly. She had been born in this temple, raised to listen for the voice of the elemental powers that lived and prospered on the isle, trained to interact with the friendly, if bloodthirsty fire spirit. She had studied the past vociferously, as though every ancient war, every past discovery, every rise and fall of a civilization could somehow defeat the visions she’d been granted.

“He did not succeed. Why did you send him if you knew the path the future would take?” She hissed the words. The reply was equally angry.

“Who are you, little girl, to question my methods? There is more happening, more here than what you see. Did you think we would stay here on this island forever? We were born of the planet, we are the planet, and we are dying. But today’s events can change all that and will change all that if you stop questioning everything I tell you.” The last words rose on a shout and the sleeping volcano beneath the temple quivered with the spirit’s anger. Brenna slammed her hands against the polished wooden floor and screamed.

“I do not like being a pawn.” A growl was her only answer. She stood up slowly, turning her back on the pit where the sacred fire burnt. “I will not be a pawn in a game I do not understand.” A deep sigh echoed through the room and the fire fluttered.

“You are not a pawn, child. But you also cannot change what must be done. You must be strong, for only in your strength will your people live on, and only in your strength will our purpose be fulfilled. You are our queen, flexible, powerful, and extremely important. But you must not go off on your own or our plan will be spoiled. Wait, your destiny will arrive sooner than you wish. Be thankful now for the peace you have.” Brenna let the tears fall then, tailing down her face, salty and bitter on her lips, but silent.

~~**~~

Cassius was embarrassed. He’d never seen a more unprepared, unarmed enemy, and one who would simply turn and run instead of facing the invaders. It was like a bad play, the kind Varian liked with men dressed as women and laughter ruled. But this wasn’t a poorly written comedy, it was just a farce. He swung his sword evenly at the few sailors who still remained on the docks as the boats had come ashore, and then he stopped and admired the village.

Sloan had often waxed eloquently over the beauty of his hometown. Perth was nestled right against the sea and had a natural deepwater harbor protected by a rocky, pine tree covered spit of land that thrust into the Ulba Ocean. But there were only a few docks built out onto the water, and even fewer boats. Perth was a city of fisherman and woodsmen and did little trading. Sloan stared at the wood framed houses that butted up against an almost unending stretch of dark, dense forest. He personally would have preferred to go after a more civilized city than a little town on the edge of nowhere, but he was intelligent enough to realize that a strong base was needed to launch the invasion.

He sheathed his sword, well aware that Varian had the actual village under control. He didn’t need to chase the natives. He had other business to attend to, like organizing slave labor to improve the docks and setting up the first of the camps where the elementalists would be brought. His lip curled upward in a sneer. Somehow he’d managed to get the job of purging the foul creatures from the island. He closed his eyes for a moment, the memory of his mother’s death scream strong in his mind. When the gray-blue eyes opened once more they were hard and cold and burning for vengeance.

He stood on the one dock that was large enough to be useful, and therefore had a large fire break being created where it met the sandy beach, and stared out over the deep blue waters of the harbor. He listened and watched Varian’s men slaughter or capture every native they could find as they systematically moved through the huts. He smirked as the village began to burn, the wind blowing thick woodsy smoke through the golden curls of his hair. And then he threw back his head and laughed.

~~**~~

Ferelith pushed her horse faster. The pure white gelding was named Isolde and had been a gift from her brother on her fifteenth birthday. The packed road was rutted and dirty and ran along the river Clyde, a wide, fast river that was muddy brown with the silt washed down from the mountains. There were no trees lining the road, for they were in Conway, but great fields of wheat and other grains stretched as far as the eye could see. She stared across the river again and fought the urge to cry. A great pillar of smoke rose beyond the northern shore, the woods were burning. She felt the tears flowing down her cheeks and squinted into the fading sunlight.

It would be a five day race to Avalon, a five day race to keep ahead of the invader’s armies. Ocean vessels could only land on the northern and western shores of Innes. The eastern shore had huge white cliffs that made an invasion a lesson in stupidity and the southern shore of Innes was so shallow it was said you could walk out into the sea for miles and never get your knees wet. She turned to her right where her master at arms rode, his own gray war stallion covered in sweat with eyes rolling. He was far too old to be leading a war; even his horse was too old for the trip. But with her brother missing he was all she had to lean upon. She tightened her grasp on the reins and leaned over her horse.

She’d been in Leslie, port city and jewel of the western half of Innes, searching for her brother when the news had come. Perth was burning, and soon all of Sawyer would be ablaze. Only the river would be able to stop the flames, for the forest hadn’t burned in years and there was far too much dead wood and brush to feed the monster. A young boy had brought the news from Kenwood, his hair matted and dirty and his horse dropping from exhaustion. Now she was riding the great road to the port at Corey, where they could take a ship through the gorge to Avalon. She closed her eyes tightly for a moment, unable to imagine the slaughter that would be left behind.

Innes did not have much of an army, and most of the soldiers preferred to stay in their own villages and homes, so they were scattered across the country. It didn’t help that the most populous regions of the island would be some of the first decimated. The provinces of Doane, MacCauley and Monroe would remain safe –protected by natural barriers of mountain, desert, enormous cliffs, and a great stinking bog, but Conway, Murray, and the great forests of Sawyer, those three populous provinces would fall quickly and efficiently. The ships would land at Perth and then take Leslie, probably already had started the attack, and there would be slaughter. She hadn’t expected them in her lifetime. She hadn’t expected her brother to disappear.

And she didn’t think she could do anything but die an honorable death at the hands of the enemy. She was a princess, not a soldier or a warrior. She could embroidery delicate flowers and sing complicated melodies and play the flute and lyre and was fluent in seven tongues and could recite huge epics from memory. She didn’t know tactics or defense formations. She’d never learned to hold a sword or shield. She’d never even struck a person in her life. She was started to hyperventilate, her breathing fast, and she felt herself gasping as the world spun and went dark.

~~**~~

Varian loved to win. He moved through the burning streets with quiet efficiency, using only hand signals to direct his men. They were well trained and well disciplined and so far they hadn’t even met a token resistence. The fires, however, had been a mistake. He realized this as soon as the first flames leapt into the surrounding woodlands and took off like a frightened rabbit. He mentally shrugged. The wind was blowing away from the village so the smoke and fumes would be a handicap to the people of Innes, not to his soldiers.

Cassius was doing his job well; already there were cordons of slaves working on creating newer, larger docks with the wood that had been lying in the shipyard areas and so spared from the fires. The women and children had already been sorted, and two witches were currently being burned under Cassius’s watchful gaze. Varian shivered a bit at the man’s enjoyment of the torture but didn’t interfere; he had his own problems to worry about. The fire would slow down their overland attack, they’d originally planned to scissor down both from Perth and across from the port of Leslie, but now the fire would block any attempt of leaving Perth.

Varian grimaced and estimated that with the burn rate and the smoldering it would be at least two days before the village could be properly rebuilt and another three to four before they could set out through the debris fields that would be left behind. That meant a change in plans. Perth would simply be a resting place for all Imperial ships as they came over the reef, since only a fourth of fleet had arrived for the initial attack.

That didn’t matter too much; however, Perth was useless except for the port. It was too isolated from the rest of the cities clustered along the island’s interior river. They’d leave for Leslie immediately, and in three to four days, after Leslie and the surrounding area was secured, the road to Perth would be cleared of fire and the port could be used properly.

~~**~~

Sheridan fought back tears as she reached the village. She’d arrived too late. The forest was burning all around her now. And where the forest met the village, the great tree was burning, its wide branches groaning in silent protest. Everything was ablaze, the wind whipping the fire into a frenzy of violence and heat. It was like being in hell.

The ships, with their brilliant red plumage, were pulled along the docks and spewing warriors on the shore. There were bodies everywhere, blood soaking into the ground like the pagan sacrifices the empire held to their false gods. Sheridan stopped at the point where the forest thicket disappeared, leaving only the smooth grass of the village common. She longed to race forward and slaughter the men currently moving between the smoldering buildings, but that would mean her death. And she had to warn the next village. So she crept behind the nearest bush, eyes burning.

The great tree shuddered and moaned. Suddenly a small child ran forward, arms outstretched. Sheridan watched in a moment of absolute horror as the tree shuddered and began to collapse. And from the ashes rose the green lady, arms outstretched toward the child. Sheridan was frozen for a moment, in astonishment, in grief. The green lady had returned, but to choose a child as a vessel? The terrified shout of the attackers drew her gaze. They’d stopped their massacre and noticed the scene unfolding. On the ship, a man she assumed was their leader, a slender man with hair the color of sunset and eyes the same green as the spirit now advancing on the child, drew his sword and ran, a bloodcurdling cry in the air.

Sheridan moved. Her long legs swept across the grass like the gentle deer that lived in the forest. Her lungs no longer burned, her chest expanded and filled. She had to save the child. As she watched the spirit entered the little girl’s body and the child screamed in both terror and ecstasy. Sheridan dove, tackling the child and rolling across the now scorched grass. She continued the motion back to her feet, with the now shuddering girl held close in her arms. And they entered the woods with the Imperial general and his men in hot pursuit.

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