The subtle tap of footsteps echoed through an abandoned square, deep within the Outer Quarter of Wyvern’s Rest. Camille’s bloodied feet traversed trampled stalks of Highland Grass and wildflowers. A gentle breeze rustled their feathered tips, accompanied by the distant sound of crumbled brick and shattered stone. As she navigated the urban wilderness, however, there was silence. The tattered blue dress clung to her form and ribbons of torn lace dragged behind her. Their lustrous, white accents were gone, no longer distinguishable from the cobblestone below.
Blurred images of brilliant wagons and flamboyant men haunted her memories. Distant visions plagued her mind, of men on horseback, of giant towers nestled against a blackened sea, of her mother—falling. With each bloodied step, however, she fought to bury those thoughts and press forward.
Camille rounded a corner, turning deeper into the square. Small stone buildings lay cloaked within the feathered, yellow grass, the subtle remnants of better times. Ribbons of red cobblestone streaked between piles of stone, destined for a cluster of hunched, alabaster figures cowering against the city walls. Camille’s tiny form instilled terror in the primal beasts.
With each step forward, the creatures flinched—and she loved it.
Camille approached the sea of creatures, soaking in every ounce of fear. They parted before her, their blood-red eyes twisting in a panicked attempt to flee the bloodied girl in the torn blue dress. They clawed over one another, desperate to distance themselves. They tumbled and screeched, ripping at broken cobblestone while Camille stepped toward them, solely for spite. Yet her intent was set upon something more sinister.
The ground shook in a steady rhythm as Camille waded through the terrified mob. Cobblestones skipped across the grass and broken stone walls crumbled into the sea of flowers. A giant approached. A lethal gash crossed from the bridge of its nose to its brow. Its eye oozed a putrid, green mixture, pouring down its cheek. A jagged metal blade protruded from its chest, a flash of light reflecting the morning sun with each step. In one massive hand, it held the trunk of a fallen tree. In the other, a headless ox, no doubt destined for the dinner table.
Camille smirked as the behemoth approached. She stepped to the side, amused at the cascade of albino creatures that tumbled out of her way. Her gaze locked onto its earthen body and her bloodied, bare feet moved with ease until she stood before it. The beast snorted in displeasure then stepped to the side.
It roared, smashing the tree trunk into the ground. Broken stone and shattered fragments launched high into the air, along with a few withered, pale beings.
Yet Camille stood firm.
The behemoth sidestepped once more. And still, she followed. Both colossal fists pounded into the ground, like a monstrous ape defending its territory. A deafening roar bellowed from the giant. Smaller creatures cowered, scurrying into the alleys and darkened corners of the Outer Quarter.
Camille took a step forward, her eyes level with its knee, and said simply, “kneel.”
The creature howled once more. It raised its club and pounded it into the ground, over and over, relentlessly shattering the old square and any buildings left standing. It flung the body of the ox into the city wall, then turned to Camille. The beast raised the tree trunk high overhead, gripped with both hands, and lunged.
Agony coursed through its expression, and its muscles bulged. Veins popped along its neck and sweat oozed from its pores, yet the trunk would not budge. It fought to swing the mighty oak, to crush the insect of a girl before it. Camille relished in the sensation, knowing it could not.
Camille took another step forward, her smile widening, her grin as wicked as ever. “You will kneel before me.”
The creature fought, shaking its head violently. It lost control, flailing in all directions. It flung the mighty tree trunk deep into the Outer Quarter, the smashing of stone signaling its final landing somewhere beyond the city walls. The beast grabbed both sides of its head; its screams echoed off the nearby bluffs. Camille hummed along to the haunting melody, music to her ears. Still, the beast fought. It clenched both fists, pulled them high overhead, and lunged once more.
Camille’s brow furrowed.
Her eyes glistened a brilliant shade of yellow, and she planted her feet before the giant. The ground shook and stone collapsed upon itself. Buildings crumbled in an instant and stalks of highland grass flattened into the ground, as though leveled by an unseen, divine force. Several smaller creatures suffered a similar fate, their muffled screams short and inconsequential as their bodies flattened into the broken cobblestone. Smoke erupted from Camille’s back, and shadows deepened across the square. Blackened wings unfolded, and her nails hardened into onyx steel. The remnants of the square shook as it flattened to a layer of dust and stone.
The beast’s knees buckled, launching into broken cobblestone. Its fists fell to its side and its body thrust forward, mere inches from the little girl. Camille’s blue dress swayed in the morning breeze as white, laced accents fluttered behind her, a calm to her inner storm. The giant’s face was a jeweled amber, the light of Camille’s eyes glistening off its sweat.
She raised her hand, her sinister black nails tracing the open wound across its eye.
“He hurt you, didn’t he?” she said, feigned sincerity dripping from her tongue.
The beast scowled, baring its teeth.
“Don’t worry. You’ll have your chance, my pet.” Camille gently stroked the side of its face. The light from her eyes intensified, and the creature’s skin hardened. Its dusty, leather exterior absorbed the shadow of the square while its muscles rippled, forging plates across its arms and chest.
Camille studied her creation, contempt flowing through her heart. She traced the creature’s brow, clenching her teeth in anger, before driving her nails deep into its skull.
“They sent you to retrieve an amulet, didn’t they?”
The beast howled, wincing at the blackened daggers buried deep in its face.
Camille inched closer, tugging at the meager blue trappings around her waist.
“Do I look like a blonde girl with a black amulet?”
She seethed, pressing harder into its skin. Fresh, green blood poured from each wound, streaking down its cheek and across its eye.
The beast roared, fighting to back away. It was clear, however, that it was no longer free to do so.
“Do I?!” Camille screamed, the sound of falling stone accompanying the echoes of her voice. Silence cloaked the square as Camille stared into its eye. She raised her hand and pointed beyond the inner city walls, to the roof of an old stone building, buried deep within the city core.
“You will gather your—men. And you will retrieve my amulet.” She dug her nails deeper, pulling the beast’s head closer to hers. “If you fail, I will rend the flesh from your bones myself.”
Camille waited for a subtle nod of its head, then pulled her nails from its skull. The creature stood, glancing at its armored skin before returning its gaze to the tiny girl before him.
“What…girl?” it grunted, its words broken and misspoken.
Camille sighed, realizing these insects wouldn’t be capable of such a simple task. She turned to face the inner city. Her wings dissipated, and her nails retracted, her eyes returning to their mahogany hue. She whispered, adding quietly, “all of them.”
A wicked grin crept into the corner of the giant’s mouth. He stomped into the ground and let loose a monstrous roar, then turned back into the square and the inner walls of Wyvern’s Rest. Dozens of albino, hunchbacked creatures appeared from the shadows, following the blackened behemoth. Dozens more leeched from the alleyways and streets of the Outer Quarter. Within moments, waves of them ebbed in and out of the abandoned square.
When the last one disappeared, Camille’s insidious smile faded. The light from her eyes dimmed, and her expression grew blank. Her knees buckled, and she collapsed to the ground, gazing at the crumbled square as though seeing it for the first time. Panic consumed her. Fear gripped at her chest. She looked down to her hands and her bloodied kneecaps, to her ripped dress and her crusted, bare feet. Her heart beat faster, and sweat glistened from her forehead.
Odd sounds emanated from the alleys, and shrill screams echoed in the distance.
A pit formed in her stomach and she sprinted across the broken cobblestone, leaning against the base of a massive stone wall. Tears flowed down her cheeks, and her hands shook beyond control. Her eyes shot from shadow to shadow, following the eerie sounds and distant echoes.
Memories flooded back of the carriage, of the merchants, of—the creatures.
“M—Mr. Davilla…” she whispered, a hiccup cutting off her words.
A horrific expression overtook her face. “Mr.—Kendle?”
Camille curled her knees to her chest, sinking into the shadow of the city wall.
While the echoes of the creatures bounced throughout the square, another voice joined. A terrified, panicked cry. The cry of a young girl, lost in a world she did not belong.
Prefer Audiobook? You're covered! Enjoy a free trial at Audible and start with this Audiobook as your free gift!