Flames and Sand

By @EmmaJem

Flames and Sand

By @EmmaJem

Thrust into an unknown world that hates her, Jaelyn can trust and rely only on the man who has raised and trained her. They must fight free of their captors and escape before they are sentenced to death in the name of safety.

Chapter 1

Good morn- Dagger!

It is a terrifying thing when your first sight in the morning is a dagger pointed at your face. Unless it’s a common occurrence.

Jaelyn was already reacting before she was fully awake. Control the wrist, deflect the strike into the ground. Now two options – get up or bring the attacker down. 

Jaelyn kicked his feet out from under him and twisted his body with his arm until his balance decided to take a vacation and he landed on the floor. 

In his state of falling, Jaelyn knocked the knife from his hand. It clattered to the floor. Jaelyn scrambled for it, the man right behind her. He was out of luck today. Jaelyn reached it first. 

But he had time to knock her to her back and trap her on the floor. But she had a knife and he didn’t. She ran it under his chin, grinning. “And, you’re dead,” she announced.

He grudgingly stood up. “Good,” he admitted.

“Good? I think it’s more than that. That’s what? The third time in a row I’ve beaten you? You’re losing your touch old man,” Jaelyn teased him, smirking. 

He looked around at her, a spark of amusement in his eyes that his gruff expression couldn’t hide. Fire flared up in a ring around her.

Jaelyn sighed. “Come on, that’s cheating. My ability hasn’t matured yet.”

“Not cheating, just survival,” he said.

Jaelyn pinned him with an unimpressed stare. “Survival of what? I’m not trying to kill you anymore.”

He shrugged broad shoulders. “Regardless, how would you get out?”

Jaelyn gestured to the ceiling with the knife. “Grab a rafter, swing over to the door, maybe jump on your head on the way,” she explained routinely. “Can I eat breakfast now?”

The flames died and Jaelyn tossed Cyril his knife back. “Jumping on my head would be a mistake,” he said gruffly, but he turned his back immediately heading for the table so Jaelyn knew he was hiding a smile. Jaelyn smirked at his back and followed to the table. She grabbed a handful of berries sitting in a bowl on a table and popped them in her mouth. Cyril sat at the table and ate a bit more properly

Jaelyn crossed the room to grab her atlatl and quiver of darts and strapped it on. Returning to the table, she opened a pack of dried meat and chewed on a tough piece as she crossed the room again. The belt of knives was a familiar weight around her waist as she strapped it on. She crossed the room for more food. She glanced at her twin swords as she quickly ate, missing their weight. But they would only slow her down and sword training would be later today. She grabbed one last piece of food before swinging her cloak on.

“Do you ever consider taking more than three minutes to eat breakfast?” Cyril asked curiously, still eating.

Jaelyn considered for a moment, then cheerfully said, “Nope,” and strode out the door. She could hear Cyril’s long-suffering sigh behind her.

She exited the ancient stone palace they had taken refuge in years ago and broke into a smooth run through the dense forest. It was a few minutes before she reached the top of the cliff on the edge of the island. 

She shed her cloak, weapons, and a few other things before jogging down the slope a bit to where she could safely dive into the water. 

The water was chilly, but in the warm morning sun, it felt refreshing. Jaelyn struck out eagerly, staying in sight of the island as she swam around it. Roughly two wet hours later, she arrived back at the base of the cliff, this time at the steepest, highest point. 

She found the rope, wrapped it around her waist, and got to climbing.

When one tenuous foothold on the side of the cliff gave way, she barely noticed her teeth clenching in silence – a habit she had developed years ago as she had trained herself to remain silent. She refused to grab the rope dangling in front of her. 

Small stones fell silently down to the base of the cliff where the crashing waves were barely audible from this height, covered by distance and the sound of morning birds. She breathed in the salty air, unshaken even as a stiff chilly breeze pushed at her while her foot found a new hold. 

Jaelyn paused to glance, not down, but up and around out of habit as if she might see someone watching her. Eyes flashing about to monitor the stretch of cliff and the green bits hanging over the edge, she kept climbing using whatever niches she could find to push herself up, impatiently brushing the rope that wrapped around her waist out of the way. 

It had been three years since she had needed the rope to catch her. But as much as it annoyed her, Jaelyn was not foolish enough to get rid of it altogether. 

Reaching the top of the cliff Jaelyn rolled onto the ground, face momentarily resting in the coolness and sweet smell of grass as she swept the green bushes on the edge of the cliff and the deep green forest with a sharp eye, ears checking for the familiar noise of chirping birds and skittering squirrels over the distant sound of crashing waves. 

Standing, she unwrapped the rope from around her waist and sent it slithering back down the side of the sharp cliff with a soft hiss. Her steps light enough that birds still chirped unaware, Jaelyn moved to one of the green bushes. Reaching into the thick, scratchy brush she pulled out the smooth wood of an atlatl and darts. 

The atlatl was a simple rod with a little hook on one end. The darts, which were a little longer than a normal arrow, were fashioned at one end so they could hook onto the rod. Jaelyn stroked the smooth wood with a thumb, imagining for a moment that it was a bow. 

But unfortunately, a bow was much more difficult to make, and any bows that had been in her old village had burned with it. So she had to settle for her atlatl. Jaelyn swung a dark-colored cloak around her shoulders and checked that the long, sharp knife was still secure in her belt. 

Adjusting the weapons and cloak on herself in practiced motions, Jaelyn slipped into the woods, gaze still moving about in constant watchfulness of the trees and underbrush that rustled and shifted in and out of shadows and shafts of sunlight in the slight breeze. 

It was second nature for her to slip through the woods as Cyril had taught her, silent and unnoticed as a shadow so as not to warn animals to her presence. Many an animal had fallen subject to Jaelyn’s dart, unaware of her presence just a few feet away.

Jaelyn slipped silently through the woods her feet nimbly avoiding dry twigs and old brush. The route she followed took her past all her traps and she collected what had been caught and reset the traps with deft movements. 

Jaelyn had many traps and since it was also the season when berries loaded bushed with bright colors, she probably wouldn’t need to hunt at all. There was more game in her traps than usual and the sack she used for the game quickly became heavy.

Jaelyn made her way to the overgrown ruin, stopping just outside the little clearing. Her ears strained for any bit of unusual noise and her eyes flicked around the familiar, open, sun-soaked space for a moment before she stepped into the clearing. Cyril had trained her well. She had to always be aware of her surroundings – alert and ready for whatever may come. 

“Look” was the first lesson Cyril had taught her. He had pounded that lesson – that word – into her head over and over. Even twelve years ago when she was four, Jaelyn had known how valuable that lesson was. 

She had also known how hard it would be to follow that advice. It had taken Jaelyn a long time to train herself to be very aware of her surroundings, scanning every rock, tree, bush, and shadow, even though she was quite sure there were no animals here.

It was the smell that kept most animals away from this clearing. Jaelyn always cleaned her kills here and it left the faint bloody scent of death. 

Pushing the hood of the dark green cloak back to reveal her dark hair in a sturdy braid, Jaelyn set down the game sack and emptied its contents. Chipmunks, squirrels, birds – all small game came tumbling out with a dull thump. 

Jaelyn set to slicing with practiced movements, saving every little bit she possibly could – even the small sharp bones. Gathering the meat in a cleaner sack that was kept tucked between two stones, Jaelyn headed back home, a bag full of berries swinging against her leg. 

Home was a long walk from the ruins she referred to as “the cleaning blocks,” but Jaelyn was confident she could make it back by noon. Though she wasn’t hunting, Jaelyn still slipped quietly and unseen through the cool woods. 

Her gait faltered. She was suddenly on high alert, searching for the reason the hair on the back of her neck was prickling. She quickly slid into a dark shadow, quieting her breathing. 

She had sensed something. Something was off. Something was near her, stalking her. Possibilities scrambled through her head. Not a bear; they were loud. She knew the sounds of scutting creatures, but that wasn’t it. 

Jaelyn searched her surroundings. She filed away locations of trees with low branches that would be easy to climb and large sticks that could be used to fend off wild animals. 

Seeing no animal, it was tempting to think she had been mistaken, but she hadn’t survived in the wild for nine years by ignoring her instincts. 

Questions rushed through her head; What animals roamed the woods that would have keen enough senses to sense her? What was subtle enough that she couldn’t see or hear it clearly? 

A panther? That was the only answer Jaelyn came up with. She scanned the treetops again trying to find it. 

That couldn’t be right, panthers came out at night and late morning sun was slanting through the trees. Jaelyn gripped the rough bag tighter and scanned her surroundings thoroughly before she started moving again. 

Climbing a tree would probably be the best option, but it would be difficult with the bag in hand. Jaelyn placed the bag between her gritted teeth, barely noticing the sour taste, and skimmed up the tree keeping her movements as small and unnoticeable as possible. 

Jaelyn kept the bag between her teeth as she leaped from branch to branch and used her hands for balance. Branches scratched at her face, despite Jaelyn’s best attempts to avoid them.

Thankfully whatever it was didn’t follow her as far as she could tell. When she finally reached home and dropped gracefully out of the tree she removed the bag from her mouth and grimaced. Who knew what was one that thing; it had tasted horrible and her jaw was throbbing from being clenched so tightly.

Jaelyn scanned the clearing around the ruin she called home perhaps a bit more carefully than usual, making sure everything was as it should be. Her green eyes studied the depths of the shadows cast by the stone temple of an old, old civilization. 

Or perhaps it had been a palace. It was certainly sprawling enough. And it had been built strong. Though even its apparent strength was not enough to deter the trees. Wide twisting trunks forced their way through the smallest cracks, growing and creating more cracks; twisting around the stone; melding with it or shoving it to tilt precariously. A wave of moss had crawled over most of the stone so the palace looked more green than black. 

Still, it was in much better shape than the other ruins scattered across the island.

Scanning it all in a few moments, Jaelyn stepped out of the tree line. Almost instantly someone appeared beside her. Jaelyn stared at the figure, half in shock. It took her a moment to decide it was indeed Cyril who, for the first time in years, had greeted her on the edge of the woods after her hunt. 

Getting over her surprise, Jaelyn was about to ask him why he had been waiting for her by the woods instead of inside where he usually waited, but, sensing she was about to speak, he put a finger to his lips and motioned for her to follow him in the shadows. 

She clamped her lips shut, senses immediately on high alert scanning every shadow in the woods. Something was wrong. Cyril never greeted her here, much less warned her to stay silent. And the birds had gone eerily silent. Jaelyn melted through the shadows and kept her footsteps silent as she followed Cyril, her mind whirling.

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