The smell of death hung in the air, from thousands of decaying soldiers that were left to rot in the hot sun outside the city walls. Most of the people tried to flee when the barrier was first broken, which ended up contributing to the massive grave site, and the ones that had remained in the walls were forced into starvation while their city fell around them.
The siege lasted over a week after they broke into the city, leaving the only evidence of its existence scattered on the ground. Soldiers were combing through the remains of the city, searching for the last of the survivors to be sold off as slaves. The men were the first to die as they plowed through the city leaving the women and children for ravaging after it was over. The soldiers openly raped the women, their daughters, and occasionally the sons if that was their interest. It didn’t matter to the people in command, as far as they were concerned these clansmen were only savages that needed to be exterminated.
Iohanna was only ten when she first faced her captor. Her father had died in the outer city with the rest of the defense line, and her mother was killed on the first day the barrier broke. Their house was relatively close to the barrier, as her parents were the main contributors to the city’s defense strategies. Her mother had hidden Iohanna in the cupboards when she heard the screams from the houses close by, the soldiers had already started to raid the houses. When they got to her home the door was smashed in and within seconds the soldiers grabbed her mother. Iohanna could hear the cries of her mother as they raped her. Iohanna covered her ears with her hands trying to drown out the horrifying noises.
Iohanna’s mothers throat was slit from her own hand as a last defense, and silence was all that was left to accompany her. She wasn’t sure what was worse hearing her mother cry out or not hearing her ever again. Iohanna was only left in her thoughts for a few moments, as smoke came crashing into her lungs. They had discovered earlier on that children were being hidden by their parents. It was quicker to use fires to flush them out on their own. If they didn't, they would soon burn to death inside. The girls were the ones that typically fled, while the boys would hold out the longest and ended up passing out, eventually dying by the smoke or fire, either one was okay with them. They had no need for the sons except for the occasional catamite.
The smoke from the fire had filled the small house, almost suffocating Iohanna. She coughed from the smoke clouding her lungs. The cupboard was no longer a safe place and she needed to crawl outside if she were going to survive. She struggled to keep her consciousness as she reached the doorway. Once the fresh air relieved her a large man covered in armor bent down and grabbed her by her waist, hoisting her up, he tossed her over his shoulder carrying her like a sack of potatoes.
The oversized giant that carried her dropped her at the feet of another flamboyant soldier where they stripped her of her clothes before being handed off to another guy who shaved off her long almost white hair and sprinkled some powder to protect her from contracting lice. After being humiliated and robbed of her last belongings Iohanna was thrown into a cage on wheels with a group of women. Scanning the people around her; those whom she recognize from her city were sobbing covered in bruises, and dried blood from being beaten and used. The ones she didn’t recognized were from another plundered city, their eyes showed little to no life left, as if they were empty shells.
Iohanna saw a girl that was closer to her own age in a corner of the small cage, she was holding her knees to her chest silently crying. She had bite marks all over her body and small bruises covering her thighs. For the first time Iohanna was grateful, grateful that she didn't get treated the same way. Iohanna sat down beside her and without a second thought she pulled her into her chest. They were both uprooted from their family and had nothing left but themselves, but she didn't want to feel alone at this moment, and knew she probably felt the same as her. Stroking her hair Iohanna sang to her softly to distract them both of their new reality.
The cage started to rock back and forth pulling Iohanna’s attention away from calming the young girl. Panic rose when a screeching noise filled the air, everyone nearby covered their ears to muffle out the awful sound. The women in the cage were quickly dispersing away from the woman that was making the noise. Her hands were turning white from gripping the bars of the cage. She was screaming nonstop as if she were in pain, her frail body began to take on another form. Her eyes that were once brown turned to golden yellow, two spiny bones protruded out of her backside, and her fingernails extended two inches turning into talons.
When her body was done shifting, she let out what sounded like a war cry, and latched onto the nearest girl. Digging her talons into the flesh of the girl's side, she bent her elbows out and pulled her hands apart, ripping the girl in half. The rest of the women in the cage were screaming and trying to get as far away from her as possible, which wasn't far at all. They moved to the back of the small cage to where Iohanna and the other girl were sitting. Iohanna moved herself over the girl to shield her from the mass of people trampling on them. The women’s dirty feet crushed them as they squeezed between them and the cage, and their hands were pushing the girls forward so they could hide behind them.
The soldiers that were near saw what was happening, while most watched in horror one of them ran towards the people that were sitting upon their horses. He moved with haste afraid that there would be trouble if any more incidents happen. Normally they place magical being in separate confinements, and it would be hell as it was explaining how they missed one.
"Harpy!" The man called out waving down his superiors. The men on the horses clicked their heels rushing over to see what was going on. After a short exchange of words with the soldier that was running towards them, they continued on to the cage. The man that wore a gaudy tunic moved slower than the rest, once he arrived, he had let out a loud grunt for his men to notice him and held up a hand to direct them to stop whatever they were planning. He hopped off his horse and walked up closer to the cage where he watched in silence, as it ate the heart of the woman it just tore apart. It had only partially shifted back into its true form, and he presumed it was due to its malnutrition. This would be better for him, since it would be easier to deal with while it was limited in abilities.
This creature wasn't supposed to be out this far, normally they hide deep within the Forlorn Forest far out west in the Lands of Reserve where they are free to live in protection. What was most impressive to the commander was that it managed to hide itself among the humans. Harpies hadn't been successful in adapting for over their entire lifespan history. The changing of the seasons constantly puts them at the brink of extinction, yet this one was able to blend in and go unnoticed. The commander's eyes shifted from hazel to a bright green and he spoke words far too quiet for anyone to hear. The harpy had started to choke as soon as the words were coming out of his mouth. Iohanna watched the exchange in fear, but she couldn't stop watching because there was something also familiar about it. Her eyes focused on the commander as she still held onto the other girl. The Harpy was dying with every word the commander spoke, and he didn’t stop until its face turned a purplish red and laying lifeless in the puddle of blood.
"Remove them, discard the remains, but bag the harpy." The commander spoke, turning back to his horse he mounted it before scanning the rest of the cage to see if others were lurking around. When he noticed a small girl hadn't stopped watching him, he shifted his gaze to hers. Iohanna's icy blue eyes pierced his vibrant green ones. He stared at her for a minute before he bent down and whispered something to one of his soldiers, the man hit his chest and nodded towards him, accepting whatever it was that was commanded. When he looked back at Iohanna his eyes were hazel once more. Holding her gaze he kicked his horse and moved forward as he turned his head and went back where he came from. Iohanna kept looking in the direction he went long after he was out of sight, she was certain whatever was exchanged between the two had something to do with her causing a new panic to rise inside of her, she feared the same fate as her new friend awaited her.
The carriage that the cage was on began to follow in line with the soldiers as they marched. They had been traveling for days, and the soldiers only handed out a small portion of the rations to the slaves. Not wanting to waste food and water on the ones that would never make it to the next town. When they were first captured, they were assessed by their body conditions and marked accordingly. Those with the red marks were not allowed food or water, and were only kept around for the cold nights, to warm beds, until they perished. Those with the blue mark meant water but no food. They were just slightly in better condition than those with red marks, but it was still considered a waste to feed them. Yellow was the last color they would mark with, the ones with this mark were allowed to have both food and water, and unlike the other two colors the higher rank men claimed them at night, while the lower ranks could only use those with red and blue marks.
Iohanna had a red mark, she had been sentenced to die because they didn't think she was strong enough to make it. However, the girl she protected in the beginning was marked with yellow and shared her portions with Iohanna at every meal. She also managed to avoid being called to entertain soldiers keeping herself in a better position than the others with the same marked fate, while the morning claimed other red marks Iohanna remained alive.