All Rina had to do was wait until they fell asleep. It wouldn’t take long, they were all exhausted. After what had happened in the shop, she had taken a nap. She needed to be well-rested if she was going to do what needed to be done. And Isiah and Nerin needed to be sound asleep.
She may have told them that she would go west with them, but she didn’t want to. She had to get home, despite what they said. Part of her was nervous. It would be dangerous, but she still had her sword and her training. She knew how to fight, she could hold her own against anyone.
If that were really the case, she should have been able to do something against the men in the store, but she hadn’t. She’d frozen up and let them push her around and insult her like she was nothing. She was a Princess. People didn’t speak to a Princess like that.
But she was also a foreign Princess. An Askari in the middle of Ishini lands during a time when it wasn’t safe to be. She should have expected it, but she’d never heard anyone insult her the way those men had done. They wanted her to go back to her own country, so she would.
Her father needed her after what Harudan had done. Her family needed to know that she was still alive. If possible, she would lead the battle against the King of Brenmar. He wanted her dead, wanted peace destroyed. So she would destroy that peace and destroy him. It was less than what he deserved, but it would have to do.
Isiah and Nerin would be fine without her. If anyone was looking for them, and she was sure there was someone, they’d take Nerin back to Ishmar where he was safe. Isiah would probably die, something the kind soul didn’t deserve. She hoped he made it west where it would be good for him. But neither of them needed her company.
She didn’t pack much in the bag she’d bought back in Ishmar. Nerin and Isiah needed more food than her, but she did take one of Isiah’s jackets. He had fyrite now, he could keep himself warm. She didn’t take any of his money either. After what had happened in the store, there was no way she was going into another shop again.
There was a part of her that didn’t want to leave, mostly because she was grateful for what Isiah had done. Three times now he had saved her from being hurt or killed. If he hadn’t burst out into the throne room, she would be dead. When she got back to Minisia, she would tell her father about it. If it was possible, she would make sure he lived through the war.
A pacifist killed for her. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did and there was no changing that. All she could do was pray to Sol and Lune that he made it through the coming war alright. She’d probably never see him again after she left, but she would still pray for him. Him and Nerin.
As soon as the sun had set, she prayed with Nerin and sent him to sleep. He’d wanted to know what happened, but she and Isiah had only given him the basics of an explanation. It wasn’t all that important for him to know. They’d have no idea that she was gone until the next morning.
Isiah went to sleep not long after Nerin, his soft snores filling the room. She stayed awake, crouched on the floor in front of the fire. Her bag was filled with enough food for a couple of days and the clothes Isiah had bought her. If only she could pay him back, but everything she owned was stuck in her room in Ishmar.
When she was sure that neither boy would wake up, she grabbed her bag and stood. She should have been honest with them about what she was doing, but leaving in the middle of the night was easier. There wouldn’t be any questions to answer, any demands to meet. By the time they woke, it would be too late for them to catch up with her.
The floorboards creaked under her feet, loud in the almost silent room. She hissed in a breath as one of them shuffled on the bed, but didn’t wake. She wanted to thank them for all they had done for her, but she needed to leave. She had to get as far away as possible before they woke up.
Not even the innkeeper was down on the bottom floor when she entered. It was the middle of the night, everyone would be sleeping and the inn would be locked. But when she pulled at the handle, it opened without resistance. She frowned but gave it no more than a second’s thought. It was a small village, they would all trust each other not to rob or attack one another.
The street outside was completely dark. The clouds covered the moon and not a single home had candles lit. Rina waited for a moment once she closed the door for her eyes to adjust. She didn’t have a compass, didn’t know which way was east, but as long as she moved further away from Ishmar, she would be fine.
Snow crunched under her feet as she took the first small steps away from the inn. She glared at the shop across the road and took a deep breath. One big step and another, and another.
She barely made it past the inn when she heard the voices. Ducking in between the inn and the building next to it, she pressed herself against the thin wall. She knew those voices, she’d heard them only a few hours before.
“Are you sure he left it unlocked?” one asked. The faint orange of candlelight bobbed against the dark, followed by the crunch of their boots on the snow.
There was an irritated noise. “He said he would, just trust me,” another said. It was the same man that had yelled at her and Isiah the most, the one that had chased them out of the shop. Rina blanched as they walked past her hiding spot, her hand reaching for the sword at her hip.
There were six of them, far too many for her if they decided to attack. But they didn’t, they walked past with annoyed sighs and the occasional shiver. Rina let out a quiet sigh but didn’t move her hand from the sword’s hilt. The door wasn’t meant to be unlocked. Something was wrong.
“Do you know what room she’s in?” They didn’t even bother to keep their voices down as they neared the entrance to the inn. They didn’t care.
Shoes scuffed against the ground as the group stopped. “Yes, I do! Quit questionin’ me!” the main one hissed. She. They said she. They were looking for her because she was Askari, different, unwelcome.
She poked her head around the corner. All of them wore masks over their faces, hoods of fabric with eyes holes cut out. One held a lantern that illuminated the weapons the others held in their hands. Most twisted daggers between their fingers, one held a mace in two shaking hands. She gulped at the sight and turned back around.
She was trying to leave. She had to leave. Minisia and her family needed her. But she couldn’t say with absolute certainty that when they realised she was gone, the little group of attackers would leave Nerin and Isiah alone. They could be hurt or killed because of her.
They didn’t deserve it. Not even Nerin, brother of the man who tried to kill her. He’d tried to warn her, tried to save her. He was good, innocent. He didn’t deserve to die at the hands of angry men in a strange town. Not when it wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t even her fault. She would not blame the actions of others on the colour of her skin or the place of her birth.
The inn door opened and closed as the group made their way inside. Rina hissed in a sharp breath. She would deal with them and leave, but if she did, there was no way she could leave Isiah and Nerin behind. If she went back, she wasn’t going to be able to run away for at least another day. By then, they might be too far west.
She knew what the answer would be without even bothering to think about it. She had to help them. There was no way she was just going to let them die. Her hands were restless against her sides. She had to wait until they were up the stairs before she could go in. If she was spotted, it would be pointless.
Her training back home in Ziya came back to her in a rush. Be silent, be as still as possible, be completely invisible. Strike fast and strike true, no one would know she was there. Fight like a real warrior of Minisia. It was how she was trained, how her brother was trained. She was older, faster, and stronger than him and she would prove it.
None of them were on the bottom floor when she finally entered, but footsteps echoed up the stairs. If there was anyone else in the inn, they didn’t care about the noise. She should have left the second after she was chased from the store. She should have known it would be dangerous for them, but she’d been so tired.
She pulled her sword from its sheath and dashed towards the stairs. They were so loud, there was no way they would be able to hear her quiet steps and thin breathing. Her palms were sweating. She’d only killed once in her life, back in Ishmar, but she wasn’t like Isiah, she was able to do it again.
A door banged against a wall further up the stairs and Rina hissed in a breath. She was moving too slowly. If her brother or her teacher were watching her, they would have criticised her for not making it in time. Isiah and Nerin were in danger and she was still stuck at the bottom of the stairs.
A boyish scream echoed through the room. Nerin. She couldn’t run. She had to be quiet and not give herself away. But she had to make it before something bad happened.
“Where’s the girl?” one man asked, his voice like a dog growling.
“She’s not here!” another said and there was a loud yelp. “Where is she?”
Carefully, she climbed the stairs. “I don’t- I don’t know,” Isiah stuttered and Rina could hear the fear in his voice.
“Liar!” one of them screamed and there was another yell. Rina cursed and jumped up the last few steps. The one with the mace stood in the doorway, watching whatever was happening in the room. His back was to her, a stupid mistake on his part.
Her sword was through his back before he could realise anything was amiss. There was no armour this time and it made the resistance of the flesh even more obvious. She cringed at it. No one had ever told her what it was like to really hurt someone. Because no one had ever thought she would need to do it, including her.
The man dropped with a surprised gurgle and all eyes turned to her. The leader of the little group, the one with the yellow teeth, held Isiah at knifepoint. Nerin was huddled in the corner by the fireplace, two more of the men standing in front of him. The other two were on either side of the door, easy pickings for Rina.
She lashed out before they could move, a second man falling to the ground with a gash in his throat. Blood pooled around them and she tried hard to hold down the little food she had eaten. There were more important things to focus on than the blood. There was another man barely two steps from her.
She dodged to the side when he grabbed for her, barely sparing a glance at Isiah and Nerin. The monk pushed away from the man with the yellow teeth and moved back to the wall. He would be of no help, but as long as he was safe, it would be fine.
With a quick jab to the shoulder, the man attacking her dropped his dagger. He froze with a gasp and she plunged her blade into his stomach. Another gone, three left. And she had to move quickly, before they did anything to Nerin or Isiah.
There was a loud grunt as Nerin kicked at the legs of one of the men crowding around him. The man cried out and moved away, giving the young Prince the chance to run from the room. One safe. But Isiah was still huddled at the edge of the room, three men ready and waiting to hurt him. All because of the colour of Rina’s skin.
She cried out and ran for the man with the yellow teeth. He froze like a drake in the face of the sun. He barely moved when the sword pierced his skin, his muscles, his heart. Rina hated it, the fact that he didn’t even fight back, but she knew he was far from innocent. The dagger clattered to the floor of the silent room, and the man with the yellow teeth soon followed.
The other two, one rubbing his knee and the other staring at her in terror, dropped their weapons. She didn’t take more than two steps before they bolted from the room, one of them tripping over the body of their dead friend.
The room was silent except for her laboured breathing. There was no guilt in her when she looked at the dead bodies and the blood littering the floor, only nausea. They deserved it. If she hadn’t done it, her or Nerin or Isiah could be injured or dead.
She whirled towards the door. “Nerin! Nerin, are you alright?” she called. Silence answered her, but after a couple of seconds, the boy poked his head around the doorway, his red face pale. Rina breathed out a sigh of relief and gestured for him to come inside. “Get your things, we need to leave before more show up.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He rushed into the room, careful of the blood and bodies, and grabbed their bags. Rina’s was still on her back, filled with the things she had been ready to take from them. Nerin eyed her warily. “Are you alright, Sharina?” he asked in a soft voice.
She nodded and let out a relieved sigh. “I’m okay, no injuries here,” she answered and turned towards Isiah, who was still pressed against the wall. He stared at her with wide eyes when she came nearer. “Isiah, are you hurt?”
“No,” he said with a shake of his head. His hands shook and his bottom lip was white from the pressure of his teeth, but there was no blood on him.
She offered a hand to him. “Come, we need to go.” He grabbed it and heaved himself up, taking his bag from Nerin when it was offered to him. Without another word, the trio ran from the blood-drenched room. They were down the stairs and out of the inn in less than a minute, out of the village in less than five. The only signs that they had ever been there were the bodies in the room and the footprints in the still falling snow.