The ground rushes to meet her beautiful face after Sari trips over a tree root that she couldn’t see through her tears. Dirt joins the twigs and leaves that are caught in the dark blue waterfall of hair that cascades down to her thighs. She scrambles to her feet before wiping the dirt and tears from her puffy eyes. Their emerald glow, that her partner had written songs about, is barely a glimmer amid a cloud of terror. A tear down the arm of her dirty, white blouse makes her grumble incoherently as she rips the sleeve off. She whimpers at the sigh of her bright red skirt, shredded up to her knees by the forest’s underbrush.
Sari takes a moment to rub her bleeding feet before sprinting forward like a hunted rabbit, ragged breathes escaping her smooth lips. Her direction is a mystery even to her. Her only hope is that her path takes her away from the slaughter. Sari can still hear the final scream that ripped through the air and announced the demise of her clan. It took all of her strength to leave her hiding place and run for her life.
“I don’t want to . . . Waugh!” exclaims the fatigued gypsy as she blindly rushes to the edge of a steep hill and tumbles over the side. Bushes slap at her skin and rocks tear at her dirt-covered skirts until she skids on her back into a small river. The running water helps to wash some of the dirt and blood off her as she lies as still as possible. Only her face remains above the river’s surface while she catches her breath.
“I would have expected more grace from you. A gifted dancer and knife-fighter falling into a simple river is beneath you, dear,” sings a female voice from the muddy shore. “On the positive side of things, you are now clean.”
“Are you with them?” Sari asks, getting to her feet and backing away. A rotund woman with dark skin and a cloud of silver and dull yellow hair sits on the shore with a fishing pole stuck into the soft ground. Her dress is gold and looks like an intricate tapestry that a noble would put on their wall. Sari is more interested in the glittering jewels that cover the woman’s fingers and ears.
“Am I with whom? Oh. Them. No, dear. I am perfectly harmless to you,” the woman pleasantly says. “In fact, I believe you called out to me about ten minutes ago. Lucky for you, I was in the area trying to catch something.”
“I called for you?” inquires Sari. She wades out of the river and wrings the water from her hair.
“Yes. You thought that you were going to die and wished that Cessia would come to make things right,” states the woman. Her smile gives Sari a warm sense of hope and determination.
Sari can’t stop herself from smiling back. “You’re the Luck Goddess, Cessia? Wow.”
“Wow? You stand before a goddess and that is all you can say? I would be hurt if I wasn’t so amused,” the goddess claims.
“I’m sorry. It’s been a terrible morning. My partner and I were united last night. Then, there was a lot of drinking. I remember dancing on top of a wagon with only half of my clothes,” Sari explains, her body shivering from the cold water and the terror in her bones. “Then, the attack this morning happened and I saw my partner get captured by a halfling in armor. I have no idea if anyone else from my clan survived after I ran away. Also . . . I keep crying.”
Cessia grows an extra pair of arms to hug the gypsy girl. “Just keep crying, dear. You cared a great deal for your clan and now you are the only one that is left.”
“I’m the only one?” Sari asks.
“I am afraid so. Those who survived the dragons were eaten by the zombies or killed by that halfling. You are the last of your clan, dear,” answers Cessia with a touch of sadness in her voice. “I would tell you what to do next, but I can’t. Then again, I believe you already know what you have to do.”
“I have to keep running. That’s all I can think of,” the girl mutters.
“That you do, but stay for another minute or two. Give your muscles a chance to rest. I don’t mind the company and there is no law against idle chit-chat between a god and a mortal. I get so lonely and bored among the other gods,” says Cessia, patting the ground next to her. Sari sits down obediently, but she remains tense, ready to run at any moment. ”Would you believe that Ram has not danced in twenty centuries? He considers battle to be the only dance that he is good at, but I know better. That horse-headed man drank too much at Zaria’s three-hundredth birthday and ended up dancing with every goddess at the party. He ended the night doing a delicate waltz with the equally drunk Holy One, the stern and powerful god of the dwarves. Apparently, he is a stunning dancer once he removes his platemail. We don’t let either of them forget that night.”
Sari begins laughing along with the goddess as she imagines the war god and the dwarf god dancing together. It is almost enough to make her forget about why she is on the run.
“There we go, dear. A pretty thing like you must stay strong in a time like this. You can cry later, but now you must survive. After all, there could be other survivors who are beyond my vision. Even a goddess can be wrong,” says Cessia while her fishing line goes wild. “The truth is that you never saw that Kayn boy die. If it gives you hope then I will tell you that he may be alive. Then again, he may be dead, so don’t pin all of your hopes on my words. Excuse me, dear, I have a bite.”
“Do you want any help?” Sari asks, watching in awe as the goddess struggles.
“No. No. Yes? No. Maybe. No thanks,” the woman grunts. A mighty tug rips a halfling-sized salmon out of the water. It thrashes about in the mud while Cessia walks over to it.
“Wow. That’s huge,” gasps the gypsy, her stomach growling.
Cessia looks at the face with dismay. “Yes, but not what I’m looking for.”
“If I may ask, what are you fishing for?” Sari asks. The goddess unhooks the large fish and casually flips it into the water where it darts toward the distant entrance to the L’dandrin River.
“Nothing, but that wasn’t it. Oh dear. You look like such a wretch with only one sleeve. It is painful for me to see one of my favored look so . . . disheveled,” admits Cessia as she goes back to fishing.
Sari can feel panic setting into her chest and begins rambling. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have any clothes to change into. I tore my sleeve off because the hole in it could have gotten caught on something, which could have caused me to break my arm. At least, that is what I was told could happen whenever I ripped my sleeves as a child. Come to think of it, I don’t have any weapons. How am I supposed to survive without any way to defend myself? My illusions and heart magic can only get me so far.”
“You could . . . excuse me, dear,” the goddess apologizes. She gives a violent tug to the fishing line, which produces a finely crafted chest from the water. The piece of luggage crashes to the ground in front of Sari as she stares at it with an open mouth.
“That’s my chest,” the gypsy happily gasps.
“I see. I guess one of the dragons threw your wagon and the chest fell into the stronger part of the nearby river system. You are a very lucky girl,” says Cessia with a beaming smile. “Now, I must be moving on to better fishing spots. This area still doesn’t have what I’m looking for. I wish you good luck, dear.” The goddess reels in the empty hook of her fishing pole and puts the damp tool over her shoulder. The shiny goddess waves at the gypsy girl before disappearing in a shower of spinning coins.
Sari rummages through her damp belongings as quickly as she can. Sadly, many of her dresses are soaked from the river. A dark yellow dress with red trimming and multiple skirt layers is the only dress that is dry enough for her to wear. She finds a tattered travel pack among her clothes and hurriedly stuffs two days’ worth of damp clothes into it. A fake compartment in the bottom of the chest reveals a collection of finely crafted knives and various types of sheaths. She continues looking through her belongings while she conceals the knives around her body. Finally, Sari grabs two empty waterskins before she closes the chest. A strange hollow sound echoes from the right side of the chest when she lets the top slam shut. She gives the chest a gentle kick and a compartment clicks open. She reaches in to pull out a pair of knee high boots made of dark velvet and leather.
“These are my mom’s favorite boots. She must have hidden them in here as a partnership present,” Sari whispers, her voice choking up and cracking. With a few tears beginning to form in the corners of her eyes, Sari puts on the warm boots. It feels like minutes pass as she ties up the amber laces and the boots magically mold to fit her tiny feet.
“Thanks for the boots, mom. I guess there is only one thing left to do before I head out,” Sari claims, drawing a dagger from her thigh sheath. “I swear that I will survive the trials ahead of me. No matter what, the blood of our clan will live on.”
Sari gently cuts her finger with the dagger and lets her blood drip into the river. She watches the path of her blood until she is startled by the snap of a twig in the forest behind her. She leaps from rock to rock across the river with incredible grace and vanishes into the trees like a lonely ghost.