Beautiful Hell (Re-imagined)

Imagine this story as a version of Romeo and Juliet. If Romeo was a psychotic murderer...
For over one hundred years, a brutal and bloody struggle for dominance between the kingdom of Ra'Ziel and the plains of Torath has torn the world asunder, raining death and destruction upon the earth. But this war is coming to an end. With only a few descendants of both royal lines living, will there finally be peace? Alexandra Ra'Ziel wants nothing more than to end the feud that took her older brothers from her, but Tristan Torath has different plans. He wants - he needs - retribution for the wrongs he has suffered. And so their story begins. Because anyone can find vengeance, but only a rare few achieve true justice. And when a vow made more than a century ago compiles pain onto pain, is it really possible for the determination of two youths to overcome their hatred and end the suffering?

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2. Chapter 1

            His heart racing as adrenaline coursed through his chest, Tris watched the flames spread across the dry plain, moving rapidly with the wind, blowing in leaps and bounds. Already a great swath of the Torath plains was blackened, the life-saving grass and scrub burned to ash. And still the fire spread.

            This was the danger of a wildfire on the plains. Any unlucky spark which hit the dry earth could  ignite and spread, requiring only minutes for one careless action to cost the lives of hundreds. And then, after the fires finally burned themselves out, more would die when their animals could find no pasture.

            Of course, that was with a wildfire. When the city-dwellers set the fire, the damage was magnified tenfold. Tris knew he couldn’t outrun it. Neither could the others, standing or sitting a’ horse, watching their deaths climb steadily nearer. The whole band would burn, and there was really nothing any of them could do to stop it besides hope and pray.

            When Tris turned back toward his men, he heard the snickers, saw the sneers thinly covered by raised hands or lowered masks. They were always there, when others thought he couldn’t tell, sometimes even when they knew that he could. Children shied away or stared, while their parents refused to even look at him. But it was the youths, those just learning to fight and new to the war, those young men with pretty faces and perfect lives, whose gasps and jokes were hardest to bear.

            “Mount up,” Tris ordered, raising his voice just enough to be heard as he pulled his painted mask back over his face. It was easier to look at them that way, when they couldn’t see him. At least behind the shelter of his mask Tris inspired fear, inspired awe. Inspired caution.

            “Why? We’re going to die anyways, so what’s the point.” It was one of the newest warriors, apparently brave in the face of their coming deaths. Emboldened by the crowd and ignorant of the veiled threat hidden within Tris’ silence, the boy continued. “Can you stop the wind? Or tell the fire to die? You may be good in a fight, but even you can’t save us now. Your High-”

            There was a collective intake of breath as Tris pulled his sword from the man’s chest, releasing a spray of dark, sticky blood that fountained around the wound, spattering Tris and those others near him. He knew he really shouldn’t have killed the boy, especially when every sword was so valuable, but he just couldn’t help it. Tris wouldn’t hear it again.

            Turning back to the still living men as the lifeless corpse toppled to the grass, Tris raised his voice once more. “Any more objections, or are you all just going to wait to burn?” After that, his small band of cavalry mounted as swiftly as only the nomads of Torath could, one even having the forethought to tie the now riderless pinto to his saddle. Tris felt an instant of satisfaction. No one would dare mention his scar again, at least for a few days. After that, who knew? He could always just kill another one, and another, until he killed them all. In his opinion, it would be no great loss.

            They headed southeast, cutting a line diagonal to the raging inferno. As they drew closer, Tris’ mood soured further. The fire was moving too fast and they weren’t going to get free. Tris let himself sulk, his face carefully hidden behind his war mask. If he was to die here, then so be it. At least his sword had tasted some blood today, albeit not that of his enemies, but it was a start. Besides, when the boy had dared to mock him, Tris, last son of Anzel Torath, he’d really brought his misfortune down on himself, or so Tris saw it.

            The fire grew louder as they approached. And hotter. When they were about one hundred feet off, the others pulled their masks on. All nomads wore them when they fought. All nomads wore them when they died. To die without a mask was to risk the wrath of Hell, for what the King of the Damned saw, he owned.

            It was unbearably hot, a raging inferno like that of the Pit itself. Tris thought his lungs would burn with every breath. The smoke choked him, and his coughing rang hollowly against the roar of the flames. But he didn’t stop, or let Dragon falter. He charged for the wall of heat, just at the corner, where it was thinnest. Tris didn’t look back, but he knew his men were following hard on his heels.

            For an instant, Tris thought he wouldn’t make it. He had misjudged the leap, and the wall of death was thicker than he thought. He felt his hair and clothes start to burn, his skin blister, his blood evaporate. And then Dragon’s hooves thudded against the turf, sending a jolt through the boy’s body, and he was through.

            Tris charged up one hill and then the next before finding the small valley. There was a stream here, meandering slowly though a rocky gully. Grass grew everywhere, green and alive. Alive. The word had never sounded so good before.

            Throwing himself down, Tris ripped off his mask and plunged his arms into the cool water, splashing his face and head. The cold liquid felt good on his scar, soothing the ache. It hadn’t healed properly, so it still hurt now and then. The others arrived, pale and breathless, and joined him.

            “You’re mad, you know that? By all rights we should be dead, cooked to a cinder.” Jasper was smiling, but that haunted look was there again. Jasper never cared about danger, or pain, or even the risk of death. He took it all as a challenge. Fire, however, was his greatest fear, the one thing that could freeze him in terror. Unlike most terror, which Tris viewed as merely cowardice, he completely understood Jasper’s panic. After all, if anyone had a right to be afraid, it was his friend.

            Still, it did neither of them any good to dwell in the past, that Tris knew from experience. “Who did we lose?”

            “Carter, Neil, a few others. Some of the younglings too.” Tris nodded. It was reasonable to assume that there would be some casualties in any war. But losing Carter was irritating. The boy had been one of the best scouts, able to sense an enemy from miles away. While playing daggers. He’d never lost at that either, even when Tris played him, which was rare and thrilling. Losing Carter meant losing a good diversion, someone with whom to pass the time between raids. Still, his death could not be changed, and so Tris knew he would have to search for another scout when they returned to camp.

            Which meant, of course, that his father would learn of his failure. Undoubtedly there would be some form of cruel, sick punishment awaiting him at the camp. Perhaps this time it would be public, so that all those who feared and hated Tris could be appeased. It really didn’t matter though. They would still die, just as soon as Tris gained his throne. Just as soon as he became king.

            “Let them laugh then,” he mumbled, earning a concerned glance from Jasper. The boy shook his head to dispel his companion’s worry before turning away, his eyes distant, a memory of the past flowing up to block away the smoke and ash around him.

            A broken boy for a broken throne. Fitting, no? But the people will never love you. You will die alone, unloved. Alone. The shaman’s words echoed through his head until Tris shuddered and pushed them away.

            The wind blew the fire away from them, but he could still see and hear it, could still feel a little of that scorching, killing heat. Even this little sensation was enough to unnerve Jasper, who sat hunched in his saddle, twiddling with the feathers threaded through his hair.

            Some of the boys looked back as they rode away. Back toward the winter pastures, back toward safety. Back toward the friends they had left behind, now little more than piles of ash. Back home.

            No, Tris thought, it’s time for us to go home. Time to go back to the war. Time to wash out their guilt with blood. Time to win my throne.

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