Tattered Sails

In the midst of a war-strewn country, a tiny village is all that remains of the pocket of peace that is slowly disappearing. The lives of the people inhabiting this village are almost untouched by the violence surrounding them, until... they attack!
Now Ash is returning to her home, uncertain and scared of what will await her...

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1. Terror

I stood at the stern of the ship as we rounded the headland, not yet ready to face the sight in front of us. Instead I faced the open ocean, the distant shore of the land we had left behind immersed in mist, swirling and changing. The mist distorted everything, making the most familiar setting seem like a strange place, figures waiting in the shadows, waiting for unsuspecting strangers to fall into their grasp. The ocean was still, a mirror reflecting the bright sunlight, glinting in my eyes. The rays did nothing to dissipate the mist, only focusing the light into the eyes of those on board the vessel. I stared out across the water, watching as a cormorant landed on the surface, breaking the illusion of stillness. Fascinated, I watched as it dove under the water, only to reappear a second layer, triumphant. With one quick gulp the fish disappeared. One more sea bird satisfied. I felt myself fall under the spell of the sea. I always felt like this when upon the water. It was so tranquil, so calm. However, I had lived most of my life on water and knew only too well how quickly that could change. Storms, whirlpools, tsunamis, I had seen my fair share of. When you had grow up on water, learnt to sail and row almost as soon as walking, you will encounter rough weather as a certainty. I never felt more alive than when surrounded by water; in it, on it, by it - I loved it.

Many boats, down in the harbour. Hordes of soldiers, flashes of scarlet catching the last rays of the golden sunset, pounced on the village. They had no hope of escaping - the sheer force of the surprise attack left them unprepared and defenceless. The smirk on the face of the leader as he lit a torch, the flames jumping like devils dancers. That malicious smirk, that brought out the cold, calculating eyes as he made eye contact with the helpless people watching him fearfully . His arm raised ever so slowly, poised, a tiger playing with its prey, before throwing the burning branch onto the nearest wooden house. The flames leapt high into the sky. That's when the screaming started...

My thoughts grew sad, my expression guarded, as I remembered the reason why I was here now. Back again after so many weeks away. I had been told of what had happened but knew nothing of the scale or ferocity of the attack. And now here I was, to pick up the remnants of my tattered life. I needed to find out the truth. That's why I was here. The ship was not huge, discreet enough to go unnoticed by the Imperial Guards when we left the Port of Azula only a couple of hours ago, but big enough to hold out against the weather. We had had to resort to the oars when the wind died out in the Straits, but the passage was actually very easy. I had been willing the journey not to end, fearful of what awaited me at the end.

Fire, burning crimson, lit the darkening skies as the sun sunk beyond the hills surrounding the village. The flames stood out against the shadows forming as the light blew out. Screams rang out across the water as mothers hurried their children to supposed safety while fathers and sons fought side by side against the intruders. Swirling colours gave way to red mist, as the body count rose. The stench of death and fear filled the nostrils of the enemy. It brought on a frenzy, a bloodbath, a massacre. The smell of the pitiful resistance of these peasants was exquisite, and the soldiers leapt after it like blood hounds on a trail.

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