Their campfire pales in comparison to the blaze that obliterated the Assassins Keep but it still manages to turn my blood to ice. I'll never be able to see a flame without remembering that night and the helplessness and desperation that had consumed me.
The fire casts shadows across their faces, giving them a sharp and dangerous look.
Just wait until they see my face. I can almost hear their screams ringing out into the night as they see who has come for them.
Before, the very idea of murdering the twenty people below would have disgusted me. I'd have done it if I had been assigned to, but it would have taken every ounce of will inside of me to do so.
But that was then. That was back when my sister was alive. Back when I had someone to hold me back and not let the violence take over.
The gathered people below have no idea that I am seated on a branch only a few meters above them; a bow and quiver of arrows strapped to my back and a collection of daggers that would have made Aeris himself do a double take. They're drinking and joking with one another, unaware that they are minutes away from taking their last breaths, laughing their last laughs.
How dare they laugh? How dare they return to their lives as though they have done nothing wrong? How dare they remain breathing when due to their actions Cassie is nothing more than a pile of ash?
It is that thought that sends my rage tearing out of me like an animal; prompting me to drop from the branch and land cat-like beside a man underneath.
The group falls silent and my breath catches in my throat in anticipation, waiting for the moment when one of them recognizes my face and realizes just how damned they are.
The word is a murmur and I look up to meet the horrified eyes of a man standing directly beside the fire. His fingertips have barely brushed the hilt of his sword before one of my daggers buries itself in his throat.
His companions are motionless, watching as the man splutters and crumples, writhing in agony before becoming still. His blood seeps out onto the forest floor and I watch in detached fascination.
A feral grin stretches across my face as the men rush to grab their weapons. I've never faced this many enemies before; at least, never alone. I've always had Cassie by my side.
I take a deep breath; I am going to enjoy this.
The men charge as one, hoping their sheer number will overwhelm me. I allow the first few to get close enough to see the promise of destruction glinting in my eyes before I attack, cutting through two before the first has even hit the ground.
I am one with my weapons, the blades in my hands simply extensions of my arms. A montage of pale throats contrasting with seeping red lines flashes before me as enemy after enemy falls.
A man arcs his sword in the air and I twist out of his way, sweeping his feet out from under him and shoving my knife hilt deep directly into his heart. One attempts to attack from behind while I am pulling my sword from another's chest. I duck and his axe meets the stomach of my previous victim, lodging into their stomach, and while he attempts to remove it, I shove a dagger into his back.
Every one of them attempts to attack me and every single one of them meets their end upon my daggers and sword. My skin is flushed and my clothes soaked from the blood of the fallen. I glance around at the bodies and feel a sick sense of satisfaction, despite the cold feeling of emptiness seeping into my bones.
Their little fire still burns, casting light onto the carnage surrounding it. Some of the fallen still twitch and moan as their life's blood leaves them in a steady trickle but I cannot find it in myself to care. Cassie probably died moaning too.
I hear the sounds of retreating feet and look up to see the remaining three men tearing into the forest, weaving in and out of the trees in their hope to lose me.
"Fools." I whisper to myself as I take off after them, pulling the bow from my back and fitting it with an arrow. Cassie was always the better shooter, but that doesn't mean I'm not skilled.
The arrow shoots straight, cutting a path directly through the trees and burying into the neck of one of the runners. I quicken my pace, running to the left to catch up to the final two. They have cleared the trees and are running up the track, straight out in the open, nothing to obstruct the arrows I am about to let loose.
One of them stumbles and almost falls but at the last second his companion pivots and catches him, making sure he has his footing before continuing his flight.
My own step falters slightly as a memory of myself catching Cassie before she fell flashes across my mind.
The rage begins to leave my head, the fog clearing and the horror of the massacre I have just committed slamming into me. All of those men had been Forsaken, but perhaps not all of them had been involved with the fire that destroyed the Keep and my sister.
Only one man can truly be held accountable for that night. If I kill the man who orchestrated the attack, I will have avenged Cassie. When Ivan has ceased breathing, only then will I be able to start healing.
It's a shame I couldn't have had this epiphany before I murdered those men. The remaining two are still fleeing and a sharp sense of regret washes through me. They'll be heading for the Forsaken's Keep, to warn Ivan that I am coming. I can't allow that.
I fit two arrows to the bow and draw my arm back, pulling far enough that the string goes taunt and strains for release.
The men drop like flies, the arrows embedding straight into their chests.
I turn on my heel, not allowing myself to feel the guilt that yearns to be felt.
Instead I retrieve my weapons from the dead and head back to the city, only one need thrumming through my veins:
The need for retribution.
The need to kill Ivan.