When morning had reached it's peak Arianna thanked Mags and went to the training grounds. This was a clearing within the trees where they practiced all manner of tasks, such as sword fighting, knife throwing, archery and axe wielding to name a few. The rocky terrain within the forest was great for fitness. Running up and down the hills and darting in and out of the trees had done wonders for Arianna's stamina.
Also, the diverse wildlife meant that you could get in regular hunting practice too. They started the younglings on squirrels; setting traps or shooting them down. Then had them progress up to the six foot tall deer that stalked the darkness within the forests. No one Arianna knew had ever caught one.
Except the tiger lord. He'd captured one with his bare hands. Although he hadn't actually killed it in the end, just brought it round for the village to marvel at.
Arianna even got to sit on it's back when everyone else had been told to go home. The tiger lord had also let her join him when he led the beautiful deer back into the wild. Arianna thought it would bolt the second the tiger lord untied the rope around its neck; but instead it stood there for a few moments, taking both of them in. Though it couldn't speak Arianna felt like the deer had judged them that day, and whilst Arianna knew her soul was dark and twisted, she hoped more than anything that the deer had seen differently.
When she arrived at the training ground, it was empty.
Strange, she thought.
There was no one about practicing as there often was even when the rest of the team were out on a job. She searched around and found it to be totally vacant.
"Where is everyone?" She asked out loud.
She did one last survey of the training area before deciding to widen the search to see if they had changed up the routine and just hadn't managed to tell her.
But walking back through the main market place and making enquiries as to when the team were last seen only brought up sightings from last night. And there was no way they would still be asleep on the verge of midday. Everyone knew that if you slept in past the lover suns kissing the sky with light then you would get a good walloping from the training Master Serg.
His wallopings involved all kinds of unorthodox utensils and you could bet you wouldn't be sitting comfortably for at least a month after it. Arianna had received a serious beating on her left bottom once with a spoon. It was all master Serg had to hand. The beating had left a permanent grey mark on the cheek, which stung every so often. Serg was expertly skilled in delivering hits that kept hurting long after the initial act. Another lesson for the trainees.
After an hour of looking, Arianna grew frustrated. And worried. No one else seemed concerned that the whole of their protective force was absent. But then again, folk outside the council rarely concerned themselves with their tasks. All they knew was that the hunters went out to hunt and that successful trips looked like gold coins, other precious metals and stones, exotic spices, pickled meats and breads that were prepared with more care than here. As well as any tools they needed, like new knives. And huntings had begun to occur more regularly now with the ever-expanding population, that matched the southern kings conquest patterns unsurprisingly, that they really wouldn't notice them gone.
But Arianna did and she was panicking.
So she decided to head back to Mags and ask her if the Tiger Lord knew anything about it.
Except before she got to mags she was confronted by a huge crowd of people. They were all huddled together, trying to peer onwards at something. Arianna became curious.
There was space enough at the back of the crowd to slip easily though. People were murmuring many things that often contradicted themselves. Blood. Show. Murder. Mystery.
This made her move more swiftly to get closer to where the source of the information was, but the crowd was becoming denser. It required several excuse me's and the odd elbow at times.
Goddess above the people in the crowd stank. They could definitely have benefitted from a few more baths that was for sure! Together they were a big heaving body of sweat and unpleasant odour. The stench was worse the more packed in she was, but she didn't stop moving forwards.
At one point the man next to her wouldn't budge. So she stepped hard on the tips of his toes. He yelped in pain, cursing her. She played the innocent, clumsy girl, but who was she kidding? Most knew who she was even if they didn't know the extent of her abilities with a sword.
The Tiger Lord’s viper.
Slithering around the camp, able to sit in the shadows for as long as needed to strike her opponents with surprise. She acted as though she didn't care about the name they whispered in dark corners, but in truth, she was proud of the association to the Tiger Lord, as well as an appreciation of the danger she was.
And it had its perks too. Like the man now whose foot she had nearly broken. Upon seeing who she was, he instantly backed up and gave her an ample amount of room.
It often paid to be nasty she'd learned.
There was no murmuring when she had almost made it to the front of the crowd. Everyone around her was still, silent. Only the sounds of their heavy breathing made it to her ears. Which made Arianna slightly anxious.
The taller men were looking down at the ground, whilst the shorter men, seeing this, just kept their heads staring ahead. Arianna wanted to ask but something held her back. It only served to make her more keen to get to the front of the crowd to see what all the standing around was for.
Although, when she broke free of the crowd, she wished she hadn't.
Some things, the Tiger Lord had taught her in their early lessons together, could not be unseen. “So before you act,” he had said calmly, “Make sure it will leave an image you can live with.”
Arianna knew, as her eyes widened over the bloodied mess of a body before her, that she would never in a million years forget the sight of the Tiger Lord mutilated on the ground before her.
She didn't give herself the time to process anything else. She went running straight up to him, falling to her knees at some point, ignoring the knocking pain and just crawling the rest of the way there.
"What happened?" she said.
The body was so bloodied she wouldn't have recognised it, save for the crescent moon scar he had running down the length of the left side of his neck. The Tiger Tooth pendant The Lord always wore around his neck was missing, however. Arianna put a hand over her mouth to stop the rise of bile out of her stomach.
"What happened?" she screamed.
It was more a growl than anything, a primitive sound, and she thought of herself as how everyone probably saw her, an animal. Yet she didn't care. All she cared about was understanding what had happened to her beloved Tiger Lord and whose throat she could slit, incision by incision, to get revenge on.
No one answered her.
Goddess above, there was so much blood. On wounds that were just shredded heaps of skin as well as the stuff below the skin. Arianna felt herself want to vomit again, but she swallowed it down.
She heard crying. It was probably the only thing that could have taken her attention away by the hypnotic sight of the Tiger Lord. As she looked over she saw Mags shaking wildly with her grief.
Rage filled her then, awakening a more animalistic beast than the one let out only moments before.
Mags shouldn't have had to see this. When she found out who let her see it, she’d punish them too.
But first, the matter of the murder before her. For she knew, without needing to be told, that this was murder.
"Who did this?" Arianna bellowed even louder.
Men moved in around her. They wanted her out the way. But she wasn't going anywhere. They had spears, used mostly for farming work, and she had years of training and bloodletting behind her. There would be no fight. Yet it they wanted one, in her state, she would gladly give it to them.
As they got closer, she roared her warning for them to get back. But they didn't listen.
“I will rip every single one of you apart,” she declared.
And as the first man reached her, prodding her with the tip of his spear, she let loose the beast.
In one move she had flipped him over using his own spear. Several parts of his back cracked. The second one came to her. She disabled him swiftly and kicked him so hard in the stomach that he went flying over and knocked down three other men. More advanced. She punched, thrashed and bit as many of them as she could, all the while screaming out for someone to tell her what the hell happened for the Tiger Lord to end up dead.
But then there were too-strong hands around her waist, picking her up and dragging her away from the scene. She tried to wriggle out of the hold as hard as she could but to no avail. The person had a vice-like grip.
She shouted profanities and threats and promises for more beatings if they didn't put her down. But they kept dragging her far away from the scene, the crowded market place become a speck in her tear-filled vision. Eventually entering into a barn, where they chucked her down onto the hay.
She wasn't done harming people and rounded on her attacker ready to make good on her promises, but they were one step ahead of her and had her pinned to the wall with a pitch fork.
She was stuck.
Her rage was useless if she couldn’t get herself unstuck.
With that, she let the rage fizzle out of her and became limp with overwhelming grief.