Once, a long, long time ago, all people had four legs and two heads. And then the gods threw down thunderbolts, and split everyone into two. Each half then had two legs and one head. But the separation left both sides with a desperate yearning to be reunited. Because they each shared the same soul. And ever since then, all people spend their lives searching for the other half of their soul. - Gabrielle.
"What is this godforsaken place?" the young squire grumbled, stumbling down the narrow, rocky path.
"Do you think it wise to use the Lord's name in vain on a pilgrimage?" an older squire walking in front of him loudly retorted, "You insolent little sop." he added in a mumble under his breath.
The thin and slightly worn line of travelers warily snaked its way down out of the hills. The surroundings were uninviting, rocky with sparse brush. The horses and carts kicked up dust all around them and the sun beat down on them relentlessly. It was nothing like the desert oases described in the stories they heard. They all quietly prayed to finally reach their destination safely.
A sudden growing rumbling of hooves coming from over one of the hills told them that this time their prayers would remain unanswered. The group of pilgrims stopped their caravan and turned to watch the ominous, thundering dust cloud approach. A group of marauders swept down the hills, yelling and swinging their swords that flashed in the hot sun. To the exhausted and foreign pilgrims they looked like mad demons who came straight down from the dark storm clouds gathering and swiftly advancing on the horizon. They had heard the stories of marauders attacking, robbing travelers of everything and murdering everyone if they so choose.
These pilgrims ignorantly traveled without any real escort, but it didn't matter to Karas for whom the spoils were more important then the honor of the fight. As the marauders closed in, the pilgrim women huddled into a circle as far from the attackers as they could while the armed men readied themselves. At first, the bandits simply circled the group, whooping and brandishing their swords, knowing very well that the fact the travelers had weapons didn't mean they knew how to use them.
"Well, let's get the heathens!" the young, grumbling squire foolishly cried, drawing his sword and letting desert hell break loose.
To Eden it didn't matter anymore. More fighting, more killing; it was all just more waste. She didn't rush in like the rest of the band with a charge of vicious energy. Instead, she dismounted her horse and walked up towards all the mayhem. One of the women in the party, dressed in a green dress with a bag slung across her chest, noticed Eden on the horizon, a different and darker marauder from the rest of the band and she was strangely awestruck for the figure was almost an evil sight to behold.
The heat rose from the ground and the dark bandit came forth like a nightmarish mirage being molded into a reality. The garments were all black from the boots to the turban, the loose material flapping in the desert breeze and making the marauder look even more demonic. Black, leather scaled armor was all the armor worn and from a thick, black belt hung a broadsword. The silver hilt was the only color other than black, except for the eyes of the marauder that watched with a gaze that seemed to pierce anything it touched. The angry fluttering of the black material covering the rest of the face only made the gaze more bone chilling.
The woman noticed the black bandit approaching with such calm that it was beyond simple determination; she was approaching with the emptiness of lack of purpose and the woman could almost feel her hollowness, it was so vast and loud. The woman in green looked on in startled fascination as Eden slowly unsheathed her sword in a manner that brought a chill up the spine. She walked almost straight into the middle of the battle without the slightest disturbance. Suddenly, the young squire who had started the whole frenzy jumped in front of the black bandit, pointing his sword at her menacingly. She barely acknowledged his existence. He continued to swing his sword around, trying to provoke the black marauder into a fight.
"Come on, heathen. Taste my Frankish sword." he taunted.
"Really?" Eden muttered and raised one eyebrow, sighing loudly.
She took her sword and struck it into the sand. The young squire knotted his brows in surprised confusion and looked at the black bandit with uncertainty. An evil look slid across her face and she outstretched her hand in front of her and then beckoned him to come at her. Yet he stood in place, unable to read the bandit's intentions.
"Come on now, you're not afraid of a...woman, now are you?" she sneered with an evil calm.
His eyes grew wide and then he grit his teeth and charged at her, yelling wildly. She showed no emotion, there was no crack in her cold and calm demeanor as she watched him hurl forward and at the last moment, she took a step sideways and elbowed him in the temple so hard that he flew to the side, dropping his sword. He landed on the ground with a large, heavy thud and before he could gather his wits, her boot was on his throat and his sword was pointed in his face.
"Well, that was...challenging." she mocked and the squire began to struggle in anger.
"Ah, ah, ah," she said, waving one finger in disapproval and putting more force on his neck, "I wouldn't do that if I were you. But then again, fortunately I'm not you." she teased.
In a quick motion, she pulled out her dagger with her free hand, lifted her boot off the man's neck and knelt next to him, putting the dagger at the side of his neck and the sword under his chin.
"Now tell me, oh brave and gallant warrior, what should I do with you, hm?" she hissed into his face. "Kill you now or let you go and kill you later?"
The squire's foolish bravado disappeared when he felt the blade tips on his skin. He began to tremble, looking into the steely gaze of the midnight phantom.
"You, you're the Black Watcher, aren't you? Please, please don't kill me." he begged.
"Oh, the pleading type, my favorite." she said, rolling her eyes.
She glanced at the others and saw that the rest of the fighting travelers were already either on the run or lying dead or wounded. She suddenly felt tired and indescribably irritated.
"If you do everything else the same way you fight, then I'm surprised you're still alive you boring, idiotic bastard. Now, I'm going to tell you what to do you little horse's ass and you're going to listen, alright?"
The squire nodded, his eyes wide with fear.
"Good, you're not as stupid as you look. See, I'm having a particularly...interesting mood today so I'm going to let you go and you're going to get up and run for your life as fast as your pathetic little legs can take you, understand?" she stated and pushed his sword against his chin a little harder for emphasis.
He nodded fiercely. She smiled coldly, took the weapons away, and got up. She tossed his sword back at him and then turned away. As she was sheathing her dagger, the squire scurried back up. He breathed heavily and the fear in his eyes turned into wild anger and with sword in hand, he charged her from the back.
"No!" the woman traveler, who had been observing all this from a distance, instinctively cried.
The black bandit had already sensed the presence of the charging squire. She calmly pulled her sword out of the sand and neatly turned around, letting him impale himself on her blade.
"Seems you're much stupider than you look, canis." the black marauder said to the dying squire, pulling her sword out of him sharply and letting him roughly drop dead on the sand.
She then turned her gaze to the direction of the cry and caught the eyes of the woman watching her from afar. The woman in green gasped, but the marauder didn't move or speak. That small moment which was inconsequential to everyone else left an imprint on the minds of the two women when their eyes locked. Despite the woman's fear and the bandit's disregard, something passed between them on the thread of that gaze though so minute that it was barely noticeable. Eden wondered why she had been warned and so did the woman in green. And after that fragile moment passed, Eden simply turned away.
The black bandit calmly walked back to her horse and when she reached it, took out a cloth from the saddlebag and wiped her blade before sheathing it. She was wary, she simply wanted to reach Antioch. She wished for this little raid to end quickly so that they could be on their way and she lightly caressed the dagger beneath her cloak. She has a destiny to meet. The heat, the fighting, the world made her immensely tired and she leaned on the side of her saddle with one hand and pulled away the fabric mask off her face with the other as if she had trouble breathing. The staring woman in green gasped inwardly when she finally saw that the terrifying black marauder was a woman.
When all the men had already fallen or ran blindly across the desert, Karas shifted his attention to the group of women who had herded themselves next to the only cart which hadn't overturned.
"Well, look at what we have here." he sneered.
He rode up to the woman in green who looked to be the most sophisticated of the group. She tore her gaze from Eden and turned it to Karas as he reached out to touch her face. She slapped his hand away.
"Oh, feisty, I like that." he simply replied, his sneer growing wider with his men now circling the women and jeering.
"Stay back, infidel." the woman warned in a quiet, but steady voice and suddenly brandished a dagger.
Eden took notice as did everyone else. It was a mistake to pull a blade on the raiders; it was an even bigger mistake to use the word "infidel" so readily for it was not a word taken lightly in these parts.
"Wench!" Karas yelled and backhanded her with his mailed fist so hard that she fell over onto her back.
The woman yelped, hit the sand, but almost as soon as she hit the ground, she groaned and got right back up again, standing defiantly against Karas, dagger still in hand, oblivious to the cut and quickly growing welt on her cheek.
"Oh, you like it hard? That I can deliver." he sneered and dismounted his horse. He walked up to the woman in about three big steps. She raised the dagger at him with a stance that showed both her defiance and lack of experience in fighting. With another backhand he knocked the weapon from her hand and with a punch to the face she flew to the ground with a loud groan. She spit out blood from her cut lip.
"You like that? I have more where that came from, latin whore." he spat out and started stomping towards the fallen woman who was trying to stand back up again.
Watching all this and reacting unconsciously, Eden approached quickly and suddenly stood between Karas and the woman, which she knew was a dangerous position to be.
"Out of my way!" he yelled and tried to push Eden away yet she caught his hand and stopped him.
"Karas, it's just some merchant's daughter. The men that ran across the hills, they were squires, one of them will have more on them than all these maids put together. Not to mention the wealth they carried." she explained, motioning her head to the trunks in the carts.
She knew that Karas was all about profit, looting, and pillaging and she watched him trying to decide whether to teach the annoying woman a lesson or simply gather everything up and visit the tavern in town earlier and in a better mood.
"They will fight to the death-" the woman in green began to cry when Eden interrupted.
"Shut up before I cut out your tongue and make you swallow it!" she shouted straight in her face with a tone and gaze that pushed the woman back down onto the ground. Karas grinned at the sight.
"You go after them, they haven't gotten very far. I'll... take special care of this annoying little harlot." Eden said quietly, turning back to Karas and he grinned wider.
"You heard her, let's go boys, we've got cowardly squire to catch!" he yelled.
"Zauba'a! Zauba'a!" the men cheered at Eden, raising their swords in the air and she lightly gave a flick of her hand above her head in acknowledgment.
The marauders yelped and shouted, spurring their horses and forming into a tighter group. Karas got on his horse and galloped off, the rest of the raiders following close behind him and leaving behind a flurry of stones, twigs, and dust. The moment the marauders rode away far enough, the rest of the women started to either run in no particular direction with a squeal or break down and cry. Eden threw them a cold look of sarcastic pity, rolled her eyes, and mounted her horse and started to ride away.
"Wait! Wait!" the woman in green yelled, running after her until Eden stopped.
Eden spun around.
"What is it?" she asked impatiently.
"What about me?"
"What about you?"
"Are you just going to leave me here? Out in the desert with no horse and no escort?"
"Well, yes." she retorted and turned the horse back towards her destination.
"You can't do that! Please, don't leave me here!" the woman screamed, falling to her knees.
Eden turned around again a second time.
"Look, I have no quarrel with you. But I have no use for you either."
"I can give you money for your troubles. Jewels, trinkets, whatever you want." the woman offered energetically.
Eden flashed a short, sarcastic grin.
"Look your majesty, just because I ride with those men doesn't mean that I think like they do."
"If you don't then why do you keep their company?"
The honest yet shrewd reply escaped the woman's lips before she could check herself and Eden was annoyed.
"Maybe your sharp tongue will help you out of your predicament." she shot out and started to turn her horse around again.
"No, please!" the woman cried with exasperation and raised her hands in the air in a show of peace, "Please. Please help me."
Eden glared at her hard. She just wanted to go, to walk the rest of her path, to follow the rope to the end. She finally looked into the woman's eyes for longer than just a moment and couldn't help but notice their distinct green. Like an oasis in the middle of this godforsaken dirt.
"What exactly do you want from me?" Eden asked, somehow not being able to tear herself from that green gaze.
The woman looked at the black raider. She really was a rather terrifying sight to behold. Dressed like death, she rode a horse that was even darker, a shining black like a crystal night sky. All that could be seen of the woman was her face and all attention was automatically drawn to two piercing, dark blue eyes that looked like they could penetrate a person's being to later tear its heart out alive. Yet the woman could swear that she saw some faint and distant glimmer of something else in the far corners of those eyes, something she could not at all describe, but something she somehow put her trust in despite everything.
"Just take me to the nearest town. That's all I'm asking. I won't be a further bother. Please."
Eden sighed deeply. Then the horse suddenly interrupted the conversation by slowly trotting up to the woman, something he never did and Eden knotted her brows and pulled back on his reins. She considered his actions for a short moment and then turned back to the woman.
"As long as you don't pull your dagger on me."
"As long as you don't call me a harlot and threaten to cut out my tongue." the woman returned, but in a sudden, slightly playful tone and Eden didn't know whether to slap the woman like Karas did or simply laugh and turn away.
"I can't decide," she began, leaning down on the pommel of her saddle, "whether you are incredibly brave or incredibly foolish."
"Probably more of the latter." the woman replied in the same tone and turning her head to one side.
Eden leaned back in her saddle and huffed, lightly amazed by almost everything in their conversation and especially by the fact that the woman didn't seem to be terrified of her. After some deliberation and the horse's impatient plodding about, she thrust out her hand and the woman got to her feet, grabbed her arm, and not without some trouble, hoisted herself onto the saddle in back of Eden.
"What about your...comrades?" the women in green asked after she had adjusted herself in the saddle as much as she could.
"Comrades?" Eden echoed sarcastically, raising one eyebrow, "Oh, they'll be just fine without me."
Eden took the reins, nudged the horse around, and they started down the road to Antioch.