Allyria woke up to the sound of muffled whispers in the distance.
She pulled herself into a seated position and closed her eyes, fighting off nausea. Trying, even through the pain, to remember how she could have arrived at this place where nothing seemed familiar.
"Hello?" she cried out.
No one answered.
Allyria could barely see anything from the distance. The gloom was blinding and only the moon served as her source of light, not enough to see what's out there as the woods were as dark as a shut closet.
Below her, the swollen river waters burbled and gushed against the pilings of rocks, fighting to escape towards whatever waited at the end of the mouth. Shivers went through her spine when she realized she was freezing and damp. The night was crisp and her sodden dress didn't help at all.
Allyria took the hem of her dress into her hands. It looked like it has been ripped by a thousand wolves; dirt stains all over. Even her body was covered with earth.
She smelled like rotten eggs bathed in the sun, and the stench of blood made her want to vomit. If someone would see her, they would never recognize who she was.
'Swamp monster', that is what they would call her.
She whirled her head around to find anything that might make her remember. But there was nothing—only the trees branching out against each other, like comrades meeting to say their hello's.
She twitched when she felt a throbbing pain from the back of her head. She placed a hand over it and almost screamed from the pain, shutting her eyes. The blood was dry, but the wound was still there.
'What just happened?'
And suddenly, the memory flashed through her mind.
She remembered they were running, and they escaped and there was a cliff and she fell.
She remembered how it hurt, the feeling of falling endlessly and how her body was still aching after how many days or hours of being unconscious.
It dawned on her, everything that happened for the past week.
Allyria squeezed her eyes shut, clenched her teeth, and placed a hand on the river rocks, forcing herself to stand as she was still trying to regain her balance. The pain was excruciating. Every part of her body was burning like the only reason it hadn't collapsed was because she said so.
She took her first step, wobbly as she went on to move the other. It took her minutes or more to reach to the edge of the river bank, her breathing hitched with every forceful step she took.
The trees welcomed her with arms wide open, compelling to venture into a place she's never set a foot on. She held onto it for support, waiting until the fatigue would wear off—even those few steps took a lot of her energy.
Steadily, she went into the unknown, wandering the forest and the voices as her guide. Aside from that, the woods were ominously quiet.
Her feet tread, bit by bit, hearing the cracking twigs and leaves underfoot. She drew in a long breath as she halted. A few seconds. Clutching her fists tightly, she moved forward.
It took her minutes before a hint of light told her she was already close. Her spirits brightened. Filled with hope, her pace became faster, ignoring the pain.
'Maybe they could help.'
Allyria was a few meters away from the site when a man passed by. Immediately, she huddled behind the nearest tree before he could notice.
Beads of sweat fell from her forehead, her heart pounding. She couldn't erase the thoughts of everything that happened. As much as she wanted to call for help, how sure was she that she could trust these people?
Terror took over her face. She didn't want to make the same mistake again so she turned around and sneaked a look towards the area.
In the center, she saw a bonfire surrounded by what seemed to be a throng of people swathed in brown worn out military attires. A medallion hung on each of their chest pockets, bearing a winged falcon like it's the people's insignia.
They were brawny and gigantic, almost seven feet tall. But there were also some who weren't. Still, they looked built and well-trained for fighting. And crushing people as small as her.
She looked around. Small wooden cottages were everywhere and people were too busy enough with their own errands to be disrupted. There were women—maybe wives of these soldiers—and children. It seemed like they had built a community obscure from the eyes of the palace.
Allyria scanned the vast terrain and focused her eyes a little further away from the bonfire and the cottages.
There she noticed blades of all sizes and arrows stacked in horse-drawn carriages. All the weapons, some she's seen in the castle and others, so outlandish that she didn't even know the names.
A youthful man marched and scanned the surroundings; he looked like he was from his twenties, though she couldn't clearly see him since his back was facing her.
But unlike the others, she could say that this guy wasn't one of them. He seemed normal, muscular but not too towering, authoritative but not too barbaric.
He marched around, giving orders to the people he passed by. It reminded her of her father when he was around the infantry.
Allyria squinted her eyes just enough to make out what they're doing. But one thing that caught her attention was the blue banner embellished with a falcon on the center like the one adorned on their suits.
She was paralyzed to the spot, the menacing aura holding her in a tightening grip. How could this be possible?
Her body shuddered as she was finally aware of the foreignness of the people. She tried to keep composed but was quickly seized by a panic that screamed the need to run away from there.
So she ran.