Ishma can barely believe she has made it home as she races through the empty corridors heading for her parents’ bedroom. She has checked everywhere else and thus far come up empty handed. Though what she has seen has made her stomach turn. There were more mounds of bodies on her way here. Many of them either on fire or little more than smouldering remains. It makes her question when this slaughter began. She had believed it had started with the attack at the market, but after seeing the ashen remains of civilians she isn’t so sure. The streets are red with spilled blood and she has not yet seen a single one of the armoured figures lying dead. She doesn’t know if that means that none have been killed or whether their bodies have simply been reclaimed. Perhaps they too have been added to the mounds of the burnt dead, she thinks, but she has no way of knowing. Unlike the smell given off by the burning of the bodies which made her physically sick several times on her sprint back to where she is now. And none of that includes the bodies she has seen littering her home. Some of the faces she recognises. Many others she does not. But she didn’t check any of them. It was clear that they were all beyond saving with their throats slit or eyes gouged out.
Ishma dreads to think what she might find in her parents room, but she feels she has to know. And what if there is no sign of them here? The voice in her head asks. She doesn’t know. Maybe that means they’re alive. If there are no bodies then there is hope, she thinks without wishing to contemplate that they too may have been burned.
Ishma carefully treads down the corridor toward her parents room. Blood is smeared across the walls. Ishma doesn’t know whose blood but her mind has a few ideas. She refuses to entertain any of them as she empties her head and tells herself not to think. However, all she gets in response are the images of the dead, burning and burnt corpses killed without mercy or remorse. And they make her wonder who would commit such disgusting acts against civilians. She has heard no murmurs of impending war or squabbles with neighbouring kingdoms. In fact, she knows that Skywall refuses to get involved in the affairs of those beyond its borders. Is that why we’ve been attacked? Ishma asks herself as she grows ever closer to the doorway to her parents’ room. She can hear nothing, no words, no screams and no sounds of movement. Two out of the three bring her relief, but the last doesn’t. The last instead worries her as she wonders if she is too late.
But if these figures are from neighbouring kingdoms then why has she seen no flag or diversity in appearance? She hasn’t got the answers, but maybe her mother and father will, she thinks as she reaches the doorway beyond which lies her parents’ room. The door is open, not fully, but enough for anyone to pass through with ease.
However, at first Ishma feels unable to do anything except press her back against the wall. She ignores the blood smears on the stone at her back even as it soaks into the fur of her dress. Her heart thunders loudly in her chest as she fights to keep her breathing under control and silent. She has no idea if she is alone, but has to admit that she can’t hear anyone present as she summons her courage and then finally steps into the partially open doorway.
Her first view of the room reveals nothing as appears as it would normally with its highly polished wooden furniture and colourful tapestries and rugs that cover sections of the otherwise cold stone walls and floor. But as Ishma edges further into the room the scene changes, but at no point does she touch the door and dare to push it open wider. Instead she simply stares at the wildly strewn clothes, cloths and several items of furniture that have been turned over. This is all in addition to the small patches of blood, dark and drying, that are dotted about the floor. It is clear that there has been a fight here, but there isn’t enough blood for the wound or wounds to have been fatal. Ishma takes some solace in that as she hears a sudden noise from further down the corridor.
The sudden sound had made her jump quite literally out of her skin when she’d heard it and she is convinced that it came from her father’s study at the end of the corridor. She doesn’t move however. She can’t bring herself to. So instead, Ishma simply gazes at the section of her parents’ bedroom wall through which the study ultimately lays. There are a few rooms between where she is stood and there, but she doubts the sound came from any of those rooms as it didn’t sound as close as it should if that were the case.
It takes her what feels like minutes before she feels she has summoned the courage to investigate whatever the source of the sound, but once Ishma has she creeps down the corridor. As she passes the rooms between her parent’s bedroom, which she had been in, and her ultimate goal of her father’s study, she takes a cursory look to ensure no one is about to leap out at her as part of some kind of ambush. She doesn’t have a clue why such a thought has entered her head, but it did and so she acted upon it.
However, as she draws closer to the study door she suddenly hears voices. One of them is that of her father. He is weeping, but he isn’t begging for his life. Ishma doesn’t understand what’s happening, until she peers through the gap in the door that is. She can’t risk venturing inside, though she would like to.
And then Ishma catches sight of her mother lying dead on the floor. Ishma’s heart sinks as her father looks up at a figure clad in black who stands over him. He is without his helmet and Ishma can as a result see his long black braided beard and shaved head. He is clutching a sword in one hand and has a sneer of superiority etched across his face. He towers over her father who is on the floor holding his wife in his arms as the armoured man’s hazel eyes stare unblinking at him. His body is muscular and barely contained by the black armour that he wears.
“Why?” Ishma’s father roars his question. But he gets no answer as the bearded man slashes the point of his sword across her father’s throat. He gurgles once as his eyes go wide in shock. He clearly hadn’t been expecting the attack from the armoured helmetless man.
Blood sprays from the wound while the armoured man continues to smile. He has no remorse for the life he has just taken but he heard Ishma scream.
At first Ishma doesn’t even realise that she has screamed. When she does she knows that she has to run. But the helmetless figure makes no attempt to chase her down. He simply laughs. Does he know what I am to the man he has just killed? Ishma doesn’t know. In fact, all she does know is that her parents are dead and that that man, that remorseless monster, is the culprit. It makes her blood boil, but she can’t do anything about it she knows as she races down the corridor. She has no idea where she is heading; just that she has to get away from here. She had hoped that her home would be safe, but she’d been wrong. She doesn’t know if it was stupid or not but as she rounds a corner she is met by a large group of helmeted figures. She’s trapped. There is no other way out. Her heart instantly leaps up and into her mouth. It dawns on her that this is the first time since this nightmare began that she doesn’t know what to do.
Ishma tries to turn and run back the ways she’s come but she manages to cover only four steps before two pairs of hands clamp themselves on her arms and shoulders. They, like those that pursued her before, speak in a tongue she doesn’t understand. They quickly slam her painfully to the solid grey stone floor that she has known her entire life and had until this point never thought it would ever serve as a weapon against her.
Ishma cries in pain because of the impact against the unrelenting stone as stars fill her vision. She suddenly feels sick. It isn’t the same type of sick she felt when she’d seen or smelled the horrors of the fates that other members of Skywall met. No this is something else, she realises as she tries to lift her head. However, it is quickly and ruthlessly shoved back to the stone and held there moments before she feels weight pressed against her back.
“Let me go!” Ishma demands angrily.
But the only response she gets is a simple twisting of her arm. Ishma screams in response while the figures chuckle in delight at her discomfort as words she doesn’t understand are exchanged. She wishes she understood what is being said, but the sounds are unlike anything she has ever heard and her young brain cannot fathom them out. Not that it matters because as soon as the exchange of words ends a hard blow is delivered to the side of Ishma’s head. The world goes black for her as she is knocked unconscious never having grasped that the man that she saw kill her father ordered for her to be taken to the mines to work like all the other non-adults of Skywall.
The soldiers had debated whether to argue with the man that gave the order but had decided better of it. They don’t wish to join the adults of Skywall, who have been killed and are in the process of having their bodies reduced to blackened ash. You see they serve no purpose for the needs of the War-King. He needs young bodies to work in the mine that will be opened in Skywall, which is the newest addition to his vast empire.
In fact, little now stands between the War-King and total domination of the continent. Skywall was final kingdom that needed to be conquered. Now the War-King and his army will be able to push up through the narrow stretch of land that links the southern kingdoms to the northern territories which once conquered will see him having reached his ultimate goal of total domination.