‘Abba!’ she screamed. But he couldn’t hear her. She’d never seen her father look like that: his face all twisted up into an ugly mask; roaring like a monster as he slashed and chopped at the enemy. Blood sprayed, flicked in his face and spattered his chest. She’d never truly noticed how big he was until then. He towered over the enemy.
His next opponent, a man dressed in gleaming metal, struck with his sword. Her father raised his own sword, and Zin recognised it as the battered old one he’d kept from his time raiding the Paleskins, the only steel in their entire clan. The Quarthi always fought and hunted with bone. It was older than she was and no match, rusted and bent. His opponent’s strike snapped it clean in half. It didn’t faze her father. Dropping his now useless blade, he lifted his opponent off his feet like he weighed nothing and threw him to the ground. He raised his boot with a savage growl, about to smash in his face, when a figure reared up behind him.
‘Abba!’ Zin screamed again. And this time he heard. Their eyes locked. His eyes widened as he realised. He turned—too late. The sword struck fast and deep, so deep it tore straight through his abdomen and into his back. Time seemed to stop. She went numb. Her ears rang with the thud of her heartbeat. Then the sword withdrew. Blood spurted. Her father coughed, hands filling with red as he clutched himself.
His killer looked up. He was dressed in metal too. He even wore a metal casing on his head. It bore the sculpture of an eagle, its wings outspread across his brow, and beneath were two blue, glittering eyes.
Zin turned to run, only to freeze in her tracks. The forest was gone. In its place was an open swathe of broken stumps and ditches. The sky was brown with dust. Then she saw the bodies. So many of them. Her people and Paleskins alike. Men, women and children. It was almost as though the whole world was dying. The crows were already feasting.
Zin opened her eyes, heart hammering, sweat trickling between her breasts. Slowly, she sat up. It was still dark, the sun far from rising yet. After checking that her family was fast asleep, she stood. Quietly she pulled on her boots, then grabbed up her belt of knives and water skin. After strapping them on, she slung on her quiver, then picked up her bow and spear.
For a moment she stared into the darkness of the trees ahead. Was she really going to do this? Her heart beat harder. She looked down at her sleeping family. Grit had Quip crushed against his chest. Quess’s arms were tight around their mother’s neck, her face buried between her breasts. Xala was alone now, her arm stretched out over a body that was no longer there, her dark hair draped over her face. Zin’s throat constricted. Forget all the petty fights and annoyances. Forget the fact that she still had to share a bed with a sister who liked to kick in her sleep and another who took up too much space. That she had to live with a brother she was expected to help change and feed and who woke her up at night, and a second who liked to argue and thought he knew everything.
None of it mattered anymore.
Tears swelled in her eyes, but she pushed them away.
She was a warrior and warriors didn’t cry.
Swift and silent, she raced after her father.