This story is by Valorie Clark and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I stare at her. Blue eyes, blue hair, wrinkled skin, thin lips. Everything about her screams defiance, like she will turn her back on someone without hesitation.
I know the stories, of course. Her broad shoulders are testament to years spent wielding her sword. Her scars are the only left overs of the battles she has fought. Rumors have spread that she deliberately leaves one or two people alive, to tell the stories of her attack. She is swift, brutal, unrelenting.
Sometimes those people say her hair is fire, her eyes black pits, her sword possessed by a demon. Legend says that wherever she drags her sword plants will no longer grow. She leaves lines in the ground like the scars on her face. She is supposed to loom feet above everyone else, towering over them in her fury. Some accounts say her people pushed her out of their kingdom because even they feared her. Others say she is the last of the Chalds and is taking revenge for the slaughter of her people. Someone had left only one alive, so she does the same.
Behind her eyes I see the terror of a child hiding behind barrels and watching her whole life burn. She trembles as barbarians pour through the streets, shivers as they stab through a chest and laugh with delight. Tears stream down her face. She holds a hand over her mouth to stifle her sobs. She sees her brother cut down while he shouts her name, she shrinks back ever further into the shadows. She prays that they will leave soon, that they won’t find her.
She is found anyway. They drag her from her hiding spot and somehow she is chosen to the be the one left alive. For years she will wish she was not. For years, she will wish she died that day. She spends an hour being walked around her home, witnessing the destruction. Everyone person she has ever known is dead, blue skin covered in red blood. The conquerers torture her too—rip at her skin and clothes, beat her with rocks and weapons. She holds on; she wishes for death. The memory lurks just there, just behind her eyes every time she kills. It lurks there today, very dark and very much alive.
I know that her first experience lifting a sword was awkward and scary. Today as I watch her pull it from its sheath, it comes fluidly, an extension of her arm. She is calm, she is sure. Killing has become easy, the screams and terror of others only remind her of her own. Where she went after that fateful day is a mystery, how she survived as a child alone in the mountains is a miracle, a terrible one.
People say the gods taught her how to fight, that her vengeance is divinely approved. People whisper about her in fear. Whole communities refuse to say her name in case it conjures her like a spell. Some believe that because she did not die then, she can never die. Maybe, instead, she did die then, but haunts the world, searching for the conquerers who killed her. I know she has searched for so long. I know she will continue to search.
I stare at her. Blue eyes, blue hair, wrinkled skin, thin lips. She stares back at me, then I lift my sword and watch the same sword raise in the water too. I drop it, straight into her face. The water ripples, the reflection breaks, and I can’t see her anymore.