"Rodric! Rodric, I found one! I think she's still alive," called a blond haired man in shining steel armor. His armor reflected the red and orange of the blaze surrounding him, as it licked and devoured the wooden beams and walls of the church. "By the gods," he groaned, lifting a heavy, smoking beam. "Please be alive." Kneeling down to the body of a young woman and touching her throat, he sighed.

Another, taller and older man rushed up behind him. His hair was darker and longer, his face covered in a thick, short beard. "Is she?," he asked, his eyes pleading for good news.

With a nod, the younger man picked her up and held her tightly. "We've got to get her out of here before they come back to make sure the job was done."

Rodric agreed. "We were too late to warn them, but we can at least save one. Let's go!"

The fire behind them reached up toward the night sky, as if wanting desperately to devour the stars themselves. It was an angry and evil blaze that came without warning to the priests and priestesses who lived peacefully in the church. Few knew of the ones who had been targeting the churches all over the land, but now, the last church had been destroyed.

The two knights atop their horses galloped through the dark night, the orange glow growing smaller and smaller behind them, but not less angry that they stole away one of its victims. Rodric rode behind his comrade, who held the priestess tightly, silently praying that she would make it to camp. Her breaths were short and shallow, much of her beautiful white and blue gown had been burned away, exposing flesh that had also been seared. Luckily, it was only her calves that had been burned, and only lightly. The knights had reached the blaze just moments after it had exploded into the furious monster it was when they had escaped.

Finally, just before dawn, the two men could see the glow of their camp just ahead. The younger knight dug his heels into his horse and sped into camp, straight toward the infirmary tent. Two nursemaids rushed out to help him from his horse and were startled by the bundle he held fast onto. "She inhaled a lot of smoke, and has burns and I fear other injuries."

"Don't worry, Sir Declan, she's in our care now," said nursemaid who appeared to be in her mid 30s. She had ebony hair pulled back into a bun; it once was neat but through long hours of sleeplessness and caring for others had become quite disheveled. "Come, bring her into the tent and place her on a bed over here." She guided Declan through the beds, many filled with soldiers sleeping restlessly, bandaged and patched.

Declan gingerly laid the priestess down and took a step back to allow the nursemaids to begin dressing her wounds. His heart was heavy. If this priestess did not live, then the enemy will have won. "Please, help her," he whispered.

"Don't worry, Declan," the head nurse repeated. "You'll have to leave, though, because we need to remove her clothing and check her body for other injuries. I will let you know as soon as we are finished her condition."

With a firm nod, Declan turned on his heel and exited the tent. Rodric stood outside, waiting for him. "We won't know her condition until later."

Rodric nodded thoughtfully. "All we can do then, is wait."

"And pray," Declan said, glancing behind him at the infirmary.

Ylorra had just stepped out of the library, after a long day of studying, when she heard an explosion from somewhere above her. Immediately, she dropped her mug of hot tea to the ground, shattering the porcelain cup, and ducked to her knees, covering her head of blood-red hair. A few of the others she noticed had done just the same. When it seemed safe to stand, she looked around her. It had grown eerily silent.

"What's going on?," she asked, but no words came out. She put her hand to her throat, asing once again. Her voice…something had happened to her voice. Growing concerned, she walked over to one of her peers and touched his shoulder. She gasped, for when her fingertips touched him, he began to melt away. First, his flesh, then his muscles and tendons, exposing his skeleton. Then, that, too melted away, leaving behind a boiling puddle on the stone floor.

Ylorra glanced around frantically. There was another explosion, much louder this time, sending the entire church into a quaking fit. Struggling to stay on her feet, she ran as fast as she could down the halls, looking for help. The priests and priestesses all stood still around her, melting as Ylorra came close. Tears were streaming down her face, confusion and fear taking hold of her.

Then, the fire burst through the ceiling, eating away at the wooden beams and plaster walls like a starved animal. It was a demonic fire, shrieking as it crackled and glowed. Ylorra covered her head and ran through the smoke, but suddenly, was thrown to the floor on her face.

There was a growl from behind her, and when she turned to face it, she saw the face of a monstrous man, leering at her, licking his lips. She screamed, though no noise rose from her mouth. She kicked at him, but he grabbed her ankles and pulled her close against him. His black armor was hot to the touch from the heat of the flames, though he was unaffected by it.

Ylorra struggled fiercely against him, but he was much, much stronger than she was. He clawed at her gown; she could feel the seams tearing. He squeezed her breast, digging his nails into her pale flesh. Gritting her teeth against the pain, she dug her own nails into his eyes. This angered him and he threw her to the ground, his eyes bleeding. Without hesitation, she jumped to her feet and tried to run, but the man had grabbed her long hair and was pulling her back.

The man's lips were moving, but no sound came out. He licked his lips feverishly and flashed a dagger. He tore her left sleeve off and pulled at the cloth on her chest. Ylorra cried and pleaded and fought against him, but to no avail. Suddenly, there was a loud groan and both of them looked up. A heavy wooden beam crashed down, Ylorra felt the entire weight of it on her before she lost all balance and vision. The last thing she felt was the heat kissing at her exposed legs and arms, and the warm stone floor on her back.

The head nursemaid, Celia, dabbed a warm cloth along the priestess' unburned skin, gently washing away the soot and dirt. The priestess' gown had been cut away and she was covered in a cotton blanket, concealing her body from any prying eyes. Celia noticed a strange mark on the young woman's side, just below her ribcage. It was a strange, grotesque mark; it looked like an eye with a slit pupil, surrounded by black veins. It was very large.

Concerned, Celia asked one of the nursemaids to call in Sir Declan. Sir Declan, who was sitting at a bonfire, came without hesitation. When he approached Celia at the priestess' bedside, Celia uncovered just enough of her to show Declan the mark.

"What is that?," he asked, touching it lightly. The priestess jerked as he did, as if in pain.

Celia slapped his hand. "I don't know. But, it concerns me. It looks as if she's been marked."

"Marked? What do you mean?"

"Again, I don't know. It looks very ominous, Declan."

Declan agreed with a quick nod. "I'll inform Rodric of this, he may know something of it. Thank you for reporting this to me, Celia."

Celia shrugged. "Just hurry. Your damsel here, though stable, probably won't wake up for some time, and I fear that mark may have something to do with her state." She heard a rustle of fabric as Declan rushed out of the tent. "He's young and rash," she spoke to the priestess, "but otherwise a good man. You're lucky beyond words he found you."

Rodric frowned at the news Declan had delivered. His thick eyebrows furrowed deeply as he pondered aloud, "It does indeed sound ominous, Declan. We should wait for her to wake up before we come to any conclusions, however. We have to be absolutely certain the attack on her church was done by the same people."

"Of course, Sir," Declan said. "I'm having the nurses keep me up-to-date on the priestess' condition, though Celia is concerned that mark may be attributing to her state."

"Perhaps. But we will still wait.

"Um, Sir Declan?" came a feeble voice.

Declan turned to face a young girl, no older than 15 with straw-blonde, frizzy hair. She wore a bonnet with a blue cross with wings embroidered on it; the nurses' emblem. "What is it?," he asked, feeling a sense of urgency bubble up inside of him.

"Celia asked me to tell you to keep a close eye on the priestess. She had to go away into town and will likely be gone for a few days," the mousy girl squeaked. Her cheeks were bright red as she spoke to Declan.

"Why can't you nurses be trusted to watch over her?"

"Well," she explained, "Celia is worried that the men in the tent may try to sneak a peek at her. She's the only woman in the infirmary, and she's-well, she's beautiful."

Declan huffed, but saw the nurse's point. That priestess was beautiful, and most of the soldiers he knew were perverts. "Alright, I'll guard her. I suppose when she comes to, it'll be best if I'm already there at her side."

The little nurse nodded and scurried away. Declan made his way back to the infirmary tent. A few other nurses were surrounding the priestess' bed, waiting for him. One of them scolded, "Just because you're guarding her, doesn't entitle you to sneak a peek!"

"I would do no such thing!," Declan defended himself. "She's a priestess, and a lady." His cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

"I'm just sayin', is all. And do not leave this bedside! We'll be by to bring you food and water as you need it." She handed Declan a cold, wet cloth. "She has a fever and this is helping to keep it down a bit between medications. Just dab it on her face and neck every now and again."

Declan nodded. He sat on the chair next to the priestess' bed and watched her. He examined her facial features: delicate bone structure; large, round eyes full of thick dark lashes; a small, rounded nose; rounded ears-she was human. She had hair the color of blood, and it was very long; it would have swept her hips if she were standing. She looked to be just a few years younger than him; no older than 23 or 24 years. She had fair skin, and a small bone structure, as well. She was also remarkably light, Declan remembered, and not too tall. She would probably stand as high as his chest.

He grinned. She certainly was stunning in her slumber. Stunning, but not very interesting, once he had grown accustomed to the sight of her. He was growing rather bored all of a sudden, so he glanced around and found a book on a nearby table. The cover had been charred and the edges of some of the pages. He wondered if the priestess had this in a pocket somewhere when she was at the church. Shrugging, he opened it up and began reading.