Chapter Two

Being able to travel freely without need for a Barrier Crystal was as rare as it was reckless. During the day, the roads were safe to take, plenty of people did, often crowding it as they migrated settlement to settlement. She made a couple of friends in passing, traded for some goods to munch on with some others, and carried on with a bounce in her step.

But when the sun dipped down behind the horizon and the night crept in, people took to the nearest sanctuary, where they relied on the barriers to protect them.

Nadira refused to be like that, holed up behind some silly wall of magic, like a rat chased into the wall by a feral cat.

No she wasn't the sort to act like that.

When the darkness came, Nadira stood alone on the only road leading toward the Trading village of Bethelas.

It was there that she'd find General Reeden. From what she wrangled from the guards in the last town, the old man set up his shop there to conduct a thorough investigation. They were searching for those with a power to take back to the Capital. What for, she had no idea, but with talk of war on the horizon, they were probably looking to beef up their military by whatever means necessary.

"Perfect." She rolled her shoulders as she walked the quiet road forward, the moonlight blocking out the stars with its pale brilliance. "Just stay where you are Reeden… and wait for me."

The cat ears on top of her head twitched in excitement. She didn't particularly enjoy battle, but her people were innate hunters and the thought of finally capturing her prey filled her with joy. The General was going to pay when she got ahold of him, and knowing that he was rooted in one place far away from his homeland… well, it made for an easy target.

All she had to do was get there without the Nightmares ripping her to shreds.

"They sure have been trying lately." She said aloud, walking slowly along the long, deserted road. On either side of her was nothing but gently sloping hills and the occasional overgrown trail. The air smelled salty, like the ocean, and the sound of gulls calling out to one another filled the nightly air.

She liked the smell of it, and wished she could take a detour to visit, to feel the sand between her toes. "Mmm…" she licked her lips, "maybe a quick trip mig—no! Stick to the plan." She slapped herself on the cheeks before pushing forward, faster. "Stick to the plan, Nadira. Come on."

As she went though, something wasn't right. Observant and on edge, Nadira noticed space beside her rippling with a misty darkness, like heated air over hot pavement.

She wheeled on the distortion, facing it fully.

It only got more and more defined from there, the mist elongating and darkening into a misshapen form. It was like the twisted silhouette of a person, dark and featureless like a shadow puppet but with gaping, empty white eyes and a crooked, matching smile.

After it materialized fully, Nadira dropped her belongings and flipped her daggers free of their sheaths, juggling them with ease as those feline eyes of her's drank in the target. It was difficult to pick up on the physical changes in a Nightmare's body, but since the creatures persisted on trying to imitate humans, she knew what to look for. The angle of the elbows, the way the feet shifted to lead the body, the movement of the shoulders. Nadira was ready for whatever this monster had and even if her physical skills failed her, she had a trick under her sleeve, one that she had no problem using against irritating targets like this.

With her daggers flickering silver in the moonlight, the Nightmare leaned forward but it didn't attack. Instead it seemed to be interested in what she was doing, drinking in the motion of her hands the same way she was observing the way he moved.

"Hey there." She wondered why its head bobbed and twitched about. What was it thinking as it looked at her? Did it find her strange? Did it hate her? Did it truly want nothing more than to end her? Or did it have some other goal in mind? "See something you like?"

The creature said nothing, but it did pull back an extend an arm toward her. Its hand opened an instant later, giving her good look at how each of its finger fingers elongated and sharpened, turning into sword sized claws.

Nadira stopped juggling her blades and held them fast.

"Come on then." She pressed on, wanting the Nightmare to lunge, to act in haste. She also wanted to slice it into tiny bits and pieces. Either way, Nadira was looking forward to the end result. "If you're gonna do something, monster. Then come over here and do it already."

The Nightmare lowered its head, dipped forward again, and with a sudden burst of motion, ran wildly at her. The sight of its broken, misshapen form bouncing about wouldn't got a laugh if it wasn't trying to kill her.

Just like that! She brought her blades up, the same way she had a trillion times during training, a trillion nights with dad in the backyard. Come on then!

The creature was on her in seconds and with a clean downward slash, it swept those heavy claws at her face. She reacted instantly, drifting to the side with a confident grace before reversing her retreat and opening up the creature's inky front. Her daggers had six inches of sharpened, deadly steel on them, and she used every bit of them to cut through her attacker's stomach, simply slashing in a clean, side to side motion.

The Nightmare cried out and pulled away, clutching its gaping chest. She couldn't quite see a wound on it, not through all of that shadow. But it seemed to have registered the attack and was acting hurt… or it was playing around with her. Not every one of these monsters is some stupid brute. Some can be downright terrifying, and while she was ready to fight one of those, she wasn't excited about it.

"Leave now." She told it, her fuzzy, blonde cat tail flicking at the air behind her, it just barely peeked out where her cloak ended. "Leave now, or die."

The creature appeared to have righted itself, and after leaning forward it leapt off the ground and hurled itself forward again, slashing and tearing at her with the tenacity of a raging child.

Nadira didn't back down. She met the shadowy storm of claw attacks with her blades, dipping and flowing between the attacks and using her daggers to bounce the unavoidable blows into the wrong position. Though the claws didn't seem to be made of metal, they acted just like it and released a burst of red and orange sparks with each clash, their battle filling the night with the sound of metal scraping on metal.

She lived for this. Her people called this moment, the sound emenating from between them, the Metal Song. They were dancing to it, making it… but knowing she would have many other of its kind to face, she knew this had to end.

"I told you to retreat." She whispered, her body beginning to glow a molten yellow. It was a thick light, blinding and wild, and it poured out of her skin. "You should have listened."

The shadowy creature drew back for a moment, and instead of picking up the offensive, it actually turned around and started to rush off.

"Too late."

The light that was spilling off her body suddenly crackled and sizzled, lancing and churning around her like a hundred tiny lightning bolts. There was a thunderstorm inside of her, a ferocious and mighty power that, for many years now, kept her tribe safe and sound in the Wilds. In terms of destructive capabilities, her blessing was one of the most effective, and it was the factor that enabled her to travel freely.

Mixing that with her swordsmanship and the ability to conjure lightning, she considered herself a force of nature.

So even though the Nightmare was a good distance away from her, she had no problem catching up. She took a step, and then flickered with a supernatural speed from where she'd been, to the space directly in front of the Shadowy creature. It was a sudden motion, a burst of movement too fast for most to follow.

The creature didn't see her until an electrified, buzzing dagger plunged into its face, knocking it backward with such force it lost its footing and collapsed onto the road. It didn't move, but Nadira refused to take a chance. She pointed a finger at the dagger sticking out of the featureless shadow monster's head and sent a bolt of lightning flying directly into it. The powerful energy flowed through the metal in an instant, further destroying the body it was connected to until it burst into a thick, black and purple light.

"Let that be a lesson to any of you watching." She said as she reached down and scooped her dagger up. "If you try and attack me, then come at me prepared to die."

She wasn't sure there was anything out there watching, but there was a lot she didn't understand about the creatures. Did they understand common tongue? Did they stalk prey like a tiger? Are they able to share information to one another and coordinate attacks? She wasn't really sure. She never had a chance to study them honestly.

They stayed away from her village, fearful of not just those with blessings, but also the regular folk who live there. Her Tribe is full of natural predators and each of them, girl and boy, disabled and impaired, old and young, was trained in the ways of the warrior.

But out here with the humans? The Nightmares ran wild, feasting on the squishy, weakened villagers who probably never fought with a blade in all their life. She'd have to do her best to draw out the battle and observe her opponent the next time she crosses blades with one.

"Assuming they even want to." She said aloud, grinning ear to ear as she drew her hood up over her pointy, fuzzy ears. "I wouldn't want to get attacked by me…"

The closer she got to her prey, the fiercer her attacks became. It was just… how she was wired to be, her instincts demanded it. Like some feral creature closing in on her target, Nadira was more than ready to rip up whoever stands in her way.

"Just you wait General Reeden…" She grinned pointed ear to pointed ear and groped the hilts of her daggers. "I'm gonna find you… and I'm gonna pay you back for what you did."

She licked her lips at the thought of it, and after grabbing her belongings from where she'd dropped them, she started down the road to continue her path. From what she figured, she was only a day and a half from Bethelas and since the capital was at her back, she'd run into the General no matter what happened. Eventually.

" She cast her golden, feline gaze to the sky above, and stared at the giant, silver moon hanging in the air before her. "It sure is a beautiful night."