(Heya! I decided to take the story in a different direction. So I have gone back and made some significant changes here, so for those of you who have read passed this already, give the new direction a chance and give this updated chapter a read! It changes the course of what happens by a lot. Also for those who are far enough to know the extra character I added. Don't sweat it! He will still be there. ;3 Enjoy!)

Chapter 6

Nadira didn't like the rain.

It wasn't so much that she hated the look of it. In fact, she actually found the scene comforting. The ash gray skies left the air cool and comfortable and the stale, thick breeze brought with it a sense of calm and melancholy.

All of that, she liked very much.

No, it was the getting wet part that she wasn't fond of. Water was just… well, it was terrible. It made her ears and tail smell weird and tended to ruin her hair and makeup. Thankfully, back home in the Desert, there was very little rain.

But out here in the Populated Lands?

It rained all the time.

So why didn't she set up a tent before falling asleep? Waking up to rain splashing on your face is an irritating experience, one that left her walking in soaked clothes and cold skin. That same shower persisted for most of the day, and though the passing storm was dwindling and slowing, lessening in intensity, she was still in a bad mood. He tail flicked the air with every step, and her soaked bag of belongings stuck to her back, dripping onto the trail.

"At least I'm almost there." She muttered, trying to find some optimism in all of that anger. "The damn journey here was exhausting."

She finally was on the edge of Bethelas, and while she was thankful that her destination was within eyesight, she was also very sore and very hungry. She wished she had time to grab something to eat, maybe grab a nap in a dry location.

But she couldn't do that.

The General and his men would notice her the moment they saw her, so she had to stay hidden from them, but she couldn't blend in well with the townspeople either. After all, she wasn't just a stranger, she was a stranger with fluffy blonde cat ears and a long tail. Humanoid in every other aspect but those. With a visage like that, Nadira knew walking in without some sort of disguise would bring her unwanted attention.

She was from the Wilds, a creature few in this country have ever seen. There were stories about her kind, accounts made by those brave and lucky few who reached her homeland, but as far as most were concerned, her and people like her didn't exist.

She liked that, it made her feel unique; mystical and important.

"And important people, don't hide." She stepped out into the dull drizzle, sharp golden eyes fixed on the muddy road ahead of her. "So, my best bet to find the General… is by looking for him out in the open where everyone can see me. Wherever the most people are, that is where I will have the best chance."

She groped the hilts of her daggers, trying to reshape her thinking, reorganize the way she was approaching things. Her Instructors back home taught her to stay open minded, to consider not just how things are, but how they can be manipulated to be something else. She had to get into her target's headspace, anticipate their actions by understanding their motives.

Doing so with that ugly faced trout of a General, was going to be difficult.

He wasn't a man. Men can be understood and reasoned with logically. No, General Reeden was a monster disguised as a man, a beast made of pure steel and iron who hid the vulnerable parts of himself behind his Gift. He was one of those people who didn't hide his power, someone who chose to display it proudly for the world to see, challenging the foolhardy into making a deadly mistake.

The Power to create and manipulate metal, to physically grow it out of his flesh and will it to change shape and density, was a gift designed for battle. However, as dangerous as that made him, it was the General's old age that truly made him a killing machine. He had been around for a long time, fought over the span of many years, trained and studied over the generations.

He saw things through a lens she lacked.

He had experience.

Skilled as she was, Nadira wasn't sure she had what it'd take to kill him. She was no assassin, no deadly shadow warrior who could name the ways to slay a man on her fingers. But she was driven and motivated and in her mind, so long as she saw her goal through and through, fate would guide her to her proper destiny. Everything finds its place eventually, and her's was avenging her people.

"I'm coming for you General." She narrowed her eyes and started to pick up the pace, booted feet splashing on the muddy trail as her ears flicked and shuddered. "And when I find you… I'm going to make you pay."

She followed her instincts, heading toward the town, directly down the main path that following the tree line. The walk, on a sunny spring day would have been delightful. She tried to picture what the grassy hills looked like blooming with wildflowers, butterflies and bumblebees filling the air with a vibrant rainbow of colors.

The homes were beautiful too, quaint, tiny little things that seemed to promote a quiet, relaxed lifestyle. One home in particular drew her attention instantly.

It was a blue, well maintained home with a white knee-high fence. Beyond that fence there was a jungle of vegetables and flowers, animals too. She was stunned and lingered there, admiring the water droplets glistening on the healthy green plants and the tiny rabbits and mice hiding under them for shelter.

She smiled, momentarily forgetting she had come here to kill a man… but the sound of footsteps pulled her back to reality. She turned toward the sound, throwing up her hood, and saw a man approaching her. His head was bowed and uncovered, but seeming to sense her ahead of him, he looked up.

The man was crying.

"E-excuse me. Sir?" She tilted her head, knowing he could hear her. "Sir?"

He said nothing back and kept walking, tears pouring down his face as he clutched a shred of what looked like, clothing?

"Sir?" She asked again, wishing he'd reply. It was important to gather information, especially since she had no idea what was happening in the town. "Are you okay?"

"I told her he was no good." He muttered sleepily, not even slowing as he walked passed her. "I warned her… I-I… I swear I did…"

She watched him go, and then looked back down the road. In the distance, a great Blue Barrier crystal peeked out from behind some hills. She could see buildings there too, all of them clustered tight together.

There was no mistaking it, she had reached Bethelas, and by extension she had reached her target.

"Alright." Nadira gave the crying man one more look, then dashed own the trail, hurling herself into a sprint that took her along the trail at a quickened pace, her legs a blur of motion, working with a bestial efficiency. Running like that, letting her feline traits show, she made quick work of the path and ended up in the town's center in no time.

For such a small village, the crystal here was something to behold, it was massive! Two stories tall at least by the looks of where the buildings stood. Compared to the other places she visited, this was among the biggest.

She stopped gawking only when she heard people whispering to themselves. Her hearing was much better than most, but the sounds were still garbled up, their clarity eaten by the rain fall.

Wanting to hear more, she started walking toward them, approaching the others by following the ring-shaped trail around the crystal.

On the other side of it, in front of what looked like an Inn, there was a large crowd of people gathered together. Some had their hands clasped tight around beaded necklaces, while others were clinging to each other, crying into their shoulders.

What was wrong with this place? Everyone was sobbing uncontrollably. But there was no signs of battle, no destruction and chaos. So what was wrong with everyone? She wasn't a cold-hearted person at all, she just disliked watching others cry, it was always such an ugly sight.

"Excuse me?" She kept her head low and her tail tucked in under her cloak, hoping they didn't find her feline eyes worrisome. "Sorry to bother you, but do you know what happened here? I just got into town."

"Awful stuff," one of them said, whimpering into her hands between words, "just awful!"

"That boy was the awful one." Another added, a thin, bony looking man with ears big enough to fit a hand in. "He got that poor girl killed!"

Nadira twitched at that. "Wait? W-who got what happened?" Oh Ancients, did she forget how to talk again?

"Our town has this wild boy," Another man grunted, almost as if it was an afterthought, a conversation topic to be thrown out over dinner. "Real loser he is. Anyway, the soldiers come down, here right? Start going house to house with this masked guy, looking at people real funny. They f—"

"That!" Interrupted another, "is where you're wrong! They didn't go everywhere. They found the Hallwet girl early on. Apparently, she agreed to go with them to the Capital, got real lucky! Was probably gonna get a ton of money for helping them out. Well then her boy toy or whatever he is throws a fit and tries to kidnap her! The General tries to calm him down, but the girl ends up getting stabbed by accident. It was a real mess."

Nadira shook her head as they recounted the story they heard. She didn't know how much of it to believe, but if what they were saying was true then they didn't understand the whole story. That girl didn't agree to anything, why would she? She was coerced, she had to be.

At least, that's what she hoped for anyway.

"What happened to the boy?" She tilted her head.

"Him?" An oily voice asked, "We thought it best to charge him with the young girl's murder. So he will be coming back with us."

The voice came from behind her and without turning around, she knew it belonged to the General. The deep, snide, rhythmic way he talked… it made her blood boil, reignited anger she had sealed away since they last saw each other.

"I finally found you."

"You did. But I'm sorry Princess, if I had known you were looking, I'd have sent you my location." He grinned when she turned to face him, "I'd never hide from someone like you."

She wanted nothing more than to leap up and punch his face in, especially as she drank in the ridiculous sight of his huge, iron clad form. It was sculpted to resemble a muscular god, but she knew the truth behind his inhuman visage.

Beneath that metallic shell of his, he was just a scrawny old man, and she was going to remind him of that, by slicing that shell off layer by layer.

"Now that is a look indeed." The General said, his blue eyes glowing as they focused on her's. "Smoldering even. Are you that angry? Do you hate me that much?"

She narrowed her eyes until they were just as sharp as her daggers.

The villagers gathered there saw what was happening, and started to back off, retreating to a safe distance.

"I've come to kill you." She told him, voice shaking as she pulled her daggers free. The rain, slow and steady, continued to pour down around them, but she no longer cared about getting wet.

"You've never killed a thing in your life." He chuckled, looking down at her as if he was about to discipline a pet for peeing on the carpet. "Now give me those knives of yours before you hurt someone."

She was more than happy to give him her knives, so she flipped the blade around and flung it forward with all the speed she could muster. The blade sailed through the air with the accuracy of a well-aimed arrow, but was plucked from the air by one of the General's metal hands.

Nadira acted instantly and pointed a finger at him, shooting a sudden bolt of lightning from her finger. It happened instantly, a dangerous arch of flashing light that cut through the air with a hungry bellow before being conducted to the dagger she threw. From there that same bolt of energy exploded and burned its way through the General's metal body, causing him to hold onto the knife even tighter as he lowered his head and convulsed.

"Too easy." She muttered, preparing her second dagger.

"Yes. Much too easy." The General lifted his head again, and grinned at her with plenty of teeth. The charge must not of been strong enough to reach the doughy parts under the shell, but her next attack would.

She'd make sure of it.

"This is your last chance, Nadira." His words left her even angrier than before, "Give up now, or our playtime will come to an end."

"This isn't a game!" She screamed at him, then with a frustrated cry, she leapt forward. She wasn't sure what she was going to do, but she knew she had to do something. She'd come too far to just give up now.

She'd rather die.

But when she closed the gap between them and tried to attack, using the only dagger she had left to slash at his metal skin, it was completely ineffective. His shell was too strong to cut through, in fact, it dulled her weapon more than anything else.

"Don't you see yet?" He asked, swinging a giant arm down at her. "You can't beat me!"

Nadira grit her teeth and letting her powers flow once again, covering her body in a cloak of electricity, she outpaced his attack and evaded it by a few feet. The General moved after her though, dropping her dagger and jabbing at her with surprising grace and efficiency. What she lacked in technique though, Nadira made up for in speed. Clumsily, she evaded him, ducking and bobbing this way and that to—one of the soldier's arrows suddenly caught her in the leg, stopping her long enough for one of the General's huge fists to catch her in the stomach.

The air was sucked from her lungs and a sickening snap filled the air with sound, but it didn't end there. The General yanked his fist backward and with his other hand, caught her by the hair before she could be sent tumbling back. Then with a mighty heave, he flung her high over his head and brought her down hard, slamming her like a large hammer into the muddy floor.

Only then did he let her go.

"Surround her." He said, the order coming to her through a delirious fog. What was hurting her so badly? Why couldn't she stand up? Why weren't her powers activating anymore? She could barely breath.

She looked up slowly, mud clinging to her face, blood hot on her lips.

All around her she saw Soldiers in Gray and Red, their armor glistening in the rainy daylight, weapons drawn and pointed down at her.

"We will take this Gift of yours." The General told her, moving closer so that his giant frame was directly in front of her. Behind him, peeking out like a shy child, she saw a man in a creepy, porcelain mask. "It is too strong to be wasted on you. You, are a useless vessel."

"Y-you're the useless one." She whispered back, staring with hate at the large man in front of her. "And I swear… I will find a way to put you down."

"I have heard that very same phrase more times than you can count." He crouched down, "and yet, here I am."

"Sir!"

It was a soldier crying out, but the urgency in his voice caused the General to turn.

When he did, his face went pale.

"Sir!" The soldier cried again, weapons being refocused in a different direction, "W-what do we do?"

The General abandoned her, as if he had forgot she was there at all, and jumped backward. "Ready your weapons! Now!"

Confused, Nadira tilted her head back but what she saw left her just as bewildered as the Soldiers.

There was a Nightmare standing on top of the town's Barrier Crystal, staring down at the scene before it with empty, sunset colored eyes.

B-but its Daytime… she told herself, and the crystal… it should repel that thing.

The Nightmare ignored her entirely, or it just didn't see her there on the floor. Whatever the cause, the creature's eyes were focused on the General and his men. Its body murky and dusky, covered in smoke and fog so that it was black and featureless like a shadow puppet.

"Fire you arrows!" The General roared.

They acted at once, six archers letting their notched arrows fly.

The Nightmare didn't move, letting each of the well-placed projectiles slam into its body with a hard thunk. It didn't even wobble. In fact, the arrows seemed to slowly sink into its body, vanishing into its smoky form completely.

"What is this?" The General narrowed his eyes, and then with more surprise in its voice. "What are you!"

The Nightmare took a step forward and rather than fall off the top of the Crystal, it actually floated forward, walking on air as easily as it would on land.

"Men!" The General shouted again, "To my side! The rest of you! Get the civilians to safety!"

The soldiers started to scramble, and watching them rush about, the Nightmare finally dropped to the ground where it landed in a low crouch.

Then, unfurling and straightening out, it took a deep breath and let out a bestial roar unlike anything she'd ever heard before. Its voice was an incoherent garbled mess of multiple tones and voices, but even through that confused clutter of sound, she could pick out a single, solitary word.

Elicia.