Broc leaned up against the canvas wall of the tent, shivering slightly. Her mother had mandated that they not make a fire until they crossed the border into Stroyan territory, but that didn't make the desert nights any warmer. Right now she could hear the gentle snoring of her younger brother and sister as they slept, oblivious to the panic coursing through the veins of their parents.

She, herself, was supposed to be asleep as well, but the unfamiliar night sounds resonating outside the flimsy canvas walls kept her from fully relaxing. There were crickets, louder than they were meant to be, and the sound of a small animal shuffling through the cool sands. The irregular rhythms of her mother and father's conversation only barely reached her tired ears. They had been walking for days now, and she had not been able to catch a second of sleep on any night.

A new sound added itself to the nighttime desert symphony - the scuff of shoes. Whispers of orders. Silhouettes of men were projected onto the taut cloth.

There are so many of them, Broc thought. From what she could see of the fuzzy shapes, there were a lot of them - she could count at least fifteen before the shadows blurred together in her vision. The cut of their uniforms told her they were not of Stroya.

Broc shrank down inside her blanket, whimpering. Leutrans. They'd been discovered.

Her father had noticed them, and reached for the old sword he kept by the doorway of the tent. Her mother reached out to make him sit down so as not to draw attention to the camp, but it was no use. He opened the tent flap and ducked outside. Broc reached to her side for her knife. The other hand she raised to her ear as she whispered a simple incantation to enhance her hearing.

"Excuse me, sirs!" There was a clatter from the Leutran party, and a silhouette moved towards the tent.

"Who goes there?"

"Just a family making their way out of Stroya," he bluffed. "Please, we mean no harm. I was-"

"Heh. That's what they all say," the shadow snorted. "Must be the uniform. What's in the tent?" He gestured in their direction.

"My wife and children. We don't mean any harm!" her father repeated.

The shadow grabbed him by the shoulder. "Don't think less of us if we don't make sure. How do we know you ain't Stroyan spies?" He pushed the man towards a group of soldiers. "Pat him down."
Broc's fingers curled around the bone handle of the knife.

"You do, General." Another voice spoke up. A very familiar voice that raised the short hairs on the back of her neck.


Her brother had left months ago for Leutra. Broc hadn't seen him since. She'd assumed he had joined the military and been placed somewhere in the middle of the action - that was what he wanted, anyway. Her brother was the only one who could blow their cover, and he definitely had a reason to.

We're dead.

"This man is not loyal. In fact, he and his family are traveling to Stroya to join their forces." Wendel drawled, clearly enjoying his power.

The general crossed his arms, but one of his hands strayed to the sword hanging at his side. "And how do you know this, Cusou?"

"He's my father."

Broc didn't hear much past that short, damning sentence. She dashed out the door of the tent, knife in hand. Her mother followed her, eyes wide with fear. "Brocta! What are you doing?"

She threw the knife. It ripped through the air, turning end over end until its progress was arrested by the armored forearm of a minor officer, who smiled benignly.

"Someone wants to meet their Maker today." He removed his glove to reveal a heavily tattooed left hand that became surrounded by a thin web of bluish-white light.

"No! Don't touch her!" her father howled. "Leave my children alone, and I'll go without a fight. On my honor." He hung his head.

The general smiled unpleasantly. "You lost your honor when you sided with Stroya." He lowered his hand to point directly at Broc. "Kill them all."

Wendel stood by, his face impassive.

This is the first installment of something that will likely stretch on for a while. I toyed with several different formats before settling on a series of seemingly-unrelated short stories. Enjoy :)