Chapter 11

Vallana's Secrets

Vallana wasn't a stranger to fatigue, she was used to it. She thrived in it. When the rain soaked her fully, she broke into one of the burning houses, her soaked sleeve pressed on her face. When she saw a lying body under burning debris, she pulled the unconscious boy out of the burning house and tried to figure out if he was still alive or not. He was, and she positioned him comfortably on the wet ground. Aside from the severe burns on his leg and torso, he was breathing fine.

When she stood up to look around, she saw Millan weakly standing, surveyed the macabre scene before her: shifters covered in blood and torn parts everywhere. She knew the other girl was not used to it. Even she felt repulsed watching the horrifying view and she has been exposed to it for a long time. War did not make people softer, but it did not make them immune to carnage.

Millan wobbled, and Vallana thought that she was going to get sick. Then she saw that Millan's head wound was bleeding again, and the girl didn't even notice. Worried, she tried to catch her attention but Millan swayed to the side, her metal bow fell off her hand and she collapsed. Vallana ran and caught her arm before the Millan's head hit the hard ground. She pulled her to her body and gently held the unconscious girl, examining the wound. It has been reopened and bled for some time.

While she tried to treat Millan with whatever was available, the villagers pulled out their families from the burning houses, helped other people, and did their best to treat the injuries of the hurt. Some cried holding a dead body tightly. Some just resigned themselves and pulled the corpses aside, cleaned the area from hacked parts or the dead.

Laying her companion's head on the ground slowly, Val heard a commotion near her.

"Restrain her! Don't let her get away!" a half-naked man instructed, his bare torso drenched in raider blood. Looking closer, Val recognized Hashclift. He looked different, his shaggy hair matted with blood and stuck to his head.

Three men, all in various state of undress were pulling on a rope each, trying to restrain a rampaging grizzly. A rope was fastened around its large neck, one around its left hind leg and another around its right front leg. As the men tugged, the bear was slowly dropping on its stomach on the ground, its loud growls and roars guttural.

Hashclift approached the immobilized grizzly, crouching in front of it. "Olivia," his sorrowful voice stopped the ferocious animal's sounds, "Olivia, calm down…" He slowly put a hand on the top the bear's head and soothed it. The bear made deep heart-wrenching cries, as if wailing. "Shh…"

That was when Val saw the small body that Bump cradled, his own blonde head bowed so low under his twin's lifeless jaw. Bump trembled as sobs spilled out of him. Bump caressed his twin sister's cheeks, his other arm supporting her limp head. "Open your eyes, Shell…" he whispered pleadingly.

Val's own tears filled her eyes, threatening to spill. A tear broke free and trailed down her soot-covered cheeks. She wiped it away, sympathy and grief filling her chest. Hating the helplessness she felt, anger replaced the negativity and she let it. The shifters around her were mourning and she let it fuel her anger. Who were these people who dared to destroy an innocent community? Who gave them the right to spread so much devastation, so much pain? Isn't the war enough?

It broke her heart. Again. Is this the spillover of her decision too?

The night descended upon Honey Hole. Some residents did what they could with the repairs. Some handled the injured, and the rest dug graves for those who died. Vallana tossed some dry wood onto the bonfire. It helped illuminate and give warmth to those who needed it. Some people have already gathered around it, their arms around their knees as if pulling themselves together, staring blankly at the hypnotic dance of the flames.

Vallana stood still in front of the fire, watched it lick the air, and watched it dance happily. How could this day turn out so wrong?

A hand touched her shoulder, taking her attention from the bright warmth. She turned to see Molly, the community healer nod at her. "Take me to your friend."

Leading the woman towards where she had laid Millan, "Her head injury bled again." Under the tree was a supine body, unconscious.

Molly kneeled beside the injured girl, placing a hand on her neck to check her temperature. "No fever. She seems to be sleeping." After checking the bandage around the dark-haired girl's head, she said, "No infection either but the wound opened a little. A little re-stitching would probably suffice."

"Will she be okay, then?" Val asked, kneeling on the other side of the patient.

"Yes, but she needs to fully recover and heal." Molly said in an evenly practiced voice. Untying the bandage, she sniffed at the wound. "I know I already said this before, but she really doesn't smell like a normal human. Her blood smells different."

Red eyebrows furrowed in confusion, she leaned in and sniffed at the girl's injury. Noting nothing strange, she asked, "I smell nothing. What do you mean by different?"

"Shifter and Mage blood both smell powerful but in a different way, because it's magic-blood. Ordinary human blood smells dull, like rust and copper. This one" she pointed at Millan, "smells like…" she tried to find in her memory that particular smell, "human blood mixed with something else, I can't identify it."

"How can you tell the difference? She can be just a half-blood..." Val said, trying to reason. "A fae and human, or a human and something else."

Smiling sardonically then shaking her head, Molly said, "No. I've encountered faes, dwarves and the rest of the enchanted lot. I can smell them without needing to bleed them. Just like how I can tell you're one of those rare mages that were born from interfamilial marriages to retain blood purity. Am I wrong?"

Vallana stared in horror, her mind trying to quell the panic that suddenly reared its head. Swallowing nervously, she said, "No, you are correct... You can tell just by smelling?" she asked, her heart beating too hard inside her chest.

Tapping her nose with the tip of her finger, "I'm shifter blessed with a very sensitive nose. It often gets me in trouble." Molly smiled mysteriously, "People don't realize just how much of themselves are being exposed simply by their smell."

Val looked down at her sleeping travel partner and swallowed apprehensively. Molly ignored the young mage's discomfort and carefully proceeded to clean the head wound. After the cleaning, she slowly stitched the lacerated skin, taking great care not to cause any unnecessary pain.

After a moment of silence, Val braved to ask, "Can all shifters do that?"

"Do what?"

"Smell people and identify them?"

Molly looked up from what she was doing, "No, I don't think so."

Val fidgeted. She wanted to run away, to escape. It felt like she was lulled into a false sense of security. She tried to think of a way to get out of the place, a way that doesn't involve leaving her dark-haired companion. She could think of a few, none of them would be easy, not without jeopardizing her partner's health.

"Calm down. I don't plan on telling others what I found out about you. As far as I am concerned, Gugghand's Sylveria is pretty helpful towards our kind. You have nothing to fear from me, Vallana. Though I cannot understand what a pure-blooded Rinder mage like you is doing in Gugghand territory, much less a soldier of Gugghand."

Not saying anything, Vallana suddenly found her hands very interesting. She couldn't believe Molly figured out that much about her just from her heredity. She knew if anyone found out about her true heritage, the rest of her secrets will easily be unravelled. That thought became unbearable; she couldn't let it get to that point. Too many problems would arise. She had spent her life trying to bury her past. She couldn't allow anyone to dig up her graves.

"My Rinder origin is nothing to me. It is nothing compared to my sworn oath towards the Gugghand crown. My loyalty lies not in my birth land, it lies in the kingdom who accepted me."

Molly raised her gaze towards the now darkly serious mage. She could smell her bitterness and hate, and tried not to comment on it. She nodded and continued to dress Millan's wound. "Chase will probably need to rest for another whole day. Hopefully, the wound won't leave a scar." She stood up and wiped her hands with a rag.

"Thank you for everything." Val stood and offered her hand.

Understanding the gesture of peace, Molly smiled. "You're welcome." She grabbed the open hand and pumped it twice.

A/N: What's up?