• Aleksandra ran through the woods frantically, the man and beasts hot on her trail. She knew that her life as she knew it would be over if any one of them caught her. She wasn’t sure which fate she would prefer. Doomed for all eternity, well technically the rest of her life, or tortured to death with the promise of sweet death to escape this mad world. Of course, she didn’t want to die; no one in their right mind would welcome death. The heavens knew, she wanted to live, but was the alternative worth it? She didn’t think so. She knew that if she had any chance of living a life of freedom, if not happiness and safety, she could not afford to lose any ground. Unfortunately, no matter how fast she ran, the man and the beasts that had ruined her life were on her tail, seeming to gain more ground all the time. She knew she wouldn’t be able to continue on like this forever; her capture and demise were inevitable. She knew ever since that day that she would forever be haunted by the ghosts and demons of her past.
    Aleksandra stumbled through brambles and thorns. She knew these lands like she knew nothing else. She had spent her whole life traveling and committed to memory every rock, ledge, tree, and bush, especially this forest, but now she stumbled through it like a lost child. Despite the darkness, she should have been able to navigate the woods quite easily, but because she was in such a panic, she couldn’t focus on where she was or where she was going and by now she was completely, and utterly lost. She knew it was useless to resist her capture, it was her destiny after all, but if she was going to go down, she wanted to go down in flames. She lamented the fact that she probably wouldn’t be able to take any of her pursuers with her to the netherworld, but at least she could cost them precious time and effort. She wanted to cost them something, at least. Besides, she was only halfway resigned to her fate.
    By now, Aleksandra could feel the hot breath of someone, or something for that matter, breathing down her neck; she didn’t dare turn around to see if it was the man or the monsters. She guessed it was the man since he had found her first and had been ahead of the others. Although she wouldn’t be surprised if it were one of the monsters behind her, since they were inhumanly fast and, for the most part, tireless. Now, she could feel hands reaching for her and knew that it was a man. Suddenly, one of the many cliffs in the woods appeared in front of her. She nearly ran over the edge without realizing, if it weren’t for her pursuer, she would have been dead then and there. At the last minute he had grabbed her and pulled her back, out of harm’s way.
    Aleksandra quickly spun around to look into her captor’s face, but he was hidden by a deep brown cloak and large hood. She didn’t need to see him to know who he was. Then, for the first time she could remember, he spoke to her. He said, “Alek, I need you. Please. Help me.” Then, she opened her eyes with a gasp and a start.
    For months, she had been having the same dream every night. She hated this dream and every night woke up and felt as tired as the night before, if not more so. Tonight was the first time that she had heard the man’s voice, although she already knew what it sounded like. It had a naturally seductive characteristic. She knew the man well enough to know that he didn’t try to seduce anyone, but his voice was rich and beautiful, truly one of a kind. Aleksandra knew, as soon as the dreams started, that soon her peaceful little world would be shattered. The latest dream was a true testament to that; for the first time, the man spoke to her in her dream, which meant he was getting close and the beasts weren’t far behind. Aleksandra knew from experience that even the clearest dream wasn’t wholly accurate. That could mean any number of things, starting with, but not limited to, the monsters having a bigger lead than the man. Aleksandra did not care much about her own fate, at this point, but she was absolutely petrified when it came to what could possibly happen to Trixie.
    Trixie was a small girl who had lived in a hut on the other side of the world, that is until her parents and half of the town had been slaughtered. Aleksandra took the girl in to protect her from the raids. Alek knew that the town stood no chance but the consequences of any of the beasts capturing Trixie would be far more devastating. Trixie was very distantly related to important people in the world, most of whom had been captured. Alek knew how Trixie struggled with her parents death and the loss of all her other close relatives. Somehow, though, it seemed to be harder on Alek, since she cared for the girl so. One saving grace was that Trixie did not know about her distant relatives and came to the conclusion that the monster had just nonsensically raided her village. That’s all the girl need know, as long as she was safe. Alek thought to flee, but she didn’t know from where the beasts came or how many, probably an enormous horde of them. Therefore, she could, unwittingly, run straight into their merciless, deadly arms. No, she had a better chance of sneaking out with the girl after they had arrived, after all, she was the master of stealth; she had never been caught when she didn’t want to be. Also, horrid as it may be, if the man arrived first, he would be able to get the girl to permanent, guaranteed safety. Of course, being caught by him would cost Alek her hopes, dreams, and her short-lived freedom, but, for Trixie’s sake, she would happily sacrifice that. Either way, the two were assured to be separated, soon; possibly forever.
    That’s when she heard them. She hadn’t expected the beasts to arrive so soon. Not from how far away they lived. She knew they left only a few months ago from reliable sources, as well as her own dreams. But never, in her wildest dreams, had she thought they would arrive so soon. She had to act quickly. In mere moments, the horde had set upon the village; as far as the eye could see was fire, ravishly devouring the simple huts and warehouses. There was mass panic; villagers scattering and being cut down, hundreds at a time. Alek stared, disoriented and bewildered at the many thousands of monsters destroying the meager, simple, but happy life she had built for herself. She watched as her dreams, literally, went up in flames. It took her only a second to snap out of her reverie.
    She ran from her room and across the narrow hallway to get Trixie. She grabbed the frightened girl and dragged her out of the house, screaming at her to come on and forget about everything in the house. She tried to express the severity of the situation and importance of getting out alive, and free. Soon, the girl was able to get an inkling of the danger of staying and ran as fast as her little feet would carry her. Alek ran with the girl, amidst all the screaming and chaos. “Shut your eyes! Trixie don’t look!” she shouted at the girl. She obeyed. Alek didn’t want Trixie to see the gore and massacre. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about the stench of burning flesh or roaring of beast, fire, and man alike. She almost told the girl to plug her ears too, but they could barely hear each other as it was, and it wouldn’t do much good anyway. Alek knew she should use her skills of stealth, but amidst the chaos it was near impossible. She was surprised that she got as far as she had without being grabbed by one of the monsters; they knew what Trixie looked like, and there were thousands of them. She knew it would be a miracle if they both got out alive.
    Finally, Alek found the series of alleys that she was looking for; she would feel much better running through the shadows and darkness, away from most of the commotion. Despite her relief, she knew if one of them picked up her scent or trail she was doomed. The monsters had excellent night vision and primal instincts with a good amount of reason, which was a dangerous combination. However, Alek couldn’t help feeling somewhat relieved; she was more at home in the shadows than anywhere. Nearly everyone who encountered her thought her strange or evil even, because she liked moving in shadows. She may be strange, but she was far from evil.
    Just when Alek thought she was in the clear, steps away from, probably a few more years of freedom, she was ambushed. The enemy knew her too well. That’s why she had gotten so far; the enemy knew how she would try to escape and delighted in dashing her hope. “Trixie, stay behind me. Hold onto my skirts. Whatever happens, do not let them take you. I will die to you out of their grasp, don’t let that go to waste, if it comes to that.” The girl started to protest but thought better of it, when Alek gave her one of her famous looks, then the girl nodded, and grabbed Alek’s skirt.
    Alek turned to face the enemy, deadly resolve and determination written all over her face. She slowly reached over her shoulder to grab the two small swords she always wore, in no hurry to let the blades feast on blood. She wanted to make a show of her determination and convey the message that she planned on taking her time butchering the monsters. She held the blades in a defensive position, as she moved her foot back and slowly lowered herself. Anyone who knew her well, knew that when she used this particular stance, anyone in her way would die.
    The first wave of the beasts charged her; Alek didn’t hesitate. As soon as the first one was in reaching distance, she twisted to the side and slashed his throat. Her only advantage against these things was they did not expect her to be as fast as she was. However, that advantage would not last very long. The next one came at her and she swiftly plunged a blade into his heart, while another charged her from the side. She used her other blade to slice the third one nearly in half. The enemy started to change their tactics, as they picked up on her fighting style. Little did they know, unlike many others, she changed her strategies to match her opponents. Now, they came dozens at a time.
    Alek lowered herself even more, since the beast were twice her height, they would already have to reach down, now, they would have to practically bend over, to strike a serious blow, thus buying her time to dispatch them as they came. As the next monster approached, she ripped out his belly with a blade. Some of them ran on all fours, so as to counter her defense of staying low. What they didn’t know was that they only made it easier for her; this way, when they reached her, she could sneak underneath them and easily behead them from her vantage point. For what seemed to be hours, Alek continued slicing, hacking, and mutilating the creatures, she stole a glance at the sky. It was nearly dawn, that was good; she would have better odds, come daylight. Some of the creatures had already started fleeing, knowing that they would be more vulnerable.
    Alek continued to fight the endless forces, knowing that she stood no chance against so many. That’s when she noticed; before she had felt the frightened girl holding onto her skirts for dear life, but now, the grip had weakened, the girl was weary and would not be able to stand and dance around Alek’s back much longer. Then, she heard the girl scream and felt her skirts savagely being torn. She knew the beasts had grown impatient and were now trying to tear the girl away. Alek screamed with rage and panic. She spun around and started to cut down the monsters taking Trixie, but she lost precious time by letting Trixie’s screams distract her. On top of that, she was totally surrounded by monsters now. She knew she was dead, or worse, but still fought tooth and nail, that is until one of the monsters found an opening and hit her in the face, tearing her skin with its claws, so hard that she was sure he had shattered her skull. Alek collapsed to the ground, unconscious…

    He knew she was in trouble. He had been tracking the monsters from their homeland for months now. He was in the midst of looking for someone, when he saw the great masses of beasts move out. He knew then that it could come to no good end. He had decided to follow them and find who he was looking for later. Besides, for all he knew, they could very well lead him to who he was looking for. It wasn’t until now that he realized why so many had set out on such a long journey. It was rough going; tracking them for so long, making sure they didn’t pick up his sent, barely having time to stop and rest or eat, staying close enough to keep up, but far enough not to be detected. The beasts moved faster than he did and one small mistake and they would find him and either torture him, turn him, or kill him. Then, he wouldn’t be any good to anyone, least of all the woman and girl. He flew lithely, through the darkness and shadows. After tracking the beasts for so long, they had become his sanctuary. He knew the woman used shadows to her advantage and it was impossible to track her, if she didn’t want to be tracked. But now, he had become skillful with cloaking himself in shadows and his skill could rival hers.
    He didn’t know why the woman went to such lengths to protect the girl…unless the girl was her daughter. It had been awhile…no, he needed to focus. One misstep or mistiming, and the woman could very well be killed. The heavens knew he didn’t want her to die. He ran swiftly towards the burning village. Surely, no one could have survived the sudden massacre, although, luckily, the sun was beginning to rise, there was still about two hours of darkness, but the beasts were weakening and wouldn’t dare to wait that long to run, tail between their legs, back to the refuge of the trees.
    The beasts, as well as he, knew they would be vulnerable in the daylight, and although it would still take skilled warriors to cut them down, there was a better chance of the masses prevailing, if any survived the attack. They would be even more enthusiastic in their dishonorable, pitiful, retreat, as soon as they laid eyes on him. He was not someone to be trifled with and he had spoiled the beasts’ gruesome plans, nearly, on a daily basis, and slaughtered thousands, maybe even millions, of their kind. He was indeed, a formidable foe; the beasts had sent many armies and assassins after him, but he always managed to defeat or evade them, sometimes with help from others of his kind. Unfortunately, now he was all alone with an endless supply of beasts. Theoretically, he had no chance, but on a number of occasions, he had proven that he was the master of prevailing when he had no chance, therefore, he was not concerned, much. He knew that it was a long battle, and would require an insurmountable amount of sacrifice, discipline, vigilance, and energy. He wondered if the sheer act of rebellion alone would kill him, whether through starvation, exhaustion or some other cause that was an indirect effect of the beasts.
    Finally, he was in sight of the beasts that were attempting to maul the woman. At least, he was proud to say, the woman had held her own for quite a while against impossible odds. However, there was no doubt that she was exhausting; she was becoming the slightest bit sloppy. Still, he had to commend her for her efforts; she had, single handedly, slain hundreds of the beasts, a feat that was topped, only by him. He watched more carefully and saw that the small girl was being abducted.
    He wanted so much to charge in and save her, what with her blood curdling screams, and visions of what her captors would do her. He wondered why the girl was so precious. However, he could nothing to help her. Granted, he was one of the greatest sword masters to have ever lived, and could slay each and every one of the remaining beasts, but all the planning and suffering he had been through…no he could not ruin his chances now, not for the life of one little girl, no matter how sweet or innocent. There was more at stake than just that girl, he had to remember that. Besides, he had arrived too late to save her; her captors gotten too far away from the battle when he had emerged from the shadows, leaping straight into the heat of battle.
    He instantly found himself surrounded by the ravenous horde. Although, a few were still set upon the woman. There was only one thing he could do. He stood up tall and proud and throwing off his hood.
    “Come and get me you heathen bastards!” he yelled viciously, his majestic, authoritative voice ringing through the outskirts of the town, so that all could hear. He was raised to command attention and stand out in a crowd. He certainly did now. He knew they wanted him more than anything and would not be able to walk away from a chance to snatch him up for their overlord. His statement was received with such menace that no man had ever seen, except him. He know how work these things up into such a rage, that they lost their minds with bloodlust. But he didn’t do that now. All he cared about was keeping the woman safe. He stood, ready for his sword to taste blood of his sworn enemy and fill the insatiable lust for death. His sword was menacing, and seemly had a mind of its own.
    He waited, while the enemy charged him. It seemed like an eternity to him. With his sword, he could command time, in a way. He needed less than an instant to strike someone down. In that time, the sword was in a rage and demanded more blood. He was able to make time seem to slow down. To others, it merely moved agilely. Perhaps that was all there was to it. He never doubted that. After all, his sword carried the knowledge and experience of thousands of men, including his own. All he need do is embrace the bloodlust, experiences, and death.
    Not many in the history of the world had mastered this skill. Those who attempted and failed met brutal ends. The sword was seductive and seemed to chant liltingly, if a man could not control it, then he would bring about his own horrible death. That’s why the sword was more dangerous than anything, not only because it contained a hint of magic and was unstoppable in the right hands. The saving to this, though, is that the sword can only be mastered by one in millions. That one had the latent ability to seemingly soothe the sword into calmness, but also to call upon its full wrath. When he fought, he fought alongside his ancestors, of course it took great skill with fighting to call upon the spirits of the past. Many thought this meant he was not skilled and the sword did all the work. The truth, however, is the exact opposite.
    He moved gracefully and waited until he would see her. The one who danced along with him in his battles. She was the balance to the terror of the sword. Another reason it was dangerous. Many men became addicted to her, and lost themselves to killing mercilessly. He enjoyed seeing her and dancing with her amidst the fighting and killing, but he also knew how dangerous she was. Part of him focused on her, or else she would leave, feeling that she was too good for him to ignore her. The other part focused intensely on the battle and moved in a continuous fluid motion, striking down beasts with every move, and still evading their attacks. Anyone who saw him battle compared it to a dance. It was in fact a dance, a dance with death.
    Soon, as he had suspected, the beasts started to run back to the woods, some already turning. He took one last glance around to make sure they were all gone or dead. Then he sheathed his sword and pulled his hood up. He walked over to the woman, lying crumpled on the ground. He stared at her face; the side that was turned up was gashed and covered with blood. The blow could have very easily killed her. He knelt down beside her to make sure she was still alive. She was. He carefully rolled her over and took a good look at her; she hadn’t changed much. He carefully picked her up and started walking back the way he had come. He wasn’t sure what do with her. He didn’t want her to know he was there when she first woke up; it would be a bitter surprise and would only end badly.
    Then he remembered; he had seen her running from a small cottage at the edge of the town on his way there. That was what had alerted him, even though he hadn’t recognized her at first. At first, he thought she had just been a woman trying to save her child and he always tried to save anyone he could. When he realized who he was pursuing and that she was in danger, it only heightened his resolve to save and protect her. He needed her on some level. He knew that was one of the things she hated the most; being used like a pawn. But he had no other choice. And he wasn’t really going to use her, but since she wouldn’t want to come with him anyway, in a way he would be using her. However, if she wanted to come to help just because she wanted to help, then it wouldn’t be called using. He knew she’d never see it that way. But then again, it was part of her fault that he had to call on her now.
    When he reached the woman’s cottage, he was befuddled to see that it was still standing, let alone intact, give or take a few charred areas, and half of a missing wall. He thought that he would have to kick the door in, but not surprisingly, the door was beyond any level of repair. He stepped into the cottage; it was simple, but it was nice. It was the closest thing to a home he’d ever seen. Then again, he hadn’t exactly been around the joys of home and life for that matter. He saw a small staircase and carefully tested it, before walking up it, with the injured woman in his arms. Putting himself in danger, injured or not, was one thing, but he couldn’t be so careless with the woman. He climbed the stairs slowly and walked into the first room he saw. It seemed to have been cozy, much like the rest of the hut, but now it was ransacked, the bed torn to pieces, the small amount of furniture reduced to mere fire wood, and the clothes ravaged and torn to bits. He laid the woman down on what little remained of the bed. At least, it was still soft, so she could sleep in comfort for a while. He took one last look at her and the cottage and disappeared, as if he had never been there.