The screams were the worst. Wynni ran down an alley trying to put the screaming behind her, but she kept running closer to it. It seemed to come from everywhere. The screaming echoed off the walls. It came from the people who ran around her. The night sky was lit from the fires and the whole city seemed to glow. A dark cloud hovered above it all; a dark cloud of black smoke that covered the sky and reflected the burning back upon Magnus. The fires hadn’t worked their way to her, yet. For this, she was glad. She also had managed to avoid most of the Beinison invaders. If she could just find a way out …
“They shouldn’t be here!” her mind screamed as she turned a corner and saw soldiers. “This is Magnus. We’re not supposed to be invaded.” She turned around and ran down another street. Waves of heat assaulted her and she had to run down a side alley to escape the flames.
“Sweet Stevene, help me,” Wynni cried softly as she ran. “If you help me out of this, I’ll never sell myself again. Please, Stevene!” she pleaded. Wynni heard soldiers behind her and she quickly turned down another alley. As she turned the corner, blood splattered her face and body.
“Augh!” she yelled as she wiped the blood from her face. Her movements were jerky and erratic as she tried to get all the blood off of her. When she opened her eyes, she saw a small battle in front of her. “Go away!” she screamed in her mind. “Go away!”
As she backed into the alley wall, she watched in horror as men cut and slashed each other. With each wound, a part of her seemed to die. Swords whistled and clanged. She heard a soft fleshy thunk as a mace was buried in a man’s stomach. She didn’t hear the screams until she saw an arm severed from someone. Blood spurted everywhere. The man who had swung the sword was covered in it. She saw several men on the ground clutching different parts of their bodies and screaming in agony. A man slipped in the blood and before he could get up another man stabbed him from behind. The stabbed man turned and she saw recognition in both of the men’s eyes. She thought she heard the standing man say he was sorry, but couldn’t be sure because a sword took his head.
“Stop it!” she screamed aloud. Nobody heard her. “Oh, Stevene, please stop it,” she cried. The battle raged fiercer as new men joined the fray. She turned and threw up. The screams echoed in her head as her stomach emptied what contents it had held. “Go away!” she screamed to the screaming. Looking back at the battle, she saw a man coming toward her. She turned and ran down an alley. As she turned the corner into another alley, she ran into a warrior.
“Let me go!” she yelled as she tried to pull away.
“What have we got here?” the mercenary asked. “Looks like you’ve seen some fighting.” He held her arm tightly.
“Let me go. You’re hurting me!” she told him.
“Looks like a pretty thing, doesn’t it?” he said as he wiped more blood from her face. “Hold her still,” he told his companion. The other man grabbed her upper arms and held her tightly.
“I’ve got her, Arvid,” he said. Arvid let go of her arm and grabbed her shirt.
“Let’s see what we’ve got here,” he said as he started to undo it. Wynni squirmed but it only caused her shirt to rip. Arvid smiled.
“The building behind you looks empty, Arvid,” the man holding her said. Arvid turned and looked in the open doorway. He stepped in for a moment and when he came back out, he grabbed Wynni and pulled her inside.
“Please let me go,” she pleaded.
“Do what you’re told,” Arvid said.
“No, no –” she started to cry but stopped as Arvid slapped her.
“You gonna take the rest of them clothes off or do I have to slap you again?” he said.
“Please,” she cried. Arvid slapped her again. Wynni fell to the floor and Arvid stood over her. When he moved to undo her pants, she kicked at him but he dodged it easily.
“Hold her, Burke,” he told his companion. “She’s a slow one.” As Burke held her, Arvid used his knife to cut her pants. He didn’t care this time and left many long narrow slices in her legs.
“Stevene!” she cried out.
“He’s burning with the rest of them,” Arvid told her as he undid his pants. She screamed until her voice gave out.
They had left her alive. “It was just another paying man on a regular night,” she told herself, but it didn’t help the pain go away. She was on the floor and her body shivered. As she tried to stand, the physical pain of the rape and the many cuts in her legs caused her to lay back down. She curled up into a tight ball and tried to make it go away. She wanted to die, but instead from somewhere in the night, she heard the screaming again. “Why, Stevene, why?” she asked softly into the night. She cried as the city died.
“I’m sorry,” came a voice inside the room. She jerked and looked around, but didn’t see anything.
“Who’s there?” she asked.
“I came too late,” the boy said as he emerged from his hiding place. “I didn’t have a weapon and I wouldn’t know how to use it if I did,” he said. “There was too many of them. I’m sorry.”
“Who are you?” she asked as she tried to cover herself with her torn clothes. When the boy came closer, she saw that he was older — he was a young man. His beard was just coming in and he had the start of a mustache. His brown hair was cut short and he wore a priest’s robe.
“I’m Ammon. My dad was a baker. He’s dead. So’s mom,” he told her. “I have a robe if you want it. It’s a priest’s robe and it’s got blood on it, but what doesn’t now?”
“Thank you,” she said taking the robe.
“We should go. I think the fire’s coming this way.”
She stood and pain lanced through her. She stumbled and he caught her arm. She looked at him and saw tears in his eyes. “So much pain,” she thought. “When will it end?”
“Soon,” he answered. She was too lost in her pain to notice his unusual answer.
They left the room and went into the alley. The city was brightly lit. As they walked in a direction that was away from the worst of the fire, they saw bodies lying everywhere. She tried not to look at them, but it was impossible not to. Some were burned and blackened while others were twisted at odd angles. And the screaming continued.
“I had a friend once,” Ammon said. “He was the best friend that I’ve ever had. He was a teacher and I was an arrogant kid when he found me. He taught me many things.” Ammon stopped as they hid in a darkened alley and waited for the soldiers to go by. After some moments, he deemed it safe enough and they continued on in silence.
There were many times that they had to hide or run, but it seemed to Wynni that it was different. With Ammon next to her, the way was easier and the screaming seemed distant.
“I don’t have any friends,” Wynni said. “Just close strangers.”
“I did a lot of things that I shouldn’t have. Until my friend found me. After that, life wasn’t the same.” Ammon stopped again, but this time it wasn’t because of soldiers. Wynni could tell that something was bothering him.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“He was killed,” Ammon answered. “Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I had been with him …”
“This war hurts us all,” she said trying to ease his pain. She didn’t think that he could have helped his friend. After all, he wasn’t able to help her. Ammon looked at her then and smiled. She started to say something, but they had reached the river.
“We should be safe here,” Ammon said as they crawled under a bridge. Ammon curled up to her as they settled in their hiding place. He was warm and soft. Wynni put her arms around him and held him tight. As she drifted to sleep, she wondered where the screaming went.
“You there!” someone shouted. Wynni jerked awake and saw several soldiers standing near her.
“Think she’s Beinison?” said a soldier.
“Get her across the river and question her,” the leader ordered. “Make sure she’s not.”
“Ammon, we’re safe,” she whispered, but when she turned to where he had been, he was gone.
“Looks like she’s been in the worst of it. No rough handling with this one, though. Understand?” the leader asked.
“Ammon?” she asked again as the soldiers led her to safety.
“Did you say ‘Ammon’?” the leader asked her.
“Yes,” Wynni answered. “He helped me out of the city.”
“How many does this make, Cap’n?” a soldier asked.
“Nine,” the leader said. “You’re the ninth person to have been helped by this ‘Ammon’. Nine we know of, that is.”
“Blessed Stevene!” a soldier said and the words shocked her. “Stevene,” the soldier continued, “had many disciples. One of them was named Ammon. Ammon wasn’t there when Cephas Stevene was killed. He came days later and was murdered for proclaiming to be a disciple of Cephas. He was too late to save his friend. Maybe he’s trying to make up for that?”
“Stevene,” she thought. “He had said his best friend was a teacher who had changed his life. His friend was killed when he wasn’t there. His friend had to be Cephas Stevene!”
“Ammon?” she asked the silent air around her.