My eyes are drawn to the brief flickers of flame, well-masked by a tremendous amount of smoke. The bitter taste of it sits on my tongue as the awful sounds of battle clang in my ears.
Then she emerges. Staggers, really. Her arms are at her sides, her hands empty. Somewhere back there in the smoke she lost her sword and shield.
The remains of a helmet cling to her head, but there’s a significant chunk missing. There are so many injuries it’s difficult to know where to begin — the wound on her forehead, mixing a trail of blood and grime down her neck; the gaping tear in her side that she carefully favors; scrapes and cuts and bruises beyond number. She’s limping as she takes a few shaky steps, sways perilously, then stops.
I didn’t notice at first, but she’s crying. Now I can focus on nothing else, watching as big tears mingle with the blood and grime, slowly edging downward toward her torn clothing.
Her eyes seem full of an ancient sadness, and I watch as she begins to tremble. Her head turns side to side, eyes widening as they take in the battles raging in every direction. The trembling becomes stronger, rocketing through her whole body. Her knees give way and she falls to the ground as her head tilts back and she lets loose a roar of rage so loud it echoes over the battle sounds that have nearly deafened me.
Only then do I notice that she is on fire in a couple of places. As the last echoes of her roar fade into silence, I’m mesmerized by the way the flames seem to be devouring her, as she slumps to the ground in defeat.
There’s a beat, long enough for me to wonder if all is lost, but soon enough, I realize my conclusion was wrong — it wasn’t a slump of defeat after all, it was a roll.
Her face testifies that she is nearly unconscious as her body goes through the motions designed to put out the flames. She continues to roll, slowly at first, then gradually, gradually picking up speed. She spins faster and faster, until I regret the infirmity of my eyes. I can’t see clearly.
My mind can’t catalogue the moment it happens, but in a flash she emerges from the roll crouched on top of a dark black horse, gleaming in his purple silks, both of them powerful beyond measure.
Her clothing has transformed to match, purple silk flowing around her, and there is a long black cloth that is some kind of weapon trailing behind the enormous shield covering her back.
The injury to her forehead is patched, the grime and blood are gone, and from the way she holds her sword I know the wound at her side is mended. She charges past me so fast I feel the wind, her eyes blazing with such focused intensity I can still see them, long after she’s returned to the mayhem.