Chapter 2: Echoes of Sacrifice
Esther stifled a scream. A sheen of cold sweat dripped from her face and soaked her clothes. Gathering her wits, she looked around. It was early evening, and she was in a dark cramped room full of sleeping bodies at Auburn Keep.
Her heart pounded; she was safe. There were no Faye ravishing her body while the shadows laughed, there were no beasts torturing her while the misshapen yellow eyes of the gremlins watched. The sound of rushing waters and Oisin’s screams were only in her mind.
Getting up from her spot on the floor, Esther slipped carefully over the snoring Huntsman. She wandered the empty halls of Auburn Keep out into the great hall. Even with Huntsman sleeping on the floors in the bedrooms, there were more in the great hall and others outside.
Stepping around the various sleeping mats and tents, Esther made her way through the courtyard to the wall. Several Huntsmen were on guard duty, but she didn’t care to notice them. She walked the wall until she found Tyron. He sat alone sharpening an axe; an empty chair sat next to him, waiting for her.
“Couldn’t sleep again?” He said.
“No,” Esther sat beside him, twisting her long-raven braid around her fingers. “More nightmares.”
“The same one again, I was falling. And then Faye were there, and the eyes were watching me.” She dropped her head to her hands. “The eyes are always watching me, even when I’m awake. I can’t escape them.”
Esther returned to the Auburn Keep twelve nights ago. She’d spent days wandering the river’s edge, trying to find her way back. Every night she fought the urge to return to the Kingdom of Roses, return for him. But she knew that wasn’t what he wanted, and she knew she too weak with fatigued to fight them all alone.
Starved and weary, an empty shell of herself entered the Keep. She didn’t look at the faces that swarmed her, she didn’t care because she knew none of them would be his. She heard whispers on the wind; they wanted to know what happened, they asked where she’d been.
Esther didn’t answer any of them, nor look at their faces. She stared into the void, numb to it all. She was surrounded and yet utterly alone. Her dirt-crusted face was hollow with hunger and her eyes empty with sorrow. She couldn’t take anything in.
A familiar voice broke through it all.
‘What have you done with Oisin?’
It was Genny.
The accusation in her voice, the sound of his name, the strangers crowding her. Esther snapped. Months of torture and countless days spent running for her life came flooding from her in a scream. It was a raw and animalistic sound that rose from the depths of her being.
The other Huntsmen stumbled away from her. Sparks danced on her fingertips, brilliant and blue. She shot them at an oak tree in the courtyard. The Huntsmen were able to put out the resulting fire before too much damage was done, and to Esther’s relief, none of them dared speak to her after the incident.
But her nightmares were relentless, and the only solace she found was sitting next to Tyron in the dark. He never spoke to her, allowing her to sit beside him undisturbed.
On the third night after her return to Auburn Keep, she told him about her nightmares. On the fifth night she told him what happened to her and Oisin before their arrival at Auburn Keep so long ago. On the sixth, she told him what she did at the Kingdom of Beauties and how she almost killed Oisin not knowing it was him. The memory of the moment still made her hands tremble and her stomach turn—she could have lost everything in that one moment.
She told Tyron everything about being kidnapped by the beasts, the gremlin Liviath that helped them escape, and finally how Oisin sacrificed himself to save her. Even when speaking the words, playing the events back in her head, it didn’t feel real to her. It was all a distant nightmare and soon she’d awake in her apartment where there was no magick and she wasn’t a Realm Walker, with Viktor purring at her side.
But she never woke. Not when she told Tyron her story, about Cira’s death, and the countless others who died before her, the innocents Esther couldn’t save. She was numb, an echo of who she used to be while she recounted falling from the cliff and watching Oisin fade away. She felt empty and tired, but sleep was nothing but a trap.
Tyron convinced her to tell the others from the Grey Keep and Mako what happened. After a lengthy speech on his part, Esther agreed. She had no more energy to fight, so she reluctantly recounted her story to them that day.
Windsor’s usually kind and light-hearted eyes scrutinized every word she said. When Esther finished, his eyes were red. Shoving himself from the table, he left the great hall. Esther should have known he would blame her for leaving Oisin behind. She wanted to rush after him, but to Esther’s surprise, Byron ran out after him.
That was five nights ago, and Windsor hadn’t looked at her since…
Tonight, Esther looked up into the night sky. It was veiled in clouds. The silver light of the stars fought to show through the inky storm moving in. Watching the rain clouds float across the sky, Esther thought about how much she missed seeing the stars.
“You feel guilty,” Tyron said, shattering Esther’s daydream, “but you should not. The fight for survival in these lands is filled with tragedies and lives we cannot save.”
“How else am I supposed to feel? After everything he’s done for me, after all I put him through. Oisin was the first person I met in this realm, he became my guide; he tried to help teach me about this realm and keep me safe. Then what did I do? I was stubborn and didn’t listen, then I repaid his loyalty by abandoning him.”
“That was not your doing. Oisin chose to follow you to the Kingdom of Beauties knowing the dangers. Oisin chose to save you at Castle Rose. He chose to remain loyal to you to the very end. Finding the Realm Walker meant everything to him and he died pro-“
“He is not dead!”
Tyron furrowed his brow. “I know all of this must be difficult for you Esther, I cannot imagine what it was like in that dungeon. But the likelihood the beasts let him live is…I am not trying to torment you; I want you to consider the possibility—to come to terms with the reality of his situation.”
“He is alive Tyron, I know it. He has to be.”
“If that’s so, then what do we do now? What are you going to do?” Tyron waited for an answer that never came, “are you going to run again?”
“If I run, more innocents could die. I can’t have that happening because of me; not again. I’m not running from this, not anymore.”
“Then the next move is yours, Realm Walker; what do you propose we do?”
Esther took in several deep breaths, looking to the skies. There was something she was planning, but would the Huntsman follow her?
She blinked against the soft sprinkle of rain that misted the air.
“How many Huntsmen do we have here?”
“Three-hundred or so, but more trickle in now and then.”
“What about the other Keeps?”
“One-hundred and fifty each; maybe more, maybe less. But they cannot all leave the keeps at once.”
“They won’t. And what about the villages?”
“The villages, what do they have to do with this?”
“They have everything to do with this. The beasts have been tormenting them, their loved ones kidnapped, tortured, and raped. Trust me, before this is through, they will join us.”
“And what is it we will we be doing?”
Esther gazed into Tyron’s face. She found the will to fight hidden beneath his worries.
“I need to find Mako.” Esther left her chair and turned from her confidant.
“Esther, wait. Your decisions affect us all, be careful.”
Esther looked back at Tyron. A faint sliver of moonlight shown through the clouds painting his dark skin with a serene glow. For a fleeting moment, Esther thought the fierce man looked vulnerable and small.
He stood alone on a wall keeping the monsters out. The fight was so much bigger than a single man, and yet he stood steady in its path.
“I will be…” Esther squeezed her eyes closed. Every mistake she made since arriving in this realm flashed before her. “I’ll try.”
Tyron nodded stiffly, his eyes searching her face. What was he looking for?
“You have hours before the sun rises. Would you care to practice your weaponry before you set the lands on fire with you plan?”
“I am a bit rusty since returning…”
“Ah! But your skills are returning, you’re getting back to your old self with every practice. Come, let us duel!” He clapped his hands, a bright smile stretching across his face.
Esther couldn’t help but smile back. No matter how hard life was, Tyron thought a good workout could fix everything.
Walking along the wall with Tyron, Esther saw Windsor. She wanted to speak with him, but Byron sat at his side. She couldn’t fathom why they were in each other’s company. Windsor hated Byron as much as any from Grey Keep, and yet they seemed to be companions now, maybe even friends.
Pursing her lips, Esther pondered Windsor. He seemed detached from the world around him. There were times when he would isolate himself, refusing to speak or look at anyone; when this happened, Byron sat beside him for hours. Twice Esther saw Byron drag Windsor, unconscious from drink with sick down his shirt, back to the Keep from the near-by villages.
Esther thought Windsor’s worry over Oisin would lead him to something reckless. She was desperate to speak with him; assure him she would get Oisin back no matter what. Esther however, refused to have any such conversation in front of Byron.
Esther and Tyron descended the wall. Finding a small open spot in the courtyard, Tyron unhooked the war hammer from his belt while Esther scavenged the training weapons.
“Shall we be seeing your lightning this evening?” Tyron widened his stance, grinning mischievously.
Esther frowned. “I’ve told you, I won’t use my lightning inside the walls.”
“For now.” Tyron swung his weapon forward, and their practice began.
They kept their movements tight and deliberate, Tyron wanted to focus on building Esther’s muscle mass and stance discipline back up. Soon her face was dewy and her breath ragged. In all, they were able to spare for two hours without having to stop.
Esther grimaced at how sore and tired her muscles were. Being locked in the dungeon diminished her health. However, she’d been recovering quickly with Tyron’s help.
They wandered to the well in the middle of the courtyard. Esther drew up a bucket of cool water and they took turns drinking.
“Has anyone on the wall reported seeing a cat?” Esther asked.
Tyron sighed, splashing water over his face, “No, Esther. I am sorry.”
Esther placed a hand of cold water on the back of her neck. “It’s ok, he’s small, maybe he slipped past you unnoticed. I’ll go check the stables.”
“Would you like company?”
“No, it’s ok. I think I’ve kept you from guard duty long enough,” Esther said. “Thanks, Tyron.”
“Come fetch me if you require anything,” He gave a stiff nod and headed back to the wall.
Esther went to the far end of the courtyard where the stables sat. Looking down, her heart sank into her stomach. The fish she set out for Adrik was untouched. Tears stung her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. She searched the shadows in vain.
“Adrik, where are you?” She whispered to the darkness.
After being taken by the beasts, Esther’s horse, Freya, and Oisin’s horse, May, returned to Auburn Keep. They each had a few cuts but were otherwise unharmed, but the immortal feline, Adrik, who watched over Esther in her home realm, hadn’t been seen since that fateful day. Despite Adrik’s resourcefulness and his magick, she still worried over his absence.
Inspecting the shadows one last time, Esther sighed and went into the stables. The sleeping animals paid her no heed. Esther let herself into the stall Freya and May shared. May slept in the corner while Freya laid in a pile of hay in the middle.
Esther knelt on the ground and scratched Freya’s head. Leaning against the horse’s side, Esther listened to her breathing. A soft melody hummed through her head while her tired mind slipped into a deep sleep.
Esther awoke to something large and soft nudging her, while hot breath filled her face. Freya was nuzzling her. Forcing herself up, Esther rubbed Freya’s head, her eyes still half closed with sleep. Esther stumbled across the stall, picking hay from her braid.
“Do you sleep out here with the horses often?” Genny was in the next stall brushing Lilly, her Clydesdale.
Esther moved around the stables unlocking stalls and opening pens, letting everyone out to the courtyard to graze. Since her return to the Auburn Keep, Esther was actively ignoring Genny and she didn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I want to apologize to you, Esther.”
Esther thought Genny held a long list of things to apologize for. Sending her to the Kingdom of Beauties without telling her a thing about Queen Aurora. Letting Oisin run after her into a land where men are killed on sight. And finally, accusing Esther of murdering him when she came back to the Keep alone.
“I wanted to come looking for you two, but we didn’t know where to start. The villages were being raided nightly; we didn’t have the numbers to spare.”
Esther furrowed her brow, glaring at her boots.
“I should have forced Mako’s hand. I should have led a search party myself; maybe then Oisin would still be alive.”
“He’s not dead!” Esther yelled, startling Genny and making her stumble backward in shock. Her eyes bored into Genny. Esther couldn’t read the expression on her face, and she was too angry to care what the other woman was feeling.
Esther stormed across the courtyard. The first glow of morning began to peer over the horizon, painting the shards of grass with its yellow glow and stinging Esther’s eyes. The Huntsmen were starting to wake. Ignoring all of them, Esther wove her way through the maze of groggy people and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was alight with activity. Fires roared hot and the air was thick with smoke and the aroma of breakfast. Losing herself in the bustle, Esther’s mind quieted while she worked. She knew she was being useful while helping in the kitchen, and she was doing something right. When she was in the kitchen, no one asked Esther any questions or tried to tell her Oisin was dead.
Esther worked tirelessly alongside Oscar, listening to his endless string of stories. Oscar, the little old man who ran the kitchen, was a kind soul and he believed stories helped hard work seem less so. Esther was content to listen to him without speaking, besides the man was half-deaf and didn’t understand anything she said anyways.
Oscar filled their days with and endless supply of wild tales. Esther figured most of them were exaggerated, if not made-up entirely, but still she listened intently. He reminded her of memories long ago, of the men at her father’s nursing home in her home realm.
Breakfast was almost over, and Esther stood at the wash tub with a large cauldron. Oscar was telling another story about his days as a sailor.
“We was sailing south to the fire islands when I heard ‘em singin’. That’s what they call it, but ta me it sounded more likes a shriekin’. Ta this day its’s the most terrafyin’ thing I ever did hear. Oh them mermaids was commin’ for us!
“The waves was a crashin’. Storms ragin’ down on us. Oh the ship tossed and a turned, and them mermaids a ravaged us. We’s about to capsize and be left ta da angry seas and the unforgiving monsters, but what I did was, I—”
“Hey Oscar!” A Huntsman hollered from the pantry. “The porridge is about gone.”
“Eh? A swan?”
“No, the porridge is gone.” The Huntsman held up an empty sack of porridge grains.
“Ain’t no swan allowed in ma kitchens; I’ll get that bird and teach it a thing or two!”
Oscar seized a ladle and began hobbling around the kitchen yelling at swans that weren’t there. Esther laughed to herself and continued scrubbing.
With the kitchen clean and the non-existent swan gone, Esther went into the great hall looking for Mako. She found him on the second story sitting at a table with Genny, Tyron, and a few others she didn’t know. Esther sat across from the head of Auburn Keep, looking at him over the mountain of maps and scrolls on the table. dark circles under his eyes and his hair was sticking up from where he ran his hands through it. His classically handsome face was ragged, Esther wondered when the last time he slept.
“Nice to see you up here again,” Mako said, a sparrow stood in a bowl of seeds on the table.
“Fortunate timing, we just received word from Grey Keep. Borus and Mason are continuing to train the new recruits, hopefully in a few months they will be ready to start fighting on their own. We were just about to send a message back to them, is there anything you’d like to add?”
Esther missed Borus, the grumpy old man who was head of Grey Keep and Mason, the ever silent yet uncommonly kind Huntsman, but she had no idea what she would say to them… Oisin was Mason’s protégé. Should she apologize to him as well for leaving Oisin at Castle Rose? No, that would just cause the lug of a man to go running to the castle by himself to try and save him.
“No,” Esther whispered as she watched Mako talk to the sparrow on the table. He gave it a report of rations and bodies needed for village protection. With the report memorized, the bird flew off out the window.
“You must have a reason for coming up here,” Mako said, “What can I do for you today, Esther?”
“We need to go to the forest of Prodigium and Castle Rose.”
“Go to Prodigium! What for?”
“To fight Adam, to fight the beasts.”
“Because that’s why we’re all here, that’s why Huntsmen from the other keeps have gathered here. To fight.”
“Yes, to fight the Red Witch and her wolves. Not to storm a forest infested with beasts.”
“The beasts are just as much a threat as she is. We need to go to Prodigium and fight.”
“And what would that accomplish?” Mako’s patience was thin, his voice sharp.
“You should hear her out Mako, she is our Realm Walker.” Tyron said.
“You want me to take valuable resources away from the villages; villages that are relying on me for their survival, so you can go on a revenge rampage against a forest of beasts and their king?” Mako said. “I cannot condone this, and neither will the other heads of Keeps.”
Esther took a deep breath, she organized what she wanted to say in her head. She couldn’t afford to mess this up. “The beasts have been ravaging the villages, we don’t have an accurate body count but from what I saw, I’d guess Adam alone kills a dozen a month. If Adam and his beasts are left unchecked and unchallenged, there won’t be any more villages to protect.
“And, as the Red Witch grows more powerful, the more attractive an alliance with her will become to the beasts. Adam doesn’t like her, but who’s to say the others won’t join her? Instead of fighting one large army of wolves and beasts, why not attack them prematurely while they’re still separate forces? We need to fight them.”
“You mean, you need to fight them.”
Esther stiffened. “The villagers will join us; they’re sick of being helpless victims. They will rise to the occasion and want to protect themselves and fight with us. We need to defeat the beasts, Adam must be killed and…”
“And Oisin must be saved.”
“You told us yourself Oisin sacrificed himself to save you. He gave his life to get you out of Castle Rose. His loss is regrettable, but you running back in there looking for trouble would be an insult to him and his memory.”
Esther jumped to her feet, her eyes sparking blue.
“The only insult is writing him off so easily. I will not abandon Oisin again; I will not discard him as easily as you have. I will go back to Prodigium, storm Castle Rose, and kill Adam, and I will rescue my guide. Even if you won’t help! I’ll burn down the entire forest if I have to.”
Esther left before anyone could respond; she’d heard enough of their excuses. Oisin was alive. He had to be…
Standing in the courtyard, Esther took deep breaths until she felt the power surging through her slowly die off. She’d been practicing controlling it, everyday it became easier for her to let the power flow through her when she called it, and to let it die off when she hadn’t.
With the surge gone, Esther relished the clean air brushing against her face and the warm sun kissing her skin. How much longer would Oisin have to suffer without these simple pleasures of freedom?
Esther walked laps around the courtyard. With the Auburn Keep past capacity, the Huntsmen ran drills and practiced weaponry outside the wall. The horses went with them for better grazing and the chance to play. Mako only agreed to this under the strict condition that a minimum of ten Huntsmen kept watch at all times.
Esther was passing by the stables a third time—she stopped short and glowered at her boots. Genny blocked her path. Leaning against the wall, she shielded her colorless skin from the sun, her arms loosely crossed over her chest and her pink eyes downcast.
“I know what you’re going through and I am sorry.” Genny spoke softly, her brow knitted together. “I went through this when my twin sister was killed…Losing someone close to you is- it is a challenge, and I-“
“That’s an odd thing to say seeing’s how I haven’t lost anyone.”
“It is natural for you to deny it, wish it wasn’t true, but your inability to accept the truth will get you killed.”
“He is alive, I know it.”
“How? How do you know?”
“How do you know he isn’t?” Esther glared at Genny, challenging her.
“The beasts are ruthless, they-“
“I know what they do! I was there. I saw what they did, I lived it.” Esther’s chest heaved, memories fighting their way to the surface. “Which is exactly why I need to go back for Oisin. I cannot leave him there. I need to go back for him.”
“This stubbornness of yours will get us all killed.”
“Then you don’t have to come. You don’t have to fight with me, you’ve already done enough.”
“How dare you blame me for this!” Genny left her place against the wall. Esther squared her shoulders against the seven-foot-tall woman towering over her.
“I don’t blame you, but I’m also not ignorant to what you’ve done. You sent me to Queen Aurora without so much as a warning, and then you let Oisin come running after me. You never should’ve told him where I was.”
“He confronted me, I told him the truth.”
“You knew what would happen to him.”
“You’d run off alone. He was concerned, what was I supposed to tell him?”
“You shouldn’t have told him anything! He shouldn’t have been there in the first place.” Esther said.
“You may not be the reason we were kidnapped, but you played your part in getting Oisin there. You didn’t even come looking for us. I trusted you, Genny. I trusted you and you abandoned us.”
“I am not the one who ran off without him; I am not the one who disappeared without telling him a thing. I am not the one being hunted, and I am not the one he sacrificed himself to save. You speak of trust when it is your foolish behavior that has gotten people killed; and if you do not accept Oisin’s death, more will perish because of you.”
Genny stalked off, leaving Esther alone in the shadows of the stable, her words cutting deep. Esther let herself fall against the wall, her head flooding with anger, grief, and embarrassment. She was ashamed of herself. Genny was right, but Esther wasn’t ready to forgive her yet, because Esther wasn’t ready to forgive herself.
The truth was, she was the one who abandoned Oisin. All of this was her fault.
Tugging at her braid, Esther glanced at the ground. The dish she left out for Adrik was still untouched. Esther’s breath hitched and she sunk to the grass. Despite being back with the Huntsmen, she felt lost in the abyss with no light to guide her. Noise from the other Huntsmen buzzed in her ears, driving her mad, but when she was alone the silence crushed her.
Sitting on the ground, she watched the skies; heavy grey clouds rolled in from the north. Esther tried to track the sun’s descent into the western horizon, but its light was hidden from her. Without the light of the sun to guide her, Esther didn’t know where to turn.
In the early hours of morning after midnight, Esther stood alone outside the wall. It went against everything Mako ordered, but no one dared stop her.
The misty night sky flashed a brilliant blue. Water droplets caught the light, casting Esther in a brilliant prism of rainbows. Then it was gone.
She took in a deep breath. Exhaling slowly, she let the power surge. Her skin prickled and a flash of warm light surrounded her again. She let the energy grow on the tips of her right hand. It shot out around her, tickling her arm. She held up her left hand and the energy danced between them.
Breathing deeply, Esther pulled her hands further apart, allowing the energy between them to grow.
With a sharp exhalation, she pushed the energy out. Lightning shot from her, striking out into the night. It combusted; the reverberation sending her flying back, landing on her ass. The surrounding trees illuminated in a flash before the darkness swallowed them again.
Her control was getting better and she no longer feared the power within her, but something still wasn’t right. Every time she tried to consciously direct the lightning, it blew up, never reaching her target. But she continued trying.
Only when she was outside the wall would she let the lightning come out. Only when she was alone did she try and tame it. Esther knew she would need it if she were to vanquish her prey.
Winded and stiff, Esther picked herself up from the mud. She hobbled back to the wall and the Huntsmen opened the gates for her. With stiff legs, she climbed the wall and walked to her destination.
She sat heavy upon the chair next to Tyron. The inky night fell heavy around them, and thick fog settled over the lands. Even with the large torches on the wall, Esther could scarcely see a few feet in front of her.
Gazing into the fog, Esther lost herself. She searched the darkness for them, the drunken Faye who used her, laughing while they defiled her body, and the glowing yellow eyes. The yellow eyes that haunted her every hour, the eyes that tormented her dreams and mocked her pain, the eyes that still held Oisin captive. The glowing yellow eyes of the beasts and their heartless king, Adam.
Tyron shifted his position, making Esther yelp in fright. He watched her cautiously but said nothing. Tyron recognized this behavior and knew it all too well; many Huntsmen who worked the job for too long, seen too much, had similar reactions. Some of them got better with time and rest, while others only worsened until it destroyed them. He worried which would be Esther’s fate.
“We received more word from Davon today.” Tyron said, eager to give Esther something to distract her troubled mind.
“Davon!” Esther’s head jerked up. “Is he safe? Has anything happened to him?”
“He’s fine, he’s fine.” Tyron soothed. “Davon has made many friends at Orientum Keep. One of them I think you know, Wendy?”
“I shared a room with her when Oisin and I stayed there.”
“She was one of the Huntsmen who volunteered to accompany Davon. They are staying at the abandoned village at the edge of the Wastelands. The village where Simona grew up; she’s leading their group and telling him all she knows about the Amphibians. He’s practiced speaking with the toads and salamanders from the Wastelands and has perfected their language; he’s going to start sending messages into the swamps.”
Esther felt sick. She gazed up at the skies, studying the thick clouds. She was gambling with people’s lives in a game she didn’t understand. Davon was the first person she trusted in this realm, the first friend she made. She missed him terribly and worried she may never see him again.
“Have I doomed him?” Esther whispered, her words disappearing into the night.
“I do not believe for a moment that you have doomed anyone, Esther. Davon is proud to use his talents to help; you simply gave him a focus.”
“Every decision I’ve made since I came here has been wrong; people are dying because of me.”
“People dying at the hands of the wolves or the beasts is nothing new. You said so yourself. The villagers grow weary of being under constant attack; they would either die having done nothing about it, or they would die defending their homes and families. You, the presence of the Realm Walker, give them hope, give them the strength and courage they need to fight back.
“No Esther, your decisions have not doomed anyone. The people who follow you, do so of their own volition. If any of us doubted your decisions we would say so, help guide you in the right direction.”
“I hope you’re right.” Guide—such a simple word, and yet it held so much weight to her, cutting her to the bone. “There will be more death before this is over, I urge you not to take responsibility for each one. It will eat away at your heart until there is nothing left.”
“You’re right. But no matter what you say, there are some things I will always feel responsible for, and nothing will ever change that.”
Tyron reached out, placing a kind hand upon Esther’s shoulder. His touch helped ground her, his presence kept her from succumbing to the ever-present abyss looming over her and the yellow eyes within it. Esther was grateful to him for this, yet his touch felt alien to her. His was not the hand upon her that she longed for.
Esther felt guilty for taking comfort in a friend while Oisin was left isolated in the hell of Adam’s dungeons. She concentrated on his face. Closing her eyes, she saw him. Dirt and grime crusted in the scars running across his left side. His red hair was dusty, but his eyes still shone brilliant and blue despite it all.
She pleaded for him to hold on. She was coming for him.