Within a week, Naiya’Nal was standing on the deck of a Barbidon ship as it sailed from Nazval. Jetravilth had helped her spend the week preparing. She had found a smith who helped her forge a well-fitted suit of blackened armor, which she now wore over her purple robe. She wore her cloak over the armor.
Jetravilth had also introduced her to Za’Vulgish, the Barbidon in command of the ships leaving that day. She had instructed that her presence was to remain hidden from all inquiries by Narva or Voth. Once they landed at Itragoni, they were to forget she had ever been among them. If anyone ever spread the news that she had been aboard, that individual would forfeit their life. In return, she promised to use her magic to protect the ships from any na’karden they might encounter.
She watched as the Barbidons hoisted the sails. It would be at least two weeks before they arrived at Itragoni if the wind was steady. She set her pack on the deck and sat against the bulwark. The Barbidons would take her to Tanarad, but she did not tell them they would be unable to fight for Voth.
Naiya’Nal killed the last Barbidon on her ship by the time she could see Itragoni in the distance. She turned the rudder just enough that the ship would miss the port and head toward the rocky coastline to the east. She laughed as the other ships and the Barbidons on the shore unsuccessfully tried to communicate with her ship. No one would ever know why the one ship was lost.
When the ship crashed on the rocks, she burned a hole in the hull to allow in the water and sink the ship. She dived off the side and swam toward the shore. Her armor was heavy, but she was strong enough to stay afloat. She ship had completely submerged by the time she pulled herself onto the shore.
Naiya’Nal ran inland until she was sure no one would find her. She then spread out her belongings so they could dry in the warm sun. It was summer and Tanarad was further south than Sarda.
The next day, Naiya’Nal visited Itragoni. She stole some food from the Barbidons and then went to look for information. After leaving behind a trail of corpses, she finally managed to find a Barbidon with the information she needed.
“Where is Narva?” she asked, pricking the Barbidon in the back with her dagger.
“She is with the army,” he answered. “Please don’t kill me!”
Naiya’Nal twisted her dagger. “I want better information than that! Now tell me, where is Narva and the army? What are her plans?”
The Barbidon whimpered. “They are attacking Nodnarb and from there they will move east to take the last six cities of Tanarad that still fight against us.”
“What cities are those?” she asked.
“Eema, Orton, Fonu, Rayoj, Norl, and Gorraf,” the Barbidon answered.
“I want to know why you are not with the army?” she demanded.
The creature grunted. “I am a replacement soldier,” he stammered. “We are marching there tomorrow!”
This was all Naiya’Nal needed to know. Apparently, Narva had seen the benefit of attacking Tanarad from two fronts instead of one and had already taken the eastern half of the continent. It had gone much faster than she had expected. For Narva to take Panei and this much of Tanarad in so little time, the orb must have been very powerful indeed. “I appreciate your help,” she said calmly, and dropped another Barbidon body to the ground. The next day, Naiya’Nal followed the contingent of Barbidon soldiers as they made their way south from Itragoni. It was a long hard pace, but they reached Amis long after dark. Naiya’Nal remained hidden and followed them again the next day as they marched south to meet up with Narva’s army at Nodnarb.
Naiya’Nal did not cross the Nomota River with the Barbidons, but continued to follow it south. It would pass directly by Nodnarb and she would be able to find the army of Tanarad. She had to find the red armbands and felt that was where she would find them. However, night fell without her crossing the river so she rested for the night and resumed her trek in the morning.
She crossed the Nomota River and headed straight to Nodnarb. She could hear the sounds of the battle as she neared the city. She pulled out her sword and ran headlong into the city.
People and Barbidons were running everywhere. Buildings were burning and bodies littered the ground. Naiya’Nal began to kill the Barbidon soldiers she found as she made her way through the streets. She knew better than to risk fighting Narva face to face, but she hoped to kill enough Barbidons to make Narva question her strategy. Strangely, all the soldiers of Tanarad that Naiya’Nal glimpsed through the smoke kept their distance and left her alone.
At the end of the day, Naiya’Nal left the city and returned to the banks of the Nomota River for the night. She had not found anyone wearing red armbands and would move on to search somewhere else in the morning.
Captain Haloz sat against a tree after the battle sharpening his sword. As the leader of the most elite soldiers in the world, he knew better than to let it remain dull overnight. “Captain!” someone called. He turned his head and saw one of his soldiers running toward him.
“What is it?” he asked the soldier.
“There was a second Dark Witch in Nodnarb today!”
“Are you sure it wasn’t Narva?” the Captain asked.
“Several of us saw her,” the soldier replied. “We would have attacked her, but she was slaughtering the Barbidons and leaving everyone else alone.”
Captain Haloz returned his sword to its scabbard and stood up. “Send a messenger to Commander Sidrahkir. I want to know if any of his men also saw her.”
“I have already asked,” the soldier replied. “He only saw Narva today, but a few of his soldiers claimed to have seen both of them.”
Captain Haloz was puzzled. “Did she leave the city after Narva captured it?”
“She went toward the river,” the solder replied. “Several of us tried to follow her, but she eluded us.”
“If she is against the Barbidons, then I think she will head toward Eema next,” Captain Haloz said. “I want all the roads watched. Follow the Barbidon patrols and see if she will show herself and attack them.”
The soldier bowed. “We will find her,” he promised.
Naiya’Nal headed southeast the next day. She followed the road to Eema, but remained hidden off to one side. Narva would be marching her army this direction within a few days and she wanted to get a head start.
By midday, she noticed two Barbidon soldiers patrolling along the road. She crept closer to hear what they were saying to each other.
“I think we’re being followed,” the first said.
“What are you afraid of?” the second asked. “Men are smaller and weaker than you.” Naiya’Nal quietly pulled out her sword.
“I’m not afraid,” the first answered. “I’ve counted at least three of them so far. I just wish they’d fight instead of hiding.”
Naiya’Nal left her hiding place and stepped onto the road behind them. “You want a fight?” They turned and looked at her surprised. “Give me all you’ve got!” she demanded.
They pulled out their swords and stepped toward her. She slashed at the first to prove she was serious. He growled and swung his large sword at her head. She ducked under and slashed at his ankle. The second brought his sword down toward her from over his head, but missed as she rolled to the side. Her sword flashed in the sunlight as it swung into the first Barbidon’s neck. He fell into the second and knocked him off balance. She took a few steps backward and looked at the single Barbidon. “You can fight or you can run, but you will surely join him!” she said.
A suddenly rustle in the bushes along the side of the road briefly distracted her. The Barbidons were right; they were not alone. She could hear the sounds of several others and realized they had surrounded her. She turned toward the last Barbidon and attacked faster than he could react. The Barbidon feebly tried to parry her attack, but he failed and joined his companion lying on the road.
She heard the sound of bowstrings pulled tight, ready to fire. She thrust her sword into the dirt of the road and crouched down with her open hands held out to either side. “You are not Awa,” she said loudly. “I may be weak in water, but on land there are none that survive me.”
The arrows flew toward her, but she had anticipated the attack and they could not penetrate her magic. They bounced off her magic and fell harmless to the ground. “Cease fire!” someone ordered.
A soldier stepped forward holding a sword in front of him. His armor was different from that worn by the soldiers of Tanarad. On his right arm was a red armband. “Pick up your sword,” he ordered. “Fight me as you fought the Barbidons.”
She looked around. The others had put down their bows and now held spears pointed at her. “Do you doubt my skill with the sword?” she asked.
“You are a Dark Witch of Voth,” the soldier said. “I am sworn to kill those who serve in his forces of evil. You will be a test of my abilities, but regardless of the outcome, you will die.”
Naiya’Nal picked up her sword. “I will fight you,” she said. “I will fight you, but not as a slave of Voth. I will fight you as one who is searching for truth after a lifetime of lies.”
Naiya’Nal and Captain Haloz circled around until the Captain lunged. She moved to the side and swung down at him. His sword came up and stopped hers. “I am sure you have skill,” he said. “I just can’t see it.”
She pulled away and swung at him. He tried to stop her sword once again, but she changed the direction of her swing and went under his hand. He barely pulled back fast enough to dodge her move. “Perhaps I am toying with you,” she suggested.
“Or perhaps you are merely pretending to be a Dark Witch,” the Captain accused, swinging at her several times in succession. She easily blocked all his swings and slashed at his foot. He blocked her attack.
Naiya’Nal pulled back and they slowly circled again. “Allow me to remove your doubt,” she said. She raised her left hand above her head and sent a bolt of lightning up into the sky. Captain Haloz seized the opportunity and attacked her again. She deflected his attack and moved in with one of her own. They found themselves locked face to face.
“Why are you here, Dark Witch?” he asked.
She could see the sweat dripping down the man’s face. “I have questions that need answers,” she countered, pushing him away.
“Did you outwit your master?” he ridiculed as they circled.
Naiya’Nal lunged past his sword and grabbed him by the arm. Before he could react, she had him on the ground and her sword at his throat. The other soldiers stepped closer and readied their spears. “I was told that you had the answers,” Naiya’Nal said, peering down at the man.
He jerked to the side and managed to move away from her sword while flipping her onto her back. Captain Haloz was now poised directly above her and held his sword at her throat. “And what makes you think that I would give you answers?”
“Because I have kept you alive,” she answered, prodding him with the dagger she now held at his waist.
Captain Haloz stood up and held out his hand. She took it and he helped her to her feet. “You are not a Dark Witch,” he stated. “If you were, then you would not have shown me mercy.” The soldiers around them pulled back and lowered their spears. “We are the Red Exemplars,” he said. “Come with us and I will answer your questions.” He put away his sword. He then bent down and picked up hers from where it lay on the road. “We are heading to Eema today,” he said, handing the sword to her. “We have plenty of time to talk along the way, and tonight I will introduce you to a good friend of mine that I believe would want to see you.” They began to walk along the road with the soldiers following.
“Why would anyone in Tanarad want to see me?” Naiya’Nal asked.
Captain Haloz smiled. “He was a good friend of your father and stood beside him to protect you from the Dark Wizard the night you were taken fifteen years ago. Commander Sidrahkir will want to know how you turned out.”