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Sword of Olivia by Jeremy Lee
SUMMARY: A young girl runs away from home and is taken in by a band of nomads.
The damp stones in the hall of the mansion echoed underfoot as Olivia rushed with her pail of water to put out the fire. She had no idea what had happened, only the hoarse cries from the stable boys that the barn had caught fire had managed to drag her awake. Her bare feet slapped the tiles and her blue nightgown swished around her and tangled up with the cloak she had hastily thrown over her shoulders to fight the chill. All her young life had been the same, rushing to work and when the job was done slinking away unnoticed.
Olivia ran out into the courtyard in a mad dash, sloshing some of the water before she calmed down. The men and soldiers that were already starting to put together a crudely improvised bucket brigade paid the young girl of twelve no real attention. She handed off her pail without a word. For the briefest moment she thought of trying to ply her way in and join the line of the brigade but then slinked away against the wall watching as the others tried to put out the blaze.
Her eyes drifted upward, high overhead in the towers that climbed up to the clouds and glared over the city she was sure that her master was gazing down on the blaze with amusement. Lyria, the usurper warlord, always enjoyed chaos. He had come to power himself through a bloody coup that had ravaged the city and he showed no signs of wanting to put the city of Abriciel back together again. So Olivia, along with the rest of palatial servants, had passed into Lyria's service and their collective nightmare had begun.
Olivia leaned against the wall, her drifting unfocused over the flames, she was trying to remember the dream that the cries of fire had shaken her from. There had been a crowd cheering and streamers in the air on a bright sunshine soaked day, but the rest was all gone. She sighed and watched as the buckets bounced from hand to hand down the line to the flames that were licking away the frame of the barn. The dragons had served Lyria, and won him the war for Abriciel, and Olivia, like everyone else in the city, could still remember the flash of heat that came just before the dragon's set whole buildings alight.
Then she happened to spot the oddest thing, a gate to the street that had been left open. One of the soldiers must have been absentminded as they came running in to help put out the fire. For a fleeting second all she could think of was her job, she should shut the gate and lock it back tight before anyone noticed, then she thought about slipping out into the city streets beyond. She crept on tiptoe to the courtyard wall, looking everywhere but at the gate in paranoia. In the mayhem of the blaze no one else was looking anywhere but at the barn and when the young servant girl disappeared into the streets of Abriciel no one took any notice of her.
Olivia wandered down the cobblestone streets awestruck by the grandeur of the city. Titanic buildings cast eerie shadows across the nearly barren streets. Alleys snacked away into total darkness and the wide walkways, which during the day were crammed with people, were deserted but for a few shadowy figures that skulked about.