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    My vision is hazy. I am on my hands and knees, and that only because of what willpower I still have left. My muscles scream in protest, begging me to fall to the ground where they can rest. Blood drips steadily from the fresh scar across my cheek, blending into the earth below me. I know I won't survive this, but a part of me won't let go. The rest of my troop, soldiers dear to me and good men all of them, lay dead or dying around me. The Priest of the Sun Temple had fled, and I felt a bit of relief at that. It was his duty to bestow blessings upon whatever unit of the Empire he was assigned to, and blessings did no good for dead men. Thinking of duty, I felt some of my strength return to me. I can't fall here. I must live on. Though my body aches, I raise my head to look at the assailant who had single-handedly laid waste to twenty well-trained veteran Paladins of Eyrie's Peak.

    Every soldier sent out beyond the massive wall that guarded the mountainous empire of Canisium was given a description of the woman who stand before me now, and warned not to engage her without a full company of soldiers at the ready. She stands at five-and-a-half feet, black hair twisted into a multitude of braids sprinkled with what were once colorful beads, and blue eyes. These features were not uncommon of the tribes that settled the lowlands outside of the mountains, with whom the Canisium Empire is at war. It is her other traits that set her apart, that make her so distinguishable. The tribes seem to consider jewelry and markings upon the body as taboo. As far as I or anyone else knows, they believe such things interfere with the flow of the demon sorcery that they employ, and yet this woman wears three rings in each ear. Hardly fashionable, they look to be made of steel and not the gold that Canisians favored. Upon her bare arms I can see ribbons of black ink, and when I first saw them, I thought they had no particular pattern or shape, just a tangle of lines with no purpose, but to my current blurred sight, they appear to resemble flames. I slowly shake my head and blink. That's probably because of the actual fire that snakes along the flesh of her arms, orange and red flames dancing between her fingers and the many iron rings that adorn them. Iron rings. That's something that I don't remember being in the description.

    She had been distracted while I was regaining my composure, but her gaze lazily returns to me as I struggle to my feet, using my blackened sword as a support. I now have her attention again, and I brace myself even as fear washes over me anew. Yet, in face of what I feel is my outward boldness and determination, she sheathes her sword. That's something else that sets her apart from her fellow tribesmen, who prefer their black magic as their sole weapon and shun the metal tools of the Empire. I do not relax my guard, wary of the flames that still flicker across her skin. I recall her name from the description, a man about to die wishing to have the name of his killer upon his lips, I suppose. She has no allegiances, for although she's from the damned tribes, she's killed just as many of them as she has Canisians. We were told that she's a madwoman, gone insane from the demon sorcery that her cursed people are born with, and cut loose from her kin to wreak havoc on the Empire no matter the consequences to all. As she calmly steps toward me, alert and composed, I can only think that she is sound of mind and something else drives her to unleash her power on friend and foe alike.

    "Sen Li," I croak, my voice raw, the effort of speaking burning my throat. I try again, building confidence. "Sen Li!" I must be the mad one, but I wish to know why I and the brave men scattered around me have to die today. She comes to a stop, only five paces in front of me, and I find enough strength to position my sword defensively. "Why do you do this?" I ask, emboldened by her hesitation. "We would have left you alone had you not come after us!" I'm yelling now, anger rising with my fear and pain. "You kill good Canisian people, not just soldiers. So many innocents have died, even your own people. What drives you?" I might have imagined it. Just for a moment, I thought I saw a flicker of sorrow cross her face, but if it was ever there, it was quickly replaced by bitterness.

    "I bear no grudge to you," she said quietly, and as I lean ever so slightly closer hear her, our eyes lock. From this short distance, time slows, and I can so vividly see the fire that spreads to surround her irises, spilling into her pupils, expanding to cover even the whites until her eyes have been completely engulfed by the inferno. Sen Li resumes closing the distance on me, and I find that I have dropped my sword, but it doesn't matter anymore. Fear has frozen me in place. "I bear no grudge to you," she repeats, only four paces away now, her voice loud and clear, "but my vengeance is absolute." Three paces. "And there are no innocents." Two paces. "Among the Sher Bi tribes." She was directly in front of me now, and I could only shake in terror. I sink to my knees, and she seizes my face in her hand, her palm over my mouth, fingers squeezing my cheeks in an iron grip. "Or among the Canisium Empire." For only an instant I can feel the scalding flames pour into my mouth, searing my lungs and the rest of my body from the inside, and then I am embraced by death.

    I've never written in the first person, or even in present tense before, so this was super weird to write.