So, this is actually the first scene of this chapter. I'll repost the revision for the Blood of Jerelian scene, which I believe is going to slot in as the second scene, but will need some modifications to make the transition between both scenes more seamless.
Still choosing between the variations of the name Jaleh, Jale, or Zhaleh
Distant from the Lantern’s Light
Young Jaleh waited in the light of the lanterns, watching the vivid shades of cerise in the skies fade into hues of black. Beyond the outskirts of her village, she waited for her kinsmen, for anyone who had escaped as she had before leaving everything behind. She studied the lights in the heavens, her gaze falling upon the full moon, bathing the dunes in eerie brilliance.
The cold wind almost blew away the scent of her burning village. From this sacred ground, the suffering of her kin was like a distant wail into the dune sea. Bathing in the lanterns’ warding light, Jaleh never felt so disconnected from the world around her. This was not the deliverance her father promised, but a purgatory from which there was no escape.
It was a nightmare she could not awake from, living every instance of horror from the last several hours.
From the height of the largest dune, the lanterns’ bright glow warded the Ulkin beasts away. It was the very reason slavers raiding her village had deigned to spare her. There was no doubt in her mind the raiders knew where she waited. Yet the thought of navigating the dunes without infinite light seemed to give them great hesitance.
Alert, Jaleh climbed out of the sand, a hunting bow clasped in her shivering hands. She swept her emerald eyes over the dunes below like a hawk eager for the kill. She noticed a lone torch blazing against the night, and several dark shapes huddled together around its flickering fire.
Jaleh did not hesitate, her fingers tightening around her bow with renewed purpose. She plucked an arrow from her quiver, nocking it on her bow. Lifting her aim and taking the direction of the wind into account, she loosed her first arrow toward the dark shapes.
Their voices came creeping out of the starlit gloom. Unfamiliar, their accents were an amalgamation of rough barbaric tongues, eloquent speech of the higher languages, and everything in between. She noticed chainmail glinting in the moonlight, hidden underneath robes of cream and crimson.
Slave warriors of the Carth Dominion, Jaleh realized, braving the dunes for her.
Her arrow fell upon the Zar warriors without warning, finding purchase in the throat of the one guiding the unit forward. Stifling a brief gasp, Jaleh surprised herself with her unerring accuracy. The warrior staggered in his march, his comrades crying out in alarm when he collapsed into the sands. His Zar brethren scrambled to recover the burning torch buried in the sand with him.
She nocked another arrow on her bow, taking aim at the first warrior to pull the torch out of the dunes. She let the arrow sail once more. Curving the shot in such a way that it bent in an arc back toward the earth, the arrow descended over her mark’s round shield. Lifting the torch out of the sands, her mark was struck straight through the chest, toppling him where he stood.
The Zar’qin, translating to slave warriors in the Carthite tongue, huddled around each other. They interlocked their shields into an impregnable wall, protecting them from waist to helmet. One of their comrades secured their burning torch again, but this time Jaleh could not kill him outright. Her arrows pinged off their shield wall, harmless, as they came racing up the dune toward her.
She backpedaled from the edge of the dune, cold fear seizing her by the heart when she came back into the light of the torches. She readied her bow for a final, desperate stand. Yet, when the Zar came charging into the light, breaking their shield wall when they crested the dune to come face to face with their assailant, her body froze.
The warriors in their unit were from across a variety of sundered realms and conquered lands. Each warrior wore their scars plain on their skin, woven over their faces and across their limbs like decades-old tapestries. Studying their mixed expressions, some of the Zar’qin were outright surprised their enemy was only a young girl. Horrified, she realized others did not seem to care, storming toward her with their hands un-sheathing their swords.
A grizzled voice, scarred and hoarse from decades of ceaseless war, she imagined, locked the entire Zar unit in place. A scarred brute of a man shoved his way from the rear lines to the fore of the unit. He was twice the size of any of his comrades, his scars as long as they were wide. It was as if someone had taken a great cleaver to certain areas of his arms and face, but had proven unable to land a solid blow hard enough to truly harm him.
He said, “Stay your blades.”
“Adofo,” One of the Zar voiced his challenge. “She killed two of our own! She should be put to death without question.”
“We’re burning her village, young Magar,” Adofo replied. “You were no different when the Zar’qin proved victorious at the walls of Sarune, even for a brief while.” The scarred giant turned his gaze to Jaleh. He watched her, impressed by something he found within her. “She was scared. That should come as no surprise for any in our line of work.”
Adofo’s squinting glare brightened out of nowhere, alight with an idea. “Or, if you’re so bold, Magar, why don’t you subdue her yourself? Go ahead, test her limits at your peril. You have my approval.”
Magar did not hesitate, removing his hand from the hilt of his blade when he swept forward. He made to strike Jaleh with reverse sweep of his hand, hoping to humiliate her in front of his comrades. He wanted to prove something, she realized, that she was nothing more than a woman.
Jaleh blocked his strike with a raised forearm, smashing her white-knuckled fist hard across the bridge of his nose. Beneath the strength of her tensed muscles, she felt the cartilage in his nose crunch to an awkward angle. Blood sprayed from Magar’s broken nose, just when Jaleh swept a powerful kick into the side of his left knee.
She dived after the Zar warrior when he toppled like a pile of stone. Catching him by the neck in a choking grapple, Magar managed to tear himself free with several savage elbows into her flank. Jaleh released her grip, lashing out with a ferocious kick straight to Magar’s temple when he made to stand. She watched him topple back into the sand.
Adofo was the first to wheeze with hysterical laughter, chortling at Magar with the rest of the Zar’qin as he struggled to find his feet in the dune sand. Their commander held a hand over his gut, cackling when he raised his other to halt the fight.
“Girl, that’s enough!” He said, “Serves you right, Magar, for trying to beat a young woman. I had a feeling there was strength in her. She strikes harder than most young males her age, I’ll give her that! Well done, a good bout of entertainment, at the very least.”
Adofo sobered, and called out to the young girl in their midst, He asked, “What is your name, girl?”
Jaleh let her silence speak volumes.
Adofo’s expression took on a more serious aspect. He insisted, “Jaleh, isn’t it?”
She froze, horrified by the forbidden knowledge he possessed.
“Listen, young Jaleh.” Adofo extended his hand in offering to her, saying, “the reality of this situation is that you have three options to choose from. I could have my Zar subdue you by force, and have them drag you in chains into the Dominion of Carth. I think after the beating you’ve given Magar, all of us here like you enough that we’d rather not have our hands forced. The other option is that you can take my hand, and we can journey toward your new home together, where I’ll put in a good word for you with our masters. If you desire to see your father again, this is the best option for you.
“The third option is that you’ll starve out here in the desert on your own. Not much of an option, sadly.”
Jaleh studied Adofo’s scarred features for any sign of deception, but she knew as much as he did, that she had little choice. She was now enslaved by the Dominion of Carth. She should choose death, she thought, but knew her father would be forever shamed, in either death or life. She had no way of knowing if Adofo spoke the truth about him. Yet her desire to keep living, made her eager to uncover the truth behind his words.
Cautious, Jaleh approached Adofo, reaching out and taking his hand in acceptance.
Adofo smiled, nodding. “A good decision. I’m glad you’re as sharp of mind as strong of body. The Zar’qin Guard will put you to good use in our ranks. You’ll not regret the chance for adventure and living a life free of the mundane toils of the others in the Zar caste. Now, let’s be off. Zar’qin, move out!”