The fire crackled against the breeze, sending glowing embers into the sky. Sunaj dipped the metal spoon into the simmering broth and sampled a bit of the soup. Realizing it still lacked the saltiness he preferred, he then pinched a bit more salt from the small jar set beside him and rubbed his thumb and forefinger over the pot.
Sunaj missed simple joys like this. Back in his hometown, Sunaj was a cook. And a husband of seven children. The gratification of combining different flavors and ingredients into a succulent meal was one of the two things Sunaj derived pleasure from. And hearing the joy of his children's voices as they relished the meals he made was the other.
Who would have known that the memory of hearing each child cheer and squeal in delight as Sunaj revealed each gastronomical delight would be replaced by the horror of hearing them pleading for their lives.
A wild band of scavengefolk assaulted the town one evening. The town crier ran through the streets, calling out for alarm as the band charged past the walls. Like rabid wolves, the scavengefolk tore through the streets and attacked anyone they came upon. Teeth, sharpened nails and vicious fists tore flesh and drew Febhed blood without mercy. Sunaj fought valiantly to protect his own family, taking down seven of the scavengefolk with his bare hands. The eight, however, was skilled in Fire Chants, and using the secret words of power that allowed one to manipulate fire, the scavengefolk was able to invoke the burning walls of the hut nearby to rise up like a swelling tower of churning flame, then dive, striking like a deadly viper. The assault struck the ground between Sunaj's feet, missing him by a few inches. The dwarf moved, leaping away from the rising flames, then ducking beneath a second strike to weave in and clamp both bleeding hands upon the scavengefolk's neck. He squeezed, feeling the muscle and bone strain beneath his grasp.
The scavengefolk, seeing in Sunaj's eyes that the Febhed planned to kill him, retaliated in the best way to possibly distract the enemy. Pulling against Sunaj's fingers just enough to gasp for air, the scavengefolk barked out the four syllables necessary to redicted the serpent of fire. It was only when his children began to scream in fear that Sunaj realized the flaming serpent had been directed to wrap around the very home where his children safely hid. And that moment when Sunaj turned to see the house catch fire, the scavengefolk wiggled free an arm enough to grab a nearby rock, and smash the rock into Sunaj's very face.
Sunaj fell, the pain overwhelming both self-preservatino and the need to do something to save his children.
By the time he had awoken, the town was in ashes, the burnt bodies were no longer smoldering, and a small note was left on his chest by the scavengefolk. He had been left alive on purpose. The sole survivor in the whole town.
The pain of loss could have defeated Sunaj that moment. It could have eroded all sense of meaning or joy in his life. It could have been the beginning of self-blame and weakness. But instead, it became a reason not to give up. It became a reason not to grow weak. It became a reason to find himself and become a stronger person, even if he never knew himself to be weak.
To the very least, Sunaj realized, he would be an even better person; he would become a person his children, wherever they may now be, would be proud to have call as their father.
"More salt," Alucita suggested as she walked up towards Sunaj. She had seen his expression change the moment the spoon touched his lips.
"Yes," Sunaj smiled. Part of him recalled how Alucita entered his life, but the act of musing over that meeting for now had to wait. He noticed Alucita was walking with one hand already holding her echoblade. The curved blade had the shape of the cross-section of a vicious wave of tempered steel. Both sides were sharpened into effective cutting edges. Small holes could be found across its body, acting as finger holes to grasp the weapon safely. It was meant to be used as a defensive edged melee weapon, but skilled users were also aware how to weild the device as a boomerang and like its namesake, the echoblade would always spin back towards the original thrower, slicing through the air with dangerous ease. "More salt would have been nice. We are out of time?"
"Unless you think blood could be a good substitute for salt," Alucita gave a mock smile and nodded, suggesting Sunaj look upwards, "They are here. "