Here’s my 1,000 word (Okay, 988) flash fiction piece for Chuck Wendig’s writing challenge: Pick a kickass opening line and write a story.

Where the Shadow is Darkest

“You must walk three paces behind me,” she said. “And never raise your eyes to mine.”

Her shadow grunted. “Yes, your Highness.”

Kaya smiled. Despite being on the run since bandits killed her family, her father’s last living solider, Trey, had caught up with her and offered her his protection. Under the unrelenting California sun, he wore a leather jacket and cowboy boots.

“All we have is each other,” she told him after accepting his help.

Still, she was royalty and he was just a servant.

#

After wandering in the desert for a few days, Kaya spotted a small town in a distance.

“We can find food and water there,” she said, caressing the almost-empty canister.

When they arrived on the main road, there were remnants of the old world scattered around the street. A motorcycle, also called a Harley-Davidson. A rusty mailbox. A red fire hydrant. Above them, a billboard featuring a smiling family had been defaced to make them look like demons.

“It doesn’t look safe here, your Highness,” Trey said behind her.

She turned her head slightly. “Do you have any other suggestions?” Her shadow didn’t move. “Then, follow me.”

She led them into an open marketplace. People shouted over one another. Loud music from the old world blared from speakers. Her older brother used to tell her stories about these royal singers, some known as Queen or Prince or the King.

Bodies swarmed the area, but Kaya still felt Trey behind her. When she paused to admire a set of colorful scarves, she lifted her gaze to the mirror. Her own features were hidden behind a dusty scarf. They not only protected her from the harsh elements, but they also hid her from the bandits who still searched for her.

Tears prickled her brown eyes as she ran her hands over the soft garments. Her mother loved scarves. She had one in every color and she wore lavender the day the bandits attacked their home. Kaya would never forget the fiery human skull on the bandit’s jacket as he used her mother’s own scarf to strangle her.

As she brushed the tears away, her gaze fell on Trey in the mirror. He kept his agreed distance and his head lowered, but for Kaya, he was closer than she imagined.

#

In an alleyway, Kaya feasted on the bread, three slices of ham, and bag of oranges she had stolen from the marketplace. Trey sat a few feet away with his head held down. She rolled an orange toward him. Without looking up, he took the fruit and started to peel.

“Thank you, your Highness,” he said.

She drank from her replenished water canister. “Trey, why are you still with me?”

His fingers paused and his chin lifted slightly. “I swore to your father to protect his family until my dying breath.” His voice softened. “And as you said, your Highness, all we have is each other.”

She nodded, even though he couldn’t see her. Then, her head jerked up when a pair of loud drunks stumbled into the alley. She and Trey moved behind some trashcans.

“Shouldn’t we get back to Clay?” one of them said.

Kaya’s stomach clenched at the bandit leader’s name. She peeked over the can and recognized the patch on the man’s jacket. A fiery human skull.

The other zipped down his pants and urinated against the wall. “He’ll be at the whorehouse the rest of the night. I say, we keep the party going.” When he finished his business, he and the bandit who killed her mother left the alleyway.

When Kaya stood, Trey grabbed her wrist from behind. Her body stiffened. Immediately, Trey released her.

“I’m sorry, your Highness, but I can’t let you go after them,” he said.

She kept her back to him. “Why not?”

“Those men are too dangerous.”

She slid her hand underneath her jacket and grasped her father’s blade. The ivory handle fit into the groove of her palm. “You forget that my father was a bandit before he was a king.”

#

Kaya was breathless when she arrived to Paradise City. The flashing neon lights screamed LIVE NUDE GIRLS. Her red hands held two items: her father’s knife and a patch of a fiery human skull. Her shadow followed silently as they made their way inside the business.

Kaya stormed through the hallway, kicking in each door. Naked women screamed and men scrambled out of the way when they saw Kaya’s weapon.

Kaya kicked in one more door and found the bandit leader in bed with a redhead. The woman ran out of the room without looking back. As soon as Clay’s gaze met Kaya’s, he grabbed the pistol on the nightstand.

As the gun exploded, Trey stepped in front of her. She gasped as the bullet entered his chest and spun him around. Their eyes met for the last time and he crumbled to the floor, fulfilling the promise he had made to her father.

Another explosion erupted, this time inside Kaya. She threw the knife at Clay, connecting the blade with his right shoulder. He howled and dropped the gun. She jumped on him, pulling the knife free and stabbing it into his worthless heart. She didn’t move until he took his last breath.

A woman screamed behind her. She turned around and the woman’s eyes widened. “Your Highness.” The woman fell to her knees and lowered her head.

Kaya made her way to the woman. “What’s your name?”

“Amelia, your Highness.”

“Stand up, Amelia and raise your eyes to mine.”

The woman rose and slowly lifted her gaze until Kaya could see her freckles. She pulled the stunned woman into an embrace and stared at Trey’s fallen body. “You and I, we’re equals.”

THE END

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