THEY WERE EVENTUALLY granted access through the large gates, and continued to move through the outer court up towards the castle. Nobility walked all around them- women in long, flowing gowns with their hair in elegant styles, some wearing furs upon their shoulders and all lavishly covered in jewels, the men dressed handsomely in tunics, coats and surcoats of rich, deep colours, large golden belts around their waists. It was all a huge display of wealth and bloodline and the three magi kept to the outskirts of the outer court and out of anyone’s way. Chelstra couldn’t keep her eyes from the exotic and elaborate fashions of both sexes and whilst Troy was much more composed, he too eyed the nobility with interest.
Raine quickly looked away as she recognised the symbol of Rendeis on a few warriors moving through the crowd, weapons as obvious as their armour. Of course Illuminators would be present here. They must be of Order Scrutator, the ones that remain inside and near the castle.
THEY REMAINED IN the outer court for a time, looking around them as the nobility entered the castle through a lowered drawbridge over the moat, another courtyard on the opposite side. The sun had almost set now, casting the sky into a rich deep blue, the first of the evening’s stars shining like the diamonds set around many a noblewoman’s neck. The air was filled with an overwhelming clash of smells, and Raine could recognise cooking animal meat amongst the powerful scent of perfumes and colognes, whilst the stench from the stables lingered beneath. Music was playing through the open gates on the other side of the moat, increasing in volume as they approached the water. Raine listened to the sounds of lutes, harps, drums and gamba over the general cacophony of noise, combining into an elegant but passionate song that was mostly hidden beneath hundreds of voices.
There came the sudden sound of a bell, cutting off everyone’s conversations and the music. Chelstra jumped. “What does that mean?” she asked.
“It means that dinner is served and we can start heading inside.” Troy explained, looking over at the entrance as the thick double doors to the castle opened up, revealing a hallway that led them to the Great Hall. They moved to the side of the courtyard as nobility made their way inside first, looking at others with gracious smiles but moving with vicious haste. Raine watched them with dark amusement.
Finally, they moved into the hallway, and Chelstra breathed out with amazement at the pristine white walls, the gleaming marble floor and the thick rug underneath their boots. Troy looked at the artwork with deep fascination, and Raine did her best to look as equally interested in her surroundings. It is impressive, she thought, but not something I haven’t seen before. The castle of Treston is just as spectacular.
Then they entered the Great Hall, the sounds of conversations intensifying to an almost unbearable level, and Raine had to admit that the room was indeed stunning. Huge chandeliers hung from the high ceiling, casting the large room in a pleasant, warm glow. The thick, regal blue curtains were closed and the walls covered in paintings, tapestries and flags of exuberant colour and taste. Even the tables and individual wooden chairs were of high quality, although Raine could tell that those closer to the king’s table were of better make than the ones they were to be seated at. All tables were covered with long, rectangular cloths of quality blue material decorated with gold trimming, the chairs having similar patterned cushions on them. On the tables were silver and gold candelabras, cutlery and glasses and intermittent baskets of bread; everything in perfect position. Her senses were in overload, so rich were the sounds, smells and sights of everything around her- she found herself glancing down at the floor every now and then in an attempt to keep her mind focused.
Up at the head of the Hall, Raine saw the empty table of the king and queen, sitting lengthwise to face the guests and elevated on a marble dais. Banners of Avendan hung on the wall behind the table. She turned her attention to the mass of people around her and made her way to the benches designated for the magi at the back of the room. They didn’t need to move far to find their own places, and they sat down graciously and looked around. Raine saw Will down the length of their table and he grinned at her.
She wasn’t surprised to see that Hammond could not be found at any of the fancy seats around her, and she wondered how he had managed to escape such a task, yet again.
“Now what happens?” Chelstra asked, looking at the extensive row of knives, forks and spoons before her with a grimace. Troy grinned, unable to contain his excitement.
“Once everyone is inside, King Thomas will come out and then the feast will begin.” he said. Raine smiled, looking up again at the empty table. So, I finally meet the head of my enemy, she thought wryly.
IT TOOK SOME time for everyone to be seated into the Great Hall, and Raine had to stop herself from taking more drinks from the squires and pages as they swept by just so she had something to do.
At last, whilst in the middle of a one-way conversation with Troy about particular noble figureheads at the front of the room, a male servant came out onto the dais.
“Ladies and gentlemen, may I present His Majesty King Thomas and Her Highness Queen Ellen,” he called in a loud, clear voice. Conversations were instantly stilled, replaced instead by the scraping of hundreds of chairs as everyone hurried to their feet. Raine cast Troy a glance, and his eyes were burning with excitement and passion. He grinned at her, catching her gaze.
They all bowed their heads slightly as King Thomas of Avendan strolled out onto the dais, holding his hand out for his wife. He was dressed lavishly in blue and gold, the intricate patterns too delicate for her eyes to follow, a deep red cape flowing out behind him. He looked upon them all with a wide smile, and bowed his head slightly.
“Thankyou,” he said in a quiet, gentle voice. Raine was stunned at how young the king was, especially in comparison to King Desmond. He moved to his high-backed chair, pulling one out for his wife, and they all sat back down as he did. Raine froze, her eyes falling upon a very familiar person, one that she had not seen since initially arriving in Avendan. Troy had to tug at her tunic to remind her to sit.
Damien stood behind the throne chair, his expression as nonchalant and serious as ever. His bright amber eyes were gazing around the room intently and for a moment she could have sworn that they fell on her, but there was not even the slightest reaction from him to imply that they had. He was dressed gloriously in blue and gold armour, twin shortswords sitting behind his back and another ceremonial blade at his hip, a high-collared shirt underneath his breastplate. He appeared tall and unmovable despite being Raine’s height, his shoulders broad and his body poised. He appeared dangerous, but in a handsome and noble way, a way that Raine didn’t even think was possible for the dark, sarcastic, blood-hungry Shadowmaster she knew. He’d hate me for thinking of him that way too, she thought, forcing her eyes away from him and back to her table.
THE FEAST WAS a grand affair and Raine found herself enjoying the energetic, vibrant atmosphere. She looked over at King Thomas occasionally, noticing that the man was almost always in enthusiastic, deep conversations with a nobleman sitting at his other side, a man with ash-brown hair and a wide, genuine smile. Then her glance would automatically drift onto Damien, standing behind them, but he would always be looking away, staring fiercely at someone or something. He just looked so different; the change was incredible. He must hate being so visible and obvious in the limelight, Raine thought. Chelstra waved her hand in front of her face and brought her attention back to them.
“You alright?” she asked playfully. “You’re just staring off into space over there.”
“King Thomas is impressive,” Troy said, following her gaze. “And apparently quite a pleasant man to converse with as well.”
“Who’s the man next to him?” Raine asked him. “They seem like good friends.”
“They most definitely are good friends,” Troy said, smiling at the opportunity to share his knowledge. “If my information is correct, which it usually is, then that man is Lord Isaac la Barre, a man of noble origins that owns high-quality lands near the Severin. He and King Thomas have been close friends for many years.”
“You know, sometimes I’m almost concerned at how much you know about these kinds of things. If you put as much focus into your training, you would be a sage by now.” Chelstra teased.
“I’ll take that as a compliment, I think.” Troy said, raising an amused eyebrow at her and continuing to eat his meal. Raine frowned.
“You’re very good at that,” she said, watching him. “Did you learn dining etiquette before all of this?”
“Of course,” Troy said, straightening a little in his chair, “The Claybrook family may not be nobility, but we are still proud, you know.”
“I’m proud of my family too,” Chelstra said indignantly, “But we don’t have to know how to use spoons correctly with the right soup to be so.”
Troy shrugged, looking down at his meal. His cheeks were turning a soft shade of pink. “Well, my father trained my brothers and I; insisted upon it, actually.” he said. He was quiet for a moment and then turned back to her. “And it came in handy, didn’t it?” he added, a little defensively. “It’s a useful skill to have, just in case.”
“If you say so.” Chelstra said.
He then looked over at Raine, clearly wanting her opinion. “It would definitely be useful.” she said with a smile. “You eat just like a noble.” He grinned, his irritation gone.
“And who is that?” she added, looking back up at the stage. Behind the king, Damien and the other man she assumed was a King’s Guard stood another figure, dressed in a long white robe with blue and gold armour beneath it. She knew immediately from his dark skin that he once resided in the Kreshna Desert. Troy looked at him intently.
“It is quite possible that he is an Illuminator.” he said eventually. Raine’s eyes went wide but she hid the spasm of fear that rushed through her. “It makes sense to keep one with His Majesty, but I think that the white robe he wears is a representation of his scholarly position. The golden sun symbol sewn into the fabric is an emblem belonging to the Illuminators, at the very least.”
“They call them acolytes.” Chelstra added, watching with interest. “Acolyte Illuminators. It’s interesting that he’s from the desert; I didn’t know they had magi over there.”
“So he’s not fully trained, then?” Raine asked, her fear subsiding as she nodded. I’ll bet Damien’s glad about that.
THEY DINED THROUGH five courses of delectable foodstuffs involving meat that ranged from fresh fish to salted beef, chicken and deer, lamb and pork, and finally finishing with delicate desserts and sweet pastries. They drank wine and mead as they listened to the lively, upbeat music from the band situated in the back corner of the Hall.
“I think he’s had one too many wines,” Chelstra muttered to Raine, eyeing Troy suspiciously. Troy was grinning broadly and talking loudly to the person sitting next to him, another mage from Third Platoon, who didn’t seem overly interested in the conversation.
“We should get out of here soon, before he does something stupid.” Chelstra muttered and Raine found herself agreeing.
THEY WATCHED THE nobles for a time as they danced, applauding politely at the end of every song, until the king finally pulled himself up from his seat and they rose and bowed in response. Mealtime was over and squires and pages were coming out to take away the mess that had been created over the last couple of hours, slipping in between the tables like snakes.
“We should dance.” Troy declared, a determined look in his eyes, once King Thomas and those at his table had left. Raine watched as Damien disappeared behind the curtains, the acolyte close behind.
“And that’s our cue to leave.” Chelstra said, looking over at Raine for support. She nodded, and together they rose from their seats. Many others were starting to leave as well, filling the music-laden air with sounds of screeching chairs and footsteps.
“You know, he’s only had a couple of drinks as well,” Chelstra said quietly to her and Raine shook her head with a smile.
“Oh, please no!” Troy cried, his expression sinking into horror as he realised what they were doing. “Everything is going perfectly!” The mage sitting beside him cast them an appreciative look.
“Better get you out of here whilst you can still walk.” Chelstra muttered, gripping onto his upper arm tightly. He let her shake him for a moment, looking up at her with pleading eyes, before sighing dramatically and rising slowly from his chair.
“Heresy, leaving such a grand occasion early…” Troy muttered, his tall frame swaying slightly as they moved to the back of the Great Hall.
“Can’t your Life Magic fix altered states of mind like drunkenness?” Raine asked Chelstra quietly as they followed behind him.
“It can,” she replied, looking at her with a mischievous shine in her eyes, “but I was getting bored anyway and helping him out of here seemed like the perfect excuse to leave.”
“That’s very sneaky of you.” Raine said, and she grinned.
They moved out of the castle and onto the courtyard, making their way towards the drawbridge. The heat of hundreds of pressed bodies was replaced with a pleasant summer breeze that swept through the yard gently, a refreshing change that Raine, in her restricting uniform, appreciated.
The loud sounds of conversation and music dimmed as the night sky expanded above them.
“Now that’s much better,” Chelstra said with relief, “I can hear my own voice again.”
Then she turned to look at her, eyes shining. “And tomorrow, we have the festival! I’m so excited!”
Raine decided to say nothing, and instead followed Troy as he headed through the crowds back towards the barracks, marking the end of a pleasant night.
THE NEXT DAY flew past in a blur of excitement, felt by everyone except her.
Raine awoke that morning with a strange, anxious feeling in her gut, one that was similar to trepidation and bordering on fear. She found that she could eat little, and forced a smile across her face whenever Chelstra or Troy spoke to her, fit to burst with their own excitement. It was a strange sensation, a foreboding warning in the back of her mind, whispering to her wordlessly of bad things to come. She tried to shake it off, distracting herself with dressing and practising Shadow combat moves in her room. Eventually, she managed to push it to the back of her thoughts, where it sat like a dark cloud.
THEY PRACTICED THEIR magic in the morning and even Preston could not dampen the cheerfulness of many of the magi as he scowled in disapproval of their poorly executed techniques. Raine wasn’t surprised to find that Hammond was absent, and wondered if he would ever show up to a training session again.
She threw herself into the training vigorously, but the exercise did little to sweep away her anxious mood. She couldn’t focus, her mana vital unsettled, and despite her best efforts she could not get the swirling mass of magical energy to calm itself.
“Something bothering you?” Troy asked as she failed to block one of his easier air attacks. She sighed, shrugging.
“I don’t know; something feels wrong but I can’t pinpoint it.” she said. Troy had nothing helpful to say so he just smiled sympathetically and lowered the force of his attacks from then on, which, despite his good intentions, did nothing to lighten her mood.
THEY SEPARATED AFTER training to clean themselves, the summer sun blazing down on them like an angry, wrathful god. Raine moved slowly, desperately trying to locate the source of her sudden and unusual anxiety. She had felt nothing like it before; only when she had something genuine to fear did she feel anything close to this sensation.
And it’s not ‘female issues’, as Chelstra believes, she thought with mild irritation, the Life Mage having also noticed her change in personality. It has to come from somewhere, but I just don’t know where. Or from what.
Deep in thought, she rose from her reverie as she realised that there were two shadows on the ground before her. She looked up and jumped at the sight of Hammond, strolling casually beside her. He raised an eyebrow and his lip twitched in amusement as she involuntarily took a step away from him.
“How long were you beside me?” she cried.
“Almost a minute.” he said placidly. “You clearly have something on your mind; it’s all over your face. You looked so doom-and-gloomy that I just had to come and ask.”
“I…” Raine started, but realising how silly her situation sounded, she shrugged. “It’s nothing.”
“Liar.” Hammond said. She looked up at him indignantly, but his face remained impassive. “If you hadn’t noticed my shadow, I could have walked with you right up to your door.”
She sighed. “I don’t feel right, and I don’t know why.” she said.
“Define ‘right’.” he said, lazily gesturing forward with his hand. They continued to walk towards her quarters.
“Uneasy. Tense. As if something bad is going to happen.” she said, her gaze returning to the stone path they were walking on. Hammond rubbed his chin, looking up at the sky.
“That’s interesting.” he said slowly. “And crazy, if you look at it that way. Do you have any history of sensing the future?”
“It’s hardly that,” Raine said, unable to hold back her impatience. His eyes widened just a fraction.
“I see; there is something wrong.” he said evenly. “I apologise, do continue.”
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just… unpleasant, and what’s most annoying is that I don’t know why. It’s frustrating.”
“Well I don’t know what to say to something like that.” Hammond said. “Maybe just take it easy for the next few days; who knows?”
“Are you going to the festival tonight?” Raine asked, remembering. He looked at her, his face curling into a mocking frown.
“You’re kidding, right?” he said. She couldn’t help but smile.
“Of course, I should have known. You can’t be bothered, right?” she said, and he nodded.
“Got it in one.” he said. They walked in silence for a moment. Raine looked up at the Fire Mage beside her, and his expression was as blank and even as always.
“Well, there is something…” she said quietly, wondering how he would respond.
“Knew it.” Hammond said. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, what is it this time?”
She frowned, but forced herself to continue. It’s only a matter of time until I have to tell them, anyway…
“Do you know Mage Wetherdon?” she asked him eventually, and he gave a carefree shrug.
“A little. Creepy guy.” he said. “Why, what’s he done?”
“Nothing.” she said quickly. “Except that…well, he seems to think that I have a Bridge of Death.”
Hammond looked at her, disbelief and amusement growing across his face. Raine said nothing, holding his gaze, and eventually he gave a bark of laughter that surprised her.
“Oh Gods; you’re serious.” he said, green eyes alight with sudden energy. “Well, whilst I can’t be surprised that you’re a sage, I didn’t think it’d be from a Death Bridge.”
“I’m not a sage,” she said quickly, still frowning, “I have no intention of learning Death Magic.”
“Why not?” Hammond asked her, his smile fading. “It’s a damn useful type of magic, if not a little creepy.”
“Well…” she said.
“Not only that, but you’ll shoot up the ranks even quicker. That’s what you want, right? Preston’ll have no choice but to promote you.” he added and whilst Raine knew that he was joking, it also made her think.
And that would help with my Shadow missions too… I am supposed to gain rank and access to more information, after all…
“Don’t let it worry you.” Hammond said, watching her. “You do what you wanna do, and who cares, right?”
“Chelstra will.” she muttered and Hammond snorted scornfully.
“If she’s even half a decent friend, then she’ll keep her mouth shut about it.” he said. “She’s never picked it up in you, so it’s not like you’re making her feel uncomfortable with that Deathly aura of yours.”
“Thanks Hammond.” she said wryly, and he shrugged.
They walked in silence for a time, until they swept past the Dining Hall and Hammond stopped walking, turning in the direction of the building instead.
“I’m starving.” he said. “I’ll see you around. Take it easy, yeah? Don’t let all this stuff get you down; I’m getting sick of our pep talks.”
“Thanks.” she said again, smiling. “You should attend some training sessions some time, you know?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Hammond said, turning on his heel and waving his hand at her in farewell. “Enjoy your night on the town.”
“I’ll try.” Raine muttered, feeling her unease suddenly rising up inside of her once more.
HER EMOTIONS FADED for a while as she preoccupied herself with chores and a nap for the rest of the day, hoping that she would wake feeling better than she had had that morning.
She dreamt strange dreams, of people and places that she did not know or recognise. Her confusion only continued to rise until the end of the dream, and she woke somehow feeling more fatigued than before.
So much for a nap making me feel better, she thought gloomily, sitting up in her bed. Outside, the sun had finally started to set, marking the end of her torturous day. A new blue tunic, the result of a forced shopping trip with Chelstra, lay on the corner of her table and she knew that the Life Mage would be banging on her door sometime soon.
With a sigh she pulled herself from her bed and started to get changed into her clothes for the night.
EVENTUALLY, THE LIFE Mage arrived.
“You look wonderful.” she breathed, dressed in light colours of white and varying shades of yellow that went well with her brazenly orange hair.
Raine smiled. “Thankyou, so do you.” she said politely. The two of them started down the hall, passing by closed wooden doors.
“Oh, I need to buy something for Hayato.” she said, remembering. “He’s not able to come to the festival and I think it would cheer him up when he returns.” The sudden thought of the Kayokian made her miss him and their training sessions, as well as his casual, unbiased opinions regarding her Death Magic problems.
She frowned slightly as she realised how much she actually appreciated him.
“It’s a shame that you can’t show off your pretty new look,” Chelstra said slyly, winking at her. “I’m sure he would appreciate the change- you’re always in training gear.”
Raine felt her cheeks start to warm. “It’s because he had to go guard the river.” she said, instantly regretting saying anything at all. “The eclipse is important to his culture and I think he was looking forward to it. I thought he might like a little gift or memento of it.”
“Sure, sure.” Chelstra said, still grinning. “Just don’t tell Troy; he’d have a heart attack.”
Raine just shook her head as they walked outside, the light fading in a rainbow sunset- red on the horizon followed by orange and yellow, topped with a thin strip of green that became a darker blue that consumed the sky above them. It was still pleasantly warm, but Raine was still grateful for the dark leggings she wore underneath her navy blue tunic.
Troy was waiting for them outside of the female quarters, as she knew he would be, and he grinned at the sight of them as they approached.
“Good evening, ladies.” he said, walking forward. “You are both looking absolutely stunning, of course.” He was dressed in a high collared, long-sleeved black shirt, the neck lowering into a V that was kept together with a criss-crossing band of ribbon. The shirt was covered with a deep forest green vest, the shoulders and edges decorated with gold embroidery. He wore black pants and knee-high leather boots. A thick brown belt wrapped around his waist and a short woollen cloak hung from his broad shoulders.
“Thanks Troy,” Raine said, smiling despite herself. “You look fairly impressive yourself.”
He gave a low, theatrical bow. “Thankyou. Shall we leave for the festivities, then?” he asked.
“Lead the way!” Chelstra said, her face glowing with excitement. “I just can’t wait to see the acrobats!”
THE NIGHT SWEPT past in a show of acrobats, fire breathers, clowns, dancers and sword-eaters, but nothing could cheer Raine’s mood.
At last she found a gift for Hayato, a silver brooch that was finely decorated with leaves and the three-quarter moon emblem. It was intricate but not overly feminine, and Troy had accepted the idea with a firm nod of his head, not realising that it was a gift for Hayato.
Above them, the full moon had started to rise from its low position on the horizon, watching them with its usual pale face, the bottom of its circular shape a tinge of red.
“I wonder how it happens? Or why?” Raine said quietly, turning her gaze upwards.
“The priests say that it is an act of Leyna, and is a kind of cleansing ritual in which all is taken by darkness and is reborn again, pure. It’s an interesting theory.” Troy said.
“You don’t believe it?” she asked, looking down at him. He shrugged.
“Who knows what lies in the heavens, and who are we to ask?” he said. “I just believe in what I can see, and leave the rest for everybody else to wonder about.” He looked down at her and grinned. “For all we know, she could just be bored up there and decided to turn the moon a pretty shade of red for a while.”
“You’re terrible.” Raine said, grinning despite herself.
“Come on, let’s go find a decent spot.” he said, smiling, and they pulled Chelstra away from the entertainment and out towards the city gates.
People were streaming through the open gates and onto the grassy, flat lands before them, guards watching intently from both the ground and up high in watchtowers and along the wall.
“Does it last all night?” Raine asked as they stepped out into a refreshing breeze. They moved off the road and walked on the grass for a time until they found a spacious spot.
“Who knows? It’s all up to the Great Goddess herself, I guess.” Troy said, plopping unceremoniously onto the ground and stretching out on his back.
“We can always watch it until it returns to normal and then go to bed.” Chelstra said, more composed now that they were away from the lights and sounds of the streets. “That way we won’t be too tired for tomorrow’s training session.”
Maybe I should follow Hammond’s behaviour and stay in bed tomorrow. Who knows, maybe Preston won’t yell at me because of what I saw between the two of them? Raine thought, but tossed the idea away with a wry smile.
TROY LAY ON his back whilst Chelstra and Raine sat, supporting themselves with their arms as they continued to talk and at last, the moon began its celestial event. The flattened woodland was covered with hundreds of people, all staring expectantly at the sky, and a hushed silence fell upon them as a shadow crept over the side of the moon. It was as black as the night itself, slowly chewing through the brightly glowing orb.
“It’s starting…” Troy whispered, and Raine’s anxiety and sense of dread returned with a vengeance so strong that she gripped the corner of her tunic with a closed fist. What in the name of Rendeis is wrong with me?
Her companions were too busy staring at the sky to notice the spasm of fear that crossed her face as she realised that her hands were shaking. She resisted the urge to vomit as nausea swelled in her stomach.
SHE DIDN’T KNOW how much time had passed as the moon became three-quarter, half and then one-quarter, but it was agonisingly slow.
Finally, its last shred of light was staring out bleakly from the black abyss of the sky. Raine breathed through her parted mouth as quietly and gently as she could, beads of terrified sweat dripping down her pale face. She could hear her blood rushing in her ears as a turbulent wave, her vision becoming blurry. I can’t take this for much longer. I need to get to the hospital.
She tried to speak, to ask her friends for help, but her voice had long since abandoned her.
She looked up as the shadows swallowed the last of the moon and in that moment, everything turned black, both in the sky and in her mind.
SHE OPENED HER eyes to find herself standing on an ocean of water. It flowed in a vicious current underneath her, sweeping past in laps of waves, but she remained stationary, her feet unmoving on the surface.
She frowned. Where am I? she thought and to her horror, she heard her own voice speaking her thoughts aloud, all around her, echoing away into the white sky. White? she thought, and again, her confused voice filled the air. I was just watching the eclipse.
I… She thought of the anxiety and fear that she had been feeling all day, and realised that they were gone. Only confusion remained, and rising panic at this new, alarming environment.
Is this a dream? she thought/spoke, continuing to look around her. She was scared that if she took a step, she would disappear into the watery depths below. She was utterly alone, standing on an ocean that stretched out in every direction, and a tune was playing somewhere, calling her from the vast emptiness, a clash of two different songs.
She couldn’t pick out what was being played because the moment she realised that it was there, the ocean rumbled and great waves started to form, rising and crashing down again in their own, deliberate patterns. She heard thunder and she looked up, her panic rising, to see that the sky was now a bright blood red, devoid of clouds. This doesn’t make sense!
It doesn’t have to make sense, sweetheart. A womans voice cut through her thoughts and the thunder, entering her own mind as if it belonged there. Least of all to you.
She turned, realising that someone was there, and she shielded her eyes as a bright, intense light filled her vision. It was like staring at the sun, a sun that stood only paces in front of her, blazing with heartless fury.
The energy, the raw power, from the being before her was so overwhelming that Raine dropped to her knees, still covering her face with her arm, light flooding through her eyelids. Her skin warmed as heat washed over her, her mind burning from the intensity of it, her heart threatening to explode from primal terror. The light covered her, singeing her skin, touching her with invisible fingers that longed to rip her flesh from her bones.
Who are you? she thought/spoke, her voice high and manic with fear, and the being before her laughed, a shrill, callous, mocking laugh that tore at her eardrums.
It doesn’t matter who I am. You are mine now.
Raine felt the heat intensify as the being took a step forward and she scrambled backwards onto the water’s surface, feeling its coolness on her skin. Through gaps in her fingers she could make out the shape of a human body, and she sensed malevolence in the woman, reflected in the radiant light that surrounded her. She could feel her hatred and her anger flowing through her veins, so powerful and vicious that she was afraid her whole body might burst with its force, and she had no choice but to look away.
What have I done? Why are you doing this? she cried, tears streaming down her face, her head shrieking like a steaming kettle. She pushed herself away, slowly and pitifully, clenching her eyes shut and using one hand on the surface to guide her.
She laughed again, Raine’s bones aching with the power of it, and she continued to slowly advance towards her.
You have simply existed, and that is all. Although, I suppose I should thank you for it.
The being seemed to consider the thought for a moment and even though Raine couldn’t see, she knew that she had shrugged and started to walk again.
Nevermind. You are mine now, and that is all that matters. I have been sleeping for too long.
In an instant she stood directly before her, and Raine knew that she was stretching down, reaching out for her.
No! she yelled, her anguish tearing across the landscape as the heat intensified and she could feel her clothes burning away.
Oh yes, the being said, Oh yes, yes, yes.
Her hand gripped her neck, burning her skin with such a white-hot searing pain that Raine screamed, her voice returning from wherever it had been hiding in her chest and pouring out of her against her will.
Her consciousness swayed violently as she was lifted from her position on the ground with ease, her arms hanging loosely at her side, her legs lifeless. She opened her eyes and looked into the burning sun before her, knowing with certainty that she was going to die anyway.
As her eyes burned out and turned to dust, she saw through the veil of light and caught a brief glimpse at what was held within.
The she-being looked back at her, her mouth curled into a wide, amused grin, her teeth perfect. She was beautiful, flawless, with clear, fair skin and long, radiant dark hair that shimmered with life-force. She was naked and unabashed, her young body voluptuous and seductive, demanding attention. Her face screamed of the most noble of bloodlines- her cheekbones high, deep-red lips plump, nose small and perfect, thin, elegant eyebrows curved into an expression of great satisfaction. Eyes deeper and darker than the shadows themselves looked back at her, promising her nonexistence and an end to her short life.
An angel, Raine thought hopelessly, her voice fading from the hell-world around them and returning to her own mind as her life-force started to break away. I’m being killed by an angel.
The she-being’s hand suddenly plunged into her chest, slicing through her skin and bone as if it was delicate parchment, and she screamed again as she felt her insides burn with white fire. Her heart exploded, no longer able to withstand the torture, and she felt blood gush up her throat and out her mouth and nostrils.
As her vision faded away, the she-being continued to grin.
Goodbye, little girl. It was nice knowing you.