RAINE AWOKE TO the sound of her own screaming.
She jumped, her body shaking violently, her hands clenched to her chest so tightly that pain was arching up her arms. There were sounds around her but she paid them no attention, ignoring the blur of shapes moving in her vision. Her racing heartbeat was smashing against her skull, her throat burning.
Her chest felt like it was on fire, like everything underneath her thin layer of skin was being incinerated and she was somehow living through it.
In the back of her mind she registered a tight grip on her shoulders and the weight of someone pressing down on her. She heard her own name being called, the voice loud and desperate, overflowing with fear. She could smell grass, and a warm, pleasant male odour. The hands shook her shoulders firmly, the voice calling again.
A face came into focus- a young man with light hair, ghost-white skin and blazing blue eyes that were wide with panic.
Raine stopped screaming and instead gasped for air, her lungs aching. Troy ceased shaking her but still gripped her tightly, leaning over her body. She blinked rapidly, taking in his face.
Other voices joined his- a female sobbing and others murmuring in the background as a single sound. She kept her arms to her chest but controlled her violent shaking, her muscles twitching. She simply lay there, panting, taking in the environment around her.
She’s gone, she thought, her mind numb. I’m alive. She didn’t kill me.
She sat up quickly and looked at her hands, not hearing Troy’s cry of surprise. Her hands were whole and unscathed. There was no gaping, burning wound in the centre of her chest, and her eyes were intact with complete vision. No blood seeped from the orifices of her face, although she was drenched in sweat.
I’m completely unharmed.
Then she turned to her side and threw up violently, much to the horror of those around her. When she finished, her throat burning and her eyes watering, she realised that hands were holding back her hair, keeping it out of the mess.
She sat back down again slowly, her body devastatingly weak. Troy moved back into her vision, one hand gripping her shoulder softly.
“Please say something, Raine. Are you alright?” he asked, his voice low and anxious, his eyes burning with worry. She looked at him slowly, but the angel lingered as an after-image, burned into her eyes. She blinked, tears welling and tumbling down her face, and tried to focus as her consciousness rose.
“What happened?” she asked, stunned at the sound of her own voice, half expecting it to have been torn out with the rest of her throat. Troy shook his head softly.
“We don’t know. You just passed out, and then started screaming and shaking, like you were being possessed by a demon or something. We couldn’t wake you.” he said, his own voice unsteady.
There was movement on her other side, a mist of white light growing in her peripheral vision. Raine jumped away from Chelstra instinctively at the sight of the light, bumping into Troy.
“Keep away from me.” she said, eyes fixed on her hands.
“Hey, hey,” Troy said quietly, gripping her again, “it’s alright. No one’s going to harm you. You’re safe.”
“Where is she?” Raine asked, voice rising. She stayed still but continued to watch Chelstra with fear. “Where did she go?”
“Where did who go?” Troy asked from behind her, unable to hide the confusion in his voice. “There’s no one else here. No one’s done anything to you; you just passed out. You’ve been screaming for a good five, ten minutes.”
She looked at him and he nodded. “See, the lunar eclipse finished.” he said, pointing at the sky. She looked along his arm, hand, and then above them. The shadows were a dark tinge of red instead of black but they were retreating, revealing almost half of the pearl-white, glistening moon.
As her gaze slowly descended to earth, Raine realised that there were many people around them, clearly kept at bay by the presence of Chelstra and Troy, and they were watching her with confused interest.
She put a hand to her face, pushing a loose strand of hair away, and looked back at Troy.
“I need to get away from all of these people.” she said, some strength returning to her voice. Troy nodded and slowly stood up, reaching out and gently taking her hands in his, helping her to stand. Her legs were weak and she almost fell, but he grabbed her elbow and supported her. Chelstra rose as well, drawing her Life Magic back so that her hands were no longer glowing.
“I can help you feel better.” she said softly, hurt and confusion written across her face.
“I know.” Raine said quietly. “I just…have to get out of here first. There’s too many people here, staring at me.”
She went to take a step but her leg collapsed, unable to support her weight, and she felt herself drop. Troy grabbed her other elbow and kept her upright. “It’s alright; I’ll carry you.” he said softly. “You’ve probably exhausted yourself from all that shaking and twitching.”
Too tired and confused to argue, Raine let Troy lift her into his arms and with Chelstra in front of them, they slowly made their way back into the town, turning their backs from the eclipse as the last of the red darkness crept away into the night.
The guards looked at her curiously and she let her head rest on Troy’s chest, closing her eyes and focusing on his steady heartbeat, not wanting to see the stares of those around her.
“She’s not well.” she heard Troy say quietly.
She took the time to focus her thoughts, ignoring the loud music and the voices around her. The she-being burned brightly in her memory along with the painful torture she had inflicted upon her, and her sweet, venomous voice continued to laugh shrilly in the back of her mind.
An involuntary shudder swept through her, and she felt the muscles in Troy’s arms tense as he automatically pulled her higher and closer to him.
What happened? she thought. It was something far more real than my dreams. Was it a vision? A vision of my own death?
She shook away the notion, knowing that such a thing was ridiculous, but there was something familiar about the woman that she could not put her finger on. Her head ached as she continued to think so she let the thought go, deciding to rest instead.
TROY CONTINUED TO carry her through the town. Finally feeling some degree of control over herself, Raine opened her eyes and looked up at the Air Mage. His face was set, jaw muscles clenched, but his eyes softened as he noticed her gaze.
“What is it?” he asked quietly.
“You can put me down now, Troy.” she said, “I’m starting to feel a little better.”
“I’m taking you straight to the hospital.” he said, frowning. “Trust me, you were not well. It was like you were having a crazy, terrible nightmare. We couldn’t wake you.”
“I know,” she said, smiling slightly as she sensed his guilt, “there’s nothing you could have done. Please, I just need to go back to my room and rest.”
“You should go to the hospital.” Troy said, doubt growing along his face.
“What if Chelstra has a look at me?” she said and the Life Mage nodded hopefully, having listened quietly so far.
Her face was also pale, and Raine wondered how unpleasant the experience had been for them, seeing her screaming and shaking as if possessed. “If she says I’m alright, can I go back to my room? I just don’t want people staring at me like I’ve lost my mind or something.”
“It’ll be fine, Troy.” Chelstra said gently. “She seems to be getting better on her own anyway.”
“Alright.” Troy said, resigned. He gently released her, gripping her arms as she stood upright and tested her weight on her legs. She was still shaky, but she could walk.
“Are you going to tell us what happened?” he added, and she looked at their curious expressions.
“I’ll try to,” she said, “except I don’t really know what happened myself; none of it seemed to make any sense.”
“Alright, let me have a look at you first.” Chelstra said, strength growing in her voice and on her face. White light shimmered around her hands and Raine resisted the urge to back away, forcing her memories aside.
Placing her hands before Raine’s chest, Chelstra closed her eyes, concentrating, and there was a moment of tense silence as they all stood in the darkness, waiting.
Gentle warmth washed over Raine, pleasant and soothing, and she felt the remnants of her anxiety drift away. She breathed in and out slowly, her strength returning, and Chelstra stepped back, smiling softly.
“How are you feeling now?” she said.
“Much better, thankyou.” Raine said gratefully.
“Could you sense anything?” Troy asked quickly, watching her intently.
“No; there’s nothing physically or magically wrong with her.” Chelstra said. Then she looked back at Raine, a slight frown forming. “Although your mana vital is a bit out of control, but seeing how distressed you’ve been, it makes sense.”
“Thanks.” she said, and then looked back at Troy. “Is it okay if I go lie down in my room now?”
Troy sighed, folding his arms. “Fine, I guess, if Chelstra says there’s nothing wrong with you.” he grumbled and she smiled.
They made their way back towards the magi quarters and Raine ignored the occasional glances that her two friends gave her as they walked. She was more confused than they were, because they had not seen or experienced what she had.
“So do you know what happened?” Troy asked eventually, his curiosity fit to burst. Raine shook her head.
“Be gentle with her Troy; it was clearly a traumatic event.” Chelstra said quietly.
“It’s alright.” Raine said, looking away. “I honestly don’t know what happened. It was like a dream, but so real, and it was horrible. I…”
She fell silent, unable to describe it. She had only just started to acknowledge it in her own mind, and was not yet ready to put it into words. Not that it made any sense, either, and the idea of her friends thinking her crazy was unappealing.
“I was being attacked.” she said slowly and quietly. “And it was so real; I felt everything. But then I woke up.”
“Has it happened before? Who was attacking you? Was it anyone we know?” Troy asked quickly, expression fierce.
Then an idea dawned on his face and he spun to stare at Chelstra. “It couldn’t have been Death Magic, could it? They can cause the same kinds of symptoms, right?”
“It’s possible,” Chelstra said, shrugging, “but I felt no taint of Death Magic in her and besides, why would an Avendan Death Mage attack her?”
“I don’t think it was Death Magic…” Raine said. “Whilst nothing made sense to me, I was still in control of my own body and thoughts…”
“Well at any rate, it’s over now.” Chelstra said, smiling kindly at her. “And you can get cleaned up and rest. I’ll talk to Lieutenant Preston tomorrow about it; he should let you skip the training session.”
“That’s if he hasn’t heard about it already…” Troy muttered. Chelstra frowned at him, but Raine caught the dread in his eyes.
“What do you mean?” she asked, unease flowing through her. He looked over at her awkwardly, and the same expression crossed the Life Mage’s face as well.
“Well, you were screaming awfully loudly…” Chelstra said quietly. Raine’s eyes widened in shock but she willed them to continue.
“Everybody heard.” Troy said. “Most of Third Platoon was out on the grass like we were, not to mention magi from the First and Second. There was such a commotion when it happened; we almost had to fight people to stay away from you till you came round. That Life Mage we met at the bridge battle really wanted to help as well. Atherton, I think was his name.”
“So everyone’s talking about it.” Raine said, defeated. She sighed and closed her eyes, which were burning with fatigue. “Everyone will think that I’ve lost my mind.” She winced as a sharp pain stabbed at her temple.
“Enough.” Chelstra said. “You need rest. We will figure everything out tomorrow. I will talk to Lieutenant Preston and I’m sure that he will understand.”
Troy shrugged, still watching Raine with concern. “Very well. I just hope it’s nothing serious.” he said.
Me too, Raine thought, following them back to her quarters.
Troy looked at her with a mix of helplessness and awkwardness as they parted, and she gave him a warm, appreciative smile.
“Thanks Troy.” she said. “Don’t worry about me; I’ll sort this out. I’ll be fine; I just need some proper sleep.”
“Well, alright.” he said, clearly unhappy with the situation. “But if there’s anything you need, anything at all, you come and get me, okay? Just walk straight in; my name’s on my door. Call out even and I’ll come to you.”
There was a fierce, defiant tone to his voice as his back straightened, his hand to his chest. Chelstra remained silent, but her lips had curled into a smile. Raine almost laughed, but she was touched.
“Alright, I promise I will.” she lied, and he smiled, finally satisfied.
“I will see you tomorrow.” he said, bowing slightly. “Sleep well.”
“Goodnight.” she said, and followed Chelstra inside the female quarters.
“He was really worried about you, you know.” Chelstra said quietly once they were inside, walking down the thin hallway.
“I know.” Raine said, keeping her eyes forward. “I just wish I knew what happened.”
Chelstra patted her on the shoulder gently. “We’ll figure it out. Try not to think about it; just rest tonight and we’ll try again tomorrow or whenever you’re ready.” she said.
“Thanks Chelstra.” Raine said as they approached the Life Mage’s door. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“And not at training!” Chelstra said, waving a finger at her seriously as she opened her door. “I don’t want to see you until lunch time, and I’ll come and get you from here! You rest, understand?”
She nodded, smiling, as she moved down the rest of the hallway to her own door.
Once alone in her small room, she sat on the corner of her bed and pulled her knees up to her chest. She closed her eyes and went through her Shadow mantras in her head, mantras of calm, of strength, of control.
Then, as the tight knot in her stomach eased away, she stretched out and meditated, falling within herself and toward her pool of mana vital.
Chelstra was right- her mana vital was deeply unstable, the usually placid, calm pool of energy swirling in an uncontrolled rage. She frowned as she reached out, trying to soothe it, but it would not listen, even as her own thoughts became calm. There was something underneath the surface, deep within the mass, and she couldn’t reach it. It had not been there before; she was sure of it, but it now sat there as if it had belonged all along.
Am I sick? she wondered. Is this because of that dream thing I had? Did the angel-woman put this in me?
She did what she could to settle her mana vital and eventually gave up, her body exhausted and her mind fatigued. She washed and then climbed underneath the sheets, rapidly falling asleep.
SHE FELL IN and out of sleep throughout the remainder of the night, delving between sweet unconsciousness and fragmented dreams that made no sense. She dreamed of many different people but yet all women, racing through pointless scenes involving nothing of interest before jumping onto the next with virtually no pattern or coherency. They moved past her too quickly for her to understand; too many women, too many lives, too many stories.
Only when the sun rose, its warmth and light taking over her dark room, did she finally sleep peacefully, somehow knowing that Preston would not rage over her absence.
SHE AROSE HOURS later and took the time to stretch, practice her hand-to-hand combat and lastly meditate, in which she discovered with disappointment that that same darkness still remained deep within her mana vital. It seemed familiar, somehow, but different to everything around it.
She was grateful when there came a light tapping on the door, excusing her from her troubled thoughts. She answered, dressed in her basic Avendan uniform, and Chelstra smiled at her warmly.
“How are you feeling?” she asked gently.
“Well, thankyou. Much better now that I’ve had some sleep.” she said, stepping outside of her room and into the hallway. “Hungry, actually.”
“Glad to hear it!” Chelstra said. “Though I have to warn you, watch out for Troy.”
“What’s he done now?” Raine asked. Chelstra giggled.
“He’s been worrying himself sick about you all morning, trying to convince me to come see you at breakfast and then halfway through training. I told him you would be sleeping, but he wouldn’t hear a word of it.” she said.
“I’ll just have to convince him myself that I’m fine then.” Raine said, grinning.
“Be my guest.” Chelstra said. “Throw him to the ground with a water attack; that would shut him up.”
Raine thought of her unsettled mana vital and her smile faded. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to do magic at all, she thought. I have no idea how much control I have over it right now.
“Oh thank all of the Gods above; you’re alright!” said Troy theatrically as they opened the doors to the outside, rushing towards her with alarmingly huge strides.
Raine put a hand up but he ignored it, wrapping his arms around her in a tight hug.
“Nice to see you too, Troy.” she managed to squeak as her chest was crushed.
“Damn it Troy, let her go. It’s not like she nearly died or anything.” Chelstra chided, clearly unimpressed. He let her go and took a step back, a pink blush to his cheeks, but still grinning in clear relief.
“I was so worried about you; I’m glad you’re alright.” he said and Raine giggled.
“So I heard.” she said. “And thankyou, I’m feeling almost back to normal.”
Troy nodded, smiling. “Shall we go get something to eat then?” he suggested and Raine agreed vigorously, having not eaten anything for what felt like an eternity. His eyes twinkled at her enthusiasm, and they made their way over to the Dining Hall.
HER SPIRITS DROPPED immediately as she walked into the wide room. Even without her Shadow training she could feel many pairs of eyes fall onto her, and could hear conversations dying suddenly, replaced by hushed whispers. Unease and discomfort grew sickeningly hot in her stomach.
Chelstra wrapped an arm around hers and led her forward purposefully, smiling widely and talking loudly about that morning’s training exercise. Troy followed, viciously glaring at those that stared at her.
“Oh look, Hammond is here!” Chelstra said, and Raine had a feeling that the pleasant surprise in her voice was for her alone. It worked though, and she looked over at the nonchalant Fire Mage, eating his lunch with his head resting against his hand.
He looked over at them slowly as they approached.
“Good day, Demon Girl.” he said, voice monotonous.
“Hammond!” Chelstra cried, her pleasant visage fading immediately. “Don’t call her that!”
“It’s alright.” Raine said, smiling slightly. “At least he’s not staring at me and whispering.”
“Gossiping takes too much effort.” Hammond said, leaning back and looking at her. “Come on, sit down; I won’t bite.”
“How have you been?” Raine asked, sitting down beside him. He shrugged.
“As well as usual.” he said. He then turned to look at her, and she realised that his eyes were glinting with seriousness, the green orbs almost hidden behind his long fringe. “I have little doubt that your friends have already interrogated you but I’ll do the same just for the hell of it. What happened, and are you alright?”
“You heard about it then.” Raine said slowly. Chelstra and Troy started to eat, their attempts to hide their interest failing dramatically as they listened in.
“Of course; even my attention can be grabbed sometimes.” Hammond said. He sighed. “So? What’s going on?”
“I…don’t know.” Raine said slowly, her eyes turning back to her plate. Hammond continued to watch her. She knew that she could trust him so she took the plunge and breathed in deeply. “I just blacked out and when I opened my eyes again, there was this angel-like thing in front of me, and she attacked me.”
“Angel-like thing?” Hammond repeated, raising an eyebrow. “Do tell.”
“I don’t know.” she said, voice rising in frustration. “It was a woman, and she had all this golden light around her, but she wasn’t pure, or heavenly.” She paused for moment. “She was evil.”
“And she attacked you? Is that why you were screaming?” he asked, voice still even.
“Yes.” Raine said. “But it didn’t feel like a dream. It looked real. It felt real.”
“It sounds crazy as hell.” Hammond said. He put a hand up as Chelstra opened her mouth in indignation. “Now don’t start; I don’t mean it as a mean thing.” He looked back at Raine. “It’s just very bizarre.”
“You don’t need to tell me that.” Raine muttered, finally pushing a forkful of food into her mouth. Hammond put his cutlery down, leaning back into his chair with his arms folded across his chest.
There was a pause in which they all sat there, contemplating her information.
At last, Hammond stretched his hands out in front of him with a wide yawn. “Well, nothing you can do about it so I wouldn’t worry.” he said. “You’re not injured or damaged in any way, so don’t let it get in your way. Move on with life.”
“Right.” Raine said, nodding. She knew that what he said was true, apart from her upset mana vital, but she would work on that. She would sort it out in her own time.
“You can’t just tell her to get over it like it was nothing!” Chelstra snapped, unable to keep quiet any longer. “You weren’t there- you didn’t see it happen.”
Hammond blinked and she looked at Troy in frustration. “Tell him! Tell him he’s being heartless, Troy!”
Troy put his hands up as Hammond’s bored gaze turned on him. “I’d say it’s more reasonable than heartless, Chelstra.” he said quickly. “He’s got a point- Raine is fine. Maybe we can look it up; see if there’s more information about this kind of thing. Who knows, maybe she can just have very intense dreams?”
“Or maybe she’s a prophet.” Hammond said blandly, turning back to Raine as Chelstra glared venomously at Troy. He rested his chin on his hands. “Tell me my future.”
“Please stop fighting.” Raine said quickly, ignoring Hammond. “I’m fine. I think I’ll get concerned if it happens again but for now, we should just focus on our jobs.”
“Spoken like a true workaholic.” Hammond said, nodding with mock admiration.
At that, he pulled himself from his seat. “Well, I’m full. Off to bed for me- see you guys later.”
He put a hand up in farewell and disappeared down the rows of tables, ignoring the burning glare at the back of his head from Chelstra.
“You should have backed me up!” she snapped at Troy.
“He almost set fire to the guy who almost set fire to me!” he said, shrugging with an embarrassed smile. “I’m not getting in the way of that!”
Chelstra just sighed angrily and looked back at her meal.
“Oh, I just remembered,” Troy said suddenly, deliberately keeping his gaze away from the Life Mage, “Preston wanted to know if you would be well enough to attend tomorrow’s training session, and said that you have to go see him sometime today to tell him.”
“Fantastic.” Raine muttered, feeling her appetite drop, “I’ll go over and tell him once we’re done here.”
THE CONVERSATION WITH the emotionless Ice Sage did not last long, and he swiftly dismissed her once she had told him that she would be fine to attend the next days’ training session.
Raine gave a small bow and left the room, rushing away down the hall.
He didn’t seem to care at all, she thought, confused but optimistic. Maybe I was right; he will leave me alone because of the whole him and Hammond thing.
She was swiftly moving back towards her quarters, her thoughts deeply unsettled, when she realised that someone was approaching her. She looked up, trying to relax her muscles as her body instinctively prepared for battle, and couldn’t help the surprise that crossed her features.
“Hello there,” the man said, smiling softly at her. He had white hair, tied loosely in a low horsetail, and was watching her with brown-green eyes. “Your name… it was Raine Taylor, if I remember correctly?”
Raine looked at him for a moment, trying to remember where she had seen him before.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said quickly, smiling bashfully, “You might not remember me. I was at the battle at the bridge with you, in the trenches. I may have looked a little different then; I was kind of covered in mud.”
“Yes,” she said, the image suddenly returning to mind, “You’re a Life Mage, from Second Platoon, right?”
He looked much different now that he was clean, his mage uniform no longer coated in a thick layer of mud and his white hair washed. He was tall and lanky, and probably quite a few years older than she, going by the lines under his eyes and around his mouth.
“That’s right,” he said, clearly pleased that she did in fact remember him. “My name is Erwin. Erwin Atherton. I’m pleased to meet you again, and in much more positive circumstances.”
“Yes, me too.” she said politely. He looked at her for another moment, and then his expression turned thoughtful.
“Forgive me for asking, Raine, if I may call you that,” he said, causing her to frown, “but I was watching the eclipse last night…”
He trailed off awkwardly, a slight blush growing on his pale skin. Raine continued to watch him, but embarrassment was racing through her veins as she realised what he was talking about.
“So you saw that, then…” she muttered, remembering what Troy had said earlier. The tall man nodded.
“I did.” he said. “What I mean to say is, are you alright? You seemed…uh… quite distressed.”
“I’m fine,” she said, feeling her face burn, and she wished that she was anywhere else in the world than where she was now. “Thankyou for your concern though; it is nice of you.”
“Oh, not a problem,” he said, grinning. “but let me know if you need anything, you know, healing-wise. I’m not a half-bad Life Mage, if I may say so myself.”
“Oh, thankyou,” she said. “But that’s alright- I’ve already had a Life Mage look at me.”
“Your friend, Miss Chelstra, right?” he said pleasantly. “I’ve seen her in the Life Guild a few times.”
“Right.” Raine said, nodding slightly. He continued to smile at her as silence fell, and eventually she cleared her throat, the awkward tension unbearable.
“Well, I guess I better be off then,” she said. “Nice to meet you properly, Erwin.”
“Of course,” he said, beaming. “I hope you feel better soon. But yes, let me know if you need anything- I’m always out and about, especially at the Guild.”
“Thanks.” she said, forcing a smile onto her face. “I guess I will see you around.”
“With any luck.” Atherton said. He gave a nod, and promptly continued on his way.
Raine sighed heavily and headed towards her quarters, praying to Rendeis that nobody else would stop her to enquire about her health, good intentions or none.
IT WAS THE sounds of birds that awoke him from his very, very long sleep. The sun was starting to sink in the sky, marking the end of another day. Consciousness rose slowly at first, a bubble in oil, bristling against his senses and gently releasing his mind from the tendrils of slumber that gripped it.
Despite his intense fatigue, he smiled. He stretched his muscles, allowing the pleasant burn of his limbs to travel up his spine. He took in the perfumed scent of the fresh, cool air and felt the smooth, warm, satin sheets underneath him.
He opened his eyes.
He was awake, at last. The transition was easy, as expected; the poor fool was sleeping when it happened, when the moon was swallowed by the darkness of the night sky.
He pulled himself up from the bed with ease, the silk tickling his skin, a new sensation. The room around him was large and finely decorated- rich, old tapestries covered the walls, the stone floor hidden underneath equally impressive rugs.
Giving the room a quick, careless glance, he went over to the large mirror hanging on the wall. His smile grew in approval of the nude body before him, and in mild relief at the sensation of magical power moving through his blood, even if it had never been used during the body’s lifetime. The mana vital had been untouched this whole time, but now it bristled with excitement.
“Maybe he didn’t know?” he said aloud, hearing his voice for the first time. It was a rich, melodic sound, one that he could quickly get used to.
There was a sudden tap on the door behind him, following by the creaking of its opening. He watched in the mirror as a young maid entered, and stopped mid-sentence as she realised that he was awake and naked. He turned around to face her fully, his lips curling as he approached her, ignoring her cries of apology and the increasing panic on her blushing face as she looked at the floor.
With a few large and rapid steps, his body gliding towards her effortlessly, he grabbed one of her arms and gently pushed the door shut with his other hand. She was confused, but as she looked at the expression on his face her pupils dilated in fear, and she breathed in tiny gasps of air through her open lips. She was a petite, pretty little thing, and he dragged her to the bed with ease as she struggled and cried out, pulling against him.
He hit her sharply with the back of his hand, enjoying the sharp stab of pain that rushed up his arm, and she dropped like a stone onto the bed.
As she lay there for a moment, disorientated, he slipped off the cover from one of the pillows and put it in her mouth, tying a knot at the back.
He waited, sitting over her patiently in the silence and finally, she came to her senses. She started fighting and screaming into the cloth as she looked up at him, and his grin broadened. He let her struggle, enjoying the frantic movement underneath him.
Then, as he held her two small hands above her head with one hand, he removed her undergarments with the other. She lashed out wildly, kicking her legs, but he wrapped his own around them, pinning her down with his superior weight and strength.
He moved closer, looking into her eyes, and the mad terror and panic stirred his loins into action. Warmth grew from somewhere beneath his stomach, deep and primal, hungry.
She tried to look away from him but he gripped her head to face his with his free hand. When she closed her eyes, he kept them open with his fingers. It was so easy; she was such a small thing.
As he continued to force himself inside of her, appreciating the feel of her smooth, soft skin against his, he looked at her eyes, watching them with an almost obsessive need. Pain and anguish glowed in an unnatural shine and she was crying, choking on the pillow cover.
She continued to cry for some time, occasionally struggling and squirming underneath him when he pushed particularly violently. Apart from his hands on her face, keeping her head still, he didn’t touch her. Indeed, he wasn’t interested in anything else about her body except the look in her eyes and that was what pushed him further, and drove his satisfaction deeper.
Eventually she stopped fighting altogether, letting her body move in rhythm with his, the tears drying on her flushed face, her eyes dulled. The pain in them was faded, the initial shock edging away as her mind went numb and at that point, she had given up completely.
Realising this, his enjoyment rapidly dissolved away. As he pulled away from her, unsatisfied, she didn’t even whimper.
He rose from the bed and walked over to one of the large chest of drawers, ignoring his body’s crying need to finish what it had begun, his heartbeat pounding through his thighs and groin. The maid lay silent and still, her thoughts reduced to a stupor.
He casually searched through the drawers, rummaging through papers, folders and other useless things till he came across a small, decorated letter opener, encrusted with small gems. Pulling it out with long, elegant fingers, he returned to the girl. As she felt his weight on her return, her eyes slowly travelled up to his, now empty and void of any of the precious character they once had.
They widened with sudden life as he held up the letter opener, his own eyes twinkling with dark pleasure. By the time she had tried to move away from him, he had lunged forward and cut her throat- a line around her neck that, for just an instance, was a thin, glimmering red necklace.
He smiled at the metaphor, closing his eyes as a hot satisfaction swept through him as he felt her body’s death spasms between his thighs.
He stayed there for a moment, letting his muscles twitch with pleasure as his heartbeat returned to normal, the pulse still throbbing in his groin. Then he sat back on his haunches as the blood seeped from her, turning the expensive sheets dark.
He dressed himself in the fine garments he found hanging on a stand and left the room, whistling a tune as the maid’s eyes clouded over, staring out the open window and up at the blue sky above.