Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Eight

SHE LEANED AGAINST the white marble pillar, her right leg bent with her black silk slipper pressed against it, the slit in her dress revealing a generous portion of her creamy, pale skin. She rolled her eyes up to the plain blue sky and sighed. The light breeze made the perfectly trimmed grass sway gently, carrying with it the music of lutes, harps and flutes from far away. Her thin, black eyebrows, perfectly shaped to maximise attention to her eyes, furrowed together slightly as she listened to the sounds. Her full lips twisted into a scowl.

“Don’t frown like that. It makes you look like an old hag.” he said, appearing from behind the other pillars around her.

“It’s that damn music. That fat child plays the flute all day; I just wish it’d slip down his throat and kill him.” she said with irritation, not moving.

He walked into her field of vision, again dressed in fine, loose black clothing, his shirt parted to reveal his defined pectorals and vast collection of necklaces. She caught his gaze as he looked at her exposed leg with mild interest and she smiled, pressing her shoulders back and pushing out her chest. He watched that too, with eyes as dark as his hair.

“Bored again, slut?” he asked in a conversational tone, turning his attention to the array of glistening rings on his fingers. She raised an eyebrow.

“What if I am? Perhaps you should entertain me for longer this time.” she said. He looked back up at her and instead of his face curling into anger like she expected, a small, sly smile formed instead.

“I’ve got something even more entertaining than that.” he said, his eyes shining with sudden life.

“Well, it’s hardly difficult to exceed.” she mocked, despite her waking curiosity. It had been a while since she last saw true, intense eagerness on his angular face.

“Come and see for yourself then.” he said, turning and walking away, the bracelets on his wrists clashing together in a metallic jangle that called to her like a wind chime. Her interest deepened, but she let him walk a few more steps alone before she followed him.

HE LED HER to a tall, familiar tower. As he stood before it, the hungry expression on his face growing, she looked up at the marble structure.

“Kaipoc’s Tower?” she asked, unimpressed.

“Shut up and follow me.” he said, walking up the small set of perfectly cut marble steps. “Or you can just crawl into some other man’s bed like the whore you are and amuse yourself that way; it means little to me.”

“Would probably amuse me more than you do,” she said. “I can only fake it so far, you know.”

He ignored her and pushed the door open. She had expected him to be more cautious about their entry, but he strode in casually and confidently. She quickly followed.

“What are we doing?” she asked quietly, trying keeping her voice flat and bored.

“You’ll see.” he said, heading for the circular stairs that led to the top of the tower. She was glad that the stairs were short; she really couldn’t be bothered climbing.

They approached the door at the end of the stairwell, and only then did she feel surprise when he pushed it open carelessly. The room at the top of the tower was empty.

“Where is the old man?” she asked, looking around the richly decorated room. Paintings of the clouds, the sun, stars and other celestial bodies hung from the walls, figurines of the planets spinning around from the ceiling.

“Out, and not to be back for a while.” he replied, moving to the centre of the room where a large glass orb sat on an intricate golden pedestal, level with his waist. It was gently radiating a bluish glow, the image deep within it spinning and moving slowly.

He turned to look at her as he stood beside it, a large grin stretching across his pale face.

“Ready to be entertained?” he asked. It took her less than a second to understand what he was implying and she looked at him with wide eyes.

“The weather sphere? Are you serious?” she asked. Her reaction only seemed to further ignite his enthusiasm.

“’Course, why do you think I brought you up here? Let’s have some fun, some real fun. We never get to do anything interesting around here.” he said. He turned around and looked at the globe, and she moved up beside him. She stared down at the image inside, filled with humans; tiny ants moving about in their mundane, pointless existences.

“Where is it?” she asked. He shrugged.

“Some continent somewhere; who cares? What do you think we should do, huh? You’re the bored one.” he said. She watched the globe for a moment more, and then her lips curled into a sinister smile as she felt a rush of excitement in her gut.

“I wonder how they will react to a sudden cyclone?” she said quietly. His eyes narrowed with pleasure.

“Let’s find out.” he hissed, reaching out with his ring-laden hand and calling forth his powers.

THERE WAS SUDDEN, loud banging on the door and Raine jumped violently, her eyes snapping open.

“Are you awake in there, Raine?” came a voice. It took her a moment to realise that she was in her bed in the magi quarters, and that it was Chelstra who was knocking on her door. She got out of her bed quickly and clumsily, almost falling over in her haste to get up, her heartbeat racing in her chest at the sudden disturbance.

“What’s going on? What time is it?” she called groggily. She heard giggling.

“It’s breakfast time, you goose!” Chelstra said through the door. “Did someone sleep in?”

“Damn it.” Raine said under her breath, looking through the curtain to realise that the sun had indeed risen and she should have been up at least an hour ago.

She put down the dagger that she had subconsciously picked up in the madness and rushed around to gather her clothing. “I’ll be out in a second!” she called back, pulling her nightshirt up and over her head.

By the time she had dressed and apologised to an amused Chelstra and Troy on their way toward the Dining Hall, she could barely remember why she had slept so deeply in the first place.

She could only recall dreaming of a place filled with white marble.

ANY THOUGHTS OF that morning’s events disappeared entirely as she suffered through that day’s training exercise, sparring with the other magi of Third Platoon.

A few hours past in a blur and she was delighted when the whistle blew and Will, the Earth Mage, came over to face her. She automatically thought back to their infiltration exercise, and how she had worked alongside him to produce wells and trenches for the enemy Company.

He grinned and extended his hand in a polite shake that she returned. “Finally, I get to have my revenge for you getting us caught.” he said, grinning.

“You’re not seriously blaming me for that, are you?” Raine asked, grinning back.

He nodded. “Of course!” he exclaimed. “If you had noticed that second-lieutenant before he noticed you, we would have been fine!”

“You can’t blame me for him coming out of nowhere.” Raine replied. “And besides, you would have been caught if I hadn’t trapped him in that tent.”

“If you say so.” Will said, slowly positioning his hands in front of him. “Let’s see what you can come up with, then. There are no tents around us now.”

Raine’s smile faded as she concentrated and the two rushed into battle against each other. She dived forward as she felt the earth underneath her quake, and narrowly avoided being thrown into the air as rock slammed up from where she had just been standing. She flicked a water-whip in Will’s direction but he crossed his arms up in front of his chest and a wall of rock rose up in front of him, the water slapping against its solid surface harmlessly. Then, with a push of his palm, fragmented bits of the wall flew at her and she rolled to dodge one of the incoming projectiles. Diving deeper into her mana vital, Raine summoned a large water tornado that whirled around her, giving everything a surreal, underwater appearance. She spun the tornado with swiping gestures of her hands and the rest of the rocks were caught in its motion and swept away into it, then flown through the air and crashing into the ground as she released her hold on the water.

They continued like this for a time, relying on various offensive and defensive attacks and blocks to gain an advantage over the other.

Raine summoned a wave of water at him, charging as she did so. He went to bring up a rock wall but was too slow, the wall shattering into chunks of earth as he was thrown backwards by the impact. She created a handful of water-pellets and sent them hurling in his direction as he tried to get to his feet, knocking him back onto the ground, winded.

Raine was about to send another attack when she saw a blinding stream of flame pass by behind Will, expanding in the air as it went. The mage in front of it wrapped his arms around his head to protect himself and he disappeared temporarily into the blanket of flame. A moment later he emerged, but he was down on one knee, clearly badly injured or exhausted.

Troy, Raine thought with a rush of panic, recognising his honey-blonde hair. She looked over at his opponent, a Fire Mage she had sparred with a few times, and she knew that the intensity of his attack was intentional.

“Holy Gods,” Will said, getting to his feet and following her gaze, “He’s set on roasting him. Are they enemies or something?”

“I don’t know.” she said, frowning. “I didn’t know that Troy had any enemies.”

“It’s definitely a bit extreme,” Will said with a nod of agreement, “but he won’t get hurt too badly. Your other friend is a Life Mage, isn’t she?”

“Yes.” Raine said. That’s not the point.

THEY CONTINUED TILL the whistle was blown and Will waved goodbye, and Raine moved onto her next opponent. She fought halfheartedly, distracted by the knowledge that Troy was quite possibly badly injured, and for reasons unknown.

When she finally met him, she saw that the Air Mage was bruised and burnt in various locations, his tunic ripped and seared.

“Are you alright?” Raine asked, shocked as she got a closer look at his injuries. “Do you two not like each other or something?”

“I’m fine.” Troy said bashfully, his face pink. He was breathing heavily, but smiled weakly at her. “We have a minor personality clash, that’s all.”

“Get to it.” came Preston’s voice loudly from across the grass, and Raine’s heart jumped as she realised that he was watching them sternly. She turned back to Troy quickly, but in her periphery she caught sight of Hammond looking over at Preston, his face unreadable from so far away. She frowned and moved into position.

“I’m not going to fight seriously with you.” she said as she saw Troy wince in pain. “You’ve been beaten enough.”

“I’m fine.” Troy said again. He smiled slightly. “Don’t go easy on me because you feel sorry for me.”

He went to say something else but stopped, eyes widening, as he witnessed something happen from behind her. Raine spun, but she felt the heat wash over her before she even saw anything.

The Fire Mage who was beating Troy before was lying on the ground, still. Patches of flames flickered on the earth around him and trailed back to the original caster, another Fire Mage who tucked his hands into his pockets and looked away carelessly.

“I think he knocked him out!” Troy said, stunned, as Hammond looked over at the unconscious mage with disregard. Others had stopped to look, also having felt the sudden heatwave, and Raine wondered what kind of attack he had used. And why.

Preston had obviously seen the commotion and promptly made his way over to Hammond, ordering the whispering magi nearby to continue their training. No one did, especially as the sage gestured to Chelstra to tend to the injured Fire Mage.

Raine and Troy watched on as the two conversed quietly, Raine reading Hammond’s lips as he spoke, as she had learned to do during her training with the Shadow Guild.

“Not my fault he’s weak.” he said. Preston’s hands curled into balls as he then spoke, his back turned to them.

“It’s not like I can commit myself when there’s no challenge.” Hammond replied. “What did you expect me to do?”

“What’s going on, I wonder?” Troy said. Raine didn’t answer, watching on with bated breath. Chelstra had begun to heal the badly injured mage, who was slowly stirring on the ground. There was another pause.

“Don’t tempt me.” she saw Hammond say, and felt a rising fear grow in her gut. Are they going to fight or something?

Then Preston’s neck snapped around as he abruptly turned from Hammond, obviously feeling the many pairs of eyes that were watching him.

“Do you all wish to stay later today, then?” he said, the silence in the air enough to carry his voice across the grounds. There was just the slightest hint of a threat behind his tone and they immediately rushed to busy themselves.

“I hope he’s not in too much trouble.” Raine said, frowning as she moved before Troy. He nodded, also concerned.

“It’s unlike him to train that intensely anyway.” he said. “Something must have gotten to him.”

“But I’m sure it’ll all work out fine,” he added, noticing her expression, “Chelstra is a fine healer, at any rate.”

I wonder if Chelstra has said something to him again, she thought, idly moving into a defensive stance. She’s teased him before for being in this platoon despite being much older than us... Maybe it got to him? Maybe he wants to prove his power? I mean, I doubt that it would be because that mage was too fierce on Troy; he’s never cared that much before…

“You should concentrate, Raine,” Troy said, watching her. He flicked his hands and a strong gust of wind swept by her, pulling her from her thoughts.

“You’re too injured to be threatening me, Troy,” she said, grinning. “You should accept the break when it’s given to you.”

“Ha!” Troy said despite the pain that flickered in his eyes. “I’ll never give up, injured or not.”

“If you say so,” Raine said with a smile, summoning a large ball of water into her hand.

BY THE TIME Preston finally called an end, the sun had almost disappeared behind the horizon and they were virtually training in the dark. The energy rush following Preston’s and Hammond’s potential confrontation had long faded away, and Raine was fighting back yawns and the overpowering thought of sleep.

The magi were tired and exhausted and they moved back together to their quarters in moderate silence, crickets chirping all around them.

“Everything alright, Raine?” Troy asked.

She was watching Hammond, strolling from the grounds with his hands in his pockets again, set apart from the others. She then looked at Preston, and he too was watching the Fire Mage depart, an unusually fierce expression on his face. Sensing her gaze, he looked towards her and she quickly turned away.

“Sorry?” she said, realising that Troy had spoken to her.

“Don’t worry about it.” he said softly. “He can look after himself.”

“I’ll say.” Chelstra muttered darkly. “That Fire Mage had some serious injuries because of him.”

“Can’t say I feel sorry for the guy,” Troy added, a flicker of distaste crossing his face. “He wasn’t particularly pleasant to me either.”

“So what did you do to upset him, anyway?” Chelstra asked, looking at him.

“Nothing, alright?” he grumbled. Chelstra poked him in his recently-healed chest and he gave a yelp of indignation. “Fine! I told him this morning that he snores too loudly- I can hear it from my room! I just asked him to be more considerate to others!”

“You are unbelievable…” Chelstra said, shaking her head, and Raine couldn’t help but laugh.

THEY ATE DINNER with enthusiastic hunger. Raine mostly said nothing, noticing that Hammond was absent for the duration of the meal and she felt her unease grow as they left the Hall, the night sky now littered with stars.

She drifted away from the others under the pretence of going for a walk, and told Troy to focus on resting and to leave the Fire Mage alone.

“Very well,” he said meekly, “Although I still blame him for my lack of sleep…”

She gave him a sympathetic smile as he trudged off.

Keeping her footsteps quiet and avoiding the light of the burning torches, Raine made her way purposefully between buildings until the stone paths fell away into sand and grass. She wanted to delve into her Shadowsight but she pushed the urge away as she looked over at the training grounds. As she had expected, there were two human shapes on the empty field. Her heart sank. Hammond…

She crept through the darkness to the grounds and crouched down beside one of the poles of the wooden fence. She slowly glanced over at the two, their bodies barely visible in the dim starlight, and she wondered what to do. What are they both still doing out here?

The air was still and easily carried their low voices to where she was hiding.

“Don’t challenge me in front of my platoon like that again.” said Preston, his voice brimming with icy anger.

“He deserved what he got.” Hammond said flatly. “He shouldn’t have acted all top-notch if he couldn’t handle it.”

“You know that’s not what I’m talking about.” Preston said. There was silence for a moment and Raine resisted the urge to take another look. From the sound of things, neither of them were moving.

“Can’t satisfy you, can I?” Hammond said, a hint of dark humour in his voice. “You get all flustered that I don’t commit. So I burn an arrogant whelp to put his arse back in line, and now I’m over the top?”

“Damn it Hammond,” said Preston, “Don’t be a smartarse. You have no idea how much pressure I’ve been under to get you up to standard.”

“Get me up to standard?” There was a definite sneer in Hammond’s voice. “You know full well that I’m more than capable. How many more kids do I need to torch before you get that?”

“It’s not my fault that you finally decided to join,” Preston snapped. “If you hadn’t screwed around for so long, you’d be in one of the experienced platoons like you should be. Trust me- I wasn’t exactly thrilled either when I heard they put you in recruits.”

“Screwed around?” Hammond growled, voice venomous, “You have no idea what I’ve been doing with my time so don’t you dare insinuate that you do, Christian.”

“Well it’s not like you’ve made yourself easy to get in contact with!” Preston snapped.

“And why would you think I’d want to be contacted by the likes of you?” Hammond hissed. There was an undertone to his voice that momentarily silenced Preston. I don’t know if I should be here, Raine thought, suddenly realising that the tension between them ran much deeper than she knew. But she couldn’t run the risk of being seen either, so she tucked herself closer to the pole and the ground and hoped that it would end soon. Hammond would kill me if he knew that I’m here.

“Don’t tell me…” Preston’s voice was uncharacteristically uncertain. “Don’t tell me this is about-”

“It’s not about anything.” Hammond snapped. “It’s my damn life and I’ll do what I please. I don’t need you of all people telling me what to do, lieutenant or not.”

“I don’t have a choice!” Preston said, voice rising. “As I said before, it’s not my fault that you got yourself landed in my platoon because you screwed around doing nothing for so long-”

“Shut your damn mouth, Christian; I’m warning you.” Hammond said. “You have no idea. You just ran along and barked when you were told to like a good dog and left everyone else behind whilst you climbed the ranks like the bitch you are.”

“And I’m warning you.” Preston said quietly, finality to his tone. “If you want to stay in this company then you have to get in line like everybody else. It was your decision to join when you did so you’ve only got yourself to blame for being with the recruits. Do recall that I actually have the power to have you moved into a different platoon altogether, or to a desk job where you’re sitting in a room guarding a door all day. Something tells me that you don’t actually want that.”

“Like you know anything about what I want.” Hammond scoffed. “Right now, I just wanna punch that smug, self-righteous look off your damned face.”

Raine couldn’t help herself and she stole a look over at them. They were facing each other, Hammond with his legs spread wide, his hands balled into fists. She could feel the energy radiating from him even from where she was. Preston was as cold as ever and his anger only seemed to enhance his icy demeanour.

Don’t tell me they’re going to fight, Raine thought with horror, only too aware of Preston’s ability. His actions against the sandworm stuck out all too vividly in her mind.

“Don’t be stupid.” Preston said with a dry laugh. “You’re not going to challenge me.”

“Really?” Hammond said. “You’re always saying that I need to commit myself further, right, lieutenant?” He practically spat the word from his mouth. “Maybe I just need an actual challenge. Unless pushing papers all day has turned you soft? Don’t worry sir, I won’t tell the officers about how useless you actually are.” Raine’s eyes widened at his audacity, and the venom in his words.

“That’s it; I’ve had enough. You want a fight Hammond then fine- I’ll kick your arse so badly you just might start seeing sense.” Preston hissed.

“You’ve never had a drop of sense so don’t talk like you know what that is.” Hammond said. “Your brain is as frozen as your heart.”

There was a pause, and Raine knew that something important had just been exchanged.

“You damn idiot.” Preston spat. “Fine. Blow off some steam, see if it changes things.”

“You know as well as I do that it won’t.” Hammond said. “But I’ll be damned if it won’t make me feel any better.”

Raine jumped as a fireball suddenly erupted into the night, illuminating the training grounds and sending shadows streaming along the ground as it moved. Keeping herself low, she raced to a wide tree that stood to the side of the fence. Now out of sight of the two magi, she stole a nervous look from behind her new hiding spot.

They were too engaged in their vicious fight to notice her movement, and she watched on with fascinated horror as Hammond continued to throw balls of scorching flame at the sage. Preston responded with impressive speed, either physically dodging his attacks or summoning shields of ice that held long enough to protect him before they melted away.

“Come on!” Hammond roared, his teeth bared in rage. He charged forward, extending his fist in a punch and flames licked around his hand and arm. Preston ran to meet him and the two became engaged in a close-combat fistfight the likes Raine had never seen. It looked like flames had enveloped Hammond’s hands and feet as he fought with rapid punches, kicks and stabs, but she knew that it couldn’t be so. Ice was growing along Preston’s limbs in response, hissing and steaming as he fought back, lowering the intensity of the flames.

I never knew that Hammond could fight like that, she thought, too stunned to look away. They broke apart for a moment and Preston shot a vicious stream of water at him, but the Fire Mage evaporated it away with a flaming geyser that reached up in between them. Then ice formed around Preston’s hand rapidly, growing away from his body in the shape of a blade. Its edges were jagged with shimmering ice, cold mist floating on its surface.

“You stubborn idiot!” he yelled, bringing the ice-sword before him. Hammond didn’t reply, instead pulling a shortsword from underneath his cloak. Flames formed and licked around the metal hungrily, the blade shining a dozen reflections in the firelight. They met again, the metal clashing against the ice, the screeching filling the air. Despite the heat, the ice continued to grow, lashing out at Hammond like a barb. He jumped back and raised his other hand at Preston, a ball forming before his palm like a tiny sun, and it flew at the sage. He responded by pulling his sword up in front of him and it expanded rapidly in the shape of a star. The ice-shield sizzled as the ball chewed into it, keeping its round, rotating form.

Then the ice suddenly turned to water and the flameball was extinguished with a loud, angry hiss, and Preston jumped through the steam to swing his ice-blade at Hammond again. Hammond raised his blade in a block but was knocked to his side at the force of the attack. He quickly adjusted his feet as Preston moved in again.

The energy in the air was almost unbearable as they exchanged blows- the raging, consuming heat of Hammond’s magic colliding with the cool but equally vicious frost of Preston’s, the sounds of metal against ice and ice against flame travelling through the still air.

Raine tore her eyes from the battle to look around at the area, and she sighed with relief when no one fell into her scope of vision. She looked back in time to see Hammond’s flaming sword cut through the ice-blade, Preston jumping back to avoid his follow-up strike. He landed low and placed his hands on the ground, long sleeves soaked, and ice formed around his hands. It travelled across the ground like a snake and towards Hammond rapidly. He jumped back but the ice was too quick, grabbing hold of his ankle and travelling up his leg.

“Like hell!” Hammond growled, aiming his free hand at the ground and releasing a blanket of flame that chewed up the area before him. He fell clumsily and readjusted his stance but looked up to find that Preston was gone.

Raine watched from her spot behind the tree as a mist descended the training grounds, thick and heavy, and within moments the two men had disappeared within the haze. She remembered her training with Wetherdon and changed her vision, following their élan vitals instead- two intense radiating bodies of light that clashed and intertwined with one another like harnessed stars.

“HIDING AS USUAL; damn coward!” Hammond roared with frustration. “Always hiding! Never facing the truth!”

He was hit with a water blast so intense that he was sent flying backwards through the mist, landing heavily on his back with a grunt. He got to his feet and brought his blade up again, the flames intensifying and evaporating the mist around him.

“Where are you, damn bastard…” he muttered, breathing heavily, his eyes flicking about rapidly. The steam didn’t make finding him any easier.

“Don’t talk to me about not facing the truth!” Preston yelled, appearing out of the mist in front of him, ice-blade raised above his head. His face was contorted with rage. “You keep running from it, even now!”

They collided heavily and Hammond’s sword was knocked from his hand with the force, pain racing up his wrist fiercely. He punched Preston’s face instead, sweeping in as the ice-blade continued down with the momentum. Preston stumbled backwards, blood streaming from his nose freely. Hammond kept punching, his body responding swiftly and powerfully with his barely controlled anger. His chest was tight with it; it raced through his veins like poison and he only felt satisfaction when his hits connected and pain stabbed through him. He had cuts up his arms and through his tunic, his hands starting to burn from his own flames. He could barely see, his vision fading into a black rage, a hunger to destroy. It was intoxicating.

Preston fell to the ground after a hit to the temple and Hammond went down with him, gripping the collar of his tunic with one hand and hitting him with the other. Preston struggled, responding with a few of his own punches, but they did nothing but fuel his bloodlust.

Suddenly he felt a tight pressure around his waist and he was yanked backwards from the sage, hurtled a few paces into the air and dropped onto the earth again. He gulped in a mouthful of air and pushed himself from the ground. He raised his head, snarling, only to find that Preston, lying on his back and propping himself up with his arms, was looking at someone behind him.

The mist faded away immediately, the clarity of the night returning. Hammond turned his head, raising his hand for another attack, but stopped.

Raine stood there, a hand to her mouth, the other holding the dissolving remnants of a water-whip. Hammond looked at her for a moment, stunned, but then the energy around him flared up again, his eyes flashing.

“This isn’t your business Raine,” he snarled. “Get out of here.”

RAINE SHOOK HER head. Fear was pulsing through her body but she knew that she couldn’t let Hammond beat the lieutenant into a bloody pulp or worse- his élan vital was sparking and dimming in her vision.

Preston pushed himself upright, grunting in effort, and he looked over at her, bruised eyes still sharp. “Leave, Taylor.” he said thickly, his lip bleeding.

“Don’t- don’t do this, Hammond.” she said to the Fire Mage quietly, ignoring Preston. The flames around him flickered and emotion grew in his eyes, but he still shook his head.

“This isn’t your business.” he said again, voice serious. “Get going.”

She opened and closed her mouth, looking at his wide, angry eyes, and realised that there wasn’t much more she could say that would convince him to stop. The flames were in his blood as much as it was around him, and it had almost consumed him.

She felt tears well in her eyes in her desperation and she fervently tried to blink them away. “Don’t do it.” she said quietly. He watched her for a moment, the anger in his face fading away behind his usual mask of apathy. The flames flickered out, and they were once again in the darkness of the night. Shattered shards and flecks of ice shimmered in the starlight as he stood there, staring at her.

“Go.” he said. Raine turned and, knowing that there was nothing she could do, dashed off into the darkness. She didn’t look back, not even when she heard the rippling of flames as they were reborn.

She ran all the way back to her quarters, her legs instinctively taking her through the deserted paths and safest areas till she reached the hallway with its row of countless doors. She finally forced herself to a walk, her heart thumping painfully in her chest, her breath coming from her lips in sharp, short gasps. Her chest was aching and she knew that it had little to do with her run. She unlocked the door with shaking hands and moved into the silence of her room.

Raine locked the door and kicked off her boots automatically before collapsing onto her bed and breaking down in tears.

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