It didn’t take long for the castle to loom up in the distance, the gates to the city hanging off their hinges broken and twisted. Guards were hurrying to round up frightened and petrified villagers into prison carts claiming they were required to attend the presentation of the crown princess. But by their panic and desperate attempts to get away made us all think it wasn’t the truth. Arden and Tomas began whispering heatedly as guards began whispering and pointing, stumbling away as they saw me walking down the path. Loud shouts made me hesitate as I stepped into the grand foyer, no sign of the previous forced entry. I swallowed hard as I remembered the way Fyn had been laying there motionless and beaten. Tomas made me jump as I stared at the floor as he placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. I smiled faltering before hurrying to investigate the shouts and begs, stopping shocked as I saw more guards trying to force villagers into a brick pantry with only on entrance and exit. The guards paled and panicked as they noticed us standing there, recognizing me as the guards in the city had. Stumbling for words they quickly ran out, giving me a wide berth.
“Get the villagers out safely, Ilary come with me” I ordered firmly, holding my hand out to the young girl.
Hesitantly she took it with a little encouragement as the villagers began to sob in relief. The band was about to begin playing as we neared the ballroom doors. My heart skipped as the music suddenly cut off and people began to panic. Ilary gripped my hand even tighter as I layed my hand on the door. It held fast as I gave a firm push. Locked? I smiled sadly as I heard grandfather demand someone to identify themselves. Taking a deep breath I kicked the door, knocking one off the hinges as they splintered into pieces. Everyone was staring as I stepped inside, Ilary reluctantly following as the ghostly woman glared.
“I gave you a pass! WHY DO YOU INTERFERE!?” She shrieked furious.
“Because you have not learned Ilary Vailor. And neither has Avo.” I stated simply as I walked the young girl to the stage were Angelica stood tensely, staring wide eyed.
“Illy” Angelica breathed relieved, hugging the girl close as she began to sob.
“And just WHO are YOU?” Grandfather snarled disgusted as I wandered back into the middle of the room, peering curiously at the men that were supposed to be on guard.
“I am no more than a memory now” I replied simply.
“Why are you doing this!?” Ilary Vailor hissed startled as she began to form a more corporeal form, no longer the misty shadow she had first appeared to be.
“Despite the way it drove so many to insanity, how many lives it cost or how many families it ruined. All you focused on was a relic, not even one with any significance or inspirational history.” I sighed wearily staring over to grandfather.
“The star ruby of vailor is mine by blood!” He cried vehemently.
“NO! It is those of lying cruel hearts! Those that deserve to suffer!” She cried angrily.
“And what does that give you? Just another chance to relive the pain of losing your hearts desire. And another opportunity to do it to another” I demanded softly.
“I would NEVER do that!” she growled offended.
“But you have.” I smiled sadly as I began unwrapping the final bandage covering my eyes.
Everyone started whispering shocked as I looked about the room with my scarred and partially blinded eyes.
“Who ARE you?” Angelica asked confused as she gripped Kiimi and Ilarys hands tightly as they hid into her dress.
“You gave me a free pass because you realized that they had had no influence on my entire life, but you made me the same victim you were those centuries ago. I have no family, I have lost the only man I have EVER been able to be comfortable around. The only man I have ever loved, they know me to be dead. I do not have my sight. Simply because you cant let go of what you’ve done. The one responsible suffers, to this day he undoubtedly suffers along with those who hurt you. But the ones after that? They were not there, they had not taken breath, it was not their sin. Yet you punished them” I stated coldly seemingly indifferent to the tears streaming down her face.
“They said it was nothing! That it didn’t matter! But it did, it mattered to me! I loved him!” she wept, falling to her knees “they stole the only love I had, denied me the only thing I ever asked for”
“This is nonsense! Guards!” Grandfather yelled, his face pale and his eyes wide with fright as he realized all the tales had been true.
“YOU! You’re JUST like him! YOU NEVER LISTENED! I was content to ebb away but you didn’t listen, she trusted you’d PROTECT HER” She shrieked brokenly.
“Hind sight is twenty-twenty” I remarked dryly.
She stopped and stared at me as if a light suddenly switching on. Her eyes grew wide and filled with guilt as she took in the damage she had caused.
“I never meant for another to hurt like I” she murmured guiltily.
“I forgive you” I smiled sadly, everyone gasping surprised staring at me shocked.
Suddenly a cold blast of air blasted through the room blinding everyone as frost filled the room. I shielded my eyes from the frosty shards of ice as the snowy blast took us all of guard. My stomach clenched painfully as I looked around and found the guards just corpses on the floor and the woman nowhere to be seen. Angelica was clutching Kiimi and Ilary close as Caine guarded them tensely as Grandfather cowered behind his throne. A tall handsome man dressed in black satin shirt and trousers, smart black shoes shined to perfection. His ruby eyes flecked with black were captivating and took my breath away. But I had read enough to know the danger I was now in.
“Aren’t you a little thing” He drawled amused as he eyed me curiously.
“Who the hell are you?” Caine demanded tensely, his heart racing.
“I have many names” the stranger smiled coyly.
“Why are you here?” I asked evenly as my mind raced, desperately trying to think of a way to keep everyone safe.
“You are interfering in a most profitable agreement.” He replied irritated, turning his focus back to me.
“I’ve never really been one for keeping to the norm and following rules” I shrugged indifferently, an angry glare flashing across his face for a split second before he smiled alluringly.
“What can I give you? Just help you to forget about this boring business and get on with your life” He drawled grasping my hand tightly and twirling me about the dancefloor seemingly oblivious to the terrified onlookers.
“How could I ignore this suffering? Queen Ilary deserves peace” I retorted indifferently.
“It’s all boring, she’s happy it makes people think twice. Surely theres something that such a beauty like you needs?” He purred seductively, waving his hand in front of my eyes
All of a sudden it was as if I had never suffered the blinding. Everything bright and clear as he twirled me round and round. I smiled as I paid attention to the song playing, dancing with the devil can make any angel nervous.
“There is something….” I murmured softly as I finally managed to remember something useful
“Tell me” he grinned broadly spinning me away again as the song finished, never keeping contact longer than necessary.
“My mother. I was robbed of the time we should have had. I want my mother to be alive with all the life she should have had ahead of her standing here in this room” I stated sadly.
“Specific, you are a clever thing” he chuckled darkly, assuming he had gotten me to give up breaking the curse.
I smiled wryly turning and walking towards the stage as he stood frozen like a statue, his expression changing from smug to confusion to anger to sheer hatred. I tried to hide the pain as Angelica ushered the girls away as I climbed onto the stage, Kiimi shying away frightened. Caine quickly hurrying between me and them as I stared at grandfather, my eyes blinded once more.
“You are a conniving one” The stranger snarled hatefully as I pulled the ruby from around grandfather’s neck as he cowered muttering incoherently.
“Deals with the devil are rarely worth the price” I smiled wryly.
“If a deal cannot be fulfilled I must issue a guardian” he growled angrily.
“There’s no need, I knew when I said it you couldn’t do it.” I replied indifferently
“Couldn’t do what?” Caine asked confused as I stepped off the stage, ignoring them completely.
“There are rules.” I began
“Hell cannot take souls from heaven nor can heaven take souls from hell. A guardian is also part of the rules” He interjected impatiently.
“Shall we?” I sighed wearily, gesturing to go outside.
Tomas and Arden hesitantly followed us out into the courtyard as everyone else panicked to get away, rushing to aid the princesses and yet seemingly indifferent to grandfather as he rocked sobbing like a child. A crowd of demons were waiting impatiently for us as we walked out, their hushed whispering dying the instant we came into view.
“So who does she choose?” Arden whispered to Tomas intrigued.
“She doesn’t” the man grunted irritated, his mood darkening further as demon after demon disappeared seemingly in fright or intimidated.
Another group suddenly appeared to our right as the last one fled and slowly the same thing happened. One after the other quickly fled until there was none, another group silently being called. A bright eyed, sleek midnight black wolf caught my attention as it padded from out the rapidly thinning group of demons to sniff at some flowers.
“Kera” the man sighed exasperated, rubbing the bridge of his nose pained as he followed my gaze and saw her.
She turned and stared, tilting her head from side to side before bounding over. He was about to say something when she stopped short of bowling me over and waited with a paw off the ground expectantly. I smiled bemused as I recalled a traders dog that did the same every time it wanted his master’s attention. Without really thinking about it, I reached my hand out and stroked my hand through her surprisingly rough, greasy fur and scratched gently behind her ear.
“Well…you may well be the only one to charm a cerber in my lifetime” He murmured slightly awed.
“She is the charming one” I smiled absently, kneeling down to her as she leant into my hand pleased.
“You have your guardian, our deal has been met” He stated simply before disappearing into thin air.
“Now I just need to find Queen Ilary” I sighed frustrated.
“Now hang on, someone needs ta explain what the hell just happened here” Tomas stated anxiously.
“I definitely agree. Lets start with who the hell you three are” Caine snarled threatening as he strode out, a file of party goers hurrying out alongside him.
“Tomas, Arden and I am Nefisi” I stated, shooting them a warning look as Arden went to argue.
He was about to order us back inside when drunken laughter split the tense panic filled air. I gritted my teeth against the threatening tears as Fyn and a scantily clad woman with garish over the top makeup came stumbling up the front steps, both as drunk as each other and trying to get support from the other in order to stay standing let alone mobile.
“Hey! Caine ole boy, didn’t need to meet me. You worry too much!” He called drunkenly as he stumbled over to hug him despite his protests, his noxious breath hard to stomach.
“Where the hell you been ya idiot!? I’ve been looking all over, ya missed a hell of a standoff!” Caine snarled unimpressed, the pity clear in his eyes as he tried to appear disgusted and indifferent to him.
“Wow, who’s this beauty? Wanna play with a real man instead of this wet blanket?” He purred noxiously leering.
“I do not play” I stated icily.
“come on” He began, ignoring his dates whining as he grabbed for my hand.
The sound echoed loudly through the tense silence as I slapped him hard across the face. I could feel their stares as Fyn rocked on his feet stunned as I turned and walked back into the ballroom. Angelica was busy introducing Kiimi and Ilary as I walked back into the centre of the room and waited, trying hard not to let my feelings show. Angelica hesitantly shuffled closer, the girls clinging to each other frightened as Grandfather cowered, a blithering wreck beside his throne.
“Who are you?” She asked warily.
“Call me Nefisi” I stated simply, continuing to stare at the wall.
“What happened here?” She asked unconvinced.
“A wytches kiss. When scorned and hurting it is easy to lose yourself. Queen Ilary felt like no one cared, that to everyone else it was all fine. But her heart was broken. She made a deal. To be granted the chance and ability to make them feel the way she did.” I replied stonily, glancing over to her as she grew even more confused.
“But Queen Ilary died centuries ago” She stated confused.
“Specifics. She failed to be specific and so was cursed alongside those she wanted revenge on. She would continue to feel the heartbreak and pain until someone of blood took the object cursed for no reason at all. For someone to forgive her. To be worthy of being allowed to live and love” I replied softly.
“So the curse kept her alive all these years?” Caine asked warily
“Not exactly. She is dead. But can’t pass on.” I replied simply.
“Why not?” Kiimi asked concerned.
“Because although the intended targets suffered, she realized too late that innocent people were suffering from the curse too. The story of the amulet began to craze the surviving family members, driving some insane in their attempts to find it and for others it became mark of manhood. They were nothing if they couldn’t retrieve the family birth rite.” I smiled sadly, glancing over to her and wishing I hadn’t as she cowered beside Ilary trying to hide from my gaze.
“Still don’t make much sense” Tomas remarked dryly
“It makes perfect sense. She was wrapped up in guilt she didn’t realize how to make it right” Arden stated softly.
“Sometimes you have to forgive someone for their actions. Because sometimes, they can’t forgive themselves” I remarked coldly.
“So what now then? Cuz I doubt the curse is that easy to break, and with the way that guy appears and disappeared into thin air” Caine sighed frustrated.
“I find Queen Ilary and end it once and for all” I stated simply as I stared at the ruby that held such unimaginable pain.
“What makes you think we trust you?” Caine remarked angrily.
I smiled sadly, glancing down to the black wolf leaning against my legs as she silently suggested what I had already contemplated doing. With a slight nod from me she let out a long sigh and except me, Arden and Tomas began yawning. One by one they slowly sunk to the floor in a deep sleep. Fishing in my pocket I pulled out Atani’s necklace and slowly walked over to where Kiimi was sleeping soundly on the stage, hugging onto Ilary as Angelica’s arm draped over them protectively. I felt them staring as I draped it carefully around her hand before turning to walk out without a single word. Tomas and Arden raced after me panicked, Kera padding happily behind them as I walked towards what had been my room. To my surprise I found it locked with a black sheath draped over it in a symbol of mourning. A thick layer of dust made me wonder if they had any intention of removing it. I forced the door with ease, glancing around the room curiously. It was like a time capsule, the air stale and everything untouched. It wasn’t hard to find the book I needed, walking out ignoring Tomas and Arden as the argued hushed beside the bedroom door. Kera bounded after me excitedly as I walked back towards the path that had once brought me here so long ago. My heart ached painfully as I glanced back to the castle, wishing I wasn’t leaving Kiimi behind. And yet I couldn’t find the heart to regret coming. I had met a wonderful man, met family I had never known and was able to end centuries long suffering. I sighed wearily as I thought of regaling it all to Darrow. I was just a ghost now, Nefisi. Kiimi would have told them, or got Angelica to. Kera huffed suspiciously as Tomas came charging after Arden as he raced to catch me up, panting and huffing.
“Wait….up” he wheezed, bracing himself against his knees as he tried to catch his breath
“I have one last thing to ask of you” I murmured thoughtfully as my bookstore came flitting to my mind.
“Uh-uh, we aint doing no more dealings with you, now we is evens and we don’t want no trouble” Tomas babbled frantically, pulling Arden back.
“I ran a bookstore but I doubt I’ll make it back from where I’m goin. And it’d be a shame to sit there, a flats above it. You could deliver a dagger back to my father” I sighed absently, shrugging indifferently.
“Why not do it ya self?” Tomas demanded suspiciously.
“Kiimi would have told him of my funeral” I stated simply.
“Funeral? But” Arden babbled confused as Tomas’s eyes went wide aghast as he realized that I hadnt been found the way they had expected.
“That’s why you gave a fake name” Tomas murmured guiltily.
“It means ghost” I smiled sadly.
“Surely it’d be better for them to know the truth?” Tomas argued frustrated as I passed a key to Arden.
“I’ll not likely survive finding Ilary, why make them suffer unnecessarily” I countered indifferently.
“So what’s this for?” Arden asked sadly as he fidgeted with the key.
“It’s the key to the bookshop. It’s yours if you want it. This is Darrow’s. He’s the dwarf that runs the nearby butchers” I replied softly as I pulled out the obsidian dagger from my waistband.
Tomas reluctantly took it, grasping my arm tightly as I turned to leave.
“Am sorry. I ain’t gonna let you face this alone” Tomas stated firmly, shoving the dagger towards Arden.
As if reading my mind, Kera let out another long huff sending them into their own deep sleep. Sighing sadly I turned back to the trail spiraling into the unknown and with a deep breath, took the first step that would change the future for more people than I could have ever imagined.
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